Xprize Airlines, boarding now, destination Future

Good to hear that another science-fiction anthology is on the way. Presumably it won’t be filled with gloom and pessimism, since it’s from the outstanding Xprize organisation (.mp3 talk by the founder). They’ve partnered with All Nippon Airlines (ANA) to “imagine a bold vision of the future” via science fiction. The trailer/think-tank for that new Xprize will be the launch of a new anthology of stories set 20 years in the future. Sign-ups for that are being accepted now, by the dedicated website.

Biding TIME

TIME magazine: “The Left Is Killing Itself With Pessimism”. Who knew?

The author has a new book, The Optimistic Leftist. Judging by the reviews the best the irrelevant political left can now expect is that… if they quit all their whining and moaning and lying… and if they slap on a big Jimmy Carter smile… and if they wait it out into the medium-term future (2030?) then…

“Good economic times will promote upward mobility and a sense of personal optimism” amid a quietly ideological “commitment to abundance” and to “opportunity” among ordinary people.

This, the author then ambitiously claims, will lull the elites into a dozy drift back towards a…

“orientation toward collective advance that will greatly facilitate the agenda of the broad left.”

If the left still exists, at that point.

The growing Rational Optimist genre of nonfiction

This week Inside Higher Ed (the U.S. equivalent of the Times Higher newspaper) has a glancing look at what it terms the Progress‘ and the ‘Rational Optimist‘ Genre of Nonfiction and asks…

“This is the sort of book that I think that every college freshman should be required to read. … What books would you add to a Rational Optimist genre of nonfiction?”

It’s a ‘do my homework for me’ question, but also a book promotion opportunity. Zero comments, so far.

Factfulness and fish

I see that the great Hans Rosling is reported to be working on a major new book on positive world trends, according to Nature

“It has the working title Factfulness, and they hope it will inform everyone from schoolchildren to esteemed experts about how the world has changed”. The book will try to “erase preconceived ideas”.

Rosling specialises in ideas about poverty and world development, and is well known via his explanatory videos. Judging by those videos his book will certainly be worth reading, and may be especially interesting because he’s recently been outspoken about the use of misleading and tweaked NGO statistics for “advocacy purposes” at the government level. In the peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet, no less.

But the NGO/government level is just ‘the tip of the iceberg’, I’d suggest. Such statistical twiddling so easily slips over into boosting ‘awareness raising’ campaigns among the general public. Then it becomes essential to ongoing cycles of fund-raising among the pensioners and other regular givers. Eventually the organisational culture becomes so distorted that it normalises those who want to engage in blatant political point-scoring in the media — of the sort exemplified by Oxfam’s ongoing self-inflicted erosion of its brand values via skewed statistics, damaging itself among everyone except a small minority of Social Justice Worriers and other gullibles.

I wonder if all that will start to change, with Planet Trump and a parallel heightened awareness of the left’s ‘fake news’. In which case the wallet-opening headline-grabbing methods that NGOs learned during 1997-2017 may suddenly become less effective. Perhaps Rosling’s new book Factfulness will help to coax NGOs into adopting new and more honest approaches.

sard

Of course sometimes it also happens that an NGO spots a perfectly genuine natural cyclical change, and seizes the bottom of the curve to shriek about ‘extinction’ — such as scary headlines about the extinction of the humble sardine in yesterday’s Daily Express: “Sardines under threat of EXTINCTION as overfishing pushes them towards being wiped out”. According to the NGO report being covered it appears that there is a real and growing threat of overfishing, of all sorts, off the west African coast — due to surging population growth, Chinese trawlers, new technologies, better roads and storage, new ports and canning factories, tourism growth etc. But the intention of Express‘s reporting is to make the casual skimming reader think: “if such a humble fish is set to go extinct, then the end of the world is nigh”. If that was really the intention of the report‘s writers — before the NGO’s press officer and the Express journalists tore into it — is unknown. But there are two factors which make one wonder about that.

Firstly, what the reader didn’t hear from the Express was that the world’s sardine population rolls through immense multi-decade cycles of boom and near-total bust. According to my Google Scholar searches and some reading, the fish appears to be about 18 months past a huge bust point in its global population. In a decade or so it will be becoming abundant again. But by misleadingly screaming in capital letters about “EXTINCTION” the Express newspaper effectively discredits an apparently valid report about overfishing and the need for fish stock conservation.

Secondly, The Express also completely overlooked a huge international plan that has just been funded to try to deal with such problems. Also to stimulate serious aquaculture farming and sustainable inshore fisheries on suitable parts of the vast African coast.

Instead the newspaper shrieks that the good old British ‘sardines on toast’ are soon to be off the menu forever. One thus has to suspect that the NGO involved didn’t do very much to steer the newspaper toward sardine population trends or the World Bank mega-project. Much as I’ve recently come to admire the Express for its pro-Brexit stance, I have to say that its sardines story seems to have stepped across the ‘linkbait’ line and was borderline ‘fake news’ in its approach. In such a context I’d suggest that the profession of newspaper fact-checker could usefully expand its remit, to have its members also ask “… and what optimistic facts have been been left out?”

Thomas Sowell retires from column writing

The great Thomas Sowell retires from political column writing this week, with his last “Farewell by Dr. Thomas Sowell” column. He’s turning off the flow of news and intends to spend the time saved in photographing amid the great wild places of North America. His latest capstone book is a new edition of Wealth, Poverty, and Politics for which he recently did a 43-minute interview with the Hoover Institution.

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The best introductory overview of his intellectual ideas is The Thomas Sowell Reader (2011). His introductory Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy is well regarded, but I admit I found it heavy-going even as an audiobook. The fault was not Sowell’s, but mine. Those who just can’t absorb hours of solid economics, even when expertly explained and grounded, might instead look at his more approachable mix of real-world economics and recent history — his excellent book The Housing Boom and Bust: Revised Edition (2010). This is still one of the most readable accounts of the root causes of the recession. It leaves one with a great many memorable lessons in real markets and the unforeseen perils of leftist market interventionism in a highly interconnected world. It could be one of the best samples of Sowell’s work, for many, if you only have the time to read one.

For Sowell’s own very remarkable life story, look to his A Personal Odyssey (2002). This would make for an excellent Ken Burns-style documentary mini-series, or even a long graphic novel, if there are creatives out there in 2017 who are looking for a worthy new project in tune with our newly conservative times.

All the books mentioned above are available as unabridged audiobooks.