URLs du Jour

2020-02-03

Well, thanks a lot San Francisco. I should have gone more with my faith in traditional bourgeois Midwestern values triumphing over decadent left-coast whackadoodles.

On with our show.

  • Jonah Goldberg uses current disease news to come up with an interesting metaphor: The Intellectual Wet Market.

    Like a lot of people, I don’t want to talk about impeachment anymore. So, let’s zoom out. It seems to me that our entire culture is becoming a kind of wet market. Memes—ideas, customs, fashions, behaviors that spread via imitation—can be a trite concept these days. But another way to think of them is as germs. The internet is a particularly conducive medium for them. Look around and you can see what I mean all over the place. The various market stalls of the alt-right butcher their bushmeat daily, and some of it contaminates other stalls. Attempts at maintaining hygiene discipline fail and some people become infected, in part because the intensity of partisan captivity lowers their immune systems. Some of the products end up in the mainstream food supply and for one reason or another some people become fond of, even addicted to, exotic fare they would never dream of trying never mind developing a taste for. 

    Of course, it’s not just politics. Our culture is shot through with cross contaminations and exotic fetishes, as people shop for fashions and meaning from a global, uh, Chinese menu. As a result, weird, quirky, interesting and, yes, idiotic misapplications of concepts proliferate as it becomes ever more difficult to keep the batshit droppings out of the sauce. For instance, Gwyneth Paltrow is selling “psychic vampire repellent” to rich people who are dumb enough to buy it. People who can’t read Hebrew prattle about the Kaballah and try to fill their swimming pools with something called “Kaballah water.” Intellectuals grab square-peg concepts off the shelf try to cram them into the round holes of our souls. Politicians who think they know something about Scandinavian socialism believe that utopia awaits if they can just get it through customs intact and set it up here. 

    Jonah is to be congratulated on not making, as far as I can tell, the obvious point about things "going viral" on social media.


  • We didn't watch a lot of the Super Bowl, so we missed a lot of the good ads. And we missed at least one lousy one, Mike Bloomberg's. Which I will embed:

    Problem, as Jacob Sullum notes: Michael Bloomberg’s Claim About ‘Children’ Killed by ‘Gun Violence’ Is Off by 73%.

    Michael Bloomberg's Super Bowl ad, which presents the Democratic presidential contender as a brave advocate of public safety who is not afraid to take on "the gun lobby," claims "2,900 children die from gun violence every year" in the United States, which is not true. That number includes young adults as well as minors, and it includes suicides as well as homicides.

    Bloomberg's campaign cited Everytown for Gun Safety, a Bloomberg-backed group, as the source of the number used in the ad. "Annually," the organization said in June 2019 fact sheet, "nearly 2,900 children and teens (ages 0 to 19) are shot and killed." The ad changed "children and teens" (including young adults) to "children," presumably because that makes the deaths more shocking, strengthening the emotional case for the gun control policies Bloomberg favors.

    In contrast, note the "analysis" of the ad found at Politifact which notes the inclusion of young adults as "children", but does not mention the suicide inclusion.

    Politifact is garbage. And Mike Bloomberg is a liar.


  • To further gloomify your Monday, Brian Reidl of the Dispatch explains Why $1 Trillion Deficits Are Here to Stay. A fun factoid for us geezers:

    Those who dismiss 30-year budget projections should note that the existence of 74 million baby boomers is not a theoretical guess like an inflation rate. The boomers walk among us, and their Social Security and Medicare payment formulas are already set in permanent law. The typical married couple retiring today will, over their lifetime, have paid $161,000 into the Medicare system, and receive $498,000 in benefits. They will also come out $70,000 ahead in Social Security. Now multiply these shortfalls by 74 million retiring baby boomers and factor in a shortage of working-age taxpayers to replenish the revenues. The math is unforgiving.

    These costs are growing over time. The yearly Social Security and Medicare shortfall was $440 billion last year. It is projected to reach $1.869 trillion in 2030. This $1.4 trillion cost increase explains virtually the entire growth in the projected budget deficit over the next decade.

    Neither party's politicians are particularly interested in discussing this issue. Major media would rather cover "interesting" partisan catfights instead of drawing attention to boring math-based issues.

Frederick Douglass

Self-Made Man

[Amazon Link]

Hey, what better way to mark Black History Month (yes, they still call it that) than with Timothy Sandefur's biography of Frederic Douglass? It's short, 119 pages of text, and to the point. Published by the Cato Institute.

Why, you may ask, is it published by the Cato Institute? Well, the primary theme of the book is explicating Douglass's classical liberalism, his devotion to individualism and the U. S. Constitution.

But the biographical details are gripping enough too: Douglass was born a slave in 1818 Easton, Maryland, probably the result of the plantation's overseer's dalliance with his mother. Against all odds, he learned to read. And he grew to hate his enslaved status. As a young man, he escaped servitude by going north, winding up in New Bedford, Massachusetts, later moving up to Lynn. He became a preacher, an orator, and eventually an anti-slavery activist, initially under the wing of William Lloyd Garrison. But there was bit of friction between their anti-slavery ideologies, and eventually Douglass came out fully on his own.

Sandefur does a fine job of depicting Douglass's life, and the horror of slavery. Followed, after the Civil War, by Reconstruction and its ugly devolution into more oppression. For the full story, you'd probably want to go to this full Pulitzer-winning bio by David W. Blight. 913 pages, according to Amazon. Maybe next February.

The Sentence is Death

[Amazon Link]

This book, obtained from the Portsmouth Public Library, was on Tom Nolan's WSJ list of the Best Mystery Books of 2019. Three down, seven to go. The author, Anthony Horowitz, is a British writer mainly known for his television work (Foyle's War, some early episodes of Midsomer Murders, etc.) and juvenile fiction.

And the narrator in this book is named Anthony Horowitz, a writer working on Foyle's War, author of juvenile fiction… Oooh, that's kind of a neat trick! So it's not clear where the dividing line is between fiction and reality here. This book is the second entry in a series, but there's not a lot of reference to the previous book.

Anthony's writing talents are enlisted by ex-cop Daniel Hawthorne who has (in turn) been asked by the actual cops to help out on a murder investigation. Anthony is, to a first approximation, the Watson to Hawthorne's Sherlock. It is a mystery in the classic form: a lot of clues, a lot of possible suspects, a complex history that needs unravelling.

The (initial) victim is a divorce lawyer, bludgeoned with a bottle of expensive wine, then stabbed to death with the shattered bottle. Gory! But who's to blame? The lady poet screwed over (or was she?) in the lawyer's latest case? Or her ex-husband? Or does it have something to do with the lawyer's participation in a long-ago caving expedition which resulted in the accidental death of one of the spelunkers?

Complication: the unpleasant lady cop also assigned to the case despises Hawthorne, and attempts to blackmail Horowitz into disclosing what Hawthorne's uncovered, so that she can beat him to the solution.

There's also a complex relationship between Horowitz and Hawthorne; Hawthorne's not a particularly pleasant person, with a mysterious past of his own. Horowitz tries (not particularly successfully) to unwind some of that.

Bottom line: a good read. Now on to the next book in Nolan's list…