Film & TV

A Sad Finale

Peter Dinklage stars in the Game of Thrones series finale. (Helen Sloan/HBO)

Spoilers Ahead.

Look, I share David’s love of Game of Thrones. But I thought the finale was largely a bust, for failings David mostly acknowledges in passing (but does not allow to dampen his ardor). The problems with the finale were largely the problems of this entire season. Characters that had been carefully developed over the years, were turned into almost allegorical plot-advancement devices. Subplots that had been teased for just as long were relegated to the dustbins of “Whatever happened with . . . ” “What was the point of . . . ” and “Aw, just forget it.”

The second most interesting event — how the Unsullied and others reacted to Jon’s betrayal of Dany — was skipped entirely. We just fast-forwarded past what would have seemed like the disappearance of the Mother of Dragons. After all, Jon could have easily just walked out of King’s Landing after telling everyone, “Dany went for a tour of her kingdom with Drogon.” Did Jon just walk up to Grey Worm and say, “I offed her”? He might have, given his tendency to bluntly tell the truth when he shouldn’t. But if he did, why would Grey Worm agree to arresting the assassin rather than kill him on the spot? Never mind all of the fascinating debates that might have transpired since Jon was in fact the rightful heir to the throne and could have justified his actions against the pretender Dany. Obviously the Dothraki and the Unsullied don’t much care about the line of succession, but that would have just made everything more intriguing. Of course, the Dothraki ceased being sentient humans a long time ago. This season they might as well have been photon torpedoes for all the agency they had.

That brings me to the most interesting event — which should have actually been, you know, interesting.

Grey Worm brings Tyrion to the Council of the Lords of Westeros and the moment Tyrion starts talking, Grey Worm says “Shut up, you have no voice here” or words to that effect. So far so good. Tyrion agrees but then keeps talking anyway and Grey Worm, now no more than a plot-advancement device, not only lets him, but lets him devise a scheme that anoints a new king, a new system of government and a new — or rather old — job for Tyrion as Hand of the King (again!). Sam’s pitch for democracy came dismayingly close to breaking the fourth wall. He might as well have yelled, “Shut up woke Twitter gadflies, no democracy for you!” I did like the humiliation of the Tully fop. But everything else was ridiculous. As I’ve written before, the thing I loved most about Game of Thrones was the way it took politics seriously in a realm markedly lacking in idealism. The idea that all of the Lords of Westeros wouldn’t even say, “Give me a week to think about it” before agreeing to an entirely new political order with a creepy, emotionless, mystical cripple as the new monarch is absurd. So was Grey Worm’s instant acquiescence to the scheme, particularly given that five minutes after the meeting he was leaving Westeros anyway. Why couldn’t Jon just wait for the Unsullied ships to disappear before saying, “Screw all that” I’m not going to the Night’s Watch – which frickn’ doesn’t exist anymore and doesn’t need to. I know, I know, he gave his word. But come on.

And then, when Sansa says, “Yeah, no. We’re staying independent” why didn’t any of the other Lords say, “Uh, if she’s not joining neither are we?” I’m not saying they couldn’t be persuaded, but in the world built so carefully over the first few seasons, the idea that they wouldn’t even need persuasion is preposterous. The EU is more against Brexit than the Lords were against the largest chunk of the Seven Kingdom’s breaking away.

 Also, as Ross Douthat notes on the special GLOP podcast we recorded this morning, what the Hell is going to happen with Bran? He’s the Three-Eyed-Raven. The last one lived for like a thousand years. Will he rule that long? Is no one interested in asking that question? Will he be more loyal to his Three Eyed Raven agenda or to the country? Will he merge with a tree? What is the Three Eyed Raven agenda? Why is his story so much more compelling than, say, Arya’s or Gendry’s or Sansa’s? He did jack all to fight the Night King. When it was go time he didn’t Warg into a dragon or wolf or even a particularly burly Dothraki. He just said, “I’m going to take a piss in the astral plane. Good luck fighting the dead, losers.” Ross rightly argues that Bran represented the fantasy arc of the series and that arc turned out to be a big nothing. Meanwhile, the real politik arc of the series was ended with an After School Special “The pluralism was in our hearts all along!” — all in the name of setting up some sequels.

The moral take-aways at the end were insane — and weirdly stale, better suited for the tail end of the Iraq War. All of the stuff about how Dany was evil because she had led a life as proponent-of-liberty promotion and regime change could have been interesting, but they just left it all out there. Are we to believe that killing the slavemasters wasn’t worth it because it corrupted her soul? Please. Similarly, this idea — super clever when you’re sixteen — that the person most suited to rule is the one who wants it least is preposterous. If that’s true, put Hot Pie or a wolf on the throne and be done with it.

Finally, what in the Seven Hells was up with the Song of Ice and Fire bit at the end? That is a big ass book written by a Maister (awfully quickly, I might add), that supposedly chronicles the entire story we all just watched.

