URLs du Jour


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  • They Turned Me Into a Newt! Peter Wood takes to the cyberpages of American Greatness to investigate Critical Witchcraft Theory. By which he means good old Critical Race Theory (CRT). After a brief synopsis of the Salem witch trials:

    CRT is based on the claim that an insidious, pervasive, but invisible force inhabits all Americans and American institutions. This invisible force exists outside the conscious experience of those who harbor it. Those purveyors of systemic racism are its hapless servants who believe in their own innocence as much as poor Sarah Good did when she got her chance to testify at the Salem trials. (“I’m no more a witch than you are a wizard, and if you take away my life God will give you blood to drink,” said Sarah when found guilty—the detail around which Nathaniel Hawthorne constructed The House of the Seven Gables.)

    Denying one’s complicity in witchcraft, of course, was expected of witches. Their denials meant nothing in the ensuing trials. But in some ways the courts in Salem were less inclined to impetuous judgments than many of the advocates of today’s critical race theory. Cotton Mather, consulted after the first wave of Salem executions (Tituba, Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne, and Bridget Bishop) warned that “there is need of a very critical and exquisite caution, lest by too much credulity for things received only upon the Devil’s authority, there be a door opened for a long train of miserable consequences, and Satan get an advantage over us.” Cotton Mather was, however, still in favor of “the speedy and vigorous prosecution of such as have rendered themselves obnoxious.”

    His view lay not far from how Ibram X. Kendi views systemic racism: “one of the fastest-spreading and most fatal cancers humanity has ever known . . . There is nothing I see in the world today, in our history, giving me hope that one day antiracists will win the fight, that one day the flag of antiracism will fly over the world of equity.” Kendi’s perspective, consistent with Puritan theology, is that this world has been given over to the corruptions of the infernal powers.

    Do you ever wonder why people stick the "critical" adjective in front of other words? "Critical Thinking" was the rage a few decades back, but I was never quite sure how it distinguished itself from plain old "Thinking".

  • Maybe We Should Make a List Or Something. Jonathan Rauch's latest (must read) book is excerpted in Reason, out from behind the print paywall, and has a provocative headline: Who Gets To Decide the Truth?.

    Rauch identifies three "great liberal social systems": economic, political, and epistemic. All three are interdependent, and vital to a society that's healthy, wealthy, and wise.

    All three liberal constitutions organize far-flung cooperation, distribute decision making across social networks, and exploit network intelligence (where the system knows much more than its constitutive individuals), all with a minimum of centralized authority or control. They all emphasize impersonal rules over personal authority, open-ended processes over fixed outcomes, and consent over coercion. They all take as their starting point that individuals are by nature free and equal, and that freedom and equality are important and valuable. They are all extraordinarily successful, especially compared with the alternatives.

    Which is not to say they are perfect. Far from it. But they are much better than their competitors at adapting to change and at identifying mistakes and self-correcting. And they are much better at averting the destructive social conflict Hobbes believed was the only alternative to authoritarian government.

    For exactly that reason, all three liberal social systems can seem disquieting and unnatural. They allow for no ending points, no final arrival, no absolute certainty, no shelter from change. They place strains on local relationships and tribal ties. They can be harsh and unfair. They are difficult to understand and explain; indeed, they are deeply counterintuitive. They all depend on complex, intricately balanced rules, norms, institutions, and moral values, most of which did not arise organically but took centuries to construct. Acculturating people to all those rules and norms and institutions and moral values requires years of socialization and deep reservoirs of civic mutuality and trust. As a wag said: Where establishing the rule of law is concerned, the first five centuries are the hardest.

    And all three are somewhat in peril in today's USA. They've been in bad shape before, of course. But there's no guarantee that we'll muddle through this time.

  • Oh Yeah? Show Me the Organs. Matt Ridley has bad news for the gullible suckers well-meaning customers at Whole Foods and the like: Organic food isn’t better for us.

    It is mystifying to me that organic food is still widely seen as healthier, more sustainable and, most absurdly, safer than non-organic food.

