Thursday, August 17, 2017

Cortisol And Punishment

Every time I read Dalrymple, I kick myself for not remembering to read him more. 

Statistics

I had occasion to use an old line of mine in an email today: "Statistics don't lie after you force them up against the wall and make them tell you who their friends are."

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

SJW's and Some Math

The math giveaway: if A is really likely to be true (say, 90%) and B is very likely to follow from that (say, 80% likely), we feel very confident that B is true.  Thus, when we learn that C is a very probable outcome of B (say, 70% likely to follow), we feel pretty secure in stating that C is very likely to be true.  Wrong.  It's only 50-50 at that point.

bsking's younger brother, Tim ("okay, I'm not that liberal") King brought an interesting observation to beer night tonight: liberals and conservatives mean different things when using the same terms.  Yes, that may not seem surprising, but bear with me. Or with him.  Conservatives tend to use political terms in a more narrow, specific way; liberals understand a term to include its downstream and related effects. Example: Conservatives understand racist to mean a somewhat measurable refusal to grant a person of another race their obvious rights and due.  That is, to deny a person a job, or apartment, or award, or opportunity based on their race.  This is also why conservatives believe that reverse racism can and does exist. Conservatives hear the word "racist"and hear only a single note.

Liberals hear the term racist to include the way we designed our schools, and elections, and rules of commerce, and cultural norms, and a hundred other structures a century ago and more.  Not all liberals go very far down those roads - in fact, the JFK's and Hubert Humphreys and Jimmy Carters and even Bill Clintons didn't go very far down those roads at all.  But they went farther than conservatives did then.  About as far as conservatives go now, in fact.  Ignore for the moment that Carter and Clinton, being deep partisans, have gone further down those roads since first being elected president.  Conservatives like to notice, and even sneer, that Kennedy would be closer to the conservative platforms now. The flip side of that is that Kennedy or Johnson or Humphrey would be candidates conservatives would vote for now. (But not McGovern.  Let's not get crazy here.)

Those liberals, when a note like "racist" was played, would hear a harmony note, or even a chord. There was considerable acknowledgement among them that merely looking at what had happened to Kaitlyn versus Keisha was inadequate. Notes have harmonics; notes strongly played fit into only a few chords, so those chords are likely; chords occur in sequences, so the elements of some song are bubbling up. The story of why Kaitlyn got the job but Keisha didn't was not written just this afternoon.  That story started before they were born, and the first sentences need adjusting even now.

The people we call Social Justice Warriors go very, very far down those roads. They hear an entire song, and some hear a symphony. I was going to post a few weeks ago on the expansion of the phrase "white supremacist," but I figured that was rather a niche item and a passing fashion.  Tim specifically brought that phrase up tonight as one that is being greatly expanded by liberals but remains very narrow and specific to conservatives.  So much for my ability to read the culture and predict its fashions.

Let me state at the outset that I have a lot of sympathy for the early stages of this argument.  When I hear a note, the accompanying thirds are not far out of my hearing, even though no one suggests them to me.  Yet no song occurs to me from a single note, and certainly not any symphony.

I think it is ridiculous when conservatives try to maintain that nothing flows from individual racism.  I get it that they are using this as a tactic, trying to get liberals to prove  each step along the way, because accusation is easy but proof is hard. Yet still, I think the racism of my ancestors (I'm thinking of my grandmother here) likely did have an effect on how our systems were designed, and those favor folks like me. Probably true.

Yet not definitely true. There's some doubt here. Some cultural choices might be obviously Swedish or Scots-Irish, yet not actually favor those groups more than a percent or so. They might actually very fair and neutral standards.  That is one of the claims of the defenders of Western Civilisation, actually, that we chose those standards but they are actually pretty neutral and fair.  If your group thinks they aren't maybe you're just projecting what you'd do in our shoes.  One of our cultural things is bend-over-backward neutrality, in fact. We don't fully succeed at it, but we come darn close.

But let's grant that downstream effect arguendo. What next?

Well, we think that C pretty obviously follows from B.  And D is pretty darn likely once we get to C. 

And let me guess:  L is really, really likely to be true if K is true.

