Boba.

I just finished one of the best things I’ve read on the difficulties and joys of being a parent, Carvell Wallace’s piece in the June 21 NY Times Magazine (and I continue to be impressed by the way the magazine has improved by leaps and bounds); I gobbled it up, but I had to stop at one point to look up a word:

My son’s school is only a few blocks away. He has, I presume, ditched class here, shopped for shoes here, watched drug deals and fights here, gotten boba here, gotten sandwiches from the shop here where the lady knows every student by name, sat on a bench after school here, just growing up, minute by minute, experience by experience.

“Boba?” (I thought) — “what the hell is boba?” So I googled and discovered it’s another name for bubble tea, something I have heard of but never seen; it hadn’t been invented yet when I was in Taiwan in the 1970s. That Wikipedia article says “In the United States there is a geographic split with the west coast referring to the drink as ‘boba’ and the east coast calling it ‘bubble tea,'” so I guess my East Coast residence explains my ignorance. (Apparently boba is a Chinese word, 波霸 — anybody know anything about its history?) In any event, consider this a public service message for those as ignorant as I.

Comments

  1. I’ve always heard that it was related to tea shop in Taiwan run by someone who was obsessed by the Hong Kong cinema star Amy Yip. I can’t do blockquote tagging, but this quote is copied from another site:

    “Lastly boba milk tea (波霸/奶/茶 po- baˋ naiˇ chaˊ). “Boba” here is not the literal meaning of 波霸. 波霸 is a vulgar slang which means “big boobs”. Yeah. BIG BOOB milk tea. Why the name 波霸奶茶 emerged (as 珍珠奶茶mentioned beforehand is the most widely used name in Taiwan and probably the official name) was because about 3 decades ago, a tea shop in southern Taiwan was inspired by a Hong Kong actress, more like a sex symbol, Amy Yip, who happened to have disproportionately large breasts. As the name 波霸 getting more popular, it was later commonly used to refer to regular size tapioca. The smaller one, originally called 粉圓 (fenˇ yuanˊ), became extensively known as 珍珠. (the word 粉圓 still exists today though) “Boba” was later introduced into the west as people immigrated to America. To my sense, calling boba tea is a bit trendier than calling bubble tea.”

    https://medium.com/@stanchen/culture-boba-bubble-or-pearl-tea-7edb1f4ec46e

    I am sure there are better accounts online, but this is the gist and can give some keywords to google for further information. Apologies for lack of formatting but my internet is limited at the moment.

  2. The Wiktionary has linguistic details:

    https://en.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E6%B3%A2%E9%9C%B8#

  3. Thanks — I’d never have guessed!

  4. In the Bay Area in the early 2000’s this substance was generally called “pearl milk tea”. I only learned “boba” when I went to LA for college, and “bubble tea” sometime after that. I’m not sure if this regionalism has survived. (Since Carvell Wallace is in Oakland, maybe not, but maybe it’s South Bay-specific?)

  5. David Marjanović says:

    Being introduced here right now as bubble tea.

    I can’t do blockquote tagging

    Sure you can: <blockquote>quote goes here</blockquote>.

  6. SFReader says:

    Second character in boba – 霸 – featured rather prominently in my five volume history of ancient China.

    A whole chapter was devoted to it claiming that hegemon 霸 ba was the defining concept which explains everything about history of Western Zhou, ancient China or entire Chinese civilization even.

    Funny how it got to mean big boobs now.

  7. AJP Crown says:

    Since this is about the New York Times, I’ll just link my current favourite newspaper series here. It’s little more than a list of quick classical music suggestions with a heading like ‘Mozart’ or ‘Cello Pieces’ and brief explanations, but some of the explanations by musicians have useful information (the latest one, about Beethoven piano sonatas, by the NY Times’s head music critic, a pianist, is very good like that). And it works well with Spotify.

  8. Trond Engen says:

    Is “bubble” an eggcorn?

  9. J.W. Brewer says:

    Re vulgar slang, I am informed by wiktionary that “Originally Hong Kong Cantonese; 波 (bo1) is from English ball.”
    This was presumably just picking a character for the loanword which was a soundalike, without worrying about the historical semantics to which SFReader alluded. Of course, “big balls” in vulgar English slang means something rather different from “big boobs.”

  10. Is “bubble” an eggcorn?

    I wondered, too. We used to get it in the local Vietnamese ‘hood since the early 2000s (I guess the fact that my kids had Taiwanese friends might have helped?) and I was always like, what bubbles?
    Gossip Tapioca, the go-to restaurant here, is officially describing its cuisine as Vietnamese and its tapioca drinks as boba. Their menu says that “tapioca balls” first got into drinks in the early 1980s Taiwan, and that boba just means tapioca.

  11. Re vulgar slang, I am informed by wiktionary that “Originally Hong Kong Cantonese; 波 (bo1) is from English ball.”

    And saying ‘basketball’ in HK creases everybody up in fits of embarrassed giggles, so much so that nobody will explain. Notably, you carry a shopping bag, not a shopping basket.

  12. SFReader says:

    I just recalled that Soviet “hegemonism” (ba quan zhu) was favorite accusation of Chinese propaganda under Mao.

    No doubt that’s why so many Soviet sinologists devoted so much effort to find out what exactly the Chinese meant by 霸 and how come this obscure term from Western Zhou era suddenly came to apply to the Soviet Union.

  13. Being introduced here right now as bubble tea.
    “Here” is where? In the part of Germany where I live bubble tea was the “in” thing about 4-5 years ago, when my daughter was in the last classes of high school. Most of the bubble tea shops that opened back then closed after a year or two, when the first craze was over.

  14. Look out – these are the subject of a new rumor something like the old one that swallowed chewing gum never digests and makes a big ball in your stomach: https://www.eater.com/2019/6/12/18662780/undigested-boba-tapioca-pearls-girls-stomach-zhejiang-china

    Here in Bangkok it’s been around as a craze for several years but, like the US and COVID, seems to either be beginning a second wave, or the first wave never really ended… new stands still seem to be opening on every corner. I think there’s one stall I pass that has been a coffee stand, a matcha place, a fruit smoothie seller, and now a purveyor of boba, all within 3 or 4 years.

    I think we say “pearl” most often to communicate with the Thai sellers, possibly followed by “bubble”.

  15. David Marjanović says:

    “Here” is where?

    A part of southwestern Berlin populated mainly by old people 🙂 That said, I didn’t notice it elsewhere in Berlin before that one shop opened either. Maybe the older shops are all on the Prenzlauer “Berg”.

  16. Second character in boba – 霸

    It’s also the second character in:

    Naha (那覇市, Naha-shi, Japanese: [naꜜha], Okinawan: Nāfa[1][2] or Nafa[3]) is the capital city of the Okinawa Prefecture, the southernmost prefecture of Japan.
    […]
    According to the Irosetsuden (遺老説伝), the name of Naha comes from its original name, Naba, which was the name of a large, mushroom-shaped stone in the city. (Naba is a Western Japanese and Ryukyuan word for “mushroom.”) Gradually, the stone wore away and became buried, and the name’s pronunciation and its kanji gradually changed.[5]

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naha

  17. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Orbitz! — and that was 1997, died 1998, subject of some very early memes. I remember finding a lonesome carton of it in a bargain shop a number of years later, I think in Sweden of all places, so I actually tasted it “for the lulz” — shelf life may have been measured in decades, like Twinkies there was nothing in them that could go bad and the taste was not memorable. I haven’t felt the need to try the new kind, though.

  18. PlasticPaddy says:

    @lars
    Your “for the lulz” was my first exposure to this expression, I do not see it catching on in Holland, at least with a non-rude meaning.

  19. In the part of Germany where I live bubble tea was the “in” thing about 4-5 years ago,

    We had a bubble tea in Vienna right on the Ringstraße about 5 years ago but it didn’t last 12 months. I think I have seen one or two other locations but it never even made it to „craze“ status.

    They were quite popular in Boston decades ago. We used to drink them in the 90s.

  20. I’d heard of it before but mostly from Vietnam, and never in that context. So apparently it has the same reputation as boza? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boza

    Growing up in the ’80s in Bulgaria, drinking boza was reputed to encourage the growing of big breasts.

