Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Perils of a Good Economy

We had a very high air radon level, so we had the radon mitigation guy come in to install a system in the basement. Chatting with him after, he says that his business has some breakpoints for size.  You work for yourself, with one helper, or you can have a number crews of a couple guys each that you supervise.  He wanted to be the latter, but he has had such trouble at his size, with the single assistant, that he's now wondering if it's worth going big. The assistants he has had have either been teenagers, with "constant dram texting with their girlfriend" all day, or they are older guys with some DUI's who need rides to get places and are unreliably there, or have bad attitudes.  He figures if he goes big he's just going to have more of that headache.

He says he doesn't pay badly, and it's a trade that can be learned pretty quickly if people wanted to work for him for a year and then go out on their own, but people don't want to wait that long. It can't pay that badly.  I paid him $1100 for a few hours work, and I don't think the fans and gauges are that expensive.  The concrete drilling and PVC pipe can't cost that much.  I'm paying for his knowledge and skill.  When the economy is this good, it's hard to find good workers for some jobs, so you have to take what's there. 

I told him I'd keep an eye out for a good worker who might want to come his way.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Pro Tips

When you can't see that well out of one eye, cutting vegetables should not be done in a hurry.  Also, grilling in the dark is not advised either.

On the plus side, I learned that teriyaki that uses molasses instead of brown sugar doesn't char so much.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Culture Series

I have done recent posts on culture.  I am collecting them here for convenience, to link to them later, and to cross-post them at Chicago Boyz as a group.

Culture Inspired by a link in the comments at Chicago Boyz, plus the discussion of birthright citizenship, I wondered what is being kept, what is discarded.  And who gets to decide?
Culture II - The reveal of where the video comes from.
Culture - Tipping Points.  There is worry about ecological tipping points.  what about economic and cultural ones? Includes internal links to my previous adult Sunday School class about the changes in hymnody lyrics over the centuries.
Culture and Preservation  Are we talking about keeping our ancient traditons, or only those of our grandparents?
Cultural Continuity - Close Examples.   Light discussion of which folkways are kept and which discarded among, food, location, religion.
States Turning When red states have a good economy, the new people who move in are more blue.
Cultural Irony How is it that those who have cut themselves off from tradition are the most adamant about identifying with the unfairness done to "their people?"

Electoral College

Commenters pointed out that increasing the number of representatives would increase the number of electors in large states, which would likely increase the power of Democrats in the EC.  I haven't made the count myself, but it is likely so. What is disturbing about this in relation to the article is that the calculation of that - easy for the author, more difficult for us - is missing.  The increased number of competitive districts is mentioned.  That is a good thing. The evenness of safe districts was mentioned, which is temporarily a good thing, though we cannot see the future.  So, red flag that a NYT writer doesn't give us those numbers, right when we are in a debate because the Democrats feel the current system is unfair to them.

If they want to show their open-handedness and good will, why don't Democrats vote to commission the Hoover Institute to reform the EC? They wouldn't, of course (nor should they), but we would at least be clear about the biases everyone is operating from.

The game can't start until we know the refs are fair.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Saying Versus Doing

Micah 6:6-8 was the passage I was required to learn for confirmation at a Congregationalist church in 1967. The UCC wasn't that big on memorising scripture, but we did some still in those days.  I don't know about now. V. 8 is a great social gospel verse - we would now say "social justice" because we want even less contact with the Christian part of it, I suppose. "He has shown you, O man, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God." Jimmy Carter used it at his inauguration.

Related: Our current sermon series and small-group discussion is on Matthew 5-7, with emphasis on the Beatitudes. Jesus puts emphasis on being not merely a hearer, but a doer. Years ago I noticed a word emphasis I had previously missed. Blessed are the peacemakers... It does not say peace-lovers, nor peace-praisers, nor peace-preachers, nor even peace-seekers, though I imagine one would get some credit for the latter. (Nor do I think Jesus was much talking about politics when he said this. He was talking about personal interactions. Sometimes political situations can be similar.) I applied this back to the Micah verses and saw them anew. It does not say to preach justice, but to do it. Not to praise justice, nor shame others about it, march in favor of it, nor (gulp) blog about it. Just do it, as the advertising slogan goes. We are to love kindness, remembering that love is an action, not a feeling of affection. We are to be kind, not just say Awwww over kindness to kitties and puppies on Facebook. Notice also that it does not say "Condemn unkindness," which human beings find to be more fun.  Walking humbly with your God is more poetic, a little tougher to describe, but I point to the word "walk," which is an action, not a feeling of adoration.

