The Phony Campaign

2020-05-31 Update

Mr. Ramirez, would you please introduce our weekly feature?

[Good Move, President Bone Spurs]

Thank you, sir.

Well (finally) the oddsmakers have dropped the probability of President Hillary Clinton in 2021 below our 2% threshold. Are we safe? Maybe! She's (as I type) at 1.6%. Other longshots with reported odds are Mike Pence (1.0%), Nikki Haley (0.8%), Cuomo (0.5%) and Bernie (0.5%).

And so it's down to Bone Spurs vs. Asthma:

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
5/24
Phony
Results
Change
Since
5/24
Donald Trump 47.7% -0.7% 1,630,000 -800,000
Joe Biden 45.5% +3.3% 464,000 -13,000

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

  • You may be wondering: what about the Libertarians? Well, they picked Jo Jorgensen, someone presentable and sane enough to be a professor at Clemson University.

    And for Vice President they picked a guy named Spike Cohen, which inspired a Tweet.

    I'd really like to vote for Jo. I'm not sure I can vote for Spike as the heartbeat-away guy.


  • Michael Huemer has a number of handy tips in this article: How to Spot a Liar. Here are the first three (out of thirteen):

    1. Independent sources: This is obvious, but it is the main way of identifying liars: if a person says things that conflict with information from independent (reliable) sources, then that person is probably a liar.
      • Corollary: if you’re not sure whether person S is to be trusted, pick some factual claim S makes that is easily verifiable or refutable, and look it up. If S lies (or is wrong) about that, then S probably lies (or is wrong) about a lot of the things that you haven’t checked on.
    2. If you know that S lies to other people (e.g., because S has told you about these lies), then you should assume that S lies to you too.
    3. Intrinsic implausibility: If S frequently says things that have very low prior probabilities, then S may be a liar (or just bad at thinking).

    It's a pretty good list, but I suspect most Pun Salad readers are pretty good at spotting liars already. Skipping down to Michael's bottom line:

    The above points are not exactly amazing discoveries — most of that is very obvious. That’s why I am amazed that so many seem blissfully (or miserably?) unaware of them. I’m amazed, for example, that “prosperity gospel” preachers get rich, just by telling their congregants that if they give money to the preacher, God will reward them. I mean, it’d be hard to think of a more obvious scam.

    Now, I know that most people are dumb, but you would expect them to have some sort of evolved “cheater-detection” instincts that would catch at least the very most obvious lies.

    In the case of politicians, part of the problem is that talking about politics lowers people’s IQ by about 30 points; it’s like an instant lobotomy. So if some political figure or commentator is, or pretends to be, on “your side” politically, then suddenly you become the most naive mark.

    In conclusion: try not to be mind-bogglingly gullible.

    Good advice. Only could be improved by distinguishing between liars, bullshitters (an important distinction), and those who are genuinely delusional.


  • It seems so long ago that we were all outraged by Joe Biden's condescending “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.” Not to engage in whataboutism or anything, but Jay Nordlinger recalls a Trump quote from last year: “I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”

    Not too different.

    The disloyal Jew is an old trope.

    Democrats made a big deal of Trump’s remark, Republicans are making a big deal of Biden’s. That’s the way it works. A tiny group of people, I suppose, object to both statements.

    The bottom line (as Biden would say): Although we can discern patterns, race is not destiny, ethnicity is not destiny, religion is not destiny, when it comes to voting, etc., and a person is entitled to be bound only by conscience.

    The nice thing about being a white male Christian* is that no decent person will demand you vote for them due to your racial/sexual/religious solidarity.


  • Trump also made noises over the week about bending Twitter to his will. I wish he were the only one. James Pethokoukis asks the musical question: How much power do we want to give Washington to decide what’s on social media?

    ("Zero. Does zero work for you?")

    It might be the most important federal law that you’ve never heard of. Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act protects internet companies from the actions of their users and allows them to moderate content. As Jeff Kosseff, assistant professor of cybersecurity law at the US Naval Academy, writes in “The Twenty-Six Words That Created the Internet,” that seemingly simple provision “created the legal and social framework that we know today.” And as Kosseff added in an interview with me last year, “I can’t think of any other single law that has had more impact on the internet as we know it today.”

    No Section 230? Well, you can probably forget about an internet that’s heavily driven by sharing and user-generated content. Definitely a blander and more boring place to visit. More one-way communication. Any effort to significantly change or limit this legal protection — as President Trump apparently wants to do — should require a really good reason.

    What a concept! Government needing a good reason for arbitrary power grabs! Quaint! Welcome to the 21st century, James.


  • At the Technology Liberation Front, Adam Thierer reveals The Surprising Ideological Origins of Trump’s Communications Collectivism.

    Various others have already documented the many legal things wrong with Trump’s call for greater government oversight of private speech platforms. I want to focus on something slightly different here: The surprising ideological origins of what Trump and his allies are proposing. Because for those of us who are old-timers and have followed communications and media policy for many decades, this moment feels like deja vu all over again, but with the strange twist that supposed “conservatives” are calling for a form of communications collectivism that used to be the exclusive province of hard-core Leftists.

    To begin, the truly crazy thing about President Trump and some conservatives saying that social media should be regulated as public forums is not just that they’re abandoning free speech rights, it’s that they’re betraying property rights, too. Treating private media like a “public square” entails a taking of private property. Amazingly, Trump and his followers have taken over the old “media access movement” and given it their own spin.

    This is the sort of thing that happens when your only bedrock principle is "winning."


  • The Techfreedom folks are also less than impressed: Trump Order Would Violate the First Amendment in the Name of Free Speech.

    Today, the White House released a long-rumored Executive Order entitled “Preventing Online Censorship.” The Order blasts social media services for alleged political bias against conservatives; calls on the Federal Communications Commission to issue rules gutting Section 230 immunity, which has been essential to nearly all websites; asks the Federal Trade Commission and state Attorneys General to sue websites for being political biased; bars all federal agencies from buying ads on social media services deemed to be “biased;” and calls for the new federal and legislation.

    This is pure political theatre — and an affront to the Constitution,” said Ashkhen Kazaryan, Director of Civil Liberties at TechFreedom. “The Order is a hodgepodge of outdated and inapplicable precedents combined with flagrant misinterpretations of both the First Amendment and Section 230. The Order claims that Twitter and Facebook are the ‘the functional equivalent of a traditional public forum,’ but the Supreme Court has clearly rejected such arguments — led by none other than Trump appointee Brett Kavanaugh.” 

    So, vote for Biden? Well… read this first: Joe Biden doesn’t like Trump’s Twitter order, but still wants to revoke Section 230.

URLs du Jour

2020-05-30

In these dreary times, you deserve to have something fun up front: Google Trends brings us:

Unlike Vermont, we here in New Hampshire know how to spell "tong".

(But they were probably going for "tongue", right?)

  • Andrew Cline of the Josiah Bartlett Center points out what should be good news for our fair state: The justifications for prolonged closures are unraveling. After praising our governor for managing "a difficult challenge with great skill", things aren't going that well in the bowels of the state's executive branch:

    Yet it is not clear what data are guiding New Hampshire’s approach and what the precise goals are. Business owners and employees remain frustrated because the state has offered little clarity on how emergency rules are to be lifted.

    Initially, the state’s emergency measures were focused on ensuring adequate hospital capacity in case of a surge of COVID-19 cases. The curve flattened weeks ago and the anticipated surge never happened. This week the governor ordered 10 of the state’s 14 overflow hospital sites closed.

    Yet the governor also extended his emergency order and the stay-home order this week. People see the numbers going down, the curve flattened, but emergency orders and restrictions remaining in place.

    Asked on Tuesday what data the state is using to guide its decision-making, Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibinette struggled to give a coherent answer. After being asked several times about the state’s declining infection rate, she seemed to say that the state’s goal was to prevent every long-term-care facility employee from getting infected.

    Governor Sununu is an MIT engineering graduate, so he's not an idiot. Must be some other reason for the obfuscation and continued "orders".


  • Of course, there are "scientists" on the other side too. According to Nancy West of InDepthNH.org: Scientists Frustrated Sununu Refuses Mandatory Mask Order.

    Local scientists who have urged Gov. Chris Sununu to mandate face coverings for almost two months believe lives could have been saved and more saved going forward except that Sununu ignores their advice even though Maine, Massachusetts and New York have issued mandatory mask orders.

    “Lives definitely could have been saved,” said Rich DiPentima, who retired after serving top public health posts in the state and Manchester, including several stints as the acting state epidemiologist.

    The article continues with DiPentima saying "I can’t quantify the number, but…". He's pretty sure, in a handwaving way, things might have been different in some imagined alternate universe.

    But "scientist"? That "acting state epidemiologist" thing sounds impressive. But Ballotpedia notes that he's also "former Democratic member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, representing the Rockingham 16 District from 2008 to 2012." And his educational background:

    DiPentima earned B.A. in sociology from the University of Connecticut; BSN in nursing from University of Connecticut; and MPH in health administration from University of Oklahoma.

    You see an epidemiology degree in there anywhere? Me neither. His CV (on the page linked above) cites a number of job positions, none screaming "actual researcher".


  • At Reason, Billy Binion describes How This Bill Gates Coronavirus Conspiracy Theory Made Its Way from a Reddit Thread to Laura Ingraham.

    "The difference between a conspiracy theory and a scientific theory," the sociologist John Gagnon once said, "is that a scientific theory has holes in it."

    The sort of conspiracy theory that Gagnon was mocking—an all-encompassing narrative that explains away any apparent discrepancies as part of the cover-up—doesn't require a crisis to exist, but they often proliferate with one. COVID-19 is no exception.

    Consider Bill Gates, the Microsoft billionaire who, some say, has branched out from his tech empire to invent something different—the novel coronavirus—so that he can track everyone's movements.

    "Whether Bill Gates played some role in the creation and spread of this virus is open for vigorous debate," former Trump campain aide Roger Stone told radio host Joe Piscopo ealier this year. "I have conservative friends who say it's ridiculous and others say absolutely."

    If you actually discovered a conspiracy, the very last thing you would want to do—the thing, in fact, you would desperately want to avoid doing—is to trumpet it on Reddit, QAnon, Unz, MSNBC, etc. That would give any good Bayesian ample reason to dump it into the "almost certain bullshit" heap.

    Side note: I recommend a very good podcast from Jonah Goldberg on this topic: The Vast Mermaid Conspiracy. Find out why Argentinians believe the Vatican is hiding aliens!


  • George F. WIll tells us (almost certainly correctly) How Congress can expedite — or continue to delay — economic recovery. It's a layperson-summary of an NBER Working Paper/BFI Report (PDF) from Jose Maria Barrero, Nicholas Bloom, and Steven J. Davis.

    And now come some unintended, but not unpredictable, effects of government policies intended to be palliative. The BFI report says that policies designed “to preserve all pre-COVID jobs and employment relationships could prove quite costly” because they “are analogous to policies that prop up dying industries and failing firms.” These policies exact a high cost in resource misallocation and taxpayer burden.

    In contrast, there would be “potentially large benefits” from policies “that facilitate a speedy reallocation of jobs, workers, and capital to newly productive uses.” Slowing this will prolong the “reallocation shock.”

    Seems pretty sensible. Will attention be paid? It seems safe to assign a low probability to that.


  • New Hampshire liberty-lovers will want to check out the Club for growth New Hampshire State Legislative Scorecard for 2019 (PDF).

    State Scorecards are created by the Club for Growth Foundation to educate the public about the voting records of the legislators who serve in state legislatures. It is part of a larger scorecard project that the Club for Growth Foundation has created to educate the public about the economic positions taken by legislators in states across the country.

    And in my case the results are unsurprising but depressing.

    • Senator David Watters: 2%
    • Rep Catt Sandler: 1%
    • Rep Cecilia Rich: 1%
    • Rep Wendy Chase: 0%
    • Rep Gerri Cannon: 1%

    I wonder, with the Beach Boys: Wendy, Wendy what went wrong? Oh so wrong.


  • Last but definitely not least, Jeffrey A. Singer and Richard P. Menger have a lesson we should be (but are not) learning from the pandemic: Medical-Licensing Laws Need Reform.

    Of the many lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the most obvious is the need to reevaluate state-licensing laws that impede the free and rapid movement of health-care workers to places they are needed. Many governors suspended state-licensing requirements in early March so that doctors, nurses, and other health-care professionals licensed in other states could help with the public-health crisis in their own states. These governors should not resume the ways of the past when the crisis ends.

    Individual state-licensing requirements for health-care professionals do not help patients or ensure quality. Rather, they serve as a mechanism to protect health-care provider interests.

    I'm kind of a wild-eyed radical on licensure. "Even doctors?" you gasp. Yup, ever since I read Chapter 9 of Milton Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom.

URLs du Jour

2020-05-29

It's pretty grim out there today, so how about a mood-elevator? Reader, you would have to have a heart of stone not to chuckle at People who wear masks vs People without masks.

  • Betteridge's law of headlines applies to Matt Welch's Reason article: Do You Feel $9,000 Richer, Punk?

    As Congress squabbles over the next multitrillion-dollar phase of coronavirus relief, it's worth asking the question: Do you feel $9,000 richer since March?

    Unless you were an early investor in the vaccine-chasing Moderna Therapeutics, the answer is likely "no." And yet the estimated $3 trillion price tag on the first four batches of COVID-19 stimulus, divided by 330 million increasingly underemployed U.S. residents, equals $9,000 per capita, which has ended up where government payouts usually go: to entities with better connections than you.

    It's probably for the best. If the Feds had just shoveled that cash out to individual Americans, they would have spent it on things they thought they needed, instead of things the government thought they should have.


  • I get some comfort into finding people out there making sense. "Yay, America hasn't gone completely bonkers!"

    One example is David Harsanyi, here at National Review: Trump & Twitter Fact-Check: A Bad Policy.

    Yesterday, after years of pressure from media and Democrats, Twitter labeled two of Trump’s tweets — in which he had claimed that the use of mail-in ballots for large numbers of people would be “substantially fraudulent” and result in a “rigged election” — as “potentially misleading.” It’s a mistake for any platform to drop its neutral stance and take on fact-checking duties, a task that’s going to be impossible to accomplish either objectively or effectively. It’s going to corrode trust in the brand, but it won’t change a single mind.

    Once Twitter begins tagging some tweets and not others with “what you need to know,” it will be staking out partisan positions. The Trump tweets that precipitated its first election-related fact-check are a good example of this. It would have been far more reasonable for the social-media giant to label Trump’s ugly and libelous tweets about Joe Scarborough as misleading. Instead, Twitter decided to inaugurate its policy by alleging that Trump had dishonestly claimed that mail-in ballots would lead to “a Rigged Election.”

    Even if this contention were entirely baseless, it would be as untrue as saying Russia rigged the election — a claim that politicians such as Adam Schiff and Nancy Pelosi, along with most major media outlets, have been making for years. But while the president’s rhetoric about voting is debatable, it is also well within the normal parameters of contemporary political discourse. It’s not exactly “unsubstantiated” to assert that more mail-in ballots “would lead to voter fraud,” as Twitter holds. There are dozens of instances of potential voter fraud investigated every year. The Heritage Foundation has cataloged 1,285 prosecuted cases.

    News flash: Twitter wasn't designed to explicate complicated issues with nuance, respect, and fairness.


  • Jonah Goldberg clears up any confusion you may have about the November election: The Media Are Not on the Ballot. (And you wouldn't want to vote for them if they were.)

    I got an email yesterday from the Trump campaign. It begins:

    Friend,

    President Trump isn’t running against Sleepy Joe Biden. He’s running against the Radical Left, the Deep State, the Do-Nothing Democrats, and their partner, the real opposition party, the Fake News media.

    They are vicious and crazy, but as long as we have you on our team, we will win and we will WIN BIG!

    Despite their best efforts to take him down, President Trump continues to put America First with every decision he makes. In fact, his approval ratings are SKYROCKETING among the Republican Party and voters in swing states.

    President Trump knows that the corrupt media will never report the FACTS. He wants to get the TRUTH, which is why he asked us to go straight to the source - YOU, the American People - to take the Official May Approval Poll.

    YOUR answers will represent the views of EVERY voter who lives in your zip code.

    It goes on like this for a while. But this is more than enough to make my point: The Trump campaign thinks his supporters are idiots.

    […]

    What is important is the first line: “President Trump isn’t running against Sleepy Joe Biden.” It’s important in part because there are smart and decent people who nod along when they hear statements like this. They think it’s true, in some real and vital way, that the president is running against the media, and the Deep State, and all of the forces of darkness. Yes—on some superficial level, there’s some truth to it. On another, it’s all nonsense—because as a matter of basic reality, he is, in fact, running against Joe Biden.

    As a Registered Republican ("In Name Only") I get mail like that from time to time; I've learned to throw it away without reading, because I can feel it rotting my brain through my eyeballs. An uncomfortable experience.


  • An amusing article from John Hirschauer at NR: Feminists & Media Push Narrative that Women Are Suffering More than Men.

    ‘The novel coronavirus seems to be more deadly for men,” CNN tweeted. “But in many other ways, women are bearing the brunt of this pandemic.”

    More men are dying from the coronavirus, but women, we are told, have been saddled with a disproportionate share of household chores. Who has it worse?

    Apparently a bit more laundry is a fate worse than death.

    The notion that women are “bearing the brunt” of this pandemic virus is smattered on scores of feminist think-pieces across the Internet. To pick three: The Guardian says that “UK women bear emotional brunt of Covid-19 turmoil;” NPR laments that “Women Bear The Brunt Of Coronavirus Job Losses”; and the Miami Herald reports that “Women are bearing the brunt of the social and economic crisis caused by COVID-19.”

    I only quibble with that third paragraph: there's less laundry to do when hubby's out of the picture, gals. Cheer up!


  • Another voice of sanity comes from Jacob Sullum, writing in the NYPost: Following the data now means ending the lockdowns.

    How we respond to the novel coronavirus should be based on emerging evidence about the danger posed by the virus — a reasonable road.

    Despite what many people hoped, COVID-19 is clearly worse than the seasonal flu. But despite what other people feared, it doesn’t seem to be nearly as lethal as the Spanish Flu of 1918, which killed about 0.7 percent of the total US population — the equivalent of more than 2 million people today.

    As we move from lockdowns to something more closely resembling normal life, the emerging evidence about the threat posed by COVID-19 should inform our judgment about which precautions make sense. The initial, ham-handed approach — which confined hundreds of millions of people to their homes except for government-approved purposes — should be replaced by more carefully targeted measures focused on protecting the people who face the highest risk.

    People seem locked into the narratives they established for themselves back in March or so.

URLs du Jour

2020-05-28

Just for the record, no matter how sorely I'm tempted by clickbait, I have (so far successfully) sworn off clicking. Today's example (seen at The Daily Wire: "Anna Kendrick Refuses To Do Nude Scenes & It's Pretty Clear Why".

Listen up Daily Wire: I assume the answer is something like "Anna Kendrick is a talented and successful actress, who has her pick of movie roles without needing to flash her boobies. And anyway, it's none of my business how the Pride of Portland, Maine chooses her roles. And anyway, I'm not sure I'd get the true answer from clicking on your stupid link."

Clickbait must work, because sites continue to host it. But, geez, it's a bad look. Doesn't it make you feel a little ashamed? It makes me a little ashamed to frequent sites that use clickbait ads.

  • I'm usually in broad agreement with the Federalist, but I have to Disagree Strongly with David Marcus's latest: Please Stop Calling NeverTrumpers Conservatives.

    For nearly five years most of our nation’s largest and most powerful news media outlets have given so-called NeverTrump conservative pundits an outsized voice in our political landscape. Figures such as Bill Kristol, Max Boot, Tom Nichols, Jennifer Rubin, Ana Navarro, and Rick Wilson do their turns on TV creating the illusion that there is some huge constituency of anti-Trump conservatives. There is not. In fact, these people are no longer conservatives in any real sense.

    Almost all of these pundits are now mainstream Democrats. They support Joe Biden, and many support voting a straight Democratic ticket. Many are involved with the Lincoln Project and its bizarre psychological warfare TV ads that they are certain get under Trump’s skin. And they almost never wholeheartedly support anything that the vast majority of American conservatives do.

    I think David manages to ignore the specific complaints a lot of conservatives make about Trump. Of the people he specifically mentions, he's right that a lot of them have imbibed Democratic Kool-Aid. But there are also a lot of pundits who look at Trump and Biden, and say "No thanks" to both.

    Also, your humble blogger is in that camp.


  • Friends, do you suffer from Stockholm Syndrome? Kevin D. Williamson will straighten you out:

    One of my little pet theories in life is that the Republican Party has been one of the most effective advocates for socialism that our country has seen since Jack London. It works like this: Republicans look at other liberal democracies abroad and denounce the ones that have higher tax rates or larger welfare states as “socialism,” and then young Americans visit Stockholm or Copenhagen or Amsterdam, discover that these are charming and generally well-governed cities in affluent happy countries with much to recommend them, and say, “Well, then, give me some of that socialism!”

    There are three errors at work there: The first is that those “socialist” European countries that give Republicans the willies are nothing of the sort, and many of them have economic regimes that are in fact more robustly capitalist than our own. The second is that tourists generally see cities and countries at their best, and there’s a lot more to Amsterdam than the Rijksmuseum and the White Room — and not all of it is glorious. The third error, related to the second, is a kind of confirmation bias, in which our understanding of a foreign country, often vague and based on very limited experience, causes us to treat Denmark or Switzerland as a screen upon which to project our own desires and anxieties.

    It is a different kind of Stockholm Syndrome.

    Also observed: New Zealand has a new Prime Minister who is "a former president of the International Union of Socialist Youth". And yet, "she has foresworn implementing a capital-gains tax, which puts the New Zealand socialist to the right of Senator Marco Rubio on at least one issue."


  • Phillip W. Magness asks at AIER: Wait, So We Now Can’t Say ‘Human Capital’? The occasion for that query being…

    Referring to the ongoing reopening process, White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett offered an off-the-cuff observation in a television interview with CNN: “Our capital stock hasn’t been destroyed, our human capital stock is ready to get back to work, and so there are lots of reasons to believe that we can get going way faster than we have in previous crises.”

    Some people freaked. Phillip notes (among many others), the "Vox commentator" who deemed Hassett's term "a racially charged, dehumanizing turn of phrase that conjured up images of livestock."

    Bogus, of course. Phillip's good, but the ultimate refutation of the Voxer was done by the WSJ this morning, which quoted an authority:

    In the business world, people are a company’s most valuable resource. An individual can be the difference between closing a deal or losing a customer, for example, or they might boast a robust network of helpful contacts. In short, people possess intrinsic social and business currency.

    One way to assess this personal value and impact is by considering human capital. In simple terms, human capital is the sum total of a population’s health, knowledge, and skills; and it’s bolstered by ensuring people have sufficient and consistent access to healthcare and education.

