Labor Day

Monday, September 5th, 2016

Have you ever tried to explain Labor Day?

Following the deaths of workers at the hands of United States Army and United States Marshals Service during the Pullman Strike of 1894, the United States Congress unanimously voted to approve legislation to make Labor Day a national holiday and President Grover Cleveland signed it into law six days after the end of the strike. Cleveland supported the creation of the national holiday in an attempt to shore up support among trade unions following the Pullman Strike.

The date of May 1 (an ancient European holiday known as May Day) was an alternative date, celebrated then (and now) as International Workers Day, but President Cleveland was concerned that observance of Labor Day on May 1 would encourage Haymarket-style protests and would strengthen socialist and anarchist movements that, though distinct from one another, had rallied to commemorate the Haymarket Affair in International Workers’ Day.

Open Prisons

Monday, September 5th, 2016

Norway’s open prisons sound comically Scandinavian, but they work — there:

Wiggo was right; it did look like summer camp. Mottled leaves fell on cyclers ? yes, cycling prisoners ? and a horse-and-carriage cantered by. Gingerbread houses dotted the landscape; they were dull yellow, with green trim and red roofs. I spied sheep and cows but no fence or barbed wire.

Bastoy is an open prison, a concept born in Finland during the 1930s and now part of the norm throughout Scandinavia, where prisoners can sometimes keep their jobs on the outside while serving time, commuting daily. Thirty percent of Norway’s prisons are open, and Bastoy, a notorious reformatory for boys converted in 1982 to a prison, is considered the crown jewel of them all.


“I started skeptical. That changed quickly. More prisons should be open ? almost all should be. We take as many as we can here, but there isn’t room for everyone.” Prisoners from around the country can apply to move to an open prison like Bastoy when they’re within three years of release. The island is home to about 115 men overseen by over 70 staff members, and there is a waiting list of about 30.

“There’s a perception that, ‘Oh, this is the lightweight prison; you just take the nice guys for the summer-camp prison.’ But in fact, no. Our guys are into, pardon my French, some heavy shit. Drugs and violence. And the truth is, some have been problematic in other prisons but then they come here, and we find them easy. We say, ‘Is that the same guy you called difficult?’ It’s really very simple: Treat people like dirt, and they will be dirt. Treat them like human beings, and they will act like human beings.”


“It’s not about running a prison but running an island,” Tom explained. “Agriculture is a big part of our philosophy. We are humane, ecological. Animals have a social function too, teaching empathy. Everyone works the land.”

This is a nature reserve, growing about 25 percent of its food. Most vehicles are electric, and everything is recycled.

The Superhero Genes

Sunday, September 4th, 2016

Stanford University scientist Euan Ashley and his team are looking for the superhero genes that give elite athletes their superhuman abilities — and which may yield medical insights, too:

The data analysis will take many years?—?there are too many possibilities to sift through them all?—?but the ELITE team has already isolated some 9,200 genetic variants that may explain preternatural athletic ability. “Our first focus is on the heart,” Ashley said, “but then we’re searching for variants across the whole genome.” One early contender, flagged just before my visit, is a gene known as DUOX. A mutation in the gene essentially confers what many nutrition gurus tout as the health benefits of antioxidants, mitigating the damaging effects of our usual cellular metabolism. In the past, DUOX mutations have been identified in a very specific population: People who’ve managed to adapt to living at extremely high altitudes?—?in the Andes, in particular?—?show the mutation, suggesting a possible link to increased pulmonary function. Could DUOX-targeting therapies help in hypoxia? Could they help with tissue repair, since the amount of oxygen in wounds is a crucial factor for speed of recovery?

Then there’s NADK, a gene involved in fatty acid synthesis. If you have lowered NADK, your body could be better at using fat as fuel, making you more powerful over time. So far, two athletes in the sample have the mutation, a high hit rate given its rarity. Could this be a weight-regulating therapy in the making?

