Tuesday, October 31, 2017

This stern virtue is the growth of few soils

We are awash with widening claims in the entertainment industry, the news media, and now academia. There are individuals, many individuals, in those industries who have widely known reputations for sexual harassment, "an open secret." But people in those industries have been turning a blind eye towards that behavior because of the career risks attendant to blowing the whistle.

This old observation from Founding Father Alexander Hamilton seems pertinent to the modern context. From Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers, no. 73.
There are men who could neither be distressed nor won into a sacrifice of their duty; but this stern virtue is the growth of few soils; and in the main it will be found that a power over a man's support is a power over his will.
The modern equivalent would be "in the main it will be found that a power over a man's salary is a power over his will" which seems to describe well all the virtue signalers in Hollywood, in news media, and in academia. They will speak truth to power as long as it does not threaten their bank account.

Snow by Yves Brayer

Snow (Effet de neige) by Yves Brayer (French, 1907-1990)

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Things must be loved first and improved afterwards

From The Defendant by G.K. Chesterton, 1902. Preface to the second edition.
At first sight it would seem that the pessimist encourages improvement. But in reality it is a singular truth that the era in which pessimism has been cried from the house-tops is also that in which almost all reform has stagnated and fallen into decay. The reason of this is not difficult to discover. No man ever did, and no man ever can, create or desire to make a bad thing good or an ugly thing beautiful. There must be some germ of good to be loved, some fragment of beauty to be admired. The mother washes and decks out the dirty or careless child, but no one can ask her to wash and deck out a goblin with a heart like hell. No one can kill the fatted calf for Mephistopheles. The cause which is blocking all progress today is the subtle scepticism which whispers in a million ears that things are not good enough to be worth improving. If the world is good we are revolutionaries, if the world is evil we must be conservatives. These essays, futile as they are considered as serious literature, are yet ethically sincere, since they seek to remind men that things must be loved first and improved afterwards.
Perhaps it is a product of circumstances or maybe there are simply two different personalities - those who recognize that something is less than perfect and reject it out of hand, and those who accept something as good enough and seek to improve from that basis.

You need a hook behind the bait to catch it

From Epic to Epigram: An Anthology of Classical Verse by Peter Hadley.
'Tis little use, the lovely look
Without the grace to match it:
As with a fish, you need a hook
Behind the bait to catch it.

H/T The Spectator, 30 November 1991

Modern organization man

From The New Yorker

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Monday, October 30, 2017


Painting by Mary Alayne Thomas.

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Knowledge is not inherently valuable and only spreads through motivated transmission

From The Impact of Media Censorship: Evidence from a Field Experiment in China by Yuyu Chen and David Y. Yang.

One of the great, often unstated assumptions of the digital era is that increasing access to information is to increase the use of information. On a long enough time scale, perhaps that is true. But in human time scales there are reasons to question the assumption. People do things because they are motivated to do so based on some perceived value.

We all of us have essentially infinite access to the air we breath but we use it no more than we have to for breathing. It is an imperfect analogy but highlights that context matters and that just because something is accessible doesn't mean it will be used.

Chen and Yang are looking at the effectiveness of censorship but their findings, I think, go to the larger issue of whether access leads to use. From the abstract:
Media censorship is a hallmark of authoritarian regimes. We conduct a field experiment in China to examine whether providing access to an uncensored Internet leads citizens to acquire politically sensitive information, and whether they are affected by the information. We track subjects’ media consumption, beliefs regarding the media, economic beliefs, political attitudes, and behaviors over 18 months. We find 4 main results: (i) free access alone does not induce subjects to acquire politically sensitive information; (ii) temporary encouragement leads to a persistent increase in acquisition, indicating that demand is not permanently low; (iii) acquisition brings broad, substantial, and persistent changes to knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, and intended behaviors; and (iv) social transmission of information is statistically significant but small in magnitude. We calibrate a simple model to show that, due to the low demand for, and moderate social transmission of, uncensored information, China’s censorship apparatus may remain robust for a large number of citizens receiving unencouraged access to an uncensored Internet.
Their conclusion is that access alone is insufficient to increase information use but requires both motivation and some catalytic initial event. Once started, interest in access and use of information grows organically. Interestingly, in the context of their experiment, social transmission of acquired knowledge was relatively weak, probably because the high cost in an authoritarian system of "illegal" knowledge as well as, perhaps, tightly bounded affiliative groups characteristic of low trust societies (a bubble effect).

China is not the world but the experiment is an interesting shedding of light on the fallacy of the naive assumption that information/knowledge is inherently valuable and that all you need to do is increase free access for information to flow. Like so many complex human systems, the answer is that knowledge flow depends on context, circumstance and motivation.

The issue of motivation suggests to me one of the vectors of cultural influence on outcomes. Investments in education are going to be effective only to the extent that the culture inherently values and motivates knowledge creation, access, transmission, and use. Otherwise, knowledge transmission is inhibited and limited to those circumstances where there is direct utility.

Alternate history

From The New Yorker

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Here often, when a child, I lay reclined

Lines [‘Here often, when a child, I lay reclined’]
by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Here often, when a child, I lay reclined:
I took delight in this fair strand and free:
Here stood the infant Ilion of my mind,
And here the Grecian ships did seem to be.
And here again I come and only find
The drain-cut levels of the marshy lea,
Gray sandbanks and pale sunsets, dreary wind,
Dim shores, dense rains and heavy-clouded sea.

Yet thro’ perchance no tract of earth have more
Unlikeness to the fair Ionian plain,
I love the place that I have loved before,
I love the rolling cloud, the flying rain,
The brown sea lapsing back with sullen roar
To travel leagues before he comes again,
The misty desert of the houseless shore,
The phantom-circle of the moaning main.
I love his invocation of the child's mind's capacity to create sun-drenched worlds of wondrous adventure from the dour inspiration of "dim shores, dense rains and heavy-clouded sea."

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Pushing the envelope

From The New Yorker

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The Kraken

The Kraken
by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Below the thunders of the upper deep,
Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides; above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumbered and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages, and will lie
Battening upon huge sea worms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.

Maps of global cultures, values, and communication patterns

In 1992 Samuel P. Huntington presented the first version of what became his book, Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. From Wikipedia:
The Clash of Civilizations is a hypothesis that people's cultural and religious identities will be the primary source of conflict in the post-Cold War world. The American political scientist Samuel P. Huntington argued that future wars would be fought not between countries, but between cultures, and that Islamic extremism would become the biggest threat to world peace. It was proposed in a 1992 lecture at the American Enterprise Institute, which was then developed in a 1993 Foreign Affairs article titled "The Clash of Civilizations?", in response to his former student Francis Fukuyama's 1992 book, The End of History and the Last Man. Huntington later expanded his thesis in a 1996 book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.


Huntington believed that while the age of ideology had ended, the world had only reverted to a normal state of affairs characterized by cultural conflict. In his thesis, he argued that the primary axis of conflict in the future will be along cultural lines. As an extension, he posits that the concept of different civilizations, as the highest rank of cultural identity, will become increasingly useful in analyzing the potential for conflict. At the end of his 1993 Foreign Affairs article, "The Clash of Civilizations?", Huntington writes, "This is not to advocate the desirability of conflicts between civilizations. It is to set forth descriptive hypothesis as to what the future may be like."
Huntington identified nine civilizations:
Western civilization, comprising the United States and Canada, Western and Central Europe, Australia and Oceania.