Tyrion isn’t in it? Ha ha! That’s funny!

But it’s also staggeringly stupid. The war of the Five Kings began because Tyrion’s dagger was used in an attempt to assassinate Bran. Tyrion became the hand of the King, married the woman who would become the Lady of Winterfell (never annulled by the way), killed the subsequent Hand of the King, who was the most powerful man in Westeros and father of the last King who Tyrion was accused of murdering at his own wedding. That seems newsy. (Those events led Sansa to marry the usurper of Winterfell — the first non-Stark to rule the North in thousands of years — and eventually led to Sansa orchestrating the victory in the Battle of the Bastards and Wexit).  Tyrion then escaped King’s Landing after his proxy lost a trial-by-combat that killed a prince of Dorn, led to the Mountain being turned into an undead Golem and led Tyrion to become the Hand of the Queen who successfully invaded Westeros, burning King’s Landing in the process and breaking the “Wheel” of power politics and primogeniture. What on earth is in those pages if Tyrion isn’t? Recipes?

It’s like Benioff and Weiss left to go make a Star Wars movie and told the interns to wrap things up for them.

I’m pretty forgiving about many of the complaints that are most prominent out there. It doesn’t bother me that Jon killed Dany (I even predicted it). It doesn’t bother me that Dany went bonkers, that was foreshadowed than critics claim. In short, my problem isn’t with the plot developments, but how they were implemented. It all became almost allegorical in its mad rush to wrap things up. And it’s a shame.


The College Board’s ‘Adversity Score’ Perpetuates the Myth of SAT Bias

Students walk at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich., September 20, 2018. (Rebecca Cook/Reuters)

A common defense of affirmative action in college admissions is that it simply adjusts for difficult childhood circumstances. Under this theory, students from underrepresented groups score below their true ability level on the SAT due to poverty or discrimination or a lack of fancy test prep, but they will thrive once brought to an enriching university environment. If true, affirmative action would not involve any lowering of admission standards, but rather a fairer appraisal of each applicant’s abilities.

It’s not true. Researchers have known for decades that SAT scores predict college performance for poor and minority students about as well as they do for everyone else. To the extent there is a difference, the SAT actually over-predicts their performance. Therefore, if the goal is to find the students who will be most academically successful, colleges should not bump up applicants’ SAT scores on the basis of poverty or race.

That’s one reason why the College Board’s new “adversity score” is so troubling. By providing schools with a secret quantification of each applicant’s childhood environment, the College Board furthers the myth that the SAT is predictively biased along socioeconomic lines. According to the New York Times:

Admissions officers have also tried for years to find ways to gauge the hardships that students have had to overcome, and to predict which students will do well in college despite lower test scores. The new adversity score is meant to be one such gauge.

If so, we already know it doesn’t work. The College Board’s own data (see page 42) show that test scores and high school grades predict college performance about equally across all adversity levels. An exception is for students at the highest levels of adversity where, once again, their college GPA is slightly below expectations, not above.

In reality, there is no merit-based case for affirmative action in college admissions. Proponents should acknowledge that their chief interest is not merit, but social justice. “Diversity is so important to our schools and to broader society that lowering standards is a worthy price to pay,” they should declare. That would be a reminder that affirmative action — like all hotly debated issues — involves inherent trade-offs, and it’s up to the public to decide how to weigh them.

Law & the Courts

Biden Flips on the Hyde Amendment

Joe Biden greets supporters after speaking during a campaign rally in Philadelphia, Pa., May 18, 2019. (Mark Makela/Reuters)

In what may be his first major move to the left on policy as a 2020 presidential candidate, Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden has endorsed repealing the Hyde amendment, a measure that prohibits federal funding of abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or when the mother’s life is endangered.

“It can’t stay,” Biden said of the Hyde amendment during an exchange with an ACLU activist earlier this month. The video of the exchange was posted by the ACLU on Twitter on May 8th but has drawn little attention since then (it was flagged by Washington Post reporter David Weigel on Sunday evening).

It’s not clear when or why Biden changed his mind on the issue.

“I will continue to abide by the same principle that has guided me throughout my 21 years in the Senate: those of us who are opposed to abortion should not be compelled to pay for them,” Biden wrote to a constituent in 1994. “As you may know, I have consistently — on no fewer than 50 occasions — voted against federal funding of abortions.”

“I’ve stuck to my middle-of-the-road position on abortion for more than 30 years,” Biden wrote in his 2007 book Promises to Keep. “I still vote against partial birth abortion and federal funding.”

A few weeks before Biden launched his 2020 presidential campaign, his spokesman declined to tell the New York Times if he still opposed federal funding of elective abortions. Now we know.

