Snarko Ergo Sum

(I Snark, Therefore I Am)

My former CongressCritter, and continuing toothache, Carol Shea-Porter, was briefly on fire yesterday afternoon in the wake of Biden's pullout announcement. Her bright idea, expressed in multiple tweets was… well, here it is, just one example, with my snarky response:

This struck me as nutty, even for Carol. But I suppose that's why I still follow her, for the entertainment.

Also of note:

  • Let's hope there aren't any bad dudes out there who see this as an opportunity. Maybe President Dotard should take the advice of the NR editorialists: Joe Biden Should Resign Presidency.

    Joe Biden did the right thing in ending the charade of asking the American public to believe that he was capable of serving another four years as president.

    This was preposterous, and the public, as the polling has consistently shown for a long time, didn’t believe it.

    Now, Biden has issued a statement dropping out of the race and has endorsed his vice president Kamala Harris.

    Biden should take the next logical step and resign the presidency. It’s possible to imagine a president not being able to campaign but still being capable of carrying out his official duties — say, if he had a serious physical impairment. And it is even possible to imagine a president who could serve for another six months but not another four and a half years. But such scenarios do not apply to Biden.

    Biden's withdrawal statement said his motive was "in the best interest of my party and the country".

    We'll ignore the significance of putting "party" before "country".

    Also, why "the country"? Why not "my country"?

    Ah well. The point is: if he really wants to do what's best for our country, he should transfer power to Kamala. That would still suck, but it would make the next few months less worrisome.

  • Let's not let the GOP off the hook. Jack Butler read the Republican platform, and he's kind of cheesed off about GOP’s Latest Obamacare Surrender.

    Beneath the placid surface of this year’s largely successful Republican National Convention, some discontent has lurked. Occasionally, it has come into public view. Consider the new Republican Party platform. The platform heavily bears the imprint of Donald Trump, now firmly ensconced as the party’s leader, even down to its bullet points and serial capitalizations.

    But it’s a Trumpian platform in more than just style. The substance also reflects his vision for the party. Conservatives have already noticed its moderation on abortion and marriage versus past platforms. Less remarked upon is the lack of any mention of a government program that conservatives had opposed since the early years of the Obama presidency, before it was even passed: the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare. The apparent absence of official opposition to Obamacare comes as the program continues to distort our health-care system and serve the Left in the culture war. It also raises the worrying possibility that Republican concern for limited government and traditional values will atrophy in tandem.

    Butler notices that Obamacare has never worked as promised, and it's getting worse.

Recently on the movie blog:


Last Modified 2024-07-22 11:17 AM EDT

Twisters

[4 stars] [IMDB Link]

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Pun Son and I were big fans of the movie Twister back in (whoa) 1996 when he was just a young 'un. So going to see this sorta-sequel was a must.

Showbiz note: For a "blockbuster", the 7:30pm Saturday show at Regal Cinema in Newington (NH) seemed pretty sparsely attended. Tickets were expensive, though; might be that people were at cheaper theaters.

The heroine is Kate (Daisy Edgar-Jones); in a short opening scene, she's looking to get her research funded by doing a proof-of-concept of a method to defang tornadoes by releasing some gunk into their funnels. This leads her to take enormous risks which lead to the scary deaths of most of her team. She's left with a lot of guilt.

Five years later, she's on the staff of a weather channel in New York City, far from any likely tornado action. But she's enticed back into the game by Javi (Anthony Ramos), the surviving member of her team. He's well funded, always a sign of something sneaky going on. When she arrives, she catches the notice of Tyler (the ubiquitous Glen Powell), a slick, handsome cowboy type, making a sensationalistic TV series.

In a shocking plot twist, Tyler is not the bad guy.

What follows is a lot of dazzling special effects, and a reminder that, yes, tornadoes cause massive destruction and death. Will Kate finally get her chance to deflate a twister? Come on, you've seen more than three movies, right?

We had a lot of fun.

Hiring Captain Obvious Would be a Good Idea for the Secret Service

UPDATE: As I mentioned below as a possibility, this post went partially out of date about 1 hour and 43 minutes after it went up:

"But otherwise it seems to hold up well." Except the first sentence below really should follow the headline above.

Alas, we can only imagine via Mr. Ramirez:

I don't want to overuse the word "volatile" but it has been a … well, crazy week with the election betting odds folks. Here is an as-I-type snapshot:

Candidate EBO Win
Probability
Change
Since
7/14
Donald Trump 63.4% -2.3%
Kamala Harris 18.1% +8.9%
Joe Biden 9.5% -6.9%
Michelle Obama 2.4% -0.2%
Gavin Newsom 2.2% -0.6%
Hillary Clinton 2.1% ---
Other 2.3% -1.0%

I was shocked and stunned by the reappearance of Hillary! This reeks of desperation. (As does everything else in that dismal D list, but especially Hillary.)

And I emphasize: it all could be different by the time you read this. In fact, this post could be out of date before I actually post it.

Also of note:

  • It's difficult to imagine what inspires the modern Democrat. Jeff Maurer wonders Will Biden's "Bite Me, It's Too Late" Message Inspire Democrats?

    Democrats want Biden off the ticket. Democratic voters want him off the ticket by a margin of two to one, and most Democratic office holders see Biden’s campaign as an asteroid hurtling towards their careers. Biden needs a miracle to win back his party’s support. And the message that he seems to have settled on to achieve that miracle is: “Lick my hairy balls, I’m the nominee and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

    Maurer posted that on July 18, three whole days ago, but it's still relatively not-inaccurate. Plus, I like quoting his imaginative salty humor, which, given Scranton Joe's legendary gutter mouth, is probably not that different from what he's actually saying.

  • You got trouble right here in River City. Dan McLaughlin, I think, is hitting it on the head here: Donald Trump & The Music Man’s Last Act.

    I was going to quip that while everybody wants American politics to be Hamilton or 1776, what’s really going on in mid-2024 is that one party is staging a production of The Music Man while the other one is staging King Lear. But mulling it over, I came back to a point I observed on the liveblog during Thursday night’s interminable Trump acceptance speech, particularly Donald Trump’s affecting tribute to fallen supporter Corey Comperatore and his insistence on doing a full Trump rally speech instead of a more focused speech pitched to a general election audience. Maybe the Music Man analogy is more apt than I realized.

    Recall the story of The Music Man, the 1957 Broadway musical that was made into a 1962 film starring Robert Preston and a 2003 film starring Matthew Broderick. “Professor” Harold Hill is a con artist who has managed to be run out of Illinois (this is how you can tell the show is set over a century ago), and he shows up in the sleepy Middle America town of River City, Iowa. He claims — in a falsehood that turns out to be provable — to have graduated from a music conservatory in Gary, Indiana. He actually knows very little about music, but he is remarkably persuasive and talks the townspeople into making him a youth bandleader. It will be good for the moral fiber of the boys of this heartland town, he tells them. It’s actually a scheme to collect money to buy band uniforms and then skip town with the cash. The con is not just what he does; it’s who he is.

    […]

    But a funny thing happens along the way: He becomes a mark for his own fraud. He falls in love with a local woman. He gets emotionally attached to the boys in the band who look up to him. Then, it all catches up to him, and he gets caught and arrested. But the fake band is real. The townspeople decide that Harold Hill is what he pretended to be all along, even though they know he’s a phony — and he decides to be what he pretended. In the end, they spring him from jail and put him at the head of a surprisingly adequate marching band.

    Could the Baseball Crank have it right? I don't know; I went to see Twisters last night, and I'm pretty sure I can't hammer out a better political analogy from that source. But stay tuned, I might try.

  • Just a reminder. And it's from Ilya Somin, blogging at the Volokh Conspiracy. GOP VP Nominee J. D. Vance is an Enemy of Free Markets.

    Ohio Senator J.D. Vance just became Donald Trump's running mate. If you care about free markets and liberty generally, he's just about the worst person the Republicans could have chosen, among those who got serious consideration.

    Since being elected to the Senate in 2022, Vance has become one of the GOP's leading champions of protectionism, economic regulation and planning through "industrial policy," restrictions on foreign investment, and—of course—immigration restrictions. As Alex Nowrasteh and I explained in our article "The Case Against Nationalism," these right-wing forms of central planning have most of the same weaknesses as their socialist counterparts. These policies create terrible incentives, and predictably make the nation poorer and less innovative.

    This won't bother at least one of the folks at Granite Grok who is fond of referring those favoring economic liberty as "fwee-marketeers".

    It does kinda bother me. Given Trump's age and propensity to draw gunfire, a President Vance could do some serious damage.

  • This ain't the dawning of the age of Aquarius. What we got here, according to Christian Britschgi, is the year of The Chaos Election. After summarizing the campaign so far:

    It seems increasingly likely then that this election will be determined as much by a slight turn of Trump's head and a few misfiring neurons in Biden's as it will be by either man's record in office or plans for a second term.

    The takeaway from the 2024 election being the chaos election isn't that nothing matters. Rather, it's that the result should matter a lot less.

    If the next president isn't the person who won the argument, assembled a die-hard coalition, or forged a new consensus for governing the country, it stands to reason that that next president should command a lot less control over the government and individual citizens.

    If, as [NYT columnist Ross] Douthat muses, "there is no obvious next political stage for a civilization's development," then maybe the next president should give up on trying to impose whatever that next civilizational stage might be.

    To be sure, chaotic, random politics doesn't equal libertarianism or even suggest growing support for libertarian ideas. Seemingly the opposite is true.

    But it does mean people will quickly come to reject and resent the next administration's efforts to govern the country and control their lives, regardless of whether that attempted control comes from Team Red or Team Blue.

    I don't have a dog in this fight. As long as the argument is over who gets to torment their enemies, Barney and I are tapping out.

Recently on the book blog:


Last Modified 2024-07-21 4:53 PM EDT

The Wrong Stuff

How the Soviet Space Program Crashed and Burned

(paid link)

One thing was obvious from the get-go: the author, John Strausbaugh, is no fan of the Soviets, or Communism in general. Great! Neither am I. As (even) the cover and the title indicate, this is a warts-and-all look at the history of the Soviet space program. And it turns out to be mostly warts.

It's been a few years since I read Stephen Walker's Beyond, a history of the events leading up to and including Yuri Gagarin's slightly-under-one-orbit flight in April 1961. Safe to say that Strausbaugh's take is less respectful, less academic (no index or endnotes), and more of a (somewhat guilty) pleasure to read.

We know that the Soviets had their share of space disasters, notably Soyuz 1 (killing Vladimir Komarov) and Soyuz 11 (killing Georgy Dobrovolsky, Vladislav Volkov, and Viktor Patsayev). Strausbaugh goes into the gritty details of those failures. But, as he tells the whole story, it's pretty amazing that the body count isn't much higher; the Soviets were very slapdash, explicitly trading off cosmonaut safety against scoring propaganda victories. Example: Gagarin's flight was nearly a disaster due to the failure of his Vostok's reentry module to cleanly separate from its service module. This was a continuing problem with the Vostoks, and continued into the Soyuz spacecrafts.

The book might be a little slapdash itself. Page 107 puts the Apollo 1 disaster (which killed astronauts Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee, and Ed White) in 1963. (It was 1967.) Strausbaugh knows better, and he gets it right later in the book, but (come on) a light fact-check would have caught this.

In other spots, gratuitous and strained US/USSR comparisons are made. Gagarin's post-flight parade placed him and Nikita Khrushchev "in a convertible Zil with the top down, like the Kennedys in Dallas." Wha…?

Strausbaugh does a good job of giving the Soviets personalities, not always complimentary ones. After his flight, Gagarin mishandled his fame, turning into a drunk and a womanizer. His friend/rival Gherman Titov, also succumbed. The famous "chief designer", Sergei Korolev, suffered in Stalin's Gulag for six years before his "meteoric" success in getting the space program off the ground. But he failed dismally in his design of the N-1 rocket, a rough equivalent to the American Saturn V. It never worked, blowing up a lot.

Strausbaugh does pay some respect to Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, who might be the closest to Tom Wolfe's famous "Right Stuff". He nearly got killed doing a spacewalk stunt (an impromptu effort to upstage Ed White's upcoming Gemini EVA); he got along famously with his American counterparts during the planning and execution of the Apollo-Soyuz stunt mission.

The Soviets were also notoriously secretive, which caused a lot of speculation they were covering up some cosmonaut deaths. One of the rumor-mongers was Pun Salad fave, Robert A. Heinlein, who penned an article for American Mercury recounting his trip to the USSR with his wife, Virginia; he reported rumors that the May 15, 1960 flight of Korabl-Sputnik 1, the first test flight of the Vostok craft, was actually manned. Nope.

In short, an entertaining read, guaranteed to wipe away any misty watercolor memories of the way the Soviets were. You'd never know from reading it, however, that the American astronaut body count is much higher than Russia's. NASA is also a socialist enterprise, and its safety tradeoffs were merely different in details.

Quanta and Fields

The Biggest Ideas in the Universe

(paid link)

This is the second volume in Sean Carroll's "Biggest Ideas in the Universe" series. I reported on the first one, Space, Time, and Motion here.

My comments there apply, more or less, to this one: (1) There's a lot of math (and Carroll kind of assumes you've mastered the classical topics, like the Langrangian and Hamiltonian); (2) Like the first book, I got lost at many points, finding myself totally out of my depth. Although (good news) I was often pulled back into more accessible territory.

The basic idea is simple enough to express, even when you don't really understand it, can't visualize it, don't get the math. At bottom, just about everything is a "quantum field" of one sort or another. What we experience as particles, working their way up to atoms, molecules, etc., are excited states of those fields. This is easiest to describe with electromagnetic fields, which (when poked) produce photons.

I liked his description (it's near the end) of why we experience (some) matter as solid. When most of the "space" in an object is taken up by very unmassive electrons, why don't we (for example) just fall through the mattress when we hit the hay at night. Or fall through the floor when we walk to the bedroom. Or fall through the earth's surface and, … well, you get the idea.

The answer is a "force" that's not one of the Big Four Forces you heard about as an undergrad (gravity, electromagnetism, strong and weak nuclear). It's the "Pauli repulsion" force, brought about from the fact you can't have two electrons in the same quantum state. And Carroll explains that, if you'd like.

It Needs To Be Said, Apparently

And Kevin D. Williamson is the right person to do it: Government Isn’t Your Mamaw.

You knew J.D. Vance was going to make it all about Mamaw.

America is a funny old place. Not many people know J.D. Vance’s grandmother, the person. A lot of them know Mamaw the literary character, and a whole lot more know Mamaw the movie character, played by Glenn Close. In his convention speech, vice presidential nominee Vance credited his success in life to his Mamaw. That was smart: J.D. is about the fourth-most-interesting character in Hillbilly Elegy, and Mamaw is the crowd-pleaser. As the noted philosopher Darrell Royal once said, “You’ve gotta dance with them what brung ya.”

There is a problem with Vance’s odd political and social position. He wants to talk about how America doesn’t work, but he personifies how beautifully it does work. One of the things America is awfully good at is locating bright, intellectually inclined young people in modest circumstances and helping them along. Terrible, dysfunctional families can make that a lot harder—I know whereof I write—but three cheers for our institutions of higher education and our ruthlessly efficient labor market.

Okay, I'll quote one more paragraph…

Vance had a grandmother who encouraged him—and, perhaps equally important, discouraged him—in the right ways. And Vance did what poor white trash types who do not wish to remain poor white trash do: He got out, in his case by joining the Marine Corps, one of the great exemplars of American meritocracy. He went to a good state college and an Ivy League law school, he married a woman from an immigrant family with values superior to the ones exhibited by the Real Americans™ who brought him into the world, took a job that paid a lot of money, and made the kind of social and economic connections that give a man options in life. He rails against multinational corporations and “woke” colleges and then goes home to his wife, a lawyer whose clients have included the Walt Disney Co. and the University of California; he himself is a former Silicon Valley venture capitalist, not a small-town hardware-shop owner. He rails against self-interested billionaires while Peter Thiel scratches him behind the ear.

I encourage you to read the whole thing, even if that involves you subscribing to the Dispatch.

Also of note:

  • At least he didn't say 'needs to be shot in the face.' Greg Lukianoff wants something terminated with extreme prejudice: Why the ‘words are violence’ argument needs to die. Just a snippet:

    Equating words and violence is a rhetorical escalation designed to protect an all-too-human preference which Nat Hentoff, a dearly departed friend and a great defender of freedom of speech in the 20th century, used to call “Free speech for me, but not for thee.”

    Under this logic, my speech — even if sharp, brutal, and filled with invective — is still simply speech. Indeed, it might be commendable, righteous rage. But their speech, even if it’s similarly sharp and brutal, is violence — and I am therefore allowed to respond with violence. It is the kind of bad idea that can only be generated in an environment of low viewpoint diversity and highly moralistic ideological rigidity, which of course we see in too many corners of campus today.

    It's a long and thoughtful essay, with examples of Lukianoff's experience with actual violence. And makes the further point that equating speech with violence shows a profound disrespect to victims of actual violence.

  • Fortunately, it's a metaphor. J.D. Tuccille echoes a complaint I've made myself: Libertarians Are More Politically Homeless Than Ever.

    For libertarians, modern American politics makes for a lonely place. Lonelier than usual, that is. Democrats are doubling down on their longtime taste for government control of the economy while replacing vestigial civil liberties concerns with a mania for policing political discourse. Republicans want to close the doors of the land of opportunity so they can dole out jobs to supporters in the not-very free economy they plan to manipulate for their own purposes. The major parties strongly agree on one point: State power should be enhanced and wielded for their own ends.

    That leaves little room for free minds and free markets.

    And if you're thinking "But what about…?"

    Normally, I would drop in a mention here that at least we can park our votes with the Libertarian Party. But that column of smoke you see in the distance is the dumpster fire it has become after an influx of populist trolls. Oh, well, it was nice-ish, and often amusing, while it lasted.

  • Also a little depressed about the options is… George Will, who observes: This election is Democratic progressivism vs. GOP progressivism-lite. Alas.

    (Yes, that "alas" is in his headline. Does he write his own headlines? Sounds like him.)

    The consensus that the nation is politically polarized is indisputable only because it is undisputed. Granted, there is cultural polarization about this and that — pronouns, bathrooms, indoctrination masquerading as education, etc. Politically, however — regarding government’s proper scope and actual competence — there is deepening bipartisan agreement. Unfortunately.

    Concerning the broad contours of public policy, there is a disturbing convergence. Programmatically, the parties are more aligned than they have been since the 1950s, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower caused Republicans to accept the permanency of the New Deal’s legacy: a transfer-payment state (Social Security, soon to include Medicare and much more) and federal supervision of the economy. The Republicans’ 1964 nominee, Barry Goldwater, expressed a growing exasperation with ideological homogenization, promising “A choice, not an echo.” He initiated an epochal divergence between the parties, which culminated 16 years later.

    Today, beneath the frothy partisanship, Republican progressivism echoes the Democrats’. Both parties favor significant expansions of government’s control of economic activity and the distribution of wealth. Both promise to leave unchanged the transfer-payment programs (Social Security, Medicare) that are plunging toward insolvency, and driving unsustainable national indebtedness.

    But at least there's a chance we'll live long enough to say: "Told you so."

Recently on the book blog:

The House of Love and Death

(paid link)

An impulse pick off the "New Fiction" shelves at Portsmouth Public Library. I liked the previous Andrew Klavan book I read—whoa—back in 2012, Empire of Lies. More recently, I grew disenchanted with his lliberal political commentary a few years back, and as often happens, I lost interest.

