Monday, December 10, 2018

Hide and Seek, 1877 by James Jacques Tissot

Hide and Seek, 1877 by James Jacques Tissot

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Occupied home invasion rates.

Not a particularly even handed report but the data speaks for itself. From How Gun Ownership Saves Lives by JOhn Hinderaker.

Those on the left argue that civilian gun ownership does not really depress crime. On the right, they argue that many crimes are deterred by a good man with a gun. I am reasonably confident that the truth probably lies more towards the right but the data is not especially strong convincing. It is very hard to proof a negative. Was this stick-up averted because the victim flashed a gun? Maybe, maybe for other reasons. We know anecdotally and in some particular instances that the effect is indisputably real but it is hard (and expensive) to reliably quantify the effect.

Hinderaker is reporting data that gives a crude estimation based on cross-country comparisons.
Last week the Telegraph reported: “Half of burglaries on occupied homes as thieves grow bolder.”
Half of burglaries in Britain now take place while householders are inside their homes, as thieves become emboldened by police inaction.

Figures show 58 percent of burglaries happen at occupied properties, as campaigners said criminals no longer feared being caught in the act.
Analysis of the most recent Office for National Statistics crime figures shows the proportion of burglaries targeting properties when someone is at home has soared in recent years. The Crime Survey for England and Wales found such incidents made up 44 percent of raids in 2004-2005, but have since shot up to 58 percent in 2016-2017.
How do the numbers compare in the United States? It is surprisingly hard to find up to date data; this 2010 report by the Department of Justice doesn’t seem to have been superseded. The DOJ report found that the household was occupied in 28 percent of residential burglaries. In 26 percent of burglaries where someone was present, one or more individuals were physically harmed by the burglar or burglars.
Cross-country comparisons are hard to control but this is quite interesting. 58% of home invasions occur in homes which are occupied compared to only 28% of homes in the United States.

Indeed the home invasion rate of occupied homes in the US is less than half that in the UK. How many rapes, injuries, etc. arise from the higher occupied home invasion rate in the UK? No data on that but it almost certainly has to be greater than zero.

So no good answers but an interesting piece in a larger puzzle.

Symbiotic R Aquarii

Symbiotic R Aquarii. From Nasa's Astronomy Picture of the Day.

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Image Credit: Hubble, NASA, ESA; Processing & License: Judy Schmidt

Explanation: You can see it change in brightness with just binoculars over the course of a year. Variable star R Aquarii is actually an interacting binary star system, two stars that seem to have a close, symbiotic relationship. About 710 light years away, this intriguing system consists of a cool red giant star and hot, dense white dwarf star in mutual orbit around their common center of mass. The binary system's visible light is dominated by the red giant, itself a Mira-type long period variable star. But material in the cool giant star's extended envelope is pulled by gravity onto the surface of the smaller, denser white dwarf, eventually triggering a thermonuclear explosion and blasting material into space. The featured image from the Hubble Space Telescope shows the still-expanding ring of debris which spans less than a light year and originated from a blast that would have been seen in the early 1770s. The evolution of less understood energetic events producing high energy emission in the R Aquarii system has been monitored since 2000 using Chandra X-ray Observatory data.

The dream of assembling a ""best" culture from elements of all cultures

From Turning Japanese by Katrina Gulliver. Both a book review and a social observation.
The growing number of disaffected Westerners who seek the secret to a fulfilled life in other cultures are bound to be disappointed.


A few years ago there was a brief mania for hygge, the Danish concept of domestic comfort. The theory seemed to be that Danes, with their knitted slippers, tea-light candles, and fireplaces, had discovered the secret to a better way of life. Multiple books emerged trying to teach us about the wonders of a hygge-filled existence.


This year, the Japanese way of life seems to have replaced hygge as rootless Americans’ go-to aspiration, at least judging by the best-seller lists. And while there’s plenty worth learning about Japanese culture, anyone looking for the secret to a meaningful life is bound to be disappointed.


In fact, the notion of “living Japanese” — the idea that the secret to happiness lies in adopting a culture other than one’s own — is in itself odd, even setting aside the dubious assertion that the Japanese have it all figured out. (Japan’s unusually high suicide rates would seem to suggest that the Japanese do not, in fact, have it all figured out.) Many of us in the West, raised to believe we could be anything, feel restless or unfulfilled by all our unreached goals. The forms of support and validation that our ancestors had (religion, community) are devalued. We live miles from where we grew up, and by and large don’t share our lives with those around us. And our alienation is unlikely to be alleviated by drinking tea from handmade cups or peacefully contemplating the beauty of a falling leaf.
We are constantly traveling this same road. Each new generation of Mandarin's arrogantly discard their own native belief systems in order to signal exoticism and existential depth. They not only discard their native belief systems and culture, they frequently bad-mouth it and denigrate it.

And it never works. Cultures and belief systems are not things that can be imported. It is like trying to make a Mac OS work on a Windows machine. There are ways to make it work but it is hard and involves all sorts of negative trade-offs.

It is like the dream of Esperanto. The idea that we can plan a better language by assembling the best elements of many language systems. It is a neat idea that comes close to working in the hot-house environment of academia but which can't survive in the wild.

Whatever belief system into which you are born is imprinted onto you for life. It can be modified, it can be improved, it can be changed based on learning from other cultures (or from experience). But it cannot be replaced.

There is no cultural tabula rasa from which you can mix and match attributes from multiple cultures. Each culture is a complex and intricate system centered around a variety of noxious trade-offs. As soon as you change one element here, it throws things out of whack over there. Trying to assemble a worldview from assorted cultures is a fools errand ending in catastrophe.

In the mid-1980's there was a huge existential dread in Washington D.C. in particular and in America in general. The Soviet Union was still extant and appeared to still have momentum, supporting revolutions around the globe, intervening in Afghanistan, influencing academia, creating spy nets that occasionally came to light. We had a nuclear armed opponent.

We also had a commercially armed opponent in a rising Japan which had, on the back of MITI and a semi-planned economy, gone from strength-to-strength from the ashes of World War II to a commanding position in many global industries such as the automotive industry. Everything they did appeared destined for success.

Domestically, crime was at historic highs and we were in the middle of the decline of the Rust Belt, a cocaine epidemic, the AIDS plague, and the first wave of massive illegal immigration.

In our current era so concerned about obnoxious, shouting ignorant but passionate kids on university campuses and media so fantastically concerned about how rude the president is to journalists and social justice ideologues, it is hard to recall those dark days. America seemed threatened, in decline, and our way of life not well-suited to a future that belonged to planned, or at least centrally managed economies. Notions of freedom and civil rights and free speech and religion all seemed to be headed for the trash heap of history despite our continuing commitment to them.

Everywhere, especially among public intellectuals, there were calls for America to be more planned and to be more like Japan. They were communal. The people took precedence over individuals.

Classical Liberals (now called conservatives) retained the faith in individualism, rule of law, consent of the governed, etc. but they were voices in the wilderness.

James Fallow, a journalist, took himself and his family to live in rising Asia, spending a year or two in each of China, Japan, and Malaysia. In 1989 he came out with More Like Us; Making America Great Again (and no, its just coincidence; he is a dues-paying member of the center left media not a proto-Trump).

His argument was that while there were strengths and things to be learned from each of these different cultures (though focusing primarily on Japan and China) there were also grave weaknesses and inconsistencies which made their strengths impossible to transfer. Communalism has nice aspects over individualism but it fosters xenophobia and bland stagnant conformity. Central planning allows great focus on selected problems but it ensures that many other problems fail to attract attention and it imposes an enormous burden (up to and including death) on people. On and on.

Instead of heeding the siren call to be more like China or Japan, Fallows argued that we should be more like us. We are founded on openness and rule of law and equality before the law and consent of the governed and enumerated freedoms, individualism, etc. All these things insure non-conformity and variety. These things make our way of life tactically messy in the short term but they ensure a robustness and resolute capacity for progress strategically and in the long term. His message was that we should learn from China and Japan but even more importantly we should not try and be like Japan or China, we should remember what fueled our own greatness and be more like us.

