Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Austen Second Tier Men Bracket: Final Results

 It was a hard fought contest, but it seems that the Darcy clan just has what it takes.  After all, Colonel Fitzwilliam had the grace and courage to flirt with Elizabeth while Mr. Darcy himself was still being awkward and stand-offish.

But it was a narrow victory.  With final play rehearsals going on here, we left the voting open longer than we'd meant to and in the end the Darcy clan won versus stolid but faithful Robert Martin by a single vote.

Clearly Robert Martin deserved all the faith that Mr. Knightly put in him. 

Sunday, September 05, 2021

Austen Second Tier Men Bracket: Final Round

With a long weekend, a kid turning eighteen, and final preparations to begin homeschooling for the year on Tuesday, we let the third round stretch a little long on the Austen.  Mr. Darcy's cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam dominated the uniformed bracket against poetic Captain Benwick. And Harriet Smith's steadfast suitor Robert Martin won a narrower victory over the sympathetic Curate from Love & Friendship.

So now we enter the final round.  Who is the best second tier man in the Austen canon?

To give each man his due, it seems appropriate to include a passage in which each is discussed. Thus, here from Emma is where we hear of Robert Martin's engagement to Harriet Smith:

“I am afraid,” said he, composing his features, “I am very much afraid, my dear Emma, that you will not smile when you hear it.”

“Indeed! but why so?—I can hardly imagine that any thing which pleases or amuses you, should not please and amuse me too.”

“There is one subject,” he replied, “I hope but one, on which we do not think alike.” He paused a moment, again smiling, with his eyes fixed on her face. “Does nothing occur to you?—Do not you recollect?—Harriet Smith.”

Her cheeks flushed at the name, and she felt afraid of something, though she knew not what.

“Have you heard from her yourself this morning?” cried he. “You have, I believe, and know the whole.”

“No, I have not; I know nothing; pray tell me.”

“You are prepared for the worst, I see—and very bad it is. Harriet Smith marries Robert Martin.”

Emma gave a start, which did not seem like being prepared—and her eyes, in eager gaze, said, “No, this is impossible!” but her lips were closed.

“It is so, indeed,” continued Mr. Knightley; “I have it from Robert Martin himself. He left me not half an hour ago.”

She was still looking at him with the most speaking amazement.

“You like it, my Emma, as little as I feared.—I wish our opinions were the same. But in time they will. Time, you may be sure, will make one or the other of us think differently; and, in the meanwhile, we need not talk much on the subject.”

“You mistake me, you quite mistake me,” she replied, exerting herself. “It is not that such a circumstance would now make me unhappy, but I cannot believe it. It seems an impossibility!—You cannot mean to say, that Harriet Smith has accepted Robert Martin. You cannot mean that he has even proposed to her again—yet. You only mean, that he intends it.”

“I mean that he has done it,” answered Mr. Knightley, with smiling but determined decision, “and been accepted.”

“Good God!” she cried.—“Well!”—Then having recourse to her workbasket, in excuse for leaning down her face, and concealing all the exquisite feelings of delight and entertainment which she knew she must be expressing, she added, “Well, now tell me every thing; make this intelligible to me. How, where, when?—Let me know it all. I never was more surprized—but it does not make me unhappy, I assure you.—How—how has it been possible?”

“It is a very simple story. He went to town on business three days ago, and I got him to take charge of some papers which I was wanting to send to John.—He delivered these papers to John, at his chambers, and was asked by him to join their party the same evening to Astley’s. They were going to take the two eldest boys to Astley’s. The party was to be our brother and sister, Henry, John—and Miss Smith. My friend Robert could not resist. They called for him in their way; were all extremely amused; and my brother asked him to dine with them the next day—which he did—and in the course of that visit (as I understand) he found an opportunity of speaking to Harriet; and certainly did not speak in vain.—She made him, by her acceptance, as happy even as he is deserving. He came down by yesterday’s coach, and was with me this morning immediately after breakfast, to report his proceedings, first on my affairs, and then on his own. This is all that I can relate of the how, where, and when. Your friend Harriet will make a much longer history when you see her.—She will give you all the minute particulars, which only woman’s language can make interesting.—In our communications we deal only in the great.—However, I must say, that Robert Martin’s heart seemed for him, and to me, very overflowing; and that he did mention, without its being much to the purpose, that on quitting their box at Astley’s, my brother took charge of Mrs. John Knightley and little John, and he followed with Miss Smith and Henry; and that at one time they were in such a crowd, as to make Miss Smith rather uneasy.”

He stopped.—Emma dared not attempt any immediate reply. To speak, she was sure would be to betray a most unreasonable degree of happiness. She must wait a moment, or he would think her mad. Her silence disturbed him; and after observing her a little while, he added,

“Emma, my love, you said that this circumstance would not now make you unhappy; but I am afraid it gives you more pain than you expected. His situation is an evil—but you must consider it as what satisfies your friend; and I will answer for your thinking better and better of him as you know him more. His good sense and good principles would delight you.—As far as the man is concerned, you could not wish your friend in better hands. His rank in society I would alter if I could, which is saying a great deal I assure you, Emma.—You laugh at me about William Larkins; but I could quite as ill spare Robert Martin.”

And here is where we spend some time with Colonel Fitzwilliam

In this quiet way, the first fortnight of her visit soon passed away. Easter was approaching, and the week preceding it was to bring an addition to the family at Rosings, which in so small a circle must be important. Elizabeth had heard soon after her arrival that Mr. Darcy was expected there in the course of a few weeks, and though there were not many of her acquaintances whom she did not prefer, his coming would furnish one comparatively new to look at in their Rosings parties, and she might be amused in seeing how hopeless Miss Bingley’s designs on him were, by his behaviour to his cousin, for whom he was evidently destined by Lady Catherine, who talked of his coming with the greatest satisfaction, spoke of him in terms of the highest admiration, and seemed almost angry to find that he had already been frequently seen by Miss Lucas and herself.

His arrival was soon known at the Parsonage; for Mr. Collins was walking the whole morning within view of the lodges opening into Hunsford Lane, in order to have the earliest assurance of it, and after making his bow as the carriage turned into the Park, hurried home with the great intelligence. On the following morning he hastened to Rosings to pay his respects. There were two nephews of Lady Catherine to require them, for Mr. Darcy had brought with him a Colonel Fitzwilliam, the younger son of his uncle Lord ——, and, to the great surprise of all the party, when Mr. Collins returned, the gentlemen accompanied him. Charlotte had seen them from her husband’s room, crossing the road, and immediately running into the other, told the girls what an honour they might expect, adding:

“I may thank you, Eliza, for this piece of civility. Mr. Darcy would never have come so soon to wait upon me.”

Elizabeth had scarcely time to disclaim all right to the compliment, before their approach was announced by the door-bell, and shortly afterwards the three gentlemen entered the room. Colonel Fitzwilliam, who led the way, was about thirty, not handsome, but in person and address most truly the gentleman. Mr. Darcy looked just as he had been used to look in Hertfordshire—paid his compliments, with his usual reserve, to Mrs. Collins, and whatever might be his feelings toward her friend, met her with every appearance of composure. Elizabeth merely curtseyed to him without saying a word.

