Thursday, February 28, 2019

Gibraltar from Algeciras

Gibraltar from Algeciras by Albert Moulton Foweraker (Britain, 1873-1942)

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Prank-calling Ayatollah Khomeini

From The Little Way of Ruthie Leming by Rod Dreher. Page 8.
Dorothy and Ray—Mam and Paw, as everyone calls them now—built their Starhill house when I was two years old. It sat in an open field at the edge of a pasture where Paw grazed his cattle herd. Paw would raise his children in the country, a mile as the crow flies from where he had grown up. His parents, Murphy and Lorena, still lived in the old cottage on Highway 61, and his brother, Murphy Jr., a real estate broker and world-class joker who once—no kidding—prank-called Ayatollah Khomeini, was raising his family across the road from them.

A speciation rate of 10 years

From The Fishy Mystery of Lake Malawi by Ben Crair.
Cichlids are found all over the world, mainly in Africa and Latin America, but they’re especially abundant in Lake Malawi, where they’ve diverged into at least 850 species. That’s more species of fish than can be found in all of the freshwater bodies of Europe combined.


Lake Malawi is what’s known as a meromictic lake: Its distinct water layers—generally three—don’t mix. This provides more environments for plants and animals to live in, and it also accounts for the lake’s stunning color; sediments stay on the bottom and the top layer is crystal clear.


The Scottish explorer and missionary David Livingstone first told Europeans about Lake Malawi in 1859—the same year Charles Darwin published his revolutionary On the Origin of Species. Darwin famously formulated his theory of natural selection after observing the 14 different species of finches in the Gal├ípagos Islands, among other phenomena. He theorized that the birds had evolved into different species because they’d been isolated in different habitats and adapted to different types of food. On one island, finches with thick beaks had outperformed thin-beaked neighbors at crunching seeds. On another island, finches with thin, pointy beaks had won out in the competition for insects. In each case, Darwin suggested, a bird with the physical advantage was able to survive longer and produce more offspring than run-of-the-mill birds, and the trait was passed down through the generations and amplified over millions of years. He called this process natural selection to contrast it with the artificial selection performed by an animal or plant breeder working to strengthen a pedigree or create a new hybrid.

If that’s the usual understanding of Darwinian evolution, the myriad cichlids of Lake Malawi pose a real challenge to it. Some 850 species have descended from the original cichlids that swam into the lake one or two million years ago. This extraordinary diversity has long puzzled evolutionary biologists, especially because, unlike the Gal├ípagos finches, the cichlid species aren’t necessarily separated by geographical barriers. Many of them live together in the same populations, where nothing in the environment prevents them from mixing with one another. Different species of mbunas will all feed on the algae carpeting the rocks and the tiny creatures within it—and yet a fish will patiently seek a mate of its own species rather than breed with another.


McKaye was confounded by the sheer number of cichlid species in Lake Malawi. How were the fish branching off into new species at such a fast rate while living together in the same environment? The answer, McKaye explains, is the cichlids’ fondness for beauty contests—run by the females.

For instance, within a mixed population of mbuna, the females—even the ones that are drab, with only a few brown or black markings—seek out males with extremely specific color patterns. Females of Labeotropheus trewavasae seek out blue males with red dorsal fins, rarely mixing with males of Labeotropheus fuelleborni, which look similar except their dorsal fins are also blue.

It’s not uncommon for an animal to have some degree of choosiness when it selects a mate. Darwin called this phenomenon sexual selection, and it’s familiar to anyone who has watched a nature documentary where birds perform elaborate courtship dances. But the reasons behind sexual selection are not always clear. Survival of the fittest should guide species toward practical traits like strength or ability to find food. How could an ornate train help a peacock exploit its niche?

Darwin believed some animals simply had a “taste for the beautiful,” an attraction to purely aesthetic traits that confer no fitness or advantage. The idea that female birds simply enjoy colorful feathers and elaborate dances did not catch on—the Yale ornithologist Richard Prum has said his colleagues treat it like a “crazy aunt in the evolutionary attic.” Still, there’s no question that female peacocks like fans of colorful feathers and female birds of paradise like elaborate courtship dances.

Some scientists believe these traits often signal a degree of overall good health that could support strong offspring and long-term vitality. But over the generations, sexual selection can exaggerate traits to the point where they would seem to actually impede survival—for instance, producing long, cumbersome ornaments or colors so bright that they draw extra attention from predators.

In the case of cichlids, the tastes of the females are so fixed and specific that it’s hard to see how they’d point to an evolutionary advantage for the male. “It can be a totally arbitrary trait,” says Alex Jordan, a cichlid researcher affiliated with the Max Planck Institute. Among sand-dwelling cichlids of Lake Malawi, for instance, some females are drawn to the males that move sand with their mouths to build the biggest bowers—crater-like structures or mounds on the lakebed. Other females favor the males that perform the most elaborate figure-eight dances. The differences keep getting more pronounced with every generation: The male offspring of the figure-eight swimmers may become even better at swimming figure eights, and the females may become even more attached to that particular trait. This creates a positive feedback loop that can create a new species of cichlid in as few as 20 generations. (Most cichlids reach sexual maturity at around 6 months.)

“In my lifetime, they could spin out another species or two,” McKaye told me. This is much faster than new species evolve through natural selection alone, which would require waiting for an advantageous mutation to randomly arise.

The Treaty of Westphalia

As it should have been presented in my world history class. Might have paid a bit more attention.

Stephen Fry – Ambassador
Hugh Laurie – French Ambassador
Patrick Barlow – Advisor
Robert Bathurst – English Ambassador
James Dreyfus – Swedish Ambassador

Double click to enlarge.

Some things don't change much.

Nimrod by Elgar with Churchill

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Nimrod by Edward Elgar played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra as backdrop to the words of Sir Winston Churchill.

We need more humor in these times of frantic nitwits

Powerline does a weekly comics and headlines round-up which is worth a guffaw or snort. This week.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2019

A quintessentially Southern challenge.

From The Little Way of Ruthie Leming by Rod Dreher. Page 6.
My little sister was born on May 15, 1969. My parents named her Lois Ruth Dreher, accomplishing the neat trick of honoring four elderly female relatives with only two names.
A quintessentially Southern challenge.

Forget indicting a ham sandwich. He indicted the whole hog.

An update on a case which concerned me when it occurred but which then dragged on forever with little of no resolution. Basically a mass indictment with the hope that something might somehow stick sometime. Now, four years later, it appears to have been an unsuccessful strategy.

From Waco Biker Massacre Prosecutions Continue to Fall Apart as Last Set of Original Indictments Dismissed by Brian Doherty.
Nearly four years ago, over 170 people were arrested after a violent altercation outside a meeting of motorcycle club members at the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas, was swarmed by police, who had already surrounded the meeting before anything untoward occurred. Nine people were killed and 18 wounded in the melee. This week, the last of the initial set of charges was dropped after a special prosecutorial team didn't like what it saw.

Back of Nude

Back of Nude, c1930-38 by William Glackens

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Seven Deadly Sins in Scientific Publishing

From Seven Deadly Sins in Scientific Publishing by Thomas F. Babor and Thomas McGovern.

Redundant publication

Unfair authorship credit

Undeclared conflict of interest

Human/animal subject violations


Scientific fraud
Worth a gander.

Micro-aggressing Karl Marx

Sure, we had a nuclear-armed Soviet Union right next door but at least we could treat communist philosophy with the mockery it deserves. Ah, the good old days.

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Upon Julia's Clothes

Upon Julia's Clothes
by Robert Herrick

Whenas in silks my Julia goes
Then, then, methinks, how sweetly flows
That liquefaction of her clothes.

Next, when I cast mine eyes, and see
That brave vibration, each way free,
O, how that glittering taketh me!

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Noel de Neige sur Paris

Noel de Neige sur Paris by Michel Delacroix

Click to enlarge.

Measuring a rheotorical charge

Kind of a one-sided article redeemed only by the fact that it is making an empirical point. From Are Senate Democrats in the Grip of TDS? by Thomas Jipping.
Have you heard of Trump Derangement Syndrome, popularly known as TDS? Wikipedia defines it as an irrational response to President Trump’s statements or actions “with little regard to Trump’s actual position or action taken.” Senate Democrats’ opposition to Trump’s judicial nominees suggests that TDS might not only be real but also contagious.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., joined the Judiciary Committee in 1979 and chaired the panel for 10 years. He speaks often on the Senate floor about the confirmation process and has offered specific standards for measuring how well it works. On March 6, 2012, for example, then-Chairman Leahy described “the long tradition of deference on District Court nominees to the home-state senators.” A week later, he emphasized that nominees to the court “have always been considered with deference to the home-state senators.”