Talking and preaching are not eliminated.  They can themselves be actions, and encouragements to others. I am also not saying that condemnation of evil is unnecessary or valueless. It might be that our schoolbooks send us down a bad road. Children learn what famous men and women said, a natural emphasis for those who write textbooks.  Patrick Henry was not solely an orator, he led troops during the Revolution, he was a practicing attorney for important cases. Those are seldom mentioned, and his inn-keeping not at all, because those were actions of many others. Elizabeth Cady Stanton is remembered and studied.  She most wrote speeches. Women who founded schools or became physicians or attorneys are less-remembered. We praise Martin Luther King Jr for his oratory and writing and leading of protests, and they are part of the American scrapbook.  But Thurgood Marshall thought protests an unnecessary endangering of black people, as only the victories before the law mattered, and those were being accomplished (often by him).

We have gotten to a point where everyone, left and right, has decided that condemning things is the height of virtue. Doing justice has taken a back seat to ferreting out the injustice that other people are doing and posting it on social media.

It occured to me that this goes along with the topic quite well.

Cultural Irony

I have already put forward the idea that separating from place is associated with more liberal politics. I imagine there is also significant overlap between political liberalism and people who are strong advocates of identity politics. It is risky to combine associations - 70% x 70% ˂ 50% after all.

Nonetheless, I will hazard the guess that these two also overlap, which is an irony.  The folks who have separated themselves from "my people" in a physical sense are the ones who are most concerned about what has been done to "my people" historically.  I don't just mean African-Americans by any means when I say this.  They may be down the row. I was first thinking of two gay men getting outraged about how Alan Turing was treated (which I will snarkily note they had known nothing about until the movie came out a few years ago) plus the comment thread of an article about the same thing.  I know, I know, comment thread. Not a fair measurement of anything.  Still I think this is common in most of the identity communities, and this was one that struck me most oddly. They were angry that one of their own was badly treated.  He was badly treated, but the intensity of identification is curious. He lived in another era, in another country, doing a job that most people can't well understand. They feel a kinship with him because he had similar sexual attractions.

I offer the following.  We used to identify much more by region, but as Americans keep increasing their internal migration decade after decade this continually weakens. New Yorkers still see themselves as a group apart, southerners still do (though the broad region is holding on as a brand more than individual states), Appalachia still does but is waning.  New England is a redefined brand as "liberal places" now, and Yankee* as a point of identification is defunct, possibly because it is entirely at odds with the new definition. Who else?  In church I will still hear people identify as midwesterners, not so much by individual state anymore. People will readily tell you they are "from California," but seldom that they are Californian. Texans will still say they are Texans, but half of Texas seems to have come from somewhere else it seems. Describing where one is from is more of a story now - my wife comes from A, but her parents grew up in B.  I lived in both C and D growing up, but my parents' families lived in C for generations. Most recently we lived in E because we went to college there and got jobs there right out of school.

Also, people would identify by their (usually European) ethnic group. That was the world I grew up in, in a mill city with many Greeks, French-Canadians, Poles, Irish, Swedes, Germans, and a few of just about anyone else who came to America at all. Jews, African-Americans, and Hispanics identified equally by those current categories and their immediately preceding residence, usually New York. (That is tactically bad with Yankees, BTW.  It slows your acceptance. They should have said Connecticut.)
The third previous identifier was religion, but fewer people have even a nodding acquaintance with one these days. Even among those who have a place of worship, they may have been raised in another confession, or been in in a different denomination at their last address. The old identifiers recede, so we must have new ones.  Those who tell us that these previous ways of viewing ourselves have been transcended in favor of all being one humanity, I observe that it hasn't worked out that way.  We just find new ways to divide ourselves into Bear Tribe, Eagle Tribe, Badger Tribe, Fox Tribe. The academic conceit that we need to have Others to exclude misses the point.  We like to have Us'n's, and that doesn't work well with big numbers.  For big numbers we can only have allies or annual ceremonial gatherings.

*To foreigners, a Yankee is an American
To Americans, a Yankee is a northerner
To northerners,  a Yankee is a New Englander
To New Englanders, a Yankee is a rural person from VT, NH, or ME.
To rural northern New Englanders, a Yankee is "someone who has pie for breakfast." Note that this is usually not a fruit or sweet pie, but one with meat in it, such as minced game, chicken, salmon, or ham related to the pork pies of Quebec. This seldom happens anymore.  We do still have some cheap bastards, though.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Larger House of Representatives

Althouse inked it from the NYT.  Expanding the House of Representatives actually seems sensible, fair, and long overdue. The downside of more offices is a small price in DC terms, and it would dilute the lobbying money. The article includes the observation that if we had the same representation as when the Constitution went into effect, we would have 11,000 members of congress - one for every 30,000 people, but that would be unwieldy and impossible.  Would it?  We could get a lot closer to them and know more about them, and it would be really hard for party leaders to pressure members into votes or for lobbyists to buy enough to make a difference. NH has a lower house of 400 members, as you trivia buffs might remember.  The third-largest legislative body in the world, after Iceland and the US House.  We have more knuckleheads but less corruption.  I call that fair.

