Friday, March 31, 2017

The only clue to what man can do is what man has done

From The Idea of History by R.G. Collingwood. Page 9.
'The definition of history?' Every historian would agree, I think, that history is a kind of research or inquiry. What kind of inquiry it is I do not yet ask. The point is that generically it belongs to what we call the sciences: that is, the forms of thought whereby we ask questions and try to answer them. Science in general, it is important to realize, does not consist in collecting what we already know and arranging it in this or that kind of pattern. It consists in fastening upon something we do not know, and trying to discover it. Playing patience with things we already know may be a useful means towards this end, but it is not the end itself. It is at best only the means. It is scientifically valuable only in so far as the new arrangement gives us the answer to a question we have already decided to ask. That is why all science begins from the knowledge of our own ignorance: not our ignorance of everything, but our ignorance of some definite thing-the origin of parliament, the cause of cancer, the chemical composition of the sun, the way to make a pump work without muscular exertion on the part of a man or a horse or some other docile animal. Science is finding things out: and in that sense history is a science.


Lastly, what is history for? This is perhaps a harder question than the others; a man who answers it will have to reflect rather more widely than a man who answers the three we have answered already. He must reflect not only on historical thinking but on other things as well, because to say that something is `for' something implies a distinction between A and B, where A is good for something and B is that for which something is good. But I will suggest an answer, and express the opinion that no historian would reject it, although the further questions to which it gives rise are numerous and difficult.

My answer is that history is `for' human self-knowledge. It is generally thought to be of importance to man that he should know himself: where knowing himself means knowing not his merely personal peculiarities, the things that distinguish him from other men, but his nature as man. Knowing yourself means knowing, first, what it is to be a man; secondly, knowing what it is to be the kind of man you are; and thirdly, knowing what it is to be the man you are and nobody else is. Knowing yourself means knowing what you can do; and since nobody knows what he can do until he tries, the only clue to what man can do is what man has done. The value of history, then, is that it teaches us what man has done and thus what man is.

Maintaining probity and forestalling temptation

Such a small tripwire that reveals the gulf between understandings of the world.

On March 28th, the Washington Post ran a piece on Karen Pence, the wife of Vice President Mike Pence. Other than coming across as a postmodernist secular liberal at an anthropological zoo staring in a bewildered fashion into the cage of a lifestyle inconceivable to them, the piece was broadly neutral and innocuous.

Except, apparently, this one small paragraph out of a 44 paragraph piece:
In 2002, Mike Pence told the Hill that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side, either.
Oh, my. The postmodernist secular left twittersphere went crazy, hooting, mocking, and hating.

Emma Green has good coverage in her piece, How Mike Pence's Marriage Became Fodder for the Culture Wars.

I posted on a related topic some years ago. I observed that in the modern business environment, the well-intended laws attempting to forestall workplace harassment and hostile environments also had unintended consequences. The laws are well intended. And they do address real world problems (predatory behavior and coerced intimacy between hierarchically powerful men and subordinate women [or, more rarely, the reverse]). My impression is that since the nineties, and since the implementation of ERP systems in major corporations (which make objective measurement of some aspects of discrimination more demonstrable), the incident rate of such behavior has declined. But a million years of evolution is a more dominant force than an ERP system. Constant vigilance and all that.

However, from an economics point of view, such efforts, valuable and well-intended as they might be, also created perverse incentive systems.

The stipulations are:
It takes 10-15 years of effort to establish some sort of beneficial personal brand and track record of competence and achievement.

That personal brand has real commercial value.

Intimacy exploitation and coercion in the workplace have become career ending accusations.

Whether an accusation has merit or not, the personal brand destruction is nearly equal.
Accepting these predicates as broadly true, it then follows from an economics perspective, that most males will take strong measures to preclude the possibility of accusations arising.

When the action taken is simply not to exploit subordinate females, that is exactly what you want.

But of course it doesn't stop there. It might work if humans were infallible and there were never any false accusations but that is not the nature of humans. There are false accusations all the time, though the percentage is hotly debated. But from a practical point of view, if the stakes are high (destruction of 15 years of personal brand creation) and the risk is real (even if low), then it behooves the risk-averse male to take precautionary actions above and beyond simply avoiding exploitive behavior.

What do those precautionary actions look like? Much like not dining alone with women and avoiding parties with raucous behavior. Much like Pence's fifteen year-old suggestion.

Nothing wrong with that at all, it makes perfect sense. But we have multiple goals in mind. So far, we are protecting women from exploitation (with laws) and men are protecting themselves from false accusations by precautionary behavior which limits their contact with women in circumstances where false accusations can be made and false inferences might be conjured.

