Everybody Doesn't Like Something, But…

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… if you mentally continued that headline with an advertising jingle about a dessert company, congratulations, you're old.

But we're going a different way today, thanks to Andrew Follett: Everybody Hates Carbon Taxes. It's a worldwide phenomenon.

Campaigns to end carbon taxes are politically successful because such campaigns champion the interests of the vast majority over the preferences of a small elite. Wealthy carbon-tax preachers such as Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio live personal lives of luxury, flying on private jets while demanding carbon austerity for the masses, making driving and heating one’s home more expensive.

From a policy perspective, carbon taxes are all pain with no gain. They devastate the economy, disproportionately harm the poor, and do nothing to reduce temperatures. A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that a carbon tax would double the tax burden of the poorest households. And although calculating the true costs is difficult, as the money is spread out among numerous grants, subsidies, taxes, “green” regulations, and salaries for bureaucrats, it’s clear that the poor wouldn’t be the only ones footing the bill. Combined with current energy-efficiency and emissions-reduction goals, carbon taxation would cost an estimated $16.5 trillion by 2030, according to the International Energy Agency. And for all that, carbon taxation would have a literally undetectable effect on global warming.

There's also a local issue:

Thirteen deep-blue U.S. states — California, Oregon, Washington, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont — have some form of carbon-pricing, credit, or tax in place. That’s mostly via the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), but participation in it is collapsing. Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin’s Air Pollution Control Board removed the state from RGGI in June, noting that it was “in effect a direct tax on all households and businesses.” Pennsylvania’s participation in RGGI was blocked by the Commonwealth Court last November. The court ruled that the state’s left-leaning bureaucracy and then-governor Tom Wolf (D.) had greatly overstepped their authority to illegally join the measure without the consent of voters.

"Deep-blue"? Us?

Well, never mind that. It would be nice if we had a deeper-red legislature and governor that would yank us out of RGGI.

Also of note:

  • Avert your eyes, children! Lest you see a tasty culinary temptation! Charles Oliver highlights A Red Meat Issue.

    The government of Utrecht, Netherlands, has banned ads for meat on bus stops and other government-owned spaces. The city has previously banned ads for fossil fuels, cars, and flying. City officials say the bans could have a positive impact on residents' health and on the climate.

    Yeah, OK, Netherlands. Which still outranks the United States in Heritage's rankings of economic freedom, despite what you are prohibited from seeing on bus stops.

  • Gee, who elected these people? Oh, right. Eric Boehm notes the obvious: Congress Is Trying To Avoid Taking Responsibility for the Debt Crisis It Created.

    It's not quite accurate to say that no one in Congress wants to talk about the national debt and the federal government's deteriorating fiscal condition.

    Indeed, during Wednesday morning's meeting of the House Budget Committee, there was a lot of talk about exactly that.

    "Runaway deficit-spending and our unsustainable national debt…threatens not only our economy, but our national security, our way of life, our leadership in the world, and everything good about America's influence," said Rep. Jodey Arrington (R–Texas), the committee's chairman. He pointed to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projections showing that America's debt, as a share of the size of the nation's economy, is now as large as it was at the end of the Second World War—and that interest payments on the debt will soon cost more than the entire military budget.

    Yes, it was a meeting about the possibility of forming a committee to have more meetings about the possibility of doing something to address the problem. In fact, it was the second such committee hearing in front of the House Budget Committee within the past few weeks.

    It seems like there ought to be a more direct way to address this. Like, say, if there was a committee that already existed within Congress charged with handling budgetary issues. A House Budget Committee, perhaps.

    Boehm's argument applies equally well to calls for a Constitutional "balanced budget amendment". The amendment process is cumbersome, requiring supermajorities and state ratifications. Wouldn't it be simpler to … y'know … just pass a balanced budget?

  • Good to remember. Nathanael Blake points out: Jew-Haters Loathe All Of Western Civilization, Not Just Israel.

    Jew-hatred in the West used to arise from viewing Jews as outsiders, aliens within Western civilization, “rootless cosmopolitans” as the old slander put it. Now, Jews are hated because they are identified with Western civilization.

    As my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Devorah Goldman recently observed, “Jews are treated on the left as patriarchal oppressors, virtually indistinguishable from whites/Christians/Westerners.” And so large swaths of the left now traffic in Jew-hatred because the left’s fundamental impulse is civilizational patricide — rage against their own culture and a longing to destroy it.

    This hatred for the West and those identified with it explains why leftists are not bothered by the inconsistencies of their support for radical Islamists. It might seem odd that there are so many self-proclaimed feminists and queers cheering for Hamas, especially because one need not like Israel, or even Jews in general, to recognize that Hamas is a genocidal death cult that should be destroyed. But the left’s ideological imperatives push them to side against whomever they perceive as more white, Western, and Christian, which in this case are the Jews and Israel.

    Further fun read, from our favorite Hamas cheerleader, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein: her minor effort toward civilizational patricide, the Decolonising Science Reading List.

  • Myself, I kind of like Spector's wall-of-crap. Professor Jacobs on stuff he's heard: sound and effects. It's about George Harrison's All Things Must Pass album:

    There’s an excerpt from an interview with Harrison during which he remarks on his dismay when he first heard Phil Spector’s production of “Wah-Wah”: “I hated it.” Then, he says, he got used to it, came to like it. But at another moment in the documentary, the engineer Ken Scott, who participated in the making of All Things Must Pass, talks about getting together with Harrison thirty years later to work on an anniversary edition of the album. They sat down to listen to it and simply laughed out loud at how bad it sounded. The interviewer didn’t like hearing this. He loves the sound of Spector’s production. He says it sounds contemporary. Yeah, I silently replied, contemporary crap. Compare Spector’s wall-of-crap sound with the demo that Harrison did with just his guitar and Klaus Voorman’s bass. The latter is infinitely superior.

    My musical tastes are probably not as refined as Jacobs'. But he's got a number of other recommendations for listening, see what you think.

Last Modified 2024-01-09 6:50 PM EDT

I Visualize Myself Between Pictures Two and Three

… in the Twitter thread starting here:

Really, it's a hoot. Check it out.

Also of note:

  • Eat me, AARP. USPS "Informed Delivery" tells me I have two pieces of incoming mail today, both from AARP.

    1. An envelope marked "Respond immediately to take advantage of special reduced membership rates."
    2. An envelope marked "Take action. Protect and save Social Security.", "PETITIONS ENCLOSED", and "RESPOND IN THE NEXT 14 DAYS."

    Both bossy. I'm sure both asking for money.

    And both going in the shredder unopened.

    If you'd like to know why, it's the second one. My previous response to what I'm sure was the exact same thing is here.

  • Martin Gurri saw it coming. And now he's watching it unfold, writing in the Free Press about: When Things Fall Apart. Focusing on the ongoing response to the October 7 atrocities:

    Anti-Israel protests erupted across Europe and the United States, many of them blatantly antisemitic in tenor, involving threats and physical attacks on Jews. As if a curtain had been pulled back on a shameful scene, the horrors in Israel revealed the nihilism and moral perversity of the educated classes everywhere—and the crack-up of institutions, from the university to our halls of power—that once served to sustain the modern world.

    Venerable American institutions, already tottering, deeply distrusted by the public, gave every indication of having chosen this conflict as the moment to leap into the abyss.

    The news media in particular seemed intent on self-destruction. Response to the false Hamas claim that Israel had bombed a hospital, causing 500 deaths, was telling. The paragons of the news business—The New York Times, the BBC, the news agencies—swallowed and regurgitated this narrative of civilian suffering uncritically. Western journalists weren’t simply duped by Hamas. They became organs of Hamas propaganda, eager to believe Islamist gangsters with blood still fresh on their hands. Driven by sectarian fervor, they desperately needed to view the “militants” as victims and the Israelis, for all their mutilated dead, as oppressors. The New York Times accompanied its story with a photo of a bombed hospital that was not the one in question. That’s how propaganda works.

    Universities outran the media in the race to institutional irrelevance. The identity virus was first incubated in academia; a moral atrophy has reached pathological levels there. Students in the most prestigious schools seized on the killing of Jews as a reason to rage against the eternal oppressor: the Jewish state. At Harvard, a letter supported by more than 30 student organizations held “the Israeli regime responsible for all unfolding violence.” George Washington University students projected Hamas propaganda on the walls of campus buildings; one projection read “Glory to our martyrs.” The Hamas paraglider graphic adorned more than one campus flyer.

    The fuss at the University Near Here seems to have died down, with only our usual advocate for Israeli suicide still issuing demands on her voluminous Twitter feed:

  • Equally inept at both. Alison Somin wonders if the United States Commission on Civil Rights is more accurately characterized as a Watchdog or Lapdog?

    Taxpayers fund the bipartisan United States Commission on Civil Rights to be “a watchdog, not a lapdog” when overseeing other civil rights agencies, just as its former Chair, Mary Frances Berry, once said. Unfortunately, its most recent report—“The Federal Response to Anti-Asian Racism”—ignores decades of federal agencies turning a blind eye to anti-Asian discrimination in education. It is the product of a lapdog, not a watchdog.

    Discrimination against Asian-American students in admissions at selective universities has been an open secret for decades. An entire cottage industry even coached ambitious applicants on how to be less Asian. Data produced in litigation showed that for applicants with academic credentials in the top 10 percent of Harvard’s pool, the odds of admission were 56.1 percent for African Americans, 31.3 percent for Hispanics, and 15.3 percent for whites, but only 12.6 percent for Asian Americans. In emails uncovered in the parallel lawsuit against the University of North Carolina, admissions officers were candid about preferring applicants of other races over Asian Americans. One representative exchange: “perfect 2400 SAT All 5 on AP one B in 11th” “Brown?!” “Heck no. Asian.”

    Fun quote:

    "Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"

    "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."

    "The dog did nothing in the night-time."

    "That was the curious incident," remarked Sherlock Holmes.

  • Euclis, the Greek God of Walks. Well, that's what people called him. Dan Shaughnessy catches up with him: In a difficult time, Kevin Youkilis speaks out for unity and positivity, and other thoughts.

    In another tweet, dated Nov. 13, Youkilis wrote, “I’ve had a lot of great convos with Jewish friends & family over the past few weeks. The hatred that has been displayed in public and online has only brought us closer together. A flame has been lit and we’ve never been as proud as we are now of our Jewish heritage.”

    “As a baseball player, you develop thick skin from words,” said Youkilis. “I can laugh about some of this stuff online. But some of it is not funny because it’s absolute lies and falsehoods. Oct. 7 will go down as one of the worst days in Jewish history. And the amount of hatred being shown toward Jewish people is astronomical.

    Brought to my attention by Jeff Jacoby's emailed newsletter. An early version of which misquoted the last word above as "ecumenical". Hey, these things happen.

    Excercise for the reader: use your Google skills to find out what Terry Francona said about Youk being called the "Greek God of Walks".

  • For me, it's mostly music. James Lileks asks the question: What Are We Nostalgic For? Excerpt:

    We have a nagging feeling that our urge for reinvention makes us lose something we’ll regret when it’s gone. The newspapers of the ’20s, an era of astonishing energy and sophistication, are full of laments for the loss of the old ways. The ads of the ’30s had amused affection for the Gay ’90s. Simon and Garfunkel wondered where Joe DiMaggio had gone. Tony Soprano was haunted by the fact that he’d come in at the end of something. Every American era will be reviled as it unfolds and admired when it is over.

    The difference now is that we’ve stopped evolving and entered a remix culture, where the vast past is just a thrift store of costumes and artifacts, consumed in solitude through glowing glass rectangles, shared in an incorporeal community where avatars speak in unpunctuated text, memes and algorithmically selected TikTok moments. It’s a level of hell Dante never named, the one populated entirely by willing volunteers.

    I'm not asking for much, just an AI that would churn out songs in the style of these guys.

Recently on the book blog:

Last Modified 2024-01-10 7:13 AM EDT

Dr. No

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Continuing my mini-project to read/re-read Ian Fleming's James Bond books. I wouldn't say this is Fleming hitting his stride, exactly. But Dr. No is (I think) the first true Diabolical Mastermind that Bond has encountered, outside his previous foes, spies, and ordinary crooks. Dr. No also embodies a couple of genre clichés: (1) a long monologue in which he discloses to Bond his biography, criminal past, current projects, evil plans, and general madness; (2) instead of just shooting Bond in the head, sets up an elaborate course of torture that he's pretty sure will end with Bond's demise.

Spoiler: it doesn't. But almost!

The book opens with the grisly murder and disposal of the representatives of the British Secret Service in Jamaica: John Strangways and his secretary, Mary Trueblood. Most assume that they've run off together. That's what M thinks anyway; since Bond has just recovered from near-death at the end of From Russia with Love, he views sending Bond to investigate will be a cushy near-vacation. Bond, looking at the same set of facts, correctly thinks otherwise.

Other stuff of note: birdwatching. (Note the roseate spoonbill on the cover of my edition.) A major female character with a joke name ("Honeychile Rider"). A reminder that you do not want to accompany Bond on his investigations, trusting that he won't tell you to do something that will get you killed. (RIP, Quarrel.)

I couldn't find a reasonably-priced edition of the book for sale at Amazon; I purchased one of the new ones, where "terms and attitudes which might be considered offensive by modern readers" have been polished out. (Don't worry, modern reader: if you're sensitive to such things, there's still plenty of invidious racial stereotyping and colonialist cheerleading.)

Last Modified 2024-01-09 6:49 PM EDT

Do Not Pass the Cheesesteak. Do Not Collect the Tuna Wrap.

Christian Britschgi discusses Senator Elizabeth Warren's latest demonstration that there's no business that's safe from her regulatory demands: Elizabeth Warren Wants the Government To Investigate America's 'Sandwich Shop Monopoly'. The private equity company Roark Capital is the villain of the piece, and (of course) the Joe Biden/Lina Kahn FTC is also investigating the dire threat of Big Sandwich.

Roark already owns the sandwich-serving chains Arby's, Jimmy Johns, McAlister's Deli, and Schlotzky's. Warren said that adding Subway to that list could create a "sandwich shop monopoly."

The senator has made a career of crusading against such "monopolies," regardless of how monopolististic they actually are or beneficial to consumers they might be. (Witness her war on Amazon-branded chargers.)

Her attack on America's alleged "sandwich shop monopoly" scores new points for pettiness. It also shows just how broad (and therefore meaningless) the word "monopoly" has become in modern political discourse—and at Lina Kahn's FTC.

Fun libertarian fact: according to their website Roark Capital is actually named after Howard Roark. That, all by itself, probably drew the ire of Lina Kahn and Elizabeth Warren.

Also of note:

  • "See what you made me do?" Patterico has a long article at his substack looking at a "growing trend": DARVO: The "Real Victims" and the Suckers Who Fall for Their Con.

    DARVO? It stands for "deny, attack, and reverse victim and offender." A "growing trend" among evildoers, to be sure. But what's worse is the trend growing in tandem: people increasingly buying it.

    Patterico provides plenty of examples. One is the people ripping down posters of October 7 Israeli kidnap victims.

    It’s pure anti-Semitism, as far as I can tell. There seems to be no valid justification for it whatsoever. It’s just an act of evil, and I take my hat off to those who have been relentlessly filming the cretins doing it and making them famous.

    So, of course, you know who the real victims here are, right?

    Of course: according to pro-Palestinian activists, the Real Victims are the people taking down the posters.

    [Josh] Barro noted the widely mocked Daily Dot piece that floated this as some sort of nefarious conspiracy targeted the poor poster vandals. Here’s a passage from that piece:

    In lieu of peace and neighborliness, Bandaid’s posters have added fuel to the culture war over the war in Israel, thanks in part to a Twitter account called Stop Antisemitism. In the weeks since they were created, the posters have expanded to billboards, LED signs on trucks, and projections on buildings—and have shifted from an advocacy project to a polarizing symbol that has turned neighbors against each other and incited widespread harassment.

    Now some are wondering if the posters are being strategically placed to entrap those who tear them down, many of whom support the Palestinian people.

    Ah yes, the ancient doctrine of “entrapment” surely fits this scenario to a T, does it not? These poor harmless individuals were lured—almost against their will, one might say!—into taking the perfectly understandable, nay, all but irresistible action of tearing down posters publicizing the plight of completely innocent hostages victimized by Hamas on October 7 and beyond.

    Patterico's piece is partially paywalled, which is probably best for the blood pressure of Donald Trump fans.

  • More shameful behavior. The WSJ editorialists say that Democrats Want ‘Conditions’ on Israel.

    Israel agreed on Monday to a two-day extension of its truce with Hamas to gain the release of more hostages, a priority of President Biden. But another idea is gaining ground among Democrats that is more dangerous: condition U.S. aid on how Israel conducts its war of self-preservation.

    The stipulation is said to be merely that Israel follow international law. But since Israel does follow international law, and the U.S. already can withhold foreign assistance on human-rights grounds, the condition is unnecessary—but not harmless. During wartime, it would signal to Israel’s enemies that the U.S. has gone wobbly on the campaign to destroy Hamas.

    Sen. Chris Murphy (D., Conn.), chairman of the Foreign Relations subcommittee on the Middle East, made positive noises about the idea Sunday. “We regularly condition our aid to allies based upon compliance with U.S. law and international law,” he said, adding, “I think that you can defeat Hamas without this level of civilian casualty,” which he calls “unacceptable.”

    Chris Murphy was one of the cheerleaders of the Biden Administration's Afghanistan withdrawal debacle. Maybe he's not the best person to give advice to a civilized country on dealing with an implacable barbaric foe on their border.

    He would no doubt deplore further blood shed by Israeli citizens as a result of his "conditions". That would be done from warm safety, thousands of miles away from the carnage.

A Christmas Gift Idea

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Our Amazon Product du Jour pops up among the many Orwell quotes you can gift on stickers, signs, t-shirts, and buttons. It's implicitly complimentary: "You, dear recipient, are a lonely revolutionary truth-teller, probably the target of untold vituperation by people who can't handle your unbridled honesty."

Yeah, it turns out, Orwell never said that. Doesn't make it untrue, of course. But it definitely takes something away if you replace the "George Orwell" attribution with the more accurate "Selwyn Duke".

George is one of the favorite victims of misattribution. There is even (of course) an article: Top 10 fake George Orwell quotations.

What Orwellian thing people could really use is freely available: a link to his essay "Politics and the English Language" (relentlessly recommended here over the years). Its insight:

[Our language] becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.

All that to lead up to this: Jerry Coyne, biology professor at the University of Chicago, takes on the mission statement emitted by his school's latest department and its social-justice obscurantism. It really is a prime example of the sort of thing Orwell talked about:

The Department of Race, Diaspora, and Indigeneity (RDI) is dedicated to investigating, interrupting, and challenging the historical and social processes, the cultural and political practices, and the formations of identity and community that are integral to these three concepts. Our project is committed to knowledge-making founded in the dynamism of social life and resistance to bondage, exploitation, and dispossession. The ambition of the department is to foster a breadth of vision, new aesthetic imaginaries, conceptual rigor, innovative pedagogical approaches, and deep engagement within and beyond the university that will enable communities to tackle some of the most challenging issues of the current historical moment in ways that defy intellectual, disciplinary, and geographic orders.

Coyne's commentary is pointed and correct:

Now the first thing you notice is that this statement is laden with the jargon of Critical Social Justice ideology. The second thing you notice is how poorly written it is—perhaps a reflection of postmodern obscurantism.  While I initially hoped that the department would allow a free discussion of the issues for which it was named, if you go through the website you (or at least I) get the impression that the department is devoted not to free and open discussion about race, disasporas and indigeneity, but to purveying the current progressive version of Social Justice.  That is, it may possibly propagandize its students and squelch those whose views are inimical to the “mission” of the department. That shouldn’t happen at the free-speechy University of Chicago, but a number of our faculty worry that this is a Department with a Mission. Yes, other departments are full of woke people who want to fill their students with their own take on political and ideological issues, but this is an entire department that may be dedicated to that business. I have made a few comments in bold on the statement, which I reproduce below.

The Department of Race, Diaspora, and Indigeneity (RDI) is dedicated to investigating, interrupting, and challenging the historical and social processes [HOW DOES ONE INTERRUPT AND CHALLENGE A PROCESS? FURTHER, INTERRUPTING ALREADY GIVES THE DEPARTMENT A SPECIFIC MISSION.], the cultural and political practices, and the formations of identity and community that are integral to these three concepts. Our project is committed to knowledge-making founded in the dynamism of social life and resistance to bondage, exploitation, and dispossession. [HERE WE HAVE THE MISSION STATED EXPLICITLY: TO FIGHT AGAINST THE DEPARTMENT’S IDEA OF OPPRESSION.] The ambition of the department is to foster a breadth of vision, new aesthetic imaginaries, conceptual rigor, innovative pedagogical approaches, and deep engagement within and beyond the university that will enable communities to tackle some of the most challenging issues of the current historical moment in ways that defy intellectual, disciplinary, and geographic orders. [AGAIN, ONE GETS A HINT HERE THAT THE DEPARTMENT WAS CREATED NOT TO MAKE PEOPLE THINK, THOUGH THEY DO SAY THAT, BUT TO ENGAGE IN SOCIAL ENGINEERING.]

Perfectly good words turned into obscure jargon; never using one word when three or five or more can be strung together; garnishing with vague adjectives. It's as if the writers read Orwell's essay, realized their "thoughts were foolish", and proceeded to make their language as slovenly as possible.

Also of note:

  • [Amazon Link]
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    Or maybe just go with Dave's suggestions. Dave Barry is today's Orwell, and performs his yearly duty of curating Dave Barry’s 2023 gift guide. Pictured at right is gift idea number one.

    As parents, we of course want our children to have fun. But we also want to educate them, so that they can be aware of the problems they will have to confront when they go out into the real world, such as cows being abducted by aliens.

    This is a toy that can accomplish both of these objectives. It consists of a flying saucer, representing the aliens; a green circular thing, representing the Earth; and a cow, representing a cow. Think of the hours of enjoyment some lucky youngster on your gift list will derive from playing with these items! Yet at the same time, he or she will be learning the important lesson that lurking in the sky are mysterious hostile forces that could at any moment snatch up innocent creatures such as cows or children. It’s a lesson the youngster is sure to remember for the rest of his or her life, even with therapy.

    Click through for more ideas: "Titanic Door Pool Float"; "Suture Practice Kit"; "Beer Puppeteer"; …

  • Don't be put off by the headline. Or the recommendation. Peter Suderman has an excellent essay, just out from behind the Reason paywall: Why Frozen Pizza Is the Best Pizza.

    The best pizza in America doesn't come from an oven in Brooklyn or some other cult foodie mecca, where it was fastidiously handmade by some aging artisan. It comes from the freezer case at your local grocery store, where it arrived on a semitruck after being constructed on an assembly line at a nondescript factory in the middle of the country.

    The best pizza in America is made by Red Baron, a catchall mass-market brand owned by the frozen-food megacorporation Schwan's. Red Baron makes frozen pizza with a variety of toppings and in an array of styles, from Thin & Crispy to Classic Crust to Deep Dish, because big corporations don't judge if you prefer Chicago-style. Personally, I'm fond of Brick Oven Pepperoni, but the particulars are largely irrelevant. Whereas a Di Fara slice tastes indifferently excellent, Red Baron tastes merely indifferent. The sauce is a little too spicy and a little too sweet, without the lively burst of tomato flavor. The cheese and pepperoni have a salty, fatty, processed edge to them. The crust is a little too crispy and a little too brittle. After you pull a Red Baron pizza out of the oven and take your first, slightly-too-hot bite, you are likely to react with a shrug and the thought: Sure, not bad! Judged strictly on its culinary merits—taste, texture, smell, visual appeal—Red Baron is vaguely competent at best. If you cook it properly, it can be reasonably enjoyable, especially in times of stress or exhaustion, but it is never memorable.

    Do you like pizza? I do too. I haven't had Red Baron in years, but Suderman makes me want to give it a try.

  • I think we missed the top spot because I'm such a gloomy gus. Our local TV station has the news: Report: New Hampshire ranked 2nd happiest state in the nation.

    According to a new report from HubScore, the Granite State was ranked the 2nd happiest state in the country.

    The report ranked all 50 states for community, environment, and work-life balance.

    The number one state was North Dakota and Wyoming was ranked 3rd behind New Hampshire.

    All six New England states, Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, Rhode Island and Connecticut, along with New Hampshire, were ranked in the top 20 of the "Happiest States Index."

    Pun Salad value-added facts, obtained by clicking the link provided: The least happy states are the four states that border Texas: Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. Are people there sad because they aren't Texans? Possibly!

Last Modified 2024-01-10 7:24 AM EDT

But They Make Me Feel So Young!

[Competing Fossils]

Mr. Ramirez notes:

As President Biden celebrates his 81st birthday, voters should consider both he and Trump will be older entering a new presidential term than Ronald Reagan was when he left office.

It's Sunday, and the New England Patriots (2-8) are going up against the New York Football Giants (3-8) later today. Amazingly, the Pats are favored by the betting public. But our task here is to look at the election betting odds, and it turns out the fossils still lead the mammals:

Candidate EBO Win
Donald Trump 38.5% +1.2%
Joe Biden 28.1% -0.9%
Gavin Newsom 9.9% -0.8%
Nikki Haley 7.4% +0.5%
Robert Kennedy Jr 3.7% unch
Michelle Obama 3.2% +0.5%
Ron DeSantis 2.3% -0.2%
Other 6.9% -0.3%

Wow. Trump. Really? That can't last, can it?

Also of note:

  • Didn't help him with the punters, though. Eric Boehm notes some pouncing in the GOP field: Ron DeSantis Rediscovers the First Amendment's Protections for Anonymous Speech.

    When former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley pitched a terrible (and likely unconstitutional) idea to force social media companies to verify all users and effectively ban anonymous accounts, she drew a sharp rebuke from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

    "Haley's proposal to ban anonymous speech online—similar to what China recently did—is dangerous and unconstitutional," DeSantis posted on X (formerly Twitter). He pointed out that some of America's founders, including The Federalist Papers' authors Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison published their essays anonymously—part of a long tradition of anonymous speech in America.

    In the week since those initial remarks, Haley has backpedaled a bit. She now admits that Americans have a First Amendment right to anonymous speech online but continues to support a crackdown on foreigners who "create anonymous accounts to spread chaos and anti-American filth."

    Why the "rediscovers" in Boehm's headline?

