Monday, June 3, 2019

On gun control

Gun ownership is much more tightly restricted in Japan and Brazil than here in the US.

Gun violence is much less common in Japan, and much more common in Brazil, than in the US.

Japan's population numbers about 126 million and is ethnically homogeneous. Brazil's population numbers about 208 million and is, like that in the US, ethnically diverse.

Gun-control advocates in the US argue that further restrictions on gun ownership will bring our level of gun violence nearer Japan's; gun-control opponents argue that further restrictions will bring our level of gun violence nearer Brazil's.

Our demographics are much more similar to Brazil's than to Japan's. That fact suggests to me that gun-control opponents have the stronger case.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Two lessons

Five years ago yesterday I left a comment at Inside Higher Ed on a story about Egypt. Mohammad Morsi, candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, had just been elected president, and IHE's piece explored whether study-abroad programs would suffer under the new regime. I wrote,

According to two authorities cited in the article:

"[T]he new leadership will probably lead to greater stability and economic growth . . . and not a less tolerant view of Americans, especially women, studying in Egypt."

"[T]he president-elect’s American education gives him reason to value higher education."

The Muslim Brotherhood's motto:

"Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. Qur'an is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope."

The Brotherhood and Western civilization are irreconcilable. To believe otherwise is delusion.

Two other commenters expressed sentiments consistent with mine. A third, Steven Hanchey, mocked us:

Glad to hear this positive thinking from three respected and distinguished experts on study abroad in Egypt.

I replied,

Good. Let's check back in five years to see who had it right, the optimist (Mr. Hanchey) or the pessimists (the rest of us as of this writing). . . .

This is one of those times I'll be glad if proven wrong.

I score my comment 50/100, by which I mean I failed. Though right that study-abroad programs in Egypt would be affected—they ended and have yet to be revived—I missed the enormous fact that Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood would soon be overthrown by Egypt's military. I expected sharia to tighten its grip inexorably. Meanwhile, clear-sighted, knowledgeable analysts such as Daniel Pipes anticipated a military coup.

Lesson: The casual observer, however intelligent, tends to prove no match for the expert analyst.

To Mr. Hanchey I award the rather worse score of 5/100. I did lack expertise, thus his five points; otherwise he was completely off. (Yes, I'm inferring a lot from his one sentence.)

How could a man with experience in the State Department and the American University in Cairo have been so wrong?

My guess is that Mr. Hanchey's specific knowledge, and his wishes, weakened his judgment. He likely had friends and acquaintances in Egypt with no fondness for the Muslim Brotherhood and sharia, and so he underestimated how much life would change under Morsi. He also, I'm sure, wanted the study-abroad programs to continue, and he let his hopes color his view.

Lesson: Beware the analyst, expert or otherwise, whose career would benefit from a particular outcome.

(Edited since first posted.)

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The thirty-day song challenge

I found this meme via Terry Teachout. In repayment, I'll steal his formatting and follow his example by giving all answers now.

1. A song you like with a color in the title
Nat "King" Cole and his Trio and Stan Kenton and his Orchestra, "Orange Colored Sky" (Delugg/Stein)

2. A song you like with a number in the title
Caro Emerald, "One Day" (Schreurs/DeGiorgio)

3. A song that reminds you of summertime
Naked Eyes, "(There's) Always Something There to Remind Me" (Bacharach/David)

4. A song that reminds you of someone you would rather forget about
Paula Cole, "I Am So Ordinary" (Cole)

5. A song that needs to be played loud
Sammy Davis Jr., "Talk to the Animals" (Bricusse)

6. A song that makes you want to dance
Smoove & Turrell, "Hard Work" (Watson/Turrell) (?)

7. A song to drive to
John Hiatt, "Memphis in the Meantime" (Hiatt)

8. A song about drugs or alcohol
James Taylor, "A Junkie's Lament" (Taylor)

9. A song that makes you happy
Art Brut, "Good Weekend" (Argos/Breyer/Catskilkin/Chinchilla/Feedback) (?)

10. A song that makes you sad
Karla Bonoff, "The Water Is Wide" (traditional)

11. A song that you never get tired of
The Beatles, "I Saw Her Standing There" (Lennon/McCartney)

12. A song that you love from 2011
Fountains of Wayne, "Acela" (Collingwood/Schlesinger)

13. One of your favorite Seventies songs
Robert Palmer, "Sailin' Shoes" (George)

14. A song that you would love played at your wedding
Frank Sinatra, "Around the World" (Adamson/Young)

15. A song that is a cover by another artist
Mason Jar Music featuring Gabriel Garzón-Montano, "You Can Make It If You Try" (Stewart)