Well, yeah.

This is why I think the earlier liberals - the Humphreys and O'Neil's and early Bill Clinton - were sometimes wrong but not always crazy. The chords were actually possible, though not definite, from the notes given. I do think that conservatives, and especially libertarians are wrong when they calim that nothing flows from any note but the note itself.  But not everything that has a C# in it is Mahler's Symphony in C# Minor. It might not even be "Mary Had A Little Lamb."  It might just be an F# chord.  It might just be that one note.  I can go down that road a little, but not much. 70% times 70% is less than 50%.

I really think this is a problem of the Arts and Humanities, especially Journalism, stereotype.  They don't do math.  They only dimly understand such things.  They are comfortable moving from island B to C and D and on to H and I, each looking likely, not seeing that they are now hopelessly off course.

Monday, August 14, 2017

A Story

The stories I tell myself change over time.  My Christian conversion story (the word "journey" has become a cliche) has been a bit different depending on what year I told it.  It's not wildly different, but my understanding of myself and what has happened to me over the years has changed.  So too with my narrative of how I left liberalism. In this year, in fact, I read some old material of my own and saw that I had not gradually dropped liberalism from 1967-1991, but had become apolitical for much of that time, making most of those changes fairly rapidly in a few years when I signed on again.

I have regarded this story as one of the pivotal ones, and I still think that today. But I no longer describe what was going through my mind over those years, because the effect may have more sudden, due to an accumulation of incidents, rather than a gradual awakening.

I have worked at the state involuntary psychiatric hospital since the Carter administration.  Every such hospital in the country must have its collection of people who have threatened to kill a political figure, especially the president.  NH may get a greater concentration of these because of the presidential primary.  We do get people coming from other places about this.

I don't recall having any patient who had threatened to kill Jimmy Carter, but I did have one early on who had been fired from the Bobby Kennedy campaign and vowed to kill Ted Kennedy. There were a lot of worried tones nationally about all the nutcases who wanted to make a name for themselves by killing the last Kennedy brother, but because of this patient I heard it a lot from our staff. They took him very seriously, and he was under our care for years. When John Hinkley almost killed Reagan I heard psychiatrists laugh cynically that it would have been a good idea, and both psychologists and administrators say it very seriously and angrily. I heard that repeated for years, actually, that we would have been better off if Hinckley had succeeded. Why do they think he is crazy just because he wants to kill Reagan?

Well, you know.  Dark humor.  Cynicism. Plus, as a liberal myself (non-practicing) I just thought of it as a hyperbolic response to the very real possibility that Reagan might be really, really bad for the country and get us into many wars (while persecuting gays and blacks, too). Over-the-top, and a little worrisome, but not to be credited, because these were not violent people speaking.  They didn't own guns, they didn't get drunk and get into fights, their threats were all subtle and non-physical. So, just popping off,  And again, dark humor.  Psych hospital staff are known for that. So I'm not even sure I was getting more uncomfortable as patients came and went who wanted to kill Reagan and no one seemed to much mind.  Including some high-up administrative staff.

The guy who wanted to kill Tsongas was politcially unclassifiable, as were both the man and the woman who had threatened to kill Bush 41. Though one of the latter was big into fuming about the Trilateral Commission, so probably conservative/libertarian something.  We had some special meetings about the Tsongas guy.  If people were worried about those threatening Bush they hid it pretty well.  But I confess I might be misjudging that one, as I had little to do with either of them.

I had two patients and heard of two others who had threatened to kill Clinton. It was all dark looks and hushed tones for that.  I was more politically alert again, so I was actively keeping track of whether there was any of our famous psych-hospital black humor going to happen.

None that I saw.  It's not really funny when someone wants to kill the president, you know.

It changed dramatically when Bush 43 came in.  I was really paying attention at this point, so the examples stick out strongly. One woman wanted to skin him alive.  The medical director laughed that he'd thought of doing that himself. I have to disguise the next one, but something like accidentally doing something that put Bush in danger.  I counted six professionals over the next two weeks who laughed and wished my patient had been serious, and succeeded. I knew of a few others, though not well. One had a whole list of political figures he wanted to kill, mainly focused on local ones.  Bush was probably just a throw-in.  I don't know whether anyone laughed or spouted angrily that they wished the others had pulled it off. I cannot say whether we had become more divided as a people by 2001 so violent rhetoric was increasing, or I was just more alert.

