Discussion thread

September 21, 2022 • 1:15 pm

I am now officially debilitated after three nights of getting but 2-3 hours of sleep. The result is that I have no ability to concentrate, and stagger to work in the morning like a drunken man. (Writing the morning post damn near killed me.) But that’s my problem, and you needn’t try to solve it. Your problem is to see if you can cobble together a discussion. I am loath to subject subjects, but here are a few ideas:

The midterm elections are only six weeks away. Which party will take the Senate and/or the House? What about the state races?

On what issues do you think that both parties should be campaigning on? DId the Republicans hurt themselves by flying/busing immigrants to ritzy areas?

Russia went to increased militarization today, calling up 300,000 reservists to fight in Ukraine. Will that help Putin? If not, will he go to full militarization, or even tactical nuclear weapons?

Will Elizabeth Holmes get a new trial? If not, what will her sentence be?

What is the best book ever written? (“My favorite book” will suffice.)]

UPDATE: I’ve put my 2 choices answering the last question in the comments.

158 thoughts on “Discussion thread

    1. Putin would like that very much, but I doubt Trump could overcome opposition from the entirety of America’s political and military leadership. In his last term, he often failed to get his ideas implemented, e.g. when the military delayed troop withdrawals until he was out of office.

      He might still try to support Putin, but only out of spite. It’s the only motive I find plausible, unless he is even dumber than I thought.

  1. The Martha’s Vineyard gambit and similar … Brilliant! Perfect real-world exposure of the Democrats epic failure regarding immigration, at the same time exposing the excruciating perfidy of the typical Dem NIMBY hypocrisy.

    Only in the Democratic/Progressive choir is the outrage against the strategy going to resonate, and they are already fully enlisted in DemSong.

    This will damage the Democrats.

    1. Around a month ago, Batya Ungar-Sargon posted a video (available on YouTube) from The Hill on the problems, from a left-of-center perspective, with what amounts to a policy of de facto “open borders”. She contrasts the opinion on this topic of B Sanders in 2015 from that of B Sanders in 2022; this has everything with the elimination by the “wokerati” of considerations of class for an ideology based on identity (racial, sexual, etc).

    2. “Brilliant”? Human trafficking is “brilliant”? This fiasco, coupled with lying to these immigrants (see that brochure), is nothing but callous. Only in the Republican choir is the support for this inhumane strategy going to resonate.

      “Epic failure regarding immigration”? In 2013 the Democrats passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill in the Senate; House Republicans refused to allow the bill to even be debated.

      1. @Barry Lyons It might seem a bizarre report from a foreign land to a Democrat that their toxic and outrageous policies and reversals-of-control are well known, well trumpeted, and hard hitting with most of Americans. The contrast of fifty individuals retargeted with hundreds of thousands of illegal entries allowed and encouraged by everyone left of Jimmy Carter is brilliant. It is dark humor and pitched sarcasm.

        It works.

      2. For rightwingers it’s not human trafficking, Barry, because these are immigrants, so not fully human. They’re mere Untermenschen. It’s therefore hilarious to abuse them to troll the libs. The cruelty is the kick.

      3. I dunno. Was it human trafficking (or kidnapping) when the National Guard came and removed them from the island? Perhaps this is not properly a state government matter, but if the federal government was following the law, the situation wouldn’t exist in the first place… It’s lawlessness all around.

      4. I’m very pro-immigration and would like to see it become easier for people to get in legally. The dreamers are 6+ million vetted, valuable people who should be offered citizenship right now. However, calling this “human trafficking” is a sloppy, hyperbolic move unhelpful to immigrants and is insulting to victims of actual human trafficking.

        1. @CarlW

          Comment to agree. As for insult and offensive hyperbole, see above, it doesn’t take much for even a frequent commenter here to go ballistic, does it?

          “…easier for people to get in legally” is golden. It takes zero value-creation for a person to be born here*, or to simply “be here.” Proof of likelihood for an potential immigrant to be (or quickly become) a value-creator ought to be the rock-bottom qualification for legal residency. With that in hand, legal immigration ought to be far easier and abundant than it is now. We have a falling fertility rate, we need productive people. This should apply to a Dreamer’s application for legal permanent residency, and eventually citizenship.

          *it would be an interesting discussion to examine “at what point does a negative or non-productive person, who was simply ‘born here,’ lose their citizenship and ether fall back to an alternate residency, or get sent to the gates. I’d imagine Left would say “if you are paying taxes, you are productive.” I would say, ‘are you building anything, even a family or an advancing career or a technical education, etc.”

          1. Just saw this this surprising statistic this morning (via Axios):

            The total economic output of U.S. Latinos reached $2.8 trillion in 2020, surpassing the GDPs of the U.K. and India, according to a report released Thursday.

            1. Ayn Rand had a famous comeback sting against some idiot in a crowd shouting “Go back to Russia, you are not an American.” She said “I came here on purpose to contribute to this great nation, what have you done except be born?”

              In the report you cite, many of the Latinos are several/many generations American, many are recent immigrants. Regardless, anyone who strives — and immigrants strive — are sure to be productive.

    3. Best book(s) ever written? Well, the Frog and Toad series, along with Owl at Home, by Arnold Lobel, were pretty important in my young reader experience. Unlike many books for the early reader, these are actually enjoyable to read, and with beautiful artwork. I loved them as a child, I loved reading them to my child, I love them still.

      1. I haven’t the faintest clue why my innocent comment about my childhood books made it under this depressing thread…but I will happily read Owl at Home to any kid, from any country, any time, no matter what their immigration status.

