Magical Thinking in My Sunday Paper

[Newspaper Fail]

[Another Pun Salad rerun, another lament about our local paper, this time targeting one of their op-ed partisan hacks columnists. Maybe of special interest to our Maine readers who haven't yet moved to New Hampshire.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that's not Rooks' only gripe:

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

Oh no! Flat funds!

But let's hear the argument:

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

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

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

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

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

Argument by cliché.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Duelling Headlines in Local Sunday Paper

[Pun Salad reruns continue. This one, from October 2020, is just one example of my local paper's obvious Blue bias. Things haven't gotten better since.]

After an astronomical price increase for our daily local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat, we cut back to Sunday-only delivery. Two reasons:

  1. They reproduce the Sunday crossword puzzle from the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, a week late. I like doing those.
  2. And there are clippable coupons. Might be able to save some money.

But sometimes I make the mistake of looking at other parts of the paper. My eyes rolled a bit at this headline on a page one story yesterday from the AP:

[Trump Fear]

But leafing over to page A5 provides a locally-reported story about our state's gubernatorial election and the Democratic candidate, Dan Feltes, challenging Governor Sununu. And the headline spread across the top of the page was:

[Feltes fear]

In other words: "If you don't vote for me, you're gonna get sick and maybe die." Yet the paper didn't feel obligated to point out the fear-mongering inherent in that message.

Matt Mowers Insults My Intelligence

[Pun Salad reruns continue today (you're welcome), this one from August 2020. Update: Matt Mowers went on to win the GOP primary, and lost to Chris Pappas in November 2020. I didn't vote for either guy.]

So I got a slick mailer from Matt Mowers, who is running for the GOP nomination to oppose my current US CongressCritter, Chris Pappas. And (honest) this made me laugh like an idiot on the walk from my mailbox back to the house:

[Pap is ON FIRE]

[I know a lot of people black out addresses. I figure that if the Republicans know my address, you can too.]

Let's deal with what's sort of true: Chris Pappas has been photographed wearing a "Resist" T-shrt, with a clenched fist replacing the I. But in the pics I've seen, it's not black text on grey, but rainbow text on black. (Example here.) Pappas's 2019 GOP opponent, Eddie Edwards, tried to make this shirt an issue in his debate with Pappas. Unsuccessfully, as Pappas won 54%-45%. ("Don't blame me, I voted Libertarian.")

Pappas is guilty of (at most) appropriate attire for a gay guy at a gay pride event. And also a phony smile. But…

I'm mortally certain that Pappas has not set fire to a cop car during a riot. I would bet that he's never even been close to a riot, let alone smiling a phony smile in front of a riot. The mailer's photo is a fake that will only impress people who probably shouldn't be allowed to vote anyway.

Let's go back to what's (again, sort of) true: Pappas voted for the "George Floyd Justice in Policing Act". Did he vote "with the leftist mob", as the mailer alleges? Well, only if you equate "all the other Democrats in the House" with "the leftist mob". (And, frankly, that seems a little inflammatory.) It was nearly a straight party-line vote with three Republicans voting Yea. The bill would have limited "qualified immunity" for police officers, which was probably the sticking point.

This is one of the very few issues where I'm on the D side. Pre-Floyd, lawyer Joanna Schwartz took to the Volokh Conspiracy blog to argue against qualified immunity, and she was pretty convincing.

I bet, however, that Democrats would not go so far as Samantha Harris recommended at Reason: It’s Time to End Qualified Immunity for College Administrators, Too. All authority-wielding pseudo-government officials should think not once, not twice, but thrice before violating the civil rights of a citizen they've taken a dislike to.

OK, so Chris Pappas is a loyal Democrat. Does he, as the mailer alleges, vote "with Nancy Pelosi 100% of the time"?

Well, as Speaker of the House, Nancy usually does not vote herself. So, technically untrue. But is Pappas essentially a marionette with Pelosi pulling the strings? As it turns out, not quite (but almost):

Rep. Pappas has voted against a majority of House Democrats 21 times (2.4%) in the 116th Congress (2019-20). He ranks 262nd among all representatives in voting against his party. The average House Democrat votes against his or her party 2.3% of the time.

(In comparison, our state's other CongressCritter, Ann McLane Kuster, is slightly less independent, only voting against party 1.3% of the time in this Congress.)

So Pappas is a (very) typical Democrat. Which is bad enough. Mowers should stick to the facts instead of putting up incendiary (heh) fake photos and deceptive language.

Parasites

A Mini-Fisking

[Pun Salad rerun season begins today. Please enjoy last year's take on a New Hampshire hater and fireworks scrooge.]

The Google LFOD News Alert rang for this piece at a site called "GoLocalProv", by which they mean Providence, Rhode Island. It's a (very long) column by (apparently) a regular columnist, Robert Whitcomb.

I was sufficiently irritated to break out the old fisking template. I am reproducing the relevant section of Bob's op-ed here, on the (appropriate) left, with a lovely #EEFFFF background color; my comments are on the right.

Bob (I call him Bob) gets right into it after a few literary quotes that bear little relevance to this topic:

As it turns out, many perhaps most, of those fireworks that have ruined life recently for many people in Providence, Boston and other New England cities […]

Wait a minute. Fireworks ruined life for many people?

I'm not unsympathetic. Personally, I experience rapidly decreasing marginal utility for most things that explode prettily or loudly. After a dozen or so: "Eh, more of the same. Could we get to the finale, please?"

But that's pretty far from a ruined life. I suspect something about people whose lives are ruined by fireworks: That in the absence of fireworks, their lives would quickly be ruined by something else. Barking dogs, loud motorcycles, inconsiderate littering, MAGA hats, Gadsden flags, …

[OK: A Providence TV station reported on July 5 that extensive fire damage to a house in Providence may have been due to fireworks. They were able to find neighbors speculating about that, anyway. Still, kind of a stretch to "ruined life" for "many people"]

Anyway, Bob knows who to blame. He points his shaky finger roughly a hundred miles north:

[…] came from New Hampshire, that old “Live Free or Die” parasite/paradise (where I lived for four years). There, out-of-state noisemakers stock up and take the explosives back to Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, where they ignite them all over the place, with the worst impact in cities. While the fireworks are illegal in densely populated southern New England, they’re legal in the Granite State.

Parasite!? That's pretty nasty, Bob.

As Wikipedia will tell you, it's a slur with a long and sordid history. Both Commies and Nazis were fond of deploying it against broad classes of people, with predictable results. The left-wing anthem The Internationale contains a few references (e.g., "All the power to the people of labour! And away with all the parasites!") At the Library of Social Science, Richard Koenigsberg collects a few choice quotes from the remarkably similar-sounding Hitler and Lenin.

Anyway, Bob's gripes are not directed at the scofflaws in southern New England. Nor with its inability/unwillingness to enforce such laws ("No fireworks arrests made in Providence on Fourth of July").

Nope, it's those damn New Hampshire Parasites.

New Hampshire has long made money off out-of-staters coming to buy cheap (because of the state’s very tax-averse policies) booze and cigarettes. The state also has loose gun laws. Fireworks are in this tradition.

Translation: "People chafe under government-mandated high prices and arbitrary prohibitions, and New Hampshire offers bargains and (some) freedom."

That’s its right. But it could be a tad more humane toward people in adjacent states by making it clear to buyers at New Hampshire fireworks stores that the explosives they’re buying there are illegal in southern New England.

Translation: "Could you please help us enforce our stupid laws by nagging your customers?"

Because of our federal system, states that may want to control the use of dangerous products can be hard-pressed to do so because residents may find it easy to drive to a nearby state and get the stuff. Still, in compact and generally collaborative New England, it would be nice if New Hampshire, much of which is exurban and rural, would consider the challenges of heavily urbanized Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut as they seek to limit the use of fireworks, especially in cities. Granite Staters might remember that much of the state’s affluence stems from its proximity to that great wealth creator Greater Boston and show a little gratitude. (This reminds me of how Red States are heavily subsidized by Blue States, whose taxes fund much of the federal programs in the former.)

In addition to the above, a couple things are worth pointing out:

  1. New Hampshire's poverty rate is the smallest in the nation according to the latest tabulation. The "great wealth creator" to our south is number 8. Rhode Island, on the other hand, is unaccountably unaffected by its proximity to Massachusetts: it's in 28th place.
  2. The "Red States are heavily subsidized by Blue States" is tendentious garbage. Debunkings here and here.

And then it gets worse…

Ah, the federal system, one of whose flaws is painfully visible in the COVID-19 pandemic. Look at how the Red States, at the urging of the Oval Office Mobster, too quickly opened up, leading to an explosion of cases, which in turn hurts the states that had been much tougher and more responsible about imposing early controls. But yes, the federal system’s benign side includes that states can experiment with new programs and ways of governance, some of which may become national models, acting as Justice Louis Brandeis called “laboratories of democracy’’.

Yay, Federalism. Fine, me too. But I'm not sure Rhode Island has a lot to brag about, given its high position on the state ranking by COVID-19 death rate. If states are democracy labs, RI done botched its experiment.

There's more to Bob's column. He bemoans the recent SCOTUS decision on non-discriminatory aid to parents who choose to send their kids to religious schools under the heading "Church-State Walls Erode".

But amusingly, he does that just after trashing the town of Burrillville, RI, which declared itself a “First Amendment Sanctuary Town.” Burrillville's crime: daring to specifically oppose the state's "cumbersome restrictions on places of worship".

For Bob, that Church-State Wall becomes pretty porous when it comes to State imposing its will on Churches.

URLs du Jour

2021-07-27

  • Our Eye Candy du Jour from the great and glorious Remy.

    Raw milk is legal in the LFOD state. Although our local suppliers might be sketchy.


  • Not Raw Milk, But Better. The Bartlett Center folks celebrate the LFOD state getting a tad freer: New Hampshire allows beer (or wine) with your pizza delivery, at last.

    At the start of the COVID-19 shutdown last spring, restaurant customers wanted to order beer and wine with their delivery dinners. There was just one problem. That was illegal.

    New Hampshire’s alcohol laws reserved beer and wine delivery exclusively for other types of businesses. This was such an obvious financial challenge for restaurants during the shutdown that fixing it became a top priority.

    Relief came on March 18 when the governor issued Emergency Order 6, which let restaurants include beer and wine with food deliveries.

    They note that nothing bad happened as a result of this "temporary" loosening, so the ban was repealed altogether earlier this month. But (they wonder) why it was even there in the first place?


  • But Let Us Not Go Crazy With This LFOD Stuff. When Josiah Bartlett provides with good news, he taketh away with bad: New Hampshire is the only New England state not to allow cocktail delivery.

    In an unexpected twist, New Hampshire has emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic as the only New England state that does not allow delivery cocktails.

    In Boston, Bangor and Burlington, you can order a Cuba Libre with your delivery dinner. But not in Bartlett, or anywhere else in New Hampshire.

    Dozens of states — including the rest of New England — allowed restaurants to include beer, wine and cocktails in delivery orders when COVID-19 emergency orders closed restaurant dining rooms. New Hampshire allowed beer and wine, but not cocktails.

    "Unexpected twist." Ha, get it?

    I have no idea, but do cocktails actually travel well?


  • Speaking of Unexpected Twists… A letter to the editor in my local paper this morn is headlined: A nation of learned and creative citizens. Steve Little's little letter starts this way:

    Simone Biles, the gymnastics super star, was taken in and adopted by relatives and through the fickle chance of good fortune an amazing athlete was discovered. Think about that. How many super stars of undiscovered brilliance are NOT discovered because we […]

    To tell the truth, I really thought the next thing would be: "… because we kill them before they make it out of the womb?"

    Sigh. But instead:

    […] because we do not provide the educational, family or even nutritional needs of our citizens?

    Uh huh. Steve goes on to argue for more government spending on that stuff. Because that will obviously work. Spending more taxpayer money on stuff always works. And (somehow) it's never enough.


  • "False" is a Pretty Binary Thing, Right? The Dispatch fact checker asks: Do the COVID Vaccines Offer 100 Percent Protection From Infection?. Because…

    At a town hall on July 21, in Cincinnati, President Joe Biden, in stressing the importance of COVID-19 vaccines, made the following statement: “If you’re vaccinated, you’re not going to be hospitalized, you’re not going to be in an ICU unit, and you’re not going to die.”

    The statement is false.

    Although the COVID-19 vaccines are effective, no single vaccine is 100% effective at preventing infection.

    Per the Centers for Disease Control, both mRNA vaccines, Moderna and Pfizer, are over 90 percent effective at preventing COVID-19. Based on data from clinical trials, Moderna is 94.1% effective and Pfizer is 95% effective, according to the CDC. The Johnson & Johnson Janssen COVID-19 vaccine is 66.3% effective based on data from clinical trials.

    This is worthwhile information from the Dispatch, presented straight. And Biden should know better than to utter otherwise.

    Amusingly, PolitiFact ranks the same statement from Biden as … are you ready for this? … "Half True".

    President Joe Biden exaggerated when he spoke about the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine during a CNN town hall. "You're not going to get COVID if you have these vaccinations," Biden said.

    It is rare for people who are fully vaccinated to contract COVID-19, but it does happen. 

    I'm pretty sure there's a significant epistemological difference between "False" and "Half True".

    Tip for Politifact: a falsehood doesn't become "half true" because it was uttered as an "exaggeration" by a demented old fool that you are (nevertheless) fond of.


  • And Once Again, the Babylon Bee Puts 90% of the Joke in the Headline. Specifically: To Defeat Delta Variant, Experts Recommend Doing All The Things That Didn't Work The First Time.

    Funny because true.

URLs du Jour

2021-07-26

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • They Turned Me Into a Newt! Peter Wood takes to the cyberpages of American Greatness to investigate Critical Witchcraft Theory. By which he means good old Critical Race Theory (CRT). After a brief synopsis of the Salem witch trials:

    CRT is based on the claim that an insidious, pervasive, but invisible force inhabits all Americans and American institutions. This invisible force exists outside the conscious experience of those who harbor it. Those purveyors of systemic racism are its hapless servants who believe in their own innocence as much as poor Sarah Good did when she got her chance to testify at the Salem trials. (“I’m no more a witch than you are a wizard, and if you take away my life God will give you blood to drink,” said Sarah when found guilty—the detail around which Nathaniel Hawthorne constructed The House of the Seven Gables.)

    Denying one’s complicity in witchcraft, of course, was expected of witches. Their denials meant nothing in the ensuing trials. But in some ways the courts in Salem were less inclined to impetuous judgments than many of the advocates of today’s critical race theory. Cotton Mather, consulted after the first wave of Salem executions (Tituba, Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne, and Bridget Bishop) warned that “there is need of a very critical and exquisite caution, lest by too much credulity for things received only upon the Devil’s authority, there be a door opened for a long train of miserable consequences, and Satan get an advantage over us.” Cotton Mather was, however, still in favor of “the speedy and vigorous prosecution of such as have rendered themselves obnoxious.”

    His view lay not far from how Ibram X. Kendi views systemic racism: “one of the fastest-spreading and most fatal cancers humanity has ever known . . . There is nothing I see in the world today, in our history, giving me hope that one day antiracists will win the fight, that one day the flag of antiracism will fly over the world of equity.” Kendi’s perspective, consistent with Puritan theology, is that this world has been given over to the corruptions of the infernal powers.

    Do you ever wonder why people stick the "critical" adjective in front of other words? "Critical Thinking" was the rage a few decades back, but I was never quite sure how it distinguished itself from plain old "Thinking".


  • Maybe We Should Make a List Or Something. Jonathan Rauch's latest (must read) book is excerpted in Reason, out from behind the print paywall, and has a provocative headline: Who Gets To Decide the Truth?.

    Rauch identifies three "great liberal social systems": economic, political, and epistemic. All three are interdependent, and vital to a society that's healthy, wealthy, and wise.

    All three liberal constitutions organize far-flung cooperation, distribute decision making across social networks, and exploit network intelligence (where the system knows much more than its constitutive individuals), all with a minimum of centralized authority or control. They all emphasize impersonal rules over personal authority, open-ended processes over fixed outcomes, and consent over coercion. They all take as their starting point that individuals are by nature free and equal, and that freedom and equality are important and valuable. They are all extraordinarily successful, especially compared with the alternatives.

    Which is not to say they are perfect. Far from it. But they are much better than their competitors at adapting to change and at identifying mistakes and self-correcting. And they are much better at averting the destructive social conflict Hobbes believed was the only alternative to authoritarian government.

    For exactly that reason, all three liberal social systems can seem disquieting and unnatural. They allow for no ending points, no final arrival, no absolute certainty, no shelter from change. They place strains on local relationships and tribal ties. They can be harsh and unfair. They are difficult to understand and explain; indeed, they are deeply counterintuitive. They all depend on complex, intricately balanced rules, norms, institutions, and moral values, most of which did not arise organically but took centuries to construct. Acculturating people to all those rules and norms and institutions and moral values requires years of socialization and deep reservoirs of civic mutuality and trust. As a wag said: Where establishing the rule of law is concerned, the first five centuries are the hardest.

    And all three are somewhat in peril in today's USA. They've been in bad shape before, of course. But there's no guarantee that we'll muddle through this time.


  • Oh Yeah? Show Me the Organs. Matt Ridley has bad news for the gullible suckers well-meaning customers at Whole Foods and the like: Organic food isn’t better for us.

    It is mystifying to me that organic food is still widely seen as healthier, more sustainable and, most absurdly, safer than non-organic food.

    Following the publication of part two of Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy last week, the organic movement was quick to suggest that organic food and farming offer a way to achieve the strategy’s vision. ‘The recommendations of the National Food Strategy offer genuine hope that by embracing agroecological and organic farming, and adopting a healthier and more sustainable diet, we can address the climate, nature and health crises,’ said Helen Browning, chief executive of the Soil Association, Britain’s most vocal organic lobbying organisation. Browning also highlighted the strategy’s recognition of the Soil Association’s ‘Food for Life’ programme — essentially a vehicle to promote greater procurement and use of organic food in schools and hospitals.

    The trouble is that scientific evidence indicates that the food safety risks of eating organic food are considerably greater than those of eating non-organic food. This is primarily because organic crop production relies on animal faeces as a fertiliser, an obvious vector for potentially lethal pathogens such as E.coli, but also because organic crops can be prone to harmful mycotoxins as a result of inadequate control of crop pests and diseases.

    Ah, those whacky Brits, adding on an extra "me" to "program".

    Lately, I've seen amusing ads for "Coors Pure", their organic light beer. I'm sure it won't kill you. If there's E. coli in those cans, those bacteria are probably too drunk to do you any damage.

    What it will do (as I type, at my local market): set you back an additional three bucks for a 12-pack of 12 Oz. cans. Just a suggestion, but you could drop that three bucks onto the Jimmy Fund instead, and do some good.

The Dressmaker

[2.0 stars] [IMDB Link] [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

A movie that's been in my Amazon Prime watchlist for quite awhile. Finally decided to get it out of there, since the Red Sox played earlier in the day, and I have zero interest in the Olympics.

Kate Winslet plays Tilly Dunnage, who (in 1951) returns after many years to her small Australian town to (a) wreak vengeance on a wrong done unto her back when she was a kid; (b) solve the mystery of what actually happened back then; (c) perhaps reconcile with Mom (Judy Davis). Who's rather unkempt, physically and mentally.

But nearly everyone in the town is mentally unkempt. Lots of secrets, resentments, perversions and frowned-upon proclivities. Tilly has picked up (see the title) dressmaking skills while she's been away, and her transformation of a town ugly duckling into a beautiful swan earns her some respectability and also cash. In addition, since she looks like Kate Winslet, she attracts the eye of Teddy (Thor's brother Liam Hensworth), perhaps the sanest person in town.

What follows is a lot of zaniness and tragedy. That particular mixture isn't my cup of tea, but you might like it. Hugo Weaving shows up in a supporting role as the town's constable, and—geez, for once—is not an unmitigated villain; he just likes to dress up occasionally.

Fair Warning

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Let me just say this about Michael Connelly. His prose is workmanlike; no danger of confusing him with (say) Tana French. His dialogue can be clunky. His characters only have enough depth to explain their actions.

But no other writer can get me turning pages like Connelly. What happens next? Tell me, Mike, I gotta know!

This is the third entry in Connelly's "Jack McAvoy" series. Jack, having helped catch serial killers "The Poet" and "The Scarecrow" is now put on the track of "The Shrike". Who is in the habit of picking up sexually adventuresome women in bars, having his way with them, then killing them via atlanto-occipital dislocation, a technique you've probably seen in some action movie. By sheer coincidence, one of his victims is a lady with whom Jack had a one night stand months previous. Which makes him a suspect, so the LAPD's non-finest come knocking. (Harry Bosch would have cleared this up faster.)

Jack's working for an online newspaper, FairWarning (which actually used to exist), a consumer watchdog. Homicide is not the paper's mission, but Jack is intrigued by the crime he's sort of connected to, and he brings his investigative skills back to life. He also ropes in ex-FBI "profiler" Rachel Walling. They uncover a sordid trail involving a shady DNA-analysis company, some pathetic misogynists, and a truly devious murderer.

I should also add one more thing about Connelly: I think he and Robert Crais have some sort of contest to see how many words they can devote to describing their characters' driving routes around LA. "The freeway entrance looped around then I was heading south on the 170. I took one of the 101 merge lanes and got the car up to sixty."

URLs du Jour

2021-07-25

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • WIRED's Statist Advocacy du Jour. Roger McNamee performs his usual duty in this recent op-ed: Biden Has to Play Hardball with Internet Platforms.

    The federal government’s campaign to reform internet platforms dramatically escalated this week. The Surgeon General cited disinformation as a public health menace. The White House press secretary called on Facebook to remove 12 accounts that may be responsible for as much as 65 percent of the Covid disinformation on the site. In reference to Facebook, President Joe Biden said, “They’re killing people,” only to walk that back a day later. Then he appointed Jonathan Kanter, architect of the EU’s antitrust case against Google, to run the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. The table may finally be set for necessary reform.

    Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, and Twitter have become core communications platforms in our society, but they are collectively undermining public health, democracy, privacy, and competition, with disastrous consequences. Most Americans understand this, but don’t want to be inconvenienced by losing what they like about internet platforms. And they struggle to understand the problem’s scope. The platforms have successfully muddied the waters, using their massive wealth to co-opt huge swaths of academia, think tanks, and NGOs, as well as many politicians.

    Governments at all levels have discovered the magical words "public health" can be used to excuse any and all encroachments on civil liberties. People are saying things you don't like on Facebook? Declare those statements "misinformation" damaging to "public health" and abracadabra, you can demand that Zuck take them down!

    It's not government doing the censorship, it's Facebook. So it's constitutionally legit!

    A sampling of McNamee's WIRED op-ed heds:

    There is no event around which McNamee can't spin his demands for draconian social media regulation.


  • Meanwhile, What's Being Swept Under the Rug? Libertarian Leanings is where I noticed this tweet:

    (Clicking through to the Garland letter, I think Mollie's reference to the DOJ dropping investigations in "all states" is incorrect; the New Jersey one (apparently) started last October is sputtering along.

    Still.

    Sample criticism from Jazz Shaw at Hot Air:

    While all of the governors in question made some bad decisions, Cuomo’s were arguably the worst by far and resulted in the largest number of deaths. Barring the nursing homes from even asking about an applicant’s COVID status and threatening to suspend their licenses if they did was simply criminally incompetent. We may not have had a vaccine at the time, but it had already become obvious how quickly the virus was able to spread and the disparate impact it had on the elderly and the medically infirm. Nursing home residents generally fall into both of those categories.

    Doesn’t the fact that Andrew Cuomo was caught red-handed lying about the number of deaths suggest anything to Garland indicating that something was amiss? The fact that the CDC was already issuing guidance that was directly the opposite of Cuomo’s mandates should also strengthen the case that those actions were proof of at least massive incompetence and negligence, if not intentional malfeasance.

    Ah, but criminal? Maybe not. Maybe those geezers deserved their fate by living in a blue state and (some of them probably) voting for the executioners! Obviously suicidal tendencies were at work.

    Sigh. Let's not forget that there was plenty of misinformation, unconscionable delay, and loads of bureaucratic screwups at the Federal level (CDC, FDA, Fauci, Trump) as well. Those probably caused thousands of deaths all by themselves. I'm not sure how their body count compares to Cuomo's. It's certainly a couple orders of magnitude greater than anything you can attribute to Facebook.

