Sunday, September 30, 2012

Runs Scored, Runs Against Revisited

Everyone finally got on the bandwagon to marvel at scrappy Baltimore, that lovable overachieving bunch winning games with Pluck despite their poor run differential.  Except that's no longer true.  That was true in May and June only.  It was partly the case in April, July, and August, but not so you'd notice.

In September they've had a run differential over 50, and have picked up 10 more games over .500 in the W-L rankings.  That's not can-do spirit, that's just beating the cookies out of people.

Baltimore manager of yore Earl Weaver used to say that "chemistry" in baseball was simple: GP + 3R = W.  Good pitching plus 3-run homers equals wins.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Train Song

All-Fenway Team

The all-time All- Fenway Park Red Sox team was announced this week.  It favors players in living memory of baby boomers or younger unless an earlier player was so ridiculously overqualified that we have to take the time to educate the younger generation about them, because they simply cannot be left off.  Jimmy Foxx.  Lefty Grove.  Smokey Joe Wood. Dom Dimaggio.  And of course, Ted Williams.

I get that.  I even agree with it, because otherwise you start to get arguments for people who had two good seasons and were just sort of useful for a few others.  I might think Mel Parnell should be on there, but even I don't want to get into discussing Pete Runnels, Ellis Kinder, Walt Dropo.  Nobody cares.

Plus, I loved Reggie Smith and Trot Nixon, so it's great to see them remembered.  I don't know if Nixon, especially, really was the 2nd best RF in Fenway history, but I'm not minded to quibble.  You can make an argument for it.

I have only one problem with this.  Tris Speaker.  Yes, he only had four years at Fenway and most of his stats were amassed for Cleveland.  But those four years included the inaugural year of the ballpark, which should count for something, and those four years were quite something.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Post 3800 - The Preservation Of...

James's post about the collection of church taxes in Germany led me down interesting paths.  Summary:  C of E - what we would call the Episcopal or Anglican church here in North America, has been The great vessel of Western Civilisation these past three or four centuries.  Yet it has not been an especially good bearer of Christianity.  It has been one among many.  It has had its moments and his shining stars, to be sure.  But even terrible churches have produced Christians of stunning brightness, so that is not in and of itself evidence of spiritual strength.

Christians since the Roman Empire have believed that surrounding culture is important for the preservation of the faith, though there has always been a solid minority which has held it is irrelevant.  I think the former idea is closer to the truth but fear the day that the latter opinion is no longer firmly, even fanatically espoused among us.

I will hold all posts for a few days.  I would like my readers, a diverse and - really - quite brilliant bunch, to give their thoughts on this large issue.  Some of you have your own sites, and I encourage you to link to same in the comments.  But this is the sort of overview question that changes slowly in our lives, but has large effects down the road.

Sperm Donor

Retriever sends along the most interesting stuff, and I don't always remember to politely give her credit.  This one is about a rare genetic condition that a sperm donor has passed along to 5 of 43 children he has "fathered" - and I use the term loosely.

Caveat emptor, as in all else.  Emphasising some characteristics, one could list me as an A-1 possible donor, whose genetics one would love to pass on to future generations.  Looked at from another perspective, one could list me as a "Red Flag - Approach With Caution" donor.  How my children have turned out would tilt the balance in favor of the former, and yet...

I am not sure why people are going in this direction to begin with.  It seems like an inauspicious start for a child, to have a donor father.  It would make me feel as if I were a bit of software.  Note that I say this as one whose father was out of the picture from age six on.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Undecided Voter

My brother sent along this demographic research firm's discoveries about the undecided voter. He points out one difficulty - that small differences are given equal play in the narrative with larger ones.

I would add that the Undecideds are not a single population, as the wording here would suggest.  They are likely two or more separate style of folk who have some overlap.  Also, the indecision of voters that is more key to politicians are those who are undecided whether they are going to bother to vote, not who they are going to vote for.  The latter exist, but don't offer as much payback.  Of that group, the only ones you can get any sort of intellectual handle on are those who are moving from one political or social persuasion to another.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Letters From Another Time - I

I will break this into three parts, and will print them in reverse blog-order.  That is, in the order that we always read everything until ten years ago.

