What I’ve been reading

1. Jean-Yves Camus and Nicholas Lebourg, Far-Right Politics in Europe.  A very good and extremely current introduction to exactly what the title promises, with plenty on earlier historical roots.

2. Noo Saro-Wiwa, Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria.  More or less a travelogue, but also one of the best introductions for thinking about Nigeria, and it does stress the different regions of the country.  Both informative and entertaining.

3. The Maisky Diaries: The Wartime Revelations of Stalin’s Ambassador in London, edited by Gabriel Gorodetsky.  Paul Kennedy called it the greatest political diary of the twentieth century.  One of the best windows on the coming and arrival of the Second World War, and I don’t usually like reading the diary form.  It’s also a very good look into how such an impressive person could be Stalin’s ambassador.  By the way, why is the hardcover about a quarter of the price of the paperback?

4. Peter Leary, Unapproved Routes, Histories of the Irish Border, 1922-1972.  Soon there may be one again, so I decided to read up on the background, a tale of Derry being severed from Donegal.  This informative, easily grasped book also has a chapter on the fisheries border, a sign of the imaginativeness of the author.

5. Joseph J. Ellis, The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789.  Ellis is consistently excellent as an author, and this book is best on tying the intellectual evolution of the Founding Fathers to the troubles of the Articles of Confederation period.

There is also a new Deirdre McCloksey festschrift, Humanism Challenges Materialism in Economics and Economic History, edited by Roderick Floyd, Santhi Hejeebu, and David Mitch.  It appears to be a very fine tribute.

Stephen D. King has a new book coming out on the reversal of globalization, namely Grave New World: The End of Globalisation, The Return of History.


I prefer Deirdre N. McCloskey's own words, as with this excerpt from Crossing: A Memoir -

'Before Deirdre there was Jane

The big event of that half week was on the way home from the East Coast to Iowa City. Donald had arranged to stop in a Chicago suburb for Saturday night, going to a motel to meet his crossdressing friend Lucy. Then they planned to navigate the parking lot of the motel next door to attend their very first crossdressing meeting.

The meeting was for the Chicago chapter of Tri Ess, the national crossdressing sorority, which Donald had joined through his Chicago BBS girlfriends. He had been excited for weeks and planned it like a military campaign, lugging from Iowa City to Philadelphia to Baltimore to Chicago a big suitcase filled with his outfit for the evening and his Philadelphia loot. He chose his Marilyn Monroe wig and a black crepe dress inherited from his wife.

Lucy arrived already dressed, and Donald complimented him, as women do: "You look great!"

"I found a cosmetician in my suburb who does makeovers on crossdressers." Lucy looked like a suburban housewife, not a drag-show star. Later Donald bought some dresses at the woman's store and had a makeover himself. The cosmetician's youngest son was a drag queen and competed in beauty contests.

Lucy got anxious and wanted to go, and Donald/Jane agreed as he struggled into the dress, a little small: "I'll come over when I'm ready. Zip me up, will you?" Better to go by myself, he thought. The probability of being read rises with the square of the number of crossdressers in a group. (One is "read" like a book, detected in the wrong gender.) The man on the street reads the least convincing one of a group and then notes that all these women seem large.'

At the risk of derailing the thread: " The probability of being read rises with the square of the number of crossdressers in a group." > Isn't this more O(n) instead of O(n^2)? But I'm not an economist ...

Nah should be O(n^2) because the crossdresser needs to know what all the other crossdressers are wearing, they can't just dress up independently. Every new crossdresser needs to compare themselves to the others in the group.

An excellent written example of a burgeoning psychosis.

How they have commandeered elements of civil society to reflect their psychosis back to them is very impressive. Unfortunately the push back is going to be harsher than it needs to be.

"Unfortunately". Oh, right.

Jeez, poor Stephen King. Sounds like he desperately wants the imaginary monsters and horrors in his books to be real. The end of Globalization* is happening and it means the end of all that is good and holy!!! Ooga booga!

I didn't see a description for the rising european far right either, but I can only assume it's talking about the islamification of Europe. I agree, it should be fought in a moderate, centrist manner, not like Wilders. Hopefully Islam can be syncretic with liberalism.

