Monday, April 30, 2018

The last survivor of the last slave ship to land on American shores

This could be a fascinating story. From The Last Slave by Nick Tabor. Heartbreaking but also fascinating.
Their Eyes Were Watching God is required reading in high schools and colleges and cited as a formative influence by Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou. It’s been canonized by Harold Bloom — even credited for inspiring the tableau in Lemonade where Beyoncé and a clutch of other women regally occupy a wooden porch — but Zora Neale Hurston’s classic novel was eviscerated by critics when it was published in 1937. The hater-in-chief was no less than Richard Wright, who recoiled as much at the book’s depiction of lush female sexuality and (supposedly) apolitical themes as its use of black dialect, “the minstrel technique that makes the ‘white folks’ laugh.”

Six years earlier, Hurston had tried to publish another book in dialect, this one a work of nonfiction called Barracoon. Before she turned to writing novels, she’d trained as a cultural anthropologist at Barnard under the famed father of the field, Franz Boas. He sent his student back south to interview people of African descent. (Hurston was raised in Eatonville, Florida, which wasn’t the “black backside” of a white town, she once observed, but a place wholly inhabited and run by black people — her father was a three-term mayor.) She proved adept at the task, but, as she noted in her collection of folklore, Mules and Men, the job wasn’t always straightforward: “The best source is where there are the least outside influences and these people, usually underprivileged, are the shyest. They are most reluctant at times to reveal that which the soul lives by. And the Negro, in spite of his open-faced laughter, his seeming acquiescence, is particularly evasive … The Negro offers a feather-bed resistance, that is, we let the probe enter, but it never comes out.”

Barracoon is testament to her patient fieldwork. The book is based on three months of periodic interviews with a man named Cudjo Lewis — or Kossula, his original name — the last survivor of the last slave ship to land on American shores. Plying him with peaches and Virginia hams, watermelon and Bee Brand insect powder, Hurston drew out his story. Kossula had been captured at age 19 in an area now known as the country Benin by warriors from the neighboring Dahomian tribe, then marched to a stockade, or barracoon, on the West African coast. There, he and some 120 others were purchased and herded onto the Clotilda, captained by William Foster and commissioned by three Alabama brothers to make the 1860 voyage.

After surviving the Middle Passage, the captives were smuggled into Mobile under cover of darkness. By this time, the international slave trade had been illegal in the United States for 50 years, and the venture was rumored to have been inspired when one of the brothers, Timothy Meaher, bet he could pull it off without being “hanged.” (Indeed, no one was ever punished.) Cudjo worked as a slave on the docks of the Alabama River before being freed in 1865 and living for another 70 years: through Reconstruction, the resurgent oppression of Jim Crow rule, the beginning of the Depression.

When Hurston tried to get Barracoon published in 1931, she couldn’t find a taker. There was concern among “black intellectuals and political leaders” that the book laid uncomfortably bare Africans’ involvement in the slave trade, according to novelist Alice Walker’s foreword to the book, which is finally being published in May. Walker is responsible for reintroducing the world to a forgotten Zora Neale Hurston, who’d died penniless and alone in 1960, in a 1975 Ms. magazine essay. As Walker writes, “Who would want to know, via a blow-by-blow account, how African chiefs deliberately set out to capture Africans from neighboring tribes, to provoke wars of conquest in order to capture for the slave trade. This is, make no mistake, a harrowing read.

The Three Bells of Glasgow by John Greenleaf Whittier

Click to enlarge.

The Three Bells of Glasgow
by John Greenleaf Whittier

Beneath the low-hung night cloud
That raked her splintering mast
The good ship settled slowly,
The cruel leak gained fast.

Over the awful ocean
Her signal guns pealed out.
Dear God! was that Thy answer
From the horror round about?

A voice came down the wild wind,
'Ho! ship ahoy!' its cry
'Our stout Three Bells of Glasgow
Shall lay till daylight by!'

Hour after hour crept slowly,
Yet on the heaving swells
Tossed up and down the ship-lights,
The lights of the Three Bells!

And ship to ship made signals,
Man answered back to man,
While oft, to cheer and hearten,
The Three Bells nearer ran;

And the captain from her taffrail
Sent down his hopeful cry
'Take heart! Hold on!' he shouted;
'The Three Bells shall lay by!'

All night across the waters
The tossing lights shone clear;
All night from reeling taffrail
The Three Bells sent her cheer.

And when the dreary watches
Of storm and darkness passed,
Just as the wreck lurched under,
All souls were saved at last.

Sail on, Three Bells, forever,
In grateful memory sail!
Ring on, Three Bells of rescue,
Above the wave and gale!

Type of the Love eternal,
Repeat the Master's cry,
As tossing through our darkness
The lights of God draw nigh!

Sunday by David Hettinger

Sunday by David Hettinger

Click to enlarge.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Light of Other Days by Thomas Moore

Click to enlarge.

The Light of Other Days
by Thomas Moore

Oft, in the stilly night,
Ere slumber's chain has bound me,
Fond Memory brings the light
Of other days around me:
The smiles, the tears
Of boyhood's years,
The words of love then spoken;
The eyes that shone,
Now dimm'd and gone,
The cheerful hearts now broken!
Thus, in the stilly night,
Ere slumber's chain has bound me,
Sad Memory brings the light
Of other days around me.

When I remember all
The friends, so link'd together,
I've seen around me fall
Like leaves in wintry weather,
I feel like one
Who treads alone
Some banquet-hall deserted,
Whose lights are fled,
Whose garlands dead,
And all but he departed!
Thus, in the stilly night,
Ere slumber's chain has bound me.
Sad Memory brings the light
Of other days around me.

General Sherman by Mark Ryden

General Sherman by Mark Ryden

Click to enlarge.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Let Dogs Delight to Bark and Bite by Isaac Watts

Click to enlarge.

Let Dogs Delight to Bark and Bite
by Isaac Watts

Let dogs delight to bark and bite,
⁠For God hath made them so;
Let bears and lions growl and fight,
⁠For 'tis their nature too.

But, children, you should never let
⁠Such angry passions rise;
Your little hands were never made
⁠To tear each other's eyes.

Birch House, central courtyard with swimming pool, 1968 by Max Dupain

Birch House, central courtyard with swimming pool, 1968 by Max Dupain.

Click to enlarge.

Ryo Takemasa

Cover illustration for NON magazine, October 2014 by Ryo Takemasa.

Click to enlarge.

Wheat by Thomas Hart Benton

Wheat by Thomas Hart Benton

Click to enlarge.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Duty by Ralph Waldo Emerson

by Ralph Waldo Emerson

So nigh is grandeur to our dust,
So near is God to man,
When Duty whispers low, 'Thou must,'
The youth whispers, 'I can.'

Coffee Shop, Battle Mountain, Nevada, 1993 by Jeff Brouws

Coffee Shop, Battle Mountain, Nevada, 1993 by Jeff Brouws

Click to enlarge.

