URLs du Jour

2020-04-30

  • The LFOD Google News Alert continues to cough up vast amounts of nonsense. Sixteen today! Many pointing me to that new Sean Hannity book! No thanks!

    I think I can filter those out, but the other major contributor is the ongoing, interminable, lockdown debate. Alert number one was an LTE in the Conway Daily Sun from one Randy Hilman of Moultonborough who offers advice we didn't know we needed: Don't confuse NH's state motto with Darwinism.

    Our local chat forums are abuzz lately with some folks arguing that it’s acceptable under the circumstances to let people die from COVID-19 if it means the rest of us can return to work to help get our economy moving again.

    “The virus will fade, but our bills won’t,” said one recent poster, invoking our state motto. “It’s time we started living free again.”

    The ignorant corruption of “Live Free or Die” troubles me. There is more than one way to die an ignoble death. Geo-political conflicts, like Vietnam, are one way. Pandemics are another.

    Our motto, adopted in 1945, does not embrace the notion that needless, preventable death is a hero’s triumph over tyranny.

    What became our motto was written by New Hampshire Revolutionary War hero Gen. John Stark in an 1809 letter to veterans commemorating the Battle of Bennington.

    Stark, borrowing the popular phrase from the French Revolution (Vivre Libre ou Mourir) wrote: “Live free or die: Death is not the worst of evils.”

    Let me just break in here and note that Randy's history down to here is correct. But then he starts going off the rails:

    Stark’s exhortation to his fellow militiamen conveyed that tyranny is worse than death; that death is a fitting, even noble demise in the cause of and struggle for self determination (freedom). His letter was not at all about a Darwinian theme of survival.

    As the kids say: Duh. Randy is refuting a point nobody is making. Darwin was born on February 12, 1809; he was (therefore) a mere 5 months old when General Stark penned his regrets for being unable to attend the commemoration of the Battle of Bennington.

    So, no, Stark was not making a Darwinian argument. But Randy continues as if his chatroom antagonists were doing so:

    The battle cry put forth today that it is now acceptable to let innocents die so that others can get on with their lives is neither consistent with New Hampshire’s motto, nor is it to be found anywhere in the lexicon of America’s founding values.

    I can appreciate that people are fearful of what they view as governmental encroachment on their activities in this difficult time, but they’re wrong to raise up “Live Free or Die” as their “cause celebre” when, in reality, “Survival of the Fittest” is their banner.

    Or not. Randy seems to think that the lockdown must continue until we can reliably expect zero deaths of "innocents".

    It's not Darwinism to observe that this will never happen.

    It's difficult to say for sure what Randy's chatroom nemeses were claiming; we only have his caricatures to go on. But I'd submit that they weren't operating from a surfeit of Darwinism, but perhaps (for lack of a better word) adultism: the idea that you should provide responsible people with accurate, relevant information about their risks. And let them make up their own minds about how to deal with them.

    I'll point out that the entirety of Carroll County, NH (Conway's and Moultonborough's county) has had 31 cases total. Randy, get a grip.


  • On a related note, John F. Harris writes at Politico with advice. Which is to Admit It: You Are Willing to Let People Die to End the Shutdown.

    CNN’s Jake Tapper was brutally direct in his question to Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, who recently lifted his state’s stay-at-home order, in favor of a gradual reopening of business. Are you worried, Tapper asked, that a premature move could “cost your constituents their lives?”

    Polis was blandly indirect in his answer. While he might wish to have “next week’s information and next month’s information available to me today,” the Democratic governor said, “that’s not the world we live in.” During a pandemic that likely will continue for months, he’s looking for a path forward in “an ongoing sustainable way,” one that takes into account citizens’ interests “psychologically, economically, and from a health perspective.”

    Polis is an adult. I'd quibble with Harris's labeling this "moral relativism". Nor (sorry, Randy) is it "Darwinism".

    Jim Geraghty doesn't label it, but his observation is apt: we need to, like Polis, deal with "the fact that people will die if we are to continue the lockdown, too."


  • Kevin D. Williamson (in an NRPLUS article, so…) thinks Hillary Clinton’s Endorsement of Joe Biden Is Irrelevant. Sorry if you can't Read The Whole Thing; I'll just pick out this tidbit:

    The conservative writer P. J. O’Rourke in 2016 offered a mock endorsement of Mrs. Clinton over Trump, saying: “She’s wrong about absolutely everything, but she’s wrong within normal parameters.” Don’t expect Biden to take that up as a slogan, but the former vice president implicitly is offering himself as a “return to normalcy” candidate on similar lines — a creep, a liar, a feckless time-serving hack of the lowest and meanest kind, but within normal parameters. That fits in with the basic bedrock dynamic of 2020: For Democrats, it’s anybody but Trump, and, for Republicans, it’s anybody but any Democrat. With a severe economic contraction on the way and an epidemic still raging, Trump’s argument for himself right now is, “Boy, things were great, right up until they weren’t!” Biden’s argument is that the worst day with Biden will be better than the best day with Trump.

    KDW, as usual, makes me grimly happy.


  • At AEI, James "Thanks, Cut and Paste" Pethokoukis demurs from the latest analogy: We don’t need a Manhattan Project to beat COVID-19. We need something better.

    It’s understandable to analogize today’s anti-pandemic campaign as some sort of modern-day version of the World War II effort to build an atomic bomb. There are some things in common, including big collaborative research efforts dedicated to solving a massive technological problem as soon as possible. That’s probably what pops into most people’s heads when they hear the phrase “Manhattan Project.” It’s a powerful descriptor, but also a bit of a misleading one. Operation Warp Speed will need to move faster than the Manhattan Project, be more transparent, and pursue a far more diverse set of potential solutions. And the role of Washington will be less of a central planner and more of a coordinator and a bulldozer of roadblocks and bottlenecks.

    Those even slightly familiar with Manhattan Project history will chuckle a bit at the "more transparent" desire. There were few things in history less transparent than the Manhattan Project.


  • Veronique de Rugy looks at the wacky politics in the City of Rice-a-Roni: Economics, a San Francisco Treat? She notes the admirable alacrity the food service industry has exhibited in adjusting to new realities, ramping up meal delivery. At a price, of course. But:

    This has caused a surge in demand for drivers to deliver the food. Precoronavirus, many restaurants didn't deliver at all, so they had to create home-delivery capacities from scratch. Others have had to step up capacity by adding more drivers. And many restaurants now increasingly rely on delivery services like UberEats and Grubhub. Following this sharp increase in demand for driving services, delivery fees have risen. This increase in fees is exactly what economics predicts will happen and recommends should happen. The higher fees reflect the increased demand for delivery services while simultaneously giving stronger incentives to more people to become delivery drivers.

    However, San Francisco legislators don't get it. On April 10, the city of San Francisco issued an emergency order mandating that delivery companies that wish to continue to operate in the city cap the fees they charge restaurants at 15% of each order's amount. Mayor London Breed explained, "These fees typically range from 10% to 30% and can represent a significant portion of a restaurant's revenue, especially at a time when the vast majority of sales are for delivery. This commission fee can wipe out a restaurant's entire margin."

    But you know what else was predictable: (1) the cap caused certain deliveries to be money-losers; (2) such deliveries were curtailed; (3) and pols got outraged about that.

URLs du Jour

2020-04-29

[Amazon Link]
Attentive readers will know that I'm a Kevin D. Williamson fanboy. So I've already ordered his new book, six months ahead of the publication date. And if you'd like to do the same, just click on the toast. In theory, I get a cut if you do.

  • At Reason, Matt Welch reports significantly increased odds I will have someone for whom to vote in November (slightly after I receive that KDW book): Justin Amash Is Running for President as a Libertarian.

    More than three years after first seriously contemplating it, one year after coming out in favor of impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump, nine months after leaving the Republican Party, two months after hitting pause on his congressional re-election campaign, and just 22 days before the Libertarian Party (L.P.) is scheduled to select its own nominee, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, the most libertarian member of Congress, has decided to form an exploratory committee about running for president.

    So, yay! One potential stumbling block is obtaining the Libertarian Party nomination. Some LPers are less than eager to nominate Yet Another Ex-Republican. (In a 2019 article, Matt discussed the so-called "Libertarian wing of the Libertarian Party.")


  • And the LFOD Google News Alert continues to bring us many, many, people who scorn the use of our state's motto to protest draconian pandemic lockdown measures. For example, this semi-coherent LTE from one John Ginder of Astoria, Oregon, in his local paper. John demands we Listen up!

    I have been reading some of my backup toilet paper supply, and came across such intense backlash about any letter that gives patriotic support to our president. In this time of a world pandemic, the cream of the leadership will rise to the top.

    Pictures of Old Glory flying from the back of pickup trucks and people carrying signs, mostly saying "Liberate," takes me back. I wonder what that 60-something white guy is really like, so I imagine being 9 years old again, growing up in my little neighborhood in Missouri.

    I might have really gone for that "Live Free or Die" thing back then. We called each other "Bubba." We were a flag-flying bunch, living in a world extending about a mile wide, all the way to the tracks.

    I grew up whiter than Wonder bread. I took a 23andMe DNA test and found out that I'm so white, I'm Neanderthal. I don't think you can get any whiter than that. So when I see this parade in Salem with trucks and flags and guns, I get it. If you don’t think the Confederate flag is the coolest, then you just haven’t listened to "Sweet Home Alabama" loud enough.

    Listen up. If you feel like you want to liberate Oregon by going to a protest these days, just don't bring the kids to a human petri dish. When you finish with your back-slapping, hand-shaking and flag-flying, go home and let the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention know how you're doing 14 days later.

    Live free or die?

    That's the whole thing, sorry. Observations:

    • Life lesson based on the first paragraph: Don't write an LTE when you're drunk.
    • Neanderthals were white? Well, sure, why not, and for the same reason Sapiens living in Europe went that way too: probably lighter skin helps with Vitamin D production in lands with weaker sunlight. What that has to do with John Ginder is… well, it probably has something to do with what I was saying before.
    • But dragging in the Confederate flag thing is lazy and stupid, especially when you've been making fun of the protesters for flying Old Glory. Based on recent experience, if a single Confederate flag was flying at the protest, our watchdog media would snap the picture and publish it far and wide. But news media pictures do not document any Rebel sentiment, plenty of plain old American patriotism.

      But when you want to tar people with the racist brush, why let reality get in the way?

    I hope we can return to our normal LFOD coverage soon.


  • I heard Avik Roy on a recent Reason Interview podcast, and thought he had the sanest things to say about the pandemic I've heard in a long time. His organization, the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity, has published A New Strategy for Bringing People Back to Work During COVID-19. Beginning:

    A quasi-consensus has emerged among many policymakers and commentators that the U.S. should continue to close schools and non-essential businesses until coronavirus testing and immunity is widespread. But there is a significant possibility that we are many months, if not years, away from meeting these thresholds. Time is of the essence, given the severe human cost of a prolonged economic shutdown.

    The good news is that policymakers have an opportunity to strategically reopen the economy, by taking into account a unique feature of COVID-19: its heavy skew toward bad outcomes in the elderly and the near-elderly who also have other chronic diseases. With the proper precautions, and the deployment of tools like contact tracing, self-quarantines, and telemedicine, we can continue to protect the most vulnerable, while returning as many Americans as possible to work.

    It's long, but I hope people digest it and act on it.


  • And Andrew C. McCarthy writes on what should be a no-brainer: Government Bears the Burden of Proof Before Denying Freedoms.

    There is never a good time for a pandemic, but an election year in a deeply divided country is an especially bad time. Everything is politicized. I would add that even science is politicized, but that would suggest that this was something new. Sadly, we’re inured to the politicization of science, thanks to climate change and to the centrality of government funding to academic endeavors. Research resources are diverted toward our political conflicts, rather than being freely allocated where they could better advance the search for truth.

    The politicization of science has ingrained in our political life something about which we ought to be highly skeptical: The argument from authority. It is doing extraordinary damage to the republic, through governmental responses — federal, state and municipal — to the coronavirus.

    And it will keep doing damage unless and until we restore the burden of proof.

    Time-squeezed emergencies are one thing; you might not have time to bring together the needed evidence. But the time squeeze is over, uncertainties have lessened, and it's past time to make policies appropriate for a free people again.

URLs du Jour

2020-04-28

[Amazon Link]
Our Amazon Product du Jour is $30 hardcover, but it will probably go down by it's August 4 publication date. The Kindle version is $15 and it probably won't go down.

No, I won't be buying it myself. I'm sure someone will let me know if, against all odds, he says something interesting. Like the title, though.

  • It appears a certain state needs more of the Live Free or Die spirit: Laredo pair allegedly violated coronavirus stay-at-home order with beauty businesses. That's Laredo Texas.

    "Both of the violators independently solicited customers via social media. On both cases, an undercover officer working on the COVID-19 task force enforcement detail made contact with each solicitor to set up an appointment for a cosmetic, beauty service that is prohibited under the emergency ordinance," police said in a statement.

    Et tu, Texas? Anyway, my sympathies to Ana Isabel Castro-Garcia and Brenda Stephanie Mata. Who, I'm pretty sure, will be dealt with more harshly than your average Laredo hooker or pot smoker. Their crime, trying to make a living with a mutually agreed commercial transaction, is unforgivable!


  • At National Review, Jonathan S. Tobin notes that, for the New York Times, Some Conspiracy Theories Are More Equal Than Others.

    In the United States, left-wing megadonor George Soros tends to be resented by right-wingers for his massive funding of leftist protest movements and the Democratic Party. Conservatives have launched polemics against Soros and his Open Society Foundations over what he and his admirers call “democracy building” but that they see as a radical agenda that undermines the freedoms of the liberal order. The New York Times casts such polemics in a sinister light. An October 2018 feature described a campaign of “vilification” of Soros that had moved from “the dark corners of the internet and talk radio to the very center of the political debate.” What complicates matters is that Soros has been the focus of anti-Semitic invective, especially in his native Hungary, where he has been a tenacious opponent of the Viktor Orban government.

    Some on the right have tried to link activists working to defeat Donald Trump in 2016 and to derail the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court justice to Soros’s billions. As the Times presents it, those efforts were inherently illegitimate, even if the activists did in fact get funding from one of Soros’s foundations. Anti-Trump and anti-Kavanaugh were simply liberal causes; questioning the funding and organizing behind such causes amounted to conspiracy-mongering rooted in hatred and hostility to democracy.

    Yet when right-wingers took to the streets in recent weeks to protest coronavirus lockdowns as a violation of their civil rights, the Times took a page out of the same anti-Soros playbook. Its coverage of the demonstrations, rather than analyzing their merits or lack thereof, was aimed at casting doubt on their legitimacy. Recalling its coverage of activists who opposed the passage of Obamacare a decade ago, the newspaper’s focus was on those who provided funding and legal support to the demonstrators. A front-page headline read, “The Quiet Hand of Conservative Groups in the Anti-Lockdown Protests”; an op-ed titled “Who’s Behind the ‘Reopen’ Protests,” by Lisa Graves, appeared the same day.

    And then there's…


  • Jacob Sullum in Reason, observing that When It Comes to Covering Trump, The New York Times Has Abandoned Any Distinction Between Reporting and Opinion.

    Two recent New York Times stories raise the question of whether the paper any longer makes a distinction between news and opinion when it comes to covering Donald Trump. One piece, identified as a "political memo," makes the case that the president is not nearly as smart as he thinks he is, while the other, presented as a content analysis of Trump's comments during COVID-19 briefings, argues that he indulges in unprecedented self-praise, self-pity, and blame shifting.

    Those portrayals will strike Trump's critics, presumably including most Times readers, as essentially accurate. But they do not belong in the news section unless the Times has abandoned any pretense that its reporting, as distinct from its opinion section, aspires to even-handedness and political neutrality. While the reality has always been quite different, the paper's bias in its news coverage has never been more blatant.

    Well, perhaps in the Walter Duranty era.


  • Pierre Lemieux examines a very old cliché about Owing the Public Debt to Ourselves.

    The Economist is far from alone in making the snaky sort of statement that appears in “After the Disease, the Debt” (April 23, 2020):

    In fact a country’s public debt is not like a household’s credit-card balance. When the national debt is owned by its citizens, a country in effect owes money to itself.

    We may agree with the first part of the statement: the government’s debt is not like a credit-card balance, for the simple reason that a country is not a household or an individual. But the second statement—we owe the public debt to ourselves—does not make much sense.

    If we owed the money to ourselves, we could simply default. We could then sue ourselves and force ourselves to pay damages to ourselves. Or we could prosecute ourselves for fraud. But what would happen if we did not pay the damages or fine due to ourselves? Could we send ourselves to debtors jail? And if we did and later escaped, would we be manhunting ourselves? There is in collectivism something of the snake eating itself.

    People who trot this out may be innocent. Or they might be trying to hide the facts about who's getting stuck with the bill.


  • And finally, Eric Raymond has a computer-geek note about a term I'd never heard until now, but is perfect: Lassie errors.

    Lassie was a fictional dog. In all her literary, film, and TV adaptations the most recurring plot device was some character getting in trouble (in the print original, two brothers lost in a snowstorm; in popular memory “Little Timmy fell in a well”, though this never actually happened in the movies or TV series) and Lassie running home to bark at other humans to get them to follow her to the rescue.

    In software, “Lassie error” is a diagnostic message that barks “error” while being comprehensively unhelpful about what is actually going on. The term seems to have first surfaced on Twitter in early 2020; there is evidence in the thread of at least two independent inventions, and I would be unsurprised to learn of others.

    I'm going back into my code, and replacing some of the error messages with "Woof! Woof! Timmy's fallen in a well!"

URLs du Jour

2020-04-27

  • In our "Lord, How Long Can This Go On?" department: my Google News Alert for "Live Free or Die" brought me 13 news items yesterday, and six today. And most of them are mutations of this LTE from Leonhard Goeller, published in the (Tucson) Arizona Daily Star:

    The people who protest public health-related orders use the phrase "Live Free or Die." They should consider using the phrase "Live Free AND Die," as it is more appropriate in the contest of a killer virus. Unfortunately, the impression given by the protesters is that THEY that should be "free" and its [sic] OK if OTHERS do the dying.

    What's a bigger number: (a) protesters bearing LFOD signs; or (b) anti-protesters deriding them? I'm thinking (b). Or maybe it just seems that way.


  • And James Lileks made me laugh out loud with this: A new e-mail scam? Or just Ping-Pong?

    But are we becoming paranoid about all kinds of hygiene because of the Covidien Lamentations? The city of Minneapolis, for example, is putting up signs telling people that the walk buttons at the crosswalks have been disabled because they might spread the novel coronavirus, or even the less-dreaded short-story coronavirus.

    I am going to steal that "short-story coronavirus" bit. So I can pretend to be as funny as Mr. Lileks.


  • I did not laugh out loud at this City Journal story: FDA Blocks Apple Watch Blood-Oxygen Feature That Would Help Millions.

    Millions of Americans own an Apple Watch, which commands roughly a 50 percent share of the smartwatch market. Among its many features, the Apple Watch can take your pulse. It also contains hardware to measure your blood-oxygen levels, and it has been doing so since the watch was released—but the hardware is not operable by the watch’s wearer, who thus cannot obtain the results. Under current FDA regulation, the function is disabled. It’s another example of how federal regulation of the production and distribution of pharmaceuticals and medical devices in the United States is less focused on stopping viruses and other diseases than on blocking private-sector innovators from developing solutions that may not work or might have harmful side effects.

    Thanks, FDA! For protecting us from finding out our own blood oxygen level using a device we might already own! What would we do without you?


  • The "official" title of the Kevin D. Williamson [NRPlus] article is Americans Split on Supporting, Protesting Quarantine Orders. But the headline reads "Ratfink America vs. You’re Not the Boss of Me! America".

    Ratfink America mostly lives in the urban metros, mostly has a progressive-secular cultural orientation, and mostly votes Democratic. Did you see that Harvard Magazine essay about Elizabeth Bartholet of Harvard Law, who argued that we should prohibit homeschooling because it makes it harder for authorities to keep an eye on the domestic lives of unruly proles? That’s pure Ratfink America. Michael Bloomberg shoving his vain little snout into your soda? Ratfink America. The people who call CPS on mothers who smoke in front of their children? Ratfink Americans, one and all.

    And the people who leave eleven-month-old babies locked up in the Nissan all night while they’re gambling in a New Jersey casino?

    They’re the other kind.

    You’re Not the Boss of Me! America is, in its raw and concentrated form, The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia. It’s Ammon Bundy and David Koresh. But it’s also Andrew Jackson and Thomas Jefferson, Civil Disobedience, and the Declaration of Independence. In the coronavirus context, it is Pentecostals in Florida and Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn defying social-distancing mandates.

    I not that worried about my neighbors calling the cops on me. Mrs. Salad, on the other hand… well, I'm trying to keep her happy.


  • At The Hill, Jonathan Turley notes asymmetry in the coverage of presidential candidate wackiness: Joe Biden fuels election conspiracy theory while the media keeps quiet.

    If there are two words that have been the mantra in the media during the last three years with President Trump, they would be “conspiracy theory.” That label is a wonderful device to attack political opponents. It not only suggests something is objectively untrue but that the person responsible for it is unhinged and unreliable. When Republican members of Congress had suggested that the coronavirus might have come from a research lab in Wuhan, for instance, it was widely denounced as a conspiracy theory, even though some intelligence officials believe the theory is credible.

