URLs du Jour

2021-05-17

  • Do Lutherans Count? Jesse Walker's impressive print-Reason article is now available to non-subscribers: Cult Country. And it's the source of our Eye Candy du Jour, the "The official roadmap to understanding the Great Awakening. A timeline of Hidden History from 2018 to Atlantis.":

    [Official Roadmap]

    Note: this is self-described as an official roadmap. Do not accept unofficial roadmaps! As always: click for a big version (on Reddit).

    Jesse's article is an interesting and insightful look at the history and treatment of American "cults". For example, the Shakers. I've been to Canterbury Shaker Village north of Concord, and it's all staid and proper now, but there are scurrilous rumors…


  • A Suggestion That Won't Be Taken, But… Oh yeah, "Tax Day". Out of habit, I did things for April 15, but today's official. Ross Marchand has a good suggestion: This Tax Day, Lower Rates and Simplify the Code.

    Even though April 15 has come and gone, Tax Day is finally here. And now, more than three years after the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the vast majority of Americans continue to reap the economic benefits of tax reform. Estimates suggest 90 percent of taxpayers got a break on their taxes. Reduced business tax rates resulted in increased hiring, higher wages, lower prices, and businesses relocating back to the U.S.

    However, not all the news is good for the estimated 150 million taxpayers across the country. A recent report suggests preparation and filing costs remain stubbornly high despite the simplification of the tax code and ease and generosity of the standard deduction. And high debt and reckless tax hike proposals threaten to drown taxpayers in an avalanche of liabilities. Lawmakers should reject these failed policies and commit to the increased simplification of the tax code.

    Unfortunately, the tax code is a beloved tool of social engineers on both left and right to encourage/discourage favored/disfavored behavior. Don't see that changing in my lifetime. Yours either, probably.


  • It Ain’t What You Don’t Know That Gets You Into Trouble. It’s What You Know for Sure That Just Ain’t So. Michael Huemer analyzes The Gender Pay Gap & Empirical Facts. (He leads with that quote, often falsely attributed) to Mark Twain.

    In the case of feminism, there is a factual question about how much women in U.S. society are disadvantaged due to sexism or “patriarchy”. That question turns on lots and lots of more specific questions. Feminists would cite a multitude of different ways that women are disadvantaged, allegedly due to sexism. It’s impossible to examine all of them.

    […]

    Let’s just consider one example of the patriarchy. Perhaps the most famous example of the rampant, sexist bias in our society is the gender pay gap. Everybody has heard the statistic that women in the U.S. earn 79 cents for every dollar earned by men. (https://money.cnn.com/2015/04/13/news/economy/equal-pay-day-2015/) (The figure has varied over the years, generally getting smaller.)

    As Huemer (exhaustively) points out: that just ain't so. No matter how many New Hampshire senators may claim it to be true.


  • I Don't Care What Patrick Swayze Said, Pain Hurts. Jeffrey A. Singer looks at the recent opioid OD numbers out of the People's Republic: In Massachusetts, as Elsewhere, It's The Prohibition, Not The Prescriptions.

    Earlier this month, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health released Data Brief: Opioid‐Related Overdose Deaths Among Massachusetts Residents. The report found that opioid‐related overdose deaths remained essentially unchanged at roughly 2,000 per year since 2016. From 2001 thru 2010 the annual overdose rate was relatively stable and then began to accelerate in 2011. (Figure 1 and Figure 2 of the Data Brief).

    […]

    As with other states, the opioid dispensing rate per 100 persons has come down dramatically over time. Nationally, the overall rate dropped by roughly 43 percent, to 46.7 per 100 persons in 2019, from its peak of 81.2 per 100 persons in 2012. In Massachusetts, prescription opioids dispensed per 100 persons peaked in 2009 at 68.9 per 100 persons and dropped by 49 percent to 35.4 per 100 persons in 2019. From 2014 thru 2019 alone, the rate in the Commonwealth dropped 41 percent, from 59.6 to 35.4 per 100 persons.

    For those "experts" who expected that drastic cutbacks in opioid prescriptions would bring down the OD death rate: it did not. Now what, geniuses? Anyone up for admitting that you were wrong?


  • In Our "Of Course She Does" Department… Andrew Stiles reports the least surprising news of the day: Kamala Harris Keeps Enemies List of Journalists Who Don't 'Appreciate Her Life Experience'.

    Vice President Kamala Harris keeps a list of reporters and other political types who might be racist, according to a profile published in the Atlantic on Monday.

    "The vice president and her team tend to dismiss reporters. Trying to get her to take a few questions after events is treated as an act of impish aggression," writes Edward-Isaac Dovere. "And Harris herself tracks political players and reporters whom she thinks don't fully understand her or appreciate her life experience."

    Pun Salad wants to know: can you ask to be put on that list?

Moonflower Murders

[Amazon Link]

I liked Anthony Horowitz's previous book, The Sentence is Death. It was an unconventionally tricky (the protagonist named "Anthony Horowitz") good read. This one, not so much.

