Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, July 29, 2022

Four Things

1. Thanks to Hacker News and The Verge I had a trip down memory lane in the form of their look back at Asus Eee PC-branded netbooks:

There were two products that arrived in 2007 that fundamentally changed computing: one, of course, was the iPhone. The second, obviously more important product was the $399 Eee PC 701. It originally ran a custom Linux operating system that reviewers loved (Laptop Mag's Mark Spoonauer said it was "ten times simpler to use than any Windows notebook") and was generally heralded as a new kind of computer with tremendous mass appeal. Spoonauer: "Pound for pound, the best value-priced notebook on the planet." [link omitted]
I bought one of these and and loved it.

The Verge piece argues that the netbook paved the way for the iPad, which is probably true in that most people used them to consume media.

But I found the form factor so useful for traveling -- and the iPad so not useful for so many of the things that I ended up using my netbook for -- that I would eventually buy a second netbook. And, when that bit the dust -- and that segment of the market had died -- I bought a Chromebook and installed Linux on it, with an assist from the wish-granting genie that is the internet. (I use an encrypted Micro SD card to have a decent amount of storage.)

It's five years old now and I use it far more often than the iPad I also own.

2. Illegible Work isn't just something an elementary teacher might write in red on a schoolboy's homework:
Asemic "writing" is beyond illegible! (Image by Marco Giovenale, via Wikimedia Commons, license.)
When James Scott uses the word legible, he doesn't refer to handwriting that is clear enough to read. He uses the word more broadly to mean something that is easy to classify, something that is bureaucrat-friendly. A thing is illegible if it is hard to pigeonhole. I first heard the term from Venkatesh Rao's essay "A Big Little Idea Called Legibility." [link omitted]
Cook, a consultant, goes on to note that much of his work is illegible.

He follows on with a crack about trying to search for his type of work on Google -- with terms that one wonders might cause more potential customers to land on his site.

3. The next time you want an electronic version of a classic that has passed into the public domain, know that Project Gutenberg is hardly the only game in town. A volunteer-driven, "low-profit LLC" project called Standard Ebooks is worth considering:
Standard Ebooks is a volunteer-driven effort to produce a collection of high quality, carefully formatted, accessible, open source, and free public domain ebooks that meet or exceed the quality of commercially produced ebooks. The text and cover art in our ebooks is already believed to be in the U.S. public domain, and Standard Ebooks dedicates its own work to the public domain, thus releasing the entirety of each ebook file into the public domain. All the ebooks we produce are distributed free of cost and free of U.S. copyright restrictions.
The landing page explains what makes them stand apart from other similar projects, including: modern typography, proofing and corrections, rich metadata, and support for some popular e-reader features (e.g., popup footnotes).

4. It's an oldy but a goody, and I found it one day when I was puzzled by a practice I see now and then and asked Why? The title just about says it all: Why do people (people) put numbers (numbers) in parentheses?

A sample:
I was reading an application for a grant program at our local library recently when I encountered a series of phrases that were couched in terminology that just set me afire with curiosity.

The author, who is a colleague of mine, had put Arabic numerals in parentheses after each mention of a number. For example:

The application shall be completed in three (3) parts, and with three (3) copies to be turned in by June 30, 2012.

I have always been irritated by this style of writing because it seems so insulting. Does the author think I'm stupid? Or do they think that I don't know my numbers?
I can't say, If you ever wanted to know where this came from, wonder no more, but I can still recommend the post for a good laugh.

-- CAV

Can 'Repeal' Improve the Political Debate?

Thursday, July 28, 2022

The time isn't right for a caucus (nor is one necessary), but ad hoc coalitions could improve things.


Over at Reason, Matt Welch proposes what he calls a "transpartisan repeal caucus," which would repeal horrible federal legislation that most Americans would want off the books anyway. He cites many examples, of which his first is the criminalization of marijuana:
We're not even talking about a constitutional amendment here... (Image by Judge Magazine, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain due to publication date.)
The federal government's decadeslong war on marijuana, one of the most life-mangling policies ever enacted, could be ended with a single sentence: The Controlled Substances Act shall not apply to marijuana.

Put it in a bill, vote on the bill, pass the bill, sign the bill, done. Much of the federal government's drug war law enforcement machinery would grind to a halt. No legislative horse-trading, no Christmas tree -- style gifts to favored constituencies, no giving old bureaucracies new responsibilities. Just the simple and urgent removal of the legal justification for grievous government harm. [links omitted, bold added]
There is much to be said for this idea, pro and con, and it sounds just feasible enough that I think it's worth looking at both.

Let's get con out of the way first, so we can better understand the merits: There is no current basis for anything like a permanent coalition -- as I take Welch's term caucus to imply. First, there is no widespread movement in favor of political freedom on which to base such a caucus. We see this most easily in the list of measures Welch come up with.

Can you imagine the same group of legislators voting for (or a President from either party signing) all of these? If that were possible, we'd have the basis we need for a political realignment of that group of legislators into a roughly pro-freedom party.

Second, the idea as Welch proposes it is unprincipled, as we can tell from Welch's own description of these laws as "anachronistic" -- a term I am pretty sure I have heard applied recently to the First and Second Amendments, and even to the Constitution as a whole.

Yes, the laws Welch enumerates inflict injustice, and should be repealed. But while they might have enjoyed support in the past, they were never a good idea because they violate individual rights. It is one thing to make a broad appeal to get one law or the other off the books: It is quite another to try to do this absent a unifying principle for a collection of laws as a whole.

That sort of unprincipled approach is a slippery slope to just holding a finger in the wind and voting with the majority on everything. Or to such an effort petering out in the same way (and for the same reasons) that efforts to curtail "fraud, waste, and abuse" in inherently fraudulent and abusive programs always do.

And this problem extends to the repeals themselves: Take that one-line "fix" Welch proposes for the Controlled Substances Act. Yes, it will greatly blunt the effects of that improper law, but it will leave it on the books. Worse, in the long run, this alone would leave unchallenged the idea that our government should be regulating what we put into our own bodies. There is no "fixing" a fundamentally bad law. (But read on: I'll come back to this later.)

