URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]

  • A long standing minor irritation is the constant invocation by educrats, prohibitionists, meddlers, and the like of "our children". A simple Amazon search came up with our product du jour as an example. (Not a recommendation, but if you feel moved, go for it.)

    Even just restricting a Google search to the nea.org domain gives over 1000 hits for "our children". Sample:

    So I smirked a bit at the headline in the NYT for the op-ed written by a Washington state teacher: Please Don’t Make Me Risk Getting Covid-19 to Teach Your Child.

    Boy, when the chips are down "our" kids become "your" kids mighty fast.

    Here's the first paragraph:

    Every day when I walk into work as a public-school teacher, I am prepared to take a bullet to save a child. In the age of school shootings, that’s what the job requires. But asking me to return to the classroom amid a pandemic and expose myself and my family to Covid-19 is like asking me to take that bullet home to my own family.

    Melodramatic self-sacrificing only goes so far. ("Could I get a take-out container for that bullet?") But I doubt her risk analysis is reality based, and I suspect her home-to-work commute is probably riskier than either Covid or school shooters.

  • At National Review, Michael Brendan Dougherty advises readers to get used to it: Fake News Becomes a Way of Life.

    Last week, the [NY] Times ran a story about a 30-year-old Texas man who believed COVID-19 was a hoax and contracted the disease at a “COVID party” before dying. Every detail of the story was uncorroborated, which made it exactly the kind of urban legend that moral panics produce. Though it was viral on social media, because it confirmed all the prejudices of the Times’s energized liberal readership, the Times began to edit the story as it was criticized here in National Review and in Wired. The entire tone of the story went from credulous to skeptical, but you wouldn’t have noticed the difference if you hadn’t been paying close attention, because no editor’s notes were appended to it announcing the changes. The Times has begun “stealth editing” its stories in this manner more and more lately, effacing the traditional journalistic ethic that seeks to keep an intact record not just of the news, but of how the reporting of the news evolves.

    Also last week, The Atlantic ran an essay, “How I Became a Police Abolitionist,” that roots the activism of its author in a heart-rending story of a 16-year-old gunned down by the police in a rec center for failing to put his name on a sign-in sheet. Christopher Bedford, at The Federalist, a conservative web outlet that has far fewer resources than The Atlantic, rather conclusively showed that the story as told was full of holes and likely never happened.

    I don't want to have to guess whether a story in an allegedly reputable publication is made up crap, but speaking in terms of Bayesian probability, the likelihood seems to be increasing.

  • [Amazon Link]
    And you would have to have a heart of stone not to get a chuckle from Jerry Coyne's story: Welcome to Stalin’s Russia: cancellation demanded for New York professor who fell asleep during an antiracist Zoom meeting.

    [If invoking Stalin seems like an extreme. Coyne first relates Solzhenitsyn’s story about the unfortunate apparatchik who made the mistake of being the first to stop applauding after a Stalin speech—after 11 minutes!]

    Quoting the NYPost story:

    Students at pricey Marymount Manhattan College are demanding a veteran professor be fired for allegedly falling asleep during an anti-racism Zoom meeting.

    Students at the Upper East Side school claim Patricia Simon, a theater arts associate professor, took a snooze during the virtual town hall last month, and have collected 1,800 petition signatures.

    For those who don't want to get caught, Pun Salad recommends the Amazon product on your right.

  • P. J. O'Rourke pens a column in appreciation for Eric Hoffer and his book, The True Believer: Why Mass Movements Make a Mess. Peej provides a selection of pithy quotes from the book and here are three:

    A rising mass movement attracts and holds a following not by its doctrine or promises but by the refuge it offers from the anxieties, barrenness and meaninglessness of an individual existence.

    A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people’s business.

    A mass movement… appeals not to those intent on bolstering and advancing a cherished self, but to those who crave to be rid of an unwanted self.

    I've somehow avoided reading Hoffer's book, but I own a copy, and it's on the TTR list.

  • But speaking of great thinkers, Michael Huemer has a question in that regard: Why Are the Great Thinkers Dead?.

