Saturday, November 10, 2012
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Jacques Barzun, the distinguished historian, essayist, cultural gadfly and educator who helped establish the modern discipline of cultural history and came to see the West as sliding toward decadence, died Thursday night in San Antonio, where he lived. He was 104.
I'll miss him. he was one of a handful of people who profoundly influenced my view of history and the world. Godspeed.
The obituary is here.
Monday, October 29, 2012
Even before his inauguration, Barack Obama was an imaginary man, the creation of his admirers. Think back to the 2008 Time magazine cover depicting him as FDR, the Newsweek
cover of the same year on which he was shown casting Lincoln’s shadow,
or the $1.4 million Nobel Peace Prize awarded to him “for his
extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and
cooperation between peoples”—this in 2009, less than a year after he had
taken office. It was not that Obama had done nothing to deserve these
outsized comparisons and honors—it was not just that he had done
nothing—it was that he seemed for all the world to be a blank screen on
which such hysterical fantasies could too easily be projected, a
two-dimensional paper doll just waiting to be dressed in leftist dreams.
The article is here.
A basic point I'd raise is that in almost all times and places, the solution for urban population growth has not been vertical densification, but outwards expansion into greenfield areas. Historically, dramatic vertical growth was the product of exceptional circumstances, generally related to the presence of city walls paired with external military threats discouraging sub-urban construction, or the occasional imperial mega-city. More
Sunday, October 28, 2012
Magic is an art, as capable of beauty as music, painting or poetry. But the core of every trick is a cold, cognitive experiment in perception: Does the trick fool the audience? A magician’s data sample spans centuries, and his experiments have been replicated often enough to constitute near-certainty. Neuroscientists—well intentioned as they are—are gathering soil samples from the foot of a mountain that magicians have mapped and mined for centuries. MRI machines are awesome, but if you want to learn the psychology of magic, you’re better off with Cub Scouts and hard candy. More.
In short, the only thing exceptional about America is that it has resisted the transformation that European nations have undergone into social welfare states. The above interpretation of the "true" nature of America is widely taught at American universities--sometimes subtly, more commonly openly--as if it is gospel. More insidiously, despite the university's reputation as a place where a student is exposed to numerous different ideas, the "wisdom" encapsulated above is passed on as if it is irrefutably established truth, and students risk grade and opprobrium if they challenge it. This smells more like indoctrination than education to me. More here.
The seeming prosperity and glittering power of Spain in the 16th century proved a sham and an illusion in the long run. For it was fuelled almost completely by the influx of silver and gold from the Spanish colonies in the New World. In the short run, the influx of bullion provided a means by which the Spanish could purchase and enjoy the products of the rest of Europe and Asia; but in the long run, price inflation wiped out this temporary advantage. More here.