Friday, May 31, 2019

He looked like a man who would write vers libre, as indeed he did.

From The Girl on the Boat by P.G. Wodehouse.
Dark hair fell in a sweep over his forehead. He looked like a man who would write vers libre, as indeed he did.

Even now, no one, including the British Cabinet and public, believed that Britain would become involved.

I have been enjoying Castles of Steel by Robert K Massie, a maritime history of World War I with an especial focus on the ground breaking (wave breaking?) deployment of Dreadnoughts.

Massie is a master of the fascinating nugget embedded within a well-told story.

Page 21. The eve of the War.
Even now, no one, including the British Cabinet and public, believed that Britain would become involved. The factor that did most to mislead the Continent was England’s imperturbable calm. Bernhard von Bülow had noticed this serene detachment some years before, when he accompanied the kaiser on a visit to England:
Many [British politicians] do not know much more of continental conditions than we do of the condition in Peru or Siam. They are also rather naive in their artless egoism. They find difficulty believing in really evil intentions in others; they are very calm, very phlegmatic, very optimistic. The country exudes wealth, comfort, content and confidence in its own power and future. The people simply cannot believe that things could ever go really wrong, either at home or abroad. With the exception of a few leading men, they work little and leave themselves time for everything.
Now England was enjoying the most beautiful August weather in many years. The holiday season had begun and the coming weekend would be prolonged by a bank holiday on Monday. Even as Russia, Austria, France, and Germany were mobilizing, English vacationers were flocking to the railway stations and the beaches. It was not surprising that foreign observers—the Germans hopefully and the French anxiously—concluded that Great Britain had determined to stand aside from the war about to engulf Europe.

These results suggest the limits of racially charged rhetoric's capacity to heighten prejudice

I keep reading headlines like Racism Plummeted After Trump's Election.

I have long since learned to be skeptical when a headline writer claims something "plunged" or "plummeted." I click through and I find that there was a decline of, say, 2%. A decline, yes. But not a plunge.

I have been seeing these type of headlines for some weeks now. OK. Enough already. I'll look. What does the research say?

From The Rise of Trump, the Fall of Prejudice? Tracking White Americans' Racial Attitudes 2008-2018 via a Panel Survey by Daniel J. Hopkins and Samantha Washington. From the Abstract.
In his campaign and first few years in office, Donald Trump consistently defied contemporary norms by using explicit, negative rhetoric targeting ethnic/racial minorities. Did this rhetoric lead white Americans to express more prejudiced views of African Americans or Hispanics, whether through the normalization of prejudice or other mechanisms? We assess that question using a 13-wave panel conducted with a population-based sample of Americans between 2008 and 2018. We find that via most measures, white Americans' expressed anti-Black and anti-Hispanic prejudice declined after the 2016 campaign and election, and we can rule out even small increases in the expression of prejudice. These results suggest the limits of racially charged rhetoric's capacity to heighten prejudice among white Americans overall. They also indicate that prejudice can behave like an issue attitude: rather than being a fixed predisposition, prejudice can respond thermostatically to changing presidential rhetoric and policy positions.
And the accompanying graphic.

Click to enlarge.

Well, holy smokes. That probably does constitute a plunge. Depending on which line you are looking at, that is a 15-50% decline in prejudice.

Of course, it was all hogwash in the first place. Card-carrying DNC journalists and other Mandarin Class bitter clingers were so steeped in magical thinking that within a month of the election they were claiming rises in racism, long before one could expect to see it in data. For the droning heads, because they thought Trump and America were inherently racist, therefore it must be true. And because Trump was a racist, that racism, like cooties, would magically infect others and racism would rise.

And what are we to make of "expression of prejudice" in some longitudinal survey? I want to see whether there is a rise in manifested racism, not just some mealy-mouthed expression. But demonstrated racism is quite hard to define and, if defined objectively and concretely, even harder to measure. And pleasantly rare. Instead, we rely to a far greater extent on imputed racism by those seeking to find it. Some sort of critical theory version of the observer effect but where the act of seeking something causes it to come into being. The Finder Effect perhaps.

So we end up in some sort of Samuel Beckett theater of the absurd nightmare, waiting for Godot to manifest some racism while Vladimir and Estragon talk, talk, talk. And Godot never (or at least rarely) manifests. Despite all the talking.

Crazy Year Headlines

Great Revealing or Heinlein's Crazy Years. Hard to decide with today's unexpected headlines. From Israeli Flag Burned At KKK Rally…By The Counterprotesters by Aussie Dave.
Think about how messed up this is. At a rally against people who hate Jews, a hater impersonates an Israeli with the sole purpose of riling up the crowd against Israel. And it works.

What is known, unknown, and underknown.

Two surprises in one post. From Don’t let them have a double standard about their double standards by Niall Kilmartin. I gather that someone has been doing some research and or they have a new biography of Martin Luther King coming out which appears to report on his serial philandering and unfaithfulness and additionally alleges one or more instances of rape.

In junior high in Sweden in the early seventies, we were taught, in my international school, that one of the FBI's illegal strategies to repress the Civil Rights movement was the spying and taping on MLK to use his trysts as blackmail against him. I understood this to have been common knowledge. But given some of the commentary (I have not been tracking it at all except at a headline level), this history seems now to not be widely known at all.

Things that are, I believe, well established about MLK include that he had many accusations of plagiarism, that he was frequently unfaithful to his wife, and, towards the end of his life cut short, he began evolving from a freedom agenda towards a more statist view of things. The accusation of rape is new to me but almost every philanderer almost always skirts behaviors which can be viewed as or experienced as rape - I am thinking of Bill Clinton and John Kennedy in particular but there are plenty of others.

If we really wanted to trash MLK's reputation, people have pointed out that MLK was overly cautious and many of the more memorable events on the way to an avalanche of civil rights legislation were actually under the leadership of others even though they might be attributed to MLK today.

We could do that. And we could accept all those accusations to be true.

And he was still a great man. No one is without sin. Few of us have less than a staggering burden of sinful thoughts, words, and deeds. And yet from our moral failings and bad judgments, humans can still do wonderful things. MLK was a man more successful than others in calling our attention to the shameful shortfall between our promises of freedom and liberty and our actual practices. MLK is not to be admired because he was a saint. He is to be admired because he was an ordinary man who demanded we live up to our own expectations as we should have been doing all along.

If we only can admire those who are without sin, then there will be no one left to admire.

This post surprised me by pointing out that what I thought was widely known (MLK's unfaithfulness) is apparently no longer widely taught.

The second surprise in the post is actually in the comments. It is a reasonably civil and erudite discussion.

It turns towards the issue of how we should retroactively judge those on actions and behaviors acceptable at a different time from ours. Which inevitably leads to the issue of slavery. Which in turn leads to a discussion of Jefferson's paternity of children from his slave, Sally Hemings.

Julie near Chicago comments:
Thirteen scholars, including Robert F. Turner, Forrest McDonald, Walter Williams, Paul Rahe, and several others, were asked by The Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society to study evidence about the claim that Sally Hemings, a slave to Mr. Jefferson, bore him a child.

From the T.J.H.S. website (my boldface):
Letter dated May 26, 2000 from the President of The Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society to the Chairman of The Scholars Commission confirming that “you have our assurance that the work of The Scholars Commission will be completely independent of efforts to influence your methodology or conclusions by The Heritage Society or its members.”

The specific mission of The Scholars Commission on the Jefferson-Hemings Issue (The Scholars Commission) was to make their best informed judgment on the evidence that is currently available on whether Thomas Jefferson fathered any of Sally Hemings’ children. Their mission was not to prove the possible paternity of Sally Hemings’ children by Thomas Jefferson, but rather to render a judgment on its likelihood after carefully examining all of the available evidence in accordance with customary standards and weight of evidence. The Scholars Commission was encouraged to pursue truth wherever it leads. The Scholars Commission was officially formed in June 2000 and publicly released an independent, thorough, logical, and compelling report on 13 April 2001.
The site linked above provides a timeline of the investigation and a summary of the results. The 40-page findings report by the Scholars Commission, as it was called, is posted on the Web as “The Jefferson-Hemings Controversy: Report of the Scholars Commission,” and can be downloaded at

I have found it detailed and very interesting.