    That authority being… a Vox Creative article from 2018.


  • In our occasional "So What Else Is New?" department, Patterico notes an impeachable offense: Trump Violates First Amendment with a Tweet.

    President Trump today threatened a private company with governmental retaliation for its speech. The threat was vague enough, in terms of what would happen and what it would be a response to, that his defenders will argue that critics are overreacting. However, threats of government action for speech are themselves a First Amendment violation. The President actually violated the First Amendment this morning, just by tweeting.

    And that tweet was:

    He's a schmuck. Even after 3 Years, 4 Months, and 8 Days on the job, he's still ignorant and abusive of the Constitution.


  • Speaking of the WSJ, the probably-paywalled Todd Myers is properly disconcerted When Covid ‘Science’ Is a Smokescreen. And his punching bag is Washington Governor (and failed Presidential candidate) Jay Inslee:

    On Feb. 27 the governor tweeted: “I just received a call from @VP Mike Pence, thanking Washington state for our efforts to combat the coronavirus. I told him our work would be more successful if the Trump administration stuck to the science and told the truth.”

    Mr. Inslee didn’t say what he meant by “the science.” In fact, at the time of his tweet, there wasn’t yet much science regarding the virus at all. We’re still learning it. What is the true mortality rate? What is a safe social distance? How contagious is the virus? What percentage of carriers are asymptomatic? We still don’t know any of these facts with certainty.

    When the governor and other politicians refer to “the science,” they rarely point to actual science. It is a bluff designed to imply that their chosen policy is based on more than guesswork and politics.

    Fine, except I'd add "… and general ass-covering, and the desire to be seen as 'doing something'" at the end there.

URLs du Jour

2020-05-27

  • Patterico (actually "Dana") has just about had it with President Bone Spurs: Trump Recklessly Pushes Debunked Conspiracy Theory in Series of Obscene Tweets.

    You know, I’ve avoided posting about this story because it’s so disturbing to me that the President of the United States would promote a baseless and debunked conspiracy theory, and cause undue hurt to an innocent family as a result. But I am publishing a post about it because I am livid that Trump doesn’t give a rat’s ass about a very real family, whose members have already mourned and grieved the loss of their loved one and find themselves grieving all over again because, in an effort to smear MSNBC on-air host Joe Scarbarough, our deranged president has insinuated in a series of indefensible tweets that foul play was involved in the death of Lori Klausutis, and that Joe Scarbarough was at the heart of it.

    Trump is a bad person. But…


  • He's not the only bad person in the world, or even the United States. Yes, his tweets are "reprehensible", according to the Federalist's Mark Hemingway. But Media's Unpunished Lies Hurt Us Far Worse Than Trump's Tweets.

    A U.S. senator read into the congressional record accusations, wholly without evidence, that an honorable and accomplished man is a gang-rapist for no reason other than that fair democratic elections have rendered them politically impotent to stop his nomination to the Supreme Court. When this happens and, in turn, is enabled and cheered on by the media industrial complex, don’t expect Trump supporters to feel convicted or responsible for what Trump does or says.

    When nearly every major news agency in the country is implicated in the vicious social media pile-on and physical threats directed at a Catholic high school kid for the crime of wearing a MAGA hat, to the point outlets such as CNN are quietly settling libel suits, you start to see why Trump voters are nonplussed right now.

    I'm not a Trump voter. And never will be. But I'm nonplussed right now, about the same amount near-zero of plussedness that I've been running on for years.

    (If you are nonplussed by the word "nonplussed", then this English StackExchange entry is for you.)


  • Daniel J. Mitchell has some interesting thoughts on Coronavirus and the Two Americas. He quotes a number of people, but I liked this from the WSJ's Peggy Noonan, hardly a libertarian wacko:

    There is a class divide between those who are hard-line on lockdowns and those who are pushing back. We see the professionals on one side—those James Burnham called the managerial elite, and Michael Lind, in “The New Class War,” calls “the overclass”—and regular people on the other. The overclass are highly educated and exert outsize influence as managers and leaders of important institutions—hospitals, companies, statehouses. …Since the pandemic began, the overclass has been in charge—scientists, doctors, political figures, consultants—calling the shots for the average people. But personally they have less skin in the game. The National Institutes of Health scientist won’t lose his livelihood over what’s happened. Neither will the midday anchor. I’ve called this divide the protected versus the unprotected. …Here’s a generalization based on a lifetime of experience and observation. The working-class people who are pushing back have had harder lives than those now determining their fate. They haven’t had familial or economic ease. No one sent them to Yale. …they look at these scientists and reporters making their warnings about how tough it’s going to be if we lift shutdowns and they don’t think, “Oh what informed, caring observers.” They think, “You have no idea what tough is. You don’t know what painful is.”

    Bonus quote from Thomas Sowell: "It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong."

    Mr. Mitchell suggests the problem is more general: those people make decisions that shift costs onto others, while bearing no costs themselves.


  • Mr Geraghty makes a number of salient observations this morn, including this one:

    Our Zach Evans notes that the former senator and former U.S. ambassador to China Max Baucus is regularly denouncing President Trump on Chinese state television. Evans observes, “the former senator sits on the Board of Advisers to Alibaba Group. He also runs a consulting firm, Baucus Group LLC, which connects American and Chinese businesses.”

    Every now and then I marvel that former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is now pretty much a lobbyist for the Russian oil industry, and everyone in the West has more or less accepted it. Our media — and the U.K. media, and other western countries — is justifiably anti-Putin . . . but when a former head of state of a NATO country signs on to become a Putin stooge, they generate a mild “tsk-tsk” and move on. Considering all the ire at Trump for his swooning for Putin, you would think we could spare some more anger for a former head of state who’s signed an actual contract with Putin allies.

    Amazon is allegedly the bad guys in the eyes of many on the Left, but former Obama press secretary Jay Carney is making a good living as one of their senior vice presidents. David Plouffe went to Uber and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, EPA head Lisa Jackson went to Apple, and Eric Holder went to Airbnb. Corporate America is evil and greedy and the driving force behind worsening inequality . . . but if some former Democratic official wants to cash in, it’s all cool.

    Some days make you just want to lock up politicians at random. They don't have to have done anything. Just to put a scare into the others.


  • Finally, an interesting post from Mark J. Perry: Only 51 US companies have been on the Fortune 500 since 1955, thanks to the creative destruction that fuels economic prosperity.

    What do the companies in these three groups have in common?

    Group A: American Motors, Brown Shoe, Studebaker, Collins Radio, Detroit Steel, Zenith Electronics, and National Sugar Refining.

    Group B: Boeing, Campbell Soup Company, Colgate-Palmolive, Deere & Company, General Motors, IBM, Kellogg Company, Procter and Gamble Company, and Whirlpool Corporation.

    Group C: Amazon, Facebook, eBay, Home Depot, Microsoft, Google, Netflix, Office Depot, and Target.

    All of the companies in Group A were in the Fortune 500 in 1955, but not in 2019.

    All of the companies in Group B were in the Fortune 500 in both 1955 and 2019 (and have remained on the list every year since it started in 1955).

    All of the companies in Group C were in the Fortune 500 in 2019, but not in 1955.

    Also in Group B: General Electric. I'm not sure if they'll be in Group B next year. We'll see, I guess.

Ready or Not

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

Another just-OK movie from the Netflix DVD queue. Their description:

When a young bride marries into a ridiculously rich and delightfully deranged family, her wedding night becomes her worst nightmare as she's forced to play a lethal game of hide-and-seek and must fight to stay alive.

Mrs. Salad apparently read up to that first comma and thought it would be some sort of screwball romantic comedy. Sorry, honey.

There are some laughs, because the movie doesn't take itself very seriously. The deranged family is really deranged, having sold their collective souls to Satan, in exchange for success for their board game empire. This only requires them to make new entries into the family (like our young bride) play a potentially lethal game.

It all winds up with a daemon ex machina ending. Spoiler, sorry.

If you're thinking: this sounds kind of like Get Out from a few years ago: I think you're right. Substituting "white girl" for "black guy" as the protagonist.

If you haven't seen Get Out, get that instead.

How To

Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems

[Amazon Link]

I'm a big fan of Randal Munroe's xkcd web comic, so this book was a natural thing to put on my Christmas list. And I finally got around to reading it. (One chapter per day; don't want to overdose.)

The theme is: take a "normal" question, and (as the subtitle suggests) take the answer to absurd lengths using scientific insight and very dry humor.

Example: Chapter 13, "How to Play Tag". Pretty simple, but what's your strategy if you're the slowest runner in the game? (If you're not the slowest, you just run after and tag someone slower.)

Well, you wait until they slow down or stop. They have to eventually, right?

Then, what's their strategy? Run long enough to open up enough of a lead so they won't be tagged while stopped.

Which immediately suggests (to Munroe): what if there's a two-person tag game between a world-class sprinter (like Usain Bolt) and a world-class miler (like Hicham El Guerrouj)? What about a game between you and Yiannis Kourous, who once ran 180 miles in a 24-hour period? What if…

It's all illustrated with Munroe's cartoons, with his stick figure people. And there are guest stars: in Chapter 22, "How to Catch a Drone", he wonders how (say) athletes might be able to use their equipment to knock one down. And he actually gets Serena Williams to see if she could whack an actual drone out of the sky with a well-aimed tennis ball shot. (Spoiler: heck yes, she could.)

In another bit of wonderfulness, in Chapter 5, "How to Make an Emergency Landing", Munroe turns to astronaut Chris Hadfield. Who turns out to have the same demented whimsical take on such questions as Munroe. Could you land a small plane on a ski jump? Maybe, replies Hadfield, if you managed to come in just right and stalled the plane just at the little flat part on the bottom of the jump…

I enjoyed the book a lot. I would especially recommend it as a gift to some curious/geeky teenager, if you know any.

URLs du Jour

2020-05-26

  • Via Cafe Hayek, a Facebook question from Nobelist Vernon Smith:

    Proposition: Whatever the policy choice, people will die that otherwise would not have died. So, who shall we choose to live?

    Posted by Vernon L. Smith on Saturday, May 23, 2020

    My fumble-brained attempt to answer has been, arguably, a recurring theme of this blog, even pre-Covid. And likely to continue into the future.


  • Jonah Goldberg updates and amends a Churchill quote: The Only Thing Worse Than Capitalism Is Everything Else. It's a G-File, meaning it's a grab-bag of a number of topics, but here's something I thought stood out:

    One of the biggest problems with capitalism is the downside of its best features: It’s disruptive. It unsettles the settled. This is a glorious thing when it erodes bad institutions and customs. At various points, it helped overthrow tyranny, aristocracy, monarchy, slavery, and prejudice. But it can also wear down good stuff. It can disrupt settled communities, customs, and institutions that would not necessarily benefit from being unsettled. The factory in a factory town may have been built there for fairly arbitrary reasons, but it became a valued shade tree of sorts over time.

    The disruptive nature of capitalism—“creative destruction” if you prefer Schumpeter’s phrase—is a net benefit over time. But in the moment of destruction it doesn’t feel that way, particularly by the people for whom it is not actually a net benefit. That’s why disruption itself isn’t the problem, the pace of disruption is. The wool and cotton mills were bad for the Luddites, but good for humanity. Humans can adapt. Americans are particularly good at it. But even the best of us need time to catch up.

    The "shade tree" reference is to the British imperialists cutting down big trees in conquered territories. Allegedly.


  • The Heritage Foundation's Arthur Milikh writes on a problem that seemingly won't go away: “Hate Speech” and the New Tyranny over the Mind.

    America is the only Western nation that does not criminalize “hate speech.” Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and most nations of Europe already do so. The United Nations relentlessly pressures the remaining holdouts to follow suit: “As a matter of principle,” says the U.N. Secretary-General, “the United Nations must confront hate speech at every turn.”

    Meanwhile in America, Members of Congress issue their support for speech restrictions, and Big Tech’s digital oligarchs, enjoying a disproportionate power over society, continue to impose speech restrictions in exchange for access to their platforms. So are America’s colleges and universities more and more governed by an aggressive chorus of students, faculty, and administrators who demand and impose speech codes. These fronts promises to grow in size, strength, and confidence in the coming years.

    Leading restriction advocates want not only to banish “hate speech,” but also to criminalize it. In the words of Mari Matsuda, an influential professor at the University of Hawaii Law School, “[F]ormal criminal and administrative sanction—public as opposed to private prosecution—is also an appropriate response to racist speech.” Perhaps most surprising, legal precedents that would bring this revolution fully into existence in America are already embedded in two areas of our legal system: antidiscrimination and harassment laws, and Supreme Court rulings favoring sexual liberation that are based on a new view of “dignity.”

    All it would (probably) take is a couple flipped Supreme Court seats to put a big judicial imprimatur on a First Amendment "exception" for some vaguely defined area of Things You Aren't Allowed To Say.


  • In an NRPLUS article, Kevin D. Williamson wonders: Who Speaks for Whom?

    Who among us, in the presence of a man calling himself Charlamagne tha God, would be immune to grandiosity’s temptation?

    Mr. God hosts a popular radio show and had as a guest Joe Biden, the presumptive and presumptuous Democratic nominee for president in 2020. During the interview, Mr. Biden declared that any black American having a difficult time choosing between him and Donald Trump “ain’t black.”

    Charlamagne tha God is black, as is much of his audience, and Mr. Biden ain’t.

    It was an awkward moment.

    KDW goes on to Kevinsplain the devotion of (most) African Americans to the Democratic Party, something no amount of Biden condecension is likely to shake significantly.


  • Michael Huemer has an interesting essay on The Memory of Evil.

    From my years in middle school, I recall one occasion when a teacher used the word “evil”. It was a history teacher, and he said that we were about to study one of the rare examples of pure evil. The subject was Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. I was struck by his opening description. As far as I could recall, no teacher had ever called anything “evil” before. None ever did so since then either, until I went to philosophy classes in which examples of “evil” things would appear occasionally, mainly in metaethical discussions.

    Incidentally, the teacher was right to use the word, but wrong that this was a rare example. Humans have committed great evil throughout history, including many senseless genocides. It’s just that one that we today tend to remember the most. Of course, we in America also work to keep alive the memory of slavery, Jim Crow, gender oppression, and other wrongs.

    I don’t care whether you deem the word “evil” appropriate for all these things, though. My question is: How important is it to remember past wrongs? Is a strong cultural memory of past misdeeds a good thing or a bad thing? I suspect that the memory of evil has been greatly overvalued, and perhaps it’s more important to be able to forget.

    Professor Huemer goes on to list things "you might hope" people would learn from studying the Holocaust:

    1. Beware of charismatic leaders who exploit scapegoats.
    2. Don’t give anyone absolute power.
    3. Don’t blame a whole, huge category of people for your problems.
    4. Society is not divided into good and bad races, genders, or other groups like that. Individuals must be evaluated as individuals.
    5. Don’t just follow orders. Use your conscience.

    And what do people actually learn?

    1. Beware of Hitler.
    2. Don’t give absolute power to the Nazi Party.
    3. Don’t blame the Jews for your problems.
    4. The bad race is the Germans. More broadly, white people, especially white men.
    5. Don’t just follow an order to push Jews into gas chambers. Only blindly obey orders that are democratic. And finally:
    6. A great rhetorical tactic is to compare anyone who disagrees with you to Hitler.

    For this educational malfeasance, I blame… well, not the Jews.


  • Our local fishwrap generated a Google LFOD News Alert, with their intrepid reporter bothering folk who ventured outdoors on a nice day: Some Seacoast residents want normalcy now.

    Stacey Marchionni, owner of Revolution Taproom and Grill, said businesses need to reopen to survive.

    Marchionni was getting outdoor tables ready for business on Sunday.

    “I understand that a complete reopening does not fit with the governor’s orders right now,” said Marchionni. “But I really think we need to get back to business, to get back to being the live free or die state. We are all adults and can make our own decisions.”

    People are all aware of COVID-19, said Marchionni.

    “We need to give people the freedom now to make their own choices at this point,” she said. “If you do not feel comfortable going out, stay home but our businesses cannot survive on takeout, on curbside service. I think a lot of the guidance we have been issued is counterproductive, government overreach and it has tied the hands of business owners. Also, you can walk on a beach, but not sit? People can stay 6 feet apart at the beach, more so than in many places that were never closed. I think there are too many contradictions.”

    Ms. Marchionni's restaurant is up in Rochester, and it is a swell place for freedom-lovers. I gotta get back up there… as soon as Mrs. Salad allows.


  • Also dinging the LFOD bell are those lovable libertarians at Free Keene: The Real Virus is Fear… and the Belief in “The State”.

    It’s been particularly disappointing to witness the effects of fear here in the supposed “Live Free or Die” state. Sure, there have been some great protests with hundreds attending at the state house , but we haven’t had much in the way of resistance against this tyranny from businesses, the activity of which is what gives life to the economy. Though one NH salon owner has this week filed a lawsuit against “HIS EXCELLENCY” governor Chris Sununu’s office, even this “pushback” still acknowledges that the state is in charge. Suing works within their system, acknowledging its legitimacy. It’s asking one tentacle of the monsterous state to stop the other one from choking you to death.

    I admit the state mandates/guidelines are pretty far down the list of my concerns. I just want to not have to sleep in the car. Which is what will happen if I violate a Spousal Mandate.


Last Modified 2020-05-27 5:20 AM EDT

Memorial Day 2020

Our yearly reminder: mixed in with whatever fun we're having today, let's all remember.

[Memorial Day]

Story here.

And this year's bonus cartoon from Mr. Ramirez:

[Honor]

Stay safe and healthy out there. Not because some nanny-statist demanded it, but because it's a good idea.

The Phony Campaign

2020-05-24 Update

The probability of President Hillary continues to fade on the betting markets, but she remains above our arbitrary 2% inclusion threshold. President Bone Spurs lost a bit, Wheezy Joe gained a bit.

And the phony-hit results continue to be as expected: Trump in a walk, primarily driven by his labeling a study critical of hydroxychloroquine as "false," "phony" and a "Trump enemy statement." Dammit, Donald, you keep your thumb on the scale like this…

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
5/17
Phony
Results
Change
Since
5/17
Donald Trump 48.4% -0.6% 2,430,000 +790,000
Hillary Clinton 2.2% -0.1% 675,000 +117,000
Joe Biden 42.2% +0.1% 477,000 +45,000

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

  • So this is big news for me: Jo Jorgensen Wins Libertarian Party Presidential Nomination.

    In a day-long virtual meeting, after four ballots, the 1,035 delegates assembled for the Libertarian Party's online convention selected Jo Jorgensen as their presidential candidate.

    She won with slightly over 51 percent of the vote (not every delegate voted in every round) on that fourth ballot, with 524 votes. Jacob Hornberger came in second, with nearly 28 percent of the vote. Vermin Supreme (pictured above) came in third, with 20 percent of the final vote.

    So Jo's looking good for getting my November vote. I was pretty turned off Jacob Hornberger, thanks to a recent Reason interview where a couple of his more interesting beliefs were discussed:

    […] Hornberger also discussed some of his outlier beliefs—he believes that Franklin Roosevelt goaded Japan into bombing Pearl Harbor so the United States could enter World War II and that Lee Harvey Oswald was "framed" for the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

    Jacob said a lot of things I agree with. (Heck, I think all candidates manage to do that at one point or another.) But wacky revisionist/conspiracist views tend to be dealbreakers for me.

    And my regrets to Vermin Supreme. But it's nice to know that 20 percent of the party faithful hung in with him until the final ballot.


  • The Trump campaign came out with a pretty funny website: Truth Over Facts. There's a genius video:

    And that's about it for now.


  • So what's Trump's excuse? Jay Nordlinger at National Review on Presidential Lying, and More.

    Twice, President Trump has told Fox News that Joe Biden sent him a letter of apology: a letter apologizing for earlier criticisms of the president’s handling of the pandemic. The Biden campaign flat denies that such a letter was ever written or sent.

    So, someone’s lying. Trump can easily settle the matter — by producing the letter.

    […]

    In early March, Trump toured the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. The great question, of course, was the coronavirus. After the tour, Trump said, “I like this stuff. I really get it. People are surprised that I understand it. Every one of these doctors said, ‘How do you know so much about this?’ Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should have done that instead of running for president.”

    A question for you: Do you believe that every one of the doctors at the CDC said, “How do you know so much about this?” Do you believe that any of them did?

    A second question: Does it matter?

    Last year, Trump said that ex-presidents told him they should have built a southwestern border wall. The ex-presidents denied it.

    Were they lying? Was the incumbent president? Again, does it matter?

    I have done a fair amount of reading, reporting, and writing over the last 25 years. I’m talking about political matters, for now, and especially presidential matters. Let me give you an impression, gleaned from this experience.

    Some people think that lying doesn’t matter at all, no matter who does it. This group is small. Some people think that lying doesn’t matter when their side does it. This group is big. Some people think that lying matters, period. This group is, like the first, small.

    I hope you're in the last-mentioned group. Heck, I hope I'm in that group.


  • Powerline brings our attention to Out-Of-Ammo Joe. Via this tweet:

    And of course…


  • There was the Great Biden "You Ain't Black" Gaffe; Kevin D. Williamson looks at the New York Times coverage:

    The New York Times report on Joe Biden’s insistence that some black voters “ain’t black” is a truly remarkable piece of non-journalism. The trouble to which Astead W. Herndon and his editors went to avoid looking at the story head-on is remarkable if only from a purely compositional point of view.

    The bombshell line is mentioned in the lead and then followed by . . . paragraphs of tax-policy details.

    The story notes that social media exploded in condemnation of Biden’s remarks, but the only social-media post quoted is from a Biden aide, Symone D. Sanders.

    There’s the inevitable “Republicans pounce!” angle (“conservatives jumping on Mr. Biden, 77, for acting as the arbiter of blackness”) and the “But, Trump!” angle, too.

    It would be generous to call this “solicitous.”

    So to sum up: Trump is an obvious liar; Biden is seriously fumble-mouthed and reality-challenged; the media doesn't care much about the latter.


  • And one of our favorite phonies from years back is in the news, for shedding her former firm principles if only it will get her a heartbeat away from the Presidency: In Bid for VP Spot, Elizabeth Warren Drops Medicare for All.

    The progressive champion from Massachusetts — who made “Medicare-for-all” a key issue in her White House run before suspending her campaign in March — said earlier this week: “I think right now people want to see improvements in our health care system. And that means strengthening the Affordable Care Act. We should be doing that anyway. That should be easy. We should be doing it right now.”

    . . . . Warren’s comments come as she’s considered very much in the running — among other contenders — to be Biden’s running mate, and many political pundits are reading her words as the latest public signal that she very much wants to be the Democratic Party’s vice presidential nominee, and wants Biden to view her as a candidate in synch with his governing philosophy.

    She's pretty shameless, isn't she?