Persistence of agriculturally determined cultural traits

From Moving chairs in Starbucks: Observational studies find rice-wheat cultural differences in daily life in China by Thomas Talhelm, Xuemin Zhang and Shigehiro Oishi. From the Abstract:
Traditional paddy rice farmers had to share labor and coordinate irrigation in a way that most wheat farmers did not. We observed people in everyday life to test whether these agricultural legacies gave rice-farming southern China a more interdependent culture and wheat-farming northern China a more independent culture. In Study 1, we counted 8964 people sitting in cafes in six cities and found that people in northern China were more likely to be sitting alone. In Study 2, we moved chairs together in Starbucks across the country so that they were partially blocking the aisle (n = 678). People in northern China were more likely to move the chair out of the way, which is consistent with findings that people in individualistic cultures are more likely to try to control the environment. People in southern China were more likely to adjust the self to the environment by squeezing through the chairs. Even in China’s most modern cities, rice-wheat differences live on in everyday life.

The Black Sea at Night by Ivan Aivazovsky

The Black Sea at Night by Ivan Aivazovsky

Click to enlarge.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Abou Ben Adhem by Leigh Hunt

Click to enlarge.

Abou Ben Adhem
by Leigh Hunt

Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold:—
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the presence in the room he said,
"What writest thou?"—The vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord,
Answered, "The names of those who love the Lord."
"And is mine one?" said Abou. "Nay, not so,"
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerly still; and said, "I pray thee, then,
Write me as one that loves his fellow men."

The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blest,
And lo! Ben Adhem's name led all the rest.

Rayon vert by Antoine Renault

Rayon vert by Antoine Renault

Click to enlarge.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Arrow and the Song by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Click to enlarge.

The Arrow and the Song
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I shot an arrow into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For, so swiftly it flew, the sight
Could not follow it in its flight.

I breathed a song into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For who has sight so keen and strong,
That it can follow the flight of song?

Long, long afterward, in an oak
I found the arrow, still unbroke;
And the song, from beginning to end,
I found again in the heart of a friend.

Beach with bathing boys, 1906 by Johan Krouthén

Beach with bathing boys, 1906 by Johan Krouthén

Click to enlarge.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Woodman, Spare that Tree! by George Pope Morris

Click to enlarge.

Woodman, Spare that Tree!
by George Pope Morris

Woodman, spare that tree!
⁠Touch not a single bough!
In youth it sheltered me,
⁠And I'll protect it now.
'Twas my forefather's hand
⁠That placed it near his cot;
There, woodman, let it stand,
⁠Thy ax shall harm it not.

That old familiar tree,
⁠Whose glory and renown
Are spread o'er land and sea—
⁠And wouldst thou hew it down?
Woodman, forbear thy stroke!
⁠Cut not its earth-bound ties;
Oh, spare that agèd oak
⁠Now towering to the skies!

When but an idle boy,
⁠I sought its grateful shade;
In all their gushing joy
⁠Here, too, my sisters played.
My mother kissed me here;
⁠My father pressed my hand—
Forgive this foolish tear,
⁠But let that old oak stand.

My heart-strings round thee cling,
⁠Close as thy bark, old friend!
Here shall the wild-bird sing,
⁠And still thy branches bend.
Old tree! the storm still brave!
⁠And, woodman, leave the spot;
While I've a hand to save,
⁠Thy ax shall harm it not.

A comfortable chair by David Hettinger

A comfortable chair by David Hettinger

Click to enlarge.

Monday, April 23, 2018

On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer by John Keats

Click to enlarge.

On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer
by John Keats

Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star'd at the Pacific—and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

Sycamore in Autumn, Orange County Park, c. 1917 by Edgar Alwin Payne (1883 – 1947)

Sycamore in Autumn, Orange County Park, c. 1917 by Edgar Alwin Payne (1883 – 1947)

Click to enlarge.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

They may stretch our necks on all the gibbets in the land

I am beginning, at the encouragement of my mother, to start collecting family genealogical information into Between my uncle and my mother, the stockpile of material to enter is very large. In addition, in this digitized age, also makes available a vast array of information virtually inconceivable in decades past. Census data, draft cards, birth, marriage and death certificates, yearbooks - it is astonishing.

Genealogy combines a trait and a passion - a deep and abiding curiosity about history and a character trait (flaw) in which I have a near obsessive desire to complete tasks. At the beach, when we work puzzles together as a family, I long ago was banished to mere spectator owing to not being able to go to bed without having completed the puzzle. So represents both a challenge and an opportunity. A challenge to rein in my obsession to track down all details but an opportunity to see history from a different angle or perspective.

I am still at the level of playing around with it, finding out what it can do and what I can do with it.

As an exercise, I have picked an individual, Holcomb Bibb Latting, my grandfather, 1890-1945, to study in depth, exploring the data I can find on about him as well as finding what can be discovered online. We are digitizing fast but he lived a century ago, in a small town in a territory not yet a state, and died at a relatively young age of 55. Street names have changed, people moved, companies merged, etc. What trace is left behind that can be found on the internet?

Straight googling (or duckduckgoing or binging) doesn't produce much. I try a variety of combinations of names, dates, locations, his employer, where he studied, etc. As is often the case, it is odd combinations that end up unlocking treasure troves. In this case, an archive of the Chickasha Daily Express maintained by the Library of Congress. My great-grandfather Richard Gano Latting (R.G. Latting) moved with his family (including his son, my grandfather, HB Latting) to Purcell, Indian Territory in 1897 and then a few years later to Chickasha and it was in Chickasha that my grandfather was raised.

My grandfather died nearly fifteen years before my birth so all I have of him are stories from those who loved him.

It would be nice to know more. And what better source than a small town newspaper with a local focus?

The first article I run across is from Saturday, January 30, 1904, when my grandfather was 14.

Double click to enlarge.
A Good Meeting
Patrons and Teachers Meeting a Success — Fine Program.

The second of the series of Patrons and Teachers Meetings, arranged by Supt. Cook, was held at the Methodist church last evening. It was a most pleasant affair socially and the program was an unusually interesting one.

"The Hunter's Chorus," sung by the high school pupils, was the opening number of the program, after which Rev. Leonard offered prayer, Holcome [sp.] Latting recited "The Unknown Speaker. The young man showed no little of the powers of the orator and held the closest attention of his hearers.
Wording, punctuation, spelling and all; what an evocation of a different place and time.

And who is this Unknown Speaker? The reporter alludes to it as if it is common knowledge and perhaps it was a standard rhetorical piece of the time.

From The Speech of the Unknown
The following is taken from Washington and His Generals: or, Legends of the Revolution by George Lippard, published in 1847. The signers of the Declaration of Independence sat in Independence Hall at Philadelphia, contemplating losing their heads or being hanged. Their courage wavered. The document sat there unsigned. An extraordinary catalyst was needed to move them to action. An unknown man rose and gave an electrifying speech. He disappeared soon after.
By signing the Declaration, all were guilty of high treason under British law. The penalty for high treason was to be hanged by the neck until unconscious, then cut down and revived, then disemboweled and cut into quarters. The head and quarters were at the disposal of the crown.

