Voltairine de Cleyre

Nobody asked but …

I have rediscovered Voltairine de Cleyre recently, or maybe I should just say “discovered.”  I had previously known her only from quotes and pocket-sized bios.  Listening to an audiobook of essays, however, I am learning of the artfulness that keeps her famous more than a century after her death in 1912.  I recommend a closer acquaintance, a focused attention, on her ideas — passages short and long, extracts and whole.

Pardon me for posting a quote, but I know of no other way to entice you to a closer look.

Anarchism, to me, means not only the denial of authority, not only a new economy, but a revision of the principles of morality. It means the development of the individual as well as the assertion of the individual. It means self-responsibility, and not leader worship.

This is a life-affirming definition of anarchy in just a few words, including the rejection of authoritarianism, the reliance on the natural effects of the marketplace, the calling for humanitarian principles such as the NAP, the encouragement of individualism, and the acceptance of responsibility.

— Kilgore Forelle

Open This Content

Autumn Leaves

Nobody asked but …

This time of year you have to deal with them, every one, sooner or later.  The coloring and the fall of the autumn leaves is a miracle to behold, but the phenomenon presents a few problems as well — TANSTAAFL.  You have to deal with them covering your property, choking gutters, gracing the bottoms of fish ponds, fountains, or pools.  I recommend mulching the leaves where they lay, but what about the ones which have strayed to places where they should not lay — roofs, walkways, roadways, barns, waterways.  If the leaves must be handled, can one deal with them as a collective or one-on-one?

Some people refer to the activities as leaf collection, which may signal a mistaken belief that there is a collective, one-size-fits-all, easy answer.

We pay a price for those winter etchings against the sky, those springtime blossoms, that summer greenscape, the technicolor of Autumn, the holiday platform for the twinkling lights.

Think of this annual chore as the rent you pay to Mother Nature.  You must deal with the leaves one-on-one.  Maybe that will allow you to appreciate the wide range of beauty in every leaf.

— Kilgore Forelle

Open This Content

Civil War

Nobody asked but …

The Washington Examiner recently ran a piece headlined “Battleground: 7 in 10 say US ‘on the edge of civil war’.”  The following was contained therein:

“The majority of Americans believe that we are two-thirds of the way to being on the edge of civil war. That to me is a very pessimistic place,” said Mo Elleithee, the executive director of Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service.

This seems to me to be rampant fear-mongering, but I cannot tell who is mongering whom.  Elleithee is from the left side of the Nolan Chart, while the Examiner is from the right.

Adding to the cacophonous confusion are the pronouncements of

I noticed while doing a Google search, that recent warnings of civil war are not novel.  The above characters, and others of the same stripe, can be counted upon to cry “wolf! frequently.

— Kilgore Forelle

Open This Content

Doubly-Damned Lies II

Nobody asked but …

More observations on government statistics, government info, and government data:

  • When I shared the previous effort, Doubly-Damned Lies, there were objections … predictably.
  • I was given the example of homelessness in the Bahamas, as the result of the recent hurricane. The claim was implicitly made that statistics would somehow make a factual situation better,  that facts organized into appropriate knowledge would indicate a bright line along the path which should be taken.  But, is there a statistical, one-size-fits-all?  Why not let the facts speak directly to each case at hand?
  • Some statistical treatment of emergency situations, however, may shed light on the problem.  There is the case, documented by Edward Tufte, about how epidemiology made a giant step forward.  In this case, the statistician immersed himself in the environment of the facts, and the design of the research was ad hoc.
  • Cyclical statistical report formats become artifacts of some historical set of facts.  They become institutions which preserve some status quo.
  • There is always the danger that statistics published with good intent will be ill-used by others with ill intent.
  • We are exposed to the damages of statistical treatment poorly designed.  Every statistical investigation must be designed by designers with pre-existing biases.  Do these biases affect the outcomes?  For examples, I heartily recommend two books recently read, The Mismeasure of Man, by Stephen Jay Gould, and Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely.

— Kilgore Forelle

Open This Content

Doubly-Damned Lies

Nobody asked but …

Here is what Wikipedia has to say about lies, damned lies , and statistics:

Mark Twain popularized the saying in Chapters from My Autobiography, published in the North American Review in 1907. “Figures often beguile me,” he wrote, “particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: ‘There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.'”[2]

Alternative attributions include, among many others (for example Walter Bagehot and Arthur James Balfour) the radical English journalist and politician Henry Du Pré Labouchère (1831–1912), Jervoise Athelstane Baines,[3] and British politician and man of letters Leonard H. Courtney, who used the phrase in 1895 and two years later became president of the Royal Statistical Society. Courtney is quoted by Baines (1896) as attributing the phrase to a “wise statesman”,[4] but he may have been referring to a future statesman rather than a past one.[5] The phrase has also been attributed to Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington.[6][7]

Edward Tufte, a master statistician, said, “It is straightforward for me to be ethical, responsible, and kind-hearted because I have the resources to support that.”  But it takes more, because too often, too many people with resources choose exploitation, irresponsibility, and mean-spiritedness to gain more resources, pointedly those of power.

I have begun to get the impression that the actual cost of living is not accurately reflected in government-produced statistical indices.  I have spent hours perusing the federal presentation of statistics.  The amount of data is stupendous, but I can’t tell you where it begins and ends.  The amount of information that you get from that data is unknowable.  Part of the problem is that there is no verifiable central repository, and even if there were, the configuration would evolve from moment to moment.  There is no reliable standard for answering the questions about who, what, when, where, why, and how (process, how much, how many, etc.)  There are no conceptual handles for grasping the associations and relationships among the data.  It is a miasma.  It is a sargasso sea of loose ends.  I now understand how the Pentagon could lose trillions, or why we will never know how much particular programs cost, or why boondoggles are endless.  If the government does accounting like it does everything else, why are we keeping score?

— Kilgore Forelle

Open This Content

Erratic Behavior

Nobody asked but …

Isn’t it odd when someone known for erratic behavior erratically does something with which an observer agrees, suddenly that erratic behavior becomes the mark of “stable genius?”  On the other hand, the action becomes betrayal.  Check out Senator Lindsey Graham, for instance.

Well the bad news is that there has never been a POTUS who was not a consistent warmonger.  The very nature of the office demands it.  There have been 45 warmongers, but some worse than others.  The good news is that the office of POTUS is on a path of self-destruction.  The path of civilization leads from authoritarianism toward laissez-faire.  A human being, a social animal of breadth and depth, does not need to relegate choice and responsibility to a fictional leader.

— Kilgore Forelle

Open This Content