6 Ways to Write Better Interview Questions

From The Write Practice:

Interviews are far more than a tool for a hiring process. For writers, interviews produce ideas, voice, and more. But in an interview, you want to have a conversation, not an interrogation. A good interviewer makes their interviewee comfortable.

Going back to your list of interview questions all the time can rattle the person you’re interviewing. Your interview shouldn’t be something the person could have answered via email. The questions should prompt a conversation that extends beyond the prepared questions.

So how do you get your interviewee comfortable? How do you prep questions that prompt conversations?

I love this story from Porter Anderson:

I interviewed Cokie Roberts (the Emmy-winning journalist) once for a magazine. I asked her about all the needlepoint she had in her office. She grabbed a piece she was working on, a duck, and worked on it as we chatted. We found out her favorite vacation spot wasn’t far from my home sea island off the South Carolina coast.

Your ability to be present, to keep your nose out of your notebook, will make your interviews shine with life.

To be more present, I always write out about a dozen questions before going into a face-to-face or phone interview. President Eisenhower said, “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

Your questions are your battle plans. You might not use all of them, but they prepare your mind for the task ahead and set you up for a more effective conversation.

. . . .

1. Ask about the person’s actions.

“It depends on the person, but usually I ask them about their specific habits and practices,” says Jeff Goins. “I’m less interested in what they would write in a book and more interested in how they try to apply the ideals they write or speak about.”

Jeff is trying to get under a person’s rhetoric to see the routines they’ve cultivated to be successful. If you can get people to describe their actions rather than their beliefs about themselves, you’ll see a clearer picture of them, one unmarred by slogans.

2. Ask “forward” questions.

“Never ask, ‘What keeps you up at night?’ Ask ‘What’s going to keep you up tonight after this interview?’” says Porter.

“The past, unless your interviewee is relatively unknown, is research-able. Keep in mind that as much as we all may like our laurels, resting on them is never as interesting as diving off them into a new pool. The reminiscence interview is never as cool as it sounds.”

“The ‘What’s the best part of the next thing you’re doing?’ question will engage your subject’s current, forward-looking energy. You get a more excited interviewee, who wants to tell you what she or he is into.”

Asking about a future position or prospect lets your interviewee know you’re interested in more than what they’ve accomplished in the past.

Link to the rest at The Write Practice

The Stanford Guide to Acceptable Words

From The Wall Street Journal:

Parodists have it rough these days, since so much of modern life and culture resembles the Babylon Bee. The latest evidence is that Stanford University administrators in May published an index of forbidden words to be eliminated from the school’s websites and computer code, and provided inclusive replacements to help re-educate the benighted.

Call yourself an “American”? Please don’t. Better to say “U.S. citizen,” per the bias hunters, lest you slight the rest of the Americas. “Immigrant” is also out, with “person who has immigrated” as the approved alternative. It’s the iron law of academic writing: Why use one word when four will do?

You can’t “master” your subject at Stanford any longer; in case you hadn’t heard, the school instructs that “historically, masters enslaved people.” And don’t dare design a “blind study,” which “unintentionally perpetuates that disability is somehow abnormal or negative, furthering an ableist culture.” Blind studies are good and useful, but never mind; “masked study” is to be preferred. Follow the science.

“Gangbusters” is banned because the index says it “invokes the notion of police action against ‘gangs’ in a positive light, which may have racial undertones.” Not to beat a dead horse (a phrase that the index says “normalizes violence against animals”), but you used to have to get a graduate degree in the humanities to write something that stupid.

The Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative is a “multi-phase” project of Stanford’s IT leaders. The list took “18 months of collaboration with stakeholder groups” to produce, the university tells us. We can’t imagine what’s next, except that it will surely involve more make-work for more administrators, whose proliferation has driven much of the rise in college tuition and student debt. For 16,937 students, Stanford lists 2,288 faculty and 15,750 administrative staff.

The list was prefaced with (to use another forbidden word) a trigger warning: “This website contains language that is offensive or harmful. Please engage with this website at your own pace.”

Evidently it was all too much for some at the school to handle. On Monday, after the index came to light on social media, Stanford hid it from public view. Without a password, you wouldn’t know that “stupid” made the list.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

The Battle for Bakhmut

From The Wall Street Journal:

BAKHMUT, Ukraine—Russian shells slammed closer and closer as Ludmyla Bondarenko and Zoya Shilkova, clad in fur coats atop layers of clothing, sat on a bench outside their apartment block, chatting and getting some fresh air on a frigid afternoon in what remains of this eastern Ukrainian city.

At an intersection nearby, Ukrainian troops used a crane to emplace concrete slabs, fortifying the neighborhood. Three freshly arrived tanks roared by, blue-and-yellow flags fluttering from their turrets. A distant staccato of machine-gun fire could be heard amid the thumps of artillery.

