Money, Mouths, Etc.

I laud the hardy citizens of New England as they confront significantly higher energy prices in facing the coldest winter in a couple of decades there. As described by William Murray at RealClearEnergy, that’s a consequence of their determination to oppose climate change:

Both prices and demand for domestic natural gas have surged as people have started plugging in their space heaters. Gas consumption set a new record for daily use on January 1, surpassing the previous record set in January 2014 in the midst of the “Polar Vortex.” Energy prices in most of the country increased 20–30 percent to account for the strong demand before quickly returning to previous levels. But in parts of New England prices spiked more than 400 percent.

Why? New England — including Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island — is the only part of the country that has constrained supplies of natural gas. This constraint is largely self-induced by “above-ground” political issues. Local and state opposition have blocked a number of natural gas pipelines in recent years, with the result that the region hasn’t benefited from the gas production growth in the Marcellus shale formation in nearby Pennsylvania

This means that the 50,000 miles of U.S. natural gas pipelines built during the past decade largely skipped New England, leaving the region with the highest electricity prices in the United States. A study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce found residents in the Northeast pay 44 percent more than the national average for electricity and 29 percent more for natural gas. Industrial users of electricity pay 60 percent more than the national average, according to the Chamber.

I hope their sacrifices aren’t for naught which they may be if the natural gas is replaced by burning wood pellets grown in a non-sustainable manner which is what the Germans did.


A Child’s Garden of Faulty Arguments

I sometimes think that I could devote the entirety of The Glittering Eye to pointing out the fallacies in arguments in editorials, op-eds, articles, and other blog posts. The favorites these days seem to be anecdotal evidence (a form of cognitive bias), guilt by association, non sequitur, and the ad hominem fallacy. There really is no lack of targets.

I’ve avoided that because I’d really prefer to be for things than against them but it’s mighty tempting.

Just as an example when I looked at the NYT opinion page this morning it opened with an editorial criticizing the possibility of responding to a cyberattack with nuclear weapons. Flexible response has been a component of U. S. defense posture for a half century. It’s not some revolutionary new invention of the Trump era. If they oppose the use of nuclear weapons under any circumstances or oppose the use of nuclear weapons other than as a response to a nuclear attack, that’s what they should say.

Interestingly, when I returned to the page a little later, I couldn’t find the editorial. Maybe they put it back up on the grease rack.

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How Low Is Rock Bottom for Venezuela?

At Foreign Policy José R. Cárdenas characterizes Venezuela’s present circumstances like this:

Already, there have been new outbreaks of looting in the face of rampant shortages of food and basic goods. Inflation, which hit a reported 2,616 percent last year — the highest in the world — will continue to surge in 2018.

And, worst of all, due to bad management and corruption, oil production has fallen to one of its lowest points in three decades, “further depriving the cash-strapped country of its only major source of revenue and adding to the suffering of its people,” according to CNN.

and speculates that Chavismo may hit rock bottom this year because of tougher U. S. policy and changing regional zeitgeist:

At the same time as an invigorated U.S. policy, broader changes underway in the regional landscape will impact Chavismo’s fate. Relying on friendly governments to provide diplomatic cover for his authoritarianism is getting increasingly difficult for Maduro, given the region’s ongoing political shift towards more pragmatic, market-friendly leadership. Beginning with Mauricio Macri’s assumption of the presidency of Argentina in 2015, then Pedro Pablo Kuczynski’s election in Peru in 2016, and the recent re-election of Sebastián Piñera in Chile (he served previously, from 2010 to 2014), voters are electing presidents with no sympathies for radical ideological projects like Chavismo. With six presidential elections scheduled for 2018 — including Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Paraguay — that political realignment will likely continue.

The key issue here will continue to be the transition from rhetorical condemnation of authoritarianism in Venezuela to the implementation of more financial sanctions and diplomatic isolation. Such pressure is key to delegitimizing an unconstitutional government and raising the economic costs to the Maduro regime.

What would rock bottom look like in Venezuela? I would have said that they were already there and yet the system continues.

I’m far from convinced that it will be easy for Venezuela to dig its way out of the hole it has dug for itself. People keep pointing to corrupt officials but I don’t believe that’s Venezuela’s graver problem. Yes, there’s corruption. But Venezuela’s GDP is nearly $400 billion and a billion here or a billion there over a period of decades is barely a drop in the bucket. I think that Venezuela’s more serious problem is the subsidies the government has been applying for so long. They mean that people consume more than would otherwise in some areas while consuming less in others, produce more in some areas while producing less in others. Patterns like that can be very persistent.

Subsidizing gasoline is particularly problematic. When your citizens consume more than they otherwise would, it means there’s less oil to sell.

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Know Your Latin

In one of the pieces I read yesterday I stumbled across the following phrase: in media res. I reached out to the author backchannel, offering a correction. The correct phrase is in mediās rēs.

Rēs (rērum) is a fifth declension Latin noun meaning “thing, matter”. The accusative singular of rēs is rem, the accusative plural is rēs. Media is a Latin adjective in feminine form (nearly all fifth declension nouns are feminine) meaning “middle”.

There is no circumstance under which in media res would be good grammar. If in is being used in the sense of “in” it takes the ablative which would be in media rē if singular and in mediis rēbus if plural. If in is being used in the sense of “into” which takes the accusative it would be in mediam rem if singular and if plural it would be in mediās rēs.

The phrase is a quotation from the poet Horace. In describing the art of epic poetry he wrote that epics should begin in mediās rēs—into the midst of things.

IMO you should avoid using a foreign language if you don’t know the language. If you know the language, sometimes using a phrase from a foreign language is le bon mot, clever, apt, the right word. If you don’t and use the phrase inappropriately or incorrectly it has the opposite effect.

Most Americans know only English. There’s nothing wrong with English. Use it.


Old Days

I just remembered an incident from my college days relevant to some of the things going on now. One of my friends, a young woman (not a girlfriend—a friend who was a girl) approached me and told me she was being sexually harassed by one of her professors and she didn’t know what to do about it. The professor was a very prominent figure, one of the university’s leading lights.

I recruited a mutual friend of ours and the two of us went to the prof’s apartment to have a talk with him. Without mentioning names we told him in no uncertain terms that his attentions towards his female students were not appreciated, he should cut it out, and that we could make life very miserable for him if he didn’t behave himself. He did and the incident was over. It probably helped that neither of us was in the department in which he taught, IIRC not even in the same school of the university.

I’m not sure what the moral of that story is if any. My wife says it’s that it takes a village. I think that it’s that there are a lot of gutless people out there these days. I didn’t have the impression that my friend’s and my behavior was particularly exceptional at the time—just the thing that a decent person would do.


The Second Clause

A lot of people have been quoting Emma Lazarus lately in reaction to Donald Trump’s alleged remark about some of the countries from which immigrants have been arriving here. I don’t think they’ve thought that through. For one thing, are most of today’s immigrants “yearning to breathe free”? Or are they yearning for a raise?

For another thing a shore teeming with wretched refuse isn’t that much different from what President Trump is claimed to have said although you’ve got to admit that it’s more refined.



I honestly don’t know what to make of Myron Magnet’s post at City Journal. His thesis, as best as I can tell it, is that political correctness is as dead as a doornail, that we’ll never elect a member of the nomenklatura or apparat to the presidency again, and that President Trump is “speaking truth to power”, to use the Quaker phrase. Here’s his conclusion:

What happens next, no one knows. But jeering mockery sometimes explodes dogmatic lies more effectively than sweet reason.

Let me try to contrast this with some family wisdom. I mentioned my mom in a post yesterday. One of the pieces of wisdom she passed on to us, based on her experience teaching black kids, is “they believe the lie”. Let me try to decompress that for you. When black kids are told they are lazy, stupid, and good for nothing, they may believe it. That has a corrosive effect.

If you don’t believe that expectations, both yours and others, may have powerful effects, consider the burakumin in Japan. Japan is remarkably homogeneous. Aside from the Ainu in the north and immigrants, mostly Koreans, they are basically a single ethnic group. Nonetheless they have historically had social classes and one of those, classes, the burakumin, was hereditary. They were outcastes, consigned to low status occupations—gravediggers, sanitation workers, and the like. They were forced to live in ghettoes—little villages of their own on the edge of town (hence the name). Much of the yakuza were historically burakumin.

The burakumin scored lower on standardized tests, were more violent, and had more crime. One explanation for that might be biology but keep in mind how homogeneous Japan is. Another example is that expectations, both those of others and their own, stunted their social development. Experiments that have been conducted seem to confirm that.

Something else my mom used to say: you catch more flies with sugar than with vinegar.

Go ahead and read Mr. Magnet’s essay yourself. Maybe he’s right but I can’t help but think that there are alternatives other than coddling people and being mean to them.


Most/Least Racist

You might be interested in this article in which ten Atlantic writers reflect on the least racist person they’ve ever met. Some of the writers do just that, some temporize.

Probably the least racist person I’ve ever met is my mother. I never heard her say an unkind or thoughtless thing to anybody of any race or ethnicity. Her first job out of school was teaching the poorest of the poor kids in St. Louis, black, white, and other. At one point in her career she had what I suspect was the most thankless job in the St. Louis schools: she was responsible for “staff balancing” which was exactly what you probably think it was.

Later in her career she was a remedial reading teacher for poor kids, many black. After retirement, in her old age, she taught illiterate prostitutes, many of them black, to read.

It’s a lot easier to identity the most racist than the least. The most racist people I’ve ever met are just about any white Southerner I met from 1960-1985.


Did Salmonella Kill Most of the Mexican Population?

There’s a fascinating article at Atlantic on a subject about which I knew nothing. As it turns out in the 16th century 90% of the Mexican population died, killed by a disease they still haven’t been able to pinpoint:

The Spanish, infamously, brought a litany of diseases unknown to the indigenous population—smallpox, measles, typhus—so some experts have suggested cocoliztli is simply one of those. Others, like Acuña-Soto, have argued it is an unknown viral hemorrhagic fever native to Mexico. The cause of cocoliztli has never been conclusively identified.

But an intriguing new theory is being discussed—the possibility that the disease was caused by a variety of Salmonella, the variety that causes paratyphoid fever:

Now, DNA from 16th-century cocolitzli victims has offered up a somewhat unexpected new candidate: Salmonella enterica, or the bacteria that cause paratyphoid fever. The DNA evidence comes from the teeth of 11 people buried in a large Mixtec cemetery in southern Mexico. Prior archaeological work had linked the burials to the 1545 cocolitzli epidemic, and the city was likely abandoned after the disease killed so many of its inhabitants.

It seems to me that one way of testing the hypothesis would be to determine if Mexico’s present population has resistance to the disease. They are descended from the survivors, after all.


Nota Bene

Something to keep in mind:

[D]oes segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other “tangible” factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does. …

“Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The effect is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to [retard] the educational and mental development of negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racial[ly] integrated school system.” …

We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.