  21. Richard Hershberger says:

    I (eastern US) have never encountered bubble tea in person. I grew up in California, but left before bubble tea reached there. Indeed, I only know such a thing exists from TwoSet violin, two classical violinists with a popular YouTube channel. They are Australian of Chinese ancestry. They occasionally have bubble tea on camera, clearly considering it a treat. It sounds quite unappetizing to me, but you never know…

  22. I mean I’ve heard about it from some Vietnamese-Bulgarian people I know. Edit: I just remembered there’s actually a place in Sofia where they serve bubble tea next to ЦУМ I think.

  23. John Cowan says:

    So: “she has hegemonic breasts” is probably praise, but “he has hegemonic testicles” might be insulting (cf. Spanish huevón ‘stupid person, lazy person’, lit. ‘egg/testicle+AUG’).

  24. David L says:

    It sounds quite unappetizing to me, but you never know…

    I tried it once — milky tea with gelatinous lumps — like overly sweet and very watery tapioca pudding. It did not appeal.

  25. David L: yeah, the way it was described to me, my reaction was “why would anyone want to drink this”. But that can be said about many people’s reactions when Boza is described to them, also. And while I’m not fond of Boza, I’m not averse to it, either.

  26. JC: where do they say huevon?

  27. Lars Mathiesen says:

    @PP, I’m not a leetspeak connoisseur and I quite possibly got my periods mixed, but as I understood it lulz was originally just the plural action noun to lol — before anon and 4chan and all that.

  28. That’s how I understand it.

  29. David Eddyshaw says:

    @JC:

    Hegemonic, dude!

  30. ə de vivre says:

    We called it “bubble tea” when I drank in on the West Coast in the early 2000s. In my mind, “boba” is a more recent import into English, but that might be a case of the eponymous recency effect. My idiosyncratic stereotype is that a white North American who says “boba” grew up with K-Pop, but one who says “bubble tea” grew up with Dragon Ball Z.

    I’m gonna start using “hegemonic” to mean “impressive/great.” I bet it’ll catch on in no time!

  31. John Cowan says:

    JC: where do they say huevon?

    Latin America and specifically Mexico, says Wikt_en. It’s semantically similar to novelón ‘long, boring novel; great novel; pulp novel’.

    a white North American who says “boba” grew up with K-Pop, but one who says “bubble tea” grew up with Dragon Ball Z.

    Or pre-dates both of them, as in my case. But I never heard of boba until this very post.

  32. This makes me sentimental for my favorite Denver steakhouse — Cowboba’s, the bubble tea steakhouse.

    >NY Times Magazine (and I continue to be impressed by the way the magazine has improved by leaps and bounds)

    You’re not the only one. In fact, I think no one is more impressed than the magazine’s Editor themselves. In many periodicals, I look to the Letters to the Editor first. I consider it my duty to see what I may have learned previously that was arguably wrong.

    But the Times Magazine has never published anything incorrect or misleading. As a result, each letter they accept for publication can follow a template:

    “Mr xx, I’m dumbstruck. Your piece is the most astounding writing I’ve read … no experienced … in years.”

    or

    “To hear this experience told in such a lovely way, of describing hope, fear, angst and love of living, was inescapable.” (If you’re wondering, yes, “inescapable” is being used as a superlative here.)

    or

    “This incredible piece moved me to tears.”

    You think I’m mocking them for their self-congratulation. But as with Pres. Trump, mockery is impossible, because they eclipse all effort at caricature. These aren’t made up. These are the actual intros of the first three letters of this week’s magazine. Want more? The next several include “thank you for giving all of yourself,” “what a gift to read this” and “I haven’t read an essay that touched me so deeply …”

    I used to want to write a Shouts and Murmurs for the New Yorker about it, but they can’t be satirized.

    Anyone who bridles at the idea that liberals and Democrats match conservatives and Republicans for the insularity of their respective bobas should consider the Times Magazine letters section and repent.

    In my opinion, it’s stomach-turning. I can’t read a magazine so unwilling to countenance dissent.

  33. Bathrobe says:

    I had it in Taiwan first, I think, around 1989, or maybe 1993.

    It’s quite common in Beijing but I’ve only seen it called 珍珠奶茶 ‘pearl tea’.

    There is at least one place I’ve seen selling it in UB. The signage outside is in English, if I remember rightly, and I’ve never been inside.

    I find it pleasant enough, a sweetish milky drink. The treat is to chew on the ‘pearls’.

  34. I can’t read a magazine so unwilling to countenance dissent.

    Seriously? You refuse to read the articles because you don’t like the letters section? Whatever works for you, I guess.

  35. Bathrobe says:

    Yes, 霸權 / 霸权 bàquán is pejorative in China. It’s not surprising that the Chinese would use it in modern times since they are well in touch with their history, at least that part that belongs to the Chinese ‘canon’. It’s familiar to the Japanese, too, especially in the term 覇権主義 haken shugi ‘hegemonism’.

    I checked the Wikipedia article on 霸權 / 霸权 and found that the Chinese article is mostly translated from the English article — although only parts of it.

    It starts with a succinct definition, which is not based on any single part of the English:

    “Hegemony or hegemonism (English: Hegemony or Hegemonism) refers to the ideology of a policy whereby one country, by virtue of its great political, military, and economic advantages, controls the sovereignty of other countries, dominates international affairs, or seeks dominance in the world or individual regions.” (The Chinese is a bit awkward when translated into English but you get the gist.)

    It then looks at history. For ‘ancient times’ it cycles through Sparta, Macedonia, Athens, the Persians, and only then ancient China, followed by Rome, the Umayyads, the Abbasids, Harsha (northern India), Eastern Rome, and the Carolingians. For modern times it gives the Japanese empire, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and the US. That’s it.

    The article is based on the idea that 霸權 / 霸权 is an exact equivalent of the English word ‘hegemony’. While the ‘internationalisation of knowledge’ has its good side (it’s nice that the article presents a global view of ‘hegemony’ within a wider framework), the result of the ‘hegemony of English’ in this case is a complete failure to convey the background of the Chinese term 霸權 / 霸权 and its significance in Chinese history, which must be considered essential knowledge for any Chinese reader.

    The modern examples are also somewhat cherry-picked, although that might be the fault of the English. 霸權 / 霸权 is actually a criticism levelled against present-day China by critics who know the Chinese term.

  36. J.W. Brewer says:

    I’m not sure that the magazine would turn out to have aged well in general if revisited, but one of the great running features of Spy magazine back in the day was their “letters to the editor of The New Yorker,” which they published (and maybe also wrote, I don’t know about that part) because The New Yorker itself, in those days, famously declined to include a published letters-to-the-editor section. Which was in hindsight perhaps a good policy, because once The New Yorker changed its position and finally added a letters to the editor section the letters therein tended to confirm all of ones negative stereotypes about the smugness and fatuity of The New Yorker’s core audience. OTOH, maybe they emphasized letters from those sorts of readers because those were exactly the readers they were telling advertisers they could deliver, and any hint of the interesting or contrarian would spook the advertisers?

  37. SFReader says:

    霸權 / 霸权 is actually a criticism levelled against present-day China by critics who know the Chinese term.

    Has Chairman Xi been making inquiries about weight of nine tripod cauldrons?

  38. Oh, I like bubble tea. I first tasted it in mainland China and then in Taiwan. It took me a few years to really appreciate the tapioca pearls, though, first I liked the milk tea the most and the tapioca was just weird. I’ve drinken it in Germany a few years back too, but here in Sweden it hasn’t taken off. There are a few Chinese places that sell it, but not many and usually as take away only. I’ve heard that “bubble” can refer to the bubbles in the milk, not the tapioca pearls, but I don’t know if it’s true.

  39. >Seriously? You refuse to read the articles because you don’t like the letters section? Whatever works for you, I guess.

    You write phenomenally educated, well-written posts on a daily basis. Yet nearly every one is refined and improved by the contributions of your readers.

    Yes, I distrust a news organization when the organization as a whole has so protected itself with own bubble-wrap against contact with outside reality that it has to publish reams of self-congratulatory crap like that each and every week.

    Individual writers, I don’t mind. They’re subject to their editors, publishers, in most places to the corrections or even different perspectives of readers.

    I don’t see how you can read those letters and not lose respect for the organization that would publish them. “Your magazine is so incredible. I’ve never felt so thoroughly in touch with a subject. I trembled as I read the closing sentences …” Week-in and week-out.

