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.