Resignation was the defining condition of Soviet life

June 25th, 2019

Masha Gessen explains what HBO’s Chernobyl got right and wrong:

Before I get to what the series got so terribly wrong, I should acknowledge what it got right. In “Chernobyl,” which was created and written by Craig Mazin and directed by Johan Renck, the material culture of the Soviet Union is reproduced with an accuracy that has never before been seen in Western television or film—or, for that matter, in Russian television or film. Clothes, objects, and light itself seem to come straight out of nineteen-eighties Ukraine, Belarus, and Moscow. (There are tiny errors, like a holiday uniform worn by schoolchildren on a non-holiday, or teen-agers carrying little kids’ school bags, but this is truly splitting hairs.) Soviet-born Americans—and, indeed, Soviet-born Russians—have been tweeting and blogging in awe at the uncanny precision with which the physical surroundings of Soviet people have been reproduced. The one noticeable mistake in this respect concerns the series makers’ apparent ignorance of the vast divisions between different socioeconomic classes in the Soviet Union: in the series, Valery Legasov (Jared Harris), a member of the Academy of Sciences, lives in nearly the same kind of squalor as a fireman in the Ukrainian town of Pripyat. In fact, Legasov would have lived in an entirely different kind of squalor than the fireman did.

Herein lies one of the series’ biggest flaws: its failure to accurately portray Soviet relationships of power. There are exceptions, flashes of brilliance that shed light on the bizarre workings of Soviet hierarchies. In the first episode, for example, during an emergency meeting of the Pripyat ispolkom, the town’s governing council, an elder statesman, Zharkov (Donald Sumpter), delivers a chilling, and chillingly accurate, speech, urging his compatriots to “have faith.” “We seal off the city,” Zharkov says. “No one leaves. And cut the phone lines. Contain the spread of misinformation. That is how we keep the people from undermining the fruits of their own labor.” This statement has everything: the bureaucratic indirectness of Soviet speech, the privileging of “fruits of labor” over the people who created them, and, of course, the utter disregard for human life.

The final episode of “Chernobyl” also contains a scene that encapsulates the Soviet system perfectly. During the trial of three men who have been deemed responsible for the disaster, a member of the Central Committee overrules the judge, who then looks to the prosecutor for direction—and the prosecutor gives that direction with a nod. This is exactly how Soviet courts worked: they did the bidding of the Central Committee, and the prosecutor wielded more power than the judge.

Unfortunately, apart from these striking moments, the series often veers between caricature and folly. In Episode 2, for example, the Central Committee member Boris Shcherbina (Stellan Skarsgård) threatens to have Legasov shot if he doesn’t tell him how a nuclear reactor works. There are a lot of people throughout the series who appear to act out of fear of being shot. This is inaccurate: summary executions, or even delayed executions on orders of a single apparatchik, were not a feature of Soviet life after the nineteen-thirties. By and large, Soviet people did what they were told without being threatened with guns or any punishment.

Similarly repetitive and ridiculous are the many scenes of heroic scientists confronting intransigent bureaucrats by explicitly criticizing the Soviet system of decision-making. In Episode 3, for example, Legasov asks, rhetorically, “Forgive me—maybe I’ve just spent too much time in my lab, or maybe I’m just stupid. Is this really the way it all works? An uninformed, arbitrary decision that will cost who knows how many lives that is made by some apparatchik, some career Party man?” Yes, of course this is the way it works, and, no, he hasn’t been in his lab so long that he didn’t realize that this is how it works. The fact of the matter is, if he didn’t know how it worked, he would never have had a lab.

Resignation was the defining condition of Soviet life. But resignation is a depressing and untelegenic spectacle. So the creators of “Chernobyl” imagine confrontation where confrontation was unthinkable—and, in doing so, they cross the line from conjuring a fiction to creating a lie. The Belarusian scientist Ulyana Khomyuk (Emily Watson) is even more confrontational than Legasov. “I am a nuclear physicist,” she tells an apparatchik, in Episode 2. “Before you were Deputy Secretary, you worked in a shoe factory.” First, she’d never say this. Second, the apparatchik might have worked at a shoe factory, but, if he was an apparatchik, he was no cobbler; he has come up the Party ladder, which might indeed have begun at the factory—but in an office, not on the factory floor. The apparatchik—or, more accurately, the caricature of the apparatchik—pours himself a glass of vodka from a carafe that sits on his desk and responds, “Yes, I worked in a shoe factory. And now I’m in charge.” He toasts, in what appears to be the middle of the day: “To the workers of the world.” No. No carafe, no vodka in the workplace in front of a hostile stranger, and no boasting “I’m in charge.”

The biggest fiction in this scene, though, is Khomyuk herself. Unlike other characters, she is made up—according to the closing titles, she represents dozens of scientists who helped Legasov investigate the cause of the disaster. Khomyuk appears to embody every possible Hollywood fantasy. She is a truth-knower: the first time we see her, she is already figuring out that something has gone terribly wrong, and she is grasping it terribly fast, unlike the dense men at the actual scene of the disaster, who seem to need hours to take it in. She is also a truth-seeker: she interviews dozens of people (some of them as they are dying of radiation exposure), digs up a scientific paper that has been censored, and figures out exactly what happened, minute by minute. She also gets herself arrested and then immediately seated at a meeting on the disaster, led by Gorbachev. None of this is possible, and all of it is hackneyed. The problem is not just that Khomyuk is a fiction; it’s that the kind of expert knowledge she represents is a fiction. The Soviet system of propaganda and censorship existed not so much for the purpose of spreading a particular message as for the purpose of making learning impossible, replacing facts with mush, and handing the faceless state a monopoly on defining an ever-shifting reality.

In the absence of a Chernobyl narrative, the makers of the series have used the outlines of a disaster movie. There are a few terrible men who bring the disaster about, and a few brave and all-knowing ones, who ultimately save Europe from becoming uninhabitable and who tell the world the truth. It is true that Europe survived; it is not true that anyone got to the truth, or told it.

Average per-capita consumption rates of resources are about 32 times higher in the First World than in the developing world

June 24th, 2019

Naturally Jared Diamond (Upheaval) is concerned about the environment — and about the rest of the world trying to live like us:

The most discussed primary effect of CO2 release is to act as a so-called greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. That’s because atmospheric CO2 is transparent to the sun’s shortwave radiation, allowing incoming sunlight to pass through the atmosphere and warm the Earth’s surface. The Earth re-radiates that energy back towards space, but at longer thermal infrared wavelengths to which CO2 is opaque. Hence the CO2 absorbs that re-radiated energy and re-emits it in all directions, including back down to the Earth’s surface.

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But there are two other primary effects of CO2 release. One is that the CO2 that we produce also gets stored in the oceans as carbonic acid. But the ocean’s acidity is already higher than at any time in the last 15 million years. That dissolves the skeletons of coral, killing coral reefs, which are a major breeding nursery of the ocean’s fish, and which protect tropical and subtropical sea-coasts against storm waves and tsunamis. At present, the world’s coral reefs are contracting by 1% or 2% per year, so they will mostly be gone within this century, and that means big declines in tropical coastal safety and protein availability from seafood.