Colonel Fitzwilliam entered into conversation directly with the readiness and ease of a well-bred man, and talked very pleasantly; but his cousin, after having addressed a slight observation on the house and garden to Mrs. Collins, sat for some time without speaking to anybody. At length, however, his civility was so far awakened as to enquire of Elizabeth after the health of her family. She answered him in the usual way, and after a moment’s pause, added:

“My eldest sister has been in town these three months. Have you never happened to see her there?”

She was perfectly sensible that he never had; but she wished to see whether he would betray any consciousness of what had passed between the Bingleys and Jane, and she thought he looked a little confused as he answered that he had never been so fortunate as to meet Miss Bennet. The subject was pursued no farther, and the gentlemen soon afterwards went away.

Colonel Fitzwilliam’s manners were very much admired at the Parsonage, and the ladies all felt that he must add considerably to the pleasures of their engagements at Rosings. It was some days, however, before they received any invitation thither—for while there were visitors in the house, they could not be necessary; and it was not till Easter-day, almost a week after the gentlemen’s arrival, that they were honoured by such an attention, and then they were merely asked on leaving church to come there in the evening. For the last week they had seen very little of Lady Catherine or her daughter. Colonel Fitzwilliam had called at the Parsonage more than once during the time, but Mr. Darcy they had seen only at church.

The invitation was accepted of course, and at a proper hour they joined the party in Lady Catherine’s drawing-room. Her ladyship received them civilly, but it was plain that their company was by no means so acceptable as when she could get nobody else; and she was, in fact, almost engrossed by her nephews, speaking to them, especially to Darcy, much more than to any other person in the room.

Colonel Fitzwilliam seemed really glad to see them; anything was a welcome relief to him at Rosings; and Mrs. Collins’s pretty friend had moreover caught his fancy very much. He now seated himself by her, and talked so agreeably of Kent and Hertfordshire, of travelling and staying at home, of new books and music, that Elizabeth had never been half so well entertained in that room before; and they conversed with so much spirit and flow, as to draw the attention of Lady Catherine herself, as well as of Mr. Darcy. His eyes had been soon and repeatedly turned towards them with a look of curiosity; and that her ladyship, after a while, shared the feeling, was more openly acknowledged, for she did not scruple to call out:

“What is that you are saying, Fitzwilliam? What is it you are talking of? What are you telling Miss Bennet? Let me hear what it is.”

“We are speaking of music, madam,” said he, when no longer able to avoid a reply.

“Of music! Then pray speak aloud. It is of all subjects my delight. I must have my share in the conversation if you are speaking of music. There are few people in England, I suppose, who have more true enjoyment of music than myself, or a better natural taste. If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient. And so would Anne, if her health had allowed her to apply. I am confident that she would have performed delightfully. How does Georgiana get on, Darcy?”

Mr. Darcy spoke with affectionate praise of his sister’s proficiency.

“I am very glad to hear such a good account of her,” said Lady Catherine; “and pray tell her from me, that she cannot expect to excel if she does not practice a good deal.”

“I assure you, madam,” he replied, “that she does not need such advice. She practises very constantly.”

“So much the better. It cannot be done too much; and when I next write to her, I shall charge her not to neglect it on any account. I often tell young ladies that no excellence in music is to be acquired without constant practice. I have told Miss Bennet several times, that she will never play really well unless she practises more; and though Mrs. Collins has no instrument, she is very welcome, as I have often told her, to come to Rosings every day, and play on the pianoforte in Mrs. Jenkinson’s room. She would be in nobody’s way, you know, in that part of the house.”

Mr. Darcy looked a little ashamed of his aunt’s ill-breeding, and made no answer.

When coffee was over, Colonel Fitzwilliam reminded Elizabeth of having promised to play to him; and she sat down directly to the instrument. He drew a chair near her. Lady Catherine listened to half a song, and then talked, as before, to her other nephew; till the latter walked away from her, and making with his usual deliberation towards the pianoforte stationed himself so as to command a full view of the fair performer’s countenance. Elizabeth saw what he was doing, and at the first convenient pause, turned to him with an arch smile, and said:

“You mean to frighten me, Mr. Darcy, by coming in all this state to hear me? I will not be alarmed though your sister does play so well. There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.”

“I shall not say you are mistaken,” he replied, “because you could not really believe me to entertain any design of alarming you; and I have had the pleasure of your acquaintance long enough to know that you find great enjoyment in occasionally professing opinions which in fact are not your own.”

Elizabeth laughed heartily at this picture of herself, and said to Colonel Fitzwilliam, “Your cousin will give you a very pretty notion of me, and teach you not to believe a word I say. I am particularly unlucky in meeting with a person so able to expose my real character, in a part of the world where I had hoped to pass myself off with some degree of credit. Indeed, Mr. Darcy, it is very ungenerous in you to mention all that you knew to my disadvantage in Hertfordshire—and, give me leave to say, very impolitic too—for it is provoking me to retaliate, and such things may come out as will shock your relations to hear.”

“I am not afraid of you,” said he, smilingly.

“Pray let me hear what you have to accuse him of,” cried Colonel Fitzwilliam. “I should like to know how he behaves among strangers.”

“You shall hear then—but prepare yourself for something very dreadful. The first time of my ever seeing him in Hertfordshire, you must know, was at a ball—and at this ball, what do you think he did? He danced only four dances, though gentlemen were scarce; and, to my certain knowledge, more than one young lady was sitting down in want of a partner. Mr. Darcy, you cannot deny the fact.”

“I had not at that time the honour of knowing any lady in the assembly beyond my own party.”

“True; and nobody can ever be introduced in a ball-room. Well, Colonel Fitzwilliam, what do I play next? My fingers wait your orders.”

“Perhaps,” said Darcy, “I should have judged better, had I sought an introduction; but I am ill-qualified to recommend myself to strangers.”

“Shall we ask your cousin the reason of this?” said Elizabeth, still addressing Colonel Fitzwilliam. “Shall we ask him why a man of sense and education, and who has lived in the world, is ill qualified to recommend himself to strangers?”

“I can answer your question,” said Fitzwilliam, “without applying to him. It is because he will not give himself the trouble.”

“I certainly have not the talent which some people possess,” said Darcy, “of conversing easily with those I have never seen before. I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done.”

“My fingers,” said Elizabeth, “do not move over this instrument in the masterly manner which I see so many women’s do. They have not the same force or rapidity, and do not produce the same expression. But then I have always supposed it to be my own fault—because I will not take the trouble of practising. It is not that I do not believe my fingers as capable as any other woman’s of superior execution.”

Darcy smiled and said, “You are perfectly right. You have employed your time much better. No one admitted to the privilege of hearing you can think anything wanting. We neither of us perform to strangers.”

The time has come. Vote early and often!

Friday, September 03, 2021

Israeli Data: Yes, The COVID Vaccines Are Still Working

I've heard a piece of conventional wisdom going around that with the delta variant, etc. the COVID vaccines just aren't working anymore.  Ironically, this seems to be a view endorsed both by those who want more actions taken to prevent spread (masks, shutdowns, etc.) and those who think that the vaccines, masks, etc. are mostly useless.  

Is this true?

It's possible to find out.  Israel is the example which many of these claims are being made about, because they have a very high vaccination rate and yet they still have a certain number of people who are seriously ill, most of them vaccinated.  There's an Israeli dashboard which provides national health data on COVID patients and vaccinations.  And someone has done a great job of downloading their data and breaking it down by vaccinated/unvaccinated and by age group.  The results underline the effectiveness of the vaccines.