    4. This is just a stunt to debase reality…and that’s all you seem to offer. Gaslighting and foolishness for the pissed off libertarians like you. If you can’t see the inherent cruelty, the use of people as pawns, sacrificial pieces on a political power board, I truly feel sorry for you. Your hatred is so green and raw and apparent, I’ts why you’re not embarrassed to express it on a website like this…and act like you have rational and acceptable emotions regarding people-pawns. Have you ever thought what you’d be like if you were born in any of the places the majority of these people are fleeing from? Have you no decency? No feet in others’ shoes?

      1. All your characterizations of me are utterly rejected. When they bounce back and drench you with their slime, take note of what sticks to you. That is the proof of the pudding from random mud slinging. It’s about you.

        Wait … 50 person stunt to highlight reality vs Biden shipping plane loads around the country in the middle of the night … plus the high treason of Dems aiding and abetting a porous border which enables the drug trade to destroy millions.

        Have you no perspective?

  2. It is of course impossible to specify the best book ever written. But there is one book I have found rewarding to re-read several times, and to listen to a theatrical enactment. John Gardner’s “Grendel”, which is the Beowulf saga as told from the monster’s point of view.

    1. If you like alternate perspectives:

      This famous, wicked, little tale
      Should never have been put on sale
      It is a mystery to me
      Why loving parents cannot see
      That this is actually a book
      About a brazen little crook
      Had I the chance I wouldn’t fail
      To clap young Goldilocks in jail

      “Oh Daddy” cried the Baby Bear
      “My porridge gone, it isn’t fair!”
      “Then go upstairs,” the Big Bear said
      “Your porridge is upon the bed
      But as it’s inside mademoiselle
      You’ll have to eat her up as well.”

    2. Gardner’s _Grendel_ is definitely up there for me, and not one I would have thought of first. I would top my list with Tashlin’s _The_Bear_That_Wasn’t_, and Camus’ _The_Plague_, Steinbeck’s _Travels_With_Charlie_, and Abbey’s _Desert_Solitaire_ are also pretty far up. Maybe _Walden_, as well.

      I am, of course, biased to works written in english, as that is my primary language. I can’t honestly judge, for example, _The_Brothers_Karamazov_ or Cervantes, as the only non-english language I can read competently is French, and not so much anymore.

      Though I have read Joyce, and enjoyed _Ulyses_ and _Finnegans_Wake_, I would class them with _Alice_In_Wonderland_. Fun, heavily layered, but not at my top.

    3. Not quite the same thing but similar – I really loved the alternate telling of the Manson family doings in the Tarantino movie Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Don’t stop watching when the credits role; there are a couple hilarious bits that follow.

    1. If Russia’s nuclear weapons are as well maintained as the flag ship of the Black Sea fleet, Putin will not dare to use them because they’ll most likely malfunction.



      – the air defence radar interfered with the communications systems so they couldn’t turn it on and talk to people at the same time

      – the air defence missile systems were both non operational

      – five of the phalanx style gattling guns were non serviceable because they had been scavenged for parts

      – the engines and generators were past their maximum service life

      – the damage control equipment was all locked away to prevent theft.

        1. Safari is not displying the text box properly so I cannot see what I just typed…

          well a US sailor is on trial for setting fire to a ship that was so badly damaged they scuttled it… court martial I mean.

      1. well a US sailor is on trial for setting fire to a ship that was so badly damaged they scuttled it… courr martial I mean.

    2. Answer to number 1: in my experience, yes. It takes me back to my student days when I worked as event security in the student union. I often had to eject people from the premises, and I lost count of the number of people who promised to come back and shoot me. The offenders were always rich and entitled and blissfully unaware that saying this off campus would get them a thoroughly good hiding.

      It was hard to take them seriously, bearing in mind it was at a nice, leafy campus, inhabited almost entirely by poshos with trust funds and double-barrelled surnames. It was in the UK, with the dangers on campus limited to the odd rogue hedgehog, so the need for firearms was limited. And why would you tell me you idiots?

      Most of them were conceited, rude and condescending. There is nothing more snobbishly obnoxious than a wealthy posh English student when drunk. Thinking I was merely an uneducated drone from the local ‘proletariat’ with no future, they’d spout all sorts about me being a loser, my kids work as skivvies on their yacht etc. Scores of them must get battered for saying this to the wrong person! Then, on realising they wouldn’t get their own way they’d go straight to ‘do you know who I am?’ and ‘my dad -insert name- will get you sacked’ etc etc. Yawn.

      Until you’ve seen it in real life, it’s hard to appreciate just how vile, entitled and immature the children of the English elite can be. I can easily believe the story of Boris Johnson burning a £50 note in front of a homeless man. Not all of them are like this, but a good chunk. Incidentally, their parents were nearly always lovely, nothing like their kids.

      This turned into a bit of a diversion from Putin! Nevertheless, no one ever returned to shoot me, nor was I sacked by an omnipotent father. Please note, no hedgehogs were harmed in the production of this message.

      1. I’m reminded of Amuricun Conrad Hilton the Fourth’s (a member of the “non-working class”) behavior on a plane several years ago.

        1. I wasn’t previously aware of Mr Hilton or his behaviour on that flight. However, after reading about it, I can confidently assert that he is an odious, obnoxious, entitled, selfish, pointless, irrelevant, pathetic and revolting little man-baby. He’s also a shameless and insufferable bully.

          I’ve not looked into it further yet, but I do hope he ended up behind bars. You can be sure that if he was a young black guy from the hood, he’d still be locked up and looking forward to his first parole hearing, currently scheduled for July 2037.