    The letters situation isn’t an isolated aspect of the paper. It’s emblematic of the whole ecosystem the Times is intentionally creating. It’s part of the paper’s self-understanding. How can you not gag when that’s what a paper thinks of itself. How can you not think “they’re missing much of life?”

    To me, being that afraid of dissenting viewpoints, that self-congratulatory, inherently leads you to miss much of what is happening.

    I would expect better from People Magazine. I expect better, and get it, from the local cop blog where I write dissenting comments regularly, and see them moderated and then posted. But, by reading it, I’m not unaware of their perspective, and the aspects of truth in their perspective.

    I am very willing to say Black Lives Matter. I think police reform is vitally important. I write to tell cops that. However, I am also aware that Eric Holder’s FBI exonerated Darren Wilson in Ferguson, reporting that many of the witnesses who initially supported Wilson later recanted, perjuring themselves, because of threats and fear. The Times has never been able to integrate those facts into its worldview. They continue to mention Hands Up, Don’t Shoot as a slogan uncomplicated by the more confusing reality that gave rise to it, in which Michael Brown resisted arrest violently, tried to take Wilson’s gun, and was in fact running back at him when he was shot.

    None of that means we don’t need police reform. But reckoning with it certainly tempers what type of reform will work.

    The letters section of the Times is emblematic of their fear — that reckoning with the full complexity and contradictory nature of reality might not lead its readers to the same holy land they believe in. Instead, they must continually remind their readers that everyone who reads has never felt more in touch with reality than when they immersed themselves in the Times version of reality.

    It’s not like the Times is indispensable. I get many of the same opinions and more actual hard news from the Washington Post, without the same insularity.

  40. The Times has never been able to integrate those facts into its worldview

    Maybe if you allowed yourself to read the Magazine you’d notice your own worldview is out of date. Have you heard of the 1619 Project (for which the Times has taken a lot of flak)? From the latest issue, there’s Isabel Wilkerson’s “America’s Enduring Caste System.” From the previous issue, Nikole Hannah-Jones’s “It Is Time for Reparations.” From the one before that, Carvell Wallace’s piece, linked above, which I presume you didn’t read. Maybe you could just skip the letter section?

  41. J.W. Brewer says:

    FWIW, my takeaway from the Wilkerson piece is that if you have the right angle you can get an article published in that particular periodical based on a Big Analogy comparing the U.S. to India while not necessarily knowing as much about Indian society and history as a moderately curious reader who’d read four or five languagehat comment threads on those subjects and maybe followed a few links posted therein would have picked up. As a separate FWIW, I’m not sure if Ryan is correctly attributing to “fear” what can equally plausibly be attributed to “complacency.”

  42. Yeah, the India analogy was unfortunate. I’m certainly not saying the Times is perfect, just that it’s improved a lot.

  43. Languagehat, of course, is perfect.

  44. SFReader says:

    Reparations for slavery is perfectly fine idea, but I don’t think it would be fair to make the Federal government (which after all went to war to end slavery) to pay them.

    Only states which were in the Confederacy should pay.

    Isn’t Texas one of the richest states in the country? They can afford it.

    As for Alabama or Mississippi, tough luck.

  45. J.W. Brewer says:

    For different reasons I googled up this old Language Log post by Ben Zimmer, and noted that it contains evidence that as of 1923 the N.Y. Times Sunday Magazine ran pretty good cartoons. https://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=9695

  46. Both “bubble tea” and “boba” work as search categories in Yelp, and for my city in the western United States both bring up lots of hits.

    And in old business: a few weeks ago LH people were thinking of Deweys. The language news about that is that (according to William Safire’s The New Language of Politics) the scornfully cacophonous phrase “Democrat Party” originated with New York’s governor Thomas E. Dewey (no date given) and was then popularized in 1955 by Republican National Chairman Leonard Hall. Quote from Safire: “Some Democrats suggested retaliating by shortening Republican to Publican, but the National Committee overruled them, explaining that Republican ‘is the name by which our opponents’ product is known and mistrusted.'”

  47. >your own worldview is out of date

    It’s an interesting term, “out of date.” You wrote it hoping it would be taken pejoratively, but I think it’s accurate. I drafted a longer reply, but it seems like a thread-jack. But you ask me whether I’ve read several specific articles with race as topic or subtext.

    I’ve surely read hundreds of thousands of pages, from the memoirs of James Farmer, who occasionally attended my parents’ church, to Taylor Branch’s five volume series on the Civil Rights era; from the slave narratives of the WPA to Zadie Smith; from The World the Slaves Made to Redemption; from newspaper coverage of the race riot in Springfield, IL in 1912 to the extensive coverage of Ferguson in the Times — of Michael Brown, and of his friend Dorian Johnson, who insisted Brown’s hands were up when he died.

    No, I haven’t read the four specific pieces you ask about. Perhaps all my reading is out of date.

    But since you ask, I think it’s fair to ask, have you read the Justice Department report on Michael Brown’s death?

    I have. I started it sharing the Times worldview without qualm, primed by all my reading. Dorian Johnson as righteous witness to the murder of an innocent in cold blood, like in countless cases before and since.

    When I finished the report, issued by President Obama’s Justice Department, AG Holder’s Justice Department, my worldview was not intact.

    In my worldview today, all of these things are true: Black Lives Matter makes good points, better policing is needed, and also, the facts of Michael Brown’s death after attacking a police officer, struggling for his gun, running away, then turning to attack again; and the credulous acceptance of the Johnson story by most national media, are relevant both to the political uses of Michael Brown’s death, and to the larger debate that it’s a part of.

    I fear you’re right. A worldview that insists that the facts of a case are relevant to its political uses is becoming out of date. The Times has spearheaded that movement.

  48. David Marjanović says:

    Anyone who bridles at the idea that liberals and Democrats match conservatives and Republicans for the insularity of their respective bobas should consider the Times Magazine letters section and repent.

    I always find it so funny when the New York Times is classified on the left side in a US context. In a broader view, the NYT is moderately conservative – like most major newspapers in the world! On top of that, other than Murdoch’s, it’s the only major newspaper in the world that was incompetent enough to fall for the blatant lie that Iraq had WMD in 2003.

    OTOH, maybe they emphasized letters from those sorts of readers because those were exactly the readers they were telling advertisers they could deliver, and any hint of the interesting or contrarian would spook the advertisers?

    …That makes a lot of sense.

    Over here, it’s considered in the national interest to have a diverse media landscape, and so newspapers receive subsidies out of the federal budget. I had never thought of the side effect that this makes them less dependent on advertisers.

  49. @ Ryan:

    A worldview that insists that the facts of a case are relevant to its political uses is becoming out of date

    and get off my lawn, you gol-durn kids!

  50. I fear you’re right. A worldview that insists that the facts of a case are relevant to its political uses is becoming out of date. The Times has spearheaded that movement.

    I fear you’re one of those people who insist that if something isn’t perfect it’s worthless.

  51. Also, it’s just dumb to treat the letters column as some sort of indicator of quality, and since you’re not dumb, I have to assume bad faith. It’s like condemning a book because its blurbs are all positive.

  52. What set all this off was Hat’s offhand comment that the Times Magazine has recently gotten better. If you think back just a few years, to the time when the magazine was almost nothing but real estate porn, Hat’s conclusion will seem obviously correct.

    But from the real estate years there was the moment of hattic comedy when the Trump Organization advertised a new Florida condo to be named Luxuria. To spell out the joke, in Latin luxuria means not luxury but lechery.

    And for perspective from way back,1979 was the year when Joseph Heller in Good As Gold gave literature a fatuous pundit (Norman Podhoretz à clef) who got all his ideas from his stack of Times Magazines.

  53. Rodger C says:

    Some Democrats suggested retaliating by shortening Republican to Publican

    Nowadays I favor “Respooblikan.”

  54. John Cowan says:

    without the same insularity

    As the New Yorker is not edited for a little old lady in Peoria, so the NYT is edited for people who actually do live on islands (or at least 83% of them do). Of course we are insular.

    I have the four drawings by Saul Steinberg of the view from Central Park northward, eastward, southward (the New Yorker cover) and westward on the appropriate walls of my bedroom (well, sort of: in Manhattan north is really northeast and so on).

    shortening Republican to Publican

    In a tale of times to come written by a friend of mine, a character named Athanasia is puzzling over the phrase “republicans and sinners” found in an ancient and fragmentary source. As she tells it, she knows that sinners are those who broke religious laws, and tentatively concludes that republicans are those who broke secular laws, but she admits the matter is still highly uncertain.

