Monday, April 30, 2012

Grim Texan

Grim's Hall, on the sidebar, is usually Grim plus supporting cast.  At the moment, it is Texan99 plus supporting cast.  Lotsa postin of her own, rather than just finding out what she thinks about my stuff.

Wondermark Comic

Illustrated Jocularity. Sixpence halfpenny by post.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Wedding Song

This used to be common to the point of triteness, like having 1Corinthians 13 (mis)read at your wedding.  Tracy and I sang it in two parts and were asked for it occasionally.

One doesn't often hear it anymore.  Overuse, perhaps, or too strong an association with a particular era.  I love the guitar tuning and work; love the lyrics; love the melody and his voice.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Employee Handbook

Ran into this employee handbook on the web.  Valve produces great software in an industry that too often is content to churn out terrible games while simultaneously working young developers until they burn out.  Valve's approach is a little different.  I recommend the read not only for the content and the company's approach, but also for the great visual design on their handbook.  I'm trying to think of what skills I have that they need now...

Thursday, April 26, 2012

NFL Draft

Still not following sports - though I have dipped a toe into the Celtics' play.  There are two players from William and Mary who might get drafted in the later rounds, a RB and a DE, I think.  I'll check back this weekend and see if they got picked up by anyone.

I remember from the fall that Andrew Luck and Robert Blake Griffin - no, that's not it, and there's a "III" in it at the end; ah well - are both QB's that are supposed to go 1-2.  I don't know if that's still the case.

Yeah, Blake Griffin is basketball.  But it's something like that.


Emily has bought a doll with her own money, a doll that is always sick.  She earned $19 over time helping mother fold clothes and clean.  Touch a spoon to Suzie's mouth and she says "that medicine is yucky."  Humorous, at first.

Notice, however, that this dolly is never going to get better.  You can take care of her and treat her all you want, it won't help.  Damned depressing, I would think.  Though four-year-olds do like predictability, I grant.  But I spent so much energy making sure my sons never became social workers, and now the sun goes dark before my eyes. 


Just to keep you current on these things. Lacrosse was a Mid-Atlantic and/or prep sport when I was growing up. Only the wealthier suburban schools elsewhere even had a high school team, never mind feeder leagues at younger ages. In Massachusetts is was often Longmeadow versus Lincoln-Sudbury in the finals, for example.

That is still greatly the case - the top college teams are remarkably similar to a generation, two generations ago. The top HS teams are still MD, PA, NY, predominantly. But there is expansion. No NH school had a team when I was growing up, now many do. These still lean in the private academy, wealthy suburb direction, but not exclusively so. Hockey players - an interesting prep/blue-collar mix in NH - are making lacrosse their spring sport. LAX is gradually becoming more blue-collar here. You'd think the cost of the gear would limit that, but hockey is even more expensive and lower-middle-class families shell out big bucks for that.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Part of the Conversation

My son takes a Sunday paper, and made an offhand disparaging remark about Parade magazine while we were over there. There is a popular culture question site, and he was noting that every question could have been answered with two minutes at a search engine - three minutes tops. What in the world motivates people to write in and ask, having to wait so long for an answer? It might have made sense thirty years ago, or fifty. I suppose there is some thrill in seeing that they picked your question and put your name in print - and it is rather a confirmation that Yes Johnny, you are right in the thick of popular culture, because we picked your question as one lots of others might be interested in.

But mostly, I think people like being part of the conversation, more than they actually want an answer. Chirp, chirp, like birds announcing their whereabouts.

I suppose we're all like that, then, at least in part. Some of us have a horror of being starlings, perhaps.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Same Tune

It happens all the time, of course, hearing an old song from the British Isles...

And recognising it as something like an American folk song - in this case a sea chantey. I learned this on Channel 11 - public television out of UNH - in the 1960's. We were made to learn a lot of these things at school. New England heritage and all that.

Lyrics to the latter here. Clearly, someone thought these were uproariously funny at the time. I'm betting there wasn't much of a tradition of standup comedy on board whalers, if the chanteys I learned are any indication. Of course, these may have been post-rum-ration songs, in which case I'm sure they were just fine for the purpose.

Sponge-headed Scienceman did something on Chanteys a while ago. Hmm. Almost a year ago.

