Saturday, June 30, 2012

These systems are very rare in nature; and modern society is not one of them.

From Political Scientists Are Lousy Forecasters by Jacqueline Stevens.
How do we know that these examples aren’t atypical cherries picked by a political theorist munching sour grapes? Because in the 1980s, the political psychologist Philip E. Tetlock began systematically quizzing 284 political experts — most of whom were political science Ph.D.’s — on dozens of basic questions, like whether a country would go to war, leave NATO or change its boundaries or a political leader would remain in office. His book “Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?” won the A.P.S.A.’s prize for the best book published on government, politics or international affairs.

Professor Tetlock’s main finding? Chimps randomly throwing darts at the possible outcomes would have done almost as well as the experts.

These results wouldn’t surprise the guru of the scientific method, Karl Popper, whose 1934 book “The Logic of Scientific Discovery” remains the cornerstone of the scientific method. Yet Mr. Popper himself scoffed at the pretensions of the social sciences: “Long-term prophecies can be derived from scientific conditional predictions only if they apply to systems which can be described as well-isolated, stationary, and recurrent. These systems are very rare in nature; and modern society is not one of them.”

Friday, June 29, 2012

We are making inroads

Derek Thompson has a sequence of three posts (The Economic History of the Last 2,000 Years in 1 Little Graph, The Economic History of the Last 2000 Years: Part II, and The Economic History of the Last 2000 Years: Part III) that are pertinent to my argument that current prosperity is a function of the compound interest effects of historical events, cultural values and productivity. The three posts all leverage the information and implications of this graph.

There are all sorts of scale issues and legitimate concerns about accuracy of data, etc. It does not lend itself to hyper-precise analysis though it does tend to incite hyper-precise interpretation. That said, it is broadly consistent with other data and graphics I have reviewed over the years.

The patterns I see, some of which Thomspon touches on, are the prevalence of the Mathusian Trap until circa 1700. Since the graph only starts in 0 AD, it misses the first two big ratchets that occured in human productivity which were the agricultural revolution and the first cities.

The second pattern that I look for, and which this doesn't really tease apart, is the distinction between productivity increases arising from type of economy (agricultural versus industrial) versus productivity increases arising from improved governance, degree of connectedness (links and communication capacity), and obviously technological dissemination. You can see some of those patterns in the second and third post.

The final pattern that I look for is cultural evolution. I view cultures as being subject to the same evolutionary pressures as biology. There are long runs of continuity interspersed by sharp points of disruption. Clearly the portfolio of cultural values, knowledge, and behaviors are necessarily radically different in a hunter gather society, in a settled agricultural society, in a mercantile urban society, in an industrial society and in a knowledge society. And of course each of these reflects a dramtically different rise in productivity. At each new point of economic equilibrium, there are a different set of values, knowledge and behaviors that will allow individuals and groups to optimize their producitivity (short and long term).

What we do not know is what are those critical values, knowledge and behaviors for each point of equilibrium nor can we really accurately forecast how changes in those portfolios will affect productivity. We are simply at the frontier of our knowledge, but we are making inroads.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Curiosity in action

From Cargo Cult Science by Richard Feynman
All experiments in psychology are not of this type, however. For example, there have been many experiments running rats through all kinds of mazes, and so on--with little clear result. But in 1937 a man named Young did a very interesting one. He had a long corridor with doors all along one side where the rats came in, and doors along the other side where the food was. He wanted to see if he could train the rats to go in at the third door down from wherever he started them off. No. The rats went immediately to the door where the food had been the time before.

The question was, how did the rats know, because the corridor was so beautifully built and so uniform, that this was the same door as before? Obviously there was something about the door that was different from the other doors. So he painted the doors very carefully, arranging the textures on the faces of the doors exactly the same. Still the rats could tell. Then he thought maybe the rats were smelling the food, so he used chemicals to change the smell after each run. Still the rats could tell. Then he realized the rats might be able to tell by seeing the lights and the arrangement in the laboratory like any commonsense person. So he covered the corridor, and still the rats could tell.

He finally found that they could tell by the way the floor sounded when they ran over it. And he could only fix that by putting his corridor in sand. So he covered one after another of all possible clues and finally was able to fool the rats so that they had to learn to go in the third door. If he relaxed any of his conditions, the rats could tell.

Now, from a scientific standpoint, that is an A-number-one experiment. That is the experiment that makes rat-running experiments sensible, because it uncovers that clues that the rat is really using-- not what you think it's using. And that is the experiment that tells exactly what conditions you have to use in order to be careful and control everything in an experiment with rat-running.

I looked up the subsequent history of this research. The next experiment, and the one after that, never referred to Mr. Young. They never used any of his criteria of putting the corridor on sand, or being very careful. They just went right on running the rats in the same old way, and paid no attention to the great discoveries of Mr. Young, and his papers are not referred to, because he didn't discover anything about the rats. In fact, he discovered all the things you have to do to discover something about rats. But not paying attention to experiments like that is a characteristic example of cargo cult science.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Confident Uncertainty Paradox

The confident uncertainty paradox is manifested at the knowledge frontier where we either cannot describe a phenomenon with certainty and/or we cannot say with confidence and reliability why the phenomenon occurs. You know you are at the knowledge frontier when you cannot make accurate and reliable forecasts. Examples of current frontiers of knowledge would include global warming, education, the role of culture in life success, and macroeconomics. In all instances we cannot make accurate and reliable predictions in the “If X then Y” fashion.

The paradox is that at that frontier we seem to see a much greater demonstrated confidence, harsh advocacy and vocal arguments for one position or another even though all parties, when pressed, will acknowledge we are dealing with uncertain data and complex causation. A classic example of this confident uncertainty is that of Al Gore vis-à-vis global warming - “The science is settled”; an odd formulation given that science by its definition and nature is always in transition. We are always learning more that refines what we thought we knew in the past. A useful phrase rhetorically but not accurate. Science is never settled.

So why is it such a common phenomenon that our discussions about things we know the least about take on the tone of overweening confidence? I suspect the answer lies around two interlocking dynamics.

Confidence bolsters resolve. Discovery is expensive and difficult and frequently unrewarding. In order to advance the frontier of knowledge you have to make investments , exert effort and take risks. In order to do that, you have to have an overwhelming confidence in the rightness of your effort. Without that confidence and in the face of setbacks and disappointments, you are likely to abandon your goals. Many breakthroughs arise from long periods of effort, loss and non-recognition. During that period, motivational sustenance is sometimes buttressed by dramatically overstating one’s case.

