Wednesday, October 17, 2018

It's not about the money - Case Study 837

Well that door just got slammed pretty hard shut. I have been tracking Jeffrey Sachs' Big Push hypothesis and latter experimentation for many years. It was popular in academia and blessed among the mandarins. I was not convinced of his ideas in the first place and therefore am not surprised at the outcomes reported below. However, kudos for trying. Many things which we believe, turn out not to be true in reality. But also, many things we doubt turn out to be true. We don't know till we try.

From The Big Push Failed by Alex Tabarrok.
In 2004, Jeff Sachs and co-authors revived an old theory to explain Africa’s failure to develop, the poverty trap, and an old solution, the big push.
Our explanation is that tropical Africa, even the well-governed parts, is stuck in a poverty trap, too poor to achieve robust, high levels of economic growth and, in many places, simply too poor to grow at all. More policy or governance reform, by itself, will not be sufficient to over-come this trap. Specifically, Africa’s extreme poverty leads to low national saving rates, which in turn lead to low or negative economic growth rates. Low domestic saving is not offset by large inflows of private foreign capital, for example foreign direct investment, because Africa’s poor infrastructure and weak human capital discourage such inflows. With very low domestic saving and low rates of market-based foreign capital inflows, there is little in Africa’s current dynamics that promotes an escape from poverty. Something new is needed.

We argue that what is needed is a “big push” in public investments to produce a rapid “step” increase in Africa’s underlying productivity, both rural and urban.
Simplistically, this is the longstanding argument in some corners that productivity failures result from lack of resources. Provide the people resources and the problems will resolve themselves. This has been proven not to be true time and again, but the hope flames on. Just transfer money and the problem will be solved.

The alternative explanations to the claim that all that stands in the way of development is more resources are legion - quality of institutions, technology heritage, path dependence, culture, IQ, property protections, system of law, etc., etc.

The desperate desire has been to keep the aid pipeline flowing by proving that access to capital (resources) is all that is required. Access to capital combined with well intended aid experts. From Tabarrok:
As the title of the blog might suggest, I was skeptical. But even if a big push wasn’t exactly the right idea, I’m all in favor of Big Ideas and Sachs pursued his Big Idea with tremendous skill and media savvy. Pilot programs were soon up and running and then quickly expanded into full programs. In June 2010, the Millennium Villages Project released its first public evaluation and that is when things started to fall apart.

The initial MVP evaluation claimed great success but simply compared some development indicators before and after in the treated villages without comparing to trends elsewhere. In 2010 such a study was completely out of step with contemporary practices in impact evaluation. Red flag! Clemens and Demombynes showed that comparing to trends elsewhere significantly moderated the impact. A second MVP paper was published in the Lancet but then was quickly retracted when Bump, Clemens, Demombynes and Haddad demonstrated that it had significant errors. Clemens and Demombynes wrote a summary piece on the controversy then in an astounding and under-reported scandal the MVP tried to stifle Clemens and Demombynes. The MVP, with Jeff Sachs at the head, also sicced their lawyers on Nina Munk and her book, The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty. More red flags.

Yet, despite all of this controversy and bad behavior, the MVP project continued to move ahead and in 2012, the UK Department for International Development (DFID) funded US $11 million into an MVP in Northern Ghana that ran until December 2016. Under the auspices of the DFID, we now finally have the first in-depth, independent evaluation of one MVP project and it doesn’t look great. The project did some good but the big push failed and the good that was done could have been done at lower cost.
See Doing Bad by Doing Good: Why Humanitarian Action Fails by Christopher J. Coyne for related discussions.

The conclusions about the effectiveness of the MVP in Northern Ghana are not encouraging.
Overall, the MVP in northern Ghana did not achieve the overall MDG target to reduce extreme poverty and hunger at the local level.

[snip]

In our cost-effectiveness analysis, we demonstrate that the project has so far not yielded sufficiently positive results, and what has been achieved could have been attained at a substantially lower cost (even when we take account of investments made for future usage). As such, the project seems to have fallen short of producing a synergistic effect; and the impact is not large enough for the project to be regarded as cost-effective, even when each sector is assessed independently of the others.

[snip]

Perhaps then, the most concerning findings are the early indications that the MVP approach will be difficult to be sustained by district institutions and at the community level; and there are signs that any gains made under the project are already being undermined.
I think access to capital does actually play some critical role under some very particular conditions (think of developed economies which have been destroyed such as Japan and Germany in WWII.) There might be other very particular circumstances to kick start developing economies (rather than resurrecting pre-existing developed economies) but it is not, as the evaluation of MVP proves, a universal panacea. Throwing money at the problem might work, we just don't know under what circumstances and they are apparently quite limited circumstances.

