Americans Want to Live in Sweden

James Kwak.

Americans Want to Live in Sweden

The chart below is from a short paper by Michael Norton and Dan Ariely (author of Predictably Irrational) (hat tip Huffington Post). The top line is the actual U.S.wealth distribution. The second is what Americans think the wealth distribution is. The bottom line is what Americans think the wealth distribution should be.

US wealth distribution

William James: A religious man for our times

I call your attention to the introductory post for a new series in the Guardian’s “How to believe” feature: William James, part 1: A religious man for our times ; I look forward to the future posts.

William James bioI also wanted to mention a relatively recent (2006) biography, William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism. I picked up a hardcover copy from a bargain table in Minneapolis a year ago, and have been working my way through it ever since. It’s a reflection on my reading habits, not the quality of the writing, that a year later I’m only halfway through.

It’s by Robert Richardson, who won the 2007 Bancroft Prize for his work.

According to the Bancroft jury, William James is simultaneously an intellectual biography, and a biography tout court, of the James family, including William James’s father, Henry James, Sr., and his brother Henry.” The book “is a virtual intellectual genealogy of American liberalism and, indeed, of American intellectual life in general, through and beyond the twentieth century…the story Richardson tells is engaging, his research deep, his writing graceful and appealing.”

No argument from me. I’d put it at the top of the heap, along with Ray Monk’s most excellent Wittgenstein bio.

Solving iPad/iPhone Wi-Fi dropouts

If you’re wondering what this post is about, you should probably just skip it.

Last week I was reconfiguring my home network, mainly to get better signal distribution and to enable Apple’s guest network facility. As part of the reconfiguration, I added a WPA2 password to the previously unsecured main network (we’re talking a recent dual-band AirPort Extreme here).

When I was done, everything was working fine, except that while both my iPad (iOS 3.2.2) and iPhone 4 (iOS 4.1) would connect OK, after a minute or three they’d drop off the network, and fail to reconnect. If I reconnected manually, sometimes I’d have to reenter the password, sometimes not. Disabling WPA2 (so no password) made everything work.

I googled up several proposed solutions, but they weren’t applicable, or didn’t help. Eventually, though, I found the iPhone solution: in the Settings app, under Wi-Fi, display the details for the current network and press the “Forget this Network” button. Reestablish the connection, and all is well.

On my iPad, though, there was no “Forget this Network” button. Instead, there was a slide switch labelled “Auto-Join” that was turned off. I could turn it on, but the setting never stuck; it was always off when I returned to the page. This, it turns out, was a hot clue, but I didn’t know enough to recognize it.

Some more googling, and I found a suggestion to go to the General tab of the Settings app, and thence to the Reset page and click “Reset Network Settings”. After that, back on the Settings Wi-Fi tab network details, the Auto-Join switch had disappeared, replaced by the same “Forget this Network” button I saw on the iPhone.

I reestablished the connection, and it’s been fine ever since.

Clearly there’s some kind of problem associated with one of the firmware upgrades from 3.2 to 3.2.1 to 3.2.2. My suggestion, even if you’re not seeing my symptom, is to make sure you’ve got a “Forget this Network” button rather than an “Auto-Join” switch, and if you don’t, reset your network settings. It’s a minor pain, since you’ll have to reenter Wi-Fi network settings, but it likely will prevent future problems. (It has no apparent effect on the AT&T network connection; at least I didn’t have to do anything special; it just kept working.)

One more note, only tangentially related. The Wi-Fi signal strength indicator on a MacBook Pro shows full strength even with rather weak signals. I used iStumbler, along with option-clicking on the Wi-Fi fan icon, to see the actual signal strength. Getting a stronger signal solved another problem I was having—random, infrequent loss of Wi-Fi connection on one of our MBPs, the one farthest from the base station.

Today another copy of The New York Review of Books arrived…

I’ve recommended David Kaiser before, right? And you haven’t been reading him, have you?

Today another copy of The New York Review of Books arrived,

… The biggest casualty of this crisis will probably be our faith in our democracy. This morning’s New York Times leads with a story on fraud in the Afghan legislative elections and quotes one American official as saying, “It’s not necessarily the pro-Karzai bloc that has done so well, it’s that the Parliament will be more dependent on big power brokers. He added that “they would be more likely to make deals with Mr. Karzai that did not necessarily serve the Afghan people.” I find it hard to believe that I could have been the only reader to notice how well his comment seemed to describe the situation right here at home. …

It’s not too late.

What do James, Yakov and Santiago have in common?

A nice bit of background on “James”, from Johnson:

What do James, Yakov and Santiago have in common?