As has been noted, there are more people severely ill with COVID in Israel who have been vaccinated than who haven't been vaccinated, but that's in the context of a population which is 79% vaccinated.  If you break down the number of severe cases of COVID by the number of people who are and aren't vaccinated, what you see is that 16.4 unvaccinated people per 100,000 are sick with severe COVID while only 5.3 vaccinated people per 100,000 are.  Said another way, at this total population level, getting the vaccine reduced your chances of having severe COVID by 67.5%

But it's actually much better than that.  It turns out (unsurprisingly) that vaccination rates are not the same for different ages of people.  This means that on average the fully vaccinated group is older than the unvaccinated group.  And we already know that older people are much more likely to have bad cases of COVID.  So the author breaks down vaccination status and severe cases by age:

Of the people under 30 with severe COVID (seven people out of 2.5 million), none were vaccinated.  So for young people, you're not very likely to get severe COVID, but the vaccination reduces the chances to basically zero.

Among older people, where COVID is particularly dangerous, we see a huge effect from the vaccines.  293 Israelis aged 70+ had severe COVID as of Sept 2nd out of a population of 768k.  (I'm getting these additional details from the full Sept 2 data sheet available for download at the end of the linked article or here.)  44% of those 293 were from among the 4% of Israelis over 70 who have not been vaccinated.  Israelis over 70 were 90% less likely to have a severe case of COVID than unvaccinated people of the same age.  

Even with the delta variant on the loose, even for people who are highly at risk, the vaccines are 90%+ effective in preventing people from getting severe cases of COVID.  

Austen Second Tier Men Bracket: Round Three

It's Friday.  You deserve a diversion, and what better form could it take than wrapping up the brackets for the more obscure heart-throbs in the Austen canon?


It's been a hard fought contest thus far.  Captain Benwick of Persuasion, with his moody appreciation of Byron, narrowly edged out Reginald De Courcy of Lady Susan, while the curate from Whit Stillman's Love & Friendship (a delightful adaptation/expansion of Austen's unfinished Lady Susan, and the only work in the Austen Extended Universe that we are acknowledging to exist for the purposes of this contest) edged out Sir James Martin of Lady Susan.

Other contests are not as equal.  Colonel Fitzwilliam, Mr. Darcy's more easy going cousin, trounced scapregrace Mansfield Park heir Tom Bertram, and rural heart-throb Robert Martin completely shut out Mr. Yates, Tom Bertram's theatrical friend who in the end elopes with Maria Bertram.

So now we come down to difficult decisions.  The warm and easy going Colonel Fitzwilliam is in an Army/Navy bracket against moody and poetic Captain Benwick, who may just recover from his heartbreak to make another young woman very happy.

And the Curate from Love & Friendship, who has done surprisingly well for a non-canonical character who is not blessed with a name in the movie, but nonetheless provides heartfelt advice to young Frederica Vernon (and what young woman who has Lady Susan as a mother doesn't need some sympathy and counsel?) is up against the stolid rural charm of Robert Martin, the man who steadfastly offers his heart to Miss Harriet Smith, even as the exalted Emma causes her to vacillate in her affections.

Who will win?  That is up to you.  Cast your votes as we bring this contest to its close.

Thursday, September 02, 2021

The Ultimate Austen Second Tier Bracket: Round Two


You might as well call it the scoundrel elimination round. Tilney père et frère lost to their wholesome challengers, as did the besotted Lord Manwaring and the unctuous Mr. Elton. Robert Ferrars and Mr. Rushworth must both retire to discuss snuff boxes and pink satin cloaks. And alas, we must bid adieu to such worthy fellows as dear James Morland and the seriously underrated William Price.

Now in Round Two, the choices are not so easy. This time we haven't re-randomized, but will play the brackets as they lay.

Will you persuade Captain Benwick to forget the memory of his lost love, or do you prefer to rescue Reginald De Courcy from Lady Susan's snares?

Will second-son Colonel Fitzwilliam's gentlemanly manners and good health avail against reformed and convalescing eldest son Tom Bertram?

In the universe of discourse that is Lady Susan, can canonical rattle Sir James Martin hope to prevail against the amiability and spiritual consolation of the cinematic Little Red-Haired Curate?

The stage and the plow engage in class warfare as gentleman amateur thespian Mr. Yates goes head to head with the industrious tenant farmer Robert Martin.

Which second-tier heroes will advance to the Final Four? Cast your votes.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Ultimate Jane Austen Hero Bracket: Final Results -- and Bonus Bracket!

You knew it would happen.  It is a truth universally acknowledged (or at least acknowledged by 59.2% of the 120 people who cast votes) that a young man with 10,000 a year and an estate in Derbyshire must be the winner of the Ultimate Jane Austen Hero Bracket. Captain Wentworth will have to pin his hopes on a carefully conveyed letter and his slow progress up the post captain list.

But as we watched all this come to its inevitable conclusion, MrsDarwin began to feel that something with a little bit more of a sporting chance would have been more diverting.  And what would give us that sporting chance?

Behold: The  Ultimate Austen Second Tier Bracket

Test your knowledge of Austen's minor men, randomly matched in eight duels. 

 Do you, like Harriet, prefer the wholesome charm of Robert Martin, or is the salt flavour of Midshipman William Price more to your liking? 

Will the theatrics of Mr. Yates or the social graces of Mr. Elton prevail?

Who is the ultimate rattle: Sir James Martin or Mr. Rushworth?

Can the seductive Capt. Tilney even compete with the charming red-haired Curate from the cinematic adaptation of Lady Susan, with his knowledge of the Superb Baumgarten?

Who is (or will be) richer: General Tilney, the fearsome widower, or Tom Bertram (in his rightful bracket)?

Do you prefer the fraternal affability of James Morland or the second-son allurements of Col. Fitzwilliam?

Which gentleman deserves to escape unscathed from the wiles of Lady Susan: Reginald De Courcy or the Divine Manwaring?

Whose folly is greater: Robert Ferrars's, or Captain Benwick's?

 Get ready to show off your taste and your mastery of obscure Austen detail and cast your vote now.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Ultimate Jane Austen Hero Bracket: Final Round

Round three was close-fought, and I was surprised by some of the results.  

Mr. Darcy beat out Mr. Knightley, though I trust it was the strength of his character, not just his ten thousand a year, which made the final difference.

Captain Wentworth won out in the uniformed bracket, defeating Colonel Brandon.  Perhaps he who loves longest loves best.

And how we come, as we must, to the final round.  Only one man can win.  The high seas or the shades of Pemberley: Mr. Darcy versus Captain Wentworth.  

Cast your votes.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Ultimate Jane Austen Hero Bracket: Round Three

Some tough choices were made in this round.  

Edward Ferrars proved to be no match for Mr. Knightley, eliminating our first true Austen hero in a rout almost as complete as the details of all Emma's plans for Miss Harriet Smith.

In a much narrower contest, aging mature heartthrob Colonel Brandon edged out young and light-hearted Henry Tilney, despite the former's ownership of a flannel waistcoat.