No wonder they wavered! No wonder they discussed back and forth for days on end before signing the document that carried so grave a penalty. An old legend dramatizes the story of the one who galvanized the delegates and gave them the courage to sign that document.

But still there is doubt–and that pale-faced man, shrinking in one corner, squeaks out something about axes, scaffolds, and a–gibbet!

"Gibbet!" echoes a fierce, bold voice, that startles men from their seats–and look yonder! A tall slender man rises, dressed–although it is summer time–in a dark robe. Look how his white hand undulates as it is stretched slowly out, how that dark eye burns, while his words ring through the hall. (We do not know his name, let us therefore call his appeal)

"Gibbet? They may stretch our necks on all the gibbets in the land–they may turn every rock into a scaffold–every tree into a gallows, every home into a grave, and yet the words on that Parchment can never die!

"They may pour our blood on a thousand scaffolds, and yet from every drop that dyes the axe, or drips on the sawdust of the block, a new martyr to Freedom will spring into birth!

"The British King may blot out the Stars of God from His sky, but he cannot blot out His words written on the Parchment there! The works of God may perish–His Word, never!

"These words will go forth to the world when our bones are dust. To the slave in the mines they will speak–hope–to the mechanic in his workshop–freedom–to the coward-kings these words will speak, but not in tones of flattery. No, no! They will speak like the flaming syllables on Belshazzar's wall–



"Yes, that Parchment will speak to the Kings in a language sad and terrible as the trump of the Archangel. You have trampled on mankind long enough. At last the voice of human woe has pierced the ear of God, and called His Judgment down! You have waded on to thrones over seas of blood–you have trampled on to power over the necks of millions–you have turned the poor man's sweat and blood into robes for your delicate forms, into crowns for your anointed brows. Now Kings–now purpled Hangmen of the world–for you come the days of axes and gibbets and scaffolds–for you the wrath of man–for you the lightnings of God!–

"Look! How the light of your palaces on fire flashes up into the midnight sky!

"Now Purpled Hangmen of the world–turn and beg for mercy!

"Where will you find it?

"Not from God, for you have blasphemed His laws!

"Not from the People, for you stand baptized in their blood!

"Here you turn, and lo! a gibbet!

"There–and a scaffold looks you in the face.

"All around you–death–and nowhere pity!

"Now executioners of the human race, kneel down, yes, kneel down upon the sawdust of the scaffold–lay your perfumed heads upon the block–bless the axe as it falls–the axe that you sharpened for the poor man's neck!

"Such is the message of that Declaration to Man, to the Kings of the world! And shall we falter now? And shall we start back appalled when our feet press the very threshold of Freedom? Do I see quailing faces around me, when our wives have been butchered–when the hearthstones of our land are red with the blood of little children?

"What are these shrinking hearts and faltering voices here, when the very Dead of our battlefields arise, and call upon us to sign that Parchment, or be accursed forever?

"Sign! if the next moment the gibbet's rope is round your neck! Sign! if the next moment this hall rings with the echo of the falling axe! Sign! By all your hopes in life or death, as husbands–as fathers–as men–sign your names to the Parchment or be accursed forever!

"Sign–and not only for yourselves, but for all ages. For that Parchment will be the Text-book of Freedom–the Bible of the Rights of Man forever!

"Sign–for that declaration will go forth to American hearts forever, and speak to those hearts like the voice of God! And its work will not be done, until throughout this wide Continent not a single inch of ground owns the sway of a British King!

"Nay, do not start and whisper with surprise! It is a truth, your own hearts witness it, God proclaims it.–This Continent is the property of a free people, and their property alone. [17-second applause] God, I say, proclaims it!

"Look at this strange history of a band of exiles and outcasts, suddenly transformed into a people–look at this wonderful Exodus of the oppressed of the Old World into the New, where they came, weak in arms but mighty in Godlike faith–nay, look at this history of your Bunker Hill–your Lexington–where a band of plain farmers mocked and trampled down the panoply of British arms, and then tell me, if you can, that God has not given America to the free?

[12-second applause]

"It is not given to our poor human intellect to climb the skies, to pierce the councils of the Almighty One. But methinks I stand among the awful clouds which veil the brightness of Jehovah's throne. Methinks I see the Recording Angel–pale as an angel is pale, weeping as an angel can weep–come trembling up to that Throne, and speak his dread message–

"`Father! the old world is baptized in blood! Father, it is drenched with the blood of millions, butchered in war, in persecution, in slow and grinding oppression! Father–look, with one glance of Thine Eternal eye, look over Europe, Asia, Africa, and behold evermore, that terrible sight, man trodden down beneath the oppressor's feet–nations lost in blood–Murder and Superstition walking hand in hand over the graves of their victims, and not a single voice to whisper, "Hope to Man!"'

"He stands there, the Angel, his hands trembling with the black record of human guilt. But hark! The voice of Jehovah speaks out from the awful cloud–`Let there be light again. Let there be a New World. Tell my people–the poor–the trodden down millions, to go out from the Old World. Tell them to go out from wrong, oppression and blood–tell them to go out from this Old World–to build my altar in the New!'

[11-second applause]

"As God lives, my friends, I believe that to be his voice! Yes, were my soul trembling on the wing for Eternity, were this hand freezing in death, were this voice choking with the last struggle, I would still, with the last impulse of that soul, with the last wave of that hand, with the last gasp of that voice, implore you to remember this truth–God has given America to the free!

[13-second applause]

"Yes, as I sank down into the gloomy shadows of the grave, with my last gasp, I would beg you to sign that Parchment, in the name of the God, who made the Saviour who redeemed you–in the name of the millions whose very breath is now hushed in intense expectation, as they look up to you for the awful words–`You are free!'"

[9-second applause]

O many years have gone since that hour–the Speaker, his brethren, all, have crumbled into dust, but it would require an angel's pen to picture the magic of that Speaker's look, the deep, terrible emphasis of his voice, the prophet-like beckoning of his hand, the magnetic flame which shooting from his eyes, soon fired every heart throughout the hall!
It all sounds wonderfully apocryphal but I will investigate at a later time. Never-the-less, apparently this speech was commonly known as a set piece for declamation back in the days of my grandfather's youth. And my grandfather, at fourteen, recited it one evening in midwinter in a Methodist church in Chickasha, Oklahoma in 1904.


But there is more. The reporting continues.
Miss Lily Brooks gave a vocal solo. She has a clear, sweet voice and always charms an audience. Miss Brooks responded to an encore.

Miss Ella Tuggle recited "A Telephone Conversation" which was highly entertaining. Mr. L. G. Latting was on the program for a short address.