Another intriguing variant found in several athletes is RUNX3?—?though, as with all of these mutations, the data are quite preliminary and any conclusions likewise so. Originally, the gene came to light in cancer research. Normally, it suppresses tumors, but in mutated form the suppression function is lost and increased cellular growth ensues. If you’re an athlete, cellular growth can be good: The better your muscles and heart grow, the more quickly you respond to training. The mutation, however, can also lead to tumors. There’s a finely calibrated and fungible line between overperforming and underperforming, between what makes us healthier and what puts us at risk.

Learning from Attica

Saturday, September 3rd, 2016

Adam Gopnik looks back at the Attica prison riot of 1971:

What’s striking about the uprising is not the collisions of intractable ideological positions but, rather, the sheer confusion, missed opportunities, personal squabbles, and absurd procedural wrangles that governed it. The saddest irony is that the New York State Commissioner of Corrections, Russell Oswald, though later treated as one of the villains of the episode, was largely responsible for extending the occupation and allowing the prisoners the media megaphone that makes their voices still heard today. Oswald is a kind of caricature of the sixties liberal who infuriated conservatives (and often other liberals), someone so determined to do good that he can’t see past his own folly. He was a committed prison reformer — shortly after accepting the job, he had written a memo to Governor Rockefeller saying that having men locked “twelve or more hours a day in their cells is unacceptable to them and me.” And yet he managed, in four days, to enrage the inmates, exasperate his colleagues, and, probably, prevent the forces of order from taking back the prison when it still could have been done in a more or less orderly way. Since any imaginable modern state in any imaginable circumstance was always going to feel duty-bound to retake a prison after a mutiny, a forcible reconquest needed to be done either quickly or not at all: had it happened the next morning, when state troopers stood ready and the prisoners hadn’t yet dug in, it might have been much less violent. Trying to placate everyone, he only exacerbated everything.


Negotiations tend to be remarkably consistent in form, whether the subject is Iranian nukes or prisoners’ rights. Both sides arrive with obviously ridiculous demands; the act of meeting marks the rejection of those demands but also shows that there is enough good will for a deal to be made; the shape of the agreement swiftly appears; and then, often, the two sides get trapped in tiny details pointing to the tribal instincts that brought the conflict on in the first place. Certainly the negotiations at Attica took this shape.


The uprising at Attica was, in the not very long run, one of the things that stopped prison reform dead in its tracks.


In broadly democratic countries, violence frightens the “masses” as they really are—i.e., the majority of citizens—much faster than reformers can persuade them to change. Nonviolent episodes of protest are extraordinarily efficient in creating social change in democratic states; violent episodes undo the good work of change with astonishing rapidity. As the Princeton political scientist Omar Wasow has shown, in an important new empirical study, the spectacle of urban violence probably did get Richard Nixon elected. (“In public opinion polls between 1950 and 1980, a majority of subjects identified ‘civil rights’ as the most important problem facing America at the same time that nonviolent black protest activity peaked,” he observes, “and, likewise, responded with ‘law and order’ when black-led violent protests were most active.”)


Evil exists. Prisons, punishment, segregation, exile: even the most enlightened state needs some way of sorting the truly dangerous from the sadly criminal and the sadly criminal from the merely unlucky. I eventually discovered that the erudite inmate who arraigned me for not attending to my Foucault had committed the most horrible crime of which I ever hope to hear. (In the midst of a custody battle with his estranged wife, he called her on the phone, had her hold the line, and then murdered their two daughters while she listened and they pleaded.) No sane society can survive if the state, however fair, however free, cannot enforce order and hold a monopoly on legitimate violence.

Our Wonderful Nature

Friday, September 2nd, 2016

Our Wonderful Nature turns its attention to the tiny water shrew in mating season:

Another episode looks at the gluttonous chameleon:

How does the mass media (including social media) control people?

Friday, September 2nd, 2016

How does the mass media (including social media) control people?

The most obvious way, and which gains nearly all of the attention, is in terms of propaganda. So the mass/social media is full of propaganda in favour of the sexual revolution, against Christianity; in favour of Leftism and against traditional values (e.g marriage, family, biologically functional sexuality) and so forth.

