Sunday, June 24, 2018

What Next?

When I semi-retired 18 months ago my uncle, who had retired in his late 50's and lived to his 90's, asked me what I was going to do. Well, I have a lot of things to do around the house...
That will take you three months," he snapped.
I've let them go for a lot of years, the list is pretty long...
"Okay, six months."
...and I'm only semi-retired
"So nine months. The point is eventually it will be done and then you'll have to find something else to do."
I didn't go on to the additional point that I am also not very skilled at all this house fixing, because his point was ultimately correct. Eventually I would complete the tasks necessary to sell the house for downsizing.  We will have a home inspection to avoid surprises later, and that may generate a few more tasks.

I finished yesterday morning, and didn't quite know what to do with myself in the afternoon. I have my usual things of long walks, working some days, reading to the granddaughters, reading for myself. My wife, daughter-in-law, and one of my sons have already told me laughingly they have things I could do for them.  I probably will, but the point always was that I'm not good at those, and only take pleasure in completing the tasks, not doing them.

I have long yearned for days when nothing depends on me.  We'll see if I can actually endure it.


Every child growing up in a family had different parents.

I Shall Imagine Life

I am not much of a fan of poetry generally, but this went by today and I liked it enough to pass it on.
but though mankind persuades
itself that every weed’s
a rose roses(you feel
certain)will only smile – e.e. cummings

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Farmers Markets

I have got to get over to watch College Humor more often. I am pleased every time.

Spatial Intelligence

Consider the case of Kevin Garnett. Because he did so poorly on his SAT's that college made no sense, he went directly from high school to the NBA. Yet while he was in the NBA he was one of the greatest defensive players of all time. He had the physical tools that players need to excel: height, speed, leaping ability, gross motor and fine motor skills.  But lots of players have those and don't become all-timers. KG was known for perceiving angles and positioning, seeing how one small change in his positioning would affect not only his opponent, but the movement of the other players on the floor. Lebron has this ability as well, to notice and exploit what an opposing player is doing at a very small level. It is strongly related to "seeing the floor," though not quite the same. What observers call "anticipation" is sometimes this automatic spatial reasoning, though there is another sort of anticipation related to memory.

All basketball players must have some of this; not all are exceptional. Some rely on physical skills almost entirely.

So the SAT's don't pick this up, or at least not in isolation, though it is clearly an intellectual skill.  I don't think schools pick up on this very well either. We all knew guys in school who could figure out everything about engines but had trouble passing classes. School and SAT's require that you be able to translate this in and out of written symbols to demonstrate the skill.  If you don't have the skill with letters and symbols, your ability will go unrecognised as far as academics are concerned.  Engineering students often have both.  That is necessary in order to use the spatial skill with others, drawing up plans, following procedures. I don't know if there are good ways of measuring spatial intelligence in isolation.

It is used in a lot of outside-of-school skills.  Some females have it, but I think fewer than males. With the ridiculously low sample size of exceptional basketball players, most of whom are black, I wonder if there is not some school unfairness for them as well.  Some, at least, have this intellectual ability but do poorly on the tests and in the classroom.  I don't know the WAIS well enough to know the racial breakdowns on subtests. My recollection is that African-Americans were closer to average on verbal (the supposedly culture-loaded sections) but worse on math sections. Still, the WAIS is paper-and-pencil, still symbol driven.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Summer Ales

Every brewery in America is certain that I want lemon in my summer ale. They call them "citrusy notes" or other evasions but it's lemon.  They all seem to think this is an original thought on their part as well.

Just stop.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018


Soviet writer Varlam Shalamov wrote Forty-Five Things I Learned In The Gulag, recently revived in The Paris Review.  It's pretty grim, but valuable.
1. The extreme fragility of human culture, civilization. A man becomes a beast in three weeks, given heavy labor, cold, hunger, and beatings.
2. The main means for depraving the soul is the cold. Presumably in Central Asian camps people held out longer, for it was warmer there....

Tuesday, June 19, 2018


Popular culture in China.

That Was Quick

Five days later, I have decided that forecasting is not interesting enough, and the discussion reads like a bad comments section. I doubt I will update my predictions, so my final score is likely to simply reflect how good my first uninformed guesses are.

