Your own NYT column

November 15, 2021 • 9:15 am

Again there is little news to dissect, analyze, or critique today, and I haven’t seen anything comment-worthy for a few days.  But after I read a few lame columns in The New York Times and Washington Post, I thought, “It would be great to do a column for them.”  Of course that will never happen, but I realized that everyone must have a column in them (yes, Hitchens said that about books: “everyone has a book in them, and that’s where it should stay”).

So here is a question for you:

The New York Times has given you 1000 words to write an op-ed column on a topic of your choice. You get one shot. What would you like to tell the readers?

We’re assuming it will be accepted pretty much as is, and will be lightly edited for style but not substantively altered.

This is a tough one. You could write on a current event or stuff happening lately, or you could write a more general column, like Charles Blow’s column today on “colorism.”  Remember, you are trying to change people’s minds.

My first thought was to write about atheism—or rather, the proposition that “faith is not a virtue”. The topic would be the advantage to you and to society of adopting an empirical attitude, so that your opinions, insofar as they purport to be based on facts, are indeed based on empirically verifiable facts.

I wrote a piece for Slate along these lines some time ago, but that was intended to distinguish religious faith from the colloquial way people say they have “faith in science” or “faith in my doctor”, which are really “confidence based on experience.”  This time I’d like to describe why faith, construed as belief without evidence, is not a virtue but a vice.  As I say in the last sentence of Faith Versus Fact, “Above all, I’ll have achieved my aim if, when you hear someone described as a ‘person of faith’, you see it as criticism rather than praise.

I suppose this was inspired by Tish Harrison Warren’s repeated osculations of the rump of Anglicanism in her weekly NYT column, in which she makes assertions with no facts behind them.  There is never a column calling out this kind of palaver.  I make no pretense that I’d say something that others haven’t said before, but my view is that the more people decry faith and religion publicly, the faster it will disappear. The problem would be that I’d have to defuse counterarguments (e.g., “religion isn’t based on facts but is a big metaphor”), with not much space to do so.

But I digress. What would you write on, and why?

90 thoughts on “Your own NYT column

  1. “The Post-NYT Era Has Arrived.”

    Or, in case “Post” is too suggestive of the Washington Post,

    “News After the NYT”

    1. Or maybe too suggestive of Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post, tabloid home of HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR-style headlines. 🙂

        1. I wouldn’t have bothered posting what I found about this, except that some things are just too uncanny:
          Apparently the full headline was “Welfare Mom Axes 8 Kids, Self in Satanic Ritual” that ran on an episode of Fox’s A Current Affair back in 1988 when Maury Povich was hosting it (in New York, so half a point.). This is alluded to in a snarky letter to the editor of Spy Magazine which is archived in pdf format and which I can’t link or snip. But the weird part is that another letter on the same page quotes some guy called Donald Trump as predicting that Spy wouldn’t be around in a year. (He was wrong.) (I’m aware that Mr. Trump was no stranger to the pages of Spy.)

          He was haunting us even then.

          1. Gahhhh…. – Vinnie’s got some writing skills, that’s a fact!…. which kind of writing skill, I’m not sure!

  2. I would write a rant about tribalism.

    I would say that, if someone of a left-wing bent cannot see some good and good motivations in right-wing attitudes (the “some” is important there), then the fault is with them.

    Similarly, if someone of a right-wing bent cannot see some good and good motivations in left-wing attitudes, then the fault is again with them.

    There is good in both left-wing and right-wing attitudes, and that’s why we need a tensioned balance between them. Though people can legitimately differ a lot on where the optimal balance is.

    Anyone disagreeing is way too tribal. 🙂 [Note, the above is not about far-right or far-left attitudes.]