Last Modified 2020-05-25 7:24 AM EDT

Where'd You Go, Bernadette

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

As previously mentioned, we're getting into the weeds on my Netflix DVD queue. I was slightly surprised by this one, very much in the "woman undergoing life crisis" genre. Maybe I was just in a good mood. That happens every so often.

Netflix's "genres" for the movie are: "Comedy, Mystery, Dramas Based on the Book, Indie Comedies, Indie Dramas". Mystery? I don't think so. (We know where Bernadette went.) And there are some funny scenes, but …

"Bernadette" is Bernadette Fox (played by Cate Blanchett), a middle-aged wife and mother living in a tony area of Seattle. We are plunged into her life without (yet) knowing her backstory. But it becomes apparent that she's prickly, motormouthed, know-it-all, hostile to her neighbors, especially Kristen Wiig. Her house is a fixer-upper, that's not being fixed up. Hubby is a computer genius, and thanks to some unspecified earlier work, the family's lifestyle is adequately funded by what's called "Microsoft money".

Daughter is graduating from middle school, and wants to go to Antarctica to celebrate. Here's what drives me crazy: everyone in this upper-class milieu pronounces it "Antartica". Which caused me to say, at increasing volume, "Ant-ARK-tica!" I'm not sure if this contributed to Mrs. Salad's movie enjoyment.

I suppose the mystery is: why is Bernadette the way she is? Is she dangerously nutso, or…? We eventually find out, and (somewhat despite myself) I found myself interested in the answer, and what happened.

URLs du Jour

2020-05-23

  • At Reason, Peter Suderman has news that should surprise… nobody who's been paying attention: The CDC Is Still Botching the Coronavirus Testing Process.

    Over and over again, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have bungled the response to COVID-19. The agency is supposed to stand at the forefront of the federal government's defense against pandemics, but in the effort to track, identify, and slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, it has repeatedly proven that it's not up to the task. 

    The agency publishes statistics purporting to show the number of Americans tested, and the number of positive and negative results. In theory, this should provide a clear snapshot of both the spread of the virus and the number of people who have been tested. 

    Yet as The Atlantic reported yesterday, the agency has been conflating the results of two very different tests: viral tests, which determine if an individual is sick right now, and antibody tests, which are designed to reveal whether an individual has ever been exposed to the pathogen. This makes it impossible to determine the true spread of the virus at any given moment. As The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal and Robinson Meyer write, combining the results of these two tests without providing a breakdown of how many fall into which category is, "at best, a debilitating mistake." 

    When some government goon imposes some new mandate for "public health" reasons, Peter's article is only one thing you can flash at them and ask: "Why should I trust you to know what's good for me?"


  • David Brook of the Concord Monitor slices and dices the state's statistics and concludes: In N.H., COVID-19 is a fatal disease of the old, especially old men.

    New Hampshire is also seeing the gender discrepancy reported elsewhere: Women are more likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19 than men – 55% of cases are in females – but men are much more likely to be hospitalized (59%) and to die (53%). That’s particularly startling because in the over-70 cohort, women far outnumber men, many of whom have already died due to stupidity, bad habits and overall masculinity.

    I am officially concerned at that! Even though I feel fine today, I assume that when I turn 70 in 342 days I will simply keel over.


  • Via the WSJ, James P. Freeman considers Memorial Day without Parades, quoting Ronald Reagan and others, well worth your time. And passes along a suggestion from Karin Price Mueller from the Newark Star-Ledger:

    At 10 a.m. on Memorial Day, we’re asking you to sing or play the Star Spangled Banner while socially distancing. Do it from your driveways, your porches, your rooftops, in your back yards.

    I've asked Alexa to do this. Hope it doesn't frighten Mrs. Salad.


  • Out in California, there are still a few folks who can ring the Google LFOD News Alert. For example, Lee Edwards of Livermore, in this letter to the Independent ("Your Local News Source Since 1963; Serving Dublin, Livermore, Pleasanton, Sunol): Don’t Ask Questions. In a response to a letter asking CA Governor Newsom to "reopen" California:

    How dare Paul Stone (Mailbox, May 7) question Herr Newsom. We are too stupid to know how to take care of ourselves, our families, our businesses. We should be forever grateful that we have such an intelligent, compassionate and well coiffured person in charge of our lives.

    So, don't ask questions, don't resist, don't show any signs of independence. Newsom will take care of us, our kids, our grandkids. Submit and do as you are ordered. I am sure nothing can go wrong.

    Liber vivam aut moriar (I shall live free or die).

    Much respect to Lee Edwards for doing our state's motto in Latin. Really classes it up.


  • And WMUR details (at least some of) the GOP establishment lining up: Current, former GOP leaders, activists endorse Bolduc for US Senate. That's "retired Brigadier General and Stratham resident" Donald Bolduc.

    “I’m humbled and honored by the groundswell of support from those who understand the meaning of ‘Live Free or Die,’” Bolduc said.

    Unfortunately, Bolduc is strongly in favor of amending the Constitution to overturn the Citizens United decision. In other words, a gutting of a major First Amendment liberty.

    Bolduc's embrace of Live Free or Die doesn't extend to people expressing their political opinions in a manner of which he doesn't approve. He's all for the iron fist of government regulation shutting that down.


Last Modified 2020-05-24 6:04 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2020-05-22

Michael Ramirez is a genuine genius. But you knew that.

[Spying For Dummies]

I've been surprised even more than usual that different sides on the "Obamagate" issue can look at the same facts and come up with π-radians opposite conclusions.

I admit my biases tend to be anti-Obama, anti-Comey, anti-FBI. But I'm not sure how I'd convince someone who held opposite biases.

Now on with the show:

  • Jim Geraghty made the observation in his Morning Jolt yesterday: Coronavirus Quarantine for Thee, but Not for Me. Probably not a typical story, but a telling one:

    From the beginning, we’ve seen evidence that the wealthy and well-connected could more or less buy their way out of the inconveniences and hardship of quarantines. This April story by Vicky Ward at CNN stuck with me:

    Last week, a Washington, DC-based media executive who is used to attending 200 cocktail parties a year decided that he could take talking to his microwave no more.

    In contravention of the city’s shelter-in-place executive order, he secretly attended two different dinner parties in Georgetown, an affluent DC-neighborhood.

    When he first told me this, I assumed I had either misheard or misunderstood. “Virtual dinners right?” I asked. “No” was the reply. These were the old-fashioned, in-person sort.

    Each time, he explained, the host’s instructions were the same. For both dinners, he entered through the back gate of the property, so disapproving neighbors would not see him. He was told in advance that neither he, nor any other guests, could take any photographs or talk about the party.

    The first dinner was hosted by a movie producer. A group of four listened to music and sat under heated lamps six feet apart in the garden where they were served dinner. According to the executive, none had been in contact with anyone who had suffered Covid-19 — as far as they knew. All had been isolating.

    At that dinner party, the food was prepared by a live-in chef, who was masked and gloved, and then served by the producer’s wife.

    At the second party, held over the weekend at the home of a Democrat political operative, one of the guests brought the food: “lamb to belatedly celebrate Easter.” In attendance were an ambassador, a city councilman and a well-known lobbyist. The night was balmy and they all sat outside for hours.

    “People did not want to leave,” the media executive told me, speaking on the condition of anonymity, to avoid being Covid-shamed — a new shorthand term for people behaving with apparent indifference to the safety of others. “But everyone had been cooped up for so long, there was much to discuss.”

    I’ll give you a moment to cope with the shock that a Washington-based media executive, a movie producer, a Democratic political operative, a Washington city councilman, and a well-known lobbyist and their spouses believed the rules didn’t apply to them. At least the ambassador could hide behind diplomatic immunity. (Where’s Roger Murtaugh when you need him?)

    I trust everyone's seen Lethal Weapon 2?


  • At AIER, James Bovard wonders: Will the Political Class Be Held Liable For What They’ve Done? (I don't know, but I would wager that Betteridges Law of Headlines applies.)

    Politically-dictated lockdowns and prohibitions have recently destroyed tens of millions of American jobs. Politicians have effectively claimed a right to inflict unlimited economic damage in pursuit of zero COVID-19 contagion. The perverse incentives driving the policy have multiplied the harm far beyond the original peril.

    Almost 40% of households earning less than $40,000 per year have someone who lost their job in recent months, according to the Federal Reserve. The Disaster Distress Helpline, a federal crisis hotline, received almost 900% more phone calls in March compared to a year ago. A recent JAMA Psychiatry analysis warned that stay-at-home orders and rising unemployment are a “perfect storm” for higher suicide rates. A California health organization recently estimated that up to 75,000 Americans could die from “despair” as a result of the pandemic, unemployment, and government restrictions.

    Being the government means never having to say you're sorry. Or going to jail for killing a lot of people.


  • Ah, well, enough Covid for today. At Law & Liberty, John O. McGinnis tells you (in case you were unconvinced) Why Universities Need the New Title IX Rules.

    If there were any doubt that the regulations were needed, representatives of universities and colleges, like Ted Mitchell of the American Council of Education, dispelled them by their denunciations of the rules.

    The first complaint is that the rules are costly, particularly at the time of the Covid-19 crisis. But these same organizations did not complain of the huge costs imposed by the Obama administration when its so-called Dear Colleague letter forced colleges to ramp up sexual harassment investigations by hiring many more Title IX officials. And they were then under the threat of losing all federal funding, a threat which the new regulations relax (a point Mr. Mitchell chose not to acknowledge).

    Professor McGinnis points out that Ted Mitchell was U.S. under secretary of education in the Obama Administration, so he's not exactly a disinterested party.


  • Matthew Continetti notes something odd: the natural thing for candidates to do after locking up a nomination is to "move to the center". Instead, we seem to have Biden's Progressive Gamble.

    A few hours after this column appears on the internet, more than 30 liberal activists will meet online to plan your future. The gathering is called the "Friday Morning Group." It comprises, according to the New York Times, "influential figures at labor unions, think tanks, and other progressive institutions." These influential figures, the Times goes on, believe that when Democrats last had full control of the federal government, between 2009 and 2010, they did not "take the initiative in specifying plans for achieving large-scale change." They hope to correct this mistake. What happens on November 3 might give them the chance.

    Buoyed by polls that show Joe Biden consistently leading President Trump, and jarred by the economic and social toll of the coronavirus, Democrats have become more ambitious. A "return to normalcy" no longer suits them. What is normal, anyway? It sounds privileged. Better to be bold. The digital headline of the article where I learned of the Friday Morning Group was, "Seeking: Big Democratic Ideas That Make Everything Better." (It will be awhile before Ahab finds that White Whale.) The title of a recent New York magazine profile says "Biden Is Planning an FDR-Size Presidency." Nancy Pelosi gave a hint of what might be in store with the $3 trillion spending bill she pushed through the House on May 15. Its cost and scope were too much for 14 House Democrats. They joined every Republican but one in voting against it.

    As many people have said: All the Democrats would have to win overwhelmingly is not be crazy. And they aren't managing to do that.

The Big Book of the Continental Op

[Amazon Link]

So I got this book for Christmas 2017 from the Salad Daughter. It weighs in at 750 pages or so, and I immediately grasped that was way too much Hammett to read all at once. So I used a software solution: treat it as five separate "books" in my Book Picker script, spacing things out over … well, until now. There are 28 short stories and 2 "serialized novels" in the Big Book, all written for Black Mask magazine in the 1920s. (One story unpublished and unfinished.)

As the title implies, this is pretty much everything Hammett wrote with his "Continental Op" character doing the first-person narration. The Op is never given a name, but he describes himself as middle-aged and fat. He's fond of booze and cigarettes. He works for the Continental Detective Agency on whatever tasks he's assigned. But he occasionally goes above and beyond.

The short stories are, well, uneven. And (let's be kind) not really up to modern tastes. But they are kind of a revealing window into (mostly) San Francisco in the 1920s, and the tough-guy lingo at the time. Occasionally, they veer into weird territory, ("Corkscrew" has the Op going out to Arizona, getting appointed Deputy Sheriff, and messing around with horses and cowboys.) Characters are many, plots are complex, every single one is totally forgettable. (Except I remembered the cowboy bit.)

The serialized novels, written in the later part of the Op's career are better. A four-parter, "The Cleansing of Poisonville" was published (modified) as Red Harvest: the Op is sent into a corrupt town only to find that his client's been murdered. He seems personally offended, and takes it on himself to set the various criminal factions off against one another, and brings down the entire crappy apparatus over the four installments. (See the Wikipedia page for informed speculation on how it influenced modern popular culture.)

The other novel, The Dain Curse, is another four-parter, where the Op takes a liking to young Gabrielle, who he meets in the course of investigating a diamond theft from the laboratory of her father. Many people wind up dead. In the second bit, she's off to a join a religious cult, and the Op checks that out, resulting in more people dead. Finally Gabrielle gets hitched; while off on her honeymoon the Op is summoned by her husband who (you guessed it) is dead by the time the Op shows up. (In addition to many others.) And finally, the OP weans Gabrielle off her nasty morphine addiction, while discovering the sinister driving force behind all the carnage. According to the Wikipedia page, a 1978 TV miniseries based on the book was pretty good.

URLs du Jour

2020-05-21

  • A new, longish (PDF) essay by Deirdre McCloskey: The Immoral Equivalent of War.

    We are in a war, say all the presidents, the thoughtful and quasi-liberal presidents such as Emmanuel Macron in France and Moon Jae-in in Korea, as well as the thoughtless and quasifascist ones such as Donald Trump in the US and Viktor Orbán in Hungary. A terrible war. But the worst part is not the war itself against the disease and, as collateral damage, the crushing of the economy, wretched though they are. The worst part is the post-War likelihood of a triumphant statism, and then the fascism to which triumphant statism regularly gives rise. The disease is for 2020. The fascism is forever.

    The young historian Eliah Bures wrote six months ago a collective review in Foreign Affairs of books from left and right, books that all used prominently what he calls “the other Fword,” fascism. He notes that the word can be used foolishly, to mean “politics I don’t like.” Thus the “Anti-Fa,” that is, “Anti-Fascist,” movement of the loony left in the US. Bures is correct. But slipping into extremes of nationalism, socialism, racism, and the rest of the quicksand of the 1930s is not impossible. The 1930s, after all, happened. In the 1930s. Late in Bures’ essay, by way of a comforting conclusion from the apparent safety of November 2019, he pens a sentence that has acquired a terrifying salience: “Barring a crisis of capitalism and democratic representation on the scale of the 1920s and ’30s, there is no reason to expect today’s populism to revert to fascism.” Uh oh.`

    Indeed. I've done something I almost never do: print Deirdre's essay on actual paper in order to give it the attention it deserves.

    Today's pic du jour (by the way) is William James, the guy who coined the phrase "the moral equivalent of war" (MEOW). James doesn't otherwise come up in the essay, but his advocacy of MEOW has been a bête noire of Jonah Goldberg's for years. Here is one of Jonah's G-Files where he quotes from James's essay:

    The martial type of character can be bred without war. Strenuous honor and disinterestedness abound everywhere. Priests and medical men are in a fashion educated to it, and we should all feel some degree of its imperative if we were conscious of our work as an obligatory service to the state. We should be owned, as soldiers are by the army, and our pride would rise accordingly. We could be poor, then, without humiliation, as army officers now are.

    Jonah's comment:

    All that was required to mold citizens into obligatory servants of the state was patience and the willingness of progressive leaders to make sure that they didn’t let good crises go to waste. “It is but a question of time, of skillful propagandism, and of opinion-making men seizing historic opportunities.”

    If you’re a conservative, never mind a normal American, and can’t see the inherent illiberalness or at least the potential for illiberalness in the idea that “skillful propagandism” should be deployed by the state so that citizens feel “owned” by the state as soldiers feel “owned” by the army, and that “surrender of private interest” and “obedience to command” of the state must be the rock of our republic, I’m not sure what I can do to convince you.

    Nor I.


  • [Amazon Link]
    John Tierney of City Journal on the same topic: Covid-19 Fear Used to Justify Expanded Government Power. With input from Robert Higgs:

    In the political response to the Covid-19 pandemic, everything is proceeding just as economist Robert Higgs has foreseen. But that doesn’t make it any easier for him to watch it. “I have an overwhelming feeling that I am reliving a bad experience I’ve lived through several times before, only this time it’s worse,” Higgs says. “I have no doubt that even if the current situation plays out in the best imaginable way, it will leave an abundance of legacies for the worse so far as people’s freedom is concerned.”

    Higgs sees government, as usual, vastly expanding during the crisis, and he’s sure that it will not shrink back to its former scale once the crisis is over. It never does, as he famously documented in his 1987 book, Crisis and Leviathan: Critical Episodes in the Growth of American Government, and in later works exploring this “ratchet effect.”

    By surveying the effect of wars, financial panics, and other crises over the course of a century, Higgs showed that most government growth occurs in sporadic bursts during emergencies, when politicians enact “temporary” programs and regulations that never get fully abolished. New Deal bureaucracies and subsidies persisted long after the Great Depression, for example, and the U.S. military didn’t revert to its prewar size after either of the world wars.

    Amazon link to Higgs' book on the right. In case you want a guidebook to see what's coming.


  • Just in case you thought the MEOW strategy was only for the lefties, Eric Boehm at Reason notes a righty with the same strategy: Josh Hawley Wants To Wreck America’s Economy To Own the Libs.

    Hawley is a rising star among Republicans jockeying to be the heir apparent to President Donald Trump as the party's nationalist standard-bearer. The 40-year-old senator has seized on the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to advance the anti-China hawkishness that helped Trump win the White House in 2016. On Wednesday he outlined a Trump-like platform based on acting tough, blowing up international institutions, and building on economic illiteracy.

    It was, in short, a speech meant to appeal to the Make America Great Again crowd rather than a serious attempt at charting a new direction for America.

    And the whole idea is to turn economic decision-making out of private hands into the hands of … well, Josh Hawley.


  • And (NRPLUS, sorry) Kevin D. Williamson has a less macroscopic look at the pandemic response: The Lies We Live By.

    "As I said from day one, I’m not going to choose between public health and economic activity.” So insists Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York.

    That is a lie, of course.

    Everybody knows it is a lie, beginning with Governor Cuomo. We are going to choose between public health and economic activity. We are going to try to strike some intelligent balance between competing concerns, and, even if we do our very best, innocent people are going to get hurt on both sides of that balance, and some of them will surely die — either from COVID-19 or from the economic consequences of the lockdown.

    We do not have very many adults in government, but if we did, those adults would understand — and make a point of dwelling on the fact — that every decision of any consequence in public policy involves tradeoffs. We are going to choose between liberty and security, between protecting the rights of the criminally accused and the interests of crime victims, between efficiency and stability, between our commitment to free speech and our desire to counteract disinformation, between the interests of today’s social-welfare beneficiaries and tomorrow’s taxpayers.

    We don't have very many adults in government because we (the voters) prefer not to have them. We prefer the candidates that tell us the comforting lies.


  • And the intrepid Veronique de Rugy channels the Bard of Avon into an econ lesson: A dollar by any other name would spend the same.

    One of the new ways critics like to slice and dice rich people these days is to question the value they provide to others by minimizing the importance of their charitable giving. For instance, the top 20 richest people in America gave a cumulative $8.7 billion to charity in 2018, but we are told that this sum is only 0.8% of their wealth. The most recent example of this tut-tutting comes to us after Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, donated $100,000 to each of eight of their favorite Bay Area restaurants.

    The goal was to help these establishments cope with COVID-19 and hopefully stay afloat during these times of lower demand. In a San Francisco Gate article later recapped by Business Insider, Jessica Snouwaert recognizes that this gesture is “nice,” but then writes, “It can be helpful to examine what a comparable donation would like from a non-billionaire family. In this case, comparing the scale of Zuckerberg’s wealth with the wealth of the average U.S. household shows just how deep economic divides run between billionaires and everyday Americans.”

    Veronique points out, among a great many things: Zuck also provides 45K jobs in the Facebook empire. How many jobs has Jessica Snouwaert created lately?

URLs du Jour

2020-05-20

  • Jerry Coyne, at his Why Evolution is True blog, asks the musical question: Did a philosopher make evolutionary psychology impossible?

    (Yes, as I apparently never tire of pointing out, Betteridge's law of headlines applies.)

    And I probably wouldn't have blogged this except the philosopher in question is a facule at the University Near Here, one Subrena Smith. Coyne links to Prof Smith's article: "Is Evolutionary Psychology Possible?" (No, she says.) And also links to a Gizmodo article: This Philosopher Is Challenging All of Evolutionary Psychology. But:

    Well, has she done what she aimed to: brought down an entire discipline? My judgment is “no—certainly not.”  She doesn’t even come close. What she does is list a set of standards that, Smith thinks, must be met for an evolutionary psychology explanation to be credible, and these standards are so rigorous and hard to meet that no study has met them or can meet them. Ergo, evolutionary psychology—done the way she wants—is “impossible.”

    I believe that her overly excessive requirements bespeak Smith’s lack of understanding of how evolutionary biology is done. And that, I believe, comes from the fact that Smith is not a practicing scientist, but rather a philosopher, all of whose degrees were in philosophy. I usually don’t bring up credentials when discussing an argument, but I think her concentration on philosophy is relevant to her belief that evolutionary psychology fails to meet all tests of being a scientific field. Philosophers tend to be absolutists who require a clam claim to follow a set of strict rules.

    Also worth reading, if you're interested, is Steven Pinker's contribution. to the controversy, also at Coyne's blog. Sample:

    The motive seems to be the slipshod politicizing I exposed 18 years ago in The Blank Slate: if we’re blank slates, there can’t be differences between races, which would make racism impossible; therefore to combat racism we must believe that humans are blank slates. It fails both in philosophical coherence (racism is not an empirical hypothesis that might be shown to be true or false) and in accuracy — most evolutionary psychologists argue for a universal human nature. Also, a philosophical argument against evolutionary explanations in psychology ultimately falls apart when it unwittingly “refutes” even the most unexceptionable evolutionary explanations, such as sexual desire or protectiveness of children. And ironically, though this argument claims to be based in the philosophy of science, it seems unaware that within that field “argument to the best explanation” is generally considered the only means by which science of any kind is done — science never makes apodictic pronouncements based on a prior list of methodological precepts.

    Science—all science—is a human enterprise, and is subject to various human frailties. Granted. But making some subfield's departure from a kind of imagined Platonic ideal of SCIENCE! into The Story is fallacious.


  • Jeff Jacoby is a token conservative at the Boston Globe, where he's largely hidden from the world behind the Globe's nasty paywall. But he also posts at his Patreon site, and his latest is a combination of good stuff, on Pope John Paul II, the California effort to repeal "Prop 209", which forbade the state from racial preferences, amd Massachusetts' corporate welfare directed at hapless General Electric. From the latter:

    Stock in General Electric dropped to a new low last week, sinking at week's end to $5.49 a share. In nominal dollars, that's about what it was worth 30 years ago (much less, of course, if adjusted for inflation). And it is just a small fraction of the nearly $30 a share it was going for in January 2016, when Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh were patting themselves on the backs — to the lusty cheers of many in the media — for having coaxed GE to shift its headquarters from Fairfield, Conn., to Boston's Fort Point Channel district.