Again, these are people who put up their hands in horror at the thought of hunting. They aren't likely to go and commit violence themselves. Yet by now I was tying these comments in to other statements, excusing violence on the left - environmental vandalism (plus Ted Kaczynski), union violence, black protest violence, anti-globalist violence.  Well yeah, that's bad and people shouldn't do that, but they're legitimately upset and they don't believe the process is working for them.

We must have had people who threatened to kill Obama, just by law of averages, but I don't recall any.  Maybe just luck of the draw than none of them came to my caseload.  I did hear a couple of people assure me that there were lots of people out there who wanted to kill him.  That could be true.  The Secret Service and FBI would likely know the real numbers on that.

I know of two already who threatened to kill Trump, even though I'm only working part-time now. One no one is taking seriously.  Another, interesting, is taken quite seriously, perhaps because he is from a foreign country.

Oh. But. I have heard people laugh about both of them - that they understand that.

Small sample size, I know.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Summary Statements

I was thinking about relatives long-dead, and a strange loyalty in not doing things that would have upset them. As I was attempting to quickly explain this background to someone else, in order to make another point, I discovered that there are some people who can be summarised very easily, and others who can't. I wondered whether there was some trend to this:  male/female; good/evil; generational, cultural, or physical distance. There are tendencies, but none that created an either/or in and of themselves.

Whether we can easily summarise someone is going to be idiosyncratic.  You and I will look for different things. Also, single qualities may so overwhelm our judgment that other aspects may be obscured.

I don't think I'm going to be easy to sum up after I'm gone, nor will my wife. Though sometimes people can work a lot into a poetic statement.  My second son was asked in 6th grade to sum himself up in a sentence. "I'm a pessimist with bad eyesight." While there is much more to him than that, the very fact that he put things that way tells you a great deal about the type of boy he was. Maybe some clever descendant will hit upon some equally telling description for me.

However, even things we believe begin to capture our essence may vanish in smoke.  I have sometimes wondered - wincingly, as it bespeaks a lack of Christian virtue - whether the phrase "he didn't suffer fools gladly" would be a sort of epitaph.  Eddie Izzard showed pretty quickly that such a description doesn't narrow things down too much.

Teaching As A Trade

I wonder whether we all would have been better served if teaching the young - or anyone, actually - had been regarded as a trade rather than a profession? It would never have happened, so perhaps it's not that fruitful to think about, but I will have a bit of a go.

Teachers who were tradesmen or tradeswomen, who worked out of a trade union that was more like a guild than a pressure group would know more about the craft of teaching.  Those who were skilled at the craft would be viewed with respect.  As it stands now, the people in education who get the respect are precisely those who have driven the field into being regarded as a profession.  Too often, those are people of theory or administration who no longer have any craft duties to judge them on. No one actually knows whether they can wire a house or decide which type of joint is best for a drawer anymore - if they ever could.

People who go into teaching are usually those who were good at books, and so respected others who were good at books, and things that they knew.  Going into college they just naturally fell into the idea that these college instructors were the people who really knew something.  But the college instructors were often mostly good at writing long essays that pleased others of their kind.  As it goes up, it narrows into an entirely academic discipline.

Yet if there is any craft to be learned about cramming knowledge into young brains, it is much more likely to be found at the front-line level. Something similar happens in the clergy, where the care of souls is not likely to be improved by studying the influence of Czech esotericists on early Calvinism. The prestige in the profession is just about exactly where we don't want it to be.

Ah well.  It was never going to happen, so it may be best to consider in a sci-fi way what will occur in other worlds when we colonise them instead.

Affection

Note:  At least four interesting things, none quite what is usual in the popular media, have come in by email or FB about Charlottesville.  I will be turning these around a bit in my mind before posting. If at all.

