Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Youth Baseball

Kyle is playing Babe Ruth League this year, leading to me discussing youth baseball at work. One woman complained bitterly about her son's experience. He has ADHD, she said, yet they put him in the outfield - the notorious right field - where it was hard for him to pay attention. She thought this was irresponsible of the coaches, not to put her boy in the spot where he could do best.

I hope my face did not show the amazement I felt. Lady, they put kids where it works best for the team, so they have the best chance of winning. That's one of the lessons, that the world doesn't revolve around you and everyone does what they can to help the group effort. But I did immediately see her point as well. She sent her son to baseball so that it would work out for him and his development, not so that Joe's Storm Doors could win. The team is ultimately of no importance, the individual remains.

At first pass, this is certainly an age-related discussion. What is appropriate for six-year-olds and fifteen-year-olds is quite different. The younger the child, the more it makes sense to try them in a variety of situations, to experience different facets. It does seem just wrong to play your one dominant kid in such a way that no one else gets to do much. But having your teenage son play short because there's more going on there and he won't fade out so much doesn't seem like it is educating him into the world of adults, where the common goal has a value of its own.

Plus, as I learned in baseball more than any sport, there are kids who don't look as if they are paying attention who nonetheless are. Taken to extremes, however, no one is ever going to believe you. (I wonder whether, if my second son could see videos of himself playing second at age fourteen, he would agree that any reasonable observer would conclude that the blond kid was absolutely not ready for the play, and finally understand his coach's and father's ire - or whether he would see entire justification instead, noting with full accuracy that as the pitcher let go of the ball, he was always in position and facing the batter. Both are true - which would he see, now that he is 27 and works with youth groups a lot?)


One of my paranoid patients uncovered the site Are You Targeted in his searching the internet for proof that he is being harassed by Hollywood and popular music, with messages directed specifically at him. He takes the existence of this site as evidence that his paranoid delusions are true: See, this is happening to other people, too! That different things are happening to those people, and they each have different experiences from each other, with only minor overlap, fazes him not. It's all tied in together somehow.

(The photo is from Ocala, FL)

My other really bright paranoid patient - she was a software developer up until a decade ago - has a different, nonelectronic set of delusions. A homeless person has been stalking her for at least three years, across three states, and recently revealed his existence by mistakenly leaving a purse she had lost in 2007 in a box in her apartment.

Here's the saddening, infuriating, and fascinating part. Both of them are now on medication, and are far more organised and relaxed. Both are able to coherently put on paper or into speech what they were unable to only a month ago. Then, additional notes up the side of the page, or between lines, or underlined and arrowed onto the back made their work unreadable. Now they can write in sentences and paragraphs. (I am overdrawing that somewhat, but the difference is dramatic.) Yet their delusions are absolutely untouched, with the possible exception of the fact that no new material is being added.

So there are two - at least two - parts to the illness, one which is treated by the medication and another which is untouched.


Tomte are cute, now. They have their own catalog, and in the yearly Luciadag festivals, are played by pre-K's in Swedish costume. In our version, they are referred to as "mischievous little creatures who can be bribed with food." Which is mildly amusing. We have them up in church, even though they are deeply pagan, because we have drawn all the danger out of them over the last century or so.

Originally, they were the souls of the original builders of a farm, which can perhaps have a positive, protective spin put on it, but holds hints of something grimmer.

We miss the power of the paganism because we no longer understand the power of poverty and hunger. If offended, the tomtegubbe might take revenge by curdling the milk, goes one example. That sounds like a minor inconvenience, an "oh, darn" moment now. In a context of ongoing hunger, with the storage of most foods a chancey thing because of mice, leakage, or rot, the loss of any food was frightening. One might well turn to whatever gods or spirits one knew in order to stay alive.

I wrote more on this over a year ago in the series on Wyrd and Providence.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Memorial Day

I am probably oversensitive about integrating patriotism in with worship on Memorial Day (or Fourth of July, I suppose). Honoring the military and singing patriotic sons with some God-ness thrown in was a staple of worship on national holidays in my youth, and that continues in many places, so far as I can tell. It was subdued this morning at my church - I have seen worse, certainly. And the sermon took up elements of forgiveness even after war and injustice that I thought were spot on.

The stereotype is that conservatives drive this more than liberals, and while I imagine there are many exceptions to that, particularly among the seniors, I don't doubt it's true. It is the same lack of focus in Christianity, the same "well it's a good thing so God must approve so it must be appropriate for worship" chain of reasoning that I fault liberals for. It's muddy. It's usually wrapped around a freedom-of-worship theme, plus a sacrifice-for-others theme. Those are both fine, but it doesn't take much imagination to see that evil causes also attract people with courage and self-sacrifice.

Also, it makes the whole idea of where our gratitude is directed cloudy - again, the same complaint that I have about liberals, so I should take especial care to be evenhanded. In both cases, the proponents have emphatic, and completely unconvincing, explanations as to how they do too understand the distinction.

As these things go, any suggestion of downplaying becomes heard as disrespect, rather than putting the virtue of patriotism in it's proper slot. Make too much of a fuss and people think you are anti-military, or anti-patriotism, or whatever.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

MWBOT13 - Opinions

My uncle, mentioned many times here, sends this article about how we use our reasoning to justify our opinions, not arrive at them. It's a short, punchy overview article, which gathers pretty flowers from this field of research without staying too long in any one place. But it does include some flowers I have missed in this discussion. Jonathan Haidt is one of my favorite researchers on these topics, BTW. He is personally quite liberal politically, but keeps pointing out with amusement how biased liberals are in their thinking compared to conservatives.

Not the ironies of the author's language choice as well. In an article informing us that our opinions might be suspect, he still cannot avoid suggesting that it is other people's opinions that are suspect, not he and his friends. Sigh. They're getting closer over there. I should be glad, I suppose.

Friday, May 27, 2011

ABBA Bubble Bath

I don't think this is for real, but as the comment section at the site says ABBA Bubble Bath is fun to say. BTW, looking for new and interesting ABBA images, you have to browse through a lot of ABBA tribute bands' photos, and costume-party pictures. Very creepy.

Oh shucks, I can't resist. By no means the worst, just an appropriately bad one I found quickly. Go ahead, click on it. Blow it up to full. I dare ya.

MWBOT12 - False Memories

From Wired, via Instapundit, the creation of false memories in advertising. I touched on advertising before, noting that despite the Chicken Little fears we keep hearing about, the ability to manipulate our behavior in this way occurs mostly at the margins.

This article does highlight the way that this ramps up, however. Popcorn adoration is still at the margins of deep cultural change, but the general idea, that untrue ideas can be implanted in the brain and felt to be real, could certainly create large changes for an individual. I don't think our brains are well defended against any of the visual and auditory technology of the last 150 years, actually. Our brains interpret images and sounds as real, and it takes a training override to see through them well. Usually, we do not "see through" the unreality of a technology very well until the next one comes along and supersedes it, making the old look shabby. Daguerreotypes doubtless look frighteningly realistic when they first came out. People listened to Wagner or Bach on 78rpm records and were transported.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

All Stories End At Westford Center

My Dad was a great teller of jokes and stories, the perennial master-of-ceremonies and raconteur. He had been an excellent actor, both comic and straight, throughout most of his life, and retained an arsenal of noises, faces, and comic gestures nearly to the end.

As he aged - after too many drinks and cigarettes and bypass surgeries - the skills remained, but the nimbleness of thought required to keep his audience interested waned. His focus narrowed to the things he was primarily interested in, and that was increasingly nostalgia.

He lived in Westford, MA more than 55 of his 75 years, the gaps being his first few years - spent in Jamaica Plains and Leominster - before his father built a farm there during the Depression; a year plus in Japan after the war, four years at UNH, and the seven years of his first marriage, when he lived elsewhere in Massachusetts. After that, it was all Westford, all the time. The town had been rural - orchards, mostly, plus some dairy, and a quarry. Some early suburban spillage from Lowell, until the 1970's when it slowly started becoming a suburb of the 128 high tech firms and eventually, Boston itself. Very little farming now.