The continued failure of MVP will likely go unremarked outside economic circles, and maybe even then only in economic development circles.

Meanwhile in the wider realm we will continue to debate minimum wages, universal basic income, and the other related ideas, all generally sourced in the notion that an absence of money is the explanation for failure despite all the evidence pointing to the failure of that explanation of failure.

Not long after the denouement of the tragedy of Louis XIV, when I was Vice-President, my friend the Doctor came to breakfast with me alone

From Founders Online My own paragraphing.
From John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 15 August 1823

Quincy Aug. 15th 1823

Watchman! what of the night!? Is darkness that may be felt to prevail over the whole world? Or can you perceive any rays of a returning dawn? Is the devil to be the “Lords anointed” over the whole globe? Or do you foresee the fulfillment of the prophecies according to Dr. Priestly’s interpretation of them? I know not but I have in some of my familiar and frivolous letters to you told the story four times over — but if I have I never applied it so well as now.

Not long after the denouement of the tragedy of Louis XIV, when I was Vice-President, my friend the Doctor came to breakfast with me alone; he was very sociable, very learned and eloquent, on the subject of the French revolution. It was opening a new era in the world and presenting a near view of the millennium. I listened; I heard with great attention and perfect sang froid. At last I asked the Doctor. Do you really believe the French will establish a free democratical government in France?

He answered; I do firmly believe it. Will you give me leave to ask you upon what grounds you entertain this opinion? Is it from anything you ever read in history? Is there any instance of a Roman Catholic monarchy of five and twenty millions at once converted into a free and rational people? No. I know of no instance like it. Is there anything in your knowledge of human nature derived from books or experience that any nation ancient or modern consisting of such multitudes of ignorant people ever were or ever can be converted suddenly into materials capable of conducting a free government especially a democratical republic? No, I know of nothing of the kind.

Well then, sir, what is the ground of your opinion? The answer was, my opinion is founded altogether upon revelation and the prophecies. I take it that the ten horns of the great beast in revelations, mean the ten crowned heads of Europe; and that the execution of the king of France is the falling off of the first of those horns; and the nine monarchies of Europe will fall one after another in the same way. Such was the enthusiasm of that great man, that reasoning machine.

After all, however, he did recollect himself so far as, to say: There is, however, a possibility of doubt; for I read yesterday a book put into my hands, by a gentleman, a volume of travels, written by a French gentleman, in 1659; in which he says he had been traveling a whole years in England; into every part of it and conversed freely with all ranks of people; he found the whole nation earnestly engaged in discussing, and contriving a form of government for their future regulation, there was but one point in which they all agreed and in that they were unanimous, that monarchy nobility and prelacy never would exist in England again. The Doctor then paused; and said; Yet in the very next year the whole nation called in the King and ran mad with monarchy, nobility, and prelacy. I am no King killer merely because they are kings. Poor creatures; they know no better; they believe sincerely and conscientiously that God made them to rule the world. I would not, therefore, behead them or send them to St Helena to be treated as Bonaparte was; but I would shut them up like the man in the iron mask; feed them well, give them as much finery as they pleased, until they could be converted to right reason and common sense.

I have nothing to communicate from this part of the country except that you must not be surprised if you hear something wonderful in Boston before long.

With my profound respects for your family, and half a century's affection for yourself, I am your humble servant.

John Adams

50% of human experience has happened after 1309 AD.

From The funnel of human experience by Eukaryote. I often mention often in these posts the importance of alternative perspectives and the insight which can arise from viewing things from a different frame, especially when you keep it in the language of numbers.
It turns out that if you add up all these years, 50% of human experience has happened after 1309 AD. 15% of all experience has been experienced by people who are alive right now.

I call this "the funnel of human experience" - the fact that because of a tiny initial population blossoming out into a huge modern population, more of human experience has happened recently than time would suggest.

50,000 years is a long time, but 8,000,000,000 people is a lot of people.

[snip]

So humanity in aggregate has spent about ten times as long worshiping the Greek gods as we've spent watching Netflix.

We've spent another ten times as long having sex as we've spent worshipping the Greek gods.

And we've spent ten times as long drinking coffee as we've spent having sex.

