Asymmetrical deafness

More support for Jonathan Haidt's thesis that conservatives have a clue what progressives think, but progressives cannot return the favor.  Frank Luntz managed to get the WaPo editorial page to print a short piece exposing five major myths that the left believes about the right:
  1. Conservatives want to smother government in its crib.  Luntz believes polls are beginning to show that conservatives are less concerned about "large government, small citizens" theory than about practical measures to ensure increased accountability, so that whatever is spent on government will give demonstrable bang for the buck.
  2. Conservatives want to drive all illegal immigrants to the border and dump them in the desert. Polling suggests widespread Republican support for "tall fences and wide gates," and for some kind of path to citizenship for immigrants who have demonstrated good citizenship in various ways, including military service.
  3. Conservatives believe Wall Street can do no wrong. Liberals are confusing Wall Street with Main Street.  Conservatives are more enamored of the free market than of abstract "capitalism," and would happily see some of the miscreants in the housing market scandal strung up by their thumbs (though they may disagree about who the miscreants are).
  4. Conservatives want to smother Social Security and Medicare in their cribs. In fact, most conservatives want to preserve them, but believe they'll collapse altogether without reform.  Conservatives are also much more likely to believe that reforms based on individual choice and market competition will be broadly benign in their results.
  5. Conservatives don't care about inequality. Actually, conservatives differ from liberals in their beliefs about the best way to combat inequality, and are much more focused on opportunity than result.
Luntz might as well have held his breath, as far as the WaPo readership goes.  The comments are a hoot.  Luntz is a liar.  Luntz is a paid Rethuglican hack.  Conservatives don't really believe any of these things, but have been trained to say they do in order to mask their nefarious spot.  Conservatives hate charity because it's paid to black people and hate President Obama for the same reason.  All conservatives want to do is take reproductive choice away from women and steal tuition money from poor students.  They do it just because they're mean.  A few, milder readers report that they know some conservatives personally, and can confirm that they're not the spawn of Satan, but they are gullible children who are being misled by their evil leaders' secret agenda and Fox News.  Most commenters, however, dismiss all the information Luntz tries to give them about their opponents and express considerable resentment for having been exposed to it in the first place, especially at their beloved WaPo, where they are not accustomed to having to encounter such things.

Update:  It's occurred to me that a point about asymmetry depends on showing that the same thing doesn't happen all the time in reverse.  I've been hunting for some "Top 10 Stupid Things Conservatives Believe About Liberals" articles, published in conservative venues, that elicited purely conservative backlashes along the lines of:  "We don't believe you espouse any such benign motives behind your revolting slogans.  Our caricatures were actually quite accurate.  Everyone knows the root of your insane liberal beliefs is that you're paid Communist operatives.  The author of this piece is a smelly hippie."  I haven't been able to find any, but maybe some of you can link to them in the comments.  I did find some "Top 10 Dumb Conservative Beliefs" posts, but no comparable reader response.  Mostly they were explanations that liberals don't really hate America or the troops or family values, and don't intend to encourage personal irresponsibility, etc., with reader responses that were mild or mixed.  I admit that I have participated in more than one argument among conservatives that degenerated into the blanket explanation that all liberal initiatives were Alinsky-style tactics intended to destroy the country.  I just haven't seen that approach adopted unanimously in the comments section of a major newspaper in response to an "olive branch" style of op-ed piece.

New things are fun only if you're a predator

From Nicole Cliff at The Hairpin, via Never Yet Melted via Maggie's Farm:
If you haven't spent a lot of time around horses, you may have the idea that they are like dogs and cats (really big, dangerous dogs and cats). This is untrue. YOU are like dogs and cats, in that you are a predator. . . .  [I]f someone says to you "hey, let's try this new brunch place that has amazing cocktails," there's a decent chance you'll say "great, meet you there." Your dog feels similarly. New things are fun! That is because you are a predator. . . . If you try to take your horse to a new brunch place, you need to convince them that a) you've been there before, b) there are no cave trolls at the brunch place, c) there will be other horses at the brunch place, and d) you will be a royal pain in their ass until they quit dicking around and agree to go to the brunch place.
Husbands can be similar.