    It is a term that is almost exclusively reserved in the media for Trump and his supporters. That was evident this week when the ultimate conspiracy theory was declared by the presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, who warned that he was certain Trump plans to delay the election this fall. It is a conspiracy theory utterly without factual or constitutional support, yet his warning was deemed a “prediction” by Politico in a recent article. It has been peddled by various Democratic officials and commentators for months and is all the rage on the internet, even though it should be sold as a set including a tin foil hat and an electromagnetic ghost detector.

    Democrats believe their conspiracy theorizing is of the respectable sort.


  • And Wired has news you can use, if you're a wannabe astronaut: How Space Travel Tries to Kill You and Make You Ugly.

    The eyes are particularly vulnerable to all this unnatural sloshing of fluids. More than two-thirds of astronauts report having deteriorated eyesight after spending several months in orbit. The fluid pressure flattens the back of the eyeballs, inflames optic nerves, and damages fragile blood vessels. NASA astronaut John Phillips was among the first to report the problem. Gazing out the window, he thought Earth looked blurrier and blurrier with each passing month. NASA tested his sight upon his return and found that his vision had deteriorated from 20 / 20 to 20 / 100 after six months in orbit. The implication is that a crew to Mars needs to pack eye-glasses with various prescriptions to help with each phase of their gradual, inevitable, and permanent vision loss. NASA considers the vision issue to be an astronaut’s top immediate-term health risk.

    That's just one thing. There are many more. Heinlein never told us about this.


Last Modified 2020-04-28 7:22 AM EDT

Midway

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

A perfectly fine war movie, the kind they say they don't make any more. No deep lessons, no complex characters, no unexpected twists, no revisionist dark threads revealing inner American corruption, … Think The Longest Day with better special effects. You'd swear they really did blow up all those ships, planes, and people.

It's the story of the early history of the war against Japan. Starting in 1937, when Navy guy Edwin Layton is winding up his peacetime tour of Japan, trading cautious diplomatese with Admiral Yamamoto. Then Pearl Harbor, Marshall Islands, the Doolittle raid, Coral Sea, and (finally) the Battle of Midway.

It's star-studded, and (if I'm reading the credits correctly) considerably financed by Chinese studios. There's a lot of unrealistic dialog that serves mainly to set up historical context. (E.g., Layton: "Pearl Harbor is the greatest intelligence failure in American history." The response could be "Duh!". But isn't.)

The Phony Campaign

2020-04-26 Update

[Amazon Link]

The probability gap between Trump winning and Biden winning continues to shrink this week, I assume because Biden said fewer stupid things than Trump did.

Or at least the media reported Biden saying fewer stupid things…

Hey, is it possible that Trump might be figuring this out? Check this out:

Translation: I come off looking bad.

Meanwhile, in the only polling that matters, Donald Bone Spurs continues to beat Wheezy Joe by about 4-to-1:

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
4/19
Phony
Results
Change
Since
4/19
Donald Trump 48.8% -1.0% 1,630,000 -10,000
Joe Biden 43.6% +0.3% 420,000 -30,000

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

  • Bloomberg columnist Joshua Green reports that a New Poll Shows a Hidden Danger for Trump: Double Haters.

    During the last weeks of the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump’s data team was obsessed with a particular subset of voters: those who disliked both Trump and Hillary Clinton. As I reported in my book about the race, Devil’s Bargain, Trump’s analysts nicknamed this group “double haters.” They comprised about 3% to 5% of the 15 million voters the campaign believed were persuadable, but they were vexing because their intentions were difficult to discern. While their voting history indicated they would likely cast a ballot, many refused to answer pollsters’ questions or declared themselves undecided.

    And (Joshua alleges) the "Double Haters" broke decisively for Trump when it came time to cast ballots. But this year, one poll shows that prospective voters with "negative opinions of both Trump and Biden" are leaning toward Joe, 60% to 10%.

    Now, I'm not a hater, but (true enough) I have "negative opinions" about both. Unlike the pollees, I don't consider myself obligated to vote for either.


  • At Reason, Elizabeth Nolan Brown advises readers: Don’t Get Fooled by Fake Photos of Coronavirus Lockdown Protests.

    After last week's protest around the Michigan Capitol, a picture of someone holding a large swastika flag that said "TRUMP PENCE" began circulating on social media as a sign of the supposed Nazi leanings of Trump supporters and the people protesting. But after some viral outrage about the kind of people the conservative organizers of these protests were in cahoots with, it turns out that the picture in question actually came from a March 2 Bernie Sanders rally in Boise, Idaho.

    As noted earlier in the week: if one of these protests have 1000 American flags and three Confederate flags, the Confederate flags will be the ones to make the news, and your social media mavens will be sure to frame them as revealing the "typical" mindset of the protesters.


  • And a funny story from a member of a losing team: Former Sanders Press Secretary Blames Media for Protecting Biden.

    Sen. Bernie Sanders's (I., Vt.) former campaign press secretary said in a new interview the media effectively conspired to protect presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden at the expense of her old boss.

    "Yeah, voters chose Joe Biden as their preferred candidate after months of concentrated media attention saying that he was the most electable candidate, not talking about any of his vulnerabilities," Briahna Joy Gray told the Atlantic.

    I think Briahna has (almost) a good point: the media gets attached to a narrative, and that slants their coverage toward that perspective.

    Griping about this is pointless.


  • Good old Vodkapundit has a link-filled article about Joe Biden: Unfit to Serve by Any and Every Measure. Here's just a sample:

    I'm pretty sure you'll find something Stephen mentions that will turn you into a "double hater".


  • And Kevin D. Williamson points out Joe Biden Is a Ridiculous Crank. Which threatens to be a series.

    Joe Biden, based only on the voices of the choir of goblins in his head, charges that Donald Trump is going to try to use the coronavirus epidemic as an excuse to try to delay the election — or even to cancel it.

    “Mark my words,” Biden said, “I think he is gonna try to kick back the election somehow, come up with some rationale why it can’t be held.” Your words have been marked, Mr. Biden.

    This is, of course, par for the course for Joe Biden, a man who once told a predominantly black audience that Republicans under . . . Mitt Romney . . . would “put y’all back in chains.”

    Biden will attempt to position himself as the “normal” candidate vis-à-vis Trump, the decent and reasonable man in the race. The truth is that he is a crank. He is a vicious, lying partisan of the first order, a moral and political coward not above lying about the circumstances of the death of his first wife and daughter when he thinks it will suit him politically.

    Biden’s claims about a canceled election are pure fiction.

    Indeed. Would a "fairer" media start openly wondering about the paranoid mentality behind this nonsense?


Last Modified 2020-04-27 6:06 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2020-04-25

  • Kyle Smith joins the pile-on at National Review in rebuttal to a recent anti-homeschool article in Harvard Magazine: The Attack on Homeschoolers Is an Attack on American Ideals.

    Listen carefully to the progressive Left and you may discover that when they say “democratic values,” they mean “I get to tell you what to think.” It’s nothing new to argue that the people must be forced to conform to the preferences of the cultural elites. It takes a certain mental flexibility to do this in the name of democracy.

    I refer to the Harvard Law professor Elizabeth Bartholet’s stated case for why it should be illegal for you to homeschool your children in her “something must be done” cry in Harvard Magazine. Bartholet wants the state to ride in on horseback and break up all those sinister gatherings in which families go through the multiplication tables together. Or discuss the Constitution. Or — sharp intake of breath — even study the Bible.

    Bartholet makes some half-hearted noises about opposing homeschooling because it supposedly leads to child abuse, or because homeschool parents are unlettered troglodytes who don’t know which end of the pencil the ink comes out of. (“People can homeschool who’ve never gone to school themselves, who don’t read or write themselves,” she claims.) These are just warmup arguments, though (dismantled here and here). Even Bartholet doesn’t really seem to believe them. The crux of her case against homeschoolers is that they might grow up thinking thoughts Bartholet does not agree with. That’s the “risk” of homeschooling.

    It's always a good idea to try to put the most charitable spin on ideas you disagree with. I'm having a tough time in this case.


  • At AIER, Jeffrey A. Tucker is a glass-half-full kind of guy about Covid-19: There Will Be Blowback, In Mostly Good Ways.

    Two months ago, it had been mandatory in my local grocery to use only shopping bags brought from home. Plastic bags were illegal by local ordinance. Then the virus hit. Suddenly the opposite was true. It was illegal to bring bags from home because they could spread disease. Plastic bags were mandatory. As a huge fan of plastic bags, I experienced profound Schadenfreude.

    It’s amazing how the prospect of death clarifies priorities.

    Before the virus, we indulged in all sorts of luxuries such as dabbling in dirtiness and imagining a world purified by bucolic naturalness. But when the virus hit, we suddenly realized that a healthy life really matters and that natural things can be very wicked. And then when government put everyone under house arrest and criminalized freedom itself, we realized many other things too. And we did it fast.

    Jeffrey names a number of other areas where our shock treatment reveals a lot of unnecessary, indeed counterproductive, policies.

    Our local would-be plastic bag-banner, Judith Spang, was recently quarantined although asymptomatic. Unfortunately, the reason was not indiscriminate use of filthy bags from home; she had travelled to Italy.


  • The Josiah Bartlett Center has a good idea for the state: To reopen the economy, ditch the 'essential' vs. 'non-essential' framework.

    Since the governor’s March 17 order that divided state businesses into “essential” and “non-essential” categories, people in industries categorized as “non-essential” have pressed hard to have their businesses recategorized. And who can blame them? For many, a forced closure for even a few more weeks, not to mention 18 months, is an economic death sentence.

    It’s become clear that the “essential” vs. “non-essential” framework is deeply flawed. Adopted by governors nationwide, it’s a better fit for wartime production circa the 1940s. The effort to suppress the spread of the coronavirus does not fit that model very well.

    In fact, it doesn't fit the whole notion of individual liberty very well; the state is a lousy judge of what is "acceptable" risk for individuals and businesses. Better it should concentrate on communicating clear information about the best knowledge available.

    But maybe this is an opportunity for more people to learn that lesson.


  • Do you, like Jonah Goldberg, have a White People Problem?

    One of the great things about white people—well, not the people themselves, but their place in society—is that it’s totally fine to crap on them from a great height in ways that would be incontrovertibly bigoted about virtually any other group (save perhaps Christians—white Christians). You can rant about white privilege, white uncoolness, white customs and culture (real and alleged), white bigotry (real and alleged), white bread, white dancing skills, white food, white music, white sexual inadequacies, white whatever, and, at least among certain cultural elites, be celebrated for it. When non-whites do it, it’s courageous, speaking truth to power or just funny. When whites do it, it’s a manifestation of self-awareness, atonement, or solidarity with the oppressed (and, less often, just funny). 

    I have no scientific data to support this, but I am pretty confident that one of the few veins of humor a stand-up comic can still get away with on an (overwhelmingly white) progressive college campus is white-bashing. 

    Hey, I can take it.

    It's just that we should have a word for making blanket, invidious judgment about people based on their skin color.

    Apparently "racist" isn't good enough?


  • And finally Greta Lee Jackson has thanks to give:

    What would we do without them?

Blue Moon

[Amazon Link]

Lee Child's latest novel featuring the exploits of Jack Reacher. As usual, what Child does looks easy, but it's not: if it were, more people would be doing it.

As often happens to Reacher, he just falls into the plot due to his powers of observation and deduction. In this case, riding an intercity bus, he notices an old guy with an envelope of money sticking out of his pocket. But Reacher also notices a different guy noticing the same thing. Suspecting an imminent mugging, Reacher gets off the bus with the old guy and—yup, prevents the crime.

But why is the old guy carrying around all that cash? Reacher gets sucked into his predicament, which is owing a bunch of money to a mob-connected loan shark. Which, it turns out, is just the frosting on a bigger problem. And just to make things more interesting, all this happens in a city where two mobs, one Albanian, the other Ukrainian, just happen to be starting a war for each others turf.

Unsurprisingly, because it's Reacher, things escalate into a three-way war between the mobs and Jack. This turns out to be a bad career move for the mobsters.

Uncut Gems

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Adam Sandler in a serious drama? OK.

He plays Howard Ratner, a jeweler who's in over his head with romantic, family, and financial problems, mostly self-inflicted due to his multiple character flaws: he's dishonest, impulsive, narcissistic, prone to rage. Usually I prefer a more likeable character, but Howard is more of an amoral force of nature, so it's easy to suspend judgment. As the movie proceeds, he resorts to ever more frenetic and high-risk schemes to keep all the plates spinning.

The main thread of the plot involves Boston Celtic Kevin Garnett ( playing himself), who's interested in … I am not making this up … a rock with the titular "uncut gems" embedded within. This invites social commentary: do NBA players really look around for flashy junk like this to spend their money on? Well, it's their money, so I guess I don't care.

This movie has Serious Oscar Contender written all over it, but it got skunked, with zero nominations. Adam Sandler did, however, win AARP's "Best Actor" in its Movies for Grownups department.

URLs du Jour

2020-04-24

  • As I've mentioned many times, I have a Google News Alert set for the phrase "Live Free or Die". (With an exception set to ignore occurrences of "Live Free or Die Hard", because that mediocre flick gets more news mentions than you might think.)

    So this morning's mail brought in not one, not two, … but forty-two occurrences of LFOD in world news media since the last check. Nearly all (of course) refer to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the various protests demanding that we get back to business as usual, stat. And a number of folks (as with the comely lass in our Getty Image du Jour) come to the protests with LFOD on signs, flags, and facemasks.

    Most LFOD references are scornful. Here's a typical example, an editorial from the LA Times: 'Live Free or Die' isn't a hypothetical choice.

    One sign spotted in Huntington Beach on Friday during a gathering of 100 or so protesters summed it up pretty well: “Live free or die.” The signmaker might have invoked the slogan, which happens to be the unironic state motto of New Hampshire (a state currently on lockdown), as a statement of principle. But in this pandemic a more apt slogan might be “Live free and die.”

    No, I won't bore you with the other 41 in today's crop. Would-be protesters: when designing your signs, maybe you should come up with phraseology that the anti-freedom crowd won't be so eager to deride.


  • Mike Dater of Portsmouth has a LTE published in my local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat. This made me wince:

    Walking around town I am alarmed at the number of people I see or encounter who do not to wear protective face masks in public. According The Guardian, “The CDC now recommends all Americans wear a face mask in public.” If that isn’t clear, what is?

    Note: the name is "Mike", not "Karen". And Mike goes on to Mikesplain his alarm that people aren't behaving as he would like.

    But here's my problem: the CDC's mask advice (dated April 3, I think the latest) is here. And here is the relevant bit:

    CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

    Emphasis added, which makes the CDC's actual recommendation a lot less draconian than Mike is claiming.

    I suppose Foster's isn't responsible for their letter-writers' fearmongering misstatements. But (somehow) I would bet that misstatements on the other side of the question are less likely to get published.

    (I should add that the NH Department of Health and Human Services' latest weekly summary says that about 28% of the cases in New Hampshire are due to "Community Transmission". That means: wear a mask in Walmart.)


  • On a related note, Rich Lowry points out in the NYPost that there's No evidence outdoor activities pose coronavirus risks. Noting the opprobrium dished out in the MSM to the news reports of Jacksonville, FL beaches being reopened to the joy of surfers:

    As the CNN report put it, “the scene at Jacksonville Beach wasn’t one of caution in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. Crowds cheered and flooded the beach when police took the barriers down. People were seen swimming, biking, surfing, running and fishing.”

    None of these activities has been shown to be vectors for the spread of COVID-19. In fact, no outdoors activities have been shown to be dangerous at all. A recent study examined hundreds of outbreaks and traced only one to an outdoor environment.

    Surfers and bikers are the least of our worries. Yet there is a segment of American opinion that takes it as its responsibility to scold and shame anyone who dares to go out to get a little fresh air.

    Rich notes "lockdown zealotry" is a real thing. And as Mike from Portsmouth above demonstrates, it's even in the Live Free or Die state.


  • In National Review, Veronique de Rugy looks at Economic Karens, and finds that the US has No Prudent Policymakers in Sight.

    Senator Marco Rubio had a piece in the New York Times yesterday headlined “We Need a More Resilient American Economy” in which he again called for industrial policy.

    There’s a lot that’s wrong with it, but I will not go over all that here. I will note one irony, one that would be laughable if it weren’t taken seriously by so many people — namely, the senator’s assertion that “there is a clear need for a sweeping pro-American industrial policy,” meaning more top-down central planning at least in some industries on the theory that government is more attentive to the long run and to creating a resilient economy than a private sector that is, we are told, mostly preoccupied with efficiency.

    As Don Boudreaux explains here, the popular myth — repeated by Rubio — about corporate short-termism is simply wrong. The facts contradict it. Businesses and investors in private markets, with rare exception, plan well and effectively for the long run. If they don’t, they’re out-competed by businesses and investors who do.

    Rubio thinks that "we" (by which he means: politicians) can do a better job of figuring this stuff out than the folks who have skin in the game. He's doing a fine job of making sure that I will never, ever, vote for Marco Rubio for anything.


  • And back at the NYPost, Jacob Sullum challenges Betteridge's law of headlines: Will leaders really look at science to figure out when lockdowns end?

    When she announced the startling results of a new COVID-19 study on Monday, Los Angeles County’s top public-health official, Barbara Ferrer, emphasized that the number of infections far exceeds the official count of confirmed cases. Yet Ferrer underplayed another important implication of the new study: COVID-19 seems to be far less deadly than many people initially feared.

    Ferrer’s framing of the study’s results — especially her eschewing of its implications on fatality rates — raises a question that policymakers across the country will confront as they consider when and how to loosen sweeping restrictions aimed at curtailing the COVID-19 epidemic. The question is: Will they be guided by emerging evidence, or will they use it to support the policies they already favored?

    I know which way I'm betting. And a side bet: Marco Rubio won't apply the lessons of politicians mishandling public safety issues to his advocacy of industrial policy.

URLs du Jour

2020-04-23

[Amazon Link]

  • Kevin D. Williamson has worthwhile Thoughts on Identity and Ability.

    “Beyond parody” is a tedious cliché, but I admit I would find it very difficult to parody this report from Slate on judicial appointments in Washington State.

    While the federal bench grows more homogeneous by the day, Democratic governors are diversifying their state judiciaries to an unprecedented degree. On Monday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, elevated Grace Helen Whitener to the state Supreme Court. Whitener is a disabled black lesbian who immigrated from Trinidad. She joins Inslee’s two other appointees: Raquel Montoya-Lewis, a Jewish Native American who previously served on tribal courts, and Mary Yu, an Asian-American Latina lesbian who officiated the first same-sex marriages in the state.

    {…]

    Progressives have hated the idea of the United States as a metaphorical melting pot for a very long time. I was in high school, in an American-history class taught by a very left-wing teacher (we get those in Lubbock, Texas, too), the first time I heard about the “salad bowl” vs. the melting pot. You know this one: The melting pot implies that immigrants come to the United States and eventually lose their distinctiveness, becoming fully incorporated into the great American amalgam. The “salad bowl” model, on the other hand, insists that immigrants come and retain their distinctiveness — all in the same dish, but everything separate. Fondue vs. salad — that’s a pretty American way of looking at things.

    And fondue wins. Fondue always wins.

    If you want a metaphor that describes how a "Jewish Native American" can come to be, fondue does the trick.


  • Peter Suderman, from the latest print Reason on GOP Debt Hypocrisy.

    Republicans in Congress, on the whole, no longer care about debt or deficits—at least not in any substantive sense. That's a problem for a number of reasons, not least that it increases the risk of a debt crisis in the future.

    Those same Republicans spent the better part of Barack Obama's presidency complaining bitterly about the trillion-dollar budget gaps the country ran during his first term, and President Donald Trump promised on the campaign trail to eliminate all federal debt. But since Trump's election, deficits have increased even faster than expected, and the total federal debt has risen accordingly. That, in turn, is likely to have long-term consequences for both the economy and for the broader politics of debt and deficits.

    And that was written before the pandemic.

    Most GOP pols have no principles other than maintaining their elective office.


  • Amusing news from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education: Survey data suggests there is a Lake Wobegon effect among campus administrators.

    Two recent Inside Higher Ed surveys, one of college and university presidents and the other of student affairs officers, revealed:

    • 77% of college and university presidents rated race relations on their campus as “excellent” or “good,” but only 19% rated race relations on other campuses in the United States as “excellent” or “good.”
    • 54% of student affairs officers rated race relations on their campus as “excellent” or “good,” but only 15% rated race relations on other campuses in the United States as “excellent” or “good.”

    Well, of course. If things were bad at my school, it would mean I wasn't doing a very good job.


  • P. J. O'Rourke has suggestions for Killing time.

    We’re getting pretty tired of all the board games we’ve got in the house. But I’ve been working on ways to modify the rules to make the games… boring in a new and different way.

    Federal Reserve Monopoly – Use your photocopier to print as much Monopoly money as your supply of copy paper allows. Whenever a player lands on an “essential service” (railroad, utility, Community Chest, Free Parking, any property with a house on it, or a hotel not owned by Donald Trump), give him or her a billion dollars.

    Bernie Sanders Monopoly – All the properties are free. Income Tax is 100%. Luxury Tax is 200%. Whoever owns Boardwalk and Park Place has to give all his or her money to the owner of Baltic and Mediterranean and spend the rest of the game in jail.

    And more.