Biden’s reversal puts him more in line with the majority of Democratic primary voters, but it could undermine the argument that he’s the most electable Democratic candidate because of his relative moderation. “Biden is making a critical error flip-flopping on his position on the Hyde Amendment,” Kristen Day, the executive director of Democrats for Life, tells National Review in an email. “Among the current top-tier candidates, there is not a single one who is considering pro-life Democratic voters. Vice President Biden could have filled that void with a more moderate position. Instead, he is catering to the vocal minority who is pushing an abortion extremist agenda that will not resonate with general election voters.” A poll of likely voters conducted for Politico and Harvard’s school of public health found that in October 2016 voters opposed Medicaid funding of abortion by a 22-point margin (58 percent to 36 percent).

Although most previous Democratic presidential candidates have opposed the Hyde amendment, they have typically tried to avoid drawing attention to their opposition. It wasn’t until 2016 that the Democratic National Convention’s platform explicitly called for repealing the measure. West Virginia senator Joe Manchin, one of the few pro-life Democrats remaining in Congress, called that plank of his party’s 2016 platform “crazy.”

First enacted by Congress in 1976, just three years after Roe v. Wade, the Hyde amendment has been attached each year since then to legislation funding Medicaid (and several other federal health-care programs) regardless of which party controlled Congress and the White House. “Since 1976, the best research indicates that the Hyde Amendment has saved over two million unborn children,” according to the Charlotte Lozier Institute.


Twelve Things that Caught My Eye Today (May 20, 2019)

1. Kathleen Parker:

I’ll always wonder how acceptance of destroying the pre-born has affected our humanity. And how many among the more than 60 million Americans aborted since 1973 were destined to shape a better world.

2. The moving poem a repentant Italian playboy wrote for the son he had aborted

3. AP: Louisiana governor breaks with Democratic Party on abortion

4. Grateful for this segment on CNN’s Reliable Sources this weekend:

5. Thoughts on adoption from an adoptive mother and activist:

6. The valedictorian at Notre Dame this weekend took us to an orphanage in Paraguay:

7. Peggy Noonan, the commencement speaker, mentioned Amy Coney Barrett in her address:

What can be done to focus more on threats to religious freedom? They are real and will get real. You know this. The polls are interesting. They say Americans are not always breaking down the doors to go to church, but they respect religious life. They intuitively understand the crucial nature of religious institutions, and they don’t want to see them under siege. They don’t want long-held religious beliefs compromised or trampled by the state. I feel I’ve known America a long time. Deep down it actually respects you when the dogma lives loudly within you.

That was my shout-out to Amy Barrett. Thank you. Thank you, Amy.

She also gave a shout-out to the wonderful Yuval Levin:

He said conservatives have to stop hating our institutions. A conservatism that despises it society’s institutions is self-destructive. He is exactly right. In our political life, both sides have big sins. But you cannot hate and denigrate government, the press, the courts, our institutions and claim that the same time that you are trying to be constructive. You are not. You cannot hate the other side and claim you are trying to help. You are not. Fight failures, fight oversteps, fight arrogance and high-handedness. But we must do it in a spirit of repair. The secret of successful politics: Be moved more by what you love than what you hate.

8. Washington Post: Where accused blasphemers wait on death row, A recent acquittal has given detainees cause for hope in Pakistan, where punishments for blasphemy are exceptionally harsh

9. Texas Church Opens New Sanctuary 18 Months After Massacre

10. Common ground between faith and feminism on men . . .  from a new report on faith and family from Brad Wilcox and others




Politics & Policy

NPR’s Abortion Rules

Mark Memmott, NPR’s “supervising senior editor for Standards and Practices,” has reminded NPR’s reporters and editors about “the longstanding guidance” on the proper terminology to use when discussing abortion. It turns out that the longstanding practice of NPR has been to use the terms that are favored by one side of the abortion debate. Guess which one!

During the debate over partial-birth abortion, the abortion lobby complained that it was not a medical term and got much of the press to use it only with tongs. “Bush Signs Ban on a Procedure for Abortion” was one New York Times headline. The NPR guidance is sticking with this fatwa against the phrase, even though it is now defined in federal law. (A quick glance at the NPR website shows no similar fastidiousness about the phrase “assault weapons” or “assault-style weapons.”)

“Abortion clinics” are another disfavored phrase, because “the clinics perform other procedures and not just abortions.”

Here’s the most unself-consciously propagandistic portion of the memo: “Babies are not babies until they are born. They’re fetuses. Incorrectly calling a fetus a ‘baby’ or ‘the unborn’ is part of the strategy used by antiabortion groups to shift language/legality/public opinion.” This allegedly erroneous usage of “baby” is, in fact, the one that basically all users of English embrace when not specifically contemplating abortion. Here, for example, is the Mayo Clinic, telling new parents “how your baby grows and develops during the first trimester.” Or check out this page from the Cleveland Clinic—or don’t, if prenatal uses of “baby” are triggering for you. (“At the moment of fertilization, your baby’s genetic make-up is complete, including its sex.”)