On Sept. 1, 2001, the Heritage Society posted this on the main page (first link above):
A careful, year-long analysis of claims that Thomas Jefferson fathered one or more children of his slave, Sally Hemings, has yielded stunning conclusions. In a stark challenge to earlier reports, all but one of the 13 scholars expressed considerable skepticism about the charge, and some went so far as to express a conviction that it is almost certainly not true.
Only Dr. Paul Rahe dissented from the overall conclusion of the rest of the Commission.

The main page also includes this notice:
Now available to the visitors to this website is the Summary [pdf, at the link above] from the 2011 book “The Jefferson-Hemings Controversy” from Carolina Academic Press. The Summary is about 40 pages of this 400 page book which contains over 1400 footnotes.
As Capitalism Magazine wrote:
The Scholars Commission report pointed out that the original DNA report indicated only that a Jefferson male had fathered one of Sally Hemings’ children–the available DNA could not specify Thomas Jefferson as the father.
To anyone who’s interested in this, I do recommend reading the Report.
I thought Jefferson's paternity was reasonably well established. Is this just a fringe group? Checking their names, these seem to be reputable scholars.

So in one post I discover that:
Contrary to expectations most people people seems unaware of MLK's many moral lapses, particularly his serial philandering.

Contrary to my understanding, there is apparently strong evidence against Jefferson's paternity of children with slave Sally Hemings.
Live and learn. All knowledge is contingent on new facts.

It could happen to anyone

Giant Textile Mill, Lawrence, Massachusetts, 1941 by Jack Delano

Giant Textile Mill, Lawrence, Massachusetts, 1941 by Jack Delano (1914-1997)

Click to enlarge.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

He looked at me as I were some sort of unnecessary product which Cuthbert the Cat had brought in after a ramble among the local ash-cans

From Jeeves and the Chump Cyril by P.G. Wodehgouse.
It was one of those cold, clammy, accusing sort of eyes--the kind that makes you reach up to see if your tie is straight: and he looked at me as I were some sort of unnecessary product which Cuthbert the Cat had brought in after a ramble among the local ash-cans.

A hate propagation mechanism

From Episode 543 Scott Adams at the 11 minute mark.
If we judge people by their mistakes, we end up hating everybody because we all make mistakes.
And man is the press looking for mistakes. Mistakes sell. Especially mistakes by those whom we dislike or disrespect. The digital mob behaves exactly in this way. A lifetime of accomplishment and then a whiff of a mistake and boom . . . you are unemployed or charged or disgraced. Even if it is all a lie and you did not actually make the mistake claimed.

The promise of digital media is still there but its most obvious manifestation is as a hate propagation mechanism.

1,075 applicants yielded 38 employees a year later.

Recruitment funnels are a bear.

From Portland police, struggling to find qualified candidates, have more than 100 openings by Lindsay Nadrich.
“It’s hard everywhere to hire police officers these days, it’s a nationwide problem,” said Chris Davis, the Portland Police Bureau’s assistant chief of the services branch.

Davis said there are currently 120 sworn police officer positions that aren’t filled.

“We're authorized 1,001 sworn police officers, so 120 vacancies is about 12% of our sworn staffing, so that's a really big problem,” Davis said.

A really big problem when you consider what that means for officers already on the force.


So, why not just hire more people? It's not that easy.

The pool of qualified applicants is shrinking. Out of the 1,075 people who applied to be Portland police officers last year, 817 met minimum requirements. From there, only 303 people were sent to background checks, and that's where the pool of eligible candidates got even smaller.

Roughly 85% of people didn't pass the background check, leaving only 43 that got hired. Out of that group, five didn't make it through the probationary period. So from the original 1,075 people who applied, only 38 people are still employed with the bureau.
And why aren't more people applying to become policemen?
At the beginning of April, Daryl Turner, president of the Portland Police Association, released a statement saying, "The reason the Police Bureau is experiencing catastrophic staffing shortages, drastically declining recruiting success, and the inability to retain officers is due to one core issue: the intense anti-police sentiment in our city that City Council seems to share."

Portland has had its share of anti-police demonstrations.
Being about police and Portland, it seems like the Bubble is Reality.

Double click to enlarge.

The great Walnut in the Spring, 1894, by Camille Jacob Pissarro.

The great Walnut in the Spring, 1894, by Camille Jacob Pissarro.

Click to enlarge.

Here Comes The Rain Again by the Eurythmics

Shades of David Bowie in his early music videos. Meant as a compliment.

Double click to enlarge.
Here Comes The Rain Again
by the Eurythmics

Here comes the rain again
Falling on my head like a memory
Falling on my head like a new emotion
I want to walk in the open wind
I want to talk like lovers do
I want to dive into your ocean
Is it raining with you

So baby talk to me
Like lovers do
Walk with me
Like lovers do
Talk to me
Like lovers do

Here comes the rain again
Raining in my head like a tragedy
Tearing me apart like a new emotion
I want to breathe in the open wind
I want to kiss like lovers do
I want to dive into your ocean
Is it raining with you

So baby talk to me
Like lovers do

Here comes the rain again
Falling on my head like a memory
Falling on my head like a new emotion
(Here it comes again, here it comes again)
I want to walk in the open wind
I want to talk like lovers do
I want to dive into your ocean
Is it raining with you

Restricted and compelled speech, a totalitarian technique.

From "All people deserve to be treated with dignity. If someone identifies as non-binary, I will respect that choice. I cannot, however..." by Ann Althouse.

Being someone very attuned to language, Althouse focuses on the forcing of language to accommodate individuals who are in some state of ambiguity. The media over the past few years have been trying to force Trans issues into some sort of grave societal problem. Despite all the arguments, I cannot see this as being much of a real issue other than for the individuals involved and for them it is clearly much more than just a social issue.

What strikes me every time there is a new storm in a tea cup is that most people are either oblivious or kind. Very few will go out of their way to be cruel.

Jordan Peterson, bête noire of totalitarians, focused primarily on the issue of coerced speech by the state. The state should not be passing laws to compel speech.

I look at this slightly differently. We are now all accustomed to the strong inclination and actions of the progressive left to suppress speech. "We won't let them speak at this campus", "You can't say that", "That's Not Funny!" It is not only coercive but, through the heckler's veto, violent.

The whole trans contretemps appears to me not a civil liberties issue at all but the reverse side of the heckler's veto, compelled speech. It is all about trying to control other people through speech.

The mendacity is extreme. Trans are a vanishingly small population. Within that small population, their psychological, medical and other issues are far more extreme than hurt feelings arising from misused pronouns. Most people dealing with Trans usually go out of their way to either avoid them, or accommodate them. Given that there are no settled norms at either a societal or personal level as to what those norms ought to be, essentially the complainer is asking for control over other's speech. That is obviously absurd.

The effort to compel speech appears to me to be part-and-parcel of a broader totalitarian approach. The desire to control what people are allowed to say and the desire to force people to say things with which they might disagree. Seen from this perspective, the trans issue is simply a sheep in wolf's clothing. Totalitarians are trying to control speech (wolf) under the guise of not giving offense (sheep).


Texas Gov. Abbott signs law lifting ban on brass knuckles, kitty keychains and clubs by Lauren McGaughy

I understand and endorse wanting to maximize freedom. But it kind of makes you wonder what Texas knows that we don't for this to be some sort of legislative priority.

And I want to make the Lieutenant proud

From The Lieutenant Wouldn’t Like It by Sarah Hoyt.
Recently I was talking to a friend, a fellow “child of Heinlein” who has suffered a pretty significant setback, and I told him “you’re not giving up, are you? The Lieutenant wouldn’t like that.” No more need be said.

The phrase comes from Starship Troopers. The Lieutenant who gave the name to Rasczak's Roughnecks (and the reason my fans call themselves Hoyt’s Huns) dies in battle, rescuing two wounded soldiers.

For a good long while, Sergeant “Jelly” Jelal continues running the Roughnecks, treating the situation as though the Lieutenant has merely stepped away and will eventually be back. And the way he shoots down bad ideas is “The Lieutenant wouldn’t like that.” Nothing more need be said.

Heinlein’s final rank in the navy was Lieutenant.

And those of us whom he influenced, all also pretty much behave as though he just stepped away and will eventually come back. Impossible not to believe it of that outsized a personality.