Latin American. Includes Central America, South America (excluding Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana), Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico.

The Orthodox world of the former Soviet Union, the former Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece and Romania.

The Eastern world is the mix of the Buddhist, Chinese, Hindu, and Japonic civilizations. These are four civilizations.

The Muslim world of the Greater Middle East (excluding Armenia, Cyprus, Ethiopia, Georgia, Israel, Malta and South Sudan), northern West Africa, Albania, Bangladesh, parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brunei, Comoros, Indonesia, Malaysia and Maldives.

The civilization of Sub-Saharan Africa located in Southern Africa, Middle Africa (excluding Chad), East Africa (excluding Ethiopia, the Comoros, Mauritius, and the Swahili coast of Kenya and Tanzania), Cape Verde, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.
Which countries belong in or out or whether Huntington's thesis has merit are all actively debated, indicating that he is on to something even though nobody quite agrees as to what it might be.

Research based on World Values Survey aligns reasonably well with Huntington's suppositions.
The World Values Survey (WVS) is a global research project that explores people’s values and beliefs, how they change over time and what social and political impact they have. It is carried out by a worldwide network of social scientists who, since 1981, have conducted representative national surveys in almost 100 countries.
Inglehart–Welzel Cultural Map

Analysis of WVS data made by political scientists Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel asserts that there are two major dimensions of cross cultural variation in the world:
Traditional values versus Secular-rational values and Survival values versus Self-expression values. The global cultural map (below) shows how scores of societies are located on these two dimensions. Moving upward on this map reflects the shift from Traditional values to Secular-rational and moving rightward reflects the shift from Survival values to Self–expression values.

Traditional values emphasize the importance of religion, parent-child ties, deference to authority and traditional family values. People who embrace these values also reject divorce, abortion, euthanasia and suicide. These societies have high levels of national pride and a nationalistic outlook.

Secular-rational values have the opposite preferences to the traditional values. These societies place less emphasis on religion, traditional family values and authority. Divorce, abortion, euthanasia and suicide are seen as relatively acceptable. (Suicide is not necessarily more common.)

Survival values place emphasis on economic and physical security. It is linked with a relatively ethnocentric outlook and low levels of trust and tolerance.

Self-expression values give high priority to environmental protection, growing tolerance of foreigners, gays and lesbians and gender equality, and rising demands for participation in decision-making in economic and political life.

Now there is an interesting analysis of communications patterns from The Mesh of Civilizations in the Global Network of Digital Communication by Bogdan State, Patrick Park, Ingmar Weber, and Michael Macy which seem to align with both the Huntington and the World Values maps reasonably well.

They are looking at the frequency and density of communications between 90 countries based on twitter and email volumes while taking into account degree of digital connectedness. The resulting image:


Saturday, October 28, 2017

Ageing is an agony

From The Spectator, 12 October, 1991.
by Anonymous (18th century)
translated from Korean by Graeme Wilson

Ageing is an agony.

Just white hairs, I'd thought;
But now that teeth are falling out
And hearing is a sort
Of fought-off deafness, it seems nothing
That my hair is white.

And she looks at me, she looks at me,
My darling of the night
As though some bitter cucumber
Were sullying her sight.

Hudson River Crouton

From The New Yorker.

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The Forum, Pompeii, with Vesuvius in the Distance

The Forum, Pompeii, with Vesuvius in the Distance by Christen Købke (Denmark, 1810-1848).

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We don’t see it, but we feel it.

I like this piece. From Nighthawks by Henry Racette, referring to Edward Hopper's eponymous painting.

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I’m a conservative man. I think, as every conservative man before me has thought, that the next generation is gleefully breaking things it won’t know how to put back together, and that their kids will be less happy for it. Per Buckley, I want to stand athwart history and tweet “@History, Stop!”

So, like most people here on Ricochet, that’s what I do. But sometimes I want to escape, and sometimes I escape into art. One of my favorite refuges, favorite pieces of escapist art, is Nighthawks, perhaps the most recognized work by the great American artist Edward Hopper.

I love everything about this picture: the simplicity of the scene, the men’s attire (fedoras passed out of fashion before my time, but I do own a trench coat), the coffee urns hinting that a double-low-fat-hazelnut-macchiato is not on the menu (sorry, Jon Gabriel) – the fact that it’s 1942 and these are adults sitting in an adult place during a very adult time, undoubtedly thinking adult thoughts.

And it was a serious time. The world was tearing itself apart: the US had declared war on Japan, Germany had declared war on America, and we were within a couple of years of becoming the most efficient engine of industrialized warfare the world has ever known.

It is a serious picture. No one is on his or her smart phone. No one is taking a selfie.

Above all, it seems to me a picture of confidence, of people firm in their convictions. I read that into it because that’s my sense of the time: it was a decade when the adults were still in charge, when the machinery of culture was still firmly in the hands of men in suits.

It was a time when we knew who we were, we liked ourselves, and we weren’t ashamed of that.

Jim Geraghty adds:
If this was a scene in a film, there wouldn’t be much movement: perhaps the server is reaching down for a glass, or one of the patrons will sip coffee. It’s quiet, perhaps just the hum of a dishwasher or water gurgling in a percolator. It’s late, well past the dinner hour. No one’s on the street, not even any parked cars.

Our James Lileks observes, “If you put the work alongside Hopper’s entire oeuvre, the loneliness compounds and accumulates. There’s an ache in the heart of his work, an unease he accentuated with the use of disparate vanishing points – nothing quite lines up. We don’t see it, but we feel it. What has happened on the other side of the street from the diner? All those empty rooms on the second floor. No one in those apartments drew their shades to keep out the blaring light of the diner, or the sun that would rise in a few hours?”

The diner is brightly lit, and yet everyone still seems to be in shadow; the shoulder of the man with his back to us blurs into the darkness of the night in the far window. No one’s making eye contact. The man and woman appear to be together, but there’s no visible affection there. Everyone seems lost in thought. Perhaps the day left them with something to contemplate, something ominous. As Racette observes, this was painted in 1942, and the country has just entered a war where victory is far from certain. It’s late, but our three customers haven’t gone home and don’t seem sleepy.

Great art can inspire joy, but life is more than joy. Sometimes circumstances leave us pensive, grappling with an amorphous, free-floating anxiety, worried about the future but unsure about how to prepare for a coming challenge. We can gather with others, escape the darkness, sit on a stool, lean forward, the aroma of coffee before us . . . but the simple creature comforts may not shake the sober ruminations.

Strong labor market networks are built on strong communities.