He has spent eight years churning out hundreds of thousands of copies of “The Hangover,” “Gran Torino” and other first-run movies from his small Long Island apartment to ship overseas.  “Big Hy” — his handle among many loyal customers — would almost certainly be cast as Hollywood Enemy No. 1 but for a few details. He is actually Hyman Strachman, a 92-year-old, 5-foot-5 World War II veteran trying to stay busy after the death of his wife. And he has sent every one of his copied DVDs, almost 4,000 boxes of them to date, free to American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.... 
“It’s not the right thing to do, but I did it,” Mr. Strachman said, acknowledging that his actions violated copyright law
“If I were younger,” he added, “maybe I’d be spending time in the hoosegow.”
Well, you know, even if you were younger they'd have to get it past a jury.

Fun with nomenclature

"Warming Hole Delayed Climate Change Over Eastern United States," declares the headline at Science Daily, describing the results of new studies from the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).  It seems that particulate pollution in the late 20th century created a regional "warming hole," a/k/a a cold patch, a/k/a a place where the global warming model was an abject failure for many decades.

It seems to me you could as easily say "we found a large area where global warming didn't happen, thus confounding our expectations and making us question our causation theory."  Or you might say "particulate pollution appears to be a stronger driver of climate change than the oft-reviled CO2, and in the opposite direction, so now we're really confused about that positive-feedback assumption on which most of our alarming predictions are based."  You might even say "particulate pollution paradoxically acts as a benign umbrella to protect industrialized regions from global warming," but what fun would that be?  A "Warming Hole" sounds a lot scarier and more interesting.  Who wants to crucify industry barons who are only spreading a lovely parasol?  And what respectable science journal wants to run a story about counter-evidence for global warming causation theories?

Like most of the announcements in this area, the new report is based on re-jiggered models, in this case a "combination of two complex models of Earth systems."  That's terrific.  The only thing that inspires more confidence than a complex model is two of them jammed together.

In Washington, It's Always 1945

Another good American Enterprise Institute review, courtesy of Maggie's Farm (which by the way is also the source of my last two posts). Nick interviews Jim Manzi about his book "Uncontrolled: The Surprising Payoff of Trial and Error for Business, Politics, and Society," in which he laments public policy that has not been subjected to controlled experiments.  Manzi argues that our political leaders can't shake the mindset they acquired after World War II, when the U.S. had half the world's GDP:
Our almost casual disregard for the erosion of the foundations of our political economy — endless talk but little successful action on internationally uncompetitive K-12 educational results; a widely touted university system that produces more visual and performing arts graduates than math, biology, or engineering graduates; an immigration policy that all but ignores the need to upgrade our human capital; underinvestment in certain kinds of infrastructure, science, and technology; the relentlessly rising tide of social dysfunction among the majority of the American population that does not graduate from college; somehow convincing ourselves that we are uniquely responsible for maintaining global order, when we represent only about 25 percent of global economic output; a continuous trade deficit for more than 30 years; federal government debt of 70 percent of GDP, without any real prospect of achieving fiscal balance, never mind running the budget surpluses that would be required to pay it down, and so on — is shocking and profligate. . . .  The United States can thrive in this new world, but is not destined to do so.
Manzi doesn't oppose reform; he merely advocates federalism:
My argument is not that we should avoid reforms. To the contrary, it is that we should attempt many more potential reforms by trying them out on a small scale to see how they really work.

Cash Now!

"It's your money, use it when you want it" -- so goes the late-night J.G. Wentworth TV commercial aimed at beneficiaries of "structured settlements," which are basically annuities paid over time.  You can cash out one of these settlements for a lump sum, but obviously at a discount.  Alex J. Pollock at the American Enterprise Institute asks if you'd take 80 cents on the dollar for your expectation of Social Security benefits.  Would I?  Does the Pope have lips?