“We’re so used to it by now, we no longer pay much attention,” Ms. Bondarenko, 76, said as she pointed to a nearby crater left by a Russian shell in the morning. “It’s been going on for months. When is it going to end?”

“It’s probably never going to end,” replied Ms. Shilkova, 75.

Their apartments have had no heating, power or running water for months. The only available food comes from volunteers. “It’s a humanitarian catastrophe. That’s how we live,” Ms. Bondarenko said.

Russian soldiers and fighters from the Wagner private military company have been fighting to capture Bakhmut, a town of 70,000 people that was best known for its sparkling wines before the war, for nearly six months now.

Daily Russian pounding has turned the once-elegant city center into a succession of obliterated facades, with debris strewn on the streets amid freshly dug-out trenches and antitank barriers.

The Russians reached the eastern outskirts of Bakhmut in early July, in the wake of their last successful offensive, the seizure of nearby Lysychansk and Severodonetsk. The tide of war has dramatically turned in Kyiv’s favor elsewhere in the country since then, as Ukrainian forces ousted Russian troops from vast areas of the Kharkiv, Donetsk and, last month, Kherson regions.

Now, Bakhmut has become the war’s main battlefield, with Ukraine and Russia alike pouring in troops, tanks and artillery, in a concentration of firepower rarely seen since the invasion began 10 months ago. Wagner’s owner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has recruited tens of thousands of criminals in Russian prisons for the storming of Bakhmut. Moscow has also sent some of the 300,000 new troops mobilized since October.

The future of Bakhmut is vital for Mr. Prigozhin, a confidant of President Vladimir Putin who criticized regular Russian military commanders as inept, touted Wagner as the country’s best fighting force and secured access to Russian prisoners and generous state funding after promising to capture the Ukrainian city months ago.

The new Russian military commander in Ukraine, Gen. Sergei Surovikin, also has much at stake here. Appointed in early October, Gen. Surovikin justified last month’s withdrawal from Kherson in part by citing the need to use those troops for offensive operations elsewhere.

“Surovikin must show some sort of victory somewhere since his appointment,” said Fedir Venislavskiy, a member of the Ukrainian parliament’s national-security, defense and intelligence committee. “What the Russian military and political leadership desire very much is a capture of Bakhmut. And that’s why both Surovikin and Prigozhin are throwing all their forces at it.”

Ukraine’s calculation is also not purely based on a strictly military rationale. If Bakhmut were to fall, the town of Chasiv Yar on heights just to the west of it could provide a convenient line of defense for the Ukrainian-controlled 40% of the Donetsk region that Russia claims as its own.

 “From the military standpoint, Bakhmut doesn’t have strategic significance,” the commander of Ukrainian land forces, Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrsky, said in a Ukrainian TV appearance this month. “But, at the same time, it has psychological significance.”

Indeed, a retreat from Bakhmut would signal Ukraine losing the initiative after four months of steady advances, raising Russian morale and making it harder to pursue further Ukrainian offensives in Donetsk and the nearby Luhansk region. That is why, in the past three weeks, Ukraine has saturated the area with fresh troops and equipment.

Through most of the war, Ukraine usually tried to avoid set-piece battles where both sides concentrate their resources, aware that this type of warfare can play to Russia’s advantages.

“Some of the things that make us strong, such as independence, initiative, the ability to act even when without clear orders, can also become our weaknesses when many units are in the same place, and each has their own view,” said Mykola Volokhov, commander of the Terra drone-reconnaissance unit that, among other Ukrainian forces, was relocated to Bakhmut from the Kherson front this month. “The outcome in Bakhmut will depend on the ability of our forces to achieve coordination.”

Another part of the puzzle is what happens on the Kreminna-Svatove front to the north, where Ukrainian offensive operations have been literally bogged down because of weather that has made unpaved roads impassable. A sustained drop in temperatures, Ukrainian commanders say, could freeze the ground and allow Ukrainian forces to resume their push eastward.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

TPV isn’t a current events or political blog, but PG thought the beginning of this article was a well-written way of putting the Ukrainian war into more human terms.

The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, did a masterful job early in the war of putting the invasion into human terms and gaining a great deal of Western sympathy and support for his nation. Zelenskyy personalized the war and has not attempted to disguise the difficult circumstances most of the people in Ukraine are dealing with due to this war.

PG doubts that Ukraine had the ability to remove many of its citizens out of harm’s way and, based on his reading, PG’s perception is that, unlike some other wars, there is nothing like a war zone separate from the general populace.

Hence, in our mind’s eye, we see Ludmyla and Zoya, two elderly women, chatting on a bench while tanks roar past and approaching explosions of Russian artillery shells provide an aural backdrop for their conversation. And we hope nothing bad will happen to them.

