Monday, July 31, 2017

Better late than never

An article uncovered in my archival clearing. From July 31, 1987, The Postman Rings 42 Years Later by Ben A. Franklin. A touching story.
Forty-two years and two months late, the United States Postal Service is trying to return or deliver 253 V-Mail letters from World War II servicemen to their families and sweethearts.

The letters, all on the single-sheet fold-into-an-envelope stationery provided free to American servicemen in the war, were written in May 1944 aboard the U.S.S. Caleb Strong. The Liberty ship troop transport spent 21 days in a convoy from Newport News, Va., to Oran in North Africa.

The letters were never mailed, and officials say the reasons will probably remain a mystery because the homebound serviceman assigned in Oran to post them on his return to this country is dead. The letters spent the better part of two generations in the attic of a house in Raleigh, N.C.

Last month, officials of the Postal Service said today, a pest control workman went to Ross Garulski, the Raleigh postmaster, to report that while searching an elderly woman's attic for termites he had found a khaki sack containing the unposted mail. 'Never Entered the Mail Stream'

At a news conference at Postal Service headquarters, Albert V. Casey, the Postmaster General, stressed that the lost letters ''never entered the mail stream.'' He wanted to make it clear that the Postal Service, which succeeded the Post Office Department in 1971, could not be held accountable for the delay.

After trying to deliver the letters to the original addresses, the Postal Service found it so fruitless that it turned to trying to find the writers.

Stressing that neither snow nor rain nor war nor termites stays his couriers from their appointed rounds, Mr. Casey and his press aides produced four of the original letter writers. One, Walter Dropo of Boston, a 6-foot, 5-inch former first baseman with the Boston Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles, was found through the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association.

Ten others have also been identified, postal officials said, but 67 former G.I.'s who composed multiple letters on the long crossing have not been found.

Those who believe they were aboard the troop ship Caleb Strong bound for Oran in May 1944 and whose letters may be among those now held by the Postal Service should write: V-Mail, Communications Department, U.S. Postal Service, 475 L'Enfant Plaza, Washington, D.C. 20260.

Two of the former servicemen, Manford Peins, 65 years old, of North Plainfield, N.J., and Raul Alvarez, 62, of Livermore, Calif., said they had married the women to whom their lost love letters, or some of them, were addressed.

''My dearest sweet,'' Mr. Alvarez read today from one of his shipboard letters to Terry Espinosa in California, ''I can hardly wait until we reach port so I can mail my letters. I love you with all my heart and no one will ever come between us.''

Terry Alvarez, standing beside her husband before a battery of television cameras, said, ''I'm thrilled to death to get it, even though it's late.''

Mr. Alvarez, a former Army Air Corps radio operator who stayed in the service until 1971, is now a part-time letter carrier. 'Must Be Some Postage Due'

Mr. Peins, then a 23-year-old B-17 waist gunner, went on from the Caleb Strong's destination of Oran, Algeria, to fly bombing runs over Czechoslovakia from a base in Italy. He, too, returned to marry one of the addressees of the lost mail, the former Ruth Kidd. Retired recently after 37 years as a telephone man, he said they have five children and 14 grandchildren.

Remarking that ''there must be some postage due'' on the letters, Robert Kirsch, 66, of North Huntington, Pa., another B-17 crewman who was shot down over Czechoslovakia three months after a seven-letter writing binge on the ship, said, ''If I had known this was going to happen I'd have written more.''

Mr. Dropo, 63, a salesman for the family fireworks distributing business, said he would now deliver his 1944 letters to his 90-year-old mother. ''To me this is a very emotional thing,' he said. ''I was 21 then. I am 63 now. I feel - well, I made it, I am back.''

All that remained from the chant of Zoroastrian priests or the pleas of Persian satraps to Alexander the Great

From The Lost Heart of Asia by Colin Thubron.
Yes, they said, they were Yagnobski. They all spoke Sogdian in the home, young and old, and had inherited the language from their parents, by ear … I listened almost in disbelief. This, I told myself, was the last, distorted echo of the battle-cries shouted 2500 years ago by the armies of the Great Kings at Marathon and Thermopylae, all that remained from the chant of Zoroastrian priests or the pleas of Persian satraps to Alexander the Great. Yet it was spoken by impoverished goatherds in the Pamirs.

Your locks are like the snaw

John Anderson, My Jo
by Robert Burns

John Anderson, my jo, John,
When we were first acquent;
Your locks were like the raven,
Your bonie brow was brent;
But now your brow is beld, John,
Your locks are like the snaw;
But blessings on your frosty pow,
John Anderson, my jo.

John Anderson, my jo, John,
We clamb the hill thegither;
And mony a cantie day, John,
We've had wi' ane anither:
Now we maun totter down, John,
And hand in hand we'll go,
And sleep thegither at the foot,
John Anderson, my jo.

Bad on general principle

From Global Warming and Suckers by Dystopic. I am an ardent environmentalist and yet deeply skeptical on evidentiary grounds about the global warming hysteria. The models are too unreliable, the motives are too suspect, the data sets keep getting manipulated, the data sources are inconsistent with one another, and the temperature histories undermine the current levels and variability. Polluting the environment is a real environmental problem that should warrant being addressed on its own merits without fanning the flames of hysteria. The more a dishonest narrative is pushed on a skeptical public, the less likely the public will be to act on real and immediate environmental issues. At least, that is my concern. Dystopia captures the sentiment well:
Thinking of this, I decided to peruse Taleb’s opinion the matter, which I located here. The thrust of the brief article is that the climate models and scaremongering are not required, nor are the specific policies espoused to correct them. Taleb’s skepticism of such modeling techniques is a matter of record. But, he tells us, the risk of global catastrophe from screwing around with Mother Nature shouldn’t be ignored. We have only one Earth, after all. It sounded sensible to me.

I’ve often thought that, were the Left truly honest about their concern for the environment, this would be the position to take. In other words, the models don’t work well, and the data is conflicting and, in any event, not accurate over a sufficiently long amount of time to be particularly useful. But, polluting the Earth is bad on general principle. Put simply, we have one planet (for now).


From Mass murdering monsters and a Belshazzar's feast in Copenhagen by Paul Johnson.
Poverty is created chiefly by stupidity at the individual level and wickedness at the national level.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Old habits die hard

Progress Does Not Always Come Easy
by Jimmy Carter

As a legislator in my state
I drew up my first law to say
that citizens could never vote again
after they had passed away.

My fellow members faced the troubling issue
bravely, locked in hard debate
on whether, after someone's death had come
three years should be adequate

to let the family, recollecting him,
determine how a loved one may
have cast a vote if he had only lived
to see the later voting day.

My own neighbors warned me I had gone
too far in changing what we'd always done
I lost the next campaign, and failed to carry
a single precinct with a cemetery.

Things you don't think about but do happen

From an article in the New York Times, June 30, 1986, A Rural Phenomenon: Lying-in-the-Road-Deaths by William E. Schmidt.
Every two weeks, on the average, somewhere in North Carolina, usually late at night along a rural highway, somebody gets drunk, lies down in the road and is run over and killed.

''In most cases, the victim is intoxicated almost to the point of being comatose,'' said Dr. Lawrence S. Harris, a state medical examiner who is one of the authors of a report, ''While Lying in the Road - The Prone Pedestrian.'' The report documents 136 such fatalities in North Carolina over five years ending in 1984.

There are probably scores of people across the country who are killed that way every year, mostly on warm summer nights in the poorer rural reaches of the South and the Southwest, said Dr. Harris, who teaches pathology at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C.

Hobbled prose

From We're Getting Much Verse by Lloyd Evans. Evans ran a poetry competition back in 2001 for the Spectator and this is the article in which he comments on the contributions. In part:
There were numerous efforts claiming to be poetry which were in fact rhyming policy directives in favour of, for example, saving the pound, electrocuting child-seducers or kennelling asylum-seekers on offshore treadmills connected to the national grid.