The memo concludes, “On the air, we should use ‘abortion rights supporter(s)/advocate(s)’ and ‘abortion rights opponent(s)’ or derivations thereof (for example: ‘advocates of abortion rights’). It is acceptable to use the phrase ‘anti-abortion rights,’ but do not use the term ‘pro-abortion rights’.” If only NPR found putting out pro-abortion spin as unacceptable as it finds the phrase “pro-abortion.”

National Security & Defense

On Iran and Accepting Risk

A flight deck crew signals an MV-22 to land on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in the Arabian Sea, May 17, 2019. ( Amber Smalley/U.S. Navy/Reuters)

Last Friday, David French wrote a column on the risk of war with Iran. I don’t disagree with the concerns he expressed, but the context here is, as always, important.

Ever since the Trump administration came into office, it has been seeking to isolate and pressure Iran, for two reasons. The first and most basic reason is that the Iranian regime presents a direct threat to the safety of the United States. That’s why everyone, across the political spectrum, believes that it would be a disaster if Iran acquired nuclear weapons. People disagree about how to prevent that from happening, but they all agree it must be prevented.

Think of the current tension with North Korea. If Iran gets nuclear weapons, and the means to deliver them, Iran would be North Korea on steroids.

The second reason is that the United States protects its interests in the Middle East by working through an informal partnership with Israel and the “moderate” Sunni regimes: Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Kuwait, the UAE, and — to some extent — Saudi Arabia. Iran is the number-one threat to most of those partners and therefore to the security construct that is the foundation of America’s regional interests.

So the Trump policy has been to isolate Iran, reduce its oil revenue, and disable its economy. Hence the withdrawal from the flawed nuclear deal, the constant ratcheting up of sanctions, the designation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization, and the diplomatic pressure on Iran in the United Nations and other international forums.

The biggest potential upside of American efforts would be a weakening of the regime to the point that it collapsed in the face of domestic dissent. The lesser objective is to degrade Iran’s ability to control Iraq and Syria, fund and supply Hezbollah and Hamas, and engage in aggression in places like Yemen.

In other words, the Trump administration has an actual policy, guided by an actual strategy. The strategy is reasonably related to America’s vital interests, and the policy has been executed with some degree of consistency over time, using the tools of smart power (sanctions and aggressive diplomacy) that are always preferable as a means of exercising national influence.

And the policy is enjoying a reasonable degree of success. Iran has been weakened economically and is on the defensive diplomatically. The corrupt ideologues who run it are losing money, Iran has fewer resources to support its proxies, and the regime has been forced to spend diplomatic capital, especially in Europe, defending the sources of foreign money it has left.

But here’s a truth worth emphasizing: Every foreign-policy option carries with it risk. There is no strategy, especially in the Middle East, that is without a potential downside.

One of the risks of the Trump policy toward Iran was that the regime would attempt to relieve the pressure by attacking, or causing its proxies to attack, American assets in the region. Evidently there is intelligence now that such an attack may be pending.

The Trump administration has responded by reducing the exposure of likely targets, such as the embassy in Iraq, and threatening reprisals by air and sea to deter the regime. The risk of the latter is that, if Iran attacks anyway, the administration will have to respond, the response could trigger escalation, and the escalation could lead to the losses that David wrote about.

So the worst-case scenario David describes is possible, but the danger of it is lower than the risk of either giving Iran a free hand in the Middle East or failing to punish the regime if it attacks the United States. It’s not as if giving carrots to the Iranians has caused them to exercise restraint in the past. Or to put it more simply, the best Middle East policy — the one most likely to protect American interests while preserving the peace — is to support those whose objectives align roughly with our own, pressure adversaries, and prepare robust but non-escalatory options to deter the adversaries from responding with outright aggression.

That’s been Trump’s strategy so far, and I think it’s the right one.

I’ll add one other thing. All of these decisions become less risky, for any American president, if the United States is strong — if it has robust tools of power that give presidents a variety of good options to avert or contain a crisis. The foundational tool of American national influence is the armed forces, because, as we are seeing now, it’s the ability to deter kinetic aggression that gives time and space for the tools of smart power to work.

The dangers David wrote about are greater than they should be, and greater than they were in 1988 during Operation Praying Mantis, because the gap between American and Iranian capabilities, though still substantial, is less than it once was. There ought to be no question that in a naval or air exchange between America and a rogue regime with a basket-case economy, the United States would win quickly, decisively, and with minimal losses.

The fact that there is a question — that a column like David’s could have been written — shows the utter failure of the last three administrations to sustain the size and strength of the armed forces at a sufficient level. That failure cannot be reversed overnight. No matter what our presidents do, we must live through at least the next few years with a high level of risk that, at some point where it really matters, deterrence will fail.

Film & TV

Game of Thrones: A Father’s Legacy Endures

Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones (HBO)

Warning! If you don’t want to read any spoilers from last night’s series finale of Game of Thrones, stop reading. Right now.

