Tuesday, October 16, 2018

A mixture of true facts and false facts floating on the surface of a great mass of wishes and fears and memories

From Death Under Sail by C.P. Snow. Page 185.
All the information you're ever told is a mixture of true facts and false facts floating on the surface of a great mass of wishes and fears and memories.

The flames kindled on the 4th of July 1776 have spread over too much of the globe to be extinguished by the feeble engines of despotism

From Founders Online My own paragraphing.
From Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 12 September 1821

Monticello Sep. 12. 21.

Dear Sir,

I am just returned from my other home, and shall within a week go back to it for the rest of the autumn. I find here your favor of August 20th and was before in arrear for that of May 19th. I cannot answer, but join in your question, of May 19th. Are we to surrender the pleasing hopes of seeing improvement in the moral and intellectual condition of Man?

The events of Naples and Piedmont cast a gloomy cloud over that hope and Spain an Portugal are not beyond jeopardy. And what are we to think of this northern triumvirate, arming their nations to dictate despotism to the rest of world? And the evident connivance of England, as the price of secret stipulations for continental armies, if her own should take side with her malcontent and pulverized people? And what of the poor Greeks, and their small chance of amelioration even if the hypocritical autocrat should take them under the iron cover of his Ukazes. Would this be lighter or safer than that of the Turk?

These, my dear friend, are speculations for the new generation, as, before they will be resolved, you and I must join our deceased brother Floyd, yet I will not believe our labors are lost. I shall not die without a hope that light and liberty are on steady advance. We have seen, indeed, once within the record of history a complete eclipse of the human mind continuing for centuries. And this too by swarms of the same northern barbarians, conquering and taking possession of the countries and governments of the civilized world. Should this be again attempted, should the same northern hordes, allured again by the corn wine, and oil of the south, be able again to settle their swarms in the countries of their growth, the art of printing alone and the vast dissemination of books, will maintain the mind where it is, and raise the conquering ruffians to the level of the conquered, instead of degrading those to that of their conquerors and even should the cloud of barbarism and despotism again obscure the science and liberties of Europe, this country remains to preserve and restore light and liberty to them. In short, the flames kindled on the 4th of July 1776 have spread over too much of the globe to be extinguished by the feeble engines of despotism. On the contrary they will consume these engines, and all who work them.

I think with you that there should be a school of instruction for our navy as well as artillery; and I do not see why the same establishment might not suffice for both. Both require the same basis of general mathematics, adding projectiles and fortifications for the artillery exclusively, and astronomy and the theory of navigation exclusively for the naval students.
Bezout conducted both schools in France, and has left us the best book extant for their joint and separate instruction. It ought not to require a separate professor.

A 4th of July oration delivered in the town of Milford in your state gives to Samuel Chase the credit of having ‘first started the cry of independence in the ears of his country men.’ Do you remember any thing of this? I do not. I have no doubt it was uttered in Massachusetts even before it was by Thomas Paine. But certainly I never considered Samuel Chase as foremost, or even forward in that hallowed cry. I know that Maryland hung heavily on our backs, and that Chase, although first named was not most in unison with us of that delegation, either in politics or morals et c’est ainsi que l’on ecrit l’ histoire!

Your doubt of the legitimacy of the word gloriola is resolved by Cicero, who in his letter to Lucceius expresses a wish ‘ut nosmatipsi vivi gloriola nostra perpruamur’.

Affectly adieu

Th: Jefferson

His inmost mind, a region difficult to penetrate under the best of circumstances

From the Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman.
“Echoes of the secret meeting of the C.I.D. angered the Cabinet members who had been left out and who belonged to the sternly pacifist wing of the party. Henry Wilson learned that he was regarded as the villain of the proceedings and that they are “calling for my head.” At this time began the split in the Cabinet which was to be so critical in the ultimate days of decision. The government maintained the disingenuous position that the military “conversations” were, in Haldane’s words, “just the natural and informal outcome of our close friendship with France.” Natural outcome they might be; informal they were not. As Lord Esher with a certain realism said to the Prime Minister, the plans worked out jointly by the General Staffs have “certainly committed us to fight, whether the Cabinet likes it or not.”

There is no record what Asquith replied or what, in his inmost mind, a region difficult to penetrate under the best of circumstances, he thought on this crucial question.

Moon, Mars, and Milky Way

From NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Click to enlarge.

Moon, Mars, and Milky Way
Image Credit & Copyright: Taha Ghouchkanlu (TWAN)

Explanation: Just two weeks ago, dark skies over the desert in northern Iran held this alluring celestial vista. The dramatic digital mosaic finds the Moon and Mars alongside the Milky Way's dusty rifts, stars, and nebulae. Captured through a series of exposures to cover a range in brightness, that night's otherwise Full Moon is immersed in Earth's shadow. It actually appears fainter and redder than the Red Planet itself during the widely watched total lunar eclipse. For cosmic tourists, the skyscape also includes the Lagoon (M8) and Trifid (M20) nebulae and planet Saturn shining against the Milky Way's pale starlight. The Moon isn't quite done with its shadow play, though. Today, the New Moon partially eclipses the Sun for much of northern planet Earth.

A sign of distemper or the sign of an enemy

From Voices of Reason—and Unreason by Peggy Noonan.
The screaming from the first seconds of the first hearings, the coordinated interruptions, the insistent rudeness and accusatory tones—none of it looked like the workings of the ordered democracy that has been the envy of the world.


The howling and screeching that interrupted the hearings and the voting, the people who clawed on the door of the court, the ones who chased senators through the halls and screamed at them in elevators, who surrounded and harassed one at dinner with his wife, who disrupted and brought an air of chaos, who attempted to thwart democratic processes so that the people could not listen and make their judgments:

Do you know how that sounded to normal people, Republican and Democratic and unaffiliated? It sounded demonic. It didn’t sound like “the resistance” or #MeToo. It sounded like the shrieking in the background of an old audiotape of an exorcism.
Noonan is a wonderful writer with whose opinions I agree just about as often as I disagree. She can often put the best case for a position with which I disagree.

In this instance, however, we are reasonably aligned in our estimation, though I would go one step further.

What dismays me, and I suspect others though I have not seen this much discussed, is that this appears to be more than resistance or protest, this appears to be an attack on our system of government. We are a democratic federal republic. We have built-in principles and checks and balances to constrain government against individuals, to protect minorities from majorities, to constrain passions in deference to deliberation, to ensure the blessings of freedom and liberty while channeling cooperative behavior. These strike me as worthwhile and noble goals. We have not perfectly encapsulated the best of Age of Enlightenment thinking, but it is a pretty robust, pragmatic effort which has stood us in good stead compared to all the rest of the world.

As Tom Wolfe paraphrased the French philosopher Jean-François Revel, "the dark night of fascism is always descending in the United States and yet lands only in Europe."

The structure of our federal Republic is not haphazard. All the elements have their purpose. All have their drawbacks.

It is distressing enough to see people, professors, professional commentators, etc. trying to launch wholesale attacks on critical elements (Supreme Court, Electoral College, Due Process, Free Speech) simply for expedient short term political gains. Distressing because they are ignorant in their passion (they don't know the purposes served by the Electoral College) or distressing because they are happy to break the system just to get what they want.

More distressing still are the mobs doxxing and stalking our elected representatives, the attempted assassinations, the ambush physical assaults, investing the homes of our appointed executives (for example the FCC), disrupting the orderly governance of our nation. Protesting and editorials are one thing. Trying to coercively impose your will on all your fellow citizens by breaking our government and governance is a step too far.

All of us have experienced elections which we dislike, indeed which we think to be dangerous. Elections, court decisions, government policies, etc. But we all subscribe to one system because it both enables and constrains us all. None of us has the omnipotence to be truly certain that our individual judgment trumps the cumulative wishes and wisdom of all of our 330 million fellow citizens.

Screaming erratic mobs seeking to arrogate to themselves the power of decision making on behalf of all Americans is not just an act of anarchy or a symptom of personal imbalance. They are an attack on the rules we have all gained from, suffered from but also agreed to.

To hijack Noonan's construct, It sounds like an attack on our government, on our country and on ourselves as participants in our federal republican democracy.

When ideological obfuscation and local reporting collide

From A Suicidal Nanny, an Underground Industry and 3 Babies Stabbed by Liz Robbins and Christina Goldbaum.

An interesting exercise in recollection. The horror the New York Times reports:
Dark circles formed like warning signs beneath Yu Fen Wang’s eyes as she worked 12-hour graveyard shifts in a Queens maternity center that operated on the margins of legality. Her family said she had grown gaunt, could not sleep and told her husband she no longer wanted to live.

Her employers, however, said they needed her to work. And her family needed the money. She earned less than $100 a day, they said, working in a private house that had been converted into a combined nursery and hotel for newborn babies and their mothers.

