URLs du Jour

2021-01-31

[Amazon Link]

  • Jonah Goldberg doesn't want to be a member of The Running With Scissors Party. On the other hand…

    John Stuart Mill famously called conservatives “the stupid party.” When John Pakington took offense, Mill clarified what he meant. “I never meant to say that the Conservatives are generally stupid,” Mill explained. “I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative.” About a century later, Irving Kristol entered the debate. He argued that “such a judgment need not be invidious or censorious. Conservative ‘stupidity,’ properly understood, is intimately connected with sentiments that are at the root of conservative virtues—e.g., a dogged loyalty to a traditional way of life, an instinctive aversion to innovation based on mere theoretical speculation, a sense of having a fiduciary relation to the whole nation, past, present and future.” He continued:

    There is always a kind of immunity to fashionable political ideas which is associated with conservatism, and a country that does not have a goodly portion of it is incapable of stable and orderly government. No political or social system can endure without engendering, in a perfectly organic way, this kind of conservative "stupidity." It is the antibody of the body politic.

    If stupidity is defined this way, I am happy to be part of the stupid party. I like the stupidity of “don’t just do something, sit there.” I like the stupidity of Calvin Coolidge, who said, "When you see 10 troubles rolling down the road, if you don't do anything, nine of them will roll into the ditch before they get to you." I like the stupidity of Abraham Lincoln, who said, “What is conservatism? Is it not adherence to the old and tried, against the new and untried?”

    Jonah, correctly in my view, points out that most "new" ideas are really bad ideas, even—maybe especally—the ones brought up by "smart" people.

    On the other hand, speculation on Jewish Space Lasers is not just stupid, it's the continuation of one of the oldest, reprehensible, and actually stupid ideas in history.

    RTWT for more.


  • Jeffrey A. Tucker brings us an article for Pun Salad's "Least Surprising Headline du Jour" Department: The Times Wants You Consumed by Fear, Isolation, and Misery. That's the New York Times of course, reacting to the (as-we-type) 50% drop in Coronavirus "new cases" since the peak in early January.

    The New York Times, which obliquely reports the case decline, is still certain that you should still live in isolation, fear, and disease panic. They offer every county in America a tool in which you can discover what you should do to protect yourself from the pathogen, as if the only way to deal with a respiratory virus is to hide. Their tool is extremely manipulative. 

    For example, they have this category called “very high risk level.” Red is in the text. Scary! But what is it? It means 11 or more people per 100,000 have generated a positive PCR test for the coronavirus. 

    Not deaths. Not hospitalizations. Not even symptomatically sick. (Yes, I know the term “sick” is old fashioned.) 

    We are talking about 11 positive PCR tests. This is an infection rate of 0.01%. Consider too that the NYT reports that these tests in the past have generated up to 90% false positives. In addition, the infection fatality ratio for those under 70 could be as low as 0.03%. 

    The amusing bit for me: the NYT recommends a host of cautions for those living in "very high risk" counties. (Avoid haircuts and manicures!)

    Well, how about "extremely high risk" counties? Basically, stockpile guns, gold, and foodstuffs, prepare for the onslaught of zombie Covid-carriers, right?

    No. The NYT recommends exactly the same precautions.

    The media remain clueless about why we don't trust them.

    For the record, as I type, my county (Strafford, NH) is one of those deadly "Extremely High Risk" counties with an average daily new-case rate of 48 per 100K. Or 0.048%.

    On the other hand, just across the Salmon Falls River: York County, ME, is merely "Very High Risk". Maybe I should move! Or just walk over the bridge.


  • J.D. Tuccille has some advice on a somewhat more credible threat than Covid: Americans Abandoning Free Speech Better Brace for the Consequences.

    In the panicked aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the powers-that-be dusted off wish lists of surveillance-state powers and began monitoring and tracking us in ways that affect our lives two decades later. The political turbulence of recent years, culminating in the Capitol riot on January 6, may similarly liberate the political class to do its worst—this time with free speech as the target. The effort will likely again enjoy support from members of the public eager to surrender their freedom.

    "We need to shut down the influencers who radicalize people and set them on the path toward violence and sedition," argued columnist Max Boot in The Washington Post. His solution? Carriers should drop Fox News and other conservative cable news outlets if they don't stop spreading "misinformation." Boot also believes that "Biden needs to reinvigorate the FCC" to impose British-style controls over the news—never mind that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) doesn't have the authority to regulate cable outlets that it has over broadcasters that use public airwaves.

    J.D. runs through the pearl-clutchers on left and right who want to toss the keys to the speech-control car to Uncle Stupid. The same organization that's employed Donald Trump, Joe Biden, Barack Obama, John Brennan, … well, I could go on. For quite some time.


  • In our "I Don't Care" Department, George F. Will points out that It still doesn’t make sense to impeach and convict Donald Trump.

    There are two reasons for impeaching a president, one retrospective, one prophylactic: to punish the president for gross misbehavior, or to protect the country from anticipatable future offenses by the president. Trump impeachment 2.0 is a variant of the latter. Its supposed purpose is to deter future presidents who might be as reckless as he was. For this reason, many serious scholars — see, for example, the writings of Princeton’s Keith Whittington — defend both the constitutionality and wisdom of impeaching and convicting this ex-president. Deterrence, however, presupposes rationality, and perhaps a conscience, neither of which would feature in any future iteration of the 45th president.

    Political prudence is a talent. It involves applying crystalline principles to untidy realities. The principle of holding people accountable for their actions is generally sound. But high-minded rhetoric about enforcing “accountability” on Trump ignores the fact that neither his reputation nor his future political salience hinges on the Senate impeachment trial. Besides, almost all Senate Republicans, tarting up their timidity as scrupulousness, have latched on to a principle that many scholars, including Whittington, and some past practices refute — that impeaching a person no longer in office is unconstitutional.

    Those who love Trump and those who loathe him — who today is undecided? — are all having altogether too much fun. The former are wallowing in the victimhood they think they share with him. The latter are luxuriating in a vengeance disconnected from the public good. And they are relishing the discomfort of Republican senators who will be damaged no matter whether they vote to convict or acquit. Regarding the reason for impeachment — the events of Jan. 6 — reasonable people, for whom seeing is believing, know what happened, and why. Trump supporters, for whom believing is seeing, cannot be reached by reasoning, constitutional or otherwise.

    Mr. Will (I always try to call him Mr. Will) makes some good points. My only argument in opposition is: if the Senate occupies itself with the impeachment trial, they're at least not doing something worse during those hours and days, right?


  • Matt Taibbi offers some financial advice. To wit: Suck It, Wall Street.

    In the fall of 2008, America’s wealthiest companies were in a pickle. Short-selling hedge funds, smelling blood as the global economy cratered, loaded up with bets against finance stocks, pouring downward pressure on teetering, hyper-leveraged firms like Morgan Stanley and Citigroup. The free-market purists at the banks begged the government to stop the music, and when the S.E.C. complied with a ban on financial short sales, conventional wisdom let out a cheer.

    "This will absolutely make a difference," economist Peter Cardillo told CNN. "Now, if there is any good news, shorts will have to cover.”

    At the time, poor beleaguered banks were victims, while hedge funds betting them down as the economy circled the drain were seen as antisocial monsters. “They are like looters after a hurricane,” seethed Andrew Cuomo, then-Attorney General of New York State, who “promised to intensify investigations into short selling abuses.” Senator John McCain, in the home stretch of his eventual landslide loss to Barack Obama, added that S.E.C. chairman Christopher Cox had “betrayed the public’s trust” by allowing “speculators and hedge funds” to “turn our markets into a casino.”

    Now, Matt's a lefty, so any economic lessons he draws from what people were saying and doing back in 2008 compared to what they're saying and doing now are probably bogus. But we can all agree on a non-economic lesson: a lot of people are hypocrites. But here's the really important bit, that reveals something I didn't know:

    The acting head of the SEC said the agency was “monitoring” the situation, while the former head of its office of Internet enforcement, John Stark, said, “I can’t imagine there isn’t an open investigation and probably a formal order to find out who’s on these message boards.” Georgetown finance professor James Angel lamented, “it’s going to be hard for the SEC to find blatant manipulation,” but they “owe it to look.”

    Whoa, dude. The former head of the SEC office of Internet Enforcement is John Stark.

    General, I'm ready to follow your orders.


  • I've occasionally noted here (sorta in jest, sorta not) that politicians have personality traits "several sigma away from the mean". Donald Trump being an extreme example.

    Does that make them crazy? Or, alternately, how far off-mean does someone need to be to be crazy?

    Scott Alexander, bless him, takes a very serious look at that question: Ontology Of Psychiatric Conditions. Subhed: "Is mental illness a thing? What kind of thing is it?" Impossible to excerpt, but if you're interested in that, RTWT.

URLs du Jour

2021-01-30

  • A guy who has taken an oath to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States" proceeds to ignore the Constitution of the United States: Chuck Schumer Begs Joe Biden to Take Power from Congress. From David Harsanyi:

    This week, Senate majority leader Charles Schumer told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that it may be “a good idea for President Biden to call a climate emergency.”

    In other words, the leader of what is allegedly the world’s greatest deliberative lawmaking body — tasked with, among many other things, checking the power of the executive branch — is advocating that his ideological ally bypass Congress, declare a perpetual emergency that affects the entire economy, and rule by fiat.

    Of course, anyone who believed Democrats were attempting to preserve “norms” or strengthen institutions, or that they were genuinely upset by the overreaches of Donald Trump rather than frustrated that they weren’t the ones wielding power, was just a sap.

    Because Your Federal Government handled Covid so well… Time to reread Crisis and Leviathan, I guess.


  • Virginia Postrel says nay to people freaking out about Chinese scientists: Criminalizing Science Is Really Dumb.

    Ever since the Nazis drove Europe’s greatest minds into exile, U.S. science has flourished by attracting talent from overseas. After World War II, the country’s prosperity and openness to immigrant scientists turned “brain drain” into a huge national advantage. Mixing global talent with America’s own made U.S. labs the world’s leading source of scientific discoveries, a status that only intensified with the opening of China to the West.

    Now that status is under threat from Chinese ambitions — and the U.S. government’s self-defeating response to them. In a reversal of national identities, China is acting like a keen capitalist employer, wooing Chinese-born scientists with top-of-the-line new labs and lavish funding. The U.S., meanwhile, is taking the authoritarian role, using the threat of high-profile criminal prosecutions to strike fear in the scientific community.

    Take the case of Gang Chen, a naturalized U.S. citizen who holds an endowed chair at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is a leading expert on nanotechnology. In the waning days of President Donald Trump’s administration, Chen was arrested and charged with wire fraud, failing to file a foreign bank account report and making a false statement in a tax return, all allegedly attempts to conceal ties to the Chinese government while funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. He pleaded not guilty.

    Virginia's usually right about such things. I still think the University Near Here should dump its Confucius Institute, though.


  • Glenn T. Stanton notes a silver lining in a very dark cloud: How Donald J. Trump Accidentally Revived 'Objective Truth'.

    A great deal has changed globally in these four years of Donald Trump’s presidency. It’s been a wild ride from any perspective. We will be debating the good and bad of these things, and Trump’s hand in them, for decades to come. There is, however, one profound and positive shift that happened on his watch.

    Whether he meant to or not, Trump almost single-handedly corrected the left’s false view of the nature of truth. Indeed, if we learned anything from the left and their media partisans these last few years, it is this: Truth is no longer relative.

    The notion that each of us has his own equally legitimate take on the truth has been demonstrably demolished by the Age of Trump. Over the last five years, the world was regularly reminded just how illegitimate one particular man’s view of the truth was. And there was to be no debate over that objectively true truth.

    Unfortunately, I doubt the left will apply this lesson in any case where it's inconvenient.


  • Robert VerBruggen has a solid look at New Hampshire v Massachusetts, now before SCOTUS: Taxes & Remote Workers: Supreme Court Should Stop States from Taxing Those Who Live and Work Elsewhere.

    Let’s say you work from home, and your employer is located in another state. Which state has the authority to tax your income?

    The legal status quo may surprise you: possibly both of them.

    Several states, most famously New York, tax people who hardly ever set foot there — so long as they are working elsewhere for their own convenience, and not because their in-state employers assigned them to another location — and these states have gotten away with it for years. More recently, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Massachusetts enacted a similar rule as an emergency measure: It shut down many businesses and encouraged people to work from home, but demanded everyone keep paying their Massachusetts taxes, even if they had begun working in another state.

    This is a shocking overreach, especially in the states that do it as a matter of routine, and it’s one that’s becoming more salient as remote work grows in popularity. States have no right to tax people as they work elsewhere, live elsewhere, and use government benefits and services elsewhere. And in a new case, the Supreme Court has a chance to do something about it.

    Back in the day, statists I argued with provided high-minded justifications for taxation. That's gone by the wayside now; typically, the "justification" is "I got the power, so gimme, sucka."


  • Arnold Kling brings us Perspective of another old net-head, quoting from a Doc Searls essay (at a Harvard site, no less). Here's the excerpt Arnold quotes:

    This simple fact of our distributed souls and talents has had scant respect from the centralized systems of the digital world, which would rather lead than follow us, and rather guess about us than understand us. That’s partly because too many of them have become dependent on surveillance-based personalized advertising (which is awful in ways I’ve detailed in 136 posts, essays and articles compiled here). But it’s mostly because they’re centralized and can’t think or work outside their very old and square boxes.

    And Arnold comments:

    Centralization looks attractive when you have Fear Of Others’ Liberty along with confidence that those who have power will exercise it the way you want. When people you despise are de-platformed, you’re all for it.

    There is a parallel with the argument between libertarians and FOOLs over gun control. In fact, the phrase “when crypto is outlawed, only outlaws will have crypto” has been around since Bill Clinton’s first term. On guns, the FOOLS argue “Look at all the homicides and suicides.” The libertarians retort that if you take away people’s ability to self-protect, they will be at the mercy of either criminals or government or both.

    I could go for that FOOL acronym instead of "statist". Unfortunately, it's probably not the way to go, persuasion-wise.

URLs du Jour

2021-01-29

  • Liberty Unyielding compares and contrasts moderate Wheezy rhetoric with immoderate Wheezy action. Biden then: You can’t legislate via executive orders ‘unless you’re a dictator.’ Biden now?.

    Joe Biden is all about “firsts.” As noted in this space previously, he has made good on his dubious goal of filling his cabinet with more “diversity” picks than any president before him, and he has done it with total disregard for candidates’ qualifications or experience beyond the color of their skin or chromosomal alignment.

    During his first week in office, he set another record by signing 37 executive actions and 19 executive orders, which is more than Donald Trump, Barack Obama, and George W. Bush combined.

    While this flurry of executive activity gives Biden bragging rights of a sort, before he has a bronze plaque made noting his achievement, he might want to heed the wisdom of a younger man. That younger man was himself last October. In an interview with ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos, then-candidate Biden disparaged reliance on executive privilege as the brand of governance favored by dictators, emphasizing, “We’re a democracy. We need consensus.”

    Mister we could use a man like Herbert Hoover Calvin Coolidge again.


  • A Facebook friend recommended the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma. I winced and (even though I'm trying to avoid being political on Facebook) I recommended this Dispatch essay by Martin Gurri: The Real ‘Social Dilemma’? It’s Our Clueless Elites..

    “Poor sucker” sums up the elite attitude toward the public. The questions this crowd must constantly grapple with are, “What is going on? Why do we keep losing? Where are all those angry people coming from?” The Social Dilemma offers a random and disconnected list of world troubles, from the “Pizzagate” episode to riots in Myanmar. Who’s to blame? Well, a perfectly reasonable explanation is that the public has lost all trust in the elites and their institutions, and its frequent eruptions express anger over failure at the top. In other words, it’s the elites who are to blame.

    The elites, of course, reject this explanation. I should note that they rarely engage in argument or offer evidence to refute it. They never aim to persuade. To that extent, they are consistent. They simply assume that the world is organized differently. In their world, the public is composed of poor suckers. It’s gullible, self-indulgent, and easily manipulated. A “tool of persuasion” like Facebook can make the public believe that elite ideals are nonsense and elite individuals are pretentious failures. The public can’t help itself; it’s in the grip of an addiction. Or as one of the talking heads puts it, “It’s as though we have less and less control over who we are and what we believe.” But by “we,” the speaker actually means “they.” In the world according to the elites, the public are poor suckers but the elites are philosopher kings. They have escaped Plato’s cave, checked out and left the Hotel California, and somehow transcended their genetic endowment. They own scientific truth, and we really should listen when they talk.

    If the public is so easily manipulated and the elites are masterful sages, then it follows that all the political turbulence and street insurgencies of the last decade must be the work of sinister elite figures. This is a tremendously reassuring belief. The villain might be Vladimir Putin. It might be Donald Trump or Steve Bannon. Or it might be, as the film proposes, authoritarian governments perpetrating persuasion on Facebook and in this way bamboozling their citizens. 

    This is, of course, a conspiracy theory in its own right. Immune to contradiction, deep in fantasy.

    My friend took my recommendation in good humor, as I hoped he would.


  • In our "If It Weren't For Double Standards, They'd Have No Standards At All" Department, Alex Berezow (ACSH) wonders: Why Isn't Anti-Vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy, Jr Banned from Social Media?. Alex doesn't know what the "right policy" should be for content moderation on social media sites. But…

    But I do know this: Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is one of the biggest scourges on public health, as he encourages the spread of measles, influenza, and cervical cancer through his anti-vaccine propaganda. (As if that isn't enough, he also blames vaccines for causing depression, anxiety, suicide, and dementia.) He has no business being on social media.

    If the tech giants are really serious about putting a stop to dangerous misinformation, then the decision to ban RFK, Jr. should be a slam dunk. The anti-scientific, anti-medical nonsense he spreads literally kills people.

    And yet, he's still there. Recently on Facebook and Twitter, RFK, Jr. said that the COVID vaccine was responsible for the death of legendary baseball player Hank Aaron. Specifically, he said that Mr. Aaron's "tragic death is part of a wave of suspicious deaths among elderly closely following administration of COVID vaccines."

    It would be nice to hear (say) Jack Dorsey's explanation of why Trump is dangerous enough to ban, but RFK Jr. isn't.


  • Scott Sumner has thoughts on an issue that's been bugging Pun Salad too: Selective outrage.

    Back in 2019, there was outrage among the public that Boeing had built an dangerous airplane that in 500,000 flights had killed precisely . . . (checks notes) . . . precisely zero Americans.  (Two international crashes.)

    Matt Yglesias has some interesting comments on the lack of outrage over the botched vaccine rollout:

    What’s striking to me, however, is that not only hasn’t the AstraZeneca vaccine been approved for use even on a special “right to try” basis, but that there is absolutely no movement in favor of such approval. And that’s not because Americans lack the know-how or will to protest things. Just during the past twelve months, we’ve seen big stop-the-steal rallies, huge anti-racism protests, and several rounds of protests against non-pharmaceutical interventions. The takeaway from the anti-lockdown protests was that Americans are too individualistic to abide by prolonged business closures. The takeaway from all three rounds of protests is that Americans of diverse ideological backgrounds have profound mistrust of America’s governing institutions. This is a country so taken with the spirit of liberty that we can’t get people to endure the relatively minor inconvenience of wearing a mask while out and about.

    The minority of libertarians who aren’t deeply invested in being Covid denialists would like you to believe that the fussbudget FDA is standing between you and the AstraZeneca vaccine. But it’s clear that the American people are absolutely not prepared to let public health experts tell them what they can and can’t do. If people were clamoring for faster approvals, we’d get them. But there’s no Covid Era version of ActUp demanding access. If public health bureaucracies ask people to change, a large share of the population declines to do it. If they try to force people to change, you get significant resistance. But if they block change, then the public is fine with that.

    Even if you are not convinced on the AstraZeneca issue, there are many other areas where outrage is the appropriate response. Why didn’t the federal government go all out subsidizing the manufacturing of vaccines in case they work? Alternatively, why not encourage production using free market price signals. We did neither.

    Ignore Yglesias's tedious swipe at libertarians. Isn't the point that we've got completely different standards for outrage, depending on whether the "culprit" is a government institution or a private business?

    We expect government mistakes, incompetence, and delay. Even when that is obviously killing people.


  • And finally, Kevin D. Williamson argues against Ad-Hocracy.

    When Senator Elizabeth Warren proposes to effect a soft takeover of American corporations, dictating to them everything from the composition of their boards to the range of their political activism, conservatives object — not because we are worried that Microsoft’s shareholders will get a raw deal, but because Senator Warren’s proposal represents a fundamental change to the property-rights regime upon which American economic prosperity is founded, a fundamental change in the relationship between citizen and state. Conservatives who object to “cancel culture” are mindful of the legal distinction between private corporate action and state censorship, but are also mindful of the fact that civil society can be made into a cat’s-paw of politics, and recognize that what is proposed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez et al. would constitute a kind of soft Jim Crow for political minorities. Our solicitousness of the undemocratic character of many of our institutions — the Senate, the Bill of Rights, the Electoral College — is rooted in an understanding that there is more to peace and justice than majority rule.

    Against this, the progressives offer ad-hocracy, willy-nilly social engineering in response to whatever the demand of the second is. That is why we went from “Nobody is talking about gay marriage!” to “Gay marriage is a constitutional mandate!” to “We’re going to put you in jail if you won’t bake a cake for a gay wedding!” in about ten years. The times, they are a-changin’: Planned Parenthood was founded by a dedicated eugenicist who claimed to abhor abortion and has become an organization of dedicated abortionists who claim, somewhat dubiously, to abhor eugenics — and both positions were considered, in their respective times, the incontrovertibly rational position of scientific progressivism. Self-evident truths freshly minted yesterday and bolstered by a Vox article headlined “Study says . . .” are not good enough on their own, because we have seen them come and go.

    So of course we conservatives are always repeating ourselves. History repeats itself. We must always begin, and begin again, at the beginning.

    So I guess I'll see you tomorrow. ("No you won't, this is a blog!")

Stillness Is the Key

[Amazon Link]

I heard good things! Specifically, a 2019 episode of Russ Roberts' Econtalk podcast with the author, Ryan Holiday. It took awhile for the book to become available at Portsmouth Public Library; apparently it's quite popular in that city. And deservedly so.

Apparently (reader alert) it's the third book in a trilogy, so if you're anal about such things, you'll want to read The Obstacle is the Way and Ego Is the Enemy first. But (frankly) you don't need to: the book stands completely well on its own.

I think an alternate title might be Secular Stoic Sermons. There are over thirty short chapters, each containing a little concentrated advice on how to live your life, heavily influenced by Stoic philosophy. But the sermonizing part… it put me in mind of sitting in the pew as a young 'un, listening to the pastor. But don't get me wrong: Holiday is a very good sermonizer. He relies heavily on anecdotes, with examples ancient and modern. There are good examples (Winston Churchill, Mr. Rogers, Marcus Aurelius) and bad (Johnny Cash, Michael Jordan, Dov Charney).

It's all good advice, as near as I can tell. (Get a decent night's sleep; get a hobby; take walks; be virtuous; be brave; …) Maybe a little too self-helpy in my case. I don't want to brag, but a lot of the book describes how to solve problems I don't have.

I do tend to procrastinate. I didn't see any advice on how to deal with that, Ryan.

The Second Sleep

[Amazon Link]

Back in the mists of ancient time, I read Fatherland by Robert Harris, an alternate history where Germany won World War II. That was his first novel, wildly successful, and he's been prolific since then. I can't quite remember how this book got on my things-to-read list, but…

The book opens with a young priest, Christopher Fairfax, travelling on horseback through the bleak and muddy English countryside, on his way to Addicott St. George, a small village with its share of dark secrets. He's gone to bury the town's priest, who's died mysteriously. The book is set (Chapter One, Sentence One) in the "Year of the Risen Lord 1468". Hm, what's with the "Year of the Risen Lord" stuff?

Well, never mind, because things certainly seem medieval. When Fairfax arrives in town, he meets a bizarre array of characters. The dead priest's corpse is much the worse for wear, pointing to an unpeaceful demise. And he seems to have a stash of heretical texts and objects! Before you know it, Father Fairfax is being sorely tempted by passions of the flesh and mind.

Suggestion: don't read reviews, since they tend to reveal too much. You don't want to know about the (heh) insanely great plot twist at the end of Chapter Three.

URLs du China Virus

2021-01-28

[Amazon Link]

  • The CBS News headline is innocuous enough: Biden to address racism toward Asian Americans during pandemic with executive action. Except Biden will not be doing anything about the the anti-Asian racism in the "diversity" admission policies of selective American universities.

    But the real news:

    The Biden executive order is also expected to direct federal agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to examine whether there are xenophobic references like "China virus" in any existing policies, directives or government websites published by the Trump administration.   

    Ah, but unfortunately…

    A CBS News review of COVID-19-related executive orders issued by the Trump administration did not find any specific reference to "China virus," the term the former president often used to blame the Chinese government for the pandemic. But if the term is found in existing policies, the forthcoming executive action is expected to order its removal.

    So, to a first approximation, Biden's executive order does nothing. Appropriate for a problem that (as near as I can tell) doesn't exist.

    But I'm on board with Vodkapundit, who says: China Virus, China Virus, China Virus.

    And not to mention the brave folks at Granite Grok who point out: China Virus China Virus China Virus China Virus China Virus China Virus.


  • Speaking of heresy, Kyle Smith brings attention to something you might not have noticed, if you were relying on (say) CBS News: Biden’s Inauguration Speech Was a Lot Like Trump’s.

    Credit where it’s due: The president’s repeated calls for unity were a tonic. After an extraordinarily contentious election that his opponent to this day insists on baselessly calling illegitimate, our new chief executive poured soothing oil on roiling waters and patriotically reminded us of how much we all have in common. As many worry about the nation’s place in the world, the new president said he would “reinforce old alliances and build new ones.” As unease poisons the land, it was invigorating to hear him vow to “rebuild our country and restore its promise for all of our people,” and gutsy, in a time of secularism, for him to mention that “the Bible tells us how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.” He spoke passionately about suffering Americans beset by poverty, hopelessness, and lack of opportunity, proclaiming, “We are one nation and their pain is our pain.” He contended, movingly, that “we must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity. When America is united, America is totally unstoppable. There should be no fear.”

    Yes, all of that is actually from President Trump’s inaugural address. And yes, the “totally unstoppable” gives it away. (And yes, four years later, his vanquished opponent Hillary Clinton still claims the election “was basically stolen” from her.) So it’s unfortunate that his successor Joe Biden had to give an inaugural address that was so dark and divisive, so full of bleak apocalyptic imagery and dire warnings about “white supremacy,” the first-ever mention of this scourge in an inaugural address. Though Barack Obama didn’t even mention racism in his two inaugural speeches, Biden repeatedly brought it up as part of our “ugly reality.” He also said the very earth we live on is so endangered that it is making a “cry for survival . . . that can’t be any more desperate,” that we are stalked by “anger, resentment, hatred, extremism, lawlessness, violence, disease, joblessness, hopelessness . . . bitterness, and fury” and that politics has become “a raging fire destroying everything in its path.”