    At the time GE's move to Boston was announced, its market capitalization (the standard measure of the value of a publicly traded company) was about $270 billion. That instantly qualified GE as the most valuable company in Massachusetts. It debuted on the Globe 25 Index — a listing of the 25 biggest companies headquartered in Massachusetts — at No. 1, and by a wide margin.

    And there it perched, high above its peers. Until, like Humpty Dumpty, it had a great fall.

    Unsurprising news: welfare, whether directed to individuals or corporations, tends to make them dependent. No, not in all cases. But that's the way to bet.


  • [Amazon Link]
    Matt Ridley has a new book out (as of yesterday, Amazon link at right), and there's a sneak preview at his blog: Innovation Can’t Be Forced, but It Can Be Quashed.

    The Covid-19 pandemic reveals that far from living in an age of incessant technological change, we have been neglecting innovation in exactly the areas where we most need it. Faced with a 17th-century plague, we are left to fall back mainly on the 17th-century response of quarantine and closing the theaters.

    It is commonplace today to say that innovation is speeding up, but like much conventional wisdom, it is wrong. Some innovation is speeding up, certainly, but some is slowing down. Take speed itself. In my lifetime of more than sixty years, I have seen little or no improvement in the average speed of travel. Congestion on the roads and at airports has in many cases increased the scheduled travel time between two points. A modern airliner, with its high-bypass engines and less-swept wings, is designed to save fuel by going more slowly than a Boeing 707 did in the 1960s. The record for the fastest manned plane, 4,520 miles an hour, was set by the X-15 rocket plane in 1967 and remains unbroken. Boeing 747s are still flying half a century after they were launched. Concorde, the only supersonic passenger plane, is history.

    Moreover, recent decades have seen innovation stalled or rejected in a number of technologies. Nuclear power has been unable to roll out plans for new reactor designs. Genetic modification of crops was effectively rejected by Europe. The flow of new pharmaceutical drugs has slowed to a trickle. Ride-sharing apps have been banned in many cities. As the investor Peter Thiel has pointed out, innovation is now largely a digital phenomenon, because bits are lightly regulated and atoms heavily regulated. On all sides we hear arguments that innovation threatens jobs, the environment, privacy and democracy.

    We've known the genome of the Coronavirus for months. Wouldn't it be nice if there had been some bioengineering innovation that could have designed an effective vaccine near-immediately from that data?

    Maybe next time.


  • If only our fair state had the foresight not to be so damn close to its southern neighbor… Michael Graham notes the odd symbiosis: Boston's Mayor Says Infection Rates Are Too Low to Lift Lockdown. What Does That Mean for NH?

    So, what does it mean for New Hampshire businesses and families that Boston’s Mayor Marty Walsh has announced that he’s holding off on loosening some of the restrictions on the city because the level of coronavirus infections in his city is too low.

    You read that right: Too low.

    A study by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and the Boston Public Health Commission in four Boston neighborhoods found just 9.9 percent of those tested had antibodies indicating they’d been exposed to the virus. As a result, Walsh said, he’s holding off on lowering some of his restrictions on the city on Monday, May 18 as planned.

    I have given up on any politician basing their Covid-19 policies and responses on clear-eyed rational grounds.

    No, it's not a conspiracy. They just don't want people to say they killed grandma. (Even when they did kill grandma.)


  • Writing in the (probably paywalled) WSJ Texas CongressCritter Matt Crenshaw wonders: Why Does Reopening Polarize Us? Is it Trump? Geography? A free economy versus a "planned" one?

    Maybe. But Congressman Dan has his eye (sorry, cheap joke) on something I've noticed myself:

    […] I believe a complete account would take us deeper, into the realm of psychology and morality. Liberal and conservative brain function has been shown to differ considerably during exercises in risk-taking. These differences led researchers to conclude that socially conservative views are driven, at least in part, by people’s need to feel safe and secure. While liberals present themselves as more open to experience and change, conservatives seem more likely to protect that which we know. This divide appears to apply to multiculturalism, traditional institutions and financial risk, but not all unknown risks.

    Today conservatives are the ones ready to confront risk head-on. That’s consistent with my experience in the military, where the overwhelming majority of special operators identify as conservatives. Recent data confirm my experiences, indicating that high-risk civilian occupations tend to be filled by those who lean right. If conservatives show more brain activity when processing fear, they also seem better at overcoming it.

    Let's also point out that liberals are inordinately fond of risking taxpayer money (aka "other people's money") on all sorts of silly schemes.

The Pursuit of the Pankera

A Parallel Novel About Parallel Universes

[Amazon Link]

So this is Robert A. Heinlein's latest novel. Pretty good trick for a guy that's been dead since 1988. I think he might have appreciated the chutzpah involved in putting it out.

The first 29% of this book is pretty much the same as RAH's The Number of the Beast, published in 1980. (If you have a Kindle version, and you want to immediately skip ahead to the new stuff: search for the word "Splat".) But then things diverge. And you may find the divergence interesting, or not.

Let me repeat my synopsis from TNofB: Zeb Carter is at a party, where he meets Deety, daughter of math prof Jake. The party is hosted by Hilda. Zeb and Deety decide to get hitched, Jake and Hilda do the same, and then it develops that some baddies—the "black hats"—are trying to kill Jake for his discovery/invention of the means to travel between parallel universes. Deety and Hilda are impregnated, the universe-hopping gadget is installed in Zeb's flying car, and they're off. Not trying to save the world, but avoiding death.

As with TNofB (slight spoilers ahead) the plot depends strongly on what the characters call "multiperson solipsism". For the book's purposes, this means they can visit universes they previously considered to be entirely fictional. Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom. Baum's Oz. Doc Smith's Lensman universe. All these diverse realms get mustered into an unlikely alliance to exterminate the "black hats"—the Pankera.

Unfortunately, the book shares the same features I disliked in TNofB: too much Heinlein-character yakking, and at certain points things just stop for a page after page discussion of some obscure point about Barsoomian protocol, or the flying car's operating system, or…

Let it be said, however, that I found some of the pages to be amazingly magical.

Can I recommend it? If you are less than a rabid Heinlein fan, probably not. But if you thought The Number of the Beast was OK, than you might find this OK as well.

The Current War

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

What's good: Michael Shannon as George Westinghouse, Benedict Cumberbatch as Thomas Alva Edison. That's some serious acting talent right there.

What's not so good: While I love American capitalism and innovation, the movie doesn't really make it interesting, at least not cinematically interesting. Edison was famous for that saying about 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration; putting that nose-to-the-grindstone sweaty stuff up on the screen is (I assume) a major challenge.

Anyway: it's the story of the Westinghouse/Edison competition to electrify America, with Westinghouse behind AC (which won), Edison clinging to DC, because he thought it to be safer. And that's where his patents were. Hanging around both guys is prickly genius Nikola Tesla, who doesn't fit in well with either corporate culture. There's also a bunch of family stuff. The sets are pretty amazing.

Thanks to it being a Harvey Weinstein-related production, the movie didn't really show up in theaters, and didn't make back its production budget.

Playing a young Samuel Insull, by the way, is a kid who looked sort of familiar… who the heck is that? Finally the credits rolled, and, whoa, it was Tom Holland! Spider-Man! And Doctor Strange! Together again!

URLs du Jour

2020-05-19

When you searc for "capitalism" on Getty Images, today's pic du jour is (at least as I type) their "most popular" embeddable image.

Someone with a sensitive seismograph should check J. Paul's gravesite to see if it can pick up indications of underground rotation.

Fun fact: JPG was probably at one time the richest person in the world. The family has gone downhill since then, crashing (as of a couple years back) to merely the 56th richest family in America, and that's spread out among 28 members.

  • At Quillette, Saul Zimet asks the burning (heh) question: Capitalism or the Climate? Interesting point:

    Almost everyone believes the Spaceship Earth misconception, even if they don’t have a name for it. I was a believer myself until I read The Beginning of Infinity by David Deutsch, physicist at the University of Oxford. Spaceship Earth is the notion of our planet as a lifegiving oasis in a mostly desolate universe. According to this notion, the Earth provides us all the resources necessary to sustain human life, and it is up to us to either live sustainably or destroy the cornucopian vessel upon which we depend.

    What is wrong with the Spaceship Earth concept? In short, Earth is mostly not capable of sustaining life. Roughly 99.9 percent of all species that have ever existed on Earth are now extinct, some due to mass extinction events and some in so-called “background extinctions.” So in reality, the Earth is almost entirely inhospitable. By contrast, an estimated 3.15 percent of US executions between 1890 and 2010 failed to kill their victims. A species on Earth has a better chance of becoming extinct than a person has of being put to death efficiently in an electric chair.

    A refreshingly contrarian take on the issue. I've put the Deutsch book on my "read if the libraries ever open up again" list.


  • At National Review, Kevin D. Williamson wonders (in an NRPLUS article, sorry): Where Does the Money Go? Where Should It?. Federal money, that is. Commenting on Gov. Cuomo's insistence that New York should get a lot because they are a "net donor" to the Federal Government:

    The largest per-capita net-recipient states at the moment are Democratic states: Virginia, Kentucky, and New Mexico. The biggest “donor” states are Democratic, too: Connecticut, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. (NB: Estimates vary some from source to source, but New York is reliably pretty high on the purported net-payers’ list.) Some of those numbers are driven by entitlements and by the fact that the U.S. tax code is steeply progressive, i.e. by Democratic policies. And some of those numbers are driven by the fact that federal purchases, federal contracts, federal employees (hello, Virginia!), and federal lands are not evenly distributed throughout the country, which means that federal outlays do not land equally on every square inch of American territory — the federal government owns 85 percent of the land in Nevada but less than 1 percent of the land in New York State. There are a lot of financial firms in New York City and not very many Air Force bases, which affects the notional balance of payments.

    The same dynamic is a big part of why Democratic states such as Maryland and Hawaii are on the net-takers’ list while Republican states such as North Dakota are net payers. California, once a donor state, is at the moment a modest recipient state, to the tune of about $12 a year per capita.

    It's a silly argument. As I've said before, it's like: "Our taxpayers send a lot of money to the Feds, so the Feds should give some of that money back to the state government.

    As KDW points out, it's little wonder that high-income people are migrating out of NY.


  • Hey, kids! What time is it almost? According to Bonnie Kristian, writing in The Week: It's almost time for pandemic apologies.

    This need isn't isolated to any side of the debate. The case which got me thinking about it is Georgia's early re-opening, which began on April 24 and was met with widespread derision. I don't recall commenting on it, but I know I was skeptical. Here at The Week, my colleague Joel Mathis was more measured than most, observing that Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) "does not know the level of danger he's exposing residents to by reopening businesses. Nobody does."

    Other responses weren't so circumspect. Stacey Abrams, Kemp's erstwhile Democratic rival, called the move "dangerously incompetent." A Vanity Fair story labeled Kemp the "front-runner for country's dumbest governor." Commentator Ron Fournier told his Twitter followers to "[m]ark this day. Because two and three weeks from now, the Georgia death toll is blood on [Kemp's] hands."

    Well, that turned out to be reality-challenged.

    Also with a functioning memory is William McGurn of the WSJ who has a different candidate due apologies that will make leftist heads explode: Jerry Falwell, Jr.. Article text may be paywalled, maybe you'll have better luck with the video:


  • Another fun fact about lockdown science: According to the New York Times, as cited by Jeffery A. Tucker in an AIER article, it was "kicked off by a high school research project pursued by the daughter of a scientist at the Sandia National Laboratories." The young lady was 14 at the time.

    In other words, it was a high-school science experiment that eventually became law of the land, and through a circuitous route propelled not by science but politics.

    The primary author of [the paper eventually published based on the science project] was Robert J. Glass, a complex-systems analyst with Sandia National Laboratories. He had no medical training, much less an expertise in immunology or epidemiology.

    Note once again: Mr. Tucker is not repeating conspiratorial garbage from right-wing wackos. He's mostly quoting the New York Freaking Times.


  • Speaking of that august publication, they also have a pretty amusing piece from Roger Cohen, brought to my attention via the Google LFOD news alert.

    Back in the other world, before all was stilled, a neighbor in Colorado would tell me it was time for liberals to “gun up.” The other side was armed, he argued, and would stop at nothing. What would we tell our grandchildren when Ivanka Trump took office as the 46th president of the United States in 2025 and term limits were abolished? That we tried words, all manner of them, he scoffed, but they had the rifles.

    I waved him away. American democracy was not Hungarian democracy, now dead. Its checks and balances were resilient. Too many guns are an American scourge. No, he insisted, you will see by June 2020. Civil war, or something like it, is coming. Gun up, dude, before it’s too late.

    My neighbor did not predict the uniforms of America’s warring factions. How masks would become normative in Democratic strongholds like Telluride or Ridgway but be scorned in Colorado Trump country as the giveaway dress of the liberal egghead terrorized by the virus. The responsible crowd, with face half-hidden, confronting the unmasked live-free-or-die crowd across the vastness and fracture of an unled country.

    Did I say "amusing"? I should have said "hilarious". Who exactly does Roger Cohen plan on shooting?

URLs du Jour

2020-05-18

  • Our Tweet du Jour:

    (Via Granite Geek.)


  • Not that it matters, but I am perpetually confused between Jason Bateman and Nathan Fillion. Turns out I am not alone.


  • Jonah Goldberg's G-File is a grab-bag, always worth reading in full. But he's irritated (as am I) with a lazy stereotype:

    Over at The Bulwark, Richard North Patterson offers a fairly  pristine example of a genre of left-wing anti-conservative scolding when it comes to science. Now before I go on, I should say upfront that I agree with the gist of many of his criticisms of some right-wingers and their response to the pandemic. For instance, I think the surge in anti-vaccine talk in some fevered corners of the right is dangerous, disappointing, and embarrassing. 

    But on the whole, I detest this sort of argument because it takes a natural human (or even American) phenomenon and turns it into a partisan cudgel. Polls and studies have consistently showed that anti-vaxxers exist on both sides of the political divide. But ask yourself, who has more cache with the mainstream media and elites: Robert Kennedy Jr. or Michelle Malkin? Who did more in the last two decades to promote anti-vaccine theories?

    As noted a few days back RFK Jr. has recently been muttering darkly about "5G robber barons" who are in the process of "microwaving our country".


  • Kyle Smith has a properly outraged article at National Review about Our Nevermind Media.

    How lovely it is to have a high-profile job in our major media institutions. Let’s say you completely, hideously muck up a huge story. Let’s say you spend three years wildly misleading the public. Let’s say that, at the outset of the worst public-health crisis in a century, you mock people for being afraid and tell them to go about life as usual. When you’re proven wrong, you get to tell the next chapter of the story anyway. And if you feel like saying, “No fair noticing we were wrong!” you know other members of the mainstream-media cartel will rush to support you.

    Media observers are today noticing how strange it is for reporters to juxtapose panic about Florida, where the virus has done relatively little damage, with robust defense of New York, the coronavirus death capital of the Western world.

    Or the "please ignore Obamagate" crowd. Huge story when it was about Trump. Now that it's about Obama/Biden… move along, nothing to see here, shut up.


  • Kevin D. Williamson: Obama claims he was free from scandal — but he's full of it.

    Democrats take it as a matter of moral certainty that Donald Trump and his political allies can only do wrong and cannot be wronged. Trump and his colleagues insist that they have been wronged in a very serious way: by the Obama administration’s abusing federal counterintelligence tools as an extension (and a post-election extension) of the 2016 presidential campaign. That is a perversion of political power that should command the attention of all Americans irrespective of their assessment of President Trump.

    The original decision to target Flynn in the counterintelligence probe was based on a pretty flimsy pretext. And it was driven by the White House, not by the top bosses at DOJ. When acting Attorney General Sally Yates heard about the investigation — from President Obama himself, not from her own department — she “had no idea what the president was talking about,” as she told investigators. The New York Times, not exactly the house organ of the Trump administration, reports that at every turn Obama aides were involved in the investigation even as the acting AG was in the dark.

    Good for KDW.


  • And finally, at Power Line, John Hinderaker asks the burning question: To Mask Or Not to Mask?.

    Government bureaucrats first told us, inconsistently, that 1) masks were useless, and 2) we should save them for medical personnel. Now that advice has changed: on the theory that wearing a mask might prevent an asymptomatic person from passing on the virus, we are being pressured to wear masks of some kind when in public.

    This has created an interesting sociological picture. Last week, my family went up North for a few days on a big lake near the Canadian border. We noticed that once you got outside the Twin Cities, hardly anyone was wearing a mask. On the other hand, after we returned I drove to downtown Minneapolis for the first time in a couple of months. The streets were nearly deserted. I saw around a dozen people, on the average one per block. The majority were young men, maybe 25 years old, generally walking along with no one within 50 yards of them. Every single one wore a mask.

    Mask wearing has become a form of virtue signaling. Do they do any good? Who knows? But wearing one shows that you are a slavish adherent to authority. Not wearing one suggests that you might be a rebel.

    It's an interesting phenomenon, which I've noticed myself. Probably we'll have more in the coming days.

Skyscraper

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

Disclaimer: call him "Dwayne Johnson" all you want, friend; he'll always be "The Rock" to me.

An opening scene tells the tragic tale of our hero, Will Sawyer: confronting a crazed Minnesota husband, he makes a merciful, humane, but also very bad mistake, causing the loss of limb (his) and life (probably a lot of the other people involved, but that's not explicitly shown). He winds up marrying the brilliant and beautiful doctor who saves his life. (I don't recommend this as a good strategy for meeting women.)

Ten years later, he's a security consultant, he has two cute kids, he's invited to Hong Kong to inspect a (guess what) new skyscraper, the tallest building in the world, filled with imaginative architecture and high-tech gadgetry. Unfortunately, the zillionaire builder is also the target of a well-oiled extortion plot carried out by a team of casually-murderous henchmen, and one henchwoman.

I liked it fine. But it's a by-the-numbers, no-surprises, big-budget thriller. It's like an AI was given the script for Die Hard and The Towering Inferno and was told: "Mix these up." And hence you can see a lot of things, big and small, coming:

  • There are bad guys who have infiltrated the zillionaire's inner circle. For the viewer, they might as well be wearing "I AM A BAD GUY" buttons on their lapels.
  • That murderous henchwoman? Of course, there will be a final confrontation between her and Will's wife.
  • That cute scene where Will "fixes" the Mrs's phone by turning it off and on again. Will that be replayed later? Sure.
  • The skyscraper is partially powered by huge internal wind turbines, the blades whooshing impressively. Will Will be dodging those blades later? You bet!
  • Will is shown (for some reason) a holodeck-like virtual reality chamber with dozens of huge high-def screens. Also a key plot mover later? Need you ask?

As a reviewer pointed out: the primary bad guy is no Alan Rickman.

Although the movie did poorly in American theatres, a lot of foreign audiences are apparently Rockhounds, so it did OK overall.

Little Women

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

The end of the normal TV season combined with the lack of Red Sox baseball means we've been hitting the Netflix DVDs. I keep my Netflix queue sorted in descending order by their personalized-for-me predicted rating, but we're getting pretty far down into the three-star area: "not bad, not great, just OK."

Hence, Little Women. It has a very good IMDB rating, but I suspect this is due mostly to Women. (I know, sexist. Sue me, Joe Biden.) It was nominated for six Oscars (including Best Picture), but only won one (Costumes). Again, I blame women and earnest males kowtowing to feminism. ("I am not Harvey Weinstein, see my Oscar ballot?")

I am unfamiliar with the Louisa May Alcott source material, but fortunately there are articles that tell me how it's different.

Both the book and the movie center on the March sisters (Jo, Meg, Amy, Beth), growing up in mid-19th century Massachusetts. Although the main character is Jo, played by Saoirse Ronan. There's also Mom (Laura Dern) and Aunt (Meryl Streep). And eventually Dad shows up. (Hey, that's Saul Goodman! Good move, Saul! The cartel will never find you in 19th-century Massachusetts!)

The movie (apparently unlike the book) zips back and forth in time. The acting is fine, everything is easy on the eyes, the sex scenes are tasteful, the alien invasion that turns the March's neighbors into murderous zombies is believable.

The Phony Campaign

2020-05-17 Update

[Amazon Link]

The folks wagering their own money continue to hold on to the possibility of President Hillary Clinton, but she continues to fade. Sad! In the meantime, both Wheezy Joe and President Bone Spurs managed to hold their win probabilities unchanged over the past week.

Although they probably bounced up and down in between; this is just a snapshot. Things could change in an eyeblink if/when either one of them says something unusually stupid or insane.

And everyone lost phony hits this week. I have no explanation for that.

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
5/10
Phony
Results
Change
Since
5/10
Donald Trump 49.0% unch 1,640,000 -640,000
Hillary Clinton 2.3% -0.4% 558,000 -55,000
Joe Biden 42.1% unch 432,000 -219,000

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

  • Sad news for me, via Matt Welch at Reason: Justin Amash Drops Out of Presidential Race.

    In a Twitter thread, Amash wrote that the current political environment "presents extraordinary challenges," including that "polarization is near an all-time high" and that "social media and traditional media are dominated by voices strongly averse to the political risks posed by a viable third candidate." Also, "lingering uncertainty regarding ratification of online voting, the feasibility of 50-state ballot access and related legal challenges, and unity after the nomination have also weighed heavily on me. We must address these issues as a party to ensure we maximize our potential."

    Who knows what the Libertarian Party will do now? Not me.


  • Hey kids, remember post-9/11 when everyone was absolutely frantic that Dubya might get access to a list of books you checked out from your local library? No, really. Fortunately, civil-liberty minded Democrats stuck by their principals, and…

    Oops, never mind. As lefty Matt Taibbi points out, Democrats Have Abandoned Civil Liberties.

    Emmet G. Sullivan, the judge in the case of former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, is refusing to let William Barr’s Justice Department drop the charge. He’s even thinking of adding more, appointing a retired judge to ask “whether the Court should issue an Order to Show Cause why Mr. Flynn should not be held in criminal contempt for perjury.”

    Pundits are cheering. A trio of former law enforcement and judicial officials saluted Sullivan in the Washington Post, chirping, “The Flynn case isn’t over until a judge says it’s over.” Yuppie icon Jeffrey Toobin of CNN and the New Yorker, one of the #Resistance crowd’s favored legal authorities, described Sullivan’s appointment of Judge John Gleeson as “brilliant.” MSNBC legal analyst Glenn Kirschner said Americans owe Sullivan a “debt of gratitude.”

    One had to search far and wide to find a non-conservative legal analyst willing to say the obvious, i.e. that Sullivan’s decision was the kind of thing one would expect from a judge in Belarus. George Washington University professor Jonathan Turley was one of the few willing to say Sullivan’s move could “could create a threat of a judicial charge even when prosecutors agree with defendants.”

