Posts tagged ‘Final Note’

A Final Note on "Don't Know Much About History"

In an earlier post, I observed that my audio CD of the bestselling book "Don't Know Much About History" struck me as extremely odd, focusing on only the lowest points in American history.  I can report after finishing the CD that it stayed on this path to the end.  After the Cuban Missile Crisis we had conspiracy theories of JFKs death, then the Mai Lai massacre, then Watergate, then Iran Contra, then Monica Lewinsky.  Yes, the last 40 years were summed up in total as Mai Lai - Watergate - Iran Contra - Lewinsky and essentially nothing else.  Wow, what a view of history!  As a libertarian, I am happy to showcase the foibles of government, but this seems like a crazy loss of perspective even to me.

In addition, bits of the history were just terrible.  For example, he said that the Puritans who came to America were much like a cult today and treated as such.  That is a lame simplification of history.  Sure, one can argue that today's religions were yesterday's cults, but it is silly to say that the Puritans were treated poorly in England for the same reasons a cult might be today.  This completely ignores the whole reality of having a state religion in England at the time of the Puritans.  A state religion trying to purge itself of dissent is a really different dynamic than a modern cult getting shunned by mainstream society  (except perhaps when Janet Reno controls some tanks).  This distinction is also important because avoiding state religions is an important foundation block of our government, and its prohibition is buried in that arcane and little discussed thing called, uh, the First Amendment. 

It's clear the author is not a big fan of capitalism, and I would generally not even comment on such a thing because it is so common in academia.  I managed to mostly ignore numerous off-the-cuff quips he makes about evil corporations and greed and the assumption that any action by a rich person had to be out of a desire to repress the masses rather than from principle.  However, his bias creates some really bad history in at least one instance.  In discussing Hoover and the depression, he really lays into Hoover for how block-headed and absurd Hoover was for not initiating massive government welfare programs earlier in his administration.  I mean, he absolutely hammers Hoover for being a total cretin, and the author laughs at various Laissez-Faire speeches by HH. 

But this is a stunning loss of context for a historian.  While government handouts to people who are out of work may seem a no-brainer today, it was absolutely unprecedented at the time.  It had never been done.  And, nowhere in the Constitution, whose 10th Amendment specifically says that Congress only has the specific powers enumerated in the Constitution, does it say Congress has the power to tax one person and give the proceeds as a handout to another to relieve economic distress.  In fact, it was enough of a Constitutional question mark that the Supreme Court would later rule unconstitutional most of FDR's new deal, at least until FDR could repack the Court with his guys.  HH had good reason, beyond just his principles, to believe that he would be breaking the law and violating the Constitution to do as the author suggests.  But nothing of this context is mentioned.  The author only portrays Hoover as an idiot for not being interventionist enough. 

In fact, the author leaves out a point I would tend to make first -- that the Depression would have been much better off if Hoover had in fact been truly Laissez Faire.  Unfortunately, his tightening of money supply in the face of a depression and liquidity crisis via the relatively new Federal Reserve, his acquiescence to the Hawley Smoot tariffs, and his tax increases to close the budget deficit all contributed far more to sending the train off the rails than any intervention could have ameliorated.

Mens Underwear Recomendation

OK, this may be a bit bizarre, but believe me, when you live in a climate that routinely remains between 100-114 degrees for five months, comfortable underwear is a must.  I have tried nearly every type and brand, from briefs to boxers, and have recently discovered some new ones that are great.  They are made by Under Armour, which is an entirely familiar clothing line to everyone here in Phoenix because they handle heat and sweat so well.  My kids live in the Heatgear, though I opt for the Loosegear since I no longer have the body for form fitting clothing. 

The underwear is made of that silky under-armour fabric, but is very comfortable and seems to wick sweat away from your body.  The downside is that they are nearly $20 a pair, but they don't shrink and so far have held up well. 

PS- I know my friend Scott in San Francisco tried a pair as well - he may be able to give us a review in the comments of whether he liked them or not.

Final Note: To those of you who suggest "none", you haven't lived in a really hot climate.  "Freefalling" may be OK on a breezy day on the California coast, but in a Phoenix summer or in my birthplace of Houston, you are going to regret it.

Really Random Tangent: Someone sitting with me in my office this morning commented that "the only reason we think it is hot when it is 98 out is because of our clothes.  If we were naked, 98.6 would be the perfect temperature because that is our body heat."  This is actually a misconception and ignores several principals of thermodynamics.

The key fact is that the body generally is a net producer of heat.  To be comfortable and maintain body heat, the body must shed this heat, which humans do in two ways.  First, we transfer heat to the surrounding air from our skin - to do this well, the surrounding temperature needs to be less than our body heat.  The more differential, the more heat transfer.  Air motion (via wind) provides convective heat transfer, which accelerates this process.  Second, we sweat.  When sweat evaporates, it pulls heat from the surrounding air and adjacent body.  Sweating cools us therefore based on evaporation rates, which is one reason why drier climates are more comfortable -- sweat evaporates faster. 

In addition to shedding the body heat we produce, we also have to shed any heat we pick up by radiative transfer.  Radiative heating is the heat we feel on our skin when we are in direct sunlight, and is why one can be cooler in light than dark clothing (dark colors absorb more radiative heat). 

All this means that if we are naked, in the shade, in a dry climate like Phoenix on a breezy day, we are likely to be comfortable at a temperature closer to 98.6.  In the direct sun in a calm, humid climate, even naked, we are going to want a temperature much much less than 98 to be comfortable.