URLs du Jour

2022-05-23

  • Perhaps the Tweet of the Year. Via Instapundit, the Tweet du Jour.

    We really have a hodgepodge today.


  • Be a do-gooder instead of a talk-gooder. Kay S. Hymowitz has a suggestion about How Really to Be an Antiracist. Specifically, start teaching black kids how to read.

    A significant number of American students are reading fluently and with understanding and are well on their way to becoming literate adults. But they are a minority. As of 2019, according to the National Association of Education Progress (NAEP), sometimes called the Nation’s Report Card, 35 percent of fourth-graders were reading at or above proficiency levels; that means, to spell it out, that a strong majority—65 percent, to be exact—were less than proficient. In fact, 34 percent were reading, if you can call it that, below a basic level, barely able to decipher material suitable for kids their age. Eighth-graders don’t do much better. Only 34 percent of them are proficient; 27 percent were below-basic readers. Worse, those eighth-grade numbers represent a decline from 2017 for 31 states.

    As is always the case in our crazy-quilt, multiracial, multicultural country, the picture varies, depending on which kids you’re looking at. If you categorize by states, the lowest scores can be found in Alabama and New Mexico, with just 21 percent of eighth-graders reading proficiently. The best thing to say about these results is that they make the highest-scoring state—Massachusetts, with 47 percent of students proficient—look like a success story rather than the mediocrity it is.

    The findings that should really push antiracist educators to rethink their pedagogical assumptions are those for the nation’s black schoolchildren. Nationwide, 52 percent of black children read below basic in fourth grade. (Hispanics, at 45 percent, and Native Americans, at 50 percent, do almost as badly, but I’ll concentrate here on black students, since antiracism clearly centers on the plight of African-Americans.) The numbers in the nation’s majority-black cities are so low that they flirt with zero. In Baltimore, where 80 percent of the student body is black, 61 percent of these students are below basic; only 9 percent of fourth-graders and 10 percent of eighth-graders are reading proficiently. (The few white fourth-graders attending Charm City’s public schools score 36 points higher than their black classmates.) Detroit, the American city with the highest percentage of black residents, has the nation’s lowest fourth-grade reading scores; only 5 percent of Detroit fourth-graders scored at or above proficient. (Cleveland’s schools, also majority black, are only a few points ahead.)

    It's not overstating things to say education malpractice is kneecapping these kids for life. Ms. Hymowitz gets to phonics later in the article.

    On a related note, the NYT has an infuriating story: In the Fight Over How to Teach Reading, This Guru Makes a Major Retreat. The "guru" is Ms. Lucy Calkins is identified as "a leading literacy expert". And her "retreat" is that she has "rewritten her curriculum to include a fuller embrace of phonics".

    She is 70 years old.

    It's nice to hear that people, even at that age, can come to realize the error of their ways. But it's way too late, and even the NYT thinks (quoting "critics") that it may be too little.


  • I keep reminding myself that he has nukes. Jeff Jacoby notes one feature of our, um, interesting times: For Putin, a self-own for the history books.

    Earlier this year, as Russia’s massive troop buildup on Ukraine’s borders grew steadily more ominous, there were suggestions that the only way for Ukraine to avoid being conquered by Moscow was to submit to “Finlandization.” That was a reference to Finland’s policy of abject neutrality during the Cold War, when Helsinki was barred from joining NATO or otherwise aligning itself with the West, scrupulously avoided any criticism of the Soviet Union, and deferred to Moscow on most major policy questions. In return, Soviet troops stayed on their side of the 830-mile border with Finland, and Finns kept their democratic form of government.

    Before Russia unleashed its war on Ukraine in February, a number of prominent figures, among them French President Emmanuel Macron and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, held out the prospect that a Finlandized Ukraine might satisfy Vladimir Putin and defuse the worsening crisis. “Wise Ukrainian leaders,” wrote former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, “should pursue a posture comparable to that of Finland.”

    But a funny thing happened on the way to Ukraine becoming Finlandized. Finland became Ukrainized.

    As Jacoby points out, this turn of events would have been unthinkable just a year ago.

    Also see Kevin D. Williamson: we should let Finland and Sweden into NATO, while simultaneously kicking Turkey out.


  • A prior bad choice: giving these people power. Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. chronicles a sad story: One Bad Choice and a Baby Formula Shortage.

    Baby formula is a target of shoplifting rings. Its supply has been disrupted by Covid lockdowns. Its pattern of demand has been thrown for a loop by pandemic-spawned changes in retailing and baby-making. Add the fact that half the U.S. supply is consumed by welfare recipients, who are limited by regulation to a choice of three manufacturers. Add federal rules that make it hard to relieve a domestic shortage by importing foreign-made supplies.

    And still the shocking baby formula crisis of 2022 is not an occasion for your perfect storm metaphors: The key factor that overwhelms all others is a government decision in February to force a factory shutdown and product recall on an Abbott Labs plant in Michigan.

    The four cases of Cronobacter sakazakii infection in infants that the government cited could not be traced to the factory’s products. No contaminated baby formula was found; Cronobacter was identified on the factory grounds but lacked a genetic match to samples from affected infants. A considered response might have been to keep the factory running and carefully check its output for contaminated formula, but that’s not the response the Food and Drug Administration chose and thereby hangs a tale.

    That's a free link, so click over for the tale.

    But, generally speaking, infant formula is one of the most highly regulated products in the country. The point of that regulation is to make sure that safe products are easily available.

    Why haven't people been fired? (And where does the buck stop, Joe?)


  • Another tale of "successful" regulation. Ronald Bailey chronicles an embarrassment: America's Nuclear Reluctance.

    On February 14, 2022, Oregon's NuScale Power signed an agreement with the Polish mining and processing firm KGHM to deploy NuScale's innovative small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) in Poland by 2029. At the U.N.'s Glasgow Climate Change Conference in November, NuScale contracted with a Romanian energy company to deploy its SMR technology in that country by 2028. NuScale has signed similar memoranda of understanding with electric power companies in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, and Ukraine.

    This kind of advanced energy technology will likely be powering homes and businesses in Europe before the first reactor is completed in the United States. That's because the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is in no hurry to help.

    NuScale's SMR technology did receive an NRC staff "standard design approval" in September 2020. But that happened largely because NuScale's -technology employs a smaller-scale version of the light-water reactors that the NRC -bureaucracy has been (over-)regulating for decades.

    Well, there's always my favorite panacea: nanotech-enhanced artificial photosynthesis. Maybe some bright kids in a garage will invent it before the Feds think to regulate it.


Last Modified 2022-05-23 2:21 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2022-05-22

[Shell Game]

  • Just a small reminder… From Michael Goodwin at the NYPost, about: Hillary Clinton's sordid legacy of lies.

    Proving that what’s old is new again, here is how the late William Safire began his New York Times column of Jan. 8, 1996:

    “Americans of all political persuasions are coming to the sad realization that our First Lady — a woman of undoubted talents who was a role model for many in her generation — is a congenital liar.

    “Drip by drip, like Whitewater torture, the case is being made that she is compelled to mislead, and to ensnare her subordinates and friends in a web of deceit.”

    Safire detailed a series of situations where Hillary Clinton was caught in obvious lies, and there is a straight line to the Hillary Clinton whose shadow hangs over the Michael Sussmann trial in Washington. Once again, Clinton is being exposed as “compelled to mislead” and ensnaring “her subordinates and friends in a web of deceit.”

    William Safire is sorely missed. Also Michael Kelly.


  • The strident and phony demand to "do something". The NR editors point to the latest example: Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act Is Sheer Politics.

    Anti-terrorism laws are supposed to be law-enforcement tools, not political stratagems. The so-called Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act, which House Democrats began pushing after the January 6 riot and have now revived in the wake of the Buffalo massacre, is clearly a political stratagem.

    The point of the revived proposal, which House Democrats plan to push to the floor for a vote in coming days, is not to beef up the government’s capacity to investigate and prosecute acts of terrorism committed inside the United States. That would merely be superfluous. Federal and state law-enforcement agencies already have a rich arsenal of authorities that enable suspected terrorists to be monitored and, if they plot or carry out mass murder, to be prosecuted and punished severely.

    Instead, the Democrats’ proposal would actually create indefensible exceptions in terrorism law. It would narrow the scope of terrorist activity that existing statutes can reach — for the blatantly political purpose of labeling white supremacism, alone, as the nation’s urgent domestic security challenge. Toward that end, it would divert investigative resources from other terrorist threats. Democrats would then, we can be sure, demagogue conservative policy preferences — e.g., Second Amendment rights, free expression, opposition to progressive indoctrination in the schools and other institutions — as catalysts of white supremacism that must be monitored by the Justice Department.

    The workhorse/showhorse categorization for Congressional representatives has a long history. But now it seems like they are all showhorses.


  • Speaking of showhorses: Eric Boehm comments on the latest proposal from the Democrat side of the stable: Banning 'Unconscionable Excessive' Gas Prices Is Risky Economic Nonsense.

    Having failed to learn from history, Congress is apparently determined to force Americans to repeat it.

    Earlier this week, the House of Representatives passed a bill granting President Joe Biden, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and state attorneys wide-ranging and ill-defined powers to crack down on "unconscionably excessive" gas prices, supposedly in the name of protecting consumers.

    What counts as "unconscionably excessive," you might be wondering? That's in the eye of the beholder apparently, as the Consumer Fuel Price Gouging Prevention Act contains no explanation or definition to limit the new executive powers over prices at the pump. Any seller deemed to be "exploiting the circumstances related to an energy emergency" can be targeted with civil penalties or forced to stop selling gasoline at whatever price the authorities have deemed to be excessive. The text of the bill allows the FTC to determine appropriate "benchmarks" for deciding whether some gas prices might be grossly excessive—a neat little trick that effectively allows the FTC to set prices if it chooses to do so.

    House Democrats voted in favor, 217-4 (NH Reps Pappas and Kuster were ayes); Republicans voted against 0-203.

    Don't worry, though. Republicans will come up with different risky economic nonsense pretty soon.


  • Wading through the cesspool. I don't encourage you to follow this link, but if you'd like to see for yourself how deranged a mass shooter can be, Michael Shermer's substack will get you there: A New Great Replacement.

    On May 14, 2022, a self-described white supremacist named Payton Gendron, donned in body armor, a military-grade helmet, and mistaken lethal ideology, unleashed a torrent of bullets from a modified Bushmaster XM-15 rifle at a Tops Friendly Markets store in a predominantly black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York, killing ten and wounding three. Eleven of the victims were African American. “Zip code 14208 in Buffalo has the highest black percentage that is close enough to where I live” he wrote, adding “Top’s Market is an area in zip code 14208 where a high percentage and high density of blacks can be found.”

    The motivation for this bloodbath was Gendron’s belief in blood, literally and metaphorically. Here is his explanation on page 4 of his 180-page screed (“manifesto” is too lofty a descriptor) under the subhead “What do you want?”

    We must ensure the existence of our people and a future for white children.

    If these 14 words have a familiar ring to them it is because it is a copy-and-paste from the screed issued in 2019 by the Christchurch New Zealand mass murderer Brenton Harrison Tarrant (51 dead, dozens more wounded), who himself repeated the 14-word slogan originally coined by the white supremacist David Lane while in federal prison where he was serving a 190-year sentence for his role in the 1984 murder of the Jewish radio talk show host Alan Berg. Here are the original 14 words:

    We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.

    The reach and talismanic symbolism of the 14-word phrase may be seen when the number is rendered, as it sometimes is, as 14/88, with the 8s representing the eighth letter of the alphabet—H—and 88 or HH standing for Heil Hitler.

    It's very bad, with hatred and lies directed at blacks, Jews, Asians, and more.


  • Need a palate cleanser? Charles C. W. Cooke fesses up! A Confession: I Did, Indeed, Mock and Attack Nina Jankowicz and the DHS.

    Taylor Lorenz’s piece on the apparent demise of the Department of Homeland Security’s “disinformation board” prompts me to make a confession. Like many others, I did, indeed, “attack” the Department of Homeland Security, its stupid misinformation board, and its ridiculous nominee, Nina Jankowicz. I mocked it, and her, and I did so without compunction. I suggested that the DHS’s name was a bit “Russian.” I called its proposal a “Ministry of Truth.” And Jankowicz did, as charged, become “a primary target” of my words — which, if I recall correctly, included the claims that she was an “an extremely strange woman,” that “while she is certainly interested in disinformation, her passion is dressing up as Liza Minnelli,” that she had offered up “that pornographic twist on the Harry Potter books for which we’ve all been clamoring,” and that her online canon was “enough to test even the most committed civil libertarian in his opposition to casual waterboarding.” I also suggested that, while at work, she and her colleagues should at least be subject to “24/7 surveillance and closely monitored ankle bracelets.”

    Lorenz proposes that the aim Jankowicz’s critics had in mind was “discrediting and attacking” her and her bosses. This is true of me, certainly. She says that those who wrote about her “began mining Jankowicz’s past social media posts and publishing articles to generate controversy.” I did. She says that if the DHS tries to set up a similar board in the future, the next Jankowicz will be critiqued in the same way. This is true — and you can bet on it staying true going forward. The mockery will continue until the government cuts it out.

    As one who blogged CCWC's article when it was posted, I am equally guilty of being "far-right" and "right wing", in Lorenz's universe. (There are no "conservatives" or "libertarians" in that universe.)

URLs du Jour

2022-05-21

  • Well, this is pretty cool. I'm a fan of Mark J. Perry's animated charts, and here's the latest: World’s top ten billionaires, 2000 to 2022.

    Perry's "bottom line":

    Many of the world’s richest billionaires are successful self-made entrepreneurs who accumulated large fortunes by providing low-cost goods at brick-and-mortar retailers like Aldi, Trader Joe’s, Walmart, and Ikea, and through online retail e-commerce platforms like Amazon, and in the process have generated cost savings and value for consumers (especially low and middle-income households) in amounts that are collectively far in excess of their personal wealth. Other successful billionaires/entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Elon Musk created entire new industries that also generated value for consumers that far exceed the personal wealth of innovators like Gates and Musk. It could maybe be described as a kind of reverse/perverse, soak-the-rich Marxism that consumers have actually “exploited” the billionaires above by “extracting” more value, cost savings, and wealth collectively from those entrepreneurs than the value of their personal fortunes. And it’s arguably not even close — the wealth and value generated for society by successful entrepreneurial billionaires dwarf their personal fortunes, which were only made possible because they made the lives of millions of consumers, many of them living in low-income households, better off.

    Don't tell that to Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, or AOC; their heads might explode.


  • A surprising observation. Kevin D. Williamson finds that Even Our White Supremacists Aren't Very Interested in White Supremacy.

    One of the reasons the race entrepreneurs of the Left are forced to define white supremacy down (Subject-verb agreement is white supremacy! Algebra is white supremacy! Punctuality is white supremacy!) is the fact that actual white-supremacist ideology has so little purchase in American culture. White supremacy is mostly a hobby for miserable dweebs on the Internet.

    There is a reason these killers almost always act alone. Other than the occasional Leopold-and-Loeb flavor of a crime such as the massacre at Columbine, mass shooters almost always are solo — because they have no other choice. They do not have a big group of committed comrades ready to join them. They generally do not have many friends, as in the case of the Buffalo shooter, by his own telling.

    In the United States, even our white-supremacist organizations aren’t very interested in white supremacy. Think of the Aryan Brotherhood, which is one of the largest groups of its kind, with as many as 20,000 members, and which conducts extensive operations both inside the prison system and in the outside world. The Aryan Brotherhood is highly organized, it has access to money and guns and other resources, and its members are not shy about murder and other violent crimes. When was the last time you heard about the Aryan Brotherhood shooting up a black church or bombing a Holocaust museum? Outside of the requisites of prison life, the Aryan Brotherhood has almost no apparent interest in white supremacy, and its criminal activities are almost exclusively ordinary organized-crime enterprises: drug and gun trafficking, murder for hire, extortion, etc. — profit-oriented crime rather than ideologically inspired crime. There isn’t much profit in white supremacy.

    The people in charge of Doing Something About This will no doubt be offering proposals to Do Something About This.


  • But the interesting bit about "white supremacy"… is that it's only the latest instance of a Orwellian disease. Here's Seth Moskowitz on what happens When Words Lose Their Meanings.

    The past decade has been a bad one for clear and specific language. Since around 2014, when the political left pivoted to emphasizing identity and systemic oppression, redefining words has become an increasingly fundamental tool in political activism.

    Take the term “white supremacy.” For most people, white supremacy refers to a) the belief that white people constitute a superior race; and b) political and societal arrangements predicated on this explicitly racist idea. But this straightforward definition has gone out of style. Activists have found that there is little political incentive to maintain such a tight definition when, by loosening it a little, you can shame and humiliate your adversaries. And so activists loosened it. Now, standardized testing is white supremacy; criticizing identity-based politics is white supremacy; “worship of the written word” is white supremacy.

    Of course, not everyone on the left is acting in bad faith. Some activists truly believe that the traditional understanding of white supremacy should be broadened to explain how racism is woven into our society, norms, and institutions. Robin DiAngelo, a well-known diversity trainer and author, defines white supremacy as “the historical and current accumulation of structural power that privileges, centralizes, and elevates white people as a group.” But broad definitions like this one are incredibly vague: jargon like “structural power” and “elevate” is open to interpretation. Such ambiguity makes it all but certain that the term will be a source of confusion or used as a rhetorical trump card. When a widely circulated document claims that punctuality is white supremacy culture, and others insist it’s just good manners, constructive discussion on issues of race becomes unlikely.

    Indeed. Moskowitz has some good points. But is it a new phenomenon? It has been over 75 years since Orwell wrote his essay "Politics and the English Language". Containing the observation:

    The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’.

    … among many others.


  • Speaking of things that have been going on a long time… Chris Stirewalt has an amusing story and associated observations: Bear-ly Working.

    In politics, like most things, sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you. But unlike real life, in politics, you can hire a bear to be in your campaign ads.

    That’s what one House candidate did in Florida (naturally). Or, more precisely, she accepted an in-kind contribution of what may be the only instance in Federal Election Commission history of a “trained bear for campaign photo shoot” valued at $2,500 from the proprietor of Bearadise Ranch (again, naturally).

    A couple of thoughts: First, the ad missed the obvious opportunity to support the “right to arm bears” in addition to the “right to bear arms.” Second, it is much cheaper to rent a bear than I would have imagined. Consider this fair warning to my colleagues, golf partners, and anyone who invites me to weddings.

    I mention bear rentals as a reminder that the business of politics has a lot more in common with the entertainment industry than it does most with other ways that people make a living. In that way, politics is not so different from other kinds of marketing-oriented enterprises. 

    The marketing observation isn't new. The Selling of the President 1968 was published over a half-century ago, after all. But that's a great bear story.


  • General observation: People whose funding depends on managing crises will search for, and find, crises to manage. J.D. Tuccille suggests we all just calm down: The Traffic Death ‘Crisis’ Isn’t What Bureaucrats Claim.

    To the limited extent that there was an upside during the early days of the pandemic, empty roads and reduced enforcement of petty traffic laws made what driving was still to be done relatively stress-free. But now that life has returned to something closer to what passes for normal these days, cars are back on the roads and traffic fatalities are rising. That has the usual suspects screaming that we're in a "crisis" that necessitates government action. But they overstate the case and, if there is a problem, it was caused by the politicians and bureaucrats who present themselves as our saviors.

    "The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration…projects that an estimated 42,915 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes last year, a 10.5% increase from the 38,824 fatalities in 2020," the federal agency announced this week. "The projection is the highest number of fatalities since 2005 and the largest annual percentage increase in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System's history."

    "We face a crisis on America's roadways that we must address together," commented U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. "With our National Roadway Safety Strategy and the President's Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we are taking critical steps to help reverse this devastating trend and save lives on our roadways."

    Really? Last year's infrastructure law was an expensive boondoggle, and the flood of money it served up might help make the roads a tad safer only as higher inflation renders fuel for vehicles less affordable (though that may not be what Buttigieg has in mind). For its part, the Transportation Department's National Roadway Safety Strategy is a marvel of control-freakery that emphasizes speed limits, technology mandates, and rule enforcement.

    Tuccille points out:

    Federal highway bureaucrats invoke constant measures only after that breathless language about "the largest annual percentage increase" in traffic fatalities (their figures slightly differ from those of the NSC). As it turns out, "the fatality rate for 2021 was 1.33 fatalities per 100 million VMT [vehicle miles traveled], marginally down from 1.34 fatalities in 2020. While the fatality rate continued to rise in the first quarter, it declined in the other three quarters of 2021, compared to 2020."

    So, it turns out that there was a big jump in the raw number of fatalities as people returned to the road after pandemic-related interruptions, but this jump represented a slight decline in the rate of traffic fatalities once you consider the number of miles driven. That's not what we were sold in the opening paragraphs of the press release, but it's not entirely good news since the rate was already elevated.

    He speculates that maybe the elevated rate just might have something to do with draconian Covid restrictions, already on the hook for increased levels of domestic violence, substance abuse, homicide…

URLs du Jour

2022-05-20

  • Political "humor" is seldom funny. Unless it's from Reason. Here's their latest: Democratic Disney vs. Republican Disney.

    Old man complaint: I've been watching Saturday Night Live since Season One. It's pretty funny these days, except for their political sketches. Which are tedious and predictable. The live audience is all in, though, producing copious amounts of "clapter", signalling that they prefer one-sided partisan pandering rather than … you know … comedy.

    Anyway, if Lorne Michaels were smarter, he'd hire the Reason guys to write SNL sketches. Also maybe Iowahawk.


  • Here's to government: the cause of, and the solution to, all of life's problems. The WSJ editorialists provide another data point: The Baby Formula Shortage Was Made in Washington.

    Politicians are scrambling to pacify mothers angry about the baby formula shortage, but the one thing they won’t do is look in the mirror. Fixing the shortage requires fixing the government policies that helped to create it.

    The shortage began after Abbott Laboratories shut down a plant in Michigan after four infants who consumed formula made at the facility fell seriously ill. Abbott controls about 42% of the U.S. market, and the other three large manufacturers (Perrigo, Nestle and Mead Johnson) haven’t been able to increase production fast enough to compensate. Ergo, empty shelves.

    Enter President Biden, who on Wednesday invoked the Defense Production Act. The Cold War-era law lets the federal government conscript private businesses to produce goods for national defense and to reorder supply chains, putting some customers ahead of others. Progressives think government is the solution to every problem, which is why the law has become their household remedy to every product shortage.

