The Sandbar Duel

The Sandbar Duel:

James Bowie gets quite a treatment here:

According to William C. Davis, though, he was the most notorious land scam artist in early America. Having read the book, I have to admit that I'm convinced -- short of Davis having outright manufactured all the documentary evidence he has on the US government's attempts to avoid the Bowie clan's attempts to annex all the best parts of about five states through forged Spanish land grants.

It's a hell of a story, honestly.

Then again, so is the Sandbar Duel. Here is part of Davis' description:

[Crain] missed Bowie, and Bowie's answering bullet just clipped Crain's cravat. Instantly Crain drew another [pistol] and fired, this time hitting Cuny in the thigh, severing an artery. Bowie saw the general fall, and as Crain turned to run back toward his friends in the willows, Bowie drew his other pistol and fired but missed. Then he reached to his belt and that new scabbard, drawing out the long knife [his brother] Rezin had given him.... the "tiger" followed Crain some distance, yelling out, "Crain you have shot at me, and I will kill you if I can." Suddenly he found himself isolated and without a loaded weapon. Crain turned and seeing what he called his "savage fury," threw his own empty pistol at him, catching Bowie on the side of the head that almost sent him to his knees.... Unable to answer [yet another combatant's] fire, Bowie yelled at him to shoot and be damned.
It was quite a fight, and became a legend almost at once on the frontier. Later John Wayne, portraying Davy Crockett in The Alamo, would use the legend of it to sway the fictional Jim Bowie from abandoning the post before the fight with Santa Anna.

I recommend the Davis book, for those of you who like to read American history. It's not as kind to the legend as many might wish; but good men have to be able to do myth with one side of our brains, and history with the other. You shouldn't neglect either one.

UT Sports Jokes

UT Sports Jokes:

You may have heard that the University of Tennessee has had a little trouble with some of its players lately. Since mine is a mixed family -- some live in Tennessee, some in Georgia -- naturally I've had the occasion to encounter some of the fallout.

Q: What do you call a drug ring in Knoxville?
A: A huddle

Q: Four Tennessee players are in a car, who's driving?
A: The police

Q: Why can't most of the UT players get into a huddle on the field?
A: It is a parole violation to associate with known felons.

The University of Tennessee team has adopted a new Honor System:
'Yes, your Honor; No, your Honor'.

The Volunteers are hoping for an undefeated season next year....
12 Arrests, 0 convictions.
Consider the comments a good place for any jokes in a similar spirit. Or, really, any good jokes you may have heard lately.

Ockham's Razor diversity

Diversity and the Razor:

I was reading this piece on the effects of diversity (h/t: Cassandra). It begins by pointing out that diversity has significant downsides; but then posits an upside, and tries to strive for a balance point. In doing so, it runs afoul of Ockham's razor.

Here's the downside:

[A] massive new study, based on detailed interviews of nearly 30,000 people across America, has concluded just the opposite. Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam -- famous for "Bowling Alone," his 2000 book on declining civic engagement -- has found that the greater the diversity in a community, the fewer people vote and the less they volunteer, the less they give to charity and work on community projects. In the most diverse communities, neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings. The study, the largest ever on civic engagement in America, found that virtually all measures of civic health are lower in more diverse settings.

"The extent of the effect is shocking," says Scott Page, a University of Michigan political scientist.
For the purpose of this argument, we'll call this the 'hostile effect' of diversity: it destroys community, making people more suspicious of each other and less willing to help each other out.

Here's the upside:
So how to explain New York, London, Rio de Janiero, Los Angeles -- the great melting-pot cities that drive the world's creative and financial economies?

The image of civic lassitude dragging down more diverse communities is at odds with the vigor often associated with urban centers, where ethnic diversity is greatest. It turns out there is a flip side to the discomfort diversity can cause. If ethnic diversity, at least in the short run, is a liability for social connectedness, a parallel line of emerging research suggests it can be a big asset when it comes to driving productivity and innovation. In high-skill workplace settings, says Scott Page, the University of Michigan political scientist, the different ways of thinking among people from different cultures can be a boon.

