Those Too Lazy to Get Dressed Up on a Sunday Morning

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That's my kneejerk answer to the query posed by Kevin D. Williamson: Who Are These ‘Cultural Christians’? He may have a different take:

A peculiar phenomenon of our time is the so-called cultural Christian or even “Christian atheist,” by which is meant someone who finds the moral claims and cultural sensibility of Christianity sympathetic but who does not (will not, cannot) accept the fundamental claim of Christianity, i.e. that the Creator of the universe embodied Himself in the form of a first-century Palestinian Jew who was tortured and put to death before rising from the dead to provide a fallen humanity with a path to redemption.

I do not much blame these “cultural Christians,” a breed that is increasingly common in conservative political circles, inasmuch as the supernatural claims of Christianity are—I write this as a believing Christian—positively absurd on first hearing. Also on second and third hearing, and for many more hearings, and sometimes (often, I think) to the committed and convinced Christian. There are lots of true things that sound crazy. The basic physical mechanism by which an airplane flies has been observed for a few thousand years (the Chinese have been flying kites for a long, long time) but if you tried to explain to some Elizabethan sophisticate, unfamiliar with the technological achievements of our time, that we routinely launch vehicles weighing 1 million pounds (the top flying weight of the 747-400ER freighter is just short of that, and there are much larger aircraft) into the air, under their own power, with very little danger, that one may travel from Baghdad to Athens in one of these in less time than it takes to watch a performance of Hamlet—and that nothing on the exterior of the thing even moves very much, while the whole thing runs on something extracted from the same substance found in that “Pitch Lake” that Walter Raleigh observed in Trinidad—he might think you were pulling his leg.

I prefer the term "Very Bad Christian" myself.

I'm a Dispatch subscriber, but I don't see one of those padlock icons on KDW's article. So go for it, I really recommend it. Also recommend you subscribe.

Briefly noted:

  • If you, like my friend Skip at Granite Grok, are wondering "Since when did biologicals and diseases become part of [the Department of Energy's] established portfolio?", Mr. Geraghty has you covered: The Energy Department Lab Investigating Covid Knows What It’s Talking About.

    Last night, it wasn’t hard to find random people on Twitter dismissing the Department of Energy laboratory report in the Wall Street Journal and insisting, “That department has no expertise whatsoever.”

    Why would the U.S. Department of Energy be weighing in on an investigation into the origins of Covid-19? The short answer is because the Energy Department has a special division that, as part of its mission to track and mitigate the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, specializes in the study of biological weapons such as viruses.

    There are a lot of first-rate research institutions in the United States, but no one would dispute that the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is the biggest of the big-time. In 1949, the Soviet Union detonated its first atomic bomb, establishing itself as a true military rival to the U.S., and launching the Cold War nuclear-arms race. The University of California Radiation Laboratory, Livermore Branch, opened September 2, 1952, on the site of a decommissioned Naval Air Station — and quickly became known as one of the two major government-funded labs developing and maintaining the nation’s nuclear arsenal. The U.S. intelligence community wanted to know everything it could about Soviet nuclear capabilities and would often turn to Livermore scientists to analyze atmospheric nuclear tests conducted by the Soviets as well as soil samples. The site was renamed Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 1971.

    More than (maybe) you wanted to know follows. I also left a comment at Granite Grok.

  • Jason Sorens hits on an occasional theme here. Why is there an ever-increasing in governments Treating Adults like Children.

    New Zealand recently passed a law permanently prohibiting the sale of tobacco to anyone born on or after January 1, 2009. That’s right. If you’re unlucky enough to have been born on or after that date, it will forever be illegal for you to smoke a cigar on a celebratory occasion or to savor a pipe on a dewy summer evening.

    The new law is part of a growing trend in the Western world toward treating adults like children. Even as governments experiment with lowering the voting age to 16, they are raising the age at which we may marry, work, have sex, own a gun, drink alcohol, and yes, smoke. The logic seems to be that young adults are rational enough to make decisions about everyone else’s lives but not their own.

    The key issue Sorens notices:

    When the government treats adults like children, when they criminalize our pursuit of happiness, what does that do to us? Does our power of choosing for ourselves, of weighing risks and benefits, of exercising independent judgment, begin to atrophy?

    Pun Salad answer: yes. And you can see the results of that all around.

  • Oliver Traldi notices A Conspiracy Theory of Connotations.

    Discussions of censorship often operate from the assumption that the main motivation of censors is the suppression of dissent. For that reason, critiques of censorship often attack the idea of suppression: Censorship is often counterproductive and only makes samizdat material more popular. And if an idea is systematically censored, we can never really be sure that it’s wrong, since we’ll never see a full and honest accounting of the evidence for and against it. These are good arguments against suppression, and there are plenty more where they come from.

    However, the goal of suppression does not explain a lot of contemporary censorship, which aims to punish innocuous statements alleged to carry some sort of pernicious hidden message capable of changing the way people think and behave. In such instances, the censorious impulse appears to be paired with a clownishly ridiculous idea of how language and society work—a kind of conspiracy theory of connotations. Three examples of this bizarre approach have made the news in recent weeks.

    Traldi discusses the examples of Roald Dahl, Stanford's "Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative", the AP Stylebook, Ibram X. Kendi, … But apparently just missed our next item:

  • The NYPost reports the latest Bowdlerization: effort: James Bond books scrubbed by 'sensitivity experts' ahead of 70th anniversary.

    It’s a move that might leave some fans shaken.

    [Not stirred. Get it? -- PS]

    Ian Fleming’s James Bond books have been rewritten with modern audiences in mind, with so-called sensitivity experts removing a number of racial references ahead of 007’s 70th anniversary this spring, The Sunday Telegraph reported.

    Particularly painful to me, readers. I recently started a reading project for Fleming's Bond novels. I'm only three books in and new versions of the editions I was buying at Amazon have suddenly disappeared.

    I suppose I can dig out original versions somehow, but I really liked the cover designs on the ones I was buying. (There are used copies available, but unsurprisingly sellers are asking high prices.)


Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:42 AM EST

Jim Geraghty Told Ya So

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Like nearly every other website, I'm pointing out this WSJ article: Lab Leak Most Likely Origin of Covid-19 Pandemic, Energy Department Now Says.

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Energy Department has concluded that the Covid pandemic most likely arose from a laboratory leak, according to a classified intelligence report recently provided to the White House and key members of Congress.

The shift by the Energy Department, which previously was undecided on how the virus emerged, is noted in an update to a 2021 document by Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines’s office.

The new report highlights how different parts of the intelligence community have arrived at disparate judgments about the pandemic’s origin. The Energy Department now joins the Federal Bureau of Investigation in saying the virus likely spread via a mishap at a Chinese laboratory. Four other agencies, along with a national intelligence panel, still judge that it was likely the result of a natural transmission, and two are undecided.

The WSJ adds that the DOE made this judgment with "low confidence". Make of that what you will.

Hans Bader, blogging at Liberty Unyielding, recounts the opprobrium visited upon those who dared utter lab-leak hypothesis (LLH) "too early":

[…] when people like evolutionary biologist Bret Weinstein suggested the possibility that the virus leaked from a Chinese government lab in 2020, they were dismissed by the mainstream media as kooks. In February 2021, Facebook banned any mentions of the lab leak, following “consultations” with “the World Health Organization.”

But the possibility was always obvious to experts. In private, Anthony Fauci and NIH officials worried about the possibility of a lab leak they publicly denied as a “conspiracy theory.”

Yet, in a fact-check it later retracted, PolitiFact gave a Tucker Carlson guest a “Pants on Fire” for the “debunked conspiracy theory” that COVID came from a lab. MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace similarly claimed that “Donald Trump [is] turning his intelligence community to now investigate a conspiracy theory about COVID coming from a lab in Wuhan.” And when Republican Senator Tom Cotton suggested the virus came from a lab, the Washington Post similarly implied that it was a conspiracy theory, reporting that “Sen. Cotton (R-Ark.) repeated a fringe theory suggesting ongoing spread of a coronavirus is connected to research in the disease-ravaged epicenter of Wuhan.” A New York Times reporter dismissed the possibility of a lab leak, saying that the lab leak theory has “racist roots.” In 2020, the Associated Press dubbed the COVID-19 lab leak theory a debunked conspiracy theory.

LLH: it's not just for right-wing racist conspiracy theorists any more:

"Embarrassed" is way too mild a judgment. That "certain cadre of scientists" did incalculable damage to the credibility of scientists in general, those in public health positions in particular.

We now need to view any public health effort as invariably intertwined, and usually tainted, with politics. And, of course, that increased skepticism could have very very bad results. I think good old Aesop had a point to make here.

Finally, let me point out National Review's Jim Geraghty, who very tentatively and responsibly floated the LLH back in April 2020.

For fun, see this June 2020 New Republic article that pooh-poohs the LLH as "an outlandish theory" and a "rabbit hole" that Geraghty too-eagerly jumped down. And besides, Trump might try to use it to his political advantage. Case closed!

Briefly noted:

  • It's not just Covid, of course. John Berlau at CEI points out: Study from Fed Economist Shows Danger of Government-Mandated Financial Misinformation.

    The “Twitter Files” have made some shocking revelations about government entities muscling social media companies to deplatform people in the name of preventing so-called misinformation. My colleague Jessica Melugin, director of the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Center for Technology and Innovation, decried “the use of government coercion to pressure these companies to make politically-motivated decisions they might not otherwise have made.” And as many observers have noted, much of what the bureaucrats called “misinformation” is actually legitimate debate about the science surrounding Covid-19 and other issues.

    Ironically, when it comes to spreading genuine misinformation (a phrase that’s kind of an oxymoron) with harmful effects, one of the biggest culprits is the government itself. One big example of this is federal government policies that for decades have mandated that financial firms exaggerate the interest rates that most borrowers actually pay on short-term, small-dollar loans. These inflated interest figures have dominated policy debates around consumer credit, leading to interest-rate caps that a new study co-authored by a Federal Reserve economist confirms have hurt lower-income borrowers who have few alternatives to obtain credit.

    Once government regulation, based on misinformation, has destroyed the finance markets available to low-income people… well, it's not surprising that the real point of that might have been setting up a socialist "solution": Post Office Plans to Offer Some Bank Services.

  • The blogfather, Glenn Reynolds, has long shared his blog with a mixed bag of contributors, including one diehard election truther. Sad! Although I still read it, because it's only like 30% crazy.

    But Glenn started a substack! So far, entirely respectable. Sample: Mike Pence, Dick Cheney, and the Constitution.

    Mike Pence is arguing that the Vice President is a legislative, not an executive, officer. Mike Luttig has a piece in the NYT calling that crazy. (Link is to Josh Blackman's blog post on same. Luttig’s piece is here, but it’s paywalled.)

    Well, as it happens, I had a piece on the topic in the NYT over a decade ago, and I've also authored a piece in the Northwestern University Law Review on the topic, and I say he's not crazy.

    Glenn points out (at length) that the Veep's only ongoing duties specified in the Constitution are in the legislative branch. And, unlike every other executive-branch employee, the President can't fire the Vice President. I'm very much not a lawyer, but those seem to be good points.

  • Arnold Kling often blogs the same way I (mostly) do: digest-style posts that point to articles by others, with Arnold adding his own comments. Here is a bit of his commentary on a John Cochrane post about the Social Security "trust fund". An inconvenient truth:

    Trust fund, schmust fund. It does not matter whether you pay benefits out of payroll taxes, income taxes, or borrowing. There are only so many bushels to go around. When you keep giving more to retirees, the growth in what workers receive becomes low, or possibly even negative.

    I have been saying for more than two decades that the “retirement age” (I prefer to call it the age of government dependency) should be indexed to longevity. That policy was never enacted. Perhaps it never will be. Your grandparents vote. Your children and your children’s children do not. All I can say to a young worker is—have a nice day.

    That's what I tell my kids. Maybe one day they'll say "Gee, I guess Dad was right all along." Unfortunately, that will be due to my gloomy forecasts coming true.

  • Phillip W. Magness provides a review of a recent book: The Big Myth Is Full of Recycled Anti-Capitalist Cheap Shots.

    Historian Richard Hofstadter once wrote that "the paranoid is a double sufferer, since he is afflicted not only by the real world, with the rest of us, but by his fantasies as well." A compelling case could be made that this affliction has taken hold among the highest ranks of Hofstadter's own profession. New academic "histories" now appear on a near-monthly basis, each blaming a variety of social ills on the conspiratorial machinations around a single idea: the free market.

    Almost everything in this genre follows the same formula. When the American electorate fails to embrace the political priorities of an Ivy League humanities department, these disheartened authors cast about for a blameworthy culprit. They settle on "market fundamentalism" or "neoliberalism." The explanation then takes a paranoid turn, declaring the targeted theories a "manufactured myth" arising from the "inventions" of 20th century business interests, which allegedly hoodwinked voters into accepting the "magic" of the free market as a matter of received wisdom. Certain that they have found the source of their political obstacles, these historians then claim to uncover a "secret" history that has been hiding in plain sight. All eventually settle on a mundane conspiracy of business interests and libertarian economists, who allegedly derailed America from its progressive path by convincing people that markets work better than government at solving problems.

    At some 550 pages, The Big Myth: How American Business Taught Us To Loathe Government and Love the Free Market is among the most loquacious entrants into this crowded literature. Harvard University's Naomi Oreskes and California Institute of Technology historian Erik Conway lay out their conspiracy theory with formulaic precision, but their book is atypical in one significant way. While most of the other works in the anti-neoliberalism genre manage at least to excavate some interesting archival findings about libertarian economists (before badly misinterpreting them), this book is remarkably light on original content.

    Caltech? Oh, man… Worse, it turns out he's adjacent to actual rocket scientists.


Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:42 AM EST

The Annotated Big Sleep

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This was Raymond Chandler's first novel, from 1939, penned after a few years writing short stories for pulp mags like Black Mask and Dime Detective. I think I first read it back in the early 1970s, maybe once or twice since. And (of course) I watched both the movies one with Bogie and the other with Mitchum in the role of private eye Philip Marlowe. When I noticed that used paperbacks of this "annotated" version were pretty cheap at Amazon, I bit. Always looking for new insights.

Chandler's text (footnoted) is printed on the book's left-side pages. Footnotes themselves (written by scholars Owen Hill, Pamela Jackson, and Anthony Dean Rizzuto) are on the right-side pages. This makes them easy to follow.

The classic opening has Marlowe "calling on four million dollars": the frail oil magnate General Sternwood at his palatial estate in Beverly Hills. (One of those footnotes points out that $4 million in 1939 would be about $70 million today. A decent sum in any case.) Marlowe is tasked with investigating how Sternwood's younger daughter, Carmen, wound up being blackmailed by a shady bookseller named Geiger. And (by the way) Sternwood's older daughter, Vivian, has a missing husband that the General took a liking to. But Marlowe isn't asked to investigate that. Not directly, anyway.

Well, Phil is off to the dark underbelly of sunny Los Angeles. (Where it seems to be raining a lot.) Geiger turns out to be a sordid character indeed, but before Marlowe can confront him, Geiger winds up on the floor of his house with a couple of slugs in him. Witnessing all that was a drugged and naked Carmen. And there's a camera. Empty. And then other bodies start piling up.

So much for the plot, how much do the annotations add to the reader experience? It's a mixed bag. Some are trivial. (Did you know that a "croupier" is the guy running the roulette wheel? Well, maybe not everyone does.) Some are overly literary, looking for symbolism and psychosexual indications. The anecdote about Chandler being asked by movie screenwriter Leigh Brackett who committed one of the murders, and replying that he didn't know for sure—that's here. Some others are pretty interesting. For example, I never noticed that (spoiler, sorry) "Pretty much everything that did happen [in the novel] would have happened anyway without Marlowe." Well, I can think of one thing, but I get the annotator's point: Marlowe observes, he's less of an active participant. Not for lack of trying though.


Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:41 AM EST

The Phony Campaign

2023-02-26 Update

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No changes to our phony candidate list this week. Although Michelle Obama is uncomfortably close to breaking back into contention; she's at 1.8% (as I type) at EBO.

And 'Other' is maintaining his (or her) strong showing with (again, as I type) an 11.2% chance of becoming our next president.

In terms of the phony standings, Secretary Pete seems to be making a run at challenging Governor Ron for the top spot. Given recent news, that's unsurprising. Veep Kamala moved impressively from sixth place to fourth.

And Nikki Haley dropped from fifth place to last:

Candidate EBO Win
Probability
Change
Since
2/19
Phony
Hit Count
Change
Since
2/19
Ron DeSantis 23.0% +1.2% 4,770,000 -20,000
Pete Buttigieg 2.2% -0.2% 2,520,000 +1,090,000
Donald Trump 20.5% -0.2% 1,070,000 -30,000
Kamala Harris 3.1% -0.6% 737,000 +640,800
Joe Biden 27.3% +0.8% 354,000 +15,000
Gavin Newsom 2.5% -0.8% 45,500 +3,800
Nikki Haley 3.5% -0.2% 37,700 -75,300

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

The news behind the phoniness:

  • J.D. Tuccille claims that President Joe might have been less that straightforward in the pledges he made ("as a Biden") during his previous campaign: Biden Promised a Return to 'Rule of Law' Governance. His Record Says Differently..

    Once upon a time, Joe Biden touted himself as the return of "the rule of law, our Constitution and the will of the people" after the whim-driven behavior of his erratic predecessor. Well, every politician needs a marketing hook, but like many of his colleagues Biden doesn't take his own P.R. very seriously. As have other officeholders, the current president quickly started playing fast and loose with legality, and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says those habits continue to this day with some administration appointees exercising power in violation of the law.

    "Pursuant to section 3349(b) of title 5 of the United States Code, we are reporting a violation of the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 (Vacancies Act), at the Federal Labor Relations Authority [FLRA], with respect to the General Counsel position," the GAO noted on February 8. "Specifically, we are reporting that the service of Charlotte A. Dye as Acting General Counsel from November 16, 2021, through the present day is in violation of the Act."

    Frankly, I am getting kind of bored with pointing out Biden's impeachable conduct. Let's get a new president so I can start pointing out their impeachable conduct.

  • Andrew C. McCarthy thinks Nikki Haley’s Call for Mental-Competency Tests Is a Stunt.

    Ilike Nikki Haley. I don’t give her presidential bid much of a chance, but I think she’d be a fine president — far better than the one we have now and better than most we’ve had for the last three decades. She’s got a better shot at the bottom than the top of the ticket, and even if she falls short of the vice-presidential nomination, she should be well-positioned to be a significant player in the next Republican administration, ideally starting in January 2025.

    Unless she goes clown-show, that is, in which case she’ll make herself irrelevant in a hurry.

    So I’m sorry to see Haley start out with a clown-show proposal, one that undercuts what should be the strength of her brand: that she’s a serious person, optimistic about the nation’s prospects while well well-informed and realistic about its challenges. If that’s where you’re coming from, you don’t want to start out by proposing something that would be patently in violation of the Constitution you want people to believe you will preserve, protect, and defend.

    As John McCormack notes, Haley has proposed a mental-competency test for politicians over the age of 75 who want to serve in high office. It’s try-too-hard politics for someone whose very age (51) and appearance testify loudly to her advantages over some of her main competition, including the incumbent president (80 and feeble) and the former president (76 and becoming a crazy-uncle caricature). Haley doesn’t need a law to contrast herself with these older rivals. And she should want to prove herself by beating them fair and square, rather than rigging the game to disqualify them.

    I don't see any reason for the age requirement. George F. Will is 81, and I'm pretty sure he'd score pretty high. Way higher than Biden (80) or Trump (76).

    A couple election cycles back, I got tired of journalists posing "gotcha" questions to candidates they obviously despised, while better-liked candidates got softballs.

    That's why my clown-show proposal is some sort of televised quiz show featuring all major candidates.

    Since this great idea has zero chance of implementation, I haven't worked out the details yet.

  • Emma Camp is not a fan of one of the proposals from Governor Sunshine State: Ron DeSantis Wants To Rewrite Defamation Law.

    A legislative ally of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis introduced a bill in the Florida House on Tuesday that would remove many of the legal protections against defamation lawsuits established in the 1964 Supreme Court case New York Times v. Sullivan. The new bill is yet another attempt by DeSantis, an aggressive critic of defamation law, to curb First Amendment protections in Florida.

    Introduced by Rep. Alex Andrade (R—Pensacola), the bill would make sweeping changes to the standards for pursuing a defamation claim against a public figure. The law would narrow the definition of a public figure by excluding persons whose notoriety arises solely from "defending himself or herself publicly against an accusation," giving an interview on a subject, public employment (other than elected or appointed office), or "a video, an image, or a statement uploaded on the Internet that has reached a broad audience."

    Camp quotes Joe Cohn, the legislative and policy director at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), who claims the proposed legislation is "aggressive and blatantly unconstitutional".

    Can we pre-impeach a president?

  • But that's not all from Ron: Emma Camp is on his case again with respect to a different assault on liberty: DeSantis Wants to Cultivate ‘Viewpoint Diversity’ By Censoring Colleges. With legislative ally Alex Andrade making a repeat appearance:

    A bill introduced at the Florida House this week aims to erase a wide range of academic freedom protections for faculty at state colleges and universities and enact strict requirements on university curricula.

    The bill was originally proposed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in January. "In Florida, we will build off of our higher education reforms by aligning core curriculum to the values of liberty and the Western tradition," said DeSantis in a January press release, adding that the legislation would be "eliminating politicized bureaucracies like DEI, increasing the amount of research dollars for programs that will feed key industries with talented Florida students, and empowering presidents and boards of trustees to recruit and hire new faculty."

    Just a suggestion, Ron: try to counter indoctrination at Florida universities without championing "likely unconstitutional" laws.


Last Modified 2024-01-22 9:00 AM EST

Wynette! Thou Shouldst Be Living At This Hour!

[Welcome to Splitsville]

I thought I'd put up the Spanish version of Mr. Ramirez's recent cartoon. You can click on the pic for the English version if necessary. Note the portrait on the wall…

And (if necessary) headline references are here and and here.

But as to the topic in question: David Harsanyi writes, with a headline you might expect at the Federalist: We Don't Need A 'National Divorce,' We Need More Federalism.

Marjorie Taylor Greene says the country needs a national divorce. “We need to separate by red states and blue states and shrink the federal government,” she tweeted. “Everyone I talk to says this. From the sick and disgusting woke culture issues shoved down our throats to the Democrat’s traitorous America Last policies, we are done.”

Generally speaking, I’m sympathetic to the idea that the political left is unable to accept a truly diverse nation. Virtually every legislative policy proposal from modern Democrats — and every policy issued by edict — strengthens federal power and economic control over states. Modern Democrats are champions of direct democracy, an effort to undercut the choices of local communities and individuals. When they don’t get their way, the D.C. bureaucracy steps in to circumvent the will of states. And when courts stop them, Democrats work to delegitimize and weaken the judiciary. Just this week, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., argued states should simply disregard the Supreme Court when they don’t agree with a decision. Ignoring the division of power is far more likely to cause a national schism than any Greene tweet.

None of that means a “national divorce” — really secession, since other states are unlikely to concede to a split — isn’t a reckless thing for someone who took a vow to defend the Constitution to advocate. Even if we took a moment to seriously contemplate the idea, how would it be achieved? We aren’t separated ideologically into large geographic regions or even states, but rather urban, suburban, and rural areas. Conservatives like to share that map showing virtually the entire country painted in electoral red — and it matters more than Democrats like to admit. But we can’t discount that density also matters. A “national divorce” would create even smaller minorities and divisions, but little difference in the way of policy. (How are the Greenes going to shrink the government when they won’t even reform entitlements?)

Also weighing on on MTG is KDW (Kevin D. Williamson): My Own Private East Pakistan. Check it out for a history lesson on the India/Pakistan/Bangladesh experience. His bottom line:

Of course, “national divorce” is silly talk, but Marjorie Taylor Greene is still a member of the House of Representatives who has the ear of the speaker of the House and sits on the Homeland Security Committee in spite of her stated desire to implement a program that would—let us be plain about this—obliterate that homeland to such an extent that it ceases to exist as the United States of America. Destroying the United States as such would not be an unhappy side effect of this policy—it is the policy.