About a third of the submissions were written in 'free verse' or, as I prefer to think of it, 'hobbled prose'. It amazes me that anyone still bothers with this alphabetti spaghetti. Craftsmanship is one of the essential qualities of poetry, and the opportunity to display skill and ingenuity within an ordered scheme of rhythm and rhyme is the poet's great adventure, his great fulfilment. The mind seeks regularity, it has a natural affinity with repeated cadences, it hungers for marshalled patterns of stresses and sounds. A poet exploits this desire for supervised noise by playing on the expectant mind like a musical instrument, stimulating it, soothing it, confounding it, enchanting it. To ignore all this, to throw it all away and pretend that the reader's unconscious instincts are of no concern to the poet is either great madness or great brilliance. Seldom the latter.

One thing surprised me. As I sliced open envelope after envelope (using the German bayonet left in my grandfather's ribcage during the Battle of Mons), I was disappointed to find no gratuity dropping into my lap to assist me in my deliberations. I'm not above trousering the odd fiver, let's face it. And as a writer I'm highly susceptible to compliments, but there were no flattering references to my scribblings in any of the covering letters. And the man in me, ever prone to the purple-blooded appetites of nature, was dismayed that not one poetess thought to accompany her work with a suggestive Polaroid showing her semi-draped abundance posed beseechingly beside a raging hearth. Pity, really. But I suppose poetry isn't really like that, is it? Then again, why not? In other branches of the creative media, those with ambition will use every means possible — including sex — to claw their way to preferment. But no one would try to sleep their way into Poetry Corner. The idea is absurd.

Random thoughts

It has been striking to me, as I have been clearing out my archives, how different the reporting of mainstream journalists is now from what it was just thirty years ago. Comparing articles from the New York Times and Washington Post in 1985 and 2000 to 2017, there is quite a shift from news reporting to opinion and from multiple perspectives to a purposeful single perspective. Shifting through all the articles set me on a train of thought.

I am perplexed by the continuing level of hostility on the part of the mainstream media towards the new administration. In the first couple of weeks, I explained it away as a product of their disappointment at the election of a Republican administration given that the MSM is overwhelmingly Democrat. As the errant reporting continued and escalated into increasingly improbable accusations, I added other rationales to explain the behavior.
Insider versus outsider - Perhaps simply the fact that Trump was an outsider to politics was sufficient explanation. Yes, the MSM knew Trump as a celebrity but he was an outsider to politics and therefore there might be some sort of resentment from a social dynamic. This line of thought was leant credence by the MSM treatment of Bernie Sanders, another individual with whom they were familiar but who was an outsider to the Democratic establishment. The MSM treated him abysmally for political purposes, not in a dissimilar fashion as their treatment of Trump.

Class - Yes, Trump is wealthy and travels in the right circles but he is not an effete sophisticate and appears not to be invested in fads and concerns of the "right set." You cannot read some of the MSM analyses of "what went wrong" without picking up a strong sense of their revulsion at what they see as his crudity, gaucheness and vulgarianism. See for example this interview between two New York journalists and their frequent flinching at his mannerisms; A Conversation with Maggie Haberman, Trump’s Favorite Foe by David Remnick. You can almost hear the pearls being clutched and I wouldn't be surprised if, in flinching, they might have knocked over their bone china tea cups. Related to Class:

New York tribalism - I am not versed in the arcana of the New York City boroughs but in a good number of articles I have read, there seems a strong undercurrent of disdain for Trump as a man from Queens. It almost seems like a Manhattan versus Queens prejudice is in play.

Postmodernism - All our Ivy Leagues have become infected in the past couple of decades by the noxious poison of postmodern critical theory, especially the humanities and within humanities, especially communications and journalism departments. While postmodern critical theory also substantially infects the Democratic Party in its urban centers (not so much in the flyover states and the rural traditional county Democratic chapters), I wonder if the MSM journalists don't oppose Trump more for unconscious ideological reasons than necessarily partisan reasons. That is a pretty thin hair to split, but I suspect that there is something to it.
Those were my next tier suppositions for what was behind the rabid anti-Trump MSM dynamic. But the MSM opposition continued to double down on increasingly unrealistic reports and incidents. Breathlessly reported "treason" with absolutely no basis in reality. The most outlandish claims being made with no named sources or independent evidence.

From an outsider's perspective, this looks like reckless professional malpractice. What was driving them to this dangerous position? Maybe it is just some combination of the above reasons, but that seems insufficient motive. What other explanations might be reasonable to consider? In no particular order, here are the further hypotheses. None or all of these might be in play, and certainly there must be some hierarchy of which of these explanations is most relevant, but I have no idea what that hierarchy might be.
Intra-media sector competition - All the main cable and broadcast news as well as the LA Times, New York Times, and Washington Post are based in three staunchly Democrat cities. The news industry is struggling financially owing to advertising moving from TV and newspapers to the internet and from new competition on the internet from both alternate news sources and entertainment. The traditional media was financially lucrative for several decades owing to regulation and officially sanctioned local monopolies. With internet competition they are being forced to shed staff, hire younger cheaper reporters and cut costs (losing editorial quality). While trying to be national news sources, they also have to cater to their local customer base which is staunchly on the extreme side of the Democratic Party. They have to serve the extreme side of the party, with fewer resources, and with greater alternate competition. That means they have to outdo one another. I wonder if the extreme gullibility of some of the reporting is not a function of eight (ABC, NBC, CBS, MSNBC, CNN, NYT, LAT, WP) competitors vying for a narrow market (the postmodernist critical theory Democrat).

Declining journalistic capability - Related to the above. As the MSM shed reporters and editors and fired older, more expensive reporters, I suspect that the average age of journalists is falling which in turn has three implications. The younger journalists are less experienced, less knowledgeable and more indoctrinated with the postmodern critical theory mindset. This was substantially the observation of Ben Rhodes when explaining why it was so easy for the Obama administration to manipulate the news ("They literally know nothing".)

Threats to sinecures and social status - Since 1992, journalists have had a free-floating ecosystem in which to flourish. The White House has been under Democrats for sixteen of those 25 years and fully anticipated that there would be another eight years. Journalists in that time frame, a full generation, could move between reporting, government jobs, academia and communication departments of corporations with ease. I wonder whether the Trump election victory, in combination with the decimation of the Democratic Party at both the federal and state level during the last administration, doesn't represent a perceived choking off of that secure safety net. Nothing sparks opposition so much as threats to income and prestige.

Democratic Tribalism - Republicans, in recent decades, have always been multi-factional with strong intra-party competition between social conservatives, Burkean conservatives, religious conservatives, libertarians, fiscal conservatives, etc. Will Roger's old line, "I am not a member of any organized party — I am a Democrat" has in recent decades seemed more descriptive of the Republican party. Sure, there were factions of a sort within the Democrats (the Obama network, the Clinton network, the Congressional Democratic Caucus) but they were much of a muchness ideologically and in terms of policies. They competed with one another for influence and money and not so much about policy direction. At the federal level, the Clintons and Obama are sidelined and there isn't a coherent voice from the DNC or the Congressional Democratic Caucus and the State Democrats are in disarray. Journalists affiliated with the Democrats have gone from an understandable terrain of power and influence to a new and unknown environment. I wonder if this disorientation is not an element in their "resistance" reporting.

White House Career Diversity - Under Obama only 8% of his appointees had experience outside of government, (at least in his first term, I haven't seen analysis for the full two terms but I suspect it remained about the same.) Insider reporters were dealing with a homogenous insider crowd of people who were entirely government/political. Granting that there are major cultural differences between government and the private sector (and of course within different industries in the private sector), journalists are having to deal with people with quite different backgrounds from those with whom they were accustomed to dealing. People with greater diversity of experience and mindset. The new administration is much more diverse than the old. I wonder if this increased diversity is not perhaps disorienting to younger journalists who were accustomed to dealing with officials who all shared a common mindset.

Competence Gap - Somewhat related to the diversity referred to above. When you staff your government with politicians and bureaucrats, it is very hard to gauge their competence and achievement levels. Their status comes from their position, not their achievements. I suspect, under these conditions, it is easy for journalists to see themselves as peers with the politicians/bureaucrats. They are equally able to throw in some intellectual allusions, deal in abstracts, and indulge in college dorm room bull sessions.

Not so for those from the private sector and the military. Sure, they have credentials. But they advance to their positions based on experience and achievement. The achievement and experience gap between any private sector executive or military leader and even your best MSM journalist is huge. Where journalists were accustomed to dealing with near-peer politicians/bureaucrats, they are now dealing with leaders with a range of experience, a set of achievements, and a focus and diligence with which journalist are unfamiliar and cannot compare. I wonder if this competence gap is not a component to the MSM journalistic "resistance."

