Thursday, July 19, 2018


Texan99 offered up an Aeon link about who mistrusts science and why. Then Sponge-Headed Scienceman also sent me two Aeon articles today:  One questioning whether all that evidence that meditation makes the world a better place is all that scientifically solid. (Short answer. No.  But the long answer is fun.) The second examining the contradictions in research into the benefits of psychedelics. (Answer. It depends what you mean by benefits.)

I like Aeon.  Their starting point is not mine; they seem more as I was in the 1980's. They seem to be essential liberals, but ones that seek to find the right answer to things.  This means that they still make many assumptions I think they shouldn't, but as T99 also notes, they seem to be really trying out there and deserve some credit for it. Certainly, they are more likely to get liberals to listen than anything I'm going to put out there.

Because of the above, they have a good deal to teach conservatives as well.  Some of it will be "Suspicions Confirmed," but other parts will be "Y'know, that is an angle I hadn't considered."


Lord, I am grateful that people have forgotten most of the stupid things I have done, and perhaps even most of the evil ones.  May I bring back to mind those that I have forgotten but they have not.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Chesterton on Democracy

The democracy has a right to answer questions, but it has no right to ask them. It is still the political aristocracy that asks the questions. And we shall not be unreasonably cynical if we suppose that the political aristocracy will always be rather careful what questions it asks...the powerful class will choose two courses of action, both of them safe for itself, and then give the democracy the gratification of taking one course of the other. GKC, Daily News, July 16, 1910
Some would say this was largely true in America as well, and still true today. Nor should we assume that Trump is a great exception to this, though that is what his supporters hoped for. As a real-estate developer, he is also from one of the American aristocracies. We should be glad that we have multiple aristocracies instead of just one, I suppose.

Chesterton believed that both socialism and capitalism degraded the people and made them servile. He believed in the good of private property, and that it should be widely distributed. The endgame of the industrial revolution and the socialist revolution, he thought, was wealth for the few and slavery for the rest. If we had him here, wouldn't we say that it hadn't worked out that way? We have a free market heavily laced with socialism, and its failures may well be the "crony" part of crony capitalism, the corruption and abuse. Yet through it all, wouldn't we say that even the poor live in great prosperity compared to what he knew in 1910, and the middle classes do own property?  None goes hungry, all are clothed and sheltered, all have education and some legal protection. In some cases these items are of lesser quality, and the poor cannot be certain that next week will not upend what little they have - yet they do have, and we do go on.  Nor does the great mass of men appear to be degraded, compared to what we know rural survival was like in the decades before and even after he wrote this. What, Gilbert, is degraded about us?  If you would insult us, at least tell us what it is we are doing wrong.

I don't know what GKC would answer.  Whether he would brush away our claim of education by declaring that much of it is of poor quality, or admire that we have indeed done a good thing I can't guess. Whether he would think our prosperity a welcome example of the poor being fed and clothed or an incitement to greed and indulgence is beyond my knowledge as well.

Yet I do think he would point to our church attendance and the breakup of our families as serious losses. I think also that he would deplore thinking of ourselves as a society instead of a nation. Societies have unclear boundaries, people move in and out, and the obligations we have to each other are somewhat temporary and imposed from above. Nations have boundaries, and members, and the obligations we have are more intuitive than catalogued.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Monday, July 16, 2018

Post 5700 - Gym Class

Okay, the set of ideas Jennifer Walton-Fissette is selling are a bit crazy, if the report over at PJ Media is correct. (Not a guarantee.  They leave out important details when it suits them.) But there is a lot wrong with gym class, both in my personal memory and what I heard from my sons. Changes are in order.  It is unsurprising that gym class elevates the status of the athletically talented, and I don't mind that at all. Those are a different group than those who have their status elevated in math, or music or public speaking, and it's nice to have some variety. But the second group it favors are the violent, cheating pricks. Used to be, anyway.

I don't know what happens in the girls' classes. Maybe it's as good a balance as can be achieved there, maybe it's worse.

There is some advantage to teaching boys early how to deal with violent, cheating pricks, as they will encounter plenty in their lives. There is also some advantage in teaching boys how to strategise around rules that don't favor you. The trouble is, not all boys are up to that task, as they are starting from too far behind in athletic, intellectual, or social skill. And there's still that bit about rewarding the worst behavior in the room.

The article isn't quite clear whether it is referring to gym class and the formal instruction given to all students or to the team sports that the school sponsors.  I don't think there's much lacrosse instruction in gym class, and I'm not seeing how you work hiking into a 45 minute class. The complaint about "white" sports has some validity. Expensive sports will allow some black and hispanic kids in, but only a few. Fancy baseball bats can cost $250 now.  Gloves, cleats, batting adds up.  Soccer, basketball, track - those are more egalitarian. Field events usually require fancy equipment.