[snip]

2) The Funnel gets more stark the closer you move to the present day. Look at science. FLI reports that 90% of PhDs that have ever lived are alive right now. That means most of all scientific thought is happening in parallel rather than sequentially.
This last one is especially interesting. There is a lot of concern that our rate of innovation might be slowing down. In field after field you see smaller and smaller incremental discoveries compared to 1700 or 1800 or 1850 or 1900 or 1950. What is going on? We invest far more, our base of educated people is far larger, our infrastrucutre of discovery is much greater. So why the slowdown (if, indeed, it is real).

Eukaryote's observation about sequence versus parallel might be a contributor. Saliency can be hard to extract in a noisy system and parallel systems tend to be a lot noisier than sequential systems. An intriguing proposition.
This made me think about the phrase “living memory”. The world’s oldest living person is Kane Tanaka, who was born in 1903. 28% of the entirety of human experience has happened since her birth. As mentioned above, 15% has been directly experienced by living people. We have writing and communication and memory, so we have a flawed channel by which to inherit information, and experiences in a sense. But humans as a species can only directly remember as far back as 1903.
Many Gramscian's in academia complain about Eurocentricity but Eukaryote's calculations shed some light on the issue.
50% of human experience has happened after 1309 AD.
Many historians have noted the longevity of Roman, Greek, Persian, Chinese, Hindu cultures and have especially remarked how productive those empires were compared to those in Europe until very recent times.

Eukaryote's takes on especial relevancy when you realize that by 1300, India had fallen into a longterm slough, as had China. The modern era only began circa 1480 (first global transportation) or 1650 or 1750, depending on which technological/institutional institutional transition you regard as most critical. The point is that Europe's primacy occurred at the very time that the pace and volume of history picked up.

Of course, there are all sorts of interdependencies in these phenomena but it also explains why there is such a Eurocentricity to history. Europe happened to be the biggest player just when things really began hopping. The relative accomplishments in the centuries and millenia before then don't matter all that much because, in an era of slow change and small populations, the aggregate "volume" of history just wasn't all that great.

The big technological strides occurred just when European population was exploding, hence the Eurocentricity of history.




Systematic attention to detail was not a notable characteristic of the Russian Army

From the Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman.
“The Allies did not seriously concern themselves with Russia’s military defects, although Ian Hamilton, Britain’s military observer with the Japanese, had reported them pitilessly from Manchuria. They were: poor intelligence, disregard of cover, disregard of secrecy and swiftness, lack of dash, lack of initiative, and lack of good generalship. Colonel Repington who had pronounced judgment weekly on the Russo-Japanese War in The Times arrived at opinions which caused him to dedicate a book of his collected columns to the Emperor of Japan. Nevertheless the General Staffs believed that simply to get the Russian giant in motion, regardless of how he functioned, was all that mattered. This was difficult enough. During mobilization the average Russian soldier had to be transported 700 miles, four times as far as the average German soldier, and Russia had available one-tenth as many railroads per square kilometer as Germany. As a defense against invasion these had been deliberately built on a wider gauge than those of Germany. Heavy French loans to finance increased railroad construction had not yet accomplished their goal. Equal speed in mobilization was obviously impossible; but even if only half the 800,000 Russian troops promised for the German front could be put in position by the fifteenth day for a lunge into East Prussia, however faulty their military organization, the effect of their invasion of German territory was expected to be momentous.

To send an army into modern battle on enemy territory, especially under the disadvantage of different railway gauges, is a hazardous and complicated undertaking requiring prodigies of careful organization. Systematic attention to detail was not a notable characteristic of the Russian Army.

Schools matter, but they don’t make a difference

From Is Sociogenomics Racist? by Toby Young, a book review of Blueprint: How DNA Makes Us Who We Are by Robert Plomin. Sociogenomics, closely related to sociobiology, is
the field of research that examines why and how different social factors and processes (e.g., social stress, conflict, isolation, attachment, etc.) affect the activity of the genome.
Though that is not quite right. It is not just the affect of social factors on the genome but also the affect of the genome on social factors.

It is a relatively recent field and nothing can be concluded with great certainty but I have to acknowledge that the weight of evidence has been trending towards the sociogenomicists for some time.

The field is controversial on two fronts. For people (such as myself) for whom free will is an integral element of their world view, a naive interpretation of sociogenomics suggests that there is little true free will. We are all subject to our genome and it is easy to slip into an interpretation that genomes are deterministic. We are our genes and there is little or nothing we can do about it. Genes are deterministic is the sorry conclusion.