    Meanwhile, a bill introduced in the Florida Legislature earlier this year and backed by DeSantis aimed to make several changes to how Florida law handles defamation cases filed against news organizations. Among the changes was a provision telling courts to regard as false any content from anonymous sources, unless it could be proven true.

    So DeSantis is iffy on the First.

  • They were both way too fond of corporate welfare. Brittany Bernstein looks at another bit of Haley/DeSantis sniping: Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley Play a Game of 'No You' on China while Trump Glides By.

    As the race for second place heats up, Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis have begun to play a game of “Who was cozier with Chinese business while governor?”

    At least $18 million has been spent in the presidential race on TV ads mentioning China, according to AdImpact data, with Republicans accounting for 90 percent of that spending. Nearly $26 million has been spent on digital ads on the topic, though Republicans account for just 58 percent of that spending.

    The latest ammunition in the fight comes from a recent Miami Herald report that reveals that DeSantis and committees affiliated with him have received $340,000 from Xianbin Meng, the CEO of a Tampa refrigerant company with direct backing from China, companies associated with Meng, and the companies’ employees. Meng, the CEO of iGas USA, gave DeSantis more than $11,000 just three months ago.

    The charges and countercharges are pretty wild. Meanwhile:

    While DeSantis and Haley have trained their attacks on each other, front-runner Donald Trump’s record of making amiable comments about China and doing business in the country has largely escaped scrutiny.

    Trump, who owns 114 trademarks in China for possible business opportunities, according to financial filings released earlier this month, recently called Chinese president Xi Jinping a “very smart person” during a campaign rally in Iowa.

  • Hey, kids, what time is it? Christian Ferry says it's Time for Nikki Haley To Live Free or Die.

    Time and money are the two most limited resources in a political campaign. While a manager may be able to squeeze in one more fundraiser or send an additional solicitation, no campaign can ever get back misspent time. In presidential nomination contests, well-spent time and money translate to momentum, and enough momentum, such as the kind generated from winning early contests, is hard to stop. While Donald Trump continues to enjoy a large lead in the early states, his victory is not inevitable. If Republicans want to turn in a different direction from another Trump presidency, they need to coalesce around the one candidate who finds the right strategy to optimize the remaining time and money and generate maximum momentum from the early contests.

    Today, Nikki Haley has momentum propelling her. She is moving in the right direction in the Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina polls. But to pull off the upset of defeating the former president, Haley must decide if Iowa or New Hampshire is the state to make her stand. Ron DeSantis has clearly picked Iowa, and Chris Christie planted his flag in New Hampshire. However, Haley is still trying to play in both, which really means neither. It is time for her campaign to pick, and New Hampshire gives her the best shot to win.

    Fun Fact: Counting the 18 NH GOP primaries held since 1952, the winner has gone on to win the eventual GOP nomination 15 times. (Misses: Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. in 1964; Pat Buchanan in 1996; John McCain in 2000.) A pretty good record there.

Recently on the book blog:

Last Modified 2024-01-28 2:42 AM EDT

The Myth of American Inequality

How Government Biases Policy Debate

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

A better title is found on the book flap: "Everything you know about income inequality, poverty, and other measures of economic well-being in America is wrong." The authors (Phil Gramm, Robert Ekelund, and John Early) all have academic or professional backgrounds in economics, and Gramm, of course, was a US Congressman for six years, and a US Senator for nearly 18 years. (He is just a few months older than Joe Biden.) Their audacious thesis is presented convincingly (at least for this fan of free-market capitalism): the "official government statistics" that get reported periodically on inflation, incomes, and poverty are deeply flawed. Alternative measures exist, because serious people demand them. But they need to be dug out of more obscure sources, a task only suited for … well, diligent scholars, like these guys.

The book's style leaves something to be desired for the casual reader. There are graphs and dense tables aplenty. And many eye-glazing paragraphs filled with data: dollars, dates, percentiles, percentages, rates, etc. It's dry stuff. The key points—the stuff the authors really want you to know—are repeated over and over.

But if you can pay attention throughout, it's pretty damning. The government is kind of lying to you. Only "kind of", because it's open about its flawed methods, which may have worked OK in the past, but have persisted due to inertia and (I would guess) political cowardice.

And of course, some favor this inherent dishonesty: it creates winners and losers. It boosts some political narratives over others.

First: the Consumer Price Index (CPI), used to "adjust income eligibility levels for government assistance, federal tax brackets, federally mandated cost-of-living increases, private sector wage and salary increases, poverty measures, and consumer and commercial rent escalations". As a short-term month-to-month measure, it's not bad, but it has well-known biases that overstate inflation. So over years, that overstatement builds up. Good news for (say) Social Security recipients, at least until the trust fund is emptied.

The official US poverty rate has been "stuck" since around 1970 between 10-15%. But the calculation the government uses to determine poverty omits the value of many of its transfer payments to the needy. And the overstated CPI above also inflates the poverty rate. In fact, the authors claim, actual poverty has been in a long-term decline and is nearly zero. (I don't, frankly, know if that includes all those homeless folks in the big cities.)

Another source of bias occurs at the upper end of the income scale, and it's something I'm ashamed to admit that I'd been oblivious to. We citizens also make "transfer payments" to the government: these are called "taxes". These transfer payments are (nevertheless) counted as part of your income. This, despite the fact that in most cases, that money never even touches your bank account; subject to withholding, it just goes directly to Uncle Stupid's coffers. (And, in other cases: as people who pay estimated taxes know, the government gets pretty mean if you fail to pay them first.)

But, bottom line: your "official income" according to the government includes a big chunk of cash that you either can't, or probably shouldn't, spend as you desire on stuff you want.

Taken together, the government mismeasures drastically overstate measures of "inequality" like the Gini coefficient. The authors particularly criticize the scholarship of folks like Piketty, Saez, and Zucman, who use the flawed numbers to argue for (even) more punitive taxation of the rich.

The mismeasures also drastically understate the progress in economic well-being over the past few decades. As noted above, this feeds into a anti-capitalist narrative that's echoed in the mainstream press and in many political speeches. And the result is reflected in the nasty, resentful mood of the electorate. (Headline a couple days ago in the Wall Street Journal: Voters See American Dream Slipping Out of Reach, WSJ/NORC Poll Shows.

The authors wind up with some policy suggestions: first (obviously): reform the government's statistical calculations to use alternative, less-biased measures of economic statistics. But also: Embrace school choice. Reform occupational licensure and other barriers to earning a living. At the same time, remove the disincentives to work, as welfare reform did in the 1990s.

Last Modified 2024-01-09 6:49 PM EDT

WSH/NORC Poll Also Shows Half of Voters Are Ignorant about 1973

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Wow, a downer headline on the front page of my post-Thanksgiving Wall Street Journal: Voters See American Dream Slipping Out of Reach, WSJ/NORC Poll Shows. Here's what really caught my eye:

Half of voters in the new poll said that life in America is worse than it was 50 years ago, compared with 30% who said it had gotten better.

Well, that's just stupid.

I happen to be finishing up reading a book, The Myth of American Inequality, by Phil Gramm, Robert Ekelund, and John Early. It has a whole chapter titled "Fifty Years of Economic Progress". It is (specifically) referring to the 1967-2017 period, but not enough has changed, even with Covid, to make the 1973-2023 comparison different.

[Added: finished reading the book, and my report is here.]

Do you really want to go back fifty years, to an era of lousy TVs, no Internet, no smartphones, no microwaves, lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality, … (I could go on). Compared to 1973, poverty (properly measured) is almost gone.

Most notably: an income that would have put an American household in the top quintile of all households in 1973 is now enjoyed by nearly all American households.

But I suppose people just like to gripe, and if you give them something specific to gripe about, they'll do that.

Another sour note from the article:

Oakley Graham, a stay-at-home father in Greenwood, Mo., outside Kansas City, said that by some measures he was living the American dream. And yet, he feels insecure.

“We have a nice house in the suburbs, and we have a two-car garage,” said Graham, who is 30 years old and whose wife is an electrical engineer. “But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that money was tight.” For him and most of his neighbors, “no matter how good it looks on the outside, I feel we are all a couple of paychecks away from being on the street.”

Graham, who leans Democratic in his politics and voted for President Biden, said life is “objectively worse” than 50 years ago, in part because labor unions are no longer as strong and capable of helping as many workers. He said his grandfather, a maintenance crew worker for railroads, retired on a union pension, something that most people don’t have now.

The stay-at-home dad says things are "objectively worse" without citing a single objective fact. I imagine his electical engineer wife is embarrassed by that.

Recently on the book blog:

Last Modified 2024-01-10 7:13 AM EDT

The Watchman

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

This is billed (front cover) as "A Joe Pike Novel". Don't worry, Elvis fans: he's here, he does important stuff too, despite his rocky recovery from the horrors in the previous book. But the interesting stuff, character-wise is Pike.

In a different previous book, Pike promised a future favor to Jon Stone: Stone would offer Pike a gig, and Pike would have to accept it. That promise comes due here. The FBI has a witness to the presence and activity of a wanted terrorist. That witness is the very spoiled, insanely rich heiress Paris Hilton, sorry, Larkin Connor Barkley. The normal witness-protection procedures ain't working. Squads of Ecuadorian gangsters keep showing up at the "safe" houses, apparently trying to kill her.

Worse, once Pike takes over, Ecuadorian gangsters show up at his safe house, and it's all Pike can do to kill a few of them, and take off. Obviously there's a mole somewhere, but who?

The best defense is a good offense, and Elvis and Joe take it upon themselves to discover the truth about what Larkin saw, and why people want to kill her for it. Larkin is a lot to handle, but she's never met anyone like Pike before. Diligent detective work soon determines that one of the FBI guys is lying to them; does that mean he's the mole? It's not safe to assume that.

As usual, a suspenseful and action-packed climax.

Last Modified 2024-01-09 6:49 PM EDT

Hope Everyone Had a Wonderful Thanksgiving!

Not that you should care, but mine kind of sucked. Illness compelled me to forego social gathering. And you don't know what you're missing until … you miss it. About all I could give thanks for was a new episode of "Frasier", Coricidin HBP, and having the foresight to stock up on Kleenex.

But I'm on the mend, and this pic from PowerLine made me chuckle, and if you haven't seen it, or even if you have:

[Godzilla vs. Les Nessman]

If you don't get the reference, here's your background.

Also of note:

  • I'm on Team Will. George is Thankful for soon being able to say ‘Good riddance, 2023’.

    This holiday is devoted to the noble sentiment of gratitude. So, before passing around the cranberry sauce, give thanks that 2023 experienced no repeat of the Great Cranberry Scare of 1959.

    Three weeks before that year’s Thanksgiving, the government announced that a small portion of a Pacific Northwest cranberry crop contained traces of a herbicide that caused abnormal growths in rats stuffed with it. President Dwight D. Eisenhower substituted apple sauce for cranberry sauce. This episode presaged subsequent panics, dietary and otherwise, and today’s apocalypse fatigue, when everything poses an “existential” threat to this or that. This year — the 10th anniversary of a Cambridge University scientist saying the Arctic might be ice-free in two years — has been replete with reasons for saying good riddance to 2023. Bud Light heartily agrees.

    Some Colorado school officials, with no sense of irony, cracked down on a 12-year-old whose backpack had a “Don’t tread on me” patch. A Florida charter school principal was forced to resign for not notifying parents that she planned to illustrate Renaissance art by showing her sixth-graders Michelangelo’s “David.” A Northern Virginia playground’s 21 rules include “no loitering” at the slide’s bottom.

    More things GFW gets off his chest at the link. For example:

    Yale has “one administrator for every four students. That’s the same ratio the government recommends for child care of infants under twelve months.”

  • This would make a sensational movie. Jazz Shaw claims OpenAI Tried to Fire Altman Because He Was About to Wake Up the Monster.

    Earlier this week, we discussed the way that the board of directors at OpenAI attempted to fire CEO Sam Altman and how a revolt at the company led to his reinstatement and the removal of the board. It was a remarkable example of employees overriding the will of the governing board and changing the course of the company’s direction. What wasn’t clear at the time was the reason that the board tried to remove the founding brainchild of ChatGPT in the first place. But now more indications of their reasoning have come to the surface. It wasn’t a case of different “visions” for the corporation’s future, but apparently, a fear that Altman was on the verge of doing something that could potentially have catastrophic consequences for humanity. Altman and his team had made a breakthrough with a project known as Q* (pronounced “Q Star”) that would allow the Artificial Intelligence to begin behaving in a way that could “emulate key aspects of the human brain’s functionality.” In other words, they may be close to allowing the AI to “wake up.” (Daily Mail)

    Q*: remember that name.

    Given the recent record of natural intelligence, is it really too tough to imagine that AI could do better?

Last Modified 2024-01-28 3:20 AM EDT

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan…

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

… a stately pleasure dome decree. But that happened a long time ago, and is not important right now. Just down the road, on Tuesday, in Brentwood, Rockingham County Superior Court Justice David Ruoff issued his own decree. Involving the amount that must spent educating government-skooling the kiddos. Andrew Cline chides him: Markets, not judges, set prices, even for education.

There is one and only one way to determine the “true cost” of an adequate education. That is to create a competitive education marketplace. Alas, that is not the approach New Hampshire has taken.

Instead, legislators have tried to set the cost by decree. Public school districts, asserting with some justification that the amount is too low, have asked courts to… set the cost by decree.

Now a court has done so, and the results are as absurd as one would expect.

On November 20th, Rockingham County Superior Court Justice David Ruoff ruled that the Legislature’s decreed amount ($4,100 per pupil; he excluded differentiated aid) was unconstitutionally low. But, he said, the plaintiff school districts’ asserted amount ($9,929) was too high. The actual minimum constitutionally permissive state per-pupil expenditure was, he figured, $7,356.01.

Note the penny. Such precision carries the weight of both mathematical and legal certainty. 

Did I say Cline chided Ruoff? Nay, he thrashes him.

And will the extra money allow (at some point) students to study the poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge? I wouldn't bet on it.

Also of note:

  • We really should say something about Thanksgiving. Even though I'm under the weather, and not participating in any social jollities. James P. Freeman gets in a New Hampshire plug in his column: ‘The Old Broken Links of Affection Restored’.

    It’s altogether fitting and proper that the quintessential American holiday is devoted to gratitude. Considering all of human history can you think of another people who have more reason to be thankful? What’s remarkable is that the particular woman who willed our modern holiday into being managed to find so many such reasons.

    Six years after the end of America’s War of Independence and just one year after New Hampshire brought our republic to life by serving as the critical ninth state to ratify the U.S. Constitution, President George Washington proclaimed on Oct. 3, 1789:

    . . . both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

    … but it really didn't take off as a national holiday. That took the diligent efforts of Sarah Josepha Hale (ahem, also originally from New Hampshire). According to her Wikipedia page, she also wrote "Mary Had a Little Lamb".

  • The right people are going pre-emptively crazy. Nick Gillespie wonders: Is Javier Milei a 'Doctrinaire Hayekian' and a Secret 'Reason' Science Project?. (And I bet you're wondering: does Betteridge's Law of Headlines apply?)

    With critics like Sohrab Ahmari, the sourpuss cofounder of the conservative social democrat* journal Compact, Argentina's new president, Javier Milei, is looking better and better even before doing a damn thing.

    Writing in The New Statesman, Ahmari bemoans "Maga's foolish embrace" of Milei, whom too many are mistaking for a real populist—you know, the sort of strongman who embodies the volk, punishes certain businessmen, rewards certain labor unions, appeals to tradition and hierarchy, and generally bosses people around. Indeed, even Donald Trump—whom Ahmari slags for doing "precious little to implement a more solidaristic agenda"—congratulated Milei.

    Milei, clucks Ahmari, "rejects nearly everything 'Maga' populists in the United States, and analogue movements across the developed world, claim to stand for…. [He] is a doctrinaire Hayekian seemingly grown in a secret laboratory funded by the Koch brothers, with the editorial staff of Reason, the extremist libertarian magazine based in Washington, serving as the scientists."

    Extremist! Sohrab, I think I read a couple things a week excoriating Reason for being too namby-pamby and "respectable".

  • I am not sure who I could punch in a downward mde. David Sedaris is pretty funny. Here's his article on Punching Down.

    When I first moved to New York in 1990, I knew a total of five people. They all had lives of their own—I couldn’t just plop myself down and demand their attention—and so I signed up for a once a week class taught at the West Side YMCA, hoping I could make a friend or two there. “Writing Funny,” the course was called, and it was taught by a British woman named Freda Garmaise who was maybe in her mid-sixties at the time, and had published several books.

    “What are the rules of comedy writing?” she asked at the start of our first session.

    I put my hand up. “You should never make fun of anyone who has less power than you.”

    Freda looked at me the way I deserved to be looked at, with a combination of disgust and pity. “Where on earth did you get that idea?” she asked.

    I groped for an answer. “The Village Voice, maybe?”

    “No, no, no,” she said. “The only rule of comedy anything is that you always should be as tasteless as possible.”

    I think about that moment a lot, especially now when punching down, the phrase, has become ubiquitous—the worst crime a comic or humor writer can commit, at least according to the people who now decide such things, meaning people on Twitter who determine, based, I suppose, on your photo and a wild guess at your net worth, who you are and are not allowed to make jokes about.

    Words, we are now regularly reminded, are violence. So too is silence. I read not long ago that capitalism is violence, as is misgendering someone. Ignoring someone is violence, but so too is paying them attention. A friend recently called on one of her assistants to deliver a statistic during a business meeting and was later charged with “casual violence.” Apparently Deborah needed to give advance warning that she was going to ask a question, one that might possibly put her employee—someone who was well paid to know stuff and be able to spew it forth—on the spot.

    Whew, long excerpt. Click over and RTWT, and Happy Thanksgiving.

Last Modified 2024-01-09 6:48 PM EDT

Sowell on Preferences

Otherwise, not much today. I'm kind of under the weather.

  • It's not a pretty picture, Emily. Jeff Maurer provides A Brief History of Political Movements Led By Little Kids. And I for one am appropriately grateful for this day before Thanksgiving.

    It’s been a rough week or so for young people in politics. In Amsterdam, Greta Thunberg shared a stage with an activist who had previously called the October 7 attacks “resistance” and who celebrated the terrorist Leila Khaled, who once threw a live grenade into an airplane full of civilians. Then, Osama bin Laden’s “Letter To America” went viral on Tik Tok, gaining favorable reviews from some young influencers 21 years after it was published. Published by Osama bin Laden. Yes, that Osama bin Laden.

    On the other hand: Has it been a bad week for young people in politics? Or has it been a completely normal week for young people in politics? You can argue that it’s been the latter, because when the very young get political, the historical results are not good. Personally, I think it’s obvious that a political movement led by kids is about as likely to succeed as a basketball team led by elderly diabetics. But this is apparently not obvious to everyone. So, I’m offering a brief synopsis of a few child-led political movements that will hopefully put the phenomenon of politically-involved minors in perspective.

    Jeff takes an offbeat look at The Childrens' Crusades; Joan of Arc; God’s Army of the Holy Mountain. Fortunately, at the remove of decades or centuries, we can afford to laugh. Like we should be laughing at Greta.

  • The pump don't work 'cause the vandals took the handles. And it happened down in Merrimack: Attack on Israeli-Owned Business in Merrimack Denounced by Both Parties, as reported by Michael Graham of NH Journal

    If the antisemitic activists of Palestine Action US were hoping to rally support in the Granite State with their attack on an Israeli-based defense contractor in Merrimack, it appears they miscalculated.

    Elbit Systems of America’s parent company – Israel-based Elbit Systems – is the largest defense contractor for Israel. Palestine Action US, which previously launched an attack on Elbit Systems’ Cambridge, Mass. location just five days after the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attack, says its mission is “dismantling Elbit Systems and the Zionist War Machine.”

    The group brought that mission to Merrimack on Monday around 8 a.m. when, according to local authorities, reports began rolling into the police and fire departments of an issue at the Elbit facility on Daniel Webster Highway. Protesters were blocking the entrance, and smoke was billowing from the roof. According to a Merrimack Police Department press release, “Officers discovered the front of the building had been spray painted with red paint, windows had been smashed, and at least one of the main lobby doors had been locked shut via a bicycle anti-theft device.”

    Yeah, that's bad, and I hope they throw away the key.

    But this is a bridge too far:

    The incident comes as Granite State leaders express concerns about the increase of anti-Israel and antisemitic sentiment, particularly among college students. Sununu denounced UNH students chanting, “From the river to the sea, Palestine shall be free,” and Bradley is calling on the university administration to confront a far-left radical professor with a long history of hate speech comparing Israel to Nazi Germany.

    Needless to say, there's not a slightest bit of evidence that says UNH dimwits (including Chanda Prescod-Weinstein) inspired "Palestine Action US".

Sowell on Liars

As you might have noticed, people in other fields are starting to emulate those politicians. With predictable impact on their credibility. J.D. Tuccille provides one example: ‘The Science’ Suffers from Self-Inflicted Political Wounds.

Once upon a time, science evoked enthusiasm. Yes, cinematic mad scientists went overboard with body parts and lightning, but real-life researchers brought us innovations, insights, and improved standards of living. But, like many institutions, science got political and cult-y. Thin-skinned narcissists with government jobs hijacked the systematic pursuit of knowledge and rebranded it as an unassailable body of Truth with a capital T. They cast out as heretics well-informed critics who interpreted evidence differently. In the process, they lost the trust of a public which saw insights replaced by bossy ideologues.

"A new Pew Research Center survey finds the share of Americans who say science has had a mostly positive effect on society has fallen and there's been a continued decline in public trust in scientists," the organization reported last week. "Overall, 57% of Americans say science has had a mostly positive effect on society. This share is down 8 percentage points since November 2021 and down 16 points since before the start of the coronavirus outbreak."

A full third of Americans say science is a wash, equally positive and negative. Eight percent say it's mostly negative. The plunge in support since the appearance of COVID-19 is no coincidence; that's when some scientists, especially those in official positions, began wielding "science" as a shield against debate and a tool for control.

Reader, can you guess whose picture is used to illustrate Tuccille's article, and is Tuccille's prime example?

Clue: he is quoted as saying (in response to critics): “It’s easy to criticize, but they’re really criticizing science because I represent science."

Oh, heck, you've guessed correctly. Too easy.

Fun additional link, from the Washington Examiner: Fauci is singing a different song on vaccine mandates. And that song is "Can I Change My Mind", originally by Tyrone Davis.

Also of note:

  • But it's not just Tony Fauci. Lawrence Krauss avoids 60's R&B, instead telling the story with a Star Wars headline: The Empire Strikes Back.

    For a while there, it looked as if reason and professionalism had returned to the American astronomical societies and journals. But that didn’t last long.

    This past boreal summer of 2023, there was a significant outcry in response to the removal of astronomer Geoff Marcy’s name from a scientific publication to which he made significant contributions, which was accompanied by efforts to punish and ostracize his collaborators. (I wrote about this for Quillette here.) Marcy is a distinguished scientist who played a major role in the discovery of exoplanets, and appeared to be a natural candidate for the Nobel Prize in Physics that was awarded to his competitors, Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz in 2019. (Didier and Queloz were awarded a joint 50% share in the prize, alongside James Peebles, who was honored for his work on “theoretical discoveries in physical cosmology.”)

    In 2015, Marcy was investigated by his then-employer, the University of California, for incidents of sexual harassment that allegedly took place on or before 2010. Following the investigation, UC Berkeley recommended Marcy continue in his role as a full professor, given that there had been no further complaints against him over the period 2010–15. Nevertheless, Marcy chose to resign from his position in response to a torrent of online pressure.

    A full eight years after his resignation, in 2023, the editors of Science magazine and the leadership of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) began to consider whether Marcy’s name should be removed from the paper he co-authored—an action that would essentially deny him public credit for his work, something that, in science, is considered a form of plagiarism. Science published an article blindly accepting the claim that leaving Marcy’s name on the paper would “produce potential psychological harm.” In that article, it was reported that AAS President Kelsey Johnson was considering whether accusations of harassment would be sufficient grounds for removing the names of the authors concerned from AAS journals.

    With remarkable restraint, Krauss doesn't mention Orwell's Memory Hole.

    As an extra bonus, can you guess who's being referred to here?

    In response, one astrophysicist—a of the founder [sic] of “Particles for Justice” and a leader of an ill-conceived effort to remove James Webb’s name from the James Webb Space Telescope (see my podcast with Hakeem Oluseyi)—wrote:

    This man wants me to care that people were giving a hard time to a woman who collaborated with a man who physically assaulted my friends. Because she’s a woman. I’m supposed to care. Even though her politics are absolute fucking trash.

    If you've been reading the blog for even just the past few days, you'll find this pretty easy too.

  • Shut up, they explained. John Sexton's Hot Air article is headlined: Two Professors Argue Democracy is Ill-Served by Free Speech on Campus. Surely, he must be joking?

    Nope. Here's the article he references in the respectable Chronicle of Higher Education: Dear Administrators: Enough With the Free-Speech Rhetoric! It's by Richard Amesbury ("professor of religious studies and philosophy at Arizona State University") and Catherine O'Donnell ("professor of history at Arizona State University"). Their subhed identifies The Problem: "It concedes too much to right-wing agendas."

    And it complicates the indoctrination of left-wing agendas. Apparently Rich and Cathy have little faith that their arguments can't propagate properly in an open free-speech arena.

    Academics are losing the support of the public. We read it in newspapers, we see it in surveys, we feel it in our bones. There are many dimensions to this problem. One is the claim that colleges restrict speech and lack intellectual diversity. Earlier this fall, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression ranked colleges in terms of their commitment to free speech, praising a few but concluding that “the free-speech climate at even these campuses has room to improve.” The American Bar Association is considering a proposal that would require law schools to adopt written free-speech policies that “protect the rights of faculty, students, and staff to communicate ideas that may be controversial or unpopular.”

    These concerns have attracted the attention of lawmakers here and abroad. The United Kingdom has just created a director for freedom of speech and academic freedom position under the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act 2023. The newly appointed “free-speech tsar,” Arif Ahmed, a professor of philosophy at the University of Cambridge, has promised to defend free speech “for all views and approaches — postcolonial theory as much as gender-critical feminism.” And recently, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce released a report on “Freedom of Speech and Its Protection on College Campuses.” Citing the philosopher John Stuart Mill, the report begins with the claim that “a ‘marketplace of ideas’ is necessary to seek truth effectively” and concludes that “the First Amendment is under threat on college campuses across the nation, and the federal government must step in and provide protection for students and faculty.” Perhaps sensing a cultural opening, Princeton’s James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions has released the “Princeton Principles for a Campus Culture of Free Inquiry,” which alleges that “many of our nation’s colleges and universities are failing to maintain cultures of free and vigorous inquiry,” and calls on administrators to “allocate resources to promote intellectual diversity.”