Real competition among leaders - Related to the above. When you have competent leaders tasked with goals, they fight their corner to achieve those goals. Under the prior administration, there was early talk about a "team of rivals" wth the promise being that excellent people would be appointed and they would contend with one another to reach the best solutions. In reality, this was simply the parroting of an eponymous book at the time of the election of 2008. It was an academic lounge room concept never actually implemented. The last administration ended up with a bunch of yes men in a hierarchical structure, taking orders as instructed. They were products of their political/bureaucratic cultures.

With real leaders with real accomplishments and real focus on achieving real results, we are in much more of a de facto team of rivals environment this time round. If you are a callow reporter working from your experience of the past eight years, then the energy and debate among the new team likely does appear chaotic and directionless. Reading articles from fifteen and thirty years ago, it is obvious we are merely reverting to the healthy checks-and-balances tug-of-war of the past. But if all you know are direction taking yes-men then you report chaos and mire.

Active interaction between WH and Congress - Finally, the fact that for the past six years there has been no real interaction between the White House and Congress has probably lulled younger and inexperienced reporters into the belief that this is how government works. Useless debate in Congress and executive orders from the White House. That is both a sharp departure from the past and has been disastrous for the democratic traditions of our country. We depend on the parties (Republicans and Democrats) competing with one another, we depend on the institutions (Executive and Legislative) competing with one another, and we depend on the levels competing with one another (Federal and State). This has been in abeyance for six years and if that lull is what you believe is the norm, then the newly invigorated tussles within and between branches looks like chaos and that is what you report. All it is though, is a return to the dynamism that has been the norm. The only difference is that we have a decade-long backlog of problems we have been avoiding that now have to be addressed
Or so it seems to me. A lot of possibilities and there might be yet more going on under the surface. Just trying to make sense of a fairly incomprehensible situation.

UPDATE: In the Class section, I mention Haberman. I forgot she was one of the reporters revealed in Wikileaks to have been collaborating with the Clinton campaign without revealing the conflict in her reporting. From Wikileaks, an internal planning e-mail within the Clinton campaign:
For something like this, especially in the absence of us teasing things out to others, we feel that it's important to go with what is safe and what has worked in the past, and to a publication that will reach industry people for recruitment purposes.

We have has a very good relationship with Maggie Haberman of Politico over the last year. We have had her tee up stories for us before and have never been disappointed. While we should have a larger conversation in the near future about a broader strategy for reengaging the beat press that covers HRC, for this we think we can achieve our objective and do the most shaping by going to Maggie.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Battle of Glorieta Pass redux

I am still clearing out old archival materials from the past thirty years and in doing so come across all sorts of minor items of interest. For example there is this controversy from November 29, 1987: Texas and New Mexico Battle Over Remains of Fallen Confederate Soldiers by Catherine C. Robbins.
When a landowner digging a foundation for his new house uncovered a mass grave here last summer, Civil War enthusiasts immediately guessed its contents: the remains of Confederate soldiers slain at the battle of Glorieta. The brief but intense encounter, part of an ill-fated Confederate campaign in the Far West, was fought on March 28, 1862.

While the battle is largely forgotten, an emotional dispute has erupted over the disposition of the skeletons of the 31 Confederate dead.

They were from several Texas regiments organized into Sibley's Brigade, commanded by Gen. Henry Hopkins Sibley. Texans and New Mexicans, longtime rivals, are now replaying the 125-year-old battle and the Confederate heritage.

On one side, members of the Glorieta Battlefield Preservation Society of New Mexico want the remains interred in a monument at the battle's site, according to Don E. Alberts, the group's president. He is a professional historian who has edited the journals of a Confederate soldier at Glorieta. 'Historic Real Estate'

Congress is considering legislation that would designate Glorieta as a national battlefield. ''Having the remains there would give meaning to the sacrifice these men made on the battlefield,'' said Mr. Alberts. ''It would humanize what is a piece of historic real estate.''

On the other side, members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a national group that has state chapters in Texas and New Mexico, want the skeletons returned to Texas for burial in Austin. ''To people who share the Southern heritage, there's no doubt as to where you inter a bunch of Texans, you send them back to the state from where they served,'' said James E. Busbee, a New Mexican and commander of the national organization. That sentiment is shared by some New Mexicans who belong to both Mr. Busbee's group and Mr. Alberts's group, In its recent newsletter, the Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans calls the effort to ''bring our boys home'' the most important endeavor in the group's history. According to James N. Vogler, the organization's project officer in Houston, support for its cause has come from the Texas Legislature, Gov. William P. Clements Jr., the Texas Historical Commission and the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
I cut out that article and filed it away in 1987.

Here, thirty years later to the day, I can now know the resolution of the issue. From Wikipedia's Battle of Glorieta Pass article:
In 1987 two Confederate burial sites were discovered at Pigeon's Ranch. One was the solitary grave of Maj. John Samuel Shropshire, the other was a mass grave of 30 Confederates. Only Shropshire and five others could be positively identified On August 5, 1990, Maj. Shropshire's remains were reburied next to his parents in his family's cemetery in Bourbon County, Kentucky. The remaining 30 Confederates were in the Santa Fe National Cemetery.
The Wikipedia article provides a good coverage of the context and circumstances of the battle.

Once foreign parts were far away

Auberon Waugh used to run a monthly poetry contest for the Literary Review in which he would set a theme and readers were too write an original composition. I came across the contest for July 2000, the theme being Foreign Parts. The first prize winner Robert Marks crafted a poem that now seems prescient these seventeen years later, given the mood and tribulations in Europe.
Foreign Parts
by Robert Marks

Once foreign parts were far away
And foreigners were there to stay,
And England had an empire yet
On which the sun declined to set;
Asylum meant the funny farm
And nationalism was no harm,
Monarchy was heaven sent
And laws were made by Parliament.

Now England has an open door
And foreign parts are far no more
With patriotic views forbidden
And laws of England overwritten;
Instead we have correctness, cant,
Pretensions to be tolerant,
A refuge for the refugee
And anti-racist industry:
Indulgences that coalesce
Bring an end to foreignness.

"My client is willing to do community service."

From The New Yorker.

Click to enlarge.

Friday, July 28, 2017

A man watching from a bench and smiling

The Dance
by James Pickles

There was something that made you want to laugh,
as though the fat man's rush for the train
was somehow deliberately choreographed,
with the timing practiced again and again -
a crescendoing drumroll scurrying his feet
speeding down stairs and plump on the beat
exactly through the closing doors,
a small leap - then great applause.

I almost then expected him to reemerge
and take a bow, the platform loudly cheering.
But he had gone, entirely submerged,
leaving only ripples quietly disappearing -
in the growing distance the train's rhythm subsiding,
the cleared platform; a man watching from a bench and smiling.
Published in The Spectator, May 4, 2002

Postmodernist Critical Theory doomed to tear itself apart via intersectionality

From Competition over collective victimhood recognition: When perceived lack of recognition for past victimization is associated with negative attitudes towards another victimized group by Laura De Guissmé and Laurent Licata. Abstract:
Groups that perceive themselves as victims can engage in “competitive victimhood.” We propose that, in some societal circumstances, this competition bears on the recognition of past sufferings—rather than on their relative severity—fostering negative intergroup attitudes. Three studies are presented. Study 1, a survey among Sub-Saharan African immigrants in Belgium (N = 127), showed that a sense of collective victimhood was associated with more secondary anti-Semitism. This effect was mediated by a sense of lack of victimhood recognition, then by the belief that this lack of recognition was due to that of Jews' victimhood, but not by competition over the severity of the sufferings. Study 2 replicated this mediation model among Muslim immigrants (N = 125). Study 3 experimentally demonstrated the negative effect of the unequal recognition of groups' victimhood on intergroup attitudes in a fictional situation involving psychology students (N = 183). Overall, these studies provide evidence that struggle for victimhood recognition can foster intergroup conflict.
Indicative at best given the small sample size.