Mr. Latting, in his opening remarks, stated that, as one who had been educated in the public schools, from the primary to the state university, he naturally took a deep interest in the cause of public education.
L.G. Latting? Who he? in the words of the immortal Harold Ross. I am guessing it is a typo for my great-grandfather, R.G. Latting. But where is this headed? When you open the closed doors of history, you might not necessarily like what you find. Everyone wants kings and statesmen but there are many more knaves and rascals. We are so exquisite in our refinements today; what will we hear from the past? In the event, nothing too shocking in this instance.
The first proposition which he discussed was "There is no conflict between the public schools and the church schools when each keeps within its proper sphere." It was not the first and highest mission of the church to educate. It was true that, since the reformation, it has been the mission of the church to "carry the sword of the spirit in one hand and the torch of knowledge in the other," but the great mission of the church was to preach the gospel, with the Bible as its text-book.

The church should maintain its theological schools and its colleges, but the great mass of the people must be educated in the public schools. Mr. Latting did not favor the use of the Bible as a text-book in the public schools but saw no impropriety in its being used as it is in our legislative bodies and similar gatherings.
Whew. No Inherit the Wind or Scopes Monkey Trial (1925) drama here. The good Methodists and Presbyterians of Chickasha, Oklahoma were way ahead of Tennesseans 21 years later. Science and Religion are two proper domains entirely compatible with one another; a position we still hold today.
The speaker's second proposition was that "taxation by the state for public schools is just and equitable." Taxes must levied upon all alike and all must be educated. Speaking of the education of the negroes in our southern states, the speaker expressed the opinion that while the efforts to educate the negro have elevated him to some extent, they cannot raise him to a high state of culture. Nevertheless, since he had been made a citizen, it was just and necessary to educate the negro. An enlightened people was necessary for maintaining a strong government. If republican government was endure, the masses must be educated. Mr. Latting's address was very favorably received. It contained many wholesome truths that were helpful to the cause for which he spoke. The program was closed with a chorus by the high school. Another meeting will be held before the close of school.
None of us can take credit or pride in the accomplishments of others nor do we bear any burden for the past. You can only be responsible and accountable for your own actions. While that is certainly true, you cannot help but hope that one's predecessors were noble men and women with moral and ethical positions.

The language and observations of R.G. Latting, as reported, are perhaps marginally disconcerting but the principles are as fresh today as ever: Regardless of race, all Americans are citizens. All citizens are entitled to education. It is right to use public moneys for education because a republic depends on educated citizens.

What a delight to know that the ideals of the Enlightenment and the Founding Fathers were so well supported by my great-grandfather and so well received by the good people of 1904 Chickasha, Oklahoma, that late Friday winter evening.

I think I am going to like this journey of genealogical discovery. I am touched by that mental picture of 14 year-old grandfather HB Latting declaiming The Unknown Speaker that long time ago and so lost to recollection until resurrected through the near-magic of the internet.

The Chambered Nautilus by Oliver Wendell Holmes. Sr.

Click to enlarge.

The Chambered Nautilus
by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

This is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign,
Sails the unshadowed main,—
The venturous bark that flings
On the sweet summer wind its purpled wings
In gulfs enchanted, where the Siren sings,
And coral reefs lie bare,
Where the cold sea-maids rise to sun their streaming hair.

Its webs of living gauze no more unfurl;
Wrecked is the ship of pearl!
And every chambered cell,
Where its dim dreaming life was wont to dwell,
As the frail tenant shaped his growing shell,
Before thee lies revealed,—
Its irised ceiling rent, its sunless crypt unsealed!

Year after year beheld the silent toil
That spread his lustrous coil;
Still, as the spiral grew,
He left the past year’s dwelling for the new,
Stole with soft step its shining archway through,
Built up its idle door,
Stretched in his last-found home, and knew the old no more.

Thanks for the heavenly message brought by thee,
Child of the wandering sea,
Cast from her lap, forlorn!
From thy dead lips a clearer note is born
Than ever Triton blew from wreathèd horn!
While on mine ear it rings,
Through the deep caves of thought I hear a voice that sings:—

Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!

The masks change, not the actors


Click to enlarge.

Corfu: Lights and Shadows, 1909 by John Singer Sargent

Corfu: Lights and Shadows, 1909 by John Singer Sargent

Click to enlarge.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

A Name in the Sand by Hannah Flagg Gould

Click to enlarge.

A Name in the Sand
by Hannah Flagg Gould

Alone I walked the ocean strand;
A pearly shell was in my hand:
I stooped and wrote upon the sand
My name—the year—the day.
As onward from the spot I passed,
One lingering look behind I cast;
A wave came rolling high and fast,
And washed my lines away.

And so, methought, ’t will shortly be
With every mark on earth from me:
A wave of dark oblivion’s sea
Will sweep across the place
Where I have trod the sandy shore
Of time, and been, to be no more,
Of me—my day—the name I bore,
To leave nor track nor trace.

And yet, with Him who counts the sands
And holds the waters in his hands,
I know a lasting record stands
Inscribed against my name,
Of all this mortal part has wrought,
Of all this thinking soul has thought,
And from these fleeting moments caught
For glory or for shame.

A courier came to a battle once bloody and loud

The Battle of San Jacinto, April 21, 1836.

Click to enlarge.

Reminds me of Donovan's Remember the Alamo.

Double click to enlarge.
Remember the Alamo
by Donovan

A hundred and eighty were challenged by Travis to die
By a line that he drew with his sword as the battle drew nigh
A man that crossed over the line was for glory
And he that was left better fly
And over the line crossed 179

Hey Up Santa Anna, they're killing your soldiers below
So the rest of Texas will know
And remember the Alamo

Jim Bowie lay dying, his blood and his powder were dry
But his knife at the ready to take him a few in reply
Young Davy Crockett lay laughing and dying
The blood and the sweat in his eyes
For Texas and freedom no man was more willing to die

Hey Up Santa Anna, they're killing your soldiers below
So the rest of Texas will know
And remember the Alamo

A courier came to a battle once bloody and loud
And found only skin and bones where he once left a crowd
Fear not little darling of dying
If this world be sovereign and free
For we'll fight to the last for as long as liberty be

Hey Up Santa Anna, they're killing your soldiers below
So the rest of Texas will know
And remember the Alamo

The yard. Snowing by Ilya Pyankov

The yard. Snowing by Ilya Pyankov

Click to enlarge.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Polonius' Advice to Laertes by William Shakespeare

Click to enlarge.

Polonius' Advice to Laertes
by William Shakespeare

Yet here, Laertes? Aboard, aboard, for shame!
The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail
And you are stayed for. There, my blessing with thee.
And these few precepts in thy memory
Look thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportioned thought his act.
Be thou familiar but by no means vulgar.
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel,
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatched, unfledged comrade. Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in,
Bear ’t that th' opposèd may beware of thee.
Give every man thy ear but few thy voice.
Take each man’s censure but reserve thy judgment.
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not expressed in fancy—rich, not gaudy,
For the apparel oft proclaims the man,
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are of a most select and generous chief in that.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be,
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell. My blessing season this in thee.

