Reading faster

Spritz is publicizing a speed-reading app that really seems to work.  The program feeds you one word at a time.  This site lets you experiment with up to 600 wpm, though apparently the program can go faster.  I guess the idea is to load your reading material into the program, which is something I'd like to try.

Lost flight

It's starting to look as though the missing Malaysian flight en route to Beijing was the victim of some kind of explosion.  The Boeing 777 and its experienced pilots lost contact shortly after reaching cruising altitude, in crystal-clear weather, without any sign of distress.  It may or may not be a coincidence that two passengers were traveling on passports that had previously been stolen in Thailand.


A team of Hungarian programmers struggle to teach autonomous drone copters to use alignment, attraction, and avoidance to simulate the flocking behavior of birds.

Can they ever be taught to behave as beautifully as these roosting starlings near Oxford, England?

Evolution of Species

For those of you who followed YAG's and my long discussion of whether there really is such a thing as "species" outside the human mind, an article on translating Darwin into Arabic, which lacks a word for species. How do you begin to convey the concept?
There rolls the deep where grew the tree.
O earth what changes hast thou seen!
There where the long street roars, hath been
The stillness of the central sea.
Are God and Nature then at strife,
That Nature lends such evil dreams?
So careful of the type she seems,
So careless of the single life.
It's strange to think that Tennyson was wrong, but perhaps -- at least in animals -- the single life is all there is. It is different in plants. You can take a cutting off a tree and graft it to another, often even one of a very different 'type.' You can pluck a green twig and put it in the right compound, and it will grow a new tree.

Perhaps we could do that with adequately advanced technology even with people. Presumably if I took your right arm and made a new you, it would not be the same person. The seat of consciousness would differ, and that alone means you are not the same. Do trees have consciousness? Somehow they know the sun.

Fear and Awe

Perhaps it's no surprising that I gave a minute to this 'test,' because is built strictly around mythology.
What Kind Of Mythical Creature Are You?

You got: Dragon

You inspire fear and awe, and you’re fiercely protective of the people and possessions you cherish. You’re a creature of comfort, you enjoy living luxuriously, but you’re by no means lazy. If provoked, you’re a fearsome enemy, but you’re not easily angered. You enjoy time to yourself, but you also require intellectual stimulation, because behind all that raw power, you’re also sharp as a tack.

Friday Night AMV

Ain't no rest for the wicked. Another appropriation(?) of old film noir style.

They vote, too

As usual, I administered the primary election in my precinct earlier this week.  There were two face-palm moments.  First, there were the usual handful of voters who took the news that they would have to choose between the Democratic primary and the Republican primary as if it were an immobilizing jolt from a taser.  After meeting with a frequently hostile response to greeting each voter with the opening question "Republican or Democrat?" we tried asking them whether they preferred to cast a Republican ballot or a Democrat ballot.  "I'm not really affiliated with any party," many responded.  "That's OK," I would reply.  "Texas doesn't have closed party registration, anyway.  It's no one's business but your own what party, if any, you identify with.  But there are two separate elections today, and you can vote in only one of them."  For most people, this was enough.  A few took the opportunity to examine the two sample ballots and make the decision, apparently for the first time, which one they were most interested in.  This puzzles me, because I'd have guessed that the only people who bother to vote in primaries are fairly plugged into the process.  What's more, there's very little point in voting in a Democratic primary in Texas, especially in a county where no candidate for a local office has a snowball's chance of winning unless he prevails in the Republican primary; once that's over, he's likely to be running unopposed in the general election.

One guy couldn't assimilate the news.  He was furious.  "I don't vote for the party, I vote for the man," he protested.  Gosh, then a primary is the place for you, buddy, because party affiliation won't help you at all in deciding which candidate you want to represent a particular party in the general election come November.  All you can possibly do is vote for the individual.  Not good enough.  How dare we infringe his right to pick and choose among the races, switching back and forth between the ballots?

