Quotulatiousness

May 29, 2015

“Lean in” may not be the best advice for women to follow

Filed under: Business,Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In The Observer, Amy Alkon suggests that following the “lean in” advice may lead to unanticipated problems for a lot of women:

Remember junior high? Well, the reality is, if you’re a woman, you never really get to leave.

This rather depressing truth about adult mean girls isn’t one you’ll read in Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s best-selling book, Lean In.

Unfortunately, according to a near mountain of research on sex differences, the “You go, career girl!” advice Ms. Sandberg does give is unrealistic and may even backfire on women who take it.

The problem starts with her book’s title, unreservedly advising women to “lean in” — to boldly assert themselves at the office — without detailing the science that lays out the problems inherent in that.

Ms. Sandberg goes clueless on science throughout her book; for example, never delving into what anthropological research suggests about why women are not more supportive of one another and why it may not be reasonable for a woman to expect other women in her workplace to be supportive of her in the way men are of other men and even women.

Joyce Benenson, a psychologist at Emmanuel College in Boston, doesn’t have Sandberg’s high profile, but she’s done the homework (and research) that’s missing from Sandberg’s book, laying it out in a fascinating science-based book on sex differences, Warriors and Worriers: The Survival of the Sexes.

May 28, 2015

The copyright fight over Sherlock Holmes … again

Filed under: Britain,Law,Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

At Techdirt, Mike Masnick explains why the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is still trying to fight the public domain availability of anything Sherlock Holmes, even though they’ve lost at each stage of the legal proceedings:

And thus, Sherlock Holmes is considered to be mostly in the public domain. One might argue that a US federal court outside of the 7th Circuit might find otherwise, but it appears that the Estate has given up the fight and now will readily admit that the earlier works are in the public domain. That does not mean, however, that it is done suing. Not at all. The Estate has now sued over a book and movie that purport to tell the story of Holmes’ retirement. The author, Mitch Cullin, wrote the book A Slight Trick of the Mind about a decade ago, and that’s now been adapted into a film called Mr. Holmes, being released by Miramax.

First, the Conan Doyle Estate at least seems willing to admit that the earlier works are now fully in the public domain:

    The first fifty of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes short stories and novels are in the public domain. But the last ten of his original Sherlock Holmes stories, published between 1923 and 1927 (the Ten Stories), remain protected by copyright in the United States. These copyrighted ten stories develop the details of Holmes’s fictional retirement and change and develop the character of Holmes himself.

And that’s where the trouble comes in. The Conan Doyle Estate makes some reasonable claims that Cullin used a few details from the stories that are still under copyright in developing the ideas for his book and the subsequent movie (where he worked on the screenplay). As the complaint notes, the public domain works mention Sherlock Holmes’ retirement just twice, without that much detail. The works still under copyright delve into it much more. The complaint also notes some pretty clear similarities in certain scenes. For example, it points to this passage from the (still under copyright) Holmes story “Blanched Soldier”:

    It is my habit to sit with my back to the window and to place my visitors in the opposite chair, where the light falls full upon them. Mr. James M. Dodd seemed somewhat at a loss how to begin the interview. I did not attempt to help him, for his silence gave me more time for observation. I have found it wise to impress clients with a sense of power, and so I gave him some of my conclusions.

    “From South Africa, sir, I perceive.”

    “Yes, sir,” he answered, with some surprise.

And contrasts it with the following from Cullin’s work:

    As was my usual custom, I sat with my back to the window and invited my visitor into the opposite armchair, where — from his vantage point — I became obscured by the brightness of the outside light, and he — from mine — was illuminated with perfect clarity. Initially, Mr. Keller appeared uncomfortable in my presence, and he seemed at a loss for words. I made no effort to ease his discomfort, but used his awkward silence instead as an opportunity to observe him more closely. I believe that it is always to my advantage to give clients a sense of their own vulnerability, and so, having reached my conclusions regarding his visit, I was quick to instill such a feeling in him.

    “There is a great deal of concern, I see, about your wife.”

