URLs du Jour

2022-04-25

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  • It's about time. If doomsaying is your thing, David French has you covered: John Adams' Fear Has Come to Pass.

    Writing eleven years after the ratification of the Constitution, Adams wrote to the officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts to outline the responsibilities of the citizens of the new republic. The letter contains the famous declaration that “our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” But I’m more interested in the two preceding sentences:

    Because We have no Government armed with Power capable of contending with human Passions unbridled by morality and Religion. Avarice, Ambition, Revenge or Galantry, would break the strongest Cords of our Constitution as a Whale goes through a Net.

    Put in plain English, this means that when public virtue fails, our constitutional government does not possess the power to preserve itself. Thus, the American experiment depends upon both the government upholding its obligation to preserve liberty and the American people upholding theirs to exercise that liberty towards virtuous purposes. 

    Well, I see his point. He's obviously heartfelt and earnest here.

    But let me quote myself from a book post I made last year for Joel Kotkin's The Coming of Neo-Feudalism:

    Back when I was much younger, I was very impressed by works of American gloom and doom. One of my earliest memories of National Review was a late-1960s article drawing earnest attention to the similarities between America (of that time) and Weimar Germany. I still have Charlotte Twight's America's Emerging Fascist Economy (1975) on my bookshelf; also present is The Ominious Parallels by Leonard Peikoff (1982); Lost Rights by James Bovard (1995);… well, you get the idea. I also devoured a number of how-to-survive-economic-doomsday tomes, of which there were piles in the 70s.

    You'll note that we're still here. Bad as things can get, and have been, it's far from Nazi/Commie totalitarianism presiding over an economic system in rubble.

    Over a year later, and we're still here. Doomcrying will never go out of style.

    But to be fair to French: he could be right to despair. Doomcryers are occasionally correct.


  • Speaking of doomcryers‥ let me link to an Earth Day post from Ronald Bailey: After 53 Earth Days, Society Still Hasn't Collapsed.

    Cassandra in Greek mythology was the Trojan priestess who was cursed to utter true prophecies but never to be believed. Ideological environmentalism features a cohort of reverse Cassandras: They make false prophecies that are widely believed. Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich in his 1968 classic, The Population Bomb, prophesied, "The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now." Ehrlich continues to predict imminent overpopulation doom.

    Another reverse Cassandra was Rachel Carson who warned in her 1962 Silent Spring of impending cancer epidemics sparked by humanity's heedless use of synthetic pesticides. In fact, even as pesticide use has risen, rates of cancer incidence and mortality have been falling for 30 years.

    On the occasion of the 53rd Earth Day, let's take a look at the prophecies of another reverse Cassandra, the Club of Rome's 1972 The Limits to Growth report by Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows, Jorgen Randers, and William Behrens. The book and its dire forecasts were introduced to the world at a March 1972 conference at the Smithsonian Institution. Let's focus primarily on the report's nonrenewable resource depletion calculations. The 1973 oil crisis was widely taken as confirming the book's dire scenarios projecting imminent nonrenewable resource depletion.

    By the way, one of the cited authors, Dennis Meadows, was a longtime professor at the University Near Here, now emeritized. In the interest of equal time, here's a recent interview he gave to a sympathetic interviewer. I think Bailey's more on target here, but see what you think.


  • Should we ban despicable opinions? Jaff Jacoby looks at one of the most despicable ones: It's a mistake to ban Holocaust denial. Having a number of Holocaust victims in his family tree, you couldn't much blame him if he thought otherwise. But:

    As an American, I cherish the First Amendment and the principle of unfettered expression it embodies. To ban something as odious as Holocaust denial may seem a modest price to pay to maintain a minimal level of social hygiene. Who is harmed, after all, if scurrilous hatemongers are forced to keep their malicious ideas to themselves?

    The answer is that we are all harmed. It's dangerous to empower the state to punish ideas — even ideas that are cruel, obnoxious, and false. A government that can criminalize Holocaust denial this week can criminalize other opinions next week. "If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other," wrote Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. in 1929, "it is the principle of free thought. Not free thought for those who agree with us, but freedom for the thought that we hate."

    That is the first reason Holocaust denial shouldn't be added to the criminal code. But it's not the only one.

    Emory University historian Deborah Lipstadt, recently confirmed by the Senate as the new US envoy for combating antisemitism, makes the point that such laws amount to intellectual surrender. In a 2016 debate at Oxford University, Lipstadt argued that "laws against Holocaust denial suggest that we do not have the facts, figures, and extensive documentation to prove precisely what happened." Never was there a genocide more meticulously recorded by its perpetrators while it was underway or more comprehensively described by scholars and survivors in the years since.

    Jacoby's bottom line: "You either believe in free expression for people you loathe or you don't believe in free expression at all."