Don't get me wrong.  A very good case can be made for open, non-partisan primaries and the breaking of the stranglehold of the two dominant parties.  It just can't be made very effectively on election day.  No matter how much sympathy I might have for his underlying political point, I couldn't give him two ballots to vote on Tuesday.  "I just won't vote, then!" he shouted, and stomped out.  Anyone would think the whole issue was taking him totally by surprise.  And yet this was no youngster but a man in his 60s, who I happen to know owns his own business.

(This flip-side of this confusion is expressed by at least one or two voters in every primary over why they can't just vote a straight party ticket, which is so much more convenient.  But they're rarely angry about it, and generally can be brought quickly to understand why that won't work in a party primary.)

The second moment came when we were trying to reconcile the number of people who had signed in to vote with the number of unused ballots remaining when the polls closed.  This being a primary, I was only one of two judges for the day.  My fellow judge had been issued only 25 ballots for the whole day, because this is a small precinct in a county with very few blue voters.  Our ballot-scanning machine report indicated that 6 Democratic ballots had been cast, but only 18 unused ballots could be found.  The judge came up with the idea that she'd been issued ballots with serial numbers from XX251 through XX275, which by her reckoning meant she'd started with only 24 ballots.  I posited that ballot numbers 251 through 275 made for 25 ballots.  She thought I was nuts:  275 minus 251 clearly is 24.  "Suppose you had ballots numbered 1 through 10," I suggested.  "Would that be 10 ballots or 9?  You've got to subtract the two numbers, then add one.  Otherwise you'll be leaving out one of the other of the endpoints."  She still thought I was nuts.  But hey, I don't have to sign her paperwork.

Living over retail

I'm a suburban-turned-exurban gal.   Only once in my life have I ever rented an apartment in a commercial district, with shops downstairs.  I absolutely loved it:  instant access in the morning to latte ad a bagel, then a 2-minute drive to the office.  The Wall Street Journal reports that, until about four years ago, "shopkeeper" apartments went for 20% below what otherwise would have been considered market value.  Today they're selling like hotcakes, which I can easily understand.

When I was a kid, I was awfully fond of a nearby shopping center built like a European village, with winding streets, quaint shops and restaurants on the ground floor, and apartments upstairs.  It's an enduring disappointment that it didn't catch on, replaced instead by a lot of interchangeable air-conditioned malls with interchangeable chain stores.

I think these are the apartments I lived in part-time a few years ago, when I was spending so much time working in Houston that it was worthwhile renting a small space to spend most weeknights.  If not, they're much the same, and in the same area:  just southwest of Houston's business district.  No bigger than a hotel room, but much less depressing, and cheaper in the long run.

Obama is not a Keynesian, he's an American!

MikeD linked to this thoughtful YouTube clip at Cassandra's place.  I missed it when it came out in 2012.

"You must think Americans are stupid!"

The man-in-the-street interviews are a well that never goes dry for me.

A Little Celtic Punk for the Weekend

Went and saw the Dropkick Murphys the other night. Good music to kick off the weekend.

Numbers can be misleading

So it's understandable that the HHS is not prepared to release any figures on the number of previously uninsured Americans who have become insured under Obamacare.  They've got figures on lots of other stuff, though, so we have that going for us.

Identity politics

If Bill Clinton was the first black president, and Obama is the first woman president, what will Hillary!TM be?

Speaking of isolationist mindsets

No doubt we've all been reading starry-eyed editorials about how Putin grasps the enormity of his error and is only seeking a face-saving exit strategy.  Here's another view:
Far from thinking that its incursion was a foolish blunder, Russia appears to be acting in the belief that it has inflicted a humiliation on the West and made solid gains on the ground in Ukraine.  It is doubling down on the policy, and as far as one can read the mixed signals from the Kremlin, appears to be saying that the West must swallow the annexation of Crimea or watch as Russia further destabilizes eastern Ukraine.
Or maybe the West must swallow both.

Are we going the way of the Ming?

The Ming dynasty famously went into isolationist decline towards the middle of the second millennium, after an impressive run.  Noah Smith at The Week believes the U.S. is in danger of the same fate, in part from its isolationism, in part from a neglect of STEM studies, but mostly because from the complacency that besets civilizations that perceive themselves in a "Golden Age."