The first letter is from my grandmother's younger sister, Elin, to my grandmother, Louise, giving her details about the hard news she had received previously by telegram: that their youngest sister, Evelyn, had died of scarlet fever at 19.  Indulge me a bit on the length - I wanted to have them printed in full to provide certain effects.  Notice how different the experience of death was, even less than a hundred years ago in 1926.  I will not put that into words for you; I think that is beyond my skill, but more importantly, I want you to have a try at it yourself.  The tone is just different; they lived in a different world.

My second intent is something of an "Our Town" prism in viewing the past.  Reading primary sources is a different experience than reading historians - which is why the training of historians includes an insistence on primary sources.  In tracing family history this sometimes hits with great force.  We read the courtship letters of a marriage that was unhappy.  Whether we see the first seeds of discord or hear only joy and affection is irrelevant - we experience pain. Tucked away in a box, we find letters from a son in the service in the Pacific Theater who never came home.  The writers of these letters do not know what happens after.

So, spoiler alerts.  I will introduce you to the characters, which will color your reading.  The writer of the first letter herself dies prematurely, of mitral valve disease three years later. A friend in NYC replies to inquiries from one of Elin's sisters whether she left any debts which should be paid.

Louise, the recipient of the first letter, had had a hard life, but things were looking up somewhat.  Second of seven-plus children (stillbirths), her father died when she was fourteen (1910), at which point she left school and went to work.  She married a man who had also had a hard childhood, his father abandoning the family when he was small.  But he had some drive, and became the first CPA in NH, bringing Louise into the comfortable middle class and better.  That was still to come, however.  At present, he had taken a job in Lockport NY, where they had moved and started a family.  She had lost her first child, but her son David had just been born.  She was far from family in Manchester, NH.

Evert, Al, Esther, and Selma (Sal) were the other siblings. In time, Louise, Esther and Sal formed rather an iron triangle as the true center of the family - the brothers having scattered out-of-state.  Brilliant, literate women who created a family culture which I still consciously pass on.  Word-people in the extreme, able to quote long sections of poetry or latter verses of obscure Christmas carols, and wallop you at bridge or Jeopardy.

Other relatives mentioned have importance to me - Frieda, Bernadine - but likely not to the reader.  But if you are a female 40-80, or knowledgeable about children's books, one name may be of interest to you.  "Jennie" is Jennie Lindquist, who was editor of the Horn Book and author of a Newbery Medal runner-up in the 1950's, The Golden Name Day. Girl books. Swedish children in America. All far in the future for these letters, but I think it illustrates something about this network of women who are writing to each other, and gives some credibility to the idea that Elin's unpublished poetry may actually have been worthwhile. I've got it all here, including the posthumous pamphlet of five poems, but I'm no judge. I may post those sometime soon, just for posterity. Other pieces I will explain with footnotes as we go.

Letters From Another Time - II

Dear Louise:

         We have started to try to get back to normal again.

         The scarlet fever seemed to be a rather light case, as her temperature dropped steadily until Friday; then pneumonia set in, and she went down under it.  They sent for mother and the girls in the afternoon.  The girls had to stand in the doorway, but mother was right with her, holding her, and she died without pain.  They wired me at 9 o'clock and called up Evert to bring Al at once.  They drove up from Boston in two hours and a half,* arriving just a little too late for the end.  I got the telegram at quarter past eleven, and got an 11:45 train arriving in Manchester at half past nine in the morning.  Esther, Selma, and Evert met me with the news.

         They told us that, on account of danger of contagion, we must have her buried from the hospital, with only ourselves there; but when Mr. Goodwin** told us by using a copper inner shell in the casket, which could be hermetically sealed, the Board of Health would allow a funeral in his undertaking parlor, we decided on that.  The copper box is partly glassed in, so that we could see her about down to the waist.  She was dressed in her ruffly georgette graduation dress, with black velvet slippers and white stockings, some white silk bloomers that Selma gave Esther for Christmas, and a silk shirt that Esther had.  Selma bought the stockings and a white silk slip.

         The details of the funeral are in the clipping. Lillian sang beautifully, though it was very hard for her on account of having lost her mother so recently.  However, she said she wanted particularly to do it for us because, not long ago, at a Y(oung) P(eople's) S(ociety) meeting something had been said about having Estrid sing, and Evelyn said "I wish they'd have you sing instead; I'd lots rather hear you than Estrid."  We asked Annette to accompany her, and she was going to do so, but at the last moment learned that there was no instrument there. So Lillian sang unaccompanied, and somehow it sounded beculiarly beautiful and appropriate.