    But McNamee and his ilk want to go after Facebook et. al. instead. To quote the headline at Libertarian Leanings: "If It Weren't For Double Standards..."


  • Language Evolves, Unfortunately. Daniel B. Klein provides 10 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Call Leftists “Liberal”. Some linguistic history:

    The word liberal first acquired a political meaning in Britain in the 1770s.

    But prior to that, over many centuries, “liberal” had two meanings. First, “liberal” signified activities becoming of a free man—the liberal arts, the liberal sciences, the liberal professions. Liber in Latin means both “free” and “book.”

    The other meaning was generous, as in “giving liberally” or “liberal supplies.” Generosity is characteristic of a free man, so this meaning relates to the first.

    Reason #1

    The two ancient meanings run deep in Western civilization. Calling leftists “liberal” evokes generosity and the blessings of the liberal arts and sciences. To call leftists “liberal” is to extol their character and purpose.

    It was not for nothing that, between 1880 and 1940, collectivists arrogated “liberal” for themselves.

    I'll point out the Google Dictionary still clings (bitterly) to the non-collectivist sense of liberal:

    1. willing to respect or accept behavior or opinions different from one's own; open to new ideas.
    2. relating to or denoting a political and social philosophy that promotes individual rights, civil liberties, democracy, and free enterprise.

    You'll find most of those attitudes pretty rare on the left these days.

    But if "liberal" means you're "open to new ideas", does that mean you're open to illiberal ideas? Hm. Cue to every Star Trek episode where Kirk defeated an AI by trapping it in contradiction.


  • George Leef takes Klein's article and doubles down: Let's Reclaim the Word 'Liberal'.

    I am with him 100 percent. My only quibble is that he suggests the term “progressive,” which is also misleading. The authoritarian ideas those people favor do not lead to progress; they lead to regress, back to earlier systems of top-down control by powerful elites and institutions.

    Let’s call them statists, authoritarians, or just control freaks.

    Maybe the best approach is to (accurately) label people's ideas without pigeonholing people themselves. After all, I'm uncomfortable with most of the tags people have tried to stick on me.

URLs du Jour

2021-07-24

  • Our Eye Candy du Jour is a video from the good folks at Reason who did the math: U.S. Billionaire Wealth Would Fund Government For Just 6 Months.

    But if you prefer text, here's the key point:

    There are 724 American billionaires worth a total of $4.4 trillion, according to Forbes. It's a list that includes far-out space nuts like Bezos and Musk, entertainment moguls like Steven Speilberg and Tyler Perry, and lawyer-in-training Kim Kardashian. If it were somehow possible to liquidate all of that wealth without causing a market crash that would obliterate much of it in the process, we could cover roughly half a year of combined local, state, and federal spending.

    Not only that, but it's a one-time trick. Once you've erased the net worth of all American billionaires, it's not like you can keep doing that. What then?


  • Good Move, Woke Racial Activists. William A. Jacobson notes the latest polling. Woke Racial Activism Bears Fruit: Gallup Survey Shows Positive Views On Race Relations In Free Fall. Quoting Gallup:

    For the second consecutive year, U.S. adults’ positive ratings of relations between Black and White Americans are at their lowest point in more than two decades of measurement. Currently, 42% of Americans say relations between the two groups are “very” or “somewhat” good, while 57% say they are “somewhat” or “very” bad.

    The most recent rating of Black-White relations in the U.S. is not statistically different from last year’s 44%. However, the reading has eroded nine percentage points over the past two years as the nation has grappled with the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent nationwide protests and calls for racial justice.

    As recently as 2013, the polling was 70% "very/somewhat good" vs. 30% "very/somewhat bad". And (graph at link) it had been roughly in that range since 2001.

    And now it's 57%-42% the other way.

    Blaming "woke racial activism" might be overly facile. On the other hand, it might be exactly what's going on.

    As a data point, in 2012 Joe Biden told a campaign crowd that Republicans were "going to put y'all back in chains."

    So maybe not just "woke racial activism", but also "stoking racial animosity for political advantage".

    Or maybe there's not a lot of difference between those two things.


  • It Ain't a McGuffey Reader, But Still… Ilana Redstone (Sociology prof at the University of Illinois/Urbana-Champaign) provides A Straightforward Primer On Critical Race Theory (and Why It Matters).

    CRT’s critics are often portrayed as wanting to “whitewash” history and deny the reality of slavery. If the problem were that simple, the criticisms would indeed be worthy of the dismissal they often receive. Yet, there are serious concerns about CRT that are rarely aired and that have nothing to do with these points. As a result, confusion and misinformation abound and tension continues to mount. 

    Before making a few clarifying points, it’s worth noting that the vast majority of teachers and DEI trainers are not sitting down with students or groups announcing a lesson on CRT. More often than not, the name “CRT” never comes up at all. However, a CRT-based perspective is quietly shaping the conversation anyway. Its impact can be seen in conversations about race, power, identity, intent, privilege, and in an insistence on seeing the world through its lens.

    So what is it?

    CRT is a theoretical perspective that asserts that race is always about inequality and domination. CRT has a few main tenets, some of which can be (over)simplified as follows:

    1. Colorblind racism—Deemphasizing the role of race and racism, including to focus on concepts of merit, is itself a manifestation of racism.
    2. Interest convergence—Members of the dominant group will only support equality when it’s in their best interest to do so.
    3. Race and racism are always tied together. Race is a construct meant to preserve white dominance over people of color, while making it seem like life is about meritocracy.
    4. Inattention to systemic racism—An unwillingness to recognize the full force of systemic racism as determining disparities between groups is a denial of the reality of racism today (and evidence of ignorance at best and racism at worst).

    As Professor Douglas notes, once you take those viewpoints as given, the result is a "closed system" immune from criticism.

    For something self-billed as Critical Race Theory, isn't that ironic? I'm pretty sure it's ironic.


  • Conservatives Pounce! As should every American. John Hinderaker publishes "an open letter to big tech" from a group called "Free Speech America": Conservatives Attack Biden’s Assault On Free Speech.

    The Biden administration is ripping the U.S. Constitution to shreds. Its assault on America’s freedom of speech is terrifying. It is the hallmark of dictatorships.

    As a result of the incendiary and dangerous announcements made by the Biden White House last week to censor free speech with the cooperation of social media, we, the undersigned, demand Big Tech firms immediately and publicly announce that they will not comply with calls from the federal government to censor dissenting viewpoints. Not on COVID-19 and not on any other topic. Furthermore we call on those companies to resist further demands for such outrageous censorship of dissenting voices.

    The Biden administration is guilty of violating the most basic fundamental principles of a free and open society. President Joe Biden shockingly claimed Facebook is ‘killing people’ because it doesn’t completely censor its site in ways the administration approves. Though he later backed off this claim a bit, multiple members of the administration are moving to quash free speech on social media following that autocratic rationale.

    There's not a very significant difference between:

    1. government suppression of unapproved speech;
    2. government "encouraging" corporations to suppress unapproved speech under credible threat of regulatory retaliation.

    Some old-style liberals used to know this. They're seemingly a rare breed these days.


  • Astral Codex Ten assembles a hodgepodge of 27 Links For July. I'm sure you'll find something interesting in there, but I especially liked number six:

    6: Congratulations to SSC/ACX reader and commenter Tom Chivers, who recently won a British Science Journalist of the Year award. My own encounter with Tom was that he once wrote a book about the rationalist community, and asked to informally talk to me and my at-the-time girlfriend. My girlfriend was trying to decide whether or not she was ready to have children, so she got one of those robot babies that they use in school health classes to teach you how hard having an infant is. And she didn’t want to leave it alone or it would start crying and grade her as unready to be a mother. So she took it to the interview, and obviously Tom noticed it, and we had the fun task of convincing him that we were normal people who just happened to be carrying a robot baby around, for reasons that were totally unrelated to us being in something that we were trying to make clear to him was NOT a robot cult. He was very understanding and didn’t dwell on it too much in his book, which was very gracious of him. Anyway, you can read his science reporting here.

    Also: WolframAlpha's "48 random digits". No spoiler here!


Last Modified 2021-07-24 7:10 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2021-07-23

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • Want to Get a Wokester Mad? Suggest this Quillete article, featuring a Conversation with Christopher F. Rufo. A surprisingly nuanced view of the teaching of Critical Race Theory in K-12:

    I think federalism is important. I think local control of the curriculum is important. And we’re now experimenting as these curricula in the deepest blue states become radicalized, in places where they’re actually mandating the inclusion of Critical Race Theory in the state curriculum in California, Oregon, Washington, Illinois. They’re training teachers along the lines of these principles.

    They’re embarking on an experiment that I think will ultimately fail and will ultimately harm children, but it’s an experiment that they’re entitled to embark on. And I may not like it, I may not personally support it—I advocate against it—but they’re allowed to pursue their own vision, just like Texas, Idaho, Arkansas, New Hampshire, et cetera, the states that have banned these Critical Race Theory principles in their school curricula, are entitled to pursue theirs.

    I think that the real question, the real asymmetry, is that somehow the mainstream narrative says that it is okay for blue states to mandate the inclusion of Critical Race Theory in their state curricula, but somehow it’s illegitimate or extremely controversial for red states to mandate the exclusion of those same principles. This strikes me as unfair, as illogical, as irrational, but I think it also speaks to the political playing field that is the reality. The reality is that the media institutions and the academic institutions in our country have no problem with things ratcheting left, but they absolutely flip out, freak out, and go into full panic and meltdown when things seem to be shifting right. And in my work I hope to change that dynamic. I hope actually to break that dynamic and show that conservatives should stand up for their values and their principles and should be unafraid and unashamed to advocate for the best education for their kids.

    As I've said (over and over) the University Near Here has (essentially) adopted CRT as an Official Theology, with alternate views ignored/harassed/banned. (UNH Lecturers United says that such alternate views should be treated as flat-earth/creationist opinions, except more dangerous.)

    That nonsense should stop.


  • And, of course, the UNH Lecturers also see their job as essentially evangelical: to "foster belief" in CRT theology. At Quillette, Peter Savodnik writes on that topic: The Faith of Systemic Racism.

    There’s something mystifying about all this endless, unctuous yammering about “systemic racism,” and that is its unverifiability. When the radicals call something “systemic” or “structural,” what they really mean is invisible or, better yet, incapable of being experienced. They are referring to the racism that must exist by dint of our many inequities. They assume a causation they cannot assume. Yes, there is disparity between racial groups. No, we cannot declare that the opinions of dead white people caused that disparity. David Hume was skeptical of asserting that contiguity in time and space was the same thing as causality. In this case, we can’t even go so far as to assert a contiguity in time. We can simply assert a vague contiguity in space. We can say that in America—like many, if not most, places—people once believed reprehensible things. We certainly can’t experience systemic racism, not in the way that “experience” is understood by philosophers or, for that matter, judges. We can’t see or hear or taste or feel it, the way an electric current coursing through a live wire can be felt. Which means we can’t be sure it exists. All we can do is assert, with great conviction, its existence and insist that other people believe in it, too, and threaten them with censure or exile if they believe inadequately.

    Alas, if one points this out, if one so much as suggests that we consider other explanations for racial disparity, one inevitably risks being charged with racism. Serious inquiry is verboten.

    I may seem obsessed with this issue! But only because I think it's detrimental to an institution about which I'm somewhat fond.


  • Worse, Their Performance Isn't Close To Olympic-Qualifying. George Will observes: Too many people are plunging themselves into the world of political performance.

    In a society saturated with politics, primary schools teach third-graders to check their racial privilege or lack thereof, and local television weather reports veer into climate science. Many people, finding insufficient satisfaction in just doing their jobs, grasp for the prestige and excitement of becoming political performers.

    The office website of Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy says he “is the Nation’s Doctor” — note the capitalization — “providing Americans with the best scientific information on how to improve their health and reduce the risk of illness and injury.” With the nation gorging on politics, this mission statement becomes an invitation to political advocacy. Murthy advocates a “whole-of-society effort” to stop what he calls an “infodemic” of health “misinformation.”

    So, a category of speech is comparable to an infectious disease — something government should urgently eradicate. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a housing policy (the eviction moratorium), and Murthy, too, has an expansive policy agenda. He advocates, inter alia, “product design and policy changes on technology platforms,” and government investment in “rumor control mechanisms.” The government should consider “appropriate legal and regulatory measures that address health misinformation while protecting user privacy and freedom of expression.”

    Geez, I'm pretty sure advocacy of big government, illiberalism, and other invidious garbage is at least as dangerous as vaccine misinformation. And about 90% of the things that Joe and Kamala say. Shouldn't we ban that too?


  • After I Looked Up 'Ontological' in the Dictionary, I Found That I Agree with Pierre Lemieux: Populism Is Ontologically Impossible. A summary of his recent article at the Independent Review:

    Defined as a political regime where the people rule, populism is impossible. The reason is that “the people” does not exist as an independent individual-like or superindividual entity. In any event, the “will of the people” is unknowable. As shown by many strands of economic theory and especially by Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem, the preferences of different individuals cannot be aggregated into coherent and non-dictatorial social preferences. In other words, there is no coherent social welfare function equally incorporating the preferences of all individuals. Thus, populism requires the illusion of a ruler who incarnates the people and its will but who, in reality, can only govern in favor of a part of the people at the detriment of the rest. The only way populism would be possible is if the people is conceived as a set of separate individuals who each governs himself. However, there is already a label for such a philosophy and political regime: (classical) liberalism or libertarianism, which deeply clashes with populism as generally defined.

    I kinda knew that. Would not have been able to express it so well.

    So the people who self-classify as "populists" must mean something else. What? Or are they just confused? Or do they think it's a good way to get elected?


  • So the guy at Astral Codex Ten wrote a very long, very detailed, very well-meaning post on Lockdown Effectiveness. And it's interesting. But even more interesting is is followup: Things I Learned Writing The Lockdown Post.

    Writing the post made me think a lot of Robin Hanson's idea of "pulling policy ropes sideways". The idea is, the Democrats and Republicans (or whoever) are in a giant tug-of-war over some issue, like looser or stricter lockdowns. There are so many people pulling, on both sides, that you adding your efforts to one side or the other will barely matter. Meanwhile, if you pull the ropes sideways - try to make a difference in some previously unexplored direction that nobody is fighting - you can often have much more effect, plus there's no reason to think that the direction everyone is fighting over is the most interesting direction anyway.

    Over the past ~year, I've seen endless terrible arguments over whether we should have more or less lockdown. People asked me to write a post on it. It's something I personally was wondering about and wanted to write a post on. And the dynamics of media - where I get more clicks if I write about things more people are interested in - incentivize me to write a post about it.

    But the smartest people I talked to kept - is "derailing" the right word? - derailing onto more interesting and important pull-the-rope-sideways plans. If we had just gotten test-and-trace right at the beginning of the pandemic, we wouldn't have had to worry about lockdowns as much. Accelerating vaccine production, which we could have done in dozens of little ways, would have made lockdowns less necessary. Having better-targeted or better-choreographed lockdowns is more important than adjusting some slider of lockdown strength from MORE to LESS or vice versa. I felt that some of the experts I talked to were trying really hard to get this across, and I was asking "Yes, that's all nice and well, but blue state good red state bad? Or red state good blue state bad?"

    Or New Hampshire good, everyone else in a tie for last place?

Feynman's Rainbow

A Search for Beauty in Physics and in Life

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

I enjoyed this slim book by Leonard Mlodinow quite a bit. Probably a lot of that is due to some personal factors: I was an undergrad physics major at Caltech way back when, and like most of my peers, was an unabashed Feynman Fanboy. This despite having all three volumes of his big red books as my freshman and sophomore textbooks; this was often painful. I was brave enough to sit next to the man when my house invited him for dinner, and I even asked him a (in retrospect, stupid) physics question. Which he answered with far more patience and grace than the question deserved.

I fell off the physics track a few years later, a fortuitous move both for physics and me. But I still plod along with the field at a dilettante level, checking out books written by much smarter people. And I still count myself as a Feynman Fanboy.

This book was published in 2003, but I didn't notice it then. But when I (somehow) became aware of it, I plunked it onto my wanna-read list. And the University Near Here had a copy, so once it re-opened for civilians (long story) I ventured down into the basement stacks and grabbed it.

Mlodinow came to Caltech in the early 80s as a bright young postdoctoral fellow. No teaching duties, and an office in fourth-floor Downs Lab, just down the hall from Feynman's and Murray Gell-Mann's. (Gell-Mann is a supporting character here.) He has a bad case of Imposter Syndrome, very much worried that he doesn't belong with all the smart folks.

At the time, Feynman had been diagnosed with the cancer that would kill him a few years later. But he still comes into work, and he's still approachable. Mlodinow's a fanboy too, and he looks to Feynman for advice on not just mundane physics topics, but on life. He took to recording (with permission) his discussions with the great man, and a number of those are transcribed here, with some Feynmanian opinionizing on the string theory, the relation of theorizing to experimentation, the place of beauty in science, etc. Good stuff.

A lot of anecdotes, many funny, one scary, some revolving around Mlodinow's generous consumption of marijuana with his buddies.

Mlodinow went on to a varied career. He still does physics, writes pop-science books (like this one). But I'm not sure any other physicist could boast a similar IMDB page. (Did you write an episode of Night Court, Kip Thorne?)

Consumer note: A couple of Amazon reviewers note this book was also published under the title Some Time With Feynman, and they're pretty steamed. If you (against all odds) bought that, you might not want to buy this.

URLs du Jour

2021-07-22

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • Fraud is Too Nice a Word, But… James Bovard uncovers The “Honest History” Fraud at AIER:

    American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten recently proclaimed that her union members have a right to teach “honest history” in government classrooms. But putting politicians, bureaucrats, and union zealots in charge of a curriculum is the worst recipe for candor. Rather than truth, the likely result will be vaccinating young Americans from recognizing how Leviathan imperils their liberty. 

    Weingarten’s protests were spurred by the backlash in some states against Critical Race Theory (CRT), the latest politically correct fad from activist educators. CRT received a steroid boost from the New York Times’ 1619 series, which ludicrously claimed that the American Revolution was fought to preserve slavery (AIER’s Phil Magness debunked that charade in many articles and in this book). According to Weingarten and other CRT proponents, American schools criminally ignore the racial abuses in American history. However, the vast majority of state curriculums already teach that slavery was an abomination and a national disgrace.

    I'll quote the final paragraph too:

    Trusting politicians to teach children honest history is like relying on plantation owners to teach slaves how to read. The best lesson young Americans could receive from studying history is a radical skepticism of officialdom and all its hokum. Virtue signaling is no substitute for learning how to defend one’s rights and liberties.

    Eggs Ackly.


  • Old Man Scapegoats Young Whippersnappers. Robby Soave notes Our Demented President looking to blame someone else: Biden Wants To Punish Facebook for the Government’s Own Vaccine Failures.

    The federal government is stepping up its war on Facebook: President Joe Biden has accused Mark Zuckerberg's social media platform of failing to purge anti-vaccine content, thus contributing to vaccine hesitancy and "killing people," said the president.

    Now the White House is considering methods of tinkering with Section 230, the federal statute that immunizes internet platforms from legal liability, in order to punish Facebook for failing to do everything the government wants.

    And it's just not President Wheezy…


  • Can She Get Her Money Back for That Defective Law Degree? Mike Masnick is a pretty left-wing guy who runs the Techdirt site. But even he can't justify this: Senator Amy Klobuchar Says She Has A Bill To Hold Facebook Responsible For Vaccine Disinfo; But What Would The Cause Of Action Be?.

    Earlier this week, appearing on The View, Senator Amy Klobuchar was asked about COVID disinformation, and gave a pretty bizarre answer. Responding to a question about how fighting COVID has been politicized by Fox News, Klobuchar said we should make Facebook responsible. It's really quite an incredible disconnect. The question specifically highlighted how Fox News was the main vector of COVID misinformation, and Klobuchar said this:

    And at the same time, the misinformation on the internet, which is something I'm personally taking on is outrageous. These are the biggest richest companies in the world that control these platforms, and they've got to take this crap off. We're in a public health crisis -- we still are -- we've seen major improvement thanks to the vaccines, the ingenuity of people, Biden administration getting this out, but this is holding us back. Two thirds of the people that are not vaccinated believe something that they read on the internet. That's all the facts I need. That's from a Kaiser Foundation Report.

    So I'm going to introduce a bill to limit the misinformation on vaccines by saying you guys are liable if you don't take it off your platforms.

    […]

    But, the larger point here is make Facebook liable for what exactly? Whether we like it or not, vaccine misinformation is still protected speech under the 1st Amendment. And no bill that Klobuchar can introduce can change the 1st Amendment. So, if you make them "liable," there still is no cause of action because the misinformation itself does not (and cannot) violate any law in the US.

    Senator Amy allegedly attended the University of Chicago Law School but she must have nodded off when they taught that bit of Constitutional law.


  • Hey, Me Too! Scott Sumner gently lampoons those folks who dislaim: I believe the TRUE science!.

    In the blogosphere and on twitter I see lots of people wrestling with the question of whether we should “believe the science”. It’s clear that they are searching for some sort of Reliable Epistemological Principle, and struggle to articulate exactly what that principle is. Clearly the “science” is not always correct. So how do we know when to believe the science? And which scientists do we believe?

    Richard Rorty made a career arguing that there is no Reliable Epistemological Principle. We need to look at each claim being made, and try to the best of our ability to figure out if it is true. The fact that lots of experts believe something is true is certainly one piece of evidence that deserves serious consideration. But that’s all it is.

    I’m rather bemused by the anguish that some people clearly feel when they find out that science is wrong on some point, especially when the anti-science crazies took the opposite side of that particular issue. They seem to think this is some sort of threat to the Reliable Epistemological Principle, the final arbiter of Objective Truth.

    People need to lighten up. We’ll be debating scientific questions from now until the end of time. Take comfort in the fact that science often has practical value. If you believe in the efficacy of vaccines, then you are likely to live longer than if you don’t.

    Extensive Rorty quote at the link. Worth pondering, science fans.


  • Talking in Different Universes Eric Weinstein has an interesting Tweet Thread where he tries to interpret how the viewpoints of Senator Rand Paul and Dr. Anthony Fauci lead to (um) an unproductive session. Here's the start:

    GoFR == "Gain of Function Research". I think I know whose side I fall on, but that may be a function of my premises and values. See what you think after going down the thread.


Last Modified 2021-07-23 4:41 AM EDT

The Searcher

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

I got started reading Tana French thanks to a recommendation from Peter Suderman on the Reason Roundtable podcast awhile back. Fair play to him, I've become a dedicated fan.

Her first six books were (more or less) a series, centered around the "Dublin Murder Squad", each one focusing on a different detective from that group. Each concentrating on the cops' psychological flaws/traumas, putting them through the psychic wringer. Her seventh book, The Witch Elm got away from the police at center stage, but the protagonist was (again) teetering on the brink of the basket.

Now, this one seems different at first. It's out of the city, set in a rural Ireland of sheep, bogs, hilly terrain, and colorful characters who like to tipple down at the local pub. This bucolic setting couldn't be farther from gritty, decadent Dublin.

Into this scene plops Cal, a retired Chicago cop, hoping to build a quiet life far from the ashes of his old one. (A bitter ex-wife, an estranged and slightly hostile grown daughter.) He's purchased an old farmhouse, a fixer upper. And so he sets to renovating…

The only problem being that he feels like he's being watched. And he is. But it's pretty easy for an ex-cop to get to the bottom of that little mystery: turns out it's a kid, Trey, from a nearby farm. They strike up an uneasy companionship, with Trey helping Cal with renovating. Trey's explanation for stalking Cal seems iffy, though. And it is: at the 17% point of the book (I got the Kindle version), it's revealed that Trey's big brother Brendan has gone missing, and Trey wants Cal to find out what happened to him.

And then things oh-so-gradually get darker from there, because people don't become saintly just because they're living in the countryside. Cal prides himself as having a "code", a set of morals that guided his behavior as a Chicago cop, and he maintains in Ireland. But as his investigation plays out, he finds that his code is inadequate to guide his path.

