Monday, March 27, 2017

Give it a try, it is actually good in spite of the subversive praise

I came across A Jury of her Peers by Susan Glaspell in an anthology. Glaspell builds the story off of a murder she reported in 1917, The Hossack Murder.

A Jury of her Peers is a tense, brief, haiku-like story of a midwestern murder with strong psychological undercurrents.

Wikipedia describes the story in this fashion.
It is seen as an example of early feminist literature because two female characters are able to solve a mystery that the male characters cannot.
What a fatally flawed description. By attaching the limiting qualifier "feminist literature" it by default implies that it is not quite good enough to compete at the level of the superset of all literature. An implication that is wrong. Describe it as good literature, don't tar it with the closetedness of "feminist literature."

I have close to zero interest in feminist literature as the guff ratio (GR) is so high. But this short story is a brilliant rendition.

Certainly Glaspell might be an exemplar of early female authors but it does her a disservice to couch this as feminist literature. By trying to highlight her sex, it trivializes her achievement. Ironically, that is a common dynamic among postmodernist totalitarians. "Read this because it is by victimhood group X" is far less effective a recommendation than "Read this because it is good."

Friday, March 24, 2017

Roman republicanism versus Carthagenian aristocracy

From Carnage and Culture by Victor Davis Hanson, page 124.
The solution to this classical paradox was to field spirited citizen armies that were nevertheless huge, combining the classical Greek discovery of civic militarism with the Hellenistic dynasts’ willingness to recruit infantrymen from all segments of society. The Roman nation and its radical idea of an expansive citizenship would eventually do both brilliantly—in the process ensuring that its armies were larger than those of the classical Greeks and yet far more patriotic than the mercenaries who enrolled in the thousands in service to the Hellenistic monarchs.

This idea of a vast nation-in-arms—by the outbreak of the war in 218 B.C. there were more than 325,000 adult male Roman citizens scattered throughout Italy, nearly a quarter million of them eligible for frontline military service—was incomprehensible to the Carthaginians, who restricted citizenship to a small group of Punic-speakers in and around Carthage. Worse still in a military sense, citizenship to Carthaginians never fully embraced the Hellenic tradition of civic levies—citizens who enjoy rights are required to fight for their maintenance. Carthage also had no concept of the Roman idea of nationhood transcending locale, race, and language. Local nearby African tribes, and even Carthage’s own mercenaries, were as likely to fight the Punic state as were the Romans. Aside from the veneer of a few elite representatives, upon examination there was little Western at all in Carthage’s approach to politics and war. Unlike the Greeks, Carthage failed to insist that its own citizens fight their own battles. Unlike the Romans, it lacked any mechanism of incorporating North African or western European allies, conquered peoples, or serfs into rough political equality with native-born Carthaginians—hence the constant and often barbarous wars with its own rebellious mercenary armies. Nor was there even the pretense that the Carthaginian Assembly voiced the wishes of a nonelite. Carthage seems to have been a society mostly of two, not three, classes—a commercial and aristocratic privileged few served by a disenfranchised body of serfs and laborers.

The Roman Senate was probably as aristocratic as the Carthaginian, but there were no corresponding Punic assemblies that could check aristocratic power, and little tradition of a popular reformer—a Licinius, Hortensius, or Gracchus—who sought to broaden the franchise, allow the middling classes and “new men” to obtain high office, and agitate for agrarian reform and a redistribution of land. In a military sense the result was chronic shortages of Punic soldiers and a complete reliance on mercenary recruitment. Both phenomena would mean that however brilliantly led Carthaginian armies were, and despite their battle experience acquired from nonstop warring, they would find it nearly impossible for long to field troops as numerous or as patriotic as the legions. Centuries after Cannae, Romans continued to create enormous armies even during the darkest hours of the Civil Wars; in the seventeen years of fighting after Caesar crossed the Rubicon (49–32 B.C.) 420,000 Italians alone were conscripted into the military.

