Book Review: In Morocco

In Morocco, by Edith Wharton

In writing this book, the author, a noted American novelist most famous for works like The Age Of Innocence and the incomplete The Buccaneers, provides a worthwhile service in making an early travelogue for the nation of Morocco. It is striking that while travel to Morocco is by no means unusual at this time, that the area around the country, both in Mauretania and Western Sahara, is still very much off-limits to most travelers, and forbidding because of its political situation. What this book offers is something that was possible for a certain curious and cosmopolitan traveler to offer in the first half of the 20th century but which is not something that would be acceptable today, and that is a work that shows an interest and appreciation for other cultures while maintaining a simultaneous appreciation for one’s own cultural background as tourists of American or European backgrounds. This book begins with a dedication from the author to a French colonial official who is praised for his enlightened colonial efforts, demonstrating that the author has a nuanced appreciation of the superiority of benevolent and indirect imperial rule to more oppressive and destructive direct rule. This sort of nuanced appreciation of a wise imperial administrator is not something that is within the capacity of most educated people in the contemporary age, one of the areas that we have declined from even the comparatively recent past of only a century ago.

This book is a short one of less than 150 pages, but it is justly considered a classic of travel writing. The first 75 pages of the book or so are spent in the author’s actual travels, given in a rough order of her travels from the north to the south of the French controlled area of the nation. She begins with a discussion of her travels and observations and reflections of Rabat and Sale (1). After that comes a discussion of the Roman ruins at Volubilis, the Moroccan city of Moulay Idriss, and Meknez (2). This is followed by a discussion of Fez (3), and then Marrakesh (4), which leads the author to reflect upon the mixed nature of the Berber population and indeed the Moroccan population as a whole, including some forthright commentary on the slavery that existed within the country at the time. After this the author changes gears, spending a whole chapter talking about an interesting experience where the author spent time visiting a harem (5), and reflected on the limited intellectual horizons of the women who spent their whole lives in seclusion, except for the intelligent queen mother who served as an advisor for her son. After this an entire chapter is spent praising the efforts of one General Lyautey to pacify and rule over Morocco during the period in which the French established their protectorate over the country in the early 1900’s, the sort of praise that we would not expect too many people to give today (6). The book then closes with a sketch on Moroccan history (7), looking at its various dynastic periods, as well as some notes on Moroccan architecture (8), and a list of books consulted by the author.

One of the most remarkable aspects of this book is an area that the author does not talk about at all–the city of Casablanca, which is one of the most important cities as far as most travelers to Morocco. In general, this book is written with the self-aware perspective of someone who is writing about a world that is soon to vanish. The author correctly notes that Morocco was at the time just beginning to open up to Western travelers, and that while Western travelers would see more of the country, they would not see it with the fresh perspective and fresh responses that Wharton did as among the earliest Western travelers to the area. There are ways, though, that the author does not predict the Morocco she saw as a vanishing one. One can easily imagine that slavery soon went underground in the face of growing desires on the part of Western nations to encourage the cultural development of areas under its influence. The Jewish community in Morocco that was so vibrant in Wharton’s time as a traveler has now vanished along with that of many other communities in the area in the face of rising Muslim hostility to Judaism. Similarly, while Morocco’s fortunes as an independent nation were at a low ebb during this time, Morocco would later become an imperial nation once again as it had been earlier in its history regarding Western Sahara, which is a story for another time, I suppose.

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Nitology: 3/16/2023

At this point, more than half of the games of the NIT have been played (as hard as that seems to believe), and the 32 teams that were invited to this tournament have been but to 16 teams that will be playing at campus sites for two more games before going to Las Vegas to sort out the final four and provide a championship. In the 16 games, we saw 11 of the higher-seeded teams prevail, so that two #1 teams, 3 #2 teams, 4 #3 teams, and two #4 teams, along with 2 #5 teams, 1 #7 team, and 2 #8 teams, have moved on to the next round.

One of the more telling results of the first round of the NIT was when one Morehead State, a fifteen and a half point underdog, went to Clemson and ended up defeating them 68-64 in a tight and close game in which Morehead State had no social media presence in making updates despite the fact that their team was competitive throughout and ended up prevailing. When only half of the #1 seeds end up winning their opening NIT games, one has to question the motivation that these teams that just miss the NCAA Tournament has in comparison to those who are just happy to be there and glad that they have somewhere to play after losing the chance to be the only team in their conference to play in that same tournament. While in general we expect, and see, the more talented teams from larger conferences prevailing for the most part, there are some times that the difference in motivation can mean a lot. Clemson was bragging about one of their star player putting himself in the draft but not completely cutting his ties with the NCAA, allowing himself to come back if he does not get drafted while also testing the waters. Not winning a single postseason game would appear to lower the interest that an NBA team would have for someone, I would think, in most cases.