What is missing is the impact such precautionary behavior has on the careers of women being protected by the law. If it is much easier (less risky more rewarding) for males to spend time with one another, network with one another, mentor one another, that is what will happen. The law intended to protect women from harassment accidentally ends up potentially harming their careers by precluding the opportunity for such beneficial activities.

I am not saying the law is wrong and most certainly not saying that the goal is wrong. I am acknowledging that the law is a blunt instrument that can sometimes drive unintended outcomes which are not only not beneficial but are actually harmful.

Pence's comments have been broadly interpreted by the postmodernist secular left as an example of a stupid male who cannot trust himself to control his animal urges. I think this misses entirely the pragmatic dimension discussed above. Even if you are perfectly confident in your own self-control, you cannot predict or govern the behaviors of others, and even more critically, the faulty inferences of others.

I also think this is a perfect illustration of the ignorance pointed out by Jonathan Haidt in his book The Righteous Mind and his proposed Moral Foundations framework. Wikipedia has a reasonable summary here.

One of the implications discussed in The Righteous Mind is that liberals, conservatives and libertarians can end up at cross purposes because of differing comprehensions. Simplistically, liberals care deeply and equally about Care and Fairness whereas conservatives regard Care and Fairness as important but are also oriented towards Loyalty, Authority and Sanctity. Libertarians tend to weight Care, Fairness, Loyalty, Authority, Sanctity, and Liberty equally.

Haidt pointed out that one of the challenges for Liberals is that their moral equations are pretty straight-forward in terms of optimizing Care and Fairness (just two variables) whereas the equations for Conservatives, Moderates and Libertarians are much more complex with trade-offs between all six moral dimensions. Liberals tend to be blind to the broader spectrum of moral decision-making which might be why Pence's personal heuristics seem so incomprehensible to them.

But before we get too far into the philosophical weeds, let's not forget that there is a legitimate pragmatic concern - avoiding even the appearance of impropriety when the consequences can be high. Pence's comment is from 2002 but look at what happened to John McCain in 2008 in his campaign for the presidency. The New York Times published an allegation based on the anonymous mutterings of two aggrieved former employees of McCain, strongly implying that there was an affair between John McCain and a female lobbyist. John McCain denied it, his wife denied it, the lobbyist denied it, McCain's Republican competitors denied it, his office staff denied it and even some Democratic colleagues denied it.

Eventually, the NYT had to print a retraction clarifying that they had not intended to imply that there was an affair. What was the basis for the allegation? - simply that it was suspicious that McCain would be seen with a female lobbyist. Pence's heuristics look pretty prescient in those circumstances.

To wrap this up, there is a very interesting tweet storm from a postmodernist secular left taking his fellow travelers to task about the behavior as inconsistent with their own positions. The tweet is here:

I think Linker still misses some of the other dimensions I have mentioned above but this is an interesting discourse on its own terms.

For those unwilling to venture into Twitter, my text version follows. My paragraph breaks.
Damon Linker - A long tweet storm to follow about this surprisingly intense controversy about Mike Pence's marital habits.

The man currently VPOTUS said 15 years ago that he never dines alone w another woman, or attends an event where alcohol is being served. The implication being that this could place him in a condition of temptation with someone other than his wife. I'm a secular liberal & think it's a bit extreme, yet I don't find this scandalous. In fact, I consider it admirable.

But not many other secular liberals, who have been expressing unrestrained outrage, feel this way. The question is why. I think it's because this difference is rooted in profoundly different, perhaps incompatible, anthropologies (visions of human nature). For Pence, I surmise, human beings are fallen, prone to temptation and sin, in a state of moral degradation. Place a man alone with a woman w no one around, esp if he's in a position of power, & he'll be tempted to be unfaithful to his wife.

Confronted w facts of human nature, there are 2 options: first, faith in God, which is real and powerful, but (given sin) unreliable. Second option: act to avoid temptation. Don't place yourself in a situation where you'll be tempted to betray your marital vows.

The secular liberal outlook is very different. It is, broadly speaking, Kantian. Despite obsession w sex, gender, etc., we believe morality involves overcoming bodily inclination/desires, which everyone is free to do. So there's no reason not to immerse ourselves in sexualized culture, have (married) men & women work tog in all settings (din w alcohol). They might experience temptation, but there are internalized universalizable moral principles like "don't cheat!" to keep them in line.

