More Second Amendment Dodges

Posted by WiredSisters on August 28th, 2015 filed in Democracy, History, Law, Moral Philosophy, TV


 

There’s a popular joke among statisticians: my uncle was a heavy drinker, and couldn’t figure out what was really causing his drunkenness and his hangovers.  So he decided to do a scientific analysis.  Monday, he drank rum and water; he got drunk, and had a hangover the next day.  Tuesday, he drank vodka and water; he got drunk, and had a hangover the next day.  Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, he experimented with gin and water, Scotch and water, Bourbon and water, brandy and water, and rye and water.  Each time, he got drunk, and had a hangover the next day.

So he decided to cut out water.

Once again, somebody with a gun has killed himself and various other people, and once again we feel helpless to take on the gun lobby, so we go looking for other causal mechanisms that we could tackle to get rid of the problem.  This time, because both the killer and the TV channel that employed the victims were taping the incident, and it went viral online almost immediately, we’re worrying about the possible contagion of violence from all this involuntary viewing.

I don’t watch social media often, and I missed viewing this particular piece before Facebook took it down (about 15 minutes after it got online.)  Apparently 500 or so people were not so fortunate.  I don’t know how much of the TV taping turned up on everybody’s TV news later, since I rarely watch TV news either.  But suddenly we are worried about the prevalence of “snuff tapes” in our media.  Yes, that kind of exposure is bad for our culture, and may very well encourage copycatting, or at least harden us to  murderous behavior, so that we care less about it. But is this rum, or is it water?

It’s too soon for any exhaustive search for ways to keep this stuff off of Facebook, although in fact, some people are already talking about the Facebook staff keeping a closer watch on the feed, so as to prevent the 15-minute gap between when the bad stuff gets onto the small screen and when Facebook takes it off.  So far, nobody is talking about out-and-out censorship.  I would like to suggest a Third Way.  In the Jewish tradition, we like to say, of some bad guy or other, “May his name be blotted out.”  This would be violative of the First Amendment only if it were mandated by some government agency.  If the media decided voluntarily not to publish the name or image of murderers more than, say, three times (once when the bad guy goes on trial, again when a guilty verdict is returned, and a third time at sentencing), there could be no serious legal objection.  (A not guilty verdict would lift the prohibition entirely—why should we mind when a suspect turns out to be innocent?)

Anyway, before yesterday’s abomination, we worried about people with mental health problems having access to guns. Yes, that’s a valid worry too, probably a much more serious one than media exposure.  People with mental health problems, like victims of shootings and car crashes, rarely check their insurance coverage before experiencing a psychotic break or getting shot or run over.  Their health problems, thus, are a problem for the community as a whole.  The local hospital can always decide (as an increasing number have) not to have a psych ward or a trauma center, but the community as a whole probably doesn’t want bodies piling up on the street, or maniacs roaming at large.  We need to tackle this problem to ease the suffering of people with mental illnesses–but not just to keep innocent people from getting shot.  Is this rum, or is it water?

And before that, at least here in Chicago, we worried about kids shooting kids.  Most lawless behavior among young people happens between when school lets out and when the parents come home from work.  So our local do-gooders have intensified their search for programs and activities to occupy the kids during that bloody four hours.  Again, that’s a good idea.  The reason we let kids out of school before dark in the first place is that, back when we were all farmers, we had to let the kids get home early enough so they could slop the hogs and milk the cows while it was still daylight.  That’s not much of an issue these days.  But once again, after-school programs aren’t really the best or most direct solution to kids shooting kids.  Is it rum, or is it water?

Ordinary people, especially city dwellers, are likely to take the direct approach in their analysis.  We know of very few drive-by stabbings.  Yes, we all know that guns don’t kill people, people kill people.  But people with guns kill people faster.  And in greater volumes.  Automatic and semi-automatic guns are more popular than ever—an ER physician from Chicago’s Cook County Hospital once pointed out, in a lecture to a bar group I was in, that her ER staff had gotten to the point where, when they saw a victim with only one or two bullets in him, they presumed suicide or accident rather than homicide.  So why can’t we just control guns?

There appear to be two sets of problems here—the cultural and the political.  Southern, Western, and rural culture consider the ownership and use of guns normal and reasonable.  The solidly pacifistic Amish hunt with guns, for pete’s sake!  Rural poverty being what it is these days, there are lots of country people who cannot imagine getting through the winter without a deer in the freezer.  The guns involved are mostly long guns, usually single-shot.  And the hunters eat what they kill.  (And often, in the country, kill what they eat.)    I have no problems with that kind of gun culture.

But political gun culture is a different issue altogether.  In the first place, it is largely fueled by the profit motive.  Most of the gun-rights movement’s money and energy come from gun manufacturers, and to a somewhat lesser extent, gun dealers.  They create  customer demand by appealing to a mixture of paranoia (“the Feds in their black helicopters are gonna take away your guns and then take your land” or “the thugs are gonna rape your women and kidnap your children”) and machismo (”only you can protect your family, and you have to be ready, willing, and able to do it all the time, everywhere.”)  The machismo element sometimes shades over into both gun collecting and trophy hunting.  Mr. Wired always theorized that the gun rights lobby was also backed by organized crime. I have seen little evidence of that, but it’s not impossible.  Certainly organized crime figures prominently in under-the-counter gun dealership.

Anyway, respect for rural gun culture pretty much requires that any kind of gun regulation be selective as to both locality and type of gun.  Nobody needs an Uzi to shoot a deer.  Indeed, the more ammo ends up in the prey, the harder it is to prepare it as food.  But, despite the increasing volume of wildlife in our cities, almost nobody hunts it for food.  Coyotes, reputedly, don’t taste good.  So if Chicago and Baltimore and New York City want to ban guns, or even just certain kinds of guns, from their streets, why shouldn’t their citizens have the right to do it?  The alternative, at least here in Chicago, is that almost every building has a “no guns” sticker on its front door.  Okay, the right of a private property owner to set conditions on the use of his property is almost as sacred to conservatives as the Second Amendment (not quite, given the unpopularity of landowners who post their rural land “no hunting”), but why should we have to regulate guns building by building instead of county by county?

Judging from our public responses to gun violence these days, we have decided that the only way we can preserve gun rights while protecting the public is to lock up everybody who has ever been diagnosed with a mental illness, censor all news stories involving violence, keep kids in school until seven at night, and allow the concealed and open carrying of firearms in every building or institution in every city, village, and town. Is this maybe unnecessarily complicated? Maybe, instead, we need to rethink the Second Amendment.  Surely an “original intent” fan like Scalia could be persuaded that the Framers really meant that every citizen has the right to keep and bear a specimen of the American Long Rifle that won the Revolutionary War for us?  Enough already.

Red Emma.

 

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The Melting Pot and Woodard’s American Nations book

Posted by Sappho on August 27th, 2015 filed in Books


Last year I read Colin Woodard’s American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, a book in the same spirit as David Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed, but covering eleven regional cultures where Fischer covered four. Woodard’s book tells both more and less than Fischer’s: More in the obvious sense that Woodard has expanded to more regional cultures than Fischer could, given Albion’s Seed‘s premise of just covering the early waves of colonial immigration from the UK, could. Less, in the sense that, by expanding to more regional cultures, Woodard doesn’t have space to give as much detail about any one, so that when we get to a culture that Fischer had also covered (Tidewater, Puritans), we get a quick summary of highlights instead of Fischer’s more detailed account of all kinds of folkways (religion, politics, family, education, food, etc.). And more, again, in the sense that Woodard has more coverage of the interaction of the settlers with the Native Americans already living here, and the ways in which the settler cultures were influenced by the Native Americans.

