Keeping things in perspective
Sometimes a bedraggled and barefoot concentration camp survivor plucked up his courage and knocked on the door of prewar friends to ask, “Excuse me, do you by any chance still have some of the stuff we left with you for safekeeping?” And the friends would say, “You must be mistaken, you didn’t leave anything with us, but come in anyway!” And they would seat him in their parlor where his carpet lay on the floor and pour herb tea into antique cups that had belonged to his grandmother. The survivor would thank them, sip his tea, and look at the walls where his paintings hung. He would say to himself, “What does it matter? As long as we’re alive? What does it matter?” At other times, it would not turn out so nicely. The prewar friends would not make tea, would not suggest any mistake. They would just laugh and say in astonishment, “Come on now, do you really believe we would store your stuff all through the war, exposing ourselves to all that risk just to give it back to you now?” And the survivor would laugh too, amazed at his own stupidity, would apologize politely and leave. Once downstairs he would laugh again, happily, because it was spring and the sun was shining down on him.
Heda Margolius Kovaly Under a Cruel Star: A Life in Prague, 1941-1968
The problem with “systemic racism”
A very interesting argument from Matt Lutz in Persuasion.
[P]rogress on racial equality can only advance once we’ve abandoned the outmoded teleological paradigm that’s come to dominate contemporary discussions of race. To dismantle the mechanisms that propagate racial disparities, it is not enough to know that they work, we must understand how they work. The concept of “systemic racism” impedes that vital work.
In a nutshell, the idea of “systemic racism” is too abstract to cash out in helpful policy changes or other actions. I highly recommend the article.
We all live by faith
The irony is that we all—secular or religious people alike—make our biggest life-shaping decisions on faith. Life is too short to learn what you need to know to live well.
Frank Schaeffer, Crazy for God. I do not recommend this book. I don’t even recommend Frank Schaeffer. But sometimes, even the most frenzied human hits the mark.
[Mark] Andreessen starts with the replication crisis in scientific studies, especially in psychology—over half of studies can’t be replicated. I suggest “studies show” are the two most dangerous words in the English language. Mr. Andreessen quickly adds, “The corollary is ‘experts say.’”
Is Matthew Crawford among the prophets?
If you were to regularly air-drop Cheetos over the entire territory of a game preserve, you would probably find that all the herbivores preferred them right away to whatever pathetic grubs and roots they had been eating before. A few years later, the lions would have decided that hunting is not only barbaric but, worse, inconvenient. The cheetahs would come around eventually—all that running!—and the savannah would be ruled by three-toed sloths. With orange fur.
Matthew Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head.
Regarding “orange fur,” note that the book came out in March of 2015.
From my local newspaper:
… Additional auditions coming up in Civic Theatre’s schedule include for ‘The Mountaintop,’ which follows a fictional telling of Martin Luther King Jr.’s last night on Earth on the eve of his assassination. This play is set entirely in room 306 of the Lorraine Motel, and is seeking actors for its two roles who fit the following guidelines:
Black, male-identifying actor, able to play late 30s/early 40s age range, must be willing to make changes to appearance to fit MLK Jr. Black, female-identifying actor, able to play 30/40s age range.
Not “black-identifying, male-identifying”? Race is real but sex is notional now, I guess. If it weren’t so sunny outside, I’d say this kind of reversal is ominous.
Huxley’s insidious dystopia
An Orwellian world is much easier to recognize, and to oppose, then a Huxleyan. Everything in our background has prepared us to know and resist the prison when the gates begin to close around us. We are not likely, for example, to be indifferent to the voices of the Sakharovs and the Timmermans and the Walesas. We take arms against such a sea of troubles, buttressed by the spirit of Milton, Bacon, Voltaire, Göethe and Jefferson. But what if there are no cries of anguish to be heard? Who is prepared to take arms against a sea of amusement. To whom do we complain, and when, and in what tone of voice, when serious discourse dissolves into giggles? What is the antidote to a culture’s being drained by laughter?
Neil Postman, The Huxleyan Warning, in Amusing Ourselves to Death
“Mozilla Stops Accepting Cryptocurrency, Wikipedia May be Next: Are Dominos Falling?” Brandon Vigliarolo reports on Jamie Zawinski, the co-founder of Mozilla, and his critiques of cryptocurrency: “As of this writing, a single transaction on the Bitcoin blockchain eats up the same amount of energy as the average US household in a 77.8-day, or roughly two and a half month, period. Ethereum, though nowhere near as large, still eats up the same amount of energy that a US household does in eight days.”
Jeffrey Bilbro, Front Porch Republic
Not to mention that in crypto-world, everyone is either a con or a mark. The GameStop bubble is rational in comparison.
Still, eternal vigilance
Some day, Zoom learning, which proved a real eye-opener for some parents who listened in on their kids’ lessons, may fade into memory. How then may parents hold schools accountable for indoctrination?
Public schools should have their curricula and lesson plans posted online. And no state public school funds should be spent on the equity industrial complex: defund equity consultants, DEI conferences and struggle sessions for either teachers or students. If teachers want to bone up on Judith Butler or Robin DiAngelo, they can do it on their own dime. If this sounds harsh, so be it. Critical theory should be treated more like creationism in public schools than scholarship: an unfalsifiable form of religion, preferably banned outright, but if not, always accompanied by Darwin.
Andrew Sullivan, The Right’s Ugly War On Woke Schooling
I’m not a doctor, I’m a f—ing moron. … I’m not a respected source of information.
Joe Rogan, April 2021
I have no opinion on Joe Rogan except that he’s too foul-mouthed for me to listen to. Last time — and to the best of my recollection the only time — I tried to listen was when he was talking to Tulsi Gabbard, a show he front-loaded with tons of ads interspersed with F-bombs.