The other two contests were not close.  Mr. Darcy nearly shut out Mr. Willoughby in a 64 to 1 vote, while Mr. Collins pulled in 6 votes to Captain Wentworth's 61.

In round three, it's all tough choices.  Mr. Darcy vs Mr. Knightley in the "I didn't realize I loved him until the last minute" elimination round.  And for those whose hearts go pitter pat when the militia marches through Meryton, what could be better than the Army vs. Navy contest of Colonel Brandon vs. Captain Wentworth.

Cast your votes.  It's 1800, so vote early and often and bring out all your rotten boroughs.  Only two Austen heroes can move to the final round.

War, Mobilization and the Nation State

One of the things that struck me while listening to the seasons of Mike Duncan's Revolutions podcast covering the English Civil War and the French Revolution was the weakness of the English and French monarchies prior to their respective revolutions.  Both Charles I and Louis XVI struggled to raise enough money to pay for their governments, and the big thing which could push a monarch over into financial trouble (and thus the need to call into session a parliament which might in turn demand more power) was fighting a war.  

Battle of Hohenfriedberg, 1745

War in the 1600s and 1700s required muskets, pikes, artillery, cavalry, and the training to use those weapons effectively in disciplined formations. Rather than relying on nobles to pull together scratch forces of a few highly trained men at arms and a large number of basically untrained peasants as might have worked a few hundred years before, winning wars in the early modern period required raising professional troops, equipping them, and paying them.  And with the means of taxation available to pre-1800 monarchs, that was a dicey proposition.  The chain of events leading to Charles I and Louis XVI both losing their heads to revolutionary parliamentary governments arguably started in both cases with war debts too large for the sovereign's taxation authority to pay off.

In both cases, the revolutionary governments themselves eventually built successful (and modern by the standards of their day) armies.  However, here I'm going to focus on the French revolutionary army and what came afterwards, because it's the revolution which turned permanently towards a more totalizing approach to the nation state.

As the revolutionary French state lurched its way towards full overthrow of the monarchy in 1792, with the King and his family prisoners since their unsuccessful flight from Paris, the French state found itself at war without and within.  In Sept, 1792, the French Army (still essentially the royal French army, with many of the officers loyal to the king) won the Battle of Valmy against invading Prussian and Holy Roman forces.  However, it was clear that the old army was not large enough and its officer corps was not loyal enough, to fight revolutionary wars at home and abroad.  

In Feb., 1793, the National Convention passed its initial national levy to recruit 300,000 troops, with a quota for each departement.  (This on the one hand started to build the French army, but on the other pushed the Vendee and other anti-revolutionary areas into revolt, since anti-revolutionary Frenchmen did not want to be drafted.)  So in August, 1793, the National Convention declared the Levée en Masse

From this moment until such time as its enemies shall have been driven from the soil of the Republic, all Frenchmen are in permanent requisition for the services of the armies. The young men shall fight; the married men shall forge arms and transport provisions; the women shall make tents and clothes and shall serve in the hospitals; the children shall turn old lint into linen; the old men shall betake themselves to the public squares in order to arouse the courage of the warriors and preach hatred of kings and the unity of the Republic.

By the following year, the size of the French army had more than doubled from 645,000 in mid 1794 to 1,500,000 in Sept. 1794.

There is, of course, a supreme irony in the fact that the "tyrannical" Louis XVI was forced into near bankruptcy and thus negotiation with the Estates General, due to trying to pay for much smaller armies.  During the Seven Years War, France fielded one of its largest forces in the war with 90,000 men at the Battle of Willinghausen.  In the Wars of Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, France would fight many battles of that size.

One of the stand-out generals in the Wars of Revolution was, of course, Napoleon.  His victories in Italy brought him fame and power in France (and delivered much needed wealth to the French government) and despite a strategic loss in Egypt  he became the virtual dictator of France and then Emperor. Napoleon's Grande Armee would conscript over 2,000,000 men from 1805 to 1813.

The major battles of the Napoleonic Wars were larger than those of the European wars that had come before, and France's contribution to them underscores the power of this "national mobilization" concept in terms of both raising troops and raising the money to equip them.  Not only was the Battle of Leipzig by far the largest battle of the modern era to that date, but France (a nation of about 31 million people) was fighting a coalition of Russia, Austria, Prussia, Sweden, and others which had three times the population.  

When revolutionary France had declared their mass army, they had stated the aspiration of inspiring similar revolutionary movements in other parts of the world.  Back in Nov., 1792, the Convention had passed a resolution saying, 

The National Convention declares, in the name of the French nation, that it will grant fraternity and assistance to all peoples who wish to recover their liberty, and instructs the Executive Power to give the necessary orders to generals to grant assistance to these peoples and to defend those citizens who have been—or may be—persecuted for their attachment to the cause of liberty. The National Convention further decrees that the Executive Power shall order the generals to have this decree printed and distributed in all the various languages and in all the various countries of which they have taken possession.

Their ability to inspire similar revolutions elsewhere was limited, but the fact that states could field such large armies by drawing on national feeling meant that developing a strong national identity and a state capable of harnessing it to conscript and field large armies became a key means of power.

During the course of the 1800s, states across Europe would build the capacity to similarly mobilize the nation for war.  When reading Tolstoy's War & Peace (written in the 1860s and seeing the Napoleonic era in Russia through the lens of that later era) we see a strong image of Russia nationally mobilizing to fight off the French invasion.  Whether this is the right way to took at Russia's actual war in 1805-1813 is perhaps open to question, but it is most certainly the case that by the 1860s Russia (like other European states) had developed this kind of national feeling.

The World Wars saw this capacity for national mobilization on full display.  

While the Battle of Leipzig in 1813 saw half a million men on the battlefield, in the Battle of Galicia in 1914 between Austria-Hungary and Russia, 2.1 million men were deployed.  On the Western Front, 2.0 million Germans and French (and a few British and Belgians) fought in the Battle of the Marne outside Paris.

Twenty-five years later, Germany and Russia invaded Poland with 2.0 million men in 1939, while Poland fielded 1.0 million to defend against the invader.  The next year, when Germany invaded France, they did so with 3.4 million men, while the French and the British Expeditionary Force fought back with a combined 3.3 million men.

Of course, the population of Europe had become much larger during these centuries.  However, if we divide the number of soldiers in these major European battles by the populations of the belligerent countries, we can get a sense of how modern nation states came to mobilize their populations for war at a level unimaginable in the early modern era.  

The trend is a little easier to see if I average these battles:

As the world wars continued, mobilization became even more total.  I selected the initial battles from both wars in order to give a sense of the level of mobilization which combatant countries were able to reach within mere months of the conflict starting.  

1900-1945 was the era in which mass armies fed by universal conscription were the tools for dominance.  However, in the years since, this has changed to some extent.  People point to the atom bomb as a key difference, but much wider than that there is a whole technical package of modern warfare which allows countries to engage in resource-intensive war which is not as manpower intensive. No longer is the number of rifleman that a country can field the key determining factor of battlefield supremacy.  For instance, in 1991 the US and Iraq had roughly similar numbers of troops in the field.  In 2003, Iraq actually outnumbered total coalition troops by 20% (and outnumbered the US contingent of troops by nearly 50%) but the fight was even more unequal than before in terms of combat effectiveness.