Discovery is usually the catalyst of change. When something new is discovered it disrupts the status quo in some fashion – socially, economically, commercially, scientifically, technologically. Whenever there is disruption there are winners and losers. People profiting from the status quo are at risk of losing what they enjoy. People at the frontier have an opportunity to reap huge gains at their expense. In this contest between potential losers and potential winners, there is a rich environment for rhetoric. Those in the status quo with most to lose, will rhetorically cast change as a threat to mom, apple pie and the American way. Those at the frontier with the most to gain will rhetorically issue a call to the shining city on the hill. Everyone has a stake in overstating what the data and knowledge will actually support.

Science and Narrative

I have had a number of posts recently (Cargo Cult Science, Baloney Detection Kit, Identifying Cognitive Pollution, It is only when facts fail that scientists really put on their thinking caps) that explore the intersection between pursuing truth in the pure abstract and pursuing truth in the context of the social enterprise – i.e. when you want to do business, when you want to arrive at a community decision, when the need to coordinate and negotiate the views and knowledge and opinions and instincts of many people together, all variously constrained by time, money, and motivation.

The pursuit of truth requires motivation, competition, accountability, transparency, empiricism. The pursuit of truth relies on the scientific method.

The pursuit of social agreement requires compromise, concessions, diligence, diplomacy, and discretion. The pursuit of social agreement relies on persuasion.

The pursuit of truth depends on the prosperity engendered by some minimum level of social agreement and social agreement is enriched by truths. But the intersect point between the two seems astonishingly small. How do we go about infusing our social discourse with the orientation of the scientific method and how do we equip the scientific method with more narrative persuasion?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

H. Rider Haggard would be pleased

From Queen of Sheba's gift? Evidence of genetic mixing by Stephanie Pappas

Very King Solomon's Mines like.
The results revealed that the Ethiopian genome is less ancient than those of some South African populations, and that Ethiopian genes are quite diverse. Language hinted at genetics, the researchers found: Speakers of Semetic and Cushitic tongues were shown to have genomes about half comprised of genes from non-African origins. Other groups were characterized by mixes of eastern and western African genes.

Tracing the genomic changes, the researchers found that the non-African and African genes first mingled about 3,000 years ago rather than during more recent times, the researchers reported Thursday in the American Journal of Human Genetics. [ Most Tragic Love Stories in History ]

That timeline confirms what linguistic studies have suggested about links between the Middle East and Ethiopia during this time period, the researchers wrote. It also matches records and tales of the reign of the Queen of Sheba from about 1005 to 955 B.C., when trade routes were established and a royal son, perhaps, was born. Relations between the Horn of Africa and the Middle East would continue for centuries.

"These long-lasting links between the two regions are reflected in influences still apparent in the modern Ethiopian cultural, and, as we show here, genetic landscapes," the researchers wrote.

Trailers and fripperies and survival

Reading in a catholic fashion and with a relatively high degree of disorder, I frequently come across unexpected juxtapositions. Sometimes they lead to insight by revealing connections or patterns and sometimes they are just intriguing.

From Brett & Kate McKay’s sterling Art of Manliness comes the essay, Leadership Lessons from Dwight D. Eisenhower #3: How to Make an Important Decision in which they have this throwaway line regarding the run up to the decision to launch Operation Overlord. It says nothing about the decision-making process but much about the character of the decision-maker.
The countdown began on June 2, when SHAEF set up its headquarters in Southwick House, a stately country mansion located just north of Portsmouth. As always, Eisenhower chose to make his quarters in an unpretentious, unheated trailer he dubbed “my circus wagon,” rather than in the home’s more comfortable bedrooms.
Not a particularly standout literary line but one with seeming significance when set alongside what I read last night in Derek Wilson’s Charlemagne in which he relates a story casting light on the character of Charlemagne.
He is described by Einhard as a benign dictator, a no-nonsense, straightforward ruler with a becoming modesty in his personal habits. He was slightly above average height and of heavy build, with a flowing mustache and wide, penetrating eyes. He dressed simply in the typical Frankish tunic over a linen shirt and long hose, over which he wore a blue cloak and, in winter, a jerkin of otter skin or ermine. Einhard tells us that the king loathed dressing up and was with difficulty persuaded to don ceremonial robes for major state or ecclesiastical occasions. A story from the highly anecdotal, ninth-century De Carolo Magno underlines Charles’ contempt for fripperies and has a ring of truth about it. He was at Friuli when some of his courtiers arrived back from Pavia, where they had been enjoying the festival and returned flaunting fashionable clothes of silk, bedecked with feathers and ribbons. Charles insisted that they immediately accompany him on a hunting expedition. The poor men were given no time to change and for several hours were obliged to ride through forest glades and thickets, lashed by rain and briars. On their return they were not allowed to change out of their bedraggled finery. Charles kept them dancing attendance upon him till late into the night. The next morning their ordeal was not over, for Charles commanded them to present themselves in the same clothes they had worn the day before. As they stood before him, shivering in their tattered, muddy garments, the king pointed out to them the moral of their uncomfortable experience; they should not allow their manhood to be sapped by effeminate, debilitating luxury.
And all that seems related to Hilaire Belloc’s observation about the Barbarian (And on these faces, there is no smile) where the barbarian is not necessarily the fearsome external Other but rather the weakness in our own midst, those who consume the seed corn without producing a crop.
The Barbarian hopes and that is the mark of him, that he can have his cake and eat it too. He will consume what civilization has slowly produced after generations of selection and effort, but he will not be at pains to replace such goods, nor indeed has he a comprehension of the virtue that has brought them into being. Discipline seems to him irrational, on which account he is ever marvelling that civilization, should have offended him with priests and soldiers.
And all of these seem, in some vague fashion, linked to the current pathologies in the West where we seem to have fallen into the habit of indulging current consumption at the expense of future hardship. The capacity to borrow from future productivity growth only works to the extent that the rate of borrowing is less than the rate of future growth. If it exceeds that growth or, if in fact, there is no future productivity growth, you end up with a Greece (or Spain, or Portugal, or Italy . . or France, or . . . ).