In contrast, for Hannibal to succeed, he had to do far more than defeat the Romans at Cannae; he needed to win four or five such battles in succession that would eliminate a pool of well over a quarter million farmers throughout Italy, men between the ages of seventeen and sixty who fought for either the retention or the promise of Roman citizenship. Hannibal had to accomplish such slaughter with an army that probably did not contain a single voting Carthaginian citizen, but was made up of African mercenaries and European tribesmen. Both groups fought not for the expectation of Carthaginian citizenship, or for the freedom to govern their own affairs, but mostly either out of hatred for Rome or for the money and plunder that their strong leader might continue to provide— strong incentives both, but in the end no match for farmers who had voted to replace their fallen comrades at Cannae and press on to the bitter end to ensure the safety of the populus Romanus, the preservation of the res publica, and the honor of their ancestral culture, mos maiorum. Most Italian farmers rightly surmised that their children would have a better future under Roman republicanism than allied to an aristocratic, foreign, and mercantile state like Carthage.

Deadliest Sea

I just finished Deadliest Sea: The Untold Story Behind the Greatest Rescue in Cost Guard History by Kalee Thompson. A bit hyperbolic title and there are a couple of authorial quirks but overall a very enjoyable read.

Seems like I have read a couple of Alaska shipwreck books in the past five years. I remember Working on the Edge by Spike Walker which was very good.

What is striking is the difference in preparedness of the fishermen, mostly as a consequence of increased regulation. Working on the Edge was published in 1993 and covered shipwrecks (mostly of fishing boats and ships) in Alaskan waters through the late eighties and very early nineties. I remember at the time of reading, feeling a great sorrow for the loss of live. Or rather, the needless loss of life. Time and again in a wreck, there were either no, or too few survival suits (immersion suits). With those suits, the chances of surviving in freezing northern waters were still harrowing but far, far greater than anyone who went in without the survival suit.

Thompson's book came out in 2010 covering a sinking in 2008. Between 1990 and 2008, it became mandatory for the larger fishing outfits to have enough survival suits for every sailor on board. As a consequence, in the 2008 sinking, despite 47 men going into the 36 degree water in the darkest hours of the morning (around 3am) and most of them being in the water or in a life raft for three hours, every one of them had survival suits and 42 of the 47 men survived.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Cultures lead to institutions lead to consequences

From Carnage and Culture by Victor Davis Hanson, page 121.
Already by the third century there were many visionaries in Rome calling for Italian-wide full citizenship—the matter would not be resolved until the Social Wars of the early first century B.C.—or recognition that whole communities akin in ideology and material circumstances to Rome should be in theory eventually incorporated into the Roman commonwealth. By the time of Hannibal’s invasion, Italian communities that were not Latin-speaking were nevertheless often comprised of Roman citizens, who were protected under Roman law even if they were not full voting members of the republic. The need to galvanize Italian support, man the legions, and prevent defections to Hannibal accelerated concessions from Rome to its allies. Under the late republic and empire to follow, freed slaves and non-Italian Mediterranean peoples would find themselves nearly as equal under the law as Roman blue bloods.

This revolutionary idea of Western citizenship—replete with ever more rights and responsibilities—would provide superb manpower for the growing legions and a legal framework that would guarantee that the men who fought felt that they themselves in a formal and contractual sense had ratified the conditions of their own battle service. The ancient Western world would soon come to define itself by culture rather than by race, skin color, or language. That idea alone would eventually bring enormous advantages to its armies on the battlefield. In the centuries of empire to follow, the legionaries of a frontier garrison in northern England or northern Africa would look and speak differently from the men who died at Cannae. They would on occasion experience cultural prejudice from native Italians; nevertheless, they would also be equipped and organized in the same fashion as traditional Roman soldiers, and as citizens they would see their military service as a contractual agreement rather than ad hoc impressment.

Even as early as the Punic Wars slaves in real numbers were on occasion freed and, depending on their military contributions, given Roman citizenship. The aftermath of Cannae would see their military participation and emancipation in the thousands. The Romans, in short, had taken the idea of a polis and turned it into the concept of natio: Romanness would soon not be defined concretely and forever by race, geography, or even free birth. Rather, citizenship in theory could be acquired someday by those who did not speak Latin, who were born even into servitude, and who lived outside Italy—if they could convince the relevant deliberative bodies that they were Roman in spirit and possessed a willingness to take on Roman military service and pay taxes in exchange for the protection of Roman law and security brought on by a free and mercantile economy.

