The Kind Worth Saving

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

My bad: having been favorably impressed with two previous books by New England-based author Peter Swanson (here, here), I picked his newest one off the shelves of the Portsmouth Public Library. Without checking the Amazon page first, which would have told me that it's a sequel to his 2015 novel, The Kind Worth Killing.

Oh dear. Will this work out? Or will this be like reading The Two Towers before The Fellowship of the Ring? Nevertheless, I bravely muddled through. I made it OK, but I'd really suggest you read the Killing one first.

The main protagonist, Henry Kimball, is a private eye. (He has an unusual career path: ex-high school English teacher, ex-Boston cop, occasional poet specializing in rhythm-lacking limericks. He's hired by Joan, one of his ex-students, to investigate whether her husband is cheating on her. Pretty standard setup, although Kimball thinks there might be something else going on, and he engages in some pretty unprofessional behavior, but then… bodies. And some other bodies in flashback. It's a very dark tale that weaves in unexpected directions.

Minor gripelet:

[Click for small spoiler] Swanson gives two different characters the same first name, and it's not immediately clear that they are different characters. I thought that was a novelist no-no. But maybe it was intentional.

As a bonus for us New Englanders, a portion of the book is set in "Kennewick", a fictional Maine town based on near-to-me York. (Although, as Swanson charitably points out, York has "a lot less murders".)

Last Modified 2024-01-10 5:42 AM EDT

It's Banned Book Week

So I'm recycling this irritating meme that (I'm sad to say) that some people I love are pushing around:

[self praising bullshit]

If you would like to see what I wrote a few weeks ago on this, have at it. (And remind yourself of the deep irony of using a Dr. Seuss character as an anti-"banner".)

But I liked Abigail Anthony's take on the issue, and I'll spend one of my five NR "gifted" links on it: There Is No Book Ban-demic

PEN America, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting free expression, recently released an annual report documenting “3,362 book bans affecting 1,557 unique titles” in public schools across the United States during the 2022–2023 academic year. The report says that 88 percent of book bans occurred in Republican states, and “over 40 percent of all book bans occurred in school districts in Florida.”

The problem is that PEN America uses a ludicrously tendentious definition of a "book ban". Ms. Anthony ably dissects it. Her sensible bottom line:

The relevant question is not precisely how many books are banned. Instead, the question is what materials should be available to students. We can — and should — have respectful debates about what content is appropriate for what ages. But PEN America isn’t interested in those debates. The organization tailors its methodology to produce misleading statistics in the service of disparaging Republicans, while misrepresenting the books in question to frame their objectionable content as unremarkably generic.

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)
Not that it matters, but PEN America lists exactly one "ban" in the great state of New Hampshire: Body Talk: 37 Voices Explore Our Radical Anatomy by Kelly Jensen, Amazon image link at your right, standard disclaimers apply. This was "banned" at the Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative School District.

Excerpt from the Introduction:

Bodies aren't simply biological. They are radical tools. They are physical and political. They impact our mental well-being as much as they impact our social roles.

Body Talk delves into what it means to operate a body within a twenty-first century Western world, and offers but one perspective among many others around the world and throughout history. This book goes beyond puberty and beyond body confidence to bare it all.

Radical! Impact! Physical and political!

I'm not a book banner, my gut reaction when reading and typing in that excerpt is something along the lines of Oh, shut up. I have to ask: was this claptrap really the best choice on which to spend the library budget for the middle-schoolers of Wilton and Lyndeborough?

Also of note:

  • Help! I've been polarized! Elizabeth Nolan Brown takes a skeptical look at a belief that's quickly become accepted as gospel: Do Social Media Algorithms Polarize Us? Maybe Not.. (From print Reason, out from behind the paywall.)

    A safer, saner social media world is possible, former Facebook product manager Frances Haugen told members of Congress in 2021. Instead, she said, leaders at the social media company chose engagement over democracy, using algorithms that kept people glued to the site but also angry, anxious, and ill-informed.

    Haugen's diagnosis of the cause of our current political dysfunction (social media algorithms) and cure ("get rid of the engagement-based ranking" of content and return to displaying posts in simple chronological order) has become dogma for many politicians, members of the press, and would-be change-makers. Doing away with algorithms would also halt hate speech and misinformation, these groups insist.