There is a lot to unpack about the Thrones finale, and I fully understand many of the criticisms I read on Twitter and elsewhere. Yes, the show was compressed. Yes, there were moments that were false or silly (in the world of Westeros, would anyone seriously propose a democracy?), but ultimately the season was true to the ethos of the series, and the series was one of the most magnificent achievements in television history.

There are two things that stand out to me about this last season. First, in spite of the compression, it nailed the key moments. There was the initial sight of Dany’s intact, magnificent army marching into Winterfell, a moment that demonstrated not only her astonishing power, but also the hardening of her heart. Remember when her dismay at the North’s hostile reception turned into grim satisfaction at their fear of her dragons? Then there were the last few minutes of the Battle of Winterfell — from the moment we heard the first, mournful notes of the piano, the show communicated the sheer, overwhelming hopelessness of the moment better than virtually any against-all-odds moment I’ve ever seen in fantasy fiction. And while some fans carped last night when Drogon burned the Iron Throne, I thought it was a powerful recognition of the thing that truly killed Daenerys Targaryen. To borrow Tolkien’s imagery, she had claimed the One Ring, and it ruled over her.

But the thing that truly stood out to me — and indeed, stands out across the entire sweep of the series — is the power of a single father, Ned Stark. It was his fate in the first season (and first book) that signaled that there was something different about Game of Thrones. If you’d read fantasy fiction at all, you would have thought that Thrones was Ned Stark’s story. He was the righteous man who would triumph. Instead, he was the righteous man who lost his head. Then we spent the next seven seasons trying to discover the true hero. We thought it was Robb Stark. He was betrayed. We thought it was Dany. She turned. We thought it was Jon Snow, and he was certainly a hero, but was he the hero?

No, it was still Ned Stark. The closing images of the show focus on three of his children, and each was indelibly and unalterably shaped by the example of the man who raised them. Arya ended the show free of the burdens of Westeros, sailing into the unknown. But it was her father who set her free in the first season — liberating her from the burdens of becoming a classic lady of Westeros and setting her on the path that would kill the Night King. Sansa was the Stark who learned from her father’s mistakes. She retained his fundamental decency and learned his lessons, but she tempered his straightforward sense of honor (his ultimately foolish nobility) with a shrewdness and survival instinct gained through time spent with Littlefinger and through the awful teacher of dreadful experience.

And Jon Snow? He maintained the fundamental essence of his adoptive father. He was the living manifestation of the man who put death before dishonor. Duty was all. He died to save the Wildlings. He relinquished his throne to save the North. And he sacrificed his birthright to save the world from a mad queen. If George RR Martin was a Christian writer, the Internet would be full of think-pieces berating him for making the Christ imagery too explicit.

In the middle of the finale — when Tryion nominated Bran to lead the Seven (soon-to-be six) Kingdoms — he spoke eloquently of the power of story. And the story of Bran the Broken was compelling. It did have the capacity to unite a war-weary and exhausted people, at least until the next fight. One suspects that the lords of the realm would have been more reluctant to unite around Bran had he not been his father’s son.

But the truth of Tyrion’s speech echoed beyond the world of the show. One of the great virtues of fantasy fiction is that it can tell so many true stories through the vehicle of its own myth. Tolkien, for example, connected readers not just with human brokenness but also with the power of the transcendent. Read the Silmarillion and Lord of the Rings together, and you see that even the efforts of the best of men (and elves) are inadequate to overcome evil. There are, however, those who watch over the world of men, and prophecy has power because the prophets understand that the creatures do not have the last word over the fate of creation.

Thrones doesn’t connect to eternity in the same way. The gods are indifferent, nonexistent, or potentially even malicious. But it nonetheless told a different, more secular, but still true story — of the power of a loving (but flawed) father to shape the lives of his children. Last night, the Starks won the game of thrones, and an architect of their victory — and a source of their virtue — was the man who died, but whose legacy endured.

White House

‘The Great Misdirection’

Over on the home page, I wrote about how the latest Democratic investigations are all about finding facts that were already found because they want to be seen as “doing something” if they aren’t going to impeach Trump:

Robert Mueller spent two years hunting down every possible lead related to collusion and obstruction, with considerable powers and investigate resources at his disposal. He had more or less full cooperation from the White House, except he didn’t get to interview the president directly. Then he wrote everything down in a 400-plus page report that Bill Barr released to Congress to do with as it chooses.

Never has a House majority had so much work done for it and been so remarkably ungrateful about it.

The Democrats want to talk to Don McGahn, and maybe they will ultimately prevail in court to get his testimony, but what’s the point? McGahn talked extensively to Mueller, and surely everything remotely damaging is already in the report.

All of this, coupled with the obsessive focus on Bill Barr, is a gigantic misdirection, a simulacrum of action to substitute for the lack of anything real happening.

