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  • Archive for the 'Miscellaneous' Category

    State Capacity Libertarianism – an Update

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 17th January 2020 (All posts by )

    I posted on this new topic of Tyler Cowan’s almost two week’s ago.  I have seen other commentary since then.  Law and Liberty had this mostly-negative take on the idea.

    But my largest disagreement is that Tyler misses what is most problematic about modern libertarianism. In my view, modern libertarianism has too narrow a view of social harm and too limited a role for government in encouraging mediating institutions that help ameliorate such harms. Tyler underscores a certain obtuseness on this point by professing not to be able to understand the difference between classical liberalism and libertarianism, except that classical liberalism was a 19th-century philosophy suited to solving the problems of its times, but not ours.

    It’s a thoughtful response. 

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 2 Comments »

    State Capacity Libertarianism

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 6th January 2020 (All posts by )

    Tyler Cowen over at Marginal Revolution has a new approach to government, which he calls State Capacity Libertarianism. You should read his 11 points which define the phrase for yourself, but here are the first two:

    1. Markets and capitalism are very powerful, give them their due.

    2. Earlier in history, a strong state was necessary to back the formation of capitalism and also to protect individual rights (do read Koyama and Johnson on state capacity). Strong states remain necessary to maintain and extend capitalism and markets. This includes keeping China at bay abroad and keeping elections free from foreign interference, as well as developing effective laws and regulations for intangible capital, intellectual property, and the new world of the internet. (If you’ve read my other works, you will know this is not a call for massive regulation of Big Tech.)

    Do not, under any circumstances, read the comments.  I’m sure there are some intelligent criticisms and defenses in there somewhere, but they are thin on the ground.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 5 Comments »

    Pres. Trump Sends Iran’s “Red Napoleon” to Meet The Reaper

    Posted by Trent Telenko on 4th January 2020 (All posts by )

    On Friday night Jan 3, 2020, President Trump directed a successful strike killing IRGC Commander Gen. Qassem Soleiman at the Baghdad International Airport.  Four AGM-114N Metal Augmented Charge (MAC) Thermobaric Hellfire missiles launched from an General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper turned Soleiman’s SUV and his accompanying  security SUV into funeral pyres. [1]

    IRGC Commander Gen. Qassem Soleiman meets three AGM-114N Metal Augmented Charge (MAC) Thermobaric Hellfire missiles launched from a a MQ-9 Reaper Drone

    IRGC Commander Gen. Qassem Soleiman meets three AGM-114N Metal Augmented Charge (MAC) Thermobaric Hellfire missiles launched from an MQ-9 Reaper Drone.  Graphic Source: UK Daily Mail

    See full story at this Daily Mail link:

    https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7848729/Trump-taunts-Iran-saying-never-won-war-ordering-strike-killed-Soleimani.html

    Some in the media have compared this strike to Operation Vengeance, the American military operation to kill Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto of the Imperial Japanese Navy on April 18, 1943.

    The Trump Administration drone strike was in fact far more consequential than Operation Vengeance. If only because of how much more of the IRGC Quds force senior chain of command were eliminated compared to the Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto strike.  And how much more important Gen. Qassem Soleiman was to Iran than Yamamoto was to Imperial Japan.

    Also killed in the strike were Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis also known as Jamal Jafaar Mohammed Ali Āl Ebrahim, the commander of the Iraqi Shia Kata’ib Hezbollah militia and mastermind behind the December 1983 bomb attacks on U.S. and French embassies in Kuwait.

    In additional to Soleiman and al-Muhandis/Āl Ebrahim, also killed were IRGC Brigadier General Hussein Jafari Nia, Major-General Hadi Taremi, LTC. Shahroud Mozaffari Nia and Captain Waheed Zamanian. Nor does the list end there as senior pro-Iranian Iraqi Shia PMF militia leaders Heydar Ali, Muhammed Reza al-Jaberi and Hassan Abdul Hadi, were in the second SUV struck by one of four AGM-114N Hellfire guided missiles fired by the MQ-9 Reaper.

    IRAN’S RED NAPOLEON

    IRGC Commander Gen. Qassem Soleiman was to Iran what Heinrich Himmler, Gen Oberst Kurt Daluege, Gen Ernst Kaltenbrunner and Gen Sepp Dietrich were to Nazi Germany, all rolled into one.

    In many ways Gen. Qassem Soleiman ran Iran’s foreign policy and strategy as principal adviser to the theocratic leadership. Soleiman made his bones in the 1990’s suppressing Iranian student riots in the style of Belisarius and the Nika riots. Post 9/11/2001, he has been orchestrating the killings of US service personnel, is the architect Iran’s proxy forces in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yeman and ran covert ops forces world wide.

    In fact, Gen. Qassem Soleiman was Iran’s “Red Napoleon.

    The idea of “The Red Napoleon” came from the 1929 novel of that name by Floyd Gibbons predicting a Soviet conquest of Europe and invasion of America by The Red Napoleon’s massive multi-racial army. Written as a screed against white racial supremacy, the concept in the Western Left of a 3rd World military leader who could routinely defeat the West over and over again the same way that General and later French Emperor Bonaparte Napoleon did to the leaders of Western Europe in the late 18th and early 19th century has hung on in the Left’s Noosphere [2] in the decades since.

    If anyone was a “Red Napoleon” in the 21st century,  Gen. Qassem Soleiman was that man.

    On January 12, 2016, two United States Navy riverine command boats were seized by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Navy after they entered Iranian territorial waters near Iran's Farsi Island in the Persian Gulf. The subsiquent release was hailed by the Obama administration as an unintended benefit of the new diplomatic relationship.