      2. I think all of us who grew up in the British class system are aware of much finer divisions than the classic working, middle and upper. Especially true of the transitional area between upper working class and the upper, middle and lower divisions of the lower middle class. Sadly, that sentence was not a joke. One of the reasons I was happy to leave my homeland forty years ago was the experience of having a retired Guards major ask me at my wedding reception, “And what does your father do?” I replied politely and accurately that he was a retired civil engineer and now owned a hill farm in Wales. The major turned without a word and walked off. It was apparent that a judgement had been passed, and even if I had made my way into medical school, I was an interloping counter-jumper who need not be welcomed. Some years later, I had the experience of visiting the Major and his wife on a trip back to the UK, as they were neighbours of my in-laws. He had suffered a stroke, was in a wheelchair and could not speak. As I drank my tea and tolerated the small talk of his wife, I wondered what he was thinking as he stared at me wordlessly. No doubt the world had gone to the dogs. Within a few years after that, the whole enclave of private roads, private beaches and retired senior naval and army men had been replaced by estuary English accents, lurid tracksuits and dodgy businessmen making money faster than they could spend it on their newly bought thatched houses. I’ll not go back again.

    3. Jez, in the real-time English interpretation and the written translation of Putin’s address, he limits his threat of (implied nuclear) retaliation to attacks to the territorial integrity of the Russian state. This is standard nuclear deterrence doctrine. It is Ukraine that is calling for “the West” to launch pre-emptive strikes against Russia’s nuclear forces if Russia threatens to use nukes against Ukraine, which Russia has not threatened to do. Many here think he might be contemplating it but that’s it. As far as he is saying, he’s just reminding the world that an attempt to strike first at his nuclear forces would trigger Mutual Assured Destruction.

      From where I sit, Ukraine’s demand that the United States or the United Kingdom launch a first strike against Russian territory is monstrously provocative.

      Since 1949, it has been assumed that nuclear war would be fought between two nuclear-armed powers, which would effectively prevent their use at all. The only use in battle, ironically, was between a nuclear state and a non-nuclear one, in 1945. MacArthur wanted to use them in Korea and was rightly sacked for saying so. If Russia did reprise this asymmetrical use against a non-NATO country,, I don’t see how the nuclear states could possibly retaliate against Russian territory..

    1. I think as worded it was fine. Perhaps i would have use WERE rather than ARE.

      I hope he is bluffing but if he is losing i can imagine his using tactical nukes in Ukraine. Probaly outside his land connection to Crimea and sea. In which case the West would probably not respond in kind; they are already limiting Ukraine to fighting in Ukraine, not attacking Russia.

      The Russians are the best bet to stop Putin.

  3. For me, Nabokov’s Lolita is the greatest book…a touching tragedy and the most inventive use of the English language plus a hard eyed occasionally satirical look at this country. But it is his unique use of language that stands out. Greatest stylist of the 20th century, unrivalled.

    1. Good choice, though I personally prefer Invitation to a Beheading and The Gift. How funny that the great American road novel was written by a Russian expat who never learned to drive.

  4. I hope I am not breaking the roolz, but my three favorite books are Sarum, by Ernest Rutherford, Aztec by Gary Jennings, and The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. Honorable mention to WEIT.

    Currently, I am reading Tailspin by Steven Brill. It is a little dated, but I find it to be a solid discussion on what has gone wrong with our government over the last 50 years and why.

    1. I’ve read “Sarum”, and several of Edward Rutherfurd’s other gigantic historical novels.
      I have to say that, although Rutherfurd’s prose can only be described as clunky, they
      are all hypnotically UNputdownable. Needless to say, “Russka”, his fictionalized history of Russia. was one of the most depressing books I’ve ever read.

    2. Aztec is highly enjoyable and very well-researched. Anyone interested in this fascinating period, as represented in historical fiction, should also consider the superb Right Hand of the Sun by Anita Mason and Robert Somerlott’s Death of the Fifth Sun.

  5. Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is a fantastic book, although some nowadays appear to think it’s a how-to manual judging by their enthusiasm for policing language and punishing crimethink.

    1. You know, I re-read Fahrenheit 451 recently, and I could really see how with the internet one could control information and drive pap to citizens. The “dogs” the firemen use also reminded me of the new General Dynamics robot dogs.

      1. I read my first Ray Bradbury just a few months ago — The Martian Chronicles. On top of the haunting (& haunted) description of Mars, I was blown away with how beautifully Bradbury writes.

        1. The poem. “There will come soft rains, and the smell of the ground…” It has been 50 years and I can still recite it.

    2. Agreed, the message at the heart of the book should be understood and heeded by any sane individual. Unfortunately a lot of people don’t actually read it because they don’t realise just how good it is as a story and a novel in it’s own right.

  6. I was thinking about pronouns. There’s a move to get ride of the feminine version of nouns and to treat the masculine as neuter. For example, actor rather than actress. On the other hand, we have this explosion of pronouns for different “genders.” They don’t seem to align.

    I have read many excellent books, and I am sorry to say that I don’t have a lot of them in mind. One of the best books I ever read, truly mind opening, is Alfred Mierzejewski’s The Collapse of the German War Economy, 1944-1945: Allied Air Power and the German National Railway. It demonstrates how the post D-Day air attacks on transportation destroyed Germany’s ability to move goods, but most importantly coal, which was key to industry and railroads.