*As if international trade were ever going away.

"I agree, it should be fought in a moderate, centrist manner, not like Wilders. Hopefully Islam can be syncretic with liberalism."

Who knows? I doubt the Catholic Church planned to allow liberalism flourish in Europe or emancipating the Jews.

I'm certain the Catholic church didn't plan on liberalism flourishing - liberalism practically did not exist until the Reformation, which emphasized the individual's connection to God without intermediaries, emphasized individualism. That sowed the seeds for the Enlightenment. I don't think that the Enlightenment or liberalism could have grown on any other soil than on the Christian Reformation.

That said, it did not take long for the Catholic Church to embrace a lot of the Enlightenment (the Counter-Reformation, the Jesuits, anyone?), but by then the schisms were complete. Liberalism, valuing individual freedom, may not be a universal human value, and it may or may not be possible for some ideologies to embrace it. Marxism cannot. Islam might.

My point exactly. It might. We just don't know, the same way we couldn't know the Church would be able to embrace some Enlightenment elements. And whatever can be said about the role of religion in politics, I doubt most Americans would like to go back to the times of states' established churches.

Different Stephen King.

Heheh, oops. There oughta be a law!

From his other books, doesn't this one "see monsters" too?

I would like to go slightly meta on this reading list, and worry about how cultural momentum has surged to not reading, and to declaring everything not even read as fake.

A very good thread by Mary Crabapple:


Lots of good, but one bit:

"Students confused their own lack of effort or interest for researching a topic with "the media" not covering it. In a sort of bizarre solipsism, students confused their lack of awareness of something with its non-existence."

I think readers, especially critical readers who judge the fairness of articles paragraph by paragraph, are much rarer than they believe. A literate bubble.

"I would like to go slightly meta on this reading list, and worry about how cultural momentum has surged".

If the cultural moment has surged, why isn't there nowadays a Beethoven or a Shakespeare? Not only the arts have suffered, but even skills that were pretty common im the past - like reading a text carefully before commenting on it for example. People just don't have anymore the patience, the curiosity and the attention spam to read, they are addicted to their own certainties and confuse their own ignorance wirh the state of the knowledge in the world. They may even read only an excerpt of a sentencemof a text beforemdeciding they don't need to go ahead and engage rhe author's ideas. It is a kind of bizarre solipsism, if you will.

I think rule 43 is still valid, but rule 43 was invented by a curious guy, a guy who looked.

"Urban Dictionary: rule 43 - You can find anything on the Internet if you are willing to look for it long enough."

By anyone's personal definition of "a Beethoven or a Shakespeare" I am sure there is one, if you look. Obviously the reason I worry about this today is the new meaning of "fake news." I look and see people swearing not to look, not to trust entire regions of knowledge. They are a trend.

It could get worse. Maybe literate people should worry that in half a generation some sizeable minority are telling their kids not to go to libraries, because libraries are fake news.

Sure, rule 43 will still apply and the curious will have a rich intellectual life, but the incurious may still .. run things?

Part of it is simply bandwidth, or the personal capability of reading and grasping a wide range of topics. Instead of saying 'I don't know', you say the dog ate my homework, or the media didn't cover it.

And throw in the necessary specialization of interest demanded by a career. It takes a decade to become conversant in the state of the art of one's endeavor, another enforced narrowing of points of view.

It takes a remarkably nimble mind to become a polymath, a desire to be in the state of confusion that naturally comes when you say 'I don't know' and try to fix it. It is far easier to find comfort in a nice tidy silo of thought, especially since there are communities of those silos which reinforce the narrowness of thought all the while creating a sense of superiority over others who don't know. These silos are not at all silly, to become an expert in any field requires an extraordinary level of understanding and concentration. All that does though is reinforce the narrowing of focus and interest.

All this is normal and expected from a bunch of people whose brains are essentially pattern matching devices. This is another pattern to match.

That is a good comment, but it has to be paired then with expertise, technocracy. Maybe not everyone can be an expert in X, can they then trust experts who do commit time, possibly whole lifetimes, to X?