Demythifying the University Press

From Publisher’s Weekly:

University press executives follow university presidents. They do this rhetorically but never factually. Both claim to deny “myths” about growth, success, or status, for example, by fabricating new, equally undocumented ones. Recent years have seen a parade of self-contradictory games playing by financially strapped and no longer editorially consistent campus-based, university-identified publishers. In my experience and that of my peers, these presses deny the unmistakable reality of their increasingly precarious economic and intellectual status.

Consider university press sales and marketing directors at the 2022 U.S. Book Show. The May 26 issue of Publishers Weekly quotes them purporting to “dispel… unstated assumptions about university presses.” The University of Texas Press’s manager proclaims that the publisher’s panel “busted myths” but does not state what myths they are. The University of Chicago Press director asserts that “functionally, a good university press is like a trade house in terms of how you interact with the components of your list.” Does anyone know what that means?

As quoted in the PW report, these managers highlighted unusual examples of sales of one book in response to one request by booksellers or one author’s special request. “We’ve come a long way…. We’ve made a lot of adjustments.”

A Columbia University Press manager agrees: “When you’re working with our publishers directly, we are competitive” with major houses. “Our books are as easy to return as everybody else’s.”

Worse than special pleading, these speakers focus on special arrangements with universities—sometimes presidents, individual professors, or organizations; in other words, not business as usual. These examples do not sustain or disrupt unstated myths.

The more they self-promote, the less persuasive, less concrete, and less understandable they become. “We don’t expect our books to do well in every store…. Our books add depth. There’s a serendipity that our books bring to the browsing experience.”

Things differ little on the other side of the publishing house. Editors’ self-promotion and ahistorical claims of continuities amid changes skip through competing old and new myths. They are seldom accompanied by arguments or evidence.

In the “Thinking Like a Scholarly Editor” chapter in What Editors Do: The Art, Craft, and Business of Book Editing, Johns Hopkins University Press editorial director Greg Britton argues for continuity despite clear evidence of change in the university press world. “Universities exist to create and transmit knowledge,” he writes, adding, “Scholarly publishing exists to support this activity.” But at the same time, Britton notes that “we make bets on certain projects,” acknowledging uncertain speculative “calculations.”

In collections like What Editors Do, the “business” gets short shrift. The increase in books published outside of independent “blind” or “double-blind” review processes and the decline in editorial and production standards goes unmentioned. A major example is books presented as original monographs by university presidents or foundation heads that are collections of talks, addresses, and excerpts from annual reports, often previously published in in-house media and written by staff. At earlier times, these publications might be printed by the incumbent’s own campus press, a trade house, independently, or by a vanity or self-publishing press. Sales are all but guaranteed, yet the myths of idealism, intellectual distinction, and tradition dominate.

Despite the myths, a golden age of university press publishing never existed. Scholarly presses have long struggled financially and did not maintain the standards that I expected even at the time of my first book in 1979. But matters have worsened over time.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

How Do We Know Ourselves?

From The Wall Street Journal:

The title of “How Do We Know Ourselves? Curiosities and Marvels of the Human Mind” suggests that Hope College psychologist David Myers will, in this brief book, focus primarily on the process of self-discovery. But a better title might have been “How Well Do We Know Ourselves?” The answer that emerges, over 40 charming and clear-eyed chapters that cover disparate areas of psychology including memory, relationships and personality, is: not very.

Consider a study on dissent. A huge majority of the participants—95%—predicted that they would immediately protest sexist comments in a hypothetical group scenario. In a second phase of the experiment, only 45% of the participants actually spoke up when they encountered the comments. In another study, participants were told to write blog posts as if they had a few months to live. The posts were significantly more negative than those of actual terminal patients. And those with the least self-knowledge are also the most sure of themselves. Lower scores on tests of humor, logic and grammar have been associated with greater overconfidence in those domains; in what’s now called the Dunning-Kruger effect (after its discoverers), Mr. Myers writes, “incompetence doesn’t recognize itself.”

We misjudge not only our individual selves but others of the species. People presume that small talk with strangers will be awkward, but research shows it psychologically benefits both parties. Passive Facebook use can erode our sense of well-being because we see positive posts as representative of peers’ seemingly superior lives. And when asked to enter and exit a room wearing a possibly embarrassing Barry Manilow T-shirt, students later estimated that nearly half their peers noticed Barry, whereas the actual number was far lower. (In all cases, it’s worth noting, reality was brighter than expectations.)

Mr. Myers, the book’s bio reports, is the author of a widely adopted psychology textbook. This volume draws on the breadth and depth of such knowledge but remains light on its feet. Mr. Myers has a deft touch, dropping mentions of studies here and there to get the main point across, and mixing them with everyday observations and quotes from philosophers. The chapters are lessons but also essays. The acknowledgments thank his “poet-colleague and writing coach,” and the influence shows, with lines like “we have dignity but not deity” (on overconfidence) and “disparity dispirits” (on inequality).