The problem, of course, is that it's not your money.  It's not even money.  It doesn't exist at all.  So on that basis, heck, I'd take 10 cents on the dollar and feel like a successful bandit.

The limits of scientism

John Gray, emeritus professor of European thought at the London School of Economics, has an interesting review of Jonathan Haidt's "The Righteous Mind" in The New Republic.  He admires the book in many ways, but argues that Haidt suffers from provincialism (he's hung up on American notions of the left/right split in politics) and from the usual limitations of a faith in scientism.  In Gray's view, Haidt's newest work is a sophisticated example of "attractively simple theories that [are believed to be] invested with the power of overcoming moral and political difficulties that have so far proved intractable."

Gray gives Haidt credit for overcoming the recently voguish "primitive type of rationalism" that so often ignores the strength and value of our irrational or extra-rational nature; he acknowledges that the conscious mind is like a rider on a strong, beautiful animal.  Still, he faults Haidt for his emphasis on group morality:
Understanding morality as a group phenomenon neglects the fact that human groups are complex, historically shifting, and internally conflicted. Tribes and nations are not natural kinds of things like genes and blood types. They are historical constructions whose existence depends on human recognition. Human beings rarely, if ever, belong to only one group. One of the tasks of morality is to arbitrate the clashing loyalties that regularly arise from the many group identities that human beings possess. In some cases, morality may lead people to put aside group loyalties altogether.
Gray also argues that Haidt's functionalist definition of morality leaves him in a number of unresolved difficulties:
There is a slippage from “is” to “ought” in nearly all evolutionary theorizing, with arguments about natural behavior sliding into claims about the human good. It may be true—though any account of how precisely this occurred can at present be little more than speculation—that much of what we see as morality evolved in a process of natural selection. That does not mean that the results must be benign.
Gray cautions against Haidt's naive confidence that evolutionary psychology can resolve the conflict between utilitarianism and pluralism:
Issues such as abortion and gay marriage are not bitterly disputed because legislators have failed to apply a utilitarian calculus. They are bitterly disputed because a substantial part of the population rejects utilitarian ethics. . . . .  Haidt appears not to grasp the importance of the fact that intuitionism and utilitarianism are rivals, and not only in moral philosophy. They are also at odds in practice. Making public policies on a basis of utilitarian reasoning requires a high degree of convergence, not diversity, in moral intuitions. Such policies will not be accepted as legitimate if they violate deep-seated and widely held intuitions regarding, for example, sexuality and the sanctity of human life. . . .  Once again seemingly unaware of the depth of the problems he is addressing, Haidt tells us that such conflicts will not arise, or else they will be soon overcome, as long as people are brought together in the right way.
A good review should either warn you not to waste your time, or inspire you to acquire the book and spend time ploughing through it. This review is tipping me toward the investment of time and effort.

An Article for Eric Blair

Via Arts & Letters Daily, a review of a new book on Rome.  As always, I'll defer to Eric for a read on the quality of the thing; Rome is his bailiwick.

"The Better Half"

Here's a cheerful song about finding the good in a hard life, built around friendly lyrics and a playful arrangement.

"Suicide Doors"

Popular Mechanics has a delightful article called "The 13 Most Dangerous Car Interiors in History."  Runner up is the Lincoln Continental with suicide doors.
"Suicide doors" got their name for a reason. Many early cars didn't have locking doors, door latches opened by pressing downward, and a downward-opening latch often served as an armrest. It was a recipe for catastrophe. Without a seatbelt, anyone chilling in the back of a car with rear-swinging doors could easily fall out, especially since the wind would catch the door and blow it open. The gorgeous 1961 Lincoln Continental had suicide rear doors, harking back to a much earlier era of coachbuilt luxury cars of the 1920s.
That happens to be the subject of a pretty great rockabilly song by the Reverend Horton Heat.

