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Good grief

June 4th, 2022|Human Nature, Pop Culture|

The trial has turned into a public orgy of misogyny. While most of the vitriol is nominally directed at Heard, it is hard to shake the feeling that really, it is directed at all women – and in particular, at those of us who spoke out about gendered abuse and sexual violence during the height of the #MeToo movement. We are in a moment of virulent antifeminist backlash, and the modest gains that were made in that era are being retracted with a gleeful display of victim-blaming at a massive scale. One woman has been made into a symbol of a movement that many view with fear and hatred, and she’s being punished for that movement. In this way, Heard is still in an abusive relationship. But now, it’s not just with Depp, but with the whole country.

Moira Donegan for The Guardian

I’m not sure it beats the Vox report for the awfullest take of the week, but it sure runs a close second.

Why are the leftist “Me Too” activists working so hard to prop up Amber Heard? Especially when she was thoroughly exposed during the trial.

ESPN gets trolled in a disastrous way, and Tennessee fans are outraged

June 4th, 2022|Baseball|

If you don’t frequent Twitter, you might be unaware that there is an absolute war going on between Tennessee fans and Arkansas fans. And, last night, ESPN got sucked into that war in a disastrous way, claiming that a Tennessee star player was taking performance enhancing drugs and speculating that the rest of the team could be doing the same.

The war between the Vols and the Hogs is mostly being waged by Arkansas fans. While Tennessee fans have been enjoying their baseball team’s resounding success — this Vols team might solidify itself as the best college baseball team in history if it wins the national championship — they’ve been living rent-free in the heads of Arkansas fans.

Arkansas, you see, is one of the SEC’s baseball blue bloods. So is Vanderbilt. Tennessee is viewed (wrongly, if you’re familiar with the program’s past) as being the new kid on the block. And not just any new kid, but the brash, loud-mouthed new kid. Vols coach Tony Vitello and his players make up the kind of team that you either love or hate. There’s not much room for middle ground. So if you’re another SEC team that’s suddenly been supplanted by this Tennessee team, you obviously hate them. 

That brings us to Friday night’s shenanigans. Shortly before the start of the Vols’ game against Alabama State to open NCAA tournament play in Knoxville, UT announced that standout catcher Evan Russell would not be available for Friday’s game, and that Vitello would address his status after the game.

It was a bit of a weird way to announce that a starter would be unavailable, the sort of statement that lends itself to speculation. And Twitter did what Twitter does best: Speculate.

Arkansas and Vanderbilt fans loved it. Enter a poseur who calls himself David Marts. He’s an Arkansas fan, who apparently loves to play the part of Twitter troll. So, posing as a Tennessee fan, he tweeted this:

Keep in mind that this Marts character doesn’t have any journalistic credibility, nor does he claim to have. But that didn’t stop one of ESPN’s top college baseball analysts from stepping in it…big-time. During a completely different game, a regional between Oklahoma State and Missouri State, Troy Eklund said this during the live broadcast:

 

Eklund said: “It was pretty crazy. He failed a drug test. So Evan Russell is suspended for the rest of the season. So Tennessee is going to have the whole rest of the team tested tomorrow, or the NCAA is. So it’s going to be interesting to see if that’s just a one player thing or if it’s going to be throughout that entire program. Performance-enhancing drugs is what it was said. That’s a big blow to the Vols.”

Except that isn’t at all true. By the time Eklund was uttering those remarks, Vitello had already said in his postgame press conference in Knoxville that it was a medical issue that kept Russell out of the game against Alabama State. Eklund’s broadcast partner remarked on that, but acted skeptical. However, the PED story was thoroughly debunked by Saturday morning. Russell has been cleared to play in the Vols’ Saturday game, and Tennessee issued a statement:

“Evan Russell’s absence last night had nothing to do with any violation of team, NCAA or SEC rules. We have been in contact with ESPN and they are aware of the situation regarding last night’s comments made on their broadcast. ESPN is handling the situation and we are expecting a public apology from them later today.”

Vols athletic director Danny White also said this on Twitter:

“Thrilled to update that Evan Russell is feeling better and back with the team. Sad that over the last 24 hours this young man has had to endure speculation and criticism. In the future I hope that the media will prioritize the health of our student-athletes over unfounded rumors.”

