Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Stats and Earlier Posts

I checked my Blogger stats and had surprises again.  Two older posts had a lot of hits.  It might be that some obscure site linked to them, or it could (more likely) be Russian or Indian spammers dropping by because of some keyword. Either way, I like both of these and bring them forward.

Linear Versus Circular Time, from 2008, which not only touches on ancient cultures, but the making of the modern consciousness and explains a good deal of modern Christian worship.
It is a huge philosophical shift to go from the more natural counting of time as a repetition of daily hours, days of the week, and seasons of a year to picturing time as always moving forward. Pearcey & Thaxton claim that the idea of an orderly universe was the single greatest contribution of Christianity to the sciences and philosophy: that the universe made some sort of sense, however elusive, and its order could be discovered. Without this, the scientific viewpoint as we know it cannot exist, and indeed, as noted above, never has existed.

and Types of Liberty, from 2006, which owes a great deal to David Hackett Fischer's Albion's Seed.
We think we mean the same thing when we use a word, but this is not often so, especially with large abstracts like kindness, or community. While the concepts of liberty converged somewhat leading up to the Revolution, they sprang from at least four different concepts, associated with the four distinct areas of settlement.

Negative Symptoms and Genotype

Very cool article came in over the transom about Valproic acid (Depakote) and differing effects on the negative symptoms, such as lack of motivation, in schizophrenia and bipolar affective disorder depending on genotype.  You can pick up most of it by skimming, even if this isn't your daily bread.

God And Country

Colin Kaepernick is being an ass.  But why do people care about that so much?  People make showy protests all the time, we just shrug and walk away.  Why this time? Why this person? There is a problem of disproportionate response from his critics, and I think it highlights some bad attitudes that may be getting worse. There is a tighter identification of the flag with the military that has some troubling aspects to it.  I get why the military loves the flag and the anthem, but that’s not the same thing as automatically associating the flag with the military.  The flag is all of us. The anthem is all of us.

This is the place where I usually make everything tribal, and I think that’s a good start: the God & Country tribe feels personally insulted and challenged and is punching back. Yet I think there’s more to it.

Disclaimers: this may be largely an illusion. It might be media sources artificially inflating the issue to keep it going, because they think Colin Kaepernick is right, and they want to use the opportunity. Or in reverse, there might be other groups that believe enough is enough, and have been waiting for whatever example presents itself next to kick BLM, or lack of patriotism, or kids these days. If Kaepernick had chosen differently we might be getting into this same argument this month or next month anyway. “So, Random Sports Person, what do you think of Colin Kaepernick’s protest? Does he have the right to protest?  Should Commissioner Goodell do anything about it?  How do you feel about the counterprotests? Do you have any controversial thoughts you’d like to share?  Do you know anyone with any controversial thoughts?  Do you know any racists? Do you think that racism is a problem?  Are the people who think racism is a problem a bigger problem?”

No one has mentioned Colin Kaepernick to me at work or in my social circles. So this may all just be business as usual, except it’s an election year and advocates are feverishly trying to goad their opponents into doing or saying stupid stuff.  Well, everyone seems to have succeeded at that.

If this is a real something, a real sign that we are becoming more divided, more angry, then I suppose it is best someone figure out what it is and whether we can contribute anything helpful to it. I am not that person.  I am also rejecting the other possibility immediately – that this is an opportunity to have a conversation.  We might be able to make it into that, but so far I’m not seeing any good signs.
What is happening to the God & Country Tribe? Most Americans used to have automatic membership in it, enough so that it was not a strong identifier of who they were.  People belonged to other tribes, usually more than one, to set themselves apart. Carolinian, Italian-American, WASP, Old Money, Farmer, or the newer cultural ones which are stronger now: Arts & Humanities, Science & Technology, Government and Union, Military. But until about fifty years ago, everyone was God & Country as well. Everyone had some association with church, everyone knew some rules about the flag, and stood for the Pledge or the National Anthem.  Since then it has weakened in some cultures, perhaps even becoming an item of scorn, while others have embraced it even more fiercely.  It has drifted south, and Protestant, and military, though nothing like exclusively.  It has become more closely embraced by football, perhaps because the other major sports have more foreign players, or as a byproduct of the military imagery football is so comfortable with.

