Monday, March 27, 2017

Give it a try, it is actually good in spite of the subversive praise

I came across A Jury of her Peers by Susan Glaspell in an anthology. Glaspell builds the story off of a murder she reported in 1917, The Hossack Murder.

A Jury of her Peers is a tense, brief, haiku-like story of a midwestern murder with strong psychological undercurrents.

Wikipedia describes the story in this fashion.
It is seen as an example of early feminist literature because two female characters are able to solve a mystery that the male characters cannot.
What a fatally flawed description. By attaching the limiting qualifier "feminist literature" it by default implies that it is not quite good enough to compete at the level of the superset of all literature. An implication that is wrong. Describe it as good literature, don't tar it with the closetedness of "feminist literature."

I have close to zero interest in feminist literature as the guff ratio (GR) is so high. But this short story is a brilliant rendition.

Certainly Glaspell might be an exemplar of early female authors but it does her a disservice to couch this as feminist literature. By trying to highlight her sex, it trivializes her achievement. Ironically, that is a common dynamic among postmodernist totalitarians. "Read this because it is by victimhood group X" is far less effective a recommendation than "Read this because it is good."

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Gramscian arguments based on want of candour, or malignity, bigotry or intolerance of feeling

H/T John Stuart Mill's Brief for Freedom of Speech summarized by Confessions of A Supply Side Liberal. He is summarizing and annotating John Stuart Mill's argument for freedom of speech and dissenting opinion in On Liberty. The words are Mills and annotations from the blog.
We have now recognised the necessity to the mental well-being of mankind (on which all their other well-being depends) of freedom of opinion, and freedom of the expression of opinion, on four distinct grounds; which we will now briefly recapitulate.
First, if any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility. (See ”John Stuart Mill on the Adversary System,“ ”John Stuart Mill on the Protection of ‘Noble Lies’ from Criticism“ and ”Should Troubling Arguments Be Kept Away from Those Who Might Be Unduly Swayed by Them?“)

Secondly, though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied. (See ”A Remedy for the One-Sidedness of the Human Mind“ and ”Why Progressives and Conservatives Need Each Other.“)

Thirdly, even if the received opinion be not only true, but the whole truth; unless it is suffered to be, and actually is, vigorously and earnestly contested, it will, by most of those who receive it, be held in the manner of a prejudice, with little comprehension or feeling of its rational grounds. (See ”Let the Wrong Come to Me, For They Will Make Me More Right“ and "In Praise of Trolls.”)

And not only this, but, fourthly, the meaning of the doctrine itself will be in danger of being lost, or enfeebled, and deprived of its vital effect on the character and conduct: the dogma becoming a mere formal profession, inefficacious for good, but cumbering the ground, and preventing the growth of any real and heartfelt conviction, from reason or personal experience. (See “How Freedom of Thought for Falsehood Keeps the Truth Alive.”)
Pertinent to the regimes and advocacy groups so active and dominant on our campuses today, it is worth paying attention to the paragraph immediately following Mills's concluding summary of the argument for free speech above.

He says:
Before quitting the subject of freedom of opinion, it is fit to take some notice of those who say, that the free expression of all opinions should be permitted, on condition that the manner be temperate, and do not pass the bounds of fair discussion. Much might be said on the impossibility of fixing where these supposed bounds are to be placed; for if the test be offence to those whose opinion is attacked, I think experience testifies that this offence is given whenever the attack is telling and powerful, and that every opponent who pushes them hard, and whom they find it difficult to answer, appears to them, if he shows any strong feeling on the subject, an intemperate opponent. But this, though an important consideration in a practical point of view, merges in a more fundamental objection. Undoubtedly the manner of asserting an opinion, even though it be a true one, may be very objectionable, and may justly incur severe censure. But the principal offences of the kind are such as it is mostly impossible, unless by accidental self-betrayal, to bring home to conviction. The gravest of them is, to argue sophistically, to suppress facts or arguments, to misstate the elements of the case, or misrepresent the opposite opinion. But all this, even to the most aggravated degree, is so continually done in perfect good faith, by persons who are not considered, and in many other respects may not deserve to be considered, ignorant or incompetent, that it is rarely possible on adequate grounds conscientiously to stamp the misrepresentation as morally culpable; and still less could law presume to interfere with this kind of controversial misconduct. With regard to what is commonly meant by intemperate discussion, namely invective, sarcasm, personality, and the like, the denunciation of these weapons would deserve more sympathy if it were ever proposed to interdict them equally to both sides; but it is only desired to restrain the employment of them against the prevailing opinion: against the unprevailing they may not only be used without general disapproval, but will be likely to obtain for him who uses them the praise of honest zeal and righteous indignation. Yet whatever mischief arises from their use, is greatest when they are employed against the comparatively defenceless; and whatever unfair advantage can be derived by any opinion from this mode of asserting it, accrues almost exclusively to received opinions. The worst offence of this kind which can be committed by a polemic, is to stigmatize those who hold the contrary opinion as bad and immoral men. To calumny of this sort, those who hold any unpopular opinion are peculiarly exposed, because they are in general few and uninfluential, and nobody but themselves feels much interested in seeing justice done them; but this weapon is, from the nature of the case, denied to those who attack a prevailing opinion: they can neither use it with safety to themselves, nor, if they could, would it do anything but recoil on their own cause. In general, opinions contrary to those commonly received can only obtain a hearing by studied moderation of language, and the most cautious avoidance of unnecessary offence, from which they hardly ever deviate even in a slight degree without losing ground: while unmeasured vituperation employed on the side of the prevailing opinion, really does deter people from professing contrary opinions, and from listening to those who profess them. For the interest, therefore, of truth and justice, it is far more important to restrain this employment of vituperative language than the other; and, for example, if it were necessary to choose, there would be much more need to discourage offensive attacks on infidelity, than on religion. It is, however, obvious that law and authority have no business with restraining either, while opinion ought, in every instance, to determine its verdict by the circumstances of the individual case; condemning every one, on whichever side of the argument he places himself, in whose mode of advocacy either want of candour, or malignity, bigotry or intolerance of feeling manifest themselves; but not inferring these vices from the side which a person takes, though it be the contrary side of the question to our own: and giving merited honour to every one, whatever opinion he may hold, who has calmness to see and honesty to state what his opponents and their opinions really are, exaggerating nothing to their discredit, keeping nothing back which tells, or can be supposed to tell, in their favour. This is the real morality of public discussion: and if often violated, I am happy to think that there are many controversialists who to a great extent observe it, and a still greater number who conscientiously strive towards it.
My summary: Support and include those who argue in good faith, regardless whether their argument comports with yours. Condemn and ostracize those who argue from a "want of candour, or malignity, bigotry or intolerance of feeling."

I would propose that an exceptionally high proportion of our public discourse is, sadly, the product of lying, malignity, bigotry and intolerance when what we need is civil argument of positions, whether they are in agreement or not. Mills point being that we only approach and refine the truth when we subject it to testing and debate. Testing and debate is good but too often, the gramscian agents of authoritarianism slip in positions based on lying, malignity, bigotry and intolerance under the guise of debate.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Sod Off, Swampy!

From Sod Off, Swampy! by Val MacQueen on the origin of the defiant jeer from those of us who work to those who wish to express themselves of their SJW opinions. From 2005.
Last Wednesday the Kyoto Protocol kicked in and Greenpeace decided to mark the event in Britain by storming London's International Petroleum Exchange, the world's second-largest energy market, with the modest ambition of closing down trading for the day.

Around 35 dolphin-huggers stormed the exchange just after the 2 pm resumption of trading. The sortie was well-planned. One male protester lurked around the door to the building. When he spotted an employee about to use his swipe card to exit, he accidentally dropped some coins and bent to pick them up and, as the employee, not noticing him, strode out onto the street, stuck his foot in the door for his co-protesters to rush in for the assault. The first few sidled in, and two minutes later, two Greenpeace vans skidded to a stop and out poured another 30 or so protesters who stormed through the doors held open for them.

Hoping to shut down "open outcry" trading, where deals are shouted across the pit, the Greenpeaceniks ran onto the trading floor, according to the London Times, "blowing whistles and sounding fog horns, encountering little resistance from security guards. Rape alarms were tied to helium balloons to float to the ceiling and create noise out of reach."

But London traders, just after lunch, are more likely to be powered by two or three pints of strong ale than the milk of human kindness.

The trespassers were set upon by traders, most of whom were under the age of 25. "They were kicking and punching men and women," said a photographer, according to The Times of London. "It was really ugly. ... They followed the [Greenpeace] guys into the lobby and kept kicking and punching them there. They literally kicked them on to the pavement."

"The violence was instant," reported one aggrieved recipient of a rain of blows to the head. "I've never seen anyone less amenable to listening to our point of view."