    1. Yes, I think it’s fair to say it’s a question of degree. However, in my judgment, while there’s certainly some measure of authoritarianism and crazy on the left, it’s infinitely worse on the right. The authoritarianism and crazy on the left is at the margin, while the crazy on the right is stretches all the way to the top. By way of example, the so-called “squad” on the left (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, et al.) is virtually powerless, while the right has managed to install an ignorant, egomaniacal, misogynistic, xenophobic, jingoistic, fascist, con-man as President of the United States. Unfortunately, the existence of some degree of crazy on the left allows those on the right to continually point and exclaim: “See, the left is just as bad!”

      1. I’ve seen elsewhere in the news that some Kansas anti-vaxxers are sporting yellow Stars of David, comparing their lot to that of the Jews in the Holocaust.

      2. I agree.

        However it should also be pointed out that in any other ‘western’ country, it seems to me anyway that AOC would be hardly more radical than what is regarded as simply left wing, maybe even centre-left. It seems to always be needed that USians be reminded that their general political attitudes are centred very far into what they would call conservative. Whereas in many cases it is more more like nutcase religiosos and/or gun crazies and/or women haters and/or nazi white supremicists, racists, etc.

        This is not to say the equivalent social ignorance never occurs in other western countries; I’m speaking of the numbers. Maybe I’m ‘dreaming in technicolor’, but where else would you get 70 or 80 million voters (proportionately adjusted) who’d go out right now and vote again for the perpetrators of Jan. 6 (to restrain myself to polite language)?

        1. In terms of many policies, yes. Same for Bernie Sanders. I once compared his campaign goals with the current situation in Bavaria (the most conservative part of Germany). Essentially all of those goals have been in place in Bavaria for decades and no party wants to dismantle any of them.

          On the other hand, one can, and should, espouse liberal policies without being woke. AOC, the squad, and so on are definitely woke.

          1. As I see it, the biggest problem with AOC and The Squad is not so much their issue positions but that they seem to think that they have some sort of mandate to execute it. They are so convinced of the righteousness of their positions that they don’t bother trying to convince anyone of them and ignore the fact that they aren’t mainstream here in the US.

      1. I’ve had this same problem off and on over the last few months. I use the WP Reader app on my phone most of the time, and I’ve found that if I use the Reader to post or comment (as I’m doing now), I have to stay on the page when the comment is submitted to make sure it sticks on the server, I guess, or else it disappears into cyberspace. Do you use the Reader?

    2. I agree with what you say here, but it doesn’t address a serious problem that we have, here in the US at least. The political party, and I mean the politicians and their operatives, of the right no longer has any good intentions or motivations with respect to fulfilling any duty to work for the best interests of their constituents. Even those that vote for them. Sure, there are the occasional individual politicians among the RP that on occasion exhibit an evidently honestly held good attitude about something with apparently good intentions. Sometimes they even use it for good and honestly held intentions. But their numbers are insignificant compared to the RP as a whole.

      And while there are certainly politicians and operatives from the left political party, the Democrats, that likewise don’t have any good attitudes or intentions to speak of, such are relatively rare. There is a very real imbalance here between the 2 parties. One party has completely abdicated what is supposed to be their duty to the people while the other, though riddled with plenty of the usual negative things political parties usually are, has not. If we keep putting too much effort into both sides arguments and ignoring or downplaying this very significant difference we are going to devolve into a banana republic.

      You can claim I’m biased, you can claim I’m too tribal, but of course I disagree. I’ve never been registered as a Democrat and have no particular loyalty to that or any political party, and there is plenty of solid evidence to back up my view here. For one example, all of the polls that show that when stripped of any hints of political affiliation even the majority of Republican voters agree with many of the things the Democratic Party have done and are trying to do. And yet the opposite is not true. The problem is that the Republican Party has run such a successful maskirovka against its own constituents, for many years, that they manage to get them to do things like vote RP in order to crush Obama Care, even though they love this new ACA stuff and please don’t take it away. They’ve been so successful at it that they’ve even half convinced IP and DP constituents on much of their agenda. For example the pure evilness of Hillary Clinton.

