URLs du Jour

2021-09-16

  • Eye Candy du Jour from Pun Salad fave Mr. Ramirez.

    [Tax the Ignorant]

    His home paper, the Las Vegas Review Journal, adds a short comment:

    AOC’s gown at the Met Gala was meant to shock. What it demonstrated was a shocking ignorance of America’s highly progressive tax system. The top 10% percent already pay 71% of all federal income taxes.

    That's from (for example) here (tax year 2018). And the "top 10%" isn't particularly rich, although they're doing OK; the threshold to put your household in that class is $151,935 AGI.


  • A contrarian, probably correct, view. David Harsanyi is looking to lose whatever populist friends he had: The Rich Already Pay Too Much.

    Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez donned an elegant gown with the slogan “tax the rich” painted on the back at the Met Gala in New York, where guests selected by Vogue’s Anna Wintour ponied up around $35,000 a pop for tickets. The scene was reminiscent of Tom Wolfe’s “Radical Chic” — though rather than being guests of the well-heeled in Park Avenue duplexes, today’s revolutionaries own luxury condos and drive around in government-subsidized electric cars that most Americans could never afford.

    My first question, though, is: Who doesn’t want to “tax the rich? Judging from my social-media feed, there seems to be a growing segment of people under the impression that the wealthy pay little or nothing in taxes. When you ask Americans if they support a wealth tax, a majority support the idea. One recent poll found that 80 percent of voters were annoyed that corporations and the wealthy don’t pay their “fair share.”

    Polls rarely ask these people what a “fair share” looks like. Is a quarter of someone’s earnings enough? A third? Because the rich have been shouldering an increasingly larger share of the cost of government. The United States already has one of the most progressive tax systems in the free world. Those who make over $207,350 now pay 35 percent in income tax. Those who make $518,400 or more pay a 37 percent income-tax rate. At some point, taxation should be considered theft.

    There's nothing particularly noble about demanding government goodies that someone else must pay for.


  • Rules are for the little people. Specifically, the leprechauns. Glenn Greenwald is scorching about that gala: The Masking of the Servant Class: Ugly COVID Images From the Met Gala Are Now Commonplace. It is by now something even the MSM is noticing.

    From the start of the pandemic, political elites have been repeatedly caught exempting themselves from the restrictive rules they impose on the lives of those over whom they rule. Governors, mayors, ministers and Speakers of the House have been filmed violating their own COVID protocols in order to dine with their closest lobbyist-friends, enjoy a coddled hair styling in chic salons, or unwind after signing new lockdown and quarantine orders by sneaking away for a weekend getaway with the family. The trend became so widespread that ABC News gathered all the examples under the headline “Elected officials slammed for hypocrisy for not following own COVID-19 advice,” while Business Insider in May updated the reporting with this: “14 prominent Democrats stand accused of hypocrisy for ignoring COVID-19 restrictions they're urging their constituents to obey."

    Most of those transgressions were too flagrant to ignore and thus produced some degree of scandal and resentment for the political officials granting themselves such license. Dominant liberal culture is, if nothing else, fiercely rule-abiding: they get very upset when they see anyone defying decrees from authorities, even if the rule-breaker is the official who promulgated the directives for everyone else. Photos released last November of California Governor Gavin Newsom giggling maskless as he sat with other maskless state health officials celebrating the birthday of a powerful lobbyist — just one month after he told the public to “to keep your mask on in between bites” and while severe state-imposed restrictions were in place regarding leaving one's home — caused a drop in popularity and helped fueled a recall initiative against him. Newsom and these other officials broke their own rules, and even among liberals who venerate their leaders as celebrities, rule-breaking is frowned upon.

    "We're all in this together. Except me."


  • Surprisingly, "Local News" strongly supports it. Christian "Only two vowels in my last name" Britschgi, notes imminent damage to an independent press: House Democrats’ Tax Bill Lavishes Subsidies on Local News.

    House Democrats are keen to raise taxes on corporations, high-income earners, and users of vaping products to pay for their $3.5 trillion spending bill. But they're cutting local newspapers some slack by slipping a special subsidy for publishers into their latest tax proposal.

    Under the tax bill released by the House Ways and Means Committee this morning, local publishers would get annual tax credits of up to $25,000 for each journalist they employ, which could then be put toward their employers' share of Medicare payroll taxes. The value of the credit would fall to $15,000 after the law has been in effect for a year.

    This would be a refundable tax credit. In other words, if the value of the tax credit exceeds the Medicare taxes a publisher pays, the publisher would receive the difference in the form of a check from the IRS. This transforms the policy from a targeted tax break to a direct subsidy.

    I can't wait for additional struggling businesses to line up at Congress's door demanding their subsidies.


  • And so much for the "only raising taxes on the rich" lie. Dominic Pino writes at the NR Corner on another legislative feature: Democrats' Tobacco-Tax Proposals Are Nanny-State Instincts Plus Tribalism.

    Democrats want to raise about $100 billion over the next ten years by raising taxes on tobacco products and introducing new taxes on vaping products. Tobacco usage is not a rich-people thing; in fact, it is quite the opposite. About 14 percent of American adults overall are smokers, but 21 percent of American adults living in households making less than $35,000 per year are smokers.

    Democrats have tried to wiggle their way out of this clear violation of Biden’s no-tax promise. According to the Washington Post:

    Democrats have argued their efforts do not violate Biden’s pledge. A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe the administration’s thinking, said smoking is not a required cost for working families and the introduction of higher taxes would not directly affect their incomes. The aide also highlighted the public health imperative behind the idea, given the well-known dangers of a practice they are trying to discourage.

    There’s no display of confidence quite like refusing to go on the record when explaining to the American people why your policies are a good idea. One suspects they know they’re full of it by saying that Biden’s pledge isn’t being violated. The Post also asked Howard Gleckman, a tax scholar at the left-leaning Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, if the proposals violated Biden’s pledge, and he answered, “Absolutely, no question.”

    I wish the anonymous "White House official" would have been even more honest: "We're only raising taxes on the rich, and any other unpopular minority we can get away with."


  • Same as the old b… Oh, you know that song. Thomas A. Firey requests that you Meet the New Boss.

    Some 18 months ago, then-president Donald Trump sent jaws dropping and tongues wagging by claiming the Constitution gave him the power to close and open state economies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    "The authority is total, and that’s the way it’s got to be," he said of his supposed ability to overrule state shutdown orders.

    Of course, neither he nor any president has such authority, whatever the wisdom of the shutdowns. But it was one more example of Trump’s belief that the Constitution gives presidents “the right to do whatever [they] want.” Throughout his time in the White House, the mainstream press and fact-checking organizations were kept busy knocking down such claims, with the Washington Post launching a regular podcast titled “Can He Do That?” (which it has continued in the Biden administration).

    Watch for the partisan bullshit. See someone with an opinion on Biden's "I can do anything" position. Find out what they were saying back then. (Here's an example: Kevin D. Williamson (NRPLUS, unfortunately).

Schrödinger's Killer App

Race to Build the World's First Quantum Computer

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

I can't remember why I put this book on my get-at-library list; it was a while ago (pre-pandemic). But there it was; I requested UNH's Dimond Library to get it via Interlibrary Loan, and it showed up from Tufts.

It was not quite what I expected, and I mean that in a good way.

First, it's hilarious. The author, Jonathan P. Dowling, peppers his text with wry observations and jokes. I read a lot of dilettante-level physics books, and I'm pretty sure this is the only one with stories I read aloud to my wife. She even laughed at a few of them. (It helps to have a physics degree under your belt.)

Second, it's opinionated. That's not rare these days, but Dowling turns it up to eleven.

Third, there are many inside-baseball descriptions of how physics is done in the 21st century: funding, employment, refereeing papers, meetings, protecting your turf, bullshitting, confronting charlatans. (Dowling is merciless in taking apart the "hippie" view of quantum mechanics. (E. g, Gary Zukav's The Dancing Wu Li Masters, the movie What the Bleep Do We Know!?.)

He's even merciless in discussing non-hippies. On Roger Penrose:

I have read his book and heard him talk on the subject, and as far as I can tell, his argument goes like this. Penrose does not understand how quantum mechanics works, and he does not understand how his brain works, and hypothesizes that quantum mechanics is needed to understand the working of the mind.

Note: Roger Penrose is a Nobel Laureate in Physics. Dowling isn't afraid to punch upward.

Well, enough of that. What's the book about? It starts out by describing the weirdness of QM, specifically the features that bothered Einstein so much. Dowling breaks the weirdness down into three related features: uncertainty (you don't know an experimental result until you measure); unreality (the measure doesn't really exist until you measure); and nonlocality (measuring at point A can affect a measurement of an "entangled" property at point B. And B can be across the room from A, or light years away.) I found the defense of spooky old quantum mechanics to be as good, if not better, than anything else I've read. I felt marginally smarter.

But the meat of the book is quantum computing. Dowling points out there are problems that are effectively non-solvable by classical computers, no matter how fast. He uses the example of the thulium atom, which has 69 quantum-entangled electrons; it manages to "solve" its own wave equation only slightly slower than instantaneously due to that entanglement. How can this power be exploited for human ends?

The discussion gets pretty deep into the weeds; Dowling eschews equations, but breaks out the Bra-Ket notation pretty willy-nilly. You either follow this or you don't; I (sigh) did not.

But the "killer app" is actually a dagger aimed at the heart of the Internet-as-we-know-it. If a sufficiently powerful quantum computer existed, it could run "Shor's Algorithm" to factor very large numbers. And the encryption used to secure internet traffic relies on that being impossible.

The end of the book is very blue-sky. Quantum AI? Sure. Conscious computers? Why not. Doomsday scenarios (Terminator, Colossus, Borg, etc.)? Maybe!

For an active field, the book is kind of dated (2013). But (as near as I can tell) progress on Internet-breaking has been (at best) marginal, and some people have wondered if it's achievable. An article from earlier this month: NSA: We 'don't know when or even if' a quantum computer will ever be able to break today's public-key encryption. (Of course, the NSA might be saying that even as they have a bunch of quantum computers right now in some basement at Fort Meade spying on the Chinese.)

Some sad news, given the above: Dowling died last year. I didn't know that until I googled him in writing up this report. I also learned that he wrote a second book, Schrödinger’s Web: Race to Build the Quantum Internet, so that one is now on my get-at-library list.

URLs du Jour

2021-09-15

  • Argh. I really liked Caltech physicist Sean Carroll's recent pop-science books. Which makes me only the more saddened when he meanders away from his expertise, for example this tweet, in response to criticism of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's appearance at the recent "Met Gala"

    As a matter of fact, AOC has actually said (along with Bernie, Robert Reich, et. al.) that billionaires shouldn't exist ("as long as Americans live in abject poverty", which means, pretty much, ever.)

    Whether that eliminationist rhetoric adds up to "hating the rich" is something between AOC and her shrink. I don't care much about her mental state, or lack thereof.

    But I'm really irked by the old cliché Carroll deploys: "asking people to pay their fair share." (How old? We're talking at least FDR old.)

    Problem one is the word "asking". That's a dishonest euphemism. AOC and her ilk aren't in favor of "asking". "Asking" should be read as "demanding, under legal threat".

    But even worse than that is the concept of "fair share" of taxes. I always want to collar the people who utter that term and ask them to fill in the blanks:

    The top       percent of American taxpayers earn       percent of all adjusted gross income (AGI) which would make their fair share of taxes       percent.

    I've never seen anyone talking about "fair share" answer such a question. It's safe to assume that "fair share" is another dishonest euphemism for "more".

    If you'd like to know what the current numbers look like, try here:

    [T]he top 1 percent of taxpayers account for 20 percent of all income (AGI). So, their 40 percent share of income taxes is twice their share of the nation’s income.

    Is that "fair"? How would you change the numbers in order to make them "fair"?


  • Health advice: Don't get sick, or old. Kevin D. Williamson looks at U.K.'s National Health Service: Free Health Care's High Price.

    There are two kinds of people who support single-payer health care in the United States: Those who point to the British system as a successful example, and those who know something about the British system.

    Under the Conservative government of Boris Johnson, the United Kingdom will see taxes raised to their highest-ever peacetime level with a new surcharge going to support the financially wobbly National Health Service and “social care,” meaning nursing-home care or at-home care for the elderly. The taxes will fall disproportionately on the wages of young people, who don’t vote Conservative, to the benefit of wealthier retirees, who do.

    One of the proverbs you hear when it comes to comparisons between the United States and the United Kingdom goes roughly: “Sure, they pay higher taxes, but at least they get something for it, including free health care.”

    Neither one of those is exactly true.

    Click through for the deets.


  • Meanwhile on this side of the pond… Ira Stoll describes the same old same old (albeit with a higher price tag): Democrats Try To Hide a $3 Trillion Tax Increase From Voters.

    Explaining a newly leaked House Ways and Means Committee plan to raise taxes by $3,000,000,000,000, a Wall Street Journal news article reports, "Rep. Richard Neal (D., Mass.), the committee chairman, has said that detailing tax-increase plans too soon can give too much time for opposition to build."