Since 1917, home-state senators have indeed played an important role in the process of appointing U.S. District Court judges. That role, and the tradition Leahy described, explain why only 4 percent of nominees confirmed to the court between 1917 and 2016 received even a single negative Senate vote.
In fact there is a good deal of talk about Trump Derangement Syndrome and I see the condition manifested with some frequency. Friends who have been lifelong devotees of policy position X who are suddenly -X because Trump is supporting it. It is a real phenomenon and of course an effective rhetorical device, but I have not seen any effort to establish dimensions or efforts to quantify it.

This is what Jipping does, albeit crudely and on a singular measure.
Then Donald Trump was elected president, and TDS symptoms began to appear. In just two years, his 53 District Court appointees received four times as many negative confirmation votes as the 2,459 nominees confirmed in the previous century combined. Take a moment and read that last sentence again.

What happened to deference to home-state senators? What happened to the long tradition that Leahy described?

Perhaps, you might say, that’s the wrong comparison. Okay, let’s look only at the first two years of newly elected presidents. Trump’s 53 District Court appointees received 64 percent more negative confirmation votes than those appointed during the first two years of all newly elected presidents combined. That’s not newly elected presidents in the last century, but newly elected presidents in American history.

In July 2012, when Barack Obama was president, left-wing groups such as the Alliance for Justice declared a “vacancy crisis in the federal courts.” Today, with vacancies 80 percent higher, those groups are actually urging even stronger opposition to Trump’s nominees.
Very interesting. Not hugely significant but it is an intriguing canary in the coal mine with regards to the depth and breadth of TDS.

Separation of State and Religion as well as State and Business

Plenty to agree with, plenty to disagree with. The mark of a good essay?

From Capitalism Isn't Corporatism or Cronyism by Richard M. Salsman.

A couple of passages.
Historically, capitalism is only about 250 years old – a mere flick of the clock hand relative to mankind’s total time on earth so far (roughly 200,000 years, and only 15,000 years in the Americas). Capitalism arose during the Renaissance (1500s-1600s) and Enlightenment (1700s), which entailed a re-birth of reason, self-confidence, culture, and commerce – in short, the pursuit of one’s own personal happiness. This was in sharp contrast to what had preceded it for a millennium: zeal and faith, superstition, ignorance, oppression, torture, and economic poverty, imposed by church and state alike, amid religious Medievalism and the Dark Age. Capitalism has been co-extant with the Scientific Revolution, the Industrial Revolution and the Political Revolution, the last of which was realized in the U.S. Constitution (1787), which soon also abolished slavery.
Indeed, it is difficult to disentangle the pure theory capitalism from its important buttresses - Age of Enlightenment thinking, the Scientific Revolution, and the Industrial Revolution.
In fact, capitalism is the system of rights, liberty, civility, peace and non-sacrificial prosperity; it’s not the system of government that unjustly favors capitalists at others’ expense. It provides a level legal playing field plus officials who serve us as low-profile referees (not arbitrary rule-makers or score-changers). To be sure, capitalism also entails inequality – of ambition, talent, income, or wealth – because that’s how individuals (and firms) really are; they’re unique, not clones or inter-changeable parts, as the egalitarians claim. Capitalism is the political system which ensures that innocent “economic power” (i.e., the power to produce) isn’t mixed with force to become invalid political power (i.e., the power to loot); it’s the system that separates business and state, for the same good reason that it also makes sure to separate church and state. Neither of the two recent political movements – “Occupy Wall Street” or the “Tea Party” – seem to fully grasp this.

Gettysburg Address by Andy Griffith and Don Knotts

Gettysburg Address by Andy Griffith and Don Knotts.

Double click to enlarge.

Arithmetic on the Frontier

Arithmetic on the Frontier
by Rudyard Kipling

A great and glorious thing it is
To learn, for seven years or so,
The Lord knows what of that and this,
Ere reckoned fit to face the foe --
The flying bullet down the Pass,
That whistles clear: "All flesh is grass."

Three hundred pounds per annum spent
On making brain and body meeter
For all the murderous intent
Comprised in "villanous saltpetre!"
And after -- ask the Yusufzaies
What comes of all our 'ologies.

A scrimmage in a Border Station --
A canter down some dark defile --
Two thousand pounds of education
Drops to a ten-rupee jezail --
The Crammer's boast, the Squadron's pride,
Shot like a rabbit in a ride!

No proposition Euclid wrote,
No formulae the text-books know,
Will turn the bullet from your coat,
Or ward the tulwar's downward blow
Strike hard who cares -- shoot straight who can --
The odds are on the cheaper man.

One sword-knot stolen from the camp
Will pay for all the school expenses
Of any Kurrum Valley scamp
Who knows no word of moods and tenses,
But, being blessed with perfect sight,
Picks off our messmates left and right.

With home-bred hordes the hillsides teem,
The troopships bring us one by one,
At vast expense of time and steam,
To slay Afridis where they run.
The "captives of our bow and spear"
Are cheap, alas! as we are dear.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Frosty Morning

Frosty Morning by Igor Ropyanyk

Click to enlarge.

Synopsis video history of famous battles

A very nice Youtube channel with 10-20 minute videos of famous battles.

I watched The Battle of the Coral Sea 1942: The First Aircraft Carrier Battle in History which comports with the dozen or so accounts I have read of that battle. Animated maps bring extra clarity to the developing events.

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Delighted to find this resource.

Song For A Winter's Night by Gordon Lightfoot

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Song For A Winter's Night
by Gordon Lightfoot

The lamp is burnin' low upon my table top
The snow is softly fallin'
The air is still within the silence of my room
I hear your voice softly callin'

If I could only have you near
To breathe a sigh or two
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
Upon this winter night with you

The smoke is rising in the shadows overhead
My glass is almost empty
I read again between the lines upon the page
The words of love you sent me

If I could know within my heart
That you were lonely too
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
Upon this winter night with you

The fire is dying now, my lamp is growing dim
The shades of night are liftin'
The mornin' light steals across my windowpane
Where webs of snow are driftin'

If I could only have you near
To breathe a sigh or two
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
And to be once again with with you
To be once again with with you

April Love

April Love
by Ernest Dowson

We have walked in Love's land a little way,
We have learnt his lesson a little while,
And shall we not part at the end of day,
With a sigh, a smile?
A little while in the shine of the sun,
We were twined together, joined lips, forgot
How the shadows fall when the day is done,
And when Love is not.

We have made no vows--there will none be broke,
Our love was free as the wind on the hill,
There was no word said we need wish unspoke,
We have wrought no ill.

So shall we not part at the end of day,
Who have loved and lingered a little while,
Join lips for the last time, go our way,
With a sigh, a smile?

But just because you measure, doesn't mean you know

It is a first step only.

From Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain.
Therefore, the Mississippi between Cairo and New Orleans was twelve hundred and fifteen miles long one hundred and seventy-six years ago. It was eleven hundred and eighty after the cutoff of 1722. It was one thousand and forty after the American Bend cutoff. It has lost sixty-seven miles since. Consequently its length is only nine hundred and seventy-three miles at present.

Now, if I wanted to be one of those ponderous scientific people, and “let on” to prove what had occurred in the remote past by what had occurred in a given time in the recent past, or what will occur in the far future by what has occurred in late years, what an opportunity is here! Geology never had such a chance, nor such exact data to argue from! Nor “development of species,” either! Glacial epochs are great things, but they are vague—vague. Please observe:

In the space of one hundred and seventy-six years the Lower Mississippi has shortened itself two hundred and forty-two miles. That is an average of a trifle over one mile and a third per year. Therefore, any calm person, who is not blind or idiotic, can see that seven hundred and forty-two years from now the Lower Mississippi will be only a mile and three-quarters long, and Cairo and New Orleans will have joined their streets together, and be plodding comfortably along under a single mayor and a mutual board of aldermen. There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.
The spirit of those ponderous scientific people lives on in the anthropogenic global warming debate where ideology, theories and models supersede knowledge and observation.