Although it is tricky. The amateur detective here is Susan Ryeland, retired from her gig at a publishing house where she edited mysteries. (Which apparently ended badly, this is the second "Susan Ryeland" book Horowitz has written.) These days she manages a hotel on Crete with her boyfriend. It's a lot of work for a hotel on the edge of ruin.

So she's up for a change, and it's provided by the Trehernes, owner of a (much fancier and more expensive) hotel back in England. It was the scene of a gruesome murder, apparently committed by a Romanian immigrant ex-criminal working there. He confessed! Case closed!

Not so fast. It turns out that mystery writer Alan Conway visited the hotel after the murder. And wrote a novel afterward, Atticus Pünd Takes the Case, with loose connections to the story of the crime.

And then (stay with me here), the Treherne's daughter, Cecily read Conway's book. And was immediately convinced that the Romanian had been unjustly accused and imprisoned.

And then Cecily went missing.

Why are the Trehernes coming to see Susan? Well, Alan Conway is dead (previous book, I guess). But Susan edited the book in question, in a contentious relationship with Conway. Could she use her editorial insight and investigative skills to see if she could find the actual murderer and also determine what happened to Cecily?

What follows is a pretty standard 357-page whodunit with a large cast of potential suspects, some hostile, some obviously lying, one who tries to scare Susan off by dropping a large concrete owl on her head from a rooftop.

The tricky bit is that in the middle of that 357 pages is the complete (224 page) text of Atticus Pünd Takes the Case. Including the cover! That book is more in the style of Agatha Christie's Poirot mysteries, a brilliant immigrant (German, not Belgian) solving intricately-plotted crimes with (yes) a host of likely suspects.

And both books have the "I suppose you're wondering why I gathered you all here" scene where the characters are all assembled and the detective reveals the truth!

Not really my cup of tea, I like things a little more hard-boiled. Also the multiplicity of characters in both books seems designed to confuse. (Or maybe I'm getting too old to keep them straight.) But I was impressed with the detective work.


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

The Cult of Smart

How Our Broken Education System Perpetuates Social Injustice

[Amazon Link]

Last week on Bari Weiss's Substack I noticed:

Now, California’s Department of Education has put forward a new framework for changing the way math will be taught in the state. The proposal is more than 800 pages, but what you need to know is that it embraces a “justice-oriented perspective” and “rejects the ideas of natural gifts and talents.” It does this by doing away with gifted programs, discouraging algebra for eighth graders and calculus for high schoolers.

The bit I bolded stuck out because I was in the middle of reading The Cult of Smart by Fredrik de Boer. Who explicitly embraces the idea of "natural gifts and talents". In fact, I was wondering why he had such a bee in his bonnet about it. Well, as the CA Dept. of Ed. shows: that concept is anathema to many, if not most, in the upper reaches of progressive educational policy setters.

deBoer thinks that's a bad mistake: there's a wide distribution of cognitive talents in the population, and those talents are largely a product of the genes handed down by one's biological parents. When the educrats pretend otherwise, it can only lead to immiseration of the kids who aren't that smart. (And utter boredom for the kids who are that smart.)

On this point I needed no convincing.

There are a number of problems with deBoer's work. The first, and most glaring, was obvious right from the first few pages: he makes pretty much the same points that Charles Murray has been making for decades, ever since (at least) The Bell Curve: society is increasingly bifurcated into the "cognitive elite" (they're doing great!) and, more or less, everyone else (who aren't doing that hot).

So you'd think that deBoer would go out of his way to acknowlege, and perhaps joust with, with Murray's work in the field. Instead, he pretty much ignores Murray. Murray's only mention is in the Notes, in the title of a Vox article deBoer cites twice: "Charles Murray is once again peddling junk science about race and IQ". (And that article has come in for some justly-deserved criticism. See, for example, Richard Haier at Quillette: No Voice at VOX: Sense and Nonsense about Discussing IQ and Race.)

One is left to wonder whether deBoer is just ignorant of what Murray has said about the central thesis of the book, or (maybe) he's just unwilling/unable to deal with it adequately.

But it's not just Murray. Also MIA is any discussion of Bryan Caplan's indictment: The Case against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money; any references to John Taylor Gatto; Thomas Sowell; or any other non-Marxist critic of American education.

What to do? deBoer has one decent suggestion: dropping the compulsory-attendance age to 12. Otherwise, his proposals reflect his ideological bent; he is a self-admitted Marxist. He advocates (in the near term) the Bernie Sanders laundry list: Medicare for All, banning charter schools, student debt forgiveness, free college, Universal Basic Income, etc. He's pretty glib about the financing.

Besides—we control the world's fiat currency and own some printing presses. We can afford it.

Uh, fine. And things get really woolly at the end, where (as a Marxist, remember) he notes that "for change to be socialist, it must entail the destruction of markets" (italics in original).

At a certain point I would imagine that even readers more amenable to lefty talking points than I would be asking: Dude, has this ever worked anywhere?

I usually congratulate myself on reading books outside my comfort zone. I can't do that here in good conscience. When deBoer is on target, he's not that original.


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