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For instance, when non-poisonous chlorofluorocarbon gases (CFCs) replaced the poisonous gases previously used in refrigerators until the 1940’s, it seemed like a wonderful and safe engineering solution to the refrigerator gas problem, especially because laboratory testing had revealed no downside to CFCs. Unfortunately, lab tests couldn’t reveal how CFCs, once they got into the atmosphere, would begin to destroy the ozone layer that protects us from ultraviolet radiation.

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France has generated most of its national electricity requirements from nuclear reactors for many decades without an accident.

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Europeans are discouraged from buying expensive big cars with high fuel consumption and low gas mileage, because the purchase tax on cars in some European countries is set at 100%, doubling the cost of the car.

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Also, European government taxes on gasoline drive gas prices to more than $9 per gallon, another disincentive to buying a fuel-inefficient car.

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These various resources differ in four respects important for understanding their potential for creating problems for us: their renewability, and the resulting management problems; their potential for limiting human societies; their international dimensions; and the international competition that they provoke, including wars.

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There have already been some attempts to exploit all three: after World War One the German chemist Fritz Haber worked on a process to extract gold from ocean water; at least one attempt has been made to tow an iceberg from Antarctica to a water-poor Middle Eastern nation; and efforts are far advanced to mine some minerals from the ocean floor.

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Fresh water is also mobile: many rivers flow between two or more countries, and many lakes are bordered by two or more countries, hence one country can draw down or pollute fresh water that another country wants to use.

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Average per-capita consumption rates of resources like oil and metals, and average per-capita production rates of wastes like plastics and greenhouse gases, are about 32 times higher in the First World than in the developing world.

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The First World consists of about 1 billion people who live mostly in North America, Europe, Japan, and Australia, and who have relative average per-capita consumption rates of 32.

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Many decades ago, American diplomats used to play a game of debating which of the world’s countries were most irrelevant to U.S. national interests. Popular answers were “Afghanistan” and “Somalia”: those two countries were so poor, and so remote, that it seemed that they could never do anything to create problems for us.

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Among the ways in which globalization has made differences in living standards around the world untenable, three stand out. One is the spread of emerging diseases from poor remote countries to rich countries.

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Many people in poor countries get frustrated and angry when they become aware of the comfortable lifestyles available elsewhere in the world. Some of them become terrorists, and many others who aren’t terrorists themselves tolerate or support terrorists.

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Only in poor countries, where much of the population does feel desperate and angry, is there toleration or support for terrorists.

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They have two ways of achieving it. First, governments of developing countries consider an increase in living standards, including consumption rates, as a prime goal of national policy. Second, tens of millions of people in the developing world are unwilling to wait to see whether their government can deliver high living standards within their lifetime. Instead, they seek the First World lifestyle now, by emigrating to the First World, with or without permission: especially by emigrating to Western Europe and the U.S., and also to Australia; and especially from Africa and parts of Asia, and also from Central and South America. It’s proving impossible to keep out the immigrants.

A Muscle Beach bodybuilder & his hapa surfer buddy battle a cult that exploits rich hippies

June 24th, 2019

Gwern reviews Conan the Barbarian:

(Got around to watching after reading an amusing tweet summary: “An underappreciated thing about the Conan the Barbarian movie is how low-key informed it is by 1970s California beach culture. It’s basically about a Muscle Beach bodybuilder & his hapa surfer buddy doing drugs, having casual sex & battling a cult that exploits rich hippies.” Having already watched Pumping Iron, which shows Arnold Schwarzenegger not long before while still trying to transition from bodybuilding to film and his milieu, I was intrigued by the comparison. And Stentz’s summary is… dead on. It’s so easy to see them as Californian bodybuilders bumbling around, having a good time, distracted by a hippie Californian Asian/human-potential cult — complete with longhaired acolytes twirling flowers and meditating, and hilariously homoerotic dialogue, which as “The Power and the Gory”, takes pains to remind us, was a big part of the bodybuilding scene as even straight bodybuilders would whore themselves out to gay men for money or access to controlled steroids/drugs. I was further surprised by how slow-moving and mild it is — it repeatedly pulls punches and takes more peaceful ways out than its bloody reputation would suggest (even the Seven Samurai-homage set-piece features possibly less bloodshed than the original), right up to the climax. Of course Thulsa Doom is going to transform into his giant serpent form and fight Conan, right? Nope! And then all the cultists just quietly disperse.)

I happen to be listening to Schwarzenegger’s memoir, Total Recall, and this all rings true.

We know of at least three false alarms given by the American detection system

June 23rd, 2019

The most obvious crisis that the US has faced — and continues to face — Jared Diamond argues (in Upheaval) is nuclear armageddon:

For example, on the first day of the week-long Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy announced publicly that any launch of a Soviet missile from Cuba would require “a full retaliatory response [of the U.S.] upon the Soviet Union.” But Soviet submarine captains had the authority to launch a nuclear torpedo without first having to confer with Soviet leadership in Moscow. One such Soviet submarine captain did consider firing a nuclear torpedo at an American destroyer threatening the submarine; only the intervention of other officers on his ship dissuaded him from doing so. Had the Soviet captain carried out his intent, Kennedy might have faced irresistible pressure to retaliate, leading to irresistible pressure on Khrushchev to retaliate further…

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Once missiles have been launched, are underway, and have been detected, the American or Russian president has about 10 minutes to decide whether to launch a retaliatory attack before the incoming missiles destroy the land-based missiles of his country. Launched missiles can’t be recalled.

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We know of at least three false alarms given by the American detection system. For example, on November 9, 1979 the U.S. army general serving as watch officer for the U.S. system phoned then-Under-Secretary of Defense William Perry in the middle of the night to say, “My warning computer is showing 200 ICBMs in flight from the Soviet Union to the United States.” But the general concluded that the signal was probably a false alarm, Perry did not awaken President Carter, and Carter did not push the button and needlessly kill a hundred million Soviets. It eventually turned out that the signal was indeed a false alarm due to human error: a computer operator had by mistake inserted into the U.S. warning system computer a training tape simulating the launch of 200 Soviet ICBMs.

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We also know of at least one false alarm given by the Russian detection system: a single non-military rocket launched in 1995 from an island off Norway towards the North Pole was misidentified by the automatic tracking algorithm of Russian radar as a missile launched from an American submarine.

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U.S. policy towards Russia today ignores the lesson that Finland’s leaders drew from the Soviet threat after 1945: that the only way of securing Finland’s safety was to engage in constant frank discussions with the Soviet Union, and to convince the Soviets that Finland could be trusted and posed no threat (Chapter 2).

We’ve displaced our fears of nuclear weapons onto nuclear power plants

June 23rd, 2019

Michael Shellenberger explains (in Forbeswhat HBO’s Chernobyl got wrong:

In interviews around the release of HBO’s “Chernobyl,” screenwriter and show creator Mazin insisted that his mini-series would stick to the facts. “I defer to the less dramatic version of things,” Mazin said, adding, “you don’t want to cross a line into the sensational.”