The Democrats are at their most pathetic begging Robert Mueller to testify. They obviously hope for compelling TV from his testimony, but after disgorging himself of an exhaustive report, what do they possibly think Mueller can tell them that he hasn’t already shared, except his opinions that he shouldn’t, as a prosecutor, be airing publicly?


Get Ready to Vote! . . . If You Live in Kentucky or Pennsylvania’s 12th District.

Tomorrow is primary day in Kentucky’s statewide races. Democrats will select their gubernatorial nominee, and they feel optimistic about their chances of knocking off incumbent GOP governor Matt Bevin in November. Four Democrats are running for governor: state representative Rocky Adkins, state attorney general Andy Beshear — the son of Bevin’s predecessor, Steve Beshear — former state auditor Adam Edelen, and activist Geoff Young.

Bevin’s job-approval numbers in recent polls are low, and he faces a primary challenge from state Representative Robert Goforth — who’s pledging to “change the tone in Frankfort” — as well as two other lesser-known candidates. While Bevin is favored to win the primary, tomorrow night could provide a useful indicator of how many Kentucky Republicans are disgruntled with Bevin.

Most Democrats expect Republicans to be reasonably unified as November approaches, and Bevin is likely to call in pre-November support from President Trump, who calls Bevin “a very special friend of mine, a really successful guy.” Turnout in tomorrow’s primaries is expected to be low, but it may provide the state GOP some useful data on where enthusiasm for the top of the ticket is lacking. Bevin surprised the state with a surprisingly solid win in 2016, beating former state attorney general Jack Conway 53 percent to 44 percent.

Tomorrow is also the day for a special House election in Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District, which covers the north-central portion of the state. In January, five-term incumbent Tom Marino surprised his district and colleagues by announced his resignation. In a subsequent interview, he said his decision was partially driven by health issues from past kidney surgery.

The local parties selected their nominees; the GOP selected state Representative Fred Keller as their nominee. The Democrats selected Marc Friedenberg as their nominee. This is a heavily Republican district, scoring a R+17 in the Cook Partisan Voting Index. Marino won in 2018, 66 percent to 34 percent.

Politics & Policy

The Return of ‘Abortion Cut Crime’

(Rick Wilking/Reuters)

Back in 2001, John J. Donohue and Steven D. Levitt released a controversial paper arguing that legalized abortion reduced crime by culling out individuals who were at a higher risk of criminality. Any moral implications aside — I’d argue there are none, because it’s not okay to kill someone just because they’re at an elevated risk of committing a crime 20 years from now — the study was also subjected to withering technical criticisms. Most notably, John R. Lott and John E. Whitley ran a different analyis suggesting abortion may have increased crime; and a 2005 paper (updated in 2008) by Christopher L. Foote and Christopher F. Goetz pointed out a major coding error, made numerous critiques of the methodology, and found that the results weakened or disappeared when these problems were fixed.

Jim Manzi described Levitt and Donohue’s reply to Foote and Goetz memorably in his book Uncontrolled:

Levitt and Donohue responded by agreeing that the error was made but that they could once again measure a smaller but significant impact of abortion on crime by correcting this error; doing the analysis with some further technical adjustments; and, most important, using a different data set massaged differently to reflect better how people moved among various states after having abortions—in their words, to replace “the crude abortion proxy used in our first paper” with a “a more thoughtful proxy.”

The revealing observation is not that there was an analytical error in the paper (which almost certainly happens far more often than we like to think), but that once it was found and corrected, it was feasible to rejigger the regression analysis to get back to the original directional result through various defensible tweaks to assumptions. If one could rule out either the original assumptions or these new assumptions as unreasonable, that would be better news for the technique. Instead we have a recipe for irresolvable debate.

It’s quite reminescent of the controversy over “right-to-carry” laws, which coincidentally involves a lot of the same researchers.

Anyway, the abortion-cut-crime theory is back with a new paper from Donohue and Levitt, which adds new data to the original study, applies the same methods (except for keeping that “more thoughtful proxy”), and claims stunning crime reductions:

The estimated coefficient on legalized abortion is actually larger in the latter period than it was in the initial dataset in almost all specifications. We estimate that crime fell roughly 20% between 1997 and 2014 due to legalized abortion. The cumulative impact of legalized abortion on crime is roughly 45%, accounting for a very substantial portion of the roughly 50-55% overall decline from the peak of crime in the early 1990s.

The most obvious criticism seems to be that if the original paper’s methods were faulty (arguments for which are not limited to the admitted and corrected coding error), it doesn’t really help to extend the analysis to new data. At any rate, I just can’t wait for another 18 years’ worth of back-and-forth on this.

Politics & Policy

Libertarianism on the Cheap

Pete Buttigieg speaks at the 2019 National Action Network convention in New York City, April 4, 2019. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Asked about the possibility of putting some restrictions on horrifying late-term abortions — which are legal in many places up until the moment of birth — Pete Buttigieg showed himself to be fundamentally unserious. It is, he said, a question of “who gets to draw the line,” taking refuge in an easy libertarianism that he brings to no other issue.