When it seems like I’m even failing at achieving that “entertaining” level in my fiction; when I get tired and disgusted by the mess my field is; when I run up against “we have to take care of this planet, and why would we invade other worlds” or “we have to learn to live with less” it would be so easy to give up.

But the Lieutenant wouldn’t like that.

And so I pick myself up and try again.

Because somewhere, out there, in the future, is space travel, space colonies, new inventions, and limitless possibilities. Time and space enough for love for all of us. For me, for my children, for the human race.

And I want to make the Lieutenant proud.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

He was a poor spitter, lacking both distance and control.

From Money in the Bank by P.G. Wodehouse.
He trusted neither of them as far as he could spit, and he was a poor spitter, lacking both distance and control.

When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Intriguingly incoherent. From On 65th Anniversary of Brown v. Board, School Segregation Is Alive and Well—Especially for Latinos by Edwin Rios.
In 1947, seven years before Brown v. Board of Education, a federal appeals court in California struck down segregated “Mexican schools” in Orange County. Mendez v. Westminster prefigured Brown; it was the first case to hold that segregation in schools was inherently unconstitutional. Not long after, then-Gov. Earl Warren signed a bill ending segregation in public schools across California, making it the first state to do so in the country. Warren would go on to become the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and his decision in Brown 65 years ago today followed the contours of the ruling in Mendez.

There was a lesson in this that was forgotten in Brown’s wake. The attack on separate-but-equal was an iterative process, with the struggle on behalf of Mexican students in Orange County inextricably joined to the struggle on behalf of black students in Topeka, Kansas.

Today, resegregation is well underway, and its effects are particularly acute among Latino students. Latinos are more segregated in schools in California than in any other state. Fifty-eight percent of Latino students in California—where the majority of students are Latino—go to intensely segregated schools in which more than 90 percent of their peers are nonwhite.
Forbidding students to attend schools because of their race was of course abhorrent and wrong. And we got rid of that.

But preventing active discrimination never resolved the issue of elective clustering. If kids attend local schools and populations tend to electively cluster, then you will de facto have clustering in the schools as well. To call this segregation is deceptive. Nobody is being prevented from attending their local school because of their race. That was the evil of segregation. We acknowledged segregation and we abolished it.

What Rios is wrestling with, and never acknowledging, is that people do voluntarily self-cluster by race or religion or language or whatever might be their primary valence of affinity. All across the nation we find schools which have some common attributes of their participants that are deviant from the national average. And even though no one is being precluded by law from attending.

Getting rid of the evil inherent in the state discriminating among its students based on race was a good thing and we did that. Racial homogeneity within a school was always only a loose proxy at best for state discrimination through legal segregation.

What was lost and never discussed and still not discussed, is that demographic valences can and do exist for reasons other than discrimination and legal segregation. School demographic homogeneity can be a possible indicator that illegal segregation is occurring but nowadays that is rarely the case. And it is worth emphasizing that demographic homogeneity is not restricted to race - it can be religion, class, income, etc.

There is a second lazy evil lurking in this old mental model.
Brown, in the immediate aftermath, was focused on how do you integrate African-American children into a majority-white school. It didn’t have to be that way,” says Erica Frankenberg, an education professor at Penn State University. “But that’s how it was implemented.

“So much of our model of desegregation was in this biracial, black-white notion, it’s hard for us to actually think about what should it look like, if there’s no white majority? Or if there are three groups?”
Indeed. It often feels like the purported progressives got confused about their goals.

One set of goals is to prevent government discrimination based on race. That is a good goal.

The goal that seems to have been slid in under that noble objective (and an objective already achieved) is that all schools must share the demographic mix of the state or the nation. That is patently coercive and absurd and yet it is what the Rios's of the world are still pursuing. Inadvertently, they are creating a second pernicious form of racism. They are almost blatantly saying that African-American and Latino students have to be in the minority in their school in order to get the good education being imputed to white Americans.

Frankenburg is right. They never thought this through. Race is not the only demographic and not all demographics are randomly and evenly distributed. And it is unclear how simple mixing adds or detracts from educational outcomes. It is certainly not clear that race is a significant additive or detractor when other factors are controlled.

Nobody notes or complains about the education achieved in New York's selective academies even though the student population is dominated by Asians far out of proportion to their percentage in the City, State or Nation. The students are selected by academic ability alone and they all do exceptionally well whatever race they might be. The mix seems not to matter at all.

Other studies have indicated that there are virtually no issues or challenges when you control by class and by capability. In other words, many of the horror stories and urban legends surrounding bussing and similar efforts in the early 1970s were a product of class mixing, not race mixing. Schools with significant racial mixing but consistent social economic status of all students do perfectly well.

Rios leaves the impression that African-Americans and Latinos can only do well if they are in a school with a majority of whites. Nonsense. What they need is a good education at a good school, not an imputed racial inferiority. And there are excellent schools that are majority white, majority black, majority Hispanic, and majority Asian.

Focus on delivering an excellent education. Don't focus on enforcing some sort of state endorsed racism through allocating people to schools based on their race.

Rios's incoherence is based on the fact that he is identifying that there are many schools which are overwhelmingly one race or another and then assuming that we will conclude that race is the cause of different outcomes without acknowledging the role that class, religion (values), culture, etc. all play. Rios diagnoses what he thinks might be wrong (clustering) without identifying why this might be a causative problem or what ought to be done about it.

See Exhibit 4 - The Great Revealing for San Francisco's experience with Rios's worldview. Disaster all around.

Untitled (Woman with Her Back Turned in a Dark Domestic Interior) by Vilhelm Hammershoi

Untitled (Woman with Her Back Turned in a Dark Domestic Interior) by Vilhelm Hammershoi

Click to enlarge.

Solidarity of a sort

It is not so, I know, to me who saw last night the purple sea

The Wine-Dark Sea
by Patrick O'Brian

The ‘wine-dark sea’ a commonplace?
Poetic argot’s hollow ring?
It is not so, I know, to me
who saw last night the purple sea
the even, gently-swelling sea
unbroken, smooth and menacing.

The purple with an edge of blue,
And reddish in the after-glow
the spindrift floating on the waves:
The foaming, dark and rasping wine
they trod in vats some months ago –
These were the same. But then the moon
rose to the edge and spoilt the sea’s
wine-dark dove’s bosom: over these
the nascent stars; Aldebaran
and, half unseen, the Pleiades.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Boyhood, like measles, is one of those complaints which a man should catch young and have done with

From Uneasy Money by P.G. Wodehouse
Boyhood, like measles, is one of those complaints which a man should catch young and have done with, for when it comes in middle life it is apt to be serious.

The Parent Stack

From There’s Evidence on How to Raise Children, but Are Parents Listening? by Emily Oster. It is subtitled, "Day-to-day individual choices matter less than we think, but national policies seem to matter a lot."

Kind of all over the place but the core argument is that there are a range of basic parenting practices which if done at all well and reasonably consistently, deliver great childhood outcomes.
Regular food in sufficient but moderate amounts.

Regular meal schedules.

Regular sleeping patterns.

Conversational engagement with adults.

Exposure to non-family member adults.

Regular reading sessions of parent with child.

Stable adult relationships.

Consistent adult modeling of desired behaviors.
Nothing surprising here.

Oster mentions
Better-off children in the United States do not benefit just from hearing more words, or having higher-quality day care, or having more stable family lives. They benefit from all these things together, and more.
This is similar to Scott Adams' idea of a talent stack. Exceptional performance is, often as not, a product of the exceptional combination of specific talents (talent stack) as it is exceptional performance in any one of the talents.

Call the basics here The Parent Stack. Do all these things with some consistency to an acceptable minimum or performance and great things happen.

Parents don't have to read X number of books, Y number of times a day, for Z number of days. They just need to read frequently to children. Parent's don't have to serve organic free range eggs garnished with parma ham for breakfast. The kid just needs a balanced, occasionally varied meal on a routine schedule.

I am in full agreement with this main point. Be sensible, be moderate, be caring, and be consistent and you will have delivered virtually everything a child needs to do well.