At the time, I did a chapter by chapter analysis of, well, not the whole book, but the first section (up to the end of the seventeenth century) on Facebook. This got me through some of the American nations Woodard describes (El Norte, New France, Yankeedom, New Netherlands, the Midlands, Tidewater, and Appalachia), but not all of them, as I got distracted from my chapter by chapter summaries on Facebook (though not from reading the book) before I got to his discussions of the Deep South, the Far West, the Left Coast, various changes in the ways the different American nations interacted over the centuries, and a return at the end to discussing First Nations.

I meant, at the time, to write a couple of blog posts about the book, but the one I tried to write first, on the New Netherlands, where I was raised, got long and unwieldy, so I think I’ll just delete it, having shared a briefer and therefore probably better version of my thoughts on that section with my family and friends on Facebook. The other post in development that I had hanging from last year was this one, about how different experiences with and approaches to immigration weave through the book, and, since it’s just a few sketchy notes, I think I’ll clear it from my drafts by publishing those notes. Here are some of the different stories told in the book related to immigration:

  1. First Nations experience: In general, of course, this was an experience of settling and invasion, rather than one of immigration and assimilation. Woodard did point, though, to an early exception. When European settlers were first arriving, and sparse, in New France, so Woodard said, some joined and assimilated into First Nations tribes.
  2. Appalachian immigration to the Midlands: The Midlands, according to Woodard, tended to be tolerant of immigration; the Appalachians, not so much. But when the Appalachian wave of immigration hit the Midlands, it was Midlands culture that was troubled by the new, rowdy batch of immigrants.
  3. Anglo immigration to El Norte: Mexico faces the problem of a wave of Anglo immigration to its northern region, which ultimately results in Mexico losing that region to the US.
  4. Dixie’s ambivalent attitude toward immigration: On the one hand, heightened racial prejudice in Dixie has made for heightened wariness of immigrants seen as racially different. On the other hand, businesses in Dixie are always searching for cheaper labor.
  5. Immigration and shifts in power between Dixie and Yankeedom: Woodard, like Fischer, sees the different American cultures as largely set early, with newer waves of immigrants, like those who came through Ellis Island, largely assimilating into existing regional cultures rather than adding new distinct cultures. But he also sees US history as, to a large degree, being a battle for control between Dixie and Yankeedom, with the other American nations as swing voters, and he also sees immigration as sometimes shifting the balance of power between regions.
  6. The Melting Pot and Yankeedom: The New Netherlands (the area around NYC) was from the beginning a multicultural region, and the Midlands, says Woodard, was also generally open to immigration. But the story was different for Yankeedom, which was resistant to immigrants until it was hit by its own mass immigration experience, and, in response, came up with the mythology of the Melting Pot, into which immigrants would assimilate (here there’s an account of an actual melting pot ritual).
  7. A reconquista? Woodard sees the El Norte region as shifting its Anglo/Mexican mix back to its original Mexican majority. He is sanguine about this change.

That’s a basic summary. Originally I was going to do a longer and more detailed post, with quotes, but, hey, for more detail you can read the actual book, which also has plenty to say on topics other than immigration.

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Some thoughts about Rod Dreher, Ta-Nehisi Coates, John McWhorter, and phonics

Posted by Sappho on August 19th, 2015 filed in Race


The other day, someone gave Rod Dreher a Kindle copy of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ latest book, Between the World and Me, and Rod read it. I haven’t, myself, read TNC’s book yet, though I mean to buy and read it. So far, I have just browsed it in my local bookstore, where it stood on a case of new arrivals, right above a shelf with Ann Coulter’s new book, Adios, America!

I’m not surprised that TNC’s new book has won acclaim, and a place on the best seller list, for TNC is eloquent as always. I’m not surprised that Rod is more critical, for Rod, who once read TNC regularly and sometimes engaged in friendly blog conversations with him, has grown disillusioned with TNC’s “blue period,” and has said more than once that TNC has taken a turn for the worse since Trayvon Martin’s death.

Rod’s own reaction to #BlackLivesMatter has been ambivalent. Rod believes that the playing field is not level, where race is concerned, to the point where he has said that he wonders how a black man can manage not to be angry all the time. And Rod believes that black people in general, and TNC in particular, underestimate the degree to which working class white people face some of the same problems and disadvantages. Rod hears each new tale of the death of an unarmed black person with anger, and then often questions his anger as people report new things that make the dead person sound less innocent. Rod think there’s a need for police reform, and if there’s any sign of a riot, the riot quickly alarms Rod more. Rod thinks white people need to confront white racism, and he thinks that it’s not fair to give white racism and white supremacy the sole responsibility for the problems of black communities, and shouldn’t black people take some responsibility for their own part in their troubles?

Rod reads TNC’s book and sees endless gloom and pessimism, a world heavy with original sin and short on redemption. He links a column by John McWhorter suggesting that anti-racism is America’s new religion.

So I read the McWhorter column. I’m not linking it because I didn’t find it one of McWhorter’s more compelling arguments. What caught my interest, instead, was an earlier article of McWhorter’s, that he linked in the article of his that Rod Dreher had linked. The article is titled Black People Should Stop Expecting White America to ‘Wake Up’ to Racism.
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Hatfields and McCoys unite

Posted by Sappho on August 12th, 2015 filed in Genealogy, History


Hatfield and McCoy descendants work with archaeologists to uncover the history of the famous feud.

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Blog moderation policies on race and racially charged issues: UPDATED

Posted by Sappho on August 8th, 2015 filed in Blog maintenance, Race


In the wake of the Charleston shooting, Steven Barnes made some changes to the rules of his Facebook page, for discussions related to race. The house is burning, he said, and he wants to talk about solutions with people who can see that the house is burning, without being sidetracked by people who don’t recognize the problem that he is trying to solve.

This decision of Steve’s inspired me to think about what my own boundaries and moderation policies should be, and I turned comments on race related posts off, while I thought. I’m now ready to turn them back on (well, not on the old posts, which in any case are probably at the point where comments would be autoclosed, but on posts going forward), after setting out my policy.

This blog has never been a complete free speech zone. It’s my personal blog, on space that I pay for. As such, I’ve always moderated out a few comments that I considered more over the top in their bigotry than I wanted to approve, from the comment I once got that suggested it was unfortunate that my African-American nephews and nieces were born, to the occasional extreme conspiracy theory about what “the Jews” control and what they are doing with that control. But I have set that line very far out.