         Of course the service was in English***.  Pastor Evert was lovely, we all thought; he read from the Bible, and then talked about Evelyn, and prayed, making it short and heartfelt.

         Aunt Laura came up from Lowell, and all our Manchester people were there.  Jennie came home for the weekend, but on account of very stringent college rules, that all students must promise faithfully to keep away from any place that scarlet fever had been, she could not go to the funeral.  She came over here to the house and had coffee and crackers and things ready for us.

         Ever so many people offered us money, cars, food, and help of any sort.  When we found that we could have people there, Evert called Frieda and she came up, and they stayed until 10 o'clock this morning.  Al will have to go back tonight, but I think I shall stay until Tuesday night.

         We have missed you very much, of course, and are sorry that you could not be here, but of course we know you could not possibly have reached here for the funeral in any case, and you certainly could not leave the baby or bring him with you at this season.  It is much better to have you both come when weather conditions are better, and stay for a real visit.

         I came home last weekend, on account of the holiday, and shall always be glad that I did.  She met me at the station with her new coat and the little blue hat she just made, and we didn't recognise each other at first.

         There were so many flowers; we couldn't see how so many people could have heard about it and sent them in time.  There were daffodils from you, and another spray from Lockport friends.  We all appreciated that so much; itwas so thought ful of your neighbors to send them.  We brought home a basket of sweet peas, which came from Frieda, Lennie, and the children, and also some white roses.  Aunt Laura and the Nelsons in Lowell sent some flowers, which arrived too late for the funeral, so this morning we carried them up to the Isolation Hospital, for them to use as they wished.  The nurses were all perfectly lovely to Evelyn, and did everything that was humanly possible for her.  The nurse who came to the door this morning said that they all loved Evelyn, because she was so sweet, and they had all wanted to do all they could.

         You know Evelyn spent a week in Medford with Frieda and the children a short while ago. Evert says that the last time her saw her she was in bed with Bernadine, both giggling at the boys, and telling them they would not get up.  We are thinking of her as gay and sweet and loving on every occasion where we remember she was.

         Last Sunday she and Arthur (ed. Anderson) took some pictures of each other, and we are having some extra ones made of the one that is most like her.  Of course we will send you one as soon as they are done.  The expression and whole appearance are absolutely Evelyn.

         She knew mother was with her at the end, though she was kept under opiates to keep her free from pain.

         I haven't said anything of how we feel about losing our little kid, because you feel the same way and there is no need of dwelling on it.  Lottie stayed with Mother Friday night, and Lib also stayed at the house then - the time that I was riding up on the sleeper, not knowing if she was better or worse or what might have happened.

         We shall so love to have you come on with the baby when you can.  I'll surely plan to be at home some time when you are.  We all are sending our love to you.
                                                                             Elin

         Mother wants to add that she will write in a day or two, just as soon as she can.  She is wonderful, as usual: there's nobody like her.
                                                      Much love,      Elin

*This would now take one hour.
** The fourth Mr. Goodwin is my age, and will likely bury me, as my ancestors before me.
*** Pastor Evert spoke good English, but so heavily accented that people still thought it was Swedish.  Or so I've heard.

Letters From Another Time - III

THE AMERICAN CITY       Editorial Offices                     THE MUNICIPAL INDEX
  Published Monthly          443 Fourth Avenue, NY             Published Annually
                                       Harold S. Buttenheim, Editor


                                                                                                May 8, 1929

Dear Selma:

I received your letter this morning, and am hastening to assure you that Elin owed us nothing.  Her rent was paid up until the end of the week and there were no other bills for which she was responsible.  She has a bill at the Queen Quality Shoe Shop here in New York, and on which I had recently bought a pair of shoes for $8.50.  I shall forward this bill to you with my check, and you can make payment direct to the Queen Quality people.  I believe that was all she owed.  Thank you for writing me about this.

