Friday 12/30/16

  1. Theocracy in Alabama
  2. Crossing chemistry and computing
  3. Scapegoating Peter Thiel
  4. Liberal Arts
  5. The hack narrative: set & bipartisan
  6. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry 2017 prediction
  7. Dave Berry 2016 review
  8. Lucky Man


Thursday, there was a Menorah-lighting ceremony on the University of Alabama campus, facilitated by one of those Theocratic Christianist “religious freedom” front-groups. They’re up to something with this diversionary tactic, don’t you think?


People say they experienced an “adrenaline rush,” not that they were excited. Affirmation does not invigorate, it creates a “dopamine high.” People say they are “hard-wired” for certain behaviors and “programmed” for others. The underlying message? A human being is a cross between a chemistry set and a computer, his actions governed solely by a series of discharges and sparks.

This implies that there is no authority to man’s moral sense, no objective reality underneath subjective experiences like faith and love. Emotional states are not to be examined for truth content, merely adjusted to taste with various medications.

To break this materialist spell and set oneself free for faith requires rebelling not against scientific facts but against flawed scientistic logic. Materialism is a fine idea, but what’s it made of? An idea is neither the words that express it nor the brainwork that conceives it: These are only the vehicles that transport the immaterial thought into the material world.

(Andrew Klavan in the Wall Street Journal)


Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry reflects on the (reported — I haven’t seen it) scapegoating of Peter Thiel for Trump’s election. Along the way, he makes a particularly good point:

Let’s start with the Gawker lawsuit. Not to relitigate the whole affair, but it should be restated that what Gawker was on trial for was not publishing news, but publishing revenge porn. Find the Florida jury’s decision disproportionate all you want, but at least can we agree that that’s beyond the pale? It’s strange how our fighters for freedom of expression are silent about Mann v National Review, a case in which a climate scientist is suing the prestigious conservative magazine for defamation. National Review‘s case has received an amicus brief signed by such conservative ideologues as the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the ACLU, The Washington Post, and two dozen other media organization. National Review, where I write a policy column and am friendly with many current and former employees, is now launching fundraising appeals and postponing a planned website redesign to keep fighting the case. I don’t understand why all those who rushed to the defense of Gawker‘s right to publish revenge porn aren’t beating the drums equally forcefully. It’s just a mystery.

What of the Seasteading Institute, which aims to build self-sustaining colonies at sea, first starting with a planned sort-of “Burning Man at Sea.” Firstly, very few mentions of Thiel’s association with the Seasteading Institute note that while he gave them a small grant, he seems to have had little association with the group for years. On the merits, I still fail to see why the idea still engenders so many LOLs. If you don’t like seasteads, don’t go live on them (personally, I have no plans to). Maybe they’re possible, maybe they’re not. Maybe they’re a good idea, maybe they’re not. But why does our media class swoon with delight when Elon Musk talks about building colonies on Mars and cackles when another Thiel associate wants to build cities on the sea? I personally love to live in a world where weird ideas get funded.

(Emphases added)


“College shouldn’t prepare you for your first job, but for the rest of your life,” says John Kroger, president of Reed College in Oregon, the liberal-arts school that famously served as a starting point for Steve Jobs. Although Mr. Jobs dropped out of Reed in the early 1970s, the Apple Inc. founder often credited the school with stretching his horizons in areas such as calligraphy, which later influenced Apple’s design ethos.

In the short-term, employers still say they prefer college graduates with career-tailored majors. A recent survey of 180 companies by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that at least 68% want to hire candidates who majored in business or engineering. By contrast, only 24% explicitly want communications majors, 21% want social-sciences majors and 10% humanities majors.

When asked to define the résumé traits that matter most, however, the NACE-surveyed employers rated technical skills 10th. Four of the top five traits were hallmarks of a traditional liberal-arts education: teamwork, clear writing, problem-solving aptitude and strong oral communications. Mindful of those longer-term needs, some employers end up hiring humanities and social-sciences graduates, even if such majors aren’t explicitly singled out when recruiting.

“It’s easier to hire people who can write—and teach them how to read financial statements—rather than hire accountants in hopes of teaching them to be strong writers,” says Liz Kirschner, head of talent acquisition at Morningstar Inc., a Chicago investment-research firm. Since its founding in 1986, Morningstar has hired an unusually large number of humanities and social-sciences majors.

Alice Harra, associate dean of students at Reed, says recent graduates of the college are landing hundreds of jobs with tech companies that value a liberal-arts ethos. Others have created startups such as Urban Airship, Puppet Inc. and Inspiration Software, she says.

“I love hiring liberal-arts graduates,” saysDave Elkington, founder and chief executive of, a Provo, Utah, company specializing in customer-data analysis. “They think broadly and communicate effectively. They aren’t stuck in a rut. They can challenge ideas.” Mr. Elkington, a philosophy major himself, says he came up with a lot of the ideas for his company’s analytic tools by reflecting on Aristotle’s classifications of knowledge.