This has its drawbacks. On the one hand, as this is a small, personal blog, for much of this blog’s existence, I wasn’t getting all that many comments from people I don’t know anyway, and so had little need to moderate. On the other hand, because this is a small, personal blog, it can easily get flooded. I have said that I’ve dropped the race and IQ topic because I’ve said all I have to say on that topic, and nothing new is coming out. That’s part of the truth. But the other part of the truth is that I’ve stopped feeling comfortable posting about the human biodiversity crowd on this blog because, the one time I tried blogging about the “gay germ” theory and what nonsense it was, a call went out on Twitter to come over here and have fun. Which was absolutely the right of the person making the call. Free speech. But it meant that every day I would check this blog, and see a bunch of comments saying how only stupid and uninformed people could doubt that homosexuality was caused by a germ, and realize that, given that there was no way I had time to reply to each comment, the last word on the topic, and most of what was written, on my own blog, was going to be “gay germ” all the way. And I thought, if I talk too much more about race and IQ, I’ll get a similar flood of comments sent my way insisting that only people who deny the theory of evolution can doubt Richard Lynn’s rankings of national IQs, and that will be most of what anyone reads, on my blog, in my space.

The other thing is that I take Steven Barnes’ point, about solutions not coming from people who don’t agree that there’s a problem.

At the same time, I don’t want to draw my line in exactly the same place where he has drawn his, because I believe that many people in the US in fact believe that the playing field, as far as race goes, is now level, and don’t think that they consider black people inferior. For various reasons, that position doesn’t make sense to me, but I think part of the solution to the problems we’re now seeing, such as the fraught relations with police that #BlackLivesMatter has highlighted, involves discussion between people who don’t see the same problem. But also that part of the solution has to involve conversations like the ones Steve’s now leading, among people who recognize the same problem. (As I said when I talked about this on my Facebook page, there’s a similar issue with climate change.) I think it’s absolutely appropriate for Steve to draw the line where he does, and I think perhaps I should remain willing, in at least some threads, to labor with others (mostly other white people) who don’t see the problem that I do.

After reflection, these are my rules now, and here is where I draw my line. These rules are not open for discussion on the blog (and hence I will close comments to this post), but are open to discussion, and possible modification based on that discussion, from my co-bloggers (by email), and from my friends and family on Facebook.

On racial issues, I am going to explicitly permit people, on my blog, to argue that the playing field is level if they can find a way to do so without arguing that black people are inherently inferior. (And say when the playing field became level.) Go ahead, knock yourself out. But I won’t allow any argument that black people are inferior to white people, on my blog.

This does mean that, in general, HBD arguments about racial differences won’t be up for discussion on this blog. But if your name is Hector, don’t consider yourself squelched; you’re welcome to email me if you run across anything that may interest me. What I’m up for discussing with you in particular personally turns out to be different from what I’m up for discussing with whatever random angry stranger Twitter may send my way.

I will also allow people to discuss dysfunctions in black culture, as long as it’s done with the understanding that you’d see the same dysfunctions in white culture given the same circumstances. You’re allowed to make varied proposals as to what those circumstances are. I’m just, again, not going to let discussion of dysfunction become a way of smuggling in suggestions that black people are inferior from the get go. Or that there are no issues in other cultures. Or no strengths in black culture. And if you mention a problem a couple of times, you need to be prepared to suggest solutions.

I’m also going to put some boundaries on what suggested solutions I’ll debate: People can debate where we should go on affirmative action, but I’m not going to debate whether the Civil Rights Act or the Voting Rights Act were good ideas (obviously ditto for ending Jim Crow or, further back, slavery). People can propose different possible approaches to improving police relations, some more liberal, some more libertarian, and some more conservative, but I’m not taking arguments in favor of deliberate ethnic profiling as a matter of policy. On this blog, people of all ethnic backgrounds will be considered to have equal Fourth Amendment rights.

Similarly for discussion of other races, or ethnic groups. On this blog, Jews don’t own all the media and the banks and aren’t conspiring with each other against everyone else. Etc.

Finally, I and my co-bloggers are free, if we choose, to designate particular threads as meant only for discussion of solutions by people who believe that a problem exists. This applies both to racial issues and to other issues. For instance, I do not have a rule on this blog barring people from arguing that there is no such thing as human-caused climate change. But if my friend Karen Street chooses to accept an invitation from me to blog here about climate change, she is free to choose for her threads to focus on debate among people who agree to the existence of the problem, and is not required to leave moderation of those threads open to climate change denial. I may similarly choose to limit particular threads.

I also apply some boundaries on gender issues, but with what I consider a wide latitude. I’ll accept comments from both complementarian and egalitarian perspectives, for instance. But I won’t accept defenses of what looks to me like outright harassment. On this blog, you can defend the Sad Puppies, but don’t get to defend GamerGate.

I continue to allow varied views on, for example, affirmative action, or, for example, gun control vs. gun rights, etc., and don’t intend the blog to be a particularly tightly moderated safe space (there are other blogs that try to fill that niche).

That’s it. Those are my rules. (People remain, of course, free to reply to me any way they darn well please on Twitter or on their own blogs.)

UPDATE: Just in case it comes up, I’m adding the Fourteenth Amendment to things I won’t debate. (Who and how many people get to immigrate, and what we do or don’t do to keep people out, yes, but not whether “Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” should be part of our Constitution.)

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More from Nuclear Diner on the Iran deal

Posted by Sappho on August 6th, 2015 filed in News and Commentary


Cheryl Rofer at Nuclear Diner continues to blog about the Iran deal (among other things), so I figure I’ll link her again.

First, here’s a round up that she did on July 27 of her Iran posts, so I don’t have to even do the round up. Go check them out.

Second, here’s a round up that she did just yesterday of good posts from other people about the deal.

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Sasquan/Worldcon and a round up mostly of SF blogs

Posted by Sappho on August 2nd, 2015 filed in Blogwatch


First, on a note unrelated to Sasquan, I have opened up comments on my Harper Lee post, until they autoclose, which will probably happen in a matter of days. If you choose to comment on that post, please keep your comments literary. If you don’t get there before the comments autoclose, please don’t add Harper Lee related comments on this post instead. Thanks.

On Sasquan, all Hugo voting has now closed. So I guess we’ll get to find out, once the votes are counted, just who made up the big wave of new supporting memberships this year. I got my votes in on time, though I didn’t wind up voting at all on podcasts or short dramatic works.

For those of you who will actually be at Sasquan, some new amendments are being proposed at the business meeting. Here’s the agenda of new business. Included are a couple of proposals that would change the way nomination slates are constructed.

Now, I’m going to do a blog round up, mostly of SF related blogs (with both SF related and less SF related posts), but some not.

George R. R. Martin reviews Ant Man.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden on “You’re asking me to agree that my great-grandparent and great-great-grandparents were monsters.”

John Scalzi Backstage at the Concert Against Humanity.

Kary English on Puppies: please talk about what you love. (Kary English, btw, is one of my new favorite writers.)

File 770 has the 2015 Mythopoeic Awards.

Not SF related directly, but an interesting reflection on the value of bad characters, is Eve Tushnet on What’s a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Movie Like This?

Also not SF related, but included particularly for its last sentence, Thoreau on November Reign (go ahead, take a look, it’s short).

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Breaking: Finished novel is better than rough draft

Posted by Sappho on July 19th, 2015 filed in Books, Race


Thoughts about Go, Set a Watchman, or, rather, since I haven’t read the book (or even the first chapter), about the many reviews that have come out, before most of the public reads it.

First, it seems that most reviewers consider it mediocre by comparison with To Kill a Mockingbird. This should surprise no one, given that it’s said to be Harper Lee’s initial novel submission, before editors convinced her to take the flashback portions and write To Kill a Mockingbird instead.