    On January 12, 2016, two United States Navy riverine command boats were seized by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Navy after they entered Iranian territorial waters near Iran’s Farsi Island in the Persian Gulf. The subsequent release was hailed by the Obama administration as an unintended benefit of the new diplomatic relationship. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2016_U.S.%E2%80%93Iran_naval_incident

    Gen. Qassem Soleiman was a man from the 3rd World. One who had created and lead a team in the form of the Quds Force that had killed American servicemen in their hundreds, for decades, got a pair of US Navy riverine command boat crews to surrender in humiliation to support Pres. Obama’s “Opening to Iran” and executed  both the Benghazi, Libya and Baghdad, Iraq embassy assaults.

    And Pres. Trump just sent Iran’s “Red Napoleon” to “…meet the Reaper.

    IRGC Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani. He was the Iranian government’s “Red Napoleonand was killed by a thermobaric Hellfire missile launched from a MQ-9 Reaper at the orders of President Trump on 3 Jan 2020.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan, America 3.0, Americas, Anti-Americanism, Big Government, Civil Society, Iran, Iraq, Middle East, Military Affairs, Miscellaneous, Obama, USA, War and Peace | 89 Comments »

    Seeing The Christmas Story Differently

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 1st January 2020 (All posts by )

    Reposted from April 2018 over at my own site. I thought it might be of interest here as well

    Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes by Kenneth Bailey

    We make much of the outcast, rejected nature of Jesus at his birth in our Western understanding.  No room at the inn. Shuffled off into the barn, with only a feed trough for a bed. The Eastern tradition emphasises the aloneness of Mary, and nearly always claims Jesus was born in a cave.  Bailey thinks these are both wrong. He notes that neither of these are in Scripture, they are interpreted from Scripture plus traditions. 

    As a general principle, he notes that the Christmas story was written in other versions that were not accepted as scripture, and we can learn something about them – and thus about the authentic scriptures – by noting what they get wrong. The other versions often get local knowledge wrong: local geography, local customs, local architecture. When we find such things in the text we know this person has never been to Jerusalem or seen the countryside around it.  He has a false picture. This also makes it likely that the writer was not a Jew. Most Christians outside Jerusalem were not Jews. Nearly all Christians were from outside Israel from an early date.

    Therefore strong Jewish or local elements in a text argue for a very early date of the original.  Later texts would not understand the information, and thus omit it, try to reconcile it with other beliefs, or just flat change it.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 7 Comments »

    Blocked by Quora… again.

    Posted by TM Lutas on 19th December 2019 (All posts by )

    I was finally unblocked by Quora earlier today. I was reblocked by Quora two hours later. Below is my appeal note for the benefit of anyone else who may find themselves in this situation.

    I have literally solely asked nine questions since getting unblocked. Which of the nine questions violated any policy? Which policy was violated? If they did not violate any policy, could you please unblock my account?

    The nine questions are:
    1. If Speaker Pelosi does not pass on the impeachment articles to the Senate, when do they expire?
    2. If President Trump wanted to apply for a writ of mandamus to unstall his impeachment if Speaker Pelosi doesn’t pass the process on to the Senate, how would that be done?
    3. Did Joe Biden intervene with the Navy to lessen Hunter Biden’s punishment?
    4. Can you count cards and ‘sell the count’ to the players at the table for a guaranteed profit without actually gambling?
    5. Is not naming House prosecutors (called managers) to prosecute the President’s impeachment a defense of Trump or an attack on him?
    6. Since FISA was passed in 1978, why has it only been in 2019 that an inspector general done a thorough review of a FISA case?
    7. Is the Bloomberg Group’s five million euro fine by a French financial markets watchdog for a lack of journalistic ethics a fair penalty?
    8. What will happen to Puerto Rico’s crime rates now that their gun laws have been radically revamped (effective date 1/1/2020)?
    9. Would you invest in a robot to be rented out for short-staffed factories?

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 10 Comments »

    Quora Profile

    Posted by TM Lutas on 18th December 2019 (All posts by )

    Quora is a great Q&A platform that has teething problems. One of them is the character of its moderation. I wouldn’t mind so much except that I get a bit of mad money from them through their Quora partner program. I used to ask questions (paid activity), answer them (unpaid activity), and comment (unpaid activity). After being suspended for two weeks without any actual content being marked as being a problem, I’ve decided to let people know that I am solely changing my behavior because I can’t figure out how to paint within their lines or even figure out where their lines are to determine whether I want to write there anymore. Here’s the profile update in case that goes away.

    I got the message Quora.

    I can be suspended without any answers or comments being moderated and appeals won’t necessarily reverse it. I’m currently limiting my Quora fun to questions until I get clarity on how to participate within the rules and not be subject to sanctions. As in so many other parts of my life, I’m apparently a minority in ways that matter.
    I actually am interested in your answers and only ask questions I have a personal or professional curiosity about. If you would like to discuss my questions, I am generally reachable on social media as TMLutas. My personal email is dbrutus -at- mac -dot- com
    I do ask questions that come in large data sets. Examples of what attracts my attention might include:
    * Who are all these people/groups that the US has sanctions on and why are they there? Do they deserve it?
    * Is this true?
    * What things that people think are constants are actually variables?
    * What are the fixed points of human nature and how do they express themselves?
    I have a personal goal to ask twenty questions a day as it exercises my brain and keeps my thinking from getting too much in a rut. If I can do that inside an hour, I’m upping the number.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 3 Comments »

    SPLC Hate – I

    Posted by TM Lutas on 13th December 2019 (All posts by )

    The Southern Poverty Law Center is the current king of describing hate in the United States of America. But does it do a good job? If the SPLC isn’t fit for purpose, the rot won’t start in listing inappropriate groups. It will inappropriately deal with certain brands of hate or hate ideologies.