In looking at the matchups for the second round, I have to admit that most of these matchups do not seem very impressive to me, aside from Oregon versus UCF and Vanderbilt Michigan at opposite sides of the bracket. Perhaps one could be enthusiastic about Colorado playing Utah Valley if I knew more about Utah Valley as a team. Still, quite a lot of the first round games were close, which indicates that the combination of talent differences throughout the teams and motivation to play in the postseason balances out pretty close to equal in most cases. And that makes for enjoyable basketball even when it involves more obscure programs than one is used to rooting for this time of year for most casual college basketball fans.

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Album Review: The Last One To Know

The Last One To Know, by Reba McEntire

Having listened now to a few Reba McEntire albums (this is the fourth album of hers in the 1980s I have listened to at this point), there are at least a few things that seem pretty consistent about her career. For one, her songs have always had a somewhat narrow and limited emotional and topical range, and one that seems to reflect the way she lives her life. As someone who does not appear to indulge in problem drinking or drug use, she is not going to write about whiskey glasses or taking pills like some other country artists do, reflecting their own more troublesome lives. McEntire’s songs are almost always about love and relationships. Sometimes those relationships are going well and she sings happily about them. Sometimes she sings about wanting to be in a relationship but having one sort of difficulty or another in having them, and sometimes she sings about relationships that are in trouble for one reason or another. Different albums may have different proportions of these sorts of songs, or they may be expressed in one way or another, but by and large the material is pretty consistent through all of them. Whether or not this is something that one enjoys depends on what one is seeking from one’s music. How does this album fare when viewed against McEntire’s body of work as a whole? Let’s find out.

Like a great deal of the artist’s output in the 1980’s, this album, released in 1987, is ten songs and takes up about half an hour or so of material. The album begins with its title track, a well-produced but melancholy take on a relationship that burned out when the narrator was the last one to know that the fire had died and that the relationship had lost its spark and passion, leaving her to mourn the loss of a relationship. “The Girl Who Has Everything” gives a mid-tempo song that is nonetheless melancholy about what a woman gives the girl who took her man and is about to marry him, drawing the point that the singer considers love and relationships to be everything. “Just Across The Rio Grande” contains a touching story about a man with a wife and child and unborn child in Northern Mexico that longs for and dreams of a better life on the other side of the river in the United States, wondering about the improvement his life and his family’s lives would have if they immigrated. “I Don’t Want To Mention Any Names” is a humorous and somewhat lighthearted look at a woman who is rather tired of the games and efforts of a woman who is trying to insert herself between the narrator and her partner and stirring up romantic melodrama. “Someone Else” gives the defense of a woman whose man is suspicious but for no good reason, because she tells him that there is no one else in her life, with some dark music and a rather pointed hook that deals with the negative effects of jealousy on a relationship. “What You Gonna Do About Me” provides a sad tale of a broken family and what they are going to do about their little child who is concerned about the effects of the breakup on her life. If the song is relatable, it’s not particularly pleasant, and points to the negative effects of breakups on children and on why adults are so short-sighted in their behavior. “I Don’t Want To Be Alone” reflects on the embarrassment that can threaten friendships and family relationships when one makes mistakes when it comes to love, with the honest admission that the narrator doesn’t want to be alone. Again, like so much on this album, this is relatable but not necessarily pleasant. “The Stairs” provides an unpleasant and melodramatic tale of a battered woman with an alcoholic husband who has to lie and cover for the abuse that she suffers at his hands because of her inability to leave the relationship. “Love Will Find Its Way To You” provides encouragement and hope to someone who longs for love but hasn’t found it, the sort of cheerful and upbeat song that is something that a lot of people would respond to, which makes it unsurprising that this is among the most popular songs on this album for people to stream even to this day. “I’ve Still Got The Love We Made” is a downbeat closing song to the album where the narrator notes that she has lost or given up a great deal of the things that reminded her of him but she maintains the memory of the love that they shared together, even if they no longer are.

With the striking exception of “Love Will Find Its Way To You,” this album is a strikingly downcast album about longing. One of the things that this album does well, though, is to broaden the range of that longing and make the songs a bit deeper than was the case on previous albums. This does not make the songs necessarily more enjoyable than they were before, but the added depth of songs like “The Stairs,” which reflects on spousal abuse, as well as “What You Gonna Do About Me?” with its reflection of the sadness of a child caught between two divorcing parents–a sadness I know all too well personally, I might add, as well as the longing of the possible future immigrant for a better life in “Just Across The Rio Grande” as well as the forthright response to a partner’s jealousy and insecurity in “Someone Else” provide this album with enough depth to demonstrate that McEntire’s focus on longing is enough to deal with material beyond merely romantic longing, but also other kinds of longing that are often not met by people in this cruel world. If this album is not a happy one, it is one that strikes at the heart of the lives that so many of us live, and what makes country music enduring in its appeal.