The United States, China, and India have the three largest militaries in the world, and each of them is significantly smaller than the French and German armies which faced off in the Battle of France in 1940.  China (the largest in terms of manpower) has 2.2M active military and another 0.5M in reserves.  In 1940 France put 3.0M men into combat, despite having a population of only 41M as compared to China's current population of 1,400M.

While it's reasonable to think that in a modern non-nuclear great power war, the countries engaged would seek to recruit more soldiers, the technology involved means that such a war would be to a great extent a war of resources and technology, not a war of sheer numbers.  Whether this change in military necessities will result in a change in commitment to the nation state (a reversal of the strengthening of national feeling from 1800 to 1900) remains to be seen.  One could even argue that in some parts of the world it has already happened.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Ultimate Jane Austen Hero Bracket: Round Two

With eighty votes in, the first round of the Ultimate Jane Austen Hero Bracket is finished. 

Overall, this wasn't a very tough round.  There was definitely some competition between Edmund Bertram and Henry Tilney, but Austen's only hero with a sense of humor won out.  

Willoughby won the rogue's gallery contest against Wickham.  

Edward Ferrars handily defeated Frank Churchill.

And Colonel Brandon won the nice guy contest against Mr. Bingley.

But as we approach the second round there some tough choices to be made.

Now Henry Tilney's good humor is up against the relentless romantic good will of the older and more experienced Colonel Brandon.  

And Edward Ferrars, who can't violate his sense of honor to tell Elinor that he's already engaged (unwillingly) to Lucy Steele is up against Mr. Knightley, the only man who can tell the most important young woman in Highbury, "It was badly done, indeed!"

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Ultimate Jane Austen Hero Bracket: Round One

 You need something diverting, nay, excessively diverting, for your Friday, so here it is: the Ultimate Jane Austen Hero Bracket: Round One

That's right.  In this first of four rounds, you pick the winner between eight randomly paired matchups of Austen's male characters.  How do you pick the winner?  If you're picking between Pride & Prejudice's Mr. Wickham and Sense & Sensibility's Mr. Willoughby (and yes, that's one of the matchups which our random pairing generator provided), are you picking the better of the two or the greater rogue?  That decision is up to you.

Click through to Google Forms to cast your vote, then share with your fellow partisans and vote as many more times as you like.  It is a truth universally acknowledged that there is no depth to which it is inappropriate to stoop in order to see that the best man wins... or is won.

The prize... is not ten thousand a year and a barouche.  Indeed, there is no prize at all other than the glory of seeing justice be done.

We'll tally the results Friday night, announce the first round winners, and re-randomize those most eligible gentlemen as they go into the second round.  

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Understanding the USCCB's Finances

 I've got a piece up at The Pillar which is an explainer based on the USCCB's audited financials.  

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is the most visible institution of Catholic hierarchy in the United States, but also one of the least understood. While many Catholics have some sense of how their local pastor or diocesan bishop spends his time, far fewer have a clear idea of what actually happens at the USCCB.

As a prominent institution, but one without the opportunity for the personal relationships of diocesan bishops or parish pastors, the USCCB invites more criticism than praise, and the conference faces that criticism from across the ideological spectrum. 

Among the most frequent topics of critique is money: Commentators often suggest the USCCB has too much money, is spending it on the wrong things, or gets it from the wrong places.

The conference’s finances are complex, and understanding them clearly takes a little bit of work. So to help Catholics weigh what they hear about the USCCB’s money — and decide whether the critics are fair — The Pillar offers a look at the cash of the conference.

What is the financial structure of the USCCB? Where does the money come from and what does it do? We’ve got some answers. 

Two key things struck me as I did this research.  

First of all, I'd often heard people on the right complain that the USCCB gets most of its money from the US government.  The bishops' conference does receive a number of government grants, but they mostly serve as an aggregator: applying for grants (primarily to provide services for migrants and refugees) and then passing those funds on to other Catholic organizations which do the actual work.

On the other hand, I'd heard people on the left complain that the USCCB is focused almost exclusively on anti-abortion advocacy.  This is pretty clearly not the case.  The bishops spend significantly more money (and since this money spent on staff salaries: time) on Development & World Peace and immigration policy than they do on Pro-Life Activities.

You can read the full piece at The Pillar.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Bartleby the Homeschooler

Lotsa people going back to school right now, sharing pix of first day outfits and curriculum, giving tips on educational philosophies and life hacks, so here's my true confession: I haven't done any school planning yet. I have sent a child to college, and I have a four-year-old who hasn't started formal education yet, which commits me for another fourteen (14) years. I will be 54 by the time baby turns 18. I will have spent, by that point, almost 30 years overseeing the education of children. At the moment, I am checked out. I would prefer not to.

Fourteen more years. I guess you could call it a mid-school crisis, if you consider that my sophomore is starting her fourteenth year of education. I'll probably have grandchildren by the time I'm done homeschooling. I will be old then, and I'm already old now, and I would prefer not to.

Of course I'm going to do it. Of course we'll read and write this year, and do some math, and watch some Shakespeare, and finish reading Fellowship of the Ring. Of course I'll teach another year of religion class. Of course I'll text with my sophomore about acting class, and help my 12th-grader through college admissions, and my 10th-grader through scheduling, and my 8th-grader through Confirmation prep, and my 6th-grader through her intensive dyslexia reading program, and my 2nd-grader through multiplication, and my 4year-old through whatever it is that 4 year-old dudes do. Of course it will all get done, as it has year after year after year. Just, right now, I would prefer not to.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Pulpit Pitch

 If you were in the pews at my parish, you'd have to listen to me give this announcement at every Mass (unless you were at the 9:00 mass, at which Deacon didn't see me frantically waving my paper at him from the front pew). But maybe your parish needs volunteers too! Consider this your invitation.

Hi! I'm Cat Hodge, and this time I'm not here to talk to you about the choir. I'm up here (again) to beg you to place the gifts God has given you at the service of our parish. A parish -- St. Mary's itself -- is not something that is done to us. It's not something that's done at us. St. Mary's is us. And God has granted every person here a share of his gifts. I'm using one right now: the gift of being able to talk in front of people without being nervous. But every ministry in our parish relies on our parishioners -- on YOU -- using these God-given gifts, whether of hospitality, or of cleaning, or artistic ability, or organization (which is not a gift God has given me, so someone else is going to have to step up there). Without those gifts, we languish, because God often chooses to act through human hands. Remember Matthew, chapter 25? At the last judgment, God says, "What you did for the least of these, you did to me."

I'm here today to ask for your help for the least of these -- the children of our parish. The PSR program -- the Parish School of Religion -- is in need of volunteers to teach and to chaperone in order to have in-person classes this year. We're almost there! We have an amazing program, Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, for 3-to 6-year olds and for first through third grade, and in future years we're excited to expand Catechesis of the Good Shepherd all the way through age 12. We have a separate First Communion class for students who can't make the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd time. We have fifth and sixth grade combined, a Bible study for the seventh grade, and Confirmation this year will be a youth-group style program run by the Missionaries from Damascus, the Catholic Youth Summer Camp in our diocese. If we could get teachers for a combined third and fourth grade class, we'd have in-person programs for all our kids. We still do have online options for PSR, but after this past year, you tell me how excited kids are for another Zoom session.

