URLs du Jour

2022-08-13

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  • He is large, he contains multitudes. Joe Lancaster has today's unenviable task of comparing what was said then to what's being said now: Trump pleads the 5th after saying only guilty people do that.

    New York Attorney General Letitia James has investigated former President Donald Trump and his real-estate business for over a year. The probe, conducted in conjunction with the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, began as a civil investigation before James announced last May that it had become criminal.

    Today, Trump was forced to sit for a deposition at James' Manhattan office. In a statement, he indicated that he had "declined to answer the questions," invoking his Fifth Amendment right not to be forced to incriminate oneself.

    The invocation marked a notable break from Trump's previous thoughts on taking the Fifth, most notably during the 2016 campaign: During a presidential debate against Hillary Clinton, he called it "disgraceful" that members of her staff had refused to testify before congressional committees investigating Clinton's use of a private email server. Days later, he told a rally crowd, "The mob takes the Fifth. If you're innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?"

    OK, that's pretty funny.


  • And for some local phoniness… we need look no further than my own CongressCritter, trying to get re-elected: Meet the Blue-Collar Guy in the New Pappas TV Ad.

    For decades, working-class White voters were the base of the Democratic Party. So it was no surprise that U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas, facing a tough re-election environment in a district rated a “toss-up” by political pros, made working-class men the stars of his first 2022 TV ad.

    Take the rugged guy rolling up the door at the auto repair shop in the first few seconds of the ad. He looks out at the city, ready for another day of honest labor and hard work in the shop.

    Now, take another look at him. That is actually Alan Raff, a white-collar attorney who works in a Concord law office and is chairman of the Manchester Democrats. He formerly worked in the offices of the New Hampshire Senate as a Democratic staffer.

    I think Pappas has cemented his lead among lawyers who pretend to be mechanics.


  • Is it time for Scientific American to change its name? Maybe Condescending Cosmopolitan would be a better fit. Jerry Coyne takes a look at their latest laugher: Scientific American finds the search for extraterrestrial intelligence racist and colonialist. (The article on which Jerry's commenting is here: Cultural Bias Distorts the Search for Alien Life.)

    In this piece, Scientific American author Camilio Garzón (it’s an article, not an op-ed) interviews Rebecca Charbonneau, identified as “a historian in residence at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, as well as a Jansky Fellow at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.”

    Charbonneau’s thesis:

    . . . .increasingly, SETI scientists are grappling with the disquieting notion that, much like their intellectual forebears, their search may somehow be undermined by biases they only dimly perceive—biases that could, for instance, be related to the misunderstanding and mistreatment of Indigenous peoples and other marginalized groups that occurred during the development of modern astronomy and many other scientific fields.

    Yep, Scientific American is rapidly descending to the status of a risible, woke, and useless publication. I used to read it avidly when I was a kid, but back then it was full of science. Now, like Teen Vogue, it’s a disguised way to propagandize its readers.

    That article's free to read, looks like. Victor Weisskopf's 1968 article How Light Interacts with Matter remains hidden behind the paywall.


  • Something I've wondered about a lot. Astral Codex Ten checks out the evidence for and against an old saw: Will Nonbelievers Really Believe Anything?

    There’s a popular saying among religious apologists:

    Once people stop believing in God, the problem is not that they will believe in nothing; rather, the problem is that they will believe anything.

    Big talk, although I notice that this is practically always attributed to one of GK Chesterton or CS Lewis, neither of whom actually said it. If you’re making strong claims about how everybody except you is gullible, you should at least bother to double-check the source of your quote.

    Still, it’s worth examining as a hypothesis. Are the irreligious really more likely to fall prey to woo and conspiracy theories?

    ACT finds a complex relationship at work.

    I'd word the issue slightly differently. Even non-religious folk adopt the epistemic habits of the religious: "belief" instead of "knowledge". This can get downright silly, back in 2013, I was gobsmacked when the University Near Here trotted out a new (expensive) logo. Reaction was mixed, but they found a sucker young person who came to the light: "I Believe in the New Logo!" she (I'm pretty sure it was a "she") preached to the unwashed.

    Reader, they had an "I Believe in UNH" category at Giphy. And there were chants at University functions, much like religious revivals:

    Well, you gotta believe in something. If not God, there will be all sorts of hucksters offering you alternatives.

Find You First

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Corollary to the famous Chekhov's Gun rule: If you put a Winnebago on the top floor of a Manhattan brownstone in Chapter Six, it won't just be sitting there in Chapter Sixty-Seven.

Slight spoiler there, sorry.

This book made the WSJ reviewer's list of Best Mysteries of 2021, and it's not bad, especially if you're looking for a mindless vacation read. I was unaware of the author, Linwood Barclay, until now; shows what I know. According to the book cover, he's a "New York Times Bestselling Author", and he has over two dozen books to his credit. I thought his prose went a little heavy on the clichés and unlikely plot twists and devices. (Like the Winnebago ex Machina.) But more power to him.

It opens with the cold-blooded murder of a phone scammer by an efficient pair of hired killers. Then jumps to a doctor's office where a tech billionaire, Miles Cookson, is getting some bad news about a debilitating genetic disease that will kill him in the not too distant future. As it turns out, he donated sperm decades ago, and is now worried that he's provided a death sentence for a bunch of unknown offspring!

But it turns out they're already being killed by those thugs. Hm. Who's behind that? And can Miles (along with a foul-mouthed waitress he picks up along the way) figure things out before it's too late? Or at least before the body count rises much higher?

Lots of fun, surprising twists.


Last Modified 2022-08-13 10:42 AM EDT