"Because they see the world and think about the world differently than you, that's challenging," says Page, author of "The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies." "But by hanging out with people different than you, you're likely to get more insights. Diverse teams tend to be more productive."
Page wants to posit a 'friendly effect' to go with the 'hostile effect' -- that friendships among diverse people create inspiration.

What strikes me here is that the argument for the 'friendly effect' introduces a new element that is not necessary. It may or may not be true that 'hanging out with people different from you' inspires creativity. It need not be true, however, to explain the upside. The upside is adequately explained adequately by the first study.

If you live in a community where there is a lot of fellow-feeling, charity, civic groups, volunteerism, etc., that takes a lot of the competitive strain off of marginal producers. You have some people who are going to strive for excellence because that's who they are; but you have a large body of people who are going to do just what they have to do to get by. To the degree that 'civic engagement' softens the impact of noncompetitiveness, there will be less competition.

On the other hand, if you live in a community where you are aware of lots of people -- and groups you perceive as different -- struggling to drag themselves over the top, and where there is a lot less "civic engagement" to help you out if you fail, that same body of people are going to be goaded into struggling too. Precisely because the 'hostile effect' destroys the community, they will be frightened, and will have less of a cushion to soften the blow if they fall.

So too for anyone at any margin: the margin of 'who gets the raise,' the margin of 'who gets the promotion,' of 'who gets the job,' or 'who keeps the job now that we're cutting back.' Precisely because it destroys communities, diversity increases competitiveness, and therefore productivity.

This is the same metric from naked capitalism v. socialism debates; if I have a generous welfare society, I lose productivity across the board. If I have a generous volunteer-based civil society, I'll also lose productivity.

Therefore, the suggestion that diversity inspires people is unnecessary to explaining the findings. It may still be true; Ockham's Razor only points to what is most likely, not to what is certain. Still, the Razor says it's more likely that diversity's 'hostile effect' is responsible for both the collapse of communities, and the higher productivity in the most diverse spaces.

Doc H on Men

Women, Love, Intimidation:

Dr. Helen is a woman we all greatly admire, and for several good reasons. There is her courage in the face of heart disease; the fact that, though a woman, she very much wants society to show respect and fairness to men; the fact that, though a psychologist, she is able to recognize that not every claim her discipline makes is founded on the firmest rock of true science. All these things are the mark of a good person, one who is brave, seeks to understand the concerns of others different from herself, and honest in her inquiry.

Nevertheless, I find myself in disagreement with her on occasion. This week has provided several opportunities for me to scratch my head.

Most recently, this is her advice to men on production and consumption. Of course a man ought to strive to produce more than he consumes; even a purely selfish man can easily imagine reasons for doing so. He might wish to find a way to keep more of what he produces; but what you build in the world, along with the love you share with people who matter to you, is what matters most out of life. A man who follows this advice will not fill his heart.

On a different matter, I think that everyone learned my opinion of the Venusian Arts from reading Cassandra's page; but here is the short version for ease of reference:

On the one hand, the guy who wrote that has a solid handle on a number of problems that are disrupting the way young Americans try to form families and have happy lives today. He's right about the demographic problems, and he's right about a number of ways in which the old system was far better.

However, he's coming at it from a perspective that is actively hostile to women. He really doesn't like women. You can't construct an answer to this question starting from a perspective that is hostile to either sex....

[I]f anyone comes off worse in the piece than women, it's men who like women. I quote:

Hence, many men are still stuck in the obsolete and inobservant notion that chivalry and excess servility are the pathways to sex today, despite the modern reality that a woman's sexual decisions are no longer controlled by her parents, and are often casual rather than locked in matrimony. Whether such men are religious and called 'social conservatives', or effete leftists and called 'girlie men', they are effectively the same, and the term 'White Knights' can apply to the entire group. Their form of chivalry when exposed to 'feminist' histrionics results in these men harming other men at the behest of women who will never be attracted to them.... These men are the biggest suckers of all, as their pig-headed denial of the Venusian Arts will prevent them from deducing that excess agreeability and willingness to do favors for the objects of their lust are exactly the opposite of what makes women sexually attracted to men.