Some chapters provoke mirth. The first, on implicit egotism, describes the “name-residence effect.” In one study, a disproportionate number of people nicknamed Tex moved to Texas, and Virginias moved to Virginia. Also, people with the last name Baker, Barber, Butcher or Butler were more likely to enter those professions than mere chance would explain. Another chapter covers “mondegreens,” misheard phrases or words. They’re common in hazily grasped song lyrics: “There’s a bad moon on the rise” becomes “There’s a bathroom on the right.”

Other times, Mr. Myers directly addresses weighty issues, such as politics. He describes the rise in political polarization, a result both of evergreen factors like confirmation bias and modern phenomena like cable TV. (“Our challenge is to affirm both our diversity and our unifying ideals,” he writes.) He notes that many people who protest immigration are likely to be least affected by it; places with greater immigration show greater acceptance, perhaps because interaction reduces prejudice. But even when discussing narcissism among the powerful, his tone is never polemical.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PW’s 2022 People of the Year: The Defenders

From Publisher’s Weekly:

There has been no shortage of extraordinary stories from the book world in 2022. But no story this year has been more extraordinary than the ongoing, unprecedented surge in book bans and censorship efforts being pushed by right-wing groups in communities across the nation.

“What we’re seeing is a coordinated political effort to stigmatize books dealing with the lives and experiences of diverse communities, particularly the LGBTQ community and persons of color,” explains Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. “We’re seeing rhetoric that seeks to turn librarians and educators into villains. We’re seeing librarians whose jobs and livelihoods are being threatened because of their defense of intellectual freedom in libraries. In some states we’re seeing legislation threatening to put librarians and teachers in jail over the lie that certain books are pornographic, when they simply reflect gender identity or sexual orientation themes or characters, or deal with sex education.”

New headlines emerge seemingly every day. Local library and school board meetings have become battlegrounds, and local elections are flooded with money from national conservative groups. Librarians and educators are being intimidated into silence, with many choosing to leave the professions they love. And legislators in a number of states are seeking greater control of which books can be made available in libraries and schools.

This is not a time to despair, however, as veteran free speech defender Chris Finan, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship wrote in a PW Soapbox this fall. This is a time to fight. In recognition of the foundational threat posed by this new wave of book banning, PW has named those standing up to these would-be censors as our People of the Year.

To begin, we recognize the authors being targeted by the banners. Among them is Maia Kobabe, whose critically acclaimed graphic memoir Gender Queer was declared “the most banned book in the country” in a May New York Times profile. In that profile, Kobabe spoke of what it means to be singled out. “When you remove those books from the shelf or you challenge them publicly in a community, what you’re saying to any young person who identified with that narrative is, ‘we don’t want your story here,’ ” Kobabe said.

Nikole Hannah Jones, Pulitzer Prize–winning author and creator of the 1619 Project, has seen her work not only banned but legislated against. “This is actually trying to control the collective memory of this country,” Jones told CNN’s Brian Stelter. “It’s one thing to have right-wing media saying they don’t like the 1619 Project, or they don’t agree with the 1619 Project. But it’s quite something else to have politicians from state legislatures down to school boards actually making prohibitions against teaching a work of American journalism or really any of these other texts.”

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

Last year, PG blogged about The 1619 Project, sponsored by The New York Times Magazine.

Here’s the description of this program from the online 1619 Project Introduction:

The 1619 Project is an ongoing initiative from The New York Times Magazine that began in August 2019, the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.

PG notes the purpose of the 1619 project:

It aims to reframe the country’s history

If one replaces the term, “reframe,” with “rewrite,” one can get a better sense of what’s going on under the auspices of The New York Times, a formerly preeminent American newspaper that has fallen on hard times, as witnessed by a substantially declining circulation every year since 2014.

To illustrate the decline, the average paid Sunday circulation of the paper was 2,409,000 in 2014. In 2021, the average paid Sunday circulation of the New York Times was 820,000. To spare visitors to TPV the math, in seven years, the Times lost 2/3 of its paid circulation.

During that same time period, The Wall Street Journal, another respected American newspaper became the largest-circulation newspaper in the country with daily circulation of more than 2.2 million subscribers. By some measures, USA Today has also passed the Times in terms of readership during the same time period.

Perhaps “reframing the country’s history” and similar changes at the NYT may not be all that attractive to a great many people.

The Director of The 1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones was not recognized as a historian prior to her commencement of the Project.

The 1619 Project has also been condemned by a significant number of academic historians as inaccurate in many respects, including its assertion that the American Revolution was primarily fought to preserve slavery.