    Neal had explained his reticence to The New York Times in an interview by comparing his behavior to a man trying to seduce a woman into marriage, postponing full disclosure until the wedding guests are seated and the bride has been walked down the aisle. "I'm likely to hold off on the pay-fors until we are at the altar," Neal said.

    Legislators with more respect for the deliberative process than Neal has may want to dash for the chapel exit before it's too late. What does it tell you about the Democratic leadership's view of the American public that they need to keep their plans secret until the last minute, for fear that the public might figure out what they are doing? Imagine how it would feel to be engaged to Neal, without knowing precisely what bad news he's planning to dump on you once the wedding ceremony is underway.

    I've been seeing pro-spending ads that make me want to revert to my "old man yelling at clouds" persona.


  • And he ain't talking about the game show. Dennis Prager explains, at PJMedia, Why Freedom Is in Serious Jeopardy. And this is pretty accurate, right up until it isn't:

    There are many ways in which to divide humanity — the decent and the indecent, the happy and the unhappy, the cowardly and the courageous, those who lead and those who follow, etc.

    Two major divisions that are less often noted but highly consequential are between those who want to control others and those who have little interest in controlling others, and between the related categories of those who are comfortable with being controlled by others and those who detest being controlled by others.

    Those who seek to control others and those who seek to be controlled by others would seem to be on opposite ends of the political spectrum. But they are not. Both groups are overwhelmingly populated by individuals on the Left.

    Ah, would that were true. I (again) recommend Katherine Mangu-Ward's take: Let’s Play Horseshoe Theory.


  • So long Turd Ferguson. There are a lot of reminisces about Norm Macdonald out there today. One of the best from Theodore Kupfer at City Journal Norm Macdonald, Comedy Legend.

    Born and raised in Canada, Macdonald began his comedy career in the late 1980s. He was a frequent guest of late-night shows throughout the 1990s, with his appearances on Conan O’Brien in particular being the stuff of legend. His apogee of fame probably came between 1994 and 1998, when he hosted Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update” segment—typically a stepping stone to a late-night show of one’s own—only to be fired by NBC executive Don Ohlmeyer for joking too much about O. J. Simpson, Ohlmeyer’s personal friend. Immediately afterward, Macdonald went on David Letterman, who asked how he had reacted to getting canned. “I said, ‘Oh, that’s not good,’” said Macdonald. “And I said, ‘Why is that, now? And [Ohlmeyer] goes, ‘Well, you’re not funny.’ And I said, ‘Holy Lord, that’s even worse news!’”

    Professor Alan Jacobs quotes a brief (apparently recent) joke from Norm:

    You know, I think about my deathbed a lot.

    What do you think about it?

    I think I should never have purchased a deathbed in the first place.

    You can find a lot of video out there. Although Norm was pretty good in his own voice, his impressions were, I think, underappreciated: Bob Dole, Burt Reynolds, and … see if you can find his impression of Charles Kuralt giving his resignation on "CBS Sunday Morning".

    (Of course if you never saw Charles Kuralt on "CBS Sunday Morning", some of the humor might be lost on you.)

Maverick

A Biography of Thomas Sowell

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

I have … let me count here … fourteen books by Thomas Sowell on my shelves. I've been a fanboy for many years, going back to my first read of Knowledge and Decisions, sometime in the early 1980s. You can read my more recent book reports here, here, here, and here.

This relatively short book by WSJ writer Jason L. Riley is billed as a "biography" in the subtitle, but it would be more accurate to call it an intellectual biography: an examination of Sowell's work over decades. (Sowell published his own memoir, A Personal Odyssey, back in 2000.) Like me, Riley is a Sowell fan; if you're looking for criticism, you won't find it here. Fine by me; Riley's pushing on an unlocked door in my case.

It's maybe not widely known that Sowell kicked off his academic career as a Marxist. That could have been his ticket to becoming widely embraced in Academe, but (fortunately for us) he had an unswerving devotion to facts and data, following them wherever they led. It didn't hurt that he took up with Milton Friedman and George Stigler as a grad student at the University of Chicago. And he was heavily influenced by Hayek's essay "The Use of Knowledge in Society" (assigned by Friedman in his price theory class).

Riley follows a number of threads in Sowell's oeuvre: his epistemology, largely influenced by Hayek, led him to his analyses of the origins of intellectual debate, where in many cases involve two sides shouting loudly past each other; see A Conflict of Visions, The Vision of the Anointed, and The Quest for Cosmic Justice. There's also his three-volume examination of worldwide history: Race and Culture, Migrations And Cultures, and Conquests and Cultures.

And then there is Sowell's take on current events, expressed over decades, where he brought to bear his views on economics, history, race, and culture in both books and his long-running syndicated column. He saw much foolishness, and took it to task in blunt "undiplomatic" language. He was in profound disagreement with many other black intellectuals on racial policies, properly scornful of paternalistic "preferential policies". He's been retired from active commentary for a few years, but my guess he'd be even harder on Critical Race theorists. While not denying the stubborn persistence of racism in whites, he thought it largely futile to point fingers at it. Blacks could be more productively engaged in fixing up their own culture, moving out from dependence on white largesse.

One surprising thing I learned about in Riley's book was Sowell's personal friendship with Steven Pinker. (I'm also a Pinker fanboy myself.) While Pinker is politically more liberal than Sowell, that didn't prevent them from renting a helicopter to take pictures over San Francisco. (They're both "camera bugs".)

I enjoyed the book quite a bit. It would also be a good read for someone looking for an overview of Sowell's work, maybe with an eye toward a deeper dive into his scholarship and thoughts.


Last Modified 2021-09-15 6:41 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2021-09-14

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Since our first URL today mentions Critical Race Theory, I decided to check Amazon for an appropriate product. I was amazed at the selection of t-shirts (my favorite link type) which said completely different things on the topic.

It's like that old yarn about the blind men describing an elephant. Except that one group of describers are touching a pipe organ, the other touching a fire engine.

The virtue of the product I settled on today: I can't tell if it's pro- or anti-CRT.

  • Not I. James R. Rogers wonders: Who's Afraid of Critical Race Theory?.

    Critical Race Theory (CRT) seems to have morphed into something of a Rorschach inkblot test, with fears and aspirations being as much read into it as out of it. Even though CRT has many variants even among its proponents, CRT’s historical starting point as a distinctive academic movement, as well as its continuing motivation, derives from positing a relatively clear, parsimonious theory to explain a pressing intellectual and policy puzzle regarding the modern African American experience in the United States. The puzzle is this: Why do significant racial disparities continue in the United States? CRT posits a straightforward theory to explain the continuation of significant racial disparities in the United States: Racial disparities continue in the United States because, despite the Civil Rights policies and social programs of the 1960s, racism continues in the United States. To make the theory work, however, Critical Race Theorists had to broaden the concept of “racism.” That definitional move is where much of the contestation comes in.

     As a theory posited to explain observed phenomena, CRT can be tested—and contested—to determine just how well it accounts for the phenomena it seeks to explain. The irony is that doubling down on practices and policies aimed at making colorblind decisions, that is, decisions without respect to race—and CRT rejects the possibility, let alone the efficacy of colorblind policies—remains the best means to solve continuing racial disparities that distress not only Critical Race Theorists, but most Americans on the Right as well as the Left.

    The core of CRT lies in its assertion of “a regime of white supremacy and its subordination of people of color”. Google that phrase for a selection. It seems to have originated in this 1995 book, and has metastasized since, often without attribution to the original.

    Pro-CRTers don't purport to demonstrate that regime exists; instead, they assume it does, as a matter of faith.


  • And it's not a STOP sign. J.D. Tuccille notes the trend: Biden’s Vaccine Mandate Is the Latest Sign of the Presidency Becoming a Monarchy.

    President Joe Biden's national vaccine mandate sparked a lot of debate and set political seismometers jumping even more frantically than usual. Most commentary has focused on two issues: Is forcing people to take vaccines a good idea, and will the courts sign off on the government's authority to do so? Those are great discussions to have, though anything involving "forcing people" should be a non-starter by default. But another important question is raised by the president's gambit to displace the Afghanistan fiasco from the headlines: How, in the United States, can one guy just impose his preferred policies, whether they're good, bad, or indifferent?

    To be fair, not everybody overlooked this point:

    "There's no authority for this," former Rep. Justin Amash (L-Mich.) noted. "This is legislative action that bypasses the legislative branch. If you care about representative government—if you're consistent regardless of who's president—then it doesn't matter that you like the policy; this mandate is an abuse of power."

    Check J.D. out for some disturbing history.


  • Dubya's been sniffing too many paint fumes. Byron York takes a look at George W. Bush's 9/11 speech. "It was terrible," says Byron.

    In two ways. First, Bush's speech was as much about decrying today's political divisions as it was about remembering the events of Sept. 11. But Bush showed an astonishing lack of self-awareness of the role his own actions played in creating those divisions. And second, Bush helped widen those divisions by endorsing a Rachel Maddow-esque argument that an equivalence exists between the plane-hijacking, murderous terrorists of Sept. 11, 2001, and the Capitol rioters of Jan. 6, 2021 — a comparison that has no basis in fact but has done much to sour the national debate.

    Damn. I kind of liked Dubya.


  • A good story that happens to be true. I was cheered and moved by this, from Bryan Caplan, about his Homeschooling Odyssey.

    Six years ago, I began homeschooling my elder sons, Aidan and Tristan.  They attended Fairfax County Public Schools for K-6, becoming more disgruntled with every passing year.  Even though they went to an alleged “honors” school for grades 4-6, they were bored out of their minds.  The academic material was too easy and moved far too slowly.  The non-academic material was humiliatingly infantile.  And non-academics – music, dance, chorus, art, poster projects – consumed a majority of their day.  As elementary school graduation approached, my sons were hungry for a change.

    So what did we do?  In consultation with my pupils, I prepared an ultra-academic curriculum.  Hours of math every day.  Reading serious books.  Writing serious essays.  Taking college classes.  And mastering bodies of knowledge.

    Read on for the details; they are inspiring. My own kids are long out of school, so my interest was purely theoretical. And I understand that a lot of parents might not have Bryan's talents at education. Still, read through for the happy ending. (Or, really, just the beginning of Aidan's and Tristan's stories.)


  • Questions? We don't need no stinking questions! Michael Graham checks out a political stunt: NH Advocates for HR1 Hold A "NO-Press" Conference in Manchester.

    New Hampshire progressives gathered in Manchester Monday to advocate for an expanded federal election law at a “press conference” that featured plenty of political rhetoric…but no press.

    While the press release invitation read, “New Hampshire For the People Act Coalition Hosts Press Conference Ahead of Expected Senate Vote,” reporters arrived to discover the participants would not be taking questions from the press as part of the program. Instead, the emcee — Liz Tentarelli, president of the League of Women Voters — said journalists were free to roam among the crowd and ask speakers if they would be willing to answer questions.

    At least one speaker was not.

    Rep. Chris Pappas literally fled the scene, his aides physically blocking the press, when approached by a New Hampshire Journal reporter with a question. (“Representative Pappas, your fellow Democrat, Secretary of State Bill Gardner, says you’ve spoken to him about HR 1. Is that true?”)

    I saw this event "reported" on our local news station, WMUR. HR1 was blandly described as an "election reform" bill. The speakers sang its praises! Nary a negative word was heard. Just those mean old Republicans standing in the way!

    A supplementary article covered one of the scary speeches: NH AFL-CIO Prez: PRO Act, H.R. 1 ‘Supersede Individual Rights’

    “There are things that have to be done in this country that supersede individual rights,” [New Hampshire AFL-CIO President Glenn] Brackett told the Manchester crowd.

    Sheesh. It is of course not TV-newsworthy to point that bit out.


Last Modified 2021-09-15 5:24 AM EDT

Clear Light of Day

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

I picked up this Anita Desai novel at the Portsmouth Public Library on the enthusiastic recommendation of Professor Alan Jacobs in his recent book Breaking Bread with the Dead: "One of the most beautiful novels I know."

I was not worthy. I can report that I was impressed with Anita Desai's craftwork, and her subtle observations. I appreciated the book, honest. I just didn't like it very much. Sorry, Ms. Desai. And sorry, Professor Jacobs.

I didn't care about the people, and I didn't find what happens to them very interesting. That's on me.

But: It's mostly the story of the Das family, Hindus living in (old) Delhi, India. It's in four parts, starting at some time in the 1970s, then jumping back to the late 1940s (around the time of the India-Pakistan partition), back a little farther in the third part, and then back to the 1970s for the last. It concentrates on the four Das siblings: Raj, Bim, Tara, and Baba. And concentrates further on the rocky relationship between sisters Bim and Tara.