  55. Rodger C says:

    Surely the New Yorker Steinberg map is oriented westward?

  56. John Cowan says:

    Westward! turn westward! O Time in thy flight / Make me a child again just for tonight. Another oops on my part.

  57. My wife is a magazine editor. When we met, she asked, apropos my New Yorker subscription, what I read first. I said the Letters. As a responsibility, to see what I’d imbibed blindly that I should have been more skeptical of. I just checked, since we let our subscription lapse. Their letters today are better than the NYT, but lacking the vigor that would make it a destination. Even the New York Review rarely has the lively exchanges that used to characterize its letters. I no longer go to the Letters there first, after too many disappointments.

    I find surprising the idea that one should expect no more from Letters to the Editor than from blurbs. It’s a hallowed tradition of American letters so to speak, something no decent periodical did without, a part of the democratic experiment.

    >I have to assume bad faith.

    I certainly said nothing to justify that.

    >And get off my lawn

    Of course, but one question. Should i hear your words in the voice of the Pope in translation in the old, old joke with that punch line, that of a man on his private cul de sac, holding an assault rifle while his lunatic wife waves a pistol next to him, or just that of a normal grumpy old man unwilling to engage with those outside his comfort zone?

    And alas for the pride of Manhattanites, but the New Yorker, like the Times, has far more subcribers outside the boroughs. Both most assuredly ARE written for little old ladies in Peoria. You’ve still got the Daily News, though!

    The insularity of the Times is political, not topographic.

  58. You can read whatever you like first, but to judge the quality of the magazine by the letters column is idiotic. If you prefer to be thought an idiot, that’s your choice. The New Yorker has risen to the challenge of the current hellish situation magnificently.

  59. Just so we’re clear, I agree with you about the letters column; of course they should publish a wider range of reaction (although you seem to assume they neither read nor take into consideration the letters they don’t publish, which is unwarranted). My issue is with the idea that you can dismiss an entire publication on the basis of the letters they publish, which is (as I said) like judging a book by its blurbs.

  60. John Cowan says:

    I never read the NYer much, but I read the NYT before I moved or had any expectation of moving to NYC, so I know that. But the paper’s viewpoint, its editorial stance (in a sense wider than the political) is indeed insular and Steinbergian: New York first, the world second. (This probably has a lot to do with the lack of actually national newspapers in the US, if you ignore that rag USA Today and the Wall Street Journal; what purports to be a national newspaper is a local one grown vast in its readership.)

  61. Rodger C says:

    The WSJ used to publish something called the National Observer.

  62. But the paper’s viewpoint, its editorial stance (in a sense wider than the political) is indeed insular and Steinbergian: New York first, the world second.

    It’s a NYC paper, for heaven’s sake; of course it prominently covers New York. The point is that it used to view the city and the world pretty much exclusively from the viewpoint of well-off white males, strongly favoring real-estate development and the like regardless of consequences; it has been forced, kicking and screaming, to add women and people of color to its staff and actually let their perspectives be visible in the paper, and the result is a vast improvement. If your complaint is that they don’t cover Peoria sufficiently, I don’t know what to tell you.

  63. David Eddyshaw says:

    The question of not judging a paper by the Letters page seems akin to the wholesome advice nowadays given to readers of newspaper articles online: Never read the comments.

    My properly-left-wing children have been known to enjoy the Letters to the Daily Telegraph, in a sort of postmodern ironic performance-art sort of way. It does seem unlikely that these people are actually for real.

  64. John Cowan says:

    Hat: Oh, I’m not complaining at all. I’m merely saying at great length that it is no surprise that the NYT is parochial and indeed insular, given its history and its position in the industry. Indeed, I am saying that these properties are no cause for complaint.

  65. Ah, gotcha. Then we are in agreement.

  66. >to judge the quality of the magazine by the letters column is idiotic.

    On the one hand, I want to refer to the word “emblematic” above to show how badly this misrepresents what I’ve said.

    But why bother?

    > If you prefer to be thought an idiot, that’s your choice.

    Because nothing I’ve said was remotely in this register, nor comes close to justifying this type of response.

    It’s an interesting reaction. Not wholly unrelated to my point about the Times and its choice of letters “fit to print”, I think.

  67. On the one hand, I want to refer to the word “emblematic” above to show how badly this misrepresents what I’ve said.

    How exactly does it misrepresent what you’ve said? As far as I can see, you’ve said all along that you dismiss the magazine because of the letters it prints. But maybe I’m the idiot — explain to me simply and clearly, and if I’m wrong, I will gladly apologize.

  68. I wrote that the embarrassingly self-congratulatory letters are problematic, but also emblematic of the hermetically sealed ecosystem the Times has intentionally created around itself, where other viewpoints literally have no place, and as a result, important parts of our landscape are utterly misunderstood.

    Letters and Op Eds are normally (or at least were traditionally) places where American journals allow other viewpoints to leak in. Readers understand to take them with a grain of salt. It’s safe to trust readers to do so.

    That Eddyshaw would conflate them with internet comments is interesting. Letters have always been selected and edited. Nonetheless, or maybe as a result, they had almost always, in my experience of American periodicals, offered substantive dissent from the prevailing perspective of the journal.

    A couple weeks ago, a senior editor at the Times was fired after a revolt in the newsroom, for having the audacity of allowing an Op-Ed piece from a US Senator whose general opinion on the topic was shared by a majority of the country, a majority of Democrats, and a majority of African Americans. I would have defined the editor’s responsibility as bringing in such viewpoints, but he was fired for that offense.

    I’m not saying I support the details of the Cotton editorial on the National Guard. But it should have launched, not a call for firing, but a discussion of a variety of things, at least one of which is why NYT reporters have a perspective out of sync with so many African Americans even as they claim to represent them.

    Something relevant that has received little attention, but should get far more, is the leaked tape of Chicago aldermen speaking with Mayor Lightfoot in the aftermath of the looting that took advantage of the Floyd protests. These were African Americans who actually do represent African American neighborhoods, speaking outside the ear of liberal reporters.

    If you listen (but no one was willing to read the DOJ report, so who am I kidding?), what you hear is one African American alderperson after another, calling for the police to be more aggressive, literally calling for the National Guard as Cotton did.

    This is not wild-eyed GOP/racist hysteria. This is the elected representatives of the African American community in Chicago. Not one made an excuse for looters. None that I heard said that they were concerned that their calls for a more aggressive police presence and even military patrols would lead to abuse (the tape is more than an hour, and I didn’t listen to every minute.)

    The Mayor, an African American woman, doesn’t say “we can’t do that, because it might lead to abuse.” She says she simply doesn’t have the security resources to get it done. That she’s thrown everything she could at it. That the police could only clear Madison and Pulaski after “gassing” the looter/rioters. She says this with exasperation that it could take that, but with no hint of concern that it was the wrong thing to do.

    There is no place at the Times for the idea that the primary role of the police is to provide security TO and FOR African American communities; that the primary impact of aggressive policing has been a reduction in violence in those communities, that it was largely inspired by sympathy for those communities and by public opinion IN those communities, and that most African Americans want more (but better) policing. Increasingly, there is no place for that simple reality in mainstream media.

    As I’ve repeatedly said, none of this denies the truths that BLM has brought forward. But the debate, framed in many ways by New York media, suppresses important aspects of the truth, and that is likely to lead to disaster, first to abandonment of that important function of police; and then to a return of the “what can you do?” attitude that the riots of the 60s brought, and 2-3 decades in which African American men die at horrendous, unconscionable rates as they did in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. Ie, before Bill Bratton, Paul Vallas and the Clinton crime bill and the “put 100,000 more police on the streets” approach.

    I actually think that a part of this dichotomy relates in interesting ways to John Cowan’s post and my reply, about the New Yorker being in New York, but “of” the American intellectual elite. I’d have let it go if I didn’t think it was relevant to the other things I’m talking about here. Not in that vague “ah, you damned estabishment people don’t understand us hicks and yokels way.”

    But in this very specific way.

    New York solved the problem of violence in an American city. That is something like a modern miracle. It frames our understanding of who we are. We are no longer the nation of Fort Apache, the Bronx.

