The Elizabethan era is not yet at an end

From The Economist:

The death certificate is clear. The form gives all the usual information about the deceased. In one box it gives her marital state (widowed); in another her home postcode (sl4 1nj). In another, beneath the brisk “When died”, it offers: “2022 September Eighth, 1510 hours”. And in another still, with slightly excitable capitalisation, her occupation: “Her Majesty The Queen”.

The queen’s death certificate is right, and it is also wrong. Queen Elizabeth II did die at 3.10pm. But for the world, she continued to live. For over three hours, she was merely “extremely unwell” or “comfortable and at Balmoral”. Her death, for most people, only happened later, at a few minutes past 6.30pm, when a footman walked from Buckingham Palace holding a black-edged sign; when the bbc went black; when the national anthem played. A queen has two birthdays; she also has many deaths.

According to the law she has none: “the King never dies”, as the legal maxim has it. A monarch’s heart might stop; the monarch’s heart does not. The king is dead; long live the king. But the law is not life and a king is more than a man in a crown. Britain did not abruptly change from being Victorian to Edwardian on January 22nd 1901; Charles III did not instantly feel like Britain’s new king at 6.30pm on that Thursday, but like a man playing a part. Kingship comes not in a moment but by the slow accumulation of kingly things.

This has begun. The nation’s pronouns have already changed. Her Majesty’s Government is now His; criminals are now detained in His Majesty’s prisons, not Hers. In Qatar, God is called upon by English footballers to save their gracious king, not their queen. On military buttons and police badges and the breasts of Beefeaters, CIIIR will gradually start to replace EIIR. Shoals of coins bearing the words “Charles III Rex” started to fall from the Royal Mint in October. A king is being made into a coin; a man is being made into a monarch.

The corollary of this is that a queen is being undone. Elizabeth’s “E” will be unpicked from the embroidered tunics of the Beefeaters and replaced with Charles’s “C”; her crest will cease to appear on ketchup bottles as the royal warrants that signify suppliers to the royal household expire; worn banknotes bearing her face will be gathered and shredded on a rolling basis. In the Inns of Court in London, the signs for Queen’s Counsel barristers have been repainted, a fresh coat of cream covering the old qcs. In a constitutional monarchy queens do not so much die as erode.

History, the novelist Hilary Mantel once said, “is not the past…It’s what’s left in the sieve when the centuries have run through it”.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Homeland Security Theater

From Public Books:

Thwarting the social instabilities and political divisions created by bots and other manipulators of information requires creative countermeasures, including aesthetic ones. This belief describes the game plan of the Department of Homeland Security, which is betting that aesthetics can help safeguard a democracy that has come to seem increasingly fragile.

“The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency produced this graphic novel to highlight tactics used by foreign government-backed disinformation campaigns that seek to disrupt American life and the infrastructure that underlies it.” So opens every graphic novel of the Resilience Series produced by CISA, a branch of the Department of Homeland Security.

Real Fake, the first installment in the series, was released to coincide with the 2020 US election. It starts with a gamer, Rachel, getting ticked off when she encounters doctored videos designed to manipulate voters; it ends with “the takedown of those international troll farms.” Along the way, Rachel teams up with a clandestine organization “defending the truth and democracy online” to ensnare malefactors, including one hapless West African man who is left to languish in a dark jail despite having no awareness of how his computer skills were being used for a disinformation campaign.

COVID-19 supplies the exigency for the next title in the series, Bug Bytes, which follows a different set of “digital patriots.” This team are battling conspiracy theorists who are torching cellphone towers in the paranoid belief that 5G technology is spreading the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Graduate student Ava Williams deploys her combination of coding and investigative journalism skills to expose that bots, not real people, are behind the spread of disinformation.

CISA’s pivot to fiction is not an entirely novel move. Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the US Army Cyber Institute have used comics about the zombie apocalypse and renegade hackers to educate soldiers, as well as citizens, about contemporary threats to the social fabric. Of course, a more candid and honest concern for the security of US infrastructure would register things like schools in disrepair, outdated power grids, and crumbling bridges.1 The Resilience Series’s focus on “foreign government-backed disinformation campaigns” as a key threat to American life belies the fact that ensuring infrastructural security requires regularly overlooking the insecurities (precarity, depressed wages, increasing debt, et cetera) that are structurally necessary to capitalism. In designing these graphic novels as civic primers in an age of insecurity, CISA and, by extension, the Department of Homeland Security have missed the mark.

The problem is not that panels about African troll farms (Real Fake) or homegrown antivaxxers (Bug Bytes) might make readers feel insecure—it’s that they don’t make readers feel insecure enough. Or, more precisely, these comics might be judged aesthetic failures because—due to their proximity to propaganda—they leave little space for the vulnerabilities inherent in the act of reading. So, while readers learn that meddling by foreign powers “is scary, especially in an election year,” the graphic fictions commissioned by US cybersecurity assume reading itself to be a process whereby information (as opposed to disinformation) is obtained, questions are answered, and doubts are resolved. According to this narrow understanding, reading operates as a form of securitization, which is to say that it is evacuated of its role in framing a critical orientation.

Put another way: the graphic novels discussed here seek to transmit “good” information so as to counteract the “bad” information their readership might encounter elsewhere. But the effort to combat propaganda with propaganda is beset by contradiction and irony—just the sort of ambiguity that reading purely (and narrowly) for information cannot adequately address.

CISA wants to train citizens to be critical readers of the information they consume—with an exception built in for its own content and forms. An admiring Forbes article on the collaboration between CISA and the publisher of the Resilience Series stressed that “anyone who consumes content online needs to be ready to question what they see, but most of us are ill-equipped to do so.” This initiative may indeed encourage us to question some of what we see—but it rests on the assumption that we will not question what we read from official sources.

. . . .

Who knew that the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists publishes book reviews? This bimonthly journal has, since 1945—when the devastating potential of nuclear weapons was unleashed on Hiroshima and Nagasaki—been covering global security risks as part of its mission “to reduce man-made threats to our existence.” The organization also operates the Doomsday Clock, currently set at 100 seconds to midnight, to visually convey the imminence of the threat of human extinction from nuclear war.

Recently the Bulletin tackled a wholly different concern: aesthetics. We shouldn’t be surprised by the humanist sensibilities of atomic scientists or the relevance of artistic capabilities to national security. (Perhaps most famously, in this regard, J. Robert Oppenheimer showed an interest in French and English literature at Harvard before pursuing the course of study in physics that led him to Los Alamos.) After CISA subcontracted and disseminated its Resilience Series on the elevated threats disinformation posed to democracy, the Bulletin decided to assess how effectively an aesthetic strategy such as this might raise security awareness.

Link to the rest at Public Books

Is PG the only one who perceives those in charge of the The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists are vastly over-thinking their publications?

And expanding their scope by worrying about whether the less sophisticated and cosmopolitan masses will pay any attention to a couple of not-read-very-often non-profit/government publications will actually pay attention if they incorporate better aesthetics or cartoons into those publications?

The About Us section of The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists says, among other things:

The Bulletin focuses on three main areas: nuclear risk, climate change, and disruptive technologies. What connects these topics is a driving belief that because humans created them, we can control them.

Perhaps PG woke up on the cynical side of the bed this morning, but he perceives more than a little mission creep in the OP. Are atomic scientists spending time at work solving the challenges of climate change or disruptive technologies? If so, who’s minding the reactor?

The Human Feeling of Being Free

From The Wall Street Journal:

While the power of the physical sciences to explain the operations of the world mechanistically is an irresistible force, the human feeling of being free remains an immovable object. It seems that only one can prevail, but neither looks as if it is about to yield.

More than a few scientists have blithely sauntered across this metaphysical minefield as though it were safe terrain. They claim that science has proved that free will is an illusion and say that’s all there is to it. Psychologist Kennon M. Sheldon is a different kind of trespasser on philosophers’ turf, arguing that free will is real after all. Yet his metaphysical claim, which occupies the early chapters of “Freely Determined,” is treated perfunctorily and is in any case irrelevant to what the rest of this fascinating book has to say.

Mr. Sheldon’s interest in free will is rooted in his work in Self-Determination Theory, which he calls “the world’s most comprehensive and best-supported theory of human motivation.” A core tenet of SDT is that “people need to experience themselves as the causal source and origin of their own behavior rather than feeling controlled and determined by external forces.” When people feel autonomous, they are more content and successful. When they feel they have no control, they become morally cynical. After all, if we’re not in control of what we do, how can we be blamed for wrongdoing?

Most of Mr. Sheldon’s 10 chapters constitute a compelling and clear introduction to what SDT teaches us about nurturing a sense of autonomy. The theory gives us a rich and powerful understanding of motivation—how to harness it and avoid undermining it. Most notably, the theory points to the importance of intrinsic motivation: the desire to do something for its own reward, not for any instrumental benefit.

There are always some things we just have to do, like washing the dishes or filling out a tax form. But our lives tend to go better if, seeing ourselves as autonomous, we shape our actions around whatever appears to us to have intrinsic value. “The correlation between autonomous work motivation and subjective well-being,” Mr. Sheldon notes, “is much stronger than the correlation between income and subjective well-being.”

Intrinsic motivation, however, is under constant threat. Mr. Sheldon gives the hypothetical example of a law student initially motivated to fight for justice. But at law school she learns that people expect her to give priority to working for a prestigious firm and earning a high salary. She might well internalize this “status motivation,” incorporating it into her sense of self. Or she might simply feel that she ought to be motivated by the same things that motivate her peers. In either case, the fight for justice, which she intrinsically values, has lost its force.

Mr. Sheldon’s research into Self-Determination Theory helps him make a strong case for the importance of seeing our actions as the freely chosen result of our deepest motivations. Still, he should have resisted the tired self-help trope of over-egging the promise, saying “we can steer our ship of self into uncharted new waters, where joy and fulfillment await.”

When it comes to the metaphysical realm, Mr. Sheldon’s mistake is to think that SDT and the philosophical denial of ultimate free will are incompatible. That is only true of the most popular, if simplistic, threat to his model of human freedom: the extreme reductionism claiming that reality can be completely described in the language of physics; that consciousness is just the humming of the neural machine; and that everything is strictly predetermined.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG was sorely tempted to comment, but resisted (not a first, but unusual nonetheless).

The Last Real American Dictionary

From Slate:

In the mid-’70s, top players in an emerging tournament Scrabble scene persuaded the game’s corporate owner to adopt a universal lexicon for competition. Players manually scraped five standard college dictionaries, recording every unique two- through eight-letter word (plus inflections) that met the game’s rules. When the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary was published, in 1978, players rejoiced. “You can retire the boxing gloves and put up your swords,” the Scrabble Players Newspaper wrote. “You now have an arbiter to settle all arguments.”

In the 44 years since, the OSPD has been revised six times, adding thousands of new words. A seventh edition was released earlier this month. It includes headline-grabbers like COVID, VAX, and DOX (and VAXX and DOXX), and a lowercase variant of JEDI. Also in: GUAC, INSPO, ZOODLE, and SKEEZY. “You’ve got some fun new words,” said Peter Sokolowski, editor at large of Merriam-Webster Inc., which has published the OSPD since its inception.

Hidden by the buzz over the latest lingo, though, is an underlying truth about chronicling our ever-evolving language: The American dictionary business is slowly dying. Of the publishers of the OSPD’s five original source books, Merriam-Webster is the last with a staff of full-time lexicographers producing regular, robust updates, all of it now online. The others are either defunct or ghost works updated rarely and modestly by freelance lexicographers, and have either no web presence or a stagnant one; a recent print edition of one of them boasted “dozens” of new words and senses, which is not a lot of new words and senses. (Merriam does issue new printings of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, the primary Scrabble sourcebook and the basis for its free online dictionary, with some of its new words, but the last full overhaul in print was an 11th edition, published in 2003.)

“The decline of the dictionary in the U.S., the lack of competition, means less of everything,” Michael Adams, an English professor at Indiana University who studies lexicography, told me. “When dictionary programs try to include more words and respond to the needs of niche markets, we all benefit. But when there’s no competition, no one needs to think about serving the Scrabble community or any other community.”

Chronicling the evolution of American English is undeniably culturally significant—the words we use are who we are—but the nitty-gritty of word histories, etymologies, and pronunciations might seem academic or esoteric. After all, Google fulfills almost any quotidian lookup need. But the words in Google’s dictionary are licensed from Oxford Languages, publisher of the Oxford English Dictionary. That’s a British source, which matters in terms of focus. In the United States, the only active dictionary-maker besides Merriam is, which was founded in 1995 and bought in 2018 by the mortgage loan provider now known as Rocket Companies Inc. Merriam, which dates to Noah Webster’s first dictionary in 1806, has been owned since 1996 by privately held Encyclopædia Brittanica Inc. Both dictionaries were acquired because of a rich guy’s quirky personal interest. Their business futures are anything but guaranteed.

Link to the rest at Slate

Female Fear Is a Rational Response to Violence

From Electric Lit:

In her debut collection, Under My Bed and Other Essays, Jody Keisner meticulously unpacks her fears, revealing their complex interiors. Her subject matter is diverse, ranging from 1980s horror films to parenting to adoption to wildfires to reincarnation to autoimmune disease to murder. She weaves research throughout her personal stories, which has the effect of ensuring that readers learn something about themselves and what it means to be human.

The collection is set primarily in Nebraska, but Keisner’s observations move beyond the general sense of the Midwest. She brings us murky man-made lakes as places of refuge and homes made of earth that look like bunkers. The location that most reverberates is that of the family unit. Keisner has many identities—daughter, granddaughter, wife, and mother—and each role requires something different from her; as a mother, she finds that she is best equipped to contend with the question of fear and what to do with it. 

. . . .

Sari Fordham: I loved this book and was so taken by your candor throughout. The collection is about fear, but it takes a lot of bravery to write so honestly about such a disdained topic. Was there a story that you had to talk yourself into writing?

Jody Keisner: I had to talk myself into writing the first chapter, which eventually became the title of the book. I was ashamed of my seemingly irrational fear of intruders and my compulsive nighttime “checking” of locks, behind furniture, under my bed, etc. Before I began writing about my fear and better understood where my bizarre behavior came from, I viewed both as a weakness, a childish preoccupation. I didn’t want to expose this particular weakness to the public, and I also feared that writing about it would become a self-fulfilling prophecy, as if my essay would manifest as an intruder. (I know. I know.) Of course writing about it helped me to see that my fear and other women’s fears of being alone at night aren’t all that irrational or childlike. While our reasons are as varied and complex as our experiences, they are also largely related to our awareness of the threat of violence from men.

A couple of months ago, I read this tweet asking how people made themselves feel safe at night if they lived alone. About a hundred people replied–mostly women–with answers ranging from knives under beds, chairs barring doors, dogs, guns, alarms, etc. I was surprised there were so many of us. For so long I had been ashamed of my “weakness.” Maybe my fear is more common than I realize.

SF: Oh, absolutely! I read the last chapter alone and in a sketchy Airbnb and I actually turned on a light before going to bed. While I knew driving to the Airbnb was statistically much more dangerous than staying in one alone, the idea of someone coming into the apartment felt much more tangible. You write: “Upward of 80 percent of American women will experience sexual harassment or assault during their lifetime.” How do you think this fact shapes female experiences? 

JK: Statistically speaking, we women are unlikely to be murdered in our homes at night or while out for a solo jog, two examples I explore in my book. But also statistically speaking, we are likely to be sexually harassed and assaulted during our lifetimes. Too many of us will be raped or suffer domestic violence. Women–and especially BIPOC and trans folks–grow up under the ever-looming threat of violence from men. Frankly, our society doesn’t seem as perplexed by this fact as it should be. To put it bluntly: if white boys and men endured as much violence or the threat of violence as girls, women, BIPOC, and trans folk do, would our patriarchal society do as little as they are currently doing to stop it? Women grow up surrounded by images of real and imagined violence against the female body, which can certainly make us feel as if the threat is greater than it actually is. Not that some amount of threat isn’t all too real, especially the threat of sexual assault. I really hope this changes, but right now, I’m teaching my two daughters to be resilient and aware.

. . . .

SF: Something I admired in this memoir is how you were able to place so many different stories in the same book, and how they all clicked together into a cohesive narrative. Could you talk a little bit about your writing process? 

JK: I write about what is on my mind at the time, what I’m obsessing over. Which is to say, in terms of structure and unity, the book was all over the place when I had a first draft. I printed out each chapter and laid them out on the floor and looked for thematic connections. I probably re-ordered the book a dozen times, which also meant I had to revise as much, so that certain narrative threads carried throughout the book. For instance, the Pain-Thing appears in the second chapter, “Recreationally Terrified,” and also appears in a few of the other later chapters. That is the result of revision and my realization that I kept returning to my fear of pain and my fear of my loved ones being in pain. Connecting themes and metaphors helps create a sense of cohesion, and so does making sure important characters – like my Grandma Grace – make appearances in chapters even when they aren’t the central focus. I was also told by an early reader that I had a big hole in my narrative, and eventually filled that hole with “Haunted,” which more thoroughly explored my childhood relationship with my father.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

PG notes that the book in question, published September 1st, 2022, currently carries an Amazon sales rank of #947,474 in the Kindle Store, despite lots and lots of blurbs in the book description.

He will rely on the female visitors to TPV to comment upon the market for books like the one described. He doubts that it is a guys’ book, but is happy to be corrected there as well.

England: ‘A (Very) Short History’ Wins the £25,000 Royal Society Science Book Prize

From Publishing Perspectives:

At the Royal Society in London this evening (November 29), Nature writer and senior editor Henry Gee has been awarded the £25,000 ( US$29,927) Royal Society Science Book Prize for his A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth: 4.6 Billion Years in 12 Chapters (Pan Macmillan, 2021).

. . . .

The jury chair, neuroscientist Maria Fitzgerald—the daughter of Booker Prize winning novelist Penelope Fitzgerald—in offering the panel’s rationale, said, “This is history like you have never read before.

“Henry Gee takes us on a whirlwind journey through 4.6 billion years through the birth of the planet Earth, the emergence of life, and the evolution of man, a species that is not only aware of itself but also of what will happen next.

“As Gee races through millennia, momentous physical and biological changes are described with immense skill and dynamism combined with almost poetic imagery. The last chapter, ‘The Past of the Future,’ reminds us of our relative insignificance and that each species facing extinction does so in its own way. But ‘do not despair,’ he urges us: ‘The Earth abides, and life is living yet.’”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Physics at Its Simplest

From The Wall Street Journal:

Over the last few decades, there have been quite a few science-related books with one-word titles. “Cod” and “Salt” by Mark Kurlansky come to mind, as does Dava Sobel’s “Longitude.” Such books promise their readers a comprehensive exploration focused on a single concept. In the Oxford English Dictionary, the entries for “cod,” “salt” and “longitude” are neither long nor complicated, describing a fish, a mineral and a geographic line, respectively. The books revolve around exactly these things.

But look up “force” in the OED and the entry is significantly longer. Like “time” or “motion,” the word denotes a broad, multifarious concept used in many ways and for many purposes. Henry Petroski’s “Force” explores something broader than even the OED’s mammoth definition anticipates. Mr. Petroski is an emeritus professor of engineering at Duke and a prolific author who often examines a single object—a toothpick, a pencil, a bookshelf—from various viewpoints, sharing fresh and sometimes unusual perspectives. His latest book, using force as an organizing principle, aims to provide a better understanding of what engineers like himself do.

At its core, “Force” is about the everyday physical interactions between people and the material world in which we live. Those looking to better understand arcane scientific concepts, such as Isaac Newton’s “action at a distance” or the nature of gravity and magnetism, should look elsewhere. Mr. Petroski’s book includes only a few scattered formulas and no deep dives into quantum mechanics or Maxwell’s equations. Instead he presents a number of technological vignettes and short histories in precise and meticulous terms.

Arguably no large piece of human-constructed infrastructure lends itself so readily to the analysis of force as the bridge. In 1826 an iron-chain suspension bridge was built across the River Irwell in northern England. The bridge collapsed five years later when 74 soldiers paraded over it. Their unison steps caused the bridge deck to resonate, shake violently and break apart. The disaster demonstrated that bridges and other structures have natural frequencies, and that inducing vibrations of a matching wavelength can have catastrophic consequences. Henceforth, engineers would add or subtract mass to key structural elements to prevent such occurrences.

The engineers who designed the Millennium Bridge across the Thames, which opened in 2000, “made sure that the frequency of up-and-down forces exerted by people walking or running across it in synchrony did not correspond to a natural frequency of the structure,” Mr. Petroski writes. What they did not take into account “was that when we walk we not only push down and backward with our feet—we also push sideways to keep our balance as we shift from one foot to the other.” The relatively puny forces emanating from the tread of pedestrians were enough for Londoners to bestow the nickname “Wobbly Bridge” before the passage was closed, redesigned and reopened.

