URLs du Jour

2020-07-08

Pigeon. In a hole. Get it?

  • At Heterodox Academy, Irshad Manji says: Fragility Is Not the Answer. Honest Diversity Is. He reminisces about a debate that didn't come off with Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility. (That's the book that Matt Taibbi said "makes The Art of the Deal read like Anna Karenina.")

    Take the central claim of her book: that white people’s entitlement to feeling comfortable makes them defensive, even hostile, when conversations about race need to be had. No doubt, many white people fit that bill. However, it is not because they are white. It is because they are human.

    I speak from personal experience. In the wake of 9/11, I toured the world to promote liberal reform in my faith of Islam. Before audiences of my fellow Muslims, I argued that the time had come to update our religious interpretations for a pluralistic 21st century. I also explained that Islam has its own tradition of independent thinking. As people of faith, we could rediscover that glorious tradition instead of turning to outside influences.

    The “Muslim fragility” that I witnessed pained me. Most of my co-religionists did not want to hear about the need to change ourselves. Despite backing up my case with passages from the Qur’an, I was met mostly with denial, consternation, condemnation, and, on occasion, violent threats.

    Manji makes an eloquent appeal for "honest diversity". Which "starts with the desire for varied perspectives and rectifies representation to fulfill that desire."

    Which is quite different than pigeonholing people by their DNA.


  • Quillette hosts Lawrence M. Krauss's thoughts: Racism Is Real. But Science Isn’t the Problem.

    In his June 9th eulogy for George Floyd, Reverend Al Sharpton said, “What happened to Floyd happens every day in this country, in education, in health services, and in every area of American life.” The metaphor goes to the suffocation of hopes, dreams, and basic rights among many black Americans, in part because of inequities in American society, and in part because of direct experiences with racism.

    Several days later, the American Physical Society (APS), which claims to represent 55,000 physicists working in the United States and abroad, quoted Sharpton’s statement in announcing its solidarity with the “#strike4blacklives” campaign. The group declared that “physics is not an exception” to the suffocating climate of racism that Sharpton described; and that the APS would be closed for regularly scheduled business on June 10th, so as “to stand in support and solidarity with the Black community and to commit to eradicating systemic racism and discrimination, especially in academia, and science.” And the APS wasn’t alone. The strike was embraced by many scientific groups, national laboratories and universities. Throughout scientific disciplines, combating systemic racism has become a rallying cry.

    It sounds laudable. But as argued below, mantras about systemic racism are hard to square with the principles and necessary protocols of academic science. And in any case, overhauling university hiring and promotion aren’t the way to address the fundamental underlying causes of racism in our society. The APS and other scientific organizations have adopted dramatic anti-racist posturing in sudden response to George Floyd’s homicide and the protests that followed. But in so doing, they risk unwittingly demeaning science and scientists, as well as trivializing the broader and more vicious impacts of real racism in our society.

    I used to be an APS member, back when I had delusions of being a physicist. Glad I'm long gone.


  • At National Review, Kyle Smith is Imagining John Roberts Explaining Himself.

    Ever since I was a little boy, the other boys never called me “John” or “Johnny” or even “Roberts.” It was always “John Roberts.” The words would always run together, so in essence my name, to one and all, was “JohnRoberts.” “JohnRoberts, did you hear wrestling practice was canceled?” “JohnRoberts, Father Reilly said he wants to see you after Mass.” “JohnRoberts, do you want to go to the Dairy Queen for a root beer?” (Root was the only kind of beer I drank.) I did consider it a little strange when my own father started calling me “JohnRoberts,” but I didn’t mind. It was simply a gesture of respect for my immense propriety. I wanted to impress my elders with my rectitude, and I think I did.

    I impressed the other students too. I know I was not seen the way the other boys were. People didn’t ask me, “Hey, JohnRoberts, want to go get high and see Gimme Shelter?” More often they would ask me for my opinion about cross-comparing the various options in life-insurance annuities or what model sedan I considered the most decorous and respectable. (Buick. Always Buick.) Often a group of boys would approach me, and one boy in the group would ask me these kinds of questions while his friends stood around, snickering at some private joke to which I was not privy. In retrospect, I suppose these were strange questions to ask a high schooler, but then again, it was my practice to wear long, black silken robes everywhere I went, just to be prepared for my future. I guess you could say young Kavanaugh did enough youthful hijinks for the both of us. He once told me he went to see Porky’s when he was only 16 and a half! Can you imagine? He’s a card, that boy.

    It's pretty funny. Although JohnRoberts might not think so.


  • Billy Binion at Reason notes one of the many strange features of our modern times: In 2020, Words Are ‘Violence,’ Arson Is Not.

    There's a righteous anger driving protests against police brutality in the U.S. But an effort on the left to radically redefine "violence" threatens to alienate people who are attached to a more conventional understanding of that word and trivializes the very real reasons why they're protesting. A demonstration that hinges on an anti-violence orthodoxy needs to employ a coherent definition of their central tenet, should they not want to undermine their own movement.

    The leftist case for redefining "violence" relies on two main arguments: damaging a person is morally more serious than damaging an object, and psychologically damaging a person is worse than physically damaging an object.

    Nobody seems to care about the psychological damage they're inflicting on me with their moldy cant.


  • And Ennio Morricone passed away. Which makes me want to watch The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly one more time. (Yes, of course I have the DVD.)