I made it maybe 20 minutes into the show. I don’t need any more incitement to my own potty-mouth.
But it seems to me that Neil Young and Joni Mitchell are on the side of the dark angels in this case:
I … worry about the continued fragmentation of society that attends the idea that everyone sharing a cultural space must align ideologically to coexist … What concerns me most about all this is the siloing of society into warring tribes.
Sonny Bunch, quoted in the Morning Dispatch
[T]hese days, sincere apologies do not function as expressions of regret but as confessions of guilt.
Some men’s reach should not exceed their grasp
Last week the department duly charged 11 followers of a far-right militia called the Oath Keepers with “seditious conspiracy” to stop the transfer of power. By far the most serious charge yet levelled over the riot, it is a devastating rebuke to the revisionist Republican view of it as a legitimate protest that got out of hand.
Merrick Garland and his critics (emphasis added).
There is a ton of evidence that the Oath Keepers fully anticipated and intended armed confrontation. So the “revisionist Republican view” is deluded.
But what if these self-appointed militiamen get acquitted because the government cannot prove that they knew the election was valid (and therefore were trying to stop the peaceful and lawful transition of power rather than “stop the steal”)? That’s a real risk.
What then of the “devastating rebuke?” In the depths of Trumpland, it will be retold as “the whole thing was made up” rather than “the government came up short on one element of the seditious conspiracy.”
This is a case where a man’s reach should not exceed his grasp.
Brink of civil war?
I’m not prepared to say “all is well” (we’re kind of a hot steaming mess in many ways), but Musa al-Gharbi makes a convincing case that America is not on the brink of a civil war.
What sticks with me:
- A lot of the “crazy Republican” polls credulously report what Republicans say to troll the pollsters (especially when the poll is obviously biased).
- If 2/3 of 74 million Trump voters really believed that Democrats stole the election, 1/6/21 would have been a whole lot bigger and uglier. (This may be relevant to my prior item on the charges against the Oath Keepers.)
Hell hath no fury …
I’ve long thought that Ann Coulter went from funny to deranged on 9/11/01, when her friend Barbara Olsen was one of the terrorists’ victims. But it’s interesting how she’s digging at her former hero:
When [Ann] Coulter turns, she does not go gently. Her critiques of Mr. Trump have included calling him “a shallow, lazy ignoramus,” “a complete moron,” “a blithering idiot” and “a lout.” She now considers his entire presidency a flop. “Trump accomplished everything he was ever going to accomplish at 2 a.m.” on election night in 2016, she emailed me last week. “The best thing that could have happened to the Republican Party (and the country) would have been for him to be vaporized at the moment he was announcing his victory. Pence would have been afraid to betray Trump’s supporters. Trump wasn’t!”
Ms. Coulter, it seems, has found a shiny new leader with whom to antagonize her former hero. “For months now, Trump’s been playing the aging silent film star Norma Desmond in ‘Sunset Boulevard’ to DeSantis’s younger, prettier Betty Schaefer,” she wrote in her column Wednesday, which closed with this punch to the throat: “Give voters a populist conservative who’s not a con man and a liar and they’ll be ‘Republicans’ again. No wonder Trump hates DeSantis.”
Are the militarists winning their long game?
“The fact is that Ukraine, which is a non-Nato country, is going to be vulnerable to military domination by Russia no matter what we do… This is an example of where we have to be very clear about what our core interests are and what we are willing to go to war for.“
Then as now, both blue and red propaganda outlets howled. The “core interest” of the Washington consensus is war. It isn’t just big business, but our biggest business, one of the last things we still make and export on a grand scale. The bulk of the people elected to congress and a lion’s share of the lobbyists, lawyers, and journalists who snuggle in a giant fornicating mass in the capital are dedicated to the upkeep of the war bureaucracy.
The truth is there’s nothing to be done at this point. We had our chance. Both Russia and Ukraine should have been economic and strategic allies. Instead, we repeatedly blew opportunities in both places by trying to flex more and more muscle in the region (including, ironically, via election meddling). Now there’s no winning move left. Conceding this means abandoning conventional wisdom, and the people we’re now relying on to see the light have shown little ability to do that.
Matt Taibbi, Let’s Not Have a War
The Metaverse is already here
The Wall Street Journal’s Gerard Baker sends up quite a few examples of how we’re already living in a sort of metaverse — “a highly immersive virtual world where people gather to socialize, play, and work” — but one was particularly timely:
Amanda Gorman, the young woman who declaimed some stanzas of undergraduate verse at Mr. Biden’s inauguration a year ago and was instantly declared the new Sappho, wrote in the New York Times last week that she was terrified that she was going to be assassinated. Because, you know, angry white supremacists are itching to take out overrated poets.
Gorman did go ahead and read the verses, of course.
The LARPERs on the Right are the stop-the-steal trolls. If they really believed it, there’d have been hundreds of thousands of them in DC on 1/6/21. (See America is not on the brink of a civil war.)
We must stop being the stupid party … we must stop insulting the intelligence of voters. We need to trust the smarts of the American people. We have to stop dumbing down our ideas and stop reducing everything to mindless slogans and taglines for 30-second ads.
Bobby Jindal, 2013, to his fellow-Republicans.
Carville cuts crap
If Democrats are worried about voting rights and election integrity, then these [smaller races] are the sorts of races they should support and volunteer for, because this is where the action is and this is where things will be decided. … Republicans raised $33 million for secretary of state races around the country. The Democrats had until recently raised $1 million. I think it’s now up to $4 million. That’s the story, right there. That’s the difference, right there. Bitching about a Democratic senator in West Virginia is missing the damn plot …
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.