It goes without saying that Eklund’s remarks were an egregious mistake. He took a tweet from a guy with a very small Twitter presence and ran with it as truth, repeating it on a live broadcast as if it were fact. But he compounded his mistake with his speculation: “It’s going to be interesting to see if that’s just a one player thing or if it’s going to be throughout that entire program.” That is simply inexcusable. You can’t just chalk that up as a mistake, apologize, and let it ride. There has to be repercussions.

You might be wondering why a guy like Eklund, who is a reputable college baseball commentator, would make such a poor rush to judgment. Well, there’s this: He is a former Arkansas player. It looks like he has gotten sucked into the whole Tennessee vs. Arkansas brouhaha and was a little too anxious for a false report about Tennessee to be true.

It should go without saying that Eklund should be suspended by ESPN for the remainder of the season.

Update: Eklund apologizes…

Does it make you sick? It should

June 4th, 2022|Politics|

“The attack went for so long, witnesses said, that the gunman had time to taunt his victims before killing them, even putting on songs that one student described to CNN as ‘I-want-people-to-die music.’ ”

— Peggy Noonan for the Wall Street Journal

While I agree with Noonan’s premise, I’ll disagree on one major point. She says Uvalde was the worst U.S. police scandal since George Floyd. No, it was the worst U.S. police scandal ever. And none other even comes close. It’s not just the way things played out at that elementary school, but the cover-up that began almost immediately. It’s sickening, and jobs should be lost.

Lol

June 4th, 2022|Politics|

Johnny Depp’s legal victory and the death of Roe v. Wade are part of the same toxic cultural movement.

— Vox

Ladies and gentlemen, perhaps the worst political take you’ll read this week.

Vols’ Vitello is the face of college baseball

June 4th, 2022|Baseball|

“When I came here, we weren’t really expected to do much. We were kind of the laughingstock of the SEC,” said first baseman Luc Lipcius, a sixth-year graduate student. “And then ‘V’ and his coaching staff, they came in, they did their thing. … Now we’re on top of the SEC.”

And possibly there to stay. Vitello initially focused his recruiting efforts in Tennessee but has started to branch out to his home state. The Vols already have verbal commitments from two of the best young pitchers in St. Louis: Lindbergh junior Dane Bjorn and St. Louis U. High sophomore Andrew DuMont. In Columbia, Rock Bridge freshman infielder Ty Thompson — a freshman! — has already pledged a commitment to Vitello.

The fans love him, too. Vitello’s fiery side got the best of him in an April game against Alabama when he bumped an umpire during an on-field argument, leading to a four-game suspension. But the SEC coach of the year turned the incident into a positive and further endeared himself to Vols fans. During the suspension, he attended a fraternity event on campus and wore a sign offering chest bumps for $2, with proceeds going to the Wounded Warrior Project.

— St. Louis Today

They’ll have to win the College World Series to solidify the title, but this Tennessee team might be the best team in college baseball history. Nobody, and I mean nobody, saw that coming when Tony Vitello was hired five years ago.

The speed of the program’s resurrection under Vitello has been dizzying. V’s dad talks about only 100 or so people being in the stands for the first game his son coached in Knoxville. Now tickets to a Tennessee baseball game are tougher to find than tickets to any other sporting event on campus. But the real question is how many people would attend a UT baseball game if this weekend’s regionals were being played at Neyland Stadium instead of Lindsey Nelson Stadium? 20,000? 30,000? Maybe even 40,000? It would certainly be a lot. East Tennessee is baseball crazy all of a sudden.

Hammer, nail, head…

June 4th, 2022|Politics|

Here’s a prediction you can take to the bank: The two sides will bicker pointlessly about this issue until Uvalde fades from the news. Nothing of substance will happen, nothing will change. People will get bored and go on to find something else to be outraged at each other about. Two weeks ago, it was abortion. A month ago, it was Ukraine. Three months ago, it was trans rights. We’re just about due for another round of Trump and Russia. Eventually, of course, another shooting will occur, and then, we will be back to yelling about guns.

Are we doomed to repeat this, again and again? Why must our politics be so pointless? Unfortunately, the answer to the first question is yes, because the answer to the second question is that we as a people no longer possess the civic virtue necessary to fix it.

Second, too many people, on both the Left and Right, are completely uninterested in fixing any of this, for that would require compromise. Politics is supposed to be the venue by which a diverse people finds points of agreement. But that is not how we treat it. Politics is our religion these days, and the worship of the divine does not usually admit of splitting the difference.