The subsequent thirty years has borne out the wisdom of those recommendations. Shortly after the book came out, Japan began to falter. The policies of centrally planned and managed economies of Asia led to the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis which threatened the collapse of the global financial and trading system.

China has continued its indisputable success based on its introduction of a partial market economy. However both nations are sharply threatened by debt levels that throw even America's dangerous levels into the shade. They are also demographically imperiled with rapidly aging populations accompanied by an apparently permanent collapse in fertility.

No one is on a comfortable glide path of success. America also has its challenges. But we have learned that you cannot mix and match cultures. Well, most of us have learned that. Academics, public intellectuals and fad promoters are still committed to the idea that just the right tea cup, or breathing exercise, or seafood diet, or calisthenics or yoga or style of furnishing, or some other exotic cultural import, will, on its own, bring Eden back to earth.

We've all been given different operating systems. Lets each make the best of that OS, always improving and optimizing. But let's not fool ourselves that we can easily run them together simultaneously.

Sixteen Tons by Tennessee Ernie Ford

Sixteen Tons by Tennessee Ernie Ford

Double click to enlarge.

Sixteen Tons
by Tennessee Ernie Ford

Some people say a man is made outta mud
A poor man's made outta muscle and blood
Muscle and blood and skin and bones
A mind that's a-weak and a back that's strong

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store

I was born one mornin' when the sun didn't shine
I picked up my shovel and I walked to the mine
I loaded sixteen tons of number nine coal
And the straw boss said "Well, a-bless my soul"

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store

I was born one mornin', it was drizzlin' rain
Fightin' and trouble are my middle name
I was raised in the canebrake by an ol' mama lion
Can't no-a high-toned woman make me walk the line

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store

If you see me comin', better step aside
A lotta men didn't, a lotta men died
One fist of iron, the other of steel
If the right one don't a-get you, then the left one will

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store

Christmas, 1930 by Seymour Snyder

Christmas, 1930 by Seymour Snyder (cover art for Better Homes & Gardens)

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The Four Horsemen of the Carbon Tax Apocalypse

This is supposedly a picture from the Yellow Vest Protests in Paris.

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Looks like the Four Horsemen of the Carbon Tax Apocalypse.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Centaurus A

Centaurus A. From Nasa's Astronomy Picture of the Day.

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Image Credit & Copyright: CEDIC Team at Chilescope, Processing - Bernhard Hubl
Explanation: Only 11 million light-years away, Centaurus A is the closest active galaxy to planet Earth. Spanning over 60,000 light-years, the peculiar elliptical galaxy also known as NGC 5128, is featured in this sharp telescopic view. Centaurus A is apparently the result of a collision of two otherwise normal galaxies resulting in a fantastic jumble of star clusters and imposing dark dust lanes. Near the galaxy's center, left over cosmic debris is steadily being consumed by a central black hole with a billion times the mass of the Sun. As in other active galaxies, that process likely generates the radio, X-ray, and gamma-ray energy radiated by Centaurus A.

The Lute Player (c. 1610) by Orazio Gentileschi (1563-1639)

The Lute Player (c. 1610) by Orazio Gentileschi (1563-1639)

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First responders are the spirit of Christmas manifested year round

My youngest son is a volunteer fireman and EMT first responder up in Virginia. They are having heavy snows at the moment with lots of car crashes. He sent me this picture of his snow-encrusted fire helmet.

First responders are the spirit of Christmas manifested year round.

The Great Awokening

An interesting piece, America’s New Religions by Andrew Sullivan. One of my abiding concerns is that in modern society we have discounted or discarded religion without having properly understood its role in getting us to where we are and its role in helping people maintain a sense of continuity and normalcy in an uncertain, rapidly changing, and challenging world.

Some observations by Sullivan.
Everyone has a religion. It is, in fact, impossible not to have a religion if you are a human being. It’s in our genes and has expressed itself in every culture, in every age, including our own secularized husk of a society.

By religion, I mean something quite specific: a practice not a theory; a way of life that gives meaning, a meaning that cannot really be defended without recourse to some transcendent value, undying “Truth” or God (or gods).

Which is to say, even today’s atheists are expressing an attenuated form of religion. Their denial of any God is as absolute as others’ faith in God, and entails just as much a set of values to live by — including, for some, daily rituals like meditation, a form of prayer. (There’s a reason, I suspect, that many brilliant atheists, like my friends Bob Wright and Sam Harris are so influenced by Buddhism and practice Vipassana meditation and mindfulness. Buddhism’s genius is that it is a religion without God.)


Our modern world tries extremely hard to protect us from the sort of existential moments experienced by Mill and Russell. Netflix, air-conditioning, sex apps, Alexa, kale, Pilates, Spotify, Twitter … they’re all designed to create a world in which we rarely get a second to confront ultimate meaning — until a tragedy occurs, a death happens, or a diagnosis strikes. Unlike any humans before us, we take those who are much closer to death than we are and sequester them in nursing homes, where they cannot remind us of our own fate in our daily lives. And if you pressed, say, the liberal elites to explain what they really believe in — and you have to look at what they do most fervently — you discover, in John Gray’s mordant view of Mill, that they do, in fact, have “an orthodoxy — the belief in improvement that is the unthinking faith of people who think they have no religion.”

But the banality of the god of progress, the idea that the best life is writing explainers for Vox in order to make the world a better place, never quite slakes the thirst for something deeper. Liberalism is a set of procedures, with an empty center, not a manifestation of truth, let alone a reconciliation to mortality. But, critically, it has long been complemented and supported in America by a religion distinctly separate from politics, a tamed Christianity that rests, in Jesus’ formulation, on a distinction between God and Caesar. And this separation is vital for liberalism, because if your ultimate meaning is derived from religion, you have less need of deriving it from politics or ideology or trusting entirely in a single, secular leader. It’s only when your meaning has been secured that you can allow politics to be merely procedural.

So what happens when this religious rampart of the entire system is removed? I think what happens is illiberal politics. The need for meaning hasn’t gone away, but without Christianity, this yearning looks to politics for satisfaction. And religious impulses, once anchored in and tamed by Christianity, find expression in various political cults. These political manifestations of religion are new and crude, as all new cults have to be. They haven’t been experienced and refined and modeled by millennia of practice and thought. They are evolving in real time. And like almost all new cultish impulses, they demand a total and immediate commitment to save the world.

Now look at our politics. We have the cult of Trump on the right, a demigod who, among his worshippers, can do no wrong. And we have the cult of social justice on the left, a religion whose followers show the same zeal as any born-again Evangelical. They are filling the void that Christianity once owned, without any of the wisdom and culture and restraint that Christianity once provided.


And so the young adherents of the Great Awokening exhibit the zeal of the Great Awakening. Like early modern Christians, they punish heresy by banishing sinners from society or coercing them to public demonstrations of shame, and provide an avenue for redemption in the form of a thorough public confession of sin. “Social justice” theory requires the admission of white privilege in ways that are strikingly like the admission of original sin. A Christian is born again; an activist gets woke. To the belief in human progress unfolding through history — itself a remnant of Christian eschatology — it adds the Leninist twist of a cadre of heroes who jump-start the revolution.

Old Testament fire and brimstone prophets of existential catastrophe requiring totalitarian enforced sacrifice.

Its from seven years ago but I did not see it at the time.

Compared to the environmental movement of my youth, which seemed idealistic, scientific and focused on the individual, the green movement of recent decades has taken an alarmingly dark, totalitarian, hysterical turn.

Anthropogenic Global Climate Warming is one aspect of this new dark vision. And perhaps my impression is incorrect. Perhaps it has been totalitarian all along and I just did not see that as an environmental naif.

But at its heart, the establishment environmental movement has gone off the rails and is proposing future outcomes that no sensible person would wish to endorse. Strip away all the hand-waving and delusions of deus ex machina unicorn solutions that will give us too-cheap-to meter energy with zero emissions, the current message of most mainstream environmental groups is crystal clear.
There is a solution.

