Automatic, unthinking opposition is bad

Elon Musk actually believes Rex Tillerson could be an ‘excellent’ Secretary of State” strikes a skeptical tone about Tillerson, but so far I haven’t seen a strong explanation about why he wouldn’t be. There is much to dislike and fear about Trump—I in particular worry about the way he raises the risks of global nuclear war—but it is unwise to automatically oppose anyone he proposes for his Cabinet or anything he does.

It is also not impossible that Trump will appoint a good FDA commissioner. It is possible that House Republicans will reform Social Security, which is an unmitigated good for anyone under the age of 40 or so (barring a sudden, unexpected takeoff in growth, the Social Security and Medicare edifices will not provide anything like current benefits when people my age are the age of current recipients; workers my age are paying taxes for the fiscal services old people get that we ourselves are unlikely to get when we are that old, and that ought to affect our voting patterns (it doesn’t)).

One should reserve opprobrium for where it is deserved and not fire it off generically, especially based on innuendo or simple partisan affiliation. Again, that is not to approve of Trump or most things House Republicans favor, but it should contextualize the discussion. As far as I can tell, Tillerson could be an excellent Secretary of State (he could also be a terrible one). I know very little about him and wish to avoid castigating him or anyone else based on automatic partisanship.

Doing so is of course hard, for reasons Jonathan Haidt describes in The Righteous Mind and Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels describe in Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government. Those books are too long to describe briefly, but both show that most people are partisans first and thinkers about individual issues second, or third, or even fourth. There is much evidence for this case, perhaps the most interesting being the last election: Trump is not a Republican in an ideological or issue-based sense, but he did get the nomination and most Republicans and nominal Republicans voted for him anyway.

I’m also not sure I could enumerate the qualities of a good Secretary of State versus a bad one, and I wonder how many people with strongly stated views on Tillerson could. I wonder how many could say anything useful about his views and background. I can’t.

Links: Linux for writers, antibiotics, why the “Hobbit” movies are terrible, revenge of the bureaucrats and more!

* “Shallow Graves: The novels of Paul Auster,” from 2009 and one of the most hilarious reviews I’ve ever read; somehow I missed it at the time.

* “Doomsday Prep for the Super-Rich.” It’s a good article and has been making the rounds online; if I were super-rich I’d be doing the same thing, for reasons listed in “Trump fears and the nuclear apocalypse.” Again, look at history: The craziness of World Wars I and II are (almost) impossible to believe, if you really study them. Entire countries marched in virtual lockstop into existential horror. People follow the crowd and do what they’re told, even if the crowd walks off a cliff and the leader tells them to walk off a cliff. The probability of extremely bad things happening is low, but it’s higher than it was on Nov. 7.

* A shockingly good explanation of why the Hobbit movies were so terrible.

* We will miss antibiotics when they’re gone.

* Where the Second Avenue Subway Went Wrong.

* On Building the Skyline, a history of New York’s skyscrapers. Also, A single city in China built more skyscrapers last year than the US and Australia combined. Pretty sad.

* Tom Wolfe’s new book is terrible. I started it and gave up maybe a quarter of the way through.

* The Many, the Humble, the Ubuntu Linux Users. About using Linux from the perspective of a writer rather than a programmer. There are also now very good laptops that come with Linux pre-installed, like this Dell XPS 13″.

* The System Has Failed and a Con Artist Has Won.

* “Blue Lies Matter: How Video Finally Proved That Cops Lie.”

* Yes, there have been aliens.

* The next [debt or financial] crisis?

* “What the Death of the T.P.P. Means for America.” The short answer is, “Very little that is good.”

* On Forged Through Fire: War, Peace, and the Democratic Bargain

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