Monday, June 27, 2016

Stuff White People Like

The fashion has passed, but there is still humor, and wisdom, in returning to the site Stuff White People Like.  It was always, of course, stuff young liberal white people like, with outspill to related others.  Even I, who grew up in a related culture, like some of this stuff.  A young black woman at work who I sent the link to years ago said "I know I'm half-white, but am I really this white?  I like most of this stuff, or my friends do."  I reassure her there was a related phenomenon Stuff Educated Black People Like (Baked chicken.  Talking about moving to Atlanta), in addition to the above qualifiers about what type of white people we were talking about. Notice the repeated references to the idea of coolness and even morality as being a positional good, as in this example:
Often it can be easier to find common ground with a white person by talking to them about something you both hate. Discussing things you both like might lead to an argument over who likes it more or who liked it first. Clearly, the safest route is mutual hatred. When choosing to talk about something that white people hate, it’s best to choose something that will allow white people to make clever comments or at the very least feel better about themselves.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

A Bit Of Orwell

We contemplate that Britain has a culture that it wishes to preserve, and this has something to do with why the Brexit vote went as it did.  Americans generally applaud British culture, or at least, applaud that they want to keep their culture. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, all the British seem to like having some immigrants around.  What has happened recently is that there has been a sharp uptick in the number of immigrants, enough that a majority of people have said "too many." Yet I don't hear anyone but the very few saying "no immigrants."

What is this culture they hope to preserve?  Paul McCartney made affectionate fun of it in "Penny Lane," but what might we list that is something of a continuity in British culture that does not sound ridiculously trivial or is not immediately recognisable as something that happens in other countries as well?

George Orwell wrote "England, Your England" in the early 1940's. It is a good example of the importance of reading primary sources.  I am familiar what other English writers of the 20th C have said, Chesterton especially, yet this carries surprises.  One can immediately tell that American culture is historically related to it, but we have built something quite different with the same legos.

Just for humor, I resurrect this Field Guide to the 15 Real Nations of Britain that I passed along a decade ago. Plus, now that I've mentioned it, I have to play the song.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

McArdle on Brexit

Megan McArdle, who nearly always notices things I didn't, and puts things far better than I would even when her ideeas are what I already thought, has a very solid Brexit article Citizens of the World? Nice Thought, But...
In many ways, members of the global professional class have started to identify more with each other than they have with the fellow residents of their own countries. Witness the emotional meltdown many American journalists have been having over Brexit.
We've been saying that for years. I have always thought of that in terms of American liberals sucking up to their similar class in Europe, but it is now clear to me that this works in reverse as well. It is not all American A&H crowd slavishly going along with whatever their betters at the BBC tell them. It does work in reverse as well. European elites may sneer at Americans generally, but they have Americans they love, and they also seek to impress, just like adolescents here.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Saving a Few Percent

Last night, before there was shooting in Germany, where I believe they have "reasonable" and "common-sense" gun legislation*, a few people shared on my FB an essay about a cute little three-year-old girl having to learn to stand up on a toilet in a drill at school to be safe in the event of an active shooter. How heartbreaking it all is.  What a terrible world, etc.  And we won't even try.  I am presuming they don't have a similar opinion of fire drills.

I was caught by the numbers that she knows gun control won't prevent 100% of crime, but doesn't know if it will help 1% or 2% or 50%. How will we know if we don't try?  Which seems strange in a place where there already are lots of gun regulations, different in many states, different country-to-country and we have some ability to measure and compare. If you've actually got something out there that will reduce violent crime by 50%, I'm pretty sure we're all on board with listening to that. No, she is writing about size of magazines and the like, so I'm betting she is reacting to school shootings and the like, not drug deals gone bad or hunting accidents or suicides.

Just a little back-of-the-envelope calculation here...4-6 incidents a year @ 2% would be about one less incident of 4+ deaths every 10 years.  Or maybe it's number of victims per incident, which would be one less at Orlando. If you look hard enough, you can retrospectively find an incident, maybe even two or three over the last few decades, where some law that you are imposing retroactively would have made a difference.  Unless the shooters just bring multiple guns, of course, which they seem to commonly do. Real life is more dynamic.

*crickets chirping tonight.

Violence Tradeoff of Europeans



Bird Dog has a link to a Gateway Pundit article about the enormously higher homicide rate of African-Americans. This connects in turn to Scott Adams’s analysis that Democrats use guns to kill innocent people, while Republicans use them for defense and sport. (A reader here had sent that to me and I forwarded it on.) That may not be an accurate statement emotionally, because the vast majority of gun-owners, Republican or Democrat, do not use them to commit violence. Yet it is an accurate statement statistically. Please note that Adams is a Democrat who is making a starker statement than most Republicans would dare.

I could take this in many directions, but there is one I believe is particularly neglected. It is true – and Steven Pinker’s The BetterAngels of Our Nature  acknowledges it even as he squirms around it – that this gradual reduction in killing of those in one’s own society started in Northern Europe (see, of course Hajnal Line). It is that group that has become unusual for its low violence, not other groups for their remarkable increase. If we can wrench our heads out Eurocentric/Anglospheric places and look at the rest of the world, we see that the violence level is quite high just about everywhere: Indonesia, Africa, Latin America, and Asia rather notoriously so. Even the exceptions, such as Japan, are instructive about this trend as a whole. Violence is generally low within the tribe and high outside it. A very few places in the world learned to expand their idea of who their tribe is, learning greater degrees of cooperation. This has rather obvious benefits for trade and specialization.

The downside in terms of violence is that greater cooperation leads to a much better military, which can kill large numbers of people very quickly.  Europeans have shown themselves to be remarkably good at that the last few centuries. Colonialism did not succeed because of superior technology (though that did help), but because the places the Europeans landed to trade were deeply divided tribally already, and could not get unified to fend off relatively small numbers (backed by enormous resources) of ships and soldiers from individual European countries. European nations have been dramatically effective at killing each other as well, and for similar reasons.  They figured out how to work together and make effective armies and navies. If you were part of their nation – which usually meant a collection of closely related tribes now united – life at home could be peaceful for long periods of time. A lot of that energy got diverted into religious persecutions internally (some about actual religious issues, some only nominally so), with repeated redefinition of who Our People are. But even that subsided. Europe divided into large nation-tribes that corresponded partially to international boundaries, and they tended to mistrust the other nation-tribes and persecute them or go to war with them.  But individual towns , counties, regions saw a continuing decline in internal violence.

So, read about ancient European tribes, with illustrations. Here's an example of France in the good old days.


An objection might be raised that the modern European ”superiority” in mass killing is an exaggeration. The deadliest wars have been largely Asian, especially Chinese, over the centuries after all, and even in WWII most death occurred in Asia. The deaths of the European Colonisation of the Americas, in second place, were largely from disease. I suppose one could say that the greater national cooperative efforts allowed Europe to cross the ocean and maintain enough presence to be the disease vectors, but it is otherwise a stretch to call that a killing efficiency. So with those corrections to the top two, the Europeans largely disappear from the upper list.  However, I think this understanding of internal versus external violence holds up for two reasons: first, the list covers many more centuries than the modern era; second, the example of China bears some resemblance to the European example.  It was a bureaucratic, organized empire with what we currently think were comparatively modest rates of internal violence, whose constituent parts occasionally exploded into highly organized warfare.

*Five years old already.  Wow.

Wisdom

If I were an actual wise, thoughtful person who takes the long view, I wouldn't be much concerned with all the gun-control rhetoric at present, recognising it for the ephemera that it is.  But I am as swpt about by fashions as the next person at times, and I notice what is going on around me.  For the time being, there will be firearms discussions.  Which are at least more interesting than Trump discussions.

Gun Violence



Granite Dad’s reminder that 3-D printing is going to completely change firearm availability does render much of the rest of the discussion more symbolic than safety-related. There is a second issue that is also usually unaddressed. A great deal of gun ownership is by minority groups, and this goes double for firearms that are already held illegally. (Let me repeat, however, most gun owners of all groups are responsible, nonviolent people who have firearms for sport and defense.) We tend to miss that because gun-rights groups and advocates are largely white, and prominent black politicians are among the strongest gun-control advocates, hoping that mere gun-reduction can reduce violence. It won’t, but I can see why they hold that hope.  Sitting in morning circle for Montessori School to make the world safer isn't likely to be a force-multiplier for righteousness either. Even if you are Senators.

Declaring further categories of weapon illegal is therefore going to have an increasingly disparate impact on those communities. Pause to imagine the increased confrontations, arrests, and incarcerations of minorities because of these well-meaning efforts.

Lelia

Now that she has friended me on Facebook, it is revealed that commenter Lelia is a genre fiction author - looks like sci-fi, Christian, historical, romance in varying mixtures, which I find to be very cool.  Lelia Rose Foreman.  Do the work yourself, as that is good for you and more likely to result in an occasional sale for her. I should have guessed that at least one of you out there filled that bill.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Father's Day

Neoneocon  posted a poem by Robert Hayden that might be of interest.

THOSE WINTER SUNDAYS
Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house.

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?
 As my feelings every Father's Day are always contradictory and disjointed, this didn't help. Or perhaps, helped greatly.  I don't think about any of my fathers, I think about my children. Then I forget that two of them have children of their own, and their proper focus is on those girls, not on me.

Whatever criticisms they might deserve, all three of them - my biological father, the boyfriend my mother almost married, and my stepfather, did indeed do things for me that I never noticed,  unthanked.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Popehat On Gun Control

The title is intentionally misleading : In Support of a Total Ban on Civilians Owning Firearms.
I support the argument that the United States should enact a total ban on civilians owning firearms.

Oh, I don't support the ban. I support the argument.

I support the argument because it's honest and specific. It doesn't hide the ball, it doesn't refuse to define terms, it doesn't tell rely on telling people they are paranoid or stupid in their concerns about the scope of the ban. The argument proposes a particular solution and will require the advocate to defend it openly.

That elevates it above most gun control dialogue.
One of the sports stations I listen to on my commutes (93.7) has a morning show that discusses movies, politics, and popular culture more than sports. One of the hosts, who typically rants about a lot of things, complained that he doesn't want to hear firearms details from gun nuts who call in whenever shootings make the national news and a public gun control discussion is occurring.  He finds it tedious, he finds it irrelevant, he finds it annoying.

Once one is alert to the idea that for at least some percentage of gun-regulators, this is not about safety, but about culture war, comments like this jump out at you. When you take the time to read at least a few of the firearms-details arguments, you see pretty quickly that the details are not irrelevant.  People use terms like "assault weapon," or "weapons of war," or "reasonable for self-defense" with absolutely no clue what they are talking about.  President Obama, for example, that Omar Mateen had a Glock with a lot of clips, and an assault rifle. Then, after illustrating that he doesn't know much about guns, he wants to more deeply regulate them, sure that he knows enough - the details don't matter.

My brother, and two dear Christian women who are my friends posted similar things this week. They are all sure that they know enough to have a decent opinion.  If pressed, they believe that other anti-gun people who are wonks on the subject and pay attention to these things know enough to craft decent legislation about it - and their job is to rally support whatever that legislation is. Intelligent people often fall into the trap that they can pick up 90% of what they need with minimal effort, so they can move on to other subjects.

Actually, everyone believes that, but intelligent people at least have some empirical experience that this method works. They got through school this way, and navigate conversations this way now. They know a little bit about Egyptian loan-words in Biblical Hebrew, or Hungarian elections in the 2000's, or the Treaty of Westphalia, and instantly know more than 95% of everyone about those subjects. I get this.

Believe me, I get this.  I am that guy, having kited my way through conversations for decades by knowing more than the 95%, enough that I can usually at least hang out with people who actually know a lot more. I also believe in most situations that drawing in a few bits of information from a source or three I consider reliable, plus a little oppositional contemplation, puts me way ahead of just about everyone else. It works. The number of people doing this is pretty much the list of "smart people" that you know.

Here's the huge problem: This doesn't actually work with some subjects. It works in limited areas of mental health, but in other places you have to actually know something.  You can't fake it.  There are discussions of law that historians or political scientists can enter and be usefully knowledgeable in. But in others, you just need to know something about law in general, and particular rulings in specific, or you are just a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. In those instances, a realtor discussing real-estate law with an attorney might be more accurate than a brilliant Ivy-League professor of history.  The hard data sometimes matters, and matters a lot. Psychologists, and parents, and grant-writers may know a lot about educational interventions; they may know more about the topic in general and have ideas about changing the system that are better than special-ed coordinators.  But if you want to write an IEP, you should talk with a person who is a specialist in IEP's.  Theory is gone.  Rubber meets road.

Slight tangent:  Is the Christian left actually worse on this than the secular left, or is that just an impression from my particular circle of friends?

So. I have generally chalked all this up to the mild arrogance of those who get by by overgeneralisng, combined with the quick sympathy of soft-hearted people for those who suffer (with a bit of "I've thought about ethical and moral issues and most haven't"), topped off with the infographics of those socially skilled enough to imagine what should be persuasive. Those people aren't your go-to source for solutions to political problems, but neither are they evil incarnate. They're just wrong, speaking beyond their knowledge but meaning well.

Or are they? This week I wondered if there actually is some evil involved for these nice people. I have wondered if culture war actually is more than half their motive, and if this is particularly true (though disguised even to themselves) of Christians who lean left, in defensive counter-reaction to the stereotype that they are suspected of rightist sympathies by secular progressives, and they want to get out from under. As with the sports-ranter above, it is their own words and their types of arguments which raise red flags for me. I don't think they are usually the hard-edged SJW's who want their opponents to be not merely defeated but humiliated. They have absorbed a Christian lesson of not-hating quite well, and hope that even those who disagree and lose out in the halls of power feel okay about it and don't feel disrespected or unheard. They want everyone to go home with a little gift.

And yet.  And yet. This time around my suspicions are darker, on the basis of their own words. Their first goal actually is to win, and to make sure everyone knows how much they care about humanity and their opponents apparently care about something else. Not very nice, though often mentioned indirectly or disguisedly. They don't know the important facts, and they know that they do not know, but cannot be troubled to reconsider.  Perversely, not knowing about the details seems to be a badge of honor - they aren't one of those icky dangerous people who know about guns and have some sort of obsessive, Aspergery interest in the details. (Watch out for that guy.  He could be the real danger.) They are good people who care about the arts. They are on to showing how gun manufacturers, and the NRA, and congressional Republicans are morally dangerous.  They won't say "evil" but it's pretty clear they think that there are some evil pro-gun people out there. (The rest of you nice hunters and home-defenders are just misled, and perhaps a bit primitive in your morality - but they have hopes that you will come around, because you are Christians - maybe kinda sorta, even though haven't you read what Jesus said... and oh dear, not as well read as we are, but not bad people really. Except actually, you are. Just a little bit, by which we mean "a whole lot," but we don't talk like that because it isn't nice. But we would never say it, because that would hurt your feelings, and we aren't the sort of people who hurt others' feelings).


Here is my challenge:  Most of those are anti-Trump because they fear there is far too much fascist, or at least authoritarian in him.  I see that.  But the actual fascists last time were not drawn from his type of crowd, but from yours. I should never have brought up Trump.  Lost my head there.  This isn't about Trump, it's about you.  Who goes Nazi? I am no longer sure about you.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Is Trauma The Driver?

Yesterday’s speaker at Grand Rounds very much sees mental health interventions through the focus of trauma. Which is fine in its own way. Trauma isn’t good for you and more is worse. We have neglected to ask about possible traumatic experiences which might be important in treating mental health clients. Neglected to do it perfectly, that is. It has been on my hospital’s protocol for all patients for thirty years.

The primary focus was that more symptoms are caused by childhood experiences than we realise, and sometimes they are not verbalized, but encoded in behavior. Well and good, very old-school psychology in some ways, actually. It’s just not the whole picture.

I raised my hand at one point to express the opinion that genetic influences weren’t being referenced, and everything was being put into the trauma basket. I was going to throw in pre-natal as well, but decided it was best to keep it simple. She agreed to some general statement about different temperaments and vulnerabilities, then went straight to epigenetics. She admitted she didn’t understand it that well, gave a passable definition of it, didn’t otherwise answer my objection, and moved on. There was a time when I would have pushed the issue. I was tempted to bring it up again fifteen minutes later when the question of genetics was even more obvious. But I didn’t.

I was interested in her reference to the Kaiser Permanante Adverse Childhood Experiences study. I had heard of it and meant to look it up but never had. The idea is that specific childhood traumas can lead to bad health outcomes for adults, which they as insurers would certainly be interested in. They have data on over 100,000 people who responded to the brief (60+ questions) questionnaire at this point. Big numbers are usually better. Good stuff, as far as it goes. Trauma isn’t good for you, as I said. It makes intuitive sense that bad things in childhood could lead to bad health outcomes as an adult. One newer bit is that if you lived in poverty as a child you were more likely to have a diet dominated by inexpensive starches – potatoes, rice, bread – and thus more likely to be obese as an adult.*Obesity is a health problem.  So poverty can be seen as an indirect cause.

Note that even though the right-hand arrow says conception, that area is gray and fuzzy, and it's not really part of the questionnaire.



There’s just this problem that when you pick up the story of a person’s life at birth, you haven’t actually begun at the beginning.  There are those nine months in utero – that should be a deeper level on the pyramid, a foundation on which the other things are built.  And there is the genetic union at conception, which is itself the product of years of influence, centuries and more.  That is an even deeper foundation of the pyramid. It is invisible not only in the infographic, but in the data.

Thus we know that whatever true things the Kaiser Permanente ACE study shows, we must apply some discount for the prenatal effects, and some discount for the genetic effects. And we have no idea how much – though I’ve been thinking icebergs rather than pyramids for my analogies lately.

The following is perhaps unnecessary, as we have discussed genetics confounding supposedly environmental studies before (and some of you know this better than I do). But two examples: You had a parent who was impulsive and pleasure-seeking.  If you looked at a hundred such parents, you would find a higher-than average number of smokers, of drinkers, of people who marry inappropriate others or cheat on their spouses, of folks who lose their tempers, lose their jobs, overeat, overspend, etc. Their children will thus experience more trauma.  More divorce, more poverty, more abandonment, more beatings.  This is just an average, of course.  Many of those parents may have had strong compensating or coping strategies.  They may have joined a religious group that provided rigor and structure. They may have chosen a profession which allows them to indulge this safely.  They may have slowly learned disciplining strategies because they loved a sport, or ballet, or the military, or being first in their class. Yet the average for the children of that group is going to be more traumatic. The ACE study will pick up all those traumas and explain your adult health risks in those terms.

But you also have half you genetic material from that person, and it may not be his/her impulsivity that drives your behavior, but your own.  Furthermore, who mates with these impulsive, risky people?  You got the other half of your genetic material from them. The parents' temperaments may be controlling or they may be irrelevant.  The Kaiser Permanente study won't tell us.

Similarly, you may be making very bad safety and sexual choices now, and you may attribute that to being sexually assaulted as a child.  There may be something to that. But if your abuser was a blood relative some of your behavior may be hard-wired. Sometimes the sexual predators have long since moved on or gone to jail before they even got to you.  And if not a blood relative, then did the blood relative choose to put you in their company?  Stepparents are much more likely to be abusers, but who invited them over the thresshold?  I don't mean to be accusing of innocent people here.  Some predators are so well disguised that decent people wouldn't pick up on the signals. Some predators only reveal under the influence of alcohol or drugs, not present in the courtship. I'm not trying to kick any of you, here.  My mother married a predator, and I'm not seeing how she would have seen that coming.

My point isn't to deny that trauma is bad, but to highlight that earlier factors, prenatal and genetic, are increasingly shown to be huge.

*In comparing Charles Murray’s Belmont and Fishtown there is reference to the rich eating differently than the poor, and valuing thinness and reserved eating more. It could be a signifier of upper-middle-class or above upbringing when you look at it that way. Fat people are more likely to have grown up poor, and thus not be “quite our kind.” (There are poor cultures that are lower starch users, certainly. I am being very general.)  And of course, there may be some inherited tendency toward obesity as well. We just can’t tell what’s what at present. And some of us, such as trauma-based intervention researchers, don’t seem very curious about knowing the full answer.

Retirement of School Librarian

Elementary school retirement party for Tracy Wyman. I've never been to one, but I figured I knew what to expect. I was disappointed at first. There were thanking speeches of varying quality but consistent goodwill. There were skits/performances for each, and the one for Tracy was especially skillful, but they didn't have the markers I expected from all-female elementary school educators. They are a type, you know. Finally, it did deteriorate to nine women in frog glasses and tutus, and I felt vindicated in my expectations.

They noted that Tracy had sent over 8,000 cards to students on the internal mail (delivered by second graders) over the years. That's who she is.  The real version of no child left behind.