The Tomorrow War

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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

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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

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  • 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.