Now, while it's obvious that I rush to avoid any appearance of disagreement with Our Lady Host, and would never think of arguing assertively against any lady, this kind of gives away the game.

My relationships with women are not intended to be 'pathways to sex' in the first place. Neither am I interested in being 'sexually attractive' to the women I meet. I do enjoy the company of women, their charm and grace and easy manners, but I'm quite content with having my sexuality contained within the private space of my home.

I sometimes meet beautiful and desirable women, and I'm always glad of the opportunity to enjoy their company in a friendly way. If I wanted to take them, I'd take them. I don't, because that isn't what I want: what I want is love, which is harder to come by and harder to nurture and to defend.

That, I think, was what dear Cassandra was saying above about her husband: it's just not the same thing at all. If you've focused your mind on sex, you've missed the real thing entirely....

The real alphas out here are the ones who love women. Women know when they meet a man who likes and enjoys women, and they react accordingly.
I appreciate that the doctor wants to be on the side of men; but not, I hope, of men who don't merit it. Men who are themselves deeply angry at women ("fatpocalypse") are just as unlikely to produce an insightful methodology for achieving greater understanding between the sexes as the sort of radical feminist that got so much attention in the 1970s. I suppose chivalry seems "pig headed" to those males who view women as a class of self-absorbed parasites, just as it does to those women who view men as a class of hideous oppressors.

The term they sneer at -- "chivalry" -- is an ethic of willful service to one another. This is true in its relationship between men, whether they were equal fighting companions, or lord and vassal, each with clear and binding duties toward one another. Chivalry's attitude toward women grew out of that same ethic, so that many knightly poems of love borrow the terminology of fealty and service.

I remain convinced that it is both the most successful and the most beautiful model of relations between the sexes. As longtime readers know, I have a whole series of essays on the topic linked on the sidebar, under the heading "Chivalry & Women."

Finally, on anger:
Men are typically more stressed and confused in arguments with women and remain bitter for longer afterward, while women are more comfortable amid verbal jousts, recover from them more quickly, in our ready for another round. Generally, it is fair to say that men are more intimidated in confrontations with women than the other way around.
I certainly agree that the state should stay out of people's marriages. I'm amazed, though, at the study that finds men to be intimidated by arguing with women.

If I've heard one thing said a thousand times it's that women resent the way that men talk over them, ignore them, and generally just refuse to engage them if they aren't interested in the point the woman is trying to make. (Which, as Cassandra once noted, is exactly what men do to each other too!) That doesn't speak of intimidation. At best it's a kind of rough equity; but it's certainly not intimidation.

I can't recall ever being intimidated by a woman. I'm not easy to intimidate in any case, but I can only recall one woman who even tried to do it (and that while I was fairly young, and she an adult). It didn't work, though she did succeed in making me angry -- but not intimidated.

Are we sure the study is on solid ground? Perhaps it's a sampling error. Maybe the kind of guy who wrote the "Venusian Arts" piece (peacocking!) is the sort that's really so scared of women that, at the first sign of trouble, he wilts and slinks off to bitterness (but with the solace of ever-better Virtual Reality porn: who needs those women anyway?).

Perhaps that's the resolution. I noticed some commenters slamming on SWWBO because of her acronym, as though it were proof that she was just the kind of woman that the VA piece was discussing. I hate to think what they would have thought of the story of the originator of the phrase.