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Album Review: Unlimited

Unlimited, by Reba McEntire

One thing that one can appreciate about the albums of the 1980s in country is that they did not waste your time. As I somewhat dread listening to a certain hour and a half long album and trying to review it while having something creative to say about so many songs, all of which charted this week on the Billboard Hot 100, I look back to a simpler time when an album had a quarter of the length and a quarter of the number of songs, with the expectation that the artist would release another such album the next year, all of which would have a few hit singles on the country charts. And that is what one has with this album. If I have been rather slow to listen to a lot of albums in 80s country, I suppose it is at least partly because I grew up listening to so many songs on the radio and there were so many albums by these artists to listen to that it was impossible for someone like me who generally likes to pay attention to the hits and singles to devote as much time for albums unless they were greatest hits albums. And while this album does mark a period of increasing success for the singer, it certainly is not a Greatest Hits album. How good is it? Let’s find out.

This album comes in at ten songs and under half an hour. It begins with “I’d Say You,” a gorgeous and rather traditional 80’s love ballad of devotion between the singer and her partner. This sounds like the sort of thing that would play at rural proms and church dances, so it hits the right spot. “Everything I’ll Ever Own” has a choir as well as lyrics full of longing about the narrator’s desire for a loving relationship with a particular someone that she didn’t fully appreciate when she had him. “What Do You Know About Heartache?” provides a midtempo song about heartache from someone whose heart breaks as she serves as her best friend’s confidant as he deals with heartbreak but does not see her love for him that sets the mood for a good read of Mansfield Park, for example. “Out Of The Blue” features a sweet mid-tempo musical background for a country pun song about how a relationship came out of the blue to save the narrator from the blue life of sadness and loneliness, fitting the general tone of the album as a whole so far. “Over, Under, Around” serves as another punning sort of country song that reflects on someone who is over a bad relationship, no longer under the spell of infatuation, and no longer interested in being around such a person, an upbeat sort of leaving song. “I’m Not That Lonely Yet” provides a slow and gentle waltz that lets a would-be partner know that she is blue and willing to dance with him but not interested in having a relationship with him. “Whoever’s Watchin'” reflects on the divine providence of happiness in love and relationships that the narrator celebrates thanks to her blessed state, vindicating her life choices. “Old Man River (I’ve Come To Talk Again)” is a moody song about seeking advice about a departing lover from a river, which is a surprising subgenre of country music that is not nearly as popular now as it used to be. “You’re The First Time I’ve Thought About Leaving” is a slow waltz number about the uncertain flirtation that takes place between a person in a relationship that she is not fully satisfied with and someone else who is putting a smile on her face, and filling her with doubts. “Can’t Even Get The Blues No More” reflects on the increasing lack of depth of sadness and hurt that the narrator feels in being in a dysfunctional and hostile relationship, making a humorous but dark tale of an unhappy relationship where someone’s attempts to cause pain end up being monotonous and repetitive.

For an album titled unlimited, it sure is limited in terms of its emotional range, which all of these songs being about some aspect of romantic longing, either a melancholy desire for love and relationships in the present, or a reflection on the heartbreaks of the past or a celebration of the love in the present, or even the uncertainty of whether that love will last in the future. A couple of the songs are about being over someone, but that person is still around causing all kinds of drama, and so all of the songs in some way are tied up in what we might think of that highly pitched strain of romantic melodrama that runs so rich through country music. With none of these songs being about drinking, none of them being about family or friends, and only one of them even hinting at being about God, there is just not a lot of emotional range to these songs. It is easy enough to see this album as being full of potential singles, each of them aiming at a different slice of a country audience when it comes to their particular feelings and experiences about love and relationships, but this isn’t really a concept album as much as it is a well-produced and highly professional collection of tunes that tend to run over very consistent ground over and over and over again.

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A Language, For Whatever Reason

It is said that a language is a dialect with an army. What this means, at least in practice, is that whether or not something counts as a language or dialect often depends on whether there is a nation who demands that their particular tongue have its own identity or not. Perhaps most famously in this regard, the very similar tongues of Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Montenegro are all considered to be different languages because there are different (and sometimes extremely hostile) national governments who want these tongues to be considered as separate languages despite the fact that they are mutually intelligible to a high degree. One of the reasons why it is such a fruitless task to try to make for clear definitions of languages is that there can be reasons why people–and often powerful people–wish for a general degree of inconsistency, for which there is always a reason.