So if the time is too early for a Repeal Caucus, or a coherent repeal agenda, or the complete abolition of some very bad law, what germs of a pro-freedom political strategy might there be in Welch's proposal?

First, Welch outlines something close to a way forward to get some blatantly horrible legislation off the books via more ad hoc coalitions of legislators, perhaps timed for a President more likely not to veto a given measure.

I would have no problem, for example, with getting marijuana de-listed as a controlled substance, so long as someone important in that effort made a strong case against the whole law, and framed that smaller "repeal" as a small step on the road to an actual repeal. (The lack of horse-trading would make it a lot easier, too.) That could pass a divided Congress and get signed by a Democrat President.

Second, I like the possibility that several of these efforts, if successful, could get the words repeal and abolish back into the political vocabulary of ordinary Americans. It is alarming how many people either (a) expect the government to control everything or (b) seem to regard bad laws as impossible to change. Perhaps, if actual pro-freedom advocates get involved, the phrase individual rights could become mainstream again. This might be a way to shift the Overton Window over time in addition to making our government less abusive.

Third, if some of these measures were passed, there would be real improvements in the lives of Americans, as there always are when there is more freedom.

That would be the best short-term effect, but I like the first two better. Long-term improvement of our political situation requires cultural change, and these political tactics cannot alone do much good. But they can buy time for that by loosening the noose of improper government a bit, and they can aid cultural change on the margins as I explained above.

-- CAV

Thanks for (Admitting You Were) Playing!

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Over at Illumination 2.0, horticulturalist Kevin Folta passes along an entertaining war story from his sideline as a science advocate.

Encountering a troll on Twitter (of all places!) Folta asked him "why someone would listen to aggressive hate groups" rather than a scientist in the field on the topic at hand. Rather than merely assert his expertise, he also provided a link to his C.V. so the troll could judge for himself whether he was qualified to speak about the subject at hand.

He got the following rare and very succinct admission:

I don't need to look at your "record" to know who you are
If ever there was an answer that relieved someone of the courtesy of excusing himself from a conversation, this was it!

Folta ends with the following advice:
They're not always this obvious! (Image by Mark König, via Unsplash, license.)
When people do not accept evidence and instead trash others based on what they [already] think, they don't deserve your time and attention... Spend your time influencing others that are willing to learn, and at least consider evidence before making decisions.
This is great advice. It's your life, and if you find it worthwhile to try to move the needle of our culture in the direction of improvement, keep your eyes on the prize. Not everyone like this troll will do you the favor of letting you know so quickly and clearly that they're wasting your time, but this example boils the issue down very nicely.

Many things can make it difficult to bear this in mind: the heat of the moment, a desire on one's part to respect etiquette, a generous desire to help others understand an issue better. Don't let such things cause you to forget what you're trying to do or the value of your time.

-- CAV

The Wicked Witch of the Right

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Usually, when leftists throw around terms like racist or Nazi, it is usually an ignorant smear of someone merely for disagreement. These terms have become all-purpose expressions of displeasure and admissions of ignorance, when they should be fighting words and should be reserved for people who actually deserve them.

And so it is that when I hear someone shout either term these days, it tells me a lot more about that person than about anything or anyone else.

Yesterday was different: I noticed that SheIsaNazi was trending on Twitter. Expecting merely the latest of many reasons to roll my eyes, I indulged my mild curiosity and instead found the following story, picked up by Yahoo! News from The Huffington Post: "Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene Says GOP 'Should Be Christian Nationalists' Party."

Strictly speaking, of course Greene isn't an actual Nazi, but the level of revulsion such a term warrants is well-deserved, because she is taking a bold stride towards that false alternative to socialism along the way to theocracy:

Image by United States Congress, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
"We need to be the party of nationalism and I'm a Christian, and I say it proudly, we should be Christian nationalists," she said in an interview with the conservative Next News Network while attending the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit in Florida.

Greene, who is known for her vocal religious beliefs and for imposing them on others, said the Republican Party should conform to Christianity to make it easier to identify with and sway Christian voters.

"When Republicans learn to represent most of the people that vote for them, then we will be the party that continues to grow without having to chase down certain identities or chase down certain segments of people," she said. "We just need to represent Americans and most Americans, no matter how they vote, really care about the same things and I want to see Republicans actually do their job."

Greene has made similar comments before, saying of Christian nationalism on a podcast last week: "I think that's an identity that we need to embrace, because those are the policies that serve every single American, no matter how they vote." [links omitted, bold added]
First, it's too bad that Greene doesn't understand or care what do their job -- i.e., preserve our freedom -- actually means in government.

Second, let that last bolded quote sink in for a moment and ask yourself if it sounds any different in substance from the various left-wing paternalist "health" or "climate" mandates they try to foist on us allegedly for our own good.

Pardon my French, but it is not the government's god damned job to tell me or you what to do.

This pro-freedom, patriotic atheist takes cold comfort in the fact that Greene has managed to offend even the people she fundamentally agrees with, such as by invoking Satan! -- the religious right's mirror image of Racism! -- when some Catholics did something she claims was against god's will:
Bill Donohue, President of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, called Greene "a disgrace," saying that "she slandered the entire Catholic Church."

"Satan is controlling the Catholic Church? She needs to apologize to Catholics immediately," Donohue said in the statement...

Donohue's remarks are in reaction to an interview Greene gave with the Church Militant, a Christian news organization, last week, first reported on by Salon's Kathryn Joyce.

James J. Martin SJ, a priest and the editor-at-large of the Jesuit magazine America, also condemned the freshman lawmaker.

"Marjorie Taylor Greene thinks the Catholic Church is controlled by Satan. She also believes that caring for the stranger is 'perverting the Gospel,'" Martin tweeted. "Jesus disagrees, saying that caring for the stranger is the Gospel (Mt 25). I'll side with Jesus." [links omitted, bold added]

A saying about murderers winning over pickpockets comes to mind: Greene remains in the Republican Party, and the Church is too weak to have her tried and condemned for heresy.

But her intemperate words have invited a priest to correct her in her own moral terms, while her real sin, of working to subject Americans to the whims of religious leaders, goes unnoticed under such camouflage.