  • Rich Lowry has the latest garbage from the folks who keep telling us to trust them: Media Smear Michigan Lockdown Protesters with Confederate-Flag Canard.

    It feels like 2009 redux, with spontaneous anti-government protests, once again, getting smeared.

    Of course, the proximate cause of the protests this time is the coronavirus lockdowns rather than Obamacare, although the feel of the demonstrations — expressing populist anger at government overreach — is the same, and so is the reaction of the critics.

    The line of attack is the familiar one of using a few isolated idiots or kooks to tar the entire enterprise. To this end, if there’s one thing Democrats (and the media) want you to know about the anti-lockdown protest at the Michigan state capitol in Lansing last week, it’s that people were flying Confederate flags.

    “What happened yesterday was inexcusable,” Representative Debbie Dingell (D., Mich.) said. “People did not have masks. They didn’t have gloves. They did not distance themselves. They had Confederate flags, swastikas.”

    The media were only too happy to echo and amplify such charges. Only problem: the swastika was an (over the top) criticism of the dictates of Michigan's governor. And there were two, perhaps 3 Confederate flags amidst hundreds of plain old stars-n-stripes.

    But the Confederate flags are what help you with your narrative, so they become The Story.

URLs du Jour

2020-04-22

  • Yes, finally, it's Earth Day. Today's image is one of Getty's oh-so-precious, you'll think better of me because I'm so sensitive offerings.

    Meanwhile, at Reason, Ron Bailey celebrates in his own way: Earth Day Turns 50. He looks at the predictions made back in 1970 by the "Catastrophists" and the "Prometheans". Examples of the former:

    Harrison Brown of the National Academy of Sciences published a chart in the September 1970 issue of Scientific American projecting that humanity would run out of copper shortly after 2000; lead, zinc, tin, gold, and silver would be gone before 1990. Brown claimed that his estimates took into account the possibilities that "new reserves will be discovered by exploration or created by innovation." The February 2, 1970, issue of Time quoted the ecologist Kenneth Watt: "By the year 2000, if present trends continue, we will be using up crude oil at such a rate…that there won't be any more crude oil."

    And in January 1970, Life magazine warned: "In a decade, urban dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air pollution."

    We wish urban dwellers had handy gas masks to wear.


  • Kevin D. Williamson has some thoughts on that Harvard Magazine article (see yesterday if necessary): The War on Homeschooling.

    [Anti-homeschooler Elizabeth] Bartholet is pretty open about her program, which has less to do with ensuring equal educational opportunity across socioeconomic groups (ho, ho!) and more to do with extending the surveillance state, lest unsupervised proles make child-rearing decisions at odds with the priorities Bartholet would prefer to see enforced.

    The conception of the public schools as a coercive and homogenizing moral force is fundamental to the mandatory-education project — our very first public-education law (known by the wonderfully evocative title “Old Deluder Satan Act”) was explicitly anti-Catholic in its intent, as were many of the public-education laws (Blaine amendments, etc.). Like our Puritan forebears, contemporary progressives believe that what keeps the infidels from the One True Faith is mostly ignorance, which can be cured through coercive indoctrination.

    Wikipedia on the Old Deluder Satan Act here.


  • At the Federalist, Neal Pollack offers his Brilliant Nine-Phase Retractable Plan For Reopening The Nation.

    My plan operates in phases. In Phase One, we must re-open essential businesses, plus the local gourmet shop in my hometown of Mount Winchester that sells duck confit. However, no one must get within six feet of the open storefronts. Shopkeepers must shoot pre-purchased goods out of a T-shirt cannon, and we can only catch them if we’re wearing gloves.

    If we leave our houses, we must allow medical authorities to stick a three-foot swab up our noses and a two-foot swab in our ears. If these tests prove inconclusive, then we must take the SAT, even if we haven’t studied.

    Preschools should re-open, but without teachers. Grade schools should remain closed. High schools should remain open, but only for sophomores and juniors, and only if they maintain strict gender-neutral bathroom policies. Students are allowed to make out behind the bleachers, but only if they remain six feet apart. Trigonometry classes will be canceled, because everyone hates them.

    Neal provides the expertise and wisdom we need in these trying times.


  • And moving on to an even funnier story, from the Free Beacon: CBS Anchor Tells Stacey Abrams She's 'Extremely Qualified' to be Vice President.

    CBS This Morning anchor and Barack Obama donor Gayle King gushed over Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams on Tuesday morning, saying the former state legislator and failed gubernatorial candidate is "extremely qualified" to be vice president of the United States.

    Abrams is openly lobbying to serve as Joe Biden's running mate come November, despite never being elected to any office beyond the state legislature. As she touted her voting rights work and "competence and skills and willingness to serve," King cut in to praise her as ready to be a heartbeat away from the presidency.

    As someone said on Twitter: Stacey Abrams in 2020 is far less qualified than Sarah Palin was in 2008.

    But we should be grateful to Gayle King for reminding us (yet again) that CBS News is pretty much an uncompensated offshoot of the Democratic National Committee.


  • And Jonah Goldberg shares his Cataclysmic Feelings. Specifically, he looks at a recent podcast that considered Richard Feynman's idea, which appeared in Chapter 1 of Volume 1 of his Lectures on Physics:

    If, in some cataclysm, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generations of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words? I believe it is the atomic hypothesis (or the atomic fact, or whatever you wish to call it) that all things are made of atoms—little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another. In that one sentence, you will see, there is an enormous amount of information about the world, if just a little imagination and thinking are applied.

    This question was posed in a recent podcast to a bunch of Modern Deep Thinkers. The results were… not as good as Feynman's. Unexcerptable, so I urge you even more than usual to Read The Whole Thing.

The Diamond Age

Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer

[Amazon Link]

Amazon tells me I bought my copy on October 30, 2002, and my blog tells me that I initially read it sometime in 2003 (before the blog itself actually started). Getting around to re-reading.

A very meta comment: it strikes me that if I were a wannabe writer, reading this book would be utterly discouraging. With 99% probability, you look at this honestly and say: there's no way in hell I could ever be this good. Stephenson pins the needle on imagination and style.

Neal Stephenson's game here is to visit a near-future world where (a) nanotech, AI, and virtual reality have fulfilled all their promises (and threats); (b) as an unexpected result, a neo-Victorian resurgence, with a technology-driven aristocracy. (And the Queen is, guess what, Victoria II.)

There's also an underclass. Widespread nano-abundance means nobody's starving, but there's a lot of petty crime and familial abuse.

The plot driver: Hackworth, a genius nano-architect, has been commissioned to generate a "primer" for a daughter of the aristocracy. It is, literally, a complete teacher and companion to whatever young female initially opens it. It tells immersive princess stories while painlessly teaching the reader/pupil the three R's and much more. (Like, eventually, theoretical computer science.)

Illegally, Hackworth conspires to generate a second copy for his own less fortunate daughter. But fate intervenes when a roving band of youths mug him, liberating his pirated copy. Which falls into the hands of the main protagonist, urchin Nell. Her subsequent adventures are thrilling, and occasionally poignant. (And sometimes hilarious. Page 175 of my copy describes the ingredient list for the condiment Hackworth glops onto his steak sandwich:

Hackworth took a bite of his sandwich, correctly anticipating that the meat would be gristly and that he would have plenty of time to think about his situation while his molars subdued it. He did have plenty of time, as it turned out; but as frequently happened to him in these situations, he could not bring his mind to bear on the subject at hand. All he could think about was the taste of the sauce. If the manifest of ingredients on the bottle had been legible, it would have read something like this: Water, blackstrap molasses, imported habanero peppers, salt, garlic, ginger, tomato puree, axle grease, real hickory smoke, snuff, butts of clove cigarettes, Guinness Stout fermentation dregs, uranium mill tailings, muffler cores, monosodium glutamate, nitrates, nitrites, nitrotes and nitrutes, nutrites, natrotes, powdered pork nose hairs, dynamite, activated charcoal, match-heads, used pipe cleaners, tar, nicotine, singlemalt whiskey, smoked beef lymph nodes, autumn leaves, red fuming nitric acid, bituminous coal, fallout, printer's ink, laundry starch, drain deaner, blue chrysotile asbestos, carrageenan, BHA, BHT, and natural flavorings.

(And there's a lot of other stuff going on too.)


Last Modified 2020-04-22 10:02 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2020-04-21

  • In case you haven't seen it yet, here's Harvard Magazine's (initial) illustration for its article on the risks of homeschooling: [Arithmatic]

    Note the spelling on the spine of that orange book. (It's since been corrected at the article site, which means it probably wasn't some clever dig at home-schooler illiteracy.)

    Anyway, the article highlights the deep totalitarian thoughts of one Elizabeth Bartholet ("Wasserstein public interest professor of law and faculty director of the Law School’s Child Advocacy Program"). She is not a fan of DIY book-learnin':

    [Bartholet] sees risks for children—and society—in homeschooling, and recommends a presumptive ban on the practice. Homeschooling, she says, not only violates children’s right to a “meaningful education” and their right to be protected from potential child abuse, but may keep them from contributing positively to a democratic society.

    Can't have that!

    You will look through the article in vain for statistics showing worse outcomes for homeschooled kids versus those in government schools. Prof Bartholet seems to rely heavily on anecdote, specifically the one detailed in a recent bestseller (Educated, by Tara Westover).

    I'll leave rebuttal to (homeschooled herself) Alexandra DeSanctis at National Review. Sample:

    Ultimately, Bartholet’s argument is thinly veiled anti-religious bigotry coupled with a healthy dose of privileged elitism. It assumes, first and foremost, that homeschooling is merely a front for religious zealots to indoctrinate their children with backwards, anti-science beliefs based on Christianity’s horrific, outdated teachings. And though she doesn’t acknowledge it, the result of her ban on homeschooling would be that wealthy parents can continue to avoid public schools by sending their children to expensive private institutions while a dearth of school-choice policies and a lack of financial resources leave lower-income parents with no options at all.

    I'm on record as being more radical than most: compulsory schooling laws should be repealed. The arguments for a "wall of separation" between church and state apply equally well to separating education and the state.


  • And while we're picking on Harvard, Maureen Callahan has a nit herself at the NYPost:

    One thing our new normal has made inarguably clear: The gap between the haves and have-nots is becoming more painful and more intractable with each passing day.

    Our latest example comes courtesy of Harvard University, wealthiest in the nation, with an endowment of $40 billion.

    Guess which institute of higher learning is getting a coronavirus bailout?

    Yep. Harvard has been granted, and is accepting, $8.7 million in federal aid — and only half of that must be reserved for emergency financial aid for students. Consider that in fiscal year 2019, Harvard spent $1.9 billion of its endowment covering the gaps for students in need and ended the year with a nearly $300 million surplus.

    Apparently Harvard had enough "essential" employees on hand to demand aid from the Feds.


  • It's Earth Day! … er, well, it's around now. Kevin D. Williamson looks at Defenders of the Faith.

    It is something of a cliché on the right to observe that the character of the environmental movement is generally religious rather than political or ecological — it has a deity, festivals, dietary laws (if you really cared about Gaia, you’d be a vegan!), an apocalypse narrative, etc.

    And it also has its sacraments of reconciliation. It was no surprise, then to read this headline in the New York Times this morning: “This Earth Day, We Should Repent.”

    We heretics aren't being Inquisitioned yet, but as they say: nobody expects that.


  • Michael Graham of NHJournal reports on local protests: In NH, The Coronavirus Class-Warfare Divide Is on Display.

    Saturday’s #ReOpenNH event at the statehouse could have easily been mistaken for a Trump rally– but not because of partisan politics.

    Instead, there’s a pragmatic reason that Trump supporters tend to also be more motivated to push for the Granite State economy to reopen. They are the same working-class Americans who’ve been hit hardest by the economic impact of the coronavirus lockdown, at both the national and local levels.

    The new Dartmouth College-UNH Survey Center New Hampshire COVID-19 study, conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center and Dartmouth College, found that while 42 percent of working Granite Staters with a high school diploma or less have been laid off or lost work hours due to the lockdown, just 28 percent of college grads have suffered the same fate.

    A number of my lefty Facebook friends, who usually pride themselves on compassion and tolerance, are quite put out with these efforts. I believe they're not in the laid-off fraction to which Michael refers.


  • And the NYPost tries to answer the question you didn't know you had: Can the coronavirus be spread through farts?

    The smell may be hell but the mist could leave you pissed.

    Two Australian doctors are weighing in about the spread of the coronavirus “down under” — whether it can be spread through farts, that is.

    During Friday’s episode of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s “Coronacast” podcast, producer and host Dr. Norman Swan made a cautionary suggestion when it comes to particles of feces set adrift within a fart and the spread of COVID-19.

    Bottom line is … ha, see what I did there?

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Another comic book-based movie. It absolutely wallows in its absurd premises, but still winds up killing a lot of people along the way. Fine. The MPAA rates it R, for the usual reasons: "sequences of strong violence, drug content, language throughout and some sexual material". But no female nudity, sadly. It's like that's the new taboo.

It is a sequel. The survivors from the first movie are back (however some of them only briefly). And one of the non-survivors is back too: Colin Firth, who Samuel L. Jackson shot in the head. That sort of thing is recoverable in this universe.

There's a new group of baddies, led by Julianne Moore, who seems to be having fun. She runs a massive drug cartel, and has a scheme to go legit by poisoning all the users of her products, withholding the antidote until and unless the War on Drugs is called off. Unfortunately, the President of the US, Captain Pike, thinks getting rid of all the druggies would be just great! So, no help there.

And the Kingsmen Brits ally with their American counterparts.

Bottom line: to really like this movie, you have to really like tongue-in-cheek carnage, accompanied by bad language. I liked it a little better than the first one, but I might just have been in a more receptive mood.

URLs du Jour

2020-04-20

  • I used to quote Michelle Malkin all the time, but there was a dramatic dropoff starting 10-11 years ago. The last time I quoted her was back in 2018, and then in November 2019, I noted her excommunication by the Young America's Foundation. I wondered if she had "gone off the deep end."

    But I kept checking out her blog, Until a few days ago, when I was redirected to a new site, where she announced she was Settling into a new home.

    And that link goes to the Unz Review.

    Look, I'm aware of the SPLC and their ilk tarring all conservatives (and a lot of libertarians) with a very broad and dirty brush. But … geez … the Unz Review deserves every bit of tar you can sling at it. Bring on the clichés: it's a cesspool of anti-semitism, a dumpster fire of racism, an Augean stable of conspiracy theories, a garbage heap of revisionism…

    The Moon landings were a giant hoax. 9/11 Was an Israeli Job. And (exercise for the reader) go through this article on tax policy and count how many times "Jew"/"Jewish" appears.

    So I've dumped Ma Belle Michelle. She's gone to a place I can't follow. Hope she gets better soon.


  • At Instapundit, David Bernstein has a detailed look at why no sensible person should blindly trust the New York Times. Case in point: an article by reporter Ginia Bellafante which details the Covid-19 death of one Joe Joyce. Who was unlucky enough to take a cruise on March 1. Wife Kristen is quoted as to who was really to blame for her husband's demise:

    “He watched Fox, and believed it was under control,’’ Kristen told me.

    David takes this apart by looking at what everyone was saying around the beginning of March.

    Responsible reporters would […] point out that whatever the family believes, no important institutions or media networks were calling on people to stop traveling (or gathering) when the individual in question set off on his cruise. It turns out that we likely should have started serious social distancing at least a couple of weeks earlier than we did. But to blame our not doing so on “Fox News” is just batty.

    And some bright person unearthed a Ginia Bellafante tweet from 2/27 saying that she "fundamentally" didn't "understand the panic."


  • Arnold Kling predicts that Lockdown Socialism will collapse. And I usually excerpt, but:

    I’ve seen headlines about polls showing that people are afraid of restrictions being lifted too soon. To me, it sounds as if they prefer what I call Lockdown Socialism.

    Under Lockdown Socialism:

    –you can stay in your residence, but paying rent or paying your mortgage is optional.

    –you can obtain groceries and shop on line, but having a job is optional.

    –other people work at farms, factories, and distribution services to make sure that you have food on the table, but you can sit at home waiting for a vaccine.

    –people still work in nursing homes that have lost so many patients that they no longer have enough revenue to make payroll.

    –professors and teachers are paid even though schools are shut down.

    –police protect your property even though they are at risk for catching the virus and criminals are being set free.

    –state and local governments will continue paying employees even though sales tax revenue has collapsed.

    –if you own a small business, you don’t need revenue, because the government will keep sending checks.

    –if you own shares in an airline, a bank, or other fragile corporations, don’t worry, the Treasury will work something out.

    This might not be sustainable.

    That last bit is classic understatement.


  • I temporarily gave up on posting about Google News Alerts for occurrences of "Live Free or Die". Because nearly every one of late has been an undercurrent of snideness about people at lockdown protests, some of whom (they invariably point out) are carrying LFOD signs.

    At Reason, Robby Soave has a simple request: Celebrities and the Media Shouldn’t Sneer at Coronavirus Lockdown Protesters.

    In their desperation to get back to work, some Americans are taking to the streets to demand that the government end the quarantine. Comedian Patton Oswalt is unsympathetic.

    "Anne Frank spent 2 years hiding in an attic and we've been home for just over a month with Netflix, food delivery & video games and there are people risking viral death by storming state capital buildings & screaming, 'Open Fuddruckers!'" he tweeted on Saturday.

    This is hardly Oswalt's first display of smug liberal condescension: His tweet denouncing Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann as a "leering, privileged little shit" was one of the most vile celebrity attacks on the wrongly maligned teenager.

    It's not a good look for not-very-inconvenienced celebrities to punch down at actual people who are hurting.


  • At Granite Grok, Steve MacDonald highlights a local story: UNH Student Lied About being Drugged by Frat. The Union Leader news story is here.

    A Manchester woman has been arrested for filing a false report to law enforcement after she claimed she was drugged during an off-campus fraternity event at the University of New Hampshire.

    Olivia LeClerc, 20, was arrested at the Durham Police Department on Thursday. She is scheduled to be arraigned on May 13, according to an arrest log.

    LeClerc is accused of presenting police with a drug test which showed she had benzodiazepines (Xanax) in her system after a social at Kappa Sigma the last week of February. Later, she recanted her story, police said, admitting that she had forged the document.

    Steve comments, correctly, that "the tendency to report fake rapes does an injustice to women who are actually assaulted. Rape is real, and it happens, and it is awful. These women need support and deserve justice."

    In the meantime, UNH suspended the Kappa Sigma frat. One can only wonder if they'll be desuspended and apologized to.


  • And I have to share this wonderful video brought to my attention by Viking Pundit: Somber music playing in these unprecedented times. Because I've been driven slightly bonkers by this:

    And Mrs. Salad is beginning to dislike my frenzied screaming every time one of the ads appears…

The Phony Campaign

2020-04-19 Update

Well, a pretty boring week. Everybody said the same things they were saying before. As they said way back when:

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.

Well, actually, that was written c. 450–200 BCE.

Things have changed a lot since then.

But maybe not in ways the Kohelet would consider important.

Ah well. In phony news, Wheezy improved his odds a bit, with a corresponding decrease in Bone Spur futures. And obviously, Trump continues to clean up on the phony hits:

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
4/12
Phony
Results
Change
Since
4/12
Donald Trump 49.8% -0.6% 1,640,000 +120,000
Joe Biden 43.3% +0.8% 450,000 +19,000

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

  • It would be interesting to hear folks squeal if this happens, as reported by CNBC: Trump threatens to adjourn Congress so he can make recess appointments.

    President Donald Trump on Wednesday threatened to do what no American president before him has done: Unilaterally adjourn Congress so that he can appoint his nominees to senior positions and the federal bench without Senate approval.

    It's right there in Article II, Section 3. And (of course) the President used the P-word when threatening this move:

    “If the House will not agree to that adjournment, I will exercise my constitutional authority to adjourn both chambers of Congress,” the president said. “The current practice of leaving town while conducting phony pro-forma sessions is a dereliction of duty that the American people cannot afford during this crisis. It is a scam that they do.”

    Whatever, dude. I trust Andrew C. McCarthy with the legal analysis; he calls it an "empty threat".

    The pro forma proceedings mean there can be no claim that a true recess in the session has occurred. They further deprive the president of power to make recess appointments. Recall that President Obama, in his characteristic intolerance of constitutional restraints on executive authority, attempted to make some recess appointments when the Senate was not in recess. At the time, the Senate was conducting pro forma sessions because Republicans then, like Democrats now, were determined to prevent recess appointments. The Supreme Court, in NLRB v. Noel Canning, invalidated Obama’s lawless gambit. The Court concluded that the pro forma proceedings count, and thus the Senate is in session if it says it is in session. Case closed.

    In his mini-tirade, President Trump said that if the House did not allow the Senate to adjourn so that he could make recess appointments, he would “exercise my constitutional authority to adjourn both chambers of Congress.” He was apparently referring to another vestige of the Founding era, Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution. It provides that if both houses of Congress disagree about whether there has been an adjournment of the session, the president “may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper.”

    The problems with the president’s suggestion are obvious. First, there is no disagreement between the two chambers. Unless there were a change by law, the current 116th Congress’s session will end on January 3, 2021. (Under the 20th Amendment, the terms of outgoing Senators and House members end on January 3 of the odd years in which their successors take those seats.) Clearly, there is not going to be any change in the law.

    Gosh, just what we need, a Constitutional crisis over a never-before-invoked Presidential power. Trump can really make it interesting, can't he?