Summer Idyll with Blooming Apple Tree by Johan Krouthén

Summer Idyll with Blooming Apple Tree by Johan Krouthén

Click to enlarge.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Little Things by Ebenezer Cobham Brewer

Click to enlarge.

Little Things
by Ebenezer Cobham Brewer

Little drops of water,
⁠Little grains of sand,
Make the mighty ocean
⁠And the pleasant land.

Thus the little minutes,
⁠Humble though they be,
Make the mighty ages
⁠Of eternity.

It's a treat by Leslie Graff

It's a treat by Leslie Graff

Click to enlarge.

It is a long being, but perchance a short life

Of a Happy Life by Seneca


In the distribution of human life, we find that a great part of it passes away in evil doing; a greater yet in doing just nothing at all: and effectually the whole in doing things beside our business. Some hours we bestow upon ceremony and servile attendances; some upon our pleasures, and the remainder runs at waste. What a deal of time is it that we spend in hopes and fears, love and revenge, in balls, treats, making of interests, suing for offices, soliciting of causes, and slavish flatteries! The shortness of life, I know, is the common complaint both of fools and philosophers; as if the time we have were not sufficient for our duties. But it is with our lives as with our estates, a good husband makes a little go a great way; whereas, let the revenue of a prince fall into the hands of a prodigal, it is gone in a moment. So that the time allotted us, if it were well employed, were abundantly enough to answer all the ends and purposes of mankind. But we squander it away in avarice, drink, sleep, luxury, ambition, fawning addresses, envy, rambling, voyages, impertinent studies, change of counsels, and the like; and when our portion is spent, we find the258 want of it, though we gave no heed to it in the passage: insomuch, that we have rather made our life short than found it so. You shall have some people perpetually playing with their fingers, whistling, humming, and talking to themselves; and others consume their days in the composing, hearing, or reciting of songs and lampoons. How many precious morning hours do we spend in consultation with barbers, tailors, and tire-women, patching and painting betwixt the comb and the glass! A council must be called upon every hair we cut; and one curl amiss is as much as a body’s life is worth. The truth is, we are more solicitous about our dress than our manners, and about the order of our periwigs than that of the government. At this rate, let us but discount, out of a life of a hundred years, that time which has been spent upon popular negotiations, frivolous amours, domestic brawls, sauntering up and down to no purpose, diseases that we have brought upon ourselves, and this large extent of life will not amount perhaps to the minority of another man. It is a long being, but perchance a short life. And what is the reason of all this? We live as we should never die, and without any thought of human frailty, when yet the very moment we bestow upon this man or thing, may, peradventure, be our last. But the greatest loss of time is delay and expectation, which depend upon the future. We let go the present, which we have in our own power; we look forward to that which depends upon Fortune; and so quit a certainty for an uncertainty. We should do by time as we do by a torrent, make use of it while we have it, for it will not last always.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Flag Goes By by Henry Holcomb Bennett

Click to enlarge.

The Flag Goes By
by Henry Holcomb Bennett

Hats off!
Along the street there comes
A blare of bugles, a ruffle of drums,
A dash of color beneath the sky:
Hats off!
The flag is passing by!

Blue and crimson and white it shines,
Over the steel-tipped, ordered lines.
Hats off!
The colors before us fly;
But more than the flag is passing by.

Sea-fights and land-fights, grim and great,
Fought to make and to save the State:
Weary marches and sinking ships;
Cheers of victory on dying lips;

Days of plenty and years of peace;
March of a strong land's swift increase;
Equal justice, right and law,
Stately honor and reverend awe;

Sign of a nation, great and strong
To ward her people from foreign wrong:
Pride and glory and honor,--all
Live in the colors to stand or fall.

Hats off!
Along the street there comes
A blare of bugles, a ruffle of drums;
And loyal hearts are beating high:
Hats off!
The flag is passing by!

A crying shame

Perhaps reflecting a Scottish heritage, and/or a Calvinist heritage, and/or a family culture, or perhaps simply a personal character trait, I abhor debt. Not as a sin in itself but as a temptation.

It can be, and often is, used for wonderful purposes to smooth out risk and achieve greater long term productivity. But it can also be used to postpone hard decisions and pull in consumption from the future to be achieved today, often in hope that someone else will end up paying.

It is bad enough at the personal level when you choose the appearance of an affluent lifestyle through leasing and zero-down mortgages with balloon payments, hoping, Micawber-like that something will turn up in the future to make the impossible equations work.

It is a national catastrophe when the debt is public because the mob has little self-control and is happy to be the beneficiary of a Wimpy deal, "I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today." Everyone hopes that they can kick the can far enough down the road so that they are not around when the debt comes due. All our politicians do it and voters support them in doing so by never holding them accountable. The closest we came was during the Tea Party movement. A movement so dangerous that the establishment parties, government, media and academia turned their collective fire on the people's movement and drove it underground.

One of the most insidious forms of public debt are unfunded pension obligations. Insidious because they tend to be easy to hide but even more so because they distort the employment market, entail functional corruption, because they abrogate the compact between citizen and state, and because they represent a breach of trust. Government insiders conspire against the tax-paying public so that employees of the state live better than the tax-paying public.

It never ends well. As James Carville, adviser to President Bill Clinton, once said, were he to be reincarnated, he would choose to return as the bond market: he could then intimidate anyone.

The US is not in as bad a shape as many of our OECD colleagues but we are in bad shape. Debt servicing now outstrips the amount we spend on the military. And for all the good promises about investing in the future, the great majority of public spending is consumption, not services or investments.

The states tend to be a little better than the federal government, most of them having balanced-budge constitutions, but there is still a lot of smoke and mirrors and there are some hard falls to come in California, Rhode Island, Illinois, Oregon, Michigan, Missouri, etc. States which have buried evidence of vast unfunded pension obligations crowding out all the necessary services which citizens expect from their government - education, policing, road maintenance, etc.

The New York Times has a decent overview - A $76,000 Monthly Pension: Why States and Cities Are Short on Cash by Mary Williams Walsh. Rife with examples where citizens are expected to sacrifice everything for public sector employees.

The Boy, 1950 by Thomas Hart Benton

The Boy, 1950 by Thomas Hart Benton

Click to enlarge.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Buttercups and Daisies by Mary Howitt

Click to enlarge.

Buttercups and Daisies
by Mary Howitt

Buttercups and daisies,
⁠Oh, the pretty flowers,
Coming ere the spring time,
⁠To tell of sunny hours.
While the trees are leafless,
⁠While the fields are bare,
Buttercups and daisies
⁠Spring up here and there.

Ere the snowdrop peepeth,
⁠Ere the crocus bold,
Ere the early primrose
⁠Opes its paly gold,
Somewhere on the sunny bank
⁠Buttercups are bright;
Somewhere 'mong the frozen grass
⁠Peeps the daisy white.

