Tuesday, June 5, 2018

180605 Readings & Comments

Today I'm initiating an experiment. I'm going to share some readings (shorter) that I find worth commenting upon. Somewhat like Tyler Cowen does at Marginal Revolution, and a bit like Robert Wright's Mindful Resistance Newsletter and WTFJustHappenedToday, only with more comment. (And not in the least to presume that I'll replace or even compete with any of those sites.) I'll mostly cover current legal and political news (plenty of that even today) and foreign affairs, but also anything else that catches my fancy that I read or listen to (lots of podcasts are excellent sources of information). You know, basketball, meditation, sex (Hah! Just trolling!).  Anyway, here goes.

1. "Intellectuals, Politics and Bad Faithby Paul Krugman, NYT 180604. I usually agree with Krugman, but I'm not convinced of his argument here. Nor do I buy Niall Ferguson's assertion that "the campus left the “biggest threat to free speech in Donald Trump’s America." Sorry, Professor Ferguson, you can't take that away from #45--he's by far the greatest threat. But that being said, the campus left, so-called "social justice warriors," are a matter of concern. Authoritarianism on the left and on the right poses a threat. I used to pooh-pooh claims of alarm about leftists on campus, but a bit of investigation has led me to worry more, especially in these polarized times. Few people make a distinction between "free speech" and First Amendment rights (which limit only government regulation of "expression) and social coercion. And given the fact that we have a right to avoid and even boycott those with whom we vehemently disagree and to suggest that others join us in doing so, I don't support any claim of right that someone else can censor my right to any information I want to receive by preventing a speaker from speaking (and implicitly my ability to hear and experience this person). Ferguson's alarm and then Krugman's counter-alarm were set off by actions against Charles Murray, a social scientist and author of--as Krugman describes it--a "much-debunked book" about race and IQ. That book is quite old, I believe, and Murray, I think, has published much else since then. In short, if Murray needs further "de-bunking," that should occur by debate and evidence, not student protests. I have no opinion on the validity of Murray's works or arguments. I have only a passing acquaintance.  But if I should disagree with him--even strongly so--that doesn't give me the right to gag him. 

2. Trump and His Lawyers Embrace a Vision of VastExecutive Power  by Charlie Savage, NYT, 180604. Is anyone else alarmed that a president claims that he could pardon himself? I can't cite any chapter and verse off the top of my head, but isn't it fundamental that one can't be a judge of one's own case--assuming you're making a pretext of following the rule of law. This is an essential, deep-seated, beyond-question conflict-of-interest. Yes, kings and tyrants do it, but American presidents? The Founders must be rolling over in their graves--or they're screaming, "We told you so!"  And I must say that #45 makes Nixon seem like a royal piker for arguing so modestly for regal prerogatives. 

3. The Flaw in Trump's Obstruction-of-Justice Defense by Benjamin Wittes, The Atlantic, 180604. Wittes is a fellow lawyer and go-to guy on issues of #45's legal antics and arguments (and he writes for the Lawfare blog). Anyway, he cools the jets on obstruction of justice issues. He doesn't address a royal pardon of the royal person. 

4. On the topic of tyrants and scoundrels, but not our current batch necessarily, Peter Turchin, an evolutionary biologist and originator of Cliodynamics, the study of historical trends, offers this piece in his blog. Entitled "The New Machiavelli," Turchin critiques rational choice theory (from its heyday) as promoted by Bruce Bueno de Mosquita and Alastair Smith in a recent book that applies the theory tout court to national political rulers. In brief, Turchin rejects outright a theory of power based only on self-regarding behavior. Turchin, the biologist and historian, notes the reality of altruistic leadership as well. These traits lie on a spectrum, not on an either/or switch. In fact, I would add the Machiavelli realized this. I believe its a mistake to consider Machiavelli only from the viewpoint of "The Prince." To understand Machiavelli and his values, one must also explore his republican side. And much of what is attributed to The Prince is a caricature of Machiavelli's beliefs and values. 

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