URLs du Jour

2021-05-16

[Amazon Link]

  • Maybe A Few Less Sheep. Congratulations to Tim Worstall on an irresistably catchy title: The Secret Recipe for Civilization. And as a bonus, he takes down the latest bit of non-wisdom from Food Nag Mark Bittman.

    There is one aspect of human progress that we don’t consider or appreciate: the switch that humans made from being merely a series of generations to becoming a civilization. As Douglas Adams of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy pointed out, there are those who think that the switch was a mistake. But the rest of us should ponder the issue more closely. The switch came when our forebears learned to write things down – things that we can understand without having to learn them again and again from first principles. The libraries are full of the wisdom of the ages – and, inevitably, full of the stories of the wrong turns that humanity had taken.

    It is that mistake that Mark Bittman, the food writer, makes in his new book Animal, Vegetable, Junk:

    And if you look at a chart of health care costs versus food costs, it’s perfect like this. As food costs go up, healthcare costs go down. And as food costs go down, health care costs go up. So cheap food, that’s a direct correlation. Cheap food has had a terrible impact on public health.

    Bittman’s observation is correct, and first principles are an excellent start to the process of logical deduction. But it is also an appalling place to end the process of thinking. True, we don’t all have to stand on the shoulders of giants and reach further and higher than the pebbled seashore, but those previous generations of billions did contain some bright people who did think about the problems of the human condition. Some of them even came up with interesting answers.

    Geez, don't you just love it when people commit the correlation/causation fallacy right in front of you?

    As Tim points out: as a society gets richer, its spending patterns change. Bittman will likely never like that, because those patterns don't meet with his approval.


  • Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling. Nicolaus Mills thinks he's found the best-fit model for Liz Cheney. And its in a pretty good movie: Liz Cheney at High Noon.

    In refusing to back down from her opposition to former president Donald Trump and challenging Republicans to strip her of her leadership role in the House, Liz Cheney has shown the same determination that John Kennedy admired in the eight senators he wrote about in his Pulitzer Prize-winning history Profiles in Courage.

    The best comparison for what Cheney has done is not, however, with the legislators of Profiles in Courage, but with a more dramatic figure—Marshal Will Kane, the hero of the classic 1952 western, High Noon. The link tying Kane (Gary Cooper) and Cheney together stems from the isolation they faced as a consequence of sticking to their principles.

    See what you think. And if it means you need to watch High Noon, you won't regret it. Especially if you've never seen it before. (Lloyd Bridges is such a weasel.) Mills gives the historical context of the movie, which came out in 1952, during the McCarthy era. The screenwriter, Carl Foreman, was blacklisted shortly afterwards for refusing to "name names" to HUAC.

    For an alternate less heroic take on Liz Cheney, see Glenn Greenwald: Liz Cheney Lied About Her Role in Spreading the Discredited CIA "Russian Bounty" Story.

    My lesson: Never make politicians your heroes.


  • But Who's Hank Schrader In This Analogy? How did the GOP get itself into this mess? Alan Jacobs knows: step by step. And for our second parallel to the entertainment industry…

    I think I better understand the Republican capitulation to Donald Trump when I think of their decision to nominate him as the GOP Presidential candidate in 2016 as the equivalent of Walter White’s decision to hold Krazy-8 captive in a basement.

    I mean, it seemed like a good idea at the time — it seemed like the only real option. But then, once you have him in the basement, what do you do with him? Until you decide, you are as much his prisoner as he is yours.

    So Walt sits down with a legal pad to map out the plusses and minuses of releasing Krazy-8 … and realizes that if he lets him go the end result will be the murder of Walt’s whole family. So he has to kill him. Killing Krazy-8 is basically the equivalent of electing Trump President. From that point on there seems to be no path back to a normal way of life.

    This is how the Fallacy of Wishful Thinking leads inexorably to the Fallacy of Sunk Costs, and then back to the Fallacy of Wishful Thinking again.

    So after you watch High Noon, you'll probably need to watch all 62 episodes of Breaking Bad. It's on Netflix, and also pretty good.