    It's darkly amusing to see Democats morph into (in Taibbi's words) "defenders of the spy state."


  • The New York Post's gossip page has a scoop: REvil, law firm hackers, double ransom demand, threaten Donald Trump.

    The ransom demand for the secret files of a cyber-attacked lawyer to A-list stars has doubled to $42 million — as the hackers now threaten to reveal “dirty laundry” on President Donald Trump in just a week if they are not paid in full.

    Attorney Allen Grubman — the most prominent entertainment attorney in the world, whose firm represents stars including Lady Gaga, Madonna, Mariah Carey, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Priyanka Chopra and Bette Midler — was being shaken down by hackers who attacked his New York law firm for $21 million until today.

    The hackers claim to have "found a ton of dirty laundry" on the President, even though he's never been a client of the firm. Grubman is refusing to pay.

    So we'll see, huh?


  • Wheezy Joe had a fine interview with an ABC hack:

    “I know nothing about those moves to investigate Michael Flynn,” Biden said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” when George Stephanopoulos asked what he knew of the FBI’s operations in early 2017.

    And a handful of seconds later in that same interview, after Stephanopoulos pressed a little with specifics:

    “I thought you asked me whether or not I had anything to do with him being prosecuted,” Biden said. “I was aware that there was, that they asked for an investigation, but that’s all I know about.”

    And then a few hours later…

    The declassification of material from the Michael Flynn case has exposed more chilling details of an effort by prosecutors to come up with a crime to use against the former national security adviser. This week, however, a letter revealed another unsettling detail. Among over three dozen Obama administration officials seeking to “unmask” Flynn in the investigation was former Vice President Joe Biden. This revelation came less than a day after Biden denied any involvement in the investigation of Flynn. It also follows a disclosure that President Obama was aware of that investigation.

    C'mon man.


  • So it's not like President Biden will actually be capable of being in charge of anything. Fortunately, one of his main advisers Ezekiel Emanuel Wants to Control Your Health Care.

    If Joe Biden is elected president in November, oncologist and bioethicist Ezekiel Emanuel, the former vice president’s chief campaign health-care adviser, will almost certainly control the new administration’s health policies, perhaps even as secretary of health and human services. That is bad news. Emanuel was a prime architect of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, and remains one of the law’s most enthusiastic apologists. Readers may also recall his infamous 2014 article in The Atlantic, where he wrote that he wants to die at age 75 — implying that we should too — because people after that age become “feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.”

    Joe Biden is 77, Zeke.

URLs du Jour

2020-05-16

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Remy:

He is a Great National Treasure.

  • The Google LFOD News Alert brought, once again, a slew of hits. Unfortunately typical was the "My Turn" column in the Concord Monitor featuring the downhome wisdom of Millie LaFontaine: Abandoning caution carries the steepest of prices.

    However, the tangled mess we are in now is more dire than some childish adults among us are willing to believe. They choose willful ignorance over prudence. They figure that if they feel okay then they should be free to do whatever they want: “Live free or die!” What they fail to see that their careless disregard for those around them could easily result in “Live free AND die!”

    The first time I noticed this "clever" play on the state motto was back in January 2018. And I suspect that's only because I started paying attention. I would wager it's been a overused lazy cliché for longer than that.

    Millie's talking about her fellow citizens. In addition to the insults above, she believes they are exhibiting "human obstinacy and sheer pig-headedness".

    Because of masks, of course. The hijab of the Church of Shutdown. And Millie's not fond of heretics who dare to make their own risk decisions.

    Sometimes she's unintentionally amusing: "Parents and a nearby school board member bring their children to a playground and flaunt [sic] stay-at-home orders." Where were the Monitor editors?


  • I sat up and took notice for this article in National Review on masking, which promised a Libertarian Case for Their Widespread Use.

    The irony is that civil-libertarian objections to masks make draconian measures more likely. The more people refuse to wear masks, the greater the risks of reopening. Where mask-wearing has taken hold — in Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea, for example — life has proceeded in quasi-normalcy: Many businesses and schools are open, and people are free to socialize. The comparatively repressive East Asian democracies have retained more civil liberties than the U.S. thanks, in part, to the rational behavior of their citizens.

    The efficacy of masks strengthens the anti-lockdown case. It is exactly the kind of spontaneous decision-making that often renders government intrusion needless and inefficient. The “invisible hand” of the free market depends on rational individuals acting in their self-interest. We’ve seen this phenomenon in jurisdictions that did not lock down but nonetheless saw sizable reductions in economic activity. People did not want to contract COVID-19 and took reasonable steps to minimize their risk.

    Well. I'm not sure how "libertarian" it is to argue, essentially, "if you don't put up with this mandate, you'll get really worse mandates."

    My weighted reasons for mask-wearing, if you're interested:

    • 63%: keep Mrs. Salad happy, or at least non-frantic;
    • 34%: avoid getting hectored by busybodies like Millie LaFontaine;
    • 2%: avoid getting infected myself;
    • 1% (or less): avoid infecting others.

    Those numbers could change.


  • Jonah Goldberg has an interesting speculation: The Pandemic Is Going to Shake Up Higher Education.

    For years, critics of higher education have predicted that the pattern of ever-rising tuitions for a product that hasn’t really improved in innate value is unsustainable. And yet, nothing changed. 

    That may be coming to an end. COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the equation. In an interview with New York magazine, Scott Galloway, a Silicon Valley veteran turned professor at New York University’s Stern Business School, argues that, thanks to the pandemic, “There’s a recognition that education—the value, the price, the product—has fundamentally shifted. The value of education has been substantially degraded.”

    Universities now contend that the price of the sheepskin shouldn’t change even if kids can’t go to campus. Every school is saying, “This is unprecedented, and we’re in this together.” Galloway jokes that this is Latin for: “We’re not lowering our prices, b**ches.” 

    The University Near Here will probably survive. (It has a "long tradition of existence.") But if even 10% of the kiddos just don't show up in September? Hm. Big changes. Might have to trim back some of those Assistant Vice Deans.

    Just kidding! It's the Assistant Vice Deans who decide on what to cut!


  • Jim Geraghty has been a consistent voice of sanity and balance throughout the years, and he's taken on the pandemic with those same virtues. Example: Being Wrong Is Human and Will Happen. But Staying Wrong Is a Choice.

    All of us, from the president and Fauci to the kids down the street are trying to grapple with the unknown. Just about all of us are going to get something wrong at some point. Here we are, May 15, and we’re still not entirely sure whether children are largely immune to this virus, or whether some portion will develop “multisystem inflammatory syndrome” some months or weeks later. (The current leading theory is that this is some sort of delayed reaction by a child’s immune system after fighting off the virus.) Thankfully, this syndrome appears to be unlikely to kill children.

    We think we’re less likely to catch the virus outside — it may be much, much less likely. Vitamin D might be a factor — or maybe it’s a more general sense that the vitamin is just good for your immune system in general. We’re not sure how long the antibodies against this virus will stay in human bodies. We’re pretty sure masks help, but we’re not sure how much, or how effectively people will wear them. A prominent virologist thinks he caught the virus through his eyes on a crowded flight because he was wearing a mask and gloves the entire time. It appears humans can spread the virus to dogs, but dogs cannot spread the virus to people.

    What we know can change. Perhaps our appetite for rubbing someone’s nose in their getting something wrong has created an enormous disincentive for anyone ever admitting they’re wrong — and an inadvertent incentive for stubbornly clinging to an assessment, even in the face of mounting counter-evidence.

    Something to take to heart more generally. God grant us all the willingness to change our minds when the facts change out from under us.


  • Of course, there are certain things that reinforce my priors. Here's one from the New York Times: F.D.A. Halts Coronavirus Testing Program Backed by Bill Gates.

    An innovative coronavirus testing program in the Seattle area — promoted by the billionaire Bill Gates and local public health officials as a way of conducting wider surveillance on the invisible spread of the virus — has been ordered by the federal government to stop its work pending additional reviews.

    The program involved sending home test kits to both healthy and sick people in the hope of conducting the kind of widespread monitoring that could help communities safely reopen from lockdowns. Researchers and public health authorities already had tested thousands of samples, finding dozens of previously undetected cases.

    The tests are safe and seemingly accurate. Sho what's the problem? The program told people and their doctors their test results. The FDA has different rules, different hoops to jump through, if you want to do that.

URLs du Jour

2020-05-15

[Amazon Link]

  • Once again, our Amazon Product du Jour is a book from which Don Boudreaux extracted his Quotation of the Day...

    The need to do something tends to trump the need to understand what needs to be done.

    Don calls this quote "simply too relevant" and I concur. Heartily.


  • For example, it's exemplified in this article from Michael Graham at NH Journal: NH House Dems Demand Mandatory Mask Order for Granite State.

    On Thursday, 178 House Democrats wrote to Gov. Chris Sununu urging him to impose a Massachusetts-style mandatory mask order for New Hampshire.

    “Many states across the U.S., including border states Maine and Massachusetts, have established mandatory mask-wearing orders in conjunction with the calculated reopening of their businesses. These orders, which only apply when someone is unable to socially distance in public, are necessary to protect the public and give people confidence that they can go out safely, without increased risk of infection,” House Democrats wrote.

    I'm just fascinated by the continuing Democrat love for the word "mandatory". If the state could just push people around a little bit more—make them behave!—then we would certainly usher in the utopian future.

    So if your state reps are New Hampshire Democrats, you can check to see if they're mandate-lovers. Out of my four reps, three signed on: Gerri Cannon, Wendy Chase, Cecilia Rich. I don't see the fourth, Catt Sandler, on the list.


  • At American Consequences, P. J. O'Rourke has Deep Thoughts About the Coronavirus Pandemic. Sample:

    Anthony Fauci thinks I should obey the government guidelines. He seems to be the smartest person in the room, at least as far as rooms at the White House are concerned. Also, he’s got this accent… I mean, not to stereotype Brooklyn Italians or anything because Fauci is a brilliant scientist and all that, but… He does have the kind of accent that makes you think that if you don’t go along with his social-distancing demands, you’ll wind up with a horse head in your bed sheets.

    Plus, there’s my wife to be considered. She just got out of self-quarantine, which she put herself into for my sake because what our teenage kids call COVID-19 (when they think Dad can’t hear them) is a “Boomer Remover.”

    Yes, I couldn't help but chuckle at that. I'll run it by my kids to see if they laugh. If they do, out of the will!


  • Some more amusing news comes to us via Eric Boehm at Reason: Mission Creep and Wasteful Spending Left the CDC Unprepared for an Actual Public Health Crisis.

    Over the past three decades, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has seen its taxpayer-funded budget doubled. Then doubled again. Then doubled again. And then nearly doubled once more.

    But spending nearly 14 times as much as we did in 1987 on the agency whose mission statement says it "saves lives and protects people from health threats" did not, apparently, help the CDC combat the emergence of the biggest disease threat America has faced in a century. In fact, a new report argues, inflating the CDC's budget may have weakened the agency's ability to handle its core responsibility by giving rise to mission creep and bureaucratic malaise.

    That report is summarized here, with a link to the whole thing.

    The CDC is only one example of the Great Spending Fallacy, that throwing money into a government agency will result in proportionate good effects out the other end.


  • And finally, Michael Barone asks the musical question: Who Sent COVID-19 Positive Patients Into Nursing Homes? Start with what we know:

    […] COVID-19 tends to kill people age 70 and above, especially those with comorbidities.

    Yet, despite that being apparent early on, America's governors have done a poor job of protecting those most at risk -- residents of nursing homes with physical frailties and, often, cognitive impairment.

    The result: One-third of reported coronavirus deaths in the United States, according to New York Times reporting, are of nursing home residents or workers. Nursing homes accounted for a majority of deaths in heavily hit states like New Jersey (52%), Massachusetts (59%), Pennsylvania (66%) and Connecticut (55%), and for 80% of the deaths in otherwise lightly hit Minnesota.

    And according to InDepthNH, New Hampshire is right up there too, with more than three-quarters of Covid-19 deaths associated with long-term care facilities.

URLs du Jour

2020-05-14

[Amazon Link]

  • I really liked the Quotation of the Day at Cafe Hayek. It's from our Amazon Product du Jour.

    Muddled thinkers confuse the world of our senses with the way in which it is depicted in language.

    Language, wonderful as it is, is full of ambiguity, illogic, and confusion. The cafe's proprietor, Don Boudreaux, explains further:

    Among the ‘costs’ of language is its tendency to cause us to suppose that the abstractions that we describe with words possess a concrete reality that these abstractions don’t possess. For example, we talk about how “the economy allocates resources.” This phrase isn’t meaningless; it conveys those who encounter it an impression that usually is more or less, kinda, sorta, typically reasonably close to what those who say or write this phrase mean to convey. Yet taken literally this phrase is mistaken. The economy allocates nothing. The economy is not an entity that thinks, has purposes, and acts.

    An easy thing to forget, to our peril.


  • I also liked JVW's guest "Pontification" in reaction to a recent tweet. Or, as JVW puts it: "another mindless utterance" from "the Senate’s worst demagogue":

    Sensible people have been discussing for the past several weeks how Congress can use its make-believe funds to provide economic relief to businesses and individuals who have seen their financial well-being undermined by the virus. Leave it to Lieawatha Liz to attempt to conflate minting more trillion dollar coins and making it rain [note: link moderately NSFW] in state capitals with actually saving the lives of vulnerable people who are afflicted with this virus. Very little if any of this so-called Phase Four stimulus (which would actually be the fifth such bill) goes directly to hospitals or equipment or testing kits — that was taken care of in previous stimulus bills — so now both parties seek to lard up the bill with their own spending priorities and Cocaine Mitch seems to be one of the few responsible Washington leaders who want to tap the brakes just a little bit as we careen downhill.

    Apparently the House is voting on this dreadful bill on Friday. I'd say "write your CongressCritter", but if said person has a (D) after their name, it's probably pointless.


  • Kevin D. Williamson has further comments on the legislation: the HEROES Act Is Just Another Democratic Omnibus Spending Bill. (NRPLUS article, sorry.)

    The so-called HEROES Act — and, please, please, please, can we finally stop with the sophomoric acronyms? — is another wish list from the House Democrats. It contains the usual Democratic wish-list items, one of the more expensive of which is a proposal to shunt vast streams of federal revenue into badly managed states and cities in order to buy them out of their self-inflicted financial troubles. More than $1 trillion of the $3 trillion package would be in the form of aid to state and local governments, with almost all of that money — $915 billion of it — in unrestricted cash. This will be a great boon to states and cities (largely but not exclusively Democratic) that have hamstrung themselves financially by promising government workers fat pensions and retirement benefits without actually spending the money necessary to fund those programs. States and cities generally cannot go into debt to finance regular operating expenses such as salaries (they do borrow money for infrastructure projects and the like), but they can effectively borrow from their pension systems by promising benefits in the future but using the cash today for other purposes.

    Agreed. RTWT if you can.


  • ProPublica has an underpublicized story: The TSA Hoarded 1.3 Million N95 Masks Even Though Airports Are Empty and It Doesn’t Need Them.

    The Transportation Security Administration ignored guidance from the Department of Homeland Security and internal pushback from two agency officials when it stockpiled more than 1.3 million N95 respirator masks instead of donating them to hospitals, internal records and interviews show.

    Internal concerns were raised in early April, when COVID-19 cases were growing by the thousands and hospitals in some parts of the country were overrun and desperate for supplies. The agency held on to the cache of life-saving masks even as the number of people coming through U.S. airports dropped by 95% and the TSA instructed many employees to stay home to avoid being infected. Meanwhile, other federal agencies, including the Department of Veterans Affairs’ vast network of hospitals, scrounged for the personal protective equipment that doctors and nurses are dying without.

    It's very tempting to envy certain features of China's governing style. Specifically, the ability to send folks responsible for such behavior to extralegal re-education camps in some remote and desolate region.


  • At the American Council on Science and Health, David Shlaes looks at The Keystone Cops vs. Coronavirus.

    It sounds like the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has become completely dysfunctional. The Secretary, Dr. Azar (ex-lobbyist and President of Eli Lilly), apparently can’t get along with his administrator of Medicare, Seema Verma. He led the FDA and CDC (HHS agencies) as they failed to protect the US population because of their disastrous early approach to coronavirus testing. And on and on . . . .

    As we pointed out two months ago: heads should roll, but they won't. The first rule of government bureaucracy is: cover your ass.

URLs du Jour

2020-05-13

  • Joy Pullmann of the Federalist is not a Pelosi fan: Democrats' $3 Trillion Coronavirus Spending Wishlist Is Another Farce.

    Democrats released a laughable new “coronavirus” spending bill Tuesday that would rain trillions of future taxpayers’ money on an already bloated and incompetent federal government. More than anything else, it’s proof Democrats are an unserious party unfit to govern at all, let alone in a time of crisis.

    The bill was initially dubbed CARES 2 Act and rapidly renamed the HEROES Act, as if it’s heroic to dump other people’s money out the window after taking it at gunpoint. It would expand by billions of dollars the spending of just about every government agency, most of which Americans don’t even know exist, and very few of which have anything to do with treating the disease.

    I'm not sure if irretrievable damage hasn't already been done by Our Federal Government's fiscal frivolities, but another $3 Tril wouldn't help.


  • James Pethokoukis of the AEI wonders: Traffic is way up, and the internet seems fine. Did we maybe spend too much time ferociously debating net neutrality? (An exception to Betteridge's law of headlines. The answer is yes.)

    A 1990 coronavirus pandemic would have been even worse than today’s version. Sure, there would have been less capability to rapidly produce therapeutics and vaccines. But also no internet economy to keep us connected via Facebook, Google Meet, and Zoom. And no Amazon to bring us all manner of essential items without breaking quarantine. There would have been no curve flattening or crushing back then.

    So thank goodness the internet hasn’t buckled, much less broken. Unlike in Europe, for instance, Netflix and YouTube haven’t been forced to slow down streaming speeds and reduce video quality due to higher usage. Everything here still seems to be working pretty well. But it’s easy to imagine that not being the case. As journalist Charles Fishman reports in The Atlantic, US internet traffic carried by AT&T surged 20 percent in mid-March, with workweek network traffic now up a steady 25 percent from the pre-pandemic period.

    So that's the good Pethokoukis. Unfortunately, there's also…


  • … the bad Pethokoukis. In a different article, he asserts and asks: US federal research spending is at a 60-year low. Should we be concerned?

    Well…

    The most tweetable takeaways from a new Goldman Sachs report on US science investment tend to focus on the Trump administration. Like this one: “The Trump administration has repeatedly tried to cut funding from federal research and public health agencies.” Or this one: “When adjusted for inflation, the first three years of the Trump administration had the lowest levels of federal R&D spending since FY 2002.”

    But declining US science investment is hardly a new phenomenon, though it may suddenly be more of an issue because of the coronavirus pandemic. As the GS report notes, “The United States successfully first landed astronauts on the moon in 1969. With less urgency in the space race, federal R&D spending gradually decreased over the next two decades to about 4.6% of the federal budget, and stayed at around this level until the 2008 Global Financial Crisis and Great Recession.” And here’s where we are today: “In FY 2019, federal R&D spending equaled 0.6% of US GDP and 2.8% of total federal outlays, the lowest in over 60 years.”

    I can't find the Goldman Sachs report to which James refers, but here's a recent Fact Sheet from the Congressional Research Service. You can look at the pretty pictures and tables on your own, but in words:

    In current dollars, federal funding for R&D grew from $2.8 billion in 1953 to $127.2 billion in 2018, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.1%. In constant dollars, federal R&D grew by a 2.8% CAGR during this period. However between 2011 and 2014, federal R&D funding, as measured in current dollars, fell for three consecutive years for the first time since such data has been collected; the total decline in federal funding for these years was $8.7 billion (6.8%). In constant dollars, federal R&D declined seven straight years, from 2009 to 2016, by a total 16.8%; a similar drop occurred from 1987 to 1994, when federal R&D fell by 16.0%.6 In FY2017 and FY2018, federal R&D grew by 1.9% and 2.7% respectively, in constant dollars

    In short, when measured in actual constant dollars, R&D funding is down slightly from its 2011 record. You only get the Pethokoukis headline by measuring, arbitrarily, a fraction of total federal spending, or fraction of US GDP.

    This is a pet peeve of mine. There's no law that entitles any given government function to some permanent fraction of spending. I don't know if you've noticed, but Social Security/Medicare/Medicaid expenditures are growing crazily. By Pethokoukis logic, in order to avoid an R&D spending "cut", such spending must also grow (crazily) at the same rate.

    And of course, there's the ever-present spending fallacy: shoving federal dollars into R&D automatically produces wonderful inventions and progress. Much like feeding more pig snouts into the grinder gives you more yummy sausage out the other end.

    It would be nice if that were true. It isn't true.


  • The Atlantic is not particularly friendly to conservatarian views, so it's nice to see Conor Friedersdorf urging his readers to Take the Shutdown Skeptics Seriously.

    Should states ease pandemic restrictions or extend lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders into the summer? That question confronts leaders across the United States. President Trump says that “we have to get our country open.” And many governors are moving quickly in that direction.

    Critics are dismayed. Citing forecasts that COVID-19 deaths could rise to 3,000 per day in June, they say that reopening without better defenses against infections is reckless. That assessment may well be correct. Many insist it is immoral, too. The columnist Amy Z. Quinn says the Trump administration is “choosing money over lives.” In a CNN news analysis, Daniel Burke offers this characterization of America’s choice: “Should we reopen the economy to help the majority or protect the lives of the vulnerable?”

    Denunciations of that sort cast the lockdown debate as a straightforward battle between a pro-human and a pro-economy camp. But the actual trade-offs are not straightforward. Set aside “flattening the curve,” which will continue to make sense. Are ongoing, onerous shutdowns warranted beyond what is necessary to avoid overwhelming ambulances, hospitals, and morgues?

    That's… an open question. It's easy to make fun of (or point with horror at) protesting yahoos with their LFOD signs. ("It's not Live Free and Die! Har har har.") But it's not that simple.


  • Kevin D. Williamson's sorta-pessimistic take at NR: It’s Destruction, Yes — But Is It Creative? But here's a nice story about …

    “I was born one morning when the sun didn’t shine. I picked up my shovel and I walked to the mine.” So sang Tennessee Ernie Ford in his recording of Merle Travis’s “Sixteen Tons,” a surprise hit in 1955.

    That song is an interesting mess of elements that shouldn’t work together: Travis’s semi-autobiographic miner’s lament delivered in Ford’s smooth, classically trained baritone, the singer’s tough-guy posturing complemented by a pretty bad-ass riff played on the . . . clarinet.

