URLs du Jour


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  • Want to Get a Wokester Mad? Suggest this Quillete article, featuring a Conversation with Christopher F. Rufo. A surprisingly nuanced view of the teaching of Critical Race Theory in K-12:

    I think federalism is important. I think local control of the curriculum is important. And we’re now experimenting as these curricula in the deepest blue states become radicalized, in places where they’re actually mandating the inclusion of Critical Race Theory in the state curriculum in California, Oregon, Washington, Illinois. They’re training teachers along the lines of these principles.

    They’re embarking on an experiment that I think will ultimately fail and will ultimately harm children, but it’s an experiment that they’re entitled to embark on. And I may not like it, I may not personally support it—I advocate against it—but they’re allowed to pursue their own vision, just like Texas, Idaho, Arkansas, New Hampshire, et cetera, the states that have banned these Critical Race Theory principles in their school curricula, are entitled to pursue theirs.

    I think that the real question, the real asymmetry, is that somehow the mainstream narrative says that it is okay for blue states to mandate the inclusion of Critical Race Theory in their state curricula, but somehow it’s illegitimate or extremely controversial for red states to mandate the exclusion of those same principles. This strikes me as unfair, as illogical, as irrational, but I think it also speaks to the political playing field that is the reality. The reality is that the media institutions and the academic institutions in our country have no problem with things ratcheting left, but they absolutely flip out, freak out, and go into full panic and meltdown when things seem to be shifting right. And in my work I hope to change that dynamic. I hope actually to break that dynamic and show that conservatives should stand up for their values and their principles and should be unafraid and unashamed to advocate for the best education for their kids.

    As I've said (over and over) the University Near Here has (essentially) adopted CRT as an Official Theology, with alternate views ignored/harassed/banned. (UNH Lecturers United says that such alternate views should be treated as flat-earth/creationist opinions, except more dangerous.)

    That nonsense should stop.

  • And, of course, the UNH Lecturers also see their job as essentially evangelical: to "foster belief" in CRT theology. At Quillette, Peter Savodnik writes on that topic: The Faith of Systemic Racism.

    There’s something mystifying about all this endless, unctuous yammering about “systemic racism,” and that is its unverifiability. When the radicals call something “systemic” or “structural,” what they really mean is invisible or, better yet, incapable of being experienced. They are referring to the racism that must exist by dint of our many inequities. They assume a causation they cannot assume. Yes, there is disparity between racial groups. No, we cannot declare that the opinions of dead white people caused that disparity. David Hume was skeptical of asserting that contiguity in time and space was the same thing as causality. In this case, we can’t even go so far as to assert a contiguity in time. We can simply assert a vague contiguity in space. We can say that in America—like many, if not most, places—people once believed reprehensible things. We certainly can’t experience systemic racism, not in the way that “experience” is understood by philosophers or, for that matter, judges. We can’t see or hear or taste or feel it, the way an electric current coursing through a live wire can be felt. Which means we can’t be sure it exists. All we can do is assert, with great conviction, its existence and insist that other people believe in it, too, and threaten them with censure or exile if they believe inadequately.

    Alas, if one points this out, if one so much as suggests that we consider other explanations for racial disparity, one inevitably risks being charged with racism. Serious inquiry is verboten.

    I may seem obsessed with this issue! But only because I think it's detrimental to an institution about which I'm somewhat fond.

  • Worse, Their Performance Isn't Close To Olympic-Qualifying. George Will observes: Too many people are plunging themselves into the world of political performance.

    In a society saturated with politics, primary schools teach third-graders to check their racial privilege or lack thereof, and local television weather reports veer into climate science. Many people, finding insufficient satisfaction in just doing their jobs, grasp for the prestige and excitement of becoming political performers.

    The office website of Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy says he “is the Nation’s Doctor” — note the capitalization — “providing Americans with the best scientific information on how to improve their health and reduce the risk of illness and injury.” With the nation gorging on politics, this mission statement becomes an invitation to political advocacy. Murthy advocates a “whole-of-society effort” to stop what he calls an “infodemic” of health “misinformation.”

    So, a category of speech is comparable to an infectious disease — something government should urgently eradicate. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a housing policy (the eviction moratorium), and Murthy, too, has an expansive policy agenda. He advocates, inter alia, “product design and policy changes on technology platforms,” and government investment in “rumor control mechanisms.” The government should consider “appropriate legal and regulatory measures that address health misinformation while protecting user privacy and freedom of expression.”

    Geez, I'm pretty sure advocacy of big government, illiberalism, and other invidious garbage is at least as dangerous as vaccine misinformation. And about 90% of the things that Joe and Kamala say. Shouldn't we ban that too?

