Student-Athletes

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

I am shocked — shocked! — to find cheating going on at UNC!

A blistering report into an academic fraud scandal at the University of North Carolina released Wednesday found that for nearly two decades two employees in the African and Afro-American Studies department ran a “shadow curriculum” of hundreds of fake classes that never met but for which students, many of them Tar Heels athletes, routinely received A’s and B’s.

Nearly half the students in the classes were athletes, the report found, often deliberately steered there by academic counselors to bolster their worrisomely low grade-point averages and to allow them to continue playing on North Carolina’s teams.

I’m so glad we’ve ferreted out this one isolated program, and America’s student-athletes can continue their long tradition of academic excellence.

The Greatness of George Orwell

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Bruce Charlton discusses the greatness of George Orwell — and his fatal flaw:

My generation was fed Orwell at school from our mid teens — some of the essays such as Shooting an Elephant and Boys’ Weeklies; excerpts from the documentary books such as Down and Out.. and …Wigan Pier; and the two late political novels Animal Farm and 1984.

That Orwell was mostly correct about things was not really argued, but assumed; on the basis that he seemed obviously correct to almost everybody; so far as the English were concerned, Orwell was simply expressing the national character better than we ourselves could have done.

Orwell was claimed both by the Left — on the basis that he was explicitly a socialist through most of his life; and he was claimed by the Right — on the basis that his two best known novels are anti-communist warnings against totalitarianism.

In sum: Orwell’s influence was much as any writer reasonably could have hoped for. And his warnings about the dangers of Leftism and the operations of totalitarianism were as lucid, as explicit, and as forceful as any writer could have made them.

And yet Britain today is an ‘Orwellian’ society to a degree which would have seemed incredible even 25 years ago. The same applies to the USA, where Orwell was also revered.

In particular, the exact types of abuses, manipulations and distortions of language which Orwell spelled-out in fiery capital letters 100 feet high have come to pass; have become routine and unremarked — and they are wholly-successful, barely-noticed, stoutly-defended — and to point them out is regarded either as trivial nitpicking or evasive rhetoric.

The current manifestations of the sexual revolution, deploying the most crudely Orwellian appropriations and taboos of terminology, go further than even Orwell envisaged. The notion that sexual differences could so easily be subverted, and their evaluations so swiftly reversed; apparently at will and without any apparent limit would — I think — have gone beyond the possibilities Orwell could have realistically imagined.

(Indeed, it is characteristic of the Kafka-esque absurdity of modern Western life that a plain description of everyday reality — say in a state bureaucracy, the mass media or university — is simply disbelieved, it ‘does not compute’ and is rejected by the mind. And by this, nihilistic absurdity is safeguarded.)

I think Orwell would never have believed that people would accept, en masse, and so readily go along with (willingly embrace and enforce, indeed), the negative relabelling of normal biological reality, and he substitution of arbitrary and rapidly changing inverted norms: for Orwell, The Proles were sexually normal, like animals, and would continue so. The elites, whatever their personal preferences and practices, left them alone in this — presumably because sexuality was seen as a kind of bedrock.

And this leads to Orwell’s fatal flaw — which was exactly sexuality.

Transportation, Divergence, and the Industrial Revolution

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

Nick Szabo explores transportation, divergence, and the Industrial Revolution:

After about 1000 AD northwestern Europe started a gradual switch from using oxen to using horses for farm traction and transportation.  This trend culminated in an eighteenth-century explosion in roads carrying horse-drawn carriages and wagons, as well as in canals, and works greatly extending the navigability of rivers, both carrying horse-drawn barges. This reflected a great rise in the use of cultivated fodder, a hallmark of the novel agricultural system that was evolving in northwestern Europe from the start of the second millennium: stationary pastoralism.  During the same period, and especially in the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries, most of civilized East Asia, and in particular Chinese civilization along its coast, navigable rivers, and canals, faced increasing Malthusian pressures and evolved in the opposite direction: from oxen towards far more costly and limited human porters. Through the early middle ages China had been far ahead, in terms of division of labor and technology, of the roving bandits of northern Europe, but after the latter region’s transition to stationary pastoralism that gap closed and Europe surged ahead, a growth divergence that culminated in the industrial revolution.  In the eighteenth century Europe, and thus in the early industrial revolution, muscle power was the engine of land transportation, and hay was its gasoline.