We are seeing a lot of this intersectional competitive victimhood here in the US where it manifests primarily for attention and government resources. Being designated as a victim might be demeaning but can be lucrative, so there is that going for it. I don't find the conclusions from above to be particularly surprising. Intersectional victimhood competition is a daily freak show. The study does, however, bring some quantification and some rigor to the analysis.

The study is interesting though from a different perspective.

In my lifetime I have seen a dramatic rise of anti-Semitism in Europe. It was always there as a casual bigotry among the elite (and especially, for reasons I don't understand, among the intellectual left) and to some extent, and primarily in a conspiracy fashion among the poorer working class.

But looking at the number of hate incidents and the polling results on bias across multiple countries in the past few decades, there has been a marked rise in anti-semitism. Initially, I assumed that this was some dynamic on the left. The intellectual left in Europe has in general been strong supporters of Palestine and their anti-Zionism morphs with great rapidity into anti-semitism.

But in the past decade or two, I had to question that assumption. Yes, I think anti-semitism is likely rising among the native born culture but I am just not seeing it, in my personal interactions with Europeans, rise at the rate that you see in the numbers. I have latterly assumed that the great jump in recorded anti-semitism must be related to the increase in muslim migration into Europe. The above study seems to indicate that this is plausible and identifies the causal mechanism for that bigotry, competitive victimhood.

All data within the state, no data outside the state, no data against the state

One of the abiding concerns from libertarians and anyone with an interest in individual security has been the centralization of power in government and, in the digital age, the centralization of digital data in massive databases, government or commercial.

The concern seems almost borderline paranoid. These are massive organizations with access to the best and the brightest. The promises are for ironclad digital security. "No unauthorized personnel will have access . . . " Then you read local news stories of some low level clerk checking on his girlfriend's activities, security personnel doing background checks on behalf of their relatives, and high level government officials tapping into NSA collected data for partisan political purposes. But these are one off bad apples. Nothing systemic. Or so we hope.

However, between hacks, leaks, and errors, that concern about the leakiness of centralized data seems more and more rational and well justified. In the past few years we have had the exposure of personal data from the Federal Office of Personnel Management, from Target, from Sony, Yahoo, eBay, JPMorgan Chase, Anthem, the DNC, etc. Tens and millions of peoples' personal data exposed.

Now, out of Sweden, we have the accidental exposure of an entire countries' personal data. From Swedish Government in Crisis After Almost All Citizens' Personal Data Is Leaked by Andrew Griffin.
The Swedish government has replaced two of its ministers as it attempts to avoid falling entirely amid a crisis involving a leak of the data of almost all of the country’s citizens.

The information from the country’s driving licence database was made available to IT contractors in other countries, who had not undergone security clearance checks, as part of an outsourcing deal.


The scandal involves the handling of data under a 2015 outsourcing deal between the Swedish Transport Agency and IBM Sweden. Mr Lofven admitted on Monday that his country and its citizens had been exposed to risks by potential leaks of sensitive information.

Among some of the details that could have been accessible outside Sweden were the registration numbers of most vehicles on land, air and sea in Sweden.

Whistleblowers have raised concerns that information about vehicles used by the armed forces and the police may have ended up in the wrong hands. The identities of some security and military personnel could also have been at risk, according to reports.
Sweden might be particularly exposed as they are a country which collects and centralizes a massive amount of personal data.

We are in a new era where we are actively trying to reconcile notions of privacy in an environment where government can compel the most personal of data but cannot then be trusted to protect that data. We have a long road to hoe before we reach some sort of reasonable equilibrium.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

You’ll find me buried, living-dead In these verses that you’ve read.

When I'm Killed
by Robert Graves

When I’m killed, don’t think of me
Buried there in Cambrin Wood,
Nor as in Zion think of me
With the Intolerable Good.
And there’s one thing that I know well,
I’m damned if I’ll be damned to Hell!

So when I’m killed, don’t wait for me,
Walking the dim corridor;
In Heaven or Hell, don’t wait for me,
Or you must wait for evermore.
You’ll find me buried, living-dead
In these verses that you’ve read.

So when I’m killed, don’t mourn for me,
Shot, poor lad, so bold and young,
Killed and gone — don’t mourn for me.
On your lips my life is hung:
O friends and lovers, you can save
Your playfellow from the grave.

Translation from Swedish: Socialism is for dweebs

From Individual risk preferences and the demand for redistribution by Manja Gärtnera, Johanna Mollerstromb, and David Seim. Abstract:
Redistributive policies can provide an insurance against future negative economic shocks. This, in turn, implies that an individual's demand for redistribution is expected to increase with her risk aversion. To test this prediction, we elicit risk aversion and demand for redistribution through a well-established set of measures in a representative sample of the Swedish population. We document a statistically significant and robust positive relation between risk aversion and the demand for redistribution that is also economically important. We show that previously used proxies for risk aversion (such as being an entrepreneur or having a history of unemployment) do not capture the effect of our measure of risk aversion but have distinctly different effects on the demand for redistribution. We also show evidence indicating that risk aversion can explain significant parts of the well-studied relations between age and gender on the one hand and demand for redistribution on the other.

Fleet Street on the wagon — I ask you!

Diary by Keith Waterhouse in the 13 May, 1995 Spectator. On the old British center of journalism, Fleet Street, and the new.
A non-drinking journalist is a paradox, like a non-swimming fish. Yet the plague of teetotalism is spreading through what we still call Fleet Street. The Murdoch papers have been completely dry for some time. Now the Independent also carries the Prohi- bition banner. No wonder the paper looks as if it's been put together by people who are stone-cold sober. And it's not only in the office. The last time I had lunch with someone from the Indie, she wouldn't have any wine, thank you, as she had to go back to Canary Wharf. Fleet Street on the wagon — I ask you! Whoever heard of a Perrier press?

Putting some parameters on what we don't yet know

From Measuring Social Connectedness by Michael Bailey, Ruiqing (Rachel) Cao, Theresa Kuchler, Johannes Stroebel, and Arlene Wong. The abstract:
We introduce a new measure of social connectedness between U.S. county-pairs, as well as between U.S. counties and foreign countries. Our measure, which we call the "Social Connectedness Index" (SCI), is based on the number of friendship links on Facebook, the world's largest online social networking service. Within the U.S., social connectedness is strongly decreasing in geographic distance between counties: for the population of the average county, 62.8% of friends live within 100 miles. The populations of counties with more geographically dispersed social networks are generally richer, more educated, and have a higher life expectancy. Region-pairs that are more socially connected have higher trade flows, even after controlling for geographic distance and the similarity of regions along other economic and demographic measures. Higher social connectedness is also associated with more cross-county migration and patent citations. Social connectedness between U.S. counties and foreign countries is correlated with past migration patterns, with social connectedness decaying in the time since the primary migration wave from that country. Trade with foreign countries is also strongly related to social connectedness. These results suggest that the SCI captures an important role of social networks in facilitating both economic and social interactions. Our findings also highlight the potential for the SCI to mitigate the measurement challenges that pervade empirical research on the role of social interactions across the social sciences.
An interesting step forward in measuring and understanding social networks and their consequence.

Not a criticism of the researchers approach but a matter of curiosity.
How many people, as personal individuals, use how many social networking sites?

How do they use those sites and for what purpose and duration?

What is the measured correlation for those individuals between the networks on the different social networking platforms they use?
For example, I use Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Pinterest. Pinterest I use only to store images, not as a social networking platform. LinkedIn I use almost solely to keep track of colleagues with only the lightest of social networking engagement. Twitter I use for information access. Facebook I use to keep track of family and friends from my youth when I was growing up overseas. There would be almost no networking element to Pinterest or Twitter. The degree of network overlap between my LinkedIn network and my Facebook network would be minimal.

I think what the researchers has done is interesting but I also think there are a lot more points of consideration to take into account.

Tyler Cowen summarizes the key findings as:
1. For the population of the average county, 62.8% of friends live within 100 miles.

2. Over distances of less than 200 miles, the elasticity of friends to distance is about – 2.0, and about – 1.2 for distances greater than 200 miles.

3. Conditional on distance, social connectedness is significantly stronger within state lines.

4. “Counties with a higher social capital index have less geographically concentrated social networks.”

