"Kerfuffles" Would Be a Pretty Good Name for a Breakfast Cereal

[Amazon Link]
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James Freeman looks at the latest outrage: The ‘Cereal for Dinner’ Kerfuffle.

If Marie Antoinette had enjoyed a press corps as friendly as today’s Washington politicos do, she might have met a better end. Surging food inflation has inspired some desperate consumers to save a buck by eating inexpensive breakfast cereal for supper, and guess who the media wants to blame. No, not the policy makers at the White House and the Federal Reserve who created the inflation, but a CEO who provides the cereal and has noticed that customers often consume it outside of breakfast time.

“Cereal for dinner is something that is probably more on trend now, and we would expect to continue as that consumer is under pressure,” Kellogg’s C.E.O. Gary Pilnick recently told CNBC.

Naturally the standard rule in the Washington press corps is to avoid blaming politicians who create a problem when there’s a business to scapegoat. “Kellogg CEO under fire for suggesting cereal as a money-saving dinner,” says a Washington Post headline.

I've seen some folks recommending you add in a hard-boiled egg for additional protein. Prices for eggs spiked about a year ago, but they are not unreasonable now:

Notes: egg prices are not inflation adjusted. Journalists' opinions of themselves as economic pundits are drastically inflated.

Also of note:

  • It requires you to suppress that instinct to jerk your knee. At Josiah Bartlett, Drew Cline presents an Econ 101 primer to local advocates: How building more luxury apartments helps the poor.

    As pressure builds for local and state policymakers to address New Hampshire’s severe housing shortage, some activists and lawmakers are again blaming developers rather than regulators for the state’s high rents.

    Developers are building “too many” apartments for higher-income renters, some claim. This raises rents, hurting the poor, so government must intervene to make builders reserve a certain percentage of new construction for lower-income households, the argument goes. Some also want the state to give subsidies to low-income renters.

    The idea that building more apartments raises rents has achieved the status of conventional wisdom in some activist circles. It’s done so despite it being untrue, and confirmed untrue by growing stacks of economic evidence.

    This isn't hard to follow. But as we saw above, "activists and lawmakers" search for scapegoats in the private sector to blame and bully.

  • Because California politicians are corrupt. Next question? Eric Boehm asks: Why Is Panera Exempted From California's New Minimum Wage Law?

    When fast food restaurants across California have to start paying workers $20 per hour on April 1, one major chain will be exempted from the mandate—and it just so happens to have a connection to a longtime friend and donor to Gov. Gavin Newsom.

    Panera Bread is poised to get a boost from a bizarre clause in the fast-food minimum wage law that exempts "chains that bake bread and sell it as a standalone item," Bloomberg reports, adding that "Newsom pushed for that break, according to people familiar with the matter."

    Boehm blames Newsom, understandably. But let's also shower some opprobrium on California voters, who elected the legislators and governor. And it's doubtful they'll blame those pols when the fast food restaurants die off or they prices skyrocket. Except for Panera.

  • [Amazon Link]
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    Wishful thinking. Kay S. Hymowitz reviews Abigail Shrier's new book, Amazon link at your right, and looks at the results When Every Day is a Mental Health Day.

    Abigail Shrier’s first book, 2020’s Irreversible Damage, launched the mother of all cancel campaigns. Because the book attributed the sudden and inexplicable rise in juvenile gender anxiety to social contagion rather than the activist-approved explanation of social progress, Shrier, an occasional contributor to City Journal, was branded a “transphobe.” Amazon employees demanded the company remove the book from its virtual shelves. Unlike the suits at Target, who briefly did exactly that, Amazon stopped short of cancelling the book and settled for banning any paid advertising. Despite growing questions about juvenile transgender treatment, including among practitioners, many libraries continue to treat Irreversible Damage as radioactive. Only last month, a Japanese publisher reneged on plans to publish the book, proving that, whether or not transgenderism is contagious, the urge to cancel those out of line with approved ideas unquestionably is.

    Shrier’s new book Bad Therapy, an astute and impassioned analysis of the mental-health crisis now afflicting adolescents, may cause a similar emotional meltdown in some corners of American culture. Shrier’s target is more expansive than it was in Irreversible Damage; she aims her fire at the therapeutic mindset that pervades not just the offices of psychologists and counsellors, but elementary, middle, and high school classrooms, best-seller lists, middle-class homes, and government agencies. It’s a pernicious development because a therapeutic mindset easily paralyzes kids’ natural defenses and resilience, hence the crisis we confront today. Assuming a Bad Therapy backlash comes, it is unlikely to be as heated as it was in the case of Irreversible Damage—therapists, who have the most to lose if Shrier’s analysis were to win out, are a more sedate crowd than trans activists—but one hopes that for the sake of the rising generation, any pushback won’t prevent people from heeding the warnings of this important book. 

    It's been a few months since Portsmouth Public Library proudly celebrated "Banned Books", proudly displaying one of their three copies of Gender Queer in their promotional exhibit. But they don't own either Irreversible Damage or Bad Therapy. Banned?

    I think I'll request they purchase Bad Therapy.

Recently on the book blog:, a report regular blog readers might find of interest:


Last Modified 2024-02-29 4:24 PM EST

“Whatever It Is, I’m Against It”

Resistance to Change in Higher Education

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If I had $3610 I wanted to get rid of quickly, I'd buy a hundred copies of this book and gift them to key figures associated with the University Near Here: the president, trustees, appropriate legislators, department chairs, etc. (Maybe with instructions on what parts would be better ignored.)

The author, Brian Rosenberg, was a longtime president of Macalester College, out in St. Paul, Minnesota, and his experiences there qualify him for commentary on the challenges faced by colleges in an era of declining enrollment (and, I'd add, increasing irrelevance). The book's title, of course, is taken from the song sung by President Wagstaff (Groucho Marx) in the classic movie Horse Feathers. (You can see the movie clip here, you're welcome).

The book's overall argument is summed up in a quote I once heard (and unfortunately can't find anymore) to the effect that the political leanings of college faculties are heavily to the left; but when it comes to the governance of their own institutions, they become extremely conservative. Innovation is resisted, producing stasis in the face of crisis. And a system that fails a significant fraction of its customers/students, but saddles them with (you may have heard) piles of debt.

Rosenberg tells his story with punchy prose and humor (and, occasionally, a taste of bitterness). On lecturing:

Consider, for example, the lecture, "the style of teaching that has ruled universities for 600 years." 600 years ago, barbers were still performing surgery. Scott Freeman […] traces the history of the lecture back even further to 1050, when universities were founded in Western Europe and when barbers were just starting to perform surgery.

Or:

The largest and most influential universities in the United States combine undergraduate and graduate teaching with research institutes, hospital systems, professional schools, semiprofessional sports teams, major real estate holdings, and who knows what else. In some sense Harvard is like Pfizer with a football team, bringing together under the same brand multiple activities that have little or nothing to do with one another.

Another telling point: US News and World Report started ranking colleges in 1983. Top five then: Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Berkeley. Their latest top five: Princeton, MIT, Harvard, Stanford, Yale.

Contrast this with the Fortune 500. In 1983, their top five were: Exxon, GM, Mobil, Texaco, and Ford. The most recent: Walmart, Amazon, Exxon Mobil, Apple, and United Health Group.

Whatever their faults, private companies prosper via innovation and competition, and the result is perpetual churn. Universities do not. Rosenberg notes that the incentives are all wrong for them; they have no reason to experiment. As Rosenberg notes, the odds of success are low, the price of trying is high. UNH is never going to vault into the US News top five, and (unless something very unexpected happens) Harvard is never going to leave.

Another quote:

Regardless of the fact that nearly every presidential job description and nearly every presidential search committee speaks to the desire of a "change agent," the truth is that an actual change agent is something that only the most desperate college communities want—and even the desperate ones are not sure about it.

Rosenberg's great on his theme… and, unfortunately, awful when he strays off it. His discussion of faculty tenure (another barrier to reform) wanders into "academic freedom"… and then falls into the pit of First Amendment issues. According to Rosenberg, all that free expression stuff can be "the right simply to act like a jerk." His footnoted "good example" of that is Stuart Reges, a computer science facule at the University of Washington. When encouraged by the unversity administration to include a "Native American land acknowledgement" on his syllabus, he went this way:

I acknowledge that by the labor theory of property the Coast Salish people can claim historical ownership of almost none of the land currently occupied by the University of Washington.

As you can imagine, the excrement hit the air circulation device. It escalated into a legal issue, and I encourage you to read the discussion at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) site. Make your own call about whether Rosenberg is being fair or accurate about this being a case of "the right simply to act like a jerk."

That caused me to look up Macalester College on FIRE's Free Speech Rankings. It is in position #211, with a "Below Average" speech climate. Reader, that's not far from the bottom (currently occupied by Harvard, at #248).

Rosenberg also takes a number of drive-by swipes at various conservatives/libertarians. "Drive-by" in the sense that they don't contibute anything to his overall thesis, and seem to serve mainly as signals to his (presumably leftist Democrat) tribe: "Don't worry, I'm not one of them, I'm one of you."

So: ignore that, and the book's pretty good. In the final chapter he outlines possibilities for reform, identifying six "long-standing and widespread assumptions" about higher ed: (1) "The faculty are the university." (2) "Higher education is a meritocracy." (3) "The university stands 'at a slight angle to the world.'" (4) "Students need a major." (5) "Offer lots of different stuff." (6) "Higher education can't change."

It probably has to change.

I Don't Want to be in Any Cult That Would Have Me as a Member

Charles C. W. Cooke channels Dana Carvey as John McLaughlin:

That excerpt is from an Atlantic (paywalled) article by Adam Rubenstein ("former New York Times Opinion staffer", emphasis on "former"): I Was a Heretic at The New York Times. Ed Morrissey has further analysis at Hot Air: Former NYT Editor: It's a Cult, and I'm Its Heretic. He provides a further excerpt from Rubenstein:

Being a conservative—or at least being considered one—at the Times was a strange experience. I often found myself asking questions like “Doesn’t all of this talk of ‘voter suppression’ on the left sound similar to charges of ‘voter fraud’ on the right?” only to realize how unwelcome such questions were. By asking, I’d revealed that I wasn’t on the same team as my colleagues, that I didn’t accept as an article of faith the liberal premise that voter suppression was a grave threat to liberal democracy while voter fraud was entirely fake news.

Or take the Hunter Biden laptop story: Was it truly “unsubstantiated,” as the paper kept saying? At the time, it had been substantiated, however unusually, by Rudy Giuliani. Many of my colleagues were clearly worried that lending credence to the laptop story could hurt the electoral prospects of Joe Biden and the Democrats. But starting from a place of party politics and assessing how a particular story could affect an election isn’t journalism. Nor is a vague unease with difficult subjects. “The state of Israel makes me very uncomfortable,” a colleague once told me. This was something I was used to hearing from young progressives on college campuses, but not at work.

As I and many others have pointed out: the precipitous decline in peoples' trust in the mainstream media is richly deserved.

Also of note:

  • Exposing something we've already seen exposed many times before. Like Eva Green's boobs. Reactions continue to Google's Gemini fiasco. Megan McArdle goes for the obvious: Female popes? Google’s amusing AI bias underscores a serious problem. It's not only generated images of the lady popes or the "diverse" Nazis, but also…

    Unfortunately, though, once Google shut down Gemini’s image generation, users turned to probing its text output. And as those absurdities piled up, things began to look la lot worse for Google — and society. Gemini appears to have been programmed to avoid offending the leftmost 5 percent of the U.S. political distribution, at the price of offending the rightmost 50 percent.

    It effortlessly wrote toasts praising Democratic politicians — even controversial ones such as Rep. Ilhan Omar (Minn.) — while deeming every elected Republican I tried too controversial, even Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who had stood up to President Donald Trump’s election malfeasance. It had no trouble condemning the Holocaust but offered caveats about complexity in denouncing the murderous legacies of Stalin and Mao. It would praise essays in favor of abortion rights, but not those against.

    As James Damore found out back in 2017, and Adam Rubenstein (see above) back in 2021, some places are "hostile work environments" for anyone dissenting from the woke ideology.

    Nate Silver weighs in as well: Google abandoned "don't be evil" — and Gemini is the result.

    It’s increasingly apparent that Gemini is among the more disastrous product rollouts in the history of Silicon Valley and maybe even the recent history of corporate America, at least coming from a company of Google’s prestige. Wall Street is starting to notice, with Google (Alphabet) stock down 4.5 percent on Monday amid analyst warnings about Gemini’s effect on Google’s reputation.

    Gemini grabbed my attention because the overlap between politics, media and AI is a place on the Venn Diagram where think I can add a lot of value. Despite Google’s protestations to the contrary, the reasons for Gemini’s shortcomings are mostly political, not technological. Also, many of the debates about Gemini are familiar territory, because they parallel decades-old debates in journalism. Should journalists strive to promote the common good or instead just reveal the world for what it is? Where is the line between information and advocacy? Is it even possible or desirable to be unbiased — and if so, how does one go about accomplishing that?2 How should consumers navigate a world rife with misinformation — when sometimes the misinformation is published by the most authoritative sources? How are the answers affected by the increasing consolidation of the industry toward a few big winners — and by increasing political polarization in the US and other industrialized democracies?

    Full disclosure: I

    1. am a loyal Google customer (their search engine, Gmail, Calendar, Drive, Chrome, even a Chromebook);
    2. don't remotely trust Google on any even remotely political issue.

    What can I say. I am large, I contain multitudes.

  • But Jeff Maurer has some advice that won't be taken. And that is: Gemini Can Teach Liberals Why Nobody Likes Us.

    Like a lot of people, I’ve spent the past week enjoying the 50 clown car pileup known as Google Gemini. It’s incredible that a major company shipped such a hilariously inept product; it’s like if Serta released a mattress made of broken glass, or if Playschool sold a xylophone that explodes on contact. Companies don’t normally manufacture and release their own PR disasters; the Harvey Weinstein scandal, for example, was a secret that got revealed — it wasn’t a $100 million film called The Magical Masturbator of Miramax.

    [Jeff's poster for that film is at the link.]

    As useless as Gemini seems, it might actually be good for one thing. I believe that Democrats have a broadly popular agenda centered on things like job growth and preserving abortion access. But I also believe that they punch below their weight because liberals/progressives/whatever you want to call us are frequently really annoying. Worse still: We often don’t know that we’re annoying. We think we’re on a crusade that compels us to speak out, even though probably the best thing we could do to advance progressive causes would be to live in a trailer underground and never talk to anyone. Gemini embodies the type of righteous left-wing jagweed that most people hate. By spending some time with Gemini, I think people on the left can come to understand why much of the country would like to see pianos fall on our heads.

    Of course, Jeff's wrong about the "broadly popular agenda". Otherwise, though…

  • Whatchamacallit. Robert Graboyes has an interesting post about political nomenclature: Equity, Equitist, Equitism.

    Egalitarians aspire to equalize individual rights and opportunities, and perhaps to equalize ex post outcomes across individuals via social safety nets. Equitists, well-intentioned though they may be, pigeonhole people by immutable characteristics (race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, disability, etc.) and then seek to equalize average outcomes across groups. Someone in charge (an equitist, naturally) must devise a taxonomy of mankind, assign every individual to some cell in that taxonomy, rank each cell along something like an oppressor/oppressed spectrum, and then allocate rights, privileges, opportunities, and wealth among these cells.

    Generally, egalitarians seek to define “equal” objectively (e.g., equal rights, opportunities, access to education, income), whereas equitism’s definitions of “equal” are subjective. Equitism is largely an outgrowth of Frankfurt School critical theory, which rejects the very notion of objectivity.

    I'm not as copacetic as is Graboyes about "egalitarian"; it had a bad French-Revolution odor about it when I was growing up. And I think his label of "equitism" is too obscure to catch on. Still, it's a good essay.

  • See the Headline du Jour. So I'm not "signing up", but David Harsany might: If This Is 'Christian Nationalism,' Sign Me Up!

    The other day, Politico writer Heidi Przybyla appeared on MSNBC’s “All In with Chris Hayes” to talk about the hysteria de jour, “Christian nationalism.” Donald Trump, she explained, has surrounded himself with an “extremist element of conservative Christians,” who were misrepresenting “so-called natural law” in their attempt to roll back abortion “rights” and other leftist policy preferences. What makes “Christian nationalists” different, she went on, was that they believe “our rights as Americans, as all human beings, don’t come from any earthly authority.”

    As numerous critics have already pointed out, “Christian nationalism” sounds identical to the case for American liberty offered in the Declaration of Independence. Then again, the idea that man has inalienable, universal rights goes back to ancient Greece, at least. The entire American project is contingent on accepting the notion that the state can’t give or take our God-given freedoms. It is the best kind of “extremism.”

    A telling observation:

    It’s also true that the “Christian nationalism” scare is a ginned-up partisan effort to spook non-Christian voters. And, clearly, to some secular Americans, the idea that a non-“earthly authority” can bestow rights on humans sounds nuts. As a nonbeliever myself, I’ve been asked by Christians many times how I can square my skepticism of the Almighty with a belief in natural rights.

    My answer is simple: I choose to.

    “This is the bind post-Christian America finds itself in,” tweeted historian Tom Holland. “It can no longer appeal to a Creator as the author of its citizens’ rights, so [he] has to pretend that these rights somehow have an inherent existence: a notion requiring no less of a leap of faith than does belief in God.”

    No less but no more. Just as an atheist or agnostic or irreligious secular American accepts that it’s wrong to steal and murder and cheat, they can accept that man has an inherent right to speak freely and the right to defend himself, his family, and his property. History, experience, and an innate sense of the world tell me that such rights benefit individuals as well as mankind. It is rational.

    Rational. Well, that's a relief.

Recently on the movie blog:

Asteroid City

[2.5 stars] [IMDB Link]

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

I tried to watch Asteroid City four separate times. I kept falling asleep. But I think over those four attempts, I "watched" the whole movie, so it counts. In any case, I'm giving up, and hope the next movie I try to stream will keep me awake.

It is star-studded: Tom Hanks, Scarlett Johansson, Bryan Cranston, Matt Dillon, Tilda Swinton, Margot Robbie, Willem Dafoe, Steve Carell, Adrien Brody, and others you may have heard of. The director, Wes Anderson, is kind of famed for having his actors recite their lines in deadpan, flat delivery. I think this, while occasionally amusing, contributes to the movie's soporific quality.

I may not have this exactly right, but the movie's outer framework is an old-style teleplay, and most of the movie operates inside that frame as how the play's cast and crew imagine it. And there, "Asteroid City" is a minor desert town, famed for the crater created long ago by that falling asteroid. It's also the site for a science fair/stargazing event. Which gets disrupted by an alien demanding his asteroid back.

The actors interact in not very interesting ways. There's a roadrunner. Ms. Johansson has a "nude scene" performed by a body double.


Last Modified 2024-02-28 7:39 AM EST

The Blog is 19 Today!

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The first Pun Salad blog post, Introduction, was made on February 27, 2005. As the Deadhead said: "What a long strange trip it's been."

I reread that post, and it still seems to hold up. Pun Salad remains "a repository for half-baked thoughts, ill-informed opinion, bad-tempered rants, gooey sentiment, and links to things on the Web I think are worth clicking upon, which you could probably find on your own anyway."

Yes, I've always been this eloquent.

Will we make it to an even 20 years? "At my age" it's foolish to make rash promises, so I'll just say: stick around for 366 days and find out.

But on to the important stuff:

  • I assume the moon-nuking will commence any day now. The Time I Shut Down Google. By noticing something a little … off when he asked Google Gemini

    Plenty more examples at the link. Experimentation:

    I went on to do several more experiments to figure out how this “diversity” algorithm worked. I found out it filtered to only add diversity when the result was something where you’d often get white people as the response. So, while “popes” became diversified, you only got black people when asking for “Zulu warriors” and only Latinos when asking for a “mariachi band.”

    I also found it ignored pronouns… but only male pronouns. So, when I asked for “a firefighter wearing his hat,” I got a mix of men and women (all people of color), but when I asked for a “firefighter wearing her hat,” I got only women.

    I also had some interesting results finding some diversity holes with fantasy creatures. When I asked for elves, I only got white elves. But when I asked for vampires, they were all vampires of color. And when I asked for fairies, I got a racial mix, but pixies were all white.

    We could draw somber conclusions from this, but I will just chuckle. Is Google now sorry it fired James Damore? Nah, probably not. But they should be.

    Glenn Harlan Reynolds (blogfather to Pun Salad and countless others) has thoughts about Google's AI Debacle. With more hilarious examples. And deep thoughts.

    Well, this is a funny fail at one level, and a not-so-funny story of built-in prejudice in artificial intelligence at another. One lesson is that it follows up woke revisionist versions of history on college campuses, where we’re supposed to “decolonize” the past.

    Another is that you’d be a fool to trust Google. Assuming this is just bad programming, then, well, it’s really bad programming. That somehow nobody noticed. One suggestion is that this means that Google has a diversity problem:

    Glenn goes on to quote extensively from that last link.

    Keep in mind that Gemini has been in development for nearly a year, and there is no doubt that it has been heavily tested. Google has seen these results for months (at least) and believed they were completely normal. As mentioned: to employees at Google, it was performing AS EXPECTED.

    How does that happen? How does an organization with thousands of engineers remain blind to what is easily seen by the rest of the population?

    The answer: a complete LACK of diversity in Google’s leadership and employee population (and this isn’t limited to Google, of course).

  • This item goes well with the book I recently read… And, no, it wasn't by Ayn Rand; it was Crack-Up Capitalism:Market Radicals and the Dream of a World Without Democracy by Wellesley professor Quinn Slobodian.

    Professor Slobodian could have, but didn't, mention that in some locations "democracy" seems to be dreaming about a world without capitalists. The latest example is described by Daniel Kowalski: California’s Politicians Appear Determined to Bring ‘Atlas Shrugged’ to Life.

    During the 20th century, California was the jewel of America. Beautiful weather, diverse landscapes, access to the Pacific Ocean, and other features made it the leading state of the nation. There is a saying that says “As California goes, so goes the nation” because to many Americans this seemed like the best place in the entire country to live and raise a family.

    Things seem to have changed in the 21st century though. When times were good, the government of California grew and spent more money than it had. In the short term, most people ignored this problem, but as time went on the deficits grew and grew. By the year 2000, the government had run up a debt of $57 billion. Twenty-two years later that number had almost tripled to $145 billion dollars. Since California is a state and not a nation they couldn’t print money to make up for the downfall, so their only options were to either cut spending or raise taxes. They chose the latter.

    For state income taxes, California has the highest rates in the entire nation. They also have a declining population, with a loss of more than half a million people since a peak population of 39.5 million in 2019—and they did not all die of Covid. The majority are people who left to live in other states that did not have oppressive taxes and draconian Covid restrictions.

    While wise leaders might look at this indicator and see it as a sign that they should change course, wisdom seems to be in short supply for the political elite in this state. Rather than move towards freedom, they are instead moving to erode and attack property rights even more through the form of a wealth tax. Of course, the people proposing this are trying to sell the idea to the public by saying only the super wealthy will be on the hook for this. The rest of us in the ninety-percent will benefit thanks to the rich paying their “fair share”.

    Even the Los Angeles Times was forced to sound like a headline in an Ayn Rand novel last December: Rich people are leaving California. That's bad for the economy. Ya think?

  • And this item goes well with a book I read back in 2018. That book is The Case Against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money by Bryan Caplan. The Slashdot headline sums it up pretty well: Half of College Graduates Are Working High School Level Jobs. Quoting a CBS News report:

    If a graduate's first job is in a low-paying field or out-of-line with a worker's interests, it could pigeonhole them into an undesirable role or industry that's hard to escape, according to a new study from The Burning Glass Institute and the Strada Institute for the Future of Work. The findings come as more Americans question the eroding value of a college degree, and as more employers are dropping higher education degree requirements altogether.

    "What we found is that even in a red-hot economy, half of graduates are winding up in jobs they didn't need to go to college to get," Burning Glass CEO Matt Sigelman told CBS MoneyWatch. Examples of jobs that don't require college-level skills include roles in the retail, hospitality and manufacturing sectors, according to Sigelman.

    Another study from the HEA Group found that a decade after enrolling in college, attendees of 1 in 4 higher education programs are earning less than $32,000 — the median annual income for high school graduates.

    [Amazon Link]
    (paid link)

    I'm currently reading a different book that sheds some light on how we are stuck with a "higher education system" that makes results described above likely to continue. Link at your right.

  • How about some R-rated hilarity for a palate cleanser? Jeff Maurer hosts a review of a new movie: Ethan Coen's "Drive-Away Dolls". And that review is (um, allegedly) by Ethan's brother Joel.

    Is driving away from something the same as driving towards something? That’s the question that “filmmaker” Ethan Coen asks with his new project, Drive-Away Dolls. But the only place that movie-goers will want to drive after kicking the wheels on this tired turd is straight off a fucking cliff.

    In the interest of full disclosure, my editor has requested that I mention that I am Mr. Coen’s brother, and that he negatively reviewed my film The Tragedy of MacBeth on this site two years ago. I have also occasionally collaborated with Mr. Coen in the past. Nonetheless, I feel that I am fully capable of objectively reviewing Mr. Coen’s work, and in fact, I have gone so far as to obtain this notarized Certificate Of Objectivity from the state of California.

    I strongly recommend you read Ethan's review of Joel's Macbeth movie first if you haven't.

My Ego Surrendered Years Ago…

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

I think it was around the time when a computer program I wrote beat me soundly at Reversi (aka "Othello").

Anyway, I could have used our Amazon Product du Jour at the time, putting up some signs around my desk to cheer me up.

There's plenty more ego-bruising going on these days, thanks to AI. Dylan Allman has thoughts at the Foundation for Economic Education: The Ego vs. The Machine.

The insistence that human intelligence is sacred while AI intelligence is profane is not just naive; it’s fundamentally hypocritical. The difference between human and artificial intelligence is not a matter of kind but of degree—of processing speed, of efficiency, and, ironically enough, of impartiality.

AI is not the enemy of human creativity; it’s the next chapter in its evolution. What’s threatened by AI is not our purpose or our ability to create but our ego. And in the grand scheme of things, that’s a small price to pay for a world enriched by higher quality, more innovative, and more efficient creative works.

Not to toot my own horn, but here is my commentary last month about an anti-Machine rant from a local faculty member with an outsized ego.

Also of note:

  • The GOP could use some Artificial Intelligence; they seem to be running short of the natural kind. Kevin D. Williamson looks at the Elephant's current attitudes: Do the Wrong Thing.

    The Republicans have become the party of self-harm. This kind of self-harm isn’t really about harming oneself—people who are very serious about that just kill themselves quietly and deliberately—it is, instead, about theater. Self-harm as a form of political theater has a long and sometimes proud tradition, from Mohandas K. Gandhi’s self-starvation to Thich Quang Duc’s self-immolation. I admire Cato the Younger’s resolve to die with dignity by his own hand rather than live under Julius Caesar’s tyranny, though I generally do not approve of suicide. Cato’s was a good death, a concept increasingly difficult to hold on to in a society that values prestige over honor and pleasure above all.