No need for reading programs, special food, special experiences, etc. I.e. no need to cater to parenting fads.
And yet many of our parenting discussions are driven by, effectively, elite concerns. What is the best organic formula? Food mills versus “baby-led weaning.” Breast-feeding for one year, or two? And, of course, preschool philosophy. These concerns occupy thoughts and Facebook discussions, but they also occupy the news media, at least some of the time.

There was coverage of the fascination with European formula, for example. And who can forget the Time magazine breast-feeding cover asking if you are “Mom Enough” (Implication: No).

By and large, such choices matter very little. But the focus on them distracts from problems that are more central for policy. What we do in day-to-day parenting may matter less than we think, but what we do over all to serve the nation’s children may matter quite a bit more.

Competitive parenting is just another form of virtue signaling and status climbing. It will all be alright. Watch The Andy Griffith Show and do what Sheriff Taylor does. Everything will work out well.

There is an interesting idea lurking in here and it is one with broad application.

It is not the specifics which matter, though they can be important, it is the aggregate system which delivers the outcomes.

Oster doesn't mention it but there is some pretty strong evidence that children's peers have as much or more influence on outcomes as do parental practices.

I think this is often misinterpreted as parents don't matter. But they do. Who do you thinks chooses their children's peers. Parents do. Not usually on a one by one basis accepting this one and rejecting that one. No. Parents choose their children's peers by choosing their own parental peers, choosing the neighborhood in which they live, choosing the church they attend, etc.

In parallel, to Oster's point, it is not individual fads which matter, it is the stack of habits and practices which make the difference.

So, be an adult. Create the social environment in which your children will grow. Create the habits and practices which create a good life and model those to your children. Be committed but moderate.

Sounds easy and boring but we are talking about kids and human parents here. Nothing is easy or boring. It is a challenge.

But the template is straight-forward and conceptually easy. You just have to have confidence, patience and perseverance when all about are losing theirs.
by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
Beyond this commonsensical core message, Oster confuses the situation by switching back and forth between personal practice and public policy.

This is the dilemma for the Mandarin Class. What needs to be done is no secret, isn't particularly hard and is certainly not expensive.

And yet many parents, for any of a variety of reasons, find it difficult to weave together the basic parent stack.

And when those basics are missing, the consequences can be hard on children, as resilient as they often are.

And from a public policy/education policy perspective, what can be done? The problem is with the adults, not the child. But the state, appropriately, has limited capacity to intervene. We have a term for governments who are responsible for raising children instead of parents. It is not a pleasant term.

This is one of the most unpleasant trade-offs for all citizens in a freedom based society. We depend on limited government and therefore constrain it from interfering with family except in the most dangerous of conditions. But by so limiting government intervention with incapable or ineffective parenting, we are also knowingly potentially submitting children to risk and discomfort. We are also accepting differential outcomes for such children.

Too often, the interventions we do offer are focused on silver-bullet or elaborate solutions which fail. Coaching and educating parents in the basics of the core parenting stack might go some ways but without control and authority, we cannot guaranty outcomes. It is one of those circumstances where the treatment (government intervention) is often worse than the symptom (inneffective parenting).

I have no answer. But I think it important, and that Oster is correct, to note and share the idea that parenting skills and behaviors are relatively easy, cheap, and widespread. Any intervention should be cautious and limited owing to the risk of making it worse.

But with that approach, we acknowledge that children may be disadvantaged through no fault or action on their part. That is a hard pill to swallow.

The more forgivable sin.

I posted When the Floor Gives Way Beneath You yesterday. This is the kerfuffle arising from Naomi Wolfe's new book whose thesis was completely undermined when it became apparent in an on-air interview that she had fundamentally misunderstood and misinterpreted the records she had relied on for evidence.

Now everyone is either making the case that it could have happened to anyone (mainstream media) or that once again the Mandarin Class are protecting their ideological own regardless of how egregious the errors they make.

What I haven't seen is anyone juxtapose Wolfe's case with that of Michael A. Bellesiles and his similarly empirically comprised book, Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture.

Wolfe's thesis was that the State criminalized sodomy before 1857 but that over the span of a decade or two, the State shifted and criminalized homosexual love instead.

Bellesiles' thesis was that gun culture in the US did not emerge until the events leading up to and after the Civil War. That during the settlement era up to the 1850s, guns were few and far between.

Bellesiles' book was delightedly received in the press and its thesis is still regularly deployed by those more passionate in their argumentation than informed. It was so well liked it received the Bancroft Prize.

But then everything came crashing down. It turned out that the evidentiary basis for the thesis was marred by faulty research, misunderstanding of the evidence and outright misrepresentation of the evidence. The thesis still stands but the evidence to support the thesis is largely ruined. One more plausible idea brought low by empirical reality.

For Bellesiles, the outcome was tragic. He resigned from Emory University and went into academic exile, teaching at some local college in Connecticut. In 2010, he attempted a comeback with a new book, 1877: America's Year of Living Violently . A return again marred by questions about accuracy. If I recollect correctly in one of his early interviews, he recounted a story about a supposed military veteran in one of his classes. A story which quickly became apparent was not an actual factual account. If not made-up from whole clothe, at the very least a composite of possibly a number of conversations. It was the kiss of academic death for someone trying to resurrect a career brought low by accusations of academic malfeasance.

What will happen with Wolfe? Will she pay any penalty? Ann Althouse thinks she is going to be treated wth kid gloves.

I don't know. But they sure look like similar cases. A thesis intended to appeal to the postmodernist critical theory Mandarin Class. A well oiled publicity campaign. A sudden questioning of the empirical data and a rapid collapse of the evidence. People who are in the postmodernist critical theory Mandarin Class are unlikely deterred by the loss of evidence. Postmodernist critical theory is all about belief over evidence, so the loss of evidence is not a real issue for them.

But will she be exiled as was Bellesiles? I doubt it. It seems like Wolfe was just not well versed in her thesis whereas Bellesiles was viewed as well informed but intentionally deceptive. In addition, a lot of public intellectuals had plenty of time to demonstrate their pleasure with his book and to use it in arguments well before anyone began to check the facts. Bellesiles made them look foolish. Wolfe's error was caught pretty quickly after publication, way before there were too many interviews or books reviews. She made herself look foolish which is a much more forgivable sin.

Le livre des questions by Edmond Jabès

Le livre des questions by Edmond Jabès

Click to enlarge.

Identity politics - an inexorable logic

Monday, May 27, 2019

If you are reading this by Tim Mcgraw

Double click to enlarge.
If you are reading this
by Tim Mcgraw

If you’re readin’ this
My momma’s sittin’ there
Looks like I only got a one way ticket over here.
I sure wish I could give you one more kiss
War was just a game we played when we were kids
Well I’m layin’ down my gun
I’m hanging up my boots
I’m up here with God and we’re both watchin’ over you

So lay me down
In that open field out on the edge of town
And know my soul
Is where my momma always prayed that it would go.
If you’re readin’ this I’m already home.

If you’re readin’ this
Half way around the world
I won’t be there to see the birth of our little girl
I hope she looks like you
I hope she fights like me
And stands up for the innocent and the weak
I’m layin’ down my gun,
I’m hanging up my boots
Tell dad I don’t regret that I followed in his shoes

So lay me down
In that open field out on the edge of town
And know my soul
Is where my momma always prayed that it would go.
If you’re readin’ this I’m already home.

If you're reading this
There’s going to come a day
When you'll move on
And find some one else
And that's OK
Just remember this
I'm in a better place
Where soldiers live in peace
And angels sing amazing grace

So lay me down
In that open field out on the edge of town
And know my soul
Is where my momma always prayed
That it would go
And if you're reading this
I'm already home

An ability to handle difficult situations which a man, if he is lucky, manages to achieve somewhere in the later seventies

From Uneasy Money by P.G. Wodehouse
At the age of eleven or thereabouts women acquire a poise and an ability to handle difficult situations which a man, if he is lucky, manages to achieve somewhere in the later seventies.

Huzzah for freedom, market economies and the age of enlightenment.

I think this warrants at least a Huzzah!

Click through for thread.

Appalachian English

From Appalachian English.

Double click to enlarge.

When the floor gives way beneath you.

Naomi Wolf is one of those denizens of the mainstream media whom you can enjoy reading in order to be enraged. Or one whom you can enjoy ignoring. I am in the latter camp. I am aware of her and some of her contretemps but have never found a compelling reason to indulge in her particular brand of postmodernist critical theory. She has always struck me as someone being famous for being famous.