      I keep hearing the claim that the DP doesn’t address the working folk and until they do the RP will win. This is a half truth at best. The truth is the DP is inarguably better for the working folk, past statistics overwhelming show this, and the DP is always devising and trying to pass legislation that will benefit them. However, many of those working folk have been duped by a party that plays dirty and lies continuously to its constituents (and everybody else). The DPs problem is that they’ve never been able, for whatever reasons, to counter the RPs misinformation tactics. Whether they don’t want to stoop that low, or are too stupid, or too disorganized, I couldn’t say. That’s why I agree with Jerry 100%, James Carville should be put in charge of DP strategy and tactics. Though it might be too late already.

      1. I wasn’t really thinking of politicians or party activists when I wrote that. I meant, more, that we should all be able to see some good in the attitudes of the typical person-in-the-street who regards themselves as typical “right wing” or typical “left wing” (even if we then regard that “good” as out-weighed by other factors).

    3. Coel, I’d like to read your imaginary NYT article on the downsides of political tribalism. It’s an idea I’ve been thinking about for a long time. I worked as a nonpartisan committee staffer to a legislature for many years and my goal was to get a controversial bill to the point that it had strong bipartisan support before it left committee and our chamber. It was a game I played and I was on top of the world when it succeeded.

    4. You might want to write a series that would start with Good Faith arguments and conclude with psychological safety.

  3. Why race horses, skaters (roller & ice) & track runners move in widdershins. My theory would be that it’s because they are, most of them, right-footed. (with horses, two-right-footed). My thesis would be that this gives one kind of ‘footedness’ an advantage of the other; & demands that a major reform toward equity be made: vary the direction to half-clockwise, half the time.

    1. Most horses are left-footed. Watch barrel racers. The cloverleaf loops can be approached either right or left, meaning that if you start on the right, you will have two left loops in the run, whereas if you start on the left, you will have two right loops. Riders train their horses whichever way is easiest for them to do at high speed. They try out both directions, and stay with the one which works best for the horse. The vast majority of horses go right first, and only maybe 10-15% go left first.


  4. I would try to write something to demonstrate that political and scientific beliefs are far less correlated with each other than many people assume. Pointing out things like the number of Democrats who oppose gun control, Republicans who are pro-choice, social scientists who conclude the IAT doesn’t measure implicit bias, etc.

    The goal would be to persuade the majority of readers (i.e., non-elites) that they have far more in common with other typical Americans across the political aisle than they do with the elites from their own political party. Of course, the ultimate goal is to persuade people to develop an aversion to political candidates who pretend to hold beliefs that imply a perfect fit with a political stereotype. Why? Because these people (i.e., nearly all of our top representatives in the US) are liars and it might be a good idea for us to minimize incentives for our representatives to lie.

    1. I’ve come to appreciate the idea Arthur C. Clarke played with in The Songs of Distant Earth, though probably not his own, that any politician that wants the job should be disqualified from consideration for it. Elected political offices might be better off filled the same way we select juries.

        1. Very interesting. Once I read that I did remember learning about sortition in Ancient Athens, almost certainly in one of my ancient Greek history courses in college. But I’d forgotten about it.

          After reading that site I found little to criticize. I can think of lots of arguments against sortition that would certainly by made by many, but I think they could be reasonably countered or addressed.

          One common criticism would be lack of experience for the job. However, many elected politicians, perhaps most even, don’t have any experience either. And what kind of experience do we mean? The ability to schmooze constituents? It would be a plus to not have experience at that kind of stuff. Experience at what should be the real work of our representatives, the stuff that matters? Like learning about a wide range of types of issues, being able to communicate and listen to others, and being capable of reasonable consensus? Those sorts of real concerns could, I think, be addressed much the same way it already is. Professional staff to inform, guide and even train the representatives. This of course has the risk that the staff could manipulate a figurehead representative. That is true but this is also a problem with elected officials, and we know it is possible to build institutions with checks & balances, and incentives, to control such problems, because we’ve done it before.

