URLs du Jour

2021-03-23

[Amazon Link]

  • Everybody Hates Brad. Raffensperger, that is. In National Review the Georgia Secretary of State shows he's OK with it by revealing the Stacey Abrams Playbook: Cry ‘Stolen Election’.

    To many people, President Donald Trump’s effort to overturn an election may have seemed unprecedented. Many members of the media have cast Trump’s efforts as unheard of. But sitting in Georgia, it was impossible to watch the events after November 3 without seeing the unmistakable signs of the Stacey Abrams playbook: Don’t concede. Say you were cheated. Allege voter irregularities. File lawsuits. Get witness testimony. Raise money. Repeat.

    The parallels in their statements alone are compelling enough. After losing by 55,000 votes in November 2018, Abrams said: “This is not a speech of concession. Concession means to acknowledge an action is right, true or proper. . . . I cannot concede.” After losing by a slimmer 12,000 votes, President Trump told the crowd gathered in Washington, D.C., on January 6 that “we will never concede. It doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved.”

    On January 6, President Trump said his supporters should “fight like hell” and that “if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” Abrams said just a few weeks ago about elections legislation in Georgia that “we are at war, fighting to protect our democracy from domestic enemies at this moment.”

    Of course, there were differences. As Raffensperger points out, Trump's bogus claims were fact-checked and debunked out the wazoo. In contrast, Abrams' equally bogus claims were mostly echoed by the MSM.


  • What's Wrong With Me? I'm growing to like leftists who are willing to speak the truth to their own side. Like Thomas Frank: Liberals want to blame rightwing 'misinformation' for our problems. Get real.

    Let me confess: every time I read one of these stories calling on us to get over free speech or calling on Mark Zuckerberg to press that big red “mute” button on our political opponents, I feel a wave of incredulity sweep over me. Liberals believe in liberty, I tell myself. This can’t really be happening here in the USA.

    But, folks, it is happening. And the folly of it all is beyond belief. To say that this will give the right an issue to campaign on is almost too obvious. To point out that it will play straight into the right’s class-based grievance-fantasies requires only a little more sophistication. To say that it is a betrayal of everything we were taught liberalism stood for – a betrayal that we will spend years living down – may be too complex a thought for our punditburo to consider, but it is nevertheless true.

    Tough to excerpt, but that's his bottom line.

    I would only observe that actual liberals seem to be a dying breed. There's a reason more and more Democrats are self-labelling as "Progressives": contra Frank, they are no longer big fans of liberty.


  • Then They Came For the Substackers. And… Megan McArdle on The Substack controversy’s bigger story.

    In recent weeks, the new editor of Teen Vogue resigned before she even started over racist tweets written when she was 17 (and had already publicly apologized for in 2019); the host of next season’s “The Bachelorette” was replaced after he failed to condemn a former contestant’s college behavior; and online activists began pressuring a self-publishing service called Substack to deplatform some of its most successful writers.

    Individually, these may seem like small incidents, even unrelated, but they are manifestations of an increasingly merciless “cancel culture” that tolerates no violations of progressive norms, even those committed long ago or inadvertently. That culture has become powerful in media, academia, entertainment and corporate America, which means it affects everyone. The Substack fight in particular might prove an augury of where free expression is headed.

    It's been almost 30 years since John Gilmore observed that "The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it." Substack is one of those routes. Wish it continued health against the woke mob.


  • Infrastructure! Just Not Infrastructure We Actually Need. Randal O'Toole imagines Reinventing the Jet Airliner.

    Suppose I told you that I have reinvented the jet airliners that carried Americans more than 750 billion passenger miles–about 10 percent of all passenger travel–in 2019. My reinvented jet will go less than half as fast as existing jets. It will cost six times as much to operate, per passenger mile, as existing jets. Unlike existing jets, which can go anywhere there is air, the reinvented jet will only be able to go on a limited number of fixed routes.

    This wondrous invention will become a reality if the federal government spends a mere one, two, or possibly three or four trillion dollars. Does that sound like a good deal? No? Yet that is exactly what high‐​speed rail advocates are proposing. Some proposals, such as the Green New Deal, even call for almost completely replacing low‐​cost, fast jet airliners with high‐​cost, relatively slow trains.

    Randal's in rare form here, rebutting a True Believer in "high-speed" passenger rail.


  • Before We Move On To Fitting the New Mass Shooting Into Our Preferred Narrative… we still have to make sure the previous one is safely pigeonholed. Jerry Coyne looks at the NYT's headline: "Pressure grows to label Atlanta shootings as a 'hate crime'."

    In the case of Robert Aaron Long, who has apparently confessed to eight murders (six of them Asian women), the extra years in jail for a hate crime will hardly matter: if found guilty, which is likely, he’s either going to be executed or spend the rest of his life in jail.