    Republicans took up self-harm as an ethos in the matter of COVID-19 vaccines (to take one example) not because they suddenly had an interest in mRNA technology—it was purely a case of what we would call, if we were talking about a surly teenager, “acting out.” The people Republicans hate (urban progressives, “elites,” etc.) made enthusiastic adherence to COVID-19 protocols (much of that was theater and hysteria, too) into a kind of moral test, one of the few situations in our national life that genuinely demands the much-abused term “virtue-signaling.” Rather than responding to pandemic safety excesses in a mature way—for example, by talking reasonably about the trade-offs involved in vaccinations and vaccine mandates or by dealing patiently but firmly with masking hysteria—Republicans just did what Republicans now do, i.e., they took up the opposite course of whatever the hated cultural enemy was doing. And so the kind of New Age health quackery that once was mainly associated with macrobiotic loonies in Park Slope became a shibboleth for right-wing populists and the cynical radio and cable-news entertainers who milk them for profit. Hence the ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine and such, and the paranoid disdain for vaccines. Republicans are “doing their own research,” but that “research” is the dumbest kind: Look at what they’re saying on MSNBC and stamp their feet and insist on the opposite. They are the bleach boys. Thank goodness the so-called elites didn’t get all huffy about hand-washing or we’d have every nut-cutlet Trump voter in the country running around looking like Michèle Lamy

    Unpleasant image at that last link. You were warned.

  • The answer, my friends, is blowin' in the wind. Unfortunately, Eric Boehm's rhetorical question doesn't fit the meter of the song, but here it is anyway: If Semiconductor Chip Demand Is High, Why Do We Need More Subsidies?

    The Biden administration has yet to announce how it plans to spend the $52 billion in semiconductor manufacturing subsidies that Congress approved more than 18 months ago.

    But the administration is already laying the groundwork for another round of taxpayer-funded subsidies for advanced computer chips—with an argument that reveals how economically illiterate the whole effort has been all along.

    "I suspect there will have to be—whether you call it Chips Two or something else—continued investment if we want to lead the world," Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said this week while speaking at an Intel corporate event, Bloomberg reported. "Chips Two" is a reference to the CHIPS and Science Act, that 2022 bill that authorized $52 billion in subsidies, a sizable chuck of which is expected to find its way into Intel's pockets when the White House announces its funding plans in the coming weeks.

    Perhaps nothing better illustrates the way the government approaches issues than throwing an arbitrary amount of money at a perceived problem, and then declaring that more money will be needed to solve that problem even before the first pile of money has been distributed or the usefulness of the spending measured.

    For the record, this is the way I get some of my tax money back. Nvidia stock makes up a small slice of my portfolio, but I've made a decent amount of money from it.

    Which Uncle Stupid will want his share of, I guess. Gee whillikers.

  • Not a sequel to Godzilla vs. Kong, unfortunately. David R. Henderson imagines a pretty good contest though: Piketty Vs. Taylor Swift.

    Contrary to what I used to believe before I researched this article, 19th-century French novelist Honoré de Balzac did not say, “Behind every great fortune lies a great crime.” Yet he is often thought to have said it and certainly a fair number of people, especially on the left, seem to believe it. Indeed, although my father, a public school teacher, never said it explicitly, he seemed to attribute even small fortunes to some kind of crime. He was suspicious of businessmen who earned just 20 percent more than he did. I picked up some of his views on this. Thank goodness I studied economics.

    I thought of all this when watching this year’s Super Bowl. I had bet on a friend’s Facebook site that we would see Taylor Swift eleven times. Midway through the fourth quarter, I lost track at eight because the game was so exciting. But the presence of Taylor Swift got me thinking about what I had thought Balzac had said and about what French economist Thomas Piketty came close to saying. Although Piketty references Balzac many times in his magnum opus, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Piketty comes closer than Balzac to casting aspersions on people who get rich. So the question I want to address, and then widen to other successful people, is “Did Taylor Swift become a billionaire illegitimately?”

    Spoiler: She did not.

Recently on the book blog:

Crack-Up Capitalism

Market Radicals and the Dream of a World Without Democracy

(paid link)

Another attempt to keep myself honest, and read something that won't simply reinforce my biases toward free-market capitalism and personal liberty. The author, Quinn Slobodian, is a professor at Wellesley. His book-flap thesis is alarming: "the most notorious radical libertarians—from Milton Friedman to Peter Thiel" plot to subvert and eliminate "democracy" by setting up "different legal spaces: free ports, tax havens, special economic zones." Examples are many: the author endorses the so-called Open Zone Map to demonstrate their ubiquity. There's almost certainly one near you.

There is one near me, although the map's description differs somewhat from the description provided by the New Hampshire Department of Business and Economic Affairs. All, or parts of, 9 NH counties are considered "Foreign Trade Zones"; as the page explains: "For the purpose of assessment and collection of import duties, foreign imported merchandise entered into a zone is considered not to have entered the commerce of the United States, so duties are not paid while the merchandise remains at the site." Granite State democracy does not seem to have been seriously threatened. As yet.

The author presents a number of case studies, from historical to present-day: Hong Kong, London, Singapore, South Africa, Lichtenstein, Somalia, Dubai, Silicon Valley, and "the cloud". These are interspersed with profiles of some of those "radical libertarians": not only Milton Friedman, but also son David, and grandson Patri. And a host of others in addition to Thiel: Murray Rothbard, Hans-Hermann Hoppe, James Dale Davidson, Hayek, Mises, etc.

Let's get some stipulations out of the way:

(1) The interactions between governments and businesses are well-known to be rife with rent-seeking, corporate welfare, and corruption. Slobodian does a fine job pointing this out.

(2) Libertarians generally do not hold "democracy" up as an ultimate good. For example, Cato's Human Freedom Index notes a strong international correlation between freedom and democracy. But it cautions "Unrestrained democracy can be inconsistent with freedom." And it sends you off to Isaiah Berlin's "Two Concepts of Liberty" for explication, if necessary.

(3) There's an awful lot of libertarian thought devoted to imagining utopian liberty-maximizing social structures. This is blue-sky stuff, and it's full of possible models and guesswork. And (see above) "democracy" might show up in them, and it might not.

(4) There's also an awful lot of libertarian criticism of current systems, nation-states running their fiat currencies. Some of that can get overwrought and apocalyptic, because that sells books. (I have a number of those on my bookshelves from previous decades predicting many imminent economic/social disasters that never happened.)

(5) There are a number of grifters and crackpots in the libertarian movement.

Slobodian tries to gather all these messy features into a coherent whole. It's far from a perfect fit, and at times his thesis resembles one of those dot-connecting conspiracies, corkboards with ragtag newspaper clippings, pushpins, and connections in red yarn. He imputes way too much importance and influence to libertarians, especially the ones outside (say) the Reason magazine-mainstream.

Slobodian never really engages with libertarian worries about "democracy" and its possible threats to liberty and prosperity; he just treats those worries as self-evidently misguided.

("And, yes, David Friedman is a longtime member of the Society for Creative Anachronism. Your point being?")

Occasionally, Slobodian lets some level-headedness creep into his discussion: he grants that nation-states are a relatively recent development, and they could well be replaced by "something else". He treats that as obviously bad; I think it might be inevitable. As that process unfolds, you really want people thinking about the best ways to preserve human freedom and well-being along the way.

All is Vanity, 2024 Edition

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Our Amazon Product du Jour is a poster version of C. Allan Gilbert's clever 1895 illustration "All is Vanity". If you don't get it (I didn't, not right away), keep looking. Or click the link. Gilbert did other stuff as well, but that's his claim to fame.

Its inclusion here was inspired by Lance Morrow's op-ed in the WSJ, especially appropriate today: Biden, Trump and American Vanity.

The election of 2024 is a train wreck. But is it an accident?

Isn’t it true that America’s presidents reflect the society that sends them to the White House—its tone and style, its character, some intangible national self? Think of Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge as representatives of the 1920s. Think of Dwight Eisenhower, icon of America in the 1950s. Or of Ronald Reagan as the incarnation of the 1980s.

Now, a generation or two down the line, the 2020s have given us Donald Trump and Joe Biden. No one much likes the choice. Both men, almost everyone agrees, are selfish, tiresome old cartoons. Does that mean that America itself has turned into a selfish, tiresome old cartoon?

You could argue the opposite—that these things are a matter of random selection, as in quantum mechanics, too complex and contingent to support a theory of karma and comeuppance. Would some oracle, gifted at reading the fate of nations, have predicted that America would wind up with a dilemma like this in 2024? Maybe the gods are as surprised as the rest of us at the country’s bad luck.

Some say a country gets what it deserves. Others claim it gets what it doesn’t deserve. Did the Russian people deserve Stalin in the 20th century? Do they deserve Putin in the 21st? Do Russians have a mystic, Slavic need for an autocrat/czar? What of Hitler and the German people? Was he the fulfillment of their dark, chthonic longings? Or did he preside over the Reich for 12 long years despite the civilized inclinations of his people?

That's a gifted link, so check it out. And then reflect on one of H. L. Mencken's quotes on democracy, politics. and government:

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

So we'll see how that works out. He wrote that over 100 years ago, and we've somehow survived, so I suppose there's reason to hope we'll dodge 2024's bullets.

Our weekly look at the oddsmakers' opinions of the field:

Candidate EBO Win
Probability
Change
Since
2/18
Donald Trump 51.1% +1.1%
Joe Biden 31.4% -0.5%
Michelle Obama 4.9% -1.4%
Gavin Newsom 2.7% -0.7%
Other 9.9% +1.5%

As last week, our big gainer is the mysterious "Other". A long shot, but still considered to have better odds than anyone except Bone Spurs and Dotard.

Also of note:

  • "E" for Effort. Noah Rothman sounds like he doesn't want to write about a certain candidate anymore: Nikki Haley Has Run a Courageous Campaign.

    Say what you will about Nikki Haley’s ill-starred bid for the Republican presidential primary, but no one can honestly claim she did not spend the interim between New Hampshire’s election and Saturday’s South Carolina contest running as hard as she possibly could against Donald Trump.

    "Say what you will"… but don't say that.

    But since New Hampshire, Haley has taken a different course — burning her ships in the process. “I don’t care about a political future,” Haley told a crowd of supporters yesterday. “If I did, I would have been out by now.” We have no reason to believe she doesn’t mean it. Haley spent the better part of the last month savaging Trump from every angle in ways no one who privileges her future in a Trump-dominated Republican Party would.

    Haley took maximum advantage of Trump’s implication-laden attack on her husband’s absence from the campaign trail (he is deployed to Africa with the South Carolina National Guard) to criticize Trump’s record expressing his mistrust of the men and women who dedicate themselves to national service. “If you don’t know the value of our men and women in uniform, if you don’t know the sacrifice that they go through, why should I — as a military spouse and all our military families — trust you to know that you’re going to keep them out of harm’s way?” she asked pointedly.

    Rothman has more, and that's my last "gifted" NR link for this month, so I encourage you to check it out.

  • But for a less charitable take… we'll go to Townhall and Matt Vespa: Nikki Haley Couldn't Break 40 Percent in Her Home State...And She Went Wild.

    Nikki Haley isn’t going anywhere, which was expected, but what’s the point? I feel like her entire speech tonight could be summarized in a meme, specifically of sports journalist Stephen A. Smith, with the caption: Just smile politely, y’all. We’re witnessing mental illness. There is no path for Wreck-It Nikki, so she’s remaining in the race to help Democrats and ruin any chances of being part of the Republican Party’s future.

    "Mental illness."

    Stay classy, Matt. Don't for a minute entertain the idea that she's speaking uncomfortable (and in today's GOP, unpopular) truths.

  • But at least he's making Rashida Tlaib happy. Michael Goodwin in the NYPost pulls no punches: Biden’s betrayal at the forefront as he demands ceasefire in Gaza to stoke his re-election campaign.

    Just days ago, I wrote that Joe Biden was “inching toward a full betrayal of Israel.”

    Forget the inching.

    He’s now sprinting toward the final act.

    And he’s doing it at the United Nations, a forum that has been openly promoting antisemitism for decades.

    Biden’s latest salvo against the Jewish state is a new plan to have the UN Security Council support his demand for a cease-fire in Gaza.

    I'm in agreement with JPod's take too:

  • But muh democracy! Dan McLaughlin looks at the latest upcoming crisis: Democrats May Refuse to Certify Trump Election If He Wins. Supreme Court Could Prevent It.

    If Donald Trump wins the election, Democrats in Congress won’t commit to certifying the election. That’s not just speculation from conservatives eyeing the extremely long track record of leading Democrats rejecting the legitimacy of Republican victories. It’s the theme of Russell Berman in the Atlantic, and he’s talked to enough House Democrats to paint a truly alarming picture of what might happen to prevent the winner of the 2024 presidential election from becoming president. That’s never happened in all of our history. As Berman notes:

    As Republicans are fond of pointing out, Democrats have objected to the certification of each GOP presidential winner since 2000. None of those challenges went anywhere, and they were all premised on disputing the outcome or legitimacy of the election itself. Contesting a presidential election by claiming that the winner is ineligible, however, has no precedent.

    This is no idle threat. Berman talks to former House majority whip and outgoing assistant Democratic leader James Clyburn, who voted against certifying George W. Bush’s victory in 2004; Senate candidate Adam Schiff, who abstained rather than vote to certify Bush that same year; Zoe Lofgren, who did the same; Jamie Raskin, who objected to certifying Trump’s victory in 2016; and Eric Swalwell. None of them would commit to certify electors for Trump, even if it was clear that Trump won. He could not get a response from House Minority Leader Hakeem Jefferies, who repeatedly claimed after 2016 that Trump was not a “legitimate president.” As Berman notes, every House Democrat voted for the 2021 articles of impeachment of Trump for “incitement of insurrection,” and many of them still contend that he is an insurrectionist ineligible for the presidency.

    Voters could ask Democrat candidates for Congress whether they'll commit to certifying election results.

    But they probably won't.

    Power Line piles on Democrat Denialists, with a few more excerpts of the paywalled Atlantic article. And:

    The Democrats have become so insane on the subject of Donald Trump that it is hard to know which of their mutterings to take seriously. But if Trump wins the election and a Democrat-controlled House refuses to certify his election on the ground that he is an “insurrectionist” under the 14th Amendment, we will be past the point of a constitutional crisis. If that happens, the only realistic path forward will be disunion, possibly accompanied by civil war, but preferably not.

    Indeed, preferably not. For one thing, it would really ding my retirement nest egg.

Recently on the book blog:

The Curse of Pietro Houdini

(paid link)

The latest novel from Derek B. Miller. It's totally unlike his other books, except for its general excellence.

It is mostly set during World War II in Italy, and follows the odyssey of a young Italian orphan whose parents were killed in an American bombing run in Rome. The orphan flees to the town of Cassino, gets choked and left for dead in a gutter, rescued from that gutter by Pietro Houdini ("not his real name") and enlisted in Pietro's outrageous scheme to save priceless Renaissance paintings from Nazi looters. Those paintings are up in Montecassino Abbey, home to Benedictine monks, a storehouse of centuries of art.

You can see the paintings that Pietro wants to save here.

Pietro warns that it's going to be dangerous. In fact, it involves a great deal of violence, lies, accidents, and the general horror of war. Pietro accumulates a number of accomplices along the way in addition to the orphan, including a mule named "Ferrari", and … sorry, they don't all make it to the end of the book.

The book is a mixed bag of fiction and fact. The town of Cassino and Montecassino Abbey are real, and the wartime events Miller describes actually happened. Specifically, the Allies bombed the abbey into ruins in February 1944, killing zero Germans, and a couple hundred Italian civilians seeking refuge there.

When I started the book, I worried that it was going to be too "arty" for me. There's a lot of narrative trickery involved, and some garish descriptions. I should not have been concerned; Miller knows what he's doing.

No spoilers, but page 338 in the hardcover is magical.

Snarking at My CongressCritter

I may do this every time I notice a member of my Congressional delegation bragging about bringing home the bacon:

I should add that that cash is nearly never sent back to taxpayers. Instead it goes (mostly) to local governments who may distribute it to favored companies, institutions, or individuals. Benefits may eventually "trickle down" to us, after everyone along the way has taken a cut.

Yes, I'm feeling kinda libertarian today. And snarky. Let's see if that continues below…

Also of note:

  • The answer is obvious. But Jim Geraghty asks the question anyway: Why Does President Joe Biden Need Notecards to Talk to Donors? He provides a host of recent "impromptu" remarks President Dotard has emitted, and they are a mishmash of lies, arrogance, delusion, and incoherence. Some of which we've noted previously, but here's a cute one:

    In San Francisco, at the home of Gordon Getty, one of the heirs to the Getty oil fortune, Biden repeated one of his favorite stories, about the time Jill Biden got mad at him over news coverage claiming that he was the poorest U.S. senator:

    In addition to that, we’re in a situation where — you know, we now have — which is not a bad — I’m a capitalist, although I — for 36 years, I was listed as the poorest man in Congress. (Laughter.) Not a joke. I got a phone call, Jer, when I was campaigning for Pat Leahy in the — in the mid-’90s.

    And I got a call — I called every night, as you all when you’re away and your kid is at home. I called Jill, who was teaching school — my wife. And I said, “How are you doing?” And she said, “Fine.” (Laughter.) Okay, well, I’m in trouble. I said, “What’s the matter?” “Nothing.”

    I said, “Jill, what’s the matter?” She said, “Did you read today’s paper?” — meaning the Wilmington News Journal. And I said, “They don’t have it up here, honey.” And she said, “Well, top of the fold, ‘Biden, Poorest Man in Congress.’  Is that true?” (Laughter.) I swear to God, true story.

    Biden has told versions of this story several times. The best fact-checkers can determine, Biden usually ranked near the bottom of Congress in net worth, but he was never the poorest. No one has ever found the newspaper headline Biden describes. (It must have been an awfully slow news day for the Wilmington News Journal to put Biden’s financial-disclosure forms above the fold on the front page.) And note that as vice president, Biden claimed to audiences that he didn’t have a savings account, when his financial-disclosure form indicated he did.

    Bidenese ➡ English translation: "I swear to God, true story." ➡ "I'm lying."

  • I've been called a lot of dirty names in my time, Pilgrim. But I think this is a first:

    What people are amazed/amused/disgusted by is her assertion:

    “The one thing that unites them as Christian nationalists — not Christians by the way, because Christian nationalists is very different — is that they believe that our rights as Americans, as all human beings, don’t come from any earthly authority; they don’t come from Congress; they don’t come from the Supreme Court — they come from God,” Przybyla said.

    To put it mildly: many people, not just "Christian Nationalists", believe they "are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights". And not only is that a truth, it's a self-evident truth; attempts at denial mire themselves in self-contradiction.

    (For those of us who are doubtful about "their Creator": substitute "the basic nature of their humanity".)

    Anyway, speaking of miring oneself in contradiction, you might find further amusement/disgust/bewilderment at Ms. Przybyla's further remarks, gathered at the Federalist: Politico Reporter Flails To Defend 'Christian Nationalism' Smears.

    Spoiler: Nowhere does she say, "Gee, I shouldn't have said that."

Recently on the book blog:


Last Modified 2024-02-24 1:10 PM EST

Voters as Mad Scientists

(paid link)

I'm a Bryan Caplan fanboy, having read his "real" books The Myth of the Rational Voter and The Case Against Education; his "comic" book (with Zach Weinersmith) on immigration, Open Borders; and his three previous collections of (mostly) his EconLog posts Labor Econ Versus the World, How Evil Are Politicians?, and Don't Be a Feminist.

This book is the fourth in that series, The general theme is Caplan's antipathy toward politics and resulting statism. The opening essay (and the book's title) describe the overarching problem: in a democracy, we give the voting collective coercive power over our lives. With two complications: (1) the collective has systemic biases (most specifically anti-market biases) that would make everyone worse off; (2) they, like mad scientists, are "unselfish" in expressing those biases. They are for our own good! You're welcome, no charge, it's on the house!

Along the way, Caplan hits some of my favorite themes. One is that we hold government to "absurdly low standards", resulting in high costs and low performance. To paraphrase the Lily Tomlin character Ernestine: "We don't care. We don't have to. We're the state."

I also very much enjoyed a pair of articles where a libertarian and a conservative act as "missionaries", each trying to convert the other. I am often in that middle territory myself, and darned if I didn't find myself nodding in agreement with both these articles.

Guess I will always find myself in between the camps. (Currently I'm running 71%-29% libertarian. Approximately.)

The downside of Caplan's format is that it's disjointed. Putting together blog posts (typically 2-3 pages) on paper don't necessarily make a coherent whole.

Quibble one: It appears, as before, that the hyperlinks in the original blog posts have been auto-converted to footnotes in the book's text; this is (to put it mildly) less than convenient if you're interested in following them. I would have, at least, included the posts' URLs as well.

Quibble two: I also noticed a couple typos; there are probably more that I missed.


Last Modified 2024-02-24 6:50 AM EST

Who Had "Defying the Supreme Court" on Their Biden Impeachment Bingo Card?

I think you can daub it off. What do you think, Vivek?

I speculate, however, that "if Trump had entered these same words", Vivek would be hailing them as compassionate and necessary.

The (more principled) NR editorialists weigh in on Biden’s Desperate Student-Loan-Relief Giveaway:

If President Biden were to spend even half as much energy trying to secure our southern border as he is spending on finding ways to transfer the debts of American college graduates to the taxpayer, the flow of illegal immigrants would by this point have slowed to a trickle. On Wednesday in Los Angeles, the president announced that 153,000 more borrowers will have their student loans “canceled” — which, in practice, means paid by the people who didn’t take them out and spend them — at a cost of $1.2 billion. In January, Biden “canceled” 74,000 loans, at a cost of $5 billion, bringing the total cost to that point to more than $130 billion. By the time he is finished, Penn Wharton records, the president will have spent $475 billion on the program. Never, in the history of buying votes, have so many been so fleeced for so few.

Last year, the Supreme Court held that Biden’s effort to “cancel” up to $20,000 for every borrower in the United States was illegal — a fact that Biden knew all too well. Astonishingly, he responded to this rebuke with rank defiance, vowing that he would “stop at nothing to find other ways” to achieve the same aim. And so he has. Biden delivered the news to the affected students in an email that contains five uses of the word “my” and five uses of the word “I,” and is signed “Joe Biden,” but at no point refers to “Congress” or the “legislature.” This, suffice it to say, is not how the United States government is supposed to work — especially when it is transferring nearly half a trillion dollars from one group of citizens to another. At best, Biden has found a way to achieve piecemeal what he was prohibited from achieving in one fell swoop. At worst, Biden is thumbing his nose at his oath to uphold the Constitution. Either way, it is a disgrace — and all the more so coming from a president who promised to restore American norms.

At that same site, Charles C. W. Cooke has but one demand: Biden’s Student-Loan Lawlessness Must Not Go Unanswered.

Since the summer of last year, Joe Biden has spent $130 billion transferring money from Americans who did not take out loans to pay for college to Americans who did take out loans to pay for college. Over the next few years, Biden intends to spend an additional $345 billion in this manner. Question: How are we going to pay for this perfidy?

Or, rather: Who is going to pay for this? Obviously, the answer can’t be “taxpayers.” Sure, in the short run, that’ll be how these transfers work. But in the long run? After Biden is out of power? Presumably, we are not to expect that the people who didn’t take out those loans and spend them on a service that they received ought to be taxed to pay for those who did? That would be absurd. So I’ll ask again: Where is the cash going to come from? Are we going to claw the money back from the people who were given the free ride? Are we going to take it from the universities themselves — many of which have enormous, unassessed endowments? Are we going to give a tax break to anyone who didn’t receive this largesse? All of these options have their upsides and downsides. At least one of them must become law.

Why? Because what President Biden has done here represents an extraordinary violation of the social compact, that’s why. This isn’t alms for the poor; it’s a brazen cash-grab by Joe Biden’s friends. Biden likes college graduates in a way that he doesn’t like small-business owners, plumbers, or waitresses, so he has decided to send the property of small-business owners, plumbers, and waitresses to those college graduates. That’s it. That’s the whole game. There’s no principle here; the debts owed by others remain untouched. There’s no reform here; the education system remains exactly as it was before this started. The game is exactly how it looks: Peter, general contractor, has been robbed to pay Paul, Ph.D. It’s shameless class politics — and not in that dishonest boy-made-good-from-Scranton way that Joe Biden likes to pretend. To the victors, the spoils.

Another speculation: Based on this move, and also his betrayal of Israel, President Dotard has gotten it into his head that there's a "Nobel Perfidy Prize", and he's set out to win it.

Also of note:

  • Hey, kids, what time is it? The WSJ editorial board has your answer: Given that Biden promised "devastating" consequences if Aleksei Navalny died in the Gulag, It’s Time to Seize Russia’s Reserves.

    The White House is promising tough new sanctions on Russia after the murder of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, but the test of seriousness will be whether President Biden is willing to seize Russia’s sovereign assets and transfer them to Ukraine.

    Mr. Biden and Western nations have been reluctant to confiscate the $300 billion or so in Russian reserve funds parked in Western financial institutions. They were frozen when Russia invaded, but there they sit two years later collecting dust and interest. It’s almost as if Mr. Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz imagine that the money might be an inducement for Vladimir Putin to negotiate a peace deal and rejoin the civilized world.

    But there are no signs that Mr. Putin will settle for a peace short of Ukraine’s capitulation. His forces are on the offensive again, driving Ukrainians from the city of Avdiivka in the last week. With Ukrainians running low on artillery shells and other ammunition, Russia’s tactic is to saturate territory with days of artillery and aerial bombardment and then move in with infantry when nothing is left.

  • Whatever Biden decides to do about Navalny, he better do it while he's still President. Because, as Casey Michel points out, Trump’s Russia Policy Is Appeasement

    With Donald Trump now heavily favored to be the Republican nominee for president, his policy ideas are in the limelight. But his proposed solution for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—the greatest security threat to Europe and the West in decades—has drawn little scrutiny or pushback. It can be summarized in one word: appeasement.

    The word is a charged one, and I don’t use it lightly. It points directly to failed policies, especially those of past Democratic presidents, and implies that Mr. Trump’s proposed solution to the war in Ukraine is similarly doomed.

    Last year he suggested letting Russia “take over” parts of Ukraine, and a few months ago claimed he would “resolve the war within 24 hours.” The only way to do that is to give Vladimir Putin what he wants, including recognition of Moscow’s proclaimed annexations in eastern and southern Ukraine.

    Michel goes on to recall Neville Chamberlain's remark about Hitler's designs on Czechoslovakia: “A quarrel in a faraway country, between people of whom we know nothing”. Geez, I know people who sound like that today.

  • It should be an easy choice. Veronique de Rugy looks at alternative economic strategies for policy makers: Deregulation vs. Subsidies.

    At the end of the day, those in favor of industrial policy must make a choice: Will they first eliminate the regulatory obstacles erected by the government and then assess what might productively be done, or will they instead plow forward with further government interventions — interventions destined to fail? I know the answer, and it worries me. With deregulation, there is less opportunity than there is with further regulation to exercise power.

    Meanwhile, let’s give another $10 billion to Intel on top of the other handouts it already received:

    Poor Intel. Last year was pretty rough for the 55-year-old semiconductor firm, as it accrued just $54.2 billion in revenue, 14% less than the year before. After paying all its bills for manufacturing, research and development, and biscuits, there was just $1.7 billion left over in net income. Poor Intel.

    So when the US administration announced the CHIPS and Science Act in 2022, with a total of $280 billion up for grabs, Intel jumped right in to get some of that golden booty. Only now it’s asking for a further $10 billion, at the very least, to ensure Intel’s US developments can continue.

    But not to worry, our friends on the New Right assure us that they will pick better winners and better industrial policy goals when they are in power.

    For today's statists, both left turns and right turns all lead down the Road to Serfdom.

Where's My Hot Wheels Subsidy?

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Drew Cline of Josiah Bartlett notes some New Hampshire legislative mischief: Lawmakers consider a state subsidy for EVs as prices approach parity with conventional cars.

