URLs du Jour

2019-03-04

[Amazon Link]

  • I don't know what will happen to the G-File under Jonah Goldberg's changed relationship with National Review, but it was there last week, and it's real and it's spectacular: Socialism and Infanticide: The Return of Barbarism. An interesting insight as to the former:

    […] Whether it’s the Socialist Party of Great Britain or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or the millions of young people who think they’re socialists, they think socialism is a good thing that can do no wrong, and if it does wrong it must be because it’s not really socialism. I understand why conservatives think socialism is evil — because there are so many examples of socialism being evil. But most socialists don’t think they’re evil — nor is it their greatest dream to steal our hamburgers: Socialism is just their word for fixing what’s wrong with the world. The problem is that when you give yourself over to a single idea of how things should be, you check yourself into what Chesterton called “the clean and well-lit prison of one idea” and you become “sharpened to one painful point.” You are bereft of the “healthy hesitation and healthy complexity” that lets you grasp the world as it is and understand the crooked timber of human nature.

    But that’s kinda what I like about the SPGB. At least they take their ideas seriously. They’ve constructed a wholly hypothetical alternative world that is simultaneously as plausible and impossible as Middle Earth or Westeros or a great meal at a Wolfgang Puck Express at the Newark airport. It sounds like it could be real, and it’s kind of fun to think about, but it’s not actually reality. It’s like they think they can pluck the Platonic ideal of a hamburger out of the ether and use it as a rhetorical cudgel to say a Five Guys burger “isn’t a real hamburger! Real hamburgers have never been tried!” Even the Wikipedia entry on the SPGB says: “The party’s political position has been described as a form of impossibilism.”

    I've seen some people describing themselves as "directional" libertarians. In that: they don't know what a libertarian utopia would look like, but they know they want to move in that direction. Makes a lot of sense, and socialists of all stripes would probably benefit from adapting a similar stance.


  • At the American Institute of Economic Research, Jeffrey A. Tucker asks the musical question: Where Did AOC Get Her Sweet Potatoes?.

    Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was trying to explain to me that the world is going to melt, we are all going to die, and probably we shouldn’t be having any more children, but I was distracted by the dinner she was preparing on camera. She was carefully cutting sweet potatoes before putting them in the oven.

    She put salt and pepper on them. Salt was once so rare that it was regarded as money. Ever try to go a day with zero salt? Nothing tastes right. That was the history of humanity for about 150,000 years. Then we figured out how to produce and distribute salt to every table in the world. Now we throw around salt like it is nothing, and even complain that everything is too salty. Nice problem.

    Sweet potatoes are not easy to cut, so she was using a large steel knife, made of a substance that only became commercially viable in the late 19th century. It took generations of metallurgists to figure out how to make steel reliably and affordably. Before steel, there were bodies of water you could not cross without a boat because no one knew how to make an iron bridge that wouldn’t sink.

    And so on. Jeffrey and I are in violent agreement on this:

    It drives me crazy to see people so fully enjoying the benefits from private property, trade, technology, and capitalistic endeavor even as they blithely propose to truncate dramatically the very rights that bring them such material joy, without a thought as to how their ideology might dramatically affect the future of mass availability of wealth that these ideologues so casually take for granted.

    It doesn't drive me crazy, exactly, but it doesn't drive me sane either.


  • Matt Ridley writes on Insects, herbicides and floods: three cases of pseudoscience.

    ‘The whole aim of practical politics,’ wrote H.L. Mencken, ‘is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.’ Newspapers, politicians and pressure groups have been moving smoothly for decades from one forecast apocalypse to another (nuclear power, acid rain, the ozone layer, mad cow disease, nanotechnology, genetically modified crops, the millennium bug…) without waiting to be proved right or wrong.

    Increasingly, in a crowded market for alarm, it becomes necessary to make the scares up. More and more headlines about medical or environmental panics are based on published scientific papers, but ones that are little more than lies laundered into respectability with a little statistical legerdemain. Sometimes, even the exposure of the laundered lies fails to stop the scare. Dr Andrew Wakefield was struck off in 2010 after the General Medical Council found his 1998 study in the Lancet claiming a link between the MMR vaccine and autism to be fraudulent. Yet Wakefield is now a celebrity anti-vaccine activist in the United States and has left his long-suffering wife for the supermodel Elle Macpherson. Anti-vax campaigning is a lucrative business.

    Hardly a week goes by without my state's senators tweeting about the dangers of some chemical found at Pease. Here's the thing: knowing the history of doomcrying, I'm less likely to give credence to such dire news even if they're right. The alarmists are bad for realistic risk assessment.


  • At Quillette, Sean Welsh is disturbed by Lies, Damned Lies, and STEM Statistics.