An open secret in the Flushing community, the center was part of an underground industry catering to a demanding clientele: local mothers resting after childbirth and Chinese visitors coming to have their babies in the United States, a practice known as “birth tourism.”

On Sept. 21, at 3:40 a.m., these dangers collided to near-fatal effect when, the police say, Mrs. Wang stabbed three babies sleeping in bassinets on the first floor — all girls — and two adults. She then turned the knife on her own neck and wrists.

The victims all survived. But the horrific act turned a spotlight on a pocket of immigrant New York, where a loose network of businesses tend to mothers and infants in the crucial, fragile month after childbirth but operate without any government oversight. The center, Mei Xin Care, is one of dozens in the area that vary widely in amenities and quality, leaving workers with few avenues for complaint, and families with little to guide them other than word of mouth, internet advertisements and blind trust.
All news has a context, whether it is documented or not.

In the early 1980s there was much discussion in some circles regarding Asian immigrants, I think primarily on the West Coast, gaming the benefits system by bringing over aged relatives so that their parents could take advantage of generous elderly welfare and retirement related social programs, without ever having contributed to them. My recollection is that the story puttered around for 2-5 years before ebbing away. I don't know if it turned out that the numbers were so small that it was a problem not worth solving, or perhaps there were tweaks to immigration policy which closed the loophole. I don't know. All I know is that I stopped seeing stories about the problem.

Similarly, with this New York Times report. Since at least the 2000s, perhaps earlier, there have been sporadic reports in either the mainstream press or in specialty fields about anchor babies. Anchor babies are a means of gaming the immigration process. Foreign women in late stages of pregnancy come to the US in order to give birth here. Under the 14th Amendment, anyone born in the US automatically is the beneficiary of US citizenship. The anchor concept arises from what happens after the child is born. Under the right circumstances, particularly after the child has reached adulthood, the parents can be brought in to the US as permanent residents and possibly later citizens. It involves long term planning but it is an effective way to game the system and skirt the increasingly stringent immigration rules.

Anchor babies have been a running dispute between Democrats and Republicans from a policy perspective for a couple of decades. Democrats tend to see the term as pejorative if not also racist. Republicans are incensed about gaming the system, regardless of who does it, especially if it imposes burdens on taxpayers.

One of the hall-marks of the debate is that Democrats tend to pooh-pooh the idea that anchor babies are a real phenomenon at all or decry it as inconsequential. As a candidate, Donald Trump made some statements about anchor babies, as did Jeb Bush which elicited much criticism from the New York Times and the Washington Post.

For example; Eliminating Birthright Citizenship Would Be a Bureaucratic and Costly Change of Law by Margaret D. Stock in The New York Times.
Changing the constitutional rule of birthright citizenship — a principle of equality that millions of Americans fought and died for in the Civil War — would not only cost billions, but would create more problems than it could solve.
From the Washington Post, The myth of the ‘anchor baby’ deportation defense by Janell Ross.
Donald Trump said it; Jeb Bush said it, too.

Frankly, a whole range of people have used the term "anchor baby" this week in public discussions about Trump's immigration-related policy ideas -- ideas that include an end to the nearly 150-year-old practice of granting citizenship to anyone born in the United States.

It's the former, known as "birthright citizenship," which is delineated in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. And as all sorts of public figures have discussed the future of the 14th Amendment this week, the more colloquial -- many say pejorative -- term "anchor baby" has come up over and over again.

But the anchor baby, while potent politically, is a largely mythical idea.
The Democratic Party leaning mainstream media, instinctively disparages the idea of anchor babies and deny its reality for policy making purposes. But even in 2015 when it first became a campaign issue, even the Washington Post's own fact checker had to concede the factual case though they might disagree with the policy implications.

From ‘Birth tourists’ and ‘anchor babies:’ What Trump and Bush got right by Glenn Kessler.
First, we are dealing with estimates. But Trump is essentially correct that about 300,000 children a year are born in the United States with at least one parent who is an undocumented immigrant.

In 2010, both the Pew Research Center and the Center for Immigration Studies estimated that more than 300,000 such children were born in the United States every year. Pew pegged the figure at 340,000 in 2008, while CIS gave a range of 300,000 to 400,000. Under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, all were recognized as U.S. citizens at birth.

Pew estimated that four out of every five children born to at least one authorized immigrant parent were born in the United States, for a total of 4 million in 2009. That number has probably grown by an additional 2 million in the past six years. Birth rates have declined since the Great Recession, so it’s possible the annual figure has dropped slightly below 300,000 (7.5 percent of 3.9 million births is about 294,000), but not by much.


So what is Bush talking about? A spokesman says he is referencing an entirely different issue: women who come to the United States on tourist visas — and thus are on U.S. soil legally — but for the express purpose of having the child born in the United States.

The Washington Post wrote about the trend in 2010, noting that the regulations do not permit the State Department to refuse visas simply because a woman is pregnant. Rolling Stone magazine recently documented the case of a Chinese couple who paid $20,000 to be housed in a small hotel in Los Angeles while they were awaiting the birth of the child. The main motivation — ensuring the child could be educated in the United States.

How many women take this step? This is even more difficult to estimate. Steven A. Camarota of CIS in 2015 estimated the number of “birth tourists” was about 36,000, after comparing the data for the number of foreign-born mothers who gave birth during the year against the number of such women who showed up in the U.S. Census. The gap was almost 36,000, but he cautioned that it was a very rough estimate.

Camarota, in an interview, said the largest share of birth tourists was probably from East Asia, but many also came from Eastern Europe (such as Russia) and Nigeria. A report in Vice says that a handful of pregnant women board every flight from Moscow to Miami, which is apparently a popular spot for Russian birth tourists.

But The Huffington Post, quoting Chinese sources, said the total number of Chinese birth tourists is projected to be 60,000 in 2014, a sixfold increase over 2012 — apparently spurred on by a romantic comedy, “Finding Mr. Right,” about a Chinese woman who flew to Seattle so she could have an American baby (and also go shopping).

“The conversation about immigrant families in the U.S. is typically centered around people from Latin America seeking economic opportunities in the States,” The Huffington Post said. “But as incomes in China rise and visa hurdles fall, women from China are making up a larger share of foreign births in the U.S., and they’re complicating many of the popular ideas about immigrant mothers.”

Federal authorities recently conducted high-profile raids on businesses in southern California that charged up to $60,000 to arrange the tourist visas and provide housing in anticipation for the birth.

While precise figures are hard to come by, the number of children born to undocumented immigrants each year in the United States still easily outpaces the number of children born to women who come to the United States to give birth using a legal tourist visa. What is a more important issue is obviously a policy question beyond the purview of The Fact Checker.

But given the apparent surge of Chinese applicants, Bush is likely correct that most of the birth tourists are Asian. Meanwhile, Trump is correct that number of births to undocumented immigrants is about 300,000 a year. Both earn a Geppetto Checkmark.
Kessler marked Trump and Bush as accurately describing the factual conditions underpinning their policy recommendations.

So in 2015, there was a lot of mainstream media, caught up in the fever of an election, disparaging the notion that anchor babies were a real phenomenon or that a surprisingly high percentage of children born in the US are born to illegal aliens. In a ten minute search, I find that whereas I thought most of the misrepresentation came from The New York Times, more of the column inches and articles came from the Washington Post. But only the Washington Post acknowledged the underlying facts.

Which brings us back to A Suicidal Nanny, an Underground Industry and 3 Babies Stabbed today. The New York Times is reporting on the reality that they denied in 2015. They never use the term anchor baby as it was discussed in 2015. Perhaps they have changed their style guide. Perhaps they are simply seeking to draw attention away from the fact that current reporting is at odds with their recent reporting. For whatever reasons, there are no anchor babies in their report, but there is birth tourism.

There is a lot of cultural puff they overlay on the article, trying to mask the underlying anchor baby reality, pardon me "birth tourism" reality.
Centers like this one — which was alternately known as Mei Bao, or “beautiful baby” in Chinese — provide two services. The first is for newly-arrived immigrant mothers practicing a Chinese tradition some 1,000 years old in which they recuperate for a month after childbirth while other women, often called “aunties,” care for their infants. Authorities said the centers also provide assistance to women from China who wish to give birth in the United States in order to obtain instant citizenship for their children, which is legal under immigration law.


One neighbor said in an interview that she saw a steady stream of clients arriving, sometimes in fancy cars.

Some of them would have been following the custom of a monthlong rest after childbirth. The period culminates in a “red egg celebration” to mark the baby’s survival of its fragile first weeks, said Margaret M. Chin, a professor of sociology in the Asian American Studies program at Hunter College.