  5. I do not know what I might write about, but what is bugging me right now is this article, “The casting of non-Jewish actors as Jewish characters is causing controversy,” by Neda Ulaby, on NPR news. I frankly have no problem with non-Jews playing Jews – as long as it is equally acceptable for white actors to play blacks or Asians, always assuming that the portrayals are not racist caricatures. Or does “intersectionalism” apply to everyone but the Jews?

    1. I frankly have no problem with non-Jews playing Jews – as long as it is equally acceptable for white actors to play blacks or Asians, always assuming that the portrayals are not racist caricatures.

      I too have no problem with actors playing roles outside of their race or ethnic background. But my acceptance is not contingent on others accepting it. They can be silly if they want. I would point out their inconsistency, but I would not respond in kind.

    2. I don’t feel that actors should be forced to play characters of their same demographic – or that characters should be rewritten to match the actor’s demographic. It feels overwrought. When we consider decades of Jewish actors playing non-Jews, should Hollywood have held out for non-Jewish actors to play non-Jewish roles? Or should every single part have been re-written to make the characters Jewish? The same applies to gay actors.

      People are now so typecast that as soon as I see the posterboy gay actor, Matt Bomer, I immediately know that a great sci-fi show will have a demographic-themed (usually a trauma-themed) plot. And it seems like it is the same plot, over and over again. It is tiresome and contrived.

      I suppose the one case I would like to see more often: imagine if every Canadian, Australian, and British actor refused to portray a US American.

    3. Italians have long played Jews — and Jews, Italians — in Hollywood pictures. In the former category, off the top of my head, you’ve got De Niro in Once Upon a Time in America and Casino, and Joe Mantegna in Barry Levinson’s Liberty Heights and several David Mamet movies. In the latter, James Caan in The Godfather, Eli Wallach in The Godfather Part III, and Gina Gershon in several films. (Some might also include Tony Curtis –f/k/a Bernie Schwartz — as a Roman slave in Spartacus 🙂 ).

      1. I haven’t read Leo Rosten’s _Joys of Yiddish_ in decades. Wasn’t there a segment about all Italians being culturally Jewish?

        (I know, I know. My bad. No True Scotsman fallacy. Thanks for the correction!)

      2. Sure they have. But recently Bright Sheng got into trouble for showing Olivier as Othello and, I think, was reassigned out of the class. Not so long ago, a Denver theater company had to import 4 or 5 or so actors from New York so they could cast them as Asians; no white actors need apply. I am always deeply offended whenever I see Al Jolson in blackface, but that was a vicious caricature from another era. Olivier’s Othello was a fair representation of an African (tho I think not a Moor, but never mind); he was made up as a black, but he was not in blackface the way we normally think of it. Today, Alec Guinness would not be permitted to play a Japanese in A Majority of One, nor would Marlon Brando in Teahouse of the August Moon. It bemuses me that it is by contrast OK for Denzel Washington to play Richard III, Macbeth, and some noble or other in Much Ado about Nothing, but then he was not made up as white. As for Jews, the NPR piece was the first time I had heard of a controversy, but it reminded me that certain rules of Wokeness may not apply when Jews are involved. I think I shall stop here!

        1. Alec Guinness played Godbole in David Lean’s Passage to India.

          It bemuses me that it is by contrast OK for Denzel Washington to play Richard III, Macbeth, and some noble or other in Much Ado about Nothing, but then he was not made up as white.

          I remember watching a video of some guy saying that he would be pissed if James Bond went black. For him, that was the frozen limit 🙂 For me, I want to see Anne Hathaway as James Bond.

          1. Steiger played an Irishman (“Charley Malloy”) in On the Waterfront, a Jew in The Pawnbroker, a Russian in Doctor Zhivago, a Frenchman (Napoleon) in Waterloo, an Italian (Benito Mussolini, twice), and a redneck in In the Heat of the Night, among scores of other film roles.

            In my book, that’s range.