It's an interesting enough place, I suppose. There's the Westford Knight, for you enthusiasts of possible pre-columbian European arrivals in North America, with some Knights Templar thrown in for good measure. Paul Revere's son went to Westford Academy, and there is the usual collection of 17th-19th C artifacts, buildings, cannons, old turnpikes and such of all towns in eastern New England. Forge Village, Graniteville, Nabnassett, each with its own sub-history. You folks who live in other places would call it a lot of history, but it's small potatoes here. Still, it's something.

I had noticed that my Dad was repeating stories as he grew older, but I just figured "who doesn't?" Not until my younger brother, who spent much more time with him at the end, ruefully said "Yeah, all stories end at Westford Center" did I realise that in the last few years, there was that pattern. Still a very interesting guy, my Dad, and more fun to be with than just about anyone you'd happen upon, just...less interesting. Myself, I will gladly subject five people to a repeat if there are two present who haven't heard, and that has been true throughout my life. I don't think it has been increasing as I age. I expect it will, eventually. Here's the thing: I start from a lower skill level than my dad. I am very like him in speech, and I'm good in conversation, but a lesser son of greater sires, as Theoden said. And if even he eventually went into Grampa Simpson territory, what is there for the rest of us?

I might hold out longer, because I don't think there's a central theme that all my stories tend toward, and on that slender advantage I may beat the comedy-reaper yet. But that's mostly just a delay, I think.

My evil children, who love to hold my eventual deterioration before me with shared glee, should consider their own eventual following to the same fate. Go read Ozymandias or something, you bastards.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Real You

We tend to regard the self that one shows under provocation, or with a few drinks under the belt, as the "real you" coming out. Yet at the extreme we reject that entirely - what a person does under torture or drugged senseless we don't consider to be their real personality.

If some 80-year-old deacon who always knew he was attracted to children and might become disinhibited with alcohol makes it to his dying day with never the slightest inappropriateness to a child, do we say that his "real" self was a child molester, but it just never came out? I don't think anyone would say so.

Or what if he always knew he had an attraction to other males? I think there are folks who would say he was "really" a gay man.

Decent people wonder if they would be decent in harsh times, or whether they would easily slip into violence and thievery during societal breakdown. We pray we never have to find out. We might pray also that we never have dementia, which would reveal much of what has been on our minds all these years. (I call that "not enough fence to keep the sheep in") Is that, though, the real self?

CS Lewis admonished that we might be giving ourselves credit for cheerful disposition that is largely a result of good digestion, or focused discipline that is due more to our parents' efforts than our own.

We draw a line somewhere, and I don't know how consistent we are. Interesting to contemplate which is the real self among our friends and relatives.

Changes in NPR

Tracy listens while washing the dishes, and we catch some of it.

You can feel the discomfort of some of them as they report more market-friendly ideas than they ordinarily would - because they are reporting world events, and all those Europeans and Canadians - who used to be such reliable contrasts to us cowboy, materialistic Americans - are increasingly contrasts in the other direction: kicking out socialists, cutting back on the safety net, trying to contain (gasp) left wing mobs. In world events, NPR is being dragged where it does not want to go. But some of them are honest, if misguided liberals, and follow where the facts lead. Others can barely get a sentence out without having to undercut it in the next breath. We shall see.

To compensate, I think their American reporting is burrowing ever deeper into comfort territory. [UPDATE: Or Not. See Fresh Air.] Tonight there was a longish interview with Bradley Cooper (did I get the name right?). Before I knew who they were talking to, I was bolt upright listening to them falling into form. They spent ten minutes talking about whether he was one of the cool kids in high school and college or whether he was somehow apart - one of those artsy intellectuals who was a bit of a loner, you know?* (For those new here, I have been mentioning for years that this question is a dominant one for liberals. They are unable to let it go, somehow. As a nostalgic person I understand somewhat, but people, we have to move on. I thought it was just Boomers, but I am finding it is more general.)

Who the hell cares? Such things sometimes come up in conversation in an adult's life and some analysis of self is instructive. But this is a national radio program, supposedly discussing artistic development, recent and important work, or other grownup ideas. Sports interviewers don't spend that much time asking friggin' athletes about their high school careers. Even while they're still in their 20's.

I swear that culture is dominated by people who spend their lives trying to prove that they really were cooler when they were young, but the benighted fools just couldn't see that.

*Yes he was distant, even from the theater people, because he was more into film.

Post 3000 - Anniversary

10 years ago tonight, Chris and John-Adrian arrived in America. This was taken about a week before.

These are more recent, J-A with his favorite niece,

and Chris with some old lush.

Everything changed.

Bad Reasoning

I find that bad reasoning can influence my thinking as much as good reasoning. Is that the best you've got? I find myself thinking. Then maybe your idea ain't so great.

In the 1970's, I was exposed to a lot of Christians who believe that America's support of Israel figures prominently in the events of the Last Days. The general idea seemed reasonable enough to me. God seems to have Israel, the specific place, and Jews even when they aren't in Israel, as connected to the meaning of human history. Jesus was Jewish and the themes of his preaching assure us that's not accidental. The Holocaust and foundation of Israel were enormous and recent. America happened to be the world's preeminent power.

But the specifics of that, no matter how much people assured me they were straight from the Bible - you could look it up* - never seemed all that solid. There are a half-dozen general outlines, each with some possible variation, and none of them are convincing to me. Any of them could be true. I'm not saying they are false. But the evidence is scant, nowhere near what its proponents think. The books, videos, preachers, and teachers put forth bad arguments. And so, over the years, I have questioned whether America's foreign policy should be Israel-protective as one of its main objectives. The thought experiment pretend Israel is just one more nation in the world isn't very hard, actually. So the people who take that view also have an initial plausibility on their side. Sure, why not? Let 'em stand or fall on their own.

But when you let them keep talking, you find that they have bad reasoning as well. Specifically, a heckuva lot of 'em turn out to be anti-Israel and antisemites with very little poking. Online, it gets very difficult in comment threads to attend only to those people who at least seem to be Israel neutral - or well-wishing but unwilling to have America involved - because of the hordes of insane people chiming in. The excuses for Palestinian behavior, or Syrian/Lebanese/Iranian/whatever behavior are stunningly stupid. These are excuses you wouldn't accept from your teenagers for why they got a detention (not that any of my perfect children ever got a detention, you understand), but they hold up for nations?

Oh right, liberals are less likely to have ever had any teenagers, especially more than one. Maybe that's part of it. Though it can't be all of it.

So I am driven back in my first direction again. If the arguments against America supporting Israel are that mind-numbingly stupid, maybe we should be for it. We should at the least have the thought occur to us that America gets something back from this alliance, and have a little curiosity what that might be.


Recently, I have had the same experience in discussing same-sex marriage. As an evangelical, I have been exposed for years to the idea that the destruction of society, whether by natural consequences or direct punishment from God, will result from allowing - well hell, not just allowing SSM, but civil unions or homosexual behavior at all. While I agree with the general premises that 1) the family is not an accidental or optional vehicle for the training of the young and integrating them into society, but the only method that has been shown to work, 2) screwing with things that work invites disaster, and 3) permissions for homosexual behavior seem tied in theory to adultery, divorce, and Lord-knows-what-else - the opposing idea, that the right of the individual do do stuff they want to - is a fully American idea that deserves consideration.

Homosexuality has never been the key issue for me that it is for a lot of other Christians. I was a theater major and a dancer, for Pete's sake, and learned early to shrug at other people's sexual behavior. I have sexual sins of my own; working at a state hospital I have had all sorts of people with all sorts of problems who nonetheless deserve decent speech and general compassion. But primarily, I have never bought the idea that God puts it on the top of His list of things to complain about in other tribes. Idol worship seems to have captured that spot. For His own people, sure. The scriptures are more than plain that homosexuality is forbidden. Yet even here, it doesn't seem to be a dominant theme driving world-historical events. It's mentioned. It's forbidden. It is tied in to the general idea of the sanctity of marriage and the use of that image as a description of Christ's union with his church. Not much more.

