“The 1619 Project” Shows How Government Policies “Discriminated Against African-Americans”

(p. A15) Hulu’s series “The 1619 Project” blames economic inequality between blacks and whites on “racial capitalism.” But almost every example presented is the result of government policies that, in purpose or effect, discriminated against African-Americans. “The 1619 Project” makes an unintentional case for capitalism.

The series gives many examples of government interventions that undercut free markets and property rights. Eminent domain, racial red lining of mortgages, and government support and enforcement of union monopolies figure prominently.

The final episode opens by telling how the federal government forcibly evicted black residents of Harris Neck, Ga., during World War II to build a military base. The Army gave residents three weeks to relocate before the bulldozers moved in, paying below-market rates through eminent domain. After the war, the government refused to let the former residents return. Violation of property rights is the opposite of capitalism.

For the full commentary, see:

David R. Henderson and Phillip W. Magness. “‘The 1619 Project’ Vindicates Capitalism.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023): A15.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date February 20, 2023, and has the title “‘The 1619 Project’ on Hulu Vindicates Capitalism.”)

The commentary quoted above is related to Magness’s book:

Magness, Phillip W. The 1619 Project: A Critique. Great Barrington, Massachusetts: American Institute for Economic Research, 2020.

Let “People Express Concerns in a Therapeutic Environment Before You and I Decide the Policy”

(p. A4) Britain’s top civil servant warned in October 2020 that Prime Minister Boris Johnson was a “nationally distrusted” figure who should not announce new social-distancing rules in the depths of the coronavirus pandemic.

The health secretary at the time, Matt Hancock, disparaged an eminent medical researcher who had publicly criticized Britain’s handling of Covid as a “complete loudmouth.” Mr. Hancock also mocked “Eat Out to Help Out,” a program to lure people back to restaurants sponsored by Rishi Sunak, referring to it as “eat out to help the virus get about.”

Those and many other unfiltered remarks are in more than 100,000 WhatsApp messages exchanged among Mr. Hancock, other ministers and aides as they tried to control the coronavirus outbreak in 2020 and 2021. They were handed to The Daily Telegraph, a British newspaper, by Isabel Oakeshott, a journalist who obtained them while helping Mr. Hancock write a book, “Pandemic Diaries,” about those desperate days.

. . .

“What I found shocking was the callous nature of the messages — the banter, the humor, and how casual they were about making decisions that affected people and their lives,” said Prof. Devi Sridhar, head of the global public health program at the University of Edinburgh.

. . .

Amid the pervasive sense of dread in the texts, there were also moments of gallows humor. Mr. Hancock once asked Michael Gove, a fellow minister, to explain the goals of a coming government meeting on the pandemic.

“Letting people express concerns in a therapeutic environment before you and I decide the policy,” Mr. Gove wrote.

“You are glorious,” Mr. Hancock replied.

For the full story, see:

Mark Landler. “Juicy Nuggets, but No Surprises About U.K. Covid Policy.” The New York Times (Monday, March 8, 2023): A4.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 7, 2023, and has the title “Ex-Minister’s Texts Lift the Veil on U.K. Covid Policy. It Isn’t Pretty.”)

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Classical Liberalism Is Based on “Freedom as a Supreme Value”

(p. C7) Almost elected president of his native Peru and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Mario Vargas Llosa combines politics and the written word with a distinction that makes him a Grand Old Man, of whom there are far too few left in the world. As befits this status, he is a liberal in the classic sense that derives from the biblical injunction to do to others what you would have them do to you.

He was not always a liberal. As Mr. Vargas Llosa recalls in the beautifully and carefully written opening chapter of “The Call of the Tribe,” he had been a communist in the 1950s.

. . .

(p. C8) José Ortega y Gasset is introduced as “one of the most intelligent and elegant liberal philosophers of the twentieth century.”

. . .

Conceding that Ortega may have been naive, Mr. Vargas Llosa goes on to sign off this chapter with a personal ex cathedra statement: “Liberalism is above all an attitude toward life and society based on tolerance and respect, a love for culture, a desire to coexist with others and a firm defense of freedom as a supreme value.”

. . .