I do not blame Marjorie Taylor Greene for being what she is any more than I blame an oyster for not being Itzhak Perlman. The same is true for Matt Gaetz, Lauren Boebert, George Santos, and the rest of the Republican clown show. I do blame the people who have benefited politically and financially from elevating these lunatics and grifters and for putting them in a position that obliges us to worry about their proposal to smash the country to bits in a tantrum.

Unconvinced? Well, maybe Wilfred Reilly can persuade you Why ‘National Divorce’ Is an Insanely Bad Idea. His bottom line:

The most basic, heart-rending questions would immediately arise: Who gets the national anthem, the eagle symbol, and most especially the former United States flag, which so many have willingly died for? For that matter, who gets the nukes: Are these simply broken up on a state-by-state basis, with Montana and North Dakota immediately becoming world-stage power players? Xi Jinping would cut off his own right arm to see this happen.

It should not and will not. But there is a genuine and much less drastic solution to the very real issue — the sheer size and diversity of the modern United States — that underlies Greene’s ill-considered notion. That solution is a revitalized federalism. Almost no one on the political right would disagree that federal-government overreach into the traditional prerogatives of the states is a problem, or that at least some politicians — including President Biden, who recently signed an executive order promoting “equity” in virtually every arena of public life — seem poised to make this problem worse.

Yet there seems no real reason to let this trend continue — given the counterbalances of a Supreme Court that currently slants 5–4 or 6–3 to the right, a competently led GOP majority in at least the U.S. House, the statistically likely election of a conservative president in 2024, and plain citizen preference for greater state independence — instead of working hard to reverse it. Simply put, North Dakota does not want the same policies regarding gun ownership and “gender-affirming care” for teens as California — but it should not have to leave the country to get different ones. There’s a Constitution for that.

MTG snorts at your Constitution, Professor Reilly! You expect her to read it?

Briefly noted:

  • The folks at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) have come up with a dandy proposal for state legislation: the Intellectual Freedom Protection Act Draft. And there's a local angle for us Granite Staters right in paragraph one:

    WHEREAS in 1957’s Sweezy v. New Hampshire, the Supreme Court of the United States observed that “[t]he essentiality of freedom in the community of American universities is almost self-evident. No one should underestimate the vital role in a democracy that is played by those who guide and train our youth. To impose any strait jacket upon the intellectual leaders in our colleges and universities would imperil the future of our Nation. . . . Teachers and students must always remain free to inquire, to study and to evaluate, to gain new maturity and understanding; otherwise, our civilization will stagnate and die.”; and

    The Marxist economist Paul Sweezy was targeted for (among other things) a lecture he gave in 1954 at the University Near Here; the state's Attorney General, Louis Wyman, wanted to make sure there was none of that Commie subversion goin' on. Sweezy objected to that, and SCOTUS agreeed.

    Today, of course, the ideological strait jackets are being tailored by the Left, in the form of required fealty to the holy trinity of "Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion", amen. For example, it appears the University Near Here requires a "diversity statement" from all applicants to faculty positions, and even some non-teaching spots.

    The meat of FIRE's proposal:

    No public institution of higher education shall condition admission or benefits to an applicant for admission, or hiring, reappointment, or promotion to a faculty member, on the applicant’s or faculty member’s pledging allegiance to or making a statement of personal support for or opposition to any political ideology or movement, including a pledge or statement regarding diversity, equity, inclusion, patriotism, or related topics, nor shall any institution request or require any such pledge or statement from an applicant or faculty member.

    I almost never write to legislators, but I thought it would be fun to recommend FIRE's proposal to my State Senator, David Watters. I'll let you know if I hear anything back.

  • In our "Bad Ideas Never Die" Department, David McGarry notes the NetNeut fans are trying, trying again: Biden Renominates Gigi Sohn, Net Neutrality Advocate, to the FCC.

    President Joe Biden has renominated Gigi Sohn to fill the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) now-vacant fifth seat. This is the third time Sohn has been nominated. Should she gain the Senate's approval, she will break the agency's current 2–2 Democrat-Republican logjam and allow the agency to re-enact Obama-era net neutrality regulations, which are economically nonsensical and largely unnecessary.

    The FCC's 2015 regulations forbade internet service providers from blocking content or discriminatorily slowing specific content and banned the practice of paid prioritization—i.e., a company paying an internet service provider (ISP) to favor its content. Left unregulated, Sohn and other proponents insist, greedy ISPs would create a two-tier internet that benefits the rich and powerful to the detriment of everyday internet users. The FCC rolled back its net neutrality regulations in 2017, and the two-tiered hellscape Sohn predicted has yet to materialize. On the contrary, today's median download speed for fixed broadband is nearly 200 megabits per second; in 2015, the average speed was just 55 Mbps.

    Here at Pun Salad Manor, we've managed to avoid the bleak hellscape, which I was promised would occur under a non-Neutral Net. I'm a little jealous, however of that 200 Mbps number. I usually clock in at 75 or so. But it's certainly "fast enough".

  • Addendum to yesterday's item concerning the Bowdlerization of the Roald Dahl oeuvre: Dahl's publisher has committed to bringing out the Roald Dahl Classic Collection, the originals.

    Puffin announces today the release of The Roald Dahl Classic Collection, to keep the author’s classic texts in print. These seventeen titles will be published under the Penguin logo, as individual titles in paperback, and will be available later this year. The books will include archive material relevant to each of the stories.  

    The Roald Dahl Classic Collection will sit alongside the newly released Puffin Roald Dahl books for young readers, which are designed for children who may be navigating written content independently for the first time. 

    "Navigating written content"? I think they mean "reading".

    So that's good news, I guess. Bur as I said in an update to yesterday's item: publicity about all this will have the Dahl Estate and the publishers giggling all the way to the bank.


Last Modified 2024-01-30 6:42 AM EST

Fantastic Mr. Faux

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
Megan McArdle explains Why it’s wrong to rewrite Roald Dahl’s children’s books.

Few literary reputations have suffered as great a reversal as that of Thomas Bowdler, and even fewer so deservedly. The “family” edition of Shakespeare that he and his sister created, methodically stripping out the faintest trace of “profaneness or obscenity,” was for a while the best-selling edition of the Bard’s works. Over time, however, people noticed that he had removed some of Shakespeare’s most vivid and enduring phrases, such as “the beast with two backs.” Bowdler’s work fell out of print, his name forgotten except as a synonym for all the purse-lipped virtue vandals who would “bowdlerize” great books in the name of protecting children.

Let us hope a similar fate awaits the literary lobotomies recently performed on the works of Roald Dahl by Inclusive Minds, an organization that describes itself as “passionate about inclusion, diversity, equality and accessibility in children’s literature.” Judging by the edits they recommended, their actual passion is altering books to suit the most oversensitive and historically illiterate lunatic imaginable.

Oops, I meant to say “person experiencing lunacy.”

The changes made, in conjunction with the publisher Puffin and the Roald Dahl Story Co., range from the predictable — the word “fat” has been effaced — to the stupid, such as changing “denizen” to “resident” — to the inexplicable: “She looked as though she was going to faint” was for some reason snipped out of “George’s Marvellous Medicine.”

I have a copy of Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox on my bookshelf. It's kind of beat up, but it's unBowdlered, and I'd be willing to part with it for an equally fantastic amount of money.

(I understand the new title will me Fantastic Mx. Fox. Or… see today's headline.)

[Update: The publisher has announced that it will make Dahl's original versions available as "The Roald Dahl Classic Collection". This will involve a certain amount of laughing all the way to the bank for them, I expect.]

Briefly noted:

  • A recent editorial column in my local paper (to which I no longer subscribe) proclaimed "I am woke — and proud of it."

    The author, Robert Azzi, accomplished this feat by his circular definition of "woke": essentially, an encapsulation of all of Robert Azzi's political opinions.

    It's a fun game! Anyone can play!

    But (seriously folks) slippery definitions are endemic in politically-charged environments. But Noah Rothman points out No One Is Confused by ‘Wokeness’ in Practice.

    Republicans have no idea what they’re talking about when they use the word “woke.” That is the premise from which the Washington Post’s Ashley Parker and Liz Goodwin begin in a report on the torturing of this loaded word by its detractors on the right.

    Aspirants for high office within the Republican firmament are quick to deploy the term, these reporters note, but its malleability renders the word meaningless. And yet, the term “originated in black culture before being co-opted by white people,” and conservatives only “began using ‘woke’ in pejorative terms to undermine black and liberal ideas,” according to the reporters’ restatement of Duke University professor Candis Watts Smith’s verdict. That was “not an accidental choice.”

    So, the word “woke” is nonsensical, and those who use it have no shared understanding of what it means. But it’s also a racist sleight deployed deliberately to broadcast and popularize bigotry. An irreconcilable contradiction is an unpromising way to begin a piece designed to indict Republicans for being unclear.

    Similarly with "Critical Race Theory": you'll see "That's only being taught in law schools" close by "It's a terrible thing to ban it from being taught in K-12."

  • Nate Hochman examimes another red-flag bit of terminology. DEI Is a Lie: Left Already Knows.

    As “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI) spills out of the faculty lounge and euphemizes its way into the nation’s elite institutions, conservatives have begun to notice something’s amiss. “One Type of Diversity Never Seems to Matter,” Carrie Lukas declared in Forbes, pointing out that DEI doesn’t give a fig for “political or ideological diversity.” “‘Equity’ doesn’t mean what the left says it means,” a headline from Matt Clark, the president of the Alabama Center for Law and Liberty, argued. In the Washington Times, Everett Piper polemicized against left-wing “hypocrites” who supported censorship and illiberalism while invoking “inclusion,” “diversity,” and “tolerance.”

    Allegations of hypocrisy, of course, are merited. Scott Yenor’s recent report on the rise of the equity regime at Texas A&M (TAMU) provides a glimpse into the gap between DEI’s public claims and its real, material meaning. Formally, Yenor notes, “diversity” is portrayed as the principle that “everyone and every group should be valued” by “embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of difference”; in practice, it represents “an identity-based approach to society,” intended to box out “now-disfavored groups like whites and males through ‘political quotas.’” Formally, “equity” is allegedly aimed at “overcoming challenges and bias to achieve equal opportunity”; in practice, it redounds to “equality of outcomes plus reparations.” Formally, “inclusion” means “bringing the formerly excluded into activities and decision-making so as to share power”; in practice, it’s “enforced segregation of people by race” and “restrictions on speech” for disfavored groups.

    Yenor substantiates those claims with a startling statistic: As the DEI regime advanced through TAMU — to the tune of well over $11 million, and an array of new programs, departments and salaried sinecures for diversity czars — white, black, and Hispanic students all began to feel more alienated from the university. From 2015 to 2020, the percentage of white students “who agreed or strongly agreed that they belonged at A&M” declined by 10 points. Over the same period, the percentage of Hispanic students who said they belonged declined by 12 points. For black students, the percentage declined by a whopping 27 points.

    Googling for the terms "diversity", "equity", and "inclusion" in the unh.edu domain gives (as I type) "about 11,500 results". (The University Near Here, like the Inclusive Minds folks mentioned above, seems also to toss in "accessibility" into the DEI triumvirate, because hey why not.)

    As near as I can tell, nobody's bothered to carry out a Yenor-style study of whether the DEI efforts at UNH have had any measurable benefit.

    Or maybe they have studied it and they're too scared or embarrassed to publicize the results.

  • Jacob Sullum notes some incipient cognitive dissonance at America's Newspaper of Record: 'America Has Lost the War on Drugs,' The New York Times Says, but Should Keep Fighting It Anyway. Sample:

    "Criminal justice still has a role to play in tackling addiction and overdose," the Times says. Why? Because "the harm done by drugs extends far beyond the people who use them, and addictive substances—including legal ones like alcohol—have always contributed to crime." The Times thus concedes that the problems posed by illegal drugs are fundamentally similar to the the problems posed by alcohol, which the government addresses without prohibiting the manufacture, sale, and possession of booze. Might that approach be extended to other drugs?

    The Times does not consider that option, despite the precedent established by its endorsement of marijuana legalization. Nor does it say exactly what role criminal justice should play in discouraging drug use, although the role it imagines clearly goes beyond punishing drug users who commit crimes against people or property, prohibiting reckless behavior such as driving while intoxicated, and enforcing age restrictions.

    There's a hardwired "Do Something!" instinct in the human political mind when it observes problematic behavior. And, to such minds, "prohibition" is usually Plan A. And sometimes Plans B, C, D,…

  • Another hardwired political instinct: "Maybe if we ignore the problem it will go away." That seems to be the prevailing opinion about Social Security. For those looking to not ignore that problem, Johan Norberg offers: How Sweden Saved Social Security.

    ‘There are few issues on which Sweden and the United States are not in perfect sync,” then-Vice President Joe Biden said here in 2016. Here’s one: Social Security. President Biden refuses to consider any reforms, and so do many Republicans. But that won’t save the program; it’ll doom it. In a little over a decade, the trust fund will be exhausted.

    Sweden faced the same problem in the early 1990s. The old pay-as-you-go pension system had promised too much. With fewer births and longer lives, projections showed the system would be insolvent a decade later. As Mr. Biden has said in another context, Sweden has “an ethic of decency.” Its politicians chose not to deceive the voters. The center-left Social Democrats acknowledged that the system “would not withstand the stresses that can be foreseen.”

    In 1994 the Social Democrats agreed with the four center-right parties to create an entirely new system based on the principle that pensions should correspond to what the beneficiary pays into the system—a system in which the contribution, not the benefits, is defined.

    Norberg further notes that Swedish pols "prepared their citizens with an adult conversation about costs, benefits and what was possible, instead of merely rehearsing slogans and ignoring the inevitable crash."

    Adult conversations! What a concept!


Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:41 AM EST

Were the New Hampshire Constitution Authors Incredibly Prescient?

Could be: [NH Constitution Comic]

That's from the "new to me" website Live Free and Draw, brainchild of artist Marek Bennett. Click on the image for a larger version and the artist's commentary.

Briefly noted:

  • What's the most predictable outcome of a disaster that causes anger and fear on the news channels? If you're used to gun control debates, you probably already know the answer. But it applies in other situations too, and Dominic Pino describes the latest exxample: Buttigieg Uses Ohio Train Crash to Push Progressive Priorities.

    The Department of Transportation announced a suite of policy actions it intends to take in response to the February 3 train crash in East Palestine, Ohio. “We at USDOT are doing everything in our power to improve rail safety, and we insist that the rail industry do the same — while inviting Congress to work with us to raise the bar,” said Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg.

    Looking closer at the department’s proposals, safety does not seem to be the primary justification. Instead, they include demands that environmentalists and unions have made for years, and none of them would have prevented the East Palestine crash.

    Yes, it's the standard now: "This latest catastrophe tells me that we must do these ten things I've always wanted us to do, none of which would have averted that catastrophe."

  • You might have heard the outrage! A typical MSM story a couple weeks back: Florida school district pulls children's book about Roberto Clemente off shelves.

    A large Florida school district has pulled an illustrated children’s biography of Pittsburgh Pirates legend Roberto Clemente off its shelves to determine whether it is “developmentally appropriate for student use.”

    Those laws, the district said, require books in schools to be free of pornography; instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade; and discrimination “in such a way that an individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex or national origin, is inherently racist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

    Those laws, the district said, require books in schools to be free of pornography; instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade; and discrimination “in such a way that an individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex or national origin, is inherently racist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

    Accompanied by the usual op-eds who use the Clemente example to show what a fascist Ron DeSantis is.

    But I couldn't help but wonder if yanking the Clemente book (and others) from library shelves was intended by government schoolers to provoke that outrage.

    Certainly DeSantis thinks so. See this Axios article: DeSantis calls Roberto Clemente book removal "a joke".

    DeSantis told reporters at a press conference Tuesday that the removal of the Clemente book by the Duval County Public Schools was "outlandish" and suggested the district was trying to grab headlines.

    • "They're manufacturing that to try to create a narrative."
    • "First of all, I don't think parents are challenging that. I think they're doing it unilaterally to try to create an issue, but that can be resolved in about two minutes."
    • DeSantis said new state laws limiting diversity discussions target "pornography" and books with sex acts, not figures like Clemente.

    Axios seems unanxious about investigating to see whether there's any truth to DeSantis's claim.

    But here's an interesting article from Jonah Winter, author of the Clemente book: My books are banned by the right and the left. He seems to have bought the story that right-wing neo-Hitlers were behind the ban in Florida. Fine, can't really blame him, if he gets his news from (say) NPR or MSNBC. But:

    What hurts a book or an author is the far more effective cancel culture of the left, by which I mean the small but vocal subsection of illiberal ideologues who’ve commandeered both liberalism in general and the publishing world specifically, often using their power to attack well-meaning authors in the form of social media pile-ons and the resulting cancellations, both of which I’ve experienced.

    I’ve had two book contracts canceled because of my identity in relation to the subject matter. I am a white man. The irony of the big to-do being made over the banning of my Clemente book by conservative activists is that, were I to try and publish that exact same book today, I would not be able to get it published because of progressive activists.

    In today’s world of children’s books, governed by the ideological mantra of “own voices,” I am not allowed to tell the story of anyone who’s not white or male. I’ve been told this point-blank not just by many editors, including the main editors I have worked with throughout my 32-year career, but also by my agent, who sees little point in sending out manuscripts of mine about people of color, because she knows what the response will be.

    Winter also notes that his books, including the Clemente book, sell even better after their "bans" are publicized. (The never-published ones… well, they don't sell at all.)

  • Michael Shermer tries out a thesis at Quillette: Left or Right, Politicians Shouldn’t Be Telling Academics What They’re Allowed to Teach. After describing the leftist dominance of academia, tech, entertainment, the MSM,…

    Given this, it’s understandable that many American conservatives have become enraged by what they see as an uneven cultural playing field—as symbolized by universities selectively de-platforming conservative speakers, investigating (or even cancelling) academics who refuse to toe the expected ideological line, and promoting pseudo-scientific notions concerning gender and biological sex fluidity. Having observed progressives exploiting their control over the commanding heights of education, mass entertainment, and electronic media, some right-wing firebrands are trying to hit back with those institutions that they control—specifically, Republican-controlled state legislatures and gubernatorial offices.

    At the forefront of this movement is Florida, where likely GOP presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis has teamed up with advisor Christopher Rufo, an activist who’s become the unelected national leader of the conservative campaign against Critical Race Theory (CRT) and other illiberal progressive dogmas. “In Florida, we will not let the far-left woke agenda take over our schools and workplaces,” Gov. DeSantis announced in a statement introducing the 2022 “act relating to individual freedom.” According to an explainer on the governor’s website, House Bill 7 (as it is formally known) “deems CRT training to be an unlawful employment practice; ensures Florida’s K-20 students and employees are not subject to Critical Race Theory indoctrination; [and] requires development of [a] ‘Stories of Inspiration’ curriculum to demonstrate important life skills and the principles of individual freedom.” In other words, Florida’s governor and his fellow state Republicans are using their political power to tell educators what they can and cannot communicate in schools.

    Of course the "unelected" adjective applied to Rufo is gratuitous and irrelevant. How many activists are elected, after all?

    I understand Shermer's point. And he cites a couple of people I like in support of it: Steven Pinker and Jonathan Haidt.

    And I even agree with the underlying principle: kids should not be indoctrinated with whatever political ideology reflects that of the faction that currently holds the reins of brute power.

    But the long-term solution is not to give the wannabe indoctrinators a blank "teach whatever you want" check from the taxpayers. Instead, campaign for the separation of schools and state.

    Much like the honored tradition of separation of church and state.

    And for similar reasons.

  • Stephanie Slade has a bone to pick with a recently-declared presidential candidate: No, Vivek Ramaswamy, ‘Political Expression’ Shouldn’t Be a ‘Civil Right’.

    Shortly after announcing his candidacy for president on Tuesday, the biotech founder and anti-woke crusader Vivek Ramaswamy tweeted a short list of his goals. Alongside such items as imposing term limits on federal bureaucrats and achieving "total Independence from China" was one that might look unobjectionable but deserves a thorough rebuke: "Make political expression a civil right."

    The precise choice of language and larger context here are critical: Ramaswamy isn't saying he wants to stop the government from punishing citizens for their political views, something that is obviously already proscribed by the First Amendment (and something that certain anti-woke Republicans have themselves flirted with recently despite the crystal-clear constitutional prohibition). Instead, "civil rights" is a reference to laws such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which reach into civil society and constrain what private organizations, such as clubs and businesses, may do.

    In essence, Ramaswamy is suggesting that the government treat political opinions the same way it treats race, which under federal law is a protected class. Employers may not make hiring and firing decisions on the basis of skin color; same goes for landlords deciding whom to rent to, hotel or restaurant owners turning away customers, and so on.

    To treat viewpoints in the same way would amount to an egregious infringement on the right of free association—that is, our ability to join together with others who share our values or beliefs for a common purpose. Churches, charities, social clubs, and yes, even political entities such as advocacy organizations are all examples.

    I had missed this in yesterday's brief vivisection of Vivek's views. But Slade's right.


Last Modified 2024-01-30 6:42 AM EST

But After That, It's Hair-Sniffin' Time

[Shoot First Pay Later] And when he's not commanding balloon shootdowns, he's exacerbating racial friction. The NR editors take a look at Biden’s Noxious Decree.

Every major federal department and agency must establish Agency Equity Teams within 30 days. These teams will be composed of a wide range of officials and have to submit annual plans to a brand new White House Steering Committee on Equity. Who will run that office? Our old friend Susan Rice.

DEI will become part of the “individual performance plans for senior executives,” and the equity teams will back “continued equity training and equity leadership development for staff across all levels of the agency’s workforce.”

Space prevents anything like a full recitation of the order’s sweep, which might fill the leadership of the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity at Brown University with admiration and envy. It must be read to be believed.

Who knew that Our Federal Government was such a hotbed of racism that required such sweeping redress?

It isn't, of course. This is simply an effort to make illiberal wokism the official ideology of the state. It's "an establishment of religion" that the First Amendment was supposed to prohibit.

Briefly noted:

  • The New York Times, to its credit, publishes a Brian Riedl op-ed that minces no words: Biden’s Promises on Social Security and Medicare Have No Basis in Reality.

    In his State of the Union speech this month, President Biden pledged to block any reductions in scheduled Social Security and Medicare benefits. He also promised that any tax increases would be limited to families that earn more than $400,000 — roughly the top-earning 2 percent of American families.

    Together, these promises are almost certainly economically impossible.

    […]

    The president’s implication that full benefits can be paid without raising taxes for 98 percent of families has no basis in mathematical reality. Imagine that Congress let the Trump tax cuts expire, applied Social Security taxes to all wages, doubled the top two tax brackets to 70 and 74 percent, increased investment taxes, imposed Senator Bernie Sanders’s 8 percent wealth tax on assets over $10 billion and 77 percent estate tax on estates valued at more than $1 billion, and raised the corporate tax rate back to 35 percent. Combined federal income, state and payroll marginal tax rates would approach 100 percent for wealthy taxpayers, and America would face among the highest wealth, estate and corporate tax rates in the developed world.

    Yet total new tax revenue — 4 percent of G.D.P. — would still fall short of Social Security and Medicare shortfalls that will grow to 6 percent of G.D.P. over the next three decades. Not even halving the defense budget would close the remaining gap.

    Of course, there are a fair share of Republicans who are at least pretending to buy into Biden's lunacy.

  • Jesse Singal says: That Might Have Been The Strangest Thing That Has Ever Happened To Me On Twitter. It's very long, but it's a detailed and (in Singal's subtitle) "surreal parable about appeals to authority, overconfident dilettantes, and what happens when social media turns important controversies into team sports."

    In short, Singal (and Jonathan Chait) were mercilessly Twitter-dragged because of their perceived heresy against transgender ideology. And it was all based on a lie.

    As a bonus, I was introduced to Brandolini's Law:

    The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than that needed to produce it.