She has a new book out, Outrages: Sex, Censorship, and the Criminalization of Love, whose central thesis is:
The best-selling author of Vagina, Give Me Liberty, and The End of America illuminates a dramatic buried story of gay history—how a single English law in 1857 led to a maelstrom, with reverberations lasting down to our day

Until 1857, the State did not link the idea of “homosexuality” to deviancy. In the same year, the concept of the “obscene” was coined. New York Times best-selling author Naomi Wolf’s Outrages is the story, brilliantly told, of why this two-pronged State repression took hold—first in England and spreading quickly to America—and why it was attached so dramatically, for the first time, to homosexual men.

Before 1857 it wasn’t “homosexuality” that was a crime, but simply the act of sodomy. But in a single stroke, not only was love between men illegal, but anything referring to this love became obscene, unprintable, unspeakable. Wolf paints the dramatic ways this played out among a bohemian group of sexual dissidents, including Walt Whitman in America and the closeted homosexual English critic John Addington Symonds—in love with Whitman’s homoerotic voice in Leaves of Grass—as, decades before the infamous 1895 trial of Oscar Wilde, dire prison terms became the State’s penalty for homosexuality.
Apparently a key piece of evidence she advances is the continued execution of men for gay relationships through the nineteenth century.

In a BBC interview, the interviewer introduces evidence which suggests Wolfe doesn't know what she is talking about.

Click for thread.

Here is the actual interview, the relevant section starts at 19 minutes and is about six minutes long.

At first, my reaction is that this is yet one more example of disgusting gotcha journalism.

On reflection though, is it? The interviewer bothered to read her book and then researched some of her claims. In doing so, he finds that several dozen cases where she had claimed men were executed for homosexual relationships were not that at all. They were men who had committed sexual assault on men and boys and who were found guilty of that assault. The law apparently required a sentence of execution but by that point in time, mid-century, judges were no longer imposing those sentences. Instead, they entered "death recorded", i.e. the person was found guilty of a crime requiring execution. However, they instead sentenced them to jail or transportation. Wolfe misunderstood the legal term and built her whole thesis on that misunderstanding. She thought "death recorded" meant they had been executed. She also apparently did not bother to investigate the underlying crime which would have revealed that they were crimes of assault, not homosexual love.

So the interviewer did the rudimentary due diligence (sounds like it was entirely done online) which one would expect and hope for and found in advance of the interview that Wolfe's core thesis was based on her own misunderstanding and lack of research. Clearly her academic reviewers, her editors, the fact-checkers, all let her down. She went from hypothesis to sketchy research to written book, to edited book, to publication without anyone noticing what could be disproved simply by researching online.

So what if I am the interviewer and have discovered this? Do I share it in advance? What if I, the interviewer, am the one who has not understood? Perhaps Wolfe has the evidence to support her thesis and I have either misunderstood her argument or I have misunderstood what is online. Is it my task to conduct an academic discussion off-line or do I just bring it up in the interview to test whether my research as an interviewer is correct or not?

Factor in the likelihood that they are both working against tight schedules and cannot easily carve out time for academic discussions. He has multiple interviews to do this week, each requiring preparation. She has multiple interviews to give and events to attend promoting her book. They are both locked into an unforgiving schedule which almost inherently creates awkward moments when rudimentary research snatches back the wizard's curtain to reveal there is nothing there.

I am a management consultant and am fully accustomed to doing research which I have to defend to clients and skeptics, people for whom the research and conclusions are not academic at all but consequential. Money, and jobs, and careers are on the line. Conclusions must be sound. It is never easy, and you are constantly on the alert for something you might have overlooked or an assumption you made without even thinking about it as an assumption. I have been fortunate and never been in a position where someone has revealed that a key work-product was simply wrong because of my own incomprehension or lack of diligence.

Not to say that everything is always right to the nth degree. I have had lots of instances where I have had to recast using different assumptions for what-if scenarios or extend analysis to a further degree of detail, or had to muster yet more evidence to address yet more questions. It happens.

But being plain wrong. In public. That is a nightmare. As a person, I can empathize with Wolfe and admire that she handled the revelation with grace. But still. Ouch.

However, it is another great revealing. For most these public intellectuals, we assume that there are iterative protections to test ideas and fact-check and test before they see the light of day. For a simple but central error to make it through from hypothesis to publication is astonishing. It is as if everyone so wants the thesis to be true that they cannot be bothered to check.

So much of our Mandarin Class want to play with feel-good provocative ideas instead of focusing on whether what they are saying is true. They are steadily undermining public trust, an attribute not easily recaptured. In order to restore public trust we need public intellectuals and technocrats with diligence and humility. Not much of that out there at the moment it seems.

A PRE_UPDATE: Well, I m caught in a bit of a time warp. I wrote this post at the time of the occurrence thinking no one would pay much attention to the incident and therefore scheduled it to post at the end of the month. Apparently I was dramatically wrong and I see many posts and articles about Wolfe's shame. Do I leave it to post later or bring it forward. Guess the latter makes most sense.

Ann Althouse points out something I missed. From The NYT is very gentle with Naomi Wolf — the "prominent author" who was humiliated in an on-air interview. Read the whole thing.
Dr? What is her doctorate? I looked it up on Wikipedia:
From 1985 to 1987, she was a Rhodes Scholar at New College, Oxford, but did not complete her original doctoral thesis.... Wolf returned to Oxford to complete her PhD in 2015, supervised by Dr Stefano-Maria Evangelista. The PhD thesis that she wrote was the basis for her 2019 book Outrages: Sex, Censorship and the Criminalisation of Love.
Oh! So this book was an Oxford PhD thesis?! Wow. Oxford needs to account for itself. There's a brand that ought to mean something. Do the thesis advisers there rely ultimately on authors for the integrity of their research and fact-checking? Did the NYT attempt to talk with Stefano-Maria Evangelista? Can we get him on the air at BBC?
The latter excuse, that they rely on the author, was offered by Wolfe's publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, to explain why they were publishing a book with a central easily checkable fact which, if checked, would have revealed that the whole thesis lacked evidence.

So to recap.
Public intellectual writes a book based on her ideological priors and doesn't understand enough about the evidence to recognize that she has misinterpreted a single phrase in a fashion that calls into question the empirical support of the whole thesis.

Her PhD advisor at Oxford did not catch the central error despite it being easily researched online.

Her publishers did not catch the central error despite it being easily researched online.

Her publicists did not catch the central error despite it being easily researched online.

Her advance reviewers (other than Matthew Sweet) did not catch the central error despite it being easily researched online.
This is the Mandarin Class which thinks the public ought to trust them to make accurate and wise decisions. Hmmm.

Joseph P. Geraci, Pfc. 26 Inf. 1 Div. New York, Nov. 17, 1944

A touching Memorial Day story. One of so many. From She's watched over this WWII soldier's grave for 74 years. He was a mystery to her, until now. by David Andreatta.
For more than 70 years, Mia Verkennis tended to the grave of an American soldier in her Dutch village, knowing nothing about him beyond what was inscribed on its white marble cross:
“Joseph P. Geraci, Pfc. 26 Inf. 1 Div. New York, Nov. 17, 1944.”
Verkennis didn’t know Geraci lived in Rochester, New York, or that he was 21 years old when he died, or that he had a job at Bausch & Lomb waiting for him at home.

She didn’t know he was the only son of Italian immigrant parents, or that he had three sisters, or that none of them knew he was dead when she began caring for his final resting place.

But like them, Verkennis never forgot Geraci, who was one of about 17,800 American soldiers killed in World War II and buried in the Netherlands American Cemetery in the village of Margraten.

At least once a year since 1945, Verkennis has visited Geraci’s grave to lay flowers, pray, and reflect on his sacrifice. On Memorial Day she will do the same.

She is one of thousands of Dutch people, schools, businesses and social organizations, who have adopted the headstones of fallen Americans there as their own – although the cemetery is formally maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission.

Most of the adopters are strangers to the kin of their American wards, just as Verkennis was to Geraci’s relatives until last year. Then, with the help of an English-speaking friend, Verkennis tracked down and contacted Geraci’s living nieces.