  • And don't ask me for my pronouns. Leor Sapir has linguistic advice for his readers: Don’t Say “They”. He looks at some fundamental incoherence in the woke rhetoric:

    Start with the fact that what makes most transgender people transgender is precisely the fact that they conform to gender conventions—albeit those of the opposite sex. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders lists conformity to “stereotypes” as a relevant criterion for diagnosing childhood gender dysphoria. Federal courts have ruled that transgender boys really are boys, and thus deserve to use the boys’ restrooms at school because they look and behave like typical boys. If gender is an “identity” wholly independent of reproductive traits (of which there can be only two complementary sets), then there is no logical reason that there should be only two gender identities. Indeed, there would have to be as many gender identities as there are people, since each person’s way of expressing gender is unique and irreplaceable. As one federal judge conceded in a rare moment of candor, restrooms separated by male and female “gender identity” rely no less on stereotypes than does the conventional practice.

    This presents a problem for the notion of gender identity used by diversity trainers, academic bureaucrats, federal judges, mainstream progressive and LGBT advocacy groups, and Democratic Party leaders: that gender is a core, immutable, and socially valuable aspect of the human person. According to superstar academic and godmother of queer theory Judith Butler, gender is not an innate property but a system of social oppression that gains legibility through repetitious “performance.” “Gender identity” is a “regulatory fiction,” Butler writes. A girl who seeks hormones and surgeries to make her body conform to social expectations regarding the male sex is not being a brave nonconformist but “submitting to the norm of the knife.” She is perhaps even more conformist than her “cisgender” peers considering the pain she is willing to endure to “pass” within the traditional “gender binary.” Feminists and gay rights advocates have echoed this line of argument.

    But if you do ask for my pronouns, I say they are "it/it/its/itself". And I demand they be used, because we all need a laugh.


  • Amtrak delenda est. The Antiplanner looks at a minor money sink, and extracts the lesson du jour: It Takes Money to Lose Money.

    Just before the pandemic, Amtrak proudly announced that it lost only $29.5 million operating passenger trains in 2019 and expected to make an operating profit in 2020. Of course, that didn’t happen thanks to the pandemic, and what’s more, it was lying about losing only $29.5 million; its actual losses were closer to $1.4 billion, a mere 46 times more than it claimed.

    Now that Congress has flooded Amtrak with money in the infrastructure bill, however, the agency no longer even cares about whether its passenger trains come close to covering their costs. Like any good soviet agency, it recently released its five-year plan, and it projects it will lose more than a billion dollars a year for almost every year in the future.

    Needless to say, the billion-dollar-a-year loss is also a lie as it ignores the same factors as the claimed $29.5 million loss in 2019. First, it counts state subsidies to Amtrak as possenger revenues. Second, it pretends depreciation, the second-largest cost on its operating budget, doesn’t exist. Plus, the five-year plan reveals a third way Amtrak lied in 2019: it includes a line item called “ancillary expense,” which as near as I can tell includes costs that can’t be attributed to any specific train. This was $309 million in 2019, meaning actual losses that year were $1.7 billion.

    I've been invited to a wedding in St. Paul, Minnesota this August. Amtrak coach fares from Boston: $154, each way I assume. Flights are slightly more expensive; Google Maps says "from $223".

    But a flight takes slightly over three hours. Amtrak will make the trip in 34 hours and 13 minutes. (A four hour connection in Chicago.)

Bye Bye Baby

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This comes pretty close to "phoning it in" territory. It's not awful, just lazy and formulaic. I know, I know: what did I expect? It's the tenth book in the Ace Atkins-authored implementation of Robert B. Parker's Spenser series. And I guess Mr. Atkins is OK with Parker's name appearing large and loud at the top of the book cover while is own is relegated small and discreet at the bottom.

As long as suckers like me keep buying the books, I guess he'll keep writing them. [Update: wrong! See below.]

The story this time: Spenser is hired to provide security for Boston's current CongressCritter, Carolina Garcia-Ramirez. She's up for re-election, she's running against the guy she defeated in the primary last time around. (Conveniently, he's labeled a "chauvinist pig" early on.) She has also received credible death threats. Being a black woman, there are often vile racist and sexist insults attached. Some loon threw a cup of urine on her down in D. C. There's a white supremacist group, the "Minutemen", that seem to be acting suspiciously. There are also mob ties.

Fortunately, longtime buddy Hawk is free to help out. And eventually, Spenser's somewhat newer buddy, Zebulon Sixkill, comes in from California to assist too. The bad guys don't have much of a chance.

I'd say Atkins is about 90% of the way toward a faithful mimic of Parker's prose style. Not bad. He's a little heavy on having Spenser drop literary allusions into his conversations. Spenser utters "We'd be fools not to" once. And Hawk says it too!

Like the previous entry in the Spenser series, the book has a "ripped from the headlines, but fictionalized" feel. The Congresswoman Carolina Garcia-Ramirez is an obvious takeoff on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; she's even referred to as "CGR" in places. Her opponents are cartoonish, exclusively racists and sexists, mostly violence-prone. There's no indication that Carolina's anything other than a saint, crusading for the little guys.

Nothing particularly unexpected happens. The thrilling climax is not that thrilling. There's a possible setup for the next book. But…

Atkins' website announced the book this way: "Ace’s last Spenser novel hits stores today." Hm. "Last" as opposed to "latest"? Am I reading too much into that?

Update: No, I was not reading too much into that: Ace is done.


Last Modified 2022-04-25 6:44 AM EDT