A remarkable aspect of Smith's piece is the complete avoidance of market forces.  Maybe that's part of the STEM studies that, as he acknowledges, too many people find too hard to tackle.  He has a glimmer of a notion that civilizations deteriorate when they try to insulate themselves from competition, but he doesn't seem to see the economic implication.

It's everywhere

Something in a FireDogLake post made me ask the question:  is the Defense Department seriously including a Climate Change analysis in its published reports these days?   Sadly, it is true:
Across each of the three pillars of the updated defense strategy, the Department is committed to finding creative, effective, and efficient ways to achieve our goals and assist in making strategic choices.  Innovation – within our own Department and in our interagency and international partnerships – is a central line of effort.  We are identifying new presence paradigms, including potentially positioning additional forward deployed naval forces in critical areas, and deploying new combinations of ships, aviation assets, regionally aligned or rotational ground forces, and crisis response forces, all with the intention of maximizing effects while minimizing costs.  With our allies and partners, we will make greater efforts to coordinate our planning to optimize their contributions to their own security and to our many combined activities.  The impacts of climate change may increase the frequency, scale, and complexity of future missions, including defense support to civil authorities, while at the same time undermining the capacity of our domestic installations to support training activities.  Our actions to increase energy and water security, including investments in energy efficiency, new technologies, and renewable energy sources, will increase the resiliency of our installations and help mitigate these effects.
What a humdinger.  Just count the buzzwords: creative, effective, efficient, goals, strategic choices, innovation, partnerships, paradigms, assets.   Slip in a little something about climate changes increasing something or other, possibly.  Can we suppose the author really had anything in particular in mind, or was he only checking boxes?
The pressures caused by climate change will influence resource competition while placing additional burdens on economies, societies, and governance institutions around the world.  These effects are threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions – conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence.
There must be people who spend their whole military career on this kind of thing, unless someone has had the good sense to farm it out to civilian content suppliers.

Decoding school marketing slogans

From a homeschooler who calls herself an "unschooler."

Kids out of the box

Unexpected test answers.  I particularly like the one about the coin and the dice.

"We don't have to go high school with him"

I don't quite know what to think about this parent's story, never having raised a teenager of my own.  What does ring a bell with me is the idea that you can't do the caring about school for the school-aged kid.  One way or another, he has to care on his own.  I liked the way this family at least negotiated a solution to the problem of his refusal to get up and out of the house on a schedule that didn't disrupt everyone else.

I don't remember school ever being optional, to the point where I simply never gave it a thought.  In any case, in a million years my parents wouldn't have sat still for my turning the household on its head every morning. Though less strict than their own parents had been, they were not pushovers by any standard.  They were up and out of the house before I was, and never considered it their job to make sure I got to school or even that I woke up at any particular time; if I wanted a ride instead of biking or walking, I conformed to their schedule.  As an adult, I figured out how to get jobs where I could set my own hours.  Alarm clocks have always been reserved for special occasions.

They raised a kid with a lifelong, almost involuntary habit of sabotaging institutional discipline whenever it's encountered.  I wonder sometimes if I'll end up in a nursing home and how I'll handle it.

Bad relationship news

How can you tell when that special someone may not be marriage material after all?

Normally it would be preferable to get this information before you go into labor.

In other news.  ("Would women really opt for this invasive surgery?" "Are you kidding?")

Failure to launch

This story from New Jersey is a little confusing.  A judge has been called on to decide whether parents must continue financial support of a child of 18.  What factors should we be considering?  Is it enough for you--as it is for me--to know that she had left home?  Should it matter that she was defiant of her parents' objection to a bad-apple boyfriend?  Is it important that she wants to keep attending a private high school that costs $5,300 a year?

My parents were good enough to continue supporting me as long as I was in school, until I married.  Pretty simple rules.  We didn't have a lot of control battles about it, but I knew perfectly well that if I offended them deeply enough and undermined their faith in my judgment, they were free to cut me loose financially.  I never lived at home after I turned 18, and always paid my own expenses when not attending school full-time.  It seemed like a generous arrangement.