  • And there was a p-word containing tweet from President Orange:

    Yeah, it's wildly overused. You think Trump could make that point without sounding like a third-grader that watches too much Fox News?


  • At the New York Times, Kevin Roose bewails: Biden Is Losing the Internet. Does That Matter? It's a sad story, really. But there's a phony angle:

    YouTube, where progressives have only recently started competing for attention with an extensive network of popular right-wing creators, is particularly thorny territory for a centrist pragmatist like Mr. Biden. The platform’s left-wing commentariat, often referred to as “LeftTube” or “BreadTube,” mostly seems to consist of young Sanders supporters who see Mr. Biden as an establishment phony. Video compilations of Mr. Biden’s verbal gaffes, with titles like “17 Minutes of Joe’s Melting Brain,” have gotten millions of views over all.

    Kevin's a good Democrat, and hence doesn't even link to the video, but Pun Salad is a full-service blog:

    Biden fever! Catch it!


  • Brian and Eddie Krassenstein ("journalists who have written for The Independent, Hill Reporter, 3DPrint") propose an excellent idea at Medium: How Joe Biden Could Stop the GOP’s ‘Mental Decline’ Claims in 10 Seconds. Sounds almost like clickbait, but they are apparently serious.

    There is one simple way that Joe Biden’s campaign could put an abrupt end to the GOP’s endless and baseless attacks of “mental decline.” It would only take a 2 sentence-long statement or tweet to get the job done.

    “I challenge Donald Trump to a publicly held mental (including an IQ test) and physical examination with the top 3 physicians in the nation. All results and the entire examination will be televised.”

    That’s it. That’s all that it would take. President Trump would obviously turn down the offer out of fear that he’d be embarrassed by the former vice president whom he continuously attacks the mental fitness of.

    The GOP’s talking points surrounding Biden’s mental health would completely be put to rest, and it would make potential voters reconsider the mental and physical health of President Trump.

    I definitely, desperately, want to see this happen. I'm not sure (look at that video again) things will work out as Brian and Eddie expect.

URLs du Jour

2020-04-18

[Amazon Link]

  • Cato's Alan Reynolds asks the musical question: Did Mitigation Save Two Million Lives? (And it seems that Betteridge's law of headlines applies.) He looks at the famous chart displayed by President Trump showing a steep fatality bell curve (2.2 million dead) and a "flattened" curve (100K-240K dead). Problem: the curves were from two different, and incommensurable, models,

    If the point of comparing two graphs was to show estimated deaths with and without “interventions,” then there was no reason to use two models rather than one. The same Imperial College model that warned of 2.2 million U.S. deaths with no interventions also predicted 1.1 to 1.2 million deaths –not 100,000 to 240,000– even with “the most effective mitigation strategy.” The Imperial College recommendations for “most effective mitigation” focused on social distancing for those over 70 and isolation of only those infected and their contacts, rather than banning jobs or closing all restaurants and beaches. An effective strategy would be targeted and localized, consistent with the new federal guidelines for gradually easing restrictions on the least‐​risky counties, populations, activities and businesses.

    Welp, too late now!


  • There is some good news in the Granite State, though. The Union Leader reports Home hair cuts probably won't get you arrested.

    Not only does that quarantine haircut look like a crime, it might technically be one, though the punishment will be confined to the mirror.

    State law makes it illegal to cut hair without a proper license, but people who have resorted to home haircuts during the coronavirus pandemic shouldn’t be worried, an official said.

    Not that having your Missus cut your hair isn't illegal. It is. The letter of the law doesn't care if she does it for free. It's just that the state, in its majestic wisdom, won't lower this particular boom on you.


  • [Amazon Link]
    At Bleeding Heart Libertarians, Jason Brennan finds it amusing When Suddenly Everyone Is a Technocratic Epistocrat. Jason wrote a book, Against Democracy, a few years back that argued for "epistocracy", giving additional say in ruling to people who actually know what they're talking about.

    It’s utterly bizarre. When I say, “Here are 3000 highly sophisticated economic studies over a hundred years, performed by economists of all different ideological bents, all arguing X, but the people think not-X,” lots of political scientists and philosophers responded by saying, “Yeah, you can’t trust the so-called experts.” When I say, “Obviously, testing for current infection and mostly/entirely testing people who present themselves as sick introduces a severe selection bias, which means the resulting case fatality rate is not a good estimate of the infection fatality rate,” they say, “Trust the experts. Where’s your degree in epidemiology?”

    I hope I'm not going out on a limb here, but I don't think I've found epidemiologists that reliable.


  • And a Los Angeles TV station reports amusingly on a heinous toilet paper caper in Port Hueneme. And, fair warning, you'll moan at the excerpts from the police post at Facebook. Sample:

    The suspects tried to make a “clean getaway,” and police confirmed “they didn’t leave any skid marks when they fled the crime scene,” the post read.

    […]

    “We can’t be soft on crime when dealing with these dingle berries who’ll stop at nothing to clog our streets with this type of behavior,” the Facebook post stated.

    This is Pun Salad. We should do more of this stuff.

URLs du Jour

2020-04-17

  • At AEI, Mark J. Perry provides Quotation of the day on emergencies….. It's from Hayek, who saw it coming:

    ‘Emergencies’ have always been the pretext on which the safeguards of individual liberty have been eroded – and once they are suspended it is not difficult for anyone who has assumed emergency powers to see to it that the emergency will persist.

    Good point, Fred.


  • At AIER, Jeffrey A. Tucker examines a different aspect of the same phenomenon: Well, That Unraveled Quickly.

    Our political culture is rooted in the great myth that whatever happens in society is due to them, and this presumption bites us any time there is some emergency: they have a penchant toward control in the name of the precautionary principle. In this case, it made the U.S Constitution and human rights generally null and void for a full thirty days. And we had no choice but to comply. It was a grotesque experiment in totalitarianism. Families ripped apart, people’s businesses and jobs destroyed, essential surgeries delayed, despair spread throughout society.

    Now we know. Never again.

    The lockdowns were presented to us under the need to “flatten the curve” for hospital capacity, but there isn’t one curve and we didn’t have enough information even to say where one city was on any curve. There were some days of difficulty in hot spots but many hospitals in the country, due to the order that they not do elective surgeries, started furloughing workers. The reality of many empty hospitals in the middle of a pandemic was too much to process. So we spent the next two weeks searching for new justifications to keep the lockdown in place. Those started to sound affected and even fraudulent very quickly. 

    Can you say "moving the goalposts", boys and girls? Kimberley A. Strassel can.


  • Probably nobody will pay a lot of attention to this "told you so" bit, but: Coronavirus Crisis Vindicates the FCC’s ‘Net Neutrality’ Rollback. It's from lawprof Christopher S. Yoo, writing in the WSJ.

    The widespread imposition of stay-at-home orders has underscored the critical role that access to the internet plays in modern society. Some countries have done a better job than others in deploying high-quality and robust network infrastructure. In Europe, networks have struggled to meet bandwidth demand, leading officials to ask popular services such as Netflix and YouTube to degrade the quality of their streaming video from high definition to standard definition. U.S. networks have faced fewer problems adjusting to the increase in demand.

    Public policy explains the different outcomes. The European Union has embraced a heavy-handed regulatory scheme designed to allocate access to the existing network, while the U.S. has emphasized private investment to expand network capacity.

    None of the dire predictions from back in 2017 when NetNeut was scuttled have come to pass. The people who made them have moved on to other topics.


  • At NR, Katherine Timpf is rightly put out by the comment made by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy to Tucker Carlson: that he “wasn’t thinking of the Bill of Rights” when imposing social-distancing restrictions — because such considerations were “above [his] pay grade.”

    Katherine says: no, Phil: Bill of Rights Is Not ‘above’ Any Government Leader’s ‘Pay Grade’.

    Make no mistake: If you are an elected official in the United States of America, considering the Constitution when you govern is never “above your pay grade.” It is, in fact, a major reason that you’re even getting paid at all.

    Again: This is an absolute fact. It’s not up for debate, and what’s more, it’s not as if Murphy had no way to know so. Rather, before officially beginning his tenure as governor, Murphy himself took an oath of office that doesn’t just state but actually begins with the following: “I, _____, elected governor of the State of New Jersey, do solemnly promise and swear, that I will support the Constitution of the United States . . .”

    If anything, this irks me even more than it does Katherine.

URLs du Jour

2020-04-16

  • I'd guess Deirdre McCloskey's National Review article, Coercion and the Coronavirus, is paywalled. (It's from the print magazine that showed up for me yesterday.) Among other things, Deirdre makes a language point:

    But I do so dislike the two words we use, the S-word and the C-word. They are misleading, coinages both of them by the enemies of liberty. Like “society” or “the nation” or “the general will” or “the balance of international trade,” they make us stupid. Capitalism should be called, rather, “innovism,” which is what it is. The original liberalism of people such as Adam Smith and Mary Wollstonecraft inspirited millions of ordinary people to have a go at innovating, such as Malcom McLean in 1956 inventing containerization, with the result that real income per head exploded, raising the roof. To a very, very tall roof. A roof 30 times as tall as the roofs of the earlier, pathetic hovels. It’s called the “Great Enrichment,” well beyond the more routine Industrial Revolution.

    “Socialism,” to consider the other bad word, sounds sweet and collaborative. It charmed me as a folk-singing leftie in high school. Bernie Sanders and I are the same age. In 1960 we had the same opinion about capitalism. Since then I’ve listened and learned. Of course socialism is literally the use of the government’s monopoly of physical coercion to force people to do what they would not otherwise choose to do. If your sweetly socialist neighbor doesn’t think so, and balks at the word “coercion,” buy her a copy of the Soviet Jew Vasily Grossman’s last novel, Everything Flows (unpublished and indeed suppressed after his death in 1964), about how life under socialism actually is. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power over the economy corrupts absolutely.

    Socialism should therefore be called “coercionism.” Sometimes, rarely, what the government coerces us to do is a swell idea, such as coercing parents to inoculate their children against measles. One measles case infects 20 others and the disease is regularly fatal for adults who haven’t had it as children. Ask the Aztecs and the Incas and the Mohicans on that score. The corresponding number for the novel coronavirus is two or three, which is quite bad enough. For influenza it is lower, between one and two, which is why in the normal seasonal influenzas, for some of which we have inoculations, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to coerce people. People, especially old people like me, have plenty of incentive to self-protect by getting their shots. And when the protection from the flu doesn’t work, as for many thousands annually it doesn’t, there isn’t actually anything more that either self-protection or an activist government can do about it.

    That's probably enough. Don't want to get into copyright legal trouble.

    The problem with using more accurate language is obvious: few will know what the hell you're talking about.


  • At the Library of Economics and Liberty, David Henderson writes Flattening the Curve and Moving the Goalposts. Quoting a Facebook article by Ben Powell:

    The reason for the shutdown was not simply to “flatten the curve” for its own sake but to flatten it so that hospitals would not be overwhelmed. It was not to decrease the total number of people who get the disease. It was to spread out the cases to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed so that there would not be deaths from COVID because of lack of available medical care (regardless of what the death rate from COVID is otherwise). It was a particular cause of death (lack of hospital capacity) that the shutdown was to avoid. So, the relevant data for re-opening is hospital capacity. That’s it. And we can get reliable data for that in the US and it varies by region. But most of the country has plenty of hospital capacity and in fact, due to bans on non-essential medical proceedures, some hospitals have so much excess capacity that they are hurting financially and laying off workers. Other data like cases and case fatality are interesting and (poorly) inform other decisions such as whether and how much I choose to social distance. But it’s not relevant for the re-opening debate.

    We used to assume a lot of people would catch Kung Flu. Is that not still the case? If that's still true, restrictions should start being lifted in areas where there's plenty of hospital capacity. Like here in New Hampshire.


  • People waste a lot of ire on price gougers. Veronique de Rugy suggests a different, more worthwhile target: Frivolous Litigators Bite the Hands That Care for Them.

    Health care professionals and businesses are both worried. For instance, COVID-19 has hit seniors disproportionately, and nursing homes have become a significant target of these attorneys. Recently, the Florida Health Care Association urged Gov. Ron DeSantis to provide legal immunity to protect facilities and their workers from lawsuits that attempt to hold them liable for the harm spread suddenly by this virus.

    Beyond the immediate impact, these medical malpractice lawsuits would also have long-term consequences, since studies show that they raise the cost of health care. According to estimates examined by my Mercatus Center colleagues Jared Rhoads and Robert Graboyes, because of fears of being sued, physicians resort to a form of defensive medicine that consists of doing more than is strictly necessary to treat a patient, at an aggregate cost ranging between $650 to $850 billion per year.

    There's no crisis so bad that a bunch of trial lawyers can't make worse.


  • At the WaPo, Yuval Levin makes a valid point: Only the public can reopen the economy. After reviewing the silly despotism revealed by Trump's assertion of his sole power to dictate an economic restart, and state officials' pushback:

    But the whole dispute betrays a serious misunderstanding of the situation the country is in. The fact is that neither the president nor the governors could reopen the economy with the stroke of a pen. Nothing they could do would, by itself, persuade people to return to work, send their kids to school or make travel plans. Americans are worried about getting sick. They began canceling plans well before most states took major actions, and the confidence to get back to normal would require much more than the word of any politician.

    In one recent poll, Gallup asked how soon respondents would “return to your normal activities” once restrictions were lifted. Only 20 percent said they would do so immediately. Seventy-one percent said they would “wait to see what happens with the coronavirus.” The only way to really reopen the economy is to make sure that what those people see is reassuring. And that can happen only if the federal government and the states cooperate to create the conditions for public confidence.¶

    That simple reality can also clarify the character of American federalism. The purpose of America’s various layers of government is not to order people around. It is to help create and sustain the conditions in which people can lead free and flourishing lives.

    I'm glad the Washington Post saw fit to run such a sensible take. I only wish that simply reading the article didn't dump—I am not exaggerating—46 cookies onto my browser.


  • At Cato, Chris Edwards looks at Our Post Office. USPS: Privatization vs. Bailouts.

    Similarly, Congress has long ignored calls to reform the U.S. Postal Service, and now the USPS faces a desperate financial crisis. In the past, the Trump administration proposed major USPS restructuring, as did the Cato Institute. But over the years, Congress has blocked even modest cost‐​saving changes that the USPS has proposed.

    I proposed to Congress that it privatize the USPS, which would have given the company the flexibility it needs to weather the Covid‐​19 crisis. The USPS is in a straitjacket unable to save itself during the crisis because Congress imposes restrictions on costs, pricing, labor unions, delivery, and other operational factors.

    Any additional taxpayer money going to the USPS should be predicated on significant reforms that will lessen or remove taxpayer exposure to this 18th-century institution.

    My local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat has a mail-related article today: Mail carriers ask for help with social distancing. Which starts out with useful information about proper Covid-related etiquette the USPS would like you to follow.

    But then turns into an unpaid ad for a local pol who's proposing a USPS taxpayer bailout:

    On Monday, Maine Democratic Congresswoman Chellie Pingree cosponsored legislation to support the USPS during the coronavirus pandemic. USPS, which handles 47% of the world’s mail, has seen a serious drop in both mail volume and revenues during the health emergency.

    Boo hoo. New Hampshire pols are so far not on the cosponsor list.

    Foster's becomes more of a Democrat mouthpiece every day.

Destination Wedding

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

A not-bad, not-good, just OK romantic comedy from Amazon Prime. Because we were in the mood for this sort of thing.

Winona Ryder and Keanu Reeves play (respectively) Lindsay and Frank, who meet at the boarding gate for a puddle-jumping plane that will take them up to San Luis Obispo for a … well, you see the title up there? That.

They immediately take a dislike to each other, which means they will eventually get romantically entangled. He is the groom's brother, and they do not get along; she is the groom's ex-fiancée, and they broke up contentiously. Most everyone else is having a good time, but Lindsay and Frank unite in their general distaste for the proceedings.

The trick to the movie (quoting IMDB trivia):

Winona Ryder (Lindsay) and Keanu Reeves (Frank) hold the only on-screen speaking roles in the movie. Movies playing on the TV in their rooms and announcements made over PA systems are the only other voices heard.

So here's the thing: the movie entirely relies on the Lindsay/Frank dialog being funny and clever. But that's a hit and miss thing. Also a "how long can this go on" thing.

Tag

[2.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I guess this is a subgenre now: comedies where there's a lot of frenetic action and the actors drop the f-bomb a lot. So we tried this one, and eh.

The premise is promising: the longest game of tag ever, slopping over into the adulthood of the players: Jon Hamm, Ed Helms, Lil Rel Howery, Jake Johnson. And Jeremy Renner, who's a legendary ninja at the game, long resisting any efforts to make him "It".

Tagging along is a Wall Street Journal reporter who's heard about the game, and wants to write about it for the paper. And also a wife. And also an ex-girlfriend. And there's not a lot of reason to care about what happens. I mean, is there? You tell me. One of the guys smokes a lot of pot. Hilarious!

URLs du Jour

2020-04-15

  • Campus Reform shares the news out of that most confusingly-named school, Miami University in Ohio: University changes tone, shutters Chinese Communist Party-funded Confucius Institute.

    Amid increased concerns over Chinese money in American universities, Miami University's decision was particularly sudden, citing funding concerns. With the exception of senior staff, most of the Institute’s staffers are paid by the Chinese government, according to the Miami Student.

    The article goes on to claim that China gutted its funding of Miami's institute by 80% between 2017 and 2018.


  • But that means it's time to check on the Confucius Institute at the University Near Here. As it turns out, it's still going strong, and Commie New Hampshire Public Radio reports: Despite Concerns, UNH Renews Contract With China-Backed Institute.

    In a statement, University officials write, "We are aware of concerns around the role the Chinese government plays in U.S.-based institutes and have implemented all recommendations made by the American Council on Education to ensure the Confucius Institute adheres to our core value of academic freedom and UNH maintains complete control."

    Professor Lawrence Reardon also says the school is not blind to the risks here:

    “I would be the first to be yelling and screaming. I’m a former military officer. I would be yelling and screaming and saying there is something wrong here. I’m not seeing it yet. I’ve asked students. They’re not seeing it. I’ve talked to faculty members, they’re not seeing it. But we will say something if we see something.”

    And so, at least for the next five years, the Chinese government will pay for these teachers to work at UNH, and the students there can take classes the school may not otherwise offer.

    UNH's site for its Confucius Institute is here.


  • Apparently there's been some Covid-related talk about President Trump and Captain Bligh of the Bounty. But also The Caine Mutiny. And Nick Gillespie claims at Reason: While Trump Rants, It’s Governors Who Have Gone Full Captain Queeg.

    So for all the attention that yesterday's presidential temper tantrum is getting, it's simply Trump being Trump. Perhaps more importantly, it directs attention away from the ways in which governors are themselves acting as petty tyrants, shutting down all sorts of basic economic activity for no good reasons at all. They are the ones who are most acting like Captain Queeg, the battle-fatigued commander in The Caine Mutiny whose erratic behavior and monomaniacal fixation on missing strawberries has become a shorthand for insane leadership that should be removed from power.

    Hence, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the subject of a recent glowing profile in Politico, has banned the sale of paint in the name of battling the coronavirus. Officials in the state have also banned the sale of vegetable seeds, as have leaders in Vermont. "At least 316 million people in at least 42 states, three counties, nine cities>, he District of Columbia and Puerto Rico are being urged to stay home," reported The New York Times a week ago, meaning that the vast majority of Americans are under various levels of government-mandated lockdowns. In Mississippi, this has even taken the form of fining churchgoers who attended services in their own cars. Pennsylvania's Gov. Tom Wolf decreed liquor was a "non-essential" product and shut down liquor stores (which are owned and operated by the state) before overseeing a failed attempt at online-only sales.

    Although our Guv, Chris Sununu, has received some intense criticism from my fellow rabid right-wingers and wacky libertarians, I'm pretty much a "it could be worse" kind of guy.


  • Writing at the Daily Signal, a trio of Heritage Foundation writers have a sensible suggestion: Lawmakers Need to Reform Postal Service, Not Provide Massive Bailout.

    Democrats and U.S. Postal Service officials are seeking a $75 billion bailout from taxpayers.

    While they seek to blame the COVID-19 pandemic, the facts are plain. Unsustainable wage and benefit costs, along with unaffordable and inefficient service requirements in light of reduced demand—not the new coronavirus—are the real reasons for the Postal Service’s financial troubles.

    In recent weeks, the Postal Service has seen a reduction in first-class mail revenue and an increase in operational costs. While it’s too soon to tell the full extent of the damage, any coronavirus-related net losses this year will likely pale in comparison to the operational losses the Postal Service has racked up over many years.  

    Of course, the Slashdot statists have deep concerns about this, asking: Would a Post Office Bankruptcy Kill E-Commerce?

    With the U.S. Postal Service slated to run out of money this summer, a congressional bailout has become embroiled in the usual, critical and unusual political fights. Every day letter carriers deliver some of our web orders, there are many other functions the post office performs including providing an address validation API that is the core of many shipping systems. Would the collapse of this service mean a major disruption of e-commerce? What other impacts to technology would we face with the collapse of this constitutionally guaranteed service (Article I, Section 8, Clause 7).

    Just a comment on that last bit: the Constitution doesn't "guarantee" Congress witll provide a postal service: it allows Congress to provide a postal service. (Or, more exactly, to "establish Post Offices").

