URLs du Jour

2022-04-13

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • It seems somewhat longer than 10 years, but… Jonathan Haidt takes to the Atlantic (the magazine, not the ocean) to explain Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid. Spoiler: it's the fault of Zuckerberg (et. al.).

    Social scientists have identified at least three major forces that collectively bind together successful democracies: social capital (extensive social networks with high levels of trust), strong institutions, and shared stories. Social media has weakened all three. To see how, we must understand how social media changed over time—and especially in the several years following 2009.

    In their early incarnations, platforms such as Myspace and Facebook were relatively harmless. They allowed users to create pages on which to post photos, family updates, and links to the mostly static pages of their friends and favorite bands. In this way, early social media can be seen as just another step in the long progression of technological improvements—from the Postal Service through the telephone to email and texting—that helped people achieve the eternal goal of maintaining their social ties.

    But gradually, social-media users became more comfortable sharing intimate details of their lives with strangers and corporations. As I wrote in a 2019 Atlantic article with Tobias Rose-Stockwell, they became more adept at putting on performances and managing their personal brand—activities that might impress others but that do not deepen friendships in the way that a private phone conversation will.

    I'm skeptical, but (then again) I mainly use Facebook to keep up with friends and family. See what you think.


  • It's the Free State Menace, I tellz ya! There has been much ink spilled and bytes flung recently about the little (population 801) town of Croydon NH, over there on the other side of the state. Typical: an op-ed in my local paper: Free State seeks to dismantle NH government.

    At this year's school district meeting, roughly 60-100 people attended. Of those, less than 40 of the 450 voters in a town of 800 were present. [Ian] Underwood as Select Board chair presented an amendment to the school district budget reducing it from $1.7 million to $800,000. The vote passed 20-14. It took less than 5% of the town's registered voters to redefine the school district.

    The horror! And there's been little effort to present the arguments made for budget-cutting; it's just presented as an obvious effort to "dismantle."

    Fortunately the Foundation for Economic Education provides that: Small New England Town Cuts School Board Budget—in Half.

    One of the main topics of discussion was the proposed $1.7 million budget for the Croydon School Board. This would cover the 24 students in the Croydon Village School, a K-4 one room schoolhouse, and about 53 older students who are tuitioned out to public and private schools in the area. The $1.7 million budget represented an increase of about 30 percent over the last three years, and would have come with an estimated property tax increase of nearly 19 percent.

    More at the link.


  • Ghost stories about guns. Kevin D. Williamson devotes much of his weekly column to The Ghost in the Machine Gun.

    Finding a really nice classic Mustang is not always easy and is never cheap, and, for years, a handful of very committed car enthusiasts have been making an end-run around the classic-car market and the restoration industry both by more or less building entirely new cars from the parts catalogue. This is something that is a lot easier to do with very popular classics such as the Mustang than it would be with (alas!) the 1966 Volvo P1800 I very stupidly bought as a broke college student. In reality, building a new Mustang from the catalogue entails a lot more than ordering the parts and putting them together — there is a reason most cars are built in factories rather than in artisans’ workshops. But you can do it, if you really want to.

    You can build a gun from scratch, too, if you have the inclination and the skills. Contrary to what a great many people seem to think, there isn’t any law against it. There never has been, at least at the federal level. There are many kits you can buy to build old-style black-powder muskets and Kentucky rifles — a relatively easy project whose main challenges are related to woodworking rather than mechanics. But you can build sophisticated modern firearms, too. If you are a skilled machinist and have the right equipment, you can build one entirely from scratch. If that is too much for you, then you can build one from commercially available parts that simply need to be assembled — but you will have to pass a federal background check when purchasing the “receiver,” which is what the ATF considers a firearm when it is complete or almost complete.

    Since I'm pretty ignorant about gun culture, KDW's is a welcome take. The effort to scarify the public about "ghost guns" is just the latest tactic by the folks who want to use it as a lever to get what they've always wanted: ‘Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47’


  • We're number … er … sixteen!? The Tax Foundation has come out with the latest comparison. Tax Burden by State: 2022 State and Local Taxes.

    • New Yorkers faced the highest burden, with 15.9 percent of net product in the state going to state and local taxes. Connecticut (15.4 percent) and Hawaii (14.9 percent) followed close behind.
    • On the other end of the spectrum, Alaska (4.6 percent), Wyoming (7.5 percent), and Tennessee (7.6 percent) had the lowest burdens.

    New Hampshire has the 16th-lowest burden (9.6%). I expected better, but maybe I shouldn't have. (I just did my taxes and sent an unusually large amount to Concord. That's what happens when a good chunk of your income comes from dividends.)

    We do (however) look good in comparison with other New England States. Maine is #41, with a 12.4% burden. Massachusetts is #37 (11.5%), Vermont #47 (13.6%), Connecticut #49 (15.4%), and Rhode Island #36 (11.4%).


  • Just when you thought it was safe to be a physics major. Jerry Coyne bemoans the latest woke incursion: Science “studies” helping bring down science.

    Those of us who want our science free of ideology can only stand by helplessly as we watch physics, chemistry, and biology crumble from within as the termites of Wokeism nibble away. I once thought that scientists, whom I presumed would be less concerned than humanities professors with ideological pollution (after all, we do have some objective facts to argue about), would be largely immune to Wokeism.

    I was wrong, of course. It turns out that scientists are human beings after all, and with that goes the desire for the approbation of one’s peers and of society.  And you don’t get that if you’re deemed a racist. You can even be criticized from holding yourself away from the fray, preferring to do science than engage in social engineering. (Remember, Kendi-an doctrine says that if you’re not an actively working anti-racist, you’re a racist.)

    Jerry's Exhibit A is a substack post by physicist Lawrence M. Krauss: Physics Education: The hordes are at the gates.. Which in turn references a recent paper in Physical Review Physics Education Research titled Observing whiteness in introductory physics: A case study. Abstract:

    Within whiteness, the organization of social life is in terms of a center and margins that are based on dominance, control, and a transcendent figure that is consistently and structurally ascribed value over and above other figures. In this paper, we synthesize literature from Critical Whiteness Studies and Critical Race Theory to articulate analytic markers for whiteness, and use the markers to identify and analyze whiteness as it shows up in an introductory physics classroom interaction. We name mechanisms that facilitate the reproduction of whiteness in this local context, including a particular representation of energy, physics values, whiteboards, gendered social norms, and the structure of schooling. In naming whiteness and offering a set of analytic markers, our aim is to provide instructors and researchers with a tool for identifying whiteness in their own contexts. Alongside our discussion, which imagines new possibilities for physics teaching and learning, we hope our work contributes to Critical Whiteness Studies’ goal of dismantling whiteness.

    There's a PDF of the article at the link, but the reviews are in. Coyne: "I cannot emphasize enough how bad the paper is." Krauss: "When I read the abstract, I was pretty sure it must be a spoof paper[…]". But no, it's the real deal. Check it out if you need a good laugh. Or a good cry.