URLs du Jour

2021-07-21

I know: least surprising Amazon Product du Jour ever. Our TV is never on in the morning, but yesterday it was. [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • Don't Listen to the Wokesters. Liz Wolfe argues (correctly): Bezos Launching Into Space Will Probably Make Your Life Better Too.

    Jeff Bezos will launch into space today aboard his Blue Origin rocket, New Shepard. This follows Richard Branson's visit to space last week aboard a Virgin Galactic rocket, a journey that made him the first person to enter space on a vehicle made and funded by his own company. The new space exploration age is here, but most people aren't having it.

    "Leave the Billionaires in Space," suggests Jacobin. "Billionaires In Space Are Costing Lives On Earth," says a headline from Boston's public radio station WBUR. The purportedly pro-tech publication The Verge says the nascent industry is "stuck in its billionaire phase."

    Well, yeah. Just as dental care, car ownership, and airplane travel were once the sole province of the wealthy, so too is space tourism—for now, but probably not forever.

    Probably not forever, but (sigh) probably too late for me.

    And (sorry) my joy at Bezos's achievement is tempered by the realization that New Shepard's suborbital apogee (about 68 miles) was just slightly more than half of that attained by ("Old Shepard") Mercury-Redstone 3, 116.5 miles, slightly over 60 years ago.

    Still, progress.


  • Watch What You Do, Watch What You Say. Jacob Sullum notes the latest STFUism from government officials: Biden Charges Facebook With Homicide, While His Surgeon General Recommends ‘Legal and Regulatory Measures’ To Suppress COVID-19 ‘Misinformation’.

    The day after Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued an advisory calling for a "whole-of-society" effort to combat the "urgent threat to public health" posed by "health misinformation," President Joe Biden accused Facebook and other social media platforms of "killing people" by allowing the spread of anti-vaccine messages. Bridling at the homicide charge, Facebook noted that "vaccine acceptance" among the platform's users has increased by 10 to 15 percentage points since January.

    "The data shows that 85% of Facebook users in the US have been or want to be vaccinated against COVID-19," the company said in a statement on Saturday. "President Biden's goal was for 70% of Americans to be vaccinated by July 4. Facebook is not the reason this goal was missed."

    Apparently Biden backed off the homicide charge after it was pointed out that it was (a) obvious scapegoating and (b) something a demented person might say.


  • The Joke is in the Headline. Which is from the Babylon Bee: Planned Parenthood Relieved After Learning Biden's 'They're Killing People' Statement Was Just Referring To Facebook.


  • What Would We Do Without 'Em? Scott Shackford peels back what "experts" are actually saying: Experts Warn Accurate News Articles Are Misinformation if They Support Conservative Views.

    Political bias is not new to journalism, either in the United States or anywhere else in the world. But check out how NPR discusses the conservative outlet The Daily Wire and pundit Ben Shapiro. It's a case study in people's eagerness to classify writing they disagree with as "misinformation," whether or not it's factually accurate.

    The hit piece begins by pointing out how well The Daily Wire does in Facebook engagement compared to more mainstream media outlets, such as The New York Times and the Washington Post. This is a useful corrective to those who think left-wing "Big Tech" companies have scrubbed away the conservative presence online. But that's not the point of Miles Parks' analysis. His point is that The Daily Wire's success on in Facebook is a bad thing because the outlet is using "outrage as a business model."


  • Commie Radio Gotta Commie. Even non-libertarian Matt Taibbi was amused/disgusted (it's hard to tell) at NPR's Brilliant Self-Own that Shackford discusses above.

    Is the complaint that Shapiro peddles misinformation? No: “The articles The Daily Wire publishes don't normally include falsehoods.” Are they worried about the stoking of Trumpism, or belief that the 2020 election was stolen? No, because Shapiro “publicly denounced the alt-right and other people in Trump's orbit,” as well as “the conspiracy theory that Trump is the rightful winner of the 2020 election.” Are they mad that the site is opinion disguised as news? No, because, “publicly the site does not purport to be a traditional news source.”

    The main complaint, instead, is that:

    By only covering specific stories that bolster the conservative agenda (such as… polarizing ones about race and sexuality issues)… readers still come away from The Daily Wire's content with the impression that Republican politicians can do little wrong and cancel culture is among the nation's greatest threats.

    NPR has not run a piece critical of Democrats since Christ was a boy. Moreover, much like the New York Times editorial page (but somehow worse), the public news leader’s monomaniacal focus on “race and sexuality issues” has become an industry in-joke. For at least a year especially, listening to NPR has been like being pinned in wrestling beyond the three-count. Everything is about race or gender, and you can’t make it stop.

    It's not worth listening to NPR on the off chance that you might catch an episode of Wait Wait… Don't Tell Me!


  • I Have Fox Aspirations. Lance Morrow cranked the insightfulness up to eleven at the WSJ yesterday: The Hedgehogs of Critical Race Theory.

    The political philosopher Isaiah Berlin turned an obscure fragment by the ancient Greek poet Archilochus (“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing”) into an intellectual’s cocktail-party game. In a famous essay, published as a book in 1953, Berlin suggested that the world is divided between hedgehogs and foxes—between those who believe in One Big Thing (one all-sufficient super-explanation), and those who are content with a more modest, irrational and even incoherent idea of history’s unfolding. Karl Marx was a supreme hedgehog: Everything, for him, was about the conflict of economic classes. Franklin D. Roosevelt was a restlessly improvising fox.

    The world’s hedgehog population tends to expand in times of stress and change. Lately it has exploded in the U.S. Hedgehogs are thick on the ground, all of them advancing One Big Thing or another—each peering through the lens of a particular obsession. At the moment, the biggest One Big Thing is race—the key, it seems, to all of America, to the innermost meanings of the country and its history.

    It isn’t really true. Race is one of many big things in America. It is hardly the most important. Americans need to desanctify the subject of race—to mute its claims, which have grown absolutist and, as it were, theological in their thoroughness, their dogmatism.

    Race is an American story. It's not the American story.

The Tomorrow War

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

Hey, I like Chris Pratt. But he's made better movies. I was slightly disappointed with this Amazon Prime streamer.

He plays war veteran Dan Forester. He's got a hot wife, Emmy. A cute daughter, Muri. And an estranged dad, played by J. K. Simmons. (J. K. Simmons also lulled me into a "Hey, maybe this'll be good" attitude.)

The only problem being that a bunch of human warriors from 50 years in the future transport themselves into an exciting soccer match. And they're here to beg for help: in their time, a race of alien beings known as "whitespikes" are in the process of wiping out humanity. "Help us, past humans, you're our only hope." There's a discussion of the time-travel mechanism; it has complexities and limitiations, all of which are conveniently tailored to the plot.

The first batch of volunteers return mostly dead. As do their followups. Eventually, the process goes to conscription: folks who are gonna die soon anyway. And guess who gets roped in? Ah, good guess.

So Dan's off to the future, and it's grim. Due to a technical screwup, his group gets transported to Miami about a thousand feet too high. Which kills most of them right off the bat. But Dan is fortunate enough to fall into a swimming pool atop a highrise. (Which in reality would be deadly, but is treated here as a very high dive.) He's sent off to retrieve important research from a local lab, which involves a lot of running, shooting, and explosions. We finally get a look at the whitespikes, and they're as fast, ugly, and deadly as CGI can make them. Even with rifles with a near-infinite number of rounds, the humans are fighting a losing battle.

Hey, that's Chloe from 24! … Alas, she turns out to not be a major enough character.

The movie turns out to have a streak of gooey sentimentality at its center, a theme of familial abandonment and reconciliation. Worse than Armageddon in that regard.

Time travel movies have to deal with paradoxical issues, multiple futures, etc. I'm sure some nerd has classified the various approaches. This one seems to be similar to Back to the Future: stuff you do in the past can alter the future timeline, wiping out the previous version of events. So you can probably guess what the climax involves.


Last Modified 2021-07-21 5:54 AM EDT

The Square and the Tower

Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

I think I put this on the get-at-library list after listening to Jonah Goldberg interview the author, Niall Ferguson, on his podcast back in 2019. Eventually, some slow reader returned it to Portsmouth Public Library, and here it is.

Consumer note: as I type, the hardcover is available at Amazon for a mere $9.82. Good deal.

Ferguson's general method here is to view history through "networks" and "hierarchies". (A hierarchy being a special case of network: top-down with implications of authority.)

In that sense, networks/hierarchies are everywhere, and always have been. In this book, there are a lot of those labelled boxes/ellipses/circles connected with various kinds of lines (thick/thin, curved/straight dashed/dotted/solid,…) Does illustrating various historical episodes this way bring insight? I can give you a definite "maybe"!

That's OK. I read history books at a not-even-a-dilettante level. Or a "picking up facts I may be able to regurgitate if I ever get on Jeopardy!" level. And Ferguson has a lot of good, entertaining, thoughtful stuff herein, even if the network interpretive view didn't bring a lot of additional insight for me.

The book is wide ranging in time and space. And coverage is somewhat idiosyncratic. Example: Chapter 17 has a ponderous title, "The Economic Consequences of the Reformation". I steeled myself to deal with that weighty topic… only to turn the page and find the chapter ending after a total of three paragraphs. OK, they were long paragraphs, but still.

I did make a connection when listening to the Reason Interview podcast with Nick Gillespie interviewing Ted Henken about Cuba. Henken made the point that social media driven networks can be pretty effective at knocking things down (like dictatorial regimes). But they haven't had much success with driving improved situations. For that, you need something more hierarchical. (An example: the beginnings of the American Revolution were aided by the colonial networks of the day, and the initial outcome was kind of a mess. But the adoption of the Constitution was largely driven by a hierarchical elite.)

URLs du Jour

2021-07-20

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • Shut Up, They Explained. Eugene Volokh brings legal analysis to bear on a recent shutdown: City Announces Cancellation of “America First” Rally at Private Venue, Claims Security Threats + “Values”.

    The rally would have featured Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz, according to this City News Service story.

    Now a private venue doesn't violate the First Amendment by cancelling a rally based on "public safety concerns." (The cancellation might be a breach of contract, depending on whether or not the contract has a provision for that.) And it isn't generally a First Amendment violation for government officials to simply try to persuade private parties not to participate in distributing certain kinds of speech (see, e.g., Hammerhead Enterprises, Inc. v. Brezenoff (2d Cir. 1983), Penthouse Int'l Ltd. v. Meese (D.C. Cir. 1991), and X-Men Security, Inc v. Pataki (2d Cir. 1999)).

    But when the government tries to coerce private entities into suppressing speech, that may well violate the speakers' First Amendment rights (see, e.g., Rattner v. Netburn (2d Cir. 1991)Okwedy v. Molinari (2d Cir. 2003), and Backpage, Inc. v. Dart (7th Cir. 2015)). So the questions are: When a city "share[s] public safety concerns" about a speech with a private venue, and then publicly announces the cancellation of the event with the statement, "As a city we respect free speech but also have a duty to call out speech that does not reflect our city and its values,[…]"

    Eugene lists a series of questions that should be answered.

    Disclaimer: I think both Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz are assclowns.

    But "City of Anaheim spokesman" Mike Lyster's statement announcing the cancellation really did contain the language:

    As a city we respect free speech […]

    [Reader, can you guess the next word?]

    […] but have a duty to call out speech that does not reflect our city and its values.

    Legality aside, the City of Anaheim's mealy-mouthed language invites its own analysis.

    • The event wasn't called out. It was cancelled.
    • What can it possibly mean for speech not to reflect a city?
    • Why does a funhouse mirror leap to mind?


  • Good Question du Jour. David McGrogan wonders: Is the State Your Single Source of Truth?.

    In a short clip circulating on the internet, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, speaking about misinformation about Covid vaccines, says in an off-hand way: “Dismiss anything else. We will continue to be your single source of truth.” In doing so, she unwittingly declares the ambition of the State, if we follow the French-Hungarian libertarian thinker Anthony de Jasay in his seminal book on the subject and imagine it as a unitary person with a will of its own: to be the single source of truth, the single source of authority, the single source of loyalty, the single source of power. The State was already far down that path before 2020. In the age of the pandemic, the question arises as to whether it is almost at its destination.

    I assume Ardern will be setting up New Zealand's Minitrue.


  • Bad Advice. Andy Kessler takes to the WSJ opinion section to issue helpful advice: How to Be an Anticapitalist.

    It is hard to sit by and watch your economy being strangled. Ibram X. Kendi’s book “How to Be an Antiracist” is all the rage now, but the Biden administration and its progressive hangers-on are providing a master class on “How to Be an Anticapitalist” and suck the air out of the economy.

    Start by paying people to do nothing—1.8 million workers, according to a recent Morning Consult poll, have turned down jobs due to generous unemployment benefits, including an extra $300 a week from the federal government in some states. Meanwhile, Burger King is offering a $1,500 signing bonus.

    Anticapitalists then shut pipelines (except Russian ones) and suspend drilling leases in parts of Alaska, helping send oil prices above $70. The government says it wants to limit carbon emissions, but then it squashes better energy options like nuclear. On June 30, months after New York state closed the Indian Point nuclear power plant, Mayor Bill de Blasio asked New Yorkers to cut back on energy usage during a heat wave. You can’t make this stuff up.

    More, similar, advice at the link. The bottom line:

    Like Lenin and the Soviets, what progressive anticapitalists never learn is that parasites should never kill their host.


  • Large, Containing Multitudes.

    I was reminded of this 2019 tweet from a UNH Physics Prof…

    … when I read this article by Art Carden: Cuba Demoted to “Not Real Socialism”.

    Carden describes the "Niemietz Cycle" of socialist/marxist/communist apology for actual country test cases:

    1. The “Honeymoon” stage where "things look like they’re going well."
    2. The “Excuses-and-Whatabouttery” stage where "mounting socialist failures are explained away."
    3. The "Not-Real-Socialism" stage where failures are inexcusable and the country is (retroactively) dismissed as never having implemented the "true" ideology.

    Prof CPW is firmly in Stage 3 with respect to China.

    In Cuba, on the other hand, some people are still in Stage 2, using the US embargo as the prime excuse. Here's Carden:

    I think the embargo is a terrible idea that should be lifted immediately, as it has given Cuban communists a convenient scapegoat for their country’s problems. The embargo, however, is not what causes Cuba’s woes, and people blaming the embargo overlook the fact that Cuba trades pretty extensively with the rest of the world–how else do you think Canadian and Mexican merchants get the Cuban cigars they hawk to American tourists? It’s not because a Cuban Rhett Butler is smuggling them past a blockade. It’s because Cuba trades freely with the entire world. I suspect the US embargo hasn’t really hurt Cuba that much more than the “transgender bathroom” boycott hurt Target.

    The “embargo” story also doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in light of Marxish claims about imperialism and free trade. On one hand, we learn that “periphery” countries are poor because they trade freely with rich countries like the United States and welcome foreign direct investment. On the other hand, we learn that Cuba is poor because it cannot trade freely with the United States. I’m not sure how this works without a lot of auxiliary assumptions. It also ignores the conspicuous and inconvenient truth that the Cuban government restricts imports and has only lifted these restrictions for food, medicine, and toiletries “temporarily” in response to the protests.

    Unfortunately, only a few folks make it to stage 4: "Boy, socialism is really a load of dangerous hooey."


  • To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle. That's what Orwell said. James C. Capretta applies that to current debates: Expand Medicare? How About We Fix It First?.

    Last week, the Biden administration and congressional Democrats announced an agreement to pursue a $3.5 trillion “human infrastructure” package, which, among other things, would expand Medicare to include dental, hearing and vision benefits. (The administration also endorses lowering the eligibility age from 65 to 60, but that proposal does not appear to be included in the Democratic framework.) Meanwhile, the trustees charged with overseeing the program’s financial health are late with their annual report; when it is finally released, it is likely to warn that the program’s hospital insurance (HI) trust fund will run out of reserves within several years.

    The disconnect between the Medicare agenda emerging in Congress and the program’s financial outlook is jarring. Medicare’s rising costs are central to the nation’s fiscal challenges. Before expanding the program further, Congress ought to ensure its current commitments can be met. 

    While no release date has been announced, the wait for the annual report might end in the coming weeks because it could be awkward politically to push publication beyond summer. Medicare law stipulates that the annual trustees’ report should be delivered to Congress no later than April 1.  It is not difficult to see a connection between the current delay and what is occurring in Congress. The administration might want to avoid releasing a report warning of HI insolvency before the deal to expand Medicare is sealed. Last year’s report showed the HI fund running out of reserves in 2026 and projected a 75-year fix would require a 26 percent increase in the payroll tax rate.

    It's probably due to math problems. Math is hard.

URLs du Jour

2021-07-19

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  • I'm Old Enough to Remember… when our self-appointed shrinks advised us to "refuse to be terrorized".

    As it happens, that wasn't bad advice.

    John Tierney in City Journal notes that it's a lesson we didn't learn well: The Panic Pandemic.

    The United States suffered through two lethal waves of contagion in the past year and a half. The first was a viral pandemic that killed about one in 500 Americans—typically, a person over 75 suffering from other serious conditions. The second, and far more catastrophic, was a moral panic that swept the nation’s guiding institutions.

    Instead of keeping calm and carrying on, the American elite flouted the norms of governance, journalism, academic freedom—and, worst of all, science. They misled the public about the origins of the virus and the true risk that it posed. Ignoring their own carefully prepared plans for a pandemic, they claimed unprecedented powers to impose untested strategies, with terrible collateral damage. As evidence of their mistakes mounted, they stifled debate by vilifying dissenters, censoring criticism, and suppressing scientific research.

    Tierney documents the panic, which feedback-looped between journalists, public-health bureaucrats, and politicians. Anyone who questioned the scientific basis for the edicts was quickly vilified and their work labeled as "disinformation".

    Tierney quotes Jane Fonda, who deemed Covid "God’s gift to the Left". Enduring lesson: Statists of all stripes are pretty much OK with fearmongering if it delivers power to them.


  • Looks Like Robin DiAngelo is Over. The Amazon page for Robin DiAngelo's new book Nice Racism, published about three weeks ago, claims it is a "New York Times Bestseller", but (as I type) it's not on the latest top-15 nonfiction list. And (again, as I type) Amazon ranks it "#787 in Books".

    Could it be that all the folks who bought her previous book thought to themselves: "No way am I putting myself through that again"?

    That would explain why Amazon has it #1 in its "Masochism and Self-Abuse" sub-category.

    Well, she probably got a hefty advance.

    So we'll have to solace ourselves with reading funny reviews. Here's one from Andrew Stiles in the Washington Free Beacon: The Grift That Keeps on Grifting. Sample:

    Speaking of meaningless, the following is a passage from Nice Racism. After reading it, you might even sympathize with the white progressives who remain skeptical about devoting their lives to "affinity groups" and "accountability partners," shaming themselves for having visited a developing country without fostering an "ongoing relationship with the local population" or engaging in "critical thinking about the colonialist dynamics," or learning the difference between "color-deny" and "color-celebrate" white credentialing:

    Radical [relationality] is anathema to white supremacy and the patriarchy it issued from, and can ameliorate the effects of racial weathering while building the coalitions necessary for systemic change. Hence, radical relationships are central to abolitionist organizing, among other forms of liberatory praxis.

    Much of the text echoes this progressive Mad Libs vibe. DiAngelo reinforces her expertise by citing a litany of expert sources, including a "critical race scholar," a "social justice consultant," a "professor of educational leadership," and a "racial trauma specialist" whose "revolutionary work on how white supremacy is stored in the body has had a profound influence on me." Nice Racism is without a doubt the most self-important literary work to contain the phrase, "As Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted…."

    Long before the kiddos started flinging around their IRLs, LOLs, SMHs, and the like, there was MEGO: "My Eyes Glaze Over". DiAngelo's prose goes beyond MEGO, more like POMESIDHTRAMOT: "Plucking Out My Eyeballs So I Don't Have To Read Any More Of This".


  • Dammit, Now That Song's Stuck In My Head. (Curse you, John Sebastian!) Kevin D. Williamson sings: Welcome Back, Carter.

    ‘The ’70s are back!” declares French fashion magazine l’Officiel. No kidding: Prices are up, crime is up, Iranian kidnapping plots targeting Americans are up. . . . Surely the groovy sounds of disco and a heady whiff of Hai Karate cannot be far behind.

    My first political memory is feeling pity for President Jimmy Carter, who was obviously overmatched by the job and seemed to be universally loathed for his inability to do much of anything. That was the worst of the 1970s: gasoline rationing, high unemployment, inflation running so hot that the price of meat was remarked upon in both a Brady Bunch episode and a Warren Zevon song. (How’s that for pop-cultural omnipresence?) And in the middle of it all was purse-lipped, dead-eyed Jimmy Carter, who could not have been a flatter or duller representation of the 1970s if he had been printed on linoleum.

    That was the last time I felt pity for a politician.

    Joe Biden will get none, because he should know better. The feckless Forrest Gump of American politics was there for the 1970s the first time around: Your grey-bearded correspondent had just been born, fresh-faced young Donald Trump was facing his first federal housing-discrimination case (represented in the proceedings by Roy Cohn, of course), Tony Orlando owned the radio airwaves — and Joe Biden, that carbuncular encrustation, that lifer, that plodding careerist, that dull wooden fixture of the Capitol scene, was already getting settled into the Senate, where he would spend some decades accomplishing precisely squat, his only achievement having grown old enough and remained white enough that he could be used as demographic ballast by Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.

    I remember the 1970s mostly unfondly. The only nice thing I can say about it was that it made President Reagan inevitable. (Yes, on this guide to conservative commentators, I'm pretty much a "Ronald Reagan Misser".)

    And (by the way) if KDW's headline made you think "I wonder whatever happened to Gabe Kaplan", you might want to read this Gambling Times article, which contains the actual sentence: " In the poker world, you will undoubtedly know him as a professional champion poker player and High Stakes Poker commentator, but did you know that Gabe Kaplan started his career as a comedian?"

    And did you know he also had a perm and a bitchin' mustache? No more.


  • Just One? Michael Barone was unimpressed with the president's July 13 speech advocating for the partisan legislation currently (and fortunately) going nowhere in Congress: Joe Biden's big lie.

    Did you know that black people are not going to be allowed to vote in America anymore? At least in states controlled by Republicans. Sounds a bit unlikely, but that’s a conclusion you might have come to if you took seriously what President Joe Biden was saying in Philadelphia Tuesday.

    Biden decried Republicans’ proposed changes in election laws as “the 21st-century Jim Crow assault” that tries “to suppress and subvert the right to vote in fair and free elections, an assault on democracy.”

    This is, to be polite, unhinged nonsense.

    And (apparently) unchecked by "fact checkers".


  • "Doing Something". Eric Boehm points out the obvious outcome of a recent proposal: More Tariffs Won’t End Pollution or Solve Global Warming. They’ll Just Make Stuff More Expensive..

    The last three years have provided a pretty effective lesson about how tariffs impose immense economic costs and generally don't achieve their primary policy aims, but Democrats in Congress apparently didn't pay close enough attention.

    As part of an overall $3.5 trillion federal budget framework unveiled this week, Democrats are calling for new taxes on imported goods from countries that don't adopt stricter environmental rules. Details like what would be taxed and at what rates remain scarce for now, but The New York Times explains that the so-called polluter import fee would "require companies that want to sell steel, iron, and other goods to the United States to pay a price for every ton of carbon dioxide that is emitted during their manufacturing processes. If countries can't or won't do that, the United States could impose its own price."

    Politicians—dishonest ones—love tariffs because it's easy to pretend that they're paid by those durn furriners. They aren't.


Last Modified 2021-07-19 7:46 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2021-07-18

  • One of the mantras I try to live by is lightly adapted from an old Elvis Costello song: I used to be disgusted, but now I try to be amused.

    It's not always an easy path to follow. Still…

    One of the things I'm amused by is illustrated by this recent juxtaposition at the WSJ editorial page:

    From the American Booksellers Association website, April 4:

    This year’s Banned Books Week, the annual celebration of the right to read, will be held September 26–October 2, 2021.

    Banned Books Week was founded in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community—librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, students, and readers of all types—in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas.

    From a July 14 statement by the American Booksellers Association:

    An anti-trans book was included in our July mailing to members. This is a serious, violent incident that goes against ABA’s ends policies [sic], values, and everything we believe and support. It is inexcusable.