Mr. Petroski considers the relocation of the Vatican Obelisk, an 83-foot-high monument dating from the 13th century B.C. The obelisk first arrived in Rome during the reign of Caligula. In 1585-86, Pope Sixtus V had it moved roughly two blocks in order to accommodate the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica. Mr. Petroski describes the scene as a complex interplay between forces and the people working with them. “When it was time to lift the obelisk into its new upright position,” he writes, “the engineer demanded—under penalty of death—absolute silence from the crowd of onlookers so that the working crew could hear the leader’s commands.”

It was fortunate that a single voice could be heard. As the day progressed, the ropes used to move the obelisk started to slip and lengthen, endangering the outcome of the project. As the author writes: “Suddenly, a seasoned sailor in the crowd with plenty of experience and feel for rigging ropes and the forces they can bring to bear, shouted, ‘Acqua alle funi,’ which translates from the Italian as ‘water to the ropes.’ The old salt knew that wetting the ropes would cause them to contract, as they did at sea, and so become functional again.” The sailor’s advice saved the day; by dampening the ropes, the workers regained their purchase and the obelisk was successfully moved to the spot where it stands today.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

And the Fair Land

For all our social discord we remain the longest enduring society of free men governing themselves without benefit of kings or dictators.

Any one whose labors take him into the far reaches of the country, as ours lately have done, is bound to mark how the years have made the land grow fruitful.

This is indeed a big country, a rich country, in a way no array of figures can measure and so in a way past belief of those who have not seen it. Even those who journey through its Northeastern complex, into the Southern lands, across the central plains and to its Western slopes can only glimpse a measure of the bounty of America.

And a traveler cannot but be struck on his journey by the thought that this country, one day, can be even greater. America, though many know it not, is one of the great underdeveloped countries of the world; what it reaches for exceeds by far what it has grasped.

So the visitor returns thankful for much of what he has seen, and, in spite of everything, an optimist about what his country might be. Yet the visitor, if he is to make an honest report, must also note the air of unease that hangs everywhere.

For the traveler, as travelers have been always, is as much questioned as questioning. And for all the abundance he sees, he finds the questions put to him ask where men may repair for succor from the troubles that beset them.

His countrymen cannot forget the savage face of war. Too often they have been asked to fight in strange and distant places, for no clear purpose they could see and for no accomplishment they can measure. Their spirits are not quieted by the thought that the good and pleasant bounty that surrounds them can be destroyed in an instant by a single bomb. Yet they find no escape, for their survival and comfort now depend on unpredictable strangers in far-off corners of the globe.

How can they turn from melancholy when at home they see young arrayed against old, black against white, neighbor against neighbor, so that they stand in peril of social discord. Or not despair when they see that the cities and countryside are in need of repair, yet find themselves threatened by scarcities of the resources that sustain their way of life. Or when, in the face of these challenges, they turn for leadership to men in high places—only to find those men as frail as any others.

So sometimes the traveler is asked whence will come their succor. What is to preserve their abundance, or even their civility? How can they pass on to their children a nation as strong and free as the one they inherited from their forefathers? How is their country to endure these cruel storms that beset it from without and from within?

Of course the stranger cannot quiet their spirits. For it is true that everywhere men turn their eyes today much of the world has a truly wild and savage hue. No man, if he be truthful, can say that the specter of war is banished. Nor can he say that when men or communities are put upon their own resources they are sure of solace; nor be sure that men of diverse kinds and diverse views can live peaceably together in a time of troubles.

But we can all remind ourselves that the richness of this country was not born in the resources of the earth, though they be plentiful, but in the men that took its measure. For that reminder is everywhere—in the cities, towns, farms, roads, factories, homes, hospitals, schools that spread everywhere over that wilderness.

We can remind ourselves that for all our social discord we yet remain the longest enduring society of free men governing themselves without benefit of kings or dictators. Being so, we are the marvel and the mystery of the world, for that enduring liberty is no less a blessing than the abundance of the earth.

And we might remind ourselves also, that if those men setting out from Delftshaven had been daunted by the troubles they saw around them, then we could not this autumn be thankful for a fair land.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

This editorial has run annually on Thanksgiving since 1961.

The Last Furriers

From The Paris Review:

One of Werner Herzog’s lesser films is about fur trappers in Siberia: big men who sled for eleven months of the year in pursuit of sables, the small and silky martens that live east of the Urals, burrowing in riverbanks and dense woods, emerging at dusk and at dawn. Russian sable—barguzin—is one of the most expensive furs in the world. The trappers make their skis by bending birch with their own hands, the same way trappers have for a thousand years. They see their wives for only a few weeks a year. They seem to have no inner life, neither anxieties nor aspirations: no relationships besides those with their dogs, no goals beyond survival. “They live off the land and are self-reliant, truly free,” Herzog tells us: “No rules, no taxes, no government, no laws, no bureaucracy, no phones, no radio, equipped only with their individual values and standard of conduct.” The film is called Happy People.

There was a year in which I tried very hard to make a film about the decline of the fur industry in New York City and Connecticut, and all I ended up with was a fox’s foot, a holographic poster for vodka, and a hard drive full of footage that, had I ever finished the film, would have been strung together as an incoherent montage of fragmented memories.

I remember eating General Tso’s chicken and drinking sugary deli coffee while people paid in thousand-dollar rolls of bills and tipped in edibles. I remember watching a woman get fitted for a blue leather catsuit, and the way she laughed into three mirrors when the tailor told her to unhook her bra and bend over. I remember a Greek furrier with slicked-back hair and a camouflage bandanna who shooed a family out, shouting, “I don’t want your money!” He told me they were “Gypsies.” I remember asking a sweet salesgirl with plump hands about parties where people wore two or three furs and tried to sell them through the night.

I remember sitting in what seemed like a storage unit out on a weedy section of Connecticut Route 10, amid unused pizza boxes and a jukebox and blow-up guitars and ten thousand holographic posters of a tiger. The owner was an attorney of uncertain penchants: “In Boston, some Italians got me into garbage law,” he kept telling me. He was trying to get out from pizza and out from music and out from law and into vodka. He looked panicked and vaguely taxidermic. When I asked why he didn’t want to be a furrier, he said he didn’t want to be like his father in any respect.

I remember Fred, out near New London, a town of salt-whipped, faded Victorians that in its whaling days was the richest in America. Women kept coming in with their dead mothers’ coats and being told they were worthless. Fred told me that even if fur were to become popular again, there was simply no one left who knew how to sew it. I remember two Greek brothers in New Britain who’d grown up in a dirt-poor tobacco village. After years of struggle, they’d bought a store with a cherry-red, mid-century marquee, a store that now had trash piled up in front of a sign that read “95 Years! Sorry We’re Closed—Forever!” In an online “Immigrants Hall of Fame” entry, one brother had written about how he had “achieved the American dream as a business owner.” He now worked at a Jos. A. Bank in the Boston suburbs. A little badge on his LinkedIn profile photo read #opentowork. When I asked the other brother about the decline of the fur industry, he looked away and said, “It hurts. It hurts!” When I asked him about my generation, he said, “Good luck!”

I remember a bald Greek man in Adidas track pants with big, naked-looking eyes, like a deepwater creature, who hobbled on his cane. In the dark of the fur freezer, with minks and sables and leopards all around us, a column of light scattered on his round face, he told me that one must learn how to make fur, how to sew for that many hours, as a small, small child because, “After seven, it is difficult to sit in a chair.”

And I remember, now, Pascal’s pensée: “All of man’s misery derives from a single thing: his inability to sit alone in a room.”

Until a few years ago, the only person I’d ever known who wore fur was a French professor I’d had in college, a woman who showed up to a three-student seminar on surrealism in a dim room in the math building wearing stiletto boots and carrying a Coach handbag and saying that she’d just gotten back from Paris. She chain-smoked Parliaments and put heavy cream in her coffee, and she had red hair and a figure like a woman in a fifties movie who’s going to do something terrible. When the weather hit fifty, she donned a honey-colored mink that went down to her feet, which were always in heels. Everyone in Gainesville, Florida, a town nick-named “the swamp,” swarming with sorority girls and gargantuan flies, seemed utterly perplexed by her. She tended to see men who were two decades younger and owned boats. She was the first adult I’d met who seemed happy to be alive.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

For the record, PG grew up on ranches and farms where animals were raised for the purpose of selling them for food after they reached a certain size.

He will be happy to assure one and all that a steer or a pig won’t make a very good pet.

For those who would condemn ranchers and farmers for raising animals that people like to eat, PG wonders if they’ve ever eaten seafood or a hamburger.

He has known some vegans and respects their choices. He would hope that they would respect his choices as well. He also recalls some reliable reports to the effect that plants have a measurable reaction when their leaves are cut.

PG’s quick and dirty online research indicates that, while it isn’t known whether plants feel pain, they definitely feel sensations. Studies show that plants can feel a touch as light as a caterpillar’s footsteps.

However, it is possible that plants have intelligence and sentience that we cannot yet detect. One day, we might learn that plants have ways of experiencing pain that we have yet to comprehend.


How “offshore journalists” challenge Vladimir Putin’s empire of lies

From The Economist:

The Kremlin banned them, branded them “foreign agents”, criminalised them and chased them out of the country. It cut off their finances and tried to isolate them from their audiences. But they have regrouped, rebuilt and come back stronger. Never in the past 30 years have Russian journalists been under such assault and never have they fought back with such vigour, calling out the Kremlin’s lies, exposing its corruption and unearthing evidence of its war crimes.

Vladimir Putin’s dictatorship does not leave much scope for street protests, but independent reporters have formed a virtual resistance movement, lobbing explosive stories at his war machine and supplying news and opinions to those who look for them. Most are doing so from outside Russia, something they call “offshore journalism”. At least 500 journalists have left Russia since the invasion, according to Proekt Media, an investigative outlet.

Scattered across Europe, in cities such as Riga, Tbilisi, Vilnius, Berlin and Amsterdam, such journalists reach a large audience, most of them under the age of 40. “Our job today is to survive and not let our readers suffocate,” says Ivan Kolpakov, the editor-in-chief of Meduza, a news website.

Meduza has reported on the massacre of Ukrainian civilians in Bucha, and the extraordinary number of convicts being pressed to join Wagner, a mercenary group run by a crony of Mr Putin. Mediazona, an online outlet founded by two members of Pussy Riot, a punk band, is trying to count the true number of Russian casualties. It has also found an ingenious way to work out how many Russians have been conscripted, by analysing open-source data on the unusually high number of marriages since mobilisation began. (Draftees are allowed to register their marriage on the same day as they are enlisted, and often do, since they don’t know when they will see their partners again.) Mediazona estimates that half a million people have already been drafted—far more than the 300,000 the Kremlin said would be.

For the Kremlin, suppressing real news is an important part of its war effort. Some outlets remain in Russia that are not propaganda organs, such as Kommersant, a private newspaper. But they are highly constrained—they cannot call the war a war, for example. Since Mr Putin invaded Ukraine he has muzzled most independent voices, lest they sow doubt among citizens or induce a split within the elite.

tv Rain, Russia’s best known independent television channel, went dark eight days after the war started. Echo of Moscow, a radio station with 5m listeners, went silent on the same day. Soon after that Novaya Gazeta, the most outspoken newspaper, stopped printing. Alexei Venediktov, the editor of Echo, and Dmitry Muratov, the Nobel prize-winning editor of Novaya Gazeta, stayed in Russia while some of their former colleagues set up operations offshore. tv Rain is back on air, now based in Latvia and broadcasting via YouTube to 20m viewers a month, most of them inside Russia. Echo is in Berlin, streaming news and talk-shows live via a new smartphone app, which the Kremlin tried but failed to block.

A dozen new digital outlets, most of them set up since Mr Putin first started grabbing chunks of Ukraine in 2014, are publishing investigative journalism. A recent probe by The Insider, an online outlet, working with Bellingcat, an open-source intelligence group, unmasked dozens of engineers and programmers who have been directing Russian missile strikes on Ukrainian cities. “Investigative journalism, which is declining in many countries, is flourishing in Russia,” says Roman Dobrokhotov, who runs The Insider. “There is plenty of demand for it, there are people who know how to do it and there is no shortage of subjects to investigate.”

Russians find real news via apps and virtual private network (vpn) services, which can help them bypass censorship. Before the war Russia was the 40th-largest user of vpns; now it is the largest in the world. Nearly half of young Russians use one, according to gwi, a market-research firm. Most are well-educated urbanites. But even in rural areas, a fifth of people use vpns.

Remote working during covid was a good preparation for offshore journalism. “I am physically located in Berlin, but I live in the Russian information field,” says Maxim Kurnikov, the editor of Echo.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Michael Lewis (Once Again) Tells the Biggest Story in Finance

From Jane Fried

Michael Lewis hit the story of a lifetime when he published his bestselling book, The Big Short, about the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis. Looking back, Lewis seemed to be the right person at the right time and place to capture the biggest financial story of a generation.

It was the ultimate setup. Before writing The Big Short, Lewis was already regarded as a world-class storyteller. Plus, he had the advantage of coming from a career in finance. Lewis had even made a name for himself in financial journalism through his debut book, Liar’s Poker. Mix in Lewis’ southern charm and we might begin to understand how he pulled such a rich and detailed story from an otherwise tight-lipped industry.

But that’s a once-in-a-career finance story, right?

Well, not for Michael Lewis. A few months ago, during an interview with Financial News, Lewis gave his readers a small clue regarding the subject of his next book. Lewis said, “I guess it is possible it will be framed as a crypto book, but it won’t be a crypto book… It’ll be about this really unusual character.”

In recent weeks, the financial world has watched closely as one of the largest crypto exchanges, FTX, endured its public fall. The details of which—including probable fraud, a major hack and theft to the tune of $400 million, and a feud between crypto founders—are still coming to light.

. . . .

Creative Artists Agency announced that Michael Lewis has spent the past six months interviewing FTX founder, Sam Bankman-Fried.

. . . .

Right time and place, once again, Mr. Lewis.

Central to most of Michael Lewis’ works are larger-than-life characters who find themselves at the center of major industry or societal shifts. As Lewis once told The Guardian, “I am not an essayist… I need characters. If I don’t have a character, I can’t find my way into a story.” Lewis seems to seek out people, rather than mere stories, which may be the real secret behind his uncanny ability to find once-in-a-career journalism material.

. . . .

Lewis could not have foreseen the epic tale of controversy, hacks, and potential fraud that has transpired in recent weeks at FTX. But perhaps what Lewis did see, many months before anyone else, was a deeply human story of cutthroat competition between two opposing charismatic founders, Sam Bankman-Fried at FTX and Changpeng Zhao at the crypto exchange, Binance.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

The Ruin of All Witches

From The Wall Street Journal:

In February 1651, a stream of townspeople in Springfield, Mass., filed into the home of magistrate William Pynchon to report unsettling occurrences. A pudding of offal and oats had spoiled for no reason. A woman experienced agonizing pain shortly before childbirth. A piece of salt beef tongue vanished; a missing set of knives reappeared. Pynchon duly recorded these events in a book of testimony that ran to dozens of pages.

We are fortunate that historian Malcolm Gaskill immersed himself in this remarkable and, until now, largely neglected document. Archived at the New York Public Library, it grounds his enthralling book on a 17th-century witch hunt that, in the author’s deft hands, fascinates as much as the more notorious one that gripped Salem decades later.

A brief note at the end of “The Ruin of All Witches: Life and Death in the New World” elucidates Mr. Gaskill’s method: painstakingly reconstructing events as they took place to capture the experiences of those involved without using the wisdom of hindsight to explain what was “really” happening. We may know that the early settlers of Springfield lived during the fraught transition from the medieval to the modern world: They, of course, had no such awareness. “Objective ‘reality’ must sometimes be played down to point up the subjective quality of experience,” writes Mr. Gaskill, a scholar of the history of witchcraft and an emeritus professor at the University of East Anglia. “Only by taking the strange on its own terms can we understand ourselves in time.”

Before things get really strange, however, Mr. Gaskill sets the scene with a vivid description of daily life in Springfield. The Puritan settlement was founded in 1636 by Pynchon, a wealthy speculator and fur trader who ruled over the small population, in the author’s words, “like a lord of the manor from the Old World.” Springfield’s inhabitants, mostly English and Welsh migrants of low social status, were busy with labor and chores from dawn to dusk six days a week, with Sundays spent in worship. Pynchon distributed property for homes and farms he had “bought” from the Agawam Indians, and he set each household’s tax rate. He also owned the town’s general store; residents were given credit and repaid their debts in labor or shares of their crops. For men and women alike, writes the author, it was an existence of “piety and toil.”

It was also a breeding ground for bitterness and envy, in no small part because of the difficulty of getting ahead. Colonists were forced to rely upon their Native American trading partners yet feared them; turf conflicts abounded with Dutch settlers and with nearby English settlements. But “even more immediate,” the author writes, “were the resentments and recriminations felt toward neighbors with whom they lived cheek by jowl. Distance bred distrust, for sure; but familiarity and proximity nurtured paranoia and spite.” In Mr. Gaskill’s moody telling, the city on a hill doesn’t sound so shining.

Population increase and bad weather heightened competition for resources. And throughout this atmospheric account, with its creeping sense of dread, most of the weather is bad, from “breathtakingly” and “astonishingly” cold winters that killed livestock to “stifling” summers that withered crops. Amid a deteriorating economic situation, one Hugh Parsons became the target of his neighbors’ suspicions. The town’s brickmaker, he had arrived in Springfield in 1645, marrying Mary Lewis later that year. He was a taciturn man who occasionally became belligerent. He had acrimonious relationships with many of his neighbors, and before long his marriage was troubled too.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

In Real Life Arranged Marriage is No Joke

From Electric Lit:

How do you discuss something so intimate and uncomfortable as finding a spouse, without laughing or crying or cringing in embarrassment or fear? How do you talk about it without using the L-word? As in Luck. As in, you can plan and strategize as much as you want to, you can prepare as if you’re preparing for battle, you can organize and plan for all contingencies. There is still a certain amount of luck involved.

More on that later.

Frequently it is a different L-word. As in Laugh. It’s a laughing matter — as in when you see it on TV or the silver screen, you end up laughing at either the future groom or the bride, or perhaps both, for all of the misunderstandings and all of the foibles. Sometimes you’re laughing out of relief: As in “Thank god that isn’t happening to me.” Sometimes you’re laughing in recognition: “Been there, done that!”

There is a romantic presumption of happily ever after, of marital bliss. There are the underlying assumptions that maybe your family does know what’s best for you, that perhaps it’s not just two people getting married but two families and two communities coming together. Perhaps it shouldn’t be left to the young and inexperienced to figure out for themselves. Think We Are Lady Parts. Think Indian Matchmaking.

Then there’s the comedy of errors when the groom or bride deviates from the chosen path that is meant to make us laugh, to ease the cringing and the uncomfortable moments. Think of Kumail Nanjiani in The Big Sick or Nia Vardalos in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

But in real life, arranged marriage is no joke. 

. . . .

It is an accepted practice around the world. Most of the time, in my experience with my family and friends and acquaintances, marriages are arranged with good intentions.

In India, where my ancestral family originates, it is complicated. Here is a nation famous for worshiping female deities such as Durga and Kali, tongues out, weapons in hand. And India had its first female prime minister, Indira Gandhi, decades before the purported democratic ideal, The United States, fielded Kamala D. Harris to the nation’s second highest position. Still, India and the subcontinent remain in the news — so much violence and oppression against women. Child marriage, yes, but also dowry deaths and female infanticide and sexual assault. 

But I digress, again. 

Arranged marriage ultimately becomes something borne out of a visual medium: think picture brides. Someone posing, unsmiling, that is supposed to symbolize a potential bride or groom’s merits and seriousness. There are many stories and books about that concept  — famously, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s short story collection, Arranged Marriage, and The Buddha In The Attic by Julie Otsuka which vividly depicts the lives of Japanese picture brides emigrating to the United States and making their way in the years before World War II. Kiran Desai’s debut novel, Hullabaloo In The Guava Orchard, has one of the best descriptions of the expectations of and for a daughter-in-law that I’ve ever read, and I chuckle every time I have a moment to revisit it.

For as long as I can remember the dominant American culture has looked upon arranged marriage in eastern cultures or non-English speaking parts of the world as something backward or something that was to be treated as abusive or suspicious. Of course everything in the world is a circle/cycle and there are now healthy numbers of Americans  on eHarmony or Matchdotcom or something similar trying out a more modern version of arrangement and the institution of marriage. 

My family and my husband’s family hail from similar backgrounds. We are both academic brats, children of college professors. In fact we were both raised in the U.S., Bengali in origin — and our parents are friends. Yes, we were introduced but as we are fond of saying, “We got married despite our parents and not because of them.”

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

Lydia Maria Child Taught Americans to Make Do With Less

From The Wall Street Journal:

In 1829, American women preparing their family’s Thanksgiving feast could turn for guidance to one of the country’s first self-help books: “The Frugal Housewife” by Lydia Maria Child, a beloved novelist and children’s writer. Child later immortalized her Thanksgiving memories by turning them into the poem “Over the River and Through the Wood,” but here she focused on practical advice. Roast the turkey for at least two hours, she directed; stuffing is improved by adding an egg. It was one of many lessons the book offered to readers who, in the pointed words of its subtitle, “are not Ashamed of Economy.”