Raj is taken with their Muslim neighbor/landlord, Hyder Ali; this earns him the ire of his Hindu peers and surveillance by the Delhi cops. Nevertheless, he persists, marrying into the family and moving away. Following a different path is Tara, who marries Bakul, a globe-hopping Indian diplomat. This eventually leaves Bim alone in a decaying house with her autistic brother, Baba, who likes listening to 78 RPM records on an old gramophone. (Bing Crosby crooning "Don't Fence Me In" is a favorite.) Bim becomes a somewhat bitter history teacher, full of dark feelings about how her life turned out.

And a cow falls into the well and drowns. They leave her corpse there. That's symbolic of something, I think.

And there's a lot more in this short book. And, as I indicated above, if you're a different sort of reader than I, you can find it a rewarding read.

URLs du Jour

2021-09-13

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • Glad to do my part for free expression. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is taking a bold stand against Cambridge bluenoses. Calling all Barbz: Twitter rallies behind Harvard students told to remove Nicki Minaj flag from dorm window.

    A viral tweet has left Harvard University facing an outcry from an unlikely group of free speech advocates — the Barbz.

    Barbz — the name given to the devoted fans of rapper/singer/songwriter Nicki Minaj — have taken to Twitter to defend the expressive rights of several Harvard undergraduate students who were told to take down a flag depicting the rapper hanging in their residence hall window.

    On Sept. 5, a Harvard undergrad writing under the Twitter handle @imjustjuice tweeted that he and his suitemates had been contacted and told to remove the flag over concern that “the community will find the flag offensive.” Presumably sent by a Harvard official, the email did not explain how the flag — depicting a bikini-clad Minaj saluting in front of an American flag — could be considered offensive.

    I'm not sure which Harvardites would consider to be more "offensive": (1) the image of Ms. Minaj or (2) the American flag behind her.

    I've inserted an Amazon link above, but I speculate from the creative product naming ("Nic Mina" or "Nic-ki Min-aj") that the vendors are worried about Nic-ki's lawyers getting Amazon to scrub such items from their marketplace. So at some point, sooner or later, the link could fail.


  • Mister, we could use a man like Calvin Coolidge again. Chris Stirewalt looks at the latest addition to an ignominious team: Biden Joins the All-Stars of Constitutional Contempt.

    Populist leaders throughout American history have railed against the Constitution’s limits on the desires of the people. But never in my lifetime have I seen such wanton disdain among our leaders for the Constitution as I have in the past decade.

    As much as we would like to think of the presidency of Donald Trump as a special case, his contempt for our national charter in matters small, medium, and large—while singular in history—is also part of a trend. When Barack Obama was president, he abused his authority right out in the open, too. Now, after just eight months in office, President Biden seems determined to claim his place in the hall of fame of constitutional contempt. After saying he lacked the power to prevent landlords from evicting those who don’t pay their rent, Biden did it anyway. Before the ink had set on the Supreme Court’s decision striking down that action, Biden invented yet another power for himself: to force private employers to require their workers to get vaccinated.

    What the New York Times calls a “novel use of a law on workplace safety” is an invented power that violates the letter and spirit of Article II’s limits on the president’s powers. But as has been the case for much of Washington's decade-long journey into constitutional contempt, this one will end up as pure partisan applesauce. Biden supporters who would have had a fit if Trump had done something similar will stand silent. Biden’s foes who abetted Trump in his worst constitutional abuses will thunder (and raise money) in their umbrage. Indeed, the worst part of Biden’s power grab is that he did it knowing it would deepen divisions as it thrilled the left and outraged the right. But even if it were only a cynical political ploy, that would not lessen its violence to the Constitution.

    Let's toss in the "End Citizens United" crowd. And when you read a headline like "Senator Warren urges Amazon to tackle COVID-19 misinformation", please furnish the translation: "Liz attempts to evade the inconvenient First Amendment by telling Amazon to censor views she doesn't like."


  • Katherine Mangu-Ward throws a theoretical ringer. In her lead editorial in the latest Reason print edition, now out from behind the paywall, she extends an invitation: Let’s Play Horseshoe Theory.

    This summer, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos went to the edge of space on a ship he built with his own earnings. A bunch of people saw the billionaire blast off and thought: "Screw that guy and his dumb rocket—the government should take his money because I have a much better idea of how to spend it."

    Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) tweeted, "Here on Earth, in the richest country on the planet, half our people live paycheck to paycheck, people are struggling to feed themselves, struggling to see a doctor—but hey, the richest guys in the world are off in outer space! Yes. It's time to tax the billionaires." Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D–Ore.) said he'll introduce legislation that would tax wealthy space tourists in order to "support the public good." And Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–N.Y.) reiterated their calls to abolish billionaires via a wealth tax.

    The American right has long wanted to get its paws on Bezos as well. Former President Donald Trump has been beefing with Bezos for years, over the editorial line of The Washington Post (which Bezos owns) as well as the conduct of Amazon. In 2018 Trump tweeted, "I have stated my concerns with Amazon long before the Election. Unlike others, they pay little or no taxes to state & local governments, use our Postal System as their Delivery Boy (causing tremendous loss to the U.S.), and are putting many thousands of retailers out of business!" Other conservatives weighed in with their own thoughts when Bezos flew. Matthew Walther, editor of the conservative Catholic publication The Lamp, wrote: "Maybe instead of sending idiots into a blank meaningless void at a gazillion bucks a pop we could build, I dunno, a functioning transit system in our capital city. Maybe we could even try real regional rail. Just spitballing."

    Left and right populists get uncomfortably close in their populist rhetoric against the "rich". And (as KMW notes) they all have bright ideas about how they want to spend Other Peoples' Money.


  • Don't bother, they're here. David Harsanyi warns us, but maybe not far enough ahead of time: Get ready for the left’s climate-change ‘emergency’ lockdowns.

    President Biden claims recent hurricanes prove we’re in a “climate crisis” — “code red” for the world, he warns. White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy adds that climate is now a “health emergency.”

    It’s convenient for politicians to treat every hurricane, tornado and flood as an apocalyptic sign from Gaia — and then blame political apostates for offending the goddess. But it’s an irrational way to think about the world. Because our situation is, in most ways, quantifiably better than before on nearly every front.

    This reality is probably difficult to accept for a generation subjected to decades of fearmongering, but climate anomalies are nothing new. When a freak snowstorm hit Texas this year, the administration used it to push draconian policies. But the Texas storm was no different than the rare 1973 blizzard that hit the South. It happens. And there’s nothing we can do.

    We'll get draconian measures, not because they'll actually "solve the problem", but because (a) politicians like wielding power, the more the better; and (b) a certain fraction of the populace likes them too.

URLs du Jour

2021-09-12

  • Money Printer Go Brrr. Via Power Line's post: Weimar? It’s Us.

    Leave it to "House Ed & Labor Republicans" to not identify the speaker in that clip. It's not "House Democrats", but it's a guy with a lot of power: Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY), a powerful argument for Congressional term limits all on his own. He's in his eighth term. He is Chairman of the House Budget Committee.

    Is this 13-second clip out of context? Hey, maybe. I can't find the original complete video. But there's a 51-second clip posted by @HouseBudgetDems here and it's not much better in terms of fiscal sanity. ("We have to stop thinking about the money, which we can create plenty of…")

    Technically, he's right, I suppose, assuming that when he says "We", he means "the Federal Government". As long as it can apply ink to paper, and exempts itself from counterfeiting laws, it can keep paying its debts with the increasingly worthless product of that process.

    If by "We", you mean "American citizens", well… yeah, we can definitely go bankrupt.

    And lest we forget, it's not as if the Trump-era GOP has a good record (from 2016):

    “People said I want to go and buy debt and default on debt, and I mean, these people are crazy. This is the United States government,” Trump told CNN’s Chris Cuomo on “New Day.” “First of all, you never have to default because you print the money, I hate to tell you, OK?”

    OK, Donald.

    I swear I will vote for the craziest person on the ballot next year as long as he or she simply promises to vote for cutting spending.


  • Are these words small enough for Biden to understand? Early Friday evening, Biden claimed his new vaccine mandates were "not about freedom or personal choice." Nick Gillespie dissents: No, Biden, This Is About Freedom and Personal Choice.

    Contra Biden, everything is always (or should be) about freedom and personal choice. That libertarian sentiment defines America's ethos and can't simply be written out of the script because it gets in the way of what this or any other president wants. There are legitimate moments when rights can be abrogated due to actual existential threats, but this is certainly not one of them.

    As Jeffrey A. Singer, a surgeon and senior fellow for the Cato Institute, has noted, COVID-19 has a "0.2 percent fatality rate among people not living in institutions." Fully 80 percent of deaths have occurred among people over 65 and just 358 children under the age of 17 had died of the disease as of July 29, 2021. We are not talking about smallpox, which affected all populations and had a fatality rate of 30 percent. COVID, argues Singer, "will not be eradicated" and will become a small-scale, endemic problem that should be minimized by targeted interventions to protect the most vulnerable. From a public health perspective, it should not become the casus belli for a radical restructuring of society and a massive expansion of presidential (or governmental) powers.

    Well, we'll see if it "works".


  • Worst form of government, except for… Michael Huemer breaks down the arguments pro and con: I Can’t Believe this Is the Best We Can Do, but … Democracy.

    Some people overappreciate democracy – they think it’s a great idea, that it legitimates actions that would otherwise be rights-violations, that it works better than the market, that there’s nothing wrong with it that can’t be fixed by “more democracy”. I cannot sympathize with this view. The idea of a mob imposing its will on the minority never inspired in me that great reverence that it seems to inspire for others.

    But also, some people underappreciate democracy – they think it’s total crap, that voters can’t be trusted to tie their own shoes, that there’s no point in trying to preserve democracy or to improve it.

    So I thought I would give my take on democracy. The right view is in between the extremes: Democracy has serious flaws that are inherent in the system and not fixable; nevertheless, it is much better than anything else people have come up with, other than of course anarcho-capitalism.

    I don't know what an anarcho-capitalist system would look like, or if it would be stable. I wouldn't mind being a guinea pig.


  • Hey, kids! What time is it? Lynn Uzell has the answer in her Real Clear Politics article: It's Time to Acknowledge Anti-White Racism.

    As any student of George Orwell knows, no authoritarian government can ever gain complete control unless it commandeers people’s thinking through the manipulation of language. Thus, the dystopian powers in “1984” deliberately turned the meaning of words upside-down in a process known as double-think.

    The same process is happening today with the words used to discuss racism. In true Orwellian fashion, Ibram X. Kendi (pictured) insists that the only way to fight racism is to embrace racial discrimination in perpetuity. This “anti-racism,” as he calls it, is as likely to stamp out genuine racism as Orwell’s Ministry of Truth was apt to stamp out falsehoods.

    In order to understand what is going on, we must call to mind the traditional definition of racism: the stereotyping, denigrating, marginalizing, or excluding of persons on the basis of race. Look up any definition of racism prior to the racial awokening taking place in the last decade, and it will be: 1) race neutral; and 2) involve some act of free will—relating to word, deed, or belief.

    The definition of racism has undergone a radical change in a short time. According to the new eighth-grade curriculum for the Albemarle County (Va.) School District, racism now means: “The marginalization and/or oppression of people of color based on a socially constructed racial hierarchy that privileges white people.”

    It's much the same at Portsmouth Public Library which proudly published its Anti-Racism Zine awhile back. Its "Glossary" definition?

    Racism - unjust or prejudicial treatment based on racial stereotyping (conscious or unconscious, active or passive) that is backed by institutional power. "A marriage of racist policies and racist ideas that produces & normalizes racial inequalities." -- Ibram X. Kendi

    Yes, Kendi embraces the circular definition fallacy. It's usually not so obvious, but there you are.

    Apparently there's no longer any word for people who simply hate other people based on their skin color.

URLs du Jour

2021-09-11

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  • It's that day again. All the more notable thanks to the roundness of the anniversary number. I gave my personal memoir thirteen years ago, and don't have anything to add.


  • All-purpose headline: "Joe Biden's incoherent, fear-mongering                      speech." John Podhoretz fills in the blank: Joe Biden's incoherent, fear-mongering COVID vaccine speech.

    Joe Biden’s speech on COVID was bizarrely incoherent.

    He told the American people without qualification that fully vaccinated people are at incredibly low risk: “Only 1 out of every 160,000 fully vaccinated Americans was hospitalized for COVID per day.”

    Then he promised to shield them against the evil people who are threatening their very lives: “We’re going to protect the vaccinated from unvaccinated co-workers.”

    But Joe, you just said the vaccinated were already protected!

    Memo to Biden speechwriters: try to avoid such obvious incoherence. I assume this blunder was due to you working much harder on the parts of the speech that said, in effect, "I've done a great job, and everything bad that's happened is somebody else's fault."


  • Not only incoherent, but also… Andrew McCarthy has a different criticism: Biden knows his vax mandates are unconstitutional — but just doesn’t care.

    Clearly, President Joe Biden is not chastened by the Supreme Court smackdown he got just a couple of weeks ago, when the justices invalidated the eviction moratorium that even administration officials acknowledge was patently lawless right before Biden reissued it.

    Quite the opposite.

