The Killer Apps

Sometimes our inventions change us.

Last night, the Beloved Spouse told me about a talk she had heard in which a neuroscientist said that she believes that gathering news and following social media on the internet, and even reading books on electronic devices, all have meaningfully different effects on our brains than reading old-fashioned newspapers and books. As we process information in new ways, our brains develop new muscles, if you will, and don’t develop other muscles.

This all sounded right to me: it is perfectly consistent with ideas about neuroplasticity that I had heard before – including the colorful example of a study of London cab drivers’ brains that showed that in the laborious and challenging act of memorizing the street map of London for their licenses, they had changed...

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Leading from Behind?

Here’s hoping that Jair Bolsonaro’s first official act as president of Brazil is to invade Venezuela.

As a result of twenty years of Chavismo (a word that, like Juche in North Korea, signifies a locally-flavored brand of militant socialism) Venezuela’s economy is in a state of total collapse. As with North Korea in bad years, starvation and disease are rampant. Venezuela has been less adept at making itself a prison than North Korea, though: over 2 million Venezuelans – roughly 8% of its former population – have fled to neighboring countries. Presently, about 3,000 malnourished people, many of whom are also diseased, are making it out each day – and straining social services in neighboring countries.

While the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela grows ever worse, senior members of...

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About Medicare

I recently had the great pleasure of spending a couple of hours with an old friend who is one of our nation’s foremost mandarins. It was no kind of official meeting, of course – I have no expertise or standing that is particularly relevant to his professional world – so most of our time was spent catching up on personal news. Even so, the policy matters that we touched on – not within his official purview, but about which he is infinitely better informed than most – were weighty, and provided much food for thought.

In the context of a brief reference to America’s budgetary problems – with trillion dollar deficits now routine and inevitable changes in our demographics making it certain that without drastic and painful changes to entitlement programs our fiscal challenges will only grow wo...

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It’s More Complicated Than That

I recently had lunch with a very close friend. We hadn’t seen each other in a while, so we lingered before even looking at our menus, and later over our meals, drawing out the get-together to something like an hour and forty-five minutes. We caught up about what each of us is doing, our families and our many mutual friends. We reminisced about things we had done together at various times long past. Until the last couple of minutes, we carefully avoided talking politics.

My friend didn’t have to tell me that he despises President Trump, or that he is furious at me for not doing so; we both knew those things from white-hot arguments that we’ve had over the last couple of years. What he did say, though, was that he had almost canceled the lunch, unsure that he could sit down with me giv...

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Private Civility/Public Incivility

One of the many ways in which I am fortunate is that I am often surrounded by people who disagree with the political ideas that I cherish most. When many of your closest relatives, friends and colleagues are on the other side on important issues, you learn to see people who disagree with you as merely misguided rather than, as is too often the case where such differences arise among strangers, as ignorant, stupid or flat-out evil.

I know that some of the people who are dearest to me feel just as strongly as I do about political issues, but have managed to arrive at the opposite conclusions to mine...

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Anathematization as a Strategy

Rather than engage in civil debate, Democrats increasingly make ad hominem arguments against those with whom they disagree. They have become the party of personal destruction.

Every Republican president is portrayed in popular culture and most media outlets as not just wrong on the issues – that much is assumed – but evil. Each one is literally Hitler, until he is out of office. Then they are ignored until they die or criticize another Republican, at which time their images are magically accorded some semblance of dignity. Also, most Republican presidents are stupid; that’s a given, too.

Republican Supreme Court nominees? They must be stopped – or, at a minimum, deprived of their dignity...

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A Squalid Affair

In 1675, a Swedish ancestor of mine named Catharina Bure, the wife of a prominent man who was feuding with Uppsala’s mayor, was convicted of witchcraft along with several of her friends; they were all sentenced to be burned at the stake. The court accepted the testimony of a woman who historians believe had been bribed by the mayor and some children who claimed that the alleged witches had transported them to Hell so that they – the witches – could be watched having sex with the devil.

Catharina was ultimately saved by a last-minute pardon from the king – thankfully for my family and me, since she and her husband had their children thereafter – but her friends had already been burned to death...

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Senatorial Insanity

I had an experience this weekend that may shed an oblique light on how we should think about the recent allegations against Judge Kavanaugh.

I was in a three-and-a-half hour bicycle race, on a team with five friends. Roughly half way into the event, three of my teammates employed a tactic that infuriated me. I was so angry that I didn’t stick around to talk with them after the race for fear that I would tell them what I really thought of how they had ridden. One can get pretty wound-up about a three-and-a-half hour effort.

When I later received a group-email from one of the miscreants celebrating the event, though, I felt I had to set out my perspective.

They all responded to my email, of course. They had seen the same sequence of events very differently than I had.

Don’t get me wrong, h...

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Falling Standards/Failing Students

The rot in our schools is far worse than we want to admit. To get a sense of how bad it is, a quick read of this post https://www.intellectualtakeout.org/article/how-colleges-are-ripping-generation-ill-prepared-students will give you an overview. The author’s (unimpeachable) data is drawn from the recently-released 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress (https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/), which should be a source of grief to one and all. Quoting the linked post: “Only 37 percent of 12th-graders tested proficient or better in reading, and only 25 percent did so in math. Among black students, only 17 percent tested proficient or better in reading, and just 7 percent reached at least a proficient level in math.”

Amazingly, most of these manifestly unprepared high school gra...

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Media Hypocrisy

La Rochefoucauld famously quipped that “Hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue”. True enough, but I still find that particular trait grating. Most people do.

I want to barf when I read the press’s endless encomia to Senator McCain, not because I hated the Senator – I most certainly did not – but because I’m old enough to remember when, during the presidential campaign of 2008, the very same media – indeed, in many cases the same people –  painted him as a Crypto-Nazi. At that time, I was contributing to McCain’s (sadly, inept) campaign and paying very close attention to how he was being portrayed.

Now they praise McCain for two reasons – that he hated Trump and that he’s dead, in that order...

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