Child advocated frugality not from necessity but from patriotic principle. After winning success in Boston’s literary circles, she became distressed at the ostentatious luxury and idleness that she found among the rich. The “false and wicked parade” of luxury, she wrote, is “morally wrong, so far as the individual is concerned; and injurious beyond calculation to the interests of our country.” Proud of America’s promise, Child worried about its future. “We never shall be free from embarrassment,” she wrote, “until we cease to be ashamed of industry and economy.”

Along with practical tips, therefore, “The Frugal Housewife” dispensed philosophical advice. “Economy is generally despised as a low virtue, tending to make people ungenerous and selfish,” Child observed, but in fact “the man who is economical, is laying up for himself the permanent power of being useful and generous.” She may have been thinking of her father, who had worked his way out of poverty, becoming a prosperous baker who could afford to be generous. And he was, especially at Thanksgiving, when he invited the woodcutters and berry-pickers he employed to a meal of “chicken-pies, pumpkin-pies…and heaps of donuts.”

Frugality had empowered her father, and she wanted to instill it in her readers. “Look frequently into the pails, to see that nothing is thrown to the pigs, which should be in the grease-pot,” she urged. “Look to the grease-pot, and see nothing is there which might serve to nourish your own family, or a poorer one.” The most economical cut of veal is the shoulder, Child advised, and the neck is the cheapest piece of mutton. Inexpensive coffee can be made from roasted peas, but “after all, the best economy is to go without.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

‘Confidence in Research’: Scrutiny Over Understanding

From Publishing Perspectives:

Today (November 8), Elsevier has released its new “Confidence in Research” report, based on a survey of 3,000 researchers from around the world. The survey, announced on July 13, was conducted in collaboration with UK-based Economist Impact. It had to do with the way researchers themselves see their fields, their work, and the deficiencies that might limit trust.

While there’s a lot to be said about the public’s trust and understanding of the research industry in an age of mis- and disinformation, this study’s look at scientific researchers, themselves, indicates that 63 percent of scientific researchers surveyed said they feel the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has increased public attention on research, but only 38 percent said they think that better public understanding of research will be a legacy of the pandemic.

With the input of more than 3,000 scientists, scholars, and researchers, the interest was in how the still-ongoing pandemic has impacted research and its communication in the face of heightened public scrutiny.

As the executive summary says, “The huge quantities of information, increasingly publicized before peer review, poses challenges to identifying information that can be relied upon, even for seasoned researchers.

“This information must be synthesized and shared with the public, media, and policymakers, and researchers are increasingly the messengers.

“But what are the longer-term impacts of this? Are researchers prepared for this public-facing role? Are they equipped to communicate complex, often nuanced findings to lay audiences? And are they confident that the research community is providing them with support and incentive structures that are fit-for-purpose amidst this new landscape?”

Perhaps not surprisingly, the survey found that “being published in a peer-reviewed journal is the most important marker of reliability, according to 74 percent of researchers surveyed.”

The study also indicates that more than half of researchers responding (52 percent) said they feel the pandemic increased the importance of publishing research early, prior to peer review, and many—particularly women, early career researchers, and those in Global South countries—said they feel the pandemic has widened inequalities in, and access to, funding in their fields.

Over-simplification was a concern for 52 percent of the respondents, and 56 percent of them cited politicization of research as a problem “because of increased public attention and social media focus on research and the research process.”

In fact, only 18 percent of the respondents said they feel “highly confident” in communicating their feelings on social media, and 32 percent said they’ve experienced or known a close colleague who experienced abuse after posting research online.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG opines that, in the US at least, cost/benefit analysis of various strategies to limit the spread and damage caused by COVID was deficient in some respects. Some experts seemed to default to recommendations that would shut the economy down without carefully examining the risk/reward and cost/benefit results of their recommendations.

China is, of course, an extreme case in which the presence of one COVID-infected individual would often result in a complete lockdown of a neighborhood or high-rise apartment building. How long it will take the Chinese economy to overcome the great damage caused by strict shutdowns remains to be seen.

At times, it seemed that there was a tension between providing accurate information about risks and fears that the unwashed masses would go crazy if threats were not magnified to the Nth degree and extreme limitations were not enforced.

The reports and photographs various government leaders violating their own lock-down orders certainly reduced compliance of COVID strictures.

At what age do they take people to Ukraine?

From The Economist:

In late September, soon after Vladimir Putin announced that there would be nationwide conscription in Russia, I overheard my 14-year-old student ask his father about it. “At what age do they take people to Ukraine?” the boy said, anxiously. His father wrapped him in a hug, reassuring him that he was too young. In all the months I’d been the family’s live-in tutor, I’d never seen my boss display so much affection to his children.

The boy used to be a lot more gung-ho. When the “special military operation” in Ukraine first started in February he would sternly repeat the government line to me (Russia was strong and good, Ukraine wasn’t a real country). At school he and his friends would tell patriotic jokes. Recently, though, I’d noticed that the memes he forwarded weren’t all pro-Russian – some had even come from the Ukrainian side. The other day he made me watch a TikTok of Ukrainian soldiers imitating characters from a popular video game, followed by more clips of him and his friends trying to recreate their moves. I asked him if they realised it was Ukrainian soldiers they were emulating. He shrugged.

A more serious message seems to be cutting through the jumble of social-media posts. When we were going through his homework shortly after the hug I witnessed, my student abruptly said: “I think Russia is losing the war.” I asked why he thought that. “That’s just what I heard. I think nobody wants to fight there.” We moved on, but the gravity of what he’d said lingered.

. . . .

This teenager is not the only one whose patriotic certainty has faded since the war’s early days. A giant “Z” – the symbol of support for Putin’s invasion – that someone had painted across the front of a building in the city has now gone. People make snide remarks about Russia’s progress on the battlefield, and they go unchallenged. The draft has changed the atmosphere.

Men are becoming less visible in Russia: hundreds of thousands have been conscripted and many more are fleeing conscription. At a café I recently overheard a table of women gossiping about their boyfriends in Turkey. The army isn’t held in much esteem these days (“Russian soldiers are supposed to be the second-best in the world but I think my husband is only third or fourth,” runs one joke) so little shame is attached to draft-dodging.

Some women I know whose partners have left the country are discovering new reserves of toughness. One friend is doing two jobs so that she can send money to her boyfriend, who is lying low in Turkey without an income. She’s so relieved he’s safe from the draft that she doesn’t even seem to register how tired she is. Another is doing the same for her boyfriend. “He supported me for ten years, now it’s my turn,” she says.

. . . .

Others left behind are distraught. One friend called me in tears to say her half-brother had received his summons and was going to Ukraine at the end of October. “He is terrified. He cried with my father when he got the letter. He is too young,” she said. She is convinced he is going to die.

I don’t know any men who have gone to fight, but my boss’s bodyguard, a fit man in his early 30s, is clearly expecting the summons. In the days following the announcement he kept going off to take phone calls in private. We recently found ourselves alone together and I asked him what he was planning to do. “I am stuck here. We don’t speak English,” he said. “My job here is great. In Turkey, what can I do?” He hopes he will at least have a chance to get his wife pregnant before he’s called up.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Personality and Power

From The Wall Street Journal:

Channeling the romanticism of the mid-19th century, Thomas Carlyle—philosopher and essayist—wrote that all history is, “at bottom,” made and shaped by Great Men. The arc of Germany would have been very different without Bismarck, of France without Napoleon, and of Christianity without Luther. This emphasis on the tectonic clout of individuals has long been a staple of Anglo-American history writing. Running counter to this model is the Marxist emphasis on structural determinants and socio-economic preconditions, said to mold history more powerfully than any single person. The Great Man—by this logic—merely harnesses the currents that swirl around him.

In “Personality and Power,” Ian Kershaw studies the most important “builders and destroyers” in the history of 20th-century Europe. He balks, however, at using the word “greatness,” saying that to define it is “ultimately a futile exercise.” This is wise, as the personalities Mr. Kershaw examines include Hitler and Stalin, “great” only to those whose moral values are offensive.

Starting chronologically with Lenin and ending with Helmut Kohl—the last European titan of the last century—he offers case studies of 11 men and one woman (Margaret Thatcher) of “major significance” not just in their own country but well beyond. Some readers will be grumpy, and rightly, about the omission of Americans. Shouldn’t Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, for instance, star in a head count of the most salient makers of modern Europe? Mr. Kershaw, an eminent British historian and the author of a monumental two-volume biography of Hitler, offers a poor reason for their exclusion. Including “even one non-European leader,” he writes, “would give rise to the obvious objection: why stop there?”

Some of his choices are questionable in other ways. Does Francisco Franco really deserve to be on a shortlist of the 12 most consequential European leaders of the 20th century? I think not, given that his “fascist-style autarky” cut Spain off from Europe. Readers will, nonetheless, delight in the knowledge that Franco’s cabinet meetings, often hours long, never allowed for a toilet break, “much to the distress of some of his ministers.” Mr. Kershaw tells us that the generalísimo had “extraordinary” bladder control and also that his most notable legacy was to ensure that Spain became so averse to political isolation that it is today among the most enthusiastic members of the European Union.

Some may also find odd the inclusion of Josip Broz Tito, the Yugoslavian dictator, but Mr. Kershaw makes a lively case for him. He does, however, acknowledge that it is “difficult to speak in any meaningful way of a lasting legacy.” Tito was “the founder, inspiration, and fulcrum” of the postwar Yugoslav state. How crucial he was to its existence is shown by how the “edifice that he had built was torn apart” by ethnic warring just a few years after his death. Most significantly, says Mr. Kershaw, Tito had been a “pivot” between East and West in the Cold War, much lauded for his ability to thumb his nose at Stalin, who sought to assassinate him on more than one occasion. Mr. Kershaw offers us the delicious information—culled from the biography of Stalin by the historian Robert Service—that the Soviet strongman kept in his desk a note from Tito. It read: “If you don’t stop sending killers, I’ll send one to Moscow, and I won’t have to send a second.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

While reading the OP, PG was reminded of a saying, allegedly Chinese, but evidently without a clear provenance, “May you live in interesting times.”

The Twentieth Century certainly qualified as an interesting time for a great many people around the world. So far, the Twenty-First Century is relatively tame by comparison. PG hopes it continues to be uninteresting compared with the Twentieth.

‘Emily Post’s Etiquette’ Review: Please and Thank You

From The Wall Street Journal:

A century ago, American manners and social mores were in exciting disarray. Old formalities were in retreat. Young women were bobbing their hair and slouching on purpose. The comparatively cavalier practice of “dating” was replacing traditional courtship. Domestic life, meanwhile, could at any moment be interrupted by a ringing telephone, a newish gizmo that it might be rude to answer—at mealtimes, say—but also rude to ignore.

Into this Jazz Age ferment stepped Emily Post, the writer and socialite whose name became a byword for the arbitration of questions of manners and civility. Post’s 1922 book, “Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home,” was a godsend to the discombobulated. The aspirational American public, with its great jostling of new citizens and new money, had developed a taste for etiquette primers, and here was an author who could equip readers to move with confidence at the highest levels. The socially adept could read Emily Post for confirmation (and to check their conduct for weak points). Rubes and arrivistes could read her and feel a little less raw and exposed.

The real genius of the woman, though—and surely the reason she caught on—was that she so beautifully linked outward gentility with inner goodness. To read the original Emily Post is to want to be a better person: to stand a bit straighter, to treat others with humor and benignity, and to carry oneself with more grace and less affectation. “Simple people put no trimmings on their phrases, nor on their manners,” Post wrote in her direct way. “But remember, simplicity is not crudeness nor anything like it. On the contrary, simplicity of speech and manners means language in its purest, most limpid form, and manners of such perfection that they do not suggest ‘manners’ at all.”

Etiquette” has been repeatedly updated and republished over the decades, so it makes ample commercial sense for those charged with guarding Emily Post’s legacy to come to the topic afresh at the centenary mark. It also makes cultural sense. Now, as when the book came out, American culture is in turmoil. We still have some memory of former strict codes of politeness, but only just. Hosts and hostesses still issue invitations to parties, as of old, but many recipients no longer feel obliged to respond—or to keep their commitments when the day comes. Technology has reshaped modes of communication and disinhibited the national id. As of old, too, the young follow codes that bewilder their elders; their elders worry that the center cannot hold and that things are falling apart.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Authors Must Document Russian Terror, Zelensky Tells Frankfurt Fair

From The Kiev Post:

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday, Oct.20, made an impassioned plea at the world’s biggest publishing event for authors to write about the “terror” unleashed by Russia’s invasion.

War-ravaged Ukraine is in focus at this year’s edition of the Frankfurt book fair, with numerous authors and industry figures appearing throughout the week at the country’s large stand.

“Instead of importing culture, Russia imports death,” Zelensky told the fair, in a video address.

“So I ask you, please do everything to make people know about the terror that Russia brought to Ukraine.”

“Knowledge is the answer,” he went on. “Books, documentary scripts, articles, reports — these are the answers.”

Zelensky’s wife, First Lady Olena Zelenska, is due to appear in person on Saturday, Oct 22, speaking at a side event.

Organisers and participants see such high-profile events as key to promoting Ukrainian culture in the face of what they say are attempts to wipe out the country’s identity with Russian propaganda.

Meanwhile Russian state institutions, which usually run their nation’s stand, have been banned, with prominent opponents of President Vladimir Putin instead given the stage.

. . . .

In his address, Zelensky also took aim at those who had not come out to condemn Russian aggression.

“We must be straightforward here — there are still plenty of public figures in Europe who are encouraging ‘understanding’ of Russia,” he said.

“These people are present in different spheres: politics, business, NGOs and media.

“Why is this possible?… the only answer is, the lack of knowledge.”

Link to the rest at The Kiev Post

In every video PG has seen where Zelensky is speaking, PG has been impressed by how effective he is at delivering a convincing account of the war and describing what his nation is suffering at the hands of the Russians.

On the other hand, a motion picture casting director could not locate an actor as effective at playing a dictatorial thug as Vladimir Putin fills that role.

A Publisher’s Hope for an Author’s Second Chances

From Publisher’s Weekly:

In August, word came that Oprah’s Book Club had picked That Bird Has My Wings, a HarperOne backlist title, as its 97th selection. I received this news with deep gratitude, since when That Bird Has My Wings was first published in 2009, I was the marketing director at HarperOne. At that time I immersed myself in the campaign for this book out of passion and professional intrigue. For the first time in my experience, we were publishing a living author who could do very little to help promote the book in all the traditional ways.

The reason? Jarvis Jay Masters was an innocent man on death row in San Quentin State Prison. At age 47 he’d already been in incarcerated for 28 years.

Masters, who went to prison at age 19 in 1981 for armed robbery, is now in his 60s. Four years into his 20-year prison sentence for that crime, he was charged with creating the instrument used in the fatal attack on a prison guard. Though he maintains that he had nothing to do with the latter incident, he remains on death row for it. And Oprah, who read the book years ago after it was recommended to her by the American Tibetan Buddhist (and former nun) Pema Chödrön, continued to think about Jarvis and what she might be able to do to spotlight and support his case, ultimately leading to her September Oprah’s Book Club selection. And, while sales have jumped accordingly—we have seen paperback sales more than double over a 12-year period since the Oprah news—the hope is that this will be about much more than sales.

For my one and only author meeting with Jarvis, I visited San Quentin with Eric Brandt, the acquiring editor for That Bird Has My Wings. At the time, I had a one-year-old at home and was too busy and overwhelmed by work and life to pay heed to the email with instructions about visiting the death row wing of this maximum-security prison, so I showed up woefully unprepared. I had to take off my denim jacket (you can’t wear any colors that prisoners wear) and my bra triggered the metal detector (underwires can be contraband—it had to be removed!). I was quite thankful for Eric’s jacket as I entered the visiting section. It was a series of small rooms with very thick but fully transparent walls. We bought food for Jarvis from the vending machines, as we were told that this was better than anything available to him inside.

When we met Jarvis in the visiting cell, he greeted us with a beatific smile. We proceeded to get to know him, learn more about his life, and discuss his autobiography and plans for its promotion. There were moments when the rhythm of conversation and content felt like any other author kickoff call, and then I’d pause, check my surroundings, and remember the real and dire circumstances of Jarvis’s life.

Jarvis lacked any outward indication of the unfathomably difficult life he’d endured, and the multiple ways the juvenile protection and criminal justice systems had failed him. He was warm, joyful, and kind, and he was invested in the success of his book and eager to help in any way possible.

I was reminded of this when recently revisiting files from this time: emails between myself and the editor, the video we made of our visit, and letters we wrote as part of our campaign. We worked with organizations like Death Penalty Focus, the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, and the Prison Dharma Network to raise awareness of the book, and by extension Jarvis, his case, and the larger social justice issues of which it was emblematic. I found an original essay that Jarvis wrote for Barnes & Noble, a q&a with him, and glowing reviews from the San Francisco Chronicle and Lion’s Roar.

. . . .

I consider the full-circle moment of coming back to this book and Jarvis’s story more than a decade later to be one of the great gifts of my career—to get to play even a small part on a team working to bring greater awareness to this incredible person, his worthy story, this remarkable book, and the larger issues at play.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

The OP reminded PG of his only visit to a serious prison. It happened many years ago when he was practicing hillbilly law.

He was asked by members of a prisoner’s church to visit that prisoner while he was incarcerated in a federal prison.

The prison warden spoke with PG prior to his entering the prison itself to ask PG to convey some advice to the prisoner on how to not get beaten or killed by hard-core prisoners who were likely to spend the rest of their lives in prison. Evidently, the prisoner had been saying things that were increasing the risks that this might happen.

After finishing his conversation with the warden, PG was escorted by a husky, armed prison guard into the prison proper. This involved passing through a series of heavily-barred gates that were remotely opened and closed by other prison guards who were enclosed in everything-proof guard stations. Every gate closing resulted in a loud metallic clang which sounded like that gate was securely locked down.

As the clangs added up, PG realized that the only way he would ever get out of this place was if a prison guard escorted him back through that series of heavily-barred gates. If anyone forgot that he was an innocent visitor, he was inside for good.

After being locked in a room with his temporary client, PG had about a thirty-minute conversation with the man he came to visit, including passing on the warden’s warning. After they finished PG was to knock on the door and someone was supposed to let him out.

Two guards came into the room after the door was unlocked, one to make sure the client got back where he was supposed to be and one to escort PG back through that series of clanging locked gates.

After telling the warden that he had delivered the message as requested, PG walked through the last door into a bright, sunny day, greatly relieved to be outside.

Why Art Was Such a Powerful Tool for England’s Tudor Monarchs

From Smithsonian Magazine:

In a gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, paintings of a father and daughter hang face to face. Larger than life, the monumental portraits present competing conceptions of royal power. The father, Henry VIII, looks directly at the viewer, conveying aggression through his wide stance, bulging leg muscles and excessively padded clothing. The daughter, Elizabeth I, is more coy, refusing to meet the viewer’s gaze and relying on layers of symbolism to allude to the strength of her rule.

Painted decades apart by artists of different generations, Elizabeth’s likeness is clearly in conversation with Henry’s. “Her whole body has been padded and shaped to create a silhouette that echoes … her father’s, and she’s actually wearing a series of ‘truelove’ buttons that she inherited from [him],” says Adam Eaker, a curator in the Met’s European paintings department. “She’s working within a very different idiom as an unmarried, childless woman to create an iconography that will position her as the heir to her father’s throne.”

Both of these works—a portrait of Henry by the workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger and Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger’s Ditchley Portrait of Elizabeth—testify to the rapidly evolving artistic landscape of Tudor England. From Henry VII’s usurpation of the throne in 1485 to the death of Elizabeth in 1603, Tudor monarchs relied on paintings, sculptures, tapestries and other art forms to legitimize their nascent dynasty. “The Tudors: Art and Majesty in Renaissance England,” on view at the Met through January 2023, showcases this opulent era through more than 100 objects, including a Holbein sketch of Anne Boleyn and an intimate portrait miniature of one of Elizabeth’s favorite courtiers.

“The highest caliber of artistry is being acquired and shared in the Tudor courts,” says Elizabeth Cleland, a decorative arts curator at the Met. “[It was] really this wonderful moment when they are soaking up as much as they possibly can, from travel and trade going to Europe and beyond.”

. . . .

Co-curated by Cleland and Eaker, “The Tudors” doesn’t simply provide a visual “who’s who” of 16th-century England. Instead, the show examines how the eponymous rulers strategically used art to shape their image both at home and abroad. From Henry VIII’s attempts to outdo French king Francis I, whose court boasted such renowned artists as Leonardo da Vinci, to Elizabeth I’s development of portraits that asserted feminine authority in a male-dominated world, the Tudor period’s culture was inextricable from its political intrigue.

Link to the rest at Smithsonian Magazine

Here’s a link to the Metropolitan Museum of Arts’ page for this exhibit.