Little hardy flowers,
⁠Like to children poor,
Playing in their sturdy health
⁠By their mother's door,
Purple with the north wind,
⁠Yet alert and bold;
Fearing not, and caring not,
⁠Though they be a-cold!

What to them is winter!
⁠What are stormy showers!
Buttercups and daisies
⁠Are these human flowers!
He who gave them hardships
⁠And a life of care,
Gave them likewise hardy strength
⁠And patient hearts to bear.

Gils Maricopa – CA HIGHWAY by Jeff Brouws

Gils Maricopa – CA HIGHWAY by Jeff Brouws

Click to enlarge.

Confirming the obvious can be progress

The question is interesting and this research contributes at the margin to our still emerging understanding. The question might be something on the order of "What are the circumstances which help drive greater levels of innovation?"

Who hasn't been puzzled by the clusters of innovation in the past? The sudden explosion of knowledge and philosophy in Greece circa 500BC. The astonishing experiment hatched by the incredible conglomeration of knowledge and talent of the Founding Fathers from Richmond to Boston in the mid-to-late 1700s in the America. The astonishing concentration of applied knowledge in Britain in the 1700s (the industrial revolution) and the separate knowledge generation in the 1800s. The incredible density of scientific discovery from Paris to Warsaw in the late 1800s. The Renaissance of Italy in the 1500s.

Such incredible explosions of knowledge, discovery and innovation in brief periods of time, in constrained geographies, involving small groups of extraordinary individuals. Why? What are the causal factors?

How important are local inventive milieus: The role of birthplace, high school and university education by Olof Ejermoa and Høgni Kalsø Hansen doesn't really answer those questions but it has a stab at some aspects.
• We find that the geography of inventors is uneven in Sweden.

• The location history of inventors indicate that local milieus matters.

• Parents educational has an effects on whether a person becomes an inventor.

• Place of higher education has strong effect on whether a person becomes an inventor.

• Birthplace has a strong effects on whether a person becomes an inventor.
Well, yeah. Family matters, education matters, milieu matters. Seems kind of obvious. However, in an environment of cognitive uncertainty, even confirming the obvious is progress.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Rabbi Ben Ezra by Robert Browning

Click to enlarge.

Rabbi Ben Ezra
by Robert Browning

Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith "A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!''

Not that, amassing flowers,
Youth sighed "Which rose make ours,
Which lily leave and then as best recall?"
Not that, admiring stars,
It yearned "Nor Jove, nor Mars;
Mine be some figured flame which blends, transcends them all!"

Not for such hopes and fears
Annulling youth's brief years,
Do I remonstrate: folly wide the mark!
Rather I prize the doubt
Low kinds exist without,
Finished and finite clods, untroubled by a spark.

Poor vaunt of life indeed,
Were man but formed to feed
On joy, to solely seek and find and feast:
Such feasting ended, then
As sure an end to men;
Irks care the crop-full bird? Frets doubt the maw-crammed beast?

Rejoice we are allied
To That which doth provide
And not partake, effect and not receive!
A spark disturbs our clod;
Nearer we hold of God
Who gives, than of His tribes that take, I must believe.

Then, welcome each rebuff
That turns earth's smoothness rough,
Each sting that bids nor sit nor stand but go!
Be our joys three-parts pain!
Strive, and hold cheap the strain;
Learn, nor account the pang; dare, never grudge the throe!

For thence,—a paradox
Which comforts while it mocks,—
Shall life succeed in that it seems to fail:
What I aspired to be,
And was not, comforts me:
A brute I might have been, but would not sink i' the scale.

What is he but a brute
Whose flesh has soul to suit,
Whose spirit works lest arms and legs want play?
To man, propose this test—
Thy body at its best,
How far can that project thy soul on its lone way?

Yet gifts should prove their use:
I own the Past profuse
Of power each side, perfection every turn:
Eyes, ears took in their dole,
Brain treasured up the whole;
Should not the heart beat once "How good to live and learn?"

Not once beat "Praise be Thine!
I see the whole design,
I, who saw power, see now love perfect too:
Perfect I call Thy plan:
Thanks that I was a man!
Maker, remake, complete,—I trust what Thou shalt do!"

For pleasant is this flesh;
Our soul, in its rose-mesh
Pulled ever to the earth, still yearns for rest;
Would we some prize might hold
To match those manifold
Possessions of the brute,—gain most, as we did best!

Let us not always say,
"Spite of this flesh to-day
I strove, made head, gained ground upon the whole!"
As the bird wings and sings,
Let us cry "All good things
Are ours, nor soul helps flesh more, now, than flesh helps soul!"

Therefore I summon age
To grant youth's heritage,
Life's struggle having so far reached its term:
Thence shall I pass, approved
A man, for aye removed
From the developed brute; a god though in the germ.

And I shall thereupon
Take rest, ere I be gone
Once more on my adventure brave and new:
Fearless and unperplexed,
When I wage battle next,
What weapons to select, what armour to indue.

Youth ended, I shall try
My gain or loss thereby;
Leave the fire ashes, what survives is gold:
And I shall weigh the same,
Give life its praise or blame:
Young, all lay in dispute; I shall know, being old.

For note, when evening shuts,
A certain moment cuts
The deed off, calls the glory from the grey:
A whisper from the west
Shoots—"Add this to the rest,
Take it and try its worth: here dies another day."

So, still within this life,
Though lifted o'er its strife,
Let me discern, compare, pronounce at last,
This rage was right i' the main,
That acquiescence vain:
The Future I may face now I have proved the Past."

For more is not reserved
To man, with soul just nerved
To act to-morrow what he learns to-day:
Here, work enough to watch
The Master work, and catch
Hints of the proper craft, tricks of the tool's true play.

As it was better, youth
Should strive, through acts uncouth,
Toward making, than repose on aught found made:
So, better, age, exempt
From strife, should know, than tempt
Further. Thou waitedst age: wait death nor be afraid!

Enough now, if the Right
And Good and Infinite
Be named here, as thou callest thy hand thine own
With knowledge absolute,
Subject to no dispute
From fools that crowded youth, nor let thee feel alone.

Be there, for once and all,
Severed great minds from small,
Announced to each his station in the Past!
Was I, the world arraigned,
Were they, my soul disdained,
Right? Let age speak the truth and give us peace at last!

Now, who shall arbitrate?
Ten men love what I hate,
Shun what I follow, slight what I receive;
Ten, who in ears and eyes
Match me: we all surmise,
They this thing, and I that: whom shall my soul believe?

Not on the vulgar mass
Called "work," must sentence pass,
Things done, that took the eye and had the price;
O'er which, from level stand,
The low world laid its hand,
Found straightway to its mind, could value in a trice:

But all, the world's coarse thumb
And finger failed to plumb,
So passed in making up the main account;
All instincts immature,
All purposes unsure,
That weighed not as his work, yet swelled the man's amount:

Thoughts hardly to be packed
Into a narrow act,
Fancies that broke through language and escaped;
All I could never be,
All, men ignored in me,
This, I was worth to God, whose wheel the pitcher shaped.