Rural Maine

My nephew, the former nutcase outdoorsman (many White Mountain winter climbs), who likely has a significant familiarity with Le Chatelier's principle already and didn't have to look it up (PhD engineering candidate at Tufts), sent a link to rural Maine photography from the 80's.

I'm not sure why he thought I'd be fascinated, but he was right.  However, much of what fascinated was how normal it looked to me. From my reply:
A little grimmer, a little poorer, a little Dust Bowl, but basically just what my grandfather Wyman's neighbors looked like (Westford, MA), or NH looked like in general once you got out of the cities and tourist spots in my 60's childhood. Inland Maine was always known to be a bit poorer, but not so different from NH outside the Golden Triangle Nashua-Concord-Portsmouth - and a fair bit inside the triangle as well. Vermont much the same.
That it persisted more broadly into the 80's in Maine I guess is significant. You could still find similar scenes in NH even now, but you'd have to work for it a bit harder.  I'm guessing the Canadian Maritimes would have even more.

Le Chatelier's Principle

John Gall's Systemantics, making the point accurately but more humorously as usual, describes it thus:
A large system, produced by expanding the dimensions of a smaller system, does not behave like the smaller system.
Gall was an engineering type, adapting the scientific principle beyond merely physical systems to systems of all kinds. A nine-member Supreme Court behaves differently than a tribunal; fifty states behave differently than thirteen.

Remember that when the cry goes up about how expanding Medicare must be the solution if the ACA is struck down by the courts. Medicare is not a terrible system, at least from the points where my hospital interacts with it. Neither is it wonderful, and Tim Geithner apparently thinks it's going to go broke in ten years so we'd better do something fast. (I didn't hear the rest of that story, but I'll bet I can guess.) The blithe confidence that expanding a system that already leaks...hmmm.

I had first heard Le Chatelier's principle, or something like it, years ago at college:
Any change in status quo prompts an opposing reaction in the responding system.
Turns out that's not quite it either. In its precise form in chemistry - which I did not take in college - it's
If a chemical system at equilibrium experiences a change in concentration, temperature, volume, or partial pressure, then the equilibrium shifts to counteract the imposed change and a new equilibrium is established. (emphasis mine, to connect to the topmost quote.)
Unfair, you say, to try and apply physical laws to political questions. Just because such things happen among gasses and turbines and cooling systems doesn't mean those apply to human systems.

Actually, it's likely to be worse. A physical model on, say, a one-tenth scale has at least some reasonable chance of vaguely illustrating what will happen full-scale and giving hints as to where problems may arise. The physical system is, if anything, more likely to be useful. But viruses, cats, kindergartens, or - gulp - restaurants will be far more complicated and work unpredictably.

Which of course gives us great confidence in the predictability of the delivery of health care via government insurance in a mixed free-market/redistributive system.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

L'Engle and Sci-Fi History

Sci-Fi writer Paul Di Filippo has an interesting essay on Madeline L'Engle's probable debt to earlier science fiction. I'm not sure I agree with all of it, but it's worth reading.
Of course, one of L'Engle's key innovations lacking in Heinlein was the metaphysical angle, not precisely doctrinal Christianity but a kind of ecstatic theology of cosmic consciousness fully in tune with and foreshadowing the era of the High Sixties. In this mash-up of science and religion I see a deliberate echo of C. S. Lewis's great Ransom Trilogy, in which similar spiritual dimensions overlay conventional space travel.
I have not read L'Engle for a long time. I should probably refresh.

Saturday, April 21, 2012


I have written often about paranoia, right from the start, and you can get more detail by entering that word on my search bar.

I have a new and interesting update.  One of my claims is that the paranoia strikes the brain first - both in the psychotic illnesses and in the milder political forms of paranoia - and the human then goes in search of the explanation.  Feeling precedes data.  The paranoid is sure that "something is up," and tends to draw on whatever culture floats his way after that.  Thus the focus of the paranoia can change, albeit very slowly, over time.

I have a favorite story about a patient who came in around 2007, complaining that everything had been going fine until the government implanted that chip in his head after the First Gulf War.  I called his family and community providers to get some background information.  His mother told me everything had been fine until the government had implanted that chip in his head after the First Gulf War.

That's when I knew it was going to be a long day.

The patient and his family were involved at the edges in a few paranoid causes - the Ed Brown Tax-Protest standoff, for example - but had been rejected by nearly all because he was just too crazy and threatening for them.  When the people who are into colonics as an adjunct to their dentistry find you too ill...