This is anything but a "win" for America.

Greene is too blinded by power lust to know or care who stands to gain the most by introducing religion into politics. Hint from a very long period of history: Not Americans, not her, and not a supernatural being.

I have noticed since the latest poor rulings on religion by the Supreme Court -- against the right to an abortion, permitting faculty-led prayer at government schools, and giving tax money to religious schools -- that the worst theocratic elements in American politics have been emboldened.

Going forward, we can expect them to be just as strident as the far-left woke "Squad" and just as tone-deaf to what actual Americans really care about.

-- CAV

Broken Window Parable Applies to Thinking, Too

Monday, July 25, 2022

A recent Kansas City Star editorial from a libertarian/conservative think tank argues that the locale will likely not profit overall from hosting games from the 2026 World Cup, which the three largest nations in North America will be co-hosting.

Let me quickly get this out of the way: As a soccer fan and a patriot, it was great to see commentary on the World Cup that was neither (a) tribalistically against soccer on the grounds that it wasn't invented in the good ole U. S. of A., nor (b) tribalistically fanatical about fútbol for exactly the same reason.


The piece makes what many fiscal conservatives and libertarians will take to be a good economic case against hosting such events, based on Frédéric Bastiat's Broken Window parable, which the piece briefly summarizes. Writer Peter Jacobsen goes on to liken the tax funding for the stadium to money paid to fix said broken window:

Image by Pawel Czerwinski, via Unsplash, license.
The same problem exists with the World Cup. Cities must use resources obtained from taxpayers to win the bid for a World Cup. U.S. Soccer's aforementioned report estimates the cost per city in the hundreds of millions, though Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas claims the current cost is $50 million dollars in renovations to Arrowhead Stadium. But if history is anything to go by, this could be a big underestimation.

What Kansas City taxpayers would have used their money for is not something we can easily know. But it's easy to see how hotels, for example, may benefit from the World Cup. [link omitted]
While it is true that the money diverted towards this effort could have been spent on other things, that is not the fundamental issue this piece should have addressed. After all, we all have expenses pop up or even make choices about spending our money or time or attention that others might not.

Taxation, as a species of improper government coercion, is the real issue here, because it removes our control over our own money. There is nothing wrong with a piece showing how Bastiat's fallacy applies to major events, but this argument applies to anything funded by taxation.

Perhaps some readers, getting the hint from the book mentioned early on, will see that the same argument applies more generally to events like the Olympics or to "public" works projects like stadiums. Maybe a few might generalize even further. But I think this was overall an opportunity lost to point out that such efforts empty the pockets of some to enrich others (or for other purposes not our own).

In addition, and more interestingly, because the propriety of taxation is never challenged even in passing, the reader's imagination is taken up by this interesting analogy. The piece fails to either (a) rouse righteous indignation at the injustice of the funding scheme or (b) allow most people the space to imagine a better way of funding such events.

Perhaps large businesses could put together plans to fund such events profitably to themselves and partners without looting anyone. Indeed, under capitalism, whatever scheme to fund a World Cup, an Olympics, or a World Series would be entirely voluntary and the only people who would take a bath if it were unprofitable would be the people who decided to invest in making it happen.

Bastiat's parable applies not just to the money in your pocket, but also to what you spend your time and attention on.

-- CAV

Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, July 22, 2022

Blog Roundup

1. I found a recent post at Roots of Progress to be on the long side, but well worth the time. The post is primarily a collection of excerpts from the memoir of Vannevar Bush, head of U.S. military research during World War II.

Here is one of my favorites, which comes from the first section, "On Invention:"

Vannevar Bush (Image by OEM Defense, via Wikimedia, public domain as a work of the United States Government.)
An invention has some of the characteristics of a poem. Standing alone, by itself, it has no value; that is, no value of a financial sort. This does not mean that inventions -- or poems -- have no value. It is said that a poet may derive real joy out of making a poem, even if it is never published, even if he does not recite it to his friends, even if it is not a very good poem. No doubt one has to be a poet to understand this. In the same way an inventor can derive real satisfaction out of making an invention, even if he never expects to make a nickel out of it, even if he knows it is a bit foolish, provided he feels it involves ingenuity and insight. An inventor invents because he cannot help it, and also because he gets quiet fun out of doing so. Sometimes he even makes money at it, but not by himself. One has to be an inventor to understand this.
Incredibly, the above quote does not do justice to the post. Bush -- as one might expect from someone who integrated the work of countless inventors and teams of engineers, while (circum)navigating bureaucracy during a war -- has equally penetrating insights or shows qualities worth pondering in many other areas, as the groupings of the excerpts would indicate:
  • On Invention
  • On Leadership and Management
  • His Communication Style
  • On Society, War, and Politics
  • On the Spirit We Need
There are also a couple of interesting vignettes from his career.

But the best part of the post is that it is no mere teaser for an out-of-print, hard-to-get book. Jason Crawford notes that the book is once again widely available, and provides the obligatory Amazon link.

2. At Value for Value, Harry Binswanger discusses "What People Don't Understand About Inflation," starting with the misconception that people are unhappy to pay higher prices.

Along the way to proving his point are some worthwhile connections, among them:
One causal factor can counteract another. And that has been the story, I believe, for the last 20 years: technology's expansion of production has kept pace with the government's expansion of the fiat money. The result has been: little price inflation -- but with several other bad consequences, including a lower rate of progress.

Recently, however, the harm done by trillions showered down as "Covid relief" plus the decline in output due to shutdowns have overwhelmed technology's advance.

Despite the shutdown's interruption of production, the main cause of price inflation today is government's monetary expansion. The money supply has maybe doubled (it's nearly impossible to find any exact data), and the decline in production has been bad but not that bad. Remember, the U.S. government sent out thousands in the mail to virtually everyone. Plus there's the Fed's expansion through the banking system -- which has been required to keep interest rates near zero for years and years.
One tentative conclusion I draw from the post is that the price inflation we have suffered after the Trump-Biden monetary inflation might indeed be temporary -- if governments overall can resist further massive cash infusions. (But don't ask me to predict how long it might take for prices to stop rising.)

