All posts filed under: Long Read

Victimhood or Development?

On October 20th, Brown University professor of economics Glenn Loury and Columbia University professor of linguistics John McWhorter were joined on Loury’s Bloggingheads podcast The Glenn Show by Shelby and Eli Steele to discuss the new documentary What Killed Michael Brown? The film is written and narrated by Shelby, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and an award-winning writer, and directed by his son, Eli. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of that discussion. LOURY: What Killed Michael Brown? has already produced a lot of controversy. I hear that Amazon was a little bit reluctant to let you guys put your film up at their streaming service. I don’t know what that’s about, but the reviews that I have read are very positive, including the review that I offered here with John in our last conversation. So where did the idea for making this film come from? S. STEELE: This film came from the realization that we had a body dead in the street. We felt the whole American racial situation was somehow concretized, …

My Military Jail-Time in Israel

I have never done time in a civilian prison. But military jails are another matter. During my long service in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF)—during 1967–1969 as a conscript and, thereafter, until 1990, as a reservist—I spent three stints, as far as I can remember, under lock and key. Each of them tells us something about the history of Israel and the IDF. I The first time was like a bad joke and brief, almost a non-event. It was sometime in mid-June 1967, a week or so after the IDF had defeated the armies of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria in the Six Day War. In the days after the shooting had ended, the IDF was engulfed by chaos. On the front lines, at the eastern edge of the newly-conquered Golan Heights and West Bank, along the Jordan River, the forward combat units dug in, waiting for what the politicians would decide—to hold in place, to withdraw, to shift the units about. (The troops remain there, more or less along the same lines, to this day, …

The Bias that Divides Us

As we sit here over six months after the initial lockdown provoked by COVID-19, the United States has moved out of a brief period of national unity into distressingly predictable and bitter partisan division. The return to this state of affairs has been fuelled by a cognitive trait that divides us and that our culture serves to magnify. Certainly many commentators have ascribed some part of the divide to what they term our “post-truth” society, but this is not an apt description of the particular defect that has played a central role in our divided society. The cause of our division is not that people deny the existence of truth. It is that people are selective in displaying their post-truth tendencies. What our society is really suffering from is myside bias: People evaluate evidence, generate evidence, and test hypotheses in a manner biased toward their own prior beliefs, opinions, and attitudes. That we are facing a myside bias problem and not a calamitous societal abandonment of the concept of truth is perhaps good news in …

Why Is Funny? How America Lost Its Sense of Humor

If you grew up in Detroit in the ’70s, jokes were everywhere. Most of them were Polack jokes, which were so common that it wasn’t until middle school that I realized that not every joke had to involve a guy from Poland. Today, jokes have almost entirely disappeared from public contexts, and have become a discreet affair, reserved for trusted friends. Over my 15 years working at universities in the United States, I have never heard anyone tell a joke—not a corny pun or some stupid meme—but a real joke that actually made me laugh. You know, a funny one. Good jokes can be dangerous and the risk of getting in trouble is just too high. It might not be so bad if the prohibition against telling jokes and policing of humor was limited to scripted jokes but the problem seems to have bled into everyday social interactions. Last week, I was listening to my wife’s co-workers take turns reproaching all the selfish assholes walking around town without masks. I helpfully added that, although I …

The China Syndrome Part IV: Did China Fudge its Data?

Note: This is the concluding part of a four-part series of essays looking in detail at China’s role in the COVID-19 pandemic. Part One looked at the circumstances surrounding the initial outbreak; Part Two looked at the discovery of human-to-human transmission and the immediate response; Part Three investigated allegations that the pandemic began in a “wet market” or that the virus escaped from a lab in Wuhan; this part examines charges that China falsified its pandemic data.  Allegations that China was falsifying its COVID-19 figures began to appear when its death and case rates were overtaken by even more dismal figures in parts of Europe and America. How could a repressive society like China possibly be getting this right while the West’s democracies were getting it wrong? As Western numbers climbed, commentators and politicians declared with growing certainty that China’s claim to have successfully suppressed its epidemic was simply the propagandistic lie of a mendacious totalitarian regime intended to fool its own citizenry and the rest of the world. Back in April, Bloomberg reported that, according …

