Thursday, July 30, 2009
I decided after short experiment that "bionic" was just going to be too ridiculous to work in, but that I just had to do something with that ironic-iconic similarity. And so the American Musical Theater version of what must happen with those words.
Near the end of the first act. One of the big numbers in the show, rather a Torch Song setting up. Preceding this the man and the woman have met and fallen in love. They have just had an argument about some misunderstanding, which the audience knows the truth of but the characters do not – a mistaken identity, an innocent meeting that looks like unfaithfulness, something like that. It all comes round in the end, when he realises that the other man was her brother, or she learns that the rakish cad is actually his twin. But for now, she has discovered him going through her suitcase – he was looking for something that will become important to resolving the misunderstanding – and she has chased him off angrily. He leaves a shoe behind in his haste. Why his shoe was off is one of the comic bits of the show. Discouraged, disappointed, she picks up the shoe and begins the introduction to a world-weary song. The introduction is nearly spoken, eighth notes on the same pitch until “fit” and “bit” go up in pitch.
Cinderella’s slipper was the fit – iconicSome parts of AMT really aren't that hard. Let me tell you what the reality would have been, though. Sondheim would have shamelessly worked in "bionic" anyway, regardless of the violence it did to the sense of the song. Porter would have thrown in some foreign phrase that rhymed with something that was just devastatingly better than anything I came up with. And Coward would have been more reserved, as I was, but much better. L&L, R&H, I think mine holds up pretty well.
That her fella’s shoe is all that’s left ‘s a bit – ironic
Happy-end fairy tales ‘round the world
Why not (pause) THIS GIRL? (Music swells)
Now the door closes for THIS GIRL (audience applause)
No red roses for this girl
Shallow and twittering fools get a guy
So the shelf’s empty for those such as I...
But the edge is vanishing. It turns out that OBP, while predicting very well which young players have command of the strike zone and will eventually hit for average and power - think Kevin Youkilis, who was known as the Greek God of Walks in the minor leagues - it is far less useful in predicting what players will do late in their careers - the names JD Drew and David Ortiz might come to mind. (Kudos to commenter Michael for alerting me to this.)
But Moneyball is not ultimately about On Base Percentage, but about finding players undervalued for any reason. In the 1940's and 50's, a person knowledgeable about the Negro Leagues could have assembled a great team of undervalued players. From 1960-2000, knowledge of OPS, outfield assists, and the break-even point for stolen bases would have been a great advantage. What is the next overlooked advantage? The NBA has learned the value of expiring contracts - what's the baseball equivalent?
Still, there are some things you can learn from national polls if you are alert to the tricks from How To Lie With Statistics. The recent polls that show Obama and the Democrats fall rapidly in relation to the Republicans - who haven't got much of a positive program going these days - tells me the American people have learned two things, in the wrong order.
1. 50% of Republicans are corrupt bastards who believe in big government and could not give a FF about the middle class.
2. The Democrats are worse.
Does anyone think that will stop people who want to believe? (And they say Young Earth Creationists are nuts?) I would like to see the numbers on how many people who believe this also voted for Democrats in the "Reality-Based Community."
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Ironic ABBA references are my niche, dammit. Here's a photo, intentionally chosen to follow Stacy McCain's Rule 5 for getting a million hits on your blog, and a link to a video, so I get two page views out of you.
I'd hate to be on the wrong side of an argument against her.
Every numerous assembly is a mob, let the individuals who compose it be what they will. Mere sense is never to be talked to a mob; their passions, their sentiments, their senses and their seeming interests alone are to be applied to. Understanding have they collectively none. Lord Chesterfield 1751.He was referring to the House of Lords.
There's something in that. Intelligence doesn't necessarily aggregate very well.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
As a general rule, it's a bad sign when someone cannot admit even 1% of the fault for an argument. Someone who needs that blood-drinking victory and doubles down is not well.
The strongest point Gates' defenders have made was that the incident, whatever else might be said, did not rise to the level of an arrest for Disorderly Conduct. That is possible, but by no means certain once Gates came out of his house. Speculation that Crowley was acting in some unnecessarily condescending or overly suspicious way because Gates is black is possible, but there is no evidence to support that accusation other than the general template that this happens All The Time.
The specifically criminal aspect of this would of course have been the most enduring, and even if Crowley's behavior had been exemplary and Gates' reprehensible in the lead-up, an unnecessary arrest would be on the permanent record. The charges have been dropped, so that part's out. Furthermore Gates is well-positioned enough and the incident popularised enough that a record of having been arrested is unlikely to negatively affect him in any way. Any of Gates' students, or one of the young people from his neighborhood, might have a case that they would forever after have to check "yes" on applications asking if they have ever been arrested and have to explain, and so were negatively affected. But this doesn't apply to Gates. There are no lasting effects of the actions of the Cambridge PD on him.
All that remains are the narratives, and Gates is determined to make his narrative dominant.
Now the narrative is what the general public cared about all along. The record clearly shows that whatever Crowley did, Gates behaved badly. The legal part, now disposed of, may have been more important in reality, but in terms of impression it was secondary to the public. A person made vile statements to a police officer. There are TV shows about that, people are interested in it. This is the sort of behavior societies always seek to discourage as a threat to general comity. As near as we can tell from the record, Crowley showed a great deal of patience and forbearance with a verbally out-of-control citizen.
