URLs du Jour

2022-01-31

  • Despite the best efforts of some. In case you were wondering whether America was on the brink of a civil war, Musa al-Gharbi offers an answer for you: No, America is not on the brink of a civil war.

    According to a number of polls and surveys, significant majorities of Republican-aligned voters seem to believe the big lie that Trump was the rightful winner of the 2020 US presidential election and, consequently, the Biden administration is illegitimate.

    Taking these data at face value, a growing chorus insists that we’re living in a “post-truth” era, where members of one political party, the Republican party, can no longer tell facts from falsehood. As a result of the Republican party becoming unmoored from reality, the narratives typically continue, America is drifting headlong into a fascist takeover or a civil war.

    Fortunately for all of us, these dire predictions are almost certainly overblown. We are not living in a “post-truth” world. We are not on the brink of a civil war. The perception that we are is almost purely an artifact of people taking poll and survey data at face value despite overwhelming evidence that we probably shouldn’t.

    Al-Gharbi accumulates some evidence backing up something I've suspected for a while: a certain fraction of people enjoy lying to pollsters, and jerking them around. And sometimes media outlets don't tell the complex story of what pollsters asked, what the available answers were, etc. So we wind up with headlines like "Only Two-Thirds Of American Millennials Believe The Earth Is Round."


  • Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends. As relayed by Philip Klein: Trump’s Continuing Disgrace.

    President Trump has already inflicted more than enough damage on the country simply because his fragile ego prevented him from acknowledging that he lost the 2020 election. But the January 6 Capitol riot, which followed months of him whipping supporters into a frenzy with his stolen election claims, did not teach him to be more responsible with his rhetoric. So he spent this past weekend making one reckless statement after another — consequences be damned.

    During a Saturday rally in Texas, Trump said of prosecutors investigating him and his business practices that, “If these radical, vicious, racist prosecutors do anything wrong or illegal, I hope we are going to have in this country the biggest protest we have ever had in Washington D.C., in New York, in Atlanta and elsewhere because our country and our elections are corrupt.”

    But that's not all.


  • Kevin, you're just trying to cheer me up. Just kidding. Because Kevin D. Williamson contends There Are No Easy Cures for What Ails Our Body Politic.

    It is likely that what will mostly powerfully shape the U.S. government 100 years from now — if there is a U.S. government 100 years from now — is the vague and unwieldy matter of the internal institutional culture of Congress: not how one representative or senator behaves but the behavior of Congress as a whole. If Congress continues its slide into self-imposed subordination to the executive, then the presidency will continue to grow more imperial, more invasive, more self-aggrandizing, and, as an almost inevitable result, more autocratic as the decades pass — irrespective of which party controls the office most often. A country with an autocratic, strong-man government will have autocratic, strong-man politics, because the campaigning aspect of politics is only instrumental, fitted to whatever facts it finds, its shape and strategies almost always determined by immediate social realities rather than by any long-term philosophical or ideological program. As Barry Goldwater put it, politicians “hunt where the ducks are.”

    That raises a second and related question, that of the character of the political parties. Like Congress, these, too, are slowly sinking into irrelevance. This is partly by design, the work of well-intentioned “reformers” who broke up the power of the parties in an effort to “democratize” them without understanding that this would effectively destroy them as functioning institutions. The parties also are diminished by the partisan media (both flavors) that make war on them (the “establishment”), both because they are power competitors and because doing so makes for a compelling storyline: We the People vs. the wicked elites is the theme on MSNBC as much as it is on Fox News and right-wing talk radio. Without parties and other mediating institutions, naked demagoguery almost inevitably becomes the dominant mode of politics.

    And that explains a lot about our level of uncivil discourse.


  • Hey, kids, what time is it? John McWhorter has an answer in (of all places) the New York Times: It’s Time to End Race-Based Affirmative Action. And he discusses how he doesn't want his daughters to be treated by colleges they apply to:

    I shudder at the thought of someone on a college admissions committee, in the not-too-distant future, reading their dossiers and finding their being biracial (in their case, half Black and half white, or “mixed,” as we might have said in my day) — and thus, officially “diverse” and even, according to our strange retention of the retrogressive “one-drop rule,” officially “African American” — the most interesting thing about them. Or even, frankly, interesting at all.