But never fear, this is pretty good. The protagonist is Cameron Winter, ex-spy, current English professor. His previous undercover career involved him in some unsavory acts, and caused him ongoing psychological difficulties. He unburdens himself to an understanding shrink, but as another symptom, he finds himself drawn to investigate a multiple-murder, accompanied by arson. Along the way, he finds himself beset by gangsters, an obviously dirty cop (but is there more than one dirty cop?), and people that don't want to tell him the truth. And his own inner demons.

Klavan's fiction style is ornate, maybe not to everyone's taste. The first-person narration means we spend a lot of time inside Cameron's troubled head.

Consumer note: This is Klavan's third novel featuring Cameron Winter, but it seemed relatively stand-alone to me, even the flashbacks to his spy career. I'll probably make a point of reading the previous entries in the series.

Bye, Bob

Well, sad news. Bob Newhart passed away. Sharing a video that I haven't seen anyone else share yet:

And, even though I've seen it many times, I laughed once more.

Back in 2005 (19 years ago!) Cathy Seipp wrote a column celebrating Bob's 76th (!) birthday: No Sideshow Bob. (Gee, Bob was older then than I am now.)

Opening paragraph:

“One of the things you learn when you go on the nightclub floor is never show fear, because then you’re dead meat,” said Bob Newhart, recalling his almost overnight transformation from Chicago accountant to successful stand-up comedian. “So I’ve just pretended for the last 45 years I knew what I was doing.”

And speaking of great talents no longer with us, National Review provides a Cathy Seipp archive.

Also of note:

  • As Bob would say: "Stop it!" Robby Soave has a demand: Stop Blaming the Attempted Assassination on Heated Anti-Trump Rhetoric.

    A consensus is swiftly forming among Republican politicians, activists, and media figures that the attempted assassination of former President Donald Trump can be blamed on the heated, occasionally violent anti-Trump rhetoric deployed by President Joe Biden, leading Democrats, and mainstream media pundits.

    This is a deeply cynical and misguided tactic—and Republicans are well aware of it, since they have rightly criticized their political opponents for doing the exact same thing.

    Soave has plenty of examples. And notes that people aren't making the (fair and valid) point about there being a double standard at play. But these guys (Republicans these days) aren't objecting to the double standard; they're wallowing in it.

    However, I don't think he'll go so far as to threaten pols with being buried alive in a box.

  • "Let's refute something you never claimed." It's a bizarre debating tactic, but Politifact tries it anyway. Ramesh Ponnuru looks at Politifact’s Latest Logic- and Evidence-Free ‘Fact Check’ on Abortion.

    Politifact pulls the same old bait-and-switch on J. D. Vance.

    “Donald Trump is running against a Joe Biden president who wants taxpayer-funded abortions up until the moment of birth,” Vance said.

    This is False and misleads about how rarely abortions are performed later in pregnancy.

    Vance supposedly misled people about the frequency of abortions late in pregnancy by . . . not saying one word about the frequency of abortions later in pregnancy.

    I've noticed people, mainly pols, doing this. I'm only slightly more surprised seeing it coming from "unbiased" Politifact.

  • Live by the DEI hire, die by the DEI hire. The Daily Caller is one of many noticing this: Biden Calls His Defense Secretary ‘The Black Man’ After Appearing To Forget His Name.

    President Joe Biden appeared to call U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin “the black man” after forgetting his name during an interview Tuesday with Black Entertainment Television (BET).

    The now-viral clip shows Biden preaching about how best to treat others.

    “And so, it’s all about, it’s all about treating people with dignity. And it’s about making sure that — look, I mean, for example — look at [the heat I’m getting] because I named a, uh, the secretary of defense, the black man,” Biden says, though part of his statement sounded garbled.

    “I named Ketanji Brown, I mean, because of the people I’ve named,” Biden continued. It is unclear who was referring to when he made the accusation above.

    The clip in question:

    Biden can't even do racial condescension coherently any more.

  • Gold-plated anyway. Robert Graboyes reminds us: The Economics Nobel Is a Gold Disk, Not a Crystal Ball.

    For those who trust markets, businesses, and individuals more than government, there’s plenty to dislike in the economic policies of both Joe Biden and Donald Trump. That said, the most unhelpful piece of campaign literature this year is from the Biden side, not so much for its content, but rather because it undermines the scientific reputation of economics and the integrity of its highest honor—the Economics Nobel. It’s a letter from sixteen Nobelists arguing that, “Joe Biden’s economic agenda is vastly superior to Donald Trump’s.” The letter offers ideologically skewed ad hockery as economics and commandeers the Nobel’s prestige. (The letter is here.)

    The letter says Biden would bring Americans lower inflation, stronger growth, and greater stability than Trump. Biden repeatedly whispers of his endorsement by “Sixteen NOBEL prizewinning economists … … SIXXTEEEN.” His reverential tone recalls some clergyman proclaiming, “The Bible refers to God by SIXXTEEEN different names,” and the press plays the role of enraptured congregants.

    The Nobelists’ letter deserves no more attention than would a similar letter from sixteen winners of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, or sixteen dentists, or sixteen poets at a kombucha bar in Greenwich Village. I say that as one who has the highest respect possible for the Economics Nobel and confidence that all sixteen signatories deserved their prizes.

    Graboyes (who owns an Econ PhD) explains this shocking assertion, and convinces me that I'd rather get my political recommendations from those kombucha bar poets. At least they might rhyme.

    Fun facts about the Nobel disk:

    Up to 1980 the “Swedish” medals, each weighing approximately 200 g and with a diameter of 66 mm, were made of 23 carat gold. Since then they have been made of 18 carat recycled gold. The weight is set to 175 g for all medals, except for the medal for economic sciences. Its weight is set to 185 g.

    Another reason to go into econ instead of physics: an extra 10 grams on your Nobel!


Last Modified 2024-07-19 5:42 PM EDT

It Wasn't Even a Slippery Slope

Sounds as if Iowahawk has seen In the Line of Fire. (Great movie.)

I haven't seen Kim Cheatle's sloped-roof excuse clarified or corrected anywhere.

For additional amusement, the Secret Service came up in Lester Holt's interview with President Biden. From NBC's transcript:

LESTER HOLT: Do you have — are you — are you — you have confidence in the Secret Service? Do you feel safe?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I feel safe with the Secret Service. But look, you saw the — what we did see was the Secret Service who responded risked their lives responding. They were ready to give their lives for the president. The question is should they have anticipated what happened. Should they have done what they needed to do to prevent this from happening? That’s the question that’s — that’s an open question.

LESTER HOLT: Is it acceptable that you have still not heard, at least publicly, from the Secret Service director?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Oh, I’ve heard from him. I — I’ve —

LESTER HOLT: But have you heard from her publicly?

This is the difference between me and Lester Holt. That last question from me would have been something like

PUN SALAD: Him? You do realize that Kim Cheatle is a woman, right?

That said, it seems the best thing we can say about Secret Service protective service is: you're probably safer with it than without. A pretty low bar.

For folks who want to wallow in Secret Service incompetence, though: Power Line is a pretty good mudhole. I'll just say that Kim Cheatle is no Sam Campagna . And, fortunately, Thomas Crooks was no Mitch Leary. This time.

Also of note:

  • I'm open to that characterization. Jeff Maurer feels that J.D. Vance Might Be a Straight-Up Policy Moron.

    When I worked in a congressional office, we would get faxes (yes, faxes — I am 97 years old). It turns out that there are self-styled geniuses across the country who will fax in “solutions” to intractable problems; we’d get detailed plans for balancing the budget, restructuring health care, or achieving Middle East peace. Most of these plans were — to be polite — nonsensical garbage from self-important loons. I suspect that many of these people had seen the movie Dave, in which a small-town accountant balances the budget with some common sense and a TI-81 graphing calculator, and thought: “That’s probably how stuff really works.”

    I was thinking about those faxes when reading about J.D. Vance’s economic vision. Vance — whose background is in law, not economics — thinks that he sees something in economic policy that all the ivory tower eggheads have missed. He told Ross Douthat:

    “…I think the economics profession is fundamentally wrong about both immigration and about tariffs. Yes, tariffs can apply upward pricing pressure on various things — though I think it’s massively overstated — but when you are forced to do more with your domestic labor force, you have all of these positive dynamic effects.”

    This is just part of an economic vision Vance spells out in that article and several others. It’s a vision that people are giving credence, probably because Vance seems like a smart guy. And I agree that Vance does seem smart — he’s articulate and wrote a book that he tricked a bunch of big-city liberals into buying, which is something that I hope to do someday. Of course, being smart is not the same as knowing what the fuck you’re talking about. And from where I’m sitting, Vance’s economic vision is small-minded gibberish that I’d expect to find in an all-caps fax titled “A COMMON-SENSE PLAN TO QUADRUPLE GDP AND END UNEMPLOYMENT!!!”

    I, for one, can't wait to be ruled by a set of people with different crackpot ideas than the ones we're getting now.

  • In "these people's" defense, sometimes it's "Racism", "Misogyny", "Flat-Eartherism", … But Rich Lowry has the right question otherwise: Why Is It Always ‘Fascism’ and ‘Theocracy’ with These People? Sampling:

    The debate about the extent to which the Heritage Foundation–crafted agenda speaks for Donald Trump aside, the attacks on it are hilariously irrational and unhinged.

    California representative Jared Huffman, creator of the Stop Project 2025 Task Force, calls the agenda “a dystopian plot” and “an unprecedented embrace of extremism, fascism, and religious nationalism.”

    According to the New Republic, Project 2025 sets out a “Christian nationalist vision of the United States,” and, if implemented, centers of government power “would all be marshaled to ensure our acquiescence in this dictatorial male supremacist society.”

    Rachel Laser, president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, has fulfilled her professional obligation to warn that, via Project 2025, “Christian Nationalists will trample the wall of church-state separation and upend our democracy.”

    No less an authority than Seth Meyers warned, “Donald Trump and his allies have a deeply deranged plan for a far-right authoritarian government that will jail opponents, wage a full-scale war on reproductive rights, and dismantle American democracy.”

    I've been jousting a bit with a Facebook friend who keeps posting wild charges about what P2025 says. Just responses containing the relevant paragraphs from the actual P2025 playbook.

  • A voice of sanity, that will be ignored. And it belongs to Veronique de Rugy, who has some ideas on How to Pay for Trump's Tax Cuts.

    Considering that there seems to be general bipartisan agreement on keeping a majority of the tax cuts and maintaining growth, let's focus on the deficit question. I firmly believe that any new costs or extensions of current policies must be paid for. We simply cannot afford to keep adding to our debt without considering the long-term consequences.

    A sensible place to start is by examining the myriad tax expenditures that have turned our tax code into Swiss cheese. According to the Treasury Department, there are 165 tax expenditures (think revenue losses due to tax carveouts), which is up from 53 in 1970.

    We should start by eliminating the ones that distort economic decision-making. The goal is a neutral tax system that doesn't favor certain activities or industries over others. That's one reason tax expenditures aimed at social engineering should be on the chopping block. Tax expenditures that add complexity to the tax code should be prime candidates for elimination too. Simpler tax systems reduce compliance costs and are more transparent.

    Click through for the deets. Summary: dump the mortgage interest deduction, state and local tax deduction, tax-free municipal bonds, tax exemptions for non-wage employee compensation, many business subsidies.

    (Disclaimer: I've got a chunk of my investment portfolio in tax-free bonds, so … I'd be willing to sacrifice if we got the other stuff too.)

  • Why are we in this mess? A perennial question. Jacob Sullum provided a large piece of the answer in the current print Reason: Congress 'Can Regulate Virtually Anything' by Abusing the Commerce Clause. Part of the judicial history:

    In 1941, an Ohio farmer named Roscoe Filburn violated federal law by growing too much wheat. Specifically, Filburn sowed 23 acres of winter wheat, a dozen more acres than he had been allotted under the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938. The penalty was 49 cents for each of 239 unauthorized bushels, totaling $117.11 (about $2,500 in current dollars).

    Filburn refused to pay. The recalcitrant farmer argued that Congress had exceeded its constitutional authority by telling him how much wheat he could grow, especially for his own use on his own property. Since he used the extra wheat to feed his family and his livestock, he said, it never left his farm and therefore was never part of interstate commerce.

    According to the Supreme Court, that didn't matter. Five years before, the justices had narrowly upheld the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, ruling that the Commerce Clause reached economic activities, such as hiring and firing practices, that were "intrastate in character when separately considered" if they had "such a close and substantial relation to interstate commerce that their control is essential or appropriate to protect that commerce from burdens and obstructions." The Court extended that logic in the wheat case, Wickard v. Filburn.

    And since then… In these reality-challenged times, it is (apparently) enough for legislation to claim that it's related somehow to interstate/foreign commerce in order to get a green light from the judicial branch.

Recently on the book blog:

America's Revolutionary Mind

A Moral History of the American Revolution and the Declaration That Defined It

(paid link)

I got into reading (in cheapskate non-subscriber mode) C. Bradley Thompson's substack, The Redneck Intellectual a few months ago. That, and his articles I've noticed at other sites, encouraged me to grab this book via the Interlibrary Loan service of the University Near Here. It is a detailed analysis of the first part of the Declaration of Independence, discussing the origins of its political and moral assertions.

It's a scholarly work (Professor Thompson may be a redneck, but he's also a professor at Clemson), but also a straightforward piece of advocacy for the "self-evident" truths claimed in the DoI.

Chapters examine, in minute detail, each revolutionary claim: the source of our rights in our human nature; what it means for a truth to be "self-evident"; what it meant for men to be "created equal", and how that could be reconciled with slaveholding (spoiler: poorly); what's meant by the triad of natural rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"; why governments exist; what "consent of the governed" means.

And, of course, why it's a people's right and duty to "throw off" a government that runs roughshod over those principles.

Thompson set me straight on one issue: for years, I thought claiming that a truth was "self-evident" meant that trying to argue against such a proposition unavoidably led to self-contradiction. There's no support for that bright idea in this book.

The book is long, and dense. Along the way, I got the impression of repetitiousness: didn't he already say this a few times before? Well, yes: I think I was kind of missing the point. The DoI was not simply a dashed-off Jeffersonian diatribe; Thompson's main effort is to show that its underlying philosophy was ubiquitous throughout the American colonies in the 1760s and 1770s. This involves going through a lot of essays and pamphlets of the era. And, yup, the DoI sentiments, were indeed widely promulgated and advocated by a wide range of American thought leaders. And, bless them, that involved saying a lot of things over and over again.

A final section deals with the post-Revolution challenges to the DoI's philosophy of individualism, liberty, equality, limited government, etc. The first coming from apologists for slavery; Thompson deftly details their Hegel-inspired arguments, drawing fair comparison with developing arguments made for socialism and Marxism around the same time.

Hegel?! Who knew?

After the pro-slavery argument was defeated via violence, the next challenge (still being promulgated today) was that of progressivism, the denial of the DoI's timeless and universal truths. Advocates included William James, John Dewey, Herbert Croly, Carl Becker, and (boooo) Woodrow Wilson.

Keep Scrolling

Our Eye Candy du Jour is the graphic that was one part of the spectacular fold-out cover in the current Reason:

(Full size, it's 871x2560 pixels, so please feel free to embiggen, and get even more depressed.)

The associated article is by Brian Riedl, who poses the musical question: Why Did Americans Stop Caring About the National Debt?.

When President Joe Biden delivered his 2023 State of the Union address, Washington was drowning in a sea of red ink. The annual budget deficit was in the process of doubling from $1 trillion to $2 trillion in a single year due to some student-debt cancellation shenanigans. That year's budget deficit would become the largest share of gross domestic product (GDP) in American history outside of wars and recessions. Economists at the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and across the political spectrum warned that continuing to ignore the escalating Social Security and Medicare shortfalls while also opposing new broad-based taxes was unsustainable and could bring a painful debt crisis.

How did the nation's highest elected officials respond to this economic challenge? Biden promised that "if anyone tries to cut Social Security [or] Medicare, I'll stop them. I'll veto it." He also accused congressional Republicans of plotting to reform these programs—prompting outraged shouts from Republicans who resented the accusation of caring about the looming insolvency of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds. When the president triumphantly taunted that such boos reveal a new bipartisan consensus to do nothing about Social Security and Medicare shortfalls, both Republicans and Democrats leaped to their feet with thunderous cheers. For good measure, both parties endorsed Biden's prohibition on any new taxes for 95 percent of families. Washington's dangerous borrowing spree would continue with enthusiastic bipartisan support.

Riedl says the only solution is one everybody will hate: spending restraint and tax increases. And that probably won't happen until after a painful fiscal crisis leaves us with no choice.

Sorry to darken your day.

Also of note:

  • Ignorance of economics is no excuse.

    Election-season "do something" cards played by demagogues.

  • But, hey, what about that J.D. Vance? Kyle Smith sums it up in a short tweet:

    If you'd prefer a slightly longer-winded analysis, let's hand the mic to Kevin D. Williamson: The Infinitely Plastic J.D. Vance.

    Whatever one makes of Vance as a potential future president, he is nonpareil as a candidate for the vice presidency. He has no legislative record to speak of, and—if we can set aside the fact that he once very publicly held the view that Donald Trump is an amoral lunatic utterly unfit for office—his rhetorical record isn’t much trouble, either. Not that he hasn’t said a lot of outrageous and stupid things. Vance is a Putinist social-media troll who described entitlement reform as a plot to “throw our grandparents into poverty … so that one of Zelensky’s ministers can buy a bigger yacht.” But nobody takes anything he says seriously—he is so transparently a man who will say whatever his betters require him to say to get what he wants from them. Telling people with money and power what they want to hear is the only consistent throughline in his career, from Hillbilly Elegy to the present day. Once an appendage of Peter Thiel’s, now he is an appendage of Donald Trump’s after a long and bitter apprenticeship of sycophancy.

    As another warning signal, Elizabeth Nolan Brown notes that J.D. Vance Thinks Lina Khan Is Doing a Great Job.

    Under President Joe Biden, the FTC—headed by Lina Khan—has aggressively pursued an anti-innovation, anti-tech, anti-big business, and anti-consumer agenda. Khan and her allies in the Biden administration think the consumer welfare standard that has guided antitrust law for decades needs to go. Rather than focus on whether a company's actions or a particular merger will raise prices for consumers, they think antitrust regulators should be concerned with some amorphous concept of "competition," with making sure businesses don't get bigger, and with helping competitors to big businesses (especially big tech companies) get a leg up.

    Khan's is a profoundly anti-free markets agenda, punctuated by attempts to bypass Congress and the legislative process and simply set policies administratively. Her vision seems to be of an all-powerful FTC able to target business practices and private companies based on partisan political goals, instead of the neutral arbiter of business that it is supposed to be.

    J.D. Vance loves it.

    "I guess I look at Lina Khan as one of the few people in the Biden administration that I think is doing a pretty good job," Vance said in February.

    In the likely event you've not been paying attention to what I've posted about Lina over the past few years, see here, here, here, here, here, here, here,… Oh, heck, that's a lot, and I only grepped pre-2023. I am not a Khan fan.

    But speaking of non-fans Donald Boudreaux has his collection of Vance barbs from George Will, Stephanie Slade, the WSJ editorialists, and Phil Magness. (The latter seems unavailable, unfortunately.)

  • Feelgood LFOD du Jour. Boston.com reports some impressive local news: A N.H. motorcyclist was clocked at 158 mph, with a passenger on the back, police say.

    A 21-year-old Farmington, New Hampshire, man is facing a slew of charges after allegedly driving his motorcycle in the Live Free or Die state at speeds up to 158 mph Sunday, and fleeing from police in the process.