His case is fascinating in itself, and I could disguise the information well enough to protect his confidentiality (far better than he protects it himself), but that's not my point.  He was brought back to the hospital, accompanied by a different group of visitors who come in and mutter with him now.  His mother is still part of the mix, but the rest of the crowd has changed.  He is still paranoid, and has a theory about why he was brought in now, involving powerful forces arrayed against him that he is going to expose - but no more implanted chip.  Now the story is that Special Forces subjected him to brain experiments while he was in Iraq, and the government has been trying to silence him with "state-sponsored terrorism" ever since. Similar, but not the same.  There has been a migration in the delusion.

His mother has also dropped the chip idea.  She now hears "them" talking about her son from all over America when she is on conference call every night.  The other visitors come from categories of believing other paranoid things about the government* or other world forces, and have concluded that if my patient is being so persecuted, then he must be very near the center of this whole battle, and what he says must therefore be correct, and they should get involved with his battle against the state because clearly, important things ride on it.

That this is entirely circular they cannot accept.  If you tell them that the patient's condition is not that uncommon, his symptoms not that unusual, and the whole thing rather small, they take it as proof that it is big - because clearly the hospital is trying to hide something.  You can refresh your memory on anosognosia if you wish by throwing in that search term up top as well.

*The breakdown seems to be about one-third sounding rather right-wing/libertarian, a few sounding very green/WTO left, but most caught up in their own personal persecution by the various towns they live in.

Trade, and Tradeoffs

Pretty basic rant, spurred by a comment-section I should never have gotten myself bogged down in.

When there are accusations of what American businesses have done in other countries, and how we have ripped them off or exploited their resources, I always wonder what the speaker thinks the role of that country’s government was.  At least over the last 60 years, was this not a government the UN recognised as representing the nation?  Prior to that, was it not at least some sort of recognised entity that other nations were bound to deal with?  Didn’t they have the general right to negotiate on behalf of their people?  Perhaps the tradeoffs (assuming that the accusers acknowledge that there were tradeoffs at all) looked different then.  Who do they think Americans should have dealt with instead?

I’m sure we have broken agreements, or skirted them.  Well, that’s worthy of condemnation, certainly.  And we may have been deceitful in making the agreements – that should be right out as well.  But this whole idea that if anyone made more money than someone thinks they should, the default assumption is that this was exploitation doesn’t seem well thought-out.  There’s an inconsistency here.

If one thinks that a lot of these governments are not properly representing their people, then why do we think they should have a vote at the UN? Who do you think we should be calling on the phone instead?  If the Elbonian government in 1962 thought a mining deal with Amerizinc was in the country’s best interest, wasn’t that their call to make?  If we now say they were always corrupt nepotists representing only a few families*, wasn’t that Elbonia’s problem to fix, not ours?  What do they think we should have done about that?

There may still be plenty to legitimately criticise Amerizinc about.  I am objecting to the mindset that fails to recognise that economic decisions are always tradeoffs that need to be seen in their context, not through the prism of what we think later.  Because what we think later usually involves looking at only one side of the scales: wars or coups or deaths from poverty that we think could never have happened because they did not happen in this scenario.  It’s rather like resenting all the money you spent on insurance because of things that didn’t go wrong after all.

*Like that narrows it down


Somwhere in grammar school SRA Reading Laboratory was introduced. The 20+ leveles were color coded, and the names were different than the Crayola designations. This in itself fascinated me; I think I believed Crayola was based on some official color list, something venerable, like the periodic table. How else to explain a color such as

Burnt Sienna?

So SRA seemed suspicious right from the start, an arrogant upstart organisation which made up its own names for colors. The system also allowed you to work in only one color at a time - damn fascists.

On the plus side, it was free reading allowed during class time, and one got to choose which selections to read and which to skip within color. Provided you tested on to the next color before exhausting the possibilities, that is. Otherwise, I suppose you got stuck reading girl stuff at the end.

It may have been my first exposure to speculative reasoning. Most vividly, I remember an article (aqua, perhaps) explaining why creatures from other planets were unlikely to have six eyes or six arms; why they would not be giant-size or teensy. Looking back, I can see enormous failure of imagination on the part of the author, who essentially concluded that aliens would look something like us. I liked this whole process, however. A topic where no one knew the answer, but we might figure out which answers were possible or likely, versus impossible or unlikely.