PG notes that the Met not only provides lovely photos of the individual works on its page, it also includes both written and audio discussions of each painting in the exhibit.

What Is Logotherapy?

From Verywell Mind:

Logotherapy is a therapeutic approach that helps people find personal meaning in life. It’s a form of psychotherapy that is focused on the future and on our ability to endure hardship and suffering through a search for purpose.

Psychiatrist and psychotherapist Viktor Frankl developed logotherapy after surviving Nazi concentration camps in the 1940s. His experience and theories are detailed in his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning.”

Frankl believed that humans are motivated by something called a “will to meaning,” which is the desire to find meaning in life. He argued that life can have meaning even in the most miserable of circumstances and that the motivation for living comes from finding that meaning.

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

Victor Frankl, MD, PHD

This opinion was based on his experiences in the concentration camps and his intent to find meaning through his suffering. In this way, Frankl believed that when we can no longer change a situation, we are forced to change ourselves.

. . . .


Frankl believed that it was possible to turn suffering into achievement and accomplishment. He viewed guilt as an opportunity to change oneself for the better and life transitions as the chance to take responsible action.

In this way, logotherapy is aimed at helping you to make better use of your “spiritual” resources to withstand adversity. Three techniques intended to help with this process include dereflection, paradoxical intention, and Socratic dialogue.


Dereflection is aimed at helping you focus away from yourself and toward other people allowing you to become “whole” and to spend less time feeling preoccupied with a problem or worry. 

This technique is meant to combat “hyper-reflection,” or extreme focus on an anxiety-provoking situation or object. Hyper-reflection is often common in people with anticipatory anxiety.

Paradoxical Intention

Paradoxical intention is a technique that invites you to wish for the thing that you fear most. This was originally suggested for use in the case of anxiety or phobias, in which humor and ridicule can be used when fear is paralyzing. 

For example, if you have a fear of looking foolish, you might be encouraged to try to look foolish on purpose. Paradoxically, your fear would be removed when you set an intention to behave as foolishly as possible.

. . . .

Perhaps not surprisingly, there is evidence that meaning in life correlates with better mental health.

Link to the rest at Verywell Mind

PG posted this because he wasn’t certain what Logotherapy was. He had heard of Victor Frankl and some of his books, Man’s Search for Meaning being the most prominent.

The OP is on a website that appears to cover a wide variety of psychological topics and, evidently Logotherapy is one of those topics. The site’s Review Board consists mostly of Medical Doctors, including several psychiatrists. OP was reviewed by a psychiatrist.

PG also notes that the publication is owned by Dotdash Meredith, America’s largest publisher, at least where magazines are the measure. Several prior lives ago, PG dealt with Meredith when he was an account executive for a large advertising agency.

Meredith published and continues to publish a bunch of magazines focused on women. The company was and is headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa. People Magazine, Better Homes & Gardens and Southern Living are three representative magazines Meredith publishes and has always published. To the best of PG’s knowledge, Meredith is not prone to publish any dodgy or edgy magazines. Doing so is not the Iowa Way.

For those visitors outside of the United States, Des Moines is pretty close to the middle of the United States and it is a great distance from any ocean. Hurricanes and typhoons are not a threat.

One of the things Iowa is known for (in certain circles) is that the soil in the state is regarded as the most fertile and productive agricultural soil in the world. The area covered with this type of soil includes just about all of Iowa, extends into parts of Southern Illinois, Eastern Nebraska, a bit of Northern Missouri and parts of Southeastern South Dakota and Southwestern Wisconsin.

As an interesting sidelight, Ukraine is the only other place in the world where large amounts of this type of extraordinarily fertile soil are found.

PG realizes he has meandered more than usual with his commentary. Any commentary that begins with Logotherapy and ends with Iowa soil is certainly a potential candidate for formal classification as meandering, but PG hopes visitors to TPV will be tolerant. After all, nobody forced you to read the whole thing and it didn’t cost you anything.

Visual Thinking

From The Wall Street Journal:

In 2019 the animal behaviorist Temple Grandin was admiring the gleaming new equipment at an American meat-processing plant when she discovered the intricate metal structure had been sent from the Netherlands in more than a hundred containers. “I stood on an overhead catwalk and looked at all the complicated conveyors and exclaimed to no one, ‘We don’t make it anymore!,’ ” Ms. Grandin recalls in “Visual Thinking: The Hidden Gifts of People Who Think in Pictures, Patterns, and Abstractions.” The “it” in her exclamation refers to various kinds of engineered products. The realization partly inspired her to write this book.

In other hands, a book of this title might have comprised cutesy pop-psych pronouncements on how to tap into the hidden powers of mental imagery, in yourself and others. That’s certainly an element here, but Ms. Grandin has also written an indictment of America for its witting or unwitting dismissal of those hidden gifts.

“The first step toward understanding that people think in different ways,” Ms. Grandin writes, “is understanding that different ways of thinking exist.” She distinguishes between those who think primarily verbally and those who think visually. Verbal thinkers proceed sequentially, while visual thinkers form webs of graphic associations. Drawing on the work of the neuroscientist Maria Kozhevnikov, Ms. Grandin divides visual thinkers into spatial and object visualizers. The former think in abstract patterns, the latter in photorealistic images. These three types define not strict cognitive categories but a continuum.

Ms. Grandin laments the loss of hands-on school activities that develop and reward visual thinking. Growing up, she enjoyed woodshop, embroidery and theater-set building. Today, preparation for standardized tests has replaced not only such experiences but many extracurriculars and field trips. But big standardized exams may not predict professional success as well as we think: In one study, performance on a standardized high-school math test had no correlation with performance on a complex real-world quantitative task.

Among the curricular offenders, Ms. Grandin aims her ire at algebra. She’s a visual-object thinker—she flips through thoughts as though scrolling through Instagram—and enjoyed trigonometry but couldn’t manipulate algebraic x’s and y’s. Problems with math kept her out of certain disciplines. “Now I teach veterinarians,” she writes, “but I couldn’t get into veterinary school. The reason? I got screened out.”

Challenges continue as students enter the work world. In looking at our country’s manufacturing dilemma, Ms. Grandin acknowledges “a conflagration of complex political and economic forces,” but focuses on “something more tangible—the loss of essential technical skills.” She cites a 2021 report from the Associated General Contractors of America that said that 61% of contractors have too few qualified workers. At a cultural level, we have “a certain snobbery about the trades,” Ms. Grandin writes, and “a cherished belief in unlimited potential” that channels students toward four-year colleges, where they are assumed to have the time to explore their options.

Many visual thinkers, including Ms. Grandin, are on the autistic spectrum. A U.K. guide for employers, “Untapped Talent,” points to the strengths often found among those on the spectrum, including reliability, memory and attention to detail, and recommends accommodations such as quiet spaces and clear instructions. Ms. Grandin suggests to neurodivergent workers that they improve basic skills like manners and forgo resumes for work portfolios—what she calls her “thirty-second wow” technique.

. . . .

Excellence at one type of thinking, of course, often means a shortfall elsewhere. In one study, dyslexic children outperformed others on a creativity test. History presents numerous examples of people successful in object-visual or spatial-visual thinking who showed autistic-like traits, at least when young, including Michelangelo, Albert Einstein and Elon Musk. Notably, we sometimes explain their visual genius in the context of some other deficit, highlighting the privileged place of verbal thinking in our society. “We would never say of a great writer,” Ms. Grandin observes, “that his or her literary gift compensates for poor visual or mathematical skills.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

How philosophy turned into physics and reality turned into information


The Nobel Prize in physics this year has been awarded “for experiments with entangled photons, establishing the violation of Bell inequalities and pioneering quantum information science.”

To understand what this means, and why this work is important, we need to understand how these experiments settled a long-running debate among physicists. And a key player in that debate was an Irish physicist named John Bell.

In the 1960s, Bell figured out how to translate a philosophical question about the nature of reality into a physical question that could be answered by science—and along the way broke down the distinction between what we know about the world and how the world really is.

Quantum entanglement

We know that quantum objects have properties we don’t usually ascribe to the objects of our ordinary lives. Sometimes light is a wave, sometimes it’s a particle. Our fridge never does this.

When attempting to explain this sort of unusual behavior, there are two broad types of explanation we can imagine. One possibility is that we perceive the quantum world clearly, just as it is, and it just so happens to be unusual. Another possibility is that the quantum world is just like the ordinary world we know and love, but our view of it is distorted, so we can’t see quantum reality clearly, as it is.

In the early decades of the 20th century, physicists were divided about which explanation was right. Among those who thought the quantum world just is unusual were figures such as Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr. Among those who thought the quantum world must be just like the ordinary world, and our view of it is simply foggy, were Albert Einstein and Erwin Schrödinger.

At the heart of this division is an unusual prediction of quantum theory. According to the theory, the properties of certain quantum systems that interact remain dependent on each other—even when the systems have been moved a great distance apart.

In 1935, the same year he devised his famous thought experiment involving a cat trapped in a box, Schrödinger coined the term “entanglement” for this phenomenon. He argued it is absurd to believe the world works this way.

The problem with entanglement

If entangled quantum systems really remain connected even when they are separated by large distances, it would seem they are somehow communicating with each other instantaneously. But this sort of connection is not allowed, according to Einstein’s theory of relativity. Einstein called this idea “spooky action at a distance.”

Again in 1935, Einstein, along with two colleagues, devised a thought experiment that showed quantum mechanics can’t be giving us the whole story on entanglement. They thought there must be something more to the world that we can’t yet see.

But as time passed, the question of how to interpret quantum theory became an academic footnote. The question seemed too philosophical, and in the 1940s many of the brightest minds in quantum physics were busy using the theory for a very practical project: building the atomic bomb.

It wasn’t until the 1960s, when Irish physicist John Bell turned his mind to the problem of entanglement, that the scientific community realized this seemingly philosophical question could have a tangible answer.

Bell’s theorem

Using a simple entangled system, Bell extended Einstein’s 1935 thought experiment. He showed there was no way the quantum description could be incomplete while prohibiting “spooky action at a distance” and still matching the predictions of quantum theory.

Not great news for Einstein, it seems. But this was not an instant win for his opponents.

This is because it was not evident in the 1960s whether the predictions of quantum theory were indeed correct. To really prove Bell’s point, someone had to put this philosophical argument about reality, transformed into a real physical system, to an experimental test.

And this, of course, is where two of this year’s Nobel laureates enter the story. First John Clauser, and then Alain Aspect, performed the experiments on Bell’s proposed system that ultimately showed the predictions of quantum mechanics to be accurate. As a result, unless we accept “spooky action at a distance,” there is no further account of entangled quantum systems that can describe the observed quantum world.

So, Einstein was wrong?

It is perhaps a surprise, but these advances in quantum theory appear to have shown Einstein to be wrong on this point. That is, it seems we do not have a foggy view of a quantum world that is just like our ordinary world.

. . . .

As this year’s third Nobel laureate, Anton Zeilinger, put it: “The distinction between reality and our knowledge of reality, between reality and information, cannot be made. There is no way to refer to reality without using the information we have about it.”

This distinction, which we commonly assume to underpin our ordinary picture of the world, is now irretrievably blurry. And we have John Bell to thank.

Link to the rest at

PG notes that there are lots of links in the OP.

The Sun-Times’ new chapter: Our digital content is now free for everyone

From The Chicago Sun-Times:

In recent years, Chicago has proven its reputation as an exceptional news town — one in which residents care passionately about its future and invest in its success. Our city has become known as a hub of innovation for local news. This year alone we’ve seen a number of great examples: City Bureau’s Documenters program, which trains people to document public meetings, is expanding nationally. Block Club Chicago is building an investigative reporting team. South Side Weekly and the Hyde Park Herald merged to form a South Side–focused nonprofit newsroom.

And in January, the Chicago Sun-Times became a nonprofit newsroom as part of Chicago Public Media.

The nation is watching what happens here to see whether Chicago can be a model for how to defend and rebuild local news. And it’s all thanks to you, the people of Chicago.

Because of you, our great city has a real chance to buck the alarming trend of local news shrinking nationwide. Between late 2019 and May 2022, 360 newspapers closed in the U.S., according to a June report from the Medill School of Journalism. A quarter of the country’s newspapers have closed since 2005, the study found, with two more closing every week — and Illinois has lost the most news outlets of any state during this period. The industry has seen a 70% decline in newsroom employees since 2006. The research also shows that local news really matters. When communities lose their local news coverage, they experience more corruption, pollution and poverty, and even experience a decline in voter turnout.

Providing the news for everyone

As a reader of the Chicago Sun-Times, you turn to us for the news you need to thrive. For timely, accurate and fairly reported stories on the issues that matter most. For stories that celebrate and honor the members of our community, from victories on the field to remembrances of lives well lived. Our journalists care about your community because it’s our community, too. And we strongly believe that everyone in the Chicago area should have access to the news, features and investigations we produce, regardless of their ability to pay.

So today, we are dropping our paywall and making it possible for anyone to read our website for free by providing nothing more than an email address. Instead of a paywall, we are launching a donation-based digital membership program that will allow readers to pay what they can to help us deliver the news you rely on.

It’s a bold move: Reporting the news is expensive, and the converging market forces of inflation and an anticipated (or possibly already here) recession could further endanger local newsrooms like ours. But we know it’s the right thing to do.

Link to the rest at The Chicago Sun-Times and thanks to C. for the tip.

PG has mentioned his fondness for Chicago newspapers before. He lived in Chicago when it had two morning papers and two evening papers plus a fifth paper that catered to Chicago’s large African-American population.

The Sun-Times was a tabloid paper, albeit with a serious reporting staff, not typical of a tabloid. That format was easier to read while riding the L or the train to and from work. You could even handle it if you couldn’t find a seat and had to stand.

‘The Oldest Cure in the World’ Review: No First Helpings

From The Wall Street Journal:

The American diet—heavy on processed foods, light on nutrients—helps explain why life expectancy in the U.S. is lower than in any other developed country. The bill came due during the pandemic: Obese people with Covid had markedly higher rates of hospitalization and death. In fairness, Americans seem to want to slim down—dieting is a multi-billion-dollar industry. But more than half of the people who lose weight gain it all back in two years. Can anything be done about this state of affairs?

Stepping into the breach is Steve Hendricks with “The Oldest Cure in the World,” an illuminating exploration of the rich and varied history—and myriad health benefits—of fasting. Mr. Hendricks reminds us that fasting is a longstanding practice in the major world religions, as a means of penance and purification. Beyond godly matters, he notes that hunger strikes have been a familiar mode of protest—Gandhi famously held them to protest British rule in India.

Mr. Hendricks is a firm believer in the value of fasting, but his concern is the body more than the soul. He tells the story of a woman whose follicular lymphoma disappeared in 2014 after an extended fast at a medical facility in Santa Rosa, Calif. The reason, according to one of the doctors, was that her fasting reduced the levels of a hormone linked to her cancer.

Mr. Hendricks sees fasting as a way of combating a range of ailments. (“Surgery without a scalpel” was how some doctors once described the practice.) He cites studies showing fasting to be effective against arthritis, hypertension and fibromyalgia, among other afflictions. The medical logic in these cases is that fasting reduces inflammation—the source of multiple maladies—while promoting insulin sensitivity, stimulating DNA repair and generating antioxidants that neutralize a harmful molecule known as reactive oxygen species. Mr. Hendricks argues that fasting leads to better outcomes from chemotherapy, too—by causing healthy cells to go dormant and avoid the treatment’s toxic chemicals.

And, yes, fasting triggers weight loss. The fasting Mr. Hendricks has in mind is periodic, its frequency and duration varying from person to person. He stresses that, if losing weight and staying healthy is the goal, the diet to return to after a fast should be plant-based. He cites Alan Goldhamer, a physician and fasting pioneer, who asserts that humans evolved to eat simple plants, not the processed foods and animal products that are a staple of the American diet.

. . . .

He struggled with what is said to be the hardest part of an extended fast: from the second day to the fourth. A dynamic biological process unfolds during this period, with glycogen, amino acids and glucose interacting with the liver and the brain. The body eventually starts producing highly acidic compounds known as ketone bodies, and they counter the hormone that causes hunger. Once the body reaches this state, known as ketosis, things get easier. According to Mr. Hendricks, “willpower plays only a bit part in prolonged fasting, and hunger none at all after the first day or two. . . . If I had had to resist hunger’s blare every day I fasted, I’d have given up before the first week was out.”

A theme running through “The Oldest Cure in the World” is the author’s exasperation with the American approach to practicing medicine. Few physicians, he notes, are knowledgeable about fasting, despite the benefits it provides. He favorably profiles two researchers—Valter Longo and Satchin Panda, at the University of Southern California and the Salk Institute, respectively—who have conducted ground-breaking studies on the value of restrictive food consumption.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal


It was once possible to participate in cultural debate—and write fiction—without thinking about identity politics. No longer.

From The Wall Street Journal:

A much-remarked recent poll found that more than half of Americans have become afraid to voice their opinions freely for fear of retaliation or severe criticism. The expatriate novelist Lionel Shriver is not among this cowed majority. Over many years of writing articles and essays for the Spectator of London, Harper’s, the Journal and other outlets, dozens of which are now gathered in “Abominations,” Ms. Shriver has persisted in making ornery observations about politics and culture. Her asperity has brought upon her the full flaming rage of the Twittersphere. Unhappily for her enemies, she is not on social media, and her professional associates have stood by her, so the conflagrations have left her unsinged.

In her works of fiction, meanwhile, Ms. Shriver has explored a variety of topics and themes, creating dramatically compelling stories that chase human proclivities to dark conclusions in such novels as “The Mandibles” (2016), a dystopian family saga set amid national bankruptcy and social breakdown; and “We Need to Talk About Kevin” (2003), a psychological thriller that tells of a distant mother and her homicidal, psychopathic son. The latter book, made into a 2011 film starring Tilda Swinton, brought Ms. Shriver’s work to wider attention.

What made her personally notable, or perhaps notorious, was her appearance in 2016 at the Brisbane Writers Festival in Australia. Her speech to open the event was as much a plea to her fellow novelists to protect their creative realm from identity politics as an excoriation of the new vogue for policing acts of “cultural appropriation.” Earlier that year, two students at Bowdoin College in Maine had thrown a birthday party where tequila was drunk and miniature sombreros were worn. Such was the subsequent anger on campus that deans decried the party theme as a possible “act of ethnic stereotyping.” Members of the student body condemned an environment “where students of color, particularly Latino, and especially Mexican, feel unsafe.” Ms. Shriver told her audience of writers that the Bowdoin morality play fit into “a larger climate of supersensitivity” that was “giving rise to proliferating prohibitions supposedly in the interest of social justice that constrain fiction writers and prospectively make our work impossible.”

. . . .

Ms. Shriver has been quick to note, and brave to say what she thinks about, the progressive catechesis facilitated by the internet. In 2021’s “Would You Want London to Be Overrun by Americans Like Me?” she points out that, despite blithe “no human is illegal” rhetoric, nowhere in the world do people greet mass immigration with unalloyed pleasure. “We are a political and territorial species,” Ms. Shriver writes. “Most people are capable of hospitality toward foreigners who arrive in modest numbers, but balk when outsiders become so populous that they seem to be taking over.” In 2020’s “Just Because We’ve Been OK Doesn’t Mean We’ll Stay That Way,” written in the aftermath of the first Covid lockdowns and the violent Black Lives Matter protests that followed, Ms. Shriver blasts Western governments for failing to do any sort of cost-benefit analysis before shutting down their economies. She also roasts the “woke white activists [who] want to demonize ‘whiteness’ as the sole source of all evil, while mysteriously believing that this does not entail demonizing themselves.”

. . . .

 “We are told that a trans woman may have been born a man, but ‘feels like’ a woman,” she tells us. “I don’t mean to be perverse here, but I have no idea what it ‘feels like’ to be a woman—and I am one.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

‘Honorary authors’ of scientific papers abound—but they probably shouldn’t

From Science:

It’s a practice that makes some scientists cringe: The lead author of a paper pays homage to a department chair, or a colleague who helped secure a grant, by listing them among the manuscript’s authors—even though the person made no intellectual contribution to the paper. Such “honorary authorship” is discouraged by many journals, publishing industry groups, and universities, who say it undermines the integrity of scientific literature.

Despite such disapproval, however, honorary authors appear to be common, a new study concludes. Up to one-third of more than 600,000 authors examined by the study appear to have been granted authorship even though they didn’t meet some commonly used criteria.

The unusually large study is “novel and adds to what we know” about the long-standing but controversial practice, says Annette Flanagin, executive managing editor of JAMA and the JAMA Network, who was not involved in the work. And the finding comes as authorship practices have come under scrutiny over concerns that senior researchers often horn in on credit for work done by junior colleagues.