So one would think that I would now be among those who shrug at the idea of SSM in America. What's the harm? Why is it my business? Yet as the debate intensifies we get the opposite effect. The arguments in favor - the arguments that people actually make - are ludicrous. You might convince me with great effort that a right discovered 30 years ago is indeed a Basic Human Right. We do extend ideas and see conclusions over time that may have been opaque to us before. But to insist that this new idea is just obvious, that only bigoted and intensely stupid people fail to recognise that changing the definition of marriage is something beneath even discussing, brands you as a hyperpartisan who is unable to even participate in a debate among reasonable people. To assume that opposition to SSM is the same as wanting to make homosexuality illegal is just the same as being opposed to civil rights for black people in the 60's is a set of huge logical leaps. I don't think gay rights in general are just exactly like racial civil rights at all, actually. Asserting louder that they are too doesn't help.

And of course, calling people bigots for disagreeing with you is always persuasive. I will say that in general, proponents of same sex marriage have not actually listened to their opponents' arguments. They have selectively listened to the worst arguments. That's fairly natural for all of us, but that's not good enough. I could play that game as well, noting that some proponents, if you let them fly, use language that makes it distressingly clear that they want the government to give the stamp of approval to SSM so that they can force it down the throat of mummy and daddy and their teachers and the straight kids from school that they ARE TOO OKAY!!! I don't take those folks into consideration when I'm discussing the general idea - everyone's got jerks and pathological people buried on their side somewhere, but it's best to seek out the reasonable people to talk to.

Yet here's the thing. In the debate over at Volokh, comment after comment, and even most of the posts, don't rise above the level of it's just obvious and you're a bigot. Not the first time I've encountered this over the last decade. Volokh is going to attract about the best disputants in favor of SSM you can find, and a few are pretty good. Yet even they slip into the Bad Reasoning.

It pushes me the other way. If that's the best argument you can make for SSM, then it's not such a great idea.

*When I hear that now, the insistence of a preacher that you should follow along in your Bible to insure they aren't misleading you, or the insistence of a congregant of following along to "check" on the preacher, I am convinced that I am in the presence of people who will make no sense. Trees. Forest.

Monday, May 23, 2011


I only heard about the end-of-the-world 5/21 group late in the week. I think I had seen a billboard as much as a month ago and just rolled my eyes - it was probably the same people. I don't know much about them, so maybe they have done some awful things I haven't heard about. Yet my naturally contrarian nature, listening to so many people gleefully picking on them - clearly needing some group like this in order to a) feel good about themselves, like the the 6th-grade bully, and b)laboring to tie this group to whatever opponents they have in this world - stepped back and looked at this differently.

Compared to environmental catastrophists, it should be noted that these folks

1) Spent their own money on the billboards and publicity
2) Expected nothing in return, so were merely generous
3) Did not attack those who disagreed with them

I will note that the frequent defense of the embarrassing facts that environmentalist predictions have gone laughably, ridiculously wrong - that they're still right, they just got the decade wrong - may well apply to the end-of-the-worlders as well. In fact, they will eventually be right.

Fools they may be, but I admire this. We are called to be fools for Christ, and they have put themselves out there with greater risk than most Christians dare. Al Gore, Paul Ehrlich, Bill McKibben - these people have got pretty good gigs going, haven't they? That's certainly their right, and heck, they may even be right. But the altruism piece rings rather hollow. They're wrong, they've made money off it, and they sneer at others.

I know which group I'd rather live next door to.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

MWBOT11 - Inertia and Saving Face

Online it is difficult to tell the difference between a person who is an indefatigable advocate, giving no ground for tactical reasons even when he knows he is wrong, and someone who simply doesn’t know when he is beaten. The former is annoying in a forum that is supposed to be for discussion, but it is the latter that is pathological.

Or perhaps there is no difference, and pathological types have found ways to get by in life by gravitating to situations where the former is functional.

In discussion, even rude people can be expected to give some minor ground – clarifying a term, making a distinction, acknowledging that there are also extremes in the other direction. Such acknowledgements may be tiny, yet they are crucial. An opponent who states “well, certainly, there are people actually missing a limb – I wasn’t talking about that” may go on to be quite obtuse in the discussion, but there seems a significant difference between that and one who twists your words into “so you think not wanting to work is as good an excuse as being an amputee, then.” No, you bufflehead. Don’t twist my words.

Anger or irritation can get any of our backs up, and we might dig in our heels unnecessarily, becoming more obtuse than we need. Yet I think this is something different.

Criminals deny guilt, and are remarkably resourceful in finding others to blame.

How much of our not changing our minds is unwillingness, because we want to save face, and how much is inability. The inertia of our ideas would seem to be somewhere in between, but which camp does it fall into?


Gwynnie over at Maggie's had this. Marvelous

Public Intellectuals

John Naughton at The Grauniad wonders why public intellectuals do not seem to be so prominent in modern times, and especially in Britain.

I have some theories on that, actually, but I can more easily tell you why Naughton is puzzled. He quotes some guys identified as intellectuals
The French polymath Pierre Bourdieu saw PIs as thinkers who are independent of those in power, critical of received ideas, demolishers of "simplistic either-ors" and respecters of "the complexity of problems". The Palestinian literary critic Edward Said saw the public intellectual as "the scoffer whose place it is publicly to raise embarrassing questions, to confront orthodoxy and dogma, to be someone who cannot easily be co-opted by governments or corporations".
I love Bourdieu (I should do a post on him as related to my thinking on tribes, as he was big into analysing social classes), but politically, he was the original anti-globalist liberal. And Said has little to recommend him in the way of intellect - but he is great at sneering at the West, insisting we do not understand his vibrant, ancient, and viciously barbaric and narcissistic culture. And he hates Israel, so we know he's sound.

Throughout the essay, Naughton keeps verging on the answer, as he notes that Sartre and de Beauvoir were later exposed as contemptible, that many of the lists of public intellectuals are weighted toward journalism, writers of fiction no one reads, and "critics" who don't seem to know about anything, but just talk about stuff as if they did. He wonders why the French have such respect for this group - which he approves of - while the Brits and Americans don't, especially, even though we are
a cockpit of vibrant cultural life and home to some of the world's best universities, most creative artists, liveliest publications and greatest theatres and museums.
That's the list for identifying intellectuals, apparently.

(Explanation here.)

He mentions David Brooks as someone who should perhaps be included. For what, exactly? I despise Paul Krugman as a bigot, but he at least has some original claim of being an intellectual.

Here's the thing, John: Bourdieu and Said are right, in theory. That's what public intellectuals should be, and we can all see the value of their being that. But they aren't that, and consistently have not been. The intellectual classes have consistently come out in favor of ideas and regimes that result in lots of dead people and hungry people. They just sell out to different powerful interests, the ones that can get them writing gigs and potential bedmates. The rest of us poor yahoos, who admittedly just don't understand a lot of deep philosophical stuff and can barely keep our lawns mowed, have nonetheless at least not created that kind of damage. These intellectuals are clearly people who should not be left as night watchmen in a day camp.

The article did give me the idea of Paul Johnson's book for my wish list, thought. Except, Johnson is more solid than engaging as a writer.

Gandhi and Malcolm X

I wasn't surprised at the Gandhi biographies starting to see through the fraud at this point, but I admit that I was surprised and saddened about the same happening to Malcolm X. It hadn't occurred to me to doubt that his Autobiography was anything but mostly true (I don't expect anyone's to be entirely true), and the book had been influential for me. Somehow it had escaped the general destruction of my 60's radicalism. Perhaps if I had paid attention to the Alex Haley connection, I would have. I recalled that Malcolm's autobiography had actually been put together from interviews by another writer, and knew that Haley's Roots had been clobbered for both plagiarism and inaccuracy, but I had never put the two things together - likely because I never reread it after 1970.

MLK remains standing for his primary work, I suppose - the sensing that the time for justice was right, and could be forced, should be forced, in the 50's and 60's. The negatives against him are real enough - the affairs, the arrogance that allowed him to be manipulated by communist associates into preaching on topics on which he knew little - but these recede in the face of the One Great Thing. Many others saw the injustice; many others sensed the time was right; many others had the courage; many others were gifted communicators in written and spoken word. Martin was all four.

But Kennedy - hmm, both Kennedy's are rather tarnished now. Not fully discredited or contemptible, but tarnished. What liberal icons remain standing, now that the data is in? Who is left?