    The administration is similarly well aware that the national vaccine mandate that the president is poised to issue is unlawful. White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain made the obvious explicit by retweeting a progressive commentator’s observation that the ploy of imposing the vaccine requirement as a workplace-safety rule under OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) is the “ultimate work-around.”

    Translation: The president knows that an executive order mandating COVID vaccination would be shot down instantly, so he’s trying to camouflage it in a maze of Labor Department regulation.

    Biden, unfortunately, continues past-President precedents of ignoring Constitutional limits on executive power. And Democrats who were horrified of Trump's overreaches are cheering Biden's. Why, I bet… yup, thought so:


  • The unvaccinated are a dangerous menace. Oh, except for… The Free Beacon reports that some are still allowed to spread Covid if they want: Postal Service Unions Spent Big on Biden. Now They’re Exempted From the Federal Vaccine Mandate.

    President Joe Biden's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for federal workers will exempt United States Postal Service (USPS) employees who pumped millions of dollars into the 2020 election campaign.

    A USPS spokesman told the Washington Free Beacon that Biden's mandate, announced Thursday, will not apply to the nearly 500,000 workers who deliver mail to American residents each day. The postal service's status as an independent agency frees it from the purview of the executive order. The exempted workers happen to be members of two of the most influential government workers unions in the country.

    Note: the government appears confused on whether USPS employees will be required to get vaccinated or merely "strongly encouraged".

    Um, they weren't being "strongly encouraged" up to now?


  • But the FDA is still killing people. Ronald Bailey is a little frustrated by business as usual: Why the Hell Has the FDA Not Approved Cheap Rapid COVID-19 Self-Tests Yet?. (Click through for the photos he mentions.)

    Above is a photograph of my stash of five at-home COVID-19 tests. After participating a conference in South Dakota in July where a lot of folks were ostentatiously unvaccinated, I used one so that if I tested positive I could quarantine myself to prevent infecting other people. Since I have been fully vaccinated since early March, I hoped that the results would be negative. Fortunately, they were. The cost of my test stockpile is $149.95.

    Below is a photo showing a bin of at-home rapid Flowflex COVID-19 tests for sale for about $3.50 apiece at a supermarket in the Netherlands. The test is manufactured by a company headquartered in the U.S., but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved it for sale here. In the bin below the Flowflex test, you'll see another COVID-19 self-test offered by Roche. You can buy it in the Netherlands for about $5.90 per test. It too is not approved by the FDA.

    Cato's latest Human Freedom Index ranks the Netherlands as the 14th freest country in the world. The US comes in at number 17.

URLs du Jour

2021-09-10

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  • Politician's Syllogism alive and well. Philip Klein is one of the numerous people pointing out little problems with the Dodderer-in-Chief's latest: Biden Vaccine Mandate and Employer Complications.

    In our editorial, we addressed the legal issues raised by President Biden’s sweeping mandate that all private businesses with 100 or more employees require workers either get vaccinated, or produce a weekly negative test. Andrew McCarthy separately argued that the order is fundamentally unconstitutional. Beyond the serious legal and process issues raised by using a rarely invoked OSHA emergency authority to deputize private businesses to prod 80 million Americans into getting vaccinated, there are serious practical questions. And one of the problems with bypassing the typical regulatory process is that those tasked with implementing these requirements will have no opportunity to weigh in on the potential complications.

    Just to think of a few complications, under this order, businesses will now have to set up a system for monitoring who has been vaccinated and who has not. They will also have to facilitate weekly testing for those who choose not to be vaccinated, and keep track of the negative tests. Who pays for the tests? What happens in the time that workers are waiting test results? This remains unclear as of now.

    And he goes on with other matters that are "unclear as of now."

    It almost makes me wish I were in a position to engage in civil disobedience. Maybe I'll go out and lick some doorknobs.

    The Politician's Syllogism, in case you haven't heard:

    1. We must do something.
    2. This is something.
    3. Therefore, we must do this.

    I watched Biden's speech yesterday. (It pre-empted local news.) I've become, at last, an old man that yells at the TV. Especially when he took credit for things he had nothing to do with.


  • This woman should have never been let near the levers of power. Specifically, Senator Elizabeth Warren. From the Daily Signal, her latest tilt toward Big Sisterism: Warren Asks Amazon to Ban Products With ‘COVID-19 Misinformation’.

    Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is urging Amazon to remove books and other products that spread “COVID-19 misinformation” from its online marketplace.

    Warren identified a variety of products that are among the top results when consumers search for certain items and books about COVID-19 in a letter sent Tuesday to Amazon CEO Andy Jassy. The products promote “false and misleading” conspiracy theories about the coronavirus, Warren alleges in the letter.

    It would be, of course, totally unconstitutional for the government to ban books.

    Isn't it nearly as bad for a government official (one who's taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution) to nag a company into doing that dirty work for her?

    It hasn't been that long since she proposed breaking up Amazon (and other firms). That's the stick that puts some oomph behind her "request".

    Noting the obvious: Amazon sells Mein Kampf; Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung; Foundations of Leninism (by one J. V. Stalin). Those three authors alone probably piled up tens of millions of victims. Shouldn't Warren start with those before worrying about the relatively puny death toll from Covid misinfo?

    And finally: Amazon unfortunately should have seen this coming when they decided to stop selling When Harry Became Sally. They have only themselves to blame.


  • Because we live in Cloud-Cuckoo Land. Peter Suderman makes an observation that, honestly, everyone should be making: Medicare Is About To Run Out of Money. Democrats Want To Make the Program Cost Even More..

    To understand the implications of Democrats' current plans for expanding federal health care programs, it's useful to start with some context from the biggest federal health care program that currently exists: Medicare.

    Last week, Medicare's board of trustees produced their annual report on the program's fiscal health. That report contained some expected yet nonetheless alarming news: Medicare's hospital insurance (HI) trust fund, itself a kind of accounting fiction, will be insolvent in just five years. Starting in 2026, the HI fund, which covers inpatient hospital services, will be depleted.

    The program will have to rely on the HI fund's incoming revenues, essentially operating on a cash flow basis—and there won't be enough cash. In 2026, the HI fund will only cover about 91 percent of its bills. In the years that follow, that gap will only grow larger. So without changes to the program's financing, doctors, hospitals, and other medical providers will face rapidly reduced payments from the program, with ensuing ripple effects on both the wider economy, roughly a sixth of which revolves around health care services, and on the provision and availability of health care.

    The "solution", such as it is, will be to delay even talking about this until it becomes a "crisis". And we all know about those…


  • [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] They lead to big honking sea monsters. Bryan Caplan writes on Liberty's Crisis Crisis and some prescience:

    I often remember the parting words of Robert Higgs’ Crisis and Leviathan:

    [W]e do know something – at least abstractly – about the future.  We know that other great crises will come.  Whether they will be occasioned by foreign wars, economic collapse, or rampant terrorism, no one can predict with assurances.  Yet in one form of another, great crises will surely come again… When they do, governments almost certainly will gain new powers over economic and social affairs… For those who cherish individual liberty and a free society, the prospect is deeply disheartening.

    That’s what Higgs said back in 1987, over a third of a century ago.  And how right he has been!  The Nineties were almost crisis-free; indeed, the collapse of Communism ended the forty-year crisis of the Cold War.  Ever since, however, we’ve had one exasperating crisis after another: 9/11, the Iraq War, the Great Recession, and ISIS, followed by Covid-19, the crisis that puts all the others to shameI maintain, of course, that the chief problem in each crisis has been government’s hysterical overreaction.  Verily, the cure is worse than the disease.  Still, that doesn’t change the fact that the net effect of these crises has been awful.

    As someone who, like Higgs, cherishes individual liberty and a free society, the retrospect has been deeply disheartening.  But at least Higgs psychologically prepared me to see people panicked and freedom trampled.  What I failed to anticipate, however, was the effect of crises on the liberty movement itself.

    It hasn't been pretty, Bryan points out. The "liberty movement" tends to have a significant number of Leviathan apologists for every new incursion on freedom.

    Sad. We're probably doomed.

URLs du Jour

2021-09-09

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  • And I will let the door hit me on the way out. At her substack, Bari Weiss hosts Peter Boghossian, making his resignation from Portland State public: My University Sacrificed Ideas for Ideology. So Today I Quit.

    I never once believed  nor do I now  that the purpose of instruction was to lead my students to a particular conclusion. Rather, I sought to create the conditions for rigorous thought; to help them gain the tools to hunt and furrow for their own conclusions. This is why I became a teacher and why I love teaching.

    But brick by brick, the university has made this kind of intellectual exploration impossible. It has transformed a bastion of free inquiry into a Social Justice factory whose only inputs were race, gender, and victimhood and whose only outputs were grievance and division.

    Students at Portland State are not being taught to think. Rather, they are being trained to mimic the moral certainty of ideologues. Faculty and administrators have abdicated the university’s truth-seeking mission and instead drive intolerance of divergent beliefs and opinions. This has created a culture of offense where students are now afraid to speak openly and honestly.

    I applaud Boghossian's straight talk, and wish him well.


  • [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] Still in Academia for now, however is Joshua M. Dunn Sr. (University of Colorado, Colorado Springs) And he asks (in a review of Jonathan Rauch's The Constitution of Knowledge, Amazon link at your right): Who Can We Trust Today?

    In The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth, Jonathan Rauch contends that we are facing an epistemic crisis. We no longer, as a society, seem to be able to distinguish truth from lies. And who can doubt him? To make his case he points to how preeminent gatekeepers of truth such as leading journalists like Dan Rather (“fake but accurate”) and Brian Williams (my helicopter “was forced down by an RPG”), the entire journalistic establishment that relentlessly peddled lies about Stacey Abrams having the Georgia gubernatorial election stolen from her, raised Michael Avenatti to a plausible presidential contender, and, of course, the biggest of them all, pushed the Russia collusion hoax. Wait! He doesn’t mention those at all. One can search high and low in his book for some discussion of the countless New York Times articles about the collusion hoax that was discredited by the Mueller Report and never find it.  Instead, this is how he describes the problem:

    The crisis had many elements, but two seemed central to its character. One was the deployment of disinformation on an unprecedented scale by Trump, his troll armies, foreign governments, conspiracy mongers, and a conservative media ecosystem which was increasingly detached from reality-based norms. That attack came predominantly though not exclusively from the right. Peculiarly, it received an assist from the left, in the form of an attack on epistemic liberalism which came to be known as cancel culture.

    You don’t have to have a MAGA hat in your closet, or to believe that there was massive electoral fraud depriving Trump of reelection, or to think that QAnon is sending you prophecies on 4chan, or to watch OANN to think that this might be, well, slightly one-sided. Strangely, it also means that our predicament, which Rauch overall excellently diagnoses, is even worse than he describes. If one of the central institutions of what he calls the “reality-based community” is thoroughly compromised (later in the book he does discuss the broader problems confronting mainstream journalism) then perhaps we should have even less hope than he allows.

    Sigh. Rauch's book was on my "maybe buy" list; I've moved it to my "maybe get at library" list.


  • Remember when people used to say "The Moral Majority is neither"? Well, Matt Taibbi remembers Moral Majority Media Strikes Again.

    The problem lay in the reason the error spread, which happens to be the same reason underlying innumerable other media shipwrecks in the last five years. These include everything from wrong reports of Russians hacking a Vermont energy grid, to tales of Michael Cohen in Prague, to the pee tape, to Julie Swetnick’s rape accusation, to the Covington high school fiasco, to Russian oligarchs co-signing a Deutsche Bank loan application for Donald Trump, to Bountygate, to the “mass hysterectomies” story, and dozens beyond: the media business has become a machine for generating error-ridden moral panics.

    News has become a corporatized version of the “Two Minutes Hate,” in which the goal of every broadcast is an anxiety-ridden audience provoked to the point of fury by the un-policed infamy of whatever wreckers are said to be threatening civilization this week: the unvaccinated, insurrectionists, Assadists, Greens, Bernie Bros, Jill Stein, Russians, the promoters of “white supremacy culture,” etc. Mistakes are inevitable because this brand of media business isn’t about accuracy, but rallying audiences to addictive disgust. As a result, most press people now shrug off the odd error or six — look at Maddow leaving her tweet up — so long as they feel stories are directionally right, i.e. aimed at deserving targets.

    (For those who don't remember the reference in the headline: see here and here and here. Hatred thinly diguised as smug superiority is nothing new.)


  • "No choice for you," say the schoolmarms. Dee Juria (her real name, not a legal pun) outlines an actual pro-choice position: Capping Education Freedom Accounts would cap opportunities for students.

    More than 1,000 New Hampshire families have applied for one of the state’s new Education Freedom Accounts (EFAs), showing strong demand for a program that offers many lower-income families their first real alternative to their assigned public school. Sadly, opponents of the program have cited this strong interest as a reason to prevent the program from growing.

    Opponents claim the program will cost taxpayers too much money, so it should be capped. In fact, the program will save taxpayers millions. And the more public school students who take an EFA, the more taxpayers will save.

    Dee does the math, showing her work. (Maybe she's old enough to have learned that in a government school.) In fact, she does such a good job, I wondered about the other side.