The centers are an alternative to obtaining visas so family members can fly to the United States, or returning to China, where health care is often less sophisticated. For several thousand dollars, new mothers have access to 24-hour nannies and cooks.
The reporters, through rose-tinted glasses, are apparently trying to peddle the idea that this is just an expression of a cultural tradition, only occurring in the US because of its superior medical services. All the rest of the article belies this fig leaf. It is a business built on circumventing immigration rules.

And it is a big business.
An open secret in the Flushing community, the center was part of an underground industry catering to a demanding clientele: local mothers resting after childbirth and Chinese visitors coming to have their babies in the United States, a practice known as “birth tourism.”


But the horrific act turned a spotlight on a pocket of immigrant New York, where a loose network of businesses tend to mothers and infants in the crucial, fragile month after childbirth but operate without any government oversight. The center, Mei Xin Care, is one of dozens in the area that vary widely in amenities and quality, leaving workers with few avenues for complaint, and families with little to guide them other than word of mouth, internet advertisements and blind trust.


There are some 40 such maternity centers — in private homes and apartments — advertising their services online in the New York and New Jersey area, and nearly 20 in the Flushing neighborhood.


For Chinese birth tourists, Los Angeles is the marquee destination. Centers compete with each other by advertising stays at plush hotels, shopping extravaganzas in nearby malls, and state-of-the-art hospitals. Fees can range from $50,000 to $80,000.


In the New York metropolitan area, more upscale maternity centers tend to exist in New Jersey and Long Island suburbs. The ones in Flushing appear to be smaller, and less expensive, options, where mothers stay in rooms that often have been subdivided.
About what might be the appropriate policies to address anchor babies or birth tourism, there is much legitimate debate. Denying that it exists and denying that it fosters hardships and tragedies for both the participants and for Americans is a dereliction of journalistic duty and becomes morally repugnant when the denial seems to be driven primarily for partisan purposes.

It is akin to the voter fraud issue. Democrats deny that it happens at all or that it has any consequence. Republicans claim that it involves millions of voters. The Democrats are demonstrably wrong. There is plenty of evidence of lots of voter fraud in many places and compelling evidence that in some select elections it is material enough to swing the outcome. On the other hand, it is almost certainly not the case that this involves tens of millions of votes or even millions of votes. My guess is that, across the nation, there are probably some low hundreds of thousands of fraudulent votes and that clearly there are occasions where outcomes are changed because of those fraudulent votes (or counts).

But I don't know the real magnitude and nobody else does either and we won't know until we actually tackle the problem. Till then, it remains a festering sore weakening trust in our body politic.

Turning a blind eye to a problem because you fear what the policies that a clear factual investigation might yield is almost always the worst policy of all.

Top 12 Favorite Perceptual Illusions

An excellent compilation of optical illusions. The mind is a wonderful thing.

Click to see the thread.

Monday, October 15, 2018

The rain beat against the windows

From Death Under Sail by C.P. Snow. Page 180.
The first hours of the morning might have been extracted from our peaceful holidays of the years before, so marked was the lull in our anxious suspense. Inevitably, however, the tranquility became broken. Long before lunch-time Tonya was sitting with her reddened lips set in an angry straight line. Minor irritabilities crept in insidiously throughout the afternoon, which turned cold and windy enough to keep us together in the sitting room. The close contact made our tempers worse. The rain beat against the windows; grey clouds followed each other across the wide marshland sky.

On the river there was a solitary yacht, beating slowly up against the wind; two young men, with rain streaming down their faces, were sailing her grimly but without any skill, and they crossed and re-crossed the river in front of the bungalow without gaining a yard. I watched their maneuvers dejectedly.
Magnificent description but very much of its time. Having lived in England in the mid-1960s, with coal fires, no central heating, old fusty infrastructure and damp houses, cloth covered furniture with generations of smells, few phones and scarcely any TV, I can picture exactly what he is describing. But it is a world now gone and remembered by fewer and fewer each year, immortalized in old stories such as this.

Threw off suddenly and openly all the restraints of morality, all sensation to character, and unblushingly avowed and acted on the principle that power was right

From Founders Online My own paragraphing.
Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 11 January 1816

To John Adams

Monticello Jan. 11. 16.

Dear Sir,

Of the last five months I have past four at my other domicil, for such it is in a considerable degree. No letters are forwarded to me there, because the cross post to that place is circuitous and uncertain. During my absence therefore they are accumulating here, and awaiting acknowledgements. This has been the fate of your favor of November 13th

I agree with you in all it’s eulogies on the 18th century. It certainly witnessed the sciences and arts, manners and morals, advanced to a higher degree than the world had ever before seen. And might we not go back to the era of the Borgias, by which time the barbarous ages had reduced national morality to it’s lowest point of depravity, and observe that the arts and sciences, rising from that point, advanced gradually through all the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, softening and correcting the manners and morals of man?

I think too we may add, to the great honor of science and the arts, that their natural effect is, by illuminating public opinion, to erect it into a censor, before which the most exalted tremble for their future, as well as present fame. With some exceptions only, through the 17th and 18th centuries morality occupied an honorable chapter in the political code of nations. You must have observed while in Europe, as I thought I did, that those who administered the governments of the greater powers at least, had a respect to faith, and considered the dignity of their government as involved in it’s integrity. A wound indeed was inflicted on this character of honor in the 18th century by the partition of Poland. But this was the atrocity of a barbarous government chiefly, in conjunction with a smaller one still scrambling to become great, while one only of those already great, and having character to lose, descended to the baseness of an accomplice in the crime.

France, England, Spain shared in it only inasmuch as they stood aloof and permitted it’s perpetration. How then has it happened that these nations, France especially and England, so great, so dignified, so distinguished by science and the arts, plunged at once into all the depths of human enormity, threw off suddenly and openly all the restraints of morality, all sensation to character, and unblushingly avowed and acted on the principle that power was right? Can this sudden apostasy from national rectitude be accounted for?

The treaty of Pilnitz seems to have begun it, suggested perhaps by the baneful precedent of Poland. Was it from the terror of monarchs, alarmed at the light returning on them from the West, and kindling a volcano under their thrones? Was it a combination to extinguish that light, and to bring back, as their best auxiliaries, those enumerated by you, the Sorbonne, the Inquisition, the Index Expurgatorius, and the knights of Loyola? Whatever it was, the close of the century saw the moral world thrown back again to the age of the Borgias, to the point from which it had departed three hundred years before.
France, after crushing and punishing the conspiracy of Pilnitz, went herself deeper and deeper into the crimes she had been chastising. I say France, and not Bonaparte; for although he was the head and mouth, the nation furnished the hands which executed his enormities. England, although in opposition, kept full pace with France, not indeed by the manly force of her own arms, but by oppressing the weak, and bribing the strong. At length the whole choir joined and divided the weaker nations among them.

Permit me to place here my affectionate respects to mrs Adams, and to add for yourself the assurances of cordial friendship and esteem.

Th: Jefferson

Do not despair of man, and do not scold him

Do Not!
by Stevie Smith

Do not despair of man, and do not scold him,
Who are you that you should so lightly hold him?
Are you not also a man, and in your heart
Are there not warlike thoughts and fear and smart?
Are you not also afraid and in fear cruel,
Do you not think of yourself as usual,
Faint for ambition, desire to be loved,
Prick at a virtuous thought by beauty moved?
You love your wife, you hold your children dear,
Then say not that Man is vile, but say they are.
But they are not. So is your judgement shown
Presumptuous, false, quite vain, merely your own
Sadness for failed ambition set outside,
Made a philosophy of, prinked, beautified
In noble dress and into the world sent out
To run with the ill it most pretends to rout.
Oh know your own heart, that heart's not wholly evil,
And from the particular judge the general,
If judge you must, but with compassion see life,
Or else, of yourself despairing, flee strife.

A Hegelian army

From the Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman.
Meanwhile the Liberals had been elected. Traditionally opposed to war and foreign adventure, they were confident that good intentions could keep the peace. Their new Foreign Secretary was Sir Edward Grey, who suffered the death of his wife a month after taking office. Their new Secretary for War was a barrister with a passion for German philosophy, Richard Haldane, who, when asked by the soldiers in Council what kind of army he had in mind, replied, “A Hegelian army.” “The conversation then fell off,” he recorded.

Meteor before Galaxy

From NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day

Click to enlarge.

Meteor before Galaxy
Image Credit & Copyright: Fritz Helmut Hemmerich

Explanation: What's that green streak in front of the Andromeda galaxy? A meteor. While photographing the Andromeda galaxy in 2016, near the peak of the Perseid Meteor Shower, a sand-sized rock from deep space crossed right in front of our Milky Way Galaxy's far-distant companion. The small meteor took only a fraction of a second to pass through this 10-degree field. The meteor flared several times while braking violently upon entering Earth's atmosphere. The green color was created, at least in part, by the meteor's gas glowing as it vaporized. Although the exposure was timed to catch a Perseids meteor, the orientation of the imaged streak seems a better match to a meteor from the Southern Delta Aquariids, a meteor shower that peaked a few weeks earlier. Not coincidentally, the Perseid Meteor Shower peaks again tonight.

