Hunting Four Horsemen

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Jim Geraghty is a longtime favorite of mine, ever since he took up the task at National Review of reporting on John Kerry. More recently, he deserves plaudits for his skepticism about the once-prevailing conventional wisdom about the origin of Covid-19. His carefully laid-out reasoning convinced a lot of people (whether they admit it or not) that there might be something to Explanation B: an unintentional leak of the virus from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

But Jim writes fiction too, and this is the second book in (so far) a two-book series. It's billed as "A Dangerous Clique Novel", referring to a (fictional?) CIA team that's called on to terminate terroristic threats with extreme prejudice, and zero regard for due process. I read and reported on the first one back in 2019. And the Kindle version was, for a time, just $3.99 at Amazon. So…

It's set in a slightly-alternate universe where the recovery from the Covid pandemic is much less robust than what we're actually experiencing. The world is fragmented and paranoid. And then comes word that a mysterious evildoer, who's adopted the moniker "Hell Summoner", has engineered an even worse virus: one that can be targeted against those carrying a specific genome. And he's offering to tune it up and sell it off to whatever rich madman can give him $20 billion.

So the team is off globe-hopping, following up leads as they present themselves. A lot of gunplay, fisticuffs, and other miscellaneous violence occurs. And (of course) it comes down to a thrilling climax at Nakatomi Fox Plaza in Century City.

It's a page turner and a decent read. Jim (I call him Jim) has obviously done some globe-hopping himself, and describes many scenes with I've-been-there detail.

Downside: same as in the previous book. Some typos. Dialog that is sometimes clunky, sometimes didactic, and often just non-credible. Numerous shout-outs to pop culture, especially movies. And when I say "numerous", I mean "way too many." You know that Nakatomi Plaza reference? It's worked into the ground, especially when an FBI agent shows up named… yup, Johnson. To Geraghty's credit, he resisted giving him a partner also named Johnson. And thereby avoided the inevitable line "No, the other one."

URLs du Jour

2021-06-30

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  • Probably Unrelated To Our Amazon Product du Jour. Bari Weiss has some amusing details about Amazon's Woke Smokescreen. Specifically, the "Inclusion Playbook" published by Amazon Studios' division of (what else) "Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion". And from there she encountered a Factsheets Glossary published by a group called "Think Tank for Inclusion & Equity". Wherein:

    There I encountered entries on things like: acquired limb difference (otherwise known as “amputation”). There’s an entry on mean girls, which, I learned, was a “stereotype of girls and young women characterizing them as socially aggressive and unkind” —characterizations that, apparently, not only “enforce the bad behavior” but “fail to address the larger social issues girls and women face like insecurity, lack of confidence, and pressure to fit the ‘feminine beauty ideal.’” Someone please relay that to Tina Fey. 

    There were entries on haka (I’ve been a fan for years), unnecessary intersex surgeries (bad), womxn (whatever happened to good old-fashioned womyn?) and the biological clock, which is explained as: “in relation to birthing people, the biological clock refers to the sense of pressure people feel to have children during their ‘peak’ reproductive years.” As a 37-year-old womxn/birthing person, I can assure you that those scare quotes around the word ‘peak,’ as though human reproduction is some kind of social construct, are superfluous.

    Moving right along, the Inclusion Playbook taught me that the Arabic word jihad means to “strive and struggle for God,” and is a term that describes “personal betterment.” Sharia, we are told, literally means “the clear, well-trodden path to water.” 

    And more. I suggest you not drink any liquids while reading.


  • One Less Sane Voice. Don Boudreaux eulogizes Steven Horwitz (1964-2021).

    Yesterday brought the terrible news of Steve Horwitz’s death. Diagnosed a few short years ago with multiple myeloma, he fought this cancer aggressively and with aplomb. Alas, the cancer too quickly stole his life – the life of a splendid member of that most engendered of species, namely, superb and scholarly economists who both wish to, and excel at, communicating clearly with the general public.

    Steve was also a wonderful human being.

    Over the years, Steve made numerous appearances at Pun Salad. I read and reported on his book, Hayek's Modern Family back in 2016. In the summer of 2017 he was gloriously brutal in his takedown of Nancy MacLean's hackwork on James Buchanan: here, here, and here. And he was good on other topics too: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

    He will be missed.


  • Hm. I've Never Seen Them In the Same Room. Kevin D. Williamson's Tuesday column looks at The Devil and Garry Wills.

    One of the great ironies of the abortion debate is that the pro-life camp, purportedly made up of religious fanatics, mostly wants to talk about biology, while the notionally secular pro-abortion faction has embraced a medieval superstition about “ensoulment” and “quickening,” as exemplified most recently by Garry Wills’s latest New York Times essay, flabbergasting in its simplemindedness, on Joe Biden and the Catholic bishops.

    Wills’s column is the sort of Dark Ages hoo-haw that gives Dark Ages hoo-haw a bad name.

    We shouldn’t live by prehistoric superstition when we have better alternatives, but we shouldn’t sneer at our forebears as primitive — they would recognize us, and we should recognize them and recognize ourselves in them. As James George Frazer argued in The Golden Bough, magic is the embarrassing ancestor of science, the fruit of mankind’s earliest efforts to produce a systematic explanation of the physical world and natural phenomena. Is the thunder really the Sky Father  shaking his shield? No, of course not, but put yourself in the place of those early men: Everybody you know believes that the Sky Father causes thunder, everybody you have ever known believes it, the people of the highest standing in your community attest to it, your father and your grandfather believed it and, even if you were to question it — and here’s the most important part — what’s the next-best explanation?

    A lot of interesting stuff about Dante, and you'll want to click through to discover what Wills says that causes KDW to observe: "This is either the dumbest thing published in the New York Times since the last time Paul Krugman wrote or it is willfully misleading, a bad-faith argument."... well, you'll have to click over.


  • Also Debunked, Demolished, Discredited, Lampooned, Spoofed, Eluded,… Robby Soave has good advice: Critical Race Theory Can’t Be Banned. It Can Be Exposed, Mocked, and Avoided..

    So let's just get this out of the way: Critical race theory is the idea that structural racism is embedded in many U.S. institutions. Slavery was the reality when the country was founded, and segregation endured for a century following the Civil War. It would thus be naive to assume that supposedly race-neutral policies are actually race-neutral—there's nothing neutral about America and race. Working from this assumption, adherents of critical race theory tend toward a kind of progressive activism that views post-Enlightenment classical liberalism and its notions of equal opportunity, the prioritization of individual rights over group rights, and colorblindness with hostility.

    Since very few people involved in the CRT debate have had much experience with the above definition, nearly everybody who has waded into this controversy is right about some things and wrong about many other things.

    Savvier liberals are correct, for instance, that CRT, as defined by the people who actually coined the term, mostly exists in academia, not K-12 classrooms. This means that Republican legislative efforts to protect kids from CRT are actually targeting a wide swath of only semi-related progressive concepts. These bills are almost uniformly heavy-handed, and in some cases represent active threats to freedom of expression in the classroom.

    I'm reminded what SCOTUS Justice Potter Stewart said about porn: "I know it when I see it."

    I think the porn-CRT analogy holds pretty well:

    • Efforts to "ban" porn have been unsuccessful. (Proof left as an exercise for the reader.)
    • Those efforts also (at least temporarily) banned worthy works of literature and art.
    • On the other hand, we've managed to successfully keep porn out of K-12 and (mostly) universities.

    So…


  • I Suspect Dr. Jill. Kyle Smith wonders: As Biden Bumbles, Who's Really Running the US?.

    Chris Rock famously said, when Barack Obama was president, “The president and the first lady are kind of like the mom and the dad of the country. And when your dad says something, you listen.”

    Joe Biden, though, is the granddad of the country, and when you listen to Granddad, sometimes you wonder whether it’s safe for him to be near a pair of scissors.

    No big deal, though; it’s just that there’s this guy who looks like he’d have trouble using Google Maps and he happens to be in charge of all the nukes. On the rare occasions when Biden’s staff let him out of the dayroom to be seen on camera, pre-selected members of the press ask him the gentlest conceivable questions and then wind up cringing anyway as Biden gives one unnerving display after another.

    Examples at the link. You'll chuckle until you remember this guy is the President. Then you might cringe.


  • Silence is Golden. Meaning, In This Case, Lots of Money is Involved. Andrew Stiles reports at the Washington Free Beacon: NBA, Nike, Apple, Google Silent on China’s Crackdown on Journalists in Hong Kong. Excerpt:

    Apple, Google, Nike, and the NBA have all come under fire for their deep (and exceedingly profitable) ties to China, as well as their willingness to overlook human rights abuses and submit to the Chinese government's demands. In the United States, meanwhile, these corporations are among the most outspoken when it comes to so-called social justice issues.

    In 2019, Apple CEO Tim Cook touted his company's commitment to "sustaining a free press and thriving democracy," but only in Western markets where such rhetoric is welcomed. In China, where supporting democracy and press freedom is a criminal offense, Apple is perfectly willing to disregard its own values.

    Earlier this year, the New York Times reported that Apple's alleged commitment to civil liberties and privacy did not apply to China. The company gave Chinese government employees control over the data centers housing the personal data of Chinese customers. At the request of the government, Apple scrapped the encryption technology it uses in other countries to protect user privacy, and even removed its "Designed by Apple in California" slogan from the backs of iPhones sold in China.

    As Groucho probably didn't say: "These are my principles. If you don’t like them I have others."

URLs du Jour

2021-06-29

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I think I've previously posted a yard sign with the same words as our Amazon Product du Jour. So if you got the yard sign, you gotta get the throw pillow, right?

  • And It's Spectacular. The NR editors assure their readers: Critical Race Theory Backlash is Real.

    The intellectual roots of CRT can be found in Marxist-influenced critical theory, which began in the academia of Weimar Germany. It developed into an “intersectional” ideology at Harvard Law School in the late 1980s, through Kimberlé Crenshaw and other supporters of Professor Derrick Bell. In recent years, however, it has metastasized into the pop psychology of bestsellers such as Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist and Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility as well as pseudohistory such as the New York Times’ 1619 Project.

    CRT teaches that American ideals and institutions are mere fronts for white supremacy. It instructs its devotees to see everything through the lens of racial group identity and inherited guilt rather than treat individuals as individuals. Along with related critical gender and sexuality theories, it has increasingly colonized workplace training, journalism, and campus culture, and more recently entered the curricula of K–12 schools, where its practitioners are embraced and showered with cash by left-leaning school boards and educator groups such as the National Education Association.

    Should anyone accuse you of not knowing what CRT is, those paragraphs, translated into your own words, can disabuse them of that notion.


  • The Whole World Is Watching. Bari Weiss has a powerful article at her substack about China's digestion of Hong Kong, concentrating on the arrest of Jimmy Lai, and the shutdown of his pro-democracy paper Apple Daily: When a Free Society Becomes a Police State. RTWT, but here's an excerpt:

    Perhaps you read all of this and think the following: The Chinese Communist Party is terrible. We hear horrific stories out of China all the time. About how the CCP is carrying out a genocide against Uyghur Muslims and how it is staging videos of people pretending to be happy Uyghurs in an attempt to conceal the truth. About how it indoctrinates its people with censorship and propaganda. About how it disappears people. About how it uses cutting edge technology to spy on its own.

    Why should a newspaper closure rank among such atrocities?

    I asked that question to Mark Simon: “The Chinese Communist Party has become an expansionist party. They are interested not only in China now, but in the things around China,” he said. “And the killing of Apple Daily is really the largest blow against Hong Kong as a Western civil society.” Jimmy Lai put it this way in a 2019 interview: “What we are fighting for is the first battle of the new cold war.”

    In other words: What happens in Beijing doesn’t stay in Beijing. 

    Here I’m not just thinking of of movie stars like John Cena groveling about calling Taiwan a country; or of NBA stars like Lebron James who claim the mantle of social justice but are go mute in the face of the world’s greatest threat to human freedom; or of powerful brands like Apple and Nike that market themselves as progressive but rely on forced labor. (This past week, as Apple Daily shuttered, the CEO of Nike said: “Nike is a brand that is of China and for China.”)

    Read that again: “Nike is a brand that is of China and for China.”

    [Apple Daily]

    I watch the Red Sox. I'll probably skip the All-Star Game, as I do every year. But you'll recall that Major League Baseball hurriedly moved the All-Star Game out of Atlanta earlier this year because of (overblown) allegations about the voting law changes in the state of Georgia.

    And yet every MLB player wears the Nike swoosh on his jersey, an implicit thumbs-up to a company "of China and for China", a totalitarian dictatorship.

    We live in a time of athlete activism. I guess I hope that one or more ballplayers might have the guts to go out on the field with an unswooshed jersey. Cover up the swoosh with the Apple Daily logo, perhaps. (At your right, J. D. Martinez.)


  • Your Answer Probably Depends On Your View Of the Proper Citizen/State Relationship. Sean Walsh asks an interesting question: Is Government Ever Justified in the Weaponisation of Fear?. (He's a Brit, but everyting translates across the pond pretty well.)

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    The perceived level of personal threat needs to be increased among those who are complacent, using hard-hitting emotional messaging” Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviour (SPI-B), 22 March 2020

    The above quotation is from a Government advice paper and is quoted by Laura Dodsworth in the introduction to her excellent new book, A State of Fear: How the UK government weaponised fear during the Covid-19 pandemic (Pinter & Martin, paperback £9.99). Dodsworth’s book is an analysis of how the Johnson administration deployed fear in service of a lockdown agenda – and of how it continues to do so.

    This is where we are: the UK is in a sort of Escher context in which the emergence of lockdown is not distinguishable from the entering of a new phase of it. How did we get here? Dodsworth offers an answer: people, when scared, are willing to embrace all manner of humiliations. And government, knowing this, will pile on the fear. Government is always like a child, attempting to see what it can get away with. Dodsworth explains why, if you like, the public declined to be the adult who pushes back. In March last year we had a chance to set the boundaries. We chose not to.

    Amazon link to A State of Fear on your right. The Kindle version is a mere $7.99.


  • Rauch Rules II: Electric Boogaloo An excerpt from Jonathan Rauch's new book The Constitution of Knowledge at Persuasion:

    When Americans think about how we find truth amid a world full of discordant viewpoints, we usually turn to a metaphor, that of the marketplace of ideas. It is a good metaphor as far as it goes, yet woefully incomplete. It conjures up an image of ideas being traded by individuals in a kind of flea market, or of disembodied ideas clashing and competing in some ethereal realm of their own. But ideas in the marketplace do not talk directly to each other, and for the most part neither do individuals. 

    Rather, our conversations are mediated through institutions like journals and newspapers and social-media platforms. They rely on a dense network of norms and rules, like truthfulness and fact-checking. They depend on the expertise of professionals, like peer reviewers and editors. The entire system rests on a foundation of values: a shared understanding that there are right and wrong ways to make knowledge. Those values and rules and institutions do for knowledge what the U.S. Constitution does for politics: They create a governing structure, forcing social contestation onto peaceful and productive pathways. And so I call them, collectively, the Constitution of Knowledge. If we want to defend that system from its many persistent attackers, we need to understand it—and its very special notion of reality.

    He makes some very good points. But…


  • Long Live the Kling. Arnold Kling is a Rauch skeptic. So check out The Best Rauch Summary.

    I am fine with Rauch’s rules for social epistemology. What bothers me about the book is the assumption that he makes implicitly–and often explicitly–that we can look to twentieth-century institutions to revive what he calls the reality-based community. He writes as if Harvard and the NYT are basically ok, and all that we need is for Google, Facebook, and Twitter to do a better job of moderating content on their platforms.

    In Rauch, you won’t find anything like what I wrote in academic corruption 1, academic corruption 2, or academic corruption 3.

    Arnold makes good points too, and I'm dubious that corporations and universities have the cojones to stand up for free expression and liberal ideals.

    Because (see above) they're all too willing to kowtow to China.


Last Modified 2021-06-29 1:42 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2021-06-28

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  • Lower Your Expectations. No, Even Lower. Keep Going… Megan McArdle explains Why you shouldn’t expect much from Biden’s plan to counter crime.

    The plan contains a lot of things you’d expect from Democrats, such as summer-jobs programs and a crackdown on “rogue firearms dealers.” It also highlights that some of the $350 billion allocated to states and localities in the president’s American Rescue Plan can be used to invest in more police officers on the street or equipment and technology for law enforcement.

    But one of the most telling items is minor: a note that the Biden administration will put forth regulations on a policy known as “ban the box,” which forbids employers — in this case, many federal agencies and contractors — from asking about an applicant’s criminal history on job applications.

    A few things about this are notable. First, this isn’t actually a Biden initiative; the Office of Personnel Management is promulgating regulations to implement the Fair Chance to Compete for Jobs Act, which passed in 2019. The administration appears to be hoping to take a bit of credit for something the agency was legally required to do.

    Second, it’s not clear that anyone should brag about “ban the box,” because while it certainly tries to address a real problem — an estimated 1 in 4 former felons is unemployed, a statistic that presumably worsened during the pandemic — two different studies have reached the same conclusion: that “ban the box” reduced employment opportunities for Black or Hispanic young men, as employers who were denied the ability to screen out criminal histories instead apparently resorted to cruder racial stereotypes.

    As a good measure of how reality-challenged the administration is, check the title of one of their recently-released documents: Fact Sheet: Biden-Harris Administration Announces Comprehensive Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gun Crime and Ensure Public Safety.

    Ensure public safety. Ensure.

    How long before someone quotes The Princess Bride at Biden? "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."


  • Betteridge's Law of Headlines Applies to John McWhorter's latest: It is Just Hype to Call Electism a Religion?.

    Rather, it would seem to me that religious belief requires a person to sequester a part of their cognition for a kind of belief that is not based on logic. Yes, the theologian can slice and dice brilliantly in seeking a rational basis for the faith – but at a certain point, you hit that wall: one must “just” believe, “take that jump and” believe, one must believe … “.. (I don’t know) …”.

    My point about The Elect is that its ideology involves – and actually is founded significantly upon – that type of religious thought. No devoted spectator of the emergence of this way of thinking could miss that it has morphed from a sociopolitical stance infused with religion (as in what I pointed out in 2015 here) into a straight-up religion.

    The difference is that believers have actually started saying it outright.

    I keep going back to that short open letter from "UNH Lecturers United", which started out:

    The University of New Hampshire has recently adopted the language of Anti-Racism, but it is impossible to foster such a belief unless the University’s position is also staunchly and confrontationally Anti-Fascist.

    Emphasis added. This is language appropriate for evangelical recruitment into a religious cult, not education.


  • In Related News… Brit Lois McLatchie notes that it's an international phenomenon: In the West, ‘Incorrect’ Speech Is Increasingly Treated as Blasphemy.

    Europe’s “hate-speech laws” have taken the core principles of “blasphemy laws” and dressed them up in a watered-down Western packaging. Thoughts are now branded “unspeakable,” not for discussing deities, but dogma — even if that dogma is still widely held. The pope has been clear on his views on marriage. The Queen of England herself is head of a church that confesses the same view. Significant portions of European populations join them, amounting to one in five Brits, and one in four Fins. These are very significant minorities — but international legal standards on free speech protect their right to express their views, even if they amounted to fewer.

    Ms. McLatchie notes that they still have actual blasphemy laws in some countries. Places you don't want to visit.


  • Watching The Sausage Factory. Andrew Stuttaford goes full Upton Sinclair on the Infrastructure ‘Deal’.

    While the extent to which the nation’s infrastructure is “crumbling” has been wildly overstated, at least this package has the merit that the billions to be spent on, say, “resilience” make rather more sense than alternative plans to invest in premature or inefficient green technologies, assuming they are spent wisely (no small assumption). Regardless of the damage that climate change may or may not bring in its wake, toughening our infrastructure would almost certainly pay for itself. That’s true, say, of sea-defenses for our low-lying coastal cities or for burying electric cables underground, particularly in regions such as the northeast.

    As for, broadband, on the other hand, well, take a look at what Kevin Williamson has to say here.

    Then there’s the idea that the plan will create “a first-of-its-kind Infrastructure Financing Authority that will leverage billions of dollars into clean transportation and clean energy.”

    The ghost of Gosplan still stalks the earth, it seems, even as memories of Solyndra appear to have faded.

    Andrew also considers the fantastical illusion contained in the "compromise" that throwing the IRS an additional $40 billion would produce a net gain in tax revenue of $100 billion. ("And also some nice new cars in the IRS parking lot!")


  • Warning: Satire Ahead. And the Bablyon Bee headline is the entire joke: Biden Says Latinx Aren't Getting Vaccinated Because Their Giant Sombreros Make It Impossible to Enter Pharmacies.

    (What he did say was slightly less funny, and equally reality-free.)

URLs du Jour

2021-06-27

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  • Not My Precedent. Andrew Stuttaford makes a point in discussing recent history: Dealing with the Pandemic — An Authoritarian Precedent.

    There are many lessons, to put it mildly, to be learned (or relearned) from the way that the COVID-19 pandemic has been handled. One of them is the willingness of supposedly free peoples to submit to — and even welcome — a form of authoritarian rule. Sadly, that’s no great surprise. The historical evidence that people yearn to breathe free is, shall we say, mixed, but happy talk about the right side of history often drowns out the inconvenient message from the past.

    Yes, there was submission. And yes, there was welcoming. But (even worse) there was demand.

    Not just the "tell those people what to do" variety. I also noticed a distressing amount of "tell me what to do."

    This is why I often despair about the country's future: you can't have a free society when lots of the citizens don't value their liberty.

    Well, let's see if there's any happier news out there…


  • "Biden Confuses" Headline Watch. I previously predicted an upswing in news headlines containing "Biden" and "Confuses". The latest: Biden Confuses Tuskegee Airmen with Syphilis Study Victims in Explaining Covid Vaccine Reluctance.

    Joe Biden is drawing criticism for comments he made that mixed up the Tuskegee Airmen – a heroic group of African American World War II pilots – with victims of an infamous Alabama syphilis study.

    Speaking on the reluctance of some people to get COVID-19 vaccines, Biden said it was “harder to get African-Americans, initially…vaccinated, because it used to be that they experimented on them – the Tuskegee Airmen and others.”

    I assume this is what he learned from his Critical Race Theory training.


  • Heretics Must Be Punished. David Harsanyi notes that the modern-day witch hunters have not given up: The Crusade to Destroy Jack Phillips Continues.

    I’ve been writing about Colorado cakemaker Jack Phillips’ fight against cultural authoritarians for a long time. This past March, I noted that Phillips would probably be badgered into the grave. And this week, Denver District Judge A. Bruce Jones again found that the state could compel speech, claiming that Phillips had acted unlawfully when refusing to create a cake that celebrated the alleged gender transition of a Colorado activist.

    When Phillips declined to participate in the wedding of David Mullins and Charlie Craig back in the summer of 2012—this was before Obergefell v. Hodges and before gay marriage was even legalized in Colorado—he made himself the target of harassment by activists and “civil rights” commissions that set out to destroy his business over a thought crime; by courts that set out to corrode religious liberty and free-speech protections; and by media that either don’t understand or don’t value free expression anymore.

    Journalists have been misleading their audiences about this case for nearly a decade. So, it needs to be repeated that Phillips never turned a gay couple away from his shop. He never “refused” to sell a gay couple his products. Mullins and Craig were free to buy anything they desired from Masterpiece Cakeshop.

    Harsanyi is (rightly) irked that the Supreme Court didn't make a clear defense of Phillips' rights to not submit to the wannabe inquisitors in his previous case.


  • Unfortunately Not an Aretha Franklin Song. Jonah Goldberg asks the musical question anyway: Who’s Oppressing Whom?.

    I want to talk to you about everything going on right now. 

    Unfortunately, according to Brandeis University’s Prevention, Advocacy and Resource Center’s “Oppressive Language List,” I just oppressed you. 

    See if you can figure out why. I’ll wait. Give up?

    I’ll forgive you for not knowing this, but apparently the phrase “everything going on right now”—damn, I did it to you again—is oppressive. Why? Because, I defecate you negatory, “Being vague about important issues risks miscommunication and can also avoid accountability.” So, if I say, “everything going on right now” in reference to police brutality, or the pandemic, I might be letting our oppressors off the hook.  

    So let me be more specific. When I say “everything going on right now,” I’m referring to garbage like this. And the last thing I want to do is let the people responsible for this linguistic oppression off the hook.  

    "I defecate you negatory." Ha! I'd buy a mug or t-shirt with that on it.

    Jonah proceeds to take on other examples. And makes the obvious point: people who crave the power to dictate your language are actually oppressive.

    Fortunately, they're nearly always easy to lampoon.