    Thumbs up to Kyle for actually paying attention to inaugural addresses, something I did not manage myself.


  • Jonah Goldberg notices how the Wheezy Administation is playing the Expectations Game.

    Biden says he wants the federal government to respond to this crisis as if it were a war. Well, what kind of war? The modern kind, where a handful of people do almost everything while the rest of society and government are spectators? We haven’t fully mobilized the country for war since WWII, and if that’s the model, the Biden administration is falling far short of the mark.

    FDR put Lt. Gen. Leslie Groves, the man who built the Pentagon in 16 months, in charge of the Manhattan Project. Historian Paul Johnson tells the story of Groves calling the Treasury Department and demanding thousands of tons of silver for electrical wiring. The response from a vexed official: “In the Treasury we do not speak of tons of silver. Our unit is the troy ounce.” Groves got his silver because fastidious bureaucratic pettifogging was no match for a nation mobilized.

    That’s the spirit people want from government right now, at all levels. But last week, Biden said the federal government’s implementation of a vaccination program was “too rigid.” Ron Klain, Biden’s chief of staff, was asked Sunday on Meet the Press about the possibility—floated by Democratic Govs. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and Andrew Cuomo of New York—of allowing states to cut out the middleman and purchase vaccines directly. “I don’t think that’s possible,” Klain replied, because the emergency-use authorization of the existing vaccines requires federal oversight. That sounds awfully rigid to me. 

    One other thing: in a shooting war, you don't get Sundays off. But apparently that's SOP in most states for China Virus vaccinations.


  • Jim Geraghty notes a crackup at a busy intersection as Joe Biden’s Coronavirus Pandemic Promises Careen into Reality.

    We’re going to hear variations of “Biden’s only been on the job for a week!” Never mind Biden’s repeated promises that his administration, and his pandemic response team in particular, would be “ready from day one” and “already ready to jump in.” The counter-question is, when is it fair to judge Biden on the decisions he’s made regarding the pandemic while in office? After two weeks? A month? Two months? 100 days?

    As you can see from the elaborate promise on the campaign trail and the much more modest projection once elected, Biden hasn’t shaken his old malarkey habits. When he’s got an audience in front of him, he wants to please them and generate roaring applause. Biden has told environmentalist protesters or supporters that he wants to “end fossil fuels,” “get rid of fossil fuels,“phase out fossil fuel production,” and “ban fossil fuel exports.” There is a pattern that whenever Biden is challenged on being insufficiently committed to the green agenda, he insists he agrees with his critic. And then when called out for those comments, Biden insists he never said what he said.

    In one of his debates against President Trump, Biden said he would transition away from the oil industry, and then his staff has to rush in and explain he only meant subsidies for the oil industry. He declared, “I will not ban fracking. Period.” And then he banned fracking on federal lands.

    The unofficial slogan of the Biden presidency is, “Well, he didn’t mean it that way.”

    Anyone want to check Politifact to see how they spin this?


  • Bonnie Kristian rang the Google LFOD News Alert with her description of How the Founding Fathers encourage political violence. This shouldn't surprise anyone, should it? Bonnie notes that the January 6 Capitol rioters were simply taking America's founders at their word. (E.g., Jefferson: "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it's [sic] natural manure.")

    And they had plenty of opportunity to do so. Violent references from our national past that were not figurative when first spoken are everywhere in American public life. We treat them as mundane, old-timey, the stuff of Colonial Williamsburg and elementary school history lessons. On Independence Day, we set off fireworks to celebrate killing people so we could have our preferred system of governance. New Hampshire's state motto is "Live free or die." District of Columbia license plates use a revolutionary slogan to issue a perpetual (and perpetually empty) threat.

    Research suggests metaphors about "fighting" are enough to make some people more supportive of political violence. So what happens when they hear sincere praise of insurrection from the most revered saints of American civil religion? Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised if some subset of the public takes it as literally as it was originally intended.

    As for me, I hope my memory of a private moratorium on the "tree of liberty" is correct. I'll certainly never interpret it figuratively again, nor will I share it assuming others will read into it a peaceful intent. Jefferson's defense of liberty included spilling blood. Mine cannot.

    Well, mine can. So says my license plate.


  • And in the really important LFOD news: Students push state spider status for daring arachnid. That's our state, of course.

    Third graders urging lawmakers to adopt yet another state symbol presented a compelling case Wednesday for a creature that embodies everything from New Hampshire’s “Live Free or Die” motto to its famed fall foliage: The daring jumping spider.

    The House Environment and Agriculture Committee held a public hearing on a bill to designate the fuzzy, quarter-sized arachnid as the official state spider of New Hampshire. Tara Happy, a science teacher at Hollis Primary School, said the legislation grew out of a weeklong unit designed to reduce fear of spiders.

    “I started out with a class yelling ‘Ewwww’ and by the end of the week ... they were literally waiting in line to hold a little black spider with their bare hands,” she said. “But what I didn’t expect to happen was a school-wide movement to elect a New Hampshire state spider. After learning how important spiders are to our world, the students were a little shocked to learn that such an important species wasn’t recognized with a state symbol.”

    The kids were shocked! And I, quite frankly, am stunned!

URLs du Jour

2021-01-27

[Amazon Link]

  • We've blogged on this before. Unfortunately, it's an active issue. Armin Rosen writes on a puzzling phenomenon: Journalists Mobilize Against Free Speech.

    American journalism once thought of itself as being inherently and institutionally pro free speech. Visitors to the Newseum, the media industry’s temple of self-glorification on Constitution Avenue in Washington, were once greeted with the First Amendment inscribed across 74 vertical feet of lofty marble. The Newseum has been closed since late 2019, its operators having discovered the hard way that the public doesn’t share the media’s heroic level of regard for itself.

    The museum was an anachronism in more ways than one: The idea that journalists themselves look upon the constitutional right to free expression with quasi-religious awe is nearly as quaint as the idea the media could be the basis for a major D.C. tourist attraction. A publicly beloved press that earnestly believes in free speech now feels like it belongs to some fictive era of good feelings. These days, the American public distrusts the media more than it ever has.

    Confronted with this crisis of legitimacy, today’s corporate media increasingly advances ideas that would delight would-be power trippers of any party—like establishing novel forms of government control over what you can see, read, and hear and identifying people with a broad range of unpopular or unapproved views as domestic terrorists. Public discourse is now a “conflict space” with social media serving as an “information warzone,” the public intellectual Peter W. Singer declared in an essay published a few days after the alternately scary and farcical Trump riot on Capitol Hill, seamlessly adapting a framework of state-level physical violence to a discussion of constitutionally protected speech.

    I'm old enough to remember when Ari Fleischer's 2001 advice to Americans to "watch what they say, watch what they do." was taken as the harbinger of imminent fascism. (If you're operating under that delusion, see Christopher Hitchens' debunking.) But now even journalists, along with other "intellectuals", are demanding that we watch what we say, or else.


  • But it's not just those "tolerant" lefties. Mike Masnick takes a look at the GOP schemes: House Republicans Have A Big Tech Plan... That Is Both Unconstitutional And Ridiculous.

    Republicans have spent decades holding themselves out as the party of "small government" and "keeping government out of business," while also claiming to be strict supporters of an originalist interpretation of the Constitution. The reality, of course, is something altogether different. Even as Republican politicians often pay lips [sic] service to these claims, their policy ideas show the opposite. The top Republican on the House Energy & Commerce Committee has announced the GOP's "Big Tech Accountability Platform" that has an astounding level of government interference not just into business, but into the 1st Amendment rights of all Americans.

    The full plan is somewhat astounding (I don't know why it's showing sideways, but I guess download it and rotate it). It opens by paying lip service to the idea of the 1st Amendment, and the value of "more speech" over suppressing speech. But then immediately seeks to undermine the 1st Amendment by suggesting that internet companies should be compelled to host speech they disagree with. It falsely suggests that the decision to suspend President Trump's account was an attack on his conservative views, and not his efforts to incite his supporters into overturning the election. It includes a section on giving law enforcement more access to content and forcing tech companies to become an arm of law enforcement. It (of course!) has a section on protecting "our children."

    The whole thing is a censor's dream.

    Masnick could be a little more even-handed; certainly "Big Tech" is being hammered from both left and right these days. In the linked memo, the author explicitly calls for a "bipartisan" approach, and that's way too likely to happen.


  • Bryan Caplan brings us The Office of Free Speech: A Not-So-Modest Proposal for Academia. It's written by an (understandably) anonymous professor at the University of Texas. After briefly describing the hostile environment faced by heretics in Academia and the lack of remedies available to them:

    Existing institutions and norms are thus insufficient to address the problems of the current moment.  What is required is administrative reform, where attacks on academic freedom, free speech, and intellectual diversity are treated with at least the same degree of seriousness as other offenses at universities.  Specifically, every university should have an “Office of Free Speech” where faculty can lodge complaints when their academic freedom or free speech rights are violated, or when policies are put in place to limit the possibilities for intellectual diversity.  This office must have adequate funding to complete independent investigations of such allegations, and it should report directly to the highest authority governing the university, either the board of trustees or regents for most private universities or the regents or state legislature for public universities.  These investigations must have teeth; attacking academic freedom (not simply criticizing speech with speech) cannot be allowed to stand as acceptable behavior for administrators, faculty, or students.  The same sorts of consequences available for other offenses should be applied to those who use their position at the university to deprive others of their institutional or constitutional rights.  The office should not go as far as hounding people to suicide through punitive investigations and promotion of angry mobs, but those who weaponize university processes against innocent faculty should bear some costs for their actions.

    As we've noted in the past, the University Near Here (like many) has a website ("reportit!") where people can "report and learn about incidents of bias or hate, discrimination and/or harassment".

    Wouldn't it be nice to have an equally prominent site where people could "report and learn about" efforts to suppress free speech among the members of the university community? And to have those reports taken seriously and investigated?

    Well, that won't happen.


  • Robert VerBruggen tells us about The New (Old) Minimum-Wage Debate.

    A major downside to raising the minimum wage is that it could decrease employment. If employers have to spend more for each person they hire and each hour they assign, they might do less hiring and cut back on hours. But don’t worry, say the policy’s defenders: While older research did tend to find negative employment impacts, newer, better research does not.

    That line has taken hold in the public debate, but it’s not quite true. And with Joe Biden’s advocacy of a $15 nationwide minimum wage, it’s prompted some strong pushback from within the economics profession — including allegations that politics have played too much of a role in deciding what gets published and what gets discussed.

    “Anyone who thinks there’s a consensus in economics on the effects of changing the minimum wage should talk to someone who’s recently tried to publish a paper on the topic,” tweeted Jennifer Doleac, an economics professor at Texas A&M University, earlier this month. “I study lots of controversial topics but would never go near that one, thanks. So political. A nightmare.” She added that “the stories are enough to make me discount the past 10 years of published research in this area.”

    It's an NRPLUS article, another argument that you should subscribe. VerBruggen goes through the likely effects: decreased employment, decreased hours, decreased beneifits, increased costs paid by businesses and their customers. Bottom line:

    With all that in mind, my own view is that if we think people should be paid more, we should subsidize their wages with tax dollars. At least that way we’ll know who’s paying and who’s benefiting before we set the process in motion, we won’t single out the customers and employers of low-wage workers for punishment, and we won’t risk throwing people out of their jobs.


  • Another bit of cheerful news from Chris Edwards at Cato: Government Spending Could Top $9 Trillion.

    President Biden’s push to spend another $1.9 trillion on economic relief is surreal given that government budgets are vastly ballooned already. Total federal, state, and local government spending soared from $6.8 trillion in 2019 to $8.8 trillion in 2020. That is $68,000 in government spending for every household in the nation.

    We have already imposed $6 trillion in new debt on future taxpayers in just two years. More spending would be reckless and extremely unfair as young people will have their own costs and crises to deal with down the road. Vaccinate people, repeal shutdown mandates, and the economy will recover by itself. That’s what market economies do. The government has already spent far too much.

    His is an unfortunately lonely voice in the wildnerness. Politicians of every stripe have strong incentives to "do something". And pretty much the only tool in their "do something" belt is "spend insane amounts of money we don't have."


  • And the latest outrage: Tom Maguire reports that he is Languishing In Twitter Jail And Pondering Algorithms Run Wild.

    Last Thursday Twitter's algorithms busted me and suspended my account for what they read as a hateful tweet. My latest email from Twitter says their staff has reviewed my case and confirms that I am a hater. Hmm - I can feel myself getting radicalized!

    As background, I was engaged in a bit of back-and-forth about the Vietnamese cop who was busted for entering the Capitol Rotunda during the January 6 debacle. He initially lied to the FBI investigators about his involvement, then said he only entered the Rotunda to admire the art. Not a strong story!

    Click over to read Tom's tweet. And shake your head.

    I've been linking to Tom's blog for a long time; first time was in April 2005 when Pun Salad was barely two months old.

    Tom is funny, smart, and absolutely the last person that Twitter should suspend.

The Border

[Amazon Link]

Well, I wish I liked it better.

It's the concluding volume (apparently) in Don Winslow's series centering on American Drug Warrior Art Keller. I read the first book, The Power of the Dog, back in 2007; the second, The Cartel, in 2018. All books in the series are notable for unremitting violence, no-honor-among-thieves betrayal, corruption, and dozens of supporting characters with complex interrelationships that are very difficult to keep straight. (I managed many, but not all.)

The book opens with a 2018 prologue where Art is visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial with wife Mari. An assassin opens up on him with (of course) an "assault rifle". What's Art done to inspire such hostility?

Quite a bit, actually. We flash back to 2012, where Keller is walking out of the Guatemalan jungle after having murdered his onetime friend, drug kingpin Adán Barrera. He's broken rules along the way, and if there's any lesson he's learned from the first two books, it's that America's War on Drugs is a colossal, deadly, failure.

So naturally he walks into a new role: head of the Drug Enforcement Administration. The rest of the book describes what happens then: more of the same, pretty much. Art hatches schemes that he thinks will take down the heroin trade. He succeeds in the book about as well as we have in reality. After the first two books, he should have known better.

Except there's a new political element. The book is set in a slightly-parallel universe where the winning presidential candidate in 2016 is a Trumplike character. I mean, exactly like Trump. Except his name is John Dennison. And Dennison's son-in-law (not named Jared Kushner) gets a failing real estate project, "Park Tower", propped up via heroin money. That's bad.

Winslow is a leftie, and not particularly sophisticated in his political hatreds. He goes on about the "Tea Party", but (in reality) it was essentially moribund in the book's timeframe. The "alt-right" comes in for slagging, so does Fox News, etc. The political angle of the book is cartoonish enough to wreck things. I kept expecting at least one of the corrupt pols to twirl his mustache…

Also spoiling things is a couple of melodramatic subplots, constructed from every cliché in the playbook: one telling the tale of a young girl, Jacqui, falling into heroin addiction; the other about a young Guatemalan refugee, Rico, escaping the violence in his country by hopping a train to El Norte. The former subplot features Jacqui's fellow junkie, Travis, ODing on that new hot thing, Fentanyl-laced heroin. As he croaks, Jacqui exclaims:

"Travis!!!!! Nooooooooo!!!!!!"

Yes, that's 11 exclamation points. And 9 o's in No. Sheesh.

Winslow does taut, cynical, violent thrillers very well. Adding in social commentary, politics, and sentiment doesn't work for me.

URLs du Jour

2021-01-26

[Amazon Link]

  • Kevin D. Williamson asks the musical question: ‘America First’ or Biden First?

    The Biden administration is going to be a lot more like the Trump administration than you may have been expecting, especially when it comes to “America First” business policies, which are corporate welfare in patriotic drag. To wit: Biden’s executive order expanding on the Trump administration’s buy-American procurement rules.

    The rules developed under the Trump administration have not exactly been sitting there for years, growing outdated — the rules were finalized on the day before Donald Trump left office. The new rules developed under the Trump administration raised the “domestic content” requirement for most products from 50 percent to 55 percent — and raised them to 95 percent for goods made mainly of steel or iron; ended an exception for commercially available off-the-shelf iron or steel products while continuing an exception for fasteners such as nails and screws; and, most significant, they jacked up the “price preferences” for domestic goods.

    The last of these, the “price preferences,” are what really matter most. Washington doesn’t just order federal agencies to source products from U.S.-based providers — instead, there is a complex system of procurement rules that favor domestic producers unless the imports are a great deal less expensive. Price preferences specify how much more government will pay for the same goods provided by a U.S.-based company when they could be had at a lower price from a non-U.S. firm. Under the Trump-era rules, which are now the Biden rules, the U.S. government will pay as much as 20 percent more for goods procured from large firms and as much as 30 percent more for goods procured from small businesses.

    They're also going to need a lot more bureaucrats to enforce those rules. And those bureaucrats will need to have places to park. And in those parking lots, I bet we'll see a lot of Infinitis, Acuras, BMWs, Lexuses (Lexi?), …


  • Jeffrey A. Tucker may be a tad cynical in this celebration: All Hail the Reopening! He looks at our neighboring state:

    Let’s start in the most locked down state on the mainland: Massachusetts. Governor Charles Baker, whose pandemic management has wrecked so many businesses in his state, has decided it’s time to open up restaurants and businesses. 

    A hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center admits that the lockdowns didn’t achieve their goal. Shira Dorn said: “Businesses and restaurants have not been shown to be a significant source of spread of infection, and it’s not clear that the additional measures that were instituted in November and December actually helped.”

    So sorry we ruined your holidays and lives. 

    I have given up on trying to keep track of the edicts from our own Governor Sununu.

    But we have scheduled our initial Covid shots for February 2.

    I'm still banned from the UNH Library, though, since I am not "part of the UNH COVID testing protocol". Boo.


  • David Harsanyi notes Deceptions.

    President Joe Biden contends there is “nothing we can do to change the trajectory of the pandemic in the next several months,” which is the exact opposite of what presidential candidate Joe Biden promised voters during the 2020 campaign. And by “exact opposite,” I mean the president’s alleged plan to beat coronavirus literally said that “the trajectory of COVID-19 in America is headed in the wrong direction” and only he could fix it.

    The Biden “plan” amounted to a slew of nebulous promises that would be implemented to correct the “Trump fiasco,” such as accelerating the development of a vaccine, producing more masks, and pressuring governors to sign mask mandates. Biden repeatedly promised to alter the trajectory of COVID. In a platitudinous October 23 speech, Biden pledged to “immediately put in place a national strategy that will position our country to finally get ahead of this virus and get back our lives.”

    “Immediately” is an adverb meaning at once, instantly, without any intervening time. It does not mean waiting around to take credit for when the Trump-era vaccines kick in.

    Well, Biden will (at some point) claim that he's "gotten the virus under control". And Politifact will rule that a "Promise Kept".

    Don't bother them with "semantic details".

    Except that "semantic details" are exactly how you tell truth from lies.


  • Ed Whelan notes the latest effort to breathe life into a dead parrot: The Zombie-ERA Farce Continues.

    There was no more ardent advocate of the Equal Rights Amendment than the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg. But Justice Ginsburg had the elementary honesty to acknowledge the simply reality that Congress’s deadline for ratification of the ERA expired decades ago and that any effort to adopt the ERA would therefore require “starting over again.”

    Unfortunately, despite their own recent professions about their oaths to the Constitution, Democratic senator Ben Cardin and Republican senator Lisa Murkowski announced last week that they are again cosponsoring a joint resolution that purports to retroactively override Congress’s deadline and somehow resurrect the long-dead ERA. (Nearly 200 House members are sponsoring the same resolution.)

    Unsurprisingly, both New Hampshire Congresscritters are two of the 200 cosponsors of the House-side version.


  • Yesterday, I reported on SCOTUS's cryptic statement re our state's lawsuit against Massachusetts, and admitted I had no idea of its import. Fortunately, Ilya Somin comes through: Update on New Hampshire v. Massachusetts.

    On Saturday, I provided an overview of New Hampshire v. Massachusetts, an important "original jurisdiction" state vs. state case currently before the Supreme Court. At that time, I noted that we might know as soon as today how the Supreme Court intended to handle case, because this is the day when the Court would issue orders related to cases that went to conference on Friday, January 22 (including this one).

    In reality, the only step the Court took on the case today, was issue an order inviting the acting Solicitor General "to file a brief in this case expressing the views of the United States." Obviously, this is only a very modest step. But it does suggest the Court is taking the case seriously, and is unlikely to dismiss the case out of hand, as it did with a number of previous original jurisdiction cases, such as last month's "Texas Turkey" attempting to overturn the election results in some key swing states.

    Although I wouldn't be directly impacted, I tend to cheer for my fellow Granite Staters against the sticky-fingered apparatchiks from the south.


  • The Washington Examiner reports on the latest wokeness: Public radio backs ending ‘objectivity,’ admitting racism, paying ‘reparations’. Suggested alternate headline: "Commie Radio Employees Complain That Commie Radio Isn't Commie Enough".

    A number of public radio outlets and staffers have endorsed a new “vision” statement that calls for ending objectivity, paying reparations, and endorsing “statements of belief,” including “Climate change is real” and “Black Lives Matter” in a bid to create an “antiracist future.”

    They signed on to a new “call to action” that demands public media atone for past racism and hire “black, indigenous and people of color,” or “BIPOC.”

    The document published by “Current,” the publication for public media workers, declared, “White supremacist culture and anti-blackness shape the policies, norms, and standards of public radio.”

    NPR (and PBS) should decline government funding. Or, better, government should just decline to provide funding.

URLs du Jour

2021-01-25

  • P. J. O'Rourke weighs in on America's Teeter-Tottering Democracy.

    Storming the Capitol Building was an attack on libertarian conservatism. To be a libertarian is to believe in the sanctity of individual liberty and the duty of individual responsibility. To be a conservative is to believe in the primacy of moral values and the continuity of civilized institutions.

    To be a mob is to surrender individual liberty to the madness of crowds, to shed responsibility like a pair of dirty socks, to put moral values out with the trash, and to piss on the walls (or break the windows and litter the floors) of civilized institutions.

    Indeed. Once you've pledged loyalty to a tribe (or a person you see as charismatic), your brain is no longer yours, it's theirs.


  • John Tierney tells us of The New Censors. And you'd never guess… well, maybe you would … it's journalists. Or maybe I should put sneer quotes around that: "journalists".

    After the 1967 summer of riots, journalists, politicians, and sociologists spent many words and dollars trying to find and cure the “root cause” of the racial unrest. They failed, but eventually a solution did emerge. The root cause of riots turned out to be rioters. Peace returned to the streets once police adopted new crowd-control tactics and prosecutors cracked down on lawbreakers. Mob violence came to be recognized not as an indictment of American society but as a failure of policing.

    That lesson was forgotten last year, when police were lambasted for trying to control violence at Black Lives Matter and Antifa protests. Journalists disdained tear gas and arrests in favor of addressing the “systemic racism” supposedly responsible for the disorder. After the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, some raised questions about police failure to stop the mayhem, but once again, progressive journalists are focusing elsewhere. They’ve identified a new root cause of mob violence: free speech.

    They’ve cheered the social-media purge of conservatives and urged further censorship of “violent rhetoric” and “disinformation.” It’s a remarkably self-destructive move for a profession dependent on freedom of speech, but the journalists now dominating newsrooms aren’t thinking long-term—and can’t imagine being censored themselves. The traditional liberal devotion to the First Amendment seems hopelessly antiquated to young progressives convinced that they’re on the right side of history.

    Ah, but (as the saying goes) if activist journalists didn't have double standards… well, you know the rest.


  • To continue on that theme, James Bovard writes on Joe Biden and the Death of Free Speech.

    The media loved Joe Biden’s inauguration: his platitude-laden speech and his calls for “unity” struck the perfect note for a Washington establishment that wants no more guff from the “deplorables.” But few commentators stooped to point out the radical changes of Biden’s big day, such as its being the first inaugural since 1865 with the military openly occupying the nation’s capital. 

    In his inaugural address, Biden castigated “a riotous mob [that] thought they could use violence to silence the will of the people.” But politicians invoked that same mob to justify silencing protesters for miles around the inauguration. Biden also declared, “That’s America. The right to dissent peaceably, within the guardrails of our republic. It’s perhaps this nation’s greatest strength.” Yet during Biden’s inauguration, new “guardrails” drove free speech into the dirt.

    Bovard wonders, not at all unrealistically, whether Wheezy Joe Biden will be a 21st-century John Adams with an shiny new Sedition Act. That might draw cheers from "journalists". (See item above if necessary.)


  • Oh well. On to a more mundane topic: Ross Marchand suggests Lawmakers Must Examine Real Issues Plaguing The Postal Service. My suggestion: read an implicit "(but probably won't)" after the word "Must" in that headline.

    It's mostly a rebuttal to a predictable moar-socialism plea:

    In a recent piece for The Nation, contributor Jake Bittle suggests direct taxpayer aid to the USPS and an end to the “prefunding” mandate. Bittle also advocates for postal banking, an idea floated (and rejected) many times. Any serious suggestion to reform the USPS must address the agency’s operational inefficiencies and bloated compensation. President Joe Biden, Congress, and USPS leadership must deliver on critical reforms to get the USPS back on the right track to fiscal solvency.

    In his piece, Bittle speculates that, “lawmakers may have more appetite for direct aid [to the USPS] now that Trump is fading from view.” While this may be true, immediate liquidity isn’t really an issue for the struggling agency. The USPS reported more than $14 billion cash on hand at the end of fiscal year 2020 – more than it has had since at least 2005. Even if a taxpayer bailout delays bankruptcy from, say, 2021 to 2022, it will do nothing to solve the agency’s looming $160 billion worth of debt and unfunded liabilities.

    To solve this larger, long-term solvency issue, Bittle suggests scrapping the prefunding requirement passed by Congress in 2006 that, “requires the USPS to fund retiree health benefits up to five decades in advance.” Bittle neglects to mention, though, that this iteration of the prefunding mandate ended in 2016. Now, the agency need only gradually write off these retirement health obligations (over a 40-year period) instead of footing the bill all at once. This relatively lax amortization schedule resulted in the USPS contributing about $800 million into its retirement health fund for fiscal 2020 – a small fraction of the agency’s $9.2 billion net loss that year. And, according to the USPS itself, eliminating the prefunding mandate “will not reduce our underlying liability for retiree health benefits, nor improve our cash flow or long-term financial position.”

    Marchand doesn't go full libertarian. I will, though: repeal the USPS monopoly, and allow private companies to deliver mail to mailboxes. And, eventually, sell off USPS assets to the highest bidders.


  • Steve Landsburg starts off another well-known saying: The More Things Change….

    Just in case you thought the change of administration meant an end to stupid and evil trade policies, CNN reports that “President Joe Biden will sign an executive order Monday aimed at boosting American manufacturing, setting in motion a process to fulfill his campaign pledge to strengthen the federal government’s Buy American rules.”

    Because Uncle Stupid has plenty of money, time, and energy to waste on more rules.


