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December 27, 2005

Reality check
Posted by Patrick at 10:22 PM * 135 comments

So I’m googling on strings like “human trafficking” and “Balkans,” trying to piece together a better understanding of the NATO/prostitution scandals of the late 1990s, and Google sends me to this thread on Obsidian Wings, which (as is often the case) is full of awfully good stuff, and someone called “Doug M.” is criticizing OW contributor Hilzoy for giving (in his opinion) a false impression of current conditions in the Marianas, and Hilzoy says you’re right, I should have clarified that, and Doug M. says

Hilzoy, thank you very much. This is the difference between you and, say, Patrick Nielsen Hayden. Kudos.

What the foo? Who is Doug M., and why is he slagging me off?

So I search Making Light’s own database and find that “Doug M.” has commented four times over here, all to this thread. Where, in fact, he appears to have started by adding some useful nuance to the discussion, but what really seems to have set him off is that I didn’t come back to the discussion to say yes, you’re right, fair point, guv, I should have been clearer about that.

I also didn’t disagree with him. In fact, I didn’t say anything because I got busy with other life stuff and didn’t actually keep up with the thread. Yes, there it is, The Awful Truth: I don’t actually always manage to read EVERY SINGLE WORD posted to Making Light’s comment section in a timely fashion. Pause for gasp of shock. Pause over.

Doug M.’s final post over here:

Compare and contrast: Hilzoy over at Obsidian Wings posted on this exact same issue. I made much the same points in the comments threads, providing links as I have here.

Hilzoy posted an update noting that things had indeed improved in the NMI, and that her outrage was directed at DeLay’s defense of sweatshop conditions back in the ’90s.

Somehow, I don’t think that’s going to happen over here.

There are people on both sides of the aisle who’ve become outrage junkies. Saying “it’s more complicated than that” to those people—on either side—just annoys them; they don’t want things to be complicated, they want their hit of indignation and rage.

Right. Because I DIDN’T SAY ANYTHING WHATSOEVER, it’s fair for Doug M. to attribute to me a set of views and attitudes that, actually, he pulled out of his ass. Views which—let’s be clear—he made up. Views which I don’t hold. Fantasies that he invented.

Also, because I got behind on a 192-message comment thread, it’s reasonable to go slagging me off on other blogs as a Bad Example. Not because I disagreed with Doug M., or said a single critical word—but because I didn’t show up quickly enough to pat him on the head.

Not to put too fine a point on it, somebody here is being a twit, and I don’t think it’s me.

Comments on Reality check:
#1 ::: Mike Whitaker ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2005, 10:55 PM:

So you'll be expecting a reply from him that says 'oh, of course, yes, you're right'? :) :)

#2 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2005, 11:05 PM:

Yeah, that's exactly the plan.

#3 ::: Randy Paul ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2005, 11:07 PM:

Right. Because I DIDN’T SAY ANYTHING WHATSOEVER, it’s fair for Doug M. to attribute to me a set of views and attitudes that, actually, he pulled out of his ass. Views which—let’s be clear—he made up. Views which I don’t hold. Fantasies that he invented.

What's next? I won't be ignored?

#4 ::: Randy Paul ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2005, 11:08 PM:

That's "what's next" from Dan M.

I hope you don't have a bunny, Patrick . . .

#5 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2005, 11:13 PM:

"Not to put too fine a point on it, somebody here is being a twit, and I don’t think it’s me."

It's not you. Doug M didn't feel the need to offer a rebuttal to my counter-arguments. I was still skeptical about the points he was shopping around here, but he didn't seem to have the patience to stick around and answer the hard questions.

I'm sure he has answers for the hard questions. I figure he just got bored and went elsewhere. Maybe, he'll come back now and we can renew the discussion. On the other hand, maybe he's just a twit.

#6 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2005, 11:13 PM:

My scroll bar says his last message was long before the thread ended. Did he follow it to the end? Or did he just assume no one was listening, and leave in a snit (which is what his posts on OW sound like)?

#7 ::: protected static ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2005, 11:14 PM:

Eh... You didn't miss much - whatshisname (starts with 'C', Doug M's friend, guy who gets into dick-length wars in alt.history forums, don't feel like wading back into the thread to get his 'nym) pretty much ramped up the noise component of the signal:noise ratio beyond much usefulness... It could have been a productive discussion, but it was derailed by someone with some issues with fandom. And his own dick length (but here I'm just guessing).

Aside: Isn't it funny how the people that always have flame wars break out around them are always among the first to scream "It wasn't me - YOU'RE the problem!" Me, I'd think Occam, even with all his flaws, might beg to differ, but hey... maybe that's just me.

#8 ::: antukin ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 12:23 AM:

huh. and I guess Doug M. didn't consider it of value that others here picked up on his comment and answered. awww, too bad, fellow posters, your pats on his head just don't mean as much as Patrick's would!

that's what I like about Making Light as a discussion group -- there are so many interesting (and smart) posters that we can continue the conversation even if our inestimable and generous hosts don't have time to reply. maybe that's unique, and so new visitors don't get it immediately. (still doesn't excuse Doug M's little rant, of course.)

#9 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 12:47 AM:

"there are so many interesting (and smart) posters that we can continue the conversation even if our inestimable and generous hosts don't have time to reply"

Believe me, we count on this!

We read everything eventually, but. Life is complicated, demanding, and very long.

#10 ::: A New York City High School Math Teacher ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 01:25 AM:

Yr snt s npprprt. Doug is one of the fairest men I know.

He was unhappy because a major political argument about Tom Delay's alleged corruption began bruiting inane falsities about Abramoff and the Northern Marianas Island.

I think Doug's point went something like:

"The Northern Marianas Islands had a functioning economy because of the structure of the garment industry, in sharp contrast to nearby Chuuk (Truk) which has no indigenous industry and is an overpopulated, undeveloped hell-hole with plenty of crappy human outcomes. NMI, since they are a US possession and subject to US trade and tariff regulation, naturally had every incentive to struggle against changes in trade policy that would gut their economy and render their human outcomes a lot more like Truk than like Guam, Saipan, or (heaven forfend) Fiji. Thus incentivized by the threat of losing their bread, the NMI make deal with devil Delay."

And you go off talking about slavery. When what happened *wasn't* slavery. It was about oppressive, crappy working conditions. It was about the way Republican politics whipsaws the natural tendencies to solidarity in the working man, by pitting worker against worker in a race to the wage bottom. It was *not* about slavery, yr vrhtd rhtrc sd.

Slavery is: violent kidnapping, constant threat of assault, battery, use of food, water, medical care to control behavior, threats of beating, coercive screaming and abuse, threats of sexual assault, sexual assault, alienation of personal property, annihilation of personal privacy, and annihilation of all modes of personal freedom, and the threat of murder and murder to reduce an individual to a state of prostrate servitude.

Which pretty plainly is not occurring the Northern Marianas Islands.

t s *wrng* t xggrt lngg n rdr t prtnd-prv rhtrcl pnt.

['Crs, thn rd n nd s ppl tht rspctd (t n tm) lk Nll Mcly, cll my frnd Crls slvr! slvr!? Wht n rrnt pntld f Qtsch!]

Doug worked as a chief counsel in Micronesia during the nineties, and has first hand knowledge of what was going on. He tried to fill the discussion with light, not heat, in the finest spirit of bon volontée. [He also does professional legal consulting, on the governmental level, in the less developed areas of eastern Europe, so that the process of Europeanization doesn't screw over the recent accessions to the EU quite so thoroughly. Rewriting communist-era legal codes to include property rights and establishing caselaw and interpretative frameworks for commercial codes so that corruption is pushed to the side seems like a pretty good thing to do on God's Green Earth, s ppsd t, sy, splntclly spttrng svgly bt slvry wr t dn't b-lng.

Carlos is currently engaged in econometric research on demography and development in the Pacific Rim, among other things.

J. H. Woodyatt: Rich, rich, rich. Your counterarguments?

1) You made a conjecture that Chuuk is a garden spot compared to Easter Island (irrelevant, and wrong, since Chuuk has no tourism, and has one of the highest rates of infant mortality in the world.)

2) You asked whether anybody had made the claim that the implied legal course that Abramoff averted would not necessarily have harmed the Northern Marianas Islands, and was this not possible, and, therefore, what did Doug have to say, and if he didn't respond he should shut up and be wrong? [Please correct me, but I do think this is what you said.

My response, in lieu of Doug - we know what a Pacific Island with a hegemonic industry does when its business is choked off - it dies. Rather like a mill-town in New England, but without the Greyhound buses. There's one island that has cycled through its phosphate deposits. A lot of its population are getting ready to live on reservations in Australia. The people of the NMI have the right to avert that fate, I think.

[at this point I attempt to respond to a discussion of Tom Delay without 1) prvdng my bnfds s gnwn Bsh-htr, cmplt wth lft-sd--fnc lylty th frmd f gbbt f trg spt; r 2) cndscndng t th grp cnsnss tht th Mjrty Ldr shld b dfnstrtd fr crrptn n th mrrw. I fail. I kick the floor. I catch staph. I die. All die. O the embarassment.]

t Ptrck Nlsn Hydn: n tht thrd thr ws lt f hprvntltng bt th vls f Dly. Th r f th rgmnt grw dm wth hystrcl phlgstn. Dg M. prvdd sm xygn t th nttrng Nlls, wh tk frm t dp brths nd ttckd hm nd Crls fr ddng fcts. ftr ndlgng n >yr lttl ft f spln, y stppd bck frm th fryng pn t tnd t thr f yr pt frs (nd hvn frfnd tht y shld br ny rspnsblty fr trmptng pssbly tndnts nd (gsp!) wrng rdng f th sttn.).

Doug got irritated. He made comment on his irritation on Hilzoy, nd sbsqntly y flppd t gn nd slndrd gd mn, mlrst wh blvs n wrkng twrds trth, lght, nd gd. Ptrck, y hv hstry f dng sht lk ths, nd y r t wrthfl t wthhld yrslf nd y r (gnrlly, bt nt lwys) t prdfl t plgz.

I regret that this has happened. Carlos and Doug are your natural allies in politics, and engaged, talented, and critical readers of sf.

Dave Greenbaum

#11 ::: Nw Yrk Cty Hgh Schl Mth Tchr ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 01:43 AM:

Fnlly, thr rlly s Clnl Blmp knw-nthngsm strn n fndm, xtnsv cmmnts n th glty thrd prv t. cf. Mgnt Grffth's brth-tkngly wrng-hdd ssrtn tht csh ncm s nt th bst msr f hmn dvlpmnt, whr grdnng, gthrng nd fshng my mk cnsdrbl prt f fmly ncm! Brghtly, brghtly! Bnl cmmnplc bt nbl svgs^D^D^D^D^D^D^D mn hntr-gthrrs nslld by th plw. Rpld t ffhnddly nd lghthrtdly by Lr Rbrts.

nd t's tht brthtkng, cmplcnt knw-nthngsm whch s nrgng t th srs.

Y r >nt llwd t b flppnt, lzy, r crlss whn y r trgd. Smws, y r >nt llwd t b flppnt, lzy, dsmssv r crlss whn y r ddly rnst.

T mny fns rfy th cmfrtbl, th nn-jdgmntl, n thr slns. Thy rd by trns sthng r scthng trp tht cnfrms thm n thr fnsh sft Bbbttry f lw ntllctl xpcttns. vrybdy cn b n xprt wth n ffrt; ll hld frth n n pnn brft f nfrmtn; Drts n ltrnt fngrs, n rgmnt cn b crrd n n-hnd - typng nn gnrlts crbbd frm hlf-rmmbrd grbld pssgs frm _THR WLL B WR PRT 24_.

Ths s wht ht bt fndm, t. 'm n nthsst, stdnt, nd tchr. m nt sm gddmn fn (shrt fr >fntc.)

#12 ::: antukin ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 02:09 AM:

funny, you seem to be a pretty big faaaan of Doug and Carlos.

oops, sorry, was that too flippant for you?

#13 ::: antukin ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 02:40 AM:

sorry, I take that back, too inflammatory.

my point was, it's not up to you to decide what is or isn't allowed, whether or not your opinions of somebody else is correct.

and, if you sincerely want to have a serious discussion about this, it doesn't help to include so many insults in your comments.

#14 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 04:13 AM:

Dave Greenbaum writes: 1) You made a conjecture that Chuuk is a garden spot compared to Easter Island (irrelevant, and wrong, since Chuuk has no tourism, and has one of the highest rates of infant mortality in the world.)

Okay. If it's irrelevant that Chuuk is what I would characterize as a "garden spot" next to Easter Island (which does not have a tourist industry— have you ever tried to book a tourist flight to Easter Island?), then I'd say it's irrelevant that Saipan is a "garden spot" compared to Chuuk, which probably hasn't had its entire ecology totally fscked over yet.

Which of these arguments do you want to admit as relevant? I would prefer we toss both these arguments as sideshows. How about that?

Dave Greenbaum continues: 2) You asked whether anybody had made the claim that the implied legal course that Abramoff averted would not necessarily have harmed the Northern Marianas Islands, and was this not possible, and, therefore, what did Doug have to say, and if he didn't respond he should shut up and be wrong? [Please correct me, but I do think this is what you said.]

You got the first half basically right, but you totally botched the second half. I asked if the methods Abramoff used to stop the Murkowski bill and dick around with the CNMI were necessary and sufficient to address the economic problems of the NMI? Key phrase here: "...necessary and sufficient..."

I also suggested an alternative explanation, which neither you nor Doug seems interested in rebutting. I said, "Sounds to me like the folks willing to pay Jack Abramoff could have used their "deep pockets" to help bring in the Feds. Let me guess— there were powerful "disincentives" for them to do that. Disincentives that were highly correlated to their having deep pockets, which— as we've noted— the people who wanted to bring in the Feds did not."

This goes to the core of the argument we're having over labor conditions in the NMI. Doug M wanted to assert that "the folks trying to bring the Feds in did not have deep pockets, [and] the folks willing to pay Jack Abramoff did," but he didn't feel the need to explain why the latter didn't want to help. Why not? I'm willing to hear how it's Not So Simple...

Dave Greenbaum continues: My response, in lieu of Doug - we know what a Pacific Island with a hegemonic industry does when its business is choked off - it dies. Rather like a mill-town in New England, but without the Greyhound buses.

I know that's not necessarily true. I saw a lot of coconut operations lying idle in polynesia, and at first I thought "Hey! These people are screwed!" Then I had it politely explained to me that the Noni fruit is a lot less land and labor intensive, very profitable and basically makes up for the loss of all that income from coconuts and then some.

But, that's irrelevant too. I don't want to stop the NMI from building garment factories. I just think that factories everywhere ought to meet minimum standards— an injury to one is an injury to all, don't you know. I reserve the right to bitch about it when people tell me that I ought to cut some slack to the poor starving slavedrivers who can't turn a profit unless they treat their workers like coal miners in West Virginia were treated a hundred years ago.

How hard is it to understand that? It shouldn't be difficult. But strangely, there's always somebody who wants to tell me how no matter how bad it might be for population A, they've got it so much better over population B. If you keep pulling on that rope, you will find something very unnatural at the ultimate end of it.

Dave Greenbaum continues: There's one island that has cycled through its phosphate deposits. A lot of its population are getting ready to live on reservations in Australia. The people of the NMI have the right to avert that fate, I think.

You mean, the owners of the manufacturing facilities in the NMI have a right to buy votes in the Congress and the local legislature to avoid having to provide humane working conditions for their "employees" there.

We've already established that Abramoff, Delay and the garment factory owners in the NMI couldn't give a flying fig about the right of indigenous people to keep from being forced to live on reservations in the Australian outback. Their "perfect petri dish of capitalism" already had them performing coerced abortions— I doubt they would mind very much the prospect of flushing the local ecosystem down the toilet for the next ten thousand years if it would mean another few years of continued profitability while they build out their new facilities elsewhere.

In summary, I get that you think the situation in NMI was not so bad, that it's getting better, and that you think Delay and Abramoff were superheroes who saved the day and now those evil illiberal leftists, for whom no incremental reform is ever enough, are trying to piss all over their laudable accomplishments. Drink it up, Buckaroo. Your guys are crooks and gangsters— and they deserve to be sucking the pipe in a dark prison hole in the godforsaken midwest, not sitting in control of the U.S. Congress.

#15 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 06:20 AM:

I remarked myself that there were two partially admissable defences for the conditions for garment workers in the northern Marianas. One, that they were getting better, and that the worst abuses had gone. Two, that conditions for others were worse.

Both of these are only partial defences, mind. The people responsible for the abuses were, by definition, abusers. It is not enough that they be restrained now, after having made a pile doing it. They should answer for their past actions. The fact that other people in other places get treated even worse is irrelevant to the central fact: that these conditions amounted to serious abuse by any reasonable standard.

The argument was also advanced that abusing human beings in this way produced overall economic benefits. Perhaps it did. It was still abuse; and the beneficiaries from it were, in the first place, the abusers, not the local economy or people. The latter benefited indirectly, perhaps, but their welfare was not the object of the abusers, who were concerned solely with personal profit.

I remember once reading a letter to the Editor of the London Times newspaper, written about 1855. The writer protested that limiting the hours or tasks required of children below the age of twelve in the coal mines would ruin the industry, and remove from gainful employment thousands of children who would otherwise turn to crime. Similar appeals from industrialists litter every step of the long and arduous road that we have come in the last century and a half, replete with special pleading, unctuous protestations of virtue and predictions of catastrophe. Our parents and grandparents didn't buy them then. We shouldn't buy them now.

#16 ::: Francis ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 06:33 AM:

Slavery is: violent kidnapping, constant threat of assault, battery, use of food, water, medical care to control behavior, threats of beating, coercive screaming and abuse, threats of sexual assault, sexual assault, alienation of personal property, annihilation of personal privacy, and annihilation of all modes of personal freedom, and the threat of murder and murder to reduce an individual to a state of prostrate servitude.

That's a really odd dictionary you're using there.

My definition of slavery would be along the lines of compelling someone to work for you in such a way that they could not either stop working or change jobs without critical consequences. The rest of what you mention is just a consequence of having a ridiculous amount of power over someone.

"Work for me or starve" is every bit as great a threat as "Work for me or I will fetch the police, then have you flogged". It ceases to be slavery when it becomes "Work for someone or starve" until and unless that someone becomes "Members of my cartel".

#17 ::: Doug M. ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 06:53 AM:

Who is Doug M., and why is he slagging me off?

Hm. Patrick, have you forgotten me already? I used to be almost a regular here.

You and I had a similar go-round on this thread a couple of years back. Though that time, it ended in more-or-less amicable agreement (scroll to bottom).

More in a bit, after we feed the kids lunch.


Doug M.

#18 ::: Zander ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 07:09 AM:

Dave Greenbaum (who has a nice turn of phrase: I especially like "irrational phlogiston") wrote:

>Magenta Griffith's breath-takingly wrong-headed assertion that cash income is not the best measure of human development, where gardening, gathering and fishing may make a considerable part of family income!

at which point, not seeing the relevance of the second half of the sentence, I parsed the first part as "cash income is obviously the best measure of human development" and lost interest. If I am misunderstanding, I apologise.

Francis wrote:

>My definition of slavery would be along the lines of compelling someone to work for you in such a way that they could not either stop working or change jobs without critical consequences.

Well, I certainly can't stop working without critical consequences, and changing jobs at my time of life and in the current economic circumstances is almost certainly going to be just as damaging. Not that I'm disputing the definition: I agree with it utterly. I just think that kind of slavery is more common in the civilised world than we think it is. We just don't notice it because we have lots of food and cool toys.

#19 ::: Carlos ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 07:54 AM:

H, t's m, Crls. ntc th knw-nthngs r mckng my nm, C..Y, gn. f wr lss fr mn, mght sy thy wr rcst. nstd, 'll jst mply t. [1]

s fr fndm, t's lttl dd hw mny gddm stlkrs nd lntcs -- ppl wh hv wshd m r my lvd ns mrdrd, mmd, n jld, rpd, t ctr -- hv ncntrd wh slf-dntfd s fn. ctlly, n my pnn, t's nt dd t ll.

lv scnc fctn, bt rlly cn't stnd ts nm sbcltr, whch fnd prly sclzd, wlflly gnrnt, sly glld, nd nhlthly fscntd by vlnc.

Cs n pnt: ppl n th prvs thrd smhw cncldd tht pprv f Tm DLy. Th nn-lttr wrd tht cms t mnd s "jcksss". Whch s cnvnntly rdbl vn wtht vwls.

(Plc yr wn, nd thn dvwlz.)

ls, Ptrck, ntc tht whl y ddn't hv ngh tm t ntlly rspnd t Dg, y nw hv ngh tm t pst yr rnt >bt Dg. [2] "n lv wth yr wn ddgn" s cmmn ngh vc n th ntrnt, bt dn't prtnd t gvs y mrl hgh grnd.

nywy. Hppy Nw Yr, flks. My y ll gt lf n 2006!

[1] s fr pns sz -- ntrstng hw ths hs cm p s mttr f fnnsh cntmpltn gn -- hv n cmplnts. f y rlly wntd t gt ndr my skn, fmly sz mght d th trck... bt sspct tht th d f wntng lrg fmly (s ppsd t wntng lrg pns) s ttrly ln t ths "prtctd sttc" gmbh.

[2] Has the Tor forthcoming books site been updated lately?

#20 ::: Doug M. ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 08:03 AM:

Patrick, first off, I apologize for suggesting you might be an outrage junkie. That was rude of me.

That said: would it be too much to ask for an update to your original post? Things have changed in the Marianas, and for the better.

I lived in the islands for seven years, and I was literally in the room when some of this stuff went down. Smack DeLay around all you like, I got no problem with it. But I do think it's important that people understand that the islanders weren't evil for dealing with DeLay -- just desperate. As evidence of which, they've managed to improve conditions in the industry quite a lot in the last few years.

I'm not trying to score a point here. Rather, I'm concerned that some day, when the Democrats regain control of the legislature or the executive, they'll punish the "bad" islanders for having done business with DeLay and Co. And all the reforms we worked so long and hard for, all the good we tried to do, will go right out the window, baby with the bathwater.

That's an immensely frustrating prospect: that you can spend years of your life trying to make something better, move it from horrible to bad to okay... then have someone come along and say screw it, they're all evil, burn the whole thing down.

So if that prospect made me too sharp, again, I apologize.

But I would ask that you give a fair shake to the good people of the Marianas Islands -- not for my sake, but for theirs. As I said, I spent seven years there, so I am still somewhat partisan on their behalf.


Doug M.

#21 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 08:56 AM:

Dave, your standard of what constitutes a fair man is lacking.

If Doug had been a really fair man, he could have contacted Patrick when he felt ignored, in stead of going to a seperate forum to malign him for the unforgable crime of not responding to a comment on a fairly massive thread.

#22 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 09:29 AM:

Hey Doug, I can trump that, I spend over a decade in Singapore.

Working conditions are great in Singapore, for the most part (unless you're a foreign domestic servant). Actual property ownership is at levels that makes even the USA look unimpressive. Despite the Asian Economic Crisis and the tech crash, Singapore has a remarkably low unemployment rate. Public health insurance costs are low, blah blah blah...

Lee Kwan Yew remains an authoritarian neo-fascist, though. The PAP has a stranglehold on the political neck of the nation, courts are frequently used to bludgeon political troublemakers, there's massive media censorship, etc...

I'm sure that the Marianas people are great people. That does not make them immune to criticism for sweatshop conditions, nor is the "company store" model where people buy the right to work for one (and only one) labor source in a foreign country where getting there and getting the job costs nearly a year's salary.

It's indentured servitude. Not quite slavery, but the next best thing. The system is ripe for abuse. I know because I've seen it abused all over Southeast Asia.

Given our government's moralizing over Iraq, keeping labor standards at a piss-poor level in Marianas is not something we can do without being hypocrites.

I'm not saying keep a minimum wage in line with the US. I'm saying stop locking laborers up, stop dealing with the indentured servitude model of hiring, end the "company store" requirement for food and other purchases. And if those practices have ended, good, but have regulations in place to stop them from happening again.

The Islanders probably shouldn't be punished for dealing with DeLay, and I don't think anyone here is arguing that it should happen.

In closing, insulting Patrick behind his back is a lot more of the issue here than taking a sharp tone when disagreeing with him. If you want to say sorry, I think that would go a long way to proving that you're the fair man your friends think you are.

#23 ::: A New York City High School Math Teacher ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 10:19 AM:

to j. s. woodyatt:

Your comments -

In summary, I get that you think the situation in NMI was not so bad, that it's getting better, and that you think Delay and Abramoff were superheroes who saved the day and now those evil illiberal leftists, for whom no incremental reform is ever enough, are trying to piss all over their laudable accomplishments. Drink it up, Buckaroo. Your guys are crooks and gangsters— and they deserve to be sucking the pipe in a dark prison hole in the godforsaken midwest, not sitting in control of the U.S. Congress.

- are examples of a game I hate. I refuse to play this game. I refuse to infuse my politics into my substance of my sentences. I have _no_ bonafides to prove. I am not an ideologue. wll nt ttr grbl ms fr t nlck th "s" flng n th cnvrstn.

Reading comprehension should be enough. Bt t s nt, whn ppl r rdy t lp t th mst >cmfrtbl f cnclsns.

#24 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 10:39 AM:

"A New York City Math Teacher" thunders:

"You are not allowed to be flippant, lazy, or careless when you are outraged."

Oh, nonsense. We're exchanging conversation, not handing down decisions of the United States Supreme Court. Of course we're allowed. And you're allowed to decide for yourself whether other people's imperfections outweigh any value their conversation may have. What you don't have is any standing to credibly declaim on what is or isn't "allowed."

#25 ::: Carlos ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 11:03 AM:
What you don't have is any standing to credibly declaim on what is or isn't "allowed."

Tsk. Now DG's not credible and doesn't have standing... because, why again? Because you said it was nonsense. Mnpltng th rls f dscrs t yr wn bnft s lttl... Rpblcn, dn't y thnk?

#26 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 11:13 AM:

Credibly, Carlos. Patrick doesn't mean he forbids it; he's opining that no one cares what "A New York City Math Teacher" thinks about what is or isn't "allowed" here.

I daresay he's right (for certain values of 'anyone' that certainly include me). Coming in here and trying to make rules is silly (this place has only rules of civility AFAIK, and is pretty open otherwise). Coming in here and trying to make rules anonymously is positively laughable.

#27 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 11:17 AM:

Tsk. Now DG's not credible and doesn't have standing... because, why again? Because you said it was nonsense. Manipulating the rules of discourse to your own benefit is a little... Republican, don't you think?

Carlos: in case you hadn't noticed, Patrick is our host. Be polite, please.

Personally, I wouldn't blame the probably-underpaid workers of the NMI for calling in whoever as I don't think they chose their 'help'; but those who decided to bring in Abramoff and DeLay are responsible for the consequences, as are the Native American nations who did the same thing to protect their gambling revenues from competition.

#28 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 11:18 AM:

The anonymous math teacher has no standing to credibly say what is allowed because (a) s/he does not do the allowing, and (b) s/he clearly has not studied the local practices enough to be competent at describing them.

In the same way, I don't have standing to say what is or is not allowed in that teacher's math class--I don't make the rules, nor have I been there to observe them.

#29 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 11:19 AM:

And Carlos: even the civility rules are lightly enforced. Witness the fact that you are still allowed to post here, and that your last post addressed directly to me is not only still there, but has kept its vowels.

Are hosts are more lenient than I would be, I must admit.

#30 ::: protected static ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 11:20 AM:

Carlos: Wow! Didn't take long for you to jump to more conclusions, did it? Pray tell, how is not wanting to dive back into a thread to remember your screen name mockery or racist? No, wait - we're all fen here, therefore, we're all vastly inferior to you, blinded by our assumptions, unable to process information critically, yadda, yadda, yadda... I remember this from last time. It's got a good beat, but you can't dance to it.

I was mocking your actions - you started off raising good points, and quickly devolved into insults, belittling, and oneupmanship, hence the 'dicklength' tag. As it appears to be a pattern that follows you around the web, well... I made of it what I would, with the material you so graciously provided.

#31 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 11:25 AM:

I wonder if the fallout from this will be that blogs everywhere will have to post disclaimers to clarify what otherwise might be an obvious statement:

Warning: This is my blog. No promises or agreements are stated or implied that I must acknowledge your post, no matter how brilliant said post may or not be, in any way, shape, or form. A lack of acknowledgement on my part does not constitute an expression on my part of disagreeing with whatever statement you made that I did not acknowledge. A lack of acknowledgement on this blog cannot be construed as an active disagreement with your view. Rather, a lack of acknowledgement possibly indicates (but is not limited to) a lack of time on my part, that I am on vacation, that a work deadline is taking up all my blog-time, that I'm coming down with pneumonia, that wild beavers have chewed through my internet connection, that mice have infested my harddrive, that my mouse button is stuck, or similarly events completely unrelated to your unacknowledged post.

#32 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 11:27 AM:

This is the same pattern as the previous conversation. Doug M. remains civil and raises interesting points (and now seems to understand more of how things work here than before, kudos to him) and his supporters get nasty and shrill right away, as if defending him from some imagined attack.

By doing so, they actively undermine the points that he's trying to make. The discussion is lost in the metadiscussion, which serves only the parties who want to prevent any useful discourse from taking place.

#33 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 11:40 AM:

Doug M., I didn't realize you were Doug Muir. Now I know.

I've amended the original post to include links to three of your substantive comments downthread. As to specifics, I don't think "slavery" is an inappropriate word for some of the ways some workers were evidently treated, not so long ago, by various entities allied to the DeLay/Abramoff machine. You do; okay, we disagree on that. Where we don't disagree is on the issue of NMI working with DeLay & company. Real-world politics is always full of deals-with-the-devil, and this will always be the case. If I was being splenetic, it wasn't about the stuff you were involved with, it was about DeLay's astonishing characterization of the islands as "a perfect petri dish of capitalism." You don't have to have a bad opinion of the people of the Marianas--arguably struggling to deal with a bad situation as best they can--to see that this statement tells us a lot about what DeLay thinks "capitalism" ideally entails. And that's what my post was about.

As for the rest of it, this post has been about reminding readers of Making Light not to jump to conclusions just because I don't say anything. Both Teresa and I do read pretty much everything on ML eventually--Teresa more assiduously than me, since she is, in fact, the moderator. I get behind sometimes. And, charges to the contrary notwithstanding, I actually think I have a reasonable record of owning up, when appropriate, to being mistaken, wrong, unfair, or otherwise full of crap. If you've made a sensible argument with something I wrote and I don't come back to acknowledge it, it's not necessarily because I'm giving you the cold shoulder. This is a spare-time activity, not the Associated Press. Anyway, thanks for coming back over to clarify matters.

#34 ::: Crls ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 11:40 AM:

Sttc, y'r th n jmpng hr. f wr sdst, 'd b hvng fn. Bt my tsk s mr rnst thn tht. Y s, jst frm yr sngl sttmnt, cn tll tht y lck wht th mndn wrld clls "mpthy". Thnk f my cmmnt s n ntrdctry lssn t tch y bt t, by mrrrng yr bhvr bck tch.

n t lssn thr.

Xphr, thnk bt t. lf wld b gd thng t hv, n? t's bn vr fr yrs.

#35 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 11:43 AM:

Xopher, you're right, and you'll note who I just now spent a lot more time addressing.

I don't know what Carlos's problem is, but it doesn't seem interesting enough to be worth much attention.

#36 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 11:47 AM:

*shakes head*

And the worst thing about him is that he probably thinks he's a decent human being. Which means he'll never become one. It's sad, but there's nothing we can do.

#37 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 11:48 AM:

Xopher: You're being a bit hasty about Carlos' vowels.

Patrick...'s opining that no one cares what "A New York City Math Teacher" thinks about what is or isn't "allowed" here.

A nitpick: NYCMT's here. I expect s/he/it cares.

Doesn't matter, though. NYCTM's not the arbiter of what's allowed here. As Vicki observed, s/he clearly has not studied the local practices.

#38 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 11:48 AM:

Patrick, exactly so. I was pretty sure that would be your reaction, but I didn't want to presume.

#39 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 11:52 AM:

Teresa: I did try to qualify it in my next para. As for the 'hasty'...I look forward to finding out exactly what that means. No, don't explain. The suspense is terrible; I hope it will last!

#40 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 12:11 PM:

Oops. I didn't notice that Dave Greenbaum signed his post, even though it was entered as NYCMT. My apologies. No attempt at anonymity was made.

Ah, Teresa, now I see what you mean. Delightful as always. But I was actually referring to this post.

#41 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 12:23 PM:

Carlos, until such time as you learn better manners, you are not welcome here.

I'm genuinely astonished at the confidence with which you sneer at fannish socialization. The behavior I've seen out of you here wouldn't pass muster in any social context I've ever known, with the possible exception of the cafeteria at my junior high school.

#42 ::: Crls ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 12:24 PM:

[shrg] 'v bn ntrstng bfr. hv fnd tht wth mst SFnl typs, t's nt wrth my tm. Mst f y prfr rrlty. wsh knw why.

s fr dcncy, hy, mrrr wht gt. Grpthnk sn't dcnt; lylty ths r ndcnt; dsblvng n hnst mn jst s n cn ndlg n pltcl wnk s ndcnt. (nd bng schmck bt yr clq s ndcnt. D y rlly thnk y'r bttr thn smn lk y tht dsn't rd SF, Xphr? Rlly?) t's lk wtchng plygrnd.

S. Trs, d yr wrst. Bt bsch y, n th vwls f Chrst, thnk t pssbl tht y my b mstkn.

#43 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 12:25 PM:

How did I miss that? Back in a moment...

#44 ::: Crls ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 12:26 PM:

Hm. "Th bhvr 'v sn t f y hr wldn't pss mstr n ny scl cntxt 'v vr knwn, wth th pssbl xcptn f th cftr t my jnr hgh schl."

"s fr dcncy, hy, mrrr wht gt. ... t's lk wtchng plygrnd."

s w r xctly n th sm wvlngth.

#45 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 12:47 PM:

There we go. That's the Making Light I know and deeply love.

And he quotes Cromwell. THERE's a model.

#46 ::: Nabil ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 01:20 PM:

Always interesting to come into things in a post-disemvoweled world... it was interesting to see personal politics and grinding axes pop up in a post that was essentially just "Dude, what you said isn't cool, I didn't even get a chance to respond, take it up with me next time."

Relax, people.

#47 ::: Stefan Kapusniak ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 02:27 PM:

You know I'm pretty sure, due to the massive increase in nameless dread and crawling incomprehensible horror that alway occurs when it starts happening, that if an internet discussion thread ever goes sufficiently densely meta it will eventually have almost the same effects on consensus reality as applying the Turing-Lovecraft theorem would...

...I mean it's pretty obvious that the Office of Total Information Awareness wasn't anything other than a (now re-absorbed) division of the US equivalent of The Laundry isn't it?

#48 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 02:50 PM:

"I don’t actually always manage to read EVERY SINGLE WORD posted to Making Light’s comment section in a timely fashion."

I wondered why you hadn't posted more often on your great admiration for myself.

#49 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 03:29 PM:

I wondered why you hadn't posted more often on your great admiration for myself.

...and if you keep using the reflexive pronoun when you need the objective, I wager that the admiring postings will continue to fail to appear! ;-)

#50 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 03:32 PM:

if you keep using the reflexive pronoun when you need the objective

I hear this one a lot! (My elementary-school grammar class taught us how to figure out which form to use: I guess that was an anomaly, or something.)

#51 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 04:14 PM:

Actually, 'myself' is reflexive or emphatic. So says my PedanTech® KneeJerk™ brainware. So bryan's usage may have been annoying (as intended) but not strictly incorrect. If there is such a thing.

#52 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 04:19 PM:

Xopher: I usually hear it used as, to use one bad example, 'My husband and myself were ...' or as 'He was talking to X and myself'. Both of these are wrong, the way I was taught. (Drop the other side of the 'and' and use the pronoun that results.) It sounds awkward, like a three-legged race.

#53 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 04:47 PM:

But bryan was being mock-pretentious, which suits fine the annoying use of the reflexive. And he didn't use it conjoined, which might have implied that he was simply incorrect, but on its own, proving that it was emphatic, intentional, and obnoxious. All in all a masterful post, and excellent humorous.

#54 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 04:52 PM:

(Ding, ding, ding!) Xopher, you win!

#55 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 04:58 PM:

*shakes fists overhead* Pedantry Champeen of da Univoice!

#56 ::: Scott ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 04:58 PM:

Three legged can be smooth when the participants have practiced together.

Which is to say... if you hear a bit of [mis]usage often enough, it will eventually sound fine to you. Particularly if you hear it when you're learning the language. Not that I'm defending that particular use of 'myself,' I'm just saying that argument by linguistic "ear" may not be the best way to go.

#57 ::: Richard ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 05:28 PM:

Dave Greenbaum:

There's one island that has cycled through its phosphate deposits. A lot of its population are getting ready to live on reservations in Australia.

Could you please expand on this?

#58 ::: Doug M. ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 06:15 PM:

Patrick, thank you.

M. Woodyatt, fallacy of the excluded middle; I might be neither bored, nor a twit. Three kids, full-time job, my own modest blog. (Last month was all Kosovo. This month is light, but we have some nicely obscure German history to play with, along with the mathematics of dreidels and whatnot.) What did I wrongly assume about Patrick? Same-same.

Richard, he's talking about Nauru. It's a really miserable story. If you happen to live on a small Pacific island, it's also yet another horrifying cautionary tale.

Small Pacific islands are absolutely great to live on, as long as you're in the Neolithic, and don't mind a Malthusian die-back every sixth or eighth generation. If you want wireless and Chinese takeout and penicillin and stuff, though, you need some semblance of a modern economy to support it all. This is much more difficult than it looks, and it's easy to get it wrong. Gruesomely so. Small Pacific islands, it turns out, are hard.

That probably wraps for me, for now.


Doug M.

#59 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 06:21 PM:

It's nice to see Doug Muir return to this discussion topic, because I would still like to hear his response to my questions about some of his past assertions.

He has written two things that I find really quite interesting and I want to know more about them.

1) "...the folks trying to bring the Feds in did not have deep pockets. The folks willing to pay Jack Abramoff did."
2) "...I do think it's important that people understand that the islanders weren't evil for dealing with DeLay -- just desperate."

The first quote demonstrates that Mr. Muir is talking about two different groups of islanders. In the second quote, he's talking about the group that dealt with the Abramoff/DeLay machine.

From these two statements, it appears that the second group— the one with the deep pockets— these were the ones who were "desperate" enough to make corrupt political deals with Abramoff and DeLay to kill the Murkowski bill and diddle with the Congress of the NMI.

I have several questions. 1) Who were these people? 2) Did they share the objectives of the first group of people who were trying to "bring in the Feds" but didn't have the "deep pockets" such an effort would require? 3) Were they, in fact, the very people who would stand to lose substantially, perhaps even criminally, if the Feds were actually brought in to clean the place up?

This is the third time I've referenced these questions in a Making Light comment thread, though previous articulations may not have been quite so clear. It would be nice if Doug Muir would either go away and take some of his less well-behaved supporters with him, or step up and expand on these assertions he's making.

#60 ::: Richard ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 06:34 PM:

Doug, I suspected that the reference was Nauru. For various reasons, Nauru has been discussed in the Australian media with reasonable frequency in recent years. I have never heard of these planned reservations here though.

#61 ::: Donald Johnson ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 07:20 PM:

I don't know anything about the Marianas, but my question is the same as jh woodyatt--Doug M keeps telling us not to judge the islanders harshly for bringing in Tom DeLay, because they were desperate, but this strikes me as a very odd way to put it. It sounds like he's lumping together poor people who work in sweatshops and rich people who have the kind of clout you'd need to attract Tom DeLay's attention.
You normally would use the word "desperate" in connection with people who work in sweatshops, and not to describe the people who run or own the sweatshops. Why were the people who dealt with DeLay "desperate"?
If they wanted to improve conditions in their sweatshops, why did they need DeLay's help?
What was their interest in all this?

#62 ::: Andrew Gray ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 07:31 PM:

Richard: Nauru. It's... a terrifying story.

Basically, it's a small island, 2x3mi, that was almost entirely covered with guano; it has one freshwater lagoon, and supported a pre-colonial population of a thousand. 1900s, phosphate mining started, shipping fertiliser to Australia at cost; with independence in 1968, the money actually went to the Nauruan population, part directly and part into a trust fund. Very high standard of living for both landowners and non-landowners resulted, with heavy government subsidies - lots of modern consumer goods, cars, imported food...

In the 1980s, a trust fund of ~A$1bn was balanced by a A$600m national debt, A$60m annual income, and A$100m expenditure. You can guess what the economy looked like when the phosphate began to run out in the 1990s, and the government dipped into the trust fund to keep things afloat. Now, there's pretty much nothing left (a 1998 estimate said at most a decade), and almost all governmental assets have been sold to pay off the debt, or impounded. An attempt to diversify into profitable offshore "financial services" was slapped down heavily by the US. Corruption didn't help, either; a lot of money vanished here and there over the years, with little checks on where it was going - auditing that trust fund would be an interesting program, I understand.

And now, it's a rock. A rock with some trees, and a lagoon, and the money going fast. There's periodic droughts, and limited fresh water; most comes from a desalination plant, and it's breaking down. There's no agriculture worth speaking of; almost all food is imported (at significant cost). There's essentially no private industry that isn't dependent on the mines, barring some coconut products. Almost all population is on the coastal strip, not the plateau - which is a moonscape - and, well, sea-level won't help anything there in the long term.

Moving the entire nation lock, stock and barrel to Australia is a very, very tempting thought in these circumstances, as you might imagine.

#63 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 09:40 PM:

I Googled on 'South Pacific' and 'phosphate' and found lots of references to Nauru. The Wiki article was interesting, although I didn't follow the link to the 'Pacific Solution'. (I'm not sure I want to know; at this time it doesn't appear to be necessary.) It sounds like they had a monoculture, tried to diversify, got the wrong way out, and are now basically stuck. (The PRC embassy bit was, um, interesting. Political pressure, anyone?)

#64 ::: Bernard Guerrero ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 09:55 PM:

"Mnpltng th rls f dscrs t yr wn bnft s lttl... Rpblcn, dn't y thnk?"

Hey, now! How dare you! :^)

Manipulative Guerrero

#65 ::: Teresa Nielsen Haydent ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 10:15 PM:

Doug, thanks for coming back and saying interesting things. Much appreciated.

#66 ::: sara ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 11:40 PM:

DeLay has unwittingly told the truth -- an ultimate example of Orwell Syndrome, as analyzed in "Politics and the English Language" in which the frequency of mixed and undead metaphors correlates directly with the extent of political obfuscation, propaganda, and common or garden lying.

"A perfect petri dish of capitalism."

Does the guy even know what a petri dish is?


They are used to grow bacteria and molds for identification, or to observe small vermin under a low-power microscope.

Tom DeLay's tongue is wiser than he is. Tom DeLay's tongue (or Broca's area, etc.) must be a Marxist.

#67 ::: Richard ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2005, 11:49 PM:

Andrew Gray:

Thanks. I was superficially familiar with the situation on Nauru. A bit more googling reveals something like a Kurt Vonnegut story. It's appalling but occasionally grimly funny (such as when, to inspire the largely obese and diabetic population to start exercising, Nauru's President started walking laps of the airport and promptly had a heart attack).

I flew on a chartered Air Nauru 737 a couple of years ago; it wasn't anywhere near Nauru though.

The notion of the population moving to reservations in Australia is something I've never encountered here.

#68 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2005, 12:37 AM:

Okay, somebody here has got to know how to help Teresa clean out the auto-form glitch in her browser that keeps spelling her name wrong, and most importantly— how to do it without blowing away all her other cookies and milk.

I know how to do it with Safari— you just check the box that says "Don't make me type all this again" when you are posting a comment.

#69 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2005, 04:06 AM:

Scott: Linguistic ear is the way to go. (I've been reading David Crystal's The Stories of English oh! the subtle joys of my mother tongue) and while I agree there are places the prescriptivist model of grammar is useful euphony is king.

Then again, my sojourns in the lands of French, ASL and Russian may have affected (no, strike that, they have) my view of what makes for pleasant turns of phrase, both for content and effect.

TK

#70 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2005, 05:06 AM:

It seems a trifle ironic to be discussing the Northern Marianas Islands, and textile manufacturing, and then see their flag score 2/100 on that flag-rating site.

All I can say is that it's a good thing they just have the manufacturing there, and not the design.

#71 ::: Andrew Gray ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2005, 02:04 PM:

Richard: I've often heard talk of Australia (or NZ, but Australia has closer historic links) taking the entire population in; I hadn't offhand heard of "reservations".

On the other hand, it's a relatively manageable number - twelve thousand people is about a tenth of Australia's annual immigration - and it might make sense to try reand settle them all in, basically, one mid-sized town somewhere, which could be construed as reservations. I have no idea what the actual "plans", such as they are, might be.

(I did read one article by an Australian economist arguing that a private foundation should resettle them in .au, in return for basically signing over the government. Imagine the fun the Enrons of this world could have with that...)

#72 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2005, 02:05 PM:

I'm not prepared to agree with "reflexive or emphatic" without a reference, but I will stipulate to "mock pretentious and annoying". My ear still rebels at the usage, although I hear it frequently.

Do not, however, class me with the prescriptive dinosaurs. I am prone, for instance, to conspicuously split infinitives. I occasionally use the indicative where the subjunctive is more appropriate. And I think a conjunction is an acceptable way to start a sentence in casual discourse, while a preposition is all right to end with.

#73 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2005, 02:12 PM:

abi...that last sentence is going to replace my current one permanently.

#74 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2005, 02:17 PM:

Xopher,

I am simultaneously flattered and confused. What is your current sentence? Where is it recorded, and in what font?

#75 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2005, 02:26 PM:

abi: He must sit in sullen si...oh wait, wrong opera.

#76 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2005, 02:50 PM:

"A preposition is a fine thing to end a sentence with." And you have added the conjunction restriction nose-thumbing to it. I steal, from under your very nose!

#77 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2005, 02:53 PM:

Xopher,

My phrasing was imprecise. What was your previous current sentence? What have I supplanted?

You can't steal what's freely given. And my nose does not vary, but is remarkably constant.

#78 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2005, 02:57 PM:

My last post gives my previous sentence, very little different - i.e. with little variation - from yours. Yours is superior (verily) because it adds the "And I think a conjunction..." bit.

#79 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2005, 04:49 PM:

Oh. Had to read that three times to get over my assumptions. An odd sort of persistence of vision, mentally speaking.

#80 ::: Teresa Nielsen Haydent ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2005, 10:33 PM:

Help me here. We have recurrent outbreaks of specialized language. I'm trying to remember all the varieties, and so far all I can recall are:

linguistics
Middle English
fanspeak
formal verse
mathematics (less often now than formerly)
What am I forgetting?

#81 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2005, 11:12 PM:

Hmm. How about flashes of textual criticism?

#82 ::: jennie ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2005, 11:14 PM:

We have attacks of grammatica, which is, to my mind, a different language from that of linguistics. Also, we dip into the language of writing and editing, which shares some vocabulary with grammatica and with textual criticism.

Or am I splitting hairs too fine?

#83 ::: protected static ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2005, 01:18 AM:

How about programming?

#84 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2005, 04:14 AM:

I'd add:
- foodspeak (remember the conversation about the different types of cream?).
- dsmvwls (the last three letters were "ese")...I note that it is becoming a written, as well as generated and read, language.

I also second the vote on grammatica. As to jennie's other point, I do think she is onto something, but that it's not quite about the language of writing and editing alone. There have been some comments about the ways that people read text as well (e.g., Their readings are low-res, and full of errors.). I can't think of a term for the methods with which we interact with literature, with particular emphasis on the person as opposed to the text, but I'm sure someone here can.

(The "persistence of vision, mentally speaking" was less about reading methods than a too-oblique reference to Varley to continue the very/vary/verily streak.)

#85 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2005, 04:22 AM:

There is, of course, a consciousness that listing the forms of pedantry in which we indulge is a form of über-pedantry...

#86 ::: Andy H ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2005, 06:05 AM:

I can think of three Pacific Islands that qualify as "Third World Hell-holes" in Doug's initial words. Chuuk and Nauru are mentioned already, and the third is the 4km long strip of overcrowded island that serves the US Military base at Kwajalein.

I lived in Pohnpei for two years (same nation as Chuuk, different mindset), and would in no way describe it as a Third World Hellhole. Came you name any others Doug?

Personally I think many of the Pacific Islands are fascinating case studies in what happens when you take a highly functional subsistance economy and try to impose cash and imported goods over the top of it. The countries that go the whole way and attempt to become fully functioning capitalist economies are not necessarily the ones that end up being the best places to live.

Cheers
Andy from Ciuc (not Chuuk)

#87 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2005, 08:21 AM:

abi! I missed that reference...I knew the story, of course, but I didn't follow it far enough. I'm green with heraldic envy for your punnish prowess.

#88 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2005, 08:34 AM:

Xopher,

On reflection, I should have tried to either play off of Steel Beach (tied to stealing sentences) or just dropped the word Ophiuchi in. With such short passages, it's hard to see when one's prose becomes laboured to support a subtle pun.

I'll turn my eyes from your heraldic greenery, if that helps.

#89 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2005, 08:51 AM:

On-topic, or near-topic at least:

While not a third world hell-hole, Pitcairn Island demonstrates another way that isolated islands are vulnerable. Their viability as a community is threatened by the imprisonment of four men on rape and indecent assault convictions. The men are needed to crew the longboats that bring food shipments to the island. On the one hand, their loss could doom the entire community; on the other, locking up rapists is part of what makes a community work.

(I am aware of the defense argument that sex with underage girls was part of the island culture. I'm also aware that the accusations were not brought based entirely on the girls' ages, but reflected a lack of consent as well.)

Here in Scotland, we see isolated communities in the Highlands and Islands dying out, as the young people move to the better jobs in the cities. The hope is that, with modern communications infrastructure, more of the advantages of the cities can be available in the countryside, and that people will return. I wonder if the isolated Pacific islands can follow that model, or whether the infrastructure to enable that sort of remote working is out of their reach.

#90 ::: Donald Johnson ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2005, 09:57 AM:

Doug M hasn't come back, so does anyone else know the answer to the questions jh woodyatt and I asked? Here they are, reformulated--

1. How many categories of islanders is Doug M talking about?
2. Are all these islanders good, well-intentioned people?
3. Were the sweatshop owners and managers the ones who wanted Tom DeLay to come and help them or was it some external group?
4. What do words like "help" and "desperate" mean in this context? Who needed help for what purpose, and who was desperate and why? Were factory owners desperate for Tom DeLay to come and help them improve conditions for workers?
4. Why would someone interested in worker's rights even think of working with Tom DeLay? Maybe it was the right thing to do under the circumstances, but it seems counterintuitive.

#91 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2005, 10:50 AM:

WRT number 4: They probably were looking more at his power and influence than his views (which were not necessarily well known).

#92 ::: Andrew Willett ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2005, 10:59 AM:

I think we could add "religion" to the list of specialized language varieties.

#93 ::: Andy H ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2005, 12:23 PM:

Good call on Pitcairn.

#94 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2005, 01:30 PM:

" the 4km long strip of overcrowded island that serves the US Military base at Kwajalein."

That would be Ebeye, which is separated from Kwajalein by a very narrow body of water. I don't entirely blame the US for that mess, though. When the Army occupied Kwajalein to use as a missile tracking site (now named Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site) it had no anthropologists around to tell them that the Marshallese had a strong extended family structure. Had they had such advisors they might have realized that when Uncle got a job driving one of the few step-vans on Kwaj for cash many of his relatives would move from Majuro and the other islands to the one nearest Kwajalein.

Disclosure: I lived and worked on Kwaj for nearly 3 years in the 1970s.

#95 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2005, 12:52 AM:

Interesting article in WaPo dated tomorrow titled "The DeLay Abramoff Money Trail." It refers to the half a million dollars paid by owners of textile companies in the Marianas to the U.S. Family Network, which as far as I can see from this article existed to receive bribes and pay them out and to be a money pipeline. For the money the owners received "DeLay's public commitment to block legislation that would boost their labor costs." The U. S. Family Network raised 2.5 million in 5 years. It never had more than 1 full time staff member. The money it raised, besides paying lobbyists, paid for radio ads attacking Democrats and for the purchase of a townhouse 3 blocks from DeLay's office, known familiarly as "The Safe House," which DeLay used to make fundraising phone calls.

Such fun.

#96 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2005, 01:20 AM:

Donald Johnson writes: Doug M hasn't come back, so does anyone else know the answer to the questions jh woodyatt and I asked? Here they are, reformulated

I'd agree with those reformulations, and note for the record that these shouldn't be hard questions to answer. Nevertheless, Mr. Muir has managed to avoid them on two occasions now. He's a very busy man, you know— certainly not a bored twit. It's best not to pester him about the details. It will probably bring only a dreary event sequence culminating in yet another festival of disemvoweling.

On a related note, I'd guess Pitcairn is still well and truly off the telecom grid. When I was in the Marquesas, I saw that the French Polynesians had laid pretty good undersea cabling. There was excellent digital telephone service on all the populated islands and Tahiti has broadband DSL service. The Marquesans have been through a crash of their coconut industry, but they seem to be doing better than some places in the continental United States I've been. Still, let's be honest— life on most Pacific Ocean islands has always been an extreme sport. I've no doubt that Saipan will be a rough place to be when the garment factories finally close down and move out. (Oh, and they eventually will. They will.)

#97 ::: Bryan ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2005, 08:37 AM:

On the subject of pedantry I fear I must protest; it is not at all fitting to ascribe the traits of pedantry to our virtual community if we take for the definition of pedantry that of Wordnet, to wit "a ostentatious and inappropriate display of learning" (please note that this should more properly be 'an ostentatious and inappropriate display of learning' as you doubtless wot).
I seldom encounter inappropriate displays of knowledge on this site, its members being especially chaste with the subject at hand and not given to errant flippancy, indeed I argue that our defining trait is that of a refined scholasticism which can be mistaken for pedantry but only by those afflicted with false consciousness vis-a-vis the finer points of human knowledge - such as they are. Please in the future demonstrate a stronger degree of intellectual rigor before casting willy-nilly assertions of pedantry, pedantagonism, or peddling of any sort on myself and others (the last in this list was a pun of notable wit, lest there be any foolish enough to turn grammaticaster over it).

I venture there are no modern Urquarts here, prone to gigantism in vocabulary, library, metaphor, or posting. Indeed, due the happy phenomenon of disemvowelling I would describe this community as one of the most well-behaved and discrete on the world wide web, and as was noted by Addison in the Spectator volume 2 without discretion "Learning is Pedantry, and Wit Impertinence"; given then that we have discretion, via some useful Perl script wielded by our hostess, it follows that our pedantry is learning and our impertinence wit.


#98 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2005, 08:40 AM:

Bryan - 'discreet', in this context. Even though the noun is 'discretion'. Though certainly we are arguably a discrete community, in that we are separate from all other communities.

#99 ::: Bryan ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2005, 08:48 AM:

Yes, also with a very bad monitor to read through it did not leap out at me. of course if I had gone with my original idea and done it as a an actual pastiche of early 18th century writing, spelling and all, that would have slipped through your receptor as well. There's a lesson there I suppose.

#100 ::: Bryan ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2005, 08:58 AM:

Actually I had planned on making a pun on discrete math when I was first going at it, but I couldn't think of a way to work discrete math and pedantry together in an obvious way.

#101 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2005, 09:47 AM:

I do discreet math. People think you're weird if you do math for fun, so I do it on the sly and cover my notebook if anyone comes near.

#102 ::: Bryan ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2005, 09:59 AM:

whereas I have been accused of flagrantly perverse math.

#103 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2005, 12:45 PM:

"Here in Scotland, we see isolated communities in the Highlands and Islands dying out, as the young people move to the better jobs in the cities. The hope is that, with modern communications infrastructure, more of the advantages of the cities can be available in the countryside, and that people will return. I wonder if the isolated Pacific islands can follow that model, or whether the infrastructure to enable that sort of remote working is out of their reach."

I wonder whether that is actually a good thing. With ever increasing pressure on the environment by ever increasing humanity, it might be good just to pull all those living in marginal environments into cities, getting back at least some "pristine nature".

#104 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2005, 04:20 PM:

P J Evans wrote: " but those who decided to bring in Abramoff and DeLay are responsible for the consequences, as are the Native American nations who did the same thing to protect their gambling revenues from competition."

What's interesting about the tribes is the way DeLay and Abramoff (or at least Abramoff) also worked against them while taking their money.

One wonders how they snookered the NMI.

And as others noted, despite Doug Muir's suggestion otherwise, it's clear the wealthy of NMI didn't hire DeLay and Abramoff for the good of the common people. They hired DeLay in order to keep the common people down.

If Doug M is concerned about a backlash against the common folks, his concern is misplaced.

But if he's actually worried about the privileged fatcats who exploit the people of the Marianas, then perhaps he should collect any IOUs and favors he is owed.

#105 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2005, 04:22 PM:

If the NMI weren't controlled by the US, they could set up an industry that seems to work for Vanuatu: internet pharmacies.

#106 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2005, 04:25 PM:

"With ever increasing pressure on the environment by ever increasing humanity, it might be good just to pull all those living in marginal environments into cities, getting back at least some "pristine nature""

Might work.

Then again, the depopulated areas might just become convenient dumping grounds for things unwanted in populated areas.

#107 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2005, 04:39 PM:

Martin, the migration has reversed in the Appalachians. The kids are going to bigger cities for jobs, sure, but people in the cities are retiring in the Appalachians, where they want services.

#108 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2005, 04:41 PM:

Martin,

The problem with concentrating everyone into cities is that cities need feeding. Shipping food from "non-marginal" areas to feed the urbanites has a much higher ecological cost (fuel, ship building and demolition) than local farming and crofting. This is certainly an argument against another round of Highland Clearances, voluntary or otherwise.

As for the Pacific islands, I don't know. The history of taking a rural population and resettling it into an urban world is of...mixed success. It's true that many of the Irish immigrants from the Potato Famine did very well, eventually, but on the other hand many Native American communities have not. You can pull examples from all over the world, but it doesn't come out as such a sure thing that I would prescribe it.

These sorts of moves also lead to cultural diie-offs, which are as hard to retrieve as a pristine ecosystem after centuries of settlement. (Both are impossible.) With the ever increasing pressure on the global culture by ever increasing homogeneity, can we afford that loss?

Finding ways to live lightly on the land, scattered widely, seems at least as good an idea to me.

#109 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2005, 05:12 PM:

Bryan,

Whilst I accept the validity of your definition of pedantry, being as it is supported by the incontrovertible reference of Wordnet, I must nonetheless query whether it is the only, or indeed the definitive, definition of the term in this context. The negative shading that the quoted passage provides, particularly by means of the use of "inappropriate", betrays a certain anti-pedantic bias by the authors of the source in question.

It is unfortunate to see such prejudice within such a forum, because the majority of the writers espousing this view are almost certainly, in the opinions of their entire acquaintance, incurably pedantic. Were this not the case, they would no doubt be insufficiently expert to be on the editorial staff of that or any other such definitive reference source.

As one who has been, throughout her life, a known and recognised nit-picker and pest in all areas of grammatical and linguistic endeavour, I am uncomfortable with the perjorative cast of this definition of pedantry. Like several others on this site, and indeed within this very thread, I am happy to declare myself a pedant. Furthermore, I would urge us, as a community, to reclaim the term from our detractors and critics, and recognise pedantry as the positive and intellectually valid trait that it is.

In short, if I may be so bold, I would like to announce the birth of Pedants' Pride.

Were I sufficiently certain of an agreed-upon aesthetic standard for such things, I might even design a banner.

#110 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2005, 06:21 PM:

"pejorative"

#111 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2005, 06:26 PM:

On Being Pedantick

Be it that Messrs Addison and Steele are no doubt the founts of all pedantrie in the English, and chief expositors of that virtu, I would hereby ordain that henceforth them that use the word do so with the proper spellinge of such, as those worthies shewed in their renowned Spectator for the edification of the many.

#112 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2005, 06:33 PM:

Oh if they could only, back in the foggy days of Pedantiquity, seen the brave new fussbudgetry of the modern era.


#113 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2005, 06:36 PM:

have any of you seen the have I dropped about here.


h

av

e

#114 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2005, 06:47 PM:

"Here in Scotland, we see isolated communities in the Highlands and Islands dying out"

Indeed, I have heard tell of a certain village the people of which were put under a spell some centuries ago that keeps them in a hundred years sleep, sort of sleeping rustics, and in which, no doubt due to the isolation this unnatural time progression has induced, the Dominie (Scottish for Clerk [religious usage]) has sexual relations with rats and voles! Why he cannot sodomize dinosaurs like everybody else, well, I never!..well, almost never.

Perhaps he is too delicate constitutionally, which I should note Addison described in the second volume of the spectator as a type of physical pedantry. Thank god that this is one form that nobody here suffers from.... Bring on the Sauropods and petroleum jelly!

#115 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2005, 08:11 PM:

candle,
Acknowledged. I was typing by your namesake's light. Poor strategy.

bryan,
A Dominie is actually a schoolmaster.

Furthermore, as a (Semi) Descriptive Grammarian Pedantic, I am allied to the Modern Spellng arm of the Pedant movement. We scorn you Original Spelling Pedants as obscurists. The religious war over orthography is scheduled for next week, once the battlefield is cleared of the corpses from the Great Semicolon Schism.

omnes,
Happy new year, when it reaches you.

#116 ::: protected static ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2005, 08:40 PM:

tsk, tsk, tsk, bryan... Skip the petroleum jelly, for it degrades the latex, making it more prone to breakage.

Uh, you are playing it safe with your sauropods, are you not?

#117 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2005, 08:54 PM:

protected static, I have one word: polyurethane.

#118 ::: Teresa Nielsen Haydent ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2006, 02:23 AM:

Abi:

The problem with concentrating everyone into cities is that cities need feeding. Shipping food from "non-marginal" areas to feed the urbanites has a much higher ecological cost (fuel, ship building and demolition) than local farming and crofting.
Is that true? It seems to me that this model only works if the people in rural areas are living on the food those rural areas produce, which in my experience is not what happens. The local crops are cheaper, at least when they're coming ripe, but other foodstuffs have to be imported, and you don't get the economies of scale you get in cities. I have yet to see a rural area where groceries were cheaper overall than they were in the region's cities and large towns.
As for the Pacific islands, I don't know. The history of taking a rural population and resettling it into an urban world is of...mixed success. It's true that many of the Irish immigrants from the Potato Famine did very well, eventually, but on the other hand many Native American communities have not. You can pull examples from all over the world, but it doesn't come out as such a sure thing that I would prescribe it.
The Irish had a hellacious time when they first hit the cities of the Eastern Seaboard.

I'm not aware of any instances where Native American tribes were resettled en masse in urban areas. Generally they were resettled onto poorer and poorer pieces of unimproved land. Nevertheless, some of them have gone urban. The Mohawk First Nation has long been prominent in high steel construction work.

These sorts of moves also lead to cultural die-offs, which are as hard to retrieve as a pristine ecosystem after centuries of settlement. (Both are impossible.) With the ever increasing pressure on the global culture by ever increasing homogeneity, can we afford that loss?
"We" includes the people living in those communities who decide to swap boredom, rural poverty, and limited opportunities for a more urban lifestyle.

An analogy: I'm a fan of textile history. There are a number of impressive, sophisticated, traditional handicrafts that infallibly disappear as a local industry the minute the artisans can make money doing something else. Basketry and elaborately patterned sweaters (f.i., Bohus Stickning) are on that list, but the real miner's canary is lacemaking.

Handmade lace, the most complex fabric our species has produced, has always been the province of underpaid and supernumerary females. Making it is a skill that takes years to master. And as soon as artisans can make better-than-starvation wages in some other line of work, the local lacemaking industry evaporates into thin air.

Does this represent the loss of a distinctive local cultural tradition? It sure does. But who am I to say that those artisans ought to return to their intricate, ill-paid work?

Public policy can only do so much.

#119 ::: Bryan ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2006, 02:36 AM:

"bryan, A Dominie is actually a schoolmaster."
priest, clergyman, curate, dominie, minister, parson, pastor, preacher, rabbi, rector, vicar (nn.)

Obsolete domine, clergyman, from Latin, vocative of dominus, lord.]

I believe we were discussing a town that is somewhat out of date, IIRC the Dominie in this particular town was both a clergyman and also taught the town's children. As was noted elsewhere he performed marriages having that function devolved upon him from the priest.

I wrote clerk, which has as its fourth definition "cleric", in short, a dominie.
Awfully sorry to get pedantick. ;)

#120 ::: Bryan ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2006, 02:49 AM:

"Public policy can only do so much."
it could subsidise lacemaking I suppose.

However shouldn't the wages of artisans go up as the craft disappears, is there that little demand for handmade lace?

#121 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2006, 04:17 AM:

Teresa,

It seems to me that this model only works if the people in rural areas are living on the food those rural areas produce, which in my experience is not what happens.

I was comparing (or attempting to compare) a model of a moderate-sized city in a settled countryside to that of a large city in a pristine countryside. Within that context, locally grown produce can supplant a good deal of imported food for the urbanites. In a place like Scotland, this generally ends up meaning cheap potatoes and root vegetables, but every calorie locally sourced is one that doesn't need shipping in.

The Irish had a hellacious time when they first hit the cities of the Eastern Seaboard.

Thus my use of the word "eventually". My great-great-grandfather came to the US at 14 and worked at the jobs that the slaves were too valuable to do. The fact that his descendants are mostly prosperous lawyers does not negate his suffering, but it does make his move an overall success.

I'm not aware of any instances where Native American tribes were resettled en masse in urban areas.

I was thinking primarily of Inuit groups moving from a nomadic to a settled lifestyle in the twentieth century, with about the same success as the European gypsies who have been encouraged to do the same thing.

"We" includes the people living in those communities who decide to swap boredom, rural poverty, and limited opportunities for a more urban lifestyle.

I think we're talking apples and oranges here.

I'm not advocating making people stay somewhere unpleasant - I'm suggesting that the countryside could in the near future offer many of the same advantages of the city. It would never appeal to everyone, but not everyone likes cities either. (I, for instance, find that a day in London makes my skin itch all over.)

Martin's argument ("pull all those living in marginal environments into cities") felt like a restriction of choice, a forced move. As I said, that sort of strategy has not been a guaranteed success in the past. You seem to be arguing against a forced ruralisation, or a forced preservation of the current order, and I agree entirely.

And as soon as artisans can make better-than-starvation wages in some other line of work, the local lacemaking industry evaporates into thin air.

Indeed. But one of my Dutch language classmates makes lace as a hobby. I haven't seen any of her work, so I can't judge its quality or authenticity.

But I, too spend much of my spare time doing something that is very difficult to make a good living at. Am I as good at all aspects of the craft as a professional bookbinder? Of course not. And even professional bookbinders admit that, because they don't spend 14 hours a day gold finishing, they aren't as good at it as early finishers were. This is a partial loss, a compromise with the possible. Abandoning binding, like abandoning rural crofting, would be an entire loss.

Public policy can only do so much.

Yes. But what it can do is enhance choice.

#122 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2006, 04:41 AM:

Bryan,

Further research shows that my Scots knowledge is too current to be of use in the context of Brigadoon. Current usage refers to a schoolmaster or headmaster. The clerical context is entirely gone from present use of the term.

#123 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2006, 07:56 AM:

On the subject of Scotland and population drift ...

Scotland has approximately the same land area as England, but a population of 5 million (compared to 50 million down south of the border). Of those 5 million, roughly 3 million of us are crammed into the Central Belt, a strip of land roughly 30 miles wide running from Glasgow in the west to Edinburgh (and the small towns along the Firth of Forth) on the east. There are a couple of small to medium sized cities further north (sorry, but Aberdeen and Stirling and Inverness aren't my idea of large metropolii) and what's left over is a land mass about 80% the size of England with a population of around 1 million.

In contrast: in England, 30 million people live within a roughly 100-150 mile radius of London. The price of an average three bedroom dwelling with roughly 1400 square feet and no garden is, in US currency, somewhere north of $400,000 (rising closer to the $1M point when you get into London proper). The road and rail system is overloaded to the point where there are worries about London facing a food crisis due to the lack of logistical capacity.

The highlands can only be described as pristine wilderness if you go through some really weird mental contortions. At T minus 14 kiloyears they were submerged under about a quarter of a kilometre of ice cap. When the glaciers retreated as the last ice age ended, they were replaced by a dense coniferous forest. Today's heather-carpeted highland moors are what's left after human-induced deforestation swept through. The highlands are every bit as much a product of human activities as the suburbs of London.

I'm not going to go into all the political issues that have historically shaped the highlands -- from the clearances back to the feuding clans -- but I should note that in agricultural terms, the land is marginal. During the successive waves of immigration that shaped the population of the British isles, the successful invaders tended to push the previous denizens out into the unpleasant, less agriculturally useful corners of the islands.

On the flip side: the highlands have beautiful landscapes, bags of empty space, and aren't at much risk of flooding if global sea levels rise.

If I was looking for somewhere to build new cities to relieve the population pressure on the south, that'd be where to go -- not the bloody Thames Gateway, which succumbs to a catastrophic flood every fifty years or so even before you factor in melting ice caps.

#124 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2006, 10:18 AM:

abi -

The fundamental economic advantage of cities is the population density. You can't replace that with good transportation and communication.

There's a fair bit about this in Jane Jacobs' Cities and the Wealth of Nations.

I'd also note that the Inu communities that have been forcibly settled have been stuck down on patches of rock in the middle of a howling wilderness, with extremely tenuous and highly seasonal contact with the outside world. This isn't by any stretch of anything urban.

Cities need water; you need a big river, generally, though large -- really large -- lakes will do, too. This is why Edmonton and Calgary aren't going to turn into major import-replacing cities, despite all the other required advantages; it's too dry in Alberta. I'm pretty sure it's also too dry in the Highlands, unless someone wants to start developing a lot of closed-loop water technologies, starting with sewage and industrial cooling.

#125 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2006, 11:42 AM:

Graydon: here in Scotland we have several hundred of these things called "lochs". They're sort of baby fjords (without quite the same mountainous edges), drain into the North Sea or the Atlantic, and they're full of dihydrogen monoxide. Which flows into them off the hills to either side (see "wettest place in Europe" above), and explains why at least one Scottish political party is campaigning for 40% of our electricity hereabouts to come from hydro power by 2020 (despite the local availability of gas and oil).

You're right about the population density advantage, and that's why it's not going to happen -- you'd have to sit down and plan a city of at least 100K people in the near wilderness, plus transport in and out of the area, before trying to give folks an incentive to move in -- but if you're playing a game of Civ and starting at a fairly high tech level, the Scottish highlands be a really promising place to start building your metropolis: maybe not quite as well-placed as Toronto or Chicago, but nowhere near as bad as, say, Amsterdam or London.

#126 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2006, 11:43 AM:

Graydon,

I guess what I'm really querying is whether we still need that kind of population density for all the kinds of work that were formerly considered urban.

I work in the technology department of a large bank, and regularly collaborate with people in Edinburgh, London, Dublin, Bangalore, and (for my last project) San Francisco. We have some struggles with time zones, but apart from that, we work very well with people whom we never meet. It would take very little extra effort to work with people in Chuuk, Shetland, or Antarctica, if they were hooked up to the phone and Internet.

Admittedly, not all jobs are so location-independent. But many are. Writers, some flavours of lawer, accountants in some roles, even some kinds of project management could be done partly or entirely remotely. I suspect more jobs will be like that in future, which would make the country more viable for those who wanted to live there.

(And Charlie, you're being very charitable to Edinburgh in excluding it from your list of non-metropoles.)

#127 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2006, 11:44 AM:

lawyer

#128 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2006, 12:23 PM:

abi --

The thing required for that sort of distributed service work is the city full of clients. (And the implied industry to lay the fiber and build the network switches and so on, too, along with devising the means to do that, but fundamentally it's the city full of people.)

Cities regularly export certain sorts of tasks to the countryside -- very probably starting with agriculture -- but this doesn't really change the dynamics much. Anywhere that has good transportation tends to start import replacing on its own behalf and turns into city itself. Areas that stay rural are those incapable of supporting the population density to start import replacing. (That density is highly variable with tech level, but so far, the trend has been resolutely up, not down, as the tech gets more capable.)

Charlie --

Point with the lochs, though I don't know if there's really enough water for actual heavy process industry. (Or if the most of them are as deep as Loch Ness; the volume requirements for industry are horrifying.)

The road network, though, ieee. If the lochs and rivers can support canals, maybe there's a workaround for that, but you'd have to lay serious roads through granite to have even a decent shot at a highland city. Which will make almost anything else seem more attractive on money grounds, which is a pity.

#129 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2006, 01:12 AM:

abi et al: the biggest surprise to me on traveling around Interaction was the amount of recent and ongoing construction around Kirkwall (largest settlement on Orkney); our landlady said it was due to recent improvements in data service from the mainland.

I too work with people all around the world (Minneapolis, Bay area, Tokyo, Seoul, Pune, Haifa, Munich, ~London -- and those are just the ones in my company of ~3000 employees), but I note that all of them are also in cities. Cities offer large enough populations that there is room for all sorts of oddball interests: live arts (music/dance concerts, theater), static arts (museums), even fans; what happens when you thin out the population too much? (Making Light is fascinating every day, but sometimes the high bandwidth of a convention is the only thing that will recharge batteries deadened by work.) Some people will always find the city impossible -- abi itches in London, while somebody in a town north of Dundee told us she'd be terrified to visit Glasgow -- but devolution has its own problems.

#130 ::: Squrfle ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2006, 08:07 AM:

closed-loop water technologies
One for sewage has been up & running for quite a few years now. A modified version was used in Iqaluit which didn't bother cleaning the water to the point where it could be drunk. I'm sorry I don't have a recent link for Iqaluit.

#131 ::: Squrfle ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2006, 08:14 AM:

Sorry, should have added - not related to me in any way.

#132 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2006, 09:37 AM:

CHip, Graydon,

I'm not advocating, or forecasting, the death of cities. I'm just looking for ways that non-city life might regain its viability over time, as some of the benefits of the urban world become available in rural contexts. There will always be people who gravitate to the bright lights and delights of the urbs, but there are also people whose heart is in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer (or local equivalent).

The offices of big companies like CHip's and mine are in cities because we still work from offices. I would like to see a time where that is not a requirement. And as a professional, although it is sometimes easier to get clients in cities than when you're out in the countryside, there is this keen Interweb thingie that allows for an awful lot of remote connectivity and communication. My father, who specialises in a particular wrinkle of US pensions law, gets a lot of business over the Web, and they don't care whether he's in Oakland or Outer Mongolia.

(It is also a thought, if we are entering an Age of Terrorism, that a diffuse population is harder to strike against than a concentrated one. Though of course, They could target communications infrastructure, to the extent that They are not the product of scaremongering by people who wish to keep us afraid.)

#133 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2006, 09:45 AM:

abi --

What I'm trying to point out is that non-city life has never been particularly viable, in an economic sense. (This is less obvious when more of the population are also subsistence farmers. Prosperous farmers have nearby city markets and control of the transportation and marketing mechanisms.)

Yes, for a tiny fraction of the available kinds of work, you can do it in a distributed fashion right now, because no human contact is required.

But for most things, you need and will continue to need the city. You can't build a house, set a bone, do heavy chemistry, and so on without the city, and the present connected rural life isn't in any way independent of those things.

#134 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2006, 02:32 PM:

Graydon,

I think we're discussing different values of "viable", or the draining of the countryside would be even further advanced than it is. Those of my acquaintance who live in, or have moved to, rural areas frequently cite non-economic reasons for doing so (frequently couched in terms like "quality of life".) They are also frequently willing to make substantial economic sacrifices to do so.

Will living in the country but doing something other than subsistence farming ever be the path of least resistance? Probably not. Will people still do it anyway, as long as it is economically possible? Yes, probably. Will they still be reliant on the existence of cities? Yes, but that has never been the substance of my argument.

(Among other things, I know a number of people who live three weeks a month in small villages, working remotely, and come in one week a month for meetings.)

#135 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2006, 10:58 AM:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arianna-huffington/the-next-abramoff-shoe-to_b_13469.html


The Next Abramoff Shoe To Drop 01.08.2006

Here's the next Abramoff blockbuster coming soon to a newspaper, cable TV station, and blog near you. What makes this particularly tantalizing is that it puts the White House squarely in the middle of a 2002 corruption investigation of a sleazy arrangement between Abramoff and Guam Superior Court officials. The chief prosecutor in the investigation was acting U.S. Atty. for Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, Frederick A. Black. As the LA Times wrote back in August 2005, in more innocent times when Abramoff's shenanigans did not make front page news, Black was removed from his position as acting U.S. Attorney in November 2002. It was a position he had held for over a decade, and which he lost one day after a subpoena was issued demanding the release of records involving the Guam court's lobbying contract with Abramoff -- including bills and payments.
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