It has to be done coercively by government.

It involves a reduction in population.

It forces abandonment of development for the global poor.

It entails impoverishment for the denizens of the developed world.

It will be planned and executed by remote all-knowing experts with no accountability.
No warm and cuddly soft-pedaling there. This is old-style Calvinist patriarchal prophet fire-and-brimstone stuff. If you are not a member of the new religion of destroying other people's lives, it is remarkably unappealing. As evidenced by the views and voting patterns of the electorate worldwide. They want nothing to do with Old Testament Environmentalism.

For grass-roots, environmentalists such as myself who believe in science and think it is a matter of helping the electorate to live cleaner easier lives, the Old Testament Environmentalists thundering existential doom and destruction have completely queered the pitch.

It is exceptionally difficult to have an evidence-based scientific discussion about environmental problems and trade-offs, when the mainstream Old Testament Environmentalists have conditioned everyone to anticipate faith-based passion and hysteria.

The article which I came across from seven years ago speaks to exactly this disappointment and recognition that Old Testament Environmentalists are asking people to immiserate themselves for a faith-based hysteria. Astonishingly, this self-aware article is in, of all places, The Grauniad. From Let's face it: none of our environmental fixes break the planet-wrecking project by George Monbiot. Monbiot concludes:
All of us in the environment movement, in other words – whether we propose accommodation, radical downsizing or collapse – are lost. None of us yet has a convincing account of how humanity can get out of this mess. None of our chosen solutions break the atomising, planet-wrecking project. I hope that by laying out the problem I can encourage us to address it more logically, to abandon magical thinking and to recognise the contradictions we confront. But even that could be a tall order.
Walter Russel Mead of course has a smart reaction in Top Green Admits: “We Are Lost!”.
This is an awesome admission of categorical intellectual, political and moral failure. For two decades greens have arrogated to themselves the authority of science and wrapped themselves in the arrogant certainty of self-righteous contempt for those who oppose them. They have equated skepticism about their incoherent and contradictory policy proposals with hatred of science and attacked their critics as the soulless hired shills of the oil companies, happy to ruin humanity for the sake of some corporate largesse.

Monbiot has worked his way through to a cogent description of the dead end the global green movement has reached, but he has not yet diagnosed the cause. In particular, he remains a staunch Malthusian. In his view, humanity is good at creating new ways to destroy itself, but not at finding solutions to the problems we create. Our ingenuity is magically good at finding new fossil fuels, but we have no skill whatsoever at managing the consequences of our discoveries. The unknown technologies of the future will create horrible new disasters, but they will offer no new ways to contain or manage the disruption they cause.
Yep. Most of the mainstream global warming alarmists are totalitarian Malthusians.

They're joyless, vengeful, and nasty people

From Ten Signs Your Movement Is Evil by Stephanie S. Nothing like speaking with binary clarity. Her list of ten are:
So what makes an SJW? What's the difference, for me, between standard leftists and those I believe are clear and present dangers to me and mine? Quite simply, monstrous leftists do the following:
1) They deny that truth is objective and universally accessible. [snip]

2) They don't respect boundaries. [snip]

3) They're censors. [snip]

4) They magnify offense -- and then respond with no sense of proportion. [snip]

5) They think they should be able to break normal rules with impunity.[snip]

6) They play games with definitions to worm their way out of charges of hypocrisy. [snip]

7) They purposely misconstrue what people say and assign malign motives where none exist.[snip]

8) They congratulate or blame people for things they can't control. [snip]

9) They seek equal outcomes, not equal opportunity. [snip]

10) Overall, they're joyless, vengeful, and nasty people.
I was going to try and put it in more affirmative tones but it is pretty diagnostic as is. It is very easy to recognize the above symptoms, and therefore very easy to establish recognition that you are dealing with a fanatic extremist (of any stripe). Read the whole thing for elaborations.

A positivist version for ascertaining whether your position is a constructive and beneficial approach might be:
1) Affirm that there are knowable, universal truths and objective facts.

2) Respect boundaries.

3) Ensure that there is open and free flow of easily accessible information.

4) Maintain proportionality and pertinence.

5) Respect the accepted rules. If the existing rules are unacceptable, make it clear which rules you will observe.

6) Use simple, common language. Don't play New York lawyer.

7) Assume good will and good faith until there is a preponderance of evidence otherwise.

8) Acknowledge and celebrate accomplishments achieved through effort and achievement.

9) Ensure equal opportunity.

10) Celebrate life, community, goodwill and magnanimity.
Desirable to be positive, but the above list is a little too generic to be usefully diagnostic. If your counterpart in a prospective discussion has any sort of accessible history, you can use the first version to diagnostically determine whether it is worthwhile engaging with them. If they are a cypher with no history to assess, then the second list is more applicable but somewhat less reliably diagnostic.

He also knew a great deal about everything, indeed, except the world he was living in.

From The Man Who Knew Too Much by G.K. Chesterton. The Wikipedia entry.
Harold March, the rising reviewer and social critic, was walking vigorously across a great tableland of moors and commons, the horizon of which was fringed with the far-off woods of the famous estate of Torwood Park. He was a good-looking young man in tweeds, with very pale curly hair and pale clear eyes. Walking in wind and sun in the very landscape of liberty, he was still young enough to remember his politics and not merely try to forget them. For his errand at Torwood Park was a political one; it was the place of appointment named by no less a person than the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Howard Horne, then introducing his so-called Socialist budget, and prepared to expound it in an interview with so promising a penman. Harold March was the sort of man who knows everything about politics, and nothing about politicians. He also knew a great deal about art, letters, philosophy, and general culture; about almost everything, indeed, except the world he was living in.
Harold March is Ben Rhodes' man.
The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.
Naturally, March is keenly interested in the new Socialist budget as well as social reform.

Later on, Chesterton has this observation, made by the protagonist, Horne Fisher.
“I know too much," he said. "That's what's the matter with me. That's what's the matter with all of us, and the whole show; we know too much. Too much about one another; too much about ourselves.
Written in 1922, it seems a teaser of a precursor of our hyperconnected world in which all of us know too much. But it might be better expressed, perhaps, as we know too much about what matters too little and we know too little about that which is important.

Steadfast in faith, joyful in hope, and constant in love

Loved the blessing today:
May Almighty God, by whose providence our Savior Christ came among us in great humility, sanctify you with the light of his blessing and set you free from sin. Amen.

May he whose second Coming in power and great glory we await, make you steadfast in faith, joyful in hope, and constant in love. Amen.

Both Sides Now by Judy Collins

Both Sides Now by Judy Collins

Double click to enlarge.

Both Sides Now
by Judy Collins

Bows and flows of angel hair and ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere, I've looked at clouds that way
But now they only block the sun they rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done, but clouds got in my way

I've looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It's cloud's illusions I recall
I really don't know clouds at all

Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels the dizzy dancing way you feel
As every fairy tale comes real, I've looked at love that way
But now it's just another show, you leave 'em laughin' when you go
And if you care don't let them know, don't give yourself away

I've looked at love from both sides now
From give and take and still somehow
It's love's illusions I recall
I really don't know love at all

Tears and fears and feeling proud, to say, "I love you" right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds, I've looked at life that way
But now old friends are acting strange they shake their heads, they say
I've changed
But something's lost but something's gained in living every day

I've looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall
I really don't know life at all

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Star Trails and the Bracewell Radio Sundial

Star Trails and the Bracewell Radio Sundial. From Nasa's Astronomy Picture of the Day.