Cause of the Week

The Cause of the Week is never reported accurately.  It is chosen for emotional elements which suspend rational thought.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Count of States

Bethany counted up the states she has been in, and it got me wondering.  What's a legitimate claim to having been in a state?  I drove from Houston to Pensacola once, Routes 90, 10 & 12. I'm not sure I ever got off the Interstate, though I probably did get gas, use a restroom, or grab a quick meal somewhere. Do I get to count Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama? What about changing planes in Atlanta or Minneapolis? If I slept on the train while riding through New Mexico, do I get to call that an overnight?

States lived in: New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut age 5, Virginia for college.
States stayed overnight in: New York, Maine, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, DC, Ohio, Michigan, South Carolina, California, Alaska, Colorado, Arizona, Texas. Missouri. Kentucky. Tennessee. Nevada. Florida. Missouri. North Carolina. Arkansas at a campground on the Mississippi. Washington sorta - the airline put me up in a motel outside of Sea-Tac. I must have stayed in either Indiana or Illinois when taking Ben college shopping at Wheaton. I stood overnight hitchhiking near Silver Spring in 1973 - I'm not counting that.  Canadian provinces New Brunswick and Quebec.
States driven through and stopped at at least something: Rhode Island,  Vermont. Indiana. Illinois.
States driven or ridden through, probably at least a highway meal: New Mexico, Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia.  Louisiana and/or Mississippi and/or Alabama, see above. Canadian provinces Ottawa and Nova Scotia.
States touched:  Georgia, Minnesota. If you are in Kansas City or St Louis you can rack up a few in an an afternoon, but I never did.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Peopling of the Americas

I get it that few or none of you are all that interested in this, but I ran across this interesting historical linguistic theory from 20 years ago by Johanna Nichols and thought I would put it forward. Nichols suggests connections among languages in the Old World and the New World on the basis of deep structure.  She examines families of languages for how they mark possessives, their typical word-order (SVO, VSO, etc), and the initial consonants for pronouns. She sees a Pacific Rim Necklace of language relationships, which is quite different than what most linguists see. The standard explanation is that there is no demonstrable connection between the two sides of the Pacific, other than Eskimo-Aleuts, the last arrivals. I understand that there is some minority acceptance for a connection between Ket in Siberia and Na-Dene (Navajo, Hopi) languages in the Americas.

Nichols also believes there has not been enough time for a single language to differentiate enough to create all the remaining New World languages, and believes that humans must have arrived much earlier than Clovis*, or that there were multiple waves of settlement of peoples already speaking different languages.  The possibilities keep narrowing because of the periods of glaciation. There are eras when movement is much less possible.

Both of these are intriguing because of the genetic connections we can now trace. There is an "impossible" genetic pattern deep in the Amazon. There is only an overlap of a few percent, but some Amazonian groups have a connection to genetic patterns in the Andaman Islands, which are between India and Burma, to save you looking it up. Tribes moving from island to island is not unknown, especially if the next island is actually visible at times. Yet in the case of moving east from South Asia, you can only get as far as the Solomon Islands that way, even allowing for the ocean being 300 feet lower.  If you know the islands are there out as far at Pitcairn, skilled navigators, such as those who peopled the Pacific thousands of years later, can make it.  That still leaves over a thousand miles of open ocean before you land on what is now Chile. (At least South America is hard to miss at that point.) Plus, it's not good enough to just wash up on shore after a freak storm.  To start a colony you need at least a dozen people, and fifty is a better low estimate.  So that's not really possible.  OTOH, leaving no trace in North America on your way to the Amazon by curling up along the Aleutian glacial coasts doesn't work either. Not to mention why a seafaring people would take it into their heads to cross the Andes.  No sensible explanation is available, and yet there it is.

I do have a possible explanation for that linguistic clock in the New World, however.  Nichols's estimate is based on language differentiation in populated areas.  In Eurasia and Africa, if you were moving, you kept bumping up against other people. That would keep groups of similar language together longer.  Yes, things can get pretty diverse over time in mountainous areas such as the Caucasus, where everyone settles in a different upper valley. Yet the connections can still be discovered by linguists. But in the New World, people could spread out quickly and lose contact with each other.  Isolated languages change more rapidly.  I think Nichols's clock runs too slowly for that reason.

