The Day After Tomorrow

[Amazon Link]

So another book down on my rereading-Heinlein project. And only 27 left to go!

This 1941 short novel was originally titled Sixth Column, and you can buy it from Amazon under that title. (I just reread the original, beat-up, 50¢ Signet paperback I got back in the 1960s.) The premise is that the USA has been taken over (very easily) by the "Pan-Asians". The only remnant is a super-secret "Citadel" in the mountains, a research lab in charge of developing weaponry at the cutting edge of physics.

And they've succeeded. Just a little too late to be of any help in deterring the Pan-Asian invasion. There's only six of them left, too. Because testing their latest gadget killed nearly everyone else in the facility.

So the survivors face a problem: even though they have this nifty new discovery (and it has a lot of other uses besides indiscriminately killing people), it's pretty clear that there's no obvious strategy that will get the country back. Sheer numbers of the ruthless Pan-Asian hordes preclude any straightforward attack.

Unless… hey: the Pan-Asians are pretty tolerant of one thing only: the religion of the conquered masses. So the good guys come up with a fake religion, meant to disguise recruitment and deployment of their forces and weaponry across the country. (There are some omens of Stranger in a Strange Land in the discussion of religion design.)

Complicating things: the chief scientist at the Citadel is, well, the worst kind of scientist. A constant thorn in the others' sides, and (at the climax, spoiler, sorry) a genuine threat.

I was kind of kidding when I said the nifty new discovery killed people indiscriminately. In fact, it can be set to discriminate. Specifically, it's a death ray that can be tuned to only kill a certain race? Now, there's a thorny ethical problem! It's arguable that Heinlein dealt with this in as enlightened a manner as possible, given the era in which it was written. But I don't see this book being assigned to readers in your local schools and colleges without a major fuss.

Last Modified 2019-07-29 4:56 PM EST


The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society

[Amazon Link]

The author, Nicholas A. Christakis, made kind of a splash back in the dextrosphere back in 2015. He and his wife, Erika, both taught at Yale. Erika made the mistake of criticizing, in writing, a memo cautioning about "culturally insensitive" Halloween costumes. She was (of course) pilloried, and when he defended her, he got the same treatment.

I wonder if I would have checked out this book if not for that? Don't know for sure, but its theme is in line with the other nonfiction stuff I enjoy reading. Generally speaking, it concerns the nature/nurture debate, and how much of humanity's social nature is due to our underlying genetics.

Quite a bit, says Professor Christakis. He says that even the wide diversity of human cultures over millennia adheres to certain universal traits, which he dubs the "social suite", conveniently summarized at the start:

  1. The capacity to have and recognize individual identity
  2. Love for partners and offspring
  3. Friendship
  4. Social networks (even before Facebook)
  5. Cooperation
  6. Preference for one's own group (that is, "in-group bias")
  7. Mild hierarchy (that is, relative egalitarianism)
  8. Social learning and teaching
To demonstrate this, the book meanders through a lot of history, sociology, biology, and anthropology. Going some unexpected places too, for example, the history of shipwrecked sailors finding themselves isolated from their familiar civilizations; what kind of societies do they build. How about kibbutzim, or other attempts to build small utopias based on lofty ideals?

And how did wolves turn into domesticated dogs in a relative evolutionary eyeblink?

So, very interesting. If this is the sort of thing in which you're interested.

URLs du Jour


[Amazon Link]

  • Arthur C. Brooks, at the WaPo wants to let you know: You’re probably making incorrect assumptions about your opposing political party.

    As America slouches toward the 2020 presidential election, candidates and pundits will regularly tell you this about the other political side, followed by a list of its extremist beliefs, twisted motives and wicked desires.

    But do you ever stop and ask how much you really know about the other side? Or whether the outrage industry in politics and media is telling you the truth about your fellow Americans who disagree with you politically? These questions are worth asking, because it turns out most of what we “know” about the other side is wrong.

    Let’s start with how much Republicans and Democrats actually know about the lives of people on the other side. The authors of a 2017 study in the Journal of Politics revealed that the average Democrat believes that more than 40 percent of Republicans earn more than $250,000 per year. Meanwhile, Republicans believe that nearly 40 percent of Democrats are LGBTQ. How close are these estimates to reality? Not very. Just 2 percent of Republicans are doing that well financially, and just 6 percent of Democrats are LGBTQ. 