I recommend, for your edification, The Ben Franklin Effect. I first ran across it in Tavris and Aronson's book Mistakes Were Made, though it did seem dimly familiar, and I may have run across it before.  In my cynical way, I have usually thought of it in the negative: the more you give someone, the less grateful they are.  This includes things they don't officially know you have given, but could easily deduce if they dared think about it. Not referring to painful or embarrassing events from the past, for example, is certainly a gift. Yet when we give that gift we find that it is not appreciated as it should be.  Hmm.

This comes up in a humorous way because I am reading PG Wodehouse,* where barons and financiers and vicars all have some past embarrassment they wish to keep secret, and are willing to give large sums of money to keep everything hush-hush.  They are always fawningly grateful to the young man or woman who they believe knows the story but whose lips are sealed. Because it is fiction, that's the way it works.  In reality, the favor is either forgotten or eventually resented.  Odd, that.

Parents know this, but also know it is the way of the world.  What we give to children occurs largely before they are able to process and categorise, or perhaps even understand it.  What we give them later, when they have minds of their own, is more ambiguous anyway. Spouses come to know it as well, for even in happy marriages we are likely to be grateful for easy and even untrue things, while quickly forgetting the great sacrifices the other has made for us.

I tread carefully here, because some of my children, plus others who know them, read this blog.  But I notice this among them as well.  The sons who have received favors from their brothers are the least grateful about it. They are more than a bit oblivious about how much others put up with. There's something like an emotional Dunning-Kruger Effect.

I wonder if it is true that ungrateful people receive more favors. That would be a kick in the teeth, wouldn't it? Those who love them keep giving, thinking, like Bullwinkle trying to pull another rabbit out of a hat "This time for sure!"


But it doesn't happen.  The recipients go on, being insulting and irritable, certain in their righteousness.

One step deeper, and we get into sermon territory here.  If this is true, then it is true of us before God as well. We are not even aware of what we should be ashamed of and confessing.  It is in fact one of the quick tricks of pastoral counseling that if a person is obsessed about Sin A and is unable to get off confessing it and worrying about it, it's because there is another sin beneath the surface that they wish to avoid thinking about.  It's easier to remain focused on Sin A and gin up great sorrow for it.

*It's pronounced "Woodhouse," BTW.  I got that wrong for decades.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Selection Bias

Psychiatrist Scott Alexander over at Slate Star Codex, in plugging Frederick DeBoer's essay on the subject, makes the following important observation:
If an educational program shows amazing results, and there’s any possible way it’s selection bias – then it’s selection bias.
I recommend both articles. 

Google Fires Kaepernick

Google and the NFL are both big private companies that are trying to establish a brand and make a buck.  They are not federal agencies or public utilities, though we treat them as some sort of common property. They fire people who are bad for business, even if they're right. They can do that. There are limitations on why they can fire people, but "doing distracting stuff that makes us look bad" is actually a fairly well-established reason, so long as you can show it's not just an excuse.

There are differences.  Kaepernick repeated his action even when told it was bad for business; the politics are reversed; Kaepernick had a contract, which means both sides had given up some freedom to operate in exchange for some guarantees; the Google memo is not a whistle-blower case, but it has some elements of that, and some lawyer may try to pry that open; Kaepernick was complaining about something outside his industry.

Yet there is a core similarity.  Don't be bad for business, or you will be on the defensive.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Statistics

People who live in cold places are more likely to wear mittens.  This does not mean that mittens cause winter.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Samson

Lots of folks who voted for Trump weren't looking for him to build things so much as tear them down.  They believe the times call for a Samson.

Interestingly, I hear liberals where I work express similar sentiments because of Trump. This comes in especially with believing that the ordinary rules of journalism, checks and balances, and government employees staying within traditional ethical bounds must now be relaxed - or even ignored.  A couple of more radical ones mutter that they fear a revolution is coming, because "people won't stand for it."  I sometimes ask with a wry smile what "it" is. I know the answer beneath the answer, I think.  In both cases it is the idea that "my tribe does not have the power it deserves."

In an email discussion someone we know has seen something similar about both Trumpsters and anti-Trumpsters.  Not all of them, nor I think a majority of either.  Yet more than I recall hearing in previous years.