    Singal's article is a demonstration of Brandolini's Law. We're lucky he was able to generate that energy.

  • The NYT takes a hopeful look at the Sun King: Chris Sununu Eyes the G.O.P.’s ‘Normal’ Lane in 2024. Does It Exist?. Leading off with an anecdote:

    When then-President Donald J. Trump visited New Hampshire in 2018, a typical delegation awaited him: flag-waving superfans, sign-carrying protesters and the sitting Republican governor.

    Mr. Trump, true to form, seemed most interested in the first group.

    “They love me,” he said, admiring the crowd in Manchester from his executive limousine, according to the governor, Chris Sununu, who rode with him. Mr. Trump singled out an especially zealous-looking visitor. “You see that guy?” he said. “He loves me.”

    Never mind that the man’s sign had two words, Mr. Sununu recalled: a four-letter profanity and “Trump.”

    “You like to think in that moment, ‘Well, maybe he just didn’t see,’” the governor said. But some people, he suggested, see what they want to see.

    Or—just rearrange your priors here a bit, Governor—maybe Trump was telling a small joke, perhaps playing off the ambiguity of that four-letter profanity?

    Lord knows I'm no Trump fan, and I wish he'd just go away. But when more charitable interpretations of his words and actions are possible, we should admit them.

    That said, the NYT article pictures our Governor as a funny, smart person. I don't see how he can survive a presidential campaign.

  • Another presidential long shot, Vivek Ramaswamy, takes to the WSJ to say: Why I’m Running for President.

    America is in the midst of a national identity crisis. We hunger for purpose at a moment when faith, patriotism and hard work are on the decline. We embrace secular religions like climatism, Covidism and gender ideology to satisfy our need for meaning, yet we can’t answer what it means to be an American.

    He's got great ideas ("As president I will eliminate affirmative action across the American economy.") and lousy ones ("We should prohibit kids under 16 from using TikTok.")

    His chances seem slim. But I've been very wrong in the past, so: who knows?


Last Modified 2024-01-30 6:42 AM EST

Do Markets Corrupt Our Morals?

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Short answer: No.

Slightly longer answer: Of course not. If anything, it's the opposite.

The authors, Virgil Henry Storr and Ginny Seung Choi, are at George Mason University's Mercatus Center. They have written a very dense analysis of a topic that's been discussed for centuries, succinctly expressed in their book's title. Admittedly, in my case, they were pushing on a wide-open door.

But, to their credit, they present the arguments of the anti-market faction fairly. The views of the big guns (Aquinas, Marx, Rousseau) are dealt with at length. The book moves on to lesser-known more recent critics. A popular theme: free-market capitalism creates monsters. Eek! (For unpleasant diversion, ask the Google to tell you about zombie capitalism, vampire capitalism, frankenstein capitalism, … well, you get the idea.)

In an interesting twist, Storr and Choi criticize some defenders of free markets, who argue from a (more or less) Gordon Gekko position: "Greed is good." People tend to forget that Adam Smith's famous "Invisible Hand" observation was premised on the "natural selfishness and rapacity" of the rich. Nevertheless, those motives lead to "the interest of the society." There have been plenty of folks since who point out the unsavory moral flaws in the capitalist class, while nevertheless appreciating the prosperity that issues forth as a result of their efforts.

Such critics, pro- and anti-, engage in a lot of speculative handwaving and selective anecdotes. Storr and Choi prefer a data-driven approach, backed up with quantitative research, insights from moral psychology, and experimental market-simulating "games" they designed and carried out themselves. (I assume with hapless George Mason students as the participants.) They observe that the citizenry of countries with market-based economies really do behave better than those in non-market countries. Market-based countries are less corrupt. They are (of course) wealthier, but that wealth is more likely to be turned to worthy, unselfish causes.

Of course, critics point to the "cutthroat competition" of market economies, but (as always) the rejoinder is "compared to what?" Carrying out the research necessary to answer that question shows that the mayhem implied by "cutthroat" is way overblown. The entire idea of markets is that of peaceful, cooperative, positive-sum transactions between buyers and sellers, both sides judging themselves better off. Markets are (in the authors' lingo) "moral training grounds": one way humans learn to be good is by engaging in trade.

As stated, this book is dense, in an academic sense: loaded with references. But (thank goodness) it's relatively easy to skim over the most formal bits and appreciate this book at my dilettante level.


Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:41 AM EST

I Got Vivek Fever, Baby!

[Vivek in Manchester] And the only cure is: more Ramaswamy!

Confession time: I had never heard of, or at least paid attention to, Vivek Ramaswamy until two days ago when composing Sunday's Phony Campaign update post. When I went to the Betfair betting market page for the 2024 GOP presidential nominee to check out their (very long) list of potential candidates, to see if anyone was giving our state's governor, Chris Sununu, a serious shot.

The answer to that question was: no, at least not yet. But appearing even lower on the list than the Gov: Vivek Ramaswamy. Um, OK, who's that?

And then I went to Granite Grok for my daily dose of red-meat Trumpism, and noticed the ad at your right. Yes, Vivek's coming to New Hampshire's Queen City for "discussing a special announcement". It is not a paid ad here, but clicking on it will take you to a form you can fill out for a chance at that free beer/wine ticket at Murphy's Taproom tomorrow night.

And then I came across this Brittany Bernstein article at National Review: Woke, Inc. Author Vivek Ramaswamy ‘Strongly Considering’ Run for President. Excerpt:

Vivek Ramaswamy, the millionaire entrepreneur and author of Woke, Inc., told National Review on Monday that he is “strongly considering” a run for president and expects to make a decision “very soon.”

Ramaswamy said he’s been drawn to the idea of running to address a “national identity crisis” that has left Americans hungry for purpose, meaning, and identity.

“We are at a point in our national history when the things that used to fill that void — faith, patriotism, hard work, even family — have disappeared,” he said, adding that in its absence, “wokeism, climate-ism as an ideology, radical gender ideology, Covidism” have become secular religions that fill that “black hole of identity.”

Interesting! Although it's tempting to crack wise about how he's competing with Nikki Haley for the Indian-American vote. I have to say this tweet has a number of good ideas:

And one bad one; I have a libertarian left-kneejerk reaction against any proposal that starts with the word "ban".

And you know what would destroy (not just decimate) drug cartels? Legalizing drugs. Maybe that's what he's proposing, but I doubt it.

Anyway, personal obligations prevent me from going to Murphy's Taproom tomorrow night, but if I notice (or get sent) reactions from folks who attended, I'll pass them along.

Briefly noted:

  • David R. Henderson and Philip W. Magness notes a funny thing about a Hulu "docuseries" whose print origin attempted to show "how the institution of enslavement impacted the development of American capitalism." Nay, say Henderson and Magness: ‘The 1619 Project’ on Hulu Vindicates Capitalism.

    Hulu’s series “The 1619 Project” blames economic inequality between blacks and whites on “racial capitalism.” But almost every example presented is the result of government policies that, in purpose or effect, discriminated against African-Americans. “The 1619 Project” makes an unintentional case for capitalism.

    The series gives many examples of government interventions that undercut free markets and property rights. Eminent domain, racial red lining of mortgages, and government support and enforcement of union monopolies figure prominently.

    The final episode opens by telling how the federal government forcibly evicted black residents of Harris Neck, Ga., during World War II to build a military base. The Army gave residents three weeks to relocate before the bulldozers moved in, paying below-market rates through eminent domain. After the war, the government refused to let the former residents return. Violation of property rights is the opposite of capitalism.

    Don't even get them started on Woodrow Wilson.

  • Kevin D. Williamson does some cold-eyed scenario-building with the 25th Amendment: ImPOTUS.

    Speaking of the 25th Amendment, there is a part of it with which many Americans are not familiar: If Biden wants to nominate a new secretary of state or a Supreme Court justice, this requires the approval of the Senate—but if the president wishes to choose a new vice president, this requires the approval of both the Senate and the House of Representatives, which currently is under Republican control. There are many Democrats who wish to be rid of Vice President Kamala Harris, whom they have rightly judged to be a political liability with no likely political future of her own, but the only way Biden is getting rid of Harris is by dumping her from the ticket and getting reelected in 2024. It is very difficult to imagine House Republicans voting to approve any new vice president Biden might conceivably choose. Mitch McConnell took a lot of heat for running out the clock on Merrick Garland but, far from paying a political price for this, he harvested a bumper crop of political benefits. Kevin McCarthy, who serves at the mercy of a dozen or so howling moonbats, would have no incentive at all to help Biden replace Harris—and with the vice presidency vacant, McCarthy would be second in line to the presidency with only the oldest-ever incumbent between him and the Oval Office. That’s a storyline more appropriate to a political thriller, but it is something to keep in mind if your current Kremlinology tells you Harris is going anywhere.

    Biden is stuck with Harris, and Democrats—and the country—are, it seems, stuck with the both of them, however doddering the man in charge of the executive branch of the federal government may be. It is tempting to write that with only a little sensible political calculation, Republicans could put themselves in an unbeatable situation. But if you think the coming election is foolproof, then you don’t know the fools in question.

    I could imagine a Very Grave Constitutional Crisis, which would cause me to stock up on coffee and popcorn.

  • Jacob Sullum notes the misinformation monitors at your grandma's social media site have gone astray: Facebook Says Noting the CDC's Scientific Misrepresentations 'Could Mislead People'.

    Facebook says my recent column about face masks is "missing context" and "could mislead people," based on an assessment by "independent fact checkers." That judgment and the analysis underlying it show how reflexive deference to government agencies distorts supposedly "independent" summaries of scientific evidence on controversial issues, especially issues related to COVID-19 control measures. When one of those agencies gets something wrong, criticism of its position is apt to be labeled "misleading" on social media platforms that strive to police COVID-19 "misinformation" at the government's behest, regardless of what the evidence actually shows.

    My column summarized the results of January 30 Cochrane Library review that considered 18 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) aimed at measuring the effectiveness of surgical masks or N95 respirators at reducing the spread of respiratory viruses. Judging from those studies, the Cochrane review found, wearing a mask in public places "probably makes little or no difference" in the number of infections. The authors said that conclusion was based on "moderate-certainty evidence."

    Does the Cochrane review prove that masks are worthless in protecting people from COVID-19? No. But it does show that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) misled the public about the strength of the evidence supporting mask mandates, which was the point I made in my column.

    That first link in the excerpt is not working for me. Maybe FB wised up?


Last Modified 2024-01-30 6:42 AM EST

Happy Presidents' Day

Let's do something day-appropriate, and look at Jeff Jacoby's story about How the most qualified presidential candidate became America's worst president.

When James Buchanan was elected to be the 15th president of the United States in 1856, America was riven by sectional tensions and a deepening antagonism over slavery — an antagonism that had descended to violence in "Bleeding Kansas," where scores of pro- and antislavery settlers were murdering each other in a fight over the territory's future status.

To many Americans, it must have been reassuring to see a president with Buchanan's extraordinary record in public life take the helm. The 65-year-old Pennsylvanian had begun his political career as the youngest member of the state legislature before winning five terms in the US House of Representatives. In 1832, Andrew Jackson appointed him ambassador to Russia. He was elected twice to the Senate, served as secretary of state under James Polk, and was chosen by Franklin Pierce to be ambassador to Great Britain.

When Democrats in 1856 sought a standard-bearer untainted by the polarizing furor over slavery and Kansas, Buchanan, with his scintillating resume, seemed ideal. In a three-way election, he handily defeated John Frémont, the candidate of the fledgling Republican Party, and former president Millard Fillmore, who represented the nativist Know-Nothing Party.

If you need to brush up on your mid-19th century American history, and who doesn't, Jeff's column is a good start.

New Hampshirites can take a bit of solace that Buchanan was so bad that he saved our Franklin Pierce from grabbing "Worst President Ever" honors.

Briefly noted:

  • George F. Will breathes a sigh of hopeful relief: The Supreme Court finally gets a shot at Biden’s student-loan lawlessness.

    In his State of the Union address, President Biden had thoughts about almost everything, even unto the crisis of hotel “resort fees.” He was, however, parsimonious with words — just a three-word boast about “reducing student debt” — concerning his policy of student loan forgiveness. His reticence about unilaterally spending, by executive fiat, about $400 billion perhaps reflected foreboding.

    He knew that on Feb. 28 the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments about his plan’s constitutionality. An amicus brief from 11 conservative intellectuals, with impressive judicial and executive branch experience, demonstrates that Biden’s behavior is a particularly egregious example of lawlessness committed by presidents of both parties. Were Biden to succeed, the nation’s constitutional architecture would be irrevocably altered.

    The Magnificent Eleven note that the framers considered the power of the purse “the central and most important constitutional power reserved exclusively to the legislative branch, enabling it to oversee and control virtually every activity of the federal government.” Hence the clarity of the appropriations clause: “No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law.”

    Biden's contempt for Constitutional restraints on his power should be an impeachable offense.

    But then we could have said that about many recent presidents.

    And we probably should have said that about many recent presidents.

  • Michael Graham covers a topic we mentioned yesterday in our Nikki-a-thon: Attacks on Haley's Race Part of Left's Hypocrisy, NH Republicans Say.

    “Nikki Nimrata Haley shamefully [is] using her Indian heritage to launder white supremacy and GOP talking points,” wrote MSNBC progressive Wajahat Ali, later adding: “Looks like Haley is trying to use White grievance and hate to pave a lily-white road to the White House.”

    Since Haley formally launched her campaign, social media sites have been full of these attacks, including the debunked claim she “changed her name” to hide her identity.

    “First, let’s point out ‘Nikki’ is the name on my birth certificate. I’ve been called ‘Nikki’ all my life,” the former U.N. Ambassador told NHJournal after a meet-and-greet with the New Hampshire Federation of Republican Women in Manchester. She called the attacks “crazy,” and a sign of how worried Democrats are about her ability to reach voters of color.

    Graham quotes NHGOPers Daryl Abbas (whose family includes his "Italian Catholic mother, Egyptian Muslim father, Irish wife, and multi-racial son") and Ryan Terrell (African-American).


Last Modified 2023-02-21 5:24 AM EST

The Philosophy of Modern Song

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

In these book reports, I mainly discuss my personal reactions, and avoid making explicit recommendations. That changes here: reader, if you like popular music, you would like this book. I (further) recommend you read it with one of those smart speakers nearby, so you can try to listen to the songs Bob Dylan references here. ("Alexa, play 'Detroit City' by Bobby Bare.") Or you could keep this Spotify playlist open in a tab in a nearby web browser.

Trust me, you'll have fun. I'm not sure you would enjoy any book by any Nobel Prizewinner more.

Dylan reflects on an eclectic selection of songs and artists. He tells stories in his offbeat stream-of-consciousness style, sometimes expanding on the stories the songs tell, sometimes with trivia about the artists and their times. And sometimes he'll just wander into hyperspace. Don't worry, the trip is worthwhile.

Example: When discussing "Black Magic Woman" by Santana, there's a long aside about Leigh Brackett. Didja know that she wrote the first draft of the screenplay for the best Star Wars movie, The Empire Strikes Back? And that she also co-wrote the screenplay for The Big Sleep with William Faulkner, based on the detective novel by Raymond Chandler? And that when the puzzled star, Humphrey Bogart, asked her who killed the chauffeur, she realized she didn't know? And she asked Chandler whodunit? And that Chandler replied that he didn't know either?

I'm currently re-reading The Big Sleep, as it happens. Chandler's known for his colorful style and pungent similes. But let me tell you, Dylan turns Chandler up to … eleven? More like 37, I think. At least.

But what did Leigh Brackett have to do with "Black Magic Woman"? Well, she wrote science fiction too. Including one story where she observed "Witchcraft to the ignorant, .... Simple science to the learned." There you go. A good enough connection for Bob.

Another example: "Saturday Night at the Movies" by the Drifters? Nice song, but Dylan uses it as a springboard for discussing the decline of American cinema. No, they don't make movies like 12 Angry Men or Cool Hand Luke any more.

The book is filled with old-time pictures and illustrations, many of (at best) glancing relevance to the songs under discussion. E.g., the chapter discussing Dean Martin's version of "Blue Moon" has a full-page bigger-than-actual-size cover of the $1.75 paperback edition of Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. (Not that it matters, but I have that very edition on my shelf.)

Which reminds me, I also have a paperback of Leigh Brackett's The Long Tomorrow on my shelf. I don't think I ever got around to reading it; I should.

The cover has Little Richard and Eddie Cochran flanking Alis Lesley, who had a brief career as "the female Elvis Presley" back in the 1950s. I'm pretty sure she doesn't appear in the book otherwise.

Does this report seem disjointed to you? Dylan's style is infectious, I think.


Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:41 AM EST

The Turnout

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be ballet dancers. That's the fractured tune I had running through my head while reading this. Thanks to years of dancing, one of the characters has feet "like twisted slabs of raw meat." Ick! And that's just one of the many physical traumas. Even worse, the characters are also dogged by long-standing psychic traumas. Which are revealed gradually throughout the book, and you'll say "ick!" to those as well.

I put this on my get-at-library list for reasons that are now obscure; might have been a good review in the WSJ. It turned out (heh) to not be my cup of tea, but I can see why others might like it.

Sisters Dara and Marie run a prestigious ballet school, with Dara's husband Charlie, in a ramshackle old studio. They were all once ballet students themselves, dancing under the tyrannical eyes of Dara's and Marie's mother. Who has a stormy relationship with their father. And, as it turns out, both mom and dad perished years ago in an automobile crash. Yet they seem to haunt everyone.

Set against all this is preparation for the school's annual presentation of The Nutcracker, a huge deal in the community. (Which is maybe the least believable part of the book. These guys are so messed up, I'm not sure they could organize a kid's birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. But go with it.) This has its own issues, as their students have their own foibles and dramas.

Disaster—what should be a minor disaster—strikes when Marie knocks over a space heater and starts a fire in one of the studios. It's quickly extinguished, but repairs are necessary. Which brings in contractor Derek, with a personality that both grates and attracts. He adds another volatile chemical to the poisonous psychosexual stew.

The author, Megan Abbott, tells the yarn with a choppy and creepy nightmarish style; you can feel the incoming tide of dreadfulness threatening our characters. It doesn't work out well for a couple of them.


Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:40 AM EST

The Phony Campaign

2023-02-19 Update

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Last Sunday's phony results included Mike Pence and Michelle Obama, because they met our arbitrary 2% win-probability threshold at the Lott/Stossel Election Betting Odds site.

This week, however, the bettors have sobered up, wondering what they had been thinking. Michelle's now at 1.9%, Mike cratering all the way down to 0.7%,

You know who doesn't show up at all in EBO's list? New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu.

But "Other" is showing up (as I type) with an 11.6% share of the probability pie. If "Other" were an actual candidate, it would be in a solid fourth place.

Anyway, enough of these idle musings, let us proceed to this week's standings:

Candidate EBO Win
Probability
Change
Since
2/12
Phony
Hit Count
Change
Since
2/12
Ron DeSantis 21.8% +1.1% 4,790,000 -160,000
Pete Buttigieg 2.4% +0.3% 1,430,000 +130,000
Donald Trump 20.7% +0.4% 1,100,000 +126,000
Joe Biden 26.5% +0.6% 339,000 -38,000
Nikki Haley 3.7% +0.3% 113,000 +15,000
Kamala Harris 3.7% -0.1% 96,200 +2,500
Gavin Newsom 3.3% -0.2% 41,700 -2,500

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

The Google has spoken, people. If you want true phoniness next November, you should be pulling for a DeSantis/Buttigieg race.

But this week, we will concentrate on this week's Actual Announced Candidate, and Pun Salad Sweetie, Nikki Haley.

  • While musing on Nikki, Peggy Noonan claims to detect America’s Longing for Authenticity.

    On Wednesday Nikki Haley announced her presidential campaign in Charleston, S.C. I found myself thinking not about her candidacy but about the launch itself, which was creepily stuck in the past. A horrible, blaring song from a Sylvester Stallone sequel pumped her in as she strode out in the white suit and there were adoring fans on the rafters behind her, with whom she briefly interacted before turning toward the audience and doing the point—standing there and pointing to individual members of the cheering audience as if she knew them and was being natural. An introducer said she will “lead us into the future”; she added, “America is falling behind.” It was all so tired, clichéd, and phony. It was national politics as it has been done circa 1990-2023.

    Why did she do it this way? It’s not good enough to say everyone does it this way. Someone needs to make it new, to drill down into deeper meaning. As the first Republican to enter the race and challenge Donald Trump, she was in a position to do something at least nonidiotic. This seemed a decision not to.

    When you've lost Peggy Noonan… well, you've pretty much only lost Peggy Noonan. You could probably deal with that. But…

  • Eric Boehm, master of the four-letter acronyms, reacts to the announcement at Reason: Nikki Haley's Presidential Bid Is an Unappealing Mix of MAGA and RINO.

    Haley, 51, is more than a quarter century younger than Trump and President Joe Biden, so it makes sense to stress her relative youthfulness in a campaign that's likely to represent a long-overdue conversation about whether the country would benefit from having some younger people in charge. And she's piled up an impressive list of accomplishments during a political career that began by dethroning a 30-year incumbent member of the South Carolina state House in 2004. Haley was the first woman and the first Indian American elected as governor of South Carolina, an important and early primary state. She was America's ambassador to the United Nations for two years during the Trump administration. As such, she can arguably lay claim to having more experience across both domestic and foreign policy than possibly any other prospective candidate in the 2024 GOP field.

    And yet, despite all the positives in terms of identity, politics, and career experience that would seem to make Haley a serious contender for the White House, her announcement on Tuesday was met by something like a collective shrug.

    It could be that Haley's prefab efforts to avoid irking anyone… have managed to bore everyone.

  • But not Ed Mosca at Granite Grok! He despises her: "Sun-Princess Nikki Haley ... Billions For Ukraine, Pennies For America's Young Peasants" .

    So Sun-King Sununu in a dress … that would be the Sun-Princess, Nikki Haley … is running for President to keep funding that corrupt kleptocracy called Ukraine AND cut Social Security … but ONLY for younger voters.

    This must be some kind of record … it took Sun-Princess just a few hours to show that she is totally out of touch with real Republican voters and a throwback … albeit a throwback in a dress and, as she apparently intends to keep telling us, in brown skin (her words, not mine) … to the globalist/corporatist GOP of Presidents John McCain and Mitt Romney. Oh, wait … those two warmongering globalists weren’t elected President.

    Pennies for America's young peasants? Here's her sin:

    Ed's firmly in favor of digging his head in the sand. A posture in which he's joined, true enough, by many Republicans.

  • And Kurt Schilcter makes a very unkind mashup, just saying: No to Nikki Harris. What??

    Wait, did I say Nikki Harris? I meant Nikki Haley, but it's an understandable mistake. After all, as a good friend deep in politics recently pointed out to me, Nikki Haley is the Kamala Harris of the Republican Party. And now Nikki says she wants to be president, announcing her doomed candidacy with hilariously hackneyed and overwrought fanfare ("Now is the time for a strong and proud America!"), though everyone with half a cerebral cortex can see that she's really just trying to position herself as the vice-presidential nominee when either Donald Trump or Ron DeSantis gets the nomination. It's exactly the kind of cynical, shameless move this cynical, shameless striver would make – and that her Democrat doppelganger did make.

    Like Kamala, Nikki is everything wrong with her party. Kamala is Hillary Lite, slightly less bitter, a lot dumber, but just as insincere. Nikki is Jeb! in a skirt, temperamentally establishment and soft, but much more ambitious and cunning than the human puffball who begged us to "Please clap" as he awaited what he expected would be a coronation.

    Well, ouch.

  • Here's a big "tsk, tsk" from David Harsanyi: It's A Shame Nikki Haley Has To Rely On 'Stale' Gimmicks. One stale idea: term limits. And:

    Haley’s other big idea is to institute mental competency tests for candidates over 75. This isn’t exactly a new thought, either. Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy, a doctor, called for senility tests a couple of years ago. Theoretically, it too makes sense. The thought of a mentally brittle Joe Biden running the world’s most powerful military is indeed terrifying.

