How This Paris Boy Became an American Scholar (Plus a Disquisition on Language Learning)

Here is another escapist story. If the autobiographical genre annoys you, I don’t blame you and don’t read this story.

First of all, don’t wince or grimace. I just said “scholar,” not “eminent scholar,” nor “famous scholar,” not even “respected scholar.” It’s just a descriptive term; the word describes much of what I did for a living. Period.

I grew up on the unglamorous east side of Paris where visitors never go, or didn’t then. My family’s apartment was in a government subsidized project. It was really a project but a good one, well built, well maintained, with central heating and full bathrooms, but no elevators. Graffiti had not been invented yet. I shared a room with two brothers. There was only enough space for one small desk, an important detail in my story.

My family was not poor but it definitely wasn’t rich. Everyone was unimaginably poor in the forties and fifties by the standard of 2022 anyway but, fortunately, we didn’t know what 2022 would be like. France was in a period of economic expansion for much of the time I was growing up. We could almost feel the tide that was going to raise our boats too. We did not have phone service but we never went hungry; we had good medical care. (I did realize though until the French Navy clothed me that I had been cold every winter of my childhood and youth. It was normal.)

And then, there were the schools. It seems to me, seventy years later, that the elementary schools did a more than adequate job. I am guessing that almost all of us came out reading, writing and doing a little more than basic math (including trigonometry). Elementary education was adequate and more for people who were going, in their vast majority, to rise but modestly in the social scale of the time. I seem to recall that half my fellow students quit school at fourteen to become apprentices. The rest -including my three sibling – went on to a variety of schools, many of them more or less vocational. Not me.

When I was twelve, a miracle happened in my family. I passed an exam that got me accepted in a respected, prestigious academic school in central Paris (Lycée Condorcet). It was a combined junior high and high school It’s hard to explain to Americans but it was a public school; there was no tuition. It was a feeder school for the best French universities. Many famous people were alumni. Few children from my part of Paris made it there. (In fact, I never met one in six years.)

As you might guess, there was a social class aspect to this respectability although it was a free public school. I would guess that as many as two thirds of the students there came from bourgeois families, as conventionally defined. Their parents were top managers in big corporations, attorneys for same, or they owned one, or they were doctors, and high-level engineers. (I know quite a bit about those bourgeois kids because around age 14, I began going to parties at their apartments where I discovered wall-to-wall carpeting.) There was even a sprinkling of foreign kids whose parents were diplomats. Some of the bourgeois kids came from private elementary schools; many more came from public schools that were just better then mine that, perhaps, maintained higher standards. Their home environment was probably more propitious to studying in ways that I still don’t understand well. After all my own home environment favored and rewarded studying hard and getting good grades and even “prizes” at the end of the year.* (But maybe, they each had their own desk where they could stack up their books.)

So, at twelve, I had pretty much the run of Paris by subway because the school was far from where I lived. It was good for my maturation. Classes began at 8:30 five days a week, they ended at 11:30 then, began again at 1 to finish at 4:30 four days a week . We had lunch at school. On Wednesday, or Thursday, there was no class at all. There was school on Saturday but only in the morning. On full school days, I chose to stay after class at study hall until 6 or 6:30. That added up to eight hours or more inside the walls of the school, a long time for a young boy.

The study hall was a large single room with ten rows of desks. It served without distinction students from age 12 to 18. You could do pretty much what you wanted in study hall except that you were not allowed to make noise because it might disturb others who were actually studying. So, no talking allowed. For three, or maybe four years, study hall was nearly always proctored by the same man. He was apparently qualified to teach English but he was not part of the faculty. In that elite school, it was not enough to be formally and practically qualified, you had to carry prestige or, at least, the seed of prestige in your attaché case. I think most or all of my instructors had achieved a scholarly degree pretty close to a PhD (“l’aggréegation”). My Spanish professor did not have one but he was a ranking Spanish Republican refugee. My first math instructor possessed that degree and he was also a well published author of fiction. My second geography professor was an expert on American science fiction. And so on.

The study hall proctor was the nicest of men whose function put him in a difficult position: Sometimes, he had to discipline students. As far as I now, he had only one punishment. He made you copy the three main forms of English irregular verbs: “go, went, gone.” How many verbs you had to copy depended on the depravity of your transgression: twenty verbs, fifty verbs, uncommonly, one hundred verbs. After so many hours at school and, perhaps, I was hungry, had low blood sugar, I did not maintain the silence discipline very well. In the course of several years, I must have copied five times three hundred irregular English verbs. Somehow, I did not mind. A part of my brain was smarter than I. (Happens all the time if you pay attention.)

After my second year in that good school, my general performance began to slip. I am not sure exactly how it started but I became gradually disengaged from several disciplines. I often cut the corresponding classes. As befits an elite institution, my school operated on the basis of a loose, ill-defined honor system. It was such that my parents were never made aware of my delinquency. And, no, puberty did not particularly trouble me except for the fact that it took me a while to figure out whether girls liked boys who looked a lot like them or rather, hairy rough types with broad shoulders and even some acne. In those years, there were events and developments in my nuclear family that bothered me and distracted me and these may have played a role in my long and slow fall from academic grace. It started with math which became too difficult for me and on which I just gave up. Then, physics and then, chemistry also dropped off my radar. No one said anything, in part because I was earning the equivalent of straight As in French, later in Spanish and, of course, in English. I was also doing quite well in History and in Geography. I was thus an excellent student to half the instructors; that was good enough for the other half.

Things went from bad to worse. It did not help that when I was seventeen, I had a hot hot girlfriend. She had many assets. One of those was that both her parents weren’t home one day of the week. That was a day when physics and chemistry were scheduled. Of course, I cut school on that day! What would you have me do? In those times, there was a high school graduation exam that also served as an admission ticket to most universities. The exam was then difficult and deliberately selective. I went to take the exam like a sheep to the slaughter. I failed, of course but with excellent grades in History, in French, in Spanish and… in English. I repeated a senior class in high school with the same predictable outcome. In the France of then, it was like social death. I had not been apprenticed to a pork butcher, or attended a graphics high school like my older brother and my younger brother. I had nothing. I was no one.

By some concourse of circumstances right out of a reverse morality tale, about the same time, I received a scholarship to spend one year in high school in California. It was a merit scholarship. I hightailed it to the US. There, I did quite well. I spoke English badly but I understood everything. If I had not been blinded by the humility surprisingly common among young men, I would have noticed that I wrote English better than many of my American classmates. In California, I noticed with interest the wonderful American institution of the community college where just about anyone can go in and the good ones come out to transfer to a real university. So, yes, in case you are counting, I spent three years total as a senior in high school. Nothing to brag about, really!

Fast forward: I am twenty-one and about to be released from the French Navy into which I had been drafted. I have no skills, no particular revealed talent, no diploma, no nothing. I apply for a visa to go and study in a California junior college near where I had spent a year. Long story short: At the community college, I discover I am a late bloomer. I do well, better than well, in fact. I win a full tuition scholarship to Stanford where I transfer as a junior. I do well there too. After graduating in four years flat, I go back to France for a year to work in a very good job, in urban planning. There, I decide I want to study some more. I apply to graduate school, also at Stanford. I get accepted with full tuition fellowship and a stipend.

I performed well in graduate school also, in large part because I could write well. I earned a PhD. A fairly normal and quite respectable academic career followed. (Go ahead, Google me.) The fact that I wrote well and easily had everything to do with the good course of my academic research. My writing made me attractive to others with research skills far superior to mine. They recruited me eagerly throughout. I became a member of star research teams without striving, or even trying. I was very productive with the other guys. I might not have been otherwise. Hard to tell: I only have one single authored scholarly article. It has had a very long shelf life but still, that’s only one.

What does this have to do with my French high school study hall proctor, you might ask at this point? Well, it does; bear with me. Remember that nearly all of my scholarly career took place in a language other than my native tongue. As an immigrant in polyglot and multicultural California, I became well aware of the struggles of diverse categories of immigrants to operate in a foreign language: English. A teacher for thirty years, I also witnessed at close range the struggle of hundreds of US-born college students to learn languages other than English, mostly Spanish and French. I also saw several of my fellow professors try and fail. As a matter of fact, other than teachers of modern languages, I only ever met one (1) Anglo reared in the US who had mastered a foreign language. (The language instructors I encountered were all competent.)

I had many occasions to ask myself: What do the students who fail to learn a language (beyond knowing how to ask for more beer), the monolingual Mexican immigrants who earn half of what they otherwise would, and my few colleagues who tried in vain, have in common? The answer came to me a little at a time and then, it became blindingly clear: They failed to clamber over the wall of irregular verbs conjugations. It’s simple: Those who do go on to learn everything else; who who don’t just give up, mostly forever.

But now, a digression. I am completely convinced that, contrary to an idea that is very widespread in the USA, living in the country of the language one studies is not a necessary precondition to learning it nor is it a miracle cure for monolingualism. If it were, immigrants would learn quickly the

language of the country where they live. In fact, few if any learn it without formal schooling. And, I hate to tell you, college parents, but your children’s expensive “study abroad” stays almost never bear that particular kind of fruit. (they may be useful in other respects.) Your children never come back “fluent in _____,” whatever “fluent” means. How do I know? I interviewed dozens, perhaps hundreds of them (over thirty years) in the weeks and months following their return. None of them could ever say, “If I had known it was going to be like this, I wouldn’t have gone.” None! (“Si j’avais su que cela allait être comme ça, je n’y serais pas allé.” “Si hubiera sabido que hubiera sido asi, no hubiera ido.”) None!

The main, all-important reason people fail to learn a foreign language is that they give up when the time comes to master more than handful of irregular verbs, or even earlier. Here are two natural and fully representative examples; you may notice that they are about verbs everyone uses in everyday life:

Spanish: Verb to go: Ir

Present: Yo voy

Tu vas

El va (You formal address: Usted va)

Nosotros vamos

Vosotros vais (You, plural)

Ellos van (Ustedes van)

Simple past: Yo fuí

Tu fuíste

El fue (Usted fue) Watch the spelling!

Nosotros fuímos

Vosotros fuísteis

Ellos fueron (Usted fueron)

French: Verb to be: Être

Present Je suis

Tu es

Il est

Nous sommes

Vous êtes

Ils sont

Well, you get the idea!

In summary: There is no articulate sentence without a verb. Verbs have to be conjugated, person by person (I, you, he). In European languages, there are tenses to indicate timing (I am, I was, I will be). If you don’t control both person and tense you can often still communicate but it will be at the level of a five-year-old: “I go yesterday.” That is neither encouraging nor rewarding for adults. It’s also quite limiting.

Now, in my dotage, I think back at my early life. If my study hall proctor in Paris had been a less mild man, he would have imposed a less fruitful punishment; I wouldn’t be an American scholar. If I had been more disciplined, he wouldn’t have had occasion to punish me the way he did; I wouldn’t be an American scholar. If I had been worse, he would have had me expelled from study hall; I wouldn’t be an American scholar. If the boys room in our small apartment in Paris had been larger, I might have had my own desk; I would then probably not have attended study hall; I wouldn’t then be an American scholar. Go figure!

Sometimes though, I can’t help but feel some regret. I am pretty sure I would have made a really good pork butcher. I think I would have been an inspired designer of esoteric pâtés, for example. That’s if my parents had not blindly pushed me toward a classical education. That’s if that study hall proctor had not meddled in my destiny!

© Jacques Delacroix 2022

* In the 1940s, at the end of each school year, the best students in each class of 30-40, were ranked. h Those best students,perhaps 1st to 6, st –received a prize in a formal ceremony everyone else hated. The prizes were well chosen books. Books were still expensive then. Once, I received the French translation of Gulliver’s Travels. (Just bragging.)

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A Bloody Hawaiian Paradise

I have been away from this blog because I was busy with politics on Facebook (my bad). Also, I have been struggling to produce a new book. It’s a collection of stories:”Astonishing Women.” Wish me luck. Below is another story not in that collection. It’s an escapist story, of course. Don’t we need one, right now?

I am moving idly on the surface looking for I don’t know what. I am in the ocean, at the bottom of a cliff close to my house near Hilo on the big island of Hawaii. At that time, I have under my belt (weight belt, of course) ten years of intense diving in the cold, murky waters of California, and a little less in the warm, clear waters of Mexico. Here is an important detail: I am a free diver; I go down holding my breath. Scuba (based compressed air tanks) is kind of wimpy and it involves too much equipment that will distract you from your real goal. The real goal is catching something good to eat, of course. I don’t want to sound like I am bragging but OK, I don’t really care so, here goes: I have become such a proficient spear fisherman that I rely entirely on a sling, a long, light aluminum handle with a steel trident at one end and a strong rubber loop at the other. It’s a far cry from a spear gun. The sling requires that you get real close to the prey.

On that day, I am just exploring. I am new to Hawaii and the spot I have chosen is not promising by conventional standards. It’s just close to the house I am renting. There is plenty of sea life in the fairly opaque water but nothing to get excited about. I notice a surfer in the water. I can tell from afar that he is a brown skinned native Hawaiian. Soon, he is gliding by me shouting something. I did not catch what he said but I guessed that he was yelling at me to get the f… out of his way. He told me later, on land, that he had come by to re-assure me, to tell me that there was a big shark in the water nearby but that he had talked to the shark and asked him to leave me alone. He also said he knew I would be fine because his family had the same shark as a clan totem, and thus, he had influence. When he told me all this, I don’t know if he was in earnest or he he was putting me on. I have to admit that with the constant flux and re-flux of naive continentals, haoles, on his island, the temptation must have been great. Whatever the case, I forgive him and the fact is that I was not bothered by any shark.

I swim away in another direction and soon find myself in a patch of clear water where I can see the bottom. I dive down to explore some scree of fallen rocks, the kind of formation that provides hiding places for sea creatures. Sure enough, on the third dive, I make it to the bottom and look under a rock where a large gray pointy mouth with beady eyes on both sides faces me. It’s so big that at first, I don’t recognize what it is. And yes, I know, I am beginning to sound like a typical fisherman; so be it! Back on the surface, I catch my breath and my train of thought and I realize there is a conger eel in that hole, a big one. I have caught conger in France before but the size of that tropical specimen has thrown me off. I arm the rubber band on my spear, drop down head first and shoot the fish right in the mouth. It convulses wildly but, in the process gets out of its hole. I swim up vigorously holding the spear straight up with the eel writhing wildly on it. Fortunately, the water depth is modest and the shore close. I land on a grassy edge of the water and there, I am afraid, put the poor conger out of its misery with a large rock.

More fish story: The largest conger eels ever caught according to Google weighed 300lbs; it was taken by net. Mine wasn’t even close to that because I was able to half-carry it, half-drag it up the cliff to where my pick-up truck was parked. I observed that it was a little longer than I was tall, maybe six feet. I guessed that its weight may have approximated mine, 180 lbs at the time, or perhaps less. Anyway, I drive the few minutes to my house. I had just rented it a couple of days before. A newcomer to Hawaii, I had resisted the temptation of the small, expensive condos lining the lagoon that borders the south face of the small city of Hilo. I am on a teaching sting, not well paid enough for such luxury and anyway, my adventurer’s heart has told me there must be more interesting housing arrangements. Guided by a local young man, a student, I ended up renting a big house in a plantation village ten miles from downtown. My house had been used to shelter cane cutters in the days when there were still many cane cutters. Then, the sugar industry quickly mechanized and the houses became useless almost overnight. An adventurous Filipino immigrant had bought one as a rental. My new home has six bedrooms arranged along a central corridor, a big kitchen, and a toilet. The shower is in a separate hut outside. My house is one of twelve or so disposed around an oval dirt path surrounding a grassy area where kids play baseball.

I have not yet met any of the adults in the settlement but like everywhere, children have the run of outside and of much of inside. As soon as I park in front of my house, a swarm of kids surrounds my truck. When they spot the big conger eel in the back, there are many shouts, most in their dialect I do not understand. Two ten-year-old run to another house all excited. Shortly afterwards, an old lady comes out of the same house carrying a hatchet. She crosses the grass to my truck and without a word, without even looking at me, opens the back-gate and instructs several children to carry the big fish next to a log stump nearby. When this is done she proceeds to hack the fish, my fish, into a dozen of so chunks. The chunk she leaves for me is plenty enough. The kids all run home carrying big pieces of my big fish in recycled vegetable plastic bags the old lady has brought along. I am so stupefied, I have no idea what to say. Yet, since I am already somewhat of a social scientist at the time, I recognize that I have witnessed a demo of what Karl Marx has called “primitive communism.” OK, I know, I know, there isn’t much to this story so far but wait, I am going somewhere with it.

The conger eel’s flesh is dense and a little flaky. It tastes very good. It’s reminiscent of lobster if you don’t overcook it. I eat a big piece parboiled for dinner, hot, with rice. I have more, cold, with pineapple from the backyard, for lunch the next day. (I had to resort to pineapple because I couldn’t remember how to prepare from scratch the mayonnaise the cold conger was entitled to by French right.)

The next day is a Friday. Around six, two men in their late twenties knock at my door. One is the normal mixed brownish color common on the Big Island. The other has flaming blond hair and green eyes. (He is a descendant of the many Portuguese imported from the Azores to cut cane, after the Chinese and the Japanese and before the current Filipino immigration. Detour on Hawaii’s demographic history: The island’s planters kept bringing in people from different parts of the world for the arduous job of cutting cane. Every group’s children snubbed the cane fields and the planter had to try again with another group.) Both guys say hello. One begins talking to me in a dialect I do not understand well. At any rate, I gather that they have come to invite me to go hunting the next day. They will pick me up at 5 am sharp. I know it’s “sharp” because the guy keeps hitting his wristwatch with his index finger. I do not know anything about hunting in Hawaii but I am game pretty much for any game.

In the morning, I am up and waiting with my first cup of coffee and a piece of bread inside of me. I am wearing strong shoes and a thick shirt, with jeans. I am holding the shotgun I have brought to Hawaii on the off-chance I will be able to hunt birds with my gifted Labrador. A big SUV rolls by and stops. The guy from the day before comes out. He barely says “Hi”, and mentions to me to return the shotgun inside the house. He hands me instead a nice, visibly well oiled rifle. He spends all of two minutes making sure that I know how to load and unload the gun and how to put on the safety. We get into the car where two other guys are waiting, including Blondie. They all say “Hi.” We take off toward the top of the volcano. Twenty minutes later, I still don’t know what I am going hunting for. So, I ask and it turns out one of the others speaks standard English. “Goat” he says, “feral goat.” I am a man of immense culture so, I remember that “feral” designates animals once domesticated that have returned to the wild. But, “goats” ? To me, they are kind of nice animals living near a farm from which one gets goat cheese. I am perplexed but I say nothing.

After thirty minutes or so, we stop and get out. There are two dogs with us. We walk and stop, walk and stop in the foothills that line the volcano. Few words are exchanged. The dogs, nose to the ground, seem to be searching in vain. Then one guy swears softly. We are on the edge of a sort of shallow valley. The hill on its other side is one large meadow. There, right there, on that the side, is a herd of ten or twelve goats. There is more muttering from which I gather that the animals are too far to shoot and that there is no way to approach them without being seen, heard, or smelled. The others begin to turn away with more swearing. I don’t know the rules so, I tell myself, “Why not?” I stop, click a shell into the barrel, shoulder, aim at a white goat, easily the most visible, and shoot. The animal goes down, the others flee uphill.

The other guys turn back and more swearing erupts, loud swearing, this time. We all run across the little valley to go up and retrieve the white goat. What can I say? Beginner’s luck, probably but still, I am in good health, I have perfect vision, I am steady on my feet, I don’t get excited easily, I know enough to press the trigger slowly and steadily. (Believe it or not, I had a bit of training, in the French Navy, of all places.) I was good in California at taking down ducks and geese in flight with a shotgun. So, there is a chance I am a good rifle shot who does not yet know it. And, in case you are wondering: My companions are not spiteful; they seem glad to not have to go home empty-handed. It seems they hunt for the larder rather than for the glory. My goat is good and dead with a bullet through the chest. In twenty minutes, my buddies have gutted, dressed and quartered the animal and apportioned it to the plastic garbage bags they have brought along. I ask for the pelt but they tell me it has too much lice.

Back at the village, I receive my share, more than enough for me alone. For lack of more culinary knowledge, I barbecue it the next day. I am a Paris boy, after all; where would I have learned to cook goat meat? I wouldn’t even know people ate goat if I were not such an eclectic reader. Anyway, several children invite themselves and bring their own Coke. The meat is pretty good, tough but tasty, kind of gamy. Afterwards, I have to nap in my hammock outside, overwhelmed as one can be after gorging on large quantities of animal protein.

Life goes on; I teach my classes during the week but the next Friday, the same guys come to invite me to hunt. This time, I ask point-blank what we are going for. My brain is getting used to the Hawaiian dialect but I can’t believe the answer: Tomorrow, we are going for feral sheep. Part of me is a little worried at this mention of yet another farm animal. What is it going to be the next time around, feral donkey? We drive to another part of the volcano early the next morning. Long story short: We kill two small brown sheep. The second is downed by two shots. I am pretty sure mine was the first shot but I don’t make an issue of it (obviously!) This time, I get a whole hind leg. I invite two of my university acquaintances from the mainland – fellow haoles – to join me the next day. I bake the meat the way I would any leg of lamb. It smells strongly but it has more fat than the goat did. I enjoy myself. My guests less so. They are a little too effete for the experience, it seems. They think of meat as coming wrapped in cellophane. It doesn’t matter; we have plenty of beer and they brought dessert. They are at least intrigued.

The next weekend, two older men invite me to go fishing with them. They tell me they can lend me a rod but that I am welcome to try to spear fish in their area. We leave the village at a decent hour in their four-wheel drive, go a short distance on a dirt road near the shore and then, straight cross-country. I have never done this before. We ride over big boulders and muddy areas at the speed of a man’s pace. It’s uncomfortable and worrisome but the old dudes obviously know what they are doing. Finally, we stop in a clearing on the edge of a low cliff. The men lay out their gear while I put on my light wetsuit. Once in the extremely clear water, holding my thin spear, the thought strikes me that probably no one ever has dived in this spot, never, ever! It’s a warm feeling. There are plenty of fish around, including giant multicolored parrot fish with protruding rabbit teeth, that must taste awful but also several species I know to be edible. A part of my brain tells me this is a time for exploring, not for bagging ordinary fish. I go up and down looking under rock formations when I am down. (Remember that I am free diving, diving on my own air.) After an hour, I have caught three nice sized spiny lobsters (with small claws, langoustes, langostas.) They are difficult to see in the penumbra under rocks because, unlike the reddish California and Caribbean lobsters’, their carapace is dark blue and yellow mottled.

I am also bringing back a cowrie the size of my fist. It’s sitting on my desk as I write. It’s not different from one you would find in any good curios shop yet, it almost cost me my life (another story). The old guys have caught by hook and line all the fish they wanted. We drive home slowly. They give me some fish, I give each a lobster. They protest energetically, which suggests that lobster is not often on Hawaiians’ menus. I eat the third lobster by myself, like the pig I am!

Speaking of diet, at the time, I am diving several times a week. Sometimes, I even spear fish between classes. Actually, I bring home a lot of fish that I usually share in the village. Having been reared in surprisingly cold and rainy Paris, I enjoy a lot tropical living. The water where I dive is often warm and clear. I love picking a banana off my own tree every morning before breakfast, and the super-ripe pineapples the landlord sends my way every other day. I collect easily four or five kilos of ripe wild guavas whenever I want just stopping my car on the side of the road on my way to work. Everything is expensive in Hawaii but I don’t buy much, just gasoline to go to work and to explore the island a bit, also rice, bread and beer, and coffee. (The locally grown coffee – Kona – is the best in the world, I think. Of course, I can’t afford it.) I eat mostly fish and wild meat, and the occasional small lobster, with a little rice and fresh fruits from around the village. I am in the best shape in my life.

But, soon and with regrets, I am preparing to leave. I actually want to stay in Hawaii for at least one year but my doctoral dissertation is stuck and there is a nasty divorce coming over the horizon. I just have to return to California where I have lived for most of fifteen years. I have a plane ticket for a Wednesday. On my last Friday in the village, my buddies show up to invite me to go hog hunting. Of course, it’s feral hog! The wild boar of Asia and Europe does note exist in the Pacific. The Polynesians who first settled the Hawaiians islands brought small domesticated pigs on their giant canoes. They must have fed them coconut flesh and fish leftovers on the long journey from Tahiti. Some pigs escaped and established themselves happily in the Hawaiian fruit-rich bush. There, they grew in size and grew and grew and they have never stopped growing. Now, they tend to be huge.

We leave earlier in the morning than usual, when it’s still dark. Today is different. No one hands me a rifle so, I go back inside and grab my shotgun. “Don’t take it,” one guy says. There are three SUVs this time. Astoundingly, in each one are a man or two and six or seven dogs of all kinds and sizes. There is even a large, blond French poodle. I recognize only two dogs from around the village. We drive to another area of the volcano, one covered by old lava and exposed to weather so it’s almost forested. As soon as we stop, the dogs are let out. I notice vaguely that still, no one is carrying a firearm. I am puzzled, but it’s my place to observe and learn, not to question. Within a few minutes, a dog gives voice and the whole pack leaves off barking and running in the same direction except two that seem too busy to sniff the ground to join in. All the men follow the pack. Fortunately, we are running almost all downhill on the uneven ground.

In a short while, the dogs sound louder and we join them in a sort of natural circus. They have a pig trapped there against a lava wall. It’s a big black beast with a huge head. The dogs keep it harried so it does not pay the several of us men much attention. Our leader pulls a long knife off his belt and hands it to me. “Are you out of your mind?” I shout. He shrugs lightly and walks forward, kneeing the dogs out of his way. He steps straight to the hog and cuts its throat in a single swift gesture. The blood spurts; the dogs surge forward to get a taste. I catch my breath and examine the animal. I am transfixed by the double set of curved teeth jutting out of its mouth, like in the movies. The guys let the dogs lick the fresh blood for a while then, they kick them out of the way to begin doing what needs to be done. In less than a half hour, the beast is gutted, skinned and butchered; the meat is neatly divided into five black plastic garbage bags for each of us to carry up the hill. When we get back to the cars, the dogs that had stayed behind are nowhere to be seen. We just abandon them as we hustle the other dogs back into the vehicles.

Back in the village, I get my largely unearned share in the form of what looks like a big roast. My hunting buddies have noticed my interest in the set of curved teeth and they sort of know I am leaving. So, they hand me today’s trophy in the form of a lower jaw with four curved fangs still in. I still have to ask them about the mysterious thing appeared out of nowhere, a ready-made hunting dogs pack, although I have already half guessed. It turns out that whenever they want to go hunting for hog, the preceding Friday night, the guys visit their buddies who are in charge of the dog pound. Now, it’s a special dog pound. It does not hold stray dogs captured on the streets. Nobody cares about stray dogs in Hawaii. (It’s America but also the Third World, then.) Instead, the municipal/county pound houses dozens of dogs at one time that are in quarantine while their owners prepare to join them from somewhere or other on the mainland. (My own Labrador had spent two months there, I believe, at great expense to me. Somehow, she got pregnant there. Another story.) So, as it happens, the inventive islanders have developed a system whereas impounded dogs can be paroled for a weekend. The hunters pay a small fee and take charge of however many dogs they can transport. The hunters return the dogs on Monday morning. The pound supervisors get an income supplement; the hunters have an instant pack they couldn’t possible support; the dogs no doubt enjoy the vacation. How about the owners who are paying through the nose for their dogs’ maintenance? Well, what they don’t know can’t hurt them. There is still the small matter of the dogs who got lost on the volcano. Well, they must be declared dead of cardiac arrest. Their owners will get another pet and recover eventually.

Back home, I rub whatever I have on the roast, including Coke in addition to salt and pepper and I place it the oven at moderate heat. Then I roll up my sleeves and consider the big pig jaw. Now, remember, I am a Paris boy. Not much prepares me for the task. I quickly figure out nonetheless that pliers are not the way to go because they might break the trophies. I figure that bone is softer than ivory so, I decide to boil the whole jaw. It stinks to high heaven but the jaw does seem to soften a little. I let it boil for ten hours, all windows open. My landlord is an amiable guy and tolerant. Plus, he says he is sorry to lose me. He would like me to come back. I eat the pig roast with a lady neighbor who brings cooked sweet potatoes. The roast is tough but tasty. The neighbor goes home with half of the remaining half, for her nephew, she says. The next morning, I repeat the stinky jaw softening operation for another five or six hours. Passers-by smile knowingly: haoles!

The Monday preceding the Wednesday when I am flying to California, I eye an old couple walking up the path toward my house. Somehow, they seem dressed up. I am puzzled, of course, but I go back inside. In minutes, there is a knock at my door. I open and the old Asian couple says good morning while bowing deeply, Japanese-style. (More than half of the population of Hawaii is of Japanese origin; at the time, some are even immigrants from before World War II.) I bid the old couple in, sit them down and ask them if they want coffee; they assent. They are silent while I boil the water and prepares the coffee. I have never met those people although I am not surprised they are neighbors. “I am Mr Yamoto,” says the old guy, “and this is my wife, Mrs Yamoto. We speak for the Japanese in Papaiku.” -Silence – “We heard that you are leaving, maybe. If it is true, we hope you will change your mind. If you do not, we hope you will return soon. You see, among us, we need sashimi all the time, for Christmas, for weddings, for birthday parties, for almost all occasions. The past couple of years, with the new big hotels opening downtown, we have not been able to get all the fresh fish we want. With all your spearfishing and all, we were hoping you could become our regular sashimi provider. We think it’s an honor but we would pay you well too.” I am instantly flattered like I have seldom been but also instantly saddened. I confirm that I am going back to California, unfortunately.

Then, the old lady pipes in with a voice I barely hear, “If you come back, we will make sure you are elected to [ ].” The last word eludes me but I get the drift. The Big Island has an exotic political system, a mixture of straight California political science design and of exotic Third World additions. The latter include a plethora of tiny elective positions that bring the incumbent some social honor and sometimes also a small stipend. I have gathered that it’s common for the factions to stand a haole for such elections as a convenient way to avoid direct clashes between the different ethnic groups. (I think the Japanese-Americans could probably win all the elections if they wanted to; they are careful not to.) I promise to write if and when I plan to come back. The old people get up to leave with contrite smiles.

On Tuesday morning, finally, I manage to pry all curved hog teeth from the softened jaw. I celebrate silently while I pack them carefully in plastic. Then, I go dig a hole in the backyard for the jaw. (Won’t 22nd century anthropologists be puzzled when they find the remains?) I have time to pack and take a long last swim in the warm Pacific. In the evening, some of my university colleagues give me a skeptical going-away party. They are skeptical because they don’t really believe I am leaving this job and this liefstyle for good. Half of them half think I will be back for the next semester. My boss is miffed because he had recruited me personally. He will have to recruit all over again. Sorry. On Wednesday, I am lucky to the end. As my plane lifts off, it’s raining heavily over Hilo which saves me from strong regrets at having to leave.

—————————-

Reel forward eight months. I am now living in Indiana where I have obtained a tenure-track position. Indiana wasn’t my first choice, being so far from any sea. But the university there has promised to help me solve a serious problem I have with the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service. (It will, eventually, yet another story.) In California, back from Hawaii, I had found lodgings in a converted wood water tank. (Would I make this up?) It belonged to an old black lady who treated me like her white pet. (Not complaining, here; could do worse.) Soon after arriving, I had looked for someone with drill bits small and hard enough to pierce my hog teeth. Then, I did the obvious and got a dentist to drill four neat holes in four minutes in return for an abalone dinner. Contrary to what you might think, I did not hang the trophies on a thin gold chain; I am too well-bred for this. Instead I threaded a fine, ordinary string through them and tied a square knot in the back to close the loop. As I was finishing my thesis, I allowed myself a handful of parties in town. Against my manly tanned chest, the necklace seemed to make an impression on some of the women, an animal impression, if I dare say so. Well, I had to leave for a real job. I don’t even remember what I lived off during those few months without a job.

My doctoral dissertation is in the can finally, not gloriously but not ignominiously either. I drove from California to Indiana in the same old pick-up truck, the truck of the conger eel. My smart Labrador went with me, of course. I hauled a small trailer across country with my five sticks of furniture. I began teaching almost before I could find my bearings. I found a place to live easily, a little out of town. The cost of living is low here. The local people are pleasant and polite. Still, the divorce has now rolled over unto my side of the horizon. I am saddened and alone. One evening, instead of driving straight home, I stop at Papa Bear’s for a drink. I meet someone who buys me a drink just because I am new in town; I reciprocate, of course. Several of his friends join us because it’s past six pm. One of the friends is pretty girl with a flared skirt. I happen to be wearing my hog tusks necklace that evening. (May have been premeditation; I don’t put it past me.) The new girl shows an interest in it and I tell her half the story. Of course, she thinks of Hawaii as impossibly exotic. She beams at me.

We have several more drinks. Then, I realize that everyone has left except the girl. She and I get even more drinks and we become cozy, thigh against thigh on our bar stools, with little kisses on the neck. The girl is in her early or mid-twenties. I can tell from her speech that she is not a student, or faculty member, but a local girl. Soon, I tell her it’s time for me to go home to feed my dog. I don’t exactly invite her but I explain to her how to reach my little duplex near the lake. The Hoosier girl makes it there right after me. (Yes, we drove drunk a lot in those days. The figures show that we also died a lot.) I am barely getting out of my clothes; I am hanging the hog tusks necklace on its nail in the bedroom when she comes through the door.

I don’t want to go into details because I sincerely hope this story is going to make it to Family Story Hour. Let’s just say we do what healthy young people will do when they are a little lonely and a little needy, and more than a little liquored up. We stop long enough to feed my dog, after all, and to make sandwiches for ourselves. She leaves early in the morning because she has to go home to prepare for work. We have exchanged neither vows, of course, nor phone numbers but it’s a small town and I have told her in what academic department I work at the university; and she knows where I live, obviously. She also knows the scar high on my left thigh. I wake up with a hangover, naturally. I get up for a remedial cup of coffee. Then, I take a shower, hot, cold, hot. When I re-enter my room to put on my clothes, I vaguely detect that something is a little bit off. Then, it hits me: The tusks necklace is not hanging from its nail above the bed. I look inside the bed and turn back the sheets. I look under the bed. Nothing! I have to face the obvious: The girl with the flared skirt has stolen my necklace.

The Hawaiian hog tusks have become a trophy for the second time. This time, the winner earned it fair and square (unlike me with the original win), if you know what I mean. In any event, I never bumped into the girl again, not at Papa Bear’s, not in any other bar, not at the small downtown, not on campus perchance. Her evil deed done, she has vanished into thin air. I recovered from the loss in the end. Nowadays, there is even a good spot in my heart where I think of her. I imagine that there is a sweet young girl in southern Indiana who received a baroque, primitive necklace made of curved animal teeth from her grandmother who was smiling warmly and knowingly as she handed it to her.

© Jacques Delacroix 2022

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The Night of the Long Knives, New York *

So, right now, it really looks like soon, Governor Mario Cuomo of New York State is going to fall from power and also from grace.

It also looks like what’s going to bring him down will be the complaints of eleven women who worked for him at various times or under his general authority. One alleges her that he grabbed her breast, which is clearly assault, in my book. One woman’s complaint is that he made her feel “uncomfortable.”** The stories reported on NPR, Fox News, and the Wall Street Journal about the governor’s words and actions amount to his being what used to be considered a bad boy.

I know, I know, Cuomo’s female targets – those mentioned in the media accounts and, I guess in the New York Attorney General’s report – were all in some way his subordinates. This makes a difference in the limited sense that this fact alone may have restricted the solution women have been using forever to avoid unwanted advances: moving away. Incidentally, “unwanted advances” is kind of a strange phrase. A man does not know if his advances are wanted or unwanted until he tries. That’s why they are called “advances.” Or, have I fallen so far behind the times that I don’t know that a man is now supposed to ask for permission to make “advances” ? (So confusing!)

So, no, I am not arguing that Mr Cuomo’s behavior toward female subordinates was just fine. I am just astonished at the order of offenses considered to dethrone him. Loutish, rude behavior, invasive behavior toward the other sex would rarely be the top item on my list if I argued for the removal of a duly elected official, for the cancellation of an honest election. (Incidentally, I am a Republican; I have no sympathy for the current Democratic Party, or for Mr Cuomo, that blowhard.)

I am impressed, though with the fact that a couple of short years ago, numerous influential female media commentators – all of whom are liberals, I think- were commenting favorably on Governor’s Cuomo new single status and thus, implicitly celebrating his sex appeal. (I am simply assuming here that when a powerless man in his early sixties separates from his girlfriend, few women media commentators salivate over the event. Tell me I am wrong!)

On 8/7-8 Peggy Noonan, as she often does – brought a little sanity to the endeavor of condemning Cuomo – in her Wall Street Journal Friday opeds. She placed Mr Cuomo’s trespasses in context in such a way that he appears to be not only a man who ignores ordinary boundaries of decency but, frankly, a nut. She even employed the word. By the way, I don’t always agree with Noonan’s opinions but I know her to be intellectually honest and her facts are always well researched.

Removing the governor of one of the largest and economically important states because he has lost touch with reality, that sounds to me like a reasonable thing to do. And this is not limited to governors of states, it goes for every elected official, at every level. But this is not the song the New York Democrat choir is singing. Instead, all the lyrics are about disrespect of women.

Completely aside from disrespect, possible abuse of power, and likely mental health consideration, there is also the small fact that Mr Cuomo is probably responsible for the death of hundreds if not thousands of old people as a result of his callous COVID policies. (For my overseas readers, he ordered to put back into retirement homes old people who were infected with the virus. It’s obvious that there, they had to infect other vulnerable old people, many of whom died.) Then, his administration tried to cover up the number of deaths resulting.

So, this is our contemporary moral order: Governor is responsible for the deaths of many: no big deal; he touched a woman subordinate’s breast, the back of a couple of others, and talked suggestively to even more women: End of the world!

The American women’s movement is demonstrating again that it’s frivolous, mean, and petty. A powerful man’ s groping hands and his loose mouth trigger mountains of vengeful indignation. When millions of Afghan girls are about to be taken out of school because the Taliban can’t stand to live around women who can read; American feminists have hardly a single a word to say in protest or commiseration.

The story of Democratic Governor Cuomo’s swift fall from power is so extraordinarily strange by the standards that prevailed only, say, ten years ago, and for one hundred years before that, that I simply can’t bring myself to believe the liberal media and the Democrats delivering it. I would really like to know what’s really going on. Please, refer back to the title of this short essay.

*If this title does not ring a bell, look it up in Wiki. You will be amazed!

** Once, I was blackballed for a job I wanted by a woman who said she would feel “uncomfortable” working in the same department as I. I had never flirted with her, never told off-color jokes in her presence, never touched her, not even her hand. I was professionally helpful to her a couple of times. She was an exceptionally plain woman. I have a story about this somewhere on my blog. I will link he it here if I remember its title.

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Awareness of Racism and Singing to the Choir

In the past few months, I have been exposed to more works by African Americans and to more documents about the black condition in America than usual. So far, I haven’t learned anything really new, perhaps because I am a sociologist by trade with an interest in slavery going back fifty years. All the same, I appreciate the refresher. This is a good point to warn that I am at odds with many of my fellow conservatives about the debt, if any the US, owes in connection with slavery and in connection with Jim Crow. (See: Systemic Racism: a Rationalist Take | Notes On Liberty ; and also, my shorter: The Great American Racial Awakening: A Conservative Approach (Part One) | FACTS MATTER (wordpress.com) I also insist that mine – insisting on the recognition of some sort of debt – is the true conservative position. This position in no way entails accepting passively everything the woke movement is telling us about current racism in America.

Recently, I watched almost all of the good PBS documentary “Driving while Black.” The first part illustrates well, with both many historical documents and the memories of older people, how African Americans used to travel with the help of special guidebooks designed to ensure they did not inadvertently find themselves in hostile territory. It was worse than traveling in a foreign country whose language you don’t know, it seems. (I did this myself in Croatia, in 1962, before mass tourism spread far and wide some knowledge of English.) It was a concerted collective effort to escape the consequences of explicit deliberate racist policies (as well as of widespread racist sentiment).

Then, the emphasis of the documentary shifts to the creation of the Interstate Freeway system. The narration comments on the fact that the development of the freeways involved the clearing out, the destruction of many local black communities, including their many Mom-and-Pop businesses. I am guessing there is no doubt it did. But the commentator keeps the topic closed as if the last had been said thus giving the impression that black communities were targeted for destruction out of racial prejudice (in thematic continuity with the first part of the documentary). Some may have been so targeted, or even all, but there is another explanation that makes racial prejudice a superfluous explanation.

One of the considerable, but variable costs of public way construction (roads and railways) is the expropriation of the land on which the public way is to stand. In many cases – that, I think, have rational technical explanations – the land to be expropriated is occupied by structures with commercial value. It’s common practice, and I would argue, good practice, to try as much as is possible to find a path that minimizes the cost of the relevant expropriations. (In the US, in the past 80 years, public pathways have been financed by the taxpayers. As a taxpayer, I wouldn’t want planners to deviate from this practice.) An unintended consequence of this rational practice is that black-owned and black-leased building are over-represented among those destroyed on the occasion of freeway building. No racism has to be involved though it may be.

This is just a prominent instance of a general, diffuse problem: Authors, journalists, politicians impute authoritatively a racist cause to inferior black outcomes where racism may or may not be involved. There is often not even a pretense of causal analysis, not even of merely mental analysis. The simply plausible magically becomes reality. Yet, it’s true that African Americans, more often than whites, often end up with the some of the worst jobs, some the worst commercial services, and as of lately (2021), even with some of the worst health outcomes.

It should be obvious that any of the above, and many other noxious outcomes, may be the pure products of mere poverty or of inferior education, or of both. African Americans are, in fact, poorer than average. So, before claiming that racism, or a systemically racist policy is at work, it would be logical to figure out if the bad outcomes may not be entirely explained by poverty. Saying the same thing in a different way: If whites in similar economic circumstances experience the same bad outcomes, or worse ones, the racial explanations are superfluous. Incidentally, racism could still be at work but it would appear much less self-evident to the general sympathetic public. It would happen like this: African Americans have the same high rate of diabetes as whites at the same education and economic level but, for the latter, diabetes is a product of poverty and ignorance, and for African Americans, it comes from poverty, ignorance, plus something else. See how credible such a statement would be. Or this: Poor whites lag in vaccinations because they also tend to be uneducated but equally poor and equally uneducated African Americans lag in vaccinations because of the racist treatment to which they are subjected.

Exploring this kind of issue, the relative weight of self evident factors in determining bad outcomes is comparatively easy. Such quest would rely on fairly available public data and on methods (multivariate analysis with econometric evaluation) that were already not new when I was pursuing a doctorate in the 1970s. There must be hundreds of sociologists and of economists equipped to conduct this kind of research in the USA. I am following multiple media in a haphazard manner, it’s true, though with a conservative bias, from the Wall Street Journal to internet trash. I do this every day for hours. Yet, I never bump into the fruits of such reasonably principled research. Of course, Stanford and Hoover Institution black economist Thomas Sowell has conducted just such analysis for many years but he is never cited by anyone to the left of dead center. Instead, his existence is sometimes acknowledged as that of beloved but slightly screwy old uncle who may even have passed on. In my book, the seeming absence in the public arena of reasoning guided or influenced by such obvious research should be enough to make one suspicious. I think this stream of public reasoning is being suppressed. (Please, go ahead and show me that it’s abundantly represented, via any media, contrary to my impression.)

Technical note: I hate to break the hearts of my possible liberal – and even progressive – readers but the following is correct: If proper analysis demonstrated that income level, level of wealth, and educational status together are not sufficient to account for inferior black outcomes, that would not be enough to pin the blame on racism, be it of a personal or systemic nature. This is another issue that’s being kept in the dark as far as I know.

The end of the documentary, “Driving While Black,” mentions briefly the possibility that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also destroyed thriving black communities. It did so by suddenly giving black shoppers attractive alternatives such as (then) Safeway. I am not sure how I would bet about this right now, as I write, but it’s possible to imagine that the Civil Rights Act was more destructive in this respect than the construction of the Interstate Freeway system. The documentary had the opportunity to raise the question. It did not. This good document would have gained immeasurably in intellectual credibility if it had. My impression is that currently, there are few critics of any race that would have the intestinal fortitude to do so. (Again, please, show me that my impression is wrong.)

I am concurrently reading a novel by a prolific African American author: The Son of Mr. Suleman, by Eric Jerome Dikey. First, it’s delightful novel and I enjoy every minute of it. The writing is effervescent even if it often verges on being in a language I don’t quite understand. (For me, it’s a bit like reading Portuguese, a language I have not studied but that is close enough to my own native French and to the Spanish that I have studied that I can usually make it out.) The reading is also a bit jarring for one strange, specific reason. The novel accomplishes with ease what good novels do: through action, dialogues, monologues, and disquisitions, they transport the reader into a world that he would otherwise likely not discover. In this case, the hero is a vigorous black man in his thirties plying his ill-defined trade in the second-rate academic venues of Memphis, Tennessee. Except for the academic setting, this is pretty far from this California old white man’s experience.

The jarring starts in the first few pages with a Trumpdetestation statement that appears utterly unrelated to anything beginning in the story. Thereafter, every so many pages, appears a politically, cliched affirmation about racism that ads nothing to the story. It’s as if the author felt like – or had been ordered to – assert with an imposed frequency, his membership in the mainstream of conventional African American struggle against racism. These interruptions are all the more ludicrous because, again, the normal course of the novel does a talented job of describing racism from the inside, so to speak. Bizarrely, the hero is being periodically sexually exploited by a rich, powerful, attractive, white, and, you guessed it, blonde woman. And, as one might almost expect, the hero blames his troubles mainly on racism. But the fact that he is an adjunct professor would be enough to explain his misery. Let me explain for my overseas readers: That’s a category of university faculty members who carry full course loads but are slated to never get tenure. (Yes, in American universities, tenure, “titularisation” is neither automatic nor a function of years taught. It’s competitive. It’s an “up-or-out” process. A teacher who does not win tenure has to find a job somewhere else.) In the last school were I taught, there were dozens of such adjunct personnel. They were all white. At any rate, in spite of all this, I warmly recommend this book.

At this point in the year, I am pleased to have been exposed to material on race relations that would normally not have been on my menu; nevertheless, I am struck by the many failures to take advantage of the situation to gain intellectual heft with other than whining and guilt-devoured white liberals. I suspect there is a convergent attempt, a cultural movement of the left, to remain vague in order to avoid revealing or admitting the obvious: that the past 60 years have seen enormous progress toward racial equality and justice in America. There was a chance to sing to other than the choir and it’s being largely wasted.

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My Pick-Up Truck and the Quality of Global Warming Reports

The struggle against climate change is making fast policy progress in the civilized world. It’s got to the point where I can foresee the authorities confiscating my good Toyota pick-up truck that has given me good service for eight years and continues to act just right. In California, they make no mystery of their intent to force me to replace it with a small electric sedan I won’t be able to afford. In the meantime, the same California is not able to guarantee enough electric power to keep my light bulbs lit 24/24; another story, obviously, a good one.

My problem is that I have not changed my stance on the credibility of the climate change narrative since I bought the truck. So, I feel tyrannized.

Recently, there was a long lasting, intense heat wave in the western United States where several people died of heat stroke. As I write, severe flooding seems to be ending in Germany in Belgium and in France. In the first country, at least one hundred people drowned.

Being a retired old guy, I listen to the media, or watch it, or read from it a good portion of the day. I do this daily, in at least, two languages, English and French. There isn’t a day in my life when I don’t hear heat waves, or floods, or this and that blamed on “climate change.” The media personalities and journalists who assert those links all have one thing in common: None possesses the credentials to judge whether such a link exists at all. Climate change ideology has spread so successfully that every Dick, Tom, and Harry with a B.A. in Communications (or less) feels free to pronounce on such causal relationships as if they were simply mentioning that the sun rises in the east. Well, it’s not like this at all, not by a long shot.

Before I go on, we need a reminder: I mean by “climate change: the narrative that includes all three statements below:

1 the climate is changing significantly in ways that affect people adversely;

2 this change is due to human activity and specifically the release of so-called “greenhouse gases,” (Human activity includes such things as manufacturing, reliance internal combustion engines, including in cars;cattle raising);

3 the adverse effects are such that we, collectively, need to address them right now.

Baselines Climate Change Advocates endlessly publicize: hottest year in 37 years, or most hurricanes in a period of two years since 1920, or highest tide since 1882. All such announcements are worthless and therefore misleading. There is no evidence of change without a baseline and the baseline has to make sense. It cannot be picked opportunistically, of course (as was done on the occasion of the “hockey stick” scandal; look it up). It cannot be selected mindlessly. Let me give you areal example. It may well be that the Greenland glaciers are melting unusually fast. And, of course, it could be a result of human caused global warming (oops, climate change). But, we know – because a noted environmentalist told us (Jared Diamond) – that the Norse inhabitants of Greenland were raising cattle there around 1100. You can’t do this today in Greenland because it’s too cold. So, if it was warmer there a thousand years ago, what’s left of the inference that it’s what happened in only the past 150 years of Industrial Revolution, etc (make it 160, 200, no matter) that produces the heat that melts glaciers? My point here is that what you infer from change observed from a bad d baseline is not only a little off; it’s simply wrong. Climate Change enthusiasts and passive believers alike do this all the time. They also don’t accept corrections based on a more reasonable baseline.

Measurements The Climate Change narrative is chronically plagued with measurement issues and downright falsehoods. If you want to tell me anything about the condition of my house and you begin with a statement to the effect that one wall has sunk by 240 inches without my noticing, you are done; I have no reason to listen to anything else you have to say. Be gone!

I don’t normally read scholarly research supporting the climate change narrative. I shouldn’t have to. I am just a citizen. If you want me to alter my life drastically, it’s up to you to give me good reasons in a language I can grasp without two or three doctorates (additional doctorates, in my case). I do read the reports made of it by non-scholarly sources that I think intellectually respectable. The Wall Street Journal is one. (More on this below.)

Here, there are two nested problems with ways to assess climate events commonly found in the media. People have a tendency to confirm what they hear by saying, Yes, it’s never been so hot, ever. The first problem is that when this is said, the reference is almost always to the person’s personal experience. That can seldom exceed 90 years, a period insufficient to cover anything blamed on the 150-plus years since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The second problem is that, obviously, almost everyone has bad memory and forgets events at random. Here is an example: When I was a small child, I remember distinctly newspaper photographs of the sea frozen in the English channel, together with one radio comment to the same effect. My siblings living at the same time in the same place, remember no such thing. They have forgotten or I have produced a fabricated memory. Either way….

Today’s Wall Street journal takes apart a more sophisticated kind of measurement fallacy, one committed by a fairly respected federal agency. ( Roger Pielke Jr, WSJ ; 7/17/-18/ 21; p. C4) The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that natural disasters causing one billion dollars of damage or more were seven times more numerous in 2020 than they were in 1980. The NOAA adjusted for inflation, of course. It did not compare 1980 dollars with 2020 dollar. Good enough, right? Not so. How much damage a given disaster causes depends on its severity but it also depends on how much is available to be damaged. There is incomparably more value to be obliterated today in American than there was in 1980. The same tornado occurring on the same day in the middle of the Sonora desert will cause much less damage than it would in Time Square, perhaps a million times less. That’s not a small error. The NOAA mistake is monumentally misleading. If you corrected for the amount available to be damaged, you migth find that there was actually seven times more destruction in 1980 than in 2020. (I am not accusing anyone, except of gross incompetence. It’s not all bad faith.)

To aggravate again the severity of my judgment is the fact that real scientists with real credentials almost never step out of the ivory tower to condemn publicly the thousands of false statements made in their name every day.

Things have not changed much in eight years with respect to credibility. I don’t have any reason to change my mind and to consider the narrative favorably because it has not improved in rigor or in accuracy. They may be able to tear me off the seat of my pick-up truck but that will not alter my judgment that the repression is based on snake oil merchandising and on primitive superstitions. Yes, you can quote me.

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Still here!

Folks, friends and enemies: I am neither dead nor incapacitated, I mean, no more than usual. It’s just that it’s summer; the beach is a mile away (right, no view.) I am working at putting together a collection of stories. The volume will be entitled: “Astonishing Women.” It’s all about women, a man’s view of women. Both meanings of the title apply to the contents. It’s an all clean book. (My wife and my mother are in it.) I have another collection of stories called “Indecent Stories for Decent Women” It’s under a pseudonym for the reasons you can imagine. Ask me.

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The Harem Pants

Here is a short short story. I plan to include it in a new book: “Astonishing Women.” Tell me what you think if you are so moved. You can’t make me cry by criticizing harshly. I am a married man and thus, immune.

It was market day. If you are a serious traveler, you never miss open air markets. They are invariably pleasurable as well as educational. All the female merchants there in that Turkish market, all from the interior of the country, were wearing broad, long, flowing, so-called “harem pants.” An older lady with gray hair showing crossed our path wearing such pants, silky ones, with a black on gray subtle motif my wife immediately liked. You know what to do, I told my wife. (A long time earlier, I had demonstrated to her that it was possible to buy a woman’ clothes off of her ten minutes after meeting her. That story is told elsewhere.) At first, she demurred.

I saluted the gray-haired lady and I expressed to her with gestures that my wife admired her pants. She took us to a stall that sold an inferior version of the same item. No, I insisted with a smile, she wants yours. To tell all, I was a little concerned that she might misunderstand me to be proposing to her that the three of us perform exotic acts together. But what we wanted soon seemed to dawn on her. I guessed she was a bit shocked but also intrigued. Soon, several other market women joined us, plus a little girl who had a bit of school English. When the female passel disappeared behind a truck, I discreetly walked away.

I walked around the market; I bought a brass pepper grinder to waste time. Then, I guessed to myself that my wife understood men well enough to find me, eventually. I made my way to the tea stall in the middle of the market. Soon, several wide-eyed boys surrounded me. Then, one at a time, older men joined me on the benches set out in the open. Each one of them offered me a cigarette and each tried to buy me a glass of tea. Seeing no toilet anywhere, I declined the tea each time with a big smile and a hand on my heart.

Are you married? One asked. How many children? Do you have pictures? Here are mine. And, finally: How old are you? I told the truth, as usual. One by one, they felt my biceps, then my thighs. I asked each politely one by one how old he was. As it happens, older Turkish men are all terrific liars, no exception. Men obviously in their early sixties would announce on their fingers: I am 83. I am 86. One said, I will be 95 next year. Then, they took turns blustering, I thought, I guessed, I imagined, about how good they looked for their age. It took all my willpower to refrain from challenging each and every one of the old bastards to an arm-wrestling match to teach them a little humility.

Subsequently, for the remainder of my stay, every mature Turkish man I met who was not trying to sell me a rug displayed precisely the same kind of loud vanity. I am suppose it keeps them young. It certainly beats the despicable Western custom of old geezers casually competing with each other about who has the worse health problems. Give me a braggart every time over a whiner!

Anyway, at some point, we got into the meat of things: American, yes? Yes, I confirmed. Bush? The oldest man asked with a raised eyebrow. I lifted my conservative thumb up. He replied immediately: Bush, good! Saddam… He drew his hand across his throat. Exactly! I confirmed eagerly. The American intervention in Iraq was about three months old then. Saddam Hussein was hiding in a dirt hole at the time. There were smiles all around.

The market was in a pretty seaside town. There were no American tourists in sight in the Near-East that summer. One old guy said to me, Tell the Americans to come back, please; these fucking European come here with three hundred Euros and they think they are kings. No, I don’t know any Turkish but I certainly caught the words “Americans,” “Europeans,” “Euros,” and,”sultan.” How do I know he used the expletive? Well, I can read faces.

An hour had passed pleasantly but I was vaguely, and only very slightly, worried about my wife. I did not think there was any danger, but was not like her to stay away because she is the kind of woman who gets periodically lost between our house, where we have lived for ten years, and the grocery store where she shops every week. I called over a couple of twelve year-old (who may have been really twenty-five, according to Turkish males’ general apprehension of temporal reality).

I borrowed a gold-plated fountain pen from one of the old men. On a paper bag, I drew a chesty female silhouette and pounded my own (flat) chest. Wife of mine, I said. My wife is from India. Hindi! I added. Everyone murmured favorably about my artistic talent.

One of many wonders of globalization is that all around the less-developed world many people know and love Bollywood movies. “Hindi” struck a chord. I gave the boys one million liras each and sent them searching, paper bag drawing in hand. (What with inflation, a million liras does not buy nearly as much as it used to!) I wished them well in my heart, hoping they would not get into trouble inspecting too closely the bosoms of all and every woman at the market.

I located my wife, eventually. She had traded the old lady’s used but beautiful harem pants against two new ones, plus one for each of three other women present at the negotiation, plus a whole outfit for the little girl who had acted as an interpreter. But the pants she had acquired were truly magnificent! (My wife has many wonderful qualities and enormous artistic talent but a wily bargainer, she is not.)

The transaction completed at last, she had failed to find me, she said. This, although I was right in the middle of the market, surrounded by a small but loud crowd. Instead, guided by some obscure female atavism, something probably hard-wired, against all precedents in her life, she had decided to walk back to the hotel by herself. She was in her fifties at the time. She has luxuriant gray hair but she was tall and thin, yet curvy. With the gray and black, silky harem pants streaming around her long legs and her narrow hips, she must have cut a striking figure in the eyes of dozens of appreciative Turkish male spectators on the way. If this was her last huzzah, she could not have chosen a better venue; bless her occasionally exhibitionist little heart!

This is just a story; there is no deep meaning to it (as far as I now).

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Three Astonishing Women

I leave my newspaper on the table outside as I dart inside the coffee shop to get more sugar. When I return, four or five seconds later, a middle-aged woman is walking briskly across the street holding my newspaper in her hand.

Hey, I shout fairly amicably, I was not finished with my paper!

She turns around and throws the paper on the table near me.

I don’t want your stupid paper, she says. What would I do with it? I am legally blind.

Fact is that she is wearing unusually thick glasses. Point well taken. What do I know?

————————————-

I drive into an unevenly paved parking lot behind a woman in a big van. As she makes a right-hand turn, I spot a blue handicapped placard hanging from her rear-view mirror. Just as she is about to position her van in the reserved handicapped space, its engine stops. After several useless attempts to re-start it, she steps out of the vehicle and begins pushing.

I am a real sweetheart and also an old-fashioned guy so, my first reflex is to get out and give her a hand. I abstain because I soon judge her efforts to be useless. She is pushing that heavy van up a significant bump. I think there is no way the two of us can vanquish gravity and place the van in its right spot.

Then, the woman braces herself; the back of her dress rises and her big calves become like hard river stones; she harrumphs once and the van ends up perfectly parked in the handicapped space. I learned another lesson: Don’t judge a book by its cover.

—————————————-

Speaking of parking makes me think of the last time I went to the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). I just wanted a copy of a trailer permit. I had duly paid for the original when I had obtained it. As is normal, I was in a foul mood much before I reached there. Less logically, my irritation grew as I advanced up the line, as I got nearer the end of my ordeal.

The employee to whose window I am directed is a plump young Latina with thick eyelashes and a pleasant yet officious face. I explain my request. She goes tick, tick, tick on her computer and, quickly enough, she hands me the copy I want.

It’s $16.75, she says.

That’s ridiculous, I explode. That fee for a simple copy is an abuse of power. I changed my mind; I don’t want it anymore. Keep it!

Well, I will just have to give it to you, says the DMV employee with a big smile.

I practically fall on my butt in the midst of dozens of still pissed-off but unbelieving customers.

I guess I don’t know everything about women, as I often think, just many things.

This is just a story; it has no deeper meaning, as far as I know.

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Shame on Us!

I am so angry, I have trouble typing.

The United States, my country by choice, is preparing a humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan. The government of the rational people who have been our friends there for twenty years is melting before the ferocity of the cruel, obtuse, semi-literate Taliban. Soon, executions of “adulterous women” at half-time of soccer games will resume. (Do you think I am exaggerating? Look it up. One such episode was televised.) Sooner, perhaps, little girls will be forbidden to go to school. Sick adult women will only be able to see a doctor whenever a female MD is available. If none is available, some will simply die. And of course, anyone – mostly men – who was an official in the democratic government will face summary execution or a long prison term.

Everyone in American ruling circles knows what’s going on: We lost that war and we are abandoning our local allies. We are leaving because we lack the collective tenacity to do the obvious right thing. The forthcoming horrors will be a joint production of the Obama, Trump, and Biden administrations. We are all mixed up in this. There is no place to hide.

Some Americans are too young to be well aware of the reason for the American and NATO and other allies’ invasion of Afghanistan. Others have forgotten. Many more pretend to have forgotten. We did not go into Afghanistan seeking adventure; we did not go to corner the Afghan production of dried apricots for American corporations. We went in to clean out a nest of vipers who had murdered in cold blood three thousands American civilians. We did not clean it out. Al Quaida is still there and now, ISIS also is. (Yes, the same people who burned alive and crucified civilians in Syria not long ago.)

According to both leftish National Public Radio (a few days ago) and an oped in the Wall Street Journal (Matt Watters, 26-27, A17) the US is taking years to bring in Afghan interpreters who accompanied American soldiers and Marines right into the battlefield, into the thick of combat. Many are being targeted and murdered by the Taliban while they wait for five years or more for their special “visa.” In the meantime the Biden administration is releasing every week into the country thousands of Central Americans to whom we owe absolutely nothing. (And screw the visas in their case; we will take of those when we have time and if they come back for a resolution of their case! We know that most won’t. Does not matter.) The juxtaposition of the two kinds of visa seekers demonstrates a government incompetence that can only be born out of moral indifference, of callousness, and of an absence of concern for ethics, and, yes, for equity.

I know, I know, I sound as if I made light of American military losses in that long war. I don’t but I can’t help notice that all American military are volunteers. Those who engage in active combat, those most at risk, belong to units that make them twice volunteers. The mention of American casualties nearly always involves a kind of blackmail: Don’t you care that Americans die over there? How can I say that I don’t? I also care about future American deaths though. (See below.) Those who bring this up almost never have any realistic appreciation of the numbers involved. In point of fact, over the whole period of the American intervention in Afghanistan, the death rate of our military there has been about 1/10th of the occupational death rate for farmers and ranchers, less than than 1/20th of the rate for loggers. That’s not nothing but it puts things in perspective.

The military and moral fiasco in Afghanistan does not belong to the left or to the right. It’s an expression of the same stubborn, mindless American isolationism that gave us Pearl Harbor and hundreds of thousands of American deaths. A Communist China armed to the teeth is watching our fecklessness, our cowardice. I fear that we will one day face their fast tanks, their advanced warplanes, and their capable missile-launching navies because we failed to defeat some flip-flop wearing, illiterate fanatical guerillas. How I hope I am wrong!

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A Big Falsehood about Black Renters

On Thursday June 14th I heard the same terse announcement on NPR News four times. (Yes, four times; yes, I am a glutton for punishment.) :

Black renters are twice more likely to face eviction than white renters.

(I don’t use quote marks because there is a slight chance that the sentence above is not word-for-word but only in a way that does not affect its meaning.)

I ask myself, what does the average listener retain from this repeated message? I mean the normal person who has ten different things on his/her mind at any one time, the mother who is on her way to picking up her child a daycare before going to the supermarket with a mask on. OK, I know there is no such thing as an “average listener” so, to go more concrete, I ask myself what information my granddaughter’s teacher thinks she has received. I assume that the teacher is not a probabilities or a statistics expert. Is this a bold assumption? Having taught for 25 years in an expensive university, I believe this is a modest assumption.So, what is my granddaughter’s teacher thinks she has heard? Seems to me to ask the question is almost to answer it.

At least, it’s almost to answer it for most people, almost all people, I am tempted to believe. Here it is: Landlords are more likely to evict their black tenants than their white tenants. This is, of course more evidence of racism, even if only of “systemic racism.” It’s no such thing. Common sense would tell you that not paying one’s rent is the major reason for eviction of renters. The probability that a renter does not pay his/her rent in turn must depend mostly on two types of factors. The first is inability to pay. The second type of factors is a batch of cultural attitudes I don’t wish to go into here. Black residents of the US are on the average poorer than whites. Black renters are probably, on the average, poorer than white renters. If the latter is correct, the higher probability of black renters being evicted is simply a direct consequence of their inferior economic standing. No racial discrimination, no racism are needed. Those are added on gratuitously, to sound good, to add again to the burden of white guilt, to pile on to the false idea that America is STILL an unjust society.

Those who make those comments are stupid or evil. The thought is irresistible that they are both stupid and evil, a common liberal combination. Ask yourself: How many times have you been subjected to the implication that an action or a policy is racist just because African Americans perform less well in relation to it than do whites (or worse, Asians) ? This is one of the biggest intellectual swindles of our time.

It seems to me that white conservatives are too timid to ridicule the practice. Think about it: Whites are much underrepresented in the NBA (National Basketball Association, for my overseas friends). Does this demonstrate that the NBA has racist policies against white people?

Tech. note: If black renters are not poorer than white renters the reasoning that follows is vacuous.

PS I said nothing here about the reasons black Americans are poorer than white Americans, on the average. It’s another question altogether. I have dealt with this issue recently on this blog and in Notes on Liberty.

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