The China Syndrome Part III: Wet Markets and BioLabs

Note: This is the third part of a four-part series of essays looking in detail at China’s role in the COVID-19 pandemic. Part One looked at the circumstances surrounding the initial outbreak; Part Two looked at the discovery of human-to-human transmission and the immediate response; this part investigates allegations that the pandemic began in a “wet market” or that the virus escaped from a lab in Wuhan; Part Four examines charges that the Chinese have falsified their pandemic data.  Among the most controversial questions debated in the wake of the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak are how and why the pandemic began in China in the first place. In the previous part of this essay, I argued that, to the extent that China was blameworthy for the pandemic, it was down to a matter of chance. Had the pandemic started in the West instead of China, it would likely have been much worse, so unless you believe in moral luck it doesn’t make sense to blame China. However, if the outbreak began as a result of Chinese negligence …

The China Syndrome Part II: Transmission and Response

Note: This is the second part of a four-part series of essays looking in detail at China’s role in the COVID-19 pandemic. Part One looked at the circumstances surrounding the initial outbreak; this part looks at the discovery of human-to-human transmission and the immediate response; Part Three investigates allegations that the pandemic began in a “wet market” or that the virus escaped from a lab in Wuhan; Part Four examines charges that the Chinese have falsified their pandemic data.  There is evidence that, in mid-January, Chinese officials withheld suspicions that sustained human-to-human transmission was occurring. Nevertheless, most of the claims about Chinese mendacity and its implications have been wildly exaggerated. A useful account of the ways in which the local health authorities delayed the release of crucial information was published on February 5th, 2020, in China News Weekly, but apparently deleted from their website almost immediately. Fortunately, it was archived and eventually translated by China Change, a website created by Chinese human rights activists in the US. A fair-minded story published by Associated Press also illuminates the role played by …

The China Syndrome Part I: Outbreak

Note: This is the first part of a four-part series of essays looking in detail at China’s role in the COVID-19 pandemic. This part looks at the circumstances surrounding the initial outbreak; Part Two looks at the discovery of human-to-human transmission and the immediate response; Part Three investigates allegations that the pandemic began in a “wet market” or that the virus escaped from a lab in Wuhan; Part Four examines charges that China falsified its pandemic data. Introduction According to a poll conducted in France, Italy, Spain, the UK, and the US at the end of March, a majority of the population in each of those countries believes that China is at least somewhat to blame for the pandemic and, in both the UK and the US, a plurality believe it’s significantly to blame. Another survey taken in the US at the end of April found that a plurality of people believe that SARS-CoV-2 was probably or definitely created in a lab. At the beginning of that month, another poll had found that a majority of Americans believed that China …

Understanding Totalitarianism

In recent years, amid concern about a possible resurgence of totalitarianism, a number of books and articles have appeared that are intended to warn about the rhetoric and behavior of the populist Right. At the same time, a countercurrent of public intellectuals and journalists have leveled similar accusations at the radical Left, alleging illiberal motives, ideas, and tactics for influencing culture and politics. Alarm about both of these developments can be found across the political spectrum. A sense of proportion is important when discussing this topic. For all its problems, America does not seem to be on the brink of a totalitarian revolution. Its institutions have been stressed during Trump’s term in office, but they have proved to be remarkably robust. And while there has been a concerning resurgence of radical leftwing activism in the months following the death of George Floyd, the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee for American president is a political moderate. And, although the pandemic provides unique challenges for the election in November, the country remains a constitutional republic of laws and …

Jeffrey Epstein’s Money Tainted My Workplace. Then Ronan Farrow’s Botched Reporting Trashed My Reputation

“You really need to pull over. You can’t drive all the way to Illinois without some rest,” my spouse implored, as he tried to speak sense to me on the phone while looking online for hotels in Eastern Pennsylvania. I could stop in Bethlehem, he said without irony. He had found a Hampton Inn that looked nice. It was already one in the morning. But I didn’t stop. I didn’t want to. I wasn’t tired and I couldn’t bear the thought of it. I didn’t want to wake up in some chain hotel and see my picture on five different TVs in the breakfast room. I kept on driving. Earlier that evening, the night of Sunday, September 8th, 2019, I’d run into my apartment building near the Brown University campus in Providence, Rhode Island, and grabbed my clothes, a toothbrush, some deodorant, and my house plants—all the stuff I thought I’d want to have with me over the next few weeks. I jammed everything into my 2005 Corolla for the drive to Illinois. It was …