Watch for politicians who know nothing, have learned nothing, and certainly won't deserve praise -- to take credit if that happens.

3. At New Ideal, Elan Journo of the Ayn Rand Institute takes a much-needed look at the surprisingly widespread, but ridiculous belief that Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping are "charismatic and capable":
While Donald Trump was in office, he was one of Putin's superfans and apologists. Trump has described the Ukraine invasion as "genius," later praising Putin for having "taken over a country for $2 worth of sanctions."

This is a severe misreading, and the most obvious evidence can be seen in the battlefields of Ukraine. The reputedly formidable Russian military has struggled against courageous Ukrainians fighting in self-defense. It can also be seen in the extraordinary scale and extent of international sanctions imposed on Russia. But this misreading goes deeper than a strategy that backfired. [links in original]
Notably, there is an outstanding quote by pianist Evgeny Kissin regarding how Putin's War (and likely years of his misrule) could have been avoided simply by the West having done what it's doing now in Ukraine at any number of earlier, very similar points.

4. Brian Phillps of the Texas Institute for Property Rights comments on conservative attacks on freedom of speech being made in the name of freedom of speech:
Ironically, conservatives fought for repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, which forced broadcasters to air both sides of an issue. The repeal of that regulation allowed Rush Limbaugh, as well as other conservatives, to express his views without sharing his microphone with those he disagreed with. Today, conservatives are fighting to apply their version of the Fairness Doctrine to social media companies. They want to force social media companies to allow ideas with which they disagree. The Fairness Doctrine was wrong when it was applied to broadcasters, and it will be equally wrong if it is applied to social media companies.
Almost as ironic, the Republican party has often been happy to pose as defenders of property rights, which they are also attacking when they go after "censorship" (which it isn't) by "big media."

-- CAV

Donald Trump vs. the Midterm Wave?

Thursday, July 21, 2022

At The Hill, Bill Press argues that Donald Trump will likely announce his 2024 presidential campaign in September, just ahead of the midterm congressional elections. Press, who acknowledges that Biden won the last election on the basis of Not Being Trump, sees this, as an early Christmas present to the unpopular Democrat:

Donald Trump plans to make a splash this September. (Image by Shawn Lea, via Wikimedia Commons, license.)
Biden himself admitted that to The New York Times, as Mark Leibovich reports in his rollicking new book, Thank You for Your Servitude. Asked by Leibovich early in the 2020 primary why he was running again, Biden didn't list his own qualifications for office. Instead, he said simply: "I think it's really, really, really important that Donald Trump not be reelected."

Now Biden and every Democratic candidate can make that argument all over again. They don't even have to wait till 2024. They can make it now, starting in 2022. Before anything else, every Republican candidate will have to answer one question: Will you support Donald Trump in 2024?

Once he announces, the midterms will become a national referendum on Trump. That's the last thing Republicans want, but it's great news for Biden. [bold added]
Press isn't off his rocker here, but he's ignoring the small matter of how the 2020 election went down-ticket: Despite Trump's national rebuke, the Republicans gained 14 seats in the House, and might have ended up with a majority in the Senate had Georgia not elected two Democrats thanks in part to Trump's bellyaching there after his loss and the weak candidate he backed in David Perdue. (More on weak, Trump-backed Senate candidates later.)

In other words, voters were rejecting Trump, and not necessarily his party. And the 2020 election was certainly anything but an enthusiastic buy-in by voters to the far-left agenda Biden has tried to govern on ever since.

Indeed, the fact that everyone, Press included, is talking about a wave election in 2022 is due to this agenda, whose consequences voters will have felt not just when Trump announces, but every time they have bought gas or paid bills for months before.

And, barring a remarkable change on Biden's part -- I'm not holding my breath. -- they will keep feeling those consequences all day, every day until November.

I think it's safe to say that the election will remain largely a referendum on the Democrats' tone-deaf and destructive "climate" (read: anti-energy) and fiscal policies. I don't see even abortion rights mattering as much as they should, because I cannot see the Democrats campaigning effectively on that issue -- which, frankly, should have been Christmas in June for the Democrats.

So I don't think Trump's announcement will help the Democrats, although I think lots of them will imagine it to, and take the excuse to avoid reconsidering their priorities on merit or even popularity.

But has Trump already given the Democrats a 2020-like assist with the Senate? I have lately seen several pieces like this one regarding about a handful of terrible GOP Senate candidates, which include three Trump-backed oddities and another MAGA type Republican. These four are already weak enough in my view that they might not need Trump's hovering around to lose. With Trump around to remind everyone what his brand of dumpster fire is like, they might become easy pickings.

My verdict on a September Trump announcement is that it probably won't help the Democrats that much in the House, but it could stop the GOP from taking the Senate.

That said, I find this news very unwelcome for a number of reasons, but here are two this piece brings up for me. First, the Democrats will feel like they have a Get Out of Jail Free card (as noted above), so no soul-searching by them. Second, many Republicans will indulge in the same kind of wishful thinking in reverse: They'll win despite Trump, and whatever waning of his toxic influence over that party there has been will end for the time being.

So Trump probably won't affect electoral results much more than he already has by announcing, but he will stop a lot of much-overdue rethinking by both parties.

-- CAV

Can Germany Nuke General Winter? Will It?

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

For at least the second time (that I know of) since the start of the "hot" phase of Putin's War, Germany is "reconsidering" its foolish decision to shutter its nuclear plants. This comes about after Russia used a transparently false declaration of force majeure to excuse itself from honoring its agreements to supply natural gas to Germany, which it started breaking a month ago.

John Sexton of Hot Air notes a peculiar mirror-image excuse by Green apologists in Germany for why nuclear wasn't adopted the first time:

[T]he pushback to this view is that Germany's problem isn't a lack of electricity it's a lack of heat. Even if you kept the nuclear plants operating all winter, unless every German home has electric space heaters to replace the gas they usually rely on for heat, it's not going to matter.
Image modified from work by Louis Bombled of La Petite Journal, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain due to publication date.
All you need to know is that the same people making that argument are the ones who pretend that replacing gasoline in cars and trucks is a simple matter of switching all of them to electricity -- while at the same time trying to put generation sources for said electricity that are actually reliable, cheap, and plentiful off-limits -- and while also complaining that windmills kill birds and solar panels ruin views.