    1. I think the only reason why “actor” seems “masculine” to us (as opposed to being “neuter” already) is that the word “actress” has been so widely used. Are “author” and “poet” “masculine” nouns or are they neutral? Once we as a society chucked “authoress” and “poetess” then it became perfectly natural to use “author” and “poet” as unisex nouns. (In Latin a word like “author” would be seen as gendered and masculine–“auctor” as opposed to “auctrix”–but I’m talking about English, not Latin.) In the same way, there’s no real reason why we can’t have “Best Female Actor in a Leading Role” or “Usually the waiters at Moe’s are women, but today my waiter was a man”.

    1. This is not really an analogy, but it’s a clear and easily understood example of natural selection. I’m talking of the ability of some lizards to shed their tail to free themselves from predators.

      It happened by accident once when we were on holiday in Greece. My young kids were terrified by a lizard that had appeared on the wall, so I tried to waft it out of the room. That didn’t work and instead it jumped on to one of their beds and ran under the pillow. At this point they were hysterical and I realised I’ll have to catch it before it disappeared into the apartment, ensuring they wouldn’t sleep for days!

      I picked up the pillow and tried to put my hand on its back to stop it running off. I must have been too slow because it kept running, leaving its tail behind! They were mortified, and suddenly felt sorry for it, but I turned it round by telling them it shed the tail to stay safe, and it would grow back. It’s so easy to demonstrate how natural selection works using this simple example. Just leave out the chasing the lizard bit!

    2. There are many analogies. But a good one is a real example of evolution of antibiotic resistance. Imagine a flask of bacteria. Add an antibiotic to the flask, and the population crashes to near zero. But later the population re-grows with greater resistance to the antibiotic. The trick is to realize that the resistant bacteria were present by chance before the antibiotic was added, and that what was done was to simply select for what already existed.

    3. One of my favorite is a line of parent standing next to offspring, stretching for thousands of generations.

      Imagine a line of people. The person at the front of the line has a parent standing behind them, and that parent has their parent standing behind them, and so on, continuing on back in time for thousands of generations. No matter where you look in that long line the people, the organisms, next to each other are of the same species. Even if you reduce the resolution a bit and consider any given section of the line that includes dozens of generations, they are all the same species. But if you pick 2 widely enough spaced organisms out of that line and compare them, they will be different species. If you were to compare the person at the front of the line to the thing about 100 million years back in the line, you’d be comparing a human to a vaguely rodent like animal about the size of a squirrel.

      I’m not sure who first came up with this line analogy, I’ve heard it from a variety of sources. The only source I can distinctly remember is Dawkins. It seems to me to be a very clear and easy to understand way to illustrate several key points of evolution. The time scales involved, tiny changes adding up over time, how a single line of descent can include many different species, and how the idea that speciation must mean that a parent of a given species gives birth to an offspring of a different, new, species is ludicrous.

  7. What is the best book you’ve ever read where you view the author (at least initially) as an ideological, philosophical, or political adversary? Did it change your mind about anything?

    For me it was The Cult of Smart: How Our Broken Education System Perpetuates Social Injustice by Fredrik deBoer (aka Freddie). Freddie is a communist and if he had his way a radical revolution would take place. He explicitly says so, but realizes its not going to happen and instead zeros in on something that is possible.

    Freddie will anger his fellow travelers with his full on denial of the blank slate myth. He believes genetics and other largely unknown factors produce a spectrum of abilities that are not amenable to interventions. Some children will just not thrive in school no matter how hard they try or what resources they have, and it’s cruel to deny it.

    He softened my attitude toward schools and teachers. I now think much of the problem is lack of talent in the students. We shouldn’t promote sending everyone to college or four years of math in high school. Not everyone is up to the task.

    He also has a lot of loopy ideas, and his thoughts on individual (genetic) vs group (not-genetic) IQ differences seem confused, but I found it very worth reading despite this.

    1. Louis-Ferdinand Celine’s novel ‘Journey to the End of the Night’ is my second favorite novel. And Celine was an antisemite and I’m Jewish.

      Though I’ve said that Celine wasn’t so much an antisemite as a misanthrope who hated everyone including Jews.

    2. I wonder if Fredrik deBoer contemplates and gives due credit to the problems Amuricun culture imposes on schools.


      “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life” – Richard Hofstadter
      “Amusing Ourselves to Death” – Neil Postman
      “The Age of American Unreason” – Susan Jacoby

      1. deBoer’s central issue is the part of American culture that presumes every one has the same abilities and talent, and that reaching equality requires only equal opportunity and equal resources. I don’t know the specific works you cite, but knowing the authors, I suspect they agree with Freddie that this is harmful nonsense. They would disagree, as I do, with a multitude of Freddie’s other views. (I don’t know him personally, but got used to thinking of him as “Freddie” when I argued in my head while reading.)

  8. A question for Latin scholars-
    I am working on a dagger, based loosely on late roman components found in England. It is set up for engraving, which I am planning on starting tomorrow. Not being much of a Latin scholar, I thought I would post this here, and see if anyone notices any obvious mistakes in spelling, grammar, lettering, or context
    It is supposed to read “IACTA ALEA EST”, a quote attributed to Caesar.

      1. Thanks. I guess I should have been more specific, by asking if the Latin would have appeared correct around AD 500 or so.

        1. I think that’s just the exact Latin so it doesn’t look different. You could play with the word order if you want as Latin doesn’t have a specific word order.

      1. Or go full Greek which it is said Caesar used and Suetonius sloppily translated: ἀνερρίφθω κύβος

            1. The person who will receive the dagger cannot read Greek. If I did Greek, I would have to answer “what does it say?” as well as “what does it mean?”, and so would he, whenever anyone asked about it.