Saturday, May 21, 2011


Instapundit linked to Lileks' TV Guide report. His whole site is a hoot for humorous nostalgia fans, and I spent yet another hour wandering in it this evening.

You can skip straight to the 1968 cartoons here. Scroll your mouse over the listings. These are just a touch after my time, when I was no longer watching Saturday morning cartoons. I did remember about Journey to the Center Of the Earth with "...our guide Lars, and his duck, Gertrude. Really hurting for humorous animal sidekicks at that point, aren't we?

Or comic book covers - with commentary.

What is going on here, for example?

More 'Gansett Videos!

A red-letter, calendar-marking day. Browsing for a "Best of Winter 2008" post, I ran into my old Narragansett Beer post linking to some of the Nichols and May animated cartoon ads for 'Gansett from my childhood. Testing the links to make sure they were still live, I learned that there are even more commercials now made available.

The Circle Of Life, Government Version

Inspired by a post at NOfP, It occurs to me that government operates by pouring gallons of money into one end of a system and bragging about the quarts that come out the other.

Where the quarts go matters.

Republican and Democrat Grading

Via Volokh. Inside Higher Ed reports that Republican professors and Democrat professors have different patterns of grading. Republicans give more high and low grades, Democrats give more in the middle. There has been some discussion at Volokh whether this follows academic disciplines or whether the study successfully took that into account

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Defunct Blog

In the context of discussing Fair Trade coffee over at Volokh, I sent the link to one of the more brilliant people I know. He replied with a link to a post he had made on his own blog in 2006.

He hasn't posted in five years. He is less conservative than most of you reading here. Yet I think you will find The Modo Blog interesting. Background: He is board-certified in both psychiatry and internal medicine - that's rare. I imagine the word "prodigy" got thrown around a lot when he was a lad, especially as he is half-Chinese and plays the violin, fitting the stereotype. He's a Trekkie, of course. His wife is quite liberal, and a powerful presence, so he must have some personal strength of character to have maintained even a moderate Republicanism, especially when he was in Vermont. He left our hospital for the Concord Hospital psychiatric unit six months ago. We miss him terribly.

One of my three favorite psychiatrists to work with over the last 35 years.

Beach Boys

Sponge-Headed Scienceman has a post about Pet Sounds that I can't improve on. It does provide a good example of my stupidity, however.

I was not especially a Beach Boys fan to begin with - the surfin' and singin' about vehicles and general pop-ness put me off the brand. I mean "Barabara Ann?" "Be True To Your School?" Really, now. Yet I did love harmony, and liked "Warmth of the Sun" and "I Get Around" in spite of myself.

Okay, here's the stupid part. When Pet Sounds came out, I thought they were doing an album backing up Petula Clark - God Only Knows why - (heh) who I also disliked for her pop-ness and unseriousness. (Though if you slow "Downtown" way down, like James Taylor did with "Up On The Roof," it becomes a whole different piece.) Friends whose judgment I ordinarily trusted told me This is different. You gotta hear it. But I ignored them. I was a serious, achey, Simon & Garfunkel sorta guy. A very intellectual 7th grader, well above these merely popular, toothy, cheerful groups.

I didn't know any of the story of the influence/competition with McCartney. Not until the single from the next album came out - Good Vibrations - did I suddenly get it. I was stunned with what they did vocally on that song. I loved "Heroes And Villains," another song from that album. Yet did I now go back and give Pet Sounds a try? I did not. I wasn't listening to Pet Clark for anything. I am trying to find a defense for myself here. Petula Clark released 2 albums in 66 and 67. Maybe they were on a display stand at Manchester Music together.

I have no idea when it finally dawned on me that Pet Sounds had nothing to do with Petula Clark. It was definitely a decade, and it may have been - I am not making this up - over 30 years, when I was browsing through Sponge's books and thumbing his copy of The Making Of Pet Sounds, or whatever it's called, and my second son taking some temporary interest in "Rolling Stone" and mentioning that it had made #2 under most influential rock albums.

Which strongly suggested there was no Petula Clark in there. People who sing with Harry Belafonte don't suddenly gain rock credibility by recording "It's A Sign Of The Times."

I still hate those surfin' things, though. And the striped shirts.

Monday, May 16, 2011


I have loved sections of poetry, lines of poetry, as I just mentioned. And that is all. Further understanding just aborts in me. I love these - have loved them from the first time I read Prufrock. But I don't care for much else in the poem.

But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head [grown slightly bald] brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid

I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

Robert Frost's "New Hampshire"

There are some excellent lines in Frost's New Hampshire, but generally I thought it was so bad that it was some hack writing about NH while thinking about Robert Frost or something. The idea is that New Hampshire has one of everything important - "just specimens" - but no more, so we don't have anything to sell - and that's a good thing, because selling things cheapens everyone.
...Did you but know of him, New Hampshire has
One real reformer who would change the world
So it would be accepted by two classes,
Artists the minute they set up as artists,
Before, that is, they are themselves accepted,
And boys the minute they get out of college.
I can't help thinking those are tests to go by.

And she has one I don't know what to call him,
Who comes from Philadelphia every year
With a great flock of chickens of rare breeds
He wants to give the educational
Advantages of growing almost wild
Under the watchful eye of hawk and eagle
Dorkings because they're spoken of by Chaucer,
Sussex because they're spoken of by Herrick.
The poem is long, that's just a bit of it, and perhaps that what put me off. I think of Frost in terms of the tight, terse "Road Less Traveled," or "Stopping By Woods." This one runs about 300 lines. There's loose scansion, but damned if I can find a rhyme scheme. But then, I dislike poetry in general, liking occasional lines but mostly finding it unrewarding.

My grandfather had him as an English teacher at Pinkerton Academy in the 'teens. He didn't think much of him, as Frost seemed unhappy to be in the job. Which according to his biographical information, he probably was.

Car Games

This is one of those nostalgic exercises where we are all in danger of convincing ourselves how much better it was in the old days.

Parents used to have to organise an endless supply of car games to keep children from complete meltdown. Children also independently organised far more stupid games which nonetheless ate up highway miles without violence, and were thus tolerated by parents. For my brother and I this was "Ecchhy, echhy." Don't ask.

We have charming stories of the best parts of these games, such as when we were playing "Guess What Is..." ("What is Mom's favorite song? What is Jonathan's favorite piece of clothing?") and Ben sniggered that Dad's favorite color was "White, with coffee stains." But really, there were hours of games, and about ten minutes total of great memories, which is not a good ratio. There was a lot of arguing about cheating in the counting-Christmas-lights game that lies behind the misty-eyed memories we have of childhood.

Quaker Meeting, Twenty Questions, the alphabet game, state license plates (I saw a Northwest Territories polar bear plate while the others were asleep, and only one woke up in time to see it. And actually, I think he was lying about that. Which is fine, as everyone thought I was lying about seeing it in the first place.), various singing games, finding games, and the standard animal game, for which every family had different rules. In our house cat-in-the-window wins the game, and a cemetery on your side cancels all your animals. This latter apparently led to a "Nanna never forgave Gramps for that" moment around 1940, when my grandfather bypassed the cemetery in Center Barnstead and went to Upper Suncook Lake via Ten Rod Road instead. She insisted this was cheating. I'm on Gramps's side, myself. The cemetery was just before the end of the trip, and after a few years of that, one does develop an attitude of why bother to play?

Competitive nastiness goes back a ways in my family.

Children have all sorts of mechanical things to entertain them now, and yes, it might be a real loss to society that we don't make the effort, and interact as a family, with all that creativity, and bonding, and shared experience. We always say how wonderful it is when the power goes out, too, and we burn paraffin lamps and play board games, and vow to do this more often. I am proud of how well we did that aspect of parenting. I would have resorted to individual headphones in a heartbeat.

MWBOT10 - Optimism

Via Ann Althouse, our tendency to optimism.
When we learn what the future may hold, our neurons efficiently encode unexpectedly good information, but fail to incorporate information that is unexpectedly bad.


Nursing report today included the note that the patient had not displayed any malappropriate behavior on 3-11 shift. (Notable because 7-3 had been hellish.)