Metcalfe’s Law states that a value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of its nodes.  In an area where good soils, mines, and forests are randomly distributed, the number of nodes valuable to an industrial economy is proportional to the area encompassed.  The number of such nodes that can be economically accessed is an inverse square of the cost per mile of transportation.  Combine this  with Metcalfe’s Law and we reach a dramatic but solid mathematical conclusion: the potential value of a land transportation network is the inverse fourth power of the cost of that transportation. A reduction in transportation costs in a trade network by a factor of two increases the potential value of that network by a factor of sixteen. While a power of exactly 4.0 will usually be too high, due to redundancies, this does show how the cost of transportation can have a radical nonlinear impact on the value of the trade networks it enables.  This formalizes Adam Smith’s observations: the division of labor (and thus value of an economy) increases with the extent of the market, and the extent of the market is heavily influenced by transportation costs (as he extensively discussed in his Wealth of Nations).

Q.E.D.

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

American political and social life today is pretty much one great big Q.E.D. for the two main theses of The Bell Curve, Charles Murray argues:

Those theses were, first, that changes in the economy over the course of the 20th century had made brains much more valuable in the job market; second, that from the 1950s onward, colleges had become much more efficient in finding cognitive talent wherever it was and shipping that talent off to the best colleges. We then documented all the ways in which cognitive ability is associated with important outcomes in life — everything from employment to crime to family structure to parenting styles. Put those all together, we said, and we’re looking at some serious problems down the road.

How to see into the future

Saturday, October 18th, 2014

So, what is the secret of looking into the future?

Initial results from the Good Judgment Project suggest the following approaches. First, some basic training in probabilistic reasoning helps to produce better forecasts. Second, teams of good forecasters produce better results than good forecasters working alone. Third, actively open-minded people prosper as forecasters.

But the Good Judgment Project also hints at why so many experts are such terrible forecasters. It’s not so much that they lack training, teamwork and open-mindedness — although some of these qualities are in shorter supply than others. It’s that most forecasters aren’t actually seriously and single-mindedly trying to see into the future. If they were, they’d keep score and try to improve their predictions based on past errors. They don’t.

This is because our predictions are about the future only in the most superficial way. They are really advertisements, conversation pieces, declarations of tribal loyalty — or, as with Irving Fisher, statements of profound conviction about the logical structure of the world.

Some participants in the Good Judgment Project were given advice, a few pages in total, which was summarised with the acronym CHAMP:

  • Comparisons are important: use relevant comparisons as a starting point;
  • Historical trends can help: look at history unless you have a strong reason to expect change;
  • Average opinions: experts disagree, so find out what they think and pick a midpoint;
  • Mathematical models: when model-based predictions are available, you should take them into account;
  • Predictable biases exist and can be allowed for. Don’t let your hopes influence your forecasts, for example; don’t stubbornly cling to old forecasts in the face of news.

The Advent of Cholera

Friday, October 17th, 2014

Cholera seems to have existed in the Ganges delta for a long time, but it only spread to the rest of the world fairly recently, Gregory Cochran notes, and two factors interfered with an effective policy response:

[Scientists] concluded that contagion was never the answer, and accepted miasmas as the cause, a theory which is too stupid to be interesting. Sheesh, they taught the kids in medical school that measles wasn’t catching — while ordinary people knew perfectly well that it was. You know, esoteric, non-intuitive truths have a certain appeal — once initiated, you’re no longer one of the rubes. Of course, the simplest and most common way of producing an esoteric truth is to just make it up.

On the other hand, 19th century liberals (somewhat like modern libertarians, but way less crazy) knew that trade and individual freedom were always good things, by definition, so they also opposed quarantines — worse than wrong, old-fashioned! And more common in southern, Catholic, Europe: enough said! So, between wrong science and classical liberalism, medical reformers spent many years trying to eliminate the reactionary quarantine rules that still existed in Mediterranean ports.

The intellectual tide turned: first heroes like John Snow, and Peter Panum, later titans like Pasteur and Koch. Contagionism made a comeback.