Greens are at best catastrophically unserious people.

Sexton is not unaware of the irony:
In the end it's almost a mirror image of Russia claiming there's a technical problem when really there's a political problem using a technical problem as a fig leaf.
Indeed. On top of that, while an unprofitable infrastructure would have to be built to support electric cars, space heaters -- the technology to alleviate the gas deficit -- can be readily supplied by even Germany's semicapitalist economy.

Anyone with a grain of sense can tell that Russia -- with the aid and comfort of the environmental movement -- is using Germany's energy dependence as a weapon, diabolically reassigning General Winter from his erstwhile defensive duties.

Germany may have time to step back from the brink of a winter catastrophe, but I am no expert on resurrecting mothballed or retired power plants. Either way, Germany will learn that Green energy policy is deadly. Whether that is a lesson learned just in time or too late at at the expense of German lives remains to be seen.

I hope they change their minds and that they still have time to act.

-- CAV

Herschel Walker Reminds Me of a President...

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

The New Yorker has run a piece attacking Herschel Walker, who is running as the Republican challenger to Senator Raphael Warnock.

As a liberty-loving American, I see that race as lose-lose: Both candidates are horrendous and come with plenty of personal baggage. Even judging who is worse is so difficult that I'd consider sitting that election out if I were a Georgian.

And that would be true even if Walker weren't basically a theocrat.

Consider the first paragraph:

Trump's post-electoral antics helped elect Walker's opponent, Raphael Warnock (above). (Image by Rebecca Hammel (U.S. Senate Photographic Studio), via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.)
A week ago, the Republican Party's nominee for the United States Senate from Georgia explained his opposition to the Green New Deal. Given the decades of Republican denials, obfuscations, and outright falsehoods on the subject of climate change, it would be difficult for nearly any G.O.P. candidate's erroneous comments to stand out. It was a challenge Herschel Walker, a former N.F.L. star, was ready to meet. He explained, "Since we don't control the air, our good air decided to float over to China's bad air, so when China gets our good air, their bad air got to move. So it moves over to our good air space. Then, now, we got to clean that back up." [link omitted]

If anything can make an arguably genocidal prescription for poverty like the Green New Deal sound like it deserves serious consideration, it's opposition like that. (In Walker's defense, this isn't much worse than the timidity and evasion many other Republicans have offered in the face of the green anti-energy agenda.)

Walker might vote the way I'd like on that issue, but the last thing we need is a know-nothing like this as face of the side of technological progress in this life-and-death issue. As we saw through an entire term of Donald Trump, such rambling is worse than merely squandering a chance to make a pro-freedom, pro-prosperity, pro-human flourishing case for the continued use of fossil fuels and nuclear power: It gives people like the author of this New Yorker piece fodder to smear their opponents. Perhaps the lone saving grace is that Walker, unlike Trump, doesn't seem to go out of his way to antagonize anyone.

As with his backing of the tele-quack Mehmet Oz in the Pennsylvania Senate race, Trump has shown his contempt for appealing to the intelligence of the voter, as well as his contempt for expertise as such all at once.

This might win elections in the short term, but it will cost minds in the long term, and that's what America ultimately need to change course -- as her founding pamphleteers showed so eloquently in the years leading up to our Revolution.

And this brings me to the end of the last paragraph of this piece:
No one in the G.O.P. leadership can possibly believe that Walker is fit to hold a Senate seat, but the hope -- as dangerous as it is cynical -- is that he may be able to win one. And that joke would most certainly be on us. [bold added]
Get a load of this, coming from someone who is holding himself out as thoughtful and on the right side of history, as it were. His description of the inarticulate Walker and the cynicism behind the GOP backing him reminds me of nothing so much as the Democratic nomination of the senile and no less inarticulate Joe Biden for the Presidency.

It's true that Trump despises rational political debate, but it is clear to me that the Democrats also do.

Both "sides" at this point simply want power and are nakedly grasping for it -- as witness the strange, short-range willingness of each side to support candidates that are basically gifts to the other side.

Unless one party improves or is replaced by a better one, it is America that will keep losing in every election.

-- CAV

Sullivan on DeSantis

Monday, July 18, 2022

Andrew Sullivan writes one of the best assessments of Ron DeSantis as presidential material I have read so far. Regulars know that I regard him as probably the most viable Republican candidate for President in 2024, but that I have deep misgivings about him, particularly on freedom of expression and economic freedom.

Sullivan would seem to agree with me overall, but is less inclined to view DeSantis as fascistic and -- although he sees DeSantis's environmental record as a virtue -- he in fact highlights another reason to be cautious about Florida's Governor.

Regarding Sullivan's assessment of whether DeSantis is a "fascist," he has a more left-tinged notion of the term than I, and he is comparing DeSantis to contemporary figures, most of whom have fascist tendencies. For example:

More generally, look at the broader context. The imposition of woke dogma throughout corporate America, the government, the nonprofit sector and our educational institutions has been a deeply authoritarian movement, brooking no dissent. The Democrats have embraced this putsch, with Biden among the most strident, deploying federal government power to advance far-left ideas. None of his underlings can define what a woman is. All seem to view America as a form of "white supremacy" -- and want to teach this as fact to kids. Do Democrats really believe that all this is simply government-as-usual, and any attempt to balance this out on the right is inherently some kind of authoritarianism? I don't.

At some point, we really do have to fight back and defend a liberal society. The Dems are attacking it. Trump can't do it -- he merely empowers and legitimizes the woke. DeSantis has shown he can actually beat them -- at their own game. A conservative seeking some swing of the cultural pendulum back to the center is not a fascist.
I don't agree with all of this, but Sullivan has a point, and I think significant numbers of people will see things this way.

And here's something Sullivan likes and will make DeSantis more viable with greenish voters:
This prospect bothers me, but not as much as a Green New Deal. (Image by a cartoonist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.)
Trump believes climate change is a Chinese hoax, and, given the chance, would cover our national parks with condos and oil rigs. DeSantis is a governor in a state where rising sea levels and floods are real, so Trumpian insanity is a non-starter. "I will fulfill promises from the campaign trail," DeSantis said shortly after taking office...