    At Language Log, Heidi Harley makes a point about the Accidental filmic poetry contained in the title:

    In English, "the Adj" generally only allows a generic reading, and often refers to the class of humans characterized by the adjective, as in the poor, the rich, etc. In Italian (and French, Spanish, etc.) this isn't the case; the construction, although based on the same syntax, can also receive a particular referential singular interpretation. Borer and Roy ascribe this to the presence of identifying number and gender features on the determiner in those languages.

    In the original Italian title of the movie, Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo ('The good.masc.sg, The ugly.masc.sg, the bad.masc.sg.) these 'The-Adj' sequences are referential; they refer to the three main characters Blondie, Angel Eyes and Tuco. The Italian title is more or less equivalent to English "The good guy, the bad guy and the ugly guy". 

    In English, though, the grammatical structure of the title can only get the generic reading. The use of these forms in the film to refer to three protagonists, then, bestows an archetypal quality on those characters; they're metonymically interpreted as instantiating the whole classes of good people, bad people and ugly people respectively. And the kind of mythic force it imparts somehow fits so perfectly with the grandiose yet tongue-in-cheek quality of the whole film, to me it's really a fundamental part of its impact, humor and appeal.

    So the English title actually works better than the original Italian, despite the literal translation. Heidi (I call her Heidi) wonders if that possibly could have been intentional.

After the Storm

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

An arty Japanese movie, undubbed. Not for those who don't like reading subtitles, therefore. But it's pretty OK.

The protagonist is Ryôta, who's kind of a mess. He used to be a novelist, publishing his first book to critical acclaim, but didn't manage to follow up. He's now a private investigator, and not an honorable one: when he gets the goods on a cheating wife, he and his partner offer to keep the news from their client, her husband, for a price. Sleazy!

He's also divorced, with a cute son. And due to a nasty gambling habit, he's behind on his child support payments.

(Did you know that in Japan, they bet on bicycle races? Neither did I. But don't worry, Ryôta also buys lottery tickets, a more American tax on irrational innumeracy.)

There's also a meddling (but very sweet and funny) mother. And an impending typhoon.

It's a pretty good movie to remind us of a couple things: first: Japan is wonderfully weird. But second: not that weird; everyone here operates with emotions and motivations and foibles that are instantly recognizable to any red-blooded American. That's sort of comforting in these "diverse" times.

The Price We Pay

What Broke American Health Care--and How to Fix It

[Amazon Link]

I was tempted into getting this book via the author's appearance on Russ Roberts' EconTalk podcast back in Februrary. (I would have gotten to it before now, except for the Portsmouth Public Library's extended Covid-19 shutdown.)

Marty Makary, a doctor affiliated with Johns Hopkins, describes various ways that "we" (as taxpayers, health insurance customers, and/or patients) are being gouged by the health care system.

  • Some hospitals have "list prices" for their services that are stratospherically higher than normal; not only do they gouge, they go after slow-payers aggressively with collection agencies and garnishments.
  • "Health Fairs" that are setups to steer unwary attendees toward expensive and unnecessary services.
  • Surprise billing for participants in your care who are "out-of-network".
  • Ground and air ambulance services are notorious overchargers.
  • Some OB-GYNs aggressively seek out women in labor and persuade them to get unnecessary (but lucrative) cesareans.
  • Doctors (through greed or ignorance) gravitate toward more expensive procedures, out of whack with prevailing practices in their fields.
  • Doctors overprescribe, especially opioids. Probably that's less of a problem these days. But Makary admits do doing it himself, out of ignorance.
  • Middlemen, like pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) and "group purchasing organizations" (GPOs) can skim, and sometimes a lot more than "skim".

And I got tired of typing, so I'll stop there.

Makary's style is informal, first person, often reporting in detail about his research interviews ("I landed at the Omaha airport and immediately saw a big Omaha Steaks shop in the airport terminal.") Hence, the book is largely anecdotal. That has pluses and minuses. Plus: the stories are grabby and rage-inducing. Minus: there's not a lot of quantitative data. For example, he (sensibly) thinks kickbacks from pharmaceutical manufacturers to PBMs should be banned; but how much would that save? Big problem, medium, or tiny?

Markary is also kind of weak (imho) on the promise made in his subtitle: how to fix it. The basic problem (to which he alludes over and over) is that health care doesn't work like a market. To a first approximation, the reason is pretty simple: someone else is paying, not the consumer. Consumers are insulated from the gory details, and so why should they care about the vast sums flying around that they never see?

Of course, they're paying. Sort of. Through paycheck deductions, mostly. But they have little control over that.

But Markary doesn't go so far as to advocate radical free-market reforms. And I don't think he even touches the over-regulation and over-licensing in the field.

My deep thought about why market reforms aren't coming to health care: we don't want them.

Markets are wondrous mechanisms, but there's one nasty fact: they will provide some things you can't afford.

We don't worry about that in most areas. Can't afford filet mignon? Fine, I'll grab the sirloin on sale. Can't get a Tesla? Honda Civic, baby. No problem.

But with health care, we want the best. We are entitled to the best. And if we can't have the best, then our inner egalitarian takes over: if I can't have it, then nobody else should have it either.

That's ugly, but very understandable. And that's why we can't have nice things.

ADDED slightly later: Markary blames doctor overprescription for the increase in opioid overdose deaths. I don't buy that. See, for example here.


Last Modified 2020-07-08 10:57 AM EDT