In truth, “Chernobyl” runs across the line into sensational in the first episode and never looks back.

In one episode, three characters dramatically volunteer to sacrifice their lives to drain radioactive water, but no such event occurred.

“The three men were members of the plant staff with responsibility for that part of the power station and on shift at the time the operation began,” notes Adam Higginbotham, author of, Midnight in Chernobyl, a well-researched new history. “They simply received orders by telephone from the reactor shop manager to open the valves.”

Nor did radiation from the melted reactor crash a helicopter that flew too close, as is suggested in “Chernobyl.” There was a helicopter crash but it took place six months later and had nothing to do with radiation. One of the helicopter’s blades hit a chain dangling from a construction crane.

The most egregious of “Chernobyl” sensationalism is the depiction of radiation as contagious, like a virus. The scientist-hero played by Emily Watson physically drags away the pregnant wife of a Chernobyl firefighter dying from Acute Radiation Syndrome (ARS).

“Get out! Get out of here!” Watson screams, as though every second the woman is with her husband she is poisoning her baby.

But radiation is not contagious. Once someone has removed their clothes and been washed, as the firefighters were in real life, and in “Chernobyl,” the radioactivity is internalized and not contagious.

Why, then, do hospitals isolate radiation victims behind plastic screens? Because their immune systems have been weakened and they are at risk of being exposed to something they can’t handle. In other words, the contamination threat is the opposite of that depicted in “Chernobyl.”

The baby dies. Watson says, “The radiation would have killed the mother, but the baby absorbed it instead.” Mazin and HBO apparently believe such an event actually occurred.

HBO tries to clean-up some of the sensationalism with captions at the very end of the series. None note that claiming a baby died by “absorbing” radiation from its father is total and utter pseudoscience.

There is no good evidence that Chernobyl radiation killed a baby nor that it caused any increase in birth defects.

“We’ve now had a chance to observe all the children that have been born close to Chernobyl,” reported UCLA physician Robert Gale in 1987, and “none of them, at birth, at least, has had any detectable abnormalities.”

Indeed, the only public health impact beyond the deaths of the first responders was 20,000 documented cases of thyroid cancer in those aged under 18 at the time of the accident.

The United Nations in 2017 concluded that only 25%, 5,000, can be attributed to Chernobyl radiation (paragraphs A-C). In earlier studies, the UN estimated there could be up to 16,000 cases attributable to Chernobyl radiation.

Since thyroid cancer has a mortality rate of just one percent, that means the expected deaths from thyroid cancers caused by Chernobyl will be 50 to 160 over an 80-year lifespan.

At the end of the show, HBO claims there was “a dramatic spike in cancer rates across Ukraine and Belarus,” but this too is wrong.

Residents of those two countries were “exposed to doses slightly above natural background radiation levels,” according to the World Health Organization. If there are additional cancer deaths they will be “about 0.6% of the cancer deaths expected in this population due to other causes.”

Radiation is not the superpotent toxin “Chernobyl” depicts. In episode one, high doses of radiation make workers bleed, and in episode two, a nurse who merely touches a firefighter sees her hand turn bright red, as though burned. Neither thing occurred or is possible.

“Chernobyl” ominously depicts people gathered on a bridge watching the Chernobyl fire. At the end of the series, HBO claims, “it has been reported that none survived. It is now known as the “Bridge of Death.”

But the “Bridge of Death” is a sensational urban legend and there is no good evidence to support it.

“Chernobyl” is as misleading for what it leaves out. It gives the impression that all Chernobyl first responders who suffered Acute Radiation Syndrome (ARS) died. In reality, 80 percent of those with ARS survived.

It’s clear that even highly educated and informed viewers, including journalists, mistook much of “Chernobyl” fiction for fact.

The New Yorker repeated the claim that a woman’s baby “absorbed radiation” and died. The New Republic described radiation as “supernaturally persistent” and contagious (a “zombie logic, by which anyone who is poisoned becomes poisonous themselves”). The Economist, People, and others repeated the “bridge of death” urban legend.

There is a human cost to these misrepresentations. The notion that people exposed to radiation are contagious was used to terrify, stigmatize, and isolate people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, Chernobyl, and again in Fukushima.

Women in the areas that received low levels of radiation from Chernobyl terminated 100,000 to 200,000 pregnancies in a panic, and those who were exposed to Chernobyl radiation were four times more likely to report anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

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In the end, HBO’s “Chernobyl” gets nuclear wrong for the same reason humankind as a whole has been getting it wrong for over 60 years, which is that we’ve displaced our fears of nuclear weapons onto nuclear power plants.

In reality, Chernobyl proves why nuclear is the safest way to make electricity. In the worst nuclear power accidents, relatively small amounts of particulate matter escape, harming only a handful of people.

Americans spend three to four times more time watching TV together than talking with one another

June 22nd, 2019

Jared Diamond argues (in Upheaval) that the US is facing a political and cultural crisis:

No one, in the 5,400-year history of centralized government on all of the continents, has figured out how to ensure that the policies implemented with enviable speed by dictatorships consist predominantly of good policies.

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I also acknowledge that democracy isn’t necessarily the best option for all countries; it’s difficult for it to prevail in countries lacking the prerequisites of a literate electorate and a widely accepted national identity.

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To understand the fundamental benefits of an immigrant population, imagine that you could divide the population of any country into two groups: one consisting on the average of the youngest, healthiest, boldest, most risk-tolerant, most hard-working, ambitious, and innovative people; the other consisting of everybody else. Transplant the first group to another country, and leave the second group in their country of origin. That selective transplanting approximates the decision to emigrate and its successful accomplishment.

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One friend of mine, nominated to a second-level position in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, withdrew his candidacy when he still hadn’t been confirmed after a year of waiting.

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Why has this breakdown of political compromise accelerated within the last two decades? In addition to the other harm that it causes, it’s self-reinforcing, because it makes people other than uncompromising ideologues reluctant to seek government service as an elected representative. Two friends of mine who had been widely respected long-serving U.S. senators, and who seemed likely to succeed once again if they ran for re-election, decided instead to retire because they were so frustrated with the political atmosphere in Congress.

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One suggested explanation is the astronomical rise in costs of election campaigns, which has made donors more important than in the past.

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As one disillusioned friend wrote me after retiring from a long career in politics, “Of all the issues that we face, I think that the skew of money in our political system and our personal lives has been by far the most damaging. Politicians and political outcomes have been purchased on a grander scale than ever before… the scramble for political money saps time and money and enthusiasm… political schedules bend to money, political discourse worsens, and politicians do not know each other as they fly back and forth to their districts.”

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Formerly, our representatives served in Congress in Washington during the week; then they had to remain in Washington for the weekend because they couldn’t return to their home state and back within the span of a weekend. Their families lived in Washington, and their children went to school in Washington. On weekends the representatives and their spouses and children socialized with one another, the representatives got to know one another’s spouses and children, and the representatives spent time with one another as friends and not just as political adversaries or allies. Today, though, the high cost of election campaigns puts pressure on representatives to visit their home state often for the purpose of fund-raising, and the growth of domestic air travel makes that feasible.

