Slowly emerging from the slog of a lazy weekend, I find myself catching up on some reading at the margins while putting off the assigned material.

Over at New Perspectives Quarterly, the great Milton Friedman articulates a cautious perspective on the Swedish temptation.  Here is a nugget:

NPQ | Perhaps the Scandinavian countries are a model to look at. They are high-tax but also high-employment societies. And they have freed up their labor markets much more than in Italy, France or Germany.

Friedman | Though it is not as true now as it used to be with the influx of immigration, the Scandinavian countries have a very small, homogeneous population. That enables them to get away with a good deal they couldn’t otherwise get away with.

What works for Sweden wouldn’t work for France or Germany or Italy. In a small state, you can reach outside for many of your activities. In a homogeneous culture, they are willing to pay higher taxes in order to achieve commonly held goals. But “common goals” are much harder to come by in larger, more heterogeneous populations.

The great virtue of a free market is that it enables people who hate each other, or who are from vastly different religious or ethnic backgrounds, to cooperate economically. Government intervention can’t do that. Politics exacerbates and magnifies differences.

Over at Slate, Bryan Curtis tries to make sense of the rational-skeptical-anarcho-capitalist-atheist-existentialist-deconstructionist philosophy of self-styled anti-magician, Penn Jillette. Here is a slice:

In our conversation, Jillette felt moved to declare that he had devised a method by which to place every artist in human history into a matrix: separating those who had genuine skill, those who had genuine passion, and those rarefied geniuses who had both. In the latter category, he explained, he would place Johann Sebastian Bach, Pablo Picasso, and the comedian Gilbert Gottfried. 

Over at Jim Goad’s place, Hank Williams III sits down for a freewheeling Q&A that touches upon porn addiction, snake-handling, and the ever-so-delicate terrain of racial politics. Here is a big ole hunk:

Hank Williams III:  I’ve done my time because of being around skinheads. Even though I’ve never officially had a shaved  head, but bein’ around ‘em, I got classified real quick. And I like that style of music, man. If it’s SHARP skins or racial skins, they have an energy in their music that is somethin’ that I feel. And, you know—am I racist? I would have to say yes, I am.

Jim Goad: [laughs] You’re the only person in the world I’ve ever heard say that. Everybody else is, “Well, no, not really, it depends on how you define it.” The way I look at it, it’s like, yeah, I’m not ashamed of who I am. Am I a white supremacist? No. In my experience, Asians and Jews are more intelligent. Where does that fit me in? I don’t believe in equality, but I don’t believe in white supremacy, and I don’t hate who I am.

Hank Williams III: Right, and that’s where sittin’. Yes, I am racist, but yes, I do support this camp, and this camp, and this camp that’s all fightin’ for where they’re from. And that’s it, man. And it doesn’t matter to me what it is….You know, I have a black guy out on this tour, I have a guy from Vancouver whose skin isn’t white, but I don’t look at it like that. I’m just lookin’ at the whole picture, you know? And the band that I listen to that throw the race issues—KILL WHITE BOYS, and stuff like that—well, I take my hat off to them for havin’ that much balls and goin’ for it and doin’ that thing, man. Today it’s cool to hate the white man finally, you know it’s come up to fuck whitey, his time has come to beat that motherfucker down in the ground, you know? And here soon, the Mexicans are gonna be beatin’ everybody in the fuckin’ ground, dude. You know, it’s all where you come from, you know?

Over at the the New York Times Magazine, Jeffrey Rosen catches up on those baby-dick-slurping mohels and ponders the uncertain future of circumcision (a subject about which The Hoover Hog will have more to say in the near future).  Here is a snip:

The ritual is called oral suction, or metzitzah b’peh. After removing the foreskin, the mohel, who conducts the circumcision, cleans the wound by sucking blood from it. According to city health officials, the ritual may have caused three infants circumcised by the same mohel in 2003 and 2004 to contract neonatal herpes (one of the infants subsequently died). New York’s city health commissioner recently issued a warning about the dangers of oral suction, leading some Orthodox Jewish leaders to complain that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg had reneged on promises to let religious authorities handle the issue. Meanwhile, secularists like the writer Christopher Hitchens have attacked the mayor for banning smoking in restaurants while failing to protect helpless children from diseases transmitted by "religious fanatics."      

And finally, over at Dusk in Autumn, the enigmatic web-host known as "Agnostic" has just put the finishing touches on his ambitious and possibly brilliant multi-part disquisition on "Politically Incorrect Fashion." So far, the most scintillating strands of sartorial speculation have centered on  the cognitive science and bio-social semiotics of Bravo’s Project Runway, but in the latest and final installment, we are treated to a crash course in the show-stoppingly provocative postulates of "gay germ" theory.  Here is the money shot:

…just what makes a guy gay in the first place? Any discussion of patterns among gays must take this into account. While the answer is not known, available evidence suggests Paul Ewald & Gregory Cochran’s hypothesis that it is caused by a microorganism ("gay germ"). The basic logic is simple: homosexuality causes a huge fitness cost (gays have ~80% fewer kids than straights), has been around for at least several hundred years, and shows up in ~3% of all men. If it were caused by genes, they would be rapidly selected out so that it only showed up on the order of 1 per 10,000 (the highest random mutation rate in humans) unless 1) homosexuality compelled gay men to raise at least twice as many nieces & nephews as a straight man raises children (thus ensuring that copies of their genes make it into the future), or 2) it protected single carriers from some nasty infection.

As for 1), there is no evidence empirical or anecdotal for this view; if anything, gay men appear less eager to raise a family than straight men. As for 2), the infection protected against would have to be on the same order of nastiness as falciparum malaria, yet it would have to strike large swaths of Europe & North America. There is currently no evidence that single carriers of the purported gay gene(s) are protected from this purported disease. That leaves environmental causes, and since homosexuality predates exposure to modern toxins like tobacco, a microorganism is the most likely source. Also, more often than not, when one identical twin is gay, the other is not. Another popular environmental biological hypothesis, relating to sex hormones in utero, may account for some but far from all cases of male homosexuality. See more detail from Cochran here and here (pdf), as well as this summary by Steve Sailer. There is no direct evidence of infection (largely because such research would never be funded), but there is plenty of indirect evidence, something lacking in alternative theories. One need not have to have isolated the precise gene that causes Sickle Cell to recognize the pattern of how it shows up in families, pointing to a genetic cause.

As it happens, I am in the process of fleshing out a long post in which I will do my best to raise a few questions about Agnostic’s assertions on matters of evolution and homosexuality, but for now I will simply raise my morning mug in salute to the frank and fearless spirit with which he approaches a subject others would just as soon avoid.

Tomorrow is a day away.