URLs du Jour

2018-03-03

  • Proverbs 15:20 is another head-scratcher for moderns:

    20 A wise son brings joy to his father,
        but a foolish man despises his mother.

    Seems pretty straightforward… Wait, what about the daughters? What does their wisdom, or foolishness, portend?

    I know, Ancient Israel. Nobody cared about the daughters, save that they would someday become mothers.


  • At NR, Kevin D. Williamson patiently explains something any Republican should already know: How Tariffs Cause Chaos in the Real World.

    There are a handful of U.S.-based steel companies operating a relatively small number of facilities and employing about 142,000 people. That’s nothing to sneeze at, and we should wish them all well. But holding practically the entire U.S. manufacturing sector and construction sector hostage to the narrow corporate self interests of small but politically connected group of companies is deeply foolish. It’s also unjust.

    But I suppose that’s only of interest to people who live in buildings or drive cars, or who consume products that are made and stored in buildings or transported via truck, train, ship, or airplane. And the shareholders and workers at Caterpillar, GM, Boeing, Ford, Toyota, United Technologies . . .

    It is somewhat ironic (however) to hear the protests coming from Bernie Sanders fans. Because (as even Politifact knows), Trump and Bernie had "very similar" views on trade.


  • At Cato, Christopher A. Preble makes the case for Another BRAC Now.

    Last month, Congress authorized a massive increase in defense spending as part of a two-year budget deal. In 2018 alone, the Pentagon will receive an additional $80 billion, increasing the topline number to $629 billion. War spending will push the total over $700 billion. Though such a windfall might prompt Defense Department to ignore cost-saving measures, the White House pledged that “DOD will also pursue an aggressive reform agenda to achieve savings that it will reinvest in higher priority needs.” Noticeably absent, however, was another Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), even though Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and at least four of his predecessors, have called for such authority in order to reduce the military’s excess overhead, most recently estimated at 19 percent.

    That's a lot of moola.

    Our state's senators both oppose another BRAC, because one of the obvious candidates for cutting wasteful Defense spending is the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. My CongressCritter/Toothache Carol Shea-Porter is also opposed. The ladies are united in mainly seeing the DOD budget as a welfare spigot for (some) NH residents.


  • The Federalist's Daniel Lee notes a Progressive saying out loud what many are only thinking: Don’t Say ‘Gun Control’ So We Don’t Scare Americans With The Truth.

    A piece in New York Magazine last weekend pressed the case for abandoning the term “gun control” in favor of the less frightening “gun reform.” Writer Benjamin Hart calls the former an “unhelpful phrase.” He says it “has long been the default for well-meaning citizens who want to curb the killings that are a fact of American life. But it’s well past time to retire it and come up with something more effective.”

    The amusing thing here is that "gun control" is already a euphemism. To adapt an old Thomas Szasz quote: There's no such thing as "gun control"; there is only citizen control.

    Steven Pinker coined the term "euphemism treadmill" to describe how people invent "polite" language to replace offensive/emotional words or phrases; but eventually that polite language also offends, requiring new euphemisms to be created. This isn't quite the same thing, but pretty close.


  • We previously plugged the USNews "Best States" compilation. Minnesotan James Lileks wonders, amusingly: How could Minnesota have lost 'best state' award to Iowa?

    Iowa? The state that looks, on a map, like it’s Minnesota’s commode? Not that we would say such things out loud, but look at our neighborhood. Wisconsin leans into us like a drunk who won’t shut up about the Packers. North and South Dakota stand there like twins with nothing much to say, and Canada is the roof covered with snow. Iowa is what Minnesota would be if it fell into a trash compactor.

    Not that I'm a fanboy or anything, but in a "best states" competition, Minnesota should probably get some extra credit for being home to James Lileks. (And Florida would get some love for Dave Barry, but not enough to get it out of fifteenth place.)


  • Some days I blog an article simply on the strength of its headline. This is one of those days, because at Mental Floss we have: Poop Visible From Space Helped Scientists Find a Remote 'Supercolony' of Penguins.

    Penguin poop visible from space just helped scientists discover a previously unknown, massive colony of Adélie penguins on a chain of remote Antarctic islands, according to a new study published in Scientific Reports.


  • The Babylon Bee stings… Facebook Sends Warm Reminder To Publishers That It Is In Complete Control Of Their Livelihood

    Facebook, Inc. sent a personal message Friday to each publisher using its service, warmly reminding them that they are utterly dependent on the social media giant for traffic and that it is in complete control of their livelihood.

    “Publishers are important to Facebook,” the message sent to countless page admins read. “We want you to know that we care about you. Also, we will not hesitate to choke off your traffic until your organization ceases to be financially viable, should we feel the desire to do so at any time.”

    I eagerly await the Snopes fact check on this!

Enlightenment Now

The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress

[Amazon Link]

As I'm sure I've mentioned before: I'll read anything that comes of Steven Pinker's keyboard. Fanboy here. Despite the fact that I am now ElderlyOnAFixedIncome, I sprang for the dead-trees hardcover at Amazon.

This book consists of two main themes: first, it's sort of a sequel to Pinker's 2011 book The Better Angels of Our Nature (which I reported on here). The positive worldwide trends he reported in that book continue: our Collective Statistics continue to improve, we're living longer, healthier, wealthier, safer, smarter lives, increasingly free of violence, pollution, and despotic governance. What's not to like?

The second theme, which I think he hits more strongly here than he did in Better Angels, is when he describes the likely causes and possible future of such progress. Basically, he sees our Enlightened history as a long process of shucking off the chains of tribalism and superstition. And our future progress depends on continuing that trend, and embracing an (explicitly atheistic) humanism. And, oh yeah, he despises Donald Trump. And Republicans, generally.

Pinker is a very good science writer, one of the best popularizers. But when he wanders outside of his professional fields of psychology, linguistics, and cognition, he can seem more than a little glib. When he gets into the philosophical/political/economic realm—as he does here, to I think a greater extent than in previous books—he manages to appear both strident and simplistic. (For example, he rails against "populism", but it becomes clear that he's using that term to mean "political positions I don't like". Fine, I don't like most of 'em either, but your terminology is non-standard, Steve.)

To be fair, I think Pinker can be an equal-opportunity offender: he has zero patience with left-wing PC Progressivism when it serves the forces of irrationality, intolerance, ignorance, and global pessimism. As a result he's been smeared by (some) leftists. So good on him for that.

But he seems to have his own faith. He's a big believer in "problem solving". As if the divisive issues confronting us were simply more advanced versions of the end-of-chapter exercises in math textbooks. Hey, just plug the numbers into the formulas, and they'll tell us technocrats what to do, and we'll just make that happen! There are no trade-offs.

While he gives lip service to "the freedom of people to screw up their own lives" (p. 344), it's unclear what that implies. He never seems to come to grips with it. Frustrating to those of us with libertarian sensibilities.

Added later that same day: Tyler Cowen calls this review ("Why Steven Pinker is Wrong") "one of the very best". I think we're in agreement: read Pinker, but don't take his philosophical/historic musings as gospel (heh).


Last Modified 2018-03-03 5:46 PM EST