From Social Capital and Labor Market Networks by Brian J. Asquith, Judith K. Hellerstein, Mark J. Kutzbach, David Neumark. The abstract:
We explore the links between social capital and labor market networks at the neighborhood level. We harness rich data taken from multiple sources, including matched employer-employee data with which we measure the strength of labor market networks, data on behavior such as voting patterns that have previously been tied to social capital, and new data – not previously used in the study of social capital – on the number and location of non-profits at the neighborhood level. We use a machine learning algorithm to identify potential social capital measures that best predict neighborhood-level variation in labor market networks. We find evidence suggesting that smaller and less centralized schools, and schools with fewer poor students, foster social capital that builds labor market networks, as does a larger Republican vote share. The presence of establishments in a number of non-profit oriented industries are identified as predictive of strong labor market networks, likely because they either provide public goods or facilitate social contacts. These industries include, for example, churches and other religious institutions, schools, country clubs, and amateur or recreational sports teams or clubs.
If I am reading this correctly, their finding is that localism, bourgeoise values, religiosity, strong communitarianism and local institutions, and absence of needs-dependent populations all contribute to strong labor market networks. Go figure.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Joannes Barbucollus

From The Greek Anthology translated by James Michie.
Joannes Barbucollus, vii, 555

Looking upon my husband's face, I praised
With my last breath
The gods of marriage and the gods of death -
These that a man so fine
Should be my husband, those that he's still alive.
May he thrive,
The father of the children that we raised,
His and mine.

Exotic cooking

From The New Yorker.

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Sea Tragedy

Sea Tragedy by Albert Pinkham Ryder.

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Improve the process or reengineer it?

From Could Newark Have Achieved More? by Neerav Kingsland.

An interesting set of findings from the Newark effort to spend $100 million of Mark Zuckerberg's money to improved education in a failing education desert. Most studies to date have found that the money was spent and education not improved. This study finds a small improvement; "The Harvard study found that the Newark reforms, in the most recent year of the study, had a positive impact on ELA (.07 SD) and no impact on math."
What Caused the Positive Effects?

While the authors didn’t calculate the cumulative effects of the reforms, they did do something wonderful.

The authors separated out the effects of two different strategies: (1) improving existing schools vs. (2) expanding high-performing schools, closing low-performing schools, and facilitating the transfer of students out of low-performing schools and into high-performing schools.

The improving existing schools approach included replacing large numbers of principals, renegotiating the union contract, implementing new data systems, and extending learning time.

The open / close / shift enrollment approach included adding to the enrollment of high-performing charter and district schools, closing underperforming schools (11 traditional schools and 3 charters), and implementing a unified enrollment system that made choosing schools much easier for families. These reforms increased charter enrollment from 14% to 28%.

The results are striking.

In math, the improve strategy achieved a .08 negative effect in math while the open / close / shift strategy had a positive .04 effect.

In ELA both strategies had positive effects, but the open / close / shift was responsible for 62% of the overall positive effect.

Perhaps most importantly: the open / close / shift strategy achieved positive effects in every year of the study.

Opening and closing schools, and shifting student enrollment, increased student learning.
I have done a number of business turn-arounds over the years. You always have a strategic choice at the beginning: Do you improve the existing system or do you remake the existing system into a new one? That is the equivalent of Newark's improve versus open/close/shift.

The improve versus remake is especially pertinent when it comes to personnel. I am a great believer in the culture of an organization and sometimes in a failing organization you have individuals with bad behaviors who are subverting the culture. The humane thing to do is to try and coach them into the appropriate behaviors (and skills) yet sometimes you do not have the luxury of time that might be required. Hiring/firing/retasking can occur quickly but it can have at least a short term (and sometimes long term) detrimental impact as well.

You have to use judgment to strike the right mix of improve versus remake and it is easy to get it wrong. I have had successes with both approaches but perhaps the most dramatic success was through a highly targeted hiring/firing/retasking of selected individuals. Once the poison was drained the cultural system revitalized itself quickly and grew dramatically.

Interesting to see data and metrics for the comparable education reform process in Newark.

Modern paradoxes

I am not so sure about levels of prejudice and superstition. Perhaps, but there is a lot of competition for first place in prejudice and superstition in countries with no freedom of opinion.

But the comment does spark two paradoxes.

So far, in the OECD, we cannot seem to accomplish increased prosperity without also increasing inequality. For all countries, the wealthier they become, the more unequal they become. It is not that the poor become immiserated. Almost without exception, the rising tide raises all boats but the bigger boats rise faster.

I do suspect that the 1923 observation does translate into a slightly different point, one that is almost a tautology. The more freedom of opinion there is, the greater the variance in opinion there will be. However, the more complex your social system, and the more free it is, the more continued prosperity depends on shared opinions.

You are left with probably five paradoxical truths.
Greater prosperity arises from greater socio-economic complexity.

Greater socio-economic complexity depends on greater freedom of communication.

Greater prosperity is associated with increased inequality.

Greater freedom drives greater variance in thought and opinion.

However, greater complexity requires greater conformity of assumptions to achieve greater prosperity.

Dizzying transitions from tin-hat conspiracy theories to the New Real

The disrepute of the media and the distrust of the media by the public is a sorry condition in our Republic. We need a better media that is more capable and more trustworthy.

It is certainly true that journalists can be quite biased and have a different worldview than your average American. That said, sometimes journalists are victims of a high velocity news cycle.

From Thursday, October 19th, Donald Trump just suggested the FBI, Democrats and Russia might all be co-conspirators by Chris Cillizza. Cillizza's take is that Trump is an idiot and dangerous for trafficking in such ridiculous conspiracy theories.

On Tuesday, October 24th, the Washington Post publishes Clinton campaign, DNC paid for research that led to Russia dossier by Adam Entous, Devlin Barrett and Rosalind S. Helderman. The Post's report is that the Clinton campaign, the DNC, and the FBI all funded the collection of anti-Trump opposition research from the Russians.

From a post-election claim that Russia and Trump colluded to snatch the presidency from Clinton, this allegation has now morphed into a different monster: A US presidential candidate and her political party funded research from the Russians to defeat her political opponent. That research was then used by the allied administration (White House) to justify wiretapping Clinton's opponent's associates and then to launch a full bore investigation of the unsubstantiated allegation of collusion. At this point the evidence points to a shift from one pole to the other in terms of credible claims of collusion as documented by Mollie Hemingway on Wednesday, October 25th: Here Are The 10 Most Important Reported Claims About The Steele Dossier On Russia.

This approaches banana republic type shenanigans. The more "tin-hat" conspiracies theories turn out to be true, the more our national trust in one another is eroded. The easier it becomes to believe even crazier theories. We need an independent press which actually investigates the truth, regardless of their ideological or partisan biases.

Poor old Cillizza's head must be spinning.

The mysteries of history

I am keenly interested in maritime history and the age of discovery, one small chapter of which involves the formal discovery of the North Atlantic island groups, the Canaries (discovered by Spain in 1402), the Azores (discovered by Portugal in 1427), Madeira (discovered by Portugal in 1418), and the Cape Verde Islands (discovered by Portugal in 1456), all clustered in the eastern North Atlantic between Iberia and West Africa.

Most of the islands had legendary sightings and occupations stretching back to the classical era but none were formally known until the Spanish, and more comprehensively, the Portuguese under Henry the Explorer began sponsored explorations of the world. There is archaeological evidence that Vikings may have visited Madeira sometime 900-1050 AD.