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Those of you American readers over the age of 40, please reflect on changes that you’ve seen yourself in American elevator behavior (people waiting to enter an elevator now less likely to wait for those exiting the elevator); declining courtesy in traffic (not deferring to other drivers); declining friendliness on hiking trails and streets (Americans under 40 less likely to say hello to strangers than Americans over 40); and above all, in many circles, increasingly abusive “speech” of all sorts, especially in electronic communication.

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American academic debates have become more vicious today than they were 60 years ago.

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Already at the beginning of my academic career, I found myself involved in scholarly controversies, just as I am now. But I formerly thought of the scientists with whom I disagreed on scientific matters as personal friends, not as personal enemies. For example, I recall spending a vacation in Britain after a physiological conference, touring ruined Cistercian monasteries with a nice and gentle American physiologist with whom I had strongly disagreed about the mechanism of epithelial water transport at the conference. That would be impossible today. Instead, I’ve now repeatedly been sued, threatened with lawsuits, and verbally abused by scholars disagreeing with me. My lecture hosts have been forced to hire bodyguards to shield me from angry critics. One scholar concluded a published review of one of my books with the words “Shut up!”

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All of these arenas of American life are facets of the same widely discussed phenomenon: the decline of what is termed “social capital.”

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“… social capital refers to connections among individuals—social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them. In that sense social capital is closely related to what some have called ‘civic virtue.’”

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But Americans have been decreasingly involved in such face-to-face groups, while becoming increasingly involved in on-line groups in which you never meet, see, or hear the other person.

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The telephone appeared in 1890 but didn’t saturate the U.S. market until around 1957. Radio rose to saturation from 1923 to 1937, and TV from 1948 to 1955. The biggest change has been the more recent rise of the internet, cell phones, and text messaging.

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Americans spend three to four times more time watching TV together than talking with one another, and at least one-third of all TV viewing time is spent alone (often on the internet rather than in front of a TV set).

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In a Canadian valley were three otherwise similar towns, one of which happened to be out of reach for the TV transmitter serving the area. When that town did gain reception, participation in clubs and other meetings declined compared to participation in that same town before TV arrived, down to levels comparable to participation in the other two towns already served by TV.

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In the remote areas of New Guinea where I do fieldwork, and where new communication technologies haven’t yet arrived, all communication is still face-to-face and full-attention—as it used to be in the U.S. Traditional New Guineans spend most of their waking hours talking to one another. In contrast to the distracted and sparse conversations of Americans, traditional New Guinea conversations have no interruptions to look at the cell phone in one’s lap, nor to tap out e-mails or text messages during a conversation with a person physically present but receiving only a fraction of one’s attention.

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One American missionary’s son who grew up as a child in a New Guinea village and moved to the U.S. only in his high school years described his shock on discovering the contrast between children’s playing styles in New Guinea and in the U.S. In New Guinea, children in a village wandered in and out of one another’s huts throughout the day. In the U.S., as my friend discovered, “Kids go into their own houses, close the door, and watch TV by themselves.”

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South Korean applicants for training as primary schoolteachers have to score in the top 5% on national college entrance exams, and there are 12 teachers applying for every secondary school teaching job in South Korea. In contrast, American teachers have the lowest relative salaries (i.e., relative to average national salaries for all jobs) among major democracies.

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All schoolteachers in South Korea, Singapore, and Finland come from the top third of their school classes, but nearly half of American teachers come from the bottom third of their classes.

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In all my 53 years of teaching at the University of California (Los Angeles), a university that attracts good students, I have had only one student who told me that he wanted to become a schoolteacher.

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For instance, Canada’s criteria for admitting immigrants are more detailed and rational than the U.S.’s. As a result, 80% of Canadians consider immigrants good for the Canadian economy—a far cry from the lacerating divisions in American society over immigration.

Is it jury-rigged or jerry-built or jerry-rigged?

June 22nd, 2019

When you duct-tape some complicated structure together, is it jury-rigged or jerry-built or jerry-rigged?

If we were building this structure back in the 18th century, we would have only one of these terms available to us: jury-rig has meant “to erect, construct, or arrange in a makeshift fashion” since the late 18th century, and appears in its participial jury-rigged form from its earliest days. The only caveat here is that our 18th century selves would be using the word completely unconventionally in this context—unless the many-tiered carpeted cat structure were also a boat. That’s right: in its early days jury-rigged was a strictly nautical term.

That fact is also our clue that jury-rig has nothing to do with the juries of the courtroom. Jury-rig comes from the adjective jury, meaning “improvised for temporary use especially in an emergency,” or “makeshift.” It’s a 15th century term that comes from the Middle English jory, as known (back then, anyway) in the phrase “jory sail,” meaning “improvised sail.”

The rig in jury-rigged likewise has nothing to do with the rig that has to do with manipulating or controlling something, like a game or election, to get a desired result. That rig is from a 17th century noun meaning “swindle.” The rig in jury-rigged is a 15th century sailing term meaning “to fit out with rigging,” with rigging being the lines and chains used in operating a sailing vessel. In the 18th century, if it was jury-rigged it was a boat:

La Couronne … bad bottoms, jury rigged.
Morning Herald (London), 16 Aug. 1782

Jury-rigged was, of our three words, the only option for describing our questionably constructed many-tiered carpeted cat structure for quite a while. But in the mid-19th century another word came along: jerry-built means “built cheaply and unsubstantially” as well as “carelessly or hastily put together.” The origin of this word is unknown, though there is plenty of speculation that it’s from some poor slob named Jerry, which is a nickname for Jeremy or Jeremiah. While one named Jerry may reasonably disdain the word, jerry-built is not considered to be a slur. Jerry was used in British English around the time of the First World War as a disparaging word for a German person, but jerry-built predates that use:

The warehouses themselves which have been destroyed were of the class called “Jerry built,” which is equivalent to the term applied in Manchester to the property of building clubs.
The Guardian (London), 28 Sept. 1842

Before things were jerry-built, it seems that some things were built in the “jerry” style:

Another witness in the same case, Mr. Heighton, a house owner, who was called on the opposite side, was asked what was the meaning of the Jerry style of architecture. “Any thing that is badly built,” was the reply. “Have you any houses in Toxteth-park?” was the next question. “Yes,” said the witness. “Are any of them built in the Jerry style of architecture?” “No.” “What do you call your style?” “A sufficient and substantial style.” “And all your houses are of that order?” “I should say so.” “And what do you call the Jerry style?” “If the work is not well done, and the houses not well finished, we call that the Jerry style.”
The Liverpool (England) Mercury, 12 Apr. 1839

The definitive proof is absent, but etymologists believe that the similarity between something being jury-rigged and something being jerry-built paved the way for our third word. The jury of jury-rigged isn’t transparent to the modern English speaker, but the rigged makes sense: after its “to fit out with rigging” meaning, rig developed other senses, including “to equip,” “to construct,” and “to put in condition or position for use.” And so it was that in the late 19th century, the word jerry-rigged sidled up to the language and asked to come inside, offering a meaning of “organized or constructed in a crude or improvised manner”:

Naturally the naval and military establishments have been potent factors in the improvement and development of so convenient a neighborhood, while the efforts of the corporation, in laying out the ground, have received great support from the Government, which, as principal landlord, has taken care that its tenants should carry out building operations in a fashion unconnected with the speculative builder and the “jerry-rigged” villa.
The Daily Telegraph (London), 17 Sept. 1890

I learned this one afternoon when something went wrong with the jerry rigged derrick we were using.
The New England Farmer (Boston, MA), 15 Mar. 1902

While some will assert that jerry-rigged is an inferior sort of word to be avoided, it is in fact fully established and has been busy in the language for more than a century, describing any number of things organized or constructed in a crude or improvised way. Jury-rigged and jerry-built are somewhat older and not generally criticized, and have the added benefit of having corresponding verb forms. Jury-rigged is the best choice when the makeshift nature of the effort is to be emphasized rather than a shoddiness that results; the one who jury-rigs is merely doing what they can with the materials available. Jerry-built is most often applied when something has been made quickly and cheaply; the one who jerry-builds something builds it badly.

Then there’s the question of whether you should call it duct tape

The U.S. is resource-rich, self-sufficient in food and most raw materials, and large in area

June 21st, 2019

Jared Diamond argues (in Upheaval) that the US is facing its own crisis — but first a geography lesson:

The reason for the U.S.’s large population is its large area of fertile land. The only two larger countries, Russia and Canada, have much lower populations, because a large fraction of their area is Arctic, suitable only for sparse habitation and no agriculture.

[...]

The reason for this apparent contradiction is that the U.S. is resource-rich, self-sufficient in food and most raw materials, and large in area, and has a population density less than 1/10th of Japan’s.

[...]

The only countries in the world with per-capita GDPs or incomes higher than the U.S.’s are either small (populations of just 2–9 million: Kuwait, Norway, Qatar, Singapore, Switzerland, and the United Arab Emirates) or tiny (populations of 30,000–500,000: Brunei, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, and San Marino).

[...]

Their wealth comes mainly from oil or finance, whose earnings are spread over few people, resulting in high GDP or income per person but a low rank in total national economic output (which equals output per person times population).

[...]

As regards geography, we are fortunate to be endowed with excellent real estate. The U.S.’s lower 48 states lie entirely within the temperate zones, which are the world’s most productive zone for agriculture, and the safest from the perspective of public health.

[...]

Thus, North America’s wedge shape and history of repeated past glaciations, combined with the moderate rainfall prevailing over most of the continent today, are the underlying reasons why the U.S. has high agricultural productivity and is the world’s largest exporter of food.

[...]

The other major geographic advantage of the U.S. is our waterways, both coastal and interior. They constitute a big money-saver, because transport by sea is 10–30 times cheaper than transport overland by road or by rail.

[...]

Once barriers to navigation on those rivers had been engineered out of existence by construction of canals and locks, ships could sail 1,200 miles into the interior of the central U.S. from the Gulf Coast (Plate 9.4).

[...]

When one adds the intra-coastal waterway to the Mississippi / Great Lakes system, the U.S. ends up with more navigable internal waterways than all the rest of the world combined.

[...]

The other advantage of our sea-coasts is as protection against invasion.

Stone versus steel arrowheads on a deer

June 21st, 2019

“Primitive archer” Billy Berger performs a penetration test comparing stone versus steel arrowheads on a fresh deer carcass:

I don’t want to get shot with either option.

Japan is, and prides itself on being, the most ethnically homogenous affluent or populous country in the world

June 20th, 2019

Jared Diamond argues (in Upheaval) that modern Japan is facing a crisis, of sorts:

Japan today has the world’s third-largest economy, only recently overtaken by China’s.

[...]

Japan’s national output is high both because Japan has a large population (second only to that of the United States among rich democracies) and because it has high average individual productivity.

[...]

In relative terms, Japan’s proportion of its gross domestic product (abbreviated GDP) that it devotes to R & D, 3.5%, is nearly double that of the U.S. (only 1.8%), and still considerably higher than that of two other countries known for their R & D investments, Germany (2.9%) and China (2.0%).

[...]

Japanese life expectancy is the highest in the world: 80 years for men, 86 for women.

[...]

Japan is the world’s third-most egalitarian nation in its distribution of income, behind only Denmark and Sweden.

[...]

Literacy and attained educational levels in Japan are close to the highest in the world.

[...]

As foreign visitors to Japan quickly notice, its capital Tokyo rivals Singapore as the cleanest city in Asia, and is one of the cleanest in the world.

[...]

(Interpretative texts at Japanese archaeological sites sometimes proudly point out site evidence for Japanese cleanliness already in ancient times.)

[...]

Visitors also notice the safety and low crime rates of Japanese cities.

[...]

Ethnic tensions are low compared to the U.S. and Europe, because of Japan’s ethnic homogeneity and very small ethnic minorities.

[...]

Japanese agricultural productivity is high because of Japan’s combination of temperate climate, freedom from tropical agricultural pests, high rainfall concentrated in the summer growing season, and fertile volcanic soils.

[...]

As a result of all those environmental advantages, Japan was unusual in the ancient world in that, already at least 10,000 years before the adoption of agriculture, Japanese hunter-gatherers had settled down in villages and made pottery, rather than living as nomads with few material possessions.

[...]

Until Japan’s population explosion within the last century-and-a-half, Japan was self-sufficient in food.

[...]

The debt is currently about 2.5 times Japan’s annual GDP, i.e., the value of everything produced in Japan in one year.

[...]

First, most of the debt is not owed to foreign creditors, but to bond-holding Japanese individuals, Japanese businesses and pension funds (many of them owned by the government itself), and the Bank of Japan, none of which play tough with the Japanese government.

[...]

Despite all the debt that the Japanese government owes to Japanese themselves, Japan is a net creditor nation for other countries, which owe money to Japan.

[...]

Second, interest rates in Japan are kept low (below 1%) by government policy, in order to keep a lid on government interest payments.

[...]

Finally, Japanese as well as foreign creditors still have so much confidence in the government’s ability to pay that they continue to buy government bonds.

[...]

The other fundamental problems most often acknowledged by Japanese people themselves are the four linked issues of women’s roles, Japan’s low and declining birth rate, its declining population size, and its aging population.

[...]

Whereas women account for 49% of Japanese university students and 45% of entry-level job holders, they account for only 14% of university faculty positions (versus 33%–44% in the U.S., United Kingdom, Germany, and France), 11% of middle-level to senior management positions, 2% of positions on boards of directors, 1% of business executive committee members, and less than 1% of CEOs.

[...]

Work obstacles for women include the long work hours, the expectation of post-work employee socializing, and the problem of who will take care of the children if a working mother is expected to stay out socializing, and if her husband is also unavailable or unwilling.

[...]