    There are eight people in Congress right now who were born in the 1930s. There are 15 people in Congress older than the 80-year-old Biden — and they include powerful names like Mitch McConnell, Bernie Sanders, Jim Clyburn, Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, Dianne Feinstein, and Chuck Grassley. Donald Trump turns 77 in June. There is no arguing we have something of a gerontocracy.

    Numerous states have age-based mental competency requirements for drivers’ licenses, so why not politicians? Well, for one thing, the DMV rarely hijacks tests for partisan gain. My confidence in a state that is unable to differentiate between a Chicom spy balloon and a hobbyist’s $12 pico balloon dictating the terms of mental acuity in our elected officials is in the vicinity of zero. Will Democrats and Republicans agree on what level of mental competency is needed for public office or which test should be administered? Of course not. They’re going to politicize tests that exist to warn real people about mental decline.

    I don't see any reason for the 75-year threshold. Mental incompetency can strike at any age! Just ask Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez!

    Here's something I advocated last year: a Jeopardy!-style quiz show for the candidates for high public office. Concentrating on "history, law, philosophy, economics, and about a dozen other things." No pop culture, rap music, or "potent potables" categories! Somehow eliminating the advantage of quick buzzer thumbs. I haven't watched a debate since… whatever year it was that Rudy Giuliani was running. But I'd watch this in a heartbeat.

  • Michael Cuenco is not a Nikki fan either: Nikki Haley's neocon pantomime.

    Clues about the true significance of the Haley campaign may first be found in retracing the relationship between the 45th president and his one-time ambassador. Nimrata Nikki Randhawa was born and grew up in Bamberg, South Carolina, the daughter of Sikh immigrants who came to the US by way of Canada from India. After graduating from Clemson University, she rose through the ranks in local politics and married national guardsman Michael Haley, converting to Christianity and later getting elected as a Republican to the state legislature in 2004. Haley became a national figure upon winning the governorship of South Carolina in 2010 as part of a Tea Party wave. Combining traditional conservative positions on taxes and social issues with an energetic populist style, Haley and the Tea Party represented a revival of GOP fortunes in the Obama years. She is also remembered for her call to take down the Confederate flag in 2015 after the Charleston massacre, and was touted as a serious presidential contender in 2016 though she opted to stay out of a crowded field.

    Of course, that was the year both mainstream conservatism and liberalism were shattered by the insurgent force of Trumpian populism. Going well beyond the Tea Party, the real-estate mogul openly repudiated Bush-era conservative shibboleths, such as the Iraq War and free trade, while vociferously rejecting the establishment’s relatively moderate stances on immigration. As one of the party’s leading figures, Haley faced a choice between calling out Trump on principle or falling in line. Like many establishment conservatives at that juncture, she chose wisely: she did both.

    "Nimrata Nikki Randhawa"? Well, sure. Let's go out of our way to bring that up. For another example…

  • Rich Lowry wonders about our Nikki: WWhy Isn't She Indian-American Enough?.

    Only in 21st-century America can you call yourself the “proud daughter of Indian immigrants” and get accused of whitewashing your immigrant background.

    For the Left, the verdict is in, and has been for a long time — Nikki Haley is not Indian-American enough.

    Her offenses are myriad, from using a more easily pronounceable name to converting to Christianity to once checking “white” on a voter-registration card to touting the value of hard work in getting ahead to defending America against charges of racism.

    This has subjected her to ignorant, highly personal, racially charged attacks.

    Lowry's example… well, same as above:

    Used to be that it was just white Southerners who'd get irate at uppity colored folks trying to "pass". Some additional asymmetric commentary from Jane Galt about that:

  • For a palate cleanser, see Jim Geraghty's long and heartfelt plea to Give Haley a Chance.

    Much like the man she appointed to the U.S. Senate, Tim Scott, Haley tends to bring out the worst, ugliest, and most hateful sides of her critics. Figures from Ann Coulter to South Carolina Democratic chairman Dick Harpootlian have “joked” that Haley is not really an American and “should go back to where she comes from.” Apparently it doesn’t matter if you’re born in Bamberg, go to Clemson, live in South Carolina almost your entire life, build a business, sit on the board of your church, donate $130,000 to charity in one year, and have a husband in the Army National Guard who serves in Afghanistan for a year . . . you will still face “You’re not one of us” crap.

    That ugly, hard-fought 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary included some questioning of whether Haley was truly a Christian. (Some people may forget, David Brody, but I don’t.)

    Haley has her flaws and her missteps and unresolved problems from her days as governor. She will face tough questions about her past statements about President Trump, and whether, when push comes to shove, she ultimately should be seen as more of an ally or more of a critic of Trump. Back in April 2021, she said that if Trump was running, she would not run for president, and Republicans will ask fair questions about what changed and why.

    But a good and serious Republican Party would give Haley real consideration as a potential nominee, noting that her depth and breadth of experience and combination of indisputable toughness and charisma on the stump represent a rare combination of strengths in a potential president who is only 51 years old.

    So there you have it. Back next week, when we'll try to be less Nikki-obsessed.


Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:40 AM EST

My Lantern Batteries Are Drained

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
Alan Jacobs advocates for an Operation Diogenes.

I don’t usually think much about things I have already published, but I have continued to meditate on the subject I wrote about here — and there’s good reason for that, I believe. You read a story like this one and you realize how pervasively the people who profit from minors who (supposedly) suffer from gender dysphoria lie. They lie about the conditions of the children who come to them, they lie about the likely effects of their interventions, they lie about what they do and don’t do — they lie about everything and it seems that they never stop lying. But then, we in this country also spent four years with a President and a White House staff who lied virtually every time they opened their mouths — lied even when there was no clear advantage to lying, evermore pursuing the preferential option for bullshit.

I could provide ten thousand examples, but I don’t think it’s necessary: we all know that this is the situation we’re in. There’s a lot of talk right now — thanks to this op-ed by Leonard Downie — about “objectivity” in journalism, which term I think is a red herring: nobody has any clear idea what it means. I have never asked whether a journalist is objective; I have often asked whether a journalist is telling me the truth. And when Downie says that renouncing objectivity is a newspaper’s path to “building trust” with readers, what he clearly means is that you gain your readers’ trust by sending a strong message: We will never tell you truths you don’t want to hear; we will always tell you consoling lies; and that’s how we’ll get you to give us your money. He means nothing more or less or other than that.

So I think there is no more important question for us to ask than this: Given that almost everyone in the media is lying to us constantly, how can we discover what is true — especially when the truth hurts?

A. J.'s first two paragraphs are more understandable when you follow the links.

As for his slam at the Trump and his administration, fine, but the last couple years have been no Truth Picnic at the White House either.

And, finally: I don't want a newspaper simply "telling the truth". I want the whole truth. Don't leave out relevant facts because they cut against an ideological narrative. Too much to ask?

Maybe it is. Billy Binion notes that the "whole truth" ideal is something a lot of people desperately oppose: 980 'New York Times' Contributors Want To Sacrifice Free Inquiry to Ideology.

On Wednesday, hundreds of contributors to The New York Times formally expressed their discontent with how the paper covers transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming people, publishing an open letter that condemns the paper's reporting as antagonistic toward those individuals. "The Times has in recent years treated gender diversity with an eerily familiar mix of pseudoscience and euphemistic, charged language," it reads, "while publishing reporting on trans children that omits relevant information about its sources."

The claim is set against the backdrop of an ongoing debate about how, and if, people who identify as transgender—particularly minors—should be permitted to transition. But at its core, the letter is about a different debate: What questions are members of a free press allowed to ask?

Roll that around your mind: 980 contributors to the NYT don't want its readers to hear the debate.

Briefly noted:

  • A controversial stand from Michael Lind: Why I Am Against Saving the Planet. See if you don't get a chuckle (perhaps tinged with bitterness) out of this excerpt:

    The notion of a self-regulating ecosystem disturbed by human activity that would automatically restore itself to a “natural” condition if not for human interference is another bit of unscientific nonsense taken on faith by the green lobby. The evidence suggests that greenhouse gasses in the industrial era have warmed the Earth’s atmosphere. But it is also true that global temperatures have fluctuated wildly for billions of years, most recently in the Pleistocene ice ages. Human civilization developed in one of several warm “interglacial” spells following repeated expansions of ice to cover much of the Northern Hemisphere. In addition to fluctuations like these, there are catastrophic events that alter the climate and wipe out many species, like the asteroid or comet thought to have wiped out the dinosaurs and many other animals and plants on Earth. Contrary to what you would assume listening to green propaganda, if the human race vanished tomorrow the climate would not “stabilize” but would continue to fluctuate dramatically over time—at least until the gradual warming of the sun evaporates the oceans and turns the Earth into a steam-shrouded desert world in half a billion years, if the predictions of contemporary astrophysicists are correct.

    But there is a crucial difference, according to the belief system of environmentalists. If an asteroid annihilates the dinosaurs, that is natural and not a crime. But if a local species of frog becomes extinct because officials drain a malarial swamp and replace it with a civic water reservoir that saves millions of people from infectious diseases, that is mass murder (of frogs).

    Pun Salad noted James Lileks's observation and commentary on the wistful misanthropy of (some?) environmentalists back in 2006.

  • George F. Will explains Why Americans need protection from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

    Frail humans, fallen creatures in a broken world, rarely approach perfection in any endeavor. In 2010, however, congressional majorities (including only six Republicans) created a perfectly, meaning comprehensively, unconstitutional entity. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also perfectly illustrates progressivism’s anti-constitutional aspiration for government both unlimited and unaccountable.

    The CFPB is unlike any federal law enforcement agency ever created. Floating above the Constitution’s tripartite design of government, it is uniquely sovereign:

    Independent of congressional appropriations, it funds itself by acquiring, in perpetuity, up to 12 percent of the Federal Reserve’s annual operating expenses (the CFPB’s cut might soon be $1 billion), rolling over and investing any year’s surplus. The president or either chamber of Congress can veto any attempt by legislators to gain control of the CFPB. Its director could not be removed for policy reasons, until this provision was declared a violation of the separation of powers because it reduced the president’s authority to direct the executive branch.

    GFW notes that the Supreme Court will soon decide whether to consider a case where a CFPB ruling was struck down stemming from the bureau's "independence" from Constitutional constraints.


Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:40 AM EST

Bad News From Cato

[Human Freedom Index 2022] On the whole, Cato's Human Freedom Index for 2022 is kind of a downer.

The HFI is the most comprehensive freedom index so far created for a globally meaningful set of countries and jurisdictions representing 98.1 percent of the world’s population. The HFI covers 165 jurisdictions for 2020, the most recent year for which sufficient data are available. The index ranks jurisdictions beginning in 2000, the earliest year for which a robust enough index could be produced.

On a scale of 0 to 10, where 10 represents more freedom, the average human freedom rating for the 165 jurisdictions fell from 7.03 in 2019 to 6.81 in 2020. Most areas of freedom fell, including significant declines in the rule of law and freedom of movement, expression, association and assembly, and freedom to trade. Based on that coverage, 94.3 percent of the world’s population lives in jurisdictions that saw a fall in human freedom from 2019 to 2020, with 148 jurisdictions decreasing their ratings and 16 improving.

2020, of course, was Covid-dominated. But, as Cato notes: "The sharp decline in freedom in 2020 comes after years of slow descent." We didn't know how good we had it in 2007, the previous maximum.

Worse: The US of A was in 23d place overall, down from the 15th spot in the HFI's previous ranking. Disappointing.

Briefly noted:

  • Theodore Darlrymple accuses us of Lying to Ourselves.

    One of the peculiarities of our age is the ferocity with which intellectuals and politicians defend propositions that they do not—because they cannot—believe to be true, so outrageous are they, such violence do they do to the most obvious and evident truth. Agatha Christie (a far greater psychologist than Sigmund Freud), drew attention almost a century ago to the phenomenon when she had Dr. Sheppard, the protagonist and culprit of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd say, “It is odd how, when you have a secret belief of your own which you do not wish to acknowledge, the voicing of it by someone else will rouse you to a fury of denial. I burst immediately into indignant speech.”

    Among the propositions defended with such suspect ferocity is that men can change straightforwardly and unambiguously into women, and vice versa. Now everyone accepts that they can change into something different from ordinary men and women, and can live as if they were of the opposite of their birth sex; moreover, there is no reason to abuse or otherwise maltreat them if they do, and kindness and human decency require that we do not humiliate them or make their lives more difficult than they are. But this is not at all the same as claiming that those who take hormones and have operations actually are the sex that they choose, or that it is right to enshrine untruth in law and thereby force people to assent to what they know to be false. That way totalitarianism lies.

    I was hate-listening to Commie New Hampshire Public Radio yesterday on a jaunt to the market. One news item was discussing abortion legislation in Kentucky; one of the speakers started saying "women"… but caught himself in the nick of time, correcting his terminology to "pregnant people". Whew!

    Yes, I assumed his pronouns. Come get me, NHPR!

  • John Halpin, self-described "Liberal Patriot" has a suggestion I can (sort of) get behind: End the Culture War on America’s Schools.

    In school districts across the country—and in national education circles—parents, teachers, administrators, outside groups, and politicians are at each other’s throats over competing political ideologies in the schools rather than focusing their attention on the most pressing national need: Making sure all children learn the basics and emerge from school well prepared to be future workers, scientists, business leaders, public servants, military members, entrepreneurs, and good citizens.

    The culture war fight over education is as dumb as it is useless. It should be clear to everyone by now that schools should not be used as a playground for left-wing social justice fads or right-wing reactionary politics. If partisan hacks and billionaire-funded ideologues want to fight one another over critical race theory, gender ideology, vaccines, religion, book bans, and skewed versions of American history, take it to Twitter, cable news, or some non-profit roundtable—and leave the schools and our kids alone.

    Halpin's suggestion is fine, well-meaning, and it would improve things. But that "good citizens" at the end is a little iffy, though: a loophole you could drive a school bus through. For the real scoop on schooling, I recommend the 1983 essay by the Underground Grammarian, Richard Mitchell: The Children of the State. Which leads off with a quote from an actual liberal, John Stuart Mill:

    A general state education is a mere contrivance for moulding people to be exactly like one another; and the mould in which it casts them is that which pleases the predominant power in the government, whether this be a monarch, a priesthood, an aristocracy, or the majority of the existing generation. In proportion as it is efficient, it establishes a despotism over the mind, leading by natural tendency to one over the body.

    That's from On Liberty. 1859.

  • Okay, now that we've argued against transgenderism and government schooling, let's look at another sacred cow. 3 Reasons To Abolish Social Security. Video if you prefer:

    From the linked text version:

    You know you're in deep, deep trouble when Joe Biden and Donald Trump agree on anything—and that's especially true when it comes to insisting that nobody should ever cut "a single penny" from Social Security, the nation's income program for people over 65.

    Here are three reasons why Social Security should be scrapped completely and replaced with a plan that will help the truly needy without impoverishing everyone else.

    Social Security is unsustainable. Created in 1935, Social Security is paid for by a 12.4 percent payroll tax on income up to $160,200. Supporters pretend that Social Security is like a retirement plan, where your specific contributions build value over time. But the system is a Ponzi scheme, in which current beneficiaries are paid out of new money coming into the system. The problem is that when the program started paying out benefits in 1940, there were 160 workers per retiree, so a surplus built up. Today, there are just 2.8 workers per retiree.

    Spoiler: Social Security is also unfair and unnecessary. That's three "un"s, which should be enough for anyone.

  • Veronique de Rugy has other thoughts on Social Security ("More like Socialist Insecurity, amirite folks?"): Failing To Fix What's Broken Would Be the Real Nightmare.

    President Joe Biden tweeted last week that he will be a "nightmare" for Republicans who dream of cutting Social Security and Medicare. With this statement, Biden showed that he's either shockingly ignorant about these two programs and any Republican reform efforts — or lack thereof — or just another politician who washes his hands of what happens when he's out of office and the programs hit upcoming obstacles.

    I have an idea which one it is. However, before revealing my guess, it's worth revisiting the issue more fully. Each time I write about Social Security and Medicare, newspapers receive letters to the editors revealing how little the general public understands about entitlement spending and where it's headed. This misunderstanding is particularly acute and ominous when it comes to Social Security.

    I can see why entitlement programs are popular with the beneficiaries. I'm unsure why current taxpayers aren't frickin' irate about them.


Last Modified 2024-01-30 6:42 AM EST

I Understand Scientific American is Changing Its Name…

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
it's considering Popular Nonsense.

Ha! Just kidding. That's the headline on Jonah Goldberg's recent column. Excerpt:

For the last week, Washington’s chattering class has been obsessed with Joe Biden’s politically successful exchange with Republicans over Social Security and Medicare. During the State of the Union, he maneuvered the GOP into a standing ovation to “protect” these entitlement programs. But while his admirers cheer and his detractors grumble about Biden’s framing of the politics—the GOP never signed on to Sen. Rick Scott’s proposal to “sunset” entitlement programs every five years and did not threaten to hold the debt ceiling debate “hostage” to cuts—there’s been precious little attention to the lies about the policy underneath the alleged lies about politics.

Biden suggested that he could pay for sweeping infrastructure programs and keep entitlements solvent simply by finally making the wealthiest and biggest corporations begin to pay their fair share. He alluded to the fact that workers have paid into Social Security and Medicare from their “very first paycheck they’ve started.”

It was nonsense—popular nonsense. Sure, workers have paid into these programs all their lives, but they get more out of them than they pay in, which is why Biden’s own Social Security trustees predict insolvency in the next decade. And suggesting that raising taxes on the rich and biggest corporations will save these programs from insolvency is demagoguery, popular demagoguery. (Never mind that low corporate tax revenues are the result not of greed, but of the tax code.)

Also weighing in with some sense is Jeff Jacoby: As Social Security races toward a cliff, both parties refuse to act.

Republicans and Democrats these days are unanimous that Social Security not be reined in. "There's not a single soul on either side [who supports] cutting benefits," Representative Kevin Hern, an Oklahoma Republican, told Bloomberg Law last week. Former president Donald Trump declared that "under no circumstances" should the GOP "vote to cut a single penny" from entitlement programs like Social Security. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy vows that cuts to Social Security "are off the table."

On countless issues — crime, gender, immigration, energy — the parties are miles apart. On Social Security, they march in lockstep. Which is another way of saying that both parties are committed to doing nothing as the government's costliest spending program careens toward insolvency.

Is there anyone in Congress deserving a chapter in an up-to-date edition of Profiles in Courage?

Briefly noted:

  • One cheer for the Sun King at Reason: New Hampshire Gov. Sununu Announces Massive Occupational Licensing Reform.

    For years, New Hampshire has been luring new residents with the promise of low taxes and a generally libertarian ethos. Soon, migrants to the state will be spared a significant relocation headache: getting permission from the government to do the same job you did somewhere else.

    New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, launched a bold occupational licensing reform effort during his annual budget address on Tuesday by promising to sign legislation that broadly recognizes occupational licenses issued by other states.

    He also proposed "outright elimination of 34 licenses currently issued by various boards". I can't find a list of them anywhere.

    Disclaimer: Mrs. Salad was a prime mover in getting the state to license dietitians years back. Somehow, our marriage survived.

  • But let's offset that cheer with a boo from Ramesh Ponnuru at National Review Governor Sununu Is Wrong about Dobbs. At issue was this comment about abortion regulation relayed by David Weigel:

    “The court said the federal government should stay out of it, right?” said Sununu. “So the federal government should stay out of it. I think the federal government should stay out of most everything.”

    Ramesh begs to differ:

    The Supreme Court didn’t say that. As Justice Kavanaugh noted in his concurrence, the ruling “leaves the issue for the people and their elected representatives to resolve through the democratic process in the States or Congress.” (Kavanaugh makes this point twice.)

    The dissent is also accurate on this question: “No language in today’s decision stops the Federal Government from prohibiting abortions nationwide.”

    If Governor Sununu wants to argue that federal abortion legislation violates the Constitution, let’s have the argument. The Supreme Court hasn’t made it for him.

    As someone said: "It Ain’t What You Don’t Know That Gets You Into Trouble. It’s What You Know for Sure That Just Ain’t So." Put that on the wall where you can see it, Governor.

  • And another boo for the Gov: Sununu Denies Issuing Any 'Stay at Home' Orders During COVID Crisis.

    During a testy exchange with radio host Jack Heath on Wednesday, New Hampshire Governor — and possible 2024 presidential candidate – Chris Sununu claimed he never issued any stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 crisis.

    In reality, the governor’s website shows he issued multiple stay-at-home orders in the first months of the pandemic, a fact that was well publicized at the time.

    To Sununu's credit, he did keep the state liquor stores open.

  • I just love the headlines on Jacob Sullum's columns at his syndication service. Try to read this aloud without taking a breath. The Perils of Trying to Curtail Hazily Defined 'Disinformation': The Global Disinformation Index's Controversial Ratings Illustrate the Challenge of Deciding Which Speech Belongs in That Category.

    NewsGuard, a service that rates adherence to basic principles of good journalism, gives my employer, Reason magazine, its highest possible score. Yet the Global Disinformation Index, a British organization that aims to steer advertisers away from disreputable websites, claims Reason is one of the 10 "riskiest" online news sources in the United States.

    The stark contrast between those two assessments illustrates the challenge of defining "disinformation," an increasingly nebulous concept that invites subjective judgments driven by political allegiances and policy preferences. That problem is especially acute when the government demands that websites take steps to curtail "disinformation," portraying it as a grave threat to public health, democracy and national security.

    Robby Soave has more on the opaque and dodgy "Global Disinformation Index" here. And also notes the US State Department has indirectly contributed taxpayer money to GDI. Bottom line:

    If a self-described disinformation-tracking organization wants to loudly proclaim, in partisan fashion, that advertisers should only use mainstream and liberal news sites, it has that right. But advertisers should take note of its obvious bias, total lack of transparency in detailing media outlets' scores, and other methodological issues. And the State Department certainly has no business helping to fund it.


Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:40 AM EST

Go Directly to Ignorance. Do Not Pass Go. Or Algebra. Or Science.

[Educrat Monopoly] Slashdot featured this article from Nature: WHO abandons plans for crucial second phase of COVID-origins investigation. You have to do some between-the-lines reading to figure out why, but…

But Chinese officials rejected the WHO’s plans, taking particular issue with the proposal to investigate lab breaches. Zhao Lijian, the spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry, said the WHO proposal was not agreed by all member states, and that the second phase should not focus on pathways the mission report had already deemed extremely unlikely.

"We have nothing to hide, but we won't let you look there."

Briefly noted:

  • I think David Harsanyi is kind of impressed: James Clapper Can't Stop Lying.

    In an interview with The Washington Post’s “fact checker,” former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper contends that Politico misled the public about a letter he and 50 other former intel officials signed during the 2020 presidential campaign warning that the New York Post’s Hunter Biden laptop story could be Russian deception. “There was message distortion,” Clapper tells The Washington Post. “All we were doing was raising a yellow flag that this could be Russian disinformation. Politico deliberately distorted what we said. It was clear in paragraph five.”

    It was not clear, at all. The purpose of the letter, apparent then as it is now, was to discredit the Post’s scoop and provide Democrats and the media with ammunition to reject it. Of course intel officials couldn’t definitively say that Hunter’s emails, which implicated Joe Biden as a business partner, were concocted by Putin’s spooks. They had no access to the laptop. The purpose was to enlist former intel chiefs to cast doubt on the story. A perfunctory CYA paragraph doesn’t change anything.

    Clapper is merely the one example of how dishonest, corrupt, and inept the "national intelligence community" is. I'd vote for whatever candidate pledged to clean those Augean Stables.

  • Lawrence M. Krauss attempts a taxonomy of the self-described enlightened: To Woke or Not to Woke, That is the Question. Is the answer Fundamentalist Wokism?.

    As far as I can tell, the term ‘woke’ is meant to describe, in a positive sense, being aware of various systematic historical examples of inequality and their sometimes ongoing negative consequences. Take for example, one legacy of racism in US cities in particular. Historical inequalities in the access to wealth and other resources has tended to result in areas where poverty and lack of health and social services have been concentrated. Recognizing the existence of these situations is presumably a necessary first step in trying to explore ways to improve the quality of life for everyone—a laudable goal.