It is hard to be neutral when it comes to languages. We have already seen that nations which speak very similarly are sometimes prone to differentiating their dialects as languages because of an unwillingness to concede a similarity with a rival. Whether or not this is irritating or not to the people who speak those languages is unclear, as it would appear to be a feather in one’s cap to claim that one spoke four or five languages simply because one could grasp the subtle nuances that would allow one to speak and write Croatian as opposed to Montenegrin, for example. (Montenegro has areas where Bosnian and Serbian are common as well as its own native Montenegrin, which makes for easy polyglot status that monolingual English and American people can only be envious of.) The same thing can be said of the Eastern Slavic languages Belarussian, Ukrainian, and Russian, where especially in the case of the latter two, the hostility between those two nations is likely to harden the linguistic differences between what would otherwise be two similar languages. The difference between Kiev and Kyiv may not appear to be great, but such minor differences in spelling have much larger implications.

As might be expected, this tendency goes the opposite direction as well. Just as there are very similar tongues which are considered to be different languages because of politics, there are also tongues that are not mutually intelligible that are nevertheless considered to be part of the same language because of politics. Two cases here stand out in particular, namely Chinese and Arabic. Both languages have the same phenomenon attached to them that their extreme cultural prestige has led people to consider what are in fact two language subfamilies to be considered as single languages with dialects that are not possible to understand by sound, but are all considered to belong to a single tongue. In the case of Chinese, not only are different varieties of Chinese not mutually intelligible, but even the smaller units of Chinese are not always mutually intelligible within themselves. This is not too surprising in the case of either Chinese or Arabic that this situation would take place. Chinese has been a prestige language for at least 3000 years, since the beginning of the Chou dynasty, when the Chou’s native Trans-Himalayan tongue was transformed into Old Chinese with the influence of the native Shang and other substrates of the region that drastically shaped its development thereafter. Arabic, on the other hand, has been a prestige language for about 1400 years, plenty long enough to have diverged greatly, with similarly diverse substrate influence from other languages, and with a similar desire to consider their tongue to be Arabic because of the prestige of the Quran and the hadiths that form the basis of Islam.

Nor do these two sorts of cases exhaust the nature of languages and what are considered to be the same language. Thus far we have compared the language of groups of people and pondered how identity concerns have led some tongues to be considered languages and others as dialects, but this phenomenon also divides spoken languages from written languages. As one might expect, Chinese has this phenomenon, but it is also present in a great many languages that have an ancient prestige form (like Hebrew and Tamil, to give two examples) as well as a more modern spoken form that has greatly diverged from its classical written form. A great many people want to think themselves as speaking the same language as was the case in the past, but while the classical text has been fixed, the verbal form of the language has changed dramatically over that time.

What this suggests is what we might have well guessed from the start, and that is that there are a great many reasons for the inconsistencies that exist in how we deal with languages. Some of these reasons drive people to consider their tongues to be different from very similar tongues spoken of by those who for whatever reason have become mortal enemies. Some of these reasons drive people who cannot truly understand each other to consider themselves nevertheless to be speakers of the same language because they or others cannot bear for these people to be considered as different, for whatever reason. Finally, the desire to be seen as belonging to an ancient and noble literary tradition can lead people to consider themselves to speak the same language as in the past even when this is not strictly the case. We all have longings with regards to our tongues, and we shape our definitions to fit what we want out of language.

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Book Review: A History Of The Azores Islands

A History Of The Azores Islands, by James H. Guill

This book is one which remains interesting to read even if its comments are not likely to correspond to the present-day thoughts and feelings about European colonialism. That this does not bother me is indicated by the fact that I appreciated this book, and found the history of the Azores as a region to be a great deal more interesting than I would have supposed to be the case from its somewhat peripheral position within contemporary Europe. As it happens, the Azores were among the first island groups to be found by the intrepid Portuguese explorers of the 15th century (along with the Madeira Islands), and the consequences of this continue to reverberate with regards to the history of the islands, which remain today as an autonomous territory that remains within the Portuguese empire, and one that has at times held an important role that far overwhelms its own modest size and population, largely for its geography. If the Azores are an obscure region to most people within the Western world today, the importance that they and the Maderia islands were the first test cases of European settlement outside of the continent holds immense importance for the world as a whole. Indeed, it would be hard to imagine the success of European efforts further afield had their efforts not been successful here as important logistical bases for later efforts.