    Merle Travis came from coal-mining people in Kentucky; Ernest Jennings Ford was a man of the middle classes, a former radio announcer who studied singing at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. The arc of his life is a familiar one: He went away to war and came home to seek — and find — his fortune in California. “Tennessee Ernie” was one of his radio personae, a stereotypical hillbilly. (The cheerful contrivance of these personalities was part of the charm: Louis Marshall Jones became “Grandpa Jones” when he was in his twenties.) Ford lived the American Dream: If you have a decent off-road vehicle and a few jerry cans of gasoline, you can camp out at his former retreat in the Nevada wilderness, well past where the blacktop ends. He died of liver failure after a state dinner with President George H. W. Bush.

    Kevin ventures into Mark Steyn territory there.

URLs du Jour

2020-05-12

[Amazon Link]
Why is my Bing picture a stained-glass window of Florence Nightingale? Ah, it's the 200th anniversary of her birth in Florence, Italy. And it's also International Nurses Day. Probably too late to order our Amazon Product du Jour in honor.

  • At National Review, David Harsanyi is pretty happy with the Flynn outcome; he considers it an example of the Rule of Law Upheld.

    ‘There is no precedent that anybody can find for someone who has been charged with perjury just getting off scot-free,” former president Barack Obama reportedly told members of the Obama Alumni Association. “That’s the kind of stuff where you begin to get worried that basic — not just institutional norms — but our basic understanding of rule of law is at risk. And when you start moving in those directions, it can accelerate pretty quickly as we’ve seen in other places.”

    This is, at best, shameless projection.

    We now know that the Obama administration engaged in unprecedented abuses of power, not merely in its persistent attempts to circumvent the other branches of the United States government, but in its weaponizing of government institutions for partisan ends, including our intelligence agencies.

    Hey, don't worry: President Biden will get us back to that.


  • At Reason, Jacob Sullum wonders: Does Questioning Official COVID-19 Statistics Make This Doctor a ‘Denialist’? (Yes, Betteridge's law of headlines applies.)

    Are COVID-19 deaths undercounted? Yes, especially if people with other illnesses die at home and are never tested for the virus that causes the disease. Are COVID-19 deaths overcounted? Probably also yes, especially when physicians try to compensate for the lack of testing by inferring that COVID-19 caused a death without laboratory confirmation, but also when they assume that the disease killed someone who tested positive, even if the actual cause might have been something else.

    Judging from excess mortality in places hit hard by the epidemic, the first problem is bigger than the second problem, although those figures are ambiguous, may be incomplete, and so far are limited to relatively brief periods of time. In principle, the accuracy of COVID-19 death tallies is an empirical question, albeit one that may never be conclusively answered. But like virtually every other pandemic puzzle, it is also a political question, as illustrated by a recent New York Times story that charges Scott Jensen, a Minnesota family doctor and Republican state legislator, with aiding and abetting right-wing "denialists" who think all the hoopla about COVID-19 is a conspiracy cooked up by Donald Trump's enemies.

    Jacob notes that (unlike COVID-19) "confirmation bias and motivated reasoning" are universal problem in human brains, equally likely to afflict New York Times writers and Republican doctors in Minnesota.


  • And even my friends at Granite Grok are not immune. For example, this article by (obviously pseudonymous) "Percy Blakeney": This coronavirus is the biggest scam ever perpetrated upon the American public. Here's where I stopped reading, in a section titled "Compare for Yourself":

    Compare it to all the diseases and events that cause death in the world. Don’t let yourself be duped. We are witnessing the idiocy of health bureaucrats, fake news media, and politicians. This faux crisis is all about power, control, and money.

    Look at the list of causes of deaths worldwide. It is a way to gain a perspective on this manufactured crisis. National Geographic magazine says your lifetime chance of being struck by lightning is 1 in 3000. Your chance of dying of COVID-19 this year in Texas is 1 in 50,000. You are 16X more likely to be killed by lightning than by this coronavirus in Texas.

    The comment I left:

    With respect to "Compare for Yourself": You are not comparing apples to apples in your risk calculation.

    That National Geographic Flash Facts About Lightning demands my e-mail address, so I passed. But I assume the National Weather Service (How Dangerous is Lightning?) risk numbers aren't much different.

    According to the NWS Storm Data, over the last 30 years (1989-2018) the U.S. has averaged 43 reported lightning fatalities per year. Only about 10% of people who are struck by lightning are killed, leaving 90% with various degrees of disability. More recently, in the last 10 years (2009-2018), the U.S. has averaged 27 lightning fatalities.

    And I'm sure you can compare Covid deaths with that as easily as I can.

    It's possible to harshly criticize statist overreaction and deadly government blunders without falling into conspiricism.


  • For example. At AEI, Charles Murray: Dealing with the pandemic is not entirely rocket science.

    The pandemic is complicated. Deciding on good policy is complicated. But a basic aspect of the American experience is not complicated and ought to be decisively affecting policy: the relationship of population density to the spread of the coronavirus. The relationship means that a great deal of the discussion about why some cities are doing worse than others is beside the point. These analyses may satisfy a natural urge to assign blame, and some of them surely have merit, but the role of one underlying demographic variable, population density, is immune to manipulation by the smartest policy.

    Mr. Murray does the numbers, and I've got no reason to doubt the very straightforward bar graph he generates:

    [not rocket science]

    Which caused me to look up the numbers for Strafford County, New Hampshire.

    Population130,633 (2019)
    Area382.6 mi²
    Reported Cases (2020-05-11)196
    Population Density341.4/mi²
    Cases per 100K1.50

    Check my math, but this puts my county very firmly on that leftmost bar.


  • And finally, Michael Graham has underpublicized news as well: DHHS Confirms: Not A Single Healthy Granite Stater Under 60 Has Died From COVID-19.

    Numbers don’t lie.

    And the shocking number about the true impact of the coronavirus pandemic on New Hampshire comes from the NH Department of Health and Human Services: The total number of Granite Staters under 60 and without some co-morbidity who’ve been killed by the coronavirus?

    Zero.

    Not a single, healthy New Hampshire resident under the age of 60 has died from COVID-19, despite estimates that approximately 60,000 of the state’s residents have been exposed to the virus.

    Click through for additional details. Things turn out to be iffy for me: yeah, sure, I live in relatively safe Strafford; but I am (ahem) no longer under 60. Not even close.


Last Modified 2020-05-12 4:45 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2020-05-11

[Amazon Link]
For some reason it's difficult to find a picture of a female modeling our Amazon Product du Jour. You'll have to use your imagination.

  • Matt Ridley is on the short list of People I Trust on pandemic issues. His latest: We know everything — and nothing — About COVID.

    We know everything about Sars-CoV-2 and nothing about it. We can read every one of the (on average) 29,903 letters in its genome and know exactly how its 15 genes are transcribed into instructions to make which proteins. But we cannot figure out how it is spreading in enough detail to tell which parts of the lockdown of society are necessary and which are futile. Several months into the crisis we are still groping through a fog of ignorance and making mistakes. There is no such thing as ‘the science’.

    This is not surprising or shameful; ignorance is the natural state of things. Every new disease is different and its epidemiology becomes clear only gradually and in retrospect. Is Covid-19 transmitted mainly by breath or by touching? Do children pass it on without getting sick? Why is it so much worse in Britain than Japan? Why are obese people especially at risk? How many people have had it? Are ventilators useless after all? Why is it not exploding in India and Africa? Will there be a second wave? We do not begin to have answers to these questions.

    That "short list" I mentioned seems to get shorter every day, by the way.


  • Jonathan Kay, a Canadian, uses a funny spelling, but he's had Enough With the Phoney 'Lockdown' Debate.

    On March 15th, Washington state Governor Jay Inslee ordered all bars, restaurants and recreational facilities closed. The next day, New York followed suit, in a move coordinated with New Jersey and Connecticut. In Florida, by contrast, Gov. Ron DeSantis didn’t issue a stay-at-home order until April 1st, more than two weeks later. And in Sweden, there was never any real lockdown, even if bars and restaurants there have been operating under restrictions that govern use and occupancy.

    Four jurisdictions. Four different lockdown timetables. Imagine if we were able to plot an index of human activity in these four places. These graphs would show, one might predict, that things were going along fairly normally, perhaps starting to dip, until a lockdown went into effect, and then activity levels plunged abruptly.

    You might predict that, but you'd be wrong. Mr. Kay provides the data to show that "lockdown orders tend to ratify public behaviour as much as prescribe or circumscribe it."

    I.e., people are behaving sensibly according to their own lights without mandates from their local despots.


  • And at National Review, Kevin D. Williamson has a theoretical point to make along those same lines: Politicians Cannot Achieve Consent to a Policy Consensus. (NRPLUS article, sorry).

    Without consensus, there is no consent — that’s almost a redundancy: The two words come from the same Latin root meaning “agree,” but each has its own special role in the political lexicon. We speak of “consensus” as a generally agreed-upon fact or set of facts, often with the qualifier “expert” or the mock-qualifier “elite,” but we consent to a course of action, a regime, or a state, which can deploy force legitimately only with “the consent of the governed.” That’s Liberal Democracy 101.

    When you lose the ability to forge consensus, you begin to forfeit consent, and effective governance becomes difficult if not impossible — as we are seeing right now in the coronavirus response.

    One more point:

    It is hardly surprising that, as we have seen in recent weeks, the two major tribes of American life cannot achieve widespread consent to a policy consensus during a time of acute national emergency — because there is no consensus about the facts of the case, which is itself the result of there being no consensus about who it is we can trust to document and adjudicate those facts. The falling dominoes of institutional failure and intellectual malfeasance have left standing very little of the institutional credibility we need to develop and implement useful and necessary public policies. The dangers and harm resulting from that are obvious even to a fringe libertarian like me. I do not want government to do very much, but I want government to do the things that we need it to do, and to do them effectively.

    I've seen some on "my side" slip into conspiricism, which is difficult to handle.


Last Modified 2020-05-11 4:18 PM EDT

The Phony Campaign

2020-05-10 Update

Mr. Ramirez, if you please:

[Tara Who?]

The oddsmakers have cooled slightly on the probabilitly of President Hillary Clinton come January 2021, but she's still hanging in above our 2% inclusion threshold. Bubbling underneath, if you're interested in long shots: Andrew Cuomo (1.7%), Mike Pence (1.0%), Michelle Obama (0.8%), and good old Bernie (0.6%). Speculation on the scenarios playing out in peoples' heads is fun. Go at it.

And as far as phoniness goes, Google says President Bone Spurs showed considerable improvement, widening his already ample lead over the week:

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
5/3
Phony
Results
Change
Since
5/3
Donald Trump 49.0% +0.5% 2,280,000 +990,000
Joe Biden 42.1% +0.1% 651,000 +267,000
Hillary Clinton 2.7% -0.8% 613,000 +94,000

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

  • I knpw she never appeared on our list, but this bit from Jazz Shaw at Hot Air about a campaign untethered from reality is too good to pass up: The Marianne Williamson zombie campaign marches on, screwing over vendors.

    The candidate who was going to defeat Donald Trump “with love” isn’t showing much compassion to vendors who engaged with her campaign. In case you’d already forgotten about her, spiritual guru Marianne Williamson spent some time running for president last year. She withdrew from the race in January, suspending her campaign operations and removing one of the more entertaining aspects of an otherwise dismal primary. (Full disclosure: The author was a Marianne Williamson donor. I sent her a dollar to help her qualify for the first debate because I thought she would be hilarious.)

    Speaking of campaign contributions, Williamson took in a fair amount of cash during her pointless bid for the nomination. She also ran up a lot of bills. And that’s the main subject of today’s story. As the New York Post reports, she’s still sitting on a ton of campaign debt and doesn’t appear to have any intention of making good on those obligations, leaving some smaller vendors in a serious bind. Meanwhile, she’s still racking up campaign expenses for a campaign that supposedly shut down months ago.

    The "love" on which Marianne claimed to have an inside corner seems now to be directed toward her campaign staffers staying in five-star hotels, not so much toward the vendors she's stiffing.


  • At the NYPost, Michael Goodwin is Piecing together the 'phony' case against Michael Flynn.

    The best way to understand the dismissal of the phony prosecution case against Gen. Michael Flynn and the release of secret congressional testimonies is to imagine a giant jigsaw puzzle. We know the final picture will show a broad conspiracy by law enforcement and intelligence agencies under Barack Obama to undermine Donald Trump’s campaign and help Hillary Clinton win the 2016 election.

    When that failed, many of those same people turned their efforts to sabotaging Trump’s presidency. Some are still at it.

    Goodness knows I'm not a Trump fan, but it seems pretty clear that the Obama Administration, getting off pretty much scot-free from turning the IRS into a political weapon against its opponents, decided to double down with the DOJ/FBI.


  • Not only were the instruments of law corrupted in going after Orange Man, but also the instruments of mental health. Because, as Jacob Sullum notes at Reason, We Don’t Need a Psychiatric Diagnosis To Assess the President’s Obvious Faults.

    Anti-Trump D.C. lawyer George Conway, who somehow has managed to remain married to senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, offers a characteristically harsh take on the president in a recent Washington Post op-ed piece. His assessment of Donald Trump as a narcissistic, erratic, impulsive, mendacious, petty bully with modest intellectual abilities is familiar and, I think, essentially accurate. But in the midst of describing the conspicuous evidence of these character traits, Conway tries to bolster his portrayal by citing "tens of thousands of mental-health professionals" who have "test[ed] the bounds of professional ethics" by "warn[ing] for years about Trump's unfitness for office."

    Far from clinching Conway's evaluation, that citation makes it less credible. If Trump's "unfitness for office" is as glaringly obvious as Conway argues, why would we need "mental-health professionals" to verify that conclusion? And what do those experts add to our understanding of Trump's manifold shortcomings, which were clear long before he was elected and have been on public display every day of his presidency? Absolutely nothing. By dressing up a political judgment as a quasi-medical diagnosis, Conway, who describes Trump as "deranged" and "nuts," clouds the issue while alienating anyone who is appropriately skeptical of psychiatry's audacious claim to dominion over all human foibles and failings.

    What I've long found credible: most politicians, especially those arising to national prominence, are obviously several sigma outside the norm on many mental characteristics. Does that make them "crazy"? Increasingly, that seems to be an arbitrary distinction without a lot of scientific basis.


  • Michael Brendan Dougherty looks at The Vaporware Presidency.

    The status of the COVID-19 fight is this: In the win column, the American people have made tremendous sacrifices and succeeded in saving our hospital systems from the overwhelm that drove up fatality rates in Northern Italy and Wuhan, China; in the loss column, the federal government has failed to stand up a “test and trace” system that would warn the exposed and quarantine the sick, rather than quarantining everyone.

    There’s a term in Silicon Valley for software that’s advertised before anyone can guarantee it will even exist. It’s called “vaporware.” Much of the federal government’s response to the crisis has been vaporware. We’ve gotten lots of advertising and an implicit promise of a world-class operation to fight the disease. But it doesn’t exist yet and it’s becoming clearer that the White House is spinning its wheels, looking for something — anything — to do other than solving the crisis at hand.

    As has been clear … well, ever since he came into our awareness, Trump is obsessed with his own image. His skills in managing a large, complex organization to the end of accomplishing an important task are effectively absent.

    Ah, well, it's not as if people are dying… oh, wait, they are.


  • On that note, Alex Berezow of the American Council on Science and Health has observations on Coronavirus, Trump, and Our Dangerous Social Pathology.

    The conservative Fox News commentator Brit Hume likes to say (paraphrased) that President Trump's biggest flaw is that he thinks everything is about him; his critics' biggest flaw is that they agree.

    That statement succinctly summarizes what I believe has become a dangerous social pathology, namely, that we as Americans pin our collective hope and hatred on a single person, the President of the United States. This problem precedes Donald Trump, but the coronavirus pandemic has greatly intensified it.

    I see Alex's point, and agree somewhat. But (see above) when the President's narcissism and demands for loyalty surrounds him with incompetent yes-men, that can (and probably does) damage an effective crisis response.


  • Ah, but then there's Joe. KC Johnson (a longtime commentator on campus sex stuff) looks at Joe Biden’s Hypocritic Denial of DeVos’s New Title IX Regulations.

    Normally, it would be unremarkable to hear the opposition party’s presumptive presidential nominee criticize a major policy initiative of the incumbent administration. But Joe Biden’s public repudiation of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s new Title IX regulations was not a normal circumstance. After several days in which Biden and key Democratic allies celebrated the importance of due process in evaluating sexual-assault allegations, Biden denounced DeVos’s own efforts to ensure that accused college students receive fair procedures. Even in an era of heightened political cynicism, the apparent hypocrisy was striking.

    At one level, Biden’s reaction was understandable, since the new regulations undid an Obama-era initiative in which Biden was the key player. Convinced that male students typically stood by as they saw “a brother taking a drunk freshman coed up the stairs to his room,” Biden oversaw a multiyear effort to use Title IX tribunals to “change the culture” on campus. Due process, the rights of the accused, or the possibility of false allegations appeared in no public speeches that he gave on the topic; indeed, the concepts were obstacles to his goal. Too many not-guilty findings wouldn’t produce the needed change.

    So it's pretty clear that a Biden Administration would (shamelessly) drag us back to the bad old days.


  • And a number of folks noted this tweet from the APStylebook on Twitter.

    And what these folks are saying: this is a just-in-case prophylactic against the M-word appearing in news stories if Biden chooses Kamala as his running mate. Let's just make that a word polite people don't use.

Western Stars

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

Probably for Springsteen fans only. It's (mostly) a concert film, staged in his barn, with a 30-piece orchestra, mostly strings, backing up more standard guitars, keyboards, and drums. The songs are from his latest album, which are drenched in modern cowboy mythos.

In between songs, Bruce monologues his thoughts on life, romance, etc. Which—and I say this with all respect—is mostly new agey psychobabble and gobbledygook. The scenery is gorgeous, though: it's apparently (thanks, IMDB) Joshua Tree National Park in California. Even though his barn is in New Jersey. There are occasional various home movies of (I assume) Bruce's earlier life, from when he was a kid, a scruffy struggling rocker, and (very sweet) canoodling with a much younger Patty Scialfa.

Along the way, he makes reference admiringly to Jimmy Webb's songwriting. And he winds up with a really good cover performance of the old Glen Campbell song, "Rhinestone Cowboy". Here's the audio-only YouTube:

The Disappeared

[Amazon Link]

Yay, another C. J. Box novel. This one is a signed copy, obtained via an author event given by the Portsmouth Music Hall a couple years back. (Which means I'm almost caught up with his latest.)

Game warden Joe Pickett is having a contentious relationship with Wyoming's new governor. He's sent to investigate the disappearance of a rich British businesswoman who drove off from a high-end dude ranch after a dream vacation, but did not show up in Denver for her flight home. This is British tabloid fodder, and the guv is (he claims) disturbed by the bad publicity given the state.

And, oh yeah, in one of those Dickensian coincidences, Joe's oldest daughter Sheridan has a job at that same dude ranch. (She has a major role here. In fact… naw, that's too much of a spoiler.)

But there's apparently some (related?) skulduggery in the area as well: a attendant at the incinerator is being paid off to look the other way while a couple of shady characters are disposing of … something in the fierce flames. And there's an unusual smell in the air afterward.

A great page-turner, as Box-usual. Sorta spoiler: while getting near the end of the book, I mentioned to Mrs. Salad that I didn't see any way that everything could be resolved in the few pages I had left. Guess what? Some things were not resolved. Ah well, I was going to read the subsequent books anyway.

Sorta gripe: the action takes place in the coldest part of Wyoming's winter, and the cover doesn't reflect that at all. And there's all these random white scratchy lines going every which way on the cover. I thought maybe they were a printing flaw, but (you'll note) they appear on the Amazon book pic too. What's up with that?

URLs du Jour

2020-05-09

  • AEI's Mark J. Perry gives us A tribute to an economic giant — Friedrich Hayek — who would have celebrated his 121st birthday today. Yesterday, actually, but that's negligible at a distance of 121 years. Mark quotes a Matt Ridley piece from 2018:

    [Hayek] was the person who saw most clearly that knowledge is held in the cloud, not the head, that human intelligence is a collective phenomenon.

    The “cloud”, the crowd-sourced, wikinomic cloud, is not a new idea at all. It has been the source of human invention all along. That is why every technology you can think of is a combination of other technologies, and why simultaneous invention is so common as ideas come together to meet and mate when mature.

    Which is, of course, why the internet is such an exciting development. For the first time, humanity has not just some big collective brains (called trade networks), but one truly vast one in which almost everybody can share and in which distance is no obstacle.

    And that gives us Yet Another Excuse to fire up the GIMP:

    [More Salma Wisdom]


  • George F. Will is not a fan of the latest Pulitzer Prize, awarded to the '1619 Project'. Because The ‘1619 Project’ is filled with slovenliness and ideological ax-grinding.

    Confidence in institutions declines when they imprudently enlarge their missions. Empty pews rebuke churches that subordinate pastoral to political concerns. Prestige flows away from universities that prefer indoctrination to instruction. And trust evaporates when journalistic entities embrace political projects. On Monday, however, the New York Times — technically, one of its writers — received a Pulitzer Prize for just such an embrace.

    Last August, an entire Times Sunday magazine was devoted to the multiauthor “1619 Project,” whose proposition — subsequently developed in many other articles and multimedia content, and turned into a curriculum for schools — is that the nation’s real founding was the arrival of 20 slaves in Virginia in 1619: The nation is about racism. Because the Times ignored today’s most eminent relevant scholars — e.g., Brown University’s Gordon Wood, Princeton’s James McPherson and Sean Wilentz and Allen Guelzo, City University of New York’s James Oakes, Columbia’s Barbara Fields — the project’s hectoring tone and ideological ax-grinding are unsurprising.

    Mr. Will documents "three examples of slovenliness, even meretriciousness" in the project. He wonders if the NYT has effectively embraced Oceania's motto from 1984: "Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past."


  • An occasional source of irritation is state politicians' insistence that their states are "net donors": their taxpayers send more money to Washington in federal taxes than the state gets back in federal spending. At City Journal, Steven Malanga looks at the worthlessness of that argument: Givers and Takers. One point:

    For decades, the biggest portion of Washington expenditures has been retirement income sent to individuals from the federal government, principally in the form of Social Security or retirement benefits for federal workers. The studies track this money as it is sent to the states where people reside in retirement. New York has consistently ranked near the bottom in the amount of these funds that it receives because it’s not a desirable place to retire and has one of the highest rates of out-migration to other states. A Pew study based on the Moynihan model found that per-capita spending in the Empire State for this category was 8 percent below the national average, and that New York ranked 42nd in terms of outlays when adjusted for its population. That’s hardly Washington’s fault. New York is a “donor” state insofar as its citizens take their retirement income and move elsewhere. Don’t blame Washington for that.

    It's somewhat dishonest (and when I say "somewhat", I mean "totally") for pols to gripe that federal taxes paid by their state's citizens are not being funnelled back to state governments. Simply letting their state's taxpayers keep more of their money is never mentioned.


