URLs du Jour

2021-02-13

[Amazon Link]

  • John McWhorter continues to knock it out of the park, today with a common refrain: If I like it, it's data; if I don't like it, it's "anecdata."

    The people I call The Elect have a common way of dealing with criticism. When confronted with transparently egregious behavior committed in their name, they claim that the episode is a mere anecdote. It is supposedly unrepresentative of a larger reality in which what we really need to be talking about is that many of the people who stormed the Capitol are racists, and that if they had been black the Capitol police would have mowed them down in cold blood, and other empirical observations that apparently serve so directly to improve the lives of black people who need help. (To use a term The Elect like, I suppose these observations function to help black people …)

    But the problem is that the same people treat a few episodes of, for example, cops killing black people as representative of a national phenomenon, no questions asked. And – let’s say that it is, although I find that analysis oversimplified. I would still not say that it is wrong to hear several stories from across the nation and start to generalize, to see a pattern.

    However, the same must apply to episodes of Electness breaching common sense and morality. Multiple episodes cannot be dismissed as mere “anecdata,” as one sees it put. Especially when the episodes are as multiple as they are. There is a pattern, and it’s scary.

    Professor McW is especially good in his dissection of three mere sentences by an anonymous essayist in honor of Black History Month. (OK, it's a New York Times op-ed by Jonathan Holloway, President of Rutgers University.)


  • The New York Post is pretty good at clickbait for conservatives. I mean, a headline like this: Read the column the New York Times didn't want you to read.

    It's by NYT regular columnist Bret Stephens, who took issue with the firing of William McNeil:

    Every serious moral philosophy, every decent legal system and every ethical organization cares deeply about intention.

    It is the difference between murder and manslaughter. It is an aggravating or extenuating factor in judicial settings. It is a cardinal consideration in pardons (or at least it was until Donald Trump got in on the act). It’s an elementary aspect of parenting, friendship, courtship and marriage.

    A hallmark of injustice is indifference to intention. Most of what is cruel, intolerant, stupid and misjudged in life stems from that indifference. Read accounts about life in repressive societies — I’d recommend Vaclav Havel’s “Power of the Powerless” and Nien Cheng’s “Life and Death in Shanghai” — and what strikes you first is how deeply the regimes care about outward conformity, and how little for personal intention.

    I’ve been thinking about these questions in an unexpected connection. Late last week, Donald G. McNeil Jr., a veteran science reporter for The Times, abruptly departed from his job following the revelation that he had uttered a racial slur while on a New York Times trip to Peru for high school students. In the course of a dinner discussion, he was asked by a student whether a 12-year-old should have been suspended by her school for making a video in which she had used a racial slur.

    Well, if you're interested in such things, you probably know the story. It's anecdata!

    The quality of the Deep Thoughts at the NYT is exemplified by Executive Editor Dean Baquet. Reason reported last Saturday:

    "We do not tolerate racist language regardless of intent," Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet and Managing Editor Joe Kahn explained bluntly in a memo Friday.

    And as reported in the WaPo on Thursday:

    New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet on Thursday rolled back a controversial standard regarding the use of racial epithets at the newspaper. In a staff meeting, Baquet retracted the guidance that the paper does not “tolerate racist language regardless of intent.” He explained that the memo with the standard was written on “deadline” and that critics “rightly saw this as a threat to our journalism,” said sources present at the meeting.

    McNeil is still canned, though. So the actual message is clear enough, even though Baquet denies it: "If the woke mob makes my life miserable, you're outta here."


  • In other anecdata, Charles C. W. Cooke reports: Gina Carano’s Firing Is the Product of Yet More Calvinball.

    Gina Carano, the actress who plays Cara Dune on Disney+’s The Mandalorian, has been fired by Lucasfilm for her social media posts. As has become typical, the justification for the firing is not only slippery as hell, it is reflective of a glaring double-standard that its architects are not even attempting to hide:

    Here’s what Carano wrote:

    Because history is edited, most people today don’t realize that to get to the point where Nazi soldiers could easily round up thousands of Jews, the government first made their own neighbors hate them simply for being Jews. How is that any different than hating someone for their political views?

    This is fairly stupid, as are most things said on the Internet. But, stupid or not, it has no obvious connection to the explanation that Lucasfilm gave, which was that Carano’s

    social media posts denigrating people based on their cultural and religious identities are abhorrent and unacceptable.

    But “denigrating people based on their cultural and religious identities” is simply not what Carano did. Instead, she said that the Holocaust happened because the government made people hate their neighbors for their religion and identity, and suggested that political hatreds could end up the same way. I don’t agree with Carano on that, and I don’t like Holocaust comparisons anyhow. But her argument here is not “denigrating” anyone, so much as it is asking for an extension of tolerance into the political, as well as the religious, realm.

    CCWC goes on to note that if Lucasfilm is going to fire actors for making Inapt Nazi Analogies it would have to dump… Pedro Pascal, the Mandalorian his own self.