It seems not to have infected Fry.

Varian Fry was a bookish Harvard grad, who came of age in the era when a certain level of anti-Semitism was common among the WASP elite to which he was born. It seems not to have infected Fry. Or if it did, it didn’t prevent him from risking his own life to save the lives of thousands of Jews.


In Marseille, Fry worked with a crew of improbable allies—including American art student Miriam Davenport, Chicago heiress and bon vivant Mary Jayne Gold, and Gold’s lover, Raymond Couraud, a local gangster (and later a war hero). Over the course of just a few months, they managed to smuggle thousands out of the country, mostly to neutral Portugal (and from there to the United States and other New World destinations.)

Crucial to their success was the help of Hiram Bingham IV, an American vice consul there, who issued visas, some of which were legal, but most of which were issued without legal authority.

Not all of those rescued can be described as anti-Nazi dissidents or avant-garde artists. But many were, including Hannah Arendt, André Breton, Marc Chagall, and Jacques Lipchitz.
In the Wikipedia article on Varian Fry, it lists 57 individuals among the thousands he saved who were in turn sufficiently accomplished to have their own Wikipedia entries.

So not only a great humanitarian but one whose humanitarianism had in indirect, but material, impact on global culture as well.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Zanbur the Spy

From The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide, 1983 page 328.

Click to enlarge.

40 Zanbur the Spy
Indian, Mughal period, reign of Akbar (1556-1605), ca. 1561-76
Ink, colors, and gold on cotton mounted on paper; 291/8 x 221/2 in. (74 x 57.2 cm)

The first major work of the Mughal school — an illustrated copy of the Dastan-i Amir Hamzeh (The Story of Amir Hamzeh) — narrated the exploits of the Prophet Muhammad's uncle Hamzeh (and another hero of the same name whose adventures were interwoven into this text). This manuscript consists of fourteen huge volumes (each about thirty by twenty-three inches). Each contains one hundred full-page paintings on cotton; many are scenes of violence and horror, but there are also quieter paintings, in which the artist portrayed his subject realistically in a peaceful setting. He did so in this picture, which shows a spy, Zanbur, bringing a maid named Mahiyya to town on a donkey. The houses and pavilions are more truthfully rendered than in contemporary Iranian miniatures. The high viewpoint and decorative quality stem from Persian models, but the increased realism and, through it, our more personal involvement are indicative of a new and different attitude. Rogers Fund, 1923, 23.264.1

All dramatic criticism is a battle between the things your emotions approve of and the things you're cultivated tastes know to be ridiculous

From Death Under Sail by C.P. Snow. Page 135.
"One of the tragedies of life is that one usually likes precisely those things which one despises oneself for liking. It's the same in love; more often than not, you're quite sure that the person you're in love with is stupid or dull or worthless or all of them at once, but – one is in love just the same. All dramatic criticism is a battle between the things your emotions approve of and the things you're cultivated tastes know to be ridiculous. Usually the emotions win – not only in the low-brows but the aesthetes too. I'm afraid I'm heretic enough to suggest that it's just as unworthy to be carried away by Hamlet as it is by Peter Pan. In fact they do seem to me to be rather similar.


"But we're all the same. We're all as bad as one another. During the last 20 years I have watched plays everywhere when I have nothing better to do. I'm quite certain of the plays I admire. I'm sure that there is no better play in the world than The Cherry Orchard. But do you know the play I have the most vivid memories of? La Dame aux Camelias. It's one of the worst plays ever written, of course. And yet I was affected by it more than anything else I've ever seen. I saw Duse as Marguerite. In Rome it was, a long time ago. I don't even think she was a great actress – at least she may have been great in her style – but I'm certain that the style's all wrong. But I shall never enjoy anything like that again. I had taken someone I was in love with – that helps, of course.

On the subject of the history of the American revolution, you ask who shall write it?

From Founders Online My own paragraphing.
Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 10 August 1815

To John Adams

Monticello Aug. 10. 15.

Dear Sir,

The simultaneous movements in our correspondence have been really remarkable on several occasions. It would seem as if the state of the air, or state of the times, or some other unknown cause produced a sympathetic effect on our mutual recollections. I had set down to answer your letters of June 19. 20. 22. with pen, ink, and paper before me, when I received from our mail that of July 30.


On the subject of the history of the American revolution, you ask who shall write it? Who can write it? And who ever will be able to write it? Nobody; except merely it’s external facts. All it’s councils, designs and discussions, having been conducted by Congress with closed doors, and no member, as far as I know, having even made notes of them. These, which are the life and soul of history must for ever be unknown.

Botta, as you observe, has put his own speculations and reasonings into the mouths of persons whom he names, but who, you and I know, never made such speeches. In this he has followed the example of the ancients, who made their great men deliver long speeches, all of them in the same style, and in that of the author himself. The work is nevertheless a good one, more judicious, more chaste, more classical, and more true than the party diatribe of Marshall. It’s greatest fault is in having taken too much from him.

I possessed the work, and often recurred to considerable portions of it, although I never read it through. But a very judicious and well informed neighbor of mine went through it with great attention, and spoke very highly of it. I have said that no member of the old Congress, as far as I knew, made notes of the discussions. I did not know of the speeches you mention of Dickinson and Witherspoon. But on the questions of Independence and on the two articles of Confederation respecting taxes and voting I took minutes of the heads of the arguments. On the first I threw all into one mass, without ascribing to the speakers their respective arguments; pretty much in the manner of Hume’s summary digests of the reasonings in parliament for and against a measure. On the last I stated the heads of arguments used by each speaker. But the whole of my notes on the question of independence does not occupy more than five pages, such as of this letter: and on the other questions two such sheets.

They have never been communicated to any one. Do you know that there exists in manuscript the ablest work of this kind ever yet executed, of the debates of the Constitutional convention of Philadelphia in 1788? The whole of every thing said and done there was taken down by Mr. Madison, with a labor and exactness beyond comprehension. I presume that our correspondence has been observed at the post offices, and thus has attracted notice. Would you believe that a printer has had the effrontery to propose to me the letting him publish it? These people think they have a right to every thing however secret or sacred. I had not before heard of the Boston pamphlet with Priestly’s letters and mine.

At length Bonaparte has got on the right side of a question. From the time of his entering the legislative hall to his retreat to Elba, no man has execrated him more than myself. I will not except even the members of the Essex junto; although for very different reasons; I, because he was warring against the liberty of his own country, and independence of others; they, because he was the enemy of England, the Pope, and the Inquisition.

But at length, and as far as we can judge, he seems to have become the choice of his nation. At least he is defending the cause of his nation, and that of all mankind, the rights of every people to independence and self-government. He and the allies have now changed sides. They are parcelling out among themselves Poland, Belgium, Saxony, Italy, dictating a ruler and government to France, and looking askance at our republic, the splendid libel on their governments: and he is fighting for the principle of national independence, of which his whole life hitherto has been a continued violation.

He has promised a free government to his own country, and to respect the rights of others; and although his former conduct inspires little confidence in his promises yet we had better take the chance of his word for doing right, than the certainty of the wrong which his adversaries are doing and avowing. If they succeed, ours is only the boon of the Cyclops to Ulysses, of being the last devoured.

Present me affectionately and respectfully to Mrs. Adams, and heaven give you both as much more of life as you wish, and bless it with health and happiness.

Th: Jefferson

Aug. 11. P.S. I had finished my letter yesterday, and this morning recieve the news of Bonaparte’s second abdication. Very well. For him personally I have no feeling but of reprobation. The representatives of the nation have deposed him. They have taken the allies at their word, that they had no object in the war but his removal. The nation is now free to give itself a good government, either with or without a Bourbon; and France unsubdued will still be a bridle on the enterprises of the combined powers, and a bulwark to others.

Tennis Date by Jacqueline Osborn

Tennis Date by Jacqueline Osborn

Click to enlarge.

Oh, yes, they call him the Streak

The Streak by Ray Stevens

Double click toenlarge.

The Streak
by Ray Stevens

Hello, everyone, this is your action news reporter with all the news
that is news across the nation, on the scene at the supermarket. There
seems to have been some disturbance here. Pardon me, sir, did you see
what happened?

Yeah, I did. I's standin' overe there by the tomaters, and here he
come, running through the pole beans, through the fruits and vegetables,
nekkid as a jay bird. And I hollered over t' Ethel, I said, "Don't
look, Ethel!" But it's too late, she'd already been incensed.