A Referendum On Everything

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

The Red Tribe and Blue Tribe have different narratives, which they use to tie together everything that happens into reasons why their tribe is good and the other tribe is bad:

When an issue gets tied into a political narrative, it stops being about itself and starts being about the wider conflict between tribes until eventually it becomes viewed as a Referendum On Everything. At this point, people who are clued in start suspecting nobody cares about the issue itself — like victims of beheadings, or victims of sexual abuse — and everybody cares about the issue’s potential as a political weapon — like proving Muslims are “uncivilized”, or proving political correctness is dangerous. After that, even people who agree that the issue is a problem and who would otherwise want to take action have to stay quiet, because they know that their help would be used less to solve a problem than to push forward the war effort against them. If they feel especially threatened, they may even take an unexpected side on the issue, switching from what they would usually believe to whichever position seems less like a transparent cover for attempts to attack them and their friends.

Empire of the Summer Moon

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

Scott Alexander reviews Empire of the Summer Moon, about the Comanche Indians:

When Mexico took over from Spain and tried to colonize Texas, the Comanches beat them so soundly that they decided to get some “help” by inviting Anglo-Americans to come in and colonize, leading to the Texas revolt, the Mexican War, and so on. Through the first thirty years or so of American Texas, American control only extended through the eastern half of the state, with the western half being totally Comanche and almost totally unexplored. The border was so feared that places like Fort Worth, Texas were originally a line of actual forts intended to protect the Texans from Comanche raids.

These raids were probably the most disturbing part of the book. On the one hand, okay, the white people were trying to steal the Comanches’ land and they had every right to be angry. On the other hand, the way the Comanches expressed that anger was to occasionally ride in, find a white village or farm or homestead, surround it, and then spend hours or days torturing everyone they found there in the most horrific possible ways before killing the men and enslaving the women and children. Sometimes people were scalped alive. The women would usually be gang-raped dozens of times, and then enslaved, carried off to Comanche territory, and gang-raped some more. Children were forced to watch as their parents were raped and tortured and killed, or vice versa.

Their favorite pastime was to find a remote farm somewhere, ride in dressed in full war gear, communicate some version of “Oh, hi, I know what this looks like but actually we’re just stopping by, mind giving us a bite to eat?”, enjoying a lavish feast put on by extremely nervous settlers, and then saying “Very good, in exchange for this feast we give you a five minute head start”, then giving them five minutes to run away before riding them down and torture-killing the entire family in the manner described earlier.

On the other hand, the Comanches fit the classic pattern of hunter-gatherer civilizations of simultaneously being really mean to people outside the tribe while showing deep and heartfelt kindness to everyone within. We know this because sometimes if there were very young children, and the Comanches were feeling a bit low on headcount, they would capture the children and adopt them as full Comanches (after torture-killing the parents, of course) and some of these children would later grow up to write English-language books about their experience. But this practice definitely led to some awkward situations, and the book centers around one of them: the last great chief of the Comanches, Quanah, was half-white, the son of a Comanche chief and a Texan woman who had been captured when she was nine years old.

So there was a bit of traffic back and forth between America and Comancheria in the 19th century. White people being captured and raised by Comanches. The captives being recaptured years later and taken back into normal white society. Indians being defeated and settled on reservations and taught to adopt white lifestyles. And throughout the book’s description of these events, there was one constant:

All of the white people who joined Indian tribes loved it and refused to go back to white civilization. All the Indians who joined white civilization hated it and did everything they could to go back to their previous tribal lives.

There was much to like about tribal life. The men had no jobs except to occasionally hunt some buffalo and if they felt courageous to go to war. The women did have jobs like cooking and preparing buffalo, but they still seemed to be getting off easy compared to the white pioneer women or, for that matter, women today. The whole culture was nomadic, basically riding horses wherever they wanted through the vast open plains without any property or buildings or walls. And everyone was amazingly good at what they did; the Comanche men were probably the best archers and horsemen in the history of history, and even women and children had wilderness survival and tracking skills that put even the best white frontiersmen to shame. It sounds like a life of leisure, strong traditions, excellence, and enjoyment of nature, and it doesn’t surprise me that people liked it better than the awful white frontier life of backbreaking farming and endless religious sermons.