  6. A big problem is that there’s a major correlation/causation effect with NYT Op-Ed pieces. That is, having one on a topic shows they treat the topic seriously, but you can’t get the audience to treat a topic seriously merely by running one (selected outside the normal channels, i.e. a favor to the author somehow). Thus in this game, to have substantial effect, you’d need to figure out first how much the audience was ready to hear, which is probably much less than a writer would originally hope.

  7. I think I would push for proportional representation and ranked choice voting, while reminding people that they do not have to be locked into a two-party system. Being pigeonholed into one of two options and demonizing the opposition leads to people deeper into tribalism and not being able to empathize or compromise with opponents. I’m really surprised how long it took for political dialogue in the US to be this uncivil from both sides simultaneously. Usually at least one, if not both sides, were somewhat rational. I might also nudge people towards Jefferson’s Ward Republics and the idea that constitutions and borders should be re-evaluated and re-drawn every generation.

    1. Riffing on your ideas, I might write an opinion piece on the necessity for a new US Constitution, a new build, so to speak, Constitution 2.0 to upgrade our current bloatware Constitution 1.27.

      1. Well, 3.0. The Articles of Confederation were 1.0. The current Constitution is 2.27. (And why does everyone forget all of the Presidents before Washington? Samuel Huntington, Thomas McKean, John Hanson, Elias Boudinot, Thomas Mifflin, Richard Henry Lee, John Hancock, Nathaniel Gorham, Arthur St. Clair, Cyrus Griffin)

            1. Viewing them as 1.0 and 2.0 helps to remind people that documents and governments are temporary. The document is a work-in-progress, but it can also be rescinded and replaced. Sometimes structural elements of a constitution make it worth a fresh rewrite; it’s fascinating to watch how other countries go through the process every few generations. France is currently in its fifth republic (i.e. non-monarchy). I am not praising the French here; I am just saying it is worth learning from the experiences of other people.

    2. Anonymous, Sorry, regarding your noting of Ward Republics: last spring the NYTimes published an article on a recent study in disagreement with Dunbar’s Number, and a commenter described his own positive experience living in an 80-year old community run along what is similar to a Ward Republic scenario. I am glad that it works for that community; cynically, I cannot imagine most people in the US committing themselves to act as the majority of people in his community do.

    1. Likely most NYT readers know what we need to do to deal with climate change. They just don’t want to do it. Polls bear this out. It’s not greed of people personally or of the greedy old fossil-fuel companies and the Canadian tar sands. It just billions of people making decisions that increase their own utility even as they know that these impair the common good. They can’t help it because they know that other people won’t make the needed sacrifices and they then will be played as chumps. A collective-action problem, in short. Which is a political problem, not a scientific one. And if it’s an intractable problem, it’s not even a problem. It’s just a fact, like our own individual mortality. That’s the TL;DR version of the perhaps overlong piece here:.

      I enjoyed it because I like Viminitz’s style and for a philosopher he’s pretty funny. In case you are put off by the title, he’s not himself an AGW denier. He’s creating a milieu in which to make philosophical arguments.
      Note that it’s two years old. There has been a pandemic and a COP-out (The Economist) since he wrote it. But it helps to understand why COP26 was a failure and why even the disappointing compromises that were made will be abandoned, despite the ever-more impassioned pleas to do something..

  8. I would write on how the Dems are making yet another policy and messaging error by going after rich people and muddling their message on capitalism. The ongoing tweet battle between Elon Musk and Bernie Sanders and the UN is a good example. Although I fear that Musk will say something stupid soon, so far he’s done a good job of showing the flaws in the Left’s logic.

    Bernie has insisted that rich people pay their fair share of taxes but ignores that most rich people are following the law. If there’s a problem, the solution lies with tax and economic law, not rich people. Rich people should pay more in taxes but the way to get them to do it is to change the laws, not ask them to donate to the IRS.