    One of the pages on the SPLC website describes hate ideologies. According to the SPLC, there are 20 different ways that Americans hate including the catchall group “General Hate”.

    I didn’t realize hatred was expressed in so few ways. But is hate really expressed in so few ways? In the SPLC telling, whites hate blacks and blacks hate whites. That’s a pretty common result of lived experience. If you receive enough hate, people respond with a hate of their own. The idea that hate only flows in one direction is unnatural and unexpected. You would think that most every long-standing expression of hate would have return fire headed the other direction but that’s not always how the SPLC sees it.

    Misogyny and Misandry naturally pair but only Misogyny (Male Supremacy) gets an entry. Misandry is invisible.

    Phineas Priesthood naturally pairs with Black Bloc as both are not organizations per se but labels describing violent political actions. Black Bloc is invisible to the SPLC.

    Anti-Muslim ideology naturally pairs with Muslim extremism. Muslim extremism is invisible.

    Neo-Confederate longing for the antebellum South naturally pairs for anti-southern bigotry that discriminates against the accent or the address. But the latter is invisible.

    Stuffing hate ideologies down the memory hole is something that the SPLC seems to have significant experience at. How do they pick the ones that are not mentioned?

    I wonder.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 9 Comments »

    The Forgotten and Buried Intelligence Lessons of Pearl Harbor, December 7th 1941

    Posted by Trent Telenko on 7th December 2019 (All posts by )

    December 7th 2019 is the 78th anniversary of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s surprise Pearl Harbor attack on the capitol ship battle line of the US Pacific Fleet.  After that attack there was a round of American elite political and military leaders a collective swearing of “Never Again.”  That is, “Never again will the USA be so surprised by a foreign enemy.”

    Pearl Harbor Through Japanese bomb sights

    This is what Pearl Harbor looked like through Imperial Japanese Naval Air Force (IJNAF) bomb sights on December 7th 1941.

    Yet despite that, America has indeed been “surprised” in exactly the way of Pearl Harbor repeatedly since 1941.  The Korean war is one example five years after WW2 ended.  The Soviet Invasions of both Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan in 1968 and 1979 are two others   It was certainly an intelligence surprise on 9/11/2001 with the attacks on the World Trade Center in NY City and the Pentagon in Washington D.C.,  and the “surprise” of there being few/no Weapons of Mass destruction in post 2003 Iraq, and Iran’s recent drone and cruise missile attack on Saudi Arabian oil refining facilities.

    The reason for this pattern of failure boils down to the forgotten and unlearned  — frankly impossible for American elites to learn —  intelligence lessons of Pearl Harbor.  Those unlearned lessons being that the interlocking  patron-client political relations inside the American federal civil government, military and intelligence organizations lead to narrow self-interested group think over the concerns of outside reality.  And that this tendency towards self-interested group think is at its absolute worse when facing a foreign enemy with a police state internal security system that is running a campaign of strategic deception and denial.

    If that “worst case” foreign enemy sounds a lot like Imperial Japan, the People’s Republic of North Korea, China, the Soviet Union, Iraq and Iran. It means you have paid attention to both American history since Pearl Harbor and to current events.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Current Events, History, International Affairs, Japan, Korea, Military Affairs, Miscellaneous, National Security, USA, War and Peace | 52 Comments »

    The Collapse of Atomic Diplomacy…Again?

    Posted by Trent Telenko on 26th November 2019 (All posts by )

    The end of the Pacific War historiography of “Atomic Diplomacy” seems destined for a second round of debunking, after the 1980’s declassification of WW2 Ultra files, with what looks like a “Jon Parchell talking to Japanese scholars about Commander Mitsuo Fuchida’s version of Midway” moment. [1]

    That is, an accepted American Pacific War historiography is about to be ‘up ended’ by Japanese language scholarship little/unknown in English language for years after its appearance. In this particular case, the ‘scholarship’ is a 2011 NHK documentary titled as follows:

     “Atomic bombing – top secret information that was never utilized”

    原爆投下 活(い)かされなかった極秘情報

    Original link:

    http://www.nhk.or.jp/special/onair/110806.html

    Currently accessible link:

    https://www.dailymotion.com/video/xkev97

    Atomic Bomb Pit #2 - B-29 BocksCar Loading Site

    Atomic Bomb Pit #2 – B-29 BocksCar’s Loading Site on Tinian.  This was the plane that killed Nagasaki.  Japanese intelligence tracked it, but Japanese military leaders could not bring themselves to stop it.

    The NHK documentary answers questions that “Atomic Diplomacy” has never bothered to ask.  Specifically “What did the Imperial Japanese Military & Government know about the American nuclear weapon program, when did it know it, and what did it do about it.”

    NHK’s documentary lays out the following:

    1. The Japanese military knew of the Manhattan project in 1943 and started its own nuclear weapons programs (IJA & IJN) as a result.[2]
    2. The Imperial Japanese Military gave up these nuclear programs in June 1945. [3]
    3. The Imperial Japanese Military & Foreign Ministry were informed of the American Atomic test on July 16, 1945 and refused to believe it was a nuclear detonation.
    4. The code breakers of the Imperial Japanese Army had been tracking the combat operations of the 509th Composite Group including both A-bomb drops.[4] The Imperial General Staff was told of the special message to Washington DC for the Hiroshima attack, sat on the information, and warned no one.
    5. The Imperial General Staff repeated this non-communication performance for the 2nd nuclear attack on Nagasaki.