Ms. Hannah-Jones also caused a stir earlier this year when she claimed that Europe was not a continent, but rather “a geopolitical fiction.”

PG realizes that he is getting into political issues which he typically avoids, but he has read enough history and witnessed the politicization of fact-based events to be concerned about current political weaponization of misrepresentations posing as “narratives” or “alternate views” that remind him most of all of his ancient college and post-college experience with others who were rewriting history and politics to achieve their own misbegotten ends in much the same manner. .

“Trying to control the collective memory of this country,” has been a strategy used many times in the past to achieve political ends rather to accurately depict historical facts and the people involved with them.

History is in the making

From Works in Progress:

Most of us recognize the following dates and years: 4th July 1776, 14th July 1789, 1914, 1933, 1917, 1215, 1815, and 1066.

But I imagine most readers will fail to identify what’s special about this second list of dates: 5th July 1687, 9th March 1776, and 24th November 1859. Or indeed this third list of dates and years: 22nd January 1970, 26th April 1956, 1st October 1908, and 1960.

Why are these first dates so recognizable and memorable? It is because the events in question (the adopting of the US Declaration of Independence, the fall of the Bastille, the start of World War I, Hitler’s coming to power, the Russian Revolution, the drafting of the Magna Carta, the Battle of Waterloo, and the Battle of Hastings) are seen as critical events or markers in a particular story. They are supposedly events that had a profound subsequent impact on the shape and destiny of society and so shaped the way that later generations lived. 

Undoubtedly there is truth in this but what was the nature of the impact that these events had? What, if anything, did they have in common? The clear answer is that these are all political events. As such they are also thought of as being connected, as being key points or landmarks in a particular story that structures the past into a meaningful pattern and makes sense of it. It thus tells us what was important in bringing about both past worlds and the contemporary world and so, by extension, what we should see as important here and now.

This story is of the growth and development of government, the forms it has taken, and in particular the historical evolution of particular states or political entities, such as France, England/Britain, and the USA. Making these dates important and central to our understanding of the past implies that the driving force in history, the thing that shapes and determines the world we are in and that is crucial for our future, is politics and political power. The dates given are all about political power: Who has it, who contests it, and who wins it.

In this political story the important, memorable events are wars, revolutions, elections, the rise of certain kinds of governance and political institutions, and the doings of rulers – kings, emperors, popes, prime ministers, and revolutionaries. The fact that these kinds of dates are memorable and widely known shows us that this is the dominant way of thinking about history and of understanding the past. We can see this in the Wikipedia pages that cover the significant events of specific years, where the main list is always dominated by events of this kind, while the ‘born’ and ‘died’ lists for the year are at least half composed of political, military, and religious figures.

. . . .

This predominant understanding of history is incorrect for three reasons: 

  1. It places emphasis on the wrong events.
  2. It judges the relative importance of events incorrectly.
  3. It ultimately misunderstands which events had the most transformative effects on human life.

The political understanding of history leads us to view our situation in a distorted and inaccurate way. It implies that if you want to address social problems or challenges, then politics (whether electoral or revolutionary) is the only way to do it. It implies that the news and events we should pay attention to are political ones, because those are what will have the greatest impact.

But there may be other, better ways of looking at the past. 

. . . .

Let us return to our second list of dates: 5th July 1687, 9th March 1776, and 24th November 1859. These dates are associated with the publication of major works of intellectual inquiry that changed the human understanding of how the natural world works.

The first of these, 5th July 1687,  has been rated as the second most significant date of the last millennium, as it saw the publication of the first edition of Isaac Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica. The text brought about a revolution in the understanding of the nature and mechanics of the physical world.

The second date, 9th March 1776, was the publication of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, creating not just modern economic thought but also several other intellectual disciplines. It also saw the first systematic exposition of a spontaneous-order analysis of the workings of human society.

The third date, 24th November 1859, saw the publication of Charles Darwin’s great work, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. This not only wrought a revolution in biology and social thought; it also built on the earlier work of people like Smith to introduce a truly dangerous and revolutionary idea: that complex and elaborate orders in the human and natural world could be the product of blind processes and chance rather than any design or intent. 

Link to the rest at Works in Progress

Doctors and Lawyers Debate Meaning of Death as Families Challenge Practices

From The Wall Street Journal:

How doctors determine death is up for debate.

For more than four decades, death in the U.S. has been determined in two main ways. Life ends when the heart and lungs stop working. Or physicians might declare a person brain-dead, defined as the irreversible cessation of all brain function, even if the heart and lungs can be maintained with machines.

A group of lawyers as well as observers including neurologists and philosophers met Friday and Saturday to discuss potential revisions to the determination. The group, part of the Uniform Law Commission, also addressed updating policies surrounding the notification of families about the process for determining death.