    “That is correct, sir,” he replied, visibly taken aback.

Certainly a similar setup, but is it infringing? That’s where things get pretty tricky, and why I still have trouble with the idea of using copyright to cover “a character.” After all, copyright is supposed to only protect the specific expression, rather than the idea. That’s why it’s never made sense to see courts accept the idea that someone writing a different story using the same characters should be seen as infringing. The courts here seem to handle different cases differently, allowing something like The Wind Done Gone (a retelling of Gone With The Wind from another character’s perspective) but not allowing Coming Through the Rye, an unauthorized sequel to Catcher in the Rye. For reasons that are not entirely clear, judges seemed to feel that The Wind Done Gone was more acceptable as a commentary on the original, rather than just a new work building off of the original.

May 26, 2015

Ilya Somin’s new book on eminent domain

Filed under: Law,Liberty,USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

The book is being published in time to mark the tenth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s dreadful Kelo decision:

My new book, The Grasping Hand: Kelo v. City of New London and the Limits of Eminent Domain is now in print. It is the first book about the Kelo decision and the massive political backlash it generated, written by a legal scholar. The Grasping Hand is coming out just in time for the tenth anniversary of Kelo on June 23.

Kelo-Book-Cover-Final-Version-e1432095413354Here is a summary from the University of Chicago Press website (the book is also co-published by the Cato Institute):

    In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that the city of New London, Connecticut, could condemn fifteen residential properties in order to transfer them to a new private owner. Although the Fifth Amendment only permits the taking of private property for “public use,” the Court ruled that the transfer of condemned land to private parties for “economic development” is permitted by the Constitution – even if the government cannot prove that the expected development will ever actually happen. The Court’s decision in Kelo v. City of New London empowered the grasping hand of the state at the expense of the invisible hand of the market.

    In this detailed study of one of the most controversial Supreme Court cases in modern times, Ilya Somin argues that Kelo was a grave error. Economic development and “blight” condemnations are unconstitutional under both originalist and most “living constitution” theories of legal interpretation. They also victimize the poor and the politically weak for the benefit of powerful interest groups, and often destroy more economic value than they create. Kelo itself exemplifies these patterns. The residents targeted for condemnation lacked the influence needed to combat the formidable government and corporate interests arrayed against them. Moreover, the city’s poorly conceived development plan ultimately failed: the condemned land lies empty to this day, occupied only by feral cats.

    The Supreme Court’s unpopular ruling triggered an unprecedented political reaction, with forty-five states passing new laws intended to limit the use of eminent domain. But many of the new laws impose few or no genuine constraints on takings. The Kelo backlash led to significant progress, but not nearly as much as it may have seemed.

    Despite its outcome, the closely divided 5-4 ruling shattered what many believed to be a consensus that virtually any condemnation qualifies as a public use under the Fifth Amendment. It also showed that there is widespread public opposition to eminent domain abuse. With controversy over takings sure to continue, The Grasping Hand offers the first book-length analysis of Kelo by a legal scholar, alongside a broader history of the dispute over public use and eminent domain, and an evaluation of options for reform.

May 23, 2015

The Hitch

Filed under: Britain,Politics,USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

H/T to Open Culture.

A quick note: Kristoffer Seland Hellesmark was looking for a documentary on Christopher Hitchens to watch, but could never find one. So, after waiting a while, he said to himself, “Why don’t I just make one?” The result is the 80-minute documentary about Hitchens, lovingly entitled The Hitch, which features clips from his speeches and interviews.

May 18, 2015

Death rides a pale horse … called “Binky”

Filed under: Britain,Humour,Liberty,Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In the June issue of Reason, Scott Shackford talks about the work of the late, great Terry Pratchett:

Terry Pratchett may not have been the first writer to personify Death as a walking, talking skeleton tasked with reaping the souls of the living, but he was the first to give him a horse named Binky and a granddaughter named Susan.