    But more and more research is casting doubt on such claims. The latest comes from a collaboration between academics and Facebook parent company Meta, who set out to explore the impact of algorithms in the lead-up to the 2020 election.

    The comments are a sewer, but I got a chuckle out of: "Don’t forget Russia buying up all those ads so we elected literal Hitler. That had to have had an impact."

  • It can't happen here, except that it did. While the librarians are wailing about "banned books", Jay Bhattacharya tells us of his experiences dealing with some actual banners: American Pandemic ‘Samizdat’.

    Though it is hard to hear, the sad fact is that we are living in a time and in a society where there is once again a need for scientists to pass around their ideas secretly to one another so as to avoid censorship, smearing, and defamation by government authorities in the name of science.

    I say this from first-hand experience. During the pandemic, the U.S. government violated my free speech rights and those of my scientist colleagues for questioning the federal government’s COVID policies.

    American government officials, working in concert with big tech companies, defamed and suppressed me and my colleagues for criticizing official pandemic policies – criticism that has been proven prescient. While this may sound like a conspiracy theory, it is a documented fact, and one recently confirmed by a federal circuit court.

    We don't have to send dissident scientists to the Gulag Archipelago any more. We just make sure nobody can hear them.

    I'm thinking maybe that the folks at PEN America do not give a rat's ass about that. (I could be wrong. Haven't checked. Let me know if I am.)

  • And it got pretty warm indeed. Continuing in that vein, Matt Taibbi observes: Anthony Fauci Was America's Warmup Dictator. I do not have a subscription to his substack, Racket News, but the paragraph I can see is pretty damning:

    Exposés in Public and Racket this week showed Anthony Fauci engaged in the bureaucratic version of witness tampering, using a dubious “Proximal Origin” paper he helped engineer to divert attention from the possibility that Covid-19, too, was a viral Frankenstein’s monster. Apart from a few conservative outlets, no one picked up the story. How screwed up is the U.S. right now? The nation’s top medical official for years worked in public and private to stifle investigation of our worst health crisis, which increasingly looks like a unparalleled man-made catastrophe. He’s going to skate on it, because upper-class America is now so deep into mass mental illness that it’s more likely to make a sex symbol of corruption than punish it.

    And the subhed is pretty good too: "He institutionalized the purposeful lie, suppressed critics, mastered emergency politics, even sold himself as a sex symbol. Anthony Fauci gave the next monster a playbook."

  • "I've sold monorails to Brockway, Ogdenville, and North Haverbrook!" Jonah Goldberg with a non-paywalled G-File asks: Who Wants to Buy a Monorail?. It's pretty good takedown of utopianism, as manifested in…

    Barack Obama and his supporters sold soft utopianism with a lot of strong utopian rhetoric. There was a lot of talk about oceans receding, “fundamental transformation,” fixing our souls, and we’re the ones we’ve been waiting for. He even promised that we could create a Kingdom (of heaven) here on earth. I don’t need to rehash all the messiah talk about, and by, Obama—though there was a lot of it—because it was mostly that, talk.

    But his policies were suffused with all manner of soft-utopianism. “There will always be people in this country who say that we’ve got to choose between clean air, clean water and growing the economy, between doing right by the environment and putting people back to work,” Obama declared in 2012. “I’m here to tell you that is a false choice.”

    Now to be fair to Obama, he’s hardly the only politician to use this rhetorical framing. Bill Clinton (and Hillary) did it all the time. George W. Bush, too. The problem with the “false choice” framing is that it’s a false … framing. It dismisses the conventional choice of “either/or” and cheerily insists a “both/and” is possible. And it’s true, both/ands are perfectly possible. And they’re often desirable. Not always, but sure.

    The utopianism comes in when you say—or think or let others think—that there are no trade-offs in such choices. There are always trade offs. Always. Not seeing them doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It means you’re not looking hard enough.

    Coincidentally, I saw an example of utopianism on Twitter:

    Yes, "state rep". A woman with political power. In New Hampshire.

Last Modified 2024-01-28 3:37 AM EDT