Dinner at Hate

[Guess who’s coming to dinner?] USC chemistry prof Anna Krylov knows whereof she speaks: From Russia with Love: Science and Ideology Then and Now. Here's the article's abstract:

My everyday experiences as a chemistry professor at an American university in 2021 bring back memories from my school and university time in the USSR. Not good memories—more like Orwellian nightmares. I will compare my past and present experiences to illustrate the following parallels between the USSR and the US today: (i) the atmosphere of fear and self-censorship; (ii) the omnipresence of ideology (focusing on examples from science); (iii) an intolerance of dissenting opinions (i.e., suppression of ideas and people, censorship, and Newspeak); (iv) the use of social engineering to solve real and imagined problems.

It's a good thing her article includes jokes…

There’s an old joke a Jewish friend of mine told me: What’s the difference between a Jewish pessimist and a Jewish optimist? A Jewish pessimist looks around and says, “Things can’t get any worse.” A Jewish optimist says, “Sure they can!”

… because otherwise you'd be cryin'.

Briefly noted:

  • If you're of a Certain Age, you must remember this:

    Ah, that was then. And this is now, as noted by Beege Welborn at Hot Air: Throwing freedom hammers no longer: Apple is Big Brother.

    I hope you have a tear in your eye for a bygone fond memory. Because now they’re the folks who write the words for the guy on the screen to read.

    The colorless drones in prison suits on benches are allowed to hear or read only state-sanctioned argle-bargle, and Apple is the arbiter. Should the well-nigh featureless creatures absorbing the approved messages become a tad restless, and begin to question their assigned lot in life, or the way things currently are done, Apple stands ready to reinforce the message of collective. Apple will utilize its iron grip on all communication to facilitate authorities herding sheeple back to their assigned paddocks.

    Yes, he's talking about Apple's crippling of its AirDrop feature on iPhones, but only for iPhones sold in mainland China. Which pairs well with its war on Elon Musk's efforts to make Twitter a little more speech-friendly.

  • And just another reminder of China's swell behavior, from William McGurn at the WSJ: The Innocence of Jimmy Lai. Click through for the whole story, but here's the bottom line:

    As for Jimmy himself, he is in prison and at peace with his not-guilty plea. It’s his persecutors who are insecure and fearful. Does anyone believe Hong Kong and China will emerge from this trial with more credibility? Or will it only increase the chances that Jimmy wins a Nobel Peace Prize—not unlike Liu Xiaobo, another champion of Chinese freedom awarded the prize in 2010 while in prison.

    To get by under communism, a man must say one thing in private and something else in public. So it was in the Soviet Union, where Natan Sharansky was arrested and falsely accused of treason in 1977. “If my aim is physical survival,” he told an interviewer in 2013 about his experience in jail, “then the KGB will defeat me.” He aimed instead to live as a free person—which meant never, ever assenting to the lie.

    By insisting on his innocence, Jimmy Lai knows he has surrendered any hope for leniency. But he is showing that a man can live as a free person, even in a Chinese prison, as long as he refuses to lie. Hong Kong’s Communist-backed authorities have yet to realize that he’s no longer really on trial. They are.

    Apple is in league with Jimmy's jailers. While trying to destroy Elon Musk.

    Now go back and read Anna Krylov's article again.

Last Modified 2023-05-30 7:48 PM EDT

Some Are Born Bubbas, Some Achieve Bubbaness, and Some Have Bubbaness Thrust Upon Them

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] Kevin D. Williamson tells of The War on Bubba.

This being the United States of America, a horrifying number of people have been killed in the past few weeks in mass shootings carried out by lunatics of varying descriptions. In response, President Joe Biden, who has never in the course of his 80 long years on this Earth suffered the invasion of his mind by an original thought, has responded the way he always responds: by calling for a certainly unconstitutional ban on so-called assault weapons. He did this after the massacre at the Walmart in Chesapeake, Virginia, in which there was no “assault weapon” involved—the killer used an ordinary 9mm handgun—but such details do not interest President Biden. All he needs is the familiar enemy, in this case U.S. firearms manufacturers and their detestable quest to make money in business. Of course, in the Colorado Springs nightclub shooting, there doesn’t seem to have been any firearms manufacturer involved, either—that killer used homemade firearms, according to press reports.

But none of that matters, because the gun-control debate is not about guns: It is simply another front in the culture war, oriented not toward the criminal misuse of guns—about which our federal, state, and municipal governments do approximately squat—but about the kind of people who tend to own guns, or at least the gun-owning villains of the progressive mind.

But what of Bubba? Skipping down a bit:

We have a lot of guns in this country. Those aren’t going away. We have a Bill of Rights in this country, too, and that isn’t going away, either. We have three choices: 1. Get serious about gun-related crimes short of murder; 2. Pretend that this is all about middle-aged Bubbas who like to shoot scary black rifles; 3. Do nothing. As far as I can tell, it looks like we’ve settled on a combination of 2 and 3—and that is grotesquely irresponsible.

Given that so many important Democratic constituencies have long held a hostile view of law enforcement, you’d think that telling a bunch of cops and prosecutors to get off their asses and do their jobs wouldn’t be a very hard sell for politicians such as President Biden or big-city mayors. But these are government employees we are talking about, and the Democratic Party is nothing if not the party of government employees. And that is why, against all reason and evidence, the crosshairs are on Bubba rather than on violent criminals and their criminal enablers.

You probably can't Read The Whole Thing unless you're a Dispatch subscriber. You should be. Worth it just for KDW.

Last Modified 2023-05-30 7:48 PM EDT

You Can Have My Chi-Squared Test When You Pry It From My Cold Dead Fingers

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] Jerry Coyne has a long analysis of a recent skirmish in the ongoing Woke War: Why we can’t use statistics any more. His springboard is a recent article in Nautilus by one Aubrey Clayton: How Eugenics Shaped Statistics.

I could go on and on about the errors and misconceptions of the paper from Nautilus […], whose aims are threefold. First, to convince us that several of the founders of modern statistics, including Francis Galton, Karl Pearson, and Ronald Fisher, were racists. Second, to argue that the statistical tests they made famous, and are used widely in research (including biomedical research), were developed as tools to promote racism and eugenics. Third, that we should stop using statistical analyses like chi-squared tests, Fisher exact tests, analyses of variance, t-tests, or even fitting data to normal distributions, because these exercises are tainted by racism.  I and others have argued that the first claim is overblown, and I’ll argue here that the second is wrong and the third is insane, not even following from the first two claims if they were true.

It's longish, but also devastating.

Briefly noted:

  • Zachary M. Seward notes yet another instance of Apple's Commie cooperation: Apple hobbled a crucial tool of dissent in China weeks before widespread protests broke out.

    Anti-government protests flared in several Chinese cities and on college campuses over the weekend. But the country’s most widespread show of public dissent in decades will have to manage without a crucial communication tool, because Apple restricted its use in China earlier this month.

    AirDrop, the file-sharing feature on iPhones and other Apple devices, has helped protestors in many authoritarian countries evade censorship. That’s because AirDrop relies on direct connections between phones, forming a local network of devices that don’t need the internet to communicate. People can opt into receiving AirDrops from anyone else with an iPhone nearby.

    Apple's November 9 update only applied this "fix" to iPhones sold in mainland China.

    According to this Fox Business story, "Apple did not respond to a request for comment on Sunday."

  • So Donald Trump dined with Kanye West (who currently prefers to be called "Ye") and Nick Fuentes. Andrew C. McCarthy notes that Trump’s Dinner with Fuentes and Ye Renews a Key Question for GOP Voters.

    There is no substantive importance to former president Donald Trump’s hosting at Mar-a-Lago of Kanye West and Nick Fuentes, a pair of disturbed young men who’ve publicly expressed antisemitic and, in Fuentes’s case, racist views. The only significance is in the public’s learning curve, particularly the learning curve of Republican voters.

    To repeat what I’ve said for a long time, it is a ripe dead certainty that Trump cannot win a national election. And at the risk of belaboring a more recent observation, the wheels have come off the Trump Train in the two years since the night he lost the 2020 election. The former president has become increasingly erratic. Yes, he was erratic to start with, but he no longer has an array of experienced, capable people staffing him, advising him, pushing against his self-destructive tendencies, and preventing him from doing crazy stuff. We thus now find him frantically trying to put a benign spin on his dinner with Fuentes and Ye . . . just as it seems like only yesterday he was frantically putting a benign spin on his stubborn recklessness in hording scores of classified documents at the same Palm Beach club (the subject of one federal investigation) . . . much like his benign spin on the Capitol riot (the subject of another federal investigation) . . . and on his phone call with Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger (the subject of a state criminal investigation) . . . which was of a piece with his equally “perfect” phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky (the subject of the first impeachment . . . that preceded the second impeachment). On it goes, and on it will go.

    Trump increasingly erratic? Say it ain't so!

  • Glenn Greenwald has a lot to say about The Media's Deranged Hysteria Over Elon Musk's Promised Restoration of Free Speech.

    It is hard to overstate how manic, primal and unhinged is the reaction of corporate media employees to the mere prospect that new Twitter owner Elon Musk may restore a modicum of greater free speech to that platform. It was easy to predict — back when Musk was merely toying with the idea of buying Twitter and loosening some of its censorship restrictions — that there would be an all-out attack from Western power centers if he tried. Online censorship has become one of the most potent propaganda weapons they possess, and there is no way they will allow anyone to dilute it even mildly without attempting to destroy them. Even with that expectation in place of what was to come, the liberal sector of the corporate media (by far the most dominant media sector) really outdid itself when it came to group-think panic, rhetorical excess, and reckless and shrill accusations.

    Example, from a Taylor Lorenz (who else?) WaPo article:

    “Apple and Google need to seriously start exploring booting Twitter off the app store,” said Alejandra Caraballo, clinical instructor at Harvard Law’s cyberlaw clinic. “What Musk is doing is existentially dangerous for various marginalized communities. It’s like opening the gates of hell in terms of the havoc it will cause. People who engaged in direct targeted harassment can come back and engage in doxing, targeted harassment, vicious bullying, calls for violence, celebration of violence. I can’t even begin to state how dangerous this will be.”

    Yup, that's moral panic all right.

  • We're all told, endlessly, about the conspiracist fantasies of our right-wing friends. And, yes indeed, it's out there, even at one of my local websites.

    But conspiracism is a very human phenomenon, and Stanley K. Ridgley notes an underpublicized hotbed: The Conspiracist Fantasy of University Bureaucracies.

    Critical racialism originated in the crucible of neo-Marxist critical theory and has developed into an unfalsifiable doctrine informed by the psychopathology of paranoia. Now, it is codified into a systematized, conspiracist belief system. The doctrine constructs its own reality according to a central conspiracy myth and encourages the paranoid behavior of its adherents, including a displaced sense of responsibility (blaming others), hyper-suspicion, grandiosity, delusional fixity, the creation of a pseudocommunity of persecutors, and the creation of a hermetic interpretive system within the real, normal world.

    In common parlance, this paranoid doctrine is called antiracism.

    This is how a conspiracy theory can blossom from the psyches of hyper-fearful people who form communities of paranoia. The conspiracy emerges from the tendency of its victims to see exactly what they want to see in the world—and to discount everything else.

    That's pretty relevant to folks like (see previous item) Alejandra Caraballo, isn't it?

Last Modified 2023-05-30 7:48 PM EDT

Racing the Light

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

It's been three years since the previous Elvis Cole/Joe Pike novel from Robert Crais, but this one was well worth the wait.

