URLs du Jour

2022-02-14

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • Or, more pointedly: "progressives" vs. progress. Arnold Kling notes the conflict: Progressivism vs. Dynamism

    Almost a quarter century ago, Virginia Postrel published The Future and its Enemies. That book advocates for dynamism. But unlike Smith and other smug advocates for active government, Postrel articulated the libertarian view that dynamism comes from decentralized experimentation.

    Progressives are misguided about progress. If you want a dynamic society, don’t root for government to lead the way. Instead, root for government to create a background of order that permits progress to proceed.

    I have an aphorism that progress comes via the three e’s: experimentation, evaluation, and evolution. It does not come via intelligent design.

    It's tough to resist putting "progressives" in sneer quotes. (You'll note I succumbed to the temptation here.) It's a name they chose for themselves, and it seems to get less accurate by the year. Their proposals seem straight out of the 1930s: central planning, social engineering, citizens increasingly dependent on government, strict controls on business, class warfare, etc.


  • And maybe I should have mentioned virtue-signalling above… Kevin D. Williamson explains Why Progressives Can’t Quit Their Masks.

    While there has been a quietly energetic campaign to memory-hole the fact, some of you will remember that, in the run-up to the 2020 presidential campaign, vaccine skepticism was a Democratic thing, not a Republican thing. Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Andrew Cuomo, and every third progressive nitwit on Twitter cast doubt on the safety and the efficacy of the Covid-19 vaccines that were being developed under Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s program to expedite a vaccine. It was childishly predictable: With Election Day looming, anything that might redound to the credit of the Trump administration had to be cast into doubt or held up for scorn. We are governed by people who have never mentally or morally progressed beyond the politics of the junior-high lunchroom.

    After the election, the Democrats and the Republicans settled back into their familiar respective grooves. Republicans who had sympathized with the Trump administration’s early efforts to play down Covid-19 went back to pooh-poohing it, Democrats returned to their peculiar form of technocratic pietism. Democrats sacralized the vaccines, Republicans scorned them and talked up quack cures. And masks became the burqa of the Covid era, with the Subaru-mounted mutaween of suburbia zealously guarding the new public morality.

    KDW goes into the history of the ritual of head/face covering. He's good on that stuff. Those "Science is Real" yard signs are fine, but how to inform people of your impeccable views when you're away from home? Just slap on an N95 respirator, baby!


  • And maybe I should have mentioned attempted suppression of dissent above… Charles C. W. Cooke notices one of your "progressive" news sources kinda losing its shit: CNN Accuses Joe Rogan of 'Unleashing' Genocidal and Insurrectionist Forces

    CNN spends an inordinate amount of time trying to destroy its rivals in the media market — whatever they may pretend they do, this is the role that is actually played by both Brian Stelter and Oliver Darcy — so it should not come as a surprise that the network has been among the most vocal critics of the podcaster Joe Rogan, about whom its staff have grown progressively unhinged as the attempt to cancel him has gained steam.

    On Wednesday, CNN’s Alisyn Camerota said that she was “out of ideas for what to do about Joe Rogan.” But, alas, the broader network is not. This morning, John Blake published a piece of “analysis” — this is the word CNN uses for opinion pieces it hopes to launder as something else — that links Rogan’s words with the attack on the Capitol on January 6 and the 1994 Rwandan genocide, and accuses him of helping to reverse the progress that has been made in America since 1945.

    CCWC's characterization of Blake's "analysis" as "unhinged" seems mild, but see what you think.

    I sometimes want to take folks like Blake by the lapels and say something like: "Look: if your values, visions, and ideas could be credibly threatened by Joe Rogan's use of the N-word… well, maybe, just maybe, your values, visions, and ideas weren't that sturdy in the first place."

    Instead, I say that to you. And I keep my hands off your lapels.


  • And maybe I should have mentioned looking at certain totalitarian regimes with rose-colored glasses above… Jeff Jacoby writes on that Commie hellhole just off the Florida coast: Cuba’s dictatorship, not the embargo, is what needs to go.

    Feb. 7 marked the 60th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s proclamation imposing an embargo on trade between the United States and Cuba. Other JFK milestones are recalled by media and political elites with esteem or affection. Not this one.

    “Cuba has been under US embargo for 60 years. It’s time for that to end,” declared David Adler of Progressive International in The Guardian. Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, argued in an essay for Univision that “the US embargo is opposed by every other nation in this hemisphere,” so that “in a failed attempt to isolate Cuba, we have isolated ourselves.” Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, long a supporter of normalized ties with Cuba, tweeted that “the Cold War is over” and condemned the embargo as “a policy that has failed for decades, all the while inflicting incalculable suffering on ordinary Cubans.” And The Nation, boasting that it had opposed Kennedy’s trade ban from the outset, ran yet another article denouncing it under the headline: “Cuba: 60 Years of a Brutal, Vindictive, and Pointless Embargo.”

    This is par for the course. In the face of the oldest dictatorship in the Western hemisphere and one of the cruelest on the planet, men and women who regard themselves as enlightened aim their outrage not at the regime that tramples human rights, strangles freedom, and violently represses its critics but at America’s longstanding policy of not doing business as usual with that regime. By contrast, many of those same voices rightly call for restricting trade by companies tainted by slave labor in China’s Xinjiang region, just as they earlier endorsed sanctions against South Africa during apartheid. Why, when it comes to Cuba, do they demand not the lifting of the communist oppression but of the trade embargo meant to resist it?

    JJ notes that the US embargo is actually pretty "porous". And other countries are perfectly free to trade with Cuba and have no restrictions on tourism. That hasn't led to the freeing of Cuba's people.