    Concerns about the number of women in STEM are misplaced for three reasons. First, the definition of the “T” is STEM is narrow and arbitrary (a lie); second, the definition of the “S” in STEM is narrow, arbitrary, and flagrantly wrong (a damned lie); and, third, while the causal attribution of sexism to explain low numbers of women in STEM (narrowly defined) is undoubtedly true in particular cases, it is unconvincing as a general explanation of the relative low numbers of women in some broad fields of PhD study. Better explanations for these disparities are readily available.

    Simply put: if "sexism" is so effective at maintaining 3/1 male/female ratio in math and computer science, how does it fall apart in health sciences (70-30 female majority)?


  • Mark Steyn eulogizes The Rain Maker: Stanley Donen, 1924-2019.

    A couple of decades back, at one of those American Film Institute galas, in the midst of the more familiar anecdotes, Steve Martin revealed his own hitherto unknown part in one of the most celebrated song-&-dance sequences in motion picture history. "It was the early Fifties," Steve recalled. "Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen were directing a film, so I dropped by to see my pals. They were very glum, and I said, 'What's the matter?' And they said, 'This damn weather! We can't get this number shot!' I sat there in the rain for a minute and said, 'Why don't you shoot it anyway..?' Well, the rain kept up and Stanley said, 'What the heck, we'll do what Steve said... Just get this lamppost outta here and we'll be ready to go.' I said, 'Leave the lamppost.' Gene said, 'Steve, what'll I do when I get to the lamppost?' I said, 'Swing around it a coupla times and make like it's a big deal.'" Martin paused. "The rest is history."

    Mark has good stories to tell about the people behind one of the best movies of all time.


  • And finally, the Google LFOD alert rang for Faith Canner's LTE in the Nashua Telegraph: Jette’s proposal is sound. (And that proposal is to raise the tobacco age to 21.)

    In the Friday, Feb. 22 opinion entitled “Government Overreach,” You had me in agreement until you got to the paragraph that you felt something was wrong with the government raising the age limit from 18 to 21 years. This was based on if you could fight for your country at age 18, then you should be able to buy tobacco products.

    I found it strange that you didn’t seem to know that young men and women’s bodies are pretty much at maturity level by 18 years. But, their brains are not fully matured until the ages of 21 or 22. Very young teenagers are fully capable of producing babies. They are rarely capable of nurturing them.

    Actually, the human brain (according to science) isn't fully rational "until age 25 or so".

    So isn't that an argument for increasing the voting age? (Also left as comment at the Telegraph site.)

    LFOD? Ah:

    In terms of “Live Free or Die,” that came about living free of a monarchy or dictatorship several centuries ago. And, while this is true today, the century we live in has very different problems that need to be addressed differently than the state motto.

    Well at least Faith is honest: liberty shouldn't get in the way of the state placing whatever rules it wants on people. As long as it's not a king or dictator, it's all good.

The Scarlet Pimpernel

[Amazon Link]

Before Iron Man, before Batman, before even Zorro, there was… the Scarlet Pimpernel! Seemingly a mild-mannered doofus, he covertly assumes an alternate identity to right wrongs, save the endangered, and to make his enemies look foolish.

Pun Son was assigned this book back in his school days, and left his copy hanging around when he got his own place. I knew (vaguely) the idea of the story, sounded appealing to my anti-French Revolution sentiments, so…

The general idea: in the midst of the Reign of Terror, the Pimpernel takes on the task of rescuing French aristocrats (men, women, children) from the bloodthirsty revolutionaries. He uses disguise, distraction, and deception. And this puts him in the crosshairs of the evil Chauvelin, who will stop at nothing to capture and kill him.

There were many surprising things about the book.

  • The writing is … um … ornate. Purple, verging on ultraviolet. In fact, it seems that the Baroness Orczy was trying, paragraph after paragraph, to win the Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest. YMMV, but I found it to be kind of a hoot after a while.

  • The identity of the Scarlet Pimp is kept hidden from the reader (and the main character) for about the first 58% of the book. Big secret!

    Or (in my son's paperback copy) you can just read the big secret on the back cover. Spoiler alert necessary!

    But I'm kinda kidding. Any fan of the Batman/Zorro genre will have the Pimp identified well before the big reveal. Cherchez le fop!

  • But you notice I referred to the "main character" above? That turns out not to be the Scarlet Pimpernel, who actually appears on relatively few pages of the book. The main character is Marguerite St. Just, a dazzling, witty, charming beauty.

    Unfortunately for her, but fortunately for the plot, she's also kind of a ditz. So not just an inspiration for Batman/Zorro: the miscommunications and mixups between Marguerite and her hubby are no doubt the vitalizing force behind thousands of American sitcom episodes.

Fun read.