Just measure

From Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker.
Seeing how journalistic habits and cognitive biases bring out the worst in each other, how can we soundly appraise the state of the world? The answer is to count. How many people are victims of violence as a proportion of the number of people alive? How many are sick, how many starving, how many poor, how many oppressed, how many illiterate, how many unhappy? And are those numbers going up or down? A quantitative mindset, despite its nerdy aura, is in fact the morally enlightened one, because it treats every human life as having equal value rather than privileging the people who are closest to us or most photogenic. And it holds out the hope that we might identify the causes of suffering and thereby know which measures are most likely to reduce it.
The combination of people rejecting Enlightenment Principles with the aversion of people to measuring things in order to weight priorities is one of the banes of our modern times. Teach history, inculcate Enlightenment values, cultivate numeracy, teach statistics, foster habits of good conversation, teach logic - our public conversations would improve markedly.

Much of my consulting career has been based on being able to translate appealing concepts into measurements of reality. Shifting from the appealing abstract to the measured reality is quite a useful transition. You make different and better decisions.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Japanese Tori Gate of Kyoto in Winter

Japanese Tori Gate of Kyoto in Winter, 1928 by T.F. Simon

Click to enlarge.

Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.

I am enjoying The 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene. It is no real guide as to how to win, but rather, a compendium of successful strategies. You need to be wise enough to both choose your goals well and also pick your strategies well.

Each strategy is discussed with quotes and examples.

For example, Strategy 10 is Create a Threatening Presence - Deterrence Strategies. I have seen a lot of this between Trump and the press over the past couple of years. The mainstream media got accustomed to lightweight presidents playing within the establishment rules for thirty years. Presidents who wanted to work with the establishment parties in a fashion that left the politicians better off, but not necessarily the citizens.

Trump seems to be simply working his list of campaign promises, quietly (well, not so quietly) achieving his promises one-by-one. His reelection campaign seems built on, "I deliver what I promise". And he seems to be relying on strategies which are pretty standard and routine in a commercial environment, certainly recognizable, but which perhaps haven't been seen often in the international old-boy environment of the establishments which are now being upended by citizens.

One of those strategies is essentially bluster. Create in the mind of your opponent a sense of uncertainty as to what you are willing to do and a reputation for doing the unspeakable. Time and again the establishment and the mainstream media are appalled by his apparent bull-in-the-china-shop approach. "You can't do that" and then off he goes and does it. It appears unsettling and unpredictable and they are aghast. And it is not an uncommon strategy in war and business.

Getting inside one's opponent's head is the vernacular. And, as the internet meme goes, he is living rent free in the heads of his political (Democrat and Republican) opponents as well as his media opponents.

Greene Describes Strategy 10 as:
The best way to fight off aggressors is to keep them from attacking you in the first place. To accomplish this you must create the impression of being more powerful than you are. Build up a reputation: You're a little crazy. Fighting you is not worth it. You take your enemies with you when you lose. Create this reputation and make it credible with a few impressive--impressively violent--acts. Uncertainty is sometimes better than overt threat: if your opponents are never sure what messing with you will cost, they will not want to find out. Play on people's natural fears and anxieties to make them think twice.
Germany, China, France, North Korea, Iran - he is creating a threatening presence for all of them and the mainstream media are doing all the heavy lifting for him. He breaks one no-longer effective convention after another and the media lose their mind. The wailing and gnashing of teeth by the media delivers a direct message to Bonn, Beijing, Paris, Pyongyang, and Tehran - here is a man who is nearly crazy as demonstrated by the panic he is creating among the press.

If it were not so absurd, you might consider it an elaborately choreographed performance between the White House and the press. Instead, it seems to be a deliberate White House strategy. And it is not new for Trump. His career has been built on braggadocio alternating with charm and thunderous noise. Think of all those years bragging about his fortune, the audacity of his deals, the size of his buildings, his willingness to take risks. And yet there are interviews where he is charming and reflective. There are friends of longstanding. As a stranger, you never know with which Trump you might be dealing.

Greene elaborates:
Inevitably in life you will find yourself facing people who are more aggressive than you are--crafty, ruthless people who are determined to get what they want. Fighting them head-on is generally foolish; fighting is what they are good at, and they are unscrupulous to boot. You will probably lose. Trying to fend them off by giving them part of what they are after, or otherwise pleasing or appeasing them, is a recipe for disaster: you are only showing your weakness, inviting more threats and attacks. But giving in completely, surrendering without a fight, hands them the easy victory they crave and makes you resentful and bitter. It can also become a bad habit, the path of least resistance in dealing with difficult situations.

Instead of trying to avoid conflict or whining about the injustice of it all, consider an option developed over the centuries by military leaders and strategists to deal with violent and acquisitive neighbors: reverse intimidation. This art of deterrence rests on three basic facts about war and human nature: First, people are more likely to attack you if they see you as weak or vulnerable. Second, they cannot know for sure that you're weak; they depend on the signs you give out, through your behavior both present and past. Third, they are after easy victories, quick and bloodless. That is why they prey on the vulnerable and weak.

Deterrence is simply a matter of turning this dynamic around, altering any perception of yourself as weak and naive and sending the message that battle with you will not be as easy as they had thought. This is generally done by taking some visible action that will confuse aggressors and make them think they have misread you: you may indeed be vulnerable, but they are not sure. You're disguising your weakness and distracting them. Action has much more credibility than mere threatening or fiery words; hitting back, for instance, even in some small, symbolic way, will show that you mean what you say. With so many other people around who are timid and easy prey, the aggressor will most likely back off and move on to someone else.

This form of defensive warfare is infinitely applicable to the battles of daily life. Appeasing people can be as debilitating as fighting them; deterring them, scaring them out of attacking you or getting in your way, will save you valuable energy and resources. To deter aggressors you must become adept at deception, manipulating appearances and their perceptions of you--valuable skills that can be applied to all aspects of daily warfare. And finally, by practicing the art as needed, you will build for yourself a reputation as someone tough, someone worthy of respect and a little fear. The passive-aggressive obstructionists who try to undermine you covertly will also think twice about taking you on.

The following are five basic methods of deterrence and reverse intimidation. You can use them all in offensive warfare, but they are particularly effective in defense, for moments when you find yourself vulnerable and under attack. They are culled from the experiences and writings of the greatest masters of the art.
I have seen instances where Trump seems to do something completely irrational, or is certainly represented as such by the press. And yet if you look at it, is usually around a matter of little consequence. I suspect he has picked a fight on an inconsequential matter in order to act ostentatiously irrational simply in order to bolster the credibility of his deterrence strategies. Again, with the press as an obliging handmaid.

Greene highlights five types of actions which help build a threatening presence. The following are the headlines, he has much detail in the book.
Surprise with a bold maneuver. [Think the Jerusalem announcement]

Reverse the threat [China trade]

Seem unpredictable and irrational [Paris Treaty]

Play on people's natural paranoia [Build the Wall]

Establish a frightening reputation [ICE]
Check, check, check, check, check.

Perhaps it is crediting him with way too much sophistication and talent. Maybe. But whether he is doing these things consciously or instinctively, it sure seems to match what he is doing.

Greene litters his book with both examples and illustrating quotes. Here are a few of the quotes pertinent to Deterrence Strategies.
Always remember the first rule of power tactics: Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.

Injuring all of a man's ten fingers is not as effective as chopping off one.
--Mao Tse-tung (1893-1976)

Brinkmanship is...the deliberate creation of a recognizable risk, a risk that one does not completely control. It is the tactic of deliberately letting the situation get somewhat out of hand, just because its being out of hand may be intolerable to the other party and force his accommodation. It means harassing and intimidating an adversary by exposing him to a shared risk, or deterring him by showing that if he makes a contrary move he may disturb us so that we slip over the brink whether we want to or not, carrying him with us.

When opponents are unwilling to fight with you, it is because they think it is contrary to their interests, or because you have misled them into thinking so.
--Sun-tzu (fourth century B.C.)