Book-flap spoiler: Elvis's love, Lucy Chenier, is back, with her nearly-adult son Ben in tow. As near as I can recall, she hasn't been even mentioned in the series since 2005's The Forgotten Man. But it turns out that Elvis and Lucy have kept in touch all along. Their relationship is an important subplot here. (As often happens in long-running series, the timeline is muddled.)

But the main plot is the disappearance of podcaster Josh Schumacher; his mom shows up at Elvis's office with an envelope stuffed with cash and a couple of bodyguards. Josh's podcast deals with lurid government Area-51 coverups of extraterrestrial hijinks. But lately he's been seeing a beautiful porn star; she has artistic aspirations, and also a secret. And guess what? She's missing as well. And, as it turns out, a number of shady and violence-prone characters are looking for Josh too. There are political connections, and hints of massive corruption that can only be covered up by murder most foul.

It's a definite page-turner. (Or, on my new Kindle, a screen-poker.)

Last Modified 2023-05-30 7:47 PM EDT

Will Subsidies Fix the Energy Industry?

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] Jorge Velasco has the answer to that burning question at Reason: Subsidies Won't Fix the Energy Industry. In fact, he argues that ending energy subsidies would cut both carbon emissions and costs.

Having taken back the House, Republicans say they want to revamp domestic energy policy. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R–Wash.), the ranking member on the House Committee on Energy & Commerce and its likely chair next year, has said the party wants "workable solutions to make energy cleaner, reduce emissions, prioritize energy security, and keep energy costs low."

Politicians and bureaucrats have been singing this tune for decades. One thing they've done wrong is waste billions of dollars on energy subsidies. Instead of fueling innovation, subsidies have unfairly cherry-picked certain energy sources and technologies, causing both economic and environmental inefficiencies.

In 2017, the consulting firm Management Information Services, Inc. analyzed federal energy expenditures from 1950 to 2016. It found that nonhydro renewable energies, such as solar and wind energy, were the largest beneficiaries of such assistance. Solar and wind received $158 billion, or 16 percent, of federal energy subsidies, mostly through tax credits. By contrast, the nuclear industry received less than half of that, mostly for research and development purposes.

If we treated food production like we do energy production, … oh, wait, we kinda do that too.

Briefly noted:

  • OK, subsidies won't fix the energy industry.

    But is it kooky to say that anti-capitalists are using climate change as a pretext for a planned economy?

    Well, no. As Dr Rainer Zitelmann points out at FEE: It's Not Kooky to Say Anti-Capitalists Are Using Climate Change as a Pretext for a Planned Economy When They Come Out and Say It.

    World leaders met in Egypt recently to discuss climate change. This time, the focus was on the demands of poor countries that want money from rich countries because of climate change. After more than 50 years of experience with development aid, one can already predict where this money will end up—with corrupt governments in countries in Africa and other poor countries.

    Many so-called climate change activists are not really concerned about the climate and the environment. No, for them, these are merely instruments in the fight against capitalism.

    For the last three years, Greta Thunberg has said that her life’s purpose was to save the world from climate change. Now she told an audience in London that climate activists must overthrow "the whole capitalist system," which she says is responsible for "imperialism, oppression, genocide... racist, oppressive extractionism." The "activists" of the doomsday cult "Last Generation" say quite openly that their goal is the abolition of capitalism.

    I'm old enough to remember when it was thought that socialist systems were simply, scientifically, better at fostering growth and prosperity. (I had that famous Samuelson textbook that claimed “the Soviet economy is proof that, contrary to what many skeptics had earlier believed, a socialist command economy can function and even thrive.”)

    Well, that argument got debunked by reality pretty quickly afterward. So now anti-capitalists grab onto predictions of ecological catastrophe instead. Any excuse to destroy free markets will do.

Last Modified 2023-05-30 7:47 PM EDT

Existential Physics

A Scientist's Guide to Life's Biggest Questions

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

The author, Sabine Hossenfelder, is an actual physicist, and she's an excellent science popularizer as well. You can get a sampling of her output at her website and her blog. I really liked her previous book, Lost in Math, so I snapped this new one up when it became available at the Portsmouth Public Library.

Sabine's (I call her Sabine) writing style is heavily first-person and chatty, and occasionally pretty funny. (Should I add "for a German" to that? Nah, guess not.) Sample, where she mentions a debate she had about the "fine tuning" of physical constants:

I didn't look forward to the debate. I have found it futile to argue with fine-tuning believers. They just aren't interested in separating the scientific from the ascientific part of their argument. Also, I am terribly unspontaneous. If you put me on the spot, I can't find answers to the most obvious questions. Hell, I'll sometimes mispronounce my own name. Full disclosure: the major reason I agreed to this debate is that they paid for it.

That points to a (more or less) overriding theme here: Sabine is very critical of scientists wandering into ascientism, loosely defined as "religion masquerading as science under the guise of mathematics." E.g., when theories of the very early seconds of the universe speculate in matters that can't be observed or verified (at least for the present, and maybe not ever).

What are the "biggest questions" explored here? Fortunately, they are chapter titles: Does the past still exist? How did the Universe begin? How will it end? Is math all there is? Why doesn't anyone ever get younger? Are you just a bag of atoms? Is knowledge predictable? Do copies of us exist? Has physics ruled out free will? Is consciousness computable? Was the universe made for us? Does the universe think? Can we create a universe? Are humans predictable? What's the purpose of anything anyway?

Some of these "biggest questions" chapters also consider slightly-less-big subquestions. And there are a number of interviews with folks like David Deutsch and Roger Penrose used to explicate their views on some of the questions.

Even when I disagree with Sabine's answers (I'm a believer in free will, she's not) I have to admit she's relentlessly fair in presenting her views and possible objections to them. In a number of areas, she's happy to entertain even the most out-there speculations. (The only point where she falls down that I noticed was her discussion of whether people can be held morally responsible for their actions in the absence of free will: I found it evasive and unconvincing.)

Last Modified 2023-05-30 7:47 PM EDT

McCloskey Watch

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] Deirdre Nansen McCloskey reviews a new bio of Friedrich Hayek (link at right), and concludes Hayek Was a True Liberal. A small excerpt:

So Hayek and the Austrian School are liberal, in a modern world lurching between the fatal conceits of left and right. On the left nowadays Acemoglu and James Robinson, and more radically Thomas Piketty and Mariana Mazzucato, recommend a bigger and bigger state. They promise it will be a very nice one, you understand. On the right Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin recommend a bigger and bigger state. They make no such promises about niceness. They envision a state of the sort that Hayek opposed in Russia and then in the German lands, growing up with Viennese antisemitic politics and the street violence of Weimar Germany next door. We liberals stand apart from the usual spectrum, recommending as Hayek did a competent but small state, liberty with love.

The peculiarly American term for such a worldview is libertarianism. The usage delivers liberal over to the social democrats. Hayek and I disapprove. True liberalism adopts instead the strange and wonderful idea arising suddenly by happy accident in northwestern Europe during the 18th century that the ancient hierarchies of husband and master and king should not stand. Ordinary people were to be treated for the first time like adults. Such a liberalism could be called adultism.

All this ideological classification can get confusing, even frustrating. It doesn't matter if you're being pigeonholed, or you're self-pigeonoling; there's no USDA regulation for what goes on your philosophical ingredient list.

If I absolutely must label myself, I usually—sorry, Deirdre!—go with "libertarian". Because I want not to be misunderstood, as I would be if I said "liberal". If I'm allowed a few more words, I add "with significant conservative leanings."

Anyway: I'll probably take a pass on the book. 824 pages, and it only goes up to 1950! I think I'd prefer to reread The Constitution of Liberty.

Last Modified 2023-05-30 7:47 PM EDT

How Evil Are Politicians?

Essays on Demagoguery

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Bryan Caplan is an economics prof at George Mason University. This is his second curated collection of blog posts from EconLog, a joint blog of libertarian economists. (He moved on to his own Substack site earlier this year.) My take on his first collection is here.

Yes, you can probably get most of the content of this book for free by wandering through EconLog archives. (For example, if you would like to get a flavor of Caplanesque argument, the title essay for the book is here.) But it's nice to have a collection, and I don't mind contributing a few bucks to the Caplan kids' scholarship fund.

Bryan is an excellent essayist, setting forth an uncompromising array of libertarian positions. Here, besides his unsparing criticism of our rulers' morality, you'll find his views on pacifism (for); socialism (against); open borders (for); demagoguery (against). And more.

There's only one small misstep I noticed: in a 2006 post, "The Mirage of Libertarian Populism", Bryan despairs that the majority of voters are unlikely to push for libertarian reform; witness the popularity of entitlements like Social Security and Medicare, and the ease with which demagogues turn any proposal of reform into "pushing granny off a cliff in her wheelchair" TV ad. But:

Furthermore, the public heavily supports even the least defensible infringements on personal liberty – like prohibition of marijuana.

Sixteen years later, and (uh, so I'm told) a short drive down to East Coast Cannabis will satisfy any weed craving I might have. So maybe "libertarian populism" isn't quite as hopeless as Bryan once thought.

Last Modified 2023-05-30 7:47 PM EDT

That's Trillion, With a T

An October tweet that was only just now brought to my attention:

That's from CNBC, not some dubious "news" station where the next feature is on Jewish Space Lasers.

And that's not some wacky rando CNBC picked off the streets making that assertion; that's Jeffrey Currie, employed by a little firm called Goldman Sachs. In fact: he is their "global head of Commodities Research in Global Investment Research"

So that's a pretty amazing factoid, indicating a massive waste of capital that could have been more productively directed. As near as I can tell, undebunked; let me know if you see otherwise.

Briefly noted:

  • Now that the Libertarian Party has been taken over by wackos and grifters (even more than usual), I cast my liberty-lovin' eyes once again to the Republicans. Any hope for me there? Bonnie Kristian is not too optimistic: Making the GOP Liberty-Friendly Requires More Than Just Rejecting Donald Trump.

    Former President Donald Trump is running for president again, seeking the nomination of a party which, for the first time in six years, isn't wholly sure it wants him back. What the GOP base decides remains a wholly open question; Trump is still the only candidate officially on offer, and history teaches polling this early in the race is useless. But the sort of Republican voter who airs his opinion in the pages of The New York Times and National Review has decided, emphatically, that the time for Trump is over.

    This may seem like a promising development to any libertarians waxing nostalgic about an earlier era of libertarian-Republican relations—a time when libertarianism was deemed, in Reason's pages, "the very heart and soul of conservatism," when the GOP's rhetorical commitment to limited government made it libertarians' preferred vehicle for political action within the two-party system, when yawning gaps between libertarians and Republicans on social and foreign policy were ignored because, uhhh, you know, communism! Taxes!

    So if the Republican Party finally rejects Trump, is that also a rejection of the authoritarian and illiberal impulses his political career has amplified? I'm open to being pleasantly surprised, but so far, the evidence answers with a resounding "no." Even if Trump loses this primary race, there's every reason to think his party will retain its present will to power.

    I had to hold my nose real hard to vote for Don Bolduc and Karoline Leavitt a couple weeks back. I hope I won't have to do that again.

Lethal White

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Well, first: it's very long, 647 pages in hardcover.

It's number four in "Robert Galbraith's" series of novels centering around ace British detective Cormoran Strike and his plucky assistant Robin Ellacott. And you really should read them in order. Because…

This one opens pretty much where book three left off: Robin's wedding, at which Strike has unexpectedly shown up,(unintentionally) wrecking the newlyweds' happy day. Will Robin and her hubby recover marital bliss from this setback? No spoilers here.