The commission is a nonpartisan group of lawyers established over 100 years ago to draft uniform legislation for states on issues including child custody and estate planning. It is up to states whether to adopt the commission’s recommendations.

The drafting process typically takes two years. Samuel Thumma, a judge on the Arizona Court of Appeals and chair of the drafting committee, decided in April that the group needed an additional year to work through the various issues of contention. 

“We are in the middle of the river,” Judge Thumma said. “We haven’t gotten to the other side.”

The concept of brain death has generated intense controversy in recent years, in part because death isn’t only a medical determination. People bring deeply held beliefs to their understanding of death. Declaring someone dead also has social and legal ramifications, including for mourning, inheritance and organ donation. 

Brain death is a legal designation in all 50 states. How brain death is determined, which tests are used and the type of physician qualified to make the determination can vary by state, said Thaddeus Mason Pope, a law professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, Minn.

In recent years, families have objected to doctors conducting brain-death evaluations on their loved ones. Some have filed lawsuits challenging brain-death determinations. And some doctors and lawyers have said guidelines for determining brain death don’t require tests for the loss of function in every part of the brain, such as the hypothalamus, which regulates hormones. The gap between the legal determination of brain death, they said, and the way doctors interpret it could erode public trust.

Prof. Pope and two colleagues in 2020 co-wrote an article in the Annals of Internal Medicine calling for revisions to the Uniform Determination of Death Act to address these and other challenges. They took their proposal to the Uniform Law Commission, which established the 13-member drafting committee and the group of observers last year to assess the matter.

James Bopp Jr., a member of the drafting committee, proposed a revision that would get rid of brain death altogether. Mr. Bopp, who runs a law firm in Terre Haute, Ind., and serves as general counsel of the National Right to Life Committee, said he sees parallels between his work opposing abortion and his objections to declaring someone dead based on the loss of brain function.

He said he believes a fetus is entitled to legal protection from the moment of conception, even if the fetus “does not yet exercise functions we identify as human.” Similarly, he said, people are entitled to legal protection at the end of life, even if their brains are so damaged that they won’t regain consciousness.

“It is the identical debate, just in a different context,” Mr. Bopp said.

The drafting committee voted against Mr. Bopp’s suggestion at the April meeting. Mr. Bopp said he plans to continue advocating for his approach.

Eliminating brain death from the determination of death could exacerbate organ shortages, opponents of Mr. Bopp’s proposal said.

Brain death represents a little over 2% of hospital deaths in the U.S., according to a 2020 paper in the journal Clinical Neurology and Neurosurgery. Meanwhile, brain-dead people represent the majority of deceased organ donors, according to data collected from 1988 through October 2022 by the United Network for Organ Sharing, the nonprofit that manages the nation’s organ-transplantation system. More than 100,000 people are on the national waiting list for kidneys, hearts and other organs, UNOS said.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Not exactly about books, but PG thinks there are some writing prompts/ideas in the OP.

The Culture Transplant

From The Wall Street Journal:

In “The Culture Transplant,” Garett Jones argues that cultural traits can persist for generations after migrants arrive in a new country. Newcomers don’t simply assimilate to their new homes; as the book’s subtitle puts it, they “make the economies they move to a lot like the ones they left.” It’s a thesis that is at once highly provocative and a restatement of common sense: Poorly chosen immigrants can undermine a country’s success; cultures don’t disappear when people move from place to place.

If it is obvious that cultures and institutions persist when people cross national borders, the real question is: To what extent? One approach to finding the answer is to see how various attitudes endure. Trust, for instance, is one of the more commonly studied attributes: economic cooperation relies upon it, yet it varies substantially from culture to culture. Mr. Jones, an associate professor of economics at George Mason University, notes that, even after four generations in the U.S., immigrants continue to hold attitudes toward trust that are significantly influenced by their home countries. On a host of other matters, such as family, abortion and the role of government, fourth-generation immigrants on average converge only about 60% of the way to the national norm. “Overall,” Mr. Jones contends, “that low level of conformity is a bad sign, unless you think most immigrants come from countries with better political attitudes than Americans currently have.”

Earnings in the U.S. also correlate with historical earnings by ancestry: In their respective home countries, for example, Norwegians outearn Poles, who outearn Filipinos; the same applies when comparing U.S. counties dominated by each of these ethnicities. How long after migration can we still detect such effects? Mr. Jones pays special attention to the Deep Roots theory of economic development, which holds that a nation’s present per capita income is strongly correlated with the state of the world in 1500, particularly as influenced by three factors: political development, farming experience and technological prowess. Using these three variables, Mr. Jones calculates a migration-adjusted state, agriculture and technology—or “SAT”—score and finds that it predicts more than 60% of modern-day income differences. He notes other research suggesting that these historical variables have a big effect on modern government quality, too.