    It gets even stranger:

    Elon Musk wants to know how his $15 billion in taxes will be used by the US gov’t

    United Nations World Food Program (WFP) director David Beasley, emerged claiming that even just 2% of Musk’s net worth would be enough to end world hunger. Musk responded to this on Twitter by noting that if the UN WFP could explain how $6 billion could end world hunger, then he would gladly sell Tesla stock to pay that amount. He also noted that the UN WFP should be open to open-source accounting, so that the public would be able to if the $6 billion would be well-spent.

  9. 1953 saw the publication of the Watson-Crick note on the structure of DNA; in 1985, Mullis, Erlich, and their colleagues published the definitive account of the DNA Polymerase Chain Reaction technique. This 32 year period brackets the tremendous advances in molecular genetics which have revolutionized every field of Biology, with major effects in medicine as well. During this period, the late-lamented USSR probably led the world in the sheer number of people with one or another academic degree in Biology. Yet the USSR played virtually no part in this revolutionary advance in the biological sciences, due to the politicalization that Biology underwent in the Lysenkovshchina. I would write a NYT column reviewing this history, which seems to have been consigned to the memory hole in this century, at least in the USA.

  10. My. I could write a counter to that one. Jefferson was such an idealist he pictured government only on the individual level. He hated federal government and as he became more delusional hated state government as well. Just move all government down to the county level or better yet, the individual farmer like himself. As long as we had plenty of land and slaves we would be fat and happy. His idea of manufacturing in America was three slave boys making nails he could sell. That was his idea of industry. Everything about the guy was a dream – we are all created equal.

  11. That the idea of secession is a bad one from any standpoint. That our economy is a national one, and that any portion would suffer. That our economy is also a global one, and leaving the United States would leave states without trading partners. That food production is too centralized, and starvation, especially in cities, is likely. That access to the coastal ports and the Mississippi are still strategic considerations. Even if the country was of a mind to let some states secede, conflict is likely over all these issues. Stuff like that.

    1. Dr. Brydon reminds me of yet another topic for a NYT column. I would submit one to remind citizens of the deep South of all the fun they could have by seceding from the USA (again). Were they to succeed in this endeavor, consider what the Senate and House of Representatives, or the executive branch in the 21st century so far, would look like without the contribution from states of the old Confederacy. There
      might be spots in the map that would be disadvantaged, but Atlanta, Austin, and Broward County could then secede from the new Confederacy and ask to rejoin the Union.

  12. My proposed New York Times column: “Twilight of the Republic”

    It’s been a good run, especially for the sort of insulated and privileged liberalism practiced by Times readers gazing out onto the Manhattan skyline while sipping a cup of sustainably grown coffee. Nearly 250 years have passed since Ben Franklin answered the question as to whether we had a monarchy or a republic with, “A republic, if you can keep it.” About halfway through, we extended participation in selecting representation for the republic from the original class of landholding white men to women, then another half-century later to not just black men but also black women. Spirited elections became something of a civic sporting event repeated every couple of years, with good-natured concession speeches followed by earnest handshakes and promises to work together between former rivals.

    But it’s a run that is now ending, as all good and fine things eventually must. A dozen different crises are looming just over the distant skyscraper-studded horizon beyond Billionaire’s Row, each of which has the power to dismantle the way of life enjoyed by what has been perhaps the most privileged generation ever to exist, anywhere or ever. There is accelerating climate change, of course, which will make that morning coffee unobtainable by most of the working stiffs who need it the most to get through grueling days of unhinged Karen customers who are not in fact always right, of management by algorithm, of the absurd paradox presented by never being able to afford to live in the same geographical region where one is employed. The storms and floods and smoke from distant wildfires will remind even those on the fiftieth floor that things are not quite like they should be. Crop failures, drought, and unsurvivable wet-bulb heat will appear not for them as displacement and a grim struggle for daily survival, but as noticeably higher prices for the same DoorDash deliveries they got a year earlier, except with Kale not available and the Napa cabbage wilted and brown.

    As Jesus of Nazareth was quoted as saying on a hilltop in the ancient Levant, these are the beginning of sorrows. The end is not yet. (Maybe I’d need more than 1,000 words…)

  13. I resonate with the comment decrying tribalism. As long as a person is not infringing on the rights or well being of another, each of us has got to be happy with a live and let live attitude.