But this might be too charitable, for it implies that Americans have some profound, yet overwrought, commitment to abstract principles of right and wrong. Does that give us too much credit? Perhaps. Certainly, some Americans are so severely committed to a set of abstract principles that common ground is anathema to them. But many, many others enjoy the conflict for its own grubby pleasures. Our politics are a cafeteria food fight, and lots of people love flinging the meatloaf.

— Jay Cost for The Washington Examiner

Government policies helped fuel baby formula shortage

June 4th, 2022|Politics|

“I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

Those are the nine words that President Ronald Reagan famously said are the most terrifying in the English language. And they sure do seem to ring true a lot … including right now, as mothers search frantically for baby formula to feed their children and some babies wind up hospitalized as a result.

The baby formula crisis is just the latest chapter in what has been an extremely weird last couple of years in these United States. So weird have the past 27 months been that if you don’t believe in a pre-trib rapture, you might be forgiven for thinking we’re smack-dab in the middle of the Great Tribulation. Even after things began to go south when covid arrived on our shores, and then murder hornets, if someone had predicted, “Babies are going to get sick because their mothers can’t find food for them!” you’d have envisioned a poor, helpless third-world country somewhere across the ocean. You certainly wouldn’t have envisioned America. But here we are.

The baby formula crisis began after Abbott — which makes Similac and several other brands of formula — voluntary closed its factory in Michigan amid concerns over contaminated formula that was linked to the deaths of two infants. Thankfully, Abbott is set to reopen the plant this weekend, which should get us on the road to putting the 2022 baby formula crisis behind us, though it isn’t clear how long it’ll take before the grocery store shelves are full of formula once more.

But how did we get here? How can the closure of a single factory create a nationwide crisis?

Simple. It’s a 10-letter word that starts with G and ends with T.

Government.

The government is here to help — or, at least, to try to help — amid the current crisis, shipping in emergency supplies of formula from Europe and Australia. But the government is only intervening in a crisis that was its own making.

Abbott controls about a 40% market share of America’s baby formula. A second company, Mead Johnson, controls another 40% of the market share. That’s 80% between just two companies. And Abbott makes about half of its products at the Michigan factory that shuttered operations in February. So, it goes without saying that if that factory goes down, there’s going to be a shortage of formula. Indeed, by May there was a 40% shortage of formula nationwide, according to some estimates. Panic-buying didn’t help matters any — similar to the toilet paper shortage of 2020 that was exacerbated by folks hoarding Charmin and Angel Soft in their bathroom closets.

But how is it that in a free market like ours, two companies control such a large industry? It’s complicated, and there are several reasons why, but a big part of the reason is the U.S. government.

Back in the early 1990s, the Federal Trade Commission declared war on the big players in the baby formula industry, reaching a settlement with Mead Johnson and filing antitrust charges against Abbott. The allegations: the companies participated in price-rigging and colluded with other companies to limit consumer advertising.

When you think of powerful lobbyists, you typically think of Big Tobacco, Big Pharma, Big Oil, and et cetera. Those are the ones that have been demonized, right? Turns out, Big Formula has a pretty potent lobbying strategy in its own right. Vox details how Abbott and Mead Johnson have worked hard and successfully to maintain their stranglehold on the market, and how their lobbying efforts have led to the federal government being complicit in that effort. (Read more here and here.)

For one, the Food & Drug Administration has policies that limits the importation of formula from other countries — increasing reliance on domestically-produced formula. And in recent years, the U.S. has added big-time tariffs on formula from Canada. But perhaps most damning is policies of the Women, Infants & Children program (WIC) that allows formula-makers to contract with states to provide all the formula for WIC recipients within that state. (If you’ve ever been a WIC recipient, you know that you can’t just go grab any old can of formula off the shelf at the grocery store; it has to be a certain kind, depending on which state you’re in.)

So, as a result, the two major players in the infant formula industry have been granted a monopoly — partly their own doing through savvy business strategies and cutthroat competitiveness, but also with more than a little help from the federal government.

Within a few weeks, we’ll hopefully be on our way to the end of this crisis. And, even more hopefully, the final result will be congressional action that gets government the heck out of the infant formula industry. But don’t hold your breath … that’s probably no more likely than Congress doing something to alleviate the through-the-roof gasoline prices.

The AR vs. the Mini-14: Two similar guns, one demonized and one not

June 3rd, 2022|Politics|

I’ve made this argument before. But given the renewed focus on gun control in the aftermath of the Uvalde massacre and all the misinformation that appears on Facebook, here we go again.

