URLs du Jour

2022-01-01

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • Just one last retrospective, 'kay? Some of my unusual posts from 2021:


  • Speaking as a Cheap Wine Libertarian… I'm with Jason Brennan and Christopher Freiman in their broadside Against Champagne Socialists.

    It's been a bad year in public relations for Champagne socialists—or if you prefer, Neiman Marxists. The socialist Twitch streamer and Young Turks host Hasan Piker bought a $2.7 million house in Beverly Hills, complete with a swimming pool and an outdoor widescreen perfect for entertaining. Millionaire Aurora James designed Democratic New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's show-stealing "Tax the Rich" dress, which she wore to the $35,000-per-ticket Met Gala.

    The phenomenon of egalitarians living in luxury while denouncing the evils of inequality is not new. In 2018, socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders paid an effective tax rate of 26 percent despite campaigning on a platform that would require him to pay more than 40 percent. After taxes and donations, Sanders remains within the top 1 percent of U.S. earners and the top .02 percent worldwide. Curious observers may question why Sanders, a tireless critic of the 1 percent, doesn't sell his $575,000 vacation home and give the proceeds to charity or offer them as a general donation to the U.S. government via pay.gov. The same goes for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a longtime progressive who has a net worth of over $10 million and yet donated a mere $50,128 in 2018.

    Consider this an exercise in applied philosophy. They suspect some non-admirable psychology is going on here:

    The reality is that for many people, publicly expressing ideology is not about trying to say what's right and wrong; it's about trying to look good to others. It's moral masturbation, not moral theory. Rather than helping others—which might cost them something!—they advocate helping others. Rather than ameliorating some of the bad effects of injustice—which might cost them something!—they advocate for justice. They then consume the warm glow of cheap altruism and earn the admiration of like-minded peers, all while living a self-centered luxury lifestyle.

    It sounds all too plausible.


  • "You've changed, man. It used to be about the science!" Jerry Coyne is very very disappointed in a once-venerated magazine, now committed to a self-destruct sequence: Scientific American does an asinine hit job on E. O. Wilson, calling him a racist.

    It is written by someone who apparently has no training in evolutionary biology, though she says she “intimately familiarized [herself] with Wilson’s work and his dangerous ideas on what factors influence human behavior.” I usually don’t question someone because of their credentials, but this piece is so stupid, so arrantly ignorant of Wilson’s work, that I can attribute its content only to a combination of ignorance (perhaps deliberate) or a woke desire to take down someone as a racist who wasn’t a racist. Or both.

    […]

    I could rant forever about the ignorance of this woman, but will try to refrain. Note the links above that say “discrimination” and “racism”. But nowhere in the article does she give one iota of evidence that Wilson was a racist. Yes, he was a biological determinist—and not a pure biological determinist, for he wrote books about the influence of culture and genetics—but I never heard him say or write anything to indicate that he was biased against members of other groups. (The author, Monica R. McLemore, is black.) Not all people who claim that genes have a role in human behavior are racists, you know. And if you claim that genes don’t have any influence in modern behavior, which was Wilson’s point in writing the last chapter of Sociobiology, then you’re ignorant and wrong. .

    Professor Coyne's long post has reactions from other scientists eulogizing a once-good magazine.

    (Classic quote slightly adapted for the headline.)


  • In University Near Here-related news… The College Fix details the latest (apparently failed) crusade against the name of the James Webb Space Telescope: ‘Queer agender’ feminist physicist wants NASA’s new telescope named after Harriet Tubman.

    NASA’s advanced replacement for the Hubble Space Telescope was launched on Christmas Day, but a “queer agender” black feminist physicist — who believes her field is “deeply inflected by pro-white biases” — is unhappy with the new telescope’s moniker.

    The University of New Hampshire’s Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, along with three other scientists, penned a Scientific American article earlier this year demanding the James Webb Space Telescope be renamed due to the namesake “acquiesc[ing] to homophobic government policies during the 1950s and 1960s.”

    Yes, that's Scientific American again. I don't think there's actually any new news in the article.

    NASA, for all its faults, has a very cool page, Where Is Webb?. As I type, slightly over halfway to its L2 Lagrangian orbit, 470,000 miles away from Chanda Prescod-Weinstein.


  • [Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] Call them Neanderthal knuckle-draggers. That'll work. Tom Chivers was unimpressed with a recent book (Amazon link at your right), and his review is headlined How not to talk to a science denier.

    Imagine you bought a book with the title How to Talk to A Contemptible Idiot Who Is Kind of Evil. You open the book, and read the author earnestly telling you how important it is that you listen, and show empathy, and acknowledge why the people you’re talking to might believe the things they believe. If you want to persuade them, he says, you need to treat them with respect! But all the way through the book, the author continues to refer to the people he wants to persuade as “contemptible idiots who are kind of evil”.

    At one stage he even says: “When speaking to a contemptible idiot who is kind of evil, don’t call them a contemptible idiot who is kind of evil! Many contemptible idiots find that language insulting.” But he continues to do it, and frequently segues into lengthy digressions about how stupid and harmful the idiots’ beliefs are. Presumably you would not feel that the author had really taken his own advice on board

    This is very much how I feel about How to Talk to A Science Denier, by the Harvard philosopher Lee McIntyre.