This Death was no less efficient or inevitable despite all the whimsy, of course. As various characters in Pratchett’s long-lasting, wildly popular series of fantasy novels passed on, Death traveled across Discworld — a flat planet resting on the backs of four elephants who stood on a giant turtle that swam through the universe — to ferry the newly deceased to whatever came afterward.

So it was highly appropriate that after Pratchett’s death at age 66 on March 12, following a long and deliberately public faceoff with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, the novelist’s official Twitter account described his passing as Death gently escorting Pratchett from our rounder, less turtle-dependent world.

But let’s not dwell on Death. Pratchett’s Discworld books, all 40 of them (not counting short stories and related works), teemed with messy, disorganized life. And because he wrote in the fantasy genre, they were also packed with wizards, witches, dwarves, dragons, vampires, zombies, demons, werewolves, and the occasional orangutan. His books were humorous in tone, but tackled weighty matters of self-determination, identity, innovation, and, above all else, liberty.

“Whoever created humanity left in a major design flaw. It was the tendency to bend at the knee.” That piece of insight came from Feet of Clay, a book from right in the middle of his series, published in 1996. The witticism encapsulates a consistent theme in his books approaching how humans (and other sentient species) struggle between the desire to be free and the comfort of letting somebody more powerful or smarter (or claiming to be smarter, anyway) call the shots. In Pratchett’s books, both the heroes and the villains tended to be people in positions of authority. What separated his heroes — people like police commander Samuel Vimes, witch Esme “Granny” Weatherwax, and even Patrician Havelock Vetinari, an assassin turned ruler of the sprawling city of Ankh-Morpork — from the villains was their insistence on letting people live their own lives, whatever may come of it, even when they made a mess of things.

May 16, 2015

Charles Murray and Jonah Goldberg on civil disobedience in America

Filed under: Bureaucracy,Government,Liberty,Media,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 11 May 2015

The American ideal of limited government on life support. Is it time for civil disobedience? Charles Murray says yes. Murray has been writing on government overreach for more than 30 years. His new book, By The People, is a blueprint for taking back American liberty. Jonah Goldberg sits down with Murray to discuss civil unrest in Baltimore, the scope of the government, and why bureaucrats should wear body cameras.

According to AEI scholar, acclaimed social scientist, and bestselling author Charles Murray, American liberty is under assault. The federal government has unilaterally decided that it can and should tell us how to live our lives. If we object, it threatens, “Fight this, and we’ll ruin you.” How can we overcome regulatory tyranny and live free once again? In his new book, By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission (Crown Forum, May 2015), Murray offers provocative solutions.

May 12, 2015

Step aside, Sun Tzu, Heinlein’s Starship Troopers is the new guide to warfare

Filed under: Media,Military,Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In Popular Mechanics, Joe Pappalardo makes the claim that Robert Heinlein’s 1959 novel Starship Troopers is replacing Sun Tzu’s Art of War due to its greater relevance to 21st century warfare:

Starship Troopers cover detail

It’s not just generals and soldiers who keep the The Art of War in print. Businessmen, coaches, and lawyers all seem to get something out of Sun Tzu’s 6th century military tome — memorizing and repeating passages that speak to the tactics and strategy of success, whether that’s on Wall Street or in a war zone.

But for all its long-lasting cultural influence, the book is limited by its lack of specifics. “Know your enemy” and “win without fighting” are all well and good, but such axioms don’t really help today’s GI prepare to deploy with a robotic squadmate or decide what information to place on a digital head’s-up display. Modern warriors, surrounded by sophisticated gear and nuanced rules of engagement, need to meditate on the balance between technology and soldier, man and machine, civilian and veteran. For that kind of wisdom, they must go to military science fiction — and one great book in particular.

Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, published in 1959, is aging remarkably well. The tome chronicles the early military career of Johnnie Rico, who fights alien arachnids while clad in a heavily armed exoskeleton. The troopers drop from orbit one by one to wreak havoc on whatever target the Sky Marshal deems worthy of the attention. It’s a cool adventure novel with a soldier’s eye view that doubles a treatise on modern warrior culture, the limits of military technology, and the awful glories of fighting infantry. There’s a reason military academies like West Point recommend cadets read the book.