This year he followed through -- with more than $400 million in funds for containing rising sea levels...

So far, DeSantis is not that far from the "Teddy Roosevelt conservationist" he claimed to be. Yes, he's mainly focused on responding to, rather than preventing, climate change -- "Resilient Florida" is the slogan. And he's allergic to green uplift or catastrophism. But another Trump? Nope.
This recalls a quote I recall to the effect that he planned to fight global warming without "doing any left-wing stuff."

"Teddy Roosevelt" concerns me, but I will grant that he may be the best we can expect on environmental/energy issues in today's context. This is another factor about the man to consider.

Sullivan also notes other things: We don't really know where DeSantis stands on abortion, Putin's War, or the January 6 riots. Sullivan calls him a coward at least on that last.

I think this article is a must-read because I agree that DeSantis is the most viable alternative so far to a second term of either Joe Biden (who will beat Trump head-to-head if 2024 is a rematch) or Donald Trump (who will defeat any other Democrat as things stand now).

We need better and can get different. The big question is whether DeSantis is both of these.

-- CAV

Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, July 15, 2022

Four Things

1. I am in the process of replacing my laptop and will need to be able to use Windows from time to time. Almost by accident, I learned that I might be able to install Windows 11 without additional payment by using a Windows 7 Pro license I bought eons ago. I'm leaning towards dual boot, rather than virtualization.

2. As with almost anything that reaches fad status, might it be time to forget about "checklist productivity?" It's certainly easy to find articles that deride the whole idea or think pieces about the blind spots of its major proponents.

I have yet to find a productivity system that has everything figured out and I adopt things that actually help. When Getting Things Done had its day in the sun, I adopted lots of it, but not all. And I kept only parts of that, often modifying those.

Case in point: On a recent bit of traveling, my evolving checklist for travel saved me from (1) forgetting swim gear, (2) being without soap during my very early morning routine, and (3) forgetting to tell my wife to put the trash out the day before my "garbage day" return. It also helped me remember which exit number to take for the best pit stop in Tallahassee and it will help me remember a handy alternate route I found in a town I often visit the next time I'm there.

Checklists don't solve every problem, but it is just as ridiculous to dismiss them as it is to expect them to be a panacea.

Image by me. Feel free to use it yourself. Attribution appreciated.
3. There's nothing like making what I regard as my signature dish (scroll down for recipe) at a family gathering and see practically everyone go for seconds. I do not solicit compliments for my cooking, but one of my brothers called this crawish etouffee a "home run."

I don't make this at home very often because my wife, a super taster, very easily gets put off by shellfish that are off in any small way. (I have, over the years, had this happen with crawfish and shrimp, and never noticed a problem myself.)

I made double the recipe at the link for a group of twelve and, despite the seconds, there were lots of leftovers.

The recipe reflects my background as a geek and as a Southerner: I dumped the commonalities of over a dozen recipes into a spreadsheet so I could "average" them and I picked a few distinctive touches in the process of making my own recipe.

4. For comic relief, see if you can guess the answer to this question at Stack Exchange: "Why do people not notice our enormous, prominent, clear and contrasting purple banner?"

There is even a term for it, as you might guess. As a bonus, the questioner includes a screen shot with the ineffective signpost circled in red.

Yep. I'd have missed it, too!

-- CAV

When 'Fact-Checking' Is Smearing

Thursday, July 14, 2022

A couple of days ago, I ran across a debunking that still has me scratching my head a little, so I am going to think out loud about it now.

Image from MSN. I believe my use of this image for commentary to be protected under US copyright law as fair use.
It concerns the map shown here, which was obviously created by superimposing a map of the Mediterranean and Black Seas over one of North America. It shows that the Med would fit comfortably within the borders of the Lower 48 States. Neato!

That's vaguely interesting, and perhaps worth a tweet, but I wouldn't call that newsworthy. Perhaps a step up from there in terms of interest, and perhaps genuinely newsworthy, there were apparently thousands of people who tried to pass this off as -- or perhaps even believed it to be -- a projection of the consequences of sea level rise due to global warming climate change the "climate crisis."

I am no journalist, but if there's a story here, it might concern the appalling lack of basic geographical knowledge imparted by our mostly state-run educational system.

Or, given that most semi-educated adults have seen those two maps all over the place numerous times, there might be a story -- à la Leonard Peikoff's The DIM Hypothesis. That one would concern what would be an even more staggering apparent inability of large swathes of the American population to retain or make even the most basic connections between things that ought to be common knowledge.

So what do the legacy media do? They have a crack team of learned and indefatigable "fact-checkers" perform and publish a piece that is part (a) rectal exam of the ridiculous claim about sea level rise and (b) rehash of context-free claims regarding sea level rise due to global warming that will occur unless we quit using fossil fuels.

It is revealing that they seem to think that a significant portion of the U.S. adult population would not take one look at this map and be struck by the startling coincidence that, if we flooded the U.S. enough, we'd get the boot of Italy right smack in the center of our map. Or, perhaps if they did see the coincidence, they'd stop there and not wonder if someone were pulling their leg.

If they are writing for such people, how do they expect to get through to them? And if not, for whom do they write?

With today's propagandists who pose as journalists, just about the only thing I might find more remarkable than someone missing the boot of Italy would be someone who hasn't heard -- in the news, on the order of ten million times -- something to the effect that the world is ending in a decade and the only way to stop it from happening is to quit using fossil fuels post-haste.

I think this article is aimed squarely at those who accept such claims and at those who aren't sure, but are receptive to them, for two different reasons.

For the first group, this is red meat. Look at those denialist rubes! They're clueless about geography -- just like they're clueless about everything else! Hooray for me! By contrast, members of the global warming catastrophist camp can bask in their own smug status as thoughtful and well-informed while they listen to the laundry list of catastrophes that they don't have to be told about like it was the first time they ever heard of it. Boy! MSN really took them to the woodshed! This is a sort of mini-pep talk for them.

