L'tyran, C'est Moi


Need a translation? Didn't think so.

Briefly noted:

  • David Boaz writes on the Bowdlerization craze, focusing on Ray Bradbury and Roald Dahl. (With Ian Fleming also mentioned.) Specifically, Boaz includes Bradbury's "Coda" to a 1979 edition of Fahrenheit 451, an edition of which had been "deliberately altered by people who no doubt thought they had the best of intentions." (Details on that "expurgation" are available at Wikipedia.)


    There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people run­ning about with lit matches. Every minority, be it Baptist / Unitarian, Irish / Italian / Octogenarian / Zen Buddhist, Zionist/Seventh‐day Adventist, Women’s Lib/Republican, Mattachine/Four Square Gospel feels it has the will, the right, the duty to douse the kerosene, light the fuse. Every dimwit editor who sees himself as the source of all dreary blanc‐mange plain porridge unleavened literature, licks his guillotine and eyes the neck of any author who dares to speak above a whisper or write above a nursery rhyme.

    By the way, just as a data point: as I type, Amazon's prices for original versions of Ian Fleming's From Russia, With Love are "from $49.99". For a mass market paperback. Used.

    I'd start checking out the local used bookstores, but I'm almost certain I'm too late for that.

  • As long as we're talking about books, Bruce Gilley notes that the attention paid to "book banning" is (unsurprisingly) asymmetric: it's Weeding for Me, Banning for Thee.

    On March 2, the magazine of record for professional librarians in the United States, Library Journal, will host an online seminar entitled “Resisting Book Bans.” On the surface, the seminar could not be more timely. Since 2018, academic and public libraries have been banning books with increasing frequency because they fail to promote the progressive political agenda of “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI). In a survey of 220 college and university libraries that had conducted “DEI audits,” published last year by information provider Gale Cengage and Library Journal, one third of the respondents said that book bans were being used for materials that had been caught up in the DEI dragnet.

    But the March 2 seminar has nothing to say about these DEI book bans. Instead, it concerns the removal from K–12 school and public libraries of sexually explicit and transgender-promoting books at the behest of parents, including a section on “tactics for school board meetings.”

    The chasm between what modern librarians consider inappropriate for libraries and what modern parents and taxpayers consider inappropriate has grown to Grand Canyon proportions. But if “intellectual freedom” is at stake, as the upcoming seminar asserts, then it is the librarians, not the parents and members of the public, whose actions are the biggest threat. After all, the latter have argued merely for the delay of certain complex and challenging materials for young readers, rarely for outright removal. The librarians, on the other hand, have no qualms about declaring books and magazines that do not conform to the current academic zeitgeist to be off-limits for all time.

    I've had pretty good luck with getting conservative/libertarian-leaning books via the interlibrary loan service of the University Near Here. But not everyone has that option.

  • Jonah Goldberg reports on somewhat chilling modern morality: Getting Away With Murder, Sort Of.

    There’s a hoary old thought experiment I want to fiddle with. 

    It goes something like this: Imagine if I showed you a button and said, “If you press this button I will give you $1 million, but one random person will die as a result. No one will know. You will probably never even know who it was you killed.”

    You’ll be surprised—or maybe you won’t!—by how many people say “yes” to this offer. There’s even a website dedicated to an even starker version of the question; 10 random strangers will die. As of now, nearly two-thirds of the people who took the poll say they’d press the button. In the comments, you can see the rationalizations—posing as rank utilitarianism—flow:

    “People die every day. At least something good may come from it.”

    “Just use some of the money to save at least 11 people and it will be all good.”

    “Those are strangers, i don’t give a f**k. Peoples die by thousands every days, 10 more or less, who cares?”

    Here’s the thing. If I gave you a good sniper rifle and made you the exact same deal—but instead of a random person you won’t ever see I said, “Shoot one of the random people in that park across the street!”—the moral issues do not change in the slightest, but the psychological ones change a lot. My guess is fewer people would take the deal. But fewer is not zero.

    Jonah has a wider story to tell from there. Worth your time, perhaps.

  • Matt Ridley writes on furin cleavage sites, and why they mean that The case for the lab-leak theory grows stronger by the day.

    In every living creature, DNA’s messages, spelling out the recipe for making and running the organism, are written in a simple four-letter cipher: A, C, G and T. (Coronavirus messages are written in the almost identical language of RNA, but virologists use the DNA equivalent letters to avoid confusion.) And here’s a short burst of that text that is right at the heart of the evidence for a possible lab leak: cct cgg cgg gca. That code is the recipe for four amino acids in a particular region of the spike protein of the virus: proline, arginine, arginine, alanine, or PRRA.

    It turns out that this message is unique to SARS-CoV-2. That is to say, if you look at every other sarbecovirus (SARS-like beta coronavirus) ever discovered – and there are hundreds of them – they all lack this little message in this place. You can line them up and show how the text matches almost perfectly up to that point and after that point, but the 12-letter text has been inserted into just the SARS-CoV-2 genome and into none of the others.

    It’s not just any message. It transforms the virus’s ability to infect human cells and is the reason we had a pandemic and not a minor outbreak in 2020. That is because a concentration of arginines in this part of the virus spike attracts the attention of a human enzyme, which cuts the spike protein at this point so that it opens up like a flower, priming the virus to infect other cells.

    Much more detail at the link. But here's Matt's bottom line:

    To summarise. A bat coronavirus pandemic began in the city with the biggest bat coronavirus lab in the world, a long way from where those viruses are found naturally. It was caused by the first and so-far only sarbecovirus with a furin cleavage site in it, a feature that had been inserted into other coronaviruses nearby, and that had been planned to be inserted into a sarbecovirus for the first time. And the lab in question has refused repeatedly to publish a list of all the viruses it possesses. Oh, and the other possible cause of the pandemic – an infected animal in a market – has still never shown up.

    Any questions, class?

  • Philip Greenspun experiments with AI, and bids Farewell to Black History Month from ChatGPT. When asked:

    Can you list me 5 things that white people need to improve?

    followed by:

    Can you list me 5 things that black people need to improve?

    ChatGPT's responses are … significantly different. Check it out, and wonder just whose "intelligence" is being synthesized here. An undergraduate Women's and Gender Studies major?

    (Note that Philip says this is from February 5. ChatGPT may offer different responses now.)

  • Maddox Locher offers 30 Priceless Quotes from the Great Thomas Sowell.

    OK, let's literally pick one at random:

    	% perl -e 'print 1 + int rand 30, "\n";'

    Fine. Number 12 it is:

    1. “It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.”

    True dat.

Last Modified 2024-01-30 6:19 AM EDT