    Not having Japanese language skills myself, I had a link to a 2013 English language translations of the documentary sent to me by an acquaintance.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in History, Military Affairs, Miscellaneous, National Security, USA, War and Peace | 11 Comments »

    Regular and Irregular Channels

    Posted by David Foster on 18th November 2019 (All posts by )

    Some of the witnesses at the ongoing Congressional hearings seem quite disturbed at the use of “irregular channels” for decision-making and implementation, supplementing and bypassing the “regular” channels. (here, for example) Reminds me of a Churchill story…

    In February 1940, Churchill was not yet Prime Minister but rather was First Lord of the Admiralty. He received a letter from a father disappointed that his son had been turned down for a commission, despite his qualifications and his record. Churchill suspected class prejudice and wrote to the Second Sea Lord, saying that “Unless some better reasons are given to me, I shall have to ask my Naval Secretary to interview the boy on my behalf.”

    The Second Sea Lord, unhappy with the meddling from above, responded to the effect that it was inappropriate to question the decisions of “a board duly constituted.” To which Churchill replied:

    I do not at all mind “going behind the opinion of a board duly constituted” or even changing the board or its chairman if I think injustice has been done. How long is it since this board was re-modeled?… Who are the naval representatives on the board of selection? Naval officers should be well-represented. Action accordingly. Let me have a list of the whole board with the full record of each member and his date of appointment.

    General Louis Spears was present when Churchill, after taking the above hard-line, saw the candidates. After chatting with the boys, Churchill explained the matter to Spears:

    “They have been turned down for the very reason that should have gained them admission. They are mad keen on the Navy, they have it in their blood, they will make splendid officers. What could be better than that they should rise higher than their fathers did? It is in their fathers’ homes that they grew to love the Navy, yet they have been turned down because their fathers came from the lower deck,” and he pouted and glared with fury.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Britain, Current Events, History, Management, Miscellaneous, Organizational Analysis, Politics, Trump | 16 Comments »

    Suburban Sophistication

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 17th November 2019 (All posts by )

    (Another of my long-ago archive posts, from 2005 – the California that once was, and that I remember when I think of growing up there.)

    When JP and Pip and Sander and I were all growing up, the contiguous suburb of Sunland and Tujunga, untouched by the 210 Freeway was a terribly blue-collar, gloriously low-rent sort of rural suburb. It was if anything, an extension of the San Fernando Valley, and not the wealthier part of it either. It was particularly unscathed by any sort of higher cultural offerings, and the main drag of Foothill Boulevard was attended on either side by a straggle of small storefront businesses, a drive-in theater, a discouraged local grocery store, a used car lot, the usual fast food burger or pizza places, a place with an enormous concrete chicken in front which advertised something called “broast” chicken, Laundromats, and a great variety of very drab little bars. There were no bookstores, unless you counted the little Christian bookstore across from the library and fire station.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Culture, Deep Thoughts, Miscellaneous, Personal Narrative, Reruns | 9 Comments »

    Gradual Cultural Change Because of Marriage Practices

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 10th November 2019 (All posts by )

    Cross-posted from Assistant Village Idiot. If you have not run across the Hajnal Line reference before I would consider it more important that you familiarise yourself with that over attending to what I have written here.

    Mapping the end of incest and the dawn of individualism. (Do not read the comments.  Useless.) Glenn Reynolds commented “Hmm,” an ambiguous response, but one that at minimum suggests he doesn’t think much about this issue.  It is well-known to those who dare to click over to those dangerous HBD sites.  But it’s not his thing. The article very cautiously and wisely merely hints at reasons and results.  I have mentioned the Hajnal Line here several times before, and contemplating these issues can be very informative about the last 1500 years of European history and the role of women.  It provides a surprising framework with some explanatory power. Reducing cousin marriage reduced the authority of individual patriarchs and clan leaders. I have seen it argued that this also undermined support for slavery, though that is open to more debate. That may be co-occuring rather than causal.

    Let me fill in some background which is not nailed down and could be modified when academics dare to study such things again, but for the moment might give you an “aha!” experience.  The ban on cousin and other relatedness marriages by the Roman Catholic Church was not fully obeyed anywhere.  The ban amounted to relative degrees of discouragement of such practice. Northern Europe embraced this more than any other region the Western, later RC, Church penetrated.  I believe there is evidence that this was acceptable to those tribes because they already discouraged cousin, and certainly half- or step-sibling marriage prior to conversion.  Women had higher status than elsewhere.

    There is speculation that the Church pushed this solely to undermine the power-centers of intermarrying families preserving their lands and influence. It is also possible that monks, the carriers of observed and importantly written wisdom about stockbreeding, had noticed an increase in genetic problems from close interbreeding. The study authors make an additional suggestion.  All quite fascinating and worth finding out.  Yet the key fact is that it happened, and the loosened family ties created societies which were gradually more willing to think of themselves as parts of larger groups, not just their own tight cousinages. Ironically, this led to more voluntarily allegiances within tribes, and a slow increase in people viewing themselves as individuals. This expands in both directions, until you get Americans, a people who very much regard themselves as individuals, but also deeply identified as members of a nation of a third of a billion people. (India does not have that, and China has that in only an attenuated form.)