"Sod off, Swampy!" shouted one tardy trader, steadying himself against the railings of the balcony of the pub across the street as his colleagues threw the protesters bodily onto the sidewalk. (Swampy was an enviro-protester who gained fame by living unbathed in a tunnel for eight months.)

Meanwhile, other traders inside the building were punching and felling men and women with a politically correct lack of sexual discrimination. Those who had already been punched onto the floor were shocked to look up and see traders trying to overturn heavy filing cabinets onto them.

A laconic spokesman for the IPE said, "We are dealing with the situation."

The protesters who had violently breached private premises and attempted to halt a legitimate activity expressed themselves aggrieved with the rules of engagement. One of them told The Times, "I took on a Texan Swat team at Esso last year and they were angels compared with this lot. They were Cockney barrow boy spivs. Total thugs."

Twenty-nine activists were arrested by the Metropolitan Police and taken to police stations throughout London. They were later bailed. Two were taken to hospital, one with a suspected broken jaw and the other with concussion.

The City of London (the financial center) has a history of meting out similarly robust responses to anti-capitalist and environmental demonstrators. A few years ago, The Guardian reported: "As the Carnival Against Capitalism streamed through the streets of the square mile last Friday, photocopied £50 notes fluttered out of the windows of some of the City's most august institutions and collected at the marchers' feet. Looking up, they saw City traders pointing at their watches and shouting: 'Rolex!'" Other City traders have sprayed champagne out of office windows onto protesters.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Roman republicanism versus Carthagenian aristocracy

From Carnage and Culture by Victor Davis Hanson, page 124.
The solution to this classical paradox was to field spirited citizen armies that were nevertheless huge, combining the classical Greek discovery of civic militarism with the Hellenistic dynasts’ willingness to recruit infantrymen from all segments of society. The Roman nation and its radical idea of an expansive citizenship would eventually do both brilliantly—in the process ensuring that its armies were larger than those of the classical Greeks and yet far more patriotic than the mercenaries who enrolled in the thousands in service to the Hellenistic monarchs.

This idea of a vast nation-in-arms—by the outbreak of the war in 218 B.C. there were more than 325,000 adult male Roman citizens scattered throughout Italy, nearly a quarter million of them eligible for frontline military service—was incomprehensible to the Carthaginians, who restricted citizenship to a small group of Punic-speakers in and around Carthage. Worse still in a military sense, citizenship to Carthaginians never fully embraced the Hellenic tradition of civic levies—citizens who enjoy rights are required to fight for their maintenance. Carthage also had no concept of the Roman idea of nationhood transcending locale, race, and language. Local nearby African tribes, and even Carthage’s own mercenaries, were as likely to fight the Punic state as were the Romans. Aside from the veneer of a few elite representatives, upon examination there was little Western at all in Carthage’s approach to politics and war. Unlike the Greeks, Carthage failed to insist that its own citizens fight their own battles. Unlike the Romans, it lacked any mechanism of incorporating North African or western European allies, conquered peoples, or serfs into rough political equality with native-born Carthaginians—hence the constant and often barbarous wars with its own rebellious mercenary armies. Nor was there even the pretense that the Carthaginian Assembly voiced the wishes of a nonelite. Carthage seems to have been a society mostly of two, not three, classes—a commercial and aristocratic privileged few served by a disenfranchised body of serfs and laborers.

The Roman Senate was probably as aristocratic as the Carthaginian, but there were no corresponding Punic assemblies that could check aristocratic power, and little tradition of a popular reformer—a Licinius, Hortensius, or Gracchus—who sought to broaden the franchise, allow the middling classes and “new men” to obtain high office, and agitate for agrarian reform and a redistribution of land. In a military sense the result was chronic shortages of Punic soldiers and a complete reliance on mercenary recruitment. Both phenomena would mean that however brilliantly led Carthaginian armies were, and despite their battle experience acquired from nonstop warring, they would find it nearly impossible for long to field troops as numerous or as patriotic as the legions. Centuries after Cannae, Romans continued to create enormous armies even during the darkest hours of the Civil Wars; in the seventeen years of fighting after Caesar crossed the Rubicon (49–32 B.C.) 420,000 Italians alone were conscripted into the military.

In contrast, for Hannibal to succeed, he had to do far more than defeat the Romans at Cannae; he needed to win four or five such battles in succession that would eliminate a pool of well over a quarter million farmers throughout Italy, men between the ages of seventeen and sixty who fought for either the retention or the promise of Roman citizenship. Hannibal had to accomplish such slaughter with an army that probably did not contain a single voting Carthaginian citizen, but was made up of African mercenaries and European tribesmen. Both groups fought not for the expectation of Carthaginian citizenship, or for the freedom to govern their own affairs, but mostly either out of hatred for Rome or for the money and plunder that their strong leader might continue to provide— strong incentives both, but in the end no match for farmers who had voted to replace their fallen comrades at Cannae and press on to the bitter end to ensure the safety of the populus Romanus, the preservation of the res publica, and the honor of their ancestral culture, mos maiorum. Most Italian farmers rightly surmised that their children would have a better future under Roman republicanism than allied to an aristocratic, foreign, and mercantile state like Carthage.

Deadliest Sea

I just finished Deadliest Sea: The Untold Story Behind the Greatest Rescue in Cost Guard History by Kalee Thompson. A bit hyperbolic title and there are a couple of authorial quirks but overall a very enjoyable read.

Seems like I have read a couple of Alaska shipwreck books in the past five years. I remember Working on the Edge by Spike Walker which was very good.

What is striking is the difference in preparedness of the fishermen, mostly as a consequence of increased regulation. Working on the Edge was published in 1993 and covered shipwrecks (mostly of fishing boats and ships) in Alaskan waters through the late eighties and very early nineties. I remember at the time of reading, feeling a great sorrow for the loss of live. Or rather, the needless loss of life. Time and again in a wreck, there were either no, or too few survival suits (immersion suits). With those suits, the chances of surviving in freezing northern waters were still harrowing but far, far greater than anyone who went in without the survival suit.

Thompson's book came out in 2010 covering a sinking in 2008. Between 1990 and 2008, it became mandatory for the larger fishing outfits to have enough survival suits for every sailor on board. As a consequence, in the 2008 sinking, despite 47 men going into the 36 degree water in the darkest hours of the morning (around 3am) and most of them being in the water or in a life raft for three hours, every one of them had survival suits and 42 of the 47 men survived.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Cultures lead to institutions lead to consequences

From Carnage and Culture by Victor Davis Hanson, page 121.
Already by the third century there were many visionaries in Rome calling for Italian-wide full citizenship—the matter would not be resolved until the Social Wars of the early first century B.C.—or recognition that whole communities akin in ideology and material circumstances to Rome should be in theory eventually incorporated into the Roman commonwealth. By the time of Hannibal’s invasion, Italian communities that were not Latin-speaking were nevertheless often comprised of Roman citizens, who were protected under Roman law even if they were not full voting members of the republic. The need to galvanize Italian support, man the legions, and prevent defections to Hannibal accelerated concessions from Rome to its allies. Under the late republic and empire to follow, freed slaves and non-Italian Mediterranean peoples would find themselves nearly as equal under the law as Roman blue bloods.

This revolutionary idea of Western citizenship—replete with ever more rights and responsibilities—would provide superb manpower for the growing legions and a legal framework that would guarantee that the men who fought felt that they themselves in a formal and contractual sense had ratified the conditions of their own battle service. The ancient Western world would soon come to define itself by culture rather than by race, skin color, or language. That idea alone would eventually bring enormous advantages to its armies on the battlefield. In the centuries of empire to follow, the legionaries of a frontier garrison in northern England or northern Africa would look and speak differently from the men who died at Cannae. They would on occasion experience cultural prejudice from native Italians; nevertheless, they would also be equipped and organized in the same fashion as traditional Roman soldiers, and as citizens they would see their military service as a contractual agreement rather than ad hoc impressment.

Even as early as the Punic Wars slaves in real numbers were on occasion freed and, depending on their military contributions, given Roman citizenship. The aftermath of Cannae would see their military participation and emancipation in the thousands. The Romans, in short, had taken the idea of a polis and turned it into the concept of natio: Romanness would soon not be defined concretely and forever by race, geography, or even free birth. Rather, citizenship in theory could be acquired someday by those who did not speak Latin, who were born even into servitude, and who lived outside Italy—if they could convince the relevant deliberative bodies that they were Roman in spirit and possessed a willingness to take on Roman military service and pay taxes in exchange for the protection of Roman law and security brought on by a free and mercantile economy.

