“it is the best status during these 40 years”

Posted by Sappho on October 4th, 2015 filed in History

Today I was going through my files, searching for some old photographs, and came across an old printout of a Usenet post, that was made to the group soc.culture.china, at the time of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, a couple of weeks before the tanks rolled in on June 4. At the time, students from China who were studying in the US were using soc.culture.china to organize support for the protests back home. Here is the post (passed on to the newsgroup after someone posted it to a couple of mailing lists):

Conscience and Chinatown,

I thought I would share this personal account of what’s happening on the streets of Beijing. The writer is our own Shi Limin. The “Norm” referred to is Norm Shulman, the Beijing TSE Manager.

I apologize to members on both lists for receiving duplicates of this.

— Bill

[Usenet headers omitted]

Yes, I’m all right. Thank you, my friend.

The situation here seems getting better and better. All army members are blocked outside Beijing city. The people’s life in the city looks as normal as usual. You may not able to see any difference than ordinary life on the streets or in the shops now. Although the students direct the traffic instead of the police, the accidents are less than before. The buses started to work yesterday. Many people went to their work unit this morning.

There are still thousands of students in Tan’anman square. They said “we will not end until our aims are reached”. The student area is circled and controled by the students. There are alot of people demonstrate to support them outside the area and on the Chang An street which is in front of Tan’anmen.

Beside Tan’anmen, the crowded areas are the places where the armies are. The PLA rounds the city but the people round them. Hundreds and thousands of people and students block at all the gateways. They circle the soldier cars, give them news paper, water and food. Some soldiers droped their tears. They said that they did not know what is happening in Beijing and what to do here. A group of Beida’s students and teachers went to “convey greeting to people’s son and brother army” yesterday.

So right now, the life in Beijing is very peaceful, there are no any reason for the army to entry the city. The soldiers themselves don’t want to get in to face to the students and the people there. But just in case, a lot of people go to the streets in the evening and wait there all night – they are ready to block the army’s cars using their bodies, in the meantime, they are talking about the jokes of Li Peng, shouting him abuses in the street.

The martial law while was signed by Li Pang totally failed, nobody even pay any attention to it. The demonstrations are still going on. The government hasn’t done, even said anything to this after the martial law was declared. The government already lose the control. I think China is in a turning point and they have to fill the requests of the people. I believe that the students and the people will win the struggle.

It is very very quiet this morning, it is said that there will be a big demonstration this afternoon.

I went to Tan’anmen very often these days. I have spent almost a night with the hunger strikers there last week. I with we had a “Sun Microsystems supporting group”. Don’t worry please, I am no problem here. We got a command from HK yesterday, it asked all foreign staff to go to HK. Norm said is is not necessary. I think so too. The status here is not so bad, “it is the best status during these 40 years”, Norm said. He is going to stay here. In fact, he is one of people who blocked the army’s cars in the nights. Bill, do you wanna go with me to see what type of guns the soldiers have if you are here?

I can understand that how you worry you were when you heard about the martial law in Beijing. I hope I can tell you how strong the people are and how great the students are. I am proud of them.

Xie Xie Ni, Wo De Peng You,

— Xiao Shi

Comment now »

Round up: Getting the facts right about Planned Parenthood

Posted by Sappho on September 30th, 2015 filed in Abortion

Because I’m seeing lots of different versions of facts floating around Facebook about Planned Parenthood, I will try, in this post, to round up what sources I can on getting the facts right, in relation to what Planned Parenthood does and the current proposal to defund it.

FactCheck.org on Planned Parenthood: This includes all of FactCheck’s posts under the tag “Planned Parenthood.” Because FactCheck makes an effort to be nonpartisan, it includes things that they found incorrect from people on both sides of the aisle. For instance, Harry Reid overstated the proportion of women who depend on Planned Parenthood’s services, while Jeb Bush is wrong when he argues that Planned Parenthood doesn’t do women’s health issues.

Important among the FactCheck links is Unspinning the Planned Parenthood Video; it turns out that the full, unedited video of the Planned Parenthood executive tells a different story from the edited one.

Also, Carly Fiorina’s statements about the Planned Parenthood video are mostly false according to PolitiFact. FactCheck agrees.

Sarah Kliff, at Vox, gives more details about the video to which Carly Fiorina was referring.

But when asked for a citation, her campaign replied with a video that isn’t from the Planned Parenthood sting tapes at all — and that still doesn’t show what Fiorina said it did.