A year later, and Strike is intrigued by Billy, a troubled young man who shows up at his office babbling incoherently about a long ago murder, then runs off without further details. Intrigued, Strike's (unpaid) investigation leads him to Jasper Chiswell, a Tory cabinet minister who's being blackmailed by Billy's brother. For what? We're not told straight off.

In fact, we're told pretty much nothing straight off. Strike's investigation encompasses many, many colorful (and mostly unpleasant) characters from Chiswell's family and acquaintances, who have a long history of (mostly) sordid behavior. And it's not until page 281 that an actual dead body shows up. Seems to be an "obvious" suicide, but is it really?

Well, the investigation reveals a lot of complex and dysfunctional relationships. It was (frankly) difficult for me to keep track of all the characters and their past and present doings. Britishisms kept popping up in the text, some of which I knew, some of which I figured out via context, and many remained a mystery. Surrounding it all was Strike's and Robin's troubled relationships, with others, and themselves. (There are some rom-com notes here.)

And did I mention it's really long? And it's getting worse: Amazon says book number five is 944 pages, book six is 1024 pages. Should I keep going? The sunk-cost fallacy says yes!

Last Modified 2023-05-30 7:47 PM EDT

Happy Thanksgiving 2022

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] Veronique de Rugy is Giving Thanks for Low-Skilled Workers.

On Thanksgiving we rightly give thanks. And let's be clear that, amid all the turmoil that consumes daily headlines, we Americans do indeed have a lot to be thankful for. We are still relatively free. We are also incredibly prosperous — a prosperity that would be impossible without uniquely talented and driven entrepreneurs and the courageous investors who back them. But this year I want to give special thanks to those workers we call "low-skilled."

They may not have acquired the know-how or years of education possessed by the people you see on TV, or by academics, tech gurus or financial-market whizzes. But low-skilled workers are nevertheless among the unsung heroes of our lives.

As Vero points out, these are the people who kept the grocery stores open during the pandemic. Also hospitals, restaurants, …

Briefly noted:

  • A video provided at Matt Taibbi's Substack documents the chorus of "independent" media regurgitating the same talking points in pre-election 2020, attempting to debunk the Hunter Biden laptop story as "disinformation": YouTube Censors Reality, Boosts Disinformation: Part 1.

    As subscribers by now are aware, I’m very upset about YouTube’s recent decision to censor a factually accurate video about “rigged election” comments produced for this site by Matt Orfalea. The company has given Matt a strike and labeled his/our work “misinformation,” an insult I’ve decided not to take lying down. I’m going to search for new ways to embarrass the company until they reverse their decision. As it happens, today offers an excellent opportunity.

    CBS This Morning today came out with a story claiming they obtained a copy of Hunter Biden’s laptop, sent for an “independent forensic review,” and determined it “appears genuine.” This follows up confirmation from The New York Times back on March 16th, and more importantly, the exhaustive earlier work of Politico reporter Ben Schreckinger confirming key emails in his book, The Bidens.

    Try watching the video, and try not to get mad. As the Babylon Bee says: CBS News Officially Confirms That Lincoln Has Been Shot.

    I await Part 2, and whatever else Taibbi says on this matter.

  • From the student newspaper at the University Near Here: Ten Classes Worth Taking at UNH. The course titles:

    1. Personal Finance (BUS 530)
    2. Making Babies (NURS 450)
    3. Human Sexuality (HDFS 746)
    4. United States Healthcare Systems (HMP 401)
    5. Organizational Behavior (MGT 535)
    6. Nutrition in Health and Wellbeing (NUTR 400)
    7. Propaganda and Persuasion (CMN 456)
    8. Public Speaking (CMN 500)
    9. Professional and Technical Writing (ENGL 502)
    10. Stressed Out (OT 513)

    Yes, "Making Babies" and "Human Sexuality". Take both, in case you missed something.

    Ah, "Nutrition in Health and Wellbeing". That's a course that's been around, roughly, forever; when I was a grad student, it was called "Animals, Food, and Man". Yes, irredeemably sexist.

    I have a bone to pick with the paper's breezy description:

    More than half of college students suffer from malnutrition, according to Medical Daily. To combat this, Nutrition in Health and Wellbeing is a fantastic class to take. While fulfilling the lab requirement as well as a biological science discovery credit, this class teaches students the science of nutrition and how to eat to make yourself happy and healthy. Your body is a temple, right?

    Emphasis added. That Medical Daily link goes to a 2014 story, with the headline: "Food Insecurity: Why 59% Of College Students May Suffer From Malnutrition".

    So the paper upgraded the "may suffer" to "suffer". Tsk!

    But it gets worse. Following links from the Medical Daily article, brings us to the the paper (in the "Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior") that provides the 59% number: Prevalence and Correlates of Food Insecurity Among Students Attending a Midsize Rural University in Oregon. The full article can (finally) be found here.

    And, control-F tells me that the word "malnutrition" doesn't appear in the paper at all. The actual finding is:

    Over half of students (59%) were food insecure at some point during the previous year.

    Yeah, that's not the same thing.

    Worse: that number is based on a 40-item survey "distributed via e-mail" to all 5438 students at that unnamed college. The researchers got 354 completed surveys. And the 59% "food insecure" figure is based on the self-reporting of 208 respondents.

    The actual questions asked to determine insecurity seem to be here. Example: "In the last 12 months, did you ever eat less than you felt you should because there wasn't enough money for food?"

    And somehow at UNH this gets translated into "More than half of college students suffer from malnutrition". Yeesh.

Last Modified 2023-05-30 7:47 PM EDT

Not For Me, But Perhaps For Thee

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] The Amazon Product du Jour is but one of the items listed on Reason's The Best Ever Libertarian Gift Guide. Their article's links go to Etsy, another fine site, although I don't get a cut if you buy there:

The "Come Back With A Warrant" doormat is a mainstay of liberty-minded home décor, and for good reason. It fulfills a utilitarian function—giving guests a place to wipe their feet—while also making your legal knowledge known to any state actors who might come a-knocking.

With many stylish variations of the, shall we say, un-welcome mat, there is a design for any taste. The basic version of the doormat is a classic—and it has adorned my entryway for two years, while staying in top condition. However, Etsy is replete with other options, from cutesy to, erm, aggressive.

A little too unneighborly for my tastes, but your mileage may vary according to your neighbors.

Briefly noted:

  • If you're looking for something not to be thankful for, Eric Boehm has a suggestion: A Possible Holiday Railroad Strike Would Risk $2 Billion Per Day.

    A threatened railroad worker strike that appeared to have been derailed by the Biden administration is now back on track and chugging quickly toward the holiday season.

    Four of the 12 unions representing workers on America's freight rail lines have voted to reject a new contract proposed by a special presidential mediation board, once again raising the possibility of an economy-crippling strike next month. The unions that rejected the deal are now indicating that they want additional concessions from the railroads beyond what was negotiated by the Biden administration during the summer, The Wall Street Journal reports.

    Hope you're all stocked up on… whatever it is you get by rail.

  • "Smart" people are fans of Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), which will solve all our problems, including many we didn't know we had. Brendan Patrick Purdy is not smart; he is, in fact, very smart. And if some geek tries to sell you on RCV, shut him down with a pointer to Purdy's article: The Flaws of Ranked Choice. It's heavy on theory, and even gets into Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem. (Bookmark it now, just in case.)

  • Scott Alexander wonders: Is Wine Fake? It's an entertaining look at the expertise of wine connoisseurs. Just one paragraph will give you an idea…

    (Do wines ever have 6-carbon carboxylic acids, or 10-carbon alkanes — i.e., goats, armpits or jet fuel? I am not a wine chemist and cannot answer this question. But one of the experts interviewed on Somm mentioned that a common tasting note is cat urine, but that in polite company you’re supposed to refer to it by the code phrase “blackcurrant bud.” Maybe one of those things wine experts say is code for “smells like a goat,” I don’t know.)

    Scott's article convinced me that I'd be unable to distinguish between Caymus Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon (on sale at the NH Wine Store: $73.99 for 750ml) and the plonk I usually drink (Franzia Dark Red Blend, $18.99 for a 5L box).

Last Modified 2023-05-30 7:47 PM EDT

Grow, Baby, Grow

Allison Schrager makes an argument for a strategy that should not need defending, but does: Economic Growth Is Still Our Best Hope.

During a meeting several years ago, as I started to explain to my colleagues how different economic policies could boost growth, a young staffer interrupted me. He announced—quickly, so he could get it all out in one breath—that growth should not be a policy objective anymore, because it destroys the environment. I was stunned—but even more so because many of the younger staffers agreed with him.

But I should have known then that this idea of “degrowth,” like many bad ideas that have taken hold lately, was here to stay. In fact, the idea has been around for a long time already. This latest incarnation began with French social philosopher André Gorz in 1972 and gained some popularity among academics and anti-capitalists. Lately, however, interest in the idea has expanded from activists and idealistic journalists to scientists, academics (including Japanese political theorist Kohei Saito), politicians, and even Steven Chu, a Nobel laureate, professor of physics at Stanford University, and Barack Obama’s energy secretary.

Adherents of the degrowth philosophy believe that economic growth harms the planet, and that stopping it is our best hope to avert environmental catastrophe. London School of Economics anthropologist and degrowth proponent Jason Hickel explained that the philosophy does not aim explicitly to shrink GDP, but it does think that people should consume much less and accepts that GDP will probably fall as a result.

Ms Schrager points out the fallacy to see economics as zero-sum game: that if someone gets richer, it's at the expense of someone else getting poorer. But a "degrowth" takes that fallacy and doubles down, turning (via corecive measures) it into a negative-sum game, moving everyone to a worse-off state.

Well, except for those folks implementing "degrowth": they'd be well-paid, of course.

Briefly noted:

  • At Reason, Damon Root notes an amusing possible outcome from a principled legal argument: How a Gorsuch LGBT Ruling May Doom Affirmative Action in College Admissions.

    In Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia (2020), Justice Neil Gorsuch held that the act of firing an employee for being gay or transgender violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers from discriminating against a job applicant or employee "because of such individual's…sex." "Those who adopted the Civil Rights Act might not have anticipated their work would lead to this particular result," Gorsuch wrote. "But the limits of the drafters' imagination supply no reason to ignore the law's demands. When the express terms of a statute give us one answer and extratextual considerations suggest another, it's no contest. Only the written word is the law, and all persons are entitled to its benefit."

    The results of that strict textualist approach in Bostock were widely cheered by liberals. But liberals probably won't be cheering if Gorsuch adopts a similar stance in the pair of blockbuster affirmative action cases that the Supreme Court is currently weighing. Judging by last month's oral arguments in Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina, the justice does seem to view the statutory debates over LGBT discrimination and affirmative action in a similar interpretative light.

    I liked John Roberts' simple assertaion back in 2007, and it would be nice if SCOTUS (finally) applied it uniformly in the current case: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

  • Charles C. W. Cooke has some advice to GOP wannabes-but-notgonnabes: Don't Run.

    Hey, you. Yes, you. I gather you’ve started hinting that you might run for president in 2024. Here’s an alternative idea: Don’t. Do something else instead. Travel. Learn to cook. Serve on a board. Start a podcast. Build a boat. Just stay the hell out of the field.

