URLs du Jour

2021-09-01

  • Unfinished Business Yesterday, I noticed a bit of oddness in this NH Business Review article:

    As House majority leader, [Jason] Osborne leads the faction of the GOP whose values and votes closely align with those of the NH Liberty Alliance, the political arm of the Free State Project founded in 2003.

    The "political arm" terminology seemed odd, especially since the Wikipedia page for the NHLA states:

    The Liberty Alliance is not part of the Free State Project[…]

    I couldn't find an e-mail address for Michael Kitch, the article's author. So I wrote to to the NHBR editor, Jeff Feingold:

    Dear Mr. Feingold --

    A recent article in NHBR (https://read.nhbr.com/nh-business-review/2021/08/27/#?article=3858697) claims that the NH Liberty Alliance is the "political arm of the Free State Project".

    The Wikipedia page for the NH Liberty Alliance (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Hampshire_Liberty_Alliance) claims "The Liberty Alliance is not part of the Free State Project".

    Who's right here?

    I got an unexpectedly prompt reply from Mr. Feingold 12 minutes later. Brief, but perplexing:

    The Free State Project founded the NHLA in 2003. “Political arm” is not intended to suggest a formal institutional or financial relationship between them, though there could be one.

    Whaaa…?

    Well, here's my reply:

    Thank you for the clarification. We'll have to agree to disagree about what the "political arm" language indicates to the reader.

    But what I almost sent was much less civil. Something like:

    You say that 'political arm' is 'not intended to suggest a formal institutional or financial relationship'. You fail to say what what it is intended to suggest. I guess that's left to the reader's imagination.

    Furthermore, you say 'there could be" such a relationship. It appears you're not sure one way or the other. In other words, the article's "political arm" language is pretty much without factual basis, and is mere speculation? In what school of journalism did you learn that this sort of guesswork-presented-as-fact was a proper form of journalism?

    It's probably for the best I didn't send that.


  • Imangine tiny paws frantically beating… Kevin D. Williamson notes an eerie similarity between President Wheezy's oratory of late and Rat-Paddling.

    So, even Biden’s boast about how competently we run away from a fight is a little rotten.

    I have been watching politics for a long time, and I have observed a many rats rat-paddling away from many sinking ships. That is what rats do: It is an aspect of ratness.

    But I cannot think of a rat rat-paddling away who squeaked quite so self-importantly about it.

    It takes a guy with a sterner stomach than mine to watch enough of Biden's performance to nail that metaphor.


  • Teach your children well. Robby Soave notes the odd rhetoric from the L.A. Teachers Union Leader: ‘There’s No Such Thing As Learning Loss’.

    The head of United Teachers Los Angeles—the city's teachers union—thinks that pandemic-related learning losses are a myth and that the thousands of students who slogged through virtual school last year are doing just fine.

    "There's no such thing as learning loss," Cecily Myart-Cruz told Los Angeles magazine in a recent interview.

    Myart-Cruz did acknowledge that students' achievements in mathematics, for instance, might have been harmed by virtual learning, but she asserted that the experience of surviving 2020–2021 somehow makes up for this.

    "Our kids didn't lose anything," she said. "It's OK that our babies may not have learned all their times tables. They learned resilience. They learned survival. They learned critical-thinking skills. They know the difference between a riot and a protest. They know the words insurrection and coup."

    Later in the interview:

    "You can recall the governor," she said. "You can recall the school board. But how are you going to recall me?"

    How about a PATCO style solution to that problem? Unlikely in LA, I guess.


  • Defund NPR. Matt Taibbi continues to sound like a crotchety old right-winger (which he's not) but he's an honest enough lefty to recognize when NPR Trashes Free Speech.

    The guests for NPR’s just-released On The Media episode about the dangers of free speech included Andrew Marantz, author of an article called, “Free Speech is Killing Us”; P.E. Moskowitz, author of “The Case Against Free Speech”; Susan Benesch, director of the “Dangerous Speech Project”; and Berkeley professor John Powell, whose contribution was to rip John Stuart Mill’s defense of free speech in On Liberty as “wrong.”

    That’s about right for NPR, which for years now has regularly congratulated itself for being a beacon of diversity while expunging every conceivable alternative point of view.