Previous studies of honorary authorship have estimated its frequency by surveying scientists directly. But such self-reported data can be unreliable. To get a firmer grip, a team led by veterinary researcher Nicola Di Girolamo of Cornell University examined what it believes to be a more reliable measure: statements, typically written by a paper’s lead author, that describe each author’s contribution to the work. Specifically, the team examined statements that accompanied some 82,000 papers—with 629,000 authors—that were published in seven open-access journals from 2017 to 2021. All the journals are published by the Public Library of Science.

The researchers used a computer program to comb through the statements—which are assembled using a standard approach called Contributor Roles Taxonomy, or CRediT—and see whether each author satisfied two commonly referenced sets of authorship standards. These guidelines don’t allow honorary authorship and also lay out the kinds of contributions that should entitle researchers to be named as authors. One set of standards was developed by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE). The other, based on recommendations by the editors of several leading science journals, was published in 2018 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Overall, some 35% of the authors failed to meet the ICMJE criteria, and 4% didn’t meet the PNAS standards, the team reported this month at the International Congress on Peer Review and Scientific Publishing in Chicago. In addition, they concluded that some 1% of the authors appeared to have been listed solely because they secured funding or provided materials or other resources for the project, practices that don’t meet either standard.

The team might have found an even higher prevalence of honorary authorship, Di Girolamo notes, if the CRediT statements had allowed it to evaluate two other criteria required by standards: that all co-authors approve the draft submitted for publication and accept responsibility for the integrity of the work. But the CRediT statements don’t address those issues.

. . . .

The idea that honorary authorship is widespread is concerning, Flanagin and other researchers say. For example, it can mean honorary authors “are misrepresenting their contributions in the scientific literature,” possibly to inflate their volume of publications for tenure and promotion, Flanagin and colleagues wrote in a 2011 study of the practice. But they note that being an honorary author can also carry risk: If a paper bearing their name triggers allegations of research misconduct, for example, every author’s reputation can be damaged, regardless of their role in the work.

Di Girolamo says personal experience played a role in motivating him to conduct the study. In one of his first research projects, a collaborating institution asked him to add its scientists as authors of the resulting manuscript, even if they hadn’t substantively contributed. “Being a young researcher at the time, I was helpless in that situation,” says Di Gerolamo, who notes that honorary authorship can be “a form of scientific misconduct that is often the consequence of power dynamics. … For a co-author, it’s hard to tell a senior author, ‘You shouldn’t be an author of this manuscript, you haven’t done enough.’” When the paper was published, fewer than half of the dozen listed authors met the ICMJE guidelines for authorship.

Link to the rest at Science

Sheesh. What a cesspool.

Out of the Ashes, a New Notre-Dame Cathedral

From The Wall Street Journal:


For many years, Philippe Villeneuve has worn above his heart a tattoo of a stained-glass rose window from Notre-Dame. Inked on his left arm are two more images from this, the most beloved of all Christian cathedrals. One is of the great organ, the other of its spire, which was destroyed by the nighttime fire that engulfed Notre-Dame on April 15, 2019. A heartbroken Mr. Villeneuve had these etched just days after.

This display of bodily devotion is apt for a man who fell in love with the 13th-century Gothic cathedral 53 years ago, when he was 6, on a visit with his grandpa. Ten years later, he built a model of the sacred building out of balsa wood (over long days when his mother thought he was studying for exams). Today he is the chief architect in charge of restoring the charred edifice.

How difficult is it to work on a restoration with the world watching? “We’re so focused on the monument, we don’t even notice,” he says, in an answer relayed via WhatsApp by the spokesman for the Friends of Notre-Dame, a nonprofit at the forefront of fundraising in the U.S. Mr. Villeneuve is in Washington on a lecture tour with Rémi Fromont, another architect on the team. Of the 40,000 donors to Friends of Notre-Dame, 30,000 are American.

Does restoring a place of worship pose challenges different from those of a secular project? “No. You don’t need to be a churchgoing Christian to restore Notre-Dame,” Mr. Villenueve says. “You just need to understand and love it.” He admits it’s the most challenging restoration work his architects have done, and not only at a technical level. “It’s an emblematic monument, part of the world’s heritage. As such, literally everyone has an opinion. But people should stay in their lane and focus on what is best for the monument.”

In the initial clamor to rebuild, outlandish ideas were put forth, including by President Emmanuel Macron, who favored a new spire of contemporary design. Others included a roof garden, as well as rebuilding with glass or steel, not wood. Mr. Villeneuve, an adamant originalist, threatened to quit if Notre-Dame wasn’t restored exactly the way it was before. The army general in charge of the works, a martinet appointed by Mr. Macron, told Mr. Villeneuve to “shut his mouth.” Sanity prevailed, and the French Parliament passed a law to ensure that the rebuilding was identical to the original.

Also destroyed was the wooden roof above the stone-vaulted ceiling. Its reconstruction requires the remaking—with timber from white oaks—of a “forest” of 25 trusses, structures that hold up the roof. Most of the cathedral’s blueprints are thought to have been destroyed during the widespread desecration of churches after the French Revolution. A faithful restoration of the trusses would have been near-impossible had Mr. Fromont not made detailed drawings of the “forest” as part of a postgraduate study of Notre-Dame. Although Mr. Fromont is too modest to say so himself, that study has proved a structural lifesaver.

It is the trusses that have brought Messrs. Villeneuve and Fromont to the U.S., drawn to a project undertaken by Handshouse, a Massachusetts nonprofit focused on architectural education, and the Catholic University of America in Washington. These two institutions undertook to build a truss—No. 6 of the 25 at Notre-Dame—by working off drawings by Mr. Fromont.

Tonya Ohnstad, a professor of architecture at Catholic U, set up a course for her students on the project, titled “Joinery and Craft of Notre-Dame.” Students worked with skilled craftsmen, using the same techniques that were employed in medieval Europe to build a replica of the truss from white oak sourced in Virginia. The project was complete in August 2021, and the French architects wished to see it.

Ms. Ohnstad describes the “exhilaration” her students felt as they engaged in this task, which was also a way to “get their hands back into making things after Covid” and months of Zoom classes. “Everyone had lost all their senses.” Theirs was also a romantic fantasy: Handshouse and the students had hoped Notre-Dame would use their truss, “accept it as a gift.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

7 Experimental Books Reshaping Historical Narratives

From Electric Lit:

Sometimes the only way to approach history, particularly a history that has excluded you or one which you felt trapped inside, is to deface it. Defacing—like a form of graffiti—can take the form of literally writing or collaging on top of the record so that your words are visible, but so is the history you are reinscribing. The two interact to create a third space. Similarly, sometimes when going in search of a specific history, you can’t help but research your own. Your history creates another layer to the original, adding to it and permanently altering the way it will be understood or interpreted by others.

In my debut essay collection, Curing Season, I contend with the history of a county in eastern North Carolina where I moved when I was ten years old and to which I desperately wanted to belong—hello, adolescence!—but I could not find a space for myself. As an adult, obsessed with the county’s book of self-submitted family histories, I approached it as an opportunity to write my own history—on top of theirs.

Nonfiction books leaning against the borders of the genre—which is to say, in that expansive and exciting category called “experimental nonfiction”—continue to illustrate the ways we can work with history while including our own narratives. No one flinches when fiction alters, reshapes, or dismantles historically-agreed-upon narratives. But there are also some incredible experimental nonfiction books doing the work of defacing history, sometimes in a very visceral and visual way, by scratching off the paint, keeping the ghostly outline of what came before, and then making history anew.

The Bear Woman by Karolina Ramqvist, translated by Saskia Vogel 

The Bear Woman traces the legend of Marguerite de La Rocque, a 14th-century French noblewoman who was taken to North America and, as punishment for a love affair on the voyage over, abandoned on an island in the St. Lawrence River—a fascinating tale on its own. But Ramqvist’s own motherhood and womanhood are interwoven atop and between Ramqvist’s discoveries (and dead ends) as she combs the brittle archives to learn more about Marguerite, reflecting on how much control a woman has historically not had about the legends of her own life. Ramqvist notes that each person who recorded the details of Marguerite’s story had “their own motives for why they had chosen to tell her story at all, and for how they told it,” acknowledging that she herself must imagine into Marguerite’s narrative as Ramqvist navigates the stormy channel between what is her projection and what is her unveiling of Marguerite’s truth. 

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

PG notes that every historian decides what parts of history to leave in and what parts to leave out, the people to describe and quote and the people to leave out. Invariably, the vast majority of what happened is left out. Contemporaneously-written autobiographies, news articles, diaries and other accounts can help provide different perspectives, but, invariably, the large majority of the events and happenings are left out.

When done poorly or with pre-formed opinions on the part of the historian, histories can provide a completely misleading account of an era. When done well, histories can provide a glimpse that allows us to understand how lives differed and how events developed, as influenced by individuals with goals that sometimes were achieved, or partially-achieved and often were not.

PG doubts that human nature has changed a great deal, however. He is always reminded of a comment made some time ago by an attorney friend, “Thank God for human nature. Without it, lawyers would have nothing to do.”

Parents of Donor-Conceived Children Face New Calls for Candor

Not directly related to writing, but an issue that earlier generations didn’t have to face.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Parents of children conceived from donated sperm, eggs or embryos can be reluctant to tell their kids about their genetic origins out of concern that doing so would compromise the parents’ privacy or upend family harmony.

These mothers and fathers are facing pressure to change. Research now shows that donor-conceived people fare better emotionally when they learn about their origins early on. And states are starting to enact laws that require people intending to make use of donor gametes or embryos be informed about the importance of telling donor-conceived children about their origins.

Colorado enacted a law in June that requires people planning donor-assisted conception to receive information about how to discuss it with their children. State legislators in California passed a bill in August that, if signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, will require sperm and egg banks to provide information to customers that disclosure is associated with “improved family functioning and well-being” of donor-conceived children.

“We don’t want to encroach on parental rights. But many parents don’t know the research, and we want to make sure they are making an informed decision,” said Jillian Phillips, vice president of government affairs for the U.S. Donor Conceived Council, which supports the rights of donor-conceived individuals to learn about their origins.

Ms. Phillips, whose single mother told her before she entered preschool that she had been conceived from donor sperm, said information about genetic origins can also help donor-conceived people understand their risk for hereditary diseases. She began seeing a cardiologist after a DNA test helped her track down her biological father, who told her heart trouble ran in the family.

In previous decades, fertility doctors often discouraged parents from telling their children about how they were conceived, according to histories of the field. Secrecy was seen as a way to promote bonding between parents and their children and to protect couples’ privacy about infertility.

Research surrounding parental disclosure is still sparse but indicates that children benefit from learning the truth early on, said Susan Golombok, a professor at the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge. Dr. Golombok is the lead investigator on a United Kingdom-based study following children who were age one in 2000 through the age of 20 and were born through egg donation, sperm donation, surrogacy or unassisted conception. “They were all generally well-functioning families,” Dr. Golombok said, but children who knew by age 4 that they were donor-conceived felt better about their identity and were more accepting than those who found out later.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Nation of Victims

From The Wall Street Journal:

‘I worry that this book has all been in vain,” writes Vivek Ramaswamy in the last pages of “Nation of Victims.” He fears that the American liberals he so badly wants to reach will simply brush him away as an Uncle Tom or a “Dinesh”—after Dinesh D’Souza, the Indian-American conservative whose name, for many, has become a byword for partisan hackery. He worries that people will dismiss him for “just spouting conservative talking points,” which liberals find especially indigestible when delivered by a non-white person.

Mr. Ramaswamy is Indian-American and has been, he tells us, politically conservative since he was in the sixth grade in Ohio. A self-made magnate, he founded a biotech company at age 28, eight years ago. He is now a robust commentator on current affairs, contributing from time to time to the features pages of this newspaper. His last book, “Woke, Inc.” (2021), took corporate America to the woodshed for its cynical—and lucrative—embrace of “social justice.” He has dissed Davos as “the Woke Vatican.”

In “Nation of Victims,” Mr. Ramaswamy turns his burning gaze on identity politics in America, blaming it for “the death of merit.” A first-generation American, he laments the fact that his America is no longer the country that his parents came “halfway around the world to join.” He doesn’t quite say that the American Dream is dead—he is too much of an optimist for that—but he does believe that “we’re not a nation that tells itself Horatio Alger stories anymore.”

As if to underscore the point, he feels the need to explain who Alger was—a writer who “made a name for himself in the 1800s writing rags-to-riches young adult novels” about poor boys who made good through honesty, hard work and luck. Alger isn’t read any longer in America. Mr. Ramaswamy wonders, mischievously, whether he might be resurrected by letting it be known that Alger was gay. We have been, he writes—pursuing his subversive advocacy a little further—“erasing a prominent gay author from American history, and representation matters.”

In Mr. Ramaswamy’s telling, the Alger “trope” illustrates how America, once a “nation of underdogs,” has become a nation of “incumbents”—a word he uses as a synonym for victims. The underdog American endured the hardships dealt to him by fate and strove to overcome them by making demands of himself. The incumbent American, by contrast, complains of hardships being thrust upon him by others, “the evildoers who commit racist acts, the perpetrators who steal elections.” And so these others owe him his rescue, his salvation. Today’s America has two options: either “closing off victimhood as a path to success” or forsaking the merit-based culture that is in “our national DNA.”

“Nation of Victims” makes a passionate, persuasive case for the first of those options. As such, it is a polemical companion to the oeuvre of Shelby Steele—who has spent a lifetime making an elegant and irrefutable case for the repudiation of the culture of black victimhood—and to John McWhorter’s “Woke Racism” (2021), which teaches weary Americans how to fight the virus of political correctness.

. . . .

Intriguingly, Mr. Ramaswamy suggests that the roots of American victimhood lie in the defeat of the South in the Civil War and the Lost Cause movement, which claimed the Confederates would have won but for the mistakes of a few ignoble generals. Prominent among them is James Longstreet, blamed by Lost Causers for the crushing defeat at Gettysburg. Mr. Ramaswamy makes a game attempt to burnish the reputation of Longstreet and argues—no doubt looking for a fight—that his name might replace Bragg’s in any rebranding of American military installations. Bragg, of the eponymous fort, was “a hapless general who lost almost every battle.” Longstreet, says Mr. Ramaswamy, was a better man: He became a Republican after the war, supporting Reconstruction and rekindling his prewar friendship with Ulysses S. Grant.

Victimhood also has constitutional roots, the book argues, describing how notions such as substantive due process and strict scrutiny have empowered an activist judiciary to “correct defects in the democratic process that had allowed majorities to oppress minorities.” Mr. Ramaswamy is at his weakest in his discussion of the 14th Amendment—whose due-process clause has led to much thorny jurisprudence. In his breezy armchair originalism, in which he seeks the amendment’s authentic meaning, he glides past almost all recent scholarship on the subject. Yet a few inexpert pages on American law don’t detract from his compelling conclusion that what we witness in the U.S. today is a form of “constitutional oppression Olympics.”

African-Americans, he writes, have become enshrined by precedent as “the gold standard of constitutional victimhood.” There were periods in American history when racism was so rampant that it “demanded a comprehensive societal response.” But the book insists that the need has passed. Now, in the name of anti-racism, we risk exacerbating the very problem we seek to solve. Mr. Ramaswamy gives us the example of a young Indian-American protege, a STEM-loving kid who was rejected from every college he applied to in favor of non-Asian applicants whose SATs were significantly lower than his. Heartbreaking questions tormented this young man: “What’s wrong with me? What do they have that I don’t?” What liberals miss, says Mr. Ramaswamy in response, is that they create new and genuine victims by their “ruthless pursuit of social justice,” in which some races are elevated over others in a hierarchy of victimhood.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Smart Brevity

From The Wall Street Journal:

“I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one.” The remark, attributed by the authors of “Smart Brevity” to Mark Twain, nicely sums up the book’s theme: It’s hard, time-consuming work to say a thing briefly, but the work pays off. In fact, Twain wrote no such thing—the remark, in a slightly different form, belongs to Blaise Pascal. But the point is still valid.

The authors of “Smart Brevity” are Jim VandeHei, Mike Allen and Roy Schwartz, co-founders of the aggressively to-the-point news website Axios. Messrs. Allen and VandeHei left Time magazine and the Washington Post, respectively, for Politico, which Mr. VandeHei co-founded, in 2007. Before Axios, which began in 2016, Mr. Schwartz worked for Politico and Gallup.

The book is written in the style of an Axios news article: A one- or two-sentence lede, a terse paragraph labeled WHY IT MATTERS or THE BIG PICTURE, followed by a few short bullet-pointed paragraphs. The authors developed this style, which they call Smart Brevity, when they realized that consumers of news in the 21st century, overwhelmed by words issuing from every direction, generally don’t read news articles; they skim them, or glance at the headline and the first sentence or two. Their solution: If you want to influence people through the medium of words, use fewer of them. “Strong words, shorter sentences, arresting teases, simple visuals and smartly organized ideas,” they write, “transform writing from unnoticed to vital—and remembered.”

“The Elements of Style” and many other guidebooks enjoin writers to omit needless phrases, delete unnecessary modifiers, use active verbs, and so on. You get all that here, but Messrs. VandeHei, Allen and Schwartz write for the online era of short attention spans and verbal incontinence.

They have a point. Most books and essays published these days are too long: gummed up with adjectives and pointless asides, laden with prolix displays of expertise. Many news articles, too, are repetitive, full of vague insinuation, and include figures and quotations whose import is not apparent. Then there are the ordinary modes of written communication. You have not experienced periphrastic confusion until you have tried to read emails from your child’s public school about matters that ought to be simple but, for reasons that perplex the greatest minds, are not—picture days, pick-up times, grade reports.

“Something went haywire in our evolutionary journey that turned us into long-winded blowhards armed with a few fancy words in reserve,” the authors write.

That “something” was, of course, the internet. Messrs. VandeHei, Allen and Schwartz don’t discuss the difference between print reading and screen reading, but it’s worth some reflection. An email or a web article can hold an infinite number of words. The temptation to keep issuing verbiage is too great, the discipline of economy too taxing, for most writers to bear. The printed page, by contrast, although it doesn’t guarantee good writing, does impose limits. If you are reading these words in print, you will note that the review comes to an end near the bottom of the page, where the dead-tree real estate reaches its end.

. . . .

Maybe the Axios style is the future of written communication. If so, please kill me.

I don’t get the bullet points, for one thing. The book’s short chapters are written in paragraphs, as all writing in English is, but about two thirds of these paragraphs have little dots to the left. “The bullet point is a wonderful way to isolate important facts or ideas,” the authors write. Maybe so, but the excessive use of bullets leads you to wonder why some bulleted paragraphs have no important facts or ideas, and some nonbulleted ones do. And anyway why am I thinking more about these little dots than about the subject matter? It’s a fine way to read if you want to go insane.

. . . .

The worst thing about “Smart Brevity,” though, is the way the Axios style does the work of interpretation for the reader. News journalism at its best presents you with an array of observable circumstances and no definite conclusion. The arrangement of those circumstances is itself an act of interpretation, to be sure, but in the end the journalist leaves it to readers to decide what it all means. 

Not in the world of Smart Brevity™. There you’re simply told WHY IT MATTERS and THE BOTTOM LINE and, in its online manifestation, if you doubt the reporter’s construal you’re invited to click the words GO DEEPER and read some other article. “Don’t make your readers pick what’s important!” the authors exclaim to reporters. “You’ve mastered your content, honed your idea and know what matters.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

If you’ve never seen Axios, here’s a link.

Flowers of Orwell

From The Dublin Review of Books:

The Brazilian rubber tapper, labour activist and environmentalist Chico Mendes, who was assassinated by a rancher in the Amazon in 1988, reportedly once said that “ecology without class struggle is just gardening”. The aphorism is often deployed to remind less radical environmentalists that questions of social and economic justice have to be at the centre of their concerns. Gardening, a hobby seen as the preserve of the relatively privileged few, becomes a slur in this context, typifying a tendency of the green movement to value nature primarily as a space for merely private contemplation or spiritual nourishment, a refuge rather than a battleground.

One of the effects of climate breakdown is that it is gradually and irreversibly rendering all politics climate politics, whether we like it or not. This is a disorienting situation, to say the least. It means that traditional, much cherished conceptions of nature as something separate from society, and from the sinful humans who would do it harm, become obsolete. What we call nature is no Garden of Eden – it is not a paradise and we were never cast out of it. Instead it is a collaboration between human and nonhuman beings seeking mutually enriching coexistence on a finite planet. But perhaps this shift in our thinking about nature also means reassessing the politics of gardens. This is what Rebecca Solnit suggests through a series of fascinatingly digressive and wide-ranging reflections on the roses George Orwell planted in the garden of his cottage in Hertfordshire in the spring of 1936.

This period marked the key turning point in Orwell’s life, when he went from being what Solnit describes as a partly successful novelist with a curmudgeonly affection for old-fashioned English ways, to a fierce political essayist and prophet of dystopia. The transformative event was the Civil War in Spain, for which he departed at the age of thirty-three in the winter after he’d planted those roses. His experiences among the communists fighting Franco, recorded in his book Homage to Catalonia, marked him indelibly. He emerged from the war a committed revolutionary socialist with a hatred for all forms of authoritarianism and totalitarianism, whether right-wing or left-wing, having witnessed at first hand Stalinist repression of supposed Trotskyists in the Spanish trenches. An already-existing hostility to ideological rigidity and officialdom was intensified in the writer.