As your brother may have told you, we read with the boys some of the poetry which Elin had written and evidently sent in to several magazines, and which had been returned to her.  I showed the one entitled "Mary in Martha" to Mr. H. S. Buttenheim, and we both felt it was very strange it was not accepted for publication.  I said to Mr. Buttenheim it was too bad none of her poems had ever been printed.  He spoke to Mr. E. J. about it, and Mr. H. S. wanted me to write to your mother, telling her that he and Mr. E. J. would like to print a little four-page pamphlet, quoting three or four, or perhaps five, depending on the length, which your mother considers the best of the ones which your brother brought home with him.  If you will have your mother look them over rather carefully and send me just the ones she would like published, it will be done.  Mr. Buttenheim said to let him know how many you would like to have.  He would probably be prepared to send you several hundred if you want them.  Of course a great many people here will want them too.  I think that is a lovely thought, don't you?  I am sure your mother will be glad to have them also.  Will you drop me a line about this, Selma, as soon as you can conveniently do so.

It may be that sometime during the coming summer I will be up around Manchester, although this is just a guess, but if I am, I shall certainly drop in on the Nordstroms, whom I feel I know already.  You may be assured that anything which Florence and I were able to do for Elin was gladly done, for we know she would have done as much or more for either of us.

I hope you are all feeling better, and that your mother is beginning to get back to normal again.

                                                                      Yours sincerely,
                                                                             Marion E. Lewis

Friday, September 21, 2012

Gangnam Style

This is the current record-holder for most views on youtube. In the time that I watched it, clicked around to some related videos for a few minutes, and composed this post it added 3 million hits.

South Korean. PSY. In addition to this one at 235 million, there are others to this music with 86 million, 47 million, 18 million and lesser hits. As American culture fades and the Third World slowly becomes first, they are going to take our culture and reinvent it.

We aren't going to like it. Think how the Europeans have looked at us. That's our future.





There's an even bigger phenomenon - in numbers at least - called Girls' Generation, sort of a Koren Spice Girls thing, clearly aimed at the 12-16 y/o crowd. I think there used to be groups like this in Japan as well - groups of 10 dancer-singers.  Same switching back and forth between their own language and English; importing American iconography and styles - in this case even importing black people for effect.

I'm planning some serious posts. I think I'm ruining the mood here.

Dental Floss

Inmates at a NY jail are suing because they don't get to have dental floss. The jail's position is that floss can be used as a weapon.

In case you are quick on the bandwagon that the jail is being ridiculous here, we have had suicide attempts with dental floss at our hospital, and no longer allow patients to have it unless supervised.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Gospel People



The long intro is what we hurry away from on Youtube, but it's part of the genre. Whether you think it's a southern thing, a black expression, a quartet standard, or a revival form, it's still just not optional. You have to take the extra minute or two to adjust your mind to the slowness and the build.

It's probably good for you, believer or not.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Train Song

I grew up on the Kingston Trio version, but rapidly grew tired of the oversweet, drain every tear covers by PP&M, the Journeymen, Brothers Four, etc.  I thought that was all that was out there, and I was just throwing this into the collection for sake of completeness.

When I listened to the different versions I found I liked Roseanne Cash's lush and heavily backed interpretation and Hedy West's arrestingly simple one.  I eventually chose this one, even though it's a bit uncomfortable and stretches the song's meaning.  There's something compelling about it.  And it's got great trains.


Had It

My wife was quite upset this morning, and talking about "fasting" from the news - interesting phrase, that.  She has been listening to the reporting about whether Romney's "47%" comment was accurate, and how the fact-checking has gone, etc.  But it has not been the content of the discussion that has upset her.  Good points on both sides, there. It is the sneering, condescending, openly-siding-with-Obama's-interests tone that has infuriated her.

We have been comfortable enough with Romney, though not especial fans.  We seldom put up signs in our yard anyway.  But we're getting a Romney/Ryan sign.

These reporters don't hear it.  They really have no idea how much they telegraph what they believe is the proper view for you to take.  And a lot of Americans remain heavily influenced by these tones, while congratulating themselves that they are actually responding to content.  The media is not always intentionally trying to manipulate them.  Some are.  But this is part of our social wiring, to speak and respond in certain ways in order to get our way; forms of bullying and wheedling.  Fish. Lure. Automatic unless you fight against it. But those who insist it's not happening will never fight against it.

