Recent Features and Headlines, 14 Sept 2022

Ockham’s Razor; Randall Munroe; The best time to be alive; nephew of longtermism; political headlines.

Slate, Jim Al-Khalili, 12 Sep 2022: Ockham’s Razor Is Not So Sharp, subtitled “Looking past the simplest explanation can make us all better thinkers.”

Well — of course. It’s simplistic to think that the simplest explanation is always the right one. Occam’s Razor (as it’s sometimes spelled) is a rule-of-thumb, a heuristic, and in the absence of complete data, it merely says the simplest explanation is more likely to be right than more complex ones. Because usually they are — but not always. Of course. The author goes through some obvious well-known examples: Copernicus; Darwin; Einstein. And lest the article itself seem a tad simplistic, it’s written to a general audience (as is his book) who may think the “razor” is some kind of rule. Context is important.


Wired, Maggie Chen, 13 Sept 2022: Randall Munroe Is Back to Answer Your Impossible Questions

Subtitle: “The xkcd author and former NASA engineer tackles our questions about science education, solvable climate issues, and his latest What If? book.”

What it says. The comic is here (about two new ones per week); the new book is here.


Vox, Kenny Torrella, 12 Sept 2022: Now is the best time in human history to be alive (unless you’re a farm animal)

Subtitle: “Animal welfare has suffered as humanity has improved, but there’s hope on the horizon.”

Not to diminish the issue of farm animals, but the lead theme bears repeating, because so many people simply don’t believe it.

If you could choose to be alive at any point in human history, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better moment than right now. We’re living longer, richer lives with better access to clean water, education, electricity, and basic human rights than ever before.

Note the references to Our World in Data.


Vox, Sigal Samuel, 6 Sept 2022: Effective altruism’s most controversial idea

Subtitle: “Longtermism is influencing billionaire philanthropy and shaping politics. Should it guide the future of humanity?”

Salon, Émile P. Torres, 10 Sept 2022: Selling “longtermism”: How PR and marketing drive a controversial new movement

Subtitle: “For star author William MacAskill and the ‘longtermist’ movement, marketing, PR and brand management are crucial”

More about “longtermism,” which I discussed earlier on August 8th and again on August 22nd, two pieces that make it seem sinister. The Salon writer did an earlier piece cited in the latter post. Again, I will read the book (and a second, similar one by Ari Wallach) before passing judgment, but billionaire philanthropy is generally a red flag for policies that are deeply conservative and, of course, that favor billionaires. And marketing campaigns and brand management can be signs that ideas themselves can’t sell themselves. We’ll see.


And some political links…


Salon, Paul Rosenberg, 11 Sept 2022: How Justice Scalia created chaos: “Originalism” is just right-wing ideology in disguise, subtitled, “Berkeley law school dean Erwin Chemerinsky on the incoherent, dishonest ideology that has warped the Supreme Court”

The biggest problems of originalism, beginning with the epistemological problem, the abhorrence problem, and the incoherence problem. In the philosophical view this blog maintains, it’s yet another example of simple-mindedness, the rejection of complexity and nuance.


NYT, Peter Coy, 9 Sept 2022: Buy American? It Gets Complicated.

My comment: In our global society, which is already more inextricably global than the critics of globalism realize, it’s as infeasible to “buy American” as it is to “buy Kentuckyian” or “buy San Diegoan.”


Vox, Ellen Ioanes, 10 Sept. 2022: The GOP is learning just how hard it is to legislate abortion, subtitled “Ahead of the midterms, severe abortion restrictions are coming up against public opinion — and people’s real lives.”

And on the front page of today’s NY Times:

Republicans Struggle to Unite Party Around National Abortion Restrictions

And Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin, 14 Sept 2022: Graham delivered a gift to Democrats: Proof of GOP’s abortion extremism

And Slate, Mark Joseph Stern, 14 Sept 2022: The Perverse, Potentially Lethal Consequences of Lindsey Graham’s Federal Abortion Ban:

The senator, reversing his prior position that abortion should be left to the states, now seeks to override blue states’ more liberal laws by establishing a nationwide cutoff.


The Christian zealots who want religious control of American society are right in front of us.

Salon, Kathryn Joyce, 13 Sept 2022: “Without the Bible, there is no America”: Josh Hawley goes full Christian nationalist at NatCon

Subtitle: “We are a revolutionary nation precisely because we are the heirs of the revolution of the Bible,” Hawley declared

(My take: he is poorly educated. Educated in a Christian bubble, perhaps, just like those children in those Hasidic enclaves. He can’t imagine how society could function except within his religion, therefore he wants to impose his religion on the rest of us.)

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