I'm teaching the seventh grade Bible study. We're meeting in the Pastor's Pad on the third floor of the parish office -- not in a stuffy classroom -- and instead of textbooks, we're simply going to be reading the book of Matthew, chapter by chapter. Maybe you're thinking, "I wish I could get in on some of that Matthew action." And you can! Perhaps you don't feel like you have the gift of teaching, or of talking in front of people. Perhaps you don't even know what your gifts are. But you yourself are a gift, and your very presence would be a gift to me, and to the other PSR teachers. Unless we meet the diocesan Protecting God's Children standards for adult-to-child ratios, we can't have in-person classes. We had to cancel VBS this summer for this very reason, so this is a very real and immediate need in our parish.

And the reason I'm talking to you this weekend is because PSR classes start on Sept. 7, and in order to work with children, all of our adult volunteers are required by the diocese to attend a one-time Protecting God's Children training. Many of you already have this certification, or are signed up for our upcoming session. Thank you! We need you! Registration for our parish session is now closed, but St. Michael's in Worthington has openings for this coming Tuesday evening, August 17, at 6:00. Information about that session should be posted on the bulletin boards in the vestibule. You can sign up at, or contact the parish office for help. And if you want to volunteer, but can't make that session, please let the office know. If we have a strong enough demand, there's a possibility that the Diocese will open another session for our parish. 

Thank you for being a gift to St. Mary's. 

Saturday, August 14, 2021

COVID Hospitalization Trends for Kids

There's been a lot of coverage lately about kids getting COVID, in particular due to the fact school is about to start and kids under twelve are the main group of people who are not able to get vaccinated at this time.  Last week I took a look at data on deaths of children, and there the data shows that we are not in fact seeing an unusual number of children dying.  Indeed, since the pandemic started, child deaths have been lower than on average.

But of course, you can still have a pretty bad time of it without dying, so I wanted to see if it was possible to see what the risks of children getting seriously sick with COVID are.  The best that I was able to do in that regard is to look at hospitalization data from the CDC.  This tells us how many children under 18 with COVID are admitted to hospitals, though it does not tell us how sick they are or what lasting effects may stay with them.  Still, I think any parent would agree, any day when you have to take your kid to the hospital is a bad day, so I think it's a pretty reasonable way to look at the risk of serious COVID.

The short takeaway

Kids are still the least likely to be hospitalized with COVID (about 1/10th the average rate for Americans) but kids are being hospitalized at the highest rates of the pandemic: 263 per day last week

The full details

In the most recent day of data, .36 kids per 100,000 were admitted to the hospital. How do we think about what that means? There are 73M kids under 17 in the US. If this went on for 30 days 7890 or 0.01% would be hospitalized.

That 0.36 per 100k rate is the lowest rate for any age group.  Among 18-29 year olds, 1.29 per 100k of  were hospitalized per day last week. 2.52 per 100k of people in their 30s. The overall US average is 3.12 per 100k. People who are 70+ have the highest admission rate with 6.96 per 100k.

On a given day from Aug 5 to Aug 11, 9,863 people were admitted to hospitals for COVID.  Of those, 263 or 2.6% were kids under 18.

So why are we talking about kids being hit so hard?

Because although kids are still the smallest group of COVID hospitalizations, many more are getting hospitalized than in the Dec-Jan peak when 219 kids per day were being hospitalized.

This is actually true for all age groups under 50.
0-17: 263 per day now, 219 at Jan peak
18-29: 694 now, 608 at Jan peak
30-39: 1,113 now, 883 at Jan peak
40-49: 1,422 now, 1,265 at Jan peak

So while overall hospitalizations are down compared to the January peak, that's entirely driven by older people who (with their higher vaccination rates) are not getting COVID as much or as badly.  Among young people, who are less likely to have bad cases of COVID, the vaccination rate is lower and the number of hospitalizations is up. 

There's variation by region in all this.  The southern regions of the country (CDC Region 6 which includes Texas and CDC Region 4 which includes Florida) are seeing hospitalizations of children up more versus the winter than the rest of the country, with Region 6 seeing kids hospitalized at 1.5x the rate they were in January and Region 4 seeing them hospitalized at 1.8 the January rate.  Other parts of the country are seeing fewer child hospitalizations than the winter peak.  In Region 5 (which includes my home state of Ohio) child hospitalizations are at less than half the winter rate.

Nowhere are kids being hospitalized at higher rate than other age groups.  The rate at which people under 18 are being hospitalized is 1/5 to 1/10 the average rate by region.  Kids are actually a higher percentage of the hospital admissions in NY than TX or FL.

So in conclusion: Compared to older people, kids are less likely to have COVID bad enough to be admitted to the hospital, even though no kids under 12 are vaccinated. But kids are a larger percentage of hospital admissions than before.  There's some hype to the discussion of kids being hospitalized with COVID, in that it's still quite rate for kids to get it that badly compared to adults.  But when there's more COVID around, more kids will get it.


You can look at the data yourself here.  One note, if you explore the data yourself, do not use the COVID-NET data set to try to get national numbers.  The way it's labeled, you may not realize it at first, but that's data based on a sample of ten large counties around the nation, and it doesn't include FL or TX, so it's not very representative right now.  This is what the COVID net sample report looks like.  Don't be fooled (I was briefly and embarrassingly.)

Sunday, August 08, 2021

COVID Death Trends: The Young and the Old Are Okay Now

 It's been a while since I pulled CDC death statistics to see the effect of COVID on US deaths, but I was inspired to do so again because I'd seen several people talk recently lately about their fears that lot of kids will die due to the surge in the Delta variant (a surge which is mostly being fueled by the reservoir of unvaccinated people, although some vaccinated people are suffering breakthrough infections as well.)

Once again, I looked at the data on total deaths available from the CDC FluView website.  Although this website is designed to provide info on deaths due to influenza, COVID, and pneumonia, it also provides data on total deaths so that you can see the percent of total deaths resulting from respiratory ailments.  

Since some people have questioned whether other deaths "with COVID" are being classified as deaths from COVID, I've considered it most objective to look at the changes in the total number of deaths.  

So let's start by looking at the cause for concern that I've heard lately: that a lot of kids under 12 will be dying because they're too young to be vaccinated.  The good news is that at no point during the pandemic have the deaths of people under 18 been higher than we would expect in an average year.  Indeed, kids have been dying slightly less than they would on average during 2020 and 2021.  Over the last year and a half, 2,800 fewer children than we would normally expect have died.

Obviously, this doesn't mean that COVID is harmless.  Although young children are less likely to get COVID than people in their teens or older, and when they do get it they often get more mild cases, there have been instances of lasting effects which are concerning.  But when it comes to the specific concern that "lots of kids are going to die" as a result of in person schooling or lack of mask mandates or what have you in the face of continuing COVID rates, it does not appear that at any point during the pandemic kids have been dying at elevated levels.

Now let's look at the vulnerable group which is talked about most in relation to COVID, those over 65.

This was really fascinated to me.  From the start of the pandemic through February of 2021, mortality for those who are 65 or older has averaged 25% above normal rates.  Half a million more people in that age category died from March 2020 to Feb 2021 than you would have otherwise expected.  However, in March of 2021, the death rates for people in that age range fell back to average.  After being 25% higher than expected, since March they are 2% higher than expected.  I suspect that what we are seeing here is the effect of the big vaccine push this spring.  Older people were given first priority in getting vaccinated, and during March we passed a hundred million doses administered.  Nationally, just over 80% of people 65 and older have now been vaccinated, and that seems to have had an effect.

