Stigma-free consequences

Thursday, May 25th, 2017

Kay Hymowitz hasn’t visited Cheltenham High, in the prosperous Montgomery County suburbs of Philadelphia, since she graduated “in the faraway American Graffiti era,” but a recent brawl there went viral and raised the issue of unsayable truths about the failing high school:

Students described rape threats, stalking, kids sent back to classrooms after menacing teachers or classmates, teachers walking past fighting kids, security guards looking the other way. The problems, students insisted, weren’t limited to the high school; they remembered thuggery in middle and even elementary school, too.

There was no way to chalk up these complaints to adolescent theatrics. A February survey of CHS teachers had already revealed a school that resembled Lord of the Flies. Cursing, yelling students roamed the halls, pushing, shoving, ramming each other into walls, sometimes “accidentally” colliding with teachers. Thirty-six out of 79 teachers surveyed believed that they were unsafe in the hallways, and those who didn’t acknowledged either being big enough to stare down students or practiced at minding their own business. “What are you going to do about it? You can’t do anything,” “Fuck off, crazy old motherfucker,” were some of the choice rejoinders they told of hearing. “If I feel uncomfortable by the language and noise level a student displays,” one teacher wrote, “I can 1) address it and open myself up to insubordination and/or a verbal retaliation for which no consequences will be delivered or I can 2) choose to ignore it which I struggle with ethically because then I feel complicit. It’s a complete ‘no-win,’ and I battle this every day.”

What could not be said out loud was that the problem kids were all black, though the district superintendent did delicately indicate that the school’s trouble is “racialized.” Like many inner suburbs, once predominantly white Cheltenham has become increasingly African-American over the past decades. Back in the day, only about 10 percent of the high school population was black; Reggie Jackson, who graduated two years before me, remains the school’s most famous alum. The large majority of my classmates were the sons and daughters of second-generation Jews who had followed the immigrant dream into Philly’s northern suburbs in the postwar years. (Yoni “Jonathan” Netanyahu, who would die in the 1976 Entebbe raid, graduated the same year as Reggie; his brother Bibi picked up his diploma three years later. Their unflattering view of their coddled American baby boomer classmates is the subject of this blunt 2015 Washington Post article.)

Today, the district is 53 percent black, though the demographics defy easy generalization. Most of those students are the children of a growing black middle class that had moved to Cheltenham for the same reason postwar Jewish families had: its relatively affordable, attractive homes and its highly regarded schools, the holy grail of American house-hunting parents of all races. A number of black parents at the meeting spoke poignantly of the hopes that had brought them to the district. “I moved heaven and earth to make sure my child had a chance,” one voluble mother of a 12-year-old pleaded. “I could have lived in a wonderful house in Philly. No way I’m sending my girl to those schools. I’d rather live in a box and let my kid get a good education.”

Some of Cheltenham’s arrivals are spillovers from nearby North Philadelphia, the city’s immense and long-suffering black ghetto. They have moved into aging apartment complexes on the district’s border, bringing with them the old neighborhood’s broken culture. Forty-five percent of the black children in Cheltenham are born to unmarried mothers; it’s jolting to realize that “illegitimacy,” as it was once called, was almost unheard of at the time my peers were piling into school bleachers to cheer Reggie Jackson. Poverty rates for these kids are well below the national average, but almost 30 percent of single-parent households in Cheltenham are nevertheless in the ranks of the poor or near-poor.

If those households are like the struggling single-parent homes studied by social scientists, then the children are experiencing radically different domestic lives than their middle-class black and white classmates—with few routines, disappearing fathers and stepfathers, and little adult interest in homework, teachers, and discipline. Researchers have repeatedly found that boys growing up in single-mother households are especially prone to “externalizing” behavior like fighting, impulsiveness, rudeness—in other words, precisely the sort of behavior that the community meeting was demanding the administration do something about.

This class and family divide, intertwined as it is with race, is off-limits to polite discussion, leading conversations like the one at the community meeting into a verbal traffic jam of contradictions and dodges. The student council president shed tears over the mayhem in one breath and in the next demanded an end to the black-white achievement gap and adoption of “data-driven solutions” like “restorative justice.” (Unsurprisingly, this popular education fad has yet to be subject to careful study.) The audience retreated to the familiar litany of policy fixes with a long history of uneven or meager results: more black teachers! More counselors! More mentors!