    It doesn't have to do so. Any more than it's Constitutionally required to issue letters of Marque and Reprisal (Article I, Section 8, Clause 11)


  • And Power Line (among many others) pointed out: NY Times Changed Biden Sexual Assault Story at Request of Campaign. Based on an interview with New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet:

    The New York Times altered its story on what could be a significant campaign issue–an accusation of sexual assault against Joe Biden–based on a complaint by Biden’s campaign. And the paper’s head news guy sees nothing wrong with this.

    Yes, the NYT gives the Biden campaign veto power over its content.

    I don't want to hear any self-righteous puffery from the Times about its independence. Ever again.

URLs du Jour

2020-04-14

  • At AIER, Donald J. Boudreaux shares an important insight: The Economy Is Not a Series of Supply Chains.

    The first reality is that, in our modern economy nearly every productive enterprise is connected to every other productive enterprise. This connectedness is the phenomenon alluded to by the term “supply chain.” This term, however, is highly misleading. Today’s economy is not a series of supply chains running side by side with each other, each largely distinct from, and independent of, the others. If it were, there would indeed be little challenge in pulling in one or more such chains into the domestic economy so that it fully resides there, from beginning to end.

    Instead of a collection of distinct supply chains, our modern economy is a single globe-spanning web of interconnectedness. Within this web every output is the product of countless inputs and each kind of input typically is used to produce countless different kinds of outputs. This web of interconnectedness – the complexity of which is beyond human comprehension – is indispensable for our modern mass prosperity. Yet its existence – its ‘everything-is-connected-in-some-way-to-everything-else’ reality – means that there are no objective and clear lines separating “critical supplies” from “uncritical” ones.

    The "supply chain" concept is useful (just search for it on Amazon, wow) but it's a metaphor, and once you start taking it too literally, it can corrupt thought. "Chains" are static, simple, durable, linear; the actual supply process is dynamic, complex, and flexible. If you let it work.


  • At Cato, Ryan Bourne looks at the latest misbegotten idea from two failed presidential candidates, Kamala and Liz: Senators Harris and Warren's Price Is Wrong.

    Lots of states already have anti‐price gouging laws for emergency situations. But with stories about packets of Purrell Hand Sanitizers, usually around $10–12, selling for as much $350, national politicians are now keen to step in. Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and colleagues in the House want a nationwide anti‐​price gouging law giving the Federal Trade Commission powers to punish companies if their product price today “grossly exceeds” either the price at the end of last year, their competitors’ prices, or a price sufficient to account for any increased costs the business faces. Democratic Senators Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, meanwhile, want a national law that bans price increases of more than 10 percent during national emergencies.

    The implicit message of such proposed laws is clear: market prices set prior to emergencies are good, fair and reasonable; market‐​set prices after the onset of one are bad, unfair and unreasonable. At least, that is, if they go up significantly. When prices plunge, as they have for flights, restaurant food, and clothing during this crisis, nobody seems to believe that consumers are gouging or swindling companies. Our politicians have very asymmetric thinking.

    There's a surfeit of hubris among politicians with no skin in the game. Not to pick on Kamala and Liz, but they're definitely above average on that score.


  • Coleman Hughes asks the musical question at Quillette: Do COVID-19 Racial Disparities Matter? Betteridge's law of headlines applies: the answer is "no". Quoting from further down the article:

    On the sillier end of the coronavirus race obsession, CNN ran a story about black Americans who won’t wear masks because they fear being mistaken for criminals and killed by the police. A tweet from one black educator—“I want to stay alive, but I also want to stay alive”—received 124,000 likes.

    Though the CNN article suggested that the fear was valid, it did not give even one example of a black person actually being harassed in this way, much less killed. Last year, 41 unarmed Americans were shot and killed by the police—nine of them black. Meanwhile, the coronavirus has been killing over 1,000 Americans per day. There is simply no comparison. Given how high the stakes are, the media should be disabusing people of life-threatening racial paranoia, not catering to it.

    CNN is fear-stoking tendentious garbage, part CXIII.


  • In our "Of Course He Did" department, Reason's C.J. Ciaramella reports: Trump Campaign Sues TV Station for Running ‘Defamatory’ Coronavirus Attack Ad.

    Donald Trump's reelection campaign has sued a Wisconsin TV station for running a political ad attacking the president's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Priorities USA, a political action committee that supports Democratic candidate Joe Biden, produced the ad. It uses sound bites from Trump's press conferences—"the coronavirus, this is their new hoax," "we have it totally under control," "we've done a great job in keeping it down to a minimum"—played over a chart showing the precipitous rise in the number of Americans infected with the virus.

    I won't say the ad in question isn't misleading—it is, of course. But there's this little thing called the First Amendment, and it really does apply to even misleading political speech.


  • I mean, who does Trump think he is? Adam Schiff? Sister Toldjah at Red State: Sit Down: Schiff Demands Media Stop Airing WH Briefings Live Because of 'Misinformation', It Does Not Go Well. She notes Schiff's tweet:

    And comments:

    Schiff’s opinion, of course, sounds almost word for word what you hear from CNN and MSNBC anchors about the briefings. They don’t want to air them live, they claim, because they believe Trump is using them as substitutes for campaign rallies, because he can’t have any of those right now due to the crisis. It’s “propaganda”, they allege, all while completely lacking in any self-awareness whatsoever.

    I would quibble about whether Schiff's tweet is a "demand". But it is unseemly for a Congresscritter, whose Oath of Office specifies that he "support and defend the Constitution of the United States", including that pesky First Amendment.


  • As our last two items show, and as David Harsanyi points out: Authoritarianism Is Getting Out of Hand. Examples from lower-level officials

    Under what imperious conception of governance does Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer believe it is within her power to unilaterally ban garden stores from selling fruit or vegetable plants and seeds? What business is it of Vermont or Howard County, Ind., to dictate that Walmart, Costco, or Target stop selling “non-essential” items, such as electronics or clothing? Vermont has 628 cases of coronavirus as of this writing. Is that the magic number authorizing the governor to ban people from buying seeds for their gardens?

    Maybe we'll look back on this and ask ourselves: what were we thinking?

URLs du Jour

2020-04-13

  • OK, I looked at Fintan O’Toole's article ("Vector in Chief") in the New York Review of Books a bit yesterday. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how mind-bogglingly dimwitted this paragraph was:

    With this stream of disparaging commentary, Trump himself became a vector of the coronavirus. His followers got the message that the whole thing might well be a media and Democratic conspiracy, and therefore that they did not need to take the threat seriously. A Quinnipiac poll on March 9 showed the effect: while 68 percent of Democrats said they were concerned that they or someone they knew would be infected, only 35 percent of Republicans felt likewise. Belief in the seriousness of the threat is a prerequisite for self-protection (not to mention for reducing the spread of the virus)—Trump’s undermining of that belief is literally lethal to his own supporters.

    So O'Toole's thesis is that Trump's supporters are at greater risk of dying, thanks to their Trump-credulity. (We could, but won't, speculate on how much wish fulfillment is going on in O'Toole's head as he fantasizes about dead Trumpkins.)

    But wait a minute. According to NPR: COVID-19 Hitting African Americans More Because Of Misinformation And Distrust.

    Across many parts of the U.S., black Americans are dying of COVID-19 at disproportionately high rates. In Milwaukee County, for example, nearly three quarters of those who have died of the virus were black. But only about a quarter of the county's population is black.

    I wondered yesterday: in O'Toole's world, are black Americans unusually susceptible to Trump's message of "media and Democratic conspiracy"?

    I don't think so either.

    But wait, there's more. Here is a list of Covid-19 Death rates by state. O'Toole thinks those damned Trump-believing red states should be at the top, right?

    Instead (as I type):

    1. New York
    2. New Jersey
    3. Louisiana
    4. Michigan
    5. Connecticut
    6. Massachusetts
    7. Washington
    8. District of Columbia
    9. Northern Mariana Islands
    10. Georgia
    11. Illinois

    OK, there are a couple non-states on there, but that's OK.

    Only three in the list voted for Trump in 2016: Louisiana, Michigan, and Georgia.

    Only three have Republican governors: Massachusetts, Georgia, and the Northern Mariana Islands.

    Again, no evidence that Trump fans are uniquely susceptible to Covid-19. If anything, it works the other way.

    O'Toole's piece is a prime example of Trump Derangement Syndrome: so enraptured with hatred, he doesn't bother to notice that the beautiful theory he's writing doesn't match up with reality that well.

    And needless to say, this counter-to-fact blather sailed right through the allegedly-prestigious New York Review of Books editors too. Nobody stops to say "Hey, wait a minute" when Trump is the target.


  • Jonah Goldberg's G-File from Good Friday declares Threat Level: Bat Guano.

    The inestimable Matt Ridley wrote in the Wall Street Journal this week:

    “In Shitou Cave, south of Kunming, the capital of Yunnan, they found viruses in the bats’ droppings and anal swabs that were more similar to human SARS than anything found in palm civets, the small mammals that until then were presumed to be the source of human infection.”

    There are a lot of observations about the weirdness of these times that have become era-defining clichés. I use—or have used—many myself. “We live in a reality TV show.” “I wonder what’s happening on Earth 2?” “This isn’t the timeline I chose. “Let’s touch the orb; what could go wrong?” And, of course, “If you wrote this in a novel, people would reject it for being too unbelievable.”

    But can we take a moment just to marvel that at the beginning of the fourth season, when the plot took a wild turn, the telltale heart, the Chekov’s gun, of the massive plot twist in this batshit crazy time turned out to be actual batshit.

    Lots of good stuff at the G-File, but I just had to quote that.


  • At Reason, Robby Soave notes The New York Times Is Extremely Skeptical of Tara Reade’s Sexual Assault Accusation Against Joe Biden. Imagine That.

    The mainstream media's silence regarding a former staffer's sexual assault accusation against Joe Biden is finally broken: The New York Times covered the allegations on Sunday in an extensively reported piece, "Examining Tara Reade's Sexual Assault Allegation Against Joe Biden."

    It's an excruciatingly matter-of-fact article, bereft of the emotion and rhetorical flourishes that have often characterized the Times' past reporting on #MeToo stories. The Times' investigative piece on Deborah Ramirez, Brett Kavanaugh's Yale accuser, was headlined, "Brett Kavanaugh Fit in With the Privileged Kids. She Did Not." The paper also ran ostensibly objective pieces with headlines like "For Christine Blasey Ford, a Drastic Turn From a Quiet Life in Academia" and "With Caffeine and Determination, Christine Blasey Ford Relives Her Trauma." These were news articles, but it was not hard to detect an agenda: portray the accuser as so likable and sympathetic that readers would want to believe her.

    Of course that agenda is missing when they talk about Reade.


  • But even so, the NYT felt that even their dispassionate article was too hard-hitting on Wheezy Joe. Fox News reports: New York Times edits Biden sexual assault coverage, deletes references to past inappropriate 'hugs, kisses and touching'.

    The New York Times stealth-edited its article on the sexual-assault allegation against Joe Biden by his former Senate staffer Tara Reade just minutes after it was published on Sunday morning, removing all references in a key paragraph to the multiple past accusations by seven women that the former vice president had touched them inappropriately.

    The Times piece also focuses on unrelated sexual misconduct accusations against President Trump, and largely dismisses Reade's allegations as uncorroborated by her co-workers -- even though the Times notes later in its piece that Reade's claim was contemporaneously corroborated by two of Reade's friends.

    Gee, I don't see why people don't trust the New York Times, do you?


  • Say what you will about my state's motto, but it's certainly a boon to lazy writers. Just in the past few days:

    • an op-ed at the Concord Monitor:

      This is the “Live free or die” state that doesn’t require seatbelts and allows concealed carry even though that may impose external costs on others, so one might think that people could decide for themselves whether to patronize golf courses and health clubs with appropriate precautions to lower their heart disease risk. That is if owners chose to stay open, and with enhanced unemployment workers could decide to stay home if they chose.

    • a Union Leader business column:

      Fauci will need an army of infectious disease specialists to convince people to stop shaking hands for good. In the Live Free or Die state, we’re still resisting seatbelts and motorcycle helmets. Now someone wants us to stop shaking hands?

    • A letter-writer to the Idaho Falls Post Register: The rising specter of nihilism.

      At this time, when the majority of citizens are joining together to conform to strict social and governmental measures, the nihilists are seeking to destroy our collective resolve. It would appear that they see those of us who are trying to be socially responsible as the enemy rather than the COVID-19 virus. In this hour of crucial human need, the question is whether or not the majority will allow their resolve to be diminished by a manic minority. When the nihilists begin spouting their mantra of "live free or die," let us remind ourselves that "there is no freedom without responsibility."

      Damn us New Hampshire Nihilists!

    • And even a guy at the NBC Sports site gets in on the act.

      The whole live free or die mentality is cute, but I guarantee you that virtually all the tough talking people would take it all back if they were in the ICU using a ventilator fighting for their life as their body tried to fight the virus. It’s easy to talk tough when you’re assuming you’ll live through it.

    If not for LFOD, what would these folks do for clichés?


Last Modified 2020-04-14 5:14 AM EDT

The Phony Campaign

Easter 2020 Update

Happy Easter, folks. I don't believe we have any specific paschal content today, but to a certain extent, that's in the eye of the beholder.

The Betfair punters have thought better of their temporary infatuation with Andrew Cuomo, and dropped his odds below our inclusion threshold. Just as well, I didn't have any content for him saved up anyway.

So it's down to our two white male septuagenarians, Bone Spurs and Wheezy. (My pet nicknames inspired by the medical excuses they made to evade the draft in the sixties.) Trump's odds improved a bit this week, but they're still down significantly from early February, where he was scraping a near-60% probability of winning. Sad!

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
4/5
Phony
Results
Change
Since
4/5
Donald Trump 50.4% +1.9% 1,520,000 +270,000
Joe Biden 42.5% +0.5% 431,000 +80,000

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

  • Senator Bernie dropped out of our standings awhile back, but he made it official this past week. National Review's Jack Butler eulogizes his campaign and finds he was Just Another Politician in the End. In years past, Jack was somewhat impressed by Bernie's non-stereotypical positions on guns and immigration. But…

    That Bernie Sanders is gone now. His 2020 platform called for “breaking up ICE and CBP and redistributing their functions to their proper authorities,” unilaterally reinstating President Obama’s DACA and DAPA programs, and decriminalizing illegal immigration, among other things. For the most part, he became difficult to distinguish from his Democratic opponents on immigration, except insofar as some of them chased after him as he moved left in the hope of capturing more votes. Thus did this unconventional aspect of his public persona recede.

    Similarly, Bernie shifted position on Second Amendment issues. Not out of principle, but in pursuit of votes.


  • We venture over to the New York Review of Books for Fintan O’Toole's screed against the Vector in Chief.

    On July 4, 1775, just his second day serving as commander-in-chief of the American revolutionary forces, George Washington issued strict orders to prevent the spread of infection among his soldiers: “No person is to be allowed to go to Fresh-water pond a fishing or any other occasion as there may be a danger of introducing the small pox into the army.” As he wrote later that month to the president of the Continental Congress, John Hancock, he was exercising “the utmost Vigilance against this most dangerous Enemy.” On March 8, 2020, well over two months after the first case of Covid-19 had been confirmed in the United States, Dan Scavino, assistant to the president and director of social media at the White House, tweeted a mocked-up picture of his boss Donald Trump playing a violin. The caption read: “My next piece is called Nothing Can Stop What’s Coming.” Trump himself retweeted the image with the comment: “Who knows what this means, but it sounds good to me!”

    It is a truth universally acknowledged that Donald Trump is no George Washington, but his descent from commander-in-chief to vector-in-chief is nonetheless dizzying. Trump’s narcissism, mendacity, bullying, and malignant incompetence were obvious before the coronavirus crisis and they have been magnified rather than moderated in his surreal response to a catastrophe whose full gravity he failed to accept until March 31, when it had become horribly undeniable. The volatility of his behavior during February and March—the veering between flippancy and rage, breezy denial and dark fear-mongering—may not seem to demand further explanation. It is his nature. Yet there is a mystery at its heart. For if there is one thing that Trump has presented as his unique selling point, it is “utmost Vigilance,” his endless insistence that, as he puts it, “our way of life is under threat.”

    It's long, and a typical example of paint-the-numbers Trump-hatred. Pull out maybe a dozen things Trump has said over the years that piss you off. String them together with amateur psycholoogizing. If you find contradictions, don't worry: the subject's mental "contradictions" must be part of the general theme.

    I can't help but remark futher on this bit:

    With [his] stream of disparaging commentary, Trump himself became a vector of the coronavirus. His followers got the message that the whole thing might well be a media and Democratic conspiracy, and therefore that they did not need to take the threat seriously. A Quinnipiac poll on March 9 showed the effect: while 68 percent of Democrats said they were concerned that they or someone they knew would be infected, only 35 percent of Republicans felt likewise. Belief in the seriousness of the threat is a prerequisite for self-protection (not to mention for reducing the spread of the virus)—Trump’s undermining of that belief is literally lethal to his own supporters.

    Unfortunately for O'Toole's grand theorizing, see (for example) Science News: Why African-Americans may be especially vulnerable to COVID-19.

    Were African-Americans persuaded by Trump to not take care of themselves? Doubtful, but I'm sure O'Toole has some other explanation available for that.


  • Wired writer David Karpf, another strident Progressive, looks at Biden's path to victory and decides, well: Biden's Path to Victory Does Not Bode Well for Voters.

    Trump, like Biden, barely spent on advertisements during the Republican primary. Trump, like Biden, didn’t build much of a campaign organization in the early primaries. But Trump received an estimated $2 billion in free media coverage during the Republican primary, completely dwarfing the coverage received by his competitors. Trump drew this coverage through his rallies, his tweets, and his media stunts, relying on instincts that he developed in the 1980s and honed during his years as a reality-television celebrity. Biden has none of Trump’s flair for the dramatic, but he converted his party support into media dominance nevertheless.

    It's an interesting theory, might even be somewhat true. Karpf goes on to speculate wildly about Trump manipulating news about Covid-19 in order to suppress voter turnout in heavily Democrat enclaves.


  • In the WSJ, Barton Swaim offers a headline that seems to be designed to cheer me up: Joe Biden and the Slow Death of Liberalism. (Assuming "Liberalism" here refers to the statist variety.)

    With Mr. Biden’s ascension and Mr. Sanders’s decision this week to suspend his campaign, Democrats are again choosing liberalism. The important thing to understand about modern American liberalism, though, is that it is a spent force. It is out of ideas. It is visionary, but it no longer sees much of anything. That Mr. Biden has been reduced to protesting the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, safely tucked away in his basement, nicely symbolizes liberalism’s impotence.

    The liberal politician can offer a collection of ideas, but those ideas are old ones repackaged. He can offer a vision, but it is the same vision liberal politicians were offering 20 or 40 years ago. Accepting the 1992 Democratic presidential nomination, Bill Clinton ridiculed President George H.W. Bush’s disdain for “the vision thing.” Mr. Clinton quoted Proverbs 29:18: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” The goals he enunciated in that speech were more or less the same goals every other Democratic nominee has endorsed since the middle of the 20th century: a fair shot for working Americans, new investments in schools, expansion of access to health care. Mr. Biden could give that speech today and few would suspect him of plagiarism.

    They're going through the motions, pretending they have bold goals. But their only real goal is to achieve greater political power. For its own sake.


  • And President Trump spoke an unpopular truth, according to the Daily Mail: Trump takes swipe at Obama, claims having a pet dog would be phony.

    When he moved into the White House in 2016, Donald Trump became the first president not to have a pet dog in 130 years.

    And during his rally in El Paso, Texas on Monday night, Trump appeared to finally reveal why - while taking a swipe at Barack Obama.

    'I wouldn't mind having one, honestly, but I don't have any time,' Trump told the crowd.

    'How would I look walking a dog on the White House lawn? Would that be right? It doesn't. It feels a little phony to me.'

    And so it would. I say this as a dog owner myself. Dogs deserve their owner's attention. If Trump isn't the kind of guy to provide it, then it's best he go dogless instead of getting a symbolic dog who would "really" be taken care of by some low-level White House staff.

URLs du Jour

2020-04-11

With respect to our Amazon Product du Jour: why, yes I am. Do you need ask why?

[Amazon Link]

  • At National Review, Andrew C. McCarthy finds Authoritarian Overreach Unnecessary. He offers up numerous examples of such. Bottom line:

    At a certain point, a free people — nearly 17 million of whom have now filed unemployment claims in an economy that was booming just a month ago — comes to realize that the de Blasios are pleaders, not rulers. Common sense emerges in the clarity of lives torn asunder by willful acts of elected officials and faceless bureaucrats. Our DNA reminds us that governments derive their just powers only from the consent of the governed.

    There is a lot going on that no one has consented to. The law is beside the point. The state and its police need the public’s cooperation. They won’t get it by coercion. If they can’t get cooperation because they’ve forfeited their legitimacy by capricious, politicized enforcement . . . well, there are worse things that can happen than a pandemic.

    The preservation of a free society requires ordered liberty. The government can never forget that the objective is not order for its own sake, or for the sake of “progressive” social transformation. The point of order is the flourishing of freedom.

    I note that the grade school up the street has closed its playground as "unsafe". (By stringing up some tape across an entrance, signs dangling from it.)

    The same one dozens of kids occupy just about every school day.

    It's clear that the playground isn't unsafe. Yes, I suppose that there are some that might use it unsafely.