I don’t know the trend among African-Americans.  I get the impression that there are places where patriotism is an unpopular item, but there continues to be a strong black presence in the military, an especially patriotic group, as noted above. There is also a lot of popular focus on competitive sports in the black community, and the flag and national anthem continue to be very much a part of that at all ages.  Perhaps that is part of what gives the protest force.

Perhaps people care more about flags when they can’t have altars – or not so publicly, or don’t want them at all anymore. The God and Country Tribe may already be the Country and God tribe, or the Country and Military and Religious Freedom Tribe. That is what CS Lewis predicted in Screwtape will always happen to “Christianity and…”  The secondary elements will ultimately take over the primary. I have long felt that was true for many in the tribe, and wondered how long the rest could hold out. I think what we are seeing is another step down that road.  I do. It has all become a muddled tribal defensiveness. You are insulting the men* who died for your freedom. You are disrespecting everyone who ever put on a uniform. (And by extension you are insulting our whole God & Country culture, which supports the military more than other tribes. So therefore, you are disrespecting me personally and I want to punch your face.)  I think that sentiment used to be farther in the background, but it’s the first one out of the gate now. 

Ah, “first out of the gate,” I wrote.  That may be a clue as well.  The first to respond may not be anything like a majority, just the most agitated and touchy. Maybe it’s just social media giving more prominence to complete asses than they deserve.

*And oh yeah, women.  We keep forgetting that.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Soul-Destroying, Time-Destroying

I recognised again yesterday what a drain it is to follow current events. Not because it's so hard, but because it is so easy.  It's like eating chips or M&M's.

CS Lewis did not take a newspaper for this reason.  "If there's something important going on, someone will be sure to tell you about it.  More than one." The information usually turns out to have been only partly accurate.  It is about things things that you cannot much affect. Most of the reading is about the comparative outrage that people on one side or another feel, and feel the need to weigh in on. While the information you see is important in one sense, because it is tragedy for someone and thus gripping, it usually affects you about as much as you affect it.  Not at all.

Lots of people scream at you that it should be important to you, certainly. Many of the issues the events touch on are important in themselves: wars, elections, racism, the economy.  But the events themselves don't often give anything you don't already have in order to do something about those.

I fear it is like the weather.  It gives us something to chat about that we expect others will be receptive to.  It can be harder to start a general conversation otherwise.  But it then steers us quickly into conversations that are also like eating chips or M&M's, including conversations with people we know have much more to offer. Current events offer opportunities for mild wit, whether repeated or original.

Or, it leads us to paths of being outraged, because we do like that more than we would care to admit. It's an easy way to pretend that we are thinking hard and caring much.  I say "we" advisedly.  I think I see this is happening in others, then I check inside my own heart and find the same, which I take as confirmation.  Perhaps it isn't true of you.

Worse, it is a path of least resistance, preventing you from getting around to reading, watching, or doing things that you know will ultimately please you more.  When I chance to read newspapers or magazines from even a few years ago, I am struck by how little of it is valuable.

Lastly, when you follow current events closely, you become like the people who follow current events closely.  Not surprising.  High school social studies teachers told us it was very important to keep up with current events.  They seemed to think it was impossible to be a good citizen without it. NPR's game shows are largely about current events, and they clearly think that people who follow those closely are a better, smarter sort of person. Perhaps those are only more sociable people, or - and this is what worries me - the sort of person who lives in the hive mind, influenced only by the mild, sociable, predigested world, who in turn unconsciously influences others to obey the hive mind as well.  Nothing really challenging or life-changing ever gets in.  Readers and people of intellect are in far greater danger of this, because they believe print, and believe other readers, believing them to come from the proper hive.

Shorter version:  I have important books to read that I don't get to because I get sucked into news-bearing sites and the accusations and counteraccusations of the news. Soul-destroying, time destroying. I'll have an example coming. If I get around to it.  But I have more important things to do, and I simply must force myself to do those. If that post gets written, it will be called "God and Country."