One solution is alternative schools, which would place the small number of students making education impossible for the majority into schools explicitly designed for kids unable to function in ordinary education environments. The February teacher survey showed that the vast majority of instructors supported the approach; several black parents also endorsed it at the meeting. (A white father reviled the idea as stigmatizing.) For three hours, parents and students demanded that the administration impose clear “consequences” for fighting and rudeness. The administrators have their self-contradicting marching orders: stigma-free consequences.

One of these three planes could replace the A-10

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017

The Air Force is considering three light attack planes to (partially) replace the A-10 Warthog:

The three planes—the Sierra Nevada/Embraer A-29 Super Tucano, Beechcraft AT-6 Wolverine, and Textron Scorpion—will fly this Summer at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. The OA-X, or “Observation, Attack, concept,” envisions a small, nimble airplane that can carry a large payload of sensors and weapons. Flown by a pilot and copilot/observer, the small plane could carry out strike and close air support missions in support of ground troops.

OA-X is seen as half of a two airplane solution for eventually replacing the A-10 Thunderbolt. OA-X is a smaller, cheaper plane that would thrive where the air defense threat is limited to shoulder-fired missiles and machine guns. Another key requirement is that the plane be cheaper to fly per hour than the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter or A-10. The F-35 costs a whopping $42,000 an hour to fly, while the A-10 costs $17,000 an hour. The Air Force envisions the OA-X costing about $4,000 to $5,000 an hour.

A-29 Super Tucano

AT-6 Wolverine

Textron AirLand Scorpion Jet

Atlatling in Austin

Wednesday, May 17th, 2017

Austin seems like the kind of town where you’d see someone throwing spears at the park with an atlatl:

“It’s the rawest form of hunting tool,” says the co-founder and CEO of meat-based superfoods company Epic Provisions. Mr. Collins, 34, is a recreational bow hunter based in Austin, Texas, who only has time for a few hunting trips each year. Two years ago, he was researching historical hunting methods and discovered the atlatl (pronounced at-LA-tal).

Atlatl Photo by Matthew Mahon

A version of the atlatl, a hunting tool that predates the bow and arrow, may have first been used around 30,000 years ago in Europe and 11,000 in North America, according to the World Atlatl Organization. The word comes from the Nahuatl languages spoken in Mexico and other parts of Central America.

It lengthens the arm like an extra joint, making it possible to throw a spear farther and with more force than with one’s bare hands. It works similarly to a throw stick for dogs playing fetch.

Atlatls typically range from 18 to 24 inches long. One end has a hook and the other a hand hold. The hook connects to the back end of the spear, which is 5 to 6 feet long and thicker than an arrow. Throwers hold the atlatl at eye level and step in the direction of the target as they use their arm and wrist to throw the spear forward. The end of the atlatl flips around, pushing the spear forward with added force.

Mr. Collins played baseball in high school and likens the motion to throwing a pitch. He finds atlatl throwing meditative. “You really get in a zone and forget any worries,” he says.

The first casualty when war comes is truth

Saturday, May 13th, 2017

When the United States declared war on Germany 100 years ago, the impact on the news business was swift and dramatic:

In its crusade to “make the world safe for democracy,” the Wilson administration took immediate steps at home to curtail one of the pillars of democracy — press freedom — by implementing a plan to control, manipulate and censor all news coverage, on a scale never seen in U.S. history.

Following the lead of the Germans and British, Wilson elevated propaganda and censorship to strategic elements of all-out war. Even before the U.S. entered the war, Wilson had expressed the expectation that his fellow Americans would show what he considered “loyalty.

Immediately upon entering the war, the Wilson administration brought the
most modern management techniques to bear in the area of government-press relations. Wilson started one of the earliest uses of government propaganda. He waged a campaign of intimidation and outright suppression against those ethnic and socialist papers that continued to oppose the war. Taken together, these wartime measures added up to an unprecedented assault on press freedom.

I study the history of American journalism, but before I started researching this episode, I had thought that the government’s efforts to control the press began with President Roosevelt during WWII. What I discovered is that Wilson was the pioneer of a system that persists to this day.

All Americans have a stake in getting the truth in wartime. A warning from the WWI era, widely attributed to Sen. Hiram Johnson, puts the issue starkly: “The first casualty when war comes is truth.”

Within a week of Congress declaring war, on April 13, 1917, Wilson issued an executive order creating a new federal agency that would put the government in the business of actively shaping press coverage.