One morality-abiding, bodily transcending subject should be able to have dinner w another w/o incident. Right? This shld be possible, b/c as Kant says, it must be possible to do what ought to be done, follow principle, overcome nat inclination. Pence's way of living denies all of this. It denies we're able to restrain ourselves with any reliability. We need God's help, and we need to keep ourselves away from situations in which we will be tempted to cheat.

I could understand if secular liberal Kantians rolled their eyes at Pence. But why the anger about it? I don't buy that it's because of a grand injustice to women. He could meet w a woman at the office with coworkers around. Why isn't that an acceptable accommodation? Like how when I teach college, I'm told not to shut my office door with a student. Isn't that the same kind of double standard? Yet there's no outrage. It's seen as a prudent measure to protect young women & male profs.

The reax w Pence is disproportionate, even given the intensity of partisan rancor at the moment. So what's really at stake?

I think secular libs intuitively understand their Kantian outlook is being challenged by Pence's behavior. And there is considerable, obvious evidence on Pence's side. From T Kennedy @ Chappaquiddick, B Clinton & the blue dress to campus sexual assault, not to mention behavior outside modern West, Everywhere we see examples of people (esp men) NOT acting like good Kantians, ignoring universal principles, acting on desires.

The secular liberal response is invariably to implore the bad actors, "Act better! Do what's right!" And yes, wouldn't that be nice? But what if this is a battle that can never be fully won on these terms? What if it's *possible* to act morally w/o external social/cultural support, but more diff than most secular liberals like to believe? What if morality requires more social & cultural supports & encouragement than secular liberals are willing to live with? What if morality requires social & cultural supports that limit individual freedom & that secular liberals are unwilling forgo?

In that case, Pence's simple rules for marital living become an enormous challenge and provocation. He's called the liberal bluff. Like saying: "If you want to make marital fidelity more likely, you might need to accept less freedom." And that is simply an unacceptable proposition. Hence the anger, the mockery, the derision, the defensiveness.

It's the response of someone who's been forced to confront possibility that all good things might not go together as easily as hoped. The freedom of atomistic individualism can be delightful, but it requires/presumes an awful lot from people. Perhaps it requires far more than most of them can give, at least with any reliability. Perhaps Pence's more morally traditional outlook has something in its favor—namely, realism.

That would mean the liberal outlook is more fragile, weaker in its foundations than most liberals are willing to accept. And when you point that out to someone who's heavily invested in that outlook, response is what we've seen: anger and defensiveness.

FWIW, I think liberalism is better off being made aware of its weak spots, and incorporating norms/practices that shore them up. Even if that req (modestly!) curtailing liberal individualism. In that sense, the (somewhat extreme) Pence example is salutary. //ENDIT
While I think Linker ignores the pragmatic consequence of our changes in laws and their unintended consequences, I think he does make a very good argument for the angle he is focusing on.

I would guess that all of the following are constituent elements to the storm in a teacup around what seems so mundane and innocuous as advice to maintain probity and forestall temptation.
1. Postmodernist secular liberals are uncomprehending of those with wider moral dimensions.

2. The economic and political dimensions of communism have failed while market economies and republican and parliamentary democracies have succeeded.

3. The promise of multiculturalism has failed.

4. Cultural relativism has failed.

5. The promise and success of traditional bourgeoise values has been demonstrated (see Coming Apart by Charles Murray) repeatedly.

6. The failure to legislate good manners (culture and values).

7. Statism is under attack across the OECD.

8. Elitist technocrats have failed to deliver on their promise of competency.

9. Culture and values are a necessary complement to the law.

10. Reality trumps theory.

11. Human nature is both tragic and wondrous.

12. Statist determinism fails to function in a tragic human system.

UPDATE: Emma Green set a standard for reporting not achieved by her fellow Atlantic Monthly journalist Olga Khazan. Khazan's article is your typical reflexive postmodernist hit piece on anyone deviant from the left orthodoxy. As one commenter observes - "The comments on the Atlantic never disappoint! Articles=trash; comments= excellent!"

The number one rated comment sums up the postmodernist dilemma:
1. Greatly expand definition of sexual harassment.
2. Make any accusation of sexual harassment career-ending.
3. Proclaim that women should always be believed when they accuse a man.
4. Complain that men won't have 1-on-1 meetings with women.

H.L. Mencken called it in 1918

From In Defense of Women by H.L. Mencken
Civilization, in fact, grows more and more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes; the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.

As much as you can

As Much As You Can
by C.P. Cavafy

And if you can’t shape your life the way you want,
at least try as much as you can
not to degrade it
by too much contact with the world,
by too much activity and talk.