If you want to ban guns, that’s your opinion and you have a right to it. However, if you want to ban a certain class of guns based on reasoning like “no one needs a weapon like that” or “it’s designed for only one purpose and that is to kill people,” I believe it’s important to become educated on the guns that are being discussed.
This image shows a Springfield AR-15 on the top, and a Ruger Mini-14 on the bottom.

The gun on the top is similar to the gun used by the shooter in Uvalde (and many other recent mass murderers). It is a semi-automatic rifle, shoots a .223 round, and has a detachable magazine.

The gun on the bottom is often called a “ranch gun” because it is commonly used by farmers to shoot varmints. It is also a semi-automatic rifle, also shoots a .223 round, and also has a detachable magazine.

There’s a lot of controversy surrounding the AR-15, because it looks like a military-grade weapon. In fact, you’ve heard it over and over just since Uvalde: It’s a “weapon of war.”

There’s no controversy at all surrounding the Mini-14, because it looks like your grandfather’s hunting rifle. In fact, if you live or travel in a state with very strict gun control laws, there’s a good chance you will be prohibited from having an AR-15, but won’t be prohibited from having a Mini-14. That’s interesting since, ballistically, THEY’RE THE EXACT SAME GUN! Tactically, there are some differences, of course. But when it comes to their lethality, their knock-down power, their rate of fire, etc., there is absolutely no difference between the two…except that one is black and “looks like” a military weapon. The other has a wood stock and “looks like” a hunting rifle.

A little history: The AR-15 platform was designed by Armalite in 1956. It’s true that it was styled after weapons of war; in fact, Armalite developed the platform because it hoped to win a U.S. military contract. That didn’t happen, and so Armalite sold the AR platform to Colt (which was the biggest mistake the company ever made). Colt developed the platform as a semi-automatic civilian rifle rather than an automatic military rifle, and it became the most popular carbine rifle platform in America. It is beloved by so many shooters because it’s the most versatile rifle ever developed. Literally every component of the gun can be swapped or upgraded, which lends to endless customization options. And because Colt’s patent on the AR platform expired in 1977, many different gunmakers manufacture the rifles and components for them, leading to widespread availability and endless options. AR-15s are widely used in law enforcement, but they ARE NOT military-grade weapons. Soldiers carry the similar-LOOKING but very different M16 rifle.

If you aren’t intricately familiar with firearms, you might be surprised to learn that the Mini-14 was ALSO designed after weapons of war. Introduced by Ruger in 1973, it was called a Mini-14 because it was designed after a scaled-down version of the M14 rifle. The M14 became the standard-issue rifle for the U.S. military in the 1950s, replacing the M1 Garand. (It was replaced as a standard-issue rifle in 1967…by the M16.)

So if they shoot the same bullet, and have the same basic ballistic features, why is an AR-15 called a “weapon of war” so often while a Mini-14 isn’t? It’s simple, really: such statements are made innocently by people who aren’t really familiar with guns, or they’re made maliciously by people (usually politicians or political pundits) who are trying to deceive people who aren’t familiar with guns. The AR-15 LOOKS like a military rifle as we know them today. But the Mini-14 also LOOKS like a military rifle…it’s just that the garand platform became far less commonplace after the M16 was introduced in the 1960s. If this were the World War II era, everyone would be saying the Mini-14 is a “weapon of war” because it looks so much like the rifles American soldiers were carrying in WWII.

Obviously the AR-15 has some tactical and technical advantages over the Mini-14. It’s cheaper, for one, which helps fuel its widespread availability. Its availability is also helped by the fact that so many different gunmakers offer a version, while the Mini-14 is only offered by Ruger. But its greatest advantage is that it is easily customized. Everything from stocks to slings to barrels to foregrips to heat shields to optics are widely available in a lot of different options.

However, the Mini-14 also has tactical advantages over the AR-15. It is much sturdier in build, with a better trigger mechanism, better barrel, etc. Every Mini-14 comes off the assembly line with a forged barrel, whereas the AR-15 typically comes off the assembly line with a light-weight factory barrel. But the biggest advantage of a Mini-14 over an AR-15 is the design of the fixed-gas piston system. It is much more efficient than the action system on most AR-15s, meaning it fires way more cleanly with less fouling and jamming than an AR-15. That’s actually one of the biggest detriments to an AR-15: how often they tend to jam.