Over email, campaign spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores pointed to a one-minute clip from a YouTube account called “Save Babies.”

There has been some debate about whether one particularly gory image involves a late term abortion or a stillborn baby. I am not sure how to tell. Some abortions are performed quite late. I do know, though, that the argument that, if the baby were stillborn, doctors would be trying to save a kicking baby doesn’t really hold. One of my nieces was born very premature, at only one pound six ounces, just days past the point where doctors would consider her viable. She was our miracle birth, our Christmas Eve baby who went on to thrive against difficult odds. She also would not have been saved if she had been born a week earlier. In fact, my sister was in the hospital, with drugs to stop her premature labor, and part of why doctors were able to save my niece is the fact that they were able to keep her in my sister’s womb for just long enough that she could reach the micro-premie stage when they could actually keep her alive on a respirator in the NICU. There’s a limit to how early they can do that, and there’s a limit to how early they will try. You can give birth to a very much wanted baby, who indeed looks like a fully formed baby, still moving, whom doctors won’t try to save because they know they can’t. So, yes, that image could be a stillborn baby. Or it could be a late term abortion. It would take someone way more knowledgeable than me about obstetrics and gynecology to be able to assess the likelihood of which it is, from a video snippet.

Here is the text of the bill defunding Planned Parenthood.

The bill defunding Planned Parenthood proposes to redirect the money to other community health centers. Here is a post on a health affairs blog about whether community health centers are prepared to do that.

Who provides women’s health care in rural areas? According to the Guttmacher Institute, a survey of clinics providing services to rural areas in Washington State found that “Eight of the clinics were Planned Parenthood sites, eight were private freestanding clinics and 15 were local health department clinic sites.”

Is Planned Parenthood closing its rural clinics? Sometimes, yes. Here’s a Huffington Post article about loss of STD services in rural Indiana after Planned Parenthood closed some rural clinics in the wake of a loss of funding from the state government.

That’s all I have. Feel free to offer any fact checking links of your own in the comments. Note that I will not be assessing comments for accuracy before approving them, and will not be moderating them based on people’s views about Planned Parenthood. (I will, of course, throw any comment that says anything offensive about my prematurely born niece into a black hole, but I don’t imagine I’ll get any of those.)


Links: the miscellaneous ones that have nothing to do with speculative fiction

Posted by Sappho on September 23rd, 2015 filed in Blogwatch

Five Things You Should Know About the Politics of Public Goods in Africa.

Belle Waring rebuts a particularly silly argument about Ahmed Mohammed.

Wow. Much openminded. So scientific. OK, sorry, I keep getting off-track for some reason. Right, this hoax is designed to get Ahmed Mohamed reprimanded at school, then arrested, and then become an internet cause celèbré, and then get invited to the White House. First of all, Ahmed and his family have to have judged the over/under for “young brown man thought armed with deadly weapon getting shot by the police” vs. “grievance-mongerer fêted by liberal elitists” a safe bet. I, like, would not take those odds at all. Secondly, for this plan to work, the teachers and police officers have to act like morons all up and down the line. There’s no other way. Really, it has to be a Confederacy of Dunces down there. Do these Clock Truthers realize their grim vision of Texan society is far, far more cynical than mine? Dawkins’ zealotry has obviously clouded his judgment, something which often befalls fundamentalists. To be undeservedly fair, Dawkins has perhaps been walking this back but, you know how it is. You’re a well-respected biologist—but ONE pig. It happens to, like everyone. It’s an experimental phase!

I hadn’t been paying attention to Ashley Madison hack news for weeks, and it turns out some more information came out while I wasn’t paying attention. First, their password security is worse than it initially appeared. Second, Krebs reports on a site where people bid for breaches of security by insiders. And here’s the Ashley Madison tie in:

Many experts believe the breach that exposed tens of millions user accounts at AshleyMadison.com — an infidelity site that promises to hook up cheating spouses — originated from or was at least assisted by an insider at the company. Interestingly, on June 25, 2015 — three weeks before news of the breach broke — a member on a related secret data-trading forum called the “Gentlemen’s Club” solicits “data and service” related to AshleyMadison, saying “Don’t waste time if you don’t know what I’m talking about. Big job opportunity.”

Sigrún Davíðsdóttir at A Fistful of Euros on Corbyn’s European context and the challenge to turn popularity into power.