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Image Credit & Copyright: Miles Lucas at NRAO
Explanation: Sundials use the location of a shadow to measure the Earth's rotation and indicate the time of day. So it's fitting that this sundial, at the Very Large Array Radio Telescope Observatory in New Mexico, commemorates the history of radio astronomy and radio astronomy pioneer Ronald Bracewell. The radio sundial was constructed using pieces of a solar mapping radio telescope array that Bracewell orginaly built near the Stanford University campus. Bracewell's array was used to contribute data to plan the first Moon landing, its pillars signed by visiting scientists and radio astronomers, including two Nobel prize winners. As for most sundials the shadow cast by the central gnomon follows markers that show the solar time of day, along with solstices and equinoxes. But markers on the radio sundial are also laid out according to local sidereal time. They show the position of the invisible radio shadows of three bright radio sources in Earth's sky, supernova remnant Cassiopeia A, active galaxy Cygnus A, and active galaxy Centaurus A. Sidereal time is just star time, the Earth's rotation as measured with the stars and distant galaxies. That rotation is reflected in this composited hour-long exposure. Above the Bracewell Radio Sundial, the stars trace concentric trails around the north celestial pole.

The dark night of fascism is always falling on America and then landing in Europe

An old story. The Mandarin Class keep whistling past the graveyard, wondering what all the shouting is about.

The Ark, 1924/25 by Oskar Laske

The Ark, 1924/25 by Oskar Laske

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The differences between amateurs and professionals.

Kind of trite but there are many things which are trite and yet still usefully true. From The Difference Between Amateurs and Professionals.
Amateurs stop when they achieve something. Professionals understand that the initial achievement is just the beginning.

Amateurs have a goal. Professionals have a process.

Amateurs think they are good at everything. Professionals understand their circles of competence.

Amateurs see feedback and coaching as someone criticizing them as a person. Professionals know they have weak spots and seek out thoughtful criticism.

Amateurs value isolated performance. Think about the receiver who catches the ball once on a difficult throw. Professionals value consistency. Can I catch the ball in the same situation 9 times out of 10?

Amateurs give up at the first sign of trouble and assume they’re failures. Professionals see failure as part of the path to growth and mastery.

Amateurs don’t have any idea what improves the odds of achieving good outcomes. Professionals do.

Amateurs show up to practice to have fun. Professionals realize that what happens in practice happens in games.

Amateurs focus on identifying their weaknesses and improving them. Professionals focus on their strengths and on finding people who are strong where they are weak.

Amateurs think knowledge is power. Professionals pass on wisdom and advice.

Amateurs focus on being right. Professionals focus on getting the best outcome.

Amateurs focus on first-level thinking. Professionals focus on second-order thinking.

Amateurs think good outcomes are the result of their brilliance. Professionals understand when good outcomes are the result of luck.

Amateurs focus on the short term. Professionals focus on the long term.

Amateurs focus on tearing other people down. Professionals focus on making everyone better.

Amateurs make decisions in committees so there is no one person responsible if things go wrong. Professionals make decisions as individuals and accept responsibility.

Amateurs blame others. Professionals accept responsibility.

Amateurs show up inconsistently. Professionals show up every day.

Amateurs go faster. Professionals go further.

Amateurs go with the first idea that comes into their head. Professionals realize the first idea is rarely the best idea.

Amateurs think in ways that can’t be invalidated. Professionals don’t.

Amateurs think in absolutes. Professionals think in probabilities.

Amateurs think the probability of them having the best idea is high. Professionals know the probability of that is low.

Amateurs think reality is what they want to see. Professionals know reality is what’s true.

Amateurs think disagreements are threats. Professionals see them as an opportunity to learn.

Distances aren't the same between America and Europe

An excellent example of one of my minor life's ambitions - conveying the enormity of America to my friends in Europe.

Having spent a good portion of my youth in England and Sweden, I am accustomed to European friends visiting the US. I always have two pieces of advice.
New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco are not America. A part, sure, but they are unrepresentative. If you want to know America, visit other cities.

Don't fly everywhere. Make at least one intercity trip by car.
Sometimes they listen. Usually they don't. But the ones who do follow this advice have a greater wonder and awareness of America than those who do not.

The reverse is true though as well for Americans visiting Europe. Traveling from London to Penzance is almost the same distance as Miami to Tampa. You can't appreciate the density of Europe till you make a drive like that. It is just over a four drive from Miami to Tampa and it is over a five hour drive from London to Penzance. And the British drive is far more variable. Sometimes can take six or seven hours.

In the land of the Mandarin blind, there are only the blind

Speaking in Mandarin Class language, member of the Mandarin Class recommends other members of the Mandarin Class read books by yet other members of the Mandarin Class to figure out what is going on.

Classical Gas by Mason Williams

Classical Gas by Mason Williams

Double click to enlarge.

Fire and Ice by Robert Frost

Fire and Ice
by Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Oarsmen at Chatou, 1879 by Auguste Renoir

Oarsmen at Chatou, 1879 by Auguste Renoir

Click to enlarge.

The cost of ideas

Well, this is interesting. From U.S. Murder Rate for 2018 Is on Track for a Big Drop by Jeff Asher.

Its a limited study. "Murders are down so far in a sample of large American cities, typically a good indicator for national numbers." They are properly noting the limitations to the study. None-the-less it is a canary in the coal mine.

What is interesting is how circumspect the reporting is.
Murder rose 23 percent nationally between 2014 and 2016 before leveling off in 2017. Major increases in murder in Chicago and Baltimore received much of the national attention, but the increase occurred throughout the country.

In the cities in which data is available, murder has been down about 7 percent on average this year relative to the same point in 2017.
Is there something that occurred in 2014 which served as a catalyst to this surprising 23% rise between 2014 and 2016? And it was a surprise given that it followed a nearly fifteen year long run of nearly consistent year-on-year murder rate decline?
Tracking the change in murder nationally is far easier than explaining why it’s happening. There is still no consensus on why murder rose nationally in 2015 and 2016, though various theories have been proposed, including simple randomness. Similarly, a projected drop in murder in 2018 would not have an obvious cause. Employment of smarter technologies, expanded community intervention programs, and even colder weather could help explain year-to-year local changes.
Nowhere in the reporting is there any mention of the Ferguson Effect hypothesis. The mainstream media and the critical theory wing of academia are dismissive of the hypothesis. Heather Mac Donald has probably been among the most vocal and articulate proponent of the hypothesis.

I suspect there is good merit to the Ferguson Effect hypothesis in the first couple of years but also suspect that the further we get from Ferguson and the more people get exasperated with crime, the more police departments will return to at least some modified form of proactive policing.

So we had three years of unexpected increases in murder rates from the time of Ferguson and the abandonment of proactive policing in many big city jurisdictions. Since 2017, with a return of a commitment to strong support of police and criticism of policies of reduced proactive policing, we are now seeing a return to the trend of declining murder rates. Sure it might be coincidental. But it is exactly what the Ferguson Effect proponents predicted.

It is too early to tell just how supportive this is of the Ferguson Effect hypothesis, but those dates sure are suggestive.

And this isn't an academic exercise. In 2017, there were 17,284 murders in the US. A decline of 7%, if it eventuates, means that 1,210 people will have survived 2018 because of a return to more effective policing. Another way of looking at it is that since 2013, the last year of a declining murder rate, there have been nearly 7,500 lost lives in excess of what we would have expected if only we had sustained the rate of 2013.

I am not sure what freedoms or other benefits we might have obtained from abandoning proactive policing (if that was the cause of the increase) but I find it hard to imagine that it was worth 7,500 lives.

Context for popularity comparisons

Hmm. President Trump is up to 46% in approval rating. He has been floating between 40 and 45 for much of his presidency. The new data is interesting but not enough to recognize as a trend line.

But reading that 46%, it occurred to me that, as usual, it lacks context. How is he compared to Obama at the same point? How is he compared to other OECD leaders? How about compared to other recent American presidents at this same point in their administration? And how does that popularity compare the the average press treatment?

Multiple challenges. Time frames for one. Different methodologies or wording is another. Foreign leaders are at different stages in their terms for a third. But very roughly, here is what I found.