    We apologize to our trans members and to the trans community for this terrible incident and the pain we caused them. We also apologize to the LGBTQIA+ community at large, and to our bookselling community.

    Yes, the proud opponent of book-banning three months ago is now making a groveling apology for not banning a book.

    Jerry Coyne has a good summary of the incident: The American Booksellers Association apologizes for mailing out Abigail Shrier’s book, calling it a “serious, violent incident”. Unlike (I'm sure) most of the critics, he's read the book:

    And of course we’ve talked a bit about Shrier’s book, which I’ve just read. It is neither transphobic nor full of hate; it simply raises issues connected with “rapid onset gender dysphoria” (ROGD), an exponentially increasing condition among adolescent girls in which they decide they want to be boys and, with the help of compliant parents, therapists, and doctors (and often without proper vetting) begin taking puberty blockers and then have hormonal and often surgical treatment. Shrier’s point was that this phenomenon may partly stem from social-media pressure and the valorization of being “trans”, which brings you attention you wouldn’t get if you simply declared yourself a lesbian. It may often be associated with mental illness, and in many cases may go away on its own. Further, ROGD is often not treated according to rigorous standards promoted by some medical associations.

    Shrier’s point, and that of Jesse Singal, whom we discussed yesterday, is that we have little data on the form of gender dysphoria which comes on quickly in adolescent girls (it’s much rarer in boys), and before we go injecting hormones and cutting, we need much more extensive medical and psychological data. Shrier’s book is valuable because it calls attention to a phenomenon that needs attention, and should promote not only discussion, but the necessary research.  Shrier’s book is thus a valuable contribution to a discussion.

    But many trans activists don’t want that discussion. Like [ACLU staff attorney in charge of gender issues] Chase Strangio, they want Shrier’s book banned, arguing that simply bringing up the issue is itself a case of “transphobia.” That’s as far from the truth as you can get, for if you read Irreversible Damage, you’ll see that Shrier is sympathetic to the plight of transsexual people and only wants to ensure that those with ROGD are treated properly.

    Yeah, you read that correctly: a lawyer working for the ACLU wants to stop "circulation" of Shrier's book. The American Freakin' Civil Liberties Union.

    No, I refuse to be disgusted.

    Many links and more discussion at Jerry's place. I haven't read the book myself. Despite its best-seller status at Amazon, it is of course unavailable at either Portsmouth (NH) Public Library, or Rollinsford (NH) Public Library.

    Nor does it seem to be available at our local "independent" bookstore, ironically named A Freethinkers Corner. Free Thinkers don't want to think about that!


  • Tough to be Amused About This, Though. Jacob Sullum at Reason notes A Record Number of Drug-Related Deaths Illustrates the Lethal Consequences of Prohibition.

    The United States saw a record number of drug-related deaths in 2020. The total exceeded 93,000, which was up 29 percent from 2019, according to the latest estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The 2020 spike—the largest ever recorded—was largely attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic and the legal restrictions it provoked. But drug-related deaths already were rising before anyone had heard of the coronavirus, not just despite but also because of the government's efforts to prevent people from using psychoactive substances.

    The new CDC numbers confirm the folly of relying on supply control measures to reduce drug fatalities. Those policies are based on the premise that drug availability by itself causes drug-related deaths, which is clearly not true in light of the social, economic, and psychological factors that plausibly explain last year's surge. In any case, attacking production and distribution through legal restrictions, interdiction, seizures, and arrests rarely has a significant or lasting impact on prices or availability. Worse, those interventions drive substitutions that make drug use deadlier, as illustrated by the rise of illicit fentanyl and the crackdown on prescription pain medication, which accelerated the upward trend in opioid-related deaths.

    Jacob has been working the drug prohibition beat for many years, and I imagine he could have written the entire article in his sleep, just plugging in the latest available facts.

    But hey, there's good news for Granite Staters in the latest CDC OD stats: New Hampshire was only one of two states where deaths decreased from 2019 to 2020!

    But it's also bad news, because our OD deaths were already way high.


  • Cue Admiral Akbar! Robert H. Bork Jr. is sad to report: Conservatives Step into the Left’s Antitrust Trap.

    When Daniel Oliver, the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission under Ronald Reagan, comes out in The American Spectator in favor of realigning antitrust law to break up large corporations — “big can be bad after all” — it should be news. The only thing more counterintuitive would be an Instagram post of current FTC chair Lina Khan engrossed in a copy of Free to Choose.

    Oliver’s change of heart, like that of many leading conservatives, is fueled by white-hot anger at woke corporations — social-media giants that cancel posts and stamp warning labels on conservative opinions, online retailers that blacklist books, and other businesses that throw their economic might behind progressive causes. While I am skeptical of Oliver’s claim that the suppression of the Hunter Biden laptop cost Donald Trump the election, he’s not wrong to imagine woke legions in content departments always at work like diabolical elves, suppressing what they see as indefensible points of view. The result is an ideological bowdlerization of social media that ought to — and does — make every conservative’s blood boil.

    Oliver thinks that Robert Bork Sr. would be disowning his advocacy of the "consumer-welfare standard". Junior disagrees, and is pretty convincing. Antitrust should not be the tool to battle the wokeness of social media sites.

    He's not so convincing at his alternate solution: "fixing" Section 230 to put those sites on a liability hook for customer-posted content.


  • Because Moral Panic. Kyle Smith takes to the NYPost to wonder: Why must everything — from ‘Real Housewives’ to the NFL to yoga — be about race. It is toxic for America.

    “The Real Housewives of New York” has turned into a tiresome ongoing race spat, and has predictably been rewarded with record-low ratings. The National Football League is playing the “black national anthem.” That effort effectively rebrands “The Star-Spangled Banner” as a white national anthem and further divides America in what is supposed to be a unifying ceremony.

    Even yoga is now white supremacy, according to the new book “Yoke” (yoga meets woke, I guess).

    Celebrity yoga teacher Jessamyn Stanley told People, “I think that when you bring up cultural appropriation in yoga, everyone’s butthole clenches because everybody’s like, ‘Oh s—, I think I might be guilty of this,’ or, ‘I could be apart of this and that doesn’t feel good.’ ”

    Kyle's article is good, of course, but I found myself wondering … At the NYPost, you can quote someone saying "butthole" without hyphening-out letters, but "shit" has to be spelled "s---"? WTF?


  • Also, the Acid of Hypocrisy. Jonah Goldberg's G-File is pretty good this week, with a Deep Thought: The ‘Rust of Memory’ Is Corrosive to Our Politics.

    He meditates on Biden's (apparent) favorite slogan: "America is back." And wonders how it sounds to Afghans about to be, once again, under Taliban rule. "Excuse me, President Joe. Shouldn't that be 'America is leaving?'"

    But there’s another meaning to “America is back.” It’s an unsubtle dig at Trump and a subtle bit of liberal nostalgia all at once. It’s kind of a progressive version of “Make America Great Again.” It rests on the assumption that one group of liberal politicians speaks for the real America, and now that those politicians are back in power, the real America is back, too. But the problem is, there is no one real America. There are some 330 million Americans and they, collectively and individually, cannot be shoe-horned into a single vision regardless of what labels you yoke to the effort.

    Liberals were right to point out that there was a lot of coding in “Make America Great Again.” I think they sometimes overthought what Trump meant by it, because I don’t think he put a lot of thought into it. He heard a slogan, liked the sound of it, and turned it into a rallying cry—just as he did with “America first,” “silent majority,” and “fake news.” Still, when, exactly, was America great in Trump’s vision? The consensus seems to be the 1950s, a time when a lot of good things were certainly happening, but a lot of bad things were going on that we wouldn’t want to restore.

    Liberal nostalgia is a funny thing. Conservative nostalgia I understand, because I’m a conservative and I’m prone to nostalgia (even though nostalgia can be a corrupting thing, which is why Robert Nisbet called it “the rust of memory”). Conservatives tend to be nostalgic for how they think people lived. Liberals tend to be nostalgic about times when they had power.

    I'm nostalgic for 60s music. Except every so often, I hear something like "Yummy Yummy Yummy", and I realize that Sturgeon's Law applied even there.


Last Modified 2021-07-19 4:17 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2021-07-17

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  • I Was Promised No Malarkey. Still, as Kyle Smith points out, Biden's dishing it out and the media is lapping it up: Biden’s Blatherplate Executive Order and the Media’s Rapture.

    To understand why Joe Biden bothered to issue an executive order on Friday that is 50 percent longer than the Constitution yet contains less of interest than the average iTunes user agreement, you first have to remember how our Pyongyang Press works. Biden can attract hours of fawning coverage for picking a dandelion or ordering ice cream. Biden could break four bones tumbling down Air Force One, and the headlines would be, “Biden Shows Strength Compassion, Courage, Fortitude, and Resilience in Journey through Hell and Back,” followed quickly by “Republicans Pounce on Biden Misstep.”

    Every time Biden does anything, no matter how trivial, the media will be there to sing hosannas. If doing things earns him fawning coverage, he has a strong incentive to do things. Most reporters clearly didn’t bother to read the 72-point, 45-page Friday-afternoon-in-summer executive order. Their stories tend to link back not to it, but to an imposingly labeled “White House Fact Sheet,” i.e. press release, that promises America a bunch of things will happen (“save . . . money on their Internet bills,” “lower prescription drug prices”) that are merely stated goals in the executive order itself. Huge chunks of the executive order are simply reminders that given laws exist and should be enforced. In other words, this elephantine project is more or less just a campaign speech that the press is treating as actual policy.

    It's an "NRPLUS" article, sorry, I think that means that non-subscribers can only read so far.. Well, read as much as you can. Kyle's great.


  • And Why Would American Customers of an American Company Expect it to be? Jordan Davidson pays attention to what they say, and what they say is bad. Facebook Censorship Board Member: Free Speech Is Not A Human Right.

    Free speech is not a human right, according to prominent Facebook censorship board member Helle Thorning-Schmidt.

    “What we’re trying to find, of course, I think many of us engaging in this conversation, is that middle road. How do you moderate content and how do you find that balance between human rights and free speech, which is a human right, but also other human rights because free speech is not an absolute human right,” the Facebook Oversight Board co-chair said during a live stream of Politico’s Tech 28 spotlight.

    Cato veep John Samples is also on the FB Oversight Board, and I'm pretty sure he disagrees. But someone should ask him.

    Meanwhile, there's Article 19 of the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I wonder how many of those Ms. Thorning-Schmidt also thinks are "non-absolute"? I seem to remember the authors taking it pretty seriously, but maybe they were wasting their time.


  • But On A Related Note. Just in case there was any doubt, Robby Soave has a suggestion for Uncle Stupid, in his incarnation as Jen Psaki: The Government Should Stop Telling Facebook To Suppress COVID-19 ‘Misinformation’.

    The federal government is stepping up its effort to purge the internet of COVID-19 "misinformation." On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki singled out a dozen specific anti-vaccine Facebook accounts and called on the platform to ban them.

    "There's about 12 people who are producing 65 percent of vaccine misinformation on social media platforms," said Psaki. "All of them remain active on Facebook, despite some even being banned on other platforms, including ones that Facebook owns."

    The government stopped short of issuing an explicit order, but Psaki's language mentioned what Facebook "needs to" do. Or else?


  • One Where Taxpayers are Forced to Play Against the Odds. Adam Thierer takes to the Hill to battle the central planners: Industrial policy as 'casino economics'.

    Roll the dice at a casino enough times, and you are bound to win a few games. But knowing the odds are not in your favor, how much are you willing to risk losing by continuing to gamble?

    This is the same issue governments confront when they gamble taxpayer dollars on industrial policy efforts, which can best be described as targeted and directed efforts to plan for specific future industrial outputs and outcomes. Throwing enough money at risky ventures might net a few wins, but at what cost? Could those resources have been better spent? And do bureaucrats really make better bets than private investors?

    These questions are increasingly pertinent as the United States embarks on its most audacious government-led gambling spree in decades, with both parties lining up to make some very big industrial policy wagers.

    In June, the Senate passed a massive 2,300-page bipartisan bill, the “U.S. Innovation and Competition Act,” with a $250 billion price tag. Fifty-two billion dollars would go to subsidize the semiconductor industry, and billions more would be spent to “regional innovation hubs” and other new ventures. The bill also included dozens of unrelated amendments, including prevailing wage requirements for chip manufacturers and limits on global shark fin sales. There was something in it for everyone, prompting Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) to call it an “orgy of spending porn.”

    The Senate vote was 68-32 in favor. All the nays were Republicans except—whoa—Bernie Sanders.

    Ben Sasse voted in favor. Dude, what's your deal, anyway?


  • A Mixed Blessing. Good news on the Human Progress front: Common Cholesterol Drug Reduces Risk of Covid Death by 40%.

    The most common cholesterol-lowering drugs may improve hospitalized COVID-19 patients’ chances of survival and reduce their risks of progressing to more severe disease, a new study suggests.

    An analysis of more than 10,000 people admitted to more than a 140 hospitals across the nation found that a class of medications called statins, together with blood pressure drugs, reduced in-hospital COVID-19 death by 40% among those who took them prior to being admitted.

    Hey, you know who has two thumbs and takes a statin and blood pressure drugs? This guy! (Picture me indicating my chest appropriately.)

    But … only 40%? That's only slightly better than taking out two bullets from your Russian roulette six-shooter. I guess getting Modernaed was a good idea after all.

These Women

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Consumer note: if you, against all odds, read this report and decide to grab a hardcover copy of These Women, you might want to avoid reading the front flap. It gives away too much.

That's not to say it isn't good. It is good (except for the front flap). I put it on my get-at-library list because it was nominated for the Best Novel Edgar award, so I'm not alone in that judgment.

It's centered around L.A.'s famed Western Avenue, and the lives of "these" women who live in those environs. And it's also the current haunt of a serial killer that nobody's quite caught onto yet. There's foul-mouthed Feelia, who barely escaped death fifteen years back; Dorian, whose daughter was a victim, and has a hard time getting the police to take her seriously about the dead birds someone keeps leaving at her home and workplace; Julianna, a "dancer" and (um) reliever of male stress at a local club; Marella, a tedious, pretentious artist; Anneke, her mom. And (best of all), there's Essie, a dedicated but career-stalled vice cop who's obsessed with finding the killer, but is not taken seriously by her co-workers. She's also damaged goods, unrecovered from a horrific accident years back.

It's really more about "these women" than it is the crime, though. Ms. Pochoda does a deep dive into each character, and we get to know them pretty well. There's some feminist politics, but this brutish male reader didn't find them too annoyingly strident.

I think it's one of those books it pays to read quickly. I stretched it out over ten days or so, and some of the loose-end plot details at the beginning of the book had faded from memory before they were tied up near the end.

URLs du Jour

2021-07-16

  • Our Eye Candy du Jour is a tweet from good old Iowahawk on the financial woes of the Atlantic:

    I kind of remember giving up on the Atlantic back in 2006 when they pulled this stunt, a deceptive use of graphics. (The graphic has since been lost at their site, it seems. Trust me.)


  • She Turned Me Into a Newt! Bari Weiss looks at the case of Maud Maron, victim of… A Witch Trial at the Legal Aid Society After a brief bio to establish Maron's liberal bona fides:

    In short, Maron is exactly the kind of lawyer you’d imagine Legal Aid would put on the cover of its brochures. But today the public defender is filing suit in the Southern District of New York against the organization to which she has dedicated her career. 

    The suit, which you can read here, claims that Maron was “discriminated against on the basis of race” by her employer, Legal Aid Society, and her union, the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys. It claims that both defendants “published knowingly false statements in furtherance of ideological and political motives divorced from the core functions of Ms. Maron’s employment.” In other words: it says she was forced out of her job because of her political views and her race, a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

    “None of this would have happened if I just said I loved books like White Fragility, and I’m a fan of Bill de Blasio’s proposals for changing New York City public schools, and I planned to vote for Maya Wiley for mayor. The reason they went after me is because I have a different point of view,” she said.

    The folks who claim they want to "have a conversation" about race always seem to end the conversation with "shut up, and by the way you're also fired."


  • Or Math. Or Science. Or Basic Literacy. Or… David Harsanyi says it's not that schools can't walk and chew gum at the same time; they're having problems with gum-chewing: Forget Critical Race Theory. I Don’t Trust Elites to Teach Kids Basic Civics. He looks at We The People, a Netflix show produced by the Obamas. And it's not great:

    “Our goal from beginning to end,” [series creator Chris] Nee says, “was to remind us that, first and foremost, civics is a nonpartisan conversation.” Is it? “The Second Amendment,” sings Adam Lambert in the voice of an unidentified Founder, is “the right to bear arms, which were very different back in my day.” Now, I hate to break the news to the producers, but the press also relied on “very different” technology when the Bill of Rights was ratified. As did the government. “Very different” religions dominated America in those days, as well. The Founding generation not only experienced their own technological advances, but many of them demanded these rights be codified lest someone one day say, “Hey, things change.”

    One can debate whether the Second Amendment was a mistake. It takes an imaginary Founder, however, to make the case that “unalienable rights” were conditional on the vagaries of progress.

    I think I'll watch Gunpowder Milkshake instead. But I can imagine a lot of lazy teachers putting on the video instead of lecturing about boring white guy Nathan Hale.


  • Maybe Change Their Name to the American Bookburners Association? Jordan Davidson tells the story at the Federalist, and it's one of those laugh-to-keep-from-crying things: NOT SATIRE: Book Industry Apologizes For Not Burning Book Saying Boys And Girls Are Different Before People Could Read It.

    The American Booksellers Association apologized on Wednesday for including a book about the harms that come with allowing gender-confused children to “transition” in their July promotional box.

    ABA first labeled Abigail Shrier’s book “Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters” as “anti-trans” after receiving backlash on social media. In response, the association apologized for committing the “inexcusable” crime of promoting literature offering an alternative perspective.

    “This is a serious, violent incident that goes against ABA’s ends policies, values, and everything we believe and support,” ABA tweeted. “We apologize to our trans members and to the trans community for this terrible incident and the pain we caused them. We also apologize to the LGBTQIA+ community at large, and to our bookselling community.”

    `

    Violent.

    I gotta say, there's some serious (albeit metaphorical) violence committed against the language there.

    While visiting the ABA website (full of self-congratulation) I got distracted by their link encouraging me to bounce over to IndieBound.org, so I could find my "local indie bookstore". That turned out to be a place I've driven by a lot: A Freethinkers Corner. Which promises to appeal to a person "who rejects accepted opinions. synonyms: Nonconformist, Individualist."

    Fine. But a brief browse of their online stacks doesn't reveal any deviations from leftist dogma. No Abigail Shrier. No Charles Murray. No John McWhorter. No Kevin D. Williamson. (I could be missing stuff, but…)


  • Least Surprising News du Jour. Peter Suderman has it at Reason: Democrats’ $3.5 Trillion Fully-Paid-for Spending Plan Probably Won’t Be Fully Paid for. Excerpt:

    Consider what it means for something to be fully paid for. If I claimed that I had fully paid for my cocktail bar tab, for example, you would probably assume that I had forked over actual money equivalent to the entire tab. Cocktails in. Money out. A more or less straightforward exchange of currency for services.

    But for Senate Democrats, it probably means something more like producing an estimate showing that, over the next decade or so, drinking cocktails at this particular bar could generate enough money-making ideas to offset the cost of the drinks…maybe minus food items. The cocktails pay for themselves!

    That's perhaps somewhat exaggerated. But it's not entirely off base. For decades, Democrats have lampooned similar logic when applied to tax cuts, opposing the GOP-endorsed supply-side logic that tax cuts "pay for themselves" by increasing economic activity and bringing in greater revenue in the long run. Those supply-side effects are real, but they are typically much smaller than the most enthusiastic partisans have hoped; rarely do they fully offset the revenue loss. (That's not necessarily an argument against tax cuts. It is, however, an argument against assuming that budgets will balance after tax reductions without commensurate spending reductions.)

    I'm pretty disgusted with the GOP, but the Democrats are just crazy dangerous to the country's economic health.


  • And Destroy the IRS. Veronique de Rugy has some good advice: Want To Close the Tax Gap? Cut Taxes..

    Every policy wonk will tell you that after you live in Washington long enough, you start seeing the same issues reemerge on a regular basis. Common ones are praise for the magical ability of government spending to help pay for itself during recessions and handwringing over the myth of middle-class stagnation. And when Uncle Sam's coffers are empty, everyone suddenly remembers the so-called tax gap—the difference between the tax revenues Congress expects versus those it actually collects.

    So right on cue, calls to reduce the tax gap are back.

    After the COVID-19 spending spree, the U.S. budget deficit is even higher than what we've become accustomed to. Meanwhile, President Joe Biden and his band of congressional super-spenders are eager to extend many emergency programs, such as paid leave and child benefits, as well as spend a few trillion more on infrastructure and "stimulus."

    The myth is that the IRS can squeeze more cash out of the 1% by getting more money for its auditors, but that's garbage: the tax returns of the rich are already perused as diligently as can be. Instead, the green eyeshades will be turned on "Uber drivers, cleaning ladies, and individuals operating cash-based businesses—also known as small businesses". Nosiness and abuse will be rife.

URLs du Jour

2021-07-15

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  • Feeling Nationalized Yet? Me Neither. Kevin D. Williamson writes on God's Little Lobbyists.

    Soon after he came to power, Adolf Hitler was asked whether he intended to nationalize German industry. Hitler answered that there was no need for that. “I shall nationalize the people,” he declared.

    “Which is what he did,” wrote the great historian John Lukacs, “alas, quite successfully.” Those who would try to press our society in a different and better direction — who would drag it, kicking and screaming, against its natural inclinations — have the opposite mission: not to nationalize the people, but to evangelize them. There is no avoiding the squabbles of procedural democracy, but even the most expert and ruthless squabbling is doomed to failure unless it is yoked to a real change in the minds of the American people. (The minds, not the hearts — this is a question of political thinking, not one of religious sentiment.) That is, I think, the pattern of action for American Christians who wish to be engaged with politics as Christians. But let’s not move on from Hitler and his politics just yet.

    A certain kind of glamour hangs on such monsters as Hitler. It is the same glamour that hangs on many saints and saviors. One sometimes hears a version of it from Christian apologists who take a Case for Christ-style preponderance-of-evidence approach to the Gospel: “Jesus must have performed miracles and been raised from the dead — how else to explain the devotion to this otherwise obscure exorcist from the Galilean backwaters?” But these Christians are not persuaded by shows of devotion that the emperor of Japan is the descendent of a sun goddess, that Haile Selassie was God Incarnate, or even that Idi Amin was “Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular,” to say nothing of the uncrowned king of Scotland, though many of Amin’s subjects and sycophants would have sworn to it.

    This is not Argumentum Ad Hitlerum (or Aminum); it's a reflection on how susceptible folks are to charisma, and turning that into false-god worship.

    Fortunately, my only false god is KDW.


  • About Time Somebody Nailed It. Richard K. Vedder and Amy L. Wax describe The Real Problem with Critical Race Theory.

    CRT banishes any classroom mention, let alone thoughtful discussion, of the full range of ideas about race currently articulated across the political spectrum. (The same thing is true in corporate America and at universities, where employees know better than to openly object to CRT’s rigid dogmas.) The CRT-approved story, in a nutshell, is that white racism is pervasive and accounts for all racial deficits and disparities. What is not being taught—what students are not exposed to, and not even allowed to hear—is the contrary position that persistent racial inequalities are oftentimes rooted in cultural differences and behavioral tendencies that are not all traceable to slavery or Jim Crow, and cannot all be solved by purging the vague category of “structural racism.”

    One of the central elements of the “anti-racism” creed, which conveniently allows CRT to be presented as unvarnished, unquestionable truth, is that any critique, challenge or argument against it, however grounded in evidence, history or logic, is by definition a racist expression of an oppressive system of “whiteness.” According to CRT proponents, that system must be wholly discredited, dismantled and expunged, both to achieve “racial justice” and to spare non-whites from trauma, exclusion and an “unsafe” environment.

    True. Let me point (one more time) to the official list of "Racial Justice Resources" at the University Near Here. There's no dissent allowed there, no alternate viewpoints.


  • Unfortunately Not Performed by Van McCoy & Pan's People. As revealed by Jason L. Riley at the WSJ: Critical Race Theory Is a Hustle.