Here he comes, look at that, look at that
There he goes, look at that, look at that
And he ain't wearin' no clothes

Oh, yes, they call him the Streak
Look at that, look at that
Fastest thing on two feet
Look at that, look at that
He's just as proud as he can be
Of his anatomy
He goin' give us a peek

Oh, yes, they call him the Streak
Look at that, look at that
He likes to show off his physique
Look at that, look at that
If there's an audience to be found
He'll be streakin' around
Invitin' public critique

This is your action news reporter once again, and we're here at the gas
station. Pardon me, sir, did you see what happened?

Yeah, I did. I's just in here gettin my car checked, he just appeared
out of the traffic. Come streakin' around the grease rack there, didn't
have nothin' on but a smile. I looked in there, and Ethel was gettin'
her a cold drink. I hollered, "Don't look, Ethel!" But it was too
late. She'd already been mooned. Flashed her right there in front of
the shock absorbers.

He ain't crude, look at that, look at that
He ain't lewd, look at that, look at that
He's just in the mood to run in the nude

Oh, yes, they call him the Streak
Look at that, look at that
He likes to turn the other cheek
Look at that, look at that
He's always makin' the news
Wearin' just his tennis shoes
Guess you could call him unique

Once again, your action news reporter in the booth at the gym, covering
the disturbance at the basketball playoff. Pardon me, sir, did you see
what happened?

Yeah, I did. Half time, I's just goin' down thar to get Ethel a snow
cone. And here he come, right out of the cheap seats, dribbling, right
down the middle of the court. Didn't have on nothing but his PF's.
Made a hook shot and got out through the concessions stand. I hollered up
at Ethel, I said, "Don't look, Ethel!" But it was too late. She'd
already got a free shot. Grandstandin', right there in front of the
home team.

(Chorus) (Witness):
Oh, yes, they call him the Streak Here he comes again.
Look at that, look at that Who's that with him?
The fastest thing on two feet Ethel? Is that you, Ethel?
Look at that, look at that What do you think you're
He's just as proud as he can be doin'? You git your
Of his anatomy clothes on!
He's gonna give us a peek

Oh, yes, they call him the Streak Ethel! Where you goin'?
Look at that, look at that Ethel, you shameless
He likes to show off his physique hussy! Say it isn't so,
Look at that, look at that Ethel! Ethelllllll!
If there's an audience to be found
He'll be streakin' around
Invitin' public critique

Their grandfather, Thorgils, was said to be descended from a bear

I wonder what Ancestry.com thinks of this.

That blind and imbecile attachment to the most visible of all colors

From the Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman.
“Visiting the Balkan front in 1912, Messimy saw the advantages gained by the dull-colored Bulgarians and came home determined to make the French soldier less visible. His project to clothe him in gray-blue or gray-green raised a howl of protest. Army pride was as intransigent about giving up its red trousers as it was about adopting heavy guns. Army prestige was once again felt to be at stake. To clothe the French soldier in some muddy, inglorious color, declared the army’s champions, would be to realize the fondest hopes of Dreyfusards and Freemasons. To banish “all that is colorful, all that gives the soldier his vivid aspect,” wrote the Echo de Paris, “is to go contrary both to French taste and military function.” Messimy pointed out that the two might no longer be synonymous, but his opponents proved immovable. At a parliamentary hearing a former War Minister, M. Etienne, spoke for France.

“Eliminate the red trousers?” he cried. “Never! Le pantalon rouge c’est la France!”

“That blind and imbecile attachment to the most visible of all colors,” wrote Messimy afterward, “was to have cruel consequences.”

#7 Dusk of Rice Terrace, 1999 by Haruto Maeda

#7 Dusk of Rice Terrace, 1999 by Haruto Maeda

Click to enlarge.

The Pencil Nebula in Red and Blue

From NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day

Click to enlarge.

The Pencil Nebula in Red and Blue
Image Credit & Copyright: José Joaquín Perez

Explanation: This shock wave plows through interstellar space at over 500,000 kilometers per hour. Near the top and moving up in this sharply detailed color composite, thin, bright, braided filaments are actually long ripples in a cosmic sheet of glowing gas seen almost edge-on. Cataloged as NGC 2736, its elongated appearance suggests its popular name, the Pencil Nebula. The Pencil Nebula is about 5 light-years long and 800 light-years away, but represents only a small part of the Vela supernova remnant. The Vela remnant itself is around 100 light-years in diameter, the expanding debris cloud of a star that was seen to explode about 11,000 years ago. Initially, the shock wave was moving at millions of kilometers per hour but has slowed considerably, sweeping up surrounding interstellar material. In the featured narrow-band, wide field image, red and blue colors track the characteristic glow of ionized hydrogen and oxygen atoms, respectively.

The poisonous environment is perhaps the product of penumbrae of Marxism mixed with the totalitarian "The personal is political"

Ignore the headline of the article, the content is grappling with more interesting matters. From Everyone Lost at the Ford-Kavanaugh Hearings by Andrew Sullivan.
To the extent that the hearing went beyond the specifics of Ford’s allegations and sought to humiliate and discredit Kavanaugh for who he was as a teenager nearly four decades ago (a dynamic that was quite pronounced in some Democratic questioning of the nominee), it was deeply concerning. When public life means the ransacking of people’s private lives even when they were in high school, we are circling a deeply illiberal drain. A civilized society observes a distinction between public and private, and this distinction is integral to individual freedom. Such a distinction was anathema in old-school monarchies when the king could arbitrarily arrest, jail, or execute you at will, for private behavior or thoughts. These lines are also blurred in authoritarian regimes, where the power of the government knows few limits in monitoring a person’s home or private affairs or correspondence or tax returns or texts. These boundaries definitionally can’t exist in theocracies, where the state is interested as much in punishing and exposing sin, as in preventing crime. The Iranian and Saudi governments — like the early modern monarchies — seek not only to control your body, but also to look into your soul. They know that everyone has a dark side, and this dark side can be exposed in order to destroy people. All you need is an accusation.

The Founders were obsessed with this. They realized how precious privacy is, how it protects you not just from the government but from your neighbors and your peers. They carved out a private space that was sacrosanct and a public space which insisted on a strict presumption of innocence, until a speedy and fair trial. Whether you were a good husband or son or wife or daughter, whether you had a temper, or could be cruel, or had various sexual fantasies, whether you were a believer, or a sinner: this kind of thing was rendered off-limits in the public world. The family, the home, and the bedroom were, yes, safe places. If everything were fair game in public life, the logic ran, none of us would survive.

And it is the distinguishing mark of specifically totalitarian societies that this safety is eradicated altogether by design. There, the private is always emphatically public, everything is political, and ideology trumps love, family, friendship or any refuge from the glare of the party and its public. Spies are everywhere, monitoring the slightest of offenses. Friends betray you, as do lovers. Family members denounce their own mothers and fathers and siblings and sons and daughters. The cause, which is usually a permanently revolutionary one, always matters more than any individual’s possible innocence. You are, in fact, always guilty before being proven innocent. You always have to prove a negative. And no offense at any point in your life is ever forgotten or off the table.

Perhaps gay people are particularly sensitive to this danger, because our private lives have long been the target of moral absolutists, and we have learned to be vigilant about moral or sex panics. For much of history, a mere accusation could destroy a gay person’s life or career, and this power to expose private behavior for political purposes is immense.
This lightly touches on an idea I have been speculating with.

Why is the American Democratic Left acting so crazy right now? What is the combination of circumstances that have formed them, in contrast to much of their post-war history, into the party of mob-rule, despotism, coercion, sexual prudery, anti-free speech, social intolerance, bigotry, and prejudice?

It is easy enough to lay it all to their immersion in the various ideologies with the penumbra of Marxism - Rawlsian Social Justice, Third Wave Feminism, Critical Theory, Postmodernism, Multiculturalism, Frankfurt School socialism, Intersectionality, Deconstructionism, Socially Constructed Reality, etc.

And I do believe those are critical elements. Certainly critical, but are they sufficient? There seems a greater animus to their actions and beliefs than is typically associated with such anemic, arcane and desiccated ideologies.

I have wondered whether the missing ingredient might be the idea that the "Personal is Political" which emerged in association with Second Wave Feminism in the 1960s. Carol Hanisch, a prominent member of the women's liberation movement, published in 1970, an essay, The Personal is Political. In the essay, she argues:
One of the first things we discover in these groups is that personal problems are political problems. There are no personal solutions at this time. There is only collective action for a collective solution.
From an ideological or philosophical perspective, this is akin to the mainstream of Marxist/Stalinist/Soviet thinking and is quintessential totalitarianism. It also dovetails with Mussolini's leftwing fascism and his goal:
Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State.
But I don't think it was initially seen and interpreted that way. The personal is political became a rallying cry and embedded in political discourse. It seemed a snappy aphorism that captured the idea that what motivates a person personally can be directed towards political ends.