    The authors fail to deal seriously with the root cause of all those trends to which they refer: ideological monoculture. (They mention this term, only to pooh-pooh it.) They fall back on cheap reliable strawmen: "Few would expect a biology department to hire a creationist or a geography department to host a flat-earther."

    Fun fact: this article from the National Association of Scholars looks at "The Political Affiliations of Elite Liberal Arts College Faculty" Overall, in Cathy's field (history) Democrat/Republican ratio is 17.4 to 1. In Rich's field (religion), the ratio is (whoa) 70 to 1.

    Guys: I don't think you have to worry about flat-earthers or creationists. Would it kill you to hire a few Republicans?

  • Wishing a problem away. David Harsanyi claims Jonathan Chait Whitewashes Left-Wing Antisemitism To Protect Democrats. Taking particular aim at one slogan that some locals have used or tried to defend:

    “‘From the river to the sea,’” explains Chait, who hears white supremacist dog whistles in his sleep, “is an inflammatory and irresponsible slogan that implicitly creates solidarity with terrorism precisely because it is ambiguous and open to multiple definitions, but it is not per se antisemitic.”

    “From the river to the sea” is the least ambiguous phrase imaginable. It quite literally and geographically lays out the genocidal aims of its chanters — from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, including all of the Jewish state, not just “occupied” territory. Using Chait’s partisan-addled logic, one could argue that white supremacists who chant, “You Will Not Replace Us” might not be talking about racial domination — you know, not per se — but merely about coexistence. Who’s to know, right?

    Is it too much to ask that people confront the real problem? Israelis live every day as targets of barbarians who want to kill them. What do you expect them to do about that?

  • Addendum to "My AI Wants to Kill Your Mama" Last month I used that as a title of a fisking/response to a silly Facebook post by author Joyce Maynard. It was a takeoff on an old Frank Zappa song; I speculated that it could be possible soon for AI to generate music in the style of long-dead musicians. Like Zappa.

    I should have said: it's already possible.

    In fact, as Andrew Zucker points out: <voice imitation="that_little_girl_from_Poltergeist">It's here.</voice>: Dead Ringers.

    There’s a goosebump-inducing thrill in hearing a new Beatles song in 2023, as long as you don’t think too hard about the fact that half the band is dead.

    The song, “Now and Then”—which debuted earlier this month at No. 7 on the Billboard 100—is a miracle of modern AI technology, extracting Lennon’s original 1970s demo from previously unusable recordings. Lennon’s voice sounds crisp and current, like he just recorded it yesterday.

    But of course he didn’t. He’s been dead since 1980. And even if he weren’t, it’s debatable if the song would’ve sounded anything like the new release. Two of his pre-chorus bridges were cut by Paul McCartney, who had final say because, as previously noted, Lennon is dead.

    George Harrison, who’s also dead—he passed away in 2001 from cancer—likely wouldn’t have been all too pleased either. He abandoned the band’s first attempts to record it in the ’90s, telling McCartney that the song was “fuckin’ rubbish.”

    As Richard Feynman used to say (and may say again): "Interesting!"

Last Modified 2023-11-21 10:00 AM EDT

Sowell on Evil

Kevin D. Williamson knows how to deal with "the plain fact of evil", writing On Morality and Restraint.

The moral test for Israel is not whether its leaders can show superhuman restraint in their response to the massacres and outrages inflicted on their people by Hamas. In light of the kidnapping, the hostage-taking, the rape and dismemberment of children, the burning to death of babies, the beheadings, the theatrical sadism inflicted on women, children, the elderly, it is remarkable how much restraint the Israelis have shown. They have, in my view, shown incommensurate restraint, if I may be forgiven some friendly criticism at this ghastly moment.

No, the great test for Israel is not restraint at all, but diligence in its national pursuit of the actual moral imperative in front of it, which is the annihilation of Hamas. Put bluntly: Israel’s moral imperative at this moment is in the major part a matter of killing and only in the minor part a matter of not killing. Justice, prudence, and responsible government all call for the same thing at this moment: hunting down and killing as many of the men responsible for this atrocity as possible, beginning with Hamas political chief Ismail Haniyeh. 

Paywalled. Consider it my usual suggestion that you subscribe.

Also of note:

  • Jeb Bradley doubles down on dumb. The NH Journal reports: Senate Pres.: Antisemitic UNH Prof 'Should Be Fired,' $100M in Budget May Be Reviewed.

    State Senate President Jeb Bradley is trying to send the University of New Hampshire a wake-up call: Do something about the hate speech toward Israel on your campus before the legislature gets involved.

    At issue are a series of incidents at UNH following the October 7 terror attack launched from Gaza against Israel that murdered 1,200 people, injured thousands more, and resulted in some 240 people being taken hostage – some of them Americans.

    The incidents include UNH students gathering to chant “From the river to the sea, Palestine shall be free” — a call for the destruction of the Jewish state of Israel; someone drawing a swastika on a campus wall; and newly-tenured UNH Professor Chanda Prescod-Weinstein comparing Hamas terrorists to the Jews who fought against the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising during World War II.

    On Friday, Bradley told radio host Jack Heath it was past time for UNH leadership to act.

    “Free speech isn’t hate speech,” Bradley said. “I think that the university has a responsibility to condemn that speech in the strongest possible terms.”

    Ackshually, Jeb, free speech is hate speech. (Or, actually, vice versa.) Specifically, (as we said just last week) there's no exception made in First Amendment jurisprudence for "hate speech". Asserting otherwise does not speak well for you.

    And it gets kinda worse, when he starts talking about UNH's own Hamas cheerleader, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein:

    According to Bradley, Prescod-Weinstein’s case deserves more serious treatment than just public condemnation from UNH leadership.

    “You start by condemning [the speech],” Bradley said, “then I think the person should be fired.”

    Goodness knows I'm no fan of Chanda. She's awful. But: (a) she's got tenure; (b) her speech is constitutionally protected; (c) attempting to fire her would almost certainly embroil UNH in a lawsuit; and (d) she would just love the additional nationwide attention it would bring. First Amendment martyr! Proof that the right is just as bad as the left on cancel culture!

    I'm all on board with cutting UNH's budget, though. Jeb, you should strongly suggest they target their affirmative action/DEI departments. I think that's how UNH wound up with Chanda in the first place.

  • This was also the correct response to a recent Jeopardy! clue! Robert Graboyes looks at Bari Weiss's recent lecture to the Federalist Society: Zola, Weiss, and "J'Accuse...! 2023".

    125 years ago, Émile Zola’s open letter, “J’Accuse…!”, ripped the scabs off the skin of France and revealed the festering pus beneath; a week ago, Bari Weiss’s speech, “You Are the Last Line of Defense”, did the same for today’s America. I can’t say whether Weiss’s speech will attain the immortality of Zola’s letter, but it ought to. Attorney/blogger Ilya Shapiro attended the speech and called it “Bari Weiss's Speech for the Ages.” The parallels between Zola’s letter and Weiss’s speech are sufficient that I have taken to calling the latter “J’Accuse 2023.”

    Zola wrote of a French Jewish military officer, Alfred Dreyfus, wrongly accused and convicted of spying for Germany. A corrupt circle of military officers whipped up nationwide waves of antisemitic demonstrations to mask their own crimes and pin the blame on the innocent Dreyfus. Weiss spoke of the horrors unleashed on October 7 on Israel by Hamas, the orgiastic celebration that followed in the streets and universities of the West, and the intellectual cancers that spawned that enthusiasm—including the degradation of law and usurpation of individual liberties.

    Graboyes' parallels are interesting and educational, if you've forgotten your 19th century French history.

    Related to the item above: a few days back I called Bari Weiss the anti-Chanda particle.

  • And, oh yeah, I watched the SpaceX "Starship" test the other morning. Corbin Barthold has an article about it at Reason: SpaceX Makes Progress on Second Starship Test. Beyond the details of the flight, he's got some interesting observations about the regulatory aspects:

    SpaceX was ready for the second test of Starship by early September. Two weeks later, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledged that it had yet to begin the environmental review needed for a launch license. "That is unacceptable," Elon Musk fumed on X. "It is absurd that SpaceX can build a giant rocket faster than they can shuffle paperwork!" Absurd, yes—but hardly unexpected.

    The agency moved swiftly—by the standards of the federal government—issuing its review eight weeks later. The main revelation, in line with prior such reviews, is that the Starship program has remarkably little impact on the environment. The new deluge system is of a piece. Most of the more than 300,000 gallons of water emitted during a launch is vaporized by the booster's flame and floats harmlessly away. Most of the water that's left is collected in containment vats. The small quantity of remaining runoff would probably be safe to drink.

    Apparently SpaceX was asked to calculate the probability that a whale might be hit by the falling missile (or some piece of one.) "Negligibly small" was not an acceptable response.

Recently on the book blog:

Last Modified 2024-01-10 7:13 AM EDT


Science Tackles the Afterlife

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

You will also see this book titled Six Feet Over. The cover depicts (I think) a spirit rising from a newly-deceased person, on its way to whatever awaits.

Mary Roach has made a niche for herself exploring offbeat (often unsavory) topics with diligent research and irreverent humor. This 2005 book examines efforts to discover what happens after we die.

Example of the irreverent humor, a footnote on page 265:

A celebrity website reports that Elizabeth Taylor saw [ex-husband] Mike Todd during her near-death experience. "He pushed me back to my life," she is quoted saying. Whether this was done for her benefit or his was not clear.

Ms. Roach travels to India to check out reincarnation. She looks at historical efforts to locate the soul. Efforts to measure the weight loss caused when your spirit escapes your body at death. (It's tough to get folks to occupy a sensitive-enough scale at this trying time.) The somewhat icky nature of "ectoplasm", and various scam artists preying on the gullible. She goes to "medium school", where they teach you how to communicate with the departed. And more.

Mary Roach is a hoot, a fine and honest writer, and I'm slowly working through her oeuvre.

Last Modified 2024-01-09 6:48 PM EDT

A Little Life

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Another book down on my project to read the not-previously-read books on the New York Times Best Books of the Past 125 Years.

Executive summary: not my cup of tea. There's no question that it's fine writing. The author, Hanya Yanagihara, peppers the 720 page book with Proust-like descriptions and deep character insights. (Not that I've read Proust, but I've heard about him.) The Wikipedia page quotes one critic calling it "the long-awaited gay novel".

I may have never read a less gay novel. Glumness pervades. Fresh dreadfulness is never more than a few dozen pages away.

The book's flap, and many summaries, will tell you that the book is about four college classmates that try to make their living in New York. It really centers on one of them, Jude. He's brilliant, on a lucrative career path as a lawyer. But he's got physical woes. And mental woes. And those woes feed on each other in self-destructive ways. His past life is mysterious, hidden from his friends and colleagues. His secrets are horrible, and are gradually revealed in flashbacks. Nothing is his fault, really, but he is cruelly used by a series of ill-meaning people.

But (good news) he has a few saintlike friends as well. They try without letup to save Jude from himself. Do they succeed? Well, you're gonna have to read it yourself to find out, like I did. Or read that Wikipedia page.

Random Observation: I am pretty sure the most common dialog in the book is "I'm sorry", and variations thereon. One paragraph (page 673) has eight occurances of "I'm sorry". People have a lot to be sorry for here.

Although most of the characters start out struggling in the big city, they all get rich pretty quickly. Easily one-percenters, outstanding in their respective fields. Casual trips to France, Morocco, Bhutan, etc. are made. Gourmet restaurants are patronized. (Ms. Yanagihara does her homework: you may not have dined at a restaurant where "sablefish with tobiko" is served, but she has.) Dwellings are luxurious and (eventually) owned in multiple places. And when they buy suits, they don't go to Men's Wearhouse; they have their guys who make suits.

In any case: only three left to go!

[UPDATE 2024-04-24: For a general comment on these sort of books, with this one as a specific example, see Alan Jacobs on his rational choices for knowing what not to read.]

Last Modified 2024-04-24 10:22 AM EDT

Foolish Blogger!

The Twenty-Fifth Amendment Can't Save You Now!

Background: Last Tuesday I blogged about Charles C. W. Cooke's comments about Jonathan Martin's Politico article that essentially admitted that Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. lacks the "capacity to do the job."

That job being POTUS.

In my comments I briefly mentioned my longstanding political-thriller fantasies about section four of the 25th amendment. Andrew McCarthy now throws some cold water on that: Feeble Biden Faces Little Threat from the 25th Amendment.

Strange as it seems, a person who lacks capacity to govern is not thereby disqualified from being president of the United States — at least in the constitutional sense.

If Biden’s condition is as Martin describes (and I don’t doubt that it is), then that is, as Charlie puts it, “disqualifying.” There’s a big difference, though, between disqualifying and disqualified. Biden’s straits (meaning ours) are analogous to the situation in which a president has committed impeachable offenses. This is disqualifying behavior. Yet, the constitutional qualifications for one to serve as president, and to maintain the office once elected to it, do not include refraining from disqualifying behavior. The same is true of incapacity to govern. It triggers not removal but the mere possibility of a removal process. That process is political, and whether it is invoked is a matter of political calculation, not legal obligation.

If you're concerned about having an incapable figurehead president, McCarthy's (NRPlus) article is worth checking out.

How did the betting markets react to the past week's antics?

Candidate EBO Win
Donald Trump 37.3% +1.0%
Joe Biden 29.0% -1.1%
Gavin Newsom 10.7% +0.3%
Nikki Haley 6.9% +1.2%
Robert Kennedy Jr 3.7% unch
Michelle Obama 2.7% -0.5%
Ron DeSantis 2.5% -0.2%
Other 7.2% -0.7%

If I may summarize: they are increasingly thinking that Trump might beat Biden; Newsom is increasingly seen as the Democrat saving us from Biden; Haley is increasingly seen as the Republican saving us from Trump; Ron DeSantis is toast; some continue to entertain RFKJr or Michelle Obama scenarios (or, more accurately, "fantasies").

Also of note:

  • I remember 2017… or is that an acid flashback? Nope, Google confirms that Donald J. Trump called my state a "drug-infested den" in a phone call with president of Mexico back then. PolitiFact notes that he's still hitting that theme, and rates his latest claim "False":

    Former President Donald Trump claimed during a New Hampshire rally that the state has an unexplained drug problem. But his claim hinges on outdated data.

    "I don't understand New Hampshire for whatever reason, you have a worse drug problem per capita than any other state," Trump said during a Nov. 11 rally in Claremont. "Nobody's explained that."

    TL;DR: ranking drug overdose deaths on a "per capita" basis, New Hampshire is around the middle of the pack. Go pick on West Virginia, Donald.

    Pun Salad value-added: WalletHub did one of its multi-factor state comparisons on illicit drug use/abuse. New Hampshire's overall score there puts it in a mediocre 37th place. (At the top drug-denwise: New Mexico, In the cellar: Hawaii. All other New England states score above New Hampshire.)

  • Reductio ad Hitlerum. Or: Playing the Hitler card. Or: Confirming Godwin's Law. Whatever you call it, the WaPo does it, headlining its article: How Trump’s rhetoric compares with Hitler’s.

    Donald Trump has long toyed with the language of famous autocrats, authoritarians and fascists. Think: “enemy of the people,” “retribution” and the frequent, years-long allusions to political violence.

    But even by his standards, the former president is now mining darker territory — with overtones of some of the ugliest episodes in recent world history.

    The Washington Post this weekend summarized Trump’s Veterans Day speech in a headline thusly: “Trump calls political enemies ‘vermin,’ echoing dictators Hitler, Mussolini.”

    You know what? I don't disagree. Trump's rhetoric is disgusting, stupid, and borderline dangerous.

    But what's new?

    Related fun fact: Trump Brags: ‘I Had a Disease Named After Me’

    Donald Trump bizarrely bragged at a rally on Saturday that he has the “great honor” of having a disease named after him. Speaking to a crowd of supporters in Iowa, the former president said: “Every sane person, without what they call Trump derangement syndrome—do you know what that is? It’s a great honor, I had a disease named after me: Trump derangement syndrome—wants to get back to how great we had it under the Trump administration.” He was referring to a derogatory term for people who criticize Trump that is used by Trump supporters to refer to what they view as an irrational dislike of Trump and all of his policies. In 2016, Trump tweeted about the supposed syndrome, writing “Some people HATE the fact that I got along well with President Putin of Russia. They would rather go to war than see this. It’s called Trump Derangement Syndrome!”

  • Pun Salad fave goes off the rails. According to Nick Catoggio, Nikki Haley is advocating A Different Kind of Identity Politics. Sounds bad! And it is:

    Man, they really caught her in crazy-eyes mode there.

    Her proposal annoyed right-wing populists, a group not normally given to principled defenses of liberal values. “Nice try, Nikki,” Turning Point USA poohbah Charlie Kirk responded. “Anonymous speech is a core part of free speech—which the founders would know, since many of them (including Alexander Hamilton and James Madison) wrote anonymously.”

    Charlie Kirk is correct. How often do we get to say that?

    Dangerous and unconstitutional, like the man said. If Alabama couldn’t do it then, it’s hard to see why a Nikki Haley administration could do it now.

    I suppose our GraniteGrok contributor Steve MacDonald could be pigeonholed as a "right-wing populist", and he's also rightfully peeved (but perhaps also gladdened): She Didn't Mean to But Nikki Haley Just Ended Her Campaign for President.

    Nikki Haley has been as on the rise as a candidate can be in this primary cycle, gaining ground on Ron DeSantis and making big media buys with all the swampy Neo-Con money she’s been getting. And good for her. That’s all part of the process. But it may have all been in vain. She just ended any hope she had of winning the nomination.

    Emphasis, mine.

    “When I get into office, the first thing we have to do, social media companies have to show America their algorithms, let us see why they’re pushing what they’re pushing,” Haley added. “The second thing, every person on social media should be verified by their name. First of all, that’s a national security threat. When you do that, people have to stand by what they say and it gets rid of the Russian bots the Iranian bots and the Chinese bots, and then you’re going to get some civility when people know their name is next to what they say.”

    So, no! And I am a big fan of standing behind what you write and say, but anonymity is essential to the right to Free Speech. In its absence, there is no path for insiders and whistleblowers to reveal unpleasant truths, greed, corruption, malice, fraud, and even tyranny. Pseudonyms protect speakers and sources, neither of which should be unmasked by authors, editors, social media companies, bureaucrats, politicians, or presidential candidates promising to scratch a totalitarian itch.

    Eloquent and (ignoring the neo-con slur) accurate. Back to Catoggio:

    We’ve arrived at a weird point in the campaign where Nikki Haley, the great classical-liberal hope, sounds authoritarian while Ron DeSantis, the great authoritarian hope, sounds classically liberal.

    It's a funny old world. I'll have to hold my classical liberal nose a little when I vote for her in the primary on January 23. I'll just have to keep reminding myself: Even as President, she wouldn't have the power to decree that. And even if she managed to get it legislated, it would be struck down in the courts about 30 nanoseconds later.

    Finally, Chris Stirewalt has some analysis: Nikki Haley’s Unproven Reserves.

    Other than getting herself whopperjawed over an ill-conceived and poorly launched proposal to end online anonymity, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley has been having a helluva good run in recent weeks.

    Indeed, her social media blunder is evidence of how well things have been going for her. When you’re in fifth place, a half baked idea served up on daytime television doesn’t get much attention. But as Vivek Ramaswamy can attest, the wacky ideas that can help get you the celebrity you need to be competitive promptly become liabilities once you arrive.

  • But speaking of Vivek… CoinDesk has the latest news: Ramaswamy Shares Crypto Plan, the First Among Republican Presidential Candidates.

    Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy has a message for most of the employees at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) if he's elected to the White House: You're fired. And everybody still left at their desks would need to back off the crypto industry, according to the candidate's new policy strategy for U.S. digital assets.

    Most cryptocurrencies are commodities that are none of the SEC's business, according to Ramaswamy's crypto plan shared with CoinDesk on Thursday and set for public release at the North American Blockchain Summit in Texas. The pharmaceutical entrepreneur remains among the top four GOP candidates, maintaining 5% support in a dwindling field dominated by former President Donald Trump, according to polling data.

    One issue that separates him from other candidates is his enthusiastic support of crypto as a financial innovation. He argues that the sector needs to have several freedoms protected: the right to code as a First Amendment freedom that should shield software developers from criminal or enforcement vulnerability, the right to maintain self-hosted digital wallets outside the reach of regulators and the right to know how each new virtual asset will be treated by the government.

    Refreshingly laissez-faire! Not at all wacky! And I assume not just shameless pandering to possible campaign contributors attending the "North American Blockchain Summit".

Unsurprising Asymmetric Demands

On the Chanda Prescod-Weinstein watch:

There is nothing really new in the "Particles for Palestine" litany, but at least it makes its sympathies obvious. And it is yet another example of … well, I keep coming back to this paragraph from a (paywalled) Kevin D. Williamson article I quoted a month ago:

History moves on, and, if you get left behind—it may not be your fault, but it is still your problem. The Israeli forces should be the least of the mortal worries afflicting those Hamas killers—if the Palestinians had any self-respect, it would be them taking the lead in putting an end to the power of these monsters, who are homicidal maniacs when it comes to the Jews but who haven’t done the Palestinians a lick of good, either. But, unhappily, the one almost universally shared assumption of modern diplomatic discourse is that the Palestinian Arabs are something less than whole and complete human beings, that they are not advanced enough to be true moral actors because they do not have the strength of national character to bear the moral weight that falls exclusively upon the shoulders of the Israelis and the peoples of the other liberal democratic states. The Palestinians, according to this line of thought, just bounce around like windup toys, and only the Israelis, the Americans, and the Europeans can be expected to behave like responsible adults. Nobody ever puts it exactly that way, of course, but that’s the upshot. The Palestinians are treated by their so-called advocates and benefactors as though they were a nation of people who have no agency and, hence, no responsibility.

And that "modern diplomatic discourse" is what you will find aplenty at the "Particles for Palestine" site. As if they were following the script KDW wrote last month, their main "ceasefire" demand "falls exclusively upon the shoulders of the Israelis". Demands (or even suggestions) they make of Hamas? Palestinians? Zero. Does the word "hostages" appear in their petition? Nope.

The PfP manifesto claims (without evidence) that Israel's response to October 7 is "ostensibly in retaliation for violence perpetrated by a small number of people." The obvious question is: why don't the (implied) large number of people demand that those small number of people surrender, put down their weaponry, and release whatever hostages they hold?

I think that question answers itself.

Also of note:

  • Let your AI read, OK? TechDirt's Mike Masnick looks at the state of legal challenges to training Large Language Models on copyrighted material: Sarah Silverman’s AI Case Isn’t Going Very Well Either.

    Just a few weeks ago Judge William Orrick massively trimmed back the first big lawsuit that was filed against generative AI companies for training their works on copyright-covered materials. Most of the case was dismissed, and what bits remained may not last much longer. And now, it appears that Judge Vince Chhabria (who has been very good on past copyright cases) seems poised to do the same.

    This is the high profile case brought by Sarah Silverman and some other authors, because some of the training materials used by OpenAI and Meta included their works. As we noted at the time, that doesn’t make it copyright infringing, and it appears the judge recognizes the large hill Silverman and the other authors have to climb here:

    U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria said at a hearing that he would grant Meta’s motion to dismiss the authors’ allegations that text generated by Llama infringes their copyrights. Chhabria also indicated that he would give the authors permission to amend most of their claims.

    Meta has not yet challenged the authors’ central claim in the case that it violated their rights by using their books as part of the data used to train Llama.

    “I understand your core theory,” Chhabria told attorneys for the authors. “Your remaining theories of liability I don’t understand even a little bit.”

    In case you missed it, Pun Salad had a bit of fun fisking a Facebook post from author Joyce Maynard on this topic last month.

  • More good legal news. And it's noted by Mitchell Scacchi of the Josiah Bartlett Center: Court dismisses lawsuit challenging legality of Education Freedom Accounts.

    The Merrimack County Superior Court this week dismissed a lawsuit brought by Deb Howes, president of the American Federation of Teachers-New Hampshire (AFT-NH), challenging the constitutionality of New Hampshire’s Education Freedom Account (EFA) program, the state’s largest school choice program.

    Scacchi runs some numbers refuting the union's president's claims that EFA drained needed funds from government schools.

    In the 2021–22 academic year, total spending (state, local, and federal) on New Hampshire public schools exceeded $3.5 billion. Total expenditures per pupil exceeded $23,000.

    The EFA program is tiny in comparison. The court pointed out that, from the $1.145 billion Education Trust Fund, a mere $9 million was transferred to the EFA program in the 2022 fiscal year. The state’s estimated cost in the 2024 fiscal year is just $22 million, a tiny fraction of the more than $3.5 billion spent on public schools. EFA expenditures per pupil average just $5,255 versus more than $23,000 for public schools.

    More numbers and facts at the link.

A Myth is as Good as a Mile

Virginia Postrel has a bone to pick with Marc Andreessen: The Myth of Prometheus Is Not a Cautionary Tale.

Listening to Marc Andreessen discuss his Techno-Optimist Manifesto on the Foundation for American Innovation’s Dynamist podcast, I was struck by his repetition of something that is in the manifesto and is completely wrong. “The myth of Prometheus – in various updated forms like Frankenstein, Oppenheimer, and Terminator – haunts our nightmares,” he writes. On the podcast, he elaborated by saying that, although fire has many benefits, the Prometheus myth focuses on its use as a weapon. He said something similar in a June post called “Why AI Will Save the World”:

The fear that technology of our own creation will rise up and destroy us is deeply coded into our culture. The Greeks expressed this fear in the Prometheus Myth – Prometheus brought the destructive power of fire, and more generally technology (“techne”), to man, for which Prometheus was condemned to perpetual torture by the gods.

No. No. No. No.

VP ably corrects the record. Also, in a footnote, points out the actual moral of Frankenstein ("Or, The Modern Prometheus"), Improve your cultural literacy by checking her out.

Our Eye Candy du Jour: Hercules taking out that bird who's been eating Prometheus's liver every day.

Also of note:

  • For some strange reason, the SPLC doesn't list them. But nevertheless, Noah Rothman says The Democratic Socialists of America Is a Hate Group.