Women & World Peace

Foreign Policy has an article that claims that the best predictor of a state's stability is how it treats its women.
What's more, democracies with higher levels of violence against women are as insecure and unstable as nondemocracies. 
Our findings, detailed in our new book out this month, Sex and World Peace, echo those of other scholars, who have found that the larger the gender gap between the treatment of men and women in a society, the more likely a country is to be involved in intra- and interstate conflict, to be the first to resort to force in such conflicts, and to resort to higher levels of violence....  
It's ironic that authors such as Steven Pinker who claim that the world is becoming much more peaceful have not recognized that violence against women in many countries is, if anything, becoming more prevalent, not less so, and dwarfs the violence produced through war and armed conflict. To say a country is at peace when its women are subject to femicide -- or to ignore violence against women while claiming, as Pinker does, that the world is now more secure -- is simply oxymoronic.
Well, Pinker's argument is one I don't think much of myself (we discussed it here); nevertheless, I'm not sure what to make of this argument.

Stability as such isn't much of a goal, if what is being stabilized is injustice.  Thus, to some degree, you would think it would be a good thing to see that states that are fundamentally unjust were also unstable:  that's just what we might think we would want to see.

On the other hand, growing instability doesn't seem to improve the situation for women much:  in fact, it seems to worsen it.

It seems probable that they have their causality exactly backwards.  Good treatment for women does not cause political stability; it seems to result from it.  It is in a stable atmosphere that women have often done best in human history, because it is in such an atmosphere that the traditional male advantages are minimized:  size, strength, and a mental structure that evolution has shaped for war.  In a stable environment, it is development of long-term relationships rather than combat that tends to shape society:  and these are traditional female strengths.  It's the periods of long-term prosperity and stability in which women have advanced their political and legal position.

This suggests that if you want to see women's treatment improve, you should work to stabilize society; but you will almost certainly be stabilizing an oppressive environment for the women when you do it.  The goods that come for women will come from their own work and their own natural strength, over time, not because of external efforts.

Nevertheless, there are some counterexamples to the theory that occur to me.  It would have been true during the height of the instability of the industrial age, for example, that women had greatest equality (if not best treatment) in the places rendered most unstable by the revolution; and likewise, in WWII, it was the instability that created the opportunity for large-scale female migration into factory work.

This set of data suggest that creating instability is a great thing to do insofar as it gives women a greater hand in the means of production, which may only be possible in industrialized or post-industrial societies.  It was certainly true that many Marxist revolutions promised women this very good if they would join the revolution and help overthrow the government, which is why many third-world Marxist leaders were women.  However, after the revolution the promised goods rarely materialized.

If this is the truth, though, then there's no general rule about correlation or causation to be made here.  The fact that stable states are correlated with female rights is true only just now; it was not true before, and might not be true later.

The authors would like it to be true that the correlation (and even the causation) ran in their direction, because it could allow us to avoid making a value judgment between stability and freedom for women.  In fact, I suspect we will often have to make such judgments:  and I am as ready to strike a blow for freedom today as I ever was, though experience has made me less hopeful about how much we can actually achieve in our own historical moment.

"Counsel, do you have any other arguments?"

These are not words a lawyer wants to hear from the bench, especially if his only honest answer is, "Your Honor, I got nuthin'."

Arguments before the Supreme Court this week on the Arizona immigration law went far worse than I ever imagined they would, in part because I haven't been playing close attention to the exact position of the federal government.  I did not realize, for instance, that federal law already permits local police to check the immigration status of a person they suspect of being an illegal alien.  Arizona's law merely makes such a check mandatory.  The purpose of the change apparently was to permit the state authorities to override local preferences for annulling the federal immigration laws; in other words, this law works out a conflict between state and municipal authorities, not between state and federal authorities.

I also did not realize that the government stipulated at the outset that it was offering no arguments about the danger of profiling.  The law itself is race-neutral, so any such argument from the DOJ would have to await the implementation of the state law and the application of the usual statistical tests.  There may come a day when we have to endure "disparate impact" arguments on this subject, but today is not that day.