Second, it sounds as if anyone disappointed to find St. Atticus in later life as a segregationist has an out. True, finding Atticus of all people, everyone’s civil rights hero, as a flat out racist defending segregation, decades after he served as lawyer to Tom Robinson, suggests that he has morally dwindled, a thing considerably worse than a discovery that the Atticus of To Kill a Mockingbird had repented a racist past. But you’re free to consider rough draft Atticus a racist, and finished product Atticus a hero, or, given that apparently some significant points of the trial changed from one book to another, to consider the new Atticus as Mirror Universe Atticus, living in an alternate timeline from the good and honorable Atticus.

Third, what’s masterful about To Kill a Mockingbird is its compelling portrayal of a child’s point of view: of Maycomb, of Atticus, of Scout’s first awareness of racism. As such, it has always been a white child’s view of racism. Despite the presence of adult Jean Louise telling the tale in flashback, we don’t really see the adult’s view. Atticus is a hero because he does a genuinely honorable thing (defending an accused black man whom others in the town would prefer to lynch), but he’s also a hero because that’s how his innocent young daughter sees him. The black people in the story mostly fade into the background of Atticus’ heroism because that’s the view of Atticus’ young daughter Scout. So, though you could hope for a different grown up Scout to confront a different older Atticus, the adult story would never have had the same innocence as the child’s story.

Years ago, I read one of the many critiques that have come out, from time to time, of To Kill a Mockingbird. What caught my eye in this particular one was a remark that it was too convenient, in TKAM, that Tom Robinson was killed while trying to escape. The reviewer said, that was always the excuse when a black prisoner died. I thought a moment, and said to myself, “But, do we actually know that Tom Robinson was killed while trying to escape?” What the book tells us is that Atticus tells Scout, that he heard from the sheriff, who presumably got it from the guys who shot Tom Robinson, that Tom was killed while trying to escape. Are all of the links in that chain reliable? Even Atticus might lie, this time, to protect the innocence of his daughter.

While you may or may not choose to accept the new Atticus as the same man as the old, beloved Atticus, the presence of the new book suggests that that old hunch was right. Scout has always been an unreliable narrator. She’s an unreliable narrator for a reason opposite to the reason Humbert Humbert is an unreliable narrator. He is unreliable in his guilt, while she is unreliable in her innocence. But the result has never been a full view of Maycomb. It is, instead, a beautifully crafted Scout’s eye view of Maycomb. Atticus’ or Calpurnia’s or Tom’s view could never be the same.

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Always look on the bright side of life

Posted by Sappho on July 16th, 2015 filed in Greek News


This week has seen the conclusion to two high profile negotiations. One brought us an new treaty that balances Iran’s desire to be free of sanctions with the US’s desire to “trust but verify” when it comes to nuclear weapons, offering a peaceful way to keep Iran nuclear weapon free. Yay!

The other was a new Treaty of Versailles.

Unfortunately, the one on which I’m best qualified to comment is the one with the less joyful outcome. I read German and Greek; I’ve been following the German and Greek press through the debt crisis, and I’ve been following Greek politics since I was about 12. I’m less prepared to speak usefully about nuclear weapons and arms control. So, for the Iran deal, I’ll refer you to Cheryl Rofer at Nuclear Diner, who has supplied some useful links, and who now begins her own exploration of the treaty with The Fun Part Of The JCPOA, an exploration of the opportunities opened up for scientific collaboration.

Now, the Iran treaty is a genuinely bright spot in the news this week, so it’s obviously not the reason I titled this post with a sardonic reference to a Monty Python song. I was, of course, thinking of the treaty that piled humiliation on Greece, and Tsipras, the one that followed a conference in which Germany showed its teeth.

Is there a bright side to the #Agreekment? Dan Davies thinks so. He is, in fact, so amazingly bullish that I wonder what he has been smoking, suggesting that

Assuming that the leaked deal is about right, and that it can be passed by the Greek parliament (and the loans approved by Germany, Finland etc), it seems more likely than not that we’ll see a sharp rebound in economic growth in Q4 of this year.

I think he goes too far by a long shot (we haven’t seen a sharp rebound after the previous memoranda, so is it really likely that we’ll see one after the newest, harshest one?). But I’ll muster my thoughts to make a list of the bright side of the deal, such as it is.

  1. The banks are expected to reopen, possibly as soon as Monday. (They’ll still have capital controls for an unknown amount of time, but they’ll be open.) Since they have been closed for weeks now, this is good news indeed. It is, in fact, the major reason that Tsipras, and most of Syriza, in the end decided that a bad deal was better than none.
  2. Greece is still in the euro zone. To be sure, some both on the left and on the right would dispute that this is good news. But given that, a) switching back to the drachma is, let’s say, a high risk move, b) Syriza doesn’t seem (from Varoufakis’ account) to have had a lot of preparation for this Plan B, and c) the overwhelming majority of Greeks do still want to stay on the euro, I will put this in the “bright side” column.
  3. Debt restructuring has been admitted as a possibility. There’s even a time set to discuss it.
  4. Tsipras is still Prime Minister. Here it will, perhaps, be my conservative cousin on the American side (with whom I’ve been exchanging a lot of email about the Greek crisis) who will doubt that this is good news. But consider the alternative. The last time a Greek Prime Minister proposed a referendum on a bailout deal, Germany managed to ensure that he was pushed out in favor of a technocrat led unity government assembled to accept the deal (with the result that ND and PASOK support plummeted and Syriza support soared). And if yet another Prime Minister was not just weakened, but suddenly out of office in the wake of a referendum? We’d get either, a) a very short lived “technocrat” government, that wouldn’t last long enough to make any reforms (whether welcome ones or unwelcome ones), and that would be remembered as a further humiliation, or else ND, which is currently weakened by its failure to organize a “yes” vote in the referendum and led by an interim leader, would get to briefly take the helm, before losing it again (and being further weakened by having come to power in the middle of #ThisIsACoup, so I doubt they want the helm at the moment if they can arrange some sort of unity government instead). In other words, the current alternative to Tsipras is governmental chaos and instability. He may or may not last the year, but it’s a good thing if he lasts until Greeks, not Germans, decide they want someone else. As former Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, not really on Tsipras’ part of the political spectrum, put it,

    I personally hope that he is able to continue as prime minister, maybe in a politically different coalition, but I think it would be bad if the Greek and world public opinion had the impression that the crisis precipitated the change in government in Greece again.

    So I’ll put this in the “bright side” column.

  5. It’s possible that, having lost the austerity fight, Tsipras can move on to the “combat tax evasion and corruption” fight. Maybe he’ll have better success there. At least the fact that he’s no longer fighting on the austerity front (even if the reason is the fact that he lost) will give him more time for that other front.
  6. “Tomorrow is another day.”

That exhausts my personal “bright side” list. And, in principle, if everything breaks the right way for Greece, it could be a considerable bright side indeed. A combination of really useful reforms and sufficient restructuring to make Greece’s debt sustainable would indeed be a win.