Comment now »

Links, the science fiction, fantasy, and comics edition

Posted by Sappho on September 23rd, 2015 filed in Blogwatch

First, an old one that I haven’t gotten around to blogging: Ken Burnside gives the best “pro-Puppy” retrospective that I’ve seen on the Hugo Awards (hat tip to Jim Henley for pointing me to this one). I am one of the people who gave Ken Burnside an automatic placement below “No Award,” for reasons I’ll explain, but as they were definitely nothing personal against him, I’m happy to congratulate him on his second place after “No Award” in the “Best Related Works” category (of all the Castalia House nominees that I didn’t bother to read before voting, once I had made my decision about Vox Day, his was the one that I thought I’d be most interested in reading after I had read all the nominees I was considering). Basically, after deciding that I wasn’t going to vote straight “No Award” over Puppy nominations, but was mostly going to read each and rate them on their merits, with the exception of, oh, Vox Day personally, I decided that Vox had done a series of things (filling in a slate mostly with himself and works by his own publishing house, telling his followers to vote exactly that slate, encouraging said log rolling on his own behalf with lots of culture war rhetoric, and then threatening that if No Award won any category, no one would ever win that award again), that I would vote anything by his publishing house below No Award. And vote all the other Puppy nominees on their merits after at least starting to read them. I don’t regret that choice because, well, Vox Day, but I do feel sympathy for the self-deploying human sandbags (Ken Burnside’s words) in the line of fire, and I sure as hell don’t think people like Ken Burnside deserved threats.

That said, I’m pretty much in agreement with Burnside that my preferred outcome would have been something like No Award for the two weakest categories, Related Work and Novella, and awards to the better Puppy nominees (which I actually liked) for the other Puppy sweep categories. And, if the Sad Puppies are to continue (as I guess they will), I’d be happy to see them adopt one of his two suggestions in particular, “or actually be a recommended reading list, and have so many recommendations that it’s ineffective as a slate. I’d guess that 10-15 works per category would suffice, but I don’t know.” Not only would that many prevent said Puppy recommended reading list from acting as a slate of coordinated votes that shuts out everyone else’s preferences, but it could be a useful list in itself, for people who want to read more milsf, or “Heroic Engineer” stories.

I still think that “E Pluribus Hugo” is a big part of the solution.

Next (also an old one), Jim Henley on How to Stop Worrying and Start Loving the Ancillary Novels (if You’re Not a Liberal).

Next, Ta-Nehisi Coates will be writing Black Panther. Yay! I loved Black Panther as a child, I love Ta-Nehisi Coates, and I know he’s a big comic book geek, so this match sounds great.

Comment now »

Thomas Sowell on Irish-Americans

Posted by Sappho on September 18th, 2015 filed in Books, Race

Thomas Sowell, _Ethnic America_, Chapter 2, “The Irish”: Keith E Gatling said that this chapter in particular interested him, because Sowell describes the Irish as, in some respects, having it worse than black people.

Slaves in the United States had a longer life expectancy than peasants in Ireland, ate better, and lived in cabins built of sturdier materials, with more space, ventilation, and privacy, than the huts of contemporary Irish peasants….

… The British landlords were more than economic interests. They were a social and political power. In the eighteenth century, their power had been so great that they could physically punish Irish peasants, who dared not raise a hand in self-defense. They could even send for a peasant’s wife or daughter to spend the night with them. Some students of this earlier era have questioned whether there was more than a technical difference between slavery and the subjugation of the Irish peasant….

I read this at first warily. It’s not that I doubt the Irish had it bad. But there’s a certain “white ethnic” argument that, since we’ve been able to reach a certain equality with those white people who get termed not the least bit “ethnic,” black people really need to get off their duffs and do the same. And I think this overlooks some things. For one thing, “the Irish had it worse” accounts tend to pick just the things where Irish might have had it particularly bad, and overlook some pretty significant disadvantages (having your children routinely sold away from you) that even the Irish missed. For another, it *is* easier to “become white” and lose your earlier disadvantages when you look enough like the already accepted white people that you can lose yourself in their midst. Was Sowell, as a black conservative, and one who is wary of affirmative action, going to buy too thoroughly into that narrative?
Read the rest of this entry »