Hayek’s book “The Road to Serfdom” was published in 1944 but Margaret Thatcher, who read it as a student at Oxford, seems to have delayed until she was prime minister before making it compulsory reading for anyone with a sense of politics. She had found an authority for her conviction that central planning was incompatible with freedom.

For the full review, see:

David Pryce-Jones. “The Duty of a Liberal Intellectual.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023): C7-C8.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date February 3, 2023, and has the title “‘The Call of the Tribe’ Review: Mario Vargas Llosa’s Dinner Party.”)

The book under review is:

Llosa, Mario Vargas. The Call of the Tribe. Translated by John King. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2023.

Janega Claims That Europeans in Middle Ages Washed Themselves Daily

If the claims in the book quoted below turn out to be well-documented, then I may need to modify a few sentences in my Openness book, if a new edition ever appears.

(p. A15) A longstanding myth holds that people in medieval Christian Europe didn’t bathe. In fact, the Middle Ages subscribed heartily to the adage “cleanliness is next to godliness.” Thinkers of the period considered physical beauty to represent spiritual purity, and they looked at hygiene in the same way: If one’s body was impure, it would by definition be unattractive and out of harmony. If it had any imperfections, one would best address them through cleansing. For women, in particular, cleanliness was one of the very highest virtues.

The daily wash usually involved collecting water in a ewer, heating it, then pouring it into a large basin to be used for scrubbing. Baths in a wooden tub would happen less often, given it was a world without plumbing. Water is heavy, and collecting it, heating it, and then getting it from the kettle into the bathtub was difficult. Baths also required space, which was at a premium in most households.

Luckily, there were a few ways to bathe outside the home. In warmer months, you could simply find a pond or a lake, and you were good to go. But in January this could be a problem, and that was where bathhouses came in. Bathhouses took the laborious and difficult work of drawing and heating water and monetized it. Most towns boasted at least one professional bathhouse, while cities played host to a number of competing establishments.

For the full essay, see:

Eleanor Janega. “The Middle Ages Were Cleaner Than We Think.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023): A15.

(Note: the online version of the essay has the date January 12, 2023, and has the same title as the print version.)

The essay quoted above is based on the author’s book:

Janega, Eleanor. The Once and Future Sex: Going Medieval on Women’s Roles in Society. New York: W.W. Norton, 2023.

Cancer-Ridden Chef Fights Cancer by Teaching Us to Cook Anti-Cancer Curry

While fighting terminal cancer, Raghavan is publishing a cookbook on how to more easily cook curry dishes. Curry contains turmeric, which some believe is helpful in fighting cancer.

(p. D1) Mr. Iyer arrived in Marshall, Minn., in 1982, unprepared for a hard culinary truth: There was almost nothing there for a vegetarian raised on South Indian cooking to eat. To make matters worse, Mr. Iyer couldn’t cook. He found a can of something called curry powder at a local grocery store and made potato curry. It was so bad he wept.

But Mr. Iyer, a man with six languages at his command and the astrological stubbornness of a Taurus, would not be defeated. He had his mother and older sister send recipes from India. He picked up a few cooking tips from new friends and put his chemistry degree to work.

“Everything became an experiment,” he said. “Blooming the spices was the big lesson.”

Mr. Iyer, 61, has by some estimations taught more Americans how to cook Indian food than anyone else. His formula is simple: Pare down techniques, use ingredients people can buy at the supermarket and deliver it all with the kindness of a kindergarten teacher.

. . .

(p. D7) Next Tuesday [Feb. 28, 2023], Mr. Iyer will publish “On the Curry Trail: Chasing the Flavor That Seduced the World in 50 Recipes.”

. . .

Mr. Iyer says it will be his last. Colorectal cancer has invaded his brain and lungs. He’s been fighting it for five years, which is years longer than people with that type of cancer usually survive. He has endured thousands of hours of radiation and chemotherapy, endless scans and four surgeries with multiple complications.

. . .

“I’m not worried about dying,” Mr. Iyer said. “Seriously, when you’re dead you don’t know what the hell is happening, so this book is not an homage to my death. This is really celebrating life, family, friends and food.”

That he eats a vegetarian diet, practices yoga and was an avid swimmer have helped him make it this long, he said. So did idli, the spongy, beloved South Indian breakfast staple made by fermenting and steaming rice.

