The Door Into Summer

[Amazon Link]

Continuing on the reread-Heinlein project. This one is a favorite. Short, and simple. Or, as simple as a time-travel tale can be.

First published in 1956, it opens in the far future of … 1970. The hero and narrator, Daniel Boone Davis, is a genius engineer/inventor, working in partnership with his trusted pal Miles, in love with their robotics company's secretary, Belle.

This turns out to be a mistake, as Miles and Belle successfully conspire to wrest control of the firm from him. And when he credibly threatens to raise a stink, they dispose of him neatly, by putting him in "cold sleep", until the unimaginably distant future of … the year 2000.

Awakening in 2000, Dan is flummoxed by the incredible advances. But when he tries to get back into his engineering profession, he can't help but notice that some bright boy has long since stolen the ideas that only existed in his head. What's going on?

Nobody's made this into a movie, unfortunately, but you'll notice its sci-fi DNA percolating into a lot of other time-travel yarns, like Back to the Future and Futurama.

An Economist Walks into a Brothel

And Other Unexpected Places to Understand Risk

[Amazon Link]

I put this book on my "get at library" list thanks to a Reason podcast interview with the author, Allison Schrager. And it came in via Interlibrary Loan from Trinity College (the one in Hartford, not Dublin).

It's a look at a topic I've been interested in for a while, risk. It mainly centers around financial risk—that's Allison's professional home base—but it occasionally slops over into risks of death or injury as well. The approach is suitable for a dabbler (like me), and Allison's writing style is jauntily accessible.

She describes what risk is, why some degree of risk is inevitable, how to maintain a rational attitude toward risk, and the various strategies people use to mitigate or avoid risk: diversification, hedging, insurance, etc. And (last but not least) the recognition of uncertainty; you can't, nearly by definition, prepare for the unpredictable. The best you can do is stay flexible and willing to adjust your strategies.

She discusses (but doesn't write down) the Black-Scholes formula for option pricing. A worked-through example would have been appreciated, but I can see that some readers closing the book, saying "I was told there would be no math."

All that could have been pretty dry, but Allison had the bright idea of illustrating her topics with real-life examples from high-risk fields. Exemplified by the book's title: she visited a (legal) cathouse in Nevada, and discusses the trade-offs involved in working in that relatively safe environment vs. freelancing in other situations.

Further chapters visit horse breeders, magicians, professional poker players, movie financiers, and more. (The chapter on horse breeding is actually more explicit than the one with the brothel.)

Good book.

URLs du Jour

2019-06-10

[Amazon Link]

  • Kevin D. Williamson at NR notes a presidential candidate going Full Mussolini: Senator Warren Embraces Economic Nationalism.

    In a Democratic field that includes dingbat socialist Bernie Sanders, callow ward heeler Corey Booker, and eternal sophomore-class president Kirsten Gillibrand, it was perhaps inevitable that Elizabeth Warren would come to be known as the smart one. And yet, that reputation turns out to be unearned. She may walk tall with the dwarves, but in the great sprawling zany Disney World of American politics, she still isn’t tall enough to ride Space Mountain.

    Every couple of years, the Democratic party goes full national socialist and begins to lecture the nation on “economic patriotism” — creepily fascistic language at the best of times, but worrisome indeed for a party that has drifted into tolerating open anti-Semitism. “Economic patriotism” is what the Democrats talk about when they want to out-Trump Trump. That ridiculous dope Ted Strickland, once the governor of godforsaken Ohio, bellowed on the theme in 2012, giving a Democratic National Convention speech about “economic patriotism” and Mitt Romney’s alleged lack of it. (That was about five minutes after the last Democratic lecture about how questioning the patriotism of our political opponents is a crime against humanity.) Barack Obama, chin tilted up at 60 degrees in his trademark Mussolini pose, delivered a homily about “economic patriotism” in Georgetown in 2014 and was hectoring Americans about the virtues of nationalism just a few years before Democrats began denouncing Donald Trump as a Nazi for using the term.

    Warren's proposals, Kevin notes, include "a truly massive campaign of new corporate-welfare spending accompanied by a great deal of foot-stamping/first-pumping anti-corporation rhetoric."

    And she's the smart one.


  • At Reason, Nick Gillespie looks at the latest internecinity (not a common word, but should be): The Fight Conservatives Are Having Over Theocracy and Classical Liberalism Obscures How Beaten Their Movement Is.