Juvenal three centuries after Cannae would ridicule the “hungry Greeklings” that bustled about Rome, but such men ran the commercial life of Rome and would prove to be, along with thousands of other foreigners like them, as good citizen legionaries as any Italians. Rome, not classical Greece, created the modern expansive idea of Western citizenship and the notion of plutocratic values that thrive in a growing and free economy. Money, not necessarily birth, ancestry, or occupation, would soon bring a Roman status. The ex-slave Trimalchio and his nouveau riche freedmen dinner guests, lounging in splendor in Petronius’s first century-A.D. novel, the Satyricon, were the logical fruition of the entire Roman evolution in civic inclusiveness—social, economic, and cultural— that went on even as political liberty at the national level was further extinguished under the empire. It is no accident that some of the most Roman and chauvinistic of Latin authors—Terence, Horace, Publius Syrus, Polybius, and Josephus—were themselves the children of freedmen, ex-slaves, Africans, Asians, Greeks, or Jews. By the second century A.D. it was not common to find a Roman emperor who had been born at Rome. What effect did this vast difference in the respective ideas of citizenship of the antagonists have on the fighting in August 216 B.C.? Quite a lot—very few trained mercenary replacements available to Hannibal in the exuberance of victory, a multitude of raw militiamen recruits for Rome in the dejection of defeat.

Clutching a box of tea bags

We are still in the midst of uncovering the details of the tragedy in London yesterday with yet another terrorist attack on innocent people, but this quintessentially British detail caught my eye. From U.K. Parliament Attacker Is Identified as Khalid Masood by Dan Bilefsky, Stephen Castle, and Prashant S. Rao.
Among those headed to work was Michael Torrance, 39, a House of Lords official. Clutching a box of tea bags in his hand — his office had quickly run out as politicians and their staff members were on lockdown the day before — Mr. Torrance said that the full magnitude of the attack on the Parliament area had not yet sunk in.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Riki tiki tavi mongoose is gone

One of Donovan's more unfathomable offerings but entertaining for its very unfathomability.
Riki Tiki Tavi
by Donovan

Better get into what you gotta get into
Better get into it now, no slacking please
United Nations ain't really united
And the organizations ain't really organized

Riki Tiki Tavi mongoose is gone
Riki Tiki Tavi mongoose is gone
Won't be coming around for to kill your snakes no more my love
Riki Tiki Tavi mongoose is gone

Body who read the Jungle Book knows that Riki tiki tavi's a mongoose who kills snakes
(Well) when I was a young man I was led to believe there were organisations to kill my snakes for me
Ie the church ie the government ie the school
(but when I got a little older) I learned I had to kill them myself

Riki tiki tavi mongoose is gone
Riki tiki tavi mongoose is gone
Won't be coming around for to kill your snakes no more my love
Riki tiki tavi mongoose is gone

People walk around they don't know what they're doing
They bin lost so long they don't know what they've been looking for
Well, I know what I'm a looking for but I just can't find it
I guess I gotta look inside of myself some more

oh oh oh inside of myself some more
Oh oh oh inside of myself some more

Riki tiki tavi mongoose is gone
Riki tiki tavi mongoose is gone
Riki tiki tavi mongoose is gone
Riki tiki tavi mongoose is gone

I saw you today on the number twelve
Bus you were going my way my way

An interesting question ill-reported

From New poll: only 3% of Trump voters regret their vote by Eric Plutzer and Michael Berkman. An example of the hidden biases held by journalists which color their reporting and is visible to those who do not share their biases.

Plutzer and Berkman are answering an interesting question. As they outline, there have been all sorts of articles in the Washington Post, the New York Times and on social media about regretful Trump voters. But is there really a significant wave of regret? The survey asks and the answer is no.
Respondents were presented with the same choices — Trump, Clinton, Stein, Johnson, someone else, or not vote at all. Of the 339 poll participants who originally voted for Trump, only 12 (3½ percent) said they would do something different.

Only three individuals (fewer than 1 percent of Trump voters) said that, could they go back in time, they would cast their vote for Clinton. Seven said they would vote for one of the minor-party candidates.
So all those WaPo and NYT articles about the fraying of the Trump coalition? Wishful thinking masking fake news.

The survey isn't large enough to tell whether that defection of 3.5% would have made a difference. You have to know where the survey participants are from to know that answer. If those 12 defectors were in California and New York, then it wouldn't make a lick of difference.

The results of the survey don't surprise me. In my circle of friends and acquaintances, the percentage who are intensely interested in politics is relatively small. Perhaps only 20% want to talk about the election from a winner/loser perspective. But of those who do, most of the Trump supporters were reluctant in their vote but have since expressed pleasant surprise at his performance. Those who were Clinton supporters divide into two camps. A small percentage express regret that she lost. Most are simply outraged.

And that brings us to the the elephant, actually the Donkey, in the room. Why is the article one-sided? What were the results in the Clinton camp? How many of her supporters would now choose to have supported Trump? I can believe that it might be close to zero but I can also equally believe that there might have been defections from her to Trump, particularly among voters in the South and Midwest. I suspect Trump won the election with the least enthusiastic supporters ever. Sure, he does have a lot of very enthusiastic supporters, I am not denying that. But I do suspect that there were a great many who voted for him reluctantly as the least bad of the two alternatives. An unknown candidate with many questions versus a known candidate with a track record of corruption, incompetence and failure.

Did they simply not ask the Clinton supporters the same questions as the Trump supporters? Surveys are expensive to run. I would be surprised if they did not ask Clinton supporters whether they would still vote the same way. But if they did, why aren't they reporting the results. You would think if there were no defections, then that would be positive news they would want to report. If, on the other hand, there were significant defections from Clinton, as Democrats-with-bylines, that would be something you would expect them to hide.

The fact that they do not report on Clinton results leads to the speculation that while Trump might have had 3.5% defection among his supporters, perhaps Clinton had even more.

Kudos to the WaPo for reporting on this but it does give strong credence to those who feel they cannot trust the mainstream media. The Washington Post was earlier reporting a story of rapidly eroding support among Trumps supporters. They run a survey to find out and discover that there is no material erosion in support for Trump. They avoid reporting anything on Clinton leading to speculation that there might be more to the story than is being revealed.

The hard-nosed rustics who voted in the local assemblies of the towns and demes of Italy

From Carnage and Culture by Victor Davis Hanson, page 118.
The terror of war does not lie in the entirely human reaction of tribal cultures to bloodletting—screaming and madness in giving and receiving death, fury of the hunt in pursuit of the defeated, near hysterical fear in flight—but rather in the studied coolness of the Roman advance, the predictability of the javelin cast, and the learned art of swordsmanship, the synchronization of maniple with maniple in carefully monitored assaults. The real horror is the entire business of unpredictable human passion and terror turned into a predictability of business, a cold science of killing as many humans as possible, given the limitations of muscular power and handheld steel. The Jewish historian Josephus later captured that professionalism in his chilling summation of legionary prowess: “One would not be wrong in saying that their training maneuvers are battles without bloodshed, and their battles maneuvers with bloodshed” (Jewish War 3.102–7).

The utter hatred for this manner of such studied Roman fighting surely explains why, when Roman legions were on occasion caught vastly outnumbered, poorly led, and ill deployed in Parthia, the forests of Germany, or the hills of Gaul, their victors not only killed these professionals but continued their rage against their corpses—beheading, mutilating, and parading the remains of an enemy who so often in the past could kill without dying. The Aztecs also mutilated the Spanish—and often ate the captives and corpses; and while this was purportedly to satisfy the bloodlust of their hungry gods, much of the barbarity derived from their rage at the mailed conquistadors, with their Toledo blades, cannon, crossbows, and disciplined ranks, who had systematically and coolly butchered thousands of the defenders of Tenochtitlán. In the aftermath of the British defeat at Isandhlwana, the Zulus decapitated many of the British and arranged their heads in a semicircle, in part because so many of their own kinsmen had minutes earlier been blown apart by the steady firing of Martini-Henry rifles.