That agency was the Committee on Public Information, which would take on the task of explaining to millions of young men being drafted into military service — and to the millions of other Americans who had so recently supported neutrality — why they should now support war.

The new agency — which journalist Stephen Ponder called “the nation’s first ministry of information” — was usually referred to as the Creel Committee for its chairman, George Creel, who had been a journalist before the war. From the start, the CPI was “a veritable magnet” for political progressives of all stripes — intellectuals, muckrakers, even some socialists — all sharing a sense of the threat to democracy posed by German militarism. Idealistic journalists like S.S. McClure and Ida Tarbell signed on, joining others who shared their belief in Wilson’s crusade to make the world safe for democracy.

At the time, most Americans got their news through newspapers, which were flourishing in the years just before the rise of radio and the invention of the weekly news magazine. In New York City, according to my research, nearly two dozen papers were published every day — in English alone — while dozens of weeklies served ethnic audiences.

Starting from scratch, Creel organized the CPI into several divisions using the full array of communications.

The Speaking Division recruited 75,000 specialists who became known as “Four-Minute Men” for their ability to lay out Wilson’s war aims in short speeches.

The Film Division produced newsreels intended to rally support by showing images in movie theaters that emphasized the heroism of the Allies and the barbarism of the Germans.

The Foreign Language Newspaper Division kept an eye on the hundreds of weekly and daily U.S. newspapers published in languages other than English.

Another CPI unit secured free advertising space in American publications to promote campaigns aimed at selling war bonds, recruiting new soldiers, stimulating patriotism and reinforcing the message that the nation was involved in a great crusade against a bloodthirsty, antidemocratic enemy.

Some of the advertising showed off the work of another CPI unit. The Division of Pictorial Publicity was led by a group of volunteer artists and illustrators. Their output included some of the most enduring images of this period, including the portrait by James Montgomery Flagg of a vigorous Uncle Sam, declaring, “I WANT YOU FOR THE U.S. ARMY!”

Uncle Sam

Creel denied that his committee’s work amounted to propaganda, but he acknowledged that he was engaged in a battle of perceptions. “The war was not fought in France alone,” he wrote in 1920, after it was all over, describing the CPI as “a plain publicity proposition, a vast enterprise in salesmanship, the world’s greatest adventure in advertising.”

For most journalists, the bulk of their contact with the CPI was through its News Division, which became a veritable engine of propaganda on a par with similar government operations in Germany and England but of a sort previously unknown in the United States.

In the brief year and a half of its existence, the CPI’s News Division set out to shape the coverage of the war in U.S. newspapers and magazines. One technique was to bury journalists in paper, creating and distributing some 6,000 press releases — or, on average, handing out more than 10 a day.

The whole operation took advantage of a fact of journalistic life. In times of war, readers hunger for news and newspapers attempt to meet that demand. But at the same time, the government was taking other steps to restrict reporters’ access to soldiers, generals, munitions-makers and others involved in the struggle. So, after stimulating the demand for news while artificially restraining the supply, the government stepped into the resulting vacuum and provided a vast number of official stories that looked like news.

Most editors found the supply irresistible. These government-written offerings appeared in at least 20,000 newspaper columns each week, by one estimate, at a cost to taxpayers of only US$76,000.

In addition, the CPI issued a set of voluntary “guidelines” for U.S. newspapers, to help those patriotic editors who wanted to support the war effort (with the implication that those editors who did not follow the guidelines were less patriotic than those who did).

The CPI News Division then went a step further, creating something new in the American experience: a daily newspaper published by the government itself. Unlike the “partisan press” of the 19th century, the Wilson-era Official Bulletin was entirely a governmental publication, sent out each day and posted in every military installation and post office as well as in many other government offices. In some respects, it is the closest the United States has come to a paper like the Soviet Union’s Pravda or China’s People’s Daily.

The CPI was, in short, a vast effort in propaganda. The committee built upon the pioneering efforts of public relations man Ivy Lee and others, developing the young field of public relations to new heights. The CPI hired a sizable fraction of all the Americans who had any experience in this new field, and it trained many more.

One of the young recruits was Edward L. Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud and a pioneer in theorizing about human thoughts and emotions. Bernays volunteered for the CPI and threw himself into the work. His outlook — a mixture of idealism about the cause of spreading democracy and cynicism about the methods involved — was typical of many at the agency.

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society,” Bernays wrote a few years after the war. “Propaganda is the executive arm of the invisible government.”