    Despite the organization’s efforts to bury the evidence, CNN’s Jake Tapper helpfully reminded his followers on Thursday that the first reaction to the October 7 massacre of the New York chapter of the far-left group Democratic Socialists of America was to affirm the legitimacy of that unspeakable slaughter.

    “In solidarity with the Palestinian people and their right to resist 75 years of occupation and apartheid,” the group implored its allies to flood Times Square and register their satisfaction with Hamas’s barbarism. That is what is meant by the word “solidarity,” after all — a fellowship formed around shared goals and objectives. It describes a state of commonality and kinship. To judge by DSA’s actions, its organizers chose the right word to describe their outlook.

    Well-meaning liberals and progressives who take exception to some Israeli policies are often quick to assure their skeptics that Hamas’s actions are unrepresentative of the Palestinian people writ large or even the Gazans over whom the terrorist organization illegitimately rules. The DSA disagrees. To judge from its reaction to the multiaxial attack on Israeli civilians, culminating in acts of murder, rape, dismemberment, and torture so obscene it would have made the Roman Colosseum blush, the DSA’s members seem incapable of denouncing Hamas’s tactics. Perhaps that’s why we’ve seen so many DSA followers deliberately menace American Jews and supporters of Israel’s right to defend itself against an avowedly genocidal terrorist group.

    For more on the "unrepresentative" front. see our discussion a couple days ago of Robert Azzi's handwaving on the folks chanting "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free."

    … unfortunately some Palestinian antisemitic extremists and their supporters – a minority of protestors – have appropriated it as a banner for their hateful agenda …

    What can you say, except "Yeah, right".

    Not that it matters, but Amazon has not banned that particular phrase as hate speech.

    And not that this matters either, but I noticed that a third-party seller is offering a paperback copy When Harry Became Sally on Amazon for (gasp) $118.78. Apparently getting by the Amazon censors by obfuscating the title (When Sally becomes Harry) and the author ("r Andersen")

  • But back to Israel and its enemies. Paywalled Jonah Goldberg poses a question for all the folks pontificating from thousands of miles away on what Israel should not be doing: What, Exactly, Should Israel Do?.

    This raises the fundamental question: Do you think it should be against the law to use hospitals and schools as weapons depots and terrorist bases? Or forget law. Do you think the norm of not using children as human shields is one we should encourage? If your answer is no, okay, cool. We can have a really interesting talk about your nihilism and barbarity. If your answer is yes, then you need to answer the question: What, exactly, should Israel do?

    And don’t change the subject to stuff about a two-state solution or some time-machine-requiring nonsense about going back to 1948 and doing something different. Right now: What should Israel do, on the ground? I know the answer from the people who support or dismiss what Hamas did on October 7. But if you’re someone who grants that Israel has a right and obligation to ensure that Hamas doesn’t get its way and commit more such atrocities, what do you think Israel should do?

    This is a practical, real-world military question. Under the laws of war, Israel would arguably be within its rights to simply carpet bomb Gaza, or at least Al Shifa hospital if it is the command center for Hamas (as it almost surely is). If Hitler’s bunker was in a hospital in 1945, you can be sure we would have flattened it from the air (no doubt after dropping leaflets—just as Israel has). But Israel has not done that. Nor should it do anything of the sort. They sent troops in—carrying incubators by the way—to minimize collateral damage.

    If you have some military insight, some greater grasp of tactics than the IDF or the Pentagon, I am honestly interested in what this better way is.

    Jonah at least pretends that the Israel "critics" are arguing in good faith. (They are not, unless they're making comparable demands of Hamas.)

  • Should have abolished the FCC years ago. Peter Gietl reports: The FCC is voting to seize American internet infrastructure in the name of ‘equity’.

    When regimes capture power, it’s often not in the dramatic fashion of the storming of the Bastille. Instead, it’s a bureaucratic takeover, hidden in jargon and filled with clichés, for the greater good. The Federal Communications Commission is poised to vote today on a sweeping set of new rules called the “Preventing Digital Discrimination Order.”

    The 200-page report recommends implementing an exhaustive array of new restrictions that will alter the internet forever. It springs from section 60506 of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act 2021. This legislation was meant to infuse some federal dollars into America’s sagging internet infrastructure. Unfortunately, this vote will grant the FCC the power to control nearly every aspect of internet infrastructure in the name of our secular gods of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

    The TL;DR of the obtuse rules is the ability to censor, control, and regulate internet service providers based on vague laws around equity. Most disturbing is that it doesn’t have to be "discrimination" as it’s generally understood but rather "disparate outcomes," meaning all internet infrastructure must produce perfect equity or face the wrath of the United States government.

    That's from a couple days ago, and the FCC did, indeed, vote to adopt the order.

    As Pun Salad pointed out back in 2014, the FCC was created in the fascist-admiring 1930s. A bad idea then, only gotten worse since.

  • Am I being unfair with my continual references to "Uncle Stupid"? Well, see what you think after reading Eric Boehm's summary of a recent report from the GAO: Full Extent of COVID Fraud Will 'Never Be Known With Certainty'.

    A couple claiming to run a farm that employed dozens of people used fake employee records to get more than $1 million in COVID-19 relief payments when they actually employed no one on a farm that did not exist.

    A social media influencer created fake documents to score more than $400,000 in COVID-19 funds meant to help small businesses, then used the money to buy cryptocurrency and gifts for his girlfriend.

    A state employee whose job was to stop unemployment benefits fraud helped other fraudsters navigate around fraud prevention systems so they could steal more than $1 million, including federal tax dollars made available to states during the pandemic.

    Only now, nearly four years after the federal government approved an unprecedented amount of emergency spending in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, are investigators getting a full picture of all the ways that schemers and thieves raided programs. Congress approved about $4.6 trillion in COVID-19 emergency spending, and so much of it was stolen that auditors now say we'll likely never have a full accounting of it all.

    And that's just some of the illegal stuff. The stuff that was (at least technically) legal …

    As we observed back last year: When Uncle Stupid starts dropping cash from helicopters, there will be plenty of people out with buckets. Probably not you.

The Competition Was Weak, But I'll Take the Win

[Freedom in the 50 States]

Our Eye Candy du Jour is from the Cato Institute's latest report on Freedom in the 50 States 2023. We're number one, baby, and it ain't close.

New Hampshire is once again the freest state in the Union and in 2022 set the record for the highest freedom score ever recorded in the 21st century. Governor Chris Sununu and the New Hampshire legislature have much to be proud of. In 2000, on the full index, Nevada was number one, just ahead of New Hampshire. New Hampshire briefly took over as number one in 2006, only to be dethroned by South Dakota. Today, the Granite State has held the crown since 2011. (In the fifth edition, Florida was number one, but the addition of new variables since then has made it so that Florida has now been number two in our data set since 2015. Obviously, there’s no shame in this for Florida, because the state has continued to gain on freedom on the variables we measure.) Historically, freedom in New Hampshire declined substantially with the legislatures elected in 2006 and 2008, then recovered all the ground it lost in those years in the legislature elected in 2010. The legislature elected in 2012 diminished freedom slightly, but the 2014-elected legislature then increased it again even more. And in the 2021 to 2022 period, New Hampshire saw the second-largest increase in freedom of all the states, behind only Connecticut.

Bringing up the rear: New York, Hawaii, California.

But there's much room for improvement even in the Granite State: Cato suggests a right-to-work law, implementing truly universal school choice (Klingons?), and local governments getting "a handle on school spending and taxes."

Also of note:

  • I think they call this "burying the lede." Federalist reporter Rebeka Zeljko provides a tale from the capital of Carjackia: The Gun Biden Doesn't Want You To Have Just Protected His Family.

    Secret Service reportedly opened fire Sunday night on three suspects attempting to break into an unmarked government vehicle parked in front of the Georgetown home of Naomi Biden, President Joe Biden’s granddaughter. Reports allege that the three offenders fled the scene after the gunfire started.

    These types of scenarios are exactly why Americans advocate for the Second Amendment, but unfortunately, not all citizens have the same protection the Biden family is afforded.

    Good point, of course, but I think the more interesting bits are that (a) the Secret Service literally has a "shoot first, ask questions later" policy for miscreants breaking into a government car; and (b) they are apparently poor shots.

  • Well, that's bad news. Also at the Federalist, Brian Hawkins ("the policy coordinator at the American Legislative Exchange Council") opines: Libertarianism Had Its Moment But Is Ill-Equipped For The Task Of Saving America.

    One item stood out at last week’s Republican presidential primary debate: There was not an explicitly nor implicitly identified libertarian candidate. Ron Paul represented the libertarian faction in Republican debates in 2008 and 2012, and his son Rand Paul assumed the mantle in 2016. Prior libertarian-leaning Republican primary candidates include Barry Goldwater in 1964, Jack Kemp in 1988, and Steve Forbes in 1996 and 2000, yet no such candidate can claim the position in this year’s Republican primary. The lack of a libertarian candidate is emblematic of the right’s shift away from free-market fundamentalism and toward a more robust social conservatism.

    My own ideological evolution is demonstrative of the right’s shift away from libertarianism. Eight years ago, The Federalist published my essay making the Christian case for libertarianism. At the time, libertarianism seemed ascendant in contemporary politics. The New York Times wondered aloud if America’s “libertarian moment” had arrived, and Time Magazine featured Sen. Rand Paul on its cover describing him as “The Most Interesting Man in Politics.” But libertarianism’s political triumph was short-lived.

    There are many possible reasons for this shift away from libertarianism, but among the most decisive were the disruptive events of the Covid-19 pandemic. America’s response to the pandemic exposed two fundamental truths that libertarianism was ill-equipped to answer: First, our institutions have been seized by ideological activists who have weaponized them against core American values; second, the left is on an evangelizing mission to impose its values across society unless resisted.

    I'm pretty dismayed, liberty-wise, with the GOP candidates this time around. Even Nikki Haley, my favorite, is only good in comparison with the others; she recently floated a weird and obviously unconstitutional proposal requiring verification on social media.

    Hawkins says some smart and correct things. I think he overstates the ability of governmental action to (as he puts it) "assert virtue throughout society", specifically by "retaking institutions, restoring social virtue, and rebuilding the family." And that's even if you win elections, which neither conservatives nor libertarians have shown much recent talent for.

  • She bet on one horse to win, and I bet on another to show. (Almost) every Sunday, we take a look at the Election Betting Odds site run by Maxim Lott and John Stossel to see what the betting odds are on the 2024 presidential election. Pierre Lemieux examines The Statocrats' Fears about this unvirtuous behavior. And the nannies are pretty powerful:

    The reasons given last Summer by a group of Democratic senators, including Dianne Feinstein and Elizabeth Warren, to oppose political prediction markets betray their strange democratic mystique. They fear that the bad superrich would wage “extraordinary bets” on the same party to which they contribute (presumably through Political Action Committees). It’s not clear what exactly this would change, but the letter seems to assume that voters are so clueless enough about politics as to be influenced by mere electoral predictions. This last possibility is not incompatible with the individual voter’s well-known rational ignorance of politics (because he has practically zero influence on election results), but it does not exactly glorify democratic politics.

    The angelic conception of democracy that the senators try to project is not consistent with their poor opinion of voters. They speak about “the sanctity and democratic value of elections,” as if a prediction market was blasphemy. They claim that “introducing financial incentives into the elections process fundamentally changes the motivations behind each vote, potentially replacing political convictions with financial calculations.” As if politicians did not introduce “financial calculations” in their electoral promises and their trillion-dollar deficits. As if they did not buy votes with taxpayers’ money.

    As I believe the Bonzo Dog Band observed: "No matter who you vote for, the government always gets in".

  • "This is socialsm for the rich." Via Power Line: the Committee to Unleash Prosperity alleges EV Battery Recharging Costs the Equivalent of $17 a Gallon

    Let’s see if we have this straight: Uncle Sam pays the automakers billions of dollars to produce EVs. Then they write a check for $7,500 to consumers who buy an EV and many states kick in up to another $5,000. Now, the government is paying to charge the batteries for the rich people who buy EVs.

    On the pages of the NY Post and on the air of Fox Business, CTUP economist EJ Antoni had this alert:

    Including the charging equipment, subsidies from governments and utilities and other frequently excluded expenses, the true cost of charging an EV is equivalent to $17.33-per-gallon gasoline — but the EV owner pays less than 7% of that.

    Over 10 years, almost $12,000 of costs per EV are transferred to utility ratepayers and taxpayers, effectively socializing the price of recharging an EV while keeping the benefits private.

    This is socialism for the rich: a transfer of costs from higher net-worth individuals to middle- and lower-income taxpayers.

Recently on the book blog:

Last Modified 2024-01-28 3:21 AM EDT

The Secret

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Well, good news: another Reacher novel, co-written by Lee Child and his brother Andrew. This is set in Reacher's MP days. (His brother Joe is still alive.) Reacher is fresh off a relatively easy investigation involving a scheme to steal and sell M16 full-auto lower receivers to the general public. (Presumably, buyers would include gun enthusiasts, criminals, and homicidal maniacs.) His new assignment is with a team trying to thwart a pair of murderous women who are picking off elderly scientists, Roberta and Veronica. They seem eager to find out the names of people involved in some secret project in India in 1969. (That's a Chapter One spoiler.)

Reacher's team is realistic and cynical, quickly realizing they've been set up to fail, and to be eventually scapegoated for that failure. Fortunately, they're also pretty good at thinking outside the bureaucratic box, breaking the rules, entering forbidden territories, etc. And if some violence needs to be wreaked, Reacher's on hand.

But Roberta and Veronica are impressive in their abilities to evade detection while tracking down and dispatching their targets. In fact, their abilities seem almost Reacher-like. Has Jack met his match?

(Well, no. Why are you even asking?)

Do we have the stylistic trademarks of Child-style here? Sure thing! Thanks to Kindle's search function: Eight occurrences of "Reacher said nothing." Six "That was for damn sure." Five "That was clear."

Last Modified 2024-01-09 6:48 PM EDT

We Hate Hate Speech

NH Journal has a story relating to the University Near Here: GOP State Senators Call Out Hate Speech at UNH. A relevant tweet:

One of the senators is Dan Innis, a UNH prof in the business school. He and Senator Jeb Bradley have strong words for a fellow facule:

Speech should always be protected, but when that speech creates a dangerous environment for others, it must be condemned and stopped. Suggesting that a group of people should be killed is not speech, it is a direct threat to their safety and wellbeing. Associate Professor Chanda Prescod-Weinstein is guilty of threatening everyone on the UNH campus and beyond, particularly Jewish students, staff, and faculty. Her words are hateful and disgusting, and we condemn this behavior. It is our hope and expectation that UNH will do the same,” concluded Senators Bradley and Innis.

Goodness knows, I am no Chanda Prescod-Weinstein fan. Her words are hateful and disgusting.

But I am kind of a free speech fan, so I think Jeb and Dan go off the rails here. The senators apparently advocate a new rule: that speech creating "a dangerous environment for others" should be "stopped". That's a very broad and vague litmus test, and it is a sad echo of what the woke speech censors have been saying for years. Do we really have to go along with them?

The actual rule for Constitutionally-unprotected "incitement" speech is pretty narrow: it is "advocacy of the use of force" which is "directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action" and is "likely to incite or produce such action".

I really doubt that anything CPW said or wrote comes even close to meeting that test.

I also wonder if UNH has (at least informally) adopted a "Kalven Report" policy on its pronouncments on political and social issues: namely it shouldn't make them. Given UNH's past behavior, that seems the wisest course to take.

Also of note:

  • And for more in the "hateful and disgusting" department… Robert Azzi is pretty reliable on that front. His latest column, appearing in my local newspaper, Foster's Daily Democrat, yesterday is headlined: Crying Out For Freedom From The River To The Sea. It's a defense of the indefensible:

    Understanding Rep.Rashida Tlaib’s (D-MI) utterance of “From the River to the Sea” is today passing through such a fire, torched by western Orientalists determined to diminish or erase any humanity or sympathy for the plight of Palestinians living under occupation.

    While “From the River to the Sea Palestine will be Free” is for most supporters – and for myself – a rallying cry of support for Palestinian dignity and freedom, unfortunately some Palestinian antisemitic extremists and their supporters – a minority of protestors – have appropriated it as a banner for their hateful agenda.

    Many others – mostly for those who support continued Israeli occupation in Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem – interpret the call as a war cry intended to erase Israel from the map of the Levant; others – both including many Israelis and Palestinians, witness it as a call to solidarity for justice and freedom for all peoples between the river and the sea.

    Sure, we're just for justice and freedom. It's just "some Palestinian antisemitic extremists and their supporters" who think it means killing lots of Jews. Unfortunate!

    And I'm sure people chanting "Keep America American" and burning crosses aren't trying to resurrect the KKK.

    My suggestion, Mr. Azzi: get a better slogan to use and defend.

    In Foster's defense, they had a column by UNH Prof Emeritus Richard England as a counterpoint: “From the river to the sea,” what does it mean? Excerpt:

    The 1988 Hamas Covenant is perfectly clear about this opposition: “Israel ... will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it.” Only days ago, a Hamas official promised that his terrorists will repeat the attack of October 7 until Israel’s “annihilation” has been completed. But what about Mahmoud Abbas and his “moderate” Palestinian Authority? Couldn’t he be a partner for peace? The problem is that Abbas is a Soviet-trained antisemite. At an August 2023 meeting of his party’s Revolutionary Council, Abbas revealed his true feelings: “They say Hitler killed the Jews because they were Jews. Not true ... [Europeans] fought against these people because of their role in society ... usury, money, ... [and] sabotage.” [Le Monde, 8 Sept. 2023]

    So, whether a protesting freshman at Columbia University or Harvard College [or Robert Azzi — PS] knows it or not, the true meaning of “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” is not that the Palestinian people will achieve sovereignty in their own nation. Rather, it means that all of Palestine will eventually be freed of its Jews, either by murder or by expulsion. This means Tel Aviv and Haifa, not just the West Bank.

    I'm on Team England.

  • In fairness, the competition is weak. The Josiah Bartlett Center has some good news: N.H. again tops all of North America in economic freedom.

    New Hampshire is the most economically free state in North America and in the United States, once again edging Florida to top every Canadian province, U.S. state and Mexican state as ranked by the Fraser Institute, Canada’s free-market think tank.

    The Fraser Institute’s 2023 Economic Freedom in North America report, released in partnership with the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, measures government spending, taxation and labor market restrictions using data from 2021, the most recent year of available comparable data.

    New Hampshire surpassed Florida as having the highest level of economic freedom in the U.S., having scored 7.96 out of 10 in this year’s report. Rounding out the top five freest states are Florida (2nd), Tennessee (3rd), Texas (4th) and South Dakota (5th). Puerto Rico came in last with 2.85. The least free states were New York (50th), California and Vermont (tied for 48th), Oregon (47th) and Hawaii (46th).

    I understand that Governor Joyce Craig will do her darndest to fix this.

    The Fraser Institute report is here.

  • Even on guns. Maybe especially on guns. Jacob Sullum asks for Constitutional relief: SCOTUS Should Not Let Bureaucrats Invent Crimes by Rewriting the Law.

    On December 26, 2018, every American who owned a bump stock, a rifle accessory that facilitates rapid firing, was suddenly guilty of a federal felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. That did not happen because a new law took effect; it happened because federal regulators reinterpreted an existing law to mean something they had long said it did not mean.

    As anyone who has read the Constitution or watched Schoolhouse Rock! could tell you, this is not how laws are supposed to be made. The Trump administration's bump stock ban, which is at the center of a case that the U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to hear, raises the question of whether unelected bureaucrats can evade the constitutionally prescribed legislative process by unilaterally criminalizing previously legal conduct.

    Note this happened at the express direction of that friend of liberty, Donald J. Trump.

    In an Orwellian "We have always been at war with Eastasia" observation, Sullum notes that "the ATF insists that bump stocks have always been illegal, although no one (including the ATF) realized that until 2018."

  • "I am not called 'notorious' for nothing!" "You mean they pay you?" Jeff Maurer gives his substack over to guest columnist Joe Biden: Don't Worry: I Got Advice About Preserving My Legacy from Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

    In early 2016, I was fortunate enough to share an audience with the esteemed Justice. She was 82, the same age I’ll be if sworn in for a second term. Trump was rolling to the nomination, and some Democrats wanted Ginsburg to retire so that Obama could appoint her successor. To be clear: These people largely shared Justice Ginsburg’s views. In fact, they lauded and respected her. They saw her as a champion of feminism and individual rights, and argued that having a president who shared her values appoint her successor would solidify the gains that she had worked so hard to secure.

    I’ll never forget what the late Justice said to me. “Nah,” she said. “Nah fuck that fuckin’ shit.” (The former Justice was saltier in private than she was in public.) She elaborated: “I know that a bunch of libtards want Baby Ruth to take a dive, but homie don’t play that. They need to get their panties un-twisted. Because really: What are the odds that Trump will win and then I’ll die during his term and he’ll appoint a super-conservative 48 year-old who will undo everything that I worked for?”

    Headline inspiration: Daredevil #37

Last Modified 2023-11-15 8:37 PM EDT

She Gets Around

I try to ignore obvious clickbait ads, although they show up on even some of the semi-respectable sites I visit. Hey, a blogger's gotta eat, I suppose.

But the come-on for a recent one caught my eye:

Jennifer Aniston, 54, Now Lives Alone in New Hampshire

For a small fraction of a second I thought: Really?

Then Kahneman's System 2 took over: Nah, she doesn't. Don't be an idiot.

And then (honestly) a few web pages later…

Jennifer Aniston, 54, Now Lives Alone in Maine

She's hard to pin down. Probably has one pied-à-terre in every state. At least one.

But seriously: you desperate click-seekers should just give up on using that GeoIP stuff; it just makes you look like the dishonest pandering slimeballs you are.

For the non-geeks:

A form of geolocation, GeoIP refers to the method of locating a computer terminal’s geographic location by identifying that terminal’s IP address. Though GeoIP can pinpoint a terminal’s location to a city, it requires the use of a GeoIP database as well as an understanding of APIs to implement correctly.


The most prevalent application of GeoIP involves geo-targeting, or determining a computer’s location in order to tailor content specifically for that location. Geo-targeting is most often used for targeted advertising, statistical research, spam prevention, and for restricting access based on location.

"Targeted advertising" means: "Making gullible people think Jennifer Aniston has moved in next door and might need help moving some furniture."

In my case, GeoIP has rarely placed me correctly in Rollinsford, NH. More often, I'm thought to be across the Salmon Falls River in South Berwick, Maine. (As above.) Occasionally, it thinks I'm down in Connecticut or Massachusetts.

Also of note:

  • What's on Chandra Prescod-Weinstein's mind? I decided to follow her on TheWebsiteFormerlyKnownAsTwitter to find out what the pride of the University Near Here Physics Department is thinking. Wow, she posts a lot. One from yesterday caught my eye:

    Well, that's interesting. The website she's touting, Deadly Exchange, is devoted to stopping exchange programs between US and Israeli law enforcement organizations. It's full of the standard phraseology: "racial profiling"; "apartheid"; "occupying army";

    But the site appears moribund, with the last "news" entry from 2019, and its big 57-page PDF report dates to 2018. They had success in 2018, getting Durham, North Carolina to end its exchange program. But (surprisingly) they failed to do so in Seattle in 2021.

    And since then, as near as I can tell, crickets.

    The pro-Israel site "StandWithUs" has a relevant page: Refuting Deadly Exchange

    End the Deadly Exchange” (“DX”) is an anti-Israel campaign and antisemitic conspiracy theory that falsely blames Jewish groups and Israel for police brutality and racial injustice in America. DX is based on misleading rhetoric and outright lies about US-Israel law enforcement exchanges, which focus on preventing terrorism and saving lives from threats like gun violence. This dangerous campaign is the latest in a long history of Jews being scapegoated and falsely blamed for major societal problems and injustices.

    More, of course, at the link.

    Deadly Exchange is (was) an offshoot of "Jewish Voice for Peace", which is still quite active. They (of course) are demanding "ceasefire". (A demand only aimed at Israel.) They are pro-Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS). Their take on October 7? The Root of Violence Is Oppression. ("The Israeli government may have just declared war, but its war on Palestinians started over 75 years ago.")

    These are the folks Chanda touts.

  • Bari Weiss is the Anti-Chanda particle. She provides the transcript of her "Barbara K. Olson Lecture" to the Federalist Society: You Are the Last Line of Defense. Even more than usual, I encourage you to read the entirety. You'll eventually get to the Hamas cheerleading that followed October 7:

    Then, as thunder follows lightning, more dead Jews. An anti-Israel protester in Los Angeles killed a 69-year-old Jewish man for the apparent sin of waving an Israeli flag, though NBC’s initial headline made it hard to know: “Man dies after hitting head during Israel and Palestinian rallies in California, officials say.”

    In lockstep, the social justice crowd—the crowd who has tried to convince us that words are violence—insisted that actual violence was actually a necessity. That the rape was resistance. That it was liberation.

    University presidents—who leapt to issue morally lucid condemnations of George Floyd’s killing or Putin’s war on Ukraine—offered silence or mealy-mouthed pablum about how the situation is tragic and “complex” and how we need to think of “both sides” as if there is some kind of equivalence between innocent civilians and jihadists.

    Really, RTWT.

  • And he increasingly isn't. Charles C. W. Cooke notes a disturbing Politico article by Jonathan Martin which explicitly grants the premise that Slow Joe is, indeed, Too Slow to do his job currently. And CCWC is gobsmacked: If Biden Doesn’t Have the ‘Capacity’ to Do the Job, He Shouldn’t.

    Martin writes of Biden: “He simply does not have the capacity to do it, and his staff doesn’t trust him to even try, as they make clear by blocking him from the press.” I would invite you to read that line again: “His staff doesn’t trust him to even try.” In our system of government, the flow of power cannot be configured that way around. Joe Biden is the president of the United States; Joe Biden’s staff works for him. If, because Joe Biden “does not have the capacity” to be president, Joe Biden’s staff is in charge of Joe Biden, then Joe Biden is not the president of the United States, and we have a foundational problem of democratic accountability. Were Biden to win again, the considerable powers laid out in Article II would be granted to Joe Biden, not to his staff. It would be Joe Biden, not his staff, who would take the oath of office. It would be Joe Biden, not his staff, who would be expected to sign or veto legislation, issue pardons, and nominate officers and judges. It would be Joe Biden, not his staff, who would enjoy the position as sole commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States. In our partisan era, it can be tempting to think that control of the White House flits between “Republicans” and “Democrats.” But it does not. It moves between people. If, indeed, Joe Biden cannot handle the job, then he is ineligible to be among those people.