I don't think it is just false nostalgia when I say that maybe politicians were always b.s. artists, but they and voters expected wonks to handle the details. That seems missing now, part of a more fundamentalist world.

But that narrowness of silo thinking infests the wonk world as well. And finds it's most dangerous manifestation since they often either have or have access to those with the levers of power.

An example. Canada in the 80's hit the wall with an uncompetitive economy trying to support a high cost government. Lots of changes were forced upon everyone, mostly a rationalization of expectations and driving away of utopians from the public purse. One real and difficult issue was the increasing costs of providing medical care. Enter some health economics. Specialists who knew their stuff. Someone wrote a paper saying that the problem was an excess of supply driving demand, and the way to control costs was to limit supply. The desperate provinces grabbed onto this idea like a liferaft and slowed down the training doctors and nurses. An instant cost saving, and in a few years the effect was that the waiting list for a pregnant woman to get and see a general practicioner was 13 months. The economists came up with the idea of elective surgery, in other words something that could be put off without you dying on the premises. So as a friend experienced, a two year wait for minor surgery with the doctors orders not to work because that would make it worse.

The wonks were wrong. Not only wrong, but their wonderful experience and knowledge brought the vaunted Canadian health care system to the edge of collapse.

A very very similar thing happened with crime. It was univerally accepted by experts that crime was impossible to control as it was the result of root causes. Every time some politician would suggest better policing the experts would arise and say it was a waste of time. And lots of people listened to them. But they were wrong, wrong at the cost of thousands of wasted lives where good policing techniques could have saved.

You are decrying the lack of respect towards experts. I am decrying the lack of accountability that experts have been able to operate within as a corrective to the inevitable stupidity that arises. They would never do their cockamamie schemes if they had to suffer the costs personally and directly.

As some Georgetown professor the other day was bemoaning the lack of understanding when someone was complaining about their $1200 per month health insurance with a $12,000 deductable.

My personal experience with 'experts' is that they are common as dirt, and invariably will not take responsibility for their decisions, will cost far more money than required, and should really go back to where they learned and demand their money back. My experience with experts, real ones, they are few and far between, they know quite a bit, have broad experience, but are also very aware of what they don't know and are fully aware of the downsides and consequences of their decisions and are very careful. The first group tend to make the most noise, the second keeps the world working.

I think it is a sadly common view.

When a "bad wonk" is identified, many say "no wonks" instead of "better wonks" or "show your math."

Obviously on something like healthcare there are huge amounts of data, and plans can be modeled. If errors are found, or results are unexpected, plans can be re-modeled.

In industry this is called "continuous process improvement."

Society punted on continuous improvement, to do what instead?

Somebody tell me ..

No you are wrong. It is impossible to model a country wide health care market. Anyone who thinks it is isn't an expert.

I deal with these exquisitely managed companies and they cost me money, so I exquisitely manage my company so as not to be exposed to their idiocy.

I'll give you a piece of valuable information. In my industry the quickest way to go bankrupt is to listen to the engineers and consultants. The best way to stay in business is to listen to the people who have actually accomplished what you are trying to do. And believe me the engineers and consultants hate the people who have actually done things as much as they are hated in return.

I think you are wrong, that the meta-cycle of model, data, test and iteration is above, superior to, good or bad plans.

But consider your own endgame. Once you have rejected test and iteration, what do you have?

It sounds like pure randomness. Or worse, the mob rule by the incurious people we talked about back up top.

To tell a related story, I saw a tweet yesterday that said "lots of MSM stories on Norma McCorvey but none on how she became pro-life." I thought, really? So I checked the Washington Post and NPR, and sure enough they DID tell the full story. But here's the thing. Not only did that tweet's author not check very far, neither did the HUNDREDS of people who retweeted her.

There were always incurious people, but they never had this ability to form politically powerful networks. When we don't have experts, they are the people filling the gap.

Tyler - I know you've blogged about your approaches to reading before, but how much time do you actually spend reading each week? How much of that is 'deep reading'?