For people for whom postmodernism and critical theory (and in particular critical race theory) are an important element of their world view, a naive interpretation of sociogenomics suggests that there is a racial hierarchy of ability (especially in terms of IQ) and that sociogenomics as a field threatens to revive eugenics and racism.

Both are fair concerns but it is important that the implications are not inherent in the research of sociogenomics itself. They are concerns about interpretation and application. In other words, facts are facts, independent of how you choose to interpret those facts and what you choose to do about them.

Young tackles both these issues. On determinism (the gentleman Comfort referenced is another reviewer who has raised such concerns about Plomin's work):
It should be obvious from the above that polygenic scores are probabilistic not deterministic, but in case that isn’t clear Plomin belabours the point: “Genetic influences are probabilistic propensities, not predetermined programming” (p.43); “Polygenic scores are useful for individual prediction only as long as we keep in mind that the prediction is probabilistic, not a certainty” (p.145); “Polygenic scores will always be probabilistic, not deterministic, because their ceiling is heritability, which is usually about 50 per cent” (p.150); “It is worth reiterating the mantra that polygenic scores are inherently probabilistic, not deterministic” (p.151); “It is important that parents are not fatalistic about their children, because polygenic scores are probabilistic not deterministic” (p.154); etc. How Comfort can accuse Plomin of “genetic determinism,” or of believing that “genes alone control human nature,” given his constant repetition of this “mantra,” is a mystery.

What seems to have convinced Comfort that Blueprint is “insidious” is Plomin’s claim that “genetics is the main systematic force in life.” What Plomin means by this is that while most human traits are no more than 50 percent heritable—that is to say, no more than half the phenotypic variance is linked to genetic variance—the salient aspects of the environment are not those experiences we share with our siblings, such as our parents’ socio-economic status, their approach to parenting, the neighborhood we’re brought up in or the schools we go to. Plomin has assembled a mass of research evidence, based on twin, adoption and family studies, showing just how little effect the shared environment has. “The astonishing implication from this research is that we would be just as similar to our parents and our siblings even if we had been adopted apart at birth and reared in different families,” he writes in Chapter Seven (‘Why children raised in the same family are so different’).1 In his most recent research, he has incorporated polygenic scores into the study designs. For instance, he worked on a study involving a U.K.-representative sample of 4,814 students that showed the type of school British children attend accounts for less than one percent of the variance in their exam results once you control for general cognitive ability, prior attainment, parental socio-economic status and polygenic score for EduYears. (Full disclosure: I was one of the co-authors of that study.)

Families and schools are what we think of as “nurture” and one interpretation of Blueprint is to see it as a salvo in the ongoing nature-nurture debate—a devastating, war-winning salvo. But it doesn’t follow that Plomin thinks the environment, as distinct from nurture, has no effect on the way people turn out. The environmental inputs that matter most, according to him, are what he calls our “non-shared” experiences—“unsystematic, idiosyncratic, or serendipitous events,” often mediated by our genetic predispositions. So when Plomin says genetics is by far the greatest systematic force in making us who we are, he isn’t saying the environment has no effect. It’s just that the environmental inputs that do have an impact are, for the most part, unsystematic.

“We now know that DNA differences are the major systematic source of psychological differences between us,” he writes in the ‘Prologue.’ “Environmental effects are important but what we have learned in recent years is that they are mostly random—unsystematic and unstable—which means that we cannot do much about them.”

This has far-reaching implications, many of which threaten to lay waste to vast areas of intellectual endeavor. Freudian psychoanalysis, for instance, is clearly bunk, as is most child psychology (unless it’s Judith Rich Harris patiently explaining why parents have little effect on the way children turn out). Parenting manuals? Not worth the paper they’re printed on.

What about education reform? That’s a tough one for me because I’ve devoted nearly a fifth of my life to trying to improve English public education, including co-founding four schools. But the implication of Plomin’s research is that it’s extremely hard, not to say impossible, for governmental agencies and charitable bodies to design systematic interventions, whether in early childhood or adolescence, that will reduce the attainment gap—which may explain why nearly all such attempts have failed. In fact, if you drive up standards in under-performing schools, the effect would be to increase the overall variation in attainment due to genes since if you equalize the environment you will increase the influence of genes, making exam results more, not less, heritable.

The most generous thing Plomin can bring himself to say about schools is that they matter, but they don’t make a difference. Don’t make a difference. There go the last 10 years of my life—poof. To paraphrase another scientist called Robert, Plomin is like Vishnu, a destroyer of worlds.
I think Young is making an important point with which I agree, but it is a guarded solace. Polygenic scores are indeed only probabilistic; they are not deterministic. That said, they are far more predictive than I would have wished from a normative perspective.