    A few years back, I really thought that the 25th Amendment would have been invoked by now, but I didn't count on people looking at Kamala and saying, uh, no.

  • Super! A bun dance! Another fine article from print Reason out from behind the paywall, from Christian Britschgi: The Abundance Agenda Promises Everything to Everyone All at Once.

    (You don't need to have seen the movie to understand the article, but you should anyway, it's great.)

    America, and particularly blue America, has consciously wrapped itself in red tape, regulations, and special-interest carve-outs, to the point that it has become nearly impossible to convert either government subsidies or private capital into needed physical things.

    As [California Governor Gavin] Newsom said to [NYT columnist Ezra] Klein, "We're not getting the money because our rules are getting in the way."

    A hodgepodge coalition of legacy publication columnists, traditional think-tankers, upstart Substack writers, and obsessive Twitter posters have rallied around the straightforward idea that what the country needs is more stuff, and it isn't going to get it with that thicket of rules standing in the way. Their call to action is what Atlantic writer Derek Thompson calls the "abundance agenda."

    Britschgi looks at the possible alliance between "left-of-center" pols and intellectuals suddenly realizing that their regulation obsessions are not working to (y'know) actually help people and libertarians (who always thought that). He's hopeful about the results, but skeptical that it will actually shrink big government.

  • What you can do if you set your mind to it. Jim Geraghty looks at a minor miracle: San Francisco Cleans Up Its Drug Markets and Encampments. But (spoiler) adds the motive:

    — for Xi Jinping’s Arrival

    But I wanted to excerpt something further down:

    Noncitizens caught on video ripping down American flags from public places ought to be deported immediately. Under U.S. immigration law, a green-card holder can be deported back to their country of origin for a variety of crimes, including “crimes of moral turpitude,” which are generally (but not exclusively) defined as fraud, larceny, or intent to harm persons or things, including “malicious destruction of property.” If you are climbing public flagpoles and tearing down American flags put up there by the local government, that strikes me as an ipso facto “malicious destruction of property.”

    If you’re tearing down American flags, you clearly don’t want to be here. Let us help you by putting you on the first flight back to your country of origin, and permanently barring you from ever returning to the U.S. It’s like they say: What unites us is so much more important than what divides us. You hate being in this country, and we hate you being here, too.

    I'm (apparently) more favorable to immigration than today's conservatives. (So was Reagan.) But I'm also favorably inclined toward Geraghty's proposal.

    Also see his following section: "How Do We Demonstrate That We Outnumber the Antisemitic Cretins?"

    Well, I try to call them out. See the CPW item above.

Recently on the book blog:

Last Modified 2024-01-10 7:12 AM EDT

Free Agents

How Evolution Gave Us Free Will

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

I'm unsure why, but I've long been interested in the topic of free will. I made one of my rare suggestions that Portsmouth (NH) Public Library buy this book, and they acceded. As you can tell from the title, it's pro-free will. (But to be fair, I also have Robert Sapolsky's recent anti-free will book Determined on my "get" list.)

There's a blurb on the back from Steven Pinker:

Kevin Mitchell brings clear thinking and scientific rigor to a vital topic that leaves many people confused, caught between the preposterous alternatives that either humans are robots or that every time we make a decision, a miracle occurs.

That's a pretty good summary. Mitchell is a professor at Trinity College (Dublin) in the Genetics and Neuroscience department. Much of the book is devoted to exploring the long and tedious process by which evolution developed ever-increasingly complex neural systems for survival advantage. To be honest, my eyes glazed over in a number of spots. (Page 73: "We already saw transient multicellular behavior in the slugs and fruiting bodies formed by the aggregation of individual Dictyostelium amoebas. This kind of aggregative multicellularity is observed in many other species, across diverse groups of eukaryotes, and even in some bacteria called myxobacteria." OK, if you say so.)

I confess that pro-free will authors are pushing on an open door in my case. But Mitchell's argument here is careful and (seemingly) fair to the other side. He's even reluctant to provide his Official Definition of free will; I think the closest he gets is (page 282): "If free will is the capacity for conscious, rational, control of our actions, then I am happy in saying we have it." That works for me.

I believe Mitchell is making a strong science-justified claim roughly similar to the psychological argument made by Ken Sheldon in Freely Determined; there's a "hierarchy of human reality". At the lowest level, there's the physics and chemistry of interacting atoms and molecules; moving up, there's increasing complexity in cells, organs, and "systems". And it proceeds upward into relationships, society, and culture. Determinists only see causality working bottom-up: it's just those atoms bumping into each other that cause everything else. Mitchell and Sheldon say no: causality works top-down too. Specifically, your cognitive functions can work their will on the lower level too. And that means (ta-da) free will.

The usual disclaimer: ardent determinists and zealous free-willers (I'm pretty sure) are united in their beliefs having absolutely no effect in how they run their everyday lives. To use a common example: they pick out which shirt to wear in the morning, neither thinking too much about it, nor waiting until the molecules in their body do whatever they were predestined to do anyway.

Minor nit: Mitchell says (page 29) that the hydrogen nucleus "comprises a single proton and a single neutron." Ack, no: it's just a proton. (I assume he's right about everything else, though.)

Last Modified 2024-01-09 6:47 PM EDT

Intelligence, Humor, and Artistic Talent Only Takes You So Far at the Washington Post

[Losing Hand]

We noted the craven takedown of Michael Ramirez's anti-Hamas cartoon at the WaPo the other day. (You can also see the cartoon itself there.)

Ramirez gave an interview to the Washington Free Beacon, relating the process by which (a) WaPo's editorial page editor, David Shipley, personally selected the cartoon to publish, only to (b) succumb to internal pressure to take it down. And Ramirez's cartoon above reflects his thoughts on the matter:

Still, Shipley's decision to remove Ramirez's cartoon reflects the power the Post's left-wing newsroom holds over its leaders. In a Wednesday night email to staffers, the paper's executive editor, Sally Buzbee, referenced her newsroom's "many deep concerns" over the cartoon, the Free Beacon reported.

Ramirez expressed his disappointment over his cartoon's removal, calling the move "a blow against … the freedom of speech."

"When the intellectually indolent try to defend the indefensible, they always seem to resort to playing the race card," Ramirez told the Free Beacon. "They're trying to claim that this caricature is a racial exercise, when in its specificity, it is Ghazi Hamad, who is a senior Hamas official, who went on Lebanese television praising the brutal Oct. 7 attack and systematic slaughter of women, children, and men and pledged to do it over and over again until the annihilation of Israel."

The WFB article provides confirmation that baseless accusations of "racism" are today's last refuge for scoundrels.

Also of note:

  • Because of course she did. Damien Fisher takes a look at the latest twitterings of Chanda Prescod-Weinstein: UNH Professor Compares Hamas to Jewish Victims of Nazi Germany. And the current state of play at the University Near Here:

    Jewish students at the University of New Hampshire say they are feeling fearful as the anti-Israel slogan, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” is heard across the campus and swastikas appear on the walls. The chant was also heard at an anti-Israel rally in Manchester on Saturday, along with attacks on Israel as an “apartheid state.”

    Thus far, New Hampshire’s elected officials are largely standing with Israel. All four members of the state’s federal delegation have condemned the use of the “from the river to the sea” language, and Gov. Chris Sununu has declared the phrase “nothing short of requesting another Holocaust.”

    But New Hampshire’s far-left activists denouncing Israel are getting support from some members of the UNH faculty, including a nationally-known progressive academic who is using her large social media following to attack Israel as an “apartheid state” and to compare Hamas terrorists to the Polish Jews who fought Nazi SS troops during the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

    Assistant Physics Professor Chanda Prescod-Weinstein is paid close to $100,000 a year to teach physics and gender studies at UNH. In the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack on Israel that claimed the lives of 1,400 people and injured another 3,400, Prescod-Weinstein has kept up a flurry of anti-Israel posts on the X social media site. Her feed, which has more than 115,000 followers, includes denunciations of what she calls Israel’s “setter colonialism” and defenses of antisemitic Rep. Rashid Tlaib (D-Mich.)

    Frankly, I don't think Jewish students have a lot to worry about at the University Near Here. (Unless they are unfortunate enough to be enrolled in one of Chanda Prescod-Weinstein's courses.) It's not as if UNH is MIT, after all. But (these days) claiming that you're "feeling fearful" is probably the most effective method to get administrators to sit up and take notice of you. Otherwise…

    Fisher shares one of CPW's more bonkers tweets:

    You are invited to read the Wikipedia page about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and try to find any similarities between that and Hamas atrocities.

  • Some praise is due. Robert F. Graboyes provides Profiles in Courage from Left of Center.

    After the Hamas barbarities in Israel on October 7, the verdict is in: in America, antisemitism, tolerance of antisemitism, and cowering before antisemitism are primarily phenomena of the political Left, not of the Right. The evidence is stark, self-evident, and overwhelming, with few if any plausible arguments to the contrary. My recent column, Intellectual Tyrants Beget True Believers, explored the depraved enthusiasm of leftist academicians, students, and activists for last month’s live-streamed orgy of murder, torture, rape, kidnapping, and beheading of innocents. I honestly do not envy the honorable Left’s urgent, painful task of liberating themselves from the large, perverse fifth column in their midst.

    An upcoming Bastiat’s Window essay will elaborate on why I say all of this, but today’s column celebrates those on the American Left who have already shown backbone and moral clarity and deserve loud and sincere thanks. There are too many to name, but I will highlight Representatives Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and Ritchie Torres; 22 Democratic members of the House of Representatives (including Wasserman-Schultz and Torres); Senator John Fetterman; and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. I especially recommend watching Clinton’s 8-minute tour de force discussion on TV’s The View.

    My own CongressCritter, Chris Pappas, was one of those 22 Democrats mentioned. Good for him. New Hampshire's other representative, Annie Kuster, meekly avoided the issue.

  • We need an Endangered Liberty Act. A very good Reason article, out from behind the paywall, and try not to fall asleep reading the title: The Endangered Species Act at 50. The author, Tate Watkins, shows how "unintended consequences" of a few stray lines in the legislation have actually worked against taking species out of danger.

    Fun (and interesting) fact:

    In the early 1800s, Lewis and Clark fascinated Americans with tales of a "verry large and a turrible looking animal, which we found verry hard to kill." The grizzly bear became easier to kill over subsequent decades, and state and federal bounties helped fuel efforts to get rid of it. The grizzly population in the Yellowstone region bottomed out at 136 bears in 1975, the same year that all lower 48 populations of the species were listed as threatened.

    Since then, it has largely rebounded. The Yellowstone grizzly now numbers an estimated 1,063, more than double its recovery target of 500. Yet efforts to delist the population in 2007 and then 2017 both failed due to litigation from environmental groups.

    "It's recovered under any metric we look at," Tom France of the National Wildlife Federation said after the last attempt to de-list the population. "We should consider it a great success." But WildEarth Guardians sued to challenge the delisting. Now, even as Yellowstone National Park touts that grizzlies "have made a remarkable recovery," the bears there remain listed and, technically, unrecovered.

    For the statist, "success" is maintaining and increasing government regulatory power.

Last Modified 2024-01-28 2:50 AM EDT

The State of Play is also a State of Confusion

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

We don't always quote Karl Rove here at Pun Salad, but … well, here you go: Voters Want Anyone but Trump or Biden.

You might object: "But, Karl, it really looks as if the voters are gonna give us Trump or Biden."

I don't think he really deals with that real-life version of the Prisoner's Dilemma. But here's his bottom line, after analysis of a recent New York Times/Siena College poll:

This suggests Republicans could score a historic victory next year if they run a new face. Apparently voters like what they see as the GOP’s values on the economy, defense, immigration, crime and the national debt. Democratic messaging mavens can try casting a fresh Republican as a Jan. 6 insurrectionist, an election-denying fabulist, a demagogic white supremacist. But voters wouldn’t be responding so positively in polls if they thought “Republican” was synonymous with all that nonsense.

Democrats are right to be scared, but Republicans should be concerned, too. Both party’s front-runners have enormous weaknesses. Joe and Jill Biden are deluding themselves if they believe only he can defeat Mr. Trump. But the GOP leader could sink his own campaign with his constant trashing of his intra-party rivals and their supporters. Turned off, they could fail to turn out or even turn away from the GOP.

Neither party’s front-runner will be easily dislodged. But if no changes are made, Americans will get the worst dumpster fire of a campaign in history. It doesn’t have to be this way, and everyone but Messrs. Trump and Biden has good reason to try changing it. The party that picks a fresh face will likely win the White House.

Let's take a look at the only poll that matters: how people betting their own money think things will play out… well, Karl, it appears that "worst dumpster fire in history" is an odds-on favorite:

Candidate EBO Win
Donald Trump 36.3% +0.8%
Joe Biden 30.1% -1.5%
Gavin Newsom 10.4% +1.1%
Nikki Haley 5.7% +0.6%
Robert Kennedy Jr 3.7% -0.2%
Michelle Obama 3.2% +0.2%
Ron DeSantis 2.7% -0.4%
Other 7.9% +1.5%

So Kamala is gone, having dipped below our arbitrary 2% inclusion threshold. And (whoa), DeSantis is seen as having less of a chance than Michelle Obama.

As mentioned before: I can see a few nightmare scenarios that would put Michelle in the White House in 2025.

Also of note:

  • “Could be worse. Not sure how, but it could be.” Yes, that is an Official Eeyore Quote. (Number 20 on this list). Appropriate because Nick Catoggio titles his Dispatch column Full Eeyore.

    Classical liberals had two opportunities to prevent a Donald Trump restoration, one in the Republican primary and the other in the general election. The first opportunity collapsed months ago, the second is in the process of collapsing right now. Trump’s illiberal ambitions have never been more glaring, yet he’s never looked more likely to return to power.

    And if he does, chances are good that the left’s own illiberal wing will play an important part in making it happen.

    The man most likely to be president in 2025 is reportedly hatching fascist plots to persecute his enemies while the activist vanguard of the other party agitates remorselessly on behalf of fanatics in Gaza who want a Final Solution to the Jewish question in Israel.

    Illiberalism is on the march. We’re watching the newsreels every day.

    Eeyore quote #30: “I never get my hopes up, so I never get let down.”

  • Oh, right. There was a debate. My understanding, based on glancing at the 19 daily email messages that the Nikki Haley campaign sends me, is that Nikki Haley won big. But lets see what Jeff Maurer has to say in Part Three of My David Blaine-esque Stunt to Withstand All the Republican Debates. He analyzes all five of the debaters; here's his take on the Vivek/Nikki dustup:

    What [Vivek] did differently this time: He reassured people who were put off by his restrained performance in Debate Two that the raving lunatic who appeared in Debate One is the real Ramaswamy.

    How batshit is Ramaswamy? He’s batshit enough that he can call President Zelenskyy a Nazi and it doesn’t get mentioned in most debate recaps. But he did appear to call Zelenskyy a Nazi — is that not the only possible interpretation of this line?

    “[Ukraine] has threatened not to hold elections this year unless the US forks over more money — that is not democratic. It has celebrated a Nazi its ranks — the comedian in cargo pants, a man called Zelenskyy. Doing it in their own ranks — that is not democratic.”

    Ramaswamy possibly calling a Jewish leader a Nazi got buried largely because of an attention-getting exchange between him and Haley. Ramaswamy tried to make something out of Haley’s daughter being on Tik Tok, and Haley responded by saying “You’re just scum”.

    I think Ramaswamy was way out-of-bounds. And so did the crowd — they boo’d him, and I’ll remind you that in years past Republican crowds have cheered the concept of letting uninsured people die. Americans of all political stripes seem to be uniting behind the idea that Vivek Ramaswamy is a huge, gaping asshole.

    That being said, I don’t love the use of the word “scum”. In my mind, that word has dehumanizing connotations. Ramaswamy is not scum — he is a human. An incredibly obnoxious human. An overconfident, loudmouthed Harvard twit with all the appeal of a condom full of pus. He’s an uninformed, invective-spewing ass trying to win the allegiance of the dumbest Americans so that he can mobilize them in like the Wicked Witch Of The West controlled an army of flying monkeys. If Ramaswamy was a Dungeons and Dragons character, his “smarm” and “dickishness” characteristics would be maxed out, and he would vanquish foes by being such a prick that potential opponents would opt out of fighting him, choosing instead to walk away muttering “I just fucking can’t with this guy.” That’s Ramaswamy. But “scum”? Scum might be taking things a bit too far.

    I agree that calling someone "scum" is not nice. But I am not a mother of a daughter.

  • Why do I feel like I'm the one being hit? Jeffrey Blehar calls it The Hardest-Hitting Debate of the 1996 Campaign Season at National Review. Two of his "takeaways":

    (1) Haley had another solid night, firmly in command of her brief and more restrained in her aggression than last time. In the second debate, her major blemish was a seemingly needless catfight about hopeless inside-baseball South Carolina politics with Tim Scott. This time she avoided all serious entanglements while also quietly (and accurately) pointing out that Vivek Ramaswamy is “just scum” for randomly dragging Haley’s daughter (who, like most Zoomer kids, uses TikTok) into a debate about the platform.

    (2) Vivek Ramaswamy is just scum. He actually had a decent answer on abortion late in the evening, but it didn’t even come close to undoing the damage he otherwise did to himself. Aside from speaking like he had just earned a certificate from an enunciation seminar held at a local Ramada Inn, Ramaswamy’s shot at Haley’s daughter drew boos from the audience. He also, rather casually, accused Volodymyr Zelenskyy of being a Nazi, and I’m not kidding: Speaking of Ukraine as a non-paragon of democratic virtue, he said “it has celebrated a Nazi within its ranks, a comedian in cargo-pants, a man called Zelenskyy.” It was so randomly insane that nobody either on stage or in the audience seemed to have caught it. Ramaswamy’s team promised the media in advance that he would be “unhinged” tonight. Mission accomplished.

    I will (slightly) object that calling Rena Haley a kid… well, she's 25 and married.

  • Yeah, well, maybe. At Reason, Eric Boehm had a debate takeaway too, wondering Are Republicans Finally Getting Serious About Social Security?.

    Before this week's Republican presidential debate had even ended, President Joe Biden's reelection campaign had already jumped in to remind everyone that Biden has no plan for Social Security other than letting it plunge into insolvency.

    Republicans on the debate stage "explicitly talked about" possible cuts to Social Security, Biden campaign spokesman Seth Schuster wrote in a statement to the media. "If Trump returns to office, the benefits millions of America's seniors rely on—and spent their careers contributing to—will once again be on the chopping block."

    This has become a familiar tactic for Biden, one that he deployed most famously at this year's State of the Union address: Attack Republicans for supposedly trying to cut Social Security in order to deflect attention away from the fact that Social Security will cut itself in about a decade if nothing is done. When the old-age entitlement program hits insolvency in the early 2030s, it will be able to pay out only as much money as it collects each year. That will translate into an across-the-board cut of 23 percent for all beneficiaries, according to the latest projections from the trustees who run the program.

    Of the five candidates in the debate, Chris Christie and Nikki were strongest on this issue; Vivek more vague; Tim Scott and DeSantis were firmly in agreement with Biden, Trump, and all those other deniers of entitlement reality.

  • Let's say something nice about Vivek, though. Robby Soave throws him a life preserver: Vivek Ramaswamy Knows Republicans Who Embrace Cancel Culture Are Fools.

    The Republican presidential candidates who participated in Wednesday's debate spent significant time bashing pro-Palestinian student activists and threatening their free speech rights.

    The only notable exception was Vivek Ramaswamy, who criticized students for taking the side of Hamas over Israel but clarified that he would not restrict their right to do so.

    "We don't quash this with censorship because that creates a worse underbelly," said Ramaswamy. "We quell it through leadership by calling it out."

    I have to say that Hamas-cheering students are really testing my commitment to free expression. Is there a clear, bright line to be drawn here? Would a university have to accept (say) a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan? I shouldn't be confused about this, and yet I am.

Last Modified 2024-01-09 6:47 PM EDT

Also Dying in Darkness: the Washington Post

[What Hamas is really doing]

You may have already heard that you won't see that Ramirez cartoon at the Washington Post; it was up for a while, then taken down after readers objected. Jerry Coyne has more on that. He quotes Nellie Bowles take (in a paywalled article):

Deep apologies to Hamas: The Washington Post is very sorry for running a cartoon that is very, very bad. It made light of Hamas’s legitimate wartime tactic of hiding military operations under Gaza’s schools and hospitals. A Post editor took it down and offered an abject apology for implying there is anything wrong with that: “I had missed something profound, and divisive, and I regret that.” Those Palestinian children (sorry, martyrs) love knowing that Hamas is firing rockets from the schoolhouse, and it’s racist to imply otherwise. The Post included letters from readers calling the cartoon “deeply malicious” and “enabl[ing] genocide.” We preserve it here only in solidarity with The Washington Post’s in-house Hamas advocates.

Ditto. Power Line also comments and links.

Also of note:

  • Speaking of cowardice… Veronique de Rugy observes The U.S. Needs a Fiscal Commission Because Congress Won't Do Its Job.

    There's much talk today about the need for a fiscal commission. The House Budget Committee held a hearing about it a few weeks ago. Pundits are Substacking about whether using the approach to put federal finances on a sustainable path is a good or a bad idea. And according to a recent polling, voters support the idea of a commission.

    Great. But that shouldn't obscure the fact that a commission would be the result of our legislators constantly acting like children by refusing to be good stewards of taxpayers' dollars, which is their No. 1 job. There are also a few important things needed to make such a commission successful.

    In the last 50 years, when the budget process has been in place, Congress has managed only four times to pass a budget on time and through the regular process. Seventeen times, members of Congress haven't bothered to pass a budget at all. That hasn't stopped them from spending money they didn't have, or from making promises to voters they wouldn't be able to fulfill. I doubt I need to remind you that it's gotten worse. In the last half-decade, Congress added $5 trillion to the already elevated and growing federal debt with no plan for repayment.

    My own CongressCritter, Chris Pappas talks a good game. Check out his brave letter to House leadership: Pappas Presses Leadership to Tackle National Debt in FY 2022 Funding Package.

    Oh yeah. That was dated February 25, 2022. 624 days ago. And (to put it mildly) no tackling was actually done, Although Chris Pappas was re-elected that November, which I suspect was the actual purpose of his tough talking.

  • The lights may have gone out in Georgia but they have a better chance of staying on in Maine. Pierre Lemieux looks at last week's vote about that: The Enduring Lure of (Democratic) Socialism.

    The Maine referendum initiative that would have nationalized “by right of eminent domain” the private electric transmission and distribution companies in Maine lost by 70% to 30% on Tuesday. According to the “indirect initiated state statute” that provided the full text of the ballot measure, the new state-created, non-profit, consumer-owned corporation, called Pine Tree Power Company,

    shall purchase or acquire by the exercise of the right of eminent domain all utility facilities in the State owned or operated or held for future use by any investor-owned transmission and distribution utility, in accordance with this subsection.

    Incidentally, the Pine Tree Power Company, would not have been truly “consumer-owned,” because no consumer could have sold his share without moving out of Maine, and then getting nothing for “his” share. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont congressman who remains at the forefront of the proletariat’s liberation, had declared:

    Mainers have a rare chance to take control of an important part of their daily lives. Instead of a private power system that last year sent $187 million in profits out of the country, Mainers can have cheaper, more reliable power—and help fight climate change at the same time. I’m proud to support the Pine Tree Power campaign, and I urge Mainers to support it as well.

    So most Mainers had more sense than to listen to Bernie.

    But I liked Lemieux's aside: you don't own something unless you can sell it. (Something I recall arguing about long ago on USENET with someone waxing rhapsodic about employee-owned companies.)

  • Grifters gotta grift. Matt Taibbi looks at The Tragic Victimhood of "Disinformation Experts".

    On June 8th, the Washington Post ran, “These academics studied falsehoods spread by Trump. Now the GOP wants answers,” a story about how “records requests, subpoenas and lawsuits” were wielded as “tools of harassment” against “scholars” in the “field of disinformation.” In photo portraits, Kate Starbird of the University of Washington stared plaintively in the distance, a caption under one: “The political part is intimidating — to have people with a lot of power in this world making… false accusations about our work.” Starbird sits on an advisory committee for the 245,000-person, $185 billion Department of Homeland Security, but perhaps she meant “a lot of power” in a different sense?

    It's another entry in a continuing series how Your Federal Government works closely with the media to decide what information you're allowed to consume.

  • Ah. Well, I'll go with "unethical" then, thanks. The College Fix reports Northwestern lab envisions ‘ethical internet’ without capitalism.

    A Northwestern University project is described as envisioning an “ethical internet” where capitalism is gone and “communes” work to create “sustainable and non-exploitative” infrastructures.

    Led by communication studies Professor Moya Bailey, a self-described black queer disabled woman, the “Ethical Internet?” project is part of the Illinois university’s Digital Apothecary lab.


    “We move at the speed of trust, and the speed of our circadian rhythm, remaining conscious of the pace at which we want our lives to proceed,” Bailey wrote. “… Kids learn to code as they learn to plant. We learn how to solder our servers, creating the technology we need at a sustainable pace. We eat well and have digital dance parties.”

    Just when I think things are bad at the University Near Here, I look at the College Fix and realize: they could be worse.

Last Modified 2024-01-28 2:52 AM EDT

Honor is Due

[Veterans Day 2023]

Last Modified 2024-01-28 2:53 AM EDT

I Spoke Too Soon

I thought the University Near Here was pretty free of Hamas cheerleading squads, but:

So that happened, yesterday. And …

Note that's from the NH College Republicans. It's unclear how many in the crowd were actually "peaceful demonstrators" demanding Israeli suicide, and how many were just rubbernecking. Also unclear how many demonstrators were actual UNH students. (Or UNH faculty, administrators, …)

NHJournal reports the gubernatorial reaction: Sununu Condemns UNH Students' Chants of 'From River to the Sea'.

Gov. Chris Sununu had harsh words for the UNH students who gathered on campus Thursday to chant “From the river to the sea, Palestine shall be free” — just a month after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack that killed 1,400 innocent people in Israel.

“This is nothing short of requesting another Holocaust,” Sununu told NHJournal Thursday night. Sununu made his remarks after appearing at a town hall with GOP presidential hopeful former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in Merrimack, where the topic of U.S. policy toward Israel was a major part of the discussion.