Solnit, a leading American cultural critic, feminist and environmental activist, is less interested in dissecting Orwell’s political consciousness than in asking where his love of roses and gardening fit into it. Despite his decades-long influence on her work, she encounters Orwell anew through his horticultural efforts, of which he kept a charmingly straightforward diary that Solnit returns to again and again. Through this and other avenues, she seeks out an Orwell very different from the one most of us know — an Orwell who could bore you to tears with his detailed knowledge of shrubs and the superiority of sixpenny Woolworths roses, an Orwell of wheelbarrows and well-earned cups of tea, who lamented the loss of common English names for flowers to the fancy Greek nomenclatures of science. Solnit observes how her second book, the superb Savage Dreams from 1994, which documented a grassroots campaign against nuclear weapons testing in the deserts of Nevada, echoes Homage to Catalonia in how it interweaves a personal and subjective narrative with a bigger historical one. The two Orwells, she argues, come together in this precarious balancing of the private and the personal – even the seemingly apolitical – against the crushing weight of history and its techniques of power. To love a sixpenny rose, or the wild roses of northeastern Nevada’s Shoshone territory, hardly seems a political act, but it becomes so within a larger social and historical story.

At the same time, Solnit avers, “love of nature is no guarantor of virtue”. This is certainly true, as Stalin’s curious dream of growing lemon trees inside the Arctic Circle demonstrates. But this is where the book becomes somewhat evasive. Solnit addresses the colonial nostalgia implicit (and sometimes explicit) in idealising portrayals of the English countryside, but she largely glosses over how all of this is connected to Orwell’s own sentimental anglophilia and his faith in the common folk. During the 1941 Blitz, he wrote in a famous essay that the English

are a nation of flower-lovers, but also a nation of stamp-collectors, pigeon-fanciers, amateur carpenters, coupon-snippers, darts-players, crossword-puzzle fans. All the culture that is most truly native centres round things which even when they are communal are not official …

Solnit refers to the passage but does not critique its cultural nativism or the ridiculous claim made in the essay that the plain people of England would never allow totalitarianism to take root in their land precisely because of their natural immunity against the official culture of states and flags and military uniforms, the British empire notwithstanding.

Link to the rest at The Dublin Review of Books

How Britain has changed since Elizabeth II was crowned in 1953

From The Economist:

Somewhere in britain, half a dozen people gathered at a farmto watch Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation on television. “It’s a tiring day for her. Two and a half hours in the Abbey. It’s the whole day really,” said one. “I expect she packs herself up a couple of sandwiches,” commented another. Someone added: “I wish some of the ladies-in-waiting would trip over—give us a bit of fun.” Then: “They put a canopy over her when she’s anointed, that’s nice for her.”

This scene, which was recorded by an informant for Mass Observation (a kind of benign sociological spy network), could be a clip from “The Royle Family”, a 1990s sitcom in which people sit around watching TV, or the more recent variation, “Gogglebox”. In 1953, as today, British viewers could not help but focus on the most mundane matters. Won’t the queen get hungry? Ooh, how nice that she gets a canopy. They were snarky, though stopping short of irreverence. In some ways they have not changed greatly since.

Their country, however, has transformed. In the year of the coronation, Britain’s inhabitants lived and worked in ways that seem as peculiar today as the late Victorians would have seemed to those watching the coronation on fuzzy black-and-white screens. Because Britain has such good historical data, it is possible to see just how different it was.

The young queen ruled over a less populous, younger country. Of the 50.6m people in the United Kingdom in 1953, fully 21.6m were under the age of 30, and just 8m were 60 or older—a ratio of 2.7 to 1. Look at film from that era, and the hordes of children are as striking as the ubiquity of hats. The country has since grown, to over 67m, and aged. The ratio of young to old stands at 1.4 to 1, and falling.

The queen had married at the age of 21 and given birth to her first child, Charles, at 22. In that she was fairly typical of her contemporaries. In 1953 fully 65% of births were to women younger than 30, compared with 40% today. A mere 5% of births were outside marriage; today the proportion is 51%. But Elizabeth went on to have three more children, which made her unusual. She was born in 1926. The average woman born in that year had 2.2 children during her life. Monarchs are wise to overdo it: English history is littered with examples of the havoc caused when the line of succession is unclear.

Elizabeth was also unusual in having a job, albeit a singular one. Women were 32% of the employed population in 1953; today, they are 48%. It was especially rare for a mother of young children to work outside her home. The 1951 census revealed that only about one in six did.

Her first public role, before the speech-giving began, was in the Auxiliary Territorial Service, where she learned to repair and drive ambulances and jeeps. And she spent much of her life in the company of current and former servicemen. In that sense, she was typical of her generation. In the coronation year the British government still expected men to do national service, and would continue doing so for another decade. The armed forces sucked up an enormous share of state spending. In 1953-54, fully 9% of British national income went on defence—one and a half times as much as on the National Health Service and public education combined.

A few foods, particularly meats and dairy products, were still subject to wartime rationing in 1953. And British diets were unremittingly stodgy. The average person—man, woman and child—ate 63 ounces (1.78kg) of fresh potatoes per week, almost five times as much as they do today. The second-most important vegetable was cabbage. People got through six ounces of the stuff per week, six times more than modern Britons. Kitchens must have smelled sulphurous.

People might not have noticed that, though, because two other smells were everywhere in the year of the coronation. One was burning tobacco. Almost all men and many women smoked: a survey in 1951 found that 87% of male doctors over the age of 35 indulged. A year after the coronation, the same study presented strong evidence that smoking was linked to lung cancer. The long decline in smoking began a few years later.

The other pervasive smell was coal smoke. Coal powered Britain’s factories and trains, generated its electricity and heated people’s homes. In 1953 the country mined 230m tonnes of the rock—more than four tonnes per person. Fully 700,000 people worked in the coal industry. In 1966, when the queen visited Aberfan, a Welsh village devastated by a colliery spoil tip, she was heading to the heart of the British economy. But by 2019 Britain’s coal production was just 1m tonnes.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Happier Hour

From The Wall Street Journal:

Growing up, Cassie Holmes was known as “Little Miss Happiness.” A cheerful outlook seemed to come naturally to her—or at least nothing in her life suggested that the world was anything but a sunny place.

Then, one fateful day, a week before she was to marry her childhood sweetheart—her wedding dress packed in her car for the trip she was about to take from Palo Alto, Calif., to San Diego, where the wedding was to take place—her cellphone rang: Her fiancé had abruptly decided to call things off. The experience left her humiliated and depressed. “I was confronted with the harsh reality that bad things happen,” Ms. Holmes writes. “Feeling this depth of unhappiness forced me to realize that I shouldn’t rely on my disposition to experience happiness going forward.”

And so Ms. Holmes, a social psychologist and a professor at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, began studying exactly how people can make themselves feel better. “Knowing what to do—and practicing it over and over—is not only how grumps can overcome their muted daily enjoyment,” she says, “but how all of us can get through even the toughest of situations.” In “Happier Hour: How to Beat Distraction, Expand Your Time, and Focus on What Matters Most,” Ms. Holmes engagingly conveys what she has learned from her study.

Happiness is a well-covered topic, and so Ms. Holmes has focused her research on how people can spend their time to boost well-being. One of the first misconceptions she tackles: that more free time is always better. Her analysis of time-use data and well-being finds that people are happiest with 2 to 5 hours of discretionary time per day—a nice reality check for anyone fantasizing about quitting a job to move to a tropical island. It is also a comforting statistic for those who, like Ms. Holmes, are raising young kids (in Ms. Holmes’s case, with a different Prince Charming, who turned out to have more staying power than the first one). Two hours is achievable if 10 is not, and 10, it turns out, may not be better anyway.

Several financial studies have found that giving money away makes people feel happier than spending it on themselves, and Ms. Holmes has found that the same thing is true with time. When research subjects were either assigned to help edit a high-school student’s essay for 15 minutes or allowed to leave the lab 15 minutes early, the subjects who helped with the editing later reported “having more ‘spare time’ than those who had received the fifteen minute windfall.” While this finding may seem improbable, it points up the oddity of time perception. It’s easy to tell yourself that, being busy, you have no time for anything else. It’s harder to sustain that harried self-narrative when you feel effective and capable, which is what helping others accomplishes.

Ms. Holmes and her fellow researchers have also discovered that as people get older they tend to find a higher level of happiness in ordinary events (say, a walk with a friend) in contrast to younger people, who mostly see happiness boosts from extraordinary events (a great vacation or show). “Realizing their time is precious, people become more prone to savor even the simplest of moments,” she writes, which suggests a mind trick for finding such moments more meaningful: Consider how many times you have done an activity and, rather than assuming it will be possible indefinitely, calculate how many times more you can reasonably expect it to happen again.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Worse Than Nothing

From The Wall Street Journal:

America’s most solemn civic ceremony, the presidential inauguration, centers around the oath of office. The president swears to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” But when the Constitution’s meaning is the subject of heated disputes, what exactly is the president committing himself to?

The same question might occur to newly enlisted soldiers, when they swear their oath to “support and defend the Constitution” against “all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Or to newly naturalized citizens, who do the same. Many of the Constitution’s provisions are plain and precise, but others are “majestic generalities,” as Justice Robert Jackson put it eight decades ago; they need to be interpreted by elected leaders, by civil servants and by citizens.

And by the Supreme Court, of course, which tends to be the final arbiter of it all. Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes put the point bluntly a few years before his first appointment to the Court: “We are under a Constitution,” he said in 1907, “but the Constitution is what the judges say it is.” It’s not exactly true, but it’s true enough; look no further than our annual obsession with justices’ year-end blockbuster decisions. So on Inauguration Day, is the president pledging himself to preserve, protect and defend the musings of nine black-robed, life-tenured lawyers?

Forty years ago, conservative lawyers began to offer an alternative. They urged the Supreme Court to read the Constitution in accordance with the Founding Fathers’ original intent. “Originalism,” as it came to be known, emerged in the wake of decisions like Roe v. Wade, but also in the echoes of the nation’s bicentennial celebration, when Americans rediscovered their interest in—and affection for—the men who declared the states’ independence and who framed the nation’s republican Constitution.

The conservative legal movement began with law professors such as Robert Bork and Antonin Scalia, and a generation of law students who would found the Federalist Society and energize the Reagan Justice Department. Then came a wave of federal judges, including Bork and Scalia themselves, who applied constitutional originalism in actual cases. Their ideas gained weight in the courts of law and, crucially, in the court of public opinion.

Early on, originalists reframed their general notions of the Founders’ original “intent” into somewhat more objective considerations of the Constitution’s original public “meaning”—that is, of what a constitutional provision’s particular words meant to the public at the time of their ratification. Law professors published countless books and law-review articles analyzing the Constitution’s words, providing intellectual building blocks for Supreme Court lawyers’ briefs and justices’ opinions. In the Court, oral arguments re-centered around close analyses of the original meaning of statutory and constitutional texts, an approach known as “textualism.”

The first originalists and textualists were confident dissenters, in both academia and the judiciary. But after decades of research and argument, they now find themselves in the majority at the Supreme Court, even overturning Roe v. Wade itself.

Perhaps the best sign of the originalists’ success is the fact that so many progressive legal scholars and litigators now attempt to frame their own arguments in originalist (or at least “originalish”) terms, such as Yale law professor Jack Balkin’s Living Originalism. In 2015, one of President Obama’s own appointees to the Court, Justice Elena Kagan, told a Harvard Law School audience that “we’re all textualists now, in a way that just was not remotely true when Justice Scalia join[ed] the bench.”

But this summer Justice Kagan revisited her widely quoted quip. In West Virginia v. EPA, the Court ruled that climate regulators had exceeded the limits of the Clean Air Act, and she dissented from the majority’s reading of the law. “It seems I was wrong,” she wrote. “The current court is textualist only when being so suits it.”

Days later, at a judicial conference in Montana, she told the audience that inconsistency would undermine originalist judges’ credibility: “You have to apply methods that in fact discipline and constrain you, and you have to apply those methods consistently over cases, whether you like the outcomes they produce or whether you don’t like the outcomes they produce.” She was challenging originalists to be the best version of themselves.

Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the Berkeley Law School, goes further. In “Worse Than Nothing: The Dangerous Fallacy of Originalism,” he argues that constitutional originalism could never credibly constrain judicial discretion. “Originalism is not an interpretive theory at all,” he writes. “It is just the rhetoric that conservative justices use to make it seem that they are not imposing their own values, when they are doing exactly that.” His goal, then, is to “expose” originalism as not just a “fallacy” but a “dangerous” one.

Mr. Chemerinsky has long been one of the most pointed critics of originalism—and of originalist justices. When Chief Justice Roberts told his Senate confirmation hearing that judges should strive to be umpires who merely apply the rules instead of making them up, Mr. Chemerinsky blasted him in a law-review article: “Why did Chief Justice Roberts, who obviously knows better, use such a disingenuous analogy?”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG notes that Chemerinsky is regarded by more than a few attorneys as more than a bit left-wing and, although Boalt Hall (the name of the law school) stands high in US law school rankings, it also produces quite a lot of left-wing activists.

That said, to PG’s knowledge, there is no major US law school that is regarded as right-wing or right-wingish.

In search of Agatha Christie. Misperception and mystery cling to the life of the elusive novelist

From The Guardian:

If Agatha Christie remains elusive, it’s not for the want of those trying to find her. Janet Morgan’s official biography of 1984 and Laura Thompson’s equally detailed but ultimately more impressionistic portrait of 2007 have both been updated and reissued; and there are numerous other analyses that try to understand how the woman who routinely described herself as a housewife became Britain’s bestselling novelist of all time. Enter historian Lucy Worsley, whose declared intention is to rescue Christie, who died in 1976 at the age of 85, from the misperceptions that cling to her life and her works of fiction.

In service of the former, she revisits the most notorious episode of Christie’s life: her disappearance for 11 days in December 1926, prompting blanket media coverage, an extensive police search and, after she had resurfaced at a hydropathic hotel in Harrogate, widespread suspicion that her tale of memory loss was an elaborate publicity stunt. In terms of the novels, Worsley’s focus is on debunking the assumption that Christie invented and epitomised what has become known as “cosy” crime fiction, pointing to the darker elements of her work, its modernity, and its increasing interest in psychological themes.

Is she convincing? Up to a point. These ways of thinking about Christie are not entirely new or unfamiliar, and although Worsley has evidently done due diligence among her subject’s correspondence and personal records, there are no major revelations. It’s more, perhaps, that she brings a clear-eyed empathy that allows her to acknowledge Christie’s limitations and prejudices without consigning her to the silos of mass-market populist and absentee mother.

Sometimes, this is a stretch. Worsley is correct to argue that dismissing the books as formulaic – algebraic, indeed – is a way of diminishing Christie’s power to graft an apparently impenetrable mystery on to an evocatively imagined and interestingly peopled setting, and to repeat the trick over and over again; such reductive ways of characterising the work of popular writers are still very much in evidence. Her gift for dialogue and for manipulating social stereotypes, as Worsley demonstrates, was formidable, keenly attuned to the proliferating class anxieties of the 20th century; numerous characters are, interestingly, transitional or dispossessed in some way, at odds with one view of her as a writer of the country-house elite. (This approach gets only so far when it comes to discussing her reliance on racist tropes, and particularly antisemitic slurs, on which Worsley maintains that we must accept her as a product of her class and time, but also that we must squarely face the reality of what she writes and not try to excuse it. The issue here is that, fundamentally, the circle cannot be squared and rests largely on whether one believes bigotry is, at some level, historically inescapable.)

This doesn’t quite amount to the claims made in one eyebrow-raising passage in the biography, in which Worsley appears to argue that Christie has common ground with the modernists whose defining moment came as her first novels were published: “What if the middlebrow and the modernist could actually be the same thing?” she writes. “A more inclusive definition of modernism might mean that you can also find it in works that don’t necessarily bludgeon you in the face with the shock of the new in the manner of Ulysses.” If you are going to rescue one writer from misunderstanding, it’s as well not to visit the same ignominy on another. And as much as The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’s ingenuity relies on the disruption of accepted narrative convention, I don’t think it has a lot in common with Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Once again, PG notes that the publisher, Pegasus Books, has a release date of September 8, but makes it impossible for enthusiastic readers to look inside the book.

Century’s Witness

From The Wall Street Journal:

No student enrolled today in journalism school—and few if any on the faculty—would recognize the name Wallace Carroll, the reporter and foreign-correspondent-turned-editor who was an emblem of excellence from the days before World War II to the bitter denouement of the Vietnam War.

Then again, Carroll (1906-2002) would not recognize the profession he so revered—it feels like a vanished world. During the postwar decades, newspapers and news magazines flourished, with the quality of the reporting, though hardly flawless, rising above the wilder and looser standards of an earlier generation. Today more than two in five Americans say that they have little or no trust in the information they get from journalists. And even after years of broad and precipitous readership decline, the total weekday circulation of locally focused newspapers—print and digital—fell by 40% between 2015 and 2020, according to the Pew Research Center.

All the more reason to take notice of “Century’s Witness,” a biography of Carroll written by Mary Llewellyn McNeil, his onetime Wake Forest University student and a former editor and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Along with chronicling the glory of newspapering’s golden years, Ms. McNeil offers enthralling tales of entrepreneurial reporting and cautionary tales about the practice of journalism.

Carroll was old when he died (95) and old-fashioned in his prime. He was not, to be sure, merely a “five-W’s-and-an-H” journalist, the onetime formula for a news story that has fallen out of fashion so dramatically that readers need to be reminded that the term referred to who, what, where, when, why and how. At the New York Times and, later, the Winston-Salem Journal and Sentinel, he tried to explain the “why” of things with elegance and balance, giving what Ms. McNeil calls “extraordinary attention to detail” and displaying “an absolute commitment to accuracy, fairness, and finding out what was really going on.”

Even in middle age Carroll was something of an Old Testament sage, a philosopher of journalism. He warned against watering down journalism to appeal to a mass audience and worried that local newspapers might fail to keep a close enough, and skeptical enough, eye on elected officials. He also spoke with concern about what he called the “tyranny of objectivity,” arguing that the accuracy he prized should be pursued with a prudent sense of context, lest reporters end up serving as a mouthpiece for demagogues. It was Sen. Joseph McCarthy who prompted this particular concern. “The senator understood the deadly virtues of the American press much more clearly than we do ourselves,” Carroll wrote, exploiting “our rigid ‘objectivity’ in such a way as to make the newspapers his accomplices.”

Carroll may have been saintly, but he was not infallible. He was, by our lights and perhaps even his, too chummy with the people he covered—admittedly a difficult problem to manage given his prior relationships with such figures as Richard Helms (a deputy director at the CIA and later director) and Charles “Chip” Bohlen (a top Truman aide and later an important diplomat). Though an early admirer of Winston Churchill, he underestimated the war-making skills of Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery (he “had a rather narrow idea of what warfare was about”), the ability of the Soviet Union to resist the Nazi onslaught and the savagery of Joseph Stalin. And he overestimated the threat posed by Japanese-Americans during World War II, even posting a dispatch suggesting that fifth columnists had helped the Japanese plan the Pearl Harbor attack. In 1942-45, he zipped in and out of government service, taking positions at the U.S. Office of War Information.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Note: This book has a publication date of September 1, 2022. PG couldn’t get Look Inside to work prior to the release date (another dumb publisher who doesn’t understand how to promote a book online and get pre-orders stacked up for prominent display online).

History Is Always About Politics

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

In his recent essay in these pages on the vexed question of “presentism” in the discipline of history, David Bell offers a soothing alternative to the American Historical Association president James Sweet’s clumsy dismissal of “presentism” as a deviation from the true path of historical scholarship. But Bell misses the real problem we face in this moment of unprecedented attacks on the teaching of history, largely from the right. While we can all cite disturbing examples of students and faculty on the left seeking to censor what can be taught or even spoken, the concerted attack from the right — in the ultimate form of state laws prohibiting the teaching of so-called critical race theory, the 1619 Project, gender and sexuality, and other topics — are much more dangerous to academic freedom in general and to the practice of history in particular.

The problem that Sweet sidesteps with his invocation of presentism — and that Bell avoids by blandly suggesting that of course present questions inform historians’ engagement with the past — is the one of politics, where “politics” is understood as struggles for power, not always overt or acknowledged. For a long time, politics was the object of most history writing, but it was not considered a dimension of that writing. History was described as dispassionate, neutral, the antithesis of politics. There was nothing “political” about the writing of history itself.

That was the standard disciplinary orthodoxy, probably until the 1960s. Then the expansion of the university and its opening to previously excluded groups — women, African Americans, Jews — led to the critical examination of the processes by which exclusion had been accomplished in the first place, and consequently to an enlarged object for historical research.