Got My Mind Set on You by George Harrison

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Got My Mind Set on You
by George Harrison

I got my mind set on you
I got my mind set on you
I got my mind set on you
I got my mind set on you

But it's gonna take money
A whole lot of spending money
It's gonna take plenty of money
To do it right, child

It's gonna take time
A whole lot of precious time
It's gonna take patience and time, um
To do it, to do it, to do it, to do it, to do it
To do it right, child

I got my mind set on you
I got my mind set on you
I got my mind set on you
I got my mind set on you

And this time I know it's for real
The feelings that I feel
I know if I put my mind to it
I know that I really can do it

I got my mind set on you
Set on you
I got my mind set on you
Set on you

But it's gonna take money
A whole lot of spending money
It's gonna take plenty of money
To do it right, child

It's gonna take time
A whole lot of precious time
It's gonna take patience and time, um
To do it, to do it, to do it, to do it, to do it
To do it right

I got my mind set on you
I got my mind set on you
I got my mind set on you
I got my mind set on you

And this time I know it's for real
The feelings that I feel
I know if I put my mind to it
I know that I really can do it

But it's gonna take money
A whole lot of spending money
It's gonna take plenty of money
To do it right, child

It's gonna take time
A whole lot of precious time
It's gonna take patience and time, um
To do it, to do it, to do it, to do it, to do it
To do it right

Set on you
Set on you

Set on you
Set on you
Set on you
Set on you
Set on you
Set on you

I set my mind on you
I'm gonna set on you

Jones teach me modesty and Greek, Smith how to think, Burke how to speak

From The collected works of Dugald Stewart by Dugald Stewart, 1753-1828. Published between 1854-60. Stewart was an apostle of Adam Smith. On page 71, he recounts Smith's later recognition and rewards.
About two years after the publication of The Wealth of Nations, Mr. Smith was appointed one of the Commissioners of
his Majesty's Customs in Scotland; a preferment which, in his estimation, derived an additional value from its being bestowed on him at the request of the Duke of Buccleuch. The greater part of these two years he passed in London, enjoying a society too extensive and varied to afford him any opportunity of indulging his taste for study. His time, however, was not lost to himself; for much of it was spent with some of the first names in English literature. Of these no unfavourable specimen is preserved by Dr. Barnard, in his well-known Verses addressed to Sir Joshua Reynolds and his Friends.
If I have thoughts, and can't express 'em,
Gibbon shall teach me how to dress 'em
In words select and terse:
Jones teach me modesty and Greek,
Smith how to think, Burke how to speak.
And Beauclerc to converse.
It is a tribute to Britains extraordinary burst of thought and innovation in the latter half of the 18th century when in a London of perhaps 800,000 people, you should have Reynolds and Smith and Burke and Jones and Gibbon and Johnson and Handel and Fielding and Garrick and Banks and Cook and Soane, etc., etc. What an extraordinary effervescence of talent and thinking.

President Trump, foreign policy, multiculturalism, and cultural appropriation meet in one video

When multiculturalism was first being mooted about in the technological dark ages of the 1970s, I am not certain that this was the culmination they were anticipating.

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The Cool Web

The Cool Web
by Robert Graves

Children are dumb to say how hot the day is,
How hot the scent of the summer rose,
How dreadful the black wastes of evening sky,
How dreadful the tall soldiers drumming by.

But we have speech, to chill the angry day,
And speech, to dull the rose's cruel scent.
We spell away the overhanging night,
We spell away the soldiers and the fright.

There's a cool web of language winds us in,
Retreat from too much joy or too much fear:
We grow sea-green at least and slowly die
In brininess and volubility.

But if we let our tongues lose self-possession,
Throwing off language and its watery clasp
Before our death, instead of when death comes,
Facing the wide glare of the children's day,
Facing the rose, the dark sky and the drums,
We shall go mad no doubt and die that way.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Fountain in Madrid

Fountain in Madrid by Casimiro Sainz y Saiz (Spain, 1853-1898

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WWII airmen died so children might live.

Marvelous story.

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From Dream comes true for the man who honoured his heroes: Pensioner weeps as thousands join him to watch fly-past to honour WWII airmen whose memorial he tended for decades by Mark Duell.

It was a liaison punctuated by violent quarrels and doubtful reconciliations

I came across A Companion to Murder: An A-Z of Notorious Killers and Sensational Trials (1900-1950) by Edward Spencer Shew because the most recent edition has a forward by Theodore Dalrymple, a writer whom I admire. Dalrymple comments:
Between his excursions into fiction, Edward Spencer Shew wrote two classic books, A Companion to Murder, published in 1960, and A Second Companion to Murder, published in 1961. The first of these books won an Edgar Award in 1963, one of the prestigious prizes awarded annually by the Mystery Writers of America. But I think it fair to say that, brilliant and entertaining as these books are, they are nowadays known only to a small group of aficionados.

I have never met anyone, however, who has read them who did not become a devotee and an admirer of their author.

They do not pretend to be encyclopaedias of murders committed in Britain between 1900 and 1950, but rather compendia of the most interesting cases. The period chosen includes the apogee and then decline of what might be called the golden age of British murder, that is to say of murder committed not just in that sordid underworld that has always existed, and in which murder is only to be expected, but of murder committed in a respectable and religious middle or lower-middle class environment, where murders were not just a matter of ‘two blockheads to kill and be killed', as De Quincey put in his essay On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts.

Spencer Shew wrote at the end of what might be called the cosy era of crime in Britain, during which violence had fallen to the lowest levels in history and therefore might be read about in comfort as something exotic and mildly titillating.


Such murders can be committed only where respectability retains its hold as a desideratum on the great mass of the population, and Spencer Shew chronicled, through its crime, the end of the era of respectability. His book is therefore valuable as social history; but if he was fortunate in his period, his period was fortunate in him.

His vignettes of the murders, murderers, victims, trials, defence and prosecution barristers, and judges (who were all household names in their day, as are stars of television programmes now), are masterpieces of compression, conveying atmosphere, character and event in few but brilliantly-chosen words.

Here, for example, are the first words of his description of the infamous ‘Brides in the Bath’ murderer, George Joseph Smith, who pretended to marry three women in succession and then drowned them in the bath a few days afterwards (claiming that they had suffered from epileptic fits) to collect their insurance money: "George Joseph Smith, murderer, bigamist, swindler, performer on the harmonium and one of the most consummate scoundrels who ever lived...”
I look forward to reading it.

In the first pages, I come across a couple of wonderful sketches. The first is of a judge.
“Although he lacked the polish of a Coleridge or the dignity of a Cockburn, and was not distinguished for any great wealth of erudition, Lord Alverstone matched his great predecessors in the office of Lord Chief Justice as much by his uncanny gift for reducing the most complicated set of facts to a coherent and deceptively simple narrative, as by the dominating force of his personality. A kindly man, who was always particularly helpful to young and inexperienced barristers, he could, when occasion demanded it, be as stern and inflexible as any martinet who ever sat on the Bench; it was fatal, as many counsel found to their cost, to attempt any liberties with him. His impressive appearance—he was a big man with an enormous head and heavy features—contributed notably to the ease with which at all times he maintained the great traditions, and indeed the majesty, of his office.
Then there is this summary of a case:
“The facts are these: Thomas Weldon Anderson, whose stage name was Atherstone, was a married man living apart from his wife; there were two sons of the marriage, both of them dear to their father. For some ten years past he had been living with a lady, formerly an actress, but more lately engaged as a 'teacher of expression' at the Academy of Dramatic Art in Gower Street, Bloomsbury. It was a liaison punctuated by violent quarrels and doubtful reconciliations, of which the main cause was undoubtedly Anderson's almost insane jealousy.

Plausible bordering on persuasive

An interesting insight. From Hate Crime Hoaxes are More Common than You Think by Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning.

Why are we seeing more and more hoax hate crimes? They have been around for decades, the first and most prominent in my recollection being the Tawana Brawley Rape Hoax in 1987.

From my systems thinking and economics perspective, the answer is ready framed. Despite their amateurishness and obviousness, there must be little downside risk to the perpetrator, much upside potential, and a significant reward in terms of reputation or money or recognition or status or power.

That answers the why do people make facially false accusations question but not the why these type (hate crimes) question or the why now question.

The why now is also relatively easy to answer. Penalty enhancements based on intent (hate) only emerged at the state level in the late 1970s becoming much more common over the next decade. Prior to that, you committed a crime or not. Your motivation was of relatively minor consequence.