It is a decent argument that the police are supposed to act this way. We empower them to act on our behalf, and so expect the absolutely highest standards from them. We might sympathise that the job is tough and you have to endure a lot of abuse, but that's what the job is. Deal with it. It goes with the territory.
There's only one problem with that argument. If that is true about police officers, it is doubly or trebly true for a POTUS. If you apply that standard to the police, you have to apply it to Obama as well. 18 y/o American servicemen are expected to keep within strict limits in their treatment of prisoners even after watching their friend's head blown off. They are despised and prosecuted if they don't. (Hell, sometimes they're despised and prosecuted anyway.) Having thought through this essay, I have come to the conclusion that Obama's comments were not merely inappropriate and unpresidential, but damaging to Sgt Crowley.
If I am a Massachusetts cop, a well-connected Democrat going out of his way to tell me that the person I arrested is a friend of his - calls him by his first name - smells like a threat, no matter how offhandedly mentioned. Particularly if the person arrested has already started going down this road with his "You don't know who you're messing with," comment. Gates and Obama's comments both reek of the power and revenge mode of politics.
No, we can't prove it's a threat, but we get there by the same reasoning that Gates and Obama use to condemn Crowley. This door also swings both ways.
Those who think that Gates and Obama have some right to a chip on their shoulders because of their own encounters with racism, whether overt or subtle, neglect to note how privileged their lives are. The rhetoric of people who act entitled is much the same as the rhetoric of real victims. "Why? Because I'm a black man in America?" was the first thing Gates added to the discussion. Seems a little grandiose. What happens to you is of national importance? And you really thought the police at your door should say "Oh, you're black? We're sorry sir, we didn't realize we were dealing with a person who is related to oppressed people. We're sure you must not have committed any crime. We'll just leave now. And thanks for the reminder that this is America. That really brought us to our senses."
The incident is at one level unimportant on the national level, and shouldn't distract us from the grand plans the president has for our money. Yet this little incident is highly revealing of character. Obama is clearly wrong - understandably wrong, perhaps, because it's a friend and a close-to-the-bone personal issue for him, but wrong nonetheless. Yet he can't drop it. He can't just say "I'm sorry, I jumped to a conclusion because I know Skip Gates. I shouldn't have called the police stupid." He thinks if he just makes vague nice statements about police, and invites both parties to come talk with him about the issue, this racist white cop will learn something, Gates will forgive him, everyone will shake hands, and the world will be improved.
Guys liked candlepin because you could get higher scores, occasionally breaking 100 even as a kid; the longer pins would fly into the others and knock down a few extras. I heard of people breaking 100 in duckpin, or more likely, read of those scores on the bulletin boards and plaques at the alleys, but I don't think I ever saw anyone do it. They played about equal amounts of candlepin and duckpin in MA. I suppose it was a town-by-town thing, but duckpin was generally the older, downtown places. In Maine I once played a kind of duckpin that had thick bands around the fattest part, and those fell down a little easier. But even more than candlepin, you had to really whale that sucker down the alley at high speed. Those cute scenes with the tenpin balls, where a little kid rolls a ball slowly down the lane and lucks into a strike, the pins falling into each other one-by-one? That seldom happens in candlepin, and never in duckpin. A frustrating game.
I wondered, for no particular reason, whether duckpin bowling still existed. Isn't wikipedia great? How did we ever answer such questions before? It is still played in MD, and at a few spots in MA, including in Billerica. Which figures, if you know Billerica. Maryland claims to have had the game first, but apparently earlier Massachusetts references have been found back to 1893. And - that type of duckpin with the rubber bands is still played in Quebec. So I wasn't imagining that.
Yep. That was about how interesting it was in real life, too. The pinsetter and ball-return mechanisms were about as interesting as the game itself. If you were with your friends, it was a nice social game. If you went with day camp and got stuck with jerks by random assignment, it could be pretty deadly.
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Recovery From Delusion which perhaps belongs in my recent series.
Beliefs, and Where They Come From - (The Stork)
Teach Your Children Well, which has nothing to do with the song.
Today's Linguistic Curiosity
Review of Easterbrook's The Progress Paradox
Building Better Brains
It's not just the money
The Big Bad Three Not my best writing, but one of my most important blog anchor-points.
Abortion as a proxy political value
How Liberals Got Crazy
Friday, July 24, 2009
That was the prologue to the prologue. Hold that thought.
It’s hardly original to note that there have been drastic social changes over the last century. Nor is there a shortage of commentary about the social changes of the last decade. The former is about marriage and divorce, number of children, social and phsyical mobility, and civil rights. The latter discussion revolves around communication and social networking. I don’t think I’ve seen much that puts the two together to describe the very different social world we live in compared to our ancestors. Certainly, there were great upheavals leading up to the 20th C – migrations to the New World, trade and the emergence of a middle class, the progressive fragmentation of the Christian church, nationalism and common liberty – yet in very real ways, day to day life was similar in 1909 to 1809. 1809 was similar to 1709, or 1609.