    A thousand years later you get nations, and in that mix women, of all people, increasingly have rights to own property, inherit titles, enter guilds and professions, sue for divorce or take men to court. Next thing you know, they’ll want to vote. Ridiculous, but it follows from the loosening of purely familial ties, so what are you going to do?

    It didn’t happen in other places. In many African and Muslim cultures it still hasn’t happened.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 28 Comments »

    Oranges and Honey

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 10th November 2019 (All posts by )

    (An archive post, from 11 years ago; a memoir of a California long-gone.)

    I have a shoebox full of vintage postcards, collected in the Thirties by the invalid young son of Grandpa Jim’s employer. Among my favorite cards are those of places I knew, like the Devil’s Gate Dam, on the nebulous border between La Crescenta and Pasadena, with a Model-A Ford on the roadway atop the dam, and Mt. Wilson topped with snow in the background, and a view of the Arroyo Vista hotel, still a landmark in the days when Mom was driving us to Pasadena to visit the grandparents, but half a century past its Roaring Twenties prime.
    My very favorite is a view again of Mt. Wilson and the San Bernardino range, edged with snow against a turquoise blue sky, and acres of orange groves covering the entire plain below, even up to the foothills. From the mountain peaks and ridges, an expert could deduce where that particular vista had been taken down for 3-penny posterity. The citrus groves were long gone from Pasadena when I was a child, nibbled away by suburbia, but pockets of hold-outs still held sway in back yards; Grannie Jessie and Grandpa Jim had an enormous lemon tree in their front yard, and a smaller orange tree along the driveway, shading the only place where JP and I were allowed to dig, and make mud pies amid the sweet scent of orange blossoms and the still-sweet moldy smell of the windfalls.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Miscellaneous, Personal Narrative | 6 Comments »

    Revolution

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 1st November 2019 (All posts by )

    This article from Law & Liberty reminded me of the 1989 Revolutions, the largest political and cultural events of our lifetimes.  I felt pricked that I had also forgotten and de-emphasised those events in my thinking, I who have two sons born behind the Iron Curtain. Shameful, really. John-Adrian’s first memory is of angry crowds milling outside his apartment building in Oradea, shouting “Iliescu SOS!, Ceausescu JOS!” in 1989 when he was four.

    One can make a case that rights for women or for black people were bigger issues over the last century, but those loom larger in North American and perhaps Western European consciousness than the rest of the world.  Also, it is difficult to separate out the life-improvements for those groups from the massive improvements in opportunities and standard of living for everyone in those societies.  Yes, there are infuriating stories of blacks or women of ability who could not go to college or enter certain professions in 1920, but that was true for a lot of white men as well. In Russia, people were routinely executed, starved, or sent off to the GULAG, and then decades later they just weren’t anymore, because those entire governments had collapsed.

    We get caught up in anger at the issues of our day, but some are never going to amount to much.  We are fighting over whether people who claim to be a different gender from their birth sex are going to be able to game the system and make us all have to go along with it. Americans are very big on individual rights even at great inconvenience to the group, and Europeans are very big on looking modern and free of tradition (especially when they can compare themselves favorably to Americans), so transgender people in either direction may succeed in having the rest of us be made to shut up and go along.  As I said, it’s gaming the system, but it could work. And that will irritate many of us and have bad unforeseen consequences.

    But it won’t be execution, or labor camps, or inability to choose our profession or where we live.

    No, the rise and fall of communism has been the largest event of our days, but even those of us who should know that get distracted.  Popular culture has distracted us away from that main point to hand-wringing about smaller items. We are letting down the succeeding generations who are not hearing about these great events as much as they should. I listen to history podcasts, but seldom hear any historians make reference to those events in Eastern Europe and Asia.  The things they talk about are true, and valuable. Yet in talking about the planets, even the largest planets, they neglect to mention the sun. We need to mention the sun.

    So I resolve to put in some effort in November to remind us of the rise of communism in 1917 and 1949, the executions and oppressions in mind-boggling numbers, the fall of the USSR thirty years ago and the economic reforms in China a few years after that.  That latter is certainly not a fall of communism, but it was perhaps a 25% fall, and it remains to be seen if it will also prove to be unsustainable.

    The Romanians have a very good national anthem, “Awake, Romanians.” We can only make ours into a rock version by doing it ironically.  There is nothing ironic about this version, and you can feel their enthusiasm to your toes. It looks fun to sing. I still haven’t figured out how to embed a video, but it will be enjoyable for you to click the link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tqicikxFVys

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 21 Comments »

    Little Folkies

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 26th October 2019 (All posts by )

    I usually repost the entire piece from my own site to this one, but the comments section from 2007 is more than half the fun, so I will only post the link. I can think of a half-dozen of you who will be interested. If you are not familiar with the old folk song “Little Boxes,” you should check that out first, or my post will not have meaning for you. I got a surprising amount of pushback from a reader who thought I was being unfair to old communists like Reynolds and Seeger, and I was more irritated than I should have been in response. I should have answered in good humor.

    But judge for yourself. From my countdown of my hundred most visited posts.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 13 Comments »

    Hobbits In Kentucky

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 19th October 2019 (All posts by )

    I am reprising my top 100 most-visited posts over at Assistant Village Idiot, and this was number #22.
    From the early days of the blog, December 2007, and reprinted twice here, just because I love it.