    I always liked Brooke Gladstone, but this episode of On The Media was shockingly dishonest. The show was a compendium of every neo-authoritarian argument for speech control one finds on Twitter, beginning with the blanket labeling of censorship critics as “speech absolutists” (most are not) and continuing with shameless revisions of the history of episodes like the ACLU’s mid-seventies defense of Nazi marchers at Skokie, Illinois.

    At Hot Air, John Sexton also appreciates Taibbi's article:` NPR hosts a discussion on 'free speech absolutism' but invites only critics.

    The problem of course is that once you equate speech and violence, you hand a powerful heckler’s veto to anyone who disagrees with a given speaker’s content. Don’t like what someone is planning to say on campus? Shout that they are doing violence to x, y and z and demand they be deplatformed. Conveniently, this sort of claim that a speaker with a different opinion is causing harm cannot be argued or even discussed rationally. It is wholly dependent on one person’s emotional outburst to silence another person’s right to speak.

    So on the one hand what Powell is recommending is begging students to become special snowflakes who can’t withstand any voice of opposition. On the other hand, there is another danger presented by equating speech with violence. There are some violent people on the left who will take that equivalence as an opportunity to dish out violence in response to speech. Yes, I’m talking about Antifa and their ilk. From their point of view, all one needs to do is determine someone is a fascist, i.e. anyone to the right of Mao, and you are justified in punching them to stop them from talking.

    These aren’t just theoretical dangers. There are lots of examples of both kinds of behavior over the past few years. But of course NPR’s listeners won’t hear about any of them because they didn’t have a contradictory voice on the panel.

    You could have an emotional reaction to all this Constitution- and Mill-bashing, and demand the NPR speakers be removed from the air, Unfortunately, that wouldn't get these folks to realize their self-contradiction.

The Free World

Art and Thought in the Cold War

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

You would think I'd eat up a book titled The Free World, with a picture of the Statue of Liberty on the dust jacket. Eat it up, and say "More, please." Instead, it's another "Wish I'd liked it better" books. It's especially sad because the text runs to 727 pages, so it not only was a slog, but a long one.

For better or worse, I have a self-imposed rule: if I start a book, I finish the book. (Even if "finishing" means, more or less, "looking at all the words on every page for a decent amount of time.") Fortunately, my Reading Schedule Generator kept me on track at a steady 34-35 pages/day, for three long weeks.

The author, Louis Menand, is a Harvard prof, and New Yorker writer. The book is wide-ranging, but is not so much history as it is a series of biographical vignettes, about American and European artists, writers, critics, and intellectuals that were of import during (roughly) the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. Just skimming through the book where small black-and-white pics introduce each chapter: George Kennan, George Orwell, Simone de Beauvoir, Hannah Arendt, Jackson Pollock, Neal Cassady, The Family of Man, Merce Cunningham, Alan Freed, JFK, white guys rioting against racial integration efforts, pop art, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Andy Warhol, Charlotte Moorman, James Baldwin, Pauline Kael, Marines in Da Nang.

Those are just the pictures, but there's also Jean-Paul Sartre, Lionel Trilling, Jack Kerouac, Robert Rauschenberg, John Cage, Isaiah Berlin, Richard Wright, Elvis, the Beatles, Betty Friedan, Susan Sontag, Martin Luther King Jr., Bonnie and Clyde, Truffault, Tom Hayden, Ralph Ellison.

And many, many more. A lot of politics, almost entirely left-wing, occasionally Marxist/Communist, but occasionally Fascist. A lot of sexuality, both hetero- and homo-, with heavy doses of infidelity and perversion. Professional jealousies and bitchy spats. All often described down to mind-numbing this-can't-possibly-be-important, why-should-I-care-about-this detail.

But that's probably on me, rather than Menand. His chapter discussing the Beatles, Elvis, and the Sixties music scene was very good! As far as it went. Menand generally ignores Motown, only mentioning it as a source of songs covered by the Beatles. And Bob Dylan? He "had virtually nothing particularly interesting to say about American life." The Beach Boys? Nope.

Such blind spots percolate into other parts of the book. Anthropologists are discussed, notably Claude Lévi-Strauss. But the field of economics is pretty much ignored, and you'd think that might warrant a mention in a long book about the "free world" and the Cold War. No Hayek, no Friedman of course. But also no Keynes, and just a couple of John Kenneth Galbraith shout-outs. The creation and operation of Students for a Democratic Society is lovingly described; its Weather Underground offshoot is ignored, with Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn MIA.

So I didn't care for the book, but you might. If your interests roughly track those of Louis Menand.