Making the best of not only a bad situation but an almost impossible situation

All the commentary I am seeing, left and right, seem disposed to the idea that Elizabeth Warren's release of her DNA analysis indicating that she probably had between 1/64th and 1/1,024th Native American heritage was a dreadful own-goal and reflected a not-ready for prime time poltician. Everyone assumes she did this in preparation for a 2020 Presidential run, and I suspect that that is true.

This article reflects much of the tenor of the many pieces I have seen. From Trump's Superpower: Making His Opponents Do The Stupidest Possible Thing by Ben Shapiro.
President Trump has a superpower. His superpower is that he can irritate people into doing the dumbest things imaginable. How else to explain Senator Elizabeth Warren’s (D-MA) hilarious self-own today, in which she, in preparation for a 2020 run, released a DNA test supposedly showing her Native American ancestry – a test that showed she was somewhere between 1/64th and 1/1024th Native American? That test provided no solid evidence of Native American ancestry – and even the Cherokee Nation slammed Warren:
A DNA test is useless to determine tribal citizenship. Current DNA tests do not even distinguish whether a person’s ancestors were indigenous to North or South America. Sovereign tribal nations set their own legal requirements for citizenship, and while DNA tests can be used to determine lineage, such as paternity to an individual, it is not evidence for tribal affiliation. Using a DNA test to lay claim to any connection to the Cherokee Nation or any tribal nation, even vaguely, is inappropriate and wrong. It makes a mockery out of DNA tests and its legitimate uses while also dishonoring legitimate tribal governments and their citizens, whose ancestors are well documented and whose heritage is proven. Senator Warren is undermining tribal interests with her continued claims of tribal heritage.
Shapiro is of the right, of course he would be likely to take this tack.

Democrats have been as critical though somewhat less explicit. The message from their side is more of the nature that this is an ill-timed distraction from a critical election in three weeks.

I wonder. Is this such a ham-fisted move? Sure, it looks that way.

But look at what most the discussion has been about. Academic (though important) discussions as to the distinction between claiming heritage versus being enrolled in a tribe versus claiming culture versus claiming genealogical descent. There are legitimate and important issues in there, I am not dismissing them. But I suspect they are effectively moot.

My view is that Warren has been effective in distracting the discussion from the real issue which is a much greater threat to her aspirations.

My read on this is that Warren opportunistically took advantage of the fads and pressures of the time (late seventies through early nineties). Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was trying, through administrative edict, to rectify past inequalities and injustices. Right goal, wrong methods in my view.

They flirted with quotas and implemented set-asides. As a member of a large American business, I recall the two or three years in which HR was snuffling around trying to find members of protected or disadvantaged minorities among our employee ranks. In order to remain on bidders lists for any client that was related to government or did business with the government (most of the market) we had to demonstrate appropriate numbers to show that we were clean of the taint of discrimination.

Enterprises had to show the numbers, they were desperate to show diversity. And for anyone willing to strike a faustian bargain of trading on identity rather than ability, in those early days of unclear definitions, there was huge personal opportunity. A white Senior Manager somewhere in the promotion pipeline, who had lived in the mainstream as a white person all his/her life, by the discovery that grandmother was a quarter Cherokee, suddenly moved to front of the line and was a certainty for promotion to partner because there were no Native American partners.

All sorts of people discovered Native American heritage, or Asian (before Asian-Americans got shifted into the "honorary white" category in the ever-evolving calculus of ideological racism), or Hispanic. It took a few years to settle down on acceptable definitions as to who counted and who did not. But it was all a numbers game. Same employee base, counted differently because of bureaucratic definitions. And it was all in furtherance of personal and commercial advantage.

If you could claim some tenable position as a disadvantaged group regardless of your actual circumstances, there were great immediate rewards. High social status, high income, high education white individuals, suddenly became "hispanic" because their last name was Lopez, as an extreme example.

So a well intended program (help disadvantaged people) suddenly became an institutionalized racist program, ignoring reality, advantaging the already privileged and rarely making a difference to those truly disadvantaged.

That was the milieu at the time when Elizabeth Warren early in her legal career elected to take that faustian bargain. Someone who had never been identified as a Cherokee Indian, who lived as a white person, who had no cultural or lived experience as a Cherokee, suddenly became, to her personal career advantage and to the EEOC reporting advantage of her employers, Native American.