Murders in the US are extremely concentrated

Friday, May 12th, 2017

The United States can be divided up into three kinds of places: places where there are no murders, places where there are a few murders, and places where there are lots of murders:

In 2014, the most recent year that a county level breakdown is available, 54% of counties (with 11% of the population) have no murders. 69% of counties have no more than one murder, and about 20% of the population. These counties account for only 4% of all murders in the country.

The worst 1% of counties have 19% of the population and 37% of the murders. The worst 5% of counties contain 47% of the population and account for 68% of murders. As shown in figure 2, over half of murders occurred in only 2% of counties.

Murder-Map-of-US-Counties

Crime control is not actually a mystery

Wednesday, May 10th, 2017

Crime control is not actually a mystery, Devin Helton notes:

In the long run, men follow incentives. That is not to say we calculate benefits and potential punishment before every action. But over time we build up intuition and a general sense of what we can get away with, what results in social sanction, what results in criminal sanction, what gets status among friends, and what results in success or failure with women.

When we compare the high crime and low crime poor communities, we see large differences in the incentives:

In low crime areas, disobedience at school results in harsh punishment — often corporal punishment.

In high crime areas, disobedience is either unpunished, or punished by suspension, which is hardly punishment to a kid who does not want to be in school anyways.

In low crime areas, the police are quick to crack down on even petty crime. If a gang is known to be harassing a certain area, they are not afraid to apply the billy clubs as needed until the gang is no longer a problem.

In high crime areas, the police ignore drug dealing for months at a time. Murders go unsolved. Police only enter areas when called in, if even then.

In low crime areas, men who lack motivation to work go hungry or enter a workhouse where they are isolated from their buddies and women.

In high crime areas, men who lack a commitment to work earn a living from side hustles, welfare, and living off of mom’s and girlfriends. They still get access to their friends and to sex.

In low crime areas, women are kept under the care of their parents until they are married off to a stable man. If a woman gets pregant out of wedlock and needs aid, she too would have to go the work house where she would be under curfew and discipline.

In high crime areas, women get pregant before locking in a husband, and have to raise their child alone. A rotating array of boyfriends often abuse the children, setting off a cycle of violence. (Non-father males in all human societies, and indeed, all primate societies, are often the most dangerous child abusers, as they have no genetic investment to the children).

In low crime areas, anti-social people are ostracised from the community. They lose access to friends, credit, and are shamed. Without a job, they must enter the workhouse, or they are in jail for their crimes.

In high crime areas, predators live in public housing for years, committing all sorts of crime, with no repurcussion.

(Note: I’m not advocating a return to Victorian era workhouses. I’m simply noting the obvious that if you want people to work a market job, then the “not-working” option has to be worse than the market job option. In the modern era, when we are much wealthier, there are many ways of doing this that wouldn’t entail the horrors of Dickensian workhouses.)

Does inequality cause crime?

Thursday, May 4th, 2017

It is often argued that inequality or poverty causes crime, Devin Helton notes, and that only by addressing these “root causes” can we reduce crime:

But as we know from Statistics 101, correlation does not prove causation. There are numerous variables that differ between countries or states that can have a correlated impact on inequality and crime: governance, ethnicity, culture, institutions, traditions, etc.

To avoid these confounders, another way to test the link between inequality and crime is to examine the treatment effect. If public policy choices increase inequality, does crime go up? If public policy choices decrease inequality, does crime go down?

From 1910 until the late 1970s, both England and America undertook concerted programs to reduce inequality. Both introduced progressive income taxes. Both changed laws to support unionization. And then in the 1980s both countries reversed course. Britain elected Thatcher, the U.S. elected Reagan. They lowered tax rates, made life more difficult for unions, and promoted business. Inequality rose in both countries for the next few decades.

I hope you see where this is going:

Turns out that inequality reduces crime, and equality increases crime. For every 10% decline in inequality according GINI coefficient, homicide nearly doubles! That is a very strong correlation. (You can download my spreadsheet here).

Does he actually believe this?

No. My results above are due to tricks and confounding factors.

[...]

In total, the statisical analysis above does not prove causation. But — all those studies using correlations to show the opposite, that inequality causes crime, are also bogus. They are also cherry-picked, confounded, and intellectually dishonest. With so many interlocking causal factors, anyone who calculates a correlation with regards to inequality and crime and tells you this proves X causes Y is either appallingly stupid or utterly mendacious.