    That few other cities duplicated New York’s success is a largely unexamined disaster of American life.

    The American intellectual elite, nationwide, discusses violence, police and abuse as if they in the relatively peaceful city whose periodicals they read, where police abuse may actually be a significant fraction of the violence men inflict on each other.

    As if, or maybe because, their neighborhoods and suburbs all fit in the happy topography of the famous Steinberg map, letting them forget the neighborhoods a few miles away, whose chaotic street violence never touches them, but continues to be the primary fear of the people who live in them.

  69. David Eddyshaw says:

    That few other cities duplicated New York’s success is a largely unexamined disaster of American life.

    Your President mentioned the “carnage” in his inaugural speech, as I recall, by which I imagine he meant this very disaster that you allude to.

  70. A person less prone to “examine” things or help others understand them I can scarcely imagine.

    I’m not sure of your intent. Many would say it as a guffaw. “You’re saying what Trump did!”

    I hope no one will think I’m merely channeling Trump by highlighting the voices of elected representatives of African Americans on the subject of policing. By not denying BLM, but pointing out there is much more complexity than the pages of the Times are willing to admit.

    It is an interesting situation that Trump could take a commonplace of European and elite American discourse – that American cities are too violent – and make it into something anathema to many of the same people. I get it. He blamed it all on Obama, which is grotesque, and the reaction is visceral.

    But we seem to have decided that if the other party believes something, for whatever reason, we must deny that there is any truth in it. If Tom Cotton says call in the National Guard, we must defenestrate those on our side who let him say it, and pretend that it is not a widespread opinion among the people whose interests we’re purporting to defend.

    The guffaw, the quick insult to isolate, is now the currency of American politics. The policing that everyone believes in is policing the boundaries of the discourse.

    Or perhaps that’s naive, and it ever was.

  71. David Eddyshaw says:

    A person less prone to “examine” things or help others understand them I can scarcely imagine.

    Sad, but true. I will never make it as a moral or even intellectual guide. Still:

    I do know in fact what you mean. I just think it’s very easy (even for perfectly decent people such as yourself) to be suckered in to supporting oppression by swallowing the right-wing narrative. It’s the lure of “All lives matter.” Undeniably true. But the question to be asked is “Yes, but why are you saying that now?” It’s not mindless politically-correct conformism to ask that question, and it seems to me that in decrying the “self-congratulatory” nature of liberal discourse you’re in danger of falling into the trap of labelling virtue as hypocrisy. There is a time to pick sides. I do nevertheless take your point that being (properly) partisan ought not to entail ignoring inconvenient truths.

    Still: I would be worried, myself, to find that I was echoing a deliberate falsification of Trump’s, even if my own motives were very different from his (as yours plainly are.) I might worry that I was being played.

  72. John Cowan says:

    Letters have always been selected and edited.

    Comments are also selected, at least in the sense of not being removed. And as for editing, that can be explained by the notorious inelasticity of paper.

    I would have defined the editor’s responsibility

    The first responsibility of a senior official of any organization is not to embarrass the organization publicly. That’s, for example, why Brendan Eich resigned, clearly under threat of being fired, from the CEOship of Mozilla Inc. Justice (except in the matter of severance) doesn’t enter into it.

    There is no place at the Times for the idea that […] the primary impact of aggressive policing has been a reduction in violence in those communities

    There’s no evidence for it either. Violence has been in a secular decline for the last 500 years, approximately, with occasional spikes of the World Wars were by far the worst. The reason for the spike in the West in the 70s and 80s has been much debated. I myself favor the simplest explanation: the baby boom left too many young men uncivilized, because there weren’t enough adults to civilize them all, and it ended when the young men age-graded out of it, as almost all of them have historically done anyway.

    African American men die at horrendous, unconscionable rates as they did in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. Ie, before Bill Bratton, Paul Vallas and the Clinton crime bill and the “put 100,000 more police on the streets”

    The decline in the homicide rate (which is the best thing to look at because the definition doesn’t differ in different parts of the U.S.) started dropping in 1991, three years before the Clinton bill, and continued to do so throughout the decade for a total of 26%, quite blind to the passage of the bill and the changes brought by it, with the exception of the “three strikes and you’re out” law (now to be called the “three strikes and you’re dead” law in the Age of COVID), which of course “works” in the same sense that the death penalty “works”: there can’t be street crime from people who can’t go into the streets.

    I note, by the way, that at least 2500 inmates were released from Rikers Island (NYC’s jail for convicts with less-than-a-year sentences and the not-yet-tried who cannot make cash bail) and about an equal number not admitted in the first place. Of these, about 10% have been rearrested, a number that suggests (to me at least) massive over-incarceration.

    a commonplace of European and elite American discourse – that American cities are too violent

    Certainly any violent death is one too many. However: a commonplace it may be, but is it a true commonplace? The homicide rate in NYC (3.3) is about the same as Portland, Seattle, Honolulu — and Marseille. Vilnius has a homicide rate of 3.9, between Laredo (TX) and Madison (WI). Kaunas has the highest homicide rate (5.4) of any large city in the EU, more than Plano (TX), less than Colorado Springs. (I’m looking only at the 100 largest US cities by population here).

    Yes, the US has 13 cities with homicide rates above 20, and that’s sad and scary. In decreasing order of rate, they are St. Louis, Baltimore, Detroit, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Kansas City (MO), Cleveland, Memphis, Newark (where I was born), Chicago, Cincinnati, Mobile, Philadelphia. There’s nothing like that outside Latin America and South Africa. But the magic of New York City is not a matter of its police department.

  73. Trond Engen says:

    I myself favor the simplest explanation: the baby boom left too many young men uncivilized, because there weren’t enough adults to civilize them all, and it ended when the young men age-graded out of it, as almost all of them have historically done anyway.

    Yes, it’s the spikes that need a special explanation, not the declines. It’s likely that the baby boom comes into it, but there were baby booms elsewhere without violent crime going through the roof. So what left the boys uncivilized? I’ve thought it could be families marred by untreated war trauma, but I don’t know enough about the demographics of war service and the availability of mental healthcare to know,

  74. I’m not being played. I’ve been carefully analyzing murder rates for nearly 20 years, since noticing in my neighborhood the very night that Chicago adopted a test of aggressive policing in a single district, and wondering what was up. That district had its quietest month in 3.5 decades, and within another month, the old superintendent, who insisted “it can’t work in Chicago,” was ousted. Chicago’s murder rate fell by a quarter in the next year, as the tactics were brought citywide. And remained at that much lower plateau for more than a decade, until the city’s reaction to the Rialmo case led police to “go fetal”, backing away from engaging lest an honest mistake should lead to firing and prosecution. In the last month, the rate has skyrocketed again, as police feel more than ever that the city “doesn’t have their back.”

    Whether this concern is legitimate is a separate question. My point is that the murder rate in Chicago has been very responsive to changes in aggressive engagement by police, not year over year in a city, a scale at which change is hard to attribute, but district by district, month by month.

    By the way, for those interested in murder stats that aren’t cherry-picked, the US rate is 60% higher than Europe, and triple that of Canada. 26% of Canadian households own guns. “But what about Kaunas and Colorado Springs?” you ask. Dunno what the relevance may be. Ask John.

    Seattle and Portland never had a significant murder issue. New York had one and solved it. Its murder rate is about one eighth of what it was when I graduated from college. Yes there was a small decline in 1991, as John says. Why? Well in 1990, 87 murders were attributed to a single arson, torching a residential building. Remove that case and the decline was 0.2%.

    In 1992 there was a 6% decline, and the numbers held steady in 1993.

    In 1994, Bratton took over, and the murder rate fell by more than 20%. And then again by more than 25% the following year. In two years, the murder rate went from 1,946 to 1,177. The following 3 years saw additional double-digit percentage declines.

    So in the three years John cites as launching the decline, 1990-93, murder went down 2% per year, and didn’t even get below the 1989 rate. In the five years that saw increased police and Bratton’s accountability revolution, the rate went down by more than 20% per year, by the end of which, 1,300 fewer people were being killed each year, mostly African American men.

    But I can’t blame John, because that weird 1991 idea is constantly touted by the innumerate ideologues who populate this debate, so you can’t avoid getting sucked in unless you immerse yourself in the numbers. It’s a political game, the starting point being a partisan desire to deny credit to Giuliani and give it to Dinkins, combined with an ideological desire to avoid crediting police. It was never Giuliani or Dinkins. It was Bratton, who reminded American police that they had a job to do, and held them accountable.