But this is to miss the main point about content — which is the absence of content and the nature of assumptions.

The mass media simply eliminates all serious concerns.


But the main problem is the form not the content. The main problem with modern media addiction is that it shapes the way people think.

For a start, it takes-up attention for a large and increasing proportion of the day.


Then the attention is grabbed, manipulated, switched — again and again, thousands of times a day. This trains the mind positively to expect and want such attention switching, and negatively to become unable to hold attention — and rapidly to become bored by situations that lack this stream of attention-grabbing and rapidly changing stimuli.


Thursday, September 1st, 2016

Mike Judge’s Idiocracy came out 10 years ago:

C. M. Kornbluth’s The Marching Morons explored this premise a half-century earlier. It was included in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two after being voted one of the best novellas up to 1965.

Donald Trump’s 10-Part Immigration Plan

Thursday, September 1st, 2016

The Wall Street Journal shares Donald Trump’s 10-part immigration plan:

  1. We will build a wall along the southern border
  2. End ‘catch-and-release’
  3. Zero tolerance for criminal aliens
  4. Block funding for Sanctuary Cities
  5. Cancel unconstitutional executive orders and enforce all immigration laws
  6. We are going to suspend the issuance of visas to any place where adequate screening cannot occur
  7. We will ensure that other countries take their people back when we order them deported
  8. We will finally complete the biometric entry-exit visa tracking system
  9. We will turn off the jobs and benefits magnet
  10. We will reform legal immigration to serve the best interests of America and its workers

Grossman’s Two-Percenters

Thursday, September 1st, 2016

In The Last Punisher, Kevin Lacz revisits his days as a Big Tough Frogman in Ramadi:

Two weeks into his deployment, Lacz developed an itchy trigger finger. Eager to meet the enemy, he volunteered to work the stone guard tower at Camp Corregidor, an Army installation on Ramadi’s outskirts. It was, he says with scorn for the politically correct sensitivities of Americans who have never been to war, “a good place to smoke some muj.” Packing a fresh load of ever-present Copenhagen tobacco into his lower lip, Lacz settled in to wait for the muezzin’s amplified voice sounding the call to afternoon Islamic prayer. That would be when the city’s deserted streets and alleyways sprang to life. Among the suddenly numerous women, children, and goatherders, Lacz knew, would be young men looking to ambush American troops with small-arms fire and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). With tobacco spit pooling on the floor between his feet, he kept stock-still, staring down the 20-inch barrel of his MK11 sniper rifle at a man periodically glancing up at the guard tower. His behavior indicated that he was a “muj”—short for mujahedeen—and Lacz had a clear shot, but the American military’s rules of engagement prevented him from firing absent hostile action or hostile intent. “Looking shady wasn’t enough.”

Dressed in the insurgent’s uniform of t-shirt, track pants, and flip-flops, the man scooted across an alleyway and ducked behind a wall. Lacz focused on keeping his breathing steady. The muj reappeared seconds later cradling an AK-47 rifle. His fate was sealed. Lacz calmly put a 7.62 millimeter round through his upper torso. The muj hit the dirt. It was the first of Lacz’s dozens of confirmed kills.

That night, back in his rack, Lacz took inventory of his emotions. He hadn’t minded taking a life, he decided. “If you volunteer yourself to do the business of doing bad things to bad people, you have to be prepared for the eventuality of being required to do it.” During training, Lacz and his fellow SEALs sat for a lecture by retired army lieutenant colonel Dave Grossman, author of On Killing, a study of the psychological effects of combat. Grossman’s theory is that 2 percent of the male population is capable of killing without remorse. These “levelheaded” warriors are drawn to military special operations units like the SEALs. They get missions guaranteed to end with someone—the enemy, preferably—in a body bag. Lacz no longer wondered whether he was one of Grossman’s “2 percenters.” He settled into an easy sleep.