(George Anders, Good News Liberal-Arts Majors: Your Peers Probably Won’t Outearn You Forever)


Growing up in the Cold War, I couldn’t imagine significant Russian immigration to the U.S. Of course, we had the occasional high-profile defector — musicians, dancers, athletes — but that was about it.

In general, our border is now more permeable, and the “border” with Russia, post-Cold War, has been permeable as well. My grandchildren are bilingual, English and Russian. Connect those dots.

I’ve also become more aware, especially over the last 20 years of so, how we used to make weapons to wage war, where now we make war to buy weapons. That’s the military-industrial complex for you — a term, be it remembered, that was coined by none other than Dwight D. Eisenhower, who warned of its threat. And I’ve watched my former major party seemingly floundering for a national raison d’etre after the collapse of the Soviet Empire. Until recently, demonizing Russia continued more or less as if the Cold War had never ended, and was a particular Republican motif.

No more. The New York Times is exulting that President Obama has imposed sanctions on Russia for — well, for what? The pretext is that Russia “hacked our election,” which overstates the evidence (DNC servers may have been hacked; the election was not) and exonerates the Democrats for “blowing it” in terms of cybersecurity and campaign strategy.

What we can say for sure is that:

  • Someone leaked from (a very real possibility) or hacked into Democrat National Committee computer network data
  • Leaked or hacked information ended up on Wikileaks (which says it was a leak, not a hack) and embarrassed the Democrats
  • If hacked, the hackers might have been Russian, a theory toward which the Democrats have been quite partial but which enjoys much high-ranking Republican support, too
  • It is beyond my competence or yours to judge whether the hackers were Russian. I’ve heard that the “Report” asserts more than proves that Russia hacked and focuses on the tools used as if, unlike almost anything else on the internet, the digital tools were uniquely Russian. (This is not to fault the government; I understand that revealing details tends unacceptably to compromise sources and channels.)
  • Vladimir Putin is Russia’s Premier, who seeks by means military and covert to advance Russian interests and his own political tenure
  • Barack Obama is the President of the United States, who seeks by means military and covert to advance American and Democrat Party interests

For now, I have no confidence that the Russians hacked the DNC network and gave the embarrassing stuff to Wikileaks. It’s not that they wouldn’t if they could, or haven’t in the past, or won’t try in the future. I suspect we’re probing and trying to hack key Russian networks, too. Though I don’t demonize Putin, and even less demonize Russia (I’m something of a Russophile), I’d be disappointed if we weren’t keep our digital ear to the ground.

However, the narrative seems now to be set and bipartisan, with barrels of ink and gigabytes of bandwidth to disseminate it. I don’t know if Trump could re-write it now if he tried.

But if I live out my expected life, I expect to find out that it was considerably more complicated, or maybe that the narrative was an outright lie to exonerate lax DNC security and conveniently feed the military-industrial complex at the same time. My own top theory, not invented by me by reported much less noisily than the Russia theory, is that in this case some DNC Sanders supporter, indignant at high-party machinations against his man, leaked the embarrassing stuff. I’m terribly cynical, and that sort of thing, followed by loudly blaming a foreign scapegoat, seems to me how things work.


Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry predictions for 2017 include surging populism:

The key question is whether governing elites will gather some humility and realize that the way to defuse this populist wave is to eat some humble pie and regain the trust of the masses, rather than beat them down as a bunch of know-nothings. In the United States, restoring broad-based growth requires a mix of more redistributive fiscal policy with supply-side regulatory reform. In Europe, it requires a profound rethinking of how key European supranational institutions, especially the E.U. and monetary policy, work. I am not confident that either of these things will happen, and therefore I forecast more strange and painful populist upsets in 2017 and beyond.


Responding to charges from the Sanders camp that the Democratic National Committee is tipping the scales in Clinton’s favor, chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz states that “the DNC is scrupulously neutral in the contest between Secretary Clinton and the senile Commie fart.”

In U.S. politics, the Republicans gather in Cleveland to nominate Trump, although many top party officials are unable to attend because of an urgent compelling need to not be there. Nevertheless Trump receives enthusiastic prime-time endorsements from former celebrity Scott Baio, several dozen Trump children and current Trump wife Melania, who enthralls delegates with a well-received speech in which she tells her heartwarming story of growing up as an African-American woman in Chicago. The dramatic highlight comes on the final night, when Trump, in his acceptance speech, brings the delegates cheering to their feet with his emotional challenge to “grab the future by the p—y.”

Meanwhile, the Democrats — now on a multi-year losing streak that has cost them the presidency, both houses of Congress and a majority of the state legislatures — desperately seek an explanation for their party’s failures. After a hard, critical look in the mirror, they are forced, reluctantly, to stop seeking scapegoats and place the blame where it belongs: the Electoral College, the Russians, Facebook and, of course, James Comey.



I pinch myself every day when I realize that people pay me to write what I think. I have no right to complain about anything.

(Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry)

Nobody pays me and if I decide to skip a day, or publish in the afternoon instead of 5 am, nobody has a right to complain. In fact, when the pros write lame stuff, I tend to think “Writer’s Block + Deadline = Lame Stuff.”

So what’s my excuse when I publish lame stuff?

* * * * *

“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.