So what am I missing?

Paying College Players

Perhaps we should, perhaps we shouldn't, I have heard good arguments on both sides. We have backed ourselves into a ridiculous corner, where colleges provide the minor leagues for professional sports, and define themselves by athletic events that only connect to their (theoretical) overall mission only in distant ways.  College theater is not the minor leagues for Broadway of Hollywood. College singers, musicians, artists, and designers are not really the feeder system for our popular entertainments. Orchestras, maybe.

We got into this decades ago, with colleges considering that lots of their prestige, particularly among alumni who might give them something, rode on the football team's season, especially against "hated" rivals. A century ago schools were paying players under the table to pretend to be students. How we get out from this stupid system into something that makes sense for athletes, schools, and professional leagues I don't know.  Baseball seems to be closest.

There are two common arguments that are false, though.  The idea that elite college players especially deserve to be paid because they generate so much money for the NCAA and their individual schools doesn't hold up. If Zion Williamson wasn't at Duke, someone else would be at Duke, and people would still watch them on TV.  Duke would still sell shirts nationwide. As the baseball players are replaceable, so are college basketball players.  We will pin our hopes to another, we will tell just as many stories about next year's crop. We might pay the players for the work they are doing, but they actually aren't providing value-added for the NCAA in general.  A single athlete might briefly provide value-added for a single school that doesn't usually have an elevated profile.  That is not the norm.

The other false argument is that the value of a free college education is enough, especially now when it might be worth $70K/year. It isn't really worth that to the athletes. The education itself is no longer worth that amount, it is valuable 75% for its ticket-punching or prestige at some schools, and that only if you graduate. If you aren't really capable of doing college work, as many elite athletes aren't, that $70K is just an advertising number.  It has no meaning.  If you are a good student, getting a free ride instead of a lot of debt to get a prestige degree, that's a good deal.  If you are studying valuable topics and encountering good professors, so much the better. William and Mary has a second-year law student who is playing basketball on his fourth year of eligibility. That guy played his cards right. Most DI players for ranked teams are just playing in the minor leagues for the NFL or NBA, temporarily wearing the laundry of some school. They aren't being "paid" anything except very nice room and board, plus heightened access to hot babes.

Not a New Thing

I listened again to someone describing how everything changed after 1945, because of the atomic bomb. He described duck and cover drills and the general feeling of always being in danger, but here is the difference: now we were capable of killing large numbers of people very quickly, maybe even most of the human race.

This strikes me as a failure of imagination.  This is how mankind has always lived.  If your village was in danger of being wiped out overnight, that was the whole world. Tribes named and defined themselves as The People, The Folk, The Real People. They knew almost nothing of people beyond a few miles away, and those people didn't matter. The destruction of your people by an invasion of Mongols or a raid by Vikings or a new wave of Bantu expansion was all that mattered.  We speak now of "genocide," of the destruction of a hundred tribes because of similar inheritance of color or custom. For all of human history, the destruction of a single village was no different than "genocide" to its inhabitants.  It is very, very recent for people to think "I may die, but there will always be an England on the other side of the world." 

We now have the abstract idea of "humanity," and are able to look at the destruction of many, many tribes as a bigger tragedy than the destruction of a PNG tribe here and there. I don't think that is necessarily an improved vision or a more accurate vision. From the inside, your tribe is all that matters.  Oh, how narrow and bigoted.  We now know that all people are valuable and shouldn't be wiped out. It would be a much greater catastrophe.  Would it? Isn't that actually regarding the elimination of all those individual little tribes as no big deal? We've got plenty more where that comes from.  What kind of moral reasoning is it to say that "Now that we know there are people all over the world, great swaths of destruction only matter only if it involves a significant percentage of them."  It means, ultimately, that the individual pain of being orphaned or displaced has no value, not added value, because it only matters if there are lots and lots of them.