Ay, note that Potter's wheel,
That metaphor! and feel
Why time spins fast, why passive lies our clay,—
Thou, to whom fools propound,
When the wine makes its round,
"Since life fleets, all is change; the Past gone, seize to-day!"

Fool! All that is, at all,
Lasts ever, past recall;
Earth changes, but thy soul and God stand sure:
What entered into thee,
That was, is, and shall be:
Time's wheel runs back or stops: Potter and clay endure.

He fixed thee mid this dance
Of plastic circumstance,
This Present, thou, forsooth, wouldst fain arrest:
Machinery just meant
To give thy soul its bent,
Try thee and turn thee forth, sufficiently impressed.

What though the earlier grooves,
Which ran the laughing loves
Around thy base, no longer pause and press?
What though, about thy rim,
Skull-things in order grim
Grow out, in graver mood, obey the sterner stress?

Look not thou down but up!
To uses of a cup,
The festal board, lamp's flash and trumpet's peal,
The new wine's foaming flow,
The Master's lips a-glow!
Thou, heaven's consummate cup, what need'st thou with earth's wheel?

But I need, now as then,
Thee, God, who mouldest men;
And since, not even while the whirl was worst,
Did I,—to the wheel of life
With shapes and colours rife,
Bound dizzily,—mistake my end, to slake Thy thirst:

So, take and use Thy work:
Amend what flaws may lurk,
What strain o' the stuff, what warpings past the aim!
My times be in Thy hand!
Perfect the cup as planned!
Let age approve of youth, and death complete the same!

Night Landscape by Ilya Pyankov

Night Landscape by Ilya Pyankov

Click to enlarge.

Public good provision is a powerful channel through which persistence in comparative development comes about

From On Roman roads and the sources of persistence and non-persistence in development by Carl-Johan Dalgaard, Nicolai Kaarsen, Ola Olsson, Pablo Selaya.
Spatial differences in economic development tend to be highly persistent over time. Comin et al. (2010) document, for example, that countries that were closer to the technological frontier as early as 1500 CE are comparatively richer and more technologically sophisticated today, while Maloney and Valencia (2016) document persistence in population density across half a millennium, comparing regions at the sub-national level within the New World. Findings such as these have led to a large literature that tries to identify fundamental sources of comparative development in initial conditions, and historical processes from the distant past. Spolaore and Wacziarg (2013), Nunn (2014), and Ashraf and Galor (2018) present recent surveys. At the same time, differences in comparative development are not always persistent. For example, Acemoglu et al. (2002) document a reversal of fortune across former colonies during the last 500 years.

These findings raise questions about which proximate factors generate the observed persistence in comparative development, and why the persistence sometimes breaks down. In this regard, we know much less. A deeper understanding of the channels through which persistence in comparative development emerges may leave clues about which fundamentals are important, and how to support development in situations where these fundamentals are lacking.

In a recent study, we explore the persistence and non-persistence of a key proximate source of growth – public goods provision (Dalgaard et al. 2018). The specific form of public good in focus is roads, and we take the roads built during the Roman Empire as our point of departure. In particular, we examine the persistence in road density across time, and its role in generating persistence in economic development across regions that were part of the Roman Empire at the beginning of the 2nd century.
They overlay a map of Roman Roads on modern satellite maps that capture nighttime luminosity as a crude proxy for development.

Click to enlarge.

The researchers do their best to control a variety of confounding variables.

What is interesting to me is their exploitation of a natural historical experiment, the fact that wheeled transport disappeared in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) during the second half of the first millennium CE. What they find is that:
In some ways, the emergence of the Roman road network is almost a natural experiment – in light of the military purpose of the roads, the preferred straightness of their construction, and their construction in newly conquered and often undeveloped regions. This type of public good seems to have had a persistent influence on subsequent public good allocations and comparative development. At the same time, the abandonment of the wheel shock in MENA appears to have been powerful enough to cause that degree of persistence to break down. Overall, our analysis suggests that public good provision is a powerful channel through which persistence in comparative development comes about.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Song of Life by Charles Mackay

Click to enlarge.

Song of Life
by Charles Mackay

A traveller on a dusty road
⁠Strewed acorns on the lea;
And one took root and sprouted up,
⁠And grew into a tree.
Love sought its shade at evening-time,
⁠To breathe its early vows;
And Age was pleased, in heights of noon,
⁠To bask beneath its boughs.
The dormouse loved its dangling twigs,
⁠The birds sweet music bore—
It stood a glory in its place,
⁠A blessing evermore.

A little spring had lost its way
⁠Amid the grass and fern;
A passing stranger scooped a well
⁠Where weary men might turn.
He walled it in, and hung with care
⁠A ladle on the brink;
He thought not of the deed he did,
⁠But judged that Toil might drink.
He passed again; and lo! the well,
⁠By summer never dried,
Had cooled ten thousand parchéd tongues,
⁠And saved a life beside.

A nameless man, amid the crowd
⁠That thronged the daily mart,
Let fall a word of hope and love,
⁠Unstudied from the heart,
A whisper on the tumult thrown,
⁠A transitory breath,
It raised a brother from the dust,
⁠It saved a soul from death.
O germ! O fount! O word of love!
⁠O thought at random cast!
Ye were but little at the first,
⁠But mighty at the last.

Why does the public conversation deviate so markedly from the facts?

The tone and language are somewhat off or needlessly combative but The Gun Homicide Epidemic Isn’t by BJ Campbell raises couple of interesting points. His topic is interesting and factually treated but I think he undermines it through the occasional left:right reference.
How can there be such a sustained mismatch between facts and policy conversations?
Why is there such gun control enthusiasm in some quarters when gun violence is at an historic low?
Why is the focus on gun ownership rather than governmental effectiveness?
Why is suicide prevention being ignored in pursuit of gun control?
What are the underlying causes of violent crime, why is it higher in the US than other OECD countries, and why does there appear to be a cyclicality to that violence?
Why do our major institutions of knowledge generation and conveyance (universities and mainstream media) fail so significantly in terms of accuracy, precision, and the scientific method?
What is the link between violent crime and substance abuse (drugs and alcohol)?
What role does the mainstream media play in trafficking in false knowledge, cause or effect?
Why is there such a common media inclination to focus on the incidental rather than the causally substantive?
Beyond these questions raised or implied by Campbell, there is another.
Why is there not more attention on government culpability and policy with regard to violent crime?
In at least a plurality of mass shootings, if not a majority, in the past decade, the shooter was an individual already known to the authorities as a risk. Pulse Night Club, Parkland School Shooting, San Bernardino, Boston Bombing, Garland Texas, Fort Hood, etc. All incidents of violent crime where the perpetrators had been previously investigated or were being actively monitored.

Is there anything that might be done to improve the security through more effective policing? Given the frequency with which actual violence is committed by previously known attackers, it seems to be a reasonable question and yet it is rarely a part of the conversation.

