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This thing called “civil liberty”

September 17, 2020

Bill Barr said this:

You know, putting a national lockdown, stay-at-home orders, is like house arrest. It’s — you know, other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history.

Not decades of Jim Crow. Not laws against contraception, or making wives subsidiary to husbands. Not denying women the vote. Not treating homosexuality as a crime. Not conscription. Not the Indian Wars. Not any of the things that have motivated large civil rights movements in US history, other than abolition. No, in Bill Barr’s mind, the greatest blight on civil liberties in the US, other than slavery, were temporary measures of a sort commonly used to fight an epidemic.

I hope today any historian writing a history of civil liberty in the US includes a chapter on its use as propaganda by those who generally oppose it. What Barr said is a great example of that, and should be the most stupid and morally blind thing said by a US politician this decade. But I suspect his boss will surpass it within the year.

See other anti-suffrage cards at Bored Panda.

More chalk magic

September 16, 2020

After yesterday’s post, Carolyn stumbled across a short article about Chuan-Bin Chung, who lectures on anatomical art at a university in Taiwan.

Magic chalk

September 15, 2020

Even with ordinary chalk, not the top line chalk, I’ve never been convinced that white boards were all that great an advance over blackboards.

Now, the ability to capture the results on your cellphone, before starting the next board? That was huge. Photo shows my dissertation supervisor, the late J. C. Browne.


September 14, 2020

Taboos are a fascinating kind of thing. When someone foreign to Islam looks at some Muslim responses to satire of or even mere graphical depiction of Mohammed, they see behavior that cannot be understood in any rational fashion. Some of which behavior was the subject of my previous post on the Charlie Hebdo trials.

But from inside a culture, its taboos seem no more than natural to those who act on them. We have built such a strong taboo around a white person uttering the word “n‑‑‑‑r,” even in the context of discussing relevant history, that literature professors run into trouble teaching James Baldwin. In quite different corners of our culture, the political correctness around the totemic use of the national flag and anthem has become ridiculous. If you think one of those taboos is silly and the other wholesome, that just shows which taboo is yours.

It is almost a sure sign of taboo when characters in a word are replaced with nonsense symbols, because writing the word itself is verboten. (With grawlixes?) Some particularly religious Jews write “G‑d” instead of “God,” because they worry any such writing later will be defaced or erased. Which would be terrible because..? Well, because it is taboo. It was common once upon a time to write “f‑‑k,” because writing the word was taboo. It’s as if a writer expects readers both to know the word in question, and not be able to fill in the blanks. I have done that here with the word “n‑‑‑‑r” only because I suspect some of the platforms this post might hit would implement the taboo around it.

Photo from the TV series of the same name.

Sticks and stones

September 9, 2020

France last week began the trial of the accomplices of the terrorists who killed a dozen in their attack at Charlie Hebdo, for its publication of cartoons of Mohammed. At a naturalization ceremony Friday, President Macron set the right tone, noting that French notion of liberty includes:

The freedom to believe or not to believe. This is inseparable from the freedom of expression up to the right to blasphemy.

The magazine republished the original cartoons that caused the original furor, spurring protests in Pakistan and criticism by the governments of Turkey and Iran.

Civilized nations need to press for the right to blaspheme. And that governments should be secular and kept apart from religious issues.

Let’s hope Sudan manages to end its civil war, and that its future government indeed turns out as secular as recent negotiations suggest.

The relocation business

September 8, 2020

In Japan, there are companies that help people who want to leave their current life situation:

From inescapable debt to loveless marriages, the motivations that push jouhatsu to “evaporate” can vary. Regardless of their reasons, they turn to companies that help them through the process. These operations are called “night moving” services, a nod to the secretive nature of becoming a jouhatsu. They help people who want to disappear discreetly remove themselves from their lives, and can provide lodging for them in secret whereabouts.

That may seem odd to Americans, where making that kind of life change is more common and more accepted.

There also are companies that help wealthy Africans — and I suspect not just Africans — get passports to Caribbean nations. Those like St. Lucia, whose passports provide Schengen entry, are finding that lucrative trade. I suspect these days that is better than the commonwealth nations. I wonder if EU ever will decide to bypass the middle man? I can imagine security reasons to do that.

Conceit on parade

September 7, 2020

I have participated in a few boat parades. The organizers always were careful about the combined wake from multiple boats running at the same time in a small area, and what damage that might cause to other boats nearby, to shore fixtures, to people in the water, and to the boats participating. Minding your wake is as basic to boating as stopping at red lights is to driving. No boat sank in any of those.

Three weeks back, a Trump boat parade created a large wake as it went through downtown Portland, sinking a boat. I noted that, but didn’t post on it, wondering if a pattern would follow. Well. This weekend, a Trump boat parade on Lake Travis sank five boats. That was not caused by inclement weather or feminist submariners. It was the result of careless, selfish, and dangerous behavior by bullies, unconcerned with what damage they do to others, relying on public services to pick up the pieces, while scoffing at legal regulation, at knowledge relevant to their endeavor, and even at the recent experience of those doing likewise.