Conservatives use these tones without realising it as well - I have heard them from Christians, I regret to report - but not on the news.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Christian Culture

The perennial disagreement about whether a sympathetic surrounding culture is better for the spreading of the Gospel or whether culture is largely irrelevant has suddenly shown up in three unrelated discussions in my life.  Odd, that.  I don't seek that one out, particularly.  Yet I think it is worth some comment.

I note that whichever side is being put forward with vigor tends strongly to accuse its opposition of being absolutist.  Those who say that cultural support is largely irrelevant, because all is the work of the Holy Spirit, seem quite certain that the rest of Christianity is just chockablock full of folks who insist that political power is necessary for the spread of the Gospel.

I have never met or read any Christian who maintains it is absolutely necessary.  None.  Who are these opponents they rail against?  Similarly, those who advocate that creating cultural support for Christian living is a good thing and means we should vote for people who will by-golly do that seem to also claim that those Other Christians who don't get on board care nothing for our supportive American culture and are willing to just let everything go to hell.  (There's a subtler liberal version of this, but for this discussion it's simpler to just stick with the unsubtle conservative version.)

Yeah, I don't know any of those, either.

Everyone knows that the work of thoughtful believers and the work of the Holy Spirit are not easy to separate even in theory, let alone in real time.  All that remains is to examine ourselves for which way we lean and see if our actions do indeed accord with our theology on the matter.

Some points of interest: CS Lewis notes that England maintained Christian forms for over a century past identifiable markers that it had largely ceased to believe central Christian doctrines.  In Dickens's A Christmas Carol, there is only one fleeting mention of Christ, and that not even by name. Some Christian virtues are applauded, particularly generosity, but the whole charming tale revolves around very English pagan spirits convincing Scrooge not to be miserly.  Ebenezer's redemption seems to be that he is generous to one employee's family and becomes jolly, full of bonhommy (French word meaning "bonhommy.")
And for ever afterwards, it was always said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well - as well as any man has ever kept it.
Well, there you are then. What more does Christ ask of us, eh? Lewis traces this back further, to Sir Walter Scott and others.

It was not merely that literary figures were playing with such secularised faiths, but that their works were so entirely acceptable and popular.  The culture embraced this, swallowed it, without noticing their religion had been drained of its most important meanings.  It marks a culture Christian more in name than practice.  And yet - Christian virtues were not abandoned, many are still not abandoned, even unto the present day.

It is widely claimed that the Church grows under persecution, its members particularly strong and productive.  The earliest Church is given as an example, but I don't think the evidence is strong.  The Church grew greatly at first in each new place it was introduced - from 0% to a few percent right off the bat. If we move from those numbers to the percentage who were Christian just before the persecutions ended in the early 4th C and compute backward, we see that the Church in the Roman Empire grew at about 1% a year.  The miracle of compound interest and all that.  But not much of an advert for persecution being a strategy.  It might be good for us personally, but there's no evidence it's good for numbers.

Nor do the modern examples of Russian Pentecostals and Romanian Baptists offer much evidence.  The Church survived in those countries, but not everywhere.  When the walls came down, there were whole regions in Russia with no evangelical believers anywhere, and not many even of the Orthodox Church, with its solid historical roots.  There is no cultural support for Christianity in Japan, and there are no Christians.  There is cultural support in South Korea and there are lots of Christians.  China had an underground Church that seemed to have grown greatly.  But they've also got well over a billion people there and everything grew greatly.

Sometimes when governments get rid of the Christians they are just gone.  Sometimes God chooses to do something miraculous instead.  Mostly, it's a mixture of the two.  I don't see that the Scriptures promise one thing or the other. In some places we are told that the governments and powers are rather irrelevant.  But God also addresses groups - cities, tribes, nations - as often as he addresses individuals, or more.

Weight Loss

My wife wondered if I might put this Sparkpeople article on weight loss up:  What Quick-Fix Weight Loss Solutions Have You Fallen For?  It's got overlap with a few of our topics here, so I thought it might please.  The author has a weight-loss team, Slowest Loser, that highlights his views on long-term maintenance. 

