URLs du Jour


Hope your Christmas was at least as good as mine. Which was pretty fantastic.

  • It's time for year-end chin-pulling! And, since the units digit on the yearometer is ticking over from '9' to '0', it's also time for decade-end chin-pulling.

    (We will ignore the quibblers who insist the decade won't be flipping over for another year.)

    Anyway, here's Jonah Goldberg: We just had a global super-decade! Why doesn't it feel like it?. There is no end to the possible pointing of fingers. But Jonah goes contrarian:

    This points to the problem today’s political leaders are most reluctant to discuss: us. Oh sure, plenty of politicians will blame voters for our troubles, but the voters they single out are the voters who vote for the other party. TV pundits will blame the viewers — of the other cable network — not the ones who tune into them. Writers will heap scorn on readers who read the wrong writers.

    We live in a culture that finds political power in claims of powerlessness and cultural strength in victimhood. The right thinks this is all true about the left and vice versa. But don’t you dare tell anybody that their side is full of whiners, too.

    Bad followership yields bad leadership, because in a market-based democracy the customer is always right. So we have one “change” election after another, driven by voters who don’t really know what they want beyond “not this.” Nearly every politician wants to claim to be a rebel taking on the system on behalf of the righteous victims who voted them into office; few want to take responsibility for the system itself. Congress is brimming with pols who are great at messaging outrage but don’t know jack about governing. Senators rail about elites as if being a senator doesn’t make you one. Presidential candidates — including the incumbent — insist there are easy solutions to everything, but “they” are blocking the way.

    That's a theme we've hit, directly and indirectly, for awhile now. Yes, the pols are fools and knaves. But who granted them their power? Uh…

  • A similar point is made by Veronique de Rugy, who asks: Was 2019 the Year of Peak Entitlement Mentality?.

    Looking back at 2019 is incredibly disorienting. The country is horribly divided. In fact, the president of the United States was just impeached along partisan lines. The government is running trillion dollar (and growing) annual budget deficits, even though the economy is doing well. Still, listening to many politicians and pundits, you'd think the nation is doing terribly and the government isn't spending a dime. That's 2019 in a nutshell.

    The economy is entering its 11th year of expansion. Poverty is at an all-time low; so are African American and Hispanic unemployment rates. The 3.5% overall unemployment rate hasn't been that low since 1969. The unemployment rate for women hasn't been this low since 1952. The employment rate for workers ages 25 to 54 is finally back above its pre-Great Recession level. Wages are on the rise, especially at the bottom of the income distribution. The stock market is on fire. Small businesses and many industries are complaining that they can't find enough workers to fill all the jobs they have.

    Bottom line: Would it kill you to show some gratitude? You literally don't know how good you have it.

  • At the (possibly paywalled) WSJ, Barton Swaim makes an underappreciated point: Capitalism Isn’t a ‘System’.

    In a recent essay, Time’s Anand Giridharadas writes that capitalism is on the run, and he’s jubilant about it. The Business Roundtable has announced its members’ dedication to maximizing “stakeholder” interests. Democrats are endorsing single-payer health insurance and the revolutionary Green New Deal. One serious contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, Bernie Sanders, is an avowed socialist; another, Elizabeth Warren, avoids the label but favors vast, debilitating taxes on corporations and the rich; and a third, Pete Buttigieg, wants to replace “neoliberalism” with “something better.”

    What’s odd about Mr. Giridharadas’s essay, and others like it, is that the reader is simply expected to understand how the word “capitalism” stands for everything allegedly wrong with the U.S. economy. It’s a “system,” a “conscious project” that has caused “economic precariousness, stalled mobility and gaping social divides” and developed into “the win-win ideology that has governed the past few decades.” But the details of this system must be too obvious to mention.

    As Barton notes, we fling around abstract terms (like "system") with abandon, leading us to frustration when (for example) our economic "system" isn't as amenable to our concious intervention/modification as our old Apple ][ computer "system" was. ("I'll just stick in this Z-80 card and run CP/M.")

    Another angst-generating word I've mentioned before: "problem". Yes we have massive social "problems". But they aren't the kind of "problem" you solved back in 10th grade trig class. Yet there are no end of politicians who like to pretend they have the answer key to our "problems". Thanks to their perspicacity, they'll simply apply their "common sense" solutions.

  • And we are on track to go see the new Star Wars movie Sunday night. I know it's wrong, but I'm kind of eager. But don't call me a nerd, because as Katherine Timpf notes at National Review: Calling Star Wars Fans Nerds Is a Speech-Laws Problem It Seems. She recalls the hatred she received for making fun of fans in years past. But now…

    Now, nothing on my current Twitter feed even comes close to the level of vitriol that I received a few Novembers ago. However, one person shared an article that shocked me even more than any of the murder threats or calls to throw acid in my face: Apparently, a British psychologist had actually, recently, earnestly suggested that what I had just said should be considered a hate crime with legal consequences.

    Dr. Sonja Falck (who, by the way, is also a psychology lecturer at the University of East London) made an appearance on Good Morning Britain on Thursday, and she sincerely suggested classifying the use of words and phrases such as “nerd,” “geek,” “brainiac” “know-it-all,” “dweeb,” “brain box,” “smart***,” or “egghead” to make fun of someone as a hate crime under U.K. hate-speech legislation.

    You have to ask if this is the final reductio ad absurdum that will put the nail into hate speech ban proposals. But I fear that we'll see more of the same in the 2020s.

The End Is Always Near

Apocalyptic Moments, from the Bronze Age Collapse to Nuclear Near Misses

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

I was inspired to request that the Portsmouth Public Library buy this book by a recent Reason podcast with the author, Dan Carlin. The library gave it a thumbs-up, ordered it, held it for me, and here it is. Anticlimax: I didn't find the book as entertaining as the podcast.

I was expecting something different, probably. There are no end of doomsayers predicting how some new invention, product, lifestyle, philosophy, etc. is gonna destroy civilization as we know it. Yet here we are. The doomsayers are always wrong, QED.

Except, as Dan Carlin points out, they've always been right. At least about those great, century-spanning civilizations that aren't around anymore. You don't see the Assyrian Empire making trouble, do you? Greeks? Romans? Please. And then there's the mysterious Bronze Age collapse.

Within a period of forty to fifty years at the end of the thirteenth and the beginning of the twelfth century almost every significant city in the eastern Mediterranean world was destroyed, many of them never to be occupied again.

And nobody really knows why. Carlin offers theories, aka guesses.

So are we really all that different? Maybe. History doesn't always repeat itself ("but it rhymes"). Still, it says the betting odds should be against us.

Carlin looks at other stuff too. The nature of pandemics. The development of nuclear weapons, how we've flirted with using them. The ethics of civilian war casualties. (Killing noncombatants has gone in and out of style, and the method matters. Bombing folks from the air is seen as regrettable; but sending in ground troops to slaughter an equal number would be seen as an atrocity.)

Carlin has a very popular podcast, Hardcore History®. I think this book shows the difficulty in translating your talent in one field to another; Carlin's prose doesn't grab, and the book's diversity of topics seemed more like a lack of focus.

Last Modified 2024-01-23 3:13 PM EDT