5. Social connectedness predicts trade flows, even after controlling for distance, and it also predicts patent citations.
All interesting but I am not sure what it tells us that we don't already know. Each one of these observations can be argued into a pretzel. For example, "Social connectedness predicts trade flows" might as easily be "Trade flow predicts social connectedness," i.e. the flow of causation might be the reverse of that implied. You do business and then you create relationships.

Personally, I am also concerned about the county-based approach to the analysis. After the election in 2016, there was a slew of maps looking at voting patterns by county. And that is useful to an extent. The drawback is that counties have a high standard deviation in population size ranging from a few dozens of people to nearly ten million (Los Angeles). By looking only at county level voting, you end up with a map that is a vast sea of red (Republicans) and a few small lakes of blue (Democrats). It is an interesting and useful perspective up to a point but is not a complete perspective when the election was within a couple of points.

Kudos to Bailey et al for focusing on the measurement of networks but I think we are at the very beginning of an immense field of inquiry and all early findings will be just a matter of sketching the terrain for later detailed exploration.

Thanatos Savehn (in the comments) puts it more bluntly.
Actually, you can specify your model first and then run a test to generate some data. If the data fits well you’re discovered something (e.g. ) Sadly, only risk takers will look into an urn full of hypotheses, each with a prior probability of being true of 0.001 or less, pull out a promisingly interesting one and risk his reputation, time and future income by testing it. And most academics are by nature not risk takers. So instead they find some data, put their creative abilities into piecing it all together into a coherent and marketable (helpful, clever, weird, PC, etc.) narrative and sell it to the gullible public.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Where lies the land to which the ship would go?

Where Lies the Land?
by Arthur Hugh Clough

Where lies the land to which the ship would go?
Far, far ahead, is all her seamen know.
And where the land she travels from? Away,
Far, far behind, is all that they can say.

On sunny noons upon the deck’s smooth face,
Link’d arm in arm, how pleasant here to pace!
Or o’er the stern reclining, watch below
The foaming wake far widening as we go

On stormy nights, when wild northwesters rave,
How proud a thing to fight with wind and wave!
The dripping sailor on the reeling mast
Exults to bear, and scorns to wish it past.

Where lies the land to which the ship would go?
Far, far ahead, is all her seamen know.
And where the land she travels from? Away,
Far, far behind, is all that they can say.

Getting to yes across cultures

Getting to yes across cultures from HBR

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Pigeons in the park

From The New Yorker

Click to enlarge.

For last year's words belong to last year's language And next year's words await another voice.

Little Gidding is the last of T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets. Wikipedia has some background to the poem.

It can be read as a mystical poem, a theological poem, a poem of culture and allusion. Like much of Eliot's work, I respond more to individual lines than I do to the entire poem. That said, all of Eliot's work has grown on me over the years. Maybe I will live a long enough life to read and appreciate the entirety of the poem.

Some of the lines which resonate the most:
In the dark time of the year. Between melting and freezing
The soul's sap quivers.


And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all. Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfilment.


You would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.


I met one walking, loitering and hurried
As if blown towards me like the metal leaves
Before the urban dawn wind unresisting.
And as I fixed upon the down-turned face
That pointed scrutiny with which we challenge
The first-met stranger in the waning dusk
I caught the sudden look of some dead master
Whom I had known, forgotten, half recalled
Both one and many; in the brown baked features
The eyes of a familiar compound ghost
Both intimate and unidentifiable.


I may not comprehend, may not remember.


For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.


And last, the rending pain of re-enactment
Of all that you have done, and been; the shame
Of motives late revealed, and the awareness
Of things ill done and done to others' harm
Which once you took for exercise of virtue.


We cannot revive old factions
We cannot restore old policies
Or follow an antique drum.
These men, and those who opposed them
And those whom they opposed
Accept the constitution of silence
And are folded in a single party.


What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.


We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.
The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree
Are of equal duration. A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
On a winter's afternoon, in a secluded chapel
History is now and England.


We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.


At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.

Little Gidding
(No. 4 of 'Four Quartets')
by T.S. Eliot


Midwinter spring is its own season
Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown,
Suspended in time, between pole and tropic.
When the short day is brightest, with frost and fire,
The brief sun flames the ice, on pond and ditches,
In windless cold that is the heart's heat,
Reflecting in a watery mirror
A glare that is blindness in the early afternoon.
And glow more intense than blaze of branch, or brazier,
Stirs the dumb spirit: no wind, but pentecostal fire
In the dark time of the year. Between melting and freezing
The soul's sap quivers. There is no earth smell
Or smell of living thing. This is the spring time
But not in time's covenant. Now the hedgerow
Is blanched for an hour with transitory blossom
Of snow, a bloom more sudden
Than that of summer, neither budding nor fading,
Not in the scheme of generation.
Where is the summer, the unimaginable
Zero summer?

If you came this way,
Taking the route you would be likely to take
From the place you would be likely to come from,
If you came this way in may time, you would find the hedges
White again, in May, with voluptuary sweetness.
It would be the same at the end of the journey,
If you came at night like a broken king,
If you came by day not knowing what you came for,
It would be the same, when you leave the rough road
And turn behind the pig-sty to the dull facade
And the tombstone. And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all. Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfilment. There are other places
Which also are the world's end, some at the sea jaws,
Or over a dark lake, in a desert or a city—
But this is the nearest, in place and time,
Now and in England.

If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.


Ash on an old man's sleeve
Is all the ash the burnt roses leave.
Dust in the air suspended
Marks the place where a story ended.
Dust inbreathed was a house—
The walls, the wainscot and the mouse,
The death of hope and despair,
This is the death of air.

There are flood and drouth
Over the eyes and in the mouth,
Dead water and dead sand
Contending for the upper hand.
The parched eviscerate soil
Gapes at the vanity of toil,
Laughs without mirth.
This is the death of earth.

Water and fire succeed
The town, the pasture and the weed.
Water and fire deride
The sacrifice that we denied.
Water and fire shall rot
The marred foundations we forgot,
Of sanctuary and choir.
This is the death of water and fire.

In the uncertain hour before the morning
Near the ending of interminable night
At the recurrent end of the unending
After the dark dove with the flickering tongue
Had passed below the horizon of his homing
While the dead leaves still rattled on like tin
Over the asphalt where no other sound was
Between three districts whence the smoke arose
I met one walking, loitering and hurried
As if blown towards me like the metal leaves
Before the urban dawn wind unresisting.
And as I fixed upon the down-turned face
That pointed scrutiny with which we challenge
The first-met stranger in the waning dusk
I caught the sudden look of some dead master
Whom I had known, forgotten, half recalled
Both one and many; in the brown baked features
The eyes of a familiar compound ghost
Both intimate and unidentifiable.
So I assumed a double part, and cried
And heard another's voice cry: 'What! are you here?'
Although we were not. I was still the same,
Knowing myself yet being someone other—
And he a face still forming; yet the words sufficed
To compel the recognition they preceded.
And so, compliant to the common wind,
Too strange to each other for misunderstanding,
In concord at this intersection time
Of meeting nowhere, no before and after,
We trod the pavement in a dead patrol.
I said: 'The wonder that I feel is easy,
Yet ease is cause of wonder. Therefore speak:
I may not comprehend, may not remember.'
And he: 'I am not eager to rehearse
My thoughts and theory which you have forgotten.
These things have served their purpose: let them be.
So with your own, and pray they be forgiven
By others, as I pray you to forgive
Both bad and good. Last season's fruit is eaten
And the fullfed beast shall kick the empty pail.
For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.
But, as the passage now presents no hindrance
To the spirit unappeased and peregrine
Between two worlds become much like each other,
So I find words I never thought to speak
In streets I never thought I should revisit
When I left my body on a distant shore.
Since our concern was speech, and speech impelled us
To purify the dialect of the tribe
And urge the mind to aftersight and foresight,
Let me disclose the gifts reserved for age
To set a crown upon your lifetime's effort.
First, the cold friction of expiring sense
Without enchantment, offering no promise
But bitter tastelessness of shadow fruit
As body and soul begin to fall asunder.
Second, the conscious impotence of rage
At human folly, and the laceration
Of laughter at what ceases to amuse.
And last, the rending pain of re-enactment
Of all that you have done, and been; the shame
Of motives late revealed, and the awareness
Of things ill done and done to others' harm
Which once you took for exercise of virtue.
Then fools' approval stings, and honour stains.
From wrong to wrong the exasperated spirit
Proceeds, unless restored by that refining fire
Where you must move in measure, like a dancer.'
The day was breaking. In the disfigured street
He left me, with a kind of valediction,
And faded on the blowing of the horn.