THIS is à propos of nothing, but I’ve always wondered why English-speakers call a certain Christian saint “James”, while he is called “Santiago” in Spanish. That led to some scraping around on Wikipedia, which always reminds me that linguists must love editing there; the articles are usually shockingly good.  Anyway, the story is quite a whirl. Ready?

The original name is Hebrew’s Ya’aqov, the same as the Old Testament patriarch known in English as Jacob. Jesus’s brother “James” had that same name, which is given as Iakobos in the Greek of the Gospels. From these two, you can see where Russian and other Slavic languages get Yakov, German gets Jacobus and so forth. The French Jacques is no longer a stretch.  And Santiago?  Well, it's just Sant Iago, Saint Iago(v).

James, then, is still an outlier. Where did that "m" come from?  Apparently the late Latin Iacobos turned into a Iacomos. First, the “o” became nasalised (like the French vowel in bon), which made that “b” become “m-like”. Iacobos -> Iacombus. Then the “b” was “simplified” out of existence, leaving Iacomus, and on to James. (How the J that most Europeans pronounce as a "y" sound became our "dzh" sound is a story for another day.)  Cousins with an "m" are the Irish Seamus and the Scottish Hamish.

Johnson: answering questions you never asked.

We are Unitarian Jihad

Greetings to the Imprisoned Citizens of the United States. We are Unitarian Jihad. There is only God, unless there is more than one God. The vote of our God subcommittee is 10-8 in favor of one God, with two abstentions. Brother Flaming Sword of Moderation noted the possibility of there being no God at all, and his objection was noted with love by the secretary.

Greetings to the Imprisoned Citizens of the United States! Too long has your attention been waylaid by the bright baubles of extremist thought. Too long have fundamentalist yahoos of all religions (except Buddhism — 14-5 vote, no abstentions, fundamentalism subcommittee) made your head hurt. Too long have you been buffeted by angry people who think that God talks to them. You have a right to your moderation! You have the power to be calm! We will use the IED of truth to explode the SUV of dogmatic expression!

People of the United States, why is everyone yelling at you??? Whatever happened to … you know, everything? Why is the news dominated by nutballs saying that the Ten Commandments have to be tattooed inside the eyelids of every American, or that Allah has told them to kill Americans in order to rid the world of Satan, or that Yahweh has instructed them to go live wherever they feel like, or that Shiva thinks bombing mosques is a great idea? Sister Immaculate Dagger of Peace notes for the record that we mean no disrespect to Jews, Muslims, Christians or Hindus. Referred back to the committee of the whole for further discussion.

We are Unitarian Jihad. We are everywhere. We have not been born again, nor have we sworn a blood oath. We do not think that God cares what we read, what we eat or whom we sleep with. Brother Neutron Bomb of Serenity notes for the record that he does not have a moral code but is nevertheless a good person, and Unexalted Leader Garrote of Forgiveness stipulates that Brother Neutron Bomb of Serenity is a good person, and this is to be reflected in the minutes.

Beware! Unless you people shut up and begin acting like grown-ups with brains enough to understand the difference between political belief and personal faith, the Unitarian Jihad will begin a series of terrorist-like actions. We will take over television studios, kidnap so-called commentators and broadcast calm, well-reasoned discussions of the issues of the day. We will not try for “balance” by hiring fruitcakes; we will try for balance by hiring non-ideologues who have carefully thought through the issues.

We are Unitarian Jihad. We will appear in public places and require people to shake hands with each other. (Sister Hand Grenade of Love suggested that we institute a terror regime of mandatory hugging, but her motion was not formally introduced because of lack of a quorum.) We will require all lobbyists, spokesmen and campaign managers to dress like trout in public. Televangelists will be forced to take jobs as Xerox repair specialists. Demagogues of all stripes will be required to read Proust out loud in prisons.

We are Unitarian Jihad, and our motto is: “Sincerity is not enough.” We have heard from enough sincere people to last a lifetime already. Just because you believe it’s true doesn’t make it true. Just because your motives are pure doesn’t mean you are not doing harm. Get a dog, or comfort someone in a nursing home, or just feed the birds in the park. Play basketball. Lighten up. The world is not out to get you, except in the sense that the world is out to get everyone.

Brother Gatling Gun of Patience notes that he’s pretty sure the world is out to get him because everyone laughs when he says he is a Unitarian. There were murmurs of assent around the room, and someone suggested that we buy some Congress members and really stick it to the Baptists. But this was deemed against Revolutionary Principles, and Brother Gatling Gun of Patience was remanded to the Sunday Flowers and Banners committee.