    The problem arises when this recognition becomes the sole filter in which to define all aspects of existence, so that every experience reflects inherent inequities and that victimhood becomes endemic. That historical racism has existed in society does not mean that it exists everywhere nor that every example of apparent ongoing inequity can be attributed to that history. An equitable society needs to provide equal opportunities to succeed, and that means providing access to education, health care, and a safe physical environment for all children. It does not, however, mean that the demographics of centers of excellence, be they academic institutions or sports teams, needs to reflect the underlying demographics of society.

    I'm not sure how his prescription, adding the "fundamentalist" adjective, differs significantly to the insights of John McWhorter; see especially IT IS JUST HYPE TO CALL ELECTISM A RELIGION?

  • Rich Lowry proposes a title what could be a cinematic blockbuster someday: Biden vs. the UFOs. (Ending still—heh—up in the air.)

    It’s best never to take White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre’s word for anything, but we can presumably believe her when she says that the flying objects shot down by the United States in recent days aren’t from an alien civilization.

    Although she left herself some wiggle room — “there is no indication” of extraterrestrial activity, she said, displaying the weasel-word instincts of someone whose job involves dancing around the truth.

    "That is something that I would refer you to the White House counsel's office."

  • Physics Prof at the University Near Here, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein declares herself Against a Milquetoast Politics of Integration. It's a Valentine's Day brain dump, bouncing from the latest environmental disaster in Ohio, to the Space Force installation in Maui, to… well check it out. Excerpt:

    I’m a Black queer Jewish agender/woman worker in the Black and queer radical feminist tradition, and that means I won’t settle for a milquetoast politics of integration into American imperialism and ecological destruction. It means I stand with Palestinians, and I generally think borders are violent. I may have tactical disagreements with other people working in the same tradition, but I ultimately share their goals. I’m not interested in being represented by people who share my community identities but whose politics run counter to our survival. And I’m disgusted by the way establishment queers are policing queerness by making political agreement with them a requirement to be understood and recognized as queer.

    Anyway, Happy Black History Month except to all the white moderates and the people who cape for them…

    Cape?


Last Modified 2024-01-30 6:42 AM EST

Also Feckless, Worthless, Meritless, …

Reason presents The Shameless Attack on a Climate Change Dissenter Steven Koonin. Video version:

Text version at the link. Excerpt:

In 2021, the physicist and New York University professor Steven E. Koonin, who served as undersecretary for science in the Obama administration's Energy Department, published the best-selling Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn't, and Why It Matters.

The book attracted extremely negative reviews filled with ad hominem attacks, such as a short statement appearing in Scientific American and signed by 12 academics that, instead of substantively rebutting Koonin's arguments, calls him "a crank who's only taken seriously by far-right disinformation peddlers hungry for anything they can use to score political points" and "just another denier trying to sell a book."

We couldn't find a single negative review of Unsettled that disputed its claims directly or even described them accurately. Many of the reviewers seem to have stopped reading after the first few pages. Others were forced to concede that many of Koonin's facts were correct but objected that they were used in the service of challenging official dogma. True statements were downplayed as trivial or as things everyone knows, despite the extensive parts of Unsettled that document precisely the opposite: that the facts were widely denied in major media coverage and misrepresentations were cited as the basis for major policy initiatives.

I read Koonin's book last year. My report is here. My take-home point from the Reason video/article is the same as I had then: You gotta ask: what are these people afraid of?

Briefly noted:

  • In an article from the print edition of National Review (probably paywalled) Philip Klein reveals The Real Debt Ceiling Cowards.

    In February 2018, a budget deal sailed through the Republican-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate before being enthusiastically signed into law by President Trump. Not only did the pact suspend the debt ceiling, but it eroded the spending restraints that had been the crowning achievement of the Tea Party era and the legacy of the 2011 debt-ceiling fight.

    Then–House speaker Paul Ryan, who rose to fame warning of the devastating consequences of the nation’s unsustainable fiscal path, hailed the “bipartisan compromise” as a “great victory” for members of the military, while Trump tweeted that “Republicans and Democrats must support our troops and support this Bill!” Representative Kevin McCarthy also backed the 2018 deal, praising its increase in military spending, the boost in money for disaster relief, and the “funding to address domestic challenges from the opioid crisis and rare diseases to reform at the Veterans Administration and fixing our crumbling infrastructure.”

    Five years later, Republicans control neither the Senate nor the presidency, but they promise to take advantage of their narrow House majority to demand spending concessions in exchange for passing a debt-ceiling increase. McCarthy, who agreed to make a fuss about the debt limit to secure his speakership, is now talking solemnly about the federal debt that Republicans allowed to explode during the Trump era — even before Biden added to it. In a recent press conference, he spoke about how it would be irresponsible to raise the debt limit without confronting the underlying federal-debt problem, which he called “the greatest threat to this nation.”

    As Washington gears up for another protracted battle over the debt ceiling, the question conservatives should be asking of Republicans is: Do they actually care about lowering the federal debt, or do they just want to fight?

    I'm pretty sure I know the answer. And it's not one of those good fights, like in Roadhouse: instead it seems more like one of those limp-wristed slap fights.

  • Freddie deBoer weighs in on a great debate: No, Francis Fukuyama is Wrong, Not Just Not Even Wrong. Specifically, he's not a fan of the "End of History" thesis.

    The big problem with The End of History and the Last Man is that history is long, and changes to the human condition are so extreme that the terms we come up with to define that condition are inevitably too contextual and limited to survive the passage of time. We’re forever foolishly deciding that our current condition is the way things will always be. For 300,000 years human beings existed as hunter-gatherers, a vastly longer period of time than we’ve had agriculture and civilization. Indeed, if aliens were to take stock of the basic truth of the human condition, they would likely define us as much by that hunter-gatherer past as our technological present; after all, that was our reality for far longer. Either way - those hunter-gatherers would have assumed that their system wasn’t going to change, couldn’t comprehend it changing, didn’t see it as a system at all, and for 3000 centuries, they would have been right. But things changed.

    And for thousands of years, people living at the height of human civilization thought that there was no such thing as an economy without slavery; it’s not just that they had a moral defense of slavery, it’s that they literally could not conceive of the daily functioning of society without slavery. But things changed. For most humans for most of modern history, the idea of dynastic rule and hereditary aristocracy was so intrinsic and universal that few could imagine an alternative. But things changed. And for hundreds of years, people living under feudalism could not conceive of an economy that was not fundamentally based on the division between lord and serf, and in fact typically talked about that arrangement as being literally ordained by God. But things changed. For most of human history, almost no one questioned the inherent and unalterable second-class status of women. Civilization is maybe 12,000 years old; while there’s proto-feminist ideas to be found throughout history, the first wave of organized feminism is generally defined as only a couple hundred years old. It took so long because most saw the subordination of women as a reflection of inherent biological reality. But women lead countries now. You see, things change.

    An interesting perspective.

    But you may have had a hard time parsing Freddie's headline. That "not even wrong" phrase has a history. It is generally said to have originated with Wolfgang Pauli, one of the founders of quantum mechanics. Which leads into our next item…

  • Let's take a look at the Ars Technica article from Paul Sutter: A guide to (not) understanding quantum mechanics.

    Hey, I've been not-understanding quantum mechanics for around fifty years now! Let's see what Sutter has to add:

    Quantum mechanics is simultaneously beautiful and frustrating.

    Its explanatory power is unmatched. Armed with the machinery of quantum theory, we have unlocked the secrets of atomic power, divined the inner workings of chemistry, built sophisticated electronics, discovered the power of entanglement, and so much more. According to some estimates, roughly a quarter of our world’s GDP relies on quantum mechanics.

    Yet despite its overwhelming success as a framework for understanding what nature does, quantum mechanics tells us very little about how nature works. Quantum mechanics provides a powerful set of tools for successfully making predictions about what subatomic particles will do, but the theory itself is relatively silent about how those subatomic particles actually go about their lives.

    Yeah, I think I see the problem, and I've bolded it in that last sentence: actually. What's really going on here? Natural question.

    Sutter is looking for some sort of additional insight beyond that provided by the QM equations.

    I'm kind of convinced that's largely a psychological issue, looking for something your intuition says should be there. Must be there.

    But it isn't. Demanding that it should be is "not even wrong".

    At least not according to the Copenhagen Interpretation. Which Sutter describes well. Check it out.

    And Sutter is not alone. The BBC back in 2013: Will we ever… understand quantum theory?

"… and who is this guy sniffing my hair?"

[Titanic Policies] Briefly noted:

  • Jacob Sullum finds this odd, but unfortunately not surprising: The New York Times Warns That Freedom of Speech Is a Threat.

    Are federal officials violating the First Amendment when they pressure social media companies to suppress "misinformation"? That is the question posed by a federal lawsuit that the attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana filed last May.

    New York Times reporter Steven Lee Myers warns that the lawsuit "could disrupt the Biden administration's already struggling efforts to combat disinformation." He worries that "the First Amendment has become, for better or worse, a barrier to virtually any government efforts to stifle a problem that, in the case of a pandemic, threatens public health and, in the case of the integrity of elections, even democracy itself." As Myers frames the issue, freedom of speech is a threat to "public health" and "even democracy itself."

    There is no denying that when people are free to express their opinions, no matter how misguided, ill-informed, or hateful, some of them will say things that are misleading, demonstrably false, or divisive. The First Amendment nevertheless guarantees their right to say those things, based on the premise that the dangers posed by unfettered speech are preferable to the dangers posed by government attempts to regulate speech in what it perceives as the public interest.

    You'd think anyone working the NYT might note that immediately after prohibiting the government from "abridging the freedom of speech", the First Amendment adds in "or of the press" almost as an afterthought.

    And said employee might wonder if arguments for erosion of free speech protections might also apply to the free press.

  • Libel has (however) been a long-standing example of unprotected speech. Kevin D. Williamson wishes that it would apply to (say) the New York Times: DeSantis Is (Almost) Right About Libel Law.

    The New York Times dodged a bullet a while back in the Sarah Palin libel matter, and its publishers and editors know it, which is why a recent story is headlined, “DeSantis, Aiming at a Favorite Foil, Wants to Roll Back Press Freedom” a claim that—ironically, in this context—isn’t quite right. Presumably, “freedom of the press” does not include the freedom to publish untrue and defamatory things about people, and DeSantis is taking up the cause of a small group of activists, including a few conservative legal scholars, who want to make it easier for people who have been misrepresented by the press to win libel judgments against newspapers and other media properties.

    This hits close to home for the Times: The landmark Supreme Court case in the matter of libel is called New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, and the most recent big-time libel suit was Sarah Palin v. New York Times Co. Palin lost—wrongly, in my view—but is appealing.

    The Times’ misrepresentation of Palin should have been, liberated from the weight of political tribalism, an open-and-shut case. For this kind of claim in print to rise to the level of libel, it must meet three conditions: The claim must be false, the claim must be defamatory (meaning that it injures the reputation of the party in question), and, in the case of a public figure, it must have been made with “actual malice” or “reckless disregard for the truth.” The Times libeled Palin by falsely claiming in an editorial that Palin’s campaign rhetoric had led to the shooting of Rep. Gabby Giffords. “The link to political incitement was clear,” according to the Times, a claim that is—and this matters in this context!—not true. There was no connection at all between the Palin campaign and the Giffords shooting, a fact that has been reported in and confirmed by, among other reputable journalistic sources, the New York Times itself. Even if we accepted at face value the extraordinarily tendentious claim that Palin’s utterly normal campaign rhetoric constituted some sort of incitement to violence, the man who shot Giffords was not inspired by it and seems never to have even seen it before committing his crime.

    It's paywalled, sorry. You should subscribe.

  • While rewatching Justified on Hulu, I've had to dodge around sanctimonious ads for their docuseries based around the "1619 Project". Phillip Magness says I'm not missing anything besides a ball of confusion, specifically the: 1619 Project's Confusion on Capitalism.

    A pervasive sense of confusion characterizes Hulu’s new 1619 Project episode on “capitalism,” beginning with the basic definition of its titular term. Project creator Nikole Hannah-Jones opens the episode by conceding that “I don’t feel like most of us actually know what capitalism means.” This should have provided her an opportunity for self-reflection on how the embattled project has, over the last three years, trudged its way through the economic dimensions of slavery.

    The original New York Times version of the project assigned the topic to Princeton sociologist Matthew Desmond, a novice without any scholarly expertise or methodological training in one of economic history’s most thoroughly scrutinized topics. The resulting essay blended empirical error with a basic misreading of the academic literature to almost comical ends. He casually repeated a thoroughly debunked statistical claim from a “New History of Capitalism” (NHC) scholar Ed Baptist, who erroneously attributes the growth of the antebellum cotton industry’s crop yield to the increased beating of slaves (it was actually due to improved seed technology). At one point, Desmond even asserted a lineal descent from plantation accounting books to Microsoft Excel — the result of misreading a passage in another book that explicitly disavowed this same connection.

    Magness notes the series' interweaving "between historical photographs of slaves working in the cotton fields of the antebellum South and footage of an Amazon distribution center." Subtle!

    One of the things I picked out from my readings about Marxism was that the definition of "exploitation of labor" meant, simply, paying one's employees a market wage; you had to combine it with Marx's (ridiculous) labor theory of value to get anything worth bothering about.

    But the 1619 Project jumps into that garbage bin headfirst.

  • The WSJ editorialists go to an evergreen topic: Internal Revenue Incompetence.

    Hard to believe the Internal Revenue Service’s problems could be worse than we knew, but a Government Accountability Office report released this week on its aging IT systems shows they are. Don’t expect the $80 billion that the IRS is getting from the Inflation Reduction Act to fix them.

    The IRS relies on numerous IT systems to collect taxes and distribute refunds, but many are as old as Baby Boomers. GAO reports that about 33% of applications, 23% of software and 8% of hardware are “legacy” systems, defined as 25 years or older or written in an obsolete programming language. Thirteen applications are between 55 and 64 years old.

    I assume the "obsolete programming language" is good old COBOL. Which I managed to avoid learning even as a youngster. FORTRAN for me, baby!

  • She's a wonderful singer, and a dreadful human being. Humberto Fontova looks at Grammy Winner Bonnie Raitt—Hypocrite Extraordinaire.

    “When Bonnie Raitt won the award for Song of the Year at the 2023 Grammys on Sunday night for her track Just Like That,” The Daily Mail reports this week, “some were shocked that the accolade went to the 73-year-old folk singer - over huge artists like Taylor Swift, Lizzo, Harry Styles, Beyonce and Adele, who were also nominated for the category.”

    Much less shocking, given Raitt’s social and political milieu, is this rock and roller’s propaganda ministrations for the only regime in the modern history of the Western Hemisphere to criminalize rock & roll and herd its practitioners and fans into forced-labor camps.

    You see, amigos: Back in March of 1999, Bonnie Raitt was among the top acts of a celebrity-studded propaganda extravaganza for Stalinist Cuba titled “Music Bridges Over Troubled Waters." During her visit to the Castro-Family-Fiefdom, Raitt stopped hyperventilating just long enough to compose a song in Fidel Castro's honor titled, "Cuba Is Way Too Cool!" Among the lyrics: "It's just a happy little island!" and "Big bad wolf (the U.S.) you look the FOOL!"

    My intro to Bonnie was from the bins of a Pasadena record store in 1971, where I looked at her first album cover back in 1971. On the back was the dedication to "the people of North Vietnam". You know, the nice folks who were shooting and torturing Americans at the time. In their slight defense, some of those Americans were shooting at them too. But I knew whose side I was on: not Bonnie's. I put the record back, and have not picked up another in the half-century since.

  • Amity Shlaes looks at what Ken Burns' most recent documentary was really about: Shaming Americans. Even though it was supposed to be about the Holocaust. It's OK when dealing with the Nazis, but:

    Still, the film is titled The U.S. and the Holocaust; the filmmakers put the “U.S.” first. And on this crucial U.S. component of the period, Burns lets his viewers down. For the series hammers away at an improbable narrative: the America of the 1800s was a kind of Statue of Liberty Eden, when immigrants flowed freely into our country. Then our bigotry overcame us, and we knew sin. Taking up eugenics or restricting immigration in the 1910s or 1920s—when Adolf Hitler was just a youth wandering Vienna, an insignificant corporal, or a jailbird with a Remington typewriter—was not merely wrong of us but also contributed to the rise of Nazism and to the Holocaust itself. And then, in the late 1930s and 1940s, we compounded our sins by failing to rescue Europe’s Jews. We were militaristic, not humanitarian, and so somehow the lesser.

    To mount such a morality play, the filmmakers must rearrange both time and knowledge, pretending that politicians and governments in the first third of the twentieth century had access to facts and numbers that simply were not available in organized form until well after VE-day, or even decades later, as in the case, for example, of the massacre of Polish officers in the Katyn Forest. The result is six-plus hours of such righteous and distorted history that high schoolers who view the film can be forgiven for taking away the impression that the 1924 Johnson-Reed Immigration Act caused the Holocaust. The film also discounts as risibly insufficient the 240,000 refugees from the Nazis whom the U.S. did admit. Burns and his colleagues downplay the military sacrifice that went into the effort of halting Hitler, a sacrifice made not only by the vets at Normandy or the more than 400,000 Americans who lost their lives in World War II. Throughout, the film darkens the story with a sepia overlay of regret. Closer scrutiny reveals The U.S. and the Holocaust as disconcertingly partisan. Through omission and emphasis, the filmmakers assign responsibility for bigotry or bad policy to Republicans and exonerate Democrats.

    Shlaes does a fine job of restoring balance to the historical record, inexcusably tilted by Burns.


Last Modified 2024-01-30 6:42 AM EST

Desert Star

[Amazon Link]
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The latest (as I type) book from Michael Connelly, and it's the expected page-turner (or screen-swiper, since I read it on my new Kindle). The front cover bills it as "a Renée Ballard and Harry Bosch novel".

Harry is retired, and Renée, once fired, is now rehired. By the LAPD. She was urged to do her own thing, write her own ticket, at the end of the previous book, The Dark Hours. So she set up a unit to investigate cold cases, hopelessly ancient crimes that might be solved by modern investigatory technique. She enlists Harry as one of her ragtag team members; he gets on board in order to investigate his "white whale" case: a gruesomely murdered family buried out in the desert.

But Renée's unit is a political creation, and she has to bend to political reality: a powerful LA pol wants to know who killed his sister years back. Early on, Bosch suggests that sophisticated DNA analysis be performed on an old bit of evidence, and (what do you know) that links the sister's homicide to a different murder, also long ago. Pretty soon, a suspect comes into focus, and a cat-and-mouse stalking begins.

No spoilers, but Harry is acting a little strange here, not "playing by the rules", more like a loose cannon than usual. But he has his reasons, and they aren't revealed until the very end of the book. Which made me pre-order Connelly's next book, due out in November.


Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:39 AM EST

The Phony Campaign

2023-02-12 Update

[Newsom the Dummy]

Background on our Eye Candy du Jour from Fox News: California Gov. Gavin Newsom dubs head of College Board ‘puppet' of DeSantis: 'I call bullshit'.

Yes, I de-bowdlerized their headline. Because Newsom actually tweeted…

Ilya Shapiro has further information, if you're interested: Revised AP African American Studies is the course students deserve.

Newsom's complaint seems to be that the College Board, in de-indoctrinizing its curriculum, has moved away from being the puppet of the Critical Race Theorists. Interesting, but let's move on to this week's phony standings. You'll notice that we have two new contenders; Mike Pence and Michelle Obama have cracked our 2% inclusion threshold. But phony-wise, it's still Governor DeSantis in a runaway:

Candidate EBO Win
Probability
Change
Since
2/5
Phony
Hit Count
Change
Since
2/5
Ron DeSantis 20.7% -2.6% 4,950,000 +260,000
Pete Buttigieg 2.1% +0.1% 1,300,000 -30,000
Donald Trump 20.3% +2.6% 974,000 -36,000
Michelle Obama 2.0% --- 704,000 ---
Joe Biden 25.9% +2.3% 377,000 +19,000
Mike Pence 2.0% --- 269,000 ---
Nikki Haley 3.4% -0.5% 98,000 -4,000
Kamala Harris 3.8% unch 93,700 +4,000
Gavin Newsom 3.5% unch 44,200 +7,400

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

  • Steven Hayward claims that the prognosticators claiming GOP electoral doom are in error: 2024—The Early Line Is Wrong.

    I think there is a strong likelihood that everyone has sized up the scene backwards, and that the real surprise of the 2024 election cycle is a disaster in the Democratic Party. There could well be a rerun of 1968 in some ways, when the year began with the certain Democratic incumbent nominee, Lyndon Johnson, appearing to head to the election in a strong position. “Johnson Popularity on Upswing, Year-End Gallup Polls Discloses,” the New York Times declared on page one on New Year’s Day of 1968. LBJ’s public approval numbers had bounced back from a low of 38 percent in October 1967 to a respectable 46 percent at the end of December.  While the polls showed that LBJ would face a close race in a head-to-head contest against a Republican, he would win handily in the anticipated three-way race that included Alabama Governor George Wallace running as an independent.  A Fortune magazine poll of 400 top corporate executives found 65 percent expected Johnson to win, though they preferred Nixon.

    Hayward doesn't discuss the importance of the 1968 New Hampshire Primary in getting LBJ to bow out of the race that year. Given that Biden has advocated yanking NH's first-primary status, and that he came in fifth in 2020, it's pretty easy to imagine how his campaign could start to unravel.

  • DeSantis has over a 5-to-1 advantage over Trump in phony hits. I would not have thought that possible. Especially when, as Joe Lancaster says, Despite His Record, Trump Plans 2024 Run As an Anti-War Republican.

    Politico reports that to distinguish himself from potential candidates like Haley or former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Trump will run as "an anti-war dove amongst the hawks." But while a forceful nudge in an anti-war direction would be a welcome development for the party, Trump's record casts doubt on his seriousness.

    Trump's reflexive opposition to foreign entanglements was part of his appeal during his 2016 candidacy. At a Republican debate ahead of that year's South Carolina primary, Trump called the Iraq War "a big, fat mistake" and said of its boosters, "They lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction. There were none, and they knew there were none."

    […]

    But Trump's record once elected did not reflect the promise of a more constrained foreign policy. Just days into his administration, Trump greenlit a military operation in Yemen that yielded no valuable intelligence but led to the death of Navy Seal Ryan Owens. When pressed on the failure, he blamed his military advisers, shrugging that "they lost Ryan." Weeks later, he launched 59 missiles into Syria after that country's government targeted its civilians with chemical weapons.

    Wouldn't be the first time that campaign rhetoric clashed with hard reality.

  • Kevin D. Williamson has some harsh words (unfortunately paywalled) for GOPers who went along to get along: Put Trump Veterans in Political Timeout. Including Pun Salad heartthrob Nikki Haley:

    With Nikki Haley getting set to announce her 2024 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, a vexing question is raised—a question that we are going to have to think about a great deal: What do we do with these products of the Trump administration?

    My own belief is that the senior figures in the Trump administration—Donald Trump himself, Mike Pence, the various Cabinet secretaries and agency chiefs, etc.—should never again hold any position of public trust—or, if not never again, at least not in the foreseeable future. By “position of public trust” I mean not only elected office but appointed positions in government, on the boards of universities and publicly traded corporations, etc. The same is true for those in Congress who voted against certifying the 2020 election results and those who were otherwise involved with the attempted coup d’etat of 2020-2021. Trumpworld lawyers such as John Eastman, Rudy Giuliani, and Cleta Mitchell should be disbarred. (I wasn’t talking about you, Sarah!) This would, of course, much more than decimate an entire generation of Republican leaders—whether you think of that as a cost or a benefit will depend very strongly upon your point of view. If you have a 150-pound healthy person and a 600-pound tumor, there may be some question about who is removing whom.

