Friday, September 29, 2006

Very Incorrect

For those who like their commentary politically incorrect, from a center left perspective, I recommend The Hatemonger's Quarterly. Note particularly their "Best Of" section on the right sidebar.

National Geographic Reverts to Form

I used to love National Geographic. I'm a maps guy, a landscape guy, a people-from- different-cultures guy. I was always less interested in the exotic animals, but that was okay also. Exploring under the sea. Exploring the North Pole. Exploring caves. Microscopic organisms. Outer space. What'w not to like?

Gaia-worship, for one. I got tired of forests that were "like cathedrals." So, even though we have continued to receive the magazine, I have merely browsed most issues for a decade now. October 2006 is about "Places We Must Save." On the cover there are smaller article headlines: "America's Threatened Sanctuaries." "Paris: Space For The Soul." Nervousness on the part of the Assistant Village Idiot. But, sanctuary has a legitimate alternate meaning, related to safety, escape, asylum. And soul is pretty generic at this point, and the quasi-religious flavor of it is certainly not confined to National Geographic.

Table of Contents, no less. "Hallowed Ground." Meaning, um, parks. On to the article on page 42. First sentence includes "sanctified." I think sanctimonious might be closer. I'm done for now. Let's see what else is going on. The guy they interview is torqued off at the Bush Administration. What is it this time? Forget it. I don't think I mind that the Gospel of Gaia Lite has its own magazine. Why not? I think it that they don't know how religiously embedded they are in their views.

Actually, Gaia-worship isn't quite right. It's more of a pantheism. CS Lewis noted that historically, pantheism is the default religious position, the place that every culture goes when it's giving up its old beliefs. So why does that seem like such an advanced, enlightened view now?

Oh look, the Letters To The Editors has the comments on the soccer issue a few months ago. I like soccer. This should be mildly interesting.

I quote the letter of Steve Muench of Livingston, NJ in full.
I applaud your essays on the world's only true game. Yet you failed to examine the bigger picture of soccer's impact on sporting diplomacy. It was in 1999 that the United Nations recognized the power of soccer by locking arms with FIFA and subsequently dedicating the World Cup in Korea and Japan to children. That partnership has grown stronger ever since and reached a pinnacle in January this year when Secretary-General Kofi Annan visited FIFA's Zurich headquarters and signaled the UN's intent to strengthen a strategic partnership with the sporting world.

Well, golly. The UN locked arms with FIFA and, and dedicated the World Cup to children. Wow. I'll bet that really, like, helps. Especially those children in North Korea. What a relief it must have been to parents all over the world that someone was finally going to take notice. And to top it off, Kofi goes to the wilds of Switzerland and visited FIFA's headquarters. That is a pinnacle, eh? The UN, strengthening a strategic partnership with the sporting world. Just by visiting. I feel so much better.

No, not really. Right now I'm wishing I'd stopped to buy scotch on the way home.

The Voice of Saruman

I caught Joe Biden on Imus this morning. I didn’t know it was he at first, but listening to his arguments, I had that Joe Biden feeling: Gee, this guy is really hitting the president with good arguments. I’m not sure I’ve got a snap answer to that point – I didn’t know that background. Then, just by chance, he wandered into an area that I happened to be reading about last night. And he was wrong on the facts. Wrong in such a way that he either completely misunderstood the document in question, or had read only excerpts. The speaker was earnest. He was forceful. He made sweeping statements with complete assurance. Hmm, I wonder if it’s Biden. I may have recognised the voice better than I thought.

I usually don’t catch him up until later, when I read someone who knows more of the facts. Biden was once angry at John Ashcroft, for example, and making an impassioned statement about how American treatment of prisoners should be one way and not another. I don’t remember the specifics of what was being debated. I think I was originally more on Biden’s side of whatever it was, because I was pleased he was making such an eloquent case. I found it especially poignant when Joe related it back to his own family, noting that he didn’t want his son, who was serving in the military, to end up being mistreated as a prisoner because of what John Ashcroft forced on the country. I thought that was a fair point.

So I was pretty angry at Biden when I read the facts: Biden’s son is a stateside military attorney. Ashcroft’s son was in Iraq at the time.

I don’t want to be misunderstood here. Just because young Ashcroft was in Iraq doesn’t give old Ashcroft much extra moral standing on his views. Just because young Biden is working stateside doesn’t mean that old Biden can’t be correct on the merits. But if you are Joe Biden, knowing that your son is never going to be captured for anything, where do you get off with this moral outrage at someone whose son actually is in danger? How can you make those “My. (deep breath) Son…” clutch-the-breast statements without throwing up at your own deceitfulness?

Thus, I was primed when Biden – I was now 90% sure it was Biden I was hearing on Imus – went on to his main point of the morning and stated that the NIE report completely contradicted everything Bush has been saying, and vindicated what Biden has been “saying every day for years.” Read carefully here: Not the three leaked sentences that came out earlier – Biden was talking about the three page report. Joe Biden may be correct on his assessment of Iraq and George Bush may be wrong. But the document says what it says, and Biden’s claim is just false. Yet Joe spoke with passion and earnestness, his sincerity of how deeply he cares about what happens to America oozing out of every pore.

When I read Gandalf’s interview with Saruman at Orthanc, I accept as a convention of the story that Saruman is persuasive and can daunt lesser minds. But following the conversation, I mentally wonder how Theoden’s soldiers and even Theoden can be fooled by that crap. It seems unrealistic that even a child couldn’t see through Saruman's words. Well, we have a considerable advantage, of course, because the author tells us frequently that Saruman is lying, and we have seen the destructiveness of his actions. The old wizard doesn’t seem plausible to us – we are well-defended in advance.

I believe Joe Biden when I am listening to him. There is something about him that carries such a weight of sincerity that the power of his voice pulls me in. He has the trick of sincerity.

The claim is often made that Bill Clinton is an excellent liar. How can you be an excellent liar when even your supporters know it? Even the most die-hard Friends of Bill defend him because they believe he gets the essential truth correct, and only lies to get himself out of traps that others set for him. But everyone knows he lies. I once compared Clinton’s plausibility to Saruman’s, but perhaps that only fits the later Saruman, not the wizard at his peak.

Joe Biden knows that very few people are ever going to check the statement of his son’s military duties and compare it to John Ashcroft’s son. It’s a small point in the debate, and if challenged he can always say he meant everyone’s sons, including Ashcroft’s, removing the statemnt from context. I heard it in context. He didn’t mean anything remotely like that. In the debate that is swarming around the NIE documents released, the cautious wording of the report gives props to W. That report may be wrong. It may be politically shaded to tell the president what he wants to hear. It may be stupid. But it says what it says, not its opposite. Joe Biden knows that most people aren’t going to read it, and will only be able to hold the earlier-leaked “we’re creating more terrorists” thought in their heads.

Is he running for president again?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Transylvania Roundup

I haven't done a Transylvania Roundup for months. I will first redirect your attention to the commentary over at Brussels Journal, as cited previously. The situation in Hungary is calming down, but people are still unhappy. The socialist government's admission that it had been lying to get elected has infuriated people. The admission, however, was quite clear that the party was lying because that is what people wanted to hear. It is a continuing problem in Europe that people resent having their little security taken away, even if there is promise of more prosperity for all. If things seems contemptible to you, watch how fiercely Americans will fight to keep mortgage deductions, if we ever move to a flat tax. More on the uprising at Tech Central Station.

Romania and Bulgaria will be joining the EU in 2007, though it will be conditional. I have mixed feelings about this. John-Adrian is quite convinced, from the comments he gets from his old friends back in Romania, that this will be a huge positive. The emphasis on removing corruption will certainly be welcome. The influx of Euros seems more mixed to me. Such largesse, when given unwisely, tends to freeze unproductive industries and methods in place. Western Europe is not so keen on encouraging the creative destruction necessary to grow an economy. Publius Pundit has wise commentary, though I have had trouble bringing up the link tonight.

The Transylvania Motorway, also called the Bors - Brasov motorway, is currently the largest road project in Europe; it will connect the Hungarian / Romanian border with Oradea, Zalau, Cluj-Napoca, Targu Mures, Sighisoara and Brasov. For those of you not looking at a map, that is directly across Transylvania, which is the NW portion of Romania. The Oradea - Zalau section is near where my boys are from, and when the whole highway is built, will be an economic boon to an area of depressed villages. A small section near Cluj is nearing completion.