Instead, 70% of Japanese working women quit work upon the birth of their first child, and most of them don’t return to work for many years, if ever.

[...]

Little child care is available to Japanese working mothers because of the lack of immigrant women to do private child care (see below), and because there are so few private or government child-care centers, unlike the situation in the U.S. and in Scandinavia, respectively.

[...]

Low and dropping birth rates prevail throughout the First World. But Japan has nearly the world’s lowest birth rate: 7 births per year per 1,000 people, compared to 13 in the U.S., 19 averaged over the whole world, and more than 40 in some African countries.

[...]

For the whole world that number averages 2.5 babies; for the First World countries with the biggest economies, it varies between 1.3 and 2.0 babies (e.g., 1.9 for the U.S.). The number for Japan is only 1.27 babies, at the low end of the spectrum; South Korea and Poland are among the few countries with lower values.

[...]

Part of the reason for Japan’s falling birth rate is that Japan’s age of first marriage has been rising: it’s now around 30 for both men and women.

[...]

A bigger reason for the falling birth rate is that the rate of marriage itself (i.e., the number of marriages per 1,000 people per year) is falling rapidly in Japan. One might object that the marriage rate is also falling in most other developed countries without causing the catastrophic drop in the birth rate that Japan is experiencing, because so many births are to unwed mothers: 40% of all births in the U.S., 50% in France, and 66% in Iceland. But that mitigation doesn’t apply to Japan, where unwed mothers account for a negligible proportion of births: only 2%.

[...]

Japan is already the country with the world’s highest life expectancy (84, compared to 77 for the U.S. and just 40–45 for many African countries), and with the highest percentage of old people. Already now, 23% of Japan’s population is over 65, and 6% is over 80. By the year 2050 those numbers are projected to be nearly 40% and 16%, respectively. (The corresponding numbers for the African country of Mali are only 3% and 0.1%.)

[...]

Japan’s ratio of workers to retirees has been falling catastrophically: from 9 workers per retiree in 1965, to 2.4 today, to a projected 1.3 in 2050.

[...]

Japan is, and prides itself on being, the most ethnically homogenous affluent or populous country in the world. It doesn’t welcome immigrants, makes it difficult for anyone who wants to immigrate to do so, and makes it even more difficult for anyone who has succeeded in immigrating to receive Japanese citizenship.

[...]

As a percentage of a country’s total population, immigrants and their children constitute 28% of Australia’s population, 21% of Canada’s, 16% of Sweden’s, and 14% of the U.S.’s, but only 1.9% of Japan’s.

[...]

Among refugees seeking asylum, Sweden accepts 92%, Germany 70%, Canada 48%, but Japan only 0.2%.

[...]

Foreign workers constitute 15% of the workforce in the U.S. and 9% in Germany, but only 1.3% in Japan.

[...]

For instance, it is not widely known that 10% of the victims killed at Hiroshima by the first atomic bomb were Korean laborers working there.

[...]

The percentage of Japanese opposed to increasing the number of foreign residents is 63%; 72% agree that immigrants increase crime rates; and 80% deny that immigrants improve society by introducing new ideas, unlike the 57%–75% of Americans, Canadians, and Australians who do believe that immigrants improve society.

[...]

“Unlike Germans, the Japanese have not had a catharsis and rid themselves of the poison in their system. They have not educated their young about the wrong they had done. Hashimoto [a Japanese prime minister] expressed his ‘deepest regrets’ on the 52nd anniversary of the end of World War Two (1997) and his ‘profound remorse’ during his visit to Beijing in September 1997. However, he did not apologize, as the Chinese and Koreans wished Japan’s leader to do. I do not understand why the Japanese are so unwilling to admit the past, apologize for it, and move on. For some reason, they do not want to apologize. To apologize is to admit having done a wrong. To express regrets or remorse merely expresses their present subjective feelings. They denied the massacre of Nanking took place; that Korean, Filipino, Dutch, and other women were kidnapped or otherwise forced to be ‘comfort women’ (a euphemism for sex slaves) for Japanese soldiers at the war fronts; that they carried out cruel biological experiments on live Chinese, Korean, Mongolian, Russian, and other prisoners in Manchuria. In each case, only after irrefutable evidence was produced from their own records did they make reluctant admissions. This fed suspicions of Japan’s future intentions. Present Japanese attitudes are an indication of their future conduct. If they are ashamed of their past, they are less likely to repeat it.”

[...]

Until 1853, while Japan was closed to the outside world and did negligible importing, it was self-sufficient in natural resources.

[...]

Forced to depend on its own forests, and alarmed by their declines in the 1600’s, Japan pioneered in developing scientific forestry methods independently of Germany and Switzerland, in order to manage its forests.

[...]

Japan is also the major country most dependent on imported food to feed its citizens. Japan today has the highest ratio (a factor of 20) of agricultural imports to agricultural exports among major countries.

[...]

Japan appears to be the developed country with the least support for and the strongest opposition to sustainable resource policies overseas.

[...]

“In spite of my experiences during the Japanese occupation and the Japanese traits I had learned to fear, I now respect and admire them. Their group solidarity, discipline, intelligence, industriousness, and willingness to sacrifice for the nation make them a formidable and productive force. Conscious of the poverty of their resources, they will continue to make that extra effort to achieve the unachievable. Because of their cultural values, they will be lonely survivors after any catastrophe. From time to time they are hit by the unpredictable forces of nature—earthquakes, typhoons, and tsunamis. They take their casualties, pick themselves up, and rebuild.… I was amazed at how life was returning to normal when I visited Kobe in November 1996, one-and-a-half years after the [massive] earthquake. They had taken this catastrophe in their stride and settled to a new daily routine.”

They would be able to salvage the reputation of their physics community

June 20th, 2019

In Captain America: The First Avenger, the quasi-Nazi villain Red Skull wields a cosmic cube, and I must admit that’s what came to mind when I read about the two-inch uranium cubes at the center of Nazi Germany’s nuclear program:

Several German physicists were involved in that research program; perhaps the most widely recognized was Werner Heisenberg.

Rather than working together under central leadership the way the Manhattan Project scientists eventually would, the German nuclear researchers were divided into three groups that each ran a separate series of experiments. Each was code-named after the city in which the experiments took place: Berlin (B), Gottow (G), and Leipzig (L). Although the Germans began their work nearly two years before serious US efforts began, their progress toward creating a sustained nuclear reactor was extremely slow. The reasons for the delay were varied and complex and included fierce competition over finite resources, bitter interpersonal rivalries, and ineffectual scientific management.

In the winter of 1944, as the Allies began their invasion of Germany, the German nuclear researchers were trying desperately to build a reactor that could achieve criticality. Unaware of the immense progress the Manhattan Project had made, the Germans hoped that though they were almost certainly going to lose the war, they would be able to salvage the reputation of their physics community by being the first to achieve a self-sustaining nuclear reactor.

In holding out that hope, officials moved the Berlin reactor experiments headed by Heisenberg south ahead of the Allied invasion. They eventually landed in a cave underneath a castle, shown in figure 1, in the small town of Haigerloch in southwest Germany.