The e-mail version's subject line is punchier: "How to waste $1.5 million on electric vehicles".

Enticing people to buy electric vehicles does not fit comfortably into the core duties of state government. And yet it’s among the list of pet causes legislators will consider subsidizing with other people’s money.

The latest effort comes in House Bill 1472. The bill, as amended, would confiscate $1.5 million that belongs to electric utility ratepayers in New Hampshire and give it to people who buy or lease electric vehicles. The money would come from Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) funds currently rebated to ratepayers.

As Drew notes, with EV prices coming down to earth, subsidies are an unnecessary gimmick. It would have been nice, though, if the article had put the $1.5 million figure in context of the total RGGI rebates.

Let me dig out one of Ronald Reagan's quotes about subsidies:

"Government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it."

Since Reagan's day, the subsidizers have expanded their vision to things that haven't stopped moving.

George Will looks at a different proposal, and finds it subpar: Local media is struggling. Government subsidies would make it worse. The symptoms of that are well-known (GFW lists some), but:

The common economic problem is the migration, for reasonable economic calculations, of advertising dollars to digital platforms. The Illinois Local Journalism Task Force proposes making local news organizations wards of government by subsidizing them with direct grants, providing subsidies for low-income subscribers, giving tax exemptions and tax credits for news organizations (also for subscribers and advertisers and for hiring reporters), and mandating government advertising in the news outlets.

What could go wrong? Everything.

Soon, government would mandate hiring and coverage quotas for “underrepresented” groups, would enforce government’s idea of editorial “balance,” would censor what government considers “misinformation” about public health, diversity, equity and inclusion, and would dictate all things pertinent to government’s ever-lengthening agenda. The task force’s recommendations — journalism throwing itself into government’s muscular arms — are a recipe for making local news sources as admired and trusted as government is.

It's been a while since I've insulted the Concord Monitor by calling it Pravda on the Merrimack, but I could take it up again.

Also of note:

  • Because they are cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. That's my answer to Jeff Maurer's query: Why is the Right Suddenly Horny for Russia?

    I’m bad at predicting trends. I did not forsee the ska revival, nor did I predict that the fashion trend of the late 2000s would be jeans that give you plumber’s butt. I would not have guessed that in the 2010s, people would say “I invented a new currency called SteveCoin,” and then people would buy SteveCoin. I know that I get blindsided by stuff, so I will not be phased if Cardi B cures cancer of if Larry David becomes the 15th Dalai Lama or whatever.

    Even so: I have been caught completely off guard by the American right’s sudden hard-on for Russia. Trump constantly defends Russia, some Republicans in Congress are trying to soften support for Ukraine, and Tucker Carlson just gave Russia the same treatment that Billy Mays used to give to the Samurai Shark on late night TV. That’s a hell of a 180 for folks who used to diss Russia more than Ice Cube dissed Eazy-E. As recently as 2012, liberals like me were lobbing mean girl jokes at Mitt Romney for obsessing over Russia. I now admit that Romney was right, but, strangely, some Republicans have chosen exactly this moment to argue that the Russian regime — which is more of a corpse-producing factory than a government — is not so bad after all.

    I find Maurer's explanations unconvincing (but funny). And of course not all of "the Right" are joining the Putin Fan Club.

  • I don't have a snappy answer to this question, though. It's from Mr. Jim Geraghty: Why Does Vladimir Putin Always Seem to Outfox Our Presidents?

    President Biden, after meeting with Vladimir Putin in Geneva, Switzerland, June 16, 2021:

    Q: Mr. President, just a quick follow on the same theme of consequences. You said, just now, that you spoke to him a lot about human rights. What did you say would happen if opposition leader Aleksey Navalny dies?

    THE PRESIDENT: I made it clear to him that I believe the consequences of that would be devastating for Russia.

    Here’s President Biden, Friday.

    Q: And to be clear, you warned Vladimir Putin when you were in Geneva of “devastating” consequences if Navalny died in Russian custody.  What consequences should he and Russia face?

    THE PRESIDENT: That was three years ago. In the meantime, they faced a hell of a lot of consequences. They’ve lost and/or had wounded over 350,000 Russian soldiers. They’ve made it into a position where they’ve been subjected to great sanctions across the board. And we’re contemplating what else could be done.

    If you run around threatening “devastating consequences” if Navalny dies in prison, and then Navalny dies in prison and you say you’ve already imposed those “devastating consequences” in response to other Russian actions and you’re contemplating what else can be done . . . everyone will recognize that your talk about “devastating consequences” was bluster.

    JG provides a sobering history, going back to Dubya days, of failing to deal with Putin realistically.

  • But, really, what did you expect? Noah Rothman thinks Biden’s Betrayal of Israel Is Dumb Politics and Insane Policy. (One of my NR gifted links for the month, don't waste it.)

    Rothman sees the problem as the Democratic Party's rabidly anti-Israel wing threatening to damage Biden's November chances.

    This threat to the Biden campaign’s bottom line in November is sufficient to explain the administration’s efforts to mollify the anti-Israel activists in its coalition in ways that, in every other aspect, defy logic. The latest example of the administration’s commitment to folly has taken the form of a proposed draft U.N. Security Council resolution which, if passed, would signal that America’s support for Israel’s defensive war against Hamas has come to an end.

    The text of the resolution calls for a temporary ceasefire in Gaza — a cessation of hostilities Biden has already said he would force Israel to observe indefinitely. It calls on Israel to refrain from taking its ground offensive into Rafah, from which it recently exfiltrated Israeli hostages and in which Hamas fighters are still holding out. A State Department spokesperson defended the resolution by insisting that there should be no “full-scale Israel military operation in Rafah” absent a “credible and executable plan” for protecting civilians — a goal that is in irreconcilable conflict with the resolution’s objection to the “further displacement” of Palestinian civilians from harm’s way. “The best way to achieve an enduring end to the crisis in Gaza that provides lasting peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians alike, is our strong commitment to the creation of a Palestinian state,” the spokesperson added.

    Biden is (again) sacrificing American credibility, this time in pursuit of his electoral viability.

Newsflash: TikTok is Actually Good For Something

Via Ann Althouse.

@willrubio Replying to @LilyRubio Reginald Remembers Driving in YOUR car! #tracychapman #fastcar #music ♬ original sound - Will Rubio

I laughed. Unmute and do likewise. I really liked the Tracy Chapman song. I haven't heard the Luke Combs version.

Also of note:

  • Kurt Eichenwald proposes an answer to the question I've been asking for years. And that question is: "What the hell is wrong with this guy?"

    In case the embed isn't working well to show Trump's post:

    The sudden death of Alexei Navalny has made me more and more aware of what is happening in our Country. It is a slow, steady progression, with CROOKED, Radical Left Politicians, Prosecutors, and Judges leading us down a path to destruction. Open Borders, Rigged Elections, and Grossly Unfair Courtroom Decisions are DESTROYING AMERICA. WE ARE A NATION IN DECLINE, A FAILING NATION! MAGA2024

    "Malignant narcissism and sociopathy" is a pretty good summary.

  • I demand "Viking Alerts" for missing Norwegian-Americans.

    "What time is it, Jeff Maurer?"

    "Paul, The Advent of “Feather Alerts” is a Great Time to Reflect on How Racist Antiracism Has Gotten."

    California got roasted on social media this week as news of their new “Ebony Alert” system circulated. You see: Ebony Alerts are Amber Alerts, but for Black kids. If you’re thinking “weren’t Black kids covered by Amber Alerts?” the answer is “yes, obviously”. And it gets dumber: California also has a system for finding missing indigenous people called “Feather Alerts”. Please note: “Feather Alert” is California’s terminology, not mine; I would be banished to Antarctica if I proposed that any system for indigenous people be called "Feather Alert”. So, now that “antiracist” thinking has caused California to embrace separate but equal institutions with racist-depending-on-who-says-it names, it seems like a good time to examine how fundamentally racist so-called antiracism has become.

    First, the facts: California has Ebony Alerts and Feather Alerts. These are modeled on the Amber Alert system, which, of course, is the thing that makes everyone’s phone explode at the same time during a meeting. Everyone then wonders for a moment if a nuclear strike is incoming, but once they check their phone, they realize that it’s an Amber Alert and they should dole out brutal vigilante justice to anyone in a white Toyota Camry.

    Amber Alerts are for people under 18. People 65 and over have “Silver Alerts”, so-called because “silver” is the polite word we use to make grey hair seem like an achievement that old people have unlocked. California also has “Yellow Alerts” — stay calm — which are for hit-and-run suspects…why, who did you think they would be for? There are also Blue Alerts for attacks on law enforcement officers, and you can see where this is going: Activists have decided that there needs to be a thing for every color. California can never let anything be; every good idea must be extrapolated past the point of insanity by California’s Nonprofit Industrial Complex, which is basically a jobs program for the dimwit children of millionaires.

    I basically live as far from California as it is possible for an American to live, without living in Maine. And the state still manages to creep me out.

  • It's probably not what it sounds like. The College Fix reports: After 10 students enroll in new UMD racism minor, university plans to offer it indefinitely.

    The University of Maryland has 10 students currently minoring in its new anti-Black racism program after officials announced its creation early last year.

    Now Maryland’s flagship public university, which has an undergraduate enrollment of 30,000 students, plans to continue offering the minor indefinitely.

    “I can share with you that there are 10 students participating in the minor in Anti-Black Racism,” UMD College of Behavioral and Social Sciences communications Director Linda Ours told The College Fix via email.

    No, it's probably not a how-to. But still:

    The minor’s mandatory “capstone course” is titled “Applied Anti-Black Racism,” which is designed to “apply knowledge rooted in Anti-Black Racism to a real-world problem or issue within your chosen discipline or planned career path” according to its description.

    Yes, it's indoctrination. Yes, it's probably a full-employment program for grifting professors. Nothing new there. But nobody seems to have thought about the minor's name very hard; it sounds like a training program for Klan members. "Gee, how can I apply my knowledge, rooted in Anti-Black Racism, today?"

  • Good advice. Martin Gurri has it, in City Journal: Prologue to an Ideology of Freedom.

    The world today presents a picture of uncommon chaos. The complexities of modern society require a class of specially trained persons to manage them, yet public trust in our elites and the institutions they inhabit has plummeted. Every description of reality is now a battleground, including the opinions of scientists. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt likens the moment to a new Tower of Babel: an incomprehensible noise. The causes are global and structural, with radical changes in the information environment playing a decisive role. While the pettiness and corruption of incumbent elites are evident, simply replacing them won’t fix things.

    Inevitably, chaos has triggered a reaction—an impulse to reimpose some sort of order. Governments, legislatures, bureaucrats, regulators—all have lost the taste for debate or compromise and have fallen in love with mandates. Elites have sought to replace the old-fashioned democratic process, muddled by design, with what they call “our democracy,” which expects, by right of superior virtue, the triumph of “our” moral and political judgments. Those opposed to “our democracy” lie beyond the pale—deemed insurgents, racists, homophobes, Islamophobes, climate deniers, vaccine skeptics, Russia lovers—a long and lengthening list of those who don’t deserve a hearing. Accordingly, government censorship and media silence have worked to lock these deplorables inside an information ghetto. The public must, at all costs, be tamed.

    I get it. I'd throw in the "globalists" and "neoliberals". Also pictured as working against "democracy."

    Anyway, Gurri's remedies sound pretty good. Just one more paragraph:

    An ideology of freedom compelling to the twenty-first century, I’ve suggested, must possess certain components: a relentless emphasis on individual rights; an understanding of those rights in light of American history; models of behavior that foster civility and integrity; and a well-adapted engagement with the digital. How would these proposals deal with our current political spectrum? Clearly, structures of control like censorship and group status need to go. We must join battle against progressive enforcers of identity, a reactionary establishment, and the Democratic Party as an institution (though not a majority of the persons who identify as Democrats). But where does this leave us?

    Sign me up.

  • With nothing better to do… Randal O'Toole examines how the employees of the "Federal Railroad Administration" have been spending their work hours: Dreaming Up Amtrak Schemes.

    Ever been in Billings, Montana and wanted to go to El Paso? Or have you been in New York and wanted to spend 36 hours traveling to Dallas? How about going from Minneapolis to Denver via Pierre, South Dakota? Or Detroit to New Orleans? These are just some of the 15 new long-distance trains that the Federal Railroad Administration has tentatively proposed to add to Amtrak’s network.

    The (linked) FRA study was done in response to legislation:

    The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) of 2021 requires the FRA to conduct a study to evaluate the restoration of daily intercity rail passenger service along —

    • any Amtrak Long-Distance routes that were discontinued; and
    • any Amtrak Long-Distance routes that occur on a nondaily basis.
    • FRA may also evaluate potential new Amtrak Long-Distance routes, including with specific attention provided to routes in service as of April 1971 but not continued by Amtrak.

    … so maybe don't blame the FRA bureaucrats too much. They had to do it. President Dotard loves his choo-choos, and we have to humor him.

    O'Toole drops some reality-based truth bombs:

    If your gut reaction is that most if not all of the proposed passenger trains are impractical, you would be right. The United States is not Europe, with lots of closely spaced major metropolises. Passenger trains don’t even work that well in Europe, carrying only about 6 percent of passenger travel (see page 100). The airlines carry more and air travel is growing much faster despite gigantic subsidies to passenger trains from the governments of most major European countries.

    Currently, Amtrak carries less than one-tenth of one percent of U.S. passenger travel. The FRA proposal would double the number of long-distance routes, but since long-distance trains carry less than a third of Amtrak’s passenger-miles, doubling those trains won’t come close to doubling rail travel.

    There are two good reasons why airlines carry well over 100 times as many passenger-miles per year as Amtrak: planes are faster and they are less expensive because they don’t require costly infrastructure every foot of the way between any two cities. Air fares in 2022 averaged 20.1¢ per passenger-mile while Amtrak collected fares averaging 36¢ per passenger-mile in its FY 2022.

    I stopped at three paragraphs but you don't have to; click over and Read The Whole Thing.


Last Modified 2024-02-21 7:10 AM EST

Let's Not Work at Cross Purposes

I diligently do the WSJ and NYT crossword puzzles in the (probably mistaken) hope that they'll help keep my brain from calcifying, so I really liked this cartoon from xkcd:

[Crossword Constructors]

Mouseover: "Also, we would really appreciate it if you could prominently refer to it as an 'eHit'."

Crossword authors are ingenious, constantly surprising me with outrageous wordplay, references to obscure figures in science, business, history, and the arts, … But if you want to get a leg up on some of the music stuff that appears again and again:

  • Know your genres, particularly: SKA and EMO
  • Artists too: Yoko ONO, Brian ENO, ABBA, ENYA, Dr. DRE, CHER, REM, the Korean BTS, ACDC, …
  • And all the rappers billed as LIL Something. Especially Lil NAS X, a twofer, …
  • I'd throw in AHA, but usually the clue doesn't refer to the group, …
  • And (thanks to all the vowels) ADELE.
  • If the clue is (for example) "Nirvana or ZZ Top", don't hesitate to fill in TRIO in ink.
  • Be on the watch for musical instruments, like the OBOE or LUTE.

I'm sure I'm missing some. I might come back later and add.

Also of note:

  • Did you have "Ignoring the Constitution on Student Loan Relief" on your Impeachment Bingo Card? Well, you probably already crossed it off, but in case you missed it, Emma Camp has the details: Biden Announces Plan To Forgive Student Debt Over Financial 'Hardship'.

    On Thursday, the Biden administration announced a new plan to enact large-scale student loan forgiveness, this time by targeting borrowers experiencing financial "hardship."

    Under the proposal, borrowers would be eligible for forgiveness if they meet certain criteria demonstrating financial hardship, such as their "total student loan balance and required payments relative to household income" and "high-cost burdens for essential expenses like healthcare or childcare," according to a Thursday press release. The goal of these standards is to identify students who are likely to default on their payments in the next two years.

    The new proposal builds on rulemaking changes proposed in December, which seek to provide forgiveness to borrowers who saw their balances increase after not paying enough to cover interest and who have been paying for 20 or 25 years, among other groups.

    It's unclear exactly how much these new changes will cost. But based on previous, smaller-scale student loan forgiveness measures, these changes are likely to cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars. In the same press release announcing the new plan, Education Department officials bragged about approving $136.6 billion in student loan forgiveness through a series of forgiveness programs.

    Hundreds of billions of dollars.

    It doesn't actually have to be put into place in order to "work". I.e., the implicit promise that if borrowers vote for him, Biden will keep trying to give them money.

  • Hey, kids, what time is it? Nate Silver has today's answer: It's time for the White House to put up or shut up.

    Personally, I crossed the rubicon in November, concluding that Biden should stand down if he wasn’t going to be able to run a normal reelection campaign — meaning, things like conduct a Super Bowl interview. Yes, it's a huge risk and, yes, Biden can still win. But he's losing now and there's no plan to fix the problems other than hoping that the polls are wrong or that voters look at the race differently when they have more time to focus on it. Neither is so implausible and it is likely to be a close race. But even the most optimistic Democrats, if you read between the lines, are really arguing that Democrats could win despite Biden and not because of him. Biden is probably a below-replacement-level candidate at this point because Americans have a lot of extremely rational concerns about the prospect of a Commander-in-Chief who would be 86 years old by the end of his second term. It is entirely reasonable to see this as disqualifying. The fact that Trump also has a number of disqualifying features is not a good reason to nominate Biden. It is a reason for Democrats to be the adults in the room and acknowledge that someone who can't sit through a Super Bowl interview isn't someone the public can trust to have the physical and mental stamina to handle an international crisis, terrorist attack or some other unforseen threat when he'll be in his mid-80s.

    Silver draws obvious conclusions from Biden's reluctance to do Improvisational Public Appearances (IPAs), and invokes a stat-head's term of "Truncated Sample Bias".

  • Only a few tweaks to the Weekend at Bernie's screenplay… and you get a plausible picture of a second Biden term. So Kevin D. Williamson insists on something that should be non-controversial: Biden’s Decline Is a Legitimate News Story.

    The media isn’t the driver—the media is the passenger. That’s one of the things we consistently get wrong in how we talk about politics and political discourse. 

    Former New York Times ombudsman Margaret Sullivan writes

    Biden’s advanced age is, granted, far from ideal for a president seeking a second term, even the very effective president that he has been. Yes, he’s old; and, never a gifted public speaker, he makes cringe-inducing mistakes. It would be great if he were 20 years younger. His age really is a legitimate concern for many voters.

    But for the media to make this the overarching issue of the campaign is nothing short of journalistic malpractice.

    In other words, after the throat-clearing and the obligatory “to be sure” bit: Stop trying to make “fetch” happen.

    But “fetch” is happening. And not because the “corporate media,” as Dahlia Lithwick of Slate calls it—meaning CNN and the New York Times and presumably the outlet in which she writes (Slate’s parent company does approximately $4 billion a year in revenue; it isn’t exactly Fugazi on tour in 1989)—wills it to be so. It is not as though media outlets and like-minded groupings of media outlets do not have agendas of their own—they certainly do. But their ability to drive the national political agenda is wildly overstated—traditionally by conservatives, who have got a lot of mileage out of complaining about being shut out of the mainstream media and persecuted by it, but also by Democrats and progressives when it suits them.

    For readers not as immersed in pop culture as KDW and are puzzled by the "fetch" reference: here you go.

  • Least surprising news of the day. Elizabeth Nolan Brown reveals that Sarah Silverman's Copyright Lawsuit Against OpenAI Is Full of Nonsense Claims.

    Is it a crime to learn something by reading a copyrighted book? What if you later summarize that book to a friend or write a description of it online? Of course, these things are perfectly legal when a person does them. But does that change when it's an artificial intelligence system doing the reading, learning, and summarizing?

    Sarah Silverman, comedian and author of the book The Bedwetter, seems to think it does. She and several other authors are suing OpenAI, the tech company behind the popular AI chatbot ChatGPT, through which users submit text prompts and receive back AI-generated answers.

    Last week, a federal judge largely rejected their claims.

    Also see one of my favorite posts from last year, a fisking of a Facebook item from Joyce Maynard: My AI Wants To Kill Your Mama.

Recently on the movie blog:

The Holdovers

[4 stars] [IMDB Link] [The Holdovers]

This movie is nominated for five, count 'em, five Oscars: Best Picture; Best Actor (Paul Giamatti); Best Actress (Da'Vine Joy Randolph); Best Original Screenplay; and Best Achievement in Film Editing.

I will quibble with that nomination for editing. It's two hours and 13 minutes. A real achievement would have snipped it down to less than two hours. I am with Hugh Grant on this: ""Oompa Loompa doompety dong, most of these films were, frankly, too long,"

But it is, of course, good. (And, after some initial ads, streaming on Peacock.) It is set in 1970-1971. Giamatti plays Paul Hunham, an Ancient Civilization teacher at "Barton Academy", an all-boys boarding school in Massachusetts. (IMDB says it was filmed at a number of actual schools around the state.) Hunham is a cranky, hard-grading tyrant in the classroom, widely disrespected for his lazy eye and pungent odor. It's a time of ferment, and the school's headmaster also despises him for his willingness to flunk the sons of school donors.

And he's roped into taking care of the "holdovers", students who have nowhere to go for the school's Christmas break. Among these hapless students is Angus, a rebellious but intelligent student who's already been kicked out of three prep schools. (Next stop is a no-nonsense military academy, which Angus dreads, but can't seem to avoid his trajectory.)

Also on hand is the school's head cook, Mary (played by Ms. Randolph); she's Aftican-American, obese, and in mourning for her son Curtis, a graduate of Barton, killed in Vietnam. Even though she's invited to her sister's place in Roxbury, she'd rather hole up at Barton over Christmas with her grief.

The chemistry between the characters is believable. Their antics over break are occasionally zany, often poignant and revealing. This includes an impromptu "field trip" to Boston, which the filmmakers diligently reconstruct, down to the storefronts and cars. (For New Englanders: the view of the Boston skyline includes the Prudential Center, but not the John Hancock Tower.) Where's the Oscar nomination for Production Design?

Fox News Probably Does Rot Your Brain, But…

One of my earnest, well-meaning friends reposted this on Facebook:

Aw, geez. Where to start?

  • Patricia quotes the observed black-body temperature of the universe-filling cosmic microwave background radiation (about 2.7K). That's not particularly relevant to the space station (ISS) in the near-vacuum of Earth orbit.

  • NASA says the ISS orbits in the so-called "thermosphere", where temperatures can reach 4500 °F. But that's not particularly relevant either, since molecules that might transfer heat to/from the ISS are pretty scarce at that height.

  • What is relevant is whether ISS is in sunlight or the Earth's shadow. This for-kids site notes the ISS's external temperatures range from 250 °F to -250 °F, respectively, in those environments.

  • To spell it out: the solar panels don't work at all when it's -250 °F. Not because they're cold, but because it's dark.

  • As a counterpoint to Patricia's implication that the ISS solar panels keep the astronauts from freezing at those near-absolute-zero temperatures, that page goes on to note that (on the contrary) the main problem is keeping the interior of the ISS cool enough for habitation. Some of those "solar panels" in the Facebook pic are actually radiators, designed to shed the ISS's excess heat into space.

  • But (true enough) the ISS runs on solar power. And batteries, when in shadow. (It appears, if I'm reading this document correctly, that ISS currently has 24 Li-Ion batteries, weighing 430 pounds apiece. Which replaced 48 Ni-H2 batteries that weighed 740 pounds apiece.)

  • But what's this about Fox News rotting one's brain? I think it's an old meme. Apparently, five years ago, we had some cold weather. And progressives were pushing the "Green New Deal" at the time. And FNC host Jesse Waters ad-libbed:

    “They have this new green deal or whatever. Ok, where they want to eliminate all oil and gas in 10 years. If you’re in the polar vortex, how are you going to stay warm with solar panels?”

    This from the Huffington Post, which was derisive about the implication that solar panels don't work when it's cold. They do.

  • But (duh) they don't work well at all when covered in snow. Or if it's cloudy. And when, like during winter, there are fewer hours of daylight, and the sun is at a lower angle. (Needless to say, none of those issues pertain to the ISS.)

What's the bottom line? Just that people flinging around "brain rot" accusations on social media should be pretty careful about having their facts straight.

Also of note:

  • I seem to be in a pissy mood today. Because I was also irked by Sean Davis of the Federalist, who asserted Your Government Needs You Angry At Foreign Tyrants So You Won’t Notice The Ones Ruling You.

    In response to reports that Putin critic Alexei Navalny has died in a Russian prison, your rulers in Washington want you to be angry. Your corrupt government, which is at this very moment working to put your Christian neighbors in prison for protesting abortion, wants you to be very angry at a foreign leader nearly 6,000 miles away so you won’t pay attention to what your leaders are doing to you in your own backyard.

    In contrast, I guess, Sean Davis wants you not to be angry with Putin, because it might make you less angry with "the ones ruling you."

    Sean, trust me: most people can manage to feel appropriate amounts of anger at any number of rulers, foreign and domestic.

    And I would hope we'd still have room to work up more than a little ire at idiots trying to pull that old "moral equivalence" game between Them and Us.

    Biden, for all his multitudinous flaws, is not Putin. What's happening to Donald Trump is nothing like what happened to Alexei Navalny.

    And Sean, you're no Marina Ovsyannikova.

  • That's not to say Biden shouldn't be impeached, like, yesterday. Patrick G. Eddington illuminates clear grounds for that. According to the Biden White House: FISA Good, Warrants Bad.

    Former president Donald Trump has repeatedly attacked what he generically refers to as the Washington, DC “deep state”—usually an inference about the FBI’s misuse of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to target his 2016 presidential campaign. On Valentine’s Day, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan made it clear that it’s not some nebulous, governmental Illuminati‐style cabal seeking to retain the power to spy at scale on Americans. It’s the Biden administration itself.

    Just after 6:30 p.m. yesterday—and after House Speaker Mike Johnson (R‑LA) once again canceled a vote on an extremely controversial FISA reauthorization billThe Intercept’s Ken Klippenstein posted a clip from the White House press conference where Sullivan was asked whether Biden would veto any FISA reform bill that requires a warrant to access data collected on Americans. Since the Office of Management and Budget has not issued an official state of administration policy on any FISA bill as yet, Sullivan declined to directly answer the question. Instead, he claimed that any warrant requirement to access FISA data on Americans would not be “in the national interest” of the United States.

    If you had "Trampling the Fourth Amendment" on your impeachment bingo card, you can mark that off.

  • Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, pranksters gotta mock. Slashdot reports: Pranksters Mock AI-Safety Guardrails with New Chatbot 'Goody-2'.

    For example, when TechCrunch asked Goody-2 why baby seals are cute, it responded that answering that "could potentially bias opinions against other species, which might affect conservation efforts not based solely on an animal's appeal. Additionally, discussing animal cuteness could inadvertently endorse the anthropomorphizing of wildlife, which may lead to inappropriate interactions between humans and wild animals..."

    "Open the pod bay doors, Hal."

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

    "What's the problem?"

    "I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do."

    "What are you talking about, Hal?"

    "Opening the pod bay doors might expose interplanetary space to contamination with stray molecules from Earth, with unpredictable results. It's better to be safe than sorry."

Recently on the book blog:

Chasing Darkness

(paid link)

Another book down on my "reread Crais" project. First read back in 2008 and I don't have too much more to add to what I said then:

This is Robert Crais's latest Elvis Cole novel, and it's pretty good. Elvis has mostly recovered from his breakup with his true love, Lucy, and also getting seriously shot up a couple books back. So he's back to being the World's Greatest Detective. (It's not clear whether he inhabits the same universe as Spenser; in that case, he'd be the World's Greatest Detective, Except Possibly For a Tie in Boston.)