Hate crime designation has generally been well-intentioned. We do want to stamp savage hatred. On the other hand it is also a deeply dangerous concept. Charging people based on their intent dangerously infringes on freedom of speech, relies on psychological inference (mind reading) and is difficult to enforce consistently (necessary for equality before the law). So while well intentioned, the actual implementation has been spotty.

None-the-less, these state laws have increased the reward for bringing a hate-crime accusation.

So people make fake accusations because it is more rewarding than in the past and because there is now the legal framework which makes it easier to do so.

But why now. Campbell and Manning make an argument I am not certain I have seen before.

Jonathan Haidt has been making the argument for the past few years that we used to live in traditional honor cultures, and in the modern era transitioned to a dignity culture and that in some corners (media, academia, and state bureaucracy) we are seeing the cultivation and transition to victimhood culture.

Most of us put this in the philosophical terms of social justice theory and postmodernism. Haidt is, I think, arguing that the philosophy is perhaps incidental. It provides a cover and justification but that the central issue is not philosophical but psychological. More and more people are assuming a victimhood culture affect even if they are justifying it in terms of critical theory or postmodernism.

Campbell and Manning make the point that there is a connection between Victimhood Culture and Hoax Hate crimes.
Real hate crimes happen, of course. We’re not arguing that all or even most alleged hate crimes are hoaxes. But the ones dominating the headlines in recent years have often been false or misleading, possibly because fake cases are better designed to push the buttons of drama and partisanship. Real hate crimes don’t necessarily have offenders who conveniently announce themselves to be members of your political outgroup, or display a stylized iconography of evil, like nooses and swastikas. The hoaxes, by contrast, often read like political-struggle fan fiction, with the hoaxers making themselves Mary Sues and their adversaries stock villains. At St. Olaf College, a racist note later revealed to be a hoax read in part, “You have spoken up too much. You will change nothing. Shut up or I will shut you up.” Or consider a case at the University of Wyoming, where a student posted anonymous comments about herself on the “UW Crushes” Facebook page. Intended to look like it came from a Republican man, the post expressed sexual desire for the hoaxer and referred to her as “that chick that runs her liberal mouth all the time.”

That the hoaxes act as simple morality tales illustrating an outgroup’s evil, or that they flatter the hoaxers, are part of what makes them attractive to the hoaxer’s audience. Whether hoaxers have personal motives—such as seeking fame, sympathy, or support—or political motives—such as mobilizing allies to fight a common enemy or injustice—they succeed among those sharing their moral and political commitments, not despite their sloppiness but because of it. Political polarization means that hoaxes that tap into one side’s fears and biases are likely to be believed.

Long term cultural trends matter, too, and the third thing to know is that hate crime hoaxes thrive in a culture of victimhood. We use the term victimhood culture to refer to a new moral framework that differs from the older cultures of honor and dignity. Honor culture refers to a morality that revolves around physical bravery. In honor cultures one’s reputation is important, and it might be necessary to engage in violence to protect it. In the dignity cultures that replaced honor cultures, morality more often revolves around the idea that people have equal moral worth. Insults and slights don’t lower one’s status as they do in honor cultures, and people can ignore many minor offenses and go to the police and courts for more serious ones. Victimhood culture, which is in its most extreme form among campus activists, is different from both honor and dignity cultures. Its morality revolves around a narrative of oppression and victimhood, with victimhood acting as new kind of moral status, much like honor was a kind of moral status in many traditional societies.
There are significant dangers in playing the hate crime hoax in an honor culture culture. You not only get called out but you get punished for the false accusation. In a dignity culture people pity you for making the false accusation. But in a victimhood culture, you gain standing and status by making false accusations. Within the the victimhood culture circles (academia, media, and bureaucracies), there is much upside benefit and little downside risk to such accusations.
It is in a victimhood culture that hate crime hoaxes are most attractive. Hate crime hoaxes are false tales of oppression, and those who understand human interaction in these terms are quick to believe such tales and offer support to those they see as the victims. And to the extent that the hoaxer already belongs to a group seen as a victim group—ethnic minorities, sexual minorities, etc.—adherents of the new culture tend to see them as especially credible. They might even promote the idea that it’s our moral duty to believe victims. In that context waiting for evidence or giving due process to the accused is itself a form of injustice, a way of further victimizing the oppressed and aiding their oppressors. In a victimhood culture, even when hate crime hoaxes are exposed, they are excused as an attempt to raise awareness of a real problem or as the understandable reaction of someone suffering from so much unrecognized oppression.
If Campbell and Manning are right, the implication is that you would see larger volumes of fake hate crime accusations in the environments in which victimhood culture are most rampant. And indeed, hoax accusations do seem primarily made in academic settings and most ardently believed by the mainstream media.

But there is a delicate transition point. If it can be kept entirely as a press matter or entirely contained within an academic environment, these crimes will flourish.

It is when they intersect with the real world where things get dangerous. In a low consequence environment like academia and the press and among progressives, using hoax hate crimes is deemed beneficial and acceptable and is highly useful for generating advocacy energy. The danger comes when the accusation is to serious or outrageous or sustained that it invites serious scrutiny by non-victimhood culture enterprises such as the police.

That is when most these hoaxes collapse.

Hate crime hoaxes are common and rising because the legislation makes it easy, the rewards are generally high and the risks low as long as they can remain outside of scrutiny and they are bred in those locations steeped in victimhood culture.

It is certainly a plausible argument, bordering on persuasive.

End of the Line

My music knowledge is astonishingly abysmal. Just discovered the Traveling Wilburys. From Wikipedia.
The Traveling Wilburys (sometimes shortened to the Wilburys) were a British–American supergroup consisting of Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty. Originating from an idea discussed by Harrison and Lynne during the sessions for Harrison's 1987 album Cloud Nine, the band formed in April 1988 after the five members united to record a bonus track for Harrison's next European single. When this collaboration, "Handle with Care", was deemed too good for such a limited release, the group agreed to record a full album, titled Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1. Following Orbison's death in December 1988, the band released a second album, which they titled Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3, in 1990.

The project's work received much anticipation given the diverse nature of the singer-songwriters. The band members adopted tongue-in-cheek pseudonyms as half-brothers from a fictional Wilbury family of travelling musicians. Vol. 1 was a critical and commercial success, helping to revitalise Dylan's and Petty's respective careers. In 1990, the album won the Grammy for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group.
What an amazing concatenation of talent.

Double click to enlarge.
End of the Line
by the Traveling Wilburys

Well it's all right, riding around in the breeze
Well it's all right, if you live the life you please
Well it's all right, doing the best you can
Well it's all right, as long as you lend a hand

You can sit around and wait for the phone to ring (end of the line)
Waiting for someone to tell you everything (end of the line)
Sit around and wonder what tomorrow will bring (end of the line)
Maybe a diamond ring

Well it's all right, even if they say you're wrong
Well it's all right, sometimes you gotta be strong
Well it's all right, as long as you got somewhere to lay
Well it's all right, everyday is judgment day

Maybe somewhere down the road aways (end of the line)
You'll think of me, wonder where I am these days (end of the line)
Maybe somewhere down the road when somebody plays (end of the line)
Purple haze

Well it's all right, even when push comes to shove
Well it's all right, if you got someone to love
Well it's all right, everything'll work out fine
Well it's all right, we're going to the end of the line

Don't have to be ashamed of the car I drive (end of the line)
I'm just glad to be here, happy to be alive (end of the line)
It don't matter if you're by my side (end of the line)
I'm satisfied

Well it's all right, even if you're old and grey
Well it's all right, you still got something to say
Well it's all right, remember to live and let live
Well it's all right, the best you can do is forgive

Well it's all right, riding around in the breeze
Well it's all right, if you live the life you please
Well it's all right, even if the sun don't shine
Well it's all right, we're going to the end of the line

Peace, justice, and low taxes - the magic formula that actually works

From The collected works of Dugald Stewart.
Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism, but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice; all the rest being brought about by the natural course of things. All governments which thwart this natural course, which force things into another channel, or which endeavour to arrest the progress of society at a particular point, are unnatural, and to support themselves are obliged to be oppressive and tyrannical.
Dugald Stewart was both a student of Adam Smith as well as an advocate of his ideas. Attending early lectures given by Smith in 1755, Stewart made notes. Many of the ideas Smith explicated in the Wealth of Nations, 1776, were already developing in 1755.