    Only 4 major American cities saw declines even close to that scale in the 90s. Two of them were Boston, where the decline came in the Bratton years before he went to NYC, and Los Angeles, where the decline came in the years after Bratton left NY, and went west. And one was San Diego where there just weren’t that many murders.

    But only NY really went on to solve the problem. New York virtually eliminated “cynical murder,’ where it’s in the interest of someone to convince someone else to kill a third party. (This is what never really existed, at scale, in Seattle, Portland or Honolulu.) Organizational murder, which remains common in Chicago. I witnessed such a discussion once, some scumbag leaning out the window of his late model car telling my neighbor’s kid “you oughta pop him, bang, bang, bang,” a day after one of his friends was slain. My neighbor, who came from a sort of fringe gang background himself, was a hero, sending his kid to Cleveland for a month till things cooled.

    By contrast, 6 years ago,, the NYPD was trying to use predictive data to figure out which domestic incidents might lead to murder, and the Times explained that there were simply no other significant categories of murder to be brought down. Only crimes of passion were left.

    The issue of violence in this country, the reason we’re different from other countries with similar economies, is primarily an issue of organized, cynical violence in the absence of effective policing, a result of the widespread abandonment of responsibility by the classes that populated urban bureaucracies in the late 60s, in reaction to the riots. I still heard, and bristled at, the catch phrases when I began working in government in Chicago in 1990, people anchoring their refusal to care in the memory of the riots. In 1966, the US, particularly in northern states, wasn’t much more violent than Europe. But when police abrogated their responsibility, the murder rate skyrocketed, as cynical murder became lucrative and common, for decades. It still is in too many parts of Chicago, Baltimore, St. Louis, and many other cities.

  75. David Marjanović says:

    The reason for the spike in the West in the 70s and 80s has been much debated. I myself favor the simplest explanation:

    Lead.

    A few years ago I saw a map of New Orleans showing both the amount of traffic on the streets and the amount of violent crime. The correlation is scary. Europe outlawed lead in gasoline earlier than the US, and never used quite as much gasoline to begin with.

  76. J.W. Brewer says:

    The problem with grand monocausal theories about the nationwide rise and drop in homicide (I blame the baby boom! I blame leaded gasoline!) is that they struggle to account for stark regional differences in both the absolute homicide rate and the rate of change since the Bad Old Days. So to pick 1991, when NYC was down modestly (perhaps just due to that one arson mass killling) to 14.2/100,000 from 14.5 the prior year, Chicago (where I lived at the time) was at 33/100,000, before peaking at 34 the following year. But Chicago’s decline has been much shallower (still above 20 as of the year whose data JC was citing above, although maybe it dipped below 20 for calendar 2019) over the subsequent time period, so the ratio of Chicago-murders:NYC-murders has continued to become more skewed in Chicago’s disfavor, to the extent that in recent years Chicago has typically had more murders in absolute numbers than NYC (i.e. w/o adjusting for population), which was certainly not the case in the 1990’s.

    Interestingly enough, however, from my POV early ’90’s Chicago felt subjectively less out-of-control and dystopian than NYC as of the same time (even though I moved from the latter to the former in ’92), although that was probably an artifact of the way in which Chicago succeeded, if that’s the right word, in keeping its most extreme crime more strictly confined (segregated, you might say …) to the highest-crime neighborhoods where I didn’t spend much time, whereas in NYC the subjective sense of hovering menace/chaos/etc leaked over into the “nice” parts of Manhattan even though for actual homicides you had the same extreme internal skew in distribution by neighborhoods. That had radically changed by the late ’90’s, along with a lot of the more “colorful” character of pre-Giuliani NYC. Some point around 1998 I walked from the Astor Place subway station to an upscale new restaurant on rapidly-gentrifying Avenue B and realized with some shock upon my arrival at my destination that not a single person had tried to sell me dope as I walked along the sidewalk, whereas five years earlier that route through that neighborhood might have been expected to result in maybe 8 to 10 such solicitations, maybe more …

  77. John Cowan says:

    So what left the boys uncivilized?

    Well, now you get into deeper historical questions and that fuzzy thing called “national character”. But to stick to the obvious, Europe’s governments disarmed and repressed their people for a long time and then liberalized and democratized, by which time people had mostly gotten out of the habit of settling problems by private violence. Governments were weaker in Italy and weakest in Southern Italy, so violence is higher there because the new habits never completely took.

    In the U.S. we can look at failures of cohesion and failures of policing (another lecture from Doctor Obviosus):

    1) Governments were liberal and democratic at a time when private arms were still absolutely necessary. In New England and the Midwest, there was more homogeneity and more social cohesion (not an unmixed blessing, that) and people mostly repressed themselves, using violence on a large scale only against Natives.

    2) The South developed a “culture of honor”, one of those hellish ideas people come up with when cohesion and policing are both low, and of course a slave society requires private arms from its beginning to its end, as well as their frequent use. It’s damned hard to enslave adult males in large quantities even when the economics seem to require it. Of course the enslaved caught the culture-of-honor virus too.

    3) The West was the Wild West because nobody bothered to police it on the necessary scale. (The Canadian West was fundamentally different because the civilizing forces of the school, the church, the cops, and the women arrived at the frontier basically at the same time as the men.)

    But when all has been said, toddlers are wild animals, and we have to civilize them one brain at a time. That doesn’t work if their parents aren’t very civilized either.

    But what about Kaunas and Colorado Springs?

    My point was to debunk the notion that “American cities are too violent”, as if it applied to all of them (or all except NYC) and to no EU cities. Neither is true. European intellectuals are no more immune to matching to type than anyone else.

    Chicago adopted a test of aggressive policing in a single district, […]. That district had its quietest month in 3.5 decades

    That is indeed impressive, but it’s awfully fast, and I wonder about the Hawthorne effect.

    Seattle and Portland never had a significant murder issue

    ORLY? In 1999 the murder rate in Seattle was about 8.2 and in Portland just short of 7. That’s less than NYC’s 9.0, to be sure, but not that much less. And of course none of them compare with the Big Bads like Baltimore, which had 40 then and 52 now.

    So in the three years John cites as launching the decline, 1990-93

    I was actually talking about the U.S. murder rate at that point, not NYC’s; sorry for being unclear. It declined quite smoothly from 9.3 in 1999 to 5.5 in 2000, and there weren’t Brattons everywhere. A spike in 2001, not surprisingly, and then steady decline again.

    The correlation is scary.

    Yes, but what’s the effect size? NYC uses as much gas per capita (before coronavirus) as the country as a whole did in 1920, and we had no miraculous differential in IQ here.

  78. Lars Mathiesen says:

    I don’t know about lead, but road noise makes it hard to think straight.

  79. David Marjanović says:

    Governments were weaker in Italy and weakest in Southern Italy, so violence is higher there because the new habits never completely took.

    Other such cases are roughly Albania + Kosovo, and the Caucasus.

    Yes, but what’s the effect size?

    Can’t remember.

    differential in IQ

    AFAIK, lead is supposed to make aggressive/uninhibited, not to depress the IQ.

    road noise

    Certainly, but it didn’t decline until March or April of this year, did it?

  80. Lars Mathiesen says:

    There might be a causative relation between traffic density and road noise, even in a state of snafu (before March, we are now in fubar). So if violent crime correlates with one, it correlates with the other.

    Also when did unleaded fuel become mandatory? There’s an easy control for the first hypothesis.

  81. Trond Engen says:

    I’ve seen the correlation with traffic. If poisoning or noise plays a part, it will be difficult to control for socio-economic factors. If you have a choice you live somewhere else.

    I agree that it’s not one simple cause, and I didn’t mean that there are only the secular fall in violence that matters. It probably takes complex and shifting policies. Violent behavior is rational when you can rationally expect society to be violent. Crime can be rational, letting your neighbourhood decay can be rational. It all depends on expectations. Policy to change people’s expectations is about credibly promising to produce results counter to past experience. You change expectations of inflation by raising the interest rate until people take the message. Then you lower it to allow new growth and avoid unnecessary damage. You change expectations of recession by raising public spending until people trust that business will continue. Then you pull back temporary spending to avoid inflation. But these are simple cases. To get rid of violence and crime you need to change expectations on many areas, and what is correct in the initial phases may very well be counterproductive in the long run.