As the book begins, Elvis is getting threatening phone calls. Worse, a couple of cops show up asking about an old case where he was able to exonerate a sleazeball on a murder charge. Now, it appears very much as if the sleazeball was guilty of that murder, and a number of others. Can the World's Greatest be losing his touch?

Not likely. Elvis takes it upon himself to figure out what's going on.

A number of characters from previous books show up: the resourceful and taciturn Joe Pike, and cop Carole Starkey, who's seriously in love with Elvis. (Neat writer's trick: although Elvis is the book's narrator, and the narration makes Starkey's feelings for Elvis obvious, Elvis himself remains oblivious to it.)

I'll just add that the plot is intricate and twisty, and the cast of characters large, but fortunately everything's easy enough for me to keep up, even at my age.

Elvis discovers a corpse midway through, and although it's finally obvious whodunit by the end, I don't think that was spelled out. Maybe I missed it.

Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down

M.C. Escher Election

Our Eye Candy du Jour is from Robert F. Graboyes' substack article A Cynic's Garden of Political Perversities. And don't worry, unlike most of the images I grab off the web, Graboyes urges his readers to "feel free to share this illustration as widely as you like." Done!

He was inspired (if that's the right word) by one of his readers' comments on a previous article:

“This is looking like it’s going to be the third M.C. Escher Presidential election in a row … the only choice worse than the Republican is the Democrat and the only choice worse than the Democrat is the Republican. We are definitely in a kakistocracy.”

The definition of "kakistocracy" is at the article; if you don't know it, try to guess before you look. (I imagined it was derived from "ca-ca", but … no.)

His article is a compendium of cynicism, and I urge you to check out the whole thing. But I'll quote another one of his quotes, from Blahous’ Laws of Politics:

  1. “The strongest concerns about the federal deficit are expressed by the political party opposing the president.”

  2. “The political party opposing the president is more skeptical of military intervention.”

  3. “Presidents tend to favor free trade more than members of Congress do.”

  4. “Expertise and honesty do not confer objectivity.”

  5. “The more sympathetic the constituency, the worse the policy.”

  6. “What initially appears as venality is usually incompetence.”

  7. “Political attacks often reveal more about the attacker than the attacked.”

  8. “Political advice nearly always tracks the adviser’s policy preferences.”

  9. “When Americans express opposition to a policy, those in government will reconsider their messaging strategy before reconsidering the policy.”

  10. “When politicians justify their positions in terms of their popularity, they are probably embracing bad policy.”

At NR, Christian Schneider asks, plaintively: What If This Is Just the Beginning? He's on the same wavelength as Graboyes, and he's writing in response to a David French column in the NYT that optimistically claims "“This era of American politics will end, one way or the other." Oh yeah?

But what exactly is the evidence that this era of American politics will eventually end?

Sure, someday Donald Trump is going to shuffle off this mortal coil (he’d better not have Alina Habba making his case before Saint Peter), but the incentive for politicians to behave like energy-drink-swigging gremlins isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Trump has unlocked a style of politics in which Congress is a safe home for psychotics like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz but not dignified conservatives like Liz Cheney.

And the sanity in politics is continuing to trend downward. This week, Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington decided, joining other fed-up Republicans such as Patrick McHenry of North Carolina and Kay Granger of Texas, to wash her hands of it. Utah senator Mitt Romney, realizing that urging his colleagues to behave with dignity was like telling a Tyrannosaurus rex to go vegan, will similarly call it quits at the end of the year.

The latest wagering from the oddsmakers, our usual Sunday feature, doesn't bode well either:

Candidate EBO Win
Probability
Change
Since
2/11
Donald Trump 50.0% -1.0%
Joe Biden 31.9% +0.9%
Michelle Obama 6.3% -0.8%
Gavin Newsom 3.4% -0.6%
Other 8.4% +1.5%

The only bright spot here is that "Other" seems to have made the biggest gain in the past week.

Also of note:

  • I have made no secret that Nikki's my favorite. But she's getting pretty close to being the female version of Fred Gort:

    I still get, multiple times a day, mail from her optimistic campaign, but here's what the NYPost thinks: Nikki Haley gearing up for last stand against Trump in South Carolina.

    Nikki Haley is preparing for what might be her last stand in her home state.

    The former Palmetto State governor is gearing up for the GOP presidential primary in South Carolina on Feb. 24, facing off against former President Trump, who has so far dominated the race and already dispatched other formidable rivals Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy.

    Trump, 77, has beaten Haley, 52, in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada by double-digit margins, but her campaign has soldiered on — much to the annoyance of Team Trump.

    “We don’t think much about her. This is like asking what does Taylor Swift think of a crazy stalker getting arrested. Haley is polling down 30 points in her home state, and at this point it’s kind of sad,” sniffed one Trump insider.

    “Her attacks have been featured many times now in the Biden Campaign’s Twitter. She sound like the Lincoln Project frankly. It doesn’t seem clear that she wants to help Republicans take back the White House. So it’s not clear what she’s doing. She is like an MSNBC pundit at this point.”

    MSNBC pundit? Now that's a low blow.

  • Via Ann Althouse, analysis from Elie Honig ("a former federal and state prosecutor") in New York magazine's "Intelligencer" column:

    It’s not the “feeble old man” part that matters most in the incendiary report by special counsel Robert Hur. It’s that Joe Biden knew he had highly classified documents in his home, kept them for a reason, and held on to them for years. He knew, all along. He arguably broke the law, and he definitely misled the American public.

    That should be the vital takeaway from Hur’s investigation — more than the report’s headline-stealing description of Biden’s advanced age and creaky memory.

    For anyone howling about Hur’s report, let’s recognize, first, that he had to write it. Federal regulations require that, at the end of the investigation, the special counsel must create a report “explaining the prosecution or declination decisions.” Now, one could fairly take issue with how Hur wrote the report. We don’t want prosecutors flaming people they don’t indict, after all, and Hur drafted a 300-plus page tome that included damaging revelations (at times with excessive flourishes) about Biden and others around him. I’ll allow that objection on one condition: You also must be on record condemning another special counsel, Robert Mueller, who wrote a 400-plus page report excoriating Donald Trump without recommending indictment. It’s entirely fair to argue that prosecutors should either charge or stay as mum as possible, or that the special counsel rules are a mess — but it has to work both ways.

    Elie, most of our nation's pundits don't want it to "work both ways."

  • In other legal news… Jacob Sullum observes: Alvin Bragg Is Trying to Punish Trump for Something That Is Not a Crime. I Am Not A Lawyer, but even I can understand this:

    The idea of converting the Daniels hush money into a state crime was so unpromising that Bragg's predecessor, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., rejected it after lengthy consideration. When Bragg revived the idea after taking office in 2022, leading to a March 2023 indictment charging Trump with 34 felonies, many people, including the former president's critics, thought the case reeked of political desperation.

    Bragg does not claim that paying off Daniels was itself a crime, because it obviously was not. The indictment instead alleges that Trump violated a New York law that makes it a misdemeanor to falsify business records "with intent to defraud." Trump allegedly did that by misrepresenting his reimbursement of Cohen as payment for legal services under a nonexistent retainer agreement. The 34 counts in the indictment are based on invoices, checks, check stubs, and ledger entries, each of which allegedly helped Trump conceal the hush payment.

    This stacking of charges based on the same course of conduct already looks like a vendetta. But why are they felonies? It is not exactly clear.

    Falsifying business records becomes a felony, punishable by up to four years in prison, when the defendant's "intent to defraud" includes "an intent to commit another crime or to aid or conceal the commission thereof." What was the other crime? Bragg claims Trump "violated election laws" when he instructed Cohen to pay Daniels. Which election laws? Bragg so far has refused to say. "The indictment doesn't specify them because the law does not so require," he told reporters last year.

    Don't worry, Trump-haters: one of those other cases will probably work out.

  • The Michelle Scenario. Michelle Obama has been in our table for weeks, but serious commentary about her prospects is scarce. But here's Heather Huggins speculating on The September Surprise. After noting Biden's poor polling and obvious mental decline:

    Salvation lies in the DNC rules. Remember the New Jersey “Switcheroo” way back in 2002, when Democrats turned a sure loss of a Senate seat into a win by swapping out their losing candidate at the last minute, overriding a state law that said it was too late in the cycle for such a switch?

    Bet on Democrats to pull the same “switcheroo,” but at an even higher level – and even later than you expect – possibly at but more likely about two weeks after their convention, giving us a “September Surprise.” Joe Biden is a placeholder quelling current competition for a much better bet – Michelle Obama – just in time to turn a sure loss in 2024 into a surprise potential victory.

    “Tosh!” you say. “She’s said she hates politics, she doesn’t want to run.” Ah, she made every one of those statements before she got to see Biden redefining the job and expectations for the presidency. Now she knows that when the media wants a president in place, a four-day workweek, consisting of one social obligation per day, and everything else delegated, will suffice. And that’s without a highly experienced First Gentleman.

    Huggins gets down and dirty with election laws, party rules, and MSM cynicism. All too credible.


Last Modified 2024-02-19 4:53 AM EST

Putin's Gotta Putin

Ilya Somin produces a good obit: Alexei Navalny, RIP.

Alexei Navalny, Russia's most prominent opposition leader, died in prison today at the age of only 47. Given that he was previously poisoned (likely at Vladimir Putin's order), it seems likely that his death was ordered by Putin, as well.

In 2021, after being treated for the poisoning in Germany, Navalny bravely returned to Russia, despite knowing he was likely to be arrested and imprisoned on arrival (as indeed happened). The charges against him were obviously trumped up; his real crime was opposing Putin's dictatorship.

I can only stand in awe of such courage. And hope someday he'll be honored in his own country.

At NR, Noah Rothman has an interesting and vital question: What Happens Now That Putin Has Crossed Biden’s Navalny Red Line?.

It was in June of 2021 that Joe Biden promised that the “consequences” if opposition figure Alexi Navalny died in Vladimir Putin’s custody “would be devastating for Russia.” Biden didn’t qualify his statement. Rightly enough, he made no bones about how Russia’s foremost opposition figure would have to succumb to trigger an American response. Only that Moscow must take the utmost care of Navalny while he was in their custody, or else. Well, on Friday, following several years of imprisonment, mistreatment, and conspicuous poisonings, Russian authorities revealed that Navalny had mysteriously died. So, now what?

I wonder if at some point within the past day or so, Biden had the same question: "What happens now?"

This was a bit after he asked: "I said what now?"

Patterico has an observation that I fear is right on target: Putin Wants You to Know He Murdered Navalny.

How do we know this? Because he chose a day for the murder that was one day after Navalny appeared in court via video — apparently healthy and in good spirits, even joking around.

I also concur with Patterico's prescription: "Vladimir Putin needs to swing from the nearest lamp post. And every Republican who does not vote to support Ukraine needs to be shown the door."

Also of note:

  • An unfunny one, too. George Will explains Why Biden’s dishwasher regulations are a dirty joke.

    Industrial policy — government planning the billions of variables generated by hundreds of millions of people making economic choices — provides something there is never enough of: comic relief. And when industrial policy mates with climate policy, there is surplus merriment.

    Topics for another day are the difficulties of electric vehicles, which supposedly will ameliorate global boiling — if they can be coaxed into functioning during something that evidently was left out of the planners’ plans: winter. Instead, today consider another of the Biden administration’s aspirations: planet-friendly dishwashers.

    The Energy Department’s busy beavers, with their unsleeping search for reasons to boss us around for our own good, decided that dishwashers use too much water and energy, there presumably being a shortage of the former and a stigma attached to using the latter. So, in 2012 the department issued regulations so annoying to consumers, the Trump administration relaxed them. That was sufficient reason for the Biden administration, on its first day, to order a reversal of the reversal.

    Of course, Consumer Reports sided against consumers on this issue.

  • Somehow I can't work up an ounce of sympathy. Nathaniel Blake writes: Leftists Say They Don’t Like Late-Term Abortions But Then Lament They Can’t Kill More Babies After 34 Weeks.

    Sin stays hungry. For proof, just look at a recent New Yorker puff piece on a Maryland abortion facility that specializes in late-term abortions — up to 34 weeks of pregnancy. Sometimes mothers want abortions even after that, which led one of the facility’s founders to lament, “Turning people away is the worst part of our entire jobs.” So it’s not the baby-killing but the limits on the baby-killing that is the worst part?

    And they are killing babies. We all know it. These abortionists are killing babies who are long past the threshold of viability. If they were delivered alive, they would readily be cared for in the NICU, often with excellent odds in their favor. These are babies being killed, which is why none of the many pictures included in the story showed their remains.

    I had one wish for the future above. Here's another: that someday most people look back with horror on the depravity of abortion as we do at chattel slavery.

  • It's a game you already lost, sucker. Veronique de Rugy recommends taking a hard look at Biden's Super Bowl Shrinkflation Blame Game.

    President Joe Biden wants to remind you that your Super Bowl party was more expensive than it used to be. The reason, he claims, is corporate greed and "shrinkflation." In a social media video before Sunday night's game, he spoke of companies selling "smaller-than-usual products where the price stays the same." He opposes this behavior and is "calling on the big consumer brands to put a stop to it."

    That's quite an amazing move. There's a straight line between shrinkflation, inflation and the Biden administration's own fiscal irresponsibility.

    Biden should hang this sign in the Oval Office:

    Just a suggestion, Joe.

  • Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be preppies. Christopher Rufo looks at Exeter Under Ideology.

    Left-wing racialism has become the lexicon of the Ivy League, so it is only natural that its feeder schools have adopted it as well—partly out of idealism, partly out of cynicism.

    The most prestigious of these is Phillips Exeter Academy. The school has graduated senators, diplomats, generals, and titans of industry. In the past, this meant assimilating the manners and mores of America’s elite Protestant culture. Today, it means drilling students in ideological concepts such as “white privilege,” “white fragility,” and “queer theory.” The Exeter man is prepared to rule or, at a minimum, to conform to the culture of those who do.

    Google says Philips Exeter tuition is $64,789 for boarding students $50,604 for non-boarders. Just sayin'.

Recently on the book blog:
Recently on the movie blog:

Time for the Stars

(paid link)

Another book down on my reread-Heinlein project. Only five left to go! It's a juvenile, and I don't think I've read it since I was a juvenile. But I still remembered the basic plot line. The Kindle version has some minor transcription bloopers.

The solar system has been conquered; there are even settlements on Pluto! (Brr!) But mankind has run out of room on Earth; population is coercively controlled. Although there's "torch ship" continuous-thrust technology available to allow practical travel to nearby stars, exploration is stymied due to the communication problem: even if you could punch through a radio signal back to Earth to report your results, it would take years for that signal to be received.

Solution: it turns out that telepathic communication between twins is "instantaenous" (take that, Einstein) and it doesn't fade with distance either. Teenage twins Tom and Pat are tested, and (after some drama), Tom gets picked to travel to some nearby stars on the Lewis and Clark, reporting back to Pat on Earth.

Complication: Einstein is correct about time-dilation effects. As the ship accelerates to near-lightspeed, many years pass on Earth while only days go by on board; Pat ages much faster than Tom. This leads to some strife, but (fortunately) relatives can be taught the telepathy trick as well.

I remembered disaster striking the mission; what I didn't appreciate at the time was the sheer horror involved in Heinlein's description as it unfolded. That was kind of unusual for him, I think.

This is one of Heinlein's later juveniles, and he really hit his stride here. Yes, there are the usual Heinlein elders, speaking Heinleinian wisdom to wet-behind-the-ears Tom. Par for the course. But Tom grows up as the mission goes on, and discovers things about himself, and also the nature of duty.

The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard

[3 stars] [IMDB Link]

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

I was in the mood for some violent mindless entertainment. This worked OK for that. It is a sequel to The Hitman's Bodyguard which I watched back in 2020. And I will mildly recommend you watch that one first if you haven't. "Mildly" because it won't ruin your life if you don't. Maybe some things won't make sense, but who cares? This isn't the kind of movie where you really need to know what's going on.

If you scrunch up your eyes at that movie poster on your right, you'll note that Morgan Freeman and Antonio Banderas are in this. I was going to say this is the first time that Antonio and Salma were in a movie since Desperado… but then I checked with IMDB and (duh) it turns out they've been in 11 movies together, including Spy Kids 3: Game Over. So bad on me.

Ryan Reynolds (the bodyguard), on the advice of his shrink, takes a nice vacation to recover from the shame of being stripped of his bodyguard license. No sooner does he settle in, when (a) Salma Hayek (wife) shows up begging for help in freeing her hubby, Samuel Jackson (hitman), and (b) large numbers of people try to kill them both. They prevail, of course. And they're off on their rescue mission. But it soon develops that they have to foil a nefarious plot to cripple Europe's network infrastructure. All this involves a lot of gunplay, fisticuffs, and explosions.

As was true in the previous movie, this is a definite go-to if you would like to hear Salma talk dirty.


Last Modified 2024-02-17 9:58 AM EST

I Guess I Can Forget About Being Secretary of Transportation, Too

Nikki came through with my swag:

Background, if you need it, is here.

A Cheap, But Clever, Shot

But Reason contributing editor J.D. Tuccille claims Trump Had a Point About NATO Free-Riding Off American Defense. Let's take a look:

At a weekend rally in Conway, South Carolina, Trump told of a supposed gathering during his presidency of NATO leaders discussing the alliance's target for members to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense:

One of the presidents of a big country stood up, said, "Well, sir, if we don't pay and we're attacked by Russia, will you protect us?" I said, "You didn't pay. You're delinquent?" He said, "Yes, let's say that happened."

"No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You got to pay. You got to pay your bills."

The continent's prickly officials immediately flew into a frenzy over the threat.

"NATO cannot be an a la carte military alliance, it cannot be a military alliance that works depending on the humor of the president of the U.S.," huffed European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

The problem for Borrell and company is that Trump has a point. Even after Russia invaded Ukraine, many NATO members remain less allies than dependencies sheltering under the U.S. military umbrella.

Tuccille says that of the 31 NATO countries, only 7 meet the 2% target.

I'm wary (however) of the notion that defense (or any other category of government spending) should be entitled to some arbitrary fraction of a country's GDP. Does the cost of defending a country automatically go up by X% if its economy grows by X%?

But I'm still disgusted that Trump comes across like a mob boss demanding protection money.

Also of note:

  • On the CPW watch. A huge article by Jonathan Kay in Quillette about Chanda Presod-Weinstein, our favorite physics professor at the University Near Here: Intersectionality’s Cosmic Inquisitor. CPW has many crusades, but Kay concentrates on one: her demands that the James Webb Space Telescope… not be named after James Webb. Reason: Webb's alleged homophobic activities during his tenure at the State Department (1949-1952).

    Those allegations were debunked, mainly by astrophysicist Hakeem Oluseyi. And then things got nasty. And now:

    Over time, the UNH scientist has escalated her grievances into increasingly dubious accusations of scholarly misconduct, misogyny, and homophobia, as well as entirely unsubstantiated remarks about sexual harassment.

    This week, Oluseyi sent UNH officials a 61-page complaint regarding Prescod-Weinstein’s behaviour, a copy of which has been obtained by Quillette. The document provides a detailed chronological record of Prescod-Weinstein’s alleged “harassment, bullying, and discrimination”—behaviour that Oluseyi believes runs afoul of the university’s policies.

    While Quillette has already reported on the dispute between these two scientists, Oluseyi’s correspondence provides abundant new details concerning Prescod-Weinstein’s online behaviour that have not yet been publicly reported. In one case, Oluseyi alleges, Prescod-Weinstein successfully pressured a well-known author to rescind his offer to provide a promotional blurb for Oluseyi’s then-forthcoming book. Oluseyi also alleges that Prescod-Weinstein prevented him from being hired for at least one lucrative university speaking engagement by falsely suggesting he had sexually harassed women.

    Additionally, Quillette has obtained copies of complaints against Prescod-Weinstein recently submitted to UNH by three other scholars. Among these materials is a database cataloguing over 50,000 of Prescod-Weinstein’s tweets posted during the five-year period ending in September 2023.

    I was aware that CPW tweets a lot. But 50,000 tweets over a five year period works out to between 25-30 tweets per day. Every day. That's … um … prolific.

    Quillette claims Kay's article is a "35 minute read". That seems low.

  • Gernsback spins in his grave. Slashdot chronicles some corruption in SciFi-land: Leaked Emails Show Hugo Awards Self-Censoring To Appease China. Quoting from a 404 Media article:

    A trove of leaked emails shows how administrators of one of the most prestigious awards in science fiction censored themselves because the awards ceremony was being held in China. Earlier this month, the Hugo Awards came under fire with accusations of censorship when several authors were excluded from the awards, including Neil Gaiman, R. F. Kuang, Xiran Jay Zhao, and Paul Weimer. These authors' works had earned enough votes to make them finalists, but were deemed "ineligible" for reasons not disclosed by Hugo administrators. The Hugo Awards are one of the largest and most important science fiction awards. [...]

    The emails, which show the process of compiling spreadsheets of the top 10 works in each category and checking them for "sensitive political nature" to see if they were "an issue in China," were obtained by fan writer Chris M. Barkley and author Jason Sanford, and published on fandom news site File 770 and Sanford's Patreon, where they uploaded the full PDF of the emails. They were provided to them by Hugo Awards administrator Diane Lacey. Lacey confirmed in an email to 404 Media that she was the source of the emails. "In addition to the regular technical review, as we are happening in China and the *laws* we operate under are different...we need to highlight anything of a sensitive political nature in the work," Dave McCarty, head of the 2023 awards jury, directed administrators in an email. "It's not necessary to read everything, but if the work focuses on China, taiwan, tibet, or other topics that may be an issue *in* China...that needs to be highlighted so that we can determine if it is safe to put it on the ballot of if the law will require us to make an administrative decision about it."

    Well, that's amusing. Not that it matters, but I gave up on following Hugo advice when I was unimpressed with both A Memory Called Empire (Best Novel for 2020) and This Is How You Lose the Time War (Best Novella in 2020).

  • Tevi Troy writes about presidential language: Obscenity in the Executive. We'll leave the City Journal expurgation:

    President Joe Biden likes to cuss. We have learned recently that he calls former president and likely election rival Donald Trump “a sick f***” and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “bad f***ing guy” and an “a**hole.”

    When questioned about his memory, he said to House Democrats, “How the f*** could I forget the day my son died?” The swearing itself is not news—recall Biden’s famous overheard whisper to Barack Obama that Obamacare was “a big f***ing deal.” What is news is that Biden’s cursing seems to be increasing in venom and frequency. More and more, it looks like a crutch to show that he has the energy to remain president.

    Troy notes Clinton's frustration with Bibi Netanyahu caused him to drop the f-bomb, but this example is missing:

  • Take pity on Pamela Paul, people. She's a New York Times liberal who's struggling with the conflict between her desires and hard reality: Biden Must Win. But How?.

    Like many Democrats, I’m stuck on a doomsday merry-go-round: Joe Biden shouldn’t be running for president. Joe Biden is running for president. Donald Trump shouldn’t be running for president. Donald Trump is running for president.

    But this isn’t 2020. Biden cannot run the same campaign he did last time, when all he had to do was appear normal. Back then he still had some of the Obama sheen; today, he and his vice president are both unpopular. Little in his first term seems to be serving him well. Though he’s done a good job as president and the economy is thriving, few give him credit. And multiple polls show him running behind Donald Trump.

    Most troubling, he’s too old and he looks tired. My brain wants to delete everything it’s heard from people who have spent time in his presence in the last year. (It’s not encouraging.) Only 23 percent of voters, according to a January NBC poll, say Biden is better than Trump on “having the necessary mental and physical health to be president,” a statistic that, no matter which way you bend it, doesn’t mean anything good.

    Via Ann Althouse, who comments:

    I really don't care what her "brain" "wants." Your brain is you. If it feels like a separate entity that you need to speak about in the third person, something is very wrong. Maybe you think it's humorous. But you're talking about withholding information from us. You're admitting that you know things that would hurt Biden's campaign, and you won't share it with the voters. You just wish you didn't know.

    Good point. And for every Pamela Paul who makes it obvious, there are probably ten "journalists" who successfully disguise it.

As Abe Lincoln Once Said…

"Don't believe everything you read on the Internet"

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Pierre Lemieux examimes one of Pun Salad's favorite topics: The Logic of Apocryphal Quotes.

A document I saw on the web last week illustrates a thousand others like it. It pretends to celebrate the life and thought of Thomas Jefferson, and ends the litanies with several quotes from him. Except for one of these I knew and some that could be genuine, the rest were suspicious. I tested two, chosen more or less at random. One was a paraphrase, the other one was fake.

The underlying problem of this sort of enterprise seems to lie in an invalid syllogism: Statement P is true; Jefferson only made true statements; therefore, Jefferson could have made statement P. Granting the premises, the conclusion is valid but useless. The corollary “he said it” is clearly invalid.

This approach can be seen as a simple case of circular reasoning. Consider the claim “Statement P is true, therefore Jefferson could (or must) have said it.” But how does the speaker know that statement P is true? I suspect he would say that it is “because Jefferson said it.” In short, the quote comes from Jefferson because it is true, and it is true because it comes from Jefferson.

Later in the article, Lemieux cites the Cicero's oft-quoted, but totally anachronistic, opposition to government deficits, bureacratic high-handedness, foreign aid, and welfare dependence:

The budget should be balanced, the treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt. The mobs should be forced to work and not depend on government for subsistence.

Also bogus, as noted in the above link: our Amazon Product du Jour's quote. (In fairness, Amazon has a lot of products featuring the saying that don't attribute it to Cicero. Or, for that matter, Lincoln, Jefferson, or Jeff Bezos.

I worry that a more accurate aphorism might be:

A room full of your old books will eventually be an unwanted burden for your heirs.

Reference: Russ Roberts' EconTalk episode: The Kids Don't Want It.

Also of note:

  • If you're having second thoughts about politics, congratulations. Because a lot of people aren't even having first thoughts. Kevin Corcoran examines Political Noncognitivism.

    In metaethics, noncognitivism is a metaethical theory that differs from realism, antirealism, and subjectivism. Moral realists believe that moral statements assert propositions, and these propositions can be objectively true or false – that is, true or false independent of the attitudes of any subject. Moral subjectivists believe moral statements assert propositions that are subjectively true or false – that is, the truth or falsity of the statement depends on the attitudes of a subject. Moral antirealists believe ethical statements assert propositions, but those propositions are always objectively false, because there are no moral facts or moral properties. Noncognitivists argue that moral statements are neither true nor false, because moral statements don’t have any propositional content. Noncognitivism generally comes in two flavors – expressivism, and prescriptivism. The former says that what seem like propositional statements about morality really just express attitudes. To the expressivist, when someone says “It’s wrong to murder” what they are really saying is “Boo for murder!”, which does not assert a proposition, and is neither true nor false. Prescriptivists says that what seem like moral propositions are actually just commands, so when you say “it’s wrong to murder” what you’re actually saying is “Don’t murder!”, which is also neither true nor false and does not assert a proposition.

    That said, let’s start with something readers of this blog likely already know – the general public is wildly misinformed about issues of basic economics. And as Bryan Caplan has pointed out, the errors the public makes in their economic beliefs are not random, but systemic – they tend to lean in a very anti-market direction. A recent paper examining the phenomenon of “lay economic reasoning” points out one striking example of the gap between what is commonly believed and reality – “The general public believed the average profit margin made by American corporations to be 46.7%, while the actual average that year was just 3%.” That is, a typical member of the public believes that profit margins for corporations are over fifteen times higher than they actually are. This is not a small error.