The Dacia Logan Break was unveiled at the Paris car show. (Photos included). The new Dacias are being designed to be exported into developing economies, such as India and China. South Africa and other African nations are apparently interested in this inexpensive ($8,000) car.

The news from Ukraine is only of historical interest this time around. The Baba Yar Massacre during the Holocaust was recently commemorated.

Desperately Seeking a Clue

Here we go again with the gas prices. The worldwide price of oil per barrel is coming down. So for that to be manipulated by the oil companies, there would have to be thousands of people at hundreds of companies in on the plan. Including, for example, Ahamdinejad, Hugo Chavez, the Saudis, Gazprom... yeah, they all want a Republican majority really badly.

I can’t think of a better way to shout “Hey! I have no clue how the economy works! It’s all a mystery so I just make simple guesses that I can understand!”

In related news, my uncle sent me an IQ hoax that’s been circulating. He apparently thought it was legit, and he should know better. He’s a Mensa member out in NoCal, and should have some intuitive sense of what the numbers mean, even if he doesn’t pursue psychometrics with any vigor. He sent me the supposed study by the Lowenstein Institute of Scranton, PA that estimates the IQ’s of presidents since 1973.

Without even knowing whether the Lowenstein Institute is biased, or sloppy, or even exists, this is the sort of hoax that people shouldn’t be falling for. The supposed IQ’s of our recent presidents were 182, 176, 174, 155, 147, 132, 126, 122, 121, 105, 98, and 91. I won’t tell you what numbers are assigned to whom, even for fun. Because it doesn’t matter; those numbers are a dead giveaway, another one of those signs people wear that say “I have no idea what a standard deviation is! I have no clue how IQ is measured or what it means!”

There was a similar urban legend that came out after the last election that supposedly showed the average IQ’s of the various states – the objective being to point out what idiots the Red States are, of course. I think Conneticut was at the tope with 115, Utah at the bottom with 85. This is just nuts. 15 points is a full standard deviation, and whole states are not an SD above or below the national average (and Mormon-heavy Utah isn’t likely to be the lowest in any event). You might, if you worked very hard, be able to find a small town dominated by a presitigious college where the average IQ is one SD above average. You will not find an entire county, let alone a state, that far above (or below) average.

I will use a related post to discuss how meaningful a bell curve is in discussing intelligence, and the difficulties of measurement, but for openers you need to bear this in mind. Any claim of an IQ over 140 should be viewed with suspicion, not because such people don’t exist, but because what it means is uncertain. 1 in a hundred people have an IQ of 141 or better, so all of us know a few. If you work in certain specialized fields, you might know many people above the 141 level. But the one-in-a-million level kicks in at around 176, so there’s only 300 of those in the country (theoretically). And remember, of that 300, about a third of them haven’t finished school yet. So 182 is just ludicrous, especially when you throw a 176 and 174 in next to it.

As with the belief that people are manipulating the price of oil, the belief in these statistical enormities about IQ says much more about the intelligence – and the insecurity – of the person who believes it.

You can make intentionally selected small groups that have high average IQ's. This is one. I have only about 30 hits a day, and I know a few people at the site have stratospheric IQ's. I doubt many here are below 120. So this group might average over 132 (2SD, 98th percentile). Gee, I wish we did more than fool around here.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Changes in Europe

The rioting continues in Hungary over the admission by the Socialist PM to a meeting of deputies that they had been lying to the electorate for 17 years in order to get elected. As I read more closely, I found that Mr. Gyurcsany was not the contemptible bastard I thought he was. When interviewed by the BBC about the matter, he elaborated:

“I was speaking about the whole elite. We repeated and repeated that you can be richer, fulfil your dreams, and we can give you happiness and fortune as a gift. This is a real lie. For the last 15 years, none of us were brave enough to initiate deep reform. We wanted to avoid painful measures and always found excuses not to act. That’s the real lie.”

Even if he's just covering tracks, what he says is important. The meaning of the changes in attitude in Eastern Europe, and its implications for Europe as a whole, in discussed in Brussels Journal, and always-interesting site for commentary on European events.

It seems amazing to me to think of riots in Budapest, with people torching cars. I think of it as a peaceful place, with excellent food and architecture. Having written that, even knowing what the 1,000-year history of Hungary is, shows me how easy it is to let temporary, personal events overshadow political reality.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Kofi Spills

The farewell adress by Kofi Annan had an eerie familiarity to it. It is the speech that every supervisor makes when they have completely ruined a department, a business, a church, or an organization. They retire or are put out to pasture (or move on to ruin someplace else), and the farewell is always the same. They cheerfully note successes in specific, even if they are about trivial items. We worked very hard on the Hamster Redefinition Best Practice Guidelines. I thought the conference went very well... The failures are alluded to in the vaguest terms. Kofi's image was of stones that had been rolled to the top of a mountain, but had fallen back down again. The massive corruption at the United Governments was not a result of things just happening to go wrong because the job of world peace is so hard.

But most saliently, these departing failures stress how they still believe in the ideals they started with, oh those many years ago when they were young and inexperienced. They state this as a point of great pride, as if their refusal to see with clarity regardless of the deterioration around them were evidence of the noble quality of not having compromised their ideals. Compromising to the point of abandonment all your actual morality, while holding the fantasy vision of what life should be, is seen as a good thing?

A department head retired 5-10 years ago. He left the department in two warring camps. Things had receded from open hostilities only because the second-in-command, who had been for years impatiently pointing out the obvious, had left in frustration a few months before. The obvious was that four people in one of the factions were destroying the work of everyone else. One was dishonest, one was useless, one was insane, and one was dishonest, useless, and insane. The refusal to acknowledge this made all discussions about department goals, all day-away retreats, all imported speakers to help us heal, completely useless. At his retirement, he spoke with great feeling about the original ideals that brought him into social work, and how he still believed them.

The second-in-command who left is likely still quite liberal in her politics, and would be appalled to be compared to George Bush. But I think the association is apt. Bush goes to the UN and says out loud what everyone knows but no one will admit. For this he is treated as if he is the problem. This often happens to the person who has the gall to point out the problem no one wants to see. The crowd does not really laugh when it is revealed that the emperor has no clothes. What they really do is kill the little boy who said it out loud.

Adult Sunday School

Adult classes nearly always sparks off something to post on. Today we had a woman ask the same question she asks every year, but doesn't like the answer. (The instructor contradicted me on this. She thinks a variant of the question is asked every time the woman attends. And they think I'm a hard guy.)

The class responded as nice people usually do. One by one, people would throw the pitch again, a little slower each time. We finished by tossing it underhand from close in. To a very intelligent person. I usually conclude at this point that something hidden is going on, preventing understanding. Sometimes I can guess what that is, though not in this case.

I am torn as to what Christians are supposed to do in these cases. My inclination is to do with adults what I did with my children: keep increasing the intellectual speed until they can hit the high, hard one. I haven't had to pitch it underhand to my two older sons since middle school, and even my two from Romania, with all their traumas and only being here five years, can handle batting practice pitching.

But this is less successful with adults. Years ago in another class, this woman - a lovely, gentle soul in many ways - used the phrase "I don't mean to criticise the Christian commitment of anyone here, but..." and I interrupted with "Sure you do. That's why you made your last three comments."

That went over like a skunk at a lawn party, as you can well imagine. So I'm pretty sure playing hardball isn't the answer. Nor, it seems, is playing T-ball, which is what everyone else tries. We've been socratic, encouraging, and five other things. I don't know what's best.

A Little Sanity Is a Dangerous Thing

People who work in psychology encounter with unfortunate frequency a particularly frustrating lack of insight. A patient who is partially treated becomes well enough to recognise his symptoms, which were opaque to him previously. To the dismay of those providing treatment, however, he attributes those symptoms to the treatment (usually medicine) rather than the illness. "The medication makes me wake up early and not be able to get back to sleep." No, you are sleeping six fitful hours at night now. You were sleeping only 1-2 hours a night before. "I'm irritable because of the medication you're giving me." No, you were screaming at everyone when you were off medicine. You just don't remember that now.

In a treatment situation, the phenomenon appears in high relief. Yet in subtler forms, it occurs in those without a definable mental illness. Perhaps it occurs in all of us. These partial insights allow us to keep our old pathologies intact. They are, if anything, even more impervious to reason.

The psychbloggers, which make up over half of my siderbar links, tend to be center/right/libertarian in political leaning, and we frequently compare the group defense-mechanisms of the left to those we see in individuals. This is an exercise which necessarily overgeneralises and would be difficult to test. Nonetheless, the technique seems to be proving itself out not just with explanatory power, but with predictive power.

I will venture a touch here: the GWOT has revealed to people that they are in some danger. It is usually not a daily or direct danger, but it could be reasonably said to affect all of us. Parts of the left, and not only the hard left, have concluded that Bush and the neo-cons are the danger. I don't mean those folks who believe that our current policies increase our danger - which I think is wrong on balance but is at least not psychotic - but the wide array of leftists who believe we are descending into fascism, or the Twin Towers conspiracy theorists, or the War For Oil/Halliburton/Imperialism groups.

That thinking also colors their economic thinking: I'm poor because he's rich, and all it's derivative ideas.

If I work on it, I'm sure I'll think of one that conservatives do. It's just not coming to me at the moment.

Passing It Along

A regular reader of this blog covets my 30 hits/day and asked me to link to a recent posting of his. I didn't even know that Matt Andrade, known in the comments here as Jerub-baal, even had a blog of his own. Apparently his frustration with the whole "contradictions in the Bible" trope boiled over, and he notes with some asperity that the contradictions in Islam seem greater but unmentioned, which is in itself a contradiction in the secularist's POV. Oh no. Not that.

I have actually meant to link to Jerub-baal's artwork for some time now, and this seemed a good excuse to do it. I have placed his site in the sidebar at right, along with another site of fascinating visuals. Jerub-baal's Studio has the added bonus of linking further on to other art and artist's sites; it's always nice when someone else does the research for you, eh?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

An Unusual Image

One of my intellectually limited patients informed us this morning that her mother had “done a complete 240” about whether she could live with her. We called mom, and amazingly, it’s true. What Mom now says is not the opposite of what she said before, but the opposite plus unexplainable weirdness. A complete 240.

Carol Shea-Porter: Predictions

I caught all of 8.3 seconds of Carol Shea-Porter, who is running against Jeb Bradley for Congress here in NH. I was immediately scrambling for the radio buttons. That voice. It has the strident tone of a Rosie O’Donnell or Cindy Sheehan, though I don’t doubt Ms. Shea-Porter is more intelligent than both O’Donnell and Sheehan. “He started going negative less than 12 hours after…” Yes Carol, I remember his statement. He criticised your ideas. That’s called campaigning. It’s perfectly normal. “Maybe he feels threatened…” Oh no, not that crap. Not the pop psychology about whether the opponent “feels” something or not. Are we going to go through all that Arne Arneson condescension again? Shoot me now. “I want to have a debate a week…” No, Carol, you really don’t. One debate will get all the people who agree with you energised, because your shrill irritation will resonate with them. But the second time people hear you they’re going to be less excited. Your only hope for debates will be if no one goes and the Concord Monitor reports you favorably, especially if they can work it into the headline. “Shea-Porter Slams Bradley Record On Iraq,” and they call you feisty or something. Get ready for the standard complaints that people don’t want to hear her message, but-she’s-not-going-away, someone-has-to-stand up…Ouch. The “afraid of strong women” gambit may arise as well.

Actually, it’s pretty likely that the Concord Monitor will do that anyway. I have multiple posts over the last year of really trying to get beyond the liberal stereotype and take each writer or candidate individually. But the Democrats seem determined to keep sending caricatures my way. Stay tuned. We'll see if she follows form

Sunday, September 17, 2006

There Is No System

The visiting preacher from the denomination’s seminary came today, and led the adult study class in addition to giving the sermon. She mentioned expanding how we look at our faith in action - I’m all for that – and went on to mention, very briefly, about looking at systems, and changing the system, and seeing how we fit into the system. That concerns me. Looking for systemic answers forces the thinker into seeing only certain types of answers. Specifically, it creates answers that look like they should work but don't. The example she gave was an excellent example of how I believe systemic thinking can go wrong. She noted an area of Mississippi where 30-40% of the population is black, but 80% of the prisoners are, and how we needed to look at a system which created that result. But the prison population is not a black/white divide; it’s a father/no father divide. Nationally, at least, when you correct for absent fathers, you find no difference in the incarceration rates of blacks and whites.

So contemplating that “system” and how it got there, and what our place in it should be, or what we should do, will get us precisely nowhere. We will pour our energy into a problem that doesn’t exist and neglect the one that does.

In America, there is no system. That's the American system. That's a gross oversimplification, and I could make a more accurate statement by going on about how there are many systems, all of them complex and interrelated, yada, yada, ya. But taking that approach only encourages people to stick with the same sort of approaches and answers. For purpose of rethinking, it is better to start from the radical statement: there is no system.

In seminaries, the people who intuitively understand the academic system and the church system attempt to help the unfortunate by changing systems about which they know little: business, government, economics, popular culture, etc. If that seems a harsh assessment, it is. Systems are more likely to be understood intuitively. Thus, there are business books and church growth books by people who have done very well at those things, and they all say something different. They can analyze parts of what's happening but mistake it for the whole. (And good heavens, what conclusion could academics in Chicago come to except that it’s "a systemic issue?")

People studying a system from the outside can learn a great many useful things, even correct things. But somehow, it doesn't add up to making changes that do any good.

Examples: you made an oblique reference to coffee growing in Central America. If we analyze that system carefully, we can note what other crops could be grown instead, or look at the distribution of money from American and Europe into those economies and who benefits. And we will learn enough to make any coffee-drinker a little queasy, wishing she could do something different that would be more helpful. So we come up with the idea of Fair Trade, and certifying it and everything. In doing so, we reward a random group of people in Central America who do things in a way we think should work better, and sell via cooperatives. But the cooperatives are as likely to be corrupt as the previous system, so we end by doing nothing but rewarding a different group of corrupt people. That's what you get when you look for systemic solutions.

Example two: Both before and after the revolution in Romania, people tried to get telephone access for poor people. Ceausescu closed down a lot of villages and moved people to the cities, hoping to get a manufacturing base and get people closer to electricity, phones, etc. At the same time, there were intermittent efforts to string wire on poles deeper and deeper into some rural areas. Neither approach fixed very much. But cell phones did. Cell phones did not destroy the old system, but exploited features of it. That sort of spontaneous creation of structure and destruction of structure is what actually moves things forward. And thus far, Americans do it best, for a variety of reasons - many accidental. That is changing, but is still true.

People don't change unless they have to, and systems don't change unless they have to. Rather than changing a system, it's usually better to blow out a door or a window. The Civil Rights Movement did not succeed because it modified the system. It succeeded by exploiting parts of the system - legal precedent and common values - and pressing the contradictions until something new happened. They neither destroyed nor accepted the old system.

We get taught very young to look at an illusion called The American System. We have highschool civics or history books which compare socialist systems, communist systems, autocracies, mercantilism, and then our own, the capitalist system. But capitalism is just one way to harness the free market, and the free market isn't a system at all. The free market is a constant stream of structures made and destroyed. That is both its strength and its weakness, and that's fertile ground for many discussions, but the key point to notice is that it's not a system at all. If people study it as if it is a system, they will be bound to see it that way. And as above, they will keep mistaking parts for the whole.

The Zen koan "The Tao that can be described is not the real Tao," applies here. The system that can be described is not the real system. Better to start from the idea that there is no system at all.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

How I Will Win At Field Of Dreams Fantasy Baseball

Right up front, I’ve got to acknowledge I’m not going to beat Bill James at this, unless he decides to get too clever by half and pick guys that he believes are perpetually underrated but “just as good.” I doubt he’s going to do that.

But for the rest of you schmoes, I don’t need to pick first, or even near the top. However you want to design this imaginary all-time league – 8 teams, 16 teams, 28 teams; 5 years of play, 10 years, or 20; 15 players or 25 per team – doesn’t matter. The only requirement is that everyone has to draft without any reference materials nearby.

In the 12th spot, or wherever I’m drafting, I’m going to pick Josh Gibson. Someone has to catch, and I’ve got outfield guys I can draft all night. All the other fantasy managers at the table will groan and bang their heads, realizing that they forgot to take the Negro Leagues into consideration. Some will adjust and draft Satchel Paige, or Buck Leonard, or maybe Cool Papa Bell, but then the well runs dry.

The strategy works because it exploits two ideas at once. Not only does it draw on Negro League players – which I can keep coming up with and you can’t – but it notices that there are a very few positions where the talent doesn’t run that deep. The 20th best first baseman isn’t far behind the first best. But the 20th best catcher, or shortstop, or second baseman, is a big dropoff in talent from the first few. Third base and CF have middling depth. I can come back to them later. I won’t get Willie Mays or Junior Griffey – those are the guys you folks sitting at the bar with dumb looks on your faces are going to pick. You won’t realize your mistake until you have to pick a catcher or a second baseman in the 7th round, and you’re hoping that Tony Pena was actually a good catcher and not just someone whose name you remember. Or that Jeff Kent will have a coupla good seasons for you in the Iowa cornfields.

But I’ve still got Monte Irvin hidden in my back pocket, or if someone’s that good and remembers Irvin first, I’ll take Pete Hill. Similarly, Edd Roush or Hugh Duffy are never going to occur to you. If I get driven to having to take them late in the draft, I’ve still got a fine centerfielder. And you’ve got Eddie Bressoud at shortstop because you had his baseball card.

If one of you other wiseguys comes armed with the same idea to this draft, and takes Josh Gibson or Smokey Joe Williams before I get him, I’m still good. Because I’m taking Martin Dihigo, who pitched and played every position except catcher – and played them well. So I can slot Martin in anywhere I need to, as sort of a wild card. I’ll take my chances drafting against the other few guys who were smart enough to remember black baseball. At least I’ll know I’m with my guys, there. We’ll have a great time laughing when you pick Carlos Baerga.

So, do I want Hilton Smith or Kid Nichols as my 4th starter? Heck, I can probably get both. Or I can pick Leon Day and get a backup 2B and middle reliever who is better than your regular 2B and 3rd starter.

This will be a no-steroids league, so don’t hope that Bonds is going to bail you out.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Where the Religious Right Drives Me Nuts

I am the Religious Right, to paraphrase the old NRA ads, but I sometimes try to sit at the far end of the table. As I've been picking on liberals lately, I figure I should be at least as even-handed as I am able.

I don't follow all that Left Behind stuff that much. I did that in my Jesus Freak days of the 70's, with all the early Hal Lindsey books. Are we in the last days? Could be. For my purposes, it doesn't matter. CS Lewis's "The World's Last Night" captures quite vividly that it's not all about me. We think that God would want to finish every story He starts, but it remains true that the Last Day will also be somebody's wedding day, or someone's day of birth, or graduation, or starting a new job, or being right on the verge of a great discovery. Once you absorb that, the idea of the nice coherent narrative we expect of events pretty much evaporates. And anyway, there's work to be done. Someone will be putting in a load of laundry (or whatever the future equivalent is) when the call comes.

As a consequence, I follow the news in the Middle East strictly from a fair/not fair standpoint. How Hezbollah or Iran might be setting up Armageddon is too much of a stretch to worry about. I really don't care if the EU has a pagan goddess on its seal. I admit I do get a little queasy about implanting chips in the forehead or wrist, though. I hope I'm not missing something there.

I vote pro-life, but I'm less doctrinnaire than others. I could get talked into defining the beginning of life at brain waves, or heartbeat (that's 5-6 weeks, BTW). I like the bright line that Catholics and fundamentalists draw, but I recognise that for me, at least, the attraction is somewhat aesthetic. As a consequence, stem cell and Plan B issues don't grab me as much. If I were a congressperson, I would vote against, mostly because I believe that opening the door can have unintended consequences. But I wouldn't be one of the big speechmakers on this.

Fundamentalist Christians in general tend to wander off into some strange areas, and I'll acknowledge that you sometimes can't reason with people who believe in textus receptus and the KJV only, or that 12-Step programs are of the devil. Just for the record, while I'm pretty sure they vote conservatively, I doubt they're the white-hot core of Republicanism the liberals think they are. There are too many wild cards in that group - people who think that the Bushes are hereditary Illuminati or are still torqued off about legislation passed in the 1980's.

I care little about gay marriage either way. I would vote against because of a Burkean conservatism that resists overthrowing collective wisdom, but other than that, I would prefer to put my energy elsewhere. I think it's a terrible idea, when I think about it at all, which is never.

On Parents Getting Smart

Mark Twain is erroneously credited with a quote that at 14 his "father was so ignorant I could scarcely stand to have him around. When I was 21 I was amazed at how much the old man had learned in seven years." That's true as far as it goes, but it leaves out what happens later.

I have often used a similar quote: "Don't criticise your parents until your own children are grown." There is more in that than the mere cynicism of "walk a mile in my moccasins," and "don't be a smartass," which is how we usually interpret these thoughts.

My children are grown now, two out of four in adulthood with the other two darn close. I was quite critical of my parents when I was younger, more often behind their backs than to their faces. The issue was complicated by having 3 fathers: a biological father who my mother divorced in 1959, her boyfriend from 1961-1965, and my stepfather who she married in 1966. I had contact with my bio dad after I turned 18 and continued it until he died a few years ago. My mother died in 2000, my stepfather remains alive and has insisted we no longer contact him.

From about 25 to 45, I gradually and grudgingly increased my admiration for all my parents, much as pseudoTwain suggested. At about that point I thought I had made peace with who they were and who I was, the good and the bad, and had few open resentments (though certain things would still easily irk me). But since that time, the pendulum has switched back some. Adopting two teenage boys, which echoed the blending of my own family when I was 13 and my brother 10, I came to see clearly exactly what should be expected of you when you are the adult in a difficult situation with a child.

I decided that not only my stepfather, but my mother, did not meet their responsibilities. I have less energy about this than I did in my teens and twenties, and what I assign blame for is different, though there is considerable overlap. I don't often think about it (is once/month often?). I don't see anything about the situation which requires intervention or fixing. It just is.

Perhaps there is another sea-change yet to come, and in 10 or 20 years I will give them higher marks again. I am 53. Right now I give them a mixed report, with a few failing grades amongst the good ones.

Visiting Liberals Again

I visited over at Marc Cooper’s blog after reading that he is a friend of GM Roper, who is on my regular wheel of blogs to read. Marc is a contributing editor at The Nation, a liberal news and social commentary magazine that has been a major playor for decades. I threw in comments on several threads – but I doubt I’ll be back to visit much.

I keep hoping to stumble upon a liberal blog where issues are discussed without rancor or snark, and are more interesting than the simple repetition of campaignish talking points. There must be some.

The common premise, of blogger and especially commenters, seems to be that the Bush Administration predicted and has continued to maintain that the GWOT would go well, even rosily. Anger at that seems to take up all the oxygen. I think that is answerable, but more importantly, that’s a separate issue from the question of how well things are going.

The appearance there is that what Bush says about the GWOT is more important than the GWOT itself. That’s the stereotypical accusation that the right makes of the left, that it cares more about getting Bush than about how America is doing, and I wonder that they would hand me that stereotype so readily. And they do. To me, what the administration says has always been of secondary importance. Each public statement has many audiences, and what each of us would like to hear for our own questions may not be the point of every statement.

Look, reverse the situation. Whether John Kerry or Marc Cooper or Frank Rich ever admits that they’re wrong is of little interest to me. When we intervened in Bosnia, I gave no thought to whether Bill Clinton was ever going to say “We shoulda gone later; we shoulda gone earlier; we had too many cooks; we shoulda started with more elephants” or whatever. That sort of analysis comes much later. I wanted to know whether we were gaining or losing ground military and diplomatically from each piece of the strategy.

I didn’t mention it there, believing that what I did write would be confrontive enough, but there’s projection leaking out everywhere. Because their only goal is to trash Bush, they believe that mine must be to defend him. Whatever else I’ve written is seen through that prism. If I say something mildly positive, then I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid and have a dozen unrelated views attributed to me. If I write something mildly negative, there is this immediate assumption that conservatives are finally admitting what a terrible president he’s been.

It is responses like this that keep giving me evidence that for many liberals, there is this enormous importance that their world-view be consistently resupported. There seems this constant wriggling on the hook, with enormous energy invested in what should be simple disagreements. Something more is at stake for them.

In fairness, I did have a pleasant back-and-forth disagreement with one commenter there. Maybe I should specifically invite him over.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Sending A Message

I catch about 2-5 minutes of Sean Hannity every day on the way home - something about his voice gets to me quickly, I think. Hannity gets a lot of calls from disaffected conservatives, and I'm glad they feel they have someplace to go.

They talk a lot about sending a message to Republicans in November, particularly around the immigration and spending issues. I understand that, but have a bit of advice. And this advice works just as well for Democrats: sending a message only works in the primaries. It's what the primaries are for, but no one thinks they're quite as much fun. If you send a message to your party in November by staying home, the party won't understand what it is you meant. Were we too angry? Not angry enough? Too liberal? Too conservative? Did they stay home because of the economy or the war? Or maybe spending and immigration? WTF?

And one more message to disaffected Republicans, too. Just because you're tired doesn't mean the job is finished.

Why Sportswriters Should Be Given The Newsroom

1. They are more interesting and vivid writers.

2. They actually have to know something about the subject to get paid.

3. They are used to dealing with real jerks and evaluating them objectively anyway.

4. They know the difference between having a perspective and having a bias. They know when they are rooting for a favorite team or favorite player, are upfront about that, and consciously take it into consideration.
Example: Scoop Jackson at ESPN writes from a black perspective, but not through a race prism. He's interested in any racial angle, and he's willing to give a brother a break. But if someone is just being an ass, he won't spare him.

5. They admit when they're wrong. Sports is humbling, and a sportswriter has to frequently eat his words. They learn to do that and move on. Stand up guys.

6. They know that their job is to tell the story clearly, not "make a difference."

7. They usually have a sense of history beyond their own teenage years.

Please feel free to add to the list. I'd like to get it up to ten, because that's traditional.

A Mythology of Robbery

For those who were not of political age in the early 90’s, it is hard to conjure up for you the bright feeling that Democrats, especially Boomer Democrats, had at the election of Bill Clinton. Our Associate Pastor and a psychiatrist friend – both respectable citizens and fathers - drove down overnight and slept in the car, just to be present in Washington during the inauguration. People spread banners at workplaces reading “FINALLY!” Just before the election, an attorney friend had described to me (thinking I was still a Democrat) “We’ve been more popular for years. When people vote in their home districts, they vote for Democrats. It’s only been in the national elections that the Republicans have been able to mislead people. We’re finally getting over the last hurdle.” He then laughed and started singing We Shall Overcome.

An AP writer at the inauguration, distressed at the traditional jets flying over, reassured himself by remembering “Those are our planes now.” Think about that. Whose planes did he think they were before? But we all knew exactly what he meant. Boomer liberals felt vindicated, as if they had finally come into their rightful place. Feminists felt vindicated because Hillary was seen as a “co-president,” to use Bill’s phrase. It seemed a marker of women moving into places of power. Ms Magazine gushed over her frequently. The campaign strategy of alternately hiding her and using her was seen as a simple political necessity – just politics. Easily forgiven.

The enthusiasm was not entirely for Bill and Hillary per se. They were seen even by their supporters of the time as somewhat flawed representatives of the tribe. Yet even their weaknesses were seen as a more appropriate set of flaws: chuckling hypocrisy about drugs and sex, philosophical incoherence with good intentions. That they were opportunistic and relied on charm were only “what all politicians did.” The Clintons were “one of us,” the New Generation (the Now Generation), finally displacing all those evil old authority figures. And we all knew he was a liar, even then, but people thought his intentions were good. And he was from the right tribe.

Yes, even intelligent people older than 20 thought like this and talked like this. What we now call the mainstream media, so much more dominant then, was chockablock full of ‘em. This is the election of the famous Gallup poll that started examining the beliefs of the media itself, because it had become so obviously and thoroughly partisan. That poll revealed that 92% of the journalists covering the White House had voted for Clinton.

People would say openly at gatherings “Maybe this country is going to finally join the 20th Century now,” and “I feel such a relief at this.”

Contrary to the current mythology of the left, conservatives did not have this abiding hate for Clinton from the start. The idea that there were dark forces already at work to undermine his presidency is just crap. Rush Limbaugh had said several nice things about Clinton early on, and even when he was annoyed at his election, took pains to point out several good things that were likely to happen in a Clinton presidency. National Review was grudging in its praise, but had some, and reminded readers to give a duly-elected president a fair shot. There were indeed people who didn’t like Clinton, but not because he was seen as too liberal – Dukakis in ’88 was seen as farther left, and Jerry Brown, a major primary opponent was seen as much further left – but because they thought he was a weasel. Clinton ran as and was elected as a New Democrat: centrist, pragmatic rather than doctrinaire.

Much has been made in retrospect that a few wealthy conservatives, Richard Mellon Scaife, for example, gave money for people to investigate unsavory rumors about Bill, and contributed to organizations that were vowing to work against his policies. This has been somehow interpreted as dark, unamerican forces, undermining the democratic process. No, that is the democratic process. We hold leaders accountable and we advocate for our positions. It is seen as sinister only because that Children of Light/Children of Darkness framework was already in place among the Boomer Democrats. If someone were trying to unseat them from their Rightful Place, that was by definition not Rightful.

When the Republicans won a majority in Congress in 1994, liberals saw it not as a defeat, but a robbery. The natural order of progress had been upended, and the old authorities – Dad telling everyone that dope was bad and to keep their pants zipped – had somehow manipulated the voters through fear and anger. The numerous –gate scandals that the Clintons kept obliging us with were seen as no worse than what politicians, especially Republicans, always did. This sense that no matter what scandal came forward, it was just a put-up job by the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, animated all discussion from the left. Because they believed the right-wing was capable of such things, they believed they had simply not gotten caught. Actual verifiable events of dishonesty were seen as less important than the suspected events of the Clinton critics.

Conservatives believed that the level of corruption and dishonesty in the Clinton administration was something beyond politics as usual and grew increasingly angry at a media which pursued the scandals half-heartedly. When the Lewinsky scandal broke, conservatives thought “We finally have something provable to pin on the bastard. Perjury. About time.” Liberals thought “See, it’s always about sex with conservatives, just as it has been since 1967.” (If you think it is unfair of me to repeat the criticism that Boomer liberals are still equating current politics to their own sexual coming-of-age and issues with their parents, I have evidence as recently as this week of comments from coworkers that can be interpreted no other way.)

The current sense of robbery you can find in The Nation, or Daily Kos, DU, or HuffPo does not come from the 2000 election. It comes from 1994. Or, if you prefer to trace it back further, it comes from Ralph Crumb, National Lampoon, and Mom complaining that skirts are too short. The elections of 2000 and 2004 were only interpreted through that prism, and all subsequent actions of the Bush admin have been seen through that same lens. There must be conspiracies, because Cheney is known to be capable of it. They must be lying because we already know they are liars. They are deceptive and misleading because that’s who they are. Even contrary evidence is regarded as evidence, because that’s how dishonest they are.
Irony: One of the great complaints against Bush is that he went into Iraq on the basis of inaccurate intelligence, overzealous to see only one possibility, already determined to attack Iraq before 9-11. That is actually a pretty good description of liberals attitude toward Bush: inaccurate intelligence, overzealous to see only one possibility, and already determined to attack him for something, even before Iraq. Classic projection.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Mothers With Small Children

Of my regular visitors, only Wacky Hermit has small children, to my knowledge, though maybe Jerubaal does as well.

I try to offer some word of encouragement whenever I see a parent with children out in public, especially if anyone is looking ragged emotionally. This has to be done with some timing and delicacy, of course, so that it doesn't look like I'm trying to abscond with the kids. "Don't make your mother crazy. It doesn't work. Trust me on this." is a common line of mine. It cautions the child lightly and humorously, and is also meant to both comfort and caution mother. Yes, they are being difficult. You are in a stressful situation. You're not looking crazy yet, but it could happen.

Yesterday a boy of about four was leaving the supermarket with his mother and slightly older brother. The younger boy was looking at his perfectly unremarkable index finger and crying. It was a ratcheting up cry, which bid fair to turn into a melt-down scream soon. As in seconds. Mother was carrying bags and striding toward the car, talking him down with sweet, encouraging, but very weary words, like a rehearsed litany of comfort talk. A comment from a stranger can sometimes stop a crier in his tracks, the sudden change and uncertainty taking him out of his little self-focussed world just long enough to forget what he was crying about. "Your finger looks okay, lad" I said. Mom smiled "D'you want him?" "Oh, he's going cheap at the moment, is he?" "Very cheap." I got to use one of my other standard lines for these occasions. "I've had four. They don't graduate from highschool like this."

I honestly don't know why people tell parents with small children that these are wonderful ages and the best times, and that it's much worse when they're teenagers. Do they want to make these young couples suicidal? It's much, much harder when they're young. Yes, teenagers can get into worse miseries of drugs, crime, stupid driving, stupid sex, and a dozen other things that could ruin their lives, and worrying about that is stressful. But they aren't doing these things every minute of the day, requiring your attention. And they can go to the bathroom by themselves, so that you don't have to spend your day applauding excrement. And they can make their own sandwiches.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Fiction, Conspiracy Theories, and Reality

The speculation was made in the comment section of this post a week or so ago whether the advent of fiction and popular culture creates a vulnerability to people believing conspiracy or other surpassingly unlikely theories. This intrigued me, and I have puzzled over this.

The general premise: No, fiction has not made us more likely to believe such things, but film may have.

While the novel proper did not appear until the mid 18th C (Pamela, Tom Jones, Robinson Crusoe), fiction in the sense of invented stories had been around as far back as we know. Drama, epic poetry, and folk tales each create their peculiar believability in the audience. While each is different from the novel and from each other, I can’t see how the new form that we call fiction is a significantly more intense experience than the stories that came before. People identify strongly in theater, especially religious theater; cultures more than half-believe in the creatures which inhabit their folk tales.

People do believe novels at the expense of reality. I was extremely annoyed at Phillip Yancy while reading his What’s So Amazing About Grace? In a teaching about radical grace, radical forgiveness, and how it works to change the hearts of men, he made much of Jean Valjean. It’s fiction, you idiot! The author can make the characters do whatever he wants! Victor Hugo may indeed be capturing something about human nature and illustrating it well. But his characters are not evidence for what human beings are likely to do. Shakespeare captures some nuances of power and relationships beautifully, and can cause us to see and reflect about human nature. But his characters are not evidence of human nature.

Yet there is nothing to suggest that the novel has led to an increase in this sort of unreality. I chose Shakespeare intentionally for that purpose, as his work well predates Fielding, but has a similar effect.

We have also the evidence from the rest of society. The rise of the novel parallels the industrial revolution and enormous gains in feeding others and keeping them healthy. If the novel were that damaging to our understanding of reality, why would it coincide with our increasing mastery over nature?

Story, by its nature, subtly replaces our view of actual events, and affects perception of later events. Story simplifies events for easy storage in memory. It may distill reality or obscure it. There is nothing new about this.

Photographic and audio reproduction are a different matter.

Each advance in photographic and audio technology intensifies plausibility, however. I suspect our very neurology drives this. The way our eyes have learned to see and ears learned to hear over a thousand generations conditions our responses. Technology deceives our senses into the response “this is real.” The first photographs and recordings were regarded as eerily realistic when they first came out, though we find them highly artificial now. Moving pictures, talkies, and the addition of color each enraptured audiences in their turn, not because they were technical marvels, but because they were “so real.”

The brain sorts it out over time, so that repeat viewings do not fool the mind so thoroughly. At each repetition, however, the story embeds itself with deeper reality. I have no way of measuring such things, but I suspect that the “brain-tricked” aspect and the “story” aspect embed into the personality differently.

As an aside, the watchful mind learns to further sort audio and visual into other categories of credibility. That looks like it was shot with home video equipment, we think, and that gives some film clips a heightened authenticity – war footage and amateurs recording tragedies – while others have their authenticity undermined by the aura of unprofessionalism. The network news programs 60 Minutes and 20/20 exploit this trick. Clandestine and non-studio footage seem very real because they fool the brain into thinking they are unedited. We believe we are getting the unposed, straight story. Which is immensely silly of us. When does photojournalism lie? Always. Always. That is not an MSM criticism but a description of the limitations of film. The camera points in one direction, and that direction is chosen by a human being, Context is always missing. A skillful filmmaker can provide sufficient context – but can just as easily supply false context. If the cameraman/editor provides no context, then we make it up ourselves, from our own assumptions.

It is a commonplace criticism of ourselves that “what happens on TV is more real to some people than their own experience.” This is truer of all of us, perhaps, than we would like. A young woman going hiking with her boyfriend informed me that they were of course going to bring handguns for protection. “Didn’t you see Deliverance?” Uh, bears might be more of a worry, miss.

Film does not just influence the people who weren’t there, but the people who were, as the carefully-chosen details provide a semblance of reality that overrides our defenses enough to strengthen the case that the film’s narrative makes for reality, even at the expense of our previous narrative (As see, my recent post “Evocation.”).

All this is coming to a head again this weekend with the controversy over The Path to 9/11. As with Fahrenheit 911 a few years ago, political types are well aware that a movie that is (or imitates) a documentary will determine how many people store the entire 9/11 narrative for years. It makes little difference to me – I won’t be seeing the former and never saw the latter. The attempts at censorship are revealing and a bit chilling, but they are understandable. We all would like to control the narrative of political events. But it matters greatly whether we actually move to take control of them by silencing others.

Related earlier topic History Becomes Lost But Is Found Again By The Beatles.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

W. P. Kinsella's Magic Time

My son Ben and I had noted enormous similarities between Shoeless Joe, on which "Field of Dreams" was based, and a second novel of Kinsella's, The Iowa Baseball Confederacy. Both books had Iowa, independent baseball, perfectly groomed fields, relationship with fathers, rips in time, oddly obsessed people, and a preoccupation with names. The Iowa Baseball Confederacy is the better book, though I admit it would be a difficult movie.

Ben brought back a third Kinsella from the library, Magic Time, and this leads us in turn to The Thrill of the Grass, which we have not read. The same features show up again: Iowa, fathers, independent baseball with perfectly groomed fields, oddly obsessed people, and the preoccupation with names again. The rips in time are there as well, but more subtle. The existence of a world where baseball is played forever, favorably contrasted to the regular world, is again prominent.

There is more sex in Magic Time, more real baseball history in Shoeless Joe, and more time-twisting in The Iowa Baseball Confederacy. Take your pick, I guess.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Tavistock - Finally

I finally remembered what the note "Tavistock" meant.

Group dynamics are endlessly fascinating. The care and feeding of any group that you have some influence in is important. If you have a Tavistock observer at your group (which is inflicted on professionals to help them see principles in action) you are continually unnerved by the observer saying things like "David attempts to rescue the leader," or "Julie harmonizes the two main antagonists," or "James distracts the group with humor."

At a potentially contentious meeting last week, I took responsibility for group badness so that the discussion could proceed. As soon as we started, I announced that my primary desire was to punish the other agency we were talking about rather than do what is best for the patient, and wanted to take all that off the table by removing myself until the end. I did this because there were actually many people around the table who wanted to punish the other agency, and I thought that would be a distraction, as most of them would never admit to such a base motive. It wasn't a lie on my part either, as I was probably the most angry at our counterparts in the community.

Once I had put "punishing the other agency" out on the table and taken responsibility for it, no one needed to insert it into the discussion again. Planning proceeded with the patient's interests foremost.

Some people do this naturally, without any training, adopting the role needed to move the group forward. Most of us have a role we generally stick to as congenial to our personalities: harmonizer, blocker, informer, whatever.

Loads o' fun to think about, really.


I watched about 15 minutes of Bob Dylan – No Direction Home over my son’s shoulder tonight. Painful nostalgias kept erupting which seemed, mmm, disproportionate. I never particularly liked listening to Dylan – liked a few of his songs. I’ve disliked Joan Baez as long as I can remember. Most of the artists mentioned weren’t especial favorites of mine.

It is not mere nostalgia. That is something I can conjure in a moment. I have at most times of my life been morbidly nostalgiac. From a single evocative item – a Polaroid Swinger, for example – I can assemble the pieces unbidden. Eighth-grade boys in madras suitcoats or bright blazers (Rooster ties), moving over the linoleum toward clusters of girls in short, unbelted dresses. Some wordlessly take a girl’s hand and escort her to the dance floor, nervous even though she has accepted before and it is the last dance of the night. The others falter and head for the food table, now empty. “I Wanna Be Free,” Davy Jones aches. Karol Tsakalos and Marie Chicoine have badgered the shyer (but noisy) guys behind the record player table into playing the song, and they ache with Davy, but no one dances with them because they are tall – 5’6”.

I have hundreds of those, on disc, so to speak. The nostalgia of watching the Dylan movie was different, and it took some thought to understand how.

I have very poor defenses against serious movies. I see very few, and they seem quite real. Perhaps because they can draw me in so fully, I avoid them - they’re emotionally wearing. It was the original footage which gripped me, though I don’t believe I had seen a frame of any of it before. The commentary of old folkie guys between clips was irritating, even laughable. What Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy did as a painfully accurate sendup in A Mighty Wind, these guys were still doing for straight. I almost got stuck being one of those guys for life, I thought, my sons should be grateful. But I meant it only half-seriously – I could get distance from it easily. I could groan inwardly in embarrassment without any real pain.

I couldn’t get distance from some of the clips, and I couldn’t tell why. Howlin’ Wolf at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival – well who cares? I was 10 years old and never got near the place. Concert footage of New York coffee houses – why would that mean anything? But those clips had my old drug, my favorite drug, the one I’d forgotten I’d ever been addicted to. It was the sound of the crowd. I’d been on both sides of the mike for that sound, and it evoked living in that culture like nothing else.

Brilliant artists can recreate an era with a few perfect and streamlined details, which we recognize as authentic. Real footage is more authentic because some of the details are wrong. What we now call an “open mike” night was clumsily called a hootenanny night by some. I had forgotten that, because “hootenanny” referred more exactly to another type of variety show, and “open mike” is a better, though later name. A dozens details like that, wrong but more accurate, set the table for my drug delivery. All those acts that weren’t quite folk music in the coffee house sense, cluttering up every bill, were part of what you listened to. The guys booking acts didn’t know that Country & Western music didn’t count, and that troops of kids forced to play ethnic instruments were just lame. All those tiny niche entertainments had very few places to play, so they joined forces to pad the audience. In the age of ebay and downloaded music, it is hard to remember that it was often surpassingly hard to find something in a specialty category. So you listened to things that were sort of close, or listened to one record twenty times a week. Running across someone who liked what you liked was a treasured night – you would listen at his place, but never borrow; these were too precious.

Folk music was my introduction to the adult world. I was always the youngest performer or youngest in the audience, and what acceptance I received was somewhat grudging. Aspiring to join these crowds of wooly-headed liberals likely influenced my early politics more than any intellectual persuasion. I wanted to be like the only other people who knew who Oscar Brand or Theodore Bikel were. The late highschool years were heady ones for me, when I could go to festivals and know people, be asked to join local folkies for song or two. When Jesus preached about sitting below your station because it was such an honor to be called up, He wasn’t kidding. There’s no conceitedness that’s quite as dizzying as the one that springs from false humility.

The documentary had all the supporting details that confirmed this was my drug: the microphone and speaker quality of the time; the simple, unadorned guitar-work offset by occasional tough bits that showed you could play like the “commercial” artists if you wanted to; the more-authentic-than-thou Scots-Irish ballads and workers songs. I had not tasted that drug for years, and found I still liked it. I have never been more grateful for stupidly ruining my voice, as all that temptation is now beyond me.

Monday, September 04, 2006

The Norwegians... their painting back. "The Scream," by Edvard Munch, has been recovered. Boston is still waiting for its paintings to be found. I'll bet one of the Bulger Brothers knew. (Link included for those not from New England).

Sunday, September 03, 2006


I have changed my leader comment again.

Nothing against conservatives - I usually agree with them. But there are Social Conservatives, Economic Conservatives, Religious Right, Paleocons, Neocons, Envirocons, Crunchy conservatives, Country-club conservatives, and proabably a few others I haven't been introduced to yet. None of them suits, exactly. There are also several species of Libertarian, with whom I also have some sympathies.

But "Postliberal" also gives a sense of my history and my approach to issues. By upbringing, I had both liberals and conservatives in my background, though I identified more strongly with the liberal side. These were old-style liberals, One-Worlders who learned some Esperanto, were horrified at the least leakage of prejudice, and were reacting to the conservatism of an immigrant culture. My people were the type who pushed for their church services to be in English because "we're in America now," and thought that changing to the new should be the default position for everything, because they also believed that the world was progressing on most fronts. Conservative didn't refer so much to politics as it did to being a stick-in-the-mud who never wanted new hymns or new styles, and liberal meant "open to new ideas." People who gave a real effort to understanding Ezra Pound were liberals. People who just wouldn't bother were conservatives.

The uncle I am named after, who is now 80 and votes Green half the time, still sees the world this way. My brother, who teaches technical theater at college, has a residue of this belief, though his liberalism has been more frequently updated. I was a theater and literature major in the 70's, with a contempt for Southerners, fraternity guys, all things military, hunters, and business majors. No matter how smart any of them might be individually, those groups were known to be generally closed-minded, uncurious, and shallow.

Not like Me. I was deep, you see. And sensitive. I was a socialist, not because I actually thought through whether it fed more people, but because it seemed generous, and the free market seemed selfish. I was against The War, not because I had any clear foreign policy ideas, but because I was convinced that liberals wanted to understand different cultures and get along, while conservatives just wanted to shoot people they didn't like.

That culture is in my bones, and I can sniff it out at 50 meters (catch the reference?). When modern Boomer liberals try to put on that they're different from that now, and have grown beyond it, my eyebrow raises and I say to myself "Not so far as you'd think." If you let people talk long enough, they say what they mean. And they've been saying exactly the same things about jocks, frat-boys, and the military for forty years. They now say "corporate" instead of "business," and "Red State" instead of "The South," but the rest of their sentences are the same. The slang is updated, but there is no other change between what we said then and what they say now.

The complete aversion of the modern liberal to any self-observation is rather disheartening.

I ended up with the conservatives and libertarians, and as I noted, agree with them a fair bit. I care about much the same issues as they do - yet I don't seem to care about them in the same order or with the same intensity. I am moved more by the classically liberal idea of presenting a clear and fair argument for one's point of view, without resort to name-calling and condescension, no matter how well-disguised. Conservative issues don't attract me as much as liberal idiocy repels me.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Excellent Series At Shrinkwrapped

Shrinkwrapped has an excellent 3-part series by a retired intelligence officer on the GWOT. As he titles them Reasons for Optimism, Parts I, II, and III, you won't have to wince much.

Hezbollah Lost

For those of you interested in the non-CW position that Hezbollah, and to a lesser extent Iran, is worse off than at the start of the latest conflict, here are three assessments, different from each other but all suggesting that the conventional wisdom is not true.

From Social Affairs Unit.
Hezbollah have suffered a setback (but are too clever to admit it) and the Israelis have scored a long-term success (but are too narrow-minded to realise it) - argues Brendan Simms

From Charles Krauthammer
Nasrallah's admission, vastly underplayed in the West, makes clear what the Lebanese already knew. Hezbollah may have won the propaganda war, but on the ground it lost. Badly.

And from tigerhawk.
Now, I agree that the result of the recent war was disappointing if measured against the expectation that Israel would pound Hezbollah into ash from which even a phoenix could not revive. Measured against a more realistic standard -- geopolitical progress against the last potent enemy on its border -- Israel may well have improved its position.

Arab-Israeli Cultural Summary

In 2004, Israel exchanged 400 Arab prisoners to get 3 of its own back.

More recently, there is purportedly a deal in the works to exchange 1000 prisoners for Shalit.

Being able to make a 5 for 3 deal, or a 21 for 8 exchange might just show the Arabs as good bargainers, or lead to suspicions of the relative importance of the individuals. But at exchanges of this magnitude, little more needs to be said. One culture values its citizens, the other does not.

Wally Wood's 22 Cartoon Panels That Always Work

It's nice to know that even the professionals use shortcuts.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Romanian-English Conversation

I have had to contact the brother of my patient from Romania, who is here for a few months on a work visa. The brother knows little English, and I know little Romanian, but I thought that our combined knowledge would have an additive effect.

It doesn't work that way.

"Frate Florin este in spital" Yes, my brother is in hospital

"Minca prea mic. Baut prea mic. Medicament prea mic." Yes, he is not eating, he is not drinking.

"Sotie Cristina spune Calin in Washington." Yes, Cristina tells me Florin is in Concord.

"Pot lui vorbesc?" No. Is change. Is silence. Not can talk.

Ouch. We know the same words in each other's language. But of course! What does everyone learn first? You/me, good/bad, big/small, is/is not.

We had real trouble when I was trying to explain "guardianship" to him.

Copperheads, or Peace Democrats

The Copperheads were a faction of Democrats in the North who opposed the American Civil War. They were also called Peace Democrats (most of this summary is directly from Wikipedia)

Copperheads nominally favored the Union but they strongly opposed the war, for which they blamed abolitionists, and they demanded immediate peace and resisted the draft laws. They wanted Lincoln and the Republicans ousted from power, seeing the president as a tyrant who was destroying American republican values with his despotic and arbitrary actions.
Some Copperheads tried to persuade Union soldiers to desert. They talked of helping Confederate prisoners of war seize their camps and escape. They sometimes met with Confederate agents and took their money. The Confederacy encouraged their activities whenever possible, and at one point Confederate agents controlled portions of the Democratic party in states such as Connecticut.
The Copperhead rhetoric in their press was red-hot in displaying their hatreds and bitterness. "A large majority [of Copperheads]," declared an Ohio editor, "can see no reason why they should be shot for the benefit of niggers and Abolitionists." If "the despot Lincoln" tried to ram abolition and conscription down the throats of white men, "he would meet with the fate he deserves: hung, shot, or burned."

The McPherson book I have been mentioning lately For Cause and Comrades, has an interesting chapter on the effect of the Copperheads on the morale of the Union troops. All quotes are from that chapter, which in turn draws all its information from the letters and diaries of soldiers.

Democratic gains in the congressional and state elections in 1862 fell like a wet blanket on the army. The troops were “not in as good spirits and as cheerful as they were before the elections… The election of men whose antecedents prove them to be at least sympathizers with the South… it is a common saying here that if we are whipped, it will be by Northern votes, not by Southern bullets.”

The Peace Democrats not only discouraged the boys in blue but also encouraged the enemy “The Rebels in the South well know how we are divided in the North. It encourages them to hold out…”

“You can’t imagine how much harm these traitors are doing.” “I shall never want to see any of my relations that worked against me while I was in the service.” “Every copperhead, peaceman, anti-draft man, every cursed mother’s son of them that does not support the war by word and deed ought to be hung or sent to the south where they belong. There is no middle ground. Every man who is not for us is against us.”

Dealing With Paranoid People And Nations

While there is wide variation and crossover within each of these categories, there are actually only four solutions in dealing with deeply paranoid people. These are by no means mutually exclusive.
Lock them up
Give them medicine
Throw them in the deep end
Throw them in the shallow end

Lock them up. Meaning jails, hospitals, etc. Other types of isolation are usually self-imposed, and fit more in later categories. When people are imminently dangerous to themselves or others, they must be prevented from causing harm. It’s a great solution in the short run, and sometimes the only solution. But it has long-term consequences. People are removed from their supports. They can lose housing, jobs, family, friends, or possessions, reducing whatever incentives they had to keep themselves afloat on the outside later. They are also removed from the natural consequences of their actions, and a powerful teaching tool is lost.

The equivalent among nations is probably invasion. Dangerous governments are prevented from destroying either their own people or another people. It is a good short-term solution, and sometimes the only choice available. But it has long term consequences. Infrastructure is destroyed, previous business or cultural alliances are threatened, and jobs are lost. And as with individuals, the country is removed from the natural consequences of its actions.

Give them medicine. I know there are advocates of non-chemical treatments who claim success with behavioral, psychodynamic, or cognitive treatments of the intensely paranoid. I don’t see it in my part of the mental health industry, ever. Some personality-disordered patients, who have something like mild paranoia as an outgrowth of their misinterpretation of interactions, may have some benefit from these things. But frankly, my borderlines troubled with voices and demons, even though they are of a different type than classic hallucinations, seem to improve more quickly with a little clozapine.

For paranoid schizophrenics, I don’t see anything but antipsychotics working. Treatments on the horizon that purport to work on receptors farther back up the chain are intriguing, but they aren’t yet on the menu.

I don’t see an equivalent for nations in this analogy. I can entertain the fantasy of Abilify in aerosol form being sprayed over an Iranian cabinet meeting, but I doubt it would be effective (though if it were effective with only a few percent of well-placed ministers…see below) I don’t think there is any data on antipsychotic treatment of culturally paranoid individuals, and certainly none on groups.

Combining medicine with lock them up interventions are the coercive maneuvers of applying for guardianship or threats of lengthy commitments. You’re not leaving until you have had at least 2 Consta injections or the like. This is most of what I see five days a week: People who insist that they are well and don’t need medications being coaxed, bribed, cajoled, led, or forced into taking them.

Throw them in the shallow end. I have met people who have carved out remarkable niches for themselves even though they are deeply paranoid. They find some sort of endurable job, an apartment or isolated cabin to keep out the weather, and dozens of compensating strategies to get around whatever their paranoid obstacle is. We kid about the tinfoil hat crowd on the blogosphere, but I have known several folks who tried it, and one who believes it works to keep the radio signals out. People adjust, and decide that the food at one store is not poisoned, or to cover their thoughts well enough to move about in the world, following careful routines and rituals. It seems in many ways a sad life, but this is not always so. I think it is rare, and perhaps works mostly with those whose paranoia is mild enough to be passed off as an eccentricity, but I have known people who lived for decades this way with some pleasure and a narrow circle of friends. Sometimes writing consumes them, as they perhaps try to gain some mastery over their thoughts by putting them into a contained space.

This type of pressuring everyone in the society to conform to at least some minimal extent, so that the others can live unmolested, is exactly what nations do with each other as well. This is what works with all of us mildly to moderately difficult people. The needs of others create sharp edges in all cultures, and we all learn to get fed, have friends, and keep safe by moderating our own selfishness and eccentricity enough to at least get by. Nations have trade agreements, boundaries, alliances, products and services to buy and sell, armies, and treasures which they use to get other nations to act in acceptable ways. If you don’t sell us bread, we won’t sell you wine. If you put tanks on our border we’ll put tanks on ours. Among sensible nations, the elements of coercion are far removed from the negotiations. Though the Poles and Germans have fought many times and might someday fight again, negotiations between those countries now take place without thoughts of open hostilities clouding up the barley tariff agreements.

As all nations have some just measure of suspicion of each other, the flow of financial pressures across the globe works fairly well with not only sane nations, but even mildly paranoid ones. The other nations can step up the pressures to try and force the recalcitrant back into line. As disruption increases, nations band together and more openly arm-twist each other.

Throw them in the deep end. This is what families, landlords, and communities often end up doing. The hope is that under the pressure of homelessness, hunger, ostracizing, or other intense social pressures the person will change, or at least relent somewhat and make compromises. I am not experienced in this, as we only see the failures of this method when a person ends up in hospital. And as loss of freedom is a similar intense social pressure, I guess hospitals can be considered a “natural consequence” as well. My outsider’s opinion is that this is not successful, unless it results in a person capitulating and taking medicines. One would think that such draconian interventions would cause people to modify their behaviors, but what usually happens is that they dig in more deeply on the problem behaviors and adjust other things in their lives instead. They adjust to homelessness or isolation, they learn to find soup kitchens and to increase their substance abuse, but they do not change their belief that the people down the street are baby-killing Satanists. They merely find that there are more baby-killing Satanists all over town. The key behavior remains unaffected, even if the pressure is greatly increased.

I think this may have an interesting international analog. We believe that because increases in environmental (social, economic) pressure results in adjustments by sane nations, or even half-sane nations, then all we have to do is keep increasing the pressure and even a crazed nation will eventually get the message. We believe that a nation cannot manage well if its supports are eroded. But when a nation is completely paranoid, this no longer applies. When sanctions were place on Iraq, many things changed, but not the key thing we were after. North Korea is now a place where citizens are starving, and there are reports of cannibalism. The government has not changed its pursuit of sophisticated weaponry. North Korea has found the soup kitchen and a tent under a bridge, but has not made the one change that has any meaning: admitted that its approach is not working.

We believe isolation and sanctions will work. We also believe that if mentally ill people feel the pinch enough, they will have to capitulate. Apparently, neither is true.