The book itself is organized quite straightforwardly, as this is a work of competent middlebrow history that does not aim for striking originality as much as telling a solid narrative. The book as a whole is about 200 pages, of which about 160 pages are made up of the main text. The book begins with information about the author, a dedication, and a historical prologue that provides the context for the Azores themselves. This is followed by color illustrations. After this comes the main text of the book. The author begins his story, sensibly enough, by discussing the geography of the Azores Islands (1), heavily marked by volcanism and its consequences. A short chapter about the fearful ocean follows (2) that points out the hazards the islands have faced with regards to navigation. The author then talks about how the islands have served as a mid-ocean refuge for European sailing (3), a key aspect of its historical importance. This is followed by a discussion of the hard work of the Azorean settlers that allowed them after considerable effort to make a great deal of money from their settlement (4), as well as a chapter about the local autonomy gained by the settlers in the forms of local councils (5) that were integrated with the larger appointed officers and hereditary rulers over them from the beginning of settlement. A chapter about the establishment of the Catholic church over the islands, a story full of drama between different figures within the Catholic church (6) comes after this. A further chapter discusses the island fortress of Terceira (7) before the rest of the chapters of the book cover the period between 1580 and 1640 known as the Babylonian captivity of Spanish rule over Portugal and its possessions (8), the great emigration of people from the overpopulated islands to other Portuguese colonies in the late 17th and 18th centuries (9), the civil war of the 19th century in the aftermath of the Napoleonic invasion (10), and the “new state” of Salazar (11), where the book ends before the restoration of democracy and the change of status that the Azores now enjoys to the present day.

What is the importance of reading about the Azores? As someone who has been fond of listening to and watching weather news, the Azores have always been important as a geographical location from which to judge the movement of storms from the coast of Africa towards North America and the Caribbean. Historically speaking, it was from there that the Europeans acquired forward bases to explore both West Africa and the Americas and beyond, and the settlers of those areas provided a ready base of foot soldiers for further Portuguese colonial efforts in Brazil especially. The islands themselves not only offer an interesting geographical phenomenon as volcanic islands of strikingly different ages if in the same area and subject to the same forces of magma and ocean and wind, but also provide the site of some of the more obscure military drama of the last few centuries, as a place where European and American leaders can summit together peacefully and also as a launching base for political efforts to or from Portugal within the lusophone world. If these seem like modest achievements, they nonetheless make an area worth knowing for a traveler such as myself. This book provides worthy information, though it is clearly a sign of the age it was written in–the early 1970’s, and is not a book that corresponds to contemporary historical perspectives, which is all the better for it.

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Daylight Savings Time As A Characteristic Problem Of Our Age

There have been moves afoot recently on the state and national level to make Daylight Savings Time last all year round. This possibility, which would make areas effectively be a time zone ahead of where they would otherwise be, has resulted from the dissatisfaction that is felt when people have to change from standard time (as it is called) to daylight savings time, which just happened for us this past weekend as I write this. This tends to make people tired, as I am feeling right now, so much so that I napped for an hour or so before writing this particular entry, missing the time I would have more profitably spent chatting with friends and instead having odd dreams. For those whose tiredness during the period after switching from one standard of time to another leads them to be tired on the road, it has also been noted in various studies that the period after switching to Daylight Savings Time is more dangerous for people on the road.

The solution that governments tend to think of to these problems is to make Daylight Savings Time last all year, so that people do not have to switch from one time to another. Other governments have, throughout the last few decades, thought to make the handling of time more convenient for them by having massive nations like China or the Soviet Union be one on time zone that suits those in the capital, irrespective of what best reflects conditions in other parts of massive and sprawling nations that are separated by thousands of miles and considerable differences in local conditions.

Even the resistance to daylight savings time itself is somewhat incomplete when it comes to addressing the core problem behind the foolishness of how we see time in our contemporary age. Why is it that we have time zones in the first place? Time is itself a local problem. The patterns of our life are based on very local conditions–when is sunrise and sunset, what are the atmospheric conditions when we are waking up and going about our business? What are the conditions on the road when we need to be out and about? When is the temperature warm enough for us to plant crops or cold enough where we must harvest if we do not wish to lose the crop altogether? These are things that we must observe from where we are. They are not suitable to be legislated on from state or national capitals.