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Replicability in Psychology

This is really Bethany's territory, and I should have run it by her first.  Also, I'm only halfway through it myself. But What Has Happened Here Is The Winds Have Changed by statistician Andrew Gelman looks quite good. 
In short, Fiske doesn’t like when people use social media to publish negative comments on published research. She’s implicitly following what I’ve sometimes called the research incumbency rule: that, once an article is published in some approved venue, it should be taken as truth. I’ve written elsewhere on my problems with this attitude—in short, (a) many published papers are clearly in error, which can often be seen just by internal examination of the claims and which becomes even clearer following unsuccessful replication, and (b) publication itself is such a crapshoot that it’s a statistical error to draw a bright line between published and unpublished work.
Much of the article is a timeline on the replicability crisis. Essentially, only a few voices had claimed there was a crisis before 2011. Now, he states, we are already at "the emperor has no clothes." That's a fast cascade.

Alzheimer's Strategy Upcoming

The head of our Geropsych department spoke briefly about where he believes treatment will trend for the next decade or two.  He doesn't see much on the horizon that cures or even slowly reverses the symptoms, but there is increasing evidence of things that slow the progression. Inflammation in the brain is one of the problems because it interferes with amyloid clearance. (I mostly understand that, but if you want more you should go ask your mother.) Acetaminophen isn't great for inflammation in general, but it's pretty good for brain inflammation. It might slow the progress of the illness 20%. So that goes into the cocktail when you start showing symptoms. Vitamin E, maybe another 5%, Fish Oil, another 5-10% - he blithely said "and there's a half dozen other things that might or might not have a small effect." Always the problem at this stage, when many things look plausible and promising, but somehow don't pan out.

So we get that up to 40%, which doesn't sound huge, but actually, it is.  If you can slow dementia, people can live at home a little longer. If you show symptoms at 90, it can be the difference between having to go to assisted living at 96 instead of 94. As there is general deterioration anyway, that might mean you get to die at home, which is what most people want; or in assisted living with more freedom instead of a nursing home. Slowing the symptoms means the mind stays ahead of the body, and you have your wits about you.

As I am overweight and smoked for 35 years I can be pretty sure my body is going before my mind, but this may apply to the rest of you.

So why not start on prophylactic tylenol now?  Because it's bad for your liver, and 40 years of it is a burden you don't want to put on it.  Some parts of any Alzheimer's cocktail will be similarly problematic over decades - but as a few-years strategy when you're already showing symptoms, the balance of risks shifts quickly.

Chicago and Peter Thiel

I don't hold any particular brief for Chicago.  My denomination has its headquarters, main 4-year college, and seminary there (North Park), so I have lots of friends who are attached to the place.  I've been there, in-and-out.

It was "Laconia" that caught my eye when I clicked through the Maggie's link. Not many famous people from NH Lakes Region, though a lot spend their summers there. 

The article about how "elite" various cities are is interesting.

Sunday, September 18, 2016


One would think that people who made accurate long-range predictions would be more listened-to than those whose predictions were wrong. Yet being-listened to is more a product of knowing what buttons to push now, sensing what the public is interested in this week.  That may or may not coincide with the ability to make predictions. I have run various crossing-point years in my own life through google (graduation years, marriage, first child, second child - it got fuzzier after that) and just walked around thinking about my results.  I have wondered this week if there actually may be a negative correlation, as the people who really like making public predictions keep themselves in the public eye with entertainment value, while some of the accurate predictors were just guys doing their job, no longer noticed.

The Threarah in Watership Down was right (though wrong about the Black Swan event that overcame his warren) - sometimes the prophets have even larger audiences after their predictions fail.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Quick Thought

As this touches on a hundred subjects, let me just put forth this premise and we will develop it.

Multiculturalism and Nationalism are competing methods for preserving smaller, less-powerful cultures.

Boomer Pharisaism

I get out of the habit of going over to First Things, because I am only interested in about half the articles, and they aren't the high-turnover, buffet-style site that I more usually spend my time on. But when I remember to go over every month or so, I always find interesting things.  I really should find a way to cut the times between down to two weeks.