    Zachary Dionne was eventually arrested after stopping at a gas station off Portsmouth’s Exit 3 on Interstate 95. He was charged with felony reckless conduct — deadly weapon, reckless driving, making an unsafe lane change, disobeying an officer, resisting arrest, failing to display plates, and having an unregistered vehicle, State Police said.

    To quote Mr. David Barry: soon we will have no constitutional rights left.

Recently on the book blog:

Tunnel in the Sky

(paid link)

Consumer note: Holy cow, I do not recommend that you pay (as I type) $39.99 at Amazon for the mass market paperback in "Used: Acceptable" condition. (Original price $2.95) It's a good book, but…

My edition is an Ace 95¢ paperback, purchased … long ago, I guess. I'm pretty sure I read a school library version back sometime in the 1960s, and not since. I remembered some, not a lot.

It is one of Heinlein's later juveniles, originally published in 1955. The protagonist is Rob Walker, who is looking to take his "Advanced Survival" class final. Which involves being transported via a titular "tunnel" to an uninhabited planet with only whatever supplies he can carry. But the test only lasts a few days, so fatalities are rare.

But not this time. An exploding nova screws up the interstellar pathway; Rod and his classmates are stranded with no indication whether they might be rescued anytime, or at all. Not all the local fauna is friendly, but much of the real danger is (dun dun DUN) some of Rod's fellow students.

So there's a lot of Heinlein tropes here: not one, but two, wisdom-dispensing mentors. A lot of Heinlein dialog. A lot of implicit commentary on political authority and stable community building. It's like a fictional version of John Locke's Second Treatise of Civil Government! But there are also overtones of Lord of the Files, albeit with older kids.

And it really shows Heinlein's struggle with 1950s "juvenile" straightjacket. There's a surprising amount of adult behavior going on. (Hey, where do you think those babies are coming from.) And Rod is far from perfect: he's occasionally hot-headed, petulant, and careless.

Overall, I'd rank it just below the top tier of Heinlein's juvies. (But much of that is due to personal taste, not cosmic critical faculties.)

Zut Alors!

Our Eye Candy du Jour is provided by those Reason cutups with the latest episode of Great Moments in Unintended Consequences.

In a departure from the usual: no US-based politicians are lampooned. I await episode 17.

Also of note:

  • Still got a bee in my bonnet about "student loan forgiveness". Fresh off yesterday's fisking of a semi-literate reality-challenged advocacy, we have Peter Jacobsen's analysis of the latest orchestral manoeuvres in the dark: Student Loan Payment Freeze, Debt Forgiveness Becoming Permanent. He's been following the labyrinthine schemes to shift debt from the debtors to oblivious taxpayers, and has the latest:

    […] we’re seeing another sign of the permanent shift caused by the pandemic payment freeze. Just this month, Biden’s Department of Education froze loan payments for millions of borrowers while the department continues to recalculate their payments to be only 5 percent of their income. This is down from 10 percent.

    That’s right, the generous SAVE plan just got even more generous, which means that the future taxpayer will be responsible for picking up the slack of higher tax payments when interest income falls.

    Why do the payments need to be frozen while the recalculation is processed? Why not have all borrowers make their payments up until the new payment amounts are calculated? Because temporary Covid policies instituted during the Trump administration have become the permanent norm for the Department of Education.

    And note that all this jiggery-pokery was originally invoked as an emergency temporary measure to deal with hardships caused by the pandemic. Which Biden has proclaimed that he saved us all from. As Jacobsen notes, it's an instance of Milton Friedman's general rule: “Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.”

  • When you believe the rabble can be easily swayed by seductive verbiage. Paul D. Miller describes The Problem With Blaming Words for Political Violence.

    Blaming words for the violence that follows sets a bad precedent. This would become an all-encompassing tool of censorship. If any criticism is the moral equivalent of incitement, we have no free speech. We’re obligated to self-censor; we sacrifice speech to eliminate even the smallest possibility that violence might follow from the extremists and the unstable among us.

    Of course, criticism is allowed, and the assassination attempt on Trump does not inoculate him against criticism any more than the pipe bombs inoculated Obama. Trump is a threat to democracy and we shouldn’t stop ourselves from saying so. We shouldn’t let the threat of terrorist violence have a heckler’s veto over our speech. Trump’s brush with an assassin’s bullet does not turn him into a saint or a hero.

    Disclaimer: unlike Miller, I don't think Trump is much of a threat to democracy. But (warning: possible gun imagery ahead) he's on target when he points out that we shouldn't refrain from criticism because it might set off some lunatic. Like that mythical Brazilian butterfly causing a Texas tornado.

  • A useful explanation. Kat Rosenfield has a credible one: How Culture Got Stupid. A key point blames:

    The tenets of the new cultural criticism were as follows:

    • All art was political, and always had been;

    • Art with the wrong politics caused harm, especially to women and people of color;

    • And all art must be analyzed through the lens of power, privilege, and progressive pieties.

    The whole thing had a frantically performative vibe that bordered on the evangelical—with journalists in the role of the youth pastor palpably desperate to keep you going to church. “It’s fun to think about this stuff,” pleaded one representative essay at the viral trend site Uproxx, begging readers to devote themselves to woke critique with the same enthusiasm with which they once debated the bloodlines of the Targaryen dynasty. “Are you telling me that it’s cool to argue for hours about who Azor Ahai is, but a ten-minute discussion of race, gender, and shifting sensibilities before rewatching an ’80s classic is somehow wasted time? Get out of here.”

    Ms. Rosenfield's essay is wide-ranging and insight-filled. Also, she has recommendations for us media-consumers. (I really have to watch Ricky Stanicky, I guess.)

To Scale

Confession: I love The Big Bang Theory and thanks to TiVo, I'm working on watching all 279 episodes, in order.

But in just about every episode, there's this stuff that makes my physics major brain hurt a bit:

Reader, as Wolfgang Pauli allegedly said: "That is not only not right; it is not even wrong." Electrons are not shiny balls; they do not orbit atomic nuclei on shiny rails. (They don't make whooshing sounds, either, but that's even more of a quibble.)

Now: at a certain level, attempting to visualize what atoms "really look like" is futile. It's just math down there, solutions to the Schrödinger equation, or some other formulation.

But they could at least try to get the scale right.

Or, more accurately, once you try to get the scale right, you can see why they didn't.

Let's imagine—because we're not going to actually do it—building a scale model of a good old water molecule, H2O: an oxygen atom, with two hydrogen atoms hanging off to one side.

A hydrogen atom nucleus, a single proton, has a radius "root mean square charge radius") 8.4e-16 meters.

Let's say our scale model uses a ping-pong ball to represent a proton. A ping-pong ball's radius is 20 millimeters, or 2.0e-2 meters. (Fascinating fun fact from the link: "the size increased from 38mm to 40mm after the 2000 Olympic Games." I did not know that!)

So for our scale model, we have to multiply atomic/molecular distances by a scale factor of (2.0e-2/8.4e-16) = 2.38e13 (I.e., just under 24 trillion.)

The radius of an oxygen atom's nucleus is generally reported to be 2.8e-15 meters. Multiplying this by our scale factor, gives 2.8e-15 * 2.38e13 = 6.7e-2 meters, or 67 millimeters, about the size of a medium grapefruit.

So: to start building our scale model, gather together a grapefruit and two ping-pong balls. Where do we put them?

This page reports the distance between the oxygen nucleus and the hydrogen nuclei is 0.943 angstroms, or 9.43e-11 meters.

This scales up to 9.43e-11 * 2.38e13 = 2244 meters. Or about 1.4 miles. So:

  1. Put your grapefruit down;
  2. Walk 1.4 miles in a straight line;
  3. Drop one ping-pong ball;
  4. Return to the grapefruit;
  5. Turn approximately 106° from your original direction;
  6. march another 1.4 miles, and drop your other ping-pong ball.

That completes placement of the nuclei. Now we have to consider the electrons (ten of them) that swarm around the nuclei. Where do they go, and how do we represent them?

Reader, the best thing I can think up, visualization-wise, is a fuzzy cloud. That Schrödinger equation thing I referred to above would (if we solved it) give us a probability of finding an electron within a certain hunk of space. That probability is relatively high close to the nuclei, and gets much smaller as you get further away. And, as an added complication, the electrons have a higher probability to flock around the oxygen nucleus than the hydrogen nuclei. Visualize that however you'd like. The page referenced above does it with color.

The page referenced above talks about the "Van der Waals" diameter of the water molecule, which is as good a size estimate as we are likely to get; that's about 2.75e-10 meters. Scaling that distance up gives 2.8e-10 * 2.38e13 = 6664 meters, or about 4.14 miles.

So, to summarize: our scale model water molecule is a fuzzy cloud over 4 miles in diameter, in which is hiding a grapefruit and two ping-pong balls. And I admit, this would be difficult to picture on the TV screen in a way that might appeal to viewers. Still, it would be better than what they did.

Another fun fact: the electrons make up only 0.03% of the mass of the water molecule. For your typical Poland Spring 500 milliliter (16.9 oz) water bottle, that means most of the volume is those fuzzy electrons. Their total mass, however, is a mere 150 milligrams or so; the remaining 499.85 grams resides in those tiny nuclei.

Here's one thing that does not scale well. How fast do water molecules typically move? Much faster than the "atoms" you see on The Big Bang Theory. Googling will tell you that they exhibit a range of speeds (a Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution, approximately) and for water molecules at (roughly) room temperature, the average speed works out to 590 meters/sec (≈1300 mph).

So be glad that the water molecules in that Poland Spring bottle don't suddenly ("at random") decide to start moving in the same direction.

Yeah, that's impossible. Conservation of momentum saves us there.

But scaling that to our model, we get 1.4e16 meters/sec.

Which is (um) 47 million times the speed of light.

Very difficult to visualize!


Last Modified 2024-07-15 5:20 PM EDT

Dumbest Thing Seen on Facebook Yesterday

It was this, posted in all serious earnestness:

I was sorely tempted to snark at this on FB. Unfortunately, it was posted by a wonderful lady I went to high school with, and had a major (unrequited) crush on back then, over a half-century ago.

In fact, I still kind of have a crush on her. I don't want to hurt her feelings.

So I'll retreat to snarking here. I'm pretty sure she doesn't read Pun Salad. I'll use my Fisking template: The dumbness is reproduced in its entirety on the left with a lovely #EEFFFF background color; my remarks are on the right.

There's not actually money being spent to wipe away student loans.

True, in a sense. That money was "spent" when it went into the coffers of higher education institutions.

Now, the only question is: who's gonna pay it back?

A student has $20,000 college debt and has paid $250/ month for 10 years. They have paid $30,000, but still have an outstanding balance of $15,000 on the school loans, due to the way the loans are written.

Um, yes. That's the way loans work.

But the numbers caused me to seek out this loan calculator. If you are paying $250/month on an initial balance of $20K, and only manage to work your balance down to $15K after 10 years, that seems to imply an interest rate of 13.83% or so.

That's, um, reality-challenged. Actual student loan interest rates (current and historical) aren't, and never have been, that high. (Data here.)

The loan relief is saying - you've paid $10,000 more than your loan value, so we're discharging that remaining balance.

That may be what they're saying—I have no idea. But what they are doing (or attempting to do) is a transfer of loan debt from the borrower to US taxpayers, present and future. This shouldn't be hard to understand.

The loaner of the $ already received their loan amount, plus interest.

The "loaner" is the buyer of US government debt: t-bonds, t-notes, and t-bills. They would not (and should not be expected to) get less than the promised return on their investment. They expect to be paid back in full, in real money.

In fact, if the government did try to stiff its creditors, that would be a default. There would be headlines. And the whole government financial scheme would teeter. And…

Well, it wouldn't be pretty.

And 18 yr old old bowerers are ill prepared to understand the long term ranifications of these high interest loans.

Gee, I always kind of suspected it was a mistake to let these kids vote. If "bowerers" can't understand "ranifications" of their freely-chosen financial obligations, what are the chances they'll make wise choices in the voting booth? Worse than a coin-flip, I'd bet.

Better to forgive the remaining balance to allow their spending to help the economy.

… which ignores the money taxpayers will be shelling out to cover the "discharged" debts of student borrowers. That's money those taxpayers will not be "spending to help the economy."

Recommended reading: That Which is Seen, and That Which is Not Seen, by Frédéric Bastiat.

Like we did with banks.

Yeah, that was a bad idea too. But at least (at the time) people were making the argument that it was necessary to prevent the US financial system from collapsing. That is not the case with student loan bailouts. It's just naked vote-buying, and nobody's bothering to pretend differently.

And at least the bank bailout was (more or less) OKd by Congress. That's not the case with student loan bailouts either. The shift (both proposed and enacted) of debt burden from borrowers to taxpayers is carried out via executive decree.

I'm currently reading C. Bradley Thompson's America's Revolutionary Mind, an examination of the political theory behind the Declaration of Independence. The Americans of that time would not have hesitated to call this "taxation without representation". And an instance of tyranny.

Sadly, we live in more docile times.

Who's More Dangerous, Who's More Endangered?

Disclaimer: Lacking a reliable crystal ball, I don't know the answer to either question posed in today's headline. Sounds as if Trump had a pretty good claim to "more endangered" yesterday, though. I'll get to that, but first, via Ann Althouse, Maureen Dowd took to her NYT perch to urge President Dotard to hang it up:

At a moment when Joe Biden should be getting hosannas for his good work and becoming the party paterfamilias, his team is sniping at Democratic luminaries like Barack Obama and George Clooney.

The Biden crew is hectoring journalists to leave the president alone and explain how awful Donald Trump is. I have used every damning word in the thesaurus, thrice, about Trump. And I’ll invent some new ones if I have to. (Suggestions welcome.) But it is not my fault if 2016 Hillary Clinton and 2024 Biden are unable to prosecute the case against a candidate with as many psychoses and felonies as Trump. It’s theirs.

Ms. Dowd had experience dealing with her aging mother, movingly told.

Our weekly look at the betting odds, and calling them "volatile" is an understatement:

Candidate EBO Win
Probability
Change
Since
7/7
Donald Trump 65.7% +7.2%
Joe Biden 16.4% +1.5%
Kamala Harris 9.2% -5.4%
Gavin Newsom 2.8% -0.7%
Michelle Obama 2.6% -2.1%
Other 3.3% -0.5%

Deskchair analysis: Biden's intransigence about staying in the race caused him to improve his odds vis-à-vis the other Democrats. Getting shot (or at least getting shot at) was a big boost for Trump.

So what about that shooting. Well, the WaPo had a "Republicans Pounce" article about it pretty quick: Trump allies immediately blame Biden, Democrats for their rhetoric.

Top allies of Donald Trump quickly accused President Biden and his supporters of using rhetoric that led to a shooting and potential assassination attempt Saturday at a Trump campaign rally in Butler, Pa., even as Biden condemned the attack and called on the nation to unite against political violence.

Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), a potential Trump running mate, said in a statement on social media that the shooting was “not just some isolated incident.”

“The central premise of the Biden campaign is that President Donald Trump is an authoritarian fascist who must be stopped at all costs,” Vance wrote. “That rhetoric led directly to President Trump’s attempted assassination.”

Yeah, maybe, J.D. You have to go down a few paragraphs to find some perhaps-inciting rhetoric straight from the horse's … um, mouth:

[Trump advisor Chris] LaCivita’s [now-deleted social media] message pointed to words Biden had used earlier in the week when he told a group of donors about shifting his campaign to attack Trump’s policy record, including his record on abortion and Project 2025, a policy document drafted by some former Trump advisers. “So, we’re done talking about the debate, it’s time to put Trump in a bull’s eye,” Biden had told donors in the private call, which was reported publicly.

Which brought to mind the famed effort by the NYT editors to blame Sarah Palin for the 2011 shooting of Gabby Giffords. A 2017 look back from the WaPo Fact Checker: The bogus claim that a map of crosshairs by Sarah Palin’s PAC incited Rep. Gabby Giffords’s shooting.

“Was this attack evidence of how vicious American politics has become? Probably. In 2011, Jared Lee Loughner opened fire in a supermarket parking lot, grievously wounding Representative Gabby Giffords and killing six people, including a 9-year-old girl. At the time, we and others were sharply critical of the heated political rhetoric on the right. Before the shooting, Sarah Palin’s political action committee circulated a map of targeted electoral districts that put Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized cross hairs. But in that case no connection to the shooting was ever established.”
New York Times editorial board, June 14

This quote is from a corrected version of a New York Times editorial that had falsely claimed that the gunman in the 2011 Giffords shooting was politically incited by Palin’s political action committee. Many readers asked about the uncorrected version, which initially claimed “the link to political incitement was clear” between the gunman’s actions and the map portraying crosshairs, including one over Giffords’s congressional district in Southern Arizona.

On Jan. 11, 2011 — three days after the shooting — The Fact Checker called this charge “bogus.” Alas, this debunked talking point still exists.

Note: that was from 2017, in response to the softball-field shooting of GOP Congressman Scalise. The NYT editorial led to a defamation lawsuit from Palin against the NYT which is apparently still ongoing, despite Palin's loss in U.S. District Court in 2022.

I suppose "Flight 93" storm-the-cockpit rhetoric will continue to come at us from all sides. I'm dubious that it causes dangerous wackos to grab guns, but maybe.

Also of note:

  • A pretty good title for a bad science fiction novel. Martin Gurri reflects on Joe Biden and a Tear in the Fabric of Things.

    Joe Biden entered the Senate in 1973, at the tender age of 30. He looked like a president, he felt like a president and he fully expected to rise to the top. His formula for success was that of every ambitious politician deprived by nature of directing principles or opinions: Find the meandering mainstream of his party’s establishment, where the big fish swim, then wade in and drift. Biden was in turn strongly against and stridently for abortion, a righteous Vietnam dove and then a stern Iraq hawk, a friend of racist Democratic senators before becoming a promoter of compensatory quotas for racial minorities.

    Virtually every time a vacancy arose, Biden, by his own admission, considered running for the presidency. In 1988, at the age of 46, he actually did so—and failed. Biden may look and feel like a president, but he has never sounded like one. Long before old age turned him into a bleary-eyed mutterer, he tended to get lost in his own verbiage. He told fantastic stories about his personal life that could be easily disproven. He plagiarized bits from Bobby Kennedy and an entire speech by British Labour leader Neil Kinnock. Biden, it seems, was as needy as he was ambitious. His campaign resembled a prolonged pratfall. He dropped out before the first primary.

    Gurri's take on history and current events (pre-assassination attempt, at least) is well worth a read.

  • A very bad title for a bad political novel. Kerry Jackson, writing at the Pacific Research Institute says that one of the guys in the betting table has, perhaps, overestimated odds: President Newsom, For The Power And The Glory

    Biden’s troubling performance in the June 27 CNN debate fueled the ongoing discussions of who could and should replace him as the Democratic candidate. Of course every list included Newsom, who was a Biden surrogate at the debate and obviously has his eye on the White House even as he pretends to avert his gaze every time he’s asked about it.

    The numbers, however, indicate that he’d be a poor choice. A CNN poll taken three days after the debate showed Trump by five points over Newsom. A Data for Progress poll taken the day after had Trump up by three.

    Multiple polls have Trump also beating Vice President Kamala Harris, though the gaps are closer and in some cases within the margin of error. Interestingly, the gamblers like Harris, who is extraordinarily unpopular, over Newsom. The RealClearPolitics betting odds average shows Trump at 56 percent, Harris at 15.7 percent, Biden at 12.2 and Newsom at 4.7.

    The explanation is pretty simple:

    It was under Newsom and no other governor that California lost population. The same goes for the loss of a congressional seat. That happened on his watch. It’s no mere coincidence that the human flight from the state corresponded with some of the most harsh, pointless, counterproductive and we’re-just-guessing pandemic lockdown policies in the country.

