URLs du Jour


Proverbs 15:15 inverts the usual Good News/Bad News format. Let's put the bad news first:

15 All the days of the oppressed are wretched,
    but the cheerful heart has a continual feast.

It was very un-PC of the Proverbialist to observe the misery of the opressed and then immediately follow up with "Hey, but these people over here seem happy." So it goes.

■ I read Chris Thomas's book Inheritors of the Earth earlier this month and enjoyed it quite a bit. Let Reason's Ronald Bailey tempt you further with his review: Life Finds a Way

Humanity isn't destroying the natural world. We're changing it. And in many ways, our changes are creating richer and more vibrant ecosystems.

That's the persuasive and liberating argument advanced by the York University conservation biologist Chris D. Thomas in his riveting new book, Inheritors of the Earth: How Nature Is Thriving in an Age of Extinction. "It is time for the ecological, conservation and environmental movement—of which I am a life-long member—to throw off the shackles of a pessimism-laden, loss-only view of the world," he writes. Instead, he thinks a thriving world of exotic ecosystems and biological renewal is at hand. By the time readers have finished this carefully researched treatise, they should agree.

… and I did agree, so thumbs up to Mr. Bailey for predicting that.

■ The no-longer-on-Twitter Kevin D. Williamson observes sagely: An Enemies List Is Not a Philosophy. Also: a wombat is not a toaster. But that's not important right now. Mr. Williamson begins:

Conservatives used to boast that the Right has ideas, while the Left has only an enemies list. There was a time when that was true, but it isn’t true anymore.

My colleague Jonah Goldberg has done great work illuminating the progressive mode of politics captured by the phrase “the moral equivalent of war.” War is not necessarily ennobling or even unifying (see Iraq), but the two great wars of the 20th century illustrated that the industrial and economic might of the United States can, at least for a time, be turned by the state toward a single national purpose. (We romanticize those wars, especially the second, but our war provisioning was in reality marked by the incompetence, corruption, and profiteering one would expect with any big federal spending project.) As Goldberg writes in Liberal Fascism, “War socialism under Wilson was an entirely progressive project, and long after the war it remained the liberal ideal.” After both wars, there were those in government who argued that Washington should maintain its extraordinary wartime powers in order to turn them to such peaceful ends as a “war on poverty.” Warren G. Harding ran on the opposite idea — his “return to normalcy” — as Dwight Eisenhower did in a less insistent way. (Indeed, Eisenhower’s dismissal of the conservative project seeking a return to the prewar, pre–New Deal settlement was the proximate cause for the founding of this magazine and the modern conservative movement; American conservatives have always been running against the Republican party.)

A few years back, some folks on "our side" got the bright idea to be just as stupid and mean as the "other side". That's not turning out well.

■ Via Slashdot, ("Scientists Say Space Aliens Could Hack Our Planet"), one of the sillier articles I've read in a while, from NBC News.

With all the news stories these days about computer hacking, it probably comes as no surprise that someone is worried about hackers from outer space. Yes, there are now scientists who fret that space aliens might send messages that worm their way into human society — not to steal our passwords but to bring down our culture.

How exactly would they do that? Astrophysicists Michael Hippke and John Learned argue in a recent paper that our telescopes might pick up hazardous messages sent our way — a virus that shuts down our computers, for example, or something a bit like cosmic blackmail: “Do this for us, or we’ll make your sun go supernova and destroy Earth.” Or perhaps the cosmic hackers could trick us into building self-replicating nanobots, and then arrange for them to be let loose to chew up our planet or its inhabitants.

I'm currently reading Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now, and he observes (p. 166) that many can't resist projecting "the megalomania of Homo Sapiens males onto every form of intelligence". Including extraterrestrial forms, obviously.

My guess: hostile ETs with advanced tech would destroy themselves long before they got around to scouring the galaxy.

But there's also this:

Extraterrestrials could simply give us some advanced knowledge — not as a trade, but as a gift. How could that possibly be a downer? Imagine: You’re a physicist who has dedicated your career to understanding the fundamental structure of matter. You have a stack of reprints, a decent position, and a modicum of admiration from the three other specialists who have read your papers. Suddenly, aliens weigh in with knowledge that’s a thousand years ahead of yours. So much for your job and your sense of purpose.

What rings the alarm bells here is "a thousand years ahead". Given the timescales of stellar evolution, the likelihood of an ET civilization being a mere thousand years ahead of us is vanishingly small.

Another thought-provoking article that goes deeper into the likelihood of ETs and their likely motivations is here: The Fermi Paradox. (AKA, "Where is everybody?")

The Judge

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I was prepared to like this movie better than I did. I like Robert Downey, Jr. Also Robert Duvall is great (he got an Supporting Actor Oscar nomination). But…

It's very long, 2 hours and 21 minutes, and it obviously doesn't need to be.

Mr. Downey plays high-powered Chicago defense attorney Hank Palmer. He specializes in getting his obviously guilty clients acquitted by Whatever Means Necessary, but that's the (insanely well-paid) job. Only problem: his marriage has fallen apart, probably due to his neglect. He has a cute precocious daughter.

And then his small-town Indiana mother dies. He's been estranged from his family for years, but goes back for the funeral. He's immediately at odds with "The Judge", his father, played by the aforementioned Mr. Duvall. The Judge is a hard-nosed lock-em-upper. There are also two brothers: Glen (Vincent D'Onofrio) a once-promising athlete now relegated to managing a tire store, and Dale, mentally challenged, obsessed with filming everything that goes on. (And when I say "filming", that's literal 8mm stuff. Can you even get that developed anywhere?)

Obviously, Hank wants to vamoose back to the big city ASAP. But—oops—fate intervenes when the Judge is credibly accused of intentionally using his Caddy to run down a miscreant just out of the slammer. Obviously, Hank has to come to the Judge's defense. Which involves staying in Indiana for… well, it seems like forever.

Victoria & Abdul

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

As the Oscars approach, 'tis the season to … check out a movie that was obvious Oscar bait, but nonetheless got nearly completely snubbed. (Two nominations, for Makeup and Costumes.)

Although Judi Densch did get a Golden Globe nomination for "Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy". Only problem: this movie is not a musical. Therefore…

Anyway, Dame Judi plays Queen Victoria. As we begin, in 1888, there's a lot of Wretched Imperial Excess involved in celebrating her 50th year as Queen. This includes importing a small golden coinlike object from India, plus two "Hindus" to present it, with all due ostentation.

The movie turns on this oddity: one of the presenters, Abdul (who's actually a Muslim), defies royal protocol, catches the Queenly eye, and eventually works his way into Vicki's good graces. For good reason: he's charismatic, exotic, and charming. But this scandalizes the royal retinue, who are outraged at Abdul's darker complexion, but even more outraged at their relative eclipse from the Queen's favor.

The movie sent me to History vs Hollywood to find out how much liberty was taken to make a good story. A significant amount, it turns out. For one thing, Queen Vicky was probably not very close to the stalwart racial progressive portrayed here. And real-life Abdul wasn't quite as saintlike as portrayed either.

Still, not a bad try. Although she's not Oscar-nominated, Dame Judi acts the heck out of her role, and the rest of the cast is pretty good too. There's a lot of anti-imperialism boilerplate, and the fact that Abdul was a Muslim also hits some PC themes. But it's mainly a good, mostly true, story.