  14. Title: “What would consciousness feel like if scientific naturalism were true? Just like this.” I’d go after the #1 intellectual source of woo, the fact about our concepts which David Chalmers calls the Hard Problem. Only it’s not a Problem, it’s just a fact, and one which any version of scientific naturalism worth a damn *predicts*. You can’t refute a hypothesis by pointing to one of its successful predictions.

  15. I would write a column on my most favorite pet peeve: Stop trying to find simple answers to complex problems.

    Face the reality that in almost any situation, there are tradeoffs, and need for constant reevaluation, and possibly adjustment.

    Dichotomous thinking is killing us.


  16. I would write about corporations not paying enough.

    I recently posted the following on a comment section in an Amazon newsletter workers have access to:

    I’m a corporate receptionist at Amazon – $19 an hour = $36,480 a year. A couple of months ago, I worked in the BSC/mailroom – $17 an hour = $32,640 a year. I live with 7 roommates in Seattle and pay $800 in rent. Yet, a fast food worker at Taco Time gets $20 and Dick’s Drive-In $19. A study by the University of Washington on the cost of living in Seattle: “single adult would need to make almost $44,000 a year to get by”.

  17. I would write a column advising readers to be critical when evaluating the wisdom of an article from whatever the source. In particular, I would focus on the need to evaluate the credentials of the author. Is the author qualified to write on the topic? Does the author’s argument seem rational? From what sources has the author derived his/her information?

    As some may know, the NYT has published in book form an expanded version of the 1619 Project. Undoubtedly, the controversy will be rekindled. This morning the paper has published a review of the book by Adam Hochschild. The review is generally favorable (what would you expect?), but my area of concern is with the reviewer. He is a distinguished historian, but as far as I can ascertain, not in American history. I cannot understand why the NYT would have selected him. Certainly, I would want to read a review by a person with expertise in the areas of slavery and race. In addition, I would want a reviewer that can make at least a pretense of being dispassionate.

    Another review in the NYT was a book by Noah Feldman on slavery and the Constitution. Feldman takes the position that the Constitution when drafted was very pro-slavery. The reviewer was Sean Wilentz, a distinguished historian that has written a book on the Constitution taking the absolute opposite view. In fact, Wilentz seems to be actively engaged in squabbling with those that don’t agree with him. A reader of the review would not be aware of this.

    1. This librarian underscores your points. In bibliographic instruction we strive to impart to students how to employ critical thinking in their reading and research: consider the source, determine the pretext, scope the context, think in shades of gray, beware of confirmation bias, etc. I’m embarrassed to say that it appears we librarians haven’t been too successful on this front.

    1. Steiger was not Jewish, and one of the stupider reasons for panning the film was that he was too big for the part. I am sorry that I cannot remember who was that reviewer.

  18. As a follow-up piece to most of the proposed topics, I offer:

    “Those Who Most Need to Hear This are the Ones Least Likely to Listen”

  19. I’m inclined to write on the notion of “datedness.” I read frequently here and there that this or that is “dated.” How much time must pass before something is “dated”? How doe one know that? Same with “eccentric,” “odd,” “unlikely” and “irrelevant,” locutions not infrequently uttered by NYT reporters and their MSM ilk in (putatively “objective”?) articles as if they were facts instead of opinions.

  20. I’d like to write (or read) an article that explains why Representatives like Taylor-Greene, Gosar, and Boebert (and there are others) need to be removed from Congress. I would argue that anyone who voted to not certify the 2020 election should be, at the very least, sanctioned and stripped of any committee positions. Members of Congress who promote violence as a means of obtaining political power or “owning the libs” (like Gosar’s snuff-animay depicting him murdering AOC and throwing swords at BIden) should be punished immediately, and this punishment should include expulsion. I don’t know the mechanisms for removing Representatives, so I’d have to do some research to make a compelling argument. So I think I’d rather have Ken Kukec write the editorial and I’ll read it. 🙂

    1. Yes, I agree. Any reasonably decent governing body would expel members that have behaved like Taylor-Greene, Gosar and Boebert. It is . . . ., disappointing to me that so many citizens can tolerate people like them being their representatives. Character and ethics apparently mean nothing anymore.