“We can’t thank her enough,” said Donna Hooker, whose late mother was Geraci’s sister.

Woman in Repose by Tadashi Asoma

Woman in Repose by Tadashi Asoma

Click to enlarge.

"It wasn't as bad as it could have been" is not the same as "We held it together"

I mentioned the wonder and miracle of the Indian subcontinent and its 39-days of voting by some 600 million people last week. This week it is the turn of Europe - continental elections for the European Parliament and some national and local elections thrown in as well. Highest turnout in decades. Whatever one's ideological or partisan affiliations, these are wonderful, near miraculous, exercises in democratic sovereignty on a scale and frequency inconceivable a century ago. Indeed, virtually inconceivable before the 1990s. We shouldn't lose sight of just what an accomplishment this is.

Even if it feels like a tragedy to many of the participants in the process. This is one more Dick Tuck moment where "The people have spoken, the bastards."

My thesis has been that establishment parties are being turfed out of power by the voters everywhere, not because of some left or right political issue but because the establishment parties have been grossly ineffective at dealing with existential issues for their electorates.

The establishment parties (and their mainstream media dependents) see this as a left-right issue when in fact it is a democracy deficit issue and a competence issue. They believe themselves, as the Mandarin Class of the best and the brightest technocrats to have been doing a magnificent job despite all the objective performance measures and they are completely flummoxed at the behavior of the electorate who carry the burden of the Mandarin Class failures.

Because most establishment parties, while nominally left or right, are all essentially big government parties, almost totalitarian government parties, they cast any opposition as extreme, bigoted, hateful, violent, etc. I don't think voters are necessarily opposing leftist positions, but they sure are rejecting the current leftist positions. The big government positions. The mainstream media, willing hostage as they are to the mainstream parties, therefore cast this as an issue of a rising radical right or rising nationalism. Their own biases are blinding them to the reality.

I see much in the EU election results to support that thesis and little to contradict it.

The mainstream media continues to struggle with their own Mandarin Class blinkers.

The New York Times reports the initial results this morning.

Click to enlarge.

Not as bad as it could have been? That kind of misses the mark doesn't it? And the problem is, as you get into the details, it is not even true. Establishment parties almost everywhere suffered increasing, and sometimes dramatic reverses. In the European Parliament, both the center left and center right mainstream parties are down significantly. They both lost 37 seats each for a combined loss of mainstream parties of 74 seats in a 751 seat chamber.

What happened with the Founding Six of the EU, those six nations who launched this experiment in continental government; France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. I'll concentrate on the first consequential four.
France - Macron's positions resoundingly rejected and the Le Pen's nationalist party seems to have taken the biggest plurality. Macron, like some other recent Mandarin Class candidates, campaigned on the ignorance, perfidy, and general deplorableness of the electorate, and the electorate said enough. A rise of the right and decline of the left story.

Germany - Not a left right but much more clearly a mainstream versus margins story. The Social Democrats approach irrelevance and the center right saw some decline. The nationalists, Greens, and other minor parties saw increases.

Italy - The upstart conservative party, The League, has taken the largest share of the vote, 34%.

Netherlands - Combined European Parliament and national elections at the same time. There were big national elections in March of this year which shifted everything markedly to the right. With these EU results, it looks like things might have shifted somewhat back towards the center but are still to the right of where they were. The Social Democrats took 6 of the 26 seats, up from 3. Otherwise, it was largely puts and takes.
What about the other big economies?
UK - Both Labour and Conservatives have done very poorly, losing to a new Brexit Party only formed a couple of months ago. The Brexit Party seems to have taken about 35% of the vote and are 40% larger than the next largest party. Very much a rejection by the electorate of the establishment parties.

Spain - Spain seems to be the only country which does not support my thesis. The Socialist Party won a distinct victory.
Lifting up out of the weeds I see a virtually uniform (Spain excepted) rejection of the establishment parties for fringe parties or newly formed parties. Overall, the center has continued to move to the right.

France is suffering an existential rejection of its traditional parties. Britain is suffering an existential rejection of its traditional parties. Germany is suffering an existential rejection of its traditional parties. Italy is suffering an existential rejection of its traditional parties. Greece is suffering an existential rejection of its traditional parties (though to be fair, that has been going for a decade.)
Establishment parties lose substantially.

New parties and fringe parties do very well.

National politics are in turmoil in nearly all the core countries or largest economies in Europe.

Conservative parties, nationalist parties and new center right parties seem to have done well.
Most the initial mainstream media headlines seem to be pushing the line that because the Euro-skeptic parties failed to win a majority in the EU parliament, that that constituted a win.

I think that is bad framing. They are suffering an overcommitment to the left-right lens of seeing things and are over-committed to the left part of that left-right lens. They should be focusing not on who wins and loses but what are the changes in party power. If you do that, the picture is quite a bit different from "We didn't lose as badly as we thought we were going to lose."

If the mainstream media were to let go of their Mandarin Class privilege, and let go of their commitment to left wing establishment parties, there is some really interesting news out there. Interesting and consequential. And well worth investigating and reporting.
Why is this rejection of the mainstream parties happening now?

Why is it happening across the globe?

Why are voters disemboweling the parties for whom they have voted for so long?

Why does the rejection of the establishment parties seem to be favoring the right more than the left?

Why are ever more parties popping up in Europe, not only removing power from the mainstream parties but also making coalitions harder to form because there are so many small parties?

Why do the establishment politicians not have a greater sense of electoral self-preservation?

Why do political parties no longer seem able to address widely perceived pressing social issues?

Why do establishment parties persevere with policy positions which are demonstrably unpopular?

Is there really a democracy deficit?

What happens when citizens do not trust their own form of government?

Can we have governance without government? (See Belgium and Netherlands where administration continues for months and even years between coalition governments)

Does rejection of establishment parties serve as a prelude to electoral subsidiarity?
I could go on. Instead of analysis of real trends and real issues, we get years of opinions about fictional issues such as collusion and no reporting of facts.

What is it with all these c-words? Coupes, Corps, etc.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

He looked something between a youngish centenarian and a nonagenarian who had seen a good deal of trouble.

From The Man With Two Left Feet by P.G. Wodehouse.
Henry glanced hastily at the mirror. Yes, he did look rather old. He must have overdone some of the lines on his forehead. He looked something between a youngish centenarian and a nonagenarian who had seen a good deal of trouble.

If you asked of his ghost, 'John Bullitt, what were you hung for?' he would say nothing.

In doing some research on an ancestor who served in the Revolution and whose son served in the War of 1812, I came across the following story. From Annals of Augusta county, Virginia, from 1726 to 1871 by Joseph Addison Waddell. Page 391

In the midst of all the war preparations, there was the following incident.
On Friday, December 11, 1812, a negro girl was hung near Staunton for the murder, by drowning, of her master's infant child. She was duly tried and convicted by the County Court, October 29th, Mr. Peyton prosecuting, and General Blackburn defending the accused. The circumstance would not deserve mention in a history of the county, but an incident connected with it is somewhat interesting. Much sympathy was excited in the community in behalf of the miserable girl, many persons doubting whether she intended to drown the child. At any rate there was a feverish state of feeling on the subject.

During the night after the execution the people of Staunton were aroused from their slumber by a most unearthly noise. Loud and apparently supernatural groans resounded through the town. The people generally rushed into the streets to ascertain the cause, and some of the more superstitious sort professed to have seen the girl alluded to sitting on the steps of the jail.

It was years before the cause of alarm was ascertained. At the time of the occurrence and for many years afterwards, a large two-story frame building stood on the northwest corner of New and Courthouse streets, opposite the Washington Tavern, and in this building Ben. Morris, a prosperous merchant, had his store. He had in his employment a mischievous clerk, or salesman, who confessed, when it was safe to do so, that he had climbed upon the roof of the store-house through the trap-door, and aroused the town by means of a speaking-trumpet.
It is a reminder of the complexity of history. Today's critical theory identitarians would hold this up as an example of the inherent racism of the time. Clearly, though, while no-one appears to have to disputed the negligent homicide, there was more than a small minority who felt that it did not warrant execution. People were engaging with a sense of justice and not beholden to some blind race hatred.

And what about the clerk? Was he simply showing profound bad taste in making a jape out of an execution or was he taking an opportunity to draw attention to an injustice.