When Europeans started having contact with the people of the New World, the destruction of the Native peoples was a foregone conclusion. Because no one understood the germ theory, even if the Portuguese and English and Spanish and French had confined themselves to merely trading from near islands and coastal towns, the spread of disease would have eventually wiped out the natives, even if no shots were fired, no land stolen. The Puritans survived because two-thirds of the native population of coastal New England, including 90% of some tribes (such as Squanto's) had recently died of disease, or opportunistic destruction by rival tribes because of disease, all because of limited contact with traders in Maine and the Maritimes. The highest number I have heard is that 98% of New World native deaths were by disease, often a hundred miles in advance of any settlement.  Even if that is high, 90% is now accepted, where it once was scoffed at.  Yes, your entire People, including all those related but Not-Real-People, and People-we've-never-seen-but-trade-with-us-over-seven-degrees can be eliminated.  Add in those who are punished for adopting the white man's ways and the usual warfare between neighboring tribes the world over, and the great sins of our ancestors only hastened the result, not changed it.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Interesting Stuff Tangential To The Last Post

Reposted, with repairs, from 2008.  Just because. The "Last Post" referenced in the title was about cognitive linguistics, and how misheard lyrics are evidence for a particular theory in that field. If you are interested, you can search above under "misheard," or go to April 2008.

There are websites devoted to misheard lyrics, for those of you who are interested. Some I suspect are hoaxes, intentional parodies of lyrics for comic effect: O Canada, we stand on cars and freeze..." Others seem like legitimate mishearings, especially by children: The ants are my friend and Blowin In The Wind.

There is an unusual concentration of misheard lyrics in rock music. Some might think it is the volume, or the sloppiness of pronunciation, or the drugs, but I believe the main factor was that there were plenty of lyrics that didn't mean anything. The words were there to scan and rhyme, and that's it. We choked the dead in those days to find meaning in those lyrics. Any crazy thing that someone might write could possibly have been correct. Why couldn't Jim Morrison be singing "spiders on the floor (Riders On The Storm)?" Heck, he'd already written "Peace Frog," and sung "our love become a funeral pyre." How can you exclude the spiders for sure?

The bands were named Electric Prunes,

or Blues Magoos (I loved this album)

Or for ? and the Mysterians, we gotta have the full effect. No one but the bassman can play. The keyboard work was tossed out from the John Thomson EZ-Piano series Level One as not challenging enough.

Note from Wikipedia: The band's frontman and primary songwriter was Question Mark. Though the singer has never confirmed it, Library of Congress copyright registrations indicate that his birth name is Rudy Martinez. His eccentric behavior helped to briefly establish the group in the national consciousness. He claimed (and still claims) to be a Martian who lived with dinosaurs in a past life, and he never appears in public without sunglasses. He has also claimed that voices told him he would still be performing "96 Tears" in the year 10,000.

Against that background, no wonder there are sites devoted to figuring out what Neil Young meant in all his songs

Mr. Soul by Neil Young

Oh, hello Mr. Soul, I dropped by to pick up a reason
For the thought that I caught that my head is the event of the season
Why in crowds just a trace of my face could seem so pleasin'
I'll cop out to the change, but a stranger is putting the tease on.

I was down on a frown when the messenger brought me a letter
I was raised by the praise of a fan who said I upset her
Any girl in the world could have easily known me better
She said, You're strange, but don't change, and I let her.

In a while will the smile on my face turn to plaster?
Stick around while the clown who is sick does the trick of disaster
For the race of my head and my face is moving much faster
Is it strange I should change? I don't know, why don't you ask her?

It doesn't mean anything. Young said specifically that he just liked the sounds and collage of images in his lyrics. He would write dozens of verses, then picked the ones that sounded best.

Who Is Most Easily Misled?

I believe I am not easily misled. I am not entirely immune, and I even have some dim inkling of what sort of person or campaign can take me in for longer than a few days. As an extension of this, I believe that people like me are less likely to be misled. The phrase "people like me" can have many definitions, but I quite naturally choose the chaps on my side of the divide on each axis. In aggregate, the people who share many of those characteristics with me I regard as least likely to be fooled.  Not like those others, who are taken in by every passing fancy, you see.

I think we all frame the world that way, and it is usually a fairly simple exercise to find possible explanations to support our view.  Example: women are more likely to be inveigled (or pressured and shamed) into going along with what other women want because they are more fearful of exclusion, because women historically (and perhaps genetically) have had to depend on tribal acceptance to survive. Men go off into the fields or onto ships or roads to trade or into shops on their own, much more independently.  Well, glad we got that settled.