One aspect that has always fascinated me is that other than the Canaries (62 miles off the African coast), all the other island groups were uninhabited at the time of discovery. Relatively close to Europe and Africa, some hundreds of miles, and yet, with the transportation technology of the time, too far for permanent human occupation until the 1400s.

And what about the Canaries? Where did the aboriginal inhabitants come from? North Africa, Ireland, ancient Portugal, the Americas? North Africa was always the most logical and there has been decent evidence to support that supposition but the issue is little studied.

Now, from Genomic Analyses of Pre-European Conquest Human Remains from the Canary Islands Reveal Close Affinity to Modern North Africans by Ricardo Rodríguez-Varela, et al, there is a DNA study supporting a Berber/North African origin of the aboriginal inhabitants. From the abstract.
The origins and genetic affinity of the aboriginal inhabitants of the Canary Islands, commonly known as Guanches, are poorly understood. Though radiocarbon dates on archaeological remains such as charcoal, seeds, and domestic animal bones suggest that people have inhabited the islands since the 5th century BCE, it remains unclear how many times, and by whom, the islands were first settled. Previously published ancient DNA analyses of uniparental genetic markers have shown that the Guanches carried common North African Y chromosome markers (E-M81, E-M78, and J-M267) and mitochondrial lineages such as U6b, in addition to common Eurasian haplogroups. These results are in agreement with some linguistic, archaeological, and anthropological data indicating an origin from a North African Berber-like population. However, to date there are no published Guanche autosomal genomes to help elucidate and directly test this hypothesis. To resolve this, we generated the first genome-wide sequence data and mitochondrial genomes from eleven archaeological Guanche individuals originating from Gran Canaria and Tenerife. Five of the individuals (directly radiocarbon dated to a time transect spanning the 7th–11th centuries CE) yielded sufficient autosomal genome coverage (0.21× to 3.93×) for population genomic analysis. Our results show that the Guanches were genetically similar over time and that they display the greatest genetic affinity to extant Northwest Africans, strongly supporting the hypothesis of a Berber-like origin. We also estimate that the Guanches have contributed 16%–31% autosomal ancestry to modern Canary Islanders, here represented by two individuals from Gran Canaria.
So the Berbers have it. It of course raises new questions. How did they get to the Canaries? On purpose or by accident? If on purpose, what motive brought them? The Berbers, as far as I am aware, were not known for their maritime prowess. Was it Phoenicians who transported them? Did Berbers co-opt Phoenician sailing technology and transport themselves?

Questions for future research. The mysteries of history.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Remembrance by Su Tung-po

From The Spectator, 23 September 1989
Remembrance by Su Tung-po (1036-1101)
translated from the Chinese by Graeme Wilson

Nothing deliberate. Still, ten years should see
The ties of the dead to the living grow less tight.
That lonely grave a thousand miles away.
Who now can talk my chilling worries right?
You wouldn't know me, even if we met,
This face year-dustied and this hair rime-white.

In last night's dream I found myself back home.
Through the small room's window, white, the moonlight shines.
You turn as you comb your hair. You look at me.
Down silent cheeks tears trace their silver lines.
For how many years must my heart continue breaking?
That moonlit grave, its ring of stubby pines.

UPDATE: It occurs to me that there is an echo in the first line of the second stanza to Daphne du Maurier's opening line in Rebecca.
Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again.

Free Kittens

From The New Yorker.

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Looks like Pawley's Island to me

Unknown title by Jim Holland

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People are really trying their best, let's accept human fallibility

From "Let’s all give each other a pass, shall we?" by Ann Althouse. She points to a passage by David Rackoff.
From "Half Empty" by David Rakoff (who was facing the cancer treatment of amputation of his left arm and shoulder):
A friend asks if I’ve “picked out” my prosthetic yet, as though I’d have my choice of titanium-plated cyborgiana at my disposal, like some amputee Second Life World of Warcraft character. Another friend, upon hearing my news, utters an unedited, “Oh my God, that’s so depressing!” Over supper, I am asked by another, “So if it goes to the lungs, is it all over?”...

But here’s the point I want to make about the stuff people say. Unless someone looks you in the eye and hisses, “You fucking asshole, I can’t wait until you die of this,” people are really trying their best. Just like being happy and sad, you will find yourself on both sides of the equation many times over your lifetime, either saying or hearing the wrong thing. Let’s all give each other a pass, shall we?
Magnanimity, graciousness, and tolerance of fallibility seem to be in short supply today. Part of it is that there are people out there who are constantly seeking affirmation of their own self-perceived victimhood and others who need to find things to be outraged about.

Just when increasing complexity of the human system (technology, governance, economy, morality, etc.) requires greater communication, we have a countervailing incentive not to communicate. If you engage in communication, you open yourself to assault by intolerant, unforgiving, and coercive/repressive individuals who need to manufacture outrage or manipulate your less-than-perfect words in order to serve their own agenda.

When there is no trust, graciousness, magnanimity, tolerance or forgiveness for failure, there can be no comity, community, no civilization.

Human fallibility is inherent. Failures give us an opportunity to grow. Forgiveness gives us an opportunity to bond.

Why would the Times let someone do that?

What an odd essay. From Prenup Is a Four-Letter Word by Abby Mimms.

The New York Times, NPR and the Washington Post all seem to have a propensity for publishing essays on social issues which I think are intended to spark thought and debate but which come across to normals as enabling psychologically frail people to posture their poor behavior.

In this instance the author is writing about her trauma in regards to signing a prenuptial agreement. Fair enough. Pre-nups have always struck me as both corrosive to a developing relationship and yet also a logical necessity where there are significant differences in what is being brought to the marriage.

But the essayist's description of the circumstances is so horrifyingly embarrassing and self-demeaning that you have to wonder what the editors were thinking. Why would you provide a platform for someone to make such a public spectacle of herself.

She is forty-two years old and has never had a career. She has worked intermittently and primarily as a waitress, living hand-to-mouth. She wants to be writer. OK, not the decisions I would make, but she is an adult free to make her own decisions regardless of the statistically probable outcomes. She has no savings to speak of, no credible credit position, no assets.

She meets a man who has a career, has worked hard and saved and brings assets, a house, income, stability and creditworthiness to the relationship.

They start with a long distance relationship. They have (a planned, contrived, accidental?) child. They consider marriage. He asks for a prenup. This upsets her.

That is pretty much the long and short of the essay. She doesn't try to justify her decisions. She does try to cast him at least a little as at fault, claiming controlling behavior and risk aversion.

She has written a 1,500 word account that makes her look like a gold-digging snow flake with poor personal self-control and demeans her husband in public.

Why would the Times let someone do that?

The only bias discovered in this study is confirmation bias

From A Study Used Sensors to Show That Men and Women Are Treated Differently at Work by Stephen Turban, Laura Freeman, and Ben Waber. It would be valid to say that the only bias discovered in this study is confirmation bias.

For all that their conclusion is unsupported by their data, it is none-the-less an interesting effort.