In popular culture contact with aliens follows two forms (the SF writers have provided more variety if you dip into that): either we are meeting space others for the first time and so are they, or the universe has got lots of sentient creatures, among which earthlings figure prominently. That's because these make for better stories. These concepts have been around for quite awhile, and the narratives were already in place before we started thinking about intelligence elsewhere in the universe. The first bears similarity to folk tales of meeting with dwarves or the spirits of trees; the second is like the animal tales, where the human characters are the powerful, dominant ones..

That's ridiculous. Unless God designed some specific lower number of intelligences in the universe for unfathomable reasons of his own, the universe is either generally supportive of complex development sucking energy from a source - in which case there are thousands - or it's not, in which case we're it, by wild chance. There isn't going to be just one or two others. Preposterous.

Thus when they find us, they will be blase, and slightly annoyed at our childish wonder and questions. Then they will eat us and take all the earth's ammonia. Glad I could clear that up for you.

Our Man James

James has four new science posts up at "I don't know, but..." I'm uh, going to try again in the morning.

Friday, April 20, 2012


Steve Sailer has some commentary here, on the graphs originally from the NYT. Yes, they do expand.

I'm guessing that Burger King's spot reflects people who think Well, at least I'm asserting my independence by not going to McDonald's, and Dunkins just reflects New England voters.


Fifty-nine!  It's the new fifty-seven!  Gotta keep saying it till you believe it!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Geography Geek

So Obama was going out of his way to signal to the Brits that he wasn't going to support them on this Falklands thing.  He was going to be reflexively anticolonialist (as he always is - it's one of his constants) and be on the side of The People.  Except the people want to be British, but who cares about the actual people when you can be for The People.

So Obama goes for the intentional diss and calls the islands "The Maldives."

Um, yeah, I think "The Malvinas" is the phrase you are looking for there, dude.  The Maldives are elsewhere.  If it was just a flyby comment, talking about the islands as part of some list or obscure example, it would be a small thing.  It's the sort of error people make all the time, and it doesn't mean much.  A slip.

But the choice of name was his entire point and he couldn't get it right.  If you were having a live serious political discussion and made that error, your opponent would gently sneer and say "I think you mean The Malvinas," and you would be utterly humiliated in that conversation.  You would be revealed as a poseur who did not actually know anything about the subject but had just picked up a few scraps and were trying to club people with them.

In everyday conversation it would be a big thing, but in foreign policy it's nothing?  Seriously?

Obama is IQ 115 masquerading as 145.  Now, 115, with proper humility and graciousness, might actually be a high enough number to be a very good president.  I'd prefer up over 125, but beyond that, you don't get much value-added for each ten points, as you might in STEM studies.  115 is doable.

But not if you pretend you are something else, the smartest person in the room and above all those others.  Then 115 is death.

The Food Desert Blooms

The idea of the "food desert," which even Michelle Obama has made a centerpiece, may not be real, according to the NYT Research section.

First, this research, while clever enough is not a thorough dismantling of the food desert idea, though it does undermine it.

Second, the national discussion of obesity/nutrition/eating habits seems to be so fraught with unchecked assumptions that it might be best if we all just mentally reset our thoughts on the matter to "Well, we aren't that sure of what we're sure of."  Like education, parenting, and other homey topics, everyone seems to think their feelings about what should be the right answer must be true.

The old Bedford NH town history - the one that has my grandmother and her friends at Pulpit Rock - records a preacher at the 150th anniversary of the town (about 1900) admonishing the women of Bedford that the reason the children of the current generation were not so hardy as their forebears was because they did not get enough of that good dark oat bread their Scottish ancestors had.  And those mothers had better get cracking on that.
Third, Danger, danger Will Robinson! The government response, from Justin DeJong at the Department of Agriculture, claims that a "comprehensive response" is what is needed.  I am previously on record warning that left or right, these are words that should send any practical person screaming.  Comprehensive anything is doomed.  Fix manageable bits, dammit.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


I went in early with bagels and coffee for the night shift two weeks ago. I was designated - other people brought other things later. Despite my distaste for getting up early, I was looking forward to the chance to talk a bit with this crew. I worked the overnight shift years ago and still feel some identification with them, decades later.

I recognised immediately the aloofness and the distance, however.  It was a social smell I had not sniffed in years but I knew it as soon as I opened the door, even bearing gifts. You're a Daywalker.  We don't need you.  We're fine just by ourselves, thanks.  No we don't want your bagels.  Those are Day Bagels.