So how about everyone else, adults between 18 and 65?  This is the group which, in relative terms, continues to suffer the most.  From March 2020 to Feb 2021, the deaths per week among Americans aged 18 to 65 were 25% above normal, just like for those over 65.  During the period, 160,000 more adults under 65 died than we would otherwise expect.  This is a smaller absolute number than for those over 65, but remember: people under 65 are just less likely to die overall.  So although a given person under 65 may be less likely to die of COVID than a person over 65, they're also less likely to die of old age, heart attack, cancer, etc.  It's more unusual for people under 65 to die, and an average of 3,352 more have died each week the first twelve months of the pandemic than you would otherwise expect.

Have things gotten better for adults under 65?

A bit.  In April and May of 2020, deaths for adults under 65 averaged 28% higher than average.  During those same months this year, they averaged 16% above average.  (I'm excluding the last seven calendar weeks from all of this analysis because it takes a while for the CDC to get death data updated, so the recent weeks always look unusually low and get revised later.)  But that 16% above average mortality is a lot higher than the 2% above average which we're seeing for those over 65.  We're seeing about 2,100 more deaths of adults under 65 every week since March than we would normally expect to see based on previous years.  That's more than 20,000 extra dead people.  


I think it has to do with vaccination rates.  According to the CDC, 80.4% of those over 65 are fully vaccinated.  61.1% of those over 18 are fully vaccinated.  From the absolute numbers and percentages, it's easy to calculate that only 56% of those between 18 and 65 are vaccinated.  

The vaccines for COVID are impressively effective.  And although those over 65 are more likely to die of COVID, all other things being equal, than those under 65, 80% of the 65+ population is vaccinated while only 56% of the 18-65 population is vaccinated.  The result is that from April to mid June, those over 65 suffered 10,718 more deaths than you would expect based on the 2016 to 2019 baseline, while those between 18 and 65 suffered 19,454 excess deaths.

Kids are doing mostly okay because pre-pubescent kids are physically less susceptible to the virus. People over 65 are doing okay because they're pretty heavily vaccinated and many are taking precautions. People 18-65 are dying at higher rates than they need to and should go ahead and get the shot.

Saturday, August 07, 2021

It's the Vocation, Stupid

I did not set an alarm for this morning, because it's Saturday and I didn't have any morning commitments.  It seemed like it would be nice to wake up gradually together and spend some relaxing time in our room before the kids needed us. But it's still a workday for our second eldest, who dropped in to say hi before she left for work.  And the younger kids were rioting downstairs.  And the cat had decided that some laundry waiting in front of the washing machine was probably an exciting new kind of alternate litter box for when she didn't feel like walking the six feet to her actual waste facilities. So we dragged ourselves out of bed and made coffee and fed small boys and got out the bleach spray to clean up after the cat.

And one of the little boys has taken to wearing his sister's outgrown converse, and so he needs shoe tying lessons, as all boys do when they move on from velcro sneakers.  

It seems lately like I keep bouncing back and forth between what I'd like to be doing and what I remind myself it's my vocation to do.

I'd really like to be reading some books today.  I've started a couple of really interesting ones that I'm both learning from and that are making me want to write.

But when I actually get to sit down and do desk work this afternoon what I need to do is plan out school assignments for the coming year for the 12th, 10th, and 8th graders.  

I'd like to work on some writing while I'm fresh this morning.

But what I actually need to do is get the yardwork done before it gets too hot and then finish installing the lighting in the basement and then once the basement is lighted get things put away down there and then come upstairs and help with the house cleaning and then do some grocery shopping and make dinner while MrsDarwin is off singing the 4:30 mass because another cantor couldn't make it.

And the upstairs bathroom is waiting in half demolished state, needing the second round of demolition and then the rebuilding -- which right now as demolition becomes more complicated is seeming like surely it must be the easier part but probably won't seem easier when the time comes.

The fact is that we have seven children, ranging from near adults who need to talk about jobs and college courses to a four year old who really needs to get going with toilet training so we can stop buying diapers for the first time in nineteen years. And we chose to house them in a beautiful old house that needs constant work rather than a new one which can sit for a decade or two before it needs serious renovation.

A lot of other things seem just so important.  It would be important to write that article.  It would be important to finish a book.  It would be important to read and think about important things.  And maybe that would matter if I hadn't taken on a lot of other obligations which are, to be clear, good obligations, and things I would not want to look back and realize I hadn't done. 

But you cannot do everything, even though I can never fully admit this to myself.  Although I could, for sure, do a better job as a parent and a worker and a writer and reader and all those things I want to do if I break my time up into organized chunks and put the phone away and never get distracted -- even should I manage to pull off such superhuman feats of organization the fact is that you cannot have it all.  You can't chase all the dreams.  You have to decide what's important.  And sometimes you don't even have to decide because you actually decided a long time ago so there's not much point in thinking about it now.

So now my timer tells me that I've been writing this post for twenty minutes, and it's time to move on to the yard work.  Vocation is calling.  

Wednesday, August 04, 2021

Antonio Garcia-Martinez on App Analysis at The Pillar

It can be fascinating when things you know about from different worlds meet.

I had heard of Antonio Garcia-Martinez from some of the science/tech people I read, because he's the tech entrepreneur and author of Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley who was hired and then immediately fired/canceled by Apple because a group of Apple employees felt some of his commentary in Chaos Monkeys was misogynistic. Matt Taibbi writes about what went down at with Garcia-Martinez at Apple, and it's the sort of disingenuous "we are in danger" which cancellation flashmobs have become famous for.
Once it was said that there were no second acts in American life, but now there's substack. Garcia-Martinez has one called The Pull Request, and I was fascinated to discover that he'd just written a piece looking at the data elements of the pieces run by The Pillar, which resulted in the resignation of the USCCB general secretary, Msgr Burrill, when it was revealed that he appeared to be using his phone to access the hookup app Grindr numerous times over a period of years.

Per a post that originally appeared at The Pillar, a shadowy figure used mobile app data from 2018 through 2020 to show that Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill, the general secretary of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, was a regular user of dating app Grindr and frequenter of alleged gay bars.1 Msgr. Burrill subsequently resigned his position as general secretary, and the original Pillar piece has been (re)reported in that usual dogpiled media fast-follow, but without much in the way of technical specifics.

Grindr claimed in a statement that they were not the source of the data, and that such a data breach would be “infeasible from a technical standpoint and incredibly unlikely to occur.” I agree it’s unlikely that the data leaked directly from the app or Msgr. Burrill’s device, but it’s not quite true that data that Grindr generated could not have been used to reconstruct Burrill’s past behavior. I’m going to engage in some informed speculation below on how some lone crusader, armed with data and some hacking skills, could have zeroed in on one man’s behavior over years of time with commercially-available information.

By way of self-introduction: I’ve spent 13 years turning data into money via digital advertising. I built a real-time exchange (like the one involved here) for Facebook, and I’ve even built the bidding machine for the exact ads exchange in question while employed at a large ads buyer. I’ve also worked at Branch Metrics, one of the world’s biggest mobile attribution data companies and warehouses of third-party user data. Which is a long and self-glorifying way of saying, I know this world very well, so I’m telling you how an ad tech insider (or just someone with technical skills and a willingness to read dev docs) could hunt down someone using advertising data. It’s hard, but not impossible. It’ll almost certainly happen again.