Of the three variables, Mr. Jones tells us that the strongest predictor of income is a country’s history of technological development. Technology also seems to be the best long-run predictor of government quality. So the main story seems to be about technological development persisting over time, and of people bringing their technological capabilities to new places. Mr. Jones points out, however, that the three factors are not completely independent: “Places with centuries of organized states and a long history of settled agriculture were likely, at least by the year 1500, to be using a lot of the world’s best technology.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

A Private Spy

From The Wall Street Journal:

A Private Spy,” a 630-page collection of the letters of John le Carré—David Cornwell in real life—is not as revealing of this secretive, canny man as Adam Sisman’s 2015 biography or as engaging as le Carré’s own episodic memoir, “The Pigeon Tunnel,” published a year later, partly in response to that “intrusive” biography. But what makes the letters so fascinating is their real-time immediacy, most palpable in the earlier years. Here is a man, not yet renowned as John le Carré, trying to find a way in the world, from student in England and Germany, to impoverished married man and father, would-be commercial artist, schoolmaster, diplomat (spy) and—before “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold”—middling novelist. Even when fame arrived, he could not know its eventual upshot, that countless journalists would dig into his past, eventually outing him as a former spy for both MI5 and MI6, or, indeed, that his celebrity—though not his fortune—would become a scourge culminating, as he wrote to Ian McEwan in 2013, in “a kind of exhaustion at being asked for the last fifty years whether Mossad is better than the CIA, what it’s like—oh Christ!—to be a spy.”

The book has been superbly edited and introduced by le Carré’s son Tim Cornwell, who, unhappily, died before it went to press. Extensive though it is, it is only a selection of le Carré’s correspondence. Most of the letters he undoubtedly wrote to his many lovers are missing, destroyed or withheld—a wise choice judging from the embarrassing few that are present. Many letters known to have existed are lost, some of which we would dearly have liked to read. They include, according to Tim Cornwell, a “‘tortured’ sixteen-page letter” le Carré wrote to Timothy Garton Ash on “the morality of spying,” and a couple of dispatches le Carré claimed he sent as a boy to Stalin, one advising the Supreme Commander of his support for opening a second front, the other complaining about his school.

So much for what’s absent. The first letter here finds 13-year-old David Cornwell writing optimistically in June 1945 to his future housemaster at Sherborne School, a place he would leave before finishing. The last was written in November 2020—two weeks before he died—to his old friend, journalist and guide to war-torn regions, David Greenway. Among the hundreds of letters written during the intervening 75 years are loving letters to both of his wives, his children, his brother Tony and half-sibling Charlotte, and Jean Cornwell, his father’s second wife, who had instilled in him a love of books.

There are letters to fellow writers, actors, directors, old British spies—and one former Soviet one—agents, publishers and friends. There are a couple of excruciatingly fulsome letters of gratitude, one to Philip Roth, who had described “A Perfect Spy” as “the best English novel since the war.” And another to Graham Greene, whose praise for “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold” (“the best spy story I have ever read”) helped make the book a bestseller. Later, Greene’s defense of Kim Philby blew up into a public slanging match between him and le Carré. And though the two put it behind them, le Carré, shortly before he died, admitted to writer Ben Macintyre that Greene “still spooks me.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

The Forever Witness

From The Wall Street Journal:

In November 1987, a scavenger searching for bottles found the body of a half-naked woman near a rural road north of Seattle. Days later, beneath a bridge 60 miles away, a hunter found a dead man, bludgeoned with rocks and asphyxiated by a pack of cigarettes shoved down his throat. Police identified the bodies as Tanya Van Cuylenborg, 18, and her boyfriend Jay Cook, 20.

A week earlier, the couple had driven down from Canada on an errand and vanished. The police had zero witnesses and little physical evidence they could tie to a suspect. They did have one clue: semen on Tanya’s pants, which yielded a DNA sequence. By itself, however, that sequence meant little: Because the killer’s DNA didn’t appear in any crime databases, the police couldn’t match it to anyone. The case quickly went cold, leaving not only local law enforcement but the FBI, the Mounties and Interpol all stumped.

That’s the backdrop to Edward Humes’s thought-provoking true-crime thriller, “The Forever Witness,” which details how the police finally nabbed the alleged killer. More important, the book explores why the tool that broke the case open, genetic genealogy, has proven so controversial in detective work—and why the rest of us should (maybe) fear it as well.

. . . .

However well told, though, the story probably wouldn’t merit book-level treatment if not for how the police snared Talbott. As originally conceived, DNA forensics required police officers to match a specific genetic sequence from a piece of evidence to a specific person in a database. If the search came up empty, the case went cold. But genetic genealogy casts a wider net: Open public databases like GEDmatch, where people upload DNA for genealogical purposes, allow cold-case detectives and genealogists to find people with merely similar DNA—relatives. Based on the percentage of DNA overlap, you can tell whether the person who pops up is the killer’s sibling or uncle or third cousin. From there, you use traditional genealogy (obituaries, census records, birth certificates) to piece together a family tree and find the likely killer’s name.

