URLs du Jour — 2014-09-08

  • So it's (non-presidential) Primary day in New Hampshire tomorrow. Let me share an appropriate quote from Robert Heinlein, expressed as one of the aphorisms of Lazarus Long:

    If you are part of a society that votes, then do so. There may be no candidates and no measures you want to vote for...but there are certain to be ones you want to vote against. In case of doubt, vote against. By this rule you will rarely go wrong. If this is too blind for your taste, consult some well-meaning fool (there is always one around) and ask his advice. Then vote the other way. This enables you to be a good citizen (if such is your wish) without spending the enormous amount of time on it that truly intelligent exercise of franchise requires.

    More from Mr. Long here. (I also posted this as a comment up at Granite Grok.)

  • Speaking of which, former UNH students Nicholas Mignanelli and Jordan Prince Osgood point out an Inconvenient Truth about former UNH Dean Dan Innis (current hopeful for the GOP nomination to oppose my CongressCritter/Toothache Carol Shea-Porter). From this morning's edition of my local paper, Fosters Daily Democrat:

    It is common knowledge that Republican candidate for Congress Dan Innis voted in the 2012 Democratic state primary and donated money to gubernatorial candidate Jackie Cilley in the last election cycle. While such actions arouse suspicion of opportunism, it would be unfair to dismiss his candidacy on what one might categorize as a mere mistake or an act of friendship.

    What is more telling, however, is his action (or perhaps inaction) when he was in a position of power at the University of New Hampshire in Durham.

    In December of 2011, when the university administration held a forum lauding the Occupy Wall Street Movement and criticizing capitalism, where was Business School Dean Dan Innis to insist that free markets have alleviated more poverty than any other economic system in human history?

    During the 2008 and 2012 election seasons, when the Obama campaign flagrantly disregarded university policy prohibiting solicitation on campus and the objections of the UNH College Republicans fell on deaf ears, where was Dan Innis to ensure that university rules and regulations were enforced without regard for political conviction?

    Indeed, is it not telling that Professor Innis never attended a College Republican meeting nor expressed his support for the group’s activities until he wanted the support of its membership?

    While no one can disparage Professor Innis’s professional accomplishments, one has to wonder how it is that he plans to stand up to President Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and the special interest groups that bankrolled their rise to power when the academic left in Durham proved too intimidating for him.

    The letter, by the way, is headlined "Vote for Innis" on the web and in the dead-trees edition, so Fosters doesn't read these too carefully.

  • Liberty-loving registered GOP NH voters who haven't made up their minds yet might want to check Liberty Ballot which has a sample ballot for each different ballot in tomorrow's primary with their recommendations.

  • A very good article on the state of Higher Education from Harvard Prof Steven Pinker: "The Trouble With Harvard".

    It seems to me that educated people should know something about the 13-billion-year prehistory of our species and the basic laws governing the physical and living world, including our bodies and brains. They should grasp the timeline of human history from the dawn of agriculture to the present. They should be exposed to the diversity of human cultures, and the major systems of belief and value with which they have made sense of their lives. They should know about the formative events in human history, including the blunders we can hope not to repeat. They should understand the principles behind democratic governance and the rule of law. They should know how to appreciate works of fiction and art as sources of aesthetic pleasure and as impetuses to reflect on the human condition.

    On top of this knowledge, a liberal education should make certain habits of rationality second nature. Educated people should be able to express complex ideas in clear writing and speech. They should appreciate that objective knowledge is a precious commodity, and know how to distinguish vetted fact from superstition, rumor, and unexamined conventional wisdom. They should know how to reason logically and statistically, avoiding the fallacies and biases to which the untutored human mind is vulnerable. They should think causally rather than magically, and know what it takes to distinguish causation from correlation and coincidence. They should be acutely aware of human fallibility, most notably their own, and appreciate that people who disagree with them are not stupid or evil. Accordingly, they should appreciate the value of trying to change minds by persuasion rather than intimidation or demagoguery.

    Yeah, that would be nice. But Pinker notes that Harvard is doing a lousy job of that. And if Harvard has that problem, what about us?

  • NBC newsman Chuck Todd took over Meet The Press yesterday; Language Logger Mark Liberman presents a persuasive case that he should have already been fired. (Maybe Todd was boggled by President Obama's brazen lies.)

  • And your tweet du jour is from the immortal Harry Shearer. (But you'll need to click through for the joke):


Last Modified 2014-10-07 5:03 AM EST

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair

[Amazon Link]

Expecting to like this better. It is by Swiss author Joel Dicker, but it's set in the USA, specifically in my beloved New Hampshire.

Accentuating the positive first: the plot is good, in a twisty way. It's 2008, and acclaimed writer Marcus Goldman has a serious case of writer's block, totally unable to get any purchase on the followup to his first book. Worse, his equally famous mentor, Harry Quebert, is in trouble, for the corpse of a 15-year-old girl, Nola Kellergan, has been discovered, long-buried on Harry's property. Nola's been missing since the fall of 1975, when a neighbor lady reported seeing her being pursued through the woods by a madman. (And the neighbor lady is murdered herself a few minutes later.)

Casting suspicion on Harry is the inconvenient fact that he and Nola had a totally inappropriate relationship back in 1975. (Not quite on the Lolita scale—the relationsip is unconsummated, and Lolita was younger—but close.) The original manuscript of Harry's blockbuster novel was buried with her, together with an incriminating inscription!

Marcus decides to travel up to Harry's home in the quaint seacoast village of Somerset, New Hampshire to offer support to his old friend. He quickly decides to start his own investigation, which (it turns out) will unwrap a very sordid onion of perversion, corruption, and violence. The book shifts (mostly) between 1975 and 2008, revelations piling up in both time periods.

The problem is that this promising plot is explicated with cardboard characters, plastic dialog, and leaden prose. I am not a high-standards fiction gourmet by any means, but I found everything except the plot to be embarrassingly bad.

Part of the problem may be the translation from the book's original French; kind of like a wonderful Chinese movie getting ineptly dubbed by idiots who don't understand either Chinese or English very well. The book was apparently a "#1 international best seller", and the front matter has a lot of quotes from European sources attesting to its wonderfulness. So maybe.

Not that it matters, but I couldn't help but notice: the New Hampshire setting is very fictional. There's no "Somerset", and the geography described in the book doesn't seem to relate to any actual place. Some of the book happens in Concord, which is an actual place, and the book locates some state offices on Hazen Drive, true enough, but—bzzt!—puts Hazen Drive in the center of Concord, which it isn't.


Last Modified 2014-12-10 12:28 PM EST

All Is Lost

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

An artsy film starring 70s heartthrob, Robert Redford. He's gotten all craggy, and can no longer flash the kilowatt smile, but does a fine job carrying the movie.

And he has to carry it, because he's the only one in it. He is billed as (honest, this is what the credits say) "Our Man". An opening monologue tells us he's in trouble, and he regrets (I think this is the gist) the hubris that led him to his current situation. Which is: stranded in the vast ocean without hope for survival.

What brought him to this pretty pass? An eight-day flashback tells the story: Our Man is sailing solo across a remote region of the Pacific, when a cast-off shipping container rams the side of his boat. This causes some flooding, which knocks out his electronics, and sets him on a slow-motion disaster course. He is resourceful and tenacious, and you could learn a lot about handling yourself in a maritime crisis just by watching this movie. The only real question is: will he make it? No spoilers here! The movie is artsy enough to leave it in doubt.

I stayed awake, which is high praise for a movie with close to zero dialog and not a lot of scenery.


Last Modified 2014-12-10 12:28 PM EST