The Church v the Family

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

Why isn’t Europe clannish? Ed West explains:

The answer is the Catholic Church. Christianity in our minds is linked to “family values”, as Right-wing politicians used to say before an imminent sex scandal, but from the beginning it was almost anti-family, and Jesus told his disciples to leave theirs. Whereas Judaism had been heavily kinship-based, Christ voiced the view that the noblest thing was to lay down one’s life for a friend – a gigantic moral leap. This universal ideal was spread by St Paul who famously stated that there would be neither Jew nor Greek, “for ye are all one in Christ Jesus”.

Although both large Abrahamic faiths are universalist, western Christianity was far more jealous of rival loyalties, such as could be found in the clan, and wanted to weaken them. St Augustine of Hippo and St Thomas Aquinas both encouraged marrying out as a way of widening social ties, and in Summa Theologica Aquinas objected to cousin marriages on the grounds that they “prevent people widening their circle of friends”. He wrote: “When a man takes a wife from another family he is joined in special friendship with her relations; they are to him as his own.”

The influence of the Church caused Europeans to be less clannish and therefore made it easier for large territorial magnates to forge nation-states.

Another consequence was the nuclear family, which developed in the North Sea region around the turn of the millennium. It was influenced by the western European manor system of agriculture, under which peasants managed their own farms let out to them by the lord of the manor, owing him obligations of work. This encouraged adult children to move out of the family home, whereas in most cultures three generations lived together under a paterfamilias.

With the nuclear family came a move away from group identity and towards the western concept of individual rights and liberalism. It was a revolutionary idea and in parts of the world where the clan still rules it is still an alien one.

The Secret Casualties of Iraq’s Abandoned Chemical Weapons

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

From 2004 to 2011, American troops repeatedly encountered chemical weapons remaining from earlier in Saddam Hussein’s rule, C.J. Chivers reports:

In all, American troops secretly reported finding roughly 5,000 chemical warheads, shells or aviation bombs, according to interviews with dozens of participants, Iraqi and American officials, and heavily redacted intelligence documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

The United States had gone to war declaring it must destroy an active weapons of mass destruction program. Instead, American troops gradually found and ultimately suffered from the remnants of long-abandoned programs, built in close collaboration with the West.

The New York Times found 17 American service members and seven Iraqi police officers who were exposed to nerve or mustard agents after 2003. American officials said that the actual tally of exposed troops was slightly higher, but that the government’s official count was classified.

The secrecy fit a pattern. Since the outset of the war, the scale of the United States’ encounters with chemical weapons in Iraq was neither publicly shared nor widely circulated within the military. These encounters carry worrisome implications now that the Islamic State, a Qaeda splinter group, controls much of the territory where the weapons were found.

The American government withheld word about its discoveries even from troops it sent into harm’s way and from military doctors. The government’s secrecy, victims and participants said, prevented troops in some of the war’s most dangerous jobs from receiving proper medical care and official recognition of their wounds.

Sexual Harassment at Restaurants

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

Scott Adams (Dilbert) adds some context to the report that 90% of women in restaurant jobs that depend on tipping report being sexually harassed at work, based on his own restaurant-owning experience:

I believe it is true that 90% of women working for tips in restaurants are sexually harassed by coworkers and/or customers. That fits my personal observations after working in the industry. But let’s put some context on that and see if your feelings about the story change.

For starters, let’s remove from the stats the folks who take jobs at Hooters and other restaurants that position the staff’s appearance as part of the “entertainment.” I would argue that those employees are signing up to be sexually objectified in return for the promise of easy work and good tips. You can make a convincing case that Hooters should not exist, but I don’t think you can lump the servers at Hooters with the servers at Applebee’s and get a good statistic on restaurant sexual harassment in general.

So let’s say the non-Hooters rate of sexual harassment for female restaurant workers is something like 80%. That still sounds terrible. But I’m not done with context yet.