    Well… I'm thinking that people might be equally ignorant about their own parties. Because when you do polling like this, the answers are invariably wildly off the mark about everything.

    But Arthur's right that politicians exploit this ignorance. "They play to stereotypes by saying (or tweeting) radical things to fire up fringe-view supporters, who are numerically small but powerful in primaries. Or they tell their supporters that the other side is all a bunch of extremist kooks." On target, Arthur.

    I am not sure how Arthur's "Love Your Enemies" advice works out with politicians who behave so contemptibly.

  • There's a couple of debates coming up this week! You would have to pay me serious money to watch! But I might, if I were promised that candidates would be asked George F. Will's Serious questions for the Democratic candidates. Sample:

    For Gillibrand: When Nike, buckling beneath the disapproval of a former NFL quarterback, withdrew its line of sneakers adorned with the 13-star Betsy Ross flag, you said that Nike was right to "admit when they are wrong." Presumably, then, you agree with the quarterback, who said why Nike was wrong: Because of the flag's connection to an era of slavery. So, Senator, should Americans "admit when they are wrong" when they sing the National Anthem, which was written in 1814?

    Presumably the Fort McHenry flag is acceptable, since it doesn't have its stars in the evil Betsy Ross circle.

  • I'm in the process of reading Kevin D. Williamson's new book, The Smallest Minority. (Buy it! Use the over there in the righthand column!) He has followup thoughts at National Review Social Media’s Empty, Performative Outrage.

    On Friday, Joe Scarborough had me on Morning Joe and gave me a really generous amount of time. (Thanks for that.) It is always a little surreal to be identified as the controversial one at the table when I am seated next to the Reverend Al Sharpton. L’esprit de l’escalier: I wish I had turned to the Reverend Sharpton and asked: “Can you think of anybody who has said anything controversial but remains entirely welcome in so-called liberal media circles?” But I didn’t, which is why I am a writer rather than a television host.

    Naturally, Twitter went ape after my appearance, which is the nature of Twitter, a place where people go to behave like chimps. (I do not exempt myself from that; social media never brought out the best in me, either, and my decision to stop using it is right up there with going to bed at 9:30 p.m. on the very short list of good choices I have made about my daily routine.) The usual banality and dishonesty were intensified this time around with the help of NARAL, which sent out a tweet claiming that I’d gone on Morning Joe and said some outrageous things about abortion and capital punishment, two subjects which did not in fact come up at all. (Here is the video. For those of you interested in my views on those subjects, here is an account of them I wrote for the Washington Post.) NARAL is of course not known for its honesty — it is a shill for the abortion industry that cannot even bear to keep the word “abortion” in its name — and neither are the rage-monkeys on Twitter.

    I, for one, would love to see a debate between Arthur C. Brooks and Kevin D. Williamson on the general topic of loving thy enemies. Because Kevin clearly doesn't. And I find it difficult to criticize him for that.

  • Jeff Jacoby writes on The sheer ingratitude of Dennis Prager.

    Considering how often Prager has written and spoken about the importance of gratitude, he might be expected to brim with appreciation for YouTube. In one of his videos (985,000 YouTube views), Prager describes gratitude as having an "almost magical" power to improve human society. "Almost everything good flows from gratitude," he says, "and almost everything bad flows from ingratitude."

    Prager's gratitude for YouTube, without which PragerU would never have achieved such spectacular success, should be boundless. If he practices what he preaches, Prager should regularly express his thanks to YouTube — and to Google, its parent company — for providing him and his ideas the biggest audience of his career.

    Ah, but he doesn't practice what he preaches. Rather than voice appreciation for YouTube and Google, he accuses them of censorship.

    Jeff makes a strong case that Prager's outrage is overblown and dishonest. Maybe. On the other hand, Jeff also mentions that his gripes about Google/YouTube's "objectivity or transparency" may be legit.

  • And you might be impressed and enchanted by Character Routing Maps of Famous Films. And you might see how big a geek you are by identifying the movies by their routing maps alone. Not that hard.