    (Classic quote adapted for this item's headline. Alternate snarkiness: "Hi, I'm from the government, and I'm here to solve the problems I caused, while causing others.")


  • If "raise taxes" is the answer, it must have been a stupid question. The NR editors take sides in the Biden-vs-Bezos debate: Jeff Bezos Is Right about Joe Biden and Inflation.

    Lowering the price of consumer goods by raising the cost of producing them — President Biden can be, to put it charitably, counterintuitive.

    The Biden administration is in an entertaining public spat with what we might as well call the “Bezos administration” (Amazon’s annual revenue exceeds the GDP of most European countries), and, while our faith in the man who publishes the Washington Post is something quite a bit less than total, in this case Jeff Bezos is unquestionably in the right — and not just because the Biden administration has an uncanny knack for being wrong on every economic question at every possible opportunity.

    Alternative headline: when the only tool you have in your economic playbook is "raise taxes", every economic problem looks like…


  • I should amend that. Another tool in the Progressive box-o'-panaceas is: make more people dependent on government for necessities. For example, health care. J.D. Tuccille takes on a perennial in that area: Medicare for All Would Be a Terrible Trade.

    If you ask, Americans tell you that health care costs too much. That opens a door, or so many politicians think, to dramatic "reforms" that would transform the provision of medicine in this country by putting the government in complete control. The catch, though, is that Americans want top-notch care, and for as close to free as possible. That runs up against the serious tradeoffs revealed most recently in last week's Senate hearings on the latest proposals for Medicare for All.

    "Political party affiliation has little bearing on Americans' attitudes about the current cost of care, with overwhelming majorities of Americans across party lines agreeing that the cost of healthcare in America is 'higher than it should be,'" Gallup reported last year of surveys finding that 94 percent of Americans agree. Almost half of respondents call healthcare costs a "major priority" when deciding how to vote.

    So, it's no surprise that politicians who favor a more active government jumped in with the Affordable Care Act a decade ago and now peddle the idea of implementing government-provided single-payer healthcare, usually in the guise of extending the generally popular Medicare program to the whole population. The public seems to like the idea, but only so long as it costs nothing.

    Let's see… Medicare is slated to run out of money in a few years. And their improper payment rate is somewhere north of 6%. (It has been as high as 12.7% in the past.)

    How about fixing all that first?


  • In a democracy, it's always ultimately the voters' fault. But Veronique de Rugy has a few intermediate goats to scape: Spread the Blame Around for Fed's Lack of Accountability.

    After presiding over the biggest Federal Reserve failure in 40 years and with inflation rating as the top concern among Americans, Jerome Powell's nomination to a second term as chairman was approved this past week by the Senate, 80 to 19.

    I know the usual arguments for ignoring the Fed's spectacular errors, even at a time when inflation is such an issue. Most common are that other candidates would be even worse or that we need continuity. Maybe. The truth, though, is that a good person facing bad incentives in that job will make poor choices. Add in a lack of accountability and you repeatedly get bad policies. That type of continuity is not that appealing to me.

    Me neither, Vero.

    The Senate confirmation vote had an interesting coaltion of NAYs: Cotton, Cruz, Hawley, Lee, Paul, Rubio. But also Sanders, Warren, Markey, Merkley, and Menendez.

    I don't know what that means.

URLs du Jour

2022-05-19

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • "Delusional, demented, and paranoid is no way to go through life, son." Charles C. W. Cooke says Plan A is doomed: Democrats Can’t Fix What’s Wrong with Joe Biden.

    Over at Politico, Jonathan Lemire offers his readers a hallucinatory missive, ordered direct from an alternate universe. It’s a good example of the sort of reported essay that begins to crop up ineluctably whenever it dawns upon the D.C. press corps that its personal hopes for the incumbent Democratic president are likely to be dashed. The problem with this president, Lemire suggests throughout, is not that he has attempted to govern in a manner unwarranted by his support in Congress and his popularity in the country at large, but that the “bygone era of D.C. may, indeed, be gone,” and that the White House is only just starting to recognize it. The solution? Going forward, Biden must be “less scripted and more on the offensive.” Out in the distance, one can hear Republican ad-makers popping the champagne.

    The assumptions that undergird Lemire’s report should be depressingly familiar to anyone who follows American politics. They are, in no particular order: that Democratic presidents should get whatever they want, and that if they don’t, something is broken; that the Republican and Democratic parties secretly agree on everything, but, for some reason, keep failing to put their agreement into action in the legislature; and that all Democratic presidents are kind, reserved, bipartisan, avuncular figures who, having lived unblemished lives of purity and goodwill, eventually become shocked by the coarseness and misanthropy of their opponents. “Biden,” Lemire reports, “has taken to telling aides that he no longer recognizes the GOP, which he now views as an existential threat to the nation’s democracy.” Raise your hand if you’ve heard this one before.

    So it's on to Plan B, Democrats: try to scare the crap out of people.


  • We won't have the DGB to kick around anymore. Well, it was fun while it lasted. But Robby Soave analyzes a post mortem apologia in the WaPo, demonstrating just how reality-impaired the Beltway Bubble is: Nina Jankowicz’s Faulty Record, Not Her Critics, Doomed the Disinformation Board.

    The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has placed a "pause" on the newly-minted Disinformation Governance Board; its first executive director, Nina Jankowicz, has resigned.

    The board's existence, which was announced just three weeks ago, prompted serious concerns from many civil libertarians and inspired Ministry of Truth comparisons. DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas tried—and largely failed—to address these concerns by noting that the board would serve in merely an advisory capacity and not have any actual power to police speech. That the Disinformation Governance Board did a bad job of communicating information about itself did not exactly instill confidence, and evidently DHS has now realized that the entire project is a bad idea.

    It's unclear whether plans for the board will be un-paused in the future; Jankowicz had initially decided to resign, reconsidered when she was told the pause might be temporary, and then ultimately left anyway.

    This news comes from an exclusive report by The Washington Post's Taylor Lorenz, whose scoop is buried underneath layers of pro-government verbiage. Lorenz's story excessively flatters Jankowicz—she is glamorized as "well-known" in the field, having "extensive experience," and "well-regarded" in just the first two paragraphs—while ignoring legitimate criticism of this so-called expert's track record. Indeed, there is zero mention, none whatsoever, of the fact that Jankowicz was flagrantly wrong about the pivotal "disinformation" episode of the 2020 election cycle: the Hunter Biden laptop story.

    Robby provides extensive quotes from Lorenz's tongue-bath of Jankowicz and the DGB. It very much brings to mind that old Scooby-Doo line: "And we'd have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for those meddling right-wing attackers."

    Yes, the Taylor Lorenz article contains six occurrences of "right-wing" and three occurrences of "far-right". To put it mildly, it gives an inaccurate impression of the breadth of the DGB criticism. I mean, even the ACLU was a little queasy about the DGB.


  • Bryan Caplan, as always, clears away thick layers of bullshit. His latest Substack entry is a classic: Misinformation About Misinformation.

    “Nazis run Ukraine.” “Biden stole the election.” “You can cure Covid by injecting bleach.” “Lizardmen run the world.” These statements aren’t merely false; they are “misinformation” that endangers democracy and the world.

    Or so I keep hearing. My question: What exactly is the mechanism of misinformation supposed to be? For the critics, the story seems to be roughly:

    1. Self-conscious liars make up absurd lies to advance their agendas.

    2. Some listeners believe whatever they say.

    3. Some of these listeners repeat what they hear, sparking a cognitive contagion effect.

    4. Other listeners ignore the liars, but this sparks no contagion effect.

    5. The net effect, therefore, is to push public opinion in the desired direction. With strong contagion, the net effect is large.

    One obvious follow-up question is: “Can anyone do this?” If this is how the world of ideas really works, why does anyone bother with facts or logic? Or does misinformation require some unmentioned silent partner to succeed?

    Bryan goes to the heart of the problem with the "standard misinformation story":

    The story focuses exclusively on the flaws of speakers, without acknowledging the flaws of the listeners. Misinformation won’t work unless the listeners are themselves naive, dogmatic, emotional, or otherwise intellectually defective. In economic jargon, the problem is that the story mistakes an information problem for a rationality problem.

    It's not nice to blame the gullible for their gullibility, though.

    But as Herbie Spencer said: "The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools. "


  • Misinformation about misinformation leads to… As Scott Johnson observes: A grim milestone in grim milestones.

    We have reached a grim milestone in grim milestones. A Google search on the term “grim milestone” now returns more than 6,000,000 results. It is a “grim milestone” in the unstoppable progress of a brain-killing media cliché.

    The “grim milestones” retailed by the media always seem to have a political twist and the political twist always seems to be detrimental to Republicans. If it can’t be given a twist detrimental to Republicans, the “grim milestone” is likely to go unrecognized if possible.

    For example, the press has proclaimed no “grim milestone” in inflation under President Biden. Yet this week prices for gasoline climbed above $4.00 a gallon in every state for the first time in our history. If you had no aversion to clichés and were in the business of declaring “grim milestone,” you should have gone to work on it this week.

    As I type, Googling "grim milestone" is pretty much all Covid. And yes, one of the top results is "The role party affiliation played in getting US to grim new milestone of 1 million COVID deaths". Any guesses on the party they're talking about?

    But near the bottom of the first page of results is something differently grim. "Grim milestone: More than 500 Florida manatee deaths recorded so far in 2022"

    As near as I can tell, there's no effort to blame this on DeSantis. Give it time, though.


  • But I was told this panacea would work! Jacob Sullum explains: Why Background Checks Do Not Stymie Mass Shooters.

    A background check did not faze the man charged with murdering 10 people at a Buffalo grocery store on Saturday. The reason for that is straightforward: The shooter passed the background check that was completed when he bought the rifle used in the attack from a federally licensed dealer in Endicott, New York, because he did not have a disqualifying criminal or psychiatric record.

    That is typically true of mass shooters. According to a recent National Institute of Justice (NIJ) report on public mass shootings from 1966 through 2019, 77 percent of the perpetrators bought guns legally. In some cases, teenagers or young adults obtained guns from their families. Just 13 percent of mass shooters obtained firearms through illegal transactions. In other words, background checks would have been no obstacle in 87 percent of the cases.

    The Biden administration nevertheless "renewed its calls" to "expand national background checks in the wake of the attack in Buffalo," The New York Times reports, "as it has done time and again after mass shootings." Speaking to reporters today during President Joe Biden's trip to Buffalo, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, "We're going to continue to call on Congress to expand background checks." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.) likewise urged "passage of federal legislation to expand gun background checks, which she said was a 'huge priority' for Democrats."

    Failure of existing laws? Obviously that means we need more laws!


  • You're not obeying the rules we just made up! A persecuted political minority speaks out in the NH Journal: Dartmouth Continues to Persecute Republicans on Campus.

    Motivated by bad faith, malice, and ill intent, the Dartmouth administration’s actions this year have revealed a pattern of egregious and discriminatory behavior toward the Dartmouth College Republicans. Our group has faced threats of violence from fellow students, has had a major event canceled by the Dartmouth administration, has been billed for thousands of dollars in security fees by the college, has been subjected to frivolous investigations, and now faces the threat of derecognition.

    A lot of recent history is described. But the latest is a corker:

    The college’s treatment of our group up to that point was disgraceful. However, the true breaking point came on May 5 when we received an email from the Council on Student Organizations (COSO), the student group that oversees clubs at Dartmouth and which is coincidentally led by Anna Hall, stating that our group was in violation of a number of its guidelines. In particular, it claimed our group had violated rules regarding logos, bylaws, and affiliation with a national organization. It was heavily implied at the end of this email that if we did not immediately comply with the demands, our group would face derecognition.

    To justify its decision, it linked us to a page of rules we’d never seen before! Sure enough, after a quick investigation, we found the page had only been created on April 27, a week after the James O’Keefe event and the confrontation in the hallway. In other words, they had made up rules specifically designed to target our club and retroactively punish us.

    That's impressive. Hope nobody at the University Near Here is taking notes.


Last Modified 2022-05-20 6:37 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2022-05-18

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • Searching for scapegoats… Robby Soave notes the latest: New York Gov. Kathy Hochul Blames the Buffalo Shooting on Social Media.

    When a psychopath perpetrates a mass shooting, politicians often pick an industry, trend, or substance to blame for having caused the violence. Violent video games are a favorite target of both parties—Democratic senators pilloried them throughout the 1990s and early 00s, and former President Donald Trump went after them following the El Paso shooting in 2019—but so are psychiatric medications, Satanism, and of course, the Second Amendment.

    On Saturday, 18-year-old Payton Gendron—a white nationalist conspiracy theorist, according to his online manifesto—traveled to a supermarket in a majority-black area in Buffalo, New York, and killed 11 people, most of them African American. Democratic New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has responded to the horrific violence in Buffalo over the weekend with a familiar invective against guns. But she is also pinning the blame on social media. In a Sunday interview with NBC News' Chuck Todd, she faulted online platforms for not doing more to police extremism.

    "It's all induced by the internet," she said. "And the fact that platforms are willing to share this information, allow it to be posted, a manifesto that's been out there that describes in great detail how someone wants to have an execution of individuals in a community that's targeted because it's the highest black population within a geographic area, that's all out there. And also the fact that this can be livestreamed. How long was it livestreamed before someone paid attention?"

    There is an answer to her question: two minutes.

    Robby goes on to detail more wild disinformation emanating from Gov. Hochul. Could someone please report her to the DGB?


  • And then there's mythinformation. Ayaan Hirsi Ali takes to Unherd: Buffalo and the myth of racist America. Skipping to her bottom line:

    In Texas the day after the Buffalo attack, a shootout between five Hispanic men at a crowded flea market left two dead and three wounded. Roughly two hours later in California, a 68-year-old Asian gunman walked into a Taiwanese church and opened fire, killing one person and wounding five others. This is what crime looks like in America. It is chaotic, disordered and irreducible: the skin colour of its victims and perpetrators is far from fixed.

    Racism, then, is not the whole story. In fact, racism has never been the whole story. Yet faced with an election year and an uphill battle to retain the House and Senate this November, perhaps it is unsurprising that so many Democrats are keen to turn the Buffalo shooting into another George Floyd moment: an excuse to deflect difficult questions, and to turn politics into a binary realm of Good and Evil. Once again, we’re told, either you’re with us or you’re a racist — even if being on the side of Good means exploiting the misery of others.

    That California shooter reportedly is a Chinese man "driven by his life-long hatred of Taiwanese people". Which (to me) sounds as odd as a New Hampshire man "being driven by his lifelong hatred of Vermont people."


  • Oh good. We need more cowbell. We've been missing that. Kyle Smith comments on reports: Biden Calls for More Cowbell.

    Sharper elbows? Yeah, that’s what will rescue Joe Biden, according to Joe Biden. He and his staff think it’s time to get tough on the Republicans. So far, according to the legend they are telling themselves, he’s been notoriously conciliatory, bipartisan, and moderate.

    We learn these hilarious fantasies from a Politico piece in which Biden attributes to Republican fever his inability to get anything done despite enjoying unified Democratic Party control of the federal government. The highlight of the piece is this gem: “Privately, Biden has expressed frustration with media coverage of his administration and believes that the press — and Americans at large — have been too quick to gloss over the damage Trump did to the country.” Yes, remember how tempered and restrained the media were as they famously underplayed the actions of Donald J. Trump? Who among us has not thought, over the last few years, “Say, when are the media finally going to stop genuflecting before Trump?”

    Team Biden believes that they can deflect attention from his and their party’s failures by working up some new insult comedy. Here’s what they decided on: to try to make “Ultra-MAGA Republicans” a favorite catchphrase. It’s already come up so many times that it’s on the verge of becoming a national joke: Trying the same dumb thing over and over again to diminishing effect is making Biden the More Cowbell president.

    NRPlus, blah blah blah.


  • There are no controlled guns. There are only controlled people. David Gillette and Lauren Frazier look at Gun Control, States’ Rights, and Bernie Sanders. Numerous fun facts in this long paragraph:

    Stipulating that what works for some may not work for all, we turn to the state of Vermont as an example of responsible gun use and ownership due to its near-zero homicide rate. Other states such as Iowa, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington are close behind with 40 to 51 percent of these states’ population owning at least one firearm, yet each has a firearm death rate of 8.9-14.6 per 100,000 residents, below the 15.1 deaths per 100,000 national average. We cannot, however, attribute Vermont’s success to gun control measures. Vermont, a largely rural state with a Republican governor, has a gun ownership rate exceeding that of Texas. Public Choice Theory explains why Vermont’s representatives, in a state known for Phish, Woodstock, and Ben & Jerry’s, vote in accordance with the state’s many gun owners. Even Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders voted consistently for gun rights before aligning himself closer to the median Democratic voter’s views when he expanded his potential voting pool to a national level less supportive of gun rights than the state of Vermont. Vermont’s remarkable case of many guns and few gun deaths points to the possibility that both the gun control and gun rights camps’ values can live in harmony, but perhaps only on small scales where individual preferences are more likely to be homogenous. Elinor Ostrom finds that the most effective outcomes will occur at the state or local level. Peter Boettke summarizes Ostrom’s work in his book Living Economics by stating that “efficient administration was not a function of…centralized administration, but a by-product of…local communities competing for residents.” Each camp wants to reduce crime and deaths, but they diverge in the method of preventing such violence. Few murders in the presence of many weapons is an idyllic situation, but can we expect the same outcomes if we extrapolate Vermont’s gun legislation to the federal level? Vermont has several other factors that likely contribute to its unusually low rates of violence, including its lack of major metropolitan areas, high owner-occupied housing rates, and low population density. Policymakers do not face these same conditions in most of the country, thus making broad, effective, federal policy quite difficult.

    They argue against sweeping Federal legislation on guns as a "great injustice to American federalism."

    The article contains zero references to the Second Amendment; I'm afraid that makes gun control at least partially a Federal issue.


  • Put not your faith in demographics. Rich Lowry notes the latest instance of a general tactic: Dems advocate high immigration to gain political power — and smear Republicans when called on it.

    The horrific massacre in Buffalo has created a debate about great-replacement theory, the rancid idea that Jews are conspiring to destroy white America by importing non-white immigrants.

    The Buffalo shooter was in thrall to the theory, as have been other racist and anti-Semitic killers.

    The theory should be denounced by all people of good will, and indeed, it thrives only in the most sewerish precincts of the Internet.

    Yet there is an attempt to tar Republicans more broadly with the theory and somehow attribute responsibility for the horror in Buffalo to them on this basis. The argument is that the likes of Elise Stefanik, a Republican congresswoman from New York, have warned that the Democratic Party views immigration as a way to change the electorate in its favor and so are mainstreaming the hateful replacement ideology.

    This is a smear and especially perverse since Republicans sounding the alarm about this Democratic view have been unquestionably correct. There hasn’t been any secretive cabal at work — it’s all been out in the open, discussed by progressive political operatives and think-tank analysts and celebrated in the press.

    For more on that, see this Power Line post: The Replacements.

    But I don't buy the "replacement" theory. Demography is not destiny.

    Sit down kids, and let this grumpy old man tell you a story.

    Back in my youth, I was a fan of the Association, which Wikipedia classifies as a "sunshine pop" band. They were great vocalists, and sang mostly inoffensive songs of love and peace.

    But they also strayed into Social Commentary. For example, "Enter the Young", a paean to the imminent demographic takeover of left wing hippiedom:

    The Association was the opening act at the seminal 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, and "Enter the Young" was their opening number.

    And, kids, they were talking about us! Baby boomers! Who were going to lead us into The Greening of America!

    Yeah, didn't happen. And now, 55 years later, we Boomers are widely seen as The Problem, roadblocks on the path to green democratic socialism.

    I will be safely dead in another 55 years, so I'll make a bold prediction: we still won't have green democratic socialism, and the young 2077 left will blame old people for failing to implement it.

URLs du Jour

2022-05-17

  • Boy, Jeff Bezos is on a tear. This is his response to the Biden Administration's attempt to rebut his previous tweet about inflation:

    I need to go over to Amazon and buy some stuff when I'm done blogging today…


  • The only way to win is not to play. Kevin D. Williamson's Tuesday newsletter is, he says, firmly behind the NRPlus paywall, so I'll quote just a little from The Buffalo Blame Game.

    Before the blood was even dry in Buffalo, Democrats were asking the most important question:

    “How can we well-heeled white progressives most effectively use the murders of all these black people to our personal and political advantage?”

    The murderer in Buffalo didn’t kill anybody you’ve ever heard of, and so the first thing to do if you want to exploit the deaths of all these people — and that is what Democrats intend to do — is to connect the crime to some famous name or prominent institution. It doesn’t matter if there isn’t any actual connection: Just assert it, and that’s good enough for the newspapers and the cable-news cretins and the impotent rage-monkeys on Twitter. And so New York governor Kathy Hochul blames social-media platforms. Amanda Marcotte blames Tucker Carlson. Other hack Democrats blamed Donald Trump, the Republican Party, Fox News, the National Rifle Association, etc. The usual suspects.

    Democrats are looking for something — anything — to cling to politically at the moment, because they are terrified that they are going to get wiped out in the midterm elections. And they probably are going to take a beating: Never mind that the Republican Party doesn’t deserve to win — the Democrats deserve to lose, and that’s what matters at the polls. What can Democrats do about that besides pray that Marjorie Taylor Greene has an extra shot of espresso in her moonbat latte this morning? There are options, but they are tough, and apparently it has never crossed Governor Hochul’s mind (such as it is) to try a different approach: Rather than cheap demagoguery and shunting great streams of public money into her husband’s company, she might try competent governance and see how that works out.

    Apparently, that never occurred to her. Apparently, it never will.

    There's all kinds of deep thoughts about mental illness. No surprise that there's little talk about a one-word-shorter explanation: evil.

    Because we can (at least in our imaginations) "do something" about mental illness.

    Evil? That's a tougher problem.


  • There are no controlled guns. There are only controlled citizens. New York has a full set of "common sense gun control" laws on the books. So Jacob Sullum answers the obvious question: Why New York's 'Assault Weapon' Ban Didn't Stop the Buffalo Massacre.

    The suspect in the mass shooting that killed 10 people at a Buffalo grocery store on Saturday used a rifle that was widely described as an "assault weapon." With certain exceptions that don't apply here, that category of firearms is illegal in New York. Yet The New York Times reports that the shooter legally bought the rifle from a gun dealer in Endicott, New York. How is that possible?

    It turns out that the rifle, a Bushmaster XM-15 ES, was not an "assault weapon" at the time of the purchase, but it became an "assault weapon" after the shooter tinkered with it. The details of that transformation illustrate how arbitrary and ineffectual bans like New York's are.