Like Sun Tzu’s masterpiece, Heinlein’s abounds with quotable axioms. You may not hear overly intense car salesman quoting from Starship Troopers anytime soon, but here are six reasons why the book is a practical guide to 21st century warfare.

May 10, 2015

“…the Venn diagram circles of ‘scientists’ and ‘Lord of the Rings fans’ have a large overlap”

Filed under: Media,Science,Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In The Atlantic, Julie Beck wonders “What has it got in its academic journals, precious?”

Though at first glance, science and fantasy seem to be polar opposites, the Venn diagram circles of “scientists” and “Lord of the Rings fans” have a large overlap. One could (lovingly!) label that region “nerds.”

Fight me on that if you want, but there’s plenty of evidence that suggests scientists love J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic. Several newly discovered animal species have been named after characters from the books — a genus of wasps in New Zealand is now called Shireplitis, with species S. bilboi, S. frodoi, S. meriadoci, S. peregrini, S. samwisei and S. tolkieni. The wasps bear the names of the hobbits because they too are “small, short, and stout,” according to a press release. On the other side of the size spectrum, paleontologists named a 900-pound ancient crocodile Anthracosuchus balrogus, after the Balrog, a giant whip-wielding fire monster from The Lord of the Rings. There is also a dinosaur named after Sauron, which seems kinda harsh to me. And many, many more, if the website “Curious Taxonomy” is to be believed.

“Given Tolkien’s passion for nomenclature, his coinage, over decades, of enormous numbers of euphonious names — not to mention scientists’ fondness for Tolkien — it is perhaps inevitable that Tolkien has been accorded formal taxonomic commemoration like no other author,” writes Henry Gee in his book The Science of Middle Earth.

May 3, 2015

Charles Stross – “Vampires are not sexy. At least, not in the real world.”

Filed under: Media,Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

He’s quite right … and he drives home the point in a recent blog post:

Desmodus rotundis isn’t sexy. (Except insofar as small furry rodents that carry rabies aren’t as un-sexy as some other obligate haemophages.) Bed bugs are really not sexy. But if you want maximally not-sexy, it’s hard to top Placobdelloides jaegerskioeldi, the Hippo Arse Leech.

The Hippo Arse Leech is a leech; it sucks blood. Like most leeches, its mouth parts aren’t really up to drilling through the armour-tough skin of a hippopotamus, so it seeks out an exposed surface with a much more porous barrier separating it from the juicy red stuff: the lining of the hippo rectum. When arse leeches find somewhere to feed, in due course happy fun times ensue — for hermaphrodite values of happy fun times that involve traumatic insemination. Once pregnant, the leeches allow themselves to be expelled by the hippo (it’s noteworthy that hippopotami spin their tails when they defecate, to sling the crap as far away as possible — possibly because the leeches itch — we’re into self-propelled-hemorrhoids-with-teeth territory here), whereupon in the due fullness of time they find another hippo, force their way through it’s arse crack, and find somewhere to chow down. Oh, did I mention that this delightful critter nurtures its young? Yep, the mother feeds her brood until they’re mature enough to find a hippo of their own. (Guess what she feeds them with.)

Here ‘s a video by Mark Siddall, professor of invertebrate zoology at the American Natural History Museum, a noted expert on leeches, describing how he discovered P. Jaegerskioeldi, just in case you think I’m making this up.

By the end of my description Jim and Freda were both … well, I wish I’d thought to photograph their faces for posterity. So were the audience. And that’s when I got to the money shot: the thing about fictional vampires is, vampires are only sexy when they’re anthropomorphic.

May 2, 2015

“…every word she says is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the'”

Filed under: History,Media,USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

An older article from Lesley McDowell at The Independent, discussing the relationship between Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett:

When Mary McCarthy said of Lillian Hellman, “every word she says is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the'”, a certain attitude was fostered. Not only to the celebrated playwright’s experiences in war-torn Spain during the 1930s or before the House Un-American Activities Committee during the 1950s, but also to her personal life. Hellmann, this attitude said, was a myth-maker of the worst kind. She couldn’t be trusted to tell the truth, not even about those she loved. So what if she wrote in her memoirs that crime writer Dashiell Hammett, with whom she lived on-and-off for 30 years, was the most important person in her life? “Did anyone ever see them together?” queried Gore Vidal.