    But they'll just go be stupid somewhere else now.


  • Jonah Goldberg says Central Planning Hasn't Flattened the Curve. People Have.

    My American Enterprise Institute colleague Lyman Stone, an economist based in Hong Kong, makes the case that the essential variable in “flattening the curve” isn’t central planning but behavior change. Many businesses closed down well before they were ordered to. Millions of people practiced social distancing and refused to get on planes not because they were commanded to, but because they were convinced this was a wise course of action for themselves and their loved ones. 

    People change their behavior when they are given clear information about risks. Various countries have flattened the curve of COVID-19 cases in different ways, Stone explained on my podcast, The Remnant. Some relied heavily on contact tracing, others on quarantining the sick, others through lockdowns—or all of the above. “But what we’ve seen in every country is that what really does it is information,” Stone said.

    Jonah notes the (relatively) good news that we seem to be doing better on Covid-19 deaths than models were predicting even a few days ago. Some sort of government conspiracy? Nah, probably not.


  • Let's get off virology for a bit, and look at Heather Mac Donald at City Journal, who observes that Higher Education Today Resembles Massive Ponzi Scheme.

    Higher education today resembles a massive Ponzi scheme. Colleges desperately recruit ever more marginal students who stand little chance of graduating. Before their inevitable withdrawal, those students’ tuition dollars fuel the growth of the bureaucracy, which creates the need to get an even larger pool of likely dropouts through the door to fund the latest round of administrative expansion. Administrative positions at colleges and universities grew at ten times the rate of tenured faculty positions from 1993 to 2009, according to academic consulting firm ABC Insights. By the 2013 school year, there were slightly more campus administrators nationwide than faculty; spending on the bureaucracy was equal to spending on all educational functions, including faculty. Tuition rose to cover those bureaucratic expenses, regardless of whether families could afford to pay it. Tuition at private four-year colleges grew 250 percent from 1982 to 2012, while the median family income rose about 18 percent, adjusted for inflation, according to ABC Insights. Since the 2008 recession, tuition at four-year public colleges rose 35 percent.

    My favorite example is the "UNH Foundation", set up to get people to give money to the University Near Here. Their current staff list is here. Exercise for the reader. Use your browser's search-on-page function to count the number of people who are various flavors of "Vice President". And then "directors". Egad, who does the actual work there?


  • Well back to political virology to tell you about a Google LFOD News Alert ringing for the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, which reports on Civil rights groups monitoring NH’s coronavirus-related executive actions.

    Libertarians in the state have taken the stance that executive orders are unnecessary since the incentive for self preservation and the “weight of another’s life in your hands” is enough to encourage people to take the necessary precautions.

    “This is an unprecedented abridgment of civil rights on everyone,” said Brian Shields, Chair of the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire.

    Shields said his greatest concern is the inability for the legislature to meet and pass emergency legislation, effectively concentrating all the government power in the executive branch.

    “New Hampshire is essentially living under a benevolent dictator,” Shields said. “If it was anyone but Sununu as governor I would be scared for the future of the live-free-or-die state. It still sets a dangerous precedent. The only check and balance on the Governor are the judges he appointed. That is an incredible flaw in our system of government and is frightening if that power ever gets in the wrong hands.”

    Huh. Kind words for a Republican emanating from a big-L Libertarian.


  • And Drew Cline, writing at Josiah Bartlett, notes that Regulations keep food trucks from riding to the rescue.

    State law requires food vendors to get a state license ($50), which allows them to operate everywhere in the state. They remain subject to local regulations. Fifteen New Hampshire municipalities regulate where, when and how food trucks can do business. Food truck operators say the local regulations are highly restrictive and the fees expensive.

    This month, with Granite Staters ordered to stay home and non-essential businesses closed, ordinances prohibit food trucks from going where their customers are — homes, public parks, and hospitals — and force them into deserted downtowns and big-box-store parking lots.

    “They could be operating more freely,” Aaron Krycki, environmental health supervisor for the City of Manchester said.

    “Rules aren’t designed to tell you what you can do,” Krycki said. “They’re designed to tell you what you can’t do.”

    One of the cities that have temporarily liberalized its rules is Rochester, which invited trucks normally at Lowe's (closed) or the Harley dealership (ditto) to come downtown.

    And of course, there are people mad at that

    Shawn Hooper, owner of the Moe’s Italian Sandwiches eatery on North Main Street, is unhappy to be facing added competition from food trucks. It comes at a time when restaurants are hard-hit by fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

    Dirty little secret about competition: businesses, at best, have mixed feelings about it.

Richard Jewell

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I liked this significantly more than I expected. I attribute this to a good directing job by Clint Eastwood.

I knew the story going in: Fat rent-a-cop Richard Jewell spots an unattended backpack one evening at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, alerts everyone, tries to move people away. The backpack exploded, but thanks to Jewell's efforts, many lives are saved. Unfortunately, Jewell becoems the FBI's designated suspect, a fact that's leaked to the press. Which subsequently makes Jewell's life hellish.

What's unexpected is that the movie makes Jewell (well-played by Paul Walter Hauser) into an actual person: he's a cop wannabe, but sports some bad-cop habits: bullying and authority-exceeding. And he's not that smart, either. (Sorry, Richard.) Despite all that, we're sympathetic. Because he's basically a good guy.

Jon Hamm plays FBI agent Shaw, and he's everything Jewell's not: smart, good-looking, by the book. But he's the bad guy here, because once he gets the idea that Jewell fits the "hero perp" profile, he can't let go, and he can't let inconvenient facts—like there being no evidence whatsoever—dissuade him.

Sam Rockwell is also excellent as Jewell's lawyer.

URLs du Jour

2020-04-10

  • At the WSJ this morn, Dr. Jessie Stuart (from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Beantown) offers some helpful advice: The Least Empathetic Thing to Say. Summary: when someone shares their self-concerns or fears, don't open with "At least you …"

    It can be hard as a doctor to keep my “empathy tank” full. I’ve had bad days when I diagnose a 25-year-old with a terminal illness, and later find I have trouble caring when a friend calls to complain about a snack-stealing roommate. I worry that the coronavirus era will strain our collective ability for empathy, but I also have hope that we will rise to the challenge.

    On tough days, I find it helpful to pause, take a deep breath, and let myself be present for the person in distress. Sometimes we have to silence the small voice in our head that says, “At least you weren’t diagnosed with a horrible disease today”—or “At least you still have a job.” Whether suffering is big or small, it’s all-consuming and it isn’t relative.

    "My grandma's been diagnosed with Covid-19."

    "Well, at least you have toilet paper."


  • At Reason, Christian Britschgi sighs a sigh and observes: Elizabeth Warren and Josh Hawley Will Do Everything Necessary To Combat Coronavirus (Unless It Involves Deregulation).

    The central planners of both parties are recommending we do whatever is necessary to tackle the nation's shortage of medical devices and personal protective equipment (PPE), save for removing government restrictions on the manufacture of those goods.

    Yesterday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) took to The New York Times and Sen. Josh Hawley (R–Mo.) to The Washington Post to promote their respective visions for responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic recession it's causing. Both senators have big regulation-centric ideas for addressing the dire shortage of PPE and other medical products.

    "We must act now to have the government manufacture or contract for the manufacture of critical supplies when markets fail to do so," Warren wrote in the Times, listing PPE, pharmaceuticals, and vaccines as products the government should consider producing itself.

    "Lifesaving medical products needed to fight this virus are in short supply," Hawley wrote in the Post. "We must also move decisively to secure our critical supply chains and bring production back to this country. The present crisis has revealed just how vital domestic production is to our national life."

    Christian goes on to note that it's "frustrating that D.C.'s 'wonkiest' senators refuse to update their priors in response to a crisis". Also dangerous.


  • Virginia Postrel makes a related hopeful suggestion: Coronavirus Should Finally Smash the Barriers to Telemedicine.

    Under normal circumstances, internist Jenni Levy makes house calls, checking on patients with chronic conditions and serving as what she calls “rolling urgent care.” She works for Landmark Health, which offers supplemental home visits to people with Medicare Advantage plans and a high risk of hospitalization.

    When she joined Landmark, Levy heard that the company was working on a telemedicine app. Two and a half years later, she still hadn’t seen anything. It turns out developing proprietary software that complies with the privacy provisions of the U.S.’s Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, better known as HIPAA, is a time-consuming process. So far, the company has pilot programs running in only a couple of markets.

    Bureaucrats justify their well-paid existence by enforcing rules, saying "not so fast, there, bub", making people and businesses jump through their hoops. If it were easy to bring life-saving innovations to market quickly, folks might start to question why the bureaucrats were necessary in the first place.


  • We've had a pretty steady stream of LFOD items over the past few weeks, for obvious reasons. In the Conway Daily Sun, Louise Schuknecht tells us her view: Closing border worth loss of temporary freedom.

    We the people of New Hampshire are very concerned about the people coming in from other states. We cannot keep “ the curve down” at the rate they are escaping from their “hot spots” to our valley.

    We have always been a very welcoming town, but under the circumstances, we all feel the borders should be closed.

    A drastic measure? Yes. Our motto is Live Free or Die, but most of our freedoms have to be taken away for now so we won’t die. Everyone should obey the rules and pray God will have mercy on our country and the world.

    As of yesterday, the NH Department of Health and Human Services reported 23 Covid-19 cases in all of Carroll County (where Conway is); I don't think Louise has that much to worry about, assuming she doesn't let people breathe on her.


  • Villanova philosophy professor, Sarah-Vaughan Brakman, takes to Vox to explain: Staying at home isn’t a personal choice. It’s an ethical duty. Basically, it's a plea for "solidarity", "shared sacrifice", etc.

    In addition to social distancing, collaborative efforts to aid those who are in social isolation and the economically vulnerable are growing across the country. When we return from social distancing, it is up to us to make this inchoate commitment to our fellow human beings and the common good the new normal.

    Some skepticism is certainly in order. Individualism is encoded in Americans’ national DNA. But solidarity is just as central to American identity as individualism. “Live Free or Die” co-existed with “Join or Die.”

    Uh, well. Ben Franklin's "Join or Die" came a number of decades before LFOD. And it referred to the British colonies "joining" together in a united effort against the French.

    Let me be generous: There might be an ideal balance between competing values of "solidarity" and liberty. I'm pretty sure I don't know how to specify it, and I'm also pretty sure Prof Brakman doesn't provide any insight in finding it.

    What I'm seeing is various flavors of statists using Covid-19 as an excuse to attempt to push through measures they wanted anyway. And the usual partisan finger pointing at the Other Guys.

    That ain't solidarity, Sarah-Vaughan; that's crass and cynical opportunism.

URLs du Jour

2020-04-09

  • For some reason this news disgusts me: Democratic senators call for funding for local media in coronavirus stimulus. (No I can't follow the Costello rule: try to be amused.)

    More than a dozen senators are calling for any future stimulus package addressing the economic fallout from the novel coronavirus to include funding for local journalism, saying that communities across the U.S. are at risk of losing their source of news because of the pandemic. 

    "Local news is in a state of crisis that has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic," the senators wrote in a letter sent to the upper chamber's leadership on Wednesday.

    And, yes, our state's senior senator, Jeanne Shaheen, is one of the signatories.

    So, transforming journalists into de facto employees of the state? Of course they'll have to be vetted to ensure they're providing "accurate" and "reliable" information. What could possibly go wrong with that?


  • At the New York Times, Ross Douthat expresses the kind of incorrect thoughts that will be Officially Frowned Upon: In the Fog of Coronavirus, There Are No Experts.

    Since the election of Donald Trump, the American media has become invested in the idea that the modern information landscape is defined by a great struggle between truth and falsehood, facts and misinformation, the real news and the fake. In this drama, there are enemies of truth, and then there is a besieged edifice of expertise, which needs to reclaim ground — whether via better fact-checks or better Facebook regulations — that’s been lost to trolls, populists and scam artists.

    This has always been a dubious and self-regarding framework, but in the coronavirus era it has become particularly useless. Not because it misdiagnoses Trump himself: Our chief executive is, indeed, bumptiously dishonest, a manure-shoveler without precedent in the modern presidency, a man with little capacity to handle even a mildly inconvenient truth. No one expects a truthful and realistic appraisal of the crisis from this president; any sensible person should look elsewhere for the truth.

    But once you look elsewhere, it quickly becomes clear that no unitary and reliable edifice of truth exists. The only place you can find it is in fiction, specifically the cinematic anticipation of this outbreak, Steven Soderbergh’s film “Contagion” — in which the professional health organizations are admirable, nimble, evidence-based, with just enough rule-bending here and there to make the necessary leaps toward a vaccine. Meanwhile, the internet is terrible, embodied by a sinister blogger peddling a quack cure. Only institutions can be trusted; outsider “knowledge” leads only to the grave.

    Douthat will have to improve this attitude if the NYT wants its bailout.


  • National Review is an obvious loser in the grab for subsidies, what with Michael Brendan Dougherty recommending We Need More Libertarianism Too. Somewhat surprising, since MBD casts himself as one of those "national" conservatives:

    But this national conservative would like to acknowledge loud and clear that the COVID-19 crisis is also a libertarian moment. Just as nations seek out self-sufficiency, so too do individuals. And an individualist streak has been necessary for probing and rejecting the dubious or outright fraudulent advice of public-health authorities, corrupted by either Chicoms or groupthink.

    And libertarian insights are finally being applied to good effect. For instance, even in a national emergency, we need competition. The temporary monopoly of the federal government on developing a test for coronavirus was the greatest failure of all in the American response. Some university labs found creative ways to get around FDA and CDC red tape to develop their own tests. Eventually, regulations were relaxed and existing private labs developed better and faster tests, and even began developing COVID testing platforms that could grow to meet the insane demands of this crisis. An absolute free-for all of test development would have been much better, allowing private firms to race against the virus and compete with each other for the glory of beating it.

    There's a certain amount of looking for the pony in the room full of horseshit here, but I could do with a little optimism.


  • At City Journal, John Tierney is whistling past The FDA Graveyard.

    Critics of the Food and Drug Administration were long ignored as they tallied up the casualties in the “invisible graveyard” of Americans who died because of the FDA’s antiquated policies. But now one small part of that graveyard has suddenly become visible—and the need for reform has become glaringly obvious.

    Americans are dying daily because of FDA regulations that have repeatedly delayed testing for the Covid-19 virus and impeded the manufacture and deployment of masks and other protective equipment. The agency’s obstructionism has angered the public—and prompted a search for scapegoats at the FDA and the White House—but there’s nothing unusual about these deadly delays. They’re an inevitable consequence of the FDA’s rules and its charter to allow only medical treatments and devices that its cautious bureaucrats have decreed to be “safe and effective.” This philosophy is conservatively estimated to be responsible for tens of millions of deaths of people waiting for the FDA to approve treatments for cancer, heart disease, and other ailments.

    I'm undecided whether to reform or simply abolish the FDA.


  • In the "20th Century's Worst US President" competition, there's a clear frontrunner. At Real Clear Investigations, Eric Felten examines How Woodrow Wilson Let Flu Deaths Go Viral in the Great War.

    When the crisis hit, the country was led by a president viewed by many as among the most capable of American leaders, Woodrow Wilson. A favorite of progressives, Wilson has been hailed for expanding the federal government and celebrated for his commitment to international institutions. He has regularly been in historians’ polls of the top 10 presidents, an assessment that has only slipped in recent years as Wilson's unreconstructed racism has been publicized. Still, one would expect a skilled advocate of federal authority to have used every power of his office to confront a scourge that was killing Americans by the hundreds of thousands. Surely his response would be a model of presidential leadership.

    Not quite.

    “Frankly, I don’t think Wilson gave much attention to the flu,” John M. Cooper, emeritus professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, tells RealClearInvestigations. “From going through his papers, there just isn’t much there,” says Cooper, the dean of Wilson scholars.

    Wilson traded off the health of Americans in favor of massive American involvement in World War I.


  • And Rand Simburg provides an RIP for Linda Tripp.

    She was the only person in that mess who told the truth, or showed any integrity, and she paid a societal price for it. She was brutalized by the Clinton-worshipping media, and the “comedians” on SNL.

    True dat.

URLs du Jour

2020-04-08

Just a small comment before we get on to the normal stuff. I've been watching TV (probably too much) and a lot of big advertisers have decided to put Coronavirus-specific advertising. And you can always tell, because the music is similar.

It's like they fed the specs into a computer: "Something somber, yet hopeful. Sad, yet optimistic. Nothing memorable or even catchy."

So the most common thing I've noticed: slow, random piano chords. Maybe a violin in the background. I don't know what the technical term for this is, but I've been calling it "plinky-plink" music.

I know: this doesn't matter. But I'm kind of looking forward to not hearing it any more. That's when we'll know it's over.

  • Jacob Sullum explains How the CDC and the FDA Wrecked the Economy. Save it to show your grandkids!

    Public officials across the United States are flying blind against the COVID-19 epidemic. Because of a government-engineered testing fiasco, they do not know how fast the virus is spreading, how many people have been infected by it, how many will die as a result, or how many have developed immunity to it.

    The failure to implement early and wide testing, which was caused by a combination of short-sightedness, ineptitude, and bureaucratic intransigence, left politicians scrambling to avoid a hospital crisis by imposing broad business closure and stay-at-home orders. It foreclosed the possibility of a more proactive and targeted approach, focused on identifying carriers, tracing their contacts, and protecting the public through isolation and quarantines.

    I know we've said this before: Trump is ultimately responsible, the buck stops there, etc. But people overeager to score points against Bad Orange Man miss a good deal of the point about the serious malfunctions at all levels of government.


  • [Amazon Link]
    And don't get me started on "experts". Because Steven Hayward at Power Line already got started on Experts, Pseudo-Experts, and Other Progressive Conceits. And he did it better than I could.

    […] it is worth lingering for a moment on the fetish for expertise, which runs especially strong among progressives ever since Woodrow Wilson at least. No one is against specialized expertise as such. After all, when you want heart surgery or a complex legal transaction processed, you will naturally turn to an expert surgeon or lawyer. (Or auto mechanic if you need your car fixed, etc.) But as you move beyond this kind of common sense specialized expertise to a more general style of expertise as applied to complex social and political phenomena, the scene changes.

    The great examination of this issue is Philip Tetlock’s 2005 book Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? The answer to his first subtitle—”How Good Is It?”—is, not very. In fact, rather terrible. He begins the book by pointing out the massive failure of nearly all the “experts” to foresee the decline and collapse of the Soviet Union. I could—in fact have, in my two Reagan books—go much further than Tetlock on this question, pointing out for example how bad the CIA’s analysis of the Soviet Union was right up to the very end. I don’t mean just off by 50 percent, but often completely wrong in the opposite direction. And yet liberals seemed shocked that the CIA didn’t have much of a handle on bin Laden or Iraq back in 2001 and 2002.

    Amazon link to the Tetlock book at right; I've added it to my UNH Library "get" list (Usual morbid disclaimer: "assuming the UNH Library opens up again before I die.")


  • Hey, kids! What time isn't it? At National Review, Veronique de Rugy has an answer: Energy Prices & Oil Market: Now Is Not the Time to Intervene.

    Prices move up and down depending on factors too numerous to count, including changes in input prices, consumer income, consumer and producer expectations, regulations, and other countries’ economic conditions. This fact means that prices are the result of millions of decisions made by countless individuals at each and every moment in time. In some cases, it is obvious why the price of something goes up or why it collapses. What is never obvious is how to reverse the price trend, precisely because any such trend is the product of decisions made in response to so many details dispersed across the globe. And so it’s never desirable for politicians to intervene and try to achieve what they think is the “right” price.

    And yet here we are again. Over at the Washington Post, Henry Olsen is urging President Trump to intervene in order to ‘correct’ — that is, to raise — the price of oil, which has fallen dramatically, in part as the result of a fight between Russia and Saudi Arabia, but also because of a sharp reduction of demand for gasoline around the world.

    Yes, as Veronique acknowledges, many are hurt by the low prices. But many are helped. And everyone gets hurt in the long run when government messes with prices.


  • And occasionally, the good folks at Wired slip up and publish an article seemingly free of leftist cant. Such is the case with Hilda Bastian who notes The Face Mask Debate Reveals a Scientific Double Standard.

    The recent back-and-forth debate—and policy reversal—over the use of face masks to prevent the spread of Covid-19 reveals a glaring double standard. For some reason, we’ve been treating this one particular matter of public health differently. We don’t see op-eds that ask whether people really need to keep 6 feet away from each other on the street, as opposed to 3 feet, or that cast doubt on whether it’s such a good idea to promote bouts of handwashing that are 20 seconds long. But when it comes to covering our faces, a scholarly hyper-rigor has been applied. In recent weeks, experts have counseled caution—or rejected the use of masks by the general public outright—as they pleaded for better, more decisive evidence. Why?

    They’re right, of course, that the research literature on mask usage doesn’t provide definitive answers. There are no large-scale clinical trials proving that personal use of masks can prevent pandemic spread; and the ones that look at masks and influenza have produced equivocal results. But this smattering of evidence doesn’t tell us much, either way: The trials neither prove that masks are useful, nor that they’re dangerous or a waste of time. That’s because the studies have been both few in number and beset with methodological problems.

    A refreshing reminder that there's a lot of fumbling in the dark at all levels, all around the world.