B-VIII reactor entrance at castle in Haigerloch, Germany

In that cave laboratory Heisenberg’s team built their last experiment: B-VIII, the eighth experiment of the Berlin-based group. Heisenberg described the setup of the reactor in his 1953 book Nuclear Physics. The experimental nuclear reactor comprised 664 uranium cubes, each weighing about five pounds. Aircraft cable was used to string the cubes together in long chains hanging from a lid, as shown in figure 2. The ominous uranium chandelier was submerged in a tank of heavy water surrounded by an annular wall of graphite. That configuration was the best design the German program had achieved thus far, but it was not sufficient to achieve a self-sustaining, critical reactor.

B-VIII reactor, 664 uranium cubes

In 1944, as Allied forces began moving into German-occupied territory, Leslie Groves, commander of the Manhattan Project, ordered a covert mission code-named Alsos (Greek word for “groves”) to take a small number of military personnel and scientists to the front lines in Europe to gather information on the state of the German scientific program. The mission broadly aimed to gather information and potentially capture data and instrumentation from all scientific disciplines from microscopy to aeronautics. The most pressing task was to learn how far German physicists had gotten in their study of nuclear reactions. The initial leg of the Alsos mission began in Italy and moved to Germany as the Allied military forces swept south.6 Among the men involved in the mission was Samuel Goudsmit. After the war, he went on to be the American Physical Society’s first editor-in-chief and the founder of Physical Review Letters.

As the Allies closed in on southern Germany, Heisenberg’s scientists quickly disassembled B-VIII. The uranium cubes were buried in a nearby field, the heavy water was hidden in barrels, and some of the more significant documentation was hidden in a latrine. (Goudsmit had the dubious honor of retrieving those documents.) When the Alsos team arrived in Haigerloch in late April 1945, the scientists working on the experiment were arrested and interrogated to reveal the location of the reactor materials. Heisenberg had escaped earlier by absconding east on a bicycle under cover of night with uranium cubes in his backpack.

[...]

Many scholars have long thought that the German scientists could not have possibly created a working nuclear reactor because they did not have enough uranium to make the B-VIII reactor work. In Heisenberg’s own words, “The apparatus was still a little too small to sustain a fission reaction independently, but a slight increase in its size would have been sufficient to start off the process of energy production.” That statement was recently confirmed using Monte Carlo N-particle modeling of the B-VIII reactor core. The model showed that the rough analyses completed by the Germans in 1945 were correct: The reactor core as designed would not have been able to achieve a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction given the amount of uranium and its configuration. But the design might have worked if the Germans had put 50% more uranium cubes in the core.

The influence of those Asian immigrants has been far out of proportion to their numbers

June 19th, 2019

Australia has accepted many Asian immigrants, Jared Diamond notes (in Upheaval):

Under the Colombo Plan for Asian development, Australia accepted 10,000 Asian student visitors in the 1950’s.

[...]

The despised dictation test for prospective immigrants was dropped in 1958.

[...]

The Migration Act of that same year allowed “distinguished and highly qualified Asians” to immigrate.

[...]

Between 1978 and 1982 Australia admitted more Indochinese refugees, as a percentage of its population, than any other country in the world.

[...]

By the late 1980’s, nearly half of Australians were either born overseas or had at least one overseas-born parent.

[...]

By 1991, Asians represented over 50% of immigrants to Australia.

[...]

The influence of those Asian immigrants has been far out of proportion to their numbers: Asian students have come to occupy over 70% of the places in Sydney’s top schools, Asian university students appeared to account for a sizeable fraction of the students whom I saw strolling across the University of Queensland campus in 2008, and Asians and other non-Europeans now make up more than half of Australian medical students.

[...]

In 1986 Australia ended the right of final appeal to Britain’s Privy Council, thereby abolishing the last real trace of British sovereignty and making Australia fully independent at last.

[...]

In 1999 Australia’s High Court declared Britain to be a “foreign country.”

Getting under weigh at the coach office

June 19th, 2019

Hans Schantz mentioned that Richard Henry Dana Jr.’s Two Years Before the Mast (1840) was the most challenging book he’d read, vocabulary-wise, because of the specialized nautical jargon.

I decided to revisit the book and was immediately struck by a bit a quasi-nautical jargon in the first paragraph:

The fourteenth of August was the day fixed upon for the sailing of the brig Pilgrim on her voyage from Boston round Cape Horn to the western coast of North America. As she was to get under weigh early in the afternoon, I made my appearance on board at twelve o’clock, in full sea-rig, and with my chest, containing an outfit for a two or three year voyage, which I had undertaken from a determination to cure, if possible, by an entire change of life, and by a long absence from books and study, a weakness of the eyes, which had obliged me to give up my pursuits, and which no medical aid seemed likely to cure.

Under weigh?

What happened was that the Dutch, who were European masters of the sea in the seventeenth century, gave us — among many other nautical expressions — the term onderweg, meaning “on the way”. This became naturalised as under way and is first recorded in English around 1740, specifically as a maritime term (its broader meanings didn’t appear until the following century). Some over-clever individuals connected with the sea almost immediately linked it erroneously with the phrase to weigh anchor. Weigh here is the same word as the one for finding out how heavy an object is. Both it and the anchor sense go back to the Old English verb, which could mean “raise up”. The link between the senses is the act of raising an object on scales.

It’s easy to find a myriad of examples of under weigh from the best English authors in the following two centuries, such as William Makepeace Thackeray, Captain Marryat, Washington Irving, Thomas Carlyle, Herman Melville, Lord Byron, and Charles Dickens (“There were the bad odours of the town, and the rain and the refuse in the kennels, and the faint lamps slung across the road, and the huge Diligence, and its mountain of luggage, and its six grey horses with their tails tied up, getting under weigh at the coach office.” — Little Dorrit).

It was still common as recently as the 1930s (“He felt her gaze upon him, all the same, as he stood with his back to her attending to the business of getting under weigh.” — The Happy Return by C S Forester, 1937) but weigh has dropped off almost to nothing now. This paralleled another change, starting around the same time, in which the two words began to be combined into a single adverb, underway (though many style manuals still recommend it be written as two words). It may be that the influence of other words ending in -way, especially anyway, encouraged the shift in spelling back to the original and in the process killed off a persistent misunderstanding.

It was regarded as a betrayal of Australia by its British mother country

June 18th, 2019

World War Two had immediate consequences for Australia’s immigration policy, Jared Diamond notes (in Upheaval):

But Australia’s main contribution to World War One was to contribute a huge volunteer force—400,000 soldiers, constituting more than half of all Australian men eligible to serve, out of a total Australian population under 5 million—to defend British interests half-way around the world from Australia, in France and the Mideast.

[...]

More than 300,000 were sent overseas, of whom two-thirds ended up wounded or killed.

[...]

Almost every small rural Australian town still has a cenotaph in the town center, listing the names of local men killed in the war.

[...]

Australia abolished the draft in 1930 and built only a small air force and navy.

[...]