Except, the very phrase "Old Boys Network" suggests that men are significantly dependent on other men to get ahead, and the notion of "Patriarchy" similarly suggests a network of support for men. Choose your explanation.  Though I will tell you that in the end, the people who are most resistant to being led along by the nose by manipulative persons will turn out to look a lot like me.  I'm just saying.

Here's the fun part. Even if we don't have clear ideas who are most immune to being bamboozled, we all usually have a short list of groups we think are especially vulnerable.  Age and experience often figure into that calculation. Except...what do we mean by "calculation?"  How would we measure such a thing, if we had the chance?  I imagine if we were to come up with a good test design, no one would do it, fearing the answer, but that shouldn't stop us from having a go at it.  How would we measure the gullibility - cultural, political, scientific, medical - of one group versus another? Designed experiment or natural experiment - either is fine.

States Turning

There is a downside to economic success.  When your state has a great economic environment, people move there because they can get jobs. Those states usually had more conservative policies, and the newcomers replacing them do not necessarily understand why it is that there are jobs in the new place but not in the old.  Vermont and New Hampshire were very Republican states not long ago, but New York started moving into Vermont beginning in the '60s and Massachusetts started moving into NH in the '70s - in both cases abetted by Connecticut. My family and about half my closest friends are from Massachusetts, so I'm not opposed to all of them by a long shot.  But as a trend, it hasn't worked out entirely well for New Hampshire.

California elected Ronald Reagan governor, remember, and Richard Nixon to Congress.  CA voted for Nixon for president in 1960, '68, and '72; voted for Reagan in 1980 and '84. Since then it has become less business friendly, and people are leaving every year.  They are going to Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, and especially Texas, which are all becoming more liberal.

I noted under culture that moving to another place involves a certain cutting oneself off from tradition and thus is more usually undertaken by people less tied to tradition.  Those are tendencies only, mind you.  Yet when people move to a new state, they move to the cities or immediate suburbs, and even in conservative states the cities are blue. Austin, Nashville, Houston, and Atlanta don't seem very southern anymore. Or so I am told.

Keep that in mind when you listen to that brand of libertarian who thinks that open borders will be entirely a boon.  People who move for free-market reasons may not have the faintest clue that they are doing so, and bring their less-free ideas with them.

I will note again that I don't use the word capitalism, preferring the phrase free market. In this era, it is more accurate, as capital is not the sole foundation it once was; while many are defiantly proud of the term, it is a negative to others, and I don't like to alienate them for no reason; thirdly and relatedly, its critics always use capitalist rather than free-marketer, and I refuse to let them dictate the terms.

I find that many puzzling criticisms of capitalism by people who are among its most obvious downstream beneficiaries can often be better understood if one just substitutes the word "adulthood." There.  Fixed it for ya. All clear now.

Baseball Players Are Replaceable

Bill James is absolutely right, of course, but you aren't supposed to say this. The best evidence that they are replaceable is that they all are replacements for someone else, year after year, and everyone currently playing will someday - someday soon, usually - be replaced. You will notice that no one is answering his point as he tweeted it, they are responding to things he didn't say which are easier to refute. He didn't say that stars are no better than replacement players.  He didn't say that baseball was better when they had replacement players (or umpires). He didn't say that fans don't treasure stories about individual players or that they are indistinguishable.

Ask a high school coach if players are replaceable.

But if Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente and Mike Trout had never existed, we would just tell stories about other players instead. Athletes (and most fans) don't understand what their role is.  We pay them to pretend to be heroes (or anti-heroes, sidekicks, villains, archetypes). If the strike zone were different, we would be praising different heroes, but nothing else would change.

I love baseball history and its characters more than 99% of Americans.  But I don't kid myself about it.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

AVI Language Experiment

I am going to try and find if there is any language research on this, but in the meantime, I'm interested in what your usage is.  You can disguise your age by a decade or two if you like, but as you will see, it would have to be a whole decade.

I went to college 1971-1975.  I say I went to college in the "early 70's." For K-12, especially K-8 (which we called "grammar school," not "elementary school" back then), I say "I went to school in the 60's" even though I started in 1958 and finished in 1971. For highschool,1967-71, I think I use the cumbersome "late 60's, early 70's" though I believe I avoid that altogether and just say "I graduated in 1971." What do you call the years you were at school?  Don't fret if highschool and/or college don't fit into those neat four-year packets in your life, or they are complicated by putting immediate grad school onto the end of your undergrad, or technical school straight after highschool. That will just be part of understanding people's framing.  I am looking for what people call early, mid, late, and what they summarise with a whole decade, as in "but then I went back to college in the '90's."

If it seems pertinent to the language question, feel free to expand your answer.