We know from many replicated studies that there is no gender wage gap for equal work. Men and women are paid the same for the same work here in the US and across most the OECD, a finding of some thirty years standing and frequent validation and replication. The factors which determine compensation have to do with education attainment, degree field, economic sector, work flexibility, work commitment, work duration, work structure (full-time, part-time, etc.), etc. When comparing like-to-like there are identical outcomes. Differences only occur when you compare apples to oranges (for example, comparing earnings for full-time employees with those of part-time employees.)

But Turban et al are not investigating compensation claims, they are trying to explain why women are under-represented at senior levels of enterprises. It is regrettable that they appear not to be aware of the research in wage gap theory nor aware of the labor force participation structure between countries as that might have provided many of the answers to their question.

They start, kudos to them, with trying to generate data that might answer their question.
Gender equality remains frustratingly elusive. Women are underrepresented in the C-suite, receive lower salaries, and are less likely to receive a critical first promotion to manager than men. Numerous causes have been suggested, but one argument that persists points to differences in men and women’s behavior.

Which raises the question: Do women and men act all that differently? We realized that there’s little to no concrete data on women’s behavior in the office. Previous work has relied on surveys and self-reported assessments — methods of data collecting that are prone to bias. Fortunately, the proliferation of digital communication data and the advancement of sensor technology have enabled us to more precisely measure workplace behavior.

We decided to investigate whether gender differences in behavior drive gender differences in outcomes at one of our client organizations, a large multinational business strategy firm, where women were underrepresented in upper management. In this company, women made up roughly 35%–40% of the entry-level workforce but a smaller percentage at each subsequent level. Women made up only 20% of people at the fourth level (the second highest at this organization).

We collected email communication and meeting schedule data for hundreds of employees in one office, across all five levels of seniority, over the course of four months. We then gave 100 of these individuals sociometric badges, which allowed us to track in-person behavior. These badges, which look like large ID badges and are worn by all employees, record communication patterns using sensors that measure movement, proximity to other badges, and speech (volume and tone of voice but not content). They can tell us who talks with whom, where people communicate, and who dominates conversations.

We collected this data, anonymized it, and analyzed it. Although we were not able to see the identity of individuals, we still had data on gender, position, and tenure at the office, so we could control for these factors. To retain privacy, we did not collect the content of any communications, only the metadata (that is, who communicated with whom, at what time, and for how long).
Given the question they are trying to answer, there appear to be some gaps in their study design.

Four months is too short a time frame. They are working with a consulting firm in this study. There are surges and lulls in consulting firm work volumes. Did this study occur during a surge, during a lull or was it representative of the full year?

If their study was executed during a lull, then they are not capturing real determinants of what makes a difference in terms of promotion. They find that male and female employees have the same mentorship, leadership exposure rates, and networking rates. But only for this four month period. It is quite possible that these rates might differ significantly if the study was conducted in an intense period rather than a slack period.

We don't know if that is the case but we can't address the potential weakness in the study design because those details are not provided.

The researcher's description of the design also leaves unaddressed one of the critical differentiators in performance - volume and flexibility of response to work conditions. We know from the wage gap research that this a key differentiator. People working nine to five versus those working 60-80 hours a week and, as critically, doing it on short notice and with the flexibility to do it evenings and weekends, end up with substantially different performance outcomes.

If someone working nine-to-five has the same exposure rates, affiliation rates, mentorship rates, etc. as someone working crazy and responsive hours, you would expect the second to prosper over the first. Perhaps they took into account overtime, evening and weekend hours, but we don't know that from the study description.

The authors had several hypotheses to explain the difference in career achievement.
We went in with a few hypotheses about why fewer women ended up in senior positions than men: Perhaps women had fewer mentors, less face time with managers, or weren’t as proactive as men in talking to senior leadership.
Interesting that they did not have the hypotheses which explain differences in wage gaps: work duration, work flexibility, degree attainment and degree field, career field, etc.

Their findings are interesting.
But as we analyzed our data, we found almost no perceptible differences in the behavior of men and women. Women had the same number of contacts as men, they spent as much time with senior leadership, and they allocated their time similarly to men in the same role. We couldn’t see the types of projects they were working on, but we found that men and women had indistinguishable work patterns in the amount of time they spent online, in concentrated work, and in face-to-face conversation. And in performance evaluations men and women received statistically identical scores. This held true for women at each level of seniority. Yet women weren’t advancing and men were.

The hypothesis that women lacked access to seniority, in particular, had little support. In email, meeting, and face-to-face data, we found that both men and women were roughly two steps, or social connections, away from senior management (so if John knows Kate and Kate knows a manager, John is two steps from a manager).

Some have argued that women lack access to important, informal networks because they don’t reach out to or spend time with “the boys club.” But this didn’t hold up in our data. We found that the amount of direct interaction with management was identical between genders and that women were just as central as men in the workplace’s social network. The metric we used for this is called weighted centrality. Centrality can be thought of, at a simple level, as how close someone is to decisions being made, other employees, and the other “power connectors,” or individuals with a high number of contacts. Weighted centrality takes into account how much time employees spent talking to different people, which we used as a proxy for how strong the relationship is.
I think these findings (caveated by the design criticisms) are quite worthwhile. They suggest that companies are in fact delivering equitable work environments to women and men. They are ensuring that men and women have equal access to leadership, to mentorship, to work environments.

Especially interesting to me, as I have been highly critical of this explanation for many years, is the refutation of the "old boys club" hypothesis. Obviously those exist in some companies in some places at some times, though I would characterize them more as insider clubs, rather than as boys clubs.

But in a thirty odd year career nationally and internationally with roles including CEO of global businesses and providing services to Fortune 500 companies, I have never been a member of an old boys club nor seen such a beast in the wild. Turban et al's study seems to confirm that the old boys club is indeed a myth.

Turban makes the claim:
Our analysis suggests that the difference in promotion rates between men and women in this company was due not to their behavior but to how they were treated.
But this is a conclusion not supported by the evidence. What they have shown is that men and women have equal networking opportunities, exposure and connections. They don't show that they have the same behaviors and, nor by the design of the study, could they show that the same behaviors were being demonstrated.

They have concluded that because men and women demonstrate the same social patterns within an enterprise, they must be demonstrating the same behaviors. That is not a conclusion that can be supported by the evidence. Confidence, flexibility, adaptability, resilience, etc. are all important behaviors. Are they equally demonstrated between men and women in enterprises? From this study, we don't know.

The paragraph from which the above quote is drawn is the pivotal paragraph demonstrating the researchers departure from evidence and logic into confirmation bias. The full paragraph is:
Our analysis suggests that the difference in promotion rates between men and women in this company was due not to their behavior but to how they were treated. This indicates that arguments about changing women’s behavior — to “lean-in,” for example — might miss the bigger picture: Gender inequality is due to bias, not differences in behavior.
That is a huge crevice they are leaping. Work patterns are not the same as behaviors. More than that, they already have indicated that "in performance evaluations men and women received statistically identical scores" which would seem to indicate that at least some level, that women are being treated the same as men.

Between design flaws, confusion about work patterns versus work behaviors, and contradicting evidence within the study, there is no support for the conclusion that gender inequality in promotion rates is due to bias. The conclusion is further undermined by the evidence from gender wage gap research which finds that such gaps exist due to women's decisions (parenthood, degree major, work duration/commitment, etc.).