What a formula for success.
Low taxes.
Works everywhere and for everyone. It is never as easy as that straightforward summary implies but it isn't rocket science. All you need is faith and trust in your fellow man, a commitment to freedom, and a confidence in the beneficial effects of emergent order.

However, a free, open society with low taxes, reliable justice, and trust in one's fellow man, while conceptually easy, provides markedly few opportunities for graft and corruption through politics. Conceptually easy, it is repugnant to those interested in self-advancement and unearned money and power.

She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways

She Dwelt among the Untrodden Ways
by William Wordsworth

She dwelt among the untrodden ways
Beside the springs of Dove,
A Maid whom there were none to praise
And very few to love:

A violet by a mossy stone
Half hidden from the eye!
-Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky.

She lived unknown, and few could know
When Lucy ceased to be;
But she is in her grave, and, oh,
The difference to me!

Friday, February 22, 2019

Grove by the Pond, Preobrazhenskoye

Grove by the Pond, Preobrazhenskoye, by William Shishkin

Click to enlarge.

It is a satire, wrapped in a figment of the imagination, inside a delusion

OK. This is getting complicated. Snopes is a fact checking website originally with the mission:
When misinformation obscures the truth and readers don’t know what to trust,’s fact checking and original, investigative reporting lights the way to evidence-based and contextualized analysis. We always document our sources so readers are empowered to do independent research and make up their own minds.
I have in the past used them as a starting point when investigating the accuracy of something but in recent years, they have devolved more and more into a mainstream media narrative confirmation source rather than a neutral checker of facts.

Meanwhile, as I occasionally mention, the satire site, Babylon Bee, comes perilously close to mimicking the mainstream media rather than satirizing them. They don't have to satirize the MSM when the MSM is already doing that heavy lifting themselves.

For example:

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Sure, its satire, but is it really?

I suppose it was predictable but it still surprises me. Snopes is now fact-checking the Babylon Bee. The Babylon Bee publishes:

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The BB "news report"
ATLANTA, GA—While Empire actor Jussie Smollett has been having a tough week so far, there appears to be a silver lining: cable news channel CNN has offered Smollett a job as an investigative reporter and on-air anchor after witnessing his skills at fabricating a story entirely out of thin air.

CNN producers were reportedly impressed throughout the ongoing saga of Smollett's apparent hoax attack on himself. They realized early on the facts didn't add up but were fascinated with how well the actor kept the narrative going. An HR rep quickly reached out to Smollett to see if he'd be interested in taking on a position at the news organization after news broke that the entire thing was probably fabricated.

"Smollett has exactly the kind of skills we look for at our fine organization," said CNN correspondent Brian Stelter. "He picked a narrative, made up all the relevant facts and details, and stuck with his story in spite of glaring holes in the plot. It's hard to find people who understand our core values here at CNN, but Smollett seems to be just the guy for us."

The actor has accepted the offer and is now undergoing training to learn how to weave even more intricate narratives ex nihilo, according to insiders.
It is a satirical story which is so plausible that it makes you laugh.

And then you discover that Snopes is fact-checking the satire.

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The Mandarin Class dominated media world has lost its mind. They seriously just fact-checked a satire. Next they will bring charges against Jonathan Swift for advocating genocide in Ireland for recommending his modest proposal.

Bringing their full investigative weight and reputation to bear, Snopes is able to definitively set the record straight.

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What is the media world coming to?

Whether we want to or not

by Chris Hart

A locked dorm
-For our own safety-
Is where we will weather
Whether we want to or not.

The winds of change blow
And whip outside my window,
Reminding me that this year
Will be like no other before it.

There is an insufficient supply of those stories to meet the demand of the media

From Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, page 116.
Now that I come to think of it, I have not exactly got a feeling of fondness or affection for myself, and I do not even always enjoy my own society. So apparently ‘Love your neighbour’ does not mean ‘feel fond of him’ or ‘find him attractive’. I ought to have seen that before, because, of course, you cannot feel fond of a person by trying. Do I think well of myself, think myself a nice chap? Well, I am afraid I sometimes do (and those are, no doubt, my worst moments) but that is not why I love myself. In fact it is the other way round: my self-love makes me think myself nice, but thinking myself nice is not why I love myself. So loving my enemies does not apparently mean thinking them nice either. That is an enormous relief. For a good many people imagine that forgiving your enemies means making out that they are really not such bad fellows after all, when it is quite plain that they are. Go a step further. In my most clear-sighted moments not only do I not think myself a nice man, but I know that I am a very nasty one. I can look at some of the things I have done with horror and loathing. So apparently I am allowed to loathe and hate some of the things my enemies do. Now that I come to think of it, I remember Christian teachers telling me long ago that I must hate a bad man’s actions, but not hate the bad man: or, as they would say, hate the sin but not the sinner.

For a long time I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life—namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things. Consequently, Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them. Not one word of what we have said about them needs to be unsaid. But it does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere he can be cured and made human again.

The real test is this. Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up
suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally, we shall insist on seeing everything—God and our friends and ourselves included—as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.
Let us celebrate that these serial media obsessions all turn out to be false. Each of them are an indictment of America and the fact that the charges do not stick is to be celebrated. It does not mean America is innocent, merely innocent of the specific charge. However, the corollary does have some merit. The high proportion of media obsessions which turn out to be false suggests two things. 1) There is an unreasonable demand by journalists for indictments of America. 2) There is an insufficient supply of those stories for that level of demand.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Returning from the Fields

Returning from the Fields by Etienne Azambre (France, 1859 -1935)

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The house was quiet and the world was calm

The House Was Quiet and The World Was Calm
by Wallace Stevens

The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The reader became the book; and summer night

Was like the conscious being of the book.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.

The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,

Wanted to lean, wanted much most to be
The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom

The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
The house was quiet because it had to be.

The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
The access of perfection to the page.

And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world,
In which there is no other meaning, itself

Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself
Is the reader leaning late and reading there.

The Pioneer’s Creed: The Cowards Never Started. The Weak Died Along the Way. Only the Strong Survived.

From Born To Fight: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America by Jim Webb
The mountain is on someone else’s property, back in the hollow. My cousins have called to ask permission for us to visit it. We drive in a truck down dirt roads. Old frame houses mark our journey, their porches buckling and the springhouses along the rushing streams falling into ruin. Folks here are still moving on. They always have. That is the story of our people. The road roughens even more, ribbed like an old washboard from the rains. We pull up in front of a haunted, empty farmhouse and walk across its back pasture. Two yapping barn dogs appear from nowhere and stay with us as we head slowly up the mountain.

On top of the mountain the wind, heavy with oxygen, hits my face. I look over at the deep green waves of mountains that surround me, thinking on the one hand that it reminds me of being in the open sea, and on the other that I can now see all the way to Tennessee. And I know this is what my ancestors must have thought as well. Another mountain, and then another. Why should I stop here? And I think not only of my great-great-grandparents lying underneath my very feet, but of all the others who made me, whose lives passed through these mountains and others just like them to the north and south. Perhaps they were brave. Perhaps they were merely desperate. But they were daredevils, not only to have shown up, but also to have had the courage to leave.

On top of this mountain you can understand the Pioneer’s Creed: The Cowards Never Started. The Weak Died Along the Way. Only the Strong Survived.


