URLs du Jour

2021-11-16

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • Lest we forget. Although some people are already forgetting. Cathy Young reminds us of the reality of the Soviet Union: Yes, It Was An 'Evil Empire'

    It was the summer of 1983, and I, a Soviet émigré and an American in the making, was chatting with the pleasant middle-aged woman sitting next to me on a bus from Asbury Park, New Jersey, to Cherry Hill. Eventually our conversation got to the fact that I was from the Soviet Union, having arrived in the U.S. with my family three years earlier at age 17. "Oh, really?" said my seatmate. "You must have been pretty offended when our president called the Soviet Union an 'evil empire'! Wasn't that ridiculous?" But her merriment at the supposed absurdity of President Ronald Reagan's recent speech was cut short when I somewhat sheepishly informed her that I thought he was entirely on point.

    Cathy's article is a debunking of past Soviet apologists, and current-day Soviet nostalgia. (Yes, that's a thing, both here and abroad.) Highly recommended.


  • Astounding. I've been wary of the segment of conservatism and the GOP that seem to have embraced the worst tactics of the Left, and also started griping about 'free-market fundamentalism'. (A slur once only leftists made.)

    It's often called "national conservatism". And I've griped about it now and again: here, here, here, and here. Writing in the WSJ last week, Christopher DeMuth makes about the best case for it: Why America Needs National Conservatism

    Proponents of communism often say it’s never really been tried. Progressivism can no longer make that excuse. Its doctrines are being widely implemented by earnest practitioners with wide establishment support. The results have come in with astonishing speed. Mayhem and misery at an open national border. Riot and murder in lawless city neighborhoods. Political indoctrination of schoolchildren. Government by executive ukase. Shortages throughout the world’s richest economy. Suppression of religion and private association. Regulation of everyday language—complete with contrived redefinitions of familiar words and ritual recantations for offenders.

    This makes an easy case for national conservatism. Natcons are conservatives who have been mugged by reality. We have come away with a sense of how to recover from the horrors taking America down.

    See if you like his argument. I'm pretty much saying: "If only all the NatCons were so reasonable, I'd have less of a problem with it."


  • But also read… Tyler Cowen on the DeMuth article: Christopher DeMuth on national conservatism. He has a number of rebuttal points, all well-taken. Summary:

    So I liked the piece, but I say it is a rearguard action, destined to fail.  We need a more positive, more dynamic approach to a free society of responsible individuals, and that is probably going to mean an ongoing expansion of globalization and also a fairly new and indeed somewhat unsettled understanding of what the nation is going to consist of.  What DeMuth calls “empirical libertarianism,” as he associates with Adam Smith, I still take as a better starting point.

    For me, the key question is: how do you win a war of ideas? Obviously, by having better ones. That's step one. ("Out-insulting the other guy" is pretty far down the list.)


  • Another bit of advice: don't let your opponents tell you what you can't say. Dan McLaughlin is bemused (in an NRPlus article): Since When Can’t You Say ‘Woke’?

    Language has power because words have meaning. The ability to communicate meaning from one person to another is the purpose of language; more than anything else, it is what separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom. In politics, communicating meaning is essential to persuasion, to the building of coalitions, and to the defeat of error and wickedness.

    One of the most effective ways to prevent criticism of an idea is to deprive people of the language in which to name it. Political propagandists understand this, which is why they are now objecting so loudly to terms such as “Critical Race Theory,” “woke,” “identity politics,” and “cancel culture.” The point is not that these terms are imprecise in what they mean — they can be, as are many other terms in common use in American political discourse. The point is precisely that they are understood to have a distinct meaning. The propagandists of wokeness want to prevent that meaning from being communicated among ordinary citizens who have long lacked the words in which to express things they see and know to be wrong.

    Dan's essay (with examples of what he's talking about) is long and insightful. A telling observation at the end: " A movement that fears any name at all for what it proposes to do is, ultimately, trying to smother any sort of democratic debate of its goals, like the darkness itself throwing a blanket over a candle."

    (And I've heard that democracy dies in darkness. Do they still say that?)