    You know who you are. You’re the popular GOP governor of a blue state who believes that, against all odds and in spite of all the laws of supply and demand, he’s going to be nominated in 2024. You’re the Trump appointee who served in the last administration for two or three years and who has for some reason come to think that he might be credible as a MAGA-without-the-baggage candidate. You’re the morally decent Republican politician whose friends have convinced him that all it will take to transcend our current partisan trench warfare is a little integrity and a lot of pluck. You’re the long-retired former party darling who falls asleep each night telling himself that if all the cards fall in the right place, you might squeak to the front of the pack and make it to the convention. And whatever you think is going to happen to you over the next couple of years, you’re wrong.

    Charlie worries that a large GOP field would split the not-Trump vote, and cause (as it did in 2016) Trump to sail to the nomination with a weak plurality, and get creamed in November 2024 by… well, anyone not named "Hillary Clinton".

Last Modified 2023-05-30 7:47 PM EDT

I'm Sure You Get The Reference

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] Bill Barr makes some of that good old common sense: Trump Will Burn Down the GOP. Time for New Leadership.. Skipping down to the bottom line:

It seems to me that Trump isn’t really interested in broadening his appeal. Instead he is content to focus on intensifying his personal hold over a faction within the party—a group that is probably no larger than a quarter of the GOP, but which allows Trump to use it as leverage to extort and bully the rest of the party into submission. The threat is simple: unless the rest of the party goes along with him, he will burn the whole house down by leading “his people” out of the GOP. Trump’s willingness to destroy the party if he does not get his way is not based on principle, but on his own supreme narcissism. His egoism makes him unable to think of a political party as anything but an extension of himself—a cult of personality.

Trump is due credit for stopping progressives’ momentum and achieving important policy successes during his administration. But he does not have the qualities required to win the kind of broad, durable victory I see as necessary to restore America. It is time for the 45th president to step aside.


Last Modified 2023-05-30 7:47 PM EDT

Gathering Five Storms

A Dangerous Clique Novel

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

This is the third novel in Jim Geraghty's series about a small cadre of CIA employees who are assigned the riskiest and most covert of assignments, ones that often result in considerable violence and wisecrackery. I recommend that you read the first two in the series (my reports are here and here) before attempting this one.

Here, the Dangerous Clique seems to be the target of an insidious plot, apparently based on a long-standing grudge someone's held from the group's early days in 2003. But who? Especially since just about all their adversaries from those first missions are pushing up daisies? The flashbacks to those early days describe the group's initial chemistry and motivations, set against the days when we were about to invade Iraq.

Problems abound, especially when the group strenuously objects to actions demanded by an (unnamed) Joe Biden, carried out by the (fictional) CIA director. Things get pretty rowdy, and imperil the Clique's continued existence. This sets up for (yet another) showdown with the bad guys at Nakatomi Plaza One World Trade Center, with what is described as a "luxurious and ludicrously overpriced observation deck".

The book's right about that: as I type, tickets go for $58

The flaws here are the same ones I noticed in the previous books: clunky/didactic dialog, a ludicrous plot, some minor typos, too many pop culture shout-outs. But Jim (I call him Jim) is clearly having a lot of fun writing these novels, and I've had a lot of fun reading them.

Oh yeah, the ending is kind of a setup for the next book. And (small spoiler) the identity of the long-discussed CIA "mole" is revealed, and … well, it's the character who's basically been sporting an "Hey, I'm the Mole" button all along.

Last Modified 2023-05-30 7:47 PM EDT

The First Three Are Free

[He is not alone]

John Hawkins provides 6 Reasons It’s Always a Mistake to Think of Yourself as a Victim. And they are:

  1. It stops you from fixing your problems.
  2. It spurs you to create oppressors.
  3. It traps you in a cycle of failure.

Well, that's only three. You have to subscribe to his substack to see 4-6, apparently. But, really, do you need more than those three?

Briefly noted:

  • [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

    Virginia Postrel recycles a USA Today article she wrote in support of her latest book, The Fabric of Civilization. It is (sort of) Thanksgiving-related. It's about the recently-restored replica of the Mayflower, the Mayflower II. Specifically, its sails.

    The sails look and feel authentic. But there’s a big difference between the 21st-century versions and the 17th-century originals. The modern fabric is a synthetic that behaves like traditional canvas but keeps its shape and resists sun damage. It will last significantly longer than the linen and hemp used in the Pilgrims’ day, and it took less time to make. Much, much less time.

    “We can’t make cloth,” says sailmaker Dayle Tognoni Ward of Traditional Rigging. “That’s where we hold the line.” Exactly duplicating 17th-century cloth would be prohibitively expensive.

    The original Mayflower’s sails were probably woven with around 30 threads to the inch in each direction. If, like the replica, they used 3,800 square feet of fabric, they would have taken nearly a million yards of yarn. Before the Industrial Revolution, just spinning that much yarn required about two years of work. That doesn’t include the laborious process of harvesting and preparing the plant fibers. Nor does it include weaving on looms powered entirely by the weavers’ muscles.

    Ms. Postrel is as insightful today as she was when she edited Reason magazine (1989-2000):

    If, as Arthur C. Clarke famously observed, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, the reverse is also true. Any sufficiently familiar technology is indistinguishable from nature. We no more imagine a world without cloth than one without sunlight or rain. Textiles are just there.

    And they are another thing to be Thankful for.

Last Modified 2023-05-30 7:47 PM EDT

Chanda Prescod-Weinstein: We Don't Need No Stinking Evidence

WIRED has the story, as told by Ramin Skibba: NASA Will Not Change the James Webb Telescope’s Name. It's WIRED's usual slant:

James Webb led NASA in the 1950s and 60s, during the Cold War–era “Lavender Scare,” when government agencies often enforced policies that discriminated against gay and lesbian federal workers. For that reason, astronomers and others have long called for NASA to change the name of the James Webb Space Telescope. Earlier this year, the space agency agreed to complete a full investigation into Webb’s suspected role in the treatment and firing of LGBTQ employees.

This afternoon, NASA released that long-awaited report by the agency’s chief historian Brian Odom. In an accompanying press release, NASA officials made clear that the agency will not change the telescope’s name, writing: “Based on the available evidence, the agency does not plan to change the name of the James Webb Space Telescope. However, the report illuminates that this period in federal policy—and in American history more broadly—was a dark chapter that does not reflect the agency’s values today.”

Odom was tasked with finding what proof, if any, links Webb to homophobic policies and decisions. Tracking down evidence of contentious 60-year-old events made for a difficult subject of study, Odom says, but he was able to draw on plenty of material from the National Archives in College Park, Maryland, and the Truman Library. “I took this investigation very seriously,” he says.

Unsurprisingly, Chanda-Prescod Weinstein (assistant professor of physics and astronomy and core faculty in women's and gender studies at the University Near Here) did not appreciate the decision.

The report and NASA’s announcement frustrate critics who for years have been making a case to change JWST’s name. “Webb has at best a complicated legacy, including his participation in the promotion of psychological warfare. His activities did not earn him a $10 billion monument,” wrote Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, an astrophysicist at the University of New Hampshire, and three other astronomers and astrophysicists in a statement on Substack today. They question the interpretation that a lack of explicit evidence implies that Webb had no knowledge of, or hand in, firings within his own agency, writing: “In such a scenario, we have to assume he was relatively incompetent as a leader: the administrator of NASA should know if his chief of security is extrajudicially interrogating people.”

Let's summarize:

  • If there is evidence that Webb had knowledge of, or hand in, firings of gay people at NASA, that means he was a bigot, and the telescope name should be changed.
  • If there isn't evidence that Webb had knowledge of, or hand in, firings of gay people at NASA, that means he was incompetent… and the telescope name should still be changed.
Or: heads she wins, tails Webb loses.

Last Modified 2023-05-30 7:47 PM EDT

Time to Hang a Uie

I've drastically cut back on my web browsing, but David Harsanyi is one reason I kept the Federalist in the loop. He recently wisely updated the political map: 'National Conservatism' Is A Dead End.

Since a civil war is about to break out and destroy the modern Republican Party — fingers crossed — let me tell you what grinds my gears.

Young NatCons, many of whom I know and like, seem to be under the impression that they’ve stumbled upon some fresh, electrifying governing philosophy. Really, they’re peddling ideas that already failed to take hold 30 years ago when the environment was far more socially conservative and there were far more working-class voters to draw on. If Americans want class-obsessed statists doling out family-busting welfare checks and whining about Wall Street hedge funds, there is already a party willing to scratch that itch. We don’t need two.

“National conservatism”— granted, still in an amorphous stage — offers a far too narrow agenda for any kind of enduring political consensus. It lacks idealism. It’s a movement tethered to the grievances of a shrinking demographic of rural and Rust-Belt workers with high school degrees at the expense of a growing demographic of college-educated suburbanites. 

Wondering what Harsanyi means by "30 years ago"? He's talking about this guy.

Briefly noted:

  • Kevin D. Williamson does a post-election analysis on "right-wing populists" and concludes, simply, that They Got Took.

    Skipping down to a mention of our fair state:

    The Democrats rolled the dice in a big and bold way in the midterms, putting more than $40 million into the campaigns of the nuttiest nut-cutlets contesting the Republican primaries, hoping to advance the worst of the crackpots, coup-plotters, and conspiracy kooks to the general election. This was based on the theory that these howling moonbats would be easier to beat than would some boring, buttoned-down, golf-playing Republican type who might want to talk a lot about inflation rather than Jewish space lasers or the Venezuelan cyber-commandos who run our elections. It was cynical, undemocratic, and immoral—that is, everything you might expect from the mind of a Steve Bannon or a Rudy Giuliani.

    Except for the fact that the Democrats won.

    In every major race in which the Democrats helped to elevate the kind of Republican who is even more daft and irresponsible than the average Republican, the Democrat-backed Republican loon crashed harder than Lynyrd Skynyrd. In New Hampshire, Don Bolduc didn’t lay a glove on Maggie Hassan; in Michigan, Trump-endorsed and Democrat-funded moonbat John Gibbs defeated normie Republican Peter Meijer in the primary and then lost to Democrat Hillary Scholten; in Pennsylvania, conspiracy kook Doug Mastriano rose to the Republican gubernatorial nomination on Democratic wings and not only cost the GOP that race but probably weighed down the rest of the ticket enough to cost television quack Mehmet Oz the Senate race against a cognitively impaired hipster poseur who used to be the mayor of a town you’ve never heard of. The story played out in more than a dozen races.

    Folks who voted for Don Bolduc in the GOP primary should listen to the Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" on a loop until the message sinks in: "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

  • Arthur C. Brooks diagnoses a general problem: America Is Pursuing Happiness in All the Wrong Places.

    As a social scientist, I believe that happiness should be understood as a combination of three phenomena: enjoyment, satisfaction, and meaning. Enjoyment is pleasure consciously and purposefully experienced, so it can create a positive memory. Satisfaction is the joy of an achievement, the reward for a job well done.

    And then, there’s meaning. You can make do without enjoyment for a while, and even without a lot of satisfaction. But without meaning, you will be utterly lost. That is the psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl’s argument in his classic book Man’s Search for Meaning. Without a sense of meaning—a sense of the why of our existence–our lives cannot be endured.

    My general advice to those searching for meaning is "Buy a dictionary." But Arthur has a different take, and it may be useful to you.

  • Good news from Thomas A. Berry and Nicholas DeBenedetto at the Cato Institute: The Police Can't Arrest You for Making a Zombie Joke.