    … and more.

  • Maybe the assassination attempt will change him, but… as of a few days ago, Jonah Goldberg was on target (or is that too assassin-encouraging now?): Trump Is Loyal Only to His Own Ambition.

    Trump has always wanted the party to be his pool of Narcissus, reflecting his personal glory and dominance. That’s why he supported candidates who hewed to his lie that the 2020 election was stolen, preferring that the party lose with loyalists than win with truth-tellers. That’s why he no longer cares about the Federalist Society, which produced judges who rejected his false election claims. Oh, and last month, the guy who infamously called for a ban on Muslim immigration said he wants to give every foreign-born graduate of a U.S. college a green card.

    The problem with the search for an intellectually serious Trumpism is that Trump has no use for ideas except as expedients of his ambition. The instrumentalism that paved the way for Trump sought to make him the right’s tool. Instead, it made a lot of right-wingers look like tools.

    Sorry, Donald. But I earnestly hope you get better soon. In all senses of that term.

Please Don't Call This Trickle-Down

Stolen from Josiah Bartlett:

Man, this really makes me wish I got up to speed on one of those AI image generators. It illustrates Mitchell Scacchi's article chronicling the latest bit of pork arriving in our state: Feds devote another $19 million to save declining Manchester bus service.

Our state's junior senator claims a bit of credit for that (click through for what the other pols have to say):

But here's Scacchi's relentless refutation:

From 2013–2022, the Manchester Transit Authority (MTA) increased spending by more than a third and rapidly expanded service offerings to try to increase ridership. It was a colossal failure, as we highlighted in April. Instead of acknowledging the failure and changing course, the federal government this week announced a massive infusion of additional resources.

Washington has committed $19.9 million to build a new city transit center (after the original closed due to a shortage of riders) in an effort to reverse the government’s previous failure to induce ridership through additional spending.

New Hampshire’s congressional delegation announced Tuesday that the money would be used “for the construction of a new transit center which will replace the city’s outdated facility and enable an expansion of transit services in the region,” according to reporting from Manchester Ink Link.

The University Near Here is getting $2.7 million "to replace diesel-powered buses with compressed natural gas buses for its Wildcat Transit service." This is for a service that (at last report) had yet to recover to pre-pandemic ridership. (And last year was forced to terminate its service to neighboring Newmarket,)

Also of note:

  • Bad news for the looters. Noah Smith says There's not that much wealth in the world. It's a tutorial on wealth vs. income, and why taxing the former is such a lousy idea. He approvingly quotes:

    Freiman is correct. The wealth of America’s billionaires was estimated at around $5.2 trillion in 2023, while federal government spending was about $6.4 trillion. Confiscating every last penny from Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and all the other billionaires wouldn’t fund the U.S. government for one year. And of course you could only do it once.

    Something to remember when folks like Joe Biden (a) confuse income and wealth; and (b) demand that the rich "pay their fair share."

  • You're out of control! Greg Lukianoff and Adam Goldstein take on that awful NYT op-ed by Tim Wu: The First Amendment ISN'T out of control.

    Professor Wu's recent piece, “The First Amendment Is Out of Control,” was in this troubling tradition of free-speech catastrophizing. He opened the article by arguing that "[n]early any law that has to do with the movement of information can be attacked in the name of the First Amendment."

    Well, yeah. Fear of government power over the free flow of information was a big part of the reason why "Congress shall make no law."

    Indeed, that's also a big part of why the founders included "the press" in the First Amendment. And by “the press,” they didn't mean institutional journalism (although the First Amendment clearly protects that as well) — they meant the literal biggest information moving technology of the day: the printing press.

    When people like Wu gripe that the 1A is "out of control", read for the obvious implication: people are out of control.

  • A surprising bit of good news. I'm a non-fan of "national conservatism", so didn't have much to say about their recent convention. But Stephanie Slade was paying attention to this ray of sunshine: Vivek Ramaswamy Debuts 'National Libertarianism' at NatCon 4.

    "I think it's been decided, as obviously as it possibly can be, that America First is the future direction of the Republican Party," former presidential hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy tells me.

    Given the close association of "America First" with tariffs, industrial policy, and calls to close the borders, even to legal immigration, this might not seem to augur promising things for libertarians. But Ramaswamy sees two distinct live possibilities for what the phrase should actually mean. "From where I sit," he says, "the most important debate for the country to have is the intra–Republican Party and even intra–America First debate between the national protectionist and national libertarian wings."

    During an evening keynote at the fourth National Conservative Conference in Washington, D.C., this week, Ramaswamy laid out these alternatives in some detail—and gently made the case that attendees of the nationalist event should rethink their indulgence in protectionism.

    And I really liked this bit:

    "I don't care to replace a left-wing nanny state with a right-wing nanny state," Ramaswamy declared at NatCon. Or as he puts it during our follow-up conversation: "I think that's a mistake the left has long made, using the administrative state as a way to coddle certain groups of Americans. And I don't think we're going to beat the left by becoming the left."

    At some point in the last year Vivek said some stuff that irked me. It's possible I may need to forgive him.


Last Modified 2024-07-14 5:14 AM EDT

She Got in Line, Frankenstein

NH Journal can barely contain its glee: Hassan Is 'Ridin' With Biden,' Says Biden 'Most Successful POTUS in my Lifetime'.

Hours before President Joe Biden’s post-NATO summit press conference Thursday night, he met with a group of Democratic U.S. senators concerned about his impact on down-ballot races if he stays at the top of the ticket. And his pitch made at least one sale: Sen. Maggie Hassan.

“I have continued to support the president. This is a really strong campaign. Here’s President Biden, one of the most successful presidents — perhaps the most successful president — in my lifetime,” Hassan told reporters after the meeting.

Maggie, that's real Manchurian Candidate stuff, there. To recycle a tweet from April:

I can't tell if the amusement contained in this New York Times headline is intentional or not: On Capitol Hill, Democrats Panic About Biden but Do Nothing.

Senator Christopher S. Murphy, an ambitious young Democrat from Connecticut, went on television on Sunday with a carefully worded warning to President Biden about the viability of his campaign.

“This week is going to be absolutely critical; I think the president needs to do more,” Mr. Murphy said, arguing that Mr. Biden needed to hold a town hall and participate in unscripted events because “the clock is ticking” for him to put to rest the doubts about his candidacy raised by a disastrous debate performance. Multiple times, Mr. Murphy emphasized his deadline, saying that he, as well as voters, must see more action “this week.”

Senator Michael Bennet, the Colorado Democrat who briefly ran for president himself, said Mr. Biden had to “reassure the American people that he can run a vigorous campaign to defeat Donald Trump.”

Senator Patty Murray of Washington, a senior member of the Democratic leadership team, put out a statement that passed for fighting words, saying that the president “must do more to demonstrate that he can campaign strong enough to beat Donald Trump.”

So far, Mr. Biden has done none of that.

Left unsaid: because he's not up to doing any of that.

Jeff Maurer is getting pretty frustrated: “Let Biden Prove Himself” Is a Fig Leaf for Inaction. In response to that NYT headline and article:

What a fucking body blow. What a humiliating confirmation of everyone’s worst stereotypes about liberals. We can’t stand up for ourselves, we’re feckless and disorganized — oh, and by the way, please vote for us to run the government! Every day that the Democratic caucus spends being publicly bullied by an old man is a day that more people become convinced that liberals are constitutionally incapable of dealing with the hard challenges of life. And the fact that most Democrats think Biden can’t win but are willing to stay silent rather than risk their personal reputation is a Profile In Dicklessness that I think could haunt the party for years to come.

I was thinking about making some sort of snark about Maggie and "Dicklessness", but you'll just have to imagine I did that, and it was both hilarious and tasteful.

Rich Lowry has, I think, his tongue firmly planted in his cheek: Maybe Biden Isn’t Such a Kind-Hearted, Wise Statesman after All.

Joe Biden is being transformed before our eyes, at least in how he’s portrayed in progressive circles and the media.

The empathizer-in-chief and savior of democracy has become, in a matter of about two weeks, a clueless and selfish threat to all that they hold dear.

Poor Joe Biden can be forgiven for not quite knowing what hit him. Just a couple of weekends ago, he and his family were at Camp David for a photo shoot with the famed Vogue photographer Annie Leibovitz — getting the favorable glossy coverage that a powerful Democrat expects — and now everyone has concluded he’s a dangerous jackass.

“Never underestimate the destructive power of a stubborn old narcissist with something to prove,” Mark Leibovich of the Atlantic writes of Biden’s insistence, so far, on staying in the presidential race.

… and Lowry quotes additionally from Maureen Dowd, Chuck Todd, et al.

Also of note:

  • With eyes wide shut, I think. Megan McArdle describes How the media sleepwalked into Biden’s debate disaster.

    In my 20 years of writing right-leaning columns at mainstream publications, I’ve made two arguments over and over. First, I’ve tried to convince my fellow journalists that liberal media bias is real. And second, I’ve tried to convince conservatives that, though it’s real, it’s not the conspiracy they imagine.

    This is a hard moment to make that latter point. Frankly, if we had been colluding to cover up the decline of a Democratic president, who then undid all our efforts by going on national television and breaking the story himself … well, how much different would our coverage have looked? And if he hadn’t self-immolated at the debate, wouldn’t our readers still be in the dark?

    That said, it really wasn’t a conspiracy. For one thing, mainstream outlets did report on the president’s age, even if too gently. Why were we so gentle? Well, there’s a broad journalistic norm against picking on physical characteristics (which is why even certified Donald Trump-hating columnists have made remarkably few cracks about his comb-over).

    Obviously, it was a mistake to treat age, which affects job performance, like hairstyling, which doesn’t. But that error was bipartisan — over the years, I’ve heard a lot of people talking about Trump’s senior moments without ever putting those thoughts on the page.

    She has a point, of course. But her employer, the WaPo, was (and is) relentless in its Trump-trashing. Adding in the combover critique would seem gratuitous.

    And you don't have to posit a "conspiracy"; willing participants don't need to meet in secret, they can pick up their marching orders by just subscribing to a few newspapers and watching a few news channels.

  • Like me, BART is showing its age. At some point in the early 1970s I visited San Francisco with friends, and the Bay Area Rapid Transit system was shiny, new, futuristic in fact. I remember that a train arrived at the station without me noticing, it was so quiet. It was like Disneyland's Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow for reals!

    But, fifty years on, the bloom is off the rose, and BART is a grumpy, neglected, geezer demanding its entitlements. The Antiplanner has some sad analysis: BART: Give Us More $ So We Can Do Less.

    Before the pandemic, the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) earned more than 70 percent of its operating costs out of fare revenues, more than any transit agency in the nation other than CalTrain. Ironically, this also made it most vulnerable to a ridership downturn, while agencies like San Jose’s Valley Transportation Authority, which covered only 9 percent of its operating costs out of fares (the fourth worst among the nation’s transit agencies), were relatively immune. Now BART is pleading for more money so it won’t have to dramatically reduce service as it exhausts federal COVID relief funds.

    As part of that plea, BART published a report on its role in the Bay Area earlier this week. The report admits that BART’s ridership has dropped — as of May, it carried less than 45 percent as many riders as before the pandemic — due to increases in remote work. “BART ridership is closely linked to office occupancy rates,” says the report, with an accompanying graphic showing that ridership has moved in almost exact parallel to San Francisco-Berkeley-Oakland office occupancies.

    Despite the increase in remote work, the report notes, “traffic is back, but people are traveling in ways that result in uneven ridership retention.” In other words, they are no longer traveling in directions that BART can take them.

    Enshrining half-century-old patterns of commuting literally in concrete turns out to have been a bad idea.

  • Shame on SCOTUS. Since I am a troglodyte right-winger, at least 40% of the time, I thought there were a lot of good Supreme Court decisions this term. But I'm also 60% raving libertarian, so I'm in agreement with Philip Hamburger's take: Why The Court’s Murthy Ruling Is Probably The Worst Free Speech Decision In History.

    In the recent Murthy v. Missouri decision, the Supreme Court hammered home the distressing conclusion that, under the court’s doctrines, the First Amendment is, for all practical purposes, unenforceable against large-scale government censorship. The decision is a strong contender to be the worst speech decision in the court’s history.

    […]

    All along, there were some risks. As I pointed out in an article called “Courting Censorship,” Supreme Court doctrine has permitted and thereby invited the federal government to orchestrate massive censorship through social media websites. The Murthy case, unfortunately, confirms the perils of the court’s doctrines.

    Yes. So I had to find out what Nina Jankowicz thought about it. What was that group she's with again? Oh, yeah, the "American Sunlight Project". And, yes, here it is: Nina Jankowicz Statement on Murthy v. Missouri Decision.

    Yes, unsurprisingly, Nina thought the pro-censorship ruling was supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

The Bigger Problem's at the Other End of the Alimentary Canal, Doc

Sure, as Mr. Ramirez implies, there are big problems in his brain.

But today is the one-year anniversary of Charles C. W. Cooke's norm-breaking National Review headline: Joe Biden Is an Asshole.

There is a moment in Back to the Future Part III in which Marty McFly steps outside of the unfamiliar mores of the 19th-century American West and says of Buford Tannen, the man who has challenged him to a duel, “He’s an asshole!”

That line is just three words long, but it contains a universe within its delivery. McFly is incredulous. He is impatient. He has lost his desire to play along with the customs of the age. “We can all see this, right?” he seems to be asking the assembled crowd. We all know that Tannen’s an asshole?

I feel the same about President Joe Biden. He’s an asshole. Can we not all see it? For those who cannot conceive of truth without triangulation, I will freely stipulate that Donald Trump is an asshole, too — and that, in some ways, he’s an even worse one. But that does not let Biden off the hook. President or not, Biden is a decrepit, dishonest, unpleasant blowhard. He’s a nasty, corrupt, partisan fraud. He is, as Shakespeare had it, “a most notable coward, an infinite and endless liar, an hourly promise breaker, the owner of no one good quality.” Biden is twice as irritating as he believes himself to be, and half as intelligent into the bargain. From the moment he arrived on the scene — nearly 50 years ago, Lord help us — he has represented all that is wrong with our politics. A century hence, his name will be set into aspic and memorialized under “Hack.”

A year later, and the big difference is that Joe's personality flaws are biting Democrats in the rear. And before you can say "We gotta protect our phony baloney jobs here, gentlemen", the patently obvious fact that CCWC pointed out last year is now an acceptable talking point in the MSM and among more honest Democrats.

A couple articles from Issues & Insights bring us up to date on character/policy issues:

Fair? Probably not. But if you're a Democrat looking for talking points to urge Joe to take "more time with his family", there they are.

And, for the rest of us, the first article quotes an amusing array of independent minds singing off the same page of the hymnal: "Joe Biden is a Good Man".

Also for our amusement (or disgust, if you're so inclined): Robby Soave notes Biden's BFFs Knew the Cognitive Decline Was Real. Some powerful Democrat pols are jumping off the sinking ship, but…

But the most devastating defection for Biden might very well be George Clooney, who wrote an op-ed for The New York Times on Wednesday calling on the president to drop out. Clooney is not merely a celebrity supporter—he's actually a major fundraiser for Biden.

"Last month I co-hosted the single largest fund-raiser supporting any Democratic candidate ever, for President Biden's re-election," he writes. "I love Joe Biden. As a senator. As a vice president and as president. I consider him a friend, and I believe in him. Believe in his character. Believe in his morals. In the last four years, he's won many of the battles he's faced."

"But the one battle he cannot win is the fight against time."

Clooney is at least somewhat qualified to judge Biden's cognitive decline for himself; he recently saw Biden up close. His June 15th fundraiser for the president, which featured Jimmy Kimmel interviewing Biden and former President Barack Obama, brought in $28 million for the campaign. Former Obama advisors David Axelrod and Jon Favreau, who also attended the fundraiser, told CNN that absolutely everyone who interacted with Biden at the event came away deeply concerned.

But that deep concern? Not so much for the country. That kind of patriotic concern coulda/woulda/shoulda been expressed weeks ago.

No, this was a "oh oh, this is something that could make us lose if it got out" concern.

Gee, I wonder if Nina Jankowicz will be covering this disinformation effort?

And for the record, George Clooney was excellent in Gravity.

Also of note:

  • Nirvana: Gateway to Serfdom. George Will cheers while progressives moan: Whoops, the progressive road to nirvana ran into a Supreme Court detour.

    Should progressives be more alarmed by Donald Trump’s threat to the Constitution or by the Constitution’s threat to progressivism? For the answer, read on.

    Woodrow Wilson, a progressive and the first president to criticize the Founding, considered the Constitution’s essence — the separation of powers — an impediment to a modern necessity: encompassing government wielded by an unimpeded executive. Progressives’ dismay about two of the Supreme Court’s end-of-term rulings illustrates how far their criticism of the Constitution goes beyond Wilson’s.

    When a federal agency ordered four small fishing companies to pay the estimated $700-a-day cost (reducing their profits 20 percent) of on-board government inspectors, the companies sued, arguing that no statutory language explicitly authorizes the agency to impose this burden. The agency invoked Chevron deference, a court-created (in 1984) doctrine that says when Congress uses ambiguous legislative language, or is silent on a subject, a court reviewing an agency’s disputed action should defer to the agency, if its action is “reasonable.”

    Spoiler: the answer to the question posed by GFW in the first paragraph is "the latter".

  • Yes, he's irritating. But… Kat Rosenfield defends an actor that doesn't get a lot of love from conservatives: The Warped Case Against Alec Baldwin.

    Picture this: you’re hanging out at a Fourth of July barbecue when your friend hands you a stick of dynamite. Not real dynamite, obviously—that would be insane, and dangerous!—but a harmless facsimile, a piece of clay with a lil’ sparkler stuck in the end. “Go on, light it,” he says, and you do, laughing, before passing the fake dynamite to your friend, who also laughs.

    He’s still laughing when the dynamite—which is, as it turns out, real—explodes in his face.

    He’s still laughing when the dynamite—which is, as it turns out, real—explodes in his face.

    It’s a question that brings us to the trial of actor Alec Baldwin, which began today, nearly three years after he shot and killed a woman on a movie set outside Sante Fe. The charge is involuntary manslaughter, not murder; Baldwin, who fired the reproduction revolver that killed Rust’s cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, had been told the weapon wasn’t loaded. But through some combination of negligence and incompetence, there was one real bullet in the gun’s chamber.

    For the record, Mr. Baldwin was excellent in The Hunt for Red October.

  • News you can't use, at least not yet. I've been pretty blithe about looking at issues of free will and consciousness over the years. But here's an Ars Technica article that points to the strong possibility that in a short time we may be confronted with an issue with which we have no idea how to deal: Could AIs become conscious? Right now, we have no way to tell.

    Advances in artificial intelligence are making it increasingly difficult to distinguish between uniquely human behaviors and those that can be replicated by machines. Should artificial general intelligence (AGI) arrive in full force—artificial intelligence that surpasses human intelligence—the boundary between human and computer capabilities will diminish entirely.

    In recent months, a significant swath of journalistic bandwidth has been devoted to this potentially dystopian topic. If AGI machines develop the ability to consciously experience life, the moral and legal considerations we’ll need to give them will rapidly become unwieldy. They will have feelings to consider, thoughts to share, intrinsic desires, and perhaps fundamental rights as newly minted beings. On the other hand, if AI does not develop consciousness—and instead simply the capacity to out-think us in every conceivable situation—we might find ourselves subservient to a vastly superior yet sociopathic entity.

    Neither potential future feels all that cozy, and both require an answer to exceptionally mind-bending questions: What exactly is consciousness? And will it remain a biological trait, or could it ultimately be shared by the AGI devices we’ve created?