              1. Yes I was mostly joking about the Greek but the Latin is a mistranslation from Seutonius. Nevertheless Latin is Latin, even wrongly pronounced church Latin and that one is a famous phrase.

              2. I guess you could say Suetonius didn’t really know his Green either but who can blame him. Gerunds and gerundives are a nightmare.

              3. It would be a good conversation starter, although if someone accosted me with a dagger, i doubt i would notice an inscription.

                I would say put whatever you want, such as spaces between words for much the same reason as avoiding Greek.

                As with Hadrian’s wall, the historical accounts are not necessarily accurate.
                See https://humanities.byu.edu/j-reuben-clark-iii-lecture-did-caesar-cross-the-rubicon/ referenced in https://www.forbes.com/sites/drsarahbond/2017/01/10/january-10-49-bce-did-caesar-even-cross-the-rubicon/

      2. Here is my thinking- some of the major elements are based on late Roman examples, excavated in England. The blade shape leans towards more modern proportions, but is within the range of historical examples. I wanted to do the engraving before final shaping, so I may give it a bit of a waist, and see how fullers might fit with the engraving. The original fittings would not have worked with a wide pugio, and that shape looks sort of ungainly to me.
        I have learned that it does not pay to invest too much into the shaping and polishing until I find out if I am going to mess it up with an engraving mistake.

        I had wondered about word spacing.
        My normal process, with an engraving in Middle English or whatever, would be to have a conversation with a scholar with specific knowledge of the language and lettering in question. I figured with a familiar Latin quote, it would be easier. That appears to not be the case.

        If anyone is interested, assuming the linked image came through, the fittings are bronze, cast from scrap metal. The scales are Llanite, which I quarried a bunch of this year. The blue rounded bits on the ends of the handle and crossguard are sodalite.

      3. Thank you to all those who responded to help me with my question. Since this is not an exact copy of a period dagger, made with period methods and materials, the inscription probably does not need to be perfect.
        People I work with have said that my work slogan should be “If it is worth doing, it is worth doing with obsessive, fanatical perfectionism.” I rarely achieve that, but I usually try.
        Anyway, I decided to keep it the way I have already laid it out, with the addition of little diamond shapes between the words.
        I enjoyed reading to linked references as well. I suppose for my purposes, whether Ceasar actually said it that way is less important than whether someone would attribute the quote to him in that way 600 years later.
        I guess I will start engraving tomorrow, and see what happens.
        Thanks again, and thanks to Dr. Coyne for allowing me the latitude to use this forum so far off of the normal topics.

  9. I just finished Life and Fate, by Vasily Grossman. Thought provoking, hilarious at times, unimaginably sad at others. The story of the writing of the book is as good as the book itself, Grossman had cojones.

  10. In thinking about our host’s inability to get to sleep, it might be nice to hear readers’ strategies for overcoming insomnia. When my overactive mind won’t stop interfering with sleep, I find that fantasizing about outlandish things works – e.g. winning that billion dollar lottery and doling out the dosh.

    1. This will sound nerdy but a strategy I use sometimes is to remember the kings and queens of England/Britain from William the Conqueror in forward or reverse order. I can also go a few Anglo-Saxon kings back but it gets harder and by that time I zzzzzzz ….

      1. Nice – interestingly trying to remember names has the opposite result for me; I perseverate and grab the phone that is bedside [likely a bad idea!]

    2. For years I suffered from Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder which essentially means I was an extreme night owl. Couldn’t get to sleep before 3 or 4 no matter how tired I was. 10mg of Melatonin nightly has readjusted my circadians to normal. Sometimes I think I fall asleep too quickly.

    1. You’ve espoused Anna Karenina before, and I was set to buy a copy when I noticed there are several different translations. Is there a translation that’s regarded as definitive? Or can you recommend one?

      1. Well, I’ve read only the Constance Garnett translation, which is a classic and the only one around when I was younger. Many people, however, swear by the more recent Pevear and Volokhonsky translation as being truer to Tolstoy’s voice (and Dostoevsky’s, too, as they’ve translated him) than is any other translation. I suppose if I were to encounter the book for the first time, I’d go for the P&V translation.

        1. Avoid P&V at all costs. I’m teaching Anna Karenina right now, and I’m using Rosamund Bartlett’s translation. Michael Katz, David McDuff, and Robert Chandler are great translators in general.

  11. Human population. I rag on this subject ad nauseam. There are still groups and people advocating for more humans. In my lifetime human population has quadrupled, from 2,000,000,000 in 1940 to 8,000,000,000 today. It took 10’s of thousands of years to reach 2 billion. The damage we have done and are doing to the planet cannot be understated. Is it the sixth global extinction of ‘wildlife’ we humans are causing ?
    We are an infestation.
    Discussion? The subject seem to be off the table.

    1. Two years ago Matthew Yglesias of Vox published a book entitled One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger. Few indeed (left or right) are willing to discuss, rationally and sensibly, the issue of over-population.

    2. If you dare bring it up, you get accused of racism and eugenics. The leftistas make the illogical leap from overpopulation as a threat to ourselves and our fellow species to “kill all black and brown people” is disturbingly quick. They cannot accept the fact that it is the entire human species than needs to be reigned in. Period.
      The right, at least the Christian Right, tend to regurgitate that old bolus of pre-scientific biblical cud “…be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over it etc etc “ well, we’ve done that, it’s a disaster. How one can look at what we (all humanity, not just “the west” or “white people” or whatever group one focuses their pet hates on) have done to the wonderful and complex ecosystems everywhere on the planet and not come to the conclusion that something needs to change, and PDQ, else we stand to lose what tattered remnants we have left and find ourselves in a dystopian Escape from New York/Bladerunner/Terminator hell.