    I'm not a science denier. I'm a Scientific American denier.

Top Ten Nonfiction Books read in 2021

[Excuse blatant copying from last year's post.] Just in case you're interested in what I found informative, interesting, thought-provoking, etc. last year. Clicking on the cover image will take you to the Amazon page (where I get a cut if you buy); clicking on the title will whisk you to my blog posting for a fuller discussion.

Ten is an arbitrary, but traditional, number, I hasten to point out.

I started using Goodreads in 2021. They nudge you to rate books, which made this retrospective task easier. The below includes nine books I rated five-star, and one rated four-star. Apologies to those who didn't make the cut. I could have come up with a slightly different set on a different day. Feel free to peruse the full list of books I read in 2021 (including fiction).

In order read:

[Amazon Img] The Fabric of CivilizationHow Textiles Made the World by Virginia Postrel. Reading anything by Virginia Postrel is obligatory for me, but I worried that I wouldn't be that interested in a book about fabric. Wrong! She managed to make this a fascinating story of innovation and technology.
[Amazon Img] False AlarmHow Climate Change Panic Costs Us Trillions, Hurts the Poor, and Fails to Fix the Planet by Bjørn Lomborg. A plea for sanity against the climate change alarmists, who continue to insist on unrealistic public policies that fail any moral calculus.
[Amazon Img] The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs. This book made me think a bit deeper into my reading habit. It's like getting advice from a (very) learned, experienced friend on how to pursue your hobby/pastime/diversion of reading. And there's also a lot of practical advice.
[Amazon Img] BeyondThe Astonishing Story of the First Human to Leave Our Planet and Journey into Space by Stephen Walker. Why yes, it really was an astonishing story. I was a space fanboy as a kid, so I devoured news stories, magazine articles, books,… But there was a lot we didn't know back then, especially about the USSR space program, but some stuff kept under wraps by our side. Walker did a great job with his research, and tells a suspenseful story, even though we know how it turns out.
[Amazon Img] The Scout MindsetWhy Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don't by Julia Galef. She distinguishes between the "scout" and "soldier" mindset when dealing with contentious issues. She recommends… well, you see the title there. She offers many tips for improving your thinking. You probably won't win any popularity contests with the folks who are dedicated soldiers, but why would you want to do that anyway?
[Amazon Img] The Hidden HalfThe Unseen Forces that Influence Everything by Michael Blastland. Lively and accessible prose examining why research into thorny issues of economics, public health, sociology, psychology is so difficult. And why so much of it is hot garbage. Recommend you get a copy you can throw at anyone who says "Recent studies show…"
[Amazon Img] Facing RealityTwo Truths about Race in America by Charles Murray. And those truths are: "The first is that American Whites, Blacks, Latinos, and Asians, as groups, have different means and distributions of cognitive ability The second is that American Whites, Blacks, Latinos, and Asians, as groups, have different rates of violent crime." What to do? I like Murray's recommendations, which unfortunately seem unlikely to be taken up in today's poisonous atmosphere.
[Amazon Img] MaverickA Biography of Thomas Sowell by Jason L. Riley. A mostly intellectual biography, to be specific. Jason Riley is a Sowell fanboy, and so am I. A onetime Marxist, Sowell's unflinching dedication to facts and data brought him around. If you don't want to wade through Sowell's voluminous oeuvre, this is a great intro.
[Amazon Img] Schrödinger's Killer AppRace to Build the World's First Quantum Computer by (the late) Jonathan P. Dowling. Unexpectedly hilarious look at quantum physics, both theoretical and practical. Very opinionated. And an interesting look at where quantum computing stood in 2013. (I'm not sure what's happened of importance since then.) I have Dowling's second (and unfortunately last) book on my get-at-library list.
[Amazon Img] And finally, American Happiness and DiscontentsThe Unruly Torrent, 2008-2020 by George F. Will. Mostly a collection of his syndicated WaPo column, organized into broad categories. My report at the link has ten paragraph-size quotes, and they are luminescent.

Some Graphs

2022 Update

The yearly Pun Salad update. Mostly copied from years previous.

Back in 2016, I made an early New Year's resolution to blog more diligently. This was unusual, in that it was actually successful. Through 2021, there have been 1834 consecutive days of Pun Salad posts (not counting book/movie/geek posts) since 2016-12-24. And yet I am still not famous.

I suppose this can't go on forever, but we'll keep trying.

There's twelve more months of data on the chart showing the monthly blog posts since Pun Salad's birth in February 2005: (Hat tip: the Chart::Gnuplot Perl module.)

[Pun Salad Montly Posts]

Once a geek develops a hammer, it's tough to stop finding nails to pound. Here's an updated chart on my book reading; you can tell that I've been trying to read more over the past few years:

[Yearly Books]

Aha, a record for 2021! At least since I've been keeping track. I blame Covid. Will I break 100 in 2022? Stay tuned, maybe.

And movies watched since 2004 …

[Yearly Movies]

Whoa, an all-time low record. I suppose we're looking at a couple things: (1) unlike 2020, the 2021 Red Sox were actually worth watching; (2) I rewatched a lot of movies, which doesn't count in the above compilation.

I don't know what will happen with my movie watching in 2022.

For the curious: My 2021 book list is here; my 2021 movie list is here.