    I should add that the Brandeis folks at least pretend to be liberal about their "Oppressive Language List":

    This list is meant to be a tool to share information and suggestions about potentially oppressive language. Use of the suggested alternatives is not a university expectation, requirement or reflection of policy. As shared in Brandeis's Principles of Free Speech and Free Expression, the language you choose to use or not use is entirely up to you.

    On the other hand, they also say:

    Oppression is the foundation upon which violence is enacted […]

    So do they really mean what they say about your "oppressive" language choice being "entirely up to you"?


  • Rauch Rules. [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] Jonathan Rauch, that is, and you can read an excerpt from his new book (Amazon link at right) here: Why Fake News Flourishes: Emitting Mere Information is Easy, but Creating Actual Knowledge is Hard. A subtle point about Why We Can't Have Nice Things:

    The commercial internet was born with an epistemic defect: its business model was primarily advertising-driven and therefore valued attention first and foremost. Traditional media companies relied partly (often heavily) on ad revenue, to be sure, but they attracted advertisers by building audiences of regular users and paying consumers, and many were rooted in communities where they were known and trusted, and so they tended to build constituencies to whom they felt reputationally and financially accountable. The gutter press and fly-by-night media also existed, but they were the exception rather than the rule, at least in the modern era. Digital media, by contrast, had hardly any paying customers and lured advertisers with fleeting “impressions” and “engagement,” launching a no-holds-barred race to attract eyeballs. Digital media companies could use granular metrics to slice and sort their audiences, but those statistics were very different from accountable relationships with users and communities and sponsors.

    The whole system was thus optimized to assemble a responsive audience for whatever information someone wanted to put in front of people, with only incidental regard (if any) for that information’s accuracy. The metrics and algorithms and optimization tools were sensitive to popularity but indifferent to truth. The computational engines were indifferent even to meaning, since they had no understanding of the content they were disseminating. They were exclusively, but relentlessly, aware of clicks and page views. A search or browsing session might turn up information or misinformation, depending on what people were clicking on. How-to videos about repairing your toilet were usually pretty reliable; information about vaccines and claims about controversial political issues, not so much. But whatever; the user would sort it out.

    In other words: despair. Again, sorry.

URLs du Jour

2021-06-26

  • It's a Venn Diagram, So Obviously True. The Baseball Crank tweets:

    The logo in the top right corner indicates it's (probably) from the outfit currently calling itself the Standing for Freedom Center, associated with Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA. If you're allergic to all things Falwell-related, avert your eyes! (For the rest of us, it's still pretty funny.)


  • A Small But Important Victory. John Rose, an instructor at Duke, describes How I Liberated My College Classroom.

    The conservative critique of American higher education is well known to Journal readers: The universities are run by intolerant progressives. The left counters with an insult: The lack of intellectually respectable conservative arguments is responsible for campus political uniformity. Perhaps a better starting point in this debate is the students, most of whom actually want freer discourse on campus. They want to be challenged by views they don’t hold.

    This, at least, has been my recurring experience with undergraduates at Duke University, where I teach classes called “Political Polarization” and “Conservatism” that require my students to engage with all sides of today’s hottest political issues.

    True engagement, though, requires honesty. In an anonymous survey of my 110 students this spring, 68% told me they self-censor on certain political topics even around good friends. That includes self-described conservative students, but also half of the liberals. “As a Duke student, it is difficult to be both a liberal and a Zionist,” one wrote. Another remarked, “Although I support most BLM ideas, I do not feel that I can have any conversation that even slightly criticizes the movement.”

    And this one weird trick (well, actually, a set of well thought-out classroom principles) got the kids to open up for honest discussion.

    Unfortunately, way too many instructors see their role differently than does Rose: to "foster belief" in a variety of hard-left doctrines, with dissenting students shut down and disrespected.


  • How Does "Leaning Into" Differ From "Pouncing"? Elizabeth Nolan Brown is dismayed by politicians lacking a firm grasp on the subtleties of an incoherent doctrine: Republicans Urged to ‘Lean into’ Critical Race Theory Culture War.

    Critical race theory sells. "Lean into the culture war," Rep. Jim Banks (R–Ind.) is urging fellow members of a House conservative caucus. If you thought U.S. political discourse couldn't get any dumber…buckle up!

    In a memo sent to the Republican Study Committee on Thursday, Banks told his colleagues that "we are in a culture war. On one side, Republicans are working to renew American patriotism and rebuild our country. On the other, Democrats have embraced and given [sic] platform to a radical element who want to tear America down."

    That's pretty standard rhetoric for GOP culture warriors. The new twist is that this time, it's not communism or feminism or gay rights that have induced this hyperbole but a relatively obscure (until recently) legal/academic framework known as "critical race theory" (CRT). Its ideas have somehow escaped from academia and other wonkish circles to become a focal point of a very disingenuous, very stupid, and yet very mainstream culture war.

    ENB makes some good points, of course. R-side politicians on CRT are (very) analogous to D-side politicians on gun control: they don't know a lot about the topic, and demonstrate that ignorance in their imprecise language and demagogic fear-stoking. Coupled with a prohibitionist mentality, that's a recipe for hot garbage.

    "CRT" has become a handy shorthand for the latest manifestations of hard-left ideology: cancel culture, race obsession, illiberalism, identity politics, etc. Sure, CRT doctrine as explicated decades back in obscure publications is a factor in today's controversies, but it's not the whole story.

    And we shouldn't expect GOP pols to be able to cite chapter and verse from Critical Race Theory (Third Edition): An Introduction. That's like asking Joe Biden to discourse on Friedrich Hayek's The Constitution of Liberty

    What would be nice is for Democrats to explicitly denounce (for example) classroom "anti-racist" indoctrination, ham-fisted censorship, one-sided reading lists promulgated by state-supported institutions, attacks on "meritocracy" and "color blindness", etc.

    But most Democrats won't do that, because it would piss off a significant fraction of their base.


  • I Got Your Stake Right Here. When it comes to "stakeholder capitalism", Andrew Stuttaford is not a fan: Stakeholder Capitalism Erodes Democracy.

    The, well, woke nature of “woke capitalism” — a phenomenon intertwined with “socially responsible” investment (SRI), with stakeholder capitalism at its base — has obscured that the way in which this combination works owes far more to fascism than to socialism. Nearly 90 years ago, the progressive writer Roger Shaw described the New Deal as “employing Fascist means to gain liberal ends.” Overwrought, perhaps, but not without some truth. He would recognize what is going on now for what it is.

    Underpinning the notion of “stakeholder capitalism,” a concept that has taken the C-suites of some of America’s largest companies by storm, is the idea that a company should be run for the benefit of all its “stakeholders,” a conveniently hazy term that can be defined to include (among others) workers, customers, and “the community,” as well as the shareholders who, you know, own the business. It’s a form of expropriation based on the myth that a corporation that puts its shareholders first must necessarily put everyone else last. In reality, an enterprise that, to a greater or lesser extent, fails to consider the needs of various — to use that word — stakeholders in mind, customers, most obviously (but certainly not only) is unlikely to flourish, and nor, therefore, will its owners.

    Andrew's bottom line: "In a corporatist regime, the state has the last word."


  • Which Is Why It's Advocated by the Mediocre. [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] George Will points out a small problem: Attacking ‘merit’ in the name of ‘equity’ is a prescription for mediocrity.

    In progressivism’s political lexicon, “equity” is a synonym for government-directed social outcomes that improve conditions for particular government-favored groups. Equity is enhanced when government policies — e.g., affirmative action — narrow disparities of outcomes among groups, usually racial or ethnic, in acquiring wealth or educational excellence.

    Necessarily, then, the antonym of “equity” as a social standard of justice is “merit,” in this sense: The opposite of an equitable society is a meritocracy. Progressivism increasingly argues that an important impediment to enlarging equity is “the tyranny of merit.”

    GFW goes on to discuss Michael Sandel's (no relation to your blogger) The Tyranny of Merit (Amazon link at right). Which goes back to a point made above: Sandel is probably not a "critical race theorist". But—bless him—the ideology he is pushing is fundamentally at odds with traditional American values of recognizing and rewarding revealed talent and character.


  • Taxachusetts Redux? I'm old enough to remember the Bad Old Days when Massachusetts was an example of tax-and-spend liberalism run wild. These days it's not, quite so much.

    But that could change! Steven Malanga looks at Massachusetts’ Punitive ‘Millionaire Tax’ Proposal.

    Massachusetts’s state-government coffers are “awash” in cash, as tax collections come in well ahead of projections. State and local governments are also divvying up $8 billion from the so-called Biden stimulus. Things look so good in the state capital, in fact, that legislators now want . . . to raise taxes by another $2 billion. That’s right: with all that money in hand, the Massachusetts legislature voted earlier this month to place a “fair share” amendment before voters next year that would raise taxes by 80 percent on those earning more than $1 million.

    Voters must have their say because the state constitution prohibits a graduated income tax. Instead, everyone pays a flat 5 percent tax rate. Twice since 1998, voters have used the initiative process to lower income taxes in the state—once by reducing the rate from 5.95 percent and once by cutting taxes on dividends and interest. Legislators seem to think that voters are in a different mood this time, as the new initiative would place a 4 percent income-tax surcharge on millionaires.

    We could always use more tax-avoiding millionaires moving up here to New Hampshire, so I say: go for it, Massachusetts! (In contrast, the NH legislature voted the other day to phase out the Interest and Dividends Tax, a yearly pain in the wazoo for me.)

URLs du Jour

2021-06-25

  • Linus van Pelt, Class Warrior. One more Peanuts strip, this one from July 30, 1959:

    [down to my level]

    See yesterday's post for more info.


  • Who's the More Foolish? The Fool, or the Fool Who Follows Him? Good question, Obi-Wan. Maybe Brian Reidl has some insight into that: GOP is Being Fooled by This Infrastructure 'Deal'.

    Republicans negotiating a bipartisan infrastructure deal are walking into a trap set by Democrats.

    President Biden has proposed $4 trillion in (loosely defined) infrastructure spending, and reached out to Senate Republicans to determine what they will accept as part of a bipartisan deal. Senate Republicans have reportedly agreed to $580 billion over the decade in more traditional infrastructure spending such as roads, bridges, transit, airports, electric power, and water infrastructure.

    As part of the agreement, Republicans stripped out the non-infrastructure requests, such as nearly $1 trillion in corporate subsidies and $400 billion for long-term care. These Republicans can ensure the 60 votes necessary to pass the Senate without a filibuster.

    However, there is a catch. Democrats are still allowed to pass at least one more reconciliation bill this year — a bill that cannot be filibustered and can therefore pass the Senate with only the 50 Democratic votes. Reconciliation bills are usually limited to one per year, but Democrats were allowed a second bill this year because last year’s Senate Republican majority did not pass one (and it is possible that a budget law technicality could allow additional reconciliation bills).

    "I brought on fiscal disaster with this one simple trick." -- Chuck 'Clickbait' Schumer.


  • Beware of Discussing Roy Rogers' Horse at Brandeis. You may have heard of the euphemism treadmill where words originally meant to be inoffensive euphemisms turn offensive. Robby Soave notes a variant of the phenomenon: Trigger Warning Now Counts as Violent Language at Brandeis University.

    Remember the battle over trigger warnings? These classroom devices—reminders that students were about to encounter material that might upset, offend, or traumatize them—were all the rage a few years ago, prompting significant public debate over whether professors were coddling their students.

    They haven't exactly fallen out of fashion, but it seems that we hear less about them. Researchers have also produced numerous studies showing that they don't work—in fact, they may make people even more anxious.

    Brandeis University has now turned on trigger warnings as well—because the word trigger is, well, triggering.

    "The word 'trigger' has connections to guns for many people," notes Brandeis University's Prevention, Advocacy & Resource Center (PARC). "We can give the same heads-up using language less connected to violence."

    I assume the Brandeis PARC team needs to continually discover more problematic words and phrases to demonstrate their usefulness, because …


  • Nothing Sexual About It. Probably. At Least I Hope Not. One of the definitions of "fetish" at the Google:

    An inanimate object worshiped for its supposed magical powers or because it is considered to be inhabited by a spirit.

    That came to mind when President Wheezy decided he had to Do Something. And so there was a public announcement, but also the Administration issued a Fact Sheet: Biden-Harris Administration Announces Comprehensive Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gun Crime and Ensure Public Safety.

    Not all crime, mind you. Just "gun crime".

    President Biden believes that the surge in gun violence that has affected communities across the country over the last year and a half is unacceptable, and his Administration is moving decisively to act with a whole-of-government approach as we enter the summer months when cities typically experience a spike in violence.

    In this short document, the Chrome "find" function counts 17 occurrences of the term "gun violence".

    It's difficult to conclude that the administration doesn't have a fetishization issue with guns. Inanimate objects worshipped for their supposed magical powers of committing violence! Inhabited by evil spirits!

    I just skimmed, but it's difficult to find anything comparable in the document that calls out people as—just perhaps—having responsibility for violent acts.

    (One exception: four mentions of "rogue gun dealers". Who are responsible for putting those magical objects in otherwise innocent hands.)


  • Maybe He's Working on a Mental Impairment Defense. David Harsanyi provides us (NRPLUS) with A Short History of Joe Biden’s Insanity on Guns .

    ‘Why do you need a gun when the government can just murder you at will?” is almost a perfect Bidenism. It’s no exaggeration to say this is the argument Joe Biden made at a crime-prevention press conference this week:

    From the day [The Second Amendment] passed, it limited the type of people that could own a gun and what type of gun you could own. You couldn’t own a cannon … Those who say the blood of Patriots, you know, and all the stuff about how we’re gonna have to move against the government. . . . If you think you need to have weapons to take on the government, you need F-15s and maybe some nuclear weapons.

    First, we should acknowledge that it’s bonkers for a president, even as a theoretical, to bring up the idea of scrambling fighter jets and deploying nuclear weapons against other Americans. Yet, only last year, Biden offered a slightly more coherent iteration of the same argument:

    Those who say ‘the tree of liberty is watered with the blood of patriots’ — a great line, well, guess what: The fact is, if you’re going to take on the government you need an F-15 with Hellfire Missiles. There is no way an AK-47 is going to take care of you.

    The Jacobin-ish quote Biden is looking for comes from a Thomas Jefferson letter to William Stephens Smith, the son-in-law of John Adams, in which he wrote: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” (Biden likes to leave out the last two words.) But who says this? I’m pretty involved in this debate, and I’ve never heard any gun proponent rationalize support for the protection of the Second Amendment by offering assurances of sporadic revolutionary bloodletting.

    So it's not just fetishization. It's violent fantasies about deploying nukes against pesky gun owners. And F-15s.


Last Modified 2021-06-26 3:16 AM EDT

Dry Bones in the Valley

[Amazon Link]

This is the first book in Tom Bouman's series with hero cop, Henry Farrell. Put on my to-read list thanks to Tom Nolan naming the third book in the series (The Bramble and the Rose) on his Best Mysteries of 2020 list. So…

Henry is a sad cop, operating in his old home town in rural Pennsylvania, outside Scranton. It's a changing world, drug use and poverty are rife, and the whole area is set atop the Marcellus Shale, and the frackers are doing their thing, causing environmental destruction and weird diseases in the populace. (Including Henry's wife. He's a widower now.) There's a lot of conflict potential.

Things kick off when a long-dead corpse is found on the land of an old eccentric. It's anyone's guess as to the dead guy's identity. Henry is left to inquire with the colorful neighbors, who all seem to have secrets, dysfunctions, and hidden bad behavior of their own. Worse, Henry's deputy goes missing, and Henry has to look for him as well. (The search result just provides another crime to solve.)

It's all dark and moody. And there are a lot of characters, most of them suspects. At my age, it was hard to keep track of 'em all. Not really my cup of tea, but Tom Bouman is a fine writer with a gift for describing the… well, the dark and moody.

Priceless

The Myth of Fair Value (and How to Take Advantage of It)

[Amazon Link]

I'm pretty sure I heard good things about this book at some point in the recent past, which caused me to plunk it on my get-at-library list. I was slightly disappointed.

The author, William Poundstone, has a mission accurately summed up in his subtitle: prices are a shared illusion, easily manipulated by dinking with the all-too-human psychology of buyers and sellers. The book has 57 chapters, some only a couple of pages. Each purports to draw lessons from psychological studies. Poundstone is especially (and deservedly) reverent toward the groundbreaking research carried out by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky.

The main problem stems from the book's age: published in 2010. So the author is not exactly breaking fresh ground. Daniel Kahneman's own book, Thinking Fast and Slow, came out in 2011. And if you've read that (as I have), then you'll have already seen a lot of stuff that's discussed in Priceless.

But it's worse than just being old. Poundstone assumes that all those studies he quotes are reliable. That was a reasonable position to take in 2010, but not so much today. For example, the work on "priming": where exposure to an idea, a suggestion, an image … whatever, causes our unconscious mind to make it more likely to raise future occurrences to our mental attention. Sounds nice, plausible, … but the research that purported to demonstrate it turned out out to be irreproducible.

Since I, as a 2021 reader, knew that already, it cast a cloud over the dozens of studies Poundstone cites to bolster his thesis. I kept wondering has anyone tried reproducing this? This guy seems to think a lot of the other research in social psychology is bunk.

I'm not one to judge. (But it does help my cognitive bias a lot, I get to auto-dismiss research when I don't like the results.) So I recommend reading Poundstone's book with a lot of healthy skepticism.

But (hey) he could be right. So next time you enter into a price negotiation, try his "anchoring" strategy: be the first one to mention a price, set it "too high" if you're the seller, "too low" if you're the buyer. You won't get what you want, but what you get will be more in your favor. Allegedly.


Last Modified 2021-06-24 10:39 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2021-06-24

  • Linus Grew Up to be Bernie Sanders. Our Eye Candy du Jour is the Peanuts comic from August 1, 1959:

    [Other People's Money]

    [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] Suggested via an LTE in a recent Wall Street Journal, which was (in turn) suggested by a book review of Charlie Brown’s America: The Popular Politics of Peanuts by Blake Scott Ball. Amazon link at (your) right. From the review:

    The author argues, sometimes in unattractive academic jargon, that many of the strip’s “most recognizable devices were born out of Cold War anxiety.” Linus’s “security blanket,” for instance, originates from a term first used in World War II to describe the “military’s secrecy surrounding troop movements in Europe.” Yet Schulz moves the phrase’s meaning from “an exterior confrontation of military maneuvering” to an idiosyncratic strategy for “containing one’s own mental and emotional ‘weaknesses’ for the good of a stable and prosperous democratic society.” Lucy’s psychiatry booth (“The Doctor Is ‘In’ ”) is another brilliantly realized device, and rich in ambiguity. Readers identified with the “openness and vulnerability” of Lucy’s most trusting patient, Charlie Brown, but also with Lucy’s savvy cashing-in on the postwar vogue for analysis instead of running a “more conventional childhood lemonade stand.”

    Sounds like a hoot! I was a big Peanuts fan back in my younger days. Didn't care for the TV specials, though.


  • The New Hampshire Libertarian Party is a Dumpster Fire. And probably the national party too. You can read all about it thanks to Brian Doherty's reporting at Reason: Inside the Battle over the Soul of the Libertarian Party.

    Joseph Bishop-Henchman resigned Friday as chair of the Libertarian National Committee (LNC), after a controversy that began three months ago with provocative tweets, intensified two weeks ago with an attempted schism of the New Hampshire Libertarian Party (LPNH), and has now turned into a battle for the soul of America's third-largest political party.

    Two other members of the 17-person LNC, Tucker Coburn and Francis Wendt, have also resigned in wake of the tumult. The long-influential Pragmatist Caucus, associated with the two presidential campaigns of Gary Johnson, has dissolved as a direct result. And one of the party's few elected officials, DeKalb, Illinois, City Clerk Sasha Cohen, resigned from the national Libertarian Party (L.P.) in protest, saying in an LNC Zoom meeting that "we are a big tent party, but no tent is big enough to hold racists and people of color, transphobes and trans people, bigots and their victims."

    For a political party that only managed to get 1.64% of the popular vote in New Hampshire and 1.18% nationwide (against two very unattractive major party candidates), the infighting seems pretty pointless and stupid.

    And I say this as someone who nearly always votes for Libertarian Party candidates when given the chance. Yes, they can be wacky. But the Rs and Ds are wacky too, and often more dangerous.


  • Anti-Religious Bigots Hardest Hit. Jeff Jacoby looks at one of the Supremes' Greatest Hits, and it's not "Baby Love": Again the Supreme Court Defends Religious Believers. Again It's Unanimous.

    WHEN THE NATION'S highest court issued a 9-0 decision last week upholding a Catholic social-service agency's right to participate in Philadelphia's foster care program, it provoked a mordant comment from Case Western law professor Jonathan Adler:

    "Supreme Court rules UNANIMOUSLY against Philadelphia in Fulton religious liberty case; opinion by [Chief Justice] Roberts," Adler tweeted. "So tell me again, who are the extremists?"

    It was an apt comment. Throughout this case, Catholic Social Services and its supporters had been portrayed as the aggressors, hostile to gay and lesbian equality and outrageously demanding the right to be closed-minded and intolerant. By their unanimous verdict, the justices made clear just which side they thought had behaved outrageously. It wasn't the church.

    The ACLU was on the zero side of the nine-zero decision, showing that it really only cares about some civil liberties.


  • It's Not a Hard Question. Alexandra DeSanctis has a query: The ‘Right to Choose’ What, Jen Psaki?.

    During a White House press briefing earlier this week, a reporter asked Joe Biden’s press secretary Jen Psaki a most verboten question: Does President Biden believe “that a 15-week-old unborn baby is a human being?”

    The nerve.

    Psaki, who is skilled at nothing if not the art of the dizzying pivot, responded, “Are you asking me if the president supports a woman’s right to choose? He does.”

    The reporter was not, of course, asking Psaki if Biden supports the “right to choose.” She asked something entirely different, a very clear question: Does the president subscribe to the belief that an unborn child — or, if one prefers, a fetus — is a human being, at least at some stage of pre-birth development? Put another way: Is the president willing to acknowledge a basic fact of biology, or does his ideology preclude him from doing so?

    Is baby-killing a tough and divisive issue? You bet. Does dishonest evasion reveal proponents' awareness of how honest direct answers to questions like the above would undermine their position? Yes, that too.


  • Government Demanding That Taxpayers Solve Government-Caused Problems. Veronique de Rugy writes her column on Infrastructure Insanity.

    In the event that a group of U.S. senators cannot agree on committing enough money to a bipartisan infrastructure plan, Democrats are reportedly considering a $6 trillion plan of their own. It would probably be best described as a package full of progressive items wrapped in magical thinking paper.

    Most people would consider $6 trillion a lot of money to drop on infrastructure. That's because most of us still have an outdated notion of what infrastructure is. In fact, for most people, the word infrastructure conjures up images of roads, bridges, dams and waterways. However, as we've discovered during the last few weeks of discussions, for elected Democrats, infrastructure can be so much more than that.

    Not long ago, for instance, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., tweeted: "Paid leave is infrastructure. Child care is infrastructure. Caregiving is infrastructure." So it's not surprising to see Politico report that Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., hopes to include an expansion of Medicare in the Democrats' plan. That expansion would include, among other things, a reduction of the Medicare eligibility age to 60 or even 55.

    "Insanity" is (probably) inaccurate. Insane people aren't responsible for their crazy beliefs. Bernie and Kirsten are responsible people who know what they're doing.

    At least in theory.

URLs du Jour

2021-06-23

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • Bipartistanship Means Both Parties Agree on a Bad Deal. And Christian Britschgi notes the latest example: Senate Republicans and Democrats Agree to Double Amtrak’s Funding.

    If a bill has the support of both Republicans and Democrats, be concerned. That's certainly the case with a bipartisan transportation bill moving through the Senate that would double the federal subsidies given to Amtrak.

    Last week, the U.S. Senate's Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation voted 25 to 3 to advance a $78 billion surface transportation bill that gives the government-owned passenger rail service $19 billion over five years, for an average of $3.8 billion per year.

    Of that, $6.5 billion would go to the higher-ridership Northeast Corridor that runs from Washington, D.C., up to Boston. The other $12.5 billion in funding would go to Amtrak's network of routes that run across the rest of the country.

    About the only nice thing to say about the Senate deal is that it spends less on Amtrak than House Democrats and Biden want. But two near-ironclad guarantees are that Amtrak (1) has (once again) over-promised and (2) will (once again) under-perform.


  • I'm More of a Sam Adams Guy These Days. [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] But in my youth, Coors Beer was a coveted rarity, thanks to its limited distribution area. And even back then it was a Politically Incorrect Product before that was cool. Tim W. Ferguson reviews a book about that: The Left’s Long March Against Coors.