    Suppose I ask you to name some of humanity’s great thinkers. What would you say? If you’re in philosophy, Plato and Aristotle will immediately come to mind. Then maybe Aquinas, Descartes, Locke, Hume, Kant, Spinoza, Leibniz, Adam Smith. Go down the list. Maybe you’d add St. Augustine, J.S. Mill, Bertrand Russell, maybe even Wittgenstein. Among scientists, you’d surely include Galileo, Newton, Einstein. Then Darwin, Lavoisier, Archimedes, Maxwell, Boltzmann, etc. Q: how far do you have to go down the list before you name a person who is now alive? Pretty far, I bet.

    Do the same thing for artists and writers. You have people such as Mozart, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, etc. (I don’t know that many artists, so you fill in the rest. [Emoji Elided]) Again, how far do you have to go down the list before you reach one who is now alive? Pretty far. You might even refuse to name any living artists as ‘great’ no matter how many names you are prompted for.

    Since Freeman Dyson died, pickings are pretty slim, physicist-wise.

    MH has eight, count 'em eight, possible explanations for the dearth of living greatness. See if any seem credible to you.

Last Modified 2022-10-02 6:38 AM EDT


[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

It's not particularly uncommon to append a question mark (They Shoot Horses, Don't They? What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?) or an exclamation point (Airplane! Scoob!) to the end of movie titles. But this one has a period at the end. It's Emma-full-stop.

I think I saw an explanation somewhere. It must be easy to Google… Ah, here it is.

This is not the kind of movie I typically like much, but it won me over. Based on the Jane Austen novel, set in early 19th century England, specifically its rich upper crust. I'm pretty sure we never see an actually-poor person. When the characters refer to someone as "poor", they mean someone who actually has to work for a living, like a farmer. Or servants.

The eponymous heroine is fond of meddling in the love lives of her friends and acquaintances. She is judgmental of some of their quirks. This can, and nearly does, lead to irrecoverable disaster, but (spoiler) things get sorted out at the end.

You know, HTML should really have a <spoiler> tag for spoilers.

The IMDB lists nine other movies and miniseries based on the Austen novel. So you have your pick. This one has excellent acting, gorgeous cinematography, and I assume fine costumery, although how would I know?

Last Modified 2022-10-16 9:49 AM EDT


How We Choose What We Do

[Amazon Link]

I put this book on my get-at-library list back in February when the author, Richard Robb, appeared on Russ Roberts' EconTalk podcast. (After the months-long library hiatus, things are finally starting to disappear from that list. It's pretty long.)

I was (and am) a lousy philosophy student, lacking patience and intellect. But I got a feeling about what I liked about the best philosophers or at least, my favorites: the ability to carefully dissect complex concepts into component parts, using precise and clear language, making plausible arguments and relevant examples.

Some of that has fallen out of favor these days. But not with Richard Robb! It's perhaps telling that Robb is not a philosopher, at least not a professional one: he's a hedge fund manager. He also has a teaching gig at Columbia, but in the "School of International and Public Affairs", where he teaches microeconomics, economic foundations of capital markets and international finance.

So he is nominally a real-world kind of guy. But here he delves into (see subtitle above) how we choose our actions. And his argument is straightforward. There is the Homo economicus model, where we are strict utility-maximizers, assigning a "price" to everything: worldly goods, various kinds of leisure, companionship, etc. We rationally trade off one for another.

Well, not always. Because we're also slaves to cognitive biases, so we make mistakes. And sometimes we have an unclear grasp on what we want. But those things can be corrected, and we're still in the realm of what Robb calls "purposeful" behavior, where goals can be (and often are) rationally compared, one against another.

But the main theme of the book is Robb's carve-out of "for-itself" choice. Things we do because "we are who we are". Because of our social relations with others. Because we want to stay on course to achieve our own goals, when it might make more "rational" sense to do eternal mid-course corrections.

So: not bad, all in all. Robb gives plenty of examples from his own life doing that hedge fund thing. If you think you would be interested, I'd suggest you check the podcast linked above, an easy intro.

Last Modified 2022-10-02 6:38 AM EDT