He was a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire, and a paragon of the sort of love they appear to despise. As a young man he fell in love with a lady called Lily, and sought her hand; but he was delayed in his purpose, first by her father and then by his own, until she eventually married another. That husband abandoned her after embezzling funds from his bank and running off with the family's savings as well. Haggard provided a home for her and her children, and saw to her children's education. She died of the syphilis her husband gave her, but supported and cared for by the man who had really loved her.

Perhaps that made him a fool; but if so, he was my kind of fool.

A Fool and His Money Linger

How Sophisticated:

The New York Times' alleged conservative probably thinks he is 'defending institutions,' which is a key conservative task. Unfortunately, he has failed to understand the nature of the problem or the reasons for the mission.

Americans have lost faith in their institutions. During the great moments of social reform, at least 60 percent of Americans trusted government to do the right thing most of the time. Now, only a quarter have that kind of trust.
Americans haven't lost faith in their institutions. Our institutions are those which are created by, and operate according to, the permanent will of the People as codified in the Constitution of the United States and the constitutions of the several states.

Some of the institutions so created have ceased to "operate according to" that document. In that fashion, they have -- what's the phrase? -- gone rogue. They are no longer our institutions; they are owned by someone, but it isn't the People of the United States. We, the People, would permit the government to do anything it could pass a Constitutional Amendment authorizing. The problem is that the people interested in having a 'great moment of social reform' find that process cumbersome; so they've chosen, increasingly over a few decades, to alter the Constitution either by judicial fiat, or by simple assertion.

Witness, for example, the recent letters from the BATFE that they just won't honor state laws, in spite of clear language in the Constitution that places the matter under consideration in the realm of state, not Federal, authority. Witness the outright disinterest in the question of whether this whole Health Care plan is constitutional -- in the face of at least seven cogent arguments that it probably is not. Witness, for that matter, the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform law, which was openly admitted by everyone not to be 'fully' Constitutional, 'but we'll let the Supreme Court sort that out,' and then SCOTUS permitted it to stand.

The reason the Tea Party movement is in such high standing right now is that it is standing on the wreckage of the Republican party. During the last administration, the Republican party abandoned the principles of limited government. If there's anything this country needs, it's a party dedicated to restoring the Constitution to the center of our public life.

Having gotten worked up in favor of defending 'our' institutions, Mr. Brooks embarks upon a whole line of argument that is nothing but a cum hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy:
The public is not only shifting from left to right. Every single idea associated with the educated class has grown more unpopular over the past year.

The educated class believes in global warming, so public skepticism about global warming is on the rise. The educated class supports abortion rights, so public opinion is shifting against them. The educated class supports gun control, so opposition to gun control is mounting.

The story is the same in foreign affairs. The educated class is internationalist, so isolationist sentiment is now at an all-time high, according to a Pew Research Center survey. The educated class believes in multilateral action, so the number of Americans who believe we should “go our own way” has risen sharply.
That "so" gives away the game: people, he asserts, are turning against these ideas because 'the educated class' favors them. That apparently leaves me out of 'the educated class,' which I regret; but, in spite of my lack of whatever he believes constitutes a real education, I did pick up somewhere that correlation does not imply causation.

Intensity of opposition may be up because 'the educated class' decided it would ramrod all these changes through in a few months over the howls of whatever opposition remains in the government. Certainly the sudden rush has contributed to a spike in a lot of people's ire.

However, the opposition itself arises from the fact that these positions are wrong. If 'the educated class' suddenly decided tomorrow that abortion was a moral evil, I doubt you'd see one single Tea Party member change his view for the simple pleasure of 'opposing the educated.'

This isn't about populist ire against 'the educated.' Believe it or not, these people actually have reasons for holding all these positions.

Science @ Work

Science @ Work:

Arts & Letters Daily links to an amusing "debate" between Discover and a paleoanthropologist.

To those who have linked the post: I want to let you all know that your links have directed more than 10,000 people to find some actual true information about the "Boskop race". Good work out there!
Good work yourself. It's one of the bright spots of the blogosphere that we can access, on a moment's notice, the expertise of a real paleoanthropologist, or astronomer, or whatever other sort of expert we might need. This is how we'd like to see the internet work all the time.