“As Gov. Christie said, this isn’t about a territorial dispute. It isn’t about the freedom of individuals. This is simply about wiping out and eradicating Jews,” Sununu said. “These students don’t even know what they’re talking about. I would hope that the leadership over at UNH was swift and firm to condemn this language.”

I haven't seen any indication that UNH leadership has been "swift and firm to condemn this language", but I'll let you know if I do.

Also of note:

  • Doin' it Cambridge style. Philip Greenspun notes the festivities: Fighting genocide by sitting in a corridor at MIT today. Quoting from a "registration form":

    The MIT Coalition for Palestine is planning a demonstration in the Infinite corridor (we’ll be sitting in the hallway) and a fast on Thursday, Nov 9 from 8am-8pm in solidarity with our siblings in Palestine facing genocide and a total blockade orchestrated by the US and Israel. Please fill out the form below if you are committed to taking a stand through this action; details will be sent out later this week.

    Everyone, regardless of affiliation with MIT, are welcome (can enter from 77 Massachusetts Ave)! From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!

    Wow, fasting for a whole 12 hours! That'll show 'em.

    Phil comments:

    If you misgender a classmate, you can be expelled from MIT. If you think that college admissions should be on the basis of merit rather than skin color, you will be disinvited from speaking at MIT (New York Times story on Dorian Abbot, 2021). But nobody will complain if you accuse the Jews of Israel of committing a “genocide”.

    Neither will you be in trouble for embracing a slogan that implicitly, as our Gov says, requests another Holocaust.

  • Die, DEI! Bari Weiss says it's time: End DEI.

    Twenty years ago, when I was a college student, I started writing about a then-nameless, niche ideology that seemed to contradict everything I had been taught since I was a child.

    It is possible I would not have perceived the nature of this ideology—or rather I would have been able to avoid seeing its true nature—had I not been a Jew. But I was. I am. And in noticing the way I had been written out of the equation, I started to notice that it wasn’t just me, but that the whole system rested on an illusion.

    What I saw was a worldview that replaced basic ideas of good and evil with a new rubric: the powerless (good) and the powerful (bad). It replaced lots of things. Color blindness with race obsession. Ideas with identity. Debate with denunciation. Persuasion with public shaming. The rule of law with the fury of the mob.

    People were to be given authority in this new order not in recognition of their gifts, hard work, accomplishments, or contributions to society, but in inverse proportion to the disadvantages their group had suffered, as defined by radical ideologues. According to them, as James Kirchick concisely put it: “Muslim > gay, black > female, and everybody > the Jews.”

    For your dismayed perusal: UNH's page for Diversity, Equity, Access & Inclusion.

  • Can't we just ignore lawless "Executive Orders"? Virginia Postrel quotes and summarizes: What to Read on the AIEO*.

    And that asterisk:

    *Not a vowel exercise but the Artificial Intelligence Executive Order

    RTWT, but here's she quotes from Steven Sinofsky:

    The President’s Executive Order on Artificial Intelligence is a premature and pessimistic political solution to unknown technical problems and a clear case of regulatory capture at a time when the world would be best served by optimism and innovation


    Instead, this document is the work of aggregating policy inputs from an extended committee of interested constituencies while also navigating the law—literally what is it that can be done to throttle artificial intelligence legally without passing any new laws that might throttle artificial intelligence. There is no clear owner of this document. There is no leading science consensus or direction that we can discern. It is impossible to separate out the document from the process and approach used to “govern” AI innovation. Govern is quoted because it is the word used in the EO. This is so much less a document of what should be done with the potential of technology than it is a document pushing the limits of what can be done legally to slow innovation.…

    Well, that's … I guess, to be expected.

  • It has been awhile since we rang the bell on the LFOD News Alert. But this news article comes to us Australia's Star Observer ("setting Australia’s LGBTI agenda since 1979"): Queer Erotic Thriller ‘Birder’ Premiering At Melbourne Queer Film Festival.

    The new Queer erotic thriller Birder is premiering in Australia this weekend.

    Directed by Queer filmmaker Nate Dushku and written by Amnon Lourie, Birder is set to premiere at the Melbourne Queer Film Festival on Saturday, November 11.


    According to the official synopsis, “Birdwatcher Kristian Brooks invades a nude queer campground on a remote lake in New Hampshire. He becomes whatever he needs to be to ensnare the locals in his dark fetish in this nightmarish erotic thriller. Consent has never been more deadly.”

    In the trailer, which was released in September, Kristian creepily mis-states the New Hampshire state motto as, “Live free and die” before being corrected by another camper, “That’s live free or die.”

    A trailer is at the link, but I'm not gonna even try to embed it. There's not a lot of information at the movie's IMDB page. Although "becomes whatever he needs to be" apparently involves wearing the skin of a bear.

Recently on the movie blog:

Last Modified 2024-01-10 7:12 AM EDT

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

[3 stars] [IMDB Link]

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

It's a sequel to a movie I watched in the theater nearly five years ago. And I wasn't overly impressed with that one! Nevertheless, I'd heard good things. And it is ranked as #26 on the IMDB list of the best movies of all time! Above the original Star Wars! Above Terminator 2! Above Gladiator and The Lion King! Above… no, I'll stop there.

It's long, clocking in at two hours and twenty minutes. Still, after a TiVoed Jeopardy! episode and a Simpsons rerun, I had time to fit it in before bed. So:

The main character is the winning Miles Morales, occupant of an alternate universe just slightly different than ours. He got the radioactive spider bite in the previous movie, displacing, sadly, the Peter Parker Spidey. But it introduced him to a raft of Spider-Folk from other universes, including most notably Spider-Gwen Stacy. She's back again, trying to help Spider-Miles defeat a new nemesis, "Spot". Spot has the uncanny power to create space portals, which can transport him and others to different locations instantly. And he's out for revenge against Miles for … gee, I just watched this last night and I've forgotten already.

Anyway, Miles' and Gwen's efforts bring down the wrath of something like the Spider Continuity Cops. Miles in particular has disrupted the "Canon". What's that? This I do remember but I'm not gonna tell you. Too much of a spoiler.

So after two hours and about ten minutes in, I was saying: boy, they're going to have to wrap this up pretty quickly. Ah, guess what? There's a big fat "To Be Continued" at the end.

It's more than a little heavy on the family drama. You want to say: OK, I get it already. Back to the action! But it's very funny in spots. And very visually imaginative. I'm sure I missed some extremely amusing sight gags because they were only onscreen for 0.28 seconds.

So I'm probably going to be around for Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse to be released … sometime in the future.

Last Modified 2024-01-09 6:47 PM EDT

What's a Motto With U?


Well, good news everyone: the University Near Here (apparently) has a new motto. It is:

Possibility in every direction.

I must admit, it's an improvement over the last motto I made fun of: "Welcome to UNH, a flagship public research university on the edge of possible." But its prettiness is marred by the fact that it's pretty meaningless.

I assume that its use by UNH won't invite legal trouble from this Greek logistics company or this Indian logistics company or this Dubai logistics company or this Florida logistics company or this Philippines railroad company or the Port of Portland (Oregon) or… well you get the idea. Even though it's meaningless, master marketers find it catchy.

Unfortunately, there's just one recent possible direction for student enrollment at UNH, and that is down.

Also of note:

  • Monocultural monotony. At City Journal, Renu Mukherjee shakes his head at One-Party States.

    Shortly after Hamas launched its attack on Israel, a coalition of more than 30 student groups at Harvard released a now-infamous statement blaming Israel for Hamas’s brutality. “We, the undersigned student organizations,” the statement read, “hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence.”

    Harvard president Claudine Gay eventually acknowledged Hamas’s savagery, first in a 119-word statement released three days after the attacks (her statement on George Floyd’s death was nearly 500 words) and again in a two-minute video message sent to members of the Harvard community on October 12. While Gay began the video by noting “Our university rejects terrorism. That includes the barbaric atrocities perpetrated by Hamas,” she focused the better part of her message on the importance of free speech, suggesting that the student groups behind the statement at issue should be excused. “Our university embraces a commitment to free expression,” Gay explained. “That commitment extends even to views that many of us find objectionable, even outrageous. We do not sanction or punish people for expressing such views.”

    Of course, Harvard does sanction and punish people for expressing views that people like Gay find objectionable. In fact, as has been widely reported, in the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression’s most recent college free speech rankings, Harvard received the lowest score possible—a 0.00—and was the only school out of the 254 surveyed with an “Abysmal” speech climate rating.

    Yeah, Harvard is awful. And (worse) its president is so deeply ensconced in her cocoon of confirmation bias that she doesn't even recognize its awfulness.

    And since I slagged UNH above, I will point out that it ranks #3 nationwide in that FIRE report.

  • I won't reuse that Atlas Shrugged joke here. (But if you missed it, here it is.) Jeff Jacoby writes on Jeff Bezos moving to Florida from Washington. He says it's to be near his parents, which is nice. But Jacoby concentrates on the tax differences:

    To begin with, Washington has a new capital gains tax, which was upheld by the state's highest court in March. The tax takes a 7 percent bite of all investment gains above $250,000. In 2020 and 2021, when Bezos sold several million shares of Amazon stock, the proceeds totaled $15.7 billion. Assuming he disposed of stock he had owned since Amazon went public in 1997, Walczak calculated, Bezos "saved nearly $1.1 billion in taxes by selling those shares before the new state capital gains tax went into effect." By relocating to Florida, he ensures that future stock sales will likewise remain untouched by Washington's new capital gains levy.

    That's not all.

    Washington had no estate tax during the years when Bezos was building Amazon into a commercial giant, but that changed after 2005. Now Washington has the steepest death tax in the nation, with a top rate of 20 percent on estates worth more than $9 million. Florida, on the other hand, has no estate tax at all. For a man with a personal fortune of more than $160 billion, the move from Washington to Florida could be worth $30 billion or more to his heirs.

    That's still not all.

    Democrats in the Washington Legislature have been pushing for the adoption of a 1 percent wealth tax on all state residents with $1 billion or more in assets. Virtually all the revenue raised by such a measure would come from the minuscule number of superrich billionaires living in the state, Bezos among them. Of the $3.2 billion a year that state economists estimate the tax could raise, some $1.4 billion, or 45 percent, would have come from Bezos alone. By decamping to Florida, the Amazon founder has at a stroke rendered those estimates meaningless.

    That's a lot of money the Washington government will have to learn to do without.

  • A reminder: "Never Again" is now. Rand Simberg points out two journalists Bearing Witness to Hamas atrocities: Michael Graham and Nancy Rommelmann. From Graham's report:

    I have seen the dead of Oct. 7. And now I must speak for them.

    It wasn’t my idea. The Israeli Consulate in Boston contacted me about a screening of “highly sensitive footage from the horrific Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel.”

    No recording devices would be allowed, no phones in the room. It would be what’s called a “pad and pen briefing” in the news business.

    And I was told, “The footage is extremely graphic, difficult to watch, and potentially triggering. It includes raw video filmed by Hamas terrorists of murder and other violent and distressing images.”

    Did I want to participate? Absolutely not.

    But I couldn’t say no, either. And so I went.

    Both reports are hard to read. And (as the Israeli Consulate implied), Graham and Rommelmann found the videos even harder to watch. I don't have the guts to watch, maybe you do.

Last Modified 2024-01-28 2:54 AM EDT

"Never Again" is Now

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That's the translaation of our Amazon Product du Jour.

But I fear Betteridge's Law of Headlines applies to Jim Geraghty's column from yesterday: Will the Killing of a Jewish Protester Start a National Conversation?. Paul Kessler is the victim, and it's been ruled a homicide.

But for my excerpt, I liked this bit, way down from the top:

In my world, “I’m anti-Zionist” is code for, “I’m antisemitic, but prefer a more socially acceptable label for my irrational demonization of Jewish people and the world’s lone Jewish state.” (The notion that allegedly respectable intellectuals and elites who insist they merely oppose Israeli policies might actually be driven by much darker, much vaster and more sinister ambitions, popped up here.) These folks might offer some check-the-box tsk-tsking of Hamas, but they all agree that Israel should not exist as a Jewish state. And just like their chant, “from the river to the sea,” they never quite get around to elaborating what happens to all the Israelis currently living there.

A comment I could have appended to my commentary on Robert Azzi's column yesterday.

Also of note:

  • In even more depressing news… Michael J. Ard and Michael Puttré claim: Hamas Is Winning the Information War.

    Mainstream media in the U.S. are stepping up the attacks on Israel. The Intercept’s coverage is dedicated to exposing Israeli war crimes in Gaza—ignoring Hamas’ many war crimes so far. U.S. media outlets helped the Hamas cause with sloppy reporting on rocket casualties at a Gaza hospital. Likewise, the state-run media of authoritarian regimes worldwide have broadcast Hamas’ message accusing Israel of war crimes, which has been amplified by Western outlets and Hamas’ activist networks in Western countries. According to The New York Times, Israel has been surprised by the ferocity and success of this messaging.

    Initially, it seemed the methods used in the terror attacks of Oct. 7 would drain Hamas’ supporters of power to influence subsequent events. Like a game of “red light, green light,” the current war has exposed the bloodily enthusiastic Hamas supporters in the West. They have identified themselves with their paragliding logos and expressions of exhilaration at the actions of the attackers. They can’t put that genie back in the bottle, even if they subsequently try to wriggle back out of the spotlight to save their careers. They exposed what they believe before hearing the “red light” command from top hiring firms and deep-pocketed donors who opposed the attacks.

    I'm pretty sure that even if Israel did succumb to international "pressure", it would not satisfy the chin-pullers who pontificate from the safety of their comfy remote offices, newsrooms, and studies. They would take that victory, and demand more.

  • Orwell saw it coming. Gerard Baker observes that Hamas Defenders Wield Words as Weapons.

    John F. Kennedy said of Winston Churchill that he “mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.” From Pericles to Abraham Lincoln, words have often been as effective as armaments in shoring up a people’s defenses, reinforcing an army’s resolve, or inspiring a unit’s bravery.

    But in war, as in peace, words can also be used to demoralize and disorient. They can be used—and have been—more deviously by the enemy, and its quill-, microphone- and laptop-carrying enablers and propagandists, to obfuscate and confuse, to seed doubt in a just cause.

    The war in the Middle East is a month old but it is producing plenty of the latter. From the streets of American and European cities, television studios, newspaper columns and legislatures, we are being bombarded with rhetoric that seeks to persuade us not to believe what we see, to convince us that right is wrong, justice is tyranny, terrorism is heroism.

    Click through for Baker's examples of weaponization: "cease fire", "genocide", "decolonization", and "context".

  • Sounds like clickbait! And it was! For me, anyway. Eric Boehm reveals the One Simple Trick Lina Khan is using to waste time and taxpayer money, and possibly wreck a successful company: The Wildly Misleading Statistic at the Center of the FTC's Antitrust Case Against Amazon.

    One of the central arguments in the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) antitrust lawsuit against Amazon is that the online retailing giant has stunted the growth of potential competition by forcing small businesses and other independent sellers to funnel their products through Amazon's own in-house distribution system.

    Much of that argument seems to hinge on a single statistic—one that top officials at the FTC have cited in interviews and on Twitter and that pops up in a newly unredacted part of the FTC's lawsuit. There's just one problem: that stat doesn't say what the FTC keeps claiming it does.

    At issue (you'll have to click over for the details) is Amazon's shutdown of its "Seller Fulfilled Prime" (SFP) program in 2019. That program allowed independent vendors selling to Amazon Prime members to do their own shipping. Amazon claimed deliveries weren't happening on Prime-promised time. The "statistic" the FTC points to with horror is that Amazon internal documents show 95% were on time.

    But, Boehm says, that's not true at all.

  • Bad news for us ants. Scott Sumner brings it: The Grasshoppers are Coming for your Savings. He points out something disturbing about the Reason story we looked at last week where various schemes of "fixing" Social Security were floated in an opinion poll. That story's headline: "87% of Americans Want Politicians To Do Something Before Social Security Runs Out of Money".

    Sumner notes that (combined) the most popular "Somethings" are "cut/eliminate benefits for higher income and wealthier beneficiaries".

    When I see this sort of poll my initial (visceral) reaction is that those spendthrift grasshoppers that didn’t save very much wish to take away the social security benefits of thriftier people (like me.)   But I doubt whether these answers can be trusted.  I doubt whether people understand that limiting the benefits of wealthy people would only make a dent in the problem if “wealthy” were defined to include “middle class people who were thrifty”.  There aren’t many truly wealthy American retirees, but there are a whole lot of middle class retirees with substantial 401k plans (like me.)  That’s an influential political bloc, and won’t take kindly to major cuts in their social security.  It’s not politically feasible to take away the social security benefits of the top 20% of retirees—they are too powerful.  Perhaps you could give then a 10% haircut, but that wouldn’t be enough to solve the problem.  We need some combination of more immigration, higher tax rates and/or cuts in other federal programs.

    I'm sticking with my prediction of the likely actual "reform": "Do nothing until those automatic cuts are imminent, then panic and do something stupid."

Last Modified 2024-01-09 6:47 PM EDT

Eyeless, Sure. But Also Clueless and Nasty.

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I won't respond in detail to Robert Azzi's column in my local Sunday paper. (Yes, it's Tuesday. Might have taken me a couple days to calm down.) It's available at his website: Eyeless In Gaza: America And Israel. Key points:

  • He excerpts a couple uncomplimentary mail messages he received.
  • He accuses the senders of flaunting "their prejudices and ignorance in public."
  • He bemoans people being criticized, threatened, "and in some cases fired" for "expressing their views in public."
  • He notes that some of those people are "condemning Hamas’ war crimes". He ignores the people who are cheering Hamas' war crimes.
  • Throughout, his language is slanted: drive-by references to "the plight of Palestinians under occupation"; "colonizers and their agents"; "the official white American narrative"; "9,000 Palestinians who have already been murdered"; "the occupying power in Gaza" (guess who?); "the people whom [Israelis] are oppressing and subjecting to occupation"; the "white institutional media"; etc.
  • He's pretty hacked off at Hillary Clinton's and Chris Pappas's support for Israel
  • Which causes him to imply cause-and-effect to Pappas's campaign donations from AIPAC and the Pro-Israel America PAC. He's bought and paid for by the Joooos!

As always, Azzi's substantive criticism is of Israel and America. He wags his finger at Hamas, those naughty boys, but the underlying theme is: what they're doing is understandable given, well, the existence of Israel as a Jewish state.

I should mention, in fainess, that an adequate rebuttal to Azzi was contained in the very first paragraph of a neighboring column from Alicia Preston Xanthopoulos, who quoted a Tom Cotton tweet:

If Hamas puts down their weapons there will be peace. If Israel puts down their weapons, there will be no Israel.

It would be nice to see Azzi, and people like him, try to refute that simple fact. Or, alternatively, and perhaps more honestly, embrace it.

Also of note:

  • I feel Geraghty's bemused frustration. And it's at Barack Obama's 'Blame Everyone' Comments on the Middle East.

    Former president Barack Obama appeared on Pod Save America — the podcast of his former aides Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett, Dan Pfeiffer, and Tommy Vietor — and declared that regarding the violence in the Middle East, “Nobody’s hands are clean — that all of us are complicit to some degree.”

    I quote the entire available excerpt, lest anyone accuse me of taking anything out of context:

    If there’s any chance of us being able to act constructively to do something, it will require an admission of complexity, and maintaining what on the surface may seem contradictory ideas that what Hamas did was horrific, and there’s no justification for it. And what is also true that the occupation* and what’s happening to Palestinians is unbearable. And what is also true is that there is a history of the Jewish people that may be dismissed unless your grandparents, or your great-grandparents, or your uncle or your aunt tell you stories about the madness of anti-Semitism. And what is true is that there are people, right now, who are dying, who have nothing to do with what Hamas did. And what is true, right — I mean, we can go on for a while. And the problem with the social media and trying TikTok activism, and trying to debate this on that, is you can’t speak the truth. You can pretend to speak the truth. You can speak one side of the truth. And in some cases you can try to maintain your moral innocence. But that won’t solve the problem. And so, if you want to solve the problem, then you have to take in the whole truth, and you then have to admit nobody’s hands are clean — that all of us are complicit to some degree. I look back at this, and I think, ‘what could I have done during my presidency to move this forward? As hard as I tried, I’ve got the scars to prove it. But there’s a part of me that is still saying ‘well, was there something else I could have done?’ That’s the conversation we should be having. Not just looking backwards, but looking forwards. And that can’t happen if we are confining ourselves to our outrage. I would rather see you out there, talking to people, including people who you disagree with — if you genuinely want to change this, then you’ve got to figure out how to speak to somebody on the other side and listen to them, and understand what they are talking about, and not dismiss it. Because you can’t save that child without their help. Not in this situation. [Emphasis added.]

    First, any time you see someone insisting, “No one’s hands are clean,” or that everyone is to blame, there’s a good chance you’re hearing from the person who actually is to blame. Because while life gives us a lot of problems for which there’s a lot of blame to go around — poverty, violent crime, schools that fail to educate kids — in every circumstance, some people are more to blame than others. The easiest way to ensure that no one is actually held responsible for what happened is to insist that everyone is to blame for what happened. Claiming, “It’s everyone’s fault” is a sly way of ensuring the consequences will be indistinguishable from the conclusion, “It’s no one’s fault.”

    That's a long excerpt, but there's more, and I encourage your perusal thereof. Also, the NR editors speak as one: Yes, Obama Is Complicit.

    To start, the blame for October 7 and all of the events that followed it rests squarely with the terrorist group that perpetrated the attacks. But to the extent that there’s more blame to go around, it’s worth separating Obama from the rest of us. Unlike Obama, the rest of “us” did not get to be president of the United States and steer policy in the region for nearly a decade.

    Obama referred to his presidency in characteristically self-aggrandizing fashion, patting himself on the back for all of his amazing effort: “As hard as I tried, and I’ve got the scars to prove it, but there’s a part of me that’s still saying, ‘Well, was there something else I could have done?’”

    We have some ideas.

    Obama entered office in 2009 as one of the most hostile presidents to Israel in the history of American relations with the Jewish state. Meeting with the leaders of major Jewish organizations, he said he would intentionally attempt to create more distance between the U.S. and Israel. “When there is no daylight, Israel just sits on the sidelines, and that erodes our credibility with the Arab states,” he said, the Washington Post reported. All his policy of “daylight” accomplished was to convince Palestinians to demand more concessions before negotiating a peace deal, and to make Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu more suspicious of signing a deal based on security guarantees from Obama. Even as Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas repeatedly rebuffed Obama on peace talks, his administration consistently pointed the finger at Israel as the primary barrier to getting a deal. This, even after the PA signed a unification agreement with Hamas, which ruled Gaza but was splintered from the government.

    As Bob Dylan didn't sing: His hands are dirty, but his clothes are clean.

  • That'll teach you to be a twentieth-century white lady liberal, Harper. Dave Huber of the College Fix reports the latest censorship effort, a title I didn't see in the "read a banned book" pile down at my local library: Progressive teachers want ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ banished from curriculum.

    There’s been a lot of discussion lately about book “banning,” primarily focused on conservative parents’ and politicians’ efforts to restrict access to material which is sexually explicit.

    While these efforts often have been labeled everything from “terrorism” to “scary” to a “threat to the Republic,” machinations from the opposite side of the political aisle are framed in a positive light — if not outright lauded.

    A recent Washington Post story highlighted the efforts of a quartet of Washington State teachers to ditch the Harper Lee classic “To Kill a Mockingbird” in the name of racial enlightenment.

    In their formal challenge, the teachers wrote that the novel “centers on whiteness” and “presents a barrier to understanding and celebrating an authentic Black point of view in Civil Rights era literature.”

    I recently read To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time. My report is here.

  • Odds are I won't be here, sorry. J.D. Tuccille looks at a report claiming that we have 20 Years to Disaster.

    For decades, budgetary experts have warned that the U.S. federal government is backing itself—and the country—into a corner with expenditures that consistently exceed revenues, driving the national debt ever higher. The latest red flag is raised by the University of Pennsylvania's Penn Wharton Budget Model (PWBM), which says that the federal government has no more than 20 years to mend its ways, after which time it will be too late to remedy the situation.

    "Under current policy, the United States has about 20 years for corrective action after which no amount of future tax increases or spending cuts could avoid the government defaulting on its debt whether explicitly or implicitly (i.e., debt monetization producing significant inflation)," Jagadeesh Gokhale and Kent Smetters, authors of the October 6 Penn Wharton Budget Model brief, write in summarizing their findings. "Unlike technical defaults where payments are merely delayed, this default would be much larger and would reverberate across the U.S. and world economies."

    Well, that's heartening news. Sorry. I assume the response from our elected representatives will be like my own CongressCritter:

    Shorter: I wanna spend more money on stuff.

  • Commies gotta commie. Maine is just a short hop across the river from Pun Salad World HQ, and I've been seeing a whole bunch of advertising against this proposal: Maine Voters Will Decide on Bernie Sanders-Backed Utility Plan.

    In Maine, the progressive left is pushing a plan to seize the means of electricity production—and distribution.

    Don't expect the result to be lower energy bills.

    Voters in Maine will decide Tuesday whether to authorize the creation of a new quasi-public entity to run the state's electric utility services. If approved by a majority of voters, Maine Ballot Question 3 would allow the new Pine Tree Power Company to "purchase or acquire"—via eminent domain if necessary—the state's existing private electric production facilities and distribution lines. The new company would be governed by a board with a mix of appointed and elected members, and it would be the first such statewide utility entity in the country.

    Boy, if it passes, Route 4 into South Berwick will literally be the Road to Serfdom.

    [Update: it failed, by a lot. Guess the lights will stay on in South Berwick.]

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    You have no choice but to believe this. Stuart Doyle claims Robert Sapolsky is Wrong. It's a review of Sapolsky's new book Determined: A Science of Life without Free Will (paid Amazon link at your right)

    In Determined: A Science of Life Without Free Will, Robert Sapolsky argues that free will does not exist, and explores how he thinks society should change in light of that conclusion. Sapolsky is a professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University, known for his studies of hormones and behavior in wild baboons. In this new book, he makes an effort to address several different ways in which others have proposed that free will could be real, despite the laws of nature acting on our physical brains. But in his efforts to cover the bases, Sapolsky fails to offer an original argument supporting his claim that free will is not real. Instead he serves up a partial and rewarmed version of the argument made by Bertrand Russell in the 1940s. Sapolsky ornaments the argument with findings from the biological sciences, which he admits do not prove his intended point.

