What to the Palestinian is the Fourth of July?

Barely a word about this in the mainstream American media. Barely a word about it from libertarian defenders of property rights. But lots of caterwauling about “cancel culture” and Critical Race Theory, and lots of empty rhetoric about the “freedom” we brought the world with the Revolution of 1776.*

Israel has sent demolition notices to residents of about 100 homes in Silwan, warning their abodes–housing more than 1,500 people–are to be destroyed.

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Barbara Gordon: A Life Lived in Song

This is a memorial essay for Barbara Gordon, written by my friend Yvonne Raley, formerly Associate Professor of Philosophy at Felician University.

The sound of your voice will always be with me, Barbara, my beloved and loyal friend, my teacher of song. I am so grateful to have been graced with your presence for 27 years of my life, and so torn apart by your untimely death.

I knew you as delicate and fragile in many ways, and yet you were mighty, a true force that would fill people’s hearts with music and joy. I will never forget how you grilled me before taking me on as your student, to make sure I had enough dedication, because you would accept nothing less. I finally won you over with our shared love for Debussy and my ability to speak French, and so in 1994 I became your tutee Friday mornings at NYU, and a couple of years later at your home where I became part of your extended family: I stood next to the piano and practiced as Josh graduated high school and Ellie graduated college, got married and had kids of her own. I met Josh’s cat Milo who loved your yard, and I shared a memorable Seder with you. Not only did you introduce me to Satie and Ravel, but also to your Chiropractor and to Whole Foods!

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Western Civilization or Universal Culture or WEIRD Culture?

It is common to think of Western Civilization as rooted in classical antiquity, the Catholic and Protestant forms of Christianity, and the languages, history, and cultural attainments of Western Europe. It is also common to think of Western Civ as particularly favorable, and maybe even essential, to modernization as exemplified by the industrial revolution and the modern market economy. An example of both these ways of thinking is Huntington (1996). But this view is open to challenge, and in this post, I want to examine two such challenges: Scott Alexander’s “universal culture” and Joseph Henrich’s “WEIRD culture.”

In a Slate Star Codex post, How the West Was Won, Scott Alexander argues that what people often call Western culture is really universal culture, the omnivorous culture of “what works.” For example, “Western medicine” is really just whatever has been found to be the most effective at curing disease, maintaining health, etc. It is driven fundamentally by empirical standards, and in that sense is nonideological, and so the contrast with “natural” or “traditional” or “Eastern” medicine is bogus, in at least two ways. First, despite claims of its opponents in these other camps that “Western” medicine is forcing a certain conception of health or science or efficacy onto people, the truth is that it is the opponents who are playing that game, not “Western” medicine, which will adopt indiscriminately whatever can be shown empirically to get the job done. Second, there is nothing geographically Western about “Western” medicine, except insofar as the “what works” approach to medicine first began making spectacular progress in the West in the nineteenth century, and Western Europe and the Anglosphere nations have maintained a lead ever since. But it is not peculiarly “Western.” For one thing, it will take new ideas from anywhere, indiscriminately; the criterion is efficacy, not region of origin. For another, it can be adopted anywhere—and it is. Its essence is a rational standard of acceptance, as opposed to any ties to tradition, culture, region, or ideology. It is an accident of history that “Western” medicine was developed in the West.

Alexander gives some other examples of what he claims is the same phenomenon: Coca-Cola succeeded because it is “refreshment that works,” egalitarian gender norms “work,” sushi “works.” And note that sushi, of course, was not invented in the West. That’s the point.

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On Being Wounded by Injustice: A Response to Stephen Hicks

Stephen Hicks offers this analysis (a few weeks back) of being wounded by racist talk. To be blunt, his argument strikes me as wildly off base. I’ve numbered each move in the argument for ease of reference.

(1) For someone’s opinion to hurt, you first have to value their opinion.

(2) Think of it this way: If you think someone is a moron, then you don’t value their opinion and their moronic views don’t hurt you. And racism is moronic. So why be hurt by a racist’s insults?

(3) If a baboon could talk and said you looked ugly, that would say more about the baboon than about your looks.

The entire argument turns on the truth of (1), but (1) strikes me as either misleadingly phrased or obviously false. In explaining why racist talk (or injustice generally) is wounding, the relevant issue is not the victim’s valuation of the beliefs of the perpetrator, but the expectations we all bring to human relations. As a basic background fact, when we deal with others, we expect them to show us a certain minimally decent degree of respect for our humanity. When they violate this expectation, they wound us, and we feel pain.

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AUMF 2001 and the Militarization of the American Mind

This article mostly chronicles good news, but one sentence in it deserves to be memorialized and savored for expressing the nonsensical essence of American foreign policy in 32 economical words.

“Unlike declarations of a major conflict like World War II, authorizations for use of force are typically intended for limited use for a specific mission or region like Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.”

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Hospitals Are Not Safe: Infection, PR, and EVS

I get the need (I suppose) to see the bright side of things as expressed in this article on LinkedIn, especially after the misery of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hospital workers did great things during the pandemic, and can be justifiably proud about the good they did. But I wish I had thirty minutes with a hospital executive at the level of Mikelle Moore below, to give them a small dose of some realities with which they seem oddly unacquainted.

Adapting to Uncertainty, Learning on the Front Lines and Creating a Purposeful New Normal | AHA News

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Barbara Gordon (1947-2021), RIP

I just got news today, a week after the fact, of the untimely passing of my friend and colleague Barbara Gordon, Associate Professor of Music and Instructor in French at Felician University. Hired about a year before I was (2007), Barbara essentially built the university’s music department and program (including its choir) from the ground up, and was responsible for just about every major musical event–religious, classical, jazz–that took place on campus. She organized the Christmas concert as well as the musical parts of the convocation and commencement ceremonies, and virtually every concert and recital in between. Where there was high musical culture to be had at Felician–be it Adele, Bach, or Coltrane–Barbara was likely behind it.  

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Koch Grants and Government Grants: A Difference

Christopher Freiman challenges academics who object to Koch grants on ethical grounds but are willing to accept government grants:

Many academics object to Koch grants but not government grants. As far as I can tell, the objections to the former apply with equal or greater force to the latter. Consider two:

1) The Kochs have committed injustices and accepting Koch money makes you complicit in those injustices, even if the funded project is wholly unrelated to them.

But of course the government has committed injustices; indeed, injustices far graver than anything the Kochs have been accused of (e.g. murdering people daily).  Furthermore, most of what people find objectionable about the Kochs is their lobbying efforts. Yet the government should also bear some responsibility for seeking and accepting the influence of Koch money in that case. If you accept money as part of your murder for hire business, you are at least as morally blameworthy as the buyer.

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Code Blue to Code Green: EVS, RCM, and Health Care

As many readers will know, I just spent the last eight months working full time for OR EVS at Hunterdon Medical Center in Flemington, New Jersey. About a week ago, I started a new job as a junior analyst in hospital revenue cycle management (RCM) with Aergo Solutions in Iselin, New Jersey. People have asked how I like my new job. Get back to me on that when I know what the hell I’m doing, since for now, I obviously don’t.

For now, I can only comment on the transition between the one job and the other. And the only comment I can muster is that I’m having trouble putting things in words. The difference between working for OR EVS and working for hospital RCM is so stark and abrupt that I’m inclined to think that you really have to experience it first-hand to know what it’s like. One day you’re working with fracture tables; the next day, you’re working with pivot tables. The two things have about as much in common as the two jobs themselves.

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