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Friday, January 28, 2011

In memoriam

Farewell to JR Minkel, friend, colleague and science writer whose work I long admired.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Financial book watch

Current reading: Crash of the Titans: Greed, Hubris, the Fall of Merrill Lynch, and the Near-Collapse of Bank of America, by Greg Farrell. Quite interesting. I'll likely have some discussion of this book down the road.

Recent reading: Exorbitant Privilege: The Rise and Fall of the Dollar and the Future of the International Monetary System, by Barry Eichengreen, whose work I've touched on here and here. This book is a well-reasoned and well-informed look at a subject that often generates poorly reasoned and poorly informed commentary. One worthwhile review is at The Economist.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

SOTU note

I hope to weigh in on the State of the Union address at FrumForum this evening.

UPDATE: "Frumicide"! Thanks, Rush. FrumForum couldn't buy that kind of publicity. Also, Live Chat will be here.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Omega Theory

I'm pleased to note that Mark Alpert, friend and colleague from past work at Scientific American, and author of Final Theory, has written a second science-oriented novel: The Omega Theory.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Bob Barr in Haiti

During the 2008 campaign, I had the pleasure of debating the dubious merits of Bob Barr's quixotic Libertarian candidacy in Barr's presence, as part of the now-defunct Debates at Lolita Bar. I said some fairly critical things about Barr, including a wisecrack about shaving cream that may have been a step beyond the proper decorum in speaking to and about a former congressman. I recall suggesting that his candidacy would be a springboard into future success in talk radio and the speaking circuit. What I never imagined is that Barr would resurface as a representative for the infamous Haitian dictator "Baby Doc" Duvalier upon the latter's return to Haiti. How that squares with any kind of libertarianism I don't presume to guess. (Via LGF.)

Friday, January 14, 2011

A moment for contemplation

Posting can be expected to continue to be light (barring any sudden moves by my co-bloggers) as I catch up on various personal and professional matters. Thanks for visiting. This photo was taken in the excellent Patan Museum in Nepal in 2009.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A belated word on rhetoric

I watched the news about the Arizona shootings this weekend with horror, which gradually shaded into disgust upon seeing the political point-scoring back-and-forth that followed. Being too busy with personal responsibilities, I didn't have the luxury of writing any quick-response piece, which also gave me some additional time to think about what I might write. I note as background that I wrote a piece in May titled "Conservatives Aren't 'At War' With the Left," which argued against martial or violent-sounding rhetoric partly on the following basis:
It’s inflammatory. If you’re at war, the way to win is by killing the enemy. If you’re in a nonviolent political contest or conflict, the way to win is by out-debating, out-voting, out-organizing and outsmarting your opponent. It’s always possible some nut will take the “we’re at war” business too seriously and then the purveyors of that rhetoric will disavow that they had anything violent in mind. But it’s better not to blur the distinction in the first place.
Watching the Arizona political aftermath, I'm struck by (1) how eager some on the left were to place blame for this shooting onto Sarah Palin or other conservative politicians, regardless of the absence of any evidence of any connection between their rhetoric and the shooter's actions; and (2) how stalwart some conservatives, such as my friend John Guardiano, remained in asserting that the right's rhetoric has been appropriately hard-hitting, and that the only thing to worry about here is how disapproval of same can erode free speech.

And of course, a few months ago, when a hostage-taker turned out to be a fan of Al Gore-style environmentalism, the political sides arrayed themselves differently.

Here is my suggestion: Don't judge a piece of political rhetoric, or any form of speech actually, by how an insane person might misconstrue it. Judge it by whether it's reasonable and valuable in and of itself. To my mind, Sharron Angle's "Second Amendment remedy" comment was despicable precisely because you don't have to be insane to see it as an incitement to violence. Palin's target map and "reload" tweet I put in a different category as they were clearly metaphorical*; they are not incitements to violence but they do reflect her angry, resentful, base-pandering style of leadership -- which as David Frum points out she had (and blew) a tremendous opportunity to rise above following the shooting.
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* - Unlike, incidentally, the "we're at war"-type statements by various conservatives that I criticized last May.

UPDATE: John McQuaid writes "On Political Madness," and links to the above here.

UPDATE: Interested in reading McQuaid's piece in Swedish? It's here.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Denise Silber, chevalier

Heartfelt and proud congratulations to my sister, Denise Silber, who is to be awarded the Legion of Honor -- France's most prestigious civil decoration! This is for her professional work in bringing the Internet and social media to bear on improving health care in France and internationally, under such rubrics as eHealth and Health 2.0. La L├ęgion d'honneur, in which Denise will take on the grade of chevalier, is a distinction not often bestowed on non-French citizens (Denise is a U.S. citizen living in Paris). The announcement is here.