Try not to degrade it by dragging it along,
taking it around and exposing it so often
to the daily silliness
of social events and parties,
until it comes to seem a boring hanger-on.

Russian mystery

Properly discounting the Truth Quotient of this owing to its Twitter origin, its over-heatedness, and its self-evident conviction that this proves anything, this is still interesting.

I have been amazed at the continuing Russia brouhaha when there appears to be virtually nothing there. It is all hypothesis, supposition, speculation, and innuendo with no substance.

I am not saying there couldn't be some substance, and desperate politicians/political parties will do or say anything to retain power so Obama/Clinton/DNC wielding the Russia bat is not in itself surprising.

What has surprised me is that this is the particular bat that they are choosing to wield.

A New York real estate developer operating in New York from the 1970s on would, one would think, be the potential source for an immense volume of speculation about corruption, bribery, Mafia ties, etc. It is possible that Trump is a deeply ethical person and indeed that there is absolutely nothing in his past to taint him. But if you were in the mud pit, mud will get thrown, even if none of it sticks. So why are there so few allegations against him at the nexus of his past which should be so ripe for plausible, even if untrue, accusations?

That is what has surprised me the most. New York is the center of the news media cosmos. Is it that Trump has so long been in the media eye that they have been tracking him all along and therefore he has indeed stayed clean and they know that it would be difficult to tar him with that brush? Is it that he does indeed have skeletons in his closet but that the discovery of those at this late stage would reflect poorly on the very media with whom he has been dancing so long? Is it that any wrong-doing by Trump as a developer and businessman would almost certainly have involved Democrats, New York being a bastion of wealthy Democrats?

I simply don't know the reason but the absence of much noise from his professional history in New York has seemed like the dog who did not bark in the night. A non-event that, by its existence, seems to have some significance.

Contrast the absence of New York dirt with the choice of wielding a Russia bat. For the past five years the DNC, led by Obama in the 2012 election, has been mocking anyone who had concerns about Russia's continued relevance. They painted Russia as a spent power lacking any significance. And now, all of sudden, Russia is back, it is evil, it has a deep mastery of Machiavellian control, its technological mastery of hacking is world-class, and it's relational influence on all Republicans is deep, extensive and comprehensive. Or that is the story we are now supposed to believe.

That's the story they are running with? Really? And we are supposed to immediately forget the Russian reset, the abandonment of our commitments to our Baltic and Polish allies for better ties with Russia, the Russian purchase of Uranium One occurring while Russian money flowed into the Clinton Foundation, the hot-mike moment when Russia is asked to provide more diplomatic space because "After My Election, I'll Have More Flexibility"? We are supposed to forget all that?

I am left with these three mysteries which I find it hard to understand or reconcile.
Why is there no dirt on a New York real estate developer?

Why have the Democrats chosen Russia as the cudgel with which to beat Republicans when there seems so little substance to that cudgel?

Why did Democrats choose Russia as the cudgel to beat Republicans when Russia seems a much more substantive cudgel against them than against Republicans?
And actually, there is another mystery. Why has the pressed played along? Sure, it sells papers and feeds the left-leaning readership base of the NYT and WaPo but still. These are brands at the center of technological change that is fragmenting the information and media monopolies. Media monopolies whose brands are in the basement in terms of trust. Why would they be trading in conspiratorial speculations at the behest of one party against the other?

It is hard for me to understand. Perhaps it is simply a function of partisan homogeneity within the legacy media compounded by epistemic closure and bubble environments. I am sure that is some part of the equation. But that still seems inadequate as an explanation.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Applied History

Few videos are worth the time invested in them. Applied History, a talk by Niall Ferguson, succeeds in exceeding that low threshold. Interesting facts, interesting interpretations, interesting speculation.

Januscare has two faces

From Some Stronger Evidence That The Affordable Care Act Worsened the Opioid Crisis from Spotted Toad. It is not a slam dunk case, but reasonably suggestive.
This doesn’t “prove” that it was the Affordable Care Act that caused this jump upwards in overdose rates in counties in “blue” Medicaid expansion states. As I’ve said before, I don’t think it was purely the Medicaid expansion itself that did it- more the full-court press to enroll young people in these states, with the knock-on effect of a subset of young people realizing they could use their insurance for pills (whether to resell or to use themselves.) Nor, needless to say, does this mean that the Affordable Care Act was a “bad idea”- it just means there are costs and benefits to the policy, and some of the biggest costs were those not scoped out in advance.