In my experience, attractive female bartenders and servers are completely conscious of trading their sexuality for higher tips. They talk about it freely. They pick blouses to accentuate their best assets. And some will admit they choose jobs that allow them to trade on their looks. If I were in my twenties and could make money in a job that depended on my looks instead of my muscles I would take it in a heartbeat, assuming I had good looks.

My best guess is that if you remove from the stats the women who are intentionally using their sexuality to improve their income, you get about 50% of women in tipping jobs who get sexually harassed and have done nothing intentionally to inspire unwanted attention. That is still a horrible number.

But 50% is also the rate of men who report being sexually harassed in server jobs. In my restaurant experience, when we had handsome male bartenders or servers the female staff and customers were shameless with their non-stop sexual banter, flirting, and direct sexual offers. And if you thought all of that attention was the good kind, you’d be wrong. It was an ongoing problem for the guys. The handsome gay servers had it the worst because they had no upside potential from the female attention.

So here’s the proper context, in my opinion, based on years of direct restaurant experience: 100% of attractive men and women are sexually harassed at work in the restaurant business. And nearly every one of them took the job knowing that would be the case, but they decided it was worth it for the relatively easy money.

Alexis de Tocqueville on the Dark Sides of Democracy

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

Alexis de Tocqueville saw five potentially dark sides of democracy:

One: Democracy breeds materialism

In the society that de Tocqueville knew from childhood, making money did not seem to be at the forefront of most people’s minds. The poor (who were the overwhelming majority) had almost no chance of acquiring wealth. So while they cared about having enough to eat, money as such was not part of how they thought about themselves or their ambitions: there was simply no chance. On the other hand, the tiny upper stratum of landed aristocrats did not need to make money – and regarded it as shameful to work for money at all, or to be involved in trade or commerce. As a result, for very different reasons, money was not the way to judge a life.

However, the Americans de Tocqueville met all readily believed that through hard work, it was possible to make a fortune and that to do so was wholly admirable and right. There was hence no suspicion whatever of the rich, a certain moral judgement against the poor, and an immense respect for the capacity to make money. It seemed, quite simply, the only achievement that Americans thought worth respecting. For example, in America, observed de Tocqueville, a book that does not make money – because it does not sell well – cannot be good, because the test of all goodness is money. And anything that makes a profit must be admirable in every way. It was a flattened, unnuanced view that made de Tocqueville see the advantages of the relatively more subtle, multi-polar status systems of Europe, where one might (on a good day) be deemed good, but poor; or rich, but vulgar.

Democracy and Capitalism had created a relatively equitable, but also very flat and oppressive way for humans to judge each other.

Two: Democracy breeds envy and shame

Travelling around the United States, de Tocqueville discerned an unexpected ill corroding the souls of the citizens of the new republic. Americans had much, but this affluence did not stop them from wanting ever more and from suffering whenever they saw someone else with assets they lacked. In a chapter of Democracy in America entitled ‘Why the Americans are Often so Restless in the Midst of Their Prosperity’, he sketched an enduring analysis of the relationship between dissatisfaction and high expectation, between envy and equality:

‘When all the prerogatives of birth and fortune have been abolished, when every profession is open to everyone, an ambitious man may think it is easy to launch himself on a great career and feel that he has been called to no common destiny. But this is a delusion which experience quickly corrects. When inequality is the general rule in society, the greatest inequalities attract no attention. But when everything is more or less level, the slightest variation is noticed… That is the reason for the strange melancholy often haunting inhabitants of democracies in the midst of abundance and of that disgust with life sometimes gripping them even in calm and easy circumstances. In France, we are worried about increasing rate of suicides. In America, suicide is rare, but I am told that madness is commoner than anywhere else’.

Three: The tyranny of the majority

Typically, we think of democracy as being the opposite of tyranny. It should, in a democracy, no longer be possible for a clique to lord it over everyone else by force; leaders have to govern with the consent of the governed. But de Tocqueville noticed that democracy could easily create its own specialised type of tyranny: that of the majority. The majority group could, in principle, be very severe and hostile to minorities. De Tocqueville wasn’t simply thinking of overt political persecution, but of a less dramatic, but still real, kind of tyranny in which simply being ‘in a minority’ as regards prevailing ideologies starts to seem unacceptable, perverse – even a threat.