Everyone seemed to ignore the opposite implication. When you build the highway from the personal to the political, it is a two-way road and the political also becomes personal. There can be no privacy when everything you do is subject to politics and therefore subject to the state. It is this sloppy thinking that seems to have preceded such noxious ideas as "hate crimes" where you are punished not just for the crime, but what the state might choose to infer you were thinking when you committed the crime.

And from there, we are just a stones-throw from the other Stalin-era truism "Show me the man and I will show you the crime."

In September 2015, Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff published in The Atlantic, The Coddling of the American Mind (now out as a book).
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
Haidt also riffs on work investigating victimhood culture. From The Rise of the Culture of Victimhood Explained by Ronald Bailey.
Sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning are arguing that the U.S. is now transitioning to a victimhood culture that combines both the honor culture's quickness to take offense with the dignity culture's use of third parties to police and punish transgressions. The result is people are encouraged to think of themselves as weak, marginalized, and oppressed. This is nothing less than demoralizing and polarizing as everybody seeks to become a "victim."
All of these issues seem to me to perhaps be related to the notion that the personal is political. There are people now who effectively believe that we can and should legislate politeness and good manners to ensure that no one feels bad; all of it to be enforced by the coercive power of the state.

And with that mindset, we end up with Title IX travesties, the Kavanaugh hearings, Believe the Women and Believe the Children. Bewildering to people living in the real world but absolutely sensible to those who have imbibed the penumbrae of Marxism along with the destructively empowering idea that the personal is political and that therefore any amount of destruction is warranted in pursuit of personal ends.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

At least the raucous nature of American public life speaks to a certain health

An interesting observation. From At least Americans choose top judges in public by Johnathan Pearce.
One thought that I have about the whole furore about the Supreme Court and Kavanagh (no, I am not going over the whole bloody thing now) is that the US system is so much more public than in other countries that have something such as a Supreme Court, or bench of wise men/women who get to opine or even rule on constitutional matters. We have our Law Lords in the UK, and indeed the House of Lords (chosen by the government as there aren’t hereditary peers any more). As far as I know Law Lords are appointed from within the legal system and it is not entirely clear who specifically gets to pick them or approve the Law Lords. As for France, it has a Constitutional Council, members of whom are senior retired political folk and others who must be approved by the French parliament. What is interesting in the French case is that I don’t recall much media coverage of the hearings, even allowing for the often lousy state of British coverage of French public affairs (you would think a country a few miles across the English Channel and with whom we have traded, and occasionally defeated or liberated in wars might get a bit more attention). Germany has a federal constitutional court, and the gift of membership to this body is held in the hands of the Bundestag and by the Bundesrat (this body represents the state parliaments at the federal level).

All these systems have their merits, quite possibly, but what is certainly striking to my eyes is that it is only in the US that the decision as to who gets on the bench or not seems to be a matter of great media and public interest. In part, I suspect, this is because of how membership is in the gift, at least in the initial proposed stage, of the President. The US Supreme Court has issued major decisions down the decades, as momentous as Roe Vs Wade, Kelo (a big eminent domain case) and Dred Scott, to name just three. It seems also a more public system, whereas I get the impression that when a judge takes his or her seat in a European country, it registers as much public response as the daily announcement of the shipping forecast. And that, I think, speaks much to the more vigorous temper of American public life. It may not feel like this at the moment, but at least the raucous nature of American public life speaks to a certain health. In Europe, by contrast, so much of what happens resembles one of those dull zombie films of the 1970s or 80s.

As for the traditions – we always change them whenever there's a selfish end to be pursued

From Death Under Sail by C.P. Snow. Page 126.
"Ian, you've heard some of your stupid friends talk of a man's not being a 'gentleman'. If they didn't know his past history, how would they decide?"

"Purely by externals," I said. Finbow pounced on the absurdity at once. "As the entire idea of 'gentlemanliness is one of the externals, that's hardly a profound remark," he said. "The whole point is, which externals?"

"Accent, perhaps," I suggested. "Manners possibly – all that other thing."

"Too indefinite," he answered. "Usually those tests would keep out men who weren't gentlemen; but they'd often let through people from your stupid friends would exclude if they knew their history. Accent, for instance: anyone with a decent ear can acquire standard English just as he can learn a foreign language. Even if he starts from Lancashire, he can learn to speak the civilized tongue. And be quite indistinguishable from you or Philip. With very little effort, he can achieve English which will pass anywhere; he probably never could manage the curious bleat of the minor public schools, but that is a special gift of Providence, like sword swallowing – which in fact it closely resembles.

I share Finbows dislike for young men who make a twittering noise in the roofs of their mouth's, and we chuckled together. Finbow went on:

"No, accent's no good as a test. Nor are manners. I've met at least two gigolos from remote parts of the provinces who would outshine any Wykehamist I've ever seen. I defy anybody to tell them from young men just going into the Diplomatic Service. No, Ian, your stupid friends wouldn't be able to decide on those externals."

"How would they?" I asked.

"They wouldn't," said Finbow. "They're always liable to treat a man as one of themselves, on the evidence of all these tests of gentlemanliness; then they find out he came from Nuneaton, and say to each other in old Berkleyan tones that they really knew all along that he wasn't 'quite a gentleman'."

"I daresay you're right," I said. "But where's the connection between gentlemen and William's shirt?"

"It's simply this," Finbow smiled. "Your stupid friends aren't capable of it, but with a little ingenuity we could invent tests which discriminate between the sheep and the goats. The sheep being old Berkleyan and they're kind – and the goats, all the rest of this democratic state of ours."

I ought perhaps to mention that Finbow always professed an amused attachment upon English institutions. He had a sort of political and social agnosticism which I have found in several Civil Servants. Once he defined his attitude in the phrase: "Old-established English traditions – there aren't any such things! They're usually extremely new, they're rarely English, and as for the traditions – we always change them whenever there's a selfish end to be pursued. The only thing that can be said for them is that they're unutterably comic."

“And must I break the chain of my thoughts, to go down and gnaw a morsel of a damn’d hogs arse”?

From Founders Online My own paragraphing.
In 1775 Franklin made a morning Visit, at Mrs Yards to Sam. Adams and John. He was unusually loquacious. “Man, a rational Creature”! said Franklin. “Come; Let us suppose a rational man. Strip him of all his appetites, especially of his hunger and thirst. He is in his chamber, engaged in making experiments, or in pursuing some problem. He is highly entertained. At this moment a servant knocks, “Sir dinner is on table.” “Dinner”! Pox! Pough! But what have you for dinner?” Ham and chickens. “Ham”! “And must I break the chain of my thoughts, to go down and gnaw a morsel of a damn’d hogs arse”? “Put aside your ham.” “I will dine tomorrow.”

Take away appetite and the present generation would not live a month and no future generation would ever exist. Thus the exalted dignity of human nature would be annihilated and lost. And in my opinion, the whole loss would be of no more importance, than putting out a candle, quenching a torch, or crushing a firefly, if in this world only we have hope.

Your distinction between natural and artificial aristocracy does not appear to me well founded. Birth and wealth are conferred on some men, as imperiously by nature, as genius, strength or beauty. The Heir to honors and riches, and power has often no more merit in procuring these advantages, than he has in obtaining an handsome face or an elegant figure. When aristocracies, are established by human laws and honor, wealth, and power are made hereditary by municipal laws and political institutions, then I acknowledge artificial aristocracy to commence. But this never commences, till corruption in elections becomes dominant and uncontrollable. But this artificial aristocracy can never last. The everlasting envys, jealousies, rivalries and quarrels among them, their cruel rapacities upon the poor ignorant people their followers, compel these to set up Cæsar, a demagogue to be a monarch and master, pour mettre chacun a sa place. Here you have the origin of all artificial aristocracy, which is the origin of all monarchy. And both artificial aristocracy, and monarchy, and civil, military, political and hierarchical despotism, have all grown out of the natural aristocracy of virtues and talents.

We, to be sure, are far remote from this. Many hundred years must roll away before we shall be corrupted. Our pure, virtuous, public spirited federative republic will last for ever, govern the globe and introduce the perfection of man, his perfectibility being already proved by Price, Priestly, Condorcet, Rousseau, Diderot, and Godwin.

Mischief has been done by the Senate of the United States. I have known and felt more of this mischief, than Washington, Jefferson, and Madison altogether. But this has been all caused by the constitutional power of the Senate, in executive business, which ought to be immediately, totally and eternally abolished.

Your distinction between the αριστοι and pseudo αριστοι, will not help the matter. I would trust one as soon as the other with unlimited power. The law wisely refuses an oath as a witness in his own cause to the saint as well as to the sinner.