Mostly, I've never done anything, just slowly gotten fatter.  I did do something called the Rotation Diet years ago a few times, which seemed to sorta work, but i never stuck with it.  Recently I've done dieting because I have to, and had several sources, including bsking, mention the Gary Taubes method with at least mild approval, so that's what I do, in simplest form.  I greatly reduced concentrated sugars, which were never much of an issue anyway, and grains, which were an enormous problem.  I don't worry much about fats, but these went down when the french fries, butter, and pizza went away.  I eats more nuts and cheese, and more raw vegetables sort of in self-defense.  I keep them lying around so that bread/rice/corn/donut/potatopuff cravings do not overwhelm me.

It seems to work some.  His point about optimism, even false optimism, driving both diets and progress seems mostly true: if we assessed the odds correctly, no one would diet, start a business, get married, etc.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Advice

In college I worked briefly at a better restaurant in Williamsburg.  Most of the waiters were black men in white jackets who at been working the Inn or the Lodge or one of the colonial restaurants for decades.  They were quite skilled at quiet service of rich white men, and knew how to play of their egos to get bigger tips.  The younger black men found this demeaning, wouldn't do it, and made less money.

I can see both sides of this conflict pretty easily.  But one old waiter, Ben, tipped me over to his side by the force of his argument.  Not that he ever spoke to me directly, of course.  He hated white people and wouldn't give me the time of day.  But the other white college busboy and I were at least allowed to listen in.  Ben attempted to explain his reasons, but the younger black men did not merely disagree with the ideas and reject them, they simply wouldn't listen.  They just walked away, leaving the old men shaking their heads.  "If you cain't be told, you cain't be taught," Ben would say.  I didn't follow the meaning of that immediately.  It took some thinking through.  It may not really have sunk in until later that year, long after I had left the place.

Sometimes you just have to be told:  yes is yes, seven is seven, green is green.  If you can't deal with that, then ultimately, you can't be taught very much.  It takes both courage and humility to be told.

Perhaps it appealed to me because I am neither very courageous nor humble, but I at least have the sense to admire those traits and wish I had them.  If you cain't be told, you cain't be taught.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Spammers

I had spam comments on every single one of my ABBA posts over the last four years today.  Usually, the big spam attractors are Daywalkers and Black Vocalization Style. Two atypical posts for me but ones I like.

I can't figure what word in the text is attracting the spam.

600 Aubergines

Those recipe online features that recompute ingredient amounts? You may want to be alert about those.

3 chilies, 6 cloves garlic, 2 stalks lemongrass... check, check, check.

600 aubergines, quartered lengthwise, then halved? These people really like eggplant. And not very spicy eggplant.

This is why estimating is a useful mathematical skill.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Spinning Plates

Bethany over at Bad Data, Bad put up an xkcd cartoon which made me immediately think, "Yeah, that's like the guy who has too many plates spinning" when I realised that the image might be entirely unfamiliar to her.  And most other people.

This used to be a frequent entertainment, children, this spinning plates or other novelty acts which involved a high degree of skillful manipulation of everyday objects for absolutely no reason whatsoever.



No, actually I don't know why we were so fascinated. No video games, perhaps, to distract us from higher pursuits.

It gets better.  No, really.  Consider the Baronton Sisters.



Or Marvyn Roy

New Theory

New to me, anyway.

I think people who read about events rather than participate in them are prone to wanting them regulated and controlled.  If you read (or watch or hear about) any industry or activity, what will be reported will be what is going wrong.  So you will just naturally want to make some kind of rule or set up some kind of consequence about that, so you can have done with it and move on.  Kids singing in the halls?  Thai immigrants being snubbed? Hot dogs too long for the buns?

More seriously, when NPR or the NYT, or even more conservative outlets like (I've heard) Fox News or WSJ, run a front page story about an industry, it's because someone cheated, or lost money, or broke laws, or fired a lot of people, or poisoned the wells or something.  If that's what you read, that's what you will think the world is, and you will want to fix it in similar ways each time:  make a rule so that Bernie Madoff or Google or the State of Indiana can't do that anymore.

The attitude comes from sampling current events without depth.  Seeking information in a certain way or receiving it in a certain way - via front page, or news hour, or other "selected bursts," may make one tend rather automatically to favor government intervention.  The medium is the message.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Zero Point


On the Dinocrat site, via Maggie's

One of my favorite deceptions to point out WRT graphs. As we are talking about millions of people and long-term trends, this drop in participation may indeed be alarming. It is a four-point drop in how many of us are gainfully employed, after all. But the zero-point of this graph is 63.5, and the hundred-point is 67.5, exactly the size of the change, not 0-100 percent. Visually, it tells us that nearly everyone worked twelve years ago and now, no one does.