    I don’t want an admissions officer to consider the obstacles my children have faced, because in 2022, as opposed to in 1972, they really face no more or less than their white peers do.

    I don’t want that admissions officer to consider that, perhaps here and there, someone, somewhere, underestimated them because both of their parents aren’t white. In the 2020s, that will have happened so seldom to them, as upper-middle-class persons living amid America’s most racially enlightened Blue American white people, that I’m quite sure it will not imprint them existentially any more than it did me, coming of age in the 1970s and 1980s.

    I don’t want the admissions officer to consider my children’s “diversity.” For one thing, their diversity from the other kids in their neighborhoods, classrooms and lives is something of an abstraction. They wear clothes from Old Navy, watch (and rewatch) “Frozen” and “Encanto,” and play a lot of Roblox, just like their peers. And I will never forget a line from a guidebook that Black students at Harvard wrote two decades ago: “We are not here to provide diversity training for Kate and Timmy.” Yep — and if we salute the enterprising undergrads who wrote that, we must question the general thrust of the sundry amicus briefs that will be offered in the Harvard and U.N.C. cases, about how kids of color are vital to a campus because of their diversity, echoing the statement of Harvard’s president, just this week, that “Considering race as one factor among many in admissions decisions produces a more diverse student body which strengthens the learning environment for all.”

    Bingo.

    [And, not that I'm encouraging you to do this, but: my current method for reading NYT articles: (1) go to the article; (2) control-S to save the page on your computer; (3) control-O to open the downloaded article.]


  • Not to be confused with the Gell-Mann effect. Michael Shermer writes his substack article on The Joe Rogan Effect. Assuming you know the details about demands that Spotify deplatform Joe Rogan:

    To be clear, this is not a First Amendment free speech issue. The government has nothing to say in the matter. Spotify can do what it wants, and aging rockers can protest by withdrawing their products if they want. But is such censorious protesting productive? No. Why?

    1. It’s another form of the bigotry of low expectations: the content consuming public is so dumb, so gullible, so irrational that they are unable to think critically about important issues, so we will do it for them. Why should some team of censors (or computer algorithms) dictate what I can and cannot consume? I’ll do my own thinking, thank you.

    2. Such protests add oxygen to the fire: Rogan has a huge audience, but the Associated Press, the BBC, NBC, ABC, CBS, PBS, and all the other MSM outlets do not normally cover episodes of The Joe Rogan Experience unless they become newsworthy. So millions of downloads are now tens of millions or more.

    3. Forbidden fruit: a natural response many people have to being told that they can’t have something is to want it even more. It’s the oldest story in the Bible, which I recounted in The Moral Arc this way, in asking why a jealous and vengeful God named Yahweh decided to punish women for all eternity with the often intolerable pain of childbirth, and further condemned them to be little more than beasts of burden and sex slaves for the victorious warlords: “It was all for that one terrible sin, the first crime ever recorded in the history of humanity—a thought crime no less—when that audacious autodidact Eve dared to educate herself by partaking of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Worse she inveigled the first man—the unsuspecting Adam—to join her in choosing knowledge over ignorance.”

    4. Censorship fuels fringe claims: I’ve devoted a career to studying fringe groups and marginalized beliefs, and I can tell you that they thrive on censorship—literally: membership rolls expand and donations swell whenever their peripheral claims are censored, because “they” don’t want you to know what we’ve discovered.

    As an interviewee, Shermer has some insight into what Rogan tick. Interesting. (I've never listened to Rogan at all.)


  • But for more on that… also see Glenn Greenwald. The Pressure Campaign on Spotify to Remove Joe Rogan Reveals the Religion of Liberals: Censorship.

    American liberals are obsessed with finding ways to silence and censor their adversaries. Every week, if not every day, they have new targets they want de-platformed, banned, silenced, and otherwise prevented from speaking or being heard (by "liberals,” I mean the term of self-description used by the dominant wing of the Democratic Party).