I have several relatives and acquaintances who've struck a very different deal with their adult children.  It's very puzzling, and the children, far from feeling grateful, appear aggrieved:  stuck in a long twilight of post-adolescence.

Anyway, if the courts have to be brought in to adjudicate a quarrel between parents and their children, that's a serious problem all by itself.

"All this beauty at our expense!"

Theodore Dalrymple deplores not so much the graft as the vulgarity of kleptocrats' use of public money:
Extreme wealth, whether honestly or dishonestly acquired, seems these days to bring forth little new except in the form and genre of vulgarity.  Mr. Ambani’s skyscraper tower home in Bombay is a case in point:  His aesthetic is that of the first-class executive lounge of an airport.  Mr. Ambramovich’s ideal is that of a floating Dubai the size of an aircraft carrier.  Only once have I been invited to a Russian oligarch’s home, and it struck me as a hybrid of luxurious modernist brothel and up-to-date operating theater.  I saw some pictures recently of some huge Chinese state enterprise’s headquarters, and it appalled me how this nation, with one of the most exquisite, and certainly the oldest, aesthetic traditions on Earth, has gone over entirely to Las Vegas rococo (without the hint of irony or playfulness).
H/t (again) Maggie's Farm.


Dr. Helen reports that men in hot cars find it easier to pick up hot women.  It's hard to dispute the cited study, but it got me to thinking about whether in my innocent youth I'd graded men "up" on the basis of their cars.  Back in the Pleistocene, before the advent of the NPH, I was attracted to other men from time to time.  I can't remember any of their cars.  I don't think most of them even had cars.  I might have been impressed by their cool bicycles, though I don't quite remember.  Their rock-star hair, certainly.  Their preference for natural fibers over polyester.  IQ and independence of mind, absolutely--opinions that wouldn't induce eye-rolling--as well as a willingness and ability to support themselves.  A sort of non-frat-boy quality that's hard to define and may have had little value in screening out the real wankers.  But not their wheels.

Isn't it possible that the guys most interested in cars were most interested in trying to win the attention of the kind of chicks who were most interested in guys' cars?

H/t Maggie's Farm.

The Devil and the Harvard Lawyer

For some years now the "Amazon Chernobyl" has been an environmental cause célèbre. Texaco is alleged to have polluted the Ecuadorian Amazon and poisoned its indigenous inhabitants.  As the successor in interest to Texaco, Chevron has been sued for years by counsel representing 30,000 Amazonians, but asserts that Texaco cleaned up its own spill and left the country decades ago, while current pollution is the result of the later (and ongoing) shoddy operations of Ecuador's government-owned oil company.

The documentary film "Crude," directed by Joe Berlinger, wholeheartedly adopts the position of the indigenes, who are represented by New York's Harvard-trained plaintiff's lawyer Steven R. Donziger.   Admirers of "Crude" were thrilled when, several years ago, Donziger won an $18 billion judgment against Chevron in an Ecuadorian court.  Like the makers of "Crude," Wikipedia also wholeheartedly adopts Donziger's position, but today added an interesting offhand link to an unwelcome development:   a federal district court in New York handed down a 500-page judgment on Tuesday enjoining Donziger and others from profiting from enforcement of the Ecuadorian judgment, including Donziger's expected $600 million share of the fee, on the ground of a RICO conspiracy to corrupt the Ecuadorian trial.

I've never read anything quite like the judgment, which details a long and lurid story in dispassionate and organized prose, detailing the many instances in which Donziger and his allies betrayed their troubled consciences:
Indeed, [wrote the court,] one Ecuadorian legal team member, in a moment of panicky candor, admitted that if documents exposing just part of what they had done were to come to light, “apart from destroying the proceeding, all of us, your attorneys, might go to jail.”
“Deal with Gustavo Pinto [Donziger wrote in his journal] – feel like I have gone over to the dark side.  First meeting like that I was not eaten alive.  Made modest offer, plus bonus.  Agreed to keep it between us, no written agreement.  Independent monitoring.”
The exposure feared by the whole team included a bewildering array of dirty tricks, including extortion and bribery, striking at the heart of the case against Chevron.  Supposedly independent experts were pressured to abandon analytical techniques that implicated the Ecuadorian government's drilling operations rather than the much earlier ones of Texaco; expert reports apparently were ghostwritten or even forged.