    In March of 2020, during the uncertainty of the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Waylon Bailey of Rapides Parish, Louisiana sought to make light of the situation by posting an obvious joke on his Facebook page. His post consisted of a faux‐​urgent warning to his Facebook friends that the Rapides County Sherriff’s Office had been instructed to shoot “the infected” on sight. His over‐​the‐​top post was complete with all‐​caps text, emojis, and a hashtag reference to Brad Pitt’s role in the zombie movie World War Z. Exchanges between Bailey and his friends in the comments on the post made it clear that Bailey was joking and that his friends and readers were in on the joke.

    And you won't believe what happened next.

    OK, smartie, you probably will believe what happened next.

Last Modified 2023-05-30 7:47 PM EDT

Just Say No

[Progressives for Donald]

Briefly noted:

  • The WSJ editorialists opine on Donald Trump’s Presidential Rerun.

    These columns believe in democracy, which means trusting the decisions of voters. Even when they make mistakes, our constitutional system allows for checks and corrections. We warned about Mr. Trump’s character in 2016, but once he was elected we covered him like any other President. We owed that to readers, and he had many policy successes: taxes and deregulation, energy security, judges, the Abraham Accords, correcting illusions about Iran, among others.

    But his character flaws—narcissism, lack of self-control, abusive treatment of advisers, his puerile vendettas—interfered with that success. Before Covid he was headed for re-election. But the damage from his shutdown of the economy combined with his erratic behavior in that crisis gave Joe Biden the opening to campaign for normalcy. Mr. Trump lost a winnable election.

    That's mild criticism compared to…

  • The National Review editorialists just say No.

    To his credit, Trump killed off the Clinton dynasty in 2016, nominated and got confirmed three constitutionalist justices, reformed taxes, pushed deregulation, got control of the border, significantly degraded ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and cinched normalization deals between Israel and the Gulf states, among other things. These are achievements that even his conservative doubters and critics — including NR — can acknowledge and applaud.

    That said, the Trump administration was chaotic even on its best days because of his erratic nature and lack of seriousness. He often acted as if he were a commentator on his own presidency, and issued orders on Twitter and in other off-the-cuff statements that were ignored. He repeatedly had to be talked out of disastrous ideas by his advisers and Republican elected officials. He turned on cabinet officials and aides on a dime. Trump had a limited understanding of our constitutional system, and at the end of the day, little respect for it. His inability to approximate the conduct that the public expects of a president undermined him from beginning to end.

    I wish I'd been shunted to one of those multiple universes where Mitch Daniels was president.

  • Good advice for the GOP, if they'll only take it, from Veronique de Rugy: Republicans Need an Economic Growth Agenda.

    After disappointing midterm election results for Republicans, many understandably pin blame on corrosive figures like former president Donald Trump. His losing record is impressive considering his cultlike persona appeal with MAGA voters. If Republicans finally learn to shed Trump and his ilk it will be a good thing. However, there's another looming issue for Republicans: their policy agenda (if this mishmash deserves such a name).

    Let's face it, these last few elections weren't contests over conflicting policy visions. Instead, each party did little more than tell voters that they aren't as awful as the other party. Pointing that out is OK but doing so isn't a substantive agenda. Republicans, for instance, were all about how Democrats created inflation and how inflation was terrible for the American people. But Republicans themselves offered no plan to tame inflation. Where are the GOP's plans to control spending? Such control is necessary at the very least for the government to meet its debt-servicing obligations — which are rising with interest rates — without fueling inflation further.

    I think Vero was born in France, which would make her ineligible for President. Still, maybe a President DeSantis could make her an economic advisor.

Last Modified 2023-05-30 7:47 PM EDT

We're Number… Oh, Dammit, Two

[Economic Freedom of North America 2022]

The above map is from Economic Freedom of North America 2022. You'll note that the Granite State is a lonely isle of blue amidst the more statist remainder of New England. Most of the Northeast in fact. You'd have to go all the way down to Virginia to find another state in the top quartile.


In the United States, the most economically free state was Florida at 7.94, followed by New Hampshire at 7.84, South Dakota at 7.75, and Texas and Tennessee at 7.66. (Note that since the indexes were calculated separately for each country, the numeric scores on the subnational indices are not directly comparable across countries.) The least-free state was again New York at 4.25, following California at 4.59, Hawaii at 4.65, Vermont at 4.70, and Oregon at 4.92. For the first time, we have made a preliminary attempt to include the US territory of Puerto Rico in the US subnational index. It came in with a score of 2.04. The next lowest score was more than twice as high.

Note this data covered 2020, the Year of Covid. Arguably, we were a little less free than Florida that year.

Briefly noted:

  • Eric Boehm thinks The Space Force Is an Expensive Farce. Hey, maybe! He's sharp-eyed enough to note:

    The last successful cavalry charge in military history took place in Poland on March 1, 1945—more than a decade before the first man-made object would exit Earth's atmosphere. So it might come as a surprise to learn that the U.S. Space Force—the sixth and newest branch of the military, created by President Donald Trump in 2019—has a stable of decidedly earthbound "military working horses" at the Vandenberg Space Force Base on California's Pacific Coast.

  • This is a pretty good brief article from David Bernstein on the tawdry, politics-driven origins of Your Federal Government's odious policy of racial pigeonholing: The Sordid Business of Divvying Us Up. If you're not mad/disgusted about that now, you will be after reading Bernstein.

  • That visualization Prof Carroll tweeted was from (sigh) Scientific American, Prof Carroll should have known better than to cite them on anything that has a political or ideological component. Hot Air's David Strom has (yet another) example of Bad "science" in Scientific American.

    The author claims to have discovered "stochastic terrorism": the ability of right-wing/conservative pundits to motivate random acts of violence. Strom has plenty of examples of it working the other direction too.

Last Modified 2023-05-30 7:47 PM EDT


[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

This is Joe Ide's fifth novel in his IQ series, featuring intrepid detective Isaiah Quintabe. It made the WSJ's list of the best mysteries of 2021, one of my reading projects. (Which required that I first read IQs 1-4.)

I said "detective" above, but IQ really wants to get out of that business. His past exploits have given him PTSD; worse, many bad people in LA want to kill him. So he takes off to the north, landing in the picturesque town of Coronado Springs, But trouble finds him in the form of Billy, who's busted out of an asylum on a crusade: to save the lovely Ava, his high school crush, from a serial killer.

(One of those odd coincidences: while reading this, I was concurrently reading Lethal White by Robert Galbraith. It's plot also involves its protagonist getting roped into a mystery by the ravings of an unbalanced person also named Billy. At my age, such things can be confusing.)

Meanwhile, back in LA, IQ's retinue try to solve their own problems without his help. Ex-thief, ex-drug dealer Dodson is trying to go legit working as an unpaid intern for an ad agency; he's assigned to a glum has-been who's simply trying to hang on despite his burnout years ago. Deronda, the food truck mogul, is being extorted by a guy with whom she had a one-night stand years back, resulting in a child; IQ's estranged girlfriend Grace helps her out. And a hired killer from a previous series entry is very interested in tracking down IQ, and he sees Grace as a way to do that.

It's certainly a page turner, especially near the end, with a climax full of violence and physical damage to everyone involved. It's also funny in a number of spots, especially when a reluctant tutor tries to shed Dodson of his inner-city ways.

If I had a gripe, it's that Dodson's ad agency odyssey is a little too neat and tidy.

Last Modified 2023-05-30 7:47 PM EDT

Do You Even Science, Sis?

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] The headline on Jazz Shaw's article at Hot Air is a little offbase, but that's OK: NASA explains why we haven't met an extraterrestrial race.

When this story popped up on Yahoo News, I couldn’t resist taking a look. As you may have heard, NASA has taken a greater interest in UFO studies lately and they have always had scientists who have searched for signs of life elsewhere in the galaxy. Now some of their scientists have published a new paper that offers an explanation as to why we haven’t encountered any intelligent life from elsewhere in the universe. The Yahoo article variously describes this news as “heartbreaking” and “crushing.” Of course, all of this depends on whether or not you believe the underlying premise that we really haven’t run into any extraterrestrials yet. (More on that in a moment.) But if you take that as a given, here is part of what NASA offers as an explanation for the Fermi paradox.

The Yahoo! news article is actually a reprint of this HuffPo article. The (unpublished, not peer reviewed) paper from JPL (sponsored by NASA) is here. Spoiler: maybe we haven't met those intelligent aliens because they are destroyed before they get here, for any of a host of reasons: warfare, asteroid collision, climate change, pandemic, runaway AI, and probably some gotchas that escaped the authors' imaginations. This is known as the "Great Filter", and it's nothing new: it even has its own Wikipedia page.

All that is interesting stuff, but what I'd really like to point out is the underlying attitude, especially that of the HuffPo article by "Trends Reporter" Mary Papenfuss. Her headline (as Jazz Shaw quotes): "NASA Scientists Present Theory About Why We Haven't Met Other Intelligent Life. It's Crushing."


And her first paragraph:

NASA scientists have explained in a new paper why they believe it’s likely we haven’t ever encountered intelligent extraterrestrial life — and it’s heartbreaking.


The NASA paper isn't quite so emotional, of course. (It gets pretty flowery, though: "Just as technology enables humanity to push back the boundaries of our knowledge of the cosmos, it tempts as well with the means of self-destruction. Abruptly realized, we find ourselves the sole stewards of a resource rich world – and socially ill-prepared for the job.")

But Mary Papenfuss really wants to believe in intelligent alien species. And, dear friends, that's fine, but that ain't science.

Which brings me to our Amazon Product du Jour, which was found by searching "want to believe". I Want to Believe: Posadism, UFOs and Apocalypse Communism, by A.M. Gittlitz. And that cover! Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, and…

Anyway: Posadism? Let's Google that… and here's a Nation article that explains the basics of this ism you've never heard of:

During the middle of the 20th century, Homero Rómulo Cristalli Frasnelli, better known by his pen name, J. Posadas, was one of the most prominent Trotskyists in the Western Hemisphere. He unionized workers across Latin America and supported Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement. He led the Latin American bureau of the Fourth International, but eventually split from the revolutionary socialist organization in 1962 and created his own Posadist Fourth International.

Then, in 1968, he published an essay arguing that extraterrestrials would play a crucial role in a global anticapitalist revolution. By that point, Castro had already denounced him and Posadas was advocating a nuclear war to demolish capitalist states, leaving the working class to rise from the ashes. Still, his cult-like following grew—despite his increasing interest in communicating with dolphins.

The Nation article also contains a pic (click to embiggen):

[Posadist Meme 1]

Helpful caption: "Posadist memes, like this one, are how many young socialists are introduced to J. Posadas. (Courtesy of the Posadist Paul Mason Memes Facebook page)"

And that Facebook page is pretty easy to find too.

Man, just when you think your side is harboring some crazies, you get reminded that the crazies are everywhere.

Last Modified 2023-05-30 7:47 PM EDT

Quibble: It Was a Pre-existing Condition.

The HTML title tag on this Luther Ray Abel NR Corner post says that Republican Losers Making Asses of Themselves. True! But the actual article headline is ‘Fools and Failures’.

This prolongment of asininity is too frequent a reaction from defeated candidates and their benefactors. It’s embarrassing to watch grown men and women approximate a middle-school shooting guard’s tantrum in the aftermath of his team losing to the local Catholic institution 57–19.

After quoting a tweet from the execrable Josh Hawley:

Luther (I call him Luther) continues:

Trump and his cohort have lost what could have been won, repeatedly. By rejecting the reality and root of their failure, they continue as a fool and his court of lickspittle facsimiles — angry at all the wrong things.