    3. This is in the tradition of Thomas Malthus and his many followers over the years. All predicting dire consequences and all fundamentally wrong. At each point forward more and more of mankind was better off in nearly every measure of well being, though some non-human animals haven’t fared so well.

      I don’t know if “the subject is off the table,” but Steven Pinker, Hans Rosling, Matt Ridley, and many others have so devastated the Malthusian claims that it isn’t an issue for most people.

      Poke around on the Gapminder site if you want to see how well off the human race is.

        1. Many species have been driven extinct by very low human populations. At any rate I choose humans over animals. Higher population has costs but also the benefit of more minds and more hands to improve things – and that is exactly what has happened and exactly what Malthus failed to account for.

          1. Malthus is not entirely wrong; he argued that growth would be exponential, but it isn’t, thanks to socialogical and cultural changes that have reduced the birth rate.

            But we are still growing, and we must hit a limit some day. All we can do is push back the day of reckoning. If one cares about quality of life and especially if one cares about the non-human world, it makes sense to try to reverse population growth by voluntary means before the population collapses involuntarily by some horrible ecological or social catastrophe.

            The reduced or negative growth rate in many parts of the world show that it is possible without extreme measures.

            1. There won’t be a day of reckoning and the population won’t collapse. The quality of life will keep improving as it has for millennia (with setbacks to be sure). We don’t need to reverse population growth – it will increase by about 4 billion then level off by century’s end. Human’s will be universally better off and the animal world will be recovering as our ingenuity and technology enable us to treat the environment better.

              1. “it will increase by about 4 billion then level off by century’s end.”

                If it levels off at a reasonable level, maybe you are right. But Malthus was worried about what would happen if the growth rate remained constant. Malthus was not wrong, even if you are right.

              2. @Lou,

                If it levels off at a reasonable level, maybe you are right. But Malthus was worried about what would happen if the growth rate remained constant. Malthus was not wrong, even if you are right.

                Malthus was wrong – the exponential growth rate will not continue to disaster – the world population will actually start declining around 2100. As people get wealthier – and they will – they will have fewer children.

                Malthus’s primary mistake was believing our resources (food in his day) would grow linearly. History has proven otherwise.

                And … as a clergyman he was wrong thinking God exists.

          2. Sorry CarlW, but you make outrageous claims. What the hell do you know?

            “the world population will actually start declining around 2100…”

            Yeah? That’s a nice round number to start the wondrous decline. OK, phew, I’m glad to have a prophet that can assure me in my ignorant chicken little brain. And by 2100, what else do you predict? 10′ raise in oceans perhaps, but we’ll evolve gills? Predicting this earth 80 years hence is pure hubris (and folly).

            1. Of course Carl’s predictions are just that, Mark. Predictions aren’t facts until they happen, any more than a 10-ft rise in sea level. But what exactly do you want to do instead? Leave the fossil fuels in the ground and bet big on windmills or do without electricity and personal transportation much of the time, I get that. But the world’s climate isn’t determined by what you do. It’s determined by what China, India, and Africa do. All those Africans are still going to be too many, in the Malthusian view. They are still going to eat and want coal for electricity. Since you can’t tell them they can’t have babies or burn their own coal, what’s your solution other than business as usual, muddling through, which is what we are going to do anyway?

              It is helpful to regard problems as problems only if they have solutions. If they have no solutions, they are not problems, just facts of life. That I am going to die someday is not a problem, even for me. That people in poor countries are going to burn coal until they decide to stop is also not a problem.

              If Africa’s population outstrips its ability to feed itself (from food it grows or from food it imports and pays for), first childhood mortality will rise as the less vigorous children are fed less. Then birth rates will fall as women are denied food and men have less interest in sex. This might not be a collapse, it will happen gradually, more severely in the more marginal areas and in crowded cities where disease spreads rapidly. In rural areas, children are needed for work. Fewer children either from death or from migration to cities means die-off in rural areas. The lions will come back because there are no more cattle ranchers to poison them.

              Ugly or not, it will all work out. Hand-wringing won’t change any of it.

        2. It’s clear that some people just don’t care. They prefer Panda Express to actual pandas, name streets, subdivisions, and sports teams after animals they extinguished, and think that science and human ingenuity can always outpace the impending doom unleashed upon the natural world. They are happily a part of the human tumor. They cannot fathom the importance of an ecosystem, that everything is a breaking point, and that climate change, mass extinction, desertification, can and may very well shove Malthus right up our noses. It is an amazing combination of arrogance and ignorance that we or our descendants will pay for.

      1. Yes, and our increasing population is driving the rest of life to extinction.
        Does no one give a damn about the rest of life. Amazon rain forests, the “lungs of the planet” is being wiped out and the animals that live there. The average age in some of those African countries is 15. Fifteen! Those girls need birth control. There is no room for wildlife. Lions are being poisoned to make room for cattle. Do we want to live on a planet devoid of other life except for what we raise to eat?

      2. Does the Earth have an unlimited carrying capacity? Surely Steven Pinker would not say so. But if he did, I’d want to hear him plainly say in the next breath or two his evidence for that claim. (“Pale Blue Dot,” anyone?)

        I suspect there are few capitalists who could bring themselves to say that the Earth has a maximum carrying capacity.

        1. I’m a capitalist who thinks our planet has a limited carrying capacity. I could be wrong but I doubt Earth could handle a trillion people. However, it will be able to handle the expected peak population of 11 billion with improved living conditions for all.