Remarks from the Justices amply demonstrated how badly the federal government's arguments were faring, but some of the worst came from moderate Justice Kennedy, from new, presumptively liberal Justice Sotomayor, and even from obviously liberal Justice Breyer.  Breyer asked how a provision that would require policemen call to check immigration status can be said to conflict with a federal rule that allows policemen to call to check immigration status.  Sotomayor got the DOJ to admit that the state would merely alert the feds that they'd discovered an illegal alien; nothing Arizona is doing (or could do) would require the feds to take the aliens into custody, if they didn't feel that doing so was a high priority or worth the expense.  (I'd just expect the feds to set up an automated message system that no one ever checks.  "Press one if you're wasting our time with more reports of illegal aliens, you red-state poster-children for hate crimes.")  Justice Kennedy's question was even more devastating: "So you're saying the government has a legitimate interest in not enforcing its laws?"  And as has been so widely reported, Justice Roberts stated, "It seems to me that the Federal Government just doesn't want to know who is here illegally or not."  But none of the Justices was impressed by the argument that federal pre-emption means the states are prohibited from giving the feds information they'd prefer not to know.

I don't know of any precedent for this situation, where the feds want to keep a law on the books, then claim pre-emption over the issue whether it will be enforced as written.  As Justice Scalia pointed out:
Anyway, what's wrong about the states enforcing Federal law? There is a Federal law against robbing Federal banks. Can it be made a state crime to rob those banks? I think it is. But does the Attorney General come in and say, you know, we might really only want to go after the professional bank robbers? If it's just an amateur bank robber, you know, we're going to let it go. And the state's interfering with our whole scheme here because it's prosecuting all these bank robbers.

Religion & Science, Together

Chemistry World discusses a new technique for recovering the original beauty of Medieval illuminations.  (Hat tip:  Medieval News.)  This is, of course, what the relationship between science and faith ought to look like:  a beautiful partnership, each seeking truth according to its discipline.

Tom Sawyer's Friend:

...the Washington, D.C. bureaucrat.
The Department of Labor is poised to put the finishing touches on a rule that would apply child-labor laws to children working on family farms, prohibiting them from performing a list of jobs on their own families’ land. 
Under the rules, children under 18 could no longer work “in the storing, marketing and transporting of farm product raw materials.”
That means "no milking the cows," as well as "no picking the corn," and "no carrying bales of corn that I picked," and "no going to the farmers' market on Sunday, in the hope that your smiling face might charm someone into buying our tomatoes."  

It also means "No more 4-H" and "No more Future Farmers of America."

You can probably still whitewash the fence... at least until the next set of rules comes along.

Fixing Boys

Let's leave aside the question of whether there is a "war on boys" or a "war on women," or whether the system is stacked against one or the other.  It's clear that, regardless of how "the system" is "stacked," boys have significant problems with school as currently structured.

A better question, then, might be:  how can we structure school so that boys tend to excel?

Here are a few thoughts on structuring a program for boys, with a very small amount toward the end on how it would interact with a program for girls.

1)  It would involve longer school days, but with more and longer breaks for physical activity.  Boys at the elementary school level should be getting up for a good forty-five minutes' play at least three times during the school day.  At elementary levels one of these play periods can be formalized, into sports or (especially) martial arts; the others should be free.  At higher levels, first two and then periods should be formalized:  as boys grow into teenagers they need more structure to keep them out of trouble.

2)  It should assume that boys mature more slowly, and thus focus on topics earlier in their education that require less emotional maturity.  Math and science are good subjects at early ages; history and emotionally-difficult literature should be pushed back.  Stories that can be read to boys, or that have shown a long history of being interesting to boys, are good at this age -- adventure tales, Robin Hood, or books without emotional content like stories about airplanes and trains.  Stories that require them to confront or examine complex emotional truths are for later.  The technical skills of reading and basic composition do not involve much emotional weight, but advanced composition -- because it requires a mastery of content, which comes from emotionally laden things like history and literature -- should be pushed back as well.