A self-appointed Purgatory of pride and delusion. Sad.

Damn, that young man can write.

Briefly noted:

  • For further diagnosis, Eric Boehm wonders: Maybe Republicans Need a Policy Agenda After All?

    Brief excerpt:

    Without a hateable foil to run against, Trumpism doesn't work as a campaign strategy. It's time for Republicans to rediscover the value of actually having ideas.

    I'm not holding my breath waiting for the current GOP "base" to stop being a personality cult.

  • This may not seem related to the previous items, but: Richard Gunderman muses on the Pathologies of Victimhood.

    As I keep pointing out: this is something George F. Will observed eight years ago: "[W]hen they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate."

    And he got vilified for that too.

  • And finally, our tweet du jour.

    Why are we still there?

Last Modified 2022-11-15 7:15 AM EDT

The Sack of Detroit

General Motors and the End of American Enterprise

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

This finishes up a small project: reading all the nominees for the Manhattan Institute's 2022 Hayek Book Prize. (My previous book reports: here, here, here, here, and here.) I liked this one a lot.

It's the story of how America went wrong in its prevailing attitudes toward "big business". Starting (mostly) in the 1960s, we shifted from viewing corporations favorably as providers of useful products that made our lives better to predators that foisted off defective and unsafe crap that made them billions, but killed a lot of their customers, and injured many more. The author, Kenneth Whyte, concentrates on one company, General Motors, and one skirmish in the battle: Ralph Nader's crusade to demonstrate that their latest new model, the Corvair, was "unsafe at any speed".

Whyte does an excellent job of showing the charges against GM and the Corvair were largely meritless. But their defense was drowned out by grandstanding politicians (notably, Senators Abraham Ribicoff and Robert F. Kennedy), Nader's demagoguery, and a media only too willing to go along in trashing the company.

GM didn't help its case by hiring private investigators to look into Nader's personal and professional life, trying to find something illegal, immoral, or unethical. When this came to light, Nader was able to portray himself as a brave David against the GM Goliath. Again, the media of the day ate that up.

Whyte fits this all into historical context. Nader was not the first anti-corporate crusader; he was preceded by folks like C. Wright Mills, Vance Packard, John Kenneth Galbraith, etc. And the jihad against GM was big, but the thuggish behavior of JFK (and his brother, RFK) against the steel companies in the early sixties presaged the government posing as the protector of the "little guy".

Whyte is not an anti-government crank; he grants that some things that came out of the GM-Nader conflict actually did make motoring safer. But it turned the US into an increasingly litigious and regulatory country, with measurably significant harms to economic growth. And growth is necessary to alleviate poverty, and ensure middle-class prosperity. Our political/economic/legal system is "ridiculously adversarial". And we see echos of that when "entrepreneurial" politicians rail against "Big Pharma", "Big Tech", … whatever target they imagine might give them additional power.

Last Modified 2023-05-30 7:47 PM EDT

You Want Me To Tan What, Now?

Physicist Sabine Hossenfelder is a great commenter on science, with a distaste for hype and phoniness. I usually read the transcripts of her videos. I'm usually not patient enough to watch videos, even from smart ladies with charming German accents.

Here's her most recent, wondering Why are male testosterone levels falling?

And a quote that made me snort:

The probably most prominent advocate for boosting your testosterone levels is Tucker Carlson, an American TV host. He’s seriously worried about the supposed decline of manliness and, among other things, suggests that men tan their balls to increase their testosterone levels. This is what his vision of the future man looks like.

So I made a PhD in physics and somehow ended up on YouTube talking about people tanning their balls. How do I explain this to my mom?

And how would I explain to my mom exactly why I found that amusing?

Briefly noted:

  • And a politics-related tweet from Matt Taibbi, bemoaning the snail-like pace of getting election results in Nevada: They Can't Count Even in Vegas Now?. Key quote: "If they counted money the way they’re counting ballots, those people would be in Lake Mead tied to a cinder block."

Last Modified 2022-11-13 4:11 PM EDT

The Skeptics' Guide to the Future

What Yesterday's Science and Science Fiction Tell Us About the World of Tomorrow

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

An impulse pickup at the Portsmouth Public Library. I mean, that's kind of a neat cover, right? And I like to think of myself as a skeptic, I'm interested in the future, so it's as if this book was written for me.

Although I'm not sure about that apostrophe in the title: shouldn't it be Skeptic's?

And I'm also seeing the primary author identified as "Dr. Steven Novella" on the cover as kind of a warning flag. He's a medical doctor, fine. Which gives him zero additional credibility as a futurist. It doesn't help that it seems that people identifying themselves as doctors on book covers tend to be quacks, charlatans, and grifters.

But the book is pretty good. It's very wide ranging. The first section discusses where trends in today's tech might take us: genetic manipulation, stem cells, brain-machine interfaces, robotics, quantum computing, AI, self-driving cars, material science, various forms of augmented reality, wearable tech, additive manufacturing, energy production. Then a little bit further out: fusion, nanotech, synthetic life, room-temperature superconductors, space elevators. Space travel: advanced rocketry, solar sails, colonization, terraforming. And finally, an entertaining section (mostly) debunking classic science fiction gadgetry: magical energy sources, FTL spaceships, artificial gravity, transporters, immortality, uploaded digital consciousness.

Well, that last one seems doable, actually.

There are a lot of fun shout-outs to science fiction, old and new, books, TV shows, and movies. The authors are SF fans, obviously. And they're not afraid to throw out actual numbers: gigapascals, millikelvins, megajoules; that's nice. (No formulas, though. It is taboo for popular science books to have formulas.) I'd recommend this book especially to STEM-bright high school kids who are also science fiction geeks; there might be dozens out there.

Further quibbles: Despite the title, the authors are not as skeptical as (actual physicist) Sabine Hossenfelder about quantum computing. I caught one minor typo (can't find it now, sorry). And (p. 61) Axlotl tanks in the Dune series grew entire bodies, gholas and face dancers, not replacement organs.

And (sigh) not a word about my favorite panacea for global warming: artificial photosynthesis used for carbon capture. Not too much at all about climate change, or the economic/political issues involved in progress toward a bright and shiny future.

Last Modified 2023-05-30 7:47 PM EDT

Mass Millionaires on the March

Drew Cline makes (roughly) the same prediction Pun Salad did three days ago: Massachusetts votes to raise New Hampshire's median income.

One of the more important New Hampshire stories of the 2022 mid-term elections happened in Massachusetts, where voters approved a so-called “millionaires tax.” That vote represents a pivot back toward the old “Taxachusetts” days when Bay State lawmakers disregarded the interstate competitive effects of their tax policies.

When it takes effect, the “millionaires tax” will levy a punitive 4% tax rate on incomes of $1 million or more. That is on top of the state’s existing 5% income tax. This 80% tax increase for people who earn $1 million or more is likely to motivate a lot of people to seek shelter in places that don’t treat them as cash cows to be milked for the benefit of others.

Massachusetts abuts just one state that does not view people as resources to be exploited. That would be the live-free-or-die state. Accordingly, New Hampshire’s population of millionaires — and people who aspire to that status — should increase a bit in the near future.

I, for one, welcome refugees fleeing economic persecution.

Briefly noted:

  • Victor Joecks of the Las Vegas Review-Journal performed a little experiment to test voting security, and didn't like what he found: Clark County accepted my signature on 6 mail ballot envelopes. (Don't worry, he went to a lot of trouble to ensure what he did was legal.)

    We are supposed to be soothed by repetitive chant: "No evidence of widespread voter fraud."

    The problem is that many places designed voting procedures that make it difficult, if not impossible, to detect widespread voter fraud.

  • I'm a minor crossword fan, doing the daily New York Times and Wall Street Journal grids. But all is not well in puzzleland! New Republic author Matt Harman takes us Inside the Elite, Underpaid, and Weird World of Crossword Writers. The subhed states "Efforts to diversify the industry might be having the opposite effect." Oh no! A short quote:

    For would-be constructors without such personal connections, there’s the Crossword Puzzle Collaboration Directory. The Facebook group launched in 2018 with an associated Google form that pairs newcomers with mentors. It has always been explicit about its aims to provide resources to underrepresented groups: “This matching form is intended specifically for [women, people of color, LGBTQIA+ people, and disabled people] as a tool for addressing structural inequities in the crossword industry. Because our mentors’ time is finite, if you’re not a member of any such group, we ask that you refrain from using the form.”

    Clue: "Judging people by which racial/sexual/etc pigeonholes they fall into instead of merit."

    Answer: WOKEISM

Last Modified 2023-05-30 7:47 PM EDT

The Venice Sketchbook

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

While reading this book I imagined I could feel my testicles shrinking. At least I hope I was imagining it.

I put this in my get-at-library list thanks to it being one of the Edgar Best Novel Nominees for 2022. Which is supposedly for best mystery novel. But I had a very hard time putting it in that genre. The mysterious content is slim to none. No crimes, unless you count war and fascist atrocities as crimes. And it's definitely aimed at those readers identifying as hopelessly romantic chicks. The only hard-boiled things in this book are occasional mentions of hard-boiled eggs. I felt like I was reading a novelization of a Hallmark Movie.

(Well, a novelization of my impression of what a Hallmark Movie is like; I've never actually watched one.)

There's a prologue of a lady named Juliet getting recruited for WWII spycraft by a British consul in 1940 Venice; Italy has just thrown in with the Axis powers, and Brits are persona non grata.

This spy stuff isn't mentioned again until page 324 of this 394-page book; over 80% done.

From that intriguing beginning, the book proceeds on two timelines: one starting in 1928, describing how a young Juliet came to Venice and over the years developed complex and colorful relationships with some of the inhabitants, including the dashing Leo, rich scion of a noble family. The other thread is set in 2001, where Caroline is trying to recover from a divorce from her unfaithful husband, who's absconded with his new sweetie to America, and (worse) keeping their young son in violation of their custody agreement. (Even) worse, Caroline's great-aunt Juliet (yes, that one) kicks the bucket, but not before giving Caroline a few keys and muttering a last request for her to go to Venice to find… something. (These old ladies never seem to set explicit instructions in writing before it's too late.)

So the mystery, such as it is: find out what these keys are for, which Caroline determines mostly by dumb coincidence. And flesh out what happened to Juliet during the war. She eventually does, but not before finding some of that sweet romance her own self.

Talk about clichés: there's even a rom-com "meet cute"; Juliet meets Leo when she attempts to fish a floating cardboard box full of about-to-be-drowning kittens. She kerplunks into the filthy canal herself, Leo fishes her out. And it's loooove at first sight.

Last Modified 2023-05-30 7:47 PM EDT

President Narcissus

[His candidates do poorly]

Adding to Mr. Ramirez's observation, we have a tweet from Matt Wilstein, who caught a candid election-day quip from the ex-president:

I firmly wish that he would just shut up and go away.

Briefly noted:

  • Jeff Jacoby notes an interesting fact: The election's biggest winner? Incumbency.

    He notes a head-scratching collision of realities: polling puts American disapproval of Congress at high levels. But actual reelection rates for CongressCritters and Senators are also extremely high.

    In fact, it appears the reelection rate for Senate incumbents this year was … 100%.

  • I just put Stuart Ritchie's substack onto my feed. I really liked his book Science Fictions when I read it a couple years back. His substack is (um) less formal, as you can tell from a recent article wondering: Does watching pornography cause erectile dysfunction?

    Section headings; "Limp Evidence"; "Smut’s ado about nothing"; and "Onan the Barbarian".

