Sagan on Democracy

The introductory remarks are helpful, but the real point starts at 1:07. Sagan was wise enough to frame this as an anti-Republican argument, so it got on major network television even in the Clinton era. It is actually a very serious threat to a self-governing society. 

1) Science and technology are increasingly a focal point of our society, but they are not generally understood by the public -- yet in a democracy, the public has to make decisions. 

2) Since they cannot, actual power passes out of their hands into the hands of 'experts' appointed by the government -- yet the same problem applies to choosing who the experts are. The people cannot assess whether real experts, or mere partisan power-players, have been chosen; and the politicians, not being experts either, can't distinguish the genuine ones either. 

3) Since the politicians have to choose, and can't distinguish between real experts and political allies who are claiming to be experts, they'll generally choose political allies -- there's something in it for them there, at least. Appoint some nobody just because he has a degree or something and that person might do anything once in power. At least the party functionary will do what you want.

4) Thus, the 'scientific and technological society' ends up not only destroying self-government in favor of government by experts, but actually fails to achieve government by experts in favor of government by factional loyalists regardless of their mental or technological capacities. 

Then the second reason, which relates directly to Tex's post below:

5) Science is really about skeptical empiricism, a mode of inquiry rather than a body of knowledge. 

6) A free society needs people who have both education and skepticism, and must be free to question ideas. This is the only way to have a self-governing people.

7) Failing that the people do not run the government, the government runs them. 

We seem to have achieved both of these in the last few years. We are now "governed by experts" to a greater degree than ever before, yet these experts at places like the Department of Energy seem to have been chosen for ideological reasons primarily (and possibly solely). All of this power has passed to the Secretary of Health and the rest of the bureaucracy, and the people in charge of it look to ordinary eyes to be barking mad, interested in political domination rather than actual expertise. 

Meanwhile, attempts to question the science put forward by these experts is increasingly forbidden. Indeed, it looks like the government is investing heavily in technologies and partnerships expressly intended to suppress free inquiry. This is being done in the name of protecting less-qualified ordinary people from drawing wrong conclusions by being exposed to 'bad' information; but what it's actually suppressing is the very spirit of science Sagan described. It is the spirit of skeptical empiricism that is being attacked, to make sure there aren't challenges to the appointed 'experts' who increasingly serve as the replacement for democratic self-government. 

I guess they have a point

NPR may be onto something. I have to agree that there's "limited evidence" that men have an inherent advantage over women in sports, in the same sense that there's limited evidence for essentially every proposition I can imagine. The evidence that the sun rises in the east, for instance, is limited to the number of times any of us has personally witnessed the phenomenon, as well as to our ability to aggregate the testimony of humans throughout recorded history--so far. I applaud NPR's stunning and brave determination not to jump to conclusions.

If any NPR staffers survive the current spate of layoffs, I look forward to their application of the same intellectual humility to all of the truisms routinely spouted by earnest radio personalities. Anthropogenic climate change threatens humanity? Joe Biden is the president of the United States? Childhood genital mutilitation is health-affirming? "There's limited evidence of that."

Seven Spanish Angels

Per Whiskey Riff, this day 1985 an unlikely duet went big. 

Riding Weather

Today was, and tomorrow is reported to be, ideal riding weather. I spent the morning engaged in an adventure I shall not relate because it involves rescue service participation in a murder investigation, and such things are wisely not spoken of before the trial. That was expected to take the day and didn't, so I had taken a day off from work that I suddenly had free. I spent seven glorious hours riding in fine spring weather, with a good meal at a smokehouse in amongst the pleasures of the road. 

We shall see if I am able to get free tomorrow; certainly not all day, as many things need my attention in addition to the motorcycle. Still, the warm parts of the year bring their pleasures.

Chinese Military Tactics Evolve

Time Travel in Fiction

A whiteboard video.

A Curious Question

President Donald Trump is expected to be indicted and charged with a crime soon, and reports are that "he Manhattan District Attorney's office will reach out to Trump and his Secret Service detail to make arrangements for his surrender[.]"

I admit it had not occurred to me to think about him having a Secret Service detail, but of course he does as do all Presidents during and after their term of service. This raises a question I find interesting: what would the Secret Service do in the event of his arrest and/or conviction and sentencing? Presumably as law enforcement officers themselves, they would want to cooperate with the court and penal system; but they also can't simply allow him to be sent to Rikers Island and put in the general population. 

Other nations that have imprisoned opposition political leaders have sometimes resorted to house arrest. Aung San Suu Kyi spent 15 years under house arrest over a 21-year period. Since the Secret Service will be providing police officers to literally stand over the top of him all the time, there's no reason why a similar arrangement couldn't work here too: you wouldn't have to put him in a New York state-owned facility. 