Democratic culture, he thought, could easily end up demonising any assertion of difference, and especially of cultural superiority or high mindedness, which could be perceived as offensive to the majority – even though such attitudes might be connected with real merit. In a tyranny of the majority, a society grows ill at ease with outstanding merit or ambition of any kind. It has an aggressively levelling instinct; in which it is regarded as a civic virtue to cut down to size anyone who seems to be getting above themselves.

Four: Democracy turns us against authority

De Tocqueville saw democracy as encouraging strong ideas about equality, to an extent that could grow harmful and dispiriting. He saw that democracy encourages ‘in the human heart a depraved taste for equality, which always impels the weak to want to bring the strong down to their level’.

Five: Democracy undermines freedom of mind

Instinctively, you’d suppose that democracy would encourage citizens to have an open mind. Surely democracy encourages debate and allows disagreements to be resolved by voting, rather than by violence? We think of openness of mind as being the result of living in a place where lots of opinions get an airing.

However, de Tocqueville came to the opposite conclusion: that in few places could one find ‘less independence of mind, and true freedom of discussion, than in America’.

Trusting that the system was fair and just, Americans simply gave up their independence of mind, and put their faith in newspapers and so-called ‘common sense’. The scepticism of Europeans towards public opinion had given way to a naive faith in the wisdom of the crowd.

Income Inequality

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

Income inequality is low in agrarian, pre-industrial societies, because you need income to achieve income inequality:

The idea is, there is an absolute level of subsistence income for the mass of peasants who are creating value in the traditional society. Above that level is the surplus, or the amount of income which can be expropriated by elites; and below that amount… starvation for the producers in the economy.

Thus, in a very poor society whose average income is close to the absolute survival level, the surplus extracted is pretty small and therefore inequality cannot be very high. But as average income rises, there is potentially more to extract. So the interesting question becomes, did pre-industrial societies at different levels of income have different “extraction levels”? Put another way: did peasant incomes also rise when the average income rose or did the increase simply lead to more elite extraction?

Pre-Industrial Inequality

Incomes may have been more equally distributed in China in 1880 than in England in 1688, but that’s only because the average income was quite low in China. But perhaps more importantly, China in 1880 was closer to its maximum potential inequality than England in 1688 was.

(Hat tip to T. Greer.)

What Liberals Get Wrong About Football

Monday, October 13th, 2014

Jonathan Chait describes what liberals get wrong about football:

Over the last generation, the social experience of American youth has rapidly liberalized. The cultural mores of my school life largely resembled those of my parents’, but the socialization awaiting my children has transformed beyond recognition. Rather than allowing kids to “settle their differences” — i.e., allowing the strong and popular to prey upon the weak and vulnerable — authorities aggressively police bullying. Schools are rife with organizations to support gay students, something unimaginable not long ago. Nerdy and cool, once antithetical terms, now frequently describe the same things, like affinity for comic-book characters or technological savvy. American schools have mostly moved beyond a world where football players (and, correspondingly, cheerleaders) embody the singular hierarchical ideal of their gender. This is entirely to the good, a triumph of egalitarianism.

In fact, it is a sign of this advance that American society is now questioning whether football has any role within it at all. But it also marks a point where the advance of social liberalism has swung from the defensive (creating a place of respect and value for those who have long been excluded) to the offensive (suggesting that only a world conforming closely to down-the-line-liberal values is worth living in).

The social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has argued that people naturally gravitate toward competing notions of morality. Some of those, like fairness and caring, are associated with liberalism. Others, like loyalty and respect for authority, are associated with conservatism. Football is obviously not just for conservatives, but it does embody the conservative virtues. The backlash against it is a signpost of a new social system unwilling to consider that the worldview of one’s political adversaries might have any wisdom to offer at all and untroubled by the fear that, perhaps, football exists because it channels a genuine, deep-seated impulse. In this case, that discipline might be a helpful response to impulses of aggression, and not just a false-heroic myth used to legitimize and justify brutality.