The Gods of the Copybook Headings unrelentingly say that there is no free lunch. Someone pays, even if it is not us. Morality should restrict us to consuming at most that which we ourselves produce and not burden others in future generations or others elsewhere with the failure to pay for our excessive consumption. Morality plays such a critical failsafe role and yet we constantly overlook it. Because it is manifested in many small ways, choosing the trailer over the mansion, choosing practical clothing over “fripperies”, it is easy to overlook the importance of morality. And yet the aggregation of small moral decisions provides a failsafe to keep us within the parameters of the copybook headings. We ignore them at our peril.

The sophisticated Barbarian that we breed within our midst, mocks the quiet and consistent discipline that submits to profound accumulated wisdom. The homegrown Barbarian points out the irrelevance and costs of morality to our short term wellbeing, but fails entirely to comprehend its necessity to long term survival. The Barbarian is a short-timer.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Failed states

From Failed States from Foreign Policy.

As with anything that depends on data collected from hundreds of disparate sources, there are lots of questions and criticisms. None-the-less, it is a useful reminder of the broader world in which we exist rather than the narrower world in which most of us live. And while the map appears to have a dismal message, in many, many ways it is dramatically better than even twenty years ago. We get frustrated that progress is not greater and faster but still, progress there is.

Cargo Cult Science

From Cargo Cult Science by Richard Feynman.

An interesting observation. I am involved right now with defending a neighborhood nature preserve from conversion to a recreational park by a group of ideologically committed connected trails advocates. It has been an interesting process because they have gone through all the forms conducting public meetings, soliciting input, etc. but the conclusions they had at the beginning are impervious to any new information or data. Any opinon with which they disagree is "unrepresentative", any reports or data is "flawed" in some unspecified way. Any request for evidence is turned away with anecdotal stories and appeals to authority. They have invested a great deal of time and money to build a cargo cult airfield which has been completely wasted because their effort was never enfused with "scientific integrity."
I think the educational and psychological studies I mentioned are examples of what I would like to call cargo cult science. In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they've arranged to make things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head to headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas--he's the controller--and they wait for the airplanes to land. They're doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn't work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they're missing something essential, because the planes don't land.

Now it behooves me, of course, to tell you what they're missing. But it would be just about as difficult to explain to the South Sea islanders how they have to arrange things so that they get some wealth in their system. It is not something simple like telling them how to improve the shapes of the earphones. But there is one feature I notice that is generally missing in cargo cult science. That is the idea that we all hope you have learned in studying science in school--we never say explicitly what this is, but just hope that you catch on by all the examples of scientific investigation. It is interesting, therefore, to bring it out now and speak of it explicitly. It's a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty--a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you're doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid--not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you've eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked--to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can--if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong--to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it. There is also a more subtle problem. When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

It’s only when the facts fail that scientists really put on their thinking caps

Here is an interesting book review from To Advance, Search for a Black Cat in a Dark Room by Sandra Blakeslee.

The book being reviewed touches on some themes I have been mulling and discussing lately. One is the knowledge frontier - our reluctance to acknowledge when we have approached the border where certainty gives way to uncertainty, when predictability gives way to guesses.

I am currently browsing What We Believe But Cannot Prove: Today's Leading Thinkers on Science in the Age of Uncertainty edited by John Brockman which also explores this boundary between knowing and not knowing.

Finally, I have also been discussing and wondering whether one of the issues in education today might not be an absence of boredom and ignorance. I'll post on that separately.

From the article:
Working scientists don’t get bogged down in factual swamps, he says, because they don’t care all that much for facts. Facts are not what science is all about. It’s only when the facts fail that scientists really put on their thinking caps.

Scientists, Dr. Firestein says, are driven by ignorance.

In this sense, ignorance is not stupidity. Rather, it is a particular condition of knowledge: the absence of fact, understanding, insight or clarity about something. It is a case where data don’t exist, or more commonly, where the existing data don’t make sense.


Dr. Firestein, by contrast, celebrates a tolerance for uncertainty, the pleasures of scientific mystery and the cultivation of doubt. If more people embraced the seductive appeal of uncertainty, he says, it might take some acrimony out of our public debates.


“When I sit down with colleagues over a beer at a meeting, we don’t go over facts,” Dr. Firestein writes. “We don’t talk about what’s known. We talk about what we’d like to figure out, about what needs to be done.”

He realized he was failing to teach ignorance, the most critical part of the scientific enterprise, which led to the creation of a course titled “SNC3429 Ignorance.”Dr. Firestein likes to tease students in the class about what kind of grade they want: Is it better to get an A or an F in ignorance?

In his book, Dr. Firestein writes that conducting science is something like searching for a black cat in a dark room — very difficult, especially when, as is often the case, it turns out there is no cat.

To explore scientific groping in the dark, Dr. Firestein invites university colleagues from various disciplines to talk to his students about what they don’t know.

“They come and tell us about what they would like to know, what they think is critical to know, how they might get to know it, what will happen if they do find this or that thing out, what might happen if they don’t, about what they didn’t know 10 or 20 years ago and know now, or still don’t know,” he writes. “They talk about the current state of their ignorance.”

Saturday, June 23, 2012

They were probably on the verge of discovering the wheely-suitcase when they went into decline

From Dithering Europe is heading for the democratic dark ages by Boris Johnson.
It is one of the tragic delusions of the human race that we believe in the inevitability of progress. We look around us, and we seem to see a glorious affirmation that our ruthless species of homo is getting ever more sapiens. We see ice cream Snickers bars and in vitro babies and beautiful electronic pads on which you can paint with your fingertip and – by heaven – suitcases with wheels! Think of it: we managed to put a man on the moon about 35 years before we came up with wheelie-suitcases; and yet here they are. They have completely displaced the old type of suitcase, the ones with a handle that you used to lug puffing down platforms.

Aren’t they grand? Life seems impossible without them, and soon they will no doubt be joined by so many other improvements – acne cures, electric cars, electric suitcases – that we will be strengthened in our superstition that history is a one-way ratchet, an endless click click click forwards to a nirvana of liberal democratic free-market brotherhood of man. Isn’t that what history teaches us, that humanity is engaged in a remorseless ascent?