The Roman republican army was not merely a machine. Its real strength lay in the natural élan of the tough yeoman infantry of Italy, the hard-nosed rustics who voted in the local assemblies of the towns and demes of Italy and were every bit as ferocious as the more threatening-looking and larger Europeans to the north. In the tradition of constitutional governance—the Greek Polybius marveled at the Roman Republic, whose separation of powers, he felt, had improved upon the more popular consensual rule of the Hellenic city-state—the Romans had marshaled a nation of free citizens-in-arms.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Parental love is the first gift which gives us the capacity to give

A day or two ago I posted Omni Vincit Amor in which I quoted George E. Vaillant. Vaillant was summarizing the lessons learned from the 78 year Grant Study about what determines life outcomes.
A fifth lesson is that what goes right is more important than what goes wrong, and that it is the quality of a child's total experience, not any particular trauma or any particular relationship, that exerts the clearest influence on adult psychology.
I find this sentiment echoed in an article On Parenting and Parents by Brian Boutwell. Boutwell is balancing an earlier article in which he contended:
that little evidence exists for pervasive and long-lasting parenting influences on child development. I still maintain that position; not out of a personal bias, but simply because that is what the evidence demands of me.
In this essay he argues:
That said, this essay is about why parenting is arguably the single most important activity in which you will engage. This is true, not because you will mould your child’s intellect or personality like a potter. Rather, this is true because your child might write a similar essay about you one day.
It is a touching article.
Parents matter, not because they shape personality directly, not because they inject morality into the minds of their little ones, and not because they ensure the civility and productivity of the next generation by implementing various parenting strategies. Parents matter because human interaction matters. Time matters. Memories matter. Having a storehouse of memories where there is a surplus of good over bad is a wonderful thing. Sadly, not everyone will be so fortunate. My parents bequeathed no DNA to me or my brother. I don’t see my temperament and personality reflected back at me when I look at them. Yet, they were always in the congregation. Their accomplishment was huge; not because they moulded me into the man that I am today. No, their accomplishment was even greater. They exist as two of the most important people in my life. How many people can say that they matter that much in the world? I aspire to hit their mark. I hope that one day, someone writes that I am their most important person. Parenting provides a rare gift; an opportunity to matter in someone’s life. It’s an opportunity that requires no genetic overlap.
The sweetness of the article tends to overshadow what I think is the central argument. To put it as baldly as possible, I think what he is saying is that parents don't matter in terms of their children's outcomes (and there is a reasonable amount of data to support that position) but that parenting is an essential component to societal outcomes. The emotional investment between and among us, most notable in families, is the glue that holds the entirety together.

The life of a Roman centurion

From Carnage and Culture by Victor Davis Hanson, page 115.
The Roman army, especially when deployed in strength on Italian soil, was not expected to lose, much less to be annihilated. Already by the late third century B.C. Roman legionaries had become the world’s most deadly infantry precisely because of their mobility, superb equipment, singular discipline, and ingenious organization. The Epirote king and general Pyrrhus (280–275 B.C.), the Carthaginian commanders of the First Punic War (264–241 B.C.), and the northern tribes in Gaul (222 B.C.) could attest to the slaughter when their best troops tried to confront the Roman way of war. The Romans had developed a mobile and flexible method of fighting that could hunt down and smash through loosely organized tribal forces in Gaul and Spain, yet could also disrupt columns of highly disciplined phalangites from the East in pitched battles through encirclement or the manipulation of terrain. The history of the Roman third and second centuries is a story of bloody legion deployment throughout the Mediterranean, first to the west and south against the Iberians and Africans (270–200 B.C.), then against the Hellenistic kingdoms in Greece and to the east (202–146 B.C.).

To indicate the scope of Roman campaigning and the wide-ranging experiences of the legionaries, Livy reports in his history of Rome the often quoted example of the Roman citizen soldier Spurius Ligustinus. In his thirty-two-year career in the army (200–168 B.C.) the fifty-year-old soldier, father of eight, fought against the phalanx of Philip V in Greece, battled in Spain, returned to Greece to fight Antiochus III and the Aetolians, then was back on duty in Italy, then off again to Spain. “Four times,” Spurius claimed in Livy’s highly rhetorical account, “within a few years I was chief centurion. Thirty-four times I was commended for bravery by my commanders; I received six civic crowns [for saving the life of a fellow soldier]” (42.34). Spurius might have added that he had collided against the pikes of Macedonian phalangites, faced the elephants of Hellenistic dynasts, and fought dirty wars against tribal skirmishers across the Pyrenees. Roman genius lay in finding a way to take an Italian farmer like Spurius and to make him fight more effectively than any mercenary soldier in the Mediterranean.

Ignoring the information in the newspaper for which you write

From Cozying up to George W. Bush because he's not Trump painting. by Ann Althouse. Captures the ignorant, posturing arrogance of the media which is so toxic to their reputation and feeds the decline in trust and respect in them as an institution.
How could the NYT let Mimi Swartz get away with saying Bush went out of his way to make it look as though he wasn't into reading books? He was famous for reading a lot of books! I guess in the mind of Swartz and whatever editors there may be at the NYT, Bush was just a big idiot, and that makes any depth he's showing now feel amazing.

And it's not necessary anymore for Bush to be the idiot, because now we've got Trump as our official idiot. I will give Swartz credit for not dragging Trump into her analysis. I'm just guessing that the NYT is up for rehabilitating Bush because it serves the new agenda of crushing Trump.

Monday, March 20, 2017

An egalitarian aura to every aspect of the Greek city-state

From Carnage and Culture by Victor Davis Hanson, page 113. One of the great, and often unremarked, strengths of true democracies is that they represent the consent of the governed. That consent enables a mustering and direction of resources not commonly available to coercive or repressive systems of government.
If civic participation in early, broadly oligarchic Greek city-states originally marked a revolutionary invention of consent by the governed, such governments nevertheless often represented less than a fourth of the total resident population. Yet, as Plato lamented, there was a constant evolutionary trend toward egalitarianism and inclusion in the city-state. By the fifth century, especially in Boeotia and some states in the Peloponnese, the qualification for voting and office-holding was as small as a ten-acre farm or the cash equivalent.

The eventual result was that the clear majority of free adult male residents of the surrounding territory by the fifth century B.C. could participate fully in Hellenic government. At imperial Athens and among its democratic satellites every free male born to a male citizen, regardless of wealth or lineage, was eligible for full citizenship, giving rise to an enormous navy of free citizen rowers. Even more startling, the spread of Western democratic ideology evolved far beyond formal matters of voting, but lent an egalitarian aura to every aspect of the Greek city-state, from familiarity in speech and dress to a sameness in public appearance and behavior—a liberality in private life that would survive even under periods of monarchy and autocracy in the later West. Conservatives like the anonymous so-called Old Oligarch (ca. 440 B.C.) scoffed that slaves and the poor were treated no differently from men of substance at Athens. Plato felt that the logical evolution of democracy had no end: all hierarchies of merit would disappear as even deckhands would see themselves as captains, with a birthright to take their turn at the rudder whether or not they knew anything about seamanship. Even the animals at Athens, he jested, would eventually question why they, too, were not equal under an ideology whose aim was to lower all to a common level.

Although many of these Hellenic traditions of autonomy and freedom were eroded by the rise of the dynasts Philip and Alexander (359–323 B.C.) and their imperial Successors (323–31 B.C.) in the Hellenistic world, the ideals of the city-state were not entirely forgotten, but incorporated by states outside Greece itself. Italians, for example, learned more about constitutional rule from the old Greek colonies of southern Italy than from the contemporary Hellenistic kings across the Adriatic. So it was one of the great ironies of the Roman-Greek conflicts of the third and second centuries B.C. that the legions were more Hellenic than the Greek-speaking mercenaries they slaughtered at the battles at Cynoscephalae (197 B.C.) and Pydna (168 B.C.) inside Greece.

Unfortunately for purposes of mustering quality military manpower, Carthage, unlike Rome, had not evolved beyond the first phase of Hellenic-inspired consensual rule. Its government remained in the hands of a select body of aristocrats and landed executives, themselves chosen from that same elite cadre. Carthage was a vast empire run by a small deliberative clique of noble merchants and traders. In contrast, Rome borrowed and improved upon the Greek ideal of civic government through its unique idea of nationhood(natio) and its attendant corollary of allowing autonomy for its Latin-speaking allies, with both full (optimo iure) and partial citizenship (sine suffragio) to residents of other Italian communities—and in the centuries to come full citizenship to those of any race and language that might accept Roman law and pay taxes. What at its inception had nominally been a government of Latin-speaking aristocrats in Rome proper would logically evolve into a pluralistic state, in which local assemblies would weigh in against the Senate, and popular leaders would veto oligarchic legislation. Even consuls like Flaminius and Varro— the former killed at Trasimene, the latter in large part responsible for the catastrophe at Cannae—were purportedly “men of the people” voicing the poor’s desire for precipitate military action in opposition to aristocrats like Fabius Maximus, who favored patience and delay. They had no popular counterparts at Carthage.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Omni vincit amor

From Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study by George E. Vaillant. The Grant Study is one of a handful of longitudinal studies which track individuals across a lifetime with measurements relating to physical health, mental health, psychology, circumstances and context, education, income, wealth, familial outcomes, etc. Such studies are enormously expensive, complex, and challenging to conduct but when done well, they are enlightening about trends, causations, and life outcomes.

The Grant Study has been following 268 healthy men from Harvard classes of 1939-44 across 78 years and three cohorts of study directors.

With such a small population, with study assumptions and objectives which changed over time and with the evolving social and epistemological environment over the course of the study, findings have to always be asterisked as indicative but requiring confirmation. That said, it is very interesting.

One pair of findings is the first hard data I have come across that supports one of my working hypotheses; to wit, that past a certain IQ level, life outcomes are more determined by behaviors and values than they are by incremental increases in IQ. The data findings are:
Those who scored highest on measurements of “warm relationships” earned an average of $141,000 a year more at their peak salaries (usually between ages 55 and 60).