    Ah, I bet I can get the other side from New Hampshire Commie Public Radio… and I am not disappointed: With Interest In N.H.'s ‘Education Freedom Accounts’ High, Voucher Critics Point To The Cost.

    Note the sneer quotes around "Education Freedom Accounts". Yes, we've come to the right, by which I mean left, place. Who are the critics? Well the teacher union head, of course:

    “No public school district would be able to come in this much over budget, and (Gov. Chris) Sununu and Edelblut should hold school privatization programs to the same standard,” said Megan Tuttle, the president of the National Education Association in New Hampshire.

    And Democrats generally:

    “Sununu’s school voucher scheme takes money from our public schools and sends it to private, religious, and home schools,” Luneau said in a statement. “Now we are being told that millions more than expected in taxpayer dollars will be siphoned off for these vouchers. We need to put a cap on program costs based on what was presented to the Legislature by the commissioner, so that New Hampshire can plan appropriately.”

    Sigh. Fine. God forbid that New Hampshire should make it easy on the families who want to escape government schools. Obviously that can't be permitted.

    (By the way, I'm being very unfair to the article at NHPR. It's pretty even-handed.)


  • Ah. the famous "Turtle Theory". Steven Hayward comments on the WSJ article I commented upon the day before yesterday: College Men and the Turtle Theory.

    But the really interesting detail is conveyed in this bit:

    Enrollment rates for poor and working-class white men are lower than those of young Black, Latino and Asian men from the same economic backgrounds. . .

    So it is not just men, but specifically white men, who are bailing out of college most. But the Journal is too terrified to look deeper into what this fact might mean. The best they can do is:

    No college wants to tackle the issue under the glare of gender politics, said Ms. Delahunty, the enrollment consultant. The conventional view on campuses, she said, is that “men make more money, men hold higher positions, why should we give them a little shove from high school to college?”

    Yes, I can imagine no one is willing to risk their position on a college campus asking, “I’m wondering if it might be something we said?” I’m sitting here scratching my head, wondering if there could be any reason why young white men might find today’s college experience unappealing?

    You'll have to click through to get the Turtle Theory. Trust me, you'll like it.

URLs du Jour

2021-09-08

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  • Betteridge's Law of Headlines May Apply. The New Yorker has a long article which doesn't, as near as I can tell, answer the headline question: Can Progressives Be Convinced That Genetics Matters?. It's about a new book by Kathryn Page Harden, The Genetic Lottery: Why DNA Matters for Social Equality. She's a lefty ("with her commitments to social justice"), but also a scientist who's unwilling to ignore what the science says.

    But what I really want to excerpt is the article's subhed:

    The behavior geneticist Kathryn Paige Harden is waging a two-front campaign: on her left are those who assume that genes are irrelevant, on her right those who insist that they’re everything.

    Who out there believes that genes are "everything"? Let's see hands… I don't see any hands.

    In fact, I noticed that Charles Murray (who's cited as a bad "right" example in the article) had a recent tweet in response:

    I've mentioned this before, but as long as lefties ignore and distort what "the other side" actually says on the matter, we ain't close to having a decent conversation.


  • Just ask Lysenko. Where have I mentioned this before? Well, in my report on The Cult of Smart by actual communist Fredrik deBoer. (I didn't like the book too much, but that's not important right now.) deBoer also provides commentary on the New Yorker article at his substack: Genes Believe in You. He notes the pressure he got when word got out he might believe that there might be genetic factors behind cognitive abilities:

    I’ve told this story before, but I feel moved to tell it again. In 2018 hundreds of verified users on Twitter and thousands of their unverified hangers-on started a meltdown about me. Their claim of injustice was that my book, recently under contract, was a pro-race science book. This claim was remarkable not just because it was false, but also because my book did not exist - I had not written it yet. They were making pronouncements with absolute confidence about the argumentative contents of a book that did not have contents. This was particularly strange because my elevator pitch to publishers literally began with the assertion that racial differences in education are not genetic - “someday we’ll close the racial and gender achievement gaps, but what will remain is even more insidious, the innate talent gap.” None of this stopped hundreds of journalists and academics, whose job it is to both collect and source information, from spreading this claim about my book with absolute confidence across thousands of tweets. When I searched for hours for the source of this idea I found that it came from a single unverified pseudonymous shitposting account with a Michael Cera avatar and a few hundred followers. That was the standard of information sufficient for people who now work at places like The New York Times and The Washington Post and Buzzfeed and many more, and at some of the most prestigious universities in the world, to assassinate my character and begin a campaign to get my book dropped by my publisher. To my knowledge not a single one, not one, has ever retracted the tweets or apologized, despite the fact that they have had over a year now to verify that the actual book is explicitly and unambiguously anti-race science.

    This is the rhetorical environment in which [Kathryn Page Harden] must now survive.

    The rude thing is… I just don’t believe people, on this issue. When they say that they think all people have the same innate ability to perform well in school or on other cognitive tasks, that any difference is environmental, what I think inside is, I don’t believe that you believe that. When researchers in genetics and evolution who believe that the genome influences every aspect of our physiological selves say that they don’t believe that the genome has any influence on our behavioral selves, what I think inside is, I don’t believe you. I think people feel compelled to say this stuff because the idea of intrinsic differences in academic ability offend their sense of justice, and because the social and professional consequences of appearing to believe that idea are profound. But I think everyone who ever went to school as a kid knew in their heart back then that some kids were just smarter than others, and I think most people quietly believe that now. Like I said, it’s rude. But I can’t shake it.

    What liberals don’t like, they mock. What they cannot refute, they ridicule.

    I'd quibble with the word "liberals" in that last sentence. It's not particularly liberal.


  • Once upon a time you dressed so fine… Kevin D. Williamson looks at the latest journalistic faceplant: Like a Rolling Stone. And recalls their previous debacle, the University of Virginia rape-that-wasn't.

    Like most of the phony hate crimes and fabricated racial and sexual insults that have for years been an epidemic among young Americans, especially on college campuses, the Rolling Stone rape hoax was a neurotic casserole of familiar ingredients: social and romantic disappointment, weaponized envy, prejudice, mental-health problems, and a progressive-activist culture in which the effort to discredit and abominate cultural enemies — more often than not dishonest — takes the place of argument.

    These things follow a pattern: When Lena Dunham made up a story about being raped while a student at Oberlin, her fictitious villain was not a member of the chess team or the president of the campus Sierra Club chapter but a swaggering College Republican; when North Carolina Central University student Crystal Mangum made up a story about being gang-raped, the malefactors were the Duke lacrosse team; the UVA hoax author, Jackie Coakley, falsely claimed that she was gang-raped by members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity as part of an initiation ritual. When feminist activist Judy Munro-Leighton made up a story about being raped, she chose as her assailant Brett Kavanaugh, who was at the time a Supreme Court nominee in confirmation hearings. Jussie Smollett alleged that he was assaulted in the wee hours by . . . weirdly bitey Trump-loving Empire fans who just happened to have a length of rope and a quantity of bleach on their persons as they roamed the freezing streets of Chicago on an early January morning.

    In all of these cases, the story wasn’t about what the story was about.

    None of those fabricated rapes was presented as a mere crime of sexual violence — a crime that happens every day in these United States, disproportionately affecting not college women (who are, in fact, less likely to suffer rape than are women the same age who are not in college) or well-heeled activists but poor women in isolated urban and rural communities, women with little education, women on Indian reservations, illegal immigrants, etc. The stories and the data associated with some of these places are shocking.

    But here’s the thing: Nobody cares about those women.

    Not really. Of course, they’ll say they do. In reality, the kind of women our newspaper editors and magazine publishers care about are college students, white tourists abroad, and celebrities. But the most important variable in these hoaxes is not any of the personal qualities of the fictitious victims but the cultural resonance of the fictitious attackers. If you want to see a Native American leading the nightly news, put him in front of some white high-school kids wearing MAGA hats.

    What "journalists" at Rolling Stone etc. are really out for is indicting their favored targets: in the Ivermectin case, those GOP-voting Rogan-listening science-denying ignorant Okies.


  • On a related, or actually the same, note… Jim Treacher reassures us in his headline: No, Emergency Rooms Aren't Filling Up with People OD'ing on Horse Paste.

    This all started when Joe Rogan got COVID and didn’t die even though he isn’t vaccinated, right? He said his doctor prescribed ivermectin, and then that instantly became “Joe Rogan takes horse medicine.” From there, it was a short trip to “People who probably listen to Joe Rogan are OD’ing on horse drugs.” It doesn’t need to be true, it just needs to make you feel superior to the people you hate.

    (I think this post is available to non-subscribers. If it isn't, you should subscribe.)


  • The ACLU should just change its name. Glenn Greenwald writes more in sorrow than in anger… waitaminnit, might be the other way 'round… Well, anyway, he seems to have a longer memory than your average ACLU member: The ACLU, Prior to COVID, Denounced Mandates and Coercive Measures to Fight Pandemics. In response to a recent NYT op-ed from two ACLU wonks in favor of vaccine and masking mandates:

    The op-ed sounds like it was written by an NSA official justifying the need for mass surveillance (yes, fine, your privacy is important but it is not absolute; your privacy rights are outweighed by public safety; we are spying on you for your own good). And the op-ed appropriately ends with this perfect Orwellian flourish: “We care deeply about civil liberties and civil rights for all — which is precisely why we support vaccine mandates.”

    What makes the ACLU's position so remarkable — besides the inherent shock of a civil liberties organization championing state mandates overriding individual choice — is that, very recently, the same group warned of the grave dangers of the very mindset it is now pushing. In 2008, the ACLU published a comprehensive report on pandemics which had one primary purpose: to denounce as dangerous and unnecessary attempts by the state to mandate, coerce, and control in the name of protecting the public from pandemics.

    The op-ed was written by two ACLU workers: the "national legal director" (David Cole) and the "director of the ACLU program on freedom of religion and belief" (Daniel Mach). So it's not two guys in the mailroom. Might not be an official ACLU position, but it's pretty close.

    So they should change their name ACL(IFFTAISOLG)U: the "American Civil Liberties (If and Only If They Are In Support Of Leftist Goals) Union.

URLs du Jour

2021-09-07

[Nova Scotia Coat of Arms]

  • Those who we grab by some other pronoun … never mind. A brickbat from Reason wonders What’s in a Name?.

    The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal says Lorne Grabher's last name could be interpreted as a call for violence against women. The court upheld a lower court ruling that Grabher had no free speech right to a license plate with his last name. Grabher had a personalized license plate made with his last name for his father back in 1991. The plate was used by three generations of the family. But the Registrar of Motor Vehicles got a complaint about it in 2016 and told Grabher he could no longer use it.

    Fortunately, the fair maidens of Nova Scotia will hereinafter be safe from men driven mad by the seductive calls to aggression by provocative vanity license plates.

    The province's current plate design carries the slogan "Canada's Ocean Playground."

    I am not sure how much trouble a Nova Scot could get into by taping over this obnoxious wordage. That's a settled issue down here in New Hampshire.

    But unlike New Hampshire, the license plate slogan differs from the official provincial motto, which is (I am not making this up) "Munit haec et altera vincit", translated as "One defends and the other conquers".

    Which only makes sense in the context of the Nova Scotia coat of arms, pictured at your right. (Click to embiggen.) Your eyes do not deceive: a prancing unicorn sporting a crown on one side, an Indigenous Person with a big-ass arrow on the other. A small dragon in between. Above that, an armored hand bearing a thistle clasping a bare hand with an olive branch. Probably referring to the motto inscribed above.

    As far as badassery goes, New Hampshire beats Nova Scotia on its license plate design. But I have to admit, they shellacked us in the "bad acid trip seal design" category.


  • Beware when you get the warm fuzzies from a news story. A cautionary comedy/drama from Astral Codex Ten substack: Too Good To Check: A Play In Three Acts. Let's skip ahead to Act II, opening as the substacker is revelling in that roundly-debunked Rolling Stone Ivermectin story discussed here yesterday.

    Did you believe that?

    I did, briefly. Then I remembered the Law Of Rationalist Irony: the smugger you feel about having caught a bias in someone else, the more likely you are falling victim to that bias right now, in whatever way would be most embarrassing.

    So, quick check: am I doing this? I notice this story is exactly tailored to appeal to me and people like me. It discredits the media establishment, who I don’t like. It’s a great argument for why we need more rationality, something I’ve been trying to push. It lets me feel superior to everyone: I am properly skeptical of ivermectin, but also I haven’t become a contemptible propagandist who joins in mass media smear campaigns.

    And I didn’t even take a second to check if it was true! I’m relying entirely on the word of a Twitter bluecheck I’ve never heard of before, whose profile picture is some kind of dog (an Australian sheepdog? maybe some kind of weird collie?) Forget making a phone call to a hospital, I didn’t even read the original article!

    The story was “too good to check”!

    And on further research, he…

    Well, no spoilers here. It's a three-act play, so my recommendation is to read the whole thing. And also read and take to heart the lessons of The Scout Mindset as the substacker suggests.


  • Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, heretics gotta … Nick Gillespie has a good memory and breaks down the "taxonomy of cancel culture": Self-cancellation, Deplatforming, and Censorship.

    How should defenders of free speech think about "cancel culture," that hotly contested yet vague concept that defines the current moment like flappers and bathtub gin defined the 1920s, communist scares and juvenile delinquency defined the 1950s, and leisure suits and encounter groups defined the 1970s? Author Jonathan Rauch distinguishes canceling from mere criticism in that its practitioners seek "to organize and manipulate the social or media environment in order to isolate, deplatform or intimidate ideological opponents." Cancel culture isn't about seeking truth, he writes; it's "about shaping the information battlefield" in order to "coerce conformity and reduce the scope for forms of criticism that are not sanctioned by the prevailing consensus of some local majority."

    Somebody calling you a jackass on Twitter is criticism. Somebody organizing a mob to get you kicked off of Twitter, fired from your job, and put out on a figurative ice floe is cancel culture. Former President Donald Trump, himself a target of social media cancellation, exemplified cancel culture in 2018 when he called on the NFL to fire players who took a knee during the playing of the national anthem and mused aloud about deporting truculent athletes too. "You have to stand proudly for the national anthem, or you shouldn't be playing, you shouldn't be there," he told Fox & Friends. "Maybe you shouldn't be in the country." At a 2017 rally, he told a crowd that he'd "love to see one of these NFL owners, when someone disrespects our flag to say, 'get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He's fired. He's fired.'"

    I'm not totally sure where Nova Scotia vanity license plates fit into Nick's classification, but I'd bet on "censorship."


  • Here, you belong, and all are welcome. Oh, except you. The WSJ has the numbers. A Generation of American Men Give Up on College: ‘I Just Feel Lost’.

    Men are abandoning higher education in such numbers that they now trail female college students by record levels.

    At the close of the 2020-21 academic year, women made up 59.5% of college students, an all-time high, and men 40.5%, according to enrollment data from the National Student Clearinghouse, a nonprofit research group. U.S. colleges and universities had 1.5 million fewer students compared with five years ago, and men accounted for 71% of the decline.

    So when the University Near Here boasts about its welcoming, you'd think they'd find this more than a little worrisome. At last report, UNH undergrads numbered 5015 men and 6345 women, roughly a 44%-56% split. For grad students, it's a little more unbalanced: 588 men (39%), 910 women (61%).

    So how "welcoming" is UNH for guys? I wonder if anyone in the administration is asking that question.

Voodoo River

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Consumer note: no actual voodoo content in this book.

Author Robert Crais really hit his stride here, however, in this fifth book in his Elvis Cole series. He's hired by TV star Jodi Taylor to track down the mystery of her birth parents, who gave her up for adoption in Louisiana 36 years back. The records are sealed, so Elvis is off to Louisiana to find another way to figure things out.

He does, of course. Around page 60, that mystery's solved. Shortest Elvis novel ever? No, of course not. His investigation stirs up a hornet's nest, because it threatens to reveal a bunch of criminal behavior and corruption, both long-buried and present-day. It's also revealed that Jodi (and her agent) were less than forthcoming in hiring Elvis. And, as an extra complication, Elvis falls for Lucy Chenier, Jody's Louisiana lawyer. (Spoiler: Lucy shows up in a few more books after this, but eventually disappears.)

As always, Elvis's partner, Joe Pike, shows up to to improve the odds of survival. An elaborate scheme is hatched to take down the bad guys, which goes wrong pretty badly. (Helped out by a cop who might as well have a "Corrupt Sellout" name tag. You can see his role pretty clearly from his very first appearance. Unfortunately Elvis doesn't.)

URLs du Jour

2021-09-06

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • And anyone who disagrees is a fascist. Excellent Eric Boehm print-Reason article out from behind the paywall: Everything Is Infrastructure Now.

    "I truly believe we're in a moment where history is going to look back on this time as a fundamental choice that had to be made between democracies and autocracies," President Joe Biden declared during a March 31 speech in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. What exactly could be so vitally important that not only America's future but the entire project of liberal democracy hangs in the balance?

    Infrastructure. Well, "infrastructure."

    In Biden's telling, everything hinged on passing a multi-trillion-dollar spending package that was ostensibly meant to upgrade America's basic infrastructure but that also contained a wide range of unrelated spending on new social programs, industrial policy, and other forms of federal bureaucracy. Previous generations may have fought civilization-defining battles against tyrannical rulers and such toxic ideas as slavery and Nazism. But the fate of the free world, the president would have you believe, now depends on whether 50 senators (plus Vice President Kamala Harris) will vote for bigger Amtrak subsidies and expanded government-run internet service.

    What's more dangerous: (1) a road with too many potholes or (2) degraded political discourse? You can avoid potholes, but the degraded political discourse will eventually get you.


  • Pun Salad's favorite word du jour is "harbinger". We're working up to the twentieth anniversary of 9/11 on Saturday, and (my guess) it will be tough to find anybody saying anything new or interesting. But James B. Meigs, former editor of Popular Mechanics, has an exceptional article at City Journal, recounting his bout with the crazies: 9/11 Truther Movement a Harbinger of Today’s Paranoid Politics.

    I hadn’t intended to join the Globalist/Bush–Cheney/Zionist/CIA cabal for world domination. And I certainly didn’t mean to become a leading figure in the conspiracy to cover up the truth about 9/11. According to my critics, though, I was all that and more. All I’d meant to do was publish an article investigating 9/11 conspiracy theories. The unhinged response to that article taught me a lot about the hold such paranoid worldviews can have on otherwise normal people. In Jonathan Kay’s 2011 book Among the Truthers, he describes followers of the “9/11 Truth Movement” as having “spun out of rationality’s ever-weakening gravitational pull” and fallen into “fantasy universes of their own construction.” I met those people. They used to call and email me every day. Many took pains to explain all the horrible things that would happen to me once my crimes were “exposed.”

    I now believe the 9/11 Truthers I encountered were canaries in the coal mines of American society. They were an early warning sign of a style of thinking that has only grown more common in the years since 9/11: alienated, enraged, and not just irrational, but anti-rational. Today, fantasy universes abound in our current political culture. On the far right, Capitol-storming QAnon followers imagine vast, deep-state conspiracies involving pedophiles and pizza parlors. The Left’s conspiracy theories aren’t as obviously bonkers, but progressives also imagine powerful forces that secretly conspire against the people. In her 2007 book, The Shock Doctrine, for example, writer Naomi Klein introduced the concept of “disaster capitalism”—a kind of global plot to exploit the powerless—and promised to “reveal the puppet strings behind the critical events of the last four decades.” Today, the Woke Left routinely portrays American institutions as engines of cleverly concealed oppression. Racism, sexism, and the like are not just biases to be overcome but fundamental organizing principles of American society.

    It's a long, interesting, and somewhat depressing article, discussing how easily people slip into conspriracism (which might be a better term than "paranoia"). It's an equal-opportunity disease, affecting both left and right. And from there it's only a short slide into violence, as a "last resort".


  • [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] On a related note… Tom Chivers takes apart a Harvard philosopher's recent book: How not to talk to a science denier.

    Imagine you bought a book with the title How to Talk to A Contemptible Idiot Who Is Kind of Evil. You open the book, and read the author earnestly telling you how important it is that you listen, and show empathy, and acknowledge why the people you’re talking to might believe the things they believe. If you want to persuade them, he says, you need to treat them with respect! But all the way through the book, the author continues to refer to the people he wants to persuade as “contemptible idiots who are kind of evil”.

    At one stage he even says: “When speaking to a contemptible idiot who is kind of evil, don’t call them a contemptible idiot who is kind of evil! Many contemptible idiots find that language insulting.” But he continues to do it, and frequently segues into lengthy digressions about how stupid and harmful the idiots’ beliefs are. Presumably you would not feel that the author had really taken his own advice on board

    This is very much how I feel about How to Talk to A Science Denier, by the Harvard philosopher Lee McIntyre.

    Amazon link at your right, of course. Chivers advises that "It’s mainly a book designed to tell readers that people they already think are dumb are, in fact, dumb." So maybe invest in a different, much more valuable, book by Alan Jacobs: How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds. I really liked his "Thinking Person's Checklist" afterword, which summarizes the book's advice:

    1. When faced with provocation to respond to what someone has said, give it five minutes. Take a walk, or weed the garden, or chop some vegetables. Get your body involved: your body knows the rhythms to live by, and if your mind falls into your body’s rhythm, you’ll have a better chance of thinking.
    2. Value learning over debating. Don’t “talk for victory.”
    3. As best you can, online and off, avoid the people who fan flames.
    4. Remember that you don’t have to respond to what everyone else is responding to in order to signal your virtue and right-mindedness.
    5. If you do have to respond to what everyone else is responding to in order to signal your virtue and right-mindedness, or else lose your status in your community, then you should realize that it’s not a community but rather an Inner Ring.
    6. Gravitate as best you can, in every way you can, toward people who seem to value genuine community and can handle disagreement with equanimity.
    7. Seek out the best and fairest-minded of people whose views you disagree with. Listen to them for a time without responding. Whatever they say, think it over.
    8. Patiently, and as honestly as you can, assess your repugnances.
    9. Sometimes the “ick factor” is telling; sometimes it’s a distraction from what matters.
    10. Beware of metaphors and myths that do too much heavy cognitive lifting; notice what your “terministic screens” are directing your attention to—and what they’re directing your attention away from; look closely for hidden metaphors and beware the power of myth.
    11. Try to describe others’ positions in the language that they use, without indulging in in-other-wordsing.
    12. Be brave.

    My failures to follow this advice are manifest. To everyone except me.


  • We take all kinds of pills that give us all kind of thrills. But the thrill we've never known is having taken a pill that generated a fake story in the Rolling Stone. Fox News is probably a little too gleeful about it: Rolling Stone forced to issue an 'update' after viral hospital ivermectin story turns out to be false.

    Rolling Stone was forced to issue an update to their viral story about Oklahoma hospitals being overwhelmed by patients who overdosed on the drug ivermectin after the doctor they cited was contradicted by the hospitals he referenced.

    On Friday, the liberal magazine published testimony from Dr. Jason McElyea who told a local news station that hospitals were being overrun from patients overdosing on ivermectin which resulted in other patients waiting for treatment. McElyea claimed the situation was so bad that gunshot victims were being neglected.

    "The ERs are so backed up that gunshot victims were having hard times getting to facilities where they can get definitive care and be treated," McElyea said.

    It was just a tad too perfect in (see above) picturing the dumb science-denying, Trump-voting Okies taking horse medicine.

    (But I understand they are all in "stable" condition.)

    And even better:

    I suggest everyone involved in producing or promoting this yarn be given a copy of Alan Jacobs' book.

    (Classical reference in headline.)

An Understated Complaint

I'm currently reading a very good book: Schrödinger's Killer App: Race to Build the World's First Quantum Computer by Jonathan P. Dowling. Eventually it will show up in the book feed of this blog. But I hit a speed bump on page 228:

The role of quantum computing in the field of quantum technology cannot be understated.

Um.

That's a specific example of pretty common idiom. I hate it. Because I always read it as a challenge. I wanted (in this case) to tell the author:

Oh yeah, smart guy? Watch this: "The role of quantum computing in the field of quantum technology is nada. Bupkis! Zilch! Less than nothing!"

Mission accomplished. I understated.

But it's worse. The idiom's general form is something like

The importance of X cannot be understated.

Problem: you sometimes see it as:

The importance of X cannot be overstated.

These should mean opposite things. They don't. (It's not like the folks who say "I could care less" when they mean "I couldn't care less.") Instead, they are both trying to say

X is, like, really important.

… but in a rhetorically inflated way. Writers, speakers: just don't do this.

But (I should add) it's not just me. This Atlantic "Word Court" column from 2004 weighs in for a confused reader:

Cannot understate and cannot overstate are like architectural elements in an M. C. Escher drawing: if you like, you can flip-flop them in your mind. The trick is done by cannot, which has two meanings. Think of Parson Weems's tale in which the young George Washington declared, "I can't tell a lie." Of course Washington was physically capable of uttering a false statement; by can't, he meant he chose not to. Can't, or cannot, can mean something very much like must not—and if it means that, cannot understate the importance of makes sense. Clear communication is subverted, though, when antithetical statements mean the same thing. Cannot overstate is more commonly seen and heard, as you say—in fact, it's much more common. Why not use it from now on?

Or (my advice) just use neither, and say clearly what you really mean instead.

But wait, there's more. Linguist Mark Liberman followed up on the Atlantic column at the very scholarly Language Log here. Ready to leap into the weeds?