    When your old laws fail, the only answer is… more laws.


  • Shoe size. What else? Kyle Smith tells us What They’re Not Telling You about the Buffalo Shooter.

    These efforts to make mass shooters sound like they’re ultra-violent op-ed writers is tiresome in the extreme. The Buffalo shooter is a despicable racist who should be executed, but the media are trying to mold him into an acolyte of a talk-show host they dislike.

    “In short, the manifesto is a rant from a 4chan addict, obsessed with ‘the Great Replacement,’ CRT and white grievance,” writes NBC News’s Ben Collins (He’s the “senior reporter, dystopia beat.”)

    It would also be true to note that the presumed shooter is, according to his online manifesto, an anti-conservative environmentalist who says, “We were born from our lands and our own culture was molded by these same lands. The protection and preservation of these lands is of the same importance as the protection and preservation of our own ideals and beliefs.” He says, “sure,” he’s a left-winger and maybe a socialist, “depending on the definition,” but explains that he rejects conservatism because it’s “corporatism in disguise.”

    That's not paywalled, so check it out.


  • Recycling is garbage. But could something be done about that? The Josiah Bartlett Center notes some unexpected opposition: Recycling more plastics is bad? Some activists say so.

    Companies have been working for years on new ways to recycle plastics, and they think they have a breakthrough concept: chemical, or “advanced,” recycling. If the technology is perfected, it has the potential to increase plastics recycling and decrease solid waste.

    Naturally, environmental activist groups hate it.

    In the Legislature this year, a popular, bipartisan bill to speed the development of advanced recycling in New Hampshire drew little opposition — except from some green activists.

    Why? They prefer to abolish the production of single-use plastics. It’s a classic case of the perfect being the enemy of the good.

    The bill reclassifies advanced recycling facilities as manufacturing, rather than solid waste disposal operations. The regulations on the former category are less onerous.

URLs du Jour

2022-05-16

  • This is your pilot babbling… It wasn’t me!. [It wasn't me!]


  • Loons can be dangerous. That's the lesson Glenn Greenwald has in the wake of the latest massacre in Buffalo: The Demented - and Selective - Game of Instantly Blaming Political Opponents For Mass Shootings. History backs up his thesis: "All ideologies spawn psychopaths who kill innocents in its name. Yet only some are blamed for their violent adherents: by opportunists cravenly exploiting corpses while they still lie on the ground."

    Interesting factoid about Payton Gendron, the Buffalo shooter:

    In that manifesto, Gendron described himself as a "left-wing authoritarian” and “populist” (“On the political compass I fall in the mild-moderate authoritarian left category, and I would prefer to be called a populist”). He heaped praise on an article in the socialist magazine Jacobin for its view that cryptocurrency and Bitcoin are fraudulent scams. He spoke passionately of the centrality and necessity of environmentalism, and lamented that “the state [has] long since heavily lost to its corporate backers.” He ranted against “corporate profits and the ever increasing wealth of the 1% that exploit the people for their own benefit.” And he not only vehemently rejected any admiration for political conservatism but made clear that he viewed it as an enemy to his agenda: “conservatism is corporatism in disguise, I want no part of it.”

    Compare and contrast, reader, with the Rolling Stone headline: "The Buffalo Shooter Isn’t a ‘Lone Wolf.’ He’s a Mainstream Republican".

    Actually, I think James T. Hodgkinson has a better argument for being a "mainstream Democrat" than Gendron has at being a "mainstream Republican".


  • In his defense, the demented boob doesn't know what he's doing. Hannah Cox observes that Biden Just Single-Handedly Made the Gas Crisis Worse.

    Americans are already struggling under the weight of crippling inflation, from skyrocketing gas prices to exorbitant grocery bills. And even if few Americans thought the Biden Administration had a plan to combat these things—especially considering the fact that their spending and regulatory problems directly created them—I’m betting most Americans didn’t think the President would take obvious actions to immediately make things worse either.

    Yet, that is what he did this week, canceling one of the most important oil and gas leases at the country’s disposal in the middle of the night. This action will halt the potential to drill for oil in over 1 million acres on the Cook Inlet in Alaska, marking a devastating loss for those trying to increase the oil supply in the country.

    Meanwhile, I have to restrain myself from throwing things at the TV when that ad for Maggie Hassan comes on touting her "suspend the gas tax" gimmick. She says she's "taking on members of my own party" and "pushing Joe Biden"!

    Is this fooling anyone?


  • It seems to be "Dump On Ladies Named Margaret Day" here at Pun Salad. Charles C. W. Cooke read it so we don't have to: Margaret Atwood Profoundly Embarrasses Herself in the Atlantic.

    The only explanation I can come up with for how something this profoundly illiterate was published in the pages of the Atlantic is that the editors wanted the byline “Margaret Atwood” so much that they were prepared to let the author embarrass herself to any degree in order to obtain it.

    Riffing off of the potential overturning of Roe v. Wade, Atwood asks:

    Theocratic dictatorships do not lie only in the distant past: There are a number of them on the planet today. What is to prevent the United States from becoming one of them?

    What is to prevent the United States from becoming “a theocratic dictatorship”? Nothing, I guess — other than that there’s no appetite for the United States to become a theocratic dictatorship; that the case against Roe is legal, not theological; that the case against abortion isn’t theological, either; and that the explicit text of the U.S. Constitution — not contrived, cynical, extraconstitutional nonsense cases such as Roe and Casey, but the explicit text of the U.S. Constitution — renders such a system illegal in every way imaginable. From separation of powers to free speech to due process to the establishment of religion to the guarantee of a republican form of government to the scheduling of elections to term limits, the Constitution flatly bars such an outcome. And nobody — nobody — on the Supreme Court has questioned a single one of the provisions that guarantee it.

    Students, if you want to fail your Constitutional Law course, plagiarizing Ms. Atwood's essay would get you pretty close to that goal.


  • In our "Worst Sequel" Department… Here's a proposed on to Kipling's How the Leopard Got His Spots, from Barton Swaim: How Disagreement Became ‘Disinformation’.

    The preoccupation with “misinformation” and “disinformation” on the part of America’s enlightened influencers last month reached the level of comedy. The Department of Homeland Security chose a partisan scold, Nina Jankowicz, to head its new Disinformation Governance Board despite her history of promoting false stories and repudiating valid ones—the sort of scenario only a team of bumblers or a gifted satirist could produce.

    Less funny but similarly paradoxical was Barack Obama’s April 21 address lamenting online disinformation, in which he propounded at least one easily disprovable assertion. Tech companies, the former president said, “should be working with, not always contrary to, those groups that are trying to prevent voter suppression [that] specifically has targeted black and brown communities.” There is no evidence of voter suppression in “black and brown communities” and plenty of evidence of the contrary, inasmuch as black and Latino voter participation reached record levels in the 2020 election.

    Swaim's article is long and thoughtful, and that's a free WSJ link, so go for it.


  • But there is something that government really excels at. As Jacob Sullum points out: A Record Number of Drug-Related Deaths Shows the Drug War Is Remarkably Effective at Killing People.

    Three years ago, President Donald Trump bragged that "we are making progress" in reducing drug-related deaths, citing a 4 percent drop between 2017 and 2018. That progress, a dubious accomplishment even then, proved fleeting. The upward trend in drug-related deaths, which began decades ago, resumed that very year, and 2020 saw both the largest increase and the largest number ever. That record was broken last year, according to preliminary data that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published this week.

    The CDC projects that the total for 2021 will be nearly 108,000 when the numbers are finalized, up 15 percent from 2020, when the number of deaths jumped by 30 percent. Two-thirds of last year's cases involved "synthetic opioids other than methadone," the category that includes fentanyl and its analogs. Those drugs showed up in nearly three-quarters of the cases involving opioids.

    It's pretty amazing that all the folks yammering about "Bans Off Our Bodies" aren't talking about the war on drugs.

Once Upon a Town

The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Recommended by my sister, when we got to talking about books last summer when we visited her in Iowa. She really liked it, and who could blame her, it's a feelgood story of small-town Midwest virtue with notes of bittersweetness of how things change over time.

Between December 1941 and April 1946, the citizens of North Platte, Nebraska provided an unparalleled example of diligence, voluntary cooperation, and unselfish patriotism. Back then, North Platte was a quick stop for troop trains heading both east and west, many times per day, every day. The North Platters took on what turned out to be a near-impossible task: during the stop, the soldiers would be provided with chicken, eggs, sandwiches, cigarettes, cake, popcorn balls, candy,… basically, whatever the citizens could provide.

If anything, the author of this history, Bob Greene, understates how difficult this was. North Platte wasn't a particularly prosperous town. During the war, a lot of basic foodstuffs were under strict rationing. They did have the advantage of being right in the middle of a lot of farming communities. But that poised problems of its own: gasoline was also rationed. How you gonna get those chickens to North Platte without gassing up the truck?

Well, they figured it out pretty well, by all accounts presented here. It is largely an oral history. Bob Greene found numerous folks, both soldiers and civilians, to tell their tales. (The book was published in 2002: roughly speaking, the folks in their twenties during the war were in their eighties then.)

Greene tours the town, with (as I said) bittersweet observations of how things changed. Passenger trains stopped coming through North Platte in the 70s, and the depot that housed the Canteen was torn down by Union Pacific not long after. (The town is still home to a thriving freight railroad business: the Union Pacific Bailey Yard is "the largest railroad classification yard in the world.")

Green has an ear for telling interesting and illustrative stories. The Hotel Pawnee (then: Hotel Yancy) was built in 1929 by North Platte native (and one-term Nebraska Governor) Morell Keith Neville. It was meant to be a luxury destination; instead the Great Depression happened. When Greene visits, it's been repurposed into an "Assisted Living Facility", but it seems to be a depressing, smelly old-people warehouse. (These days it's supposed to be in the process of a fantabulous restoration, but the newest stories I can find about that are a couple years old.)

But here's the thing. While doing my usual few minutes of superficial research on Wikipedia (footnotes elided):

On July 13, 1929, a black man shot and killed a white police officer. The black man reportedly took his own life, being trapped by a mob. This led to the formation of white mobs combing the city, and ordering black residents to leave North Platte. Fearing mob violence, most of North Platte's black residents fled.

Um. This was only a dozen years before the war, and the North Platte Canteen. And Greene doesn't mention this at all. And, geez, he pretty much had to know about it.

I can kind of understand why. It would complicate his narrative, and he'd have to wonder how many good citizens of North Platte participated in both the Canteen, and the perhaps-a-lynch mob.


Last Modified 2022-05-16 6:23 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2022-05-15

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • It keeps showing up in unexpected places. The NR editors discuss Barbarism in the Senate.

    On Wednesday, a majority of the U.S. Senate — all 50 GOP senators plus West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin — shot down a barbaric abortion bill that would enshrine in federal law a virtually unlimited right to abortion through all nine months of pregnancy in all 50 states. The deceptively named Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA) would also wipe away nearly all state laws discouraging and regulating abortion — including many laws that have been permitted under Roe v. Wade.

    Democratic leaders openly admit they held their second failed vote on the same radical abortion bill in the span of ten weeks because they want to campaign this fall on support for Roe. But they desperately want to avoid any discussion of what their bill actually does.

    When Democrats in Washington speak of “codifying Roe,” what they mean in plain English is protecting a right to kill a baby through all nine months for virtually any reason. The WHPA creates an absolute right to abortion through the first five to six months of pregnancy, and it mandates legal abortion after viability until birth whenever a lone health-care provider — a term not limited to doctors — determines that the continuation of the pregnancy “would pose a risk” to the patient’s life or “health.” The WHPA’s chief sponsor in the Senate has acknowledged the legislation “doesn’t distinguish” between physical and mental health, and the text of the bill instructs the courts to “liberally construe” the provisions of the act. Courts would therefore look to the definition of “health” found in Roe’s companion case, Doe v. Bolton: “physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age. . . . All these factors may relate to health.”

    Our state's senators, Jeanne and Maggie, voted (apparently enthusiastically) for the bill.

    The editors go on to note that " … pro-life candidates and activists should expect no help from the mainstream media in explaining what Democrats really mean when they speak of codifying Roe." Confirming evidence for that arrived early this morn with a story in my local paper headlined "People speak up at Bans Off Our Bodies rally at Prescott Park". The Bodies were pictured and quoted extensively, no dissenting opinions recorded.

    As I've mentioned previously: my newspaper subscription expires at the end of the month. I'm not renewing.


  • In her defense, her degree was in speech pathology and audiology. Allison Schrager grades a neighboring state's senator's proposal pretty harshly: Elizabeth Warren’s Price-Gouging Bill Flunks Basic Economics.

    Senate Democrats, led by Elizabeth Warren, just released a bill that would make price-gouging unlawful. The proposal gives further life to price controls, one of the worst policy failures from the last period of high inflation, decades ago.

    According to the bill, “It shall be unlawful for a person to sell or offer for sale a good or service at an unconscionably excessive price during an exceptional market shock, regardless of the person’s position in a supply chain or distribution network.” What is an “unconscionably excessive” price? Presumably Warren knows it when she sees it. The punishment would be the lesser of a $25,000 fine or 5 percent of revenues.

    This bill flunks basic economics. Firms raise prices for two reasons: they face higher costs and must pass them on to the consumer, or they are seeing increased demand. Right now, both things are happening, though it’s often hard to separate the two. Costs are higher because of higher energy prices and problems with supply chains. Demand is hot because Americans have savings from the pandemic and the government, with respect to both fiscal and monetary policy, was too expansionary.

    Allison Schrager has a Ph.D. in economics from Columbia. If she says you're flunking basic econ, you probably are.


  • It seems to be "Dump on Lousy New England Lady Senators Day" here at Pun Salad. More on Liz Warren's bad bill from Liz Wolfe: Elizabeth Warren Introduces Price-Gouging Bill That Fails To Define What Qualifies as Price Gouging.

    "The prices Americans are paying for groceries and other essentials are at all-time highs. One of the reasons?" asked Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) on Wednesday via Twitter. "Giant corporations are price gouging & reaping record profits. We need to put a stop to corporate gouging that drives up prices for families."

    It couldn't be that runaway inflation—which has reached astonishing 40-year highs in recent weeks—is, according to Federal Reserve of San Francisco economists, partly attributable to President Joe Biden's mid-pandemic economic stimulus plans, which pumped money into the bank accounts of Americans with seemingly little thought given to what could result. In Warren's view of the world, it's corporate, not government, malfeasance that's leading to pocketbook pain for everyday Americans.

    Warren holds that such problems must be solved by the federal government in the form of a new bill that would limit the prices companies can charge consumers during times of "exceptional market shock." That includes times of war, public health emergency, or natural disaster—which would have encompassed all of the last two years, barring firms from raising their prices to adapt to difficult and fast-changing economic circumstances.

    Warren's bill, introduced with Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D–Wis.) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D–Ill.), would empower the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate and penalize companies with "unconscionably excessive price increases," which is disturbingly defined nowhere in the legislation.

    Elizabeth Warren is just slightly older than me, and you'd think she'd have enough functional memory cells to remember the disastrous price controls of the 1970s.


  • Will censorship cure disinformation? Well, I bet you know the answer, but you might like to see the argument anyway. Here 'tis, from Jacob Mchangama and Nadine Strossen: Censorship won’t cure disinformation. Mchangama first:

    What do the Catholic Church, England under Henry VIII, The Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, and the European Union have in common?

    Certainly not much in terms of ideology, ethics, or philosophy. However, for all their fundamental differences each of these states and institutions have prohibited various forms of false information.

    For centuries, the Catholic Church was preoccupied with stamping out heresy, which has its roots in the Greek word, “haíresis,” meaning “choice.” In the Middle Ages, heresy was defined as “an opinion chosen by human perception contrary to holy Scripture, publicly avowed and obstinately defended,” and could ultimately be punished by death. As late as 1832, Pope Gregory XVI warned that removing the restraints that keep men “on the narrow path of truth” was “a pestilence more deadly to the state than any other” and, therefore, the “evil” of “immoderate freedom of opinion, license of free speech, and desire for novelty” had to be countered at all costs.

    And Ms. Strossen:

    Multiple studies have concluded that the most fruitful anti-disinformation tool is accurate information that can check its spread and influence: targeted responses to specific disinformation, as well as preemptive general educational approaches, and enhancing critical media skills. Psychological research shows that even more effective than debunking disinformation after its dissemination is “prebunking”: inoculating people against disinformation before they are exposed to it.

    In contrast with censorship, these “counterspeech”/“more speech” strategies not only are more compatible with free speech and democracy; they are also more effective in promoting truth.

    People who want to "protect" the public from disinformation view citizens as easily-gulled idiots.

    Well, some are. Sure.

    But that attitude, when given censorship powers, rapidly becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: it produces more and more people who can't think critically because they don't get the practice.


  • Paul: That’s specious reasoning, Joe. Joe: Thank you, Paul. Bernard Lane takes on The White House’s Specious Gender Manifesto.

    On March 31st, Joe Biden’s White House issued a lengthy “fact sheet” claiming that science has spoken in favour of puberty-blocking drugs—lifelong synthetic hormones for young people who identify as transgender or non-binary and seek medicalised gender change. What used to be called “sex-reassignment” is now the more seductive “gender-affirming care.” We also have the leader of the free world boldly “confirming the positive impact of gender-affirming care on youth mental health.”

    “Confirming” is the new asserting, and the Biden-Harris administration is also “confirming that providing gender-affirming care is neither child maltreatment nor malpractice.” It’s a small step from confirming to enforcing, and so the federal Justice Department has written to state attorneys-general warning them that if they deny minors the benefits of gender-affirming medical science, they will fall afoul of constitutional and statutory guarantees of equality, not to mention funding rules tied to grants from Washington. The first state under federal fire is Alabama, where a new law would impose up to 10 years’ prison time on clinicians taking anyone under 19 on a medicalised gender journey. The White House is even taking the fight offshore, pledging to uphold trans health rights with its foreign policy and overseas aid programs.

    Amusing Amazon: it won't sell you When Harry Became Sally, by Ryan T. Anderson. But it will sell you Summary of When Harry Became Sally. (A 62 page summary of the original 272 page book.)

    (This item's headline adapted from a classic source.)

The Man in the Crooked Hat

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

I've now read five Harry Dolan novels in the past 18 months. Yeah, I'm hooked. Unfortunately, if he has anything new coming out, Amazon doesn't know about it. Sigh.

This is a standalone novel from 2017. It has the standard Dolan ingredients: a complex plot, deadpan dialog, lots of characters. Some of whom are minor characters and stay minor. Some are only seemingly minor. So you had best keep track of everyone.

Oh, and a pulse-pounding climax.

The protagonist, Jack Pellum, is haunted by the senseless killing of his wife. It's a little unusual in that we know who did it right from the get-go: Michael Underhill, the titular Man in the Crooked Hat. What we don't know: his motive. And he's obviously very careful. Jack and Underhill engage in a ballet of detection and deception.

All Jack knows is that he saw the Hat Guy shortly before his wife's murder, acting suspicious. Didn't get a good look at him, but two years afterward he's set himself up in the private eye business, and is posting flyers around town with a poor rendition of his suspect. Then he gets word that a recent suicide has also accused a man in a crooked hat of a murder 20 years previous! Could it be…?

If you like mysteries, I think you'll like Dolan.

URLs du Jour

2022-05-14

  • Need a typographic laugh? xkcd provides:

    [Crêpe]

    For additional toilet-adjacent fun, moan at the mouseover: "A medicine that makes you put two dots over your letters more often is a diäretic."


  • All is forgiven, Jeff Bezos! Twitchy compiles reactions to a recent presidential lie, and one of the more diplomatically couched ones is:

    Bezos takes for granted the usual dishonesty, auto-translating Biden's euphemistic "[making] the wealthiest corporations pay their fair share" into "raising corp taxes". And he refrains from noting that tax increases on corporations are at least partially passed on to customers, which doesn't exactly help with inflation.

    Still, you can only do so much in a tweet. Bezos notes the non-sequiturioisity of it all, and makes fun of the DGB, so good for him.

    But it's fun to speculate on future presidential tweets. Like…


  • "Can't find baby formula? Let's make sure the FBI investigates school board protesters!"

    Well, President Biden hasn't tweeted that. Yet. Maybe he shouldn't talk at all about what James Freeman calls Biden’s Baby Formula Shortage.

    In the name of safety, the federal bureaucracy has turned a supply-chain challenge into a full-blown crisis. Few things are as disturbing as being a new parent and learning that your infant child is not thriving. For any number of reasons, some little ones need baby formula, and right now America doesn’t have enough of it. In this era it has sadly become common to see empty market shelves once occupied by various items. But this is not just any other product.

    Like many other goods in the era of lockdowns and Covid regulations, baby formula has been subject to supply constraints. But there is one specific event that created the current crisis. On Feb. 17 of this year, the FDA announced:

    Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced it is investigating consumer complaints of Cronobacter sakazakii and Salmonella Newport infections. All of the cases are reported to have consumed powdered infant formula produced from Abbott Nutrition’s Sturgis, Michigan facility. As a result of the ongoing investigation, along with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state and local partners, the FDA is alerting consumers to avoid purchasing or using certain powdered infant formula products produced at this facility. This is an ongoing investigation, and the firm is working with the FDA to initiate a voluntary recall of the potentially affected product.

    Ever since, while the plant has remained idle, various Washington officials have continued to insist on calling it a “voluntary recall.” But what choice did the manufacturer have after the FDA investigated and decided to warn consumers not to buy the product?

    Freeman notes that the evidence connecting the Abbot facility to baby illness is iffy at best.


  • Creating government lawyer jobs is a high priority. J.D. Tuccille looks at (yet another) cabinet department creating (yet another) odious offshoot: ‘Environmental Justice’ Is Guaranteed Employment for Government Lawyers.

    So far as government officials are concerned, there's no authority like amorphous authority. Even better when that amorphous authority is wielded against ill-defined crimes, so that the powers-that-be have carte blanche to ruin the day of whoever draws their attention. That's what we're looking at with the Department of Justice's new Office of Environmental Justice, which enacts a racialized vision of law and, importantly, hands officialdom a free hand in the process.

    "The Justice Department has three essential responsibilities: upholding the rule of law, keeping our country safe, and protecting civil rights. Seeking and securing justice for communities that are disproportionately burdened by environmental harms is a task demanded by all three of those responsibilities," Attorney General Merrick Garland insisted last week as he introduced the Justice Department's new Office of Environmental Justice and its underlying strategy.