  • After I Looked Up 'Ontological' in the Dictionary, I Found That I Agree with Pierre Lemieux: Populism Is Ontologically Impossible. A summary of his recent article at the Independent Review:

    Defined as a political regime where the people rule, populism is impossible. The reason is that “the people” does not exist as an independent individual-like or superindividual entity. In any event, the “will of the people” is unknowable. As shown by many strands of economic theory and especially by Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem, the preferences of different individuals cannot be aggregated into coherent and non-dictatorial social preferences. In other words, there is no coherent social welfare function equally incorporating the preferences of all individuals. Thus, populism requires the illusion of a ruler who incarnates the people and its will but who, in reality, can only govern in favor of a part of the people at the detriment of the rest. The only way populism would be possible is if the people is conceived as a set of separate individuals who each governs himself. However, there is already a label for such a philosophy and political regime: (classical) liberalism or libertarianism, which deeply clashes with populism as generally defined.

    I kinda knew that. Would not have been able to express it so well.

    So the people who self-classify as "populists" must mean something else. What? Or are they just confused? Or do they think it's a good way to get elected?

  • So the guy at Astral Codex Ten wrote a very long, very detailed, very well-meaning post on Lockdown Effectiveness. And it's interesting. But even more interesting is is followup: Things I Learned Writing The Lockdown Post.

    Writing the post made me think a lot of Robin Hanson's idea of "pulling policy ropes sideways". The idea is, the Democrats and Republicans (or whoever) are in a giant tug-of-war over some issue, like looser or stricter lockdowns. There are so many people pulling, on both sides, that you adding your efforts to one side or the other will barely matter. Meanwhile, if you pull the ropes sideways - try to make a difference in some previously unexplored direction that nobody is fighting - you can often have much more effect, plus there's no reason to think that the direction everyone is fighting over is the most interesting direction anyway.

    Over the past ~year, I've seen endless terrible arguments over whether we should have more or less lockdown. People asked me to write a post on it. It's something I personally was wondering about and wanted to write a post on. And the dynamics of media - where I get more clicks if I write about things more people are interested in - incentivize me to write a post about it.

    But the smartest people I talked to kept - is "derailing" the right word? - derailing onto more interesting and important pull-the-rope-sideways plans. If we had just gotten test-and-trace right at the beginning of the pandemic, we wouldn't have had to worry about lockdowns as much. Accelerating vaccine production, which we could have done in dozens of little ways, would have made lockdowns less necessary. Having better-targeted or better-choreographed lockdowns is more important than adjusting some slider of lockdown strength from MORE to LESS or vice versa. I felt that some of the experts I talked to were trying really hard to get this across, and I was asking "Yes, that's all nice and well, but blue state good red state bad? Or red state good blue state bad?"

    Or New Hampshire good, everyone else in a tie for last place?

Feynman's Rainbow

A Search for Beauty in Physics and in Life

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I enjoyed this slim book by Leonard Mlodinow quite a bit. Probably a lot of that is due to some personal factors: I was an undergrad physics major at Caltech way back when, and like most of my peers, was an unabashed Feynman Fanboy. This despite having all three volumes of his big red books as my freshman and sophomore textbooks; this was often painful. I was brave enough to sit next to the man when my house invited him for dinner, and I even asked him a (in retrospect, stupid) physics question. Which he answered with far more patience and grace than the question deserved.

I fell off the physics track a few years later, a fortuitous move both for physics and me. But I still plod along with the field at a dilettante level, checking out books written by much smarter people. And I still count myself as a Feynman Fanboy.

This book was published in 2003, but I didn't notice it then. But when I (somehow) became aware of it, I plunked it onto my wanna-read list. And the University Near Here had a copy, so once it re-opened for civilians (long story) I ventured down into the basement stacks and grabbed it.

Mlodinow came to Caltech in the early 80s as a bright young postdoctoral fellow. No teaching duties, and an office in fourth-floor Downs Lab, just down the hall from Feynman's and Murray Gell-Mann's. (Gell-Mann is a supporting character here.) He has a bad case of Imposter Syndrome, very much worried that he doesn't belong with all the smart folks.

At the time, Feynman had been diagnosed with the cancer that would kill him a few years later. But he still comes into work, and he's still approachable. Mlodinow's a fanboy too, and he looks to Feynman for advice on not just mundane physics topics, but on life. He took to recording (with permission) his discussions with the great man, and a number of those are transcribed here, with some Feynmanian opinionizing on the string theory, the relation of theorizing to experimentation, the place of beauty in science, etc. Good stuff.

A lot of anecdotes, many funny, one scary, some revolving around Mlodinow's generous consumption of marijuana with his buddies.

Mlodinow went on to a varied career. He still does physics, writes pop-science books (like this one). But I'm not sure any other physicist could boast a similar IMDB page. (Did you write an episode of Night Court, Kip Thorne?)

Consumer note: A couple of Amazon reviewers note this book was also published under the title Some Time With Feynman, and they're pretty steamed. If you (against all odds) bought that, you might not want to buy this.