On the contrary: history teaches us that the tide can suddenly and inexplicably go out, and that things can lurch backwards into darkness and squalor and appalling violence. The Romans gave us roads and aqueducts and glass and sanitation and all the other benefits famously listed by Monty Python; indeed, they were probably on the verge of discovering the wheely-suitcase when they went into decline and fall in the fifth century AD.

Friday, June 22, 2012

They are called children

Hannah Arendt:
Every year civilization is invaded by millions of tiny barbarians- they are called children.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

To Boldly Go . . .

From Get Ready, Because Voyager I Is *This Close* to Leaving Our Solar System by Rebecca J. Rosen.

This is just so cool. Talk about a knowledge frontier. Voyager 1 is about to leave the Solar System. Safe travels!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Costs of raising a child

Intriguing. From The cost of raising kids, in two charts by Suzy Khimm. The source report is Expenditures on Children by families, 2011.

Everything is relatively cheaper except for two categories, healthcare and Childcare/Education. Healthcare, while perhaps not efficient, is still definitely better than fifty years ago.

What caught my eye was child care and education. Up nine-fold. Wow! Obviously part of that is in the child care segment with an increased portion of women with children working. But nine-fold? At least a portion of that nine-fold increase is attributable to education costs. Say a doubling. Are our schools twice as good as they were fifty years ago. More inclusive almost certainly. Offering a wider range of academic preparation - probably. But that much better at improving a child's probability of succeeding in modern society and the modern economy. Color me skeptical.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Not considered to be part of the cultural enterprise of book publishing

From A Golden Age of Books? There Were Only 500 Real Bookstores in 1931 by Alexis Madrigal.

I am a keen fan of maintaining perspecitive. It is too easy to lose sight of what factual realities were even a short while ago. Taking 1931 as a base year, here is what the book buying and reading environment looked like in the US (quoting a contemporaneous study).
"In the entire country, there were only some four thousand places where a book could be purchased, and most of these were gift shops and stationary stores that carried only a few popular novels," Davis writes. "In reality, there were but five hundred or so legitimate bookstores that warranted regular visits from publishers' salesmen (and in 1931 they were all men). Of these five hundred, most were refined, old-fashioned 'carriage trade' stores catering to an elite clientele in the nation's twelve largest cities."

Furthermore, two-thirds of American counties -- 66 percent! -- had exactly 0 bookstores. It was a relatively tiny business centered in the urban areas of the country. Did some great books come out back then? Of course! But they were aimed only at the tiny percentage of the country that was visible to publishers of the time: sophisticated urban elites. It wasn't that people couldn't read; by 1940, UNESCO estimated that 95 percent of adults in America were literate. No, it's just that the vast majority of adults were not considered to be part of the cultural enterprise of book publishing. People read stuff (the paper, the Bible, comic books), just not what the publishers were putting out.
I get somewhat exercised about the statistic that 10% of the population does 80% of the reading, 40% read 20% of the books and 50% of the population reads no books electively in a year. In an intellectually open and connected world, those numbers seem an affront. However, just seventy years ago, perhaps only 5% of the popualtion was reading 90% of books consumed. It is always worth remembering, no matter where we want to get to, where we are starting from.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The ability to delay gratification a better predictor of academic performance than I.Q.

From Don’t!: The secret of self-control by Jonah Lehrer.

Worthwhile summary of the current state of the study of self-control which is highly correlated to life success, as is reading. I suspect the two issues are subtely intertwined. Some key points from the article.
Angela Lee Duckworth, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, is leading the program. She first grew interested in the subject after working as a high-school math teacher. “For the most part, it was an incredibly frustrating experience,” she says. “I gradually became convinced that trying to teach a teen-ager algebra when they don’t have self-control is a pretty futile exercise.” And so, at the age of thirty-two, Duckworth decided to become a psychologist. One of her main research projects looked at the relationship between self-control and grade-point average. She found that the ability to delay gratification—eighth graders were given a choice between a dollar right away or two dollars the following week—was a far better predictor of academic performance than I.Q. She said that her study shows that “intelligence is really important, but it’s still not as important as self-control.”


He knows that it’s not enough just to teach kids mental tricks—the real challenge is turning those tricks into habits, and that requires years of diligent practice. “This is where your parents are important,” Mischel says. “Have they established rituals that force you to delay on a daily basis? Do they encourage you to wait? And do they make waiting worthwhile?” According to Mischel, even the most mundane routines of childhood—such as not snacking before dinner, or saving up your allowance, or holding out until Christmas morning—are really sly exercises in cognitive training: we’re teaching ourselves how to think so that we can outsmart our desires.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Leonidas is combing his hair

From Mighty Men, Book 1 by Eleanor Farjeon, published in 1924.
Leonidas is Combing His Hair
by Eleanor Farjeon

Leonidas is combing his hair.
King of Persia, beware, beware!

He has only a handful of men to spare,
So Leonidas is combing his hair.

They all must die in the mountain there,
But before they die they will do their share.

King of Persia, beware, beware----
Leonidas is combing his hair!

H/T Pat Garrett

The Spartans on the sea-wet rock sat down and combed their hair

The Oracles
By A. E. Housman

'Tis mute, the word they went to hear on high Dodona mountain
When winds were in the oakenshaws and all the cauldrons tolled,
And mute's the midland navel-stone beside the singing fountain,
And echoes list to silence now where gods told lies of old.

I took my question to the shrine that has not ceased from speaking,
The heart within, that tells the truth and tells it twice as plain;
And from the cave of oracles I heard the priestess shrieking
That she and I should surely die and never live again.

Oh priestess, what you cry is clear, and sound good sense I think it;
But let the screaming echoes rest, and froth your mouth no more.
'Tis true there's better boose than brine, but he that drowns must drink it;
And oh, my lass, the news is news that men have heard before.

The King with half the East at heel is marched from lands of morning;
Their fighters drink the rivers up, their shafts benight the air.
And he that stands will die for nought, and home there's no returning.
The Spartans on the sea-wet rock sat down and combed their hair.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The bird with only one wing

From The Worm Forgives the Plough by John Stewart Collis.