Somewhat similarly, the second group is reminded that they'll be smeared as near-illiterates if they don't buy the prescription for the crisis so excruciatingly spelled out -- column space and today's lax standards of argument permitting. This is yet another small bullying attempt on them. Nobody likes being regarded as an idiot, and on this one, lots of people will just go along because it feels easier.

The rest of us -- who are well-informed and know it, who are decently-educated and know it, who have formed dissenting opinions from the anti-energy orthodoxy and know why we have -- are mostly left to roll our eyes at what has become a commonplace in social media and journalism: Yet another session of bizarre nitpicking seemingly directed at people who can't walk and chew gum at the same time, mixed in with a sermon about a left-wing article of faith.

It would take at least a book or two to push back against climate catastrophism and refute the prescription for disaster that always comes with it, so I'll content myself by quoting the following "Snappy Answer" to the prospect of rising sea levels:
Q: Even if we've been able to adapt to CO2 rises so far, won't further change be overwhelming?

A: The pessimistic UN is talking about a few degrees of warming and a few feet of sea level rises over a century. We can adapt to that with today's tech, let alone future tech.
There is no mention of this in the "fact checking" piece, nor of the overwhelming benefits of continued and increasing fossil fuel use (of which emissions are a side-effect by comparison), nor of the benefits of a warmer climate, even if to question them. See the Talking Points or the books (linked above) for that and more, including an examination of how faulty the thinking on climate is on the part of most mainstream intellectuals and influencers.

Today in Sri Lanka -- collapsing under its 98% ESG rating -- and Russian's hostage, Germany, we are seeing the beginnings of what life would be like if we "left it in the ground" to the degree these "fact checkers" would have it.

You can be 100% correct about anything, but that knowledge can be worse than useless if it is misapplied, such as to advocate a destructive policy like ending fossil fuel use absent a credible replacement.

-- CAV

Canadian Agriculture in Green Crosshairs

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Issues and Insights warns that Canada is close to emulating the disastrous synthetic fertilizer cuts that have thrown Sri Lanka into starvation and chaos:

Image by the Executive Office of the President of the United States, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
Don't think that it can't happen here. Canada, which exports tens of billions of dollars of agricultural products to the U.S. every year and is, unfortunately, "led" by boy Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, plans to force nitrogen cuts that will "decimate Canadian farming." And also don't think such a truly rancid idea won't easily make it across the border to Washington and blue state capitals itching to put more restrictions on an ostensibly free people to carry out their eco-madness.

Meanwhile, a year after announcing the country would become the world's first 100% organic nation, Sri Lanka is a "nation wrecked by green agricultural policies." Its agriculture sector is in such ruins that the country is begging Russia and India for fuel, the economy has collapsed, and there's not enough money to buy food. The Sri Lankan president, whose palace was stormed, will leave office Wednesday, and the outgoing prime minister as well as dozens of other politicians have nowhere to live because hungry and desperate protesters have burned down their houses. [bold added, links omitted]
For those wanting more detail, Michael Shellenberger nicely summarizes Sri Lanka's quick, green-induced descent from emerging nation to basket case at Common Sense with Bari Weiss. I applaud his doing so: News coverage of this aspect of the crisis is often so bad as to be tantamount to a coverup.

-- CAV

GOP Officially out of Ideas

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

"It was not a Government that built up the skill and craft of this country ... [i]t was private individuals..." -- Margaret Thatcher

"Note to Republicans: The above also applies to America." -- Me


Gavin Newsom has been running attack ads against Ron DeSantis, much to the glee of Republicans:
The model of government currently en vogue in both parties has failed every time it has been tried. (Image by Evan Fitzer, via Unsplash, license.)
Besides the fact that under DeSantis' leadership, the Florida population has grown, and under Newsom's leadership, for the first time ever in California, the population shrunk in 2020 and 2021, it seems clear that DeSantis would trounce Newsom in important swing states. Democrats might not see it that way; the GOP should encourage that. They should want Newsom to run for President because his whole platform will be about guns and abortion -- no problem-solving solutions.

Newsom would run the country just like he ran San Francisco as its mayor, and now the state of California: an ineffective 'leader' who has made the homelessness crisis worse by not having mental health workers readily available to treat those in need, by the lack of rehabilitation centers for the homeless
, and as much as the rescue missions are trying to help and reduce homelessness, it is continuously increasing due to Newsom's ineffectiveness, and horrible leadership. Forty percent of small businesses were forced to shut down during the COVID-19 lockdowns.

That may not translate to the national level; however, his inability to run the fifth-largest economy in the world while having homelessness worsen, rampant crime due to Prop 47, and district attorneys like George Gascon, both of which Newsom supported, making people feel unsafe. His ineffectiveness in leading on several major issues might cause more damage than any President has before. [bold added]
Set aside for a moment the theocratic objections to abortion and look at what passes for a critique of Newsom's poor record as governor of California: no problem-solving solutions, would run the country just like ... California, his inability to run the fifth-largest economy in the world.

There is no mention of freedom, let alone "fiscal restraint" or an objection (however weak) to "regulatory 'overreach'", or even "small government." (The only mention of "freedom" in the whole piece -- aside from Newsom's embedded tweet -- is an assertion in another embedded tweet that Florida is a "citadel of freedom.")

This is not a failure to mention freedom so much as an embrace of the nanny state, as witness the blame for Newsom not running it well, for example: [He] made the homelessness crisis worse by not having mental health workers readily available to treat those in need.

Volumes have been written about the roots of the homelessness crisis in the welfare state. An entire party is scorning an opportunity to do something besides run as a more "competent" Democrat/bureaucrat here.

Conversely -- and as I have noted before -- DeSantis isn't talking at all about reducing spending or even taxation. Instead, he's quite happy to use taxation to go after political opponents. You could plead that a Californian who contested the welfare state premise would never get elected there -- but this is Florida.