Comments Off on Thomas Sowell on Irish-Americans

Ta-Nehisi Coates on 9/11

Posted by Sappho on September 18th, 2015 filed in Books, Race

We arrived two months before September 11, 2001. I suppose everyone who was in New York that day has a story. Here is mine: That evening, I stood on the roof of an apartment building with your mother, your aunt Chana, and her boyfriend, Jamal. So we were there on the root, talking and taking in the sight – great plumes of smoke covered Manhattan Island. Everyone knew someone who knew someone who was missing. But looking out upon the ruins of America, my heart was cold. I had disasters all my own. The officer who killed Prince Jones, like all the officers who regard us so warily, was the sword of the American citizenry. I would never consider any American citizen pure. I was out of sync with the city. I kept thinking about how southern Manhattan had always been Ground Zero for us. They auctioned our bodies down there, in that same devastated, and rightly named, financial district…. In the days after, I watched the ridiculous pageantry of flags, the machismo of firemen, the overwrought slogans. Damn it all. Prince Jones was dead. And hell upon those who tell us to be twice as good and shoot us no matter. Hell for ancestral fear that put black parents under terror. And hell upon those who shatter the holy vessel.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

Part of me wanted to pick a different quote for the next one I would feature from this book. Perhaps one (which I’ll share with you later) about the writing exercises TNC’s parents gave him, and how they taught him to think. Or perhaps one about his reading in the great library at “The Mecca,” Howard University. But it’s now a week after the fourteenth anniversary of 9/11, and so I think it’s time to grapple with this one, one which chilled the hearts of at least some readers. I forget whether it was Rod Dreher or David Brooks who, in reviewing this book, quoted this section with dismay, as a sign that TNC had gone too deep into his own anger and resentment. I remember that, whoever it was, as I read the criticism in his review, I was reminded of what Malcolm X had said, after JFK’s assassination, about chickens coming home to roost, and the anger that remark brought. Was this passage TNC’s version of Malcolm’s “chickens coming home to roost”? Surely one consciously chosen, if so, for TNC knows well every event of Malcolm’s life.
Read the rest of this entry »

Comments Off on Ta-Nehisi Coates on 9/11

First chapter of Sowell’s Ethnic America, and a quote from Coates’ Between the World and Me

Posted by Sappho on September 8th, 2015 filed in Books, Race

Americans believe in the reality of “race” as a defined, indubitable feature of the natural world. Racism – the need to ascribe bone-deep features to people and then humiliate, reduce, and destroy them – inevitably follows from this inalterable condition. In this way, racism is rendered as the innocent daughter of Mother Nature, and one is left to deplore the Middle Passage or the Trail of Tears the way one deplores an earthquake, a tornado, or any other phenomenon that can be cast as beyond the handiwork of men.

But race is the child of racism, not the father. And the process of naming ‘the people’ has never been a matter of genealogy and physiognomy so much as one of hierarchy. Difference in hue and hair is old. But the belief in the preeminence of hue and hair, the notion that these factors can correctly organize a society and that they signify deeper attributes, which are indelible – this is the new idea at the heart of these new people who have been brought up hopelessly, tragically, deceitfully, to believe that they are white.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

Ethnic America, Thomas Sowell, Introduction, “The American Mosaic”: Most of this book takes several American ethnic groups one at a time (and in this sense reminds me of Albion’s Seed, which takes different colonial waves of immigration from England one at a time, and American Nations, which does the same but also includes the waves from Spain, France, and the Netherlands, and some hybrid “nations” where the cultures mixed). But the book begins with the grand view:

Over the years, a massive stream of humanity – 45 million people – crossed every ocean and continent to reach the United States. They came speaking every language and representing every nationality, race, and religion. Today, there are more people of Irish ancestry in the United States than in Ireland, more Jews than in Israel, more blacks than in most African countries. There are more people of Polish ancestry in Detroit than in most of the leading cities in Poland, and more than twice as many people of Italian ancestry in New York as in Venice.