  • And our Google LFOD News Alert rang for an item at the Volokh Conspriracy from Ilya Somin: New Hampshire’s Supreme Court Lawsuit Seeking to Prevent Massachusetts from Taxing NH Residents Working Remotely for Massachusetts Firms. It's a good review of the legal case before SCOTUS brought by NH against MA.

    I hope—and very tentatively expect—that they will choose the latter option. The "Live Free or Die State" deserves to win this important case. At the very least, it is no Texas Turkey that can be lightly dismissed.

    In what may considered to be "breaking news": today's SCOTUS orders contained a one-liner:

    NEW HAMPSHIRE V. MASSACHUSETTS

    The Acting Solicitor General is invited to file a brief in this case expressing the views of the United States.

    I have no idea what that means, let alone whether that's good news or bad.

Moontide

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

I've decided to bag my Netflix DVD subscription. Reasons:

  • It takes a long time for shipped DVDs to arrive. I'm sure the USPS is partially to blame, but come on. I suspect that the main reason things are slow is that they've cut back their shipping facilities.
  • Theoretically-available DVDs at the top of my queue are marked with "short wait" (or sometimes "very long wait") and I get shipped something further down in the queue instead. The current movie getting this treatment is Tenet. The DVD was released back in December, it's been top-of-queue since then, and … still haven't gotten it.
  • They don't even buy DVDs that they could send out. There are 21 DVDs in my "Saved" queue. Some of them aren't available yet. But there are a bunch that are, and … well, I guess there's no incentive for Netflix to stock them.

I'm probably slow on the uptake, and should have done this long ago. Netflix doesn't want to be in the disc-shipping biz, and if it takes lousy service to get rid of its loyal customers, so be it.

So (ahem) this movie is one of the last Netflix DVDs. A 1942 movie set in coastal California, where Bobo (Jean Gabin) and his pals Nutsy (Claude Rains) and Tiny (Thomas Mitchell) mainly work just enough to support their drinking and carousing habits. Unfortunately, fellow carouser Pop Kelly has been strangled. And (for some reason) Bobo has his hat the next day.

But never mind! Bobo also heroically rescues Anna (Ida Lupino) from a suicidal walk into the ocean. She does not initially appreciate the favor. I suppose suicidal people don't usually like people to spoil their plans. But gradually love blooms. And Bobo takes up semi-steady employment at a bait shack. And he shows a decent mechanical aptitude when a philandering doctor happens by with his malfunctioning speedboat. And…

Well, stuff happens. John O'Hara wrote the screenplay, so the dialog is definitely above average.

URLs du Jour

2021-01-24

  • On the short list of honest leftists, Glenn Greenwald provides us with the Tweet du Jour.

    I'm reminded of the adage (often falsely attributed to various totalitarians, but it's probably what they're thinkin'): "You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs."

    In this case, the omelet is (something like) "saving our democracy from the existential threat of disinformation".

    And the eggs: your rights to free expression, privacy, social media companies, probably some cable news channels whose editorial calls cross some vague line.

    And more. There are always more eggs to break. And the omelet never actually gets made.


  • Kyle Smith hands out the Order of the Brown Nose. Which could turn into a full-time job.

    Step forward, Eddie Glaude of MSNBC, who on Tuesday night compared Joe Biden to the Lord and said his ascension would comfort the dead: “President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President Harris pulled the grief and regret out of the privacy of our hearts,” he said. “I’m reminded of the Psalmist, you know? ‘He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.’ Maybe the dead will speak to us now. Maybe they can rest now.”

    Close competition came from CNN’s David Chalian: “I mean, those lights that are, that are, just shooting out from the Lincoln Memorial, uh, along the reflecting pool, it’s like almost extensions of Joe Biden’s arms embracing America.” John Harwood of CNBC didn’t wait for Joe Biden to be sworn in before informing us that his presidency would surely go beautifully, observing the morning of January 20 in a tweet that the transition from Donald Trump to Biden meant a journey from “ignorance” to “knowledge,” from “amorality” (he meant “immorality”) to “decency,” from “corruption” to “public service” (the Biden family members who have gotten rich selling their connections high-five each other) and from “lies” to “truth.” Hours later, a Biden official hiding under a cloak of anonymity falsely stated that the Trump administration never developed a national vaccination plan and printed it as the truth shortly before Anthony Fauci clarified that there certainly was a vaccination plan and noted that many millions had been given their shots under it.

    More at the link. It's NRPLUS, but if you need some encouragement to throw a few bucks toward the magazine…


  • … here 'tis in pixels adroitly arranged on your screed by Kevin D. Williamson, who notes one more bloviator on the Threat to Democracy.

    Every time former CIA director John Brennan appears on cable news to warn America about some new “insidious threat to democracy,” I am reminded again that he deserves to be in federal prison. In this corrupt media environment, however, the official who oversaw an illegal domestic-spying operation on the legislative branch of the United States government, who tried to cover it up and blame innocent Senate staffers when discovered, and who then brazenly lied about it to legislators and the American people — this man is held up as a paragon of civic virtue.

    We still don’t even know what role Brennan played in spying on his political opponents during the 2016 campaign. We do know he went on TV for years after, alleging to have insider knowledge of an unprecedented seditious criminal conspiracy against the United States. Never once was he challenged by his hosts. And when an independent multi-million-dollar investigation couldn’t pull together a single indictment related to those claims, Brennan shrugged it off by saying that he may have “received bad information.”

    Brennan was back on MSNBC yesterday, contending that American intelligence agencies “are moving in laser-like fashion to try to uncover as much as they can about” the pro-Trump “insurgency” that harbors “religious extremists, authoritarians, fascists, bigots, racists, nativists, even libertarians.”

    Yes, even we libertarians will be under the watchful eye of Brennan's Panopticon.


  • I'm a faithful reader of the WSJ's Best of the Web column, currently run by James Freeman. From Friday's column:

    Meanwhile in Washington, the news is less encouraging. President Joe Biden has sent a bizarre diktat to the heads of federal agencies and departments. The Inauguration Day memo instructs them to “identify ways to modernize and improve the regulatory review process” to promote “policies that reflect new developments in scientific and economic understanding, fully accounts for regulatory benefits that are difficult or impossible to quantify, and does not have harmful anti-regulatory or deregulatory effects”.

    “Fully accounting” for alleged benefits of big government that are “impossible to quantify” sounds like a rather difficult task—perhaps even the opposite of accounting. Here’s hoping the CPAs among our readership will share their views on how they might attempt to fulfill such a task.

    We're kind of used to getting that kind of self-contradictory prose from institutions of higher education. It was to be expected that kids exposed to that would graduate to government memo-writing.


  • On my short list of web comics is Basic Instructions. The artist, Scott Meyer, just posts reruns these days. This one, from 2013, is just wonderful: How to Deal With Definition Creep.

    [Definition Creep]

    And—please don't sue me, Mr. Meyer—here's his followup text musing:

    Literally no longer means literally, not always anyway. Sometimes it means literally, other times it means something like “might as well be,” which is literally the opposite of what it usually means. (That sentence is true using one of the two accepted meanings for literally, but I can’t be bothered to figure out which one it is.)

    What this all boils down to is that literally is literally meaningless. (As in it might as well be meaningless, not that it is actually truly meaningless.)

    Now that the word literally has lost all reliable meaning, people use it much more often. Can that possibly say anything good about people?

    No, it can't.


Last Modified 2021-01-24 10:23 AM EST

URLs du Jour

2021-01-23

[Amazon Link]

I think we have a theme today, although it has little directly to do with our Amazon Product du Jour.

  • Liberty Unyielding passes on an observation: CNN celebrates new sheriff in town by hypocritically deleting its COVID death ticker.

    CNN has a new look this morning. No, it’s not a change in the on-screen “talent.” All the familiar lovable faces are still there. Nor has the network changed its logo.

    What’s different is that, now that Donald Trump is no longer president, CNN has seen fit to deep-six its macabre COVID death ticker, which formerly appeared on the righthand side of the screen. The photo at the top of the page [linked above], which is a screenshot from last September, shows the now-defunct ticker.

    CNN has dubbed this a lie.


  • OK, but how about this from Eric Boehm: The Washington Post Tried To Memory-Hole Kamala Harris’ Bad Joke About Inmates Begging for Food and Water.

    When The Washington Post published a 2019 campaign trail feature about then-presidential hopeful Kamala Harris' close relationship with her sister, it opened with a memorable anecdote in which Harris bizarrely compared the rigors of the campaign trail to…life behind bars.

    And then proceeded to laugh—at the idea of an inmate begging for a sip of water.

    The original WaPo story contained:

    "It's a treat that a prisoner gets when they ask for, 'A morsel of food please,' " Kamala said shoving her hands forward as if clutching a metal plate, her voice now trembling like an old British man locked in a Dickensian jail cell. "'And water! I just want wahtahhh….'Your standards really go out the f—ing window."

    Kamala burst into laughter.

    We're used to Kamala breaking into inappropriate deranged laughter, not surprised at her casual f-bomb dropping.

    As Boehm notes in an update, the WaPo has readjusted its story. Because it made them look like the Democrat cheerleaders they are.


  • In other WaPo news, brought to you by the Daily Caller: WaPo Fact Checkers End Trump ‘False Claims Project,’ No ‘Plans’ To Start One For Biden.

    The Washington Post ended its false claims project for President Donald Trump on Wednesday and has no current “plans” to start a new database for President Joe Biden, the paper told the Daily Caller.

    Throughout Trump’s four years as president, The Post’s fact checkers said that he made 30,573 false or misleading claims – this number was revealed shortly after Biden officially became the 46th president. Glenn Kessler, editor and chief fact checker for The Post’s fact checking team, tweeted that he “never would have believed this number was possible when” they “started four years ago.”

    B-b-but I thought "Democracy dies in darkness".

    Apparently that only applies when a Republican is in the White House.


  • Kyle Smith watches as the Media Bootlickers Hurl Themselves at Biden’s Feet. He's got examples. Who doesn't? But here's what I wanted to excerpt instead. Compared to the previous sex-machine lightworking Democrats in the Oval Office:

    And Joe Biden? Joe Biden isn’t sexy, he’s senescent. He isn’t transformational, he’s tired. His own close associates marvel at his incompetence.

    He’s a congenital liar, a notorious blowhard, and a dimwit backslapper who brings to high office not the glow of a lightworker but merely the DNA of a used-car salesman. He owes his current position not to any accomplishments worth boasting of but to three passive characteristics: his not being Donald Trump, his not being Bernie Sanders, and his being plucked out of the Senate by Obama, who was so nervous about his own lack of Washington experience that he chose the party’s most avuncular figure to balance him out as a running mate (then discouraged Biden from trying to succeed him).

    Joe Biden isn’t the first black president, he isn’t an unusually young president, he isn’t . . . anything interesting. He’s just a quintessential Washington blarney machine who managed to stay kicking until he floated to the top. Pretending that he’s a groundbreaking or cathartic or unifying figure won’t work: He’s been around too long. People know him too well. He’s not even interesting. And he’s not especially popular. An NBC poll released a few days ago put him at 44 percent approval, only four points higher than Trump. The RealClearPolitics polling average puts him at 50 percent. Obama came into office with approval ratings near 70 percent.

    We usually switch on the Boston CBS station at 7pm to watch "Wheel of Fortune". If we're early, we endure the last minutes of the CBS Evening News. On Thursday, the day after the inauguration, Norah O'Donnell closed with the previous day's celebratory fireworks.

    She did not say: "I know it's not news, but please wallow with us in this meaningless symobolism."

    She maybe should have.


  • Honest lefty Matt Taibbi writes on The Echo Chamber Era.

    A day after Joe Biden's inauguration, the headline in Axios read: “Trust in media hits a new low.” Felix Salmon wrote that “for the first time ever, fewer than half of all Americans have trust in traditional media.” The Edelman survey showed overall faith in the press dropping to 46%.

    The traditional explanation for this phenomenon is that Republicans hate the press a lot, but Democrats just a little. The Axios story bore this out somewhat, as only 18% of Republicans reported trusting media, versus 57% of Democrats.

    Still, 57% of half your potential audience is nothing to brag about, when you’re in the trust business. Other numbers, like 56% of respondents believing journalists are “purposely trying to mislead people,” or 58% thinking that “most news organizations are more concerned with supporting an ideology… than with informing the public" are more ominous.

    Taibbi notes a recurring MSM theme: "[A] were asked for a time to care about certain things as if their lives depended on it, then just as quickly asked to forget the issues ever came up. And they wonder why people feel manipulated?"

    The latest example: protesters planning to storm capitols in all 50 states!

    As you might have noticed, it didn't happen. No network talking head explained, let alone apologized.

URLs du Jour

2021-01-22

[Amazon Link]

  • How many times have we heard/seen the word "democracy" in the media over the past few weeks? If you're like me, appoximately zillions.

    As an old-fashioned libertarian curmudgeon, I have a grudging admiration for the guy who said "Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner." (No, it wasn't Ben Franklin. I still like it though.)

    But it's kind of funny to hear the same folks who profess to love democracy turn right around and demand that Congress prevent Donald Trump from running again, as sort of a cherry on top of the impeachment sundae. (For details on that, see Ian Millhiser: Can Trump run for office again in 2024?)

    If you're a thoroughgoing democracy-lover, shouldn't that call be up to the voters? The peeepul? If they want him bad enough, and elect him, why should Congress be able to deny that popular will?

    Maybe they're only in favor of Democracy when it elects Democrats? That's my operating theory.

    As an extra reading assignment: Robert A. Levy claims Impeachment of an Ex-President Is Unconstitutional. Interesting take.

    Former judge Michael Luttig has argued correctly that the Constitution refers to impeachment of the president, not the ex‐​president. Article II, section 4 provides that “The President … shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Accordingly, once a person is no longer president, he can’t be impeached or convicted. Our federal government has only those powers enumerated in the Constitution; it does not have the power to impeach a former president.

    Of course, Trump wasn't a former president when he was impeached. But… well, I don't care that much, sorry.


  • Right up there at concept-overdose levels with "democracy" is "unity". Kevin D. Williamson throws that spinach at the wall: Against Joe Biden's Call for Unity (NRPLUS, sorry):

    Presidential calls for unity express the increasingly sacral and quasi-monarchical character of the American presidency and the person of the president himself, who is treated as a kind of holy person, the body politic incarnate. The train of thought is there in the underlying etymologies: unity, community, communion. The American political superstition sets the Confucian model on its head, holding that if there is order in the nation then there will be order in the community and in the family, that our hearts will be made right in national democratic communion. Applied to American politics at large, that mysticalizing tendency is superstition; applied to the president in particular, it is idolatry.

    We treat presidents like kings, when they are only employees — and temps, at that.

    I won’t pretend Joe Biden is my friend, or even that I respect him — he isn’t, and I don’t. But he won the election, so he holds the office, until he doesn’t. I hope President Biden takes the opportunity to do some good things, by which — of course — I mean things I agree with. I don’t expect that to be the case, because we disagree about what is best for the country. And those disagreements are over issues such as civil rights and the sanctity of life itself — not trivia. And so I will argue with him and his partisans, criticize him, and oppose him.

    And I’ll take a hard pass on ghastly calls for unity with Joe Biden or any other politician.

    And (of course) there's no reason for Democrats to demand or expect that people treat Biden any better than they treated Trump. #Resist!


  • I was kind of kidding two days ago when I speculated that the Trump Administration's "1776 Report" would be taken down.

    Reader, that speculation went up approximately one hour before the report was taken down. It was a real Memory hole moment for us Orwell fans. Report from the College Fix: On day one, Biden team removes Trump’s 1776 patriotic education report.

    As President Joe Biden was sworn into office Wednesday, his team removed a report detailing the history of America’s founding from the White House’s website.

    A commission convened last fall by President Donald Trump that aimed to advance what he called a patriotic education and take on leftists’ argument that America was never great released its report Monday.

    It's been "archived" here. Which is still a .gov site, so how long will that last?


  • President Wheezy, in a show of "unity", also abolished the authoring "1776 Commission". Tyler O'Neil optimistically reports: Biden Can't Silence the 1776 Commission.

    As soon as Joe Biden took office, his White House disbanded the 1776 Commission and scrapped its report, published a mere two days earlier. President Donald Trump had compiled the 1776 Commission to respond to the nefarious impact of Marxist critical race theory, which teaches that a hidden racist oppression is the true driver of American history and current society. That noxious idea arguably inspired the Black Lives Matter riots of the summer — and Biden coddled those rioters.

    The 1776 Commission is history [heh--ed.], but its members will continue to fight the noxious narratives about America’s past.

    “The 1776 Report calls for a return to the unifying ideals stated in the Declaration of Independence. It quotes the greatest Americans, black and white, men and women, in devotion to these ideals,” Commission Chairman Larry P. Arnn, Vice Chair Carol Swain, and Executive Director Matt Spalding wrote in a statement Wednesday. “The Commission may be abolished, but these principles and our history cannot be. We will all continue to work together to teach and to defend them.”

    Here's hopin'.


  • Ann Althouse quotes Jake Shafer on the media's tongue-bath of the Wheezy Administration:

    CNN glowed almost as brightly about the event as a state media would have.... Biden’s perfectly fine if pedestrian speech earned instant accolades from Wolf Blitzer, who jibbered that Biden had put 'his soul into his first address.'...  MSNBC worked from the same script, going gaga for not just Lady Gaga but the whole schmear. At day’s end, Rachel Maddow confessed to having worked her way through an entire box of Kleenex during the festivities and Joy Reid gushed like a partisan about the event.... The Washington Post got with the program, giving Biden credit for not waiting 'long to begin staffing up his administration, swearing in top White House aides,' as if previous incoming presidents had dilly-dallied about taking the reins. The New York Times swallowed whole the recent myth-making that has transformed Biden from a shifty politician into a statesman, conveying his call for civility and unity and portraying him as a disciplined, restrained character when anybody who has studied his career knows he’s anything but.... [B]y going overboard for Biden, the press was guilty of 1) hyping Joe; 2) inflating expectations to a volume he can’t possibly fulfill and 3) giving viewers and readers a reason to suspect if not distrust the gleaming Biden coverage. In an era when large portions of Americans think mainstream media is a tool of the left, a tad less bootlicking could help build trust among media skeptics.... [M]aybe we could embed a house cynic on each network and newspaper to police or at least tamp down the irrational exuberance that rains down on most inaugurations.

    Ann scoffs: "Notice that [Shafer]'s only arguing about how to do propaganda well."


  • And Philip Carl Salzman reminds us that as far as higher education goes: Systemic Racism and Sexism Are Now Mandatory.

    I must apologize at the outset for offering to the reader what is by now a truism known to everybody who has had even short periods of sobriety during the last decade. Whatever imaginings the reader may have had during the twentieth century about being a unique individual and about treating others as individuals, the twenty-first century rejected them and saw them off. Notions such as “individual character,” “merit,” and “colorblind assessment” are now seen as bad jokes that were never that funny in the first place, but really smokescreens for the wrong kind of supremacism and oppression.

    There is now a strong consensus in schools, universities, the media, big tech, big business, and government that there are good human races and bad human races, good sexes and bad sexes, good sexualities and bad sexualities, and good ethnicities and ethnicities: White people are bad, evil oppressors of soulful people of color. Males are toxic oppressors of gentle females. Heterosexuals deny and reject LGBTQ++ normality and rights. Christians and Jews are bigoted oppressors of righteous Muslims. America, Canada, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand are systemically racist and sexist and heteronormative societies, LGBTQ++ phobic, and Islamophobic.

    Can't be said enough. From later in the piece, a very good point:

    Do not imagine that all of the enthusiasm for “diversity” allows for diversity of thought and opinion. No, thought and opinion deviant from “social justice” ideology is actively suppressed by diversity and inclusion officers, who have the full backing of their university administrations.

    My advice to free-thinking students, faculty, and staff: keep your heads down.

URLs du Jour

2021-01-21

[Amazon Link]

  • Kevin D. Williamson bids farewell as the Witless Ape Rides Helicopter.

    Let me refresh your memory: On the day Donald Trump was sworn in as president, Republicans controlled not only the White House but both houses of Congress. They were in a historically strong position elsewhere as well, controlling both legislative chambers in 32 states. They pissed that away like they were midnight drunks karaoke-warbling that old Chumbawumba song: In 2021, they control approximately squat. The House is run by Nancy Pelosi. The Senate is run, as a practical matter, by Kamala Harris. And Joe Biden won the presidency, notwithstanding whatever the nut-cutlet guest-hosting for Dennis Prager this week has to say about it.

    Donald Trump is, in fact, the first president since Herbert Hoover to lead his party to losing the presidency, the House, and the Senate all in a single term. Along with being the first president to be impeached twice and the first game-show host elected to the office, that’s Trump’s claim to the history books. Well, that and 400,000 dead Americans and the failed coup d’état business.

    Coulda been different. But it would have required Trump to have been … not Trump.


  • Arnold Kling also looks back on The Trump Presidency.

    In a classic sports photo from the 1960s, Cassius Clay (soon to change his name to Muhammad Ali) stands over his defeated opponent, Sonny Liston. Clay still has his fist cocked menacingly, and his eyes glare down with contempt. The referee had to shove Clay to his corner in order to be able to begin to count Liston out.

    I see this as a metaphor for the contest between Donald Trump and the deep state, with Mr. Trump the one who is prostrate on the canvas. Maybe you think that Trump deserved this fate (some boxing aficionados felt that way about Sonny Liston). I am sad for him.

    I've embedded the closest Getty image I could find to the one to which Arnold links.

    I'm sad for Trump. But I also think he (richly) deserved his drubbing. And I'm even sadder for the country.


  • KDW (again, sorry) notes that Trump managed to commit one last outrage before getting on that helicopter.

    For those still (still!) wondering whether Donald Trump is a con artist, Mr. “Drain the Swamp”’s last acts as president included opening up the floodgates to fill the swamp.

    Explanation from the linked Politico article:

    Shortly after he entered office, Trump signed an executive order that barred appointees from any lobbying related to their agency for five years, in addition to a lifetime ban on lobbying for a foreign government. Every Trump appointee was required to sign a pledge agreeing to those rules. But in a last-minute move early Wednesday, Trump reversed the order and allowed the revolving door in Washington to continue swinging.

    Let no one say that Trump doesn't care about people. Specifically, he cares for his administration's employees who are apparently bereft of job skills that might help them gain honest employment. It's an act of mercy that will allow them to continue to visit Capitol Hill's Charlie Parker Steak for the Mishima "Manhattan Cut" American Waygu Strip ($60), washing it down with a glass (small glass) of Justin Isosceles 2015 ($37).


  • David Bernstein provides An Example of Why [he no longer trusts] the New York Times.

    I can't say I've ever fully trusted the Times to be accurate, but until recently I generally felt fairly confident that even if a story was slanted in perspective, the facts that were reported were basically accurate. Not anymore.

    For example, here is the Times yesterday, in a news story on the front page (and linked here to the Baltimore Sun to evade a paywll): "For months, Republicans have used last summer's protests as a political catchall, highlighting isolated instances of property destruction and calls to defund the police to motivate their base in November." (emphasis added)

    As I've noted previously, the property losses from the riots and looting last summer were on a par with the Los Angeles riots of 1992 and the totality of the 1960s urban riots. They included nightly riots in Portland, the destruction of a several blocks of Minneapolis, the establishment of a lawless anarchist zone for twenty-three days in Seattle, and riots in cities all over the country. I was in Omaha last summer, and I was surprised to find that the downtown was full of boarded-up shops whose windows had been smashed. A good friend from Albany, NY was just telling me about property destruction and looting there. I mention these because they did not make the national news, but there are many other examples from New York to Los Angeles.

    I don't absolve Trump from his role in the January 6 riot. And I don't absolve the rioters from their own behavior; they weren't mindless automatons.

    But the asymmetrical treatment by the media between last summer and January 6 is egregious. And certainly they sent the implicit message: if you feel really bad about something, violence and looting is just fine.


  • Eventually we'll stop talking about Trump, right? Because President Wheezy is not only gonna bring us new outrages, he's gonna revive some of the old ones. For example, Daniel J. Ikenson notes Inauguration Day Feels Like Groundhog Day for Buy American.

    Exactly four years ago today, responding to the protectionist pledges in President Trump's inaugural speech, I warned of the false promise of Buy American regulations. Because of this memo from incoming White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain to incoming White House staff, I republish parts of that warning below. The memo notes that, by February 1, President Biden will take action to "fulfill his promises to strengthen Buy American provisions so the future of America is made in America," which is another way of saying U.S. taxpayers will be charged double for half the infrastructure they're forced to buy, and that American producers will not have a stake in the future of the rest of the world.

    Although I'm relieved that Trump was vanquished and now appears to be in our rear-view mirror, I am deeply concerned that the protectionism he prioritized in his bogus quest to make America great again will remain a fixture of U.S. trade and domestic economic policy for many years to come. After all, Trump stole the Democratic Party playbook on trade, promoting tariffs and trade agreements that are heavy on enforcement provisions and light on incentives to actually trade, and the political imperative now may be for Democrats to double down to show that they, too, can deliver for the protectionist demandeurs both parties court.

    And as for Wheezy's inaugural promises about unity, light, decency, love, healing… well, not you, Pete:

    National Labor Relations Board General Counsel Peter Robb, a Trump appointee, has been fired after refusing a request from President Joe Biden to step down from his post.

    Maybe he can get one of those sweet lobbying jobs.


  • And finally, Veronique de Rugy comments on Joe Biden's Plan to Build the United States of Italia.

    With his policy announcement about another COVID-19 relief bill, President Joe Biden declares loud and clear that he will not shy away from spending blowouts and fiscal irresponsibility. For the most part, his proposed plan is nothing more than a way to use the current crisis to deliver on Democrats' longtime dream to explode the size and scope of the federal government.

    The objective of the $1.9 trillion plan is noble enough: stimulate the economy, provide relief to Americans and combat the pandemic. But noble doesn't always mean good. As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I would add political expediency to that expression.

    Hey, that's democracy. I think the word count for that yesterday was (at least) in the high three figures. And as Mencken said:

    Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

URLs du Jour

2021-01-20

<voice imitation="james_earl_jones">This… is CNN</voice>:

  • Mark J. Perry provides (yesterday's) Quotation of the day. It's from the The 1776 Report, available (at least as I type) from the White House website. It's a counterblast to last year's much-discussed, deservedly-reviled "1619 Report" from the New York Times.

    [Update: Well, I didn't actually expect that. In an impressive display of "unity", (or Orwellian memory-holing) the report has been deleted from the White House site. Apparently still available at https://trumpwhitehouse.archives.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/The-Presidents-Advisory-1776-Commission-Final-Report.pdf.)

    Identity politics is fundamentally incompatible with the principle of equality enshrined in the Declaration of Independence.

    Proponents of identity politics rearrange Americans by group identities, rank them by how much oppression they have experienced at the hands of the majority culture, and then sow division among them. While not as barbaric or dehumanizing, this new creed creates new hierarchies as unjust as the old hierarchies of the antebellum South, making a mockery of equality with an ever-changing scale of special privileges on the basis of racial and sexual identities. The very idea of equality under the law—of one nation sharing King’s “solid rock of brotherhood”—is not possible and, according to this argument, probably not even desirable.