When we inquire why it is that time zones exist at all, we find out out that in the age of the telegraph and the railroad that it became desire to the massive companies that were seeking to control communications and transportation to have standardized time across areas rather than deal with the complexity of local time. But why does this need to be so? Why should it be a problem for a traveler if a given train trip causes local time to change by a few minutes due to the local position of the sun? Contemporary travelers can juggle hours of change as they deal with the jet lag between where they take off and where they arrive, inquiring about the local time as an ordinary aspect of their travels. If ordinary tourists can do this, surely those who are traveling by railroad can ask the same questions about what local time is at a given place of work or at a given destination as to one’s travels. With our advanced technology and computing power, it would be no great difficulty for there to be discussions as to what the local time is between different devices, calculated based on the position of the sun given the location of a device. Such calculation could be automatic, and would allow for the potentially infinite conditions that exist around the earth.

The longitudinal position of when the sun is at its local maximum in the sky that determines noon is but one of the conditions that must be addressed as far as local conditions are concerned. Additionally, one must deal with sunrise and sunset. The variation between sunrise and sunset times varies generally based on how close to the equator one is. In tropical zones, this variation is small throughout the year. In temperate latitudes north and south of the equator, the variation is more serious and increasingly more so as you move further from the equator, and in polar regions at the extremities of the earth close to the north and south pole, the changes in sunrise and sunset conditions can be particularly extreme. How do we choose to solve those problems? We can choose to solve the problems by adapting ourselves to the conditions that we find around us, or we can seek to make the time conform to our own ideas by shifting time in daylight savings time or something of that nature.

Yet what is optimal for one area is not likely to be for another that has different conditions. If we take countries as large as the United States, for example, tropical areas like Hawaii, Guam, the southern areas of Florida, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and American Samoa are likely to benefit from not having daylight savings time at all, because to have it at all makes mornings very early and thus very dangerous. Indeed, it should be noted that some of these areas already do not have Daylight Savings Time at all even if most areas of the United States do. On the other hand, a mere hour of daylight savings time is not going to resolve the large swings of time between sunrise and sunset that exist near the Canadian border of the lower 48 states, to say nothing of the considerably more extreme variations that one finds in Alaska. Given this reality, it would appear that the optimal way of addressing these variations is in local solutions that address this local variation rather than solutions that expand across entire states (all of Alaska, for example, is in a single time zone, which staggers belief given the variation that exists in just this one area), much less solutions that are imposed from the top down in national governments.

This is not an isolated problem. Indeed, the problem of standardizing time and then trying to address the inevitable problems that come from bureaucratic solutions to such problems on the national level by more misguided and straightjacket solutions is a characteristic problem of our time. Indeed, we might say that there are at least two layers to the problem. For one, there are the problems that are caused by the distinctions that exist between the local conditions of one area and another area that one wants to ameliorate. The second layer of problems is the fact that one pursues uniformity and standardization as the solution rather than accepting that local conditions vary and so that the results of human activity in those varied conditions is going to vary as well. The third layer of the problem is that one seeks even more unform and straightjacket solutions at a higher level to the problems that result from the earlier efforts at misguided standardization that created other predictable and lamentable problems resulting from the lack of fit between standardized solutions and local conditions. We are going about things the wrong way. If we want more equitable conditions to exist, we must change our approach to no longer seek to force everyone into the same categories and the same behaviors given the variety of conditions that exist, but we must instead seek to understand the conditions that we find around us and accommodate ourselves better to them. That this is contrary to the spirit of our times, which seeks to obliterate local conditions on still higher levels than the nation, makes it all the more urgent and important to do so.

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Nitology: March 12, 2023

We should have a good idea tonight (how late, it is not clear, depending on when it shows on ESNU) what the NIT bids for this year are. There were eleven teams who clinched an automatic bid to the NIT based on winning their regular season conference but losing in the conference tournament, and none of those teams was chosen as an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament, so we have at least eleven teams who will be making the NIT, probably mostly in the 6-8 seeds:

Eastern WashingtonBig Sky22–102nd2003
UC IrvineBig West23–117th2017
Youngstown StateHorizon24–91stNever
YaleIvy League21–82nd2002
Morehead StateOVC21–111stNever
Southern MissSun Belt25–711th2014
Alcorn StateSWAC18–134th2022
Utah ValleyWAC25–82nd2014
2023 NIT Automatic Bids, per wikipedia

What teams are likely to take the remaining 21 spots?