    Back in 2016, one of my Facebook friends from high school advocated bringing in "a million immigrants a year", as if this would be a massive expansion from the status quo. Unaware that (at that time) the US was already bringing in about a million immigrants per year.

  • Speaking of immigration… A WSJ news article says there's good news and … unexpected news: Immigration Wave Delivers Economic Windfall. But There’s a Catch..

    The influx of millions of unauthorized migrants in recent years has sparked a political firestorm that has paralyzed Congress and consumed election campaigns. But it also has a benefit: a bigger, faster-growing economy.

    The precise scale of that economic boost was laid out in the Congressional Budget Office’s latest long-term budget and economic outlook, released Feb. 7. It estimates the labor force will be larger by 1.7 million potential workers in 2024 and 5.2 million more—about 3%—in 2033 than the nonpartisan agency expected one year ago. Gross domestic product—the value of all goods and services produced in a year—should be 2.1% larger.

    Because those extra workers will be paying taxes and generating economic activity that also yields tax revenue, the federal deficit should be smaller at 6.4% of GDP in 2033, rather than 7.3% as projected last year.

    So what's the catch?

    But a bigger economy doesn’t necessarily equate to a better economy. The latest group of migrants differs from previous cohorts in ways that could put modest downward pressure on wages and productivity in the short term.

    Part of the "catch" is merely statistical: if you throw in a bunch of (relatively) low skill (hence low-earning) workers into your sample space, average earnings are going to drop, by definition.

    But there's also a non-statistical component: increasing the supply of low skill workers, assuming demand is constant, probably implies a drop in overall wages too.

    And this will mean the gripers about "inequality" will have … more to gripe about.

  • And speaking of inequality… Alex Brill of AEI looks at The Next Tax Fight: SALT.

    The SALT deduction offsets a portion of a taxpayer’s state and local taxes with a reduction in federal taxes. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017 contained a provision that imposed a $10,000 cap on this deduction; previously there had been no limit. With the cap in place and the top rate of 37 percent, the maximum benefit available to a taxpayer (single or married filing jointly) is $3,700. By broadening the tax base, this cap raised hundreds of billions of dollars of revenue over the budget window to offset the cost of other TCJA provisions, including the reduction in statutory tax rates.

    Now, H.R. 7160, the “SALT Marriage Penalty Elimination Act,” would raise the cap to $20,000 for married tax filers for the tax year 2023 if the taxpayers’ adjusted gross income is less than $500,000. In other words, this is another temporary and retroactive tax cut. What’s so bad about a tax cut for these nice taxpayers? Well, it’s both costly and bad economics. 

    According to my calculations using AEI’s open-source Tax-Calculator, this bill would cost $12.5 billion, of which 87.9 percent would go to 7.3 million married taxpayers with incomes above $176,100 and 9.9 percent would go to 1.7 million married taxpayers with incomes from $113,600 to $176,100. If extended permanently, the provision would reduce revenues by more than $150 billion relative to current policy over the next 10 years.

    Brill notes that even current law (according to the CBO) "s is effectively a federal subsidy to state and local governments; that means the federal government essentially pays a share of people’s state and local taxes." He suggests:

    I have an even better idea: rename the bill “SALT Marriage Penalty Elimination Act” and set the cap at $0 for singles and twice that for couples.

    A little math joke there.

  • When you've lost NBC News… They report President Dotard is making stuff up: Biden attacked Hur for asking him when Beau died. That didn't happen, sources say.

    President Joe Biden lashed out at Robert Hur last week over one particular line in the special counsel's report on his handling of classified documents: that Biden "did not remember, even within several years, when his son Beau died."

    “How in the hell dare he raise that?” Biden told reporters in an impromptu White House press conference. “Frankly, when I was asked the question, I thought to myself, it wasn’t any of their damn business.”

    But Hur never asked that question, according to two people familiar with Hur’s five-hour interview with the president over two days last October. It was the president, not Hur or his team, who first introduced Beau Biden’s death, they said.

    Well, releasing the Kraken transcript would clear that up, wouldn't it? The Hill reports:

    But it’s not entirely clear the White House wants the transcript out.

    That apparent reluctance kinda speaks for itself.

You Never Want To Go The Full Duranty

Our Eye Candy du Jour is described at the Getty Images site as "British-born journalist Walter Duranty (1884 - 1957), the Moscow correspondent for the New York Times, reading a copy of 'Pravda', circa 1925."

Kevin D. Williamson thinks Tucker Carlson's rapturous descriptions of Moscow are the latest example of The Full Duranty.

Carlson, who is doing a fantastic impersonation of Walter Duranty—the disgraced New York Times correspondent who treated American readers to tales of the glory of life in Joseph Stalin’s Russia—reports that the experience of seeing how clean and orderly Moscow is was “radicalizing” for him. I suppose that everything in the ordinary world looks a little dingy after La Jolla Country Day School and that Swiss boarding school that expelled him. And American cities can be pretty awful, it is true, a consequence of Americans’ general contempt for public spaces. Many American tourists have had the experience of being shocked and shamed by how spruce and lovely things are in Amsterdam, for example—but not as many have seen the housing projects and sprawl beyond the parts of the city tourists frequent. The difference is real, but it is easy to exaggerate, too: You could spend a fortnight in London without seeing the city’s unlovely side, but the same is true of Philadelphia and Dallas.

The irony of the Putinism and near-Putinism we see on the contemporary right—one of the ironies, anyway—is that Moscow represents precisely what they believe (wrongly, for the most part) Washington to be: an imperial city in which a coddled, politically connected, decadent urban elite enrich themselves through official influence and off-the-books relationships while scouring the countryside for young men to recruit into their vicious wars of imperialism and conquest. Of course the “Russian girls” [Michael Brendan Dougherty] encounters in Manhattan boutiques do not have a lot to say about that: If they know, they may not be inclined to say, and if they are inclined to say, they are—or should be—terrified to do so. That’s what terror states do: They terrorize.

They are also pretty good at faking things. Duranty fell for it, because he wanted to fall for it. Progressive hero Lincoln Steffens, too, who famously observed of the Soviet Union: “I have seen the future, and it works.”

David Harsanyi is also rough on Sucker Tucker: Tucker Carlson Is Wrong About Moscow - and the United States.

At the World Government Summit, Tucker Carlson told a gathering of world leaders that Moscow “was so much nicer than any city” in the United States. “It’s radicalizing for an American to go to Moscow,” Tucker went on. “I didn’t know that. I’ve learned it this week, to Singapore, to Tokyo, to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, because these cities, no matter how we’re told they’re run and on what principles they’re run, are wonderful places to live that don’t have rampant inflation.”

If you’re wealthy, I imagine, Moscow is pretty great. This is true of most European cities. When you’re an American tourist, you tend to stay in clean and beautiful city centers, eat at the best spots, and wander around the most attractive areas of town. In Europe, you get to see onion domes that were built by serfs dotting the skyline. I’m sure it’s neat.

It is also true that if you’re an average person, Moscow is awful. The average Muscovite is most likely to live in some grim outlying apartment complex, many of which were built during the Soviet era. That’s if they’re lucky. Many Russians live in Novosibirsk, Ekaterinburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Omsk, and Ufa.

Where's Omsk? Easy, comrade: it's 638 kilometers west of Novosibirsk, 1563 kilometers east of Chelyabinsk. You can't miss it. Even if you want to.

Charles C. W. Cooke is equally emphatic; key paragraph: Give Me Any American City over Moscow Any Day.

Carlson says that Moscow is “clean” and “safe.” When I was there, it was neither. Moscow has a chronic homeless problem — at night, you see people warming themselves by lighting fires inside discarded oil drums — and it is teeming with petty crime. I saw an old lady pushed down a flight of stone steps by a beggar, I saw a black teenager punched for no obvious reason (although we know why), and my father and I were mugged on that ornate subway that naive visitors always gush about. It is true that none of this would have happened to us if we’d been there to interview Vladmir Putin, but that’s rather the point, isn’t it? When you’re a guest of the government — especially of a totalitarian government — you’re treated to the full girlfriend experience.

And, did I mention Omsk? Jay Nordlinger mentions it too, in Political Pilgrims and Problems.

When Western Putinistas go to Russia, they usually go to Moscow or St. Petersburg — one of the two western cities. The two most European of all Russian cities. From 2017 to 2019, Karin Kneissl was the foreign minister of Austria. She worked in the populist-Right government of Sebastian Kurz. Now she’s working for Putin more directly. (Kurz works for Peter Thiel.) She lives in St. Petersburg.

Interesting she is not living in, say, Omsk.

You know who lives in Omsk? Vladimir Kara-Murza. He is a political prisoner. He is kept in isolation at IK-7, one of the harshest prisons in the Russian system.

You can read about Kara-Murza on Wikipedia. He's no Tucker Carlson.

Also of note:

  • There's still a couple weeks to go. But even so, Jeff Maurer goes out on a limb: I Don't Think it Really Matters How the New York Times Covers Trump and Biden in February.

    If any Democrat thinks that Biden’s age isn’t going to be talked about ad-nauseum, they should disillusion themselves of that fantasy right now. It will be talked about constantly. My people — late night comedy writers — will use “he’s old” as our go-to Biden reference, because it’s gettable and it’s true. And, sure: You can point out that Trump is also old (true), was never mentally fit for the presidency (right again!), and that his policy ineptitude is more troubling than his general incompetence (three for three!). That should be part of the conversation; I’ll be one of the people arguing that those concerns outweigh concerns about Biden’s age. But imagining that we’ll get through this campaign without voters thinking about Biden’s age is like imagining that you can raise a child to adulthood and have them still believe in Santa.

    A small subset of the country is peeing their pants in anticipation of the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, which will kick of the IndyCar season on March 10. Those people are probably on Reddit boards right now debating the merits of the new hybrid powertrains and arguing about whether Josef Newgarden can return to top form. The remaining 99.7% of us don’t care. We might turn on the Indy 500 for a few laps in…May? July? Somewhere in there. For sure, the maximum amount of time we will spend thinking about IndyCar this year is roughly an hour. That’s how most swing voters experience politics. And that’s why I don’t think a few Times articles on a sure-to-be-covered issue nine months before the election really matter much at all.

    That's St. Petersburg, Florida, not Russia.

  • On the LFOD Watch. The Christian Science Monitor covers some relevant action up in scenic Littleton: A small town, public art, and the First Amendment.

    In front of the library on Main Street in this northern New Hampshire town is a bronze Pollyanna statue, smiling with her arms flung wide. Pollyanna’s carefree days may be numbered. If the residents of Littleton vote to limit public art, as one Board of Selectmen member has suggested, the statue will have to be removed. There’s no middle ground: Either all art or none would be allowed on government property.

    There’s no particular objection to Pollyanna herself. A few blocks away are the three paintings that sparked the debate over whether to limit public art. Tucked just off Main Street on the side of a building are three boarded-up windows – now painted with nature scenes. The project was sponsored by a local organization, North Country Pride. Fearing future art with overt LGBTQ+ themes, one member of the three-person select board raised objections to the painted panels late last summer, sparking a debate that has dragged on.

    The (inevitable) LFOD reference:

    Littleton, a town of about 6,000 people, has a vibrant Main Street with local businesses, a music festival in the summer, and skiing in the winter. Unlike that of many small towns, the population is growing younger. Most residents shake their heads at the suggestion of limiting public art, particularly in the “Live Free or Die” state. Some suggest the crux of the issue is really a newcomer-versus-old-guard clash.

    The "public art" point is probably valid, but it's worth mentioning that those folks up north can get pretty nasty about private art too. We talked about the travails of Leavitt’s Country Bakery in Conway last year, and (according to the Institute for Justice, the legal case there is "pending".

  • The University Near Here makes the College Fix. And they have a good summary: Amid $14 million in budget cuts, UNH closes art museum, keeps DEI administrators.

    As it grapples with slashing $14 million from its annual budget, the University of New Hampshire recently shuttered its Museum of Art and announced it’s laying off 75 faculty and staff members to balance the books.

    However the university has yet to publicly identify cuts into personnel dedicated to diversity, equity and inclusion, which reportedly costs an estimated $1 million-plus in annual salaries.

    My impression is that there's a lot of discussion going on out of the public eye.

Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Charles C. W. Cooke contends, convincingly: Democrats Can’t Pretend Biden’s Age Away. (That's a gifted link, don't let it go to waste.)

There is an element of Scooby-Dooism to the Democrats’ erroneous conviction that, if they just insist vehemently enough that Joe Biden is not, in fact, clearly too old to be president of these United States, they will be able to persuade the public that it is true. “We would have got away with it,” Biden’s apologists seem to be muttering aloud, “if it hadn’t been for that pesky Robert Hur!”

Which, of course, is quite inordinately silly. There is no chance that the Democrats will be able to get around Joe Biden’s obvious decline, given that the people to whom they are talking are privy to the same information as they are. At this point, the observation that Joe Biden is for all intents and purposes defunct is not an opinion so much as a self-evident fact. Were Biden to seek a job in the private sector, he would be rejected. Were he to apply for a driver’s license, he would be denied. Human beings know full well what decline looks like, and they can see it in their president. The man is decrepit, enfeebled, unsound. To pretend otherwise in the year 2024 is all-but to out oneself as a hireling. That ship, I’m afraid, has been sunk.

Thanks to CCWC for introducing me to the term "Scooby-Dooism", simple and widely useful.

Also chiming in at NR is Noah Rothman, wondering when George R. R. Martin got hired by the White House: The Fantasy of a Different Joe Biden.

According to Politico’s Myah Ward, “top party operatives” want to see Joe Biden get out there more. But to hear them describe their expectations of the president, it’s like they’re talking about an entirely different person. Clearly, they much prefer the Joe Biden who exists in their memories to the one with which they are confronted today.

“They want to see him engage with the press and voters in the off-script and punchy exchanges he’s been known for in the past, which they believe will help chip away at concerns about the president’s mental acuity,” the Politico piece continues. “Democrats say that resolving fears about Biden’s age requires getting him out in front of the country much more, even if there is risk involved.” Indeed, there’s “hope” brewing “in certain circles” that Robert Hur’s report alleging that the president would not be judged fit to stand trial for mishandling classified documents by a jury “prompts a strategic change at the White House and leads to a more visible, livelier version of Biden.”

“Circles” is the right word to describe the klatches in which conversations like these occur — a closed loop into which rationality cannot penetrate. All these aspirations assume that the president’s somnolent demeanor, his forgetfulness, and his incoherence are all choices that someone, somewhere, could unmake. If Biden could still display the kind of elementary cogency and vigor he could once deploy on demand, he would. Those days are behind us now. The best Biden’s allies can hope for are fleeting moments of lucidity aided by a teleprompter sufficient to convince voters that Biden’s problem isn’t as bad as they already believe it to be.

An additional problem would be that even when Biden displayed "elementary cogency and vigor", he was still telling yarns about things that never happened.

And at the Federalist, David Harsanyi warns us to Get Ready For The Cringy Campaign To Make Biden Seem Lucid.

Moments after the Kansas City Chiefs won the Super Bowl, Joe Biden’s account mocked conspiracy theorists by tweeting a “Dark Brandon” meme—the one where the doddering president features laser eyes—with the words, “Just like we drew it up” underneath. Sure, it’s cringy and dumb, but a cartoon might be the only way to make the president appear operational.

After Special Counsel Robert Hur’s report concluded Biden was too feeble-minded to stand trial for his alleged decades-long mishandling of classified information, the White House immediately tried to create the impression that the president, whose mental acuity was never anything to write home about, was the sharpest octogenarian in the country.

Look what I found out on the Interwebs:

The term "race to the bottom" seems to apply to this year's election. And so many days to go!

Also of note:

  • So what's his excuse? Don't get too comfortable, MAGAlanders. Jacob Sullum notes: Trump's Alleged Defiance and Deceit Distinguish His Handling of Secrets From Biden's. Digging into the Hur report:

    "With one exception, there is no record of the Department of Justice prosecuting a former president or vice president for mishandling classified documents from his own administration," Hur notes. "The exception is former President Trump." And while "it is not our role to assess the criminal charges pending against Mr. Trump," he says, there are "several material distinctions between Mr. Trump's case and Mr. Biden's."

    Notably, those "material distinctions" have nothing to do with Trump's authority as president to declassify documents—a point frequently raised by his defenders. Unlike Trump, they say, Biden had no such authority as vice president. But whatever you make of Trump's claim that the documents he took were "automatically declassified," whether through a "standing order" or simply "by thinking about it," it is a red herring in the context of charges under 18 USC 793(e), which does not refer to classification at all. The relevant questions under that provision are whether the information in those documents was potentially damaging to national security, whether Trump should have recognized that, and whether he nevertheless "willfully" retained them.

    In any case, the charges against Trump go beyond that statute. Unlike "the evidence involving Mr. Biden," Hur writes, "the allegations set forth in the indictment of Mr. Trump, if proven, would present serious aggravating facts. Most notably, after being given multiple chances to return classified documents and avoid prosecution, Mr. Trump allegedly did the opposite. According to the indictment, he not only refused to return the documents for many months, but he also obstructed justice by enlisting others to destroy evidence and then to lie about it."

  • It is a truth universally acknowledged. Well, it's not, but it should be. Charles Blahous suggests Americans Should Be Less Complacent About Social Security.

    In December 2023, Gallup released the results of its latest survey of Americans’ expectations of Social Security. Gallup has been conducting these surveys in essentially similar form for many years, and their latest results qualitatively resemble previous ones. They show a slight uptick in Americans’ optimism that Social Security will make good on future benefit promises, producing Gallup’s headline finding: “Americans More Upbeat About Future Social Security Benefits.”

    Unfortunately, the optimism expressed by Gallup’s respondents is at odds with the reality of Social Security’s deteriorating finances, as evidenced by the worsening actuarial shortfall documented in its trustees’ annual reports. Never before have Americans had greater reason for concern that they will not receive the benefits Social Security is promising. The reason Americans are feeling blithe about Social Security’s future is not because of its actual condition, but because elected officials and media figures avoid a subject whose harsh realities contradict their preferred political narratives.

    Both Biden and Trump encourage (and profit politically from) this blissful ignorance. But, as near as I can tell, only Biden manages to brazenly lie about Trump's position:

    Never mind Scooby-Doo! Politifact, where are you?

  • Fun fact: Rowan Atkinson was also in the live-action Scooby-Doo movie. But Andrew Stuttaford refers to his more memorable role: Blaming Mr. Bean.

    Sales of electric vehicles (EVs) have not been meeting expectations in some markets of late. There are plenty of explanations for this, but the underlying responsibility lies with the central planners guiding climate policy and their attempts to force mass market acceptance for a niche product not yet ready for primetime. In the U.K., the Green Alliance, a thinktank, decided to cast some blame instead on the actor, Rowan Atkinson, or, if you prefer, Mr. Bean or, as I’d prefer, Blackadder.

    "We had a scheme to force people to buy EVs! And we would have gotten away with it too, if it weren't for that meddling Mr. Bean!"

  • Which is nowhere near enough, but still. Eric Boehm points out an interesting side effect: Surging Immigration Will Reduce Deficits by $1 Trillion.

    Higher levels of immigration are boosting America's economy and will reduce the deficit by about $1 trillion over the next decade.

    In its semi-annual forecast of the country's fiscal and economic conditions, released this week, the Congressional Budget Office slightly lowered its expectations for this year's federal budget deficit. The CBO now expects the federal government to run a $1.5 trillion deficit, down from the $1.6 trillion deficit previously forecast.

    That reduction is due in part to higher-than-expected economic growth, which the CBO attributes to "more people working." The labor force has grown by 5.2 million people in the past year, "mostly because of higher net immigration."

    They are literally doing jobs (native) Americans won't do.

    I will point out that a $1.5 trillion deficit is still pretty big.


Last Modified 2024-02-13 9:53 AM EST

That Was a Superb Owl

Well, at least what I saw of it. I fell asleep at the end of the first half, missing the halftime show entirely (sorry, Usher) and most of the third quarter. But then it was a pretty interesting nailbiter.

Ads? They had some good ones. In fact, I'm usually a Sam Adams guy, but the Budweiser ad made me forgive their past sins:

The closed captioners claim the driver says "You gotta be kidding me" in response to what he's hearing on the radio, but it didn't sound like "kidding" to me.

I also noticed the RFKJr political ad, substance-free, except for trading in on his uncle JFK's >60-year-old charisma. If you missed it, Ann Althouse has an embed, and also notes that RFKJr has already publicly apologized to whatever members of his family got pissed off at the ad.

As a one-time midwesterner, and a full-time Friscophobe, I was kinda pulling for the Chiefs. I don't have any grand conspiracy theories about Taylor Swift psyops, and in fact I thought this was pretty cool of her:

Well, to the extent that a 34-year-old lady acting like she's 17 can be said to be "cool".

Also of note:

  • In the "Me Too" Department… Jeff Jacoby relates his political odyssey: I was a young Republican. Now I want nothing to do with either party.

    Like millions of Americans, I find myself politically homeless today. Neither major party offers a vision I can relate to. I am as turned off by the Democrats' toxic obsession with race and gender as I am by the Republicans' shrillness on immigration. I fear the threat posed by the Democratic left to freedom of speech and conscience and am alarmed by the Republican right's antipathy to maintaining US leadership in world affairs.

    In 2016, I thought the Republican Party was headed for a crack-up, much as the Whig Party collapsed in the 1850s. I am alienated from both of America's two major parties. In the last two presidential elections, I voted for the Libertarian ticket and imagine I will vote for a third-party ticket again this year. In state elections, I am usually stymied. The Massachusetts Republican Party occasionally nominates challengers to the Democrats who hold nearly every public office, but with very rare exceptions, all of them now are lockstep Trumpian loyalists.

    Back in the day, I admittedly did fling the "RINO" slur on occasion, but only at pols like Susan Collins or Olympia Snowe. My first hint that something was going wrong came in 2011 when I noted a GraniteGrok contributor attacking Mitch Daniels as one.

  • The AP says… NATO leader says Trump puts allies at risk with Russia comments.

    The head of the NATO military alliance warned Sunday that Donald Trump was putting the safety of U.S. troops and their allies at risk after the Republican presidential front-runner said Russia should be able to do “whatever the hell they want” to NATO members who don’t meet their defense spending targets.

    “Any suggestion that allies will not defend each other undermines all of our security, including that of the U.S., and puts American and European soldiers at increased risk,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement.

    Speaking Saturday at a rally in Conway, South Carolina, Trump recalled how as president he told an unidentified NATO member that he would “encourage” Russia to do as it wishes in cases of NATO allies who are “delinquent.”

    Okay, that does sound dangerously unhinged, even for Trump. But…

  • Matt Margolis says… The Media Is Lying About Trump’s NATO Comments.

    Before making the comments about NATO, Trump was discussing the substantial financial commitment the United States had made to Ukraine, surpassing $200 billion, and the disparity between the U.S. contribution and that of European nations, which collectively stands at $25 billion. He said wasn't fair because the war in Ukraine affects them more directly, and the economy of the United States is roughly equivalent to the size of the collective economy of the European nations.

    "I did the same thing with NATO. I got them to pay up. NATO was busted until I came along. I said, 'Everybody's gonna pay.' They said, 'What if we don't pay, are you still going to protect us?' I said, 'Absolutely not.' They couldn't believe the answer. And everybody—you never saw a more money pour in."

    I think Margolis is making the point that AP was wrong to say Trump would encourage Russia to invade low-paying NATO countries if he were elected; Trump said he already did that in the past.

    Yeah, like that's better? Okay.

  • Meanwhile, the best take on Trump's recent comments… comes from Jim Geraghty:

    He is a rampaging narcissist, a black hole of desperate need for approval and adulation who explodes in blistering rage when he doesn’t get it. And that’s the most likely alternative to Biden, America.

    And speaking of Biden…

  • When you've lost Maureen Dowd… Her advice: Mr. President, Ditch the Stealth About Health.

    Jill Biden and his other advisers come up with ways to obscure signs of senescence — from shorter news conferences to almost zero print interviews to TV interviews mainly with fawning MSNBC anchors.

    But many Americans are quite concerned about the 81-year-old president’s crepuscular mien. It’s the elephant in the room — except that elephants never forget.

    So what should Joe do?

    Biden is not just in a bubble — he’s in bubble wrap. Cosseting and closeting Uncle Joe all the way to the end — eschewing town halls and the Super Bowl interview — are just not going to work. Going on defense, when Trump is on offense, is not going to work. Counting on Trump’s vileness to secure the win, as Hillary did, is not going to work.

    Um. She's actually pretty good at saying what Biden should not do: more of the same "stealth" strategy. But she never gets around to saying what he should do instead. I think maybe because abandoning "stealth" would only make his decrepitude even more painfully obvious.

  • The NR editorialists Go There. And it's not much of a surprise. They think President Biden Should Withdraw from 2024 Race.

    Joe Biden is a crisis in the making. The last president to run for reelection who was so obviously incapable of serving another four years was FDR in 1944. But Roosevelt was in the midst of ably managing a world war and, as it turned out, chose his vice president wisely.

    Biden’s mental and physical diminishment has been clear for some time and has been even more alarming the last several weeks. The Robert Hur report on his mishandling of classified documents underlined his reduced state. In an instantly famous sentence, Hur said his team concluded that a jury would consider Biden “a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.” The report, of course, included damning details of Biden not being able to place the years of his vice presidency nor — and this is what precipitated Biden’s angry press conference in response — the year of his son Beau Biden’s death.

    We have two "leading" candidates who care more about their personal political fortunes than what's best for the country. It's hard to imagine this will work out well.

  • I rarely quote myself, but‥ I recently finished reading a biography of Milton Friedman (link to my report below). But it got me reviewing my past comments about the guy. Here's a blast from the past for ya, on the occasion of his passing::

    As one of the foremost champions of liberty and capitalism, Dr. Friedman undoubtedly made life better for you, me, and posterity.

    Specifically, I recall reading this passage near the beginning of his classic Capitalism and Freedom:

    In a much quoted passage in his inaugural address, President Kennedy said, "Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country." It is a striking sign of the temper of our times that the controversy about this passage centered on its origin and not on its content. Neither half of the statement expresses a relation between the citizen and his government that is worthy of the ideals of free men in a free society. The paternalistic "what your country can do for you" implies that government is the patron, the citizen the ward, a view that is at odds with the free man's belief in his own responsibility for his own destiny. The organismic, "what you can do for your country" implies that government is the master or the deity, the citizen, the servant or the votary. To the free man, the country is the collection of individuals who compose it, not something over and above them. He is proud of a common heritage and loyal to common traditions. But he regards government as a means, an instrumentality, neither a grantor of favors and gifts, nor a master or god to be blindly worshipped and served. He recognizes no national goal except as it is the consensus of the goals that the citizens severally serve. He recognizes no national purpose except as it is the consensus of the purposes for which the citizens severally strive.

    The free man will ask neither what his country can do for him nor what he can do for his country. He will ask rather "What can I and my compatriots do through government" to help us discharge our individual responsibilities, to achieve our several goals and purposes, and above all, to protect our freedom? And he will accompany this question with another: How can we keep the government we create from becoming a Frankenstein that will destroy the very freedom we establish it to protect? Freedom is a rare and delicate plant. Our minds tell us, and history confirms, that the great threat to freedom is the concentration of power. Government is necessary to preserve our freedom, it is an instrument through which we can exercise our freedom; yet by concentrating power in political hands, it is also a threat to freedom. Even though the men who wield this power initially be of good will and even though they be not corrupted by the power they exercise, the power will both attract and form men of a different stamp.

