Friday, September 30, 2016

Trauma and Training

I have been much pleased with Nicholas Nassim Taleb's Antifragility, which bsking of Graph Paper Diaries reminded me existed, also reminding me that I would very likely enjoy.  I have.  One of the advantages to this particular high-concept book, which includes some approaches that we don't ordinarily use, is that you don't have to double back to make sure you understand.  Taleb doubles back himself, as each chapter could almost stand alone but bears similarity to many other chapters.  It is a bit chaotic, but that works well in this instance.

I have been applying the idea of antifragility to lots of things that come across my screen these days.  I am too old to rework my life along the lines he thinks best, but there are things I can do, perhaps being an example to my sons and other younger people, that they might put more of this into play. NNT notes as an example exercise physiology, that building up muscle actually involves tearing down muscel a bit, and that building endurance involves getting out of breath.  The body responds by coming back stronger, anticipating that the brain or life circumstances may decide to put it through a similar trial again, or even worse.  The body overprepares slightly.

The USMC has come under heavy criticism lately for things they have done to recruits in training at Parris Island. Most Marines take the view that this level of intensity is necessary at more than one level.  Recruits need to bond together as a unit, they need to learn that they can force their bodies and minds to do more than they thought, they need to experience enough hardship that hardship does not overwhelm them - they are being trained to go into insanely difficult circumstances, after all, so insanely difficult training seems like a good first option.

OTOH, some of the incidents that have come to light are simply abusive, with no obvious benefit. Muscles benefit from the "destruction" of exercise, but cutting your arms off doesn't toughen you up. Combat simply cannot be the first trauma a soldier faces, or he has not been properly trained.  He needs to know that he can function when horrible things are going on, not because someone has made encouraging remarks to build his self-esteem, but because he has already endured some in practice. The Marines brag that they know a great deal because of a 200+ year tradition, and there is a great deal in that.  Even by trial-and-error alone, an institution that actually remembers what has happened learns something.  But really, it wasn't that long ago that potentially valuable soldiers were getting uselessly killed in training exercises that were poorly thought out.

We also know that those who have been deeply traumatised can be more susceptible to further trauma, not less. Sending guys whose neurology has already been seriously bent around by simultaneous concussion, fear, and pain are not going to have an advantage in combat.  But we are starting to know many things, and this is part of it. Mild traumas, with times for recovery in between, may be beneficial, just as they are with exercise.  This happens naturally in some combat situations, as periods of combat intensity alternate with periods of aching boredom = recovery. I believe that designing that in from the start is likely to work better.  Instruction. Trauma. Recovery. Instruction. Trauma. Recovery.  This may also be why some guerilla forces harden and improve over time. A lot of things happen in slow motion.

Double Standards and Phase Change



Double standards are always in play, but really ramp up at election time.  Accusations of double standards become even more strident: If they had done that to a white person…if you said that about a black person…if the Republicans had nominated someone who…if the press challenged a Democrat in that way… Sometimes these escalate to ridiculous heights, where it is patently obvious that the person making the claim is scrounging for every possible accusation they think they can reword and twist, with no regard to whether it is fair. The extreme example is from an old Texas politician – perhaps an apocryphal story – who accused his opponent of having sex with a pig.  “You can’t prove he had sex with a pig!” said a shocked aide.  “I don’t want to prove it,” he countered, “I want him to deny it.”

We’re not all that far from that attitude these days, it seems. I admit I don’t understand it.  I’m just not wired that way.  When I am unfair and biased, I have at least arrived there honestly.  I imagine an argument could be made that this is spiritually worse.  We can’t repent of sins we don’t even see, and that may be what Jesus is talking about when he mentions the Unforgiveable Sin. When the Holy Spirit has revealed to us what is right, but we have so consistently walked away from that and rationalized it away that we no longer have power to even see it confess it, that may be unforgiveable. Matthew 13:15.

Back on task.  As the rhetoric escalates, I increasingly shake my head and think Are you even listening to yourself here? You have nothing in your frontal lobe that said “Hey, we just crossed a major line with that one”? Apparently the answer is “No.”

There are people who have enough education to know that we all have inherent biases, or have picked up that information along the way because they are bright. They know that philosophers disagree, and attitudes about art and literature vary widely. They may have even been following all the interesting brain studies about emotional reactions and automatic responses, or the thoughtful essays about differing word choices among conservatives and liberals. They understand that double-standards are real, but the accusations about them get out of hand.

Or do they? They act no better.  On my FB feed, they are notably worse.  There is almost certainly an element of  selection bias on my part in this – people who are sometimes interesting and informative stay on my feed, while people who don’t bring such things even on their best days get unfollowed quickly. Still, it’s worth noting that such people exist, bright, sociable, witty bigots.  Lots of them. They will filter things by style, because they are generally deeply aware of what is socially acceptable.  But content, not so much. Double standards and accusations of double standards are excellent evidence that this is all quite tribal, not logical, and the escalation when resources and prestige are on the line makes this even more obvious. 

There is an additional piece that I picked up from the book Mistakes Were Made. Tavris and Aronson use 19th C obstetricians as an example of refusing to see the obvious because of the psychological expense. Once Ignaz Semmelweis proposed and gave evidence for the idea that hand-washing between infant deliveries reduced mortality, one would think that physicians would jump on the idea. Simple intervention, big results. Were they not compassionate men, concerned for the safety and well-being of their patients? In general, yes. Other advances they accepted willingly and sought out new information.  But in the case or puerperal fever, accepting the idea that hand-washing was necessary meant also accepting the idea that they had killed some of their previous patients. They had not merely been present at tragedy and regrettably helpless, which doctors know is their lot when they sign on to that job.  They had caused some deaths directly, which is harder to swallow.  So they instead denied that Semmelweis was correct, refusing to accept his theory.

Something similar happens in the giving and receiving of political insult. When I challenge a statement as insulting or an unfair accusation I encounter resistance.  That is hardly surprising, as none of us likes to be called out, and there is some loss of face involved. Yet I have always thought the resistance disproportionate. If the suggestion is delivered gently and politely, then it is not noticed and falls beneath the waves. But if I ratchet up to the threshold where my challenge must be dealt with, people are very much insulted, thinking themselves ill-used when they meant no harm. You have seen this at work or in families as well – the person who reports a problem is suddenly defined as the real problem.

No middle ground for most people.  There is a phase-change at the threshold. They either refuse to notice or get more annoyed than you’d think.  It is because it is not just about doing better moving forward, it is about admitting what has happened in the past. That was just my normal way of talking…that’s just how my friends and I talk about other people all the time… that’s not really calling people names… If that is offensive then I have been offending people for years.

Therefore, it can’t be offensive.  They deserved it…  They’re oversensitive… This country is in crisis and people have to take a stand… I’m just trying to point out a very real danger… It’s very hard for nice people to admit that they’re not nice, and it’s not an accident.

That New Study In The News

The new study out of Yale showing bias in preschool teachers, widely reported at showing evidence of racism among both the white and black teachers. Hmm.

The children were actors.
The teachers were told to look for challenging behaviors.
There were no actual challenging behaviors. (See “actors,” above.)
The teachers kept their eye on black boys 42% of the time, white boys 34% of the time, white girls 14%, black girls 10%. So black/white 52/48, male/female 76/24.
The bias was not exactly the same among white and black teachers or male and female teachers, but there were strong similarities.  That is, the black teachers also kept a closer eye on the black boys, and everyone kept much more attention on males rather than females.

I submit that this is not a measurement of anything, and it is embarrassing to think that one of the world’s great universities has people who think this was not only potentially useful, but some real result when it was finished.  It is further embarrassing  that this became a big story in the major news outlets – Christian Science Monitor, Washington Post, NPR – as a measure of “implicit bias,” with the focus on racism, not sexism.  I submit that if actor-studies with no actual challenging behaviors measure anything, they’re going to differentiate between people who have actually worked with preschool children versus those who think they know better.

I'll bet it's replicable, which is no small thing in psychology these days as many cherished notions are going up in flames. But it's still useless.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Freedom to Move

As the Volokh article about the mobility of the poor (and internally linked article) points out, there are types of benefits - Section 8 housing comes to mind - that can keep you locked into collapsing Detroit when there might be jobs in another area.  Those people don't have full time jobs anyway, you tell me, so it doesn't really matter?  Yeah but their kids are going to need jobs, and there are jobs in North Dakota or San Antonio, which they can't access.  When they turn 18 they can strike out on their own and hope for the best, but that is another level of risk that children in nicer places don't have to endure.

As the only proffered solution was the centralisation of welfare benefits - oh gee, what could ever go wrong with that? - I don't have anything quick to suggest.  But while solving this problem would only solve a portion of poverty issues, it is a portion that could be lasting.  People get jobs, stumble along a little better just like the rest of us, starting a virtuous cycle for their own children - there's just that much less to fix.

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

Predictions

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.