The challenge has three steps:
  1. Getting the data
  2. Finding the target
  3. Constructing a behavioral profile based on geographic data

Continue reading here. It's a detailed piece focused primarily on how this kind of data and analysis works, so read it's worth reading primarily for an understanding of privacy and the loss of it in our modern world.

Garcia-Martinez's piece is interesting for a couple reasons:
  • He sounds to be an outsider to the Catholic world, so he's addressing this strictly from a technology point of view
  • He describes how the cell phone app data works, how it gets sold, and how processing it would be done
  • He discusses the things that make this difficult under current data availability, and the changes to how apps work which Apple and Google are currently making that would make this kind of work impossible in the future.  He notes:
This is also all a bit moot: Apple has deprecated IDFA, and Google will surely do the same with its analogous GAID. Even after Apple forces exchanges like MoPub to use vendor-specific IDs like IDFV, the data will still be joinable within that vendor’s bid stream. That said, cross-vendor and publisher joining of data (like we did in this attack) will be impossible, save for in the fuzziest of ways. We will indeed be in a more privacy-safe future as the incumbents retire the ability to identify and track individual users, but at the expense of any non-incumbent competition. Whoever was hellbent on ruining Burrill will not be able to do so as easily in the future; that said, any entrepreneurs who venture to undermine the Google/Apple duopoly will find themselves similarly hamstrung.

When Apple and Google finally go beyond just canceling user-specific IDs, and go all the way to moving all targeting data on-device, this debate becomes even more moot as nobody outside those two companies will have much in the way of user data. In a fully on-device world, even Google and Apple don’t know much about you, as the user data that leaves the phone couldn’t be used (even in theory) to narrow you down below a coarse segment size.
The main thing that struck me as missing in it is that he's responding strictly to the Msgr Burrill story and doesn't seem to be aware of the followup stories which talked about hookup app usage more generally in the Diocese of Newark and in the Vatican -- reporting which didn't seek to identify individual people but to identify the need for app use standards. That, to me, suggests that Burrill was effectively a surprise caught in the net when whoever was going the data analysis was looking at overall hookup app usage trends in locations associated with the Church.

But the overall tech reporting in Garcia-Martinez's piece is very solid, and the more interesting because its coming from someone outside the bubble.

Friday, July 30, 2021

The Lotus-eater

“For my own part I reckon being ill as one of the great pleasures of life, provided one is not too ill and is not obliged to work till one is better. I remember being ill once in a foreign hotel myself and how much I enjoyed it. To lie there careless of everything, quiet and warm, and with no weight upon the mind, to hear the clinking of the plates in the far-off kitchen as the scullion rinsed them and put them by; to watch the soft shadows come and go upon the ceiling as the sun came out or went behind a cloud; to listen to the pleasant murmuring of the fountain in the court below, and the shaking of the bells on the horses' collars and the clink of their hoofs upon the ground as the flies plagued them; not only to be a lotus-eater but to know that it was one's duty to be a lotus-eater.”

—Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh, ch 80

Hearing I was sick in bed, a friend sent me this quote, an apt summation of my Thursday. Hapless and heavy, I lay propped up on pillows wishing I could nap, but at every turn sleep eluded me. Instead the sounds of family life downstairs washed over me, and I let people laugh or fuss without feeling any compulsion to respond.

The majority of my day was spent pleasantly, if fruitlessly, trying to track down a half-remembered phrase in Love and Responsibility. I remembered the wording, and I remembered where on the page it should appear, and at every turn I expected to see it before me. I also hoped Wojtyła's dense prose might put me to sleep at last. Instead I read the whole book from the middle to the end, and then from the beginning to the middle, and never found exactly what I was looking for. But I found much I wasn't looking for, and I count it time well spent. 

By dinner time I slugged downstairs, where the thermometer stubbornly refused to register above 98.1 no matter how hot I felt. But I'd stopped shredding tissues with explosive sneezes, and I was finally hungry. The kids were all ordered to put themselves to bed, which meant that one after another they came and flopped on me and fell asleep in in various configurations of arms and legs. And still I lay awake, after Darwin came and moved the pile of boys, after he'd read his book and drifted off, after the clock rolled 2:30 and I'd been awake for more than 24 hours. I drifted in and out of light maternal sleep, listening for the sounds of my oldest daughter coming in from her night shift. When I opened my eyes again, the hall light was off, and I knew she was home and in bed. And then, at last, once the family was at peace, I too could rest.

It is a strange and happy new world, where I can be an expendable presence for a day. My children are all old enough to scavenge food for themselves and each other. And my daughters were motivated to make the house presentable because someone was expecting a Gentleman Caller, another fun new phase of life. The chaos of a full house is muted for me, literally, because of the pressure in my ears, and so I exist at a slight remove from everyone in my lip-reading bubble. There is nothing on my calendar. And perhaps I will be able to nap this afternoon, and then what can man do against me? Nunc dimittis, Domine, at least for a few hours of repose.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

On My Bed I Remember You

 By 2AM everything had finally kicked in: the Mucinex for the drip and the cough and the Sudafed for the pressure and the breathing, and, mercifully, the Ibuprofen for the stabbing behind my eye. My pillow was finally comfortable, for the most part, and the blankets tucked in just so behind my back and under my rib cage. And freed from the fitful drowsing of the afflicted, my mind has taken flight despite all my weary efforts to recall it to sleep. 

On my bed I remember you, says the Psalmist. On you I muse through the night. He must have known, laying on his cot, the long mental gymnastics between first and second sleep. Last night, as I thought I was reading myself to sleep, I came across this line by St. Pope John Paul II in Love and Responsibility: "Man is a being condemned, so to speak, to create". Yes, I almost sobbed. Who will free me from this life of condemnation? To always be mentally creating: crafting snippets of dialogue into lapidary scenes that will never be played; developing lectures that will never be delivered, imagining futures that will never be lived and pasts that never were, editing blog posts that never make it to the page. When I wrote, I wrote this way, rewriting as I went, always finding a better way to phrase something or a new beat to explore, developing and redeveloping. Does everyone's mind not work this way? Always chipping away at some idea until it's mentally perfected, then setting it aside for the next thought to be tumbled and polished and set on the shelf?

God's very word creates; he speaks, and it is. In his mercy, he has not bestowed this power on us, who are too mentally fickle to always create what is good. Our thoughts are sometimes rich, sometimes petty; full of happy fantasy one moment and cruel speculation the next. But we are condemned, so to speak to create, and when we are most like God our creations are grounded in his reality. The most divine things we co-create are children: stubbornly real things who resist our efforts to mold them into our own image and likeness, being themselves made in the image and likeness of God. Our thoughts, not being humans, are not so graced, and must always be submitted to God. Take this thought from me, Jesus, I have often prayed, and give it back to me perfected in heaven. 

He gives gifts to his beloved in their sleep. How often a problem has yielded an unexpected solution after a night's sleep! And so as morning breaks I settle back down and fluff the pillow and tuck the blankets around me again, and trust that God will send sleep as he sends all blessings. On my bed I remember you. On you I muse through the night.