    But that’s not the point for those people agitating (“outraged people” as the NBC News said last night) for Long’s crime to be labeled a hate crime.  There are reasons for labeling a crime a “hate crime”, one of which appears to be to penalize someone for targeting a special group that might be terrorized, something that’s presumed not to happen with “nonhate” crimes. Regardless of how you feel about a difference between murders and “hate murders”, the law is the law.

    The problem, of course, is that although Long shot six Asian women, there’s no evidence yet that he was targeting Asians. Rather, as he told police, he was trying to get vengeance on spa workers who presumably gave him sex, and happened to be Asians, who make up a large percentage of spa workers. And his motivation was to get rid of the temptation of extramarital sex, which his church (which has now expelled him) forbids. Of course, Long could be lying, and it’s early days. That’s why it’s premature to try to get his crime labeled as a “hate crime”. We must wait.

    The killer had snakes in his head. Do you really care what the snakes were labelled?


  • And I previously mentioned Matt Taibbi's Brief List Of Official Russia Claims That Proved To Be Bogus. He's turning it into a dynamic article, adding new entries as his time allows. He's up to twelve, as I type.

The WEIRDest People in the World

How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous

[Amazon Link]

Whoa, big book. 680 pages in all, but fortunately "only" 489 of them are the main text. Lots of notes.

To get it out of the way: the WEIRD in Joseph Henrich's title stands for "Western, Industrialized, Educated, Rich, Democratic". In other words, us. (Well, me, anyway. Probably you.)

Henrich believes that our brains work significantly different from the rest of the world, and this difference has been accumulating over the past couple thousand years. (He is properly scornful of psychology researchers who try to pass off their experimental results as broadly applicable, but only really apply to their research guinea pigs, typically American college undergrads.) He supports this thesis with a raft of data drawn from his own work (he's chair of the Human Evolutionary Biology Department at Harvard) and disparate social sciences: history, economics, anthropology, sociology, etc.

What happened to make us this way? Christianity, mostly, specifically the Catholic Church. Their efforts over centuries to impose their "Marriage and Family Program" (Henrich acronymizes this to "MFP") turned the flock away from mankind's usual tribalism. Other things happened too, of course, but Henrich finds this to be the biggie. It's plausible: the MFP reverberates thoughout Western society, causing culture to evolve in unexpected and unintended ways. But mostly it changed our brains in a WEIRD way…

Fortunately, there's a diagram:

[The Big Picture]

[That's, um, borrowed from this site; if you're interested in a much more detailed summary of the book, click over.]

While reading, I kept wondering "What would Deirdre McCloskey think about all this?" One of the primary themes here is the development of modern capitalism, after all, right in Deirdre's wheelhouse. There is but a single footnote to one of Deirdre's books here. Surprising!

Henrich's style is mostly dry, but not without occasional flashes of humor. Example: on page 273 he's discussing how the MFP's encouragement of monogamy affects testosterone levels in men. "Here, you're seeing how the Church, through the institution of monogamous marriage, reached down and grabbed men by the testicles." Ha! (Although I think I crossed my legs when reading that.) I suspect this and other zingers are a crossover from Henrich's undergraduate lectures at Harvard; even those bright kids can get their attention perked by a good joke.

Guys and Dolls

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

(In honor of Damon Runyon, I am not using contractions in this post.)

Amazon Prime's "Content Advisory" for this 1955 movie warns of "Drug use, foul language, sexual content".

Maybe Amazon should have a Content Advisory Advisory: "Do not take our Content Advisory seriously".

Although I was a little surprised by the big dance numbers featuring the "Goldwyn Girls". For 1955, they were pretty risqué. (I had previously only seen a production of Guys and Dolls given by a local company outside in Prescott Park (Portsmouth NH) years ago. Not quite the same as the flick.)

It is set in the seamy/glitzy world of NYC gambling, based on a couple of Damon Runyon stories from the 1930s. Frank Sinatra plays Nathan Detroit, who is looking to set up a locale for a crap game that will not be detected by the city cops. He is also trying to avoid marriage to 14-year fiancée Miss Adelaide. All he needs for the former goal is a thousand bucks to nail down a venue, which he lacks. But he spots Sky Masterson (Marlon Brando!), a known sucker for unsafe bets. Nathan wagers Sky that he will not be able to take Sarah Brown (Jean Simmons) down to old Havana on a date. Sarah is the earnest missionary to the sinful at the "Save a Soul Mission" (think Salvation Army), so that is indeed a challenge.

Things proceed predictably, pretty much. The Runyonesque stilted dialog is amusing, at least for a while.

It was nice to see Marlon Brando in a comedic/musical role. But I see Gene Kelly wanted the Masterson role, and I have to think he would have been a far better choice.