Things discussed in this chapter include:

Read the rest of this entry »


Coates and Sowell

Posted by Sappho on September 8th, 2015 filed in Books, Race

I’m reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me and Thomas Sowell’s Ethnic America in parallel. I’m mostly posting about these books on Facebook, since that’s where I have most of my conversations with the friend who recommended Ethnic America. But I’m going to crosspost a little here. First, this post, where I compare the two books, and second I’ll have a post that’s headed by a quote from Coates, but continues with a summary of Sowell’s first chapter. Probably I won’t crosspost the discussion further, but will have it on Facebook and discuss other things here, but this should be enough to give you some idea of what it’s like to read the two books together.
Read the rest of this entry »

Comments Off on Coates and Sowell

A round up: On Hugo voting, statistics, narcissists, and DNA

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

Lawyers, Guns, and Money has a guest post by Jameson Quinn on the Hugos, Sad and Rabid Puppies, and the new E Pluribus Hugo nominations proposal, designed to allow slates to get some nominees on the ballot but not to sweep it, which passed overwhelmingly at this year’s business meeting, and which will become the new rule if it passes again next year. In the meantime, statistics on this year’s Hugo nominations have been released, and some, including Quinn, have gone over these statistics to estimate just how many Puppies there were. I found it interesting that not only were Puppies a distinct minority of nominations; Rabid Puppies were actually less numerous than Sad ones (this despite the fact that pre-Hugo anti-Puppy analysis of nominations had suggested that Rabid Puppies got their way more often than Sad ones).

Under a voting system like EPH which doesn’t give an outsized voice to minorities, I don’t think that the rabids’ outright trolling would have gotten the same traction. And I’m not the only one who feels that way; in the final debate over E Pluribus Hugo in the Worldcon business meeting, one of the speakers in support was a Sad Puppy who liked how EPH would have prevented the Rabid Puppy takeover. Remember, according to my best analysis, there were about 100 committed Sads and about 40 committed Rabids, yet because the sad slate had fewer than 5 candidates in many categories, there were a number of rabid-but-not-sad finalists, giving an exaggerated impression of Rabid strength.

And this brings my to a couple of posts about statistics by my friend Keith:

Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics About Planned Parenthood, and Unicorns explains how it can simultaneously be true that the overwhelming majority of Planned Parenthood’s business does not involve abortions, that Planned Parenthood is the largest single provider of abortions in the US, and that most abortions in the US are not performed by Planned Parenthood.

20 Women, 200 Dates, and a Little Math shows how it can both be true that 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted at some point, and that the overwhelming majority of men that women date don’t wind up sexually assaulting anyone.

Now for some non-statistical topics.

In Harvard Business Review, Michael Maccoby writes on Why People Are Drawn to Narcissists Like Donald Trump, and also has an older article (about ten years older) on Narcissistic Leaders: The Incredible Pros, the Inevitable Cons.

I’m not linking these just for the swipe at Trump (though he’s a candidate of unusually awful character – if I were picking on character alone, experience and policies be damned, I’d be so cheering for Ben Carson to overtake Donald Trump). I also see a tie in to dating. It’s often suggested that women in particular (and men not so much) are attracted to people who are bad for them, but it turns out that, in dating and friendship as well as when picking leaders, everyone is drawn to narcissists. At least for a time. If the trait’s at all genetic, it’s no mystery how narcissistic genes could survive natural selection.

Which brings me to my next set of links, the ones on genetics:

Roberta Estes at DNA Explained writes about Ethnicity Testing and Results and also about the new “shared matches” and “new ancestry discovery” features at Ancestry.com. (Like her, I’ve found that not all my new ancestry discoveries were actual ancestors. But in my case, two of my “circles” actually are for a married couple among my ancestors, and the other two “circles” are for a married couple one of whom was probably a cousin of my Hampton ancestors.)

The 23andMe blog explains haplogroups (maternal and paternal).

And here’s a BioNews post on Epigenetics: Holocaust trauma passed down the generations? It’s an interesting finding, if true, but take careful note of the qualifications at the end of the post; the study has limitations, and the finding may not bear up under further research.

Comments Off on A round up: On Hugo voting, statistics, narcissists, and DNA

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.



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.

Comments Off on The Melting Pot and Woodard’s American Nations book

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.
Read the rest of this entry »


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.

Comments Off on Hatfields and McCoys unite

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.)

Comments Off on Blog moderation policies on race and racially charged issues: UPDATED

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.

Comments Off on More from Nuclear Diner on the Iran deal

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).

Comments Off on Sasquan/Worldcon and a round up mostly of SF blogs

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.


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.

Comments Off on Always look on the bright side of life


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.

Comments Off on OXI

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.
Read the rest of this entry »

Comments Off on James Madison Moore: Lopping a branch off my family tree

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.

Comments Off on Greek referendum 2015