They weren't in the least rude.  I could have pushed the issue, and with some energy and skill gotten some grudging acceptance, I suppose.  Yet that seemed intrusive.  I stood aside and busied myself with useless things nearby.  I caught their conversation, and that also had threads I had not followed for many years now, but still recognised immediately.  There are folks who prefer 11-7 for social reasons.

I recall having a wonderful 3AM conversation with an attorney who no one hired (maybe alcohol, maybe appearance, maybe social skills - dunno) and a rather irritable lesbian who was trying to get an antiques business off the ground.  Y'know, the usual conversation about Sonny & Cher, hitchhiking near Baltimore, Subaru commercials - and I reflected how one of the great benefits of the graveyard shift was all the great conversations one had.  They both got kind of quiet, and Bill smiled wryly. "Only on the units you work.  It's pretty quiet everywhere else."

I couldn't read whether that meant "This is mildly entertaining in small doses, but shut up," or "We're really grateful there's someone here to talk to."

And in a few months I was gone.  When I would chance to see them, I could tell I had become a Daywalker to them.


My friend Milan at work, a Serb, was correcting one of the other people in his lunch group. I believe it was Jelena, an Albanian, but it was one of the many folks from the Balkans we have working in environmental services at the hospital. She had talked a bit wistfully about how her village was close when she was young, and there were always people to go talk to and be with, but now she does not have friends close, and her family farther away than she would like. Milan's brow darkened.
We are close together because was for safety. You go out of village alone, maybe someone kill you, rape you. We are together, always together like animals to hunt. You come here you see this one French,* that one from somewhere Africa, friend for you but not close. But not kill you.

An important point, that. But memory does soften the edges of even terrible events. And even more in Jelena's defense, friendship and support soften the edge of terrible events too. She would likely choose again to come here. But the loss is real.

*Milan lives in Suncook, I think, so French-Canadian is likely

Three Optional Sidebars

These are additions to my "Try To Make It Worse" post below.  They are not strictly necessary, but they may be worth following.

BTW, I plan to make this even worse soon.

Optional Sidebar I:

If your thought is that this community is not that high on Jesus’s list, please at least consider it and ponder scriptural references that support it.  I will start you off: the importance that the Church in Acts placed on it; Jesus’s statements at the foot-washing, the Last Supper, and in the garden; the choosing of Israel as a people and the NT echo of this.  There are many others.  All attempts to refine the gospel to “its most important part” – including this one - should be viewed with suspicion, as the various facets of the faith are not understandable except in relation to each other.   Thus I don’t insist on putting my formulation at the top of the list.  But it’s big, and I think it is largely under-emphasised in an American church culture where denominations have split and folks moved to greener pastures throughout our history.  Tracy and I have been well to the high end of the continuum on this matter of community ever since we were first married.  But still, I think, not quite believing how insistent the scriptures are on its centrality.  I even had an early copy of Hal Miller’s book on community (friend of a friend) and didn’t get it – though Miller was focused on living in physical community which is only one possibility.

Optional Sidebar II:
I understand that a suggestion that Matthew 26 does not automatically apply to all earthly creatures seems like an abdication of Christian responsibility.  I know it looks that way.  Yet I claim the opposite is true.  I think it’s the harder path.

I think the social gospel is generally the easy way out, and community the harder way. I say this because of how often I find it easier to write a check than deal with difficult situations (or people).

Just a touch of my thoughts on that matter – some of this is a repeat, I know.

The Matthew 26 reference does specify “brethren,” a distinction not heard by modern brotherhood-of-all-mankind ears but quite clear to original hearers. It is not insane that Team A understands Jesus’s directive as applying to the secular community, swelling ultimately to the whole nation, because it is descended from the social movements of the early 19th C, which in turn came from Puritan identification of the local secular and Christian communities as one and the same. (But note: not until the nationalist, marxist, and socialist creeds got under weigh in the late 19th C did anyone extend this to a national level.  Even expanding responsibility from the town to the state level came pretty late.)  Prior to that, the European nations, with their state churches, also defined all inhabitants as Christians – though neither the king nor the church hierarchy were responsible for the poor.  Those were parish matters.  And prior… and prior,,, the identification of The Church with All Of Us Here is consistent in western thought, because it overwhelmingly was so.  We did not have the pluralism of Persia, or even Turkey and the Levant.  It goes back to the first secular power of the church, when it took over governance of empire from the Romans.  Church=Everyone. Additional: The Romans also fed the poor.  They did not see themselves as responsible for the poor of all the empire, but they did feed the poor of Rome for their own safety