No significant difference in maximum income earned by men with IQs in the 110–115 range and men with IQs higher than 150.
The warmth of childhood relationship with mothers matters long into adulthood:
Men who had “warm” childhood relationships with their mothers earned an average of $87,000 more a year than men whose mothers were uncaring.

Men who had poor childhood relationships with their mothers were much more likely to develop dementia when old.

Late in their professional lives, the men’s boyhood relationships with their mothers—but not with their fathers—were associated with effectiveness at work.

The warmth of childhood relationships with mothers had no significant bearing on "life satisfaction" at 75.
The warmth of childhood relationship with fathers correlated with:
Lower rates of adult anxiety.

Greater enjoyment of vacations.

Increased “life satisfaction” at age 75.
Vaillant has a number of conclusions. My summary of his words.
One is that positive mental health does exist, and to some degree can be understood independent of moral and cultural biases.

The second lesson is that once we leave the study of psychopathology for positive mental health, an understanding of adaptive coping is crucial.

The third lesson is that the most important influence by far on a flourishing life is love.

But - this is the fourth lesson - people can really change, and people really can grow.

A fifth lesson is that what goes right is more important than what goes wrong, and that it is the quality of a child's total experience, not any particular trauma or any particular relationship, that exerts the clearest influence on adult psychology.

A sixth lesson is that if you follow lives long enough, they change, and so do the factors that affect healthy adjustment. Our journeys through this world are filled with discontinuities. Nobody in the the Study was doomed at the outset, but nobody had it made, either.
There is burgeoning evidence that many of our behaviors are genetically scripted but subject to a vast array of exogenous circumstances and contexts. The Grant Study findings seem concordant with that branch of research.

All these men were at the peak of society in 1939, privileged if you will, but their intelligence and their behaviors were heavily influenced by context and circumstances. Not all golden lives ended happily and some among those marked as bleak at the beginning blossomed into beautiful outcomes.

The findings are a nice antidote to the Jacobin inclination that everything is deterministic and there is no free will.

Vaillant makes a particularly salient observation.
Throughout our lives we are shaped and enriched by the sustaining surround of our relationships. The seventy-five years and twenty million dollars expended on the Grant Study points, at least to me, to a straightforward five-word conclusion: "Happiness is love. Full Stop." Virgil, of course, needed only three words to say the same thing, and he said them a very long time ago - Omni vincit amor, love conquers all - but unfortunately he had no data to back them up.
There is no infallible algorithm of success. There are certainly factors which contribute but ultimately all success is a function of choices. Choices which both shape the context and circumstances and are, in turn, shaped by them.

A various and a changeful thing

From The Aeneid by Virgil, translated by John Dryden.
Who knows what hazards thy delay may bring?
Woman's a various and a changeful thing.

Minor mystery

The New Yorker has been a long standing staple in our household. Among their features are, of course, their cartoons and in the past several years, they have included a running feature where readers can submit captions to cartoons. These are winnowed down to three contenders and readers vote on the caption they prefer. This example gives you the idea. A new contest, the three contenders for a recent contest, and the winner of an earlier contest.

This weekend I purchased The New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest Book. While I bought it for the humor, there is actually a fair amount of surprising information in it. One has to do with the sex of the participants. The New Yorker readership is 52% female. However, from page 6:

In general, five times more men than women enter the contest.


Of the 138 contests so far, 105 of the winners have been male.


Of the first 138 contests, 309 of the finalists have been male and 105 have been female.
To put it in comparative language, 48% of Now Yorker readers are male but males constitute 85% of the participants, 75% of the finalists, and 76% of the winners.


I have no idea. Gross social stereotypes have males as more analytic than verbal oriented which would depress their participation but on the other side there is the stereotype of males being more humor oriented than females which would increase participation. Males are more risk taking and competition seeking than females which might be a factor. There is empirical evidence behind all of these stereotypes but whether they constitute much of a material effect size in real world circumstances is perhaps debatable.

I wondered whether there were any comparable activities to this which might shed some light. I came up with a comparable but I am not sure it sheds light.

Cartoon captioning relies on word play as does crossword puzzle construction. I could not find any information about the sex of crossword participants but did uncover that data, and a controversy, regarding crossword puzzle constructors. I do not seek out crosswords and am relatively uninformed about this niche but longstanding corner of cognition.

From Xan Vongsathorn, Word Puzzle: Why is the Crossword Gender Gap Growing?
The topic of the debate is the large and growing gender imbalance in published puzzles. Like many fields, crossword construction is (and always has been) pretty male-dominated. But why is it getting worse, unlike so many other historically male-dominated fields? Apparently the percentage of puzzles with female bylines has plummeted from 35% (in the old days) to 24% (ten years ago) to 16% (now). A puzzle about puzzles!
His post outlines multiple possible causes for the observed trend but none seem compelling which probably means the answer is some combination of a weaker version of most of the arguments.

I do note that all the above numbers fit within the range I have observed in past posts. In competitive endeavors with material risk (social, financial, psychological, etc.) where there are real or public consequences, women represent 15-30% of the top performers in whatever the field might be. Not true all the time and everywhere but a useful heuristic none-the-less.

My guess for the explanation of the New Yorker numbers has several components. I am guessing that the language gap between the sexes is reasonably self-selected out for The New Yorker. In other words, if you are reading the New Yorker, you probably are already high-performing in the language arena and therefore differences between the sexes in language orientation are probably mooted among New Yorker readers. If that is true, then I suspect much of the gap might simply be explained by male competitiveness.

But that is pure speculation and grasping at straws but its all I have in the face of an otherwise reasonably inexplicable gap.

Knowledge does not ensure success

From Carnage and Culture by Victor Davis Hanson, page 72. I maintain some reservations about some of Hanson's thesis but he is a good writer and always informative.
After tearing off the western portions of the empire and Egypt, Alexander in late summer 331 B.C. drove on toward Babylon in hopes of capturing the ancient city and forcing a showdown with the final military reserves of the Persian Empire. After having witnessed his own Achaemenid armies routed at Granicus (334) and again at Issus (333), as well as losing the key strongholds at Tyre and Gaza, in addition to the rich provinces of Ionia, Phoenicia, Egypt, and Cilicia, Darius understood that he must finally stay put and fight for the survival of the remaining, eastern half of his empire. He chose a small plain, more than three hundred miles north of Babylon on a small branch of the Tigris River, the Bumelus, about seventy-five miles from the town of Arbela.

Because Alexander's tactics were well known, Darius had a good idea what to expect. The king, always on the enemy right wing, would seek a gap or some flanking entry around his own left, pour through with 2,000 to 3,000 heavy horsemen, and head straight for the Persian high command, all in hopes of creating a breach through the mass, as his shield-bearing spearmen and dreaded pikemen followed. Meanwhile, Parmenio on the left would stay steadfast and pivot if need be, until the morale of the imperial army was shattered as the ruling Achaemenid clique fled for their lives. All that Darius knew, but was helpless to stop, and so the day's slaughter followed the script Darius feared and Alexander planned.

The Macedonians parted on cue for the scythed chariots — Gaugarnela seems to be the only time these much-feared but rather impractical weapons were actually used en masse in any battle — and stabbed the drivers as they sped past. Darius's elephants apparently panicked or were let through the phalanx — or never even made it to the front. Both chariots and elephants were found largely unscathed after the battle and taken as trophies. The latter after their maiden appearance at Gaugamela became a mainstay of Hellenistic warfare; the former became little more than the rhetoric of Greek romances and the sketch-pad doodles of Western engineers until the age of Leonardo da Vinci. The Persian flanking columns never quite surrounded their enemies; and the decisive charge of Indians and Persians that slammed into the Macedonian left and center now went after plunder, not Parmenio.

The consequence was that when the dust cleared on the morning of October 2, the plain of Gaugamela was an ungodly mess — Diodorus says that "the complete area of the battlefield was full of corpses" (17.50.61). Fifty thousand Persians were dead or dying—we need not believe some ancient reports of 300,000 killed—among a general detritus of wandering camp followers, crippled horses, and booty scavengers. Thousands of wounded crawled to the tiny streams and mudholes of the surrounding alluvial plains. Alexander himself returned to the battlefield to bury his dead. He collected little more than a hundred men from under the carcasses of well over a thousand Macedonian horses. Five hundred Persians had fallen at Gaugamela for every Macedonian—such were the disparities when a polyglot, multicultural force of panicked men fled on level ground before heavily armed veteran killers with pikes and seasoned cavalry, whose one worry was not to turn fainthearted in front of lifelong companions-in-arms.