    All Americans, and especially all educators, should understand identity politics for what it is: rejection of the principle of equality proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence. As a nation, we should oppose such efforts to divide us and reaffirm our common faith in the fundamental equal right of every individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

    I've bashed Trump when I thought he deserved it, but this is pretty good.

    Of course…


  • … the folks who prefer 1619ism's narrative are incensed. David Harsanyi provides examples of The Ridiculous Attacks on the 1776 Report. For example:

    Maegan Vazquez, a reporter at CNN, asserted that the “Trump administration issues racist school curriculum report on MLK day.” Vazquez offers only one specific instance to buttress this claim: The report notes that the civil-rights movement had turned un-American when championing policies such as affirmative action. This, indeed, is debatable. It would be more accurate to say that the Left has long given up on MLK’s dream of an America where people are judged on the content of their characters rather than the color of their skin.

    Then Vazquez contends, quite amusingly, that the report is a “rebuttal to schools applying a more accurate history curriculum.”

    By “more accurate,” she means the New York Times’ 1619 Project, a work that argues patriots of the American Revolution had only picked up their muskets to preserve the institution of slavery. This reading of history been rebuked by numerous historians — and not just panelists at some Heritage Foundation symposium, but by a wide range of ideologically diverse historians. Vazquez never mentions this fact, nor that the “more accurate” project was forced to append a substantive correction and use stealth edits after historians pointed to more fundamental errors. Or that the New York Times simply ignored other apprehensions from historians. The lead author of the project was forced to admit that the project was simply an “origin story,” not history.

    I advocate reading everything you can, and making up your own mind. Of course, folks like Maegan Vazquez want to make sure you won't read the 1776 report.

    And who's to say how long it will stay up at the White House website. Scrubbed at 12:01pm today, maybe?


  • Matt Ridley shares an article he co-wrote with what you'd think would be an unexceptionable thesis: The World Needs a Real Investigation Into the Origins of Covid-19.

    In the first week of January, scientists representing the World Health Organization (WHO) were due to arrive in China to trace the origins of Covid-19. The team membership and terms of reference were preapproved by the Chinese government, yet at the last minute Beijing denied entry to the investigators. This prompted WHO to take the rare step of criticizing China, which relented and allowed the group to enter the country this week.

    The brief standoff highlights a more serious problem: the inadequacy of WHO’s current investigative framework for exploring all plausible origins of Covid-19. The world needs an inquiry that considers not just natural origins but the possibility that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, escaped from a laboratory. The WHO team, however, plans to build on reports by Chinese scientists rather than mount an independent investigation. Given that Chinese authorities have been slow to release information, penalized scientists and doctors who shared clinical and genomic details of the novel coronavirus, and have since demonstrated a keen interest in controlling the narrative of how the virus emerged, this is not a promising foundation for WHO’s investigation.

    I try very hard not to be that Nutjob Conspiracy Theorist guy, and I initially bought the "bats in the wet market" origin story, but these days I'm leaning toward the "accidental release from the Wuhan Institute of Virology" story. Ridley gives a strong argument why that theory should be taken seriously.


  • Another longtime skeptic of the wet market yarn was Jim Geraghty. In his daily Morning Jolt, he observes:

    Earlier this month, when New York magazine ran a lengthy article by Nicholson Baker that concluded a lab leak couldn’t be ruled out, editor-in-chief David Haskell emphasized that his magazine’s fact-checking team spent a month vetting the story, and asked, “One of the great mysteries of this pandemic—where did it originate?—is twinned with a meta-mystery: Why has the question of its origin not been explored more vigorously?”

    Some of us don’t find that question so baffling. If SARS-CoV-2 had a natural origin, the pandemic that has besieged us is just bad luck, with no serious policy repercussions, other than more denunciations of the illegal-animal-smuggling trade, which brings more people into contact with wild animals and potential new viruses. But if SARS-CoV-2 originated because of reckless Chinese scientists and went on to kill more than 2 million people around the world, Beijing’s epic irresponsibility and dishonesty would tear up every existing relationship between the Chinese government and the rest of the world. It could even conceivably lead to war.

    These recent reports, by themselves, do not prove that SARS-CoV-2 is the result of a lab accident. We may never learn the virus’s origins with any certainty. If any physical evidence of a lab accident existed, the Chinese government would have destroyed it by now, and the regime’s ability to silence whistleblowers has few rivals.

    Jim's newsletter is always good reading, often covering multiple topics. In the linked issue, he also provides a rebuttal to Max Boot, who has some weird ideas about the government's ability to impose "fairness" regulation on cable news networks. And to the extent that anyone takes Boot seriously, damned scary ideas.


  • Jacob Sullum wonders: Would a National Lockdown Have Saved the U.S. From COVID-19?. (Spoiler: Betteridge's law of headlines applies.) But first, a little Federalism 101:

    The United States has seen more COVID-19 deaths per capita than all but 10 countries. In a one-year retrospective on the pandemic, The New York Times blames the lack of "a unified national strategy," which it says led to a "fractur[ed]" response.

    At bottom, that critique—like federal COVID-19 adviser Anthony Fauci's complaint that "the states are very often given a considerable amount of leeway in doing things the way they want"—is an objection to the American system of government. Under the Constitution, the federal government is limited to specifically enumerated powers, which do not include a general authority to protect the public from communicable diseases. That responsibility lies primarily with the states, which retain a broad "police power" that goes far beyond the authority vested in the president or Congress.

    Jacob goes on to compare Covid policies in Texas and California. It's a mixed bag.


Last Modified 2021-01-22 10:15 AM EST

Mary Poppins Returns

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

Spoiler Alert: in this movie, Mary Poppins returns. As Emily Blunt, not Julie Andrews.

I can't help but observe that this moves Mary up a couple notches on the sexy scale. Is it just me?

You need to remember that the original movie had Mary nannying Michael and Jane. They're all grown up here, and widower Michael has his own brood: Annabel, Georgie, and John. And Michael's in deep financial trouble, about to lose his house.

Fortunately, Mary shows up. (It seems to take a real long time for her to show up.) And does her usual thing: taking the kids into semi-animated fantasies with big song-and-dance production numbers.

And (spoiler alert for real this time): Dick Van Dyke!

Dead Reckoning

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

Back in ancient times (1972), Woody Allen made funny movies. I enjoyed Play It Again, Sam, in which an illusory Humphrey Bogart provides real-time romantic advice to Allen's character.

Well, actually not Bogart; it's the character Bogie played in numerous movies: hard-boiled, cynical, self-assured, and a chick magnet. At one point, Bogie seeks to calm Allen's date-night jitters: "Relax. You're as nervous as Lizabeth Scott was before I blew her brains out."

Well, trivia fans: this is the only movie Bogart made with Lizabeth Scott. And (spoiler alert) he does not blow her brains out.

Also, Bogie never (quite) said "Play it again, Sam" in Casablanca.

So don't put Woody Allen on your team for movie trivia night.

But this movie: Bogart's character, 'Rip' Murdock, is returning from WWII to America with his Army buddy Johnny. When Rip reveals that they're headed to Washington, where Johnny is to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor, Johnny inexplicably takes a powder, hopping a train to WhoKnowsWhereVille.

Rip is nonplussed by Johnny's behavior, and resolves to find out what's going on with his buddy. He tracks Johnny to Gulf City, a sin-filled Southern town. Unfortunately, what he finds is a corpse in the morgue, burned beyond recognition. A little research in a newspaper archive finds the problem: before he signed up with the Army, Johnny was a murder suspect. The victim was a rich guy, and testifying against Johnny was the rich guy's wife… ah, there she is, Lizabeth Scott! And a little further investigation shows that she's somehow tied up with local racketeer Martinelli.

So who killed the rich guy? And who killed Johnny? And … hey … who killed the bartender whose corpse has been planted in Murdock's hotel room?

It's a complex plot, all right. I think it gets straightened out in the end. Lizabeth doesn't get her brains blown out, but something else bad happens.

Magical Thinking in My Sunday Paper

[Newspaper Fail]

A few years back, my local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat, implemented a massive price increase for a daily subscription. After some discussion, Mrs. Salad and I decided it wasn't even close to worth what they were asking. So we cut back to a Sunday-only subscription; we could justify that for the coupon sections and the reprinted crossword puzzles from the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. Fun, and theoretically money-saving!

The news coverage, on the other hand, is dismal: reprinted AP stories, and a lot of thinly disguised "progressive" advocacy pieces written by young journalists who can't keep from being activists.

I sometimes make the mistake of reading the opinion columns. This past Sunday brought one bad enough that I can't resist blogging about it: Maine budget must become vehicle for change by Douglas Rooks. Rooks is pretty much a straight partisan Democrat cheerleader. He was more or less apoplectic during the two-term Maine governorship of Paul LePage (2011-2019).

But today, Maine is under unified Democrat control: Governor Janet Mills, a 21-13 advantage in the Maine Senate, and an 80-66 advantage in the Maine House of Representatives. So Rooks should be pretty happy, right?

Well… no. Problem number one: Governor Mills' just-released budget proposal doesn't raise taxes! During the reign of the despised LePage, the top marginal tax rate was cut from 8.5% to 7.15%! (LePage wanted a bigger decrease but didn't get it.) Rooks bewails:

Mills has accepted much lower income tax rates, saying her budget proposals “do not change tax rates and do not create new programs.” And that’s just the problem.

With a presidentially inspired insurrection roiling the nation and the pandemic laying bare the desperate inequality experienced by ordinary Americans, this is no time to stand pat.

Senate President Troy Jackson addressed this, saying “We may have to look at our tax code.” As he put it, “A lot of people have done very well during the pandemic.”

I'm as outraged about the "presidentially inspired insurrection" as the next guy, but using it as an excuse to raise taxes is an impressive logical leap.

Rooks echoes the usual class-warfare platitudes about "having the rich pay more" and "widening economic disparities". What he doesn't say: that 7.15% tax rate is still the tenth highest among the fifty states, And it kicks in pretty quickly: you pay it starting at $52,600 for a single filer, $105,200 for joint filers.

In comparison, the People's Republic of Vermont's top rate is slightly higher (8.75%), but a single filer has to make $200,200 to pay that, joint filers $243,750.

And that's just the income tax. Overall, Maine residents endure the fourth highest tax burden among the fifty states, behind only New York, Hawaii, and Vermont. And Maine is just barely behind Vermont (10.57% vs 10.73%).

But that's not Rooks' only gripe:

On the spending side, too, Mills’s budget has disappointments. While providing modest increases in municipal revenue sharing and school funding, it “flat funds” the University of Maine System at its current $230 million.

Oh no! Flat funds!

But let's hear the argument:

This is short-sighted. If Maine is ever going to bridge its income gap with the other New England states, it will have to invest in the “knowledge economy” that provides most of the future’s good jobs.

Public universities can be engines of economic growth, and Maine has seen promising results from research in forest products and offshore wind generation, but new industries won’t come to fruition – and attract private funding – unless the state makes greater investments.

The same is true for all college, and community college, programs. At one time, state appropriations covered 70% of the university budget; now it’s just 30%.

We’ll never solve the problem of college affordability – beyond the currently trendy idea of canceling past student debt – unless the state steps up, and doesn’t continue falling back.

"Stepping up" is good! "Falling back" is bad!

Argument by cliché.

This is the magical thinking alluded to in the title of this post. What do you have to believe in order to think that shoving more taxpayer money at the UMaine system will cause Maine's "income gap" to shrink?

As opposed to, say, causing nicer cars to appear in UMaine's Faculty/Staff parking lots?

You'll see all sorts of arguments: university education is an investment in human capital; an educated workforce attracts businesses to a region; university research and development can spill over into private industry, startups, etc. Not coincidently, I suspect, a lot of these arguments are made by folks affiliated with universities.

We won't get into the weedy arguments here. But since Rooks offered increased UMaine funding as a solution to Maine's "income gap with the other New England states": According to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association:

  • New Hampshire appropriated $3,185 per full-time enrolled (FTE) student in 2019. That's a 40.9% decrease since 1980. And that's dead last among the fifty states.
  • Maine appropriated $8,013 per FTE student in 2019. and there's been 13.1% increase in that figure since 1980. That's roughly comparable to the US average ($8196); not lavish, but certainly not penurious.
  • Since 2009, Maine's FTE enrollment has dropped by 5.6%. In comparison, New Hampshire's increased by 6.0%,
  • But what about that "income gap"? Well, pre-pandemic, Maine's per capita personal income was $50,950. That is, indeed, below all other New England states. Compare (specifically) to New Hampshire:'s $63,880.

Throwing more money at public institutions of higher education is not the slam-dunk for state prosperity that Rooks claims.

If Maine really wants to get on the path to economic betterment, a good place to start is (1) ignore Douglas Rooks; (2) peruse the Freedom in the 50 States website. Key points of comparison:

  • New Hampshire is ranked #2 for overall freedom; Maine is ranked #39.
  • This is despite Maine being ranked #1 in the entire nation on issues of "personal freedom". New Hampshire is merely "pretty good" on that score: #5.
  • So where does Maine fall short, freedomwise? You guessed it: on "economic freedom" (fiscal and regulatory policy) it comes in near-last: #44. New Hampshire: #3.
  • Here are Cato's policy recommendations for Maine:

    • Fiscal: Cut spending on public welfare and housing and community development. Maine is one of the most free-spending states on public welfare in the country, and it also spends much more than average on housing and community development. Also cut individual and corporate income taxes.
    • Regulatory: Roll back exclusionary zoning, perhaps by allowing state veto of local zoning ordinances that limit housing supply.
    • Personal: Sell off the state liquor stores and replace the markup with a transparent ad valorem tax, as Washington has done. Maine will never be able to compete with New Hampshire prices anyway; perhaps it can compete on convenience.

I don't know; our stores are pretty convenient. Famously, outlets for both northbound and southbound traffic on (both) I-93 and I-95. Currently offering curbside pickup!


Last Modified 2021-01-19 6:14 PM EST

URLs du Jour

2021-01-18

  • Arnold Kling brings an appropriate post for MLK Day. Quoting a City Journal article:

    An elementary school in Cupertino, California—a Silicon Valley community with a median home price of $2.3 million—recently forced a class of third-graders to deconstruct their racial identities, then rank themselves according to their “power and privilege.”

    Arnold notes that it's pretty depressing reading.


  • Systemic Racism: Is there anything it can't do? The Free Beacon notes its latest superpower: Incoming White House Climate Team Blames 'Systemic Racism' for Climate Change.

    A pair of top incoming White House environmental aides has blamed "systemic racism" as a driver of climate change in an attempt to justify a government-led economic overhaul.

    President-elect Joe Biden named progressive policy adviser Maggie Thomas as Office of Domestic Climate Policy chief of staff and climate advocate Cecilia Martinez as "senior director for environmental justice" on Thursday. Both Thomas and Martinez have cited racial inequality as perpetuating climate change, arguing that the Biden administration's environmental policy must be centered on "racial and economic justice."

    I'd advise instead "centering" on getting nuclear power restarted … and then about 93 other things … and then you can center on "racial and economic justice".


  • Did you think regulation was bad? Well, whatever you thought, Scott Sumner has some news for you: Regulation: It's much worse than you think.

    The distribution of vaccines is being held up by regulation. But I suspect that even opponents of regulation underestimate its pervasive effects. Regulation goes far beyond things like price controls and mandates regarding distribution, it extends into all aspects of our society (including the “private” sector), in ways that many people don’t even think about. Let’s start with health care:

    1. We have a tax system that pushes people into gold-plated health insurance plans, and then the government regulates the way that those plans can operate. That problem was made dramatically worse by the recent decision of Congress and the President to kill the so-called “Cadillac tax”, which would have gradually eliminate the tax subsidy for health insurance.

    2. We have many controls on entry into the provision of health care, which drive up costs in numerous ways.

    There's more, but (spoiler alert) "Systemic Racism" doesn't appear on Scott's list.


  • Anyone remember the kerfuffle surrounding Joseph Epstein's short op-ed on the about-to-be-First Lady's insistence on the honorific "Dr." in front of her name? Well, Joseph has a followup at Commentary: The Making of a Misogynist.

    The misogynist of my title, as Flaubert said of Madame Bovary, c’est moi. I became America’s most notable one on Saturday morning, December 12, upon the release of an 800-or-so-word op-ed I wrote in the Wall Street Journal published under the title “Is There a Doctor in the White House? Not If You Need an M.D.” I had written the piece to get what I thought a minor pet peeve off my chest: the affectation of the president-elect’s wife in calling herself, and insisting that everyone else refer to her as, “Dr. Jill Biden.” She is not a physician; rather, she was awarded a degree by a graduate school of education. What I thought was a fairly light bit of prose whose intentions were chiefly comic set off a forest fire of anger toward, abuse of, and outright hatred for its author. It proves you can be a naïf even at the age of 83.

    I'm not (quite) 83. I only hope to get there, and if I do, I hope I can use "naïf" in a sentence correctly.


  • Michael Barone's observation belongs in our "So What Else Is New?" department: The left now just wants to silence conservatives — all of them.

    It wasn’t just Donald Trump’s detractors who felt a sudden sense of relief when they heard that Twitter was blocking his feed after the storming of the Capitol and the disruption of the reading of the Electoral College results on Jan. 6.

    While President Trump’s exact words to the crowd on the Ellipse didn’t constitute a criminal incitement, they were uttered with a reckless disregard for the possibility that they’d provoke violence, which any reasonable person could find impeachable.

    But a moment’s reflection should have left any believer in free speech feeling queasy about a private firm censoring the president of the United States and preventing him from effectively communicating with citizens over a chosen medium of universal reach. And especially queasy since a large body of opinion sees this suppression of free speech by Big Tech monopolies not as a one-time exception but as the new rule.

    Oliver Darcy of CNN wants the network’s cable rivals to be held “responsible for the lies they peddle.” Law professors are surprisingly open to speech suppression, as Thomas Edsall reports in his New York Times blog: Yale’s Robert Post laments that “the formation of public opinion is out of control”; the University of California, Irvine’s Rick Hasen laments “a market failure when it comes to reliable information voters need”; Columbia University’s Tim Wu suggests “the weaponization of speech” makes First Amendment jurisprudence “increasingly obsolete.”

    Democratic worthies have been singing the same tune. Michelle Obama took the lead in urging the permanent ban on Donald Trump, which Twitter promptly promulgated.

    I'm pretty sure "the left" isn't unanimous in its desire to silence its opponents. Glenn Greenwald, for example. And Matt Taibbi. And … folks, help me out here?

URLs du Jour

2021-01-17

Michael Ramirez has a little list:

[Traitors List]

Click for a glorious full-size version on Mr. Ramirez's website.

  • I believe James Bovard speaks for a lot of people when he bemoans Pandemic Security Theater.

    After the start of the Covid pandemic, my local Harris Teeter grocery store in Montgomery County, Maryland made extensive changes, including placing eight-foot high plexiglass screens between every one of its nine self-service checkout stations. However, a few months ago, one panicky customer complained to the local health department that he felt unsafe at the store. A health inspector swooped in and threatened to shut down the grocery store unless they blocked access to a third of their self-service checkouts. As a result, the store now sometimes has long lines of people waiting to check out and presumably increasing their exposure to Covid while tarrying.

    The inspector also forced the store to designate one of its two eight-foot wide entrances, each with a sequence of two automatic opening doors, as an “exit only.” The store initially taped a few little “exit only” signs to the exterior. A few weeks later, a county inspector returned to the scene (maybe sparked by another local resident who forgot to take their Xanax before shopping?) and issued new commands to the store. The result: now the doors are plastered with at least four “exit signs” as well as a three-foot high folding “exit” sign close enough to trip people who weren’t paying attention.

    This is pure Pandemic Security Theater. If people could catch the virus from passing momentarily in a wide doorway, then all the grocery store clerks as well as most subway and bus passengers would have been struck down by Covid long ago. 

    Worse than Covid, we have a pandemic of people who need to Do Something.


  • The LFOD Google News Alert rang for Ms. Jean Stimmell… No, sorry, that's apparently Mr. Jean Stimmell, a " person-centered, empathic therapist, skilled in solution-oriented therapy, combining Mindfulness with a relational, narrative approach." Anyway, Jean took to the pages of the New Hampshire Gazette to observe: Covid shows, once more, who’s excluded from the American Dream. And LFOD is right up front:

    The media and disease experts tell us we must take personal responsibility to avoid Covid-19! Gov. Sununu, to no one’s surprise, has taken the same hands-off approach, choosing to treat the pandemic like we do other social ills, like poverty or homelessness, exemplifying our state motto: “Live Free or Die.”

    And I wouldn't mention it otherwise, except that …


  • Ed Mosca has a slightly different view. Writing at Granite Grok, Ed sees No End in Sight to the Tyranny.

    Sununu’s mask-mandate has been totally ineffectual as the following chart from the New York Times shows. He initially ordered a 60-day mask-mandate on November 19, 2020 (see second chart). Since then cases have exploded.

    I'm probably more in tune with Ed than I am with Jean. In the sense that I'm closer to the Moon than I am the Sun. But I think it's just amazing how people generate their own reality: Jean says the Gov is "hands-off", Ed sees a tyrant. Funny old world.

    (And no, I'm not saying "the truth is somewhere in between". That's a fallacy, friends.)


  • Bjorn Lomborg provides the bad news: Joe Biden's climate-change plans will burn billions.

    Joe Biden will rejoin the Paris climate agreement soon after being inaugurated as president of the United States. Climate change, according to Biden, is “an existential threat” to the nation, and to combat it, he proposes to spend $500 billion each year on climate policies — the equivalent of $1,500 per person.

    Let’s get real. Climate is a man-made problem. But Biden’s climate alarmism is almost entirely wrong. Asking people to spend $1,500 every year is unsustainable when surveys show a majority is unwilling to spend even $24 per year on climate. And policies like Paris will fix little at a high cost. Biden is right to highlight the problem, but he needs a smarter way forward.

    But leave it to…


  • Clive Thompson at Wired to draw the wrong (but convenient) conclusion from current events: Climate Change Needs an Operation Warp Speed. With even dumber subhed: "If the Covid vaccine push has proved anything, it’s that big government works."

    Note that the vaccines were provided by private companies (Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca).

    Delays and bungles, however, were brought to us by Big Government.

    Clive doesn't notice:

    The White House and Congress created Operation Warp Speed and started plowing some $18 billion into it. The feds authorized huge, multibillion-dollar preorders for vaccines, and with such a large guaranteed market, pharmaceuticals moved into high gear. The government also threw its logistical know-how at the hellish challenge of distributing the vaccines. Scientifically, of course, we were prepared and lucky. Genetic sequencing was advanced and speedy, and scientists cooperated globally. But it was the critical push from governments (the US and others) that propelled the fastest vaccine mobilization in history.

    It’s also an object lesson for our troubled time: When you’re facing a world-threatening crisis, there’s no substitute for government leadership.

    This is worth reflecting on, because we’re surrounded by existential threats. Principally, climate change. The scale of the problem is massive.

    So is the answer: Operation Warp Speed for climate.

    Sigh. It's not as if we haven't heard this argument before. Starting with people saying over a half-century ago: If we can put a man on the moon…

    Clive just gets worse from there.

The Gentlemen

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Produced by Guy Ritchie. Written by Guy Ritchie. Directed by Guy Ritchie. Good job, Guy.

It's a complex, intricately plotted story of the British marijuana trade. Since pot is still illegal in Great Britain, the folks in charge are criminals. Very rich criminals, but still.

The narrative is framed by sleazy private eye Fletcher (Hugh Grant) blackmailing Ray (Charlie Hunnam); Ray is the consigliare to the big boss, Michael (Matthew McConaughey). (Fletcher was hired by even-sleazier tabloid magnate "Big Dave" (Eddie Marsan) to expose Michael, in revenge for a social slight, but Fletcher figures he can do better for himself via his blackmail scheme.)

Michael is trying to put together a nine-figure deal (where those figures are in British pounds) to sell off his empire to Matthew (Jeremy Strong); his goal is to retire and kick back with his lovely wife Rosalind (Lady Mary herself, Michelle Dockery). But there's no honor among thieves, and a lot of effort is put into pushing the deal off the rails. Violently.

Well, that's just the tip of the iceberg. There are a few more major characters, and a bunch more minor ones. And there's not a lot of downtime, no strolling by the river to ponder the meaning of it all. The also movie jumps back and forth in time a bit, too. You have to pay attention!

There's also a considerable amount of absurdity and humor amidst all the mayhem. Good stuff.

The Fabric of Civilization

How Textiles Made the World

[Amazon Link]

Virginia Postrel spent the last few years immersing herself in All Things Fabric, and this book is the result: stuff she found out along the way. It's organized into components, chapter by chapter: Fiber, Thread, Cloth, Dye, Traders, Consumers, Innovators. Each explores history, technology, innovation, stories about those involved. (And in the last chapter, a look at the possible future.) It's very readable and interesting.

Interesting?, you ask. Yup. Ms. Postrel notes we're biased by today's easy availability of a wide variety of easily-affordable fabric, put to a dizzying array of uses. She inverts Arthur C. Clarke's Third Law (“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”): for fabrics, it's "Any sufficiently familiar technology is indistinguishable from nature." We take fabrics for granted. She does her best to undo that complacency. (If you were dumped naked into… let's say a cotton field, to give you every advantage … could you come close to clothing yourself? Didn't think so.)

I found myself reading passages out loud to Mrs. Salad. The book is full of grabby anecdotes. Example: back in the fourteenth century or so, the fabric trade was so complex (prices, interest, profits), it became necessary to (more or less) invent mathematical techniques to handle the commercial transactions. There are some cute examples of the "word problems" students were expected to handle in order to consider themselves educated. They look a lot like the word problems students moan over even today.

Basically, it's a story of how innovation, trade, and consumerism interact in a specific market; Adam Smith's good old Invisible Hand, bringing us cheap and high-quality stuff, unappreciated.

I recommend this book, if only to break yourself out of your fabric complacency. (If only for a bit. I went back to taking t-shirts for granted pretty quickly.)

URLs du Jour

2021-01-16

  • The American Thinker, after Thinking Some More, has issued a Statement. In part:

    American Thinker and contributors Andrea Widburg, R.D. Wedge, Brian Tomlinson, and Peggy Ryan have published pieces on www.AmericanThinker.com that falsely accuse US Dominion Inc., Dominion Voting Systems, Inc., and Dominion Voting Systems Corporation (collectively “Dominion”) of conspiring to steal the November 2020 election from Donald Trump. These pieces rely on discredited sources who have peddled debunked theories about Dominion’s supposed ties to Venezuela, fraud on Dominion’s machines that resulted in massive vote switching or weighted votes, and other claims falsely stating that there is credible evidence that Dominion acted fraudulently.

    These statements are completely false and have no basis in fact. Industry experts and public officials alike have confirmed that Dominion conducted itself appropriately and that there is simply no evidence to support these claims.