The two partial exceptions to this were the lives of African-Americans and Native Americans. Yet even here the changes can be summarised quickly, and were not all encompassing. Abolition created freedom of movement, which allowed escape from physical abuse and forced separation of families. But this free movement resulted in families fragmenting, particularly as the young moved away. The forced stillness of the reservation system paradoxically also drove family fragmentation as the young moved away. Yet work was still hard – brutally hard for some. People married once, or perhaps twice if widowed. Folks had many more children, stayed put most of their lives, and had a very narrow circle of friends. They had neighbors, church friends, work associates, and extended family. This almost sounds similar to today, or at least, to a generation ago, except that those four circles overlapped enormously. They were the same people in different contexts.
All that was prologue. Sorry.
If you wanted to have a stimulating conversation in those days, what would you do? They were few and far between, and seldom in groups. In the city, you might find a pub, tea room, or a coffee house that was congenial. Or you might have a subgroup at church, or the Grange, or at Odd Fellows interested in more adventurous discussion. If you were luckiest of all, your own family might provide the intellectual heft and variety you desired. But not every night. And not usually a wide range of topics. It was from this world that children went to college, where stimulating conversation abounded. Adolescents are shallow in intellect, true, and every successive cohort thinks the same ideas are new, but it is still a world of difference. Even at its most pseudo, it was still intellectual compared to boring old Mom and Dad talking about insurance policies, lawns, and the annual Kiwanis Kapers. (I did like those guys who painted faces on their stomachs though, their navels being the mouths whistling "The Bridge Over The River Kwai." That still cracks me up.) People thought grand thoughts about mythology and philosophy and futurism, even if they were secondhand grandness. Then you would graduate and hope to find a group of people you could work with or at least see frequently who would replicate this hothouse intellectual environment. Not easy.
The closest approximation, and an excellent one for many reasons, was to read books. A book is a sustained conversation with another person, providing the stimulation that many of us crave. Crave is not too strong a word. To those who have not experienced this addiction to ideas and information I can hardly describe it. There is something Faustian about it.
I can have those conversations every night now, as many as I want, limited only by the hours in the day and the needs that must be addressed to keep body and soul together in the real world. I go to my sidebar plus a few other sites and absorb ideas. On those sites which have discussions, I can contribute in a simulacrum of an actual conversation. Occasionally I try to prime the pump with a comment at sites which, like mine, seldom have extended discussion. This must surely be a change in the universe. Imagine if you can what one such as I would have experienced in any other age. I know you can imagine this, because many of you are in the same situation I am.
What is worrisome is how less necessary conversation with actual people has become. There are few groups, and fewer individuals, who can now compete with the internet for interest of conversation. The social networking sites hold few charms for me - the intensity of idea-sharing in the blogosphere is more to my taste.
I don't imagine the blogosphere can go on forever. Things change too quickly, and new modes will come forth. But we addicts who have now experienced the stronger drug will drive ways of preserving this 24/7/365 availability of conversation. Will that next iteration be an even stronger drug, and will I narrow my live circle further and further?
And what will happen to our sort in future generations? We are likely to be the cutting edge of virtual worlds. Though perhaps not, as the current virtual worlds have no more depth of conversation than the real one.
I worry if this is the dream-stage of Dr. Faustus or Dr. Jekyll, where everything goes unbelievably well, but is unsustainable.
Why is a president weighing in on a local police matter in Cambridge? That's just completely inappropriate. Even if he were very wise, had looked into the matter deeply, and given a measured response, it's not his yard. I conclude that this is some sort of mission creep, where Obama envisions himself as the race arbiter for the nation. He's not.
I am willing to believe just about any bad thing about any major side in a Central American country. That's just their history. I don't think I had even heard of Zelaya before a few weeks ago. There are likely two sides to the discussion about whether a president claiming constitutionality trumps the legislature and the Supreme Court, which disagree with him. I don't know where I would stand on such a discussion. But we're not having that discussion. The people defending Zelaya are not merely saying he has the better claim, they are insisting that the actions of the legislature and the Supreme Court should have no weight at all. That's just nuts. Game over; one side is not arguing honestly.
Following all the stories about GM execs being threatened if they speak up, IG's fired just after critical reports come out, financial institutions told they will be cut off from the table if they speak up, and now major health care players being ordered not to take out critical ads, I have to conclude: We all live in Chicago now.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
I had put the book on my wish list, intended to be sent to my son Ben, but its presence there caused my oldest son to get it for me for Father's Day. Ben was up over the Fourth, and we strategised whether it would be better for him to read it and send it back to me, or whether I should read first. On the way there I decided Jonathan would like it also. Then my brother Jonathan (though I might get him his own for Christmas). Today I was thinking how much my wife would like the section on Comedy.
It is fascinating to see books, movies, and plays I have loved with new eyes, and it's all here: Greek plays, Genesis and Exodus, Shakespeare, silent movies, Jane Austen, Gilbert and Sullivan, PG Wodehouse, Star Wars, romantic comedy, musical theater, Beowulf, Gilgamesh, Narnia, Groucho Marx. Simply amazing.
I do not recommend this to those who have not read, watched, or acted a lot of plots, which usually means that age is an advantage here. I might pass this on to young Stephen just because he's a filmmaker and needs to see this. But I think it will be steep for him. Even if you are planning on studying literature I would skim this before plunking down your money. The book will indeed offer you amazing insights into what you will study. But there might not be enough cuphooks in your brain to hang the cups on yet, and it may be difficult to retain the knowledge.