    Thanks to social media, pressure campaigns against companies are now so easily initiated and expanded that their number overwhelms even the most conscious consumer. These passionate dust storms frequently take on a political character that transcends any particular corporate product or process. The internet enables this escalation from specific beef to popular cause.

    But there’s a vivid pre-web example—probably the pioneer example—of this sort of effort, and it is the subject of a new book, “Brewing a Boycott: How a Grassroots Coalition Fought Coors and Remade Consumer Activism.” The crusade against Coors Brewing Co.—an apt term because it lasted a good 30 years—featured many elements of what now would be called (sympathetically or sarcastically, depending on your outlook) a social-justice struggle.

    That is how—sympathetically—the history is told by Allyson P. Brantley, an assistant professor at California’s University of La Verne. The era she explores extends from 1957 to 1987, although for some diehards the boycott didn’t end there, or ever. Brantley, who acknowledges she “discovered” this chapter of the 148-year-old Coors brewing story only as she began her research in 2010, tells the tale from the side of the company’s detractors. She does a thorough job of it, but this is not journalism. If Brantley made any attempt to hear from the company or founding family directly, she doesn’t say.

    Fond memories of Colorado Kool-Aid. Book link at (your) right, but I'd recommend buying beer instead.


  • Shut Up, They Explained. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) notes the latest out of Norman: ‘Stop Talking Right Now’: University of Oklahoma Training Shows Instructors How to Censor, Indoctrinate Students.

    Do you question whether refusing to use preferred pronouns is hate speech? You can’t — writing on that topic is “not acceptable.”

    Think Black Lives Matter shouldn’t engage in property destruction? We’ll have to “re-adjust” your thinking.

    If you’re a student at the University of Oklahoma — congratulations! Your instructor may already have done all of the thinking for you. But beware: Deviating too far from an instructor’s personal opinions can cost you.

    A recording of an “Anti-Racist Rhetoric & Pedagogies” workshop acquired by FIRE raises alarm bells about the state of free expression and freedom of conscience at Oklahoma’s flagship university.

    [True fact: I did my first actual computer programming at a University of Oklahoma summer program in 1968. (Elizabeth Jacobs, are you still out there?)]

    I keep coming back to last January's open letter from "UNH Lecturers United" which (somewhat desperately) demanded carte blanche from the administration to go after (in unspecified ways) students advocating "any political position structured around inequality." Is UNH just better at concealing its instructor "workshop" content from public scrutiny than Oklahoma?


  • Sigh. Nobody Ever Tries to Smear Pun Salad. Christopher F. Rufo takes a victory lap on the pages of the New York Post: Washington Post Tried to Smear Me for Criticizing Race Theory and Failed.

    The Washington Post attempted to smear me, the nation’s most prominent opponent of critical race theory — and it backfired spectacularly.

    The fight over CRT has consumed American media. Conservatives have rallied against the toxic neo-Marxist ideology that seeks to divide the country into the racial categories of oppressor and oppressed; liberals have defended it as a “lens” for understanding vague buzzwords such as “systemic racism” and “racial equity.”

    […]

    In recent months, outlets including The New York Times, The New Republic, MSNBC, CNN and The Atlantic have relentlessly attacked me. But the coup de grâce, they believed, would be a 3,000-word exposé in The Washington Post. The paper dispatched two reporters, Laura Meckler and Josh Dawsey, and spent three weeks preparing a vicious hit piece against me, accusing me of a range of intellectual crimes.

    What follows is a pretty amusing story of WaPo hacks being forced to "clarify" and retract their sloppy hit piece. Good job, Mr. Rufo. Even if I had to wince a bit at your self-description as being "the nation’s most prominent opponent of Critical Race Theory."


  • When You're a Socialist, the Solution to Any Problem is … More Socialism! Bryan Caplan has thoughts on Self-Help Vs. Power-Hunger.

    I was recently on an NPR panel on “Capitalism” with a pair of self-identified socialists – Kristen Ghodsee and Vivek Chibber.  The hosts asked us a wide range of questions, including several of the form: “What would you say to a person with problem X?”  For example, they played a statement from someone who really disliked her job as a COVID nurse.  What should she do?

    Literalist that I am, I tried to offer helpful, relevant advice.  I started with the First Law of Wing-Walking: Keep your current job, but intensively search for a better position. […]

    Ghodsee and Chibber, for their part, dismissed that strategy, advocating instead "left-wing political activism and/or unionization."

    Bryan goes on to suspect that the socialist advice is more than a little self-serving. When you crave the power to push people around (yes, "democratically" to be sure), the last thing you want to advocate is people solving their own problems.


Last Modified 2021-06-25 5:53 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2021-06-22

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • It's Convenient to Pretend Otherwise. Charles C. W. Cooke assures us (as if we needed it) that The Backlash against Critical Race Theory Is Real.

    Returning once again to the shallow well from which she has pulled the majority of her journalistic water, The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer suggested last week that the escalating pushback against critical race theory “has all the red flags of an dark money astroturf campaign.” We are stuck, it seems, in Stage One of the Kübler-Ross Scale of Progressive Political Grief.

    If they wish to, figures such as Mayer can spend the next few years insisting that the resistance to critical race theory that we are seeing from parents across the country is little more than a mirage. Fingers firmly in ears, they can maintain that their detractors have invented the controversy from whole cloth, that an astroturfing effort by the Koch Brothers or the Manhattan Institute has tricked them, or that their objections ring hollow because they don’t know what critical race theory “actually” is. Sneering, scoffing, and laughing off the revolt, they can submit in anger that those complaining about the development are suffering from “white fragility” or are engaged in a “moral panic” or are just trying desperately to prevent their kids from learning about slavery and civil rights.

    Unfortunately, the dark money is passing me by. Although if a shadowy astroturf funder is out there, if you would buy a lot of high-priced stuff through my Amazon links, that would be great. How about a thousand of our Amazon Product du Jour?


  • Another Catch-22. Nathanael Blake has a different rebuttal to the CRT advocates who denigrate the resistance: Yes, Critical Race Critics Know What It is. Next, We Need to Replace It.

    Fighting woke radicalism can feel like punching a fog. Wokeness, for lack of a better term, is often vague and ill-defined, a jumble of ideology and activism that lacks a clear structure even as it conquers institutions and remakes society.

    But conservatives have found a vulnerable target in critical race theory, and we should keep hitting it, despite the complaints of our ideological adversaries. For example, in a Slate interview, “anti-racist” guru Ibram X. Kendi argues that conservatives are incorrectly and cynically “defining critical race theory at the same time they are attacking it.” MSNBC’s Joy-Ann Reid tweeted, “None of these people who have made attacking Critical Race Theory their life’s work HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT CRITICAL RACE THEORY IS!!!!”

    [<sarcasm>Geez, Joy-Ann. Using caps-lock is such a compelling argument.</sarcasm>]

    Their claim that we don’t understand critical race theory is, of course, false. Many critics of critical race theory are quite conversant in it—and it is amusing to watch the people who promoted the grossly inaccurate 1619 Project suddenly get huffy about scholarly precision and rectitude. Furthermore, although not all of the parents objecting to critical race theory in their children’s schooling know its academic ins and outs, they know enough to recognize it as poisonous.

    Here's the catch:

    1. We're told (by even the Smithsonian) that "objective, rational linear thinking" is a "white culture" thing.
    2. A "theory" that eschews "objective, rational linear thinking" is gonna be kind of difficult to nail down.

    So, tell you what, Joy-Ann: when you come up with a coherent definition of CRT, please run it by us.


  • [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] "It was a pleasure to burn." Bari Weiss hosts an article by Abigail Shrier at her substack: The Books are Already Burning.

    One hundred and forty-six people in Halifax, Nova Scotia wait on a list to borrow a library book. A question hangs over them: Will activists let them read it?

    The book is mine Irreversible Damage — and it is an investigation of a medical mystery: Why is the number of teenage girls requesting (and obtaining) gender reassignment skyrocketing in the United States, Canada, Scandinavia and Europe? In Great Britain, it’s up 4,400% over the last decade. 

    Though it shouldn’t be, this has become a highly controversial area of inquiry. The book is an exploration of why so many girls would, in such a short timeframe, decide they are transgender. And it raises questions about whether they’re getting appropriate medical treatment.

    The book is not about whether trans people exist. They do. And it is not about adults who elect to medically transition genders. As I have stated endlessly in public interviews and in Senate testimony, I fully support medical transition for mature adults and believe that transgender individuals should live openly without fear or stigma.

    Yet since publication, I have faced fierce opposition — not just to the ideas presented, challenged, or explored — but to the publication of the book itself. A top lawyer for the ACLU called for it to be banned. Powerful organizations like GLAAD have lobbied against it and pressured corporations — Target and Amazon among others — to remove Irreversible Damage from their virtual shelves. 

    As I type, Irreversible Damage remains at Amazon (link at right) with a "Best Seller" tag. And it's not on the shelves of Portsmouth Public Library, despite its best-selling status.


  • Note the Asterisk. Kevin D. Williamson's "The Tuesday" column is here! Read Bernie’s Lips: No New Taxes*.

    Here is one you may have not seen coming: One of the holdups on that ridiculous $1 trillion infrastructure package currently idling in Congress is the fact that — picture me double-checking my notes here — Republicans want to include a tax increase, while Joe Biden and — really! — Bernie Sanders oppose it.

    Strange days, indeed — most peculiar, mama!

    Republicans have put forward the possibility of indexing the gasoline tax to inflation. Currently, the federal gasoline tax is structured as a flat fee of $0.183 per gallon, a rate that has been preserved in amber since Ye Olden Days of 1993, when gasoline went for an average of $1.11 per gallon. Put another way, in 1993 the federal gasoline tax was about 16.5 percent, whereas today it is about 6 percent. Indexing the tax to inflation is one way to go about rationalizing it, but a far simpler thing would be to calculate the tax as a percentage, which would keep it stable in relative terms even as the price of gasoline goes up and down, as it so often does. We already do that with sales taxes of other kinds.

    Good discussion from KDW on gas tax econ. I agree with his summation: "But I must confess that the libertarian in me is enjoying the prospect of a $1 trillion slop-bucket being derailed by a 5-cent tax hike."

URLs du Jour

2021-06-21

  • Because God Loves Us and Wants Us to be Happy. Elle answers that burning question: Why Salma Hayek Keeps Posting Bikini Photos.

    Salma Hayek has been steadily sharing bikini and one-piece selfies on her Instagram. They're all from one trip, the 54-year-old actress told Entertainment Tonight, and she has absolutely no plans to stop posting them or regrets sharing so many pictures.

    "I had to lose a lot of weight and exercise to get into the bikini towards the end of last year," she said, telling the outlet that she took many photos once she got down to the size she wanted while on her trip. "I'm glad I took a lot of pictures, I have no shame on it, because it was the first week of the vacation." She said that sharing the shots generally has been "liberating."

    OK, I felt like I had to include some article text. Force of habit. You've already clicked over, haven't you?


  • You Might Be a White Supremacist If … You Look crosseyed at a Critical Race Theorist. Robert Azzi took once again to the editorial pages of my Sunday paper with big news: White Supremacists Reveal Content of Their Character.

    Yet another white supremacist — Newt Gingrich — has emerged to hector New Hampshire about what it should think about Critical Race Theory (CRT) and systemic racism by misappropriating MLK’s “… dream of a nation in which people are judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character …”

    Today, we know well the content of Gingrich’s character.

    Gingrich is a white supremacist? Egads, how did this not make the TV news? Here's the Union Leader op-ed that got Azzi's knickers in a knot: NH is Right to End Critical Race Theory Poisoning Schools. It begins:

    IN 1978, I won my first election to Congress, replacing a pro-segregation Democrat. The first day in office, I co-sponsored a bill to make Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a national holiday.

    I believed strongly in Rev. King’s vision because it echoed the vision of some of America’s greatest heroes – men like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.

    His dream of a nation in which people are judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character epitomized the central principles of our founding – which ultimately he proclaimed to be the most potent and effective weapons against bigotry and injustice.

    Pretty anodyne stuff, right? And (of course) Azzi never gets around to pinpointing just what it is about Newt's op-ed that makes it clear that he's a "white supremacist". His actual sin seems to be that he's in favor of getting CRT-indoctrinators off the public dole.

    I'm sure there's a case to be made against that position. But Azzi doesn't do that. He simply flings the mud.


  • Why, Sometimes I've Believed as Many as Six Lies Before Breakfast. Noah Rothman (who, I'm pretty sure, Robert Azzi believes to be a White Supremacist) has a good how-to at Commentary for those inclined: How to Talk Yourself into Believing a Lie.

    We were privy to some welcome confirmation this week that the backlash against Critical Race Theory (CRT) is real, organic, and threatening to the elite consensus around this set of ideas. That confirmation took the form of a cable-news chyron broadcast on MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes: “The Right’s Fixation with Race.”

    This textbook example of the left’s ego defending its increasingly ill-favored subconscious impulses by attributing them to their adversaries occurred during a segment in which NBC News reporter Brandy Zadrozny outlined the ways in which well-heeled interests are funding the effort to stop schools from teaching this philosophy. An NBC News report co-authored by Zadrozny backs up this claim and details the extent to which conservative political activists are financing the backlash against CRT. Complimenting this report, Media Matters for America identified a number of CRT critics who appeared recently on Fox News where they were billed only as “teacher” or “mother” when they were also conservative political activists.

    All this contributes to the clearly welcome impression that the reaction against CRT is entirely inorganic, mere “Astroturf,” in the parlance of liberals who tried to convince themselves the Tea Party was the artificial creation of the Koch Brothers and not something that would sweep them out of office in record numbers. Once again, we’re witnessing the left cope with discomfiting events by creating an alternate reality for themselves. And, hopefully, they’re getting the most out of it because it’s hard to imagine that a neutral observer would be swayed by this sort of manipulation.

    It's pretty good, but you might have to do some paywall evasion.


  • Selective Service Delenda Est. Jeff Jacoby says it's way past time: Women Don’t Register for the Draft, and Men Shouldn’t Either.

    My youngest turned 18 a few weeks ago, which meant that in addition to collecting his high school diploma and starting a summer job, his to-do list this month included registering for the draft with the Selective Service System. The United States doesn’t actually have a military draft — conscription was scrapped in 1973 — but registering for it is still mandated by law. Failure to do so is a felony that can be punished, at least in theory, by a fine of up to $250,000 and five years in prison.

    Granted, it has been a long time since anyone was actually indicted for not complying with that law. But more than 1 million Americans have been denied various government benefits, including student loans, a federal job, or even a driver’s license, because they didn’t register. So I explained to my son that filling out the short Selective Service form was not only a legal obligation but also in his best interest.

    I'm not sure I could find my draft card. I certainly haven't seen it in a while.


  • Obstructionism?! Oh Dear! David Harsanyi debunks The Undying Myth of GOP 'Obstructionism'.

    The media have spent the Joe Biden presidency thus far pressuring moderate Democrats to join the left’s efforts to destroy the filibuster. One way they do this is by cobbling together revisionist histories that cast Republicans as uniquely obstructionist and undemocratic.

    CNN’s White House correspondent John Harwood lays out that history in broad strokes: “For Clinton’s 1993 deficit-reduction plan: 0 Republican votes. For Obama’s 2010 national health-care plan: 0 Republican votes. For Biden’s 2021 COVID-relief plan: 0 Republican votes. The modern GOP response to Democratic governance is total resistance.”

    What he fails to mention is that under President Bill Clinton, the GOP, often in significant numbers, voted for a slew of big policy reforms: 16 Senate Republicans voted for the Family and Medical Leave Act; a telecommunications reform passed 81-18; the welfare-reform compromise passed 78-21; the Brady Act gun-control bill only passed because of Republican support; the North American Free Trade Agreement passed 73-26; Biden’s crime bill passed 95-4.

    Why it's almost as if there are double standards in media coverage!


Last Modified 2021-06-22 7:33 AM EDT

Before She Was Helen

[Amazon Link]

The second book I've read this year set among old people in a retirement community. (First one was The Thursday Murder Club.) I guess this is a sign of something I don't want to think too much about. I put it on my get-at-library list because it was nominated for a "Best Novel" Edgar Award back in April.

It starts innocently enough: little old lady Clemmie lives in the leftmost of three connected villas, and she checks up daily (as old people are obligated to do) on her unpleasant neighbor, Dom. But Dom isn't responding to her texts, or her knock at his door. Could he have had an accident or worse? So she uses the key he's given her to enter his villa and … nope, no Dom. But, ho, what's this? An illegal connecting door between Dom's villa and the third, rightmost one? Which the Coglands own, but seldom visit, treating it as a motel when they visit the kids.

Well, maybe Dom's over there. So she crosses over. And doesn't find Dom, but does find a beautiful "glass tree dragon". She takes a picture with her phone, sends it out to her young relatives, and, whoa, then the trouble really starts.

It's not long before we notice that everyone in the retirement community calls Clemmie "Helen". And she carries two phones, careful not to confuse them. And she's really worried about the fingerprints she's left behind in the other villas. So she's got secrets of her own. And, oh yeah, a body turns up.

There's a lot of time-jumping back and forth, mostly between Clemmie's present-day retirement and ("before she was Helen") the unpleasant (horrific, in fact) days of her youth.

Caroline B. Cooney has a real knack for suspense and humor.

Luca

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Luca]

Thanks to our Disney+ subscription, the latest Pixar movie. It's not top-drawer Pixar, but that's still pretty good.

The premise is that sea monsters (intelligent, of course) live just off the coast of a timeless but charning Italian Riviera fishing village. The village's humans have legends of the monsters, viewing them with fear and loathing. And harpoons.

The monsters, for their part, only want to live in peace.

At this point, I think we're supposed to think to ourselves: "Who are the real monsters here, hm?" But, bless them, Pixar does not beat us over the head with this.

The monsters keep another secret under wraps: when they're on dry land, they transform into human form. So it comes as a shock to young monster Luca when this (more or less) accidentally happens to him. Fortunately, he comes under the wing flipper of young Alberto, a sea monster who's taken up land-living on his own.

Luca and Alberto become fast friends, become obsessed with young-boy things. Specifically, they become obsessed with getting their hands on a Vespa motor scooter. (They really are things of beauty.) Which draws them into the fishing village, meeting young human girl Giulia. She has a dream of her own, namely winning the yearly village race from the perennial champ (and the movie's villain) Ercole.

Whew. And that's just the beginning.

URLs du Jour

2021-06-20

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] Greetings to all fellow dads out there. Hope your day goes as well as mine will. (Well, that's the plan.)

  • IRS Delenda Est. Daniel Mitchell writes a link-filled post on Elizabeth Warren’s Plan to Reward a Corrupt IRS.

    The IRS played partisan politics during the Obama years by targeting taxpayer organizations such “Tea Party” groups. Now the IRS is at it again, this time leaking the tax returns of selected rich people to advance Biden’s class-warfare agenda.

    There are two logical responses.

    1. Cut the IRS budget so the bureaucrats learn a very important lesson that corruption is bad.
    2. Reform the tax code with a simple and fair flat tax so the IRS can be dramatically downsized.

    I suspect most Americans would select both options.

    I wish that were true, but I expect not.


  • The Google LFOD News Alert rang for an unlikely LTE in the Conway (NH) Daily Sun: We Need Paid Leave. It's from Christopher Bellis, co-owner of the Cranmore Inn in North Conway. It's a very earnest plea for national "Paid Family and Medical Leave" legislation and here's LFOD:

    I’ve always been an independent sort of person who tries to balance the needs of myself and my family with the needs of the greater community. I think most people in New Hampshire approach life that way too — we don’t put “Live Free or Die” on our license plates for nothing. And a national paid leave program is all about freedom — the freedom not to have to choose between their family and their job at a time of crisis. The freedom to start a small business, on a level playing field with the big corporate types. The freedom to take time you need to be healthy, or to care for your family the way you need to. The freedom to live the kind of life that makes our businesses, our communities, and our state strong.

    I can't help but admire the mental gymnastics necessary to twist LFOD into "the freedom not to have to choose.

    A negatory take is (of course) available from Veronique de Rugy: A Federal Paid Leave Program Would Be a Permanent Solution to a Temporary Problem

    I should be used to such opportunistic policymaking since the favorite pre-pandemic talking point by those who wanted to implement a federal paid leave program was that the United States doesn't offer paid leave for workers. Yet, this claim is bunk. While the United States government doesn't have a federal paid leave program, government surveys show that some 65 percent of American workers nevertheless have access to some form of paid leave. In fact, the absence of a federal program means we are also a country with a vast and expanding network of companies that provide benefits like paid leave programs that are flexible, accommodating and often more generous than the plan some liberals and conservatives have in mind.

    The irony is that this pandemic has forced employers and employees to try new workplace arrangements and use technology in ways that could lead to a major shake-up in the flexibility afforded to parents who must both work and take care of children. Implementing one-size-fits-all government policies now could stop this transformation as employers might feel better able to require employees to work on-site.

    I think Veronique has a better argument here, and she didn't even need to invoke LFOD to make it.


  • Pun Salad Endorses. And in response to the new Federal holiday, America's Newspaper of Record reports something that came to my mind as well: Nation's Libertarians Renew Push for 365 Federal Holidays a Year.

    U.S.—After the passing of Juneteenth as a federal holiday, the libertarians of the nation are renewing their push for 365 federal holidays a year.

    "We're glad the federal government will not be working one more day -- but it's not enough," said local libertarian man Jake Fluglehorn of Idaho. "We will not rest until the federal government has a holiday every single day of the year."

    There are suggestions for additional holidays at the link, most notably "Throw Commies Out Of Helicopters Day". Let's do that one first.

    No, just kidding. I'm not a fan of Commies, but let's just keep an eye on them.

URLs du Jour

2021-06-19

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • Baloney Gets No Respect. P. J. O'Rourke is peeved with The Baloney American Jobs Plan.

    The Biden administration’s $6.25 trillion “American Jobs Plan” promises…

    Oh, what doesn’t it promise?

    … reliable transportation, safe water, affordable housing, healthy schools, clean electricity, broadband for all, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

    I may be slightly misquoting the last part. But not by much.

    This article would be much shorter if I made a list of what the American Jobs Plan is not vowing to accomplish. In fact, I might be able to write the piece in three words…

    Make pigs fly.

    No. Strike that. We’d have to put wings on a whole bunch of swine if all the pork that Biden proposes is going to get off the ground.

    Among all the luncheon meats, it seems only "baloney" is used scornfully. Must have gotten a bad rep in the past.


  • Invoking Plan B. Veronique de Rugy looks at a problematic strategy that more folks seem to be adopting: If You Can't Beat Them, Bully Them into Joining You.

    For several decades now, politicians around the world have tried to curtail tax competition to make it easier for them to increase the tax burdens on their citizens without them fleeing to other lower-tax jurisdictions. The best way to achieve their goal is to create a global high-tax cartel. If implemented, the recent G7 countries' agreement to impose minimum taxes on multinational companies would get them much closer to this shady objective.

    It's no mystery why politicians don't like tax competition. In a global economy like ours, individuals and businesses are better able to work and invest in nations with lower tax rates. The ability to shift residences and operations from country to country puts pressure on governments to keep taxes on income, investment, and wealth lower than politicians would like. Politicians in each country fear that raising taxes will prompt high-income earners and capital to move away.

    Veronique calls this by the correct name: a cartel. And notes that its actual purpose (never mind the lofty do-good rhetoric) is to redistribute money and power to states.


  • Because YouTube is Stupidly Censorious. Zach Weissmueller wonders: Why Did YouTube Remove This Reason Video?

    On Monday, YouTube sent Reason an automated takedown notification for a March 13, 2020, video titled "Biohackers Are on a Secret Hunt for the Coronavirus Vaccine." The message said our video violated the company's spam, deceptive practices, and scams policy.

    YouTube denied Reason's appeal, informing us that the video violates the company's "medical misinformation policy."

    Did this 16-month-old video really promote "medical misinformation"?

    Speaking as the journalist who produced it: absolutely not. While YouTube, as a private company, is within its rights to decide what to carry, the decision to remove this video illustrates a disturbing, censorial trend that has accelerated in the age of COVID.

    Yes, you read that correctly: after leaving the video alone for sixteen months, YouTube suddenly noticed its unacceptability.

    And they couldn't even provide consistent reasoning. In violation of "spam, deceptive practices, and scams" policy, or "medical misinformation" policy?

    Perhaps their takedown department is being run by Franz Kafka.


  • Doing a Point/Counterpoint. Providing the Point is Glenn Greenwald. He has Questions About the FBI's Role in 1/6 are Mocked Because the FBI Shapes Liberal Corporate Media.