    It was wrong for us to publish these false statements. We apologize to Dominion for all of the harm this caused them and their employees. We also apologize to our readers for abandoning 9 journalistic principles and misrepresenting Dominion’s track record and its limited role in tabulating votes for the November 2020 election. We regret this grave error. 

    I took a small amount of abuse when I commented at a local well-respected blog in opposition to their postings about Dominion. Hope they do the right thing and apologize to their readers. Hopefully without getting threatened with legal action.


  • Jonah Goldberg takes a stand: Down with Popular Fronts.

    For a great many reasons, both parties have a popular-front problem. Historically, a popular front is a broad coalition of disparate groups on the left who agree to overlook their various ideological and political differences for the sake of unity against a common foe. Some popular fronts were justified, and some were disastrous. For instance, the old Jacobin rallying cry, “No Enemies to the Left,” was a standard mantra among 20th century popular-front movements. (The fuller version: pas d’ennemis à gauche, pas d’amis à droit; “No enemies to the left, no friends to the right.”) Alexander Kerensky followed this rule, all but paving the way for the Bolsheviks to come to power. In America, popular frontism nearly led to disaster, but some good liberals at Americans for Democratic Action and in the Democratic party realized that finding common cause with communists loyal to Moscow was a recipe for calamity. 

    Whether warranted or not, all popular-front movements share the same flaw: They demand that individuals and institutions be loyal to a single political agenda as well as deferential to ideas they do not actually hold.

    Can anybody honestly dispute that this describes much of what’s going on today?

    It makes a certain amount of sense for inherently-collectivist lefties to surrender their identities to a sorta-like-minded group.

    Conservatives don't have that excuse.


  • Arnold Kling makes an interesting distinction: Experiments vs. tampering.

    W. Edwards Deming distinguished experiments from tampering. With an experiment, you change a process and explicitly compare the results to a baseline. With tampering, you change the process without rigorously examining the results.

    For example, in education, most curriculum changes involve tampering. Schools rarely test to see whether a curriculum works.

    I once sat next to a high official in the Department of Education, and he was horrified when I suggested experiments in education. “Would you want your child to be part of an experiment?” he asked, incredulously. “The schools do it all the time,” I responded. “They just don’t bother checking to see whether their experiments work.”

    It's no accident that pols love to tamper. For example…


  • Allison Schrager looks at our imminent tamperer-in-chief, whose "plan" is Feel Good Now—Pay Later.

    If President-elect Joe Biden’s economic-stimulus plan is a preview of what to look for over the next four years, we can expect lots of feel-good populist measures that will ultimately harm the most vulnerable people in the American economy.

    The plan offers some things to like, or at least not object to—more money for vaccines and testing, opening of schools, expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit (a subsidy for low earners), child tax credits, more money for small businesses, and expanded unemployment benefits. Those last two will be especially necessary, even after the pandemic passes, because other provisions in the proposed stimulus will harm small businesses and throw millions of people out of work.

    The plan includes a national $15 minimum wage and elimination of the “tipped minimum” for service employees. In places like Mississippi, $15 is already the median hourly wage, and the current minimum is $7.25. Biden’s plan thus doubles labor costs for many businesses barely staying afloat. New York City already has a $15 minimum wage, but its tipped minimum wage remains $10. Small businesses, especially in service industries, are already struggling, and many will be facing debts for years to come. Raising their costs now and discouraging hiring will not grow the economy.

    As I'm pretty sure someone Tweeted: here's a plan for all those who demand a $15 minimum wage:

    1. Start your own business.
    2. Pay all your employees at least $15/hr.

    Expecting others to do the hard work for you isn't a good look.


  • Section 230 isn't hard to understand. That doesn't stop people who should know better from failing to understand it. Mike Masnick looks at a recent example; Former FCC Boss Tom Wheeler Continues To Misunderstand And Misrepresent Section 230 And The Challenges Of Content Moderation.

    It's not just Ajit Pai who is an FCC chair who misunderstands Section 230. His predecessor, Tom Wheeler continues to get it totally wrong as well. A year ago, we highlighted Wheeler's complete confusion over Section 230, that blamed Section 230 for all sorts of things... that had nothing at all to do with Section 230. I was told by some people that they had talked to Wheeler and explained to him some of the mistakes in his original piece, but it appears that they did not stick.

    This week he published another bizarre and misguided attack on Section 230 that gets a bunch of basic stuff absolutely wrong. What's weird is that in the last article we pointed to, Wheeler insisted that social media websites do no moderation, because of 230. But in this one, he's now noting that 230 allowed them to close down the accounts of Donald Trump and some other insurrectionists -- but he's upset that it came too late.

    Mike's thought about this stuff. It's his job to.

    It was also (in theory) part of Tom Wheeler's job. He had over three years to figure it out. What's his excuse?

URLs du Jour

2021-01-15

  • Kevin D. Williamson ponders the End of the Republican Party. It's a very long essay, but worth your attention. Especially if you care about having a healthy two-party system. KDW's not optimistic on that score.

    Like its financial counterpart, moral bankruptcy happens two ways: gradually, then suddenly. In 2016, I wrote that the likely outcome of a Trump presidency would be the end of the Republican Party as we had known it. And so it ends for the Grand Old Party: From abolition to anarchy, from republicans to rabble, a bloody-minded, homicidal gang in thrall to the very democracy John Adams warned us about. A dog in this condition would be put to sleep. It would be a piece of mercy.

    I'm probably more hopeful, but I'm having a hard time coming up with good reasons to be hopeful.


  • Megan McArdle is not quite as pessimistic as KDW, but almost: If Republicans can’t cast Trump off, their wounds — and the country’s — will only get deeper.

    I have not yet heard anyone on the left outline a credible vision for what happens after we impeach the president and, one hopes, convict him and bar our insurrectionist in chief from ever holding office again. I would like to know that there is one, and not just a fond hope that the backlash for Jan. 6 will break the Republican Party once and for all. The Democrats have wasted the better part of two decades on deterministic assumptions that, one day, demographic destiny or some other deus ex machina will do its work, Republicans will obligingly die off, and the woke will inherit the Earth.

    Try assuming instead that they will be a political force to be reckoned with — and negotiated with — for the rest of everyone’s life.

    But this is a reasonable and benign fantasy compared to the one Republicans indulged in Wednesday: that if they were willing to condemn the Capitol insurrection as the work of a few bad apples, Democrats should admit their part in stoking our increasingly bitter divides, and we should all move on. “It will only serve to further divide a nation that is calling out for healing,” said Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) as the House took up impeachment.

    I'm pretty sure there's no reason for Republicans to take Democrat advice on how to proceed post-Trump. (E.g.: MSNBC's Joy Reid Calls For 'De-Baathification' Of The GOP.) On the other hand, hoping for a magical GOP return to a commitment to fiscal sanity, limited government, individual liberty, free markets,… that seems increasingly pollyannish by the day.

    For example…


  • George F. Will notes a tough competition: Lindsey Graham had a lock on most ludicrous senator — until Josh Hawley pounced.

    Joe Biden and the Democratic-controlled 117th Congress will benefit from what freshman Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) did at the end of the 116th. It and Hawley will soon recede into the mists of memory, but this should be remembered: Before Hawley immolated his brief political career (see the photo of his clenched-fist salute of solidarity as he walked past the mob that was about to sack the Capitol), he seemed certain to be a presidential candidate in 2024. Which probably explains his performance during the December auction in the Senate.

    In late December, President Trump, who was thinking that Hawley and kindred congressional spirits could deliver to him a second term, decided that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) were right to demand that pandemic relief-cum-stimulus legislation should feature $2,000 checks showered evenhandedly on those in need and on scores of millions who are not. Three senatorial mini-Trumps — Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Hawley — promptly joined the Pelosi-Schumer-Trump Axis of Generosity.

    Assuming I don't dump my party registration before 2024, I look forward to skipping over Rubio and Hawley on the New Hampshire primary ballot. And maybe just giving up, crumpling my ballot, and walking out of the polling place.


  • But hey, there's always the dim hope that Democrats will act even dumber than the Republicans. For example, Robby Soave finds it necessary to instruct one of their leading lights in First Amendment basics: No, AOC, It’s Not the Government’s Job to ‘Rein in Our Media’.

    Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–N.Y.) told her social media followers earlier this week that Democrats in Congress might respond to the Capitol riot with some sort of "media literacy" initiative.

    The phrase media literacy ordinarily implies helping individuals make sense of the media landscape, but AOC seems to have more in mind than that: She suggested "we're going to have to figure out how we rein in our media environment so that you can't just spew disinformation and misinformation."

    It's true that both traditional media and social media sometimes spread "disinformation and misinformation." But the federal government has no formal role to play in suppressing its spread. The First Amendment explicitly bars Congress from infringing on freedom of the press or freedom of speech, and the Supreme Court has recognized no exceptions for disinformation. If the government could ban disinformation, after all, it could use that as a cover for banning speech that is not actually false but merely critical of the government, or of specific politicians. Recall that Democrats swiftly denounced The New York Post's report on Hunter Biden's foreign connections as "disinformation," even though many underlying aspects of the story have since been confirmed.

    And …


  • Also "pouncing" on the AOC blather is David Harsanyi. AOC, other progressives have a new goal: Silence the press.

    Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been a wellspring of truly terrible ideas for years, but her new one might be her worst on yet: A Ministry of Truth.

    During a live stream on her Instagram page, Ocasio-Cortez was asked by a viewer if, to help with national healing, there were congressional plans to institute any “truth and reconciliation or media literacy initiatives.”

    The socialist congresswoman replied that, yes, indeed, she and some of her colleagues have been exploring media literacy initiatives to help “rein in” the press and combat misinformation after last week’s riot at the U.S. Capitol.

    “It’s one thing to have differentiating opinions but it’s another thing entirely to just say things that are false,” Ocasio-Cortez added. “So that’s something that we’re looking into.”

    I'm as angered as anyone about Trump and his personality-cult followers promulgating wackadoodle conspiracy crap about the election. It's bad. And giving the state power to "rein it in" is even worse.


Last Modified 2021-01-16 10:09 AM EST

URLs du Jour

2021-01-14

[Amazon Link]

  • Mark J. Perry deems this the best sentence he read today (which would be yesterday as I type):

    America’s transformation into a giant, left-wing college campus is almost complete.

    That's from a Legal Insurrection post: Supermarket Chain Adding ‘Black-Owned’ Tags to Products Offered by Minority Owned Businesses. Illustrated with a tweeted news story with a totally on-point comment:

    Gee, just in time for Martin Luther King's birthday tomorrow! You know, the "content of their character" guy.


  • Bari Weiss has a Substack, and her first article is on The Great Unraveling. Opening:

    Thought comes before action. Words come before deeds. Media that profits from polarization will stoke it. Lies — maybe harmless for the moment, maybe even noble — create a lying world.

    I’ve known this for a while. It’s why I left The New York Times. And it is why, as much as I miss doing journalism, I’ve been cautious at every next step. 

    Hate sells, as the journalist Matt Taibbi has convincingly argued, and as anyone looking at Twitter trending topics over the past few years can see. If Americans are buying rage, is there a real market for something that resists it? 

    Hate sells and hate also connects. Communities can grow quite strong around hatred of difference, and that’s exactly what’s happened to the American left and the right. It is painful to resist joining a mob when that mob includes most of your friends. It feels good, at least in the short term, to give in.

    I keep thinking back to Arthur C. Brooks's last book, Love Your Enemies. Written back in 2019. Insightful. And seemingly had no effect whatsoever on our current political climate.


  • Kevin D. Williamson has a three-step recipe, which is (as I type) ⅓ complete: Impeach, Convict, & Remove Him from Office.

    If it takes until five minutes before Joe Biden is sworn in to get it done, then so be it. And if Trump runs out the clock, then he should be impeached and convicted after the fact, barring him from ever holding office again and providing a prelude to his likely prosecution on criminal charges in several jurisdictions.

    This process should have started before the sacking of the Capitol by the mob he whipped up a week ago. It should have started with the release of the recording of the telephone call between Trump and Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger, which documented the president’s attempt to suborn election fraud in Georgia. This was a scheme to effect a coup d’état by means of rank corruption. If that is not an impeachment-worthy offense, nothing is.

    KDW also provides thoughts at the NR Corner on yesterday's impeachment vote:

    A paltry ten House Republicans mustered the guts and the patriotism to vote to impeach Donald Trump. By way of comparison, 139 Republicans in the House voted to overturn the 2020 election. If the American public concludes that this is a party of irresponsible crackpots who can no longer be trusted with power, it will be impossible to blame them.

    I am a registered Republican. For years now, I've used an excuse for that: "It's more fun to vote in their primary." I'm beginning to think that excuse is inadequate.


  • Jonah Goldberg's latest G-File is Dispatch subscriber only, sorry, but I think you'll get the gist: If Impeachment Could Lead to Violence, Then Trump Should Resign.

    I’ve been arguing for years that part of the problem with Donald Trump is that his pathologies and bad actions get excused because “he can’t change,” or “he was elected to be a disruptor,” or “Trump’s going to be Trump,” etc. The best analogy I can muster is that he’s like the crazy or heavy-drinking or racist relative who comes to Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, and rather than criticizing him, people get mad at you for “setting him off.” 

    “You knew mentioning the NBA would get him going on one of his rants.”

    Another accurate simile is that Trump is like an abusive father with an enabling wife. “You shouldn’t have made him angry,” she says to the kid with a black eye. “You know how he gets when he’s in one of his moods.”

    Anyway, most of the Republicans saying he shouldn’t be impeached/removed aren’t saying he didn’t do anything wrong (though some seem to be). Instead, they focus on the fact that Joe Biden called for unity and since, they insist, impeaching Trump would be divisive it would be a bad idea. I’m sure some believe this sincerely. But it’s telling that so many of them have to use Joe Biden’s call for unity as their excuse. After all, Jim Jordan, Mo Brooks, and others can’t claim to be in favor of unity themselves because they’ve defended Trump’s divisiveness at every turn. They have to live off the stated principles of the Democrats and then score points by saying, “They’re hypocrites. They say they want unity, but look what they’re doing.”

    Also, um, problematic: Trump's argument that another impeachment will further inflame the passions of his ardent followers and spur them to more violence. Jonah argues that if Trump believes that, he should resign in order to spare the country.

    But we've been here before: that would require him to love America more than he loves himself.


  • Philip Greenspun relays news from a rich Boston suburb, forwarding a math teacher's remote-learning lesson to her students: The Capitol coup is a teachable moment.

    This is not about politics. My politics are clear to you, but it’s not. It’s not up for discussion. All reasonable people agree that what happened in Washington yesterday was a coup. Armed people, who are in charge, tried to take over the government. They had guns, they had bombs. That is the definition of a coup. . […] I know some of your parents had very clear reasons for voting for Trump. It’s okay, it is just their values are different from mine. These values conflict with our 200+ year old democracy. Everyone agrees about the election, except ONE person and those who blindly follow him. … You can be scared. I want you to be scared. … We need to address this s**** so that it f**** never happens again … When Obama was President, the country was flourishing. Now it’s falling apart.

    More at the link, including some gratifying pushback from the kiddos.


  • Veronique de Rugy's column continues our sorta-theme today: Don't Hate the Political Players; Hate the Political Game.

    Many Americans are very upset that President-elect Joe Biden will replace President Donald Trump. For most of them, it's not that they will miss Trump's unconventional and often unacceptable behavior. Instead, it's that they fear that the size and scope of government will grow so fast that it will permanently change the country they love.

    And this fear has intensified with the defeat of two Republican senators in the Georgia runoffs, resulting in Democrats regaining control of the Senate.

    At the margin, such a worry is justified. With 50 Democratic senators and control of both the House of Representatives and the White House, more policies that would have never seen the light of day when Republicans were in power, such as much more unwise COVID-19 relief, will potentially get through.

    That said, the chief driver of government expansion doesn't come from the identities of the officeholders but, rather, the incentive structures within politics. Personalities and party affiliations matter less than people believe. If limited government is what you're after, neither political party is your friend, since government expands under both. What's more, the rate at which it expands depends less on which big spenders are in power than on whether we have divided government.

    Well, we're probably doomed.

URLs du Jour

2021-01-13

  • In our "Because of Course He Was" department, the Free Beacon reports: Arizona Librarian Fired for Push to Keep Politics Out of Libraries.

    In July, Arizona librarian Ron Kelley received an email from the American Library Association—the largest librarian association in the world—soliciting individuals to join the Black Lives Matter movement. Kelley, who had served in his position for nine years, replied to the list-serve with an email titled "Keep Politics Off This Discussion Group," in which he argued that libraries should remain neutral and apolitical. Following two complaints to the Flagstaff Library regarding his email, Kelley was fired from his job.

    Prior to Kelley's removal, the American Library Association released material instructing employees to embrace "critical librarianship," which asks libraries and librarians to analyze how they "consciously and unconsciously support systems of oppression." Its core tenet is that neutrality harms oppressed groups. As one Portland librarian put it in the American Libraries magazine, remaining neutral as a librarian "upholds inequality and represents indifference to the marginalization of members of our community."

    I have to say that the Portsmouth (NH) Public Library seems to do a decent job of purchasing books across the political spectrum. It's a good thing, too, because I have to shell out for my borrowing privileges; I'm not a Portsmouth taxpayer.

    However if they start blacklisting titles because of unwokeness, why, I'll…


  • Jonathan Turley notes the latest from our social media masters: Ron Paul Posts Criticism of Censorship on Social Media Shortly Before Facebook Blocks Him.

    We have been discussing the chilling crackdown on free speech that has been building for years in the United States. This effort has accelerated in the aftermath of the Capitol riot including the shutdown sites like Parler. Now former Texas congressman Ron Paul, 85, has been blocked from using his Facebook page for unspecified violations of “community standards.” Paul’s last posting was linked to an article on the “shocking” increase of censorship on social media. Facebook then proceeded to block him under the same undefined “community standards” policy.

    Even though I was never much of a Ron Paul fanboy, this is pretty rank.

    Even though I try to avoid going political on Facebook, I posted a link to Turley's article as a test. They don't seem to have nuked me yet. But the day is young.


  • Jacob Sullum doesn't like Trump, but he also doesn't like what the Democrats are saying: Prosecuting Trump for Incitement Would Set a Dangerous Precedent.

    When Simon & Schuster canceled publication of Josh Hawley's book The Tyranny of Big Tech, the Missouri senator called the decision "a direct assault on the First Amendment." For reasons the Yale-trained lawyer and former Supreme Court clerk should understand, that description was wildly wrong.

    By contrast, another reaction to last week's deadly assault on the Capitol—the suggestion that President Donald Trump should be not only impeached but criminally prosecuted for inciting a riot—poses a real threat to freedom of speech. Trump's opponents may regret establishing a precedent that speakers who neither practice nor preach violence can be held criminally responsible for the conduct of listeners inspired by their words.

    I'd only add the caveat that Trump's behavior could well be legal, but still fully impeachable. Something I learned from listening to Jonah Goldberg's podcast with Keith Whittington this morning. (I think Jacob knows this, because his language is careful.)


  • Kyle Smith at National Review notes a good reason to turn off your TV next Wednesday, and leave it off for four years or so: Networks Teaming Up to Air Biden Inauguration Infomercial

    Behold the hilarious enthusiasm among the nation’s biggest media outlets to hurl themselves at the feet of power and begin licking intently: Next Wednesday night, after the inauguration of Joe Biden, the three oldest television networks are planning to join forces to air the same heavily produced propaganda special “celebrating the inauguration,” as Variety puts it.

    “Celebrating”? Not “covering”? Not “reporting on”? Not “observing with due detachment and without partisan cheerleading”?

    Yep, celebrating. The film is a DNC production disguised as “news,” produced by the same team that created the DNC’s infomercials at the Democrats’ convention last summer. Observers expect there will be no difficulty finding “A-list talent” to participate in the ritual tongue bath. What’s unusual about this “special” is not that it will exist but that ABC, CBS, and NBC are planning to donate their airwaves for a period of 90 minutes to two hours in order to promote the Democratic Party with glamour and spectacle. In industry parlance, this is known as a “roadblock” strategy — the idea is that viewers are forced to watch the stuff if you turn on the TV. (True, if this is 1974, but at least most people have other options today.) Fox is not participating in the state-propaganda exercise.

    For those wondering if this can possibly be true: it sure seems that way. Here's this morning's story from Poltico. You'll be able to see the tongue bath on ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, and MSNBC; Fox and Fox News are opting out.


  • At City Journal, William Voegeli writes About "Whataboutism" and Political Hypocrisy.

    Many things are complicated—but not everything. If you condemned the Antifa/Black Lives Matter violence that took place around the country in 2020, as all conservatives did, then you must condemn the Trumpist riot at the U.S. Capitol in 2021. Period.

    Suppose, however, you spent last summer applauding the riots, or dissembling about them, or dismissing them. In that case, to deplore last week’s violence credibly is not so simple. If you demand that your political adversaries adhere to a principle, but exempt people whose cause you endorse from having to comply, then that preference you enjoy boasting about is not really a principle. It is not a standard of conduct applicable to all, in other words, but just another rhetorical device used for political combat.

    If you’re Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, for example, […]

    Yeah, you'll have to click over to find out what would happen if you were Nancy Pelosi. I know that's a frightening prospect. Go ahead, I dare ya.

Good Girl, Bad Girl

[Amazon Link]

This is the last book on my mini-project to read the "Best Novel" Edgar Nominees for last year. Like the others, it's impressively good. There's a sequel, apparently, featuring the major characters here. I've put it on my get-at-library list.

Those main characters (who take turns narrating chapters) are (1) Cyrus Haven, a shrink who consults for the Nottingham police; and (2) Evie Cormac, an institutionalized child who was found hiding in a secret room where a grisly murder had taken place. Evie (aka "Angel Face", the moniker the tabloids put on her) has petitioned to be released from custody, and Cyrus is asked to evaluate her psychological status.

Evie's rebellious, foulmouthed, borderline wacko, and has an uncanny knack of detecting whether people are lying or telling the truth. Cyrus is both intimidated and intrigued. Ah, she's the "Bad Girl".

But he's also called by the cops to help out in a murder case: sweet Jodie Sheehan, on the brink of figure skating stardom has been found dead in a remote Nottingham wood. (I don't remember if it was, literally, Sherwood Forest.) Ah, that would make her the "Good Girl" of the title.

Except, maybe not. The story has a lot of twists and turns, and (as it happens) Cyrus has a lot of unpleasant back story too.

Wolf Pack

[Amazon Link]

Another stepping stone in my project to catch up with the prodigious output of C. J. Box, in his long-running Joe Pickett series.

The cliffhanger at the end of the last book has been resolved by the beginning of this one. Thanks to the (unfortunately fictional) ex-Governor of Wyoming, Spencer Rulon, Joe has his beloved game warden job back, a new house, and a salary increase. And a welcome respite (at least for one book) from his superiors in the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Little Lucy has grown up during the series, and she's about to go to college like her sisters.

Joe's disturbed by some traps that have apparently been left unattended. Fortunately, the owner's name and address are on them, and Joe sets out to track him down. Meanwhile, across the mountains, the game warden, Katelyn Hamm, in the neighboring district witnesses an expensive drone spooking and stampeding mule deer, some to their demise.

Both incidents trace back to residents of a remote compound, who seem unconcerned with trifling violations of state game law. And Joe and Katelyn get visited by the worst kind of FBI agents, the ones who order them to back off. Hm. It's not too difficult for the reader to figure out what's going on, but Joe needs a few more chapters…

Meanwhile, there's a deadly team of killers apparently on the hunt as well. They leave a trail of corpses in their wake, but they are on a collision course with Joe, Katelyn, and Joe's loyal buddy, the falconer Nate Romanowski.

The body count seems unusually high in this book, but maybe that's what the market is demanding.

There's a political angle here: the officious FBI agents make use of the same tactic used to "get" Michael Flynn: 18 U.S.C. § 1001, wedging both Katelyn and Joe into "lying", in an unrecorded "interview". Box is appropriately contemptuous of this abuse.

URLs du Jour

2021-01-12

[Amazon Link]

  • Not that it matters, but I liked this quote from Netflix series The Crown as relayed by Ann Althouse.

    "The situation this country is facing is anything but amusing"

    "Oh, who cares? Honestly. One of the few joys of being as old as we both are is it is not our problem."

    Data point: Ann, who takes this to heart, is a mere three months older than I.

    I still care about what happens to the country. But as a practical matter, I'm probably going to be OK no matter what, in the years I have left.

    It's the younger generations—my kids—who will have to live in the dystopian rubble, or liberty-loving paradise, or (most likely) something in between. And it's their job to steer it toward their desired destination.

    I'll just be here for awhile to nag them with easily-ignored advice.


  • Steve Landsberg asks But This Was Always Obvious to Everyone, Right? What was?

    Is Donald Trump batshit crazy? Obviously yes. He seethes with personal resentments, all of which loom larger in his mind than, well, anything, and appears genuinely incapable of fathoming the possibility that there are people who don’t particularly care whether someone high or low has been “unfair” to Donald J. Trump. He claims to believe that Hillary Clinton’s policies would be disastrous for the country, yet works to undermine the Republican congressional and Senate candidates who stand as a bulwark against those policies, because preventing a national disaster is less important than petty vengeance against those who have failed to pay Trump his due respects. Moreover, he seems genuinely baffled by the suggestion that anybody anywhere might prioritize things differently. He has, as I’ve said before on this blog (and as countless others have said, sometimes more poetically) the mental, emotional and moral maturity of a four-year-old, with an attention span to match.

    That's a quote from an article he wrote before the 2016 election. We're still awaiting disconfirming evidence.

    But seriously folks. I have Deep Thoughts. Probably misguided ones:

    • Let's get away from the "batshit crazy" label for a bit. Let's use less-loaded language: Donald Trump has a number of personality traits that are several sigma away from the mean.
    • But (dude) isn't that true of most successful politicians?
    • How (then) are you supposed to draw the line?
    • Anyway: "batshit crazy" is not only loaded language, it's also judgmental language. I thought the thing about labelling "mental illness" as an illness was to remove responsibility and stigma from those afflicted. It's not your fault you're sick! Even if you're sick in the head!
    • But I assume people don't really believe that last bit; Steve Landsburg certainly doesn't appear to, and he's probably thought about it.
    • So maybe we need to fix that: distinguish "mental illness" (which is not your fault) from "batshit crazy" (which is).
    • Or maybe not use "batshit crazy" at all, when we mean more precisely "dreadful character flaws".

    End of Deep Thoughts. We now return to the shallower end of the thought pool.


  • At my prime go-to blog for sane legal commentary, the Volokh Conspiracy, Steven Sachs mulls Grounds for Impeachment.

    Whether to impeach the President need not depend on whether he incited the attack on the Capitol or stopped just short of incitement. (A sentence I never expected to write.) One proper ground for impeachment is rather simpler, and a matter of public record.

    Last Wednesday, Trump publicly urged Vice President Pence to interfere with the counting of the electoral votes. He maintained that Pence, and Pence alone, could "send it back" to the states for the appointment of different electors. And he complained bitterly when Pence failed to do so […]

    Quotes at link. I don't disagree that Trump's behavior was bad. The more relevant questions (in my mind, anyhow): do you really want to live with the post-impeachment aftermath? Have you thought at all about that?