Read the whole thing.

No cop had to deal with the trauma of killing him

Monday, May 1st, 2017

Reason looks at alternatives to deadly police force:

The man in the Camden, New Jersey, police video is practically begging to be shot. After using a knife to menace a cashier and a customer in a fast-food restaurant, he strides down a street slashing at the air as police repeatedly order him to drop his weapon. The man keeps walking, defiantly waving the knife.

Several cops form a ring around him and move along at a safe distance, block after block. This goes on for several tense minutes, as the viewer waits for shots to ring out. But they never do. Eventually, the man drops the knife and is collared.

It’s a reasonably happy outcome. Had the 2015 incident occurred a year earlier, before the department adopted new tactics, “we would more than likely have deployed deadly force and moved on,” Chief J. Scott Thomson told The New York Times. Instead, the offender survived, and no cop had to deal with the trauma of killing him.

If you can deploy multiple cops, and no one is in immediate danger, I suppose that works out — but I do have to wonder if someone who menaces random folks with a knife is going to “get better” with a little time away.

Berkeley criminologist Franklin Zimring takes the expected point of view in his book When Police Kill:

Police in America face a far higher risk of being killed on duty than police in Europe — because criminals here are far likelier to have guns. That difference accounts for the far higher rate of fatal shootings of police and by police in this country.

The risk an officer faces of being killed with a knife, by contrast, is the same on both sides of the Atlantic. In a typical year, the number of cops killed with knives in the United States matches the number killed in England and Wales: zero. Criminals kill more police with their hands and feet than with knives.

But people armed with nothing but knives get killed by cops all the time in the United States—as many as 165 times per year, or more than three per week. In England and Wales—where cutting instruments are no less available to criminals than they are here—there were only three fatal shootings of any kind by police from 2011 to 2015.

So, people armed with “nothing but knives” get killed by cops all the time in the United States, and the number of cops killed with knives in the United States is zero. Hmm…

17 Rules for Foreign Interventions

Sunday, April 30th, 2017

George Liebmann presents 17 rules for foreign interventions:

Do not attempt to establish multi-ethnic democracies in nations with no traditions of limited government. Each faction believes that “an alien master is worst of all” and dreads the certain prospect of total subordination to the election victors.

Remember that, as George Kennan said, the worst of rulers knows things about his country that foreigners do not. Respect the beliefs of simple folk, however misguided: rapid dislocations produce horrors directed at the harbingers of modernity.

Do not resist secessionist movements. They allow smaller groups to be satisfied with their governments. Be mindful of the happy fates of the parties to the “velvet divorce” in Czechoslovakia, of the Central Asian republics of the Soviet Union.

Do not denigrate religious and non-economic values.

Remember that wars waged without UN Security Council support must be paid for without the help of other nations.

Remember that wars cannot be won on the cheap, without infantry. Refugee flows inevitably accompany war, and avoidance of them is a vital national interest.

Detest and abhor proportional representation in elections, allocating seats to large and small parties on the basis of their percentage of the national vote. This is what gave us Weimar, the Third and Fourth Republics, and the present Israeli Knesset.

Do not discourage or be shocked by limitation of the franchise, including literacy tests and property qualifications. Such rules played a useful part in Anglo-American history. Foster indirect elections, as in parliamentary elections and the original American constitution. They allow the character of officials to be assessed by those who know something about them.

Foster local rather than central government.

Draw foreign-affairs officials from those versed in history and literature: the study of how human beings have behaved in fact.

Remember that economic sanctions are not measures short of war but, as Herbert Hoover and others reminded us, measures of total war. Sanctions foster government control and rationing, do not injure the military, and victimize merchants and intellectuals. Avoid the creation of “hermit kingdoms”; maintain channels of academic, economic, and press communication, and do not neglect the importance of translations of foreign publications.

Respect public opinion rather than polls; nurture intelligent discussion. Beware of governments, domestic or foreign, that centralize control over culture, morals, or education.

Remember that there is more to law than constitutional law, lest law schools become “schools for misrule.”

Do not let devotion to free markets cause you to forget about class envy. As Bertrand de Jouvenal wrote, “the wealth of merchants is resented more than the pomp of rulers.”

Foster open societies, but not equal ones.

Heed Kennan’s call for gardeners rather than physicists in foreign relations. Focus foreign aid on land titling, justice systems, swift creditors’ remedies, public-health services, language education, and agricultural research.