Still, even the youngest readers here have been well up the bell curve for intelligence and sophistication, so it might suit. For one such as myself who is 56, it is a treasure and a joy.
Now watch, it will change directions at page 200 and I'll decide to unrecommend it.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Q: Why do we hear so much more about Governors, then?
A: House and Senate Ethics Committees.
My rule of thumb these days is that a whisper of an accusation against a governor raises my doubts, a whisper of an accusation against a Congressperson raises my suspicions. Unfair? Only if I don't harden my opinion before the facts are in. It's a good first estimate.
I imagine you could find a lot of states that applies to. Or "Swing States" to really hit Nevada, Florida, New Mexico, Michigan, Ohio, etc in their thought processes.
Or - Go Blue, Go Broke. Or just Blue = Broke. Coincidence? Yeah, it's an oversimplification. What bumper sticker isn't?
Monday, July 20, 2009
Using Humor To Tell Your Friends You're Conservative.
Multicultural Tips For Human-Services Workers
Something New in the Abortion Debate
Three From the UK: A Christmas Story, Eat, Drink, and Be Merry, and History Becomes Lost (but is found again by The Beatles)
The Ten Worst Americans (my list would be slightly changed now)
For deep genealogists: Pedigree Collapse
The Social Virtues of Capitalism
Toxins as a Replacement For The Sin Concept
Humor Writers and political affiliation
Giving and Receiving
Laddism (note: this word has taken on a different meaning in the last four years)
On Behalf Of (deleted)
Sent: Wednesday, July 15, 2009 7:39 PM
Subject: Message From USDOJ
There is a new memo from the U.S. Department of Justice
entitled, "Strengthening of Enforcement of Title VI of the
Civil Rights Act of 1964."
Here is the link to the memo from Acting Assistant Attorney
General Loretta King, chief of the Civil Rights Division,
As we have discussed previously, the memo further indicates
that Title VI and ADA enforcement will be more vigorous under
the Obama Administration than under its predecessor.
Here are two particularly interesting parts of the memo:
"Finally, I encourage you to submit to the Civil Rights
Division for litigation Title VI and other civil rights cases
that cannot be resolved administratively (i.e., when your
agency determines that informal resolution or fund termination
are not viable solutions). Even when an agency has made every
effort to resolve a case administratively, sometimes litigation
When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted,
the import of Title VI became clear relatively quickly. The
administrative power of Title VI -linking funding to
nondiscrimination proved to be as powerful as litigation,
particularly in the area of education desegregation. Why?
Because the federal government determined that Title VI had
powerful potential and worked boldly to ensure enforcement.
Although the context has changed, the need for vigilance and
for strong agency action to root out discrimination on the
basis of race, color, and national origin have not."
It is hardly surprising. The stereotype is that Democrats believe that civil rights violations are common and require vigorous enforcement, Republicans believe violations are less common and "vigorous" enforcement often veers into making mountains out of molehills and other unhealthy excesses. It may depend on what one calls common.
A third explanation, always possible in Washington, is that this is all for show - "the bull elephant trumpeting to the herd," as Garrison Keillor aptly put it.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Sauron Himself Is But An Emissary
Part I Is progressivism a grandson of communism, or a cousin?
Part II The Nature of Evil
Part III Expanding Brotherhood
Part IV Social Pressure
Part V A Thought Experiment
Part V-A A Thought Experiment - continued
Part VI How Things Work
The Assistant Village Idiot's Progressive Experience
Part VIII - Summary
1. Discussion: Expanding The Circle
2. Discussion: Social Pressure
3. Discussion: Causes of Success
4. Discussion: How Things Work
5. Discussion: Envisioning
Envisioning: Forgotten Detail
Further Tolkien Branching
Modesty, Humility, Understatement
Most readers who follow the columns of George Will or Paul Krugman do so because they share the author’s views or because they want to know what the other side is saying. And because Will and Krugman are both opinion journalists, we expect them to argue a certain set of ideas.
In like manner, anyone reading my own writings gets a pretty clear sense, pretty quickly, of how I think about issues. As a Catholic bishop, I belong to a believing community with a widely accessible and carefully articulated understanding of the world.
In contrast, we usually know very little about the person who writes an unsigned editorial or the people who create the nightly news. And that’s worth talking about. Here’s why. In an information society, the people who shape our information control the public conversation.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Politics and judgement are much more of a comparative exercise, when the standard of proof is not "beyond a reasonable doubt," but "preponderance of evidence."
Anyone showing up with a formulation that says America was 100% right in the Cold War, the Russians 0% I reject as someone unwilling to look at uncomfortable facts. But I might go 90-10. An estimate that put America 80% in the right versus the USSR's 20 also doesn't strike me as unreasonable. When a person from the Anglosphere gets to 70-30, however, I begin to wonder if there is a particular issue that causes him to be especially cynical, based on knowledge of some vile act by American business, or the military, that he believes we ignore.
Because...at that point we start coming up against the comparative information that communism killed 100 - 200 million of its own citizens and impoverished 90% of the rest. Whatever evil America and the west have done, it's hard to keep up with that. Thus a 70-30 balance strikes me as verging into unreason and unreality.