    A majority of American fourth- and eighth-graders can’t read or do math at grade level, according to the Education Department. And that assessment is from 2019, before the learning losses from pandemic school closures.

    Whenever someone asks me about critical race theory, that statistic comes to mind. What’s the priority, teaching math and reading, or turning elementary schools into social-justice boot camps?

    Given that black and Hispanic students are more likely to be lagging academically, it’s a question that anyone professing to care deeply about social inequality might consider. Learning gaps manifest themselves in all kinds of ways later in life, from unemployment rates and income levels to the likelihood of teenage pregnancy, substance abuse and involvement with the criminal-justice system. Our jails and prisons already have too many woke illiterates.

    Tough, but fair. A certain teacher demographic finds that a CRT-inspired curriculum is more fun to teach than the times tables. And they can delude themselves into thinking that it's ("therefore") more important.

    ("Classical reference in headline.")


  • "But Waste Was Of The Essence Of The Scheme." Randal O'Toole describes Transit's Dead End.

    Americans drove nearly 96 percent as many miles in May 2021 as in the same month in 2019, indicating a return to normalcy. Transit ridership, however, was only 42 percent of pre‐​pandemic levels, which is making transit agencies desperate to justify their future existence and the subsidies they depend on to keep running.

    Randal's example is the New York City area's transit systems. But it led me to wonder how Boston-area commuter rail (MBTA) was doing… ah, here we are. It turns out the MBTA is pretty desperate too, and last month they turned to a sycophantic media outlet, the PBS station WGBH to plead: Why You Should Care About Low MBTA Ridership Even If You Don’t Take The T.

    [Director of the advocacy group Transportation for Massachusetts Chris] Dempsey said while the total vehicles traveled in the state by car is almost back to 2019 numbers, MBTA ridership is still only a fraction of what’s normal. And, there are differences among those modes. Buses are back up to about 50% ridership, a reflection that many of those riders don't own vehicles, yet the commuter rail, which serves many white collar workers who still work from home, is still at 20% of its 2019 ridership.

    Emphasis added. Note that this is the commuter rail systems that "advocates" want to extend up to New Hampshire, including the entire state's legislative delegation to DC.


  • And It's Not Just Tim. Lee Siegel looks at Yale history prof Timothy Snyder’s Bad History.

    It was the advent of Donald Trump—mentioned no less than 100 times in Snyder’s latest book, The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America—that catapulted Snyder from academic star to intellectual celebrity. Shortly after the 2016 election, he published On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, in which he warned Americans that Trump could launch a fascist revolution. The book disturbed many historians, who believed that Snyder was trafficking in alarmism. But Snyder reaped a small fortune from his prophecy, despite the gathering authoritarian gloom, establishing himself as the liberal media’s resident credentialed doomsayer. This distinguished Yale historian has become a kind of American apparatchik, validating and enforcing the elite media’s party line in such snappy articles as “How Hitler Pioneered ‘Fake News’” (New York Times), “Trump’s Big Election Lie Pushes America Toward Autocracy” (Boston Globe), and “Trump’s ‘Delay the Election’ Tweet Checks All Eight Rules for Propaganda” (Washington Post).

    I didn't like Trump either, but just as Trump fans have promoted him to some sort of minor deity, a lot of his adversaries have slung around totalitarian/fascist/etc.

    I'm pretty sure they wouldn't have made it through actual totalitarianism, a point Siegel makes about Snyder. And one we've made ourselves recently about a local academic.

URLs du Jour

2021-07-14

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  • Give Him Our Amazon Product du Jour. Glenn Greenwald turns over his Substack to the author of the "Mega-Viral Thread on MAGA Voters" to which we linked last Saturday: Darryl Cooper Explains His Thinking.

    I quit Twitter last August. Quit for good. Other than posting links to two new episodes of my podcast, I stayed away for eight months and didn’t regret a thing. Around mid-June I let myself  be persuaded that social media engagement was part of having a podcast, so I dipped back in, promising myself I’d avoid being pulled into politics. Things haven’t gone as planned.

    The temptation was disguised cleverly as a conversation with a friend’s mother. She was visiting from upstate New York and we got to talking while my buddy was in the house tending to my goddaughter. She’s a hardcore Trumper from a less cynical generation that believes what she hears from sources she trusts. She’d been hounding her son about the stolen election all week, and he’d been trying to disabuse her of various theories involving trucked-in ballots and hacked counting machines. Now she had me cornered and put the question to me: “Do YOU think the election was legit?” So I told her the truth: I don’t know.

    By the time my friend had put the baby to bed and rejoined us, we were waist-deep in a discussion about what happened last year, and she was satisfied that I was on her side. “See?!? He (she meant me) knows what’s going on! I’m not crazy. He’s smart, and HE knows!” My friend pulled the Captain Picard facepalm, and said, “Darryl, what the f*ck are you telling her?”

    If the 17-part tweet-thread was too choppy for you, this is the extended version with deleted scenes. It's excellent.


  • Cuba Libre? Eric Boehm makes a plausible case for a change in American policy toward Cuba. The Trade Embargo Allows Cuba’s Regime To Blame the U.S. for Communism’s Failings.

    After thousands of Cubans poured into the streets over the weekend to protest the island nation's communist government, President Joe Biden on Monday said America "stands firmly" with the people of Cuba.

    The words of support for the anti-communist protesters—some of whom waved American flags as they demanded "freedom"—are good, but actions would be better. Biden should call on Congress to lift the United States' decadesold trade embargo with Cuba.

    I said it was plausible, but I'm dubious. Because there's a Commie country with which we don't have a trade embargo, and (yes) its citizens have benefited somewhat over the years. But it's still a totalitarian dictatorship that imprisons dissenters and engages in genocide against inconvenient minorities.

    It's one thing to argue that the Cuba embargo has failed; it probably has failed to accomplish what it was meant to. But would removing the embargo accomplish anything worthwhile? I don't know, and neither does Eric Boehm.


  • Relegated to the Dustbin of History. Robert H. Bork Jr. takes to the WSJ editorial pages and wonders Joe Biden’s Antitrust Paradox: Where’s the Consumer Welfare?.

    ‘Forty years ago, we chose the wrong path,” President Biden told Americans on Friday, “following the misguided philosophy of people like Robert Bork, and pulled back on enforcing laws to promote competition.”

    What was that path, exactly? And where have these 40 years in the wilderness led us?

    These aren’t academic questions for me. I remember my father in the late 1960s working in his cramped attic study in New Haven, Conn., beginning to develop his theory of antitrust law. He was 40, sitting at a desk my mother made from an old door, scribbling with his Scripto mechanical pencil on yellow legal pads, wreathed by a cloud of smoke from the Kent cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth.

    My father taught himself calculus because he believed a specialist in antitrust should understand the complexities of price theory. The product of this decadelong labor and his rigorous study of antitrust was his 1978 masterpiece, “The Antitrust Paradox: A Policy at War with Itself.” By paradox, he meant that laws designed to protect consumers ended up protecting everyone but consumers.

    Getting rid of the "consumer welfare" standard in antitrust… well, it's kind of obvious what's going to happen to consumers, right?


  • Say the Magic Word, Justify Any Coercion. Donald J. Boudreaux is an economist, and he argues: “Externality” Is No Good Excuse for Mandatory Vaccination.

    The most common retort to those of us who oppose state punishment of people who refuse vaccines is to allege that anti-vaccinated persons jeopardize the health, and even the lives, of innocent third parties. Read, for example, Washington Post columnist Leana Wen, whose strong obsession for mandatory vaccination is matched by her weak ability to put data into proper perspective. In econspeak, the charge is “externality!” – or as University of Michigan economist Justin Wolfers recently exclaimed in response to someone who objects to what smells like a move toward mandatory vaccination, “Because externalities.” An unvaccinated individual, it is alleged, unjustly spreads to other people dangerous pathogens whenever that individual is in public.

    But shouting “externality!” is not the trump card that many economists (and non-economists) naïvely suppose it to be. In a world in which not every human being lives an isolated existence – that is, in our world – each of us incessantly acts in ways that affect strangers without thereby justifying government-imposed restrictions on the great majority of these actions. Therefore, justification of government obstruction of the ordinary affairs of life requires far more than an identification of the prospect of some interpersonal impact. (See David Henderson’s brief response to Wolfers.)

    Justification for mandatory vaccination also requires more than a vivid imagination. Clever seventh graders can describe hypothetical situations in which every reasonable person might agree that forced vaccination is justified. (“Like, imagine a virus so super-contagious and lethal that it will, with 100 percent certainty, literally kill every human being in the country if even a single person in the country remains unvaccinated!!!”) To be relevant, the case for mandatory vaccination must be made with respect to reality as we know it. Furthermore, in a free society the burden of proof falls, not on opponents of mandatory vaccination, but on those who assert that the externality is real and serious enough to justify making vaccination mandatory.

    Don is not holding his breath waiting for mandatory-vaccination advocates to actually show their work.


  • The University Near Here has a News page set up by its Media Relations group. And one of the features on that page is a set of links to external pages titled "UNH IN THE NEWS", other sites mentioning the U.

    I first noticed something odd back in April when one of the "news" articles linked was the World Socialist Web Site, specifically an article titled Introduction to The New York Times’ 1619 Project and the Racialist Falsification of History. The UNH connection in the article: a devastating criticism of the scholarship of UNH prof Chanda Prescod-Weinstein.

    OK, it's a little odd that UNH is publicizing a site that essentially exposes one of its professors as an academic charlatan.

    But then they linked to the same article again earlier this month! This prompted me to write to Media Relations, essentially asking: doesn't anyone pay attention to this stuff?

    And then today, the section has a link to a Granite Grok article: Socialism Is Cancel-Culture at the Point of a Government Gun in a World You Allowed to be Disarmed.

    Whoa. Strong stuff. And here's the article's entire UNH-relevant content:

    A few years ago, the University of New Hampshire (UNH) had a riot. Some uptight social justice warriors were triggered by students culturally appropriating Mexican attire.

    Mayhem ensured (with or without the good hands at Allstate) due to inculcated “children” acting like jilted five-year-olds.

    Some kids wore ponchos and sombreros in honor of a holiday to celebrate the Mexican Army’s victor [sic] over the French at the Battle of Puebla, and melting snowflakes decided a reenactment was in order. Not that they likely had a clue why there was a celebration on May 5th or what drinking Corona’s (more cultural appropriation) had to do with that.

    Uh, fine. You can agree or disagree with GG's take on those UNH students. But I think we can agree that it's kind of an odd thing for UNH itself to publicize.

    I think the "UNH IN THE NEWS" section is either (a) under control of a bot operating without the slightest human supervision; or (b) there's a mischievous/dissatisfied employee in Media Relations that likes to slip in these punchbowl-turds every so often.

Good on Paper

[2.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Good on Paper]

I've liked Iliza Shlesinger for a number of years, since I got hooked on her standup comedy specials on Netflix. Very funny, insightful, and (sorry kiddos) extremely raunchy. So I decided to take a chance on this Netflix-streamable movie. She wrote it, and she's the star, so…

The character she plays isn't much of a stretch: Andrea, a standup comic looking to break into acting. (Unfortunately, based on the excerpts we see from Andrea's routines, she's not nearly as funny as Iliza.) She's in her mid-thirties, and her professional life has overshadowed her romantic life, her relationships seem to be fleeting and shallow. Her best friend is Margot (played by Margaret Cho), lesbian bar owner, who keeps urging her to settle down before it's too late.

So Andrea meets this guy Dennis at the airport. And Dennis is charming in a dorky way. He's a Yale graduate, he's a hedge fund manager, he's got a house in Beverly Hills. Or at least (a spoiler you can pick up from the preview clip) that's what he claims. The movie follows their rocky relationship.

It's occasionally funny, but credibility is strained about two-thirds in when Andrea turns into a detective trying to find out the truth about Dennis, without wrecking their relationship. The movie claims to be based on Iliza's own experience, but I have a hard time believing that she could be as dumb as Andrea.


Last Modified 2021-07-21 6:15 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2021-07-13

  • Watch What They Say, Watch What They Do. Our Eye Candy du Jour is this FBI Tweet":

    Dad is showing extremist tendencies! I saw him reading National Review and smiling! Call it in!

    Perhaps the FBI could get a few tips on how to deal with a dissatisfied citizenry from other countries. Like, for example, …


  • Speaking of NR the editors note how the Cuban version of the FBI, the "Black Berets", is dealing with "suspicious behaviors".

    The latest dictator, who took over from Fidel’s brother Raul, President Miguel Díaz-Canel, has encouraged his supporters to confront the protesters in the streets and promised that he is “willing to resort to anything” to keep the “revolution” in power.

    It’s not idle talk. He has unleashed the so-called Black Berets of the interior ministry to beat people up and issued dog-whistle calls for security forces to take off their uniforms and pose as counter-protesters taking the fight to the anti-government demonstrators. The regime has an awful lot of informers and policemen, and no one should take its oppressive capacity lightly — suppressing dissent is its core competency.

    The article contains suggestions on how the US could help the Cuban people. Fingers crossed.


  • But We Have Our Own Problems With Wannabe Totalitarians. The Daily Wire notes the latest advocate for repression: CNN Medical Expert Urges We Must Make Life ‘Hard’ For Unvaccinated, Test Them Twice-Weekly.

    Dr. Leana Wen, CNN medical contributor and former head of Planned Parenthood, argued that life needs to be made difficult for those who are not vaccinated against COVID-19, suggesting they should be barred from public events and forced into twice-weekly testing for the virus.

    “It needs to be hard for people to remain unvaccinated,” Wen urged. “Right now, it’s kind of the opposite.”

    Yes, you read that correctly: "former head of Planned Parenthood". The Federalist was one site among many pointing out: Ex-Planned Parenthood CEO Is Not 'Pro-Choice' About Vaccine Mandates. And pointed to an eloquent tweet:

    That's different!


  • The FBI Could Pick Up Some Pointers… from your friendly mailcritter. Elizabeth Nolan Brown takes a look at The USPS’ Semi-Secret Internet Surveillance Apparatus.

    Pop quiz: Which federal agency runs a social media surveillance unit known as the Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP)?

    If you guessed the FBI, the CIA, or the Department of Homeland Security—sorry. This one belongs to the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). And through it, postal inspectors have been monitoring social media platforms about U.S. protests, using tools that include a facial recognition database.

    That the agency best known for delivering mail has a side hustle in online snooping took a lot of people by surprise when it was reported in April by Yahoo! News, which obtained a March 16 "Situational Awareness Bulletin" about iCOP operations. The bulletin mentioned that U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) agents monitoring Facebook, Parler, Twitter, and Telegram had noticed "significant activity regarding planned protests occurring internationally and domestically" as part of a rally for freedom and democracy.

    I'm sure they've noticed my subscriptions to subversive publications like Reason.


  • Another Confirmation of Betteridge's Law of Headlines. Jennifer Huddleston asks Is the FTC’s Antitrust Enforcement Still Focused on Consumers?.

    The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) voted on July 1 to withdraw its pubic affirmation of consumer welfare as the guiding principle for antitrust enforcement. While this change is symbolic at this point, it weakens the agency’s public commitment to an objective consumer-based approach to antitrust. The result opens the door to politicized and unprincipled antitrust enforcement that will ultimately hurt rather than benefit consumers.

    The FTC is the nation’s primary consumer protection agency, focused on ensuring a healthy market that avoids the dangers of monopolistic practices. The statement on the agency’s antitrust enforcement had been uncontroversial up to this point. A bipartisan group of commissioners passed the statement in 2015—during the Obama Administration—and the statement primarily clarified that the FTC’s antitrust enforcement under Section 5 of the FTC Act concerning the agency’s authority over unfair and deceptive trade practices was guided by consumer welfare. In other words, the FTC would focus on those acts that cause or are likely to cause harm to consumers, based on objective economic analysis rather than the effects of business moves on competition itself or other policy standards. The statement sought to provide clarity to consumers and businesses, and in fact, the sole vote against it was on the basis that the statement was too abbreviated to provide meaningful guidance.

    Yeah, that's not good. Add the FTC to the list of "politicized" agencies.

URLs du Jour

2021-07-12

  • Dead Solid Perfect. Many are pointing out this reaction to Richard Branson's rocket ride yesterday:

    but I got an unseemly amount of amusement from James Lileks' comment on it in his Monday Bleat:

    A fitting sentiment from someone whose name suggests an organism that fastens to a vessel and moves around without doing anything, I guess.

    Making fun of people's names isn't the nicest thing. On the other hand, it's not as bad as advocating legal looting of people you don't like.


  • If There Were Olympic Games For Politicians, Flip-Flopping Could Be an Event. Conor Friedersdorf has a valuable, balanced look at the state legislative efforts to "ban CRT", and makes an interesting observation: Critical Race Theory Is Making Both Parties Flip-Flop. He looks specifically at the proposed law in North Carolina, and finds that it avoids the over-broadness of other states' efforts. But:

    Actors on both sides are taking positions that they reject in other circumstances. Prior to this year, observers of American politics could expect a bill targeting discrimination on the basis of race or sex (as at least six of the seven concepts named in the legislation do) to be disproportionately supported by Democrats invoking values such as diversity, inclusion, and the importance of combatting hate, and disproportionately opposed by Republicans citing concerns about restricting individual liberty and needlessly inviting costly, frivolous litigation. Instead, the Republicans pushing the bill say that “it simply prohibits schools from endorsing discriminatory concepts,” as Representative John Torbett, the lead sponsor, put it. Opponents of the North Carolina measure and similar bills in other states emphasize their potential chilling effect. Commenting on GOP proposals collectively, the ACLU declared, “Using these laws to prevent talk about racism is anathema to free speech—a right many conservative lawmakers claim to hold dear.”

    This role reversal is due to the confluence of many factors. For years, academic training programs and professional organizations for American educators have asserted that teachers have an ethical duty to advance progressive notions of social justice in the classroom, given the opportunity. More recently, an opportunity to advanced these notions arose: The rise of Black Lives Matter, the ideological shift of white liberals to the left of Black voters on issues of race, and the murder of George Floyd all contributed to greater support, especially in blue America, for radically transforming the way that public schools discuss race, for better and worse. Events such as the arrival of enslaved people in English colonies, Juneteenth, the Tulsa massacre, and unjust police killings have received due attention. And education about the workings of systemic racism—for instance, how redlining created racial disparities in inherited wealth—has grown more sophisticated.

    The problem is broader than CRT, I think, and certainly predates the current hubbub. I've seen it called "Zinnification". You can "teach history" using cherry-picked facts, impute saintly motives to your ideological soulmates, dismiss or ignore those of your adversaries. Anybody can play this game!

    It's just that the lefties currently are (mostly) in control of what happens in the history classroom. And they (mostly) have no compunctions about playing the Zinnification strategy.

    How are you going to legislate against that?


  • Well, We Can Try. Michael Graham [aka "NHJournal"] provides local perspective on the issue: Yes, New Hampshire, There Is A CRT Problem. He looks at the recent National Education Association vote in favor of critiquing "empire, white supremacy, anti-Blackness, anti-Indigeneity, racism, patriarchy, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, ableism, anthropocentrism, and other forms of power and oppression at the intersections of our society." And NH's legislative attempt to push back on that.

    Yes, the usual suspects are outright lying about the actually-enacted legislation. But:

    That doesn’t mean the anti-discrimination law is a good thing. State Rep. Jim Maggiore (D-North Hampton), who resigned from the governor’s Council on Diversity and Inclusion, may be right when he says, “we’re going to put a gag order, and put up a time limit on history” with this legislation.

    Rep. Linda Harriot-Gathright (D-Nashua) may be onto something when she says, “This language robs young people of an inclusive and realistic education.”

    Which is why NHJournal has been asking the ACLU of New Hampshire, members of the legislature, and other opponents of the new law a very simple question:

    What is the subject or topic you believe should be taught to students or used in training government workers that would be banned by the anti-discrimination law, and what specific section of the law would ban it?

    Thus far, not a single opponent of the law has been able to do so.

    Good question. Deserves an answer.

    [Michael points to this article, which was featured on the front page of my local paper yesterday. It's the usual thinly-disguised advocacy posing as "news", something that's gotten more prevalent over the years.]


  • Blame Canada! Are things worse in the Great White North? Well, maybe not, but they're at least more honest about what they're up to. Legal Insurrection has the story. Ontario: Math Is “Subjective” And “Used to Normalize Racism and Marginalization of Non-Eurocentric Mathematical Knowledges”. Quoting the Toronto Sun, eh?:

    Changes to Ontario’s math curriculum announced last year by Education Minister Stephen Lecce will include a ‘subjective’ and ‘decolonial’ approach to mathematics, according to documents posted on the ministry’s website.

    “Mathematics is often positioned as an objective and pure discipline,” reads a section of an online brief highlighting the ‘vision and goals’ of the updated curriculum.

    “However, the content and the context in which it is taught, the mathematicians who are celebrated, and the importance that is placed upon mathematics by society are subjective.”

    Math, it continues, has been “used to normalize racism and marginalization of non-Eurocentric mathematical knowledges,” and explains that taking a “decolonial” and “anti-racist approach” to teaching math will outline its “historical roots and social constructions” to students.

    “The Ontario Grade 9 mathematics curriculum emphasizes the need to recognize and challenge systems of power and privilege, both inside and outside the classroom, in order to eliminate systemic barriers and to serve students belonging to groups that have been historically disadvantaged and underserved in mathematics education,” the brief continues.

    Have pity on the Grade 9 Canadian kids, who may not learn much algebra.


  • Once Again, USPS Delenda Est. Eric Boehm draws attention to The Post Office Pension Ponzi Scheme, a print article brought out from behind the Reason paywall.

    Like many other government entities, the USPS has overpromised and undersaved for its employees' retirements. The pension system for retired postal workers has a $50 billion unfunded liability—that's an accounting term for the gap between what actuaries expect the system to owe current workers and retirees for the rest of their lives and the revenue it's expected to take in from paychecks and investment earnings. Meanwhile, the USPS fund that's supposed to cover health care expenses for retired workers is facing a $70 billion unfunded liability, and it has less than half the assets necessary to cover expected future costs.

    With each passing year, the situation grows worse. Even though the Postal Service reported a $2 billion uptick in operating revenue during the fiscal year that ended on September 30, 2020, expenses (largely due to the pension debt) increased faster. Overall, the USPS lost nearly $9.2 billion last year, up from about $8.8 billion of red ink the year before. Since 2007, the USPS has reported more than $86 billion in losses.

    As always: repeal the Private Express Statutes; allow other companies to put stuff in your mailbox; sell off valuable USPS property.


  • Linguistic note inspired by the "USPS lost nearly $9.2 billion" above. When I see that kind of usage, I usually think: "They didn't lose it. They know exactly where that money went."

    But then I looked at the Merriam-Webster page for Lost. Wow.

    There are nine distinct definitions of the word, some subtly different, others wildly different.

    English is tough.

Listmaker

For Efficient Traversal of the Grocery Store

[2021-07-13 Update: Didn't take long after my initial post to make some major changes. Embarassing that I didn't get it right the first time.]

Another Perl/Linux-based salve to the mental aberration I've mentioned in the past: using my meager coding skills as a hammer to whack down life's occasional slightly-annoying nails. Specifically, grocery shopping. It's partially my job. Mrs. Salad provides me with a handwritten list. A recent example:

Example List

Nice handwriting, right? Yes, she really calls those cookie dough packages "plunk & bake". And this example is neater than average, shorter than average, and pretty well organized. Still… Often I'll be finishing up shopping in Aisle 13 of the Dover, New Hampshire Hannaford … and suddenly realize that I missed getting something back in Aisle 2.

(Or sometimes not realizing I missed items until I get home.)

What I wanted was a list organized in the order in which I actually go through the store, separated into aisles (or departments) to make it easy to check that I've gotten (for example) all the Aisle 2 items before I move on to Aisles 3, 4, …

Something like this, an HTML table:

Loc/Aisle Qty Item Notes
4   Brownie Mix
    Jambalaya Mix Large
5   Raisin Bran Crunch
    Pineapple Tidbits
    Rice Krispies
6 2 V8
8   Incredibites Dry, Chicken
Back Wall   Milk
    Oatly
11   Bread Artesano
13   Cookie Dough
    Yogurt
    Pie Crust
    Ice Cream Cherry Vanilla
    Outshine Coffee Bars

In fact, exactly like that. You might notice I've added a couple items of my own; I'm in charge of keeping track of pet food, Raisin Bran Crunch, V-8, and a few other things.