In this spare account, we cannot tell. In fact we cannot know. We know the whats and the hows but not the whys. The past is a foreign country speaking a different language and we can only make rough translations.

There is another story in the same book, one without the racial element but one which still challenges us to understand what it was people were thinking.
During the last decade of the 18th century, — how long before and how long after we have not inquired, — horse-stealing was a capital offense in Virginia, and many persons convicted of the crime were sentenced to death. It would seem from documents printed in the Calendar of Virginia State Papers, that in every case the sentence was followed by a petition, more or less numerously signed, asking the Governor to pardon the condemned, which shows that popular sentiment was not in favor of inflicting the death penalty. At any rate we know of only one hanging for horse-stealing, and that was at Staunton.

The name of the unhappy man was John Bullitt, the "black sheep" of a most respectable family. He was arrested in Rockingham county. At that time, and for long afterwards, white persons accused of felony were arraigned before a Court of five Justices of the Peace, who heard the testimony and either discharged the accused or held him for trial before a higher tribunal, first the District Court, and afterwards the Superior Court for the county. The “Examining Court" of Rockingham sent Bullitt on for trial before the District Court, and in October, 1790, he was committed to jail in Staunton. He lay in jail the following winter, "without a spark of fire and but little bed covering," as stated in the petition for his pardon.
At April term, 1791, of the District Court, only one Judge attended, and the prisoner claimed a continuance till the next term. By the time the September term arrived, the Commonwealth's Attorney had discovered that the crime was committed in Augusta, and therefore that the Justices of Rockingham had not jurisdiction of the case. The indictment which had been found was dismissed, and the prisoner recommitted for re-examination in Augusta.

With the prospect of another cold winter before him to say nothing of the gallows in prospect, Bullitt broke jail and fled. We next hear of him under arrest in Fauquier county, in May, 1793. It would seem that after his escape from jail he enlisted, or was believed to have enlisted, as a soldier in the United States army, and was arrested in Fauquier as a deserter. He was about to be discharged, however, when Mr. Archibald Stuart, the Commonwealth's Attorney for Augusta, hearing of his arrest, sent for him by a man named Rhodes. Mr. Stuart said, in a letter to the Governor, dated May 23rd, that he was anxious for Bullitt to be brought to trial as there was "an illiberal suspicion among ye people," that his escape from the Staunton jail "was favored by all concerned, being ye brother of a Judge.

The Examining Court of Augusta sat on the 26th of August, 1793, and consisted of Alexander Robertson, Alexander St. Clair, Robert Douthat, William Moffett and Alexander Humphreys, "Gentlemen Justices." Bullitt was charged with "feloniously stealing and carrying away from the plantation of John Nichols, Sr., on the 18th day of September, 1790, a gray horse of the price of thirty pounds, and other property belonging to said Nichols of the value of five pounds. Total value of the stolen property $116.66 2/3. Upon the testimony of John Nichols, Sr., John Nichols, Jr., Jesse Atkinson and George Sea, the prisoner was sent on for trial before the District Court "to be holden at Staunton, on the 2nd day of September next."

When the District Court met, the Commonwealth's Attorney filed an indictment against Bullitt, and he was tried by the following jury: Hugh Gilkeson, Edward Rutledge, John Emmet, Gabriel Alexander, Samuel Long, John Young, Samuel McCutchen, Robert Hanna, Walter Davis, John Poage, Daniel Finland, and William Chambers. The jury found the prisoner guilty, and on the 12th of September he was sentenced by the Court to be hung on Friday, October 18, 1793 between 10 A. M. and 2 P. M. The order book of the court has disappeared, and we cannot tell which of the Judges presided, and what lawyer defended the prisoner.

Popular sympathy was slow in moving. It was not till the 12th of October that Robert Gamble wrote to Governor Lee, enclosing a petition for Bullitt's pardon. The petition was signed by eighty-eight citizens, among them Alexander McClanahan, Jacob Kinney, William Breckinridge, Vincent Tapp, M. Garber, Sr. and Jr., William Abney, Moses McCue. Alexander St. Clair, John McDowell, Robert Bailey, Alexander Nelson, Robert McClanahan, Smith Thompson, and James Bowyer.

Tradition says that Bullitt was feeble-minded; that young Nichols loaned him the horse, but feared to avow it to his father, a harsh man; and that the condemned man was returning with the horse when first arrested. The petition makes no such statements. It admits Bullitt's guilt, and says he was a man of bad character; but pleads that he has suffered much, part of the time in irons, was "extremely penitent," and promised reformation. The Governor was inexorable.

The County Court, at its session on October 16th, ordered the sheriff to erect a gallows "at the fork of the roads leading from Staunton to Miller's iron works and to Peter Hanger's," and that, the order says, "shall be considered as the place of execution of all condemned persons in future, which may by law be executed by the sheriff of Augusta." Evidently the court anticipated a brisk business in that line. The fork of the roads alluded to is the point in the northern part of the town where Augusta and New streets unite. The spot was then in the woods, and a log house built there afterwards was long occupied by the Gorden family. There Bullitt paid the penalty of his life for a paltry offense on the 18th of October.

It is related that the Rev. John McCue was present at the execution, and betrayed great emotion. The popular feeling was long expressed by a saying often repeated to puzzle children: "That if a person would go to John Gorden's house and say, 'John Bullitt, what were you hung for?' he would say nothing.”

The gallows at the place described gave to all the northern part of Staunton the name of Gallowstown.

The late James Bell, a young man of twenty-one in 1793, was deputy sheriff that year, and officiated at the execution.
What, at this remove, are we to make of this story? Innocent simpleton or bad man? We cannot now know. All we can tell is that there was no community unanimity and that there were many who sought mercy and who felt that the law failed.

Less wrong isn't necessarily right.

This is unusually good. From How the Rural-Urban Divide Became America’s Political Fault Line by Emily Badger. Not that there aren't many statements with which I disagree. However, it comes closer to a real truth than I have seen in any similar analyses from other mainstream journalists.

It is staggering that our American system of government is not better understood by our Mandarin Class spokespeople. There are a handful of surprising assumptions in this article which indicate that unawareness. Take for example:
The American form of government is uniquely structured to exacerbate the urban-rural divide — and to translate it into enduring bias against the Democratic voters, clustered at the left of the accompanying chart.
So close. So, so close. And yet, so wrong.
The American form of government is uniquely structured to protect the rights of minorities.
There. Fixed it. And with all those checks and balances, decision-making is markedly slower than almost anywhere else. But once decisions are made at a legislative level, we are much more confident of all groups of citizens assenting to the law/policy. We set much greater store on consent of the governed here than elsewhere. Totalitarians hate those checks-and-balances because it retards fast decision-making by the smart technocrats. But you only need to view the track record of technocratic decision-makers to appreciate the wisdom of the Founding Fathers in shielding us from them.

Other countries with parliamentary systems and with proportional voting systems tend to end up with more facile decision-making but also greater swings in policies (look at the UK in the 60s and 70s swinging from near marxist labor to gentry conservative to labor again to near market libertarians.) While we talk about polarization in the US, it is nothing compared to the strains in most European countries where there are always some pretty extreme parties on the far left and right.

More than that, the gulf between the people and those who elect them is even greater than here. The level of distrust and what is widely referred to as a democracy deficit is far greater elsewhere than here.

Most our pointy headed commentators fail at system thinking. They presume that if we can toggle a little here or nudge a little there, we can get a better system. That we can swap out pieces of the system for something we see and like elsewhere. We can't. Each of these systems is a total product of a range of trade-offs which are a totality each of themselves. You can change the trade-offs but you cannot just average the systems.

And when we refer to minorities whose interests are to be protected, our Founding Fathers were far deeper thinkers than the cognitive rug rats of today, nipping at their heels. Minorities can be racial, our contemporary obsession in some quarters, but usually they are a mix of things - Religion, class, education, economic system, rural/urban, etc. We are all of us minorities of one across the rich spectrum of what we are interested in, concerned about or identify as.