President Trump - 46%
Other presidents

Average of post-Carter presidents - 50%

President Obama at the same stage - 46%

President George Bush - 63%

President Clinton - 41%

President George H.W. Bush - 61%

President Ronal Reagan - 41%

Other foreign leaders

Prime Minister of Italy - 67%

Prime Minister of Germany - 50%

Prime Minister of Canada - 42%

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (cabinet) - 34%

Prime Minister of England - 29%

President of France - 23%

Other American Political Figures

Paul Ryan - 40%

Hillary Clinton - 36%

Chuck Schumer - 29%

Nancy Pelosi - 29%

Mitch McConnell - 24%
It is interesting to contrast Trumps numbers with those of the various other world leaders of democracies. He is held in higher regard by his citizens than all other contemporary American political figures. He is more popular than Reagan and Clinton were at this same point in their presidencies and at the same level of popularity as Obama.

He is significantly more popular than most European leaders with their respective electorates, exceeding all but those from Italy and Germany.

If he is this popular compared to all others, where do we get the impression that he is uniquely bad, incompetent and evil?

Probably has to do much less with what voters think and more to do with what the press thinks. From Economic Boom Largely Ignored as TV's Trump Coverage Hits 92% Negative.
In four weeks, Americans go to the polls for the midterm elections that the news media are casting as a referendum on the Trump presidency. Over the summer, the broadcast networks have continued to pound Donald Trump and his team with the most hostile coverage of a President in TV news history — 92 percent negative, vs. just eight percent positive.

For this report, MRC analysts reviewed all 1,007 evening news stories (1,960 minutes of airtime) about the Trump administration on ABC, CBS and NBC from June 1 to September 30, tallying the coverage of each topic and all evaluative comments made by anchors, reporters and non-partisan sources (such as voters or experts).

The results show that, over the past four months, nearly two-thirds of evening news coverage of the Trump presidency has been focused on just five main topics: the Russia investigation; immigration policy; the Kavanaugh nomination; North Korea diplomacy; and U.S. relations with Russia. The networks’ coverage of all of these topics has been highly negative, while bright spots for the administration such as the booming economy received extremely little coverage (less than one percent of the four-month total).
I recognize all the measurement issues entailed and am not making an argument that Trump's measures should be higher or lower.

It is just striking how bad a perception the press is transmitting of Trump and how bad they make him out to be and yet how relatively popular he is compared to nearly all his peers and other senior political leaders.

It also makes you wonder what his popularity rating might be were the press to be playing a straight bat.

Kennedy by Molly Kazan

by Molly Kazan

I think
that what he gave us most was pride.
It felt good to have a President like that:
bright, brave, and funny and good looking.

I saw him once drive down East Seventy-second Street
in an open car, in the autumn sun
(as he drove yesterday in Dallas).
His thatch of brown hair looked as though it had grown extra thick
the way our wood animals in Connecticut
grow extra fur for winter.
And he looked as though it was fun to be alive,
to be a politician,
to be President
to be a Kennedy,
to be a man.

He revived our pride.
It felt good to have a President who read his mail,
who read the papers,
who read books and played touch football.
It was a pleasure and a cause for pride
to watch him take the quizzing of the press
with cameras grinding —
take it in his stride,
with zest.
He'd parry, thrust, answer or cluck,
and fire a verbal shot on target,
hitting with the same answer, the segregationists in a Louisiana
or a hamlet or a government in South East Asia
He made you feel that he knew what was going on
in both places.
He would come out of the quiz with an "A" in Economics, Military Science, Constitutional Law, Farm Problems and the
moonshot program
and still take time to appreciate Miss May Craig.

. . . It felt good to have a President
who looked well in Vienna, Paris, Rome, Berlin
and at the podium of the United Nations
— and who would go to Dublin
put a wreath where it did the most good
and leave unspoken
the satisfaction of an Irishman
en route to 10 Downing Street
as head of the U.S. government.

What was spoken
was spoken well.
What was unspoken
needed to be unspoken.
It was none of our business if his back hurt.

He revived our pride. He gave grist to our pride.
He was respectful of intellect;
he was respectful of excellence;
he was respectful of accomplishment and skill;
he was respectful of the clear and subtle uses of our language;
he was respectful of courage
And all these things he cultivated in himself.

... He affirmed our future.
Our future is more hopeful
because of his work
but our future is not safe nor sure.
He kept telling us that.
This is a very dangerous and uncertain world.
I quote. He said that yesterday.

He respected facts.
And we must now live with the fact of his murder.

Our children cried when the news came. They phoned and phoned
and we cried and we were not ashamed of crying but we are
ashamed of what had happened.
The youngest could not remember any other President clearly.
She felt as if the world had stopped.
With the passing of his hagiographers and the burroing of academic termites, the sunshine of Camelot has been cast into shade.

The excitement was the result, not of real promise, but of the willful turning of a blind eye. And the press is still doing it today - adulation for those about whom they should be skeptical and hate for those who bode some promise of reform.

None-the-less, Kazan captures that naive hope and despair in a way that vibrates half a century on.

Is an asymmetric Duning-Kruger effect the cause of political turmoil?

I wonder if a material amount of perceived anxiety and polarization might be due to an instance of asymmetric Dunning-Kruger effect.

The 20% who are in the Mandarin class (academia, media, bureaucrats, politicians, leaders in regulated industries) are clear constituents of the Dunning-Kruger effect.
In the field of psychology, the Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which people of low ability have illusory superiority and mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is. The cognitive bias of illusory superiority comes from the inability of low-ability people to recognize their lack of ability. Without the self-awareness of metacognition, low-ability people cannot objectively evaluate their actual competence or incompetence.
They consistently overestimate their own capabilities.

Meanwhile, the 80% in the rest of the economy have the humility of reality to keep them in check. They know everyone screws up some times. They are familiar with the Peter Principle. When they make mistakes, they attempt to correct them. They may or may not be especially effective at calibrating their own performance level, but they are not blind to the need to self-correct.

The 20% see themselves as of superior capability and light-bringers even though their own performance belies that assessment. They are blind to their underperformance (the Dunning-Kruger effect).

The asymmetry arises from the fact that the 80% recognize that the 20% are victims of the Dunning-Kruger effect while the 20% do not.

I usually cast this as an issue of regular citizens rejecting their political establishment parties and politicians (US, France, UK, Germany, Sweden, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Hungary, Greece, etc.) But the asymmetric Dunning-Kruger effect might explain why the issue is so intractable, despite its prevalence.

It is easy to think that the conflict arises from the vested interests of the Mandarin class so bitterly resenting the intrusion on their sinecures and comfort. Bitterly resenting and using scorched earth tactics to protect their indefensible position of privilege gained off the backs of the citizens at large.

But perhaps it is that the Mandarin Class does not only fail to see their own under-performance but also fails to see that the average citizen has a much clearer view of that underperformance than do the Mandarin Class themselves. In other words, there is an asymmetric Dunning-Kruger effect.

A thought prompted by a morning dealing with a rash of issues affecting neighbors, died-in-the-wool enthusiastic Democrats to a person, which have made them victims of a combination of local bureaucratic incompetence, spiced with explicit corruption and dramatic incapacity to provide basic city functions. The sympathetic and competent public is angry about the self-righteous incompetence of City officials who fail to see what the public sees. And it is not a partisan issue. Hence, my hypothesis, asymmetric Dunning-Kruger effect at play.

The Last Watch by Stan Rogers

Double click to enlarge.

The Last Watch
by Stan Rogers

They dragged her down, dead, from Tobermory
Too cheap to spare her one last head of steam
Deep in diesel fumes embraced
Rust and soot upon the face of one who was so clean

They brought me here to watch her in the boneyard
Just two old wrecks to spend the night alone
It’s the dark inside this evil place
Clouds on the moon hide her disgrace
This whiskey hides my own

It’s the last watch on the Midland
The last watch alone
One last night to love her
The last night she’s whole

My guess is that we were young together
Like her’s, my strength was young and hard as steel
And like her too, I knew my ground
I scarcely felt the years go round
In answer to the wheel

But then they quenched the fire beneath the boiler
Gave me a watch and showed me out the door
At sixty-four, you’re still the best
One year more, and then you’re less
Than dust upon the floor

So here’s to useless superannuation
And us old relics of the days of steam
In the morning, Lord, I would prefer
When men with torches come for her
Let angels come for me

Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Houses of Parliament, Sunset, 1903 by Claude Monet

The Houses of Parliament, Sunset, 1903 by Claude Monet

Click to enlarge.