Someone was trying to get fancier than "inappropriate," a favored word in informal mental health discussions. Maladaptive was probably lurking in the background at the creation of this neologism.

But it is one of those beautifully self-reflexive words. Malaprop comes from mal-apropos, "not fitting," or "ill-suited." So malappropriate is a malaprop.

BTW, a theater professor once told me that Shakespeare's Dogberry used malaprops before Sheridan's Mrs. Malaprop. I just looked it up and it is so. Decades earlier.


One more example of Toffler's Future Shock, that not only is change increasing, but the rate of change is increasing. It used to be an important point in disparaging something that current fad would itself go out of fashion someday. Few contemporary Christian songs of the 70's are still sung, just as the Rock of Ages traditionalists predicted. They have been replaced by songs of the 80's, which have been replaced by songs of the 90's. I would say those have been replaced by the songs of the 00's, but they haven't yet, at my church.

And that doesn't matter in the slightest. Songs that can be discarded - disposable songs, if you will - are not regarded as a problem. Rock of Ages is even less relevant than it was in 1970, yet its fans think it will endure. A few things from the old hymnody will hold on, but not many (and not that one). The argument that we should hold tight to Rock of Ages because the current items will go out of style misses the point. Replace-ability is now the style for worship music, whether anyone approves or not.

I think of that with blogging. Blogging is outrageously new and radical, yet already passe. You can switch to Twitter to be current, but that too will go out. But the fact that everyone will look back in 10 years and find them outmoded no longer means they will be thought ridiculous. I wanted my thoughts to be enduring, like the most favored 1% of printed material, and blogging offers an imitation of that. My thoughts will still be accessible in a decade or two, and thus will be "preserved," rather like the volumes in a used book store, waiting patiently for their reader. But romance aside, most of those volumes never find a reader, and each passing year sends them further down the chute. So with AVI posts. They will be here if anyone wants to make a study of them, and there always remains the chance that someone will take a fascination in 2031 and read them all. But not likely - even descendants are unlikely to spend more than a few fun afternoons with such things. There will be other information then that enchants more.

Blogs will go out before tweets. But both will go. A hundred years ago, that someone could write and know it to be ephemera would have been strange...

Hey, wait. Is that true? Isn't our sample of writings from a hundred years ago biased toward those works that people hoped would survive? Perhaps most people wrote then knowing that the next morning, or certainly the next year, would no longer regard their work. The newspaper was for the news of the day, and knew it. Only the columnists pretended that what they wrote had meaning beyond the fishwrap time period. Perhaps the period we move into now, where FB comments are unenduring and comfortably so, and blogs need no "Best Of's" because the medium requires ephemerality, is a return to normalcy, while the essayists of the 20th C were the aberration.


I'm coming up on 3000 posts. Rather amazing.

Is there an internet tradition of Monday Bear-Blogging, or only at Volokh? I've never done it myself, but I include Jonathan Adler's Don't Fear Mama Bear, based on a NYTimes article, for your enjoyment. The thought is that the mother-defending-her-cubs routine is not the biggest danger in the woods. The key line:
By contrast, “the kind of bear you need to be afraid of is not feeling threatened by you — it’s testing you out as a possible prey item,” said Dr. Herrero, a professor emeritus at the University of Calgary. “It’s quiet. It stalks you just like a lion might stalk you.”
I can't say I find that comforting.

My contribution is to mention that according to my daughter-in-law, elementary school teachers in Jackson have to go out on the playground and bang pots or other noisy items to scare the bears away so that the children can go out for recess.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

In Search Of LL Bean

I read the book years ago, and was given an old copy for my birthday this year. I will be passing it along soon. It's more than 25 years old, so a few sections have little interest now, and the book does feel a bit padded, with chapters on fishing in Maine or Maine humor (and not a very good one). Still, the subject interests me and I can put up with a lot to get that info. And the book leaves off just about where I left off LL Bean myself, around 1984. We still received the catalog for years after, and I imagine we may have ordered a thing or two, but the period in which I aspired to be an LL Bean customer, a recognisable image, must have ended by that time. I recall Jonathan going to Montessori school in green pants and a yellow polo on a day I was wearing yellow pants with a green polo, and photos after that do not record similar clothes for either of us. That would be 1983 or 84. I was 30.

So there is much to learn about myself, and something about how the world of social class developed after that, reading back over the material now that we know the rest of the story.

My claim on high preppiness was always marginal. Oh yes, there are very much degrees of this, and while money helps, it is more than mere cash. The age of the cash, and how it was acquired matters, and name, heredity, and school all play their part. With focus and effort, I could have qualified myself as a C-level preppy, and positioned my older children to move to B-level if they so chose. The stepfamily my mother married us into when I was 13 were far better qualified than I, and the generational picture in the Official Preppy Handbook looked chillingly like my mother and Ken at the time. "We" married into lacrosse, curling, a banner from Yale '88, and duck decoys that had actually been used. But even at that, we were second or third-level: Tilton, not St. Paul's; visiting Bar Harbor or Bald Peak Colony but not belonging; Cow Island, not Governor's. As a suburban socialist, I wanted to be invited so I could reject them. Even when I went to St. Paul's it was the summer program, which doesn't count.

One could enhance prep credentials from the other side, and this was where LL Bean came in. You could be an outdoorsman, talking knowledgeably about AMC huts or the operation of sailing vessels - ideally because one had spent summers doing the work, but glib talkers could cheat up a bit. Bean was not the outfitter of serious hunting, sailing, or adventure camping expeditions*. Freeport was for those whose fathers and grandfathers had done such things, or more likely wanted to pretend their fathers and grandfathers had. So if you actually had worked Carter Notch Hut for a season and been in the Amherst College Outing Club, and chose your LL Bean home wear wisely, you could blend in seamlessly for the two decades it took to make it real.

It wasn't until the late 70's that LL Bean learned that its ads in Field & Stream generated almost no new business, while its ads in The New York Times Review Of Books were pure gold. They didn't like learning that, actually, preferring it not be true. They calculate in retrospect that the small ads in the New Yorker in 50's and 60's taken out on the advice of a loyal customer who L.L. liked, probably generated more of their new business in those years than all the other newspapers and magazines together, with the possible exception of the Boston newspapers, where they advertised on the sports pages. Boston Brahmins still followed both the Red Sox and their college teams, so Bean still caught them, though the Style section would have been far better. Not until the 70's did they find that catching the wives and daughters was better still. And discovering that changed the company and the catalog. Not only shirt-dresses and wrap skirts, but dog beds and fireplace items came in.

The early Bean customer, the Sport from Boston or Baltimore or Philadelphia, was drawn from an extremely conservative demographic, but their children veered left, at least in some ways. They were the early environmentalists - single, anxious to preserve their childhoods and so resisting development anywhere near their places of nostalgia (after they had gotten in, that is). It was the natural midpoint between conservation and environmentalism, and the fact that having few or no children was encouraged made it that much more attractive to careerists. Also, Republicans had started holding hands with those icky southern and midwestern Christians, while Ivies and Wannabe faculties were moving left. The joke used to be that the LL Bean mailing list included the entire U-U membership plus half the Episcopalians, who could tell at a glance whether you were in the right half or not.

Modeled after the British aristocracy, really. Private schools 7-12th, shooting and fishing clubs.

The naming of colors became clever in the catalogs - too clever by half for me, with Nantucket Red replacing the simple "Red" of earlier catalogs. Hunter, and Slate, and Sage. Not just blue, but Mallard Blue, not green, but Dark Lichen. Everything natural and outdoorsy.

*For those, see Willis & Geiger, or the original Abercrombie & Fitch. Or for Maine, most country stores carried more goods a deepwoods hunter would actually use than what Bean had. Except the shoes, which actually were pretty good. But no one ever got their mink traps at Bean's, and they certainly won't start now.


Tuned in with 2 minutes to go. Allen, Perkins, Powe, Robinson. Huh. It felt odd.

That should be a tweet instead of a post, right?