There are three conditions which often look alike
Yet differ completely, flourish in the same hedgerow:
Attachment to self and to things and to persons, detachment
From self and from things and from persons; and, growing between them, indifference
Which resembles the others as death resembles life,
Being between two lives—unflowering, between
The live and the dead nettle. This is the use of memory:
For liberation—not less of love but expanding
Of love beyond desire, and so liberation
From the future as well as the past. Thus, love of a country
Begins as attachment to our own field of action
And comes to find that action of little importance
Though never indifferent. History may be servitude,
History may be freedom. See, now they vanish,
The faces and places, with the self which, as it could, loved them,
To become renewed, transfigured, in another pattern.

Sin is Behovely, but
All shall be well, and
All manner of thing shall be well.
If I think, again, of this place,
And of people, not wholly commendable,
Of no immediate kin or kindness,
But of some peculiar genius,
All touched by a common genius,
United in the strife which divided them;
If I think of a king at nightfall,
Of three men, and more, on the scaffold
And a few who died forgotten
In other places, here and abroad,
And of one who died blind and quiet
Why should we celebrate
These dead men more than the dying?
It is not to ring the bell backward
Nor is it an incantation
To summon the spectre of a Rose.
We cannot revive old factions
We cannot restore old policies
Or follow an antique drum.
These men, and those who opposed them
And those whom they opposed
Accept the constitution of silence
And are folded in a single party.
Whatever we inherit from the fortunate
We have taken from the defeated
What they had to leave us—a symbol:
A symbol perfected in death.
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
By the purification of the motive
In the ground of our beseeching.


The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre—
To be redeemed from fire by fire.

Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.


What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea's throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.
The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree
Are of equal duration. A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
On a winter's afternoon, in a secluded chapel
History is now and England.

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

It is a place crying out for the convenience of warm, dry clothes.

From One household staple sums up why Americans and Brits will never see the world the same way by Corinne Purtill.

The exercise is tired, using a single fulcrum upon which to distinguish two different cultures. It is familiar but does have some element of truth to it.
This last sentence encapsulates what is, to me, a fundamental difference in the British and American psyches. The frustration an American feels upon removing a poorly washed, barely-dried load from his or her UK appliance isn’t really about the laundry at all. It’s about the tension between how each culture sees the world.

But first, for the uninitiated, some background. A typical London flat dweller fortunate enough to have in-home laundry facilities likely has the combo washer-dryer Furseth described above. The machine’s basketball-sized drum holds an amount equivalent to one queen-sized fitted sheet and two pillowcases, or two bath towels and up to three washcloths, or 1.7 days’ worth of a family’s dirty clothes. A wash-and-dry cycle takes three to four hours. Because the machine rumbles like a rocket on a launch pad, your drying is best done at a time that doesn’t disturb downstairs neighbors or sleeping children. Also, London water is hard and seduces the dye from the fibers of your clothes, commingling passionately for a few wild spins before draining away and leaving all items the same Dickensian gray.

The color challenge can be circumvented through assiduous sorting. But there is no getting around the fact that the drying function just doesn’t work. Clothes come out damp. The end result is a flat with socks and undershirts dangling over bathtubs and radiators. Of course, there are worse ways to live. But—why? When a technological fix is available, why would anyone choose to live this way?

Home drying technologies have been slow to catch on in the UK. An estimated 85% of US households have a clothes dryer; only 56% of UK ones do. “The first time I saw a tumble dryer was on an episode of Baywatch, when the clothes of a would-be drowning victim were put through the wash,” Furseth wrote. “My family had all the standard home appliances, but dryers aren’t very common in Europe. The idea that you could wash an outfit and wear it again the very same day seemed impossible.” That’s insane! Baywatch ran from 1989 to 2001. Electric tumble dryers were a fixture of middle-class US homes by the 1960s. What was happening in Britain during those lost decades? Why would a nation prioritize satellite television over the pleasures of freshly-laundered socks?

To an American, this is baffling. Britain is not sunny Italy, where I’m guessing you can simply fling washed clothes onto the terrazza in the morning and they’re crisp by the end of your post-prandial nap. Britain is damp. It’s wet all the time. It rained every single day for a month when I first moved there—and that was in the summer. It is a place crying out for the convenience of warm, dry clothes.


This acceptance is at the heart of many American immigrants’ frustrations about life in the UK. And it highlights a fundamental cultural between the US and UK that I’d characterize, broadly, as a British inclination to accept things as they are, versus an American inclination to alter and change them.
What she says is all true.

Decades ago, a cartoonist in Punch (or possibly it was the Spectator) made the same point much more succinctly.

The single frame cartoon showed some angels in heaven, in the foreground, speaking to one another were two English angels, and on a cloud in the background, a rowdy group of angels hooting and hollering, clearly celebrating something. The one English angel says to the other in explanation, "Its the Yanks. They've struck oil."

That, to me, summarizes the difference in cultural orientation. The Americans are always seeking to make things better while the British, as described by Purtille, do take pride in their stiff upper lips, and capacity to muddle through no matter how challenging the circumstances.

Monday, July 24, 2017

You are going to believe - it's up to you what you believe in

If true, some interesting implications: Don’t Believe in God? Maybe You’ll Try U.F.O.s by Clay Routledge.
Furthermore, evidence suggests that the religious mind persists even when we lose faith in traditional religious beliefs and institutions. Consider that roughly 30 percent of Americans report they have felt in contact with someone who has died. Nearly 20 percent believe they have been in the presence of a ghost. About one-third of Americans believe that ghosts exist and can interact with and harm humans; around two-thirds hold supernatural or paranormal beliefs of some kind, including beliefs in reincarnation, spiritual energy and psychic powers.

These numbers are much higher than they were in previous decades, when more people reported being highly religious. People who do not frequently attend church are twice as likely to believe in ghosts as those who are regular churchgoers. The less religious people are, the more likely they are to endorse empirically unsupported ideas about U.F.O.s, intelligent aliens monitoring the lives of humans and related conspiracies about a government cover-up of these phenomena.

An emerging body of research supports the thesis that these interests in nontraditional supernatural and paranormal phenomena are driven by the same cognitive processes and motives that inspire religion. For instance, my colleagues and I recently published a series of studies in the journal Motivation and Emotion demonstrating that the link between low religiosity and belief in advanced alien visitors is at least partly explained by the pursuit of meaning. The less religious participants were, we found, the less they perceived their lives as meaningful. This lack of meaning was associated with a desire to find meaning, which in turn was associated with belief in U.F.O.s and alien visitors.
Everyone has a weltanschauung - whether it is self-constructed from the ground up, is an established ideology, a religion, a set of cultural beliefs, or is a set of assumed but unproven beliefs. You have a weltanschauung. What it is, what you make of it, and how useful it proves is an empirical question.

Bring back Regular Order?

A very interesting argument made in Restoring the Republic Means Reimposing ‘Regular Order’ by Angelo Codevilla.
The Republican congressional leadership’s failure to repeal Obamacare has led to suggestions that, perhaps, they should have approached their task through “regular order.” Since Congress has not operated under “regular order” at all since 2006, and with decreasing frequency in the decades before that, younger readers, especially, may be excused for not knowing what these procedures are. Far from being arcane ephemera, they are the indispensable catalyst that makes American government responsible to the people. Casting aside “regular order” was essential to the rise of the unaccountable administrative state and the near-sovereignty of party leaders, lobbyists, and bureaucrats.

Herewith, a summary of what “regular order” means, what purpose it once served, why and how it was shunned, and of what has ensued.

More than a half century ago, Daniel Berman’s college-level text, A Bill Becomes a Law, the template for K-12 civics courses, described more or less how Congress had operated since the 1790s. Bills introduced in House or Senate would be sent to the relevant committee, and thence to the proper sub-committee. The ones thought worthy—including those funding the federal government’s operations—would be the subject of public hearings.

The committees’ partisan majorities and minorities would try to stage manage the hearings to make the best case for the outcomes they desired on each point. In the process, public support would strengthen or wane for particular items and approaches. Then, each subcommittee’s public “mark up” of its portion of the bill would reflect the members’ votes and compromises on each item.