The Cave by Glenn W. Dresbach

The Cave
by Glenn W. Dresbach

Sometimes when the boy was troubled he would go
To a little cave of stone above the brook
And build a fire just big enough to glow
Upon the ledge outside, then sit and look.
Below him was the winding silver trail
Of water from the upland pasture springs,
And meadows where he heard the calling quail;
Before him was the sky, and passing wings.

The tang of willow twigs he lighted there,
Fragrance of meadows breathing slow and deep,
The cave’s own musky coolness on the air,
The scent of sunlight … all were his to keep.
We had such places --- cave or tree or hill …
And we’re lucky if we keep them still.

IAT's ideological usefulness extends its life after it goes on evidentiary life-support

A good update on the IAT controversy, from Psychology’s favourite tool for measuring implicit bias is still mired in controversy by Jesse Singal.

The rub of the issue is that social justice influenced sociology researchers came up with a diagnostic test to measure people's levels of inherent racism. The Manadarin class fell all over it, IAT proving what they wanted to believe. But then the evidence started flooding in.
It has been a long and bumpy road for the implicit association test (IAT), the reaction-time-based psychological instrument whose co-creators, Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald — among others in their orbit — claimed measures test-takers’ levels of unconscious social biases and their propensity to act in a biased and discriminatory manner, be that via racism, sexism, ageism, or some other category, depending on the context. The test’s advocates claimed this was a revelatory development, not least because the IAT supposedly measures aspects of an individual’s bias even beyond what that individual was consciously aware of themselves.

As I explained in a lengthy feature published on New York Magazine’s website last year, many doubts have emerged about these claims, ranging from the question of what the IAT is really measuring (as in, can a reaction-time difference measured in milliseconds really be considered, on its face, evidence of real-world-relevant bias?) to the algorithms used to generate scores to, perhaps most importantly (given that the IAT has become a mainstay of a wide variety of diversity training and educational programmes), whether the test really does predict real-world behaviour.

On that last key point, there is surprising agreement. In 2015 Greenwald, Banaji, and their coauthor Brian Nosek stated that the psychometric issues associated with various IATs “render them problematic to use to classify persons as likely to engage in discrimination”. Indeed, these days IAT evangelist and critic alike mostly agree that the test is too noisy to usefully and accurately gauge people’s likelihood of engaging in discrimination — a finding supported by a series of meta-analyses showing unimpressive correlations between IAT scores and behavioral outcomes (mostly in labs). Race IAT scores appear to account for only about 1 per cent of the variance in measured behavioural outcomes, reports an important meta-analysis available in preprint, co-authored by Nosek. (That meta-analysis also looked at IAT-based interventions, finding that while implicit bias as measured by the IAT “is malleable… changing implicit bias does not necessarily lead to changes in explicit bias or behavior.”)

So where does this leave the IAT? In a new paper in Current Directions in Psychological Science called “The IAT Is Dead, Long Live The Iat: Context-Sensitive Measures of Implicit Attitudes Are Indispensable to Social and Political Psychology”, John Jost, a social psychologist at New York University and a leading IAT researcher, seeks to draw a clear line between the “dead” diagnostic-version of the IAT, and what he sees as the test’s real-world version – a sensitive, context-specific measure that shouldn’t be used for diagnostic purposes, but which has potential in various research and educational contexts.

Does this represent a constructive manifesto for the future of this controversial psychological tool? Unfortunately, I don’t think it does – rather, it contains many confusions, false claims, and strawman arguments (as well as a misrepresentation of my own work). Perhaps most frustrating, Jost joins a lengthening line of IAT researchers who, when faced with the fact that the IAT appears to have been overhyped for a long time by its creators, most enthusiastic proponents, and by journalists, responds with an endless variety of counterclaims that don’t quite address the core issue itself, or which pretend those initial claims were never made in the first place.
Singal goes on to dissect the various new claims, materially undermining them.

The state-of-play seems to be that the hardcore devout believers are still committed to a diagnostic tool which is inconsistent, unclear, and uncertain as to what it is even measuring.

And yet, having tasted the sweetness of something which looks like science confirming an ideological belief, the devotees can't let go. I see fewer and fewer academics leaning on this weak straw but I encounter a surprisingly large number of non-academics who religiously cite IAT for evidence of various beliefs they have which otherwise have no evidence.

Tricks of memory, remembrance, and digitization

Yesterday was our national day of mourning for George H.W. Bush, a good man, a gentleman, and a person of wide and significant accomplishments. He was much more of a model of what we want in the leadership of our democracy than virtually anyone who came afterwards, fine as some of them might have been in particular ways.

But it is not Bush the man that is making me think at the moment. It the remembering of Bush. Or, at least, the remembering of one small incident.

It is the oddity of days and memory. December 5th was our national day of mourning for George H.W. Bush. December 7th is Pearl Harbor Day, the start of the war with which Bush was most associated.

The week has been filled with words and recollections of Bush 41. Some sensible, some risible, some notable.

But this juxtaposition of the 5th and 7th triggers a memory about an incident which I have not seen referenced. My recollection is that during his administration at some convention or other public speaking event, Bush strayed from his speech and indicated that the day he was speaking, December 6th, marked the day of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Of course, the attack was on the peaceful Sunday morning of December 7th.

Bush did not catch himself in the error and proceeded with the speech to increasing murmuring from the crowd. At some point he realizes he misspoke, apologizes, corrects himself and then proceeds on. The irony of course was that Bush, as the youngest Navy pilot in the Pacific and as a combatant who barely escaped capture when his plane was shot down, had, more than most, especially good cause to have December 7th etched in his memory. That was the irony.

Of course the press, political opponents, empty-headed talking heads tried to milk the error for a day or two or a week in all sorts of ham-fisted and petty ways. It played to a reasonably well-earned reputation for his notoriously awkward and stilted speaking style. My take-away at the time was neutral - people make mistakes, the press are poisonous cretins.

Here we are some thirty years later. Given the irony of the dates, has someone dredged up that old incident? Of course it occurred in the late 1980s, pre-internet, pre-google. But most the big papers are now digitized back to then. I would suspect that suitable searching might turn up something. And certainly if someone had incorporated that incident into their observations over the past couple of days, that should already be indexed and findable.

But no matter what combination of queries, I am not finding any reference to this incident using Google. I switch to Duck Duck Go and it is surfaces an incident, not necessarily the incident. And it is not current, it is from way long ago.

The one instance I have been able to locate is from a UPI report in the Los Angeles Times, Remember Pearl Harbor? Legionnaire Bush Doesn't from September 07, 1988, United Press International.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — In an address to the American Legion today, Vice President George Bush astonished the veterans by declaring, "Today is Pearl Harbor Day," jumping the gun by three months.

Bush's error dumbfounded the 6,000 people attending the 70th annual convention of the American Legion and set them to murmuring among themselves during his speech.

"Today, you remember. I wonder how many Americans remember. Today is Pearl Harbor Day," the Republican presidential nominee said to a stunned audience.

"Forty-seven years ago to this very day, we were hit and hit hard at Pearl Harbor and we were not ready," Bush said.

Bush, who had diverted from his prepared text in making the mistake, carried on with his address for several more minutes as the whispers among the Legionnaires in the city's Commonwealth Convention Center grew louder.

"Freedom is on the march," said Bush, who, when realizing his mistake, diverted again from his text.

"Did I say Sept. 7? Sorry about that--Dec. 7, 1941, 47 years," the vice president said to applause.

"I'm glad I corrected that. I saw this guy (in the audience) shaking me off out here," he said as the Legionnaires laughed.
Apparently, earlier in his speech he had referenced the month he was shot down, September 2, 1944, and that likely led to the hiccough.

But I am left with a conundrum. This is a slip of Bush's memory of the month (September rather than December) rather than the date (6th rather than the 7th).