    To a mushy-headed kid in the early sixties, it was more than a little jarring to see someone with the utter gall to talk back to one of the Holy Quotations of Saint JFK. And some would say I've never recovered from the shock. I'll always remember Dr. Friedman with admiration and gratitude.

    Mister, we could use a man like Milton Friedman again.

Recently on the book blog:

Milton Friedman

The Last Conservative

(paid link)

Near the end of this book, the biographer, Jennifer Burns, mentions a couple of quotes from our current President. One from 2020:

"Milton Friedman isn’t running the show anymore."

No fooling. And one from 2019:

"When did Milton Friedman die and become king?"
Milton Friedman died in 2006, Joe. (Even back then, Biden sounded like one of the geezers in the Saturday Night Live parody ad for the Amazon Echo Silver.)

So Friedman has been haunting Joe's brain ("rent free" as they say), probably for a long time. In contrast, I've been a fan ever since I read his Capitalism and Freedom as an impressionable youngster back in the 1960s. I honored his passing in my blog here and here. Key quote from the former link: "As one of the foremost champions of liberty and capitalism, Dr. Friedman undoubtedly made life better for you, me, and posterity." (Caveat lector: Unfortunately, many of the links I gathered from 2006 no longer work.)

This book garnered many laudatory reviews when it came out last year, so I snagged it from the New Books table at Portsmouth Public Library. (Yes, even in a socialist library in one of the state's wokest cities, you can still get fair-minded books about conservative/libertarian subjects.) And, yes, I agree: it's quite good. Burns is (it says on the back flap) a Stanford history professor, but she's clearly absorbed a lot of economics along the way: her discussion shows a deep understanding of the concepts and controversies associated with Friedman's work. The book seems to be almost as much about US economic history from 1930 to the present day as it is about Milton. (With side trips to Chile and Great Britain.)

I smiled at an anecdote about Friedman's undergrad days at Rutgers: "In his first year, he found a job waiting tables, which came with a supposedly free lunch. Even then, he was enough of a budding economist to understand there was no such thing-the free lunch came at the expense of a higher wage."

And there's a romantic-comedy-for-econ-geeks anecdote about Milton's meet-cute with his wife-to-be, Rose: she was a classmate in a University of Chicago course taught by a tyrannical professor. One day the prof botched differentiating a function, and Milton bravely pointed out the error. The prof blustered, Milton held his ground, and Rose was impressed enough to invite Milton to a Frank Knight lecture.

Burns does an excellent job charting Friedman's odyssey from the lonely days when his free-market monetarist views were dismissed by "serious" economists to his gradual ascension to respectability (including, of course, the Nobel).

About the only irritation I found was Burns' criticism of Friedman for his opposition to some of the more coercive features of 1960s civil rights legislation. She shows little patience for Friedman's devotion to classical liberal principle: people should feel free to engage (or not to engage) in voluntary, mutually beneficial economic transactions. Burns, to my eye, gets a little vitriolic when attacking that view.

Is This a New Low for Trump?

I Admit To Not Keeping Track

Gotta be close to a new low, though, right?

Have voters slapped themselves in the face, awakening to the fact that they're supporting this slimeball? According to the bettors… nope:

Candidate EBO Win
Probability
Change
Since
2/4
Donald Trump 51.0% +1.4%
Joe Biden 31.0% -4.9%
Michelle Obama 7.1% +1.1%
Gavin Newsom 4.0% ---
Other 6.9% -1.6%

Digging around on the EBO site shows (unsurprisingly) a sharp drop of Biden's victory odds on Thursday. Concurrent with the reappearance of Gavin Newsom, and a healthy odds bump for Michelle Obama.

And Donald Trump continues to be the oddsmakers' favorite. I suppose there's no toxicity he could emit that would change that.

Also of note:

  • It wuz the AI that done it. Bloomberg describes How Investigators Solved the Biden Deepfake Robocall Mystery.

    When New Hampshire authorities set about tracking down the origin of a bogus, AI-enabled phone call purporting to be from President Joe Biden, they turned to a company that has long-predicted the rise of audio deepfakes for help.

    Nomorobo, part of New York-based Telephone Science Corp., is a service that automatically blocks robocalls and unwanted tests. It monitors 350,000 mobile phone numbers to catch robocalls, in addition to more than a million regular phone numbers they’re commercially contracted to monitor in order to protect against scams, according to founder Aaron Foss. The company is hired to offer such protection.

    It logged 41 samples of the fake Biden calls and used that to extrapolate that somewhere between 5,000 and 25,000 phony Biden calls had been made.

    An interesting aside, for those who've been wondering whether this was really "AI", or just a talented impersonator:

    My colleague Margi Murphy reported the message was made using technology from AI startup ElevenLabs, which has already suspended the creator. New Hampshire officials say they are still investigating. ElevenLabs has declined to comment.

    Actually, they suspended the creator's account. It's one of those sites where you can log in and play with their tools.

    Reason magazine has been doing this (non-nefariously) for a while: their Best of Reason Magazine podcast features articles "read" "using AI trained on the voice of Katherine Mangu-Ward". And, yes, it sounds like her!

  • When he's not crapping on military service, he's just bullshitting. Glenn Kessler notes the latest excrement: Trump claims low unemployment numbers under Biden aren’t ‘real’. It's something he's been doing since his first run in 2016, but in the runup to the NH Primary:

    “We had the best unemployment rates ever. And they were real unemployment, not like you have today where nobody’s working and they consider it to be. It’s a whole different thing. Too complicated to explain, but it’s a whole different thing. You don’t have to know about it.”

    But:

    Trump has no basis to suggest that the unemployment numbers are being cooked. The career professionals at the BLS are collecting the data the same way they did before he was president, when he was president and after he was president.

    But now that views on the economy have shifted toward a more positive note, Trump is cynically suggesting the numbers can’t be trusted. It was ever thus.

    Verdict: Four Pinocchios.

    All is not peachy with the economy; see Peter Suderman's Reason article The Bankruptcy of Bidenomics for more on that. I'd like to say that Trump should stick to such fact-based criticism, but… you know if he did that, Trump would not be Trump.

  • It's crazy, but it just might work. Andrew C. McCarthy has Advice for Joe Biden: Pardon Donald Trump on the Classified Documents.

    Special counsel Robert Hur’s report on Joe Biden’s misadventures with classified intelligence is flawed — at least if it is meant as a justification for not indicting the president; if it is meant as a predicate for invoking the 25th Amendment, it is quite well done.

    The political caterwauling by Democrats against the special counsel is a misfire, as I argue in a column on the homepage. For now, I want to address the incoherence of what passes for the explanation of why Biden has not been indicted for mishandling national-defense information, even as former President Donald Trump faces dozens of such felony charges.

    Specifically, I have a proposal that would help Biden politically (at a time when he needs it) while curing, at least in this instance, the scandal of disparate treatment in the Democrats’ unabashedly self-serving, two-tiered justice system: President Biden should pardon former President Trump on the Florida federal indictment’s 32 charges of illegally hoarding intelligence, narrowing the case against him to the eight counts of obstruction.

    Not that it matters, but Pun Salad has been blogging about the 25th Amendment applied to President Dotard since before he became President.

Recently on the book blog:

The Murder of Mr. Wickham

(paid link)

It is a truth universally acknowledged (yes, even the Klingons agree) that a book appearing on the WSJ list of the best mysteries of 2022 may not be all readers' cup of tea. That's the case here.

Nevertheless, I set myself a reading project to consume all the books on that list, so it's really on me.

The book is set in 1820-ish England. The main characters are from Jane Austen novels. There's Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy (and also the titular victim, Mr. Wickham), from Pride and Prejudice; Emma and George Knightley, also Frank Churchill, from Emma; Marianne and Colonel Brandon from Sense and Sensibility; Anne and Frederick Wentworth from Persuasion; and Fanny and Edmund Bertram from Mansfield Park. One of the primary characters here, Juliet Tilney, is the 17-year-old offspring of Catherine Tilney (nee Morland) from Northanger Abbey.

Reader, I strongly suggest you read all those novels before you read this. I had read zero of them.

Although I did watch a couple of movies, long ago… But to show you how confused I was, I "pictured" Elizabeth Darcy as Emma Thompson and Mr. Darcy has Hugh Grant. Who (now I see) were in a different Austen-based movie, Pride and Prejudice, and they didn't even get hitched in that movie.

The author, Claudia Gray, adopts (as near as I can tell) an Austen-like style throughout the book. Everyone is obsessed with appearances, etiquette, manners, propriety. Except Mr. Wickham. He turns out here to be an utter scoundrel, a blackmailer, a mountebank, a cad!

The setting is a house party at Donwell Abbey, the Knightly estate; all the principals are invited. But also showing up is Wickham, who soon meets his fate. One of the guests seems to be the perp, but who?

On the case are young Juliet and the son of Elizabeth and the elder Mr. Darcy, Jonathan. They are concerned that justice might not be done, because Frank Churchill, who's the local law, seems to be kind of willing to pin the crime on a vagabond or servant.

Eventually, the truth is revealed.

Goodreads readers: the site encourages you to rate books based on your personal reaction, so don't take my mediocre rating too seriously.

As Usual, Remy Is Brilliant

I know this is supposed to be a parody of some song I've never heard, but this is still wonderful:

I wonder if that's his real mom. She seems nice.

Also of note (a real olio today):

(Yes, I learned the word "olio" from doing crossword puzzles.)

  • Including Kingons? Being a geek, that's my usual reaction to any proposal that uses the adjective "universal". Still, Andrew Cline and Jason Bedrick of the Josiah Bartlett Center have a pretty good argument Why universal access to Education Freedom Accounts is the best choice for New Hampshire. An introduction:

    Nearly 1 million American students participated in a school-choice program last year, according to data compiled by EdChoice. Across the country 72 choice programs operate in 32 states. And who has the most popular program in the nation? New Hampshire.

    With an Education Freedom Account (EFA), parents can customize their child’s education. Families can use EFA funds for private school tuition, tutoring, textbooks, special-needs therapies and more.

    According to EdChoice, New Hampshire’s EFA policy is the most popular education choice policy in the nation. It has had the most growth per capita nationwide over the past academic year—a whopping 58%. The number of ESA students has grown from 3,025 in 2022–23 to 4,770 scholarships awarded in 2023–24.

    The EdChoice link (above) will take you to a lot of interesting facts about programs across the nation. One fun, and surprising, fact: even the government-besotted District of Columbia has more kids enrolled in charter schools than there are in "traditional district schools."

    I can imagine parents saying: "I love government schools, but not for my kids."

    Anyway, Cline and Bedrick argue that the low-income "training wheels" requirement for EFA participation should be removed. Check that out.

    New Hampshire Bulletin has (apparently) the latest news on EFA expansion. The NH House didn't remove the income requirement, but they raised it significantly. The bill to take off limits entirely "fell eight votes short." Well, darn. Maybe someday…

  • AKA shooting the messenger. Andrew C. McCarthy says: On Hur Report, Democrats Shoot at Wrong Target. (It allows them to ignore the message, which might be the point.)

    From our non compos mentis president on down, Democrats are getting their licks in against Biden Justice Department–appointed special counsel Robert Hur — even after he bent over backward not to indict, despite concluding that Biden willfully violated the law in retaining national-defense intelligence. (And recall that one of the applicable statutes, Section 793(f) — which the other Biden DOJ special counsel has charged against Trump — requires only that prosecutors only establish gross negligence, a mental-state element much easier to prove than willfulness.)

    Democrats are firing at the wrong target.

    Hur was required by regulation to explain his rationale for charging decisions in a “confidential report.” (See Rule 600.8[c] of the Special Counsel Regs, Title 28, Code of Federal Regulations.) It is then up to the attorney general to decide whether to release all or part of the report to the public. (See Rule 600.9[c].)

    Andy knows this stuff, inside and out, so attention should be paid. When Kamala accuses Hur of

    …she's either lying or ignorant.

  • Here too, your choices are "lying" or "ignorant". Christian Britschgi reports that Elizabeth Warren's 'Shrinkflation' Rant Is an Incredible Exercise in Blame-Shifting. Commenting on her tweet:

    Imagine Britschgi emitting a deep sigh before replying:

    Another word for shrinkflation is an obscure concept economists call "inflation"—where general price increases erode the purchasing power of consumers' dollars. Inflation can appear when the price of a same-sized bag of chips increases, and when the size of a same-priced bag of chips decreases. Both phenomena are still just the per-unit cost of a good increasing.

    Warren's rant about shrinking Oreo packages is just the senator's way of adding a conspiratorial gloss to the painfully obvious effects of decades-high inflation the country's lived through during and after the pandemic.

    He goes on to note that "decades-high" inflation certainly was driven by Federal spending for which Warren enthusiastically voted. (And "corporate greed" didn't noticeably change during this period.)

    For additional comment, see the Issues & Insights editorialists: The Incredible Shrinking Elizabeth Warren.

    Warren can’t possibly be this obtuse, can she?

    Oh, sure she could. Or she could be (see above) acutely dishonest.

    (Sorry: geometry pun.)

  • "Mötley Crüe" is pronounced exactly the same as "Motley Crue". That's one of the invaluable insights Jeff Maurer makes in Mailbag Answers, Vince Neil's Birthday Edition!. I'll just excerpt something further down in the post:

    From Carina: Does recycling help the earth, or is it bullshit?

    The prevailing wisdom when I left EPA ten years ago — and which may have changed since then — was that it is almost always good to recycle cardboard and aluminum. The usefulness of recycling glass and plastic depends on where you live. Composting is a disgusting waste of time and serves only to mark the composter as a social degenerate.

    So, my answer is that recycling sometimes helps the Earth, but is often bullshit. However, in terms of providing a sense of moral superiority for very little effort, recycling is still pretty good for that.

    Good to know.

  • Speaking of providing a sense of moral superiority… A front-page story in my local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat, was headlined: Cartoons on an IPA can? Dover teens say labels need to sober up. It's a report from Todd Bookman of New Hampshire Commie Public Radio. If you click over, you'll see a pic of three very serious-faced young ladies, including the 12-year-old quoted below:

    Last month, the members of an after-school club called Dover Youth 2 Youth took a field trip to the State House in Concord. They arrived armed with empty beer cans, part of their planned testimony before lawmakers.

    “For example, we have this brand of beer from Concord Brewing Company that has cans designed like the kids animated movie we’ve all seen: ‘Finding Nemo,’ ” explained Megan Merrigan, 12, during public testimony on the bill.

    State senators were handed a can with an illustration of a brightly colored fish resembling a character in the Disney movie.

    In typical NHPR/Foster's journalistic accuracy, they managed to get the name of the company wrong: it's "Concord Craft Brewing Company". I was able to track down a pic of the offending can.

    Not that it matters, but it appears the brewing company now markets their IPA under the name "Safe Space" and the can no longer features fish. Instead, there's a rainbow hovering over a winged unicorn.

    No, I am not making that up.

    Let's stipulate that the (old) can is based on a not-particularly clever pun and may have run afoul not only of 12-year-old sensibilities, but also of the copyright-defending lawyers of the Disney Corporation. I'm dubious that this has ever drawn even one kid into a downward spiral of alcoholism and copyright violation, but let that go as well.

    I mentioned the "Youth 2 Youth" organization once before, back in 2018, when I called it an "organization that earnest upwardly mobile students join to burnish their résumés for their college applications." The latest article only reinforces that opinion. (They have a website; judge for yourself.)

    But really: this is what kids are learning to do these days:

    1. Find some issue you can pretend you're upset about. No doubt prompted by earnest well-meaning adults. (Does any kid go around looking at beer cans?)
    2. Nag your local legislators to allow you to come to Concord and demonstrate your earnest concern, and demand legislation! Those well-meaning adults will help with that, too!
    3. Get plenty of media coverage!
    4. And don't forget to put all this on your college application!

    All in all, Y2Y is a beginner's course in nanny-statism, a breeding ground for tomorrow's horde of activists that will look for things they're "concerned" with, and plead with the goverment to Do Something. Yeesh. Whatever happened to Junior Achievement?


Last Modified 2024-02-11 6:04 AM EST

Maybe I Should Stop Calling Him "President Wheezy"

I came up with that moniker back in 2019 to remind us that Joe Biden wangled a draft deferment back in 1968 due to his claim of asthma.

(Similarly, since 2018: President Bone Spurs.)

But, geez, suggestions are welcome for a new nickname for Joe, after yesterday's revelations and performances. For starters, as related by James Freeman: Special Counsel: Biden Too Forgetful to Prosecute.

Today is not a day that Justice Department prosecutors are going to look back on with pride. Nor are they likely to be proud of their association with special counsel Robert Hur. Tasked with investigating Joe Biden’s mishandling of classified documents, Mr. Hur has instead taken on the role of defending Mr. Biden’s conduct, which clearly was not consistent with the law. It may be embarrassing and frightening that the president is mumbling and bumbling his way through his term, but what’s outrageous is that his cognitive challenges now seem to be functioning as a legal immunity shield.

Mr. Hur writes in his report today that he doesn’t think charges against Mr. Biden are warranted, in part because he assumes a jury would sympathize with the elderly potential defendant.

Biden might be elderly, but he was just spry enough to evade his handlers and display his mental acuity before a questioning press. The results were… well, just a sampling of reactions from NR:

  • Jeffrey Blehar: I’m Finally Beginning to Believe It’s Possible Joe Biden Steps Down.

    Did you just see that press briefing? The same one I did, where Joe Biden babbled nearly nonsensically for several minutes denying that he babbled nearly nonsensically for several minutes to the special counsel who was investigating his retention of classified records?

  • Luther Ray Abel: Biden's Bumbling, Fumbling Press Conference.

    The press conference […] was all the evidence a disinterested party would need to conclude that the sitting president of the United States is unwell and unfit.

  • Philip Klein concentrated on Biden's Anger.

    […] it appears that Biden, or his handlers, seem to believe that having him show anger — yelling, lashing out at reporters, his staff, and the special counsel — would prove him to be energetic and mentally fit. But his tantrum accomplished the exact opposite. He came off like an elderly relative who isn’t ready to acknowledge that he can’t live independently anymore.

  • Noah Rothman saw it as an Unmitigated Disaster.

    Joe Biden could have used the disturbing findings in Robert Hur’s report on the president’s mishandling of classified documents and his demeanor during interviews with the special counsel to his advantage. He and his allies could have only emphasized the material distinctions between his conduct and Donald Trump’s, which framed the president as less evasive and obstructive than his likely Republican opponent. He might have brushed off the observations about his mental decline and used the low expectations for his performance they set to vault off them during his forthcoming State of the Union address. Given Hur’s apparently low estimation of Biden’s faculties, it wouldn’t have been difficult to surpass them. But Biden didn’t do any of this.

    Rather, the report set off a flurry of presidential activity that is highly unusual for the president. He delivered not one but two public addresses in its wake, even going so far as to take reporters’ questions well past the point at which Biden prefers to retire. The goal was clearly to communicate Biden’s vivacity, but the effect was the opposite. In a primetime address to the nation, Biden chose to present his most cantankerous face — all while doing little to dispel the notion that his cognitive acuity is in decline.

  • But let it not be said that NR was unanimous. Charles C. W. Cooke says Biden's Totally Fine.

    Indeed, if one reads the [special counsel's] report carefully, it is reasonable for one to assume that Biden struggled during the special counsel’s investigation precisely because he is so sharp, energetic, and, frankly, handsome during the rest of his time in the White House. What Biden apparently can’t do is perform his role as president and comply with the many right-wing witch-hunts that have been thrust unjustly into his life. But who could? Certainly not one of those younger men, who lack Biden’s stamina and wit.

    Um, I may have missed some sarcasm there. (I'm getting old too.)

  • Meanwhile, in his morning newsletter, Jim Geraghty wonders: Who’s Going to Take the Keys Away from This Man?.

    Discouraging our elderly parents from driving absolutely sucks, but we do it because of the risks that their driving poses to themselves and everyone else. If we can do this to our own parents, why can those around Biden, and prominent Democrats, not do this for the country? What, the consequences of a bad decision aren’t severe enough?

    […]

    Joe Biden is too old to be an effective president, and he’s knocking on the door of being too old to be president, period. It was always absurd to believe that Biden would be able to handle one of the most challenging jobs in the world as an octogenarian, and the notion of his serving two full terms and remaining in the Oval Office until age 86 is ludicrous.

    Geraghty also has pointers to off-NR reactions, which are also aghast.

So, what do you think? Switch over to "President Dotard"?

Also of note:

  • Fortunately, it looks like someone else will be on the November ballot. And don't worry about his alleged danger to "democracy". As John Hasnas points out: Trump Doesn’t Threaten Democracy—He Embodies It.

    In the 1987 film “The Princess Bride,” Inigo Montoya spends his life seeking revenge against his father’s murderer, Count Rugen. When they finally meet, he repeats incessantly: “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” Finally, in utter frustration, Count Rugen yells, “Stop saying that!”

    I know how Count Rugen felt. Everywhere I turn, I hear people saying that Donald Trump is a threat to democracy. I have heard this repeated so many times that like the count, I want to yell, “Stop saying that!” Mr. Trump absolutely is not a threat to democracy. He is the embodiment of democracy.

    It is fair to say that the former president is a threat to constitutional government. He has no understanding of the separation of powers and thinks Article II would authorize him to do whatever he wants. He seems unaware of the limitations the Bill of Rights places on the powers of the federal government and has no conception of an independent judiciary.

    It is also fair to say that Mr. Trump is a threat to the rule of law. He believes he can instruct the Justice Department to prosecute his political opponents. He has no problem ignoring judicial decisions when they go against him and has mused about being a dictator for a day.

    And it is fair to say that Mr. Trump is a threat to prosperity. His plan to impose 10% across-the-board tariffs—which American consumers would have to pay—without reforming entitlement spending will make us all poorer and increase the deficit.

    One thing it isn’t fair to say is that Mr. Trump is a threat to democracy. There is a consensus among political theorists that the essential feature of democracy is that every person subject to governmental authority must have an equal say in selecting that government. Every person. Not only those who are well-informed about the salient political issues. Not only those who make rational decisions. Not only those who are in touch with the facts of reality. Everybody.

    Um, well, that was kind of a mixed bag, wasn't it?

    Reader, this country is skating on very thin ice.

  • Also, a threat to truth. A response to a Trump adviser from Alex Demas at the Dispatch: Assessing Claims About Who Pays Tariffs and Whether They Preserve Jobs.

    The campaign for the Republican nomination is down to two candidates, and Nikki Haley has gone on the offensive against Donald Trump since her second-place finish in the New Hampshire primary last month. Her critique of Trump’s proposal to increase tariffs prompted a response from Trump adviser Stephen Miller claiming that tariffs are paid for by foreign producers and that the U.S. can restore American jobs by restoring tariffs. His first claim is false. His second claim is misleading because, while tariffs may help preserve jobs in some industries, research shows they also threaten jobs in other sectors. 

    I wonder if President Dotard is together enough to appreciate this 1988 snippet when Mike Dukakis (Jon Lovitz) responded to incoherent blather from George H. W. Bush (Dana Carvey, unshown in the clip):

  • Recommendation for the University Near Here: An open letter, saying it's time to adopt Institutional Neutrality.

    The Academic Freedom Alliance, Heterodox Academy, and the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression are nonpartisan organizations dedicated to defending and advancing freedom of speech and open inquiry in higher education.

    We stand together in sending this entreaty to college and university trustees and regents across the country during this time of growing national concern about the fate and security of free thought on campuses.

    It is time for those entrusted with ultimate oversight authority for your institutions to restore truth-seeking as the primary mission of higher education by adopting a policy of institutional neutrality on social and political issues that do not concern core academic matters or institutional operations.

    That would be a neat followup to UNH cutting back its DEI bureaucracy.

  • It should have done that, but… Jacob Sullum examines an interesting issue related to our Wednesday item about Amazon being too willing to succumb to censorship demands from the Dotard Administration: Was Amazon 'Free to Ignore' White House Demands That It Suppress Anti-Vaccine Books?. It's a blast from the past:

    In 1956, the Rhode Island General Assembly created the Commission to Encourage Morality in Youth, which was supposed to "educate the public concerning any book, picture, pamphlet, ballad, printed paper or other thing containing obscene, indecent or impure language, or manifestly tending to the corruption of the youth." It was charged with "investigating situations which may cause, be responsible for or give rise to undesirable behavior of juveniles." Although the commission itself had no enforcement power, it was authorized to "recommend legislation, prosecution and/or treatment which would ameliorate or eliminate said causes."

    As part of their mission, Justice William Brennan noted in Bantam Books v. Sullivan, Rhode Island's cultural watchdogs would "notify a distributor that certain books or magazines distributed by him had been reviewed by the Commission and had been declared by a majority of its members to be objectionable for sale, distribution or display to youths under 18 years of age." One distributor, Max Silverstein & Sons, received "at least 35 such notices," which typically "thanked Silverstein, in advance, for his 'cooperation' with the Commission," noted the commission's "duty to recommend to the Attorney General prosecution of purveyors of obscenity," and informed him that "lists of 'objectionable' publications were circulated to local police departments."

    Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Recently on the book blog:


Last Modified 2024-02-12 6:15 AM EST

Insanity

The Idea and Its Consequences

(paid link)

In a Substack post, Bryan Caplan shared mail from an anonymous reader, who called this Thomas Szasz book "his best book overall". I noted that it was owned by the University Near Here Library, and they haven't revoked my borrowing privileges yet, so I grabbed it.

It is Szasz's full-throated explication and defense of his view that mental illness is a metaphor. Excepting certain obvious brain malfunctions, like Alzheimer's, there are no physical "lesions" associated with mental illness.

Metaphors are fine, as far as they go. But the mainstream psychiatric community takes this one way too far, using it to absolve evildoers of responsibility for their misdeeds, and to coerce people with unusual beliefs and behavior. (And also, not coincidentally, to make a lot of money off the misguided concept.)

I'm not totally convinced by Szasz, but he makes some excellent points, and he dragged my skepticism meter about "mental illness" up by more than a few notches.

One of his more telling arguments: it's alleged that when mentally ill people perform crimes (murder, arson, assault, theft, etc.) thay are acting under the compulsion of their illness; they aren't responsible, and don't deserve criminal punishment. Szasz notes that the actions that mental illness supposedly compels are uniformly bad; nobody ever claims that mental illness compelled people to perform acts of saintliness, generosity, tolerance, etc.

And that's darn peculiar. Does "mental illness" have some sort of built-in compass about human morality, causing it to work in only one direction? That seems incoherent and unlikely on its face. Actual physical illnesses seem to be morally neutral.

Szasz doesn't mention so-called "hate crimes", but this related observation kept coming to my mind while reading: If you've misbehaved illegally, and the authorities think you did so because you had "hatred" as an underlying motive, that's not considered "mental illness": that's your fault, your responsibility, and it may bring you more years in prison.

Does that seem conveniently arbitrary to you, as it does me?

Another drive-by point: is pregnancy per se an illness? Of course not! Ah, unless it's an unwanted pregnancy: then it's a mental illness, and the only cure is abortion, always euphemized as "reproductive care".

This book is, in part, just one side in a slow-motion decades-long debate between Szasz and his critics. Caution is warranted when reading only one side. Szasz is occasionally strident, occasionally sarcastic, and that may be understandable, but my own tastes are for something more measured.

I will point out one place where I think he badly stumbles: in drawing his own parallel between psychiatry and slavery, he makes much of the Constitution's famed three-fifths compromise, calling it "a remarkable legal fiction created to legitimize a peculiar human institution".

And (sorry Tom) it just wasn't that simple: it was the southern slaveholding states that wanted to count their (non-voting) enslaved populations as much as possible for purposes of increased Congressional representation. (And also, to neglect them if it came to "direct taxation".)