3)  This implies that boys and girls should usually be educated separately, although the implication is not rigid; and in addition, there are substantial benefits to having boys and girls working alongside each other from early life.  It would be good to break school days into class periods for each subject, and the classes taught differently, so that individual accommodations can be made.  A boy who matures unusually quickly may benefit from being introduced to more emotionally complex materials, so that he might go to a class mostly filled with girls for the literary period; a girl might not develop as quickly, and go to a class filled mostly with boys.  Because boys will focus more on math and science early, those classes will probably advance faster; some girls who show especial aptitude may spend part of their days in boy-heavy classes.

These are just some initial thoughts; any or all of these thoughts may be wrong.  The point is to think about the problem from the perspective of trying to construct a solution that will work for the boys.  What do you suggest?

Once More with Feeling:

Philosophy is being made obsolete by science, claims a theorist cited by The Atlantic:
In January, Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist and Director of the Origins Institute at Arizona State University, published A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing, a book that, as its title suggests, purports to explain how something---and not just any something, but the entire universe---could have emerged from nothing, the kind of nothing implicated by quantum field theory.
Well, yes, "the kind of nothing."  This is just how we got started, though:  this "kind of nothing" isn't nothing at all.  It's the potential for something.

It turns out that the New York Times ran a piece that we somehow missed containing a rebuttal on just the same terms as we have been making.  The author was not me, though, but a better authority: a philosopher named David Albert, who also holds a Ph.D. in theoretical physics.  I am gratified to learn that he raises substantially the same point.
"The particular, eternally persisting, elementary physical stuff of the world, according to the standard presentations of relativistic quantum field theories, consists (unsurprisingly) of relativistic quantum fields... they have nothing whatsoever to say on the subject of where those fields came from, or of why the world should have consisted of the particular kinds of fields it does, or of why it should have consisted of fields at all, or of why there should have been a world in the first place. Period. Case closed. End of story."
The Atlantic decided to interview only Krauss, so you can read the rebuttal-to-the-rebuttal.  However, having done so, I can't say that I find it enlightening or even interesting.  He claims that philosophy doesn't advance while science does; the reviewer points out that the basis of computer science and artificial intelligence is based on recent work in philosophy of language.  'Well, I was just being provocative,' but the important areas of philosophy are being subsumed by other fields.  What about the ones that continue to produce insight?  'Those will be subsumed.'  Bertrand Russell?  'He was a mathematician.'  (Also a philosopher!  As Albert is both a philosopher and a physicist.)  It would be better to read St. Augustine on physics than the people reviewing his book, who are 'morons' (with, in Albert's case, a pair of advanced degrees in quite difficult subjects).

There is a point he's trying to make here, though, and if we are patient with him we can almost see it.  He clearly misses the philosopher's point, but that's because he wasn't listening.  Let's not make the same mistake.  Just what is he trying to say beneath all that sneering?

A modest proposal

My notion for a simultaneous attack on three problems:  (1) uninsured free riders on the American healthcare system, (2) the unconstitutional individual mandate under ObamaCare, and (3) the problem of illegal immigration:  limit the individual mandate to illegal immigrants, the penalty for non-compliance being immediate deportation.  Check insured status automatically during all traffic stops, the same way we check auto insurance.  Then abolish EMTALA for illegal immigrants.

I realize this doesn't address the problem of uninsured free riders under EMTALA who are American citizens, but at least the poorest of them are eligible for Medicaid, and they're not pouring over the borders.  This proposal also assumes it's constitutional to deport illegal aliens who can't prove they have medical insurance, but since they're legally subject to deportation anyway, I don't foresee the Supreme Court objecting.

A Culture of Arms

I personally believe that it is proper to carry arms openly whenever possible; the benefits of this are something we spoke of years ago, and I haven't changed my mind.

Nevertheless, for many people concealed carry is the only possible carry.  The usual solution is to carry some sort of holster, but another option is to wear clothing designed for the purpose of carrying concealed weapons.  The specialty industry built around this second option includes fine craftsmen like those at Coronado Leather, as well as larger-scale manufacturers like 5.11 Tactical.

