What I’ve been reading

1. Ian McEwan. The Children Act.  The main story line pretends to revolve around a Jehovah’s Witness who won’t take a blood transfusion, but I think it was meant as a book about Islam and he was afraid to say so.  The resulting mix doesn’t quite work.

2. Arundhati Roy and John Cusack, Things That Can and Cannot Be Said, Daniel Ellsberg and Edward Snowden are part of the book too.  The two main authors conversing with Snowden is in fact the strongest argument against Snowden I’ve seen.  Maybe he is just being polite, but it’s the only time I’ve heard him sound like an idiot.

3. Helen Hardacre, Shinto: A History.  I’ve read only about a fifth of this 720 pp. book, but it seems to be a highly useful history on a topic hardly anyone knows anything about.

4. Daniel Ellsberg, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers.  Compelling throughout, and worthwhile reading for anyone interested in media and media policy.  Ellsberg, of course, was closely connected to Thomas Schelling and made significant contributions to the theory of choice under uncertainty.

There is also:

After Piketty: The Agenda for Economics and Inequality, edited by Heather Boushey, J. Bradford DeLong, and Marshall Steinbaum, is a very useful collection of writings on Piketty-related themes, including Solow and Krugman.

Nathan B. Oman, The Dignity of Commerce: Markets and the Foundations of Contract Law.  An interesting blend of “moral foundations of capitalism” and analysis of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice.

Shahab Ahmed, Before Orthodoxy: The Satanic Verses in Early Islam, “…the early Muslim community believed almost universally that the Satanic verses incident was a true historical fact.”


Are Jehovah's Witnesses much like Muslims?

What non-Islamic sect is most like Islam but still unlikely to make you into the new Salman Rushdie if you write a novel about them?

Maybe some Middle Eastern ultra-Orthodox Jews could serve as a nonviolent stand-in for Muslims in Ian McEwan's next novel?

For background, here's Zev Chafets' great NYT article "The Sy Empire" on the 75,000 Syrian Jews of Brooklyn:


But Ian McEwan doesn't sound too Jewish and its hard these days to get away with writing about Jews if you don't have a name like Zev Chafets (who used to be Menachem Begin's press secretary).

So I guess it will have to be more Jehovah's Witnesses for poor Ian.


There is a latent millennialist tendency in a lot of protestant sects. They certainly played a role in provoking the American civil war and America's entry into WWI. Could happen again if the elites decided they wanted it to happen. The tendency certainly still exists in our college campus social justice crusaders.

The LDS church mostly only gets vindictive about internal criticism.

Never mind Cowen, the book is actually quite good. Though the scene with the drone attack on the Witness citadel was perhaps a little overwrought.

Modern Progressives strongly resemble Islam. The denial of physical reality, the obsession with public morality, the intolerance. One of the things a lot Bernie voters have been struggling with is that we don't have a place in this weird new religion. We used to think of ourselves as mainstream liberals and now we are on the outside wondering what happened. We're the animals looking in at the pigs partying with the farmers.

Good stuff here. I've been reading a bunch of non-fiction too, as usual, but I'm stepped out of my comfort zone and am reading the fictional classic "Murder on the Orient Express" by A. Christie. I'm not even half way through yet, but I think--and I could be wrong, don't spoil it--the Greek doctor did it. He seems too overly 'shocked' by everything the detective says...

Why didn't Oman include "Moral" in the title of his book (as in "the Moral Foundations of Contract Law")? I wish my professor in the first year contracts course had given us the moral foundations for the elements of a contract (offer, acceptance, consideration, etc.). The way it was presented was more like a mathematical equation (1 + 1 = 2). For those who didn't attend law school, think Professor Kingsfield (who taught contract law) in The Paper Chase, but rather than terrifying the first year students with the Socratic Method, he terrifies them with lessons in morality, in much the way a preacher terrifies his flock from the pulpit. As an example (Ray), consider promissory estoppel, a very dry term for what is very much a moral rule (promissory estoppel enforces a promise even though all of the elements of a "contract" are not present).

"For those who didn’t attend law school"

The ignorant schleps that finance the lifestyles of the secular priests that suck their blood.

No "Art of the Deal"?

I might be the only MR reader who is actually reading "The Complacent Class."

I meant to red it, but I have become too much complacent to actually do it.

Does it really sound interesting compared to everything else one could be reading?

After Piketty: Cowen understates the importance of excessive inequality on growth and financial and economic instability (and complacency), but it's understandable: support for redistributist polices is almost nil (as he points out in his book). The kind of redistributist policy Cowen likely favors isn't discussed in polite company; instead, it's alluded to in euphemisms (or in Straussianisms to make my point in language regular readers of this blog will understand).

Could you say more about what you mean by "argument against snowden"? I am nearly certain he exists, idiot or not.

I also didn't understand what was meant here. And its not clear to me which gentleman is the "he" who maybe being polite.

That Ian McEwan novel sounds almost suspiciously like an old episode of Babylon 5.

"Shinto": "but it seems to be a highly useful history on a topic hardly anyone knows anything about."

I think you want to say "hardly anyone in *the West* knows anything about."

Educated Japanese know a lot about Shinto.

Inequality is not necessarily inequity.

RE: Shinto.

Podcast to follow?

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