But this appears to me to be reasonably strong evidence that something went wrong, and also that, even if the majority of overdoses are now from heroin and fentanyl, prescriptions for opiates still need to be looked at very carefully.

And, of course, that public policy, like Janus, always has two faces.

All change involves winners and losers and too many (most?) policies are justified by solely by counting the winners and ignoring the losers.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The more corrupt a country, the more its children learn to cheat

From National Corruption Breeds Personal Dishonesty by Simon Makin.
A number of studies have shown that seeing a peer behave unethically increases people's dishonesty in laboratory tests. What is much harder to investigate is how this kind of influence operates at a societal level. But that is exactly what behavioral economists Simon Gächter of the University of Nottingham in England and Jonathan Schulz of Yale University set out to do in a study published in March 2016 in Nature. Their findings suggest that corruption not only harms a nation's prosperity but also shapes the moral behavior of its citizens. The results have implications for interventions aimed at tackling corruption.

The researchers developed a measure of corruption by combining three widely used metrics that capture levels of political fraud, tax evasion and corruption in a given country. “We wanted to get a really broad index, including many different aspects of rule violations,” Schulz says. They then conducted an experiment involving 2,568 participants from 23 nations. Participants were asked to roll a die twice and report the outcome of only the first roll. They received a sum of money proportional to the number reported but got nothing for rolling a six. Nobody else saw the die, so participants were free to lie about the outcome.

If everyone were completely honest about their die rolls, the average claim would be 2.5, whereas if everyone were maximally dishonest, all claims would be 5. Participants from nations with a high prevalence of rule violations (PRV)—including Georgia, Tanzania, Guatemala and Kenya—tended to claim more than those from low-PRV countries—such as Austria, the U.K., the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany—and average claims correlated with PRV values. In other words, the more corrupt the country, the more its citizens inflated the number they reported. These values were calculated using data from 2003, and the experiments were conducted between 2011 and 2014 using participants whose average age was 21—too young to have personally influenced PRV ratings but old enough to have been influenced by social norms, implying that national corruption levels influenced participants' honesty, not vice versa.


The findings imply that highly corrupt countries may be difficult to change because their citizens have been shaped by norms that permit dishonesty. Yet there is also a positive practical implication. Rather than tackling corruption by targeting institutions, we might do better to aim at young people. “Changing formal institutions will be hard, but institutions rely on people,” Schulz says. “It will take a long time, but I think it's a worthwhile path.”
I don't know - I suspect most populations, most places would be up for some kind of honest action against corruption. The fish rots from the head. It is the vested interests who benefit most directly from corruption and spread the infection through the whole system. If the leaders are cheaters, then everyone is, effectively, under pressure to cheat as well.

It seems to me like hoping to teach children not to cheat while all the examples around are cheaters is a fool's mission. Rooting out corruption is hard but there is little alternative to simply doing so.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Lagged Selection Bias

A good contribution in the battle of fighting cognitive pollution. From The Death of the White Working Class Has Been Greatly Exaggerated by Malcolm Harris. Harris points out that, intentionally or unintentionally, the researches are misleading because they fail to control variables and compare apples and oranges and then exacerbate that issue by disguising the apples-to-oranges issue by using different scales.
Underlying this argument is a series of reports on the immiseration of the white working class and its members’ increasing tendency to die. But while these papers have garnered a lot of attention, there’s good evidence that their conclusions go too far.

The latest version come from the all-star Princeton University economics couple Anne Case and Angus Deaton, writing under the auspices of the Brookings Institution, a centrist think tank. “Mortality and Morbidity in the 21st Century” might sound like a dull title, but the report has inspired breathless headlines, such as: “Why the White Middle Class Is Dying Faster, Explained in 6 Charts” and “Deaths of Despair: The White American Working Class Is Dying Young.” Brookings got in on the hype game themselves with a blog post titled “Working Class White Americans Are Now Dying in Middle Age at Faster Rates Than Minority Groups.” Those headlines are what “Mortality and Morbidity” was designed to elicit; the paper’s leading graphic has served as the peg for most of these stories. Unfortunately, Case and Deaton’s leading graphic is also one of their most misleading.