    Maybe it will all be sweetness and light. I have serious doubts.


  • For another legal take (however), see Jeffrey Scott Shapiro in the WSJ: No, Trump Isn’t Guilty of Incitement.

    House Democrats have drafted an article of impeachment that accuses President Trump of “incitement to insurrection.” Acting U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin said Thursday that his office is “looking at all actors here and anyone that had a role” in the Capitol riot. Some reporters have construed that as including Mr. Trump.

    The president didn’t commit incitement or any other crime. I should know. As a Washington prosecutor I earned the nickname “protester prosecutor” from the antiwar group CodePink. In one trial, I convicted 31 protesters who disrupted congressional traffic by obstructing the Capitol Crypt. In another, I convicted a CodePink activist who smeared her hands with fake blood, charged at then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a House hearing room, and incited the audience to seize the secretary of state physically. In other cases, I dropped charges when the facts fell short of the legal standard for incitement. One such defendant was the antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan.

    Also (if you can) see Andrew McCarthy's call (NRPLUS): Democrats’ Proposed Impeachment Article Needs Work. He sees the articles of impeachment, as written, to be more of a political stunt than a good-faith remedy.


  • But let there be no doubt that Trump was behaving badly. Jim Geraghty outlines the Cause and Effect from Last Wednesday’s Chaos. The timeline is damning. Sample:

    Three: At 2:24 p.m. — about eight minutes after the Secret Service determined that the rioters represent a threat to Pence — Donald Trump declared via Twitter:

    Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!

    The president does not tweet any criticism or denunciation of those storming the Capitol. He directs his anger and ire entirely at Pence.

    It doesn't get better from there.


  • Oh, well, enough about Trump. The Google LFOD News Alert happily brought me to the Jewish Trivia Quiz provided by San Diego Jewish World. But you don't have to be Jewish to enjoy…

    Entrepreneur Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, just became the richest person in the world, with a net worth of $195 billion, surpassing Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon. Musk responded to that news with a simple six word statement, “How strange, well, back to work.” Musk, who is often mistakenly thought to be Jewish, visited Israel in 2018, meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, dining in Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda market, and pouring himself a flaming absinthe in a Jerusalem bar. Musk also went to Masada and posted a selfie from there on Instagram, with what pithy caption?

    1. I have been to the mountaintop.
    2. Live free or die.
    3. I could easily make that cable car solar powered.
    4. In God we trust.
    5. Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.

    Answer at link. But I bet you've already answered correctly.

URLs du Jour

2021-01-11

Mr. Ramirez says it: [Destroyed]

  • Alexander William Salter tells us at the Foundation for Economic Education Why the Real Villain of 2020 Was Big Government.

    First and foremost, the COVID-19 pandemic posed enormous challenges to American institutions, and continues to do so. Frankly, we were not prepared. We need to diagnose what went wrong, so that we are never caught unaware like this again. Fortunately, the diagnosis is straightforward. COVID-19 was going to be bad, no matter what. But the failures of big government made it much, much worse.

    In particular, the Centers for Disease Control, Food and Drug Administration, and public teachers’ unions are the great American villains of 2020. Meanwhile, the heroes of this year are almost entirely in the private sector. From Zoom to vaccine development, Big Pharma and Big Tech—yes, you read that right—made this horrible year bearable. Even amid a crisis that led so many to cry out for vigorous government action, we saw that private markets still work best.

    Incompetence and bureaucratic delay at the CDC and FDA probably cost tens of thousands of American lives. Even now, the FDA is thumb-twiddling on AstraZeneca's vaccine, while other countries are putting it in arms.

    Meanwhile, the US racked up at least 1777 deaths yesterday.


  • At the Technology Liberation Front, Adam Thierer wonders if we're seeing The End of Permissionless Innovation?

    Time magazine recently declared 2020 “The Worst Year Ever.” By historical standards that may be a bit of hyperbole. For America’s digital technology sector, however, that headline rings true. After a remarkable 25-year run that saw an explosion of innovation and the rapid ascent of a group of U.S. companies that became household names across the globe, politicians and pundits in 2020 declared the party over.

    “We now are on the cusp of a new era of tech policy, one in which the policy catches up with the technology,” says Darrell M. West of the Brookings Institution in a recent essay, “The End of Permissionless Innovation.” West cites the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee’s October report on competition in digital markets—where it equates large tech firms with the “oil barons and railroad tycoons” of the Gilded Age—as the clearest sign that politicization of the internet and digital technology is accelerating.

    At a certain point, we'll wonder how we pissed it all away. Fingers will be pointed. Almost certainly at the wrong people.


  • Speaking of pissing things away, how about Republicans and their political power? Kevin D. Williamson writes (in an NRPLUS article, sorry) on The Task Ahead for Conservatives in the Biden Age.

    Now that Donald Trump has lost the presidential election to an egg-salad sandwich, taken the Republican Senate majority down with him, and inspired a bloody insurrection that has cratered the credibility of the Republican Party at large, Republicans might want to start thinking about how to use what little power they will retain in Washington for the next two years to do something constructive, and perhaps repair their reputation a little and earn back some of the public trust they have rightly forfeited.

    The good news is that there is an excellent opportunity for responsible conservative action. The bad news is that conservatives are still, for the moment, reliant on the dysfunctional Republican Party as their only practical political instrument. Reforming the GOP is an urgent task that will fall to such leaders as Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, if it can be done at all. It is not obvious that it can be, but it must be attempted.

    KDW outlines some possible strategies for the GOP. I'm probably more pessimistic than he is about their chances, and he's pretty pessimistic.


  • Have you longed for a good, short answer to the question "What Is Critical Race Theory?" Wait no longer, bunkie. James A. Lindsay has you covered:

    To keep this short and simple, I’ll provide you with two quotes from the book Critical Race Theory: An Introduction (third edition) by Critical Race Theorists Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic. These quotes summarize everything that Critical Race Theory is really about in its own words.

    First, Critical Race Theory views race and racism this way: race is a political construction that was invented by white people to give themselves power while excluding all other races from it, and racism is the ordinary state of affairs in society, present in all interactions, institutions, and phenomena, and effectively permanent in society (short of a full sociocultural revolution that puts them in charge). That is, Critical Race Theory assumes that racism is present in everything under a doctrine known as “systemic racism.” Quoting from Delgado and Stefancic,

    What do critical race theorists believe? Probably not every member would subscribe to every tenet set out in this book, but many would agree on the following propositions. First, that racism is ordinary, not aberrational—“normal science,” the usual way society does business, the common, everyday experience of most people of color in this country. Second, most would agree that our system of white-over-color ascendancy serves important purposes, both psychic and material. The first feature, ordinariness, means that racism is difficult to cure or address. … The second feature, sometimes called “interest convergence” or material determinism, adds a further dimension. Because racism advances the interests of both white elites (materially) and working-class people (psychically), large segments of society have little incentive to eradicate it.

    More (but not much more) at the link. A warning sign that the CRTists are getting their way:

    War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength, and "equal access" is racial- and sex-biased distribution of goodies from Uncle Stupid.

    Sorry, according to Nancy Pelosi, that should be "Parent's Sibling Stupid".


  • And there's a bit of good news. Sort of. From Jacob Sullum at Reason: Trump’s Lawyers Surrender in Georgia Despite Giuliani’s ‘Conclusive Proof’ of Election Fraud.

    During the rally that preceded Wednesday's deadly attack on the Capitol by enraged Trump supporters, Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal attorney, said he was about to blow the lid off machine-facilitated election fraud in Georgia. That was not true. The next day, President Donald Trump's lawyers dropped four lawsuits alleging election irregularities and fraud in Georgia, claiming they had reached settlement agreements with state officials, who supposedly had promised to investigate Trump's outlandish charges. That was not true either.

    Those two lies confirm that Giuliani never had any credible evidence to back up his reckless allegations against Dominion Voting Systems, which he claims helped Democrats rig election machines to switch "hundreds of thousands" of Trump votes to Biden votes. That widely promoted conspiracy theory, which on Friday prompted Dominion to sue former Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell for defamation, was at the heart of the grievances underlying Wednesday's violence. Yet Giuliani now has implicitly admitted it was all a hoax.

    They keep threatening to release the Kraken, but somehow it never shows up.

    A lot of people, some of them friends, got into bed with these people. I can only hope they soon have a Colonel Nicholson moment: "What have I done?"

Heaven Can Wait

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

A fun screwball comedy from 1943, directed by Ernst Lubitsch.

The way the afterlife works: you get to apply to the place you want to go to. Poor Henry (Don Ameche) decides to go straight to Hell ("where innumerable people had told him so often to go"). He's apparently not big on self-esteem. This involves an interview with "His Excellency", aka Satan. (Laird Cregar, a role he was born to play.) We are then taken on a cinematic journey through Henry's life, centering on his romance and marriage with Martha (Gene Tierney). It's full of hijinx and as much innuendo as you could get away with in 1943. The supporting cast is wonderful too.

The movie was Oscar-nominated for Best Picture. But it lost to Casablanca. There's no shame in losing to Casablanca.

Mrs. Salad remarked on how much Laird Cregar looked like a modern American pol. What do you think?

[Laird and Ted]

URLs du Jour

2021-01-10

[Amazon Link]

Y'know, just searching for "impeach" at Amazon, and then checking out the clothing category brings up an amazing number of items like our Product du Jour. I don't know what that means, and YMMV.

  • But in the non-Amazonian world, the issue is about the guy who, under business as usual, would have his finger on the nuclear trigger for the next few days. How do I feel about trying to eject him before then? At the Volokh Conspiracy, Ilya Somin presents The Case for a Swift Impeachment. Ilya quotes a couple articles from left and … whatever the Bulwark is pretending to be these days. But in his own words:

    Finally, it is important to move decisively against Trump in order to deter future presidents from comparable misconduct. Too many times over the last century, we have allowed presidents to get away with grave violations of the Constitution and horrific abuses of power, without suffering any significant repercussions. I gave some examples here:

    All too many past presidents have gotten away with horrific illegality and abuses of power, such as FDR's internment of Japanese-Americans in concentration camps, Woodrow Wilson's massive violations of civil liberties, and—most recently—Obama's starting two wars without congressional authorization, and Trump's cruel family separation and travel ban policies…

    This history—including his own previous impunity—may well have emboldened Trump into thinking that he could get away with doing whatever he wanted. And if we let the impunity continue, it could easily embolden future presidents, some of whom may be less inept than Trump was in their efforts to subvert liberal democracy.

    Good points. But…


  • Jonathan Turley writing at the Hill contends that a Swift new impeachment would damage the Constitution.

    The author Franz Kafka once wrote, “My guiding principle is this. Guilt is never to be doubted.” Democrats suddenly appear close to adopting that standard into the Constitution as they prepare for a second impeachment of President Trump. With seeking his removal for incitement, Democrats would gut not only the impeachment standard but also free speech, all in a mad rush to remove Trump just days before his term ends.

    Democrats are seeking to remove Trump on the basis of his remarks to supporters before the rioting at the Capitol. Like others, I condemned those remarks as he gave them, calling them reckless and wrong. I also opposed the challenges to electoral votes in Congress. But his address does not meet the definition for incitement under the criminal code. It would be viewed as protected speech by the Supreme Court.

    Also good points. I'm trying to work up an ounce of interest in what happens. Few of our current crop of Federal polticians, Republican and Democrat, seem to be concerned with maintaining Constitutional norms. Or maintaining the values we're supposed to be sharing.

    That is, I suppose, what happens when both parties adopt "Flight 93" rhetoric. About everything.


  • Meanwhile, National Review's Isaac Schor points out that Josh Hawley Is Calling You Stupid.

    The latest insult came on Thursday, only a day after a conspiracy theory not only boosted by, but acted upon by Hawley — a Yale Law School graduate who didn’t believe for a moment that the election was stolen by Democrats, or that it could be stolen by Republicans in Congress during the certification process — resulted in an attack on the U.S. Capitol building. But for Josh Hawley, the greatest tragedy of this past week is not that there was a failed insurrection egged on by the president of the United States. It’s that Simon & Schuster, the erstwhile publisher of Hawley’s forthcoming book, The Tyranny of Big Tech (Big Tech is another issue where Hawley assumes your ignorance), announced it would not move forward with the project. Here was Hawley’s response:

    This could not be more Orwellian. Simon & Schuster is canceling my contract because I was representing my constituents, leading a debate on the Senate floor on voter integrity, which they have now decided to redefine as sedition. Let me be clear, this is not just a contract dispute. It’s a direct assault on the First Amendment. Only approved speech can now be published. This is the Left looking to cancel everyone they don’t approve of. I will fight this cancel culture with everything I have. We’ll see you in court.

    If it’s a constitutional claim that Hawley is planning on making in court, he can expect to have about as much luck as the Trump campaign has had in recent months. Simon & Schuster’s decision is neither Orwellian nor a violation of the First Amendment, much less a “direct assault” on it. The government is not restricting Hawley’s speech. He is free to find a publisher willing to associate itself with him. I believe that Simon & Schuster should not have canceled this contract, as America is better off when its institutions abide by the spirit and not just the letter of the First Amendment. But the company is under no constitutional obligation to associate with Hawley. I can certainly understand why it would not want to after Wednesday’s events.

    The number of probable Republican candidates who I Will Not Vote For Under Any Circumstances just keeps getting longer.


  • At Spiked, Brendan O'Neill writes on The woke purge.

    Cancel culture doesn’t exist, they say. And yet with the flick of a switch, billionaire capitalists voted for by precisely nobody have just silenced a man who is still the democratically elected president of the United States. With the push of a button in their vast temples to technology, the new capitalist oligarchs of Silicon Valley have prevented a man who won the second largest vote in the history of the American republic just two months ago — 74million votes — from engaging with his supporters (and critics) in the new public square of the internet age.

    Not only does cancel culture exist — it is the means through which the powerful, unaccountable oligarchies of the internet era and their clueless cheerleaders in the liberal elites interfere in the democratic process and purge voices they disapprove of. That’s what Twitter’s permanent suspension of Donald Trump confirms.

    In theory, I'm against government regulation of "unaccountable oligarchies". But, like impeachment, I'm finding it difficult to care about what will actually happen.


  • And (you may have missed it but) Joe Biden signalled an upcoming major switch in Covid vaccination strategy. At Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen analyzes: "Second Doses" post-mortem.

    The most striking thing about the Biden administration shift to a version of “First Doses First” is how little protest there has been.  Given how many public health experts were upset about the idea only a few days ago, you might expect them to organize a Wall Street Journal petition from hundreds of their colleagues: “Biden administration proposal endangers the lives of millions of Americans.”

    But of course they won’t do that.  Some of that is pro-Democrat partisanship, but that is not even the main factor.  One reason is that public health experts, with their medical and quasi-medical backgrounds, typically have very little sense of how to respond in the public arena if challenged.  For instance, not a single one stepped forward with a calculation to defend “Second Doses.”  They are not especially good at “the internet rules of the game,” which of course are now supreme (not always for the best, to be clear).

    The second and probably most important reason is that, as I had explained, sins of omission are treated as far less significant than sins of commission.  Now that a version of “First Doses First” is on the verge of becoming policy, to do nothing about that is only a sin of omission, and thus not so bad.  Remarkable!  Status quo bias really matters here.

    I'm not sure that "pro-Democrat partisanship" isn't the main factor, but let that go.

    "We must follow the science, which demands this vaccination policy!"

    "Well, let's do this instead."

    "Oh. Ok."


  • And finally, for people (like me) who love interstate competition, check out the "Vaccination" tab on the CDC COVID Data Tracker. It shows our fair state doing… fairly well, actually. As I type NH has had 3079 shots administered per 100K population; That puts us in ninth place out of fifty. Behind only WV, the Dakotas, Vermont, Alaska, Nebraska, CT, and Maine.

    Come on. We should be able to leapfrog Maine! (3082 shots per 100K population.)

    Also good (for state comparison purposes) is Becker's Hospital Review, which provides: States ranked by percentage of COVID-19 vaccines administered. Here, NH is in fourth place (out of 50), administering 48.48% of the doses we've been provided. Doing better: only North and South Dakota, and West Virginia.

URLs du Jour

2021-01-09

  • Let's take a look at Smith College and the bravery of Jodi Shaw, from Specator.us.

    Much like every other liberal arts college in the US, Smith, or at least its leadership, is fully in thrall to the idea of fighting that now-ubiquitous boogeyman, white privilege. In the name of social justice, the university is pushing this agenda on every student, and has even made it part of the obligatory annual review of its administrative, non-faculty staff, requiring them ‘to reflect on how they have contributed to an inclusive campus environment’ in the course of annual performance reviews.

    What is unusual, however, is that Smith has Jodi Shaw: a staff member who has spoken out and publicly criticized the college. 

    Shaw, who describes herself as a ‘desk jockey’ in the Residence Life department, has made a series of videos about how this toxic, racially charged ideology has created a hostile environment. Not for the precious, hothouse flower, all-female student body (though Shaw is concerned about them as well), but for the ordinary men and women who make up the college staff. 

    It's a sobering look at how wokeness works on the modern American college campus. The headline doesn't understate it: Jodi Shaw's very brave. (It's a common name but she seems to be from Portsmouth,) For her sin of outspokenness, she's been put on paid leave.

    Jerry Coyne has more. He notes that paid leave "is what they do to police who kill somebody."


  • [Amazon Link]
    We haven't linked to a stupid Wired article lately, but we'll fix that. Roger McNamee is out for blood: Platforms Must Pay for Their Role in the Insurrection.

    President Trump and his enablers in government and right-wing media will shoulder the blame for Wednesday’s insurrection at the US Capitol, but internet platforms—Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter, in particular—have played a fomenting and facilitating role that no one should overlook.

    In their relentless pursuit of engagement and profits, these platforms created algorithms that amplify hate speech, disinformation, and conspiracy theories. This harmful content is particularly engaging and serves as the lubricant for businesses as profitable as they are influential. These platforms also enforce their terms of service in ways that favor extreme speech and behavior, predominantly right-wing extremism.

    Roger is the author of 2019's Zucked: Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe (Amazon link above and to your right). So it's not as if the January 6 riot caused the scales to drop from his eyes. He has the usual statist assumptions, that bringing Big Tech under state control (via regulation, antitrust, and voodoo) will make things all better.

    It won't. It will make things much much worse.

    Why? Well, by happenstance, our next link …


  • … will tell you why. David Henderson at the Hoover Institution: Markets Work, Government Doesn’t.

    The year 2020 gave us a huge amount of evidence about the relative merits of government intervention and free markets. The bottom line is that government failed massively and free markets triumphed spectacularly (with one major exception) within the constraints that government placed on them. The one apparent exception to government failure is Operation Warp Speed but, as we shall see, that apparent exception may not be an exception at all.

    As early as April 8, when most of the government lockdowns had been in place for only about three weeks, I noted, in “Covid v. Capitalism,” the drastically different performances of private individuals and businesses on the one hand and government on the other. In the intervening nine months, these differences have become even more pronounced.

    Consider first the bad news: government. An important step early on in the pandemic would have been to have widespread testing for the coronavirus. On February 6, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that it had shipped 250,000 tests to over seventy laboratories worldwide. But the US Centers for Disease Control insisted on producing its own. The test that the CDC came up with at first had huge problems so the insistence on rejecting something not invented in the United States cost the country valuable weeks, which is a lot of time when a highly contagious disease is spreading. When CNN’s chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, asked Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease and an important member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, if the United States should have used the WHO tests, Fauci answered, “If you look back and Monday morning quarterback, it would have been nice to have had a backup.”

    As I've (tediously, repeatedly) pointed out in the past: nobody even pretends to hold markets and governments to the same quality and performance standards. We expect governments to do a lousy job. We excuse it.

    Which brings us to…


  • "I'll take Things That Won't Happen This Year for $200, Alex." From Steven Greenhut at Reason: In 2021, Politics Needs a ‘Leave Us Alone’ Coalition.

    "For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong," wrote the late journalist and professional cynic H.L. Mencken. In our modern world, the "answers" to our myriad and complex problems always seem to involve the use of government—through taxation, regulation, bureaucracy, and even military invasion.

    As prevalent as that answer may be, it is usually—although not always—wrong, which is one lesson all Americans should learn from our unspeakably bad year. The pandemic has not only tragically killed more than 300,000 Americans, but has led to previously unimaginable restrictions on our freedom to live our lives as we choose.

    We awake each morning pondering the terms upon which our leaders will even allow us to leave our homes. The COVID-19 restrictions keep changing and the goalposts keep moving. Perhaps we will one-day find out whether any of the governor's oftentimes illogical and arbitrary edicts are working—but for now it's on a need-to-know basis.

    Steven gets today's coveted Pun Salad "Hey, Yeah, That's What I've Been Trying To Say." award.


  • Instapundit links to the musings of Andrew Doyle, creator of “Titania McGrath". Andrew finds that he's been Kicked Out of the Comedy Club.

    The reaction of the “comedy community” — if such a thing exists — was particularly revealing. Suddenly, comics I had known and worked with for years began to block me on social media, or write blog posts to express their displeasure at my diabolical creation. Those who knew me to be fundamentally opposed to racial discrimination started referring to me as “alt-right”, a shorthand term for white nationalist. Others accused me of being a shill for foreign powers and claimed that I was being funded by “dark money”. I remember thinking that this money must be very dark indeed, given that I have never actually seen any of it.

    Me neither. Instapundit also notes Arthur Chrenkoff's reply to this call to arms from USA Today:

    Of course you can't expect a valued member of the MSM like USA Today to treat similar things similarly.

URLs du Jour

2021-01-08

  • Have you been asking yourself: Can President Trump be Impeached and Removed on the Grounds of Incitement? At the Volokh Conspiracy, Josh Blackman and Seth Barrett Tillman take a stab at answering:

    Both of us were shaken by the events of January 6, 2021. Over the past several days, President Trump has taken actions that heedlessly risked third-parties' violating trespassing laws, the destruction of public property in and around the Capitol, and the ability of federal officials and civil servants to perform their legal duties. Yet, we again feel an obligation to hit the pause button, ever so briefly, to discuss continuing, permanent, and vital principles of free and democratic self-government. Here, we write, with most immediate relevance, to impeachment—albeit similar principles apply in the context of civil and criminal law as administered by Article III courts. 

    Before the sun had set on the nation's capital, there were immediate calls for President Trump's impeachment, removal, and future disqualification. The timing of the process was not particularly important. With about two weeks until President-Elect Biden's inauguration, it is not likely that a fair investigation and trial can be held with an eye on removal from office. Even the Radical Republicans gave Andrew Johnson time to put on a defense. (The trial began on March 4 and concluded on May 16, 1868). Additionally, in the current rush to impeach Trump, the specifics of the articles of impeachment do not appear to be very important to some supporters of a renewed impeachment effort. Incitement! Sedition! Treason! When all else fails, nebulous allegations relating to "corruption" and "abuse of office" will suffice for some would-be impeachers. The details can be ironed out later. 

    Bottom line: it's a near thing, but Trump's outrageous behavior doesn't rise to grounds for impeachment.

    Bonus queries: can Trump be impeached after he leaves office on 1/20? And can an impeachment conviction bar Trump from (say) re-election in 2024? No spoilers here, click over and check it out.


  • Kyle Smith at National Review wishes to End This Republican Nightmare. Maybe via the 25th Amendment?

    Using the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office is a temptation that must be rejected. It would clearly be a political move meant to extract from public life an unpopular figure. The United States of America cannot go down the road of confusing political unfitness with medical unfitness. The cabinet would simply be using the 25th Amendment as a pretext for taking down a lawfully elected leader they oppose. It would amount to an unconstitutional coup. If the 25th Amendment could be deployed in his case, it could be deployed in many other cases. How many times did their political opponents declare that Nixon or Reagan was “a lunatic” unfit to serve?

    No, the Constitution is clear about the remedy for a president who has become politically untenable: impeachment and removal. The House of Representatives could easily pass articles of impeachment declaring that the president has violated his oath of office by attempting to subvert the election results and by sedition. Most Republican senators are probably too lacking in courage to consider removal, but only 17 of them need to come on board, assuming all 50 Democrats agree. Many key Republicans, such as Ben Sasse, Lindsey Graham, Mitch McConnell, and Susan Collins, do not face the voters for six years, by which time Trump can be ancient history, if they choose to make him so. A process of impeachment, removal, and disqualification from office would render it impossible for Trump to run for president again. This ought to be an immensely attractive prospect for the Republican Party. If Trump is reduced to being just another cable-TV blowhard hawking vitamin supplements and reverse mortgages, the threat he represents to Republicans will be contained.

    So Kyle thinks not. Fine.


  • But I find myself most in tune with the WSJ editorial writers, on Donald Trump’s Final Days. They note that the people who most bemoaned Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election are the ones most enthusiastic about finding ways to overturn the 2016 election.

    But:

    If Mr. Trump wants to avoid a second impeachment, his best path would be to take personal responsibility and resign. This would be the cleanest solution since it would immediately turn presidential duties over to Mr. Pence. And it would give Mr. Trump agency, a la Richard Nixon, over his own fate.

    Key drawback, as the editorialists acknowledge: such an "act of grace" by Trump "isn't likely". To put it mildly. When has he ever put the best interests of the country over the needs of his own massive ego?


  • On to the real news, as reported by Live Science: Earth is whipping around quicker than it has in a half-century.

    The 28 fastest days on record (since 1960) all occurred in 2020, with Earth completing its revolutions around its axis milliseconds quicker than average. That's not particularly alarming — the planet's rotation varies slightly all the time, driven by variations in atmospheric pressure, winds, ocean currents and the movement of the core. But it is inconvenient for international timekeepers, who use ultra-accurate atomic clocks to meter out the Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) by which everyone sets their clocks. When astronomical time, set by the time it takes the Earth to make one full rotation, deviates from UTC by more than 0.4 seconds, UTC gets an adjustment.

    Until now, these adjustments have consisted of adding a "leap second" to the year at the end of June or December, bringing astronomical time and atomic time back in line. These leap seconds were tacked on because the overall trend of Earth's rotation has been slowing since accurate satellite measurement began in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Since 1972, scientists have added leap seconds about every year-and-a-half, on average, according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The last addition came in 2016, when on New Year's Eve at 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds, an extra "leap second" was added. 

    Who can we blame this on? I suspect Dominion Voting Systems!


  • And finally James Lileks checks out some of those clickbait ads. So you don't have to. (And you shouldn't, sucker.) Sample:

    [sick burn]  

    Sick burn! Also please buy this plant-based shoe grown sustainably in Chinese labor camps.

    By the way, the author's name and picture comes back to a real person, who set out five years ago to pursue political journalism. I know work is tight for writers but this is just sitting out there for any prospective employer to google. So . . .  tell me about your understanding of the ozone layer and your recommendations for fossil fuel replacement in the 50s.

    The sad thing about clickbait: it must work. Otherwise it would die the painful death it deserves.