Per the blurb:
John Stewart Collis was a writer, poet, scientist and scholar. At the outbreak of World War II he refused military service and went to work on the land for the next six years - the experience described in this book. He died in 1984.
On page 165, he describes his late lunch after a long morning of laboring in the fields.
Here I now ate my much postponed meal. I enjoyed it so much that when finished, and with cigarette in hand, I felt a great sense of physical well-being. It is not very often that one gets this feeling after agricultural work, but if the weather has been hot and the work hard-going as opposed to a slow drag, it is possible to feel really well afterwards. When this happens the mind sometimes attains a considerable liberty and can move without hindrance. And, in my own case, as I had been doing what is called 'an honest day's work', my mind enjoyed still greater freedom. I could regard phenomena, natural or social, without guilt, without anxiety, without ideas concieved by others, without for a moment having to attain to the condition of that strangest of all birds, the bird with only one wing, Left or Right, the bird that cannot soar upwards, and take a bird's-eye view.
That is a great last line. I aspire towards a happy median of engaged action motivated by passion juxtaposed with a calm equanimity. "Everything in moderation including moderation." The tendency to become captured by a singular world view, of Left or Right or of some other dichotomy is a common fate but I had never thought of it in that striking visual metaphor, a one winged bird that cannot fly.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Everything short of war runs into a vested interest

A few weeks ago I posted about a debate some decades ago between James Baldwin and William F. Buckley. I commented that I had always heard of Buckley as being a refined communicator but never having read anything by him. Subsequent to viewing that video, on a visit to a used bookstore, I came across Right Reason by William F. Buckley, a collection of essays, columns and reviews covering the late seventies and early eighties. I have been sampling in a very desultory way.

Independent of his writing, what I am finding fascinating is the opportunity of dipping into contemporaneous accounts of events that were on my radar screen but not of huge immediacy. In this time period, I would have been in boarding school in England, then in the US, and then at University. My main source of news would have been Time magazine and The International Herald Tribune while overseas and The New York Times and Washington Post when in the US. For all that I was somewhat of a newshound, what was above the line on page 1 did take second order to the test I was taking that day, the cute girl on the second row in World History, who all would be attending the student union movie that evening, etc. So much of what Buckley writes about in this book, the war in Nicaragua, the shooting down of KAL 007, the boycotts of South Africa - all of these were on my radar screen then but quickly passed into deep storage as I attended graduate school, launched a career, got married, had children. And all of a sudden those events are history. My kids study them in a paragraph or two in US History. But here he is writing in the present tense in columns from that time. It is a neat diorama of history and memory and present-tenseness.

But in reading, it is not only a perverse form of nostalgia. There are also interesting insights tucked away. On page 100 there is the following comment in a series of columns from September 1983 regarding the shooting down of Korean Airlines 007 by the Soviets and the struggle of the US in finding an appropriate way to respond.
On the other hand, we don't - do we? - know what to do. War is excluded these days, and everything short of war runs into a vested interest: the wheat farmer, the Pepsi-Cola people, the gas pipeline manufacturers, the truck people, the bankers.
It is often commented that liberal democracies rarely go to war, much less with each other and to a considerable extent that is true. Buckley's comment pithily captures the reason why. In a pluralistic, free, federalist republic with widely dispersed power and interests, the more the domestic economy is intermeshed with the global economy, the more likely it is that there are material dispersed interests for any of whom, any action short of war (in which everyone is equalized by all losing) would involve differential ox-goring.

That explains the difficulty of exerting any negative action on any foreign country with whom we are having dificulties. But the less developed the opponent might be, the less likely there are to be any domestic interests to serve as a retardent to action. So democracies do impose boycotts or go to war with other powers but relatively rarely and usually with someone with whom there is a large differential in power. Not because it is more desirable to take action against weaker countries but because it is more feasible, not from a military perspective but from a political perspective.

This also sheds light on the observable rarity of two democracies going to war with one another. It is especially rare and per Buckley, most likely because there are enmeshed commercial interests in both countries seeking to avoid significant conflict.

Globalization is fashionably much decried in many progressive corners but clearly the more globalization the better because the more globalization the more peace there will likely be.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Culture is a precious inheritance

From Future tense, XI: The lessons of culture by Roger Kimball.
Culture is a precious inheritance, immeasurably more difficult to achieve than to destroy, and, once destroyed, almost irretrievable. It’s not at all clear that we have learned the lesson, though wise men from before the time of Pericles have sought to bring us that sobering news.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

No nation admits of an abstract definition

Walter Bagehot in Physics and Politics
History is strewn with the wrecks of nations which have gained a little progressiveness at the cost of a great deal of hard manliness, and have thus prepared themselves for destruction as soon as the movements of the world gave a chance for it.


No nation admits of an abstract definition; all nations are beings of many qualities and many sides; no historical event exactly illustrates any one principle; every cause is intertwined and surrounded with a hundred others. The best history is but like the art of Rembrandt; it casts a vivid light on certain selected causes, on those which were best and greatest; it leaves all the rest in shadow and unseen. To make a single nation illustrate a principle, you must exaggerate much and you must omit much.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

And on these faces, there is no smile.

From This and that and the Other by Hilaire Belloc.
The Barbarian hopes and that is the mark of him, that he can have his cake and eat it too. He will consume what civilization has slowly produced after generations of selection and effort, but he will not be at pains to replace such goods, nor indeed has he a comprehension of the virtue that has brought them into being. Discipline seems to him irrational, on which account he is ever marvelling that civilization, should have offended him with priests and soldiers.

The Barbarian wonders what strange meaning may lurk in that ancient and solemn truth, "Sine Auctoritate nulla vita."

In a word, the Barbarian is discoverable everywhere in this, that he cannot make: that he can befog and destroy but that he cannot sustain; and of every Barbarian in the decline or peril of every civilization exactly that has been true.

We sit by and watch the Barbarian. We tolerate him. In the long stretches of peace, we are not afraid.

We are tickled by his reverence, his comic inversion of our old certitudes and our fixed creeds refreshes us: we laugh. But as we laugh, we are watched by large and awful faces from beyond. And on these faces, there is no smile.

Monday, June 11, 2012

A brilliant autobiography disguised as a history of the universe

From Successes in Rhetoric: Language in the Life of Churchill by Edward Rothstein.
The onetime Prime Minister Arthur Balfour described Churchill’s three-volume history of World War I as a “brilliant autobiography disguised as a history of the universe."