Juvenal three centuries after Cannae would ridicule the “hungry Greeklings” that bustled about Rome, but such men ran the commercial life of Rome and would prove to be, along with thousands of other foreigners like them, as good citizen legionaries as any Italians. Rome, not classical Greece, created the modern expansive idea of Western citizenship and the notion of plutocratic values that thrive in a growing and free economy. Money, not necessarily birth, ancestry, or occupation, would soon bring a Roman status. The ex-slave Trimalchio and his nouveau riche freedmen dinner guests, lounging in splendor in Petronius’s first century-A.D. novel, the Satyricon, were the logical fruition of the entire Roman evolution in civic inclusiveness—social, economic, and cultural— that went on even as political liberty at the national level was further extinguished under the empire. It is no accident that some of the most Roman and chauvinistic of Latin authors—Terence, Horace, Publius Syrus, Polybius, and Josephus—were themselves the children of freedmen, ex-slaves, Africans, Asians, Greeks, or Jews. By the second century A.D. it was not common to find a Roman emperor who had been born at Rome. What effect did this vast difference in the respective ideas of citizenship of the antagonists have on the fighting in August 216 B.C.? Quite a lot—very few trained mercenary replacements available to Hannibal in the exuberance of victory, a multitude of raw militiamen recruits for Rome in the dejection of defeat.

Clutching a box of tea bags

We are still in the midst of uncovering the details of the tragedy in London yesterday with yet another terrorist attack on innocent people, but this quintessentially British detail caught my eye. From U.K. Parliament Attacker Is Identified as Khalid Masood by Dan Bilefsky, Stephen Castle, and Prashant S. Rao.
Among those headed to work was Michael Torrance, 39, a House of Lords official. Clutching a box of tea bags in his hand — his office had quickly run out as politicians and their staff members were on lockdown the day before — Mr. Torrance said that the full magnitude of the attack on the Parliament area had not yet sunk in.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Riki tiki tavi mongoose is gone

One of Donovan's more unfathomable offerings but entertaining for its very unfathomability.
Riki Tiki Tavi
by Donovan

Better get into what you gotta get into
Better get into it now, no slacking please
United Nations ain't really united
And the organizations ain't really organized

Riki Tiki Tavi mongoose is gone
Riki Tiki Tavi mongoose is gone
Won't be coming around for to kill your snakes no more my love
Riki Tiki Tavi mongoose is gone

Body who read the Jungle Book knows that Riki tiki tavi's a mongoose who kills snakes
(Well) when I was a young man I was led to believe there were organisations to kill my snakes for me
Ie the church ie the government ie the school
(but when I got a little older) I learned I had to kill them myself

Riki tiki tavi mongoose is gone
Riki tiki tavi mongoose is gone
Won't be coming around for to kill your snakes no more my love
Riki tiki tavi mongoose is gone

People walk around they don't know what they're doing
They bin lost so long they don't know what they've been looking for
Well, I know what I'm a looking for but I just can't find it
I guess I gotta look inside of myself some more

oh oh oh inside of myself some more
Oh oh oh inside of myself some more

Riki tiki tavi mongoose is gone
Riki tiki tavi mongoose is gone
Riki tiki tavi mongoose is gone
Riki tiki tavi mongoose is gone

I saw you today on the number twelve
Bus you were going my way my way

An interesting question ill-reported

From New poll: only 3% of Trump voters regret their vote by Eric Plutzer and Michael Berkman. An example of the hidden biases held by journalists which color their reporting and is visible to those who do not share their biases.

Plutzer and Berkman are answering an interesting question. As they outline, there have been all sorts of articles in the Washington Post, the New York Times and on social media about regretful Trump voters. But is there really a significant wave of regret? The survey asks and the answer is no.
Respondents were presented with the same choices — Trump, Clinton, Stein, Johnson, someone else, or not vote at all. Of the 339 poll participants who originally voted for Trump, only 12 (3½ percent) said they would do something different.

Only three individuals (fewer than 1 percent of Trump voters) said that, could they go back in time, they would cast their vote for Clinton. Seven said they would vote for one of the minor-party candidates.
So all those WaPo and NYT articles about the fraying of the Trump coalition? Wishful thinking masking fake news.

The survey isn't large enough to tell whether that defection of 3.5% would have made a difference. You have to know where the survey participants are from to know that answer. If those 12 defectors were in California and New York, then it wouldn't make a lick of difference.