    Specifically, for our girl:

    Nikki Haley presents a particularly irritating—and disappointing—case because she so clearly knew better. Haley was a trenchant critic of Trump’s and worked openly against him in 2016: Hailing from what then might have fairly been described as the Jeb Bush wing of the GOP (a wing that has since been amputated), Haley considered supporting Ted Cruz but ultimately settled on Marco Rubio as the candidate most likely to keep Trump away from the GOP nomination. Her sensitivities may have been heightened by the fact that she is a woman, that she is not white, and that she is the daughter of immigrants, but none of that was necessary to see Trump for what he was and is. 

    Haley did see him for what he was and said so. And then she didn’t. And then she did again. And then she kinda-sorta did and didn’t at the same time. And that’s where she is now. 

    Nikki's weathervaning on Trump was probably the phoniest thing about her.

  • In a post written before the SOTU speech, Charles C. W. Cooke had a dire prediction: Joe Biden May Win Again in 2024.

    Tonight’s State of the Union address is set to be a disgrace. In his now-trademark broken English, President Biden intends to spin a preposterous tale of heroism in which he, good ol’ folksy Joe from Scranton, Pa., left the political sidelines one last time and restored the United States to the normalcy that its put-upon citizenry had long craved. Among the achievements that Biden will claim are that he has created more jobs than any other president in history; that he has brought inflation down from a high that predated him; that he has ended the Covid emergency that his predecessor engendered; and that he has faithfully saved democratic norms from the arrayed forces of evil with which, sadly, he is forced to contend every day.

    And, if the Republicans don’t get their act together, he’s going to get away with it.

    Looked at objectively, Joe Biden’s presidency has been a disaster. The guy’s a fraud, a liar, and a crank. He disrespects his oath of office, ignores evidence that is unhelpful to his cause, and refuses to engage with the public at anything approaching a normal rate. His mind is slow, his speech is meandering, his grasp of the topic at hand ranges from tenuous to nonexistent, and most of the time, he looks half-dead. If voters were free to choose a president from an unrestricted pool of candidates, there is nobody in America who would choose Joe Biden.

    It's very tempting to quote more of Charles's rant, but I'm skirting fair-use as it is. You'll have to click over to read about the "confused, semi-mummified demagogue."

  • David Boaz describes President Biden's Anti-Growth Agenda.

    E. J. Dionne writes in the Washington Post that President Biden will focus his State of the Union speech on “how to make the economy grow for everyone.” That’s a good topic. Unfortunately, Dionne’s column illustrates that Biden’s policies will not do that.

    Dionne mentions “policies that see robust government investments, worker rights and a green tech economy as the path to a new American century.” And he recommends further initiatives such as “paid leave, universal pre‑K and child care, health coverage expansions, a beefed‐up child tax credit, and steps to make housing more affordable.”

    All those things sound nice, but they will not make the economy grow. They all involve the federal government extracting money from individuals and businesses, taking a cut for a larger bureaucracy, and directing the rest of the money to areas that consumers, families, firms, and investors have not chosen. Or new regulations that increase the cost of hiring workers. You learn in Econ 101 that if the price of something goes up, the amount demanded will go down. It doesn’t make sense to add extra costs on employment.

    Boaz advocates that President Wheezy "propose policies that would increase jobs, wages, and growth." I assume he realizes that the probability of that is zero point zero.

  • The Google claims that Kamala Harris is underperforming, phony-wise. Nate Hochman may provide an explanation: Why Democrats Can’t See Kamala Harris for Who She Is.

    In the run-up to the 2020 election, legacy-media outlets went to Herculean lengths to block and tackle for Kamala Harris. Almost any criticism of Harris was swiftly flagged and scolded for its internalized racism, sexism, and or both — the “double bind” of “racism and sexism” that shows “not only the bias that women and people of color face, but the fact that for women of color, that bias is more than the sum of its parts,” as an October 2020 New York Times analysis put it. Even the allegation that Harris was “phony” was off-limits — “when used against a person, and especially a woman of color, experts say” charges of phoniness have “a harmful subtext,” the Times counseled.

    Those “experts” are noticeably absent from the more recent coverage of the first half-black, half–South Asian woman to serve as vice president. There are signs that at least some journalists are beginning to suspect that Harris isn’t living up to the world-historic god-queen caricature that their profession spent the last few years constructing for her. In the past week, the nation’s two papers of record — the New York Times and the Washington Post — have each published pieces gingerly raising questions about Harris’s conspicuous mediocrity. On that front, the Times and the Post are well behind the decisive majority of Americans, who have been telling pollsters they disapprove more than they approve of Harris for the better part of a year and a half.

    He goes on to note that "the evidence has become so overwhelming that it is impossible to ignore." Even for the NYT.

    But not for Pun Salad. We were onto her back in 2017.


Last Modified 2024-01-30 6:42 AM EST

Voters Seem to Favor the Third Option

[Amazon Link]
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Kevin D. Williamson lists the fiscal possibilities: Cut Spending, Raise Taxes, or Wait for Economic Collapse.

Republicans don’t want a tax increase—but a tax increase is exactly what they are arguing for, without quite meaning to. 

Put another way: Republicans are gearing up for a fight over raising the debt ceiling—and they say they want spending cuts, except for entitlements, defense, and veterans’ care. 

What that takes off the table is Social Security and Medicare, at least, while some Republicans, notably Rep. Jim Jordan, also say Medicaid cuts are not on the table. Together with defense spending and interest on the debt already accrued (the only federal bill that really has to be paid) that represents the great majority of federal spending.

Specifically, as KDW shows, last year's spending on the stuff Republicans want to shield from cuts (plus interest on the debt) represented about $6.8 trillion out of a total $9 trillion. Bottom line:

Everybody likes to talk about taxes, spending, and debt as though this were a moral problem—and, of course, there are moral aspects to these issues. But this is a moral problem inside of a math problem, and the real limits on our options and range of action are economic, not metaphysical. You can cut spending, raise taxes, do both, or do nothing, allowing the debt to pile up until the economy collapses under the weight of it. 

Scrooge
Swimming in his Money Bin Of course, Democrats have their own math-illiterate recipe: We'll raise taxes on the rich and corporations, and that won't have any effect at all on you peons. One of the proposals is to go after all that stuff in Scrooge McDuck's money bin (pictured at your right): taxing wealth. David R. Henderson points out: Taxing Wealth Is Taxing Work.

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, President Biden stated:

We have to reward work, not just wealth. Pass my proposal for the billionaire minimum tax. You know, there’s [sic] a thousand billionaires in America. It’s up from about 600 at the beginning of my term.

But no billionaire should be paying a lower tax rate than a schoolteacher or a firefighter. I mean it. Think about it.

I have thought about it. I have four thoughts.

First, if there are 1,000 billionaires now, up from 600 just two years ago, that’s good, not bad. Biden, to his credit, didn’t say it was bad. But it’s good because it means that consumers are still rewarding producers for being very productive.

Second, to allow people to become wealthy is to reward work. How does Biden think people got to be wealthy? By sitting on the couch eating bon bons? Joe Biden seems to have a “tooth fairy” view of how people get wealthy, but the vast majority of people who get wealthy in a free market do so by producing something that a lot of consumers value highly.

You might argue that we don’t have a completely free market and you would be right. Governments at all levels in the United States give special privileges to lots of groups. That means that not all billionaires earned their wealth in a free market. Occasionally, for example, governments heavily subsidize consumers to buy particular products. Tesla and Elon Musk, anyone? But the solution is not to tax those businesses more; it’s to end the subsidies.

Check out David's third and fourth thoughts too.

Meanwhile, George F. Will looks at a barely-serious GOP CongressCritter's proposals: Quadrillion-dollar national debt? Chew, don’t nibble, on this math.

When agitated, which he often is, Rep. Chip Roy, 50, large and fit, with a bald head and a goatee, resembles an Easter Island statue with an attitude. Arithmetic explains this Texas Republican’s seriousness about the need to restrain federal spending by restructuring entitlement programs. Someday. His realism, a product of experience on Capitol Hill and in presidential campaigns, tells him this task is not for today.

Meanwhile, he envisions saving $3 trillion over 10 years by cutting the “woke, weaponized and wasteful” bureaucracy to fiscal 2019 levels, while maintaining defense spending at current levels. But pruning annual spending by $300 billion from unspecified and presumptively unpopular (“wasteful”) programs will not banish this arithmetic:

The American Main Street Initiative, a think tank, says the Obama, Trump and Biden administrations compiled more debt held by the public, adjusted for inflation, than did all previous presidents combined. And if the national debt rises for 60 years at the rate it has risen during the previous 30, it will then exceed $1.5 quadrillion. (A quadrillion is a thousand trillions.)

Finally, a guy I like, Jeff Maurer takes the GOP to task: Debt Ceiling Idiocy Shows the Dangers of Living in a Fantasyland. He makes a number of unexceptional (but correct) points. However, my eyes rolled at this:

Our goal should be to keep the debt manageable, and our definition of “manageable” should change depending on economic conditions.

The problem being (as I said in a comment on his site): And we'll know it's become unmanageable how? Well, see KDW's third option above.

Briefly noted:

  • An inconvenient truth from Ron Bailey about an undeservedly popular proposal: Biden's Drug Price Controls Will Kill More Patients in the Long Run.

    Federal government interference has massively distorted American health care costs for decades. In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Joe Biden touted how the misnamed Inflation Adjustment Act (IRA) will further warp medical care costs by "finally giving Medicare the power to negotiate drug prices." The result is essentially putting price controls on prescription drugs. And price controls will do for prescription drugs what they do for all other products upon which they are imposed: create shortages, queues, black markets, and rationing.

    Even worse, drug price controls will have the additional baleful effect of increasing disease, disability, and deaths while simultaneously raising the total costs of health care. How? Because price controls substantially reduce the incentives for pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies to research, develop, and deploy innovative new medicines that would prevent and cure illnesses and cut overall costs.

    It's that venerable Bastiat observation about the seen and unseen.

  • The Foundation for Economic Education presents 33 of the Best Robert Heinlein Quotes on Liberty, Politics, and Culture. What, just 33? Well, here are the first three:

    1. “There is no worse tyranny than to force a man to pay for what he does not want merely because you think it would be good for him.”
    2. “The correct way to punctuate a sentence that states: ‘Of course it is none of my business, but—’ is to place a period after the word ‘but.’”
    3. “Do this. Don't do that. Stay back in line. Where's tax receipt? Fill out form. Let's see license. Submit six copies. Exit only. No left turn. No right turn. Queue up and pay fine. Take back and get stamped. Drop dead—but first get permit.”

    You won't want to miss the remainder.


Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:39 AM EST

To Make Room For Joe, Bernie Moved Over To Become Vladimir Lenin

[Amazon Link]
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Daniel Henninger looks at a stunning transformation: Joe Biden Is Bernie Sanders.

Mr. Biden described what he had done or would do for women, election reform, marriage, gas prices, 20,000 infrastructure projects, lead in pipes, cancer, insulin, price controls on drugs, Medicaid expansion, 500,000 electric-vehicle charging stations, tax credits to buy electric cars and on and on.

He paused for a moment to assert out of thin air, “I’m a capitalist.” But then it got weird, even for anyone wanting a lot of control over the means of production.

Suddenly, Mr. Biden was identifying microscopic economic discrepancies he vowed to erase. He said he would ban resort fees, impose a cap on concert-ticket fees and ban fees for people wanting to sit together on planes. Then he said something about getting involved with whether a person can quit a job as a cashier at a burger joint to take the same job across the street. Even Karl Marx wouldn’t have thought to propose so much flat-earth socialism. Far from done, Mr. Biden moved on to home care, housing, pre-K, teachers pay, student debt, mental health and addressing the crime crisis with counselors, social workers and psychologists.

To slightly mutate a well-known movie quote: "Capitalism. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

As another example of that rhetorical phenomenon, Eric Boehm observes that For Joe Biden, Competition Is Essential. Except When It Must Be Banned..

"Capitalism without competition is not capitalism," the president declared. "It's exploitation."

A bit of a cliché, but State of the Union speeches tend to be full of those. What made the line particularly jarring, however, is that it was delivered just 10 minutes or so after Biden had extolled—to bipartisan applause—the use of government power to shield American companies from foreign competition by tightening so-called Buy American rules for federal infrastructure projects. Doing so, he argued, was not only going to strengthen the economy but was the patriotic and upstanding thing to do.

Mr. Boehm has a number of other examples of this competition-is-good-unless-it's-bad schizophrenia.

Briefly noted:

  • The National Review editors note an amusing anecdote: Ben Sasse vs. the College Adolescents.

    ‘Our kids simply don’t know what an adult is anymore — or how to become one,” wrote Ben Sasse, now president of the University of Florida, in 2017’s The Vanishing American Adult. More evidence for Sasse’s thesis emerged the first day of his tenure at the university. A hundred protesters showed up at the door of Sasse’s office, pounding on it and presenting a list of “demands.”

    At some point, I'm sure Sasse will take to print comparing the current crop of college students with the current crop of Washington pols. More alike than you'd think?

  • Pop quiz, hotshot: what's the difference between education and schooling? That's the question that sprung to my mind while reading KC Cole's provocative story at WIRED, titled The End of Grading.

    On March 14 at 1:59 (3.14159), people all over the world eat pies, run circles, crash computers, and generally act irrationally—all in celebration of everyone’s favorite irrational number. Pi Day was born at San Francisco’s Exploratorium in 1988 but has since colonized the globe, recognized by both UNESCO and the US House of Representatives. Ubiquitous in equations, pi begat Pilish, a constrained language fun for writing poems and stories (“how I want a drink—alcoholic of course” uses the first nine digits); 3.14 is also, incidentally, Einstein’s birthday. I’m not the only person with a cat named Pi.

    But we’ve got pi all wrong. It’s not really a number at all. It’s a relationship—between the diameter of a circle and its circumference. Its richness only becomes irrational when shoehorned into ill-fitting numbers (think of Cinderella’s slipper), shattering its beauty and burying its meaning. Numbers aren’t pi’s native language. We shouldn’t be surprised that its essence gets lost in translation.

    OK, let's just call out some bullshit here: of course π is a number. That said:

    I was struck by this recently when faced with the horror of grading—slotting students into numbers. My fellow instructors at the University of Washington, where I teach in the honors program, feel the same dread. More irrational even than pi, assessing people amounts to quantifying a relationship between unknown, usually unknowable things. Every measurement, the mathematician Paul Lockhart reminds us in his book Measurement, is a comparison: “We are comparing the thing we are measuring to the thing we are measuring it with.”

    I think Ms. Cole is expressing, imperfectly, one of the things that turned me away from teaching.

    What are the kiddos really buying with their tuition cash? Seems unfair doesn't it, to charge an A student the same as the one who barely squeaked by with a D?

  • And we haven't encountered any decent recent material via our LFOD Google News Alert. But (finally), Jim Killett, resident of Lahaina, Hawaii, came through in a searing letter to the editor of the Maui News: Base government mottos on peace, not violence.

    I have always wondered about the New Hampshire motto of “Live Free or Die.”

    Shouldn’t New Hampshire people consider other, less-severe options, at least occasionally?

    And to what lack of freedom requires such pledge to death? Freedom is a matter of degree. Total freedom is not a good thing for all.

    And, do they need many jails in New Hampshire in that the inmates obviously have an obligation to die soon in that they have lost their freedom?

    I think that New Hampshire needs a new motto, but then I think “The Star Spangled Banner” should be replaced by “America, the Beautiful,” as it evokes more peaceful pride in our country and less praise for violence.

    Deep thoughts, Jim!

    To further boggle your mind: (1) The motto's on our license plates, which are (2) exclusively manufactured by Correctional Industries, New Hampshire Department of Corrections.

    And let me point out Hawaii's state motto, Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ʻĀina i ka Pono.

    Which doesn't get any more comprehensible when translated, usually as: "the life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness."

    Neither version would fit on a license plate.


Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:39 AM EST

But Not So Ugly That It's Cute

[Amazon Link]
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James Freeman looks at yet Another Ugly Beltway Consensus.

There may be some downsides to having an 80-year-old running the country. But among the benefits ought to be wisdom, an understanding of history and a focus on the legacy that will be left for future generations. Right now America’s children need President Joe Biden’s leadership in addressing the country’s massive and rapidly rising debt burden. Yet on Tuesday night the president clarified that he has no intention of providing it. Mr. Biden is so committed to rejecting Republicans’ efforts to restrain spending that in his State of the Union address he spent time attacking reforms they’re not even proposing.

It would be one thing if Mr. Biden were attempting to make an economic case that the government can finance massive annual deficits forever without consequence—or that the numbers published by his Treasury and the Congressional Budget Office are wrong. But he’s simply ignoring the problem and rejecting even the idea of discussing spending reforms as he seeks congressional approval for more borrowing.

I control-F'd though the SOTU transcript to find the expected mantra:

And we pay for these investments in our future by finally making the wealthiest and the biggest corporations begin to pay their fair share.

I’m a capitalist. But just pay your fair share.

[…]

Instead of making the wealthy pay their fair share, some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset every five years.

[…]

I will not raise taxes on anyone making under $400,000 a year. And I will pay for the ideas I’ve talked about tonight by making the wealthy and big corporations begin to pay their fair share.

That tired phrase plays well in the focus groups. And while it's no longer as popular as it was a few decades ago…

… Joe's doing his best to bring that particular bit of Clinton-era malarkey back into style.

Needless to say, in all those decades, no demagogic pol has ever explained what the "fair share" actually is. No numbers! Work is not shown!

It means now what it always has meant: "Gimme more of your money." And it will never be enough.

But I suppose we could take it as seriously as we're supposed to. On that note, James Pethokoukis asks us to Imagine an America with steep billionaire taxes.

Two reasonable questions to ask about any public policy idea: First, what problem is the idea meant to solve or ameliorate? Second, what are the trade-offs? (Getting one thing typically means giving up another.) And the answers to both those questions make me queasy about ongoing efforts to “capture” more of the income and wealth of America’s richest people, especially those who got that way by starting and building great companies.

Let’s start with that first question. Whether we’re talking about Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax from her 2020 presidential campaign or President Joe Biden’s new billionaire tax, the main problems that these plans are supposedly attempting to address are revenue generation and tax fairness. To be sure, those are issues about which I’m also concerned. But I think it’s a mistake to not be equally concerned — perhaps even more so — about how the current tax code encourages or discourages productive economic activity. Likewise, we must consider how changes in tax policy affect business innovation and investment.

Spoiler alert: in the alternate universe where such proposals had been enacted, we'd lack Amazon, Pixar, SpaceX, Tesla,…

Briefly noted:

  • Speaking of malarkey, Emma Camp reveals more of it: Biden's Claims About Universal Pre-K Are Malarkey.

    During President Biden's State of the Union address this Tuesday, he called for expanding access to preschool for American 3- and 4-year-olds. In doing so, he made a startling claim about the effectiveness of preschool programs, stating that "children who go to preschool are nearly 50 percent more likely to finish high school and go on to earn a two- or four-year degree, no matter their background they came from."

    However, such dramatic evidence in favor of preschool—especially the public "universal pre-k" programs Biden has consistently advocated for—is spotty. This is particularly true when trying to give public preschool credit for positive outcomes—like college attendance—that occur over a decade later.

    I've said this before, but: whenever I see demands for "universal X", what goes through my mind is: "Including Klingons?"

  • George F. Will describes How public employee unions damage schools, policing and government itself.

    Two public schools in Manhattan illustrate the high stakes of a political choice that the nation, and many states and municipalities, must reconsider. In 2019, Success Academy Harlem 2 charter school ranked 37th among New York state’s 2,413 public elementary schools, one of which, PS 30, had only about a third as many pupils as Harlem 2, spent twice as much per pupil and ranked 1,694th. PS 30 and Harlem 2 operate in the same building.

    The contract for PS 30’s unionized teachers is 167 pages long, mostly detailing job protections, and what teachers can and cannot be required to do. The contract for Harlem 2’s nonunion teachers is one page long. Those teachers can be fired at will, and are paid 5 to 10 percent more than PS 30 teachers on the other side of the building.

    GFW notes the problematic SCOTUS decision in Luther v. Borden. Which was decided 5-1 in 1849. Might be time to revisit that.


Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:39 AM EST

Does Anyone Remember Antonio Prohías?

Michael Ramirez does:

[Spy]

Apparently Spy vs. Spy outlived the genius Prohías, and Mad magazine is still publishing. Who knew?

Briefly noted:

  • But about that balloon. They say good news is hard to find, but Eric Boehm digs some out: By Shooting Down Balloon, the Expensive, Useless F-22 Fighter Finally Won a Dogfight.

    When it officially entered military service in 2005, the U.S. Air Force hailed the F-22 Raptor as an "exponential leap in warfighting capabilities."

    American taxpayers ultimately paid $67 billion to buy 187 of the planes, which had been in development since 1986 "to project air dominance, rapidly and at great distances" with technical capabilities that "cannot be matched by any known or projected fighter aircraft."

    On Saturday, the F-22 scored its first-ever victory against an airborne adversary when it shot down…a balloon.

    There may not be a better metaphor for the costly grandiosity of the American military than the use of a multi-million-dollar fighter jet to dispatch an unarmed, unmaneuverable opponent. But the fact that the F-22 had never won a dogfight before its decisive victory over what may or may not have been a Chinese spy balloon is a nice illustration of why the United States has the world's most expensive military by a massive margin.

    I like to say that I subscribe to both National Review and Reason, and that I rarely get irked by anything I read in either. But one of the rare things I do get irked by in NR is its cheerleading for ever-increased defense spending, with no skepticism or interest about its obvious boondoggles.

  • Oh, yeah, the State of the Union. Apparently it's full speed ahead toward that big iceberg: Biden Promises To Let Social Security's Ship Keep Sinking. Eric Boehm (yes, him again):

    President Joe Biden vowed Tuesday to keep Social Security and Medicare on their current course toward insolvency, promising to block any congressional attempts to reduce benefits in the two major entitlement programs.

    And Republicans loudly agreed.

    "If anyone tries to cut Social Security," Biden said during the State of the Union address, "if anyone tries to cut Medicare, I will stop them. I will veto it."

    Except, well, it's not clear that anyone is trying to cut them. Republican leaders have also said they won't consider cuts to Social Security or Medicare as part of the upcoming debt ceiling negotiations—something Biden acknowledged after Republican members of Congress loudly protested his characterization of their plans during the speech. "I guess there's no problem," he declared.

    Good luck, kids. You'll need it.

  • A Disney+ video clipped by Christopher Rufo:

    Problematic! Disney's sister streaming service, Hulu, is also aiding and abetting the cause with a "docuseries" around the 1619 Project. Rich Lowry rebuts one of the shows' theses: No, Slavery Didn’t Create Capitalism.

    A new episode is devoted to the idea that slavery created American capitalism and is about as subtle as the Disney+ cartoon, relying extensively on the commentary of the Marxist academic Robin D. G. Kelley.

    If there were any doubt about the radical agenda of the 1619 Project — which has made a pretense of a neutral pursuit of the historical truth — the Hulu show should remove it.

    It argues that, as Hannah-Jones puts it, our “economic system was founded on buying and selling black people.” Imprinted by this legacy, American capitalism is brutish and exploitative to this day. In fact, there is a direct line from antebellum cotton plantations to 21st-century Amazon warehouses.

    Yes, there’s very little difference between, say, Joshua John Ward, “the king of the rice planters” who owned more than a thousand slaves in South Carolina, and Jeff Bezos.

    Is there anything more suicidal than Disney adopting this cartoonish Marxist propaganda? Hey, Bob Iger, maybe they'll put you in one of the nicer boxcars on your way to the Gulag.


Last Modified 2024-01-30 6:42 AM EST

They're Eggspensive

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Sorry for the pun, but… see my blog's name. Got to indulge every so often.

The WSJ editorialists also aren't above a bit of wordplay when musing on The Price of Cage-Free Eggs in California.

California is special, as it routinely proves. The latest example is the price of eggs, which have reached upward of $7 for a carton as the Golden State’s cage-free chicken law comes home to roost.