In an earlier post, I related examples like cannot understate the importance of... to the hypothesis that it's hard for people to calculate the meaning of phrases involving negatives in combination with modals, scalar thresholds and so on. This interpretive difficulty explains why some phrases with semantically-backwards interpretations are hard to edit out -- it's hard to calcuate what they actually mean, and they include pretty much the right words, and they're syntactically correct. In order to explain why the erring phrases are constructed in the first place, I suggested combining this interpretive difficulty with a sort of lego-block model of sentence construction -- take out an assortment of relevant tree-fragments from the lexicon, and fit them together until it looks OK. Sometimes another factor may be a sort of semantic gap, created by the fact that there is hardly ever any reason to want to express the idea that corresponds to the correct interpretation of the phrase in question.

Liberman goes on to use terms like the "modality of moral obligation" and "deontic necessity". Fine. You, like I, might have better luck understanding Dowling's explanation of quantum entanglement.


Last Modified 2021-09-06 3:38 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2021-09-04

  • Should I believe in the Science of the guys who left, or the ones who stayed? Mary Chastain reports a Politico article: FDA in Disarray as Two Vaccine Officials Resign Over Biden’s COVID Booster Plans.

    The FDA lost two top vaccine officials because President Joe Biden’s administration is not minding its own business:

    FDA officials are scrambling to collect and analyze data that clearly demonstrate the boosters’ benefits before the administration’s Sept. 20 deadline for rolling them out to most adults. Many outside experts, and some within the agency, see uncomfortable similarities between the Biden team’s top-down booster plan and former President Donald Trump’s attempts to goad FDA into accelerating its initial authorization process for Covid-19 vaccines and push through unproven virus treatments.

    On Tuesday, two top FDA vaccine regulators resigned — a decision that one former official said was rooted in anger over the agency’s lack of autonomy in the booster planning so far. A current health official said the pair, Marion Gruber and Philip Krause, left over differences with FDA’s top vaccine official Peter Marks. Now the agency is facing a potential mutiny among its staff and outside vaccine advisers, several of whom feel cut out of key decisions and who view the plan to offer boosters to all adults as premature and unnecessary.

    Those administration officials include acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock and COVID Czar Jeff Zients. Both approve of the booster. Woodcock praised vaccine regulators. Zients praised the FDA “as the regulatory ‘gold standard.'”

    It's not as if those ex-FDA bureaucrats filled me with a lot of confidence over the pandemic process. On the other hand, it sounds as if things are about to get worse. Take care of your grandparents, kids! Maybe move them to Israel.


  • More FDA death by regulation. But (surprise) not COVID! Jacob Grier notes the continuing legal homicide: The FDA Is Set To Unintentionally Push Quitters Back to Smoking.

    The week ahead will be hugely consequential for the future of tobacco and nicotine in the United States. On September 9, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must meet a court-imposed deadline to decide which electronic cigarette and vapor products will be allowed to remain on the market. The agency's decisions will affect more than just the livelihoods of small business owners and big vaping companies; at stake are the rights of millions of current and former smokers to access a safer alternative that could literally save their lives.

    American news coverage of vaping has tended to focus on its downsides, particularly the use of e-cigarettes among teens and adolescents. Legislators and activist groups have raised the alarm about youth vaping to encourage the FDA to enact de facto prohibition of flavored products. In the popular imagination, vaping seduces youth into dangerous addiction and renormalizes tobacco use, justifying bans on the sale of e-cigarettes even to adults.

    Grier notes that the FDA's incentives tilt toward appeasing "activists" and (heh) "reducing its workload by setting an impossibly high bar for smaller e-cigarette and e-liquid companies". Tsk! Wouldn't want to make them work harder!


  • Did it work? Bryan Caplan has a refreshingly contrarian take on The American Experiment in Federalist Dictatorship. ("Dictatorship" is a term loaded with nasty baggage, but isn't it accurate?)

    During Covid, legislatures became extraordinarily deferential to their executives.  Congress deferred to the President, yes.  But more shockingly, state legislatures across the country virtually abdicated in favor of their governors.  On everything Covid-related – and what isn’t “Covid-related”? – governors have essentially ruled by decree since March of 2020.

    In short, America is now an elective dictatorship.  Unlike almost all historical dictatorships, however, these are dictatorships within a federal system.  Every governor makes it up as he goes along… but he only makes it up for his own state.  Elections will still happen, possibly replacing one dictator with another.  But until those days of reckoning, whoever won the last election has a remarkably free hand to do as he pleases.

    What has this freakish experiment in federalist dictatorship taught us?  I’m curious to hear your thoughts, but here are the biggest lessons I’ve drawn thus far.

    Reader, there are ten of those lessons. To give you a flavor, here's one of them:

    9. Our era of federalist dictatorship has been a great “Obedience to Authority” experiment.  And the experiment replicates.  People in fifty different states have been given fifty different (and fluctuating) sets of often arbitrary rules.  And people in fifty different states have, by and large, obeyed.  You could protest, “Each governor is just ‘ordering’ their citizens to do what they would have done on their own volition.”  But that’s grossly overstated.  The store mask mandates in Virginia and Texas were very similar this winter, and almost universally observed.  But when both states dropped mask mandates, most northern Virginians kept wearing masks in stores for a month and more.  In Texas, in contrast, masks in stores vanished almost overnight.  As individuals, Texans wanted less caution than Virginians.  Yet both groups obeyed their authorities.

    I'm probably reading too much into that. I hope I am anyway. I know my main motivation for (mostly) going along with mandates was to minimize personal hassle and conflict. But how slippery is the slope between that and being a "good German"?


Last Modified 2021-09-05 3:41 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2021-09-03

  • Eye Candy du Jour. Michael P. Ramirez looks at the latest manifestation of Cancel Culture.

    [Caesar is in Jeopardy]

    To be fair, the (um) insensitive podcast remarks that got Mike Richards pushed out were "only" seven years old.


  • She blinded masked me with Science! Jacob Sullum is one of the dwindling group of sources I trust to play it straight on Covid. Here's a recent analysis from him on a contentious topic: The New York Times Assumes a Scientific Consensus on School Mask Mandates That Its Own Reporting Shows Does Not Exist.

    The Department of Education this week announced investigations of five states that have told public schools they may not force students to wear face masks as a safeguard against COVID-19. Because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended "universal masking" [including Klingons? - PS] in K–12 schools, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona says, those states may be violating federal laws that ban discrimination against people with disabilities. Among other things, that argument assumes a nonexistent scientific consensus that mask mandates in schools are a minimum requirement for resuming in-person instruction.

    If you are a regular reader of The New York Times, you could be forgiven for thinking that resistance to mask mandates is irrational at best and crassly partisan at worst, sacrificing the safety of children to score cheap political points. "Many states have urged localities to return to in-person schooling while promoting policies that conflict with the goal of educating young people in safety," the paper lamented in a recent editorial. "As of early August, only 29 states had recommended that students wear masks—down from the 44 states that did so last fall—and nine states had banned masking requirements." The Times commended President Joe Biden for taking "the right approach" by using the Education Department's "broad authority" to "deter the states from barring universal masking in classrooms."

    Jacob notes that the Gray Lady has also reported on the much less draconian school mask policy in Britain, with no apparent associated disasters.


  • It's not just for stellar interiors any more. Matt Ridley reports on some potential good news: The radical potential of nuclear fusion.

    In a key milestone on the road to harnessing fusion power, Lawrence Livermore laboratory announced this week that it had extracted energy from an object the size of a lemon pip at the rate of 10 quadrillion watts (joules per second), albeit for only 100 trillionths of a second. That’s roughly 500 times faster than the entire human population consumes energy.

    The experiment is a reminder that the energy density achieved when atoms merge is vastly greater than anything in a lump of coal, let alone a puff of wind. It is also far bigger than can be achieved by nuclear fission and much safer too: no risk of meltdown and with much less high-level radioactive waste. 

    The problem, of course, is that reliable fusion power stations were 50 years away in 1950, and were still 50 years away in 2000, so milestones on the road to fusion are greeted with sceptical yawns. But almost everybody in the industry now thinks that jibe is out of date: the stopwatch has started, as one insider put it to me. We are probably less than 15 years away from seeing a fusion power station begin to contribute to the grid. 

    The extremely good news is that fusion power produces helium as its waste gas, which can be utilized for talking funny. (And, um, it's also not a "greenouse gas".) As Glenn Reynolds is wont to say: "Faster, please."


  • Scam alert! Vivek Ramaswamy, guest-posting at Bari Weiss's substack, reveals: Stakeholder Capitalism Is a Trojan Horse for China.

    There is nothing more important to progressives today than to apologize: Antiracists apologizing for being racist. Electric-vehicle drivers apologizing for having polluted the planet. And devotees of “stakeholder capitalism” saying sorry for, well, capitalism.

    Joe Biden has called conventional, or shareholder, capitalism a “farce,” saying corporations “have a responsibility to their workers, their community, to their country.” Elizabeth Warren’s “accountable capitalism” calls for higher wages, and greater employee involvement in selecting boards of directors and making political contributions. Al Gore has said that, as the value of socially conscious capitalism gains traction, “investors who fail to take it into account may be at risk of violating their fiduciary duty to their clients” — and, presumably, vulnerable to a lawsuit.

    Nor is stakeholder capitalism limited to politicians or progressive activists: America’s most powerful CEOs have embraced it. In late 2019, the Business Roundtable, a lobbying group representing the country’s biggest corporations, announced it was revising its statement of purpose with an eye toward “stakeholders.” Jamie Dimon, the chairman and CEO of JPMorgan and the chairman of the Business Roundtable, wrote in a follow-up article in Time: “Capitalism has been the most successful economic system in history. But we can improve upon it to help solve society’s problems and lift up more people.”

    Here's what “stakeholder capitalists” miss: Once corporations become vehicles to further an agenda other than shareholder value, they become vehicles to advance any agenda, including those of foreign adversaries. 

    Case in point: In recent years, the Chinese Communist Party has become a key stakeholder of many American multinationals — from Nike to Visa to BlackRock. It’s now flexing its muscle in ways that — no surprise — strengthens China’s interests at the expense of American ones.

    Let's take a moment to appreciate the diversity going on here: a Jewish lesbian hosting an Indian writing about Chinese scheming, using a metaphor where Greeks used trickery to take over a Turkish city. Only in America!


  • Train wreck coming, nobody's worried. Well, almost nobody. Daniel J. Mitchell calls the alarm: The Real (and Growing) Problem with Social Security.

    In an ideal world, Americans would have personal retirement accounts, just like workers in Australia, Sweden, Chile, Hong Kong, Israel, Switzerland, and a few dozen other nations.

    But we’re not in that ideal world. We are forced to participate in a Ponzi Scheme known as Social Security.

    By the way, that’s not necessarily a disparaging description. A Ponzi Scheme can work if there are always enough new people in the system to pay off the old people.

    But because of demographic changes (increasing lifespans and decreasing birthrates), that’s not what we have in the United States.

    And this is why Social Security faces serious long-run problems.

    The occasion is the (belated) release of the annual Trustee's Report. It shows (as Dan says) serious long-run problems. But as Eric Boehm notes, there's also kind of a short-run problem: Social Security Will Be Insolvent in 12 Years.

    The fiscal crisis looming over Social Security is no longer a distant threat. The national pension system will be insolvent by the time workers now in their mid-50s are ready to retire.

    The annual report to Congress from the Social Security Trustees, released this week, paints a grim picture of an entitlement program that was already veering towards insolvency before the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated that trend. The Trustees now estimate that Social Security will be unable to pay the full amount of promised benefits by 2033, one year sooner than the same report estimated last year. Absent any policy changes, beneficiaries will receive just 78 percent of what they've been promised starting in 2034.

    Fixes are currently not under discussion. Instead we're debating on how much more money-we-don't-have Uncle Stupid will be spending. And the longer we dawdle, the more painful the fixes will be.

URLs du Jour

2021-09-02

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • You had me at "Venn diagram". David French has much to say on The Descent of the Partisan Mind. But this is what caught my eye:

    If you could draw a Venn diagram between those who believed, in turn, that 1) COVID was basically the flu; 2) mandatory masking and social distancing represented ineffective acts of government tyranny; 3) the election was stolen; 4) vaccines are experimental “gene therapies” at best and an outright threat to public health at worst, and 5) the real treatment for COVID is hydroxychloroquine or Ivermectin, there would be a high, high degree of overlap.

    In fact, in my experience, belief in any one of those items almost always implies a belief in most if not all the rest.

    I actually, sorta kinda, think 2) is mostly on target, although "tyranny" is too strong a word; it's just government acting like governments act. Everything else is garbage.

    But yeah, I go to a lot of sites where the denizens seem to buy into every one of those. It's like walking into a confirmation-bias lab demonstration.


  • Need some cheering up? Goodness knows I do. Elizabeth Nolan Brown tosses out 40 Ways Things Are Getting Better. She details the twitter responses to a UVa postdoc who asked… well, here's an example:

    And there's 39 more. Some may strike you as trivial, some as examples of moral decay.

    And I know that people like to put down the Internet and its associated services. But I continue to believe it's like having God's library card at your fingertips.