    It's arguable, maybe even probable, that the well-connected have been likely to steer Earth-Day environmentalism toward "solving" problems experienced by the elite. Will dragging identity politics into the mix improve things? No, it will not.


  • Stand beside her and guide her. Through the night, with a light from a bulb. A bunch of people I like signed a document decrying America’s Crisis of Self-Doubt.

    We live in an age of increasing national self-doubt.

    The American project, as such, is under assault. Our history is the subject of a revisionist critique that is all-encompassing, unsparing, and very often flatly inaccurate. Our traditional heroes are under threat of being run out of the national pantheon. Our institutions, from elections to the job market to law enforcement, stand accused of perpetuating a systemic racism that is impossible to eradicate. Our educational system, from kindergarten through graduate school, is increasingly a forum for crude propagandizing. Our system of government is attacked as archaic, unfair, and racially biased. Our traditional values of fair play, free speech, and religious liberty are trampled by inflamed ideologues determined to impose their will by force and fear.

    The national mood resembles those of the 1930s and 1970s, when radical critiques of America got considerable traction and our national self-confidence often seemed to hang by a thread.

    It is in this context that we reclaim what once was a consensus view of America that has now become bitterly contested.

    It's both inspirational and aspirational. Check it out.


  • Not all inspirational quotes survive critical thinking. And Bryan Caplan does a fine job skewering Wilkins' Folly, a quote engraved in a prominent position at George Mason University:

    We have no hope of solving our problems without harnessing the diversity, the energy, and the creativity of all our people.

    That's from Roger Wilkins. Caplan is harsh but fair:

    1. No society in the entire history of the world has ever “harnessed the diversity, the energy, and the creativity” of all of its people. Not even close.

    2. Yet every society, no matter how dysfunctional, has solved some of its problems.

    3. To say “we have no hope” of doing something that every society has achieved is absurd.

    4. What if you interpret “solving our problems” as “solving all of our problems”? Then we have no hope of success regardless of what we harness, because the goal is just too hard.

    5. Plenty of “our people” plainly aren’t going to help us solve any problems. Most people simply aren’t creative - never have been, never will be. Many people, similarly, have bad attitudes. They’re not going to help solve problems, either. A few people even have crippling health problems that preclude them from contributing despite their fervent wish to help. How are people in comas supposed to help us solve anything?

    He goes on to observe that if you really want to "solve our problems", examining them with clear eyes is a must.


  • Fox41 in Yakima on the LFOD watch. Another Fox station on the other side of the country with another state comparison: Rulebreakers on the Road: States with the Most Reckless Drivers (2020). We barely make the top 10!

    9. New Hampshire

    Frequency of reckless drivers: 28 per 10K drivers
    Relative increase in driving since pandemic onset: 484%
    Population density: 151.9 people per square mile

    They may say “live free or die” in the ninth state on the list, and it seems like this laissez-faire attitude carries over to precautions on the road. New Hampshire’s rate of reckless driving is 36 percent higher than the national average. The Granite State has also experienced an astronomical increase in driving rates from the beginning of the pandemic until September: with a 484 percent relative increase, New Hampshire drivers returned to the roads in great droves. Unlike many of the other states on this list, New Hampshire’s population density, while lower than the national average, is not comparatively very low — it ranks 21st in the nation on population per square mile. As a repeat offender from 2019, it seems as though the driving norms in New Hampshire are less stringent — and result in more driving violations — than the rest of the country’s.

    We were beaten by Virginia, both Dakotas, Alaska, Montana, Wyoming, Washington, and South Carolina. But we knocked the stuffing out of Idaho, recklessly.

URLs du Jour

2022-05-13

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • Something to remember when Jimmy Wales asks you for money. Alexander Riley (professor of sociology at Bucknell) has an issue: On Cultural Marxism, the Antisemitic Conspiracy Theory? Woke Deception at Wikipedia. It's probably the worst example of WikiBias I've seen (albeit I'm not working hard at looking).

    Here’s an interesting discovery that I made the other day about this Wokeist effort to deny the existence of cultural Marxism. Plug the term into Wikipedia and wait to see what happens.

    What happens is that you get redirected to “Cultural Marxism conspiracy theory,” which is described as a “far-right antisemitic conspiracy theory.” The reader is told that this dangerous myth alleges, falsely of course, that there are ongoing efforts by Marxian and Marxian-influenced academics and other cultural producers in the West to subvert Western civilization and culture. All this is a figment of the lurid imaginations of right-wing partisans, according to Wikipedia, as there are certainly no such people doing any such things.

    I try very hard not to be infuriated these days, but… the Wikipedia article is unimaginably dishonest.

    OK, we know that anyone who disagrees with wokeism is automatically lumped into the "far-right" pigeonhole. (There are apparently no "near-right" people.)

    But if you disagree with a movement that happened to have a preponderance of Jewish advocates: Aha! You're obviously antisemitic! No evidence needed! Case closed!

    And if you (further, and accurately) note that the movement's advocates talk to each other, cite each other, and even self-classify themselves as a Marxist "school": Aha! You believe in a conspiracy theory!

    As the woke say, this conflicts with my lived experience.

    Riley goes on to research the main source the Wikipedia article uses to support its claims:

    Joan Braune apparently teaches in the “School of Leadership Studies” at Gonzaga University and works in the field of “Critical Hate Studies.” Braune has a PhD in philosophy from the University of Kentucky, her webpage at Gonzaga informs us.

    More importantly, her webpage and the Wikipedia article notes both inform us, she has written a good deal on Erich Fromm, one of the prominent figures in the cultural Marxist Frankfurt School. This group were among the thinkers widely read and cited by the folks I knew on the far Left back in my grad school days, the people who openly admitted their influence by those they called cultural Marxists and their desire to see American society revolutionized. Braune unselfconsciously avows that she “works in Frankfurt School Critical Theory.”

    So the person Wikipedia cites to back up the claim that cultural Marxism does not exist as a real phenomenon has written on one of the primary figures in cultural Marxism, as a partisan to his political cause. And she straightforwardly admits she is a “critical theorist” in the Frankfurt School tradition.

    At the "far-right antisemitic" National Review, George Leef points to the Riley article and advises:

    Don’t trust Wikipedia on any politically sensitive subject.

    They're pretty good on physics, though. But how long can that last?


  • Don't let the screen door hit ya… Kyle Smith bids an unfond farewell: Goodbye Jen Psaki — no one condescends quite like you.

    So long Jen Psaki! As White House press secretary, you were indeed very informative: every day you provided an example of how today’s Democratic Party turns normie soccer moms from Greenwich into reality-denying attack machines sputtering insults and cheering on lawbreakers because they can’t face up to the unpopularity of the far-left agenda.

    As blathering Joe Biden retreated into the background and suggested to the world that America was in the hands of a man who should be shuffling around Sunset Acres in a bathrobe, Psaki became the face of an administration that is determined to head into the midterms like Thelma and Louise. “We’ll show those bastards! Let’s drive off a cliff!” is the animating principle of the Democratic Party. Do polls say that American voters think the Democrats are doing everything wrong? Then “Pedal to the metal, Louise!”

    Kyle also makes a pretty good observation:

    In the Sorkin-fantasy West Wing, all you have to do to win is talk fast while striding down corridors, call the Republicans evil and issue stalwart defenses of progressivism so moving that people break down and cry at the awesomeness of it all. In the real West Wing, every day you get another smack in the face from reality.

    I chuckled here because the most recent episode of "Mr. Mayor" made fun of this exact same "West Wing" trope. (Admittedly, it's kind of well-known.)

    And, not that it matters, I'm sad that Mr. Mayor was just cancelled.


  • I've been framed! And you can be framed too! Dominic Pino recommends a Good Way to Frame Inflation Debate, based on a tweet…

    Refreshingly non-partisan and bullshit-free, as Pino says:

    It helps because it grounds the debate in actual economic phenomena that we can observe. He does a good job of presenting the strongest arguments on both sides in a way that isn’t Republican vs. Democrat. Inflation and monetary policy in general aren’t partisan issues in the way that abortion, guns, or taxes are. Plenty of Democrats and Republicans have opinions about monetary policy, of course, but there isn’t really a clear Democratic or Republican position on those questions.

    Pino admits there's no "obviously correct" macroeconomic theory that can definitively predict what will happen; it's just people weighting evidence and theories differently.


  • As you might expect from Reason: There Is a Reason Why Roe v. Wade's Defenders Focus on Its Results Rather Than Its Logic.

    Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a pro-choice Democrat, says she was "devastated" by the draft majority opinion in which Justice Samuel Alito explains why he believes the Supreme Court cannot let Roe v. Wade stand. "It was shocking to see, laid out in cold legalese, the blatant ideological reasoning gutting the constitutional right to abortion," Whitmer writes in The New York Times.

    The implication is that Alito, because he opposes abortion, was determined to overturn the 1973 decision establishing that right, regardless of the legal contortions it required. But as Alito emphasizes, Roe has faced withering criticism, including damning appraisals by pro-choice legal scholars, for half a century. Roe's supporters tend to ignore that fact, instead emphasizing the practical impact of freeing states to set their own abortion policies. While Whitmer accuses Alito of motivated reasoning, that charge better fits Roe author Harry Blackmun and the decision's contemporary defenders.

    Reason has been pretty even-keeled on the recent debate over baby-killing. Comment on that from Ms. Ham, in response to a Reason detractor:


  • Fox28 Spokane on the LFOD watch. Another state comparison from the left coast: States with the Most Competitive Real Estate Markets in 2021. And we show up pretty well:

    3. New Hampshire

    Competitive Market Score: 94.2 out of 100
    Percent of homes sold above list price: 60%
    Average share of homes per month sold within 2 weeks of listing date: 50%
    Average months of supply in 2021: 1.71

    Third in the nationwide rankings for having one of the most competitive real estate markets over this past year, prospective buyers in the Granite State have faced a market that’s 32 percent more competitive than average in 2021. New Hampshire’s state motto may be to live free or die, but the cost of a new home there is anything but; with over 60 percent of new properties being sold above list price, real estate in New Hampshire is in demand with the price tag to prove it.

    Congrats to Fox28 Spokane for shoehorning our state motto into an unlikely context.

URLs du Jour

2022-05-12

[Multiverse of Dimness Too]

  • You can probably guess the answer. Jason L. Riley has a good question: Why Won’t the Left Talk About Racial Disparities in Abortion?

    In the three decades since [Bill Clinton's smarmy remark about wanting abortion to be "safe, legal, and rare"], the U.S. abortion rate has in fact declined—in recent years it’s fallen to about half of what it was in the early 1980s—yet significant racial disparities persist. In other contexts, group differences in outcome set off alarms on the political left. The racial gap in test scores has brought calls to eliminate the SAT and other admissions tests. The racial gap in arrest and incarceration rates has brought calls to legalize drugs and reduce resources for law enforcement. Racial differences in wealth and income fuel progressive demands for slavery reparations and a larger welfare state. And so on.

    When it comes to abortion, however, left-wing concern seems to stop at making the procedure safe and legal, even while black-white disparities have not only persisted but widened. A 2020 paper by public-health scholar James Studnicki and two co-authors cites data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to note that the black abortion rate is nearly four times higher than the white rate: “Between 2007-2016, the Black rate declined 29% and the White rate declined 33%—meaning that the racial disparity actually increased rather than decreased.” Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurrence in a 2019 abortion case observed that “there are areas of New York City in which black children are more likely to be aborted than they are to be born alive—and are up to eight times more likely to be aborted than white children in the same area.”

    My answer: the left is unconcerned with making consistent arguments.


  • Could. Should. Maybe will! Drew Cline of the Josiah Bartlett Center makes an interesting argument for reform: How N.H. could increase access to justice through occupational licensing reform.

    New Hampshire could become one of the earliest states to enable low-cost legal assistance by loosening occupational licensing regulations on the practice of law. If House Bill 1343 passes, paralegals would be able to provide limited legal representation to lower-income individuals in district, circuit and family court.

    Paralegals have some legal training but are not attorneys and do not have law degrees. They are prohibited from practicing law or representing clients in court.

    Restricting the practice of law to attorneys only, no matter how simple the legal matter, creates a shortage of legal representation and increases the cost of that representation.

    As a result, 80%-90% of people who appear in family court in New Hampshire have no legal representation, bill sponsor Rep. Ned Gordon, R-Bristol, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last month.

    This will make Shoshana Weissmann happy, and that makes me happy.


  • It's Thursday, so… it's a good day to link to Kevin D. Williamson's "Tuesday" column at NR. He claims it's behind the "NRPlus" paywall now, so if you're not in that group, too bad. Maybe the following will whet your appetite: The Specter of Christianity.

    These pro-abortion maniacs. Yikes.

    I wish our bishops were in fact and in deed as pro-life as the people who hate the Catholic Church seem to think they are.

    The Catholic Church is officially against abortion, of course — there is no circuitous Jesuitical workaround for “Thou shalt not kill” — but a great many senior figures in the American church are inclined to impersonate country-club Republicans circa 1992: “Sure, we’re against abortion, but let’s not make a whole thing about it.” Pope Francis may be silly about many things — and possibly an outright heretic if you want to get mean about it — but he remains solid on abortion: an “absolute evil,” he calls it. And the pews aren’t any more reliably pro-life than the pulpit: Catholics have on average about the same attitude toward abortion as other Americans, and the horrifying fact is that even a third of those who attend Mass weekly identify themselves as “pro-choice.”

    (That is dismaying but not surprising. Jesus and Immanuel Kant both thought of people and institutions in terms of trees: “Every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit”; “Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.” Christians have as much trouble going against the grain as anybody else does, and the American church is planted in the same soil as Scientology and Facebook and Gilligan’s Island.)

    KDW notes the oddness: there are numerous Protestant denominations that are more reliably pro-life than today's American Catholics. "But the maniacs remain fixated on Catholics. That is interesting."

    And there's much more. Really, if you're not an NRPlus person, your life is lacking. (And it's at a 60% discount for a limited time! Sorry to sound like a sales guy. I swear, I don't get a cut if you subscribe.)


  • That's usually a safe bet. Robby Soave points his finger at a cow the MSM consider sacred: The U.S. Baby Formula Shortage Is the FDA's Fault.

    U.S. officials could have made such shortages less likely by approving baby formula that is widely available in Europe, but per usual, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has other priorities. The agency has a long history of taking forever—years and years and years—to approve foods and medications that European officials have already decided are perfectly safe for human consumption. (One particularly good example: sunblock.) This is yet another in a long line of failures: Both the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) screwed up the early approval process for COVID-19 testing.

    When asked about the shortages, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, praised the FDA for taking swift action to get the compromised baby formula off the market.


    Robby concludes: "The FDA should really stop erecting regulatory hurdles that make it harder for working-class parents to feed their families."

    Multiverse of madness, indeed. What genius put me in this one?

  • And on the LFOD watch… The Fox station in Spokane offered its website readers a story about Rising Suicide: A State by State Look.

    And in the uncoveted second spot… behind only Vermont… is:

    2. New Hampshire
    Average Annual Increase in Suicide Rate: 2.89%
    Change in Rate from 1999: 107.89%
    Suicide Rate in 2016: 15.8
    National Rank in 2016: 20

    New Hampshire is the first state on this ranking whose suicide rate has more than doubled since the end of the millennium. However, despite this grim trend, the state still remains in the bottom half of states for suicide mortality nationwide. However, if the speed of this growth continues, New Hampshire will soon break into the top half of states for suicide. This is a grim prospect for the state that has always strived to live free or die.

    Note that this is ranking states by the increase in suicide rates between 1996 and 2016. According to the CDC, and its latest numbers from 2020, New Hampshire has (indeed) broken into the "top half of states" with a suicide rate of 16.4 per 100K. In New England, only Vermont has a higher rate (18.1 per 100K).


Last Modified 2022-05-12 10:05 AM EDT

Pun Salad Crackpot Proposal: Congressional "Fairness" Reform

2022 Update

[This is an update to a post originally made in April 2017, triggered by my recent read of a book by Lawrence Lessig, They Don't Represent Us. I still like the idea herein, even though it's failed to catch the attention of the outside world; it didn't even make the cut on Jonah Goldberg's "Remnant" podcast where he invited readers to send in crazy ideas for sharing with his audience. Ah well. The new stuff is mostly at the end, and (beware) it's pretty geeky. If you're arriving here from GitHub, don't worry, we'll get to those scripts eventually.]

Back in 2017, this article in Quanta caught my eye: How to Quantify (and Fight) Gerrymandering. Specifically, this bit (emphasis added):

Partisan gerrymandering — the practice of drawing voting districts to give one political party an unfair edge — is one of the few political issues that voters of all stripes find common cause in condemning. Voters should choose their elected officials, the thinking goes, rather than elected officials choosing their voters. The Supreme Court agrees, at least in theory: In 1986 it ruled that partisan gerrymandering, if extreme enough, is unconstitutional.

Similarly, Lessig's book concentrates on them not representing us. For a whole raft of reasons, including the gerrymandering issue, but also big money, the incentives representatives have to appeal to the most extreme members of their parties, and so on.

My gut reaction to the Quanta article back in 2017, and now: Unfair?! Hey, I'll tell you about unfair!

And after reading the Lessig book: Hey, I'll also tell you about failure to represent me!

I live in New Hampshire Congressional District 1. The November 2016 election results were:

Candidate Party Votes Percent
Carol Shea-Porter Democrat 162,080 44.3%
Frank C. Guinta Republican 157,176 43.0%
Shawn O'Connor Independent 34,735 9.5%
Brendan Kelly Independent 6,074 1.7%
Robert Lombardo Libertarian 5,507 1.5%

At least for the purposes of this post, I don't want to get into the details, personalities, and parties of my oddball district. Instead, let's concentrate on fairness, and what it means to have a "representative democracy", at least for the purposes of the US House of Representatives.

To wit: Carol Shea-Porter sat in the 115th United States Congress, with one whole vote therein. But it's clear from the table: she only "represents" a minority of voters in her district. A large minority, but still.

Specifically: she does not represent me, in any meaningful sense. (I voted Libertarian, if that matters.) I don't bother to write her about my views on the issues, because she doesn't have any interest in representing me. I'm alienated from the political process, and everyone tells me that's a bad thing!

I submit to you, reader, that this is the great unfairness of our current system, far greater than the kvetching about gerrymandering, big money, etc. It's winner-take-all, and if you voted for a loser, it's just too bad, chump. (Lessig has some suggestions in this area, but I like mine better.)

So here's my crackpot notion, which would require some Constitutional tinkering: Any candidate for the US House of Representatives who receives greater than 1% of the popular vote in the general election shall be entitled to a vote in the House equal to the fraction of the vote he or she receives.

So, if the 2016 election had been held under that system, and the same result obtained: instead of Carol Shea-Porter casting 1.00 vote, she would instead be entitled to cast a mere 0.443 votes on the House floor. Guinta would have had 0.430 votes. O'Connor, Lombardo, and Kelly would submit 0.095, 0.017, and 0.015 votes respectively.

Let's also assume that Congresscritter salaries are also in proportion to their votes.

Yes, this would greatly expand the size of the House, probably by a factor of between 2 and 3. This is more of an infrastructure issue than anything else, and arrangements could be made for secure remote voting.

Members not happy with their fractional vote and salaries can quit. Or just not show up for work. This isn't Russia, after all. But don't bother wasting the voters' time in the next election.

Advantages:

  • As long as their candidate got above that 1% threshold, people would have someone in office they thought of as "their representative", decreasing political alienation.

  • Conversely, the elected representatives would have a greater incentive to pay attention to (i.e., actually represent) the people who voted for them. And (for that matter) they also have an incentive to attract voters at the margins for the next election cycle. (Most House districts are "safe" these days, so incumbents feel little pressure to appeal to voters outside their party.)

  • Citizens residing in overwhelmingly "blue" or "red" districts are probably marginally discouraged from voting under the current system. Why bother, when the outcome is foreordained? Under this proposal, they'd have more incentive to get to the voting booth. Maybe even more of an incentive to get informed on issues of interest.

  • Gerrymandering becomes much less of an issue (and my guess it would be negligible), since just about everyone gets "represented" even if they've been shuffled into a district where a different candidate is a safe bet to get more votes.

  • It's far simpler than other schemes I've seen, e.g. ranked-choice voting.

Note: this scheme wouldn't apply to the Presidency. We can only have one President, not (say) a Schrödinger's Cat-like mixture of half-Trump and half-Hillary. (That would be scary, though.)

Nor would it apply well, I think, to the US Senate: Senators represent states, not people.

And I don't have any smart ideas how this would play out in House procedures, like committee assignments and the like. My hand-waving impulse would be to treat a district's representatives as a unit for the purpose of committees. So instead of having Shea-Porter with 1.00 vote in the House Armed Services Committee, it would be (again) Shea-Porter, Guinta, O'Connor,... with 0.442, 0.429, 0.094, ... votes respectively.

Office budgets? I dunno. Probably they'd need to be expanded (and, unfortunately, paid for). Maybe each representative would get a bare-bones staff, which could be increased based on their fractional vote.

The natural question: how would that have worked out in an actual election? I handwaved that back in 2017, but I made more of an effort this time around. I found an (allegedly) complete CSV file for US House elections between 1976 and 2020 at a page maintained by the MIT Election Data + Science Lab. I wrote a Perl script (also a Python script) to suck in the data for a specified election year, and output the results and party breakdown in the resulting Congress, assuming this crackpot scheme was in place.

For example, given the 2020 vote breakdown, here are the Congresscritter-counts and votes for each party that grabbed a vote fraction over 1%:

Party Representatives Votes
DEMOCRAT 440 219.85
REPUBLICAN 422 203.16
LIBERTARIAN 111 3.10
WORKING FAMILIES 24 1.25
DEMOCRATIC-FARMER-LABOR 3 1.17
CONSERVATIVE 24 0.93
INDEPENDENT 30 0.92
UNENROLLED 3 0.31
DEMOCRATIC-NONPARTISAN LEAGUE 1 0.28
GRASSROOTS - LEGALIZE CANNABIS 4 0.21
LEGAL MARIJUANA NOW 3 0.20
GREEN 9 0.14
CONSTITUTION 6 0.13
NO PARTY AFFILIATION 6 0.12
INDEPENDENCE 7 0.10
WORKING CLASS 4 0.09
INDEPENDENT AMERICAN 4 0.09
UNITED UTAH 2 0.04
PACIFIC GREEN 2 0.04
NO SLOGAN FILED 2 0.03
VETERAN FOR CHANGE 1 0.02
ALOHA AINA PARTY 1 0.02
WRITE-IN 1 0.02
SOCIALIST WORKERS 1 0.02
EDUCATION COMMUNITY LAW 1 0.02
D.C. STATEHOOD GREEN 1 0.02
INDEPENDENT PARTY OF DELAWARE 1 0.01
AMERICAN VALUES 1 0.01
BUILDING YOUR LEGACY 1 0.01
JUSTICE MERCY HUMILITY 1 0.01

Whoa, that's a lot of parties, many with funny names. Googling them can be amusing. For example, that last line in the table for the "Justice Mercy Humility" party reflects the strong showing of Jenna Harvey, in New Jersey District 2. She got 1.1% of the vote, beating the tar out of the Libertarian Party candidate, Jesse Ehrnstrom, who only got 0.8%.

