URLs du Jour

2020-10-06

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  • Rosalind Arden writes at Quillette on Time and Perceptions of Trustworthiness—the Row over a Novel Study. I like this opening:

    So here you are, head down, truffling along cheerfully towards your morning flat white at the local, lost in thought, wondering what kind of poem Catullus might have written about you, had fortune arranged it so, when some geezer calls out, “cheer up, love, it may never happen.” So infuriating. We make fast and frugal snap judgements about each other all the time and they are often wrong. Much pain in human life is caused by our being over-confident about what she/he meant, intended, thought, or felt. We don’t have direct access to each other’s minds. What we have is language—a frosted or sometimes stained-glass window on to others’ minds—and behaviour. Behaviour includes facial expressions. But their interpretations are error prone. A paper interpreting facial expressions has sparked a recent rumpus.

    A September 2020 paper in the prestigious journal Nature Communications has been savaged on Twitter. Small potatoes to those who don’t use the platform, but the authors received tens of thousands of hateful, jeering, or abusive comments that attacked their work, intentions, and characters. The last author, Nicolas Baumard, deleted his Twitter account because of the nastiness. The journal posted “this paper is subject to criticisms that are being considered by the editors.” This sounds ominous especially since we have seen much recent evidence of institutions caving in to criticisms in a way that seems dishonest. I suspect that institutional statements often reflect a desire to quell complainants rather than reflecting the private views of individual decision-makers.

    The paper's authors used an algorithm to analyze European portraiture over the last 500 years or so, and claimed to detect that the subjects were perceived as more trustworthy "paralleling the decline of interpersonal violence and the rise of democratic values observed in Western Europe." Not to mention "increased living standards."

    That might be garbage. There are a lot of garbage studies in science. But Arden suspects, as do I, that the vituperation may be related to the hint of a pro-capitalism conclusion that might be inferred. Can't have that!


  • Kevin D. Williamson, writing in National Review, on the topic of Saint Jerome.

    You might be tempted to call him an effete intellectual, a man who spent his life with his nose in a book and whose most lasting contribution to the world was translating the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin. “How many divisions does the pope have?” Joseph Stalin is supposed to have quipped. None from Jerome, who produced nothing more world-shaking than Latin prose.

    If not an effete intellectual, then maybe an unsparing fanatic — the pope’s account of the saint is admiring, but he also describes him as “polemical,” “impetuous,” and “harsh,” as well as “vehement” and “explosive” and often “inflamed.” (Saints — they can be a bit much.) He turned his unsparing judgment on himself and was shaken by a dream in which he found himself condemned at the Last Judgment for preferring the words of Cicero to the Word of God, which, as Jerome observed, is written in inelegant, unlovely, and often ungrammatical language. Jerome the Latinist was, as the pope writes, “homo Romanus,” a man with a special personal connection to the Eternal City. But he left Rome to study Scripture and live a life of ascetic discipline and poverty in the desert.

    Not being personally Catholic, most of what I know about St. Jerome is in this Dion-written, Dion-sung ditty, which I kind of like:


  • A very good article from print Reason out from behind the subscribers-only wall: Christopher Freiman (Philosophy professor at William & Mary) convincingly argues that Political Ignorance Is Bliss.

    Here's something dumb I do every year. At some point during October in Virginia, the weather cools down enough that I switch the thermostat from air conditioning to heating. But inevitably we run into a spell of hot weather that lasts a few days. How do I respond? I literally get mad at the weather. I stare at the thermostat and fume at the prospect of flipping it back to air conditioning. In other words, I resent having to move my finger an inch because I feel as though I have been wronged by the weather—it's unfair that it would be hot in October. (I told you it was dumb.)

    Why am I mentioning this? Because it illustrates the irrationality of getting angry over something you can't change. I can't change the weather. However, I can adjust my own behavior in response to the weather. It makes no sense to seethe at the heat spell—I should switch on the A.C. and move on with my life.

    You should do the same with politics. You and I cannot change the country's political situation. (For instance, the odds of your vote changing the result of the presidential election are between one in 10 million and one in a billion, depending on your state.) However, we can adjust our own behavior in response to a political situation. It's pointless to rage at politicians and pundits because you think they're wrong about how to alleviate poverty. Maybe they are wrong, but there's nothing you can do about it. Instead, you should focus on what you can control; you could, for instance, do your part to alleviate poverty by working overtime and donating your extra earnings to an effective charity.

    In case you're wondering why this blog (much concerned with politics) is recommending an article from a magazine also much concerned with politics, that says, in effect: stop being so concerned with politics… well, I don't have a brief answer. I'm sorta confident, however, that I'm managing to dodge the maladies that Professor Freiman describes befalling the obsessed.


  • I admit this Granite Grok article set my teeth on edge a little, though: Democrat House Rep. Labels New Hampshire's Republican Governor a White Supremacist. That's Sherry Frost, she's a state rep from neighboring Dover. Often potty-mouthed, because that's how many ladies these days communicate their Seriousness. Anyway:

    Now to state the near-obvious: by any reasonable definition, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu is not a white (or even "White") supremacist.

    But that's the problem, isn't it? Twenty-first Century American Progressives have lost interest in reasonable definitions. They don't appear to be worried how they'll refer to actual white supremacists, should that ever become necessary. "Let's just make that tarbrush as wide as possible, the better to apply to all the people we don't like."

    And that (in turn, as I left in a Granite Grok comment): That's the problem with demands to "condemn white supremacy". Sounds reasonable until it very quickly turns out that the "white supremacists" are anyone and everyone who doesn't 100% buy into the Gospel According to Ibram X. Kendi.

    And (final point, I promise): Frost's slander is "hate speech" by (again) any reasonable definition. She's in no danger of being deTwitterized, though, despite the platform's Hateful conduct policy. Another concept that's been drained of meaning and weaponized.


  • Jeff Jacoby's election plans seem to be the same as mine, and he pens a comeback in the Boston Globe to the naysayers, which I wish I could do half as well. How to not squander your vote. The whole thing is great, tough to excerpt, but I'll give it a try:

    But if 2020 isn’t the time for voters to find a better option than the Republican and Democratic parties that have turned American politics into such a dysfunctional mess, when will it be time? Four years ago, the two legacy parties coalesced behind the most widely disliked candidates in the modern era. Now we have “the second straight presidential contest in which both candidates are viewed negatively by a majority of voters,” the New York Times noted in June. One in four Americans believes that neither Trump nor Joe Biden would be a good president, according to Gallup; never has such a large share of the electorate felt that way about both major-party candidates.

    So which Americans are really wasting their votes? The ones who help elect a candidate they don’t believe is fit for the job, primarily because they hate the other candidate more? Or the ones who give their support to a candidate they would be happy to see elected, because they share that candidate’s values and agree with many of her policies?

    I wish more people thought like Jeff and me.