Last Modified 2023-05-30 7:47 PM EDT

Honor One Near You

[Veterans Day 2022]

Last Modified 2023-05-30 7:47 PM EDT

Accuracy vs. Precision

Back when your blogger was a freshman physics major, slightly over a half-century ago, the lab had a textbook by the late Philip R. Bevington, Data Reduction and Error Analysis for the Physical Sciences. I still own my copy, one of the only textbooks I saved from those days. It cost a cool $5.95 back then. Now, Amazon has the third edition; you can rent a copy until January for $20.61, or buy a used copy for—eek!—$93.24.

Anyway, right on page three, there was a brief discussion of "Accuracy vs. precision". It begins:

There is considerable confusion among students as to the meaning of and difference between the terms accuracy and precision. To add to the confusion, Webster defines them equally. In scientific investigation, however, they are assigned distinctly different meanings which must be kept separate.

And there follows three longish paragraphs describing the difference. I remember reading that section. And then rereading it a couple more times.

Ah, if only Prof Bevington had this xkcd cartoon to illustrate:

[Precision vs Accuracy]

Mouseover: "'Barack Obama is much less likely than the average cat to jump in and out of cardboard boxes for fun' is low precision, but I'm not sure about the accuracy."

Alexander Hamilton

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

So I watched the Lin-Manuel Miranda musical Hamilton last year and found it interesting enough to put this book on the non-fiction TBR stack. (Pun Daughter turned out to have a copy.) While Miranda's play took a lot of, um, artistic liberty with the details of Hamilton's life, this book is probably as accurate as we're going to get.

And it was quite a life. Ron Chernow does a good job (as far as I know) in describing the events in Hamilton's life, which turns out to be a good way to discover the history of the early United States; Alex was involved in that up to his elbows. Born ("out of wedlock") in the West Indies, his ambition, diligence, and intelligence soon became obvious, despite his scandalous origins. He was sent to the American colonies in 1772 for a formal education, and he never looked back.

What followed was an immersion (and active participation) in revolutionary turmoil. Again, his talents were such that he found himself as George Washington's trusted chief of staff. His war experiences led him to despise the loose confederation of the colonies, and he became an active advocate for a stronger central government with a powerful executive branch. (Some accused him of being a Brit-loving monarchist.) But he took an active hand in designing the Constitution we all know and love, took a lead role in getting it ratified (you've heard of the Federalist Papers?), and once the new government kicked in, was made Secretary of the Treasury in Washington's cabinet, And… well, there's more.

Including a lot of controversy, that would (eventually) prove fatal. Hamilton found himself in contention with (seemingly) nearly everyone you've heard of in the period, especially the "Republicans" of the day: Jefferson, Madison, et. al. These guys really didn't like each other.

I couldn't help but think about parallels to our present day political controversies. Chernow says the political parties of the day were largely personality cults. The presidential election of 1800 was especially nasty, with skulduggery, talks of extralegal reversal of the electoral results, with threats of violence. And even dark mutterings of secession. By the north.

Nobody seems to get shot these days, though. At least nobody famous. And duels don't happen any more, do they?

Last Modified 2023-05-30 7:47 PM EDT

My Crystal Ball Wasn't Just Cloudy, It Was Opaque

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] Well, I blew those two election predictions I made on Monday. At the NR Corner, Isaac Schorr has some specific observations on our state: Losing Is a Choice.

No one forced New Hampshire Republicans to choose Don Bolduc, the spineless conspiracy theorist, as their nominee to serve in the United States Senate. But they did, and now the race has been called for incumbent Democrat Maggie Hassan with less than 40 percent of the expected vote reporting.


Sometimes, events out of a party’s control condemn them to electoral losses. But oftentimes, losing is a choice, and the fact remains that in several states, Republican voters simply chose to lose.

Schorr's observation also applies to my Congressional District, where full-throated election denier Karoline Leavitt is (as I type) losing to the Democrat incumbent Chris Pappas by about 8 percentage points.

A doleful drubbing, and GOP voters have nobody to blame but themselves.

Briefly noted:

  • Another bit of bad news: Massachusetts Question 1, which tacks on a 4% surtax on income over $1 million, seems to be winning as I type. Massachusetts seemed to have dodged its "Taxachusetts" label in past years, but…

    But that's (sorta) good news, too. We'll probably see a wave of productive folks escaping up here to New Hampshire.

Last Modified 2023-05-30 7:47 PM EDT

The Best Threats are the Existential Ones

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] Luana Maroja, a biology professor at Williams College, writes at Bari Weiss's substack on An Existential Threat to Doing Good Science.

If you had asked me about academic freedom five years ago, I would have complained about the obsession with race, gender and ethnicity, along with safetyism on campus (safe spaces, grade inflation, and so on). But I would not have expressed concerns about academic freedom.

We each have our own woke tipping point—the moment you realize that social justice is no longer what we thought it was, but has instead morphed into an ugly authoritarianism. For me that moment came in 2018, during an invited speaker talk, when the religious scholar Reza Aslan stated that “we need to write on a stone what can and cannot be discussed in colleges.” Students gave this a standing ovation. Having been born under dictatorship in Brazil, I was alarmed.

Soon after that, a few colleagues and I attempted to pass the Chicago Statement—what I viewed as a very basic set of principles about the necessity of free speech on campus. My shock continued as students broke into a faculty meeting about the Chicago Statement screaming “free speech harms” and demanding that white male professors “sit down” and “confess to their privilege.”

Professor Maroja notes (among other things) the denial of sex as a biological binary.

Briefly noted:

  • It's sometimes tough to steer a course between the Scylla of mindless anti-intellectualism and the Charybdis of "lets let smart people run our lives". James Broughel manages that tricky feat at Discourse: The Right Kind of Anti-Intellectualism.

  • At Hot Air, Captain Ed Morrissey notes "strange new disrespect", the latest example being the Washington Paper of Record: WaPo's category of lying for Biden: "The Bottomless Pinocchio".

    Not that it matters, but I've given up trying to dodge the WaPo paywall. (Goodbye, George F. Will! So long, Megan McArdle!) So I'm glad when massive excerpts show up on friendlier sites.

  • And (as it happens) here's another example of that genre, from WIRED: Twitter’s Ex-Election Chief Is Worried About the US Midterms.

    That "ex-election chief" is Edward Perez, and the article is full of sour grapes, and Elon-blaming. (Which is also an ongoing theme at WIRED.)

    Interesting point: the article says Perez left Twitter in September, weeks before Elon took over. An odd thing to happen to the "election chief" so close to an actual election.

Last Modified 2023-05-30 7:47 PM EDT

Pun Salad's Pre-Election Public Service Announcement

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] … is brought to you by Pierre Lemieux: Sorry, But Your Vote Doesn't Count.

“Your vote counts” is an empty slogan or an illusion or a lie. Typically, your vote does not count at all. I am always surprised to find intelligent people who think that an ordinary voter, by using his single vote, has a significant chance of influencing the outcome and consequences of an election. We meet this idea again in Simon Kuper’s Financial Times column (“The Most Powerful Voters Aren’t Who You Think,” October 3, 2022).

Many people seem surprised when an economist or political scientist tells them that, with his single vote, an ordinary and rational voter has no reasonable hope of deciding an election, that is, of changing who is elected (or which proposition is adopted in a referendum) compared to what would have been the case had he voted differently or not at all. Some people either have never reflected on the mathematics of voting, or have never tried to find elections where one vote made a difference, or perhaps they are so engrossed in a simple democratic ideology that they just imagine a reality that matches it.

Note that our Amazon Product du Jour is a book about partisan gerrymandering. Yeah, that's bad, I suppose.

But even in the fantasy world where voting districts were "fair" (by some definition), guess what?

Your vote still wouldn't count.

(For the record, I plan on voting. Because it's my sacred civic duty to vote against all the people Mrs. Salad is voting for.)

Briefly noted:

  • Michael Graham points out the latest survey undertaken by the Survey Center at the University Near Here. It shows Don Bolduc two percentage points behind incumbent Senator Hassan, and Karoline Leavitt a single percentage point behind incumbent CongressCritter Chris Pappas.

    Given the Survey Center's historical Democratic bias (which Graham discusses), I'll go out on a limb and predict that both Bolduc and Leavitt will win tomorrow.

  • At the Foundation for Economic Education, there's one of those articles I'm a sucker for: The States With the Best (and Worst) Business Tax Climate.

    Spoiler: New Hampshire's number 6! The tax climate's fine, businesses! Just be prepared to have your employees unable to find a place to live.

Last Modified 2023-05-30 7:47 PM EDT

Weird: The Al Yankovic Story

[4 stars] [IMDB Link] [Weird: The Al Yankovic Story]

I loved Weird Al's "I Lost on Jeopardy". Unfortunately it didn't make the cut to be included in this biopic. Still, I had a good time watching this free-to-me-with-ads streamer on the Roku Channel.

To be clear, Al was heavily involved in the production of this movie. Hence it is not actually a biopic, it's a parody of a biopic. What did I expect? It stars Daniel Radcliffe as Al. (I think I've seen him in some other movies.) Also appearing is Evan Rachel Wood, as Madonna, with whom Al has a torrid but doomed love affair…

Oops, got ahead of myself there. Before that happens, there are also the classic tropes: Al's realization of his mission in life; parental opposition; his big break into show biz; the adulation of millions; the "you've changed, man!" descent into drunken egomania; the unfortunate fandom of a drug lord. You've seen this story dozens of times.

I have no idea if people without a Roku can see this.

Last Modified 2023-05-30 7:47 PM EDT

The Warp Nacelles Were Always Gonna Be Pricey

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Robby Soave bemoans: Air Force One Cost Overruns Are a Reminder of How Expensive an Imperial Presidency Can Be.

Sustaining an imperial presidency in the air isn't a cheap proposition. It's somehow managing to get more expensive.

On Thursday, airplane maker Boeing announced that the two replacement Air Force One jets it's building will be further delayed and further over budget. Securities filings first reported by the Wall Street Journal show the company expects to lose an additional $766 million on the new presidential shuttles that are also years behind schedule. That brings the company's total losses on the project to $2 billion.

Boeing has a fixed-price contract of $3.9 Billion for the planes. They're technically on the hook for the overruns, But this WSJ report notes that " the plane maker has signaled it may ask for an additional more than $500 million to account for problems related to a key supplier’s bankruptcy and delays related to the Covid-19 pandemic."

Also, a dog ate some of the plans.

Briefly noted:

  • DST is over for now, and the WSJ has advice to the bleary-eyed: Tired of Daylight-Saving Time Confusion? Just Opt Out.

    The end of daylight-saving time in the U.S. on Sunday, a week after Europe, brings the annual confusion of turning the clocks back. Some people are fed up with the whole process. A few refuse to take part in it at all.

    Stefano Pavone from Swindon, England, lives year-round on Greenwich Mean Time, the original standard time. He wears a watch on each wrist as a protest when the U.K. shifts to daylight-saving time from spring until fall. He says he has slept better since making the switch four years ago. “I just need to remember which one to look at when I have an appointment,” he says.

  • The WaPo (via Yahoo News) reports that we could have had a second-best solution: Clock runs out on efforts to make daylight saving time permanent.

    A bill to permanently "spring forward" has been stalled in Congress for more than seven months, as lawmakers trade jabs over whether the Senate should have passed the legislation at all. House officials say they've been deluged by voters with split opinions and warnings from sleep specialists who insist that adopting permanent standard time instead would be healthier, and congressional leaders admit they just don't know what to do.