I am not predisposed one way or another. I suspect there might be two strong cases to be made against the charge of policing incompetence.
Humans are inherently unpredictable and our forecasting capabilities regarding human intention are simply too rudimentary to be useful.

The police already forestall a great majority of planned incidents and those that do occur are in fact rare exceptions.
Both are credible arguments but I am not familiar with research, if it exists, that might answer the question and neither proposition is self-evident. The puzzle is that there is not much discussion of those obvious propositions.

Similarly, Campbell may be right or wrong in some of his suppositions but he is posing reasonable, in fact necessary, evidentiary questions that simply do not receive much attention. If we are concerned about violence, it is to the evidence we need to be turning, not the emotion and the virtue signaling.

The Roofs of Paris in the Snow, 1902 by Auguste Herbin

The Roofs of Paris in the Snow, 1902 by Auguste Herbin

Click to enlarge.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Forbearance by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Click to enlarge.

by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Hast thou named all the birds without a gun?
Loved the wood-rose, and left it on its stalk?
At rich men’s tables eaten bread and pulse?
Unarmed, faced danger with a heart of trust?
And loved so well a high behavior,
In man or maid, that thou from speech refrained,
Nobility more nobly to repay?
O, be my friend, and teach me to be thine!

Window Cour De Rohan 1951 By Balthus

Window Cour De Rohan 1951 by Balthus

Click to enlarge.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Flower in the Crannied Wall by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Click to enlarge.

Flower in the Crannied Wall
by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower-but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, all in all,
I should know what God and man is.

Unknown title by Antoine Renault

Unknown title by Antoine Renault

Click to enlarge.

Wheeled transport disappeared in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) during the second half of the first millennium CE

From On Roman roads and the sources of persistence and non-persistence in development by Carl-Johan Dalgaard, Nicolai Kaarsen, Ola Olsson, Pablo Selaya. A very clever historical natural experiment. The question is whether public infrastructure has a persistent effect over time.
From the point of view of the present study, the abandonment of the wheel experiment in MENA opens the door to an interesting set of tests. Naturally, within a region where wheeled transport disappears, one would expect to see less maintenance of (Roman) roads. Moreover, when wheeled vehicles reappear in the late modern period, the principles underlying road construction surely differed from those during Roman times. Consequently, in the MENA region, Roman roads should be a weak predictor of contemporary roads density and, by extension, Roman roads should also be a weak predictor of contemporary comparative development. In contrast, within the European region where wheeled carriages were in use throughout the period, one would expect more maintenance and therefore more persistence in road density and, by extension, Roman roads should be a stronger predictor of contemporaneous comparative development.
There are plenty of instances of technological reversion. I think the classic example is the loss by Tasmanian aborigines of the stone-working technology for anything other than scrapers and hand axes.

Dalgaard elaborates on the loss of the wheel in the Middle East.
A remarkable fact of world history is that wheeled transport disappeared in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) during the second half of the first millennium CE – which is perhaps especially surprising in that wheeled transport had a very long history in that region before its abandonment.

Bulliet (1990 [1975]) argues that the key proximate reason for the abandonment of wheeled carriages in MENA was the emergence of the camel caravan (“the ship of the desert”) as a more cost-effective mode of transporting goods. While this seems like a reasonable explanation, it immediately prompts the question of why the ox-drawn carriage then continued to dominate land-based transport until the first half of the first millennium CE. After all, the domestication of the camel on the Arabian Peninsula pre-dates the Roman era by millennia. Bulliet’s core argument is that a series of developments had to take place before the camel could emerge as the dominant mode of inland transport in MENA. In particular, the emergence of a new type of camel saddle by 100 BCE made it possible for camel herding tribesmen to utilise new types of effective weapons, which allowed them to gradually gain control of the trade routes and, therefore, gain political power as well. Accordingly, the camel caravan could not enter the scene in a major way until these events had unfolded.

For two hundred some years we have become accustomed to almost uninterrupted technological progress. It is easy to forget how fragile progress can be.

Infants pick intelligent adults

From The Secret of Our Success by Joseph Henrich. How culture is driving evolution. Page 41.
In the last fifteen years, an important complementary line of evidence has become available as developmental psychologists have returned to focusing on cultural learning in children and infants. With new evolutionary thinking in the air, they have zoomed in on testing specific ideas about the who, when, and what of cultural learning. It’s now clear that infants and young children use cues of competence and reliability, along with familiarity, to figure out from whom to learn. In fact, by age one, infants use their own early cultural knowledge to figure out who tends to know things, and then use this performance information to focus their learning, attention, and memory.

Infants are well known to engage in what developmental psychologists call “social referencing.” When an infant, or young child, encounters something novel, say when crawling up to a chainsaw, they will often look at their mom, or some other adult in the room, to check for an emotional reaction. If the attending adult shows positive affect, they often proceed to investigate the novel object. If the adult shows fear or concern, they back off. This occurs even if the attending adult is a stranger. In one experiment, mothers brought one-year-olds to the laboratory at Seoul National University. The infants were allowed to play and get comfortable in the new environment, while mom received training for her role in the experiment. The researchers had selected three categories of toys, those to which infants typically react (1) positively, (2) negatively, and (3) with uncertain curiosity (an ambiguous toy). These different kinds of toys were each placed in front of the infants, one at a time, and the infant’s reactions were recorded. Mom and a female stranger sat on either side of the baby and were instructed to react either with smiling and excitement or with fear.

The results of this study are strikingly parallel to studies of cultural learning among both young children and university students. First, the babies engaged in social referencing, looking at one of the adults, four times more often, and more quickly, when an ambiguous toy was placed in front of them. That is, under uncertainty, they used cultural learning. This is precisely what an evolutionary approach predicts for when individuals should use cultural learning (see note 9). Second, when faced with an ambiguous toy, babies altered their behavior based on the adults’ emotional reactions: when they saw fear, they backed off, but when they saw happiness, they approached the toy and changed to regard it more positively. Third, infants tended to reference the stranger more than their moms, probably because mom herself was new to this environment and was thus judged less competent by her baby.

By 14 months, infants are already well beyond social referencing and already showing signs of using skill or competence cues to select models. After observing an adult model acting confused by shoes, placing them on his hands, German infants tended not to copy his unusual way of turning on a novel lighting device: using his head. However, if the model acted competently, confidently putting shoes on his feet, babies tended to copy the model and used their heads to activate the novel lighting device. Later, by age three, a substantial amount of work shows that children not only track and use competence in their immediate cultural learning but retain this information to selectively target their future learning in multiple domains. For example, young children will note who knows the “correct linguistic labels for common objects (like “ducks”), use this information for targeting their learning about both novel tools or words, and then remember this competence information for a week, using it to preferentially learn new things from the previously more competent model.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

O Captain! My Captain! by Walt Whitman

Click to enlarge.

O Captain! My Captain!
by Walt Whitman

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head!
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
But I with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.