On another topic that skirts the edge of 'controversial science' versus 'non-science,' I ran across an interesting metaphysical argument that would appear to be another answer to the Great Filter aspect of the Fermi paradox. It does touch on quantum physics: specifically, on the issue of observation "collapsing" possible states into a single actual state.

The argument posits that 'all possible universes' evolved along the quantum theory that all possible states remain potential until an observer actually observes them. This continued until one of the possible universes evolved a sentient, conscious being; at which point, all the potential universes collapsed in the face of an observer. Thus, there would likely be only one sentient form of life -- the first one to evolve locked the universe into a single course.

That particular aspect of quantum theory has always struck me as something for which I expect future science to discover a better explanation. Schrödinger's cat probably explains why I feel that way: while, in theory, it's true that you can't really know if the cat is living or dead without looking, in fact, the cat is either alive or dead. I can't believe that my looking really makes any difference; I think we just don't understand the mechanism yet.

Still, since we were recently discussing Buddhism, it's an interesting thought experiment to play with.

GHBC 1: Bendigo Shafter Part I

Grim's Hall Book Club: Bendigo Shafter Part I

I realize that several of you are just now in the process of getting the book, so we'll only do introductory commentary and a few pages.

The first thing to know about Bendigo Shafter is that it arose from an earlier short story Louis L'amour wrote called "The War Trail." (You can find this in the collection Grub Line Rider, pp. 186-208). In the short story, the widow Ruth Macken's son Bud is the protagnist -- unlike in the novel, in which it is Ben Shafter -- but the real hero is the lady herself. Her forceful and forthright nature wins the respect of the best men in the party after the death of her husband, and she saves the party by proving able to negotiate with the Sioux in their own language.

She continues to play a major role in the novel. Her character is one of a few very important ones, and her remarks on love and marriage will be of interest as we continue. She is also the patron of education in the community, as you will discover: not the actual educator, but the one who encourages education. It is clear that L'amour loves this character, and that she is an exemplar of the kind of woman he most admires.

Other characters to pay attention to in the early parts of the book are Ethan Sackett and Webb. Ethan's last name marks him, for those who read L'amour's full works, as a member of a clan from Tennessee that he wrote about at great length. They are simple folk, Scots-Irish, and a fighting people. They tend to be marked by great skill in the woods, learned in the relative poverty of the Appalachians. I find the Sacketts interesting because they are very regularly L'amour's progatonists, but are very different from the protagonists that L'amour normally writes about when he is not writing about Sacketts. His normal protagonist is well-educated (though often self-educated), a creature of the mind as much as of the body. The Sacketts mostly do without the book learning that L'amour valued, but he finds a way to admire them too.

Webb is a character that receives significant foreshadowing in the early pages of the book. I'd like you to pay particular attention to him when he appears in the novel, as I'd like to discuss him and what he means to L'amour. As they move West:

Webb grew, too, but in another way. There had always been a streak of violence in him, but fear of public opinion and fear of the law had toned it down. Now a body could see the restraint falling away.
We'll talk about that at length as the novel progresses; but for now, just based on that paragraph, what do you think will happen to Webb?

Social Harmony II

Social Harmony, Revisited:

Perhaps the most frequently cited thing I've ever written was Social Harmony, a meditation on the importance of old men being dangerous. It ends:

By a happy coincidence, having a society whose members adhere to and encourage those virtues makes us freer as well--we need fewer police, fewer courts, fewer prisons, fewer laws, and fewer lawyers. This is what Aristotle meant when he said that the virtues of the man are reflected in the society. Politics and ethics are naturally joined.
It has been said in several places, recently, that the government has failed us entirely in keeping us safe; but the one thing that has worked in every case is the heroism of the individual citizen.

A Western philosopher would say, "Discuss." The Japanese might say: Katsu.