So am I misremembering what Bush misremembered? Could be. Perhaps I am not using the right queries or the right search engine.

Or perhaps I am remembering accurately and there was another incident in which he did indeed misidentify the date (rather than the month.)

Not worth pursuing but it is an interesting example of the twines and confusions between biological memory and digital memory. In their different ways, neither is completely reliable. Humility always required.

Unexpectedly true statements

I love statements which are unexpectedly true.

Let The Mystery Be by Iris DeMent

Double click to enlarge.

Let The Mystery Be
by Iris DeMent

Everybody's wonderin' what and where they they all came from
Everybody's worryin' 'bout where they're gonna go
When the whole thing's done
But no one knows for certain
And so it's all the same to me
I think I'll just let the mystery be

Some say once you're gone you're gone forever
And some say you're gonna come back
Some say you rest in the arms of the Saviour
If in sinful ways you lack
Some say that they're comin' back in a garden
Bunch of carrots and little sweet peas
I think I'll just let the mystery be

Everybody's wonderin' what and where they they all came from
Everybody's worryin' 'bout where they're gonna go
When the whole thing's done
But no one knows for certain
And so it's all the same to me
I think I'll just let the mystery be

Some say they're goin' to a place called Glory
And I ain't saying it ain't a fact
But I've heard that I'm on the road to purgatory
And I don't like the sound of that
I believe in love and I live my life accordingly
But I choose to let the mystery be

Everybody is wondering what and where they they all came from
Everybody is worryin' 'bout where they're gonna go
When the whole thing's done
But no one knows for certain
And so it's all the same to me
I think I'll just let the mystery be
I think I'll just let the mystery be

A Beautiful Young Nymph Going To Bed

It has been a while since I have read a poem I found so repulsive and yet so effective in its power of evocation. It moves the jaded emotions of pity and sadness. You could even more unpleasantly explore the beautiful young nymph as a metaphor for modern society if you wished a dark play of thoughts, but it is probably best to leave it as a sad commentary on the human condition. And as a reminder that all is never as it seems.

A Beautiful Young Nymph Going To Bed
Jonathan Swift

Corinna, Pride of Drury-Lane,
For whom no Shepherd sighs in vain;
Never did Covent Garden boast
So bright a batter'd, strolling Toast;
No drunken Rake to pick her up,
No Cellar where on Tick to sup;
Returning at the Midnight Hour;
Four Stories climbing to her Bow'r;
Then, seated on a three-legg'd Chair,
Takes off her artificial Hair:
Now, picking out a Crystal Eye,
She wipes it clean, and lays it by.
Her Eye-Brows from a Mouse's Hide,
Stuck on with Art on either Side,
Pulls off with Care, and first displays 'em,
Then in a Play-Book smoothly lays 'em.
Now dextrously her Plumpers draws,
That serve to fill her hollow Jaws.
Untwists a Wire; and from her Gums
A Set of Teeth completely comes.
Pulls out the Rags contriv'd to prop
Her flabby Dugs and down they drop.
Proceeding on, the lovely Goddess
Unlaces next her Steel-Rib'd Bodice;
Which by the Operator's Skill,
Press down the Lumps, the Hollows fill,
Up hoes her Hand, and off she slips
The Bolsters that supply her Hips.
With gentlest Touch, she next explores
Her Shankers, Issues, running Sores,
Effects of many a sad Disaster;
And then to each applies a Plaster.
But must, before she goes to Bed,
Rub off the Daubs of White and Red;
And smooth the Furrows in her Front,
With greasy Paper stuck upon't.
She takes a Bolus e'er she sleeps;
And then between two Blankets creeps.
With pains of love tormented lies;
Or if she chance to close her Eyes,
Of Bridewell and the Compter dreams,
And feels the Lash, and faintly screams;
Or, by a faithless Bully drawn,
At some Hedge-Tavern lies in Pawn;
Or to Jamaica seems transported,
Alone, and by no Planter courted;
Or, near Fleet-Ditch's oozy Brinks,
Surrounded with a Hundred Stinks,
Belated, seems on watch to lie,
And snap some Cull passing by;
Or, struck with Fear, her Fancy runs
On Watchmen, Constables and Duns,
From whom she meets with frequent Rubs;
But, never from Religious Clubs;
Whose Favour she is sure to find,
Because she pays them all in Kind.
Corinna wakes. A dreadful Sight!
Behold the Ruins of the Night!
A wicked Rat her Plaster stole,
Half eat, and dragged it to his Hole.
The Crystal Eye, alas, was miss'd;
And Puss had on her Plumpers piss'd.
A Pigeon pick'd her Issue-Peas;
And Shock her Tresses fill'd with Fleas.
The Nymph, tho' in this mangled Plight,
Must ev'ry Morn her Limbs unite.
But how shall I describe her Arts
To recollect the scatter'd Parts?
Or show the Anguish, Toil, and Pain,
Of gath'ring up herself again?
The bashful Muse will never bear
In such a Scene to interfere.
Corinna in the Morning dizen'd,
Who sees, will spew; who smells, be poison'd.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The deep state is no myth but a sodden, intertwined mass of bloated, self-replicating bureaucracy

From Camille Paglia: ‘Hillary wants Trump to win again’ an interview in the American Spectator. What a delight to have Paglia on our national stage. She is a delight. Just some samples:
Screechy Elizabeth Warren has never had a snowball’s chance in hell to appeal beyond upper-middle-class professionals of her glossy stripe. Kirsten Gillibrand is a wobbly mediocrity. Cory Booker has all the gravitas of a cork. Andrew Cuomo is a yapping puppy with a long, muddy bullyboy tail. Both Bernie Sanders (for whom I voted in the 2016 primaries) and Joe Biden (who would have won the election had Obama not cut him off at the knees) are way too old and creaky.


I don’t see our stumbling, hacking, shop-worn Evita yielding the spotlight willingly to any younger gal.


Trump’s administration is basically a one-man operation, with him relying on gut instinct and sometimes madcap improvisation. There’s often a gonzo humor to it — not that the US president should be slinging barbs at bottom-feeding celebrities or jackass journalists, much as they may deserve it. It’s like a picaresque novel starring a jaunty rogue who takes to Twitter like Tristram Shandy’s asterisk-strewn diary.


The deep state is no myth but a sodden, intertwined mass of bloated, self-replicating bureaucracy that constitutes the real power in Washington and that stubbornly outlasts every administration. As government programs have incrementally multiplied, so has their regulatory apparatus, with its intrusive byzantine minutiae. Recently tagged as a source of anti-Trump conspiracy among embedded Democrats, the deep state is probably equally populated by Republicans and apolitical functionaries of Bartleby the Scrivener blandness. Its spreading sclerotic mass is wasteful, redundant, and ultimately tyrannical.


Too many young people raised in affluent liberal homes are arriving at elite colleges and universities with skittish, unformed personalities and shockingly narrow views of human existence, confined to inflammatory and divisive identity politics.


Right now, the campus religion remains nihilist, meaning-destroying post-structuralism, whose pilfering god, the one-note Foucault, had near-zero scholarly knowledge of anything before or beyond the European Enlightenment. (His sparse writing on classical antiquity is risible.) Out with the false idols and in with the true!


But I never fully understood Wilde’s caustic satire of Victorian philanthropists and humanitarians until the present sludgy tide of political correctness began flooding government, education, and media over the past two decades. Wilde saw the insufferable arrogance and preening sanctimony in his era’s self-appointed guardians of morality.

We’re back to the hypocrisy sweepstakes, where gestures of virtue are as formalized as kabuki. Humor has been assassinated. An off word at work or school will get you booted to the gallows. This is the graveyard of liberalism, whose once noble ideals have turned spectral and vampiric.
I am not big on public intellectuals but I would happily pay good money to hear Paglia speak on just about any topic. She is an intellectual and verbal Catherine wheel.