    Nevertheless, by my own free will, I've got Determined on my get-at-library list. Previous Pun Salad Saplosky references here, and here. I haven't been impresssed so far. But maybe his book will win me over to the determinist side. In which case, "win me over to" would mean "tickle the neurochemicals in my head enough to make me believe in".

Recently on the book blog:

… might be of interest to political Pun Salad readers.

Last Modified 2024-01-10 7:19 AM EDT

The Myth of Left and Right

How the Political Spectrum Misleads and Harms America

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The authors, Verlan Lewis and Hyrum Lewis, make a pretty good case that the one-dimensional political spectrum everyone uses for convenient pigeonholing of others and themselves is (let's see…) historically illiterate, inherently fallacious, and profoundly damaging to ourselves and our political discourse. The book's argument is presented in an accessible and punchy style. I get it, and I'm probably going to be a lot more careful about ideologizing people (and myself) in the future.

The authors' look at the history of "left" and "right" politics is illuminating. You might remember from a high school history course that it originated in the seating arrangements of the post-revolution French legislature, with stodgy monarchy supporters on the right, wild-eyed radicals on the left. How could that possibly apply to American politics?

Well, for a long time, it didn't. The authors note that the "spectrum" simply wasn't a part of political discourse in America until the 1920s; before that, we just had a bunch of politicians and statesmen taking stances on issues. Hard to believe, I know! (Later, historians and pundits tried to shoehorn previous pols into the spectrum, unconvincingly.)

The authors identify "left" and "right" as essentially tribal positions. You, you typical voter you, first associate yourself with your political party, then (and only then) do you try to fit in, discovering that your positions on the issues just happen to coincide with the prevailing positions of your party.

The authors (entertainingly) debunk efforts to explain the one-dimensional spectrum in any other way than tribalism. Even the sainted Thomas Sowell's dichotomy of "constrained" vs. "unconstrained" political visions is rebuffed.

The authors' association of the spectrum with today's political parties is probably the least convincing bit of the book. Republicans have their ideological fractures (just ask Kevin McCarthy or any never-Trumper). So do Democrats, although I think they do a better job of hiding it. In any case, they are very leaky pigeonholes.

But the "tribalism" accusation can sting. Am I being tribal in my general disdain for Democrats? Especially when I disrespect a lot of Republicans too? I can't even stand many of the Libertarian Party pols these days.

But the strongest part of the book is the authors' description of where this tribalism (or "ideological essentialism", as the authors describe it) has taken our political discourse: right into the toilet. We are forever asked "which side are you on". The "other side" is not just people you disagree with on a number of issues; they are the enemy, who want to destroy the country, and probably you too. Tribal people are especially prone to nasty biases, especially confirmation bias. (I can confidently refuse to believe anything reported by the New York Times, because…). Every election becomes a "Flight 93 Election". Storm the cockpit!

The authors offer some advice, which I promise to take: stop the manichaean pigeonholing of others (and, if necessary, yourself). Disaggregate positions on issues from the one-dimensional spectrum; it's sloppy and stupid to dismiss someone as a left-winger because of their position on abortion; just describe them as pro-abortion. Check.

It's a short book, with a lot of end matter. According to my Kindle, the main text stops at page 100. The Notes section takes up pages 101-148, and the Index is on pages 149-160. My only gripe is that this makes the Kindle's estimates of remaining reading time of the book way off.

Last Modified 2024-01-09 6:46 PM EDT

I Went to College and All I Got Was This Corrupt Ideology


Our state's senior Senator goes there, as reported by NHJournal: Shaheen Pressures Israel to 'Pause' Military Operations Against Hamas.

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen has joined the chorus of Democrats calling for Israel to “pause” its military action against Hamas and conduct “a short-term cessation of hostilities” so more aid can be delivered to Gaza.

It is a call to action that supporters of Israel say would benefit the terrorists and hinder Israel’s efforts to eliminate Hamas as a future threat.

Any "pause" would give Hamas a chance to regroup and fortify. And would likely lead to more Israeli dead, both military and civilian, young and old.

It's the epitome of irresponsibility to "pressure" Israel from a comfy office in Washington, D.C., where you're safely remote from the consequences of your "pressure". Nobody's firing rockets into your town, Jeanne. Maybe you'd feel differently if they were?

Also of note:

  • Surely you're joshing! Well, at least New Hampshire doesn't have Josh Hawley as a senator. That would be pretty embarrassing for the LFOD state. His latest antic, as described by Jeff Jacoby: A GOP senator joins the anti-Citizens United chorus.

    DEMOCRATS AND liberals freaked out 13 years ago when the Supreme Court, in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, ruled that corporations and labor unions had a right to express their views on candidates and issues before an election. The decision, which struck down much of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, meant that businesses and nonprofit organizations were once again free to spend their own money to promote or oppose candidates and ballot measures, so long as they didn't coordinate with any political campaign.

    It was hardly an earth-shattering change. After all, newspapers, magazines, and TV networks routinely endorse candidates and take stands on proposed legislation. If media corporations have a robust First Amendment right to weigh in during political campaigns, why shouldn't every kind of organization?

    Yet the reaction on the left was apoplectic. MSNBC's Keith Olbermann called the decision "our Dred Scott" and Senator Bernie Sanders excoriated it as "one of the worst decisions ever made by a Supreme Court in the history of our country." On its editorial page, The New York Times denounced the "disastrous" ruling as a "blow to democracy" that would "thrust politics back to the robber-baron era of the 19th century." The Nation wailed that Big Business was now free to "dump money from the corporate treasury directly into the pockets of the candidates." Then-president Barack Obama pronounced Citizens United "more devastating to the public interest" than anything he could think of.

    Ah, but anti-First Amendment activity isn't just for left-wingers any more:

    On Tuesday, Missouri Senator Josh Hawley introduced a bill intended, in his words, "to get corporate money out of American politics and . . . begin to undo the Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Citizens United." The legislation would prohibit publicly traded companies from spending money on political ads or other election-related communications. It would also bar them from giving money to so-called "Super PACs" — political action committees that can accept unlimited contributions from individuals, unions, and corporations and use the funds to make independent expenditures.

    At least most of the honest leftists Jacoby mentioned realized a Constitutional amendment was necessary to strip free speech rights from corporations et al. Hawley's just proposing legislation that would (I hope) be struck down by SCOTUS relatively quickly.

  • Beware the euphemism, my son. The Antiplanner, with jaws that bite and claws that clutch, gives an example: The Case Against Affordable Housing.

    Affordable housing projects aren’t making housing more affordable. In fact, says a new study by an MIT economist, construction of new subsidized housing displaces new unsubsidized housing for little net gain in the housing supply. Specifically, the study found, ten new subsidized housing units resulted in eight fewer unsubsidized units.

    Between 1950 and 1986, most subsidized housing was built by government agencies. In 1986, a Republican Congress sought to “privatize” the construction of subsidized housing by giving developers tax credits if they promised to rent their housing at below-market prices for 30 years. Today, low-income housing tax credits worth around $10 billion a year are given to the states to hand out to developers. To see how well this program is working, economist Evan Soltas looked at hundreds of projects built with tax credits.

    He found that, due to displacement of private construction, affordable housing projects effectively cost taxpayers $1 million for each net new unit of housing. About 44 percent of the benefits of such subsidies go straight to the developers, while the low-income renters get only 31 percent.

    They meant well, of course. Using other peoples' money, also of course.

  • In case it isn't obvious yet. Kimberlee Josephson explains Why the FTC Should Stop Going after Amazon.

    The global e-commerce market is growing at an impressive rate. Amazon is undoubtedly the sector’s leader with a roughly 37 percent market share, but new competition is always on the rise. Sites like AliExpress (China), Rakuten (Japan), and Flipkart (India) are just a few of the new e-commerce platforms attracting attention and new shoppers.

    Temu and Shein, both based in China, are the leading contenders encroaching upon Amazon’s target market, and these firms are finding that Americans will easily switch shopping sites when the price is right. In fact, online traffic has been dropping for Amazon as a substantial number of mobile buyers migrate to other sites. Temu and Shein are now the most downloaded shopping apps worldwide.

    Amazon’s biggest battle, however, isn’t with its new rivals. It is with its own government.

    It's frustrating that the best outcome here would be a quick ruling that the anti-Amazon lawsuits had no merit, leading to dismissal. At least then it would only be a massive waste of time and money.

  • They are not easy to confuse. Isaac Schick notes an anti-Amazonian oddity: the FTC Recasts Competitors as Consumers.

    In classic Lina Khan fashion, the chair of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has found a way to sue Amazon over its harm toward consumers while defining the consumers as third-party sellers on Amazon’s marketplace. Third-party sellers are, after all, also Amazon’s competitors, making the case yet another example of the FTC going after firms for competing with rivals, though this time with admitted more creative framing.

    Amazon hosts millions of retail sellers on its online marketplace, which features Amazon’s products alongside third-party ones. Since 2007, independent retailers have gone from only 26 percent of total marketplace sales to over 60. Amazon offers opportunities to access its customer base, fulfillment services, and direct-to-consumer shipping, and millions of sellers utilize the marketplace. These independent sellers enjoy access to Amazon’s platform despite competing in some product areas.

    Waitaminnit, that was in NHJournal. What's the link to New Hampshire there?

  • Oh, right. Mitchell Scacchi contributes to Granite Grok that it's not just Uncle Stupid's money being wasted, the New Hampshire taxpayers are also kicking in a share. And: The Amazon Lawsuit New Hampshire Joined Is a Mess of Bad Economics.

    New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella has joined 16 other state attorneys general in the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) lawsuit alleging that “Amazon is a monopolist” that engages in illegal anti-competitive behavior.

    If the FTC prevails in this legal case, it appears likely that consumers and small businesses, including the 4,500 small-to-medium-sized New Hampshire businesses that sell on Amazon and the many thousands of Granite Staters who shop online, will be harmed, not helped.

    It's tough to understand why Governor Sununu, who at least gives lip service to free markets, shouid let this occur under his administration.

>p> Recently on the book blog:

Last Modified 2024-01-28 2:58 AM EDT

You Can't Joke About That

Why Everything Is Funny, Nothing Is Sacred, and We're All in This Together

[Amazon Link]
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Kat Timpf was a welcome and reliable chronicler of amusing goings-on over the years; I linked to her writing, usually at National Review here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. (Many of those items were bylined "Katherine Timpf", which now seems overly formal.) Her current gig, a mainstay on Greg Gutfeld's show on Fox News, seems to have crowded out her writing, which is a real shame. But she wrote this book, and I snapped it up from Portsmouth Public Library when it became available, and…

I share Kat's basically-libertarian politics, and her generally tolerant and well-meaning attitudes toward life. She is disdainful of the "speech = violence" crowd, and so am I. So I wish I liked this book better. It's not awful, but…

As the title implies, its main theme is the increasing clampdown on free speech, especially speech that aspires to humor. As you'll note, the book cover shows Kat posed on a coffin, with a mic and a beer. Yes, death is one of the things Kat believes can be a fruitful source of humor. But not just death; there's politics, religion, physical and mental illness, infirmity, dysfunctional relationships with friends, family, and lovers, and more.

So she's a defender of edgy humor, as when Kathy Griffin posed for a picture holding up a blood-soaked mask depicting Donald Trump. Okay, maybe not that funny. But career-wrecking? Kat says no. That's just one example, and she has more.

Yes, sometimes comedic efforts misfire badly. (As do non-comedic efforts; just look at college administrators come up with responses to anti-semitism among their sstudents.) Suck it up, comment on their fumbles, and move on.

So what's my problem? Well, Kat doesn't have any insights you can't get from other sources. (How many ways can you say "Suck it up and move on", after all?) She chronicles a bunch of stuff that I'm pretty sure we've all heard before. Her writing style seems to be adapted from her stand-up act and appearances on Gutfeld!; many parts read as if they were dictated, not typed. We get a voluminous amount of information on Kat's personal life: dealing with family, lovers, illness, pets, death, …

Sometimes this works. At one point, she breaks into a soliloquy on Blink-182 that's pretty hilarious, even on the page. But more often, I'm like, okay get on with it.

And, by the way, one of the minor irritations is her constant use of "like", in the way I did above.

So: an easy read, but more superficial than I would have expected from a onetime National Review journalist.

Last Modified 2024-01-09 6:46 PM EDT

The Man from the Future

The Visionary Life of John von Neumann

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(paid link)

Fun fact: John von Neumann didn't show up at all in that movie, Oppenheimer. But he was there at Los Alamos, and his mathematical wizardry played a key part in designing the atomic bombs. He was particularly expert in analyzing the propagation of shock waves generated by explosions, and that was critical (heh) in producing a chain reaction in the fissile material. I guess that story wasn't cinematic enough.

This book is an interesting look at von Neumann's life and times. He grew up in a wealthy Jewish family in Hungary, and his math wizardry was apparent from a young age. Wisely escaping Europe in the 1930s, he found himself at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, and was a natural choice for recruitment to Los Alamos. His career was a mixture of blue-sky theory and down-to-earth practical applications. (The latter being especially useful to the military.)

The book is slightly unusual in that it goes into great detail on the fields he (mostly) pioneered. Disconcertingly, this means von Neumann goes offstage for much of the book, as the author, Ananyo Bhattacharya, discusses how those fields developed under his intellectual successors. (Disconcerting, but also interesting.) For example, his pioneering work on cellular automata was glommed onto by (most notably) John Conway and Steven Wolfram, and their work is extensively examined.

Those fields are dizzying in their variety and depth: computer design, set theory, game theory, theoretical economics, algorithms, and many more. Game theory, especially, became important in the 1950s when it became apparent that the USSR was also acquiring nukes. The work of the RAND corporation in discussing our war-fighting (and, hopefully, holocaust-avoiding) strategy is explained in depth. (Just one more fun fact: von Neumann briefly advocated nuking the USSR before they could nuke us.)

Another disconcerting underlying theme: while von Neumann seemed to be relatively psychologically normal, that might have only been in comparison with his co-workers and peers. Wolfram is famously cranky; Kurt Gödel met an untimely and unpleasant end, as did George R. Price and Alan Turing.

Last Modified 2024-01-09 6:46 PM EDT

The Longest Day

Because it's 25 hours.

Separation of church and state has been a longtime liberal position, and it's one of their better ones. Some radicals advocate for the separation of school and state, for similar reasons, and I'm on board with that too. Let's hear it for logical consistency!

But, dear reader, very few move to the ultra-radical position I first broached here ten long years ago: separation of time and state. Twice a year, we're reminded that government has made a total hash of timekeeping, making nobody happy, probably killing a few folks here and there.

If the government wants to know what time it is, let them eat Coordinated Universal Time aka UTC (but not CUT or TUC).

If we ever come across the Klingons or Romulans out there, we'll just have to make them use UTC too. "Look, it's Universal. You can't argue with that, Worf."

Nevertheless, despite my kvetches, I lined up my "atomic" timepieces in a west-facing window last night, like Muslims praying to Mecca, the better to receive the incoming time signal from WWVB in Fort Collins, Colorado. And it worked like a charm.

As another indicator of how "interesting" these matters can become, see this Slashdot article: Leap Seconds Could Become Leap Minutes. What?! Quoting a New York Times article:

Later this month, delegations from around the world will head to a conference in Dubai to discuss international treaties involving radio frequencies, satellite coordination and other tricky technical issues. These include the nagging problem of the clocks. For 50 years, the international community has carefully and precariously balanced two different ways of keeping time. One method, based on Earth's rotation, is as old as human timekeeping itself, an ancient and common-sense reliance on the position of the sun and stars. The other, more precise method coaxes a steady, reliable frequency from the changing state of cesium atoms and provides essential regularity for the digital devices that dominate our lives.A

The trouble is that the times on these clocks diverge. The astronomical time, called Universal Time, or UT1, has tended to fall a few clicks behind the atomic one, called International Atomic Time, or TAI. So every few years since 1972, the two times have been synced by the insertion of leap seconds — pausing the atomic clocks briefly to let the astronomic one catch up. This creates UTC, Universal Coordinated Time. But it's hard to forecast precisely when the leap second will be required, and this has created an intensifying headache for technology companies, countries and the world's timekeepers.

The opposition to "leap minutes" has come from the Vatican (where, the article points out, they invented the Gregorian Calendar) (And also Gregorian Chants). And also Russia.

But, oh right, it's Sunday! So it's time to check out the betting odds for the 2024 election results:

Candidate EBO Win
Donald Trump 35.5% +0.9%
Joe Biden 31.6% -1.6%
Gavin Newsom 9.3% +0.9%
Nikki Haley 5.1% -1.1%
Robert Kennedy Jr 3.9% +0.3%
Ron DeSantis 3.1% +0.1%
Michelle Obama 3.0% unch
Kamala Harris 2.1% +0.1%
Other 6.4% +0.4%

"Save us, Other! You're our only hope!"

Also of note:

  • Don't people get arrested for this? The NR editors reveal: Joe Biden Was the Clandestine Agent of a Hostile Foreign Power.

    On the latest episode of his podcast The McCarthy Report, National Review Institute fellow Andy McCarthy reacted to the revelation that Joe Biden’s brother, James, wrote him a $40,000 check when a $400,000 payment from a Chinese concern came in.

    “It’s 10 percent for the big guy,” he said.

    “I can’t see any other way of looking at this,” he continued, “except to say that Joe Biden, as it turns out, is what they accused Donald Trump of being: He is a clandestine agent who’s been well paid by a hostile foreign power.”

    Addressing what makes someone “a clandestine agent,” he explained: “That you’re doing work for a foreign government and not disclosing what your status is or the fact that you’re doing it.”

    He added, “I don’t know what more to say about it. CEFC, this outfit that Biden was courting, it turns out according to James Comer’s committee’s report that came out in the last few days, it’s an arm of the Xi regime and the Chinese Communist government. There’s no mystery about that.”

    To answer the question above: they sure do. From the DOJ website concerning the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA):

    The penalty for a willful violation of FARA is imprisonment for not more than five years, a fine of up to $250,000, or both. Certain violations are considered misdemeanors, with penalties of imprisonment of not more than six months, a fine of not more than $5,000, or both. There are also civil enforcement provisions that empower the Attorney General to seek an injunction requiring registration under FARA (for applicable activities) or correcting a deficient registration statement.

    I assume Joe will weasel out of this somehow, but it would be entertaining to watch. It would be nice if it got some coverage in the MSM, but I suppose that's too much to ask.

  • It's crazy, but it just might… nah, it's just crazy. But that won't stop Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. from suggesting it. Biden’s Only Salvation: A New Vice President.

    The obvious solution is for Joe Biden to get a new vice president. No offense to Kamala Harris, who, for all I know, may be supercompetent at everything except the parts of the job the public can see. In the best of circumstances, she’d be the wrong vice president now—too domestic, too ticket-punchy—for a country facing international dangers with a superannuated president.

    You saw this week what inevitably must follow. A vacuum exists when a president is Mr. Biden’s age and shows it. Barack Obama filled it. What president doesn’t return to his home state after his term to give his successors elbow room in D.C.? Mr. Obama doesn’t. His $8 million mansion in Kalorama Circle is built for entertaining. Just because the media practices unusual discretion about it doesn’t mean he isn’t holding court.

    Jenkins' specific candidate for Kamala-jettisoning is … Barack Obama! I'm unsure of the constitutionality there. But I think he's onto something, and the really obvious solution would be someone who's been in our EBO table for a long time: Michelle Obama.

    Sure, she lacks experience. Does anyone care about that any more?

  • The pundits are in agreement, though. Gary Schmitt of the Dispatch also sees the current veep as a boat anchor around the Biden campaign, and (worse) totally unfit for a not-unlikely scenario: The Veepstakes Are Too High for Kamala Harris.

    Let’s imagine what the global security environment might look like at the start of a second four-year term of a Joe Biden presidency. The war in Ukraine is still ongoing, but public support for the war is waning even while Ukraine continues to make small, incremental gains against Russian forces. In the Middle East, Israel occupies most of Gaza, and Iran continues to challenge the U.S. and Israel militarily through its proxies while also racing to finish acquiring a nuclear weapon. Meanwhile China is engaging in even more provocative military operations—against Taiwan in the wake of the Democratic Progressive Party’s third straight victory in Taiwan’s presidential race and against treaty ally, the Philippines, over the Second Thomas Shoal. And, 2027—the year Chinese leader Xi Jinping has said that China’s military must be ready to invade Taiwan—is now only two years away.

    Now imagine the following: On the day of President Biden’s second inaugural ceremony, it’s windy and bitterly cold. Instead of moving the event indoors Biden proceeds with the event on the Capitol steps. Not long after, he comes down with a cold, which eventually turns into pneumonia. Granted, that’s a dramatic and unlikely hypothetical, but just one of many voters must weigh given the president’s age: He could trip and fall during inaugural festivities, or the stresses of the presidency could induce a stroke. Whatever the case may be, his advanced age makes it more and more likely some physical ailment will force his Cabinet to decide whether to invoke the 25th Amendment and hand over the “powers and duties” of the Oval Office to recently reelected Vice President Kamala Harris.

    Who would think this was a good idea? Who wouldn’t want a “do-over” in picking Biden’s running mate back in the summer of 2024? Early in his tenure, Biden tasked Harris with the border crisis and Central America policy and she fumbled, showing she was not ready for prime time. She has done nothing since to suggest she is any more ready now. Standing next to the president at important events—as she so often does—doesn’t translate into being able to stand in for him if necessary. And that certainly appears to be the view of the American public. Her favorability rating hasn’t been near 50 percent since September 2021. Since January 2022, her disapproval numbers have outstripped her favorability by double-digits—with the average in the recent months more than 16 points. These are remarkably negative numbers considering how little she appears on the public stage.

    Schmitt has no specific suggestions for replacement. I assume Gavin Newsom is the wrong sex and color.

  • Good question. Charles C. W. Cooke asks it: Trump Fights — but for What?.

    In the New York Times this week, I learned that if Trump wins a second term, his team will seek out “a more aggressive breed of right-wing lawyer, dispensing with traditional conservatives who they believe stymied his agenda in his first term.” Last time around, the Times relates, “his administration relied on the influential Federalist Society.” Now, his “allies are building new recruiting pipelines separate from the Federalist Society.” This, of course, is their prerogative; there is nothing written in stone that accords the Federalist Society a role within our judicial-nomination process. But, surely, there are some obvious political consequences to this shift? I honestly cannot count how many times I have been told that traditional conservatives should be grateful to Trump for “saving the Supreme Court,” and, by extension, that they should be keen to help him do it again. “Are mean tweets more important than Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett?” I am asked. On its own terms, I can understand this argument. But if Trump is not going to do that again — if, rather, he believes that the people he appointed during his first term were failures, and wishes to look elsewhere as a result — then that case surely falls apart? The injunction, “Vote for me because I’ll do different things than the ones you liked four years ago” belongs in a madhouse, not a republic.

    A similar problem attaches to Trump’s record defending unborn life. I am routinely pitched on Trump’s record as the “most pro-life president ever.” But, if he believed that once, he doesn’t seem to now. Last year, Trump blamed pro-lifers for the Republican Party’s disappointing midterm push, and more recently, he has vowed to work with the Democrats in Congress to enshrine a “compromise” on the issue into federal law. May I ask which of these men is the one currently seeking office? Is it the pro-life stalwart who finally helped to kill Roe, or the snarling, equivocating critic who described the practical consequences of that shift as a “terrible thing”? Does Trump wish to build on his work or repudiate it? Naturally, he cannot do both.

    CCWC is to be commended for trying to sort out the logic behind Trump's statements.

  • Ahh, but the strawberries! That's - that's where I had them. Like CCWC, Nick Catoggio examines Trump's recent babbling, and is reminded of a character in a classic book/movie/play: The Queeg Factor. Exhibit A:

    He’s almost 46 points ahead of his nearest challenger in national polling. Barring divine intervention, he’ll be his party’s nominee for president. Yet here he is, with Iowa set to caucus in less than three months, babbling sympathetically about the goons who smashed up the Capitol to facilitate his coup attempt.

    That’s … weird.

    “Weird” doesn’t mean surprising. Trump sounding wistful about the insurrection is a dog-bites-man story for the sort of political news junkie who subscribes to this publication. But most American voters aren’t news junkies. Many barely follow the news at all.

    Do they have any idea what an obsessive freak Trump has become since leaving office?

    Another good question.

    (Our guest quote is from guess who.)

  • Because she's outstanding in her field? That's the obvious Iowan answer to Noah Rothman's headline: Why Nikki Haley Is Gaining in Iowa. It's a very inside-baseball look at polling and campaign messaging:

    Haley’s rise validates the notion that Trump’s competitors should have embarked on their campaigns from the outset with an eye toward appealing to the voters most amenable to their anti-Trump messages. With the support of a majority of the GOP’s Trump critics, the candidates might have built out their coalition from a position of relative strength. But neither DeSantis nor Haley took this approach at first. Rather, they retailed themselves as Trump without the baggage to voters who didn’t care about Trump’s baggage in the first place.

    Haley adapted when this strategy failed to generate traction, but her conventionally conservative messaging strategy risks putting an impenetrable ceiling on her support among Republicans. Still, if her fundraising holds out, the data give no indication yet that her campaign will stall after Iowa, when the long and hard-fought quest for pledged delegates begins. In contrast, DeSantis has placed a big bet on the idea that Iowa’s vote will vault him into contention — a theory predicated on the notion that he could beat Trump at his own game. Once he had assembled a minority coalition of MAGA-adjacent voters, DeSantis would present himself to Trump-skeptical Republicans as their only hope of defeating Trump.

    Out standing in her field! Get it? I remember cracking up at a joke with this punchline when I was eight.

  • Plus she's the only candidate who has a heavenly body… named after her, if you're forgiving on the spelling. Nick Catoggio (again, sorry) takes an astronomical approach to her campaign: Haley’s Comet. After looking at DeSantis's failure to catch fire:

    Enter Haley. She’s also seeing her best national polling to date at the moment, leaving her a mere … 51 points behind the frontrunner. “She’s breaking through at the right moment,” former Jeb Bush adviser Mike Murphy gushed to Politico. “Everything else has been ridiculous preseason coverage, like baseball teams at summer training. … I think it all starts now.”

    It probably won’t surprise you to learn I do not share his optimism. Jonathan Last recently pointed out that the candidate who’s gained the most ground in polling since the start of August isn’t Haley, it’s, er, Trump. He’s the one who’s “surging,” no doubt thanks to some DeSantis-curious populists concluding that they’re not so curious about the governor after all.

    OK, so she's still a long shot. Doesn't mean I still can't like her.