No Romance would be more amusing, than the history of your Virginian and our new England aristocratical families. Yet even in Rhode Island, where there has been no clergy, no church, and I had almost said, no state, and some people say no religion, there has been a constant respect for certain old families. Fifty-seven or fifty-eight years ago, in company with Colonel, Counsellor, Judge, John Chandler, whom I have quoted before, a newspaper was brought in. The old sage asked me to look for the news from Rhode Island and see how the elections had gone there. I read the list of Wantons, Watsons, Greens, Whipples, Malbones &c. “I expected as much,” said the aged Gentleman, “for I have always been of opinion, that in the most popular governments, the elections will generally go in favor of the most ancient families.” To this day when any of these tribes - and we may add Ellerys, Channings, Champlins, &c - are pleased to fall in with the popular current, they are sure to carry all before them.

You suppose a difference of opinion between you and me, on this subject of aristocracy. I can find none. I dislike and detest hereditary honors, offices emoluments established by law. So do you. I am for excluding legal hereditary distinctions from the U.S. as long as possible. So are you. I only say that mankind have not yet discovered any remedy against irresistible corruption in elections to offices of great power and profit, but making them hereditary.

But will you say our elections are pure? Be it so; upon the whole. But do you recollect in history, a more corrupt election than that of Aaron Burr to be President, or that of De Witt Clinton last year. By corruption, here I mean a sacrifice of every national interest and honor, to private and party objects.

I see the same spirit in Virginia, that you and I see in Rhode Island and the rest of New England. In New York it is a struggle of family feuds. A feudal aristocracy. Pennsylvania is a contest between German, Irish and old English families.
When Germans and Irish unite, they give 30,000 majorities. There is virtually a White Rose and a Red Rose, a Cæsar and a Pompey in every State in this Union and contests and dissensions will be as lasting. The rivalry of Bourbons and Noailleses produced the French Revolution, and a similar competition for consideration and influence, exists and prevails in every village in the World.

Where will terminate, the rabies agri? The continent will be scattered over with manors, much larger than Livingston's, Van Ranselaer's, or Phillips’s. Even our Deacon Strong will have a principality among you Southern folk. What inequality of talents will be produced by these land jobbers?

Where tends the mania for banks? At my table in Philadelphia, I once proposed to you to unite in endeavors to obtain an amendment of the constitution, prohibiting to the seperate States, the Power of creating Banks; but giving Congress authority to establish one bank, with a branch in each State; the whole limited to ten millions of dollars.

Whether this project was wise or unwise, I know not, for I had deliberated little on it then and have never thought it worth thinking much of since. But you spurned the proposition from you with disdain.

This system of banks begotten, hatched and brooded by Duer, Robert and Gouverneur Morris, Hamilton and Washington, I have always considered as a system of national injustice. A sacrifice of public and private interest to a few aristocratical friends and favorites. My scheme could have had no such effect.

Verres plundered temples and robbed a few rich men: but he never made such ravages among private property in general, nor swindled so much out of the pockets of the poor and the middle class of people as these banks have done. No people but this would have borne the imposition so long. The people of Ireland would not bear Woods half pence. What inequalities of talent, have been introduced into this country by these aristocratical banks!

Our Winthrops, Winslows, Bradfords, Saltonstalls, Quincys, Chandlers, Leonards, Hutchinsons, Olivers, Sewalls &c are precisely in the situation of your Randolphs, Carters and Burwells, and Harrisons. Some of them unpopular for the part they took in the late revolution, but all respected for their names and connections and whenever they fall in with the popular sentiments, are preferred, ceteris paribus to all others. When I was young, the Summum Bonum in Massachusetts, was to be worth ten thousand pounds sterling, ride in a chariot, be Colonel of a regiment of militia and hold a seat in his Majesty’s council. No man's imagination aspired to any thing higher, beneath the skies. But these Plumbs, Chariots, Colonelships and Counsellorships are recorded and will never be forgotten. No great accumulations of land were made by our early settlers. Mr Baudoin a French refugee, made the first great purchases and your General Dearborne, born under a fortunate Star is now enjoying a large portion of the aristocratical sweets of them.

As I have no amanuenses but females, and there is so much about generation in this letter that I dare not ask any one of them to copy it, and I cannot copy it my self I must beg of you to return it to me.

your old Friend

John Adams.

He grasped only the head and not the feet of Foch’s principles

From the Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman.
Though a profound student of Clausewitz, Foch did not, like Clausewitz’s German successors, believe in a foolproof schedule of battle worked out in advance. Rather he taught the necessity of perpetual adaptability and improvisation to fit circumstances. “Regulations,” he would say, “are all very well for drill but in the hour of danger they are no more use … You have to learn to think.” To think meant to give room for freedom of initiative, for the imponderable to win over the material, for will to demonstrate its power over circumstance.

But the idea that morale alone could conquer, Foch warned, was an “infantile notion.” From his flights of metaphysics he would descend at once, in his lectures and his prewar books Les Principes de la Guerre and La Conduite de la Guerre, to the earth of tactics, the placing of advance guards, the necessity of sureté, or protection, the elements of firepower, the need for obedience and discipline. The realistic half of his teaching was summed up in another aphorism he made familiar during the war, “De quoi s’agit-il?” (What is the essence of the problem?)

Eloquent as he was on tactics, it was Foch’s mystique of will that captured the minds of his followers. Once in 1908 when Clemenceau was considering Foch, then a professor, for the post of Director of the War College, a private agent whom he sent to listen to the lectures reported back in bewilderment, “This officer teaches metaphysics so abstruse as to make idiots of his pupils.” Although Clemenceau appointed Foch in spite of it, there was, in one sense, truth in the report. Foch’s principles, not because they were too abstruse but because they were too attractive, laid a trap for France. They were taken up with particular enthusiasm by Colonel Grandmaison, “an ardent and brilliant officer” who was Director of the Troisième Bureau, or Bureau of Military Operations, and who in 1911 delivered two lectures at the War College which had a crystallizing effect.

Colonel Grandmaison grasped only the head and not the feet of Foch’s principles. Expounding their élan without their sureté, he expressed a military philosophy that electrified his audience. He waved before their dazzled eyes an “idea with a sword” which showed them how France could win. Its essence was the offensive à outrance, offensive to the limit. Only this could achieve Clausewitz’s decisive battle which “exploited to the finish is the essential act of war” and which “once engaged, must be pushed to the end, with no second thoughts, up to the extremes of human endurance.” Seizure of initiative is the sine qua non. Preconceived arrangements based on a dogmatic judgment of what the enemy will do are premature. Liberty of action is achieved only by imposing one’s will upon the enemy. “All command decisions must be inspired by the will to seize and retain the initiative.” The defensive is forgotten, abandoned, discarded; its only possible justification is an occasional “economizing of forces at certain points with a view to adding them to the attack.

Launch of the Parker Solar Probe

From NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Click to enlarge.

Launch of the Parker Solar Probe
Image Credit & Copyright: John Kraus

Explanation: When is the best time to launch a probe to the Sun? The now historic answer -- which is not a joke because this really happened this past weekend -- was at night. Night, not only because NASA's Parker Solar Probe's (PSP) launch window to its planned orbit occurred, in part, at night, but also because most PSP instruments will operate in the shadow of its shield -- in effect creating its own perpetual night near the Sun. Before then, years will pass as the PSP sheds enough orbital energy to approach the Sun, swinging past Venus seven times. Eventually, the PSP is scheduled to pass dangerously close to the Sun, within 9 solar radii, the closest ever. This close, the temperature will be 1,400 degrees Celsius on the day side of the PSP's Sun shield -- hot enough to melt many forms of glass. On the night side, though, it will be near room temperature. A major goal of the PSP's mission to the Sun is to increase humanity's understanding of the Sun's explosions that impact Earth's satellites and power grids. Pictured is the night launch of the PSP aboard the United Launch Alliances' Delta IV Heavy rocket early Sunday morning.

Miles' Law

I have heard the phrase "Where you stand depends on where you sit" a number of times without ever knowing its origin. The obvious implication of the adage is that the policy positions you take depend on your responsibilities, circumstances, and context. To understand why someone is doing something that seems counter-intuitive to you, you have to understand what might be driving them to that position. People may do stupid things, but rarely are they being deliberately stupid. There is some construct which has led them to believe that the stupid thing they are doing is either the best thing to do, or perhaps optimal, or the least bad thing to do. To understand the policy, you have to understand the perceived context.

The adage was apparently originated by Rufus Miles, a senior federal civil servant. He wrote a paper outlining his argument The Origin and Meaning of Miles' Law by Rufus E. Miles, Jr., Public Administration Review, Vol. 38, No. 5 (Sep. - Oct., 1978), pp. 399-403.
Miles' Law says: "Where you stand depends on where you sit." The concept is probably as old as Plato, but this particular phraseology arose in the Bureau of the Budget as a result of events that occurred in late 1948 and early 1949. I was chief of the labor and welfare branch of the division of estimates of the Bureau, with responsibility for the budgets of the Federal Security Agency, the Veterans Administration, the Department of Labor, and several lesser agencies. One of my examiners came to me and said that he had been offered a position in the agency whose budget he reviewed, a job at a grade higher than he held in the Bureau. This examiner had been particularly critical. within the confines of the Bureau, of the agency that had offered him the job. It became clear that he would prefer not to accept the offer. Rather, he sought to use it as the basis for obtaining a grade raise where he was. He had three children, as I recall it, and laid understandable stress on the economics of the matter. But he emphasized his preference for work in the Bureau of the Budget, other things equal.