And it's not just this piece. You can see the complete absence of the "fiscal conservatism" "leg" of Ronald Reagan's three-legged stool everywhere. Here's an example from a prominent Trumpist blog:
It sure would be nice if Pete [Buttigieg] applied so much energy and planning into this current job as Secretary of Transportation. There is still a supply chain problem, as well as travel nightmares in airports, for example. There is no need to say that Buttigieg can walk and chew gum at the same time because we are painfully aware that no one in this administration can do that. It seems to have taken the cancellation of one of his own flights to realize that there is a problem with air travel. This is the least aware administration I can ever remember.
One would think that if America just had a better Transportation Czar (or Magic Donald were in charge), all our "supply chain" and transportation issues would evaporate with the wave of a government wand.

I am painfully aware that we live in a mixed economy, and so there is legitimate room to criticize the likes of Newsom and Buttigieg on the grounds of diligence or competence, but only up to a point. There is only so much a functionary can do to alleviate these problems: Ultimately, government caused these problems, and long-term only (a) it getting out of the way and (b) time will solve them, as far as government is concerned.

Republicans -- having been lobotomized by Trump -- now pass this point regularly to go for the electoral jugular while not bothering to add even a perfunctory acknowledgment to the fact that America was not built by government nor can it be run by government nor should it be run by government.

They are choosing the short-sighted and unprincipled tack of running on "competence" and indulging in magical thinking to the effect that it is even possible for a government official to, say run the largest economy in the world.

The job of government is far from "running" private lives: It is to create the conditions necessary for countless private individuals to be able to do so: individual freedom and rule of law.

It will be cold comfort to see the Democrats dumped from office in the next election if we merely get more of the same -- but with a Christian-themed paint job --from the Republicans.

-- CAV

P.S. Regarding the attack ads, it pains me to say that Newsom is not wrong to attack DeSantis for his theocratic and anti-free-speech tendencies. It is too bad that such criticisms are made inexpertly and come from a petty tyrant like him, because it makes it easy for many people to ignore or dismiss them.

Alaska: A Test Case for Ranked-Choice?

Monday, July 11, 2022

At Hot Air is an interesting analysis of poll results that shows how Alaska's mixed-party, ranked-choice primary voting system could torpedo the House campaign of Trump-endorsed Sarah Palin -- and yet save the moderate Lisa Murkowski's Senate campaign:

Image by Tomruen, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
If in fact Murkowski ends up winning narrowly while Palin ends up losing, it could have long-term consequences for how states in the lower 48 hold their primaries in the future. Ranked-choice voting has been touted as a moderating influence on elections for the obvious reason that voters in each party will prefer the moderate option in the other party as their second choice instead of fringier types. Murkowski getting reelected and Palin getting sent home would be proof of concept. Centrists in both parties will begin agitating for ranked-choice systems in their own states to try to keep the crazies on both sides out of office. [bold added]
The biggest caveat is that Alaska's larger-than-average share of independent voters might make this more likely to happen there than elsewhere.

This independent voter finds the idea tempting in the intermediate term since basically all of the "crazies" (read: most consistent and possibly most principled) from each party are extremely anti-freedom these days.

But consider what might happen in a generation or so, if pro-freedom ideas begin to take root widely-enough that the views of one party's "crazies" more closely resemble those of the Founding Fathers. Would ranked choice voting marginalize such candidates -- or would there be enough desire for freedom left in America that it would favor such candidates? I could see such candidates siphoning votes from both parties. That is an interesting question, and one I am hardly prepared to answer.

-- CAV

Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, July 01, 2022

I'm taking next week off for the holiday and for travel. I'll be back on July 11. In the meantime, there's lots here to keep you busy.

Happy Independence Day!


Notable Commentary

"A fetus is not an independently existing, physically self-sufficient being that can have rights." -- Agustina Vergara Cid, in "Government Should Not Interfere With the Right to an Abortion" (The Orange County Register)

"We can accomplish much more freeing America's energy sector from overregulation than turning to authoritarians like Maduro or Putin." -- Agustina Vergara Cid, in "The U.S. Should Never Turn to Tyrants Like Maduro for Our Energy Needs" (The Orange County Register)

"Ideas have consequences, and there are some pretty bad ideas about raising children that have caught on in our culture thanks to John Dewey." -- Charlotte Cushman, in "Yes, Transgender Transformation Is Child Abuse" (The American Thinker)

"[W]hen they arrived in the city, many found that the health codes on their phone apps had mysteriously turned from green to red -- indicating they would be forbidden to travel around the city." -- Paul Hsieh, in "How Public Health Technology Can Be Misused to Stifle Dissent" (Forbes)

"Ideally, Congress should repeal the PTAB and return to the system of private property rights that successfully spurred the U.S. innovation economy for over 200 years." -- Adam Mossoff, in "Innovation and Leviathan: The Patent System Is Assimilated Into the Growing Administrative State" (PDF, The Heritage Foundation)

"If the city keeps reducing real rents by capping increases below the inflation rate (as it is doing now), and if inflation continues for more than a few years, we will see building abandonments once again." -- Raymond Niles, in "The Perpetual Tragedy of New York's Rent Control" (The American Institute for Economic Research)

"I have written extensively about nonmonetary forces driving up prices: mandatory useless ingredients, lockdown whiplash, green energy restrictions, trade war and tariffs, and actual war in Ukraine." -- Keith Weiner, in "Will Interest Rate Hikes Fix Inflation?" (SNB & CHF)

Johnny Carson Interviews Ayn Rand

Via EconLib:
The Ayn Rand Institute recently posted Johnny Carson's 26-minute interview of Ayn Rand, aired in August 1967. This was his first of 3 interviews with her.
There, David Henderson further notes, "there’s a substantial probability that I would be neither an economist nor an American if I hadn’t read her when I was 16 and almost 17."

The interview starts a bit awkwardly, but develops a good flow soon after, and I agree with Henderson that the questions were good.

The following quote by Rand brought back memories:
.. I find that young people particularly in colleges are enormously anxious to find rational answers... [T]hey need the quest for understanding, for an integrated consistent view of life... If you begin to speak to them about faith or religion or any form of mysticism, most of them will not listen with great interest.
This reminds me of what I thought heading into college:
Faith is the Church's shortcut for dealing with people who can't understand the arguments for religion I told myself -- until I got there and saw that it was all they really had.
Thank God, so to speak, that I encountered Ayn Rand back then!

-- CAV


: Corrected return date from July 13 to July 11.