URLs du Jour

2018-06-04

[Amazon Link]

  • Could someone please send Proverbs 12:15 to President Donald J. Trump?

    15 The way of fools seems right to them,
        but the wise listen to advice.

    Pun Salad Proverbial Analysis: True. Although it's kinda meta: Advice about taking advice. What's next? Advice about taking advice about advice?


  • <voice imitation="professor_farnsworth">Good news, everyone</voice>: the plucky Kevin D. Williamson has been spotted at the Weekly Standard! Will I have to get a subscription? Maybe!

    Anyway, KDW muses on the progressive hellhole that is Portland, Oregon, Beef Supremacy in Portland.

    The world is full of stupid and angry people, and most of them live in Portland.

    Women’s soccer player Jaelene Hinkle, a defender for the North Carolina Courage, was booed by angry Portland women’s soccer fans—and is there any other kind, really?—during a match against the Portland Thorns, after the local mutawwi learned via an interview with The 700 Club (which still exists!) that Hinkle had passed up an opportunity to play with the U.S. women’s team because she was not comfortable wearing a jersey celebrating (roll call!) Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender/Queer/Questioning (there is some dispute about what the Q stands for; some people insist on LGBTQQ just to cover the bases, but that seems like a lot of Qs, if you ask me) Pride Month.

    Funny and insightful all the way through. (Need an explanation of the article's title? You may need to watch, or rewatch, Idiocracy.)


  • At the WaPo, Megan McArdle explains it to people who almost certainly won't get it: Defending Samantha Bee isn’t principled. It’s tribalism.

    It’s time for us to have yet another one of those great national conversations about oppression and inequality. All Americans, but particularly Feminist Americans, must now stop and ask themselves a pressing question: Under what circumstances is it all right to call Chelsea Clinton a …

    Hmmm, this is a family column, so I’m not going to use that word. Let’s just say it’s a four-letter epithet for the nether lady parts, the last three letters of which are U, N and T. But in deference to the families that read this paper — including mine — we’re going to use something nicer. We’re going to say … er … rhyming’s so cliche … oh, heck, let’s just go with “twinkletoes.”

    Again with the meta: the most interesting thing in the kerfuffle is the shifting rules and moving goalposts that the tribes use to pardon their perceived allies, while savaging their deplorable enemies. Some bright person called it "Calvinball". Who was it, now>…


  • Oh, right, it was Charles C. W. Cooke at NRO Samantha Bee’s Defenders Play Calvinball with the Language. Inspired by this tweet:

    Comments Charlie:

    This is Calvinball. Imagine, if you will, that, say, Sean Hannity or Ann Coulter had called, say, Chelsea Clinton a “c***.” In what universe would the word have been dismissed as merely a “word choice,” divorced from any associated “worldview”? In such a circumstance, we’d be told that the word reflected the speaker’s sexism and misogyny; that it indicted his entire political ideology; that it highlighted the depravity of his audience; and so forth. The New York Times would link the comment to “rape culture” and “toxic masculinity.” College professors would explain that it came deep from the wells of American inequality. MSNBC would write an opera, and broadcast it over three days. The word would become a Weltanschauung in ten seconds flat.

    It helps if you imagine Charlie saying this in an exasperated British accent.

    And check out our Amazon Product du Jour for a quick primer on Calvinball.


  • Econlog's Scott Sumner tells the truth: Neoliberalism is the worst system, except for all the others.

    It's increasingly fashionable for left wing progressives to view free speech advocates as being defenders of a neoliberal system that favors the fortunate. We are told that "there need to be rules to restrict hate speech". The use of passive voice makes it all seem quite simple.

    Less often do progressives say, "The government needs to create and enforce laws against hate speech." Even less often do you hear "Government leaders such as Attorney General Jeff Sessions need to seek out and punish people engaged in hate speech." The Devil is in the details.

    Progressives: never hanging around for the unexpected consequences.


  • Guilty admission: I was once a physics major, and (worse) also interested in the philosophy of science. In the Boston Review, Tim Maudlin offers up a review of two books that (apparently) will tell me: "Paul, everything you learned in college is wrong." The Defeat of Reason.