The study is badly designed to answer the question they asked, they ignore the study results that counter their assumptions, they confuse patterns of work with patterns of behavior, and they fail to take into account research from adjacent fields (economics) which demonstrate alternate explanations are operative.

From that perspective, the study is terrible. On the other hand, they do demonstrate that, at least for this company, HR has been effective in ensuring that men and women have equal opportunities for leadership exposure, network creation and mentorships. They also demonstrate that, at least in this company, there is no old boys club standing in the way of women.

Interestingly, at the pivotal paragraph above, the language becomes much weaker. They are firm in their conclusion but they are weak in the evidence for it. I have bolded the weasel words necessary to support their preconceived explanation which they are trying to push.
Bias, as we define it, occurs when two groups of people act identically but are treated differently. Our data implies that gender differences may lie not in how women act but in how people perceive their actions.
There is no evidence that this is happening, it is the conclusion they are drawing without support.

This passage is fascinating for its lack of self-awareness.
At this company, women tend to leave the workforce between the third and fourth level of seniority, after having been at the company for four to 10 years. This timing presents another possible hypothesis: Perhaps women decide to leave the workplace for other reasons, such as wanting to raise a family. Our data can’t determine whether this is true or not, but we don’t think this changes the argument for reducing bias.
In wage gap research, family commitments and their impacts on work volume and work flexibility, have a huge impact on wage outcomes. Decisions about when to start a family and how to structure familial roles and work commitments are highly significant in determining outcomes. There is no reason to expect that it would be any different in terms of promotion rates. The timing of women's departures seems to suggest that family commitments as a hypothesis is at play here as well.
But the Turban team never engages with this Occam's Razor.

They ignore the ready explanation (family commitments) and acknowledge that their research can't answer the question as to whether family commitments might explain female attrition. They then pull a sleight of hand by changing the argument to whether it is worthwhile to reduce bias.

Which is odd since their own research in terms of how women are connected and perform seems to indicate that at this firm, there is no bias.

The rest of the article is intellectually downhill. Having manufactured an explanation of bias where there is no bias in evidence, the Turban team resorts to the failed policies of the past. They want to see affirmative action in gender promotions to take the place of individual performance and choices.
This means trying bias-reduction programs, but also developing policies that explicitly level the playing field. One way to do so is to make promotions and hiring more equal.
The fastest way to create or reinforce biases is to sustain variances in performance through affirmative action.

At this point, the Turban team fall back on the hypothesis that wage gap research suggests is the rub - personal familial choices.
Another potential problem lies in workload. In this company, we measured higher workloads as individuals advanced to higher levels of seniority. This isn’t intrinsically gendered, but many social pressures push women around this age to simultaneously balance work, family, and a disproportionate amount of housework. Companies may consider how to modify expectations and better support working parents so that they don’t force women to make a “family or work” decision.
This seems the big reveal. Gender wage gap research indicates that women exit full-time and highly accommodating work commitments (i.e. long sustained hours on short notice) as they begin to have children. Apparently that is what is driving attrition at this company as well. Nothing in the Turban team's research suggest there is bias and they are apparently willing to acknowledge that conflicts and workload is what is driving attrition and the gender imbalance at senior levels.

But that doesn't stand in the way of concluding that bias is the answer. Bias, apparently, was always going to be the answer from this study. The only bias discovered in this study is confirmation bias.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Lonely Pass by Nyugen Thi Hihn

From The Spectator, 23 September 1989
The Lonely Pass
by Nyugen Thi Hihn, the Lady of Thanh Quan (c.1796-)
translated from Vietnamese by Graeme Wilson

The sun was setting as I struggled
Up here to the Lonely Pass
Where, for a grip between bare rock,
Stunt trees and ragged grass
Struggle with the same dry fierceness
As, between their dry
Leaves, the few small flowers strain
For a smidgin of the sky.

Listening to the nightjars call,
I think I understand
The sadness in all exiles,
That need for a native land
Which, all around me, francolins
Repeatedly insist
In voices tired with homelessness
Must, known or not, exist.

I stand here halted. Suddenly
These things at which I stare,
Sky and mountain, once so loved,
Are seen as solely there
As images on whose half-truths
I need no more rely.

My native land is loneliness, My only need is I.

But without sleaze

From The New Yorker.

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Frederiksborg Palace in the Evening Light by Christen Købke

Frederiksborg Slot ved Aftenbelysning ("Frederiksborg Palace in the Evening Light"), 1835 by Christen Købke (Denmark, 1810-1848).

I visited Frederiksborg Palace at least once a year in the early 1970s.

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The comfort of turpitude is easier and greater

From Integrity Lost: The Journalism Chronicles by Scott H. Greenfield, lamenting the loss of viewpoint independence and integrity in the media. He starts with:
Michael Goodwin was weaned on Abe Rosenthal’s New York Times, rising to City Hall Bureau Chief before becoming Executive Editor of the Daily News and, now, chief political columnist for the New York Post. He’s been around, so when he says this, it comes from experience:
It’s not exactly breaking news that most journalists lean left. I used to do that myself. I grew up at The New York Times, so I’m familiar with the species. For most of the media, bias grew out of the social revolution of the 1960s and ’70s. Fueled by the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements, the media jumped on the anti-authority bandwagon writ large. The deal was sealed with Watergate, when journalism was viewed as more trusted than government—and far more exciting and glamorous. Think Robert Redford in All the President’s Men. Ever since, young people became journalists because they wanted to be the next Woodward and Bernstein, find a Deep Throat, and bring down a president. Of course, most of them only wanted to bring down a Republican president. That’s because liberalism is baked into the journalism cake.
This is the sort of statement that really needs context, as the left-leaning of the Nixon era wasn’t the same left as today. There were similarities, of course, in that Nixon was viewed as inherently evil and must be taken down. The lives of young men in Viet Nam depended on it, so the platitudes were born.
During the years I spent teaching at the Columbia University School of Journalism, I often found myself telling my students that the job of the reporter was “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” I’m not even sure where I first heard that line, but it still captures the way most journalists think about what they do. Translate the first part of that compassionate-sounding idea into the daily decisions about what makes news, and it is easy to fall into the habit of thinking that every person afflicted by something is entitled to help. Or, as liberals like to say, “Government is what we do together.” From there, it’s a short drive to the conclusion that every problem has a government solution.
And concludes with:
Goodwin offers three ways in which journalism could recapture its status as a legitimate source of news.
The mismatch between the mainstream media and the public’s sensibilities means there is a vast untapped market for news and views that are not now represented. To realize that potential, we only need three ingredients, and we already have them: first, free speech; second, capitalism and free markets; and the third ingredient is you, the consumers of news.
Goodwin’s third ingredient, dependent on the other two, is for readers to support the media it likes.
As the great writer and thinker Midge Decter once put it, “You have to join the side you’re on.” It’s no secret that newspapers and magazines are losing readers and money and shedding staff. Some of them are good newspapers. Some of them are good magazines. There are also many wonderful, thoughtful, small publications and websites that exist on a shoestring. Don’t let them die. Subscribe or contribute to those you enjoy.
Feel free to hit the tip jar on the right (and I appreciate your support), but frankly, this strikes me as the problem more than the solution. It’s not about what we “like,” which is the bubble that confirms beliefs and desired outcomes. It’s about what’s real, even if we don’t.