But that’s assuming a lot. Besides all the immediate pain, there are so many ways for things to go wrong over the long haul. What happens if the Greek economy plummets, the automatic destabilizers built into the deal kick in, and Greece has to cut and plummet some more? Is Greece really in the euro zone to stay, or might it happen that, having incurred some of the cost of leaving in the form of a bank run, and then incurred the cost of staying again in the form of a particularly harsh bargain, Greece will, not too far down the road, have to incur the cost of leaving the euro zone after all? And, if so, will it be any better prepared than it is now? Can we actually expect enough government stability that any Greek government can last long enough to own things like tax reform and anti-corruption efforts, and follow through on them? Will we ever get to that debt restructuring talk, given that it depends on a successful completion of the first review, and that, for Germany, a successful completion of that review may well mean acceptable progress on a privatization effort that Germany thinks is feasible and that Greece doesn’t consider workable at all?

As New Democracy’s leader put it (no doubt scoring political points, but still telling the truth), it’s a bad deal, but now it has Alexis Tsipras’ signature on it. And the Greek Parliament has passed the deal. So, assuming that all the other relevant parliaments pass it, Greece has to make the best of it, and I have to hope that the “bright side” list I gave actually does break in Greece’s favor. I’m not going to kid myself, though, by joining Dan Davies in anticipating a sharp economic improvement before the end of the year.

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OXI

Posted by Sappho on July 8th, 2015 filed in Greek News


I thought till the votes were actually counted Sunday that it would be close; the last pre-election polls had showed the gap narrowing. As I don’t imagine a “shy Tory” effect caused an underestimate of the “No” vote, I can only guess that the polls were skewed for another reason. Perhaps young people were under counted; with youth unemployment in Greece at over 50%, young people were especially eager to vote No.

In the days since, I’ve been reading the articles, and blog posts, and comments about the vote, and where Greece goes from here. Some writers, whether they thought the “No” vote on the referendum was a good idea or not, at least understood why Greeks had come to this pass. And then there were the others. The writer at National Review who referred to a “temper tantrum.” The comment, in response to a blog post at American Conservative that was sympathetic to Greece, who pronounced that Greece wasn’t really part of Europe, but of the Middle East, and that there was a reason “levantine” had a bad connotation.

That reason would be the fact that you’re a bigot. Let me tell you something. Is Greece the Middle Eastern part of Europe? Sure. We have always been thus. Back in the days of the Agora, of early Athenian democracy, of Sophocles and Thucydides, back when we gave you so much of your culture, who do you think we were? Look at the statues, and look at the pottery, and the same faces look back at you that you can see in Athens and Thessaloniki today. Look at the map, and you’ll find that we were in the same place. Who did the 300 fight? Persians. And if you look at Thucydides’ history, you’ll see how much the Persians interacted with the city states of Greece even after that victory. And do you think ancient Greece had nothing to do with ancient Egypt? Where was Byzantium, the eastern capital of the Roman Empire? On the same site that became Constantinople, and then Istanbul. Yes, we have always been, to some degree, the Middle Eastern part of Europe. That is the nature of Europe and the Middle East; they mingle into each other, without any sharp line between the two. And we are also, as we have always been, European. Europe has a south, as well as a north, and an east, as well as a west. And if you think the southern and the eastern parts of Europe are somehow worse, and stupider, and less worthwhile than the northern and western parts, well, you only reveal your own bigotry.

(If you think that all of these countries shouldn’t have joined the same currency zone, well, I might agree with you, but it’s done, and exiting the zone is a lot messier than not having joined it. But if you want to look down on a whole culture for that, screw you.)

And as for the talk of temper tantrums and the like, could people cut it out already with the moralizing about Greece? Yes, Greek governments screwed up, taking on all of that debt. No one denies that. And Greeks bear some responsibility for electing those screwed up governments. But ordinary Greeks were not, actually, in a better position than the lenders to figure out that their governments were fiddling with the figures, so this responsibility isn’t entirely one sided. And at a certain point, people have to place their responsibility for the future of their own children over their responsibility to their creditors.

That’s not to say that you have to think that “No” was the right vote on that referendum. I’m not sure whether I think “No” was the right vote. Greece is now perilously close to exiting the euro, without, as far as I can see, either Tsipras or many of the “No” voters actually wanting that result. You can make the case that “Yes” would have been the best of Greece’s bad choices.

But, here’s my young cousin, Born on 28th October (that would be Ohi Day, Greece’s holiday of No), writing just before the referendum on why she favors a “no” vote (but won’t be able to make that vote herself, because she is no longer in Greece). You don’t have to agree with her. I just ask that, before you dismiss the position of people like her as some kind of feckless tantrum, you think for a moment about what it’s like to leave your home because there is simply no work there, pick up and move away from your family to England, and then to learn that your father, the one who was so passionate about his work, and so honest with his own taxes, and so basically honorable a man (and he is – my father always said the same of him), is now reduced, not to withdrawing even 60 euros a day, but 50 euros a day from the bank, because the bank ran out of 20 euro bills so that it’s not possible even to pull out the legally allowed limit. And at least understand how, at a certain point, “no” could look reasonable, whether you agree with it or not. Because Greece has gone so long now, with such a ruined economy, and so little light at the end of the tunnel.

Now, I do get that, just as Greeks resent moralizing about their fecklessness, Germans (who aren’t, after all, the only ones growing impatient with Greece, just the ones with the largest economy) resent repeatedly having their Nazi past thrown back in their face, when current German leaders are the grandchildren of the Nazi generation and are, from their point of view, giving Greece money and trying to help Greeks fix their country, and don’t deserve ingratitude. I get that, just as Greeks fear a combination of an unending depression and an unending micromanagement of their country by others, with no time when they can really look forward to release (since the debt is too large to pay), Germans, and Finns, and Dutch, and others fear an indefinite commitment to support a country that won’t be able to get its act together and stand on its own (and, worse, the prospect that larger countries, like Spain, will do the same). I get that, just as Greece’s government needs to be accountable to its people, other countries, as their leaders keep saying, have their own electorates to which they need to be accountable. And I get that the other governments have particular complaints, about reform proposals submitted too later, and structural reforms not undertaken, and so on. (And, if truth be told, being Greek-American rather than Greek, I sometimes find myself more in sympathy with German views about privatization than Greek ones. Greece seems to me to have an awful lot of things state owned some of which might work better in the private sector.)

And maybe the answer, this time, will be that, after all, the positions can’t be reconciled. I hope and pray that that’s not the case. I scan the live blogs for each sign of hope, from France perhaps or Italy, that somehow way can be found to pull the sides together. I remember what Argentina, now everyone’s poster child for what a “good” exit from the euro would look like, went through at the time (I had a co-workers whose sales territory was Argentina, right at the time they collapsed). I don’t wish that for Greece. And it could go so much worse than it did with Argentina. For all that Greece probably shouldn’t have been in the euro zone to begin with, I can’t share Paul Krugman’s relative optimism about a #Grexit.

But there is one thing more important than keeping Greece in the euro zone, and that’s democracy. Yes, democracy for the other EU countries as well as Greece, but also democracy for Greece as well as the other countries. There was a referendum. It wasn’t a mandate to leave the euro zone; only the KKE, within Greece, wants that. But everyone who voted that “no” had heard the warnings, that “no” would mean leaving the euro, and voted “no” anyway. I take that to mean, “yes to the euro, but not a deal at any cost.” And maybe those on the other side are also saying, “not at any cost.” Maybe it will, after all, come to “Alors, c’est la #Grexit.”