Harris identifies the primary source of error in the analysis as lagged selection bias. Lagged Selection Bias is when the group you are comparing at the end of a time period differs in some material way from that same group at the beginning.
In the International Journal of Epidemiology, researchers Jennifer B. Dowd and Amar Hamoudi suggested the Olshansky results could reflect increasing high school graduation rates more than increasing mortality. As a greater proportion of Americans finish 12th grade, lagged selection bias (a term that Dowd and Hamoudi coined) means the demographic of non-completers shrinks over time, and the longitudinal comparison gets less valid. “In terms of mortality risk, those excluded from high school in the early part of the 20th century are not comparable with those excluded from high school a generation later,” they write, “because those left behind by the high school expansions in mid-century likely had childhoods that were more disadvantaged along many dimensions, and so were at higher mortality risk all along.”
Exaggerating the numbers makes the lagged selection bias issue clearer. Let's say in 1950, 50% of the white population had a HS diploma or less. In 2017 that percentage has shrunk to 10% of the population because of intense public policies to improve educational outcomes and high school graduation rates. It is reasonable to assume that the remaining 10% have the greatest concentration of handicaps, barriers, and challenges compared to the 40% who are now achieving higher education attainment. Yes, the 50% and the 10% are the same in the sense that they fit the same category of "white HS and less". But they differ in that the HS and less group in 1950 were healthier, smarter, had more intact families, etc. whereas the 10% in 2017 likely came from more impoverished backgrounds, had more fractured family origins, and likely faced higher levels of challenge and discrimination. The 1950 apples are being compared to 2017 oranges.

I think Harris ends with a harsher judgment of the researchers than I would have.
Despite the headlines, when you compare apples to apples, white Americans remain better off on average than black Americans across the board. For example, to fit black and white rates of heart disease mortality on the same graphs, Case and Deaton had to use different scales (see above). Comparing a range of eight deaths per 100,000 in white women to a range of 40 deaths per 100,000 in black women is to pay closer attention to the former. In these graphs, white lives literally count more, and black lives less. But whether in health, income, wealth, or educational attainment, American white privilege is still very much in effect, and no statistical tomfoolery can change that.
Clearly Harris is coming to the table with a particular left-bias with a focus on race. But in this instance, I think both the original researchers and Harris are both correct.

Yes, it is true that white outcomes are still better than black outcomes. It is also possibly true that white outcomes have either plateaued or possibly dipped depending on how you control for lagged selection bias. Harris sees the focus on white outcomes as evidence of "white privilege" but that may be an ideological filter. It is not unreasonable to be more attuned to slight changes in Population X if Population X is five times larger than population Y.

None-the-less his focus on the error in interpretation arising from lagged selection bias is correct and important.

Reaping what they have sown

From The Rising Tide of Educated Aliteracy by Alex Good. Good is making several points but the key couple are:
1) A seemingly increasing percentage of people are fully capable of reading but elect not to do so.

2) This aliteracy is more and more presented and trumpeted among the literary crowd.
I object to Good's focus on literary fiction as the metric of reading. I believe that all sustained reading is beneficial - literature, mass market fiction, non-fiction, poetry, etc.

Good tries to explain why this might be happening but I think fails to convey a credible explanation.

I suspect there are several currents intermingling here. Publishers have become larger, and in some ways, more sophisticated. They are eager to find the needle in the haystack which is the next best-selling author. To that end, they publish greater numbers of new titles each year from an ever-broadening array of authors. Good argues that quality of writing is increasing over time. Perhaps, but I am dubious. When the pool of writers becomes larger because the publishers are spreading their net ever wider, the probability that the average quality remains the same or improves is low. If I randomly assemble a basketball team from just NBA players, the result may not be the best, but it is assured of being good. But if I broaden the recruitment to all athletes or all people, the probability that the resulting team will be good id low. If I assemble a cannon of books randomly from all writers rather than simply the best writers, then it almost assuredly will be of lesser value.

The result of more sophisticated publishers publishing more authors from among a wider array of writers is great for inclusivity but poor for quality. An incidental consequence is that there has to be greater marketing (never good for pursuit of truth or credibility), more events, more reviews, more prizes, etc.. All of which reduces the credibility of the entire endeavor. If there is a single literary prize whose outcome is in some recognizable way related to adjudged quality, then people will pay attention and read the, say, ten candidates for such a prize. If there are a hundred prizes with no recognizable relationship to quality, then many fewer people will read the 1,000 candidates.

A second current is that postmodernism has exercised its corrupting influence in the arena of literary thinkers. The idea of multiculturalism and, more insidiously, the idea that all works are equally good tends to obviate the need of literary judgment.

If you cannot make reasoned qualitative judgments, then why exactly is it worthwhile to read the book in the first place?

Jacobin postmodernism has also squelched the credibility of the cultural elite through self-imposed censorship. When critics have to couch their judgments based on the race, sex, orientation, class or religion of the reader, then it undermines the credibility and utility of universal criticism.