Apparently, though, Woolrich has begun a line aimed at those who wish to carry a firearm in a fashionable way.    Under Armor, which pitched a military-approved version of their undershirts to help soldiers and Marines stay cool in Iraq, is apparently also in this market.

Woolrich is the most interesting, though, because it's such an ordinary part of American culture.  It was there nearly two hundred years ago when we were pushing West and needed warm things against frontier weather; these days, Woolrich products are available for sale in every Cracker Barrel by every interstate in the country.

It's encouraging.

Shāh Māt

Shāh Māt, meaning king-kill in ancient Persian, or as we say today:  checkmate. It seems the game of chess may have originated in India around the sixth century A.D., before spreading to Persia and thence to Europe via the Muslim expansion. Early on, it was called chaturaṅga, which translates as "four divisions (of the military)":  infantry, cavalry, elephantry, and chariotry.  (No hawks?  -- and by the way, isn't it a shame that elephantry no longer figures heavily in our military traditions.)  It's not too surprising that infantry and cavalry would become pawns and knights, but I wouldn't have guessed that bishops started out as elephants or rooks as chariots.  The position now called a rook has been filled not only by chariots over the intervening centuries but also by boats, carts, and towers.  The original pieces next to kings were viziers, but transmuted into queens by a thoroughly obscure process.  Early queens, like early bishops, had much more limited moves.
The Cloisters in New York City are now featuring a traveling exposition of early chess pieces carved from walrus ivory, probably in eleventh-century Norway, which were discovered in 1831 on the Isle of Lewis off the western coast of Scotland.  In this set, the rook takes a human form:
Among the warders (rooks) in the exhibition, who are represented as foot soldiers, one bites the top of his shield, barely containing his frenzied eagerness for battle. Scholars have identified such figures as berserkers (the soldiers of Odin from Norse mythology), known from the Heimskringla — the Chronicle of the Kings of Norway — of the poet Snorri Sturluson (ca. 1179–1241).
H/t Maggie's Farm.

Immigration confusion consolidates polling from a number of sources over time.  The link takes you to a summary of public attitudes to immigration, though other issues are addressed elsewhere in the site.  One of the strongest messages is that voters favor Arizona's immigration bill and think the Obama administration should butt out.  On most other immigration issues, public opinion is far less clear.  Americans' support for amnesty, for instance, swings over all the place depending on how the question is worded.  If you throw in enough words about ensuring that a new law will take account of work history, tax payments, and ties to the community, it will be popular.  Other formulations of the question, however, can elicit a lukewarm response even if they refer generally to those same considerations.  Similarly, if a question sticks closely to whether immigration is the primary responsibility of the federal or the state government, opinion will be mixed.  But throw in the question of whether the state should be allowed to step up if the federal government fails, and Arizona wins hands-down.

For the most part, you can find the expected divergence of opinion between Republicans and Democrats, with Independents splitting the difference.  Nevertheless, I was surprised to find that both Republicans and Democrats respond well to the statement "Do you favor or oppose allowing local boards [emphasis supplied] to determine whether illegal immigrants can stay in the United States based on factors such as how long the immigrants have lived here, if they have a family, a job and are paying taxes, and have other ties to the community?" while Independents do not.

Questions about whether immigrants contribute to or detract from American prosperity yield mixed results until you throw in the concept of balancing an immigrant's contribution against his drain on public freebies.

By far the clearest division of opinion appears when the answers are separated between Latino and non-Latino.  This division dwarfs the disagreements among the parties generally.

The new slavery

We all love lawyers, don't we?  -- when they make up those clever, mind-expanding arguments by way of increasing social justice.  The International Union of Operating Engineers has sued Indiana’s governor, attorney general, and labor commissioner, asserting novel theories under which the state's right-to-work laws are slavery prohibited by the Thirteenth Amendment. First, the union is required to negotiate on behalf of all workers, regardless of what percentage of them have elected not to join the union. Okay, I at least understand why that one gets up their noses, even if I can't quite buy calling it slavery. But the second argument is that the law requires union workers to labor alongside non-union workers. If that's slavery, too, we've got a whole lot of restructuring to do.