Writers make myths out of people’s lives, especially their own. And when writers become embroiled with other writers, the opportunity increases ten-fold. It was to Hammett, the pulp magazine writer turned detective novelist, that she always owed a debt, Hellman insisted. The completion of her first play, The Children’s Hour, in 1934, just four years after they met at a Hollywood party, was all thanks to “help from Hammett.” She “worked better if Hammett was in the room.” Yet Hellman’s words about this crucial relationship have been doubted too. Perhaps it didn’t help that she wrote in her 1969 memoir, An Unfinished Woman, “what a word is truth. Slippery, tricky, unreliable. I tried in these books to tell the truth…I see now, in re-reading, that I kept much from myself, not always, but sometimes.”

Lillian Hellman was married to a writer, Arthur Kober, when they wound up in Hollywood in 1930. Kober had a script-writing job and Hellman was a script-reader. She was 25, bored in her five-year marriage and had writing ambitions. When she met Hammett at a party, he was 36 and famous, the bestselling author of Red Harvest and The Maltese Falcon. Different accounts of their first meeting don’t help Hellman’s case for truth-telling, but there is a nastier undercurrent to those who doubted Hellman’s version of the subsequent relationship.

Hammett was extremely handsome and rich, thanks to his books. Hellman was never a pretty girl, and had a forthright manner that scared people. Some doubted Hammett’s interest in her: why should such a successful writer take up with an unattractive nobody?

April 27, 2015

QotD: Where to use trigger warnings

Filed under: Media,Politics,Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The strongest argument against trigger warnings that I have heard is that they allow us to politicize ever more things. Colleges run by people on the left can slap big yellow stickers on books that promote conservative ideas, saying “THIS BOOK IS RACIST AND CLASSIST”, and then act outraged if anyone requests a trigger warning that sounds conservative – like a veteran who wants one on books that vilify or mock soldiers, or a religious person who wants one on blasphemy. Then everyone has to have a big fight, the fight makes everyone worse off than either possible resolution, and it ends with somebody feeling persecuted and upset. In other words, it’s an intellectual gang sign saying “Look! We can demonstrate our mastery of this area by only allowing our symbols; your kind are second-class citizens!”

On the other hand, this is terribly easy to fix. Put trigger warnings on books, but put them on the bullshytte page. You know, the one near the front where they have the ISBN number and the city where the publishers’ head office is and something about the Library of Congress you’ve never read through even though it’s been in literally every book you’ve ever seen. Put it there, on a small non-colorful sticker. Call it a “content note” or something, so no one gets the satisfaction of hearing their pet word “trigger warning”. Put a generally agreed list of things – no sense letting every single college have its own acrimonious debate about it. The few people who actually get easily triggered will with some exertion avoid the universal human urge to flip past the bullshytte page and spend a few seconds checking if their trigger is in there. No one else will even notice.

Or if it’s about a syllabus, put it on the last page of the syllabus, in size 8 font, after the list of recommended reading for the class. As a former student and former teacher, I know no one reads the syllabus. You have to be really devoted to avoiding your trigger. Which is exactly the sort of person who should be able to have a trigger warning while everyone else goes ahead with their lives in a non-political way.

Scott Alexander, “The Wonderful Thing About Triggers”, Slate Star Codex, 2014-05-30.

April 26, 2015

Giovanni Guareschi

Filed under: Europe,Humour,Media,Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

I first read the short stories of Giovanni Guareschi when I was about ten years old. Much of the political content flew right over my head, but I enjoyed the interplay of the two main characters, Don Camillo and Peppone, in their never-ending battles in the un-named tiny Italian village somewhere in the Po valley. From the beginning of this post, you can tell that Sarah Hoyt is also a fan:

Years ago on this blog I talked about “Technique of The Coup D’Etat” by Giovanni Guareschi and I typed the beginning in here. I shall copy that. (Assume typos are mine.)