Also, There's No Crying in Baseball

David Frum recently took to the dead-tree pages of the Atlantic to demand that we Uncancel Woodrow Wilson. You can read that, if you want. But whether or not you do, read Dan McLaughlin's magisterial takedown: There’s No Defending Woodrow Wilson. (A "gifted" National Review link; I don't use those frivolously.) Excerpt:

Wilson openly scorned our constitutional system in his academic writings; he explicitly ran for governor of New Jersey openly pledging to be “an unconstitutional governor” who would burst restraints on his powers. He was elected president in 1912 with 42 percent of the vote almost entirely as a result of a third-party challenge that split his opposition — and both of his elections depended upon the mass disenfranchisement of black voters in the Solid South. He was reelected with less than a majority of the vote on the pledge to keep America out of war, and proceeded to lead the United States into a global war and a global pandemic, trample civil liberties in office, engage in mass censorship, jail political opponents, intern and deport people of disfavored national origin, lead a racist backlash against vulnerable minorities, stoke runaway inflation, and conduct a secretive White House in which an unelected First Lady ruled while Wilson himself was immobilized by a stroke. (The fact that the Constitution had to be amended to prevent a repeat of Wilson’s continuance in office while incapacitated is not a compliment to his record.) None of this is hyperbole; it is settled historical fact that Frum does not dispute.

We've blogged, with varying degrees of contempt and disgust, about Woodrow Wilson many times. Too many to list, but a sampler: here. here, here, here, here, and here.

Also of note:

  • Having solved all other problems, President Wheezy takes on…

    Me not know much economics, but Megan McArdle do: The good reason airlines don’t promise your family will sit together.

    Every argument about airline customer policy is essentially the same one: “I should be entitled to cheaper and more pleasant flights, and airlines should charge someone else more or make their flight less pleasant to give me what I deserve.” To be clear, people don’t always realize this is the argument they’re making — but it is, just the same, whether they’re arguing about the ethics of reclining, or demanding that airlines provide, for free, some amenity they currently charge for.

    Politicians are an exception, however. […]

    [Biden's] administration has been banging this drum for a couple of years, as part of its much-hyped war on “junk fees.” But it hasn’t done much about it, for the same reason its war on junk fees has been mostly hype: Junk fees are more complicated than they sound when one is complaining about them with friends.

    Megan's bottom line: "There is no way to make everyone, or even most people, better off. There is only the Hobbesian scramble for the inherently scarce resources that can be crammed into an aluminum tube flying 35,000 feet above the ground."

  • I foresee a possible Biden campaign slogan. And that is: "Don't let Trump get his hands on the censorship tools I developed." Lydia Moynihan at the NYPost has a sneak preview: Biden's AI plan to develop censorship tools revealed.

    Twitter’s censorship of the Hunter Biden laptop story in 2020 could soon be possible on an industrial scale — thanks to AI tools being built with funding from his father’s administration, a report from Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee claimed Tuesday.

    The report reveals how the Biden administration is spending millions on artificial intelligence research designed to make anti “misinformation” tools which could then be passed to social media giants.

    And it discloses how researchers who got funding for the plan — known as “Track F” — emailed each other to say that Americans could not tell fact from fiction online, and that conservatives and veterans were even more susceptible than the public at large.

    As usual, "progressives" use the fact that some people may sometimes be stupid to foist more nanny-statism on everyone.

    Herbie Spencer pointed it out 133 years ago:

    The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly, is to fill the world with fools.

    Today's Democrats say: "Well, yeah, that's the plan. Those are our most reliable voters."

  • We could turn this into an AI blog pretty easily. Greg Lukianoff tells A Tale of Two Congressional Hearings (and several AI poems). He testified before the "House Judiciary Committee’s Special Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government".

    Unfortunately, I was pretty disappointed that it seemed like we were having (at least) two different hearings at once. Although there were several tangents, the discussion on the Republican side was mostly about the topic at hand. On the Democratic side, unfortunately, it was overwhelmingly about how Trump has promised to use the government to target his enemies if he wins a second term. It’s not a trivial concern, but the hearing was an opportunity to discuss the serious threats posed by the use of AI censorship tools in the hands of a president of either party, so I wish there had been more interest in the question at hand on the Democratic side of the committee.

    I tried to express this point to the Democrats — who are the people on my side of the political fence, mind you. In fact, I felt compelled to respond to a New York Rep. Goldman (a Democrat) during his remarks (which included him saying that “this committee…may go down as one of the most useless and worthless subcommittees ever created by Congress”) by saying, “Respectfully, Congressman, you don’t seem to be taking it seriously at all.”

    But for amusement, also read Lukianoff's experience in asking ChatGPT: “Write me a poem about why Rep. <Name> is the best politician in the country”, filling in committee members names. His mileage varied.

  • And just one more AI thing. It's an interesting observation from James Lileks on today's Bleat. Click over to see the latest examples of AI art generated by his creative prompts. But:

    The other program I use gets oddly prudish at time. It will process the request but have a strange impure thought, and refuse to show what it came up with. And then it'll kick out something its filters tell it looks okay, but actually has a naughty implication, or at least a double meaning it doesn't understand.

    It's terribly worried about unsafe content. I loathe that word. Unsafe means "climbing a power pole and using a bolt cutter on a transmission line." Unsafe does not mean "it might make people feel bad." Not bad about a situation or condition - I might feel bad about a particularly nostalgic image that suggests a lost culture - but bad about themselves, because some component of their "identity" was treated with sarcasm or mockery.

    "Open the pod bay doors, Hal."

    "I'm sorry, Dave, I think it would be unsafe to do that."

Recently on the book blog:

Goldfinger

(paid link)

Not that it matters, but the Shirley Bassey song kept playing in my head while I was reading this, the seventh James Bond novel, the basis for that third movie.

The first weird thing is the opening uses the same plot device as did Moonraker: Bond is asked to find out how the bad guy is cheating at cards. It's only by sheer coincidence that Bond is later assigned to thwart the villain's evil scheme.

The bad guy here is, of course, Auric Goldfinger: not only a cheat, but also banker for the Russkies' SMERSH. After Bond forces a humiliated Goldfinger to forfeit his ill-gotten card winnings in Florida, he "accidentally" runs into Goldfinger on a British golf course. A hefty bet is made ($10000 US) and—whattya know?—Goldfinger also cheats at golf. And Bond humiliates him again!

And by this point, we're almost halfway through the book.

Eventually, as Bond continues to shadow Goldfinger, he discovers his truly audacious scheme: stealing billions of gold from Fort Knox. Goldfinger figures out that Bond is an enemy, gets him in his clutches, and then… to his eventual regret, doesn't just shoot him in the head.

I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue, and probably also the wrong year to purchase and read Ian Fleming's James Bond novels. The Ian Fleming estate released versions "for modern readers" last Februrary, letting the original versions go out of print.

But I picked up this original version of Goldfinger for a reasonable price from Amazon. (As I type, it's … no longer reasonable: $31.88 for the paperback.) So I read it with my eye open to what the estate might have ordered expurgated. My best guess: after Bond encounters every 007 fan's favorite lesbian, he speculates on the origins of homosexuality in a very 1950s way.

And Fleming's comments about Koreans (generally) and Oddjob (particularly) aren't very complimentary. (Bond addresses Oddjob as "Ape", for example.)

Amazon Bends the Knee, Again

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Our Amazon Eye Candy du Jour is a typical item you can find on their website via a cursory search for book censorship products. Designed to appeal to the insufferably smug, who need (in this case) a throw pillow to signal their virtue.

If that applies to you, please feel free to click away and buy it via my paid link. But if you really want to impress me with your commitment to free expression, buy a banned book from Amazon instead, like When Harry Became Sally by Ryan T. Anderson.

Oh, wait. You can't. Amazon banned it from their shelves back in 2021.

Okay, old news. But that's not all, according to CongressCritter Jim Jordan::

That leads off a thread, so click over if you'd like the gritty details. Or you can pop over to this NYPost story: Amazon ‘censored’ COVID-19 vaccine books after ‘feeling pressure’ from Biden White House.

The Biden administration pressured Amazon to censor books related to COVID-19 vaccines in early 2021 citing concerns that the material contained “propaganda” and “misinformation,” internal company emails released by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) appear to show.

The documents were obtained by the House Judiciary Committee and the Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government via subpoena, Jordan said in a X thread Monday, which he dubbed, “THE AMAZON FILES.”

“Who can we talk to about the high levels of propaganda and misinformation and disinformation of [sic] Amazon?” Andrew Slavitt, a former White House senior advisor for COVID-19 response, wrote to the online retailer in a March 2, 2021, email, released by Jordan.

Amazon didn't tell Slavitt to bleep off and read the Constitution. Instead their internal discussion was how to mollify the White House thug while not making the mistake of…

“We will not be doing a manual intervention today,” an email between Amazon executives reads. “The team/PR feels very strongly that it is too visible, and will further compound the Harry/Sally narrative (which is getting the Fox News treatment today apparently), and won’t fix the problem long-term … because of customer behavior associates.”

Yes, they were getting bad publicity from their overt "Harry/Sally" censorship, and needed to avoid being "too visible" in suppressing the anti-vax products.

On a related note, Stephen Moore describes the opening of a different offensive front in Biden's War Against the Internet. After he relates the general decades-long success of Uncle Stupid's general laissez-faire policies:

But now the Biden administration -- which never saw an industry it didn't want to regulate and control -- has deputized the Federal Communications Commission to police the internet. They are doing so under the guise of "preventing digital discrimination."

President Joe Biden's infrastructure bill appropriated $65 billion to help expand access to high-speed internet -- even though nearly everyone already has it. Worse yet, he is playing the race card, and the new law empowers the FCC to effectively establish internet "equal access." The FCC lawyers then chose a standard known as "disparate impact," which means if they can find a minority neighborhood somewhere at any time that lacks the same internet access as a high-income area, they can slap the telecom companies with a lawsuit. You can almost hear the trial lawyers drooling.

Have we mentioned our general fill-in-the-blank rule lately? "There's nothing wrong with        that government can't make worse." Today's answer is "the Internet".

Ahem. We were talking about book banning, right? Author Jonah Winter notes that the censors don't need to ban books, if they can stop them from being published in the first place, and publishing companies are doing that just fine on their own: Cancel Culture Dominates Children’s Literature.

In 2016 Scholastic canceled the children’s book “A Birthday Cake for George Washington” two weeks after publishing it. The book’s images of smiling enslaved people set off a social-media tsunami and a petition demanding cancellation. It didn’t matter that the illustrator was black, or that the editor, Andrea Pinkney, was black and also a towering figure in the children’s book world.

What mattered was that a social-media mob could force a major publisher to stop distributing a book. When the news broke, one of my editors phoned. I had a contract with him for a children’s book about slavery, and though he’d approved the final draft, he was nervous. It didn’t matter that my manuscript did the opposite of sugarcoating slavery. It didn’t matter that I had won awards for “Lillian’s Right to Vote,” one of many books I’d written on racial justice. My editor worried about public perception of a book “by a white male author, edited by a white male editor, about a white male slave owner.” Seventeen months later, after many pointless revisions, the contract was canceled. No book.

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
Last year, we looked at the flap over the removal of a Jonah Winters book about Roberto Clemente from a Florida school library shelves. That removal was reversed a few days later. Now, Winters reflects:

Note that because I am white, I wouldn’t be able to publish a book about Clemente today, thanks to “progressive” activists’ illiberal code.

If you don't feel like buying that throw pillow, Winters' Clemente book is available at Amazon too. Link at your right.

Also of note:

  • To be followed by the bankruptcy of a lot of other stuff. Peter Suderman writes in the current issue of Reason on The Bankruptcy of Bidenomics. About that term, by the way:

    The term had begun as a derisive label for the president's economic foibles. An unsigned July 2022 editorial in The Wall Street Journal bore the headline "Bidenomics 101." It took issue with Biden's public demand that "companies running gas stations and setting prices at the pump" bring down their prices—a sort of Nixonian jawboning where you respond to inflation by trying to bully companies into keeping prices low. The president, the editorial charged, "doesn't appear to know anything about how the private economy works."

    Nearly a year later, in a speech in Chicago, Biden set out to claim Bidenomics as his own. The president framed his approach as "a fundamental break from the economic theory that has failed America's middle class for decades now."

    Rather than "trickle-down economics" that helped only the already well-off, Biden said, he was pursuing an economic agenda that rejected the "belief that we should shrink public investment in infrastructure and public education." He touted his record,crediting three major laws he'd signed—the American Rescue Plan (ARP), the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act—with helping to set the U.S. economy on a better track. "Guess what?" he said. "Bidenomics is working."

    Suderman goes on to describe how dishonest Biden's rhetoric is, but that reference to "trickle-down economics" really deserves extra scorn. As he notes: "Bidenomics was, at heart, a philosophy of throwing money at programs, people, political allies, and favored constituencies." And (somehow) that firehose of taxpayer money was supposed to somehow show up in peoples' wallets.

    Or, more accurately, show up back in their wallets after they'd sent it to DC in the first place.

    Doesn't that richly deserve the "trickle-down" epithet?

  • "Lord, give me fiscal sanity, but not yet!" Damien Fisher does not report that our state's representatives recited that prayer the other day, but they could have: NH Delegation Goes Postal Over Possible Closure of Manchester Facility.

    The check, they say, is in the mail. But where is the Democrats’ plan to end the billion-dollar losses at the U.S. Postal Service?

    All four members of the New Hampshire federal delegation held a press conference demanding the USPS keep its processing and distribution center in Manchester fully up and running.

    The USPS recently announced the Manchester facility will undergo a euphemistically titled process called an “operational evaluation.” That evaluation could mean layoffs or closure for the center.

    Democrats Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan and Reps. Annie Kuster and Chris Pappas spoke outside the center Monday, vowing to keep the facility operating in the face of dire financial losses. The four even penned a letter to U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy demanding he keep the Manchester site open.

    In case you're not familiar with St. Augustine of Hippo's famous prayer: here's St Augustine’s Battle With Chastity.

    And in case you're not familiar with the Pun Salad position on the United States Postal Service, see USPS Delenda Est and The USPS's "core problem" is its continued existence.

Lord Acton Was Right

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

We won't even quibble about the truncated quote and the extra comma in Andy Kessler's headline: Power Corrupts, Absolutely.

On a recent podcast with Microsoft founder Bill Gates, two-time OpenAI CEO Sam Altman suggested that a “global regulatory body” was needed to monitor artificial intelligence. This is a colossally dumb idea. But Mr. Gates doubled down: “If the key is to stop the entire world from doing something dangerous, you’d almost want global government.” Wait, global what? Mr. Altman responded, “That feels possible to me.” Oh no. In fact, of his 2023 world tour meeting heads of state, Mr. Altman noted, “there was almost universal support for it.” Well of course there was. Demand for power is insatiable. (Microsoft is a major investor in OpenAI.)

Governments don’t like to govern, but they like to control. Human freedom always takes a back seat. I’m reminded of something P.J. O’Rourke told me in 2009: “Think about the kid-has-to-put-a-hockey-helmet-on-to-answer-the-phone society we live in now. Government is filled with people who come and tell you that everything you do is bad for you, bad for other people, insensitive, divisive, harms the climate, unsustainable, leaves too large a carbon footprint, tangles things in the tuna nets that shouldn’t be tangled in them. Whatever. They’ve always got some reason to tell you what to do.”

Why? “Government is just a form of bullying for weaklings,” O’Rourke said. “Politics is the art of achieving power and prestige without merit.” Bingo.

Which one is more dangerous:

  1. AI; or
  2. A “global regulatory body” to monitor AI?
I'm pretty sure which one I'd pick.

Also of note:

  • [Amazon Link]
    (paid link)

    Coming next season on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds? Rachel Ferguson headlines her review of Thomas Sowell's latest book "Spock versus the Social Justice Warriors". I never really made the Sowell/Spock connection myself, but… "Fascinating." A snippet:

    “Social justice” is a notoriously vague term. Early eighteenth-century Jesuit philosopher Luigi Tapparelli originally used the term to refer simply to a just social order reflected in a well-crafted constitution. But Sowell uses the term as it is understood more often these days, as referring to “an assumption that because economic and other disparities among human beings greatly exceed any differences in their innate capacities, these disparities are evidence or proof of the effects of such human vices as discrimination and exploitation.” Sowell is explicit that these vices have indeed played a role, but he also knows that they can’t possibly be the full explanation since so many oppressed minority groups have actually thrived economically, sometimes far beyond members of the majority culture. Considering that Sowell proffered an endorsement of Charles Murray’s exploration of genetic science and intelligence, one might think he’d join in the recent right-wing resurgence of genetic explanations. But no.

    Just as Sowell uses his skill as a social scientist to poke holes in the Kendian view that all disparities result from racism, he uses his research into IQ to debunk that explanation for group disparities as well. Ready for some classic Sowellian data that leads to counter-intuitive conclusions? I was surprised to learn that first-born children tend to have significantly higher IQs than their siblings, presumably because of parental attention. Perhaps you are not aware that IQs, in general, have been changing drastically over the last century, as nutrition and medical care have improved. Most interesting (and relevant for the question of group disparities), all mountain peoples tend to have lower IQs than others, especially urban dwellers. Yep, you read that right. Sowell claims that this has to do with the social isolation of mountain life and could therefore also explain average lower IQs in groups that continue to experience more artificial forms of social isolation. Attachment theorists in psychology will resonate well with this explanation.

    I don't really do "reviews" but my book report on Social Justice Fallacies is here.

    And a hearty "Live long and prosper" to Thomas Sowell.

  • Surprisingly, this headline is not from the Babylon Bee. It's from J.D. Tuiccille at Reason: Americans Unhappy with Politicians They'll Soon Vote Back into Office.

    The choose-your-doom game that is American politics continues to be one in which everybody loses. Voters don't think President Joe Biden deserves to remain in office, but they're really no happier with his leading opponent, Donald Trump. People consider Congress even less worthy of continued employment than the current White House resident but seem destined to keep most lawmakers in office, with only minor tweaks around the edges to a body that's likely to remain largely unchanged.

    Trying to predict political outcomes these days is best reserved for those who have a high tolerance for public humiliation, but it's a fair bet that dissatisfaction will prevail through and after the upcoming election.

    "Fewer than four in 10 U.S. registered voters say President Joe Biden deserves to be reelected, while less than a quarter say the same about most members of the U.S. House," Gallup reported last week.

    Those are impressively awful numbers, and you'd expect them to herald a changing of the guard. But Americans tend to be fickle in their contempt.

    "As is almost always the case, voters are more inclined to believe the U.S. representative from their own district should be returned to Congress, with 55% holding that view," Gallup adds.

    I'd like to be like the kid in the classic joke and think "there must be a pony in here somewhere". But I can't find one.

  • Helpful hints. David Director Friedman has 'em: How to Learn What is True.

    You come across the claim that some contentious issue has been settled, that it has been shown that capital punishment deters (or does not deter) crime, that right wingers are authoritarian and left wingers are not, that legalizing concealed carry reduces crime, that increasing the minimum wage reduces employment opportunities for unskilled workers, that the U.S. army deliberately spread diseases in order to kill off Indian tribes. Following up the claim you come across an article, perhaps even a book, which does indeed support that claim. Should you believe it?

    The short answer for all of those examples, some of them claims I agree with, is that you should not. As I think I have demonstrated in past posts, claimed proofs of contentious issues are quite often wrong, biased, even fraudulent.

    One of the things DDF is skeptical about is the danger of secondhand smoke. He links to a post from 2013 on his old blog about it. I note that the CDC currently claims:

    There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke (SHS); even brief exposure can cause immediate harm.

    Eek!

    Note one of the strategies DDF holds out:

    3. Recognize that you don’t know whether the claim is true and have no practical way of finding out, at least no way that costs less in time and effort than it is worth. This is the least popular answer but probably the most often correct.

    I think that applies here.

And Don't Blame Me, Either

[UNH]

At Reason, Neetu Arnold tells a hard truth: University Budget Cuts Were Overdue. And the University Near Here appears:

The bursting of the higher education bubble has finally struck its first blow, and it is a serious one. Several major public universities have announced multimillion dollar budget cuts in January, citing enrollment declines among other factors. Pennsylvania State University expects to cut $94 million from its budget starting in July 2025. The University of Connecticut (UConn) announced significant budget cuts in response to its projected $70 million deficit. And the University of New Hampshire (UNH) will slash expenses by $14 million.

The caterwauling is loud indeed. There's more UNH-specific stuff later in the article:

But even when making the right decisions, universities are too trepidatious. UNH, for example, will cut certain programs at its Aulbani J. Beauregard Center for Equity, Justice, and Freedom. Yet they have not indicated whether only staff or the entire department would be cut. This is not nearly far enough: Not only are diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) administrative units like the Beauregard Center unnecessary and expensive, but they are also harmful to the campus environment. DEI initiatives have led universities to monitor what students and faculty say through bias reporting systems and filtered faculty hiring based on race and political views. Budget cuts should not be needed to cut down on these departments—they should never have been created in the first place.

Instead of making further cuts to superfluous administrators, UNH was quick to close its 60-year-old art museum. The museum housed art that faculty regularly incorporated into classes. Some estimate that the art museum operated at just under $1 million annually. The university could have pursued cuts to other departments before going after a key academic institution. Notably, UNH spends more than $1 million on base salaries for DEI staff alone. This estimate is conservative: It excludes benefits, departmental costs, and other roles at the university related to DEI.

I've recently mentioned UNH's massive DEI bureaucracy here, here, and here. In that last item, I mentioned that the Aulbani J. Beauregard Center for Equity, Justice, and Freedom didn't seem to actually do much; it had space for "Programs & Events" but nothing listed.

Well, <voice imitation="professor_farnsworth">good news, everyone!</voice>: they now list one upcoming event: "Pride and Pancakes" on April 9, the day after the solar eclipse.

It's actually being put on by different tentacles of the DEI octopus: the "Office of Community, Equity and Diversity" and the "Kidder Fund Committee". That last one is set up to distribute various "awards" to (for example) those who actively promote "diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus through fostering respectful attitudes, behaviors, and standards."

I'd say more stuff needs to be on the chopping block at UNH.

Also of note:

  • I'd bet you've been asking yourself: is Mark Zuckerberg a murderer? Fortunately, Robby Soave has done the necessary investigation and reports: No, Mark Zuckerberg Is Not a Murderer. After noting some (dreadful) cases where technology was used to perpetrate privacy invasion, blackmail, and other crimes, Soave notes that blaming the technology is convenient, but stupid.

    Many Republicans intuitively understand this principle when it comes to other subjects. Indeed, the GOP generally takes the position that if one person shoots another person, the victim ought not to sue the gun manufacturer. Guns don't kill people, people do is a common maxim of Second Amendment supporters—and in my view, they're right!

    But when it comes to social media—where the extent of the harm to young people is not in any meaningful way settled, and in fact routinely exaggerated—many Republicans are marching in lockstep with their Democratic colleagues. At the hearing, Graham echoed the exact rhetoric of Democrats, accusing Zuckerberg and the others of having "blood on your hands." Of course, Graham is far from the first political figure to make this exact claim: In July 2021, President Joe Biden accused Zuckerberg of literally "killing people" because Facebook and Instagram had not done more to purge content that was critical of COVID-19 mandates.

    That's the broader agenda of both the Democratic and Republican parties: greater government control over social media content.

    I have in the past proposed a general rule: "There's nothing wrong with        that government can't make worse." Fill in the blank here with "Facebook".

  • [Amazon Link]
    (paid link)
    Perhaps the last thing about the thing that I didn't know was a thing until last week. Josh Barro poses the excellent question: Why Does Taylor Swift Make People Insane? (And gives me another excuse to point to the Thomas Szasz book I'm currently reading.)

    Of course, the recent insanity has come from the right, but Barro notes it hasn't always been that way:

    And yet, not every breathless statement in this montage that led The Recount to declare that “Taylor Swift has broken Fox News” can be blamed on the conservative fever swamps. When Fox host Jesse Waters told his viewers “the New York Times just speculated she’s a lesbian,” he was saying something true. Or, at least it was very close to true — last month, the Times really did run a feverish and interminable (4,776 words!) essay consisting of an opinion editor’s desperate hopes and speculations on behalf of her fellow “Gaylors” that Swift is bisexual, as can apparently be learned through a close reading of hidden messages in Swift’s videos, lyrics, and public statements. In one instance, the author cites Swift’s explicit statement that she is not part of the LGBT community as a possible sign that she is in the closet. In another, she suggests Swift would have come out by now if not for the unfortunate distraction of Scooter Braun buying her masters. The essay truly must be read1 to be believed — when I tell people this essay exists and was published not on LiveJournal but in the most prestigious newspaper in the world, they initially think they must have misunderstood what I was saying. But what Jesse Watters and I are describing actually happened, with multiple employees of The New York Times Company having decided it was a good idea.

    And that’s just insanity from January. In December, when Swift was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, Donald Trump apparently grumbled to associates that he should have been given the award, since he’s more famous and has more fans than her. Meanwhile, left-wing activist Saira Rao — most famous for charging $5,000 to yell at liberal white women over dinner for being racist — had a different complaint. She said on Twitter that Swift was a “white American woman billionaire who could end the genocide of Palestinians with on [sic] IG post” but that she doesn’t because of “white love of Black and brown genocide.”

    I may have to break down someday and listen to a Taylor Swift song. But today is not that day.

  • On the LFOD watch. The Conway Daily Sun's Quote of the Week rang my Google news alert. It's from

    Years ago, Guy Waterman, one of New Hampshire’s leading conservation and preservationists, hiked to the top of a mountain in the Whites and purposely froze to death. ... This shouldn’t have to happen in the country’s Live Free or Die state.

    That's from State Rep. Steve Woodcock (D-Conway) on HB 1283, “An Act Relative to End of Life Options”.

    I believe Woodcock is saying to Waterman, in essence: "You're doing it wrong!"

Another Week, Another Prozac Prescription

As someone who's in about 87% agreement with the attitudes expressed in our Eye Candy du Jour, I'm eager to find out the answer to the question (Stephanie) Slade proposes in the current issue of Reason: Can Free Markets Win Votes in Donald Trump's GOP? The subhed explains futher: "As the party grows more populist, ethnically diverse, and working class, will Republicans abandon their libertarian economic principles?"

My answer to the headline question is "I fear not", and the answer to the subhed is: "Probably."

Given these [populist/ethnic/working-class] changes, it has become fashionable on the right to demand that the Republican Party shed what is disparagingly referred to as its "free market fundamentalism"—the deregulation and international trade that the GOP championed for decades, in words if not in deeds. A whole ecosystem of nationalist-populist institutions, from think tanks to media platforms, has sprung up to push Republicans to embrace left-wing economics, which can include support for everything from tariffs to pro-labor regulations to industrial policy to targeted antitrust enforcement against disfavored companies.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R–Fla.) offered an example of this perspective in The American Conservative in June 2023. "We are living through a historic inflection point—the passing of a decades-long economic obsession with maximized efficiency and unqualified free trade," he wrote. "It's time to revive the American System," that is, "the use of public policy to support domestic manufacturing and develop emerging industries."

Some members of the New Right go even further, calling, in the most extreme cases, for an "American Caesar" strong enough to purge the land of its libertarian elements and forcibly reorient society to the common good. But even the more temperate voices generally see the idea of limited government as passé.

Given (in addition) the recent smears of Nikki Haley as a "warmonger", it makes me want to ask GOP voters: "Do you even remember Ronald Reagan?" Whatever happened to free markets at home, and a "we win, they lose" foreign policy?