Lower trade barriers and help create the basis for a stable currency.

The traditional headgear of the Green Beret is the boonie hat

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017

The boonie hat was introduced to the United States Armed Forces during the Vietnam War, when U.S. Army Green Berets began wearing them in the field — rather than, well, berets:

These leopard spot or tigerstripe boonie hats were locally procured, the camo cloth was usually salvaged from other uniform items or with the former from a parachute or made up by the tailor. The name is derived from “boonie”, the abbreviated form of boondocks (itself originally American military slang derived from Tagalog bundok, “mountain”, during the Philippine-American War)

A more comprehensive and devious approach

Saturday, April 22nd, 2017

An enterprising group of hackers targeted a Brazilian bank with a more comprehensive and devious approach than usual:

At 1 pm on October 22 of last year, the researchers say, hackers changed the Domain Name System registrations of all 36 of the bank’s online properties, commandeering the bank’s desktop and mobile website domains to take users to phishing sites. In practice, that meant the hackers could steal login credentials at sites hosted at the bank’s legitimate web addresses. Kaspersky researchers believe the hackers may have even simultaneously redirected all transactions at ATMs or point-of-sale systems to their own servers, collecting the credit card details of anyone who used their card that Saturday afternoon.

“Absolutely all of the bank’s online operations were under the attackers’ control for five to six hours,” says Dmitry Bestuzhev, one of the Kaspersky researchers who analyzed the attack in real time after seeing malware infecting customers from what appeared to be the bank’s fully valid domain. From the hackers’ point of view, as Bestuzhev puts it, the DNS attack meant that “you become the bank. Everything belongs to you now.”

RIP WeaponsMan

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017

The “quiet professional” behind the WeaponsMan blog, Kevin O’Brien, has passed away, his brother reports:

He was born in 1958 to Robert and Barbara O’Brien. We grew up in Westborough, Mass. Kevin graduated from high school in 1975 and joined the Army in (I believe) 1979. He learned Czech at DLI and became a Ranger and a member of Special Forces.

Kevin’s happiest times were in the Army. He loved the service and was deeply committed to it. We were so proud when he earned the Green Beret. He was active duty for eight years and then stayed in the Reserves and National Guard for many years, including a deployment to Afghanistan in 2003. He told me after that that Afghan tour was when he felt he had made his strongest contribution to the world.

[...]

In the winter of 2015, we began building our airplane together. You could not ask for a better building partner.

Last Thursday night was our last “normal” night working on the airplane. I could not join him Friday night, but on Saturday morning I got a call from the Portsmouth Regional Hospital. He had called 911 on Friday afternoon and was taken to the ER with what turned out to be a massive heart attack. Evidently he was conscious when he was brought in, but his heart stopped and he was revived after 60 minutes of CPR. He never reawakened.

He will be missed.

Better villains, bigger explosions

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017

A Twitter follower offered David Frum a memorable explanation of the weak hold of the First World War upon the American consciousness.

“Americans prefer the sequel: better villains, bigger explosions.”

Decivilization in the 1960s

Friday, April 14th, 2017

Steven Pinker discusses decivilization in the 1960s:

After a three-decade free fall that spanned the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War, Americans multiplied their homicide rate by more than two and a half, from a low of 4.0 in 1957 to a high of 10.2 in 1980 (U.S. Bureau of Statistics; Fox and Zawitz: 2007). The upsurge included every other category of major crime as well, including rape, assault, robbery, and theft, and lasted (with ups and downs) for three decades. The cities got particularly dangerous, especially New York, which became a symbol of the new criminality. Though the surge in violence affected all the races and both genders, it was most dramatic among black men, whose annual homicide rate had shot up by the mid-1980s to 72 per 100,000.

[...]

The rebounding of violence in the 1960s defied every expectation. The decade was a time of unprecedented economic growth, nearly full employment, levels of economic equality for which people today are nostalgic, historic racial progress, and the blossoming of government social programs, not to mention medical advances that made victims more likely to survive being shot or knifed. Social theorists in 1962 would have happily bet that these fortunate conditions would lead to a continuing era of low crime. And they would have lost their shirts.

[...]