To have given him the raise would have upset the grade structure of the division. 1 told him that I appreciated his strong sense of loyalty to the Bureau, but that a raise was out of the question. He would have to make up his mind, I said, whether the job milieu or the salary was more important to him. He thought it over for a day and then, a hit ruefully, said he felt he owed it to his family to take the job offer. I told him I fully understood, wished him good luck, and said I hoped we would still he good friends after we cut his budget as he would have done.

A day or two after he departed, 1 said to one of my associates, "Just watch! Within three or four months he will be as critical of the Bureau of the Budget and as defensive of his agency as he has been the opposite within the Bureau." My associate was astonished at me. "Oh no!" he said, "he is much too objective and fair minded for that kind of a turnabout." My rejoinder was, "You should not dispute whether this will happen, but how long it will take." It took about two months longer than I estimated, as I recall it. When it did happen, I said to my associate, "You see, it depends on where you sit, how you stand." Wide-eyed, he said, "That deserves to be given the status of a law. You should call it "Miles' Law." And from then on, Miles' Law, later shortened to, "Where you stand depends on where you sit," spread by word of mouth among Washington's administrative cognoscenti.

I did not regard the behavior of my departed examiner as either surprising or reprehensible. Quite the contrary. If he had not turned into a strong advocate of his agency's financial needs, I would have been surprised and, quite frankly, disappointed. It was his function to do so. In order to be effective within his organization, he had to he its strong advocate in its external relationships.
I have not ever been aware that there were six additional Maxims which Miles framed to go with Miles' Law. They are:
Maxim 1: The responsibility of every manager exceeds his authority, and if he tries to increase his authority to equal his responsibility, he is likely to diminish both.

Maxim 2: Managers at any level think they can make better decisions than either their superiors or their subordinates; most managers therefore seek maximum delegations from their superiors and make minimum delegations to their subordinates.

Maxim 3: Serving more than one master is neither improper nor unusually difficult if the servant can get a prompt resolution when the masters disagree.

Maxim 4: Since managers are usually better talkers than listeners, subordinates need courage and tenacity to make their bosses hear what they do not want to hear.

Maxim 5: Being two-faced—one face for superiors and one for subordinates—is not a vice but a virtue for a program manager if he or she presents his or her two faces open and candidly.

Maxim 6: Dissatisfaction with services tends to rise rapidly when the provider of the services becomes bureaucratically bigger, more remote, and less flexible, even if costs are somewhat lower.
These are great. I would rank them in order of importance - Maxim 2, Maxim 4, Maxim 1, and Maxim 6.

I think Maxim 6 is a synopsis of the technology/customer satisfaction tension of the past decade where we have sought to disintermediate expensive customer service representatives and replace as many of their activities as possible with self-service technology. It is cheaper, and we are getting better at it.

But especially with complex customer service environments such as finance, health, and technology where the complexity of the service exceeds the capability of the average consumer, cheaper and better service is also met with rising dissatisfaction exactly because of Maxim 6. Self-service technology solutions make the service provider seem "bureaucratically bigger, more remote, and less flexible."

Non-player characters (NPC)

I came across this meme a short while ago and had to do the research to understand the implied analogy. The meme is referring to Social Justice Warriors as NPCs (from the gaming community and Non-Player Character. Its all explained better than I could in The Meme The Gaming Community Created To Label SJW’s Is Pretty Brilliant by Brandon Morse.
If you’ve ever picked up a video game that features other characters that are controlled by the computer, then you’ve run into non-player characters or NPC’s.

NPC’s serve a host of different functions depending on what the program you’re playing with needs them for. They’re the villagers in Skyrim, Toad from Super Mario Brothers, and the ghosts in Pac-Man. NPC’s may have dialogue, patterns, and personality, but at the end of the day, they’re just a program with pre-set behavioral patterns decided for them by a developer.

Now let’s pretend we’re taking this article from the top…

If you’ve ever stepped onto a college campus or a protest demonstration that features people with neon colored hair screaming at the top of their lungs about identity politics or a social concern then you’ve run into a social justice warrior or SJW.

SJWs serve a host of different functions depending on what activists, politicians and the media need them for. They’re the crazed people trying to beat down the Supreme Court door, the Antifa members threatening motorists, or the male-feminist roundhousing a woman for expressing pro-life views. SJW’s may have dialogue, patterns, and personality, but at the end of the day, they’re just a program with pre-set behavioral patterns decided for them by professors, activist groups, or the media.

The comparison between NPC’s and SJW’s is pretty striking and simultaneously hilarious.

SJW’s aren’t known for their individualism. All of their beliefs seem to be uniform no matter which college or protest you go to. Even if you bring the facts that debunk their beliefs, they can’t or won’t deviate from “their truth.” They think what they’re told with seemingly no capacity for critical analysis, and once their dialogue tree runs out on a certain subject they either clam up or being shouting a phrase over and over again like “BLACK LIVES MATTER,” “HEY HEY HO HO (insert thing) HAS GOT TO GO,” or “NO JUSTICE NO PEACE!”

You get the idea.

This is awfully reminiscent of the way NPC’s interact with gamers in the virtual world. Outside the bounds of what the programmers gave them, the NPC’s aren’t capable of doing much else. Talk to one enough and eventually, they’ll run out of things to say, and begin repeating the same phrase over and over again. They even made a joke about it in the Jumanji sequel.
Read the whole thing, especially for the video clip from Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Truth is not in the numbers but in the interpretation and understanding of the numbers

From The Sordid History of Forest Service Fire Data by Antiplanner. An excellent example where data trend lines reflect changes in measurement processes, not changes in operational reality. S/He uses this graph as the anchor for the post.

Click to enlarge.

The clear implication is that climate can't have been warming since the 1920s because there was a huge decline in reported wildfire acres between 1928 to a new normal by 1956. But is that really what it shows? Antiplanner provides the backdrop.
The story begins in 1908, when Congress passed the Forest Fires Emergency Funds Act, authorizing the Forest Service to use whatever funds were available from any part of its budget to put out wildfires, with the promise that Congress would reimburse those funds. As far as I know, this is the only time any democratically elected government has given a blank check to any government agency; even in wartime, the Defense Department has to live within a budget set by Congress.

This law was tested just two years later with the Big Burn of 1910, which killed 87 people as it burned 3 million acres in the northern Rocky Mountains. Congress reimbursed the funds the Forest Service spent trying (with little success) to put out the fires, but — more important — a whole generation of Forest Service leaders learned from this fire that all forest fires were bad.

In 1924, Congress passed the Clarke-McNary Act, which allowed the Forest Service with (i.e., provide funds to) “appropriate officials of the various states or other suitable agencies” in developing “systems of forest fire prevention and suppression.” The Forest Service used its financial muscle to encourage states to form fire protection districts.

This led to a conflict over the science of fire that is well documented in a 1962 book titled Fire and Water: Scientific Heresy in the Forest Service. Owners of southern pine forests believed that they needed to burn the underbrush in their forests every few years or the brush would build up, creating the fuels for uncontrollable wildfires. But the mulish Forest Service insisted that all fires were bad, so it refused to fund fire protection districts in any state that allowed prescribed burning.

The Forest Service’s stubborn attitude may have come about because most national forests were in the West, where fuel build-up was slower and in many forests didn’t lead to serious wildfire problems. But it was also a public relations problem: after convincing Congress that fire was so threatening that it deserved a blank check, the Forest Service didn’t want to dilute the message by setting fires itself.

When a state refused to ban prescribed fire, the Forest Service responded by counting all fires in that state, prescribed or wild, as wildfires. Many southern landowners believed they needed to burn their forests every four or five years, so perhaps 20 percent of forests would be burned each year, compared with less than 1 percent of forests burned through actual wildfires. Thus, counting the prescribed fires greatly inflated the total number of acres burned.

The Forest Service reluctantly and with little publicity began to reverse its anti-prescribed-fire policy in the late 1930s. After the war, the agency publicly agreed to provide fire funding to states that allowed prescribed burning. As southern states joined the cooperative program one by one, the Forest Service stopped counting prescribed burns in those states as wildfires. This explains the steady decline in acres burned from about 1946 to 1956.
So the transition from 1928-1956 reflects changes in the human systems of definition and measurement rather than any change in climate, number of fires or acres burned.