The evil of advocacy journalism, masquerading as news reporting, has been the subject of my invective for a while. But so too has the point that integrity, once lost, cannot be regained. Once the news media has joined a team, it can’t be trusted again to be the honest broker of news. That isn’t a problem so easily solved, and it may not be fixable at all.
From the comments, there is this important observation that there have been past cycles of advocacy and integrity.
The notion that integrity is like virginity is false. Integrity CAN be restored. It just ain’t easy. Journalism used to be yellow, then it cleaned up. Mostly. Now it’s gone yellow again, but it can recover. To do so it has to ditch that evil bromide about comfort and affliction.
I would add one observation - there are at least two tropes of the sixties and seventies which have been highly corrosive of public discourse. One is the claim that "the personal is political" from the feminist movement in the 1960s and the second is, as noted by Greenfield, the belief that the raison d'être of the news media is "to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."

The first claim, that "the personal is political," obliterates privacy. It is a totalitarian's worldview. It coercively dragoons all private activity into the public debate. From "the personal is political" comes doxxing, social media mobs, deplatforming, suppression of speech, virtue signalling, and all the many other wretched excesses of modern discourse. "The personal is political" is an invitation for the majoritarian mob, incendiary advocates, and the state to coercively intervene in a person's private domain via the claim that "the personal is political" and it's modern attendant claim that "words and thoughts are as harmful as physical action."

Greenfield elaborates on the claim that the role of the media is "to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." I would add that the plank "to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable" is even more rotten than Greenfield describes. He is correct as far as he goes, but there is more.

The afflicted can be afflicted by circumstance or they can be afflicted by the consequences of their own decisions and actions. In the West, we tend to be sympathetic to those who are afflicted by circumstance (drought, disability, natural disaster, etc.). Our sympathy tends to be markedly more constrained when it comes to those who are afflicted by the consequences of their own decisions and actions.

It reminds me of Aesop's fable of the ant and the grasshopper which was always ambiguous, subject to both moral and tragic interpretations. Undoubtedly, the grasshopper was in the wrong and seeking to sponge off the ant, on the other hand, you don't want to see someone suffer extinction from their own indolence, ignorance, stupidity, and bad decision-making.

The trope "to comfort the afflicted" falsely conflates the two concepts, airbrushing the real moral tension: what do you do when someone's suffering arises from their own decisions and actions, particularly if the amelioration of such suffering harms or threatens those not responsible for that suffering?

Likewise with afflicting the comfortable. It sounds simple and straightforward, but like most simple tropes about complex issues, it is incomplete, moot, irrelevant or wrong. Is it a moral imperative of the media to afflict those who are harmless and also comfortable through their own efforts and decision-making? Surely, you only want to afflict only those who have achieved comfort through deception, coercion, or crime?

I think the latter point is the correct one and a great and useful function of the media. And yet, in modern times, the media afflicts the honest comfort of the middle class while turning a deliberately blind eye to the comfort of the elite who achieve their success via deception, coercion, and crime. Weinstein is only the topical example of a much deeper and long running blindness in the media. The Fusion research, Clinton's perennial plague of bimbo eruptions, the insistence that the email erasures weren't an issue, and the refusal to investigate pay-to-play charges that were right out there in the open are all examples of the longer running issue.

The conviction on the part of recent generations of journalists that the personal is political and that the media's duty is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable has, I suspect, contributed mightily to the collapse of the integrity of the media and the corresponding collapse of the public trust in the media.

That trust can re-earned by renewed integrity but it takes time, costs money, and is inherently difficult. They might not like the choices, but the media has a path to redemption. The problem is that they are unlikely to choose it because it is hard and risky. The comfort of turpitude is easier and greater.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

A Persian riddle

From The Spectator, 17 March 1990.
The Riddle
by Naser Khosrow (1003-1088)
Translated from the Persian by Dick Davis

I have a friend who, when I am alone,
Sits with me — and how intimate we've grown!
He talks, but what he says he never hears,
He is unfeeling, but he dries my tears.
He has one back, he has a hundred faces
As lovely as the spring in desert places
(Sometimes I thump him on the back — I must,
He gets half-smothered in thick, choking dust).
He talks, but soundlessly; he has to find
A clever man before he'll speak his mind.
Whenever I encounter him, his eyes
Recall the precepts of the good and wise,
And yet he's quiet till I look his way
Unlike some fools, who blather on all day.
In darkness he falls silent — which is right,
He is a Prince who glories in the Light.

The Answer is 'A Book'.

The children's menu

From The New Yorker.

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Boat at sea

Unknown title by Albert Pinkham Ryder.

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Monday, October 23, 2017

My name is — Who cares?

From The Greek Anthology translated by James Michie.
Paulus Silentiarius, vii, 307

My name is — Who cares? — My birthplace
Was — Does it matter now? — I come
From ancestors whom I can trace
Back to — Supposing they were scum,
What of it? — I earned good repute
And if not would we give a hoot?
Now here beneath this tomb I lie
Who's speaking? And who to? And why?

Are you sure that's grouper?"

From The New Yorker.

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Jim Holland interior

Unknown title by Jim Holland

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Sunday, October 22, 2017

My Sister by Connie Bensley

My Sister
by Connie Bensley

She was the first to hold her own spoon
the first to amuse the uncles
the first to wear the pink tulle dress.

She was the first to get a Valentine
a wedding bouquet
a child.

She was the first to have a fur coat
the first to sit on a committee
the first to say no to mother.

She was the first to have a bad prognosis
a walking frame
a hired nurse.

She is the first to have a coffin.

At last we draw level

No dolphins were killed

From The New Yorker.

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A View from Dosseringen near the Sortedam Lake Looking towards the Suburb Nørrebro outside Copenhagen by Christen Købke

A View from Dosseringen near the Sortedam Lake Looking towards the Suburb Nørrebro outside Copenhagen by Christen Købke (Denmark, 1810-1848).

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Saturday, October 21, 2017

With sophistry their sauce they sweeten

Dictionary of Idioms and Their Origins by Linda Flavell & Roger Flavell. Page 156.
hog: to go the whole hog
to do something thoroughly

A number of theories have been advanced for this phrase and there is also some uncertainty as to whether it was coined in America or England. Although written use occurred first in the US in 1828 and in England soon after, there is no way of knowing on which side of the Atlantic it first gained spoken currency.

Speculation over the country of origin is not clarified by the fact that, in the last century, a hog was a slang term for a ten cent piece in America but also for an Irish shilling, so that, according to one theory, to go the whole hog meant to be willing to spend the whole amount on something. As Brandreth aptly comments, this would make the phrase a close relation of in for a penny, in for a pound.