    It's a second-best solution. Stefano Pavone, above, had the right idea. And so did Pun Salad, nine years ago: The Right Number of Time Zones is Zero.

  • And here's a Janis-free Arlo and Janis with a wise poetic comment:

    [Arlo on DST]

  • The Google LFOD watch brings us an international tale: “Live Free Or Die!” Learn About Solitude, The Heroine Of Guadeloupe.

    “Live free or die!” declared Solitude, “The Warrior Woman” of Guadeloupe shortly before her execution. Her crime, of course, was no crime at all. She helped lead the island’s rebellion to purge slavery and overthrow the French.

    Ackshually, she probably said "Vivre Libre ou Mourir".

  • I rarely post to Facebook, but I couldn't resist:

Last Modified 2023-05-30 7:47 PM EDT

Capitalism is the Worst Economic System, Except For All the Others

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

With respect to our Amazon Product du Jour:

  • I totally agree with the sentiment expressed, but…

  • According to the Fraser Institute's latest edition on the Economic Freedom of the World, there are only 158 countries where you can get less capitalism than in the United States. There just aren't that many countries.

  • And there are six countries where you could get more capitalism than in the US. Well, in 2020, anyway. They were Hong Kong (sigh), Singapore, Switzerland, New Zealand, Denmark, and Australia.

  • I can't find any evidence that Denzel Washington actually said this.

  • But he apparently did say something almost as good: "If you don't read the newspaper, you're uninformed. If you do read it, you're misinformed."

But what I really wanted to point out today is Michael Shellenberger's substack post that tells us Why Elites Like Greta Thunberg Hate Capitalism.

For the last three years, Greta Thunberg has said that her life’s purpose was to save the world from climate change. But last Sunday, she told an audience in London that climate activists must overthrow "the whole capitalist system," which she says is responsible for "imperialism, oppression, genocide... racist, oppressive extractionism." Her talk echoed the World Economic Forum's calls for a “Great Reset” away from fossil fuels and toward renewables. There is no “back to normal,” she said.

But her claims are absurd. The "whole capitalist system" has, over the last 200 years, allowed for the average life expectancy of humans to rise from 30 to 70 years of age. The "whole capitalist system" produces larger food surpluses than any other system in human history. And the "whole capitalist system" has resulted in declining greenhouse gas emissions in developed nations over the last 50 years.

Capitalism is far from perfect. It worsens inequality by making some people so rich that they can rocket into space on liquified hydrogen while leaving others too poor to afford natural gas. It is characterized by cycles of boom and bust that create frenzies of wealth followed by high unemployment. And it is constantly turning non-market relationships, including intimate ones, such as between parents and caregivers, into exchanges between buyers and sellers.

But capitalism is plainly better than any other system of economic organization yet devised. High levels of inequality are the result of more rich people, not more poor people, who are much better off under capitalism than feudalism or communism. The business cycle of booms and busts provokes manias and depressions, but it is much more efficient, and less oppressive than governments deciding what should be produced, by whom, and at what price. And while it’s true that capitalism undermines non-market relationships, that’s often a good thing, even in the case of childcare, since it allows women and others to be compensated for their labor.

More at the link, of course. Including this meme, which is pretty good:

[You have stolen my dreams]

For the record, the Fraser Institute study pegs Greta's home country of Sweden in 33rd place for economic freedom.

Last Modified 2023-05-30 7:47 PM EDT

When in Doubt, Go Semi-Fascist

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

David Harsanyi (yes, again, he's on a roll) is not mincing words: Biden's Energy 'Windfall' Tax Is Election Theater For Economic Illiterates.

President Joe Biden has accused oil companies of “war profiteering” and is threatening to impose a windfall tax if they fail to boost domestic production — and improve the Democrats’ fortunes in the 2022 midterms. It is ugly political theater. Demanding private entities act on behalf of the party or face punishment from the state, as the president might say, is semi-fascisty behavior.

Other than appealing to the anger and frustrations of economic illiterates, windfall taxes (a tax on allegedly excessive, or unfairly obtained, profits) make zero sense. They neither bring down the price of energy nor increase supply. All windfall taxes do is disincentivize oil producers — their business already facing an existential threat from Democrats — from investing in long-term production. And, as with all corporate taxes and regulations, the cost will be passed to the consumer.

Or (sigh) stockholders. I happen to be both a consumer and a stockholder, so it's a double whammy.

The article's accompanying picture has Wheezy Joe talking to the microphones, flanked by Janet Yellen and (I think) Jennifer Granholm:

[The Three Stooges]

I believe Janet could be pictured with a thought balloon: "Somebody should buy Joe a copy of Pun Salad's Amazon Product du Jour. And probably read it to him."

Last Modified 2023-05-30 7:47 PM EDT

Good Advice

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

David Harsany has some: Don't Fall For Dems' Ginned-Up Social Security Scaremongering.

Here are two snippets from today’s New York Times piece contending that Republicans have “embraced” plans to cut Social Security and Medicare:

“The fact that Republicans are openly talking about cutting the programs has galvanized Democrats in the final weeks of the midterm campaign.”

“Still, the fact that key Republicans are openly broaching spending cuts to Social Security and Medicare…”

Boy, it sounds like there’s a ton of chatter in Washington about cutting entitlements. And it’s about time we embraced reform. So, which brave “key Republicans” are “openly talking” and “openly broaching” the idea of reforming Social Security and Medicare? We don’t know, because the author, Jim Tankersley, doesn’t offer a single quote from anyone in the GOP making that argument—not an elected official, not a candidate, not even some fringe backbencher spouting off. How can one of the most prestigious newspapers in the country run a 1,400-word piece asserting that a major political party has been “talking” about a highly controversial policy position and not substantiate the claim with a single quote? That would be the first question of any competent editor.

David, like me, thinks that an honest discussion of entitlement reform without demagoguery would be a real good idea. However, his bottom line:

Don’t worry, though, no one is going to reform entitlements. As 2022 proves, it’s a politically toxic issue that can be easily demagogued.

Last Modified 2023-05-30 7:47 PM EDT


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

A Michael Bay movie! Hadn't seen one of those in a while. It was a free-to-me streamer on Amazon Prime. Compared to other Michael Bay movies, it's relatively explosion-free, although it makes up for that with a two-hour chase scene, with approximately 748 crashing vehicles.

I exaggerate, but not by much.

We have two brothers: Will (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is the one trying to go straight but having a tough time with medical bills; Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal) is the other, doing shady stuff, getting ready to pull off One Last Big Score. Danny ropes in Will to drive the getaway. That goes wrong, of course. And they wind up in … one of those large vehicles with flashing lights. And also a couple hostages: Cam (Eiza González), a beautiful and gifted EMT, and Zach, a cop seriously wounded in the heist. And so the chase commences.

There's a lot of spectacular action and (to my eyes) pretty good acting. And where have I seen that guy before? Oh, right, he was a very menacing bad guy on Justified!

Last Modified 2023-05-30 7:47 PM EDT

Well, That's Just Nuts

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Freddie deBoer is onto something here, specifically The Incoherence and Cruelty of a Mental Illness as Meme.

Here’s what we’ve done with mental health in the popular American consciousness in the span of a few years.

  1. Created a pleasant series of lies about mental illness such that it is defined as a set of attractive and romantic quirks which do nothing to stop someone from participating in public life as a savvy and politically correct person.

  2. Defined any behavior that is genuinely ugly or unpalatable or against contemporary social-political norms as therefore necessarily not the product of mental illness.

  3. Excused the people who comfortably fit in the former category from essentially any of the work of adult life, and insisted that expecting such people to still do that work is “stigma.”

  4. Removed the basic social protections we had in place for people who were guilty of the latter types of behavior, under the theory that “mental illness doesn’t do that,” with “that” meaning “anything not approved by social media users.”

So it’s a great time to be an upwardly-mobile Swarthmore graduate with a professional-managerial class job who never shuts the fuck up about having adult ADHD and whose penalty for failing to take their medication is that they send only 80 emails in a day instead of 100. Those for whom mental illness is a hashtag. It’s a less cool time to be someone with severe paranoid schizophrenia whose medication comes with punishing physical and mental side effects and whose penalty for failing to take that medication is that they start muttering bizarre conspiracy theories about the Jews. For the former, online culture has limitless patience and support. For the latter, who violate identity norms when sick, online culture has only censure and blame. For years now, the severely ill have been pushed further and further into the backseat of the public discourse about mental illness. With the new insistence that mentally ill people never do anything really bad, that process is complete; those who suffer the least from mental illness now blot out the sun.

The boundaries between "mental illness" and having personality features several sigma away from the norm are ill-defined and fluctuate according to cultural and political fashion. And that redounds to arbitrary distinctions on how behaviors are treated: eccentric, immoral, illegal, etc.

I don't have any answers, but (like Freddie) I'm pretty sure current answers are incoherent and cruel.

I've linked to a Thomas Szasz book above. I haven't read it, don't necessarily endorse it. (I'm pretty sure Freddie wouldn't endorse it.)

Last Modified 2023-05-30 7:47 PM EDT

John Tierney Says "I Told You So"

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Back in 1996, John Tierney wrote a provocative essay in the New York Times: titled "Recycling Is Garbage". That heresy drew a lot of criticism.

Tierney now notes a grudging admission at City Journal: On Second Thought, Just Throw Plastic Away. A stance now supported by the last folks you would expect:

Even Greenpeace has finally acknowledged the truth: recycling plastic makes no sense.

This has been obvious for decades to anyone who crunched the numbers, but the fantasy of recycling plastic proved irresistible to generations of environmentalists and politicians. They preached it to children, mandated it for adults, and bludgeoned municipalities and virtue-signaling corporations into wasting vast sums—probably hundreds of billions of dollars worldwide—on an enterprise that has been harmful to the environment as well as to humanity.

Now Greenpeace has seen the light, or at least a glimmer of rationality. The group has issued a report accompanied by a press release headlined, “Plastic Recycling Is A Dead-End Street—Year After Year, Plastic Recycling Declines Even as Plastic Waste Increases.” The group’s overall policy remains delusional—the report proposes a far more harmful alternative to recycling—but it’s nonetheless encouraging to see environmentalists put aside their obsessions long enough to contemplate reality.

The Greenpeace report offers a wealth of statistics and an admirably succinct diagnosis: “Mechanical and chemical recycling of plastic waste has largely failed and will always fail because plastic waste is: (1) extremely difficult to collect, (2) virtually impossible to sort for recycling, (3) environmentally harmful to reprocess, (4) often made of and contaminated by toxic materials, and (5) not economical to recycle.” Greenpeace could have added a sixth reason: forcing people to sort and rinse their plastic garbage is a waste of everyone’s time. But then, making life more pleasant for humans has never been high on the green agenda.

The "far more harmful alternative" Greenpeace is pushing now is banning plastic, starting with "single-use" plastic. Summary: after governments and businesses have wasted billions of dollars (and also wasting untold hours of business/citizen/consumer time) on a failed policy, let's impose an even more heavy-handed policy of prohibition.

Personal note: I recycle, even though I'm sure it's mostly pointless and stupid. The current rules at my local dump are bizarre, nearly requiring an undergrad course in materials science. For "mixed paper" recycling, cereal boxes are "Acceptable", while soft drink and beer pack holders are "Not Acceptable".

I gave up trying to figure out the difference in the composition of a Cheerios box and a Diet Dr Pepper box.

Last Modified 2023-05-30 7:47 PM EDT