At ten o’clock on Tuesday evening, the village square was swept with wind and rain, but a crowd had been gathered there for three or four hours to listen to the election news coming out of a radio loudspeaker. Suddenly the lights went out and everything was plunged into darkness. Someone went to the control box but came back saying there was nothing to be done. The trouble must be up the line or at the power plant, miles away. People hung around for half an hour or so, and then, as the rain began to come down even harder than before, they scattered to their homes, leaving the village silent and deserted. Peppone shut himself up in the People’s Palace, along with Lungo, Brusco, Straziami, and Gigio, the same leader of the “Red Wing” squad from Molinetto. They sat around uneasily by the light of a candle stump and cursed the power and light monopoly as an enemy of the people, until Smilzo burst in. He had gone to Rocca Verde on his motorcycle to see if anyone had news and now his eyes were popping out of his head and he was waving a sheet of paper.

“The Front has won!” he panted. “Fifty-two seats out of a hundred in the senate and fifty-one in the chamber. The other side is done for. We must get hold of our people and have a celebration. If there’s no light, we can set fire to a couple of haystacks nearby.

“Hurrah!” shouted Peppone. But Gigio grabbed hold of Smilzo’s jacket.

“Keep quiet and stay where you are!” he said grimly. It’s too early for anyone to be told. Let’s take care of our little list.”

“List? What list?” asked Peppone in astonishment.

“The list of reactionaries who are to be executed first thing. Let’s see now…”

Peppone stammered that he had made no such list, but the other only laughed.

“That doesn’t matter. I’ve a very complete one here all ready. Let’s look at it together, and once we’ve decided we can get to work.”

Gigio pulled a sheet of paper with some twenty names on it out of his pocket and laid it on the table.

“Looks to me as if al the reactionary pigs were here,” he said. “I put down the worst of them, and we can attend to the rest later.”

Peppone scanned the names and scratched his head.

“Well, what do you say?” Gigio asked him.

“Generally speaking, we agree,” said Peppone. “But what’s the hurry? We have plenty of time to do things in the proper style.”

Gigio brought his fist down on the table.

“We haven’t a minute to lose, that’s what I say,” he shouted harshly. “This is the time to put our hands on them, before they suspect us. If we wait until tomorrow, they may get wind of something and disappear.”

At this point Brusco came into the discussion.

“You must be crazy,” he said. “You can’t start out to kill people before you think it over.”

“I’m not crazy and you’re a very poor Communist, that’s what you are! These are all reactionary pigs; no one can dispute that, and if you don’t take advantage of this golden opportunity then you’re a traitor to the party!”

Brusco shook his head.

“Don’t you believe it! It’s jackasses that are traitors to the Party! And you’ll be a jackass if you make mistakes and slaughter innocent people.”

Gigio raised a threatening finger.

“It’s better to eliminate ten innocents than to spare one individual who may be dangerous to the cause. Dead men can do the party no harm. You’re a very poor Communist, as I’ve said before. In fact, you never were a good one. You’re as weak as a snowball in hell, I say. You’re just a bourgeois in disguise!”

Brusco grew pale, and Peppone intervened.

“That’s enough,” he said. “Comrade Gigio has the right idea and nobody can deny it. It’s part of the groundwork of Communist philosophy. Communism gives us the goal at which to aim and democratic discussion must be confined to the quickest and surest ways to attain it.”

Giggio nodded his head in satisfaction, while Peppone continued: “Once it’s been decided that these people are or may be dangerous to the cause and therefore we must eliminate them, the next thing is to work out the best method of elimination. Because if by our carelessness, we were to allow a a single reactionary to escape, then we should indeed be traitors to the Party. Is that clear?”

“Absolutely,” the others said in chorus. “You’re dead right.