    [Amazon Link]

    One of the books is The Ashtray by Errol Morris. Wow, I did not know this:

    The subtitle of Errol Morris’s new book is, “Or the Man Who Denied Reality.” That might suggest a biography of Bohr, but the face on the cover is that of Thomas Kuhn. A renowned documentarian known for his dogged pursuit of truth that got one man off death row, Morris had a short-lived stint as Kuhn’s graduate student at Princeton. The cut-glass ashtray of the title was hurled at Morris’s head by Kuhn in a fit of pique. Morris has never forgiven Kuhn. And the ashtray is the least of it. Morris loathed Kuhn’s relativism and abandonment of reason and evidence, and Kuhn loathed Morris back.

    To someone who thought that Kuhn walked on water—hey, it was the 70s—this sounds like it might be a huge guilty pleasure.

    The other book reviewed by Maudlin: What is Real? by Adam Becker. Which slays the Bohr/Schrödinger/Heisenberg "Copenhagen Interpretation" of quantum mechanics, notably opposed by Einstein:

    [Amazon Link]

    But while Einstein won—and would continue to win—all the logical battles, Bohr was decisively winning the propaganda war. The Copenhagen doctrine of the completeness of quantum theory and the inescapability of fundamental chance spread, enforced by Bohr and Heisenberg and the rest of the Copenhagen school. Behind the scenes, the Copenhagenists did not agree with each other, but to the world they presented a unified front. Meanwhile, Einstein and Schrödinger both rejected Bohr, but they also bickered with each other.

    This also sound bitchtastic. Both books go on by get-at-the-library list.


Last Modified 2018-06-07 11:37 AM EDT

SPQR

A History of Ancient Rome

[Amazon Link]

I can't remember why or when I put this on my to-read pile, probably a glowing review from some trusted source. The history of Ancient Rome—gee, that sure sounds like something in which I should be interested!

That optimism about my intellectual curiosity turned out to be slightly misplaced. Regrettable. I blame myself, not the author, Mary Beard, who has spent her entire professional scholarly career on this subject. Her book covers Rome from its mythical Romulus/Remus origins (long held to be April 21, 753 BC, around 10:15am local time) up to 380 AD, when Christianity was made the official religion of the Roman Empire. That's about a thousand years, a lot of time to cover, and a lot of people to talk about.

And the book is interesting in a lot of places (just not all places). Random things I picked out:

  • Although Beard does not make a big deal about this, the Romans were apparently the first to figure out and solve the huge logistical problem of maintaining a million people in a relatively small area: moving food and water in, supplying shelter and services to the populace, dealing with (very imperfectly) sanitation and disease. You're left wondering: Why them, why there, why then?

  • But reading Deirdre McCloskey will get you to notice stuff you probably wouldn't have otherwise. Even though the Empire depended on goods flowing more-or-less efficiently from one place to another, there are little clues that the guys who actually made things work (unlike the emperors, senators, poets, playwrights, etc.) were held in contempt. Exhibit One is the character of Trimalchio in Petronius's Satyricon, an "arrogant former slave, who has become quite wealthy by tactics that most would find distasteful." I.e., commerce.

    (I should also point out, as Beard does, that one of Fitzgerald's working titles for The Great Gatsby was Trimalchio in West Egg.)

  • The Roman Empire doesn't seem to have been planned. In the beginning, Rome was just a burg, just like hundreds of others in Italy. Almost by accident, it conquered and dominated its neighbors, and … well, things just seem to have snowballed. Once the imperial game gets started, it proceeds under its own logic: conquering territory and people provides booty and military personnel, which in turn self-justifies moving on to the next rival. Et cetera. (If I may be excused a bit of Latin.)

  • Lots of slavery, of course. Although freeing slaves was relatively common, and once freed, you were a Roman citizen, automatically.

  • It seems the most common method of succession from one Roman ruler to another was assassination, usually by knife. Julius Caesar was not the exception here.

  • Moreover, casual atrocity seems to have been the norm. Repeated tales of slaughtering innocents, women and children included. 'Twas normal behavior back then.

One unfortunate thing about the book: I strongly suspect Prof Beard taught this stuff at her school, and this book is, more or less, her expanded lecture notes. Downside: she expects you have already done a certain amount of assigned reading. So if you haven't picked up the basics from elsewhere, the book can sometimes feel like you've been dropped into a calculus class without taking algebra first.