  • I'm in New Hampshire, and I've pretty much abandoned local TV channels. But sometimes political ads and commentaries break through my defenses. And I noticed some anti-Nikki stuff from the DeSantis campaign, specifically that she favored bringing Palestinian refugees from Gaza to the US. That got a pushback from Kim Rice, apparently pro-Nikki, in the NH Journal, and it's brutal: DeSantis Can’t Match Nikki Haley’s Israel Record – So He’s Lying.

    If Ron DeSantis felt secure about his record on Israel, he wouldn’t have to dispatch his supporters to lie about Nikki Haley’s record on Israel.

    But that’s exactly what he’s done. DeSantis’ charges against Haley have been called false by CNN, Check Your Fact, PolitiFact, Semafor, National Review, and Newsmax. The truth is Haley believes Arab countries in the Middle East should absorb Gazan refugees.


This Ramirez Cartoon Caricature …

[Terrorist Lives Matter]

… does not bear a close physical resemblance to the Pastor of the Community Church of Durham (NH), the Rev. David Grishaw-Jones. However the moral resemblance seems spot on, based on the Rev's op-ed in today's (online only) edition of my local paper.

Around the world and across the political spectrum, decent people are vigorously debating who’s to blame for the horrific violence visited this month upon Palestinians in Gaza, and whether that violence is in any way justified by the equally horrific murder and kidnapping of Israelis on October 7. While Hamas bears obvious responsibility for the terror that day, and while the Israeli government bears its own responsibility for collectively punishing all of Gaza in the days since, I want to suggest that it is the inaction of American politicians, and the indifference of the American public, that allowed this grim cycle of violence and oppression to advance so sadly to this point.

The Rev's criticism of Hamas is perfunctory. And the notion that the current "violence" is "equally horrific" to the barbarism and terror of October 7 is morally obtuse. The remainder of the op-ed is the usual one-sided Israel-only criticism, excusing Palestinian terror as completely understandable. It amounts to a demand that America stop supporting Israel, and that Israel effectively commit national suicide.

He ignores reports like this:

A senior Hamas official said in an interview aired last week that the October 7 attack against Israel were just the beginning, vowing to launch "a second, a third, a fourth" attack until the country is "annihilated."

There's really no alternative for Israel than to destroy Hamas. And for decent people to cheer them on.

I previously noted in an aside a couple days ago the church's anti-Israel attitudes expressed on their website. But I said that I didn't notice any "explicit Hamas-cheerleading". I will need to update that observation.

Also of note:

  • A better idea. And it comes from Matthew Continetti at the Washington Free Beacon: Let Israel Win.

    Less than a week has passed since Israel launched a ground campaign in the Gaza Strip, and already there are calls for a ceasefire. Not only should these calls be ignored. They should be denounced.

    Why? Because calls for a ceasefire reward barbarism. The usual double standard is hard at work: Hamas terrorists spent years planning the murder of more than 1,400 Jews on October 7, and Hamas terrorists continue to hold hundreds of captives, including Americans, while shelling Israel with indiscriminate rocket fire. Yet it is somehow Israel's responsibility to exercise self-restraint.

    I note that this morning's Wall Street Journal had the feel-good headline of the day:

    Netanyahu Rebuffs U.S. Call For Pause in Strikes on Gaza

    If Bibi's looking for advice, I can't think of a worse bunch to ask than the folks who designed the pullout from Afghanistan.

  • And does Betteridge's Law of Headlines apply? Katherine Mangu-Ward wonders (in the latest print Reason): Is Chaos the Natural State of Congress?

    What if the federal government was reduced to its essential functions? What if thousands of federal workers were sent home without pay? What if citizens were forced to examine the real role that the federal government plays in their lives and Congress was confronted with hard questions about spending? What if Americans got a chance to see what life was like in the absence of the hundreds of ways, large and small, that federal spending changes incentives all around them?

    Alas, government shutdowns aren't nearly as exciting as they sound. It turns out there's a lot of daylight between a government shutdown and actually shutting the government down. Yet they remain an oddly powerful threat in American politics, with an anticipated shutdown playing a starring role in exciting events taking place on Capitol Hill as this issue goes to press.

    Shutdowns are largely theater. Even one of the longest ones in recent memory—a solid 35 days of partial shutdown in 2018—didn't make much of a dent in overall spending. The battle was over a federal tab that eventually clocked in at $4.4 trillion for the year. Of that, about $18 billion ended up getting delayed, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). That's less than half of a percent of the total. And $18 billion isn't even the real savings, since about half of it was pay owed to federal employees, which they received when the government reopened.

    I miss the sob stories surrounding "government shutdowns".

  • Atlas Shrugged Moved to Florida. That's the novel title just waiting for an Ayn Rand wannabe. Based on real life, as reported by the Tax Foundation: Jeff Bezos Move Undercuts Proposed Washington Wealth Tax.

    Jeff Bezos announced a move to Miami, and somewhere, a Washington state revenue official was probably moved to tears.

    Bezos sold about $15.7 billion worth of Amazon stock between 2020 and 2021, according to news reports. If we assume that Bezos—who, other than the symbolic purchase of one share last year, has not purchased any shares of Amazon in decades—had held onto these shares since the IPO, he saved nearly $1.1 billion in taxes by selling those shares before the new state capital gains tax went into effect. Whether or not it was a motivating factor, relocating to Florida ensures that future sales won’t be subject to Washington’s new capital gains tax, either.

    You coulda moved to New Hampshire, Jeff. I don't think the problems mentioned in our next item would cause you too much worry.

  • Fortunately, I'm not looking to relocate. But Mitchell Scacchi of the Josiah Bartlett Center reports an issue for some who are: New Hampshire leads the nation in home price growth in 2023 (so far).

    It seems like it’s every week that there’s some new concerning statistic about the New Hampshire housing market.

    This time it comes from CoreLogic’s U.S. Home Price Insights. At 9.4%, New Hampshire saw the highest home price growth in the country from August 2022 to August 2023.

    The top 10 states with the highest year-over-year increases in their home prices include four other New England states. The rest of the top 10 are Maine (8.9%), Vermont (8.9%), Rhode Island (8.4%), New Jersey (8.1%), Connecticut (8.1%), Wisconsin (7.0%), Missouri (6.7%), Indiana (6.6%), and Ohio (6.0%).

    Mitchell points his finger of blame at "onerous land-use regulations". And he probably has a point. But…

  • We should also pay attention to increased demand. Chuck McGee of lovely Moultonborough NH responds to the WSJ editorial that we mentioned here a few days back, describing Life in the Greater Taxachusetts Area.

    Real-estate values in New Hampshire reflect the result of “The Return of Taxachusetts” (Review & Outlook, Oct. 31). Here in the lakes region, entry-level housing is almost nonexistent thanks to demand created by new residents fleeing high-tax states. Entry-level jobs go unfilled due to a lack of affordable housing. Yet Massachusetts voters continue to elect progressive candidates who support higher taxes, driving taxpayers out faster.

    It's complicated! But I'd bet (without doing any research myself) that Moultonborough has those "onerous land-use regulations" that Mitchell Scacchi referred to.

Last Modified 2024-01-28 2:59 AM EDT

Down the Drain

Veronique de Rugy's headline advice shouldn't be needed, but … Responsible Government Isn't Just for the Tough Times.

Some policy experts who, over the last few decades, saw little need for serious fiscal austerity because the government could borrow at low interest rates are now changing their tune. Their argument is that with rates now rising and the government's interest payments set to become extremely expensive, it's time to adjust. While I suppose that's progress, they fail to see that the past calls for austerity were attempts to avoid precisely what's happening today.

Indeed, the need for fiscal responsibility was never based on an inability to afford extra debt back then. It was because the moment was destined to arrive when adjustments became necessary, and rising indebtedness ensured that these changes would become more painful.

My very own CongressCritter, Chris Pappas, objects to the (very belated) insistence of the House GOP that if you want to spend more on X, that should, at least, cause Uncle Stupid to spend less on Y.

In this case, by the way: X = "Aid to Israel" and Y = "More IRS Agents". Pappas doesn't mention that issue:

Pappas is a 100% reliable rubber stamp for the Biden Administration, so maybe he's not one to lecture on partisanship.

For more on the vote that Pappas is deploring, see NHJournal (and a comeback to his prattle about "partisan games"): Kuster, Pappas Vote 'No' To Bipartisan Israel Aid Bill.

Democrats object to the fact that the measure would pay for the Israel aid not by borrowing additional money, but by shifting money given to the IRS under the Inflation Reduction Act. Instead, Biden and his allies want Congress to pass a massive $106 billion foreign aid package that also includes money for Ukraine and Taiwan.

Both Kuster and Pappas support the $106 billion Biden spending plan.

Could have added an "of course" to that last sentence.

Also of note:

  • Fine. Do that, Joe. Christian Britschgi brings the glad tidings: Biden Threatens To Veto GOP Spending Bill That Would 'Cut' Amtrak Funding to Double Pre-Pandemic Levels.

    "Amtrak Joe" Biden is doing what he can to earn his nickname by threatening to veto Republicans' plans to "cut" funding to Amtrak to near-historic highs.

    Working its way through the GOP-controlled House of Representatives right now is H.R. 4820, a housing and transportation appropriations bill that would provide Amtrak with $867 million in grants for the coming fiscal year.

    There was much wailing and weeping and gnashing of teeth at the "cut". And, yes, those sneer quotes are richly deserved:

    Missing from the White House's dire warnings about cuts is the fact that Amtrak's annual appropriations are now supplemented by generous yearly grants of $4.4 billion from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) that passed in November 2021.

    When the IIJA money is considered, Amtrak received not $2.4 billion in subsidies in FY 2023 but $6.8 billion. Even if Congress completely zeroed out Amtrak's annual appropriations, the company would still receive that $4.4 billion in IIJA funding.

    To my mind, $867,000,000.00 is still way too much Amtrak spending. But I'll take it.

  • Suggested headline edit: delete the words after "SEC". Well, it's too late for Jack Solowey and Jennifer J. Schulp to take that suggestion, but you can stop reading whenever you want: Don’t Trust the SEC Techno-Pessimists on AI. After a plug for the wonderful Techno-Optimist Manifesto, they continue with:

    Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) chairman Gary Gensler has long been in the running for the federal government’s chief techno-pessimist. While that competition is stiff among the mandarins of the administrative state, the SEC’s latest proposed rule is second to none in its ignorant fearmongering about technology, particularly artificial intelligence and related tools (which the agency refers to as “predictive data analytics”), and in its overreaching response.

    From the SEC’s perspective, the greater “scale and scope” of AI and similar tools make them so powerful and complex that they can fundamentally transform and turbocharge risks to investors. Specifically, the commission believes that AI can amplify financial professionals’ (i.e., brokers’ and advisers’) conflicts of interest with their investors, and generate new types of conflicts of interest, to such a degree as to render investors utterly incapable of thinking for themselves. One way that the SEC thinks a financial professional’s use of AI might do this is by nudging an investor towards a product that’s more profitable for the broker or adviser while concealing that fact from the investor.

    The SEC therefore has rushed in with a radically new, invasive, and unworkable compliance regime that abandons the traditional remedy of disclosures to investors. But the commission gets both the problem and the solution wrong.

    The SEC might manage to stifle innovation in this country, but non-US governments and firms will keep plugging away. I don't see what deleterious consequences could ensue from that!

  • Quit it with the proliferation of phobias, already. Matthew Hennessey gets it off his chest: Islamophobia Is a Phony Diagnosis.

    Islamophobia is again the obsession of progressives and the media. “I know many of you in the Muslim-American community, the Arab-American community, the Palestinian-American community, and so many others, are outraged, saying to yourself, here we go again with Islamophobia and distrust we saw after 9/11,” President Biden said in his Oct. 19 prime-time address. The Council on American-Islamic Relations says it has received complaints from Muslims facing “a hostile work environment” caused by employers’ “Islamophobic and anti-Palestinian messaging.”

    Horsefeathers. Islamophobia isn’t real. I defy anyone to prove its existence. Same goes for homophobia, transphobia and xenophobia. These political “phobias” are all fictions. They are cynically potent neologisms designed to equate conservatism with mental illness.

    Accusing someone of a made-up "phobia" is a cheap insult, along the lines of a playground taunt, calling another kid "chicken".

  • And finally: <voice imitation="professor_farnsworth">Good news, everyone!</voice>

    Hopefully those folks who were worried that Bender got killed off in the last episode of the new season will be shown to be mistaken. Hey, n00bs: It's not as if it hasn't happened before.

Recently on the book blog:

Last Modified 2024-01-10 7:11 AM EDT

Blacktop Wasteland

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

I really enjoyed this book. It's as if the author, S. A. Cosby, took an advanced course titled "How to Write a Crime Novel That Paul Will Like a Lot". A little heavy on the tear-jerking sentimentality and there's one big Dickensian coincidence, but those things are easy to forgive, when you get up-to-date Chandlerisms like:

The way he stared at him made Ronnie's balls climb up somewhere around his ears.

The likeable, flawed protagonist is Beauregard Montage, an ex-criminal trying desperately to go straight, running his Virginia garage in the face of competition from the upstart discount oil-changer nearby. He feels the financial walls closing in on him and his family. He's worried about how his daddy's crooked genes are influencing his proclivities toward violence and illegality; and he's worried if those traits will be passed down to his boys. But (on the other hand) he is a gifted getaway driver, and he has access to vehicles that can outperform any cop in pursuit…

So, should he take the offer of One Last Job, one that will save him financially? Wouldn't be a very interesting book if he didn't.

But it soon becomes obvious that this was a bad call. His partners in crime are dishonest, stupid, and trigger-happy. Even worse, the jewelry store they knock over is far from respectable; that fortune in uncut diamonds that they steal belongs to a very nasty psychotic crime boss, who has no compunctions about torture and murder to track down Beauregard and his gang. And their families. And anyone else in the way.

I usually schedule my book-reading, N pages per day. But occasionally I'll speed up and devour the last 80 pages or so in one sitting, just to find out how the darn thing ends. This was one of those.

Last Modified 2024-01-09 6:45 PM EDT

Not To Be Confused With the World's Oldest Profession

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Jason L. Riley casts a critical eye on Black Lives Matter and the World’s Oldest Hatred.

Many who rushed to support Black Lives Matter following the death of George Floyd—professional sports leagues, Fortune 500 companies, placard-waving suburbanites—now seem shocked at how BLM reacted to the Oct. 7 terror attack in Israel. Yet nothing could have been more predictable.

During the previous round of major violence between Israel and Hamas, in May 2021, BLM made its position clear. “Black Lives Matter stands in solidarity with Palestinians,” it tweeted. “We are a movement committed to ending settler colonialism in all forms and will continue to advocate for Palestinian liberation.”

After Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israeli civilians, the same activists were just as unambiguous about which side they were taking and why. While the body count was still being tallied, BLM groups in Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington issued statements supporting Hamas’s tactics. “Their resistance must not be condemned but understood as a desperate act of self-defense,” BLM Grassroots in Los Angeles wrote on Instagram. “As a radical black organization,” the post continued, it sees “clear parallels between black and Palestinian people.” BLM Chicago tweeted an image of a Hamas paraglider with a Palestinian flag attached to his parachute and the caption “I stand with Palestine.”

Riley relates the unabashed antisemitism that's plagued the more militant factions of black activism for decades.

Not that it matters, but I recently attended a concert down at the Community Church of Durham (NH). I had a good excuse: Pun Son was performing. A big-ass "Black Lives Matter" banner overhung the Fellowship Hall where the concert took place. The church prides itself on its "progressive" stances, including (of course) "Palestinian Solidarity". And (also of course) links to the innocuously-named "Apartheid-Free" movement.

There was no explicit Hamas-cheerleading that I noticed, however.

[Update 2023-11-04: I may have spoken too soon about that cheerleading thing.]

Also of note:

  • Doubling down on a corrupt ideology. Dan McLaughlin looks at another manifestation of progressivism flirting with murder: Nikole Hannah-Jones, Reparations, and the ‘Decolonization’ Mind-Set. It's a long article, focusing on the 1619 Project huckster and her longtime sycophancy for Hamas. Bottom line:

    It should not surprise us that, like [Ta-Nehisi] Coates, Hannah-Jones has followed the straight logical line from reparations to decolonization. Ibram X. Kendi, unsurprisingly, can be found on the same path. Once you accept the logic of reparations regardless of where Americans came from or what they personally did, it is a short step to backing decolonization of Israel even at the cost of defending those who massacre Jews, and insulating those people from any effort to prevent a recurrence. When your North Star is the grievances of the past, you divide the world into groups without regard to individuals, and you don’t care who pays for the real or imagined sins of the past, you are handing power to man’s most brutal impulses.

    (McLaughlin looked at Ta-Nehisi Coates' "moral rot" here.)

  • On the Chanda watch. Jerry Coyne notices: Alan Sokal critiques a bizarre paper from Chandra Prescod-Weinstein. (Prescod-Weinstein is on the physics faculty at the University Near Here, which is why I pay more attention to her than other woke crackpots.)

    Jerry rehashes his thorough trashing of CPW's 2020 paper "Making Black Women Scientists under White Empiricism: The Racialization of Epistemology in Physics", and links to/quotes Alan Sokal's more recent criticism in the "Journal of Controversial Ideas", "'White Empiricism' and 'The Racialization of Epistemology in Physics': A Critical Analysis" That paper is long and detailed, but here's Sokal's summary:

    That detailed engagement is the purpose of the present article. I will argue that the reasoning, both scientific and philosophical, in Prescod­Weinstein (2020) is deeply flawed. I will also argue that the article’s main contention – that “race and ethnicity impact epistemic outcomes in physics” – is valid, if at all, only in an extremely limited sense. I will finally argue that the flawed reasoning in this article, together with its uncritical acceptance in many progressive educational circles, threaten to have negative practical consequences both for science and for science education, and in particular for the goal of attracting more women and Black people (and especially Black women) to scientific careers. For all these reasons, I believe it is of some value that the reasoning in this article be openly and rigorously debated.

    Asking "why does it matter", Sokal invokes a line from George Orwell's "Politics and the English Language: "[Language] becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts."

  • [Amazon Link]
    (paid link)
    What are English Majors good for? Well, one of them is Virginia Postrel, and she performs a useful service: An English Major Reads the Techno-Optimist Manifesto. (Pun Salad endorsed the The Techno-Optimist Manifesto a few days ago.)

    You should RTWT, so I will just quote this wonderful paragraph:

    Complaining that a manifesto is choppy or lacks nuance is like griping that Pride and Prejudice needs more kung fu action. Manifestos are literature and advertising. They are not philosophy. They aren’t even essays.

    Note that Pride and Prejudice's lack of zombie action is a problem that's already been addressed. Paid Amazon link at your right.

  • Voters bravely say "Do Something". Eric Boehm seems inordinately impressed with a recent Poll: Voters Say Ignoring Social Security's Approaching Insolvency Isn't an Option.

    That perception might need some reconsidering. A new poll shows that the vast majority of Americans believe policymakers should make changes as soon as possible to extend the life of America's two old-age entitlement programs and avoid possible benefit cuts that will hit in the early 2030s if nothing is done.

    That poll, which was shared with members of Congress and staffers at a closed-door meeting on Wednesday morning and obtained by Reason, found that only 5 percent of voters say Congress and President Joe Biden should do nothing to address the looming benefit cuts that will hit Social Security when insolvency hits.

    I was somewhat too snarky in my "Do Something" comment above. The pollsters did run a few "reforms" past their respondents. Surprisingly, the most popular were "Limit benefits for higher income and wealthier beneficiaries"; "Cut spending on other federal government programs"; and (even) "Eliminate benefits for higher income and wealthier beneficiaries".

    Totally unpopular: "Raise the retirement age to access full Social Security benefits by a few years"; "Increase taxes on Social Security benefits"; and (by far the least popular) "Do nothing and allow automatic cuts to be made to individuals' Social Security benefits".

    My guess on what will actually happen: "Do nothing until those automatic cuts are imminent, then panic and do something stupid."

Last Modified 2024-01-10 7:19 AM EDT

A Belated Cartoon

But It's An Emergency, So It's OK

From Mr. Ramirez:


A good illustration for Eric Boehm's article at Reason: Biden Wants Another $56 Billion in 'Emergency' Spending.

Under the guise of responding to natural disasters, the White House is pushing Congress to approve $56 billion in additional borrowing to fund a wide range of nonemergency spending like broadband internet and humanitarian aid.

Less than half of the $56 billion requested by the Biden administration would be directed toward disaster relief—and only $9 billion would "address ongoing disaster response and recovery efforts," according to a breakdown published by the White House. The majority of the new spending would be aimed at what the White House calls "critical domestic priorities" like welfare programs, the war on drugs, and government-funded broadband internet.

In other words: nonemergency line items that could—and should—be decided as part of the regular budget process, not as a supplemental funding bill.

Yes, I know: we talked about this yesterday. I'm sorry, you didn't seem mad enough.

Also of note:

  • Alternate title: Taxachusetts 2: Electric Boogaloo. But the WSJ editorialists go for the relatively staid: The Return of Taxachusetts.

    ‘Affordable housing” is a noble goal and the mother of endless dim policies. The latest counterproductive effort is a push in Massachusetts to fund home construction by taxing home sales.

    Gov. Maura Healey recently gave her blessing to Bay State towns and cities that want to tax home sales. The Affordable Homes Act she announced this month would let municipalities place a 0.5% to 2% tax on the proceeds of sales above $1 million. Instead of going into a general fund, the revenue would be set aside to support housing that the state deems affordable.

    The $1 million sale threshold may sound forgiving, but not in today’s Massachusetts. Fifty-three percent of homes on the market in Boston in July were asking more than that amount, according to a study from real-estate company Point2. On a home selling for $1.3 million, the new tax could be the equivalent of a 43% property-tax increase.

    I think this means New Hampshire should brace for another wave of Massachusetts tax refugees. And it will probably be quick, as those folks will want to sell their homes before the tax increase.

    (Not that it matters, but the Wikipedia page for Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo notes "The subtitle "Electric Boogaloo" has entered the popular culture lexicon as a snowclone nickname to denote an archetypal sequel.")

  • Politicians love misleading labels. Travis Fisher suggests a more accurate name for a proposed "carbon tariff": A Carbon Tariff Is a Carbon Tax for Protectionists.

    Senator Bill Cassidy (R‑LA) wants to slap a tariff on carbon‐intensive imports. Last week he told reporters: “What we’re proposing is not a domestic carbon tax, and it is not intended to lead to a domestic carbon tax.” In an article published by Foreign Affairs, Senator Cassidy referred to his carbon tariff policy as a “foreign pollution fee.” One may quibble with the labels, but three things are clear: 1) Senator Cassidy’s proposal is a carbon tax on imports, 2) it will hurt American consumers and some manufacturers, and 3) it lays the groundwork for a domestic carbon tax.

    "Other than that, though, it's fine."

    Bastiat is quoted later in the article:

    There is a fundamental antagonism between the seller and the buyer. The seller wants the goods on the market to be scarce, in short supply, and expensive. The latter wants them abundant, in plentiful supply, and cheap. Our [trade] laws, which should at least be neutral, take the side of the seller against the buyer, of the producer against the consumer, of high prices against low prices, of scarcity against abundance.

    And there's also the classic advice to keep in mind when reading the bafflegab that folks like Senator Cassidy deploy to push such measures: "Look around the poker table; if you can’t see the sucker, you’re it."

  • Can you trust the government not to mess this up? James Pethokoukis describes What's really at stake if we get AI regulation wrong. (It's partially-paywalled, but the public part is pretty good.)

    My view: Premature and rushed AI regulation risks stifling innovation and cementing dominant companies, especially as the major players have the resources and clout to deal with new rules and to influence the shaping of those rules to their advantage. Regulators should show GREAT humility, given the limited understanding of generative AI's risks.

    Sure, governments should prioritize establishing structures to study AI, encouraging collaboration among existing regulatory bodies. Voluntary codes of conduct for AI model-makers can help manage potential threats. And then we can take it from there, dealing with problems in an informed and targeted way. There’s no reason not to view the 1990s internet example as informative.

    By "the 1990s [I]nternet example", Pethokoukis is referring to Bill Clinton's decision to allow the Internet to develop relatively free of government strictures and plans. A key metaphor back then was implied by the term "Information Superhighway". Fortunately, we got something else.

  • Warning: R-rated (but very funny) language ahead. Jeff Maurer forwards a "guest column from Windex Customer Relations". Windex Ain’t Scared: Here’s Our Statement on Israel/Palestine.

    In recent years, it’s become common for companies and institutions to make statements in response to world events. Covid, the death of George Floyd, and the Supreme Court decisions on abortion and affirmative action all compelled companies, universities, and other organizations to go on-record.

    The horror in Israel and Gaza is the type of event that one would expect to prompt an avalanche of statements. And yet, many groups that previously spoke of a moral imperative to denounce injustice have fallen silent. Some have professed a newfound commitment to institutional neutrality, while others have been torn apart by internal dissent. They likely fear a misstep that could damage their standing.

    Let it be known: Windex — America’s #1 glass and surface cleaner — will not succumb to such institutional dicklessness. We are sickened by the cowardice of companies who strutted around like they were Nelson fucking Mandela after issuing pro-forma George Floyd statements but have now fallen silent on Israel-Palestine. Windex will not make that mistake. We are, after all, known for two things: 1) Being the multi-purpose cleaner that brings a streak-free sparkle to any surface, and 2) Big, pendulous balls. We would no sooner compromise our reputation as a cleanser with cojones más grandes than we would surrender in our eternal struggle against fingerprints, dirt, and grime.

    Therefore, here is our statement on Israel/Palestine:

    Windex believes that the collective lands of Israel/Palestine belong to the Natufian people, who lived in the region during the Late Epipaleolithic Era, circa 10,000 BCE. The Israelis and Palestinians — as well as the Druze, Bedouins, and other peoples of the region — are interlopers with no legitimate claim to the land.

    Not what you expected? Well, guess what: Windex don’t fuckin’ care. Windex doesn’t make statements to be popular; we make them because there are hard truths that people need to hear whether they like it or not. If you want someone to stroke your hair and whisper soft comforts in your ear, then we suggest you seek out a statement from a company that will pander to your oh-so-delicate sensibilities. Like Oreos, for example. What a pathetic bunch of cucks they are.

    You'll want to click through to read Windex's further thoughts on Ukraine, Quebec, the moon landing, abortion…

Last Modified 2024-01-28 3:00 AM EDT