  82. I think there answers to some of these things (like the leaded fuel study, which excluded NY and 2 other jurisdictions accounting for more than 1/3rd of the decline over the years studied, for inscrutable reasons), but in keeping with my initial point, I’m interested in hearing these perspectives rather than continuing to blither.

    Writing this comment mostly to acknowledge the points being made.

  83. >it’s awfully fast, and I wonder about the Hawthorne effect.

    Let me try to understand the objection. You’re concerned that in a setting of increased policing, it’s possible that perpetators decide not to commit crimes because they’re aware of greater police scrutiny?

    Perhaps I’ve broken my commitment from the post above. But I’ll keep quiet now.

  84. David L says:

    I suppose bubble tea came to New York too late to be associated with any downturn in crime.

  85. a commonplace of European and elite American discourse – that American cities are too violent

    This has not been a commonplace in either European or elite American discourse for several decades. The decline in crime in the US beginning in the 1990s has been widely remarked upon everywhere. Indeed, until this year the commonplace in conservative American (and Polish and Russian) circles was that it was Western Europe that was now more dangerous, what with the terrorism, the acid attacks in London, the “no-go zones”, the grooming gangs, the scary immigrants molesting women at will, etc., etc. Trump was elected to prevent America from following Europe down the slippery slope towards Sharia law if I recall. So Mission Accomplished I guess.

    Subjectively I have been hopping back and forth between Boston and Vienna for a decade and Boston doesn’t feel particularly dangerous in terms of major crime even compared to “safe” European cities like Zürich or Vienna. To be honest I have experienced or heard anecdotally about a lot more minor theft, muggings, and other annoyances in Vienna. Philadelphia on the other hand…

  86. @Vanya: Boston is a very heavily economically segregated city, and that affects the crime a lot. There are places where I would completely safe going alone in the middle of the night (like Back Bay), but it’s not too far from there to the South End, which is still downright scary sometimes.

  87. John Cowan says:

    You’re concerned that in a setting of increased policing, it’s possible that perpetators decide not to commit crimes because they’re aware of greater police scrutiny?

    Plainly I was thinking of something else, but I no longer know what. However, my understanding is that no public acknowledgement had been made, and it seems hardly likely that additional police could have been hired and trained so quickly (though they might have been transferred, I suppose).

    lead is supposed to make aggressive/uninhibited, not to depress the IQ.

    Both. A study in NZ of people born in Dunedin NZ in 1972-73, during the heyday of leaded gasoline, showed that the people with 10 or more µg/dl of lead were about 5 IQ points lower than their nonleaded peers. This isn’t a very big effect, since the standard error of measurement is between 2 and 3 IQ points, but it’s there.

    Subjectively I have been hopping back and forth between Boston and Vienna for a decade

    Whereas objectively you have remained in Grand Rapids MI (murder rate 2.45) the whole time, I suppose.

  88. AJP Crown says:

    This has not been a commonplace in either European or elite American discourse for several decades. The decline in crime in the US beginning … Western Europe that was now more dangerous, what with the terrorism, the acid attacks in London, the “no-go zones”, the grooming gangs, the scary immigrants molesting women at will, etc…Mission Accomplished I guess.

    This is simply not true. Even the American gov. doesn’t think Europe’s cities are as dangerous as America’s. Just read the OSAC Reports on Crime & Safety for the UK:

    Cities in the UK are generally safer than comparable metropolitan areas in the United States. […] There was a 4% decrease in the number of homicides in the UK in 2019. It is much more likely for an adult in the UK to be a victim of fraud than to be a victim of a violent offence.

    Violent criminal confrontations and the use of weapons are still relatively rare, although serious incidents are possible and do occur. Most violent crimes, including those involving firearms, typically occur between members of rival criminal gangs. The personal possession of guns is illegal, except for the strictly regulated use of shotguns for sporting purposes.

    While personal assaults are less common in the UK than they are in the U.S., they do represent an area for concern.

    Maybe of interest only to me, because I live here, is Norway (“Norway is a very peaceful nation”), where the causes for concern for American visitors seem to be pickpockets, roadworks, flooding and landslides – but you can read similar things about other big cities in Europe.

    As for European discourse, here’s this week’s Economist: The violence In American cities reflects the fury of polarisation.

    And just for good measure, next to one about how Police shot an LA security guard in the back five times, here’s yesterday’s Guardian schadenfreude-du-jour about how New York is being overcome by hungry rats. Take that, Trump.

  89. John Cowan says:

    This has not been a commonplace in either European or elite American discourse for several decades. […] This is simply not true. Even the American gov. doesn’t think Europe’s cities are as dangerous as America’s.

    The first claim is about perceptions, the second about facts on the ground. (Stand by to come about!) There is no doubt that large U.S. cities have higher homicide rates on the whole than large EU cities do, (Ready about!) though I was at pains to point out the fairly small overlap above. (Helm’s a-lee!) But what the intellectuals are making of it all is a whole different story.

    I thought I had told Hannah Arendt’s story about Eisenhower’s election in 1956 here, but Dr. Google is not being helpful today. All the European intellectuals in New York began to pack their bags to return to Europe: they knew what it meant when a general was elected, or “elected”. Fortunately, most of them had American friends who knew some history and could reassure them that of the 32 men who had been presidents, no less than 11 (beginning with Washington) had been generals, all of whom left the White House peacefully when their terms were over, and so would Eisenhower. And so he did. Such are the uses not only of history, but of quantitative reasoning.

    The violence In American cities reflects the fury of polarisation

    The author of this article has some very strange notions about what political means. He speaks of the “politicisation of protests”; what protests does he have in mind that were not political ab initio both to the protesters and the protestees? The same with “Demonstrating against police brutality has become political and ideological, not just racial”: say what? Police brutality demonstrations have always been the first two, and only situationally the third.

    Indeed, the term was invented in Britain in 1848 and was said to be pervasive there and then, and was first applied in the U.S. to union suppression among mostly-white workers in 1872. The 1960s civil rights movement in the U.S. talked about it constantly — that’s when I first heard of it — and that was a well-integrated affair, involving beatings of whites, blacks, Natives, and Sidney Morgenbesser (who said his beating was unjust but not unfair, because everyone else was being beaten too).

    It’s also worth noticing that the article is datelined June 2, when it was not yet abundantly clear that the looting and smashing was ordinary (and very well organized) commercial burglary done while the police were distracted by overreacting to actual protesters from their job of catching criminals (or so much as seeing crimes in progress for what they were). They were in no sense an overflow of rage among protestors, though there were of course a few such incidents.

  90. David Eddyshaw says:

    The author of this article has some very strange notions about what political means

    Exactly.

    I’d say too that “polarisation” is often used in a strikingly mealy-mouthed way, to imply a sort of moral equivalence between race-baiting authoritarian friends of billionaires on the one hand, and normal decent human beings on the other. Only one of the major US political parties has disappeared off the map into frank extremism.

  91. Yup. It’s amazing (well, not exactly amazing, but depressing) to see how eagerly people seize on any violence associated with protests to call the protestors “rioters” and angrily denounce their cause. The violence associated with the police and military, on the other hand, is cheerfully accepted as in the order of things.

  92. Rodger C says:

    Eisenhower’s election in 1956

    1952.

  93. AJP Crown says:

    of the 32 men who had been presidents, no less than 11 (beginning with Washington) had been generals

    That reminds me of the Duke of Wellington, writing to his brother

    Today I had my first Cabinet meeting as Prime Minister, an extraordinary affair. I gave them their orders and they wanted to stay and discuss them.

  94. David Marjanović says:

    The elite, however defined, might know better, but it’s not hard to find Faux Noise viewers – or Faux Noise show hosts – who are completely convinced Europe’s more famous cities have been taken over by marauding, raping & pillaging hordes of Syrian Muslims. Not limited to the US either; there are plenty of Russian TV viewers with the same beliefs.

    The author of this article has some very strange notions about what political means.

    No, this is mere ignorance about what is political and what, if anything, is not political in the US.

    (Whether someone in that situation should write a newspaper article about the US is another question.)

  95. There’s a story about Truman giving some advice to Eisenhower when he became president: You will discuss matters with your cabinet and advisers, formulate plans, issue instructions — and nothing will happen.