People of the United States! We are Unitarian Jihad! We can strike without warning. Pockets of reasonableness and harmony will appear as if from nowhere! Nice people will run the government again! There will be coffee and cookies in the Gandhi Room after the revolution. Startling new underground group spreads lack of panic! Citizens declare themselves “relatively unafraid” of threats of undeclared rationality. People can still go to France, terrorist leader says.

Habent PM

Australia and Julia Gillard, that is, three weeks after the election that resulted in neither major party having a majority. It’s a bit curious that we’re seeing negotiated coalition governments all over the place (well, Australia and the UK, anyway) under non-PR systems (Australia uses PR for their upper house, but IRV/AV and single-member districts for the lower house, which is the relevant one here).

John Quiggin is on the scene:

Habemus PM

The Australian election three weeks ago turned out about as close as possible. The two main parties (Labour and the permanent Liberal-National-Liberal National coalition) each ended up with 72 seats (out of 150) and almost exactly 50 per cent of the two-party preferred vote, the relevant measure of support in our preferential (=IRV/AV) system. That left six remaining seats: one Green, one non-coalition National, one leftish independent and three country independents, all formerly associated with the conservative National party). Because the Parliament has a Speaker, 76 supporters are required for a stable government.

Unsurprisingly, things took a while to sort themselves out. Because of postal voting and the need for recounts, the final determination of seats took more than a week. Then there was another week of haggling and jockeying. The Green MP declared for Labor first, followed by the leftish independent (Labor) and the dissident National (Coalition). No surprises there. That left the three country independents. It was expected they would move as a bloc, but in the end, one announced support for the Coalition, and the other two for Labor (the last of them spending half an our of explanation before finally stating what had been obvious from the moment his ally went that way). So, after 17 days, it was 76-74, and Julia Gillard retained the office she had snatched from Kevin Rudd only weeks before the election.

Overall, it was a startlingly good outcome. Any democratic system is going to have trouble when the vote is as close as this, but compared to the US in 2000, or Belgium/Holland right now, things went relatively smoothly. And, startlingly, to get the independents on board, Labor actually had to promise better government, rather than pork-barreling for those electorates fortunate enough to have a pivotal vote. By contrast, the Liberal leader Tony Abbott, came with an open chequebook and was rebuffed. It’s true that the effect will be to give much more favorable treatment to rural and regional areas in general, but the independents have a fair enough basis for the claim that these areas have been neglected (complex and competing calculations of the relative treatment of urban and rural areas are a staple of Australian policywonkery).

Even better, when the newly elected Senate takes its place (not until July 2011 thanks to the marvels of our electoral system) Labor’s dependence on the Greens will be enhanced by the existence of a Labor-Green majority in the Upper House. Going into the election, Labor had dumped the commitment to action on climate change that gave it victory in 2007 (how this happened is too depressing to relate. I think George Monbiot covered it a while back). But now, with the government dependent on Greens and greenish independents, the issue is back on the agenda.

It’s often said that a country gets the government it deserved. Going into the election, with two competing leaders who had seized power without any real popular support, and policy platforms derived entirely from particularly dimwitted focus groups, I wondered what we Australians had done to deserve this. Now, I wonder how we merited such good fortune. I only hope it will last.

Fun With George Will

Dean Baker (of course):

Fun With George Will

The Washington Post likes to run columns that are chock full of mistakes so that readers can have fun picking them apart. That is why George Will’s columns appear twice a week. …

… Will’s conclusion that stimulus does not work is like seeing someone throw a few buckets of water on their burning house and then telling the first department not to waste time with their houses, because obviously water will not be effective against the fire. …

Dirigible choices

As transport in the 1800s, balloons had a frustrating drawback: they were at the mercy of the wind. With the invention of lightweight engines, it became possible to direct the course of a balloon, a distinct improvement. The word “direct” comes from the Latin dirigere, to straighten, set straight, direct, guide. Thus “dirigible balloon”: a balloon that can be guided, or directed, by its pilot, instead of being passively directed by the breeze.

(And soon enough the adjective “dirigible” was nouned into a balloon.)

I’m not suggesting that the etymology of a word like “dirigible” is an authoritative guide to its meaning; it is not. Words grow up and leave home. Some make bad choices, but we love them anyway. So be it.

Still, etymology enriches our experience of our language, dirigible being a case in point. Thus Alban Joseph Zolly, Mr Zolly to us eighth-grade English students at Camp Zama in the early 1960s (I incant his full name in the slim hope that someone might someday search the web for his name and turn up this remembrance).

