How To Be Better on the Internet
Stop thinking about in-group, out-group stuff first.
Every week I highlight three newsletters.
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1. Radley Balko
Remember that time when the radical, woke BLM socialists in California legalized shoplifting.
No, of course you don’t. Because it never happened. Here’s Radley Balko:
This post is about one specific, stubbornly persistent claim from the shoplifting doomsdayers — that the reason for shoplifting boom across California (which again, may or may not be real) is Proposition 47, a ballot measure passed by the state’s voters in 2014.
Prop 47 law has effectively legalized shoplifting, they say, so long as you steal less than $950 worth of stuff. It’s a claim regularly made on Fox News, by countless Twitter and Facebook accounts, and by high-volume brocasters like Adam Corolla. I’ve also seen a resurgence of the claim in recent weeks on Twitter, particularly since Elon Musk began amplifying Twitter Blue subscribers, which is a little like handing a football stadium’s PA system over to the drunkest fans in the stands.
So just to be clear: This claim is false. Prop 47 did not legalize low-level shoplifting.
Here’s what Prop 47 did do:
Prior to the law, if you stole merchandise worth less than $400 in California, you could only be charged with a misdemeanor. But that $400 figure was set decades ago. Prop 47 raised the figure to $950 to adjust for inflation and cost of living increases. It also raised the limit to $950 for other crimes, including check fraud, grand theft, receipt of stolen property, and forgery.
Under Prop 47, theft of less than $950 under all of those scenarios is still a crime. It’s still punishable with fines and up to six months in jail. But it’s now a misdemeanor instead of a felony.
Read the whole thing and subscribe.
Balko goes on to examine the real-world effects Prop 47 had on crime in California and those effects are unclear.
In 2015, the year after Prop 47 was passed, property theft increased. But after that, property thefts decreased annually in California at the same rate as they declined nationally.
And also, as Balko points out, even under Prop 47, California’s shoplifting laws are still pretty tough relative to the rest of America:
In fact, 34 states have a higher misdemeanor/felony shoplifting threshold than California’s $950. That includes not-exactly-soft-on-crime states like Arkansas Arizona, Idaho, Ohio, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Wyoming. Those states all put the misdemeanor/felony cutoff at $1,000. . . .
Want to guess the state with the highest cutoff — the state where you can steal the most stuff without getting charged with a felony?
It’s Texas*! The cutoff in Texas is $2,500 — almost three times the cutoff in lefty, liberal, criminal-coddling California! In Texas, theft of merchandise valued between $750 and $2,500 is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $4,000 and up to a year in jail.
Don’t hold your breath waiting for Fox to do a segment on the woke BLM legislators in Texas who are soft on shoplifting.
What Balko is getting at here is that conservatives want to have the wrong conversation about crime. They’re interested in the Who? Whom? views of the world in which you know a thing is good because the in group does it and you know a thing is bad because the out group does it.
The real question about Prop 47 is: Did this policy change have good outcomes or bad outcomes? Don’t just look at the rate of property crimes, but at recidivism rates, the effect on businesses and communities, the costs to the justice system, etc.
Maybe Prop 47 was bad (or good) for California but might have the opposite effect in another state?
Point is: This is a real subject with real-world consequences. It’s not a game or something you punt around on Facebook or cable news to pwn your perceived enemies.
2. The Writers’ Strike
The rest of America hasn’t realized it yet, but Hollywood is at the beginning of a pretty important conflict between workers and owners in the form of the writers’ strike.
Richard Rushfield explains it better than anyone:
Warren Buffett, in comments to his investors meeting this week, asked about the hit he'd taken on his Paramount stock, pretty much summed up the situation in a couple sentences:
“The streaming business is extremely interesting to watch, because people love to use their eyeballs being entertained on a screen in front of them or a phone, whatever it may be, but there is a lot of companies doing it, and you need fewer companies or you need higher prices, or it doesn’t work,” Buffett said.