Once the several subcommittee products had made their way to the full committee, the same process would repeat. Votes on contested items, and on the whole bill, would end the full committee’s “mark up” and send the bill to be scheduled for action on the House or Senate floor.

Just to get to this point, every element of every bill had to be exposed to public scrutiny. Senators or congressmen on the committees offered amendments and had to vote on the record for each part of the bill. On the House floor, amendments would be limited. But in the Senate, there could be—and often were—“amendments by way of substitution.” By the time the “yeas and nays” were tallied on the final bill, just about all members had had as much of a crack at it as they wanted. The final product would be the result of countless compromises “on the record.”

In 2017, it is useful to recall that this process used to apply to each and every government activity that required a dollar from the U.S. treasury, each and every year. For the past 11 years, however, all the money drawn from the treasury have come from single “continuing resolutions” (CRs) or “omnibus” bills, drafted in secret by “leadership” staffers, executive branch officials, and lobbyists, on which there have been no hearings and which few members have ever read, and on which few if any amendments have been allowed. These “Cromnibuses,” served up as the government runs out of spending authority, end up being passed by the majority party’s near unanimity.

While this is consistent with the Constitution’s words, “no money shall be drawn from the treasury but in consequence of appropriations made by law,” it wholly reverses their intent. Individual congressmen and senators are cut out of the legislative process. The voters can no longer hold each accountable. When Republican leaders make common cause with the Democratic Party against Republicans who won’t go along, whom they accuse of “shutting down the government,” they create a bipartisan ruling party. That makes both parties equally responsible, and ensures that changing your vote from D to R or R to D won’t make a difference.
I can't speak to the details of the argument but it serves as an explanation of some aspects of Congress I was thinking about a few weeks ago.

I was at university in Washington, D.C. 1978-1982 and therefore had a ringside view of the machinations and conduct of Congress. I was recently reflecting on the differences of what I saw then versus what I see now.

Congress and its actions easily received equal billing in the news then compared to the executive branch. You knew the names of some of the more powerful or consequential committee chairmen, House and Senate. Mondale and O'Neill of course, but also Robert Byrd, Howard Baker, Daniel Inouye, Ted Stevens, Bob Packwood, John Tower, Jim Wright, Dan Rostenkowski, Shirley Chisholm, Frank Church - those are top of mind. A dozen easily.

The mainstream media tracked the merry-go-round of shifting alliances and negotiations between members on the subcommittees and committee and the reconciliation process between House and Senate. It was the intellectual's equivalent of a soap opera with backstabbing, subterfuge and dramatic personal failures (Abscam, Fanne Foxe, Koreagate, etc.)

It was a three-ring circus, unsightly, sometimes unseemly, absurd, entertaining, sometimes amusing, occasionally tragic. But it was largely out in the open. You might bewail the conduct or the decisions or gargoyle compromises, or the sausage-making nature of the process - but you could see it and people were held accountable. Accountable not just in terms of the electoral process but in terms of being prosecuted for their conduct when it drifted beyond the boundaries of law and ethics.

Aside from their own state Congressmen, today I doubt many people could name anyone other than McConnell, Ryan, Schumer and Pelosi. None of the committee, whip or other leadership structure. Why?

And on the Executive side of things, there were similar tall players. Without too much thought it is easy to call up Alexander Haig, George Schulz, James Baker, Caspar Weinberger, Frank C. Carlucci, Edwin Meese, James Watt, David Stockman, Howard Baker, Jeanne Kirkpatrick.

I don't think this recall is a function of the freshness of youth versus the jadedness of age. Other than foreign affairs, I had only marginal interest in domestic politics. Sure, I read the papers pretty religiously, but those names do not come to mind because I was young or focused or interested in them. They come to mind because they were consequential individuals playing material roles in our governance.

Who could name any of the cabinet members of the most recent administration, only six months gone? Eric Holder, Robert Gates, Samantha Powers, Susan Rice, probably, but who else?. More importantly, who can attach a particular position, action or initiative to any of them? Holder, certainly, but beyond that it gets pretty thin. For all the romantic talk of a team of rivals, there simply was not much action going on outside the rule of three - Obama, Pelosi, Reid.

So what changed between then and now? I had always put it down to the fact that Obama seemed to always view governance through a parliamentarians mindframe. The view that the winning party should be able to rule via edict rather than political negotiation and compromise. Certainly there is plenty of evidence of that. I have also assumed that congressional leadership of both parties simply became institutionally lazy and risk averse.

My desire has been to see Congress reassert itself versus the Executive branch and for the political parties within Congress to start competing and collaborating with one another towards legislation on behalf of all citizens. As long as all that the parties are doing is the political theater of name-calling without any actual legislation, then we don't really have a democratic governance.

One further consequence of an inert and dysfunctional Congress has been the deferment of our Congressmen to the administrative state in which legislation is not passed but administrative laws formulated and imposed with no feedback mechanism from the citizens to the government. It is a travesty of a healthy democracy.

Codevilla's argument provides an explanation that fits the above observations equally well, probably better, than my explanation. Certainly it complements the parliamentarian/lazy Congress explanation. Whether Regular Order is the real root cause or not, I don't know, but it fits the known facts.

Draw the blanket of the ocean

by Charles Causley

Draw the blanket of ocean
over the frozen face.
He lies, his eyes quarried by glittering fish,
Staring through the green freezing sea-glass
At the Northern Lights.

He is now a child in the land of Christmas:
Watching, amazed, the white tumbling bears
And the diving seal.
The iron wind clangs round the ice-caps,
The five-pointed Dog-star
Burns over the silent sea.

And the three ships
Come sailing in.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Old broken knock-kneed thought will crawl Across my verse in the classic way.

To an Ungentle Critic
by Robert Graves

The great sun sinks behind the town
Through a red mist of Volnay wine . . . .
But what’s the use of setting down
That glorious blaze behind the town?
You’ll only skip the page, you’ll look
For newer pictures in this book;
You’ve read of sunsets rich as mine.

A fresh wind fills the evening air
With horrid crying of night birds . . . .
But what reads new or curious there
When cold winds fly across the air?
You’ll only frown; you’ll turn the page,
But find no glimpse of your ‘New Age
Of Poetry’ in my worn-out words.

Must winds that cut like blades of steel
And sunsets swimming in Volnay,
The holiest, cruellest pains I feel,
Die stillborn, because old men squeal
For something new: ‘Write something new:
We’ve read this poem – that one too,
And twelve more like ’em yesterday’?

No, no! my chicken, I shall scrawl
Just what I fancy as I strike it,
Fairies and Fusiliers, and all.
Old broken knock-kneed thought will crawl
Across my verse in the classic way.
And, sir, be careful what you say;
There are old-fashioned folk still like it.

And so it came to pass

From The New Yorker

Click to enlarge.

Mind should be free as the light or as the air.

John Tyler, who, in a letter dated July 10, 1843, gave eloquent and indeed prophetic expression to the principle of religious freedom:
The United States have adventured upon a great and noble experiment, which is believed to have been hazarded in the absence of all previous precedent—that of total separation of Church and State. No religious establishment by law exists among us. The conscience is left free from all restraint and each is permitted to worship his Maker after his own judgement. The offices of the Government are open alike to all. No tithes are levied to support an established Hierarchy, nor is the fallible judgement of man set up as the sure and infallible creed of faith. The Mahommedan, if he will to come among us would have the privilege guaranteed to him by the constitution to worship according to the Koran; and the East Indian might erect a shrine to Brahma if it so pleased him. Such is the spirit of toleration inculcated by our political Institutions.... The Hebrew persecuted and down trodden in other regions takes up his abode among us with none to make him afraid.... and the Aegis of the Government is over him to defend and protect him. Such is the great experiment which we have tried, and such are the happy fruits which have resulted from it; our system of free government would be imperfect without it.

The body may be oppressed and manacled and yet survive; but if the mind of man be fettered, its energies and faculties perish, and what remains is of the earth, earthly. Mind should be free as the light or as the air.