I hope not. I might even, myself, have voted yes (without any fondness for that particular deal) to avoid that impasse. There may still be creative ways to bridge the gap, that trade breathing space for the Greek economy to recover for meaningful structural reforms.

But if there aren’t, whatever Tsipras’ faults, it really isn’t his obligation to accept something exactly like what the voters already rejected. The vote has been taken, and, for better or worse, Greece will live with whatever the result may be.

And I will keep praying that the result will somehow be OK.

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James Madison Moore: Lopping a branch off my family tree

Posted by Sappho on July 4th, 2015 filed in Genealogy


In around 1844, James Madison Moore was born in Brooklyn, Kings County, New York. I think it’s safe to assume that he was named for the Father of our Constitution, the then recently deceased former President James Madison, and that the patriotism of his parents, rather than an unknown Madison line, explains his middle name. But my current family tree for James Madison Moore is a warning against trusting assumptions too far.

Until this week, you see, I believed that James Moore’s parents were Peter Moore/Moose and his wife Elizabeth Weaver, a Pennsylvania German couple who had settled in Sparta, Livingston County, New York. A DNA cousin and I, and her cousin had found this pair by searching the records. They had a son James of the right age, born in New York as my James needed to be, and generally seemed to fit. They were not, however, the parents of my own great-great-grandfather, James Moore.

What blew away this branch of the family tree was the discovery, going through the records on FamilySearch.org, that there was, after all, a marriage record for James Madison Moore and Ella Frances Merchant. On 19 March 1870, James and Ella were married in Brooklyn, Kings County, NY. Ella’s parents are listed as Joseph and Caroline Merchant, who are indeed the parents of my own great-great-grandmother Ella, previously confirmed by census records that list both them and Ella, and by the fact that they continued to live near James and Ella in later census records that show James and Ella Moore as a family. James’ parents, however, are listed as Edward Moore and Mary Leonard.

There goes James Moore’s Pennsylvania German ancestry. Most Moore families in Brooklyn in the 19th century would either have come from colonial British stock, or be more recent Irish immigrants. I don’t know which was the case for Edward Moore, though from the family stories of how Alice Leonard Moore’s children teased her by singing “The Wearing of the Green,” I gather that she would have preferred not to find Irish ancestry (nor would such ancestry have been respectable when she was a girl). I do know that the name Mary Leonard solves the previously puzzling mystery of where Alice’s middle name came from. (Unlike Madison as a middle name for a son named James, Leonard as a middle name for a daughter does seem to call for an explanation.) And Mary Leonard may (but also may not) point to a solution to another outstanding puzzle, how my grandmother came to have French Canadian ancestry.

I know that she had some French Canadian ancestry because I have an abundant supply of French Canadian DNA cousins, and because I share some of those DNA cousins with a cousin on the Gooden side. I can infer that it was probably her mother, my great-grandmother Alice Leonard Moore, who had the French Canadian ancestry, because Alice’s husband, Robert Burton Gooden, immigrated to the US straight from Lancashire, England, not a prime spot for immigration from Quebec. But I haven’t yet found a line to Canada, as all French surnamed ancestors found so far on Alice’s line have been French Huguenot. In Mary Leonard, I finally have an ancestor who hasn’t been shown to be French Huguenot, with a surname that could plausibly come from Quebec. And I have found another marriage record, in the 1870s in Brooklyn, in which a Leonard from Montreal married a Moore. This connection is far from a sure thing, though, as Leonard can also be an English or Irish surname, and I still have a couple of female ancestors lacking a surname, either of whom could be the link to Quebec.

What do I know of James Madison Moore? Less than I knew a couple of weeks ago, but with the hope that now my knowledge is more accurate.
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Greek referendum 2015

Posted by Sappho on July 3rd, 2015 filed in Greek News


Tweet of the day in my Greece Twitter list:

Dimitris Bounias ?@DimitrisBounias 45 minutes ago
Young people dancing swing next to the ruins of ancient #Athens. Screw you cynical world, we’ll be alright. #Greece

Oh, I hope so, Greece, I hope so. Sure, I know that in the long run you will be all right. You have survived millenia, that included worse than this present moment. But in the long run, as Keynes said, we are all dead. The short run looks rocky.

Stiglitz knows just how he would vote in the Greek referendum (that would be NO). I confess I have no idea how I would vote. By this I partly mean that both choices are darn hard. But I also mean that, even if I can reason out which looks wiser, from where I sit, that doesn’t mean I know how I would vote if I were actually living it. We aren’t, after all, creatures of pure reason. How would a 26% unemployment rate look if I were actually living it? Would I trust that I could vote YES and actually hope, at some point in the not too distant future, to actually escape this long depression, and maybe, yes, get some control back over my country’s policies? And how would it feel to see the banks close, and strict limits on how much I could withdraw? Would I trust that I could vote NO and actually hope for something better than a disastrous plummet off of the Euro zone?

One of my young Greek cousins (from London, where she has found work) urges courage, and passes on a link urging Greeks, whether they vote yes or no, not just to vote their fears. I suspect, if I were actually there, I would not be very brave at all, and would mostly be voting my fears (but which fear would loom largest, if I faced them up close and personal, rather than observing at a distance?).

I do know this. After Sunday’s vote, we will get an answer, either yes or no. I pray that it will be the right answer, but it may well be exactly the wrong answer. Either way, at least some of you, from a distance, may shake your heads. Perhaps you will wonder what is the matter with Greece. If so, suppress that urge. If no one has solved Greece’s problems yet, maybe that’s not because other people are so much less intelligent than you, but because these problems are darn hard to solve, short of a Tardis that would let you go back and warn people that those budget figures weren’t what they seemed.

And so, right now, for all that I’ve read, in Greek and English and German, about Greece’s problems and best solutions, and for all that I’d like to be able to write the blog post that would explain them all and point the way to a solution, all I can say is, Greece, I’m praying for you, and praying that you vote wisely. And if any of my readers are inclined to prayer, I ask that you do the same.

Yes, you’ll survive this, Greece; the ruins of ancient Athens tell me that. But please, may things look up for you soon. I have family who could use a break.

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Fire at a black church in Charlotte, NC is ruled arson

Posted by Sappho on June 24th, 2015 filed in Race


Crap. Just crap.

On another note, Southern born and raised conservative blogger Rod Dreher has joined the opposition to the Confederate battle flag.

Liberal Yankees didn’t do this to the Confederate battle flag. Dylann Roof did. Look at that picture if you want to know who finally drove this flag from public life. That young man revered the Confederate flag and invested it with his devotion to white supremacy. He murdered nine black men and women in a Bible study, out of loyalty to what that flag represented to him. Maybe the flag represents something more noble to you. It is impossible for many of us to see the nobility through the blood stains on the floor of the Mother Emanuel AME, and through the curtain of strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Like Josh Marshall, I’m surprised at how quickly the tide seems to be turning in Southern Republican attitudes toward the Confederate flag. On the one hand, the arson at the church in Charlotte makes me fear Dylann Roof copycats. On the other hand, as Josh Marshall points out,

As a distinct but obviously related point, purely as a matter of incentives, can we get the message out to nutball racists and similar monsters that no, your horrific race massacre will not trigger a race war. We hear this line again and again and I know at some level it’s more a statement than an actual prediction. But no, your mass murder will not trigger a race war. We now sadly have enough examples to have statistically significant data to confirm that your race massacre will not trigger your race war. In fact, I think that Dylann Roof’s attack will likely be remembered, for better or worse, as much for this watershed as for the deaths of the innocents he killed.