URLs du Jour

2021-01-07

[Amazon Link]

  • I'm at a loss for words about yesterday's shitstorm. Fortunately, Matthew Continett isn't:

    January 6, 2021, is not over, but it already lives in infamy. A sitting president of the United States, having lost reelection, incited a mob to storm the Capitol as the Congress sat in joint session to certify the Electoral College vote. This act was without precedent. It was based on a lie, fed by myth, and culminated in violence, in vandalism, and in the desecration of the people’s house. The lawbreakers cannot go unpunished. Nor can the person ultimately responsible. His name is Donald Trump.

    The men and women who breached the House and Senate chambers were doing it for him. They carried just as many Trump flags as American (or Confederate) ones. They were not chanting “Make America Great Again” as he fueled their anger during his speech at the Ellipse this morning. They were crying, “Fight for Trump.” It wasn’t an idea or even a country they stood for as they knocked over barriers, climbed walls, bashed windows, forced open doors, and desecrated public property. It was one man. And this irrevocable loyalty to an individual, this devotion that places his interests above the plain text of the Constitution and the rule of law, is not characteristic of democracy. It is tyranny.

    And let's slide over to …


  • … Kevin D. Williamson, on the Trump Presidency’s Inevitable, Shameful End.

    The Trump presidency began in shame and dishonesty. It ends in shame, dishonesty, cowardice, and rebellion against the Constitution. For the past few weeks, the right-wing media, including the big talk-radio shows, has been coyly calling for a revolution. Of course they never thought they’d actually get one: That kind of talk is good for business — keep the rubes riled up and they won’t change the channel when the commercials come around on the half-hour. I never had much hope for the likes of Sean Hannity, tragically born too late to be a 1970s game-show host, but to watch Senator Ted Cruz descend into this kind of dangerous demagoguery as he jockeys to get out in front of the Trump parade as its new grand marshal has induced despair.

    On May 4, 2016, I posted a little note to the Corner, headlined: “Pre-Planning My ‘I Told You So.’” It reads, in part: “Republicans, remember: You asked for this.” The path that the Republican Party and the conservative movement have taken in the past four years is not one that was forced on them — it is the product of choices that were made and of compromises that were entered into too willingly by self-interested men and women seeking money, celebrity, and power.

    Of course it ends in violence — this is, after all, America.

    And then we have…


  • John Hinderaker at Power Line, noting A Sad Day.

    I woke up not expecting a good day, but it turned out to be much worse. First we lost both Georgia Senate races, putting us at the mercy of the Democrats (or, more specifically, Joe Manchin) for the next two years. For an interesting analysis of why those races went South–and specifically, why fraud wasn’t the main problem–see this piece by Liam Bissainthe at Liberty Unyielding.

    Then, of course, we had the Washington riot. My position has been consistent through the years: I oppose riots, and believe that rioters should be arrested and, when necessary to preserve order, shot. That is what I thought in January 2017 when Democrats rioted at President Trump’s inauguration, that is what I thought when Antifa and Black Lives Matter destroyed Portland, Seattle and Minneapolis, that is what I thought when Democrats tried to break into the Senate chamber during the Kavanaugh confirmation hearing, and that is what I think today.

    Noted: the media cover violence differently when the perpetrators are their soulmates. Granted.

    And they bear a certain responsibility for sending the implicit message that violence is OK when you really, truly feel bad.

    But that's a 10% effect at best. The other 90% of responsibility for the current mess (and the upcoming messes) lies with our disgusting President.


  • Jonah Goldberg nails it: The American Right Is Littered With Cautionary Tales.

    “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”—Lord Acton

    The remarkable thing about this last grotesque chapter of Donald Trump’s presidency is how much he has proved Acton both wrong and right.

    Few axioms are more popular among pompously earnest pundits and politicians than Lord Acton’s line about power. Acton surely believed that power corrupts. His real indictment, however, wasn’t of the wielders of power, but of those who enabled them. He decried those who exempted the powerful from the rules that bind the rest of us. “There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it,” Acton wrote in the same letter.

    Note that Jonah wrote this well before yesterday's events. Prescient he was.


  • Sigh. Well on to cheerier topics… No, just kidding: just a different topic. Barry Brownstein writes The Monsters Are Due on Nantucket Island. The reference is to a classic old Twilight Zone episode, "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" where a neighborhood's paranoia turns into violence. It's not quite that bad on Nantucket yet, but:

    The monsters have escaped the Twilight Zone and have come to tony Nantucket Island. Early in this Covid-19 crisis, the wealthy fled to Nantucket to escape the virus. Now cases on Nantucket are rising, and as on Maple Street, “residents are pointing the fingers at each other over who is to blame.” Some cast aspersions on the outsiders who swelled Nantucket’s population; others point fingers at those they know.

    Nantucket neighbors are eager to rat out others for perceived transgressions: “For every individual charged with disregarding public-health guidelines, there seemed to be another calling their neighbors out for their reckless behavior either on social media or privately on calls with the board of health.”

    Funny, right? Those wacky progressive, rich, Nantucketers…

    But what really rings a bell for me:

    In their book The Price of Panic: How the Tyranny of Experts Turned a Pandemic into a Catastrophe, Jay Richards, William Briggs, and Douglas Axe correctly explain that during the peak of the lockdowns, the public supported criminalization of low-risk human activities such as walking in the park, family visits, shopping at an open-air fish market, and driving. They report:  

    “This was not a top-down dictatorship imposed on a resistant public. Polls showed that most Americans supported the lockdowns. If anything, we pushed for them. Neighbors snitched on small church groups with gusto. New Jersey posted a form on its website to make it easy to turn your neighbors in to the authorities. In late March, Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti said that ‘snitches’ in his city would ‘get rewards.'”

    Who are the Tommies stirring irrational fears throughout the pandemic? We are responsible for our decisions, but we can be primed for irrational behavior as in the Twilight Zone episode.

    No foolin'.


  • And while we've been having our problems here, the NYPost reports: The boot comes down in Hong Kong.

    Beijing just put the boot down hard in Hong Kong, ordering the arrest of 50-plus elected pro-democracy officials and activists Wednesday morning. The Chinese Communist Party will no longer brook any dissent in the once-free city.

    It’s the largest roundup of dissidents since Beijing imposed its new “national security” law in June. The charge was “subverting state power” by participating in an unofficial July primary vote to pick a unified dissident slate — a crime in the CCP’s eyes because it could lead to the unseating of lickspittle city Chief Executive Carrie Lam.

    Good luck, Hong Kong. Wish we could help.

The Siberian Dilemma

[Amazon Link]

Reader note: If you find yourself slightly confused by what happens at the end of chapter 41 (as I was), it means you should have been paying more attention to the book's title and the discussion near the end of chapter 28 (as I should have). But I eventually remembered.

It's been about six years since the previous Arkady Renko novel. The sorta-girlfriend he acquired in the previous book, Tatiana, is still in a dangerous profession: truth-telling journalist in Russia. Arkady is still an investigator with the (hopelessly corrupt) Moscow police. And his semi-feral ward, Zenhya, is making a living from hustling chess matches.

Arkady is troubled that Tatiana has failed to return as scheduled from Siberia, where she was investigating corrupt oligarchs. (But it's in Russia, so I'm repeating myself.) In a slight coincidence, his boss Zubrin tells him to bring the "suspect" Aba Makhmud back to Moscow after obtaining a confession. His crime: assaulting Zubrin. Hm.

In Siberia, Arkady acquires some new allies and some powerful enemies. Nature is also an adversary: Siberia is cold, and the bears are mean.

It's a relatively short book (274 pages, big type, wide margins, blank pages) but it's a page turner. I especially enjoy Arkady's outlook on life: Russian-fatalistic, viewed with very dark, very dry humor.

URLs du Jour

2021-01-06

[Amazon Link]

  • The headline on Virginia Postrel's Bloomberg column, "Micromanagement Is Plaguing the Vaccine Rollout", might as well have the obvious addon: "… and is Killing People."

    For too many people, it’s a knee-jerk reaction: Blame the slow U.S. rollout of Covid-19 vaccines on too little central planning by the administration of President Donald Trump. Demand tighter control from the incoming administration of President Joe Biden. Limit the number of vaccination sites! Bring in the military! Put somebody in charge!

    But the problem with the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines isn’t that no one is in charge. Far from the answer, tighter federal control would probably be a disaster. It would only amplify the problem.

    The tenets of statism:

    • If there's a problem, the solution is more central planning.
    • If the central planning doesn't work, it only means that we should have done more central planning.

    These tenets are not to be questioned!


  • Virginia goes on to specific examples, including the (very bad) example of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, and you should read the whole thing, of course. But if you'd like to drill down on New York's woes, also see Billy Binion at Reason: Andrew Cuomo’s Vaccine Distribution Rules Are a Threat to Public Health.

    New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has given hospitals a conundrum. Fail to use all of your COVID-19 vaccines within seven days of receipt? That'll be a $100,000 fine. Vaccinate someone out of the state-designated order? That'll be a $1 million fine.

    Damned if you let your vaccines expire, damned if you don't let your vaccines expire—by using them on anyone outside of the approved hierarchy.

    The state's distribution plan mandates that a slew of people receive the vaccine before the elderly, including health care workers, patient-facing employees at long-term care facilities, first responders, teachers, public health workers, grocery store workers, pharmacists, transit employees, those who uphold "critical infrastructure," and individuals with significant co-morbidities. Such a plan is common across the U.S., and it requires a robust logistical framework to execute properly.

    That hasn't been going so well.

    In my professional career, I never strove for a management position, so I was managed. A lot. But I was never really micromanaged. And—whew!—I was never micromanaged by a politician. And—thank my lucky stars—I was never micromanaged by a politician with delusions that legal threats and fines would make me do my job better.


  • Well, enough Covid, let's look at a perennial topic, as recounted by Eugene Volokh at the Volokh Conspiracy: Former Time Warner CEO Calls for “Private Accountability for Hate Speech”. It's in response to a Fortune article: Now is not the time to repeal Section 230, but it should be soon. Key quote from that article:

    It is completely possible to require private accountability for hate speech and inciting violence without curtailing the First Amendment. No constitutional rights are limitless—and the repeal of Section 230 has nothing to do with freedom of speech.

    Eugene takes the Fortune writers to school:

    The bulk of the article is indeed about repealing or modifying § 230, and there are perfectly plausible arguments to be had around that. Should Internet platforms be potentially liable for defamatory material posted on them, the way newspapers are potentially liable for defamation in letters to the editor or in advertisements? Should they be liable just on a notice-and-takedown basis, much as bookstores and libraries are (i.e., they would be liable if they keep material up once they're on notice that it's allegedly defamatory)? Or should they be entirely immune, the way they are now, and the way telephone companies have long been? (See this post for more on these three options.) I think that on balance the current § 230 regime is the least bad of the alternatives, but there are reasonable arguments for at least a notice-and-takedown position (and reasonable counterarguments).

    But that debate is about platform liability for speech that fits within a First Amendment exception, such as libel, or one of a few other categories (such as solicitation of crime, true threats of crime, and the like). There is no First Amendment exception for hate speech. The government can't make people legally "accountab[le] for hate speech"—whether by imposing liability on them for their own speech, or for third parties' speech—any more than it can make people legally accountable for "[dis]respectful" speech or unpatriotic speech or rude speech or blasphemous speech or the like.

    And this is so, of course, regardless of § 230. Section 230 doesn't keep posters from being sued or prosecuted for their own speech; but the First Amendment protects them from being held "accountab[le]" for their own "hate speech." Likewise, with or without § 230, platforms can't be held accountable for their users' "hate speech" (whatever that means), either. If what's driving the calls to repeal or modify § 230 is a broader agenda to suppress people's expression of supposedly "hate[ful]" ideas, that is all the more reason to resist such calls.

    It's gonna be a bumpy couple of years. At least a couple.


  • In his Tuesday column, Kevin D. Williamson looks at Trump’s Final Insult. Based on the adage that "liars think everybody lies, that cheaters think everybody cheats, that thieves think everybody else steals, etc."

    And so it is no great surprise to find President Donald Trump and cronies complaining about election fraud even as President Donald Trump and his cronies were recorded in a telephone call attempting to suborn election fraud, threatening the Georgia secretary of state — a Republican, note — with criminal prosecution unless he should “find,” discovering by some black art, enough votes to swing the state’s election Trump’s way.

    No one who has participated in this poisonous buffoonery should ever hold office again. There was a time when there was a plausible if sometimes self-serving rationale for working for the Trump administration — that the president is a clueless poseur surrounded by crackpots and frauds, and that he desperately needs good counsel from responsible adults. But the Trump administration is not currently under the guiding influence of any such responsible adults — and there simply is no defending what it is up to. This cannot be excused or explained away.

    No one who has participated in this poisonous buffoonery should ever hold office again. There was a time when there was a plausible if sometimes self-serving rationale for working for the Trump administration — that the president is a clueless poseur surrounded by crackpots and frauds, and that he desperately needs good counsel from responsible adults. But the Trump administration is not currently under the guiding influence of any such responsible adults — and there simply is no defending what it is up to. This cannot be excused or explained away.

    It will be interesting to see who floats to the top of the GOP cesspool. Sorry for the metaphor, but that's the one that's dominating my brain right now.


  • I don't get the chance to say this very often: There's a good article from Wired! A 25-Year-Old Bet Comes Due: Has Tech Destroyed Society?.

    On March 6, 1995, WIRED’s executive editor and resident techno-optimist Kevin Kelly went to the Greenwich Village apartment of the author Kirkpatrick Sale. Kelly had asked Sale for an interview. But he planned an ambush.

    Kelly had just read an early copy of Sale’s upcoming book, called Rebels Against the Future. It told the story of the 19th-century Luddites, a movement of workers opposed to the machinery of the Industrial Revolution. Before their rebellion was squashed and their leaders hanged, they literally destroyed some of the mechanized looms that, they believed, reduced them to cogs in a dehumanizing engine of mass production. 

    Sale adored the Luddites. In early 1995, Amazon was less than a year old, Apple was in the doldrums, Microsoft had yet to launch Windows 95, and almost no one had a mobile phone. But Sale, who for years had been churning out books complaining about modernity and urging a return to a subsistence economy, felt that computer technology would make life worse for humans. Sale had even channeled the Luddites at a January event in New York City where he attacked an IBM PC with a 10-pound sledgehammer. It took him two blows to vanquish the object, after which he took a bow and sat down, deeply satisfied.

    Sale and Kelly made a $1000 bet on whether Sale was correct about his "certainty that civilization will collapse." And they agreed on a deadline: the far-flung future of 2020.

    Well, here we are.

    It's a long article, and (because civilization has not collapsed, at least not as I'm typing this) you can read the whole thing. But the bottom line is that Kirkpatrick Sale is welshing on the bet. Article's final paragraph:

    Like the raging denialist in the White House, the cantankerous anarchocommunalist has quit the game after the final score left him short. Sale says he is seeking some sort of appellate relief, if only by public opinion, when in fact the rules included no such reconsideration. Kelly is infuriated. “This was a gentleman’s bet, and he can only be classified as a cad,” he says. Kelly warns Sale that history will recall him as a man who doesn’t honor his word. But Sale doesn’t believe that there will be a history. For Kirkpatrick Sale, collapse is now, and all bets are off.

    Literally, I guess.

    Wired wasn't always so keen on the Kelly-Sale bet or on Kelly's optimism. See this article.


  • Writing at his Substack site, Matt Taibbi provides us with a compilation: The Wokest News Stories of 2020. There's a lot, and if you're like me you'll have mixed emotions. Specifically "amusement" and "horror". Example:

    8. The Conversation, August 16: “How Hollywood’s ‘Alien’ and ‘Predator’ movies reinforce anti-Black racism.”

    The unwritten rule during the summer of historic anti-police protests was that commercial media analyses about racism had to invoke George Floyd by the third paragraph. This Conversation article took a bit longer, but that was only because the thesis was more ambitious, tying the killings of Floyd and Breonna Taylor, respectively, to Predator and Alien. The essay connected George Bush’s conquest of Mike Dukakis in 1988 to the hypersexualized representation of a dreadlocked jungle alien in the famed Schwarzenegger flick, while connecting slavery, Dick Nixon’s Southern Strategy, the myth of the Welfare Queen, and the scourge of no-knock warrants to “Ridley Scott’s Alien franchise, with its vicious and endlessly breeding carbon black alien mother.” That film, the piece noted, “came at the height of neoliberal experiment and in the U.S. especially, an all-out assault on Black people.” (The British Scott made Alien in 1979).

    Hollywood obviously does play on racialized horror tropes, and though it also makes outstanding monsters out of unmarried white women (Fatal Attraction), naked German dudes (The Terminator), models (Species), Tony Shalhoub, and pretty much anyone or anything else they can think of, it does raise questions that the supposed big joke in Ghostbusters was that civilization could be threatened by the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. Furious dissections of film and TV content were increasingly common:

    Maybe 2021 will be even funnier. Or even scarier.

Bill & Ted Face the Music

[1.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Well, it was a nice try, I suppose. In the sense that one of these coldly-calculated sequels to fondly-remembered movies is a "nice try" to shake some cash out of movie-fan wallets.

The original movies were in 1989 and 1991. Let's see, math… yes, thirty years ago. I watched them both. They were kind of amusing fluff. But this movie relies on me remembering plot details of three-decade-old fluff in order to make sense out of what's happening here.

Anyway: Bill and Ted are older, still married to the medieval princesses they grabbed in the first movie. They each have a daughter, who echo their fathers' blissful cluelessness. Unfortunately, they've failed as a rock band, and (more importantly) failed to fulfill their promised destiny of writing and performing a song that will bring the world together in harmony. And time's running out for that: they're notified that they have a little over an hour to accomplish the feat, else the universe will be destroyed.

It's amazing how little I cared about the universe being destroyed.

The movie gets one star, thanks to this bit of trivia

When dialing infinity Ted speaks the number sequences "2718" (pause) "1828". The natural base of logarithms "e" is 2.718281828...

I like math jokes. Too bad there weren't more of them.

[2021-01-07 update: I listened to this week's Reason interview on this morning's dog walk. Nick Gillespie interviewed Alex Winter, who plays Bill. Or maybe Ted. I forget. But anyway: Alex Winter is nothing like his character: he's intelligent, articulate, well-read. Which means he's a great actor, becuase you'd never get that from the Bill & Ted movies.]


Last Modified 2021-01-07 10:34 AM EST

URLs du Jour

2021-01-05

[Amazon Link]

  • At Reason, Katherine Mangu-Ward writes In Defense of COVID Billionaires. Because someone should.

    People love to hate billionaires. And they really love to hate large pharmaceutical companies.

    But at the very least, the last year has complicated the popular narrative that drug manufacturers and businessmen are selfish profit-taking parasites, hoarding wealth at the expense of the sick. Faced with the challenge of the novel coronavirus, big pharmaceutical companies didn't just beat their record for developing a new vaccine. They utterly demolished it. Multiple vaccines have been created and tested in under a year. The previous record was set in the 1960s by the mumps vaccine, which took five times longer.

    The fact that there were numerous firms racing toward many different vaccines wasn't wasteful; it was crucial redundancy on a difficult high-stakes problem where time was of the essence. And one reason so many were able to spin up COVID response efforts quickly is that they were already sitting on giant piles of cash, enormous, expensive labs, and offices full of well-paid scientists, engineers, and strategists.

    I know there are a lot of brave, selfless, first-responding folks out there. Thank them, of course. But you might also give a quick thumbs-up to your local pharma billionaire, as he flies over your town in his private jet on his way to Gstaad or Saint Tropez.


  • [Amazon Link]
    At Persuasion, Jonathan Rauch analyzes The Made-Up Conspiracy. Which I dearly hope will burn itself out soon. Excerpt:

    The political scholars Russell Muirhead and Nancy L. Rosenblum describe this approach in their important 2019 book A Lot of People Are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault on Democracy. Traditional conspiracy theories—claims about staged moon landings or silent mind control—tend to be grand and elaborate, sometimes comically so, weaving tangled narratives that purport to explain everything. The new conspiracism, by contrast, offers no proofs, evidence or theory.

    It “dispenses with the burden of explanation,” write Muirhead and Rosenblum, and it does not necessarily try to be convincing. Rather, it foments confusion, disorientation, cynicism and division. It levels accusations, observes which get traction, then uses their popularity to justify the claim that they might be true. It thus “substitutes social validation for scientific validation: If a lot of people are saying it, to use Trump’s signature phrase, then it is true enough.”

    Trump is a master of this tactic. The “birther” conspiracy theory, which held that Barack Obama had not been born in the United States and thus was not legally the president, was Trump’s route into national politics. Once in office, he repeated and amplified conspiracy theories, no matter how ludicrous or vicious. If many people entertained a notion, he suggested, it should be looked into because—who knows?—it might be true, it probably is true, and anyway you can’t disprove it.

    That book is available at the University Near Here Library. If they ever let us civilians back in there again…


  • At his blog, David Friedman looks at Fauci, Lying, Greyhound Racing, and Trump. Based on Dr. Fauci's recent faux pas of admitting that he's been fudging the truth in his public comments.

    Greyhound racing uses a mechanical rabbit, kept moving ahead of the dogs to give them something to chase. Too close and they might catch it, too far ahead and they might lose interest. The most plausible conjecture I can come up with to explain Fauci’s account of what he is doing is that he is following the same approach. In order to get people to do what he wants, whether that is getting vaccinated or wearing masks, he has to persuade them that it will do some good. If they believe the problem is almost solved, each individual may figure that others will solve it and he can slack off, or may decide to maintain precautions for a little while longer, at which point the pandemic will disappear and he can stop. If, on the other hand, people believe the solution is very far away, it is tempting to give up on it.

    The solution, as for the greyhound race, is to keep adjusting the estimate, subject to what you can get people to believe and how close the rabbit has to be to motivate the dog to run.

    In the short run this approach, like other versions of lying to people for their own good — telling them, early in the pandemic, that masks were useless to them, in order to save masks for medical personnel, or that a lockdown would be only for a few weeks, in order to get people to go along with it — looks attractive, a way of saving lives. In the longer run, it risks persuading an increasing number of people that they should not believe what authority figures tell them.

    I'd say we're well past the point where that's a possible risk.


  • National Review's Jim Geraghty has often floated a Covin origin theory that doesn't rely on Wuhan bat-eating. With Trump on his way out, he notes today that the Lab Leak Hypothesis is getting Strange New Respect. Specifically, New York magazine has an article by Nicholson Baker that plays "what if".

    In other words, the theory suggests that Chinese scientists wanted to study a particularly dangerous version of an existing virus and thus deliberately accelerated a virus’s process of growth and change to generate a more virulent and contagious version of it. Baker notes that SARS-CoV-2 is similar to other viruses found in nature, but more contagious among humans — and asks whether laboratory efforts might explain what makes SARS-CoV-2 so easily spread:

    The zoonoticists say that we shouldn’t find it troubling that virologists have been inserting and deleting furin cleavage sites and ACE2-receptor-binding domains in experimental viral spike proteins for years: The fact that virologists have been doing these things in laboratories, in advance of the pandemic, is to be taken as a sign of their prescience, not of their folly. But I keep returning to the basic, puzzling fact: This patchwork pathogen, which allegedly has evolved without human meddling, first came to notice in the only city in the world with a laboratory that was paid for years by the U.S. government to perform experiments on certain obscure and heretofore unpublicized strains of bat viruses — which bat viruses then turned out to be, out of all the organisms on the planet, the ones that are most closely related to the disease. What are the odds?

    This is a variation of the question that has confronted the skeptics since the beginning. The city of Wuhan had not one but two laboratories — the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the Wuhan Centers for Disease Control — studying coronaviruses that originated in bats. If there were a terrible outbreak of a rare or new virus in Atlanta, Ga., people would understandably wonder if the virus’s local origins had anything to do with the nearby headquarters of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If someday there is an outbreak of a new, strange, and deadly virus in Frederick, Md., people will understandably wonder if the outbreak has anything to do with the nearby U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick. While it is possible for a naturally occurring virus to coincidentally manifest in the same city as one or more labs known to be researching similar viruses, Occam’s Razor instructs us that when you have two competing theories that make exactly the same predictions, the simpler one is the better.

    You might think it's odd for me to post this so soon after yammering about conspiracy theories. I can live with that.

    Fun fact:

    Baker is pretty blunt about the fact that many scientists have had these suspicions, or at least concerns, since the beginning of the pandemic, but didn’t want to speak publicly about the possibility of a lab accident while the Trump administration was touting the same idea

    Yeah, so this is either a conspiracy theory item, or a don't-trust-the-experts item.


  • Back to election trutherism. Rich Lowry claims (in the NYPost: The call to Georgia's secretary of state was Trump at his absolute worst. That's a high bar to clear but…

    Trump was repetitive and ill-informed. He had no idea what charges had been ­debunked weeks ago. He didn’t, or couldn’t, distinguish between true and false information. He was fuzzy on the details of his own legal case. He retailed conspiracy theories about ballots being burned and voting machines being ­removed that would be embarrassing if your uncle shared them on Facebook.

    The only thing that mattered to him was getting Raffensperger to pronounce him the winner — legal process and truth be damned.

    The problem with Trump has always been his highly personal view of the presidency, wherein institutions, constitutional principles and sheer propriety take a backseat to the felt needs of his ego.

    I can only hope that otherwise sensible people realize that getting into bed with Trump was a dreadful mistake. Sooner rather than later.

URLs du Jour

2021-01-04

[Amazon Link]

  • Via Transterrestial Musings, we have the feel-good story of the day, from Kelly Brothers at Sacramento Business Journal: A multibillion-dollar f-you from Elon Musk to the state of California.

    As Covid-19 descended on California in March and April of this year, economies began to shut down and the debate raged over what businesses were deemed “essential.” Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla, and Alameda County authorities went back and forth over whether the Tesla plant in Fremont should be allowed to reopen.

    This dialogue was punctuated by a pithy tweet from Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who describes herself as a progressive Democrat, “F*ck Elon Musk.”

    Read the whole thing, but Brothers notes the irony of progressives trashing somebody you would think they would be lionizing: an immigrant (Progressives: good) whose products reduce greenhouse gases (Progressives: also good) whose purchase is encouraged by generous "pro-green" tax subsidies (Progressives: we're for that).

    But there's also a practical matter:

    [In 2020], Musk is likely paying billions in [California] state tax. Next year, he will be a resident of another state.

    I've read Atlas Shrugged. I'd bet he's not alone.


  • Kevin D. Williamson writes hilariously about Hilaria Baldwin and the Allure of the Invented Persona.

    First, a word of sincere thanks: It is an absolute relief to be writing about a Hillary who is not Herself, last seen scrounging around the metaphorical trash-heaps of our nation’s hideous capital like some kind of political hobo hunting after an imaginary can of beef stew. This Hillary is going to be a lot more fun, for exactly two minutes.