All the rest of the differences between the AR-15 and the M-14 are just aesthetics. The Mini-14 has a low profile like most hunting rifles, meaning if you add optics, they’ll be mounted lower and closer to the gun. The AR-15 has a higher profile to allow for options like top rails, and that gives the rifle more of a tactical look compared to the Mini-14. A lot of these deranged mass-murderers have an obsession with looking tactical (which also explains why they tend to wear black tactical britches with lots of pockets when they could just as easily wear a pair of blue jeans), and that’s why they choose an AR-15. But make no mistake, if the AR-15 wasn’t available to them, they could do just as much damage with other semi-automatic rifles.

(The AR-15 is also more accurate than the Mini-14, but that’s only applicable at distances of greater than 150 to 200 yards…and very few of the mass shootings we see are taking place at those distances.)

So, if by this point you’re asking yourself why the AR-15 is so demonized while rifles like the Mini-14 aren’t, that’s a good first question to ask. This isn’t an argument for Mini-14s and other semi-automatic rifles that don’t “look like” military weapons to be banned. It’s a suggestion that if we’re going to get serious about stopping mass shootings and reducing gun violence, we owe it to ourselves to stop making emotional arguments that are based on what something LOOKS like without much consideration for its lethality and broaden our approach. Saying “no one needs” an AR-15 without calling for other guns that shoot the same rounds at the same rate to be banned is an incredibly hypocritical approach. That’s excusable if you just don’t have much knowledge about firearms; that’s the purpose of posts like this. But if you’re the President of the United States or the Senate Majority Leader and you have advisers who can tell you anything you need to know about anything you’re about to say, there’s really no excuse for those type of comments except to purposely mislead your constituents.

Combat the false narrative

May 27th, 2022|Politics|

This claim, which echoes those of so many other Democrats – including Attorney General Merrick Garland, who says white supremacists pose “the most dangerous threat to our democracy” – is false.

Much of their “evidence” comes from groups with long histories of misinformation, such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, whose business model depends on ginning up fears about supposed threats. In the aftermath of the Buffalo massacre, the New York Times trumpeted a 2021 “Murder and Extremism” report from the Anti-Defamation League to make the case that the “political right has a violence problem.”

But, as my RealClearInvestigations colleague James Varney reports, this characterization is as misleading as it is inflammatory. The ADL reports that white supremacists accounted for 244 (55%) of the 443 killings that the ADL “documented” between 2012 and 2021. Fifty-five percent – that sounds big! Varney notes that during that same period, there were about 165,000 murders in the United States. Thus, white supremacists accounted for 0.001% of the total.

— RealClearPolitics

It’s time to stand up to the left-leaning politicians and their media allies like the New York Times who are attempting to craft this narrative of white conservative domestic terrorism.

Un-freakin’-believable

May 27th, 2022|Politics|

With criticism swelling about the police response to the Texas elementary school massacre, a law enforcement official said Thursday that the gunman who killed 19 children and two teachers entered the school “unobstructed” through an unlocked door 12 minutes after police were alerted about a man nearby with a rifle.

Those fateful minutes — and an hour in which the police took cover outside the classroom, apparently seeking to negotiate with an active shooter — have become the focal point of questions from parents and law enforcement experts about whether more could have been done to halt the unfolding tragedy.

Victor Escalon, South Texas regional director for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said at a news briefing that the gunman, Salvador Ramos, 18, did not initially encounter any police officers when he entered Robb Elementary School in Uvalde on Tuesday and opened fire.

— LA Times

Twelve minutes.
That’s how long the Uvalde gunman stood outside the elementary school, firing shots, before entering the building.
Twelve minutes after police were alerted about a man with a rifle near the school, he went inside. After 12 minutes of a gunman firing shots outside the school, he was still able to walk unobstructed through an unlocked door.
And it was still more than one hour AFTER THAT before law enforcement officers entered the building. We don’t know how long it took him to kill those kids (probably not nearly that long) but witnesses said mothers were outside the school screaming at police to go in as shots were being fired inside the building.
As for the SRO who police originally said confronted the gunman outside the school…he wasn’t even on campus when the gunman crashed his truck outside.
I would suggest that of all the issues raised by the details of how this tragedy unfolded, the fact that the guy was able to purchase a rifle ranks somewhere down the list. Those kids inside that school were failed. But it wasn’t by the National Rifle Association or the Republican politicians (and a few Democrats) who resist new gun control laws, the strawmen who have been vilified by the pundits and mainstream media the last few days.