The poet Cowper apparently enjoyed popularity on both sides of the Atlantic and Funk (1950) suggests that a likely origin is to be found in one of his poems, The Love of the World Reproved: or Hypocrisy Detected (1779), in which he discusses the strictures Muslims placed upon the eating of pork. Mohammed prohibited his followers from eating certain parts of a pig but was singularly unclear about what these were. Muslims were wont to interpret his decree according to their own personal taste so that, between them, the whole hog was devoured:

Had he the sinful part express’d,
They might with safety eat the rest;
But for one piece they thought it hard
From the whole hog to be debar’d;
And set their wit at work to find
What joint the prophet had in mind.
Much controversy straight arose,
These choose the back, the belly those;
By some ’tis confidently said
He meant not to forbid the head;
While others at that doctrine rail,
And piously prefer the tail.
Thus, conscience freed from every clog,
Mahometans eat up the hog.
Each thinks his neighbour makes too free,
Yet likes a slice as well as he:
With sophistry their sauce they sweeten,
Till quite from tail to snout ’tis eaten.
I have had perhaps some hundreds of Muslim friends and acquaintances and certainly a couple of dozen with whom I would have felt comfortable making an inquiry into this idea that there was ambiguity as to what part of a pig might be proscribed.

However, among all my friends and acquaintances, it has never occurred to me to ask. When the proscription has been explained to me, it has always been as a blanket prohibition. There was no ambiguity. And among those whom I have observed, self-identified Muslims either do or do not eat flesh from a pig, there has never been any effort to justify bacon versus pork chops, for example.

And those who do not observe the prohibition have always tended to be more westernized and/or secular.

So did Cowper simply get it wrong? Perhaps there really is a blanket prohibition. Or perhaps there are regional variations. Perhaps in his time (1731 to 1800) customs were different. Perhaps, the prohibition is not universal and there are arguments for some parts versus another. I don't know.

It searching for an answer, I discover that the form of the poem provided by the Flavells is abbreviated. The full poem uses Muslims as an instance but then draws a parallel to similar behaviors in the West.

The Love of the World Reproved: or, Hypocrisy Detected
by William Cowper

Thus says the prophet of the Turk;
Good musselman, abstain from pork!
There is a part in every swine
No friend or follower of mine
May taste, whate'er his inclination,
On pain of excommunication.
Such Mahomet's mysterious charge,
And thus he left the point at large.
Had he the sinful part expressed,
They might with safety eat the rest;
But for one piece they thought it hard
And set their wit at work to find
What joint the prophet had in mind.

Much controversy straight arose,
These choose the back, the belly those;
By some 'tis confidently said
He meant not to forbid the head,
While others at that doctrine rail,
And piously prefer the tail.
Thus, conscience freed from every clog,
Mahometans eat up the hog.

You laugh! — 'tis well, — the tale applied
May make you laugh on t'other side.
Renounce the world, the preacher cries; —
We do, — a multitude replies,
While one as innocent regards
A snug and friendly game at cards;
And one, whatever you may say,
Can see no evil in a play;
Some love a concert or a race,
And others, shooting and the chase.
Reviled and loved, renounced and followed,
Thus bit by bit the world is swallowed;
Each thinks his neighbour makes too free,
Yet likes a slice as well as he,
With sophistry their sauce they sweeten,
Till quite from tail to snout 'tis eaten.

Nice Morning by Robert Roberts

From The Spectator, 27 May 1989
Nice Morning
by Robert Roberts

'Nice morning,' he'd remark. Or, if
It wasn't, 'Not so nice today.'
And, watching his Jack Russell sniff
Our labrador, perhaps he'd say,

'There's rain about.' Or, if there was
No rain about, perhaps just that.
Sniffing the air we part, because
We know just where to leave it at.

For, if we did go on about
The nuclear thing, or child abuse,
Greenhouse effect, or modern art,
Biassed reporting on the News,

Or women priests, graffiti, crime,
Man's taking leave of God, what price
That poetry that doesn't rhyme -
The morning would be not so nice.


From The New Yorker.

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People of smoke

From The New Yorker.

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The Race Track

The Race Track (Death on a Pale Horse) (1895–1910) by Albert Pinkham Ryder.

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Let an action be never so trivial in itself, they always make it appear of the utmost importance

From The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope. From the letter of dedication. Emphasis added.
The Machinery, Madam, is a term invented by the Critics, to signify that part which the Deities, Angels, or Dæmons are made to act in a Poem: For the ancient Poets are in one respect like many modern Ladies: let an action be never so trivial in itself, they always make it appear of the utmost importance. These Machines I determined to raise on a very new and odd foundation, the Rosicrucian doctrine of Spirits.
"Let an action be never so trivial in itself, they always make it appear of the utmost importance": what a perfect description of so many sensitivities on university campuses and in political discourse where there are hordes hungry to find offense in the words of others, the discovery of such offense being an affirmation of their own self-perceived importance.

The Rape of the Lock has had significant literary and cultural influence down through the years. A coda to the Wikipedia entry on the poem brings to light one further influence, of which I was unaware, the naming of Uranus's moons.
Pope's fanciful conclusion to his work, translating the stolen lock into the sky, where "'midst the stars [it] inscribes Belinda's name", contributed to the eventual naming of three of the moons of Uranus after characters from The Rape of the Lock: Umbriel, Ariel, and Belinda. The first two are major bodies and were named in 1852 by John Herschel, a year after their discovery. The inner satellite Belinda was not discovered until 1986 and is the only other of the planet's 27 moons taken from Pope's poem rather than Shakespeare's works.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Not waffling, hedging

From The New Yorker.

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House of Shadows

Unknown title by Jim Holland

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The fate of the last of the Gaderene swine

From Swimming Against the Tide by Raymond Carr. A book review.
When the governing body of Christ Church was debating the admission of women to the college, a member of that body argued that, since other colleges were admitting women, Christ Church could not be left behind. To which my late lamented colleague, Charles Stuart, replied that there was no evidence that the fate of the last of the Gaderene swine was noticeably preferable to that of the first.

The Present by John Mole

From The Spectator, 23/30 December 1989
The Present
by John Mole

He stepped into the room, permitted,
Seen, not heard, His father stood
With glass in hand but sober-suited:
Mother, has the boy y been good?

I think he has. Her voice came faintly
From the long sofa where she sat
Between the aunt no one called Auntie
And the uncle who'd seen to that.

So, he shall have his present. Something
Rustled in a dark recess
Then silence, and then whispering,
Then sudden light, then there it was —

The rocking horse, magnificent,
With stirrups, reins, a crimson bow
Tied round the saddle — heaven-sent
To prove the love they could not show.

He took one step, then dared another,
Folded his hands and bowed his head:
Thank you father. Thank you mother.
Thank you.
That was all he said.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Everything in it's place

From The New Yorker.

Click to enlarge.

Mowing by N.C. Wyeth

Mowing by N.C. Wyeth

Click to enlarge


From The Spectator 28 March 1992
by David Geller

Enthusiastic? Yes, I'd qualify.
I can get more than used to having things around:
Can, for a good while, praise them to the sky
Or drive them into the ground.

Serene? I think not. No establishing
That quite unprovable saint's or madman's state of mind
Achieved by tolerating everything
Or leaving it all behind.