That this story can be told in any detail is a testament, not only to the power of unguarded (and incompetently encrypted) email communications, but to Donziger's insatiable desire for publicity:  it's the out-takes from the filming of "Crude" that put many of the nails in his coffin:
“[A]ll this bullsh*t about the law and facts but in the end of the day it is about brute force....” 
“[A]t the end of the day, this [i.e., the lack of evidence on a key point] is all for the Court just a bunch of smoke and mirrors and bullsh*t.  It really is.” 
Donziger doesn't seem to have considered the danger of letting the cameras roll during some of these frank discussions; he went so far as to reassure a member of Amazon Watch, who asked whether the film clips might one day be subpoenaed, that it couldn't happen under Ecuadorian law.  (Pro conspirator's tip:  if one of you starts wondering if the video might be subpoenaed, stop conspiring until you've turned off the camera.)

The New York federal judge concludes there's little doubt that Donziger orchestrated a RICO conspiracy that included a $500,000 bribe to the Ecuadorian judge--though that's really only a minor part of the extended corruption.  (It's actually hard to keep track of the Ecuadorian judges in the case, so many of them having been removed from office for corruption or by naked political fiat.  Towards the end of the New York judgment is a lengthy and dispiriting account of the collapse of the Ecuadorian justice system at the hands of President Correa.)

Donziger is an interesting man.   He attended Harvard law school not only with Barack Obama, his sometime hoops-shooting buddy, but with the grandson of a former Ecuadorian president, who got him interested in a brewing scandal over oil operations in the Amazon.  Donziger quickly got an accurate grip on the realpolitik of the Ecuadorian justice system in the 21st century, concluding that justice had almost nothing to do with it and politics was everything.   People give that rap to the U.S. system, too, without any genuine understanding of the very minor degree to which it's true here, in comparison with the thorough-going truth of the accusation in Central and South America.

What's remarkable about Donziger is that he kept a diary, that he didn't destroy it, and that he allowed it to be produced to an honest court:
Donziger viewed the Ecuadorian courts as corrupt, weak and responsive to pressure – as institutions that, at best, “make decisions based on who they fear the most, not based on what the laws should dictate.”  In a particularly revealing comment, made in his personal notebook, he wrote that “the only way the court will respect us is if they fear us – and that the only way they will fear us is if they think we have . . . control over their careers, their jobs, their reputations – that is to say, their ability to earn a livelihood.”
That and, of course, the fact that he allowed a fawning documentary film crew to follow him around and record his frank and off-the-cuff descriptions of his own cheerful collaboration in a corrupt system.  

To tell the truth, I'm a little impressed that Donziger maintained as much internal integrity as he seems to have done: he was clearly aware of when he "went over to the dark side."   A truly corrupt man would have lied to himself more, and avoided leaving so many of his own fingerprints on the critical decisions.   Donziger doesn't seem to have put any serious effort into setting up a scapegoat to take the fall for him.  It's even possible that he believes to this day that he was on the side of the angels, ready to use any weapon necessary to get "justice" for the Ecuadorian Amazon peoples.