      3. Yeah, no. The logic behind Malthus is unassailable. On a planet with finite resources, there’s a finite sustainable population. The only questions are, what is that, and how do we notice when we’ve reached it. So far, one could argue that we don’t know, and we haven’t reached it yet. But we are not living sustainably at all, consuming vast amount of fossil fuels and other non-renewable resources. And it looks like all it takes is a wannabe tsar going berserk to bring down the whole construct that allowed us to feed 8 billion – food exports, cheap artificial fertilizer etc.

        1. Yet like everyone else here who frets about over-population, you offer no solutions beyond what the world is doing anyway: educating girls where this is socially acceptable and encouraging the economic development that shifts a woman’s cost-benefit calculation away from having more children. If that won’t stabilize the population rapidly enough for the Malthusiasts, it’s on you to offer something more drastic.

        2. The logic of Malthus may have been unassailable, but his assumptions (population will grow exponentially and outpace production capability which grows only linearly) were proven wrong.

          People living in extreme poverty have on average five children – exponential growth. For the rest of the world the number is two – no overall growth. In the time of Malthus more than 85% lived in extreme poverty (including Sweden, Hans Rosling’s home country, whose work I’m citing here). But worldwide extreme poverty was reduced to 50% by 1966 and stands at 8% today – all this while the population grew by a factor of seven.

          I’m sorry if I seemed arrogant or condescending to some contributors on this thread. I once had Malthusian beliefs myself. But I’m not pulling facts or predictions out of thin air. All I’ve written is based on:

          The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley
          Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker
          Factfulness by Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling, and Anna Rosling Ronnlund
          Superabundance by Marian L. Tupy and Gale L. Poley

          Along with The Population Bomb (1968) by the Malthusian Paul R. Ehrlich and the discrediting of it by Julian Simon and others.

    4. I agree that the Earth is overpopulated with humans, but over the next century virtually all growth is projected to come from Africa, whose population is supposed to quadruple to 4 billion. European, North American, Asian, and Oceanian populations are projected to decline somewhat, if I recall correctly (not counting migration). Personally I think Events will disrupt these predictions, but let’s say they’re true.

      Do the people who talk about overpopulation have any interest in talking about directing their message of abstinence to the place where the population growth is happening? Do the people who talk about how African population is irrelevant because they’re so poor and consume so few resources have any interest in preventing mass African migration into the West where they can grow their consumption 20x, or preventing efforts to lift the soon-to-be 4 billion Africans out of poverty?

      It seems like everyone – left, right, or center – has a reason to ignore the problem.

    5. Who decides who gets exterminated and sterilized first, J Cook? No one wants to tackle that question, which is why it never gets on the table. It’s not so much the spectre of racism, even though we all think we know whom there are too many of and many people calling for a cull are cheerfully, unabashedly, unapologetically racist, whatever race they happen to be. Rather, it’s a power dynamic: no one wants to surrender the right to be fruitful and multiply to some foreigner who may not like him and his kind.

      I don’t give a crap about all those animals we are supposedly sending to extinction if it means some guy in Brussels or Geneva or Lagos is coming to kill my grandchildren in order to save the giraffes.

      Energy and fertilizer are probably going to get very expensive in the next few decades. The resulting famines in countries who can’t afford either will likely grant you your wish.

      1. I said nothing about extermination!! I said nothing about killing your grandchildren. You clearly don’t give a damn about the rest of life we ostensibly share this planet with. Giving women control over their bodies would be a start. Universal birth control would be a start. And just a conversation on the subject would be a start.

        1. Yes to this! I think the best way to lower birth rate is to improve health care, empower women so that they control their own bodies and have fulfilling lives, and raise standards of living by decreasing wealth inequality. These seem to be some of the primary factors that have decreased birth rate in some parts of the world. None of these involve sterilization or extermination.

          Oh, and decreasing the religiosity of the world also helps.

        2. But don’t you see? Countries with high birth rates don’t want well-intentioned foreigners coming in and preaching birth control and abortion rights to them and mocking their animistic religiosity that demands fertility. They suspect ulterior motives on the part of the foreigners because they’ve been down that road before. Besides, they need infantry to fight their neighbours who have designs on their arable land and seek to drive them off it by force of numbers.

          It’s true that countries do improve their lot when they go through the demographic transition where birth rates fall as girls are educated, fewer babies die in infancy, and mechanization of agriculture requires less child labour in the fields and to provide unpaid care to elders. But it has to come from within, when they are ready to do it themselves. Indonesia, South Asia, China, and Japan, all places we called “over-populated” when I was growing up have done this through their own endogenous efforts.

          This takes time to work its way through to a stabilizing, and then aging population as the birth rate falls below replacement. Meantime, a great deal of population increase is already baked in for countries as in sub-Saharan African where birth rates and infant mortality remain high. And AIDS is killing so many young adults, and their government leaders steal so much, that it’s hard for those countries to generate the wealth that fuels the virtuous circle of declining fertility. If a family is still doing subsistence agriculture it needs many children. Those who want to fix over-population in Africa have their work cut out for them.

      2. Precisely. The overshoot dynamic has been described often enough in population
        biology. An animal species overshoots the carrying capacity of its ecological niche, for a short while. But equilibrium is soon restored by a drastic population crash.
        Of course, Elon Musk and his fellow techno-believers are hoping to expand our species’ ecological niche to Mars. Good luck with that.

    6. True. More people means greater pressure on resources, less to go around. However one key is supposedly wealth creation & female liberation & education, the last very important.