When rock music burst onto the scene in the 1950s, politicians and clergymen vilified it for corrupting morals and encouraging lawlessness. (An amusing video reel of fulminating fogies can be seen in Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.) Do we now have to – gulp – admit they were right? Can we connect the values of 1960s popular culture to the actual rise in violent crimes that accompanied them? Not directly, of course. Correlation is not causation, and a third factor, the pushback against the values of the Civilizing Process, presumably caused both the changes in popular culture and the increase in violent behavior. Also, the overwhelming majority of baby boomers committed no violence whatsoever. Still, attitudes and popular culture surely reinforce each other, and at the margins, where susceptible individuals and subcultures can be buffeted one way or another, there are plausible causal arrows from the decivilizing mindset to the facilitation of actual violence.

One of them was a self-handicapping of the criminal justice Leviathan. Though rock musicians seldom influence public policy directly, writers and intellectuals do, and they got caught up in the zeitgeist and began to rationalize the new licentiousness. Marxism made violent class conflict seem like a route to a better world. Influential thinkers like Herbert Marcuse and Paul Goodman tried to merge Marxism or anarchism with a new interpretation of Freud that connected sexual and emotional repression to political repression and championed a release from inhibitions as part of the revolutionary struggle. Troublemakers were increasingly seen as rebels and nonconformists, or as victims of racism, poverty, and bad parenting. Graffiti vandals were now ‘artists,’ thieves were ‘class warriors,’ and neighborhood hooligans were ‘community leaders.’ Many smart people, intoxicated by radical chic, did incredibly stupid things. Graduates of elite universities built bombs to be set off at army social functions, or drove getaway cars while ‘radicals’ shot guards during armed robberies. New York intellectuals were conned by Marxobabble-spouting psychopaths into lobbying for their release from prison (Pinker 2002: 261–262).

Read the whole thing. (It’s an excerpt from The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.)

Should America have entered World War I?

Friday, April 7th, 2017

The US entered the Great War 100 years ago, but why?

The war lasted only another year and a half, but in that time, an astounding 117,000 American soldiers were killed and 202,000 wounded.

[...]

America intervened nearly three years after it began, and the “doughboys,” as our troops were called, engaged in serious combat for only a few months. More Americans in uniform died away from the battlefield — thousands from the Spanish flu — than with weapons in hand. After victory was achieved, Wilson’s audacious hope of making a peace that would advance democracy and national self-determination blew up in his face when the Senate refused to ratify the treaty he had signed at the Palace of Versailles.

But attention should be paid. America’s decision to join the Allies was a turning point in world history. It altered the fortunes of the war and the course of the 20th century — and not necessarily for the better. Its entry most likely foreclosed the possibility of a negotiated peace among belligerent powers that were exhausted from years mired in trench warfare.

Although the American Expeditionary Force did not engage in combat for long, the looming threat of several million fresh troops led German generals to launch a last, desperate series of offensives. When that campaign collapsed, Germany’s defeat was inevitable.

How would the war have ended if America had not intervened? The carnage might have continued for another year or two until citizens in the warring nations, who were already protesting the endless sacrifices required, forced their leaders to reach a settlement. If the Allies, led by France and Britain, had not won a total victory, there would have been no punitive peace treaty like that completed at Versailles, no stab-in-the-back allegations by resentful Germans, and thus no rise, much less triumph, of Hitler and the Nazis. The next world war, with its 50 million deaths, would probably not have occurred.

The pacifists failed:

Since the war began, feminists and socialists had worked closely with progressive members of Congress from the agrarian South and the urban Midwest to keep America out. They mounted street demonstrations, attracted prominent leaders from the labor and suffrage movements, and ran antiwar candidates for local and federal office. They also gained the support of Henry Ford, who chartered a ship full of activists who crossed the Atlantic to plead with the heads of neutral nations to broker a peace settlement.

They may even have had a majority of Americans on their side. In the final weeks before Congress declared war, anti-militarists demanded a national referendum on the question, confident voters would recoil from fighting and paying the bills so that one group of European powers could vanquish another.

Once the United States did enter the fray, Wilson, with the aid of the courts, prosecuted opponents of the war who refused to fall in line. Under the Espionage and Sedition Acts, thousands were arrested for such “crimes” as giving speeches against the draft and calling the Army “a God damned legalized murder machine.”

The intervention led to big changes in America, as well as the world. It began the creation of a political order most citizens now take for granted, even as some protest against it: a state equipped to fight war after war abroad while keeping a close watch on allegedly subversive activities at home.

To make the world “safe for democracy” required another innovation: a military-industrial establishment funded, then partly and now completely, by income taxes.