Bob Dylan's Dream

Bob Dylan’s Dream
by Bob Dylan

While riding on a train goin’ west
I fell asleep for to take my rest
I dreamed a dream that made me sad
Concerning myself and the first few friends I had

With half-damp eyes I stared to the room
Where my friends and I spent many an afternoon
Where we together weathered many a storm
Laughin’ and singin’ till the early hours of the morn

By the old wooden stove where our hats was hung
Our words were told, our songs were sung
Where we longed for nothin’ and were quite satisfied
Talkin’ and a-jokin’ about the world outside

With haunted hearts through the heat and cold
We never thought we could ever get old
We thought we could sit forever in fun
But our chances really was a million to one

As easy it was to tell black from white
It was all that easy to tell wrong from right
And our choices were few and the thought never hit
That the one road we traveled would ever shatter and split

How many a year has passed and gone
And many a gamble has been lost and won
And many a road taken by many a friend
And each one I’ve never seen again

I wish, I wish, I wish in vain
That we could sit simply in that room again
Ten thousand dollars at the drop of a hat
I’d give it all gladly if our lives could be like that

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance

From The Open Society and Its Enemies by Karl Popper.
The so-called paradox of freedom is the argument that freedom in the sense of absence of any constraining control must lead to very great restraint, since it makes the bully free to enslave the meek. The idea is, in a slightly different form, and with very different tendency, clearly expressed in Plato.

Less well known is the paradox of tolerance: Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. — In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.
Indeed, we hopefully are at the apogee and about to experience the decline of the pervading intolerance of the authoritarian utopianism of the left. The strength of our society, our tolerance, is sorely strained by the increasingly gramscian demands for greater tolerance of those behaviors and policies which are only intended to lead to the destruction of our tolerant society.

Low level of discrimination and not for the anticipated reasons

I am frustrated by the native assumption on the part of many people that America is inherently racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, etc. My experience individuals is that most people attempt to be generally fair and dispassionate. Their beliefs and actions might be shaped disproportionately by experiences but there is little evidence of the malevolent discrimination which is assumed by the bien pensant.

But data is scarce in terms of any sort of objective or empirical measure of any of these social pathologies. This is one of the few efforts I have come across to put some empirical parameters on the issue. From The Experience of Discrimination in Contemporary America: Results from a Nationally Representative Sample of Adults by Brian Boutwell. From the abstract.
A large body of social science research is devoted to understanding the causes and correlates of discrimination. However, less effort has been aimed at providing a general prevalence estimate of discrimination using a nationally representative sample. The current study is intended to offersuch an estimate using a large sample of American respondents (n = 14,793), while also exploring perceptions regarding why respondents felt they were discriminated against. The results provide a broad estimate of self-reported discrimination experiences—an event that, on average, was relatively rare in the sample—across racial and ethnic categories.


Using a representative sample of American respondents who represent a variety of racial and ethnic groups, the current study examined perceived experiences of discrimination. Our results suggested that the majority of the sample reported either no experience with discrimination or that it had happened only rarely. Of those reporting having experienced discrimination, the majority suggested that factors otherthan race, gender, sexual orientation, and age were the cause(s) of discrimination (for additional insight, see Everett et al., 2016). Analysis of the Add Health data suggests that discrimination, even among minorities, is not especially prevalent. Moreover, perceived reasons for experiencing discrimination were highly variable, but those that are most commonly discussed in the media and, perhaps, among scientists (i.e., race, gender, sexual orientation, and age) were not the most frequently cited reasons
The following charts will be the bane of gender, ethnic and other victim studies departments.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Across all race categories, the range of those reporting ever having experienced discrimination is relatively tight; 18.7% (Asian Americans) to 31.9% (African Americans). Mixed, Hispanic, White, and Native American are all within a couple of points of 25% reporting any discrimination ever.

The upshot, from this study of nearly 15,000 Americans, is that there is a relatively low incidence rate of perceived discrimination of around 25% ever having experienced discrimination. Even more interestingly, of those few experiencing discrimination, 50-80% attribute that discrimination to reasons other than those most popularly identified among the modern day Jacobins/SJWs; race, gender, religion, orientation, age, class, and disability. It is worth noting that this low incidence rate is compatible with the low incidence of hate crimes to all crimes (roughly 5,000 hate crimes out of some 2 million crimes in a year).

It is one study but it has a large number of participants. One drawback is that it is not time bounded. The logical expectation is that the 25% number would be even lower if it were constrained to past month or past year.

A story to be truly miraculous must be ballasted with facts

A few months ago I read and enjoyed A Brave Vessel: The True Tale of the Castaways Who Rescued Jamestown and Inspired Shakespeare's The Tempest by Hobson Woodward. From the blurb.
Merging maritime adventure and early colonial history, A Brave Vessel charts a little-known chapter of the past that offers a window on the inspiration for one of Shakespeare's greatest works. In 1609, aspiring writer William Strachey set sail for the New World aboard the Sea Venture, only to wreck on the shores of Bermuda. Strachey's meticulous account of the tragedy, the castaways' time in Bermuda, and their arrival in a devastated Jamestown, remains among the most vivid writings of the early colonial period. Though Strachey had literary aspirations, only in the hands of another William would his tale make history as The Tempest-a fascinating connection across time and literature that Hobson Woodward brings vividly to life.
I am currently reading Rudyard's Lost World, a collection of little know pieces by Rudyard Kipling. On page 48 there is A Letter to the Spectator in 1898 outlining the connection between The Tempest and the Bermuda shipwreck.
To the Editor of the Spectator.

SIR:—Your article on ‘Landscape and Literature’ in the Spectator of June 18th has the following, among other suggestive passages:—“But whence came the vision of the enchanted island in the ‘Tempest’? It had no existence in Shakespeare’s world, but was woven out of such stuff as dreams are made of.”

May I cite Malone’s suggestion connecting the play with the casting away of Sir George Somers on the island of Bermuda in 1609; and further may I be allowed to say how it seems to me possible that the vision was woven from the most prosaic material—from nothing more promising in fact, than the chatter of a half-tipsy sailor at a theater? Thus: A stage-manager, who writes and vamps plays, moving among his audience, overhears a mariner discoursing to his neighbor of a grievous wreck, and of the behavior of the passengers, for whom all sailors have ever entertained a natural contempt. He describes, with the wealth of detail peculiar to sailors, measures taken to claw the ship off a lee-shore, how helm and sails were workt, what the passengers did and what he said. One pungent phrase—to be rendered later into:

‘What care these brawlers for the name of King?’

—strikes the manager’s ear, and he stands behind the talkers. Perhaps only one-tenth of the earnestly delivered, hand-on-shoulder sea talk was actually used of all that was automatically and unconsciously stored by the island man who knew all inland arts and crafts. Nor is it too fanciful to imagine a half-turn to the second listener as the mariner, banning his luck as mariners will, says there are those who would not give a doit to a poor man while they will lay out ten to see a raree-show,—a dead Indian. Were he in foreign parts, as he now is in England, he could show people something in the way of strange fish. Is it to consider too curiously to see a drink ensue on this hint (the manager dealt but little in his plays with the sea at first hand, and his instinct for new words would have been waked by what he had already caught), and with the drink a sailor’s minute description of how he went across the reefs to the island of his calamity,—or islands rather, for there were many? Some you could almost carry away in your pocket. They were sown broadcast like—like the nut-shells on the stage there.

“Many islands, in truth,” says the manager patiently, and afterwards his Sebastian says to Antonio:

I think he will carry the island home in his pocket and give it to his son for an apple.

To which Antonio answers:

And sowing the kernels of it in the sea, bring forth more islands.

“But what was the island like?” says the manager. The sailor tries to explain. “It was green, with yellow in it; a tawny-colored country”—the color, that is to say, of the coral-beached, cedar-covered Bermuda of to-day—“and the air made one sleepy, and the place was full of noises”—the muttering and roaring of the sea among the islands and between the reefs—“and there was a sou’-west wind that blistered one all over.” The Elizabethan mariner would not discriminate finely between blisters and prickly heat; but the Bermudian of to-day will tell you that the sou’-west or Lighthouse wind in summer brings that plague and general discomfort. That the coral rock, battered by the sea, rings hollow with strange sounds, answered by the winds in the little cramped valleys, is a matter of common knowledge.

The man, refresht with some drink, then describes the geography of his landing place,—the spot where Trinculo makes his first appearance. He insists and reinsists on details which to him at one time meant life or death, and the manager follows attentively. He can give his audience no more than a few hangings and a placard for scenery, but that his lines shall lift them beyond that bare show to the place he would have them, the manager needs for himself the clearest possible understanding,—the most ample detail. He must see the scene in the round—solid—ere he peoples it. Much, doubtless, he discarded, but so closely did he keep to his original informations that those who go to-day to a certain beach some two miles from Hamilton will find the stage set for Act ii, Scene 2 of the ‘Tempest,’—a bare beach, with the wind singing through the scrub at the land’s edge, a gap in the reefs wide enough for the passage of Stephano’s butt of sack, and (these eyes have seen it) a cave in the coral within easy reach of the tide, whereto such a butt might be conveniently rolled.