After his first surgery, he lost 30 pounds — a lot for a man who had never topped 155. Before he went into the hospital, he made dozens of idli and froze them so Mr. Erickson could easily warm them up when Mr. Iyer returned home to recuperate.

“Idli nourished me from the inside out,” Mr. Iyer said.

His experience gave him the idea for the Revival Project, which he hopes to get up and running before he dies. He is building a searchable database of comfort-food recipes, organized by cuisine and medical condition, that hospital and other health care workers could use.

“I still don’t understand why the great wisdom of the world’s home cooks and healers has not yet found its way into hospitals and dietary training,” he said. If it weren’t for idli and sambar, yogurt and bowls of brothy rasam, Mr. Iyer might have not regained enough strength to finish “On the Curry Trail.”

. . .

The novelist Amy Tan met Mr. Iyer at the wedding of the writer Scott Turow. Both authors wrote endorsements for the book jacket.

“I jokingly said to Raghavan that this book is a recipe for world peace,” Ms. Tan said in a phone interview. “The way he embraces commonality as a form of love is truly special.”

She’s a vegan but not skilled in the kitchen, which is why she appreciates the way Mr. Iyer writes a recipe.

For the full story, see:

Kim Severson. “A Teacher Of Indian Cooking Takes On A New Cause.” The New York Times (Wednesday, February 22, 2023): D1 & D7-D8.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Feb. 23, 2023, and has the title “He Taught Americans to Cook Indian Food. Now He’s on His Final Chapter.” The version quoted above omits a sentence that appears in the online, but not the print, version of the article.)

The latest curry cookbook by Raghavan is:

Iyer, Raghavan. On the Curry Trail: Chasing the Flavor That Seduced the World. New York: Workman Publishing Company, 2023.

“Singapore’s Bill Gates” Thought Innovation Should Not Require Government Permission

(p. A9) In the late 1990s, before Singapore was known as a global center of digital innovation, Sim Wong Hoo had a theory about what was holding his country back.

Mr. Sim, who went on to become the city-state’s first tech billionaire, called it the “No U-Turn Syndrome,” or NUTS. In the U.S., he said, cars could turn around anywhere unless a sign told them not to. But in Singapore, drivers wouldn’t dare if it wasn’t expressly allowed. The “no rule, no do” mentality kept Singaporeans from thinking outside the box, he said.

So he wrote some new rules. Mr. Sim was raised in a poor household by illiterate parents before founding a startup that revolutionized computer audio and inspired a generation of Asian entrepreneurs. Many admirers still call him

. . .

Born in Singapore in 1955, when it was still under British rule, Mr. Sim grew up in a village in an area now called Bukit Panjang with 10 siblings. Their father died when he was young, and his mother struggled to support their large family by selling whatever seasonal fruits grew on the unkempt 1-acre farm she leased for about $15 a year. When not in school, the young Mr. Sim helped her sell eggs at a local market for about 1 cent apiece.

In his 1999 book, “Chaotic Thoughts From the Old Millennium,” Mr. Sim described himself as a weird child who made his own toys and board games because he couldn’t afford to buy them.

For the full obituary, see:

Feliz Solomon. “Singaporean Inspired Asian Tech Innovators.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023): A9.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date January 13, 2023, and has the title “Sim Wong Hoo, Creator of Sound Blaster, Inspired Asian Tech Innovators.”)

Mr. Sim’s book mentioned above is:

Sim, Wong Hoo. Chaotic Thoughts from the Old Millennium. Singapore: Creative O., 1999.

Brilliant, Courageous, Charming, WASP Publisher Defended Human Rights

(p. A24) John Macrae III, a dashing publisher who gambled on groundbreaking books and dauntlessly defended authors who defied injustices committed by their own governments, died on Feb. 1 [2023] at his home in Manhattan.

. . .

Mr. Macrae was among those who urged his fellow publishers to boycott the Moscow Book Fair in 1983 to protest the Soviet Union’s treatment of dissidents.

He flew to Poland with his stepson Nick and a portable folding kayak to navigate the Vistula River and meet with anti-government leaders undetected. He then met with intermediaries for Lech Walesa, leader of the outlawed Solidarity trade union, and persuaded him to write his autobiography.