  • Since I've been scornful of the Church of Lockdown's mask hectoring, I should give Jonah Goldberg some equal time. He attempts to defend in his latest column, Idiocy Unmasked.

    According to any remotely recognizable theory of limited government—whether you call it libertarianism, constitutionalism, conservatism, classical liberalism, or even Americanism—the government has not just the authority but the obligation to prevent threats to public welfare. From colonial times to well after the ratification of the Constitution, governments took extreme measures—quarantines, inoculation programs, etc.—to prevent the spread of yellow fever and other epidemics. During the Revolutionary War, George Washington ordered the mandatory inoculation of his troops to prevent the spread of smallpox.

    Nice try, Jonah, but I'm unpersuaded by the comparisons.


  • A good counterpoint to Jonah is provided by Drew Cline of the Josiah Bartlett Center, who explores The citizen's role in reopening the economy.

    Wearing a mask is not a sign of complicity (there’s no mask order in New Hampshire). It’s a sign that you don’t need the state to tell you to care for your fellow citizens.

    Individuals, acting in their own capacity without government orders, have the ability to slow or stop the spread of the coronavirus.

    Isn’t that what a self-governing people ought to be doing?

    Drew suggests that a Gadsden flag might be an appropriate mask material.


  • Michael Shermer writes at Quillette on another feature of America in 2020: COVID-19 Conspiracists and Their Discontents.

    One reason why it’s surprisingly difficult to disprove many conspiracy theories is that they typically contain a real germ of truth, however small. In some places and eras, Jews really were overrepresented among communist cadres and the media. John F. Kennedy’s administration really did propose false-flag operations as an excuse to invade Cuba and assassinate Fidel Castro. Certain aspects of the World Trade Center collapse—including the fall of Building 7—really were odd and unprecedented. Some military video footage of unidentified aerial phenomena really is hard to square with conventional aircraft flight patterns. And then, of course, there are the various detours of the single bullet believed to have caused no fewer than seven entry and exit wounds to President Kennedy and Texas Governor John Connally on November 22nd, 1963.

    This same complication applies to unfounded or thinly evidenced theories regarding the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. Did the SARS-CoV-2 virus originate in bats sold at a wet market in Wuhan—or an artificial virus created in a bio-lab? Did Dr. Li Wenliang, the Wuhan Central Hospital whistleblower who warned his government weeks before officials locked down the city, really die from COVID-19? Or was he murdered? The whole area of inquiry has become a fertile playground for conspiracists, in part because no one can reasonably dispute the germ of truth behind their theories: the dishonesty and lack of transparency that often has characterized China’s response to the pandemic.

    Something of which I was previously unaware: Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is promulgating dark motives to "5G robber barons" who have used the lockdown to facilitate the technology's rollout, "microwaving our country and destroying nature." Eek!

URLs du Jour

2020-05-08

  • Issues & Insights wishes a happy birthday to Friedrich Hayek: Prodigious For Liberty. (Born May 8, 1899). Quoting another prodigious one, Milton Friedman:

    Over the years, I have again and again asked fellow believers in a free society how they managed to escape the contagion of their collectivist intellectual environment. No name has been mentioned more often as the source of enlightenment than Friedrich Hayek’s.

    As promised/threatened: here's my own first attempt at an illustrated Hayek quote:

    [Salma Wisdom]

    [Georges Biard / CC BY-SA]

    I wanted to extend that background to the left to enclose the text, and stuff I see on the web assures me that GIMP can do that, but they all assume a familiarity with GIMP nomenclature and procedures that I lack for now.


  • The Daily Sentinel (Grand Junction, CO) rang our Google LFOD News Alert with today's LTEs. David MacAlpine invokes the usual, explaining to the paper's readers why he cancelled his dental appointment and skipped a haircut:

    The fact is, I would have gotten a haircut and my teeth cleaned if I had more trust in my Grand Junction neighbors. I don’t. On a trip to Home Depot a couple weeks ago, I saw less than half the customers wearing masks. I guess it’s a “live free or die” thing, I don’t know. But my point is this: In making your statement by not wearing a mask, you are hurting your neighbors; making it harder for them to feed their families. You need to understand this. Ignorance is an unforgivable sin.

    Notice that David didn't actually witness these barefaced sinners hurting their neighbors. Or "making it harder for them to feed their families." But the point is his last sentence: it's a sin.

    As we said just yesterday: it's the Church of Shutdown, and the facemask is that religion's hijab, and the infidels who fail to wear it must be publicly shamed.

    The letter above, from Gary Stetler, makes the attitude even clearer. He's attempting to refute a recent dissenter, who …

    […] states that “there are medical opinions saying that those who are healthy can, and should, begin to resume normal life activity.” This is a misinterpretation of the relaxation of restrictions currently in place. Normal activity is not to be resumed yet because the pandemic is still in its early stages and, as we now know, you could be an asymptomatic carrier of the virus. We are supposed to maintain separation and take precautions, including wearing a mask, when near other people. Again, this is not a great burden to bear and again it shows that you respect your fellow customers, business-associates, and the staff of the stores and restaurants that are reopening.

    Actual risk is irrelevant. It's all about the symbolism: showing that you care.


  • Thomas W. Hazlett notes the dog that didn't bark, even without Net Neutrality: The Pandemic That Didn’t Break the Internet.

    Of all the edicts issued during the Covid-19 pandemic, perhaps the least cruel is the request by European Union regulators that Netflix and YouTube stream their videos a bit slower. The reduced data flow helps relieve network congestion. Movie-reception clarity drops, but kids may get faster access to their homework, while doctors practicing telehealth are better able to connect with patients.

    The U.S. has not introduced similar policies, though stay-at-home orders saw Internet usage rates surge about one-third—in the U.S. and abroad—by late March. While greater demand for data slows transmission speeds, the information infrastructure has proven robust in the U.S., where neither regulators nor Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have had to ask content suppliers not to “break the Internet.” Indeed, American broadband networks have responded to this extraordinary period by relaxing data caps and extending free Internet access to households with schoolchildren quarantined at home.

    As near as I can tell, the NetNeut doomsayers have yet to apologize for freaking everyone out.


  • Timothy P. Carney has a simple request: Don’t make ‘flatten the curve’ be a lie.

    Those of us outside of the New York area have done exactly what we were told we had to do. We “flattened the curve," and now we’re being told that this flattened curve is a sign of our failure and a reason we need to stay in lockdown.

    Unless you want to demolish all faith in public health authorities, don’t make them into liars by moving the goalposts and declaring that a flattened curve is a sign of failure. It would be even worse to poison this with partisan politics by asserting that the government leaders who totally failed to flatten the curve, and then who spread the virus to the rest of the country, are success stories.

    Mr. Carney probably overestimates the damage done by the goalpost-moving. It's not as if the mainstream media will call this out; they're pretty OK going along with whatever the current statist narrative is.

    That last link, by the way, goes to an NYT story that notes that the "coronavirus outbreak in New York City became the primary source of infections around the United States." Our own little Wuhan Province.


  • And finally, Arnold Kling has Miscellaneous bitter thoughts. And I will share two out of the three.

    Many people believe that it is quite moral not to pay rent. Hardly anyone believes that it is moral not to pay taxes. I think that the intuition is that taxes are fair, but rent is not fair. If I owned rental property, I would not think it fair to pay taxes to a government that tells people they do not have to pay rent.

    Zing. And:

    In 2009, when we had the stimulus, the models forecast that unemployment would rise to 8 percent without the stimulus. The stimulus passed, and unemployment hit 10 percent. But the conventional wisdom is that the stimulus worked, and unemployment would have been worse without it. How do we know this? Model simulations.

    In 2020, suppose that, contrary to model forecasts, the death rate drifts down after lockdowns are lifted. We will be told that there would have been many fewer deaths had the lockdowns stayed in place. How will we know this? Model simulations.

    My model shows that the lockdowns are minimizing hippo attacks in New Hampshire. The simulations are clear, and the science is settled.


Last Modified 2020-05-09 5:16 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2020-05-07

  • One last Hayek meme from Freedom Unfiltered deserves the close attention of egalitarians:

    That's all they produced, it seems. Maybe I should figure out how to make my own instead of leeching off others.


  • John Tierney gets at something I've been trying to get at myself. His City Journal thoughts on The 7 PM Cheering Routine.

    It’s now part of the daily routine, sticking my head out the window at 7 p.m. and pounding a frying pan with a spoon. My neighbors in the Bronx are banging and clapping from their windows and balconies, and someone a few blocks away is sending up fireworks every evening. It feels good to join the tribute to our health-care workers, but when the noise ends, I worry where this feeling is leading us.

    We’re all reveling in the joy of “encompassment,” as the economist Daniel Klein terms this primal yearning to share an emotion that involves everyone around us. When we sing in church or cheer at a football game, we tap into that same feeling experienced by ancient hunter-gatherers as they chanted and danced around the campfire.

    This feeling of encompassment was adaptive on the ancestral savannah, providing an emotional cohesion that helped hunter-gatherers survive by voluntarily cooperating to achieve a goal understood and shared by everyone in their band—perhaps 25 to 100 people, whom they knew well enough to trust. But we don’t live in such bands anymore, and therein lies the problem, especially during a crisis like the Covid-19 pandemic.

    The joy of encompassment can turn ugly pretty quickly when dissension from the tribal consensus is noticed. Philip Greenspun calls it the "Church of Shutdown", and notes that the face mask is the church's hijab. And woe betide the infidels who fail to wear it in the time, place, and manner that the priesthood demands!


  • In the (probably paywalled, sorry) WSJ, Holman W. Jenkins Jr. suggests Disinfecting Journalistic Ethics. "Everybody knows" that Trump suggested chugging Clorox to defeat the pandemic, right?

    I finally read the lengthy transcript of President Trump’s April 23 press conference but it turned out to be unnecessary. Under the heading of “If your time is short,” the Poynter Institute’s PolitiFact website kindly summarized: “The briefing transcript shows that Trump did not say people should inject themselves with bleach or alcohol to treat the coronavirus. He was asking officials on the White House coronavirus task force whether they could be used in potential cures.”

    It was a reporter in the audience who asked an accompanying official: “The President mentioned the idea of cleaners, like bleach and isopropyl alcohol you mentioned. There’s no scenario that that could be injected into a person, is there?”

    No, was the answer, but the question was apparently enough for a few dozen common-run-of-humanity journalists to create a 99% fake story, and it’s not hard to guess why: clicks and page views; cable channels whose business model depends on a steady flow of contempt for Mr. Trump and his voters.

    The PolitiFact article to which Mr. Jenkins refers is here. ("When even Politifact says…")

    Trump says a lot of stupid stuff, but there are scores of "journalists" whose job description is "find something to fit the Orange Man Bad narrative." It's pretty tedious.


  • The Federalist's Tristan Justice reports: House Republicans Announce Probe Into Chinese Propaganda In US Academia.

    Seven top House Republicans announced a probe into Chinese influence at American universities Monday as China’s propaganda campaign to thwart global efforts combatting the novel Wuhan coronavirus has raised further scrutiny into China’s information warfare.

    The smaller microscope placed on China’s covert operations have now prompted lawmakers on Capitol Hill to pivot their attention to China’s infiltration of U.S. academia, where the east Asian adversary has established Confucious [sic] Institutes acting as propaganda centers at American colleges.

    As we've previously noted, the University Near Here recently renewed its Confucius Institute for another five years. They maintain that its CI merely funds two instructors for Chinese language courses; no propaganda or spying involved.

    That link goes to New Hampshire Public Radio, which unfortunately didn't seem to ask whether it's proper for UNH to take cash from a brutal dictatorship. (I would bet you'd find a lot more outrage over Koch money.)


  • At PJMedia, Philip Carl Salzman has A Modest Proposal for Opening Universities: Some Faculties Should Remain Closed.

    In dealing with this Chinese pandemic, the U.S. and Canada have responded by distinguishing between “essential” and “nonessential” workers, businesses, and activities. Universities and colleges should draw this distinction as they consider reopening. What faculties are essential in universities? The sciences, engineering, mathematics, and computer studies are essential, in that they make a major economic contribution. The faculty of medicine and nursing are essential for the wellbeing of the population. The faculty of business serves society’s practical needs, and can be considered at least quasi-essential.

    But, in contrast to the previous, many faculties are not essential; they are in fact counter-productive for society. The “humanities” and “social sciences,” with their grievance advocacy “studies” programs, such as women’s studies, black studies, Latinx studies, queer studies, and the like, today function primarily to divide people and advance Marxist goals such as class conflict, socialist governance, redistribution of wealth, and so are counterproductive. So too with the radical faculties of education and social work, all relentlessly ideological, and all sending their activists under the guise of teachers and social workers. The faculty of law is inessential; we have too many lawyers already, most living well off of the misery of citizens.

    Modest, indeed! Click through for Mr. Salzman's further recommendation that the "vast multiplication of deans, associate deans, assistant deans, and assistants to the assistant deans, vice presidents, associate vice presidents, assistant vice presidents, etc. etc. should be culled vigorously."


  • At AEI, Mark J. Perry reports an unsurprising result: New research confirms that the cruel minimum wage law has the greatest adverse effects on the most vulnerable workers. That research is from the National Bureau for Economic Research (NBER).

    Bottom Line: It should be obvious but this new NBER research provides additional empirical evidence that the greatest adverse effects of the minimum wage law are concentrated on exactly those workers the minimum wage advocates say they are most trying help: lower-skilled, limited experience workers who are the least educated. In other words, the workers who suffer the most from minimum wage laws are the workers who are the least advantaged, least skilled, most marginalized, and most vulnerable, and who are most in need of gaining skills and work experience. And that makes minimum wage laws cruel, detrimental, and misguided, especially for the workers most at risk. To quote Don Boudreaux, “Taking away from [low-skilled] workers an important bargaining chip, namely the ability to offer to work at a wage less than the minimum, is the cruelest thing you can do for a lot of these workers.”

    Progressive compassion is (at best) short-sighted.

URLs du Jour

2020-05-06

  • I can't stop with Freedom Unfiltered's Hayek memes. And I'd say "sorry", except I'm not:

    That's from 2013, but really timeless.


  • The Google LFOD News Alert brought up a Philadelphia Inquirer article purporting to explore the "psychology of why it’s hard for us to accept a pandemic".

    But what they really mean by that: why won't more Americans meekly do what they're told?

    As the number of COVID-19 cases in the country climbed past one million last week, people in Philadelphia and New Jersey were overcrowding beaches and parks, largely ignoring social distancing and masks — apparently proving that many still cannot accept the gravity of the coronavirus pandemic.

    Blame psychology. First off, foresight is not a particular skill for most of us, experts say. And “live free or die” is more than a slogan; it’s an apt description for the mindset of many Americans. Finally, it is hard to assess the threat of an enemy you can’t see.

    Suppose you were a journalist, and you had a modicum of common sense. If you were assigned to write an article on why people were (allegedly, vaguely) "largely ignoring social distancing and masks", you might interview a few of them.

    Not this inquiring Inquirer reporter, however. It's off to the "experts", who—let's be honest—speculate on how the minds of those ignorant yahoos are working. Not well, all agree.

    Nobody thinks to psychoanalyze (say) New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, whose policy forced nursing homes to accept patients diagnosed with coronavirus. Apparently that call killed a lot of people whose only mistake was being old in New York.

    And nobody seems to question the psychology of the "experts" who demand that people not make their own judgments about risk, based on their own knowledge about their situation.

    And there are plenty of people who are properly docile, following government edicts and the advice of "experts". Even as those orders and suggestions change, from day to day. Nobody's shrinking their heads. That's assumed to be normal, desireable behavior.


  • And nobody, as near as I can tell, has attempted to diagnose what makes Brit "expert" Prof Neil Ferguson tick.

    The scientist whose advice prompted Boris Johnson to lock down Britain resigned from his Government advisory position on Tuesday night as The Telegraph can reveal he broke social distancing rules to meet his married lover.

    Professor Neil Ferguson allowed the woman to visit him at home during the lockdown while lecturing the public on the need for strict social distancing in order to reduce the spread of coronavirus. The woman lives with her husband and their children in another house.

    Gosh, maybe Neil was exposed to a New Hampshire license plate or something. They carry the LFOD virus, y'know.


  • Baseball Crank Dan McLaughlin looks at a recent Max Boot column, and points out what should be obvious: China in 2020 Is Not Kansas in 1918. Dan's article is a masterpiece of research that flattens Boot's "uncommonly silly" thesis. It's tough to excerpt, but…

    First, Boot glosses over the considerable historical debate over where the 1918 outbreak began. The Kansas theory was largely popularized by John Barry, in his 2004 book The Great Influenza. While Barry conceded that there was no direct evidence connecting the January 1918 outbreak in an isolated, rural Kansas county to the U.S. Army base at Camp Funston, he advanced an apparently persuasive argument that Haskell County had “the first recorded instance anywhere in the world of an outbreak of influenza so unusual that a physician warned public health officials.” A decade later, however, working from newly unearthed records, Canadian historian Mark Humphries pinpointed an earlier origin — China’s Shanxi province:

    Humphries finds archival evidence that a respiratory illness that struck northern China in November 1917 was identified a year later by Chinese health officials as identical to the Spanish flu. He also found medical records indicating that more than 3,000 of the 25,000 Chinese Labor Corps workers who were transported across Canada en route to Europe starting in 1917 ended up in medical quarantine, many with flu-like symptoms. . . . Humphries discovered that a British legation official in China wrote that the disease was actually influenza, in a 1918 report. . . . At the time of the outbreak, British and French officials were forming the Chinese Labor Corps, which eventually shipped some 94,000 laborers from northern China to southern England and France during the [First World War]. . . . The Chinese laborers arrived in southern England by January 1918 and were sent to France, where the Chinese Hospital at Noyelles-sur-Mer recorded hundreds of their deaths from respiratory illness.

    I've noted the "Kansas Flu" argument from a couple of my Facebook friends (before I decided to unfollow them). It's been 36 years since Jeanne Kirkpatrick described the tendency of some Americans to Blame America First. It continues to be a thing.


  • Kevin D. Williamson (among other topics in his regular Tuesday column) has Free Advice for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

    “Our brains are just designed to experience a lot of excruciating pain at the idea of being alone,” she tells the New York Times, in an excellent profile written by Mark Leibovich. “When you cast those lonely votes, you feel like your colleagues respect you less, and that you are choosing to marginalize yourself.” Naturally, she lapsed into her self-romanticizing mode, imagining herself starring in a movie called The AOC Story: “I walked home in the rain,” she said. Of course she walked home in the rain. “I was very in my feelings, big time, and I felt very discouraged . . . . I was just, like, heartbroken,” she said. “I have, like, existential crises over it.”

    Those final “likes” make mockery all too easy. But take her seriously for a moment.

    Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez holds an elected office, but she is not a creature of politics — she is a creature of media, from cable news to Twitter. She has much more in common with fellow New Yorkers Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly than she does with such House predecessors as Sam Rayburn and Tip O’Neill. And even as she imagines adolescent little cinematic vignettes for herself, soulfully walking home through the rain and all that silliness, she is not the lead writer on The AOC Story — only an actress. She cannot control the media story arc any more than anybody else can. “I felt like my colleagues were making opinions about me based on Fox News,” she told Leibovich. “It almost felt like instead of them actually talking to the person who was next to them, and physically present in front of them, they were consuming me through television. And I think that added a lot to the particular loneliness that I experienced.”

    Okay, so we didn't get to KDW's actual advice. You'll have to click through for that.


  • And finally, Neal McCluskey celebrates the 40th anniversary of the U. S. Department of Education ("ED"). And Neal says: 40 Years Is Enough. He summarizes a recent Cato webinar, which details the multiple. manifest issues and recommends reform. Summary:

    Given Washington’s burdensome education presence and dubious performance—not to mention lack of constitutional authorization—in all areas we recommend loosening federal control. This includes increasing states’ discretion in using money they get—actually, get returned—from D.C.; allowing states to adopt multiple curriculum standards and tests; increasing school choice in federal jurisdictions; and much more. All of the recommendations are intended to be politically feasible in the near‐​term, and I encourage you to read the entire paper.

    Federal education meddling, especially since the advent of the Department of Education, has been of questionable value at best, and a high‐​dollar, bureaucratic failure at worst. On ED’s 40th birthday, it is time to start making things right.

    Unfortunately, unless Justin Amash pulls out a surprise win in November, the meddling will continue.

URLs du Jour

2020-05-05

  • These Hayek quotes are like peanuts; I can't stop consuming them. Here is one that Russ Roberts quotes all the time on his EconTalk podcast (which I recommend, if you're a consumer of such).


  • The Free Beacon compiles a lot of quotes from Democrats explaining why that whole "presumption of innocence" and "due process" stuff is irrelevant when you're conducting a Job Interview.

    The talking point is worth revisiting as presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden seeks the nation's highest office while denying a sexual assault charge made by former Senate aide Tara Reade.

    The accompanying video is pretty good:

    Disclaimer: I'm sure Republicans can be caught as mindless repeaters of prefabricated talking points.

    Advice: Someone should realize that this is not a good look. If you have to distribute talking points to (say) 45 different senators, come up with 45 different ones.


  • The Babylon Bee is supposed to be satire, but is it really? 'Believe Women' Slogan Updated To 'Believe Creepy Old Men With Dementia'.

    The "Believe Women" slogan that was so popular just a couple years ago is said to be obsolete now that Democrats need to support a handsy old man with dementia. So, the movement quietly updated its slogan, replacing it with the updated, more accurate "Believe Creepy Old Men With Dementia."

    "If a handsy old guy who likes to sniff women's hair in broad daylight says he didn't do something inappropriate, then he didn't," said Alyssa Milano. "It's that simple. We hear you, Joe, and we believe you. Don't let the accusers get you down. You do you." Milano then attacked women who don't believe Joe as "Trump enablers" and "science deniers."

    The thing is, I can believe she actually said that. She probably didn't. Right? Er, has anyone checked?


  • You thought we were gonna have a day without Covid-19 content? Sorry. Because the WSJ's James P. Freeman has a goodie that literally made both Mrs. Salad and I laugh out loud: ‘Oh, the Places You Can’t Go!’

    This bizarre shutdown season has prompted a wave of internet memes, including some related to a commencement season favorite from Dr. Seuss. Reader Rebecca Vogel was kind enough to share her recent composition, which is excerpted below:

    Oh, the Places You Can’t Go!

    Congratulations!
    Today is your day.
    You can’t go many places,
    But you will… someday.
    You have soap on your hands,
    And a mask on your face.
    But you have been banned
    From almost every place.
    Now you are grown. And you know what you know,
    But others decide where it is you can go.

    That's just a bit, and I hope that article isn't paywalled so you can read the whole thing.


  • Michael Graham reports that our state's governor has a lot of room for improvement: Free Market Group Gives Sununu 'Gentleman's C' on COVID Crisis.