Buffett went on to recall a time when he owned a gas station in Omaha and found that his profits were being determined by a larger station down the street. “He determined our profit, because we looked at his price every day,” Buffett said, adding that his station eventually went under because they couldn’t compete in price and make a profit.
In the streaming wars, “you’ve got a bunch of companies that don’t want to quit. Who knows what pricing does under that?” Buffett said.
So it's pretty simple. The entire industry went down a road madly spending against each other in a sector where they have no pricing power. To get that you need fewer companies. But no one is getting out.
And to service that competition, they entered into, among other things, a showrunner arms race — making these insane eight-, nine-figure deals with TV writer-producers that could never possibly pay for themselves.
In the thick of this, talent was in the best position it's ever been in. Giant deals. All sorts of films being greenlit with fantastical price tags. Competition between eight different companies for premiere content.
That was a great moment to be one of the 30 top TV writers in the business. Terrible for the stability of everyone else, including the companies that are writing their checks.
Read the whole thing and subscribe.
This is a case where the owners of the business are crying poor because of changes they voluntarily undertook on their own.
It was the studios who decided to trade theatrical dollars for streaming pennies. It was the studios who chose to pay nine-figure money to producers and directors for products that could never pay for themselves.
And now that the music has stopped, the studios are the ones demanding that the workers take a haircut in order to keep management living in the style to which it is accustomed.
One cheer for capitalism?
3. Advice for Social Media
Scott Hines thinks that the period of social media monoculture is over and that we’re headed to a fragmented social space. And so, as people begin their new online lives, he has some excellent advice:
Say less. Some of the greatest, funniest, most memorable things I’ve ever seen on social media were only a few words long. Make your point as economically as possible.
Speak thoughtfully. You don’t know who is listening to you, and what impact a thoughtless or negative statement may have on them. . . .
You are what you say, not what you say you are. The words coming out of your mouth or off of your keyboard say far more about you than the ones in your bio do, and if you ever have to issue a statement claiming “that’s not who I am”, I have some bad news for you. (Yeah, it is.)
Consider the possibility of other perspectives. You’ll be stunned at what you might learn if you’re just willing to listen and keep an open mind, and you might even make a friend or two along the way.
You are under no obligation to engage someone acting in bad faith on their terms. . . .
There is almost always someone smarter than you out there, and there is also someone much dumber than the both of you confidently explaining something in that person’s area of expertise to them right now. Seek out the former, and try not to be the latter.
You do not have to have an opinion on everything. . . .
Read the whole thing and subscribe. He’s great.
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Balko: "[I]f you’re a shoplifter in California [$950 misdemeanor ceiling] who wants to steal a lot more stuff without worrying about a felony charge, you might consider moving to Texas [$2,500 misdemeanor ceiling]."
And since the 2023 cost of living index for TX (92.1) is less than two-thirds that for CA (142.2) (US avg index is normalized to 100), TX could give you more bucks for the bang than CA
Personally, I think streaming will go away in the next couple of years. It was a product that peaked when everyone was stuck at home for 2 years. Now that people are out and about, there is not much point to most of the streaming platforms from a business sense. For all the top notch products like "Picard" Season 3 and "The Great" on Hulu (WICKEDLY funny), you get a lot of tripe such as the Bridgerton products, The Morning Show, and that God-awful KA-KA casserole that Nicole Kidman did where she had that bizarre semi0Eastern European accent.
There is a market for classic television (as Hulu and the Roku Channel have shown), but for original programming, streaming really is not fit for purpose. Why should a writer sign up for a season that is only 6-9 episodes? "Seasons" on streaming make no sense. That explains why the storylines frequently
come off as threadbare or badly stitched or agressively rushed (As Marvelous Mrs Maisel has been at some points here in their final season). Unless they are getting a substantial payment upfront, there is no financial incentive for them to write for streaming unless their name is Amy Sherman-Palladino (who both EP's Mrs Maisel and writes for it).