Mr. Macrae also championed Salman Rushdie when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran in 1989 accused Mr. Rushdie of blaspheming Islam in his novel “The Satanic Verses” and enjoined Muslims to kill him.

“Jack traveled to Cuba and Iran on human rights missions,” Jeri Laber, a founder of Human Rights Watch, said, noting that in addition to making “several trips on his own to Communist Poland,” he traveled to Communist Czechoslovakia to meet with the dissident playwright Vaclav Havel, later to become the Czech Republic’s first president.

. . .

Amy Hertz, a former Dutton editor, wrote in The Huffington Post in 2010 that as a publisher Mr. Macrae “went after memoirs from apartheid South Africa and the end of the Cultural Revolution in China so that people would understand the suffering caused by lack of freedom.” And, she said, “he brought over the great Russian poets Yevtushenko and Voznesensky, and he worked with them to get Russian dissidents released from prison.”

“Jack’s brilliance,” Ms. Hertz added, “and what he passed along to me, is in not worrying about what’s on the page you’re looking at when evaluating a proposal or a manuscript. His brilliance is in hearing the thinking behind the author’s words, inchoate in the holy mess that when I worked for him was usually spread across his office floor. He taught me to find that kernel and to burnish it.”

. . .

“He was probably the last of the old-time, gentleman WASP publishers — born into the business,” said Charles McGrath, a former editor of The New York Times Book Review. “He had immense personal charm, and it was hard not to get swept up by him.”

Late in life, Mr. McGrath added, “he found out he had multiple sclerosis, but didn’t let that slow him down. He zipped around the office — and the city, for that matter — in a motorized wheelchair, as cheerful as ever.”

For the full obituary, see:

Sam Roberts. “John Macrae III, 91, Publisher And Rights Champion, Is Dead.” The New York Times (Friday, February 24, 2023): A24.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated Feb. 27, 2023, and has the title “John Macrae III, Eclectic Publisher and Rights Champion, Dies at 91.”)

Joyce Meskis Was the Principled Entrepreneur Behind Denver’s Wonderful Tattered Cover Bookstore

The Tattered Cover in Denver is my favorite bookstore. I remember one time as I was exiting, running into Scott Parris, then an economics editor at Oxford University Press, who would later be the acquisition editor for my Openness to Creative Destruction. I remember he asked me if I had seen any books in economics in the Tattered Cover that looked promising. On another memorable occasion I visited the bookstore with my daughter Jenny’s Montessori middle-school class as a bookend to the class’s trip to Estes Park. It is a large welcoming bookstore, with comfortable chairs, good coffee, and a wonderful and diverse selection of books. At least it was during the years that Joyce Meskis owned it. (It may still be–I have not visited for several years.)

(p. B12) In 1995 the writer A.E. Hotchner presented Joyce Meskis, owner of the Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver, with a PEN American Center award recognizing her efforts on behalf of freedom of speech and expression.

“In this room,” he said at the awards ceremony, “there are writers, editors, publishers, and the rest of you are readers. If this woman fails, we all fail. We don’t exist unless the bookseller can sell us.”

And that was before Ms. Meskis went all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court to prevent law enforcement officials from knowing what books one of her customers had bought.

Ms. Meskis, who built the Tattered Cover into one of the most successful independent bookstores in the country, died on Dec. 22 [2022] in Denver, the National Coalition Against Censorship announced.

. . .

In addition to creating a bookstore famed for its vast selection and bibliophile-friendly atmosphere, Ms. Meskis often took a stand in matters related to censorship and the First Amendment. Sometimes those positions were not easy ones to embrace.

. . .

To Ms. Meskis, owning a bookstore was about more than just sales. As she told The Arizona Daily Star in 1992, “It’s my view that as booksellers we have our own version of the Hippocratic oath — to maintain the health and well-being of the First Amendment.”

. . .

Her stances didn’t always involve government regulation and court battles. In the late 1980s, she vowed to continue selling Salman Rushdie’s 1988 novel, “The Satanic Verses,” despite anonymous telephone threats after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran declared the book blasphemous and called for the author’s death.

. . .

If Ms. Meskis was celebrated for her First Amendment stands, she took that spotlight reluctantly.