It isn’t surprising that many modern Christians make the automatic assumption that Jesus’s command applies for the whole nation, if not the world. It’s just an overreach of real history. Commands to generosity abound in Christian history, often coupled with enjoinders that the Christian embrace poverty.  But we don’t find examples of this “find a way to feed the poor everywhere” thinking until very recently.  There were some in the Christian church from the start who tried to extend charity to their entire local community, believers or not, especially in times of famine or disease.  But the first church would not have had that understanding at all – and it’s not in the text.

If you want to start applying it as a natural extension of the text, supported by the development of the church in Western Civilization, I agree in part.  But once we have breached that wall, we must abandon all lines of argument that imply those who aren’t going along are being disobedient to the gospel.  That becomes revealed as an insulting and self-congratulatory attitude to take.

Optional Sidebar III

I am mindful of Sam’s comment about efficiency.  Utilitarianism isn’t Christianity, but it’s darn hard to argue with the claim “Yeah, but this way feeds more people.” (Not government, but the broader category of division of labor).  I am in fact mindful enough of the idea that I wrote it - rather the opposite of what I’m saying now - a few years ago.  So I don’t think I’m on top of these Chestertonian furious opposites just yet.

It's A Beautiful Thing

Monday, April 16, 2012

Try To Make It Worse

A cynic was needling a Baptist minister: “I know about you guys. You’re think you’re the only ones going to heaven.” The preacher shook his head. “It’s worse than that,” he said. “I don’t think even most of ours are going.”

 Whenever there is seemingly intractable dispute, sometimes it is wise to see if it can be made worse, for this can reveal aspects previously overlooked. Trying to make things worse often highlights that everyone is wrong. Which is always a start.

There is a current standoff in Christian discussion about Matthew 26, the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. Team A says “Look, Jesus said it. He personally identifies this as the identifying issue for the Church. Therefore supporting generous government programs is a Christian’s duty.” Team B says “Jesus identified several ‘centers’ over the course of his ministry, and this one doesn’t say anything about government, does it?” Discussion proceeds from there about Christian responsibility for a Just Society... historical understanding of the place of Charity and Corporal Acts of Mercy... division of labor, and efficiency... what audience is being addressed... and what the hearers would have understood. All very legitimate stuff. I will touch on some overview of the historical parts later on, but first my goal is simply to make things worse.

Not only does Jesus not identify government anywhere in the passage, He doesn’t mention collective or proxy action, either. There’s no hint of that extra step that we consider just automatic and obvious in our specialising society - of paying someone else to do these for us. Maybe giving money to soup kitchens or prison ministries doesn’t “count.” What if these are things we are supposed to actively participate in, not just assist from a distance? There’s a sobering thought, eh? Just maybe, there's a whole realm of Christian growth we are missing out on because we thought we had a better idea.

I am not fully making that assertion at present (I can think of some sorta counter-arguments myself which I leave off here), but I think it’s worth following that line of thought. There is a framing of Christ’s directions to us that says our main job is to weld together a community, one that demonstrates by its love for its members what God’s love for us is like. (Note: Team A tends to lean in the direction of “No, that’s to everybody, not just ourselves. That would be selfish.” Team B leans to “No, getting as many people as possible into that group is more important.” There are good arguments for both those leanings, but both neglect the texts as written and originally understood. I reject both.)

But if the building of that visible community is the important piece, then doing it ourselves might have some importance. Not that one could never designate others to act on your behalf, or never contribute money to a faraway cause, because both have NT precedent. But the personal nature may have gotten dropped into the ocean on the colonial voyages. Before that, and in most places until very recently, donors and recipients were never very far from each other. Handing over that responsibility distantly, whether to parachurch ministries or to government agencies is new, very new. Come to think of it, parachurch ministries often see advocacy as one of their main functions and gravitate to government solutions. There may be a sympathy of general outlook there, even when they dislike a particular administration.

It seems efficient, neat, tidy – big chunks of unfortunates dealt with at once, feels good.

There might be problems. We will come back to this.

Prejudice - Trayvon

I have almost nothing to add to the general discussion. Steve Sailer had comments indicating he would be willing to be convinced either way depending on the evidence, which seem constantly changing at the moment. I confess I do usually root for the side that says the MSM jumped to conclusions and got the story wrong, but not so strongly that I think it would affect much. I can imagine plausible scenarios of Martin being a merely troubled innocent or a sociopathic thug, or similarly for Zimmerman. Furthermore, it is entirely possible to be a thug but innocent of one particular crime, or a sweetheart but guilty. I may form an opinion once this settles down into known facts versus speculation.

When Ben was turning 6, we had him tested to see whether it would be better to start first grade or kindergarten. (Overprepared in reading and math, still very spacey.) When we were asked which way we hoped the test would come out, Tracy and I quickly realised that we just wanted it to be accurate, regardless of result. I want the Supreme Court to get it right, more than come to my favored conclusion, because future cases may hinge on this one. I want my lab results to be accurate, not just pleasant.

We know this, and agree with it when it is put that way, of course. But we often forget that getting it right is the goal. I agree with Sailer that the prosecutor’s statement is not reassuring in this regard.

Another puzzle, also from Sailer: “It looks like to me that the cases that most get people worked up over who is the good guy and who is the bad guy tend to be the cases that are most arguable.” Why is that? I have a theory involving the general activation of emotions in ambiguous situations, but don’t have evidence near to hand.

Cultural Difference

I asked the Korean medical student whether the results of the recent elections were to her liking.  She replied that the conservative party had won – which I knew, and wasn’t what I had asked.  There seemed a hint that she did not prefer this, but I couldn’t tell, so I pressed it.  She told me her parents are strong liberals as a way of explaining her disapproval.  I don’t think an American child beyond highschool would frame it that way.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Everyone Believes In Magic

Quick summary of a book that came out this week.  Looks interesting in regards to our uneven understanding of cause, effect, and correlation.

HT:  Bird Dog at Maggie's


The visuals seem influenced by Dali, Miro.

The music, I don't know.  Devo, Talking Heads?  Peter Gabriel?

I like it.  I understand he's big now, but I hadn't heard of him until one of Kyle's radio station played him.

Prejudice - Acts and Statements of Bigotry.

I see them more frequently than most of you do, I expect.  There are psychiatric illnesses which interfere with one’s ability to apply filters between thoughts and statements, and others which prevent perceiving anything but the broadest outlines of a social situation.  Manics blurt things out, schizophrenics have trouble understanding what parts of a situation are important.

Then there are the sociopaths, whether full-on or the lite version of drug user and minor criminal who has little empathy for others.

Put them all together and I get to hear people taunting “nigger,” “chink,” or the like all the time – or targeting others for reasons that look suspiciously racial, even if one can’t prove it.  I hear people very off-handedly telling me that all the Dominicans in Nashua are drug dealers who don’t believe in sending their children to school.  That sort of thing.  Prejudice in the raw.

There’s an underlying cause I think is overlooked.  To some personalities, it is mere weakness and vulnerability that activates their meanness.  They don’t pick on a guy because he’s black, but because they are in an environment where they can count on more defense for themselves than for their target.  If the target had been Vietnamese, no problem, no difference.  Just someone to hate.  I don’t know how much this overlaps with people who have prejudices as more traditionally understood, but I think it explains why some areas can flip so quickly.  If the rate of social or government protection for a group changes, you take those equal-opportunity vicious people out of the equation immediately.  They may not be numerous, but they have likely been a big part of the troubles to date.  When the prison population reconfigures, or the National Guard protects kids going to school, or the police decide to press assault charges rather than just break up fights, the predators seek other prey.  They may not have much hated black people to begin with – even though the racial slurs were full in their mouths for years – and they certainly haven’t mended their ways and decided to like them now. They just become Target D instead of Target A.

Sex offenders against juveniles – but not rapists of adults – are favorite targets for that reason.  They do not have the history of fights and makeshift weapons and criminality of the rest of the prison population.  They are (generally) soft. They do not have any natural defenders.  A lot of ink has been spilled trying to understand why this particular set of crimes sets off convicts, and I don’t think much of it pertains. There are a lot of just-so stories here.  They beat them up because they can.  Sure it self-reinforces, a continual reminder of which guys no one is going to lift a finger to protect.  But it’s the vulnerability.