  21. Here’s an angle on faith that has bothered me forever. Might be worth a 1000 word essay.

    Why is it that “people of faith” are perfectly capable of sound reasoning on ordinary topics, such as how to fix a broken pipe or how to solve one of life’s innumerable, but complex problems, yet predictably stray out of the zone of reason when the topic is God? To me, the fact that they know exactly where to start parsing and equivocating suggests that they *know* that their precious beliefs are flawed. If they know their beliefs are flawed, are they dishonest? Or do their beliefs so thoroughly subsume them that they are blind to their own errors of logic. I don’t know the answer, but I think that both probably occur.

    1. My reply got lost

      “people of faith” is what you wrote, but what you describe suggests it is really “victims of faith”.

      Because anyone can be a victim of faith, as with disease. It is how powerful religion is, having grown unchallenged for centuries.

      1. Indeed, the power of religious delusion is great, yet a huge amount of discipline is required to create the smoke and mirrors at exactly the right times and places. How do those victims of faith (I like your term!) know to equivocate, dance, and wiggle in exactly the right places if they don’t know that their reasoning is flawed? They don’t do the wiggle dance when reasoning about other topics, do they?Wouldn’t they, if they had poor reasoning skills in general? If their reasoning skills are reasonably good, the fact that they predictably roll out the BS exactly when they need to suggests to me that they know what they’re doing, and that know that their beloved myths are just that.

        I wonder what conversations with believers might be like. Could they ever bring themselves to admit that they are purposely parsing? Or, even if they know they’re being disingenuous, would they feign sincerity nonetheless? I admit that religious belief is powerful, and that at least some of it is sincere. But is all of it sincere? I have my doubts.

        1. The concept of religion as a disease for which a cure will be found was put forth by Richard Dawkins and, naturally, the notion of religion claiming victims as a disease does. Put like this, the host of personal problems in this space melts away, as the victims are not to blame, and we ALL are subject to the powerful devices of religion.

          (I had a TL;DR of that in my “lost” comment which, in turn, was lost in the ersatz comment).

        2. Taking a moment for a small note on this tangent :

          The particular case of “compartmentalization”, exemplified by the great scientist Francis Collins apparently isolating the science domain from the religious, is in my view performance.

          Performance being a device of religion from its beginnings, of course. But I think for Collins, the performance is not even recognized by him as such – he just “rolls with it”, or something.

    2. I try to find out by talking to people.

      I think some are intellectually dishonest. I listen to Christian radio a lot, and the way they avoid difficult questions suggests to me that they are at least disingenuous. And I have spoken to people who, I think, deliberately evaded important questions. Perhaps to them, preserving their culture is the bigger, more important issue. It is probably similar to teaching a favoured version of history — to hell with letting historian do their job, we have to feel good about ourselves.

      An intelligent, weakly religious friend of mine told me that it felt good to believe, that accepting the flawed nature of their thinking would spoil their psychological well being. Even though he understands the flaws in his thinking, he retains a strong emotional bond to his religious culture. His family life is organized around his religion, so he has much to lose.

      Some people are not very analytically introspective. Being able to reason about a specific problem does not mean that they can apply similar reasoning to the same problem in a different guise, especially when it challenges ideas that are important to their culture. I know a medical doctor who believes in her religion because ‘modern science has not disproved it.’ But of course she believes that the other religions are wrong.

      It is not easy for people to identify and admit ignorance, even if it is the first step to finding out.

  22. I’d write about what would happen if Xi took Taiwan while Putin took Ukraine and the Baltics. And while Biden sat out both wringing his hands and wagging his tongue.

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