I have to wonder, though, whether he cares enough to try to make a fair determination of who caused whatever pollution they are now suffering from. It is the besetting sin of a plaintiff's lawyer (and many crusaders for social justice) to care only who has the deepest pockets to ameliorate the victims' financial and social burdens.  Donziger may even believe that the real purpose of his expected $600 million fee was to finance his future heroic escapades:
“Yeah, but, that is evidence. . . .  Hold on a second, you know, this is Ecuador, okay . . . . You can say whatever you want and at the end of the day, there’s a thousand people around the courthouse, you’re going to get what you want.  Sorry, but it’s true. . . .  Okay.  Therefore, if we take our existing evidence on groundwater contamination which admittedly is right below the source . . . .  And wanted to extrapolate based on nothing other than, our, um, theory that it is, they all, we average out to going 300 meters in a radius, depending on the . . . gradient.  We can do it.  We can do it.  And we can get money for it. . . .   And if we had no more money to do more work, we would do that.   You know what I’m saying? . . .  And it wouldn’t really matter that much. . . .  Because at the end of the day, this is all for the Court just a bunch of smoke and mirrors and bullsh*t.   It really is.  We have enough, to get money, to win.”
And yet a coverup of the culpability of the Ecuadorian government's drilling agency in favor of sticking the liability to deep-pocketed Chevron, the successor to a company that may well have entirely remediated the only spill it ever caused, only ensures that whatever pollution is now affecting living, breathing Amazonian residents will not be stopped.

IRS Mafia

I assume this is a ploy, but it's an interesting one.

Because apparently when I'm home alone, I cook and blog

So, sadly, the last of my chili was consumed for lunch today.  Knowing I could make due with eggs, bread, cereal and PB&N (peanut butter and nutella) sandwiches, I decided that I wanted to finally try something I've always wanted to.  I tried to make a Thai inspired chili.

This is actually more risky and complicated than anything I've tried before.  Not because the prep work was hard, nor the cooking, but because I had zero idea how it would turn out.  My greatest fear was it would be inedible, and I'd need to throw out a bunch of food.  Wastefulness is a sin (or so I was taught), so that was a real concern for me.  But I'm pleased to say, so far it seems like this might work.  Here's what I did.

1.25 lbs chicken breast cubed
28 oz peanut butter
20 oz diced tomatoes
1 large sweet onion
3 cloves garlic
16 oz hot salsa
2 dried red chili peppers
4 habanero peppers
3 scotch bonnet peppers
8 tablespoons soy sauce
7 tablespoons sriracha sauce
5 tablespoons hoisin sauce
3 tablspoons chili powder

Mostly cook the chicken in a skillet and throw it into a crockpot.  Dice all the plants (I used a little food processor for this), toss that in.  Pour in the peanut butter, tomatoes, salsa, and sauces.  Stir well, put on low and let it go.  That's it.

It's been cooking for about 2-3 hours so far and I tasted it.  I like it.  It might be a little too peanuty, but I don't consider that a bad thing personally.  I haven't eaten any of the meat yet, because I want to make sure it's all fully cooked first, but I think this is going to turn out pretty well.  Now, I don't know that this is something that is going to be eaten straight from a bowl like my other chili, but after cooking down some, it might; I'm not yet sure.  What I PLAN on doing, is cooking some rice noodles, spooning the chili on top, and throw some bean sprouts in there for each serving.

How's it taste?  Sweet, savory, spicy for sure (but strangely all front loaded with little afterburn).  I'll update as I learn more.

Queensland Madness Continues

I realize none of you reside in Queensland, and so you may be wondering why I keep drawing your attention to the place. The reason is partially that it is a shocking example of how quickly the ancient liberties can be lost.

Of course, it's only tyranny for a few, for now: those who are thought to be enemies of the state. And anyone who knows them.

Previous installments have covered the suspension of licenses for tradesmen who continued to work with motorcycle clubs deemed -- via no due process, but simple government declaration -- to be outlaw clubs. Then we saw some initial moves to strip these clubs and their members of legal protections, via a campaign to paint lawyers who defend them in court as members of the "criminal conspiracy," so that they might lose their law licenses as well.

Now, we see that "tradies" who lose their licenses because of alleged ties to "bikies" will not be told why their license was pulled. They will have no capacity to challenge the claims in court, or even to know the details of the accusations.
From July, plumbers, builders and electricians have to resign their gang membership and associations with bikies or face automatic deregistration.

Police have already begun compiling secret "criminal intelligence" files on tradesmen with suspected links to the 26 gangs outlawed last year.