What should we call it when taxpayers are forced to work to support other people? If we start calling it slavery whenever someone imposes a free-rider element on the system, let alone whenever we're forced to endure the company of people we disapprove of in public places, we're going to need a new word for real slavery.  By this theory, the Jim Crow laws were an admirable anti-slavery measure.

*Updated to substitute a better link for the broken one above (thanks, Valerie!).

New horizons in tech world

Not all you younguns will remember these things, so come sit by Gramma's rocker while she reminisces about 1979 with the help of these old AT+T videos.   One is a recruiting spot for the Bell Labs, showing earnest young tech geeks and their bad hair talking about good places to work and good communities for their families. These cutting-edge careers involved things like computer-to-computer communications that were about to revolutionize data transport.  The young technicians are cheerfully brisk about their career opportunities, without imagining that they're the center of the world.

The other video shows the happenin' new designer telephones, the kind you used to plug into a wall -- some even had a dial.  The featured homes all look more like something out of Dallas or A Clockwork Orange than what I remember of homes back then, when I was a new college graduate.  The phones are fun to look at, but it's the clothing that cracks me up.

A prisoner breaks out of the dilemma

This clip made my day.

H/t Not Exactly Rocket Science.

Word sleuthing

Here's something that's been bothering me lately.  (I don't have enough real trouble.)  What is the root of the past participle "fraught," as in "fraught with menace"?  On the analogy of "thought" and "taught," I get frink or freach, which lacked a certain something.  On the analogy of "wrought," whose root I imagined to be either work or wreak, I get fork or freak.  Freak seems to hold real promise:  when you're freaking out, you're fraught.  Somehow the word "free" seems to be involved, as well, which is how you get the contrast between "barrier-free" and "barrier-fraught" architecture, but as far as I can tell no one thinks there's a true etymological link between free and fraught.

Today I finally tried to look it up.  Most sources claim the root is the same as the participle, "fraught," but they admit that nobody says "to fraught" and that, if they did, its archaic meaning would be close to what we now suggest with the word "freight."  I can accept freight.  A situation is metaphorically freighted with some quality just as it can be fraught with that quality.  So I'm glad we cleared that up.

The experts claim, by the way, that the proper past participle of wreak is "wreaked," while "wrought" goes only with "work."  Well, I don't know.  I always thought you wrought havoc.

Efficient laundry

High-falutin' detergents add expensive enzymes, which break up stains.  They really work, but when the wash cycle is over the enzymes go down the drain along with the cheap soap and dirty water.  But wait a minute -- didn't they tell us in chemistry class that the whole point of enzymes is that they facilitate reactions without being used up?

Two bright fellows, C.S. Pundir and Nidhi Chauhan, reported to the Journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry Research that they had bound the four most common laundry enzymes to plastic surfaces (a bucket and scrub brush used in pre-washing) in a way that made the enzymes available for at least 200 re-uses over a three-month period.  It's a cheaper approach, and a lot less junk in the wastewater, too.  It's not commercially available yet, unfortunately.

Just-in-Time Structures

Conventional structures are sized for maximum loads, but maximum loads don't happen very often.  Wouldn't it be great if we could save material by strengthening structures only during emergencies, so to speak?  At the University of Stuttgart, they're experimenting with hydraulic drives that respond to unusual loads, which permits a structure to be made much thinner and lighter than usual.  In this prototype, a curved wooden shell touches down at four points, three of which end at moveable hydraulic cylinders.  A control system reads the load status at multiple points in the structure and moves the three free-floating points to counteract variable loads resulting from wind or snow.  As a result, the shell can be much thinner than what you'd expect for its huge span:  only four centimeters thick for 100 square meters of structure.

Imagine a bridge built with this system.  You really wouldn't want to lose power to the control system while traffic was on the bridge.