  • Gutsy Move, But He's Tenured. Eugene Volokh tells the story of a "professor at a prominent public research university", required to take "online training". In the course of the "training", the question was presented: How Common Are False Accusations?. (Presumably about some allegation of violation of university rules about harassment or "bias".)

    The multiple-choice options were:

    ☐ All the time.
    ☐ Sometimes
    ☐ Rarely.

    And (of course) you can't proceed in the mandatory training until you check "Rarely".

    Eugene points out the invidious vagueness of the question. But he also shares the faculty member's response "to the president, provost, dean, Faculty Senate chair, faculty academic freedom committee chair, and the director of the equal opportunity/affirmative action office." Which winds up with:

    Here, my own sincere answer is "Sometimes" or "I don't know". I understand that the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action asserts that the answer is "Rarely", but I am not being tested here on my understanding of what that office asserts. I am being required, as a condition to continue the training, to assent to an assertion to which I do not agree.

    I am a tenured faculty member at a public university in the United States, not the Soviet Union. I refuse.

    An impressive response.


  • Your Third Assignment Today: The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. At (possibly) the same university, Ray Sanchez and David Richardson seem to have intercepted the correspondence between Dr. Sovnarkom (of the "Diversity, Inclusion, Equity, and Decolonization" Department, aka "DIED") and Dean Arnold: The Screwed-Up Emails: Part I.

    Dear Dean Arnold,

    Thank you for communicating with me in such a timely fashion regarding the concerns of your faculty. It is par for the course that these “discipline experts” are once again worried about another campus initiative. This is no longer the mid-20th century. The sun now sets in the west, and there aren’t always two sides to every story. In that spirit, I’d like to offer you some feedback on how to approach just a few of their questions.

    I really think you opened up the conversation well by telling them that the college treasures academic freedom. It’s always best to open a discussion about antiracism and equity with a bone on which the faculty want to stand around and gnaw. Little do they know that their definition and our definition overlap like a Venn diagram, our side being filled with 21st century truth. While they believe academic freedom is about the free search for and proclamation of the truth, something we can parrot, we also believe that we need to make all voices equal—which means not having faculty teach some topics and not having students read certain literature. As you recall from the webinar we recently attended, 1619: The New Year Zero, requiring some voices to outweigh other voices based on outward appearance and geographic origin rather than quality, longevity, and influence, is absolutely necessary. We need to take a class like western civilization—archaic as it may be—and eliminate Eurocentric western perspectives. In other words, we must bring world history to western civilization and cut out literature from a western perspective. Your faculty may not understand how making a western civilization course equitable means cutting off the voices of dead, white, European males, but it does, and their shallow definition of academic freedom cannot undercut the college’s highest value of inclusion. It is your job to make them understand, or if not understand, at least not question our new status quo.

    Explains a lot, actually.


  • And America's Newspaper of Record has a story from Moscow on the Merrimack: Libertarians To Begin Wearing Masks Now That Government Says They Don't Have To.

    CONCORD, NH—Local libertarian man Bernard Paulson hasn't worn a mask the entire pandemic, saying that it's his constitutional right to go where he wants, sneeze when he wants, and lick any doorknob he so pleases.

    But now, the CDC has eased up on mask guidelines and says they aren't required for many situations. Paulson, wanting to show his rebelliousness and love for liberty, quickly bought a box of masks from his liberal neighbor and started wearing them everywhere he went.

    "What right does the government have to tell me not to wear a mask? You know what, I'm going to wear a mask forever. How about that? Whatchya gonna do now, big, bad, federal government? Are you gonna come and try to take my guns now? Huh? HUH!?" Paulson said.

    "Yeah, I don't know, man, I just work here," an uncomfortable Target employee replied. "Can I, like, help you find something, or do you want to speak to a manager or anything like that?"

    Paulson yelled something about being detained and departed, driving to his shelter to hide underground as long as possible, as he'd heard the government say it was now OK to go outside.

    I feel you, Bernard.


Last Modified 2021-06-03 9:17 AM EDT