Quite aside from any social justice issues, people have been advocating for years that schools should teach sports that kids can continue as adults. That would deemphasise but not eliminate team sports. The list of alternatives looks pretty good to me.  The best day of freshman gym class by far was the day we did folk-dancing with the girls. I took that lesson to heart and took interpretive dance in college, in a mirrored room with 40 girls in leotards. Sweat on the soccer field all you want, junior. And this room is air-conditioned, too. Other guys scoffed at my having to wear a leotard myself.  I would have worn a clown suit, Jack, squirting flower and all.

I suppose you have to include yoga, because people actually do that as adults. There are more athletic versions of posture exercises, it could be made to work. Rope-climbing?  Climbing wall is better. Swimming?  See leotard, above. I think I missed that trick in school.

Birthrate II

For those following at home, Bethany has recently written about birthrate as well, with different focus.  It makes the comments sections a little unwieldy, so I am adding my new thought here as a separate post, rather than updating the first one or following on to T99's comment.

Children are lots of fun, but they are a lot of work. I think you knew that. One of the things that softens that is being an aunt or uncle. I have heard women in particular, if they feel they are being judged for having no children, mention that they are very close to their nieces. Though keeping it to myself, I have been a bit dismissive about that, because it's not the same. On the other hand, it's got similarities, and as I have watched my three boys with no children interact with the daughters of the two who do, I can see the value for both sides more clearly than I did when my children were small.  The uh, quality of the players may have something to do with that. One has to put in some effort* to be a good aunt or uncle, but one gets considerable reward in return.

But if  birthrates are falling precipitously, the supply of uncles and aunts dries up in a generation. The last two generations have likely hit the sweet spot, with more attention from Mom and Dad (smaller families) plus more aunts and uncles to swoop in at times. Or at least, it would have been the sweet spot if Moms and Dads had stayed together.  Holiday gatherings and family reunions get complicated, and less frequent. I suppose the great mobility of the last two generations has undermined the closeness to nieces and nephews as well. My nieces would wish openly for cousins, and were ecstatic to get some. (That they were girls, even better!)

Italy, Portugal, Japan, Greece, Spain, South Korea...these all have very low fertility rates. In the first generation, a child has no siblings, or perhaps one.  But when that child has children there may be only  a single aunt between the two sides, and 0-1 cousins.  For Americans used to large Italian-American families, the idea of an Italian culture with no aunts or uncles, no cousins is inconceivable.  Yet that is the current reality.  It's not getting better.

If you thought the disappearance of the middle child was a big cultural difference going forward, wait until you see a world with no cousins or uncles, where even the concept has something of a last-century feel to it. The word nepot is 6,000 years old, and descends unchanged from Proto-Indo-European to Romanian (and you can see the root clearly in many other languages). It is still useful, but what will be its use in even fifty years?

I have cousins on one side, and even knew half-a-dozen second cousins. As with siblings, that is not an unmixed blessing.  Yet for grounding one's memories, or getting the other side of controversial family happenings, or just being nostalgic and reassuring oneself that one had a beginning. Those with close or many siblings have less need, and cousins separated by age or distance don't always provide much added benefit. I was close to one uncle and one aunt - I have been close to two nephews and moderately so to three nieces and another nephew. The benefit is real.

*If you are the first in your family to have children, then you get to palm some of the effort off on your own children, who love being the oldest cousins.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Have Statistics Killed Baseball?

For 55 years I have been saying "no, statistics are what is most interesting about baseball," and for the last 30+ years I would say it has been dying baseball's salvation. Listening to Bill Simmons discuss the declining popularity of baseball with Chuck Klosterman, I am having strange thoughts.  Simmons noted that no one has baseball arguments anymore. He gave as an example whether having Wade Boggs on your team was a good idea. People used to complain about empty stats because he didn't drive in runs, while his defenders would point to his batting average and walks, and the critic would respond with walks not being that important, and he was a leadoff hitter who didn't steal bases, on and on. Now there are answers to that.

I turned them off* and went on thinking in that vein. I talk baseball with a few people at work, but most of them don't really understand statistics all that well, they just have impressions. They "don't trust" Joe Kelly. I am betting that they are still thinking of Opening Day, when he was terrible, and let them talk.  They both immediately reference that game, no others. He had no bad outings in April or May.  None. He had one bad and two very bad outings in June in July.  41 appearances, 4 of them bad. I try to work this in, but they "just don't trust him."  This is common, and I think the people who understand statistics don't get into arguments with such people because there is really no point.

Statheads have their favorite ways of looking at things, and are always looking to uncover a new statistic that will explain some phenomenon even better.  But that window is narrower now. I might prefer ERA and you prefer WHIP, but both will tell similar stories. We will both find "Saves" unsatisfying as a measurement. You can still get into arguments about steroids and the Hall of Fame, but that is a different type of argument. Baseball stories are now about how to build a team, or how the style of swing is changing.  Mike Trout is having a spectacular season.  You can go to Single Season Leaders to find out how spectacular (projecting to full season required).  It's one of the top 20 of all time, and might hit top 10. Up there with Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, and not many others. That's it, that's the whole discussion.

So half the baseball fans can no longer talk to the other half, other than grim politeness.They can't even read the same writers that smoothly. This is a serious blow to a game that takes too long to watch.