    ****

    Not a joke or a misprint. Bumbling around doing research for a Beowulf post, I happened across an essay by Guy Davenport, literature prof in KY who studied under Tolkien at Merton College, Oxford. Back in the US, he became friends with Alan Barnett, who he later learned had been an earlier student at Oxford with Tolkien. Barnett related how fascinated JRRT had been to hear about the country folk of Kentucky, growing tobacco and having such English country names as Burrowes, Barefoot, Proudfoot, and Baggins. Two versions of the same story, each with information the other lacks, are here (scroll down) and here. Barnett, BTW, had not heard that his friend Tolkien had later become a novelist and knew nothing of The Lord Of The Rings, which is rather humorous.

    Davenport wrote a NYT piece on it in 1979, but the Times archive only goes back to 1981. (2019 Update: A reader has unearthed the Davenport article.)

    Commentary. The rural West Midlands area that Tolkien patterned the Shire after had become more urban by the time of Tolkien’s writing, and the idea of something even remotely like it being preserved in America might well have charmed him. To a European classicist, rural America had much the same remoteness that Professor T was trying to capture about the Shire. Americans would immediately associate Kentucky with Appalachia, which was settled by rambunctious Scots-Irish and English Borderers, and discount the idea of any connection. But Tolkien may not have had that association, and in this case it is not accurate anyway. That section of KY between Frankfort and Louisville was actually settled by a higher percentage of West Midlanders, more like Ohio was.

    I looked up all those Hobbit-names, comparing that part of KY with the rest of KY, and with other places across the US. There weren’t any Bagginses,* Gamgees, or Bracegirdles, but there were Tookes, Grubbs, Barefoots and Proudfoots, Burrowes, and Pippins. There were no Butterburs, but there were Butterbaughs. BOOderbaw my second son pronounced immediately after I’d told him. “We had a Butterbaugh in my class” (at Asbury College in Kentucky, 2005). There was indeed a greater concentration of all these names around Shelbyville and Louisville. These names occurred elsewhere in the country, but were much less common – only a few in huge California, New York, and Texas, for example.

    The attempts to show a similar speech pattern I find less convincing. Rural archaic constructions all sound very similar at first go until you take them apart. That archaic constructions persisted at all, however, would have been known to Tolkien but still likely to intrigue him.

    One commenter on a Tolkien site suggested that examining the census records for 1910 – 1930 for that area might be more revealing than a current phone listing. Likely true, but I’m not likely to do it myself.

    Update 2009: There is a Cooter Baggins who graduated from a HS in Indiana, right across the river from that part of KY. Hmm.

    *There is a Bilbo Baggins in Louisville, but I assumed that was a taken name, not a christened name.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 3 Comments »

    What, Exactly, Is CNN?

    Posted by David Foster on 16th October 2019 (All posts by )

    …and what are NBC and ABC?

    When referencing these networks…for example, when talking about CNN’s increasingly-extreme political bias, ABC’s running of a video supposedly from Syria which was actually from Kentucky, or the reports about widespread abuse of women at  NBC, people tend to simply refer to them as “CNN”, “ABC”, or “NBC”, as if they were independent entities.  But they’re not.

    CNN is owned by AT&T.  NBC is owned by Comcast, and ABC is owned by Disney.

    The history is that CNN was part of Turner Broadcasting, which merged with Time-Warner in 1996.  Following a whole host of acquisition and divestiture transactions (which included a very expensive experience with AOL), Warner Media was acquired by AT&T in 2018.  NBC was acquired by GE in 1986 as part of its reacquisition of RCA; the networks was put into a joint venture with Comcast in 2009, and the GE share of the venture was bought out by Comcast in 2013. Disney acquired ABC in 1996 as part of its acquisition of Capital Cities/ABC Inc.

    Given how these entities have been shuffled around, it may be understandable that people refer to them simply by the names of the networks; still, I think the proper way to refer to CNN would be “CNN, a subsidiary of telecommunications giant AT&T” and similarly for the others.

    Posted in Business, Media, Miscellaneous, Tech | 15 Comments »

    The Strong Horse

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 15th October 2019 (All posts by )

    Osama bin Laden said that people will follow the strong horse.  He wasn’t wrong. That phrase came to my mind today reading the RealClearInvestigations piece Why China’s Brightest Abroad Show Team Spirit For Beijing’s Hardball. The American fantasy is that people in oppressed nations want more than anything to be free, or at least be freer. Though this is partly true, it ebbs and flows and is sometimes much less true than we expect.  It is true that in measuring public sentiment under dictators all data is suspect. People are afraid to be the first to stop clapping for Stalin.* In the current case of China, those that have received approval to study abroad are from the class of people benefiting most under the current regime, and are additionally vetted to boot. They are among the most likely to support the regime to begin with; then additional carrots and sticks are applied.

    Nonetheless, I think that Richard Bernstein is reading the available data correctly, and that China is not populated entirely by huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Beginning about a third of the way down, he illustrates that many of the students are proud of China’s power and growth, that it is expanding. There is no mention of them being proud of its government’s actions, but the sense is that they just don’t think about that much.

    “The conviction in China is that we’re on the right track,” Wang added. “The vibe is that the system we have is better than the West’s.”

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 53 Comments »

    Puritans – A Reminder

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 15th October 2019 (All posts by )

    Just to review, the Puritans were not obsessed with sex.  It is closer to the mark to say that moderns are obsessed with sex and therefore disapproving of anyone who has got any rules about it. The Puritans were in fact among (A commenter points out that Aquinas was on the scene for that earlier) the leaders in Western Christian thought that sex was not only for having children – which virtually every culture in the world has stressed. (Except for rich and powerful people, especially men. They get to regard sex as entertainment and expression of power.) Puritans believed it was also “to knit the heart of a husband to wife,” a charming thought. One of the supposedly oppressive rules of the Puritans was that men should not get away with taking advantage of women. They were strict.  They did not believe that a man and woman who were not husband and wife should be alone together, because they thought the temptation was likely to be too much for one or both of them. We threw that rule out, and guess what?  It turns out it has a good deal of truth to it.  Just because adultery does not occur in 100%  of such situations, or even 30% does not mean it doesn’t happen more than is good for both individuals and society as a whole.