    The axis of liberal media outlets and their allied activist groups CNN, NBC News, The Washington Post, Media Matters — are in an angry uproar over a recent report questioning the foreknowledge and involvement of the FBI in the January 6 Capitol riot. As soon as that new report was published on Monday, a consensus instantly emerged in these liberal media precincts that this is an unhinged, ignorant and insane conspiracy theory that deserves no consideration.

    The original report, published by Revolver News and then amplified by Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, documented ample evidence of FBI infiltration of the three key groups at the center of the 1/6 investigation — the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys, and the Three Percenters — and noted how many alleged riot leaders from these groups have not yet been indicted. While low-level protesters have been aggressively charged with major felonies and held without bail, many of the alleged plot leaders have thus far been shielded from charges.

    Interesting! And there's more. Glenn goes on to note that a lot of the "experts" called upon by the "axis of liberal media outlets" are truth-challenged ex-FBI apparatchiks.

    So there's that. But…


  • Here's the Counterpoint. And it's provided by Andrew C. McCarthy at National Review And his position is: The Capitol Riot Indictments Do Not Suggest an FBI Entrapment Scheme.

    I finally watched Tucker Carlson’s monologue from Tuesday night, which has understandably caused a stir.

    Tucker speculates that the January 6 Capitol tumult was more likely an FBI fabrication than a riot instigated by the Oath Keepers militia group and other Trump supporters. His theory relies heavily on a Revolver news report that is long on conspiracy theory and short on evidence. It is a shark-jump from Carlson’s run-of-the-mill populist fare: the notion that the government so routinely entraps essentially law-abiding people that high-profile crimes are as likely to be FBI inventions as real offenses.

    What a muddle. Both McCarthy and Greenwald have good reputations for reliability here. Perhaps you, the reader, might be able to piece together a coherent picture of reality drawing on both articles. I confess it's beyond my powers.

Parker

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

This movie is based on one of the later Parker novels by "Richard Stark" (Donald Westlake), Flashfire. Jason Statham steps into the role of the amoral antihero with no first name. (Previous actors playing Parker: Lee Marvin, Mel Gibson, Peter Coyote, Robert Duvall. It's made for tough guys.)

Parker is in on a heist at the Ohio State Fair with some thieves. (Right away you notice that Statham's Parker is kind of a softie compared to book-Parker, persuading a frightened security guard into cooperation instead of just shooting him.) But the caper goes well except for a diversionary fire set in the wrong place, leading to bystander casualties. Unfortunately, the gang plans to use the proceeds to finance an even bigger score. Parker objects, leading to serious violence and he's left for dead on the side of a lonely highway.

The end? Of course not. Parker recovers, and immediately sets out to track down the gang that betrayed him. Along the way he meets Leslie (J Lo!), a beautiful but failing real estate agent. She gets involved in his revenge plan, of course. (Otherwise they could have used a much cheaper actress in that role.) And there's an obligatory boob scene, but not J Lo.

It's not bad, not great. A good movie for an evening when there's no Red Sox game.

Free Fall

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Four down on my reread-Crais project. So far, so good!

Crais's hero detective Elvis Cole is hired by bubbly, innocent, pretty Jennifer Sheridan to investigate the cause of her fiancé's recent strange behavior. Fiancé Mark's a cop, and he's become moody, irritable, closed off, and the like. Elvis doesn't really want to take the case, but (sigh) a detective's gotta eat. So he asks for $2000 cash in advance, his regular rate.

Jennifer counter-offers, placing two twenties on his desk and promising to pay "forty dollars per month for forty-nine months".

Of course, Elvis accedes. But near-immediately after Jennifer leaves, Mark shows up with another cop, who's brandishing a gun. They demand Elvis drop the case.

Well, that's not gonna happen now.

No surprise: Elvis and his partner Joe Pike eventually figure out what's going on, but not without a lot of peril.

I might as well mention a minor stylistic irritation. Whenever Elvis drives somewhere, we get things like: "I drove up to Sixty-fourth, pulled a U-turn at the light, then swung back and parked at the curb in front of the transmission place." Elvis, I don't care how you got to the taco stand.

Also, you know those old war movies, when one of the soldiers starts talking all moon-eyed about the girl back home, and you know that in an upcoming scene that he's going to buy the farm? I got that premonition about one of the characters here, … and I was right.

URLs du Jour

2021-06-18

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • California, Man. Scott Shackford notes some non-mellowness on the Left Coast: California Wants To Throw $100 Million at Its Mismanaged Retail Marijuana Sector.

    California's nascent legal recreational marijuana industry is so heavily taxed and regulated that the black market still dominates. It's so burdensome to try to get conventional permission to grow and sell marijuana the "legal" way that thousands of dispensaries operate without proper licenses. Government officials have been attempting to crack down on the problem and force them to close their doors.

    On Monday California lawmakers attempted to address this problem in a very California way: Assembly members authorized a $100 million subsidy to help potential marijuana vendors get properly licensed.

    As the Los Angeles Times explains, the subsidy isn't going to the dispensaries or growers themselves—not that it should. The $100 million is instead going to local government agencies and cities so they can "hire experts and staff to assist businesses in completing the environmental studies and transitioning the licenses."

    Hilarious, unless you're a California taxpayer. But that brings us to our next item…


  • A Growth Industry In Which We're All Forced to Invest. Albert Einstein probably never said "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result."

    But I'm starting the rumor that he said something even more profound: "Insanity is developing New Government Programs to Fix Failed Government Programs." Here's David Boaz:

    Scott Lincicome points out that “U.S. law and regulation are littered with attempts to ‘fix’ problems caused by other government policies—not by reforming or eliminating those policies but through even more subsidies, tariffs, regulations, or waivers.” He focuses especially on industrial policy proposals that propose to use government action to counter existing government policies — not to repeal those existing policies but to pile on new interventions. But that’s not the only place where we can see the phenomenon.

    David goes on to mention the California pot thing, above. But also:

    Or how about President Biden’s $213 billion federal program for affordable housing? He proposes to build 500,000 affordable units. And upgrade others. And also “an innovative, new competitive grant program” to encourage cities and states to reform or eliminate exclusionary zoning rules. So that part is good, but why do cities and states need a federal grant to change their laws? Meanwhile, Amazon is planning to spend $2 billion to encourage affordable housing. But why spend all this taxpayer (and shareholder) money? Just fix the original problem: zoning and land‐​use regulations drive up the cost and complexity of building housing. All these new affordable‐​housing programs are trying to fix a problem caused by existing government programs.

    Also (just off the top of my head) proposals to drop Federal Helicopter Money on improving broadband access. When the lack of such access is largely due to government-granted monopolies, regulatory capture, and old-fashioned corruption.


  • Probability Zero. Jerry Coyne excerpts a modest proposal from a Chronicle of Higher Education article by fellow Chicago prof Tom Ginsburg: Universities Need Dedicated Units and Officers to Protect Academic Freedom and Free Speech. (The Chronicle has an obnoxious semi-permeable paywall, but the excerpt will give you the gist.)

    In recent years, colleges have devoted significant resources to institutionalizing diversity, inclusion, and equity. These efforts accelerated after the murder of George Floyd, and many colleges are now creating vice president- or vice provost-level positions, leading entire bureaucracies devoted to this effort. As a requirement of federal law, colleges have also developed Title IX bureaucracies, which help to ensure that institutions receiving federal money deal with sexual harassment. Whatever one thinks of the implementation (and the implementation of Title IX in particular has been controversial), it is clear that colleges are serious about these important goals.

    In contrast, in most institutions of higher learning, issues of academic freedom or free speech have no designated campus officer. There is no emerging profession devoted to it, no mandatory training programs, no resources for faculty members and students who want to understand what it means. There are no job ads posted for vice presidents for academic freedom. Instead, academic-freedom controversies tend to be left to faculty committees, whose membership turns over regularly, or to ad hoc decisions by provosts and presidents. Among students, questions of freedom of expression are left to deans of students or in some cases to the diversity bureaucracy. Without an institutional base to protect free inquiry, standards are applied in an uneven way. The risk is that administrators will simply give in to the loudest voice in the room, which will, by definition, never be someone whose full-time job is to speak up for academic freedom.

    Excellent point, and a decent idea. It's a pity that free speech principles aren't deeply ingrained in university administrators; as it is, they can't be trusted to push back on illiberalism on their own.


  • Whew. John McWhorter reassures: You Are Not A Racist To Criticize Critical Race Theory.

    Since a year ago, CRT-infused members of The Elect, traditionally overrepresented in the world of schools of education, have sought to take the opportunity furnished by our “racial reckoning” to turn American schools into academies of “antiracist” indoctrination.

    And the backlash is on.  One by one parents, teachers and even students are speaking out against the idea that the soul of education must be to battle the power that whites have over others.

    Yes, that’s the watchcry. It’s why The Elect can make so little sense to the rest of us: they actually believe that the heart of all intellectual, moral, and artistic endeavor must be battling power differentials. They get this from Critical Race Theory. And what most alarms The Elect is that state legislatures are proposing to ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory in schools, Florida being the latest example.

    One response to this backlash is that anyone who questions the takeover of schools by CRT is against schoolkids learning about racism, and wants schoolkids to have the adulatory view of the American story typical of the 1950s and before. […]

    I doubt if Professor McWhorter read Robert Azzi's recent column, but (gee) that crack about the 1950s was on target. Here's Azzi's second paragraph about the people opposing CRT:

    The message embedded in their anti-BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) screeds – and in the anti-American legislation they inspire – is racist; opposed to anything that post-dates The Donna Reed Show and Father Knows Best and which presumes that they – white Americans – know better than people of color what the oppressed and disenfranchised have endured for generations – and continue to endure.

    Before you point out that Professor McWhorter is a Person of Color, note that Azzi dismissed that in the previous paragraph: he's one of those BIPOCs "seduced by their proximity to power."


  • Same As The Old Know-Nothings. Jonah Goldberg's midweek G-File is behind the Dispatch paywall, but there's a New Hampshire angle in The New Know Nothings that I'll quote:

    Let’s consider Jason Riddle.

    Riddle, the pride of Keene, New Hampshire, was one of the Capitol rioters. You may have seen images of him quaffing some vino he stole from a liquor cabinet he found amid the ransacking. He got a little taste of fame as a result and now wants to run for office, in part because pro-riot folks told him he should. As he explained to a local NBC affiliate, “In the long run, if you're running for office, any attention is good attention, so I think it will help me.”

    And in a world of Marjorie Taylor Greenes and Matt Gaetzes, who can really argue?

    Asked what his arrest for participating in the riot should tell voters, Riddle said, “It tells them I show up. I'm going to actually keep my promises and make some changes.” His campaign platform will be something like “Let’s get back to work.”

    He’s now running against Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster in the 2022 midterms.

    Now, you really should watch the video to get the full effect. But the next time we hear from Riddle, he says, “I thought Anne was a state representative.”

    NBC reporter Katherine Underwood explains to Riddle that his intended opponent is actually a congresswoman in Washington, not a state rep in Concord, New Hampshire.

    “Oh, I guess I gotta run against that, then,” Riddle says.

    Look, I don’t know jack about this guy beyond what I just told you. He may be a genius at canasta. He could be a hair’s breadth from completing his cold fusion reactor in his garage. For all I know, he may be the only person in the world who has Kobayashi Maru-ed 12-minute brownies by baking them in only seven minutes. But when it comes to politics, this guy is a moron; the “back to work” candidate isn’t willing to put any work at all into figuring out what he’s doing.

    He's also an idiot. And Jonah explains the distinction, but you'll have to pony up to the Dispatch for that.

URLs du Jour

2021-06-17

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • More Like InAccuVote, Amirite? Certified smart person Andrew Appel looks at the Windham voting imbroglio, a readable and interesting account of what likely happened to screw up the reported election totals last November: New Hampshire Election Audit, part 1 and part 2. Basically: the AccuVote optical scanners used by many New Hampshire towns ain't that trustworthy if they aren't maintained. One of the more interesting recommendations Andrew makes, at the end of part 2:

    Adopt Risk-Limiting Audits statewide. All the [previous recommendations] above are reactive to the specific unforeseen problem that occurred last time. But what different problem will come up next time? The purpose of mandatory, every-election RLAs is to detect any kind of problem that might cause machine-reported results to be different from what you’d get in a correct manual recount. And these mandatory RLAs should be done before results are certified, so that if the RLA does detect a problem, then it can be immediately corrected by a recount. And one thing we learned from this is that the Secretary of State’s office can do recounts accurately.

    The True Trump-Won Believers up at Granite Grok are, bless them, aghast that the Windham investigation didn't prove … well, something. At this point, I can't tell.


  • Can You Take One More Anti-ProPublica Article? Yes you can. You'll take it and like it.

    Sorry, shweetheart.

    Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. has a good point I haven't seen explicitly made elsewhere: Your Stolen Tax Records Are News.

    We can save the pros and cons of a wealth tax for another day, but notice how gratuitous was ProPublica’s use of stolen tax data for 25 wealthy taxpayers (and it claims to have data on thousands more Americans).

    By definition, these returns don’t contain information about unrealized stock-market, real estate and other asset gains that aren’t “income” under U.S. tax law but ProPublica has decided should be. For almost the entirety of its purpose, ProPublica relies on Forbes’s long-running research into the wealth of the richest Americans.

    Forbes did the work, tracking down and valuing the wealthy’s assets for the years 2014 to 2018. More to the point, at any time in the past three years, anyone could have calculated how much the wealthy would have owed if unrealized gains were taxed. And did. Using the same Forbes data, economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, in a single sentence in a Washington Post op-ed in April, said everything ProPublica really had to say.

    Forbes engaged in enterprising journalism. Whoever stole the tax returns was enterprising in another sense. ProPublica was enterprising only in inventing a piffling rationalization for publishing the stolen data and proclaiming itself the author of an important scoop.

    Holman (I call him Holman) goes on to highlight the real news: the "tax returns of thousands of Americans, which the government is pledged to protect, now are in the hands of unknown numbers of private parties and criminals."

    The IRS can't be trusted with your tax data.


  • Not Enough Suffering, the Democrat Complained. Christian Britschgi was paid to pay attention, and noticed: Former Biden Senior COVID Adviser Admonishes Americans for Their Lack of ‘Sacrifice’ During the Pandemic.

    The Biden administration's COVID-19 czar thinks Americans didn't sacrifice enough during the pandemic. At the risk of being unpopular, former White House senior COVID-19 adviser Andy Slavitt knows who to blame for the 600,000 American lives lost during the pandemic: It's you, the viewer.

    Slavitt resigned from his position on the Biden administration's pandemic policy team last week and has since been making the rounds to promote his book Preventable. A big part of his message is that had individuals done more to curb their own selfish desires for social interaction during the last 18 months, we would have seen far fewer COVID-19 deaths.

    "I also think we all need to look at one another and ask ourselves, 'what do we need to do better next time?'" said Slavitt during a Monday appearance on CBS This Morning. "Being able to sacrifice a little bit for one another to get through this and save more lives is essential."

    I got a chuckle from a Matt Kibbe tweet:


  • I learned it by watching you! Charles C. W. Cooke adapts a like from a great drug war PSA: This Is Your Brain on Critical Race Theory.

    Last week, the actor Tom Hanks responded to calls for a more robust accounting of America’s racial history by penning a piece in the New York Times about the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. “For all my study,” Hanks conceded, “I never read a page of any school history book about how, in 1921, a mob of white people burned down a place called Black Wall Street, killed as many as 300 of its Black citizens and displaced thousands of Black Americans who lived in Tulsa, Okla.” This, Hanks suggested, was perhaps because “History was mostly written by white people about white people like me, while the history of Black people — including the horrors of Tulsa — was too often left out.”

    Yesterday, writing for NPR, Eric Deggans explained that what Hanks had written in the Times was “not enough.” “Tom Hanks,” Deggans proposed, “is a non-racist.” But, he added, “it’s time for him to be anti-racist.” Echoing almost verbatim an argument that has been advanced by Ibram X. Kendi, Deggans explained that there is a “difference between being non-racist and being anti-racist” and that Hanks had not yet bridged the gap. “Anti-racism,” Deggans submitted, “implies action — looking around your universe and taking specific steps to dismantle systemic racism.” And while Hanks’s words are nice, they did not change the fact that he “has built a sizable part of his career on stories about American white men Doing the Right Thing.” “If he really wants to make a difference,” Deggans concluded, “Hanks and other stars need to talk specifically about how their work has contributed to these problems and how they will change.”

    Deggans’s essay serves as a perfect illustration of the cynical Motte and Bailey game that is currently being played by America’s self-appointed “anti-racists.” While in their Motte, the sponsors of critical race theory and its equally ugly relatives insist that all they truly want is for America’s schools to do a better job of teaching the history of American racism. On Twitter yesterday, Berkeley’s Robert Reich provided a solid example of this position with the claim that, by opposing the adoption of CRT in schools, the Republican Party is “trying to ban educators from teaching about the anguished role racism has played in the shaping of America.” In the safe haven of the Bailey, however, such defensible-sounding arguments are quickly swapped out for a set of considerably more extreme contentions, such as the claim that unless a person spends his days actively dismantling whatever “structures” a handful of “experts” have decided are problematic — including himself and his work, if necessary — he is in practice aiding and abetting racism. Clearly, Tom Hanks thought that he was playing inside the Motte. Clearly, he was not.

    I have problems thinking about whether I'm in the Motte, but it's entirely due to the fact that I can never remember which is the Motte and which is the Bailey.


  • It Provides Psychic Relief to the Aggrieved, Though. Megan McArdle explains it to her WaPo audience: Raising taxes on the wealthy won’t magically fix our inequality problem.

    Last week I noted some of the problems with trying to attack inequality by taxing the wealth, or the unrealized capital gains, of billionaires: When you tax something heavily, you generally get less of it. And capital isn’t something we want less of; capital is what gets invested to make the economy more productive. A more productive economy means we all get more stuff for less work — and even if you think “more stuff” sounds dubious, surely “less work” has some appeal.

    But some sort of tax hikes are definitely coming, because the U.S. fiscal gap is too large to sustain indefinitely. And many people figure the folks sitting on giant piles of wealth are the ones who can most easily afford tax hikes.

    They’re right. But given the flaws of capital taxation, I’d ask: Is it their wealth we want to redistribute? Or is a better target the real goods and services they use that wealth to consume?

    Probably realizing that spending restraint is not politically feasible. Megan makes the argument for a consumption tax. She notes (however) a nasty detail: "For one thing, the transition would probably be fantastically expensive, since we’d have to make allowances for those who, say, planned their retirement around the old tax code."

    She's talking about me, and just about every other financially responsible baby boomer.

URLs du Jour

2021-06-16

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] Today's Amazon Product du Jour doesn't have anything to do with our URLs, I just like it.

I don't use sudo though. Bias against letting people issue privileged commands without knowing the root password.

Alternate t-shirt slogan suggestion: "I Love Linux. So su me."

  • I Predict a Significant Increase in Headlines Containing "Biden" and "Confuses". Christian Britschgi has one: Biden’s Infrastructure Plan Confuses Costs for Benefits.

    The list of things that President Joe Biden hopes to accomplish with his American Jobs Plan is nearly as impressive as its $2 trillion price tag. "It's not a plan that tinkers around the edges," Biden bragged during an April speech in Pittsburgh. "It's a once-in-a-generation investment in America. It'll create millions of jobs, good-paying jobs. It'll grow the economy, make us more competitive around the world, promote our national security interest, and put us in a position to win the global competition with China."

    The president's speech did not dwell on the specific projects he wants to fund or how he might go about delivering them in a cost-effective manner. He focused instead on all the money he plans to spend and its potential for stimulating the economy. For Biden, the actual impact of new roads and rail lines on commute times and shipping costs is less important than the gargantuan price. That attitude suggests Biden's plan will buy a lot less infrastructure than it would if he prioritized efficiency.

    Britschgi's being awfully kind with "suggests" in that last sentence.

    Also in the news: Biden confuses Libya and Syria three times during remarks at G-7 summit.


  • Continuing the Confusion… Peter Suderman is also pretty rough on Biden: Study Finds Biden’s American Jobs Plan Would Result in Fewer American Jobs.

    If you've been following recent congressional spending negotiations, you've probably heard about President Joe Biden's $2.2 trillion infrastructure plan. This is a bit of a misnomer, since the plan would spend hundreds of billions on programs that are not, strictly speaking, infrastructure, though, for the purposes of politics, the Biden administration and Democrats in Congress have decided to call infrastructure. But the Infrastructure and a Bunch of Other Unrelated Stuff That We're Going to Insist Is Actually Infrastructure Plan is a bit of a mouthful, and sadly doesn't produce a memorable acronym. So they named the proposal the American Jobs Plan instead.

    Biden certainly has lofty ambitions for the Jobs Plan. A White House fact sheet on the proposal declares it will, among other things, "unify and mobilize the country to meet the great challenges of our time" (climate change and increased competition from China, the fact sheet says) and "invest in America in a way we have not invested since we built the interstate highways and won the Space Race." (Fine, sure, if you say so…although I'm not quite sure I'd call these puffy statements facts.) There are mentions of racial justice and rural communities, clean energy and caregiving, and even a few nods to roads and bridges. Biden wants his Jobs Plan to do it all—or, at the very least, to do an awful lot until the next trillion dollar plan comes around.

    But here, too, there is a problem with the name. For as it turns out, there's good reason to think Biden's American Jobs Plan would result in fewer American jobs.

    But there will be a lot more resources devoted to what politicians want, a lot fewer devoted to what private citizens want.


  • I Really Should Read More Popper. Martin Gurri channels him pretty well, though: The Enemies of the Open Society.

    In The Open Society and Its Enemies, the great philosopher Karl Popper posited two general types of communities. One was open to information. By multiplying knowledge, it sought to adapt to a changing world and improve the conditions of life. The institution that propelled and sustained the open society, Popper believed, was modern science. Its preferred political vehicle was liberal democracy.

    The second type of community, which Popper sometimes called “tribal,” considered its laws and customs to be part of an immutable cosmic order and condemned innovation as a crime against the hidden forces that upheld that order. New information entailed the corruption of morals; the highest duty of those in authority was to freeze social relations in place. The tribal mind inclined to magic—that “charmed circle of unchanging taboos.” While this was a very ancient way of organizing humanity, Popper observed that it had provided a model for the totalitarian systems of the 20th century in their revolt against the open society.

    I happened to be re-reading Popper when the controversy about a possible Wuhan laboratory spill staggered, zombie-like, out of its grave. That story is worth repeating. It begins with our abysmal ignorance about the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. We know that the first cases appeared in China, specifically in the city of Wuhan—where there happens to be a lab specializing in virology. We know, too, that the Chinese regime has persistently lied about and obfuscated the subject. That’s what it does in awkward situations.

    Awkward indeed. Gurri notes that "science" did its part, transforming itself "from an enterprise that still largely valued the dispassionate study of nature into an avenging goddess of anti-Trumpism."


  • Everything You Know Is Wrong, Part CLXII. Glenn Greenwald writes on The Enduring False Narrative About the PULSE Massacre Shows the Power of Media Propaganda.

    On the fifth anniversary of the PULSE nightclub massacre in Orlando, numerous senators, politicians and activist groups commemorated that tragic event by propagating an absolute falsehood: namely, that the shooter, Omar Mateen, was motivated by anti-LGBT animus. The evidence is definitive and conclusive that this is false — Mateen, like so many others who committed similar acts of violence, was motivated by rage over President Obama's bombing campaigns in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, and chose PULSE at random without even knowing it was a gay club — yet this media-consecrated lie continues to fester.

    On Saturday, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) falsely described the massacre as an "unspeakable act of hate toward the LGBTQ+ community.” Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) went even further, claiming “the LGBTQ+ community was targeted and killed—all because they dared to live their lives.” Her fellow Illinois Democrat, Sen. Dick Durbin, claimed forty-nine lives were lost due to “anti-LGBTQ hate” (he forgot the +). These false claims were compiled by the gay socialist activist Matt Thomas, who correctly objected: “the shooter literally picked PULSE at random from Google after security was too tight at the mall he went to first,” adding that while LGBT groups “are hopeless of course,” too much money and power is at stake for them to give up this self-serving fiction. But he asked, “Shouldn’t the bar be a little higher for senators?”

    Those who think Trump-addled Republicans are uniquely wedded to their evidence-free narratives should definitely read this. It's a bipartisan phenomenon. Except the "mainstream" media is an enthusiastic accomplice on one side.