  96. JC, as they say, forgot about American politics more than I ever knew, but there is a narrow sense of “political” in American discourse which means “something to do with elections”. In that sense, making something political means using it to get elected. Polarization is a well-documented trend in American politics, to a degree that it can be discussed without moral indignation.

    I also remember someone saying that if the (US) president wants anything done he (maybe if this pronoun becomes obsolete thing will change) must demand it three times.

  97. David Marjanović says:

    “Governance rests on the consent of the government”.

  98. John Cowan says:

    Yes, but is an Economist article, even about American politics, a part of American political discourse? This one doesn’t read that way to me at all.

    JC, as they say, forgot about American politics more than I ever knew

    I have been working hard to increase my ignorance in this matter.

  99. David Eddyshaw says:

    I have been working hard to increase my ignorance in this matter

    Gambatte. You’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

  100. Stu Clayton says:

    You will discuss matters with your cabinet and advisers, formulate plans, issue instructions — and nothing will happen.

    Something closely related to this appears to be an “anthropological constant”. When people have observed that you know what you’re doing, they ask for your advice. You explain how you see the matter in question, state what you would do – and nothing happens,. Except they accuse you of “not showing respect” for them by having opinions.

    Apparently the problem is that these people want to be asked for their opinion, even when they have volunteered none and, when you then do ask for their opinion, have none to give.

    I discovered a wonderful German word recently, almost too good to be true: Pleonexie. According to Duden, one of its meanings (apart from “greed”) is: Drang, trotz mangelnder Sachkenntnis überall mitzureden.

  101. David Marjanović says:

    Indeed so wonderful that I wonder if it’s an easter egg.

  102. Stu Clayton says:

    I’m pretty sure it was laid there by a fun-loving bunny like the one in Donnie Darko. But how did it breach the defenses of lexicography, one of the bastions of civilization ?

  103. This is simply not true. Even the American gov. doesn’t think Europe’s cities are as dangerous as America’s.

    Of course it’s not true. But I think Ryan’s perception of public perception is a few decades out of date. More Americans, including a surprising number of “elites”, take direction from Fox News and social media than from the US Gov (aka “Deep State”, as they would say).

    Not limited to the US either

    Certainly not. Polish state media has also convinced half of Poland that any woman walking around Paris, Brussels, Berlin or Cologne will be sexually assaulted immediately. David may also remember that at the height of the Syrian refugee crisis, Austrian tabloids were awash with stories of refugees raping and pillaging defenceless Austrian girls. Vienna was becoming a no-go zone. As soon as Kurz became Bundeskanzler those stories almost magically disappeared, and Vienna once again became the safest city in Europe.

  104. AJP Crown says:

    Apologies, Vanya. Despite the clarity of your writing, I’d misunderstood your point.

  105. David Marjanović says:

    David may also remember that at the height of the Syrian refugee crisis, Austrian tabloids were awash with stories of refugees raping and pillaging defenceless Austrian girls.

    I wasn’t in the country. All I got to hear was wir schaffen das and Merkel muss weg. 🙂

    (…and one story that was fake but was breathlessly spread by Russian media in Germany, leading to scenes reminiscent of that pizza place in DC that doesn’t have a basement.)

  106. @JC: I have been working hard to increase my ignorance in this matter.

    Obligatory LeGuin quote:

    “I’m exceedingly ignorant—”

    The young man laughed and bowed. “I am honored!” he said. “I’ve lived here three years, but haven’t yet acquired enough ignorance to be worth mentioning.” He was highly amused, but his manner was gentle, and I managed to recollect enough scraps of Handdara lore to realize that I had been boasting, very much as if I’d come up to him and said, “I’m exceedingly handsome…”

  107. John Cowan says:

    Exactly the quotation I had in mind.

  108. John Cowan says:

    Violent criminal confrontations and the use of weapons are still relatively rare

    I missed this before. Still implies that an increase is coming as sure as eggs is eggs, which of course there is no reason to believe — quite the opposite.

    The word still is excellent for such implicatures. Here’s Shakespeare being interrogated by Baltasar Guzmán, an intelligence officer of the Spanish military occupation in London. Lope de Vega, the playwright and Guzmán’s subordinate, is translating. The occasion is that Lope has just killed Christopher Marlowe, wanted for undoubted buggery and suspected treason, outside Shakespeare’s lodging-house in an attempt to arrest him.

    Baltasar Guzmán growled something that sounded angry. “Thus saith my captain,” Lope replied: “You standing on the edge of so many swamps of treason, how do your feet stay dry?”

    “I am no traitor,” Shakespeare said, as he had to. “Were I such a caitiff rogue, could I have writ King Philip?” [a play he is being paid to write giving the life of Philip II of Spain and England, who has just died]

    Once more, Lope translated his words into Spanish. Once more, he did not presume to answer himself, but waited for his superior to respond. Captain Guzmán spoke a curt sentence in Spanish. “That is what we seek to learn — if the worm of treason still begnaw your soul,” was how de Vega put it in English.

    “‘Still,’ is’t?” Shakespeare knew he was fighting for his life, and could concede his foes nothing. “My duty to your captain, Master Lope, and say this most precisely: by this word he assumes me treacherous, and proves himself no honest judge. He must forthwith retract it, as slanderous to my honor.”

    And how would Captain Guzmán respond to that? By letting him defend his honor with a sword? If so, he was a dead man. He had no skill at swordplay, whereas a Spanish officer was all too likely to be a deadly man of his hands. Lope de Vega had certainly shown himself to be such a man, at any rate.

    But Guzmán nodded and then bowed low. He spoke in Spanish. “You have reason, quotha,” Lope said. “Naught against you is proved, nor should he have spake as if it were. He cries your pardon therefor.” Shakespeare bowed in return; he hadn’t expected even so much. The Spaniard spoke again, this time harshly. “Naught against you is proved, saith he, but much suspected. We will have answers from you.”

    “I have given all I can,” Shakespeare said, “and so shall I do. Ask what you would.”

    And so they question him — but they do not put him to the question, and that winds up making all the difference.

  109. Stu Clayton says:

    The word still is excellent for such implicatures.

    How considerate of you to spare us the G-word !

  110. Lars Mathiesen says:

    Well, didn’t Mr. G— get shown up as a hopelessly belated imitator in this very hattery a few days back? You need never fear the name again!

  111. Stu Clayton says:

    I haven’t been following along at home recently. At the moment I need every ounce of energy to combat the forces of Unreason, viz. stubborn programmers of a certain age. I’m winning, of course, but it’s a war of attrition.

  112. John Cowan says:

    I’m lost. What G-word? Which Mr. G? Surely not Señor Capitán Guzman.

    The author of the above passage is a Mr. T.

  113. Stu Clayton says:

    Grice.

  114. John Cowan says:

    Oh, I see. I don’t associate implicature with Grice or Gricean any more.

  115. Stu Clayton says:

    Dare I hope that particular outbreak of verbal flux has abated ? Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition ! Who knows what new popular pomposity will next strike.

  116. Lars Mathiesen says:

    I actually first learned of the concept as ‘conversational implicature,’ I think. But it’s a thing that kids learn to use soon enough, my impression is that Grice was able to express the idea in terms that other philosophers deigned to take notice of and thus arrogated the credit.

  117. David Marjanović says:

    And so they question him — but they do not put him to the question

    Nobody expected this lack of Spanish inquisition!

  118. John Cowan says:

    This would have been the secular question rather than either the Spanish or the English Inquisition’s. Shakespeare was suspected of treason rather than heresy (or buggery).

  119. I’m visiting my hometown in Bulgaria, and some friends’ kids were playing around us in the garden this afternoon. They’re in primary school. One of them asked another if they’ve heard of “bubble tea” (in English), and translated it as “бълбукащ чай” (balbukasht chai), “bubbling tea” in Bulgarian. Turns out in my small hometown of ~30 thousand there’s a bubble tea place. The kid’s mother told me he found it himself and took her there, and she hadn’t heard of bubble tea before. In her words “it took what felt like half an hour to make it”.

  120. Good lord! How do these things take over the world?

  121. I blame the internets.

  122. John Cowan says:

    And no sooner do I mention buggery but the very next comment is about Bulgaria, and the two words are a doublet! It is indeed, as DE is wont to say, all meant.

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