The results of the survey don't surprise me. In my circle of friends and acquaintances, the percentage who are intensely interested in politics is relatively small. Perhaps only 20% want to talk about the election from a winner/loser perspective. But of those who do, most of the Trump supporters were reluctant in their vote but have since expressed pleasant surprise at his performance. Those who were Clinton supporters divide into two camps. A small percentage express regret that she lost. Most are simply outraged.

And that brings us to the the elephant, actually the Donkey, in the room. Why is the article one-sided? What were the results in the Clinton camp? How many of her supporters would now choose to have supported Trump? I can believe that it might be close to zero but I can also equally believe that there might have been defections from her to Trump, particularly among voters in the South and Midwest. I suspect Trump won the election with the least enthusiastic supporters ever. Sure, he does have a lot of very enthusiastic supporters, I am not denying that. But I do suspect that there were a great many who voted for him reluctantly as the least bad of the two alternatives. An unknown candidate with many questions versus a known candidate with a track record of corruption, incompetence and failure.

Did they simply not ask the Clinton supporters the same questions as the Trump supporters? Surveys are expensive to run. I would be surprised if they did not ask Clinton supporters whether they would still vote the same way. But if they did, why aren't they reporting the results. You would think if there were no defections, then that would be positive news they would want to report. If, on the other hand, there were significant defections from Clinton, as Democrats-with-bylines, that would be something you would expect them to hide.

The fact that they do not report on Clinton results leads to the speculation that while Trump might have had 3.5% defection among his supporters, perhaps Clinton had even more.

Kudos to the WaPo for reporting on this but it does give strong credence to those who feel they cannot trust the mainstream media. The Washington Post was earlier reporting a story of rapidly eroding support among Trumps supporters. They run a survey to find out and discover that there is no material erosion in support for Trump. They avoid reporting anything on Clinton leading to speculation that there might be more to the story than is being revealed.

The hard-nosed rustics who voted in the local assemblies of the towns and demes of Italy

From Carnage and Culture by Victor Davis Hanson, page 118.
The terror of war does not lie in the entirely human reaction of tribal cultures to bloodletting—screaming and madness in giving and receiving death, fury of the hunt in pursuit of the defeated, near hysterical fear in flight—but rather in the studied coolness of the Roman advance, the predictability of the javelin cast, and the learned art of swordsmanship, the synchronization of maniple with maniple in carefully monitored assaults. The real horror is the entire business of unpredictable human passion and terror turned into a predictability of business, a cold science of killing as many humans as possible, given the limitations of muscular power and handheld steel. The Jewish historian Josephus later captured that professionalism in his chilling summation of legionary prowess: “One would not be wrong in saying that their training maneuvers are battles without bloodshed, and their battles maneuvers with bloodshed” (Jewish War 3.102–7).

The utter hatred for this manner of such studied Roman fighting surely explains why, when Roman legions were on occasion caught vastly outnumbered, poorly led, and ill deployed in Parthia, the forests of Germany, or the hills of Gaul, their victors not only killed these professionals but continued their rage against their corpses—beheading, mutilating, and parading the remains of an enemy who so often in the past could kill without dying. The Aztecs also mutilated the Spanish—and often ate the captives and corpses; and while this was purportedly to satisfy the bloodlust of their hungry gods, much of the barbarity derived from their rage at the mailed conquistadors, with their Toledo blades, cannon, crossbows, and disciplined ranks, who had systematically and coolly butchered thousands of the defenders of Tenochtitl√°n. In the aftermath of the British defeat at Isandhlwana, the Zulus decapitated many of the British and arranged their heads in a semicircle, in part because so many of their own kinsmen had minutes earlier been blown apart by the steady firing of Martini-Henry rifles.