This method of drawing a web around a killer first made headlines in the Golden State Killer case in April 2018. Strikingly, though, at the time the police portrayed the Golden State case as a “moonshot”—the product of months of painstaking work undertaken only out of desperation. Such an effort might never be duplicated, the thinking went.

As Mr. Humes notes, the Cook-Van Cuylenborg case exploded that idea. In May 2018, the cold-case detective working the murders in Washington state, Jim Scharf, chatted with a genetics company about finding the unknown killer’s relatives. The CEO said they’d try to have a suspect in four days. Mr. Scharf chuckled. After 31 years, he didn’t expect a quick fix. As it turned it, naming a suspect didn’t take four days. A woman sitting on her couch in sweatpants found Talbott in two hours.

That woman was CeCe Moore, a onetime TV-commercial actress who became obsessed with genealogy after constructing a family tree for her niece; she eventually quit acting to pursue genealogy full time. Ms. Moore was not involved with the Golden State case, but more than anyone else she realized the potential power of genetic genealogy not only for identifying criminals but for identifying nameless victims. After fingering Talbott, Ms. Moore solved four more cold cases in five weeks, cases police had spent 126 collective years working. By September 2021, she’d identified 175 criminal suspects and John and Jane Does.

These were staggering results, which helped dozens of victims’ families heal. So how did the genetic-genealogy community react to Ms. Moore’s sleuthing? Many were outraged.

The protests sprang from a commitment to absolute privacy. It’s a knotty problem: Ms. Moore and the police conducted the genealogy searches without warrants or court orders. In short, they were trawling through people’s DNA—perhaps the single most private thing about them—without permission, using the DNA in ways the people it came from hadn’t consented to. That’s discomfiting—especially because such genetic information can also expose affairs, secret adoptions, and other dark secrets. This is all the more fraught because the police officers using the information often have no scientific training and have easily jumped to wrong conclusions in some cases.

Then again, opposing genetic detective work means, in effect, putting up hurdles to solving violent crimes—and not only in cold cases. Mr. Humes details the story of a man who raped a 79-year-old Utah woman in 2018. Police feared he’d strike again and begged Ms. Moore to find him. The case proved tougher to crack than Talbott’s: Ms. Moore spent three 18-hour days on her laptop. But she hunted him down and got the guy off the street. In cases like this, should absolute genetic privacy, even for millions of people, outweigh clear and present danger?

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG says the genie is out of the bottle on DNA testing.

If one of your parents or one of your siblings or one of your children takes a commercial DNA test (which, in PG’s opinion, they are completely free to do), their DNA can be used to determine that you are related to them if a court orders you to provide a DNA sample for comparison.

PG has had his DNA analyzed under a program sponsored by Ancestry.com. He just checked on Ancestry’s DNA website and discovered that he is related to 44,935 other people who have also taken an Ancestry.com DNA test. He recognizes several of the names as belonging to his known relatives, but is confident that the names and identities of over 44,000 of the people are completely unknown to him.

And Ancestry.com and several other competitors are happy to help people locate additional information about their ancestors. PG just checked and, for the first time, found the gravestone of his great-grandmother and great-grandfather.

PG’s Ancestry DNA analysis discloses lots of Swedish, English, Scottish and Irish forbearers, which he would have expected, but also shows he has distant ancestors who lived in Mali and on Sardinia.

Does one of PG’s Sardinian tenth cousins six times removed have a gripe about PG’s DNA test results being used to link the two of them together?

PG says that if someone who is closely related to him commits a murder, PG has no problem with his own DNA results being used to point a finger at the malefactor.

PG has practiced law for long enough to see the counsel from adoption agencies for adoptive parents evolve from not telling their adopted child about the fact of adoption to being frank with the adopted child, when she/he reaches an appropriate age, about the adoption to minimize trauma in the event the adopted child later learns about the lack of a genetic connections with her/his parents.

PG believes he is entitled to keep facts disclosed by his own DNA private, but he doesn’t have the right to tell his sister she can’t publicly disclose what her DNA shows or to prevent his children from learning whatever DNA analysis tells them about their ancestors. After all, PG received his DNA from others in the first place.

(Disclosure: PG was a vice-president of Ancestry.com almost twenty years ago, but sold his stock not long after moving on and has no continuing relationship with the company today other than taking the Ancestry.com DNA list and having the ability to access Ancestry.com genealogy data online.)

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 Dictionary.com, 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

From Phys.org

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 Phys.org

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).