I don't know anything about the Justice Mercy Humility Party, other than they are apparently based on the teaching of Micah 6:8. They sound nice.

Further: There are lot of ways of saying "Independent". And you'll note a few "Democratic-Farmer-Labor" members; they are from Minnesota, and they are as pure-Democrat as Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale. I don't know why MIT codes some Minnesota candidates as Democrats, others DFL.

Anyway, the grand total: 1117 representatives with 432.31 votes. Bigger than the current House size of 435 by a factor of about 2.6.

I.e., the Democrats had a slight edge in 2020 over Republicans in this alternate-fact universe, and a slight majority of overall votes. (The actual 2020 results were 222 Ds, 213 Rs.)

But I hasten to say: if the election had been held under this scheme, the voting incentives would have looked a lot different, so too the results.

Now into the semi-geeky weeds on the scripts I wrote to produce that result. You can peruse my scripts at GitHub. Don't like the details of my scheme? You can twiddle the scripts to your heart's content!

Further notes:

  • There are lots of columns in the MIT CSV file, but I only used a few: year, candidate, candidatevotes, totalvotes, party, district, and state.
  • I decided to ignore "undervotes" in the CSV data. These are people who failed to vote for anyone. That's fine, but you don't get represented. Similarly, I also ignored votes for "other" and "writein". (I assume if a write-in candidate had garnered a significant number of votes, he or she would have been identified by name.)
  • I wrote the Python script after I wrote the Perl script; it's a rough translation and (probably) not very good. It's my first (maybe my last) non-trivial Python script.
  • I did a lot of "how do you do this in Python" Googling. I found I really liked Python's command-line argument handling. The Python script is also noticeably faster than the Perl one. That's probably due to me slurping the entire CSV file into an array of hash in the Perl script, while the Python script just iterates over the file.
  • But why doesn't Python just have a printf function? Some religious reason no doubt. (It turned out to be easy enough to add.)
  • I was a little baffled about how to handle the party_vote and party_count dictionaries in Python. In Perl, non-existent hash entries will get auto-created when you use them. In the equivalent "dictionary" Python structure, apparently, you have to create entries with initial values first. A little clunky.
  • And I learned the hard way that there are no ++ and -- operators in Python. Another religious design issue.

Last Modified 2022-05-12 5:51 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2022-05-11

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  • And nobody puts babies in a corner? Kevin D. Williamson corrects the record: Without Roe, Nobody 'Dictates' Abortion Policy.

    For various reasons, many journalists and so-called journalists have written many columns about my views on abortion. But the only one of them to ever bother asking me about my views on abortion has been Jane Coaston. We recently had a short email exchange on the question, which she mentions in the New York Times. She writes:

    In response to an email, Williamson told me, “Returning abortion policy to the democratic theater does not empower the pro-life movement to dictate abortion policy — nor should we want it to.”

    But have no doubt that the people who oppose abortion will, in fact, be dictating abortion policy in dozens of states . . . .

    Coaston is one of the many writers on this subject who, for whatever reason, keeps missing one of the central points: In a post-Roe world, nobody gets to dictate abortion policy to anybody — rather, abortion policy will be decided by democratically elected lawmakers. That is not dictatorship, but democracy. The importance of that point should be easily understood by all intelligent observers, including those of our friends and neighbors who support abortion rights. It is wrong to treat laws enacted by democratically enacted lawmakers as equivalent to the undemocratic settlement we currently have. It is also wrong to fail to acknowledge that this is a big part of what is being disputed.

    KDW makes a good point. But:

    1. Some believe that abortion is a "right" (or derives from a right, variously claimed to be privacy, bodily autonomy, or self-ownership.)
    2. And, as KDW himself has said, rights are "Stuff You Idiots Can’t Be Trusted To Vote On".

    Now, I don't believe that abortion is a "right". But it's tough to argue with people who do.


  • A point of wide applicability. Timothy Sandefur expands on his views about Debt and Demagoguery.

    “The Federalist Papers” can be dry reading. Calm, scholarly, sometimes needlessly erudite, this classic examination of the U.S. Constitution by three of its foremost advocates—Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay—generally strikes a detached pose, focusing more on how bills become laws than on any specific political agenda.

    But there’s an exception. In the middle of the book’s most famous essay—Federalist No. 10—Madison briefly drops his tone of political neutrality in order to call three kinds of laws downright “wicked.” These three are laws creating paper money, laws that redistribute private property and laws “for an abolition of debts.” This trio, he explains, are the types of laws the proposed Constitution is designed to prevent.

    Today, as a loud minority of voters is calling for President Biden to “cancel” or “forgive” billions of dollars in federal student loan debts—shifting the costs of higher education onto the backs of working taxpayers—it’s worth pausing to consider why the Father of the Constitution reserved such harsh language for laws abolishing debts.

    Sandefur recounts the long history of wise people pointing out the "wickedness" of debt cancellation.


  • Little Marco provides yet another reason to vote against him if he tries to run for president again. Joe Lancaster keeps his eye on his latest bad idea: Marco Rubio Wants To Fight Abortion and Trans Battles in the Tax Code.

    With the passage of state laws intended to restrict access to abortion, some companies like Bumble, Yelp, and Salesforce have announced programs to assist employees who have to travel to other states in order to obtain the procedure. After the apparent leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion which would overturn the right nationwide, Amazon announced that for any employees who have to travel in order to receive an abortion, it would reimburse up to $4,000 annually.

    Last week, Sen. Marco Rubio (R–Fla.) responded by threatening legislation.

    Employees' health care costs are typically tax deductible as business expenses for their employers. Rubio's bill, the No Tax Breaks for Radical Corporate Activism Act, would bar a company from deducting the costs of reimbursements not only for abortions but also for gender-affirming medical treatments for transgender children. In a statement accompanying the legislation, Rubio said, "Our tax code should be pro-family and promote a culture of life."

    A more sensible policy would be to treat all employer-paid medical benefits as taxable income. It's regressive, and a major factor in why health care is so expensive in America. But that's a non-starter.


  • PolitiFact is awful and should apologize ad go away. OK, you probably knew that. But Andrew Stiles describes another reason to despise it. PANTS ON FIRE: PolitiFact Defiles the Truth.

    PolitiFact, the allegedly "independent" fact-checking website, is soliciting donations to fund its "fact-based, unbiased reporting." Unfortunately, these fundraising efforts have already been tainted with disinformation.

    "Help us hold politicians accountable," PolitiFact's audience director, Josie Hollingsworth, wrote in a fundraising email on Monday.

    The email asserts that PolitiFact is dedicated to "holding our leaders accountable." The claim lacks crucial context, and grossly misrepresents the truth about the organization's priorities, according to a Washington Free Beacon analysis of nearly 300 PolitiFact posts dating back to March 10, 2022.

    Our analysis found that more than half the PolitiFact fact checks published in the last two months involved random content posted on social media. More than a third (112) of the website's 290 fact checks over that period involved content posted on Facebook, which has enlisted PolitiFact and other so-called nonpartisan organizations to "identify and review false information."

    PolitiFact has been "holding our leaders accountable" by devoting it resources to fact-checking the asinine claims of random Facebook users: that John F. Kennedy Jr. is still alive and leading QAnon, that "paying taxes is optional," and that Hillary Clinton is imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay. All three were given a "pants on fire!" rating, in case you were wondering.

    "Help us debunk random Facebook users" is not a strong fundraising slogan.


  • Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the latest in a series of pundits who don't like the DGB: The desperation of Biden's Disinformation Board.

    In 1918, Woodrow Wilson’s Democratic administration passed a piece of legislation it hoped would accelerate the end of the First World War. The new law didn’t directly concern the military — nor was it a revolutionary act of foreign policy. Rather, its target was ordinary American citizens.

    Passed shortly after the Espionage Act, the Sedition Act made it a crime to “wilfully utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of the Government of the United States”. In other words, it was intended to stifle dissent. And by all accounts, it was immensely effective: it was used to convict 877 people between 1919 and 1920.

    In the century since it was passed (and swiftly revoked), the Sedition Act has largely been viewed as a legislative artefact, an embarrassing quirk that’s best forgotten. In recent weeks, however, its spirit appears to have been rekindled by another Democrat President — one who may not be at war, but nonetheless finds himself under siege. Late last month, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the creation of a sinister-sounding new unit called the Disinformation Governance Board. When asked to justify its formation, White House press secretary Jen Psaki explained: “It sounds like the objective of the board is to prevent disinformation and misinformation from traveling around the country in a range of communities, and I am not sure who opposes that effort.”

    And so the mask slips. As became clear in the following days, the Board has been established to legislate fake news and mistruths out of existence, as if they were draughts of toxic air, wafting out of laptops and cell phones into the eyes and ears of unsuspecting citizens. It’s hardly surprising that the Board was swiftly condemned as the ill-disguised attempt at state censorship it is.

    Ms. Ali notes that in addition to the DGB being a bad idea, the person picked to head it up, Nina Jankowicz was an enthusiastic promoter of the Steele Dossier misinformation. So, even worse.

A Confederacy of Dunces

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Another book plucked from the New York Times shortlist of fiction whence they asked their readers to pick "the best book of the past 125 years". Nine to go!

And, compared to those other 24 books on the shortlist, it's pretty funny. Funnier than Beloved, anyway.

The protagonist is Ignatius J. Reilly, and he's not really a dunce. He is (to use our preferred non-judgmental language) several sigma off the mean on a number of personality traits: he's delusional, an inveterate liar, antisocial, and very rude. He also dresses oddly. He records his oddball thoughts on numerous Big Chief writing tablets. He lives with his momma in New Orleans; she's at her wit's end, demanding that he get gainfully employed. He makes a couple efforts at that, but things don't go well, thanks to his insistence on using the jobs as springboards to hatch various crackpot schemes.

Ignatius's odyssey involves numerous colorful characters and situations, described in amusing detail. Many of those characters spin off their own subplots. Are they actually all dunces, as the title claims? It seems cruel to say so, but yeah, probably. Ignatius is probably the smartest of the bunch, at least he has the biggest vocabulary.

I couldn't help but notice one of Ignatius's plots: to "Save the World Through Degeneracy". Specifically, as he describes it:

Our first step will be to elect one of their ["degenerate"] number to some very high office — the presidency, if Fortuna spins us kindly. Then they will infiltrate the military. As soldiers, they will all be so continually busy in fraternizing with one another, tailoring their uniforms to fit like sausage skins, inventing new and varied battle dress, giving cocktail parties, etc., that they will never have time for battle. The one whom we finally make Chief of Staff will want only to attend to his fashionable wardrobe, a wardrobe which, alternately, will permit him to be either Chief of Staff or debutante, as the desire strikes him. In seeing the success of their unified fellows here, perverts around the world will also band together to capture the military in their respective countries. In those reactionary countries in which the deviates seem to be having some trouble in gaining control, we will send aid to them as rebels to help them in toppling their governments. When we have at last overthrown all existing governments, the world will enjoy not war but global orgies conducted with the utmost protocol and the most truly international spirit, for these people do transcend simple national differences. Their minds are on one goal; they are truly united; they think as one.
Hm. Are we so sure that plot isn't being carried out right now?

The book's history is tragic: published posthumously a few years after the author's suicide. Especially interesting is the Wikipedia section describing efforts to bring it to the screen. Who should star as Ignatius?

John Belushi! Uh, no.

John Candy! Darn.

Chris Farley! Oops.

Divine! A bold suggestion, but… also no.

I don't believe in curses, but…

URLs du Jour

2022-05-10

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  • Why I subscribe to the WSJ. As bad as you thought the Steele Dossier was, guess what, it was worse than that. The page one story in the Wall Street Journal today is Three Friends Chatting: How the Steele Dossier Was Created. (That's a free link, but those prone to hypertension might want to avoid.)

    Hours after the publication in early 2017 of a dossier claiming President-elect Donald Trump conspired with Russia to steer the U.S. election, a public relations executive in Washington tapped out an email to a client whose company was cited in the document, cast as a villain.

    “I’m hoping that this is exposed as fake news,” Charles Dolan Jr. wrote. “I will check with some folks in the intel world to see if they know who produced this.” The dossier, published by BuzzFeed News, used code names to conceal its sources. Some were close to Kremlin corridors of power, it said.

    The dossier proceeded to rivet the U.S. political class, win credibility within the Federal Bureau of Investigation, cast a shadow over the first two years of the Trump presidency and cost millions of dollars for investigations and lawsuits, only to eventually be mostly discredited. One reason was where much of the dossier’s information came from—anything but Kremlin insiders.

    Instead, a Wall Street Journal review found, many of the dossier’s key details originated with a few people gossiping after they had been brought together over a minor corporate publicity contract.

    Goodness knows I'm no Trump fan, but the people pushing the Steele dossier owe him and the nation an abject apology.

    In the alternate universe where the dossier never existed, is there a chance that Trump would have been less paranoid and crazy? Well, probably not. But…


  • "Muddling through" has always worked in the past. Kevin D. Williamson writes on America’s Unwarranted Pessimism.

    Trolling is no way to conduct a foreign policy, but President Joe Biden might consider channeling just a little bit of the prankish spirit of his predecessor by offering to send Beijing 1 billion doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines as a goodwill gesture.

    If Beijing accepts, then Washington enjoys a major diplomatic triumph and the opportunity to do something good at a minor expense for people who desperately need it. If Beijing refuses out of pride and spleen — which is a near certainty — then Washington enjoys a minor diplomatic triumph at no expense at all and Beijing deepens the trouble it is facing vis-à-vis the restive urban elites of Shanghai and Beijing.

    Under the increasingly personalized rule of Xi Jinping, things are grim in China right now — very.

    In Shanghai, which has been under a brutal lockdown for weeks, residents including nonagenarians and centenarians have been rounded up and incarcerated in quarantine facilities after testing positive for Covid-19. Drones circle overhead with loudspeakers blaring the message that the Chinese people must “suppress your soul’s desire for freedom.” Shanghai is not enjoying this. The Economist reports that a local rapper called Astro has had an underground hit with an angry anthem denouncing the “White Guards,” as the hazmat-suit-clad enforcers of public health have been nicknamed in an echo of the Cultural Revolution.

    In comparison with China, we have it pretty good.


  • But some look at China, and wonder "why can't we do that?" Specifically, according to Toby Green: Bill Gates wants to build a dystopia.

    His model for the future is built on what he feels has worked over the past two years: isolate contacts, close borders, lockdown as quickly as possible, then remove restrictions slowly and cautiously. He cites Dr Anthony Fauci, who Gates says he spoke to once a month during the pandemic: “Not only should you appear to overreact at first, as Tony Fauci said, but you also have to be careful about relaxing all NPIs [non-pharmaceutical interventions] too soon.” Meanwhile, you should invest enormous sums in boosting global public health systems, vaccine production in poor and rich countries, and fund a Global Pandemic Emergency Response Unit to monitor potential outbreaks. The aim, says Gates, is to vaccinate the entire world — twice if necessary — within six months while lockdown measures restrict the spread of the new pathogen.

    It all sounds so reasonable, doesn’t it? Or it might do to those who haven’t seen the footage of Shanghai’s lockdown circulating on social media, to those who can work online in relative comfort, or indeed to billionaires with comfortable gardens and libraries in which to while away those six months. With the Gates model, a little translation is in order.

    Great. I'm sure a guy whose company can't even come up with accurate progress meters in Windows is just right for designing a pandemic response.


  • Did Trump invent awful Republican primaries? Fortunately, Chris Stirewalt has an answer to that burning query: Trump Did Not Invent Awful Republican Primaries.

    To read the coverage of the still-young midterm primary season on the Republican side is to read of royalty. Former President Donald Trump is “the Republican Party kingmaker” whose “endorsement is worth its weight in political gold” and who has “enduring power.”

    Kingmaker Midas Trump’s enduring power, we are told, is the “cause of [the] unrelenting nastiness” between candidates and that even when the former president isn’t involved, the races “are mostly about Trump anyway.”

    We are here reminded of one of the key rules of politics in the past seven years: The only reliable point of agreement between Trump, the political press, and Democrats is that Trump should always be the focus of the discussion. It needn’t be explained why a man who refers to himself in the third person would want it that way. But less obvious is why Democrats believe, often wrongly, that this works in their favor with voters. News organizations believe, often rightly, that Trump will drive traffic.

    I've seen ads for "smart" TVs. A really smart TV would trim down nightly network news programs by eliminating:

    • partisan soundbites delivered by scripted talking heads;
    • emotional heart-tugging;
    • lurid crimes;
    • etc.

URLs du Jour

2022-05-09

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  • That's … not a hard choice. Andrew Stuttaford looks at investment options: ESG or Consumer Welfare? Choose One.

    We’ve been hearing for a while that, under its “progressive” chairwoman, Lina Khan, the FTC’s enforcement activities are being ratcheted up. The agency has Big Tech and any other “big” that, uh, big government reckons is too big for “our” own good in its sights. That this is bad news for the economy, the consumer, and, at a time when technological supremacy will be vital in seeing off China’s challenge, for the nation’s security, doesn’t seem to bother the central planners now running competition policy. Dogma trumps prosperity. Theology trumps geopolitical reality.

    Writing for the Wall Street Journal in July, Robert H. Bork Jr. noted how Khan’s FTC and the administration, more generally, was

    executing a campaign to undo the consumer-welfare standard and replace it with a full-on effort to regulate pharmaceuticals, healthcare, agriculture, telecom, technology and manufacturing. Through a “sweeping” executive order signed Friday, Mr. Biden aims to empower the alphabet of federal agencies to use their authority to second-guess and undo business decisions that could “harm competition.” Should these agencies falter, the new White House Competition Council and Ms. Khan will be there to remind them who is boss.

    Got me wondering where my money was invested. Fidelity has a vanilla page explaining ESG: Investing based on your principles. Unfortunately, it's all aimed at trendy leftist goals. E.g., "addressing wealth inequality."

    Actually, my investment goals include increasing wealth inequality. Specifically, mine.

    I wouldn't mind a mutual fund that excluded companies that were corporate welfare queens or have a history of kowtowing to China. But apparently nobody's had the bright idea of setting one up. Fidelity's own ESG offerings seem to lean heavily on the "sustainability" buzzword, but there's also the "Fidelity Women's Leadership Fund" and the "Fidelity Select Environment & Alternative Energy Portfolio".

    Diving down into my own portfolio, I don't seem to be invested in any of them. Whew!


  • It's not obvious, Sam. Jacob Sullum looks at the leaked Alito opinion overturning Roe, and finds one dubious aspect: Samuel Alito Thinks It's Obviously Absurd To Suggest That Drug Prohibition Violates the Constitution.

    Justice Samuel Alito's draft majority opinion overturning the Supreme Court's abortion precedents touches on drug legalization in a way that raises interesting issues regarding the government's authority to forbid the consumption of certain intoxicants. "Attempts to justify abortion through appeals to a broader right to autonomy and to define one's 'concept of existence' prove too much," Alito writes. "Those criteria, at a high level of generality, could license fundamental rights to illicit drug use, prostitution, and the like. None of these rights has any claim to being deeply rooted in history."

    I am not so sure about that. It is true that courts have not been receptive to the argument that drug prohibition inherently violates fundamental rights. But if the test for whether a right is "deeply rooted in history" hinges largely on whether Americans were long accustomed to exercising it without government interference, the freedom to consume intoxicants seems like a more plausible candidate than the right to abortion. If Alito delved into the history of drug legislation, he would discover a long tradition of pharmacological freedom. And even if that record does not impress him, he should recognize that the federal government's authority to ban drugs is based on the sort of implausible, ahistorical constitutional interpretation that he condemns in the context of abortion.

    Jacob dives deeply into the (pretty obvious) historical parallels that Alito skimmed over.


  • Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son. Jerry Coyne notes a magazine that's hitting the gas pedal on one of Dean Wormer's criteria: Time Magazine goes full stupid: “free speech has become an obsession of the mostly white, male members of the tech elite”. He provides a detailed takedown of Charlotte Alter's op-ed, headlined Elon Musk and the Tech Bro Obsession With 'Free Speech'. Coyne notes Alter has brewed a toxic combination of older anti-free speech arguments:

    But now, according to Time Magazine, we have yet another reason to ban free speech: it’s a tool of white technocratic males (Musk, Zuckerberg) who are insensitive to the “nuances” of free speech and are pushing it so they can use their platforms to broadcast disinformation and suppress minorities.

    This is a new combination of the “hate speech” and “disinformation” arguments, but with opprobrium towards white males tacked on.  But this argument fares no better than the previous ones. Sure, any commercial platform need not abide by the First Amendment, which is about the government censoring speech, but I am pretty much a free speech hard-liner, and think that the courts’ interpretation of the First Amendment (and its exceptions) should hold pretty much everywhere, including colleges and social media.

    Coyne quotes Alter extensively, and rebuts extensively.

    Pun Salad previously recommended Jazz Shaw's criticism of the Time column here.


  • Also stuck on stupid. Mike Masnick is amazed that the New Yorker’s Famed Fact Checking Crew Apparently Unaware Of The 1st Amendment?.

    The New Yorker magazine is famous for its fact checking effort. Indeed, the New Yorker itself has written multiple pieces about how ridiculously far its fact checking team will go. And when people want to present the quintessential example of how “fact checking” should work, they often point to The New Yorker. Of course, I don’t doubt that the magazine does more of a form of fact checking than most any other publication out there, but that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily that good at it. Remember, it once published an article that heavily implied that a game I helped create to better understand the role of technology in elections, was actually created by a billionaire nonsense peddler to relive the glory of influencing elections.