Those of us who wrote feminist history asked not only where the women were in what had passed for conventional historiography, but how and why they had been excluded for so long. Those who took up the history of race asked similar questions. In the process, the writing of history itself became for many of us an object of critical investigation. The understanding of history as apolitical was challenged. Upon reading, for example, the presidential addresses of the AHA, it was now clear that there was a politics to history that the discipline needed to acknowledge.

This was not the politics of party — something like official Stalinist history, or the history that Gov. Ron DeSantis’s Florida curriculum seeks to impose, or the one that former President Donald J. Trump’s 1776 Commission hoped would replace 1619. It was not the glorification of the heroism of neglected martyrs (right or left). It was not the confirmation of identity as a natural fact of life. It was, instead, usually about an implicit operation of power (hegemonic belief systems, disciplinary orthodoxies) that appealed to difference to confirm its rule.

The study of previously neglected subjects required the study of the politics of history. And the study of the politics of history called into question the neutrality and dispassion the discipline had long endorsed. Sweet’s stance expresses anxiety about that questioning. Bell’s response tries to quell it. But Bell doesn’t acknowledge the necessarily political aspect of at least some critical historical work. Instead, for both men, the charge of “presentism” is a way of avoiding confrontation with the problem of the politics of history.

And it is a problem. Because the line between a politically engaged critical history and a dogmatic reading of the past is not easy to distinguish. It is made more difficult by the right’s conflation of criticism with dogmatism and by identitarian purists’ attacks on what they take to be distortions of their experiential truth. But it is a line worth attempting to draw. It would behoove those who consider themselves leaders of the profession of history to confront the problem of what counts as history’s politics head-on, in its historical, philosophical, and institutional dimensions. Unlike the “provocations” of Sweet and Bell, that would be a conversation worth having.

Link to the rest at The Chronicle of Higher Education

PG notes that the 1619 Project (or here if you hit a paywall) is a profoundly political publication.

He also suggests that “lived experience” is extraordinarily unique to every person and generalizing from a lived experience of one individual, regardless of their personal characteristics, to other individuals who share the same race, gender, class, etc., is simply another version of propaganda techniques that have been used for centuries to gather people together for a political end.

PG is a white male who was born in the USA. He guarantees that his lived experience differs substantially from the lived experience of every other white male he has met, whether inside or outside of his age range.

For example, PG can name every person who was in his grade in public school until he was twelve years old.

During that time, he learned from excellent teachers in a majority-minority school setting with classmates who were first-generation immigrants or the offspring of first-generation immigrants from both the Eastern and Western hemispheres and seldom spoke English at home.

In high school, PG was the Valedictorian in a class of 22. He and his high school girlfriend, the Salutatorian, were the only two members of that class to receive a college degree.

PG’s “lived experience” can’t be generalized to other white males or white persons or persons of color. He didn’t realize how profoundly different his lived experience was from the experiences of a great many other people until he began his freshman year at a selective university.

PG suggests that the practice of generalizing from an individual’s lived experience or claiming some special privileges or unique viewpoints because of a standardized racial “lived experience” is not an accurate way of describing the world and the people who live in it and certainly doesn’t increase an understanding of what other individuals have experienced or not experienced in their lives.

But, of course, PG could be wrong.

How the Sexual Revolution Has Hurt Women

From The Wall Street Journal:

Critics of free-market capitalism have observed that the pleasures of freedom are not equally available to all. As the economic historian and socialist R.H. Tawney wrote in 1931, “freedom for the pike is death for the minnows.” This is also true in the sexual marketplace, which was once strictly regulated but has now been made mostly free. In this case, however, the classes are not the workers and the bourgeoisie but, rather, men and women. More precisely, the group of people who have done particularly well from the free-marketization of sex are men high in the personality trait that psychologists call “sociosexuality”: the desire for sexual variety.

The standard questionnaire used by researchers to assess sociosexuality asks respondents how many different partners they have had sex with in the past 12 months, how many partners they have had sex with on only one occasion, and how often they have spontaneous fantasies about having sex with someone they just met, among other questions. Worldwide, there is a significant difference in average sociosexuality between the sexes, with men generally much keener to sow their wild oats than women are.

In a study of male and female sociosexuality across 48 countries published in the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences in 2005, psychologist David Schmitt and colleagues found large sex differences to be “a cultural universal,” regardless of a nation’s level of economic and social equality between the sexes.

This difference is explained by what evolutionary biologists term “parental investment theory.” Put simply, women can produce offspring at a maximum rate of about one pregnancy a year, whereas promiscuous men can theoretically produce offspring every time they orgasm. Although there are some limited circumstances in which multiple short-term mating might be advantageous for women—in conditions of danger and scarcity, for instance, in which sex might be exchanged for resources and protection—in general, natural selection has favored women who are choosy about their mates.

We see this play out in male and female sexual behavior. Men, on average, prefer to have more sex and with a larger number of partners, while the vast majority of women, if given the option, prefer a committed relationship to casual sex. Sex buyers are almost exclusively male, and men watch a lot more pornography than women do.

Men and women also differ dramatically in their baseline levels of sexual disgust, with women much more likely to be revolted by the prospect of someone they find unattractive. Disgust induces a physiological response that can be measured through heart and respiration rate, blood pressure and salivation, although the individual may not be aware of these indicators, and studies find that, on average, the sexual disgust threshold is much lower for women than it is for men.

Being groped in a crowd, or leered at while traveling alone, or propositioned a little too forcefully in a bar—all of these situations can provoke this horrible emotion. It is an emotion that women in the sex industry are forced to repress. In fact, as the prostitution survivor Rachel Moran has written, the ability not to cry or vomit in response to sexual fear and disgust is one of the essential “skills” demanded by the industry.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG hesitated before publishing this post due to its content and the potential for improper comments.

He hopes that anyone who comments will do so without any adolescent commentary or “all men are pigs” attitudes.

A long time ago when PG was practicing retail law, he was appointed to represent an underage girl who had been treated badly by her mother’s boyfriend and perhaps other adult men. That experience made a deep impression on PG and he doesn’t believe he ever declined a pro bono or low-fee case where he was asked to represent a mistreated woman thereafter.

For the record, PG doesn’t claim to wear or have worn a halo in his legal life, but some types of cases really push his buttons.

The Friend of Contingency

From the Sydney Review of Books:

The release of John Keane’s brief history took place between the Australian federal election, the war in Ukraine, and China’s ‘security’ agreement with the Solomon Islands. So, within a few weeks of its publication, The Shortest History of Democracy achieved dramatic salience. Not quite prepared for this new chapter, its tone addressed an earlier Zeitgeist, in which many were disengaged from democracy by Trumpian politics and EU in-fighting.

One of a series of ‘Shortest Histories’ from Black Inc, it follows the format of an amiably-written generalist’s book from a scholarly author – John Keane is professor of politics at Sydney University. At times it is admirably succinct. ‘Democracy heightens awareness of what is arguably the paramount political problem: how to prevent rule by the few, who act as if they are mighty immortals born to rule?’, he writes.

What Keane calls the problem of titanism – ‘rule by pretended giants’– threatens democracy even in peacetime. It’s hard to watch the populace in the Philippines vote in the son of a tyrant; or, in the Solomons, the four-times Prime Minister take his country close to tyranny to shore up his own hold on power.

Democracy has always had rival methods of distributing power. From monarchy and empire to tyranny and despotism, history in Keane’s account is a litany of successive political arrangements. None except democracy retain at heart a principle of egalitarian rule. He writes that ‘democracy is exceptional in requiring people to see that everything is built on the shifting sands of time and place, and so, in order not to give themselves over to monarchs, emperors and despots, they need to live openly and flexibly.’

Democracy, Keane tells us, is the friend of contingency. He provides in 240 pages an instructive taxonomy – from ‘assembly’ to ‘electoral’ and ‘monitory’ democracy, each arrangement a response to different contingency.

Keane writes eloquently of democracy’s beginnings. Early forms of assembly democracy, with public gatherings of citizens debating and deciding matters for themselves, appear first in Syria-Mesopotamia and move east to the Indian subcontinent and west to Phoenician cities. Democracy settles famously in Athens. There, assembly democracy allowed for a direct form of self-government, and citizens made an artform of speaking to the assembly, striving for a political consensus. But Athens, notably, didn’t enfranchise everyone. Women and slaves underpinned the freedom of Athenian citizens without sharing in it. And perhaps this foundational injustice led to the anti-democratic impulse that was Athens’ eventual undoing, according to Keane – the building of Empire. When the Macedonians finally defeated Athens in 260 BCE, they dismantled its democratic ideals and institutions, which had become fatally tainted by the lure of imperial wealth and its attendant militarisation of political life.

Democracy caught on in the Atlantic regions from the twelfth century, as a more ‘electoral’ form of democracy emerged. Church governance and early forms of parliament were seen from Spain to Iceland, instituting the choice of delegates from a constituency who were empowered to make decisions on its behalf. In each case, a solution short of violence was found for sorting different interests and for moderating power.

The electoral method of democracy differed from the assembly method by allowing for the adjustment of differences rather than the determination of consensus. In this lay a great virtue of democracy: the peaceful resolution of conflict while sustaining pluralism. For all the talk of ‘the People’, no such unified will existed in practice. Keane shows that, despite the rhetoric of the People’s sovereignty, the new strength of electoral democracy was in its capacity for finding vectors out of division through power-sharing.

It took until the twentieth century for the theory and practice of electoral democracy to mature and flourish, but after the Second World War it reached a high watermark in the governance of nations, as Keane outlines. There was an explicit belief in the possibility that the democratic form of government, taken as a global precept, could protect the world from the catastrophe of war in an age of weapons of mass destruction.

Ukraine, a modern European democracy, was invaded by its imperialist autocratic neighbour in February this year. It came as a dramatic existential shock to the globalised West, even as Putin had massed troops on the border for months, and even in the wake of earlier aggression like the annexing of Crimea and the fighting in Donbas.

In Europe, the horrible face of war had been shrouded for eighty years. Despite hiding in plain sight, shown nightly on television ­– ‘and a warning this footage contains images of war’; in no particular order, Chechnya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Georgia, Syria – it took the conflict in Ukraine for Europe to look its ravaged visage in the eye. People one day sitting in cafes drinking coffee, their children playing on swings in playgrounds, their ageing parents sitting in apartment lounge rooms with the TV on. The next, huge holes blown in those apartments, tearing the windows out, exposing the décor like so many dolls’ houses. Playgrounds dismembered by exploded shells now lying on the ground beside the play equipment.

People shown wearing familiar brand names on their sweatshirts or on their backpacks, in puffer jackets, scrambling onto trains and buses, clasping shopping bags and wheelie suitcases of what possessions they could grab as they run from their homes. Running for their lives. Or worse, unable to leave, stranded in basement bomb shelters and underground railway stations without food and water and power, let alone clean clothes, hot showers, fresh air and creature comforts.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was a forcible reminder that the long years of peace following the world wars were not a global default position. There is no ‘end of history’, despite Francis Fukuyama and other political theorists who trumpeted a tale of ‘how the West won’ in the wake of the Cold War.

. . . .

Scepticism and cynicism about democracy arise from the evil of centralised and despotic power to the other extreme, the scattering of political will in exaggerated diversity, he argues. In defence of monitory democracy, against the ‘morbid critics’ of democracy no less than the cynical promoters of ‘phantom democracy’, Keane recommends it as the form of government devised for the safeguarding of contingency.

. . . .

Keane reflects on a despondency and loss of faith in democracy, especially by younger people and especially in India and South America, as shown in several global studies. He points to the development of an unhealthy ‘managed democracy’ in many places, where corporate industry interests seize control of government with the help of commercial media and demobilise and shepherd the citizenry.

It is obvious to Keane that democracy, at least in the West, has been disfigured by the triumphant power of business, banking and conservative neo-liberal policy. He writes: ‘State policies of “saving capitalism“ have weakened trade unions, promoted deregulation of public services and spread the culture of consumption fuelled by private credit and the belief in the sanctity of the unobliged individual.’

His critique goes further, toward what he warns is a ‘new despotism’. Monitory democracies are facing a new global competitor: the regimes in Russia, Turkey, Hungary, the United Arab Emirates, Iran and China ‘with top-down political architecture and the capacity to win the loyalty of their subjects using methods unlike anything known to the earlier modern world.’

Link to the rest at the Sydney Review of Books

PG didn’t include parts of the review that objected to capitalism and glorified trade unions, many of which, at least in the United States, are more than a little corrupt and as deeply entrenched in their business niche as any corrupts capitalist.

The Divorce Colony

From The Wall Street Journal:

In 1867, the Dakota Territory’s legislature reduced its requirement for legal residency to 90 days, an acknowledgment of the peripatetic nature of life on the American frontier. While the three-month rule granted eligible settlers the right to vote and other privileges, it also had an unintended consequence: Women began traveling west to take advantage of what was, at the time, the quickest path to a legal divorce.

April White tells the tale in “The Divorce Colony,” an entertaining and edifying account of the divorce industry that emerged in Sioux Falls, S.D. Sioux Falls became the go-to destination for those looking to escape a marriage—it was easily accessible by train and boasted an upscale hotel, the Cataract House, that was palatable to the East Coast elites who could afford to wait in luxury.

While some men traveled to Sioux Falls to dissolve their marriages, Ms. White reports that in the second half of the 19th century, nearly two out of three divorce-seekers were women. In addition to outnumbering the men, the women attracted much fiercer interest. As the author observes, “a man who expected his freedom was not as outlandish as a woman who demanded hers.”

Accordingly, along with dozens of law firms and various shops and restaurants catering to the city’s new high-end female clientele, the divorce industry supported a steady stream of newspaper correspondents. They hung around the Cataract hoping to break the news of the latest high-society wife to decamp to Sioux Falls from, say, New York, where the only path to divorce was proof of adultery, or Rhode Island, which required a full year of residency in order to petition to end a marriage.

Ms. White, a writer and editor at online travel magazine Atlas Obscura, benefits from the period’s fascination with the would-be divorcees, quoting liberally from lurid tabloid reports of their travails. She acknowledges that most of the Dakota divorces were quiet, mutual proceedings, but her book ends up being skewed toward the salacious cases. While they might not be representative, they surely make for more enjoyable reading.

The narrative is divided into four parts, each focused on a woman whose divorce featured prominently in the headlines at the turn of the 20th century. Maggie De Stuers, a descendant of John Jacob Astor, married a Dutch baron low on funds. She accused him of attempting to have her institutionalized so he could gain control of her fortune.

Mary Nevins eloped at 19 with Jamie Blaine, the dissolute 17-year-old son of the former senator and secretary of state, James G. Blaine. Her mother-in-law opposed the match, practically locking Jamie in the family home to keep the two apart. Mary arrived in Sioux Falls, charging her husband with abandonment. When the judge granted her divorce, he declared that Jamie’s family was to blame—“especially his mother.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Calculating Women

From The Wall Street Journal:

Early in 1946, the U.S. Army was ready to make a big announcement: Scientists had created the “world’s first general-purpose, programmable, all-electronic computer . . . at least a thousand times faster than any other computer on Earth,” the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, or ENIAC.

Its development—how it was built, troubleshot, programmed, checked again—involved years of careful work by mathematicians, physicists and engineers. And its eventual ability to perform faster calculations than anyone had ever dreamt of—“5,000 additions in a second and 500 multiplications in the same second, not to mention lightning-fast divisions and square roots”—owed a surprising debt to a cohort of young women who started the war punching numbers into mechanical calculators to figure out ballistic artillery trajectories.

Their story was all but lost. When Kathy Kleiman was a Harvard undergraduate in the mid-1980s, researching women’s role in the history of computing, she ran across a puzzling photograph—it showed enormous metal machines tethered by cables and adorned with switches and plugs, the famous ENIAC. Two of the men in the photo, its co-inventors, were named, but the women in the room weren’t. She determined to find out more. In “Proving Ground,” her history of the young women who became the ENIAC 6, Ms. Kleiman pulls together a worthwhile record of their work.

The cast of characters could have come from one of those diverse rosters beloved of war movies: Kay McNulty, the Donegal-born math major whose first language was Irish; her quiet classmate Fran Bilas, one of the smartest girls at Chestnut Hill; the lively and imaginative Betty Snyder, who foreshadowed her problem-solving ability by fact-checking lipstick-sales statistics; Marlyn Wescoff, discouraged from looking for teaching jobs because of anti-Semitism; Ruth Lichterman, who turned down a job at Jewish summer camp to take the computing job; and Jean Jennings of Missouri, who could hoe corn as well as her brothers and was so good at math that her professors thought of her when the Army job notice came around.

By summer 1942, the Army was “looking for women math majors” for specialized jobs that would previously have been men’s. In Philadelphia, they were hiring Computers—the human sort—to calculate all sorts of variables that affect trajectory, from wind direction and humidity to shell weight. Kay and Fran joined early, and the others came later, working long hours to identify and synthesize pertinent information. (For example, calculations for the North African desert take into account that the ground is softer than in France, so recoil changes, and the air is drier and less dense.)

On the first floor of the same building, at the Moore School of Electrical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania, “Project X” got underway. The time it took to calculate trajectories was still so great it might affect military readiness. John Mauchly, Herman Goldstine and J. Presper Eckert Jr.—a physicist, a mathematician and an engineer—began to work together on a project using vacuum tubes and electricity, developing what eventually became the hardware of the 80-foot ENIAC. It was to work at “the speed of electrons, not the turtle’s pace of electromechanical switches,” and they put it all together almost as quickly.

Still needed, though, were people to give the device its instructions: programmers. The women in the ballistics project combined intelligence with diligence and imagination and were already familiar with the problems ENIAC would have to solve. So the project leaders brought the six women into Project X—partway. They didn’t have clearances even to enter the ENIAC room, so they were given plans to study, diagrams showing what went where and did what. The ENIAC 6 divided up the homework and taught each other what they figured out. If they had questions, they buttonholed their male colleagues in the hall.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

A history of jazz’s relationship with organised crime

From The Economist:

“Strange fruit,” writes T.J. English, is “the seminal jazz song.” This haunting ballad, written by a Jewish high schoolteacher, Abel Meeropol, in 1937 and burned into the collective cultural memory by Billie Holiday two years later, portrays the crime of lynching as central to the brutal history of the United States. “It is generally agreed that jazz as a new musical art form began to take shape in the early years of the 20th century. It is not generally commented upon that jazz, in its origins, was a response to the horror and reality of lynching in America.”

Mr English makes the persuasive argument that the birth of jazz, rooted in the African-American experience, was “nothing less than an attempt to achieve salvation through the tonal reordering of time and space.” But jazz could not scrub off the stain of violence. “Dangerous Rhythms” is not a book about music as an art form; it is instead a nuanced account of how, in the 60 or so years between the introduction of Prohibition and the enforcement of the rico Act—which brought the mafia to its knees in the 1980s—the development of jazz was facilitated by some of the most notorious criminals of the 20th century.

Music brought business to the mobsters’ speakeasies. The most renowned names in jazz history, including Count Basie and Duke Ellington, are linked with the names of the gangsters who fostered their careers. Louis Armstrong got his start in the seedy clubs of Louisiana: “One thing I always admired about those bad men when I was a youngster in New Orleans is that they all liked good music,” he said.

The criminal underworld was a male-dominated place, yet some female performers learned to navigate it. Mary Lou Williams, a pianist and composer, was managed by Joe Glaser (who also represented Holiday and Armstrong); Glaser had helped run Al Capone’s prostitution scheme in Chicago. Williams was under no illusions when it came to the jazz scene in the 1930s: “Everyone was like a hoodlum.”

Mr English—a journalist and author who has written several books on gangs in America and Cuba—chronicles the privileges of white supremacy. Black artists found protection where they could in a society built on injustice. The second half of the book turns to the career of Frank Sinatra. His ties with organised crime are hardly a secret, but Mr English lays out those brazen connections with clarity.

Link to the rest at The Economist

‘Straits’ Review: Magellan Maligned

From The Wall Street Journal:

If you ask most people to name the first person to circumnavigate the globe, they will likely answer Ferdinand Magellan, the Portuguese mariner who sailed on behalf of Spain in 1519. But Magellan never even attempted the feat, and he didn’t live to see it accomplished by members of his crew. As we approach the 500th anniversary of their achievement next month, Felipe Fernández-Armesto, a professor of history at the University of Notre Dame and author of contrarian works such as “1492,” “Amerigo” and “The Spanish Armada,” takes exception to the “tradition of hero worship” that persists around Magellan. In “Straits: Beyond the Myth of Magellan,” he launches his broadside.

Magellan was born to an aristocratic family around 1480 on Portugal’s rocky coast. As a boy, he served as a page in the court of Manuel I in Lisbon, where he absorbed the chivalric ethos of the times and prepared for a military career. Starting in 1505, he joined campaigns to India and Africa, as Portugal claimed a share of the fantastically lucrative spice trade.