So it is no surprise when one of the organizers of these parades is arrested and is facing felony charges for threatening someone. Three makes a pattern.

I have seen allusions to these fiascoes as metaphor. They aren’t, though. They are demonstration and example. Of the kind of behavior the Trump cult generates and relies upon. If any lawsuits come from these events, those held responsible will develop more hatred for what they malign as the deep state, and for what the rest of us recognize as providing a rule of law. The pity is they likely won’t learn, most of them long past the age where social behavior is learned. It isn’t hard to understand the sense behind the rules regarding wakes:

The general maritime rule applies to vessels of all types, from the largest ships to the smallest boats and personal watercraft, operating in the navigable waters of the United States… A vessel causing injury to others by her swell or wake is held responsible for any failure to appreciate the reasonable effect of her own speed and motion through the water at the particular place and under the particular circumstances where the injury occurred.

A crook, his mouthpiece, and the clown

September 4, 2020

With the disclaimer that I am not a lawyer, I nonetheless feel competent to say that you likely will run afoul of it, if you take merchandise from a store without paying for it, or if you set fires to buildings you don’t own, of if you get drunk and start a fight with the barkeep, or if you try to vote twice in the same election. Some of the basics are not so hard. Attorney General Barr pretends ignorance of that not because the law is so subtle or so difficult to discover (thanks, Ted Lieu!), but because he lies to protect his boss. The clown’s defense of her boss is that we just shouldn’t believe our own ears as to what he said.

Rex Huppke chases down the nonsense about a plane full of antifa thugs. It turns out that it is Marx’s fault that I usually find myself in boarding group seven.

Sailors past

September 3, 2020

Larry and Lin Pardey inspired a generation or two of sailors, with their life of cruising in small, homemade wood boats, eventually circumnavigating the globe in both directions. They did so slowly, to see it:

Their circumnavigations took so long because they spent a lot of time exploring 15 of the countries they visited and using them as income-producing bases of operations, repairing and restoring boats and ferrying them to their owners.

Larry has died, in an ordinary way, the way most do. I wonder if they wouldn’t have it tougher today, as nations clamp down on wandering workers? You shouldn’t be antagonistic to the foreigner, while you are dreaming of wondering abroad.

The Pardeys sailed without engine. Marvin Creamer did his circumnavigation without navigation instruments. I suspect he was right, that navigation on the seas was so done through most of man’s history. Even a working compass requires a manufacturing capability that wasn’t present prior to what we call the ancient civiliations, but that actually are recent developments.

The sailors named previous are so well known that the New York Times writes them obituaries. I doubt there is much record of Guy Avery’s death. He likely has died by now, the photo right showing him in 1939. He’s just some guy who served on the USS Lexington. Not the one that now is a museum in Corpus Christi, but her earlier namesake. Sometime later, he set sail from Tampa in a sixteen foot wood yawl, made some repairs in Bermuda, and was rescued near the Azores. Because how else was he to get to Genoa? He had no sextant, but almost certainly had a compass. Outfitted from circumstance rather than any point he was making. I think that voyage deserves note, too. And wonder why he was headed for Italy, in the months just before Europe explodes.

Herd immunity depends on how the herd behaves

September 2, 2020

As most now have read, a contagious disease continues to spread within a population so long as each individual infected on average passes the disease to at least one other. That measure, the “r-nought,” determines whether the actively infected population declines, stays constant, or increases, as it is below 1, equal to 1, or higher. Everything else remaining the same, the r-nought decreases as the immune fraction of population increases. Which is why contagious diseases with short periods of infection come and go. “Herd immunity” is the notion that a disease cannot propagate in a population once there is a large enough fraction immune to it.

Recently, I have seen quite a few posts and articles that take as an assumption that the fraction of population where that obtains for a particular disease is a constant. It isn’t. That fraction depends on the behavior of the population. A disease that is under control in a herd of cows that has been grazing on open land may run rampant when they are collected into a feed lot. A nation that seems to have achieved herd immunity regarding Covid-19 through rigorous shutdown may see that reverse when those controls are lifted. A state where millions have shifted to working from home, emptying skyscrapers, cannot assume herd immunity remains if that is reversed.

Herd immunity depends on social behavior. At what fraction it occurs naturally will vary between different cultures. And can be lost or gained with changes in social practice.

I am not going to link to any authority stating the above, because it simply is inherent in the math. My explanation above likely isn’t needed by those of my friends who studied computer science or physics, or who otherwise are mathematically adept, because they are accustomed to thinking about problems involving graphs and probability. Be leery if you are wont to write on this topic, and you are not so inclined.

Update: Julia Kriz Dzierwa makes a terminology correction: “R-nought, or R0, is the initial reproduction rate. Rt is the reproduction rate at a given time. R is the reproduction rate in general. It would be accurate to say R decreases as the immune fraction of population increases.”