“There are six of us,” Peppone went on, “And twenty names on that list, among them the Filotti, who has a whole regiment in his house and a cache of arms in the cellar. If we were to attack these people one by one, at the first shot the rest would run away. We must call our forces together and divide them up into twenty squads, each one equipped to deal with a particular objective.”

“Very good,” said Gigio.

“Good, my foot!” shouted Peppone. “That’s not the half of it! We need a twenty first squad, equipped even better than the rest to hold off the police. And mobile squads to cover the roads and the river. If a fellow rushes into action in the way you proposed, without proper precautions, running the risk of botching it completely, then he’s not a good communist, he’s just a damn fool.”

It was Gigio’s turn to pale now, and he bit his lip in anger, while Peppone proceeded to give orders. Smilzo was to transmit word to the cell leaders in the outlying settlements and these were to call their men together. A green rocket would give the signal to meet in appointed places, where Falchetto, Brusco and Straziami would form the squads and assign the targets. A red rocket would bid them go into action. Smilzo went off on his motorcycle while Lungo, Brusco, Straziami and Gigio discussed the composition of the squads.

“You must do a faultless job,” Peppone told them. “I shall hold you personally responsible for its success. Meanwhile, I’ll see if the police are suspicious and find some way to put them off.

Don Camillo, later waiting in vain for the lights to go on and the radio to resume its mumble, decided to get ready for bed. Suddenly he heard a knock at the door and when he drew it open cautiously, he found Peppone before him.

“Get out of here in a hurry!” Peppone panted. “Pack a bag and go! Put on an ordinary suit of clothes, take your boat and row down the river.”

Don Camillo stared at him with curiosity.

“Comrade Mayor, have you been drinking?”

“Hurry,” said Peppone. “The people’s Front has won and the squads are getting ready. There’s a list of people to be executed and your name is the first one!”

Spoiler alert, though this is not one of the stories that you read for the denouement: by the end of the story, the entire cell except Gigio is crammed in Don Camillo’s closet, as each successive comrade shows up to try to save him and is shoved into the closet as the next one comes along.

Then it is revealed that they didn’t in fact win the election, but more importantly, the entire cell, which had lived in fear of the Stalinist *sshole who pulled book and fervor on them every time and made everyone of them live in terror of being denounced as insufficiently fervent, now knows who the enemy really is. That is, each individual now knows he is not an isolated individual surrounded by good party members who will turn on him, but one in a collection of decent individuals kinda sorta following an ideology but not so far it blunts their humanity and ONE isolated *sshole turning them against each other for the power.

At the end of the story, Peppone finds Gigio proudly waiting to send up the red rocket and kicks him all the way to main street.

Gigio’s power is gone, because he’s revealed to be ONE individual working for himself and only that, and a hateful, little one at that.

If you’d like to know more about Guareschi and his work, you could do worse than to read the entries at The Little Blog of Don Camillo, which unfortunately hasn’t been updated for a few years, but has lots of details both about the Little World and its author.

April 25, 2015

There’s a reason SF writers tend to invent ways to travel interstellar distances quickly

Filed under: Economics,Science,Space,Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 05:00

At Real Clear Science, Ross Pomeroy sings the praises of an early publication by the pre-Nobel academic Paul Krugman:

Paul Krugman is a Nobel Prize-winning economist, a respected professor at Princeton University, and an outspoken liberal columnist for the New York Times. But first and foremost, he is a huge nerd, and proud of it.

Back in the sweltering summer of 1978, Krugman’s geekiness prompted him to tackle a matter of galactic importance: the economics of interstellar trade. Then a 25-year-old “oppressed” assistant professor at Yale “caught up in the academic rat race,” Krugman crafted his “Theory of Interstellar Trade” to cheer himself up. Krugman’s jocularity is evident throughout the paper, which was published online in 2010, thirty-two years after he stamped it out on a typewriter. Early on in the article, he even pokes fun at his chosen profession:

    “While the subject of this paper is silly, the analysis actually does make sense. This paper, then, is a serious analysis of a ridiculous subject, which is of course the opposite of what is usual in economics”

The key problem with interstellar trade, Krugman writes, is time dilation. When objects travel at velocities approaching the speed of light — roughly 300,000 kilometers per second — time moves more slowly for them compared to objects at rest. (For a great explainer of this effect, which is tied to Einstein’s theory of special relativity, check out this video.) So the crew of a space-faring cargo ship might experience only ten years while thirty years or more might pass for the denizens of the planets they’re traveling between. How then, does one calculate interest rates on the cost of goods sold? Trading partners will undoubtedly be many light-years apart and trips will last decades, so this is a vital issue to resolve.