  • We're still number one, barely. Drew Cline reports at the Josiah Bartlett Center on the latest Fraser Institute report, Economic Freedom of North America 2021. And the news is pretty good for us: New Hampshire again rated most economically free state, but the gap is closing

    New Hampshire has once again retained its status as the most economically-free state in North America in this year’s Economic Freedom in North America report published by the Fraser Institute, an independent, non-partisan Canadian public policy think tank.

    In both the continental and in-country rankings, New Hampshire finished first. Within the United States, Tennessee leapt past Florida to pull within a fraction of a point of the Granite State, showing how vulnerable New Hampshire’s position has become.

    This is one competition I think our state should be trying harder to win.


  • In related news… The founder of "Funspot", allegedly the largest arcade in the world, has passed away. Bob Lawton was 90 years young, and by all accounts was a fun guy. But his most important contribution to our culture was perhaps…

    Bob was a veteran, and he served in the New Hampshire House of Representatives.

    "He put in a bill that put the state motto, 'Live Free or Die,' on the license plates," [his son] David said.

    It never fails to give me a warm feeling when I realize we have the most kick-ass license plate slogan in America.

The Silkworm

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Robert Galbraith's silly-named detective, Cormoran Strike, is back for a second installment. A pretty unpleasant and gory one.

Thanks to his well-publicized solution of the previous book's crime, Cormoran's private-eye business is picking up. So he's busy, he doesn't have to take every case offered him, but there's something about Leonara Quine that grabs him. Leonara is married to Owen, a barely-successful writer. And Owen's gone missing for the past ten days.

Cormoran finds him, of course. On page 124 of this 455-page book. And… I suppose this is a spoiler, but it's also on the back cover of the paperback I got from the Portsmouth Public Library … he's been totally murdered, in a most shocking and disgusting manner!

Which makes it a police matter, but they quickly consider Leonara, Cormoran's client, to be the most likely suspect. She's got no alibi, she's got motive (huge insurance policy, and Owen was a serial philanderer), and she does a lousy job of interacting with the cops. So Cormoran takes it on himself to find the real killer.

Things revolve around Owen's latest novel, Bombyx Mori, an allegorical fantasy filled with perversion and otherwise unpleasant characters. And those characters are thinly-disguised equivalents to actual people in Owen's circle. And (as it turns out) Owen's death is gruesomely similar to one described in the novel. So the suspect list is pretty much restricted to those who have read it.

Get all that? Wonderful. Along the way, there's a lot of personal complications. Cormoran's longtime, (but now ex-) girlfriend, Charlotte, is getting married, causing some angst. He has a bumpy relationship with his secretary/assistant, Robin; she's engaged to a guy who doesn't like her working for Cormoran. And she's insecure about her duties; she wants to be an investigator, not just a secretary. And Cormoran's missing lower leg is causing problems thoughout, too.

Fundamentals

Ten Keys to Reality

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Another book about physics for the layperson. It's not bad. The author, Frank Wilczek, is a Nobel Prize winner in physics, so I'm relatively sure his explication of science here is solid.

His mission here is broad, and somewhat daunting: an overview of the "fundamental lessons we can learn from the study of the physical world." So in a relatively short book, it's a whirlwind tour of cosmology, particle physics, relativity, etc.

Books like this (I've noticed) tend to shy away from math. It's apparently an ironclad law in the publishing world that each equation in a book decreases the readership by some non-trivial amount. Also, no graphs. (Well, there's one here on page 3: World GDP per capita, from 1500-2000.) And no diagrams, just a few basic tables.

Instead, there's a lot (a lot) of what I call "poetic language". (In fact, there's an actual poem in the book's dedication, to his wife Betsy.) Sometimes this can be beautifully illuminating. Example from page 106: "Atoms sing songs that bare their souls, in light." Which is a neat way of expressing the more pedestrian fact that electrons jumping between energy levels in an atom emit photons of characteristic energy revealing the atom's structural nature.

Wilczek does as good a job as I've seen trying to explain particle/field duality. E.g., how sometimes it makes sense to think of light as a wiggling electomagnetic field, as described by Maxwell's equations. But other times it makes sense to think of light as quantized particles (again, photons), little shiny balls moving fast on their geodesics. Both views are true, but it's very difficult to hold both in your head simultaneously.