(My cellar is in a rock by the seaside where my wine is hid).

There is no other cave for some two miles.

Here’s neither bush nor shrub; one is exposed to the wrath of “’yond same black cloud,” and here the currents strand wreckage. It was so well done that, after three hundred years, a stray tripper and no Shakespeare scholar, recognized in a flash that old first set of all.

So far good. Up to this point the manager has gained little except some suggestions for an opening scene, and some notion of an uncanny island. The mariner (one cannot believe that Shakespeare was mean in these little things) is dipping to a deeper drunkenness. Suddenly he launches into a preposterous tale of himself and his fellows, flung ashore, separated from their officers, horribly afraid of the devil-haunted beach of noises, with their heads full of the fumes of broacht liquor. One castaway was found hiding under the ribs of a dead whale which smelt abominably. They hauled him out by the legs—he mistook them for imps—and gave him drink. And now, discipline being melted, they would strike out for themselves, defy their officers, and take possession of the island. The narrator’s mates in this enterprise were probably described as fools. He was the only sober man in the company.

So they went inland, faring badly as they staggered up and down this pestilent country. They were prickt with palmettoes, and the cedar branches raspt their faces. Then they found and stole some of their officers’ clothes which were hanging up to dry. But presently they fell into a swamp, and, what was worse, into the hands of their officers; and the great expedition ended in muck and mire. Truly an island bewicht. Else why their cramps and sickness? Sack never made a man more than reasonably drunk. He was prepared to answer for unlimited sack; but what befell his stomach and head was the purest magic that honest man ever met.

A drunken sailor of to-day wandering about Bermuda would probably sympathize with him; and to-day, as then, if one takes the easiest inland road from Trinculo’s beach, near Hamilton, the path that a drunken man would infallibly follow, it ends abruptly in swamp. The one point that our mariner did not dwell upon was that he and the others were suffering from acute alcoholism combined with the effects of nerve-shattering peril and exposure. Hence the magic. That a wizard should control such an island was demanded by the beliefs of all seafarers of that date.

Accept this theory, and you will concede that the ‘Tempest’ came to the manager sanely and normally in the course of his daily life. He may have been casting about for a new play; he may have purposed to vamp an old one—say, ‘Aurelio and Isabella’; or he may have been merely waiting on his demon. But it is all Prospero’s wealth against Caliban’s pignuts that to him in a receptive hour, sent by heaven, entered the original Stephano fresh from the seas and half-seas over. To him Stephano told his tale all in one piece, a two hours’ discourse of most glorious absurdities. His profligate abundance of detail at the beginning, when he was more or less sober, supplied and surely establisht the earth-basis of the play in accordance with the great law that a story to be truly miraculous must be ballasted with facts. His maunderings of magic and incomprehensible ambushes, when he was without reservation drunk (and this is just the time when a lesser-minded man than Shakespeare would have paid the reckoning and turned him out) suggested to the manager the peculiar note of its supernatural mechanism.

Truly it was a dream, but that there may be no doubt of its source or of his obligation, Shakespeare has also made the dreamer immortal.
Interesting to see the earlier echo of Woodward's later work. Culture and literature are a deeply woven web of connections, ideas and echoes.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Traces of this administrative exercise are still perfectly visible

From Seeing like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed by James C. Scott, page 69. One of Scott's central theses is that states require legibility of their populations - they need to know who, how many, what, etc. States will go to great lengths to convert the messiness of human activities, processes and traditions into something that is more legible to the state. An example from the Philippines regarding the earlier tradition of using only a single name.
Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the Philippines under the Spanish. Filipinos were instructed by the decree of November 21, 1849 to take on permanent Hispanic surnames. The author of the decree was Governor (and Lieutenant General) Narciso Claveria y Zaldua, a meticulous administrator as determined to rationalize names as he had been determined to rationalize existing law, provincial boundaries, and the calendar." He had observed, as his decree states, that Filipinos generally lacked individual surnames, which might "distinguish them by families," and that their practice of adopting baptismal names drawn from a small group of saints' names resulted in great " confusion." The remedy was the catalogo, a compendium not only of personal names but also of nouns and adjectives drawn from flora, fauna, minerals, geography, and the arts and intended to be used by the authorities in assigning permanent, inherited surnames. Each local official was to be given a supply of surnames sufficient for his jurisdiction, "taking care that the distribution be made by letters [of the alphabet]." In practice, each town was given a number of pages from the alphabetized catalogo, producing whole towns with surnames beginning with the same

Each local official was to be given a supply of surnames sufficient for his jurisdiction, “taking care that the distribution be made by letters of the alphabet.” In practice, each town was given a number of pages from the alphabetized [catalog], producing whole towns with surnames beginning with the same letter. In situations where there has been little in-migration in the past 150 years, the traces of this administrative exercise are still perfectly visible across the landscape. “For example, in the Bikol region, the entire alphabet is laid out like a garland over the provinces of Albay, Sorsogon, and Catanduanes which in 1849 belonged to the single jurisdiction of Albay. Beginning with A at the provincial capital, the letters B and C mark the towns along the coast beyond Tabaco to Wiki. We return and trace along the coast of Sorosgon the letters E to L, then starting down the Iraya Valley at Daraga with M, we stop with S to Polangui and Libon, and finish the alphabet with a quick tour around the island of Catanduas.

The confusion for which the decree is the antidote is largely that of the administrator and the tax collector. Universal last names, they believe, will facilitate the administration of justice, finance, and public order as well as make it simpler for prospective marriage partners to calculate their degree of consanguinity. For a utilitarian state builder of [Governor] Claveria’s temper, however, the ultimate goal was a complete and legible list of subjects and taxpayers.

Lottery winners disproportionately male

From Lottery winners: The myth and reality by H. Roy Kaplan. There is an established bromide that lottery winners can be undone by their good fortune. This research seeks to interrogate that assumption and finds it inaccurate. From the abstract.
This paper is based on a study of 576 lottery winners from 12 states. Respondents to a mailed questionnaire included winners of sums ranging from $50,000 to millions. The data indicate that popular myths and stereotypes about winners were inaccurate. Specifically, winners came from various education and employment backgrounds and they were clustered in the higher income categories than the general population indicating that lotteries might not be as regressive as popularly believed. Winners were older than the general population and more often male (60 versus 40%). There was significant association between the amount a person won and his or her work behavior. Individuals with psychologically and financially rewarding jobs continued working regardless of the amount they won, while people who worked in low paying semi-skilled and unskilled jobs were far more likely to quit the labor force. Contrary to popular beliefs, winners did not engage in lavish spending sprees and instead gave large amounts of their winnings to their children and their churches. The most common expenditures were for houses, automobiles and trips. It was found that overall, winners were well-adjusterd, secure and generally happy from the experience.
I found this sentence interesting: "Winners were older than the general population and more often male (60 versus 40%)." Why would there be a sex difference among lottery participants? I can think of no obvious reason other than the generally observed greater propensity of men to take risks.

Personality accounts for a substantial share of the variance in achievement

From How is personality related to intelligence and achievement? A replication and extension of Borghans et al. and Salkever, Clemens Lechner, Daniel Danner, anBeatrice Rammstedtd. From the abstract (emphasis added).
In two equally enlightening contributions on identification problems in personality psychology, Borghans, Golsteyn, Heckman, and Humphries (2011) and Salkever (2015) discussed two questions with potentially far-reaching implications for studies on the effects of cognitive ability on important life outcomes: (1) whether measures of “achievement” and “intelligence” are distinct; (2) and to what extent achievement measures are confounded with personality traits. In the present article, we revisit this controversy, identify unresolved issues, and provide a fresh look at the key questions. Our independent replication and extension using a large representative sample of German ninth-grade students (N = 13.648) demonstrates that achievement and intelligence tests are highly but not perfectly correlated. Personality accounts for a substantial share of the variance in achievement but only a small share of that in intelligence. Importantly, personality incrementally explains variance in achievement above and beyond intelligence. Whereas standardized achievement measures are a good (but not “pure”) indicator of cognitive ability, this problem of confounding is particularly pressing for school grades, which are only modestly correlated with intelligence and highly laden with personality. We discuss theoretical implications and recommend that studies aiming to identify the effects of cognitive ability on life outcomes routinely control for personality.
IQ predicts SAT, behaviors predict Grades.

Managing the privileged

From The Devil is in the Details by Tyler Cowen summarizing key findings of a research paper.
1. Using biometric technology — thumbprints — to monitor absenteeism induces staff attendance for public health workers to rise by almost 15 percent.


4. Following the implementation of monitoring, the doctors showed the least improvement in attendance of all the workers, in fact virtually no improvement. The entire positive effect came from nurses, lab technicians, and lower level staff.