Tangent:  I have my daily or almost-daily sites and my 3x/week sites.  I have some of you in my sidebar, so I can keep up with those effortlessly. I have also a few sites that I hit once a week, and seem to manage that without any exterior reminders.  But there are about a dozen sites that I really should check every 2-3 weeks and I just don't.  I will have to devise some Method, such as will assist a Bear of Uncertain Memory.

Boomer Pharisaism, by Barton Swaim first identifies Hillary Clinton's style of explanation as similar in style to that of a Public Information officer (Re: Travelgate, according to her memoirs):
Banal, grammatically weird, not quite falsifiable. The controversy did happen “in a partisan political climate,” true enough. When are politics not partisan? But it’s unclear to me what Clinton intends by calling the episode “the first manifestation of an obsession for investigation that persisted into the next millennium.” She seems to mean the press is still trying to dig up stuff on her, as if that observation has any relevance to the controversy she’s purporting to relate. But anyway, digging up stuff is what the press does, so again: true enough.
Swaim, a fascinating political character out of South Carolina, seems to be tentatively aligned with conservatives, but with an eyebrow raise and a hint of a smirk.
The comparison of her style with that of Donald Trump is almost too obvious to remark. Whereas Clinton’s style is careful and boring, his is heedless and bonkers. More illuminating, I think, is a comparison between Clinton’s style and that of another ferociously ambitious and calculating politician: Richard Nixon.

Let us note that Clinton, in Swaim's comparison to Nixon, comes off far the worse. Barton has done his homework, and in the confessional parts of Nixon's autobiography RN, he writes lines - not of saintly contrition but very decent stand-up quality - that one cannot imagine being said or written by Hillary Clinton.

Also at First Things at present:  Peter Leithart's three-part series about Macbeth,including an analysis that the less-mentioned second and third murders he causes represent a deterioration through ever-more-basic levels of human loyalty.  From regicide and authority he descends to killing old friendship and finally, mother and children.  Good stuff.  R R Reno has a nice differentiation between nationalism and xenophobia; Peter Hitchens has a commentary on the aspirations of contemporary Russia from one who was a reporter in Moscow at the fall of the Iron Curtain; an essay on Pius XII vs Hitler, a continuation of the correction of the Hitler's Pope record of the last generation; a comparison of Donald Trump to Benjamin Disraeli - I mean, where else are you going to find such a thing?

And finally, an interesting biography of Frederick Law Olmstead, The Genius Of Winding Paths, which not only provides background on the designing of Central Park, but his earlier career, walking across the antebellum South and six months in England, reporting back to publishers and newspaper as he went. Objective and sometimes prescient observations.

The Petticoat Affair

This scandal attached to the Andrew Jackson administration makes for interesting discussion today.  I think the modern reader, especially the modern feminist, would side at first with Peggy O'Neill, because she was more of a "bad girl" by their standards but not ours, who made her way in the world anyway.  But not so fast. All the other Washington Society Wives in the story wielded real power, didn't they? Important goverment figures got moved all over the world.  It was part of the growth of feminine power in America.  Though indirect, it certainly signified that those women "had a voice," in some cases more of a voice than their husbands who held the actual titles of power.  This was primarily an Anglospheric, especially American and Canadian phenomenon.  It was a step along the way to suffrage.

Peggy may have been talkative in mixed company, and more sexually obvious in a way that Grlz applaud now, but she ultimately didn't have much power or influence, and the foundation of her importance - beauty and relaxed sexual rules, was a more ancient mode of feminine power, open to a few women in every generation.  Great for stories, but not really moving the dial along for equality.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Buried Stories

Just a reminder of what should make it to the main stage, but doesn't, via Grim.  Bias in reporting can be revealed in word choice or editorial comment. That's what we usually think of.  Or it can mean a news outlet hammering at a story for days, because it looks bad for one POV.  But it can also mean things that are consistently ignored, week after week, year after year, until most of the culture no longer even thinks in that direction.  

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Rule of Thumb

When your current-event justice argument is basically founded on long-past injustices, it means your current argument isn't very strong.