Dirigible/direct is part of a pattern that includes corrigible/correct, negligible/neglect, intelligible/intellect and eligible/elect, among a few others (when’s the last time you heard “erigible”?). We have legible, but “lect” survives only in works like lector, lectern, lecture. Patterns have a mysterious power to explain, though in a sense they only deepen the mystery.

Of the list, “eligible” caught my eye, I suppose because of my side interest in elections and voting. In English, perhaps especially American English, “elect” is highly associated with voting. But its meaning is rooted in the idea of “choose”, and a moment’s reflection will remind us that we still use it that way from time to time, and that the voting sense is a fairly obvious outgrowth of “choose”: we choose our leaders, representatives, whatever. But we still elect to do something, take elective courses, and the like. So to be “eligible” is to be capable of being chosen, or elected.

NY Times: have more babies

Dean Baker. This is one of those persistent memes (forgive me) that wants constant swatting.

Wealthy Countries May Become Less Crowded and the NYT Wants Us to Be Scared

The NYT reported on new projections from the Population Reference Bureau showing continuing increases in population in the developing world and slow or negative growth in wealthy countries. Low birth rates in the wealthy countries are projected to lead to a rise in the ratio of retirees to workers. The NYT described this prospect as “sobering.”

There is no obvious reason that people in wealthy countries should be concerned about the prospect of a rising ratio of retirees to workers. This ratio has been increasing for a century. The projected increase in the elderly dependency ratio is largely offset by a decline in the number of dependent children. At the worst, the rise in the dependency ratio will offset some of the gains in wage growth associated with rising productivity, as has been the case in prior decades. So, it is not clear what the NYT wants readers to find “sobering” about this news.

The article also implied that a large jump in the share of GDP going to Social Security and Medicare is due to the aging of the population. Much of the cause of the projected increase in spending on these programs is the projected increase in per person health care costs. If per person health care costs in the United States fell to the levels in Germany or Canada, the share of GDP devoted to these programs in 2050 would be little different from what it is at present.

Sandy Levinson on Matthew Yglesias on the filibuster

“The challenge of our time is figuring out if effective government is possible given the social, political, cultural, and economic realities we live under. The answer may well be no.”

Then what?

Matthew Yglesias on the filibuster

Matthew Yglesias has a fine post on the threat posed by the filibuster to the functioning of our political order. He concludes by suggesting, altogether plausibly, that if the Republicans were in fact to recapture all three branches of government in the 2012 election, then the first thing they would do would be to abolish the filibuster and thus deprive Democrats of the ability to torpedo whatever legislative programs they might have. It would, of course, serve Democratic Party interests to prevent a Republican government from achieving anything, especially with regard to the economy, that might win them votes. It will be typical Democratic blindness if they protect the filibuster while they in fact “control” the Senate only to see it eliminated once disciplined Republicans take over the Senate and can rely on a Republican President of the Senate (i.e., VP), to rule that the Senate is not a continuing body.

Each party has a vested interest in the destruction of a government headed by the other. This is exactly why James Madison hated parties. He wrongly believed that the Constitution would work to mitigate the ravages of “faction,” but he was wrong, not only because of the rise of political parties (by 1796 or, most certainly, by 1800), but also because of the displacement of the elites Madison had such faith in by “the people” who cared only about their own interests. Gordon Wood’s brilliant new Oxford history spells this out. I certainly don’t advocate returning to a Federalist elite politics, nor do I think they were simply devoted servants of “the public interest.” The challenge of our time is figuring out if effective government is possible given the social, political, cultural, and economic realities we live under. The answer may well be no. We simply have to hope for the best, but this may be the equivalent of hunkering down in New Orleans before Katrina and hoping against hope (or praying) that it will veer away at the last minute.

Galbraith on the deficit

Jamie Galbraith again. Do me, and yourself, a favor and read his testimony to the Deficit Commission two weeks ago.

I’m tempted not to quote anything at all, but I’ll include his conclusion:

Most people assume that “bipartisan commissions” are designed to fail: they are given thorny (or even impossible) issues and told to make recommendations which Congress is free to ignore or reject. In many cases — yours is no exception — the goal is to defer recognition of the difficulties for as long as possible.

You are plainly not equipped by disposition or resources to take on the true cause of deficits now and in the future: the financial crisis. Recommendations based on CBO’s unrealistic budget and economic outlooks are destined to collapse in failure. Specifically, if cuts are proposed and enacted in Social Security and Medicare, they will hurt millions, weaken the economy, and the deficits will not decline. It’s a lose-lose proposition, with no gainers except a few predatory funds, insurance companies and such who would profit, for some time, from a chaotic private marketplace.

Thus the interesting twist in your situation is that the Republic would be better served by advancing no proposals at all.