  • Low-Information Voters Get Low-Information Candidates. I'm not sure whether to be amused or depressed by this story. Michael Graham writes: He Thought Kuster Was a State Rep, But Capitol Hill Rioter Says He's Running Against Her Anyway.

    Supporters of U.S Rep. Annie Kuster were no doubt surprised to learn she was facing a challenge for her Second District congressional seat from a January 6 Capitol Hill rioter. But they weren’t nearly as surprised as he was.

    “I thought Ann was a state representative,” Jason Riddle of Keene, N.H. told NBC Boston last week.

    Keene, man. It's our state's version of Austin, Texas.

URLs du Jour

2021-06-15

  • Twitter is for Snarking at Senators. I was irked enough by New Hampshire's Senator Maggie to tweet.

    I bet Maggie thinks honest language might make her position less palatable with voters.


  • Recipe for Citizen Abuse: First, Start With a Harvard Prof. The WSJ's editorialists correctly trace the genealogy of a Biden Administration proposal: it's Elizabeth Warren’s IRS Entitlement.

    The Internal Revenue Service leak of taxpayer returns to left-leaning media outlet ProPublica is a prime example of why Congress should refuse to give the tax agency more money and power. That includes President Biden’s little-noticed but politically consequential plan to put IRS funding on autopilot.

    An overlooked part of Mr. Biden’s plan to supercharge the IRS would exclude most of its funding over the next decade from Congress’s annual appropriations. His plan calls for a “dedicated stream of mandatory funds ($72.5 billion over a decade)” that will “provide for a sustained, multi-year commitment to revitalizing the IRS that will give the agency the certainty it needs to rebuild.” By “certainty” Mr. Biden means insulating the agency from accountability to Congress and its power of the purse.

    Like so much else in the Biden Presidency, this follows the Elizabeth Warren model. The Massachusetts Senator last month introduced a bill that would nearly triple the annual IRS budget to $31.5 billion, which would be indexed to inflation and come from money “in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated," such as from interest that the Federal Reserve earns from its asset portfolio. This is what Ms. Warren and Democrats did when they created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which gets its funding directly from the Fed.

    Warren knows that accountability is dangerous to her brand of rule-by-politicized-bureaucrats. (I was going to say "Warren and Biden" there, but it's not safe to assume Biden knows much.)


  • Did You Hear That Flushing Sound? It was taxpayer money down the toilet, as reported by Scott Shackford: Feds Restore $929 Million in Funds for California’s Billion-Dollar Bullet Train Boondoggle.

    California's wasteful high-speed rail project is getting a predictable boost under train-loving President Joe Biden. On Thursday, the Biden administration announced it was restoring $929 million in grants that had been revoked by the U.S. Department of Transportation under President Donald Trump.

    Trump used the terrible state of the rail project—years behind schedule, billions over budget, and without a realistic plan for actually connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco—as a reason to shut the funding down. His feud with California political leadership certainly played a role in the decision, but the reality is that the entire train project has been an expensive disaster that has lined a bunch of contractors' and consultants' pockets.

    Do you think you'll ever want to take a fast train from Stockton to Fresno? Me neither, but we're payin' for it anyway.


  • Bringing Californian Stupidity to New Hampshire. Gee, Thanks. Michael Graham notes that New Hampshire Congressional Democracts love their 19th-century tech: Kuster, Pappas Want to Bring California-Style Bullet Train Project to New England.

    New Hampshire U.S. Reps. Annie Kuster and Chris Pappas are backing a $105 billion high-speed rail project for New England, similar to the high-profile – and highly controversial bullet train project currently under construction in California.

    Reading on:

    High-speed rail advocates make the “if you built it, they will ride” argument, but they aren’t doing it now. As the Boston-based Pioneer Institute pointed out, “MBTA commuter rail ridership declined from 36.13 million in 2012 to 32.14 million in 2018, an 11 percent drop over six years.” And that was before COVID-19 and concerns about social distancing. Commuter rail ridership fell more than 65 percent during the pandemic.

    Passenger rail already needs massive taxpayer funding to keep ticket costs competitive, and that’s for rail systems like Amtrak that are far less expensive than the NAR proposal. Despite claims Amtrak is profitable, Randal O’Toole of the Cato Institute notes that when you account for the revenues from state subidies, Amtrak lost more tham $1 billion in 2019.

    Well, "lost" is a euphemism. They know where it went.


  • He Giveth and He Taketh Away. Ronald Bailey notes another small problem with our current system of governance: Keystone Pipeline’s Cancellation Shows How Arbitrary Presidential Power Subverts the Rule of Law.

    The rule of law can be serviceably defined as restricting the arbitrary exercise of power by subordinating it to well-defined and established laws. Unfortunately, politicians have learned how to subvert the rule of law by laundering their decisions through supine federal bureaucracies that interpret badly-defined laws and regulations to suit the desires of the president and his minions.

    The decade-long saga of the Keystone XL oil pipeline is a near-perfect example of how this works. (Don't get me started on arbitrary presidential power to impose tariffs and exercise secret emergency powers.)

    Earlier this week, bowing to President Biden's January declaration that its pipeline was not in the U.S.'s national interest, the builder of the pipeline, TC Energy, announced that it was permanently canceling construction of its Keystone pipeline. That project would have transported more than 800,000 barrels of Canadian oil daily to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

    Pretty soon investors will get the lesson: don't depend on government to let projects proceed if they irk the right set of politically well-connected folks. And we'll all be poorer for that realization.


  • A Good Argument For Not Buying Kindle Books. Kyle Smith notes the latest outrage: Authors Bow to Online Mobs, Change Passages in Published Novels.

    Here’s a bit of a watershed in American publishing: Social-media commenters are now successfully editing already-published books in order to alter the remarks of fictional characters.

    It’s unbelievable, yet true: Best-selling writer Elin Hilderbrand, who writes beach books with titles suggesting upper-middle-class-white-lady luxury, was so cowed by a few posts on Instagram complaining about a passage in one of her books that she agreed to strike the language from future editions.

    I left a comment at the NR site: "I eagerly await my revised copy of 1984. Always thought Orwell was way too tough on Big Brother."

Pun Salad Whitesplains It All For You

[Newspaper Fail]

Yesterday's local paper, SeacoastSunday, contained an op-ed column by the always-irritating Robert Azzi, headlined "Clutching privilege, pearls, pistols". First paragraph (don't worry, I'm not doing the whole thing):

I am increasingly tired of white people – or nonwhites seduced by their proximity to whiteness – trying to “whitesplain” away the existence of systemic racism or Critical Race Theory (CRT) as some sort of insidious socialist / marxist / communist / wokeness / leftist / BLM conspiracy to undermine an exceptional [white] America – as alien usurpers trying to dethrone God’s chosen guardians of American “excellence” and “exceptionalism.”

Unfortunately, Azzi isn't too tired to write 1100 or so words in defense of CRT. He tars white CRT critics as racist. It's inconvenient to his thesis that there are non-white critics? Ah, never mind, they've been "seduced by their proximity to whiteness". Only CRT is true! All hail CRT! Down with the whitesplainers! And the clutchers!

It's all Standard Operating Procedure for Azzi. But there's something even more irritating further down:

We need CRT, too, to understand that Katherine Johnson, a NASA mathematician whose calculations of orbital mechanics were critical to American crewed space flights – including for Gordon Cooper’s Project Mercury-Atlas 9 spaceflight – couldn’t use the bathrooms in the building where she worked because she was African-American.

That caused me to write one of my very infrequent LTEs. Here 'tis, appropriate links added:

Dear Editor --

Robert Azzi's recent column on "Whitesplaining" attempted to rebut criticisms of "Critical Race Theory" (CRT). One of his assertions caught my eye: that CRT is needed to explain why NASA's Katherine Johnson (whose career was featured in the movie Hidden Figures) "couldn’t use the bathrooms in the building where she worked because she was African-American."

If CRT helps us "understand" that, then so much the worse for CRT. According to the Wikipedia page for Hidden Figures, Katherine Johnson was originally unaware of the segregated facilities; she went ahead and used the convenient "whites-only" restrooms. Eventually, after years, someone complained. She ignored those complaints. And when NASA was estabilished in 1958, it ended any remaining segregation policies at its workplaces.

So, according to Azzi, CRT helps us understand things that didn't actually happen.

It doesn't matter. Azzi could easily replace his 60-year-old fake historical anecdotes with more accurate, and more recent ones. It's important to know those. But CRT doesn't "explain" those, nor does it aid in "understanding" them. And it doesn't explain why, given its assumptions of "systemic racism" and overbearing "white supremacy", how Katherine Johnson overcame every obstacle to learn math, master the thorny details of orbital mechanics (rocket science!), and have her stellar career at NASA. So CRT not only explains things that didn't happen, it fails to explain things that did. It's worthless.

But it's worse than that. When thinking of Katherine Johnson and her co-workers I was reminded of the CRT-inspired "Equitable Math" website (equitablemath.org), which has a self-proclaimed goal of "dismantling white supremacy in math classrooms". What are the "characteristics of white supremacy" in math education? In their list: "Perfectionism", "Sense of Urgency", "Objectivity". They deride the focus "on getting the 'right' answer".

I can't help but think that Katherine Johnson would consider that a bunch of hooey. And she might point out that astronauts' lives depended on her perfectionism, and "getting the right answer". When it comes to learning important and useful things, CRT is more of an obstacle than is systemic racism.

I assume Azzi will dismiss all this as racist "Whitesplaining". Too bad.

That's it. I'll let you know if it's published.

URLs du Jour

2021-06-13

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • Boy, Does Amazon Offer a Lot Of Anti-Gun Merch. There have to be hundreds of different "Ban Assault Weapons" garments. Fortunately, after enough searching, I found the Amazon Product du Jour.

    But there are major problems with that slogan, and Jacob Sullum tells us the primary one: Here’s Why California’s ‘Assault Weapon’ Ban Is Unconstitutional.

    When California legislators enacted the country's first ban on military-style rifles in 1989, they gave no weight to the fundamental right of armed self-defense guaranteed by the Second Amendment—a right the U.S. Supreme Court did not explicitly acknowledge until nearly two decades later. But as U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez observed in his ruling against California's "assault weapon" ban last Friday, it should now be clear that the outright prohibition of such firearms cannot pass constitutional muster.

    California's Assault Weapons Control Act (AWCA), which is similar to laws enforced by a handful of other states, originally applied to a list of more than 50 specific brands and models. In 1999 the law was amended to cover any semi-automatic, centerfire rifle that accepts a detachable magazine and has any of these features: a pistol grip that "protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon," a forward pistol grip, a thumbhole stock, a folding or telescoping stock, a flash suppressor, or a grenade/flare launcher.

    I think "Ban Assault Weapons" t-shirts should have text on the back too: "I don't know what those are."


  • Scurrilous. Andrew Stuttaford looks at the ProPublica article, considering it to be A Low Road to Higher Taxes.

    However much some on the left might like to deny it, there is a legitimate distinction between capital appreciation and income, and however much some of them might understand it, failing to account properly for that distinction presents too good a propaganda opportunity to be passed up.

    And so when ProPublica, “an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism with moral force” “obtained” and then, in an article by Jesse Eisinger, Jeff Ernsthausen, and Paul Kiel, publicized some of the details of “a vast cache of IRS information showing how billionaires like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Warren Buffett pay little in income tax compared to their massive wealth — sometimes, even nothing,” much of the secondhand reporting of their story, not to speak of the ProPublica article itself, followed an all too predictable narrative.

    Andrew quotes the ProPublica authors extensively, debunking as he goes. His bottom line:

    In reality, […] this article is just another salvo in the attempt by one section of the elite to wrestle power (and what flows from it) from another. That the result would result in severe damage to the economy and to the aspirations of millions is, it seems, beside the point.


  • Hey, Remember When People Were Upset About Dubya Snooping Your Library Checkouts? Matt Welch notes the latest proposal to violate your right to privacy: Biden Won’t Close the ‘Tax Gap,’ but He Will Snoop on Your Bank Records.

    Biden's American Families Plan Tax Compliance Agenda seeks to build on the model of [the Foreign Account Tax Compliant Act's] intrusive third-party reporting requirements, constructing a "comprehensive financial account reporting regime" that would force a wider grouping of financial institutions and platforms (PayPal, settlement companies, "crypto asset exchanges," etc.) to "report gross inflows and outflows on all business and personal accounts…including bank, loan, and investment accounts."

    But there's no need to worry if you've got nothing to hide.

    "For already compliant taxpayers, the only effect of this regime is to provide easy access to summary information on financial accounts and to decrease the likelihood of costly 'no fault' examinations once the IRS is able to better target its enforcement efforts," Treasury reassures us. "For noncompliant taxpayers, this regime would encourage voluntary compliance as evaders realize that the risk of evasion being detected has risen noticeably."

    Matt notes that past efforts to boost "compliance" have been unimpressive in terms of revenue.


  • I Could Talk About This Forever, And Will. David Harsanyi derides The Democrats' Filibuster Con.

    When Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., closed the door on eliminating the legislative filibuster this week, promising not to “weaken or eliminate” the 60-vote threshold, he “dashed” the “dreams” of Democrats, according to The New York Times.

    Hypocrisy is nothing new in Washington, but it takes a preternatural shamelessness to have participated in over 300 filibusters, as Democrats did in the past few years, and then one day turn around and treat the procedure as an odious racist relic that threatens “democracy.”

    But this is an emergency, norm-breakers will tell you. Isn’t it always? Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., after a quick reversal of position, told The Washington Post that she would nuke the procedure only “in the case of protecting democracy.” Of course, if we adopted the Democrats’ evolving standard of “voting rights,” then we’d be forced to treat every election before 2020’s free-for-all as illegitimate.

    At last report, our state's Senators Are Skeptical Of Killing The Filibuster

    New Hampshire Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen do not endorse completely eliminating the procedure, CNN reported Thursday. They join Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin in their opposition to the move.

    “I don’t think getting rid of [the filibuster] is the best approach,” Shaheen said, although “I think we should look at ways to reform the filibuster.”

    Hassan also has “concerns about eliminating the filibuster,” but would be open to some reforms, according to a spokesman. Neither senator explained what those reforms would be.

    Unspecified "reforms"? I bet that went over well in focus groups.

The Mitchells vs the Machines

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [The Mitchells vs the Machines]

We've been watching a lot of baseball of late. And, thanks to my Disney+ subscription and Roku, I've been re-watching the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. (Rewatched movies don't get blogged.) But the mood to watch something different took me, and I heard good things about this, so…

It's OK. Very funny in spots, draggy in others. The heroine is young Katie Mitchell, who is headed off to college to major in some sort of movie-making. She's bounding with energetic creativeness, and views her family with increasing disdain. Especially Dad, who's increasingly frantic about Katie's independence. So he hatches a desperate scheme: cancel Katie's plane tickets, load the family into the car for one last road trip. Cross-country to Katie's college. To bond.

Things are complicated by a robotic/AI apocalypse.

How does that happen? Well, a Zuckerbergian character in charge of a Facebook/Apple-like company introduces his new product: an army of "helpful" faceless robots. Unfortunately, he snubs his previous product, an AI who takes offense. Who proceeds to wreak havoc on the entire world. That'll teach them! The Mitchells turn out to be humanity's last hope for salvation.

Oh, yeah, Katie's apparently a lesbian. Presented as no big deal. Kids these days.


Last Modified 2021-06-18 10:39 AM EDT

Breaking Bread with the Dead

A Reader's Guide to a More Tranquil Mind

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

My first book in over a year from the ILL folks at the University Near Here. They got it from the Greenwich (CT) Library. I wasn't allowed to go into Dimond Library for a pickup, it's still forbidden territory for people not in UNH's "testing protocol". So they sent it to Pun Salad Manor via UPS.

Well, that's enough about my life's minor irritations.

This short book (with small pages and wide margins) is from Professor Alan Jacobs, and I'm used to his engaging style by now. He doesn't beat you over the head with his deep understanding of millennia's worth of literature (although it's apparent); instead, he's providing friendly advice, take it or leave it.

The specific advice here is: read old books. "Breaking bread with the dead" is a phrase from W. H. Auden, advocating turning our mind to art from yesteryear. The goal is to tune out today's constant clamor for our attention, and instead increase our bandwidth to the past. The subtitle claims this is a path to "a more tranquil mind". OK, maybe. My mind was already pretty tranquil. But the point is to view our reading as an opportunity to chow down with the greats of the past.

That's not without peril. The wrong way to do it is encountered early on with an anecdote about a student (someone else's student) who started to read Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth. And literally threw the book out, due to Wharton's apparent antisemitism. What's wrong? The student viewed Wharton as an invited guest into his literary salon, and when she behaved badly, she was tossed out.

A better way to view it: you're a guest in Wharton's world. You might see things you despise, but you might better approach them with understanding (without acceptance). Learn to deal with difference.

Later in the book, there's a good example: Frederick Douglass, specifically his 1852 speech "What, To The Slave, Is The Fourth Of July". Douglass considers the Declaration's signers to be "brave men", "great men". But the blessings of liberty they brought were not for folks like Douglass. So he was forced to say "The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn."

Douglass regarded the Declaration with clear eyes, and helps us see it through his.

Anyway: plenty of other examples, some hilarious. There's extended quoting from Rosseau's epistolary novel Julie, which (it's claimed) was the biggest best-seller of the 18th century. And is totally obscure today. (When you read the excerpts, you might add: "with good reason".) Still, Jacobs draws an interesting lesson from the characters' musings on their states.

I don't think I've done a good job of summary here. Jacobs' discussion is deep and dense. I don't know if I can follow his path, but he definitely had me considering adding more old stuff to my to-be-read stacks.


Last Modified 2021-06-13 7:21 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2021-06-12

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  • Calling It "Analysis" is Generous, But… Chris Edwards mentions the illegality briefly, but mostly discusses the main problem with the ProPublica Analysis of Taxes on Wealthy.

    Let’s focus on ProPublica’s click‐​friendly headline: “You May Be Paying a Higher Tax Rate Than a Billionaire.” The article says that a “typical” worker with $45,000 in wages pays a higher federal tax rate than the average of the 25 wealthy people on the stolen tax returns. Including income and payroll taxes, ProPublica says that the typical taxpayer pays 19 percent while the 25 wealthy people pay just 16 percent.

    The claim that people in the middle pay a higher tax rate than people at the top is at odds with data from four authoritative sources: the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the Tax Policy Center (TPC), the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT), and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

    Extending and amplifying Edwards' point is Ed Morrisey, whose headline is more plain-spoken: ProPublica argument on taxes is nonsense.

    This brings us back to the ethics of publishing this data in the first place. As Edwards says, ProPublica could easily have gotten much more comprehensive and representative data from any or all of these four sources without rewarding an abuse of power (and a crime). They could have at least checked this data against the more robust and representative data to see whether these returns matched up to it — or whether they were specifically chosen to misrepresent the results of the current tax code. Instead of reporting on the returns it received, ProPublica could have fulfilled its self-declared mission by focusing on the abuse of power committed by an IRS official attempting to manipulate public policy through a selective release of public data rather than embrace that abuse of power because the bureaucrat’s political agenda matched its own.

    Instead, they chose … poorly. And their hard-earned credibility has vanished in the dishonesty that ProPublica both enabled and then amplified.

    I'd guess that the folks behind ProPublica simply don't care about bourgeois values of objectivity and fairness. They're looking to gin up envy and resentment among the peepul, in order to make Biden's tax proposals easier to enact. I hope that tactic fails, but I fear it won't.


  • Resentment Sells, But Who's Buying? Robert Bork Jr. writes on The Dangers of Conservative ‘Antitrust Revival’.

    Rachel Bovard has a well-written piece in The American Conservative that argues for those of us on the right to rediscover our true tradition of using antitrust law to stand up to powerful concentrations of market power. By the time you finish reading her piece, it will seem as if aggressive antitrust action is as Republican as splitting rails and running an underground railroad.

    But conservatives should reject her approach. Throughout her piece, Bovard focuses solely on a handful of Big Tech companies for their content decisions that anger conservatives. On this narrow concern, she endorses a purported return to a conservative stand against bigness that would, if enacted, mean the end of capitalism as we know it in America.

    If that sounds a bit hyperbolic, consider the two leading antitrust bills in the Senate today.

    One of them, authored by Senator Josh Hawley, would outlaw all mergers and acquisitions for every company with a market cap over $100 billion. That’s roughly a Who’s Who of American capitalism, almost 80 companies in all. So conservatives should go along with ossifying Procter & Gamble, Exxon-Mobil, Boeing, CISCO, AT&T, Eli Lilly, and Texas Instruments because we’re upset that Facebook and Twitter no longer let Donald Trump post?

    Bork Jr. also looks at the "even more radical Democratic antitrust bill."

    It used to be that the GOP at least had half-decent economic policies. That seems to be history.


  • Another Bit of Economic Sense. This one from Arnold Kling, who defies everything you've heard in the papers and the TV news: There is No Labor Shortage.

    Today, one hears talk of a "labor shortage," or a "skilled labor shortage." For example, the attendees of a recent conference for the staffing/recruiting industry were told that for the next 20 years the challenge would be to find job candidates. The speaker showed graphs of "demand" for workers growing faster than "supply."

    The causal factor in this analysis is the proposition that demographic trends imply slow labor force growth in the U.S. relative to overall population growth. The baby boomers will reach retirement age, while a smaller cohort enters the working age.

    If we want, we can add another demographic hypothesis to this analysis. We might suppose that until they do retire, baby boomers will be saving at higher rates, thereby increasing the supply of capital.

    Now we are ready to pose the question for our first-year economics students: describe the new equilibrium in an economy in which the supply of labor falls and the supply of capital increases.

    The answer, of course, is that the wage rate increases and the rate of return on capital declines. At higher wages, people will supply more labor (although perhaps not much more), and firms will demand less labor. With these market mechanisms working, there will not be any shortage.

    You might have noticed the slightly anachronistic references to baby boomers. That's because Arnold wrote this in 1997.


  • How Dare They! Robby Soave noticed that someone's getting delusions of … well, something. Maybe not grandeur, but like that: Anthony Fauci Says His Critics Are Attacking Science Itself.

    In an interview with MNSBC host Chuck Todd on Wednesday, White House coronavirus advisor Anthony Fauci fired back at his detractors—explicitly suggesting that the recent criticism he has received from Republicans constitutes an attack on science itself.

    "If you are trying to get at me as a public health official and a scientist, you're really attacking not only Dr. Anthony Fauci, you're attacking science," said Fauci, speaking in the third person. "Anybody who looks at what's going on clearly sees that. You'd have to be asleep not to see that. That's what's going on. Science and the truth are being attacked."

    This statement was prompted by a question from Todd, who fretted that conservative critiques of Fauci were undermining the credibility of public health officials and could cause vaccine hesitancy. "Look at Russia," said Todd. "They have a good vaccine and none of their citizens will take it because they don't trust their own government."

    As the kids say: I can't even.

    (There's a really good article by Michael Brendan Dougherty in the current print issue of National Review about Fauci. Bottom line: as a scientist, he's an excellent bureaucrat.)


  • Humility Doesn't Sell As Well As Fear. Peter Suderman suggests The Pandemic Is a Case for Policy Humility.

    One thing that's more clear than ever after a year of pandemic governance is that politicians and policymakers know less than they think they do, in part because they have less power over individual lives and choices than they assume.

    A brief case study: When Texas' Republican Gov. Greg Abbott lifted the state's mask mandate and ended all capacity limits at the beginning of March, becoming the first state to do so, his decision was greeted by a flood of high-profile criticism from left-leaning lawmakers and policymakers.

    California's Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has presided over the nation's most restrictive coronavirus policy regime, called the move "absolutely reckless." Andy Slavitt, President Joe Biden's senior advisor for COVID response, said, "We think it's a mistake to lift the mask mandates too early. Masks are saving a lot of lives." Biden himself called the move "Neanderthal thinking." And Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky insisted, "Now is not the time to relax the critical safeguards."

    These are people whose job is to shape policy at the highest levels of government, and they were united in their belief that Abbott's move was dangerous. They were certain that without mandates set down from above, Texas was in for a world of hurt. Yet their dire warnings didn't pan out.

    I would almost be an automatic vote for a politician who said Gee, I was wrong about that. Sorry.

URLs du Jour

2021-06-11

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  • Hopefully, You Didn't Die. Drew Cline beat our Governor Sununu to the punch with this article posted yesterday morning: The COVID-19 emergency is over in New Hampshire.

    When Gov. Chris Sununu announced the end of the statewide mask mandate on April 15, the seven-day rolling average of positive COVID-19 cases was 411.6, the number of positive cases in the state was 3,763, and 130 people were hospitalized with COVID-19.