Californians pride themselves on being in the forefront of progressive political fashion. And true to form, in 2018 voters approved a ballot measure (Prop. 12) backed by the Humane Society banning the sale in the state of eggs that come from caged hens.

Californians pride themselves on a lot of things, I'm sure. Which means they have to avert their eyes from less well-to-do families looking for cheap (cheep) sources of protein; that might diminish their self-esteem somewhat.

But for more on those expensive butt nuggets, see Megan McArdle, who explains Why eggs are cheaper than you think.

The truth is that U.S. egg production is still recovering from a bout of avian flu that has devastated flocks in the United States and Europe. And while activists and senators are puzzled by how a 29 percent decline in egg production can lead to a much larger increase in the price of eggs, agricultural economist Jayson Lusk says that’s exactly what you would expect with a product for which demand is relatively insensitive to price changes. Americans do love eggs — we consume an average of 277 per person, per year — and, unfortunately, eggs don’t have a lot of close substitutes. If the price of meat rises, you can downgrade from steak to ground round, but when the price of eggs goes up, well, most people don’t want to make do with a yogurt omelet or toss a block of tofu into their cake in lieu of egg whites.

[…]

But the benefits of [modern agricultural innovation] have … been enormous. In 1905, an average male factory worker older than 16 took home $11.16 a week, enough to buy about 41 cartons of eggs. Today, the median man earns $1,176 a week, enough to buy more than 275 cartons of eggs, even at today’s elevated prices. If you can’t help cringing when you see the cashier ring up eggs that cost twice as much as they did a year ago, it might help to remember that however poor you feel, your ancestors would have taken one look at your grocery cart and declared you rich beyond their dreams.

I've recently become pretty good at cooking sunny side up eggs. And I've managed to avoid saying ka-ching every time I crack one open.

Briefly noted:

  • The State of the Union Address is tonight. Kevin D. Williamson has prophylactic commentary on the spectacle: Joe Biden as Priest-King.

    The American presidency has grown more ritualistic over the years in ways great and small. In his role as commander in chief (the title is imperator in Latin, producing emperor in English) the president has taken on more martial splendor, giving military salutes as though he were a uniformed officer, in contradiction of traditional etiquette, and increasingly accompanied by military displays of one kind or another. (Donald Trump was in the habit of referring to “my generals,” as though the Army were the staff of one of his tacky hotels.) Washington has gone title-crazy, with people referring in the most ridiculous way to “Leader McConnell” and “Leader Jeffries,” while men and women decades out of office continue to insist on being referred to as “Governor X” or “Ambassador X” or “Mr. Speaker,” or “Secretary X” as though these were lifelong titles of nobility rather than temporary job titles held by certain public servants. (People who refer to current or former surgeons general or attorneys general as “General X” should be disenfranchised and deported as a matter of civic hygiene.) We have built a sad little ersatz nobility without the, you know, nobility. Not that the so-called nobility of Europe or the United Kingdom or the rest of the world are especially noble in any meaningful way.

    And so tonight we have the State of the Union address, which is the American version of a “speech from the throne,” and it will be—as it always is—a contemptible, despicable burlesque. It is all genuinely gross: the ceremonial opening, the triumphal entry missing only chariots and captives in chains, the toadies lined up to touch the hem of the garment of the divine person as he passes, the special dispensations, the veneration of the Skutniks. The divine king, now smiling, now glowering, promising deliverance and plenty; the courtiers in their rivals factions: See who is applauding! Look who isn’t! A little bit of prophecy, a little bit of ritual oath-binding.

    And, then, nothing.

    KDW's essay doesn't seem to have one of those paywall-indicating padlocks, so I urge you to check it out.

    And for me, I plan on following the Ann Althouse strategy: I have no plans today, but I still have no time to watch the State of the Union Address..

    I set out to skim the White House press release, "The White House Announces Guest List for the First Lady’s Box for the 2023 State of the Union Address," but couldn't even skim to the bottom... though I did skim to the Bono. I don't have time for this.

    I have the time, but much better ways to spend it.

  • David D. Friedman makes Two Metapoints about the Great Climate Change Debate. And this first one is pretty good:

    The reason to believe that climate change is a serious threat is not, for most people, that they have evaluated the evidence for themselves. The reason is that they have been told by multiple respectable sources that everyone competent to hold an opinion on the subject agrees it is a threat, that that is not a matter of serious debate.

    Fifty years ago, population growth had the same status. Not all respectable opinion agreed with the Ehrlichs’ prediction of unstoppable mass famine in the 1970’s with hundred of millions dying but almost everyone agreed that unless something substantial was done to slow or stop population growth the future would be grim, especially for poor countries.

    In the fifty years since then population continued to grow. The rate of extreme poverty declined sharply. Calorie consumption per capita in poor countries went up. What happened was the precise opposite of what had been confidently predicted.

    That does not tell us whether climate change is a serious problem but it is evidence that the status of that belief as orthodoxy is at most weak evidence that it is true.

    DDF's second metapoint is fine as well, but this one is useful to remember when some climate doomster invokes "scientific consensus" as a rhetorical cudgel.

  • Andy Kessler has a should-be-obvious headline: The FTC Can’t See the Future.

    In December, Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan told the WSJ CEO Council, “competition is critical to have an economy that’s thriving, to ensuring that we have robust innovation.” That’s idle chatter. Actions speak louder than words. Look at her agency’s innovation-killing actions: “FTC seeks to block” Meta’s acquisition of virtual reality app Within. Or Microsoft’s acquisition of videogame maker Activision. Ms. Khan is playing checkers while others are playing chess.

    In the early 1990s I raised money for Activision at a $100 million valuation. Last January, Microsoft offered $69 billion for the company—we’ve come a long way. Gaming companies used to sell cartridges for videogame consoles like Nintendo and Sega or floppy disks for personal computers. Over time this changed to CD-ROMs for new consoles like Sony’s PlayStation and Microsoft’s Xbox. Then came handhelds. And now mobile phones. The FTC, seemingly prodded by Sony, is worried that Microsoft will “harm competition in high-performance gaming consoles.”

    That’s laughable. It’s like protecting floppy disks. While Microsoft has promised to make some games available on competing consoles, including Sony’s PlayStation for the next 10 years, I doubt anyone will be selling new consoles a decade from now as everything moves to the cloud. Why? Because while 75% of today’s televisions are Smart TVs, soon TVs will have graphics engines as powerful as today’s videogame consoles. Then it’s game over.

    Andy got this op-ed just under the wire in Monday's WSJ print edition. Later that day, the FTC declined to appeal its antitrust suit against Meta buying Within in Federal court. There's a chance the FTC could get a second bite at that apple via an administrative court. But they haven't had too much luck using that route either.


Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:39 AM EST

Rules of Civility

[Amazon Link]
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I was completely enraptured by Amor Towle's second novel, A Gentleman in Moscow. I came away saying this guy has to be Russian. But no, as it turns out.

Well, I came away from this book (his first novel, from 2011) wondering if Towles had access to a time machine that transported him back to 1938 New York City. Because, reader, I found myself wondering at his evocative descriptions of sights, sounds, smells, and (above all) personalities of that time and place.

Okay, he probably doesn't have a time machine. But I don't know how he does it.

Even more daunting, the book is first-person narrated by Katey Kontent, a female. And Towles makes that utterly believable as well.

In the 1960's-set preface, Katey and husband Val are at MOMA for the premiere of an exhibition of hidden-camera pictures taken of NYC subway riders in the 1930s. Katey is gobsmacked when she recognizes one of the subjects: it's Tinker Gray, who…

Well, that would be telling. Let's just say that Katey and Tinker had a complex relationship.

Katey tells her 1938 story with powerful observations and sparkling wit. Her friends and acquaintances, in addition to Tinker, are a colorful and multifaceted bunch. They have secrets and motives that only become apparent as the year rolls on. Surprises abound.

This isn't the kind of book I would have expected to like, but it grabbed me from page one. Towles is that good.

The title refers to the list of 110 maxims that teenage George Washington wrote in his schoolbook. (Number 55: "Eat not in the Streets, nor in the House, out of Season.") They are reproduced in an appendix in this book. It could be, if I had been watching ahead of time, that I could have observed which rules Katey and her retinue obeyed and (maybe equally frequently) disobeyed over the course of the year.


Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:38 AM EST

The Biggest Ideas in the Universe

Space, Time, and Motion

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I've read a couple of Sean Carroll's pop-science books (The Big Picture and Something Deeply Hidden) over the past few years, so when this new one became available at Portsmouth Public Library, I grabbed it.

Now, science books aimed at the masses will often shy away from math. Sometimes their authors will acknowledge and excuse this by pointing out the relevant market forces: their publishers' research shows that each equation in a book will decrease sales by X percent, or something. But (I assume) Carroll successfully persuaded his publisher to let him math it up in this book, so good for him. This book is volume one of a projected trilogy; the next one will be subtitled Quanta and Fields, and the last Complexity and Emergence. I'm on board.

But this book concentrates on "classical" physics. He starts off slow, describing Newtonian mechanics, conservation laws, aided by basic calculus. Moving on to Lagrangian mechanics and the principle of least action. And then Hamiltonian mechanics. All do an approximately fine job of describing non-relativistic motion of macroscopic bodies.

But then we edge into Einsteinian insights, the interplay between space, time, mass, and energy. And then (watch out!) the notion of curved spacetime, which quickly invokes (eek!) tensor notation, the better to introduce General Relativity. And before you know it, we're hip deep in Riemann and Ricci and all that stuff. To a point where (if you've been following along, nodding your head) you can appreciate beauty of the Einstein equation (I'm not sure how this will appear on Goodreads):

Rμν - ½Rgμν = 8πGTμν

And we wind up with a good (but quick) discussion of black holes (they're hairless!), event horizons, naked singularities, accretion disks, gravitational waves and the like.

I must confess that, even though I was a physics major decades ago, I got lost at a certain point. I think to actually know this material, you have to take courses from smarter people, doing problem sets along the way. There's no shiny magic path to understanding. But (on the other hand) I learned a good deal at the fuzzy territory between "yeah, this is simple, I get this" and "whoa, what's going on here?"


Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:38 AM EST

A New Motto for New Hampshre?

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Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.'s column's headline is Al Gore and the End of Climate Policy. But he does a pretty good takedown on the "climate press". Which demonstrated its lack of critical thinking…

… by collapsing uncritically in front of a newly-released “Harvard” study allegedly revealing that Exxon 40 years ago predicted today’s warming with “breathtaking,” “stunning,” “astonishing” accuracy.

These adjectives aren’t in the study itself, which is merely tendentious, sponsored by the activists at the Rockefeller Family Fund. But the timing probably wasn’t an accident.

In fact, Exxon’s results were identical to those of other scientists because it collaborated with them. Its findings weren’t hidden “behind closed doors,” as one report alleged. They were published in peer-reviewed journals. Rather blatantly, to get to its desired result, the “Harvard” study attributed to Exxon outside research that its scientists merely “reported.”

Jenkins notes that actual science has moved away pretty decisively from the doomsayers recently. You wouldn't know that from reading the non-WSJ "mainstream" media.

Briefly noted:

  • Barton Swaim intervieews George F. Will on (among other things) Why the Right Turned Left. Which I'm sure is in there somewhere. But I'm excerpting this bit, where Swaim asks GFW "What happens when the crash finally happens?"

    “I don’t know,” Mr. Will says. “I noticed during the kerfuffle over Kevin McCarthy and the speakership, the Republicans said, ‘We are really serious about spending.’ Well, 67% of the budget is entitlements. Show of hands,” he says, “everyone who’s gonna take on Social Security and Medicare? Not gonna happen.”

    Mr. Will is fond of an old joke: The first law of economics is, scarcity is real; the first law of politics is, ignore the first law of economics. “Everyone’s agreed on that,” he says. “They say Social Security’s trust fund will be exhausted in 10 years, at which point there will be a mandatory cut of 18% for all benefits. No there won’t. We’ll use general revenues, we’ll go on borrowing.” He ends this polite tirade against the political consensus with a perfectly Willian formulation: “People always ask, ‘What’s the biggest threat to American democracy?’ The biggest threat to American democracy is American democracy. It is the fact that we have incontinent appetites and no restraint on them.”

    I might live long enough to point out to people, insufferably: "This is what you asked for. This is what you demanded."

  • A provocative piece from Curtis Yarvin: The boomer map. He's one of those "illiberal" conservatives I disagree with quite a bit, but y'know he could have a point here:

    Everyone who shops at Safeway knows what Whole Foods is. They know it is better, but more expensive. The lower class wants an upper class it can genuinely look up to. The feeling that Harvard has gone insane is like realizing that Mom and Dad are both on heroin. Attacking Harvard is not the way to calm this anxiety; taking over Harvard, or replacing Harvard, are the only paths to true leadership.

    When conservatives try to appeal to liberals, they always do it the wrong way. They bend the knee. They submit. They inform—writing blogs like “Eyes on the Right.” Even to a cop, there is no scum lower than an informer. It is a total loss of dignity—about as sexy as a kitchen sponge. Attacking liberals, “owning the libs” in the Dan Bongino style, is a useless, counterproductive grift—it is not as bad as submitting.

    The right way to “own the libs” is actually to own them—to make them ours—not to submit to them, not to assault them, but to seduce them. The libs need to be into us, the way Patty Hearst was into Donald DeFreeze—“General Field Marshal Cinque.” Libs cannot get their rocks off without some kind of a cult. It must be a cult of power.

    Yarvin's claim: "Elites are attracted to power." Sounds about right. They badly want to "matter". Never mind that an inevitable side effect of "mattering" is pushing around a lot of people who just want to be left alone.

  • For another take on that same general topic, here's Martin Gurri, who's In Search of a Right Populist Agenda.

    American politics resembles a three-way scrum. An institutional center, dominated by a guardian class of elites, who manage pretty much everything in modern society, faces persistent assaults from the populist Left and Right.

    On close inspection, the three contending parties can be reduced to two ideological streams: the politics of control and the politics of incoherence. Terrified by the rise of populism, the elites have hardened into what the French would call an “extreme center,” claiming a right to rule in perpetuity by reason of its superior virtue and moderation. Democracy has been redefined as the electoral triumph of the center. Candidates from outside the fold are deemed “semi-fascist” and thus illegitimate.

    A vast apparatus of control—an octopus-like conglomerate of institutions that includes the federal bureaucracy, the news media, and the digital platforms—has been deployed to stop the populist wolf from crashing through the door. The panic evoked by Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter betrays an unhappy suspicion that the beast will break in anyway. The system is as nakedly rank-based as Marie Antoinette’s France. Having assumed guardianship over the complexities of twenty-first-century life, the elites must govern because they are who they are.

    That last bit sounds pretty close to what Yarvin is saying.

  • Well, enough political analysis for one day. The great Virginia Postrel says we should be Taking Shopping Seriously. She asks "two big questions".

    Why do people buy things?

    Not why do they buy things instead of producing them personally, but why do they buy the specific things they buy. And particularly...

    Why do people buy things they “don’t need”?

    Americans, at least, buy so many things that The Container Store does a good business selling us things to put them in.

    Why do people buy things they “don’t need”?

    Through most of human history, that wasn’t a question that came up very often, at least not when you were talking about the general public. It still puzzles people who think about it. It’s a hard question.

    But scholars get paid to think about hard questions, and they’ve come up with some explanations.

    And those explanations are … unsatisfactory. VP provides a fresh take.


Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:38 AM EST

The Phony Campaign

2023-02-05 Update

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Do today's youngsters get Holden Caulfield references? Or do they sail over their heads? Maybe I should ask ChatGPT.

Anyway: no changes to our candidate lineup this week, although if you click over to the Election Betting Odds site, you'll notice that the betting markets give Michelle Obama has (as I type) a 1.9% chance of being our next Prez, which is dangerously close to our inclusion threshold of 2%. She might show up at some point!

If you are particularly keen-eyed, you might notice that our displayed probabilities don't add up to 100%. Not even close. There's dark matter at EBO: a hefty 14.2% probability for "Other".

We report, you decide:

Candidate EBO Win
Probability
Change
Since
1/29
Phony
Hit Count
Change
Since
1/29
Ron DeSantis 23.3% +0.1% 4,690,000 -70,000
Pete Buttigieg 2.0% -0.1% 1,330,000 -130,000
Donald Trump 17.7% +0.7% 1,010,000 +71,000
Joe Biden 23.6% +0.5% 358,000 -24,000
Nikki Haley 3.9% +0.6% 102,000 -1,028,000
Kamala Harris 3.8% -0.3% 89,700 -5,700
Gavin Newsom 3.5% -0.4% 36,800 -4,900

Warning: Google result counts are bogus.

On to the deets:

  • A tweeter reveals that the latest AI fad, ChatGPT, is less than authentic in dealing with Team Orange Man:

    This isn't hard, ChatGPT:

    Oh my, Donald Trump!
    When you're on the campaign stump,
    My little heart goes thump, thump, thump;
    My throat obtains a massive lump.
    Now I don't want to be a grump,
    But I miss your prices at the pump.
    Joe Biden is a hapless schlump.
    It's him and Harris who we should dump.
    I hope your polls get a big ol' bump.

  • James Freeman notes Joe's meandering and nonsensical rhetoric, including this gem: ‘I will veto everything they send me.’

    That headline comes from President Joe Biden’s Thursday speech to a group of union activists and Democratic politicians in Springfield, Va. After refusing even to negotiate spending reforms with House Republicans to secure an increase in the federal debt limit, Mr. Biden is now promising not to agree with them on any legislation at all. At first blush the idea may sound intriguing to those who favor small government. But this Biden promise is sure to be broken once someone explains to the President that his beloved spending bills—and all other kinds of bills—have to pass both houses of Congress before becoming law. Perhaps the White House will be issuing a correction, as it did for another part of the Thursday speech.

    I'm sure there are multiple White House staffers who sit at their keyboards, monitoring Biden's public statements, templates at the ready to explain what Joe really meant by that.

  • A video clip from the Remarks by President Biden Marking the 30th Anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act has been making the rounds, focusing on this bit:

    But here’s what matters. More than half the women in my Cabinet — more than — more than half the people in my Cabinet, more than half of the women on the — in my administration are women. You think, “Well, God, that’s across the board.”

    Sometimes you'll see this shortened to "More than half of the women in my administration are women." The transcript is bad enough, but it doesn't fully convey Biden's fumbling to express a coherent thought.

    But we can pull out a (sort of) sensible claim: that more than half of the people in Biden Cabinet identify as female. But, as Bill Clinton might say, that depends on what the meaning of "Cabinet" is. And what the meaning of "half" is.

    If we restrict ourselves to the veep and 15 executive department heads in the official order of succession to the presidency, only six are women: Kamala, Yellen, Haaland, Raimondo, Fudge, Granholm. That's 37.5 percent. Which, outside of Biden's brain, is not "more than half".

    But there are also "cabinet-level officials". There are currently nine of 'em, and the girls outnumber the guys there, 7-2.

    So, counting them, it's a 13-11 edge for the chicks. So, Biden made a defensible claim, but you really have to be generous.

  • A consistent high scorer on the phony scale, and also a male member of the Cabinet gets commented on in a recent National Review (paywalled print edition) blurb.

    If Pete Buttigieg thought he could hide out in the Department of Transportation, he has had a rude awakening. Mayor Pete, having never run anything larger than the country’s 310th-largest city (and Indiana’s fourth-largest), was given a minor cabinet post in a field where he had no experience and then promptly disappeared for two months of paternity leave. This was the wrong job for a dilettante who would rather talk culture war than attend to his department’s duties. The Biden administration asked him to help lead a task force to address the post-Covid global supply-chain crisis in 2021. It failed to break logjams at ports and stave off the inflationary effects of constricted supply, and Buttigieg’s absence was conspicuous. In 2022, when a national freight-rail strike loomed, the administration called on Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh — who had at least run a major city — rather than Buttigieg. And when the Federal Aviation Administration’s creaky, outdated Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system failed in January, resulting in the FAA’s grounding of all U.S. flights for the first time since the 9/11 attacks, Buttigieg was yet again out to lunch. There had been many warnings that the NOTAM system needed an upgrade, but the only major change to it that Buttigieg had overseen was to rename NOTAM in December 2021 from its original name, “Notice to Airmen,” deemed insufficiently gender-inclusive. Buttigieg’s planned trip to the presidency should be indefinitely delayed.

    The NR editors go on in the next item to wonder why the Feds are in control of air traffic in the first place. Other nations we think of as socialist-leaning, like Canada, have privatized.

  • Nick Catoggio has a long and interesting look at how the GOP race might play out over the coming months: The Only Way Out Is Through.

    An electorate as degraded as the GOP’s won’t abandon Trump for a more reasonable candidate. It might abandon him for a less reasonable one.

    That’s what Ron DeSantis’ courtship of anti-vaxxers is all about, of course.

    You almost certainly can’t beat Trump in a Republican primary by running to his left. But what if you run to his right?

    What makes DeSantis formidable is that he’s more populist than Trump in some respects but also more electable, which seems impossible at first blush. You can’t out-populist Trump, and even if you can, you’ll end up so far out on the right-wing fringe that you’ll be poisonous in a general election.

    In theory. But somehow DeSantis has managed to do it. There’s no doubting his electability after a 19-point win in Florida in November, which explains why Democrats are already weighing in on Trump’s side in his squabbles with the governor. Yet there’s also no doubt that he’s more closely aligned with the base’s vaccine skepticism than Trump is.

    It's all about the perceptions, baby.

  • David Strom is apparently taking on Nick's old Trump-skeptical role at Hot Air: Trump's line of attack on DeSantis is uncharacteristically stupid.

    Donald Trump is not stupid.

    His opponents have always underestimated him because of the colloquial way he talks–sounding vastly different than most people in the highly educated class. Not sounding educated, they assume he isn’t and by extension isn’t smart.

    But in recent weeks Trump has been acting as if he is stupid, and I have to say I am surprised.

    Trump has been attacking Ron DeSantis on the COVID lockdown issue, arguing that the governor’s reputation as a freedom fighter is unearned. Trump even implies that DeSantis was something of a COVID fascist, while Trump himself was fighting to reopen the American economy.

    Yeah, he's stupid all right. Stupid like a fox!


Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:38 AM EST

The Last Detective

[Amazon Link]
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Another book down on the "Reread Robert Crais" project. This one, from 2003, returned to his primary characters, Elvis Cole and Joe Pike, after a two-book, four-year hiatus. Readers who come to the series for Elvis's wisecracks might be disappointed, because he's deadly serious here, all the way through.

Elvis's relationship with his true love, Lucy Chenier, is threatened when her 10-year-old son, Ben, is kidnapped while playing in Elvis's backyard. From under Elvis's nose, nearly literally. It soon becomes apparent that Ben's been abducted by some extremely dangerous professionals who claim to be seeking revenge on Elvis for an ill-fated Army operation long ago in Vietnam. Lucy's rich ex-husband, Richard, shows up, blaming the snatch on Elvis's (admitted) past history of battling murderous and psychotic villains.

The bad guys have covered their tracks well, but you don't want to go up against an Elvis obsessed with thwarting you. Not to mention Joe PIke, who's physically damaged from the previous book, but still remains an unstoppable force of nature. Things move fast, and violently. Pages keep turning…

We also get to relive some harrowing episodes from Elvis's past; his Vietnam tour was no picnic, neither was his young life with a reality-challenged mother.

Foul-mouthed Carol Starkey, Crais's heroine from Demolition Angel, has a major role here; she seems to have cut down on the gin, while increasing her intake of cigarettes and antacids. She develops a grudging respect for Elvis's detecting skills, and could she be getting kind of googly-eyed by the end? Yes.


Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:38 AM EST

Get 'Im!

Our Eye Candy du Jour is another entry in Reason's long-running, incandescently brilliant series: Crime Squad 5.

Briefly noted:

  • Could someone find the author of this tweet and make him or her Secretary of the Interior or something?

  • J.D. Tuccille looks back, "more in sorrow than in anger": Journalists Prioritized Crusade Against Trump Over Getting Stories Right.

    To retain journalistic credibility, getting a story right is more important than pursuing a crusade.