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Charleston thoughts

Posted by Sappho on June 24th, 2015 filed in Race


I have waited a week to post about this topic, not so much because I’m still not fully recovered from the cough from hell (though I do still need my inhaler), as because I felt the need to have my first conversations on Facebook, among friends. And I’m still going to turn comments off on this post (people who want to respond can post on their own blogs and send trackbacks if they want).

We’ve seen a horrific terrorist hate crime. And it’s not possible for me to separate this act from the whole #BlackLivesMatter conversation that has been going on ever since Trayvon Martin’s death. Still less so now that we have Dylan Roof’s manifesto saying that he was radicalized precisely by Trayvon Martin’s death.

There’s a certain messiness to the #BlackLivesMatter discussion, as we move from one report to another of an unarmed black man (or sometimes a lightly armed black man, like the mentally ill man in Ferguson who ambled toward police with a knife and got shot, or sometimes an unarmed black woman) who gets killed by police, or killed by some civilian who is either taking on a quasi-police role (George Zimmerman taking his neighborhood watch duties to the point of pursuing Trayvon Martin with a gun), or who claims to be acting in self-defense, either at home (someone bangs on the wrong door after a car accident or some other mishap), or in public (Michael Dunn, who insisted that in the midst of his argument about loud music, he totally saw a gun). There’s a larger pattern here, but not all the cases individually fitted to the pattern are alike.
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Round up on anti-vax sentiment, the Eurasian steppe, pink, and other things

Posted by Sappho on June 18th, 2015 filed in Blogwatch


On a personal note, I’m an aunt again! No details, to preserve the privacy of the family and especially the child involved (and remember, I’m one of nine children, who live all over the place). Also, I’m still recovering from that nagging bronchitis, but am back to being able to sing again, do my morning exercises again at reduced reps, and climb the stairs to the fifth floor again (though I still need the inhaler several times a day). That said, I’m going to give you a link post today (you’ll have to wait for a thinking post).

Statistician Emma Pierson, at Obsession with Regression, on So Maybe I Am (Partly) An Affirmative Action Admit.

Colin, at Violent Metaphors, on No, Seriously, Don’t Politicize Anti-Vax Sentiment.

DNA Explained on a DNA Testing Strategy for Adoptees and People with Uncertain Parentage.

Dienekes Pontikos on new data from ancient Eurasians showing evidence of migration from the Eurasian steppe to Europe.

Jamelle Bouie writes that Hillary Clinton Should Go Full Nerd and show voters “her authentic, geeky self.”

In fairness, there are reasons people may not like works in which all the fictional characters are awful, besides a desire for simple morality plays. And I haven’t seen Goodfellas myself, and so have no opinion on it. But, whether you agree with Scott Lemieux’s taste in movies or not, he’s amusing in Good Art is Not a Self-Help Manual.

So Berlatsky concedes that GoodFellas is not presenting us with role models, even if Scorsese assumes that the audience can draw the conclusion that robbing and killing people for a living is immoral on its own. He even seems to concede that Scorsese sees this conception of masculinity and the horrible behavior of the characters as being linked. But where is the constructive alternative? Why can’t this movie about Brooklyn mobsters tell us how to live?

The post is more than a month old, but as I never linked it at the time, I’ll link it now. My college friend Andrew Shields explains why “The more specific you are, the more general it’ll be.”

Echidne of the Snakes on Pink Thoughts. Or The Weak Version of the Sapir–Whorf Hypothesis.

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Ideas Whose Time Has Come?

Posted by WiredSisters on June 14th, 2015 filed in Bipolar Disorder, Economics, Health and Medicine, Iraq War, Peace Testimony


My mother, of blessed memory, had a way of formulating problems that I have always liked:

What do we need?
What do we have too much of?
How do we turn what we have too much of into what we need?

Which is probably how the ancient alchemists got their start, having too much lead and not enough gold. Today, of course, we have a much better grasp of chemistry and physics, and can actually come up with ways to transmute dog excrement into power tools, should we choose to do so. Unfortunately, many of the things we now have too much of, and a lot of the things we need, are immaterial in nature, and thus not susceptible to chemical solutions. But it’s still a useful approach.

For instance, take drug dealers. Please. We definitely have too many of them, and merely taking the current cohort of them off the street and locking them up doesn’t help much. A new cohort is likely to replace them almost instantaneously, and the ones we lock up will merely move their operations into their new habitation, where (informed consumers tell me) drugs are as readily available as they ever were on the street.

So instead of locking the drug dealers up, how about finding them a new, socially useful line of work, utilizing many of the same skills they have already perfected? Which requires looking at the other side of the equation: what do we need? Among the things we need is some way to make mental patients (and also people with highly contagious physical diseases such as TB) take their medications. Who is better qualified to market pharmaceuticals than these street corner entrepreneurs? And (even better) who is better qualified to tinker with the official versions to make them fun to take? A version of Haldol that makes the patient happy and energetic, for instance—who could ask for more?

There are several problems with the current crop of psychoactive drugs.
Unlike the standard pharmaceutical model, in which the patient feels bad, takes a med, and feels better, the average mental patient (especially but not exclusively people on the upswing of bipolar disorder) may feel absolutely terrific, or at least reasonably okay, and is then required to take a med which will make him feel, at best, blah, and at worst, really awful.
Most psychoactive meds work on only some of the people with a particular diagnosis. There is no med that is universally effective in treating a particular mental health problem.
There are some patients (regardless of diagnosis) on whom none of the standard meds works at all.
Some medications work for a while, on some patients, and then stop working.
It’s really hard to calculate an appropriate dosage of any particular med for any particular patient, and this calculation may have to be repeated when, for whatever reason, the patient’s needs change (among the reasons for this are hormonal fluctuations such as those caused by puberty, pregnancy, or menopause, other medical problems, and just mysterious stuff out of the blue.)

Under the circumstances, it’s amazing that ANY patients comply with their medication regimen, and that any prescriber gets the medication and the dosage right for any length of time at all. So I’m not implying that this is entirely a marketing problem. But making psychoactive meds that create a mild euphoria, and having them marketed by people who have spent their most productive years having customers beat a path to their door, would certainly help a lot. In addition, of course, it gives a criminal population a socially useful way to earn a living.

So let’s look at another social problem: guns. More specifically, the NRA. The first thing we need to find out is the limits of their advocacy. Is there any kind of weapon they believe should not be available from willing sellers to willing buyers, anywhere in the world? Do they, for instance, have any problem with urban street gangs in the US having WMDs? Tactical nukes? How about street gangs in the rest of the world, like El Salvador or Syria, for instance? Why only street gangs—why not more official purchasers, such as militias? If, as I suspect, their aspirations have no limit, then why do we bother having (and, more to the point, why are we as taxpayers, supporting) a governmental defense complex, when the private sector is willing and eager to take on the job, and can, of course, do it much more efficiently? This has the added advantage that those taxpayers, like me and, I suspect, many of the readers of this post, who object to paying for weapons with their tax money, will be taken out of the process.