    By June 8, the number of known COVID-19 cases had declined by 91% from April 15, hospitalizations had declined by 78%, and the seven-day average of new cases had declined by 88%.

    Only 28 people were hospitalized on June 8, and only 322 known cases existed in the state.

    More happy numbers at the link. And sure enough, later yesterday, as reported by Commie Radio: After More Than One Year, Gov. Sununu Will Let State Of Emergency Expire. So, yay.

    There are still (as I type) some "bitter clingers" to the religion. The University Near Here still requires testing of even vaccinated employees and students. They haven't had a single positive test result for two weeks. And (this especially sucks for me) you can't even think about entering the UNH Library unless you are "part of the UNH COVID testing protocol."

    The UNH motto: "Remain In Fear".

    The Portsmouth Public Library still (again, as I type): requires patrons to mask up. Why? "Given that we serve a population that, for the time being, cannot be vaccinated, the library requires masks."

    I suspect that when the "population" can be vaccinated, they'll come up with some other, even lamer, excuse.


  • Dud. Over the past few days we've yammered about the political motives behind the IRS rich-people tax return leak. Andrews Moylan and Wilford consider the substance and find there's remarkably little: ProPublica’s Bombshell Tax Report That Wasn’t.

    In a report hyped as a "bombshell," investigative journalism outlet ProPublica managed to get access to and publish the private tax returns of thousands of the nation's wealthiest individuals. They claim the data "demolishes" the "myth" that the wealthiest Americans pay the most in taxes, and the authors employ tortured reasoning to attempt to come up with a new, nonsensical "true tax rate" for the tax data that no genuine tax policy expert would take seriously.

    The idea that the tax code is already fairly progressive is not a myth at all, though—wealthier Americans pay a much higher tax rate on their income than lower-income taxpayers do.

    Despite ProPublica's best efforts to make the information enclosed within seem damning, the data tell us little we didn't already know. For the 2018 tax year, the last year for which we have data, the top 1 percent paid over 40 percent of federal income taxes, despite earning just under 21 percent of total adjusted gross income (AGI). The bottom 50 percent of taxpayers earned 11.6 percent of total AGI, but paid less than 3 percent of income taxes. The same story holds when looking at all revenue sources too, so it's not just the income tax that is progressive.

    The WSJ's James Freeman makes a wicked good point: Tax-Exempt Group Favors Higher Rates on Taxpayers.

    This week an organization that may benefit from heavy tax burdens on rich people is launching a campaign to advocate for heavier tax burdens on rich people.

    One of the richies who escaped paying US income tax three years in a row: George Soros. Whose charitable donations to his "Open Society Foundation" funds various lefty groups, including… ProPublica.


  • From the Headline, I Was Expecting a Longer Article. Jonah Goldberg details What ProPublica Gets Wrong About the Wealthy and Taxes.

    Billionaires often pay little in income taxes because billionaires don’t typically make their money from a salary. Billionaires exist for the most part because they own assets—stocks, businesses, commodities, property, etc.—and the paper value of those assets amounts to the bulk of their wealth. And in America, we do not tax wealth. 

    Nor should we. 

    Let’s say you collect baseball cards. On paper, your collection is worth a bundle. But its real value is realized only when you sell it. Do you think the IRS should tax you every year for what your collection could be worth if you sold it? Do you want the IRS to tax you for the value of your wedding ring—not at purchase, but forever—even if you’re never going to sell it?

    The same principle applies to other unrealized gains. If your stock portfolio increases in value, you get taxed on your gains when you sell. 

    ProPublica ignores all this. “We compared how much in taxes the 25 richest Americans paid each year to how much Forbes estimated their wealth grew in that same time period,” they explain. “We’re going to call this their true tax rate.”

    Except, as Jonah notes, there's nothing "true" about it.


  • Because She Thinks We Deserve Punishment, and the Rack Is No Longer An Option. Janet Yellen’s International Tax Plan Would Punish America. From the National Review editorial staff:

    Janet Yellen celebrated a recent G7 tax agreement as a win for “the middle class and working people in the U.S.” In reality, the scheme to establish a minimum global corporate-tax rate would transfer revenues from the U.S. treasury to foreign governments while putting American businesses at a disadvantage in international markets.

    At the heart of the current drive for a global tax system is the fact that President Biden is pushing $4 trillion worth of spending plans at a time of record debt. Because suburbanites are now a core part of the Democratic coalition, there could be severe political ramifications to forcing the upper middle class to pay for too much of his agenda. The lowest-hanging fruit from a revenue and political standpoint is to hike corporate taxes. But Yellen recognizes that, under the current system, raising corporate-tax rates risks making the U.S. uncompetitive. Thus, she’s determined to create some sort of global corporate-tax system to reduce the incentive for multinational companies to seek out lower-tax jurisdictions.

    Also, hiking the corporate tax is a cowardly method for pols to pretend that they aren't raising taxes on "the people". When of course, people will see higher prices, lower stock prices, and less innovation.


  • Wondered About This Myself. George F. Will asks: Is the America of today even capable of performing great building feats?. (Betteridge's law of headlines confirmed again, I fear.)

    Construction of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge took four years in the 1930s, but after a 1989 earthquake, when one-third of the Bay Bridge had to be replaced, the project took over two decades. A nation planning to quickly spend hundreds of billions on infrastructure should wonder why the repair proceeded so sluggishly — and why economists have found that the inflation-adjusted cost of building a mile of the interstate highway system tripled between the 1960s and 1980s.

    The Claremont Institute’s William Voegeli considers this evidence of “activist government’s dysfunction” — government’s inability, or unwillingness, to do one thing at a time. Government cannot simply repair a bridge; it must do so while complying with an ever-thickening, sometimes immobilizing web of ever-multiplying environmental, labor, safety and other mandates. They also now include, as part of what Voegeli calls the Biden administration’s “shock-and-awe statism,” Washington’s obsession with “equity” — racial distributions of government goods and services.

    Remember Barack Obama’s 2010 epiphany about the nonexistence of his promised “shovel-ready” projects? According to Alan Greenspan and Adrian Wooldridge in “Capitalism in America: A History” (2018), “Today bigger highway projects take a decade just to clear the various bureaucratic hurdles before workers can actually get to work.”

    GFW is a little too kind to Ben Domenech's paean to JFK's Moon Stunt than I was a few days back.

    I'd be happy if they could build Seabrook Unit 2 in a couple years.

URLs du Jour

2021-06-10

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  • Or Any Other Government Agency. Charles C. W. Cooke goes for the easy target: We Can’t Trust the IRS.

    What did you make of that big ProPublica story on the intimate tax information of America’s richest men? Personally, I concluded that I can’t trust the IRS.

    There are only a few ways in which the information ProPublica examined could have made it onto the Internet. It could have been leaked by someone who works for — or with — the IRS. It could have been hacked by an outside group. Or it could have been surreptitiously released by a member of Congress or a Biden administration staffer. Whichever one of these happened, the conclusion must be the same: We cannot trust the IRS.

    “Oh, who cares?” you might ask. “The victims are billionaires!” And indeed, they are. But I care. For a start, they’re American citizens, and they’re entitled to the same rights — and protected by the same laws — as everyone else. Their privacy does not matter less than mine just because they’re richer than I am. Besides, even if one wants to be entirely amoral about it, one should consider that if their information can be spilled onto the Internet, anyone’s can. And, if you were in their shoes, you’d probably care a lot more than they do. A government that is this reckless or sinister with the information of men who are lawyered to the eyeballs is unlikely to worry too much about being reckless or sinister with your information.

    `

    I'm betting on "sinister", by the way.


  • Wasting Away Again In Delusionville. I am pretty Sidney Powell's legal team will be quitting soon. Jacob Sullum recounts the latest: Sidney Powell, Who Denied That Her Wacky Election Conspiracy Claims Were Statements of Fact, Now Says She Will Prove They Were True.

    Former Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell, who faces defamation lawsuits seeking billions of dollars in damages because of her wacky claims about presidential election fraud, argues that her accusations against Dominion Voting Systems are not actionable because "no reasonable person" would have understood them as statements of fact. But her comments at a conference last month in Dallas undermine that already risible defense.

    "I don't think they realized that some of us litigators were going to catch on and hold their feet to the fire and expose what really happened," Powell said during the "For God & Country: Patriot Roundup" gathering on Memorial Day weekend, which also featured prominent election conspiracy theorists such as former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former Florida congressman Allen West, and Rep. Louie Gohmert (R–Texas). She predicted that Dominion's lawsuit will be dismissed because "we meant what we said, and we have the evidence to back it up." If the lawsuit proceeds, she added, "then we will get discovery against Dominion, and we will be on offense." Powell also held out hope that Donald Trump "can simply be reinstated" after "a new inauguration" once her claim that Joe Biden stole the election with Dominion's help is verified.

    By the way: if you would like Pun Salad to link to your content, having the word "wacky" in the headline will measurably improve your chances.


  • Amazon Probably Has Body Cam Footage Of Its Self-Inflicted Wounds. Jack McEvoy at the Washington Free Beacon reports: Amazon Defends Sale of Anti-Cop Merchandise.

    Amazon has banned T-shirts mocking Vice President Kamala Harris and books critical of transgender ideology, but allows the sale of memorabilia proclaiming "Blue Lives Murder."

    Through Amazon, clothing makers are selling T-shirts, hats, bandannas, and masks that feature the anti-police slogan. Today for just $15.99 users can buy a "Blue Lives Murder" adjustable face mask and—for only $1 more—a baseball cap bearing the same slogan. Amazon defended the products, saying it strives to provide its customers "with the widest possible selection" of goods.

    Amazon has its guidelines for Offensive and Controversial Materials, which say (for non-books/music/video/DVD):

    Amazon does not allow products that promote, incite or glorify hatred, violence, racial, sexual or religious intolerance or promote organizations with such views.

    I'm pretty sure "Blue Lives Murder" products should count as promoting hatred. (Exercise for masochists: Try substituting "Black" for "Blue" and see how long your product stays up.)


  • It's 'Trickle Down' For Leftists. In her latest column, Veronique de Rugy is Demystifying the Magical Multiplier Myth.

    The scale and scope of government spending expansion in the last year are unprecedented. Because Uncle Sam doesn't have the money, lots of it went on the government's credit card. The deficit and debt skyrocketed. But this is only the beginning. The Biden administration recently proposed a $6 trillion budget for fiscal 2022, two-thirds of which would be borrowed.

    Obviously, the politicians pushing money out always make extravagant promises about the economic growth that will result from their generous use of other people's money. A new study by George Mason University economist Garett Jones and myself dispels some of the magical thinking that goes on in this area.

    The de Rugy/Jones policy brief she mentions is here; "Keynesian Stimulus: A Virtuous Semicircle?"


  • As Usual, The Media Have Moved On To Different Lies. Glenn Greenwald chronicles the collapse of Yet Another Media Tale.

    For more than a year, it has been consecrated media fact that former President Donald Trump and his White House, on June 1 of last year, directed the U.S. Park Police to use tear gas against peaceful Lafayette Park protesters, all to enable a Trump photo-op in front of St. John's Church. That this happened was never presented as a possibility or likelihood but as indisputable truth. And it provoked weeks of unmitigated media outrage, presented as one of the most egregious assaults on the democratic order in decades.

    This tale was so pervasive in the media landscape that it would be impossible for any one article to compile all the examples. “Peaceful Protesters Tear-Gassed To Clear Way For Trump Church Photo-Op,” read the NPR headline on June 1. The New York Times ran with: “Protesters Dispersed With Tear Gas So Trump Could Pose at Church.” CNN devoted multiple segments to venting indignation while the on-screen graphic declared: “Peaceful Protesters Near White House Tear-Gassed, Shot With Rubber Bullets So Trump Can Have Church Photo Op.”

    Much more at the link, including the shouting-down of skeptics by "fact checkers".

    But "the media narrative was false from start to finish."

URLs du Jour

2021-06-09

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  • IRS Delenda Est. The WSJ comments on the Return of the IRS Scandal. In case you missed the news, ProPublica was the recipient of illegally leaked tax returns of the Rich and Famous.

    This still leaves the real scandal, which is that someone leaked confidential IRS information about individuals to serve a political agenda. This is the same tax agency that pursued a vendetta against conservative nonprofit groups during the Obama Administration. Remember Lois Lerner ?

    This is also the same IRS that Democrats now want to infuse with $80 billion more to chase a fanciful amount of uncollected taxes. As part of this effort, Mr. Biden wants the IRS to collect “gross inflows and outflows on all business and personal accounts from financial institutions.” Why? So the information can be leaked to ProPublica?

    The IRS says it has begun an investigation into the tax-return disclosure, and by all means send the guilty to prison. But Congress should also not trust the IRS with any more power and money than it already has.

    The point of the leak was almost certainly to drum up political support for some punitive tax scheme aimed at "exorbitant" wealth and/or unrealized capital gains.

    How many IRS people have access to the data that was leaked?

    Obviously, the answer is "too many".

    The IRS should not get another additional dime in its budget unless and until it's found the leakers, they've been sentenced to jail, and safeguards are put in place so this never happens again.


  • Let's Be Frank. Thomas Frank, that is. He's an independent mind, a left-wing populist willing to call out bullshit on his side. He writes at the Guardian: If the Wuhan lab-leak hypothesis is true, expect a political earthquake.

    There was a time when the Covid pandemic seemed to confirm so many of our assumptions. It cast down the people we regarded as villains. It raised up those we thought were heroes. It prospered people who could shift easily to working from home even as it problematized the lives of those Trump voters living in the old economy.

    Like all plagues, Covid often felt like the hand of God on earth, scourging the people for their sins against higher learning and visibly sorting the righteous from the unmasked wicked. “Respect science,” admonished our yard signs. And lo!, Covid came and forced us to do so, elevating our scientists to the highest seats of social authority, from where they banned assembly, commerce, and all the rest.

    We cast blame so innocently in those days. We scolded at will. We knew who was right and we shook our heads to behold those in the wrong playing in their swimming pools and on the beach. It made perfect sense to us that Donald Trump, a politician we despised, could not grasp the situation, that he suggested people inject bleach, and that he was personally responsible for more than one super-spreading event. Reality itself punished leaders like him who refused to bow to expertise. The prestige news media even figured out a way to blame the worst death tolls on a system of organized ignorance they called “populism.”

    But these days the consensus doesn’t consense quite as well as it used to. Now the media is filled with disturbing stories suggesting that Covid might have come — not from “populism” at all, but from a laboratory screw-up in Wuhan, China. You can feel the moral convulsions beginning as the question sets in: What if science itself is in some way culpable for all this?

    Yes, "consense" is an actual word. I didn't know that, but looked it up.


  • Propaganda Propagates. David Harsanyi notes the latest effort at making up history: The 1619 Project Comes for the Second Amendment.

    Left-wing academic Carol Anderson’s new book, The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America, is all over the news. “The Second Amendment is not about guns — it’s about anti-Blackness, a new book argues,” reads a CNN headline. NPR claims that the author has uncovered the racist “roots” of the Second Amendment.

    This is wishful thinking. The Second is an attempt — much like the 1619 Project — to reimagine history in purely racial terms. The result is tendentious polemic that suffers not only from a paucity of historical evidence, but from a dishonest rendering of the facts we do know.

    After comprehensively detailing the constitutional debate over slavery and the nefariousness of that institution, Anderson takes the liberty of asserting that the Second Amendment was “not some hallowed ground but rather a bribe, paid again with Black bodies.” This is a contention that isn’t backed by a single contemporaneous quote or piece of hard evidence in the book.

    I foresee fawning reviews! And I bet… yup, the book is already on order at Portsmouth (NH) Public Library.


  • Senate Crones Gotta Crony. Eric Boehm minces no words on the latest legislative porkfest: The Senate’s Industrial Policy Bill Is a Debt-Financed Corporate Giveaway That Lobbyists Love.

    Before the end of the week, and possibly as soon as later today, the Senate will vote on a major industrial policy bill that spends $195 billion, with much of it funneled to high-tech manufacturing.

    The United States Innovation and Competition Act of 2021 is being widely framed as a bipartisan effort to stand up to China. The New York Times, for example, describes the effort as "powered by rising fears among members of both parties that the United States is losing its edge against China and other authoritarian governments that have invested heavily in developing cutting-edge technologies." Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y), the lead sponsor of the 1,500-page package, ominously tells the Times that "if we don't step up our game right now, we will fall behind the rest of the world."

    "That's what this legislation is ultimately about," Schumer adds.

    But if you want to know what this legislation is really about, you have to skip down several paragraphs to where the Times notes that the bill's "popularity made it a magnet for industry lobbyists and lawmakers' pet priorities."

    Unsurprisingly, our state's Senators lined up in support:

    I chastised them both with a link to Eric's article. Because I enjoy making futile gestures on Twitter. The legislation passed the Senate last night 68-32. The only non-Republican to vote against: Bernie. (Inexplicably, one of my faves, Ben Sasse, voted Yea. What the hell, Senator?)

When She Was Good

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This is a followup novel to Michael Robotham's Good Girl, Bad Girl, which I read earlier this year. Caveat lector: I can't imagine trying to read When She Was Good without reading Good Girl, Bad Girl first. Don't do that.

The narrative alternates between forensic psychologist Cyrus Haven and teen Evie Cormac. Both have serious psychological problems, and come by them honestly: years back, Evie was found cowering in a secret room in a house occupied by a corpse who had been tortured to death. Cyrus, for his part comes from a broken home: specifically, broken by his schizophrenic brother who slaughtered mom, dad, and sis. Yeesh!

But they have their strengths as well: Cyrus has Holmesian powers of observation and deduction; Evie has an uncanny (and useful) ability to detect lies, combined with a feral skill for survival in hostile environments.

This book is devoted to teasing out the truth of Evie's backstory, how she came to be hidden away in the secret room and who was responsible for putting her there. Unfortunately, that's complicated by the evildoers behind the (previously mentioned) torture and death. Those shadowy folks are still in play, which makes Evie's situation perilous. Without spoiling things too much: they have their tendrils everywhere, trying their murderous best to cover up their crimes.

A lot of gritty, unpleasant, sordid goings-on here. It's set in Britain, so there's also a lot of tea.


Last Modified 2021-06-21 5:30 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2021-06-08

  • She Was Told There Would Be No Math. Eric Boehm takes on a wacky scheme: Elizabeth Warren’s Plan To Close the ‘Tax Gap’ Doesn’t Add Up.

    Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) says her plan to more than double the annual IRS budget would allow the federal government to collect an extra $1.75 trillion over the next 10 years.

    But that windfall of new revenue—generated by beefing up IRS enforcement and giving the federal tax cops more authority to snoop through Americans' financial records and even bank statements looking for targets to audit—seems unlikely. Despite lawmakers' eagerness to scoop up more revenue without having to increase tax rates, the estimates offered in Warren's plan are far out of line with official projections about the size of the so-called "tax gap" and the amount of revenue that can be captured with additional enforcement.

    Our Getty Image du Jour shows the Senator pushing for a different wacky scheme. exorbitant spending on "universal childcare".

    Whenever I see a politician advocating for "universal X", my reflex reaction is "… including the Klingons?"


  • I Predict This Will Not Happen. Scott Alexander has an interesting idea: Instead Of Pledging To Change The World, Pledge To Change Prediction Markets. An interesting look back at "pledging":

    In April, Joe Biden pledged to halve US emissions (from their 2005 max) by 2030.

    This is nice, but I can't help but remember eg Australia's 2009 Copenhagen summit pledge to decrease emissions 5% by 2020 (in fact, they increased 17%). Or Brazil's pledge at the same summit to cut emissions 38% by 2020 (in fact, they increased 45%). Or Canada's pledge for -20% (they got +1%). I'm not cherry-picking bad actors here, I'm just going through the alphabet (pledges source, outcomes source) . For that matter, what about George W. Bush's pledge to return Americans to the moon by 2020?

    All of these pledges have one thing in common - they expire long after the relevant officials are out of power (and in Biden's case, probably dead). As hard as it is to hold politicians accountable in normal situations, it's even worse here. Sure enough, prediction aggregator Metaculus shows that forecasters only give a 15% chance that we reach Biden's emissions target by 2030.

    Scott says Biden should pledge to move the prediction market number instead, to at least 51%.

    I foresee difficulties:

    • Biden doesn't have the foggiest idea what prediction markets are, or how they work.
    • Neither do all but a tiny sliver of Americans.
    • If Biden's efforts failed to move the prediction markets to his goel, Scott thinks we could "hold it against him" in a future election. But (a) he probably won't run again; (b) American voters have a lousy record of holding failed promises against politicians.

    That Metaculus site is interesting, though.


  • In The Pun Salad "No Duh" Department. Kenny Xu and Christian Watson take on a bogus argument: No, Critical Race Theory Isn’t a New Civil Rights Movement. (Just the Opposite).

    Critical Race Theory has become a prominent subject in American political discourse. Several state legislatures have advanced measures aimed at banning it from public schools, on the basis that its rigid moral categorization of people as either “privileged” or “oppressed” is offensive and even racist. Yet supporters argue that Critical Race Theory is vital to the project of eliminating racism, which they see as an omnipresent contaminant in every sphere of American life. Only by constantly and explicitly taking race into account in every aspect of policy-making, the theory goes, can we rid ourselves of its presence.

    One of the most ideologically ambitious defenses of Critical Race Theory presents the doctrine as the next logical stage in the process that began with the civil rights movement. This is the argument made by the American Bar Association, the largest voluntary association of lawyers in the world. The ABA instructs us that Critical Race Theory provides a “powerful approach for examining race in society,” as well as a “lens through which the civil rights lawyer can imagine a more just nation.”

    One can understand why Critical Race Theory’s proponents would seek to link it to the civil rights movement, which properly enjoys a hallowed status in American history—and which yielded some of the most revered and intensely studied Supreme Court judgments on law-school curricula. But this line of argument, however rhetorically attractive, is logically incorrect: Critical Race Theory (often abbreviated as CRT) explicitly undermines the intellectual and moral foundations of color-blind American liberalism.

    You shouldn't expect honest arguments from the CRT advocates.


  • Linda Richman Reincarnated. You have to have a heart of stone not to chuckle at this Slashdot story. Microsoft's Kate Crawford: 'AI Is Neither Artificial Nor Intelligent'.

    What should people know about how AI products are made?

    We aren't used to thinking about these systems in terms of the environmental costs. But saying, "Hey, Alexa, order me some toilet rolls," invokes into being this chain of extraction, which goes all around the planet... We've got a long way to go before this is green technology. Also, systems might seem automated but when we pull away the curtain we see large amounts of low paid labour, everything from crowd work categorizing data to the never-ending toil of shuffling Amazon boxes. AI is neither artificial nor intelligent. It is made from natural resources and it is people who are performing the tasks to make the systems appear autonomous.

    Um. Isn't everything made from natural resources?

    Trust me, it gets worse. But also funnier. She's learned how to babble all the clichés.

    As noted, Kate works with Microsoft in some prestigious position. I can see why she's down on AI, because for all the immense talent at Microsoft, they still haven't come up with decent progress meters. ("25% complete"? You lie!)

    (Didn't get the "Linda Richman" reference? Explanation here.)


  • It Turns Out The Answer Is: None Whatsoever. Charles C. W. Cooke wonders (NRPLUS) What Use Is Chris Cuomo to CNN?.

    At this point in the proceedings, one is tempted to conclude that Chris Cuomo must have laced CNN’s corporate offices with dynamite and informed the powers that be that, if he goes, they go, too. What else could explain the network’s eternal tolerance for being embarrassed and degraded by the man? Here, at the tail end of his long experiment in deficiency, Cuomo resembles nothing more keenly than the inadequate tee-baller who gets to stay in past eight or nine strikes because his uncle coaches the team. His ratings are poor. His insights are vacuous. His conduct is a permanent source of ignominy. All the perfumes of Albany could not sweeten this little man. “What’s in a name?” inquired Shakespeare. Little did he know.

    It is unclear why Cuomo was selected by CNN to begin with. He’s a lawyer who knows nothing of the law; a journalist who knows nothing of journalism; an American who knows nothing of America. His temper is third-rate, his interests are bewilderingly narrow, he possesses no discernible sense of shame or self-knowledge, and the opinions he proffers are so ruthlessly subordinated to expedience that hypocrisy is his default mode. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s maxim that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” was meant as an extolment of the virtues of personal growth. Cuomo seems to have taken it literally.

    Related query: What use is CNN to anyone? I fear the answer is the same as above. They seem to have abandoned any pretense of being a "news network".

    (I don't watch Fox News either. I can barely stand to watch a half hour of local TV news, and my eyes roll a lot.)