But under the laws, the tradesmen and their lawyers will be prevented from hearing or testing the police allegations of their bikie links that are given to regulators or in closed hearings for workers' appeals.

Civil libertarians and the unions have condemned the police secrecy, saying that even suspected terrorists were allowed the right to have their lawyers present and challenge allegations at closed hearings relating to national security.
So much is being washed away, so very fast.

How Americans Breakfast

As seen from Europe.

Fear and loathing in the shopping aisle

Everyone's favorite meddler, Michelle Obama, announces improvements in nutritional labeling:
“So there you stood, alone in some aisle in a store, the clock ticking away at the precious little time remaining to complete your weekly grocery shopping, and all you could do was scratch your head, confused and bewildered, and wonder, is there too much sugar in this product?” she said. 
Saying hapless moms want to do the right thing, Obama suggested many give up in defeat because they can’t decipher current nutritional labels without “a thesaurus, a calculator, a microscope or a degree in nutrition.”
That's a solution right there:  government subsidies for nutrition school tuition for all hapless moms.

We run into these shoppers all the time.  They're vapor-locked, cart adrift in the maximum traffic-blocking configuration, gazing slack-jawed at the shelves.  They're clearly violating the "find it, kill it, drag it out of the store" shopping mandate of civilized people.

The only possible solution is to replace labels with EZ-to-follow instructions:  "Eat this," or "Do not eat this."  Or maybe we can just have the government ship healthy, nutritious, approved food in pre-measured packets to each home.  And then require a license for home cooking.  You can never tell what people might put in their food if they're given free rein.  There are children in those homes, you know, and besides, we'll be the ones paying their medical bills.

The Tea Party and Aristotle's Rhetoric, Part 2: The Three Means of Persuasion

This series is both an exploration of the Tea Party and of Aristotle's rhetoric, so feel free to comment on either. Please don't feel that you need to discuss the topic through Aristotle.

In Part 1, I explained why I thought the Tea Party had been weakened by a failure to understand and use rhetoric skillfully. As a way of exploring this, and how to correct it, I used Christof Rapp's SEP article, Aristotle's Rhetoric. The main points from that post and the resulting discussion are that Aristotle believed the best use of rhetoric was to persuade people with the truth, that a form of syllogistic reasoning called the enthymeme was an excellent way to do that, and that the Tea Party needs to find common ground with the public and other movements from which to begin pursuing their goals. In Part 2, I will begin exploring the technical aspects of rhetoric and how the Tea Party could improve.

Aristotle's Rhetoric claims that there are three technical means of persuasion. That is, these means depend on a method, and the method depends on knowing what is and isn't persuasive. In addition, 'technical' implies that these are things provided by the speaker, not pre-existing conditions.

These technical means are "(a) in the character of the speaker, or (b) the emotional state of the hearer, or c) in the argument (logos) itself." The speaker wants to seem credible by displaying practical intelligence, a virtuous character, and good will, all in his speech. Emotions can change our judgments, so the speaker must arouse the hearers' emotions, and to do that he must have a good understanding of human emotion. Finally, the speaker should demonstrate to the audience what the situation is, persuading by argument.

Of the three, Aristotle emphasizes the argument, and he gives two methods for it. Induction works from particulars to a universal, using examples. Deduction works from things already believed to something different being necessarily true because of those presuppositions. In rhetoric, deduction uses the enthymeme, a form of syllogism, but one in which, because we lack complete knowledge, is of necessity somewhat less formal than the logical syllogism. Typically, they take the form of 'if - then' or causal 'since' or 'for' clauses.

E.g., 'If X is the case, we should do Y,' or 'since X is the case, ...' or 'X is the case, for Y results in X and we know Y is true.'

From this discussion, it seems to me that the Tea Party could do better in all three technical areas. One problem with coming to grips with the problem, however, is that everything the Tea Party says or does is distorted by the lefty media (i.e., most mainstream media). For example, the media and the Tea Party's political opponents (but I repeat myself) have done a good job of character assassination, so has the Tea Party failed to do what it could to establish its good character, or has its massive opposition simply outshouted it? It's hard to say, but I certainly think the Tea Party could do a better job with all three techniques.