16. One of your favorite songs from a movie
Keira Knightley, "A Step You Can't Take Back" (Alexander/Brisebois/Carney)

17. A song that features your favorite artist
James Taylor, "(I've Got To) Stop Thinkin' 'Bout That" (Kortchmar/Taylor)

18. A song from the year you were born
Tom Lehrer, "The Vatican Rag" (Lehrer)

19. A song that makes you think about life
Hem, "Not California" (Messé/Maurer)

20. A song that reminds you of your mom
Frank Sinatra, "Nancy (with the Laughing Face)" (Silvers/Van Heusen/Burke)

21. A favorite song with a person’s name in the title
Donald Fagen, "Maxine" (Fagen)

22. A song that motivates you
Todd Rundgren, "Drive" (Rundgren)

23. A song that you think everybody should listen to
Ben Folds and Nick Hornby, "Belinda" (Hornby/Folds)

24. A song by a band/group you wish were still together
The Beatles, "I've Just Seen a Face" (Lennon/McCartney)

25. A song by an artist no longer living
Ray Charles, "Smack Dab in the Middle" (Calhoun)

26. A song that makes you want to fall in love
Sting, "Fields of Gold" (Sting)

27. A song that breaks your heart
Lyle Lovett, "Nobody Knows Me" (Lovett)

28. A song by an artist with a voice that you love
Kelly Jones, "Subway Song" (Jones/Viola)

29. A song that you remember from your childhood
The Joe Cuba Sextet, "Bang! Bang!" (Cuba/Sabater)

30. A song that reminds you of yourself
Joni Mitchell, "The Last Time I Saw Richard" (Mitchell)

Full playlist here.

(I've made some changes since first posting this.)

Friday, February 17, 2017

Others have made the comparison, but I'm startled by how much Trump's presidency resembles the plot of the movie Network.

In each story, an outspoken celebrity wins followers, and neither he nor they realize that the true power lies in the background: in Network, with producers and company executives; in Trump's presidency, with advisors and cabinet secretaries.

The resemblance isn't exact, of course. Unlike Howard Beale, Trump holds final say. If he doesn't sign the order or the bill, it won't take effect.

But Trump's authority means less than it should. Lacking intelligence, ideas, and philosophy, he's subject to manipulation by cleverer men. (From a New York Times report: "Mr. Bannon remains the president’s dominant adviser, despite Mr. Trump’s anger that he was not fully briefed on details of the executive order he signed.")

Trump shouts and scraps, his fans applaud, but he's a tool of those behind him.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

I was wrong.

And I'm not happy about it.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Donald Trump Is Not Smart

A man out of his depth, trying to sound impressive.

I've pulled this video. Now that he has the nomination I'm neutral, in a pox-on-both-their-houses way.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

When people say Trump voters are "venting," this is what they mean.

Take my friend Steve as an example. He runs a 15-person firm in New York City. It’s a business he started, and I assume he makes a lot of money. He’s very conservative politically. Last fall he told me he was supporting Trump. When I asked why, he explained he was tired of political correctness and sick of Wall Street bankers getting away with murder. And then he told me about the stresses of his business—specifically, that he works with people who sign contracts featuring non-compete clauses with major corporations. When their time is up and they’re ready to move on, their employers threaten them with legal action due to the non-compete clauses. These claims are without merit, Steve says, but litigating them would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. So his people stay where they are. It’s unfair, he says.

What on earth, I asked, does he think Trump would do to help him and his clients with a non-compete problem? What does this have to do with anything? It’s the big guys, Steve said. The big guys are lording it over the little guys.

Now, in no way is Steve a little guy—except by comparison with major corporations. But he feels like the little guy.

This illuminated my understanding of the Trump phenomenon. His candidacy is an emotional outlet for his supporters. They have taken his message about “winning” and the “losers” who are running things and doing it badly—and they have applied it to their own circumstances.

Monday, March 14, 2016

From a short review by Stephen Dobyns of Patricia Goedicke's poetry collection The Tongues We Speak. (Emphasis added.)

Often she uses words not exclusively for their meaning but as intensifiers. For example, she sometimes likes to establish a rhythm with a number of double stresses. In the first eight lines of "In the Aquarium" one finds "front door," "back garden," "guests stream," "straight line," "then stop," "dark fish," "night sky," "moon like," "just short," "calm pool" and "blind friend." One has the sense of certain words being used primarily for stress. Does it really matter if the fish in the poem is a light or dark one? The reader comes partly to distrust her language, feeling that word choices may be made for reasons other than sense. This, coupled with the lack of proportion, tends to weaken the credibility of an entire poem.

My disappointment in the lyrics to "Alexander Hamilton," and in nearly all other lyrics I hear, arises from a similar loss of trust. There are songs I love, but most of them require a lot of forgiving.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

A lovely, generous comment from James Taylor regarding his 1968 song "Something in the Way She Moves."

When I heard George Harrison used the title for the opening words of "Something," I was thrilled. I didn't feel like I was being poached at all — besides, "Something in the Way She Moves" quotes the Beatles' "I Feel Fine": "She's around me almost all the time/And I feel fine."