This is why Obama's portrayal of the Cold War troubles me so deeply. By assenting to American exceptionalism but equating it with Greek exceptionalism from the POV of Greeks, he is in effect saying "I think it's 60-40, but wink, wink, I'm prejudiced. It's probably closer to 50-50." Because of the mild approbation he gives to the US in terms of the Cold War, perhaps the estimate in his heart of hearts is something like 55-45 in favor of America's role in the world.
That is simply insane.
Friday, July 17, 2009
In the mind of an arts and humanities progressive, conservatism is a developmental stage on the way to becoming a liberal. While this is not intellectually very rigorous, it is nonetheless understandable. From the POV of an articulate young person moving out of the nest and into adulthood via AP classes and college, there is even something natural about the social progression. This is part of why I describe liberalism as a social rather than intellectual phenomenon. Socially alert children pick up on the cues in their environment. Their first forays into adult environments are often at colleges, where the surrounding adults are overwhelmingly liberal. It is thus easy to conclude that the old world with dumb people is conservative, the bright new one liberal. This is doubly true for those who went to Christian schools, then secular (or lite Christian) colleges.
This pattern was often described by people who grew up rurally or in small towns in my generation and just before it. They revelled in coming to a place where people liked discussing ideas instead of corn prices and altar guilds, where people read things, were sophisticated, and knew things about the world. Garrison Keillor does a great sendup of this with his Flambeau family (paragraph 9 if you're in a hurry). Keillor can poke fun at it because he understands it. So do I.
There was a long succession of authors in the 20thC who wrote about leaving their stultifying boyhoods in Ohio.
I actually want to write about Lawrence Kohlberg, but before I go away from the general observation above I want to highlight a large weakness in the partly-conscious reasoning of those who I described above. The adults at a college are not a representative sample, not of grownups in general, nor even of thoughtful, sophisticated adults. They are just the first ones we encounter. If you stay in certain fields, they will be most of the adults you ever encounter. And they are emphatically not representative of mature adults, averaging a little on the downside of the bell curve in that category.
Lawrence Kohlberg's theory of moral development was taught in my college intro psych course. He was a student of Piaget's and his moral development ladder had a great deal of Dr. Jean's thinking, especially in the first few stages. The first stages were to avoid punishment, then receive rewards; the middle stages were to be thought of as a good person, then to obey the rule because it was the rule - this fourth stage was called, significantly at the time, the Law and Order stage; the fifth stage was more integrative, weighing various costs, principles, and abstract justice.
I still recall the illustration for the sixth stage: Jesus, Gandhi, and MLK Jr. floated up in clouds - Jesus being on top, presumably to avoid offending people in 1973 - the caption informed us that these were people who had transcended usual moral thinking, and developed new moral constructs. They were Stage Six in moral development, attained by But A Few.
Even in my nominally Christian state, it was clear that this was just fuzzy liberalism, trying to piggyback the pacifist Mahatma and the assassinated civil-rights leader on Jesus's reputation. Jesus didn't bring much to morality that was new. He highlighted some OT principles, and extended a few - then he lived them, which was fairly rare, and was crucified for them , rarer still. Gandhi was a fraud, and King was himself a Christian, unlikely to suggest that he had added anything new to Christ's teaching.
It was a really sappy Jesus, too, such as was common in 2nd grade Sunday School books. Pretty good picture of MLK, though.
Kohlberg kept going, eventually founding a "just community" in a Cambridge highschool, dedicated to teaching children how to be liberals, and he still has followers in psychology today. He also has critics, including feminist Carol Gilligan, who noted that his test groups were all young,relatively wealthy American males, who might not be representative of humanity. Kohlberg's cross-cultural studies had some merit, but his data was strongest for the first few stages, which correlate fairly well to Piaget's cognitive development. This creates a "Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor, king hereafter" prophecy. Macbeth is already Thane of Glamis. The witches who know that Macbeth has already been promoted to Cawdor by the king, prophesy this and add the prophecy that he will be king. When Macbeth learns he is now Thane of Cawdor, he thinks the prophecy is coming true - it must be right that he will be king!
Kohlberg's early stages parallel Piaget's, so that by the time we get to #4, we are thinking "the pattern is true! Look how well it works," which predisposes us to think that #5&6 are well-supported also. They aren't. There are just all kinds of problems. Articulate sociopaths turned out to score in Stage Five or even Six more frequently than nice people who worked, stayed married, and had no criminal records. Retesting people in later years revealed that some of the Stage Fives had inexplicably slipped back into Stage Four. Rather than conclude that they might know something he didn't, Kohlberg called these 4+. Gilligan's observation that women had been left out of the picture (she originated the theory that women have a different moral reasoning, based not on rules but relationships, which is woefully unsupported, but at least plausible) turns out to be a specific instance of a larger cultural bias.
You can see why the idea of growing out of a rules-based morality would appeal to college students, who are really good at rationalization and have many things they would like to do that are against the traditional rules. I observe, for example, that when kids discover heavy petting they suddenly wonder whether all these church rules might be wrong, rather than the reverse order. Ditto abusable substances and all manner of popular social practices.
Progressives often equate conservative principles with something they believed in childhood. They were supposedly taught that America was always right, but they learned to see through that; that the free market is a selfish, me-first attitude; and that people who are different than us are automatically bad, which they learned in college wasn't true. In my most recent discussion with my uncle, with a back-and-forth about Liz Cheney's criticism of Obama's international speeches, he scoffed that my belief that America was very much in the right during the Cold War would be something he would fail on an eighth-grade essay. I thought his choice of insult significant.