    If you're interested, I strongly recommend the excellent book The Weirdness of the World by Eric Schwitzgebel.

It Begins With a Single Step

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Jeff Maurer's journey into himself might take him to the heart of darkness, aka MAGA Republicanism!

Well, probably not.

But he is refusing to go along with "The President is Just Fine" crowd: I Won’t Pretend That Maybe Biden WAS the First Black Female President.

Here’s something Joe Biden said recently, and yes: This was in one of the interviews in which his campaign gave questions to the interviewer and said “ask these questions,” and the interviewer said “sure!”

“By the way, I'm proud to be, as I said, the first vice president, first Black woman, to serve with a Black president.”

The audio is arguably not as bad as the transcript, depending on your definition of “not as bad”. Because the audio makes if fairly clear that Biden was not claiming to be a strong ebony queen shattering glass ceilings on behalf of his Nubian sisters. What Biden was doing (yet again) was stammering through a passage that contained a half-remembered thought that he could not turn into a coherent sentence. So…is that better? Or is it a thousand times worse?

Maurer goes for the "thousand times worse" explanation.

And—wait, there's more—you may have heard that ABC News "tweaked its transcript" of Biden's interview with George Stephanopoulos. From:

"I’ll feel as long as I gave it my all and I did the goodest job as I know I can do, that’s what this is about."

to:

"I'll feel as long as I gave it my all and I did the good as job as I know I can do, that's what this is about."

Maurer isn't having that either:

Personally, I hear “the good as job as I know I can do”, which is what the ABC transcript currently says. So, not “goodest”, but not great, either. And I have a follow-up question: Do I have to pretend that “it’s okay as long as I try my best” is a remotely acceptable answer to Stephanopoulos’ question? Jesus Christ, Joe: No it is not okay if you just do your best THIS IS NOT FUCKING TEE BALL!!! We are not playing Candyland, this is not the water balloon toss at a fucking three year-old’s birthday party, we’re choosing the most powerful person in the world YOU DON’T GET A JUICE BOX AND A “YOU’RE A WINNER AS LONG AS YOU HAD FUN” IF YOU HAND THE NUCLEAR CODES BACK TO TRUMP!!!

At some point, Maurer will probably start noticing that he's not getting invited to as many swanky Georgetown cocktail parties as he used to.

Also of note:

  • Fact-checking: It's not just for Trump any more. At least not at the Gray Lady. At least for now. Heather MacDonald reports: The Times Turns on a Dime. She's looking at this NYT story: Fact-Checking Biden’s ABC Interview. Not just that he "downplayed and misstated polls", but also:

    But it is Biden’s invocation of a classic anti-Trump meme that incurs the most surreal of all Times responses. Biden had said during the Stephanopoulos interview: “This is a guy who told us to put bleach in our arms to deal with Covid, with a million—over a million people died.”

    The Times is withering. Exaggerated! it proclaims. Trump did not “instruct people to inject bleach but suggested that doing so with a disinfectant was an ‘interesting’ concept to test out.” The Times notes the context for Trump’s alleged bleach-injection instruction: in April 2020, a member of the federal coronavirus task force had reported on ongoing experiments regarding the use of light and disinfectants to kill the virus. Trump then speculated, as the paper reports:

    Mr. Trump responded: “And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning? Because you see it gets in the lungs, and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it would be interesting to check that.”

    The Times’s current distinction between suggesting that a concept be tested and suggesting that a concept be implemented was missing in its contemporaneous coverage in 2020. The paper ran thousands of words implying that Trump had likely triggered a public health emergency of MAGA bleach drinkers. Reporter Matt Flegenheimer, then on the Covid hysteria beat, reported that Trump had “suggested that injections of disinfectants into the human body could help combat the coronavirus.” Such a suggestion “did not sound like the work of a doctor, a genius, or a person with a good you-know-what,” sneered Flegenheimer, throwing a loose version of Trump’s comments about himself back at him.

    But that was then. The NYT's agenda changed, so must its reporting.

  • Come on, New Hampshire Democratic activist! He, or she, is quoted in the NH Journal story: Pappas Case Highlights Success of Biden's Strategy to Stay on Ticket. The topic is my Congresscritter's refusal to say anything definitive on that topic.

    “He got the message: ‘Fall in line, Buttercup,’” a New Hampshire Democratic activist told NHJournal on background.

    Of course, the actual message was delivered by "former New Hampshire Democrat state chair", Kathy Sullivan just after the debate:

    “Suck it up, Buttercup.”

    Kind of a cliché, but at least it rhymed!

    So I'd suggest to the unnamed and possibly non-existent New Hampshire Democratic activist: how about "Fall in line, Valentine!" or "Fall in line, Porcupine!" or … well, you know how to use a rhyming dictionary.

  • Another good question from Kevin D. Williamson. Recent remarks at a gathering causes him to wonder: What Are Senators For?

    What do GOP Sens. Rick Scott, Mike Lee, and Ron Johnson have in common? All three of them wish that they knew somebody in Washington with some real power.

    There is nothing quite as magnificent, quite as magisterial, as watching former Sen. Jim DeMint interview a panel of senators and listening to those august worthies complain that somebody in Washington—you know: somebody!—should … do something!

    Not them, of course. It was the weirdest thing: They were speaking Tuesday before an audience of would-be rightist insurgents at this year’s gathering of so-called national conservatives known as NatCon4, and they got an honest-to-goodness standing ovation for spending the better part of an hour declaring that they don’t do jack all day and can’t do jack and nobody should expect them to. “They tell us when to work, what we’re voting for, everything,” Scott said. It is as though he has never heard of the word “no.” The senator should think about expanding his vocabulary.

    Apparently none of these three are on Trump's VP list. Hey, if they were VP, they could break Senate tie votes! That's power, right?

  • Pun Salad is a sucker for a Hayek shout-out. And Michael F. Cannon provides one: The End of Chevron Deference: Tapping the Brakes on the Road to Serfdom. (Gifted link.) Cannon is very cautiously optimistic:

    Those who advocate massive government intervention in the economy are apoplectic. They believe that if Congress cannot delegate such massive powers to executive agencies, then the federal government cannot competently direct the economy, redistribute income, and enrich their favorite special interests.

    And they are right.

    The uncomfortable truth that Chevron supporters do not want to admit is that their desire to control so much of other people’s lives is inconsistent not only with liberalism but with that most magnificent manifestation of liberalism, the U.S. Constitution. In Loper Bright, the Supreme Court faced a decision between liberalism and the rule of law on the one hand, and an anti-liberal ideological agenda on the other. It made the right choice.

    And not a moment too soon. In his 1944 book The Road to Serfdom, Nobel Prize–winning economist Friedrich Hayek explained that when legislatures attempt to direct the economy, their incompetence will increasingly lead to calls to concentrate power in the hands of government officials who have increasingly less regard for liberal values such as individual liberty, the separation of powers, the rule of law, or democratic accountability. Loper Bright restores the separation of powers and thereby strips power from any bureau-cum-auto-crats.

    Loper Bright does not dismantle the administrative state. It does not even mean we are no longer heading down the road to serfdom. But it does tap the brakes.

    "Tapping the brakes" is probably the best we can do in our state-besotted era.

Remember Back When the Loser Attempting to Overturn an Election Was Cool?

Saturday Night Live remembers!

One of my guilty pleasures is the 24/7 SNL Vault channel on my Roku: a random selection of Saturday Night Live sketches, only a few interspersed commercials. The politics are occasionally tedious, especially from the last decade or so.

So this gem from Christmas season 2016 popped up last night: Hillary Actually.

If you don't want to play the clip: It's a parody of a scene from the 2003 romcom Love, Actually, where the guy from Walking Dead woos Keira Knightley (who's married his best friend) via a succession of cue cards displayed at her doorway.

It shows Hillary Clinton (Kate McKinnon) importuning (via those cue cards) an Electoral College elector (Cecily Strong) to cast her vote for "literally anyone else" than Donald Trump, who apparently won the elector's state.

And yes, although it didn't affect the overall result, there was an earnest effort to generate "faithless electors" in 2008; there's even a Wikipedia page about it: Faithless electors in the 2016 United States presidential election.

Although there had been a combined total of 155 instances of individual electors voting faithlessly prior to 2016 in over two centuries of previous US presidential elections, 2016 was the first election in over a hundred years in which multiple electors worked to alter the result of the election.

So much for shattering democratic norms!

Also of note: Hillary/Kate's final two cue cards: "If Donald Trump becomes President/He will kill us all".

Which kind of puts this year's hysteria in context, and explains why people seem so unmoved by it: it's just a Saturday Night Live rerun. One we've seen before, not that funny, tedious, predictable, going on way too long.

Also of note:

  • Use your imagination, Harsanyi! David Harsanyi did something I was too lazy to do: I Read The ‘Project 2025’ Playbook, And I Couldn’t Find A Single White Christian Nationalist Policy.

    Project 2025, a suggested roadmap for a second Trump Administration pulled together by the Heritage Foundation, is a nearly 1,000-page document written by a bunch of think tankers and right-wing policy experts running the gamut of conservatism.

    President Joe Biden says the document “should scare every single American.” Democrats, one strategist told the Washington Post, need to “instill fear in the American people.” Donald Trump and his surrogates are already distancing the candidate from the effort.

    So, I decided to read it. Listen, it wasn’t easy. I did plenty of skimming. But the chances that Biden, or any of the Democrats who are fearmongering about its contents, understands what’s in it is highly doubtful.

    Let me (once again) quote from the Underground Grammarian essay titled "The Answering of Kautski", which (in turn) quoted Lenin on dealing with his political opponent Karl Kautski:

    Why should we bother to reply to Kautski? He would reply to us, and we would have to reply to his reply. There's no end to that. It will be quite enough for us to announce that Kautski is a traitor to the working class, and everyone will understand everything.

    Substitute "Heritage Foundation" for "Kautski" and "dangerous Christian Nationalists" for "traitor to the working class" and voila

  • All the cool kids are doing it. If you're feeling like a political orphan these days, Philip Klein will make you feel even more orphany: Republicans Make Fiscal Irresponsibility Part of Their Official Platform.

    For decades, the criticism of Republicans among limited-government advocates was that the party would talk a big game about balancing the budget and reducing the debt when seeking power, only to toss aside those goals once in power. Ever since the party was taken over by Donald Trump, Republicans have backed away from speaking of debt reduction as an important goal — even as the situation has deteriorated. Now, they have made that fiscal irresponsibility part of their official platform.

    On Monday, Republicans released a skimpy platform that brings the party into conformity with the Trump campaign. There may be reasons for the lack of details compared with previous versions of the document, as party platforms are rarely read, mostly do not translate into actual policy, and typically make news only when they provide fodder for opponents.

    Summary: the GOP is promising tax cuts and more spending. I'm wondering whether they think they can outdo the Democrats on shameless pandering; seems like a misguided strategy to me, but….

  • Not yet, anyway. The WSJ editorialists think The 25th Amendment Isn’t for Joe Biden.

    The omerta has broken, and worrying anecdotes about President Biden’s age are now common. He used a teleprompter while speaking to about 30 donors in a living room. Prep materials for an event include photos of the hallway to the stage, with an instruction in large font: “Walk to podium.” Voters already think Mr. Biden is too old to be President for another four years.

    But is he too old to make it for another six months, until the end of this term? That’s what Republicans will be asking as they try to press their advantage. Talk is circulating again about using the 25th Amendment to remove the President posthaste, on the theory that his incapacity is a danger to the country. The argument is that Mr. Biden blamed his bad debate performance on “a bad night,” but next time it could be during some geopolitical crisis.

    As bad as Biden is, it's an argument for withdrawing "voluntarily" from the race, and maybe also "voluntarily" resigning ASAP. Putting on their big-boy pants, the WSJ editorialists say attempting an involuntary Section 4 remedy would be futile and more country-damaging. Even as I might enjoy the spectacle, they're probably right about that.

  • Also, rock and roll. Speaking of withdrawal, George Will is… um… also speaking of withdrawal: Biden might exit, but rising distrust of institutions seems here to stay.

    The leakage of trustworthiness from American institutions began with the lies that enveloped Watergate and Vietnam. It accelerated during the 2008 financial crisis, when cynicism (“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste”) fueled the government’s indiscriminate and lawless response: The law restricted bailouts to financial institutions? Declare automobile manufacturers to be such. The leakage became a cataract during the pandemic because of the public health establishment’s plucked-from-the-ether edicts (about masks, social distancing, which political gatherings should be exempt from social distancing, etc.) and the sacrifice-the-children opportunism of the most powerful segment of organized labor (teachers unions).

    Now the world’s oldest political party and its media accomplices have effected a gigantic subtraction from trust: Leaders of the former lied about President Biden’s condition until, on June 27, continuing to do so became untenable. The latter had allowed the lying because they believe Donald Trump’s many mendacities are an excuse for theirs.

    One example: The bleating sheep on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” reminiscent of a chorus of quadrupeds in George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” were vehemently wrong in denouncing (“so tilted,” “shocking,” “a classic hit piece,” etc.) the Wall Street Journal’s meticulously reported June 4 catalogue of the abundant evidence of Biden’s decline. That the sheep are still on the air, dispensing undiminished certitudes, is evidence of two things. That — outside of a few bastions of meritocracy and accountability, such as professional sports — there is no penalty for failure in contemporary America. And that many prominent people have the scary strength that comes from being incapable of embarrassment.

    Fun fact: George Will is about a year and a half older than Joe Biden. I'd love to see 'em debate.

Recently on the book blog:


Last Modified 2024-07-10 3:07 AM EDT

Shards of Honor

(paid link)

I heard good things … somewhere … about Lois McMaster Bujold's "Vorsokigan Saga". This book was billed as #1 (of 16) in the series, the Kindle version was relatively cheap, so:

Bottom line: not my cup of tea. It's billed as a "science fiction romance", which might have been a red flag if I'd been willing to pay attention to it.

In the future, humans occupy numerous star systems, but they're always on the look for more. Unfortunately, they've also splintered into warring factions, each with its governing system (the ones described in detail here are lousy) and cultural oddities.

Cordelia Naismith leads a survey team from Beta Colony checking out a new planet, when—darn!—her crew's site is attacked by a strike force from Barrayar, led by the mysterious Aral Vorkosigan. As it happens, Vorkosigan is betrayed by his own side, leaving him, Cordelia, and an injured Betan crewman to hike 200 peril-filled kilometers to a Barrayaran encampment to set things right.

Wouldn't you know it, during this trek Cordelia and Vorkosigan develop a grudging respect. And yes, it eventually turns gooey. This doesn't end the peril for either.

There is a lot of political intrigue, painstakingly described. Most of which I found boring. (Hey, we've got plenty of that in the Summer of 2024 USA.) Other than a few violent encounters, there's a lot of talking.

With a Dull Pencil and a Blue Pen

Nate Silver responds to this tweet:

Silver chastises Ms. Schulze: Blaming the media is what got Democrats into this mess.

I’m sorry, but if you can’t see why this is a huge story, I have to question what we in the business call your “news judgment”.

Commercial news outlets like the New York Times face conflicting pressures on which stories they pursue — because although they might claim to cover “all the news that’s fit to print”, there are limitations on time and space. On the one hand, news organizations want to cover stories they deem to be objectively important: those that affect a large number of people or which could shape the future course of world events. They see these as important to their mission and good for their brands — and less cynically, journalism tends to attract smart, idealistic people who endure perpetually chaotic career prospects because they think they’re doing something socially redeeming.

On the other hand, these outlets want to run stories that are compelling: that will bring them clicks, subscriptions and advertising revenues. So in places like the Times, there’s typically a mix of “eat your spinach” stories that are important but not compelling to a wider audience (say, reports of a war or famine in a far-flung country that most readers have never heard of) — as well as stories that are compelling but not important (say, the Taylor Swift beat or how best to grill a hot dog1).

The Biden story is a rarity: it’s a walkoff grand slam in both departments.

Silver goes on to provide six reasons the story is important, followed by six reasons why it's compelling.

By the way, Jennifer Schulze wrote last month about a news story she didn't like: OPINION: The WSJ attack piece is a reminder to beware of political attacks masquerading as journalism. Her first paragraph:

The Wall Street Journal this week featured a news story about President Joe Biden that reads like a Republican attack ad. This article appears to be about the president’s declining mental acuity, but it’s really Trump campaign propaganda.

Needless to say, this take did not age well.

Also of note:

  • It's difficult to "fact check" incoherent babble. But Jim Geraghty dug and dug into the Stephanopoulous interview, and he's Fact-Checking Some of Biden’s Interview Answers. In the Disconnected From Reality Department:

    Mind bogglingly, Biden could not clearly answer whether he watched the debate afterwards.

    GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And– did you ever watch the debate afterwards?

    PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I don’t think I did, no.

    Either the president did, or he didn’t, or he watched excerpts. This is not testing the president’s memory from months or years ago. This is asking a basic question about the past two weeks, and Biden cannot say for certain that he watched the debate.

    Biden then claimed, “After that debate, I did ten major events in a row, including until 2:00 in the morning after the debate.”

    No, Biden did not. Biden did an event at the Hyatt Regency in Atlanta at 11:10 p.m. Eastern Thursday night, and then just after midnight, the president made his appearance at the Waffle House, where, despite suffering what he now calls “a really bad cold,” he shook everyone’s hands.

    The president’s next event was at 12:30 p.m. Friday, the rally in Raleigh, N.C. At 4:30 p.m., the Bidens flew to New York City, where they delivered remarks at the Stonewall National Monument Visitor Center opening ceremony. At 8:30 p.m. Eastern, Biden attended a campaign reception in New York City.

    So, if you want to count the Waffle House stop, Biden had four events in the following 24 hours. On Saturday, at 1:20 in the afternoon, Biden attended a campaign reception in East Hampton, N.Y.  At 6:20 p.m., the Bidens attended a campaign reception at the residence of New Jersey governor Phil Murphy, in Red Bank. They arrived at Camp David about four hours later.

    In other words, Biden had six events over the next two days, mostly closed-door campaign receptions where the president made brief remarks to the friendliest crowd imaginable. As the Washington Post summarized on Wednesday, July 3, “Biden, 81, has appeared in public four times since a rally Friday in North Carolina — for remarks on a Supreme Court decision, on extreme weather, at Stonewall National Monument in New York and at a Medal of Honor ceremony at the White House on Wednesday — to speak for a total of 32 minutes, exclusively while using teleprompters.”

    In his own mind, a "major event" may include bodily functions. And perhaps also malfunctions.

  • Idiocracy, too, of course. Kat Rosenfield remembers it well: ‘Dave’ Predicted the Biden Debacle.

    Ever since the Great Debate Debacle—and its successor event, the Stephanopoulos Sit-Down That Could Have Gone Better—Joe Biden’s most fervent supporters have chosen one of two tacks. The first is full-on denial: the president is doing fine, they say! Amazing, even! Any blips in his performance were merely the result of poor preparation, or a cold, or some secret saboteur inside CNN who installed a “ghastly pallor and verbal incoherence” filter on the camera in front of him.

    But in the second camp, the one not completely disconnected from reality, an arguably more disturbing idea has emerged: that Biden's fitness for office actually doesn’t matter and never has, because he has good people around him.

    Is the president sane? Competent? Entirely alive? You need not ask yourself these questions, because the president is not the president; he’s just a figurehead, more of a mascot, really—like the Geico Gecko of the executive branch. The actual presidency consists of somewhere between five and 50 people, whose identities may or may not be public knowledge, who stand behind or around or sometimes on top of the president and execute the duties of the office according to their collective wisdom. Did you think, when you pulled the lever for Joe Biden in 2020, that you were actually voting for Joe Biden the singular human being? You fool. You absolute imbecile.