“Trouble finds us, we don’t go looking for it,” she told Publishers Weekly, an oft-repeated line. “When you’re in a general community, you will always have challenges. There are things I didn’t expect. I didn’t expect so many court battles. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”

For the full obituary, see:

Neil Genzlinger. “Joyce Meskis, 80, Bookseller Who Defended Readers’ Rights.” The New York Times (Thursday, January 12, 2023): B12.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated Jan. 11, 2023, and has the title “Joyce Meskis, Bookseller Who Defended Readers’ Rights, Dies at 80.”)

United Nations “Innovation Matters” Podcast Posts Episode on Diamond’s Openness to Creative Destruction

The United Nations’s “Innovation Matters” podcast on 2/24/23 posted Part 1 of a discussion of my book Openness to Creative Destruction.  Anders and I had an animated conversation, and a lengthy one, so the United Nations says we can look forward to them posting a Part 2 and a Part 3.

You can listen to the podcast on the following platforms: SoundCloud, Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music.

Long-Distance Trade May Help Explain Why Sapiens Flourished More Than Neanderthals

(p. 47) Sykes explains that Neanderthals were sophisticated and competent human beings who adapted to diverse habitats and climates.

. . .

At the time when they encountered the Neanderthals, Sapiens too lived in small bands, but different Sapiens bands probably cooperated on a regular basis. There is much more evidence for long-distance trade among Sapiens, and spectacular burials like the 32,000-year-old Sunghir graves clearly reflect the combined effort of more than one band.

Large-scale cooperation did not necessarily mean that a horde of 500 Sapiens united to wipe out a band of 20 Neanderthals. Cooperation isn’t just about violence. Sapiens could more easily benefit from the discoveries and inventions of other people. If somebody in a neighboring band discovered a new way to locate beehives, to make a tunic or to heal a wound, such knowledge could spread much more quickly among Sapiens than among Neanderthals. While individual Neanderthals were perhaps as inquisitive, imaginative and creative as individual Sapiens, superior networking enabled Sapiens to swiftly outcompete Neanderthals.

This, however, is largely speculation. We still don’t know enough about the psychology, society and politics of Neanderthals to be sure. Perhaps the most surprising fact in Sykes’s book is that even if we count every bone fragment and every isolated tooth, so far we have found the remains of fewer than 300 Neanderthals.

For the full review, see:

Yuval Noah Harari. “Ancient Cousins.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, December 6, 2020): 47.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review was updated Nov. [sic] 9, 2020, and has the title “At Home With Our Ancient Cousins, the Neanderthals.”)

The book under review is:

Sykes, Rebecca Wragg. Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art. London: Bloomsbury Sigma, 2020.

Lethality of Ebola in West Africa Mainly Due to “the Contingent History of a Population Made Vulnerable”

(p. 22) As Farmer writes in his new book, “Fevers, Feuds, and Diamonds: Ebola and the Ravages of History,” by the time he arrived in the capital city of Freetown in late September, “western Sierra Leone was ground zero of the epidemic, and Upper West Africa was just about the worst place in the world to be critically ill or injured.”

. . .

Farmer notes that even severe cases of Ebola rarely produce the horror-film symptoms featured so prominently in Preston’s “Hot Zone”: patients bleeding from their eyeballs, their organs liquefied in a matter of hours. Most cases instead involve fluid and electrolyte loss caused by vomiting and diarrhea, which can often be treated with basic supportive and critical care, like intravenous fluid replenishment or dialysis. Ebola was so lethal in upper West Africa not because the virus itself conveyed an inevitable death sentence, but because countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone lacked these health care essentials. “For all their rainfall,” Farmer writes, “their citizens are stranded in the medical desert.”

. . .

“This was not,” Farmer writes, “a history of inevitable mortality that resulted from ancient evolutionary forces.  . . .   It was the contingent history of a population made vulnerable.”

For the full review, see:

Steven Johnson “A Preventable Epidemic.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, December 13, 2020): 22.

(Note: ellipses between paragraphs, added; ellipsis internal to last paragraph, in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 17, 2020, and has the title “The Deadliness of the 2014 Ebola Outbreak Was Not Inevitable.”)

The book under review is:

Farmer, Paul. Fevers, Feuds, and Diamonds: Ebola and the Ravages of History. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020.