Probably the Tea Party's single biggest rhetorical failure is in understanding the emotional state of the audience. Actually, I believe the Tea Party has seriously erred in understanding who the audience is. The proper audience is that great middle of the electorate who are not already politically opposed and who could be persuaded. Too often, Tea Partiers publicly speak as if they are talking to other Tea Partiers or to their acknowledged political opponents. This is why, I think, their rhetoric is too often extreme: they are stoking the fires of the base, or they are attacking their enemies. There's a time and place for both of those, but mostly the Tea Party needs to understand those who are unaligned and persuadable and adjust their rhetoric to persuade them. Those are the emotions it is important to understand and work with.


If there's a loner scale, I must score about 97 on it.  That's not to say I don't need human contact (beyond my husband), because I certainly do--just not very often.  When I do get it, there's one form I can barely tolerate:  the Meeting.  Need me to rub shoulders with crowds to get a job done?  No real problem, as long as it's not a daily thing.  Recently I've become what the Episcopal Church calls a "lay eucharistic minister," otherwise known as either a lay reader or a chalice bearer, who reads part of the daily lessons or prayers during Sunday services and helps administer the sacramental wine.  That's a sort of human contact I enjoy very much.  Want to gather in large numbers to produce music?  Great!  My other favorite sort of gathering is the barn-raising variety:  there's a big task to get done, and large numbers of people to work in joint harness until it's finished.  I quite enjoy a quarterly meeting of the local Woman's Club to pick up trash along the roadside.

Where I draw the line is a gathering of humans to follow some kind of vague agenda and stumble through a drawn-out process of reaching decisions (or, more often, not managing to reach any).  Those make me homicidal.  Law firms are very much given to them, especially the sort that drag on all day long to no apparent purpose.  In recent years, I've ruthlessly pruned back on social activities that give people a right to expect me to attend meetings.

So it was with real chagrin that I read an email from my county Republican party chairman last night, casually explaining that, for obscure reasons involving the security of the documentation for Tuesday's primary election,  I would be required to hang around until the post-election precinct convention is concluded.  After thirteen hours of manning the polls.  I do not think so.  I think I have an alternative solution, which will not violate any state election laws.  If I'm mistaken, and catch any flack for it, it may turn out that I'm going to be out of town for any future primary elections.


The conventional press gives the President his usual pass for not foreseeing the obvious.  The American Interest explores the curiously blind smugness:
We blame this in part on the absence of true intellectual and ideological diversity in so much of the academy, the policy world and the mainstream media.  Most college kids at good schools today know many more people from different races and cultural groups than their grandparents did, but they are much less exposed to people who think outside the left-liberal box.  How many faithful New York Times readers have no idea what American conservatives think, much less how Russian oligarchs do?  Well bred and well read Americans live in an ideological and cultural cocoon and this makes them fatally slow to understand the very different motivations that animate actors ranging from the Tea Party to the Kremlin to, dare we say it, the Supreme Leader and Guide of the Islamic Republic of Iran. 
As far as we can tell, the default assumption guiding our political leadership these days is that the people on the other side of the bargaining table (unless they are mindless Tea Party Republicans) are fundamentally reasonable people who see the world as we do, and are motivated by the same things that motivate us.  Many people are, of course, guided by an outlook not all that dissimilar from the standard upper middle class gentry American set of progressive ideas.  But some aren’t, and when worlds collide, trouble comes.
I'm skeptical of the value of pure diplomacy, but surely one thing it can do is ensure that we have a corps of people who have studied their corner of the world and learned something about how its inhabitants think. --OK, who am I kidding?  It's nothing new to make know-nothing political appointments to ambassadorships, but there still needs to be a solid base of professional staff who know something about their host countries instead of congratulating themselves and their masters that geopolitics are a relic of the barbarous past.

It was a great week in which to announce the proposed dismantling of the military.

H/t Ace.

The Sunny Slopes of Long Ago