Rutgers, Oklahoma State, Vanderbilt, and North Carolina have a good shot at being 1 seeds in the NIT, as they were all considered to be at or close to the first four teams out. Michigan, Wisconsin, Oregon, and Clemson would appear to be next after that as being likely 2 seeds in the NIT as all were also considered to be in consideration for at-large spots and falling short. Besides these obvious nineteen selections, 13 other teams will also fill up the NIT, mostly from teams in high major conferences with above .500 records or teams from conferences like the Atlantic 10, Big East, WCC, and American conferences that are viewed as just below the high-majors. Among the choices from these conferences, the following are possible: American (Tulane, Cincinnati), Atlantic 10 (Fordham, Dayton, St. Louis, George Mason, Duquesne), ACC (Wake Forest, Syracuse, Virginia Tech), Big 12 (Texas Tech), Big East (Villanova, Seton Hall, St. Johns), Big 10 (Nebraska), Mountain West (San Jose State, New Mexico, UNLV), Pac-12 (Washington State, Utah, Washington, Colorado), SEC (Florida, Georgia), WCC (Santa Clara). Besides choosing from among these teams, it seems unlikely that too many other teams would have a chance: perhaps Marshall from the Sun Belt, Sam Houston State from the WAC, or North Texas or UAB from Conference USA, but that’s about it.

From these teams we can pick the bubble teams of the NIT as well as the CBI, the next level down, which itself has already picked six teams out of its sixteen and will likely take some of the teams that accept an invitation who don’t get a spot in the NIT among the teams listed above. Some of the teams that might be in consideration for these various tournaments may decide it is simply not worth it to play for a second or third tier postseason tournament (or, in the case of the The Basketball Classic, a fourth-tier tournament that has no television deal, only a streaming one, and even lacks its own wikipedia page at present). Those dominoes, though, will likely fall through the night as phone calls are furiously made to fill tournaments with willing teams.

Update: As it happens, these were not terrible predictions. Only two teams chosen were not among the teams I considered to be likely to be invited, Liberty, which tied for first place in the Atlantic Sun conference and appears to have been treated almost like an automatic bid for doing so, and UCF, which was further down the American than I thought likely to be invited. Two teams that I mentioned, North Carolina and Dayton, ended up declining a spot in the NIT. Likewise, two of the mid-major teams listed here as being possible for the NIT ended up being invited to the CBI, so all in all this was a pretty successful prediction.

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A Visa By Any Other Name

It is unclear why governments in the contemporary era seem so intent on not calling things by name. At what point did it become too much to simply call a spade a spade, or a visa a visa? When one reads the official EU commentary on the future travel requirements to enter the European Union by Americans–and similar information is provided for those from other countries–it is very clear that the EU does not want Americans (or others) to think that the new visa-waiver requirement that will be starting, at present guess, in 2024, is a visa, but rather a waiver. Indeed, the typically bureaucratic word salad acronym ETIAS stands for: European Travel Information and Authorisation System. And even though this is apparently not a visa, it is apparently something that will be required for Americans and others to fill out and pay for before entering the country.

So, what is a visa anyway? If we look up the definition of a visa, we get the following: “an endorsement on a passport indicating that the holder is allowed to enter, leave, or stay for a specified period of time in a country.” It is true that this new hoop to jump through in order to reach Europe is not an endorsement on a passport, as a visa is. It is designed to be entirely electronic, which would almost certainly require any traveler into Europe to have a smart phone in order to demonstrate to the border guard that one is interacting that one indeed has said waiver. The waiver costs money to obtain, like a visa does, and though it does not come from a consulate, it does come from some part of the EU bureaucracy. It requires personal information from the person requesting it, including passport information, and for it to be given, the passport must be valid for three months after entering the European Union. Indeed, the document does not guarantee entry into the EU, which is still left to the discretion of the border agent, so we may even say that the ETIAS has all of the annoying features of a visa in terms of being a pain to obtain, require filling out forms and other similar ridiculousness and paying fees, all for something that may not work if the border agent is having a bad day or just takes a dislike to the would-be tourist, which makes it less desirable than visa would be, it would appear, in some respects.

What does Europe hope to gain by adding another hoop to jump through for tourists who wish to enter into the EU? As is often the case with burdensome and often worthless bureaucratic hurdles that make the travel experience less enjoyable, security is the ostensible motive behind this and many other procedures that do not in fact make people safer, except to increase the illusion of safety and also increase the intrusiveness of government on the behavior of people. For their part, the EU claims that this requirement will streamline the experience of entering into the EU and make it go faster for travelers, but such claims are promises in the dark, not considering the waste of time that must be spent filling out the information online and waiting for the visa waiver to arrive as well as process it that would otherwise be spent having a brief conversation with a border agent before moving along.

One of the most curious aspects of the contemporary world is the way that there has been increasing hostility to restrictions on the travel of goods from one country to another, even given the obvious security risks that are involved in logistics, while people themselves have been increasingly burdened with restrictions in their own travel. We have already witnessed in recent years the attempts to push vaccine passports for Covid as being necessary as a proof of good health despite the fact that the vaccine has, as many rightly predicted would be the case, done more harm than good to those who received it and has been largely entirely ineffective in combating Covid. Who knows what other manmade horrors are in mind as ways to prevent people from moving around in the face of completely senseless and pointless future public health regulations? I suppose we will have to wait and see, though apparently not wait very long.