Theodore Roosevelt is remembered today for his populist economic sentiments, but the more coherent theme of Roosevelt’s life is a way of thinking about strength, honor, and violence. As a boy, Roosevelt fanatically built up his sickly body and developed an obsession with athletics, danger, and war. This is one of the many things that we love about him — and yet it is an attitude about self-­mastery, aggression, and courage that is completely alien to the way we think of coming of age today. Any good contemporary liberal could reuse, with modest syntactical changes, Roosevelt’s speeches assailing greed or exhorting the rich to accept social obligations. But his beliefs about masculinity could not be repeated without embarrassment. “A coward who will take a blow without returning it is a contemptible creature,” Roosevelt wrote in a 1900 essay, which naturally ended with a rousing football metaphor: “In short, in life, as in a foot-ball game, the principle to follow is: Hit the line hard; don’t foul and don’t shirk, but hit the line hard!”

That Roosevelt was an imperialist who loved war is hardly incidental to his views on football, and to revive Roosevelt’s blueprint for raising boys on a broad scale would be insane — not even Ted Cruz would advocate it. But it is not entirely devoid of moral value even by contemporary standards. “A healthy-minded boy should feel hearty contempt for the coward, and even more hearty indignation for the boy who bullies girls or small boys, or tortures animals,” he wrote, expressing the paternalistic code of honor that his contemporaries saw as the alternative to the law of the jungle. The question is not whether Rooseveltian social thinking should guide our own thinking but whether, in an age heralded by Hanna Rosin as “The End of Men,” any of it should be salvaged.

He also shares some stats about football’s level of danger:

High-school football has a fatality rate of 0.83 per 100,000 participants. This is actually lower than the rates of boys’ basketball (0.92), lacrosse (1.00), boys’ gymnastics (1.00), and water polo (1.3).

[...]

Measures vary, but a recent study found the odds of sustaining a concussion during a football practice or game (6.4 times per 10,000 athletic events) runs ahead of sports like girls’ soccer (3.4 times per 10,000), boys’ lacrosse (4), and ice hockey (5.4). In other words, the concussion risk in boys’ football is about twice as high as in girls’ soccer and about one-third higher than in hockey. This is an incrementally higher risk — on the order of driving an older car versus a newer one, as opposed to the elevated risk of, say, taking a job as a drug mule over becoming a librarian.

Alexis de Tocqueville on Native Americans

Monday, October 13th, 2014

On Columbus Day it seems apropos to share Alexis de Tocqueville’s observations on American attitudes toward native Americans:

In the midst of this American society, so well policed, so sententious, so charitable, a cold selfishness and complete insensibility prevails when it is a question of the natives of the country. The Americans of the United States do not let their dogs hunt the Indians as do the Spaniards in Mexico, but at the bottom it is the same pitiless feeling which here, as everywhere else, animates the European race. This world here belongs to us, they tell themselves every day: the Indian race is destined for final destruction which one cannot prevent and which it is not desirable to delay. Heaven has not made them to become civilised; it is necessary that they die. Besides I do not want to get mixed up in it. I will not do anything against them: I will limit myself to providing everything that will hasten their ruin. In time I will have their lands and will be innocent of their death. Satisfied with his reasoning, the American goes to church where he hears the minister of the gospel repeat every day that all men are brothers, and that the Eternal Being who has made them all in like image, has given them all the duty to help one another.

When he encountered real, live Indians, he was disappointed:

I was full of recollections of M. de Chateaubriand and of Cooper, and I was expecting to find the natives of America savages, but savages on whose face natured had stamped the marks of some of the proud virtues which liberty brings forth. I expected to find a race of men little different from Europeans, whose bodies had been developed by the strenuous exercise of hunting and war, and who would lose nothing by being seen naked. Judge my amazement at seeing the picture that follows. The Indians whom I saw that evening were small in stature, their limbs, as far as one could tell under their clothes, were thin and not wiry, their skin instead of being red as is generally thought, was dark bronze and such as at first sight seemed very like that of Negroes. Their black hair fell with singular stiffness on their neck and sometimes on their shoulders. Generally their mouths were disproportionately large, and the expression on their faces ignoble and mischievous. There was however a great deal of European in their features, but one would have said that they came from the lowest mob of our great European cities. Their physiognomy told of that profound degradation which only long abuse of the benefits of civilisation can give, but yet they were still savages.