URLs du Jour — 2014-04-08

  • Joel Kotkin writes in the Orange County Register about the strange new respect on the American Left for debate-stifling.

    But when it comes to authoritarian expression of “true” beliefs, it’s the progressive Left that increasingly seeks to impose orthodoxy. In this rising intellectual order, those who dissent on everything from climate change, the causes of poverty and the definition of marriage, to opposition to abortion are increasingly marginalized and, in some cases, as in the Steyn trial, legally attacked.

    The reference to Steyn, of course, concerns global warming huckster Michael Mann's effort to stifle criticism of his activist-posing-as-scientist activities.

  • But you know things are really bad when Jon Lovett, who is an ex-employee of both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, writes an article titled "The Culture of Shut Up", and it appears at the Atlantic website. And it's funny and perceptive.

    There once was a remote village deep in the rainforest that had no contact with the outside world. And in this small village there were only three village elders who had the ability to speak. So they were in charge. And they’d have arguments. One would say, “I support a woman’s right to choose.” Another would say, “I oppose a woman’s right to choose.” And then the third would say, “A real debate here on a woman’s right to choose. When we come back, Justin Bieber arrested!”

    Now if you were one of the many villagers who didn’t have a way to speak, you just hoped that one of the three elders who could speak would make the argument you wanted to make. Sometimes they did, sometimes they didn’t. And it was okay, but it bothered you that these three voices didn’t really speak for everybody. They were, after all, pretty rich and all one color. (Green. These were green people.) And they didn’t really understand what it was like to be aqua or purple or gay or poor like you were. You’re a gay poor purple person. They tried to cover the whole world, but generally they focused on what was on the minds of green people from the big cities who watched Mad Men and went to Middlebury.

    Check it out. People can go on to be funny and sensible even after working for Clinton and Obama. Who knew?

  • Don Boudreaux links to and quotes extensively to "The ’77 Cents on the Dollar Myth About Women’s Pay" in the WSJ. Both are well worth your reading, but Prof Boudreaux makes a more general point about the hubris involved:

    Far too many policy proposals are premised on the absurd notion that privately available profit opportunities exist but remain unnoticed by all but professors, politicians, pundits, and preachers – officious observers who never offer to stake their own funds and efforts on seizing these opportunities. Seizing with their own private initiative these opportunities (if these opportunities are real) would not only yield well-deserved profits to the these professors, politicians, pundits, and preachers, but it would also solve the very problems that they assert are so awful. But instead, these officious know-it-alls cower in their punditry and preaching; they restrict their own actions to instructing the government on how to force other people to spend money and to act.

    A certain amount of arrogance is probably necessary for anyone who wants to get into the opinion-expressing biz, present company included. It should be tempered with humility, though. Is it my imagination that the arrogance/humility ratio is disproportionately high on one end of the political spectrum? By which I mean: that other one?

  • Jonah Goldberg would agree I think. He discusses Vox.com, a liberal site which prides itself on "explanatory journalism". But:

    The whole explanatory journalism project fits neatly into the core argument driving The Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas. They cheat by denying their ideological motivations — even to themselves.  Indeed, it is a constant trope of liberalism to believe — dogmatically, ideologically — that they are just empiricists and fact-finders doing what is right and good in a battle against dogmatic ideologues on the right. The more honest approach would be to simply admit your biases upfront and defend the principles that inform your biases. Instead they prefer to make arguments grounded in the assumption that the liberal “frame” is really a perfect window onto reality.

    That makes me sad and tired.


Last Modified 2014-08-06 9:14 AM EST

Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain

[Amazon Link]

I think I've mentioned my placement of Isaac Asimov's SF novels on my to-be-(re)?read list a few years back. Here's the latest entry, one I actually hadn't read before. For good reasons, it turns out.

Semi-interesting background: Dr. Asimov wrote the novelization for the fondly-remembered movie Fantastic Voyage back in the sixties. It was based on a screenplay written by someone else, and it told the story of the miniaturized submarine Proteus as it carried a life-saving laser to destroy a life-threatening blood clot in the brain of a defecting Soviet scientist.

Asimov was apparently long-bugged about the movie's total disregard for even remote scientific plausibility. (His book cleaned up some issues, but far from all.) Hence this "reboot".

There are a lot of differences. There is a handwaving attempt to justify the miniaturization process as a localized field where Planck's Constant (h) is reduced. So everything that depends on h (mass, atomic size, quantum forces, etc.) gets "smaller" proportionately. Cool!

It's set at some point in the 21st century, far enough ahead so there are permanent moon bases. Amusingly, although Asimov wrote this in the mid-1980s, much of the plot revolves around the rivalry between the US and the still-nasty, still existing, Soviet Union. The protagonist is essentially shanghaied to participate in a Soviet mission to recover the thoughts of a comatose Russian scientist. (He's comatose because—gulp!—a previous minaturization experiment went awry.) The crew is plagued by inner dissension and the many obstacles inherent in trying to find a likely brain cell that might be used to extract the right combination of brain-wave patterns.

The miniaturized vessel does not even have a name. Sigh.

The talk/action ratio is high, maybe higher than usual for Asimov. While the underlying science might be better, they all spend an unusual amount of time yakking about it. The result is not too interesting, let alone thrilling.