Though Good does not raise the issue, I suspect an element of the story is the loss of confidence that there should be a received body of shared cultural knowledge. Not everyone needs or should be made to read all the works of Shakespeare but it behooves the individual personally to have some working awareness of the more consequential ones. This idea of shared culture as a predicate to personal success was advanced by E.D. Hirsch back in the early eighties with Cultural Literacy. I subscribe to it but most bien pensant do not.

Postmodernist, every-book-a-winner, identity politics saturated, multiculturalistically bankrupted judgmentalism, a lowering of standards, an increase in emotionalistic thinking and judgment, a surfeit of supply (both in terms of authors and of critics) combined with a reduction in demand, and an increase in coercive class virtue signaling (read this or you are a cretin) - all these are likely contributors to the increase in trumpeted aliteracy. The postmodernist Jacobins are hoisted on their own petards.

Monday, March 27, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Media Bias - Dog bites man story

A clear example of the media's subtle, or not so subtle, bias against conservatives and non-liberal people. On Saturday, there were pro-Trump marches across the country. At Huntington Beach in southern California, 2,000 pro-Trump marchers encountered 30 black-bloc Antifa Democratic Socialists of America counter-protesters. Some of the black-bloc Antifas attacked the pro-Trump marchers with pepper-spray and were in turn set upon by the pro-Trump marchers. Three of the Antifas were arrested for using pepper-spray and one was arrested for assault and battery.

The local left leaning, (but not so ideologically strident as the NYT and WaPo), Los Angeles Times headlined the incident:
Violence breaks out at pro-Trump rally in Huntington Beach
At best this is misleadingly ambiguous, leaving it unclear as to who caused the violence. "Pro-Trump rally attacked by Socialists" would have been clearer and less ambiguous, but that apparently would have been too clear.

But the LAT was a model of clarity compared with the Washington Post which headlined the incident:
A pro-Trump rally ended up with a man getting beaten with a ‘Make America Great Again’ sign
which leaves the distinct impression that the Pro-Trump marchers were the instigators of violence.

An AP poll has only 6% of American's trusting in the media a great deal, Pew has it at 18%, Gallup has it at 8%. With headlines like these, is it any wonder?

If there are any persons who contest a received opinion, or who will do so if law or opinion will let them, let us thank them for it

From On Liberty by John Stuart Mill. Chapter II “Of the Liberty of Thought and Discussion,” from the middle of paragraph 29.
There are many reasons, doubtless, why doctrines which are the badge of a sect retain more of their vitality than those common to all recognised sects, and why more pains are taken by teachers to keep their meaning alive; but one reason certainly is, that the peculiar doctrines are more questioned, and have to be oftener defended against open gainsayers. Both teachers and learners go to sleep at their post, as soon as there is no enemy in the field.

The same thing holds true, generally speaking, of all traditional doctrines—those of prudence and knowledge of life, as well as of morals or religion. All languages and literatures are full of general observations on life, both as to what it is, and how to conduct oneself in it; observations which everybody knows, which everybody repeats, or hears with acquiescence, which are received as truisms, yet of which most people first truly learn the meaning, when experience, generally of a painful kind, has made it a reality to them. How often, when smarting under some unforeseen misfortune or disappointment, does a person call to mind some proverb or common saying, familiar to him all his life, the meaning of which, if he had ever before felt it as he does now, would have saved him from the calamity. There are indeed reasons for this, other than the absence of discussion: there are many truths of which the full meaning cannot be realized, until personal experience has brought it home. But much more of the meaning even of these would have been understood, and what was understood would have been far more deeply impressed on the mind, if the man had been accustomed to hear it argued pro and con by people who did understand it. The fatal tendency of mankind to leave off thinking about a thing when it is no longer doubtful, is the cause of half their errors. A contemporary author has well spoken of “the deep slumber of a decided opinion.”

But what! (it may be asked) Is the absence of unanimity an indispensable condition of true knowledge? Is it necessary that some part of mankind should persist in error, to enable any to realize the truth? Does a belief cease to be real and vital as soon as it is generally received—and is a proposition never thoroughly understood and felt unless some doubt of it remains? As soon as mankind have unanimously accepted a truth, does the truth perish within them? The highest aim and best result of improved intelligence, it has hitherto been thought, is to unite mankind more and more in the acknowledgment of all important truths: and does the intelligence only last as long as it has not achieved its object? Do the fruits of conquest perish by the very completeness of the victory?