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What Counts As A Country Visited: Part Two

The first time I reflected on what counted as a country, I was sitting in an airport on Curacao with my mother and stepfather pondering on the nature of counting places that one visited like Aruba and Curacao that are constituent kingdoms under a personal union with other realms ruled over by the ruler of the Netherlands [1]. So far, at least, I have counted three sorts of places as countries. First, there are those sovereign nations that I have visited, which have seats in the UN and other emblems of status as nations. Second, I have counted non-self-governing territories and dependencies that have a separate identity that marks them as clearly not belonging to the integral territory of the nation that governs them and which are recognized as exterior territories by the supranational institutions that they are a part of.

But are these three categories sufficient to count as nations and countries, or can other areas be added as well. When one travels, of course, one can make all kinds of distinctions as to the areas one has been. One can make it a point to visit the internal divisions of a nation, to say that one has visited all fifty states (a task I completed in the summer of 2021 on a road trip with my mom), or all of the provinces and territories of Canada or Australia or something of that nature. One can make it a point, for example, to visit Tobago as well as Trinidad or Nevis as well as St. Kitts when one visits the other, to get as complete an idea about a nation and its constituent parts as possible. None of these would be adding a different nation to one’s visits, but they may enrich one’s travel and allow for different goals. One may have a variety of different goals in one’s travels and can accomplish different goals even while going to the same places multiple times.

At times, one may even visit countries that no longer exist but that existed during the time that we visited them. My stepfather, for example, fought in the Vietnam War when he was a young man and South Vietnam, where he spent a year in the Air Force, has not been a country since 1975, when it was forcibly unified into North Vietnam to form the nation of Vietnam that we know today. One time I read a book by an author who had spent his childhood as a citizen of the Free City of Danzig and had ended up World War II fleeing from the invasion of the Soviet Army. Examples such as this could be multiplied. My thoughts, are at least, that one can count those areas that existed as a country of some kind, whether partially or entirely free, during the time that one visited them, and that one can claim to have been to whatever state then in the future rules over that same area, but that one cannot visit a state that no longer exists after the fact, so as to keep someone from claiming that they had been to the Byzantine Empire or something of that nature.

There are other cases, though, that are less clear. Let us say that someone was an intrepid traveler in the 1980s after the death of Josef Tito and had made it a point to travel to all of the parts of Yugoslavia that existed at that time, with the thought that perhaps these areas were not happy as part of one nation and may actually be many potential or future nations. Let us say that they made a tour of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia, Kosovo, and Montenegro. At the time that traveler would have spent all that time in one nation, the Republic of Yugoslavia, but over time, seven nations would spring from that one nation, and the traveler could then, with justice, claim that he had been to all seven nations and had quite accurately understood their true situation. The same would have been true of someone visiting British and Italian Somaliland and pondering whether their different colonial history would prevent them from becoming a functioning union, as has since proven to be the case, even if it took decades for those divisions to end up in separate de facto regimes.

Indeed, there are a whole host of unrecognized states that exist around the world. In none of my travels so far have I been to such a state, though I have written about them from time to time. Nevertheless, as these countries act like countries and have all of the internal behavior of nations, even to the point of having clearly defined and often defended borders, even if their status is not recognized by the world at large, I would consider these areas to be states of their own. Similarly, if one visits an area where there is a known desire on the part of its inhabitants to separate from the nation that they are a part of, and they ever obtain their freedom from such a union, I would also count that area as having visited the country while it was in utero, an unborn nation so to speak. Such travels invite stories of how one knew or had guessed of the feelings of an area’s inhabitants, and what it was like to visit such an area.

I will conclude this present discussion with one more example of the sorts of areas that could be counted as their own countries that do not entirely fit within the previous categories discussed. There are areas within countries that are counted as autonomous areas, however much freedom is given to those areas, as a recognition of their different nature from the other parts of a country. Frequently linguistic or ethnic minorities have such a territory to themselves in nations that are not highly centralized. For example, Portugal has autonomous territories in the Azores and Madeira, and Greenland and the Faroe Islands are autonomous areas of Denmark, to give a few examples. It is my considered opinion that such areas ought to count themselves, even if some sort of explanation of their status may be necessary. After all, if one visits French Guiana, has one really visited France itself, or French Guiana? If the latter is the case, it is worth noting as such.

[1] See the following, both for the discussion as well as for the updated list of what I count as countries visited:

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