  12. Prof. Coyne, I recommend an anti-anxiety medication. Temazapam works for me. That and an ASMR video. Physical exam videos are good.

    1. I know nothing about anti-depressants but I concur on ASMR videos. There’s a strange relaxing feel to them that’s very calming.

      1. Temazepam is a benzodiazepine not an anti-depressant actually. Close though: I think you’re thinking of trazodone – which IS an old line anti-depressant with excellent sedative side effects and none of the terrible dangers of the benzo family of pharmaghouls. The benzos “cost” way more than they deliver and are actually pretty dangerous. Good for occasional jetlag time re-arrangement/acclimatation only.
        The boss might give trazodone a try. I would (and have).
        And don’t drink with any o ‘them!

  13. Best/favorite book: The Phantom Tollbooth
    Best/favorite literary fiction: Bleak House
    Best/favorite science fiction: Dune; Snow Crash; the Expanse series
    Best/favorite fantasy: Alice in Wonderland; Harry Potter
    Best/favorite classic: The Iliad and The Odyssey
    Best/favorite non-fiction: The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

    Though I could easily do a top ten on each of these, and a top 100 on several of them.

  14. One book I always seem to return to, I have read it three times, is Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis. Amis uses the device of having the narrator of the novel be a homunculus who is experiencing a man’s life in reverse order of time. Amos is able to explore the idea of perspective and its influence on morality as it builds to the man’s secret past/future.

    Non-fiction wise I think of the Self and It’s Brain by Karl Popper and John Eccles. The part by Popper does what you wouldn’t think is possible, but is. Popper builds a materialist based case for an indeterministic philosophy of mind. Popper is probably my favorite philosopher, and everything he wrote is worth a look

  15. I am surrounded by books, and read constantly, but picking best or favorites is difficult. So here are some that I found very compelling:

    Fiction- Cryptonomicon, Little Big Man.
    Non-fiction- Young Man and Fire, Crow Killer, Empire of the Summer Moon
    Sci-fi- I tend to enjoy time travel books. Er ist Wieder Da is one of my recent favorites.

    Anything by
    Edward Gorey,
    Charles Dodgson
    Eric Larson
    Norman Maclean

    1. Speaking of SF/time travel books, have you ever read Stephen Fry’s “Making History”? A history student finds a way to send a male contraceptive drug back in time to prevent Hitler’s birth and creates an alternate reality, though it’s not quite as rosy as he imagined.

  16. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta has ruled in favor of the Justice Department and against Donald Trump on the issue of DoJ’s access to the 100 documents marked classified seized from Mar-a-Lago and on the government’s ability to proceed with its criminal investigation.

    It’s a unanimous decision by a three-judge panel. Two of the three judges were appointed by Trump.

      1. Good news, for sure. Out of “his judges” one seemed to be just that, and his gamble failed. Man, his dominoes seem to be very wobbly as of late.

        1. We have to assume that judges are going to enter a case unbiased, but this surely shows that the US system does NOT have separation between judiciary & politics. That seems nuts!

    1. Ken, I must congratulate you for the most massive understatement I’ve seen since I can remember, for “has ruled in favor.”

      I’m not a legal expert but skimming through that ruling, something like “brutally massacred Cannon” seems to be a better fit than “has ruled in favor of the DOJ.”

    1. … … which is w h y I replied, when asked some decades’ time ago, w h a t,
      over ALL of Time over ALL the World, was The Greatest Invention E V E R:
      chemical birth control = The P I L L.


  17. I don’t know if these are the best books ever written but ones I go back to read again and again include:
    – Christopher Isherwood’s “A Single Man”, a day in the life of a California college professor whose partner has been killed in a motorcycle accident (made into an okay movie starring Colin Firth);
    – Kingsley Amis’s “Lucky Jim”, about a lecturer at a regional English university (made into movies a couple of times, never well IMHO);
    – Kingsley Amis’s “Jake’s Thing”, in which a grumpy old Oxford don loses his sex drive and goes through various types of therapy to try to get it back;
    – Michel Tremblay’s “Le coeur découvert”, about a Montréal teacher/writer who is settled in life but falls in love with a younger man who has a young son;
    – Joyce Carey’s “The Horse’s Mouth”, about an artist who is good at nothing except his art (probably the only book I was required to read in school that I go back and reread).

  18. Jerry once referred to the American Humanist Association as “lame”. I propose a discussion, “The American Humanist Association, the Good, the Bad, the Ugly. What would you like to see from the AHA?”

  19. Many thanks to many posters for lists of great books. I had forgotten about “The Horse’s Mouth”, and Joyce Carey’s other engrossing novels. And “The Phantom Tollbooth” would certainly be on my list of favorites too. I of course add David Lodge’s “Changing Places” and “Small World”, perhaps the two funniest academic novels ever.
    I would add two non-fiction greats. “Black Sea” by the redoubtable Neil Ascherson, a marvelous combination of history, sociology, literature, and travel writing, about a region that has again become topical. And, for those interested in the New World: Bernal Díaz del Castillo. David Carrasco (ed). The History of the Conquest of New Spain.

    1. Booker prize nominee & very short Treacle Walker by Alan Garner. He is a beautiful writer, grounded in the countryside of Matthew’s oart of the eorld, but not an easy read. His eriting comes from the bones of the land.I do hope he wins!

  20. Last evening was the central Iowa – airing
    of Novick, Botstein, Burns – f i n a l e
    in re the USA and the Holocaust.

    I could barely finish viewing its two hours+’ worth.

    ps Thank YOU, Mike.

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