    Dave posited a stroke-impaired president whose chief of staff hires Dave (Kevin Kline) to pose as the head of state; the chief of staff deviously pulls strings from behind the curtain. I remember that it was very earnest in its moderate leftism; Ms Rosenfield reminds us that it was probably also prescient.

  • You probably had already daubed this on your Biden impeachment bingo card. It's a pretty broad category: "Breaking the Law". Jerry Coyne, hardly a right-winger, looks at ht latest WSJ report: the National Institutes of Health, in complicity with universities, appears to be breaking the law by using ethnicity as a criterion for hiring.

    I guess I have to give the usual disclaimers here: yes, John Sailer is a conservative, and yes, it’s an op-ed from the Wall Street Journal, whose op-eds are reliably on the Right. But of course where else will you learn things that the MSM won’t tell you? In this case, we learn that the National Institutes of Health, the largest government dispenser of research funds in America, is apparently funding hiring initiatives involving racial preferences. But how can they do that given that such hiring is illegal under Title VII? (And accepting students on the basis of race was recently deep-sixed by the Supreme Court.)

    The way around this, according to Sailer’s article, is simply to fund “cluster hires,” which gives an institution a pot of money to hire several faculty at once, in hopes that doing so will bring in underrepresented minorities. Well, that’s fine (it casts a wider net), so long as people aren’t hired on the basis of their ethnicity itself.  But in the case of the National Institutes of Health, cluster-hire funding also requires that candidates proffer diversity statements, which of course allow universities to pick and choose using race, which is easily determined from diversity statements. (The University of Chicago prohibits this explicitly based on the Shils Report: our hires and promotions are to be based solely on research, teaching, contribution to the intellectual community, and university or department service).

    Further, beyond the NIH’s end-run around race-based hiring, universities are making their own goals much more explicit, as Sailer found out by using the Freedom of Information Act to see what universities are doing vis-à-vis hiring.

    Professor Coyne provides extensive quotes from the article, but if you would like to RTWT, here's what the WSJ claims is an unlocked link. If you are deeply cynical about Your Federal Government and academia, you may be disturbed, but you won't be surprised.

  • The latest scare tactic. John Hinderaker writes about the Democrat pretend-freakout about "Project 2025": Demonizing Heritage.

    In an odd tactical decision, the Biden-Harris campaign has chosen to demonize the Heritage Foundation and tie that organization to Donald Trump. Heritage has published the 2025 Presidential Transition Project. It is a compendium of recommended conservative policies, intended to be “the conservative movement’s unified effort to be ready for the next conservative Administration to govern at 12:00 noon, January 20, 2025.”

    Donald Trump has nothing to do with the Heritage Foundation, and had nothing to do with Project 2025’s Mandate for Leadership. Some of the policies recommended by Heritage, such as free trade, reduced tariffs, and nationwide limitations on abortion, are at odds with Trump’s policies. Nevertheless, the Biden campaign finds it worthwhile to demonize Heritage:

    I thought Heritage had gone full-MAGA, but as Hinderaker notes, they seem to be unafraid of (for example) free trade.

    The Project 2025 PDF book runs to 922 pages. The "Contributors" section runs to 7 single-spaced pages on its own. I haven't read it; I doubt any of the freaked-out critics have either.

Recently on the book blog:

The Weirdness of the World

(paid link)

An impulse grab off the "New Books" shelf of the Portsmouth (NH) Public Library. Author Eric Schwitzgebel's overall thesis is expressed in the title: the world is weird. Since he is a philosopher, he rigorously defines his terms:

Weird:
contrary to the conventional, ordinary, and well-understood.
Bizarre:
contrary to common sense—i.e., something that people without specialized training confidently but perhaps implicitly believe to be false
Dubious:
doubtful in the sense that we are not epistemically compelled to believe it
Wild:
both bizarre and dubious
Theoretical wilderness:
a topic on which every viable theory is wild

You get the idea: Professor Schwitzgebel is kind of out there, but in a way that's entirely plausible. And a lot of fun. One of his chapters argues, from materialistic precepts, that the United States of America is a conscious entity; this manages to be both hilarious and profound.

Do we live in a simulation, run on a supercomputer by an alien nerd, just for fun? (Illustrated with a figure captioned: "God stumbles over the power cord". Oops!)

One chapter is "The Loose Friendship of Visual Experience and Reality". Which has the launching point expressed in federal regulation:

Each convex mirror shall have permanently and indelibly marked at the lower edge of the mirror's reflective surface, in letters not less than 4.8 mm nor more than 6.4 mm high the words “Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear.”

Don't think about this too hard while driving; could be fatally distracting. Schwitzgebel argues that the required wording is wrong. At length.

He writes on his experience with ChatGPT, and observes: "The darn thing has a better sense of humor than most humans."

And in a very thought-provoking chapter, he considers what our moral obligations should be toward AIs that develop consciousness. Snippet:

Or suppose we could create an AI system so cognitively superior to us that it is capable of valuable achievements and social relationships that the limited human mind cannot even conceive of—achievements and relationships qualitatively different from anything we can understand, sufficiently unknowable that we cannot even feel their absence from our lives, as unknowable to us as cryptocurrency is to a sea turtle.

Maybe that won't keep you awake at night, but it's something to think about in the dark when you can't sleep.

I'm kind of used to the world's "weirdness", since I studied me some quantum mechanics back in the day. Here's the relevant Feynman quote, from one of his lectures (to a general audience) on quantum electrodynamics:

What I am going to tell you about is what we teach our physics students in the third or fourth year of graduate school—and you think I'm going to explain it to you so you can understand it? No, you're not going to be able to understand it. Why, then, and I going to bother you with all this? Why are you going to sit here all this time, when you won't be able to understand what I'm going to say? It is my task to convince you not to turn away because you don't understand it. You see, my physics students don't understand it either. That is because I don't understand it. Nobody does.
Similarly, I didn't find Schwitzgebel's argument about the "consciousness" of the USA to be all that wacky. It didn't seem that different from: Adam Smith's invocation of the Invisible hand; Hayek's Knowledge Problem; or Leonard E. Read's essay "I, Pencil", in which the titular character claims, perceptively, "not a single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me."

Ah, but "the market" knows how. And does so, cheaply and in abundance.

So: A wonderful book. I found it tough going in spots, but in most parts wonderfully accessible and insightful.

Who is Jane Galt?

Well, nowadays, she's Megan McArdle (quoted tweet continues after embed):

…strong opinion but now I’m just resigned to the fact that my mental models have zero predictive validity when applied to the sort of people who want to occupy the Oval Office.

Yes. I've noticed that. Their brains work funny.

In fact here are a few guidelines I'm trying to follow in current and future blogging about politics:

  • Megan's avoiding predictions about presidential candidates. I'm trying to avoid predicting voter behavior too. I shoulda learned my lesson back in 2016.
  • In fact, maybe I shouldn't make predictions at all, about anything.
  • I will not advise Biden to drop out. Why would he take my advice?
  • Same for Trump, whom I find at least as reprehensible and unsuited.
  • I won't even advise my fellow voters, for that matter. I'm pretty sure you won't listen either.
  • I won't even say: "If you voted for either Biden or Trump in the primaries, maybe you should just stay home and watch West Wing (Democrats) or Blue Bloods (Republicans) reruns instead of going into the voting booth.

Maybe more as things occur to me.

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

While I was searching the Pun Salad archives for what I said about Biden in the past, I came across a lengthy quote from Andrew Ferguson's mass review of candidate campaign bios from 2008. Biden's was Promises to Keep (Amazon/Kindle link at your right). Ferguson's review was in the Weekly Standard, now defunct, but the Washington Examiner reproduced the relevant bits a few months later. Can't-say-we-weren't-warned excerpt:

What does a discerning reader learn from Biden's book that we didn't already know? Perhaps not much, if you're a regular watcher of C-SPAN or a longtime resident of Delaware. But there is something unforgettable about watching the man emerge on the page. His legendary self-regard becomes more impressive when the reader sees it in typescript, undistracted by the smile and the hair plugs. Biden quotes at great length from letters of recommendation he received as a young man, when far-sighted professors wrote movingly of his "sharp and incisive intellect" and his "highly developed sense of responsibility." These qualities have proved to be more of a burden than you might think, Biden admits. "I've made life difficult for myself," he writes, "by putting intellectual consistency and personal principle above expediency."

Yes, many Biden fans might tag these as the greatest of his gifts. Biden himself isn't so sure. After a little hemming and hawing--is it his intelligence that he most admires, or his commitment to principle, or his insistence on calling 'em as he sees 'em, or what?--he decides that his greatest personal and political virtue is probably his integrity. Tough call. But his wife [Jill] seems to agree. He recounts one difficult episode in which she said as much. "Of all the things to attack you on," she said, almost in tears. "Your integrity?"

In the 2008 campaign (a mere 16 years ago), Joe dropped out after finishing fifth in Iowa. This was a followup to his 1988 campaign, 20 years before that, where he dropped out very early, dogged by (accurate) claims of plagiarism and lying about his past. (plus ça change…)

Okay, so no predictions from me. I'll continue to post the amassed predictions of others as revealed by wagering their own money:

Candidate EBO Win
Probability
Change
Since
6/30
Donald Trump 58.5% +1.1%
Joe Biden 14.9% -5.2%
Kamala Harris 14.6% +8.8%
Michelle Obama 4.7% -0.3%
Gavin Newsom 3.5% -4.1%
Other 3.8% -0.3%

My rudimentary analysis, for what it's worth: bettors seem to be warming to a future where (a) Kamala replaces Joe on the ballot (somehow); (b) Trump wins anyway.

Also of note:

  • How about George Soros? Or the Ghost of Christmas Future? Biden's expressed criterion for withdrawing from the race:

    It depends on-- on if the Lord Almighty comes down and tells me that, I might do that.

    Yes, "might".

    The WSJ editorialists mock: The Almighty Calls for Biden.

    Mr. President, the Almighty is on the line. Not the Deity you invoked Friday night in your interview on ABC. The Big Guy appears to be sitting out this presidential race. We mean the closest thing to the Almighty in American politics: the Democratic-media establishment. They want you gone, sir, and the question is when you admit it and oblige.

    President Biden’s interview on Friday with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos was a portrait in defiance that won’t stem the establishment campaign unfolding against him. The media that covered for him has turned with a vengeance. The sleuths at the New York Times and Washington Post have suddenly discovered that the debate wasn’t merely a “bad night.” This week they tell us that there have been many such episodes of demonstrable cognitive decline. Who knew?

    Well, the American people knew, since they are not oblivious to evidence they can see. They have said so in every poll for a year. Special counsel Robert Hur knew. (See our editorial, “A Tipping Point on Biden’s Decline,” Feb. 10, 2024.)

    Which brings us to…

  • I don't think Rich Lowry will be invited on MSNBC soon. Actually, I don't know if he ever appeared there, but this seems to be a deal-breaker: Morning Joe's" Dishonorable Attacks on Biden Truth-Tellers.

    Acouple of months ago, Joe Scarborough warned his viewers, and especially his critics, that he was about to unleash a truth bomb.

    The former Republican congressman wanted everyone to know not that Joe Biden had lost a step but was still okay, not that Biden was better than Trump regardless of his physical and mental state, and certainly not that he had heard some concerning things about Biden but he didn’t want anyone to draw premature conclusions.

    No, no — he wanted everyone to know that Joe Biden was more impressive than ever.

    This was ludicrous at the time but has been exposed as propagandistic dreck in light of Biden’s debate debacle that appalled even Scarborough himself.

    “Start your tape right now because I’m about to tell you the truth,” Scarborough said directly to the camera on his March 6 program, “and F you if you can’t handle the truth.”

    Liar? Fool? Maybe both?

    Note: Scarbourough's paean was made about a month after Robert Hur recommended against prosecuting Joe Biden due to his doddering-old-foolishness.

  • Just pants? Issues and Insights draws attention to Biden’s Pants-On-Fire Lie That Nobody Noticed In His ABC News Interview.

    “One thing I’m proudest of,” he said, “is, remember when my economic plan was put forward, a lot of the mainstream economists said it’s not going to work. Well, guess what? We now have 16 Nobel laureates, 16 of them in economics, saying Biden’s next term would be — based on what he wants to do, an enormous success.”

    I&I notes that at the time the "plan was put forward", Biden was claiming "major economists — left, right, and center — support this plan.”

    I can't even keep all Biden's "plans" straight, let alone what economists said about them when. All I'm (relatively) confident about is that the bill will come due, probably after November, at which point Biden won't care, one way or another.

  • Do stampeding herds typically produce avalanches? Or is this just a really bad mixed metaphor? Ann Althouse's headline: "[American media] have become a stampeding herd producing an avalanche of stories suggesting Biden is unfit, will lose and should go away..." Quoting from a Guardian article, which continues:

    "... at a point in the campaign in which replacing him would likely be somewhere between extremely difficult and utterly catastrophic. They do this while ignoring something every scholar and critic of journalism knows well and every journalist should. As Nikole Hannah-Jones put it: 'As media we consistently proclaim that we are just reporting the news when in fact we are driving it. What we cover, how we cover it, determines often what Americans think is important and how they perceive these issues yet we keep pretending it’s not so.' They are not reporting that he is a loser; they are making him one. According to one journalist’s tally, the New York Times has run 192 stories on the subject since the debate, including 50 editorials and 142 news stories. The Washington Post, which has also gone for saturation coverage, published a resignation speech they wrote for him. Not to be outdone, the New Yorker’s editor-in-chief declared that Biden not going away 'would be an act not only of self-delusion but of national endangerment' and had a staff writer suggest that Democrats should use the never-before-deployed 25th amendment. Since this would have to be led by Vice-President Kamala Harris, it would be a sort of insider coup. And so it goes with what appears to be a journalistic competition to outdo each other in the aggressiveness of the attacks and the unreality of the proposals. It’s a dogpile and a panic, and there is no one more unable to understand their own emotional life, biases and motives than people who are utterly convinced of their own ironclad rationality and objectivity, AKA most of these pundits."

    Ann criticizes the author on a number of points, but she is on her firmest ground drawing on her lawprof cred:

    Solnit writes "Since this would have to be led by Vice-President Kamala Harris, it would be a sort of insider coup," but she's not talking about the stampede that seems to have begun mid-debate. She's talking about the 25th Amendment. That does, indeed, require the VP to participate in a constitutional procedure (not a coup!).

    I knew I'd eventually come across the 25th Amendment today!

  • <voice imitation="professor_farnsworth">good news, everyone!</voice>. And Twitchy has it: THE CANDIDATE WE NEED: David 'Iowahawk' Burge Declares He Is Running for President. And, apologies in advance, he's not holding back the language:

    Sometimes the right person emerges. When we needed a person to see us through the War for Independence and to serve as this new nation’s first president, Washington emerged. When Britain found itself fighting for its life against Nazi Germany, Churchill emerged. When our country was tearing itself apart over the slavery question, Lincoln emerged.

    And now, in our troubled times, David ‘Iowahawk’ Burge has emerged.

    (Am I wrong to fantasize about Nikki Haley tweeting the same thing? Yeah, probably.)

    Ahem: Dave, if you need a veep who will balance the ticket with an "elderly dork" vibe, I'm available, and I pledge to take our campaign as seriously as you do.

Does Anyone Really Know What Day it Is?

Does anyone really care?

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Well, I scanned through the transcript of George Stephanopoulos' interview with President Biden. Among all the verbiage, this stuck out:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And you have been doing that and the American people have been watching, yet their concerns about your age and your health are growing. So that's why I'm asking -- to reassure them, would you be willing to have the independent medical evaluation?

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Watch me between-- there's a lotta time left in this campaign. There's over 125 days.

I didn't even have to go to the How Many Days Until...? Calculator page. As I type, Saturday morning, there's a little note at the top of ABC's page:

122 DAYS TO ELECTION DAY

So yesterday, that number was 123. Not "over 125 days", Joe.

Anyway: the President's responses were (unlike Thursday's debate) not totally incoherent. He did have some talking points. He referred to his "bad night" four times. He called Trump a "pathological liar" twice, and "congenital liar" once.

But "more coherent than Thursday" is a pretty low bar. Read the transcript for yourself. Sample, when Stephanopoulos asks if he knew how badly he was doing in the debate:

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Yeah, look. The whole way I prepared, nobody's fault, mine. Nobody's fault but mine. I, uh-- I prepared what I usually would do sittin' down as I did come back with foreign leaders or National Security Council for explicit detail. And I realized--bout partway through that, you know, all-- I get quoted the New York Times had me down, at ten points before the debate, nine now, or whatever the hell it is. The fact of the matter is, what I looked at is that he also lied 28 times. I couldn't-- I mean, the way the debate ran, not-- my fault, no one else's fault, no one else's fault.

You can almost see the thoughts bouncing around his brain, tiny ping-pong balls fighting to be let out his mouth.

And (by the way) there's no New York Times poll that had him down "ten points before the debate". The Real Clear Polling archive shows the NYT polling had Biden down 3 percentage points pre-debate, and 6 percentage points post-debate.

Also of note:

  • A Dune reference from KDW? Maybe he doesn't write his own headlines: The God-Empress of Washington. And games out an ideal scenario for Kamala:

    Kamala Harris can have anything she wants—except one thing.

    The only way Kamala Harris becomes president of these United States is if Joe Biden vacates the office before Election Day. Were that to happen, it is almost certain that her sole memorable act in office would be handing the keys over to Donald Trump, who is set to thrash Biden in the election and who might very well thrash Harris worse if the polls taken before 11 minutes ago are to be believed. With my usual caveat that the man is unfairly maligned, Biden and Harris would end up with something like Neville Chamberlain’s reputation if they usher Trump back into the Oval Office.

    If Harris could admit to herself the reality of her political position—she isn’t going to be elected president in the foreseeable future and currently is pointed like a rocket at a career-and-reputation-ending disaster—then she would appreciate that she is in a terrific position nonetheless. She ought to be the happiest person in Washington because she has two things in her pocket: the capacity to drive Joe Biden off the ticket, and the opportunity to benefit from this mightily.

    You can imagine the press conference: “It has been my honor to serve with such a great and honorable man as Joe Biden, but I can no longer ignore his rapid decline in recent months, and the country cannot afford to risk …” blah, blah, blah. And, then: “I am honored that so many people in my party—people at the highest level—encouraged me to seek the presidency on my own, in part because of what that would mean to women and people of color. But I have decided that I can best serve my country by …”

    Only problem being: she would need to be considerably less delusional about her political prospects that is Joe Biden about his.

    Fun fact: I was not a fan of Frank Herbert's God Emperor of Dune.

  • Speaking of delusions… The WSJ editorialists point out yet another one: The IRS Has a High-Earner Delusion.

    Unlike bank robbers, IRS auditors tend to look where the money isn’t. That’s what happened after the agency started scrutinizing more tax returns from the wealthiest Americans. A new report says increased targeting of these taxpayers was hugely ineffective.

    The policy, launched in 2020 by former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, required the IRS to audit 8% of taxpayers each year who earned more than $10 million. To hit that quota, the agency started examining returns with fewer irregularities. The efficiency drop was steep, according to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, or Tigta, which recently reviewed the results.

    The average dollars assessed per return above $10 million “was nearly six times more productive prior to the 2020 Treasury Directive,” meaning the average examination recovered six times as much in unpaid taxes. Or to put it in terms of IRS productivity, after the policy change the money that auditors assessed per hour from this income group dropped 93%.

    So don't worry: the IRS is not just bad at finding tax cheats, they get worse when they try to do better.