    Anyway, recently, the New Yorker had a provocatively titled article, How Congress Can Prevent Elon Musk from Turning Twitter Back into an Unfettered Disinformation Machine, by John Cassidy. I clicked with interest, because while I don’t want Twitter to turn into an “unfettered disinformation machine,” I even more strongly don’t want Congress determining what speech is allowed on any website — and I’m pretty sure that the 1st Amendment means that Congress can’t prevent Musk from turning Twitter back into an unfettered disinformation machine. If he wants to, he absolutely can. And there’s nothing Congress can or should do about it, because if it can, then it can also do that for any other media organization, and we have the 1st Amendment to stop that.

    Bizarrely, Cassidy’s article doesn’t even mention the 1st Amendment. Instead, it points to the (already extremely problematic) Digital Services Act in the EU, which is taking a very paternalistic approach to content moderation and internet website regulation. It is a sweepingly different approach, enabling governments to demand the removal of content.

    I fail to understand why journalists (specifically, Alter and Cassidy) don't understand why their arguments for "regulating" free speech won't come back to bite them in the ass when the censors deploy those same arguments against a free press.


  • But for real stupidity… Good old WIRED comes through, with a contribution from Brandy Schillace: Science Is Redefining Motherhood. If Only Society Would Let It.

    Subhed: "It's time to decouple maternity from womanhood. Recent advances in fertility science are helping pave the way toward inclusivity."

    Karl, a PhD and lecturer at MIT, gave birth to both of his children—and despite being the one with the baby bump, he was routinely asked to wait outside while the nurses attended to his (not pregnant) wife. People were unable, he says, to see both a man and a pregnant body; as a result, Karl became a “fat man” rather than a pregnant person. Despite being assigned female at birth (AFAB) and possessing a uterus and glands for lactating, Karl was not—in the eyes of even the medical staff—the mother. Karl considered himself a PaPa; other transgender parents choose more androgynous terms, largely because of the way motherhood has been construed. At best, says Karl, unconventional pregnant parents cause “total gender confusion” even among medical practitioners, but at worst it results in trauma, violence, and harm, in trans men failing to get emergency care during miscarriages, in trans women being treated as pedophiles, and in nonbinary identities being entirely erased.

    And yet woman and mother are not, nor have they ever been, synonymous. In fact, neither term has any objective reality at all.

    "Science", of course, is not "redefining motherhood".

    Transgenderism ideologues are trying to redefine motherhood. And denying that "woman" and "mother" have "any objective reality at all" is part of that.

    From Brandy Shillace's "about" page:

    I always liked the line by Walt Whitman: I contain multitudes. Each of us are completely unique sets of data and DNA, blood and bones, bits and pieces of ancient stardust (and some microplastics). We don’t just have fingerprints. We are fingerprints — completely unique phenomenon in the universe, never before and never to be again. I am a truck, a train, a bulldog in a wind-tunnel; I’m also autistic. I live in the middle spaces where the contradictions are, containing bits of astral matter, aspects of both genders and possibly some dragons and vampires. I do history the way most people climb mountains–I get my hands dirty–I end up in catacombs, archives, basements. As you can imagine, this sort of thing doesn’t fit in a box very well. Then again, life is more interesting at the intersections.

    A person who claims to contain "possibly some dragons and vampires" maybe shouldn't be lecturing the rest of us on "objective reality".

URLs du Jour

2022-05-08

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • Just belaboring the obvious here. Eric Boehm does the fact checking that (as near as I can tell) PolitiFact won't: Biden Brags About Falling Deficits, but the Federal Fiscal Situation Is Still 'Unsustainable'.

    America faces an "unsustainable" fiscal situation as the national debt grows steadily larger, entitlement programs find themselves on increasingly shaky footing, and rising interest rates compound the costs of decades of overspending.

    That's the ugly three-part warning issued this week by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in an annual report on the nation's fiscal health—or, in this case, the lack thereof. "The federal government faces an unsustainable fiscal future," the GAO concludes, with the national debt already nearing historical highs and forecast to grow at an accelerating pace unless major changes to current policy are made.

    So how dishonest is Biden?

    [The GAO report's] 30-year projections showing growing deficits and unsustainable levels of debt stand in stark contrast to the Biden administration's latest—and incredibly short-sighted—approach to budgeting. The budget deficit, Biden claimed this week, has "gone down both years since I've been here. Period. They're the facts."

    The new GAO report includes a chart that helpfully illustrates Biden's myopia. The president is looking at only three years of deficits—the years I've highlighted in the chart below—while ignoring the rest of the picture.

    And the Boehm-highlighted chart:

    [GAO Chart says we in a heapa trouble]

    I've made Darrell Huff's 1954 classic How to Lie With Statistics the Amazon Product du Jour. But a much longer book title would be more appropriate for Biden: How to Lie and Get Away With It, Because the Press is Too Lazy and Docile to Point It Out.


  • For example… The local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat, ignored Biden's dishonesty. But they did have room to cover a Thursday kerfuffle in their Saturday online edition, and the headline is pretty aghast: ‘Murderer’: Rochester rep. screams at abortion rights protesters.

    State Rep. Susan De-Lemus, R-Rochester, was filmed screaming from the steps of the New Hampshire Statehouse Thursday, calling pro-abortion rights demonstrators “murderers,” as well as herself.

    […]

    Protesters were heard shouting “shame on you” right before DeLemus was seen pointing at protesters screaming “Shame on you, shame on all of you. Shame on you, killing babies.” It then escalated to her pointing at the crowd, repeatedly screaming “You’re a murderer!”

    So DeLemus was one person screaming, while the protesters were "shouting".

    And the headline is all about the screams.

    Yeah, that seems fair and balanced.

    The article avoids mentioning the source of the "filmed" video. Newsweek is a little more forthcoming: "The clip of DeLemus was posted on Twitter by Colin Booth, the Legislative Communications Director for the New Hampshire Democratic Party."

    Notice (by the way) that I said "the local paper" instead of the usual "my local paper". That's because I'm not renewing my subscription to this hopelessly partisan rag when it runs out in a few weeks.


  • Good advice for politicians, which they will not take. David Henderson says Don’t Just Stand There: Undo Something.

    “Something must be done. This is something. Therefore we must do it.” Those are my favorite three lines from Yes, Prime Minister, a British comedy series about politics. Most politicians who face a problem think that “something must be done.” Unfortunately, they tend to reach the same conclusion that the adviser reached in the Yes, Prime Minister episode.

    But in the US economy, in which governments at all three levels tax, spend, and regulate as much as they do, there’s another way to confront problems that does not involving taxing, spending, and regulating more. That way is to reduce taxes, spending, and regulation. In short, some things must be undone.

    There’s a long list of things that should be undone and that would help ameliorate, rather than exacerbate, some of the problems we face. I’ll settle for five: regulations on home food production, the Jones Act, protectionist trade policies, restrictive immigration policies, and occupational licensing. In each case, I’ll show a particular problem that undoing these policies would ameliorate.

    Check it out.


  • Use your words, Vlad. Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. asks and (maybe) answers: How Does Russia Lose in Ukraine? Putin May Tell Us Monday.

    Only one of Vladimir Putin’s bets is paying off: His oil and gas revenues are still intact and even benefiting from higher prices.

    His most characteristic miscalculation, after witnessing Ukrainians mobilizing by the hundreds of thousands in 2004 and again in 2013-14 to protect their country against political dominance by Russia, was to believe they wouldn’t defend it militarily. He told himself these earlier demonstrations weren’t real, they were foreign-organized and -financed, just as he tells himself the same about protests in Russia.

    It’s worth pausing to note how thoroughly nothing is turning out the way he planned. Tens of thousands of dead, whole cities reduced to rubble, horrific war crimes, the Russian economy in tatters, now a burgeoning series of direct attacks by Ukraine air power on Russian soil. Thousands of military-age Russians are reported to be fleeing the country to avoid becoming fodder in his military debacle.

    But his "Victory Day" speech is coming up tomorrow, and Jenkins wonders if he'll take the opportunity to turn the narrative from Russia-vs-Ukraine into Russia-vs-NATO. It's a lot less embarrassing if you're getting beaten by NATO, right?

    And maybe more dangerous.


  • The lignt dawns! Slashdot is finally catching on, its headline wondering: Is Plastic Recycling a Myth?.

    Last week California's Attorney General accused the fossil fuel/petrochemical industries of "perpetuating a myth that recycling can solve the plastics crisis," Reuters reports, and even launched an investigation into their role in "causing and exacerbating the global plastics pollution crisis."

    And meanwhile, "The rate of plastic waste recycling in the United States fell to between 5%-6% in 2021, as some countries stopped accepting U.S. waste exports and as plastic waste generation surged to new highs, according to a report released on Wednesday."

    The report by environmental groups Last Beach Clean Up and Beyond Plastics shows the recycling rate has dropped from 8.7% in 2018, the last time the Environmental Protection Agency published recycling figures. The decline coincides with a sharp drop in plastic waste exports, which had counted as recycled plastic.... "The U.S. must take responsibility for managing its own plastic waste," said the report, which used 2018 EPA, 2021 export and recent industry data to estimate the 2021 recycling rate.....

    "Recycling does not work, it never will work, and no amount of false advertising will change that," said report author Judith Enck [a former regional administrator at America's Environmental Protection Agency].

    Dude. Of course recycling doesn't work.

    Your only mistake is trying to paint it as some sort of Massive Corporate Conspiracy of which we've only just now become aware.

    The Cato Institute is widely smeared as a corporate stooge, in thrall to big money donors. The Kochtopus in action! Yet, here's Doug Bandow on their website: Our Widespread Faith In Recycling Is Misplaced.

    The Earth. It’s hard not to like it. Many people adore it. Indeed, there has long been a strand of environmentalism that treats nature as divine. So‐called Deep Ecologists, for instance, term their “eco‐terrorist” attacks acts of worship to the planet. Few Americans would go so far, of course, but many of them worship in their own way. They recycle.

    A decade ago a wandering garbage barge set off a political crisis: Where will we put our trash? The media inflamed people’s fears of mounting piles of garbage. A variety of interest groups — particularly “public relations consultants, environmental organizations, waste‐handling corporations,” according to journalist John Tierney — lobbied to line their pockets. Politicians seeking to win votes enacted a spate of laws and regulations to encourage and often mandate recycling.

    But while politics did help create an industry, it did not generate the moral fervor behind it. Many people see recycling as their way to help preserve the planet. For some, it may be the environmental equivalent of serving time in Purgatory, attempting to atone for the materialist excesses of a consumer society. It allows one to feel good about oneself even while enjoying every modern convenience.

    The date of that article: 1997.

    And the John Tierney article mentioned: Recycling Is Garbage. From 1996. Widely deplored at the time. How dare he!

    Dear Slashdot (and Rob Bonta, California's Attorney General): Welcome to the party. But please display a little humility for coming to the party over a quarter-century too late.


Last Modified 2022-05-11 7:11 AM EDT

URLs du Jour

2022-05-07

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • Betteridge's Law of Headlines applies. More than usual, in fact, to Jacob Sullum's Reason article: Do Americans Who Support Roe v. Wade Understand Its Implications?. He discusses polls on abortion, and how much question-wording can affect the results:

    Gallup and other polling organizations have asked more pertinent questions, and the results do indicate that most Americans support Roe. But polling anomalies suggest that some of the people who take that position do not fully understand what it entails. And as critics of Roe would be quick to point out, constitutional adjudication is not a popularity contest, which makes the relevance of polling data questionable.

    With that caveat in mind, what do recent surveys tell us about the popularity of the Court's impending decision? A Fox News poll of registered voters conducted on Monday, before Politico published a leaked draft of a Supreme Court majority opinion that suggests Roe is doomed, asked, "Do you think the Supreme Court should overturn Roe v. Wade or let it stand?" Only 27 percent of respondents said the Court should overturn Roe, while 63 percent said it should not and 10 percent declined to take a position.

    At the same time, however, 54 percent of respondents thought their own states should pass "a law banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy." That is precisely the sort of law at issue in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, the case that the Court is expected to decide next month. Dobbs involves a Mississippi law that generally prohibits abortion after 15 weeks, which is plainly inconsistent with the Court's abortion precedents.

    Notwithstanding my own position, Roe was so screwed up and shoddy that judicial tinkering will not fix it.


  • Never bought into that myth mythelf. And neither should anyone else have done so, according to David Harsanyi: The Myth of Biden the Uniter.

    When the president was asked yesterday about the Roe v. Wade leak, he ranted about how the “MAGA crowd” was “really the most extreme political organization that’s existed in American history.”

    First of all, does any sentient human really believe that conservatives took up pro-life cause — one that Biden himself championed in the past — in 2015? Candidate Trump had to do a lot of work to allay social-conservative fears over his inconsistent position. This was the entire impetus for releasing a list of potential SCOTUS nominees.

    Anyway, Biden, a unifer at heart, noted many in media, had largely avoided such charged rhetoric. This, too, is a myth. It’s Biden who recently said that chasing moderate legislators into bathrooms to pressure them into supporting his agenda was just “part of the process.” It’s Biden who said that supporters of voter-ID laws are backing “21st-century Jim Crow.” He’s the one who calls Republicans “authoritarian” and claimed that we’re “facing the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War. That’s not hyperbole, since the Civil War.” It is hyperbole. It is hyperbole most of the time.

    Also appearing: Biden's "gonna put you back in chains" assertion about (remember?) Mitt Romney.


  • Anyone out there need a reminder? Here's one anyway, from Brian Riedl: Canceling Student Loan Debt Is a Terrible Idea. He lists seven reasons, and here's one:

    The student loan “crisis” is primarily a manifestation of the progressive bubble—young, urban, college-educated professionals who are dealing with the high cost of rent, child care, and student loans. This includes the legislative and campaign staff of progressive politicians (and sometimes the politicians themselves!), who surely see their own self-interest in framing their personal finances as a crisis. Outside this bubble, student loan repayments are most often a manageable annoyance.

    According to education expert Beth Akers, two-thirds of millennials carry no student debt because they did not attend college or were able to avoid loans. Of those who did borrow, the typical student graduates with a $30,000 student loan for a bachelor’s degree that will raise average lifetime incomes anywhere from $1 million to $2.8 million (although these returns vary widely with the major). This is an enormous return on investment. This $30,000 loan with a 4 percent interest rate would require monthly payments of $182 for 20 years, or approximately 4 percent of the typical earnings. Only 6 percent of student borrowers take out more than $100,000 in loans, and they are heavily concentrated in law school and medical school. In fact, 40 percent of all student debt was borrowed for graduate and professional programs, which represent investments in even higher lifetime incomes.

    Need more? Click through: it's also (2) very expensive; (3) redistributes income upward; (4) unjust; (5) probably inflationary; (6) likely illegal; and (7) ignores borrowers' other options.


  • Sit down, students! Class has not been dismissed yet. John Tierney says (correctly, and probably futilely) that We still need to learn the right lessons from America's disastrous COVID response.

    More than a century ago, Mark Twain identified two fundamental problems that would prove relevant to the COVID pandemic. “How easy it is to make people believe a lie,” he wrote, “and how hard it is to undo that work again!”

    No convincing evidence existed at the pandemic’s start that lockdowns, school closures and mask mandates would protect people against the virus, but it was remarkably easy to make the public believe these policies were “the science.”

    Undoing this deception is essential to avoid further hardship and future fiascos, but it will be exceptionally hard to do. The problem is that so many people want to keep believing the falsehood.

    Adults meekly surrendered their most basic liberties, cheered on leaders who devastated the economy and imposed two years of cruel and unnecessary deprivations on their children. They don’t want to admit these sacrifices were in vain.

    Let me swipe this bit of Simpsons dialogue. A bear was spotted in Springfield, causing a "Bear Patrol" to be created, and…

    Homer: Not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol must be working like a charm.
    Lisa: That’s specious reasoning, Dad.
    Homer: Thank you, dear.
    Lisa: By your logic I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away.
    Homer: Oh, how does it work?
    Lisa: It doesn’t work.
    Homer: Uh-huh.
    Lisa: It’s just a stupid rock.
    Homer: Uh-huh.
    Lisa: But I don’t see any tigers around, do you?
    [Homer thinks of this, then pulls out some money]
    Homer: Lisa, I want to buy your rock.
    [Lisa refuses at first, then takes the exchange]

    Except to make it really appropriate:

    Lisa: And people are actually being mauled by bears anyway!
    Homer: Just think how much worse it would have been if not for the Bear Patrol!

URLs du Jour

2022-05-06

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • "Joe Biden" and "phony" go together like chicken and waffles. Eric Boehm seems pretty steamed about Joe Biden's Phony Fiscal Responsibility.

    The national debt is at an all-time high and this year's budget deficit is forecasted to be the third or fourth-largest in American history—but President Joe Biden claims these are signs that his administration is overseeing a period of fiscal austerity.

    Really! Here are some words that actually tumbled out of the president's mouth at a press conference on Wednesday morning: "We're on track to cut the federal deficit by another $1.5 trillion by the end of this fiscal year. The biggest decline ever in a single year, ever, in American history."

    "And the biggest decline on top of us having a $350 billion drop in the deficit last year, my first year as president," Biden continued. "The bottom line is that the deficit went up every year under my predecessor—before the pandemic and during the pandemic—and it's gone down both years since I've been here. Period. They're the facts."

    Those facts, however, exclude a few key details. Like the fact that Biden took office the year after the budget deficit hit previously unimaginable highs due to a completely unprecedented spending binge triggered by a once-in-a-generation public health disaster.

    Where's the Disinformation Governance Board when you need it?


  • Also: cowards on spending, entitlements, trade… David Harsanyi has a plea: Republicans, Stop Being Cowards on Abortion.

    Chuck Schumer will hold a vote on a bill codifying abortion’s legality so that voters, he contends, can “see where every senator stands.” Though the Senate leader believes this is a political slam dunk for Democrats, it presents a magnificent opportunity for Republicans to make their case.

    Though many conservatives have rightly avoided prematurely celebrating Sam Alito’s draft decision, many also seem frightened of debating the underlying issue. Indeed, the draft leak is a significant assault on the system, but no more so than Roe. For 50 years, our culture and media have treated this flawed decision as right and rite.

    Surely most of the public isn’t aware of the maximalist position staked out by the establishment Left. Republicans should take the opportunity to point out that even if they were moderately pro-choice, they couldn’t possibly support Schumer’s barbaric bill, which legalizes abortion for any reason on demand until the moment of birth. They should follow that up by noting that Democrats, including the president, also want taxpayers to foot the bill for abortions, including the late-term variety.

    Both of my state's senators have said they're voting for the Schumer bill, and my CongressCritter has also expressed support. They deserve questions, and Harsany suggests a few:

    “Why do you believe it’s okay for abortion factories to target minority communities? Do you share Margret Sanger’s racist position on black children? Are you okay with sex-selective abortions? If not, why not? Are you okay with abortionists eradicating people with non-life-threatening fetal abnormalities such as Down syndrome for the convenience of the customers — and it should be stressed, it most cases this means the father as well as mother – a policy that is properly called eugenics?”

    Or, to use the KDW formulation: "If you think it's wrong to kill children after they've been born, why are you OK with killing children before they've been born?"


  • Do you actually use WD-40 on chains? Never mind. Veronique de Rugy strains the chain metaphor: Putting Some WD-40 on the Supply Chain. She notes that the supply woes, while not absent, are much improved now; they aren't really the main driver of inflation.

    But you know what would help to alleviate remaining supply bottlenecks?

    For instance, Congress should immediately repeal the 1920 Jones Act, also known as the Merchant Marine Act. Under the Act, all freight moving by water between U.S. ports must be hauled on ships that are built, crewed and flagged only by Americans. These requirements directly raise the costs of shipping freight by water. And by artificially increasing the demand to instead ship by rail and trucks, the Jones Act also increases the cost of hauling freight on land.

    While at it, Congress should reform the Foreign Dredge Act, which requires that dredging barges are Jones Act compliant. This significantly inflates the costs of dredging U.S. ports, preventing expansions that could accommodate more and larger ships.

    The Biden administration must also end former President Donald Trump's punitive tariffs and import quotas. These measures inflate costs and reduce the supplies of goods — including goods that are themselves useful for further easing supply constraints. For example, Section 301 tariffs drastically reduce the supply of truck chassis in the United States, worsening bottlenecks in the surface transportation of other freight.

    And more good ideas at the link.


  • Don't be a cry-baby over hyphens. Stop and smell the wild-flowers. The New Yorker's Mary "Comma Queen" Norris provides guidance: How to Use (or Not Use) a Hyphen.

    The hyphen continues to serve a dual purpose: it both connects and separates. In justified text, it divides into appropriate syllables a word that lands on a line break, a task that machines have not yet mastered; and it is instrumental in the formation of compounds, where it is famously subject to erosion. Yesteryear’s “ball-point pen” became the “ballpoint,” “wild-flowers” evolved into “wildflowers,” and “teen-age” found acceptance as “teenage” in most outlets (but not in this one).

    In modern times, the hyphen has sown controversy. Mahdavi tells the story of how Teddy Roosevelt, in his outrage at losing the Presidency to Woodrow Wilson, in 1912, appealed to Americans’ xenophobia. He was an “anti-hyphenate.” Mahdavi writes, “Referring to the hyphen between the name of an ethnicity and the word ‘American,’ hyphenism and hyphenated Americanism was seen as a potentially fracturing and divisive force in an America on the brink of war.” Irish-Americans, German-Americans, Jewish-Americans, and Chinese-Americans were all suspect. In 1915, Teddy Roosevelt made some remarks that formed “a turning point in how the hyphen became demonized both orthographically and politically.” He said, “The man who calls himself an American citizen and who yet shows by his actions that he is primarily the citizen of a foreign land, plays a thoroughly mischievous part in the life of our body politic.” (Victims of anti-hyphenism might be gratified to know that during the pandemic the equestrian statue of Teddy Roosevelt was removed from in front of the Museum of Natural History.)

    I fought a losing battle for a few years at the University Near Here to use "e-mail" instead of "email". I felt betrayed by computer science hero Don Knuth's manifesto: Email (let's drop the hyphen).

    You can tell when I finally gave up. A yearly count of Pun Salad occurrences of "email" vs "e-mail" (not including this post, and note that the counts include quoted material):

    Yeare-mailemail
    200590
    2006152
    2007296
    20082016
    2009136
    201097
    201197
    201241
    201310
    201492
    2015156
    201637
    2017433
    2018824
    2019615
    2020729
    2021330
    2022211

    Yep, 2016.

    Ah, but the New Yorker is still holding out:

    [New Yorker holds out]

Light Perpetual

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

I picked up this book from Portsmouth Public Library due to a rave from Pun Salad fave Alan Jacobs. It's good! Although not my usual fare.