All writers are recidivists

Diary by Keith Waterhouse in the 13 May, 1995 Spectator.
There can be no one so smug as the writer who has just finished a book — par- ticularly if he has friends who are only in the middle of theirs, or, better (meaning worse), just about to start. Such is the happy position I find myself in. The relief is physical rather than mental — like stepping down off the treadmill or coming in out of the garden after a hard day's digging. And suddenly, in a gush, there is a great avalanche of time — time to have lunch with friends, time to pick pencils up off the floor, time to answer letters, time to water the dead pot plants, time, now that it's spring, to buy a new winter overcoat, time to read and browse in bookshops, time to watch afternoon television, time to empty the wastepaper baskets, time to look at the damp patch in the lavatory and judge whether it's getting worse (it is), time to pay the final notices, time to change the dead light bulb on the landing which expired on New Year's Eve, time to restock' the stapling machine, time to write that long-promised article for the British Jour- nalism Review (it's coming, it's coming — as soon as I've cleaned my tennis shoes!), time to straighten out the kink in the bedside rug, time to get the month-in, month-out Jacket and trousers dry-cleaned at last, time to tidy the slag-heap of a desk, time for a haircut, time, now, to have a bath upon ris- ing instead of bashing away at the typewrit- er in a muck sweat until five in the after- noon. And time to jangle one's change and look at the flowers. This euphoria, in my experience, lasts about four days, where- upon — having sworn to take the summer off — I find myself itching to get back to my desk, with the first sentence of the next damned thick book demanding to be set down on paper. No wonder there are too many books. All writers are recidivists.

With customes wee live well, but Lawes undoe us.

George Herbert (1593-1633) was a Welsh-born poet roughly contemporaneous with William Shakespeare. His main poetic body of work, The temple, sacred poems and private ejaculations
by George Herbert, aside from its uncomfortable, to modern ears, title, wrote primarily religious and metaphysical poetry. Well regarded in his time, he feel from favor among critics, only to see a resurgence of his reputation in the 20th century.

I came across another work of his which is pleasantly intriguing, Outlandish Proverbs, a collection of 1,000 British and foreign proverbs.

I was interested to come across this as I view proverbs, (adage, aphorisms, dictum, epigrams, maxims, etc.) as a form of cultural coding - knowledge or heuristic in a pithy fashion that is easily transmitted geographically and over time. From Wikipedia:
Like many of his literary contemporaries, Herbert was a collector of proverbs. His Outlandish Proverbs was published in 1640, listing over 1000 aphorisms in English, but gathered from many countries (in Herbert's day, 'outlandish' meant foreign). The collection included many sayings repeated to this day, for example, "His bark is worse than his bite" and "Who is so deaf, as he that will not hear?"
See Bidden or unbidden, God is present, for a discussion of the slightly earlier Erasmus of Rotterdam and his collection, Adagia.

What fascinates me about Herbert's collection is their variety. Yes, there are many which are pretty much exactly the same as they are today, or are near in meaning to a modern equivalent.
The eye is bigger then the belly.
He that seekes trouble never misses.
His bark is worse than his bite.
Cloath thee in war, arme thee in peace.
Little pitchers have wide eares.
There are others which make sense but are unfamiliar or no longer in circulation.
If you must flie, flie well.
Every one is a master and servant.
You may be on land, yet not in a garden.
With customes wee live well, but Lawes undoe us.
Paines to get, care to keep, feare to lose.
But there are others where the historical context is, presumably, so different that it is hard to comprehend their import.
Hee that wipes the childs nose, kisseth the mothers cheeke.
When a man sleepes, his head is in his stomach.
When one is on horsebacke hee knowes all things.
Hee that tells his wife newes is but newly married.
Wine that cost nothing is digested before it be drunke.
Sometimes it is a language issue.
Count not fowre except you have them in a wallett.
Gifts enter every where without a wimble.
He that hath a mouth of his owne, must not say to another; Blow.
Then there are the ones that are simply difficult to fathom.
When a man sleepes, his head is in his stomach.
Hee that is in a towne in May, loseth his spring.
The deafe gaines the injury.
Silkes and Satins put out the fire in the chimney.
Hee that would be a Gentleman, let him goe to an assault.
In the house of a Fidler, all fiddle.

Too early to begin working on

From the New Yorker.

Click to enlarge.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Beauty is life's E-Z Pass

From The New Yorker, April 11, 2005.

Click to enlarge.

Plenty of domestic issues

From The New Yorker

Click to enlarge.

A sea-change into something rich and strange

From The Tempest by William Shakespeare, Scene ii of Act I , Ariel's Song
Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Hark! now I hear them — Ding-dong, bell.

Words only count to the extent that they motivate right actions

From The Enchiridion by Epictetus. Before Steven Covey or Dale Carnegie, the Greeks, of course, had the first self-help books. Enchiridion can be translated as manual or handbook. Epictetus was one of the early stoics with a gift of pithy observations and aphorisms.

Here is a selection from the beginning of Enchiridion. As true today as nearly two thousand years ago.
Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.


Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things.


It is the act of an ill-instructed man to blame others for his own bad condition; it is the act of one who has begun to be instructed, to lay the blame on himself; and of one whose instruction is completed, neither to blame another, nor himself.


With every accident, ask yourself what abilities you have for making a proper use of it. If you see an attractive person, you will find that self-restraint is the ability you have against your desire. If you are in pain, you will find fortitude. If you hear unpleasant language, you will find patience. And thus habituated, the appearances of things will not hurry you away along with them.


Remember that you ought to behave in life as you would at a banquet. As something is being passed around it comes to you; stretch out your hand, take a portion of it politely. It passes on; do not detain it. Or it has not come to you yet; do not project your desire to meet it, but wait until it comes in front of you. So act toward children, so toward a wife, so toward office, so toward wealth.


Remember that it is not he who gives abuse or blows who affronts, but the view we take of these things as insulting. When, therefore, any one provokes you, be assured that it is your own opinion which provokes you.


If someone turned your body over to just any person who happened to meet you, you would be angry. But are you not ashamed that you turn over your own faculty of judgment to whoever happens along, so that if he abuses you it is upset and confused?


If a man has reported to you, that a certain person speaks ill of you, do not make any defense (answer) to what has been told you: but reply, The man did not know the rest of my faults, for he would not have mentioned these only.


When you do anything from a clear judgment that it ought to be done, never shun the being seen to do it, even though the world should make a wrong supposition about it; for, if you don't act right, shun the action itself; but, if you do, why are you afraid of those who censure you wrongly?


Everything has two handles, the one by which it may be carried, the other by which it cannot. If your brother acts unjustly, don't lay hold on the action by the handle of his injustice, for by that it cannot be carried; but by the opposite, that he is your brother, that he was brought up with you; and thus you will lay hold on it, as it is to be carried. (43).


These reasonings are unconnected: "I am richer than you, therefore I am better"; "I am more eloquent than you, therefore I am better." The connection is rather this: "I am richer than you, therefore my property is greater than yours;" "I am more eloquent than you, therefore my style is better than yours." But you, after all, are neither property nor style.


Never call yourself a philosopher, nor talk a great deal among the unlearned about theorems, but act conformably to them. Thus, at an entertainment, don't talk how persons ought to eat, but eat as you ought. For remember that in this manner Socrates also universally avoided all ostentation. And when persons came to him and desired to be recommended by him to philosophers, he took and recommended them, so well did he bear being overlooked. So that if ever any talk should happen among the unlearned concerning philosophic theorems, be you, for the most part, silent. For there is great danger in immediately throwing out what you have not digested. And, if anyone tells you that you know nothing, and you are not nettled at it, then you may be sure that you have begun your business. For sheep don't throw up the grass to show the shepherds how much they have eaten; but, inwardly digesting their food, they outwardly produce wool and milk. Thus, therefore, do you likewise not show theorems to the unlearned, but the actions produced by them after they have been digested.
Epictetus ends Enchiridion with three maxims to guide one through life. The first is:
Conduct me, Zeus, and thou, O Destiny,
Wherever your decrees have fixed my lot.
I follow cheerfully; and, did I not,
Wicked and wretched, I must follow still.
Not by specific words but by sentiment, there is a strong echo of this in the closing prayer of the Episcopalian liturgy:
Send us now into the world in peace,
and grant us strength and courage
to love and serve you
with gladness and singleness of heart;
through Christ our Lord.