"Stephen D. King has a new book coming out on the reversal of globalization, namely Grave New World: The End of Globalisation, The Return of History."

Globalisation is not coming to an end. No one in power is calling for an end to global trade. No one in power is calling for an end to global travel. This is just shrieking over reaction. It's the Left wing equivalent to the fringe Right wing POV that Obama was converting America to a socialist country.

On the other hand, apparently Merkel is either delusional or, due to politics, forced to advocate a policy that's clearly harmful to her own country.

"Angela Merkel has urged Europe to take in more refugees and said Islam is 'not the source of terror'.
Speaking at the Munich security conference, the German chancellor said Europe has an obligation to take displaced refugees from Syria and Iraq.
Mrs Merkel, who has been critical of a U.S. ban on travel from seven Muslim-majority countries, also underlined that Islam itself was not the source of terrorism."


When countries start backing out of trade agreements on the grounds that previous trade deals resulted in some people losing jobs, then the result will be a gradual unraveling of global trade, so I don't believe the author is being hyperbolic. Because a trade agreement that results in zero job loss is a unicorn. One could do a benefit vs loss tabulation instead, but the naysayers adamantly refuse to do that. At the very least, trade between rich and poor countries will reduce, diminishing the growth prospects of the latter. Given that most of the world's population lives in poor countries, it will produce a lot of strife that cannot but spill over into rich countries as well.

As for globalization, it's partly about global trade and global travel, but it's a lot more than that. It's about international institutions that draw participation from all parts of the world. It's about establishing international norms that govern how countries are allowed to behave; I know this is anathema to nationalists, but everyone going it themselves has been tried before, and it has led to a lot of mayhem, whereas the past 7 decades of internationalism and globalization have produced unprecedented peace and prosperity. Think of it as a tragedy of the commons problem.

For practical purposes, it is possible that you're right about many things.

But you're starting with the assumption that if the stated reason to back out of trade deals is due to job losses, that the identification of the job losses was correct.

For example, most people who blame a job loss on NAFTA would have lost their job anyways due to other competitive forces or technological advancement in general. Incorrectly identifying NAFTA as the cause means that "solutions" are incorrectly targeted, and could even make things worse as a result.

Well, it's possible that these people would have lost their jobs anyway in the long term, but it's also possible that agreements like NAFTA accelerated the process.

But, politically speaking, this makes trade a natural scapegoat, and a winning issue for a populist candidate. The most pithy comment I heard about this on TV was that (I'm paraphrasing): the losers of globalization are hopping mad while the winners are singularly ungrateful to the system. Hence one side is politically energized while the other remains apathetic. The winners probably feel that it's their skills and virtues that got them their jobs (rather than a set of fortuitous changes in the job market), may blame trade themselves for job losses of near and dear ones, and feel afraid that "trade" could take away their jobs too in the near future (though it's more likely that the dismantling of trade will take away their jobs.)

The common man has never been a fan of economics (prefers to go by gut feeling), so is unlikely to be convinced by what economists say.

"it’s also possible that agreements like NAFTA accelerated the process"

I think that's a very defensible position. Probably even "likely" instead of "possible" for most jobs relevant to the situation.

Soon there may be one again, s

Not likely. The most recent MORI poll indicated that just 1/3 of the population favored a referendum on the border, that support for joining the Irish Republic among Ulster Catholics was below 50%, and that support for same among Ulster Protestants was below 6%. A poll taken pre-Brexit in the fall of 2015 indicated that about 66% of the respondents in the Irish Republic favored a United Ireland in the hazy future if not now, but only 30% in Ulster. You can get maybe 60% of Ulster's Catholics behind a project of departing the UK. The Catholic population tends to be concentrated in Fermanagh, Tyrone, the city of Derry, and the westerly portions of greater Belfast, so even if they were behind the idea with greater enthusiasm, there's a contextually large bloc of territory where they're thin on the ground.

Joseph Ellis is indeed a wonderful writer, and fortunately for us all, a prolific one too. It cracks me up that he's at Holyoke, one of the most intensely politically correct campuses in the US.

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