It springs from an actual, horrific, historical event: the V2 bombing of November 25, 1944 which destroyed a Woolworths in southeast London, along with everyone inside at the time. A total of 168 people were killed, including 5 children: Alec, Ben, Jo, Val, and Vern. The author, Francis Spufford, builds his novel in the alternate universe where, for whatever reason, the V2 was diverted or delayed, and those kids lived on. What happened?

A lot, as it turns out. We check in with the characters in 1949, 1964, 1979, 1994, and 2009; their lives are full of twists and surprises. Alec turns into a bit of a sassy weisenheimer in grade school, moves on to get a union job as a linotype operator at the Times, an unfortunately doomed profession. (I note my spell-checker no longer recognizes "linotype" as a word.) Ben develops a crippling mental illness, but then… Jo's musical talent takes her to sunny California for a bit, while sister Val makes an unfortunate life choice in marrying an actual skinhead Nazi. And opera-loving Vern has dreams of becoming a real estate mogul, and if he has to scam a soccer star in the process, well….

Francis Spufford's prose is (at times) beautifully ornate, deserving of slow and thoughtful reading. And a lot of Britishisms, many of which I got, others… oh, well. All main characters are drawn with complexity and sympathy.

Nine Nasty Words

English in the Gutter: Then, Now, and Forever

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

I really enjoyed reading John McWhorter's Woke Racism last month. So I decided to give this book a try. It's on a totally different topic, but equally in McWhorter's wheelhouse as a linguistics professor at Columbia.

What are the nine nasty words? Well, some of them I'm OK with typing, others not. (Caveat lector, McWhorter spells them all out.)

1. damn;

2. hell;

3. the F-word;

4. shit;

5. ass;

6. dick (and the female equivalent);

7. the N-word;

8. the other F-word (and the female equivalent);

9. bitch.

I think that's (more or less) right; the book mentions many more profanities. Like a good linguistic scholar, McWhorter describes their possible/probable origins, their use in literature, pop culture, even legal filings. (Babe Ruth's dad makes an appearance right at the beginning.) There's fascinating detective work on how the words moved in and out of "respectable" discourse. There are all sorts of citations, many drawn from McWhorter's own "lived experience". (He hung out with some pretty salty folks.) The oeuvre of "dirty blues" singer Lucille Bogan turns out to be a rich source of smut. The rationale of ending the N-word with "-er" vs. "-a" turns out to be surprisingly nuanced. When was bitch first spoken in a movie? The answer may shock you!

Something of which I was unaware: out on the Left Coast, the phrase "flip a bitch" is used to describe making an illegal U-turn. McWhorter notes how odd and wonderful this is:

A word Iron Age Europeans used to refer to female dogs is now used on the other side of the other side of the world in California to refer to making illegal U-turns.

And, reader, there is page after page of this stuff. Above all, the book communicates McWhorter's enthusiasm and joy in accumulating facts, establishing lexicographic histories and relationships, and telling great stories. It's a word guy's version of what Feynman called "the pleasure of finding things out."


Last Modified 2022-05-05 2:44 PM EDT

URLs du Jour

2022-05-05

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • Call it a public health menace, and you can ban it, Joe. Jacob Sullum takes on the DGB: The Biden Administration Sees Free Speech As a Public Menace.

    In a February 7 National Terrorism Advisory System bulletin, DHS identified "the proliferation of false or misleading narratives" that "sow discord or undermine public trust in U.S. government institutions" as one of three "key factors contributing to the current heightened threat environment." Those narratives, it said, included claims about election fraud and COVID-19, which fed "grievances" that "inspired violent extremist attacks during 2021."

    That view of controversial speech is consistent with the Biden administration's attitude toward COVID-19 "misinformation," which it has urged social media platforms to suppress. Given the power that the executive branch wields over those companies, such pressure can easily lead to censorship by proxy.

    The problem is compounded by the difficulty of defining "misinformation." Surgeon General Vivek Murthy says it includes statements that are "misleading" even if they are arguably or indisputably true. Murthy's definition hinges on the government's assessment of "the best available evidence," which "can change over time."

    According to the "best available evidence", Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia.


  • Good question. Andrew C. McCarthy has one for Wheezy Joe: Mr. President, Do You Favor Third-Trimester Abortions?

    Predictably, President Biden has had nothing meaningful to say about the outrageous, criminal leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion, but he has been quick to demagogue the justices in the putative Court majority for overturning Roe and Casey, as well as Republicans and abortion opponents. What’s at stake, the president says, is “about a lot more than abortion,” and he warned that “this MAGA crowd is really the most extreme political organization in recent American history.”

    Putting aside that widespread, vibrant opposition to the taking of unborn life long predates the political emergence of Donald Trump and his “make America great again” movement (on that score, see Xan’s excellent analysis of “What Americans Really Think about Abortion”), the actual extremists when it comes to abortion are Democrats, very much including Joe Biden — ostensibly, a practicing Catholic — and one who once supported a constitutional amendment to empower states to overturn Roe.

    As Matt Welch pointed out back in 2019, Biden is a rusty weathervane. He meant it as sort of a compliment, but we're seeing the downside. When his party is marching off to the left, he meekly follows along, creaking.


  • People who can't do science do science journalism. James Freeman offers something to consider Before You Cancel Your Subscription to Science Magazine.

    It's about (Pun Salad fave) Steven Pinker's response to a donation request from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), publishers of that mag. Negatory, Pinker said. He argues (convincingly) that AAAS's strident leftism harms the effort to inform the public of accurate scientific fact. He offers examples, and here's one:

    Science magazine appears to have adopted wokeism as its official editorial policy and the only kind of opinion that may be expressed in the magazine. An example is the recent special section on the underrepresentation of African Americans among physics majors, graduate students, and faculty members. This situation is lamentable and worthy of understanding. But the six articles in the issue assume as dogma that the underrepresentation is caused by “white privilege”: that “the dominant culture has discouraged diversity,” and “white people use their membership in a dominant group to assert political, cultural, and economic power over those outside that group.” Though Science is ordinarily committed to open debate on scientific controversies, no disagreements with this conspiracy theory were expressed. And though the journal is supposedly committed to empirical tests, no data were presented that might speak to alternative explanations, such as that the cause of the under-representation lies in the pipeline of prepared and interested students. If we want to increase the number of African Americans in physics, it matters a great deal whether we should try to fix the nation’s high schools or accuse physics professors of white supremacy. Yet Science magazine has decided, without debate or data, to advocate the latter.

    In addition to Pinker's complete response, The link (to Jerry Coyne's website, Why Evolution is True) also contains the text of the AAAS solicitation letter, and a curt response from Holden Thorp, an AAAS journal editor.

    So (back to the Freeman article) why wait to cancel your Science subscription? Because they recently published an article "acknowledging something that passionate global warmists on the left would prefer that it didn’t": Use of ‘too hot’ climate models exaggerates impacts of global warming.


  • Yeah, I'm one of those freeze peach people too. Astral Codex Ten moves in rarefied circles, and reports back to us normies back east: Every Bay Area House Party.

    “So what do you do?”

    “Nothing. I got fired a few weeks ago.”

    “Oh, I’m sorry.”

    “No, it’s fine. You know what they say. People are like clay pots - getting fired just makes them stronger.”

    “I never heard anyone say that.”

    “No, really, it’s fine. I’m not even bitter. Just - five years working on the Trust And Safety team at Twitter, and Musk comes in and fires me just like that.”

    “Oh, you were involved in that!”

    “Yeah - are you smirking? You’re not one of those freeze peach people, are you?”

    “I guess sort of . . . “

    “Whatever, I know everyone hates us. But let me tell you, it’s not all just banning any conservative who gets too popular, or burying stories that embarrass the establishment candidate a week before an election. We did good, important work.”

    “Like what?”

    “Like - have you heard of the Temple of Artemis? One of the Seven Wonders of the World. Burned down not by a Christian or a Muslim, but by a random Greek guy who wanted his name to be remembered by history, and figured that burning the most beautiful building in the world would ensure it. The Greeks responded by banning anyone from mentioning or recording his name, but the historian Theopompus wrote it down anyway, and it’s survived to the current day. No, I won’t tell it to you. Anyway, I was going to lead a consortium with the censors at Google, Wikipedia, Facebook, all the big name sites. We were finally going to complete the ancient Greeks’ work. We were going to memory-hole this guy’s name from the Internet. Even the people at Amazon were going to be on board - they would stop selling editions of the Theopompus book that gives his name. And then, finally, the burning of the Artemision would be properly avenged. We were this close! And then some dumb billionaire waltzes in and says ‘muh free speech’ and ruins everything!”

    It's really funny satire, and it's free. Check it out.

URLs du Jour

2022-05-04

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • Well, yeah. Our first item is a total steal from Don Boudreaux's Cafe Hayek Quotation of the Day.... It's from Bryan Caplan's new book, available via the Amazon book cover link at your right.

    Under democracy, politicians are less candid about their motives; they need us to like them, and power-hunger is not likeable. But given its ubiquity throughout most of political history, can we really believe that the motive of power-hunger is no longer paramount? One of my favorite political insiders privately calls politicians of both parties “psychopaths” – and he’s on to something. Rising high on the pyramid of power is hard unless the love of power fuels your ascent.

    The paperback is cheap, and the Kindle version is cheaper. I've bought it.


  • I guess I should say something about the leaked Alito opinion. But I'm not that eloquent, so let's check out what George F. Will has to say: Alito’s argument is less a refutation of Roe than a starting over.

    Conservatives have backed enough lost causes to know one when they see one. Nevertheless, they should encourage Roe’s supporters to engage with Alito’s arguments, which include:

    • That Roe, which effectively overturned all 50 states’ abortion laws, curtailed debates and negotiations about abortion and embittered politics by halting the accommodations that had liberalized abortion laws in about one third of the states before 1973.
    • That an abortion right is not deeply rooted in the nation’s history and traditions.
    • That the court has long recognized that stare decisis — respect for precedent — is “not an inexorable command.”
    • That some of the court’s finest actions have involved reversing precedents, and that absent these reversals this would be a less admirable country.

    Progressives take understandable pride in their long march through many institutions; their efforts have won them substantial power in the media, academia, corporations and popular culture. But the conservative legal movement, too, has made a slow, patient march. It has passed through law schools, courts, journalism and elections featuring promises about the future composition of state and federal judiciaries.

    GFW goes on to observe that even many (most?) pro-abortion legal scholars think that Roe was lousy legal reasoning.


  • A Pun Salad repeat. Abortion is one of those issues where I dissent from my libertarian siblings. I hardly ever do this, but an December 2021 essay from Kevin D. Williamson cemented my thinking pretty firmly: he urged that we Reject Magical Thinking on Abortion.

    To believe the story the abortion-rights advocates tell you, you have to believe in magic.

    There’s no magic required on the pro-life side.

    That’s the real source of our long disagreement.

    In its most basic version, the pro-life position is easy to understand, requiring no special intellectual training, no religious commitment, no mysticism, and nothing you’d really even call a philosophy. What we believe is that you don’t kill children who haven’t been born for the same reason you don’t kill children who have been born. That’s it. There isn’t some magical event that happens at some point during the pregnancy that transforms the unborn child from a meaningless lump of cells to a meaningful lump of cells. Modern, literate people don’t need the medieval doctrines of “quickening” or “ensoulment” (or some half-assed, modern, secular repackaging of those ancient superstitions) to know that the unborn child is an unborn child — we have biology, genetics, and, for those who need to see with their own eyes, imaging technology for that. The human organism that you hold in your arms six months after birth is the same organism it was six months before birth. It isn’t a different organism — it is only a little older. It is true that the child six months after conception isn’t fully developed — and neither is a 19-year-old. We have a natural, predictable, reasonably well-understood process of individual development. There is no magic moment, no mystical transformation, and the people who tell you that there is are peddling superstition and pseudoscience.

    Emphasis added.

    I will go so far as to admit that there are a lot of people that do indeed adhere to "magical thinking". Or prefer not to think at all, disguising their avoidance by dropping into euphemisms like "choice" and "controlling one's body."

    And this is a democracy. Those people vote. So what to do?


  • DGB, KGB, what's one letter between friends? Gerard Baker writes on our new Ministry of Truth: Shut Up, the Disinformation Governance Board Explained.

    It’s always exciting for progressives when they create a new government office of something or other. They live for this: another excuse to spend piles of taxpayer dollars; another polysyllabic title and flashy logo; another opportunity to extend the long, comforting arm of the bureaucracy into the business of ordinary citizens who never knew how impoverished their lives were without it.

    So there was a tangible buzz of excitement around Washington last week when the Department of Homeland Security proudly inaugurated the Disinformation Governance Board.

    Other than its title and the identity of its executive director, there’s not much we know about this exciting-sounding new body. Its job, Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told a congressional committee last week, is to tackle falsehoods that threaten the national security of the U.S. He made it sound over the weekend as though it is all about preventing human traffickers and smugglers from misrepresenting themselves—all harmless enough.

    But we also learned last week that it will be headed by Nina Jankowicz. Her Twitter feed makes her look like a cross between Madame Mao and Bette Midler—a mix of impeccably conformist left-wing views about politics and media misinformation—the Hunter Biden story was Russian disinformation, the Steele Dossier was all true, etc.—with excruciating political parodies of musical-theater numbers. Watching her videos is a little like being an audience member at a Christmas concert in a prisoner-of-war camp.

    That's a free link, allegedly, so check out Mr. Baker.

    Monday's Reason Roundtable podcast made the comparison to the doomed Total Information Awareness program from the Dubya era.


  • That wacky college on the other side of the state. There are plenty of obstacles to hearing conservative speakers at Dartmouth, but the Dartmouth Review reports that other views sail through just fine. On White Identity Politics and Covid: Catherine Clune-Taylor at Dartmouth.

    On Saturday, April 9, the Department of Philosophy hosted a lecture by the Black womxn Catherine Clune-Taylor. Serving as an Assistant Professor of Feminist Science and Technology Studies at San Diego State University, Clune-Taylor holds a PhD in philosophy from Princeton University. Her lecture, titled “Covid-19 Anti-Vaxxers, White Supremacist Suicidality and Racialized Risk,” was given because the department, “as part of… [its] commitment to social justice…is developing a 5-year series of public lectures on Race, Gender and Justice.” Every other word in the talk was indecipherable jargon such as “thanatopolitics,” “hyperheteropatriarchal,” and “virus qua virus,” on top of the typical repertoire of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) puritans like “heteronormative,” “transphobia,” and “BIPOC [black, indigenous, or people of color].” Worse still, Clune-Taylor’s basic ideas were poorly organized and presented, with little effort given to minor details such as coherence or logical presentation. 

    Clune-Taylor’s basic thesis was that vaccine refusal among white Americans is driven by racial resentment against black people. By refusing the vaccine, white people can continue to make themselves sick, and thereby further spread the disease to others, including black people. The cost of sickness is worth the potential “reward” of harming black individuals. Furthermore, according to Clune-Taylor, a huge proportion of white Americans possess this profoundly twisted mindset. Her fantasies concerning the existence of this mindset, its supposed attractiveness to huge numbers of Americans, and how it has shaped American society comprised the rest of the lecture.

    If (say) Ron DeSantis becomes President, I'm sure this will be investigated thoroughly by his Disinformation Governance Board.


  • Let me count the ways. Katherine Mangu-Ward explains Why a Wealth Tax Is a Bad Idea.

    President Joe Biden has long been, in the immortal words of Editor at Large Matt Welch, a rusty weather vane, creaking reluctantly in the direction that the winds of his party blow. With his new budget proposal, the breezes have finally brought us to the shores of a serious wealth tax debate.

    Biden isn't calling his proposal a wealth tax, of course. It's the "Billionaire Minimum Income Tax," and it imposes a minimum 20 percent tax on the income of households with more than—oddly—$100 million in wealth. Biden's proposal is smaller and more pragmatic than the earlier variants from Sens. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.)—par for the course with Biden. Most notable is that even with implausibly optimistic estimates of the federal government's ability to collect, the whole mess is supposed to raise an average of a mere $36 billion per year over the next 10 years.

    KMW points out that Wheezy's efforts aren't about raising revenue; the actual amount of money his proposal would bring in would be a rounding error in comparison to the total government budget. Instead, there are two actual goals:

    1. Red meat thrown to the class warriors: " A floundering, unpopular president seeks to demonstrate a willingness to punish a small, unpopular class of people."
    2. More important, it would establish the notion that Uncle Stupid can tax wealth, creating "the huge bureaucratic, legal, and accounting support systems, public and private, necessary to support the formal tracking of wealth alongside income."

    KMW's final observation:

    […] Sweden has more billionaires per capita than the United States. Perhaps not coincidentally, Sweden is just one of dozens of countries that have tried wealth taxes and abandoned them.


  • I foresee difficulties in selling this idea. Richard Hanania is provocative, indeed. Plutocracy: The Alternative to Caesarism?. But first, his poke at the sacred cow of "democracy":

    To me, there’s nothing inherently ethically superior about a system where you get a 1 out of 200 million voice in who the president is as compared to one where you get 0 in 200 million. The former is close enough to round to zero, and I’m sort of puzzled by those who would pretend there is a great moral question here, even if we ignore the fact that in reality it’s the bureaucratic class – increasingly cross-national and unrepresentative of those they rule over – that runs things in democracies anyway.

    So democracy is bad, and the alternative is probably bad too and unrealistic. But Elon Musk buying Twitter suggests another way.`

    So how about…

    In summary, while reserving the right to elaborate further at some point in the future, I’ll just note that a short case for plutocracy, or rule by the wealthy, can look something like this. The concept of “democracy,” is at best too ill-defined to be a guiding principle for governance, as can be seen by the fact that there are wide disagreements about what the concept even means, with differences between tribes predictably reflecting political divides. We have to make a choice regarding who gets to decide important questions. Caesarism says let one man leading the government do it, but that has well-known problems and is inconsistent with the American political tradition. Plutocracy has the fewest problems, mainly because rich guys are smarter, less neurotic, and have higher testosterone levels than activists and bureaucrats, and they have achieved their success through market processes, which is more indicative of an ability to solve problems than success in academia, government, or activism. Someone who builds rocket ships, or founds PayPal, or gets oil out of the ground is likely to have better ideas on how to run society than someone who has successfully navigated a bureaucracy or whose career has been based on succeeding at “peer review,” or writing words on paper that are approved by other people who have also gotten where they are by writing words on paper that were approved of by others who wrote words on paper, etc. Moreover, unlike Caesars, economic elites can’t start destructive wars on their own. Plutocracy is not a perfect system, but if one rich guy just buying Twitter solves the problem of internet speech against the wishes of nearly the entire bureaucratic class, we will have to consider that a strong argument in its favor.

    Yeah, probably wouldn't work out. But still…

URLs du Jour

2022-05-03

[Superficial Flagellance]

  • Chris Stirewalt is on a roll! Get it? Get it? … Hey, stop moaning. He sees Little Kaisers, Left and Right.

    Two of the most significant points of agreement between the nationalist right and the progressive left these days are that American democracy is at the brink of collapse and, relatedly, that citizens lack access to the reliable information needed to participate in that democracy.

    This is especially bad because while the troubles we’re having with elections and news are real, the efforts by the nationalists and progressives in these areas are very much at the heart of the problem. 

    While I don’t doubt the sincerity of the alarm of most on the left and the right, the appeal of this attitude must include the possibility of obtaining power and exercising it against one’s political enemies. If we could just get control away from the bad people who have power over elections and information now, not only could we throw off their own yoke, we could make sure that the bad people would never pose a threat again.

    No serious radical would ever think of compromise on matters so essential as elections and the flow of information, which is why the actions and strategies by the nationalists and progressives in these areas are far more serious dangers to the constitutional order than any of the threats, real or perceived, they claim to be combatting. 

    But what about the Kaisers? Stirewalt refers to Kaiser Willhelm II whose courtiers (in the words of Barbara Tuchman) "provid[ed] him with his own morning paper in a special imperial edition of one, made up of carefully excerpted items from the world press, printed in gold. Willhelm was interested in gold-plated news only.”

    Nowadays, we can do this on our own. And Stirewalt notes that some (not me!) have used this power to detach themselves into "a flattering surreality."


  • Oops, missed this. There's a Granite State connection in this Reason article from Eric Boehm from March: Earmarks Are Back, and They're Just as Sleazy and Secretive as Ever.

    After a decadelong ban on the practice, members of Congress are once again loading up legislation with pork-barrel spending that the rest of us have to pay for.

    […]

    Sen. Mike Braun (R–Ind.), an earmark opponent whose office has been tallying up the projects included in the omnibus bill, claims the final total is about $8 billion.

    That includes items like $3 million for a Palo Alto History Museum in California, according to a partial list of earmarks in the new legislation being compiled by Americans for Tax Reform, a conservative nonprofit. "The city is highly affluent and home to nine Forbes 400 billionaires," the group asks. "Why can't this be paid for with local or private dollars?"

    A fair question, and one that could be equally asked of just about any earmark. Do federal taxpayers need to fund $800,000 for "artist lofts" in Pomona, California? Is there no other way to raise $3 million for a museum dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi in Texas or $500,000 to build a new ski jump in New Hampshire or $1.6 million to ensure "equitable growth of shellfish aquaculture" in Rhode Island? (Actually, yeah, it might be tough to attract private funding for that last one.)

    The $500K is for the Big Nansen Ski Jump, originally built in the 1930s up in Milan, NH. (Way up there, north of Berlin.) It was abandoned in 1988, but restoration efforts have been underway for a few years. (So Boehm is off by describing it as a "new ski jump".) The earmark was inserted by Senator Jeanne Shaheen.

    It's "only" half a million dollars, but (like all those earmarks) it's nothing taxpayers across the country should have to pay for.


  • I can think of a couple off the top of my head. Greg Lukianoff and Talia Barnes provide Some Lessons from the Sorry History of Campus Speech Codes.

    Concern about the proliferation of hate speech motivates many who oppose the recent acquisition of Twitter by billionaire Elon Musk, who says he plans to turn the heavily moderated platform into a bastion for free speech. Sources ranging from writers at major news publications to CEOs have voiced fears that free-speech-friendly policies will make the platform a haven for “totally lawless hate, bigotry, and misogyny,” as actress Jameela Jamil put it in her farewell-to-Twitter tweet. 