The federal government is not at all shy about deciding that it gets to draw lines. Go read some OSHA regulations sometime: Not only do they specify the colors used in safety signs, they also take into consideration that color words mean different things to different people (ask famous “professor of color” Elizabeth Warren, PANTONE 11-0602 TPX) it specifies exactly which shades are meant by such subtle terms as “black,” “white,” and “red.” Seriously:

The colors red, black, and white shall be those of opaque glossy samples as specified in Table 1, “”Fundamental Specification of Safety Colors for CIE Standard Source ‘C,’” of ANSI Z53.1-1967 or in Table 1, “Specification of the Safety Colors for CIE Illuminate C and the CIE 1931, 2° Standard Observer,” of ANSI Z535.1-2006(R2011), incorporated by reference in § 1910.6.

Buttigieg and his fellow progressives are not hesitant about drawing lines when it comes to things like defining someone’s “fair share” of taxes — 34.5 percent? 35.4 percent? Is there really an objective standard? — nor do they extend that libertarian scruple to such concerns such as the legal sale of synthetic cannabinoids (Buttigieg says he supports the legalization of marijuana, but his only act in office on anything related to recreational drug use was backing a ban on so-called synthetic marijuana, which his office described as “much more dangerous than actual marijuana”) or prostitution (Kamala Harris says she supports legalizing exchange between “consenting adults” but joined Amy Klobuchar and Donald Trump in supporting legislation aimed at doing the opposite). Buttigieg did not get in touch with his inner libertarian when it came to things like being allowed to smoke in a bar in his little town.

No, these are single-issue libertarians. They’ll micromanage your life ten different ways before they’ve had their first cup of coffee on a Monday morning, but when it comes to the brutal dismemberment of children — well, who are we to judge?

In fairness, a lot of honest libertarians get abortion wrong, too. It is an issue that presents us with the uncomfortable fact that even if we had a state organized according to libertarian principles, nature is not organized according to libertarian principles.


Australia’s Election Did Not Involve a ‘Populist Wave’

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison with his family after winning the 2019 election in Sydney, Australia, May 18, 2019. (Dean Lewins/AAP Image/via Reuters)

Regular readers will know that I am not a fan of the term ‘populism’.  As I mentioned here in January, over the last three years the term has been turned into one more way to insult the decisions made by the general public in country after country.

In Britain, the “Brexit” vote was derided as a “populist” vote.  The U.S. election of 2016 have repeatedly been described as a victory for “populism.” And in Europe, every time anybody on the political right looks set to achieve any electoral success, this is whipped up as being yet another victory for this amorphous, ill-defined but unarguably dark force.

This has rarely been made clearer than in the New York Times coverage of the results of last week’s Australian elections. This was not a contest between Matteo Salvini and the Left. It was not even a debate about sovereignty. It was merely an election — of the kind Australia tends to have — between a party to the left of center, and one slightly to the right. But the New York Times managed to write it up as follows: “Scott Morrison, Australia’s conservative prime minister, scored a surprise victory in federal elections on Saturday, propelled by a populist wave.”

As I said in January:

Over the last two years it has come to be used as a synonym for “things I personally do not like” and “unpalatable people.” Why is President Macron never described as a populist? He broke the traditional party structures in France, ran a one-man campaign, and had to put together candidates for his party only after he had already secured the presidency. Many of the old definitions of ‘populism’ fit Macron perfectly. But of course he has the “correct” views on a range of international institutions, primarily the EU, which mean that the term doesn’t get used of him.

So while President Macron was not propelled by a “populist wave,” Scott Morrison apparently was. Is there any point in pretending that the term “populism” is now anything more than a way to put scare-quotes around any electoral victory for anybody who happens to be of the political right?


Stalin at the Ballet

A man carries a portrait of Josef Stalin in Minsk, 2014 (Vasily Fedosenko / Reuters)

In Impromptus today, I spend some time on abortion — particularly the word “baby.” Is there a more incendiary word in the whole debate? I also take up a number of other subjects, including patriotism and North Korea.

One item is kind of funny — whether “ha ha” or “strange,” I don’t know. Maybe some combination.

The Venezuelan dictatorship and the democratic opposition are conducting talks in Oslo. … You know the first name of a leading member of the democratic side? Stalin. His name is Stalin González.

And you know what the Ecuadoran president’s name is? Lenín. Lenín Moreno.

Ay, caramba.

Here in the Corner, I wanted to take note of an obituary — a fascinating obituary — published in the New York Times. The subject is Andrei Kramarevsky, a leading ballet teacher in New York. He did not start out in New York, of course.

When Kramarevsky was a dancer at the Bolshoi,

Stalin would sometimes come to the Moscow theater, shielded in a special box.

“The public never knew that he was there,” Mr. Kramarevsky recalled. “He came, watched for a while and disappeared.”