5. The government was reluctant to continue the monitoring because it feared staff attrition and staff discord, especially from the doctors. There is growing private sector demand for doctors, and many doctors are considering leaving these clinics for superior pay elsewhere, and perhaps also superior location. Therefore the doctors are given, de facto, a very lenient absence and lateness policy, in lieu of a pay hike.

6. It is already the case that many of these doctors moonlight on the side, or have separate private practices, and that spending more time at the public clinic is not their major priority.
This is based in India but I wonder if the Just So story outlined in points 5 and 6 is the full explanation? There might be an alternative explanation which would suggest this situation might be more universal than it initially comes across as.

I am sure the researchers are reporting reasonably accurately about the circumstances and that 5 and 6 are relatively true. However, that dynamic of intra-enterprise threatening and bullying for perks and advantages is by no means unknown.

Effective organizations call the bluff of those threatening that they will leave if their self-developed perks are rolled-back. Sometimes the enterprise is wrong, the internal exploiters do leave and the enterprise does then have to pay a real market salary in order to staff appropriately and then has to adjust prices to price appropriately. It is known as supply and demand and the invisible hand of the market place. If you don't allow it to function, you misallocate resources and end up with too low productivity and an underperforming economy.

If the enterprise does call the bluff of the internal exploiters and they then conform, their story that they are underpaid is revealed as false. The frauds are revealed as simply rent seekers exploiting the moral cowardice of the leaders of the enterprise.

You can't know, however, what the truth might be if you do not have the moral courage to hold the enterprise accountable to its own principles.

Take this out of India for a comparable example. In 1981 the air traffic controllers of the PATCO union wished to renegotiate their contract for more preferential conditions. In order to coerce the government into negotiations, PATCO broke the law by going on strike, believing that their threat to public safety would force the government to concede to their terms (similar to Indian doctors threatening to leave if they weren't allowed their own practices on the side.)

Reagan called their bluff and fired all the strikers and decertified PATCO.

It is the same dynamic. A group seeks to maximize their benefits and leadership has to know whether those demands are in line with the market and has to have the courage to validate that assumption. Without that courage, corruption and inefficiency grows.

When I read item 4, my first thought was the line from G.K. Chesterton and I do wonder to what degree the Indian situation isn't simply a class issue.
The poor object to being governed badly, while the rich object to being governed at all.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

20 employees per company

From India is a much more Entrepreneurial Society than the United States (and that’s a problem) by Alex Tabarrok.
The modal size of an Indian firm is 1 employee and the mean is just over 2. The mean number of employees in a US firm is closer to 20 but even though that is ten times the Indian number it obscures the real difference. The US has many small firms but what makes it different is that it also has large firms that employ lots of people. In fact, over half of all US workers are employed by the tiny minority (0.3%) of firms with over 500 employees.
Quoting another source:
Most Indian firms start in the informal sector and never grow or, worse, diminish in size over time: according to a 2013 International Finance Corporation study comparing the size of thirty-five year-old firms in India, Mexico, and the United States with their size at start-up, in India the size had declined by a fourth, in Mexico the size had doubled, and in the United States the firms were ten times as large. That is deeply troubling. As firms age, they are expected to get larger and to employ more people. Since India’s experience is orthogonal to this expectation, something in the Indian business ecosystem is badly broken.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Less rule enforcement leads to increased rule breaking

This is the first empirical evidence I have seen on this issue. Several years ago there was an Administration push to reduce public school discipline because there were racial disparities in such punishments as school suspensions. The Administration argued that these disparities arose due to racial bias on the part of school administrators. Critics argued that the disparities reflected differences in behaviors on the part of those breaking the rules. In addition, critics argued that by reducing discipline in schools, the Administration was opening the floodgates to increased rule-breaking and disorder in schools.

This whole argument is something a mirror of what has become known as the Ferguson Effect. As a result of advocacy by Black Lives Matter and other related groups, many cities reduced pro-active policing of areas in cities based on the argument that such policing represented racially biased repression. Similarly as in schools, critics argued that excess arrests were the result of excess crime and that reduced policing would lead to increased crime.

In regard to the Ferguson Effect, the data over the past three years has supported the position of the critics. Reduced policing leads to material increases in criminal activity. With policing in cities, the consequences are tragic. It is not just about increased carjackings or burglaries. Hundreds of people are murdered who would otherwise be alive had effective policing practices been continued. The policies of Social Justice Warriors are always advanced in the name of fairness but always end up with more victims than beneficiaries.

While proof of the Ferguson is hotly disputed by ideologues, the data seems solid and consistent with all the forecasts of the critics. Each year's batch of data makes the position of the critics seem more compelling.

With regard to schools though, I haven't seen any hard data about the consequences of reducing discipline in order to reduce racial disparities in punishments. Until now. From School Discipline Reform and Disorder: Evidence from New York City Public Schools, 2012-16 by Max Eden. Not definitive because it is only one city. But striking that it is so consistent with the predictions of the critics.
There has been a dramatic shift in school discipline policy, spurred by national statistics showing stark racial differences in school suspension rates and the assumption that bias was behind the differences. Twenty-seven states have revised their laws to reduce the use of exclusionary discipline, and more than 50 of America’s largest school districts, serving more than 6.35 million students, have implemented discipline reforms. From 2011–12 to 2013–14, the number of suspensions nationwide fell by nearly 20%.

Advocates of discipline reform claim that a suspension may have negative effects on the student being disciplined. Critics are concerned that lax discipline may lead to more disruptive behavior, disrupting classrooms and harming students who want to learn.

While school climate is impossible to measure in most districts, it can be measured in New York City, America’s largest school district, thanks to surveys that question students and teachers about learning conditions in their school. Over the last five years, two major discipline reforms have taken effect in New York: one at the beginning of the 2012–13 school year, under former mayor Michael Bloomberg; and one in the middle of the 2014–15 school year, under current mayor Bill de Blasio. Though the reforms resulted in similar reductions in total suspensions, Bloomberg’s reform prevented teachers from issuing suspensions for first-time, low-level offenses. De Blasio’s reform required principals to seek permission from district administrators to suspend a student.

This report analyzes student and teacher surveys covering the five-year period of 2011–12 to 2015–16. The key findings: school climate remained relatively steady under Bloomberg’s discipline reform, but deteriorated rapidly under de Blasio’s. Specifically, teachers report less order and discipline, and students report less mutual respect among their peers, as well as more violence, drug and alcohol use, and gang activity. There was also a significant differential racial impact: nonelementary schools where more than 90% of students were minorities experienced the worst shift in school climate under the de Blasio reform.
Reality assaults utopians once again.

What are the most significant career bad habits?

As a general proposition, when turning around a business, there is a high return at the very beginning to getting rid of a strategic few bad apples. The Pareto Law rules, 20% of employees absorb 80% of your leadership time. You don't want to go crazy with this idea. Its not about cutting your way to success. However, my experience has been that getting rid of the worst individuals, those that are bad in their performance, toxic to their colleagues, and high maintenance in their absorption of scarce leadership time can have almost miraculous consequences.

Their colleagues hate these bad apples and resent that time is going to them and not to the people who are actually doing a good job. The bad apples also drive internal drama and disruption which distracts from the enterprise goal. And obviously, they absorb the scarcest of limited resources - leadership time. And almost always to no measurable benefit to the enterprise.

In a very similar vein there is The bad habits you should give up if you want to be successful by Zdravko Cvijetic. I am not a fan of listicles but Cvijetic's is pretty good. Easily within the power of the individual, not requiring much in terms of invested time or money, and quick to show returns. The critical 13 identified by Cvijetic are:
1. Give up on the unhealthy lifestyle
2. Give up the short-term mindset
3. Give up playing small
4. Give up your excuses
5. Give up the fixed mindset
6. Give up believing in the “magic bullet”
7. Give up your perfectionism
8. Give up multi-tasking
9. Give up your need to control everything
10. Give up saying yes to things that don’t support your goals
11. Give up the toxic people
12. Give up your need to be liked
13. Give up your dependency on social media and television
I might give these a different ordering depending on the individual and certainly in terms of which are most prevalent on average. It occurred to me that Ngram Viewer might give an interesting alternative prioritization. I searched on most of the terms. Some I had to consolidate (don't support your goals and social media consolidated into distraction) or rephrase (need to control into micro-management and toxic people into bad people). Here is the relative ordering based on Ngram viewer (i.e. phrases in books).

Click to enlarge

Distraction is by far the most significant bad habit. I might quibble with this ordering somewhat but I don't have a compelling discomfort with it. I think playing small, multi-tasking and making excuses should be higher up the list perhaps but overall I suspect this is a pretty reasonable ordering.
Bad people
Making excuses
Magic bullet
Unhealthy lifestyle
Need to be liked
Playing small
Short term mindset
Fixed mindset
My version might be:
Playing small
Bad people
Need to be liked
Magic bullet
Making excuses
Unhealthy lifestyle
Short term mindset
Fixed mindset