URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]

  • Kevin D. Williamson reviews, hilariously, a new book allegedly about Texas: Austin City Limits. Sample:

    God Save Texas is full of sloppy writing of the kind that raises the question of what exactly it is that book editors are for: using staunch when [author Lawrence] Wright means stanch, careen when he means career, jealousy when he means envy, nonplussed when he means uninterested; deriding “Daddy Warbucks capitalism” as “heartless, rapacious, and predatory”—the opposite of the benevolent ethic of Harold Gray’s self-made philanthropist in Little Orphan Annie; repeating the myth that Texas enjoys a unique right to subdivide itself into five states (Article IV, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution confers the right of subdivision on all states, assuming legislative cooperation); classifying Louisiana as a Saudi-style petro-state without considering that health care and education employ about ten times as many people in the state as oil or wondering why its economy has sunk while Texas thrives. Those errors come alongside some truly strange assertions. Wright complains that he knew no liberals and hardly any Democrats growing up in a state that was at the time almost uniformly Democratic and whose political foundation was New Deal liberalism. (I myself grew up not far from New Deal, Texas, surrounded by cotton farmers who would barely spit the word “Republican”—but then, I worked at 7-Eleven and think Buc-ee’s is pretty interesting, so I suppose I have unfair advantages.) Only four of Dallas’s 59 theoretically nonpartisan mayors have been Republicans, and none served before the 1980s. Rick Perry first held office as a Democrat (his CV does not emphasize his energetic support for the presidential campaign of Al Gore) and Texas did not go all meshuga Republican until the 1990s. The state didn’t have a Republican governor between Reconstruction and the Reagan era. If Wright didn’t know any Democrats, he wasn’t looking very hard.

    Lawrence Wright wrote The Looming Tower last decade, I've heard good things about it, so he's not uniformly dreadful.

  • At Reason, Jason Brennan and Phillip W. Magness have an interesting take on the brouhaha: Universities Play the Victim in Admissions Scandal, but They’re Far From Blameless. A point I've made myself (less eloquently):

    Elite universities are a kind of ideological paradox. On one hand, faculty and staff overwhelmingly identify with the Left and push social justice causes. But on the other, the universities are hierarchical and reinforce social hierarchies. They serve as gatekeepers of prestige, power, and status. Many have plenty of physical capacity to expand the number of students they admit, but they instead work to keep admissions rates and the number of undergraduates as low as possible, all to enhance the elite status of their brand.

    Some of the celebrities in question, such as actress Felicity Huffman, frequently campaign for social justice. Yet, when push comes to shove, we see them (allegedly) using their advantages to secure further privileges for their children. This sort of thing happens throughout academia. Loud, enthusiastic trumpeting of moral slogans conveys the image that one is good and noble, and so people have a selfish interest in being political outspoken. But, half the time, when you dig in, you find that moralistic language actively disguises selfish behavior. It's often just a pretense to ask for more money and power for one's self.

    As they say: bad news, kids: Aunt Becky's going to jail.

  • There's a new edition of Arnold Kling's great book The Three Languages of Politics coming out. And even though he deserves every penny he makes off the book, he is not averse to telling you Where to find it for free. So much for the money-grubbing libertarian stereotype. If you haven't read it, You Now Have No Excuse. You can read my take on the book here.

  • Speaking of libertarian stereotyping: at Quillette, Cameron Hendy wonders What If Ayn Rand Was Right About Entrepreneurs and Inequality? (No doubt sending some readers to the fainting couch.)

    Few public figures have managed to consistently attract both sheer adoration and abject disgust quite like Russian-American author Ayn Rand. Fewer still have created an intellectual legacy with as much endurance as her radically individualistic philosophy of Objectivism.

    Atlas Shrugged remains a cherished favorite of venture capitalists and libertarian-leaning politicians all over the planet, with a notable stronghold in Washington D.C., perhaps even within the Oval Office itself. Rand’s literary influence is often derided as a mere reflection of the tractability and moral certitude afforded by her novels, her economic principles disregarded as patently ridiculous. Galt’s Gulch has attracted so much scorn as to become something of a joke, a way to easily scoff at the naive utopianism of laissez-faire capitalism. Rand and her largely philosophical economic views have been consigned to history as an interesting relic of sorts—a compelling, well-articulated fantasy that has no basis in reality. How then should we interpret new research from the Nation Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) that suggests her controversial description of the income inequality dynamic might have been mostly true?

    I want to say: of course it's mostly true. But it's nice to have research backing it up.

  • At National Reivew, Rachelle Peterson writes on a Pun Salad bête noire: China's Confucius Institutes Stifle Academic Freedom.

    Recently the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released a powerful report on Confucius Institutes, the Chinese-government-funded centers that have been established at some 100 American colleges and universities, ostensibly “to promote Chinese language and culture.” It raises key questions about the propriety of hosting campus centers sponsored by an authoritarian government — and concerns about the outdated and unenforced laws in the U.S. regarding foreign-gift disclosures.

    The report, written by committee staff for subcommittee chairman Rob Portman (R., Ohio) and ranking member Tom Carper (D., Del.), blasts Confucius Institutes as “part of China’s broader, long-term strategy” to develop “soft power” and “export China’s censorship” to college campuses. It declares that unless Confucius Institutes become fully transparent and the Chinese government reciprocates by welcoming U.S. State Department–funded American Cultural Centers in China, “Confucius Institutes should not continue in the United States.” (Full disclosure: I consulted with the subcommittee staff and my own research, Outsourced to China: Confucius Institutes and Soft Power in American Higher Education, is cited in the subcommittee report.)

    And, as I type, the Confucius Institute at the University Near Here is (yep) still there.

Captain Marvel

[3.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I would have skipped this movie except that it seems to be a prequel of sorts to the upcoming Avengers flick. Which, frankly, I wish I'd seen instead. It's tough keeping track of the plot when so many of the participants are shape-shifters, able to impersonate (apparently) any vaguely humanoid form factor. And I'm pretty weak, in any case, on a lot of the details: are there two tesseracts? How did Carol get her suit back? (Mrs. Salad asked about this too.)

Anyway: as the movie opens, Brie Larson plays Vers, a member of an elite Kree mercenary squad, headed up by Jude Law. They're in conflict with the shape-shifting Skrulls, and a botched mission sends Vers crashlanding to planet C-53, aka 1995 Earth. Where she discovers details about her long-lost past (she's actually from Earth herself, and she's Carol Danvers!) and disturbing revelations about her current situation.

The feminism is pretty strident, but seems to be limited to, hey, let's watch the empowered enlightened girls blow up the bad guys and save the day. Also … spoiler alert! … the Skrull turn out to be the good guys (a little unsettling to those of us who were reading Marvel comics in the 1970s), and before you can say "family separation" they are refugees victimized by the Trumplike racist policies of the Kree. Egad.

Still, it's OK. A certain amount of fun. Don't leave until the credits are over.