    Watching an ugly, name-calling rift on the right between theocratic Catholics on the one hand and classical-liberalish evangelicals on the other, you could be forgiven for thinking that the conservative movement still has some intellectual life left in it. In the scant week since New York Post op-ed editor Sohrab Ahmari attacked what he called "David French-ism" in a bilious article for First Things, the internet has exploded with dozens of pieces on the matter, including a long column in The New York Times by Ross Douthat, a detailed explainer in Vox by Jane Coaston, and an hour-long discussion of the stakes on a recent Reason podcast featuring Katherine Mangu-Ward, Peter Suderman, Matt Welch, and me.

    But the deeper effect of the ideological slap fight is to underscore how social conservatives have lost essentially every culture-war battle they have prosecuted since the modern conservative movement got started with the launch of National Review in 1955. Whether they want to use power of the state to compel or restrict certain behaviors (as Ahmari argues) or believe they can win debates in a noncoercive marketplace of ideas (as National Review's David French, the specific target of Ahmari's ire, posits), both sides have wanted the same basic social and cultural outcomes over the past several decades, including a rejection of marriage equality, a ban on abortion except to save the life of the mother, the continued prohibition of most or all currently illicit drugs, an end to no-fault divorce, restrictions on the number and variety of immigrants, tighter controls on whatever they deem to be obscenity and pornography, a bigger role for religion in the public square, and an embrace of what they consider to be traditional sexual mores, marriage conventions, and gender roles.

    Eh, I dunno. I remember R. Emmett Tyrelly writing (our Amazon Product du Jour) The Conservative Crack-Up back in 1992, over a quarter-century ago. And somehow conservatives are still around. Current reports of their demise are at best premature.


  • Jonah Goldberg writes on the same topic in his column: Does Reality Change Ideas, or Vice Versa?.

    That's effectively two headline questions. I feel it's my duty to point out that Betteridge's Law of Headlines implies the answer to both is "No".

    It’s axiomatic that intellectuals like to deal with ideas. Ideas are to the intellectual what paint is to the painter and stone is to the mason. And ideas are supremely important. As the late Irving Kristol said, “What rules the world is ideas, because ideas define the way reality is perceived.”

    I believe that. But reality — i.e., the physical realm we live in — is often what brings new ideas to the fore. We certainly understand this in the world of science. Newton, Einstein, and Edison had ideas, and those ideas changed reality in ways that changed our ideas.

    Ever since the word “conservative” has had any meaning, conservatives have complained about moral licentiousness. Where they once complained about rising hemlines, they now complain about widespread pornography or celebrity sex tapes. As a conservative myself, I share some of those complaints. But what’s often left out of the conversation is the role technology plays in changing how we think about such things.

    A lot, as you might imagine. But discussions on both left and right seem to be stuck back decades, or even centuries.


  • [Amazon Link]
    And our Google LFOD News Alert rang for (of all places) a Los Angeles Review of Books article: One Feels a Malady: On Robert N. Watson’s “Cultural Evolution and its Discontents”. A new hardcover (link at right) will set you back a cool $91 at Amazon! I think this means it's a college textbook. Let's skip right to the goofy LFOD reference:

    But it turns out that culture, according to Watson, can easily reproduce the wrong mistakes, at least the wrong mistakes for the human beings who comprise the members of a culture, since the wrong mistakes are parasites within memeplexes, and we humans are their hosts. We use antibacterial soap, which makes us more vulnerable to disease because a wrong mistake has seized our imaginations — with the help of memeplex-like corporations defending and increasing their profits. We believe what cultural structures give us room to believe, and those structures defend themselves by making us believe in them in the manner of the three big religions or, to take an example that Watson recurs to, the religion of capitalism. (He also sees Soviet communism as a memeplex: the difference between capitalism and communism as memeplexes being, for Watson, that capitalism pretends it is the natural order of things, whereas communism presents itself as an intensely interventionist administrative system.) These are the discontents evolved by culture, “discontents” used in this way itself being a meme invented by Freud’s translator Joan Riviere. To quote Wallace Stevens, whom Watson loves to quote, they are why “[o]ne has a malady, here, a malady. One feels a malady.” The malady is the human experience of the downsides of the culture (Freud’s original word) or civilization or memeplex, which is our somewhat self-deluding compromise with reality. For Freud, these discontents come about because of the repression or redirection of our sexual drives. For Watson, they come about through the connivance of structures of power seeking to defend themselves by making us fear taxes, for example, or having us subscribe to slogans like “Better dead than red” or “Live free or die,” the New Hampshire state motto, about which Watson comments: “It matters, of course, who gets to define freedom.” If the National Rifle Association defines it, a more accurate motto might be “Live free and die.”

    I left a comment at the site objecting to the drive-by slam of our state motto. But I'm kind of boggled by the faux profundity. "Live free and die". Woohoo, that's supposed to be clever?