The Roman republican army was not merely a machine. Its real strength lay in the natural √©lan of the tough yeoman infantry of Italy, the hard-nosed rustics who voted in the local assemblies of the towns and demes of Italy and were every bit as ferocious as the more threatening-looking and larger Europeans to the north. In the tradition of constitutional governance—the Greek Polybius marveled at the Roman Republic, whose separation of powers, he felt, had improved upon the more popular consensual rule of the Hellenic city-state—the Romans had marshaled a nation of free citizens-in-arms.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Parental love is the first gift which gives us the capacity to give

A day or two ago I posted Omni Vincit Amor in which I quoted George E. Vaillant. Vaillant was summarizing the lessons learned from the 78 year Grant Study about what determines life outcomes.
A fifth lesson is that what goes right is more important than what goes wrong, and that it is the quality of a child's total experience, not any particular trauma or any particular relationship, that exerts the clearest influence on adult psychology.
I find this sentiment echoed in an article On Parenting and Parents by Brian Boutwell. Boutwell is balancing an earlier article in which he contended:
that little evidence exists for pervasive and long-lasting parenting influences on child development. I still maintain that position; not out of a personal bias, but simply because that is what the evidence demands of me.
In this essay he argues:
That said, this essay is about why parenting is arguably the single most important activity in which you will engage. This is true, not because you will mould your child’s intellect or personality like a potter. Rather, this is true because your child might write a similar essay about you one day.
It is a touching article.
Parents matter, not because they shape personality directly, not because they inject morality into the minds of their little ones, and not because they ensure the civility and productivity of the next generation by implementing various parenting strategies. Parents matter because human interaction matters. Time matters. Memories matter. Having a storehouse of memories where there is a surplus of good over bad is a wonderful thing. Sadly, not everyone will be so fortunate. My parents bequeathed no DNA to me or my brother. I don’t see my temperament and personality reflected back at me when I look at them. Yet, they were always in the congregation. Their accomplishment was huge; not because they moulded me into the man that I am today. No, their accomplishment was even greater. They exist as two of the most important people in my life. How many people can say that they matter that much in the world? I aspire to hit their mark. I hope that one day, someone writes that I am their most important person. Parenting provides a rare gift; an opportunity to matter in someone’s life. It’s an opportunity that requires no genetic overlap.
The sweetness of the article tends to overshadow what I think is the central argument. To put it as baldly as possible, I think what he is saying is that parents don't matter in terms of their children's outcomes (and there is a reasonable amount of data to support that position) but that parenting is an essential component to societal outcomes. The emotional investment between and among us, most notable in families, is the glue that holds the entirety together.


The life of a Roman centurion

From Carnage and Culture by Victor Davis Hanson, page 115.
The Roman army, especially when deployed in strength on Italian soil, was not expected to lose, much less to be annihilated. Already by the late third century B.C. Roman legionaries had become the world’s most deadly infantry precisely because of their mobility, superb equipment, singular discipline, and ingenious organization. The Epirote king and general Pyrrhus (280–275 B.C.), the Carthaginian commanders of the First Punic War (264–241 B.C.), and the northern tribes in Gaul (222 B.C.) could attest to the slaughter when their best troops tried to confront the Roman way of war. The Romans had developed a mobile and flexible method of fighting that could hunt down and smash through loosely organized tribal forces in Gaul and Spain, yet could also disrupt columns of highly disciplined phalangites from the East in pitched battles through encirclement or the manipulation of terrain. The history of the Roman third and second centuries is a story of bloody legion deployment throughout the Mediterranean, first to the west and south against the Iberians and Africans (270–200 B.C.), then against the Hellenistic kingdoms in Greece and to the east (202–146 B.C.).

To indicate the scope of Roman campaigning and the wide-ranging experiences of the legionaries, Livy reports in his history of Rome the often quoted example of the Roman citizen soldier Spurius Ligustinus. In his thirty-two-year career in the army (200–168 B.C.) the fifty-year-old soldier, father of eight, fought against the phalanx of Philip V in Greece, battled in Spain, returned to Greece to fight Antiochus III and the Aetolians, then was back on duty in Italy, then off again to Spain. “Four times,” Spurius claimed in Livy’s highly rhetorical account, “within a few years I was chief centurion. Thirty-four times I was commended for bravery by my commanders; I received six civic crowns [for saving the life of a fellow soldier]” (42.34). Spurius might have added that he had collided against the pikes of Macedonian phalangites, faced the elephants of Hellenistic dynasts, and fought dirty wars against tribal skirmishers across the Pyrenees. Roman genius lay in finding a way to take an Italian farmer like Spurius and to make him fight more effectively than any mercenary soldier in the Mediterranean.