*I like both but find them frustrating.  Both know many things, and frequently have interesting observations that have eluded others, as above. Both can be witty. However, neither seems to critique his own ideas very well, and will run off into some fairly stupid stuff and keep going. Klosterman in particular seems to think by flashes of lightning, then go dark. His But What If We're Wrong? was a great concept, with mediocre execution. I commented years ago on one of his cultural claims. (The posts overlap. Pick one or the other.)


There are a dozen explanations out there why the American birthrate is below replacement, and why middle-class and above white females in particular are having fewer children, and many seem quite plausible. There does seem to be a worldwide trend that as countries become more prosperous, and couples believe their children might have access to higher status, they limit the number of children they have. Secondly, optimism about the future seems to be a driver of having more children.

I wonder if there is a fairly simple but overlooked factor, the inertia of one cultural idea. From the age of about fourteen on, girls are not only told "Don't get pregnant," but "Smart girls don't get pregnant," which carries a double meaning of smart=birth control/less impulsive and smart=intelligent/ career-driven. It becomes something of a default position, and may embed quite strongly.  Though the original intention of "smart girls don't get caught" is not the same kind of smart, it does tie in with the idea "Upwardly mobile women have fewer children," or "this is not a good time in your career/education to have children," as above. They then have all the decision-making influences of opt-in versus opt-out. A default position of opt-in results in more people being on lists as organ donors, for example. In previous generations one did not have to opt-in to having children.  That was the default. (Exceptions abound, but I think we recognise this general cultural difference between yesterday and today.) Today's default among white middle class women is that one has to specifically opt-in to this childbearing idea.

"Smart girls" is just a song playing quietly in the background, a gravitational force that is more of the explanation than we credit.

I have written the above as if the males have nothing to do with these child-having decisions, which is not true. Men may even be equal drivers in decisions to have no children at all. But I think women have enormously more say in how many children a couple has. The Right Number is achieved and she vetoes any suggestion of more.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Sweden's New Military Preparedness

I had heard about the surprise mobilization of many thousands of Swedish Home Guard and reservists in June for an exercise responding to a hypothetical invasion by Russia of the island of Gotland. I couldn't remember ever hearing of such a thing before. I then promptly forgot about it, a great example of things not fitting the narrative and slipping away.

That is not the end of that story. I mentioned this, and Estonia's preparations, to a psychiatrist friend who is from Belarus. "When there is a bear in the woods it is a good time to practice shooting chipmunks." I was also surprised to read that 43% of Swedes favor entering NATO, with 20% unsure. A decade ago, I think it would have been a tenth of that.

In the larger picture, the population of Europe is 510 million to Russia's 144M; Europe's GDP is about $20T compared to Russia's $2T. I'm not sure why they would need us.

Ken Burns's "The Vietnam War"

I haven't seen it.  I'm not likely to.  The commentary from conservative websites is that it is hopelessly slanted, especially in that it did not give much opportunity for those who had full-throated support to speak.

Martha Bayles, writing at the Claremont Review of Books would give qualified agreement. Yet she would point out that neither did the radical opponents get a sympathetic portrayal of their side. She sees the documentary as essentially neutral, giving primary blame for a great American mistake to two Democratic presidents, and their civilian and military advisors. She opens with a quote from US Army Lieutenant General H R McMaster's 1997 book, Dereliction of Duty.
The war in Vietnam was not lost in the field, nor was it lost on the front pages of the New York Times, or on the college campuses. It was lost in Washington, D.C., even before Americans assumed sole responsibility for the fighting in 1965 and before they realized the country was at war; indeed, even before the first American units were deployed.
 I found her argument plausible, though I am in no position to have a qualified opinion.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Cargo Cult

Remember Cargo Cults?  You learned about them in freshman anthropology, or maybe just heard someone talking about them.  The idea was that primitive tribes really liked the good things that westerners brought when they came to study them, visit, set up bases for war in the Pacific. After the westerners left, the tribes would make airstrips of radios out of coconut and straw in an effort to make them come again.

Women have received more college degrees than men for years now. There is a growing advice literature about women "settling" for men who are less clever if they want to get married, most recently this, by a female anthropology professor, ironically. Less clever? Really?  Especially WRT degrees that come with high debt and no clear connection to the well-paying jobs that we are told men always end up with? Perhaps there is a tinge of cargo cult behavior in this. Women got degrees - any degrees - because these credentials were what the men had seemingly used for so many years to get power, money, and good things.  That was of course largely true at one point, yet it has gradually become less true over the years. Getting just any degree isn't quite so useless as building a radio out of straw, but it has aspects of this.

It remains true that Americans continue to think of a person with a degree as smarter and more capable than one without, and this is more true of advanced degrees. Yet that was never more than partly true, was never universally acknowledged, and is becoming less true as we go forward. A college professor is not going to saw off the branch she is sitting on, and likely will not even notice that her definition of "less clever" has serious limitations.  The rest of us can do those young women - and thus young men - a favor by pointing out that an expansion of the definition of "Mr Right" should start with expanding the definition of clever.