He recounted a time when a colleague was summoned by the authorities after a performance of the 1932 ballet “Flames of Paris,” about the French Revolution, that included a scene of revolutionary cannon fire.

“He asked: ‘Why? What did I do? What am I guilty of?’” Mr. Kramarevsky said. “They said, ‘You aimed the cannon at Comrade Stalin.’ He got five years.”


The Biden Restoration 

Biden had a big rally in Philadelphia yesterday. As with his announcement video, it was all pretty standard rhetoric, with a memorable zinger on Trump inheriting the recovery and everything else in his life that we’ll likely hear many times again. But no one else in the Democratic field has this message of wanting to work with Republicans and having the experience to do it once everything supposedly returns to normal after Trump’s defeat in 2020. This is a pretty good general-election message. One thing that makes Biden look like such a strong candidate out of the gate — stronger than I expected — is that perhaps he can make this message also resonant in the primaries and avoid making any big concessions to Left that would hurt him in the general, the way pretty much every Democratic candidate already has. We’re just getting started, so we’ll see. I’m still skeptical about the ultimate appeal of an elder statesman promising a restoration, and Biden hasn’t had to weather any gaffe-controversies — yet.


NR Webathon

‘I’ve Been Meaning to Donate . . .’

Typewriter (PxHere)

If you didn’t write that, you sure as heck have been thinking it, and probably a lot. So why not get that nagging task in the rearview mirror and make your donation now to NR’s 2019 Spring Webathon, in which we are soliciting $175,000 in support from our readers in order to fortify our efforts to battle socialism. Which we just did, bigly, in a firecracker of a special issue that blasts all its guns at the nasty ideology. It was the second of a two-part effort preceded by another humdinger of a special issue, which exclusively defended free markets, the nemesis of socialism.

On this weekend we find that our current effort has surpassed the $70,000 mark, thanks to the selfless generosity of some 600 donors. We’re thinking there must be another thousand or so good people who are . . . meaning to. To donate. Like these kindly folks have just made good on their commitment, sporting comments along with their coins:

  • Matthew makes a $20 grant and is prepping the next generation: “Long time reader. Now my eleven-year-old son is learning to love the magazine.” You can’t get them started too soon!
  • Howard is good for $125 and is all in on our mission: “More people need to understand and be able to persuade others of the benefits of individual liberty and free-market capitalism vs. the inevitable economic and human destruction of socialism. This will help further the cause!” Indeed, it does. Thanks.
  • Mark sends General Grant thisaway, and who better to lead a battle: “Keep fighting the good free market/open society fight, until America, or at least the lefty parts of it, once again comes to its senses (or if that is too much to ask, steps back from the brink of insanity. Hmmm, is even that too much to ask!?). As Bill Buckley always reminded us, despair is a sin. We shall prevail!
  • Another Fifty comes from Stephen, who is our kind of advocate: “Clearest and most logical articles available. A must for conservatives, a ‘should’ for all others.” Darn tootin! Thanks.
  • Howard’s $200 donation has to do with this opinion: “National Review is the finest conservative publication in the land. Keep up the good work.” Keeping, thanks to you.
  • Courtney tenders 100 smackers and calls for a dose of WFB: “How about re-running some of Bill Buckley’s interviews on public media to remind us all of what NR is all about. The phalanx of skillful writers themselves could use a little reminder of that flashing, disarming smile and that penetrating intellect that bonded us to him.”
  • And then there is Kirby, a beloved NR friend, who sends a C note and inspiring words: “Wish this could be more. National Review has been my constant guide and companion since high school, a long time ago. I wouldn’t be the conservative I am today without it. For 50 years, I’ve been educated, entertained, enraged, engaged, and enthusiastic about the best writing around by the best conservative writers and pundits. I’ve also gotten to know many of them and consider them friends as well. A simple truth: Without NR, there would be no conservative movement worthy of that title. Here I stand, I can do no other. Dominus Vobiscum.” Tuus est superduperibus!
  • One last mention. It’s Michael. And he gives a thousand bucks. Gasp! And wonders: “Will these pernicious ideas never die?” With friends like you at our side, yep.

We’ll close this update first by making Courtney’s day: Here’s a great Firing Line episode, from 1981, with Bill and George Gilder discussing “Wealth and Poverty”:

We’re settled on the fact that you’re wanting to donate. The objective becomes to make that happen, if only because you are on board with helping NR combat socialism. Can you match Mark’s $50, Kirby’s $100, Howard’s $200? Maybe even Michael’s $1,000? Please give what you can, knowing that we know that your (deeply appreciated!) generosity is selfless. And consequential. Help us get to our goal of $175,000 by donating to the 2019 Spring Webathon here. If you wish to send a check, here’s the drill: Make it payable to “National Review” and mail it to National Review, ATTN: Spring 2019 Webathon, 19 West 44th Street, New York, NY 10036. Thank you very much.

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