After falling out with King Manuel, Magellan defected to Portugal’s archrival, Spain, and in 1519 launched his celebrated voyage, destined for the fabled Spice Islands in present-day Indonesia. Because the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas had divided the world into two zones of influence, with Portugal claiming everything east of a line drawn in the Atlantic Ocean and Spain everything to the west, Magellan would approach Asia via the Americas.

On Sept. 20, 1519, the fleet left Spain with five ships, some 240 men and boys, provisions for two years and a stock of trade goods. From the start, as Mr. Fernández-Armesto relates, the company was rent by tension between its Spanish and Portuguese members, and a power struggle between their captain and his second in command, the Spaniard Juan de Cartagena. After a stormy two-month crossing, the flotilla sighted Brazil and veered southward, probing for a rumored strait through the continent.

In April 1520, Magellan ordered winter quarters in the harbor of San Julián, in eastern Patagonia. Faced with months of freezing weather and dwindling rations, a faction of Spanish officers mutinied, demanding to return home. Magellan quashed the uprising with characteristic decisiveness and brutality, killing a pair of the offenders, torturing others and marooning two, including Cartagena, on a deserted island. Also that dismal winter, one ship, the Santiago, was lost when it ran aground in a storm.

In August, with the approach of spring, the expedition continued to reconnoiter the forbidding coast. Nearing the tip of the continent, they finally discovered the channel that today bears Magellan’s name. But to negotiate its 350 miles of treacherous shoals and devilish currents required more than a month, not to mention fortitude, superb seamanship and outright luck. For commercial utility it would never rival the routes already established by the Portuguese.

While still in the strait, another band of mutineers seized the armada’s largest ship, the San Antonio, and bolted for Spain, carrying essential provisions as well as reports of their captain’s cruelty and recklessness. The three remaining vessels entered the Pacific, which Magellan named for its initially gentle seas, then caught the trade winds and rocketed westward. “But,” Mr. Fernández-Armesto writes, “the benignity of the weather was like a villain’s smile,” luring the fleet into an ocean immense beyond their comprehension. Over nearly four months, as their numbers declined from starvation and scurvy, the men sailed for more than 7,000 excruciating miles without landfall until, on March 6, 1521, they spied the islands of Rota and Guam, in the Marianas. When some islanders made off with a skiff and other goods, Magellan retaliated mercilessly, killing several villagers and burning scores of houses and boats.

Later that month, the fleet reached the Philippines, which Mr. Fernández-Armesto, in one of the many contrarian arguments he makes throughout the book, suggests was Magellan’s secret destination all along. The strangers were well received on the island of Cebu, but imposing himself in a conflict between rival chiefs, Magellan made an ill-advised attack on neighboring Mactan, where he and several of his men were slain in battle on April 27, 1521.

Although it seems to run counter to the fierce determination that Magellan had shown throughout the expedition, Mr. Fernández-Armesto believes that the captain, preferring to die a hero rather than return a failure, “crafted his death to suit a narrative he composed in his own mind before the event, imagining a knightly consummation in a battle sanctified by crusading ideals.”

Taking stock of their situation, the survivors scuttled the Concepción for lack of crew and, under the command of the Spaniard Juan Sebastián Elcano, steered their remaining two vessels to the Moluccas, where they loaded the hulls with precious spices. The Trinidad was captured by the Portuguese, whose zone of influence the expedition had violated, but the battered Victoria navigated the treacherous waters around the tip of Africa and arrived in Spain on Sept. 6, 1522, with 18 of the 240 souls who had sailed three years before.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Freud Explains Cancel Culture

From The Wall Street Journal:

There sure is a lot of moralism going around. Censorship, condemnation, excommunication, demands for apologies. There are even spontaneous chants of “Shame! Shame! Shame!” directed at the villain of the moment. I recently saw an ad for a psychology workshop that argued outright that people from “privileged” groups should “hurt” and “feel shame.” People are guilt-tripped for using disposable straws, liking a canceled song or speaking “ableist” words.

How did we descend from the libertine culture of the 1960s—“if it feels good, do it”—into a pit of endless shame?

Ask Sigmund Freud. He divided the psyche into three parts: the id (unconscious drives), the ego (the conscious self) and the superego (the site of moral ideals, inhibitions and shame). Freud saw mental health as the result of balance—being aware of feelings as they come and go, but not letting any one part of the psyche become too dominant.

A large amount of mental illness is attributed to an overactive superego. Cycles of harsh self-criticism can induce depression or push people toward drugs or alcohol. Inhibitions around things like cleanliness or public speaking can underlie anxiety disorders. Rigid prohibitions can contribute to sexual dysfunctions and eating disorders. Judgments, righteous anger and control can lead to interpersonal problems.

Some psychoanalysts argue that the superego, in its purest form, is linked to a “death drive,” which seeks to regulate all thoughts and feelings down to zero. This is the suffocating aspect of Nurse Ratched in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Fully internalized, it’s the logic of suicide.

The superego isn’t always ethical. Someone could feel intense shame for having something stuck in his teeth during a date and no guilt at all about cheating on his taxes. The superego is often irrational, though its pronouncements can feel as if they come from on high.

. . . .

How does all this fit into the transformation of the 1960s counterculture? In the 1960s, many figures on the left tried to abolish the superego (some consciously, others less deliberately), and this goal seeped into the entire counterculture. It wasn’t only the overthrow of “the patriarchy,” an anti-father ethos, or the shifting of sexual mores, but a deeper attempt to overthrow rules and gratify desire.

Obviously it didn’t work. Selfish desires are too destructive. Children need discipline; societies need laws. New rules emerged—rules that were somehow still opposed to the old rules but attempted to perform the same functions. The result is a patchwork morality that’s harsh in some places, absent in others and ultimately incoherent. If excessive sexuality is causing trauma and exploitation, rather than curtailing sexuality, activists demonize masculinity, deny the differences between the sexes, and eliminate due process.

Hypermorality is now everywhere. “Implicit bias” training attempts to purify the unconscious of forbidden thoughts. There are the extreme inhibitions of safety culture and the use of ostracization to target heretics. Then, there are grandiose moral ideals. Zero carbon. Zero gun crime. Zero pedestrian deaths. Zero tolerance.

There’s also the misattunement of moralization. Criminals get compassion while police are vilified. There’s sometimes more judgment of people who don’t wear a mask than of people who rob stores. Insults directed at white people or men are seen as the epitome of justice and wisdom, while even unconscious bias against other groups is seen as unforgivable.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

The Illusionist Brain

From The Wall Street Journal:

Psychological science and stage magic are the best of frenemies. Both scientists and magicians attempt, for instance, to uncover the workings of the human mind, albeit toward different ends. The former seek to share their methods and results widely, for applications in medicine, education or management, or for the sheer sake of knowledge. The latter mean to deceive and entertain, while keeping their methods proprietary; replication is very much not the point. The two fields also differ in their standards of success. In science, statistical patterns count as discovery. On the stage, a single slipup spells disaster.

In “The Illusionist Brain: The Neuroscience of Magic,” Jordi Camí and Luis Martínez elucidate the ways the two disciplines can illuminate each other. The book adds to the steady stream of academic articles and popular-science books published in the past 15 years—among them Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde’s “Sleights of Mind” (2010) and Gustav Kuhn’s “Experiencing the Impossible” (2019)—that explain how tricks fool us. Dr. Camí, a professor of pharmacology and a member of the Spanish Society of Illusionism, and Mr. Martínez, a neuroscientist, offer an accessible introduction, spending the first third of their book laying the groundwork for how the brain operates, before delving into the mechanics of magic.

One central message is that the brain has limitations, leading to apparent flaws in perception, attention and memory. For example, each retina has a blind spot where it attaches to the optic nerve. According to Dr. Camí and Mr. Martínez, “this is a point where we should not see anything, but we do not even realize that the blind spot exists because the brain fills that gap.” Ultimately, the authors write, “our brains are in charge of building reality.”

. . . .

In . . . a classic study of “memory reconsolidation”—participants are asked to assess the speed at which two cars either “hit” or “smashed” into each other; when asked later whether they had seen any broken glass as a result of the accident, those in the higher-velocity “smashed” group were more likely to falsely recall seeing shards of glass at the scene.

As the authors move from such laboratory fare to magical illusions, however, they rarely reveal all. They suggest ways in which an illusionist might direct our attention away from the pocketing of an object or talk us into recalling an action that never actually happened, but the book is light on concrete walk-throughs. Maybe the authors intended to remain abstract to protect the secrets of the trade. The most satisfying demonstration is a video they point to—viewable online—that annotates the beats of a magic trick using the labels “divided attention,” “attention capture,” “active deviation of attention,” “neutral maneuver,” “physical concealment,” “amodal completion” and “speed.”

What’s amazing is how stubborn the brain is in its fallibility. There’s the phenomenon called “choice blindness,” in which people are easily tricked into justifying a decision they never made. There’s also “choice blindness blindness,” in which people exhibit the phenomenon of choice blindness and then deny their susceptibility when it is explained to them.

While the book focuses on how magicians undercut our smarts, it also touches on the muddier terrain of why we enjoy such brazen humbling. The authors don’t explore this ground fully, noting little more than magic’s inducement of wonder. I suspect it’s a combination of a few factors. First, it highlights human errancy in a nonthreatening way. (The psychologist Peter McGraw has described humor as resulting from “benign violations” of how we believe the world ought to be.) Second, it displays a performer’s ingenuity or dexterity at exploiting such mental bugs. Many also see magic as presenting tantalizing puzzles, but some audiences don’t want a solution. As the magician Teller once told me, “it’s the joy of being defeated by art.” Sometimes, there’s also an engaging narrative, although acts rarely tap into deep emotions like sorrow or anger, denying magic the reach of music or film.

. . . .

In fact, magic and science pair best at the educational level, with science explaining to nonmagicians how magic works, and magic demonstrating scientific ideas to nonscientists. Still, the authors suggest some scientific questions about magic, probing the neural correlates as one witnesses the “impossible,” exploring the characteristics of those who dislike magic or studying the possibility of using artificial intelligence to invent tricks. The latter would be a feat. Using AI simply to predict human reactions to elaborate acts would be a grand challenge, requiring common-sense reasoning and perhaps emotional processing.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

30-year-old retiree earned $97,000 in passive income from Amazon last year: Here’s how she got started

From CNBC:

In 2017, by age 24, Rachel Richards had already worked as a financial advisor and then as a financial analyst at a manufacturing firm. After picking up her license, she began working as a Realtor. No matter what kind of work she was doing, one thing remained constant: People in her life were constantly looking to her for help with their finances.

“I began to wonder, ‘Why aren’t they learning on their own? Why aren’t they reading books, or listening to podcasts or looking on websites?’” says Richards, now 30.

Then it dawned on her: Most of the financial books she’d come across were boring and esoteric, bordering on intimidating. And few were targeted toward young women. “So I thought to myself, ‘How can I make this topic sassy and fun and simple?’”

Richards began writing her first book, “Money Honey” in January 2017 and self-published on Amazon that September. By just about any measure, it was a massive success. In its first month, the book brought in $600. The next month it brought in $1,000. “After that, it was pulling in $1,500 a month pretty consistently,” she says.

. . . .

The robust income she earned from publishing didn’t hurt. All told, through the end of July 2022, Richards has sold about 25,000 copies each of “Money Honey” and her second self-published book, “Passive Income, Aggressive Retirement,” a 2019 release which details her strategies for early retirement.

In 2021, royalties from the two titles netted Richards more than $97,000 in profit. Here’s how she did it.

She self-published online

Richards, like many aspiring authors, dreamed of seeing her name in print through the window of her local bookstore. She also hoped that with a traditional book deal, the publisher would handle the labor-intensive task of promoting the book. That turned out not to be the case.

“The more I asked authors about their experience, the more I learned that publishers expect you to do 99% of the marketing and promotion,” Richards says. “If you’re an author with no platform, they’re not going to send you out on a national book tour.”

Once she learned she’d have to flog the book herself no matter what, Richards was far less inclined to give a publisher a big chunk of her royalties. “When you get a book deal, you earn a 10% to 15% royalty. When you publish on Amazon, you earn a 35% to 70% royalty.” (Royalty structures vary between different formats, such as e-books and paperbacks, and factor in costs such as shipping and tax.)

She also says that self-publishing guarantees creative control, even if it comes at a cost. Thinking her book wouldn’t sell and hoping to limit her losses, Richards spent just $561 to hire an editor and a cover designer for “Money Honey.” She says a more “realistic” minimum budget is at least $2,000 and ideally would include an interior formatter as well. She spent $3,500 putting together her second book.

Link to the rest at CNBC

The Wedding Present

From The Atlantic:

During my very first term of high school, I failed elementary algebra, and as a consequence was doomed to study German. It was 1942, when the war was well under way—the Second World War, for my generation always “the” war, despite all that came after. Mine was a traditional school that claimed old-fashioned standards; today they might be regarded as archaic. Four years of Latin were required, and a choice between French and German. There seemed no need for Spanish; Cervantes notwithstanding, it gave off a faint hint of infra dig, of roiling Central and South American populations at a time when these were remote.

Together with nearly everyone else, I had opted for French. German, especially for a Jewish student in 1942, was a sinister tongue contaminated by its criminal speakers, repellent in its very substance. The massive murders of European Jews were already in progress when, in that same year, the infamous 90-minute Wannsee Conference systematized and codified the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question,” a concealing German euphemism among others equally flagrant. The term deportation invokes a kind of authoritarian dignity—Napoleon on Elba, say—papering over the terror of outright savagery in the abduction of millions of defenseless Jews torn from their homes. Was I to be condemned to the penalty of learning German solely for the sin of flunking algebra?

Still, the German teacher—Frau Doktor Eva Lange, Ph.D., whose doctorate was in linguistics—was contractually in place, and also the German department and its four-semester curriculum. And so the obligatory German class was filled—for the most part with flunkees from Latin, but no others (that I was aware of) from elementary algebra. A number were the children of post–World War I German immigrants who heard German at home but could neither speak nor read it. For these, the language carried no explicit threat or horror: Theirs was a pursuit of nostalgic family retrieval.

Our teacher was middle-aged and graying and German-born. She might have passed for one of the Jewish refugees who had lately escaped Hitler’s genocidal reach and were beginning to settle in parts of New York. Their children, mostly native to Berlin and Vienna and Antwerp and Paris, were being pressed by the speech department to erase their accents, while in our class, in that very hour, Doktor Lange was urging the perfection of our German. The ubiquitous ch was particularly difficult for American tongues. It was this offensive consonant, placed somewhere between phlegm and a sibilant, that was mocked in anti-Nazi wartime movies. Under Doktor Lange’s tutelage it, and also the umlaut, had a place of honor. She hoped to lure us into the sonorities and ingenuities of the language. She surprised us by teaching the dazzling phonetic morphings of the “High German consonant shift.”

. . . .

By the end of the war, in 1945, more was emerging from that history. In the movie houses, between the feature and the cartoon, a film of a British bulldozer pushing gargantuan heaps of twisted corpses was shown again and again. Studies recording scores of witnessed atrocities began to proliferate. The term Holocaust had yet to take hold, and when it did, it filled a void: War implied combat by two or more armed forces. The Jews of Europe were neither combatants nor enemies. They were, or had been, fellow citizens.

Yet few of these burgeoning disclosures had fully entered public awareness; nearly two decades passed before the meaning of Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, and all the others became rooted in popular discourse. My high-school years, from 1942 until Germany’s defeat, were mainly untouched. During the summer break, groups of classmates—those not vacationing or working as camp counselors—met to write patriotic letters to American soldiers. Food rationing was imposed, but no one went hungry. The lack of nylon stockings was lamented. Young men were drafted by the thousands.

. . . .

At commencement I won the German Prize. It was a 19th-century history of German painting, a lavish art book, the colors brilliantly true, printed on exquisite linen paper. As I later learned, there was no graduate German Prize; there never had been. Doktor Lange had paid for this treasure out of her own pocket.

. . . .

Germany was in collapse, its bombed-out cities in ruins, its people dazed and demoralized. Berlin, where swastika banners had lately hung in their hundreds, was cut in two, half parceled out to the victorious Soviets. Hitler had promised conquest and Lebensraum; instead, Aryan zeal was muzzled, Aryan belief bludgeoned. And meanwhile I was steeped in Goethe, Lessing, and Schiller.

It was then that my correspondence with Karl Gustav Specht began. Precisely how it happened I can no longer recall, but I surmise that it came about through one of those postwar exchanges, Americans writing to their foreign counterparts, who replied in their own language. Each would enrich the other’s skills. Each knew nothing about the other. But at the very start, Karl Gustav Specht told me that he was a soldier who had been at the Eastern Front. A soldier? This meant the Wehrmacht, the so-called regular army, soon to be exposed as a force as fully implicated in overt criminality as the SS itself. The Eastern Front? This meant Stalingrad, the battle that devastated and routed the German military—fatally short of supplies, its straggling troops unfed and shoeless and dying in the Russian cold, more than 700,000 killed, wounded, or captured. (Supply trains elsewhere were at the same time industriously moving their human cargoes.) On May 7, 1945, the Germans officially surrendered to the Allies, and on May 9 to the Soviet Union.

To Karl Gustav Specht’s introductory greeting, I wrote back politely. Beyond this one biographical datum—his presence at the Eastern Front—nothing else of his experience appeared in his letter. Nor did I pursue more. My own circumstances spoke for themselves: I was an American student with a literary bent who was attracted to foreign languages. I was also attracted to Karl Gustav Specht’s voice, impressively bookish and high-minded. If I stripped him of his recent history, I might think of him as kind and enlightened. An idealist. A humanist. But he had no irony, or avoided it, and his tone, even when it carried a smile, was clear of humor. He was above all earnest. And it was plain that he delighted in our exchanges; so did I.

Looking back at a distance of decades, it seems perverse—even lunatic—that a young Jewish woman in New York was corresponding, in a friendly way, with a soldier loyal to his national duty, a German who had only a short time before served at the Eastern Front, who belonged to the nation that had conceived and carried out the Decree Against Folk Pests. Of which I was one. And still I knew nothing: not his age, nothing of his family, no inkling of his inward thought. Of his outward thought I learned much: art, philosophy, Roman history, his mastery of languages, English and French and Greek and Latin. We had the Aeneid in common; we could speak feelingly of infelix Dido on her pyre. At the center of it all was an unnamed silence.

But once, only once, he had written, “Ich hasse keine Rasse.” “I hate no race.” It was a sentence that was left floating like a wayward mote in the middle of a vacuum.

In june of 1945, one month after Germany’s surrender, my brother graduated from dental school, and was instantly sent, as a second lieutenant, to Camp Grant, in Rockford, Illinois, to join an Army medical unit. He was 22, and was assigned to housing for unmarried officers. Abutting Camp Grant, some distance away, was Camp Hampshire, where German prisoners of war were interned. Camps like this were scattered all over the Midwest, partly to keep the prisoners away from the bigger cities, and also to supply farm and factory labor at a time when such workers were scarce. The Germans were paid wages identical to those of the Americans. They ate identical meals, and feasted on whatever they wished from an abundantly stocked camp canteen. There were manifold entertainments—movies, some in German, supplied by public libraries, and performances the prisoners organized for themselves. They were permitted, on their honor, to frequent restaurants in the center of town, where Jim Crow routinely turned away the Black American soldiers of Camp Grant. German friendships with the local population were mushrooming. Following their release and repatriation, several thousand former prisoners returned to become American citizens. Intermarriages abounded.

On a blizzardy midwinter night, when a pelting of sleet was blinding and ice smothered trees and roads and footpaths, my brother received an apologetic telephone call from Camp Hampshire: It was an emergency. The alternate dentist who was to have been on duty was not to be found; it was not my brother’s turn, but would he come immediately? A German officer, an Oberstleutnant, was in howling agony. Half his face was swollen, a throbbing molar was festering, the pain was unbearable.

My brother was shaken: He had pledged to serve and succor and heal and repair and renew. But here, unexpectedly, was a Nazi soldier, a lieutenant colonel no less, one who had commanded obedience, and was himself obliged to obey—to do what? What was the nature of his complicity? Had he ordered the ditches to be dug, and the naked women with their little ones lined up on the brink to be shot and tumble in?

A below-zero blast stung my brother’s eyes, and the dental offices were a long and miserable trek away. A suffering man was waiting for him, a man dedicated to the credo that a Jew was a Folk Pest, no different from vermin. Zyklon B, a common pesticide, the gas used in the death camps, was manufactured by the German firm IG Farben, a conglomerate that included Bayer, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies. Although Bayer lost the trademark in 1918, its name was still commonly used for aspirin, a popular remedy for toothache.

Were these brutal associations in my brother’s thoughts? I cannot say, but he knew what he must do.

He followed his skills and their urgencies. He injected the anesthesia. He spoke to the patient as he would speak to any patient, reassuring, explaining the procedure to come. He wrote prescriptions for post-care medication. When all of these ameliorations were completed, and the unendurable pain was relieved, the German broke into shamelessly grateful sobs.

And then my brother did what he had known he must do. He exacted his punishment.

Ich bin Jude,” he said.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic