Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Bellboy

Great Or Not Great?

There are of course ironies in the discussion of whether America is great or not.  Michelle Obama was proud of being an American for the first time in 2008, and now in 2016 insists that America is great, not needing to be made great.  What changed, other than her personal fortunes. It reminds me of the admonition repeated every four years that this is the most important election in our lifetime.  I think it feels that way to the candidates, because it likely is the most import event, never mind election,  in their lifetime.  Not necessarily in mine, though.  Next irony: It has usually been conservatives who insist that America is great, while liberals talk about America living up to her promise.  Trump isn't a 180-degree reversal of that, but it's a go 120 degrees, anyway.

It’s posturing and positioning, of course.  Most Americans think their country is great-but-not-great, meaning different things by the same words at different times. That’s the beauty of such things politically, because people can feel sure that Trump means the same thing that they do about what used to be great about America and will be in the future, while others believe that they agree with Michelle about what is already great that doesn’t need fixing. If you let people talk long enough, they usually let you know what they really mean, but most voters have long since left the auditorium by then.  They know already, they are sure of it.

Also, everyone thinks they know what the other guys really mean when they say it. That’s not always unfair, if you have some actual data to work from, not just your fantasy of how stupid and evil they are. Michelle Obama likely means ten things when she says America is great, but the one that she always mentions is that there are finally black people in the White House. Trump is the opposite, so far as I can tell, alluding to many things but keeping it vague.

Side note: Best example in my lifetime of the media having cried wolf for years about Republicans, now shocked that a lot of Americans are ignoring them.

Jonathan Rauch Makes Uncomfortable Sense

Jonathan Rauch over at The Atlantic has an interesting article, whose basic premise is that all that old-timey political party hack and back room stuff was actually good for us. Someone over at Volokh put it up where I could see it.  I have already received some disagreement about it, which is fine. Rauch does leave out a couple of his own sacred cows, but tries to be even-handed. Whenever a liberal can bring himself to refer to Obama as "pandering" during the 2008 election, and as much as admitting Barack did nothing like what he promised afterward, I give credit.

My mind went first to the negative things that resulted from all those earlier Tammany Hall, machine-politics types of things - but contrasting that to now, I'm not sure it's worse.  Eliminating pork-barrel spending was always a popular cry, but it was never the problem.  Secondly, I thought of the non-corrupt countries of Northern Europe, who don't seem to have all this deal-making, and wondered if Rauch's offenders really are the problem. I also wondered that if Rauch's insight is a true one, or even a half-true one, whether this tells us anything about Christian denominations versus independent churches.

All that you can chew over yourselves.  One of the few new bits I bring to the discussion is the discovery of the politiphobes, who believe there are simple and obvious solutions to America's problems if corrupt politicians would simply enact them.  This reminded me strongly of the natural-healing and anti-vaxxer crowds, who believe there are simple treatments for all our health problems, but they are being suppressed by Big Pharma and Western Medicine.  I wondered how much overlap there are between those groups and the Trump and Bernie crowds.  Among my personal acquaintances, it is true for my #1 Trump and #1 Bernie supporters, followed by #2 Bernie, #3 Trump and sprinkling further on.  Hard to say, though, as I often don't know enough of a person's other views.

In my online groups, I have too little data, because I have so few representatives of each of those circles in the Venn Diagram that I don't trust it.

The essay did emphasise for me again that Trump is chaotic, and that is a great part of his appeal.  I had put it a few months ago that his supporters liked that he would shake things up, wasn't afraid to say what he thought, and would be a force for disruption in Washington, which needs disruption.  I hadn't quite gotten from that to the next step of identifying it as "chaos."  From a D&D perspective, does that make him Chaotic Neutral while Hillary is Lawful Evil? That, as Reverend Jim would say, is a tough choice.

In discussing chaos, I also was reminded of Chesterton's Fence, which came up in a related context today.

Well, that's a lot of possibilities to think about and comment on, isn't it?  Probably too many, and hard to settle into a clear path.  My apologies.  I think you'll work it out, though.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Discussion Update

I should have mentioned that I believe the authors of Mistakes Were Made would likely at least try to be honest brokers and would have mentioned the Janet Reno connection or chosen better examples than the Crusades or the Shah if they had known about such. I don't mean to imply any dishonesty on their part.  My distress is that we are in a state of public knowledge that so much that is generally known is actually less than half true.

Also, a humorous note.  In Silver's discussion of how wrong political predictions can be, and how these guys are sometimes just trying to get notices, he singles out Dick Morris specifically for predicting that Donald Trump would run for the Republican nomination and win it - in 2012. What a fool that Morris is, eh?

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Discussion of Two

There used to be pamphlets and short books at the Christian bookstores about how CS Lewis, and sometimes JRR Tolkien, weren't Christians.  Now they have websites instead, which I notice never have comments sections. Once in a while a character like that will show up on a Lewis or Tolkien FB page, attempting to argue the same tired points. The difficulty is that they have central ideas* that cannot be dislodged by any counterevidence or discussion. In my few pointless exchanges with them over the years I can report no success.  They cannot hear and there is no place for discussion.  This group has considerable overlap with the KJV-only folks, who present similar difficulties in discussion.

Whenever I have decided I don't like something, in this case a book, I always worry I'm going to be that guy. That's a bit of an overstatement, because I can find something of value even with writers I disagree with strongly.  Yet I do worry that I am too sharply on the lookout for further confirming examples that I was right the first time about this yo-yo, and may miss much. I had started Mistakes Were Made (but not by me) by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson and gotten irritated right off by the introduction to the second edition.  They tell on themselves with some candor that they reacted badly to a mostly-positive review that nonetheless took them to task for their political bias, while loving a five-star review that contained no such criticism. They use this example to illustrate what they are exposing in others throughout their book, ruefully noting that we all, even they, are subject to these sorts or biases and inability to see objectively.

At which point they revert immediately to their bias with no correction, so far as I can tell.

I find this infuriating, because this is exactly the point at which a little thought should pop up and go "Huh.  I should make extra-special sure not to do this.  Especially over the next few sentences." I waited long before I went back at the book, and it does have some value, mostly as a handy reference book for the research behind the ideas on bias, self-justification, and memory. But the political bias continues throughout.  It is less blatant than what one encounters in news sources, but I don't know if the subtlety isn't actually more dangerous.

More on that to come, because it did open up a useful train of thought for me. But I put this forward in contrast to Nate Silver's The Signal and The Noise. Silver has far less in the way of academic credentials for such discussions, but he knows how to look at a proposition and ask himself "Have I missed something? Am I seeing what I want to see, or what is real? Have others come to different conclusions?  What were their methods?"

I see on the sidebar that Bethany has just put something up about the book over at her site.  Haven't read it yet.  I hope she's not saying the opposite of what I do here.

Silver's book is more about predictions, why they fail and what can be done to improve them.  There has been enormous improvement in weather prediction, political polling, and the performance of athletes, even though these are all dependent on many interacting variables. Other predictions, such as climate change and the economy, also have improved, but not nearly so much, and we are not much better off on predicting earthquakes than we were fifty years ago.  He writes engagingly and convincingly why this would be so.  I have decided that his explanation and opinion on climate change are the best I have read for acknowledging both that some things are known, while others remain uncertain, and how initial bias on these matters prevents discussion.

The Tavris and Aronson book has the source material for much that we discuss around here about reliability of memory, personal and group bias. It does a good job of that - though very little of it was new to me, here it is now, all in one place. But that bias. While it is insisted in theory that everyone is subject to biases, different perceptions, and instantaneous excuse-making, there are apparently no gay people who are biased;  nor are there any people of color who misperceive; Democrats and liberals - especially ones from longer ago - do show some bias, both experimentally and by observation - but only in the context of Republicans and conservatives doing something worse. Similarly, women might do bad things to other women, but never to men, unless the man has done something worse that they are responding to.  If you want lists of groups that do evil things, corporate CEO's and religious leaders will show up.  But no employees of government unions, no heads of non-profits, and no academics do such things.  Nor are they observed to be biased. One black man, Bill Cosby, did do wrong things.  I note that he had become controversial in the black community for criticisng its culture.

I cannot imagine that this is intentional.  These are simply where their minds go when they look for examples. I was steaming as I read the section about recovered memory and the damage it caused, with no mention of Janet Reno and how that had launched her career (and oh, does the overreaction at Waco seem clearer now?); I shook my head in irritation when they pointed out that the 1979 Iranian Revolution had its roots in the 1953 CIA coup installing the Shah, ignoring the complexities and assassinations the few years before; and I won't even discuss the ways they were wrong-headed in discussing the Crusades. I looked at those and thought How can they leave those out? 

Well, probably because they didn't know about them, I suddenly realised.  If you don't read the conservative press Janet Reno's prosecutions against supposed ritual abusers in Dade County never come before you.  If your goal is to trace back events until you can hit a point where you can blame exactly who you want, you will look no deeper, no wider, no older. So, the terrible events of 1953 just pop out of thin air, and Christians travel thousands of miles to kill Moslems and capture a few square miles of territory for no discernible reason. It's not really their job to get the history exactly fair, but to find good examples from history to illustrate their points. I would have wished an editor or fact-checker along the way had noticed something awry, but that would be unlikely.  They are from the same culture.  They don't know either.

When one looks at it that way, that's pretty much what all of us do, including me. If things look bad for My Fellows, My Tribe, My Team, I look about until I can find a parallel event, a mirror injustice, or an older chapter until I can get them out from under, at least a bit. Sometimes I can largely exonerate them - sometimes there really isn't much in the way of mitigating circumstances.

This is the reason that control of institutions and eliminating counternarratives is important to so many in the present day, and why the destruction - no, the defanging of the past and of traditions is worrisome. It is not merely that "well, they did some wrong things that we'd like to stop doing," - it's an entire program of having nothing to set against the present and the imagined future. Destroy the past, and even the skeptical mind will find nothing to fasten on to raise as a question.

On the other hand, the information explosion works against this very thing.  One political or social group can write all the textbooks and all think alike when they write scripts and essays.  But when I go looking for something, I find...other things, quite by accident.

*For the record, the first is usually that there is magic in the stories, and everything to do with magic is satanic - the Bible says so; second that they believe in Purgatory (Lewis thought it likely but did not insist on it), which is Roman Catholic and we all know they aren't really Christians.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Clinton's Appearance

I think that in general, as Laura notes and T99 supports, Hillary's appearance is commented on far more than any male candidate. For women of a certain percentage of feminism (of whatever wave) in their bones, it is a default position to be annoyed at that.  I think that is a reasonable general rule.  I don't think it applies in Hillary Clinton's case.    Men have a very narrow range, and it is considered a major screw-up if they deviate from that in any public photograph, such as Bush in crocs, or Obama in something too informal. So it's simple for them, really.  Safe.

But there are safe choices for women as well.  Most female politicians use them.  Sarah Palin had some nasty comments directed at her for her hair and glasses, but she was electing to appeal to Her People. The women who hated that look for cultural reasons skewered her. And notice, she wasn't that different. She could have dressed like Nikki Haley instead - within the range but pushing the edges.  Sometimes she did, sometimes not.  She got kicked just about as much as she deviated.  Same as the men.  No one is forcing Hillary Clinton to wear yellow Mao jackets. The comments don't come up for men because the short guys, the bald guys, the fat guys, the guys with glasses, the guys who wear elbow patches or Hawaiian shirts or feed caps/ball caps are pretty much dead in the water right out of the gate.

Elizabeth Warren, Barbara Boxer, Diane Feinstein, Nancy Pelosi, Patty Murray, Mary Landrieu, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kelly Ayotte, Michele Bachman, Condoleeza Rice...they dress the same. They don't get a lot of flak.  Hillary doesn't dress that way.  There's a reason for that, and she owns it. She wants to be something else, a celebrity, an icon, a superstar.

She has an expressive face, which is probably a charming thing in person, but leads to many unflattering photos.  The Wymans are very familiar with this, and you will notice that we don't run for public office for related reasons.  That's not fair?  The general public should admire her for her policy positions? Or her character?  Gosh darn it, the sexism never ends, does it?  What would Antonin Scalia say? Or Ruth Bader Ginsburg?

Saturday, July 16, 2016


I will be at camp, with some computer access but much less. Blogging will be light.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Wanting To Win

Note: small but important edit of changing "can't" to "can" in paragraph 5.  I think most of you would have recognised it as an error anyway.

Editorialists often take a one-sided approach to discussions.  I suppose this is not contemptible in context.  They are supposed to identify a POV and put forth the clearest expression of it.  Like an attorney arguing a case, their job is to present one side – let the other attorney provide the counterpoint. Artists sometimes present ambiguity, but more often it is a faux ambiguity – playing with the sighs and ponders and nods but coming down in the predetermined spot in the end; most often of all artists attempt to express one side as powerfully as possible.

Yet for the rest of us life is not quite so simple.  One may side pretty strenuously with feminists in general and still know women who are no more than difficult personalities who have stumbled onto feminism as a convenient cudgel for the thrashing of parents or bosses or first husbands. All Christians know some brethren who they wish would just shut up, and some commonly-advanced arguments that are ludicrous. Few they are who cannot see any reason for going to war, nor any reason for staying out of it. Plus, we have people we like at least somewhat who see things quite differently.  When we have these discussions we concede points (sometimes too readily in the cause of keeping a discussion friendly), or we hold back from full-throated expression of our conclusion that our opponent’s POV leads to the deaths of children.

Yet in the theater of debate, and certainly in online debate, we tend to the firmer expression of our ideas. I think that is entirely proper. But I think there is a limit. No quarter asked or given should only be acceptable when the consequences are dire, and this particular episode of the larger debate is actually going to affect anything. I write this because I am tired of reading people who are not trying to arrive at truth, but are only trying to win an argument - fastening on some smaller point where they think they can prevail or embarrass, misrepresenting what the opposition is saying, etc. Orwell has a nice quote about it.

The thing that strikes me more and more—and it strikes a lot of other people, too—is the extraordinary viciousness and dishonesty of political controversy in our time.  I don't mean merely that controversies are acrimonious.  They ought to be that when they are on serious subjects.  I mean that almost nobody seems to feel that an opponent deserves a fair hearing or that the objective truth matters as long as you can score a neat debating point. (Italics mine)

I have a request.  Someone find for me a recent non-liberal example of this – a moderate, or conservative, or libertarian writer or speaker who is not fighting fair in this fashion.  I have a fresh example by a liberal, but I always have a fresh example by a liberal. When I search for examples of people I more-or-less agree with who are (likely willfully) overstating their case, I can find them easily in comments sections, but those are a suspect source: they might be trolls, or sock puppets, or simple provocateurs. Even if they are arguing sincerely, they might simply be fools and pigheaded. When I seek for bad examples from my own side(s), my mind shuts down too quickly, I think, gravitating to the points the writer made that were fair.
I am tired of reading people who should not be believed yet have a large audience.  I imagine there are people who feel the same way about me.  I know, I know, this audience is likely to have similar blind spots to my own.  But not all, and certainly not exactly.  If there are none, I will not put my own example forward.

Honesty Update

I was listening to some ESPN thing on the radio on my way home tonight and heard a show host ask Jemele Hill a moderately difficult opinion question.  She hemmed and hawed, and eventually said "Let me be completely honest here" and I winced, because even though she's a bit vacuous and cliched, she seems to mean well and I like her. Yet here she is saying not only the magic phrase "be honest," but has doubled down to "be completely honest." So the next thing that comes out of her mouth is going to be a lie, and I am sad.

She gets some credit, even after all that.  She hemmed and hawed some more, evading the question and putting in all sorts of qualifiers before she actually answers.  She went on for two whole minutes doing this, enough so that I concluded at some level she knows she's about to lie, but she's basically an honest young woman who doesn't want to, so she can't get there. Fascinating stuff. There was some back-reference to President Obama answering questions for 90 minutes today and then another 30 minutes more personally, and I could tell from her voice she thought he had answered gently, nobly, wisely, evenhandedly - she loves the man.  Well I am resigned to that, but I'm betting that I would have heard something different in his answers, and could quote chapter and verse at the end of it that the usual suspects were being blamed, just under the cover of fair words.

Yet she couldn't come to answer, until finally she did, and it had red flags all through it. She was lying, but part her didn't want to and tried to keep her from it.  It gave me a new perspective on my own theory, because I am quite sure she was not conscious of lying. If you had her on a witness stand you might be able to get her to see it - in fact I'm confident she could see it because she came so close with one statement.

Odd that telling a lie makes me like her better, because I could hear so clearly that she is an honest person who doesn't want to, but has this enormous conflict between her dual experiences.  It's a very CS Lewis sort of moment to see where this goes over the years.  People do different things ant points of decision, and tiny differences can become large ones.


This article on meritocracy showed up over at Maggie's.  I expected to have so much to disagree with that I would certainly not share it.  But Helen Andrews at the Hedgehog Review - I will have to read more over there on the basis of the name alone - anticipated and answered many of my objections and answered them.

I still have some, but I thought folks should read the article first.  I skipped a lot of the history, and the alarming proposed solution may take a while for me to absorb.  However, I don't have much more than cliches to answer it with, so for now I will just pipe down.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Post 5000

NIH Funding

I am noticing that mental health funding is not prominent here, despite the huge number of disability years and hospital bed-days.

Brexit, Racism, Trump Part II

I think the not listening part is what's important. That gets tricky.  That is also what Black Lives Matter claims.  There is a certain Personality Disorder for which "You're not listening to me" means "You couldn't possibly be listening to me because you don't agree with me.  Anyone who was really listening would see things my way.  Therefore, when you disagree with me it proves you aren't listening." That is certainly my impression Black Lives Matter.  Yes, we hear you.  We all know that there is some prejudice by the police against black people, that this is not good, and it should be eliminated.  However, we don't think that's the whole problem, and you stop listening to us whenever we try to go there.

Is there a mirror here?  Are the Brexiters similar in their attitude, of claiming they aren't being heard simply because they aren't being agreed with?  The Brexiters aren't violent, and whatever racism they have is not as overt as BLM, but is it, at root, much the same thing - a refusal to see any view but their own?  They are certainly accused of it.

I'm trying to entertain the idea, but I just can't get my head around it.  I think one bit of evidence in favor of Brits actually listening to other points of view is that they themselves held different points of view not so long ago. The have long been frustrated with the EU - over beef, over chocolate - and have polled disapproval of it.  But packing up and actually leaving it has not been so popular.  That only covers the people in the middle, however.  Perhaps the confirmed Brexiters, that 30% that has wanted out no matter the ebb and flow of opinion?  Are they unwilling to listen, unable to be reasoned with?  Well, hmm, they haven't done a lot of marching and shooting about it, have they? No shutting down the speeches of others? No doubt some are bullheaded and can't be reasoned with.  Perhaps even a significant portion of them.  But the signs of aggressive refusing to listen just aren't there.

Lots of Europe was anti-EU because of unemployment long before the influx of Mediterranean refugees came in. As the newcomers swarmed into Greece and Italy people in Western Europe started to get worried.  They seemed rather...violent.  They didn't seem to be coming as devastated families of refugees but as opportunistic young men who were willing to riot at borders.  Along with this came all the assurances, accompanied by pictures of sweet children and young mothers, that they immigrants were a little rough around the edges, but were just fine.  I suppose they couldn't have tried to sell the idea by saying "these are mostly young men and lots of them are criminals and entitled, but we want to be generous to them anyway," but that would have at least been honest. The next step up was the one I think pushed it over, attracted those last few percentage points of Brexiters.  These men were clearly assaulting young women - in Germany, in Sweden, in Norway, in Hungary - but this was being downplayed or denied by the authorities.

The Brexiters have this suspicion.  No, these immigrants aren’t "just like us" except for living here for a generation. Our love of tea, and eccentric hobbies, and reading mystery novels, or watching weekly comedies is more than the sum of its parts.  It symbolizes the whole culture of we-didn’t-know-what. But now we know. They sexually assault women in public. Hundreds of them, thousands. However many want to work, there seem to be an unfortunate percentage of them that expect to be given things. Nigel Farage says we don’t want any more, and he’s a bit of an extremist, but we do say we want less.  Thank you.  signed The Public. Then the EU, with the support of the toffs – who aren’t seeing any problems in their neighborhoods – says we won’t get less, we’ll get more. That sort of attitude toward the people in the provinces tells then their culture is not merely eroding, as everyone’s does a bit over their lifetime, but is in danger of becoming unrecognizable in short order. 
It's the doubling down that did it.  The British complain a lot but have historically put up with a great deal.  Having been thrown a cookie would have been enough for many.  But virtue signalling being what it is, the Remainers couldn't bear to throw a cookie.