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


Last Modified 2024-07-07 8:16 AM EDT

Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F

[3 stars] [IMDB Link] [Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F]

Yes, it probably is a cold-hearted attempt to grab my eyeballs, thanks to my (whoa!) 40-year-old fond memories of the original movie. Returning: Eddie Murphy, of course. But also: Bronson Pinchot, John Ashton, Judge Reinhold, even Paul Reiser. And also Kevin Bacon, who might as well be wearing a sign saying "BAD GUY" in his first scene. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a major role! And the great Luis Guzmán in a minor role!

I don't want to take this too seriously, but Axel is up to his old loose-cannon tricks, not playing by the rules, giving his superiors headaches, putting his friends into mortal danger, and every other cliché you can think of. After an initial action scene where a robbery of the Detroit Red Wings hockey arena is foiled, Axel heads out to Beverly Hills, where his estranged daughter is a defense attorney handling the case of an alleged cop-killer. She's doing too good a job of that, putting her in the sights of, yes, Kevin Bacon. Will Axel save her, and also defeat the bad guys? Do you even have to ask?

It was fun, seeing how the old-timers are, or are not, well-preserved. It's forgettable fun, though.

Prom Mom

(paid link)

This was on the WSJ's Best Mysteries of 2023 list. I've read and liked a couple of Laura Lippman's books in the past (By A Spider's Thread, Lady in the Lake). This one did not impress me that much. The back cover has laudatory blurbs from Emma Straub, Megan Abbot, and Alison Gaylin; this tells me that you might like it better than I did if you are a lady.

Back in 1997, Amber Glass inveigles Joe Simpson into taking her to their Baltimore-area high school prom. Little does anyone know that the night's events won't go as planned; Joe ditches Amber in a hotel room to take up once more with the girl that had dumped him. And in the morning—I am not making this up—Amber is found with a dead baby. She becomes tabloid fodder, see the title. And Joe gets tagged as "Cad Dad", but escapes any sort of serious critical publicity.

Fast forward to 2019; Amber returns to Baltimore, and opens an art gallery, concentrating on the oeuvre of the recently incarcerated. And Joe is also in the area, trying to make a successful career in commercial real estate, married to a successful plastic surgeon. Do they meet up? Of course.

Where's the mystery? Where is even the crime? Could be that dead baby, given that Amber's memory of what happened that night is hazy. But that's left unexplored for nearly the entire book. (Sorry, semi-spoiler there.) Instead there are hundreds of pages filled with, to my male eyes, boring and irrelevant detail. (Page 74: "In her shotgun rental house back in New Orleans, she had painted the front room coral, her bedroom navy blue, and the kitchen butter yellow." Zzzz.)

Arguably, suspense builds throughout, as we discover just how big a cad the Cad Dad is. But not much happens, or is revealed, until the last 20 or so pages.


Last Modified 2024-07-05 12:21 PM EDT

He is Large, He Contains Multitudes

Just getting around to noticing:

I can imagine the AP headline writers agonizing … oh, for 2-3 milliseconds … about that headline: "Should it be 'Biden at 81: Confused and forgetful but sometimes sharp and focused'? No, no! Wait a minute. Strike that. Reverse it. Thank you."

From the story:

President Joe Biden’s conduct behind closed doors, in the Oval Office, on Air Force One and in meetings around the world is described in the same dual way by those who regularly see him in action.

He is often sharp and focused. But he also has moments, particularly later in the evening, when his thoughts seem jumbled and he trails off mid-sentence or seems confused. Sometimes he doesn’t grasp the finer points of policy details. He occasionally forgets people’s names, stares blankly and moves slowly around the room.

Biden’s occasional struggles with focus may not be unusual for someone his age. But at 81 years old and seeking another four years in the White House, the moments when he’s off his game have taken on a fresh resonance following his disastrous debate performance against Republican Donald Trump. The president appeared pale, gave nonsensical answers, stared blankly and lost his train of thought.

Okay, probably not what you want to see in a sitting president. Missing from the AP story is prognosis: is he likely to get better or worse in the next four months? How about the next four years?

Bonus, a snippet from a recent campaign speech in North Carolina:

“I give you my word as a Biden. I would not be running again if I didn’t believe with all my heart and soul I can do this job,” he told supporters. “Because, quite frankly, the stakes are too high.”

I observed just a few days ago: "My word as a Biden" is a pretty reliable signal for any adjacent words being howling falsehoods. I guess I have to adjust that: I'm pretty sure he does believe that with all his "heart and soul".

Does he believe it with his brain, though? Or has that organ gone offline permanently?

From Jeff Maurer, imagining how the future will judge President Dotard: The Silly Old Man Who Fumbled the Presidency Back to Trump

Historians still debate why Biden didn’t step aside. Many think it was simply ego; he liked being president and didn’t want to give up power. Others think that when he started to receive criticism, he developed a pugnacious defiance that kept him from seeing reality. But most think that his decision was a product of the dementia itself. The signs that he could no longer win were overwhelming, and calls for him to step down were coming from every quarter. A younger Biden would have understood the situation, but 2024 Biden was delusional. The same misguided hubris that caused him to fail to realize that he would humiliate himself in a debate made him fail to realize that he would be beaten badly in the election. His attempt to prove that he was not diminished ultimately proved how badly diminished he was.

Whatever his reasons, the objective fact is that Biden stubbornly clung to the nomination even when it became clear that he was likely to lose to Trump and that most of his party wanted him replaced. His defeat cleared the way for one of the darkest presidencies in American history. Biden is remembered alongside leaders like Neville Chamberlain and Tsar Nicholas II, whose rank incompetence paved the way for something awful. To this day, the phrase “to Biden it” means to seize responsibility for something and then botch it badly. We don’t know what would have happened if Biden had decided not to run for a second term, but we can be sure that history would remember him very differently.

In the New York magazine's "Intelligencer" column, Olivia Nuzzi, we get a look at The Conspiracy of Silence to Protect Joe Biden.

In January, I began hearing similar stories from Democratic officials, activists, and donors. All people who supported the president and were working to help reelect him to a second term in office. Following encounters with the president, they had arrived at the same concern: Could he really do this for another four years? Could he even make it to Election Day?

Uniformly, these people were of a similar social strata. They lived and socialized in Washington, New York, and Los Angeles. They did not wish to come forward with their stories. They did not want to blow a whistle. They wished that they could whistle past what they knew and emerge in November victorious and relieved, having helped avoid another four years of Trump. What would happen after that? They couldn’t think that far ahead. Their worries were more immediate.

When they discussed what they knew, what they had seen, what they had heard, they literally whispered. They were scared and horrified. But they were also burdened. They needed to talk about it (though not on the record). They needed to know that they were not alone and not crazy. Things were bad, and they knew things were bad, and they knew others must also know things were bad, and yet they would need to pretend, outwardly, that things were fine. The president was fine. The election would be fine. They would be fine. To admit otherwise would mean jeopardizing the future of the country and, well, nobody wanted to be responsible personally or socially for that. Their disclosures often followed innocent questions: Have you seen the president lately? How does he seem? Often, they would answer with only silence, their eyes widening cartoonishly, their heads shaking back and forth. Or with disapproving sounds. “Phhhhwwwaahhh.” “Uggghhhhhhhhh.” “Bbbwwhhheeuuw.” Or with a simple, “Not good! Not good!” Or with an accusatory question of their own: “Have you seen him?!”

Now it can be told, I guess. Better now than later.

But Charles C. W. Cookie has a pertinent question for the MSM: You Gonna Investigate That?.

I think that the press helped to cover up Joe Biden’s condition, and that it did so as a matter of habit, out of a corrupt desire to help the Democratic Party. Some in the press strongly deny this. They insist that they didn’t know how bad it was. They say that they were as shocked as anyone by what they saw last Thursday night. They contend that they are not the perpetrators but the victims.

Okay, then. If that’s true, we ought to talk through its implications. If it’s true, then the press was duped — and duped by the federal government of the United States of America. If it’s true, then the executive branch has been engaged in a massive — and effective — conspiracy to keep Biden’s infirmity from the people who are supposed to report the news. If it’s true, then the White House fooled the media; it outwitted the media; it embarrassed the media. If it’s true, then the president and his political party colluded to suppress the ability of the sacred Fourth Estate to relay matters of public interest to the voters, and, in the process, it made a mockery of the First Amendment.

So . . . is the press gonna investigate that? It certainly sounds like a big story to me.

Obvious answer: no, probably not. Because they were in on it.

Also of note:

  • Hey, kids! What time is it? Margot Cleveland says It's Time To Invoke The 25th Amendment. (That's her original headline. It's been changed.)

    The Democrats’ public struggle session over what to do with the problem of Joe Biden must end. They know, we know, and, most terrifyingly, America’s enemies know that our commander-in-chief is mentally incompetent. As such, the answer is clear, and the Constitution provides it: Joe Biden must be removed from office and the vice president sworn in as president.

    The only (proper) question for Biden and his party is whether the removal will be voluntary, under Section 3 of the 25th Amendment, or forced, under Section 4. Will Biden transmit “his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office” to Congress? Or will the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet inform Congress of President Biden’s incapacity and remove him from office?

    A day or two to decide is reasonable. A week stretches the bounds. But we are now at the point where the inaction by Vice President Kamala Harris and Biden’s Cabinet constitutes a violation of their oath of office. They solemnly swore they would “bear true faith and allegiance” to the Constitution and that they would “faithfully discharge the duties of the office.” That oath mandates they provide Congress “their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office…”

    That would be nice, but these guys have spent the last 1,258 days largely ignoring their oaths of office. I don't expect them to start taking their Constitutional duties seriously now.

I'm Blessed to be an American

That doesn't mean I can't complain, or observe (with Mr. Ramirez) that we are in serious trouble:

For example, John Stossel points out an inconvenient fact about three names likely to be on my ballot in November: Biden, Trump, and RFK Jr. Are All Anti-Freedom

As presidential candidates promise to subsidize flying cars (Trump), free community college tuition (Biden), and "affordable" housing via 3 percent government-backed bonds (Kennedy), I think about how bewildered and horrified the Founding Fathers would be by such promises.

On the Fourth of July almost 250 years ago, they signed the Declaration of Independence, marking the birth of our nation.

They did not want life dominated by politicians. They wanted a society made up of free individuals. They believed every human being has "unalienable rights" to life, liberty, and (justly acquired) property.

The blueprints created by the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution gradually created the freest and most prosperous nation in the history of the world.

Drew Cline has thoughts along that line as well: Freedom Is the Foundation for Everything Else.

Writing to Benjamin Franklin in 1779, the Marquis de Lafayette described America as “a country where one may be bless’d with the healthy air of liberty.”

That metaphorical turn of phrase would turn out to be literally true as well.

Human liberty, the most powerful force on earth, has generated levels of wealth entirely unimaginable before the Enlightenment. And from that unprecedented prosperity has flowed astronomical improvements in the quality of human life.

Anti-capitalist activists believe (or at least claim) that the planet is being poisoned by the West in general and capitalism in particular. But the data show otherwise. Take Lafayette’s phrase “healthy air,” for starters.

The countries with the highest rates of death from outdoor air pollution are Egypt, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, according to the team at Our World in Data. Where are deaths from outdoor air pollution falling? In high-income countries.

So at some point today, go outside and take a deep breath of air that probably won't kill you.

George Will is upbeat today: Don’t despair, ‘normal’ U.S. politics are abnormal. Happy Fourth!.

On this July 4 commemoration of the grandest day in humanity’s political history, Americans wonder whether their politics will ever again be normal. Jon Grinspan has a strangely reassuring message: Normal is abnormal.

He curates, on Constitution Avenue, the politics collection at the National Museum of American History, whose bazillion artifacts include: the teacup Abraham Lincoln placed on a windowsill before departing for Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865. Hoods worn by prisoners who were hanged for complicity in Lincoln’s assassination. The Emancipation Proclamation printed as a tiny (about 3 inches by 2 inches) booklet distributed by Union soldiers to Black Southerners. A bug-with-flapping-wings lapel pin worn by “gold bugs,” who were gold-standard voters in late-19th century campaigns about the national currency.

And two torches: One was carried by the same partisan in nighttime parades during presidential campaigns from 1860 to 1904. The other was carried during the 2017 neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Va.

Yikes!

Also of note:

  • You say that as if it were a bad thing, Tim. Tim Wu, who coined the dreadful term "net neutrality", takes to the NYT to (I guess) warn us: The First Amendment Is Out of Control.

    The First Amendment was written in the 18th century with the noble and vitally important goal of ensuring robust political debate and a free press. For much of American history, First Amendment cases involving speech typically concerned political dissenters, religious outcasts, intrepid journalists and others whose ability to express their views was threatened by a powerful and sometimes overbearing state. The First Amendment was a tool that helped the underdog.

    But sometime in this century the judiciary lost the plot. Judges have transmuted a constitutional provision meant to protect unpopular opinion into an all-purpose tool of legislative nullification that now mostly protects corporate interests. Nearly any law that has to do with the movement of information can be attacked in the name of the First Amendment.

    Monday’s Supreme Court decision in the two NetChoice cases greatly adds to the problem. The cases concern two state laws, one in Florida and one in Texas, that limit the ability of social media platforms to remove or moderate content. (Both laws were enacted in response to the perceived censorship of political conservatives.) While the Supreme Court remanded both cases to lower courts for further factual development, the court nonetheless went out of its way to state that the millions of algorithmic decisions made every day by social media platforms are protected by the First Amendment. It did so by blithely assuming that those algorithmic decisions are equivalent to the expressive decisions made by human editors at newspapers.

    It should be pointed out that Wu has had qualms about the First Amendment for years. Back in 2021, Pun Salad pointed out a warning from Matt Taibbi: A Biden Appointee's Troubling Views On The First Amendment. Taibbi pointed to an article Wu had written in 2017: Is the First Amendment Obsolete?

    But for a detailed rebuttal, let's look at Mike Masnick at TechDirt, who asserts, reasonably enough: Tim Wu Is Out Of Control.

    I’m confused about where Tim’s mind is at lately, as he seems to have embraced multiple ridiculous, dangerous, authoritarian policy ideas that would be incredibly damaging to the public, almost all of which involve suppressing speech in pursuit of policy goals that Wu supports, without even the slightest concern about the damage it will do to people.

    We saw it last year, when he publicly supported having Congress move forward with KOSA, despite dozens of civil liberties and LGBTQ groups noting how its “duty of care” would be used to harm LGBTQ youth, blocking them from accessing information. Then, earlier this year, he signed onto an absolutely ridiculous amicus brief in support of Texas’s social media content moderation law. That brief was full of confused or misleading statements. He’s also been strongly supportive of banning TikTok, which is another attack on the First Amendment.

    With all of these instances in the past few years, in each of which he dismisses of basic First Amendment principles, you might have been tempted to think that Wu hates the First Amendment. But even I had thought that would have been a bridge too far for Wu.

    That is, until he published his latest op-ed in the NY Times: a full frontal attack on the First Amendment, entitled “The First Amendment is Out of Control.”

    Even if he didn’t write that headline (at major publications, editors often write the headlines, rather than the authors themselves), the article is yet another horribly confused, badly argued, fundamentally ridiculous attack on the First Amendment.

    The First Amendment is not out of control. Tim Wu is out of control.

    Ouch.

  • Hey, kids! What time is it? Michael Brendan Dougherty looks at the clock on the clubhouse wall and announces: It’s Time for President Kamala Harris.

    Consider the reporting. The White House has said that Biden is “engaged” between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. This is not a credible defense but a condemnation. Four reporters from Politico describe the functioning of the chief executive and his staff this way:

    During meetings with aides who are putting together formal briefings they’ll deliver to Biden, some senior officials have at times gone to great lengths to curate the information being presented in an effort to avoid provoking a negative reaction.

    “It’s like, ‘You can’t include that, that will set him off,’ or ‘Put that in, he likes that,’” said one senior administration official. “It’s a Rorschach test, not a briefing. Because he is not a pleasant person to be around when he’s being briefed. It’s very difficult, and people are scared sh**less of him.”

    Again, for anyone who has witnessed an elder’s struggling with senility, dementia, or Alzheimer’s, this kind of intemperate outburst is deeply familiar. But it is precisely those familiar with the rage of the aged and addled who know that such individuals are not in a position to lead.

    Yes, even with all her phony word-salad profundities and inappropriate cackles, she'd be a safer choice for the country for the next few months.

  • But President Kamala should fire the fools. Josh Barro points out: The Same Fools Telling Us Not to Panic About Biden Are the Ones Who Let Him Get on That Stage.

    Back in April, David Frum wrote an essay for The Atlantic arguing that President Biden should not debate Donald Trump because Trump violated his oath of office by trying to overturn the result of the 2020 election. Frum argued that sharing a debate stage with Trump would constitute “normalization” of him and his coup attempt, and that the best way Biden could convey that Trump is beneath consideration for another term as president was to refuse to debate him at all.

    I disagreed with Frum’s essay when it ran, and indeed I still disagree with it now. Whether we like it or not, Trump is the Republican nominee, he may well become president again, and it’s in the voters’ interest to see a direct confrontation between them. But for today’s newsletter, what’s important about Frum’s argument is not whether it’s right or wrong. All I want to note about Frum’s argument is that it was available — if Biden wanted to duck the debates, this is an explanation he could have given for why, even if his real reason was something else.

    There would have been a penalty for ducking the debates, but it would not necessarily have been very large. The press wouldn’t have liked it, and there might have been more skeptical coverage about the president’s age and acuity than we’d been seeing before Thursday. And some voters who worry about Biden’s age and fitness for office might have drawn negative inferences about that from his refusal to debate — but largely, Biden’s polling problems have been with less-engaged voters who are less likely to pay attention to debates, let alone to debates about debates, so I’m skeptical about how much that would have mattered.

    Uh huh. Barro kind of dodges the issue that the major "fool" making the decision to "get on that stage" was… Joe Biden. From back in May:

    Consider your day made, Joe.

  • Couldn't have happened to a nicer person. And I mean that precisely. This couldn't have happened to a nicer person. Jeff Maurer: Identity Politics Have Undercut Kamala Harris.

    Harris was picked largely because of her race and gender. It’s important to note: Vice President has always been a job where a person’s bio matters at least as much as their political skill. Presidential candidates usually seek to “balance” the ticket by choosing someone who is — at least in some ways — the opposite of themselves. That’s why Kennedy chose a southerner, Obama picked an old white guy, and McCain selected a walking joke who was respected by nobody. For all the harrumphing about how Harris’ contributed to her getting the job, we should acknowledge that that’s basically the norm. And we should also acknowledge that that’s probably how we got so many uninspiring dolt Vice Presidents in the first place.

    Even so, the way that Harris’ race and gender factored into her selection was particularly acute. In a gambit to take the wind out of Bernie Sanders’ sails, Biden pledged to chose a woman as his VP. Most Americans consider this type of identity-based proclamation to be cringeworthy, but progressives think it’s awesome and cool. The single biggest disconnect between progressive America and the rest of America might be in how differently announcing “I’m going to hire a woman!” or “I’m going to hire a non-white person!” is received. Progressives don’t realize that people see that as tokening and condescending. Which is why Hollywood keeps making movies with cookie-cutter girlboss protagonists, and when the movie loses a hundred million dollars, all Hollywood can think is: “I guess the hero wasn’t girlboss enough.”

    Note: Maurer confesses that he wants Kamala to win, if she runs.

Trying to Stay Ahead of the News Cycle

I get the feeling this post could be obsolescent practically any minute. So I'll try to type fast.

But the general theme today is: these people were shamelessly lying to you. And maybe to themselves too; that's a well-known mental malady.