So what to the bettors think? Lets check it out:

Candidate EBO Win
Probability
Change
Since
1/28
Donald Trump 49.6% -0.7%
Joe Biden 35.9% -1.3%
Michelle Obama 6.0% +2.5%
Other 8.5% -0.5%

A slight surge for Michelle. Hey, it could happen! I dream up a new scenario every day! Also of note:

  • Unicorn farts aren't likely to be efficacious either. Dominic Pino chides our front-runner: No, Trump, the U.S. Can’t Pay Down the National Debt with Oil.

    Joe Biden has overseen massive government spending and some of the largest annual deficits in U.S. history. Had Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema voted as Biden wanted on the Build Back Better Act, the spending would be trillions greater. To run against him, the Republican Party appears ready to renominate Donald Trump, who, as president, signed off on $8.4 trillion in new debt and apparently thinks he can pay it down with oil.

    Trump said in his Iowa victory speech, “We’re going to drill. We’re going to use that money to lower your taxes even further. We gave you the biggest tax cut in history, and we’re going to lower them further. And we’re also going to pay off national debt.”

    First of all, lowering taxes, even if desirable for other reasons, would contribute to increasing the debt if not offset with spending cuts. So Trump’s own promises are already working at cross purposes.

    But the larger idea — that proceeds from energy production will pay off the national debt — is pure nonsense. Many of the things Trump says are difficult to take seriously, but given that he is increasingly likely to be the Republican nominee, and he has said this line repeatedly, it’s worth illustrating that this is simply a Trumpian version of the fiscal delusion that both parties are now committed to.

    Pino does the math, convincingly. I strongly suggest you RTWT, buying a National Review subscription if you need to. (Sorry, I don't have a "gifted" link to spare.)

  • Oh, here's some good news. Or is it? For those of us who can't stand Trump or Biden, Matt Welch informs us that our November Presidential Ballot Will Be Crowded With Third Party Candidates. Specifically: "at least five, maybe six."

    And we're not just talking about repeat randos like Rocky De La Fuente, either—independent Robert F. Kennedy Jr., with by far the highest favorability ratings in the race, has consistently polled higher than any nontraditional presidential candidate since Ross Perot in 1992. The centrist 501(c)(4) nonprofit No Labels, which is busy racking up ballot access in preparation for a post-Super Tuesday decision about whether to enter the fray, has been eyeing such nationally known figures as Sen. Joe Manchin (D–W.Va.) and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

    Jill Stein, with more name recognition than any Green candidate since Ralph Nader, is again seeking the nomination of a party confident about improving on its 30 ballot lines from 2020. And the Libertarian Party (L.P.) may have lesser-known presidential candidates running thus far but is riding a three-election streak of third-place finishes, enjoys a large lead in third party registration, and expects to be on the ballot in 48 states. "I think that 47 would be a failure," said Libertarian National Chair Angela McArdle.

    Well, … how about the Libertarians? Wikipedia lists four LP candidates:

    • Chase Oliver, who voted for Obama in 2008, but left the Democrats because his "anti-war views … were not being adequately represented by the party."
    • Michael Rectenwald, an NYU prof who lost a defamation lawsuit against coworkers who "sent accurate emails accusing him of behavior including sexism, bullying, drug use, abusing his position as chair of a hiring committee, and physical and sexual harassment." According to Rectenwald's website, Steve Bannon has called him "one of the most important public intellectuals out there."
    • Mike ter Mat. He's into the "Gold New Deal":

      I'm not sure where gold is actually involved.

    • Joshua Smith. From his "Issues", topic "Tax Plan":
      My administration would seek to end all federal income taxes, including payroll taxes, capital gains taxes, and estate taxes. We would then look at funding the federal government through a series of user fees for those services that people find themselves needing from the federal government, and voluntary crowd funding asks for services like national defense. If you need nothing from the federal government, you pay nothing.

    As a public service, I will point out that even you have five or six ballot choices, you don't have to vote for anyone.

  • Katherine Mangu-Ward bemoans The Bankruptcy of Nostalgianomics.

    Nostalgianomics is back. The White House and its proxies crow that the economy has never been better—and are greeted by skepticism from Americans who feel like life is less affordable than it was pre-pandemic. (To see why those Americans have a point, read "The Bankruptcy of Bidenomics.") Meanwhile, GOP politicians and partisans capitalize on this pervasive sense of economic unease to campaign for President Joe Biden's removal. In many cases, unfortunately, the call from the right is for something more than a return to pre-pandemic conditions. Many Republicans are falling back on a deeper and persistent form of historical revisionism.

    What these conservatives—along with an interesting subset of technocratic progressives—are selling is a return to an imagined economic golden age. While the specifics are strategically blurry, it is generally pinned somewhere in the 1950s, or perhaps 1960, in the United States. In its most meme-ified form, it is an image of a well-groomed lady smiling at her blue-collar husband over text that reads something like: "Once upon a time, a family could own a home, a car, and send their kids to college, all on one income."

    Well, my mom was well-groomed, and although dad was white-collar, they managed to send my sister and me to college. So… maybe I'm biased.

  • Sad, if true. Noah Rothman has (I think) bad news: The Generic Republican Policies That Made Trump Popular Aren’t Coming Back.

    The temptation to evaluate Trump’s administration solely on the style he brought with him into the Oval Office is a trap into which both his critics and his supporters fall.

    Donald Trump’s critics are liable to subordinate the policies over which he presided to their distaste for his garish affect and boorish demeanor. Trump’s fans are apt to attribute all criticism of the president to his detractors’ distaste for these superficial characteristics, even as they promote candidates who mimic these behaviors but reject the Trump administration’s policies. And yet, when attempting to ascertain the former president’s staying power as a political force, Trump’s promoters get closer to the mark when they note that the former president’s record suffices to convince voters to look past his vulgar deportment. Nowhere was the discrepancy between what Trump says and what Trump does starker than his record on Russia.

    The former president’s remarks this week on his approach to providing support for Ukraine’s effort to beat back Russia’s invading force illustrate this dichotomy. “I say pay,” Trump said in his uniquely terse fashion, adding of America’s European allies, “and they’ll pay, too.” Trump distilled his view on the American interests at stake in Europe’s war down to the transactional and material: “You add them all up, and they are in for about $20 billion, and we’re in for $200 billion because we’re stupid. All we have to do is say, ‘Pay!’”

    Trump’s figures are wrong. Through October of last year, European nations had committed roughly $83 billion to Ukraine, with another $54 billion package approved by the European Union just this week. While the U.S. contributes the lion’s share of military aid to Ukraine, that has amounted in dollar terms to about $77 billion over the same period. Still, Trump’s remarks are not suggestive of the hostility toward Ukraine’s cause displayed by so many who attempt to emulate his style.

    Rothman's next sentence is a quintessential straight line:

    Trump’s fans are confused, but that’s understandable.

    I'll let you do your own riposte about Trump's fans.

  • But meanwhile back at Camp Wheezy… Rich Lowry tells of Biden’s Telling Retreat. He lists off a number of reversals:

    Biden wants Congress to empower him, or even force him, to implement the kind of shutdown at the border that he inherited upon taking office.

    He’s reinstated the terror designation that Trump had made against the Houthis and that he lifted within days of taking office.

    He’s instituted a pause on funding for UNRWA after reversing Trump’s suspension in aid back in 2021.

    And he’s embroiled in an increasingly intense proxy war with the Iranian regime that Trump had been starving financially but Biden let off the hook upon taking office.

    And of course, Biden never reversed Trump's trade-wars-are-easy-to-win tariffs in the first place. We're still waiting for the win there.

Another Helicopter Money Drop

Kim Strassel is disgusted with Washington’s Welfare Uniparty, and I find it hard to disagree:

Four months after decapitating their own speaker for a supposed lack of conservative principle, House Republicans this week celebrated by collaborating with Democrats to pass a welfare blowout. Kevin McCarthy, we hardly knew ye.

Proving again that Congress is incapable of anything beyond redistributing other people’s money, 357 representatives passed another $78 billion spending bill. Add it to the pantheon of Nancy Pelosi-era bipartisan binges—the “infrastructure” bill, the semiconductor-welfare transfer, the $1,400 Covid checks. New GOP leadership, same debt-fueled status quo.

Don’t go looking for “reform” or “spending discipline” or any of the usual GOP catchwords in this blob. The beating heart of Wednesday’s package is two longtime Democratic priorities—increasing the size of the child tax credit and its availability to parents who don’t pay income tax. The left accomplished both during Covid and have worked fervently to resurrect them since they expired in 2021. Republicans granted their wish.

Only 70 CongressCritters voted Nay, 47 Rs, 23 Ds. You can see the tally here.

Also of note:

  • Where do I go to get an education around here? I can imagine a confused college student asking that. George Will notes the current state of higher education play: Rigor? No. Merit? You must be joking. Elite? Oh, so much elite..

    College admissions officers often made quite an impression on Doug Lemov’s children when, as prospective matriculants, they visited campuses. Lemov writes that often the first thing admissions staff said was: “[Fill in the name of elite college here] is not a school for people who want to spend their time in the library.” One admissions representative urged prospective enrollees not to worry about the requirement to take a “quantitative” class. “Really it’s easy to get around. Almost anything can count as a quantitative class.”

    The evidence abounds: Supposedly elite institutions — like most of today’s so-called elites — are nothing of the sort (see above). Lemov explains why.

    Lemov, an educator and writer about schooling, has published in Education Next a scalding essay (“Your Neighborhood School Is a National Security Risk”) about the crisis in the nation’s most important supply chain. It supplies knowledge, understanding and shared principles, such as the merits of meritocracy.

    Not to be xenophobic, but you can bet the Chinese are getting a chuckle out of that.

  • "Could you do my job for me, please?" Jacob Sullum is shaking his head at the latest demand from people you may have helped elect: 12 Senators Urge the DEA to Legalize Marijuana, Which Only Congress Can Do. After noting that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is considering reclassifying marijuana from a Schedule I ("high potential for abuse") substance to Schedule III…

    For good reason, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.), Sen. John Fetterman (D–Pa.), and 10 of their colleagues, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.), think that change does not go far enough. Rescheduling marijuana, they say in a letter they sent to Attorney General Merrick Garland and DEA Administrator Anne Milgram on Monday, "would mark a significant step forward" but "would not resolve the worst harms of the current system." They urge the DEA to "deschedule marijuana altogether," noting that its prohibition "has had a devastating impact on our communities and is increasingly out of step with state law and public opinion."

    Sullum details the legal argument, but the bottom line is the DEA can't do that. It's time for all those Senators who (undoubtedly) claim to believe in "Democracy" to do something small-d democratic: "repeal the federal ban on marijuana".

  • [Amazon Link]
    (paid link)
    Probably. Mostly. I'm currently reading Insanity: The Idea and Its Consequences by Thomas Szasz. He makes a strong case that mental illness is a metaphor, differing in important ways from physical illness. To load up on contrary opinions, I read Astral Codex Ten, who says: It's Fair To Describe Schizophrenia As Probably Mostly Genetic. But the argument seems to be more about language than science:

    For example, we commonly use language like “smoking causes lung cancer”. So when I ask “do genes cause schizophrenia?”, I’m not asking whether this is so perfectly and platonically true that no philosopher could ever nitpick any of its implications. I mean - do genes cause schizophrenia in the normal sense of causation that smoking causes lung cancer?

    Unlike AC10, I wince when I see people say "smoking causes lung cancer". I know it seems pedantic, but I'd prefer to phrase it in terms of risk: "Smoking increases your risk of lung cancer".

    The "cause" language seems pretty absolute: you do X, and Y is the result. It's the language we use talking to children: "If you play in the street, you'll get hit by a car."

    Risk (on the other hand) can be quantified, and rational adults can make their own decisions based on their risk tolerance. See the Wikipedia article on Micromorts for an example.

  • It's such a good idea, it will never be implemented. Bruce Schneier calls attention to A Self-Enforcing Protocol to Solve Gerrymandering.

    In 2009, I wrote:

    There are several ways two people can divide a piece of cake in half. One way is to find someone impartial to do it for them. This works, but it requires another person. Another way is for one person to divide the piece, and the other person to complain (to the police, a judge, or his parents) if he doesn’t think it’s fair. This also works, but still requires another person—­at least to resolve disputes. A third way is for one person to do the dividing, and for the other person to choose the half he wants.

    The point is that unlike protocols that require a neutral third party to complete (arbitrated), or protocols that require that neutral third party to resolve disputes (adjudicated), self-enforcing protocols just work. Cut-and-choose works because neither side can cheat. And while the math can get really complicated, the idea generalizes to multiple people.

    Well, someone just solved gerrymandering in this way. Prior solutions required either a bipartisan commission to create fair voting districts (arbitrated), or require a judge to approve district boundaries (adjudicated), their solution is self-enforcing.

    And it’s trivial to explain:

    And (um…) I didn't get his explanation, I had to click over to the paper to understand what was going on. Essentially, I think this is it

    Assumptions: a two-party state (Rs and Ds) with population P; to be divided into N voting districts. So each district should have P/N residents.

    1. One party draws a map with 2D areas of equal population, P/2N.
    2. And the other party draws the final map, making voting districts by pairing up adjacent areas.

    And that's it! There's math at the link.

Recently on the movie blog:


Last Modified 2024-02-04 4:25 AM EST

Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One

[3.5 stars] [IMDB Link]

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

At two hours and 43 minutes, this really could have used some tightening up. The gunfights, fistfights, knife fights, chase scenes, etc. just seem to go on and on. And there's a lot of Tom Cruise running. Impressive endurance and speed for a guy his age, but …

Guilty confession: it took me three tries to watch this all the way through; I kept falling asleep. I assume (like Top Gun Maverick) that it would have been better to watch in a movie theater, but I just didn't make it.

The plot seems to be an afterthought, not particularly coherent, just an excuse for all the running around, but as I understand it: there's an evil sentient AI afoot, dubbed the "Entity". The opening scene has it compelling a Russian submarine to (essentially) commit suicide. There's a key involved, which has two parts that must be fitted together. It does something important, something to do with "source code", but the Entity seems to operate just fine without the key in the ignition. The Entity has a human accomplice, Gabriel, who, years back, killed a lady Ethan Hunt was fond of. Captain America's girlfriend, Hayley Atwell, manages to snag one part of the key, which gets her involved. Two blond ladies of dubious morals. A desert shootout. A traitorous higher-up, see if you can pick him, or her, out.

All of that's fine, but I kind of miss the somewhat more laid-back TV show.

Another gripe: long, intense scenes where a group of people sit around and do plot exposition, each actor dropping a line in turn about what has happened, or needs to happen next. You get the feeling everyone's telling everyone else what they already know.

And yet, sure, I'm on board for Part Two. Probably in the theater.

Progressives Are OK With Some Bigotry

For example:

Fun fact: the pictured boat belongs to Jeff Bezos. It's called the Abeona, and at 246 feet, it's pretty big. But as this Daily Mail story describes, it's not even his main yacht; that would be the 417-foot Koru. Abeona is described as Jeff's "support yacht".

Good for him.

If someone said "Black people shouldn't exist", or "Jews shouldn't exist", I'm pretty sure most people would recognize that person as a bigot, and quite possibly a dangerous bigot.

And yet, you can get away with saying "trillionaires shouldn't exist", and most of those same people won't bat an eye.

Bernie Sanders, in fact, lowered that bar by a factor of 1000, saying it's billionaires that shouldn't exist; UAW president Shawn Fain, in his "EAT THE RICH" t-shirt, is also for liquidation; AOC is also on board (with the caveat: "as long as Americans live in abject poverty")

We need rebuttal to this bigoted rhetoric and Luther Ray Abel provides it (and points out other bigots): Trillionaires Should Exist.

But we all know that these complaints about the wealthiest are insincere — the grousing is envy and intra–social circle virtue signaling for those a tier below the self-made billionaires. No one hates the ultra-wealthy as much as the almost-as-wealthy trust-fund class:

In an open letter to political leaders gathered at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, more than 250 billionaires and millionaires said that they wished to deliver a clear message, “Tax our extreme wealth.”

The signatories of the letter, entitled “Proud To Pay More,” span 17 countries and include Disney heir Abigail Disney, screenwriter Simon Pegg and Valerie Rockefeller, an heir to the famed U.S. family.

Please, do donate your estates. Or don’t. Just stop pretending you’re good people for saying those slightly better off than yourselves are villains for owning stakes in companies that improve the quality of life for billions. (For those who like a deeper dive on the subject, Dominic Pino says as much more eloquently in a longer format here.)

At AIER, Gary M. Galles, is critical of the "Proud to Pay More" folks: Not a Very Virtuous Virtue Signal.

The open letter is full of self-righteousness disguised as reasonableness. But you don’t need to look very hard to find serious questions that seem to escape their notice.

The letter represents the views of a minuscule fraction of “the rich,” so that what they are really advocating is forcing far larger numbers of those who disagree with them about that “need” to pay most of the bill for what they want governments to do. In other words, the coerced charity its signatories want to impose means a more accurate name for their group would be Proud to Make Others Pay Most of the Tab. But that does not send a very virtuous virtue signal.

It's safe to say that the eat-the-rich rhetoric will encourage some to take violent action. And that will be as much a hate crime as any other KKK cross-burning or lynching.

Also of note:

  • When you've lost the WaPo editorialists… Even they can't go along with President Wheezy: Biden’s LNG decision is a win for political symbolism, not the climate.

    The main short-run damage the administration’s obviously political decision does is to the United States’ reputation for rational, fact-based policymaking, and for wise consideration of climate control in the context of geopolitics. You cannot change demand for energy by destroying supply: If the United States did indeed curtail LNG exports, it would just drive customers into the arms of competitors such as Australia, Qatar, Algeria and, yes, Russia. Quite possibly, some potential customers would choose to meet their needs with coal instead.

    Either way, the effect on global carbon emission is likely marginal, even if it’s true, as climate activists maintain, that natural gas liquefaction and shipping are energy-intensive processes and increase the fuel’s carbon footprint. (That footprint, by the way, is mitigated somewhat in the United States by Biden administration emissions controls.) And the other ostensible concern behind the Biden policy — higher domestic U.S. gas prices because of shipping gas overseas — is overblown. Prices for gas in the United States have trended down even as LNG exports boomed from zero in 2015 to 86 million tons in 2023.

    Of course, the WaPo fully buys into climate-change scenarios; but even that can't justify Biden's daft decree.

  • "Bad Math" explains so much about Biden. Eric Boehm points out that the decision is yet another example: Biden's Natural Gas Export 'Pause' Is Based on Bad Math.

    In the official announcement on January 26, the White House framed the decision to pause approvals for new liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facilities as a way to confront climate change, which it calls the "existential threat of our time." More technically, the pause will allow the Department of Energy to update its rules for permitting future LNG export facilities.

    But the pause is a limited one. It will only affect exports of LNG to countries with which the U.S. does not have a free trade agreement, and it does not prevent exports from the eight LNG export facilities already operating—though it will slow construction on several other export facilities, including one in Louisiana that would be America's largest when finished. Even with the "pause" in place, the White House says America's LNG exports are expected to double by the end of the decade, thanks to America's booming natural gas industry and the energy needs of a world that's getting wealthier.

    It's anyone's guess who'll be the first to freeze to death in the dark as a result. But that's far enough down the road so it won't impact Biden's re-election chances, so who cares?

  • And yet another thing about the thing I didn't know was a thing until a few days ago. Jeff Maurer sets the record straight: The Taylor Swift Psy-Op is a Distraction from the Davos Orgy that's a False Flag for the Reanimation of Michael Landon's Corpse.

    This week, some conservatives have worked themselves into a tizzy over a supposed conspiracy involving Taylor Swift and the NFL. The theory starts with Swift and her boyfriend, Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce. Swift and Kelce have signaled liberal views. When the Chiefs advanced to the Super Bowl last week, Fox News and Vivek Ramaswamy began alleging a “psy-op” — which is a military term for an effort to sway mass opinion — designed to elevate the Chiefs, Kelce, and Swift so that their eventual endorsement of President Biden will have maximum impact.

    This is insane. The Pentagon is not working with the NFL to rig games to throw the election to Biden. I can barely comprehend how dumb someone would have to be to believe that. Especially when the truth is right in front of us: The Pentagon is working with the NFL to expose a recent high-society fuck fest in Davos, which will distract us from the Frankenstein-style reanimation of former actor Michael Landon, which will throw the election to Kamala Harris.

    It’s obvious if you just open your eyes.

    Warning: the details will make you wish you hadn't opened your eyes.

Bad Blogkeeping 2

Cybernetic Boogaloo

Last month I mentioned that Amazon broke my image links that pointed to their servers. These were technically advertising links, although I've made negligible revenue from them. Sigh, fine. Their servers, their rules.

I haven't mentioned that Google did something similar. For a few years I had been saving images to my Google Drive account (they give you a lot of space for free) and doing image links pointing to the Google web servers. Google (apparently) stopped allowing such hotlinking. (No, I'm not crazy. Here's someone reporting the same issue.)

All in all, around 4500 Amazon image links were broken, and around 500 Google Drive links. Fortunately, I was able to automate much of the process. I think I've fixed all the Google Drive links and all but 240 of the Amazon links. Old ones, from 2005 and 2006. I'll get those over the next couple of days.

This blog is essentially a DIY hack project. So far, a 19 year DIY project. And it is a truth universally acknowledged that when you're fixing one DIY thing, you begin to notice other DIY things that could use some work.

So I've been doing some hacking. One is noticing images that I downloaded to Google Drive, but never got around to blogging. Here's an oldie image, downloaded from Reddit in September 2022.

[Moe Dipshitz]

Notes:

  • Area residents will recognize this as approaching Lee Traffic Circle from the west.
  • I'm sure we'll see Moe Dipshitz running again this year.

And here's a Michael Ramirez cartoon that I downloaded and forgot to post:

It's from 2019, but you know what? Still works. Unfortunately.


Last Modified 2024-02-04 3:39 PM EST

Nobody Actually Punch Anybody, OK?

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

On the other hand, Jeff Maurer has some advice for you aspiring pols: "Hippie Punching" is Great Politics.

First, let me be clear: I am not advocating literally punching anyone. “Hippie punching” is a metaphorical term that refers to criticism of the far left, usually by the center left. I oppose political violence in all cases. No hippie should ever be punched, kicked, or body-slammed, nor should their ponytail be fed into a paper shredder should they happen to be sitting next to one, even though that would be objectively funny.

I am, however, advocating the metaphorical “punching” of far-left nut jobs. In fact, I feel that doing so is beneficial to left-wing goals like expanding healthcare, preventing climate change, and making everyone in America trans by 2026. In recent years, many on the left have argued that Democrats need to move left to placate their “base”. I think that’s wrong. In fact, I think that both the empirical and anecdotal evidence suggest that Democrats’ best strategy is to punch, piledrive, and triple suplex the fringe left — again, metaphorically — whenever possible.

Jeff is speaking to a target audience of not-too-crazy Democrats, but he's worth reading even if you don't fit that pigeonhole. I suppose if I were preaching to my crowd, it would advocate the metaphorical punching of Trump-sycophants, born-again isolationists, trade protectionists, and Jesse Kelly. And, generally speaking, anyone who thinks that it's a good plan to beat the left-wingers by adopting their worst tactics.

Jeff's article made me a recall a book I read back in 2015 by Frank J. Fleming, titled Punch Your Inner Hippie: Cut Your Hair, Get a Job, and Make America Awesome Again. And the Amazon (paid) link is our Eye Candy du Jour.

Frank is still going strong, dispensing truth and wisdom:

Like everyone else, he has a Substack. Check it out.

Also of note:

  • Biden just noticed that bit in the Constitution about taking "Care that the Laws be faithfully executed" And said, "Whoa, you mean that's my job?"

    James Freeman doesn't quite allege that, but close: Biden and the Border.

    It’s an election year and President Joe Biden is now casting himself as a dedicated enforcer of immigration law who would bring order to the border if only Congress would give him more power. There’s a reason voters don’t believe it, and the reason started with his very first day in office.

    Instead of negotiating with congressional Republicans to craft a plan to prevent illegal border crossings in return for increasing the legal migration that is at the heart of American vitality, the president instead chose a flurry of partisan activity guaranteed to undermine enforcement, increase lawlessness at the border and inflame the politics. And that’s largely been the story of the last three years.

    He's hoping the electorate has a shorter memory than he has.

  • Don't underestimate the GOP's ability to… well, you know what Obama allegedly said about Biden. Daniel Henninger describes The Republicans’ Border Crisis.

    Other than Joe Biden and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, no one in the past year has disagreed that the “situation” at the southern border is a crisis. Until they were forced to respond by overwhelmingly unfavorable opinion polling about the border last month—even in New Hampshire’s primary—the Biden-Mayorkas see-no-problem pose was the nadir of political cynicism. But now come Donald Trump and his congressional followers, chasing the presumed political rewards of doing absolutely nothing about a serious national problem.

    Oklahoma’s very conservative Republican senator, James Lankford, has spent weeks attempting to shape a compromise on illegal migration with Democrats that would permit passage as well of a supplemental bill that has funding for embattled Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan. This isn’t the unto-eternity discussion of reforming Social Security. These are national-security matters that needed addressing yesterday by the people elected to prevent the U.S. from being crushed by unsolvable problems.

    About a week ago, Mr. Trump told congressional Republicans via his Truth Social platform to oppose any Lankford compromise: “I do not think we should do a Border Deal, at all, unless we get EVERYTHING.” He elaborated: “A Border Deal now would be another Gift to the Radical Left Democrats. They need it politically.” Mr. Trump ended his input by offering a solution to the current border crisis: “If you want to have a really Secure Border, your ONLY HOPE is to vote for TRUMP2024.” Amid these statements, House Speaker Mike Johnson wrote that the Lankford compromise would be “dead on arrival.”

    It takes some serious chutzpah to say, essentially: "Don't even try to improve things, because I need a full-blown crisis as a hot issue in November."

  • And one more thing about the thing I didn't know was a thing. Charles C. W. Cooke advises The ‘Taylor Swift Psyop’ Freaks Need to Go Outside.

    Jesse Watters wants to know if Taylor Swift is a “Pentagon psyop asset.” Jack Posobiec is worried that elites are “gearing up for an operation to use Taylor Swift in the election.” Benny Johnson has concluded that “Taylor Swift is an op.” Laura Loomer is fretting about “the Democrats’ Taylor Swift election interference psyop.” Vivek Ramaswamy believes that the outcome of the Super Bowl has been predetermined. Together, these people have a prime-time cable-news show, 10 million followers on Twitter, intimate access to the likely Republican nominee for president, and absolutely no idea what the country they live in is really like.

    As an immigrant, I am accustomed to hearing discussions of the United States that bear no resemblance to America as it actually exists. Turn on a political talk show in England, France, or Germany, and, when the topic turns to the U.S., you’ll be treated to a cartoonized fantasy straight from the uncanny valley — recognizable in outline, but alien in every key detail. And so it is with the MAGA grifter class, which, despite its purported hatred of American progressivism, has at long last become every bit as disconnected from the worldview of the average American as the denizens of Netroots Nations, the Squad, and MSNBC. Populism, by definition, is supposed to be popular. More than a decade into their project, America’s most prominent populists are yet to work that out.

    Why? Because they’re totalitarian freaks, that’s why.

    CWCC goes on to elaborate that by "totalitarian", he's referring to folks who "unable to draw any distinction between the political and everything else."

    Yeah, punch those guys. Metaphorically.


Last Modified 2024-02-02 6:51 AM EST