Tuesday, 7/26/22

Prognostic myopia

We humans are besotted by intelligence, especially our own. And yet “intelligence is not the miracle of evolution we like to think it is. We love our little accomplishments—our moon landings and megacities—like parents love their newborn baby. But nobody loves a baby as much as the parents. The planet does not love us as much as we love our intellect.” In fact, “our many intellectual accomplishments are currently on track to produce our own extinction, which is exactly how evolution gets rid of adaptations that suck.”

David P. Barash, ‘If Nietzsche Were a Narwhal’ Review: Big Brains, Big Problems, quoting Justin Gregg.

That leads readily to dark humor from the Review:

  • After a worldwide nuclear holocaust, the few surviving amoeba-like creatures hold a meeting at which they decide to try evolving again. But before they do so, they together make a solemn vow: “This time, no brains!
  • Mr. Gregg concludes, glumly but effectively, that “there’s good reason to tone down our smugness. Because, depending on where we go from here, human intelligence may just be the stupidest thing that has ever happened.”

One of the genre

I registered my contrary opinion yesterday, but here’s a fairly eloquent specimen case for prosecuting our former President.

Should his re-election bid prove successful, Trump’s second term will likely be far worse than the first.

He would tighten his grip on all those near him. Mike Pence was a loyalist but in the end wouldn’t fully kowtow to him. The same can be said of Bill Barr. Trump will not again make the mistake of surrounding himself with people who would question his authority.

Some of the people who demonstrated more loyalty to the country than they did to Trump during these investigations were lower-level staff members. For the former president, they, too, present an obstacle. But he might have a fix for that as well.

Axios reported on Friday that “Trump’s top allies are preparing to radically reshape the federal government if he is re-elected, purging potentially thousands of civil servants and filling career posts with loyalists to him and his ‘America First’ ideology.”

According to Axios, this strategy appears to revolve around his reimposing an executive order that would reassign tens of thousands of federal employees with “some influence over policy” to Schedule F, which would strip them of their employee protections so that Trump could fire them without recourse to appeal.

Charles Blow, We Can’t Afford Not to Prosecute Trump

I thought this was a "Flight 93 Indictment" argument, and then the closing paragraph cinched it:

Some could argue that prosecuting a former president would forever alter presidential politics. But I would counter that not prosecuting him threatens the collapse of the entire political ecosystem and therefore the country.

From the Morning Dispatch

  • Sauce for the gander. California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill into law on Friday that will allow private citizens in California to sue people involved in the manufacturing, sale, transport, or distribution of ghost guns, assault weapons, or .50 BMG rifles—or in the sale or transfer of any firearm to an individual under the age of 21. The legislation—which Newsom hinted at back in December—is modeled after Texas’ Heartbeat Act, which made use of an innovative enforcement mechanism to evade judicial review.
  • Mild-mannered Hogan raises his voice. Maryland’s outgoing Republican governor, Larry Hogan, said yesterday he will not support his party’s nominee to replace him, Dan Cox, whom Hogan has labeled a “QAnon whack job.”
  • Inscrutable. Why did the Chinese government offer five years ago to build a $100 million garden at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C.? You guessed it: espionage. “The canceled garden is part of a frenzy of counterintelligence activity  by the FBI and other federal agencies focused on what career US security officials say has been a dramatic escalation of Chinese espionage on US soil over the past decade,” Katie Bo Lillis reports for CNN. “Since at least 2017, federal officials have investigated Chinese land purchases near critical infrastructure, shut down a high-profile regional consulate believed by the US government to be a hotbed of Chinese spies and stonewalled what they saw as clear efforts to plant listening devices near sensitive military and government facilities. Among the most alarming things the FBI uncovered pertains to Chinese-made Huawei equipment atop cell towers near US military bases in the rural Midwest. According to multiple sources familiar with the matter, the FBI determined the equipment was capable of capturing and disrupting highly restricted Defense Department communications, including those used by US Strategic Command, which oversees the country’s nuclear weapons.”

The Morning Dispatch, Monday, July 25, 2022.

The Webb

Dr. Jane Rigby, an astrophysicist and operations director for the new James Webb Space Telescope recently shared during NASA’s live press conference that she had an “ugly cry” when she saw the first images taken by the Webb:

“Earlier than this, the first focused images that we took where they were razor-sharp…that for me had the very emotional reaction like oh my goodness, it works. And it works better than we thought…personally, I went and had an ugly cry. What the engineers have done to build this thing is amazing.”

Note her ugly cry was about the telescope, not the heavens themselves. As the late social critic Neil Postman put it: “To a man with a camera, everything looks like an image.”

Never mind the stars, weep because the telescope works …

But the universe is beautiful and NASA doesn’t know why. That ought to be reason enough for weeping ….

Daniel Ray, Dr. Rigby’s Ugly Cry.

I fear Mr. Ray was a bit too hard on Dr. Rigby. She was, after all, operations director for the telescope. The waiting to see that it worked presumably was a bit nerve-wracking.

Still, and perhaps because of what I thought a harsh tone, this was rewarding to wrestle with.

The System is Rigged!

My former 9-term Congressman, Steve Buyer (Boo-yer), is charged with insider trading. It sounds like they’ve nailed him pretty solidly.

I’ve had a sleazy Congressman since Buyer, and then a cipher (the incumbent). But although I thought Buyer was barely-qualified when he ran his first campaign, a grueling door-to-door affair (with combat boots around his neck lest anyone forget he’d been a soldier), I did not think he was sleazy, and I’m disappointed to learn that he may be, or may have become, so.

By the way: does anything say "The System is rigged!" as loudly and eloquently as insider trading by a current or former National high officeholder?

Awkward

"You call this an awkward silence, but this silence is less awkward than anything I might say." (Encountered by Mrs. Tipsy on Pinterest)

This institution isn’t what you think it is

If it seems that America’s colleges and universities are poorly suited to the average American eighteen-year-old, perhaps that’s because they were never designed to serve him.

Oren Cass, The Once and Future Worker

Chestertonia

  • The Frenchman works until he can play. The American works until he can’t play; and then thanks the devil, his master, that he is donkey enough to die in harness. But the Englishman, as he has since become, works until he can pretend that he never worked at all. He becomes as far as possible another person—a country gentleman who has never heard of his shop; one whose left hand holding a gun knows not what his right hand doeth in a ledger. (Source not noted)
  • When the realist of the sex novel writes, ‘Red sparks danced in Dagmar Doubledick’s brain; he felt the spirit of the cave-man rising within him,’ the novelist’s readers would be very much disappointed if Dagmar only went off and drew large pictures of cows on the drawing-room wall. (The Everlasting Man)

It’s a long way to Heaven dear Lord,
it’s a hard row to hoe
And I don’t know if I’ll make it dear Lord
but I sure won’t make it alone.

SmallTown Heroes, Long Road, from their one-and-so-far-only "byzantine bluegrass" album Lo, the Hard Times.

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

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