    Hillary, now “Hilaria,” Baldwin, née Hayward-Thomas of the Boston Hayward-Thomases, is the social-media hate object du jour, having used a partly invented biography, an entirely invented accent, and perhaps a bit of cosmetic derring-do to pass herself off as a Mallorca-born Spaniard, when she is in fact the Boston-born daughter of a Harvard professor and a Georgetown-educated businessman-lawyer, a family with pre-Revolutionary roots in New England. Mrs. Baldwin recently was profiled in Latina magazine (which describes itself as “100 percent Latina”) but turns out to be about as much of a Latina as John Quincy Adams. Her stepdaughter Ireland Baldwin recently undertook a ritual public apology for describing Mrs. Baldwin as — in the voguish terminology of the moment — “Latinx.”

    About as far as I've gone in inventing a persona is making the title of my blog an anagram of my name. Which is not Pablo Sanchez.

    For fun, check out Wikipedia which has a whole article on Pseudonyms of Donald Trump. (Gotta get these Trumpy links in while I can.)


  • At Reason, Baylen Linnekin detects another possible source of greenhouse gas: The Uproar Over New Federal Dietary Guidelines Is a Lot of Hot Air.

    This week the federal government published its new dietary guidelines for Americans, inspiring another round of debate over the government's role in choosing which expert nutrition and health options to signal-boost to the nation at large.  

    Published jointly every five years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services, the guidelines are based on the recommendations of a Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC). The committee, made up of a rotating host of expert appointees, recommends new guidelines in the form of a report. USDA and HHS leadership review the report and decide, ultimately, whether or not to adopt its various recommendations. Just as the release of the last iteration of the guidelines did five years ago, the agencies' decision about which advice to adopt (and not) is generating criticism. 

    Click through, but for me the wannabe nannies deserved to lose their fight to recommend that men cut back on alcohol.

    Apparently getting Our Federal Government out of the "Dietary Guidelines" biz is not an option. Sad!


  • Jeffrey Singer advoates at Cato for a different revolutionary idea that's not in the cards, unfortunately: Getting The Vaccine to Those Who Want it Most.

    The first wave of Pfizer and Moderna COVID vaccines arriving at health facilities across the country in the past few weeks sparked optimism that we may soon see a light at the end of the tunnel. As more people get vaccinated, the goal of herd immunity—where enough of the population is immune to the virus to prevent its easy spread to the vulnerable—becomes more attainable.

    Markets provide the most efficient means of distributing the vaccine to those who want and need it. Instead, policymakers on all levels of government have chosen the opposite: central planning. Now we read of reports in the news than many frontline health workers—those assigned top priority for immunization—are not following the plan. They are reluctant to take the vaccine.

    As I've tediously pointed out in the past: we have different standards for government action versus private action. Government is expected to be wasteful and error-prone. Such behavior is excused.


  • My Sunday paper brought yet another advocacy-thinly-disguised-as-"news" article on the front page: NH's minimum wage stands out as lowest in New England. I was about to fire off a screed LTE, but… eh, what's the point? I can bitch to my blog readers.

    But Michael Graham of NH Journal saves me from most of that work: Another Media 'Miss' on Minimum Wage.

    And like so much Granite State media coverage of the issue, it misses the most significant fact about income, wages and poverty in the Granite State: Income is high and poverty is low — without a minimum wage.

    More to the point, in 2019 New Hampshire had both no minimum age and the lowest poverty rate in the U.S.

    More telling stats at the link. A couple points:

    1. A statistic Michael didn't mention is Labor Force Participation Rate which (as I type) rates New Hampshire as the best in New England, and ninth place overall among US states. (Curse you, Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Utah, Minnesota, South Dakota, Colorado, and Wisconsin!)
    2. I'll also make the ethical point: if an employer wants to hire someone for X dollars/hour, and that employee wants to work for X dollars/hour, what right does some government functionary have to come in and say: "Sorry, X isn't high enough."

      I don't know why we put up with it.

URLs du Jour

2021-01-03

[Amazon Link]
I think our Amazon Product du Jour is a repeat. But that's OK.

  • Jonah Goldberg reports on The Mad Rush To Be on the Stupid Side of History.

    A lot of stupid things are said about history. 

    For example, there is no “right side” of history, if by that you mean events are destined to play out in some sort of preordained way. 

    But there is such a thing as being on the stupid side of history—and there’s a mad rush to be on it. 

    President Donald Trump’s lawyers failed to convince a single judge, Trump-appointed or otherwise, that there was systemic fraud in the 2020 election, never mind sufficiently outrageous fraud to warrant literally disenfranchising millions of voters. So Rep. Louie Gohmert is suing Vice President Mike Pence to force him to do exactly that. 

    The lawsuit is premised on an idea very popular in the more feverish corners of the right. It holds that because the vice president has a ceremonial role in receiving the certified votes from the states, he actually has the authority to reject any votes he doesn’t like. There are people who want Pence on January 6 to take the official, certified, and approved electoral votes and say, in effect, “Nope, these don’t count. Send me electoral votes for my boss, Donald Trump.”

    OK, that's bad enough. But …


  • … it gets worse. Patterico notes the latest: UnAmerican Senators Proudly Proclaim Their Intent to Challenge the Results of a Free and Fair Election.

    I woke up this morning to news that at least eight sitting Senators and four Senators-elect plan to challenge the results of the free and fair 2020 presidential election. On what basis? That there was rampant fraud that likely swung the outcome? No, they don’t allege that, because that didn’t happen. Instead, they cite the fact that some citizens distrust the election results — while failing to mention that they themselves have sown that distrust, with no basis whatsoever.

    The abhorrent Ted Cruz will be part of this unAmerican group, and he’s super excited to tell you about it:

    And you can follow the link if you'd like. But Pat is pretty irate about it:

    My reaction to this is unpublishable. All I can say is that I hope this life affords me at least one opportunity to meet Ted Cruz face to face, so I can tell him that I supported him for President and gave him money — and now, I’m sorry I ever said a kind word about him and would like to personally tell him to go straight to hell.

    I didn't give him money, but… well, here's what I tweeted in response:

    And I also need to quote…


  • Just One Minute's dumbfounded query to the GOPeople: "Can You Please Get A Grip?".

    They want an "emergency audit" because state government don't know how to count and Trump's lawyers failed to release the Krakpot, or something.

    This is playing with fire. In four or eight years when the Reps win the Electoral College (again) and the Dems win the popular vote (again) and AOC is screaming that some of the swing state results should be tossed because "the billionaires" corrupted the result, Republicans will regret this performance art. However it should help Hawley and Cruz with their 2024 Presidential aspirations, so first things first.

    Hey, it could work. There seem to be a lot of folks out there whose primary membership is in the Trump Personality Cult. And this is seen by Cruz et al as some sort of loyalty test they gotta pass, or doom their election hopes.

    Feh.


  • OK, let's move on to cheerier subjects…

    Hey, wait a minute. This, from David Bernstein at the Volokh Conspiracy isn't cheery at all! “Diversity” Nonsense Cost Tens of Thousands of Lives.

    CNBC in September (but I just saw this today): "One of the developers in the lead for a vaccine to prevent Covid-19, is slowing enrollment slightly in its large clinical trial to ensure it has sufficient representation of minorities most at risk for the disease, its chief executive said."

    This is particularly egregious because apparently Moderna felt the need to ensure sufficient representation of Hispanic Americans. Even if you buy the dubious notion that there is a significant chance that vaccines will have significantly different effects by "race," what race are Hispanics supposed to be, exactly? The average American Hispanic is about 3/4 European by descent, based on DNA studies. Essentially, then, Moderna allowed tens of thousands of people to die to ensure that "enough" white people who happen to have Spanish-speaking ancestors were included.

    At least Ted Cruz isn't killing thousands of people. Right? Or is that next, Ted?


  • Scott Aaronson writes at his blog Shtetl-Optimized on vaccine crackpottery. Which doesn't sound like crackpottery at all, but I want to quote this recently-added bit:

    If you want a sense of the on-the-ground realities of administering the vaccine in the US, check out this long post by Zvi Mowshowitz. Briefly, it looks like in my post, I gave those in charge way too much benefit of the doubt (!!). The Trump administration pledged to administer 20 million vaccines by the end of 2020; instead it administered fewer than 3 million. Crucially, this is not because of any problem with manufacturing or supply, but just because of pure bureaucratic blank-facedness. Incredibly, even as the pandemic rages, most of the vaccines are sitting in storage, at severe risk of spoiling … and officials’ primary concern is not to administer the precious doses, but just to make sure no one gets a dose “out of turn.” In contrast to Israel, where they’re now administering vaccines 24/7, including on Shabbat, with the goal being to get through the entire population as quickly as possible, in the US they’re moving at a snail’s pace and took off for the holidays. In Wisconsin, a pharmacist intentionally spoiled hundreds of doses; in West Virginia, they mistakenly gave antibody treatments instead of vaccines. There are no longer any terms to understand what’s happening other than those of black comedy.

    Let me repeat: Scott gave those in charge way too much benefit of the doubt.

    Reader, run your life the way you want. Mask up, or not; either way, accept responsibility for the consequences.

    But I strongly urge you to turn up your government skepticism up to eleven. It's the smart way to bet.

Three Hours in Paris

[Amazon Link]

Mrs. Salad is a big Cara Black fan, so she asked for this book for Christmas. Sure thing, hon.

The book also appeared on Tom Nolan's Ten Best Mysteries of 2020 list in the WSJ a few weeks back. So (this is probably a lapse in Christmas etiquette) I read it before she got a chance to. Sorry, hon.

Anyway, the title refers to Hitler's tour of occupied Paris in June 1940. He spent three hours visiting. (Everyone else in the book spends more time there.) Ms. Black constructs an elaborate what-if scenario around the quick in-and-out visit, involving Kate, an American female sharpshooter. She's near-suicidal due to the loss of her husband and young daughter in a Nazi raid on the Orkney Island village where they happily resided. An obscure branch of whatever they called MI-6 back then recruits her to a dangerous, probably hopeless, mission to assassinate Adolph.

Well, she misses Hitler. (This isn't totally alternate history.) But she accidentally plugs a Nazi Admiral, which puts a dogged German cop on her trail. And what follows is a cat-and-mouse caper, as Kate tries to escape Occupied France, The bad guys are pretty good at their jobs, but Kate manages to keep a step or two ahead of them through most of the book. She's much better at spycraft than her cursory training would lead you to expect. Complication: there are a lot of collaborators and traitors within the French citizenry. And the true nature of Kate's mission is only gradually revealed.

Ava

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

A Netflix streamer. For some reason, Hollywood makes a lot of these lady assassin movies, where the lady assassin's employers decide she's more trouble than she's worth. Where they decide to take her off the board with extreme prejudice. And soon discover they've got more than they bargained for. How long have they been doing this? Well, I thought back to The Long Kiss Goodnight where Geena Davis filled the role.

So anyway, the lady assassin here is Ava, played by Jessica Chastain. Her handler is father-figure Duke, played by John Malkovich. And Duke's boss, the one who decides he's had enough of Ava's quirks is Simon, played by Colin Farrell.

What's different is that when Ava decides she needs to get her head on straight, she heads back to Boston and her estranged family: sister Judy (Jess Weixler), her ex-boyfriend and Judy's current boyfriend Michael (Common), and they go to visit Mom in the hospital…

And, whoa: Mom is played by Geena Davis. I did not see that coming.

Anyway: lots of bad language, violence, smoking. And (spoiler, why not) an inconclusive ending. If you hate those, avoid. Or turn off the set about thirty seconds before the movie ends.

URLs du Jour

2021-01-02

  • Mr. Ramirez is not confused about our kids Getting dumber.

    [Getting Dumber]

    Supplemental reading from the Federalist: To Politicize Curriculum, Teachers Are Dumping More Classic Literature.


  • Or you could read a (somewhat longer) discussion on a related topic: (Higher) Education Is Destroying America.

    Consider this apparent paradox: commanding, as they do, behemoth corporate entities, the media, the entertainment industry and the social media and tech hubs of Silicon Valley, the educated today arguably wield more power, influence and ubiquitous social control than they have ever wielded in American history, and yet they are also as scorned and distrusted as they have ever been. The prevalence of loony conspiracy theories on the political right notwithstanding, less educated people have their reasons for feeling conspired against and for distrusting those who are ostensibly their betters. They distrust the educated contingent’s claims to knowledge and expertise because they both consciously and instinctively know that such “experts” can no longer be trusted, that knowledge claims by the educated elites now routinely come packaged with liberal doses of barely concealed political prejudice. Experts are the ones who tell us that Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden will defeat Donald Trump in a blowout and that Democrats are set to pick up significant gains and take control of both houses of Congress in the 2020 election. Experts are the unelected backroom technocrats at Twitter and Google who take it upon themselves, despite having transparent political biases and no obvious qualifications for such roles, to intervene on the side of “Truth” in complex political and factual debates — inevitably citing as backup for their decisions some of their favorite sources, such as CNN or The Washington Post — and then proceed to label, take down, bury and censor competing claims and their conservatives or contrarian sources. Experts are the ones who issue confident pronouncements about Covid-19, only to issue inconsistent but equally confident pronouncements a few weeks or months later, the ones who tell us masks don’t help to protect healthy individuals only to completely reverse that guidance, the ones who command us that frequenting religious services, Trump rallies, restaurants, hair salons or family gatherings poses a mortal risk to our health while turning a blind eye to or even throwing full support behind massive #BLM protests or disregarding their own edicts and going unmasked into chic hair salons or large parties at expensive French restaurants. And, as I’ll have reason to discuss in more detail below, the kind of “expertise” that emanates from the mainstream media or the educational establishment is egregious in its political biases.

    Let me point to (once again) the Racial Justice Resources page issued by the University Near Here. Where the ideological "diversity" displayed ranges from left to far-left.


  • In an "NRPLUS" article (sorry), Kevin D. Williamson reflects on Annus Horribilis, aka 2020.

    How much better or how much worse the American experience might have been if government had done this or that differently is the subject of a great deal of motivated reasoning. Democrats point to the buffoonery of the whining incompetent Republicans made president in 2016 and say “See! See!” while Republicans emphasize that the federal response has been relatively effective compared to the efforts of, say, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio in New York.

    That kind of exercise is foolish for many reasons (as a practical matter, does a coronavirus death in Houston count against the Republicans who run the state or the Democrats who run the city?) and distracts from the single fact that should command our political imagination right now: The second wave of infections revealed that almost no Western government has been able to respond effectively to this epidemic. The United States has its problems, which are obvious enough, but the United Kingdom has hardly managed any better, the European Union has been divided by the issue, and Switzerland, arguably the best-governed country in the world, has tripped over its own skis so relentlessly that Geneva has one of Europe’s highest infection rates. Neither guidance from Brussels nor Sweden’s early laissez-faire approach nor Governor Cuomo’s authoritarian threat to board up the synagogues has proved effective.

    KDW's eloquent and wise bottom line: "[T]he real divide in American life is not between Ocasio-Cortez and Trump but between those who look to such figures for insight and leadership and those who know better."


  • If you've been wondering: Why Is It Taking So Long to Administer COVID Vaccinations?. Well, click on over, brother, to the Dispatch and Declan Garvey:

    It’s been just longer than two weeks since the first batches of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine began rolling out nationwide, and 10 days since Moderna’s did the same. According to CDC data, a combined 12,409,050 doses of these two vaccines—both of which were developed and received FDA authorization in less than a year—have been distributed across the country, and 2,794,588 of those doses have been administered. 

    In a vacuum, inoculating nearly 3 million people against a deadly virus less than a year after it was sequenced is nothing short of a miracle. But given that the daily death toll in the U.S. has averaged nearly 2,500 this month, some are saying it’s not good enough.

    For those of us who expect incompetence and unnecessary delay from any and all levels of government, it's no shock. But if you're interested in the details of the delay and incompetence, check out the article.


  • In still-related news, Reason's Jacob Sullum notes other business-as-usual: Increases in Opioid-Related Deaths Show That Drug Warriors (Including Biden) Have No Idea What They’re Doing.

    Last year President Donald Trump bragged that "we are making progress" in reducing opioid-related deaths, noting that they fell in 2018 "for the first time since 1990." That 1.7 percent drop was thin evidence of success at the time, and it looks even less impressive in light of the the 6.5 percent increase recorded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2019. When you add preliminary CDC data indicating that opioid-related deaths rose dramatically this year, you have even more reason to wonder whether the government is actually winning the war on drugs.

    The 49,860 deaths involving opioids that the CDC counted in 2019 set a new record that is likely to be broken when the data for 2020 are finalized. "Synthetic opioids other than methadone," the category that includes fentanyl and its analogs, were involved in 73 percent of opioid-related deaths last year. According to the CDC's preliminary data, "the 12-month count of synthetic opioid deaths increased 38.4% from the 12 months ending in June 2019 compared with the 12 months ending in May 2020."

    If you're expecting better from Biden, don't. Jacob's judgment: "more of the same". A fitting prediction in general for 2021, unfortunately.

URLs du Jour

2021-01-01

  • The good folks at Reason bring us a New Year's gift: Citizen vs. Government (Vol. 6).

    They may wonder about the format being outdated, but I don't think they'll ever run out of material.


  • At National Review, Steve H. Hanke and Richard Conn Henry make The Case for a Permanent Calendar. Specifically, theirs, the Hanke-Henry Permanent Calendar (HHPC):

    The HHPC offers a comprehensive template for revising the contemporary calendar. It adheres to the most basic tenet of a fixed calendar: Every date would fall on the same day of the week every year. New Year’s Day, for instance, would always be a Monday. The year would be divided into four three-month quarters, with first two months of each quarter lasting 30 days and the third lasting 31 days. Each quarter would contain 91 days resulting in a 364-day year comprised of 52 seven-day weeks. This is a vital feature of the HHPC: By preserving the seven-day Sabbath cycle — and by not inserting “extra days” that break up the weekly cycle — it would avoid the major complaints from ecclesiastical quarters that have doomed all other attempts at calendar reform.

    As for holidays, with the HHPC, they predictably fall on the same date and day of the week year‐​after‐​year. For example, seven existing federal holidays, such as Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, fall on Mondays. The HHPC would also pin down floating holidays, such as Memorial Day, which would eternally fall on Monday, May 27, and Labor Day, which would fall on Monday, September 4. The calendar places both Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve on Sundays.

    I'd be OK with it. You can get more details at their website. And find out that it's still 2020 according to the HHPC (Aaargh!) Specifically it's "2020 Xtra 5". And they also advocate doing away with time zones, something of which I've been in favor of since 2013.

    It will almost certainly never happen. But we all need one or two totally crackpot ideas in our back pockets.


  • Cato's Michael F. Cannon tells the tale of The Great Bucatini Shortage of 2020 and the FDA's History of Telling Italians How to Make Italian Food.

    Rachel Handler has a delightful piece at New York magazine’s food and restaurant blog Grub Street on how Big Pasta is using government regulation to punish competitors and consumers. The result is that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, in addition to causing a shortage of COVID-19 diagnostic tests and vaccines, is basically causing a nationwide shortage of bucatini.

    On March 30, at the beginning of a pandemic whose supply shocks were making everything from toilet paper to pasta harder to get, the FDA blocked imports of De Cecco bucatini. The FDA found the iron content of the Italian company’s bucatini to be—brace yourself—10.9 milligrams per pound rather than the 13 milligrams per pound the FDA requires. The product in question is perfectly safe. It presents no threat to the public. It is legal to sell throughout the European Union. But since the FDA alleges it does not meet the agency’s arbitrary standard, the agency turned a temporary shortage of bucatini into a…less-temporary one. Handler surmises the FDA took the action at the behest of one of De Cecco’s competitors.

    I believe the government's logic is that the rules must be enforced, otherwise people might get the idea that the bureaucrats writing the rules are a waste of space, time, energy, and oxygen. Can't have that!


  • Which brings us to a guest essay by David Hart at Cafe Hayek about the Presumption of Government Failure. Why is it, David wonders, that government action is assumed to be "safe and effective"? When we have a number of reasons to think it won't be. Here's one of those reasons:

    The principle of the impossibility (or great unlikelihood) of rational economic calculation by government planners applies just as much to government public health and hygiene planners as it did to Stalinist central planners. Thus, it is up to advocates of government intervention to demonstrate how the central planning of the health economy in particular and the broader economy in general can avoid the fatal problems identified exactly 100 years ago by Mises in his essay “Economic Calculation under Socialism” (1920). For example, how is the distinction between “essential” and “non-essential” economic activity even possible in an economy as complex as ours? How do you avoid the problem of the overproduction of ventilators (which turned out not to be needed and in fact harmed the patients who were forced to use them), or the overproduction of temporary “Nightingale hospitals” in England or the underused naval vessels in New York harbor?

    If government were held to the same standards that it imposes on private actors,… we'd have a lot less government, and a lot more liberty.


  • And we're winding up the Alex Trebek era on Jeopardy! with his last few shows airing next week. And then it's Ken Jennings, at least for a while. At the Federalist, Jordan Davidson reminds us: Wannabe 'Jeopardy!' Host Ken Jennings Is A Kavanaugh Rape Truther Who Hates Republicans.

    “Jeopardy!” champion Ken Jennings is attempting to backtrack on years of insults hurled at conservatives and others on his Twitter feed in what some have speculated is a bid for the popular game show’s open host position.

    Jennings, who is a Brett Kavanaugh rape truther and currently an interim host of “Jeopardy!” following the death of longtime host Alex Trebek in November, issued a statement on Twitter on Wednesday addressing any “insensitive” and “unartful” content he has shared in the past.

    “Hey, I just wanted to own up to the fact that over the years on Twitter, I’ve definitely tweeted some unartful and insensitive things. Sometimes they worked as jokes in my head and I was dismayed to see how they read on-screen,” Jennings wrote, claiming he did not delete his tweets “just so they could be dunked on” and so he wouldn’t be “whitewashing.” He continued the thread by claiming it “wasn’t my intention to hurt anyone.”

    Geez, Ken. Own up to your lack of basic human decency.

Top Ten Nonfiction Books read in 2020

[Excuse blatant copying from last year's post.] Just in case you're interested in what I found informative, interesting, thought-provoking, etc. last year. Clicking on the cover image will take you to the Amazon page (where I get a cut if you buy); clicking on the title will whisk you to my blog posting for a fuller discussion.

I read a lot of good books this year, and it was hard to limit myself to 10, an arbitrary (but traditional) number. Apologies to those who didn't make the cut. I could have come up with a slightly different set on a different day. Feel free to peruse the full list of books I read in 2020 (including fiction).

In order read:

[Amazon Link] Romance of the Rails: Why the Passenger Trains We Love Are Not the Transportation We Need by Randal O'Toole. A combination of history and public policy. Randal loves the choo-choos, but he's honest enough to admit their time has passed.
[Amazon Link] Something Deeply Hidden: Quantum Worlds and the Emergence of Spacetime by Sean Carroll. A good discussion for the layman about different "interpretations" of quantum mechanics; Carroll is in favor of "many worlds", see if he can convince you. Some handwaving is involved, since he avoids math.
[Amazon Link] Great Society: A New History by Amity Shlaes. Amity looks at LBJ's massive social engineering project, meant to end poverty, establish racial harmony, beautify the interstates, … It didn't work; you may have noticed. Vietnam, of course. But also the implementation was left to socialists full of hubris and huckster activists with their schemes for power and to grab some of that sweet taxpayer cash.
[Amazon Link] Why Liberalism Works: How True Liberal Values Produce a Freer, More Equal, Prosperous World for All by Deirdre Nansen McCloskey. Deirdre's overall purpose here is to update and defend her thesis about the cause and nature of "The Great Enrichment", started in northwest Europe in the 18th century: it was due to a newfound and unique respect for the tools of the marketplace, bourgeois moral values, and individual liberty. Marred by her illiberal turn against people who fail to buy into her transgender ideology. Try to ignore that.
[Amazon Link] The American Dream Is Not Dead: (But Populism Could Kill It) by Michael R. Strain. A short book, but very fact-dense. Michael's argument is that various economic doomsayers on left and right are (largely) wrong, that the American economy is delivering for most (but not all) people, and that various nostrums peddled (by those doomsayers) would make things worse.
[Amazon Link] How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems by Randall Munroe. A lot of fun: Randall (yes, another Randy made this list) takes "normal" questions, answers them by going to amusingly absurd lengths using scientific insight and very dry humor.
[Amazon Link] Science Fictions: How Fraud, Bias, Negligence, and Hype Undermine the Search for Truth by Stuart Ritchie. It's necessary to say that the author is not an anti-science loon. But he's profoundly disturbed by the lousy research incentivized by the current system. He does a masterful, meticulous job of investigating examples of shoddiness and detailing how "Fraud, Bias, Negligence, and Hype" are encouraged. With results that hurt, sometimes kill, people.
[Amazon Link] Human Diversity: The Biology of Gender, Race, and Class by Charles Murray. And when he says "Diversity", Murray means it in the classic sense: differences. A noble effort to bring science into the discussion, tempered by a classical-liberal view of essential, underlying, human equality. As the subtitle implies: when it comes to issues of "gender, race, and class", biology plays an important role in explaining observed differences. Avert your eyes if that shocks or offends you, but ignoring it will ensure that your efforts to improve/reform/transform society will be misguided, ineffective, wasteful, and almost certainly invidious.
[Amazon Link] Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Woolly Wilds of the "Real America" by Kevin D. Williamson. A compilation of 22 of Kevin D. Williamson's National Review articles 2012-2019. Each is a little gem, and if you're wondering what all those asterisks in the magazine meant, they're spelled out here. Clichés avoided, plenty of insight and pyrotechnic prose.
[Amazon Link] Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity and Why This Harms Everybody by Helen Pluckrose & James Lindsay. A critical examination of how postmodern epistemology mutated into today's raging dumpster fire of "wokeness", "identity politics", "anti-racism", and associated ideologies. Not a polemic, the authors bend over backward to be "fair" to the deep thinkers they criticize, quoting them extensively. Unfortunately, this means the reader has to navigate piles of barely coherent academic gobbledygook.

Some Graphs

2021 Update

The yearly Pun Salad update. Mostly copied from years previous.

Back in 2016, I made an early New Year's resolution to blog more diligently. This was unusual, in that it was actually successful. Through 2020, there have been 1469 consecutive days of Pun Salad posts (not counting book/movie/geek posts) since 2016-12-24. And yet I am still not famous.

I suppose this can't go on forever, but we'll keep trying.

There's twelve more months of data on the chart showing the monthly blog posts since Pun Salad's birth in February 2005: (Hat tip: the Chart::Gnuplot Perl module)

[Pun Salad Monthly Posts]

Once a geek develops a hammer, it's tough to stop finding nails to pound. Here's an updated chart on my book reading; you can tell that I've been trying to read more over the past few years:

[yearly books]

Aha, a record for 2020! At least since I've been keeping track. I blame Covid.

And movies watched since 2004 shows an "unexpected" uptick for 2020.

[yearly movies]

Two factors were at play: (1) Covid, of course; We stayed in a lot. But (2) the dreadful team fielded by the Boston Red Sox last year caused us to cut down on baseball-watching, too. I hope this returns to near-normal in 2021.

For the curious: My 2020 book list is here; my 2020 movie list is here.


Last Modified 2021-01-01 7:31 AM EST