    Of course, our embargo hasn't led to the freeing of Cuba's people either. So is the embargo just symbolic?


  • What they really want is… If you were under the impression that the push for "Indigenous Peoples' Day" was about … well … celebrating Indigenous People, this story in this morning's lousy local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat, will disabuse you: NH bill for Indigenous Peoples' Day in August draws opposition

    A Republican-backed bill to preserve Columbus Day and have New Hampshire celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day in August drew opposition at a public hearing this week, in a reprise of a fight last legislative session when Abenaki leaders spoke against the August date.

    Rep. Jess Edwards, an Auburn Republican, who is a co-sponsor of House Bill 1173, favored the August date, which would correspond with the United Nations International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. He presented the August date as a compromise and a way of ending what he called the “intersectional wars.”

    You, being a normal person, might think that a day in August, aligned with similar international celebrations, would be fine for this.

    Oh, normal person. You are so wrong.

    Asma Elhuni, an activist who works with the nonprofit Rights and Democracy, said replacing Columbus Day is an important expression of the state’s values. Elhuni is also a resident of Concord, which recently opted to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day. She opposed HB 1173, along with 68 people who signed in remotely. Four people logged support of the bill.

    It's not enough that the Indigenous get their day. Columbus must be erased!

    But this is pretty funny:

    “We can’t be honoring violence,” Elhuni said about Columbus’ legacy, adding that as a Libyan American she hopes the United States can celebrate immigrants, but not by glorifying violent history.

    Asma, it's not as if Columbus had a monopoly on violence.


  • And finally, in our LFOD coverage: A report from the Winnipeg Free Press notes, with barely concealed dismay, troubling trends in America's Hat: Convoy protesters embrace U.S. revolutionary symbols

    The symbols that are part of an anti-vaccine mandate protest in front of the legislature are most often signs touting “freedom” and Canadian and American flags. On Friday, the day the province announced it’s speeding up the plan to lift pandemic restrictions, a new flag appeared.

    [Gasp! Mon Dieu!]

    The yellow banner with a snake and “Don’t Tread on Me — Live Free or Die” popped up on the Broadway median.

    I should also mention the cracked history the report presents as fact:

    The yellow snake flag — the Gadsden flag — dates back to the American Revolution and has been used by groups pushing for minimal government and more extreme causes, like the Tea Party that rose to prominence protesting the first African American president, and the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, said Helmut-Harry Loewen, a retired Winnipeg sociology professor who studies extremism and hate groups.

    The traditional Gadsden Flag doesn't include LFOD. It was adopted in 1775. General John Stark didn't pen his famous missive including the phrase until 1809.

    And painting the Tea Party as an "extreme cause" devoted solely to "protesting the first African American president"… well, please.

    Anyway, good luck on that Covid stuff, Canada. And keep the bacon coming.

Noise

A Flaw in Human Judgment

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

I enjoyed reading Daniel Kahneman's classic, Thinking Fast and Slow (belatedly, back in 2017). And even though that work might have relied too much on research of doubtful replicability, I still was tempted to read this latest work. It's co-authored with Olivier Sibony (apparently a business consultant type), and Harvard lawprof and popular non-fiction author Cass Sunstein.

The book discusses and summarizes a specific way "judgments" go wrong. Specifically, when humans are presented with the same set of relevant facts about a situation, and are asked to decide on a specific conclusion, they "should" come up with the same answer. But they don't.

The authors distinguish two kinds of judgment flaws: bias, where the decision process is giving consistently wrong answers; and noise, where the answers are scattered widely. They propose a simple experiment: take out your smartphone, pull up the clock, which probably has a lap timer function. Use that to (for example) try to measure 6 (or so) "laps" of 10 seconds each, without looking. (For extra credit, do it without counting in your head.)

Your average lap time will (almost certainly) not be exactly 10.0 seconds; this is bias: your inner clock is running fast or slow. But your results will also (again, almost certainly) scatter around that average, and that's noise.

Noise in judgment is very often bad. Examples used in the book: judges vary widely in the sentences they impose on criminals guilty of the same offense, with similar histories and situations. That can be due to the judges having lenient/strict sentencing standards, but "studies show" it can also be due to the time of day, whether the judge's home team lost its last game, what they had for lunch, … That's not the way we'd like to think the justice system works.

Other examples are drawn from the business world: setting insurance premiums, making hiring decisions, doing performance evaluations, the merger and acquisition process, etc. Here, excessive noise in judgment can result in dysfunction and corporate ruin. Unsurprisingly, there have been a lot of studies done on the sources of noise, although noise hasn't risen to the popularity of its partner in crime, bias.

The book describes a number of strategies to minimize noise, mostly in the corporate/government spheres. For example, they encourage more reliance on noise-free "algorithms" to substitute for flawed human judgments.

I would have liked to see a little more emphasis on how individuals can tame their inner noisiness, but the diligent reader can probably construct some useful personal advice from the book's discussion.

To their credit, the authors consider criticisms of noise-reduction. For example, they look at Cathy O'Neil's book Weapons of Math Destruction, which purports to show how "algorithms are increasingly used in ways that reinforce preexisting inequality."

(Note: I suspect that often means: "algorithms give us answers we don't like.")

And they often consider cases where a certain amount of noise can be beneficial. For example, it can cause your decision-making to evolve and adapt to changing environments.

So: it's an interesting read, a little dry in spots, and my interest waned in the business-intensive sections. (I could imagine that corporate execs could find those extremely interesting, though.)