I affirm no such thing. As mankind improve, the number of doctrines which are no longer disputed or doubted will be constantly on the increase: and the well-being of mankind may almost be measured by the number and gravity of the truths which have reached the point of being uncontested. The cessation, on one question after another, of serious controversy, is one of the necessary incidents of the consolidation of opinion; a consolidation as salutary in the case of true opinions, as it is dangerous and noxious when the opinions are erroneous. But though this gradual narrowing of the bounds of diversity of opinion is necessary in both senses of the term, being at once inevitable and indispensable, we are not therefore obliged to conclude that all its consequences must be beneficial. The loss of so important an aid to the intelligent and living apprehension of a truth, as is afforded by the necessity of explaining it to, or defending it against, opponents, though not sufficient to outweigh, is no trifling drawback from, the benefit of its universal recognition. Where this advantage can no longer be had, I confess I should like to see the teachers of mankind endeavouring to provide a substitute for it; some contrivance for making the difficulties of the question as present to the learner’s consciousness, as if they were pressed upon him by a dissentient champion, eager for his conversion.

But instead of seeking contrivances for this purpose, they have lost those they formerly had. The Socratic dialectics, so magnificently exemplified in the dialogues of Plato, were a contrivance of this description. They were essentially a negative discussion of the great questions of philosophy and life, directed with consummate skill to the purpose of convincing any one who had merely adopted the commonplaces of received opinion, that he did not understand the subject—that he as yet attached no definite meaning to the doctrines he professed; in order that, becoming aware of his ignorance, he might be put in the way to attain a stable belief, resting on a clear apprehension both of the meaning of doctrines and of their evidence. The school disputations of the middle ages had a somewhat similar object. They were intended to make sure that the pupil understood his own opinion, and (by necessary correlation) the opinion opposed to it, and could enforce the grounds of the one and confute those of the other. These last-mentioned contests had indeed the incurable defect, that the premises appealed to were taken from authority, not from reason; and, as a discipline to the mind, they were in every respect inferior to the powerful dialectics which formed the intellects of the “Socratici viri:” but the modern mind owes far more to both than it is generally willing to admit, and the present modes of education contain nothing which in the smallest degree supplies the place either of the one or of the other. A person who derives all his instruction from teachers or books, even if he escape the besetting temptation of contenting himself with cram, is under no compulsion to hear both sides; accordingly it is far from a frequent accomplishment, even among thinkers, to know both sides; and the weakest part of what everybody says in defence of his opinion, is what he intends as a reply to antagonists. It is the fashion of the present time to disparage negative logic—that which points out weaknesses in theory or errors in practice, without establishing positive truths. Such negative criticism would indeed be poor enough as an ultimate result; but as a means to attaining any positive knowledge or conviction worthy the name, it cannot be valued too highly; and until people are again systematically trained to it, there will be few great thinkers, and a low general average of intellect, in any but the mathematical and physical departments of speculation. On any other subject no one’s opinions deserve the name of knowledge, except so far as he has either had forced upon him by others, or gone through of himself, the same mental process which would have been required of him in carrying on an active controversy with opponents. That, therefore, which when absent, it is so indispensable, but so difficult, to create, how worse than absurd is it to forego, when spontaneously offering itself! If there are any persons who contest a received opinion, or who will do so if law or opinion will let them, let us thank them for it, open our minds to listen to them, and rejoice that there is some one to do for us what we otherwise ought, if we have any regard for either the certainty or the vitality of our convictions, to do with much greater labor for ourselves.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

When it seems like people are voting against their interests, I have probably failed to understand their interests.

An article with which I have material disagreements in the framing and interpretation of data and yet which also has some very worthwhile insights. From Unspeakable Realities Block Universal Health Coverage In America by Chris Ladd
Why are economically struggling blue collar voters rejecting a party that offers to expand public safety net programs? The reality is that the bulk of needy white voters are not interested in the public safety net. They want to restore their access to an older safety net, one much more generous, dignified, and stable than the public system – the one most well-employed voters still enjoy.

When it seems like people are voting against their interests, I have probably failed to understand their interests.


When Democrats respond to job losses with an offer to expand the public safety net, blue collar voters cringe and rebel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Sod Off, Swampy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 24, 2017

Roman republicanism versus Carthagenian aristocracy

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

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

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

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

Deadliest Sea

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Cultures lead to institutions lead to consequences

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

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

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

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

Clutching a box of tea bags

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

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Riki tiki tavi mongoose is gone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An interesting question ill-reported

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

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

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

The life of a Roman centurion

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

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

Ignoring the information in the newspaper for which you write

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

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

Monday, March 20, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Omni vincit amor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greater enjoyment of vacations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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