    The report, “Grading Our Governors: A Report Card on Reopening States’ Economies,” was issued by the Committee to Unleash Prosperity, founded by economists Art Laffer and Stephen Moore, and publisher Steve Forbes.

    “The premise of this report is that — with a few exceptions in some metropolitan areas — the time is long past for every state to reopen safely, smartly, and judiciously so as to end the economic destruction and despair from lockdown,” according to the executive summary. “In this report, we assess how the governors have handled the shutdowns in terms of measuring how restrictive and damaging governors’ edicts have been when it comes to their state’s economy.”

    Could be worse. Michael also reports that Gov. Sununu is also resisting the imposition of a "mandatory mask rule' for when we peons dare to venture outside. Unlike Massachusetts, which is imposing such a rule tomorrow. This is frustrating to Progressive Fascists ("but I repeat myself") such as local former legislator (and Executive Council candidate) Mindi Messmer who favors coercing citizens to wear masks.


  • And finally, the trustworthy American Council on Science and Heath weighs in on how Vitamin D might help you Covidwise:

    Should you take vitamin D pills during the coronavirus crisis just in case? Vitamin D is clearly not a panacea and is most likely useful only in deficiency.

    However, because vitamin D is very affordable and the risk/benefit ratio seems to be favorable, supplements might be reasonable for most people to consider. This is especially so if you are black or brown, are elderly or fully isolating at home.

    “Given [vitamin D’s] rare side effects and its relatively wide safety margin, it may be an important, inexpensive, and safe adjuvant therapy for many diseases,” say the authors of a recent narrative review of the nutrient in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition

    Until future large and well-designed studies are completed we just don’t know what the impact of vitamin D might be in COVID-19 specifically. But upping your intake is certainly the least crackpot of all the nutrition ideas out there.

    We were already gobbling down D3 here at Pun Salad Manor, but it's nice to know we aren't totally crazy to do so. Here is a recent article from ACSH on face mask use.

URLs du Jour

2020-05-04

  • I am liking these old Freedom Unlimited posts on Facebook way too much:

    That's from 2013, but it's really timeless, right?


  • In our "Couldn't Happen To a Nicer Guy" Department, Steven W. Mosher tells us in the NYPost just Why eco-leftists are suddenly turning on Michael Moore. It's about his latest movie, Planet of the Humans. Sample:

    We follow local environmentalists as they hike up a mountain where a site has been clear-cut for 21 mega wind turbines. They deplore the destruction of the natural beauty of the landscape and the scattering of the wildlife it once supported.

    The engineer in charge ticks off the hundreds of tons of concrete, steel, aluminum, carbon and other products that go into the construction of each and every mega wind turbine. Industry requires huge inputs of energy to produce such things, a total energy deficit that the spinning blades of the wind turbine will not begin to pay back over its projected lifetime.

    Moore ends the segment with a shot of broken and rusted wind turbines littering the landscape.

    And more. Moore blames "capitalism" for all the green nype, but that's pretty easy to refute.


  • Michael Huemer engages a topic that I've been thinking about myself for years: Risk Refutes Absolutism. His thought experiment:

    Say you’re considering some action that might produce some harm. Suppose it’s the sort of harm such that, if you were certain that the harm would occur, then the action would be a rights violation, and hence, according to absolutists, absolutely prohibited no matter what the consequences. Now, what should you say if the action only has some non-extreme probability (neither 0 nor 1) of causing the harm? Is it still prohibited?

    If you need a concrete example: your next-door neighbor has an Airstream in his driveway where he's experimenting with bat viruses, using his own funds, with no evil intent. He seems to be pretty diligent, but not super diligent. Any ideas?


  • Two professors at the University Near Here (Joshua Meyerowitz and Joseph Terry) are signatories to an open letter sent to the head honchos of ABC News, NBC News, CBS News, MSNBC, and WarnerMedia News (which includes CNN). Their demand: Halt live coverage of Trump’s COVID-19 briefings.

    We write to demand that the live, unedited airing of the Daily White House Task Force Briefings stop. Because Donald Trump uses them as a platform for misinformation and disinformation about COVID-19, they have become a serious public health hazard — a matter of life and death for viewers who cannot easily identify his falsehoods, lies and exaggerations. We ask that all cable channels, broadcast stations, and networks (with the exception of C-SPAN) stop airing these briefings live. Instead, they should first review the briefings and, after editing, present only that information that provides updates from health officials about the progress and ongoing mitigation of the disease.

    Let's jump right to a rebuttal from Mark Tapscott at the Oklahoma Council Of Public Affairs, who's not afraid to use the sneer quotes: ‘Journalism’ professors demand media censor Trump; show why public doesn’t trust journalists.

    Were it my decision, every one of these people now in positions of authority in the education and preparation of America’s journalists would be fired today. People who advocate censorship should be kept as far away as possible from journalism classrooms.

    Back in 2016, post-election, Prof Meyerowitz published Alternative Media for the Trump Era. Should you want the scoop from the Nation, Mother Jones, the Progressive.


  • Of course, some of us would prefer to get our Alternative information from folks like Alexander W. Salter at AIER, where he writes on Incompetent Experts and Bad Government. And he immediately invokes one of my idols:

    The late Richard Feynman, one of the 20th century’s eminent physicists, famously said, “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.” Unfortunately, the response of experts to the coronavirus pandemic has vindicated Feynman’s claim. 

    Experts in the supposedly scientific fields of public health and economics have made a mess of things. Their failures would be comedic, were the consequences not so tragic. Instead of capable service for the public’s welfare, the American people have been made to suffer incompetence and malfeasance. Unless we critically examine the failure of experts, we invite similar blunders in the future. 

    The emperor has no clothes. But he is demanding that everyone else wear masks in public.

The Phony Campaign

2020-05-03 Update

[Amazon Link]
Welcome to our Sunday featurette! Our Amazon Product du Jour is an actual book. The New York Times described it as "an escapist fantasy that will likely appeal to liberals pining for the previous administration." The author has "Obama playing a cerebral, detached, analytical Holmes to Biden’s bumbling, impulsive Watson." If that sounds good to you, the Kindle version is a mere $2.99.

Joe Biden's woes involving the Tara Reade allegations dinged him at the betting sites this week. And resurrected the hopes of—gulp—Hillary, who the bettors elevated to a healthy 3.5% probability of being Our Next President.

It's enough to make me want to check myself into a nursing home and have people sneeze on me.

Candidate WinProb Change
Since
4/26
Phony
Results
Change
Since
4/26
Donald Trump 48.5% -0.3% 1,290,000 -340,000
Hillary Clinton 3.5% --- 519,000 ---
Joe Biden 42.0% -1.6% 384,000 -36,000

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

  • If you can bear reading about the Dreaded Hillary Scenario, Douglas MacKinnon of The Hill sketches it out: A Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama ticket to replace Joe Biden? Is it even possible?

    Some Democrats tell me they fear that Biden’s political survival is getting more problematic with each passing day. They cite three main issues. The first is their concern that an allegation of sexual assault leveled against Biden by former staffer Tara Reade won’t go away anytime soon. If anything, it appears to be about to gain a new life.

    Next, they worry that another shoe could drop regarding questions related to Biden’s son Hunter and his business dealings. Lastly, some Democrats are concerned about Biden’s age and possible cognitive issues — a concern that some also have expressed about Trump.

    Mr. MacKinnon details the Biden-replacing mechanisms. and calls the Hill/Barry speculation a "truly out-of-the-box combination".

    I don't want to see what else is in that box. Sounds like the one Pandora opened.


  • But speaking about "cognitive issues", Snopes asks: Did Trump Tweet That Reporters Should Return 'Noble' Prizes? Well, of course he did. Deleted, but preserved:

    This is pig-ignorant in so many ways.

    Although the Pulitzer Prize people really should yank the 1932 foreign reporting prize awarded in 1932 to Walter Duranty of the New York Times. (Here's the Pulizer statement explaining why they decided not to.)


  • Speaking further of cognitive issues, I noticed this bit in the Free Beacon article covering Hillary's endorsement of Biden: Biden Tells Clinton He Wishes She Was Running for Reelection.

    "I wish this were us doing this and my supporting your reelection for president of the United States. You won the majority of the vote," Biden said during a livestream conversation with Clinton, his party's 2016 nominee.

    Takeaway: Joe Biden does not know the difference between "majority" and "plurality". And thinks that matters. Not according to the Constitution, Joe!


  • At National Review, David Harsanyi looks at Joe Biden’s Disgraceful Hypocrisy on Sexual Misconduct. (I think "disgraceful" here means "totally expected and somewhat hilarious".)

    If presumptive Democratic Party presidential nominee Joe Biden were forced to live by the standards he wants to set for college students accused of sexual misconduct, he would already have been presumed guilty, have been denied a genuine opportunity to refute the charges leveled against him by Tara Reade, and had his life ruined.

    While Biden has hundreds of pundits and an entire constellation of Democratic Party–affiliated groups defending him, accused 18- and 19-year olds have no such recourse under Biden’s preferred set of guidelines. As conservatives keep hammering the partisan double standards in the media’s coverage of sexual-assault accusations — a wholly legitimate grievance — they should not forget that Biden has long championed stripping the due-process rights of college students accused of sexual misconduct.

    Good point. As I never tire of pointing out, I myself witnessed Wheezy Joe's proud announcement of the Obama Administration's dreadful Title IX "Dear Colleague" due process-trashing regulations for college boys accused of sexual misbehavior.


  • And I pretty much gave up on Andrew Sullivan back when he became obsessed with Sarah Palin's uterus. But nowadays he's unloading on Joe: By Biden’s Own Standards, He Is Guilty.

    Biden is now claiming simply that he never did what Tara Reade said he did. Let’s posit that he didn’t. Too bad. If he were to attempt to defend himself, by his own campus logic, he would be barred any knowledge of what he was precisely accused of, even the identity of his accuser; he would be unable to see the results of any investigation; and his own claims of innocence would be rejected if the woman merely subjectively felt as if she were being abused, regardless of his own intent. Likewise, he could be deemed guilty even if he were completely innocent. As Ezra Klein, a thoroughly mainstream liberal, has explained, the broader fact of sexual abuse on campus required a few broken eggs to make the liberated omelette. In discussing a new “affirmative consent model” in California, Ezra famously wrote:

    Critics worry that colleges will fill with cases in which campus boards convict young men (and, occasionally, young women) of sexual assault for genuinely ambiguous situations. Sadly, that’s necessary for the law’s success. It’s those cases — particularly the ones that feel genuinely unclear and maybe even unfair, the ones that become lore in frats and cautionary tales that fathers e-mail to their sons — that will convince men that they better Be Pretty Damn Sure.

    Now apply this standard to Biden. By Biden’s own standards, he’s guilty as charged. Reade claims Biden never got affirmative consent from her, and she feels and believes he assaulted her. He never got affirmative consent for countless handsy moves over the decades that unsettled some of the recipients of such affection. End of story. By Biden’s own logic, it is irrelevant that he didn’t mean to harm or discomfit anyone, that Reade’s story may have changed over time, that she might have mixed motives, that she has a record of erratic behavior, a bizarre love for Vladimir Putin, and a stated preference for Bernie Sanders, who was Biden’s chief rival. It’s irrelevant that she appeared to tweet that she would wait to launch her accusations against Biden until the timing was right. And her cause has been championed by the Bernie brigade. The many red flags and question marks in her case are largely irrelevant under Biden’s own campus standards.

    I can't wait for Joe's "But I am not in college" defense.


  • And Michael P. Ramirez has designed a handy button for the "journalists" covering for Biden:

    [Not Me Too]

URLs du Jour

2020-05-02

  • We begin this fine May day with a reminder from Freedom Unfiltered by Hayek.

    That's from 2014. Plus ça change…


  • Katherine Mangu-Ward's lead editorial from the June issue of Reason is a Bastiat shout-out: The Seen and the Unseen of COVID-19. Assuming you know the gist of Bastiat's fable:

    COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China, and has since swept across the globe, is the ill wind that blows nobody good. The window is broken, the glazier cannot come to fix it, and neither the cobblers nor the bookbinders have worked in weeks.

    Human beings and markets thrive on certainty and predictability. Rule of law is preferable to rule by men for this reason. But while rule of law has not broken down in most affected countries—at least not yet—the rule of emergency order is far from desirable.

    As things stand, most people and businesses are uncertain about not only what conduct is safe if they are to protect themselves and others from sickness and death, but also what is legal as they try to protect themselves from financial ruin.

    As Katherine notes, the (literally) billions of things unseen—the results of actions freely taken by people on their own dimes— won't be recovered. We'll just have to…


  • … do as Dave Barry suggests in this (probably paywalled) WSJ piece: The American Way Is To Muddle Through. It's an imaginary commencement speech:

    I won’t sugar-coat this: You’re graduating in a depressing and scary time. So I will begin with some words from Abraham Lincoln, who in 1861, during another dark time in our history—a time when people desperately needed a reason to hope—said, quote: “Well, THIS sucks.”

    How true Lincoln’s words ring today, especially for you, the Class of 2020. In happier times, graduates ended the school year with festive commencement celebrations, then ventured out into a wide-open world—a world of hope, a world of opportunity, a world (it seems like a dream now) of abundant toilet paper.

    Things are very different for you, the Class of 2020. You had to finish your education with virtual classes; if you’re lucky, you will get a virtual commencement ceremony. (”Virtual” is Latin for “bad”). Instead of venturing out into the real world, you’re stuck at home, living a virtual life. Nobody is knocking on your door with job offers. Nobody is knocking on your door, except Uber Eats.

    Dave, Mrs. Salad doesn't even trust Uber Eats.


  • On the LFOD front, an LTE from one Jim Treadway in the Napa Valley (CA) Register:

    An open letter to those protesting in favor of opening up the economy prematurely:

    Dear Protestors,

    Just like on New Hampshire license plates, your motto appears to be “Live Free OR Die”. May I suggest a slight variation of this for you all: “Live Free AND Die?”

    Moan. An open letter to Jim Treadway (and anyone else who's thinking about mining this same "clever" vein):

    Dear Jim,

    First, please avoid the strawman fallacy. If there's anyone advocating "opening up the economy prematurely", I haven't seen them. Instead, there are a lot of folks who think existing restrictions are fear-driven, inflexible, and counterproductive. Rebut that, if you can, instead of the demons of your imagination.

    But the really important thing I want to say is: the "Live Free or Die" joke has been done to death. It's not as smart a retort as you think it is.

    With Love,

    Pun Salad


  • They even do the LFOD thing in Hawaii:

    More than 100 gathered at the state Capitol on Friday to protest emergency stay-at-home orders aimed at stopping the spread of coronavirus.

    Three people were arrested for violating emergency orders, while five were cited.

    The protesters, some of whom weren’t wearing masks, say the orders go too far and are doing more harm than good. At the rally, they were chanting and waving signs that read, “Re-open Hawaii" and "Live free or die.”

    Well, it's a good thing they arrested three people for violating orders. It's not like Hawaii is part of America or anything.


  • And the Detroit Free Press tells us about the Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer bobblehead.

    No, this is not an insult directed at Gov. Whitmer. It's an actual doll.

    A SNL skit where Cecily Strong played the Guv is quoted, because I guess they had column inches to fill:

    Strong's Whitmer vented frustration at the recent protest in Lansing against her stay-home order: "Governors are kinda having a moment right now," she said, calling the protest "Ted Nugent cosplay" and noting, "it's live free or die, not live free and die."

    Cecily, please see my open letter to Jim Treadway, above.

    But that gives me an idea for my own SNL sketch. "Gretchen Whitmer: The Governor You Wish You Hadn't Started Paying Attention To on the News"

    In case you don't recognize the reference, and I don't blame you:

    "There are homeless people out there who can't even pay their mortgages." Yes, she was funny.


Last Modified 2020-05-04 12:37 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2020-05-01

Happy May to all! Only a few things on the docket today:

  • We've been making fun of a number of folks disrespecting our state's motto lately. But this Columbia Spectator article by Senem Yurdakul came up in the LFOD news alert mail, and it's an honest depiction of the author's own mindset: Thoughts on COVID-19 from a student living in an authoritarian regime. That regime is Dubai, part of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), by the way.

    After I read about signs saying “Live Free Or Die”, or “Isolation of the Healthy is Tyranny” held by the U.S. protestors, my naïve belief that the world was harmoniously united in this fight against the pandemic quickly dissipated. In Dubai, where I currently live, residents were forced to go into a three-week complete lockdown. During this time, we weren’t allowed to go outside without permission at all—we had to request permits to go outside for grocery shopping, hospital appointments, and even emergency situations. There was a fine of 2,000 dirhams—around $544—for being outside without a permit, and residents faced deportation or imprisonment for breaking the quarantine rules.

    Yet, it didn’t seem like anyone felt that they were living under tyranny. Most residents considered these strict policies enforced by the government proof of its trustworthiness and ability to contain the outbreak. Instead of fearing the authoritarian regime I live under, I now find myself trusting it. And although I don’t find authoritarianism right under any circumstances, I asked myself whether living under such a regime was actually safer than living under a democratic one, such as the United States, in facing a threat like a global pandemic. The answer I’ve come to is complicated.

    My thoughts: we should take Senem's sentiments seriously. They aren't atypical. Certainly for most of mankind's evolution, systems like Dubai's were the universal norm: an all-powerful leader, everyone under his thumb. (Freedom House's evaluation of the UAE is here. They do better on economic freedom.)

    And there's a certain amount of hardwiring in our brains that allows us to be just fine with that. Part of us wants to be taken care of. To not want responsibility for our own lives. To be part of someone else's grand scheme.

    That's not particularly admirable, and in the long run (I think) it leads to misery. But there's no question that it's there.

    Of course, there's wiring that goes the other way, too. But right now, the balance seems to be swinging in the "I wanna be led" direction.


  • Kevin D. Williamson watched 'Waco', now showing on Netflix, a dramatization of the Branch Davidian horror. He was around there at the time. He points out that, had the ATF wanted to simply arrest David Koresh, as it claimed, that would have been pretty easy to do without a fuss.

    Instead, the ATF staged an assault, complete with helicopters and other military swag, for the benefit of the cameras and, through them, congressional appropriators who were giving the agency the hairy eyeball after the fiasco at Ruby Ridge. Koresh and his parishioners were well known to and in some cases friendly with the local sheriff and his staff, and Koresh was far from being a recluse holed up in his compound: He was a jogger and sometime musician who frequently was out and about in town unaccompanied. He could have been brought in quietly by a couple of locals or discreetly by the feds, but doing it quietly and discreetly would have defeated the purpose of the operation the ATF nicknamed “Showtime.”

    The assault was bungled, and the bungling compounded by lies. The ATF had lied about the presence of a methamphetamine lab in the compound in order to secure helicopters (used purely as props for dramatic purposes) from the military under the increasingly militarized practices of the so-called war on drugs; in fact, there were neither drugs nor even drug charges. Federal authorities subsequently lied to Congress and investigators about the use of incendiary devices in the assault and later were obliged to engage in some very vigorous handwaving when confronted with physical evidence to the contrary. Damning pages from a report to Congress went missing with no explanation. As Newsweek put it at the time, the federal authorities “concealed and may have lied about relatively minor mistakes, and fueled a conspiracy when there didn’t need to be one.”

    The name "Janet Reno" doesn't appear in KDW's article.


  • Jonah Goldberg has a Modest Proposal: A fair way to fight China’s bullying of Hollywood. After recounting some recent history of that behavior…

    It would be wrong and unworkable to ban movie studios from kowtowing to Chinese demands. It’s called show business, not show politics. China is on course to become the biggest single market for film and television, and while it may be cowardly and hypocritical for an industry that wears its idealism on its sleeve to placate a nation that bans free expression and is hauling Uighurs into concentration camps, we shouldn’t follow suit by restricting free expression here at home.

    But that doesn’t mean we can’t impose a little truth-in-labeling on the industry. That’s Gallagher’s idea (which he proposed on a recent episode of my podcast, The Remnant). Congress should require American studios to disclose whether a film has been altered in any way to meet the approval of China’s censorious regime. You know how TV networks inform viewers that a film has been altered for television? Why not notify viewers if a film has been changed to conform with Chinese propaganda?

    There's so much other crap that gets tagged onto the beginning and end of movies, it would be nice to see some interesting information.


  • Bruce Schneier has an opinion on COVID-19 Contact Tracing Apps. Quoting a Buzzfeed article:

    "My problem with contact tracing apps is that they have absolutely no value," Bruce Schneier, a privacy expert and fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, told BuzzFeed News. "I'm not even talking about the privacy concerns, I mean the efficacy. Does anybody think this will do something useful? ... This is just something governments want to do for the hell of it. To me, it's just techies doing techie things because they don't know what else to do."

    Multiply by… well, just about everything else government is proposing to do, or has already done.

    Not for the first, or last, time: the Politician's syllogism:

    1. We must do something
    2. This is something
    3. Therefore, we must do this.

Judy

[2.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Renée Zellweger won the Best Actress Oscar. But that was it, Oscarwise. (Just one other nomination for "Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling". Zzz.)

The main thread is the 1969 version of Judy Garland. She's kind of a mess in every way: broke, abuser of many substances, a number of failed marriages. But she still has her singing voice and showbiz talent, wowing them in Westminster. When she can shake her bad habits long enough to show up.

And, as a closing title at the end reminds us, she was only a few months away from an untimely OD death.

There are flashbacks to Judy's Wizard of Oz days, where (apparently) her problems began with psychological abuse from Louis B. Mayer, and a steady supply of diet pills from studio handlers. (Can't have a fat actress!)

While admiring Ms. Zellweger's talent, it wasn't enough to make the movie even vaguely interesting for me. Talented performer succumbs to inner demons—so why should I care? Your mileage may vary.

The GOAT

[Amazon Link]

I'm a longtime fan of Roger L. Simon's novels following the exploits of onetime private eye Moses Wine. But this one is outside that series. It's also self-published. Both Kindle and hardcover versions are available for a cheap $3.55 at Amazon, Kindle link at your right.

It's the story of 70-something Dan Gelber, who, as the book opens, painfully collapses while he's playing tennis in an oldsters competition. Back surgery is recommended, but that apparently goes painfully wrong, leaving him in perpetual agony. Worse, his prostate is sending up big red warning flags.

A tip from a chatty Asian cleaning lady sens Dan to a mini-mall in Reseda, where he meets up with a Nepalese quack with a supply of rare herbs that promises to be a cure-all. To Dan's surprise, it also turns out to be a fountain of youth, de-aging him. For obscure reasons, he decides to fake his own death in the Himalayas, returning to civilization as Jay Reynolds. And decides to use his youthful powers to become a tennis pro, snag a beautiful mate, acquire untold riches,…

There's a concious parallel to the Faust legend going on here. Unfortunately, that's a literary thread I've managed to avoid over the years, so I don't know how faithfully Mr. Simon adheres to that yarn. Suffice it to say that all doesn't go smoothly for Dan.