    Hawthorne had his own hatreds – we needn’t share them.

    Puritans were obsessed with death, with the final moment when whether they belonged to the elect or not would be revealed.  They were both horrified and fascinated by death. They were obsessed with time, with “improving the time” and not wasting it. They were not Docetists, falling into the oft-recurring heresy that material things were evil and spiritual ones were pure. Many Christian groups have leaned this way over the centuries, and the Puritans had some of that, but they did not foreswear the flesh, they merely believed it should be held under short rein.  They drank beer and enjoyed it.  They had folk dances, but not dances with pairs of men and women. They had sports and recreations, though they believed these should be limited.

    (Screwtape:) In modern Christian writings, though I see much (indeed more than I like) about Mammon, I see few of the old warnings about Worldly Vanities, the Choice of Friends, and the Value of Time. All that, your patient would probably classify as ‘Puritanism’—and may I remark in passing that the value we have given to that word is one of the really solid triumphs of the last hundred years? By it we rescue annually thousands of humans from temperance, chastity, and sobriety of life. CS Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (#10)

    Stop blaming the Puritans.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 4 Comments »

    The Meritocracy Trap

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 9th October 2019 (All posts by )

    John Staddon, professor emeritus at Duke, reviews The Meritocracy Trap over at Quillette. It’s a good review, and if you want to get into a discussion about the book or the topic I recommend you read it, so you don’t talk yourself out on a limb.  But if you just want to know the gist of it, I can simplify: First, David Markovitz, author of The Meritocracy Trap, mostly means academic credentialing when he uses the term meritocracy. Most of us mean something else by the term.  Insofar as academic credentialing is a poor substitute for meritocracy, Markovitz is correct – it does screw the middle-class in order to give advantages to an elite class attempting to be hereditary.  We agree.  We just think you don’t know what a real meritocracy is, perhaps from being at Yale all these years. 

    Secondly, Markovitz thinks the standardised testing used to get children into colleges, especially elite colleges, can be gamed, and that rich people know how to do this. This is just not true. Instruction can improve scores, but remember the following number: Total SAT will go up 50-100 points from junior to senior year anyway, because of maturing brains being able to think more abstractly, see more analogies, and not get distracted by buzzwords and irrelevancies. Beyond that, instruction and supposedly gaming the system don’t add much. If you want I can go into that in more detail.

    Markovitz doesn’t believe in natural ability and thinks it’s all gaming the system.  He’s just wrong. Summary Over. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 20 Comments »

    Trump and the Ukrainian Translator

    Posted by David Foster on 2nd October 2019 (All posts by )

    Margaret Ball suggests that the real issue identified by the Trump-Ukraine transcript is the pain that was imposed on the translator who had to translate Trump’s words…which at least appear to be pretty much stream-of-consciousness…into Ukrainian!  Plentiful vodka, she says, was surely required to recover from the experience.

    It strikes me that a profession is kind of like a language, as is a social milieu.  Many of those who find President Trump offensive, I suspect, find it jarring and inappropriate that he doesn’t speak in the forms that they would normally expect from one in his position, and they find that translating his speech to their accustomed verbal frames of reference to be as difficult and disorienting as the Ukrainian translator likely found Trump’s communication in English to be.

    Not only is Trump’s style of speech off-putting to many, so is his mode of thought.  Most national journalists, academics,  and “public intellectuals” are deductive thinkers, who need to put everything into a framework that they have adopted.  Trump, on the other hand, is largely an inductive, intuitive, and pattern-recognizing thinker.  Years ago, I found The Art of the Deal to be a somewhat frustrating read, despite my strong professional interest in the topic.  I am a more deductive thinker and communicator than Trump…but I have enough of the inductive/intuitive/pattern-recognizing mode to be able to understand and appreciate what Trump is doing.  Most of the journalists, academics, and “public intellectuals” do not.

    Some types of people also find it disconcerting when people attain their positions in any manner other than the conventionally-approved course.  Here’s Andy Kessler, writing in the WSJ a few days ago about his time at Morgan Stanley:

    ““What year were you?” a colleague asked me years ago. “Huh? Year?” I replied. “What year at HBS?” H-B-what? “What year did you graduate from Harvard Business School?” Oh, I get it now. “I didn’t go to HBS,” I told him. “Actually, I don’t have an M.B.A.” After a long pause and scrunched-up face, he asked, “Well, then how the hell did you get a job here?” As I walked away, I murmured under my breath, “Maybe I earned it.””

    This also…the negative feeling about somebody who didn’t get there in the way one is supposed to get there…also plays a role in hostile attitudes toward Trump.

     

    Posted in Academia, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Media, Miscellaneous, Trump, USA | 17 Comments »

    Paying College Athletes

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 30th September 2019 (All posts by )

    UPDATE My son may have changed my mind about this. He has clearly thought about it a good deal. In the comments

    I don’t care so much about the issue – it affects me not in the least. But I care about logic, and there is plenty of faulty reasoning going on about the issue.

