Sunday, October 25, 2015

A few links of interest

Recommended reading: "Is Naomi Klein Right That We Must Choose Between Capitalism and the Climate?" by Jonathan Chait. For background, see my discussion last year of "Climate minus capitalism."

Also recommended: John Horgan's post "When Science Gets Personal," in which he notes that how much he likes people on a personal level is a factor in how receptive he is to their arguments. I don't claim to be immune to that tendency, but I've often felt divergence between agreeing with people and liking them.

And more: David Eagleman's TV series "The Brain." The first two episodes have been excellent. I recall first hearing about Eagleman a few years ago regarding his promotion of "possibilianism," which is an interesting way of thinking about the big questions. Plus, see this (unrelated but intriguing) rant by an anonymous neuroscientist.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Enemies, opponents, Republicans, Democrats

Back in the FrumForum days, I wrote a post: "Conservatives Aren't 'At War' With the Left," in which I made the point, which I still think valid, that it's erroneous and foolish to conflate domestic political opponents with wartime enemies. I'm reminded of it now by this thoughtful post by David French at National Review: "A Lesson for Our Political Aristocrats -- Jim Webb Puts 'Enemies' in Perspective." Excerpt from French:

Then along came Jim Webb:

 His enemy was “The enemy soldier who threw the grenade that wounded me.” That is an enemy.  
The makers of Lipitor, Wall Street bankers, health insurance executives, or people who exercise their First Amendment rights to defend the Second Amendment are not. They may oppose you on policy grounds. They may even try to stop your political career. But they are decidedly not your “enemies.” There are real enemies out there, and it’s startling that — aside from Hillary’s offhand reference to the “Iranians” in addition to “the Republicans,” “the NRA,” the “health insurance companies,” and “the drug companies” — none of the other candidates could reach outside of their narrow political experience to name even one.
Me: I agree, and am impressed by French's subsequent admission:
But lest anyone think I’m a self-righteous scold, I’ve got a confession to make. One of the worst things I’ve ever said was not dissimilar from Hillary’s response last night. In 2007, shortly before I deployed to Iraq, I was asked at a conservative event why I had decided to join the Army reserve at the same time that I continued my First Amendment litigation practice (mainly focused on college campuses). My response? “Because I think the two greatest threats to the U.S. are Islamic jihadists and the radical university Left, and I feel I should fight both.” 
That statement was horrible — spoken out of stupidity, foolishness, and ignorance. I hadn’t yet seen jihad with my own eyes, and when I did I felt deep shame that I’d linked my ideological opponents in any way to evil, murderous savages. So I vowed going forward that in my constitutional litigation and in my conservative writings, I would reaffirm my commitment to attack ideas, not individuals, and to never treat my fellow citizens as enemies — no matter how they treated me. Simply put, I needed to grow up, to get outside the polarizing bubble of my own ideological battles. Jim Webb did that long ago. He understands what true “enemies” can do their fellow man. His colleagues, sadly, do not. 
Me: It's all too rare these days to hear a pundit admit he was wrong, went too far, "needed to grow up."

As for the debate, I agree with the media consensus that Clinton was the winner as far as the Democratic nomination goes; the others did not make a case likely to persuade anyone who didn't yet agree as to why they should be the nominee, not her. If by some bizarre historical twist, Webb were the Democratic nominee, I would readily prefer him over the vast majority (and perhaps all) of this year's Republican hopefuls; and some of those hopefuls are sufficiently bad, that voting for Clinton over them is what I would do if it came to that (and I speak as someone who has been a Republican since 1983 and has never voted for a Democrat for president).

The GOP in recent years, and indeed days, has given me plenty of reason to continue feeling disaffected from my party. I even recently considered starting a new blog (working title: "The Fiery RINO") to comment on this election cycle from that disaffected-GOPer perspective. I've avoided doing that, on the grounds that I can't rationalize the expenditure of time. Yet.

Still, the Democratic debate, including the moment cited above, gave ample reminder of why being a fed-up RINO has not made me into a Democrat, or even an ex-Republican. Note to Hillary Clinton: Regardless of your noxious statement, and many flaws, you are not my enemy.

UPDATE 10/15: A powerful op-ed by Jim Webb the younger: "People are criticizing my dad, Jim Webb, for killing a man. Here’s what they’re missing." Excerpt:
This country has been at war for almost 15 years, and as I think about the ridicule leveled at my father in the past 24 hours, I can’t help but imagine what these same people must think about the service of my own generation. In their eyes, did we simply spend some kind of twisted ‘semester abroad’ in a place with plenty of sand, but no ocean? Or conversely, do they ignorantly dismiss our experiences, as they have my father, as those of cold callous killers?
UPDATE: "Jim Webb Just Dropped Out of the Democratic Race and Feels Great About It."

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Book note: A Numerate Life

I read an advance copy of this: A Numerate Life: A Mathematician Explores the Vagaries of Life, His Own and Probably Yours, by John Allen Paulos. It's an eclectic book, mixing math, autobiography and reflections on memory, storytelling and more.

One intriguing section explains why "Despite Normal Appearances, We're All Strange" by imagining a higher-dimensional hypercube in which people's preferences on various matters are charted. The result:
...if each of us has a score along each of the very many dimensions in a hypercube, then almost all of us will find ourselves to be a point along the edges of the hypercube; that is an extreme, abnormal point. Nobody except the hopelessly boring and banal live in the moderate, normal interior of the human hypercube.
Me: I'd be interested in constructing such a hypercube based on stated positions of the Republican candidates. Perhaps the upshot would be that George Pataki is "edgy" and could win. In any case, no one will accuse this book of being banal or normal, and I think it offers much of interest accordingly.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Book watch: Latchkey Murders, Mess

I attended a book party yesterday of my longtime friend Alexei Bayer (who's also a longtime columnist for my employer Research magazine). His new book is The Latchkey Murders, and it's the second in a series about a detective in the 1960s USSR. Alex's columns for the financial industry are here.

While at the party, I had the pleasure of meeting Barry Yourgrau, author of Mess: One Man's Struggle to Clean Up His House and His Act, and had a very interesting conversation about cluttering and decluttering. That's a subject that in one way or another touches the lives of many people. Barry and his book were recently written up in the NY Times: "A Hoarder's Tale of Redemption," and here's a column of his: "Clutter vs Hoarding vs Collecting."

Climate and blogging hiatuses

There's been something of a hiatus of blogging here, but this is worth a look (click to enlarge):

From The Economist's "leader" (what we call "editorial"):
The world is already 0.75°C warmer than before the Industrial Revolution. A recent study published in Science suggests that a much-debated hiatus in global warming between 1998 and 2012 in fact never happened: the cooler readings were caused by a switch to measuring ocean temperatures from buoys rather than ships. Another study, published in Climatic Change, another journal, finds that the statistical tools used to demonstrate the apparent slowdown were not up to the task. And though the science linking weather events to long-term climate change is still tentative, some researchers see the effects of climate change in the fact that July 2015 was the warmest month globally since records began. The year is likely to break records, too. This summer 47,000 people went to hospital after unusually hot days in Japan, and more than 1,000 died in both Pakistan and India during heatwaves.
Me: I'll be back blogging on climate and more in due course. UPDATE: Like many other people, my veering away from blogging has been driven to some degree by the ease of "microblogging" such as Twitter. If interested, see my Twitter feed to the right, or here.

UPDATE: Recommended reading: "Climate Change: Facts Versus Opinions," by John Horgan.