    But those who take for granted that hate speech should be policed on Twitter would do well to learn the history of attempts to police hate speech on campuses in the United States. Some readers may be surprised to learn that American universities have attempted to regulate hate speech for four decades now: This real-world experiment has shown how subjective and nebulous restrictions chill speech in often-surprising ways. What began as an attempt to police hateful speech in the 1980s has resulted in ever-changing policies that do little to increase tolerance, but have ended the careers of many students and professors, chilled legitimate discourse, and—in the process—undermined public faith in the intellectual integrity of higher education.

    I think everyone bemoaning Elon Musk's efforts should be required to write a short essay entitled "Why I Think Twitter Was Right to Suspend the Babylon Bee."


  • Speaking of disinformation on Twitter… John Sexton looks at tweets from (the occasionally reality-based but not this time) Jonathan Chait: IRS targeting of Tea Party groups was 'imaginary'.

    Yesterday, Jonathan Chait was set off by something published at National Review and went into a Twitter thread about how the IRS targeting of Tea Party groups was an “imaginary” abuse invented by conservatives.

    But the remedy to bad speech is more speech. And Sexton provides it in spades, pointing out some not-at-all-imaginary facts: powerful Democrats from Obama on down complained bitterly about the tax-exempt status of Tea Party groups; some contacted the IRS directly to urge action. The IRS bureaucracy did, indeed, tilt their onerous regulatory demands toward groups with conservative-sounding titles. The appropriate Inspector General found that that effort was "incorrect, insensitive, and inappropriate." A number of IRS officials resigned/retired in the aftermath, including Lois Lerner, who famously invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when testifying to a House committee.


  • You may be wondering: Will canceling student debt fix the real injustice in higher education? As usual, David Bahnsen has an answer for you, bunkie: Canceling Student Debt Won’t Fix the Real Injustice in Higher Education.

    There is an “injustice”—loosely defined—in the present student debt fiasco, but it is not addressed by transferring the cost of the debt from those who took it on to those who did not (and worse, those who already paid their debt back). The injustice is the runaway inflation in the cost of higher education disproportionate to the benefits it provides. That dynamic is a direct result of the very existence of the loan market college administrators have so exploited. That subsidy has facilitated a reckless allocation of resources to the absurd and the indoctrinating—dormitory amenities for recruitment purposes, exorbitant “diversity” departments— but it has not facilitated a greater experience for college students. 

    If the administration wants to aid college students, it can start by admitting the problem is in the colleges itself. What students (and their parents) are paying for is an exponentially bigger problem than how it is being paid for. But the administration cannot say that, so it resorts to rank pandering to bribe a vote from a vulnerable demographic, and does this at the expense of its own alleged constituency (the most vulnerable).

    Unfortunately, the country is not being run by the sort of people who might listen to David Bahnsen. It is being run by people who think it's their job to shower taxpayer money on people who might vote for them as a result.


  • I'm uneasy and confused. Jay Nordlinger details the complex issues involved When Politics Invades Art. Jay's an extraordinarily decent fellow, and thinks seriously about when you should pull the plug on artists with politics you abhor, or (more relevantly) those who apologize for brutal regimes doing brutal things. His bottom line:

    I think you have to go case by case. Day by day. I could discuss a thousand cases (Russians, Chinese, Venezuelans, Americans . . . ). Some of these cases are black and white, some of them are gray. We’re talking about a big, multilayered, complicated issue. Once, A. M. Rosenthal was asked how he edited the New York Times. “With my stomach,” he said. I sympathize with this, completely. I don’t know what else to say.

    His essay is wide-ranging and deep; even though he doesn't come up with an easy answer, it's well worth your time.

URLs du Jour

2022-05-02

[Bidanic]

… I really like that little bug-eyed fish.

  • You look marvelous! Mark Hemingway finds that it's all relative: The Washington Post’s Repulsive Defense Of Twitter Execs Makes Even Elon Musk Look Good. Opening:

    Yesterday, amid the ongoing bladder loosening that has accompanied Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, leaks started coming from inside the tech company. Politico reported that “Twitter’s top lawyer reassures staff, cries during meeting about Musk takeover.”

    The lawyer, Vijaya Gadde, has played a major role in some of Twitter’s most controversial decisions, such as removing former President Trump and censoring The New York Post from the platform for reporting an accurate story about the damning Hunter Biden laptop weeks before his father was elected president amid real questions about his involvement in his son’s corruption.

    Gadde’s political motivations don’t seem to be a mystery. Six days before the 2020 election, Politico profiled her under the headline, “Is Twitter Going Full Resistance? Here’s the Woman Driving the Change.” And it’s pretty clear that she contributed to Twitter making at least one terrible decision. Former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey would later admit the company made a “total mistake” in censoring the story.

    Hemingway goes on to describe the WaPo's reaction:

    At 3:03 a.m. Wednesday [(4/27)], the Post dropped its story on the matter: “Elon Musk boosts criticism of Twitter executives, prompting online attacks: The targeting of employees by Musk’s massive Twitter megaphone is a major concern for workers.”

    The horror only compounds from there. “Musk’s response Tuesday was the first time he targeted specific Twitter executives by using his nearly singular ability to call attention to topics that interest him,” intoned the Post. “Supporters of Musk, a prolific and freewheeling tweeter with 86 million followers, tend to pile on with his viewpoints.”

    To be clear, Musk never said anything specific about Gadde, except to imply her role in the decision to ban The New York Post was wrong — an opinion that isn’t controversial, and was publicly stated by Twitter’s previous CEO. As for Baker, Musk was commenting on his previous conduct as a public official, which by any accurate assessment was defined by poor judgment. Regardless, “sounds bad” is not exactly committing to a definitive judgment of the man, much less in his current role at Twitter.

    Hemingway goes on to observe that the WaPo's story reflects "their desire to prop up an opaque regime of algorithmic censorship produced by an unholy collusion of tech executives and state propagandists."


  • For more on that… Jazz Shaw notes a different member of the unholy colluders: Time Magazine correspondent obsesses over "tech bro obsession with free speech".

    Has anyone else noticed a growing obsession on the left these days wherein the government, the tech oligarchs, and a growing swath of mainstream media outlets have taken to openly mocking the idea of free speech? This was already a serious problem on Twitter and Facebook long before Elon Musk came along and appeared to light a fuse under the discussion, but it’s really kicked into high gear since then. One of the latest and most glaring examples of this disastrous trend can be found this week at Time Magazine, where correspondent Charlotte Alter has penned a piece with this sort of mockery embedded firmly in the title. Elon Musk and the Tech Bro Obsession with ‘Free Speech.’ If you’re not shocked and dismayed by the idea of a journalist putting the words Free Speech in scare quotes, I don’t know what to tell you. She goes on to use scare quotes around nearly every instance of the phrases Free Speech and Freedom of Speech throughout the entire article. And you don’t have to read very far into the article to discover her newly-found disdain for the idea.

    So: tech bros obsessed with free speech. And lefties obsessed with those obsessed with free speech.

    And (for that matter) Jazz Shaw being obsessed with people obsessed with people obsessed by free speech.

    That's a lot of obsession.

    But obsession aside: I'm with Jazz that it's darned myopic of journalists to put "free speech" in scare quotes. If they're not careful, people might start putting "free press" in scare quotes. What then?


  • And so much else. But Paul Matzko has something specific in mind: Obama Is Wrong about the Fairness Doctrine.

    Last week, President Barack Obama expressed his worries about “democratic backsliding” in a speech at Stanford University, blaming social-media platforms for spreading disinformation at an unprecedented pace using algorithms that through “subtle manipulations” promote conspiracism, racism, and sexism.

    […]

    To illustrate the wide gulf between Obama’s idealistic aspirations for smart Internet regulation and the sordid reality of government media regulation, consider his brief but favorable mention of the Fairness Doctrine, a regulation from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the 1960s to 1980s that required radio and television broadcasters to be balanced in their presentation of various points of view on current events and politics. In Obama’s framing, the Fairness Doctrine was a tool for mitigating the spread of “propaganda” and “the flames of hate” in the post–World War II era, a means of ensuring that “our broadcast system was compatible with democracy.” Consumers would receive a fair, balanced, and truthful media diet, or at least, that was the stated intent.

    Yet the Fairness Doctrine’s primary function was as a tool for government censorship. Fairness exists in the eye of the beholder, and, in the early 1960s, that beholder was President John F. Kennedy. He felt that right-wing radio was being unfair to his administration and so weaponized the Fairness Doctrine to suppress conservative radio broadcasters. Kennedy appointed a new FCC chairman and told him, “It is important that stations be kept fair.” Within weeks, the FCC announced a new enforcement push for the Fairness Doctrine that exclusively targeted unbalanced right-wing speech.

    There was never a good argument for the Fairness Doctrine, only the sorta-plausible one that the radio-frequency spectrum used by TV and radio was a scarce good, and government was there to ensure that access be licensed and heavily regulated, not owned.

    A bad argument, and one not applicable at all to an era with cable and internet.


  • There's room in Seabrook for another reactor. Just sayin'. Robert Zubrin continues his series: How We Can Get Clean Energy—Is Nuclear Power Safe?.

    A lot of fuss has been raised about nuclear power plants. Some say they emit cancer-causing radiation, that there is no way to dispose of the wastes they produce, that they are prone to catastrophic accidents, and could even be made to explode like bombs. These are serious charges. Let’s investigate them.

    And he does. Fun fact:

    Natural gas is much cleaner than coal, but it contains radioactive radon. Not much, to be sure, typically about 0.03 microcuries per cubic meter. But that adds up. A 1000 MWe natural gas power plant sends about 8 curies of radon into the environment every month. That’s just about the same as what the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant let loose just once—during its world-famous meltdown in March 1979!

    Bottom line: nukes are pretty safe, compared with the alternatives.


  • I never really saw the point in mixed nuts. Just buy the ones you like, and mix them yourself. Don't trust Big Nut to get it right. Jonah Goldberg muses, among other things, about Mixed Nuts.

    But I’m in a generous mood, so I’ll make a concession. I’d argue that in terms of nut quality, the right is ahead. Marjorie Taylor Greene just this week said that the Catholic Church is “under the control of Satan” because it <checks notes> aids illegal immigrants. Also this week, Madison Cawthorn got caught trying to smuggle a loaded gun onto a plane—again. He also got caught up in messier allegations that have me rethinking my earlier mockery of his claims that Washington is akin to House of Cards in its sexual debauchery. I didn’t realize he was bringing the debauchery with him like the cloud of dirt around Pigpen. Add in all the other familiar nuttery, and it’s fair to say that the GOP has the lion’s share of macadamias, pistachios, and cashews, while the Democrats have mostly peanuts and those space-fillers that in Brazil they just call “nuts.”

    But as in most cans of mixed nuts, the pedestrian ones outnumber the expensive ones. 

    So, for most normal people—Democrats and Republicans—their interactions with right-wing nuts are largely second-hand. Ask yourself this: In your day-to-day life over the last 20 years, how have things become more “right wing” for you?  How many have become more left wing? People’s answers will vary. But if you can’t see why, for a lot of people, the left’s migration outdistances the right’s, that’s your limitation. 

    But my real problem is with the centuries old Tyranny of the French National Assembly seating plan (Tyrannie du plan de salle de l'Assemblée Nationale Française). In a world bound by the terms left and right, amid a climate of polarization, tribalization, partisanship, and zero-sumness all the way down, anything the right hates must be left wing and everything the left hates must be right wing. 

    I think the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis has been largely debunked, but I wonder about an alternate reality where that left-right nomenclature never took hold. Would that have freed our brains to consider and adopt political opinions individually on their own merits, not simply see them in an all-or-nothing, take-it-or-leave-it bundle?

    Nah, probably not.

Unequivocal Justice

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

My interest in political philosophy is strictly at the dilettante level. When getting books in that area, I occasionally try academic works. (I still have borrowing privileges at the University Near Here's library, and that extends to interlibrary loan, so price and popularity are usually non-issues.) As a result, I often (unfortunately too often) find myself in "look at every page" mode; academic works can get pretty lofty and obscure, they can be just one salvo in an ongoing debate, and seemingly nobody gives authors points for clear, accessible prose stylings.

Unequivocal Justice was unusual in that regard. Christopher Freiman is very clear and accessible here. It's relatively short. It's occasionally funny. (And, very unusual for books in this genre, it has no subtitle.)

It's probably not for total newbies. Previous exposure to John Rawls in particular would be recommended. (Can you pass a short, superficial quiz on A Theory of Justice? Fine, jump in.)

Freiman's goal here is to criticize and counter egalitarian theories of justice (like Rawls'), especially as such theories rule out laissez-faire free market capitalism as an acceptable operating system for national economies. His argument is an extension of the famous observation in Federalist No. 51:

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.

As you may have noticed, there's a serious shortage of angels, both in 1788 and 2022.

Freiman's general objection fleshes that out: egalitarians demand that states need to coercively ensure a decent standard of living for the less well-off; otherwise cold-hearted capitalists will accumulate all the available wealth, leaving the unfortunate to starve or freeze or…. The problem: those capitalists are viewed as clones of Charles Montgomery Plantagenet Schicklgruber "Monty" Burns.

However (good news) the government employees enforcing egalitarian measures are clones of Nedward "Ned" Flanders Jr.

Freiman says: wait a minute. In the real world, governments and businesses are run by real people, not by archetypes and caricatures. It's inconsistent to assume "ideal" behavior from government coercers, who are looking to correct flaws emanating from the non-ideal behavior of the well-off citizenry.

Freiman takes this general incoherence and breaks it down, rebutting egalitarian claims about "political liberty, economic sufficiency, fair opportunity, and social equality." He's very fair to his opponents, considering their objections, but that only makes his arguments more devastating.

URLs du Jour

2022-05-01

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • Watch what you do. Watch what you say. David Harsanyi looks at the latest bright idea: Biden's Ministry of Truth.

    Earlier this week, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told Congress that his agency is creating a “Disinformation Governance Board” to combat “misinformation” coming from Russia as we near this year’s midterm elections.

    The Biden administration’s new Committee on Public Information will be led by Nina Jankowicz, “a disinformation fellow” who, perfectly enough, comes to the administration from a think tank named after Woodrow Wilson. Like Wilson, Mayorkas, himself a font of untruths, does not explain under what constitutional power he proposes to oversee speech.

    It gets tedious to point this out, but you can vividly imagine the thermonuclear meltdown the country would be (rightly) subjected to if a Republican president assembled a government panel tasked with weeding out “disinformation.”

    Harsanyi notes the irony of this new group happening under "a man who for the past 50 years has been one of our most entertaining fabulists."


  • Unfortunately, Corn Pop did not show up for the job interview. So, as Kevin D. Williamson relates, someone else got the job: Nina Jankowicz, Biden’s ‘Disinformation Board’ Chief, Must Be Placed in an Ankle Monitor.

    Linguistically, the name of the Department of Homeland Security has always sounded a little off to me — a little . . . well, Russian. So I suppose that it is only fitting that it should be the DHS, and not, say, the Post Office, that will house America’s newest Ministry of Truth. Per Secretary Mayorkas, his already-sprawling agency will be adding a “Disinformation Governance Board” to its offerings, the better to fight the “huge threat to our homeland” that is free American citizens saying things that the federal government doesn’t like.

    At the head of this new venture will sit an extremely strange woman named Nina Jankowicz, who, if her other activities are any indication, was apparently asked to choose between agreeing to the role at DHS and being turned down after yet another audition for the musical Wicked. A cursory look at Jankowicz’s social-media history suggests that, while she is certainly interested in disinformation, her passion is dressing up as Liza Minnelli. In one video, Jankowicz adapts the tune of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” to convey that “Information laundering is really quite ferocious / It’s when a huckster takes some lies and makes them sound precocious.” In another, she offers up that pornographic twist on the Harry Potter books for which we’ve all been clamoring. “I helped him solve the mystery of the egg,” she warbles. “But I’d like to solve the mystery between his legs.” Her canon is limited in scope, but what I’ve seen of it is enough to test even the most committed civil libertarian in his opposition to casual waterboarding.

    Hey, anyone can play that game:

    "Old Joe Biden's governance is totally atrocious;
    As if his brain is failing with dementia and psychosis."


  • And our state's junior senator says… Well, nothing. As reported by Michael Graham: Hassan Silent on DHS's Controversial 'Disinformation Governing Board'.

    Sen. Maggie Hassan may sit on the Homeland Security Committee, but she had nothing to say about the controversial “Disinformation Governing Board” launched by the department she helps oversee.

    […]

    Asked about the new board, Sen. Hassan declined to comment. She also declined to respond to questions about whether she would support Senate efforts to defund it. And she has no mention of it on her social media or Senate website.

    “Of course Senator Hassan won’t vote to defund such an egregious use of taxpayer money, because she’s beholden to the far-left of her party,” tweeted GOP U.S. Senate candidate Kevin Smith. “#MaggieHasnt represented us on the Homeland Security Committee for the past five years, so why start now?”

    Well, in her defense, she's been busy:

    Mr. Graham also notes Maggie's been unbusy saying nothing of substance on another matter: As Biden Moves Toward Mass Student Debt Forgiveness, Hassan Dodges Issue.

    In her defense, her pollsters probably haven't determined what position will lose her the fewest votes in November.

    And can we stop calling it "forgiveness"? I know: "burden-shifting to taxpaying schmucks" is a little wordy, but‥


  • But speaking of student debt "forgiveness". Peter Suderman suggests we use an even more accurate term: Elizabeth Warren Wants Joe Biden To Deliver a Massive, Illegal Handout to the Well-Off.

    Sen. Elizabeth Warren likes to describe herself as someone who sides with working people. For example, in a recent New York Times op-ed, the Massachusetts Democrat warns, correctly, that her party is headed for disaster in this year's midterm elections. She then urges President Joe Biden "to use every tool of the presidency to deliver for"—you guessed it—"working people." This is the sort of thing that is designed to appeal to Biden's abiding sense that he's just a regular guy whose mission in life is to make life easier for other regular people. He's just an average Joe trying to help all the other average joes.

    Peter's particularly good on demonstrating the "well-off" part. Could this scheme actually be illegal?

    Actually, someone did answer that question. Specifically, that question was answered in 2021 by the Office of the General Counsel at the U.S. Department of Education. Lawyers for sprawling government agencies often like to defend the broad powers of their departments, declaring what they legally can do rather than what they legally can't. So it is noteworthy that the lawyers for the Education Department found that the secretary of education "does not have statutory authority to provide blanket or mass cancellation, compromise, discharge, or forgiveness of student loan principal balances, and/or to materially modify the repayment amounts or terms thereof, whether due to the COVID-19 pandemic or for any other reason." That sounds like a pretty firm no.

    So it's not just a plan to give huge amounts of money to corporate lawyers and junior associates at hedge funds. It's an illegal plan to give huge amounts of money to corporate lawyers and junior associates at hedge funds.

    Also a little more wordy than "forgiveness", but much more accurate.


  • But to be fair, don't all recent presidents commit impeachable offenses? Charles C. W. Cooke notes that even a venerable MSM institution seems to agree: President Biden Is Planning to Violate His Oath of Office Again. Noting an article in the WaPo:

    The administration is considering various ways to forgive some student loan debt through executive action. In recent weeks, senior Biden aides have examined limiting the relief to people who earned less than either $125,000 or $150,000 as individual filers the previous year, the people said. That plan would set the threshold at around $250,000 or $300,000 for couples who file their taxes jointly, the people said. No final decisions have been made, and the people familiar with the matter stressed that planning was fluid and subject to change.

    CCWC comments pithily:

    There can be no “limits,” because the move is illegal. There can be no “decision,” because the move is illegal. There can be no “planning,” because the move is illegal. Last summer, Nancy Pelosi said:

    “The president can’t do it,” Pelosi said, at a press briefing. “That’s not even a discussion.”

    Pelosi said any student debt forgiveness would have to be carried out by Congress.

    Why did Pelosi say “the president can’t do it.” She said that because the president can’t do it. Why did Pelosi say “that’s not even a discussion”? She said that because everybody knows that the president can’t do it. Why did Pelosi say that this was a matter for Congress? She said that because this is a matter for Congress.

    There's more at the link. CCWC is at his best when he's irked.


  • Does mental illness make you special? If you've been wondering about that, check out self-admitted Marxist Freddie deBoer over at UnHerd; he has the answer: Mental illness doesn't make you special.

    Marianne Eloise wants the world to know that she does not “have a regular brain at all”. That’s her declaration, on the very first page of her new memoir, Obsessive, Intrusive, Magical Thinking. The book catalogues her experience of a dizzying variety of psychiatric conditions: OCD, anxiety, autism, ADHD, alcohol abuse, seasonal affective disorder, an eating disorder, night terrors, depression. By her own telling, Eloise has suffered a great deal from these ailments; I believe her, and wish better for her. But she would prefer we not think of them as ailments at all. And that combination of self-pity and self-aggrandisement is emblematic of our contemporary understanding of mental health.

    Eloise is a champion of neurodivergence, an omnibus term that’s recently ballooned in popularity, which can include autism, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, or indeed any other psychiatric condition that’s hot right now. The term is designed for making sweeping pronouncements. Forget the fact that, say, autism and schizophrenia are so different that they have at times been described as opposite conditions. Forget the fact that saying you’re neurodivergent has as much medical meaning as saying you have a disorder of the body. The idea is that there’s a group of people whose brain chemistry differs, in some beautiful way, from some Platonic norm. And it’s an idea that’s taken on great symbolic power in contemporary liberal culture.

    I've tried to think about mental illness non-judgmentally, neatly summed up in that "omnibus term" Freddie describes, neurodivergence. Or: being several sigma off the mean in one or more personality traits. (That certainly seems to apply in Marianne Eloise's case.)

    And that's not necessarily bad. Clearly though, in some cases, it is. When does it become mental illness? Still working on that, but articles like deBoer's are helping clarify things.


  • Worthwhile Canadian Initiative. Dave Barry notes that the Great White North is nothing if not proactive: Canada's criminal code to soon include crimes committed on the moon.

    Canadian astronauts will soon need to be wary of committing crimes on the lunar surface.

    According to the CBC, Canada recently amended its criminal code to include crimes committed by Canadian astronauts during trips to the moon and on its surface.

    The criminal code already includes crimes related to Canadian astronauts on the International Space Station, stating that any crime committed on the ISS is considered to have occurred in Canada.

    The Royal Canadian Mounted Police should probably have a subdivison: the Royal Canadian Space Police!

    "Sergeant Preston of the Lunar Space Police, with Copernicus King, swiftest and strongest lead wookie, breaking the trail in the relentless pursuit of lawbreakers in the wild days of the Moon."


Last Modified 2022-05-02 3:47 AM EDT