    The athletes for the two major sports, football and men’s basketball at big schools get given much of value.  Twenty-year-olds don’t always understand much about value, however. They are given excellent room and board.  The recent stories of basketball players complaining they didn’t have enough for meals in college reveals that they sold meal tickets because they wanted the cash.  They are offered plenty of food.  They receive excellent medical care.  Because their health is one of the main things the school is interested in, the school makes sure they get MRIs and other diagnostic tests, proper medication, diagnoses and treatment even for injuries and conditions they did not acquire on the playing fields. You have to be quite wealthy to get better medical care. I fully admit that their risks are higher. Nonetheless, it’s very good care.

    They have a built in social life, plus a significant leg up in status on campus.  Not that everyone loves athletes, but plenty do admire them and want to be with them. They also have a network to draw on for future jobs, if they choose to use it.  There are plenty of alums who like to know people on the team and are glad to invite them places. They have businesses and know others who do too. These aren’t a guarantee, but they are an advantage. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 27 Comments »

    Eurasiatic and Nostratic: No Real Updates

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 11th September 2019 (All posts by )

    I like to check up on these topics in historical linguistics every few months, just to see if anything new and sexy has come in. Eurasiatic and Nostratic are linguistic macrofamilies, not accepted by most historical linguists, which purport to be ancestral to the recognised language families today, such as Uralic, Kartvelian, Altaic, and of course, because it’s me, Indo-European (or I wouldn’t much care). Some historical linguists believe they can detect echoes of those much earlier (15,000* – 10,000 BP) languages in the reconstructed languages (6500 – 3500 BP) that are more generally accepted, and that some of this is detectable even to average eyes and ears today.

    I am very much rooting for this to be true, and even hold out hope that the Proto-World hypothesis that connects all languages back to a single family even earlier than that. As this is being studied at the Santa Fe Institute (founded by Los Alamos guys who wanted to go very general about studying complex systems), I keep thinking that one of these times I’m going to see that they made some intriguing breakthroughs.  I’ll keep trying. Nothing the last few times.

    Genetic research has backed up the claims of the more adventurous theorists with surprising strength, but that may tell us something else.  Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 23 Comments »

    Ehud Barak

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 11th September 2019 (All posts by )

    Via Powerline, an interview with Ehud Barak. I forget that political controversies and lines drawn in other countries are not quite the same as here, and it is good to be reminded. Barak’s opinion of President Obama is only a minor topic in the discussion, but it touches on things I have said elsewhere.  The former prime minister of Israel clearly has some admiration for our ex-president. His goal is to describe how Obama is different rather than to praise or criticise, but one can tell.  He describes Obama as seeking greatness rather than simple competence, to be one of the top half-dozen of American presidents, and studying greatness to that end. Ehud also approves of his more international understandings, being raised in Indonesia, having a Kenyan father and anthropologist mother, going to school outside the original 48 even when in America.  He describes Obama’s core understanding as more “subtle” than other Americans.

    I think there is a good deal of truth in this, but I think there is one great limiting factor.  Barack Obama is only above-average in intelligence, not some genius; and if one prefers training in wisdom rather than mere academic achievement, it is hard to see where that would have come from.  Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 11 Comments »

    10,000 Hours Did Not Quite Replicate

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 10th September 2019 (All posts by )

    I listened to a podcast interviewing David Epstein, author of Range, that came out earlier this year. He mentioned that the original 1993 study of violinists and pianists excelling on the basis of 10,000 hours of deliberate practice before age 20 has recently failed to replicate. Both the NYTimes and The Guardian overstate his conclusion in their headlines, but listening to him myself, Epstein did state pretty strongly that the 10,000 hours research is not established and should not be considered to be demonstrated. He leans more to genetic causes, which is unsurprising from the author of the bestselling The Sports Gene, and to including “practice variability,” such as playing different sports (or with a different ball or on a different size court), or in other fields, reading outside your area of expertise, or interacting with people who aren’t like you. I saw a similarity to Nicholas Nassim Taleb’s concept of antifragility, especially hormesis.

     
    I decided decades ago that it was not necessary to be a massive generalist to have your brain work properly, but that it is an advantage to have at least one endeavor that is quite different from your career or main focus. A mathematician who also has a fascination with Civil War studies is not diluting his mathematical abilities, but enhancing them.  I didn’t have the reasoning behind that quite right, I now think, though the principle does hold.  I thought in terms of activating and developing various parts of one’s brain, which is why I was so intrigued with the Graduation 2010 project in Daviess County, KY.  That may still turn out to be so, but has not been demonstrated.  What does seem to be happening is that the individual has a greater library of analogies and strategies to draw from when a problem grows difficult. I suspect there is a limit to this.  In fact, as a massive generalist myself, I can assure that there is a limit. Yet a full library of analogies can be quite useful.

     

    And notice, the violinists who practiced less still practiced a whole lot.  That’s worth remembering.  One of the best had practiced “only” 4,000 hours before age 20, but that’s still equivalent to working full-time at it for two years. Malcolm Gladwell and others may be wrong that there is something magical about 10,000 hours, and certainly wrong that anyone who practices 10,000 hours would become an expert, but those who excel do seem to have a heckuva lot of deliberate practice.
     
    Unsurprisingly, the people who did the original study do not feel this undermines their work in the least. Intriguingly, one of them believes in a variant of the stress model, that the intensity of practice is a physiological stressor that calls forth the expression of dormant DNA, while the other thought that practice was the most important, but not only factor.  I don’t know how strongly they stated things in 1993, and if Gladwell overstated their conclusions then.

    Posted in Book Notes, Miscellaneous | 11 Comments »