Since the speeds of vessels will undoubtedly vary, but both planets should be moving through space at close enough velocities where time dilation wouldn’t be a factor, Krugman contends that the interest costs should be tabulated based on the time shared by the two planets. But what about those interest rates? Won’t they differ? Not necessarily, Krugman argues. Competition should lead them to equalize amongst interplanetary trading partners.

April 22, 2015

QotD: Volunteer armies, conscription, and corporal punishment in Starship Troopers

Filed under: Law,Media,Quotations,USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I hate conscription. I regard it as human slavery of the vilest sort and do not think it can be justified under any circumstances whatever. To those who say “Yes, but without the draft we could not defend the United States” I answer violently, “Then let the bloody United States go down the drain! Any nation whose citizens will not voluntarily fight and die for her does not deserve to live.”

I despise jails and prisons almost as much, and for the same reasons, and I am contemptuous of punishment by fining because it is basically unjust, being necessarily uneven and discriminatory in application — e.g., there is a reckless driver in this neighbourhood who is quite wealthy. A $500 fine to him is nothing at all, less than nothing. To me it is an annoyance and one which might well cut into my luxuries and spoil my plans. But to my neighbour across the street, a cook with two children, a $500 fine would be a major disaster.

Yet $500 is what our local courts would charge any of the three of us for drunken driving.

I suggest that ten lashes would be equally rough on each of us — and would do far more to deter homicide-by-automobile.

Both of these ideas, opposition on moral grounds to conscription and to imprisonment, are essential parts of Starship Troopers. So far as I know, no reviewer noticed either idea.

Robert A. Heinlein, letter to Theodore Sturgeon 1962-03-05, quoted in William H. Patterson Jr., Robert A. Heinlein, In Dialogue with His Century Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better, 2014).

April 18, 2015

Correlation, causation, and lobby money

Filed under: Business,Health,Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Tim Harford‘s latest column on tobacco, research, and lobby money:

It is said that there is a correlation between the number of storks’ nests found on Danish houses and the number of children born in those houses. Could the old story about babies being delivered by storks really be true? No. Correlation is not causation. Storks do not deliver children but larger houses have more room both for children and for storks.

This much-loved statistical anecdote seems less amusing when you consider how it was used in a US Senate committee hearing in 1965. The expert witness giving testimony was arguing that while smoking may be correlated with lung cancer, a causal relationship was unproven and implausible. Pressed on the statistical parallels between storks and cigarettes, he replied that they “seem to me the same”.

The witness’s name was Darrell Huff, a freelance journalist beloved by generations of geeks for his wonderful and hugely successful 1954 book How to Lie with Statistics. His reputation today might be rather different had the proposed sequel made it to print. How to Lie with Smoking Statistics used a variety of stork-style arguments to throw doubt on the connection between smoking and cancer, and it was supported by a grant from the Tobacco Institute. It was never published, for reasons that remain unclear. (The story of Huff’s career as a tobacco consultant was brought to the attention of statisticians in articles by Andrew Gelman in Chance in 2012 and by Alex Reinhart in Significance in 2014.)

Indisputably, smoking causes lung cancer and various other deadly conditions. But the problematic relationship between correlation and causation in general remains an active area of debate and confusion. The “spurious correlations” compiled by Harvard law student Tyler Vigen and displayed on his website (tylervigen.com) should be a warning. Did you realise that consumption of margarine is strongly correlated with the divorce rate in Maine?

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress