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Pincher Martin's Bibliothèque
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The Perfect World >> Literature & The Arts >> Pincher Martin's Bibliothèque

Pincher Martin's Bibliothèque

webbie -- Sunday, January 29, 2012 -- 01:39:17 AM

Reviews and commentary on all things related to books. Extended discussions on political, social, and cultural topics sparked by a review of a book are also welcome.

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pseudoerasmus -- Sunday, January 29, 2012 -- 01:35:03 PM -- 20 of 305

Pincher's 18 seems exactly right to me. Many adults can quickly achieve a breezy competence in pidginised forms of a foreign language. They string together a bunch of words with enough skill to make themselves understood, and they know enough words to understand native speech -- but only up to a point, without nuances. That kind of fluency is ubiquitous in the world up and down the social and intellectual ladder, in the scale of billions. It takes confidence, perhaps brashness, a decent memory and immersion to pull it off. But it requires altogether a different set of skills -- not to mention diligence, patience, discipline and attention to detail -- to attempt a simulation of native speech in pronunciation, grammar, and idiom.

There are many different ways and degrees of fluency. People who are fluent in a language may or may not…

* speak with an accent recognised as native ;

* speak with complete ease and spontaneity, but in a pidgnised fashion ;

* be able to read beyond simple prose ;

* be able to write with ease or with formality or at length ;

* speak in a manner indistinguishable from a native, as long as the subject does not require detail, nuance or complexity.

Then there are those who can read even complex literary or technical writing with little difficulty, but lack the ability to speak at all or beyond simple phrases. The key here is the difference between active and passive vocabulary. It's possible to have a fairly large passive vocabulary in languages one can't even begin to form a sentence in.

CalGal -- Sunday, January 29, 2012 -- 03:22:37 PM -- 21 of 305
I remember a time, back in the late 90s, when I thought nonsense like this mattered somewhat more than I do now. Now I see well-educated people yammering about the birth control choices of their daughters, or gay marriage, and I think they are morons.

I think you're exactly right about the many degrees of fluency.

Many adults can quickly achieve a breezy competence in pidginised forms of a foreign language

But many can't. And many second language speakers of all ages become increasingly fluent at the second language with practice, and many don't. All I'm saying is that the ability to achieve fluency in any form does not, to me, seem related to IQ.

It's possible to have a fairly large passive vocabulary in languages one can't even begin to form a sentence in.

I'd never thought of that before, but you're right. I could do quite well on a French vocabulary test.

Sterling Dingleberry -- Sunday, January 29, 2012 -- 08:01:19 PM -- 22 of 305
Jesus loves liberals. However, the rest of us know they are total assholes.

Great board.

It is a shame that most of the twit-lib droolers found around here are functionally-illiterate morons possessing little if any intelligence, much less the motor-coordination required to hold a real book, read the words, and/or turn the pages.

Although it is not my issue to decide, they should all be banned from posting on this specific board, IMO.

After all, most cannot put their meager thoughts into words.

Yet we allow these same numbskulls to vote in elections.

Andonly -- Monday, January 30, 2012 -- 03:37:15 AM -- 23 of 305

See, I've been convinced for most of my life that language acquisition is an attribute separate from intelligence, something that can appear in people with IQs of any measure. My father, who has a relatively low IQ (sub-100) is conversationally fluent in pretty much any language he's been in contact with for more than a few weeks.

IQ scores are not synonymous with intelligence; they're only (fallible) measures of key aspects of it.

I wouldn't presume to suggest I know your father better than you do, but your description of his abilities and the opportunities he has been able to exploit, not to mention his linguistic capacities, suggests he isn't unintelligent.

CalGal -- Monday, January 30, 2012 -- 03:51:34 AM -- 24 of 305
I remember a time, back in the late 90s, when I thought nonsense like this mattered somewhat more than I do now. Now I see well-educated people yammering about the birth control choices of their daughters, or gay marriage, and I think they are morons.

IQ scores are not synonymous with intelligence; they're only (fallible) measures of key aspects of it.

IQ scores are very accurate measures of cognitive ability. My father is of below average intelligence as measured with IQ. You appear to have the usual liberal delusions about IQ.

However, I've read some about fluid vs. crystallized intelligence. I suspect that IQ more accurately measures fluid intelligence than crystallized--or, rather, we don't do a good job of measuring the IQs of people with high levels of crystallized intelligence but low levels of fluid intelligence.

In addition to my father, I've run across about 10 people (as both teacher and tutor) who have almost no ability to deal with abstractions--can't deal with algebra at all, even single variable equations, can't identify metaphors, can't draw parallels in any meaningful way. But once they knew something, they knew it. High school students who could not solve 3x + 5 = 17 but could answer in a flash if you asked them number would equal 17 if you multiplied it by three and added five. College graduates who could not easily provide the definitions of words or analyze the meaning of a sentence, and couldn't read very quickly, but could write excellent position essays with strong opinions and good language. Or my father, who explained the mechanics of flight to me so well when I was nine years old that it is still the memory I use when I have to explain it to someone else.

But I suspect that high crystallized/low fluid intelligence is a rare combination, and we don't know how to work with it.

This is for another thread, but not if you're just going to repeat platitudes about IQ.

Pincher Martin -- Monday, January 30, 2012 -- 05:09:39 AM -- 25 of 305
"Whoever is winning at the moment will always seem to be invincible." -- George Orwell

I have a book on IQ in the pipeline. I hope to have it up in a week. Let's run with the discussion then.

Andonly -- Monday, January 30, 2012 -- 05:18:41 AM -- 26 of 305

IQ scores are very accurate measures of cognitive ability.

I'm not suggesting IQ tests don't measure something real, just that a definition of cognitive ability as measured entirely by IQ tests is a tautology.

My father is of below average intelligence as measured with IQ.

The last clause is what's at issue: IQ tests may not properly measure your father's intelligence.

You appear to have the usual liberal delusions about IQ.

I don't; my politics, such as they are, don't play into this question one way or the other. But I don't know why you bother to go on about "platitudes." The link you yourself posted informs you that IQ measures both fluid and crystallized intelligence. If you are asserting that "we" don't do a good job of measuring the latter, then you have generously offered an example of IQ tests failing to quantify an aspect of intelligence, which goes to what I said in the first place.

There are discrete mental capabilities that IQ tests, for all their virtues, don't measure--perfect pitch, for example. If the world were such that we all used or needed musical pitch to survive, I imagine we would count it a component of intelligence. Perhaps the same is true of the capacity for multilingualism.

CalGal -- Monday, January 30, 2012 -- 05:19:50 AM -- 27 of 305
I remember a time, back in the late 90s, when I thought nonsense like this mattered somewhat more than I do now. Now I see well-educated people yammering about the birth control choices of their daughters, or gay marriage, and I think they are morons.

As Pincher said, let's defer until he reviews his book on IQ.

Andonly -- Monday, January 30, 2012 -- 05:20:22 AM -- 28 of 305

I'll be interested to read Pincher's review; I agree w/PE the review of the book on polyglots was very good.

jenrenton -- Monday, January 30, 2012 -- 05:38:55 AM -- 29 of 305
Snowflake mother

Pincher, that review was really a tiny masterpiece. If the New Yorker ran criticism that good, I would allow my husband to resubscribe.

When I was reading more about the nuts-and-bolts of education, I came across the theories of Jim Cummins, who developed the BICS/CALP distinction. Translated from their true educationalese, these would be Basic Interpersonal Communicative Skills vs Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency. In other words, this would be the elaboration of the aforementioned ability to chat, negotiate in the market, or tell bar stories in one or more languages vs the ability to do academic work in one or more languages. I would suspect that while the BICS level is more independent of IQ, CALP would be strongly linked to IQ, since it draws on academic proficiency in general.

Cummins' theories have been widely recommended to teachers, especially at the elementary level, and have certain policy implications, but I thought it was interesting to see that discussion here.

CalGal -- Monday, January 30, 2012 -- 06:02:48 AM -- 30 of 305
I remember a time, back in the late 90s, when I thought nonsense like this mattered somewhat more than I do now. Now I see well-educated people yammering about the birth control choices of their daughters, or gay marriage, and I think they are morons.

Pincher, I somehow missed post #18. That's fascinating and yes, that synchs up nicely with my opinion. Which is probably why I think it's fascinating.

Pincher Martin -- Thursday, February 02, 2012 -- 02:01:32 AM -- 31 of 305
"Whoever is winning at the moment will always seem to be invincible." -- George Orwell

*****

Stay of Execution: Saving the Death Penalty from Itself by Charles Lane, Bowman and Littlefield, 2010, 164 pp.

When an EU delegation arrived in Japan in 2008 with the goal of persuading Tokyo to abolish the country’s death penalty, Japanese Justice Minister Kunio Hatayama had an uncharacteristically eloquent response for a country whose political leaders are not known for their rhetorical flourishes: “[Japan] places extreme importance on the sanctity of life. For that reason, we feel extreme anger toward those who rob another of life. We have a culture of repaying a death with a death. I feel proud to have been born into such a culture. I feel that, on the contrary, giving someone life in prison rather than the death penalty, no matter how many people they kill, is a dry and coldly logical way of thinking.” The Japanese minister’s language was a sharp rebuke to the EU. He refused to accept that his country’s position on the death penalty was a moral burden and turned the tables on the delegates by suggesting that their own position had some serious moral shortcomings. More than two centuries earlier, on the other side of the world in a place with a very different culture, the German philosopher Immanuel Kant had already come to a similar ethical conclusion. He dismissed death penalty abolitionists as both overly compassionate to the guilty and too utilitarian in how they would dispense with justice. Kant reasoned that when thinking about capital punishment one should ignore deterrence and instead focus on the crime itself. He concluded that the moral calculus of a murder requires the ultimate retribution, with the state morally obligated to put the offender to death.

Prominent U.S. supporters of the death penalty today rarely speak in such direct moral terms. During one of the 2000 presidential debates, then-Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush said “...[deterrence is] the only reason to be for [the death penalty]. I don’t think you should support the death penalty to seek revenge. I don’t think that’s right. I think the reason to support the death penalty is because it saves other people’s lives.” Bush’s opponent in the debate, Vice President Al Gore, supported Bush’s reasoning, even as he admitted it was controversial. (There is, in fact, no solid evidence that the death penalty deters crime.) Both Bush and Gore were articulating a view that Kant and Hatayama had each in their own ways rejected -- the utilitarian merits of capital punishment. To the Japanese minister and the German philosopher, it wasn’t important that capital punishment saved lives. They instead chose to emphasize the ethical necessity of retribution.

Some American politicians might shy away from advocating the death penalty for retributive purposes, but as Charles Lane points out in his cleanly-argued book Stay of Execution, the views of the German thinker and the Japanese minister still have excellent company in the U.S. “Retribution remains one of the few purposes of capital punishment,” Lane writes, “whose constitutionality has been specifically and repeatedly acknowledged by a majority of the Supreme Court.” The American legal system’s concept of justice reflects what most of the American public feels. Poll after poll has shown a majority of the public wants criminals who have been found guilty of terrible crimes to pay with the ultimate sanction, even on occasion when those crimes do not involve murder.

At some level Lane must agree with these views, as his book is an attempt to save the death penalty in the U.S. But he rarely lets his guard down to reveal his own values or how he came to believe in them. He argues with the same cold and dry logic the Japanese minister accused the EU delegation of employing in their arguments. Nothing bleeds in this book. There are no real-life examples of justice denied to raise one’s blood pressure. The reader never has to sweat through a case where a vicious murderer gets off scot-free or escapes after a lengthy incarceration to murder again. Lane acknowledges that both the supporters and opponents of capital punishment have an equal moral claim, and he makes a strong case that there are no proven utilitarian reasons to favor capital punishment. But if he’s really trying to preserve a moral choice the majority of Americans have favored over the last four decades and for nearly all their history, why argue for trimming the sails of the death penalty’s scope? Why just play defense by blunting the best arguments of the abolitionists? Why not go on the offense by explaining why so many favor the death penalty in the first place?

*****

The cinematic version of Charles Lane wonders if Stephen Glass is eligible for the death penalty.

*****

If Lane is unwilling to be more proactive in advocating for capital punishment, he’s certainly a capable defender of it. One by one he takes on the best arguments against capital punishment and methodically dismembers them. Does the death penalty inadvertently kill men who are innocent of the crimes they’re convicted of committing? Lane cleverly uses the abolitionists’ own facts to show that these controversial cases are extremely rare among all death penalty cases. He takes what they consider the questionable cases in the modern era and, after properly vetting a handful of them, builds a simple statistical argument showing less than one percent of all death sentences to be in error. Lane’s method is quietly devastating to the abolitionists’ case. Using their figures, only 62 cases of potential factual innocence exist out of 7,280 death row judgments in the modern era of the death penalty. As Lane puts it, “under these assumptions, the criminal justice system got it right 99.2% of the time.” He also points out that the backlog of death penalty cases where DNA has not yet figured into the review has almost been cleared and there is still no definitive proof an innocent man has been put to death by the state in the modern era. From here on out, the use of DNA science will be routine in death penalty cases, making it even less likely mistakes will occur.

What about the connection between capital punishment and racism? Racism was a serious problem in how the death penalty was applied before the 1972 Supreme Court decision of Furman v. Georgia forced the states to revise their statutes to deal with its suspect nature. In the thirty years before Furman, 90% of the men who were executed for rape in the United States were black. Lane looks at both sides of the question -- not just the possibility that blacks are more frequently given a death sentence than whites who are convicted of the same crime, but also the fact that black victims are far more likely than white victims to have their killer get a life sentence instead of the death penalty. He shows that the disproportionate numbers of African Americans who were executed before 1970 -- a skewed ratio obviously racist in intent because it was unrelated to the number or nature of the crimes blacks committed -- has been so effectively reversed in the modern era, and the courts now so dismissive of this line of legal attack, that the best-informed opponents of capital punishment have ceded the point by moving on to other arguments. They now argue that residual racism is still inherent in the death penalty because white victims of crime are much more likely to have their perpetrators sentenced to death than are black victims of crime.

Do prosecutors put more value on white life than black life? Lane carefully builds a case showing that this statistical phenomenon is actually the result of racial sensitivity combined with local prosecutorial discretion. The U.S. has not fifty potential jurisdictions where different sentences are applied -- fifty-one, if you include federal law -- but over 3,100 counties where local prosecutors have the power to decide what penalties to seek. So even within states that allow for capital punishment, there are still substantial differences in the frequency death penalty cases are pursued within the various counties. And most black citizens in black-majority counties do not like the death penalty. They associate capital punishment as one method the south used to keep them under control in the Jim Crow era. The local prosecutors in those counties know this and so routinely choose not to seek the death penalty in cases where it might be applied. The twist is that the victims in these black-majority localities are also likely to be black, thus causing the irony whereby prosecutors are less likely to seek the death penalty in cases where there are black victims because they defer to black opinion about capital punishment. Lane finally dismisses this statistical argument with one of the best lines in his book: “In the old days, it did not take multivariate regression to find the evidence of racial bias in capital punishment.”

Lane is always fair and generous to the opposition. He says they have a principled position in supporting abolition of the death penalty. He treats all their arguments seriously. But his approach of constantly bending over backwards in respect of the opposing view, while it strengthens many of his individual arguments, works against his book’s aim. The reader who comes to Stay of Execution with soft support for the death penalty could very well finish reading the book, agree with all of Lane’s points, and still wonder why bother. Because with a couple of brief exceptions, Lane never makes the case for why the death penalty is needed. He’s so busy playing defense against the abolitionists’s arguments that he never goes on the offense. His book lacks that emotion on which to build a moral case -- that crucial element Immanuel Kant and the Japanese minister found so compelling. What direction an important marginal segment of the U.S. public swings on capital punishment often depends on context, on what they’ve recently heard, or (as Lane shows) on what way the crime rate is trending. Those people can’t be reasoned into a position that started off as a moral impulse, any more than they can be reasoned into a religion. When that retributive impulse on behalf of others has been dulled in them for some reason, they can only be reminded of what caused them to support capital punishment in the first place. Lane’s book might blunt some of their misgivings about the death penalty, but it’s unlikely to provide that spark of support that can only come from hearing the details of a heartbreaking case that gets those retributive juices flowing in them again.

Rating: Seven out of Ten Stars. ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Synopsis: Completely convincing in its individual arguments explaining how the abolitionists greatly overstate their case, but lacks the emotional punch to convince any undecided readers of the continued need for a death penalty.

CalGal -- Thursday, February 02, 2012 -- 02:13:19 AM -- 32 of 305
I remember a time, back in the late 90s, when I thought nonsense like this mattered somewhat more than I do now. Now I see well-educated people yammering about the birth control choices of their daughters, or gay marriage, and I think they are morons.

I like Lane. I don't know when he switched from liberal to skeptic, but it's been a welcome change. Maybe it was the Glass affair.

Pincher Martin -- Thursday, February 02, 2012 -- 02:14:47 AM -- 33 of 305
"Whoever is winning at the moment will always seem to be invincible." -- George Orwell

If this book is any indication, he hasn't quite made the switch as fully as I would like.

CalGal -- Thursday, February 02, 2012 -- 02:24:51 AM -- 34 of 305
I remember a time, back in the late 90s, when I thought nonsense like this mattered somewhat more than I do now. Now I see well-educated people yammering about the birth control choices of their daughters, or gay marriage, and I think they are morons.

I'm against the death penalty. My reason is pretty simple: I think it's wrong for the state to kill people in "cold blood", as it were. I think all of the usual arguments against the death penalty are ill-conceived and incorrect. I have no argument with people who support the death penalty; I think their reasons are entirely grounded in a different, but entirely valid, morality. Were I to write a book pointing all this out but refrain from making passionate arguments in favor of the death penalty or point out why it is needed, you might call it bloodless. I would call it intellectually honest.

It's quite possible that he doesn't agree with the death penalty, and before you argue that no one would ever write a book deconstructing the opposition while agreeing with it, remember that you know me. (g)

Pincher Martin -- Thursday, February 02, 2012 -- 02:54:22 AM -- 35 of 305
"Whoever is winning at the moment will always seem to be invincible." -- George Orwell

It's quite possible that he doesn't agree with the death penalty, and before you argue that no one would ever write a book deconstructing the opposition while agreeing with it, remember that you know me. (g)

Lane does say at one point in the book that he supports the death penalty, but he puts the comment out there almost as an aside. If he hadn't made that slight admission, though, there's almost nothing else in the book that would have clearly signaled to me what side he came down on. Even his arguments against the abolitionists are so carefully couched in respectful and generous terms that I could have inferred he might be one of those types trying to find middle ground on a difficult issue, but who didn't really particularly care one way or the other how the issue was resolved.

I'm against the death penalty. My reason is pretty simple: I think it's wrong for the state to kill people in "cold blood", as it were.

Whether the death penalty deters murders has never been proven, but if it were proven to your satisfaction would you still not support it?

Pincher Martin -- Thursday, February 02, 2012 -- 03:01:11 AM -- 36 of 305
"Whoever is winning at the moment will always seem to be invincible." -- George Orwell

I do agree that, given what we know now, both support and opposition to the death penalty is a personal moral stand. You either agree with the practice or you don't.

But if someone says the death penalty is racist or frequently kills innocent people or deters crime, there are effective rebuttals to those points.

CalGal -- Thursday, February 02, 2012 -- 03:09:57 AM -- 37 of 305
I remember a time, back in the late 90s, when I thought nonsense like this mattered somewhat more than I do now. Now I see well-educated people yammering about the birth control choices of their daughters, or gay marriage, and I think they are morons.

Probably not. I imagine the death penalty would also deter rape, but I wouldn't support it for that.

could have inferred he might be one of those types trying to find middle ground on a difficult issue, but who didn't really particularly care one way or the other how the issue was resolved.

In a weird way, this is me. I am not galvanized by the issue, precisely because I understand how strong a moral argument can be made the other way. But I'm also pretty unmoveable on the subject.

In fact, it's one of the earliest adult views I remember forming. I remember George Deukmajian, in his first run for governor, making a simple group of statements about his views. The last one, as I recall, was "And I believe we should bring back the death penalty to California." I was about 20.

I'd never really considered it before that moment, but in that moment, I thought, "I don't." And I've never really changed my opinion.

I don't believe I've ever held negative views about people who supported the death penalty, which isn't as true about my earlier views about people who opposed abortion or gay rights (back in my 20s, I mean).

CalGal -- Thursday, February 02, 2012 -- 03:10:59 AM -- 38 of 305
I remember a time, back in the late 90s, when I thought nonsense like this mattered somewhat more than I do now. Now I see well-educated people yammering about the birth control choices of their daughters, or gay marriage, and I think they are morons.

But if someone says the death penalty is racist or frequently kills innocent people or deters crime, there are effective rebuttals to those points.

Yes, I agree. And you can go back as far as my online opinions go, and find me saying the same thing.

Pincher Martin -- Friday, February 03, 2012 -- 02:31:08 AM -- 39 of 305
"Whoever is winning at the moment will always seem to be invincible." -- George Orwell

I recently read Christopher Hitchens' Thomas Paine's Rights of Man, but I won't be reviewing it here. The book is fairly bland and predictable, and I'm not sure what I could say about it that might be of interest. I wonder if Hitchens wrote the book to make money. Or perhaps he did it to establish his literary connection to one of the few Founding Fathers whose temperament was congenial to Hitchens' religious and political views.

But whatever the case, the book is short and forgettable. I wouldn't have even mentioned reading it if I hadn't come across this wickedly funny obituary of Hitchens by Andrew Ferguson: Why they Wept for Hitchens

Most unexpected of all, at least by me, was the overpraise for Hitchens’s habits of mind, and for his politics, which supposedly placed him courageously at odds with the establishment. “He offered a model of how to think,” wrote one grief-stricken acquaintance. The PBS historian Simon Schama mourned the “unfillable space where his prose rocked and rolled in face of the demure, the hypocritical, and the ignorantly self-important.”
Such excess obscures the most obvious conclusion we can draw from Hitchens’s politics, which is that he was a crank. In the early 1980s he was convinced that the Reagan administration had colluded in the Soviet Union’s downing of the airliner KAL 007. A few years later he was a vigorous promoter of the “Secret Team” theory that fit the Iran-contra scandal into a world-girding conspiracy of international bankers and private militias. A handful of memorialists dismissed his hatred of Bill Clinton as a lapse in judgment, but maybe you had to be there to see how unhinged it was: He really did believe that Clinton had been an accessory to the murder of a pair of hillbillies back in Arkansas. And the Queen, that “whore,” was almost as evil as the Albanian dwarf.
There were lots more opinions where these came from, and any combination of two or three of them, expressed with Hitchens’s ardor and bloody-minded indifference to fact, would have got any one else run out of polite society. In media circles—not to be confused with polite society, I know—even the whole package couldn’t disqualify Hitchens. Where his polemics failed as models of logic or casemaking, they excelled as attention-getters. Only his later embrace of Republican foreign policy threatened his hallowed place among media people, but the threat was temporary and finally inconsequential.

This puts Hitchens' Vidal Loco in an entirely different light.

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The Perfect World >> Literature & The Arts >> Pincher Martin's Bibliothèque