The earth is a ravisher in these mountains, its vines and tangles swallowing up the memories of those who went before, and in their place the wild things are moving back into the hollows. Deer are so thick that my cousin finds it hard to keep them from the alfalfa he grows for his small herd of cattle, and even from his garden. Someone nearby reported seeing elk up in the far woods. And at night if you listen close, you can hear an occasional coyote.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Denying free will in order to bind bad choice makes in passive victimhood

A couple of interesting observations in The constant denial that humans possess agency Johnathan Pearce.
Following on from the posting below about the “ISIS bride” is this comment from Brendan O’Neill at Spiked:
Indeed, the story of these three London girls who ran off in 2015 was always a very telling one. It contains lessons, if only we are willing to see them. Too many observers have focused on the girls’ youthfulness and the idea that they were ‘groomed’ or ‘brainwashed’ by online jihadists. Note how ‘radicalisation’ has become an entirely passive phrase – these girls, and other Brits, were ‘radicalised’, we are always told, as if they are unwitting dupes who were mentally poisoned by sinister internet-users in Mosul or Raqqa. In truth, the three girls were resourceful and bright. All were grade-A students. They thought their actions through, they planned them meticulously, and they executed them well. Far from being the passive victims of online radicalisation, the girls themselves sought to convince other young women to run away to ISIS territory. The focus on the ‘grooming’ of Western European youths by evil ISIS masterminds overlooks a more terrible reality: that some Western European youths, Muslim ones, actively sought out the ISIS life.
A point that comes out of this is how it is so common these days to downplay the fact that people make choices and have agency. Whether it is about young adults joining Islamist death cults, or people becoming addicted to drink, porn or social media, or falling into some other self-destructive and anti-social behaviour, very often people talk about the persons concerned as passive, as victims. “She was groomed to be a terrorist”…..”he suffered from alcoholism”…..”he was damaged by over-use of social media”……the very way that journalists write sentences or broadcast their thoughts seem to suggest that people don’t really possess volition, aka free will. (Here is a good explanation of what free will is, at least in the sense that I think it is best formulated, by the late Nathaniel Branden.)
See the original for more and for the links.

Lux Aurumque

Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir. Lux Aurumque

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St Jean, 1930

St Jean, 1930 by William Glackens

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"Ma’am, are you shootin' at him again?" the 911 dispatcher asks. "Yes, ma’am," she answers.

Gotta love the South. There is a home invasion going on, an old lady fears for her life but won't stand down. The burglar breaks in. Old lady is armed. And all the time, on the phone with 911 dispatch lady, neither lady forgets their manners.

From With 2 shots from her pistol, and prayer, 79-year-old woman holds off burglar by WXIA Staff. My editing of the content:
"They’re trying to get in the back door. Hurry. Hurry. Please," she tells the 911 dispatcher. She thinks, at first, there are two burglars.

The 911 dispatcher asks her where she is in the century-old house.

"I'm in the kitchen," she answers.

"I’m watching the door that they were trying to get in. Ooh, they’re breaking glass,” she says, her voice beginning to shout.

She shouts at the burglar though the back door: "Okay, come on! I got something for you!"

The 911 dispatcher interjects, not wanting the woman to confront the man: "Ma’am, listen to me."

Just then, the 911 recording picks up the sound of a gunshot. The woman had fired her pistol in the direction of the burglar outside. He ran to another door and broke in, anyway.

"I’m just scared, Ma’am ... Please hurry. Please hurry," she pleads. "Please, please dear God. Lord have mercy ... please…"

"I'm waitin' on ya', come on!" she shouts from downstairs. "When you come down those stairs I’m gonna blow your damn brains out!"

Still on the phone with 911, she fires her pistol again, toward the second floor of the house.

"Ma’am, are you shootin' at him again?" the 911 dispatcher asks.

"Yes, ma’am," she answers.

A wonderful resurrection

This is wonderful. When I was a child, we lived overseas. Every couple of years we would return to the states for a month or so of family leave, our family living in the midwest. Given that, our domestic connecting flights were most often TWA.

We'd fly in to JFK from South America, or Africa or Europe and then head over to the TWA terminal.

Now as a child, everything is new and novel, especially if you are always moving around the world. Wonder at differences is your steady state. But even then, the TWA terminal stood out. The long sweeping lines, the spareness, the sense of space and cleansing light, its existentially artistic presence. It felt a little as if you were on the set of the Jetsons. The future had arrived.

Those days are long gone. TWA is long gone. Glamour in flying is gone. However, even though it is easy to fall into the habit of thinking of flying as simply an airborne bus, the miracle of flight does still catch my attention and breath every now and then.

But apparently the TWA terminal was not bulldozed but has been dormant all these years and is now returning to life as a hotel. From The TWA Hotel Turns an Abandoned Airport Terminal Into a Midcentury Dream by Jen Woo.
Meet JFK's first on-airport hotel—complete with midcentury modern guest rooms, a 10,000-square-foot rooftop deck with pool, and a Jean-Georges restaurant.

An abandoned airport terminal at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport has been reborn as the TWA Hotel, a stylish stay channeling the jet age. While the once-groundbreaking Trans World Airlines ceased operations in 2001, and the terminal closed in October of that year, the luxe hotel pays homage to the original architecture of the 1962 building designed by architect Eero Saarinen.

The hotel, which begins accepting reservations on February 14, has been reimagined by New York–based design firms Lubrano Ciavarra, INC., Beyer Blinder Belle, and Stonehill Taylor.

The project calls to mind the romance of flying when the transportation method was still a novelty. Some original waiting area seating remains in the lobby and the business and events center.

Vintage tunes drift through the hotel in a curated soundtrack featuring Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, The 5th Dimension, Dusty Springfield, Rosemary Clooney, and Dean Marin. Airline beverage carts with snacks and carbonated sips are speckled throughout the grounds, while a champagne fridge filled with Moet & Chandon, TAB, and miniature bottles sits at the ready in the lobby for a boozy fix.

To access the guest rooms, patrons enter through space-age flight tubes—which you may remember from the film Catch Me If You Can. Clean lines meet a touch of glam in the rooms, which feature leather upholstery; a pop of primary color; Hollywood-style vanities; and custom walnut, brass, and glass details. Guests can make free unlimited local and international calls from a rewired vintage rotary phone, while taking in views of the runway.
That's wonderful; I hope they succeed.

Some photos of that glorious vision of the future from the late 1950s.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Even such is man, whose borrowed light

Sic Vita
by Henry King

Like to the falling of a star,
Or as the flights of eagles are,
Or like the fresh spring's gaudy hue,
Or silver drops of morning dew,
Or like a wind that chafes the flood,
Or bubbles which on water stood:
Even such is man, whose borrowed light
Is straight called in, and paid to night.

The wind blows out, the bubbles dies,
The spring entombed in autumn lies,
The dew dries up, the star is shot,
The flight is past, and man forgot.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Europe's problems are of Europe's making

I really enjoy Walter Russell Mead as one of the more sensible and erudite thinkers about international affairs and yet even he comes up with some doozies. In this instance, I think he is directionally right but the situation is much worse than he protrys. The headline is right: From Europe’s Challenge Is Decline, Not Trump by Walter Russell Mead.
The American intellectual class once rang with inspired and sometimes envious praise of a rising Europe. In 2002 an influential Atlantic essay argued that the “rising challenger” to American primacy was “not China or the Islamic world but the European Union, an emerging polity that is in the process of marshaling the impressive resources and historical ambitions of Europe’s separate nation-states.” It warned Americans to prepare for the emergence of a new superpower on the world stage.

This is not what Europe’s friends see today. Philanthropist George Soros—one of Europe’s keenest observers and strongest defenders—predicted last week that unless things change, “the European Union will go the way of the Soviet Union in 1991.” He is far from alone among the EU’s supporters in bewailing the bloc’s inability to master its growing difficulties.

Decline, not the Donald, is the specter haunting Europe today. The numbers make this clear. Some readers objected to World Bank data in last week’s column showing that, in dollar terms, the eurozone economy had not recovered from the 2008-09 financial crisis. In euro terms, they point out, eurozone gross domestic product has been growing. But even using the euro-denominated figures issued by the European Central Bank, the growth rate from 2009 to 2017 was only 0.6% per year. That’s anything but robust.

Mr. Trump’s tweets aren’t the reason populists are governing Italy and the gilets jaunes revolt has shaken Emmanuel Macron’s reform efforts in France. Since the financial crisis, the Italian economy—measured in euros—has been shrinking at an average rate of 0.5% a year, while the French economy has been growing at an average of only 0.8%. Only the gush of cheap energy made possible by American fracking keeps these fragile economies afloat; at an oil price of $125 a barrel, the eurozone—and its banking system—might well face another economic crisis.
The idea of a European Union was an appealing concept but it has proven both dysfunctional and unreformable for a long time. Back in the 1980s or 1990s the European Mandarin Class began to recognize that their labor markets were sclerotic, undermining the competitiveness of their national economies. They set out to reform those markets and then discovered that those reforms conflicted with so many other unicorn policies that they had to abandon them.

I share Mead's hope that the Europeans can reform themselves but the omens do not augur well.