Hence this script, listmaker; it produces a suitable-for-printing HTML list organizing the listed items into the order I traverse the store. Typically that's in ascending-aisle order, but including the departments (Deli, Meat, Seafood, Bakery,…) on the store's periphery. Before I leave (say) Aisle 2, it's easy to verify that I've picked up everything I was supposed to get in Aisle 2.

The workflow is simple. First, I transcribe the handwritten list into a text file:

2 V8
Raisin Bran Crunch
# Orange Juice
# Eggs
# Coffee
Cookie Dough
Milk
Yogurt
Oatly
Pie Crust
Brownie Mix
Pineapple Tidbits
Jambalaya Mix | Large
Rice Krispies
Bread|Artesano
Ice Cream|Cherry Vanilla
Outshine Coffee Bars
Incredibites|Dry, Chicken

The syntax is simple, informal, and flexible:

  • One "item" per line.
  • Lines starting with a pound sign (#) are comments, and are ignored. Used for commonly-bought items; just remove the pound sign to include them, add one to exclude them.
  • A leading digit string designating quantity is optional. Of course, a missing number implies quantity 1.
  • An optional "Notes" field is text following a vertical bar (|). This can be used in many ways: specifying a brand, size, flavor,… Notes go in a separate column in the HTML table.

Once the list is transcribed, the script can be run. Example, assuming the transcribed list above is in the file $HOME/Documents/mylist:

$ listmaker ~/Documents/mylist
[HTML list saved at file:///home/pas/Documents/mylist.html]

As a somewhat arbitrary design choice, the HTML output file is written to the same directory containing the list, with the .html extension tacked on.

I use a "store configuration file" for store-specific details. It contains Perl initialization code for two hashes:

  • %ORDER which specifies the order in which I visit aisles/departments:

    %ORDER = (
        '10'        => 14,
        '11'        => 16,
        '12'        => 17,
        '13'        => 18,
        '1'         => 4,
        '2'         => 5,
        '3'         => 6,
        '4'         => 7,
        '5'         => 8,
        '6'         => 9,
        '7'         => 10,
        '8'         => 12,
        '9'         => 13,
        'Back Wall' => 15,
        'Bakery'    => 1,
        'Deli'      => 2,
        'Front End' => 21,
        'Hbc 4l'    => 20,
        'Meat'      => 11,
        'Pharm'     => 19,
        'Produce'   => 0,
        'Seafood'   => 3,
    );
    

    In this case: the visitation order is: Produce, Bakery, Deli, Seafood, Aisle 1, 2, … (I've used perltidy to prettify the actual file.)

  • %HMAP which maps item names to aisles/locations. It contains many lines, here's a sample:

    
    %HMAP = (
        'v8'                 => '6',
        'raisin bran crunch' => '5',
        'brownie mix'        => '4',
        'pastrami'           => 'Deli',
        'ice cream'          => '13',
        […]
    );
    

    This hash can get messy and possibly redundant, especially if you (like me) are not consistent or careful in how you specify items. It's easy enough (if somewhat tedious) to clean up with a text editor.

The configuration file is loaded into the script with a Perl do command. Some basic sanity checks are performed.

The default location for the configuration file is $HOME/etc/listmaker.cf. The idea here is that if you want to use this script for more than one store, you use different configuration files. A non-default configuration file is specified to the script with the -s option, for example:

$ listmaker -s ~/Walmart.cf mylist

This is a project in my Github repository; the script is here. Notes:

  • The script uses the HTML::Template CPAN module to produce its HTML output. The template is pretty straightforward and it is here.

  • If there's an item on the script not found in the configuration file, the script will ask that you provide an aisle/location for it. Good news: your response will be used to update the configuration file, so you won't need to do that in the future. (Specifically, the script uses the Data::Dumper Perl module to produce new initialization code for the hashes described above, written back out to the file.)


Last Modified 2021-07-13 6:38 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2021-07-11

  • There's No "I" in "Education". Except For That One Near the End. Michael Ramirez has our Eye Candy du Jour:

    [Way to go, kid]

    If you missed Reading The Whole Thing before, let me quote another bit from Greg Lukianoff et al's 13 important points in the campus & K-12 ‘critical race theory’ debate:

    4. K-12 curricula are not suddenly political. They have always been political.

    The modern view of education as a pipeline designed to carry children from preschool to graduate school tends to obscure the fact that K-12 education had a very different evolution from the university system.

    Compulsory public education was a project advanced by politicians and enacted by legislatures for a political purpose, which, broadly speaking, could be described as “domestic tranquility.” In 1794, decades before Massachusetts enacted its compulsory education law, Gov. Samuel Adams praised education’s value as a crime prevention tool; in 1830, Pennsylvania Gov. George Wolf advanced education as necessary to achieve “security and stability.”

    Lukianoff accepts this, more or less, as a fact of life. And it is, sure enough. But it's misleading to call what happens in K-12 "education".

    People who are chary of indoctrination should think seriously about creating a wall of separation between school and state. Similar to that between church and state, and for pretty much the same reason: the molding of minds is way too important to allow the iron fist of government to be involved.


  • And How Much is Due to People Trying to Keep Their Phony-Baloney Jobs? Ronald Bailey asks a provocative question at Reason: How Much Scientific Research Is Actually Fraudulent?. We've mentioned before that a lot of "studies" breathlessly report results that turn out to be irreproducible. But… could it be worse than that?

    The possibility that fraud may well be responsible for a significant proportion of the false positives reported in the scientific literature is suggested by a couple of new Dutch studies. Both studies are preprints that report the results of surveys of thousands of scientists in the Netherlands aiming to probe the prevalence of questionable research practices and scientific misconduct.

    Summarizing their results, an article in Science notes, "More than half of Dutch scientists regularly engage in questionable research practices, such as hiding flaws in their research design or selectively citing literature. And one in 12 [8 percent] admitted to committing a more serious form of research misconduct within the past 3 years: the fabrication or falsification of research results." Daniele Fanelli, a research ethicist at the London School of Economics, tells Science that 51 percent of researchers admitting to questionable research practices "could still be an underestimate."

    Something to show to your neighbors who have those irritating "SCIENCE IS REAL" signs on their lawn.


  • Also Because It's Hot Garbage. Kyle Smith demands: We Must Fight CRT as Un-American.

    People who coin terms don’t get to control what those terms come to mean over time, and eventually much-discussed topics tend to get simplified to shorthand. Whatever abstruse Marx-inflected meaning “critical race theory” may have had in academia before the last couple of years is now irrelevant. Today it boils down to the theory that whites are presumptively racist and/or privileged, while blacks are presumptively victims of racism. It has blended with the 1619 Project — which posits that racism/slavery/white supremacy should displace the ideals of the Founding as the very center of virtually every aspect of the American story — to create a toxic obsession with race that threatens to define education at all levels.

    Writes the linguist John McWhorter on Substack: “To insist that ‘CRT’ must properly refer only to the contents of obscure law review articles from decades ago is a debate team stunt, not serious engagement with a dynamic and distressing reality.” The CRT we are talking about is “the idea of oppression and white perfidy treated as the main meal of an entire school’s curriculum,” he adds. “Young children should not be taught if white to be guilty and if black to feel a) oppressed and b) wary of white kids around them,” nor should kids be taught that the American story is mainly “one of oppression and racism. Not because it’s unpleasant and because sinister characters want to ‘hide’ it, but because it’s dumb.”

    McWhorter’s points would have been self-evident even ten years ago, but now CRT is deeply entrenched in the media, academia, corporations, and the activist wing of the Democratic Party. If left unopposed it will capture the big prize of K–12 education in the next few years.

    So to summarize: scientists are frauds, educators are indoctrinators, Biden is the President, and we are in a whole lotta trouble.

URLs du Jour

2021-07-10

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • Attention Must Be Paid. George F. Will has been a baseball fan for approximately 517 years, so when he says The time has come to save baseball by changing the rules he probably has a point.

    He claims that, thanks to technology and analysis, the pendulum has swung to far in favor of the defense. He has stats in favor. So:

    Requiring four infielders to be on the infield dirt — or, even bolder, requiring two infielders to be on the dirt on each side of second base — as the pitch is thrown, would reduce reliance on home runs, which are four seconds of action, followed by a leisurely 360-foot trot. A 20-second pitch clock might reduce velocity by reducing pitchers’ between-pitches recovery time. And by quickening baseball’s tempo, the clock might prevent batters from wandering away from the batter’s box and ruminating between pitches. Stolen bases might increase if pitchers had to step off the rubber before throwing to first base. After a walk and then a steal, one single would produce a score.

    I think a pitch clock would be a great idea. And if a batter isn't in the batter's box, tough for him. He shoulda planned his day better.

    Also, I'm tired of seeing balls and strikes called incorrectly. Bring on the robot umps!


  • It Doesn't Just Starve the Citizenry! Kevin D. Williamson chronicles the latest: Socialism in Action.

    If you happened to be sailing on the Gulf of Mexico earlier this week, you could have witnessed a dramatic example of genuine socialism in action — and it looked a bit like Sauron.

    The “eye of fire” — a conflagration on the surface of the water of the Gulf of Mexico — was the work of Pemex, the state-owned oil company operated by the Mexican government. It was caused by a massive gas leak that apparently was set afire by lightning.

    The Gulf of Mexico hasn’t seen that much socialism in action since the Mariel boatlift.

    When our progressive friends talk about “socialism,” they inevitably point to some rich capitalist European country with a larger welfare state and higher taxes than ours, but actual socialism — central planning, government control of the commanding heights of the economy, state-run enterprises — looks a lot more like Pemex.

    As Lily Tomlin, in her Ernestine incarnation, used to say back when Ma Bell was a government-protected monopoly: "We don't care. We don't have to. We're the phone company."


  • [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] Some Men See Things As They Are, and Say Why. I Dream Of Things That Never Were, and Say Why Not. Arnold Kling has a modest proposal: Doing Away with College.

    Higher education has turned into a self-licking ice cream cone, meaning an institution that has lost its sense of purpose and instead is focused on self-perpetuation. For many reasons, we need to do away with college as we know it.

    Broadly speaking, we need to replace two aspects of college. One is the process of obtaining knowledge and demonstrating what one has obtained. The other is the rest of the college experience—its extracurricular aspects.

    I once read a book titled School's Out by Lewis J. Perelman (Amazon link at right) that made similar points. It was published about 30 years ago, so this isn't a new idea. Perelman approached it slightly differently: getting rid of degree requirements for jobs. That's only made a lot more sense since then.


  • Can't We Just Give Him Crayons and a Coloring Book Instead? Elizabeth Nolan Brown summarizes recent news, including: Joe Biden’s Executive Order on ‘Promoting Competition’ Covers Everything From Farmers Markets to Net Neutrality.

    Biden attempts to substitute presidential power for the legislative process again. A new White House antitrust order exemplifies one of the worst presidential trends: a proclivity for unilateral executive action, even when Congress is on the cusp of considering the same thing.

    Both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have been considering a slew of changes to American antitrust policy. There are a lot of reasons to be wary of these measures, but at least—should they pass—they'll have been the subject of deliberation and voting by elected officials. In contrast, President Joe Biden's new "Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy" simply tells federal agencies to make a slew of changes in line with the president's values.

    The good news is that—like so many of former President Donald Trump's executive orders—Biden is wading into territory he doesn't actually have the power to control and, therefore, much of his executive bloviating is technically toothless. There's a lot of the word encourages thrown about. The bad news is that presidential encouragement to federal agencies still has a way of becoming bureaucratic policy.

    One of the directives…

    Directs USDA to develop a plan to increase opportunities for farmers to access markets and receive a fair return, including supporting alternative food distribution systems like farmers markets and developing standards and labels so that consumers can choose to buy products that treat farmers fairly.

    How about just letting farmers and consumers find each other without the USDA getting involved?


  • I Walk the Line. Fellow New Hampshire blogger Tom Bowler at Libertarian Leanings points out a thoughtful Thread on Twitter about the 2020 election. When Democrats are incredulous that many people think that Trump was cheated out of a win, it's not that farfetched.

    I think I've had discussions w/enough Boomer-tier Trump supporters who believe the 2020 election was fraudulent to extract a general theory about their perspective. It is also the perspective of most of the people at the Capitol on 1/6, and probably even Trump himself. 1/x

    Most believe some or all of the theories involving midnight ballots, voting machines, etc, but what you find when you talk to them is that, while they'll defend those positions w/info they got from Hannity or Breitbart or whatever, they're not particularly attached to them. 2/x

    Here are the facts - actual, confirmed facts - that shape their perspective: 1) The FBI/etc spied on the 2016 Trump campaign using evidence manufactured by the Clinton campaign. We now know that all involved knew it was fake from Day 1 (see: Brennan's July 2016 memo, etc). 3/x

    These are Tea Party people. The types who give their kids a pocket Constitution for their birthday and have Founding Fathers memes in their bios. The intel community spying on a presidential campaign using fake evidence (incl forged documents) is a big deal to them. 4/x

    Everyone involved lied about their involvement as long as they could. We only learned the DNC paid for the manufactured evidence because of a court order. Comey denied on TV knowing the DNC paid for it, when we have emails from a year earlier proving that he knew. 5/x

    I was unimpressed with the Hannity/Breitbart bloviations, but you can believe that and also believe that the "deep state" was subverting Trump for his entire term.


Last Modified 2021-07-11 3:55 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2021-07-09

  • TGIF. I was charmed by BBC Music's rendition of God Only Knows. Here you go:

    Because nothing says "BBC Music" like a 55-year-old American song, amirite?

    (Added: although, come to think of it, "BBC" could stand for "Beach Boys Connoisseur".)

    I think people will still be listening to this song (and others from those few decades of music) hundreds of years from now, long after (say) BTS is forgotten..


  • When They Say They Are Questioning "the Very Foundations of the Liberal Order", Believe Them. Arnold Kling quotes One definition of CRT from CRT advocates Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic:

    The critical race theory (CRT) movement is a collection of activists and scholars interested in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power. The movement considers many of the same issues that conventional civil rights and ethnic studies discourses take up, but places them in a broader perspective that includes economics, history, context, group- and self-interest, and even feelings and the unconscious. Unlike traditional civil rights, which embraces incrementalism and step-by-step progress, critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.

    Yeah, that's not good. Arnold goes on to describe his experience talking to an audience of "mostly high school educators". His observation:

    I came away from my close encounter with teachers marinated in CRT thinking that there is no stopping them. They have their excuses ready when CRT is criticized. They claim that their critics are right-wingers out to distort CRT and suppress discussions of race.

    It is folly to assume you can rationally discuss CRT with people who (see above) question "Enlightenment rationalism". They will not play by those rules. Instead (as a commenter here observes), they're playing Political Calvinball. Where the balls are their students.


  • Higher Ed Racketeers. The WSJ has a story that may either infuriate or amuse you, depending on your mood. ‘Financially Hobbled for Life’: The Elite Master’s Degrees That Don’t Pay Off

    Recent film program graduates of Columbia University who took out federal student loans had a median debt of $181,000.

    Yet two years after earning their master’s degrees, half of the borrowers were making less than $30,000 a year.

    The Columbia program offers the most extreme example of how elite universities in recent years have awarded thousands of master’s degrees that don’t provide graduates enough early career earnings to begin paying down their federal student loans, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Education Department data.

    Pictured in the article is Zack Morrison, Columbia University MFA film graduate, with a loan balance of "nearly $300,000", currently "earning between $30,000 and $50,000 a year".

    "Education" is sacrosanct, of course, but just about any other business that ripped off its customers like this would find itself in hot legal trouble.

    And if you're amused, just reflect on the possibility that Zack et al will get "relief" from Uncle Stupid, and thereby the American taxpayer.


  • Be Nice To Totalitarian Thugs Or We're All Gonna Die. A Politico story shows the left's priorities: Biden’s new Cold War with China will result in climate collapse, progressives warn.

    As a new Cold War takes shape between the U.S. and China, progressives fear the result will be a dramatically warming planet.

    Over 40 progressive groups sent a letter to President Joe Biden and lawmakers on Wednesday urging them to prioritize cooperation with China on climate change and curb its confrontational approach over issues like Beijing’s crackdown on Hong Kong and forced detention of Uyghur Muslims.

    It's the latest salvo in the months-long drama between progressive Democrats who say cooperation on climate change should take precedence over competition with China, and moderates who think the administration can do both things at once. As the Biden administration solidifies its China strategy, and as anti-China legislation moves through Congress, this intra-Democratic tussle could define the U.S.-China relationship for years to come.

    Among the groups signing the letter: MoveOn, CODEPINK, and the Union of Concerned Scientists. (Motto: "But we're not concerned about everything.")


  • Didymos Moonlet in the Corner Pocket. NASA has kind of a cool/wacky plan for a probe to be launched later this year, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) Mission.

    DART is a planetary defense-driven test of technologies for preventing an impact of Earth by a hazardous asteroid. DART will be the first demonstration of the kinetic impactor technique to change the motion of an asteroid in space. The DART mission is in Phase C, led by APL and managed under NASA’s Solar System Exploration Program at Marshall Space Flight Center for NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office and the Science Mission Directorate’s Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC. 

    Yes, friends, NASA has a "Planetary Defense Coordination Office". Working on a project to see if momentum is conserved in the asteroid belt. (I predict it will be.)

    I don't care, it's still pretty cool.


Last Modified 2021-07-09 11:10 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2021-07-08

You may need to click on the Amazon Product du Jour to read the small print. I laughed, you might too. [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • A Worthwhile Suggestion. We're apparently still catching up with Independence Day-related content. In her column, Veronique de Rugy wonders about Rediscovering the Promise of the American Founding.

    Declaring their independence from British rule 245 years ago, the American colonists held "these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." They went on to announce, "That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

    During the recent holiday, I reflected on how we've strayed from the ideals expressed so eloquently by Thomas Jefferson. You don't have to be a Reagan Republican to see how governments at the state, local and federal levels can obstruct our pursuit of happiness and at times even jeopardize our safety.

    Consider the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the virus's perils, governments abused their authority through lockdown policies and onerous outdoor mask mandates. Many schools remained closed despite data that revealed safe ways to bring the kids back. And when schools did reopen, the priority wasn't education but, instead, hygiene theater.

    As I've mentioned before: the truly depressing part of the pandemic was not governments abusing their powers. That's bad, but that's what governments do. Par for the course.

    No, the depressing part was how many of the citizenry demanded that government abuse its powers. That fueled my pessimism about the future of the country.


  • What Part of 'Right of the People' Don't You Understand? Damon Root has a good article out from behind the Reason paywall: SCOTUS Revisits Gun Control.

    In April, the Supreme Court announced it would consider [how the right to keep and bear arms applies in public] when it hears arguments in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Corlett. At issue is New York's requirement that anyone seeking a license to carry a concealed handgun in public satisfy a local official that he has "proper cause" to do so.

    What counts as "proper cause"? According to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit's 2012 decision in Kachalsky v. Westchester, a "generalized desire to carry a concealed weapon to protect one's person and property does not constitute 'proper cause.'" In other words, basic self-defense is not sufficient.

    "A law that flatly prohibits ordinary law-abiding citizens from carrying a handgun for self-defense outside the home cannot be reconciled with the [Supreme] Court's affirmation of the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation," argues the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association. "The Second Amendment does not exist to protect only the rights of the happy few who distinguish themselves from the body of 'the people' through some 'proper cause.' To the contrary, the Second Amendment exists to protect the rights of all the people."

    Well said, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association. Pun Salad addition: "And don't give me any nonsense about being a member of the militia. It's the right of the people, not the militia."


  • Mark Pun Salad Down as "Against". Kevin D. Williamson says You’re Either with Maduro, or You’re against Him. And there's a problem with a group to which four current CongressCritters belong:

    To what standard should Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her socialist colleagues in the Democratic Party be held when it comes to the matter of the Democratic Socialists of America and its unwavering support for the brutal dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela?

    A word about these socialists: There’s a certain kind of talk-radio knucklehead who insists that every member of the Democratic Party — and about 80 percent of Republicans — is a socialist or a Marxist or a communist. That is nonsense. I am not even convinced that all of the Democrats who call themselves “socialists” are socialists. But we are not in this case talking about a subjective evaluation: We are talking about people who are members of a particular organization, the Democratic Socialists of America, who support that organization and who are supported by it in their pursuit of political power. And, as it happens, the DSA has for a long time — and quite recently — reiterated its support for the Maduro dictatorship, under which the people of Venezuela have been reduced to eating zoo animals and worse. Before that, the DSA supported his predecessor, the murderer and torturer Hugo Chávez, who bought progressive Democrats such as Chaka Fattah on the cheap, with a few stirring words and a couple of barrels of heating oil.

    Sometimes I think I should change the name of this blog from "Pun Salad" to "What the Hell is Wrong With You People?"


  • Can You Finish the Saying "We Have Met the Enemy, and…"? Mickey Kaus is one of those liberals that hardly ever says anything I get mad at. Populism, Pogoism, and J.D. Vance.

    In 2000, When Al Gore tried Shrumian populism in his presidential race, I complained.

    In 2021, when J.D. Vance tries populism in his Ohio Senate race. I'm all for it.

    Is there (a) a meaningful difference between the two or am I (b) a total hypocrite? I favor (a). It's true that the 2000 Gore and 2021 Vance sound alike. Both tell voters there are people at the top who are screwing them over. Vance even uses the default populist phrase of Gore strategist Bob Shrum -- about how he's "fighting for you" against the powerful. But there are at least three significant differences.

    1. Gore's populism was weird:  In his 2000 convention speech, Gore didn't talk about elites. He talked more vaguely about "powerful forces."

    “So often, powerful forces and powerful interests stand in your way, and the odds seem stacked against you. … I want you to know this: I’ve taken on the powerful forces. And as president, I’ll stand up to them. … It’s about our people, our families, and our future–and whether forces standing in your way will keep you from having a better life … [Emphasis added]

    Who are these mysterious "forces"? Are they living organisms? Presumably they take human form, but they seem to almost be something supernatural. "Occult populism." Nothing as clear and familiar as a "ruling class" or "elite."

    I haven't liked J. D. Vance's populism myself, but I agree with Mickey that he's a lot better than Weird Al.


  • Another Stolen Post From Professor Jacobs. He provides a quote a WaPo article from Will Oremus: le mot juste.

    Asked for comment on Facebook Bulletin, Substack spokeswoman Lulu Cheng Meservey said, “The nice shiny rings from Sauron were also ‘free.’”

    Kind of relevant to one of yesterday's items, amirite?


Last Modified 2021-07-08 10:05 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2021-07-07

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] A belated post. Sorry. Yesterday was crazy.

  • NEA Delenda Est. We've heard folks claim that Critical Race Theory is just an obscure academic niche topic discussed in journal articles nobody reads. It's certainly not being taught!

    Robby Soave is one of many paying attention to confounding evidence. Is Critical Race Theory Taught in K-12 Schools? The NEA Says Yes, and That It Should Be..

    The public debate over critical race theory (CRT) is in large part a semantics argument, with the anti-CRT faction attempting to include "all of the various cultural insanities" people hear about in the media under the banner of CRT while the other side protests that it's technically a much more limited concept confined to elite education. Progressives are essentially correct that the definition of CRT is being tortured to match conservative grievances, but conservatives are justified in feeling aggrieved by some of these things, and thus the argument is quite tedious.

    That said, the National Education Association (NEA) appears to have accepted the conservative framing of CRT: namely, that it's not merely confined to academia but is in fact also being taught in K-12 schools. And the NEA thinks this is a good thing that should be defended.

    At its yearly annual meeting, conducted virtually over the past few days, the NEA adopted New Business Item 39, which essentially calls for the organization to defend the teaching of critical race theory.*

    Note that the link in the above paragraph goes to an Internet Archive Wayback Machine page. The NEA apparently removed this page from its own website. Tsk. Hey, I'm sure they had a good reason for that.

    Anyway, there's a list of things the Item demands the NEA do. Here's the one I especially liked:

    B. Provide an already-created, in-depth, study that critiques empire, white supremacy, anti-Blackness, anti-Indigeneity, racism, patriarchy, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, ableism, anthropocentrism, and other forms of power and oppression at the intersections of our society, and that we oppose attempts to ban critical race theory and/or The 1619 Project.