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Identifying Cognitive Pollution

In the prior post,How To Assess a Piece of Writing, Especially Outside One's Expertise, I created a potential framework for assessing the value of an article or piece of writing in terms of how effectively it advances an argument. The framework consists of five categories each category having five elements.
While in the process of creating this framework, I came across Carl Sagan’s Baloney Detection Kit which is also useful for assessing an argument. Sagan’s is probably the better approach for a rough and ready assessment. The framework I have laid out is useful in that it lends itself to quantification and for being able to pinpoint the nature of the weakness in a particular argument.

Time to take the framework for a test run on Trayvon – Killed by an Idea by Zeta Elliott which was forwarded with the claim that it was worth reading. My sense at the time was that it was actually just another piece of cognitive pollution – material regurgitated without being clearly thought through, argued or grounded in factual reality – but I wanted to put some parameters on that instinct. The above framework is a first pass at a means of diagnosing a document to identify whether something is worth reading.

So off we go. While the framework flows in a logical fashion, rarely are articles written in a manner that mimics that flow. What follows is a high level identification of the argument followed by an assessment of the facts pertinent to the argument and rounding up with a review of the logical integrity of the overall argument. As elements of the assessment are addressed, I will notate them at the end of the pertinent paragraph.

On the face of it, Ms. Elliott’s article looks like it ought to be reasonably robust. There are thirteen hot links to external sources of information or opinion. There are four quotes from others. There are several assertions of implied fact. Without considering consistency, integrity, accuracy, etc. (as from above), there would appear to be at least the hallmarks of a reasonably robust article.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

But where science meets journalism and politics, funny things happen

From NY Times Unsettles Some Science by Walter Russell Mead.
These stories have something in common: they involve study of a very complex system. The human body is so complicated, with so many feedback mechanisms and independent variables at work, that it is often extremely hard to answer seemingly simple questions. Simple systems are easier for scientists to analyze; complex ones are much harder.

Journalists generally don’t appreciate or care about the difference. And over-eager policy jocks don’t want to take the fine points and uncertainties into account. They want action and they want it now.


But where science meets journalism and politics, funny things happen, distinctions get blurred, and the tentative findings of scientists turn into iron laws. This is almost always a cause of bad policy. Coercive social policies based on tentative analyses of complex systems are justified much more rarely than activists think.

Friday, June 8, 2012

There is more than one way to burn a book

Hat tip to Censoring Ray Bradbury by David Boaz. Ray Bradbury's coda to the 1979 edition of his Fahrenheit 451 dealing with the different forms of censorship, particularly the self-closing of one's mind by protecting it from the grit and variety of life.
About two years ago, a letter arrived from a solemn young Vassar lady telling me how much she enjoyed reading my experiment in space mythology, The Martian Chronicles.

But, she added, wouldn’t it be a good idea, this late in time, to rewrite the book inserting more women’s characters and roles?

A few years before that I got a certain amount of mail concerning the same Martian book complaining that the blacks in the book were Uncle Toms and why didn’t I “do them over”?

Along about then came a note from a Southern white suggesting that I was prejudiced in favor of the blacks and the entire story should be dropped.

Two weeks ago my mountain of mail delivered forth a pipsqueak mouse of a letter from a well-known publishing house that wanted to reprint my story “The Fog Horn” in a high school reader.

In my story, I had described a lighthouse as hav­ing, late at night, an illumination coming from it that was a “God-Light.” Looking up at it from the view-point of any sea-creature one would have felt that one was in “the Presence.”

The editors had deleted “God-Light” and “in the Presence.”

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Sources of information

From This Graph Is Disastrous for Print and Great for Facebook—or the Opposite! by Derek Thompson.

The article is worth reading but what I focused on was this graphic.

Where do people spend their time and focus their attention in terms of information absorption? Sight unseen, what weight would you place on the relative reliability of information from each of these sources? Print (newspapers, magazines, books), Radio, TV, Internet, and Mobile. Independent of value and reliability of information source, what does the relative intensity of use of each of these sources tell us? There is nothing inherently good or bad about any of these numbers but I must admit concern that the slowest, most contemplative forms of information purveyance (print) with the greatest opportunity for reflection is also the smallest segment.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Only 20% of the top linked articles were by women

From It’s 2012 already: why is opinion writing still mostly male? by Erika Fry.

A data-rich and nuanced discussion of gender-based disparate impact as manifested in the mainstream media. Some very interesting material. Here is one item that particularly caught my eye.
Take for example findings from The Gender Report, an organization that monitors gender in online media: a year-long study found that women had bylines on 19.6 percent of the most-linked and discussed stories.
Only 20% of the top linked articles were by women. I think this is interesting because presumably this reflects something more than simple biases and prejudices. When you have a low barrier of access to a huge audience, it might be presumed that the degree to which you are linked is a measure of the degree to which what you have to say is of interest, relevance or use to that audience. I.e. it reflects free choices unmediated by institutional barriers.

In that environment, why would there only be a 20% representation rate? My supposition for most gender-based disparate impact issues is that it is a simple reflection of two phenomenon - 1) People make trade-off decisions, some of which are biologically imposed and 2) excellence is a function of volume of hours (working full time) and continuity of effort (persistence over time).

The trade-off decision is the sacrificed monetary productivity that occurs when a couple decide to have children and invest a portion (usually a good portion) of their waking hours to the care and nurturing of those children. Who actually does that nurturing is of course an open question but most families end up in a model of full-time working male and either stay-at-home or part-time female. Combine this with the observation that the capacity to rise to the top of any field of endeavor is usually a function of time (volume and continuity) and you end up with a mathematical disparate impact.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

How to assess a piece of writing, especially outside one's expertise

This will be a long post and the genesis needs some explaining. I belong to a listserv of individuals, probably some three or four hundred, who are interested in the field of children’s literature – what is good reading, what is good to read, etc. The members are mostly authors, academics, literary critics, librarians, and publishers, though with a smattering from other areas of specialty. Basically these are reasonably knowledgeable and certainly educated individuals.

Recently, one of the members forwarded a link to an article, commenting to the effect that she thought it was a good article that was worth reading. I read it and was rather appalled. Poor logic, faulty assumptions, self-serving, bad data, etc. There were so many things wrong with it as a piece of writing and as an argument. I dismissed it as just an oversight on the part of the person who forwarded it. Perhaps she only read the first paragraph and sent it on. Then two or three others responded on the list thanking the forwarder for bringing this good article to their attention. It was something of a cognitive dissonance. Could these people be reading the same article? What might explain the chasm between praise and bad performance?