The true size


Fifteen by William Stafford

by William Stafford

South of the Bridge on Seventeenth
I found back of the willows one summer
day a motorcycle with engine running
as it lay on its side, ticking over
slowly in the high grass. I was fifteen.

I admired all that pulsing gleam, the
shiny flanks, the demure headlights
fringed where it lay; I led it gently
to the road and stood with that
companion, ready and friendly. I was fifteen.

We could find the end of a road, meet
the sky on out Seventeenth. I thought about
hills, and patting the handle got back a
confident opinion. On the bridge we indulged
a forward feeling, a tremble. I was fifteen.

Thinking, back farther in the grass I found
the owner, just coming to, where he had flipped
over the rail. He had blood on his hand, was pale—
I helped him walk to his machine. He ran his hand
over it, called me a good man, roared away.

I stood there, fifteen.

English Landscape

English Landscape, c. 1935 by Edward McKnight Kauffer (1890-1954).

Click to enlarge.

Say a prayer for your pal on Guadalcanal

A charming anecdote by one of George H. W. Bush's speechwriters. From George H.W. Bush, 1924 - 2018 by Andrew Ferguson.
As it happened, Bush never liked to talk about the war anyway, especially not in public. An accurate account of his service—you can look up the details—would sound like bragging. Also, mentions of the war and the men who fought it tended to choke him up. The month before I went to work for him the country had marked the fiftieth anniversary of Pearl Harbor. The speechwriters turned out a set of speeches steeped in encomiums to the Greatest Generation—to Bush’s generation. The speech drafts, a friend told me later, came back from the Oval Office with whole sections crossed out. Anything purple, anything wistful or sentimental, was gone. “Not gonna make me cry!” Bush told one of my colleagues, in mock anguish. In the event, when it came time to deliver the speeches, he puddled up anyway.


My higher-up had told me the speech had two requirements. The first was political. The campaign strategists insisted it contain a reference to the heroes of the Gulf War—the year before Bush had commanded the war with great subtlety and courage, but voters seemed to have forgotten it and they needed reminding. The second condition came from the president: no sentimental stuff. Not gonna make me cry! I didn’t know whether “say a prayer” would make the cut.

The president arrived in Arlington the next morning. Under a brilliant sun hundreds of Marine veterans were spread across the hillside that slopes gently away from the statue of the flag raising at Iwo Jima. They gave Bush a splendid ovation. For forty years, much longer than my (then) lifetime, the president of the United States had been a veteran of World War 2. No matter what happened in November, Bush would be the last of them, and the thought lent a special poignancy to the event.

“For the Marines Guadalcanal was remembered as an epic struggle,” John Keegan wrote in his history of the war. “Men who had fought there bore an aura of endurance which veterans of almost no other Pacific campaign acquired.”

And here they were, fifty years on, a stalwart sampling of the generation that saved the world—old men now, slathered in sun block against the glare, dressed in shorts and Hawaiian shirts, others in Izod and Dockers, gray or mostly balding, wearing gimme caps and shades and flip flops or sneakers, pot bellies much in evidence. There was lots of facial hair, rarely seen in the 1940s, to compensate for what had gone missing up top. They were seated in lawn chairs or sprawling with their grandkids on blankets.

Bush had revised the remarks that morning and worked on them some more on the drive from the White House. The aide who rode with him in the limousine told me the president liked the speech, including the old bit of doggerel. “It doesn’t get too emotional,” the aide said.

Bush delivered it with a few of his usual improvisations—shout outs to a clergy member, hat tips to other honored guests. He praised the courage of the men who hadn’t made it off the island fifty years earlier and, by implication, the courage of the men who sat before him now, who had survived, only to continue the bloody hopscotch from island to island for three more years

“There was a rhyme passed around during those dark months that I’m sure many of the marines here remember . . . Every Marine who wasn’t fighting on the island knew the lines. ‘Say a prayer for your pal on Guadalcanal.’”

At the words many of the men roared approval; others rose and applauded, obviously pleased. I stood off to the side behind a rope line, feeling an intruder.

They are nearly all of them gone now, of course. And Bush joins them. No one could ask for a greater honor than serving such a man, and by extension serving them too.

Lies by Stan Rogers

Double click to enlarge.

by Stan Rogers

At last the kids are gone now for the day
She reaches for the coffee as the school bus pulls away
Another day to tend the house and plan
For Friday at the Legion when she's dancing with her man

Sure was a bitter winter but Friday will be fine
And maybe last year's Easter dress will serve her one more time
She'd pass for twenty-nine but for her eyes
But winter lines are telling wicked lies

All lies
All those lines are telling wicked lies
Lies all lies
Too many lines there in that face;
Too many to erase or disguise;
They must be telling lies

Is this the face that won for her the man
Whose amazed and clumsy fingers put that ring upon her hand?
No need to search that mirror for the years
The menace in their message shouts across the blur of tears

So this is Beauty's finish. Like Rodin's "Belle Heaulmière"
The pretty maiden trapped inside the ranch wife's toil and care
Well, after seven kids, that's no surprise
But why cannot her mirror tell her lies

All lies
All those lines are telling wicked lies
Lies all lies
Too many lines there in that face;
Too many to erase or disguise;
They must be telling lies

Then she shakes off the bitter web she wove
And turns to set the mirror, gently, face down by the stove
She gathers up her apron in her hand
Pours a cup of coffee, drips Carnation from the can
And thinks ahead to Friday, cause Friday will be fine!
She'll look up in that weathered face that loves hers, line for line
To see that maiden shining in his eyes
And laugh at how her mirror tells her lies

All lies
All those lines are telling wicked lies
Lies all lies
Too many lines there in that face;
Too many to erase or disguise;
They must be telling lies

To Law—said sweet Thermopylae I give my dying Kiss

"Go tell it"—What a Message—
by Emily Dickinson

"Go tell it"—What a Message—
To whom—is specified—
Not murmur—not endearment—
But simply—we—obeyed—
Obeyed—a Lure—a Longing?
Oh Nature—none of this—
To Law—said sweet Thermopylae
I give my dying Kiss—

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Day Night, 2013 by Luca di Castri (1972-)

Day Night, 2013 by Luca di Castri (1972-)

Click to enlarge.

He was a gentleman and a patriot.

George H.W. Bush left this note in the Oval office for incoming President Bill Clinton.


Click to enlarge.

Category errors and identity salience

From Witches Now Outnumber Presbyterians In The United States by Jonathan Turley.
According to a report from the Christian Post, the number of witches and wiccans has increased dramatically since the 1990s. Indeed, the figures is taken from studies from a Trinity College and the Pew Research Center that found that there are at least 1.5 million witches in the United States. That would put them 100,000 over the 1.4 million mainline Presbyterians in the country.

The Pew Research Center reported in 2014 that 0.4% of the population — 1 to 1.5 million Americans — “identify as Wicca or Pagan.”

Most of these Americans view themselves as pre-Christian in their faith with a close connection to the Earth and natural forces.
A great example of the care you have to have with surveys (covered in my post, Statistical subsidiarity, and with particular reference Scott Alexander's 4% Lizardmen factor.

In this instance, I suspect they are not controlling for definitional constancy leading to a category error. Your religious affiliation is likely not to have the same saliency as a likely optional identity (on average.) In this instance, when answering a Pew question on your religion, if you respond that you are Presbyterian, that is consistent with some internal definition presumably having something to do with belonging to a congregation, attending with some frequency and self-identification as Presbyterian to others.

If you are responding to a question about religious beliefs (as opposed to religion) you do not necessarily have the same definitional constancy. I suspect that there are very few self-identified witches who belong to a coven, attend with some regularity, and who also self-identify as a witch to others in the same manner as a Presbyterian responds.

The outward and visible signs of being a Presbyterian are different than the outward and visible signs of being a witch. Indeed, even if one personally self-identifies as a witch, my suspicion is that the centrality of that identification is far smaller and weaker than the centrality of being a Presbyterian is to a Presbyterian.

Its like asking one person whether they are a Presbyterian and asking another person whether they believe in karma. The two categories are marginally related but they are different categories with different salience.