That was the genius of the Founding Fathers. They recognized that we are all minorities in some way at some point in our lives and that majorities would always have the capacity to exploit minorities of whatever stripe. Whites of Blacks (or vice-versa, Rich of Poor (or vice-versa), Protestants of Catholics (or vice-versa), Men of Women (or vice-versa), Country of Town (or vice-versa), Capitalists of Workers (or vice-versa), Manufacturers of Agriculturalists (or vice-versa), Youth of Aged (or vice-versa), Healthy of Ill (or vice-versa). And so on. The human instinct to exploit the other is always resident in everyone though we are each always the other in some way. So the Fathers set out to establish a system on that knife edge where a government of the people has sufficient power to be effective but not enough power to exploit.

Our Constitutional system, set up to slow decision-making, protect minority rights, and obtain the consent of the governed is a masterpiece of compromise. That the USA, one of the youngest of nations and the most disparate of nations, is also the oldest of constitutional governments and also the wealthiest of nations is a testament to how effective the design has been.

All these attempts to get rid of the Electoral College, revert to direct democracy, etc. are simply testaments to ignorance or insatiable hunger for despotic power. Because that is what happens without consent of the governed and without all those checks and balances.

The idea of the urban-rural divide and the idea of deterministic geography are simply masks for a deeper issue.

The fact is that 80% of Americans are urban, a fact which belies the hazy assumption that democrats dominate urban environs. If urbanites were Democrats and 80% of America is urban, then Democrats would be winning election after election, even with all our checks and balances.

The fact that they are not says that there is something wrong with the definitions. When Democrats speak of urban, they are usually talking about the core 30-40 old cities. The New York's, San Francisco's, Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago, etc. But there are hundreds of small cities (>50,000 people) for every singular Atlanta or Philadelphia. And Democrats don't dominate small urban like they do big urban. This misconception of urban underpins the faultiness of Badger's analysis.

Badger does not tackle this issue. I would argue that by failing to make the distinctions and apply consistent definitions, we hide what is going on. I think what is happening is that the 30-40 big old cities, dominated by Democrats are drifting away from an awareness of electoral reality. The core of these big old cities do have massive income inequality, their governance tends to be dominated by harder left ideologists, their crime tends to be more dramatic, there is a greater concentration of extreme advocacy, there is greater poverty, there is greater social dysfunction, etc. And this is not unusual. Big cities everywhere in the world are not reflective of the country as a whole.

America tends to be a centrist country. I think what is happening is that we have a rich postmodernist elite in urban cores which are drifting to hard left/radical socialism. Our suburbs tend to be moderate to conservative. Our smaller towns tend to be conservative as do our rural counties.

But there are a lot of people in those small towns and in those suburbs and that is what is reflected in Badger's charts.

Badger never mentions it, but there is a further, and peculiarly American issue with old urban centers - Race. For perfectly understandable and well intended reasons, the Voting Rights Act of the sixties essentially institutionalized racism on the part of the government. Not just any minorities, but racial minorities. The intention was that there needed to be a mechanism by which African-Americans could be more present in Congress (and government in general) than was the case. Effectively we created majority minority districts to accomplish that.

However, given the dominance of African-Americans in the Democratic party and therefore block voting, with the Voting Rights Act we were also institutionalizing the Democratic Party as the Party of the old urban cores.

As Badger points out, and I think this is the heart of the problem:
In the United States, where a party’s voters live matters immensely. That’s because most representatives are elected from single-member districts where the candidate with the most votes wins, as opposed to a system of proportional representation, as some democracies have.

Democrats tend to be concentrated in cities and Republicans to be more spread out across suburbs and rural areas. The distribution of all of the precincts in the 2016 election shows that while many tilt heavily Democratic, fewer lean as far in the other direction.

As a result, Democrats have overwhelming power to elect representatives in a relatively small number of districts — whether for state house seats, the State Senate or Congress — while Republicans have at least enough power to elect representatives in a larger number of districts.

Republicans, in short, are more efficiently distributed in a system that rewards spreading voters across space.
But the where only matters because we have institutionalized the majority minority districts which tend to be urban. And by institutionalized, I mean that we have two iterations of gerrymandering. The first is sanctioned and is to design districts which meet the VRA requirements. But by doing that, so many Democratic voters are now concentrated across the urban cores, that almost de facto, in the second iteration, Republicans are more evenly distributed across all other districts, giving them a wider tent, a broader range of issues to which they have to respond, etc. It is this well-intended VRA policy which looks to me to lock Democrats into old urban core agendas and stymies their capacity to reach across the full spectrum of all Americans.

As Badger points out, making gerrymandering more neutral sounds promising but there is plenty of both practical real world experiences as well as strong academic modeling research which suggests that more neutral gerrymandering might lead to better results for Republicans.

Badger notes:
In most European democracies, geography doesn’t matter in the same way.
Puhlease. How unaware can you be? As she points out, we are talking about continental Europe, not anglo-phone Europe. Half the countries in Europe are too small to have more than one large dominant urban center, and when they are that small and that urbanized, there is of course far less of an urban-rural divide. But "urban-rural" is an American distinction which hides how Europeans talk about and wrestle with geography which is by "region". Badger is so focused on advancing a thesis (urban-rural division) that she is losing sight of the obvious realities.

Spain, as an example, has two urban anchors - Madrid and Barcelona. But the political divide is not Madrid/Barcelona and small town rural. That is applying a false filter from America. The divide is between regions - Barcelona versus Madrid versus Basque versus Andalusia, etc. Germany's regionalism is further exacerbated by religion (Protestant north and Catholic south) as well as by the old East West divisions.

Contra Badger, geography matters enormously in Europe but it is geography as regionalism rather geography as urban/rural.

Badger offers this howler as well:
Gerrymandering, a particularly American practice, allows Republicans to amplify their advantages in the political map.
Oh, dear. Gerrymandering exists everywhere because it is all about manipulating the system for power. It might not be called gerrymandering because that is our terminology, but manipulating electoral boundaries for political advantage is nearly the oldest pastime in the world.

Badger's very next sentence is so close to the revelation.
Democrats gerrymander, too, but often the most they can achieve is to neutralize their underlying disadvantage.
And what is that underlying disadvantage? It is not clear. What follows is a long pastiche of various Democrat Party challenges which doesn't really coalesce into a comprehendible "underlying disadvantage" unless you read it to mean that their policies make them unelectable.

But what precedes this key sentence is also unclear. However, separated by inches of column and rhetorical jumps, I think Badger is identifying the underlying disadvantage as being:
Democrats tend to be concentrated in cities and Republicans to be more spread out across suburbs and rural areas.
And if that is the case, then that tracks back to the iron links between the VRA, African-Americans as block voters for Democrats and African-Americans as being demographically dominant in old urban cores.

Seen from this perspective, there are then some plain mechanisms by which to address the Democratic Party disadvantage. We can get rid of the artificially imposed majority/minority districts or we can relocate African-Americans from urban centers, or we can break the stranglehold of the Democratic Party on the African-American block vote. None of that would be easy or even necessarily desirable but it solves the problem of concentrated voting areas.

It would be great if the Republican Party had a meaningful incentive to seek African-American voters. It would be great if the Democratic Party had a meaningful incentive to advance policies which meet the needs of all Americans, not just those in urban cores. However, at least for a while, it would likely mean fewer African-American faces in Congress and perhaps in other political ranks. Whether that also entails a loss in political influence, I am not so sure. Swing voters have a lot of power.

At least that is how I see the evidence.

Badger continues with the model that it is an urban/rural divide. I think that is wrong. Very wrong. But it is still a good deal better than those who are arguing that the problem is the Electoral College or gerrymandering.

What’s true Is of these three you may have two

You Want a Social Life, with Friends
by Kenneth Koch

You want a social life, with friends.
A passionate love life and as well
To work hard every day. What’s true
Is of these three you may have two
And two can pay you dividends
But never may have three.

There isn’t time enough, my friends–
Though dawn begins, yet midnight ends–
To find the time to have love, work, and friends.
Michelangelo had feeling
For Vittoria and the Ceiling
But did he go to parties at day’s end?

Homer nightly went to banquets
Wrote all day but had no lockets
Bright with pictures of his Girl.
I know one who loves and parties
And has done so since his thirties
But writes hardly anything at all.

Sun, Sea, Shore, 1938 by Paul Wolff

Sun, Sea, Shore, 1938 by Paul Wolff

Click to enlarge.

Or committee meetings anywhere