Which set me to thinking; why did I think it was so poor an article? Would it be possible to put some parameters around that opinion and make it somewhat objective? In doing so, would it be possible to create a tool that would allow a reasonably easy but sensible assessment of the quality of a piece of writing, particularly one that might be outside one’s own realm of expertise?

In the past ten years, to our benefit, we have been deluged with greater volume and greater access to data and opinions. With the older generation of people who are accustomed to expending great time and effort in unearthing useful information and who therefore already have the habits of skepticism, prioritizing effort and judging the value of data for the effort required to acquire it, this is a time of blessings. We can now so much more easily find and use that which used to be so difficult to obtain.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Counterproductive as an incentive for students to enjoy reading and seek it out over their lifetimes

From When and Why Incentives (Don’t) Work to Modify Behavior by Uri Gneezy, Stephan Meier and Pedro Rey-Biel.

Their discussion is about the economics and effectiveness of providing different types of incentives for different types of activities and the trade-offs that are sometimes inherent between short and long term goals and changes.
In other cases, incentives might have the desired effects in the short term, but they still weaken intrinsic motivations. Thus, once the incentives are removed, people may pursue the desired outcome less eagerly. To put it in concrete terms, an incentive for a child to read more might achieve that goal in the short term, but then be counterproductive as an incentive for students to enjoy reading and seek it out over their lifetimes.
His evidence shows that incentives offered for higher grades increased math scores but not those of other subjects, such as reading or social science. One possible interpretation of these results, compatible with research in psychology, suggests that external incentives may be more effective in concrete subjects, such as primary school math, than in more conceptual topics, such as reading and social sciences (Rouse, 1998).
When explicit incentives seek to change behavior in areas like education, contributions to public goods, and forming habits, a potential conflict arises between the direct extrinsic effect of the incentives and how these incentives can crowd out intrinsic motivations in the short run and the long run. In education, such incentives seem to have moderate success when the incentives are well-specifified and well-targeted (“read these books” rather than “read books”), although the jury is still out regarding the long-term success of these incentive programs. In encouraging contributions to public goods, one must be very careful when designing the incentives to prevent adverse changes in social norms, image concerns, or trust. In the emerging literature on the use of incentives for lifestyle changes, large enough incentives clearly work in the short run and even in the middle run, but in the longer run the desired change in habits can again disappear.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

My business is to teach my aspirations to conform themselves to fact

Thomas Huxley:
My business is to teach my aspirations to conform themselves to fact, not to try and make facts harmonize with my aspirations.

Freedom to choose what to do with one’s life has the strongest correlation with happiness

From Gender and Well-Being around the World: Some Insights from the Economics of Happiness by Carol Graham and Soumya Chattopadhyay.

Some interesting findings. They define happiness in terms of well-being. Happiness is a notoriously slippery term and the authors have some good discussion around the issue of definitions, particularly in a cross cultural-context. And in fact their discussion about the various trade-offs in terms of question-framing and survey design is quite good as well.
Women’s happiness seems to fall – at least in the short-term - when there are changes/improvements in gender rights, in keeping with our more general findings on the drops in reported well-being that are often associated with the process of acquiring agency.
Our main finding is that women are happier than men world-wide. The standard deviation of happiness levels across women is also smaller than that of men. We find a consistent pattern across levels of development and over time.2 Well-being levels are generally higher in countries with higher levels of development, and the gap between male and female happiness is also greater in countries with higher levels of development. When happiness levels rise or fall (they did the latter, on average, from 2005-2010), the levels of women and men tend to co-move, with the gap between
Another example of the effects of cyclical changes is a trend that Eduardo Lora and I (2009) have called the “paradox of unhappy growth” in which, controlling for average per capital levels of GDP, respondents are less happy in faster growing countries. We explain our results, at least in part, by the difference between the effects of changes and levels of income on wellbeing. While higher levels of income – and all of the things that typically accompany them, such as political rights and public goods – are associated with higher levels of well-being, many of the changes that accompany rapid income growth, such as increased inequality and insecurity and changing rewards to different skill sets, are often associated with lower levels of well-being, at least in the short term.3 One can imagine that the same sort of phenomenon could occur at times of change in gender rights and the role of women in the workforce.
We then compared differences in male and female happiness within countries around the world more generally. In addition to the basic finding – women are happier than men world-wide – we looked at differences across age and education cohorts, and also compared developed to developing countries. We find that the gap between male and female happiness is greater (women are that much happier than men) in older (over age 40) than in younger cohorts. The gap is also greater in urban rather than rural areas, and among educated (completed high school and greater) rather than in less educated cohorts. Women seem to be happier as they age, if they have more education, and if they live in urban areas, which is what one would expect from a gender rights perspective (one can imagine that gender rights are more equal in these cohorts). This is an important departure from the findings from the World Values survey study, though, which finds a larger gap between male and female happiness in less developed countries).

We also found some related and interesting findings for marriage. While overall, married people are happier than non-married people, a finding which is consistent throughout the happiness literature, we find that young married people (in the age 15-40 cohort) are less happy than the average, while married people over 40 are happier than the average. Along the same lines, married people in urban areas are happier than the average, while there is no difference between married and unmarried people in rural areas. Our findings on marriage and education run in the same direction with the coefficient on marriage being much stronger for educated married people than for non-educated married people. All of these findings suggest that the effects (or correlation) of marriage on happiness are more likely to be positive in cohorts where gender rights are more equal.
Women are happier than men in the United States. Yet women’s happiness declined in the 1970’s and 1980’s compared to men’s. After that point they trends co-moved. Some of that difference may be explained by initial changes and then stabilization of gender rights, with women’s taking on professional roles becoming increasingly the norm by the 1980’s and 1990’s, and, perhaps, by increasing sharing of household work across genders as dual wage-earning households became the norm. An interesting supporting finding is that we find that freedom to choose what to do with one’s life has the strongest correlation with happiness (across both genders) in the richest group of countries, precisely where there is more of it and people are more likely to expect to have it.
Read the whole thing. A lot of subtelty in the findings.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Transcending international stereotypes

From Europe Agrees: Greece Is the Laziest, Most Incompetent Nation in the EU by Derek Thompson.
Europe's problem isn't stereotypes. It's institutions. Or, more accurately, it's the continent's dearth of working, supranational institutions that can transcend international stereotypes and politics.