    That's quite a list of things to "critique". Many of which my spell-checker fails to recognize.

    And capitalism is in their list of hatreds. Geez.


  • Speaking of Cisheteropatriarchy… I missed this excellent summary from Greg Lukianoff and co-authors at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE): 13 important points in the campus & K-12 ‘critical race theory’ debate. As expected, Greg is skeptical of legislative efforts "contrary to a free speech culture". And note there are thirteen points, and they're all important, and I'm not going to list them all here, so RTWT. Let's skip down to the conclusion: "Sometimes the principled thing will make nobody happy."

    Being part of this debate has been, well, tedious. It puts on full display the worst of the culture wars. For saying that bills with teaching bans are unconstitutional as applied to higher education, I’ve faced numerous pile-ons, including one fellow claiming that I clearly didn’t learn any of the lessons of Communism — quite an allegation if you know anything about my family history (from serfs to kulaks to refugees to Americans).

    And on the other side, many media outlets and Twitter pundits have covered this as if this is just some kind of hoax or phobia coming out of nowhere that is intended to ban talking about slavery. In fact, I think the popular view in the media is that these laws are a response to no problem at all. Accordingly, I’ve had numerous people come to me animatedly asking or demanding that we blast these “unconstitutional” laws as applied to K-12, when they’re often not actually unconstitutional and often don’t say what their opponents think they do.

    The reality is, as usual, complicated. Proponents of these bills need to realize that they can’t legislate these ideas out of existence, and that the more egregious bills are not only unconstitutional and thus totally futile, but throw fuel on an already raging culture war fire. Opponents of these bills need to read the bills and be honest about what’s actually in them and recognize that their opponents are motivated by something other than a desire to hide the true history of slavery. It is my hope that, wherever you lie on this issue, this article has given you a greater understanding of the opposing side. And if not, you’re welcome to join those yelling at me across both sides of the aisle!

    Probably my most radical view is that compulsory schooling laws should be repealed. Lukianoff's article (confirmation bias alert) reminds me how good an idea that is.


  • Is This Irony? I Can Never Tell. Jazz Shaw notes a truly Zucked-up policy: Facebook blocks hashtag #revolution on day celebrating American Revolution.

    Can we all agree that at this point, Facebook is just trolling everyone in an effort to own the cons? I mean, this couldn’t have been an accident or some malfunction of their algorithms and filters. Somebody at Facebook must have made the decision to set up a filter looking for the hashtag “revolution” because they’re worried that the Proud Boys are about to cross the Potomac or something. I’m not sure when that went into effect, but it became glaringly obvious on the 4th of July, just as the country was celebrating our declaration of being an independent nation and the American revolution. (Better luck next time, Brits.)

    This is why I use Facebook solely to complain about people not picking up their dogs' droppings.


Last Modified 2021-07-08 10:05 AM EDT

The Hidden Half

The Unseen Forces that Influence Everything

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

I put this book on the get-at-library list after listening to the episode of the Econtalk podcast where the author, Michael Blastland, was interviewed by host Russ Roberts. I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit that I didn't recognize Blastland as the co-author of the excellent book The Norm Chronicles, which I read back in 2014. This book is really good too. Blastland is a journalist (but a smart one), and his prose is lively and accessible.

Here, he takes a hard look at the concept of "all other things being equal". A concept so ancient, it's sometimes expressed in Latin: ceteris paribus. (This page says that Cicero used it.) Although most common explicit use of the phrase seems to be in economics, the concept underlies a lot of science. And for that matter, a lot of life.

The problem being: how can you assume "other things being equal" when they so often are not?

Blastland opens with an unexpected example: the marmorkreb, a species of crayfish. They are parthenogenetic, with all offspring being genetically equal females to their mother. A few years ago, German researchers decided to raise a batch of marmorkrebs with identical environments as well. And yet, their marmorkrebs defied their genes and upbringing, and became unexpectedly diverse. Their size varied greatly, as did their coloration. They socialized with other marmorkrebs differently; they had different lifetimes; they had different eating behaviors; …

It's almost as if they were individuals, not simply mass-produced clone crayfish. And if you can't assume ceteris paribus with a bunch of clones, how can you assume it elsewhere?

Blastland answers: you often can't, and you shouldn't. Simple mental models of how things "should" work are often correct. But just as often (about half the time?) they fail, because of underlying complexities and confounding details that you didn't consider.

From there, Blastland takes a wide-ranging tour of how that works (or doesn't). Many stories, most interesting. There's (for example) sinful boxer Mike Tyson, compared and contrasted with his sainted surgeon brother Rodney. Tons of research studies that turned out to be irreproducible.

There's way too much to try to summarize, but I found one issue Blastland raises particularly interesting, and it brings in his Norm Chronicles co-author, David Spiegelhalter: studies of "risky behavior" based on large sample populations can be (and often are) reported misleadingly. The semi-amusing example was from the Lancet where the well-documented result was that there is "no safe level" of alcohol consumption. Even one drink per day raised your risk of developing a serious alcohol-related health problem. And the article suggested that public health institutions should “consider recommendations for abstention”.

Let's swing over to Spiegelhalter's Medium article that Blastlad cites:

Let’s consider one drink a day (10g, 1.25 UK units) compared to none, for which the authors estimated an extra 4 (918–914) in 100,000 people would experience a (serious) alcohol-related condition.

That means, to experience one extra problem, 25,000 people need to drink 10g alcohol a day for a year, that’s 3,650g a year each.

To put this in perspective, a standard 70cl bottle of gin contains 224 g of alcohol, so 3,650g a year is equivalent to around 16 bottles of gin per person. That’s a total of 400,000 bottles of gin among 25,000 people, being associated with one extra health problem. Which indicates a rather low level of harm in these occasional drinkers.

In short: yes, drinking alcohol is risky. But on the individual level the additional risk is small. To repeat: in that population of 100,000, all imbibing one drink per day, four of them would develop a health problem due to their booze consumption.

Spiegelhalter comments:

But claiming there is no ‘safe’ level does not seem an argument for abstention. There is no safe level of driving, but government do not recommend that people avoid driving.

Come to think of it, there is no safe level of living, but nobody would recommend abstention.

It's amusing, sure. But note that this type of research is used to advocate for "public health" measures including taxes, regulations, and prohibitions. It's all fun and games until somebody gets coerced.

URLs du Jour

2021-07-06

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

I can't agree totally with the opinion offered on the Amazon Product du Jour. Taxes are not theft.

I believe a more accurate description would be "extortion".

  • Defund, Then Delete. William McGurn has a modest (too modest) proposal: Defund Joe Biden’s IRS.

    Joe Biden may be mistaken about many things, but he’s right about the Internal Revenue Service. If the IRS is to become the agency he wants it to become, it needs the $80 billion in extra funding he is now proposing.

    It comes down to the tax gap. This is the difference between what people owe the IRS and what it actually manages to collect. Though Commissioner Charles Rettig told the Senate Finance Committee in April that the IRS is leaving $1 trillion on the table each year, a more recent Treasury Department analysis put the gap at roughly $600 billion for 2019, which it said “is on pace to total $7 trillion over the course of the next decade.”

    There are two schools of thought here. The first—call it the Joe Biden School—holds that the answer is to give the IRS the authority, funding and manpower it needs to go out and bring in that missing revenue. Accordingly, an $80 billion IRS infusion will more than pay for itself by generating an additional $700 billion in tax revenue over the next decade. It’s a bargain at the price.

    The other school—let’s call it the Milton Friedman School—holds that the best tax collection system comes from a tax code that keeps taxes low, fair and simple. In either case, the kind of IRS you believe you need is more or less dictated by the tax code you prefer.

    I'd guess you know which school I attend. But anyone who looks at the recent politically-motivated leak of rich-folk tax returns, or remembers Lois Lerner might think twice about awarding the IRS more money.


  • Message Received. William Jacobsen takes a look at a well-funded effort: Union-Linked Coalition Scripts ‘Messaging’ To Counter Parental Pushback Against Critical Race Theory. The coalition is the Partnership for the Future of Learning, it's backed by numerous groups, including the National Education Association. And it gives the lie to assertions that "Critical Race Theory" is just some obscure field of study restricted to legal scholars. Its "Top 5 Messages"

    1. Truth in our classrooms propels young people towards a more united, inclusive, and just future.
    2. Trust students to talk about what’s happening in the world around them.
    3. Coordinated efforts to control curriculum come from aggressive right-wing instigators who want to stop educators and districts from working toward racial equity.
    4. When educators teach the truth, students start to see themselves as part of a bigger story.
    5. Banning conversations about racism in schools is a form of censorship. A shared, honest understanding of the past bridges divides.

    It's us (on the side of "truth" and "trust" and "racial equity" and "understanding") against them ("aggressive right-wing instigators" who favor "censorship").

    It gets "better" (by which I mean "worse") from there. They are very locked in and dedicated to indoctrination.


  • Not That Nice. I hope Jarrett Stepman was well-paid to Read Robin DiAngelo’s New Book on ‘Nice Racism.’ Here Are 3 Takeaways..

    But DiAngelo’s books aren’t really about deep societal analysis and policy, or really about helping people live in a better, freer, more prosperous society.

    They certainly aren’t aimed at a broader audience or conservatives who are assumedly nothing but a basket of deplorables beyond redemption.

    Opponents of the grand plan are little more than an absurd caricature.

    “I am writing this book at a time when white nationalism—the desire for a white ethnostate by and for whites—is on the rise both in the United States and globally,” DiAngelo writes in the first chapter with little explanation or evidence.

    No, DiAngelo’s books are miserable self-help guides for upper-middle-class, white, deeply committed progressives who are desperately searching for a way to not be racist in a world where denying your racism is an example of racism.

    I'm afraid I'm already classified as a hopeless advocate of a white ethnostate. Robin, all I ask is that you try to find one single bit of evidence of that from my 16 years of blogging.

    (There. That should keep her busy for a while.)


  • Which Reminds Me. I recently read The Disordered Cosmos by University Near Here Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy and a Core Faculty Member in Women's and Gender Studies Chanda Prescod-Weinstein. I wasn't that impressed, but if you want to read my take, it's in my book feed here.


  • Which Also Reminds me. Via Robin DeAngelo link above, I was led to the contribution of Ibram X. Kendi to a Politico collection on How To Fix Inequality: Pass an Anti-Racist Constitutional Amendment. In its entirety:

    To fix the original sin of racism, Americans should pass an anti-racist amendment to the U.S. Constitution that enshrines two guiding anti-racist principals [sic]: Racial inequity is evidence of racist policy and the different racial groups are equals. The amendment would make unconstitutional racial inequity over a certain threshold, as well as racist ideas by public officials (with “racist ideas” and “public official” clearly defined). It would establish and permanently fund the Department of Anti-racism (DOA) comprised of formally trained experts on racism and no political appointees. The DOA would be responsible for preclearing all local, state and federal public policies to ensure they won’t yield racial inequity, monitor those policies, investigate private racist policies when racial inequity surfaces, and monitor public officials for expressions of racist ideas. The DOA would be empowered with disciplinary tools to wield over and against policymakers and public officials who do not voluntarily change their racist policy and ideas.

    "Yeah, that'll 'fix' it."

    Seriously, the Chanda Prescod-Weinstein book discussed above uses the word "totalitarian" a lot. But I'm not sure a proposal could be more totalitarian than the one above. "Change your ideas, racist, or submit to our disciplinary tools!"


  • Those Crazy Mainers. Nathan Bernard tells a belated Independence Day tale at the Intercept: A Nation Conceived in Liberty Confronts Its Queasiness With the “MILF Mobile”.

    Brittney Glidden drives Maine’s most beloved vehicle. It’s a 2013 teal Chrysler Town & Country minivan. An enormous custom-made “MILF Mobile” logo is plastered on its rear windshield.

    “Everyone loves my van, except for Karens,” Glidden said, referring to a pejorative term for entitled white women. “Karens hate it.”

    Glidden’s ride also sports “Kids in this bitch, honk if one falls out,” “If you’re gonna ride my ass, at least pull my hair,” and “Condoms prevent minivans” stickers. A “TITSOUT” vanity plate is latched to the MILF Mobile’s bumper.

    “The plate references the fact that I exclusively breastfed all four of my children,” Glidden said. “And that I frequently drive topless. Maine is in fact a topless state.”

    I hear you: "She should move to New Hampshire!" Unfortunately, one of the vanity plate rules in the Live Free or Die state is no references to “intimate body parts or genitals", and I think Brittney's plate would qualify there.

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

I put this book on my get-at-library list thanks to its nomination for a "Best Novel" Edgar award. And (in April) it won! So: good for the author, Deepa Anappara.

The novel's setting is a poverty-wracked slum tacked onto an unnamed Indian city. The "Purple Line" in the title is the commuter train that runs under the slum. And the Djinn Patrol? Well…

The narrator (for most of the book) is Jai, a nine-year-old boy. He's very observant and insightful for his age. And he takes for granted a life that we Americans would find horrific: grinding poverty, pittance wages for shitty jobs, communal bathrooms, open garbage dumps, choking air pollution, lousy schools, Hindu/Muslim bigotry, corrupt and lazy cops. And the ever-present threat that your entire community's housing could be wiped out in minutes without warning if the powers-that-be decided to bring out the bulldozers.

But things get worse, because kids start going missing from the slum. Did I mention the corrupt and lazy cops? Yeah: they're willing to take hefty bribes from distraught parents. In exchange for not doing anything.

But plucky Jai does watch TV, enraptured by crime shows. Inspired by the fictional detectives, he decides to investigate the disappearances on his own. He teams up with his school friends: Pari (a girl who's significantly smarter) and Faiz (a Muslim boy). Their efforts are largely unappreciated, but their story illuminates much of the city's social ecology. And Jai entertains the idea that the missing kids might have been kidnapped by an evil djinn; hence the "Djinn Patrol" of the title.

It's very well-written, and (surprisingly) it's not without humor amidst all the bleakness. I didn't care for the ending. No spoilers, and your mileage my vary if your tastes in crime fiction run a certain way, but… no, I didn't care for the ending at all.

The Disordered Cosmos

A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Dreams Deferred

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

I have my Master's Degree in Physics from the University Near Here. Although I eventually decided (way too late in life) that the field was not for me, I still kind of keep tabs on it, mostly by reading "for the layman" physics books. Recently, my old department added Chanda Prescod-Weinstein (CPW) to its faculty, and she pretty quickly made herself, um, known. (I don't think I could name another current faculty member.) She has appeared at Pun Salad occasionally since 2018: here (pre-UNH), here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

When I noticed that the Portsmouth Public Library owned her recent book, I decided to grab it. From my previous encounters, I knew it would be outside my comfort zone, but you need to go there every so often, right? So…

Well, the good things first. She likes Star Trek. Hey, so do I! And (in the first chapters) she describes the wonders of modern particle physics and cosmology with a lively voice and obvious enthusiasm.

But even there, it's clear her real topics are (a) race and (b) herself. And once she's done with the physics, those drive the rest of the book. It's occasionally interesting, but mostly not. She hammers science, history, and philosophy into a 100% "woke" hard-left perspective, all wrapped up in the tedious and tired jargon that implies. On her bumpy journey, she indicts: capitalism, colonialism, the proposed Mauna Kea Thirty Meter Telescope, sexism, misgendering, global warming, … and so much more. Any valid points she might have made are drowned out by her obvious confirmation bias. Except for (I hope) her physics research, she's not looking for truth; she's looking for ammo. This approach leads her into making ridiculous overstatements.

Example (pp 241-2): "In this [American] system's sphere of influence, Black children cannot safely rest on the couch without being murdered in their sleep by police. Black children cannot go to the store and buy candy without being murdered on the street by vigilantes who are operating as part of a surveillance structure encouraged by the state. Black children cannot listen to music in a car without being murdered by vigilantes who believe the state gives them permission to shoot loud Black children. American white supremacy is a total authoritarian structure that shapes every aspect of Black lives."

Meanwhile, in the real world, the Chicago Sun-Times counts 99 people shot over last weekend, 17 fatally. The wounded include 11 children. The article doesn't classify by race, but it's safe to assume that both shooters and victims were mostly Black, and the shooters were neither police nor "vigilantes".

[Update: apparently the Sun-Times revised its count: 104 shot, 19 killed, 13 kids wounded ("at least").]

Analogies are strained far beyond their breaking point to bring the discussion around to the Real Topics. Example (pp 119-120): "I tend to think of [weak gravitational lensing] as being a lot like systemic racism. You look at any one incident, say when someone comments on my hair and asks me if it's real, and some person who hasn't experienced racism might say, 'Oh, that's not racism. That person was just curious.' The hair incident, which happened to me while I was grabbing lunch at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center is a classic example of an individual manifestation of systemic racism. But in order to understand it as such, one has to have an awareness of systemic racism or a lifetime of experience with its various patterns. If you're experienced, it's easy to identify. I didn't need anyone to tell me that the white man who asked me if my hair was a wig was doing something that Black folks might call 'super white', and it academic parlance is a microaggression—an almost mundane expression of racism."

CPW doesn't show the slightest awareness that her "lifetime of experience" causes her to see racism everywhere, even in an innocent, probably clumsy, effort to engage her in conversation.

CPW points with pride (p.235) to an article she co-wrote a couple weeks after Donald Trump was inaugurated: "We Are The Scientists Against A Fascist Government", her protest against the relatively moderate "March for Science" which (unsuccessfully in my view) strove for big-tent non-partisanship. Nope. Unless you view Trump's rule as a "totalitarian catastrophe", exercising "total authoritarian power over communities of people", and didn't admit that it all showed a "fascist, totalitarian pulse" in "America's political foundation" you ain't on Team CPW.

Geez. I didn't like Trump either, but that seems overblown.

Well, I've yammered long enough. Bottom line: America's sins of racism are real, of course. CPW thinks they're the whole story. They aren't. She thinks hard-leftism is a valuable lens for analysis. It isn't.


Last Modified 2021-07-07 7:39 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2021-07-05

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • At Haverford, Respect is a One-Way Street. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) looks at the new rules at Haverford College and is not amused. Here is the latest version, with additions bolded and removals struck out:

    In particular, we recognize that acts of discrimination, microaggression, and harassment, including, but not limited to, acts of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, ableism, tokenism, cultural insensitivity, discrimination based on citizenship status, discrimination based on religion, and discrimination based on national origin, accent, dialect, or usage of the English language are devoid of respect and therefore, by definition, violate this Code. We understand that these discriminatory acts can take many forms, and smaller acts such as microaggressions are also devoid of respect and thus violate the Code. …

    We also recognize that a person’s there are a range of political opinions at Haverford College, are necessarily intertwined with their values and outlook, and thus influence their practices. These practices may violate the Honor Code. As such, Thus, we expect that when expressing or encountering others’ political beliefs, students will must be respectful of community standards as befits adherence to this Code. when expressing political opinions. As the Social Honor Code applies to all of our interactions at Haverford, engagement in political discourse falls within its jurisdiction, and political beliefs may not be used to excuse behavior that violates the Code. If we find that our political beliefs perpetuate discrimination, we are obligated to re-evaluate them as we would any of our beliefs that perpetuate discrimination.

    [C]onfronted students weaponizing the Code’s expectation of respect in order to silence and/or invalidate the experiences of harmed parties—including invalidating experiences of harm by claiming discrimination against a privileged identity (e.g., claims of reverse-racism) or refusing to reflect on their actions—is a violation of the Code. Using one’s political beliefs to justify disrespectful or discriminatory words or actions is also a violation of the Code.

    Man, I really like that last bit: "weaponizing the Code's expectation of respect".

    I (once again) turn to that open letter from "UNH Lecturers United" which complained that they were being "encouraged" by UNH Administration to "respect and tolerate the political positions of students that they may find reprehensible."

    They should be made aware of the Haverford solution; simply deem that to be "weaponization"! Obviously a bad thing!


  • Even Bigger Question: Do They Deserve to Recover? In her Bloomberg column, Virginia Postrel ponders The Big Question: Can America's Public Schools Recover from the Pandemic?. She (VP) is interviewing Austin Beutner, the former superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District:

    VP: Back in 2019, before Covid, teachers in your district went on strike for the first time in 30 years. During that strike, they enjoyed a lot of support from parents and students. Has that relationship changed at all, especially with disputes about whether schools should go back in person or not? Has that changed who’s trusted?

    AB: It’s a good question to which I don’t know the answer. But to put the strike in context, it was a very public conversation about the inadequacy of funding for public schools in Los Angeles. Class sizes were too big. We didn’t have the dollars to hire reading specialists. I agreed with that. But the state funds public education in California, not school districts. When I started three years ago, when the strike occurred, funding per student was about $17,000; at that same time, funding in New York City was approaching $30,000, even though our costs are relatively similar. This year, our budget is $24,000 per student, so for the first time we have a path to adequacy. Now we have to deliver on that promise.

    Austin reveals that Uncle Stupid (i.e., you and me) is providing about 25% of LAUSD's funding for the next two years. (At least. We'll see if that continues.)


  • Hi. I'm From The Federal Government, and I'm Here to Lie to You.. Sally Pipes reviews the dismal history of America’s Centers for Disease Confusion.

    America’s vaccination campaign is stalling. In late June, pharmacists and other providers were administering roughly 800,000 shots a day — down 80 percent from a peak of more than 4.6 million in mid April.

    Because of this precipitous decline, the Biden administration recently admitted it would miss its self-imposed goal of vaccinating at least 70 percent of American adults by Independence Day. So far, only 66 percent have gotten the jab.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) deserve much of the blame for plummeting vaccination rates. Public-health officials have botched their pandemic response and messaging nearly every step of the way — inadvertently stoking skepticism of the vaccines.

    Note that the various screwups mentioned in Sally's article probably wound up killing thousands.

    But don't worry, there's a crack investigation upcoming from Congress.

    Oh, wait a minute. That's investigating January 6. Which killed a grand total of one, Ashlii Babbitt. (And I bet it won't reveal much about that.)

URLs du Jour

2021-07-04

  • Happy Independence Day! Michael Ramirez has a day-appropriate cartoon:

    [Never Forget, Revise, or Discount]

    I also note that Google is unabashedly patriotic with today's Doodle:

    [Fourth of July]

    Click through and enjoy their pyrotechnics. Does this mean that Google no longer hates America?


  • Fortunately, I Didn't Have to Pass a Test. And neither did David Shipley. But…

    In 1938, a month after Kristallnacht, my father’s family left Berlin for the United States. As Jews, their time as Germans had to come to an end, to put it charitably. The family went first to Washington Heights in New York City, to acclimate with relatives, and then the four of them — my 11-year-old father, his older sister and his middle-aged parents — made their way across the country to settle in Oregon, a distant corner of a foreign land.

    There, they set out to become Americans. “Schybilski” became “Shipley,” the closest approximation they could find in the Salem, Oregon, phone book. My grandfather wanted a name that would help the family fit in. The switch happened so quickly that my father couldn’t remember his new name when he showed up at school the next day.

    Their relentless desire to become Americans, to join up with the country that had saved their lives, was brought home to me recently when I stumbled on a worn sheaf of carefully typed papers, annotated and bound with string. It was my grandfather’s study guide for his citizenship exam, and it had been tucked away in a manila file in my father’s office.

    His article provides a dozen questions from the 1944 citizenship exam his grandfather took. Interactive, so you can see how you would do.

    I got 9/12, which I hope is passing, but I'm not proud of missing three. In my meager defense: if I'd thought for a few seconds longer on a couple, I think I would have gotten them.


  • A Close Call, Though. An excellent article by Jacob Sullum from print-Reason is out from behind the paywall: Why Didn’t COVID-19 Kill the Constitution?. It's an excellent summary of the legal wranglings over pandemic restrictions on liberty, some going to the Supreme Court. It's long, but interesting all the way through. I just want to excerpt one bit from the discussion on religious gathering restrictions. After Sullum discusses Chief Justice Roberts' "zigzagging" on cases apparently without "consistent principle":

    While Roberts seemed torn between respect for religious liberty and deference to elected officials, Justices Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor showed no such ambivalence. They always were willing to accept politicians' public health judgments, even when they were scientifically dubious, changed in the midst of litigation, or resulted in policies that privileged politically influential industries or that explicitly disfavored religious gatherings. It is not clear that Kagan et al. can imagine a disease control policy that would violate the Free Exercise Clause, provided it was presented—as such policies always are—as necessary for the protection of public health.