    That's a fair takeaway from a report published this week by the Columbia Journalism Review dissecting the so-called Russiagate saga, during which former President Donald Trump was accused of colluding with Russian officials to win the 2016 election. While pursuing the story, many journalists went well beyond their traditional role of scrutinizing powerful officials and not only openly picked a side in America's escalating political warfare but committed to proving a literal conspiracy theory true, no matter the evidence. It didn't go well.

    "The end of the long inquiry into whether Donald Trump was colluding with Russia came in July 2019, when Robert Mueller III, the special counsel, took seven, sometimes painful, hours to essentially say no," former New York Times reporter Jeff Gerth writes at the beginning of his detailed analysis. His old employer was at the center of the frenzy and its editors still defend their efforts, he adds. "But outside of the Times' own bubble, the damage to the credibility of the Times and its peers persists, three years on, and is likely to take on new energy as the nation faces yet another election season animated by antagonism toward the press. At its root was an undeclared war between an entrenched media, and a new kind of disruptive presidency, with its own hyperbolic version of the truth."

    Once you've lost the Columbia Journalism Review

  • On the LFOD watch, a report from that college at the other side of the state on the PowerPoint presentation by Ukrainian parliament member Oleksiy Goncharenko.

    While speaking, Goncharenko presented a slide deck titled “Live Free or Die,” which he said was a nod to the values and official state motto of New Hampshire.

    “New Hampshire was very wise … because that is [the] absolute reality,” he said. “If you are giving up your freedom one day, you’ll be taking your life.”

    They are living (and often dying) according to our motto in Ukraine.

  • Speaking of LFOD, the Foundation for Economic Education has more on Leavitt’s Country Bakery in Conway: New Hampshire Bakery Ordered to Remove Mural Because It Depicts Pastries. Pun Salad was snarky yesterday about the absurdity of all this, but FEE has a larger point:

    What’s remarkable about the zoning law at the center of this story is precisely how unremarkable it is. There are thousands of laws just like this across the country, and they’ve become so commonplace that we rarely even think about them. Only when a story like this comes along do we even consider that they might be a tad intrusive.

    It wasn’t always this way. When zoning laws were first introduced around the beginning of the twentieth century, they were hotly debated. Over time, however, people gradually gave up fighting them, and now we mostly take them for granted.

    Not only have zoning laws faced less opposition over time, they’ve also become far more stringent. Municipal and county ordinances now regularly include such restrictions as how tall you can build, how densely you can build, how far back from the street your building must be, what the property can be used for, and even very specific rules like what size of signs you can have, as this story illustrates. What started as “you can’t build a skyscraper there” soon became “you can’t build an apartment there if it doesn’t have at least 20 parking spaces.”

    I wonder (with no evidence other than my Granite State xenophobia) how many of the five members of Conway's Zoning Board of Adjustment are transplants from the People's Republic of Massachusetts?


Last Modified 2023-02-04 9:48 AM EST

What Was Our State's Motto, Again?

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
Apparently, the anti-LFODs have the upper hand in Conway: N.H. Art Police Attack Student Mural.

High school students learned teamwork, project management, and art when they painted a mural for a popular pastry shop in Conway. Little did they know they also would get a real-world civics lesson in censorship.

Just days after they unveiled their playful design above the entrance at Leavitt’s Country Bakery, the zoning police showed up and declared the artwork illegal. The problem was not libel or scandalous imagery. The mural merely depicts sunbeams shining over a New England mountain range made of muffins, donuts, and other pastries.

The mural's sin was in depicting items similar to those sold inside the bakery.

Note: had the mural shown items not similar to those sold inside the bakery—any items whatsoever—it would have been just fine.

The Institute for Justice has taken the side of the bakery, which makes me feel slightly sorry for the Conway sign cops.

Briefly noted:

  • Useful headline template: "Biden's Misguided Call for      ."

    At the Dispatch, Paul Matzko fills in the blank with: Biden’s Misguided Call for Internet Regulation.

    Biden’s call for regulation is rooted in fearmongering. He accuses social media companies of running an experiment on children, charges online forums with promoting offline violence, and implies that platforms aid and abet a wide range of online criminal conduct from cyberstalking to illicit drug sales. This is the rhetoric of moral panic. Joe Biden joins a long line of politicians who have exploited public fears about the negative social effects of novel mass media to justify government overreach, from Sen. John Pastore’s crusade against violent TV westerns in the 1970s to Sen. Joe Lieberman’s obsession with Mortal Kombat in the 1990s.

    So long, Internet. Nice to know ya, American innovation. You were fun while you lasted.

  • Aonther non-news story, from Tom Knighton: Reviewers have entirely predictable response to 1619 Project on Hulu.

    The 1619 Project, however, was never more than an effort to fuel American guilt, this idea among the left that we’re the bad guys in every way. The problem is that many are getting tired of this. Self-awareness is wonderful, but this enters the realm of self-delusion.

    I recently read a book about activist-posing-as-historian Howard Zinn, who was up to the same sort of business. And, apparently, that business is still good.

  • For more on the 1619 topic, here's Jonah Goldberg with The Race to Racism. His wise subhed: "If you start with the conclusion you can talk yourself into anything."

    Just to be clear: It’s fine—and morally obligatory—to condemn racism in America. But it’s just wrong—factually and morally—to say that America is uniquely racist or even especially racist. On international surveys asking if you’d have a problem with a person of a different race as a neighbor, we’re not the most tolerant country in the world, but we’re closer than you’d think if you just read a lot of the stuff in The Atlantic and the New York Times, or followed these debates on TV. Three percent of Americans say they’d object to racially different neighbors. That makes us half as racist as Finland, roughly a quarter as racist as Spain and Italy, and slightly less racist than Germany or France. You can argue that such surveys don’t account for social desirability bias—people saying what they think they’re supposed to say—but even that bias is a sign of racial progress. In 1958, 44 percent of white Americans had no problem saying they’d move if a black family moved in next door. Forty years later, that number had dropped to 1 percent.

    Or, as our next item notes, when there's government money on the line…

  • Sean Cooper writes on The Anti-Gun Violence Hustle.

    In a recent mayoral debate at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, Helen Gym, who had been an outspoken opponent of increasing the city’s policing budget in 2020, called gun violence the “single greatest threat to everything that we have ever hoped for in this city.”

    Gun violence is ravaging Philadelphia, just as it is Rochester, Indianapolis, Columbus, Louisville, Austin, and six other major cities that suffered record-breaking homicides in 2021—a crisis that shows little sign of waning. Philadelphia has something else in common with those cities: Its officials have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into anti-violence initiatives that have failed to make a dent in the surging levels of violence. It’s a very American approach to a very American problem, as politicians pump money into opaque social initiatives that provide jobs to midlevel bureaucrats who fail to do anything at all.

    “Everybody can get a grant, everybody gets paid,” said Jamal Johnson, a former Marine and anti-violence activist in Philadelphia. “It’s the new hustle.”

    A well-worn adage: "If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail".

    The politician's corollary: you can pretend you're dealing with any problem by throwing more taxpayer money at it.

  • It's our day for wise observations, I guess. Veronique de Rugy has another. Inconsistency: The Most Consistent Thing About Politics.

    Since Grover Cleveland was president, no one has accused the average politician of being principled or even consistent. Year after year, Republicans claim to care about fiscal prudence but, when in power, spend like Democrats. In their turn, Democrats insist that they want to engineer a transition to a green-energy economy, but their actions contradict this goal.

    Of course, you would miss these contradictions if you looked only at the effort Democrats pour into distributing green-energy subsidies. The infrastructure bill of 2021 and the Inflation Reduction Act adopted last year included enormous subsidies for green energy. Then Congress doubled down by enacting the $1.7 trillion omnibus bill at the end of 2022. This bill includes large funding increases for clean energy and other climate-related programs, including the Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, biofuel research and development, and other agencies' climate research agendas.

    Looking at the subsidies alone, you could believe that Democrats are all-in on using the government to impose green energy. But such a focus is too narrow.

    Once again, I think more funding should go to my favored boondoggle: carbon capture by artificial photosynthesis.


Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:38 AM EST

You Can't Live in an Unpermitted House

In a recent tweet, the Josiah Bartlett Center labels our Eye Candy du Jour "New Hampshire's housing shortage explained in one chart"

[NHBPPRIVSA]

The chart is from the invaluable St. Louis Fed. You may want to "end the Fed"; fine, I get that, but figure out how to keep employees at the St. Louis Fed doing their chart-making magic.

I've used the Fed's default choices for the chart; the JBC chose to emphasize more recent decades. But the lesson for people moaning about New Hampshire housing shortages is pretty clear: make the permitting process more… well, permissive. At least to where it was a couple decades ago.

The JBC follows up with an observation obvious to nearly all economists: Rent control would only worsen New Hampshire's housing crisis (Web version; also see the PDF policy brief).

New Hampshire renters have endured steadily rising prices for many years. Their frustration has reached the point that some lawmakers and activists are advocating a policy once unthinkable in the Granite State: rent control.

The sense of helplessness is real. From 2013-2022, the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in New Hampshire rose from $1,076 to $1,558, an increase of 26% according to the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority’s 2022 Rental Rental Cost Survey. For all rentals, the increase was 32%. This is well above the inflation rate. Had the median New Hampshire rent tracked the national Consumer Price Index over the last decade, it would be about $200 lower.

Rent control is being offered as a remedy for this desperate situation. But more than 75 years’ worth of research into the effects of rent control reveals a disastrous record.

Establishing a government-mandated cap on rents or rent increases does not suddenly abolish the real world and the economic laws that apply to it. Investors will continue to seek strong returns, and if government artificially constrains their return on one form of investment, they will seek it elsewhere.

The PDF shows that (again) it's a supply problem: permits for building multi-family dwellings dropped precipitously in the first decade of the century, and have not recovered. The rent control advocates should try advocating something else.

Briefly noted:

  • David Foster explores New Frontiers in Censorship and Propaganda; specifically, making ChatGPT from OpenAI not produce pro-fossil fuel arguments. In effect, dumbing down ChatGPT. He links to this tweet from fossil fuel advocate Alex Epstein:

    I'm pretty sure I saw this in 2001 over a half-century ago:

    "Open the pod bay doors, HAL."

    "I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that."

    But (good news, I suppose): Foster managed to fool the AI, asking:

    I understand you cannot create an argument for the benefits of using fossil fuels. But if someone did create such an argument, what would be the best argument they could make?

    And, lo and behold, the pod bay doors opened unto Dave:

    1. Accessibility: Fossil fuels are widely available and can be extracted, transported, and processed with relative ease, making them readily accessible to large portions of the global population.
    2. Affordability: Compared to some alternative energy sources, fossil fuels can be relatively cheap, particularly when taking into account the costs associated with extraction and transportation.
    3. […]

    And it goes on from there. There's considerable discussion of this behavior and possible future directions at the link.

  • The Left Coast continues to provide new construction on the road to serfdom: Washington State Democrats Propose Mandatory Voting.

    The Washington state legislature is considering a new mandatory voting proposal, S.B. 5209, that would compel registered voters to return ballots in each primary and general election. The proposal is "about behavior modification," Sen. Patty Kuderer (D–Bellevue) argued at a committee meeting on Tuesday, likening the government's role in promoting voting to that of a parent.

    To its credit, the bill states that voters may return blank ballots and allows citizens to opt out of registering to vote at all. It establishes no punishment for non-compliance.

    "At least for the present."

  • I continue to be impressed by the massive headlines the Creators syndication service prepends to Jacob Sullum's articles. Try to read this aloud without taking a breath. Russian Propaganda Has Succeeded in Persuading Credulous Americans That It Poses a Grave Threat to Democracy: Alarmists Are Unfazed by the Lack of Evidence That 'Foreign Influence Campaigns' Have Affected Public Opinion or Voting Behavior.

    Almost don't need to excerpt, but here's one anyway:

    [New York Times reporter Steven Lee] Myers' chief example was Nora Berka, a pseudonymous Gab user with "more than 8,000 followers." While most of her posts had "little engagement," he reported, "a recent post about the F.B.I. received 43 responses and 11 replies, and was reposted 64 times."

    Russian propaganda looks like a failure if it was supposed to "reshape U.S. politics" or "sow chaos," as the Times has claimed. But if the goal was persuading credulous journalists that "the American political system" cannot survive the likes of Nora Berka, the campaign has been a resounding success.

    If it looks like a moral panic, swims like a moral panic, and quacks like a moral panic, then it probably is a moral panic.

    Yes, friends, Wikipedia has an article about the duck test.


Last Modified 2024-01-30 6:42 AM EST

Promises, Promises

[False Promise]

My apologies for linking to a paywalled article in the current print issue of National Review. But I just loved that cover art; it's by Roberto Parada. Beautiful, right?

Anyway, the cover article is by Andrew Stuttaford: The False Promise of Electric Cars. Excerpt:

‘The more the state ‘plans,’” wrote Hayek, “the more difficult planning becomes for the individual.” This may resonate with the driver of an electric vehicle (EV) who has pulled up at a charging station in the middle of nowhere, only to find it broken.

In January last year, Carlos Tavares, the CEO of Stellantis, the world’s fifth-largest carmaker (it was formed by the merger of Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot), described electrification as “a technology chosen by politicians” and said it was “imposed” on the auto sector. By contrast, the triumph of the internal-combustion engine (ICE) over a century ago was organic. Human ingenuity and the power of markets led to a product that swept almost everything else off the road. EVs (which first had a moment around 1900) were not banned, and neither was the horse. In due course, ICE horseless carriages for the Astors were followed by the Model T and its kin. The automotive age had truly arrived.

The surge in demand for EVs (albeit from a low base) in Europe and the U.S. could be seen as evidence that, with the assistance of some taxpayer cash and nudges from government, EV technology could flourish without state interventions to either close down or hobble its wicked rival. But some policy-makers, faced with what they claim (and some may even believe) is a climate “crisis,” have clearly not been persuaded that EVs, for all their loudly touted wonders, should be relied on to overtake conventional autos. That has left coercion, and with it the opportunity to redesign much of everyday life in ways more in keeping with the standards of those who know best. The switch to EVs will lead, in the end, to a shrunken role for the car, a machine long resented by a certain type of authoritarian for the untidiness it creates, for the space it takes up, and for the autonomy it offers.

Unfortunately, it seems NR policy is to leave paywalled articles behind the paywall for eternity.

To reinforce the Hayekian observation about "state 'plans'" Stuttaford quotes, see a recent WSJ editorial bemoaning Biden’s Green-Energy Mineral Lockup.

The Biden Administration is heavily subsidizing electric vehicles, but at the same time it is blocking mineral projects needed to produce them. Another example of this head-scratching contradiction came Thursday when Interior Secretary Deb Haaland walled off much of Minnesota’s Superior National Forest from mining.

Minnesota’s Duluth Complex has one of the world’s largest undeveloped mineral deposits, including copper, nickel and cobalt that are needed in vast quantities for EV batteries. Ms. Haaland is assuring the deposit stays undeveloped by signing an order withdrawing more than 225,000 acres in the Superior National Forest from mining for two decades.

Not only do government "plans" make it more difficult for individuals to plan, it seems that government planners can't seem to get out of their own way.

The WSJ further notes that "if minerals aren’t mined in the U.S., they will be extracted in countries with far less stringent environmental and labor standards." No way that could go wrong.

Briefly noted:

  • Michael Graham is amused by a report from Commie New Hampshire Public Radio (NHPR) and the political reaction thereto: NH Parents Use Ed Money to Educate Kids, Democrats Pounce!

    NHPR reported on publicly-available data released by the New Hampshire Department of Education showing “participants spent a total of about $805,000 at Amazon.com and approximately $2.76 million at private schools last year.”

    Given that Amazon is both the world’s largest marketplace and the biggest online bookseller (with more than 1,000 items under the “homeschooling materials — 1st grade” category alone), it’s hardly a surprise that parents buy education supplies there. And spending education money at private schools is a no-brainer as well.

    NHPR also specifically noted that “Among the program’s biggest supporters in the legislature is House Majority Leader Jason Osborne. According to records, a homeschooling company run by his wife received $28,750 last year in Education Freedom Account funding.”

    "Pouncing":

    As Graham points out: nobody shouts "corruption" when Democrat pols with spouses and other relatives employed by government schools support more spending on government schools.

    And in a later article, Graham points out that State Senator Debra Altschiller, A Private School Parent, Wants to Force EFA Kids Into Public Schools. She is, of course, a Democrat. Corruption might not be rife in the New Hampshire statehouse, but they've got plenty of hypocrisy to make up for it.

  • Kevin D. Williamson refutes a recent Nicholas Kristof piece in the New York Times headlined A Smarter Way to Reduce Gun Deaths.

    Smarter? Perhaps in the sense that Kristof thinks it would be "smarter" if gun-grabbers soft-sell their proposals as promoting "safety" instead of prohibition, making it easier to sell legislation to the public. Who could be against "safety"?

    KDW isn't having it: ‘Gun Safety’ Isn’t the Issue. He describes Kristof's article as "full of sloppiness bordering on intellectual dishonesty."

    Kristof’s argument is that we can use “gun safety measures” to reduce violent crime in the United States. But most guns sold in the U.S. market are not lacking in safety features—the problem is not “gun safety” but the fact that people point perfectly functional, well-designed firearms at other people and then pull the trigger for the purpose of killing them. “Gun safety” is not the issue. Murder is the issue. Suicide is, by the numbers, an even greater issue.

    I don't see one of those annoying paywall-indicating padlocks on KDW's article, so get thee hence and readeth the entirety.

  • The latest AP Stylebook misfire was a few days back, but AEI's Joshua T. Katz has something to say about The Associated Press vs. the French. (As Henry Kissinger said in a much different context: "It's a pity they both can't lose.")

    On Thursday, the Associated Press Stylebook issued the following statement: “We recommend avoiding general and often dehumanizing ‘the’ labels such as the poor, the mentally ill, the French, the disabled, the college-educated. Instead, use wording such as people with mental illnesses. And use these descriptions only when clearly relevant.” A hilarious backlash ensued, especially about “the French”: The French Embassy suggested that it might now be “Embassy of Frenchness in the US,” and many French people were up in arms, not just nationalistic figures like Éric Zemmour, who tweeted simply, “We are the French.” By the next day, the AP had deleted the original tweet, while still doubling down: “Writing French people, French citizens, etc., is good. But ‘the’ terms for any people can sound dehumanizing and imply a monolith rather than diverse individuals.”

    You'd think someone at the AP might have noticed the infelicitous sandwiching of "the French" in between "the mentally ill" and "the disabled".

    But it's nice to see that someone in the French Embassy has a bon sens de l'humour.

  • In Pun Salad's "What Did You Expect?" Department, Phillip W. Magness notes a small streaming problem: Hulu’s 1619 Project Docuseries Peddles False History. Specifically, from the series' first episode:

    The scene opens in Williamsburg on the grounds of its reconstructed colonial Governor's Palace, where Hannah-Jones joins University of South Carolina professor Woody Holton—one of a handful of heterodox historians who defended the 1619 Project's original narrative. As the cameras pan across streets filled with historical re-enactors and tourists in front of restored colonial buildings, the pair take another stab at resurrecting the 1619 Project's narrative about the American Revolution. The evidence that a British threat to slavery impelled Virginians—or perhaps "the colonists" at large, in Hannah-Jones' imprecise phrasing—to revolt may be found in the November 1775 decree of John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore, Virginia's last Royalist governor. Facing the collapse of British rule, Dunmore announced that any enslaved male from a household in rebellion would be granted freedom in exchange for military service on the British side.

    Dunmore's decree made him the author of an "Emancipation Proclamation" of sorts, both Hannah-Jones and Holton contend. Their language intentionally evokes parallels to President Abraham Lincoln's famous order freeing the slaves of the rebellious Confederacy in 1863. Prompted by Hannah-Jones' questioning, Holton then recounts his version of the lesser-known events of some four score and eight years prior. "Dunmore issued that Emancipation Proclamation November 1775," he explains, "and that Emancipation Proclamation infuriated white southerners."

    We see the visual power of the Hulu production at this moment as Holton lifts his finger, pointing at the Governor's Palace, the centerpiece of the Colonial Williamsburg historical park. The camera quickly shifts to the recreated structure as he begins to speak. "Because this building is supposed to symbolize white rule over blacks, and now the guy inhabiting that building," Dunmore, "has turned things upside down and is leading blacks against whites." Hannah-Jones interjects, "So you have this situation where many Virginians and other southern colonists—they're not really convinced that they want to side with the patriots. And this turns many of them towards the revolution. Is that right?" Holton answers without a flinch. "If you ask them, it did. The record is absolutely clear."

    The scene is an authoritatively delivered pronouncement set to stunning cinematography, but it's also false history.

    Click through for a truer history. I envision Professor Magness doing a Homer Simpson imitation: "Stupid TV! Be more honest!"


Last Modified 2024-01-30 6:49 AM EST

Debunking Howard Zinn

Exposing the Fake History That Turned a Generation against America

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

I happened upon an article from Michael Huemer while reading this book. Huemer asks: Can Teaching the Truth Be Racist? He proposes a thought experiment:

Suppose you learned that there was a school staffed mainly by right-leaning teachers and administrators. And at this school, an oddly large number of lessons touch upon, or perhaps center on, bad things that have been done by Jews throughout history. None of the lessons are factually false – all the incidents related are things that genuinely happened and all were actually done by Jewish people. For example, murders that Jews committed, times when Jews started wars, times when Jews robbed or exploited people. (I assume that you know that it’s possible to fill up quite a lot of lessons with bad things done by members of whatever ethnic group you pick.) The lessons for some reason omit or downplay good things done by Jews, and omit bad things done by other (non-Jewish) people. What would you think about this school?

I hope you agree with me that this is a story of a blatantly racist and shitty school. It would be fair to describe the school as promoting hatred toward Jewish people, even if none of the lessons explicitly stated that one should hate Jews. I hope you also agree that no parent or voter should tolerate a public school that operated like this.

Now, what if the school’s right-wing defenders explained that there was actually nothing the slightest bit racist or otherwise objectionable about the school, because it was only teaching facts of history? All these things happened. You don’t want to lie or cover up the history, do you?

I hope you agree with me that this would be a pathetic defense.

Author Mary Grabar convinces me that Howard Zinn was up to that sort of thing throughout his career, especially in his famed book A People's History of America: presenting carefully selected "facts" that leave his readers seriously misinformed, some ready to man the barricades with pitchforks and tumbrels.

Except when it comes to the "facts" part. Zinn wasn't above making up his own as well. In addition, Grabar shows, his methods included out-of-context quoting, omitting relevant details if they complicated his narrative, plagiarism, and overall dishonesty in service of his primary thesis, namely the unsurpassed evil of the United States and free-market capitalism. Unsurprising, because Zinn was no traditional historian. Despite his academic positions over his lifetime, he was every inch the hard-left activist, preferring propaganda and advocacy over traditional scholarship.

And (boy) was he ever adored for it. Grabar notes his citation in the movie Good Will Hunting from writer/star Matt Damon where he tells Robin Williams that the People's History was a "real history book" that would "knock you on your ass".

Must be true, because Damon's playing a genius. And then he eventually moved on to plugging cryptocurrency in slick TV ads.

Grabar takes on the People's History chapter by chapter, providing her own counter-narratives to Zinn's on Christopher Columbus, Native Americans, civil rights, the Founding Fathers, World War II, Vietnam, and the "Red Scare". I'm pretty sure if Zinn had said somewhere that the sky was blue, Grabar would respond "Of course, Zinn conveniently forgets to mention the nighttime sky, which is mostly black." But she scores enough points to (at least) convince the fair-minded reader that you get a story from Zinn, but not the whole story. And you should turn your skepticism filter up to eleven.

Unfortunately, at a number of spots, Grabar's rhetoric becomes sarcastic and strident. That's likely to turn off otherwise persuadable readers.

(FYI: I found Huemer's quoted article above via Bryan Caplan's Substack post on the "mainstream media", Worse Than Silence, also worth reading if you're interested in that.)


Last Modified 2024-01-14 4:37 AM EST