High school graduates equipped with skills, not just self-­‐esteem

From The Cone of Uncertainty of the 21st Century’s Economic Hurricane by Avinash Dixit. An economist emritus looks to the future with trepidation and optimis.
I have a dream that America’s public schools will recover the quality and purpose they had in the first half of the twentieth century, and will turn out high school graduates equipped with skills, not just self-­‐esteem. And these high school graduates will have affordable opportunities to go on to acquire college education in subjects that matter – mathematics, natural sciences, engineering, and, dare I say, a little basic economics, instead of the easier song-­and-dance majors that are popular among too many U.S. college students. In other words, I hope America will recognize that education is mostly an investment good, not a consumer good. Schoolteachers will be well paid and will have the respect of their communities, but they will be motivated and dedicated to their vocation, and not obsessed with preserving the jobs of everyone regardless of ability, enjoying short working days and short school years, and retiring early on handsome pensions. They will have good knowledge of the subjects they teach, and will come mostly from the top third, not the bottom, of their college classes.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The past, which as always did not know the future, acted in ways that ask to be imagined before they are condemned

I have never read this before, Thank God For Atom The Bomb by Paul Fussell. Excellent. The niceties of debating something in the abstract can be a useful refinement process but also has the tendency to become unmoored from reality. Should we have used the atomic bomb? All too easy to make hindsight judgments as well as judgments isolated from the agonies of the time and circumstances. There is often a certain arrogance in the discussion which Fussell attacks head on.
"What did you do in the Great War, Daddy?" The recruiting poster deserves ridicule and contempt, of course, but here its question is embarrassingly relevant, and the problem is one that touches on the dirty little secret of social class in America. Arthur T. Hadley said recently that those for whom the use of the A-bomb was "wrong" seem to be (Page 15) implying "that it would have been better to allow thousands on thousands of American and Japanese infantrymen to die in honest hand-to-hand combat on the beaches than to drop those two bombs." People holding such views, he notes, "do not come from the ranks of society that produce infantrymen or pilots." And there's an eloquence problem: most of those with firsthand experience of the war at its worst were not elaborately educated people. Relatively inarticulate, most have remained silent about what they know. That is, few of those destined to be blown to pieces if the main Japanese islands had been invaded went on to become our most effective men of letters or impressive ethical theorists or professors of contemporary history or of international law.
On the other hand, John Kenneth Galbraith is persuaded that the Japanese would have surrendered surely by November without an invasion. He thinks the A-bombs were unnecessary and unjustified because the war was ending any way. The A-bombs meant, he says, "a difference, at most, of two or three weeks." But at the time, with no indication that surrender was on the way, the kamikazes were sinking American vessels, the Indianapolis was sunk (880 men killed), and Allied casualties were running to over 7,000 per week. "Two or three weeks," says Galbraith. Two weeks more means 14,000 more killed and wounded, three weeks more, 21,000. Those weeks mean the world if you're one of those thousands or related to one of them. During the time between the dropping of the Nagasaki bomb on August 9 and the actual surrender on the fifteenth, the war pursued its accustomed course: on the twelfth of August eight captured American fliers were executed (heads chopped off); the fifty-first United States submarine, Bonefish, was sunk (all aboard drowned); the destroyer Callaghan went down, the seventieth to be sunk, and the Destroyer Escort Underhill was lost. That's a bit 'of what happened in six days of the two or three weeks posited by Galbraith. What did he do in the war? He worked in the Office of Price Administration in Washington.
The future scholar-critic who writes The History of Canting in the Twentieth Century will find much to study and interpret in the utterances of those who dilate on the special wickedness of the A-bomb-droppers. He will realize that such utterance can perform for the speaker a valuable double function. First, it can display the fineness of his moral weave. And second, by implication it can also inform the audience that during the war he was not socially so unfortunate as to find himself down there with the ground forces, where he might have had to compromise the purity and clarity of his moral system by the experience of weighing his own life against someone else's. Down there, which is where the other people were, is the place where coarse self-interest is the rule. When the young soldier with the wild eyes comes at you, firing, do you shoot him in the foot, hoping he'll be hurt badly enough to drop or mis-aim the gun with which he's going to kill you, or do you shoot him in the chest (or, if you're a prime shot, in the head) and make certain that you and not he will be the survivor of that mortal moment?

It would be not just stupid but would betray a lamentable want of human experience to expect soldiers to be very sensitive humanitarians. The Glenn Grays of this world need to have their attention directed to the testimony of those who know, like, say, Admiral of the Fleet Lord Fisher, who said, "Moderation in war is imbecility," or Sir Arthur Harris, director of the admittedly wicked aerial-bombing campaign designed, as Churchill put it, to "de-house" the German civilian population, who observed that "War is immoral," or our own General W. T. Sherman: "War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it." Lord Louis Mountbatten, trying to say something sensible about the dropping of the A-bomb, came up only with "War is crazy." Or rather, it requires choices among crazinesses. "It would seem even more crazy," he went on, "if we were to have more casualties on our side to save the Japanese." One of the unpleasant facts for anyone in the ground armies during the war was that you had to become pro tem a subordinate of the very uncivilian George S. Patton and respond somehow to his unremitting insistence that you embrace his view of things. But in one of his effusions he was right, and his observation tends to suggest the experiential dubiousness of the concept of "just wars." "War is not a contest with gloves," he perceived. "It is resorted to only when laws, which are rules, have failed." Soldiers being like that, only the barest decencies should be expected of (Page 36) them. They did not start the war, except in the terrible sense hinted at in Frederic Manning's observation based on his front-line experience in the Great War: "War is waged by men; not by beasts, or by gods. It is a peculiarly human activity. To call it a crime against mankind is to miss at least half its significance; it is also the punishment of a crime." Knowing that unflattering truth by experience, soldiers have every motive for wanting a war stopped, by any means.
The past, which as always did not know the future, acted in ways that ask to be imagined before they are condemned. Or even simplified.
And then there's this great line about a Division level interogation officer, miles from the front line who later wrote a book that was philosophical and balanced and sensitive.
But The Warriors, his meditation on the moral and psychological dimensions of modern soldiering, gives every sign of error occasioned by remoteness from experience.
Error occassioned by remoteness from experience. What a great description of so many or our debates today.