  • And our Google LFOD News Alert rang out for a New York Times article about comedian Eugene Mirman: He Made Brooklyn Comedy a Scene. But His Life Took a Different Turn. Interesting story, and here's the LFOD bit:

    Mirman’s own stand-up is infused with a warm and cheerful sense of the ridiculous, including satirical bits that sting instead of lash and stories using show-and-tell-style props. He has a prickly side, too, and some of his best-known stunts build on minor grievances, as when he took out a full-page newspaper ad venting ludicrous rage about a parking ticket in a New Hampshire town. The ad closed by turning the state’s motto (“Live Free or Die”) back at the town, saying drivers don’t even get “freedom to back into a spot.”

    Well of course that sent me Googling for more details about that. The "town" was Portsmouth, the ($15) ticket was for backing into a diagonal parking spot. The letter is pretty easy to find, and here is one site with it; as a bonus, the text of the letter is annotated for Brits, who are (probably understandably) a little miffed about LFOD's origins with Revolutionary War General Stark, who ate their lunch at Bunker Hill, Bennington, …

    Anyway, the LFOD (and PG-13 rated) part of Mirman's letter:

    Lastly, as you know, New Hampshire‘s state motto is General John Stark’s celebrated quote, “Live Free or Die,” which he famously said before attempting the first recorded self-BJ. If John Stark was alive today, he would be 287 years old — also, right after learning about cars, General Stark would then be disgusted to discover that Portsmouth doesn’t even give people the freedom to back into a spot—which by your own state’s twisted logic, turns my $15 ticket — into a fight to the death.

    Forget it, Eugene. It's Portsmouth.

Noir

[Amazon Link]

Another risqué romp from Christopher Moore, this one set in 1947 San Francisco. Although the title says "noir", Moore semi-apologizes for it in a revealing afterword: he knows it has little to do with hard-boiled private eyes, scheming deadly dames, artful plays of shadow and light, helpless schlemiels trapped in a relentless storyline of inevitable doom…

Where was I? Oh, yeah: Moore describes the book's genre as "Damon Runyon meets Bugs Bunny". Accurate, and as near as I can tell, this genre consists of one book, this one.

A gorgeous dame walks into a bar… and the bartender hero, Sammy, is immediately smitten. The course of that true love is complicated by … well, many things. For one thing, the upcoming gathering at Bohemian Grove, where (as all conspiracy loons know) the true rulers of the world gather to wear togas and worship huge concrete owls. Trying to make an impression on the Bohemians is an Air Force General from … oh, oh … Roswell, New Mexico. He's got something for show and tell!

But that's not all. Sammy has an idea for a get-rich-quick scheme based on Chinatown's desire for venomous snake pee. That doesn't work out well. Humorless men in black suits appear.

And at certain points in the book an initially-unnamed character takes over from Sammy's first-person narration. The identity of the narrator may surprise you!

So it's a lot of fun. Also long. As in padded-to-meet-the-contracted-word-count long. That's forgiveable with Moore, because he makes the words funny.

URLs du Jour

2020-04-07

  • At National Review, Kevin D. Williamson has some good news about Coronavirus Emergency Measures: American Culture Resists Central Planning.

    Efforts at imposing social and economic regimentation on American life are producing results that are very American, meaning that there is a relatively high level of noncompliance, not only with “social distancing” guidelines but also with heavy-handed government efforts to command and control the private economy. The Scandinavian countries are having a different experience, a more Scandinavian one. (As the Swedish journalist Lisa Bjurwald puts it, buttoned-down and emotionally remote Swedes “were practicing the coronavirus lifestyle long before the virus hit.”) Socialist or nationalist, Left or Right, the powers that be in Washington bark orders all day — but they are barking those orders at Americans. Good luck.

    Emergencies, of course, eventually end. At the end of the Great War, there was an effort among progressives to keep alive the “war socialism” of the Wilson years as a new norm in American life. That was roundly rejected. A smaller version of the same story played out after World War II. Already, we are hearing from the Left and the Right a great deal of wishful thinking about maintaining certain emergency measures associated with this epidemic once the plague has passed. The Left wants to expand unemployment benefits, paid leave, and the like, while the Right is more fixated on the fact that Chinese factories make a lot of cheap paper goods and ibuprofen.

    There always seem to be plenty of people who want to nudge us ever further down the Road to Serfdom. (As KDW puts it: "when everybody is in the army and the army runs everything".)


  • The Federalist's Chuck Devore has a related observation: Freedom Means Letting People Make Risk Calculations About Coronavirus.

    Every few years the nation’s civil engineers produce a slick “Infrastructure Report Card.” In 2017, the report card gave America a “D+” and recommended spending an additional $1.5 trillion over a decade on top of the $1.8 trillion already committed on roads, bridges, airports, water systems and other infrastructure. If we didn’t, the engineers warned of more road deaths, failing dams, and a cost to families of about $3,400 annually in lost productivity.

    But America isn’t an engineer-ocracy, as a result, the nation’s infrastructure grade will probably always be below average. Neither is America a doctor-ocracy, even though during this time we are giving our medical professionals more attention and resources than usual, as we’re afraid of a new and deadly virus.

    There's no shortage of people who think they can make better decisions about your life than you can yourself, and are willing to "nudge"—or shove—you into agreement.


  • At Reason, Robby Soave explains Why You Shouldn’t Trust Anyone Who Claims 80 Percent of America’s Drugs Come From China.

    While reading about the COVID-19 outbreak, you've probably encountered this particularly shocking statistic at one time or another: 80 percent of America's pharmaceutical drug supply comes from China.

    It's a statistic that has made the rounds in right-wing publications for a while—offered as proof that China-heavy global supply chains are putting Americans at risk—but it has also popped up in mainstream outlets, including in pieces published in Politico and The Atlantic. Wherever it is deployed, the stat carries an unstated implication: What if China decides to cut us off in the middle of a pandemic? Could America face a dramatic shortage of key pharmaceutical drugs at the moment when we are most in need? And that distorted claim that says America has been too reliant on China has been seized by politicians like Sen. Josh Hawley (R–Mo.) as evidence that globalization has undermined America's pandemic response.

    Robby does a heroic amount of research to try to track down the origins of this factoid. It's a horrible tale of a mutating meme! One that evolves to fit the priors of whoever repeats it!


  • A (Canadian) guy named Cathal Kelly writes in the (Canadian) Globe and Mail, triggering our Google LFOD News Alert. He has some advice for the President. Get with the program, Trump: Sports as we know them are over.

    Specifically, Trump said he thought the NFL season could go off as scheduled. But will it?

    News update – football is no longer okay. Gavin Newsom, the Governor of California, was asked Saturday if he is on the the same kickoff schedule as the President.

    "I'm not anticipating that happening in this state,” Newsom said.

    That’s three teams (Chargers, Rams and 49ers) out. Seattle and the New York area are virus epicentres, so add the Jets, Giants and Seahawks to that list. All the live-free-or-die types – Cowboys, Titans, every single Floridian who doesn’t live in Miami – form the other camp.

    Cathal takes a properly Canadian attitude of contempt toward LFOD. Well, that's why we're not Canadian.

URLs du Jour

2020-04-06

  • Our Getty image du jour is meant to illustrate our first item, from Roger Koppl at the Library of Economics and Liberty: Pandemics and the Problem of Expert Failure. It's part 3 of a (so far) three-essay series, and you may want to read the entire trilogy. But I'll quote this bit, mainly because it contains a subquote from my all-time favorite physicist:

    I think we have made our lives harder – and put them at greater risk – by trying to contain expertise in officially recognized boxes controlled by the very experts ensconced within them. I refer to the “expertists template” of certification, professional education, and continuing education that I described in my previous essay in this series. When expertise is organized into state-supported professional organizations such as the AMA, it tends to enforce orthodoxy. And that means less pliable, flexible, and adaptive thinking. It means less tinkering and more doctrine. Oops.

    The expertist template is premised on the view that knowledge is hierarchical. It starts at the top with science and cascades down to ever lower levels of the knowledge hierarchy. Mere practitioners must not question the knowledge elite. But questioning is precisely what we need in crises. In his essay, “What is Science?” Richard Feynman remarked “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.” When we give experts power, including the power to decide who the experts are, we choke off science. The premise of a rigid hierarchy of knowers is mistaken. The knowledge we need in normal times and crisis times alike is distributed. It’s out there in thee and me and in all our habits practices and experience. It is not a set of instructions and doctrines coming from on high. It arises of its own from our many decentralized interactions. 

    [Amazon Link]
    And yet, if you're gonna listen to someone, you're better off listening to an epidemiologist than an Uber driver. As Alec Baldwin's character said didn't actually say in Glengarry Glen Ross: ABB—Always Be Bayesian.

    Koppl has a book on the subject, link at right, and I've put it into the Interlibrary Loan queue, optimistically assuming the libraries will reopen before I die.


  • At Reason, Nick Gillespie notes an amusing similarity: Coronavirus Reveals Utter Sameness of Democrats and Republicans. "Amusing" in the sense that you have to laugh to avoid the alternative of utter despair. It's summed up by two tweets about Justin Amash, one from the Dems:

    And two from the Republicans, Amash's former party thirty minutes later:

    If you need a reason to never vote for another Republican, this is a pretty good one.


  • I know, I'm Confirming My Priors, but at AIER, John Tamny explains Why the Crisis Should Turn Everyone Into a Libertarian.

    Amid all the negativity of late, one bit of good news has come via the internet. In particular, Americans haven’t suffered slower internet speeds despite a reported uptick in home computer use related to work, along with the frenzied streaming of movies and documentaries on portals like Netflix.

    About all this, Farhad Manjoo ought to apologize to his readers. Back in 2017 he wrote a piece for the New York Times titled “Without Neutrality, Say So Long to the Internet.” Whoops!

    Funny about it is that readers can bet Manjoo is scribbling yet another misguided column from home as you’re reading this. He’ll file it on his WiFi-enabled computer with ease, before engaging in all manner of internet-based activity despite his downcast prediction from just a few years ago.

    Net Neutrality failed, and that's why I didn't post this and you're not reading this.


  • Theodore Darlymple makes another observation in today's general theme: Pandemics Are the Health of the State. An observation from France:

    A foretaste of the discussions and no doubt political disputes to come was published in the French left-wing newspaper, Libération, on the 27 March. The newspaper has come a long way in the direction of reason and moderation since its foundation by Sartre in his most Maoist days and is now a journal of the domesticated left. The article that caught my eye bore the headline “Covid-19: the return of the Welfare State?” It is by a Jesuit professor, Gaël Giraud, at one of France’s elite colleges.

    The following words are printed in red: “If there are French dying of coronavirus, it is because three decades of budgetary austerity have reduced the capacity of our public hospital service.” Most of the article is an attack on the bête noire of practically all French intellectuals, the so-called neoliberalism, that is to say the economic policies that have been followed (with variations) by all western countries in the last few decades.

    Darlymple observes that France's public expenditures are already 55% of their GDP. There is no level of "democratic socialism" that the socialists would not see a burning need to increase.


  • And Cato's Jeffrey Singer tells a tale of those beautiful white hospital Navy ships in New York and Los Angeles: An Epidemic of Red Tape.

    On March 30, the naval hospital ship U.S.N.S. Comfort arrived in New York harbor, with 1,000 hospital beds and 1.200 staff, ready to assist in the management of the epidemic which has taken a heavy toll on New York metropolitan area inhabitants. Yet, as of April 3, only 20 patients were being treated on the hospital ship. Three days earlier, the 1,000 bed U.S.N.S. Mercy arrived in Los Angeles, and as of April 2 treated 15 patients.

    Both hospital ships were intended to take on and treat patients who are not infected with COVID-19, which serves the dual purpose of sheltering such patients from contagious COVID-19 patients in metro area hospitals while freeing up space in those hospitals for more COVID-19 patients.

    Why so underutilized? The answer may, or may not, surprise you.

Harriet

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

This is how I celebrate Black History Month, by watching Harriet two months afterward. I hope nobody reports me to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

It's the story of Harriet Tubman, a slave dreadfully abused by her masters. (Like all slaves are, more or less.) Out of a mixture of bravery, desperation, and divine guidance, she escapes her Maryland farm and makes it over the Mason-Dixon Line to Pennsylvania, where abolitionists see that she gets a new job as a maid.

But she decides her true talents lie elsewhere, in helping her family escape as well. So she takes the risk of returning to Maryland to extract more slaves north. These forays are incredibly dangerous but nevertheless they work. Harriet gradually becomes infamous as a slave-stealer in Maryland, and becomes famous as a liberator among her new allies.

Some of the characters and many of the action scenes were (as it turns out) heavily fictionized. That's fine, It's also a darned fine advertisement for the Second Amendment, as Harriet is not shy about carrying and using the weaponry of the day.

The actress playing Harriet, Cynthia Erivo, was Oscar-nominated, but Renée Zellweger won.

Terminator: Dark Fate

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I had higher hopes for this. Story by James Cameron! The return of Linda Hamilton and Arnie! But, eh.

Those old tricky time-travel paradoxes are in force here. We are invited to ignore the last three Terminator movies, apparently because they sucked at the box office. In this timeline, John Connor doesn't make it through the opening scene, because yet another T-800 (Schwarzenegger model) blows him away in front of his mother, Sarah.

There's some mumbling about how the timelines work, but the bottom line is that the preferred method of evil-AI warfare is still to send advanced Terminators back in time to prevent the future leaders of the AI resistance from existing. And, what are you gonna do, the resistance sends back an intrepid soldier to prevent that. What ensues is a lot of CGI-assisted mayhem. Much of it (I won't lie) is impressive.

And there are some funny lines. But this one sucked at the box office too, so maybe we can Move On. (Or maybe there will be a movie about how James Cameron went back in time to write a better movie. That one, I'd watch.)

The Phony Campaign

2020-04-05 Update

[Amazon Link]

Our Amazon Prouduct du Jour looks pretty good for evening wear! A mere $26.94 + $3.99 shipping, but … oops … arrives May 22 - June 15. Geez, I hope things are over by then.

And, oh yeah, it's phony day. Andrew Cuomo is still (barely) meeting our credible-candidate inclusion criterion, and he still is beating the pants off Trump in the phony-hit category:

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
3/29
Phony
Results
Change
Since
3/29
Andrew Cuomo 2.1% -1.1% 2,380,000 -360,000
Donald Trump 48.5% -0.2% 1,250,000 -150,000
Joe Biden 42.0% +0.9% 351,000 -71,000

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

  • So, while we've still got Fredo's brother to kick around, let's look at (thanks to Byron York at the Washington Examiner) The #PresidentCuomo fantasy.

    How nervous are some Democrats about Joe Biden's chances against President Trump this November? Nervous enough to entertain the notion that another Democrat, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, might swoop in and save the day.

    Cuomo, who has been governor for nearly a decade and has one of the most famous names in Democratic politics, found new prominence when his state became the epicenter of the coronavirus crisis in the United States. In February and March, some New York officials urged the public to maintain regular activities even as the virus took hold in the state, leading to the worst outbreak in the country. Now, with New York in crisis, the governor holds daily briefings that some politicos see as an effective counterpoint to Trump's White House updates.

    Byron (I call him Byron) finds the scenario that might give us President Cuomo to be farfetched. (Can you really call it the "Democratic" Party when it nominates a guy that nobody has voted for? That hasn't happened since… hm, 1968.)


  • Reason's Robby Soave asks the musical question: Why Are the Mainstream Media Ignoring Tara Reade’s Sexual Assault Accusation Against Joe Biden?

    On September 14, 2018, The New York Times reported the existence of an unverified sexual misconduct allegation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. The story cited three people who had read a letter sent by the accuser—Christine Blasey Ford—to Sen. Diane Feinstein (D–Calif.). Ford was not interviewed for the story; indeed, she wasn't named.

    Unconfirmed reports of a teenaged Kavanaugh assaulting a teenaged Ford evidently merited coverage from The Times. This prompts an obvious question: Why is the paper of record now declining to publicize a very troubling allegation against former Vice President Joe Biden?

    The Times is hardly alone in this regard. The mainstream media have remained bafflingly silent about Tara Reade, a former member of then-Senator Biden's staff who claims that he sexually assaulted her in 1993. Reade's name has only appeared twice in The Washington Post, and both were quick asides: A news roundup from April of last year briefly acknowledged an earlier, milder version of Reade's accusation, and a recent rapid-fire Q&A asked a Post political reporter to weigh-in on the political ramifications "of the Tara Reade bombshell." (The nature of the bombshell is not described.)

    I don't see any reason to believe Tara Reade. But I didn't see any reason to believe Christine Blasey Ford either. This isn't about me.

    I believe the answer to Robby's question is pretty simple: Ms. Reade's accusation is being ignored because drawing attention to it would hurt a Democrat instead of a Republican.


  • Vanity Fair alleges that Trump thinks “Every Country” Spreads Lies About the Coronavirus, What’s the Big Deal?

    Asked by cohost Brian Kilmeade about a Washington Post editorial condemning Russia and China for spreading absurd misinformation about the virus—including, in the case of Russia, that it was made by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and in the case of China, that it had been let loose on Wuhan by the U.S. Army—Trump responded, “Number one, you don’t know what they’re doing. And when you read it in the Washington Post, you don’t believe it. I believe very little when I see it. I see stories in the Washington Post that are so fake, that are so phony. I have stories that are such fake stuff, and that’s number one.” Then he added, of governments spreading completely outrageous lies: “They do it and we do it...Every country does it.”

    Whoa, Trump really said that America spreads "completely outrageous lies" about Coronavirus origins? Certainly this guy thinks that's what he said:

    Well,… here's the transcript of the interview. Check for yourself.

    It's fair to say that Trump's comments are (as usual) full of bile aimed the Washington Post and the New York Times. But it seems that he's really talking about trash-talk between countries ("I make statements that are very strong against China"): his example is calling it the "Chinese virus".

    Which might not be nice, but it's hardly a "completely outrageous" lie.

    Trump's rambling stream-of-consciousness rants are difficult to parse, and easy to interpret uncharitably. That's on him, of course. But I'm reasonably certain that the uncharitable interpretation is also an unfair one in this case.


  • Which brings me to Don Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek. He's not a Trump fan either. But he finds that Trump is Too Easy an Excuse and Target. And, to my mind, he gets it exactly right:

    “Things would be much better now if only we’d had a better person as president,” the lazy thinking seems to be.

    One major danger of this particular blame-game is that it creates the impression that little or no deep thinking about this crisis need be done. All or most problems are caused by Trump’s incompetence, megalomania, and evil mien. End of story. There’s no need, therefore, to question objectively the incentive structures within government agencies and within legislatures. Also, there’s no need to investigate carefully whatever changes in incentives and constraints are created in private markets by taxes and government spending, proscriptions, and prescriptions.

    There’s no need for any such hard-nosed analysis because we all know the chief reason for any and all problems: President Donald J. Trump.

    Would matters be better today if Hillary Clinton had won the 2016 election? Or if Barack Obama had been anointed to serve a third term? Or if Ronald Reagan or George Washington had been resurrected and ensconced in the Oval Office? Maybe. But if so the improvement would have been small. We Americans would still be in a heap of trouble.

    Trump did not create the FDA, the CDC, or any of the countless occupational-licensing and certificate-of-need restrictions. Trump, being governor of no state, has imposed no stay-at-home diktats on private Americans. Trump isn’t the author of federalism. Trump did not create COVID-19. Nor did he bring this virus to the U.S.

    As best as I can judge, a Pres. Clinton (H. or B.) or Pres. Obama or Pres. Biden or Sanders or Warren or Klobuchar in this moment would likely have done some things better than Trump, but also would likely have done some things worse. The social-engineering itch of modern-day Democrats would have prevented any of them from easing some of the regulations that Trump justifiably eased, and would perhaps have, in addition, moved them to impose restraints and restrictions that Trump never dreamed of and which – although surely these would have been greeted with “Oooohs” and “Ahhhs” from the intellectual and entertainment-world elite – would perhaps have inflicted even graver damage on the economy than that which we are enduring now.

    As matters stand, however, Trump is the excuse. It’s lazy. It’s largely mistaken. And, as such, it’s dangerous. But it’s oh-so convenient and cool.

    That's a long excerpt. But a good one, right? A commenter also notes the "progressive" attitude: " if Obama were still president he'd have magically stopped the virus form ever harming anyone outside of Seattle. He organized a "pandemic response team" which would have sprung into action, vanquished this evil virus immediately, and left the U.S. the only country on the planet to have avoided the pandemic completely without so muchTrump's super racist move of prohibiting international travel. Apparently, that pandemic response team was the key."


Last Modified 2020-04-06 4:54 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2020-04-04

  • Arnold Kling has been a prolific blogger recently, making a lot of sense to which probably nobody will pay heed. But if you read only one article, make it his observations of The childish view of government.

    When you are eight years old and you want something, you ask your parents. When they give it to you, it seems that they are being nice and nurturing. When they don’t, it seems that they are being strict and tough.

    That is the way most people think about government, and the way that journalists encourage us to treat government. When Congress gives us something we want, they are being nice. And when it doesn’t they are being mean.

    Thinking about economics should allow you to see a difference. Your parents have something to give you because they worked to create something of value and earned a paycheck. The government only has something to give you because it takes it from someone else. The government cannot be “nice” to everyone at the same time.

    Arnold thinks that things are going to get real expensive, thanks to "stimulus" that involves government spending a lot of money that it will have to print up. I have no idea, but it certainly sounds plausible.