*I think there is growing support for pre-Clovis, though not at the depth she describes. Monte Verde seems to have earned support from even hardcore Clovis believers, but that is only a couple of thousand years earlier. There is even a hint that discovered human fires and tools date back 32,000 years ago.  A lot can go wrong in that sort of isolated find, but at least it's out there.

Update:  Better analogy. It is as if a few pieces of broken bottle were unearthed far up the Amazon, and were found to be not only of a type of bottle from the Andaman Islands, but a matched fit for shards of a bottle that was broken there. People would not only wonder at the impossibility, they would wonder where the other pieces of the bottle might be found.


This came up today. It applies to more things than the word "fascism."

Authorisation: "We"

I hope I had the sense to think this thought before the year 2000, but my second trip to Romania is the earliest example I can bring to mind.  Even then, I didn't fully put the pieces together until I came home. We had been on a food-delivering run to the village of Cucuceni, and on the way back swung by the train station in Rieni and picked up this guy. How the driver knew he would be there I have no clue. Planned things never happen in Romania, unplanned ones go off without a hitch somehow.

Someone said he was the pastor of a house church in one of the villages.  For Baptists, almost all the churches were house churches, meeting in secret or at least unobtrusively even in the 1990's.  They were still nervous that the Securitate would go back to its old ways and start carting them off or even shooting them. I was later told that he wasn't a "real pastor," just a guy who tried to run things. His English was passable, and as we passed an orthodox church he started in telling me how terrible the orthodox priests were.  They were all drunks, he said. One was so drunk that he fell in front of a train. They never went and visited the poor.  They hated The Christians and turned them in to the secret police. We had not even exchanged pleasantries before he launched into this.  I expected the Romanians in the car to slow him down a bit, but none did.

It seemed strange because one of the points stressed by the ministry during my two weeks there is how much they were working to cooperate with the Orthodox who used to persecute them, and the government that used to persecute them, and the powerful neighbors who used to persecute them, and to reach out to the gypsies who everyone hated and persecuted. This guy hadn't gotten the message, apparently.  I certainly wasn't going to contradict him.  He was in his 50's and had likely experienced some bad things, so rich Americans who had always lived in peace shouldn't be preaching to him. Still, he wouldn't stop. Then he started to drift into what "we" Christians were going to do about it now that "we" were more free.  Nothing violent, just put them out of business, close their monasteries, he was going to see to that...We dropped him off in Beius near where we were staying. "He has had a hard time," the driver said.  Nothing more.

Only long after did I wonder why he thought he was authorised to speak for The Christians. Did he mean those within a ten-mile radius?  All of Transylvania? Romania? There were other lines of thought, but that one escaped me until months later. It leads to unanswerables. Is he dangerous?  Are there others like him so that collectively they do speak for some undefined group of Christians? Are tyrants simply effective versions of this angry man who seems to have no followers? And yet, the people I was working with also used the word "we" when discussing the activities of Baptists in the area.  They have clear authorisation to speak for their ministry, which was a major part of the local activity.  But I knew there were plenty of people not formally affiliated involved in all this.  How far did the authorisation of my friends to say "we" extend?

I now think of this fairly automatically when I read about people who speak for others. Who authorised you? They even speak for the dead - that's convenient - of those who were in one of their groups generations ago. We crossed the prairie and founded this town. We were brought here as slaves. We won the state championship in 1985. We have always been generous to the poor. We have been oppressed by men for a millennium, one of the professors at a local university recently said. "We? You got a mouse in your pocket?" used to be the teasing correction to that. You crossed the prairie?  You've been a slave?

It's a tactic.  It is a declaration of authority, so that one looks important.  If you can get away with it, at some level it's true. No one stops the school principal from saying "we" about that championship even though she was living 472 miles away at the time.  She does have some authority to say "we," as the institutional representative. Politicians do this in an effort to look like people who are authorised to speak for us - or for some percentage of us. It is not always a lie. We sometimes do have authority to speak for others.  If we are good speakers or leaders or negotiators, the people we claim to be speaking for won't stop us when we make the claim. They might heartily endorse it, or might just uncomfortably go along for the moment, but they do allow people to slip into that slot of representation.

Be suspicious of who you allow to slip into that slot, and don't be afraid to challenge, openly or quietly, those who make the claim without earning it.