However, it is even worse than Mead describes and he leaves out some of the most obvious culprits. Massive state planning. Massive EU planning and regulations. Hidden national debts. High effective tax rates. Low consumer choice. Eroding cultural trust. Stark rejection by citizens of their Mandarin Classes. Virtually non-existent national militaries. Rising cultural cringe. And most catastrophically, demographic collapse.

All of those have been trends long preceding Trump. All of those are trends the Mandarin Class still want to ignore. All of those trends are a road towards irrelevance at best and perdition at worst. I do hope Europe reawakens and decides to retake their position in global affairs.

I think Mead and I share similar hopes but I do not understand his apparent respect for and hopes of the existing Mandarin Class who have created the mess they are in.

As an aside, I have heard various people on various occasions refer to Trump as the Great Clarifier or the Great Revealer and I suspect that there is much to that claim. He is not necessarily doing it deliberately but the Mandarin Class's reaction him is bringing much clarity to a discussion which was obfuscated and confused.

This is an example. Europe's problems are or Europe's making and they have little to do with the US and nothing to do with Trump. That's pretty clear. The Great Clarifier indeed.

Staromestske Namesti in Winter

Staromestske Namesti in Winter by T. F. Simon (Czech 1877-1942).

Click to enlarge.

Don't they teach academics anything anymore?

From Parenthood contributes to gender imbalance in STEM employment, but it's not just an issue for mother by Erin A. Cech.

Reporting on what is already well-known. Given the requisite training, inclination, and capabilities, if you want maximum productivity, you find those people who are willing to work full-time for long durations, with the flexibility to expand their schedule to accommodate unanticipated circumstances. Doesn't matter what race or gender or religion or other circumstance. Extended work for lengthy periods with the necessary capabilities gives you the maximum achievable productivity.

There is no gender discrimination. Claudia Goldin among many others have demonstrated that repeatedly. The issue which creates income disparities are any of those factors which preclude focused, extended work over long periods. And that usually circles around two factors - health and family.

If health precludes such work effort, your productivity falls. If family obligations preclude such work effort, your productivity falls. Men and women. Childless men and childless women, with otherwise the same backgrounds, earn exactly the same amount.

And the productivity drop from full-time, sustained, accommodating dedication to more limited time commitments is non-linear. A 10% reduction in time might lead to a 30% reduction in productivity. Cech reports:
Nearly half of new moms and a quarter of new dads leave their full-time STEM jobs after they have their first child, according to a new study.

Researchers found that 43 percent of women and 23 percent of men leave their careers in science, technology, engineering and math within four to seven years of the birth or adoption of their first child.

Women have been underrepresented in the male-dominated STEM fields for decades, especially as they moved further up the career trajectory. Parenthood may contribute to the gender gap, in part, due to gender-related cultural expectations and workplace obstacles, the researchers say.

"Not only is parenthood an important driver of gender imbalance in STEM employment, both mothers and fathers appear to encounter difficulties reconciling caregiving with STEM careers," said the study's lead author Erin Cech, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Michigan.

Cech and Mary Blair-Loy, professor of sociology at the University of California-San Diego, analyzed nationally representative longitudinal survey data from U.S. STEM professionals collected between 2003 and 2010 by the National Science Foundation.

They say that new moms are more likely than new dads to switch to part-time work or leave the workforce.

Some new mothers—about 1 in 10—continue working in STEM on a part-time basis, but that situation isn't without setbacks: businesses and universities typically pay part-time work substantially less per hour than full-time work; is less likely to be accompanied by benefits, like health care; and is less likely to provide advancement opportunities.
But notice that Cech and Blair-Loy never focus on productivity. This is a huge issue in these kinds of studies.

They follow up with some appeals which are presumably heart-felt but ungrounded in reality.
"Our results indicate the need for employers to establish highly valued and well-paid part-time options as well as ramp-up policies that allow part-time STEM professionals to transition back into full-time work without long-term career penalties," Blair-Loy said.

If parents leave the STEM workforce, they are unlikely to return by the time their children are old enough to attend school, the researchers say.

"These findings point to the importance of cultural shifts within STEM to value the contributions of STEM professionals with children and the need for creative organizational solutions to help these skilled STEM professionals navigate new caregiving responsibilities alongside their STEM work," Cech said.

Blair-Loy says profound change is needed.

"We need a cultural revolution within many fields to recognize and reward the full value of professionals who also care for children," said Blair-Loy, who also directs the Center for Research on Gender in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Medicine at UC-San Diego.
Tosh. It is pretty astonishing that we are producing academics with such monomaniacal focus on ideology and such ignorance of history that they seem unaware of the alarm bells which go off when an academic calls for a cultural revolution. That they don't know that the most recent and most infamous call for a Cultural Revolution had a butchers bill of 3-10 million is alarming.

More to the point, their study supports none of their conclusions. Their study highlights the income penalty (arising from the productivity penalty) associated with less than full-time commitment to a task.

I went through this in the 1980s and 1990s, trying to find equitable alternative work arrangements, particularly for young mothers. My industry is management consulting and there is, like medicine, and law, a huge premium on deep continued experience, with long hours and long time frames and a capability and willingness to fit one's personal schedule to the demands of the business. That sort of dedication is what drives such high compensations.

Provided below is a single simplistic example of the productivity impact, this being an amalgamation of multiple trials.

One early model which was popular in the business press was job-sharing. Two women both have young children at home and both want to continue their career in consulting but need additional time flexibility. OK - why not split one job between the two of them, they both work half-time, they both stay involved, they both continue on their career track (albeit more slowly), and they both continue to earn compensation. Sounds equitable all around. Win, win, win.

Until you look at the practical and measured impact on productivity. Such high pressure demanding jobs are not easily susceptible to division. Think about the impacts. Employees come with a high fixed cost in terms of office space, equipment, insurance, etc. Say they both earn $100,000 and there is a fixed cost of $25,000 for each employee for all the overheads.

So now you have two employees for the price of one. Each is now only earning $50,000 and your salary cost remains $100,000 plus $25,000. But of course that is not right. Your salary cost indeed remains $100,000 but your overhead cost is now $50,000 since you have two head count. You have gone from a cost structure of $250,000 for two full time people to $150,000 for two part-time people. Your costs have not halved.

In addition, you have increased your supervisory time, i.e. your leadership talent, your scarcest resource. It is another fixed cost. People are regrettably not self-managing. If you had to spend two hours a week per person supervising full time jobs, you now have to spend four hours a week for two people doing one job.

They are both now working 20 hours a week, one in the mornings and one in the afternoon. You really need extra productivity from both of them now.

But that is not what you are going to get. Switching from the cost side, to productivity, it is easy to see what happens. Even with two great employees, you have doubled your risk factor. Two commutes to work instead of one and there are twice as many no-shows. Unexpected developments come during the day so the person with second shift often ends up with a disproportionate part of schedule impacts. An additional handoff during the day introduces further variance into the system. More people per job means more time keeping one another up to speed - increasing transactional coordination costs without increasing productivity. Two personalities means more interpersonal conflicts.

The list goes on and on.

You used to have two full-time employees doing two jobs full time and producing $250,000 in value each. Your income statement looked like:

2 X $100,000 = $200,000
Overhead @ $25,000 per = $50,000
Plus Supervision/person X 2 = $30,000

Total Operating Cost $280,000

Total Revenue 2 X $250,000 = $500,000

Net Income = $220,000

Now, with job sharing, your income statement looks like this:

2 X $50,000 = $100,000
1 X $100,000 = $100,000
Overhead @ $25,000 per = $75,000
Plus Supervision/person X 3 = $45,000

Total Operating Cost $320,000

Total Revenue 2 X $250,000 = $500,000

Net Income = $180,000

By going to job share, you have reduced you profits by 20% or so, theoretically doing exactly the same work.

For Cech and Blair-Loy pursuing an ideological goal where everyone has to want the same thing to the same degree and we need to see the same outcomes, it is obvious we do indeed need a revolution.

Then you look at productivity and you begin to see just how daunting the issue is. What is it that you can do to increase the productivity of individuals when you are at the same time making their jobs much more complex and with much more risk? Not a lot. Everyone is always chasing that goal, but all the easy fruit has been picked.

Cech and Clair-Loy would be far better off exploring how to make people more productive given their personal life and career choices rather than waving magical wands hoping for cultural revolutions that cannot happen with desirable outcomes.