…and beg you to read the whole thing for a wonderfully clear discussion of deficits and government spending.

The dog went to the bathroom?

Geoff Pullum, of course.

Asterisks Justin’s dad says

A truly strange piece of euphemism came up in a UK newspaper interview with Justin Halpern, the creator of the hit Twitter page Shit My Dad Says:

One day we took the dog for a walk. My dad said: “Look at the dog’s asshole — you can tell from the dilation that the dog is about to shit” and the dog went to the bathroom. He was incredibly impressed by his prediction.

The dog went to the bathroom? Not exactly a case of like father like son, linguistically.

Keep in mind, Justin is the son of the man (a San Diegan) who said of Los Angeles: “It’s the epicenter of the asshole earthquake. They’d fuck you twice if they had another dick.”

We are talking about the dad who said (on being asked how he lost 20 pounds), “I drank bear piss and took up fencing. How the fuck you think? I exercised.”

The man who claims, “Look, we’re basically on earth to shit and fuck. So unless your job’s to help people shit or fuck, it’s not that important, so relax.”

This is not a man who would describe a doggie as going to the bathroom, is it?

Reading the piece was even stranger in a UK context, where the euphemism “going to the bathroom” is not at all common, since the room in question is not called the bathroom, it’s called the lavatory or the toilet (both of them being euphemisms too, of course). I assume that it was the architectural practice of having the WC in the room with the bathtub gave Americans their euphemism, while the British practice of having it in a separate very small room near the bathroom did not favor it, though I don’t intend to do any scatoarchitectolinguistic research on the matter.

The British publication of the interview gave rise to a few translation challenges. I have deasteriskified things for your reading convenience. In the newspaper (The Metro),

  • “Shit My Dad Says” was rendered as “S*** My Dad Says”;
  • “the dog is about to shit” was rendered as “the dog is about to s***”; and interestingly,
  • “asshole” was rendered as “a***hole”, which (if you count the asterisks) tells us that the British newspaper first translated the “ass” of Justin’s American English to “arse” and then did the asterisking out.

The Los Angeles Times couldn’t even get that close to the real title of the Twitter page; on this L.A. Times blog they called it “Stuff My Dad Says”.

Meanwhile, the book Justin has made from his Twitter site had to be titled Sh*t My Dad Says, which doesn’t match the name of the site, and the TV series made from it is called $#*! My Dad Says, which doesn’t match either the site or the book or the L.A. Times reference; it’s a wonder anyone ever finds any of these things.

The terror of printing the most basic of the earthy Germanic words for human excrement clearly continues unquelled. Except here, of course, because on Language Log we are linguists, and we don’t give a shit. We don’t believe simple Anglo-Saxon monosyllables will either sear your eyeballs or warp the moral fiber of the young.

Baker on mindreading

…again. I hope you’re all reading Dean Baker as regularly as you read the papers (or listen to NPR).

Maybe Members of Congress Want to Cut Unemployment Benefits to Increase Unemployment

The Post yet again tells us that members of Congress are political philosophers, telling readers that: “Congress’s inaction [in approving an extension of unemployment benefits] has been accompanied by a growing sentiment among lawmakers that long-term unemployment benefits create a disincentive for the jobless to find work.”

How does the Post know what sentiments members of Congress have? Furthermore is there any reason to believe that their sentiments explain their votes on important issues?

Members of Congress get elected and re-elected by getting the support of powerful interest groups, not on their abilities as political philosophers. While the opponents of extending unemployment benefits may believe that they are bad policy, this is likely less relevant to the their votes than the political considerations behind this vote.

At the moment, the Republicans appear to have adopted a strategy of blocking anything that President Obama tries to do, with the idea that a bad economy will be good for them on Election Day. While the Post may not want to assert in a news story that this is the explanation for their opposition to extending unemployment benefits, it is certainly inappropriate to provide an alternative explanation for which it has zero evidence.

Robert Byrd crosses the bar

NPR’s Morning Edition concluded their remembrance of Robert Byrd with his reading of the end of Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar”. The poem has never been one of my favorites, but it was a nice touch.

Sunset and evening star,
   And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
   When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
   Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
   Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
   And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
   When I embark;

For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
   The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
   When I have crossed the bar

What we want

From Juan Cole. As you can see from his title, this snippet is in the context of a longer McChrystal piece. But this is what jumped out at me.

Obama’s MacArthur Moment? McChrystal Disses Biden

… Obama has largely misunderstood the historical moment in the US. He appears to have thought that we wanted a broker, someone who could get everyone together and pull off a compromise that led to a deal among the parties. We don’t want that. We want Harry Truman. We want someone who will give them hell ….