    [That clarification is much appreciated, Glenn -- ps]

    For years, their preferred censorship tactic was to expand and distort the concept of "hate speech” to mean "views that make us uncomfortable,” and then demand that such “hateful” views be prohibited on that basis. For that reason, it is now common to hear Democrats assert, falsely, that the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech does not protect “hate speech." Their political culture has long inculcated them to believe that they can comfortably silence whatever views they arbitrarily place into this category without being guilty of censorship.

    Oddly enough, some of the same "liberals" are the ones who moan the loudest when "Banned Books Week" rolls around. Funny old world.

Ingredients

The Strange Chemistry of What We Put in Us and on Us

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Another instance where I can't remember why I put this book on my get-at-library list. Never mind, it's pretty good.

The author, George Zaidan, is described as a "science communicator, television and web host, and producer" on the dust jacket flap. He also has an Airplane!-style of writing: throw a lot of jokes at the reader, and enough of them are funny to get a laugh.

The language would definitely rate a PG-13, though. [Checks page 273.] Or maybe an R.

It is a relatively solid look at mostly nutritional epidemiology. Although he also looks at smoking and—see the subtitle—sunscreen. For the latter, it's a comparison of what's riskier: (a) skin cancer thanks to sun exposure, or (b) some other kind of cancer due to the chemicals in the goop we slather on our skin to avoid skin cancer?

But it's mostly food and drink. Zaidan delves into the science, concentrating on so-called "ultra-processed" foods, like (see the cover) Cheetos. And he doesn't even get into Flamin' Hot Cheetos, let alone CHEETOS® Crunchy XXTRA FLAMIN' HOT® Cheese Flavored Snacks. Which contain (as I type):

Enriched Corn Meal (Corn Meal, Ferrous Sulfate, Niacin, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Vegetable Oil (Corn, Canola, and/or Sunflower Oil), Xxtra FLAMIN' HOT® Seasoning (Salt, Maltodextrin [Made From Corn], Sugar, Yeast Extract, Monosodium Glutamate, Citric Acid, Artificial Color [Red 40 Lake, Yellow 6 Lake, Yellow 6, Yellow 5], Sunflower Oil, Hydrolyzed Corn Protein, Cheddar Cheese [Milk, Cheese Cultures, Salt, Enzymes], Onion Powder, Whey, Natural Flavor, Garlic Powder, Whey Protein Concentrate, Buttermilk, Corn Syrup Solids, Sodium Diacetate), and Salt. CONTAINS MILK INGREDIENTS.

Well, you can't say you weren't warned. Or enticed. Yes, now I'm hungry.

Early parts of the book had me saying "Wait a minute. What about…?" a lot. But (good news) Zaidan does a decent job of answering those implicit questions as the book progresses. Specifically, he describes the "potholes" medical research in general and (specifically) research into risky dietary habits must encounter and avoid. P-hacking is described. John Ioannidis's work on the "reproducibility crisis" is described, as are Ioannidis's arguments with Harvard nutrition researcher Walter Willett.

And he doesn't mention food noodge Mark Bittman at all. High marks there.

One quirk: although Zaidan isn't too shy about describing chemical reactions, even showing some structural formulas, he seems averse to biting the bullet on writing numbers in scientific notation. So we get a lot of stuff like "Our eyes can detect photons within a very narrow energy range; from 0.00000000000000000028 to 0.00000000000000000056 joules". Come on, George. say "2.8 x 10-19 to 5.6x10-19 Joules". Even better—since you're simply describing a Joule as "a unit of energy" in a footnote, use a better unit: "1.7 to 3.5 electron volts".

More serious: in a book about risky food, Zaidan should really have described how risky trans fats are. And (generally) delved into the controversies surrounding fats, carbohydrates, etc. It would have also been nice to have seen some context comparing dietary risk to other risks. How (for example) does a daily bag of CHEETOS® Crunchy XXTRA FLAMIN' HOT® Cheese Flavored Snacks compare to a daily 20-mile commute, riskwise? I think the oldie-but-goodie The Norm Chronicles is the layman's go-to text here.


Last Modified 2022-02-21 7:13 AM EDT