Kyle's Babe Ruth Baseball team is Couptopia, a sponsor he finds acceptable only because the uniforms put an exclamation point after the name. All the team moms are quite pleased, and this may be influencing the boys' disapproval. Baseball teams usually have sponsors that are more butch, like plumbing & heating, but I can't see how a septic service - one of the other teams in the league - wins out over a coupon site.

Gender roles are pretty distinct in the league, if you just glance quickly. Dads have all the on-field roles of coaching, field grooming, and substitute umpiring, Moms run the concession stand and organising the food drive. It doesn't take more than a few minutes of conversation to discover that these people do a lot of things in their lives that don't fit traditional gender roles, however.

It's not hard to figure out why volunteers are just put into expected slots, though. No one wants the bother of doing any more organising than is necessary, and it's just more efficient. There certainly are women who know how to groom a pitcher's mound, but the law of averages says that when you are just picking people out of the crowd and asking, you've not only got better odds that the guy will know how to do this (while his wife is a better percentage guess for setting out the condiments and plasticware in a manner that is not going to be a disaster when the rush comes), you've also got the guilt thing working in your favor immediately. If the guy doesn't know, he's going to feel that he should, and be leery of admitting it. Baseball mom is similarly unlikely to raise a sudden fuss about expectations because a)someone might then ask her to ump third base, b)she's learned over years the skill of identifying which woman is in charge of the kitchen and just going along with that, and c)why in the world would people want extra conflict in their day over something so temporary?

Young people, or perhaps people without children, imagine it would be a fun experiment if everyone switched roles and haha! What would happen? By the time your kids get this far along, you know the answer: things would pretty much go just fine, with slightly less efficiency. One or two things would be "done wrong" that would bother the heck out of somebody - somebody who "has issues" anyway, as we say. Then we would all go home and 90% of us would forget it ever happened.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

"The Lesson Plan"

I know nothing about the Newport Beach Film Festival or of Libertas Film Magazine, but I found the experiment this documentary recalls intriguing. It fits both with my Tribes discussions and the recent MWBOT series.
Ron Jones, a puzzling mixture of grandiosity and naïveté, claims he intended this to be only a one- or two-day experiment, but it went on for at least a week. Other students remember a longer or shorter period (the incident was not well documented at the time). He admits he was so energized with the power and passion of his movement that he upped the ante each day, introducing new methods of mind control. On day 5, when he finally exposed the movement as a lesson meant to teach the students that they were no better or worse than the Germans, the young students fell apart in a fog of betrayal and emotional panic. The tearful interviews of his students 40 years later testify to the damage wreaked by the experience.
Trailer at the link.

Friday, May 13, 2011

MWBOT9 - Brains Betray Us

Linked from Insty, and fitting our recent topic. NPR reports a recent Edge conversation uncovering a lot of posts about "systematic cognitive errors." Example, Memory Is Rigged:
..human beings tend almost invariably to be better at remembering evidence that is consistent with their beliefs than evidence that might disconfirm them. When two people disagree, it is often because their prior beliefs lead them to remember (or focus on) different bits of evidence. To consider something well, of course, is to evaluate both sides of an argument, but unless we also go the extra mile of deliberately forcing ourselves to consider alternatives—not something that comes naturally—we are more prone to recalling evidence consistent with a proposition than inconsistent with it.


A great example of how a song can be basically vacant, but capture the wave of a particular style well enough to get famous. It is the generic faux cowboy song of the 70's. If you like the genre, it's wonderful. If you don't it just seems pointless.

He was a decent musician and songwriter, recorded with Mike Nesmith and I think some Nitty Gritty Dirt Band guys.


People are getting exercised this week because of Chomsky's comments in the magazine Guernica. (Wonderfully ironic title, recalling an event of real terror by fascists that was nonetheless exaggerated by leftists and has enormous symbolic meaning for them, as opposed to, say, their own execution of 20% of the priests and nuns.) Because people take him seriously, I should probably get more worked up about Chomsky myself. Yet I consider him disturbed, as if something organic might be wrong with him, and attacking him seems rather like pushing the guy in the wheelchair down the steps. We have spoken recently about anosognosia, and he exhibits something like that. Whatever happens, it is the West, especially America, especially capitalism that is at fault. There is never even a 1% deviation from this line, and as I have noted, an inability to see even a 1% reasonableness in another POV is itself pathological.

If there is a rape, then America was wearing short skirts, unless they were the active party, in which case they were violent and conscienceless rapists. If America is trading with a country and it does something evil, it was because of their contact with America, but if we don't trade with them, that is the cause. If we are on good terms with a government, then we are complicit in any of its evil acts. If we do not support it, then it is still not at fault, because we have driven them to extremism in opposition. It's just silly and predictable, and I would see no need to even mention it, except that folks take him seriously, and he does seem to be only a more intense version of other leftists who find can no good in us, nor any moral agency in others. It's a rather fun position to take, of course, for whenever others take the slightest bit of credit for good action or self-congratulate in any way, you can shoot them down and be morally superior, pointing out that they are in fact quite evil. Tastes great. Less filling.

It is also ultimately a self-defeating argument, if one sticks to logic. If we are to blame for everything, then we are to blame for nothing. There becomes no standard of measurement, no comparison of good and evil. I have little interest in how he got this way, whether it is some self-hatred, or a genuine compassion for the downtrodden that went off the rails, or a tribal loyalty to a narrow group; these things perpetuate for different reasons than they start, I think, for the neurology takes over and they become unable to even see another POV.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

How The Pieces Fit

I have always been an unusual sports fan in that I don't watch or listen to the games much. I would rather read or think about them. My first realization of this came in 1986, reading Bill James' Baseball Abstract for that year. He discussed the 1985 World Series in detail, and I wanted to discuss it with a friend at work who was a big baseball fan. After several days of mealtime discussions, he put up his hand. "You didn't want to discuss it while it was happening. I was working with you then and watched every game. You weren't interested in either Kansas City or St. Louis, and didn't watch or listen to a minute of it, and sorta shrugged when I brought it up."

I notice this increasingly. It's not just that I don't have TV, because I don't listen to much of any game either. The last decade has been the most magnificent in Boston sports history, and I haven't watched much or listened. Some. I like reading about it before and after. Even now in the playoffs, I don't much watch the highlights, I read the box scores. I watched the Patriots some, but I like listening to the sports shows better. I am not really a sports fan anymore, not in the usual sense. I don't like the players or owners, I don't like the games

I like thinking about how the pieces fit together. Does this strategy work? Does bringing in a certain backup help? Are the young players improving? Do teams do better if they do it this way or that way? What are the risks? What was different 20 years ago? 40 years ago?

I like hearing what other people think. It's pretty nonlinear, and even experts get it wrong, though more knowledge usually results in more accuracy. My second son knows 10x more than I do about current affairs in the three major sports, but he is not 10x better at prediction. Measurably better, but not ridiculously better. It's all dynamic measurement, because change in one area creates unpredictable changes in another. Even in baseball, which is just barely a team sport, individual changes have not only ripple effects, but sometimes produce large, unexpected effects.

Monday, May 09, 2011


My reaction to the Perkins trade in February:
If O'Neal is not healthy throughout the playoffs, then this is a bad trade. The championship window for the Celtics is narrowing quickly - perhaps this is the last year. If they do not win, the idea that Perkins could have put us over the top will become commonplace. So this is a risky trade in that sense.

Sunday, May 08, 2011


Sponge-Headed Scienceman did a Portlandia clip, so here's another.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Learning Languages - Weak Arguments

Kenneth Anderson of Volokh has linked to an essay on the importance of Americans learning foreign languages. I disagree with that more each year. I think some Americans who are good at it should learn foreign languages and the rest of us just get a flavoring for the idea that foreign languages are well, different. Learning a language is supposed to improve the brain, but there's not evidence for that; it is supposed to broaden the mind but I don't see evidence for that either. People who have put a lot of effort into learning a language subjectively feel that it is valuable, but other learnings requiring effort might have been equally valuable, or more.

Certainly, if you intend to live somewhere else, it pays to learn the language as young as possible - which everyone has known for a century but schools still don't do.

Berman is the current president of the Modern Language Association, reminding me of the guys who would come up to the band and say "you guys could really use a harmonica." Yeah, really? And say, you don't happen to play the harmonica, do you you? Who'da thought it? Yet even aside from that, if this is the best one can put forward in praise of learning languages, then there's barely any need to attack the idea.
Monolingualism, he said, "is a disadvantage in the global economy. If you get off the plane in Germany and take a cab, you can't count on the driver speaking English," said Berman. "I would call that a disadvantage."
As would speaking fluent French or Japanese equally be a disadvantage. Unless the idea is to learn them all?
She (MLA Executive Director Rosemary Feal) pointed out that virtually all other industrialized countries require second or third language study in the school system: "The United States should be a leader in this global competency and not be seen as lagging behind."
Why? Isn't that the point you are attempting to prove? What if it's wasted time? Shouldn't the US then be a leader in abandoning it?

People with traditional, and especially classical educations believe in the learning of languages, especially Latin, because they are associated with that package. They know the whole they received is better than the current offerings of education, and thus conclude that the parts must all be an important part of this. First, I challenge the idea that the traditional or classical education is better (and my minor was in medieval literature, remember); second even if it is better, that is no evidence that a,language is a necessary part of it.

May We Believe Our Thoughts? Part VIII

Well, we've touched on the heritable and very early factors that might influence out thought down through our decades. We hope, certainly, that reasoning affects our beliefs, and Christians hope that the Holy Spirit affects how we view matters and what we choose to believe. I've rather dismissed how much advertising affects us, though I'm about to bring it back in a larger context.

Who we hang out with powerfully influences our opinions. One can modify that by examining who we regard as our True Peers versus who we spend more minutes dealing with. We might even regard people who we have little contact with as our social group: people we went to school with; coreligionists, especially in a small sect; members of our profession; a political cause with widely scattered members who keep in touch frequently.

I can intellectually trace for you how I came to move from socialist to postliberal, but it may just be that I hung out with evangelical Christians for religious reasons and found it more congenial to hold their politics as well. I have asserted before that bright students like to identify with those who claim to be the bright ones of society, and in their socially insecure highschool and college days adopt the views of those they think are coolest. I can certainly accuse myself of that, and have seen it in others. Law used to be a conservative profession, but as people saw how to use the law to effect social change, those interested in social change went into it, and it is more politically mixed now. Social work and psychology have been overwhelmingly liberal, and those entering those professions tend to acquire even more of those views. Librarians had the stereotype of being personally conservative and thus people expected a similar staunch defense of the status quo from them. But it is a female profession and thus focused on women's rights and women's lives, moving it into more liberal camps. First Amendment issues before the days of speech codes and political correctness tended to pit them against social conservatives. They work for governments and/or schools, allying them with Democrats - it is now a very liberal profession, partly because of who librarians associated with.

It's easy to see the evolutionary advantage of being in agreement with those around you. Yes, there may be some competitive advantage in showing the strength of independence within the group, but such things have their limit. If you live in Chief Wilbur's tribe, it is likely dangerous to take opposing views. We are social, we want to get along.

It's mostly a good thing.

"At Least You're Not Black"

Chris has had the odd experience, while seeking employment in Norway, of having a few prospective employers smile and say "At least you're not black." I don't know if it's something Norwegians deeply mean or just an old saying they haven't bothered to clean up, rather in the manner that Americans used to say "free, white, and 21" when I was young.

But for a boy just out of the Marine Corps, it rings pretty oddly on the ears. What if I was* black? he asked me, Would it make a difference to them? I think probably yes. Scandinavian countries are homogeneous, and no European countries have much good record in accepting other races, or hell, even other tribes of the same race. The Flemish and Walloons still can't get along, for pity's sake, and the Saxons and the Celts just barely until quite recently.

And don't even get me started on the Roma.

Yeah, if you've got a gypsy-disliking Romanian wondering if you are too racist, that pretty much answers the question right there. Americans are the least-racist people (there are other anglospheric countries in the discussion), and it pays to remember that. We are accomplishing, however slowly and badly, what other nations do not even attempt.

*No, the Romanians are not the children I would have even bothered to teach to say "if I were." It is examples such as this that solidified my move from prescriptivist to descriptivist in language. Chris and J-A learned English from native speakers of their generation, primarily. That is standard English, even if I find it sloppy. It is fine to insist on conventions in conventional situations, such as speeches, papers, formal events. But other prescriptive changes describe social, even snobbish distinctions. Not that I don't use them anyway, of course, because that's who I am. Yet it is not who they are.

Skills To Teach

My wife put me on to this article at Tweenteacher describing what skills "business and college leaders" think should be taught for College and Career Readiness. It's not a bad looking list at first glance, and while folks might well argue whether other skills should be added, it's hard to argue with the Top 5 she whittled her list of 13 down to
Independent Learning
Yet as I read the essay, reflecting on my growing conviction over the years that genetic and prenatal influences are far more determinative of human outcomes than we used to credit, I wondered if the whole article exaggerated the importance of what a middle-school teacher contributes to the final product.
The next question is, are teachers at least using these 5 in their everyday lesson planning? And if so, how? The key is to use these skills to promote content in lesson planning, note taking, and assessments.

Over the next few weeks I’ll share some lessons that you can do to address these skills and for you to mull over for Someday or use on Monday. Hope you’ll share some of your lessons with me and my readers in this thread as well. After all, collaboration is a key future skill and one that must be modeled by the teachers in the room.
I commented there, and expand upon it here.

This is not What Should Be Taught. This is a list of how we currently describe what bright, socially skilled, motivated students do already, and the businesses and colleges are telling us no more than “Hey, we’d like to have bright, motivated, socially skilled students. Make us more of those.” Most good students will pick up a lot of these skills on their own even with bad teachers. Even good teachers will have a hard time bringing these forth from dull, unmotivated students.

We all like to think what we do is important, perhaps even crucial or life-changing. It helps us get up in the morning and plow into the day's work even when we feel dull and unmotivated ourselves. Teaching is valuable and should be done well. But I think it is valuable primarily for the 10% of students whose life course is in doubt. Many will succeed in bad schools, many will fail in good ones. Guaranteeing them enough safety to concentrate, enough materials to have something to put their brains to work, and enough skill and good will from the adults to keep from damaging them, and the school has done 90% of its work. It is valuable to move even a small percentage of those from F's to D's, or from C's to B's, by better instruction. But moving kids from F's to C's, or C's to A's? That's rarer, and I think well less than 10%. Retrospective anecdotes tell us that some teacher rescued or ruined us by something they said or did. Eh, probably not.

I give the Buddha credit on this one. When the student is ready, the teacher appears.

Have We Got a Choice? MWBOT7

First up: whatever we come to understand about salvation and election, we should be aware that the common rhetoric of evangelicals is surely wrong on this. Evangelical theologians may make the right distinctions, and evangelicals who ponder these things over time may come to get it, but the language used in revival/camp meeting/street evangelism falls into the heresy of Semi-Pelagianism, and even Pelagianism itself. They insist that your act of choosing is the determining factor in one's salvation. Choosing is, if you will, a "work" that one must perform to be saved.* As I noted, evangelicals who read the Bible seriously do note the times Jesus states that they did not choose but have been chosen, and enter the long, messy discussion about what, precisely, is occurring in this interaction between God and man.

I won't give my opinion on the matter because I no longer know what it is. And it's off-topic anyway.

I would like to set the stage for talking about choice in the NT but setting out two OT stories for your contemplation. In Exodus 7-11 God talks about Pharaoh's heart hardening. I wouldn't rest an entire doctrine on it, but there does seem to be a switch in the middle. Up until chapter 9, the scriptures say that Pharaoh hardened his heart. After that, they say that God hardened it. As God says in chapter 4 that He will harden it, the change may be unimportant. And second, the story of Naaman, in 2 Kings 5, healed by Elisha by washing in the Jordan. He almost doesn't do it, being insulted that Elisha did not come down to him. But his servants talk him into it by repackaging Elisha's words so that they don't carry any insult. So Naaman nearly missed healing because of being unwilling to listen.

Moving to the NT, particularly Matthew and John. The whole concept of Jesus preaching, teaching, and explaining seems incompatible with any idea that the people he was speaking to have no choice, or no ability to choose him. Yet there are many verses which suggest exactly that. The end of John 5, and in the positive, John 15. Matthew 17, perhaps.

There is in fact a range of description in the gospels about how much choice we have, and I think this is intentional. But the bulk of them seem to fall into two strongly-related possibilities: 1) The choice has already been made by the hearers, a product of many choices over the years which they cannot now undo, and 2) This is their last chance. All the signs and miracles, even the most primitive one of "He gave us food," which Jesus criticises as been even beneath "He did miracles" as a reason - all these are brought out in a final attempt to get their attention. The speaking in parables - a way to get behind people's defenses and perhaps see what applies to them but they deny - are a last-ditch strategy to slap them to their senses. We moderns think of parables, and miracles, and rescues as charming introductions to the idea of Jesus - and I see little harm in using them that way in the instruction of children and new believers. But Jesus seems to say the opposite: you have had many chances. The result of your choices is now being revealed. In the early chapters of Matthew He says "you must change, you must grow, you must turn." By Chapter 7 He is already saying "I sense some are rejecting me," which progresses to "Some have rejected me," and "There will be very few." By Chapter 21 He is telling the frightening parable of the vineyard.

Peter's affirmations in Matthew 16 are described as being not quite his, but from God the Father and from Satan. Yet Peter's choice is hidden in there somewhere. We think of Christianity as affirming the principle of human agency, of choice, and leading to ideas of freedom and the value of the individual, and of freedom. And so it does, but perhaps only in comparison to everything else, because the NT certainly provides no ringing endorsement of how free we are to make moral choices at any given moment.

*My favorite on this was the old Baptist preacher who explained God votes for you, the Devil votes against you, and you cast the deciding vote. It's discouraging to think we still have to refute Zoroastrianism, let alone Pelagianism, at this late date.

Thursday, May 05, 2011


You can watch the buildup if you like, but the key line - one of the most memorable in television in that era - starts up around 7:30.

For vaudeville fans, there is also this

New Pew

I have often linked to a 2005 Pew Research study that groups Americans politically according to factor analysis rather than direct questioning of ideology. It has been an interesting contrast to the usual red/blue/green political assignments in the media.

Now there is a new version. I have only glanced at it thus far, but expect the comparison to the 2005 version will be interesting.

Update: I should mention that I am aware of the large methodological difficulty with the Pew polls. They are telephone polls, with a low response rate. It may well be that a few of these categories have, for some reason, a high percentage of people who really like answering these things, while other categories contain those who refuse to participate at a higher level than the general population. So hold the numbers very lightly in your head while making comparisons. It is useful more as general guide to the attitudes and ideas that seem to associate with each other.

To Banish Evil

Simon Baron-Cohen, who I have mentioned before in conjunction with autism research, has banishing evil and increasing empathy as his new project. Hard to argue with the spirit of that, but it would seem at minimum quixotic.

He has some thought of redefining evil as lack of empathy, and seeking ways this might be treated. He's an intelligent man, and the immediate objections that come to mind have likely occurred to him, at least in part, so I don't want to shoot from the hip and reveal my dilettante shallowness. Yet it does occur to me that this is exactly the sort of grandiose scheme that gets humankind in trouble. The balance of empathy along a continuum in a tribe might allow only a narrow range for group survival.

For the record, yes, he is related to Sasha Baron-Cohen of "Borat" fame. There are other filmmakers and artists in the family tree as well. And yes, the irony of a premiere social-understanding researcher being Borat's cousin is worth contemplating.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

May We Believe Our Thoughts? Part I - Revisited

Here is a speech given by Xavier Amador, who I mentioned before, on the subject of anosognosia. It is lengthy, but excellent. And for those of us who have been doing this wrong for years, it is absolutely heartbreaking to listen to. I don't know if I can learn this.

Monday, May 02, 2011

May We Believe Our Thoughts? Part VI

I spoke about anosognosia today for ten minutes or so with a colleague, with specific reference to our patients, then more tentatively, about some previous department members who were known for ridiculously overvaluing their skills, and displaying no insight into even mild criticism. She took the point and understood immediately, and as I related it to a larger context, she started dropping in political comments. It was standard issue liberal boilerplate, about how people believed Sarah Palin even though that was obviously ridiculous - not specifics, of course - and people asking for Obama's birth certificate insisting he was born in Kenya - perhaps not seeing that one might ask on general principle. I let these pass, and several other stock items as well, but when she mentioned that legislators were so stupid not to address the revenue side and pass a sales or income tax (that's liberal boilerplate in NH), I ventured to mention that I thought in the long run that would lose money.

I didn't get to complete a sentence from there on in, and was trying to answer a barrage of strawmen, false choices, and rewording what I was trying to say into things she preferred to answer. I was quite subdued in what I actually said, but I could tell the mere challenge was ringing bells.

I will note, because it is key, that this is A) an intelligent, highly competent person and B) a person who immediately understood the general idea of extreme unawareness and worked with the concept independently after I had brought it up. I have little doubt that if forced to make a coherent, positive case for liberal ideas without resort to cliches, she could, on her own time, produce it. At least, I have little doubt that she was capable of this at one time. We may lose that if we rely on the conventional wisdom too long. But in the moment, it was a stunning non-understanding, driven primarily by unwillingness to hear the ideas out.

Now, I've done that myself before. I dare say there are subjects where I do it often, though I hope I self-monitor well-enough that I retain some ability to question my conclusions, even at my worst. But the point is that unawareness is not a general inability to be disagreed with, but can be specific to single areas. We might be open-minded on some things and closed-minded on others. That would suggest that unawareness cannot be a single brain area that is broken, and seems to drive us back to mind-explanations rather than brain-explanations.

I just noticed how apt that open and closed metaphor is for this discussion, though it is not a recent phrasing.

I propose a modification - I doubt I am the first to think of it, though I have not seen it before - that there is a brain mechanism nonetheless, and at a threshold point, unawareness becomes absolute. If we take the analogy of eyes and focus, it is actually a good thing for the two eyes to see things just a bit differently. It gives the brain more information, such as depth. But as data from the two eyes gets farther and farther apart, the brain is confused and striving to achieving a coherent vision, progressively disregards the data from one eye, until it may ignore it altogether.

The data from the remaining eye is now all-conquering. A marginal improvement in the bad eye may have no effect, or no immediate effect.

Thus, the more conflict between visions, the more certainty that the brain will resolve this with an unmovable view. Play that out in terms of a dominant culture of belief - media, social group, opinions of educators - providing one set of explanations, and the brain's rejection of the possibility that the strong eye could misperceive, and univision is not only possible, but the most likely possibility.

History seems to bear this out, that the dominant culture of anything is going to have significant blind spots that will not be moved. That's not just Arts & Humanities tribe members, but any group. The prevailing view of evangelicals, however right it might be in a dozen places, will have at minimum a place or two where they are not only wrong, but wildly wrong and unable to perceive that. (Insert mainstreamers, liturgical churches, whatever, in that slot.)

It holds for science in any field, as we can never see at the time but can always see in retrospect, wondering how supposedly data-driven people can miss the obvious. It holds for military strategists, stock investors, NFL scouts. The most likely scenario is a large blind spot.

Which sucks, of course, because that naturally means any and all of us.


Related: I was browsing rather aimlessly through the New Testament, looking for examples of Jesus or Paul speaking of people who no longer having the ability to choose the right, but are in darkness because hey, they're in darkness and that's what happens. (First John 1-2 have a lot of that.) I still plan to relate that to this topic, but I got caught in this similar idea, and decided to try on applying it to the Gospel of Matthew. Pretty surprising stuff. If you hold that idea in your head, that if one is able to admit weakness, admit sin, admit wrongness at all, then one just might still be able to hear the Good News, but those who can't, just can't, because they are too far gone of their own previous choices, new shadings on a lot of scripture emerge. I'm going to push this idea further and see if it holds up under pressure.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Who To Root For?

Both Memphis and Oklahoma City have ex-Celtics I like very much. Both are have-not teams getting a shot at the big time for the first time. I have been through Memphis once and had 2.5 pleasant experiences there. I've never been to Oklahoma City, though. So who do I root for? Suggestions accepted.