And now that Faustian bargain has come back to bite her. There are all sorts of apologists out there. She wasn't promoted because of her Native American heritage. She wasn't advantaged over others because of her claim. Nonsense. People were given incentives to mark identities and they did so, to their personal benefit and to the advantage of their employers.

It was an embarrassing, not to say despicable gambit. Akin to the able-bodied parking in handicap spaces.

Regardless of whether you like or despise the racializing of government and set-asides and quotas and affirmative action, most Americans agree that there are historical circumstances that are regrettable and that people materially suffering today ought to have some sort of relief.

But, supporters and opponents of affirmative action both condemn those who make false claims in order to gain status or benefit. And that feeling is not confined to affirmative action. We despise the able-bodied handicap parkers, we despise the Stolen Valor claimants, we despise frauds, people who game the system, etc.

I think that has all along been Warren's Achille's heel. She committed career fraud for personal benefit in the place of people who were actually suffering and were the actual intended beneficiaries.

If she can make the discussion a dry academic debate about what percentage of DNA warrants a claim of Native American heritage, that is the least bad outcome for what is otherwise a political ulcer that will bring her down.

The alternative is to discuss the fact that she scammed a well-intended social program for personal career gain while having no characteristic that would otherwise qualify her. She was not in poverty. She was not socially identified as Native American. She did not live as a Native American. She did not share a Native American culture.

That is the charge that is most damaging to her because it reflects a combination of hypocrisy, callousness, selfishness, and moral defect which most would find unacceptable.

From this perspective, this Faustian bargain is unavoidably going to have to be addressed. Releasing a DNA study (and the fact that it is a custom study and not a standard one is suspect) just before midterm elections almost guaranties that the discussion is going to be academic (what percentage) as well as quickly superseded by campaign reporting.

I concede that Warren might be a political rube. It is plausible and even possible. But I do not exclude the scenario in which this maneuver is that of a very canny player. She is going to have to address her earlier and rather heinous ploy of gaming the racial benefits policies for career gain. One way or another. Sooner or later.

With this release of the DNA study I think she has actually achieved the best outcome. She can say she has at least some DNA heritage. She can show that she has already dealt with it. Six months from now, people will remember that there was a bunch of noise and that there were debates about percentages. And that's it. But as soon as you argue percentages, you have lost that debate.

She is to some small degree Native American. That is all that will be remembered. The impending elections will almost certainly preclude the evolution of this discussion back to the underlying sin - that of defrauding the public (as reflected in public policies) for personal gain. That is the pertinent discussion and with this strategy of release before the elections, that discussion is almost certain not to occur. My suspicion is that Warren has cleverly (though selfishly because this will distract from the campaign for Democrats) shaped this the best possible way.

Whether it will work in the long run remains to be seen. But I think she has been selfishly clever about making the best of not only a bad situation but an almost impossible situation.

Spiral Galaxy NGC 6744

From NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Click to enlarge.

Spiral Galaxy NGC 6744
Image Credit & Copyright: Martin Pugh

Explanation: Beautiful spiral galaxy NGC 6744 is nearly 175,000 light-years across, larger than our own Milky Way. It lies some 30 million light-years distant in the southern constellation Pavo and appears as only a faint, extended object in small telescopes. We see the disk of the nearby island universe tilted towards our line of sight. This remarkably detailed galaxy portrait covers an area about the angular size of the full moon. In it, the giant galaxy's elongated yellowish core is dominated by the light from old, cool stars. Beyond the core, grand spiral arms are filled with young blue star clusters and speckled with pinkish star forming regions. An extended arm sweeps past a smaller satellite galaxy at the upper left. NGC 6744's galactic companion is reminiscent of the Milky Way's satellite galaxy the Large Magellanic Cloud.

Giovanna d'Arco

Giuseppe Verdi - Giovanna d'Arco - Overture


Double click to enlarge.

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.

[snip]

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.

[snip]

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.

[snip]

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.”

[snip]

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.

[snip]

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.

[snip]

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.

[snip]

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.

From ONE THIS DAY IN 1907, VARIAN FRY—THE FIRST AMERICAN TO BE RECOGNIZED AS “RIGHTEOUS AMONG THE NATIONS”—WAS BORN by Gail Heriot.
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.

[snip]

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.

[snip]

"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.

[snip]

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

(Reporter):
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?

(Witness):
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.

(Chorus)
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

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

(Witness):
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.

(Chorus)
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

(Reporter):
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?

(Witness):
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.