  • George Will sings a related note: Crises and the collectivist temptation.

    Today’s pandemic has simultaneously inflicted the isolation of “social distancing” and the social solidarity of shared anxiety. In tandem, these have exacerbated a tendency that was already infecting America’s body politic before the virus insinuated itself into many bodies and every consciousness.

    It is the recurring longing for escape from individualism, with its burden of personal responsibility. It includes a concomitant desire for immersive politics, whereby people infuse their lives with synthetic meaning by enlisting in mass movements or collective efforts. These usually derive their unity from a clear and present danger or, when that is lacking, from national, ethnic, racial or class resentments (e.g., Donald Trump’s and Bernie Sanders’s not-so-very-different populisms of those who feel victimized).

    I can tell you (thanks to grep) that this is only the third occurrence of "concomitant" in the 15-year history of this blog.


  • And Jonah Goldberg's G-File moans that A Weiji is a Terrible Thing to Waste. ("Weiji" being the ASCII-ized Chinese word for "crisis". I just want to quote this bit:

    You may not know this, but the Chinese symbol for “crisis” also means “I’m a pretentious power-hungry ass-ache looking to exploit a crisis.”

    Pun Salad Fact Check: True enough.


  • California-based Patterico notes the heartwarming story (as recounted in the NYT) of New Hampshire doctor Dr. Richard Levitan.

    Answering Gov. Cuomo’s call for medical volunteers from across the nation to go to New York to help save lives during the ongoing nightmare of a coronavirus outbreak, New York born Dr. Richard Levitan left New Hampshire to help at Bellevue Hospital Center, where he once trained. Unable to find an available hotel room, he ended up staying at his brother’s vacant apartment on the upper West Side. When word got out that he was a doctor helping to manage coronavirus patients, the building’s board of directors kicked him out. This, in spite of his reputation as “a teaching guru on managing the human airway,” including “performing the tricky but vital task of intubation, threading a breathing tube into people who are not getting enough oxygen”

    Dr. Levitan is based up Littleton way, where, as of yesterday, state officials reported between 1-4 cases. So demand for his skills there is arguably low.

    News flash: New Yorkers can be ungrateful idiots.


  • At National Review, Kyle Smith says Welcome Back, Plastic Bags.

    Single-use plastic bags are a miracle of modern technology. Cheap, light, convenient, and ubiquitous, they provide an elegant solution to a problem. If you recycle them, as most people do, and put your rubbish in them, that creates a net reduction in carbon emissions compared with buying the heavier, thicker garbage bags sold in stores. Best of all, they’re sanitary.

    Cue up a head-spinning headline: San Francisco has just banned the use of reusable tote bags and switched back to single-use plastic bags to help fight the spread of the coronavirus. In New Hampshire, on March 21, Governor Chris Sununu signed an executive order to the same effect. Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker followed suit on March 25. A Maine ban on plastic bags was due to take effect on April 22 but has just been pushed back until next year.

    Whoever could have warned us that cloth tote bags were unhygienic? Well, there was this New York Post columnist who wrote, six years ago, “Reusing that Earth-friendly tote gradually turns it into a chemical weapon” and noted that plastic-bag bans were associated in one study with a 46 percent increase in death from food-borne illnesses. Cloth tote bags are inconvenient, they’re eco-unfriendly (more carbon emissions than single-use plastic, unless you use them more than 14 times, which people tend not to do), and oh, by the way, they’re deadly.

    I don't know how many Covid-19 cases were spread via reuseable bags. But yeah, here's hoping they don't come back.


  • J.D. Tuccille has an immodest proposal at Reason: Dump the FDA for a Healthier America.

    Even before federal red tape delayed development and deployment of COVID-19 testing and hampered the acquisition of protective gear for medical professionals, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had a reputation as an obstructionist bureaucracy that emphasizes caution over innovation. That caution comes with a price tag in human lives that might have been saved by faster access to new drugs and devices.

    Although it's usually been largely invisible, that regulatory price is now on public display. As a result, this may be our best opportunity to abolish, or at least reform, this deadly government agency.

    I say let's play it safe and dump all the agencies that begin with "F". For starters. That would be the FCC, the FAA, the FBI, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FEMA, the Federal Reserve, …

    Then we'll get started on the others.

URLs du Jour

2020-04-03

  • At National Review, David Harsanyi has had it with "armchair quarterbacks" who are trying to rewrite history. Because Nobody Predicted COVID-19.

    This morning [April 1], MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough claimed that, unlike the Trump administration, “Everybody saw this coming in early January.”

    If Scarborough knew that a deadly, once-in-a-century pandemic was about to descend on the nation in early January — I assume he considers himself part of “everyone” — why on God’s earth didn’t he warn his susceptible viewers that they should begin social distancing? Why didn’t his producers book a single expert who could beseech his viewers to start wearing masks, to shutter their non-essential businesses, and to avoid church and sporting events? Why didn’t he mention coronavirus at all? Even in late January, nearly a full month after “everyone knew,” Scarborough’s show was dominated by the Donald Trump impeachment trial.

    As far as I can tell, in the entire month of January, Morning Joe didn’t reference the coronavirus once to his 2.6 million followers on Twitter. Imagine the thousands of lives Scarborough could have saved if he had only shared his insight.

    This shouldn't be taken as a refutation of Trump's early Pollyanism, of course. But Joe Scarborough is a lying piece of garbage. Just wanted to mention that.


  • Veronique de Rugy, her Intrepidness, observes: Coronavirus Puts Counterproductive Regulations Into Perspective.

    Governments in the United States are restricting freedoms to unprecedented degrees in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. As dangerous as this expansion of power is, in some ways, federal, state and local governments are also reducing their intrusions into our lives by cutting many regulations.

    This deregulation falls into three categories: help people deal with the virus (including those who are confined to their homes with children who need to be home-schooled); help businesses stay open and cater to their consumers under these unusual circumstances; and free the private health care sector to better respond to the virus.

    Veronique lists the relaxed rules, many of which are meant to prop up inflexible special interests. Which reminds me of a picture I noticed in the WSJ a couple days ago:

    [Katie Lapham, an ESL teacher in Brooklyn, N.Y., records a video for one of her students with some help from her daughter Norah]

    The sticker on the laptop is cropped out of the online version, but it reads "#WeChoose Education Equity, Not the Illusion of 'School Choice'". Ooh, sick burn on the choicers, WSJ!

    A little searching on Twitter reveals that #WeChoose is an Orwellian hashtag favored by the teacher's unions. But I also noted some folks appending an accuracy-improving phrase: "#WeChoose, Not You".


  • At Reason, Nick Gillespie chuckles when Anti-Trump Democrats Learn That Internet Censorship Blocks Them Too.

    Last fall, the most-enlightened folks among us praised the move by some tech giants to police and even censor political ads. Sure, back in the day, Barack Obama had used Facebook and micro-targeting to good effect. Indeed, his campaign's embrace of new ways of reaching young people (including using data from "unknowing users") showed how liberals generally were so much more tech-savvy and forward-looking than old-school campaigns run by the likes of John McCain and Mitt Romney, who might as well have been wearing spats and sporting pocket watches. Then 2016 happened and it turned out that Donald Trump was a master of social media and Hillary Clinton was revealed as the hapless grandma who couldn't even work her Jitterbug phone.  The super-retro real-estate mogul from Queens—who doesn't even use email, fer chrissakes!—connected tremendously with all the mouth-breathers out there on Facebook, Twitter, Pornhub, whatever, and squeaked into the White House. Trump's digital-media guy, Brad Parscale (Brad!) was the genius, while Clinton's Robby Mook, once-always described as a guru, was the chump, a digital-era Joe Shlabotnik.

    To the technoscenti, the obvious answer to such a turn of affairs was to ban or restrict political advertising online, often in the name of saving the Republic. Jack Dorsey of Twitter paused from taking meditation retreats in genocide-scarred Myanmar long enough to announce that he was banning political ads from his microblogging site, and people who only belatedly realized that non-liberals could be savvy at making memes breathed a sigh of relief. The same people lost their shit when Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he would continue to allow ads and he wasn't even going to fact check them, either. Hadn't this alien lifeform done enough damage to America already? When Google, the 800-lb. gorilla of online advertising, announced plans to restrict various forms of targeting and to police "false claims," there was much rejoicing. As Kara Swisher, the founder of the great Recode platform who now writes for The New York Times, put it, Google's decision to heavily restrict meant that Parscale "will now have one less weapon in his digital arsenal to wage his scorched-earth re-election campaign."

    That's what happens when you don't trust people to look at their screens with a skeptical, critical eye.


  • David Marcus makes an observation I've made myself: In Isolation We Rediscover Our Dusty Bookshevles.

    Over the centuries bookshelves have served two basic purposes. The first is to hold the books we have collected over the years with all of their knowledge and power, and the second is to look nice. If the latter seems somewhat shallow, it shouldn’t. There are few aesthetic accouterments for the home that can match the beauty of a tall bookshelf, even messy ones like mine. As our home entertainment options have exploded these past decades, for many of us that beauty has become our bookshelves’ primary purpose.

    But in the age of virus the bookshelves’ other purpose, its more intellectual one is making a comeback. With so much time at home day after day there comes a point when the screens get boring, there’s only so much to stream. In those moments, and I am sure I’m not alone in this, the eye wanders to those ponderous spines lined up like soldiers in a phalanx and slowly we walk up and peruse them.

    It's a fine essay, inviting you to get "lost in the magic" of remembering why and how you managed each particular volume. Takes me back to (for example) twirling the paperback displays at the Brandeis department store in Downtown Omaha.


  • And the Babylon Bee has belatedly exposed one of my professional secrets: Nation's Programmers Admit They're Actually Just Really Good At Googling Things.

    At a press conference Thursday, a spokesperson for the National Programmer's Association apologized that coders have long pretended they know what they are doing when really they just search the internet for how to do stuff.

    "We're sorry for those we've misled," he said. "We've pretended our job is a tough profession to learn, but that was just gatekeeping. The real secret is we know how to code just as much as you do. It's just that we know the kinds of search terms to use to find solutions."

    Ditto for system administration. You not only stand on the shoulders of giants, you can look over their shoulders while they're typing.

Paradise Valley

[Amazon Link]

C. J. Box's regular series concerns Wyoming Game and Fish Warden Joe Pickett, but he took some time to pen the "Highway Quartet", and this is the last entry there.

I just finished a book where "page-turner" was unfortunately meant in the sense let's keep the pages turning so I can be done with this tedious mess. This one, like most all Box's stuff is a page-turner in a better way: holy crap, what's gonna happen?

But, consumer note, you really should read the first three in the series, in order, before you tackle this one: Back of Beyond, The Highway, and Badlands.

In this book, Cassie Dewell, Chief Investigator of the Bakken (North Dakota) County Sheriff's Department, is about to spring a trap on the Lizard King, a long-distance trucker whose sideline is kidnapping truck-stop prostitutes and (eventually) murdering them. The trap goes dreadfully awry, however, and Cassie winds up losing her job over the mess. But meanwhile, Kyle, a plucky kid from the previous book, is about to fulfill a lifelong dream: taking off with a buddy in a drift boat down the Missouri. Kyle and his friend wind up missing, and nobody much cares, except Cassie. And since she's out of a job, she decides to follow up a lead that the real cops seem to be uninterested in. And things go in unexpected directions from there.

The first book in the series, Back of Beyond, seems to be kind of an outlier, as there's no Lizard King in that tale. But Box manages to tie in a major character and locale from that book here. Satisfying.

URLs du Jour

2020-04-02

  • George Will warns us of A second pandemic: Virus opportunism.

    America’s encounter with covid-19 is causing people already enthusiastic about enlarging government to strenuously affirm the self-evident: the fact that government can perform indispensable functions. And a new pandemic — virus opportunism — is intensifying calls by perennial advocates of substantially enlarged government for just that. Government, they say, should be understood sentimentally as (in words ascribed to former Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank) “simply the name we give to the things we choose to do together.”

    Mr. Will goes on to give an example of "the things we choose to do together" in the case of Miladis Salgado, whose home was raided on a false tip, $15K in cash confiscated.


  • Writing on roughly the same topic at AIER, Phillip W. Magness detects Socialism Under the Cover of Pandemic.

    “Never let a crisis go to waste,” the old adage goes. Unfortunately, political activists and public officials from across the spectrum are now taking this advice to heart amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. While many policy responses to the current crisis are well-meaning, even if misguided, be vigilant of those who would cynically weaponize it to advance their pre-COVID ideological goals.

    We may see this latter tendency in a new proposal by Berkeley economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, the data-massaging duo behind a flurry of misleading and false empirical claims about taxation and inequality in the United States. 

    Writing for the New York Times, Saez and Zucman use the occasion of the coronavirus’s economic disruptions to argue for the immediate adoption of a massive public jobs security program, accompanied by sweeping and punitive forms of taxation upon corporations and the wealthy. If you think this sounds suspiciously similar to the economic policy agenda that this same pair was advocating long before the COVID outbreak, you are not mistaken.

    Which makes me want to resurrect this Iowahawk tweet treat from a couple days back:

    I fear that's going to be an increasingly relevant observation as time goes by.


  • Shall we look at a different bugaboo? Cato's David Boaz is pushing on an open door for me when he says The Census Is Too Intrusive.

    Signs have popped up all over my neighborhood in Arlington, Virginia, urging us to respond to the census – so that the 8th wealthiest county in America won’t miss out on funding collected from taxpayers across the country.

    Census Bureau materials stress to local officials that census data will help them get “their fair share of funding” from hundreds of federal programs. Obviously this is a zero‐sum game. If my neighbors and I all fill out the form, then you and your neighbors will get less from the common federal trough. But at least we’ll be getting our “fair share.”

    But where does the government get the authority to ask me my race, my age, and whether I have a mortgage? In fact, the Constitution authorizes the federal government to make an “actual enumeration” of the people in order to apportion seats in the House of Representatives. That’s all. Not to define and count us by race. Not to ask whether we’re homeowners or renters, or involved in a same‐​sex marriage or partnership. Just to ask how many people live here, so they can apportion congressional seats.

    I’m not interested in getting taxpayers around the country to pay for roads and schools and “many other programs” in my community. All the government needs to know from me is how many people live in my house.

    My feelings exactly. I've previously mentioned the irritating TV ads sponsored by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (another much-richer-than-average locale) also demanding their "fair share".

    How about zero, Virginia and Massachusetts? Does zero sound fair to you?


  • I wouldn't mention this blurb from a site called "Science Focus" except I don't like the answer to the question: Does a USB drive get heavier as you store more files on it?

    Believe it or not, they get lighter. USB drives use Flash memory, which means the the ones and zeros of your data are stored on transistors. When you save data, a binary zero is set by charging the float gate of the transistor, and a binary one is set by removing the charge. To charge it, we add electrons, and the mass of each electron is 0.00000000000000000000000000091 grams. This means that an empty USB drive (which mostly holds zeros) weighs more than a full USB drive (which has ones and zeros). Add data, reduce the weight. However, you would need to weigh more USB drives than exist on the planet together at once before the difference in weight became easily measurable.

    It's been a long time since I took my last electronics course, but I'm pretty sure a bit gets toggled by moving electrons around on a transistor, not removing them from the device entirely. (Which is what would have to happen if the drive got even immeasurably lighter.)

    And if somehow a 0 → 1 transition caused electrons to leave the USB drive, wouldn't that mean the drive would acquire a positive static charge? And wouldn't that last only as long as there wasn't a path to ground?

    As I said, it's been a long time, but the more I think about it, the more I think the author wasn't thinking too hard.


  • And those wacky kids at Free Keene rang the Google LFOD News Alert once again for their semi-civil disobedience in Concord: Over Ten People Exercise Right to Assemble at NH State House in Violation of Governor’s Order.

    Donning masks from “V for Vendetta”, more than a dozen activists gathered at the New Hampshire state house in Concord today in violation of “HIS EXCELLENCY” governor Chris Sununu’s “order” banning assembly of over ten people. Not only did the police who passed by the event today use their discretion and ignore the event, one Concord police officer even waved to the group, suggesting that he also supported the human right to assemble. While responses from passing motorists varied, the majority were positive, including thumbs-ups, honks, and waves. Negative responses included middle fingers, shaking heads, a thumbs-down, and verbal “quarantine shaming”. Of course, any protest for any topic always elicits negative responses and this one was not unusual.

    The group took a picture in front of the state house's statue of General John Stark, American popularizer of LFOD. The article observes that "Stark is likely rolling in his grave".

    Somebody should check. He's right here.

URLs du Jour

2020-04-01

[Amazon Link]
Our Amazon Product du Jour is "Modern-Depo High-Back Swivel Gaming Chair Recliner with Bluetooth 4.1 Speakers, Footrest, Headrest and Lumbar Support | Height Adjustable Ergonomic Office Chair - Black & Orange". A mere $174.99.

I admire that last adjective: "Office".

  • Andrew Stuttaford writes at National Review about the pandemic response and: Setting a Precedent.

    […] there should be no illusions that some default instinct towards freedom will stop Americans from succumbing to the intellectual temptations that the response to COVID-19 may send their way. Turning to Uncle Sam in times of insecurity, especially in a country where hard times can be much harder than many places elsewhere in the West is understandable enough. There’s also an unsettling aspect of human nature to consider. It may seem odd to describe a society as mobilized — when so many and so much have been immobilized — but that’s what America now is, thus the frequent wartime comparisons. Despite chafing against some of the restrictions that typically come with it, there are plenty of people who rather like being mobilized. That’s just another reason why countries that have been mobilized tend to stay so for far longer than an emergency might call for, and why the state almost never retreats the whole way back to where it was before that emergency begun.

    Well, on that cheerful note…


  • Let's lighten the mood. At Reason, Peter Suderman notes The World Health Organization Classified Video Game Addiction as a Disorder. Now It’s Telling People to Play Video Games. (And our Amazon Product du Jour is perfect for that, just sayin'.)

    There's nothing inherently contradictory about the WHO's messaging, but it does serve as a reminder that gaming has social and health benefits. Although video games have become far more popular in recent years, they are still sometimes subject to a cultural stigma, a perception that they are time-wasters at best, socially corrosive at worst. That stigma has been around for as long as I can remember, from the early 1990s congressional hearings on violence in games like Mortal Kombat to the continuing efforts by politicians and pundits to tie acts of real-world violence to playing video games—despite the persistent lack of evidence

    I'm pretty sure I'm going to stick with Spider Solitaire.


  • At AEI, Mark J. Perry quotes William McGurn on ‘Harvard’s China virus’.

    Amid the coronavirus wreckage, there seems to be a bright spot. The pushback against referring to Covid-19 as the “China virus” indicates a welcome new sensitivity for the racial discrimination directed at Chinese-Americans. Or does it?

    Ever since people began referring to “the China virus”—or to be precise, ever since the White House press corps realized it was Donald Trump’s preferred term—the American people have been given repeated warnings that this is not only insensitive but dangerous.

    It’s hard not to notice the chasm between this new hypersensitivity and the indifference toward another, very real discrimination affecting this same community. That is the racial discrimination keeping Chinese-Americans out of America’s most elite educational institutions. Some of the same people who fret so loudly about how we refer to Covid-19 are utterly indifferent to this other racial discrimination affecting Chinese-Americans.

    Mark sums it up in one of his famous Venn diagrams:

    [China Virus]


  • Pierre Lemieux reminds us what happens When Free-Market Prices Are Banned.

    One would think that basic economics and economic history, including a century of communist experiments, have demonstrated one thing: when prices are forbidden to adjust, shortages are created, the allocation of goods by government becomes a nightmare, and black markets develop. It would seem that especially in times of emergency, whatever government does, it should leave prices alone.

    Prices of medical products related to the current epidemic (face masks, disinfecting products, medical gowns and gloves, ventilators, and such) just like prices of common consumer goods were already capped by states’ “price gouging” laws triggered by the governors’ emergency declarations. Price controls have been further tightened by President Trump’s March 23 Executive Order on Preventing Hoarding of Health and Medical Resources to Respond to the Spread of COVID-19 and by the March 25 Notice of Designation of Scarce Materials or Threatened Materials issued by the Department of Health and Human Resources. Not surprisingly, shortages have appeared.

    I get that nobody likes high prices. But they're trying to tell you something; it does no good to plug your ears and sing "La la la…".


  • And our Google LFOD News Alert rang from way 'cross the pond, specifically from Yorkshire Coast Radio, where one Jeremy Thompson muses on Coronavirus: FaceTime, pilates and lockdown humour. ("Jeremy Thompson is a former Sky News presenter in his seventies.")

    Some friends around my age report back on their first trip out to "oldies' hour" at the supermarket.

    Quite civilised apparently, with staff politely monitoring shoppers' ages and carrying bags to their cars.

    Even so, a few "younger" shoppers still try to jump the seniors' queue or break the two-metre cordon sanitaire. Ah, good old Brits, all pulling together! When will we ever learn?

    I read about one GP weeping at the foolishness of folk still gathering in contagion clusters, recklessly disregarding the medical facts. It's like some people are determined to live by New Hampshire's state motto: Live Free or Die.

    Nice: they know about our state motto, even in old Yorkshire, which is way up by Hadrian's Wall, and about the only thing they're known for is pudding.

    All right (sigh): the Brontë sisters, too.

    Not so nice: equating our state motto to, essentially, "Act Stupid, Irresponsible, and Selfish." I think that's missing some … nuance.