Monday, March 19, 2012

Perfectly Tragic

A perfect tragedy should ... not be the spectacle of a virtuous man brought from prosperity to adversity: for this moves neither pity nor fear; it merely shocks us. ... Nor, again, should the downfall of the utter villain be exhibited. A plot of this kind would, doubtless, satisfy the moral sense, but it would inspire neither pity nor fear; for pity is aroused by unmerited misfortune, fear by the misfortune of a man like ourselves. Such an event, therefore, will be neither pitiful nor terrible. There remains, then, the character between these two extremes — that of a man who is not eminently good and just, yet whose misfortune is brought about not by vice or depravity, but by some error or frailty.

-- Aristotle, Poetics

In this week's sift:

  • The Tragedy of Mitt Romney. There was a good case to be made for electing Mitt Romney president, until he started running. Now he wants to be president so badly that he'll say anything, even it means turning his back on his own greatest accomplishments. That's a tragic flaw of Shakespearian proportions.
  • Jim Crow Returns. When did use of the term voter fraud start to ramp up? In 1965, precisely when the Voting Rights Act banned the previous ways of disenfranchising minorities. Now Texas is trying to get the VRA declared unconstitutional.
  • Walking Back Mr. Daisey and other short notes. This American Life did a whole episode on how it was conned by Mike Daisey. (I linked the original episode, so I'd better tell you about this one too.) It's an interesting lesson in truth and journalism. Oklahoma doctors can lie to prevent an abortion. Pat Robertson is anti-family. Baseless rumors about ObamaCare. Did Goldman Sachs have a moral compass to lose? Public vs. private morality. A skypunch. And more.
  • Book recommendation of the week: Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Humanby Richard Wrangham. Not the similarly-named book from the Hunger Games series, but a fascinating work of speculative anthropology. It turns out that with our current biology, humans can't survive in the wild without cooking. So humans could not have discovered cooking. Some apes must have discovered it, and then evolved into humans.
  • Last weeks' most popular post. Where Are We on Citizens United? got 135 views. The most-clicked link was 6 Things Rich People Need to Stop Saying.
  • This week's challenge. Good challenges are hard to come up with. Help me out. Suggest some in the comments.

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