Government programs pick off the low-hanging fruit. I think Section 8 is basically a good idea. It is hard for some people to make ends meet with housing prices as they are. But whenever the government is quoting you homeless statistics and how they're going to fix it, remember that a lot of the solvable problems have already been solved. A hundred inexpensive housing units in each of those four neighborhoods, even if they were available tomorrow, would not solve the housing problems above.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Further additions to my "Sauron himself is but an emissary" series occurred to me. I am working on longer posts, but they aren't coming together well. To get your brains primed for the topics I will not two additional core features of liberalism. 1.) The concept of American society is very close to the idea of government in a progressive's mind. Government is seen as the primary expression of a society. Thus, when they use the word "we," they have a flexible variety of meanings for the term. 2.) Conservatism is regarded a s a developmental stage on the way to liberalism - intellectually, socially, and morally.
Saturday, July 11, 2009
For scientists, commercial excavation of fossils - legal or not - raises troubling questions. "For me," says Mark Norell, chairman and curator of vertebrate paleontology at the American Museum of History in New York City, "the big concern with all this private digging is that it may be robbing science of valuable knowledge." (Italics mine)
The Smithsonian's Carrano says all scientifically significant fossil specimens...should be placed in museums for study in perpetuity...Let's retain those significant ones for study. (Italics mine)It's an easy POV to understand. As I have never really thought it out before, I think I have always just accepted this a s the proper attitude to take. Fossils don't belong to anyone, they belong to all of us. Even more than a county or even national government claim, such things belong to all mankind. The government is just the closest proxy for ownership to be in charge of something so that scientists can study it. Because such things really belong to Science! The scientists quoted above clearly subscribe to this view. They are absolutely clear that anything of significance belongs to them. To do otherwise is to rob them. They have prior ownership which they can choose to retain.
Folks get sticky if they believe they own something by right and someone else is trying to take it from them. It often prevents objective thinking. In this case, the belief is that they will use it for good, to benefit all of us. Why should I have a problem with that?
Now that I look at the issue, I do have a problem with it. Where do these ownership lines extend for items of potential scientific value? Let's look at hard cases. A poor country finds something that a private collector is willing to pay $8M for. The national museum says, no, it's ours, give it to us. The people say no, we'd rather have food, thanks. Or buy it for $8M yourself.
The question of direct benefit also comes into play. People who really like fossils get some pleasure out to the information, but what is the actual benefit to mankind? There are some discoveries where we might project an immediate benefit, but fossil finds have such potential only at farther removes. We learn more about geology or biology that might help us out in, oh, mining, or genetics, which could in turn be leveraged into something for industry or medicine, but it's hard to make a nice tight connection. Fossils, even really cool ones, are something we are interested in for filling in gaps in knowlege, which we hope in genral will benefit us. But it's a stretch. I can see where people would say, "no, give us the cash, thanks."
Thursday, July 09, 2009
I played Snoopy in "You're A Good Man Charlie Brown" in high school. One of the many animal roles I got handed.
Wednesday, July 08, 2009
Yes, I've read about this in other contexts. They seem to have a firm grasp on reality in many ways. But the question of whether this can work on a larger scale than "we're all Swedes here, we can find a way to make it okay for everyone" remains to be seen. That eightfold increase in national wealth and enormous tendency to consensus occurred within the context of sending all their poor people and dissidents to the US and Canada in the late 19th C. Imagine what the US economy could do if our poorest 10% had better prospects elsewhere and were happy to go back to Mexico or some mythical country where the skills of the urban poor were valuable.
They also "stayed out" of WWII and became a de facto arm of Nazi intelligence services. They saved a ton of change doing that, and were able to leverage that into the high-end economy they pride themselves on. Saab was founded in 1947, Volvo moved to exporting in 1944. No one else had any free money lying around then.
It is significant when the Swedes think your current solutions are too socialist for their taste, however.
From the park bench of the Assistant Village Idiot...
I am sorry to read of your retirement from blogging, but I certainly understand. As I approach 2000 posts, I sometimes get the sense that I am writing "and here's another example of what I've been telling you for years." Such perseverance is useful - perhaps the only thing that will change minds over time - but I imagine my 80 folks/day won't put up with it forever.
If you fear that the addiction will call you back to blogging in spite of yourself, you might switch to a more high-shelf drug. You have mined a great deal of ore from the current political and social culture and sorted it into piles on the basis of your training and observational skills. You are well-placed - not uniquely, perhaps, but certainly the number is small - to contemplate this data and refine it into something durable. Gagdad Bob does that, with a more mystical bent than I would - it was he who introduced me to the similarity of liberal thought to the cargo cults and ghost dances of less technologically-advanced tribes. Your more strictly scientific mind would likely lead you in other directions.
Hofstadter's The Paranoid Style In American Politics focused on conservative pathologies. More than one modern writer has noted that his work applies more to progressives now, but it is surely significant that the work still has value after nearly 50 years. You might find something in your own thinking that proves equally enduring. You would have to turn your spotlight on conservatives as well as liberals, of course, but as a libertarian that might not prove too difficult.
I have been fascinated recently (I did a long series on it) by the question of what good ideas liberalism is a perversion of. Many have suggested that communism is an heretical Christian doctrine, and I've had some fun with that, but I wanted to look in psychological rather than historical and philosophical directions. Neo recently quoted feminist blogger Dr. Violet Socks in discussing anti-Palin venom: These people don’t hate Palin because of the lies; the lies exist to justify the hate. She then relates that to anti-Semitism. There is intriguing brain evidence that we make decisions first, then search for justifications (Gladwell's Blink is entertaining but not very rigorous on that. Good leads, though). Booker's The Seven Basic Plots, also examines that from a combined psychological/anthropological perspective. I just started that one.
That would lead you into Pinker's and Chomsky's writing on the structure of thought, Freud's and Jung's attempts to tie individual development into a more universal realm, and Fraser's and Bettelheim's thinking on the social and developmental need for certain myths. Then maybe you can figure out why all six of them were unable or unwilling to perform the simple exercise of applying their theories to their own social, political, and religious beliefs, turning the glass inward. I speculate that introspection may be an enemy of such universal theorizing, paralyzing or distracting the mind from larger questions. But Rene Girard and Rosenstock-Huessey were able to do so. And yet again, perhaps that is why their deep works are less popular and well-known.
All these liberal humanities professors with father issues... the theory of rational ignorance... the reflections on fiction-writing by Tolkien and Lewis...advertising...evolutionary biology...popular culture...theories of humor...even your fondness for song parodies might be worth exploring. Why is it not only easier, but more satisfying, to wrest a tune from one context and put it in another? Is it the layering, the echoes of the original version giving odd harmonies to the new? Is there a bride-by-capture element to this?
There are too many places where your contemplation and theorizing might go - the sections of Genesis that even the fundamentalists hurry past, anthroposophy, the brilliant flakes who posited theories of personality development - perhaps there is something in these discarded pieces that needs reexamination. Neuropsychiatry and imaging are certainly changing how we view thought itself. If our politics are strongly influenced by our genetic inheritence as shown in the anterior cingulate gyrus (schizophrenia joke there), what does that mean for changing minds?
At a minimum, I think these sorts of reflections will be entertaining. They are highly portable, and can be brought out while watching soccer games or observing parking-lot behavior. At a maximum, I think you might find something worth keeping around for a few decades. Most others with your background would gravitate to knee-jerk liberalism, or to a more distant "engineering" approach to the mind.
My long experience of being married for over thirty years worries me that you might take all this as one more burden - one more thing you should do and will feel distress if you don't. It certainly isn't meant that way. It's meant to liberate your reading and choice of activities, because with such a broad scope, just about anything you pick up or do might be useful.
Thank you for all your labor in the fields, and the great new ideas you have exposed me to.
Tuesday, July 07, 2009
* That would be, uh, the correct point of view, by the way.
From a practical perspective, we can of course say that bombing Iraq's nuclear facilities in the 1980's was huge, and that bombing Iran's nuclear facilities now would be equally huge. But this smuggles in many assumptions that I am not sure are warranted. These actions certainly affect Israel's survival. Evangelicals, trained to view events in the Middle-East as harbingers of the Apocalypse, also see the smallest details as potentially decisive. In the Bible, after all, trivial-seeming events do turn out to be huge in the long run.
But what if it's not the end? What if this isn't the incarnation of Israel that shows up with such prominence in the Revelation to John? What if the destruction of Israel would not be a latter-day biblical event, but just one more huge injustice in the sad history of Jewish oppression? A setback, but not a final word? In that instance, the other nations of the Middle East would still be there, still fighting, still enormously brutal and ignorant, still a distant yet present danger for the US.
And perhaps, no different than it is now.
I am not merely offering this as a speculation. I am increasingly coming around to the idea that we would have enormous difficulties with the entire Muslim world, entirely independent of what happens in Jerusalem.
Monday, July 06, 2009
protect rights that you already inalienably have rather than a government which extends rights to you from its marvelous bounty of kindness. No one is obligated to give you oxygen, but as no one is allowed to interfere with your breathing, it seems to be the same thing at first glance.
You have the right to remain silent. But when you have the right to an attorney, it means you have the right to call one, or take the one the government gives you if you are accused of certain crimes. You don’t have a right to an attorney in the sense that society has to provide you one to
sue your ex-wife, or form a corporation.
So also with societal rights. We have rights of equal access that we consider inalienable (though societies have alienated people from all rights in many times and places). We have as much right as any other person to use public parks, to sue in court, to vote, or buy a car –
neither more nor less than any other individual. This is not so much a right to be left alone as a right to be treated the same. We might not have an inalienable right to an education perhaps, but once a system of universal education is in place, we all have equal rights to use it. This
has been the heart of anti-discrimination and civil rights law. I may not be entitled to a job, but I have as much right as anyone to apply and be judged on merit. My religion, my color, or my sex should not enter into it. The state may not be obligated to provide anyone with food, but once
food stamps are in place, A has the same right to them as B.
This idea of rights seems very simple, but it’s already quite messy, even before we try to add in anything else. Imagine if there were a growing shortage of oxygen. All of a sudden the distinction between no one being obligated to give you oxygen and no one being allowed to interfere with your breathing, which seemed trivial a moment ago, is now uncomfortably
large. What if the shortage is caused by a manufacturing process that uses huge amounts of oxygen? Does that manufacturer have a “right” to use it? We move quickly into the concept of no more than your share of the oxygen. But what is my “share” based on? What I need to live? But what if there are too many of us?
If this oxygen example seems far-fetched, consider that the above is exactly what is happening with fresh water. Even basic rights are difficult to guarantee.
What should we make, then, of the fondness for Democrats to speak of a right to decent housing, a right to health care? Where are the line crossings from “it would be nice if…” to “everyone should have…” to “everyone has a right to…” Society might choose to provide these things,
and if to others, then so to you. Those are rights of consent, not natural rights. But where does the obligation of society to do so come from? Who sez?
It is presented as a matter of conscience, a moral obligation for society to provide. Hence the idea that you are immoral or have no conscience if you don’t want to provide it. But there isn’t much logical foundation for that – it’s a feeling people have about Niceness.
I have bypassed entirely any discussion of the wisdom or providing food, education, and insurance, or the specifically Christian obligation we might individually have to the poor. Those are worthy topics, but not this topic.
I have heard too many times that people are ashamed or embarrassed to live in a country that doesn’t provide x, y, or z for people – these days, it’s health insurance. We should provide those, they say. Who’s we in that sentence? That is profoundly self-righteous, but of course it is rude to point that out. Worse than rude. You are seen as a hostile, mean, angry
person if you point out that obvious fact.
Note his phrasing about "military-industrial interests" and " twisted logic." It compares favorably to Hillary Clinton's Wellesley valedictory in 1968 for vacuity, cliche, and touching oneself for pleasure.
I especially like the part where he says that he's "not naive" because he knows that his bigger-half-of-the-wishbone fantasy "will not be achieved quickly."
Next up, Obama's plan for everyone to win Powerball and buy a Holodeck.
I don't want to lean too far in the other direction, here. Most people who voted for Obama did not support him just because he has the right vision. They all remember a dozen pot-addled hippies from their youth who shared that dream, but couldn't be trusted to remember which toothbrush was theirs. What Obama and all progressives offer is the promise that they know how to get there. They have good practical skills for making it come to pass. They don't just talk about nuclear disarmament - heck, anyone can do that - they have actual plans that will work.
What if that's not true? Consider the possibility that Obama's theory of how to reduce nuclear armaments is much like Anne Elk's theory about the brontosaurus. Or more likely, How To Rid The World Of All Known Diseases. What we'll do is, we'll give up some of ours. That will inspire other nations to give up some of theirs. If they're reluctant, we can sweeten the deal with some carrots and sticks. Then we'll give up a little more of ours, then they'll give up more of theirs. After a long time, they'll all be gone. It's foolproof, I tell you.
Does this seem harsh and unfair? Then tell me where Obama's plan differs substantially from my exaggeration. And oh, read that link about his senior paper first.
Sunday, July 05, 2009
The pastoral vision relies heavily on a time that never was. This is a great weakness of Tolkien and the other writers of heroic fantasy as well. The simple, mildly prosperous life of The Shire, or Narnia, or even the grimmer Gormenghast settings, are all far healthier and wealthier than any actual era. Where are the doctors and dentists, the aged and infirm, the violent drunks, the wife-beaters? The purpose of heroic fantasy is not to include such things but to set up contrasts, of course. That's part of the genre, to move and inspire. But we should be aware when we try to make modern comparisons that there never has been a time when these difficulties were ever absent. In fact, they were far, far more present in the societies we most readily associate with legendary settings: medieval, iron age, Roman empire.
The danger is not so much in learning this as in remembering it. When reading heroic legends and the placid societies the heroes spring out of, we too easily smuggle in the idea that life was really like this in some era. Yet in fact, nearly everyone starved, was oppressed, and died much earlier than now. I touched on this in my review of The Escape From Hunger and Premature Death, 1700-2100.
The Ren Faire and the costume shop at the Shakespeare Festival give us a wildly distorted picture of what those eras were like. We put the wealthiest 1% or so on display and without meaning to misrepresent the times, believe this vision to be close to true.
This comes up in discussions of colonialism, western civilization, the free market, and the mad nightmares of the left. This is also the Smooth Machine, the idea that everything should run fine. It doesn't. 99% of everyone was hungry at some time in the year before 1700. Before 1800, 95%; before 1900, 90%. Only in a very few areas, starting with the Anglosphere and NW Europe, has anyone had much of anything. Only since WWII has the prosperity of some medical care and a natural lifespan begun to creep slowly around the world. If you learn nothing else about the history of humankind, learn that. They were hungry, exploited, and died young.
Saturday, July 04, 2009
Friday, July 03, 2009
People of the Lie/The Great Divorce
Two Related Quotes From Lewis
Silent Planet, not Warming Planet
The Narnian, The Rivals, and Different Goals
Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road
Shacking Up With Jesus
Seven Chronicles of Narnia
Sexism in Narnia
Female Characters In Heroic Fantasy
What Tolkien Disliked About Narnia
Lewis's Influence On Tolkien
Memorandum From The Devil
Hobbits In Kentucky
Disappointing Book - Solution
Sophia's Office Window
Kicking The UCC's John Thomas, White Person
Book Destruction and Chronocentrism
The Nature Of Evil
Further Tolkien Branching