On February 15, 1942, the British general in command at Singapore surrendered to the Japanese army, sending 100,000 British and Empire troops into prisoner-of-war camps—the most severe military defeat that Britain has suffered in its history (Plate 7.7).

[...]

Sadly, those troops surrendering included 2,000 Australian soldiers who had arrived in Singapore only three weeks earlier, on January 24, in order to serve in the hopeless task of its defense.

[...]

In the absence of British ships to protect Australia, the same Japanese aircraft carriers that had bombed the American naval base at Pearl Harbor heavily bombed the Australian city of Darwin on February 19, 1942 (Plate 7.8).

[...]

To Australians, the fall of Singapore was not just a shock and a frightening military setback: it was regarded as a betrayal of Australia by its British mother country.

[...]

As a result, although Australia was attacked directly in World War Two but not in World War One, Australia’s casualties in World War Two were paradoxically less than half of those in World War One.

[...]

After World War Two there unfolded a gradual loosening of Australia’s ties to Britain and a shift in Australians’ self-identification as “loyal British in Australia,” resulting in a dismantling of the White Australia policy.

[...]

World War Two had immediate consequences for Australia’s immigration policy. Already in 1943, Australia’s prime minister concluded that the tiny population of Australians (less than 8 million in 1945) could not hold their huge continent against threats from Japan (population then over 100 million), Indonesia (just 200 miles away) with a population approaching 200 million, and China (population 1 billion).

[...]

All of Japan and Java is wet and fertile, and much of the area of those islands is suitable for highly productive agriculture. But most of Australia’s area is barren desert, and only a tiny fraction is productive farmland.

[...]

But Australia’s prime ministers in the 1940’s were neither ecologists nor economists, and so post-war Australia did embark on a crash program of encouraging immigration.

[...]

As a first step in that direction, Italian and German prisoners of war who had been brought to Australia were permitted to remain.

[...]

Australia’s minister for immigration from 1945 to 1949, Arthur Calwell, was an outspoken racist. He even refused to allow Australian men who had been so unpatriotic as to marry Japanese, Chinese, or Indonesian women to bring their war-brides or children into Australia. Calwell wrote, “No Japanese women, or any half-castes either, will be admitted to Australia; they are simply not wanted and are permanently undesirable… a mongrel Australia is impossible.”

[...]

In 1947 Calwell toured refugee camps in post-war Europe, found that they offered “splendid human material,” and noted approvingly of the Baltic Republics, “Many of their people were red-headed and blue-eyed. There were also a number of natural platinum blonds of both sexes.” The result of that selective encouragement of immigration was that, from 1945 to 1950, Australia received about 700,000 immigrants (a number nearly equal to 10% of its 1945 population), half of them reassuringly British, the rest from other European countries.

[...]

The undermining of the White Australia policy that produced the Asian immigrants and Asian restaurants awaiting me in Brisbane in 2008 resulted from five considerations: military protection, political developments in Asia, shifts of Australian trade, the immigrants themselves, and British policy.

[...]

To the shock of Australians, in 1967 Britain announced its intent to withdraw all of its military forces east of the Suez Canal. That marked the official end to Britain’s long-standing role as Australia’s protector.

[...]

By the 1980’s Australia’s leading trade partner was—Japan!—followed by the U.S., with Britain far behind.

[...]

Hence Britain applied to join the EEC. That application and its sequels constituted a shock to Australia’s and Britain’s relationship even more fundamental than had been the fall of Singapore, although the latter was more dramatic and symbolic, and lingers today as a bigger cause of festering resentment to Australians.

[...]

Britain’s Commonwealth Immigration Act of 1962, actually aimed at halting Commonwealth immigration from the West Indies and Pakistan, avoided appearances of racism by ending the automatic right of all Commonwealth citizens (including Australians) to enter and reside in Britain.

[...]

Britain’s 1968 Immigration Act barred automatic right of entry into Britain for all FOREIGNERS (Australians were now declared to be foreigners!) without at least one British-born grandparent, thereby excluding a large fraction of Australians at that time.

[...]

In 1972 Britain declared Australians to be ALIENS (!).

[...]

From an Australian perspective, it may seem that Australian identity changed suddenly and comprehensively in 1972, when Australia’s Labour Party under Prime Minister Gough Whitlam came to power for the first time in 23 years. In his first 19 days in office, even before he had appointed a new cabinet, Whitlam and his deputy embarked on a crash program of selective change in Australia, for which there are few parallels in the modern world in its speed and comprehensiveness. The changes introduced in those 19 days included: end of the military draft (national conscription); withdrawal of all Australian troops from Vietnam; recognition of the People’s Republic of China; announced independence for Papua New Guinea, which Australia had been administering for over half-a-century under a mandate from the League of Nations and then from the United Nations; banning visits by racially selected overseas athletic teams (a rule aimed especially at all-white South African teams); abolishing the nomination of Australians for Britain’s system of honors (knighthoods, OBEs, KCMGs, and so on) and replacing them with a new system of Australian honors; and—officially repudiating the White Australia policy.

[...]

Once Whitlam’s whole cabinet had been approved, it then adopted more steps in the crash program: reduction of the voting age to 18; increase in the minimum wage; giving representation to both the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory in the federal Senate; granting legislative councils to both of those territories; requiring environmental impact statements for industrial developments; increased spending on Aborigines; equal pay for women; no-fault divorce; a comprehensive medical insurance scheme; and big changes in education that included abolishing university fees, boosts in financial aid for schools, and transfer from the states to the Australian Commonwealth of the responsibility for funding tertiary education.

[...]

Whitlam correctly described his reforms as a “recognition of what has already happened” rather than as a revolution arising out of nothing.

[...]

In 1954 the first visit to Australia by a reigning British monarch, Queen Elizabeth, was greeted by an enormous outpouring of pro-British sentiment: over 75% of all Australians turned out on the streets to cheer her (Plate 7.9). But—by the time that Queen Elizabeth visited Australia again in 1963, two years after Britain’s first EEC application, Australians were much less interested in her and in Britain.

Former NFL players live longer than the general population

June 18th, 2019

Former NFL players live longer than the general population:

One study from 2012 found that NFL players had overall decreased mortality as well as lower cardiovascular mortality than the general population. Another paper that year also found that overall mortality in NFL players was reduced, but did find that they had rates of neurodegenerative mortality that were three times higher than the general population.

They don’t live longer than other athletes, though:

Researchers looked at data from the NFL cohort, which was a database constructed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in the ’90s and contains information on former players who participated in at least five seasons between 1959 and 1988. Weisskopf and colleagues then generated a comparable dataset for former MLB players. By then matching the 3,419 NFL players and the 2,708 MLB players to the National Death Index — which contains records and causes of deaths of U.S. citizens — the researchers compared mortality rates between the two groups.

The new work found that NFL players were about 2.5 times more likely to die from cardiovascular disease and almost three times more likely than MLB players to die from neurodegenerative disease.

[...]

Among the NFL players in the study, far more died of cardiovascular disease than neurodegenerative disease: nearly 500 versus 39, respectively.