    Once I "cancel" my Netflix DVD plan (yes I still have it) I'm strongly considering subscribing to Disney+. Would that send the wrong message?


  • And one more bit of Anecdata…

    As we discussed last Friday the "UNH Lecturers United" sent a letter to UNH Administration demanding that the University "stand with us" if the instructors (somehow) "staunchly and confrontationally" acted to oppose the Dread Fascist Menace always (apparently) cropping up in their classrooms.

    One can't help but think they want UNH Administration to have their back if something like this happens: Indigenous professor doxxes ‘racist’ students after they transfer out of her class.

    A University of British Columbia education professor recently took to Twitter to dox a “dirty dozen” students who had transferred out of her class.

    According to the National Post, Amie Wolf, who’s of mixed Native American and Polish descent, was upset the twelve had accused her of “unprofessional” and “hostile” conduct in the Education 440 course, viewing it as a “racist attack.”

    The course is mandatory for all education students.

    Wolf wrote the same narrative in each student’s interim report, noting their transfers were indicative of “unconscious and unacceptable biases, the reinforcement of white supremacy and/or Indigenous specific racism.” Oh, and “an intolerance for ‘otherness.‘”

    Geez, I always thought Canadians were supposed to be polite.


  • Voice of Sanity™ Jacob Sullum is interested enough to opine: Leaving Aside Trump’s Role in Provoking the Capitol Riot, His Reaction to It Was Enough To Justify Impeachment.

    After last month's assault on the U.S. Capitol began, CNN's Kaitlan Collins reported, "White House officials were shaken by Trump's reaction." She said they described him as "borderline enthusiastic because it meant the certification [of Joe Biden's election] was being derailed." Sen. Ben Sasse (R–Neb.), in an interview two days after the riot with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, likewise said "senior White House officials" had told him Trump was "walking around the White House confused about why other people on his team weren't as excited as he was as you had rioters pushing against Capitol Police trying to get into the building." Sasse described Trump as "delighted" by the violence.

    You may not credit these second- and third-hand accounts of Trump's mood as his followers, outraged by his fantasy of a stolen election, stormed the Capitol to stop Congress from certifying Biden's victory. CNN is not exactly friendly toward Trump, and Sasse is a longtime critic. Their reports were based on information from unnamed officials who cannot be asked to confirm or deny making the comments attributed to them. Yet as the House members who are prosecuting Trump for inciting the Capitol riot emphasize, these accounts are consistent with Trump's public behavior after the protest he convened to "stop the steal" turned violent.

    If you're going to tell me that the Democrats are pursuing this more for partisan political advantage than legitimate patriotic concern, I won't disagree.

    If you're going to tell me that the specific "incitement" language in the impeachment resolution is legally problematic, I'll agree you have a point.

    If you're tired of hearing about unproven accusations about the death of Brian Sicknick: me too.

    But Trump deserves every ounce of opprobrium people are flinging at him over his behavior on January 6. Avoid being distracted from that.

The Beginning of Infinity

Explanations That Transform the World

[Amazon Link]

Executive summary: a big, deep, dense book that I almost certainly didn't spend enough time on to appreciate fully. My excuse: I got it from the Portsmouth Public Library, and only allowed myself two weeks to read it. In an ideal world, I'd probably have to spend much more time working through it. This report will be unfocused and choppy, apologies in advance.

It's by David Deutsch, a well-known physicist, and I kind of expected the book would be about (y'know) physics. Well, there is a lot of physics, but there's even more philosophy and speculation. And additional topics, like AI, government, and the nature of beauty. He never says "Did I just blow your mind, reader?" But he could have.

Among the things I did not expect: a long chapter with a scripted discussion about knowledge between Socrates, the Greek god Hermes, with a late appearance by the flawed scribe Plato.

Back in my University days, I studied (superficially) the philosophy of science: Kuhn, Popper, Lakatos, Feyerabend, et. al. I really wish I'd had this book then.

Deutsch is a fan of the Enlightenment (properly understood). In that, he's the physics-side version of Deirdre McCloskey, observing that the new Enlightened attitude toward science (specifically) and knowledge and creativity (generally) has opened up an unbounded possible future for humanity. (Worried that we'll run out of calcium, or something? Pshaw! We'll figure out how to transmute the vast quantities of intergalactic hydrogen eventually into whatever we want.)

He's a fan of the quantum multiverse, and his explication is (as near as I can tell) unique. He's scornful of the "shut up and calculate" Copenhagen-interpretation folks. (Although, admittedly, they get the right answers.)

He's also highly critical of neo-Malthusians and their concepts of "sustainability" (e.g., Jared Diamond). In my case, he's pushing on an unlocked door.

But he's not always pushing on an unlocked door. I have (in the past) expressed worries about the finite intellectual powers of humans setting an impenetrable ceiling on knowledge and progress. Deutsch is the only author I've seen who deals with this straightforwardly, and he debunks my notion pretty convincingly. I will re-evaluate my position! And not be so glib about it in the future.


Last Modified 2021-04-18 7:16 AM EDT