    Following the publication of part two of Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy last week, the organic movement was quick to suggest that organic food and farming offer a way to achieve the strategy’s vision. ‘The recommendations of the National Food Strategy offer genuine hope that by embracing agroecological and organic farming, and adopting a healthier and more sustainable diet, we can address the climate, nature and health crises,’ said Helen Browning, chief executive of the Soil Association, Britain’s most vocal organic lobbying organisation. Browning also highlighted the strategy’s recognition of the Soil Association’s ‘Food for Life’ programme — essentially a vehicle to promote greater procurement and use of organic food in schools and hospitals.

    The trouble is that scientific evidence indicates that the food safety risks of eating organic food are considerably greater than those of eating non-organic food. This is primarily because organic crop production relies on animal faeces as a fertiliser, an obvious vector for potentially lethal pathogens such as E.coli, but also because organic crops can be prone to harmful mycotoxins as a result of inadequate control of crop pests and diseases.

    Ah, those whacky Brits, adding on an extra "me" to "program".

    Lately, I've seen amusing ads for "Coors Pure", their organic light beer. I'm sure it won't kill you. If there's E. coli in those cans, those bacteria are probably too drunk to do you any damage.

    What it will do (as I type, at my local market): set you back an additional three bucks for a 12-pack of 12 Oz. cans. Just a suggestion, but you could drop that three bucks onto the Jimmy Fund instead, and do some good.

The Dressmaker

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A movie that's been in my Amazon Prime watchlist for quite awhile. Finally decided to get it out of there, since the Red Sox played earlier in the day, and I have zero interest in the Olympics.

Kate Winslet plays Tilly Dunnage, who (in 1951) returns after many years to her small Australian town to (a) wreak vengeance on a wrong done unto her back when she was a kid; (b) solve the mystery of what actually happened back then; (c) perhaps reconcile with Mom (Judy Davis). Who's rather unkempt, physically and mentally.

But nearly everyone in the town is mentally unkempt. Lots of secrets, resentments, perversions and frowned-upon proclivities. Tilly has picked up (see the title) dressmaking skills while she's been away, and her transformation of a town ugly duckling into a beautiful swan earns her some respectability and also cash. In addition, since she looks like Kate Winslet, she attracts the eye of Teddy (Thor's brother Liam Hensworth), perhaps the sanest person in town.

What follows is a lot of zaniness and tragedy. That particular mixture isn't my cup of tea, but you might like it. Hugo Weaving shows up in a supporting role as the town's constable, and—geez, for once—is not an unmitigated villain; he just likes to dress up occasionally.

Fair Warning

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Let me just say this about Michael Connelly. His prose is workmanlike; no danger of confusing him with (say) Tana French. His dialogue can be clunky. His characters only have enough depth to explain their actions.

But no other writer can get me turning pages like Connelly. What happens next? Tell me, Mike, I gotta know!

This is the third entry in Connelly's "Jack McAvoy" series. Jack, having helped catch serial killers "The Poet" and "The Scarecrow" is now put on the track of "The Shrike". Who is in the habit of picking up sexually adventuresome women in bars, having his way with them, then killing them via atlanto-occipital dislocation, a technique you've probably seen in some action movie. By sheer coincidence, one of his victims is a lady with whom Jack had a one night stand months previous. Which makes him a suspect, so the LAPD's non-finest come knocking. (Harry Bosch would have cleared this up faster.)

Jack's working for an online newspaper, FairWarning (which actually used to exist), a consumer watchdog. Homicide is not the paper's mission, but Jack is intrigued by the crime he's sort of connected to, and he brings his investigative skills back to life. He also ropes in ex-FBI "profiler" Rachel Walling. They uncover a sordid trail involving a shady DNA-analysis company, some pathetic misogynists, and a truly devious murderer.

I should also add one more thing about Connelly: I think he and Robert Crais have some sort of contest to see how many words they can devote to describing their characters' driving routes around LA. "The freeway entrance looped around then I was heading south on the 170. I took one of the 101 merge lanes and got the car up to sixty."