First up, a chorus singing from the same page of the hymnal:

A rebuttal from Mr. F. Leghorn:

You may remember that on June 4 (June 5 print edition) the WSJ published a scary story: Behind Closed Doors, Biden Shows Signs of Slipping. First couple paragraphs:

When President Biden met with congressional leaders in the West Wing in January to negotiate a Ukraine funding deal, he spoke so softly at times that some participants struggled to hear him, according to five people familiar with the meeting. He read from notes to make obvious points, paused for extended periods and sometimes closed his eyes for so long that some in the room wondered whether he had tuned out.

In a February one-on-one chat in the Oval Office with House Speaker Mike Johnson, the president said a recent policy change by his administration that jeopardizes some big energy projects was just a study, according to six people told at the time about what Johnson said had happened. Johnson worried the president’s memory had slipped about the details of his own policy.

The reaction was brisk! From Media Matters on June 6: The Wall Street Journal’s story about Biden “slipping” is comically weak.

Republicans and their right-wing media propagandists have spent the last four years smearing President Joe Biden as mentally infirm. That argument keeps exploding in their faces when Biden appears before a national audience in debates and speeches, but the president’s mental acuity is a frequent subject of media attention, and polls show voters are concerned about Biden’s age.

That’s the context for the 3,000-plus-word investigation that The Wall Street Journal published Tuesday night, which concludes that “Behind Closed Doors, Biden Shows Signs of Slipping” based largely on the complaints of anonymous Republicans who hope Biden loses to Donald Trump in November so the party can implement its agenda of tax cuts for the wealthy, restrictions on abortions, and political retribution. The Republican National Committee, Trump’s campaign, and the legion of MAGA supporters, eager for a subject that isn’t their candidate's felony conviction, instantly jumped on the story.

OK, Media Matters is obviously partisan. But how about CNN? On June 6: The Wall Street Journal’s story about Biden’s mental acuity suffers from glaring problems.

[…] an examination of the report reveals a glaring problem: Most of the sources reporters Annie Linskey and Siobhan Hughes relied on were Republicans. In fact, buried in the story, the reporters themselves acknowledged that they had drawn their sweeping conclusion based on GOP sources who, obviously, have an incentive to make comments that will damage Biden’s candidacy.

That's from Oliver Darcy's Reliable Sources. Also amusing from Oliver pre-debate: Right-wing media figures are desperately pushing conspiracy theories about Biden ahead of the debate.

Donald Trump’s allies in right-wing media have a problem ahead of CNN’s presidential debate: They’ve set the bar too low for President Joe Biden.

Oliver, it turns out they didn't set it low enough.

Also "debunking" was Tom Jones at Poynter. The Wall Street Journal’s story on Biden’s mental fitness: fair or foul?. He leaves little doubt where he stands:

In the end, the Wall Street Journal piece with the spicy headline seemed to have more smoke than fire with one side of the aisle using a copy of the newspaper to fan the flames.

Well, that was then. And now? As Jim Geraghty says, the "respectable" sources are fessing up: Now It's Okay to Talk About Biden's 'Cognitive Decline'.

On the menu today: Now it can be told that plenty of people close to President Joe Biden have seen “a marked incidence of cognitive decline” in the past six months, that “an awful lot of major Democrats” have seen it but have publicly insisted that Biden is fine, and that Biden’s senior officials “curate the information being presented [to Biden] in an effort to avoid provoking a negative reaction.” Last week, I wrote that Joe Biden is overdue to move to a retirement home. Now we learn that the White House is effectively operating like a retirement home — “Don’t tell Grandpa the bad news, it will only get him agitated.” It is more than fair to ask who’s really running the country if Biden has become so mentally, emotionally, and physically fragile that he can’t handle being told bad news. And yet for Democrats, the objective between now and Election Day is to figure out how to get you to forget what you’ve seen and heard over the past four days or so.

Click over for more "news" that CNN et al. now feel it's safe for you to hear. Example from Carl Bernstein, yes that one:

These are people, several of them, who are very close to President Biden, who love him, have supported and been among — among them are some people who have raised a lot of money for him. And they are adamant that what we saw the other night . . . is not a one off, that there have been 15, 20 occasions in the last year and a half when the president has appeared somewhat as he did in that horror show that we witnessed.

And what’s so significant is the people that this is coming from, and also how many people around the president are aware of such incidents, including some reporters, incidentally, who have witnessed some of them. But here we see tonight, as these people say, President Biden at his absolute best and yet these people who have supported him, loved him, campaigned for him, see him often say that in the last six months, particularly, there has been a marked incidence of cognitive decline and physical [decline]. . . .

So [checks news sites] we'll see what happens next. As if I needed to say that.

Also of note:

  • Also: Is our children learning? Randal O'Toole has a good insight into the Bureaucratic Mind, Transportation Divison. Asking a reasonable question: Is Bicycling Improving?

    One of my many beefs with government planning advocates is that they tend to judge success by measuring inputs rather than outputs. A case in point is a group that calls itself People for Bikes that issued a report last week that claims that Bicycling Is Improving in Cities Across the U.S.

    Does it measure that improvement by the number of people cycling in those cities? Or by a reduction in bicycle fatalities and injuries from traffic accidents? No, it instead measure the miles of bike lanes, the reallocations of street space to dedicated bicycle use, reductions in automobile speed limits, and changes to intersections favoring bicyclists. The fact that these “improvements” have been accompanied by increased bicycle fatalities and reductions in bicycle commuting aren’t considered.

    People for Bikes ranked 2,300 U.S. cities by these measures and encourages cities to “improve their ranking” by doing more. But if doing these things doesn’t increase cycling or bicycle safety, there isn’t much point.

    The Census Bureau says that 731,272 people commuted to work by bicycle in 2022, down from 785,665 in 2012. That’s not an improvement.

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Fatality and Injury Reporting System says that 907 bicycle riders lost their lives in urban traffic accidents in 2022, up from 506 in 2012. That’s not an improvement either.

    But the important thing is money, Randal!

Mr. Ramirez is Somewhat Generous With the 2923 Expiration Date, But…

He's otherwise on target:

The Dispatch editors point out, probably futilely: It’s Democrats’ Turn to Make the Hard Decision.

Elected Democrats and their allies in the media have made a habit over the past decade of spotlighting their Republican counterparts’ cowardice, and they’ve been right to do so. Presented with ample opportunities over the years to stand up to the demagogue who hijacked their party and their movement, the vast majority of GOP lawmakers and right-wing pundits opted time and again for political expediency, self-preservation, and the path of least resistance. They’ve sacrificed their principles, abandoned the importance of decency and honor, and contributed to the spread of dangerous lies—because to do otherwise might cost them an election, their audience, or their proximity to power.

Democrats like Pelosi have had no problem diagnosing such gutlessness when it comes with an R next to its name. “This is about being afraid,” she said last summer about then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s efforts to retroactively expunge Donald Trump’s impeachments. “These people look pathetic.” Implicit in such criticism is the idea that her party would never stoop to such a level.

But now faced with a collective-action problem of their own, most leading Democrats’ moral clarity has vanished. Several prominent media figures have broken from the party line, but the ongoing effort by Biden’s allies to shut down legitimate questions about the president’s clearly deteriorating faculties—as well as his ability to carry out his current job responsibilities—is as shameless and irresponsible as just about anything Trump and his enablers have done over the past eight years. And if Biden refuses to step aside, it’d be an act of political selfishness surpassed in recent memory only by Trump’s efforts to remain in office after losing the 2020 election.

I, like many people, am having a difficult time following the wise example of Elvis Costello. Amusement is in short supply these days, grounds for disgust are plentiful.

But at least we can engage in R-rated talk about it, like Jeff Maurer: Biden Is Going Down and He’s Taking the Mainstream Left’s Credibility With Him.

Anyone who minimizes Biden’s state is torpedoing their credibility. That’s a little bit true for political figures — who at least have the excuse that it’s their job to brazenly lie — and extremely true for media figures, who are definitely not supposed to carry water for a campaign. The good news and the bad news is that the easiest time to admit the problem is right now. Because despite what Rob Flaherty would have you believe, Biden is not the nominee. He is the presumptive nominee — Democrats have until August to pick someone else. And that’s why every liberal pundit who ever donned glasses and a sweater vest wants Biden to quit: They’ve all concluded that swapping nominees is less risky than sticking with Biden. At the moment, being candid about the problem is the anti-Trump play.

But that won’t be true after the convention. If Biden becomes the nominee, then it will be true that acknowledging Biden’s cognitive problems plays into Trump’s hands. And that’s when you’ll see obfuscation from people who should know better. Media will downplay Biden’s problems, and Democrats will swear that they were in a meeting with Biden where he recited Plato’s Republic word-for-word (this has already happened a bit and I think that people have some explaining to do). Speaking as someone who counts as a media figure (as long as notoriety, wealth, or influence aren’t requirements for that title): I’m certain that I’ll feel that pressure. I loathe Trump, and I think that even a second Biden term that probably involves his death or an invocation of the 25th Amendment is still better than Trump (yes, it’s that bad!). So, I’ll feel pressure to go easy on Biden. And I like to think that I won’t immolate my credibility, but…who knows? I can’t 100 percent promise that I’ll never write a column called “LOL — Check Out These AWESOME Biden Staffers Doing the Cupid Shuffle as the Biden Revolution Marches On!!!”

If we get stuck with Biden, and the mainstream left spends the fall trying to convince people not to believe their eyes and ears, then the left will fall into a credibility hole that will take years if not generations to escape. It will be “actually the Covid rules don’t apply if you’re protesting for a righteous cause” times a hundred — it will be a humiliation that gets thrown in our faces over and over again until the sun burns out. It won’t even matter much if individual pundits, publications, and office holders tell the truth; people will just remember that “the Democrats” — broadly speaking — lied to people’s faces for months. And we’ll do this to protect a candidate who will almost certainly lose anyway. My firm belief since the debate is that Joe Biden will not win a second term — “period”, to borrow a figure of speech — and that Democrats should plan accordingly. Since it’s become clear that a Biden candidacy will pressure everyone on the left to throw our credibility into a blast furnace, I’m now worried about losing a lot more than the election.

Well, he's not actually R-rated there. Pretty mild for Jeff. (The "cupid shuffle" reference is to a "shut up and live with it" memo sent out from Biden's Deputy Campaign Manager Rob Flaherty.)

And Arnold Kling makes the case: The U.S. is in a Crisis.

How many Republicans in Congress really think that Mr. Trump is capable of handling the Presidency? I would bet that at least some of them would tell you in private that he makes them worried and uncomfortable.

If anything, the lying is worse on the Democratic side. They have insisted on trying to convince us to believe the opposite of what people could see with their own eyes during the debate.

Mr. Biden is unfit for office today. Yet no leading Democrat is calling on him to resign. And if he insists on staying on the ticket, it is likely that the Democrats will rally around him. And they will rally around his Vice President as well, even though in their hearts they cannot believe that she is the right choice for the country.

Stay tuned. If you can stand to stay tuned. Me, I'm watching streaming reruns of The Big Bang Theory, Futurama, Rules of Engagement, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, …

Also of note:

  • No, sorry, we're still talking about this. No, Americans Aren’t Voting for an ‘Administration’.

    My sense is that if something dramatic doesn’t happen this week, then nothing is going to happen. Indeed, even now one already senses that the moment has passed, that any sense of urgency there was has dissipated. Inertia is one of the most powerful forces in the universe, right up there with greed and stupidity. One suspects that if Biden were going to have a come-to-Jesus moment, he’d have had it by now. Biden doesn’t seem to be one of those guys who wants to slow down and spend more time with his family—and, given the family, it is difficult to blame him: He is a patriarch of putzes. One might be tempted to appeal to his patriotism, but Joe Biden is, first and foremost, a textbook example of the stunted sort of man who has never discovered anything he cares about more than himself. Of course, the irony of such a man losing his position to Donald Trump would be practically Shakespearean.

    Democrats are already wandering onto the path of least resistance: the “parliamentary” strategy.

    Democrats terrified by Biden’s obvious disability and dreading his likely—at this point, very likely—loss to Trump but too cowardly to do the right thing and put the (political) knife in his back have a comforting story to tell themselves: “We don’t have to convince Americans that Biden is up to the job. We have to convince them that a Biden administration would be up to the job, that the Democratic agenda is preferable to the Republican agenda, that—the country having failed to collapse since 2021—there is no reason to suspect that it would collapse under a second Biden term. We’d have such figures as Antony Blinken and Janet Yellen keeping steady hands on the tiller while Rudy Giuliani and Peter Navarro languish in bankruptcy or jail or whatever, kept at a respectable safe remove from the levers of power. It’s us or those mean Republicans.”

    KDW goes on to explain that we're not living in a parliamentary democracy.

  • But in the meantime… Katherine Mangu-Ward asks a burning question in her leadoff editorial in the current print Reason: Does Anyone Care About the National Debt?

    There's a weird little bus stop at the corner of 18th and K streets in Washington, D.C. On the inside, a ticker tallies the national debt in real time, the glowing numbers whizzing by too quickly for the naked eye. On the outside, there's a printed poster with a round number for the total debt: $34 trillion at press time.

    I've lived in D.C. long enough to remember when changing that poster was a special occasion. But lately I've been checking regularly on my commute, since the trillions are racking up more quickly than they used to. The ink is barely dry on the current poster, yet the folks at the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, the fiscal responsibility nonprofit that maintains the display at the bus stop, will be due to roll out $35 trillion quite soon.

    The bus stop is a semidesperate attempt to convince Washingtonians to care about—or at least give a passing thought to—the national debt as we go about our business. The debt has become an alarm bell ringing in the distance that people are pretending not to hear, especially in the city that caused the problem.

    If, instead of making your way to 18th and K, you'd like to see the numbers rack up in real time, there is the U.S. National Debt Clock : Real Time.

  • And finally A recent WSJ LTE. from Mr. Jeff Sourbeer from Belleair, Fla.

    Sen. Elizabeth Warren believes that the nation would be better off if Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos were to cede 2% of their wealth annually to her control. She wants us to believe that, somehow, she’ll spend it more productively than they would.

    This makes as much sense as believing that the Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive productivity would benefit from giving her 2% of Patrick Mahomes’s allotted snaps from center.

    Stay in your lane, Ms. Warren.

    Good advice that (sigh) will not be heeded.

Poverty Sucks Too

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

Noah Smith is (even post-debate) a Biden fan. But he reminds me why I like him anyway in exposing The elemental foe.

I remember a particular scene out of a book that terrified me when I was seven years old. During an argument, some minor character talks about having been to Calcutta and having witnessed the desperate poverty there. He describes seeing beggars on the street, starving, covered in sores. That mental image stuck in my mind for weeks. Even as a child, having never myself known absolute poverty, I had an elemental terror of it.

To ask why some societies in the world are still poor is the wrong question. Poverty is the default condition, not just of humanity but of the entire Universe. If humanity simply doesn’t build anything — farms, granaries, houses, water treatment systems, electric power stations — we will exist at the level of wild animals. This is simply physics.

Look at pictures of the other planets in the solar system — sterile desolate rocks and poison gases baked by radiation. That is the natural state of most planets. Then look at animal existence in the wild places of the world — a constant desperate struggle for survival, where populations are kept in equilibrium only by starvation and predation. That is the natural state of most life. Then look at how humans lived for the vast majority of our history — indigent subsistence farmers forever skating on the rim of famine. That is the natural state of preindustrial humanity.

When we spin fantasies of our collective past, we write about kings and princesses, because they’re the only ones who lived lives we could even remotely relate to today. Even then, the comparison is only approximate — the mightiest emperor of yesteryear had plenty to eat, but lacked antibiotics, vaccines, flush toilets, or air conditioning.

I recommend his entire essay. The slightly surprising thing is that the word "capitalism" doesn't appear even once.

Also of note:

  • Channelling Edith Wilson… Jim Geraghty is (it's fair to say) aghast at Saturday's comments from Jill Biden: My Husband 'Is the Only Person for the Job'. Introducing him at a Long Island "tony fundraiser":

    “Joe isn’t just the right person for the job. He’s the only person for the job,” she declared.

    JG comments:

    I’m trying to think of a bigger metaphorical middle finger to Vice President Kamala Harris, and I’m coming up empty.

    Joe Biden is the only person for the job if your primary criteria for “the job” is keeping Jill Biden as first lady of the United States.

    Bottom line, or close to it::

    Forget being atop the ticket at the Democratic convention in Chicago; between the president’s doddering performance Thursday night, and the [Axios] description of his limited lucid hours, Kamala Harris should be president right now.

    Even with her brainless word salads, semi-profundities, and inappropriate cackling… she'd at least be more competent than Joe on a 24/7 basis.

  • But about that "metaphorical middle finger"… You have to wonder about Kamala's innermost feelz about Jill accidentally implying the stone cold truth: Dear, we never seriously considered you to be fit to replace Joe; you were just the right sex and color.

    The WSJ editorialists aren't quite that blunt, but almost: The Mess Democrats Have Made, Kamala Harris Edition. They essentially agree with Dr. Jill:

    The path out of this nightmare might be easier if not for another problem the press refused to recognize—that Kamala Harris wasn’t remotely qualified to be Vice President when Mr. Biden chose her. He had promised to pick a woman as his Vice President, and Mr. Biden selected Ms. Harris because she was a woman of color, not because of her qualifications.

    Ms. Harris had bombed as a presidential candidate, washing out after she couldn’t defend her own Medicare plan at a primary debate. She had risen to the Senate based on patronage. Yet she was hailed by Democrats and the press as the first woman of color on a national ticket, as if this were more important than someone who could do the job. Criticism of her failures on immigration, or of her frequent word salads, was said to be racist or sexist.

    It seems that Biden has decided to muddle on with his campaign. Even the MSM might be watching with heightened scrutiny, so I'm not sure if that can possibly work out for him. I guess we'll see.

  • A quick refresher from the Blogfather. Glenn Reynolds, of course, posting on a topic in his wheelhouse: Chevron, The Supreme Court, and the Law.

    Goodbye, Chevron deference. Larry Tribe is already mourning the Supreme Court’s overturning of NRDC v. Chevron, in the Loper Bright and Relentless cases, as a national catastrophe:

    Oh, the humanity!

    Well, speaking as a professor of Administrative Law, I think I’ll bear up just fine. I’ve spent the last several years telling my students that Chevron was likely to be reversed soon, and I’m capable of revising my syllabus without too much trauma. It’s on a word processor, you know. As for those academics who have built their careers around the intricacies of Chevron deference, well, now they’ll be able to write about what comes next. And if they’re not up to that task, then it was a bad idea to build a career around a single Supreme Court doctrine.

    The snark is enjoyably classic, but Glenn goes on to explain what the SCOTUS decisions actually mean without all the heavy breathing from the supporters of unaccountable bureaucracy.

  • Hayek the what now? Among the many things I never saw coming: a New Yorker essay entitled Hayek, the Accidental Freudian. It's by Brooklyn College Professor Corey Robin, and he claims this is his "favorite part":

    The great trial of Hayek’s life was his twenty-four-year marriage to Helena (Hella) Fritsch, much of which he spent trying to get out of. Caldwell and Klausinger devote the last three chapters of their biography to the divorce—and for good reason, even if they can’t see it. In Hayek’s anguished bid to end his marriage, we find, just as Freud would have anticipated, the private pathology of the public philosophy, the knowledge problem in practice. That we should discover those pathologies in a marriage is less remarkable than it might seem. From the treatises of antiquity to the novels of Jane Austen to the economics of Thomas Piketty, writers of all sorts have understood the overlap between unions of soul and contracts of need.

    Uh, fine. It will be interesting to see commentary from my fellow Hayek fans about the essay.