Job: A Comedy of Justice

[Amazon Link]

Another book down on the "Great Heinlein Rereading" project. Specifically, rereading my first edition, purchased back in 1984. It is one of the "Late Heinlein novels", but (for me) it stands head and shoulders above his other books in that phase.

Back in 2010, I listed it as one of my "Ten Influential Books". And I'll just quote my plot summary from there:

It tells the story of Alexander Hergensheimer, who's far from the typical Heinlein hero. In fact, he's kind of a jerk. But he's roped into walking on fire in Polynesia, and (somehow) this starts bouncing him back and forth to multiple universes, where he meets Margrethe, the love of his life; it makes Lost look like a missed turn on the way to the supermarket.

(Kids, Lost was a TV series that ran from 2004 until 2010.)

Expanding some on that "multiple universes" bit: it becomes evident (page 2 spoiler) that Hergensheimer's "home" universe isn't ours. And neither is the one he gets initially bounced to. But (to his great fortune) he gets involved with the lovely Margrethe, a hostess on the cruise ship on which he tries to get back to (his) America. She (somehow) gets caught in his odyssey, travelling with him to each successive universe. And they fall in love.

What's going on? I won't even hint at it. But there's a big clue right on … nope, I won't even do that.

Influential? To me, yes. I got married not long after reading it the first time. I'm pretty sure this book cured me of my gamophobia.

URLs du Jour

2021-06-07

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • Andrew Sullivan Forgiven, For Now. He seemed to go a little nuts about Sarah Palin's uterus awhile back, but he makes some needs-to-be-said points in his channelling of Orwell: Our Politics And The English Language.

    From time to time, I make sure to re-read George Orwell’s classic essay, “Politics And The English Language.” It remains the best guide to writing non-fiction, and it usually prompts a wave of self-loathing even more piercing than my habitual kind. What it shows so brilliantly is how language itself is central to politics, that clarity is as hard as it is vital, and that blather is as lazy as it is dangerous. It’s dangerous because the relationship between our words and our politics goes both ways: “[The English language] becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.” We create language and language creates us. If the language is corrupted, so are we.

    It's a recurring theme here. The most egregious example of late was the open letter from the UNH Lecturers United (still available on their home page) which I discussed in full here. It contained the sentence:

    Since the election of Donald Trump, faculty have been encouraged on multiple occasions to respect and tolerate the political positions of students that they may find reprehensible.

    Even I, with negligible formal education, noticed the dangling modifier. What's "reprehensible" modifying here: the students, or their political positions?

    It doesn't matter, other than to illustrate the point Orwell was making: the synergy between the foolish thoughts of the UNH Lecturers and their slovenly language.

    Andrew has his own example, a recent statement of "The Institute for Antiracism in Medicine.” His summary, in language worthy of Orwell: "It is chock-full of long, compounded nouns and adjectives, riddled with the passive voice, lurching and leaning, like a passenger walking the aisle on a moving train, on pre-packaged phrases to keep itself going."


  • Or Maybe You'd Prefer To Not Do That. Kyle Smith lays down an ultimatum: You Can Have My Mask When You Pry It off My Cold, Dead Face.

    Sure, I’ve read the studies that say masks probably don’t do much of anything, and yes, I’ve been quintuple-vaccinated. But I’m going to keep wearing my mask forever. It feels like the right thing to do. I know this because it’s the opposite of what those horrible right-wingers think. You call this a meaningless strip of fabric; I call it my emotional-support cloth.

    Masking up every day when I get out of bed fills me with a sense of calm, wellness, and moral superiority. Frankly, I’m not ready for a future in which I just go around the community without a visible display of my self-righteousness. I suppose I could get a Queen Kamala tattoo on my face or something, but that seems impractical. (What will I do when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is president, haha.)

    Signaling things to others is a really important part of my identity. That’s why I have one of those “DARWIN” bumper stickers on my fuel-efficent Mini Cooper, why I have an “IN THIS HOUSE WE BELIEVE” yard sign (okay, in my case it’s a window sign because we don’t have a yard in Park Slope), and why I spent nine years getting a Ph.D. in Cultural Studies. Keeping a mask on indefinitely is like shorthand for all of the stuff I want to indicate to others, right there on my face.

    I believe Kyle is angling for a higher education gig. He should try UNH. The "Lecturers United" might not recognize his reprehensibility until it was too late.


  • Good Advice To Which Few In Power Will Pay Attention. Katherine Mangu-Ward has it, from the latest print Reason: Don’t Try To Fix Big Tech With Politics.

    I don't know the correct level of content moderation by Facebook, Twitter, Google, or Amazon. And neither do you.

    Sometimes I can pinpoint what looks to me like an obvious misstep: Facebook's decision to block a New York Post story about Hunter Biden's laptop in the weeks before the 2020 presidential election, for instance, or Amazon's refusal to carry a small number of books about trans issues without adequately explaining its decision. Tweets containing threats of violence left up indefinitely while mere tasteless jokes get swiftly removed.

    But I also know deciding what and whom to allow on your platform is a hard problem. Scale is hard: I know I'm not seeing millions of pieces of spam eliminated, bots blocked, irrelevant content filtered, duplicates removed. Consistency is hard: I know sometimes what's in my feed is the work of a robot doing a good job following bad directions, and sometimes it's a human being doing a bad job following good directions. The application of Hanlon's razor is almost certainly called for in many cases of perceived bias: "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity."

    We're fortunate to have KMW. At least when Big Government has wrecked Big Tech in a few years, we can dig out the article and say "She told you so."

    Um, maybe we should preserve a hard copy, just in case things are really wrecked.


  • That Veil Around Your Pro-Censorship Argument Is Pretty Thin, Alex Via Slashdot, I came across a Fast Company article from Alex Pasternack, a bad example illustrating KMW's point: How Amazon became an engine for anti-vaccine misinformation. It's pretty ominous:

    Search for “vaccines” on Amazon’s bookstore, and a banner encourages shoppers to “learn more” about COVID-19, with a link to the Centers for Disease Control. But the text almost vanishes amid the eye-catching book covers spreading out below, many of which carry Amazon’s orange “bestseller” badge.

    One top-ranked book that promises “the other side of the story” of vaccine science is #1 on Amazon’s list for “Health Policy.” Next to it, smiling infants grace the cover of the top-selling book in “Teen Health,” co-authored by an Oregon pediatrician whose license was suspended last year over an approach to vaccinations that placed “many of his patients at serious risk of harm.” Another book, Anyone Who Tells You That Vaccines Are Safe and Effective Is Lying, by a prominent English conspiracy theorist, promises “the facts about vaccination — so that you can make up your own mind.” There are no warning notices or fact checks—studies have shown no link between vaccines and autism, for instance—but there are over 1,700 five-star ratings and a badge: the book is #1 on Amazon’s list for “Children’s Vaccination & Immunization.”

    Ah, that's the problem with free speech, ain't it? People will use it to peddle their lies and fantasies.

    That's also the problem with Amazon's removal of some books from its platform based on their vague "Content Guidelines". Once you start yanking books, there's no easy way to stop sliding down that slippery slope. People like Alex will always be around to demand you yank according to their guidelines.

    As I type, the worldwide deaths blamed on Covid according to Google is 3.73 million. How many of those are attributable to people buying bad books on Amazon? Maybe more than zero. But almost certainly a rounding error on the total.

    But that number is tiny compared to the deaths brought to us, directly and indirectly, by various totalitarian ideologies. And yet you can still by this book and this book at Amazon. Why isn't Alex griping about that?

    But Alex (see his article) is especially critical toward books that have (um) a less-than-reverential tone toward Dr. Fauci and the CDC. Understandable, right? We all know that the CDC and Fauci are eminently trustworthy. Right?


  • You Would Hope So. David R. Henderson wonders if it's this simple: Less Regulation, More Information: Better Results?.

    Many economists, after noting that government regulations have harmful unintended consequences, advocate replacing government regulation with government-provided information. These economists see the bad consequences of having government officials make decisions for people and not allowing people to make their own decisions. At the same time, they argue, the government officials might have good information and if they simply provide that information to the public, that will improve the situation.

    In the cases other economists and I discuss, a replacement of regulation with government provision of information would be an improvement. With such a shift from regulation to information provision, people could take the government’s information into account but still make their own decisions. Would it be preferable to a situation with no regulation? For it to be preferable, the government would have to provide good information and not mislead people. But does the government generally provide good information? Figuring out the answer would take years of research, but recent evidence during the COVID-19 pandemic, and some basic reasoning about government officials’ incentives, should make us hesitant to trust government information.

    Henderson provides examples of mis/disinformation from the "trustworthy" government officials. There's no substitute for skepticism and examining incentives.

URLs du Jour

2021-06-06

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • Recommended Reading. Well, pretty much everything I link to is recommended reading, unless otherwise indicated. But Elizabeth Nolan Brown's Reason article, The Bipartisan Antitrust Crusade Against Big Tech, is a real tour de force, and if you're interested in the topic at all, it is Pun Salad RTWT-Imperative.

    Is Facebook a monopoly? Should Amazon be forced to do business with the new social media platform Parler? Is Apple harming its customers—and maybe democracy—by installing the Safari web browser on iPhones? Did Google bully people into using its search engine?

    All of these questions have been raised in recent U.S. antitrust probes and lawsuits. The queries are unlikely to result in widespread improvements to the welfare of tech consumers—which, these days, includes just about everyone. Yet some of the country's top prosecutors, pundits, bureaucrats, and elected officials have made them a priority, often in open defiance of a longstanding principle that says ordinary customers should be at the center of conversations about antitrust.

    Under Presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden, a bipartisan brigade of policy makers, attorneys general, and activist experts has become committed to excoriating America's most popular tech companies as evil monopolists, launching complicated claims against them in court, and working to change laws to make these endeavors go down more smoothly.

    As ENB points out, the movement doesn't have economics or consumer benefit on its side. It's about exerting red-meat political power. Meat that (for two examples) Senators Elizabeth Warren (D) and Josh Hawley (R) are salivating over.


  • RIP, NH HB544. Apparently the legislation is dead here in New Hampshire, but it's still an active national issue. Daniel Henninger weighs in on Banning Critical Race Theory.

    Parents of children at public and private schools across the country discovered that administrators, adopting the pre-Floyd arguments of the group Black Lives Matter, had changed the schools’ curricula to give priority to racial issues. What many parents thought had begun as a good-faith discussion about race suddenly appeared to be an ideological fait accompli. No debate, no discussion. It just showed up.

    Reactions erupted in, of all places, two liberal private schools in New York City—Dalton and Grace Church. An anonymous open letter from Dalton parents said, “Every class this year has had an obsessive focus on race and identity, ‘racist cop’ reenactments in science, ‘decentering whiteness’ in art class, learning about white supremacy and sexuality in health class.”

    Even at the most basic level of common sense (apologies again for the archaism), a parent might wonder: After the Covid pandemic’s lost year of basic education, this is what you spent the time doing?

    I'm open to the argument that HB544 was flawed, but its motivation was completely understandable.


  • Unfortunately, Spouting Shrill Nonsense Is Fun For Some. George F. Will wonders: When will all of the shrill nonsense stop? Perhaps when people are bored enough.

    Rutgers University’s chancellor and provost, who are weathervanes in human form, lack the courage of their convictions, which they also lack. First, on May 26, they announced themselves “saddened” and “greatly concerned” about recent anti-Semitic violence. Soon, however, they crouched into the academic bureaucrat’s gush-and-grovel mode because Rutgers’s Students for Justice in Palestine objected. The two officials promptly agreed that their first statement, by failing to “communicate support for our Palestinian community,” did not serve the university’s “beloved community” as “a place where all identities can feel validated.” Rutgers’s president then denied that their second statement was an apology. It was headlined “An Apology.”

    This episode, illustrating academia’s familiar compound of vanity, mendacity and cowardice, was not startling. It followed the University of California Press, which was displeased with Israel’s response to Hamas’s rockets, proclaiming “Solidarity and Support for Palestinians in their Fight for Liberation.” And a Brandeis University dean, who is White, notifying the world, which had not sought her opinion, that “all White people are racist.”

    I wish boredom would work. I have my doubts.


  • NARC. Really? Dominic Pino's headline implies a very long NR Corner post, but it's concise: The Problems with a New Proposal for High-Speed Rail in New England.

    Politico‘s Sam Mintz reports that “22 members of Congress from the Northeast are asking for federal funding for a new entity they’re calling the North Atlantic Rail Corporation (NARC) to build a $105 billion high-speed rail system connecting New York and New England.”

    Republicans should tell them, in no uncertain terms, “Absolutely not.”

    Pino demolishes the four arguments set forth on the NARC website. For example, as for their "National Competitiveness" section:

    If you only listened to rail advocates, you’d think Western Europe and Asia are the only places in the world with developed economies. Canada and Australia also have developed economies, and they don’t have high-speed rail. Their transportation systems are based on highways and airplanes. Sound familiar? The United States is geographically much more similar to Canada and Australia than it is to Western Europe or Asia. We have very low population density and a very large amount of land. Our situation, like Canada’s and Australia’s, is not well suited for passenger rail. That doesn’t make us, or them, less competitive economically.

    And of course New Hampshire CongressCritters Pappas and Kuster are two of the 22 signed on to the gimme-your-money letter sent to the chairman and ranking member of the House Committee on Ladling Out The Pork Transportation and Infrastructure.

    The NARC proposal includes the "Granite State Express", which sets up "improved electrified commuter rail service from Concord, Manchester and Nashua, NH to Boston."

    And then, for something closer to (my) home: "Upgrades to the Downeaster from Boston to Brunswick, ME, including electrification, high level platforms, and hourly service".

    As always, the costs will be vastly underestimated, benefits vastly overestimated.


  • Aint Doin' No Kowtow, Nohow. Jonah Goldberg devotes his free G-File to A Slow Kowtow to China.

    One of the most remarkable—and remarkably corrupt—things about our culture is that it is intensely fashionable to disparage, condemn, or slander American government, American history, and America itself. It’s also equally unfashionable to even criticize China—a country with no freedom of speech, no freedom of assembly, and no democracy. In some circles, simply raising the fact that the Chinese politico-military nexus has a million people in a gulag archipelago of concentration camps is proof of your lack of sophistication and seriousness. Just ask Lebron James.

    Major corporations have no problem signaling their fashionable wokeness by boycotting Georgia, North Carolina, or Indiana. But ask them why they do business with a country that is crushing democracy in Hong Kong and ethnically cleansing Tibet and East Turkestan, and you’ll get an answer of mumbling doublespeak. Gay people have more rights in every state in the union than they do anywhere in China. And unlike America, China actually has a real policy of Jim Crow and apartheid. 

    Last year, Apple’s Tim Cook committed the company to fighting the “the fear, hurt, and outrage rightly provoked by the senseless killing of George Floyd and a much longer history of racism.” Fair enough. But why is he doing so much business with a country that, according to the Global Slavery Index, has more than 3 million slaves today?

    I'm thinking about a new computer. Apple's out, of course. But can you even get a Windows machine that's not got China components? This 2020 thread is not encouraging.


Last Modified 2021-06-06 2:37 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2021-06-05

  • Apples and Oranges. A few days back, my dead-trees WSJ featured a front-page graphic:

    [Apples/Oranges]

    The referenced article contains latest data/fun facts about CEO Pay. I found the poor bastards on the low end of the scale to be the most interesting:

    Twenty-four S&P 500 CEOs made less than $5 million last year, down from 28 to 33 in recent years. Twitter Inc.’s co-founder Jack Dorsey made $1.40—a penny for each character in the social-messaging platform’s original 140-character limit—and gas pipeline owner Kinder Morgan Inc.’s Steven Kean made $1.

    The lowest-paid of all, at least as far as reported compensation goes, was Tesla Inc.’s Elon Musk, one of the world’s richest executives. He reported zero pay for 2020—even as he raked in stock options worth $32 billion under his landmark 2018 pay package.

    Please note, however, that the S&P 500 is not a static group. Companies are added and dropped from that population four times per year. (I don't know if Standard does the adds while Poor does the deletes, but that would make sense.) Although the reconstitution isn't automatic, the index is supposed to track the largest companies based on market capitalization.

    So (and this is my point) the well-paid CEOs are heading up the most successful corporations (by that measure) in America. The (relative) duds get dropped.

    The stat the WSJ offers in comparison is (more or less) every worker employed by every company/organization/institution/etc. No matter how successful/unsuccessful the employer.

    So it's not a particularly apt comparison.

    But an interesting tidbit: the S&P500 index is up about 248% since 2012.

    That makes the CEO pay raise of a mere 38.9% look kind of puny.


  • More On Index Churn. Mark J. Perry likes to keep track of the dynamism of market indexes, and if you're interested, here's his latest: Only 51 US companies have been on the Fortune 500 since 1955, thanks to the creative destruction that fuels economic prosperity. RTWT, but an excerpt to fuel your appetite:

    Economic Lessons: The fact that nearly nine of every 10 Fortune 500 companies in 1955 have gone bankrupt, merged, reorganized, or contracted demonstrates that there’s been a lot of market disruption, churning, and Schumpeterian creative destruction over the last six decades. It’s reasonable to assume that when the Fortune 500 list is released 60 years from now in 2080, almost all of today’s Fortune 500 companies will no longer exist as currently configured and will be replaced by new companies in new, emerging industries that we can’t even imagine today, and for that we should be extremely thankful. The constant turnover in the Fortune 500 is a positive sign of the dynamism and innovation that characterizes a vibrant consumer-oriented market economy, and that dynamic turnover is speeding up in today’s hyper-competitive global economy.

    More analysis at Innosight. Key point: "Corporate longevity remains in long-term decline, according to Innosight’s biennial corporate longevity reports. Our latest analysis shows the 30- to 35-year average tenure of S&P 500 companies in the late 1970s is forecast to shrink to 15-20 years this decade."


  • YouTube Lies. David Harsanyi has the smoking gun: YouTube Censorship of Israel-Video Shows it Does Not ‘Carefully’ Review Content.

    Last week, John Oliver ran a puerile critique of Israel on his HBO program Last Week Tonight. Though I’ve never subjected myself to his show, I am aware of the segment because Naor Meningher and Eytan Weinstein, the guys who run a small YouTube channel called Nice Jewish Boys, posted a video debunking the comedian’s claims through a video fisking. After getting 60,000 hits, however, the duo was informed by YouTube that the clip was being blocked for violating the company’s community standards relating to “hate speech.”

    Meningher and Weinstein responded, asking the company for an explanation. Two minutes after sending their email — the video they produced, incidentally, was 16 minutes and 15 seconds long — the social-media giant responded: “We have reviewed your content carefully, and have confirmed that it violates our hate speech policies. We know that is probably disappointing news, but it’s our job to ensure YouTube is a safe place for all.”

    You got that right: YouTube claimed to have "carefully" reviewed a 16 minute video in less than two minutes.

    The video was eventually restored after the Israeli newspaper Haaretz queried YouTube about the block. "The company claimed it made a mistake."

    In a more perfect world there would have been an additional Pythonesque "Those responsible have been sacked". Alas, I fear those responsible will continue doing their woke mischief.


  • Why I Blog. Arnold Kling outlines The Real Problem of Social Media Discourse.

    If you think that the problem with discourse online is the way that it allow falsehoods to spread, think again. Even if you could somehow purge social media of every lie, it would still be a sewer. Twitter, Facebook, the New York Times, and Fox News are outrage machines. The articles and posts that attract approval and sharing are those that make people in one tribe feel more reassured that the other tribe is evil.

    I believe that media corporations could improve discourse if they wanted to do so. But I fear that Peter Coleman is correct (in this conversation with Jonathan Haidt) in pointing out that the feeling of outrage actually stimulates a pleasure center. It is addictive in that sense, and a media business model that relies on maintaining people’s attention will cater to that addiction.

    I'm pretty sure he's on the right track. Which is why, these days, my use of Facebook/Twitter is rare. And Facebook is pretty much restricted to friends, family, and community.


  • Yeah, But I Only Really Care About Social Security. (Just kidding. Kind of.) Megan McArdle does her take on demographic doom: The declining U.S. birthrate has implications beyond Social Security.

    The United States used to be the only big, rich nation to have above-replacement fertility. That stopped being true during the Great Recession, and our birthrates keep slipping. The latest data put expected lifetime fertility at about 1.6 births per woman, a record low — and this was the trend before the pandemic. Nor does this reflect a delay as women settle down later: Birthrates declined for women ages 15 to 44.

    Yet President Biden’s new budget, which proposes massive deficits for the rest of the decade, is a proposition for a young country whose best growth years are still ahead. By 2031 the national debt is expected to reach 117 percent of gross domestic product, and interest payments are forecast to run more than $900 billion a year — about 14 percent of all projected tax revenue, up from the 7 percent projected for 2022.

    Running up debt like this signals one of two things: desperation in the face of an existential threat, such as a pandemic or world war, or a bet that incomes will grow even faster than the debt, so that over time it gets easier to service obligations. That’s why people tend to borrow most when they’re young, with fewer assets and lower incomes but high expectations.

    We’re not expecting another pandemic soon, and I hope we’re not preparing for World War III. Yet these demographic facts make extremely rapid economic growth almost as unlikely a possibility.

    In her calm, measured language, Megan foresees pain. Much pain.


  • Just The Headline Made Me Laugh. So here's just the headline: John The Baptist Not Invited Back To Potluck After Bringing Locust And Honey Casserole.

    Because, thanks to long-ago years of churchgoing, I remembered Matthew 3:4.

URLs du Jour

2021-06-04

  • Profiles in Courage. Titania tweets:

    In related news, from the Federalist: Biden Promises To Fly Gay Pride Flags 'Around The World,' Except Where Homosexuals Are Being Persecuted.


  • Can't Improve on Ed Morrisey's Snark. Which is:

    Alternate headline: No one expects the Woke Scientistic Inquisition!

    But seriously: I didn't expect death threats from fellow scientists over lab-leak theory.

    Vanity Fair does an extensive and impressive dive into the strange but pervasive attempts by the scientific, media, and government establishments to quash any discussion of the lab-leak hypothesis for COVID-19’s origin. It got so bad that former CDC director Robert Redfield got death threats for suggesting it publicly — from other scientists:

    Ed also notes this bit from the Vanity Fair article:

    With President Trump out of office, it should be possible to reject his xenophobic agenda and still ask why, in all places in the world, did the outbreak begin in the city with a laboratory housing one of the world’s most extensive collection of bat viruses, doing some of the most aggressive research?

    Dear Vanity Fair: it was always possible to do that. The failure to do so is yours.


  • Charlie Does A Titania Impression. And it's hilarious: Coronavirus Lab-Leak Theory Racist.

    It is truly disappointing that, even at this late stage in the pandemic, some Americans remain so addicted to racism and xenophobia that they are willing to countenance the theory that COVID-19 was mistakenly leaked from a Chinese research laboratory. To these people, I say this: We see you; we know what you are doing; and it won’t stand.

    Occam’s Razor dictates that there can only be one reason why people who believe that COVID-19 originated in a lab in China keep saying aloud that they believe that COVID-19 originated in a lab in China, and that is to drive anti-Asian hatred on the streets of large cities in the United States. In truth, the “lab-leak theory” — as it is now euphemistically called — is just the latest iteration of an old and ugly stereotype that has haunted America for decades. I remember all too well how the bullies in my kindergarten class used to taunt the AAPI kids. “Hey you,” they would say, “I’ll bet you work on gain-of-function research in an institute of virology and are reckless with your gloves!” It’s been two decades now, but I can still see the agonizing tears this ignorant barb provoked in its targets.

    Disentangling the satire: why do people think it's less racist to assume that those wacky Chinese bat-eating habits caused the pandemic?


  • And It's Another Excuse For Big Intrusive Government To Get Bigger And More Intrusive. Glenn Greenwald notes The New Domestic War on Terror Has Already Begun.

    The Department of Homeland Security on Friday issued a new warning bulletin, alerting Americans that domestic extremists may well use violence on the 100th Anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre. This was at least the fourth such bulletin issued this year by Homeland Security (DHS) warning of the same danger and, thus far, none of the fears it is trying to instill into the American population has materialized.

    The first was a January 14 warning, from numerous federal agencies including DHS, about violence in Washington, DC and all fifty state capitols that was likely to explode in protest of Inauguration Day (a threat which did not materialize). Then came a January 27 bulletin warning of “a heightened threat environment across the United States that is likely to persist over the coming weeks” from “ideologically-motivated violent extremists with objections to the exercise of governmental authority” (that warning also was not realized). Then there was a May 14 bulletin warning of right-wing violence “to attack higher-capacity targets,” exacerbated by the lifting of COVID lockdowns (which also never happened). And now we are treated to this new DHS warning about domestic extremists preparing violent attacks over Tulsa (it remains to be seen if a DHS fear is finally realized).