Since a lot of the point of this exercise seems to be public humiliation, however, I expect that the Secret Service will be asked to somehow work with his enclosure in a New York prison or jail of some sort -- certainly if a conviction is obtained, as it may well be given the poisoned jury pool in NYC, and maybe even as he awaits trial. I would expect the Secret Service to demand control over a cordoned-off part of the jail under those circumstances, with NY officers allowed to access Trump but only under observation.

Commentators seem convinced the case is hopelessly weak, but I wouldn't put much hope in the law or the courts here. Trump is a designated object of hate, perhaps the foremost one extant in our country, and he is unlikely to receive a fair trial in Manhattan of all places (only DC might be worse in terms of jury bias). His ability to obtain a dispassionate and fair trial according to our usual aspirational standards anywhere in America must be close to Osama bin Laden's, except that there are areas where it would be unfair in his favor as well. The odds of us having a Political Prisoner in Chief soon are nonzero, no matter what one thinks of the legal strengths or weaknesses of the charge. If I were the Secret Service, I'd be planning now for how to handle this.

"Backlash" exception to the 1st Amendment

I take minor comfort from the fact that this is a decision issued by a 3-judge panel of the Second Circuit, not en banc, but it has some pretty horrifying Constitutional law in it. The court dismissed an NRA complaint alleging that the New York Department of Financial Services bullied financial institutions into blacklisting the NRA on the ground of "reputational risk." The court explained that "backlash" against Second Amendment supporters was a legitimate reason for a state banking regulator to use threats to induce banks to blacklist customers with controversial advocacy records. As Powerline suggests, the only right thing to happen now is for the Supreme Court to accept certioriari and punt this awful decision into the sun. In the meantime, however, it sure would be nice to see people cease to use New York banks. The risk there is very high, even beyond the general concern over concentrating the nation's financial system in any particular location.

Arkansas, Affirmative Action, and Walmart

Gail Heriot posted this on Instapundit. The comment thread there so far is a shining example of sheer ignorance and bad faith attacks on Arkansas Republicans. I don't care to create a Disqus account to comment there, so I thought I might say something useful here, even if it is by no means a complete answer.

Walmart is headquartered in Bentonville, AR, and is a chunk of the state economy. Whenever the Republican dominated legislature takes up conservative legislation to which the woke rulers of the Walmart empire object, Walmart implicitly threatens to take their money somewhere else.

I'm not saying the Republican politicians are right or wrong to take this into account. I'm just saying it's part of the political calculus there.

Rafe Heydel-Mankoo on Reparations

It's a British argument, but a good quick listen at 12 minutes. The title on YouTube ("Woke Cambridge Students HATE Historian's Facts") is misleading, I think -- the Cambridge students sit quietly and let him finish speaking, and there is some applause at the end.

More Weird Numbers

56.3% of liberal women 18-29 have been formally diagnosed with a mental health disorder, compared to 27.3% of conservative women and 16.3% of conservative men in the same age bracket.

There are several general trends visible here. Older people have fewer than younger; men have fewer than women; conservatives have fewer than liberals. 

My sense about psychology is that you get diagnoses more or less because you ask for them, so these numbers may simply be explained as the willingness of these various groups to seek psychological counseling. You have to check however many boxes off for the current DSM, and then you get a diagnosis that will allow your insurance company to pay for the counseling you want. If someone doesn't believe in the value of such counseling, they won't go and they therefore won't get a diagnosis. I don't think this necessarily says anything about the actual mental health of these demographics.

Still, the delta is pretty big. There's an order of magnitude difference between the young liberal women and the oldest conservative men, and right at that big a difference between them and the oldest conservative women. 

Shocking if True

NotTheBee has a summary of some propaganda being put out by a hockey team for some reason or other; of all the places to virtue signal, goalie-fighting hockey teams are a very strange choice. One of these things is actually shocking, though, assuming that the statistic is true.

Now that would be amazing. I'm in no way an expert on the demographics here, but assuming that there is a roughly equal distribution of these qualities across various ethnic groups, black LGBTQ should account for around 13% of the total; and this Gallup poll suggests that trans-* should account for only 10% of that, so 1.3% of the total. But that's all sorts of trans-*, of which transgender women are an additional subset, presumably on the order of half of it. (And that's accounting for the doubling of the rate in the youngest generation, which is an additional weirdness to the numbers we'll ignore for now.)

So that would give us approximately (and admittedly according to very back-of-the-envelope math) 0.8% of the total population being the subject of 50% of the violence. If that's true, it's stunning.