  • OK, enough cheerfulness. Let's get back to our day job, which is slagging our garbage political leaders. President Wheezy is the gift that keeps on giving in that category. Because, as Jordan Davidson points out, Joe Biden Has Always Thought He Was The Smartest Man In The Room.

    Take his response to the Afghanistan crisis, for example. Not only did he delay addressing the nation about the Taliban takeover and subsequent American evacuation problems in Kabul, but he has also refused to take responsibility for the lack of planning associated with the botched withdrawal, and offered flippant looks at his watch and anecdotes about his own son’s death to cancer as a response to the grieving families who lost their loved ones in the Kabul explosion last week.

    Any speech that he gives is plagued with nonsensical verbiage, uncomfortable pauses, and weird comments about how he is or isn’t allowed to answer questions from specific people about specific topics.

    Davidson recounts the infamous 1987 incident up in Claremont, NH when Biden (then running for President) told voter Frank Fahey "I think I have a much higher IQ than you, I suspect." And went on to lie his ass off.

    Biden's since stopped being so obvious an asshole, but that's a low bar. Pretty clearly he continues to harbor delusions about his own intelligence and (for that matter) competence.


  • Enough about the dead son, OK? Charles C. W. Cooke thinks Joe Biden Needs to Stop Talking about Beau.

    Joe Biden should resolve to stop talking about the death of his son, Beau. He should do this immediately, he should do it without exception, and he should keep doing it until the exact moment he ceases to be president of the United States.

    At some point in the recent past, President Biden has been informed by his acolytes that he is considered an empathetic man, and, moreover, that one of the causes of this reputation is that he has suffered an unusual number of personal tragedies — including, in 2015, the loss of his elder son. Unfortunately, at some point in the recent past, President Biden also seems to have been told that he can reproduce that empathy at a moment’s notice with the mere utterance of Beau’s name. Since last week’s terror attack in Kabul, in which 13 members of the American military were killed, Biden has repeatedly attempted to use his own heartbreak as a shield. Addressing the massacre from the White House last week, the president described himself as “the father of an Army major who served for a year in Iraq and, before that, was in Kosovo as a U.S. attorney for the better part of six months in the middle of a war,” and submitted that, as a result, he had “some sense, like many of you do, what the families of these brave heroes are feeling today.” Biden used this line again on Sunday, while meeting with the families of the slain. He used it yet again during his victory-lap press conference this afternoon. And, demonstrating that it has now become an official line, Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, used it today, too. On all four occasions, it was a deeply inappropriate tack to take.

    Unlike CCWC, I would not have posed this as advice to Biden. What are the chances, at this point, that he's going to take advice?


  • But now for the important news. The Jeopardy! folks would probably have done a better job than Biden managing the Afghanistan bugout. But they've done a poor enough job with a task that should have been accomplished with a lot less drama, as Ari Blaff describes at City Journal: I’ll Take “Cancel Culture” for $500.

    In his autobiography, published shortly before his death last November, Alex Trebek noted that Jeopardy!, the trivia show he hosted for 37 years, always sought to transcend politics. Pointing an accusing finger at social media and 24/7 cable news, Trebek mourned America’s inability to see past the binary. “It forces us to choose a side and has convinced us that our side is right and the other side is wrong. If you don’t agree with me, you are my enemy. There is no room for compromise,” he lamented.

    That moderate sentiment has gone missing in recent weeks as the show struggles to replace its beloved long-time host. Two weeks ago, an article by Claire McNear in The Ringer alleged that the show’s recently appointed co-host, Mike Richards, had a track record of making offensive comments. Digging through 41 episodes of a now-defunct, nearly decade-old podcast Richards mostly co-hosted alongside his female colleague Beth Triffon, McNear excavated several Howard Stern-style, off-the-cuff soundbites about sex, money, and politics. In one conversation, following the infamous iCloud photo hacks exposing Hollywood celebrities, Richards jokingly asks Triffon if she ever took such pictures. In another episode, Richards ribs Triffon for giving money to a homeless person. This jibe goes beyond the pale for McNear, who cannot even bring herself to utter the word “homeless,” instead writing “unhoused woman.” McNear also reports that Richards called Triffon a “midget” and “retard,” which she can only bring herself to allude to as “a derogatory term for little people” and “the R-word.”

    I was unaware that Claire McNear was so involved. She was the author of Answers in the Form of Questions, a book I really liked when I read it earlier this year. Disappointing that she seems to have become a participant in host activism rather than a reporter.

    Among the guest hosts, I still liked Buzzy Cohen best. But I bet he's glad to have avoided the shitstorm.

URLs du Jour

2021-09-01

  • Unfinished Business Yesterday, I noticed a bit of oddness in this NH Business Review article:

    As House majority leader, [Jason] Osborne leads the faction of the GOP whose values and votes closely align with those of the NH Liberty Alliance, the political arm of the Free State Project founded in 2003.

    The "political arm" terminology seemed odd, especially since the Wikipedia page for the NHLA states:

    The Liberty Alliance is not part of the Free State Project[…]

    I couldn't find an e-mail address for Michael Kitch, the article's author. So I wrote to to the NHBR editor, Jeff Feingold:

    Dear Mr. Feingold --

    A recent article in NHBR (https://read.nhbr.com/nh-business-review/2021/08/27/#?article=3858697) claims that the NH Liberty Alliance is the "political arm of the Free State Project".

    The Wikipedia page for the NH Liberty Alliance (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Hampshire_Liberty_Alliance) claims "The Liberty Alliance is not part of the Free State Project".

    Who's right here?

    I got an unexpectedly prompt reply from Mr. Feingold 12 minutes later. Brief, but perplexing:

    The Free State Project founded the NHLA in 2003. “Political arm” is not intended to suggest a formal institutional or financial relationship between them, though there could be one.

    Whaaa…?

    Well, here's my reply:

    Thank you for the clarification. We'll have to agree to disagree about what the "political arm" language indicates to the reader.

    But what I almost sent was much less civil. Something like:

    You say that 'political arm' is 'not intended to suggest a formal institutional or financial relationship'. You fail to say what what it is intended to suggest. I guess that's left to the reader's imagination.

    Furthermore, you say 'there could be" such a relationship. It appears you're not sure one way or the other. In other words, the article's "political arm" language is pretty much without factual basis, and is mere speculation? In what school of journalism did you learn that this sort of guesswork-presented-as-fact was a proper form of journalism?

    It's probably for the best I didn't send that.


  • Imangine tiny paws frantically beating… Kevin D. Williamson notes an eerie similarity between President Wheezy's oratory of late and Rat-Paddling.

    So, even Biden’s boast about how competently we run away from a fight is a little rotten.

    I have been watching politics for a long time, and I have observed a many rats rat-paddling away from many sinking ships. That is what rats do: It is an aspect of ratness.

    But I cannot think of a rat rat-paddling away who squeaked quite so self-importantly about it.

    It takes a guy with a sterner stomach than mine to watch enough of Biden's performance to nail that metaphor.


  • Teach your children well. Robby Soave notes the odd rhetoric from the L.A. Teachers Union Leader: ‘There’s No Such Thing As Learning Loss’.

    The head of United Teachers Los Angeles—the city's teachers union—thinks that pandemic-related learning losses are a myth and that the thousands of students who slogged through virtual school last year are doing just fine.

    "There's no such thing as learning loss," Cecily Myart-Cruz told Los Angeles magazine in a recent interview.

    Myart-Cruz did acknowledge that students' achievements in mathematics, for instance, might have been harmed by virtual learning, but she asserted that the experience of surviving 2020–2021 somehow makes up for this.

    "Our kids didn't lose anything," she said. "It's OK that our babies may not have learned all their times tables. They learned resilience. They learned survival. They learned critical-thinking skills. They know the difference between a riot and a protest. They know the words insurrection and coup."

    Later in the interview:

    "You can recall the governor," she said. "You can recall the school board. But how are you going to recall me?"

    How about a PATCO style solution to that problem? Unlikely in LA, I guess.


  • Defund NPR. Matt Taibbi continues to sound like a crotchety old right-winger (which he's not) but he's an honest enough lefty to recognize when NPR Trashes Free Speech.

    The guests for NPR’s just-released On The Media episode about the dangers of free speech included Andrew Marantz, author of an article called, “Free Speech is Killing Us”; P.E. Moskowitz, author of “The Case Against Free Speech”; Susan Benesch, director of the “Dangerous Speech Project”; and Berkeley professor John Powell, whose contribution was to rip John Stuart Mill’s defense of free speech in On Liberty as “wrong.”

    That’s about right for NPR, which for years now has regularly congratulated itself for being a beacon of diversity while expunging every conceivable alternative point of view.

    I always liked Brooke Gladstone, but this episode of On The Media was shockingly dishonest. The show was a compendium of every neo-authoritarian argument for speech control one finds on Twitter, beginning with the blanket labeling of censorship critics as “speech absolutists” (most are not) and continuing with shameless revisions of the history of episodes like the ACLU’s mid-seventies defense of Nazi marchers at Skokie, Illinois.

    At Hot Air, John Sexton also appreciates Taibbi's article:` NPR hosts a discussion on 'free speech absolutism' but invites only critics.

    The problem of course is that once you equate speech and violence, you hand a powerful heckler’s veto to anyone who disagrees with a given speaker’s content. Don’t like what someone is planning to say on campus? Shout that they are doing violence to x, y and z and demand they be deplatformed. Conveniently, this sort of claim that a speaker with a different opinion is causing harm cannot be argued or even discussed rationally. It is wholly dependent on one person’s emotional outburst to silence another person’s right to speak.

    So on the one hand what Powell is recommending is begging students to become special snowflakes who can’t withstand any voice of opposition. On the other hand, there is another danger presented by equating speech with violence. There are some violent people on the left who will take that equivalence as an opportunity to dish out violence in response to speech. Yes, I’m talking about Antifa and their ilk. From their point of view, all one needs to do is determine someone is a fascist, i.e. anyone to the right of Mao, and you are justified in punching them to stop them from talking.

    These aren’t just theoretical dangers. There are lots of examples of both kinds of behavior over the past few years. But of course NPR’s listeners won’t hear about any of them because they didn’t have a contradictory voice on the panel.

    You could have an emotional reaction to all this Constitution- and Mill-bashing, and demand the NPR speakers be removed from the air, Unfortunately, that wouldn't get these folks to realize their self-contradiction.

The Free World

Art and Thought in the Cold War

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

You would think I'd eat up a book titled The Free World, with a picture of the Statue of Liberty on the dust jacket. Eat it up, and say "More, please." Instead, it's another "Wish I'd liked it better" books. It's especially sad because the text runs to 727 pages, so it not only was a slog, but a long one.

For better or worse, I have a self-imposed rule: if I start a book, I finish the book. (Even if "finishing" means, more or less, "looking at all the words on every page for a decent amount of time.") Fortunately, my Reading Schedule Generator kept me on track at a steady 34-35 pages/day, for three long weeks.

The author, Louis Menand, is a Harvard prof, and New Yorker writer. The book is wide-ranging, but is not so much history as it is a series of biographical vignettes, about American and European artists, writers, critics, and intellectuals that were of import during (roughly) the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. Just skimming through the book where small black-and-white pics introduce each chapter: George Kennan, George Orwell, Simone de Beauvoir, Hannah Arendt, Jackson Pollock, Neal Cassady, The Family of Man, Merce Cunningham, Alan Freed, JFK, white guys rioting against racial integration efforts, pop art, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Andy Warhol, Charlotte Moorman, James Baldwin, Pauline Kael, Marines in Da Nang.

Those are just the pictures, but there's also Jean-Paul Sartre, Lionel Trilling, Jack Kerouac, Robert Rauschenberg, John Cage, Isaiah Berlin, Richard Wright, Elvis, the Beatles, Betty Friedan, Susan Sontag, Martin Luther King Jr., Bonnie and Clyde, Truffault, Tom Hayden, Ralph Ellison.

And many, many more. A lot of politics, almost entirely left-wing, occasionally Marxist/Communist, but occasionally Fascist. A lot of sexuality, both hetero- and homo-, with heavy doses of infidelity and perversion. Professional jealousies and bitchy spats. All often described down to mind-numbing this-can't-possibly-be-important, why-should-I-care-about-this detail.

But that's probably on me, rather than Menand. His chapter discussing the Beatles, Elvis, and the Sixties music scene was very good! As far as it went. Menand generally ignores Motown, only mentioning it as a source of songs covered by the Beatles. And Bob Dylan? He "had virtually nothing particularly interesting to say about American life." The Beach Boys? Nope.

Such blind spots percolate into other parts of the book. Anthropologists are discussed, notably Claude Lévi-Strauss. But the field of economics is pretty much ignored, and you'd think that might warrant a mention in a long book about the "free world" and the Cold War. No Hayek, no Friedman of course. But also no Keynes, and just a couple of John Kenneth Galbraith shout-outs. The creation and operation of Students for a Democratic Society is lovingly described; its Weather Underground offshoot is ignored, with Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn MIA.

So I didn't care for the book, but you might. If your interests roughly track those of Louis Menand.