    Meanwhile, Chicago experienced 12 killed, 42 wounded in shootings over the May 22-23 weekend Memorial Day weekend was sort of a respite: At least 37 shot, with 3 killed.

    But Biden sees no political advantage to decrying that, and there's no opportunity for nest-feathering at DHS.


  • Null Hypothesis Watch. John McWhorter looks at the evidence: Diversity is Great, But It Doesn't Make Students Learn Better.

    As the Supremes are about to consider taking up yet another racial preferences case – the one about whether Asian applicants are being discriminated against at Harvard in favor of black and brown ones -- we are in for the usual round of endless euphemism.

    Wise heads will opine as if what we are talking about is administrators working with a pool of applicants of various races with dossiers of equal grades and test scores, hoping to assemble a class reflecting a rainbow of “diversity” from among them. The rub is supposedly that some doodooheads just think it’s plain “racist” to ever make such decisions with race in mind at all.

    We will be led to think – or told to pretend to think – that somebody is opposed to there being too many black kids in a class, that they want whites to retain their “privilege” in admissions, that, well … it’s not always easy to glean just what people are trying to get across. But basically, doodooheads think we should just be color-blind, out of some principle hovering somewhere between naivete and bigotry.

    Professor McWhorter is OK with "Affirmative Action", but thinks it should be based on socioeconomic status instead of genes. That would be an improvement.


  • Unfortunately, Actual Astronomy Isn't Doing Well. Veronique de Rugy goes to the metaphorical cosmos: Biden Shoots for the Stars With Astronomical Spending Proposals.

    Some emergencies require an increase in government spending, but that comes with an understanding that the higher levels of spending are unusual and will not be sustained. Unfortunately, this understanding seems to be lost on the Biden administration. Exhibit A is his proposed $6 trillion budget for Fiscal Year 2022 and the accompanying huge budget deficits on the books for the next decade.

    This is bad news for everybody except politicians and their cronies. It signals once again that contrary to the words spoken by the president during his inaugural address, unity is not in the cards for us Americans. In fact, this budget, which is unlikely to pass in its current form, demonstrates an unwillingness to govern and a preference for pandering to special interests.

    In related astronomical news: NASA’s New Telescope Is a Black Hole for Taxpayer Money.

    Some instances of government inefficiency are so spectacular that they clamor for our attention. Enter the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Twenty times over budget, 15 years behind schedule, and now delayed yet again, the JWST is an eye-catching example of how egregiously government agencies can waste taxpayers’ dollars. It also should remind Americans how risky it is to be overly cautious.

    I'm sure nothing like that will happen to all that stuff Biden wants to spend $6 trillion on.

A Better Man

[Amazon Link]

Mrs. Salad has read all the published novels in Louise Penny's "Inspector Gamache" series. I put it on my TBR list at some point; I can't remember why. But we own it on Kindle, so…

It's a series, and this is book number fifteen. Maybe not the best place to start. There are a lot of continuing characters, a number of references to events that happened in previous series installments, ongoing plot threads. Reader, if you've read books 1-14, you don't need me to tell you to read this one. You've already done that, or will soon.

In this book, Armand Gamache has returned to the Sûreté du Québec after unpleasant events shook up the department in one of those previous books. He takes on the case of a missing woman, Vivienne, who may have been the victim of foul play. Suspicion immediately falls on her brutish husband, a drunk who's abused her in the past. Vivienne's father is inconsolable, and also vengeful. Gamache not only has to find the woman, but keep her dad from wreaking violence on the perpetrator everyone seems to agree is guilty.

But is he, really? Since I hadn't read Penny books before, I had no clue: does she typically cast suspicion on one character, just to reveal the actual perpetrator in a Shocking Plot Twist?

Let it be said: I assumed the husband, vile as he was, was innocent. And I had a good alternate suspect lined up. Was I wrong? Not sayin'.

Oh, and spring flood waters are threatening Ganache's charming little Quebec village. And an art critic is threatening to wreck the career of one of the charming little village's painters.

Ms. Penny is a very good writer. (I'm disagreeing with some of the reviewers on Amazon here, who thought her effort here was poor, compared to her previous books.)

URLs du Jour

2021-06-03

  • Some don't mind if it's Jewish oxen being gored. At yesterday's Morning Jolt, Jim Geraghty observes (among other things):

    Our Dan McLaughlin observes that the same people who object to criticizing the government of China because it could fuel racism against Asian Americans . . . don’t mind criticizing the government of Israel or fear that it could fuel anti-Semitism.

    Dan's tweet:

    In related news, Jerry Coyne notes the statement by the University of Chicago Undergraduate Student Government (USG) containing: "From the river to the sea, USG supports a Palestine that is free.”

    Understandably, that's getting a lot of pushback, not only from Jerry. Who says: "I’ve been at the University of Chicago for 35 years now, but never have I felt so alienated, at least politically, from the student body."


  • UNH physicist accused and cancelled! Lawrence M. Krauss writes In Defense of the Universal Values of Science.

    Until recently, it seemed inconceivable to imagine that any physical or biological scientists could become so misguided as to argue against the empirical basis of their own fields. But we are living in strange times. This week, the Divisional Dean of Social Sciences at the University of Oregon sent an email to faculty “to encourage you all to attend this exciting presentation!”, by a visiting physicist, which was described as follows:

    Title: Scientists vs. Science: Race, Gender, and Anti-Intellectualism in Science

    Abstract: Black thought can help us free science from the white supremacist traditions of scientists. Scientists vs. Science will use Black feminist and anti-colonialist analyses to show that white supremacy is a total epistemic system that affects even our most “objective” areas of knowledge production. The talk hinges on the development of the concept of white empiricism, which I introduced to give a name to the way that anti-intellectual white supremacy plays a role in physicists’ analysis of when empirical data is important and what counts as empirical data. This white empiricism shapes both Black women’s (and other) experiences in physics and the actual knowledge produced about physics. Until this is understood and addressed directly, systems of domination will continue to play a major role in the practice of physics.

    Krauss calls this "racist nonsense", which seems kind. He doesn't name the "visiting physicist", but, gee, that abstract sounded awfully familiar, and a little clicking around revealed, yup, 'twas Chanda Prescod-Weinstein of the University Near Here,

    Chanda's talk was "abruptly cancelled" which is kind of a shame.


  • We need more expensive and pointless stunts. Ben Domenech thinks we should Follow JFK's Lead In Taking Risks For The Nation.

    Federalist Publisher Ben Domenech urged Americans to follow the lead of former President John F. Kennedy and take risks for the sake of their country.

    “In his call for a project of immense national importance, President Kennedy comes across as the leader of a free people committing us to a clear-eyed task of achieving something that seemed utterly impossible,” Domenech explained. “…Instead of patronizing the audience, he walks Americans through a challenge with clear language to explain why it’s important. In the Tocquevillian sense, he speaks to us as citizens, not subjects. Kennedy called us to undertake the moonshot as a free people for the good of all mankind. Such a national mega-project commitment with a nine-year horizon is basically unthinkable today. The politics of the 1960s allowed for it, but those of today do not.”

    I have problems with that. I was a space geek, raptly following NASA, and I will never forget the thrill of seeing Neil Armstrong setting foot on lunar soil.

    But JFK's moonshot was a political gimmick with an arbitrary goal to beat the USSR. It was a dead end, and it turned NASA into yet another federal agency wangling with Congresscritters for its share of tax money to stay alive.


  • Nothing new there. George Will looks askance at the "For The People Act": Democrats’ big voting bill is a proposal to ignore the Constitution.

    During the Nixon administration’s Watergate unraveling, Henry Kissinger’s mordant jest was, “The illegal we do immediately, the unconstitutional takes a little longer.” But not long, say today’s congressional Democrats. Their “For the People Act” (FTP) is 800-plus pages of provisions convenient for them and their party, some constitutionally dubious, others patently unconstitutional.

    All laws regulating campaigns are enacted by people with conflicts of interest — interests in advantaging themselves and disadvantaging challengers. FTP would dictate sweeping changes to all 50 states’ election laws, contravening the Constitution’s stipulation that the “times, places and manner” of congressional elections are to be determined by state legislatures. Granted, the Constitution says Congress may “alter” such rules, but dictating, for example, how congressional districts are drawn does not pertain to the “manner” of elections. FTP reflects the perennial progressive desire to reduce the states to appendages of the federal government.

    As I never tire of pointing out: Congresscritters take an oath to support the Constitution. Unfortunately, nobody seems to have resigned in embarrassment for voting for the FTP Act.


  • I'm betting on Wittgenstein scoring a KO in the first round. Crispin Sartwell, a philosophy prof at Dickson, writes at Reason about Wittgenstein vs. the Woke.

    Last summer, protesters from Baltimore to Bristol defaced statues and dumped them into rivers in an iconoclastic spasm, providing a momentary diversion from what the new progressives take to be the real agents of oppression: words. Words matter, they say, plausibly enough. Words have power and consequences, and there must be accountability, they add. These generalities are supposed to settle such matters as whether President Donald Trump calling the coronavirus the "kung flu" caused anti-Asian sentiment, which caused the Atlanta spa shootings, with no factual evidence required. That words have power is a commonplace, but then again so are observations that talk is cheap and that you'd better put your money where your mouth is.

    The view that words drive events is the spiritual orientation of youthful leftism. But it's hard to think of a view that would more directly contradict Marxist ideas about history, according to which words are frippery or ideology, concealing the material conditions of production. That sort of realism, which presupposes that we inhabit a physical universe, seems passé. Contemporary social justice movements focus on semiotic injustice, on the alleged violence perpetrated in and by words and images. We appear in this conception to live in a world that we are making with symbols, in a history driven by the production of signs and sentences rather than widgets.

    Sartwell does a fine job of making careful distinctions. And reaches the conclusion that "current arguments against free expression rest on untenable or incomprehensible claims about the power of words."

    Probably a 90-10 advantage for the "incomprehensible" side.

URLs du Jour

2021-06-02

[Amazon Link}

  • Because They Can. Next Question? Jacob Sullum avoids that obvious answer to his question: Why Is the TSA Making Vaccinated Air Travelers Wear Masks?.

    The situation for air travelers is quite different [from Jacob's movie theater]. Under a rule that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recently extended through September 13, all passengers, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated, must wear face masks "at all times" in airports and on airplanes. Violators are subject to a $250 fine the first time around and a $1,500 fine for repeat offenses. As you might expect from the agency that gave us "security theater," the face mask rule is a form of "hygiene theater," gratuitously incommoding passengers to create the illusion of added safety.

    While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) "recently announced that fully vaccinated travelers…can travel safely within the U.S.," the TSA says, "the CDC guidelines still require individuals to wear a face mask, socially distance, and wash their hands or use hand sanitizer." The TSA's attempt to pass the buck is more than a little misleading.

    The CDC's latest guidelines actually say that fully vaccinated people "can resume activities without wearing a mask or staying 6 feet apart, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance." So yes, as long as the TSA requires all airline passengers to wear masks, that edict qualifies as an exception to the general rule. But that hardly means the TSA's requirement is based on scientific guidance from the CDC, as the TSA implies.

    I will note that I'm still forbidden from even going inside the libraries at the University Near Here because, despite receiving two shots of Moderna long ago, I'm not part of the UNH COVID testing program.

    This is really bad "hygiene theater". It's like a production of Cats staged by pre-schoolers.


  • And When I Say "You", I Mean "You, Personally". Brian Reidl takes down Hawaii's Senator Schatz embrace of "Modern Monetary Theory" Sorry Senator Schatz, You Should Pay for Infrastructure.

    Senator Brian Schatz (D., Hawaii) recently embraced this case, tweeting: “We should deficit finance infrastructure. Money is cheap, and the things being built last for 30 or 50 or 100 years, so it should be amortized over that period This ‘pay for’ thing is nuts. You just shouldn’t pay cash for infrastructure in a low interest rate environment.”

    Where to even begin?

    How about his contention that “money is cheap” so Washington should take advantage of this “low interest rate environment”? This argument would be more persuasive if Washington were actually locking in today’s lower interest rates with long-term bonds. Instead, the average maturity of the federal debt is just 62 months and declining. This means that if interest rates rise at any point in the future, nearly the entire U.S. debt will soon roll over into those higher rates. Senator Schatz is essentially endorsing the approach of a homeowner who responds to today’s low interest rates by purchasing a multimillion-dollar home and financing it with an adjustable-rate mortgage that resets in five years. Gee, what could possibly go wrong there?

    I can think of a few things, but you should probably read Brian instead.


  • Is There An "NH Media Style Manual"? Michael Graham has noticed In NH Media, 'Controversial' Is A Euphemism for 'Popular'.

    At NHPR, it’s “a controversial right to work bill”

    At the leftwing news outlet InDepthNH, the headline reads: “House Panel Votes Ought To Pass on Controversial Right To Work Legislation.”

    And WMUR reported on events “ahead of a House vote in Concord on a controversial right to work bill.”

    The New Hampshire press corps has clearly made up its mind: Republican proposals to join the 27 other right to work states and stop forcing workers to pay union dues as a condition of employment are “controversial.”

    Michael points to a recent poll commissioned by the Josiah Bartlett Center that broke 68%-22% in favor of allowing employees to not pay union fees.


  • Meanwhile The UNH Women's Crew Team Is Changing Its Name To "Whores With Oars". A belated note showing the continued racial progress at the University Near Here: Sisters in Step dance troupe changes name to Wildcat Dance Crew.

    After 24 years, the University of New Hampshire’s (UNH) dance troupe “Sisters in Step” has changed its name to “Wildcat Dance Crew.” This decision comes after the recent discovery of the group’s history of cultural appropriation. 

    Sisters in Step was founded in 1997 by six women of color as a creative outlet for women of color on a predominantly white campus. The group dance style focused on hip-hop and traditional African American step dance. “Stepping” is a percussive dance in which the “body becomes an instrument, using footsteps, claps and spoken word” to produce complex rhythms and sounds. “Sisters in Step” has its own unique group step dance. 

    Co-captains of Wildcat Dance Crew, Taylor Nygren and Emily Clickner, have both been involved in competitive dance since they were kids and were welcomed into the dance troupe as freshmen in the same auditioning class. However, they weren’t aware of Sisters in Step’s history as a group created by and for women of color until after becoming captains. 

    Taylor and Emily identify as People of Pallor. The group won't be doing the "traditional African American step dance" moves going forward.


  • What About Bacon? The Astral Codex Ten substack has an article about the Moral Costs Of Chicken Vs. Beef.

    I've previously argued that meat-eaters concerned about animal welfare should try to eat beef, not chicken. The logic goes: the average cow is very big and makes 405,000 calories of beef. The average chicken is very small and makes 3000 calories of chicken. If you eat the US average of 250,000 calories of meat per year, you can either eat 0.5 cows, or 80 chickens. If each animal raised for meat experiences some suffering, eating chicken exposes 160x more animals to that suffering than eating beef.

    Might cows be "more conscious" in a way that makes their suffering matter more than chickens? Hard to tell. But if we expect this to scale with neuron number, we find cows have 6x as many cortical neurons as chickens, and most people think of them as about 10x more morally valuable. If we massively round up and think of a cow as morally equivalent to 20 chickens, switching from an all-chicken diet to an all-beef diet saves 60 chicken-equivalents per year.

    But some people have argued that we also need to consider global warming. Cows produce methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas. Chickens don't. How does this affect the calculations?

    I kind of like what comes after. But really, aren't there other things to consider besides just suffering and carbon emissions?


Last Modified 2021-06-03 5:54 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2021-06-01

[Amazon Link]

  • And New Hamsphire Gets A Mention. Bari Weiss hosts a debate: Should Public Schools Ban Critical Race Theory?

    Here’s what supporters of these bills [banning Critical Race Theory from public schools] will say. They push back and say that this has nothing to do with free speech because public education is not a free marketplace of ideas, but a government-run monopoly. That’s why the courts have consistently ruled that restrictions on curricular speech are not restrictions on free speech. They’ll also point out that these ideas, or at least their downstream effects, are themselves shudder-worthy. CRT suggests, for example, that basic values like objectivity and individualism are characteristics of “white supremacy.” If that sounds like hyperbole, consider that the KIPP charter school network got rid of its motto — Work Hard, Be Nice — because, as the school put it, the slogan “diminishes the significant effort to dismantle systemic racism, places value on being compliant and submissive, supports the illusion of meritocracy, and does not align with our vision of students being free to create the future they want.” At a conference a few weeks ago I asked former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels what he thought of the bills and he compared banning CRT to banning phrenology. 

    Critics of these bills will point say that bad ideas need to be fought with better ideas, and that the way to defeat CRT is through rigorous inquiry and parental involvement, not through the blunt force of the administrative state. (They’ll note that such initiatives are being pushed by the party that is supposed to be allergic to government intervention.) They’ll also argue that because the language in many of these bills is so vague — some limit the teaching of so-called “divisive concepts” — they will inevitably lead to a chilly atmosphere for free inquiry and censoriousness around important subjects like race in America. For Exhibit A of the danger, consider the fact that Oklahoma City Community College just cancelled a summer class because of that state’s new law.

    The debate is between Christopher Rufo (pro-ban) and David French (anti-ban). Both good guys.

    Bari also notes the (marked up and highlighted) new draft of New Hampshire's effort to expunge CRT from being taught at taxpayer expense, HB544.


  • How Many You Got? David Henderson wonders: How Many Pinocchios Should Glenn Kessler Get? Kessler took it upon himself to "fact check" a mixture of truth and nonsense from Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene (R-GA):

    You know, Nazis were the National Socialist Party. Just like the Democrats are now a national socialist party.

    Comments Henderson:

    Now Kessler would have been on good grounds had he challenged her second statement. The Democrats are nationalists to some degree, although probably somewhat less than Republicans and way less than the Nazis. They’re also socialists to some degree, more so than Republicans, but way less so than the Nazis.

    But that’s not the route Kessler took. Instead he challenged her first statement. Under a section titled “The Facts,” Kessler writes:

    The full name of Hitler’s party was Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei. In English, that translates to National Socialist German Workers’ Party. But it was not a socialist party; it was a right-wing, ultranationalist party dedicated to racial purity, territorial expansion and anti-Semitism — and total political control.

    His first 2 sentences are fine; 0 Pinocchios. But the first clause of his last sentence is false. They really were a socialist party. They were also, as Kessler says, ultranationalist and dedicated to racial purity, territorial expansion, and anti-Semitism. They also wanted total political control. None of that contradicts the claim that they were socialist. Stalin was dedicated to territorial expansion and many of the leading Soviets were also anti-Semitic. Stalin also wanted total political control and achieved more of it than Hitler did. Stalin was also a socialist. Would Kessler say that Stalin was not a socialist? If so, I think we would need to award him 5 Pinocchios.

    More discussion and extensive Nazi-quoting at the link. To add to the argumentum ad Hitlerum, I'll note that, like Biden, Hitler was big on infrastructure.


  • Also The Ides of March. Megan McArdle has advice: Beware of ‘expert’ consensus.

    You don’t have to walk far in my neighborhood to come across one of those ubiquitous front-yard signs announcing that the people living in the house believe “science is real,” among other articles of faith. Upper middle-class Democrats have long prided themselves on belonging to “the party of science,” but former president Donald Trump’s covid denialism supercharged that affiliation into a central part of their identity.

    Yet the form this belief in science took was often positively anti-scientific. Instead of a group of constantly evolving theories that might be altered at any time, or falsified entirely, and is thus always open to debate, “science” was a demand that others subordinate their judgment to an elite-approved group of credentialed scientific experts, many of whom were proclaiming the lab leak unlikely in the extreme.

    It seems that expert consensus was somewhat illusory, and it would have been well to remember that like the rest of us, scientists are prone to groupthink and nonscientific concerns can creep into their public statements. We all heard the confident pronouncements of support for Chinese scientists, but less about the quiet doubts that were apparently being expressed privately by people uninterested in a bruising public fight.

    As Edgar Allen Poe kind of said: believe nothing you hear, and only half of what you see.


  • Liberals Pounce. In her daily news roundup at Reason, Elizabeth Nolan Brown features the latest trend: Liberal Media Coverage Is Boosting Conservative Nationalists.

    Much of the U.S. media is accustomed to accepting left-leaning framing of economic policies and arguments—and it's impacting coverage of the conservative civil war over economic principles.

    A significant portion of the right—from legislators like Sen. Josh Hawley (R–Mo.) to Fox News hosts like Tucker Carlson, traditionally right-leaning magazines like The American Conservative, and all sorts of rank-and-file Republicans—has started to sound very similar to the far left when it comes to private business and government regulation. "In the current environment, when you see somebody railing against how the system is rigged to benefit the rich and powerful at the expense of the working class, you have to double-check to see whether it's coming from somebody on the far left or the populist right," notes Philip Klein at National Review.

    They're part of a "growing movement on the right challenging the longstanding commitment of conservatives to limited government and free enterprise"—one that presents "a potentially fatal threat to the conservative movement as it has existed for decades as well as to the cause of limited government," adds Klein. (For more on this, see Stephanie Slade's "Is There a Future for Fusionism?")

    Is liberal media attracted to these folks because they are anti-liberty, or because they're wrong and easy to debunk?

    How big is the pro-market side of the GOP? How influential?


Last Modified 2021-06-03 5:53 AM EDT

The Scout Mindset

Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don't

[Amazon Link]

Another good book in the "How to Think" genre. I didn't like it quite as much as (guess what) How to Think by Alan Jacobs. But this is a noble effort.

When you are considering a contentious issue, Ms. Galef suggests you can approach it with either the "scout mindset" or the "soldier" mindset. The soldier approaches reasoning as defensive combat; evidence is accepted or discounted not on its inherent value, but whether or not it reinforces the belief one is defending; if you're wrong, you've been "defeated". Obviously, you're much more prone to the biases and fallacies of motivated reasoning.

The scout, on the other hand, is more of a "mapmaker". When scouts are wrong, they're not "defeated"; they just need to update their set of Bayesian probabilities. Usually incremental adjustments are fine. Scouts are also motivated reasoners, but their goal is achieving an accurate picture of reality, not defending their pre-existing beliefs.

This hit home for me. Back in my youth, I was a dedicated "soldier"; I wasn't that interested in finding "truth"; I was looking for rhetorical ammunition. If some dedicated sleuth digs out my contribution to BIX (BYTE Information Exchange) and Usenet groups, they'll see what I mean. I was pretty unpleasant. In my defense, everyone else was, too.

It's been a slow evolution, but I've been inspired by folks who are obviously of the scout mindset. And I've been turned of by people on "my side" who resort more to name-calling than coherent discussion; they're interested in the points the "other side" is making solely to disparage them.

Don't get me wrong, I still do a lot of that. But not as much, and I'm trying to improve. Ms. Galef's book provided me with a framework for (I hope) further incremental progress.

The book is a fun and easy read, full of anecdotes. It appears the author, Julia Galef, is kind of a Trekkie, so a lot of those anecdotes involve Mr. Spock. (Indeed, Appendix A is devoted to 23 predictions Spock made over the course of the series, and evaluates his accuracy. It's a mixed bag.)

Near the end of the book there's a handy set of "incremental steps" Ms. Galef suggests for moving yourself closer to the scout mindset. I've snipped them:

1. The next time you’re making a decision, ask yourself what kind of bias could be affecting your judgment in that situation, and then do the relevant thought experiment (e.g., outsider test, conformity test, status quo bias test).
2. When you notice yourself making a claim with certainty (“There’s no way . . .”), ask yourself how sure you really are.
3. The next time a worry pops into your head and you’re tempted to rationalize it away, instead make a concrete plan for how you would deal with it if it came true.
4. Find an author, media outlet, or other opinion source who holds different views from you, but who has a better-than-average shot at changing your mind—someone you find reasonable or with whom you share some common ground.
5. The next time you notice someone else being “irrational,” “crazy,” or “rude,” get curious about why their behavior might make sense to them.
6. Look for opportunities to update at least a little bit. Can you find a caveat or exception to one of your beliefs, or a bit of empirical evidence that should make you slightly less confident in your position?
7. Think back to a disagreement you had with someone in the past on which your perspective has since shifted and reach out to that person to let them know how you’ve updated.
8. Pick a belief you hold strongly and attempt an ideological Turing test of the other side. (Bonus points if you can actually find someone from the other side to judge your attempt.)

I hope everyone reads Ms. Galef's book, becomes more like a scout, and improves the quality of our public discourse by a couple orders of magnitude. ("Isn't it pretty to think so?")


Last Modified 2021-06-03 5:54 AM EDT