On the other hand, let us suppose that the NRA’s aspirations are relatively modest, and that they are looking purely at the domestic and individual market. Can their skills be directed to a socially useful purpose? At least in large cities, I suspect they can. Here in Chicago, for instance, we have between ten and twenty shootings a week, with varying degrees of fatality. And many of the victims are utterly unconnected to whatever conflict generates the shooting, except for the purely geographical connection of being in the wrong place (which may even be behind the four walls of their own unfortunately located home) at the wrong time. Why does this happen? Because many of the people doing the shooting can’t hit what they think they’re aiming at. Here’s where the NRA comes in—they regularly teach classes in gun use and gun safety for various community groups all over the country. Why not on the South Side of Chicago, and equivalent places in other cities? Gun safety (which many anti-gun activists consider an oxymoron anyway) would not be a major part of the curriculum. But accuracy—hitting what you think you’re aiming at—would be the major point of the classes. Presumably, this wouldn’t reduce the total number of shootings. It might even increase the number of fatalities. But it would significantly reduce the toll of cheerleaders, three-year-olds, and real estate agents getting shot by accident. Probably most of the people getting shot would, from the point of view of society in general, deserve it. And, as many criminal justice studies indicate, many of the shooters would eventually encounter their own karmic reward.

And if you like this approach to solving social problems, I’ve got a great proposal for dealing with famine in Ireland…

Red Emma

PS Sorry about your cough, Sappho.  I’ve got one too, plan to have it looked at (listened to, more appropriately) sometime this week. Probably got wished on us by the Chinese.

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Update on the cough from hell

Posted by Sappho on June 11th, 2015 filed in Daily Life


I saw the doctor last Friday, and got an antibiotic and an inhaler. I didn’t really want the antibiotic, but she said I did still have a bit of a fever after a week, so, maybe I needed it. The inhaler has been a great boon. It makes the difference between impossible coughing fits and just a low grade cough and fatigue. But the cough is still dragging on, so I haven’t been able to do a lot besides work. Plus the dog is sick. He needed a precancerous growth removed, and now is wearing the Cone of Shame, and needs to be carried up and down stairs. (At least, Joel says the dog needs to be carried up and down stairs. The dog says he doesn’t. This makes for a bit of a conflict around walk time, as we are on the second floor.)

I did, despite all of this, manage to finish reading The Three-Body Problem, a work of Chinese science fiction that connects the Cultural Revolution and an alien invasion, and various oddities of physics. Now I’m reading The Goblin Emperor. (I tentatively voted my Hugo ballot already based on reading the beginning of everything, but plan to adjust my votes after reading more, before the end of July.)

Also, on Tuesday Joel and I went to the Meeting of the Minds. I’m not, right now, writing up everything I heard there, but I’ll note that at one session, where I heard about a program in which mental health professionals ride with the police and help the cops work better with calls that involve mental illness, the questions were divided between the “we could use cops better trained in mental illness” questions and the “could you cops please move homeless people along from places where we don’t want them” questions. Even at a mental health conference, some people’s reaction to homeless mentally ill people is frustration that they aren’t somehow helping themselves better.

On a positive note, that session had some good stories about getting people back to their families and the help they needed.

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The cough from hell, and more Duggar thoughts

Posted by Sappho on June 5th, 2015 filed in Daily Life, News and Commentary


For the past week, I have had what started out as a normal, if very tiring, cold or flu, but for days now has been the dry, unproductive cough from hell. I have to spend all day constantly supplying my throat with a soothing supply of water, soup, broth, honey, cough drops, and hard candies, to ward off coughing attacks, which, if they start, will bring up nothing, but proceed with greater intensity until I feel as if I am going to vomit. This makes it a bit hard to do anything beyond work, go home, and rest (I’m still able to work, since I can keep the cough at bay with constant effort). I think I am probably going to call the doctor today.

With this going on, I’ve been impaired in my regular exercise (exertion brings on the cough, and I’m not even doing my usual climb up and down four flights of stairs twice a day at work, though I do still walk the dog), and Wolof practice (talking also brings on the cough). I did, though, manage to go to Toastmasters, getting the special speaking free accommodation of being Timekeeper, and communicating only with cards and gestures.

That personal note aside, I’ve still been reading and thinking about the Duggars. First, thanks to Irene for pointing out this comment suggesting that the statute of limitations in Arkansas might not be the barrier that many think it is. I’d have thanked you sooner, Irene, had I not been preoccupied with the cough from hell.
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State of Fear

Posted by WiredSisters on May 29th, 2015 filed in California Wildfires, Climate Change and Desertification, Environment


I’m in the process of reading Michael Crichton’s State of Fear¸ but I find it so unpleasant I can’t swallow it at one sitting, but have to consume it in small pieces throughout the week. Crichton made his literary reputation, such as it is, with Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park, and most of his stuff is pretty good techno-thriller, interesting and not quite mindless. But in State of Fear, he is taking himself too seriously as a public intellectual, filling up the plot with cardboard characters straight out of Pilgrim’s Progress and the morality plays, and worse still, tacking on to the novel itself a couple of essays on the questionable validity of techno-journalistic conjecture and the politics of environmental doomsaying. Read the rest of this entry »

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Josh Duggar

Posted by Sappho on May 24th, 2015 filed in News and Commentary


Way back when, I actually started this blog to talk about the crisis in the Catholic Church concerning priests being found to have sexually abused minors, and bishops being found to have covered the matter up and recycled the priests. (One of the most notorious of those priests, as it happened, got recycled to the church my mother-in-law attended, where my husband had gone when he was younger.) Time passed, and I wandered on to other blog topics, but, given my original focus, I can’t completely ignore the scandal about the Duggar family. So, here are a couple of the links that I’ve found most thoughtful and useful:

What You Need to Know about the Josh Duggar Police Report:

I’ve gone back and forth about whether I should blog about this. This is not a gossip blog. I blog about weighty issues, and when I do blog about scandals like this I try to do so in a way that makes larger points, rather than just scoring cheap shots. That said, I’ve decided to go ahead and blog about this for several reasons. For one thing, I want you to have a reliable place to get good information (there’s still incorrect information circling out there). For another thing, I do think there are larger points to be made here. I’ll start by summarizing the police report….

And Libby Anne proceeds to give a good summary of the police report and make good points about how families and churches should handle cases of sexual abuse by minor teenagers.

Josh Duggar Thoughts: QuadCityPat, a professional child abuse investigator, Storifies his thoughts on the case.

I started to write about some of the less thoughtful reactions I have seen to this news, but I decided the post was turning into Someone Is Wrong on the Internet, and that it was better to highlight the thoughtful and informative responses than the ones that suck. Suffice to say, there has been a lot of suckage to be found.

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A squirrel round up

Posted by Sappho on May 20th, 2015 filed in Blogwatch, Whimsies


Here is a post by John Scalzi that includes a photoshopped image of a squirrel riding a Pomeranian.

Squirrels and birds can talk to each other. Evidently, Felix Salten’s novel about the squirrel Perri is actually a documentary.

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