    I don't think Kagan, Breyer, and Sotomayor deserve that "liberal" label that lazy court observers usually slap on them.


  • What Would We Do Without Studies? Ronald Bailey highlights the latest from "to a team of European researchers led by University of Leeds sustainability researcher Jefim Vogel": To Stop Climate Change Americans Must Cut Energy Use by 90 Percent, Live in 640 Square Feet, and Fly Only Once Every 3 Years, Says Study.

    Vogel and his colleagues set themselves the goal of figuring out how to "provide sufficient need satisfaction at much lower, ecologically sustainable levels of energy use." Referencing earlier sustainability studies they argue that human needs are sufficiently satisfied when each person has access to the energy equivalent of 7,500 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity per capita. That is about how much energy the average Bolivian uses. Currently, Americans use about 80,000 kWh annually per capita. With respect to transportation and physical mobility, the average person would be limited to using the energy equivalent of 16–40 gallons of gasoline per year. People are assumed to take one short- to medium-haul airplane trip every three years or so.

    In addition, food consumption per capita would vary depending on age and other conditions, but the average would be 2,100 calories per day. While just over 10 percent of the world's people are unfortunately still undernourished, the Food and Agriculture Organization reports that the daily global average food supply now stands at just under 3,000 calories per person. Each individual is allocated a new clothing allowance of nine pounds per year, and clothes may be washed 20 times annually. The good news is that everyone over age 10 is permitted a mobile phone and each household can have a laptop.

    "I'll take 'That's not gonna happen' for $1000, Alex."

    Ron's summary had me wondering: are Vogel et. al. really recommending such totalitarian measures, or are they just pointing out the absurd impossibility of "stopping climate change"?

    Well, I clicked through to the study. And yep, it's really recommending turning up government coercion to 11. E.g.: "Taken together, these analyses provide a strong case for redistributive policies that establish both minimum and maximum income and/or consumption levels."


  • If Your Side is Losing, It's Time to Change the Rules. The Babylon Bee CEO Seth Dillon takes to the pages of National Review: How The Babylon Bee Is Fighting Back against its wannabe censors:

    Almost daily, we get an email from one of our readers informing us that they usually like satire but, this time, we’ve gone too far. They go on to explain that whatever we’d just skewered is off limits and should be left alone. They demand apologies and, in some cases, retractions. They want us to take it back.

    Such is human nature. Mockery is fun (and funny) right up until it isn’t. The moment a joke strikes too close to home, we suddenly become uncomfortable.

    But unlike the occasional disgruntled reader, the Left isn’t objecting to a one-off joke of ours. They’re objecting to our very existence as a conservative satire site. They want us not to take down an offensive piece of satire but to stop writing satire altogether.

    Dillon relates the damp-squib efforts of the New York Times, CNN, and Snopes to slander the Bee. But there's a relatively new strategy developing:

    Facebook just announced they’ll be moderating satire to make sure it doesn’t “punch down.” Anything that punches down — that is, anything that takes aim at protected targets Facebook doesn’t want you joking about — doesn’t qualify as “true satire.” In fact, they’ve made it clear they’ll consider jokes that punch down to be hatred disguised as satire. They write: “Indeed, humor can be an effective mode of communicating hateful ideas.”

    Mere days after this announcement was made, Slate published a piece accusing us of having a “nasty tendency to punch down.” Shortly after it ran, that quote found its way onto our Wikipedia page, further solidifying the narrative.

    The new "punch down" rule is sufficiently vague. Here's an excerpt from Facebook's mealy-mouthed analysis:

    Considerations: […] we will add information to the Community Standards that makes it clear where we consider satire as part of our assessment of context-specific decisions. This work will include implementing a new satire framework, which our teams will use for evaluating potential satire exceptions. Regional teams will be able to provide satire assessments, as well as escalate pieces of content to specialized teams for an additional review when necessary.

    We previously began developing a framework for assessing humor and satire and are prioritizing completing it based on the board’s recommendation. This work included over 20 engagements with academic experts, journalists, comedians, representatives of satirical publications, and advocates for freedom of expression. Stakeholders noted that humor and satire are highly subjective across people and cultures, underscoring the importance of human review by individuals with cultural context. Stakeholders also told us that “intent is key,” though it can be tough to assess. Further, true satire does not “punch down”: the target of humorous or satirical content is often an indicator of intent. And if content is simply derogatory, not layered, complex, or subversive, it is not satire. Indeed, humor can be an effective mode of communicating hateful ideas.

    Given the context-specific nature of satire, we are not immediately able to scale this kind of assessment or additional consultation to our content moderators. We need time to assess the potential tradeoffs between identifying and escalating more content that may qualify for our satire exception, against prioritizing escalations for the highest severity policies, increasing the amount of content that would be escalated, and potentially slower review times among our content moderators.

    Shorter: "We asked a selected group of people to come up with a justification for what we wanted to do anyway."

URLs du Jour

2021-07-03

  • I See Double Standards. As illustrated by Michael Ramirez:

    [Financial Follies]

    Mr. Ramirez provides fun details. If you're looking askance at that gadget over by the window: yes, I think it's something called a "fax machine". For more on that, see Why Your Doctor's Office Still Depends on a Fax Machine from Lloyd Minor, Dean of the Stanford Med School.


  • Not That Stealthy. Peter Suderman relates The Stealthy Economic Radicalism of Biden’s Boring Presidency.

    In the half a year that Joe Biden has been president, it has become something approaching conventional wisdom that he is a boring politician, running a boring presidency that is focused on enacting boring policies. Even his most entrenched political opposition cannot seem to find much to engage or enrage.

    A recent Atlantic article on the downturn in conservative publishing, for example, noted that it has been hard for right of center authors and editors to turn Biden into the sort of villain who moves books, and that his "relative dullness is his superpower." Similarly, a report in Axios this week declared that the "boring news cycle" had led to a downturn for partisan media. Opposition outlets usually see a boost when a new president from the opposing party settles in the White House; this time, that hadn't happened. "While the Biden administration has seen plenty of debate over policy," the Axios report said, "economics and a crisis at the border, personality-based controversy has largely been absent."

    Peter (I call him Peter) goes on to point out Biden's actual proposals would be a significant, permanent increase in the power, size, and scope of government over the lives of citizens. That should be a big deal. That it's not is largely an indictment of (1) the current GOP, which went into thrall with Trump, and (2) the liberal media, which is mostly interested what kind of ice cream President Wheezy is eating.

    Great reporting, CBS News!


  • He Should Tell Different Stories That Can't Possibly Be True. But CNN seems to have woken up a bit, at least enough to point out that Biden should probably stop telling this story about Amtrak that can't possibly be true.

    Did Biden say that Amtrak was a shining success and a glorious part of America's transportation future? That would be a howler. But no. Instead (as reported by John Sexton at Hot Air):

    President Biden gave a speech in Philadelphia at the end of April as part of a celebration of Amtrak’s 50th anniversary. During the speech he told a particular story about something that had happened to him during his years as vice president. The story involved an Amtrak conductor named Angelo Negri who had become Biden’s friend over the years. Negri allegedly came up to Biden one day as he was getting on the train to tell him that he had done the math and concluded Biden had traveled 1.5 million miles on Amtrak over the years, even more miles than he’d traveled by air.

    But when a few news outlets including Fox News and the Daily Mail looked into it, there were significant problems with the story. The most glaring was that the conductor who had supposedly grabbed Biden’s arm to tell him about the milestone had retired decades earlier. In fact, that particular conductor died a full year before Biden hit the milestone mentioned in the story.

    It could be (as Sexton says) (I call him Sexton) that this "might suggest Biden’s memory isn’t what it used to be." But Biden has had a long history of just making stuff up. So it could be that, or a combination of dishonesty and cognitive decline.


  • His Weakest Could Still Be Pretty Good. [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] Charles Murray has a new book out, and the Kindle version (link, ahem, at your right) is a mere $9.99. And I plan to read it. But John McWhorter explains Why Charles Murray's New Book is His Weakest.

    I come not to bury Charles Murray, but not to praise him, either.

    He has a new book out, Facing Reality. It’s a doozy.

    His books have a way of being doozies, going up against ideas sacred to the American intelligentsia on race as well as class.

    He is also one of America’s most brilliant thinkers.

    To many familiar with Murray’s work, I have already revealed myself as a “racist” in engaging his work at all, and/or not calling him one.

    However, Murray’s work is too carefully reasoned and too deeply founded on scholarly sources to be dismissed as “racist,” except by people whose definition of “racist” is “That which people of the black American race don’t like for any reason.”

    Rather: I salute Murray’s brilliance while being disturbed by many of his arguments. What many will call racism is what I call being able to walk and chew gum at the same time.

    Professor McWhorter (I call him Professor McWhorter) lays out Murray's fact-based clear-eyed presentation about American racial disparities. And faults him for (it seems) weaseling out in his conclusions and recommendations.


  • Charlie Cooke is an Atheist, But… he apparently has had a come-to-Jesus moment, at least temporarily: Thank the Lord for Air-Conditioning .

    Both Canada and the United States are suffering through a heat wave. Thus far, the BBC reports, more than 65 people have died in British Columbia, while, in the United States, there have been “at least a dozen deaths in Washington and Oregon.” The technical causes of these deaths are multifarious, and yet one variable stands out: A disproportionate number of the deceased did not have access to air-conditioning.

    It is fashionable around this time of year for click-hungry outlets to run pieces condemning A/C. Sometimes, the argument is that air-conditioning is unnecessary. Sometimes, the argument is that air-conditioning is making us weak. Occasionally, the argument is that air-conditioning is sexist. Always, the arguments are silly. Far from being a problem, air-conditioning is a top-five-of-all-time invention. Even better: It saves lives.

    I note that Charlie (I call him Charlie) doesn't actually thank the Lord for AC in the article text. In fairness, he might have not written the headline. We not-so-religious folks can thank Willis Carrier.

URLs du Jour

2021-07-02

  • Man, That's Zucked Up. Many people noting Facebook's latest auto-concern. Here's one tweet among many:

    I'm in awe about that "exposed to harmful extremist content" language. Classifying viewing provocative pixel arrangements on your screen in the same ballpark as exposure to radioactivity, dangerous viruses, carcinogens….

    Recommended reading for Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook employees, and (perhaps) you: Greg Lukianoff on John Stuart Mill's Trident. (Recently updated with video, for those who prefer their pixels that way.)


  • [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] Why Would She Abandon a Working Formula? Matt Welch notes that Robin DiAngelo Is Very Disappointed in the White People Making Her Rich. She's got a new book out, Nice Racism: How Progressive White People Perpetuate Racial Harm. Amazon link at your right, recommendation not implied. (I note that on Robin's website, Amazon is not offered as one of the options where you can buy the book.)

    But Nice Racism is an unrelentingly sour book, depicting the fight against systemic oppression as a joyless, never-ending slog through minefields of potential missteps, while relying to a comical degree on DiAngelo's exasperated encounters with people who have the temerity to disagree with her approach.

    That latter description may sound uncharitable, but it's not. In a chapter titled "We Aren't Actually All That Nice," DiAngelo belatedly berates a (white male) London cab driver for telling her that he was sick of being called a racist and that he feared a group of black men who hung around his neighborhood. "Also worthy of note was his typical white lack of racial curiosity or humility about the limits of his knowledge," she snipped. "He had the author of a New York Times best-selling book who was in town to do interviews for the BBC in his cab, and he did not ask a single question about my thoughts on the matter." The nerve!

    If you are a white person who has challenged DiAngelo in one of her seminars the past couple of years, you are probably in this book. There's "Sue and Bob," who reacted to her eight-point talk on "What's Problematic About Individualism?" by telling her that, no, they prefer treating people as individual human beings. "How could Sue and Bob have missed that forty-five minute presentation?" she huffed. "I was left wondering, yet again, what happens cognitively for so many white people in anti-racism education efforts that prevents them from actually hearing what is being presented."

    So there's that. But also…


  • Hello, I Must Be Going. In related news, Matt Taibbi recounts Our Endless Dinner With Robin DiAngelo.

    Nice Racism, the booklike product released this week by the “Vanilla Ice of Antiracism,” Robin DiAngelo, begins with an anecdote from the author’s past. She’s in college, gone out to a dinner party with her partner, where she discovers the other couple is, gasp, black. “I was excited and felt an immediate need to let them know I was not racist,” she explains, adding: “I proceeded to spend the evening telling them how racist my family was. I shared every racist joke, story, and comment I could remember my family ever making…”

    Predictably, her behavior makes the couple uncomfortable, but, “I obliviously plowed ahead, ignoring their signals. I was having a great time regaling them with these anecdotes—the proverbial life of the party!” She goes on:

    My progressive credentials were impeccable: I was a minority myself—a woman in a committed relationship with another woman…I knew how to talk about patriarchy and heterosexism. I was a cool white progressive, not an ignorant racist. Of course, what I was actually demonstrating was how completely oblivious I was.

    No shit, the reader thinks. Instead of trying to amp down her racial anxiety out of basic decency, this author fed hers steroids and protein shakes, growing it to brontosaurus size before dressing it in neon diapers and parading it across America for years in a juggernaut of cringe that’s already secured a place as one of the great carnival grifts of all time. Nice Racism, the rare book that’s unreadable and morally disgusting but somehow also important, is the latest stop on the tour.

    I'm pretty sure the reviews are more fun to read than the book is.


  • Buh Bye. Here in the Granite State, the Governor Sununu's Advisory Council on Diversity & Inclusion just got less diverse and inclusive. As told by Michael Graham: ACLU-NH Leads Diversity Council Walkout Over Anti-Discrimination Law.

    On Tuesday, 10 of the 17 members of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Diversity & Inclusion submitted their resignation in protest over anti-discrimination language in the state budget signed by Gov. Chris Sununu.

    “You signed into law a provision that aims to censor conversations essential to advancing equity and inclusion in our state, specifically for those within our public education systems, and all state employees,” the letter reads in part. “Given your willingness to sign this damaging provision and make it law, we are no longer able to serve as your advisors.”

    With respect to the charge that the law "aims to censor conversations", Michael quotes the text, that “nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit discussing, as part of a larger course of academic instruction, the historical existence of ideas and subjects identified in this section.”

    I dunno. I can't wait to see how this plays out. Probably there will be court fights, unintended consequences, spittle-flecked editorials, … All because we wanted to get rid of "divisive concepts".

    It's a good thing we didn't try to ban irony.

    (Fair credit: "Buh Bye" stolen from Granite Grok.)


  • Amtrak Delenda Est. George F. Will notes that there's something on time: Right on time, it’s all-aboard for more Amtrak billions.

    Of history’s three most famous love affairs — Abelard and Heloise, Romeo and Juliet, Joe Biden and Amtrak — only the third teaches a civics lesson. If President Biden has his way, taxpayers will give Amtrak yet another $80 billion; it received more than $100 billion in subsidies in its first 50 years. Nevertheless, it is remarkably efficient. Not as a railroad, but as an illustration of how many permutations of waste the government can generate when it goes into business.

    Amtrak was born in 1971, when its supporters convinced Congress — wishful thinking thrives there — that a national passenger railroad would be a for-profit enterprise after receiving start-up billions from private sector railroads eager to unload their money-losing passenger trains. So, Amtrak, which almost certainly never will operate without government subsidies, began as a government subsidy for freight railroads. Since quickly using up those railroads’ money, Amtrak has received annual federal subsidies of $1.5 billion to $2 billion (in 2021 dollars).

    Mr. Will provides another interesting factoid:

    In the early 1970s, Amtrak’s share of U.S. passenger travel was approximately 0.16 percent. In 2019, it was 0.10 percent. Yet it stands to receive 26 percent of the transportation dollars in Biden’s infrastructure bill.

    Not for the first time, nor I fear the last, I quote Robert Frost ("Pod of the Milkweed"):

    But waste was of the essence of the scheme.


  • Some Parts Don't Smell So Good Either. Alan Jacobs quotes Jonathan Zittrain on The Rotting Internet.

    Some colleagues and I joined those investigating the extent of link rot in 2014 and again this past spring.

    The first study, with Kendra Albert and Larry Lessig, focused on documents meant to endure indefinitely: links within scholarly papers, as found in the Harvard Law Review; and judicial opinions of the Supreme Court. We found that 50 percent of the links embedded in Court opinions since 1996, when the first hyperlink was used, no longer worked. And 75 percent of the links in the Harvard Law Review no longer worked.

    People tend to overlook the decay of the modern web, when in fact these numbers are extraordinary — they represent a comprehensive breakdown in the chain of custody for facts. Libraries exist, and they still have books in them, but they aren’t stewarding a huge percentage of the information that people are linking to, including within formal, legal documents. No one is. The flexibility of the web — the very feature that makes it work, that had it eclipse CompuServe and other centrally organized networks — diffuses responsibility for this core societal function. 

    I'm somewhat dismayed when I go back to old Pun Salad articles (and some not so old), find myself intrigued by my description of some link, click, and … rats, I'm in Atlanta.

    Time to re-plug Reason's 404 page. It's worth typing in a bogus URL just to see it:

    [404]


Last Modified 2021-07-03 5:17 AM EDT

A Letter I Sent to UNH Media Relations

Here's a missive I fired off to the Media Relations folks at the University Near Here:

Hi --

Ex-employee here. I like keeping up with UNH goings-on via your news page (https://www.unh.edu/unhtoday/news). Recently, I noticed the "UNH in the News" section on that page has a link to an article on the "World Socialist Web Site" titled Introduction to The New York Times’ 1619 Project and the Racialist Falsification of History.

Observations:

  1. The "World Socialist Web Site" is considered to be a news source?
  2. The linked article is dated December 4, 2020. Not very recent.
  3. As the title implies, it's a book excerpt, not a news article.
  4. Probably most important, the article's UNH connection is a discussion of the views of Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, currently on the UNH faculty. It is not complimentary. One of her recent publications is held out as an example of "ignorant rubbish", and the author accuses her of propounding "anti-scientific nonsense".

As it happens, I don't agree with Professor Prescod-Weinstein's views either. But I'm not sure Media Relations wants to call attention to ideological attacks on UNH faculty. (I assume there's some automated process in place that caused this, which you might want to tweak.)

Best wishes, looking forward to UNH getting back to "normal".

I bet the Media Relations folks will be less amused than I am.

I didn't mention that this is (at least) the second time the WSWS article has been publicized on that UNH page. I blogged about that occurrence back in April.

URLs du Jour

2021-07-01

  • Michael Ramirez provides our Eye Candy du Jour. (Click here for the news if you're one of the sane folks who's opted out of following outrages du jour.)

    [Gratitude]

    I'm uncomfortable telling people how to behave. Still, Gwen Berry lives in a country where she can (apparently) make a more than decent living by throwing heavy objects long distances to no apparent purpose. You'd think a little gratitude would be in order.


  • Massachusetts Wants Its Cut. Reason intern Ella Lubell makes her first appearance at Pun Salad with a sad story: Supreme Court Won’t Hear Case Challenging Massachusetts’ Income Tax on Telecommuters Who Don’t Live or Work in Massachusetts.

    Income tax for those living in one state and working in another has always been a tangled mess, with rules differing from state to state. The confusion has been compounded during the pandemic, with the rise of teleworkers who live and work out of state.

    States have the ability to tax income that was earned by working in the state and income that was earned by residents of the state. This means that if someone works in New York and lives in Vermont, then New York can tax it because it was earned by working in New York, and Vermont can tax it because it was earned by a resident of Vermont. Fortunately, like most states, Vermont offers a refund of the amount one pays in New York income tax, so the income would not be taxed twice.

    But these refund schemes vary from state to state, creating a complicated web that can make filing as an out-of-state worker a headache.

    Ella does a good job going through the legal arguments.

    I still have unpleasant memories of doing Pun Son's taxes for the year he worked at Fogarty's Restaurant, just over the Salmon Falls River in South Berwick, Maine. Within easy walking distance of Pun Salad Manor.

    But just because he walked over that bridge, Maine demanded its share of his earnings.

    Why? Because it was "legal".

    Never mind that it otherwise felt like an organized crime shakedown. "This is my neighborhood. You and your friends should show me some respect. You should let me wet my beak a little."

    That whole "taxation without representation" thing? Ha. They think that's a great idea!


  • "Suggest"? How About "Indicate"? The NYPost is too moderate in its language: Biden's About-Faces on Infrastructure Deal Suggest His Words are Meaningless.

    A weekend of whiplash in Washington prompts the question: Is President Joe Biden a bad-faith negotiator or just completely confused?

    Biden celebrated Thursday outside the White House alongside 10 Republican and Democratic senators, announcing they’d reached a deal to spend $1.2 trillion on infrastructure over eight years.

    It was half the $2.3 trillion the prez had proposed but still included “the largest investment in rail since the creation of Amtrak,” Biden noted, along with $7.5 billion for electric-vehicle charging stations and $7.5 billion for electric buses. The lion’s share was to go for traditional infrastructure like roads and bridges — which is what most Americans want.

    Progressives fumed that Biden had struck a compromise that could actually pass, since it shelved his original plan’s huge tax hikes, $400 billion for home health workers and $174 billion for electric vehicles.

    So the compromiser caved: Just two hours after the celebration, he said he’d veto the infrastructure bill unless a $4 trillion social spending and tax hike bill also passed. “If they don’t come, I’m not signing it. Real simple,” he declared.

    And then a few days later he said … something different. Or not. I don't think you can make me care.


  • Not Looking a Day Over 95. At Cato, David Boaz "celebrates" a birthday: The Chinese Communist Party at 100.

    The Chinese Communist Party is going all‐​out to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its founding on July 1. Movies, music, theater, elaborate wedding ceremonies. Fireworks, of course. And, in keeping with the party’s roots, repression. As the New York Times reports, nothing is being left to chance:

    The Ministry of Civil Affairs is leading a nationwide crackdown against “illegal” nonprofit organizations, including religious and social groups, as part of efforts to ensure a “good environment” for the centenary.

    Officials have also warned of consequences for those who “distort” party history or “defame” Communist heroes ahead of the centenary. The Cyberspace Administration of China, which regulates the internet, recently unveiled a website and hotline for citizens to report “historical nihilists” and encouraging the public to help root out those who “deny the excellence of advanced socialist culture.”…

    The campaign against such dissent reflects concerns among China’s top leaders that the party must do more to strengthen public loyalty and fortify its control of society.

    Mr. Xi has long warned that Communist rule could disintegrate if the party does not assert control across society, including the private sector, schools and the news media. Party organs at the national and local levels are hosting study sessions on party history for cadres. Chinese military officials say they are using the centenary to “forge absolute loyalty” to the party and Mr. Xi.

    Apparently, after 70 years of absolute rule, independent thought has not been completely snuffed out.

    David is optimistic that the CCP's continuing war against its people will eventually seal its doom. Hope he's right.


  • For One Thing, They Aren't As Good At It As Charles Boyer. Max Eden says Gaslighting Parents on Critical Race Theory Needs to Stop.

    Proponents of critical race theory are resorting to semantic gaslighting to defend a dogma that most Americans instinctively abhor.

    Some pundits claim that critical race theory is exclusively a school of thought taught in legal academia. On her MSNBC show, Joy Reid claimed that “law school is really the only place it is taught. NBC has looked into everywhere.” Former Lincoln Project co-founder George Conway tweeted: “I don’t think critical legal studies should be taught in elementary schools, and I am ready to die on that hill[.]”

    Some journalists, informed by other “experts,” contend that critical race theory is synonymous with “talking about racism.” NPR defined critical race theory as “teaching about the effects of racism.” The New York Times called it “classroom discussion of race, racism.” NBC News labeled it the “academic study of racism’s pervasive impact.” 

    These definitions are, of course, mutually exclusive. But they both serve to paint parents into a corner. If critical race theory is defined just as talking about racism, then parental objections to it must be rooted in racism. If critical race theory is defined just as a thesis discussed in law schools, then parental objections to it must be rooted in ignorance.

    Quibbling about labels is a good indication that you've already lost the debate. Who'll be the first to claim: "True 'Critical Race Theory' has never been tried!"