Naughty, naughty.

Why do the Muppets endure?

50 years later, why do the Muppets endure?  It's quite simple... they rock.


Suspicion


Of every hundred facts upon which to reason, ninety-nine depend on authority...
For example, few of us have followed the reasoning on which even ten percent of the truths we believe are based. We accept them on authority from the experts and are wise to do so; for though we are thereby sometimes deceived, yet we would have to live like savages if we did not. C.S.Lewis "Why I Am Not A Pacifist" 1940.
I am told that there are still Logical Positivists out there, who believe if a thing cannot be measured, it cannot be discussed intelligently.  That formulation is much better than the "if you can't prove it, I don't believe it" that it grew out of.  In the early part of the 20th C it was a popular philosophy, especially among those in the hard sciences, and I suspect that is where it may still hang on.  It has strengths.  It does promote a certain clarity in argument and reasoning.

My objection to it is not so much that I don't believe it, but that I suspect its adherents do not.  They are like all of us, not only believing a thousand things we have never quantified and subjected to hard thinking, but a hundred things which we would continue to believe even if we had.  Not all things admit of easy measurement, fewer still admit of proof even in theory, but we often have to believe some thing to cross the street, do laundry, sing a song.  My suspicion is that the Logical Positivism is sometimes convenient, to get one off the hook having to think about something.  I am hinting at religious questions here, but there are many other things in the mix: some questions are too painful, but most are simply too inconvenient to reexamine.  So we go on believing what we did before. 

Similarly, there is a belief gaining traction from neurological research which is based on older ideas questioning Free Will - that our reasoning is only approximately correct, useful rather than reliable.  (Philosopher Eddy Nahmias challenges that, as I previously linked.) It may be a true idea.  Our reasoning, pace Thomas Aquinas, may not only not be divine, but merely cleverly animal. It may be good enough to get us by, no more.  Yet I suspect that the proponents of the idea don't believe that particular bit of reasoning is only approximate.  They believe it is true.  Lewis wrote frequently of the self-refuting aspect of that strict naturalism.  It saws off the branch it is sitting on, for if our thoughts are not reliable, neither is that thought reliable.

That is usually waved off with a smile that yes, technically, it is an inconsistency, but what can one expect with such flawed reasoning as ours?  So it may be.  But I would be much more sympathetic to the idea if it were not only trotted out at convenient times, rather than when it is inconvenient specifically to the Approximate Believer.

Accusations of bad faith are not the most powerful of arguments, I admit, and that is what I have done here.  Nonetheless I do not rescind it.  I think it is what is happening, whether it is possible to measure or possible to rigidly prove or not.  My painfully inexact animal cleverness encounters it too often to ignore, if that suits you better.

New Manager

The Red Sox need a Dick Williams - not someone who can keep a bunch of high-priced stars all happy with each other, but someone who can figure out who can play this game and who can't. If the Red Sox buy three top-flight players, that will not get them over the top. They need to also find another five doubles, twenty points of batting average, or 20 extra innings pitched in every slot.

If a new manager could evaluate only pitchers or position players, I would prefer pitchers at this point. We need someone who sees clearly. Boston, Oakland, Montreal, Williams identified the players in the high minors who should come up and many later became stars.

I don't know who does that now, but that's who we need. 

Friday, September 07, 2012

German Pagan All-Natural Origins.

Earlier related posts: Natural Vs. Artificial and Natural.



There's a lot of fun stuff here and it is link-heavy.  You could browse for hours.  I had known about Wandervogel, though I had forgotten the name, but I had never heard of Lebensreform, literally "life-reform," until I did this research. It gives better evidence for my point than anything I had thought of on my own.  Even I didn't think the connection to German paganism was that strong. I found more here, at the Children of the Sun.

I’d like to just flesh out that German pagan background to the all-natural movement. But I will first note the other side - first, that there was a British and American strain of this thinking which was only incidentally German.  Only insofar as people read Kant, Schopenhauer, and Fichte in general was that strain a Teutonic movement,  for the intelligentsia of the day also read other Europeans and Americans who were more direct influences

Second, the line from Rousseau, Emerson, Tolstoy, and Thoreau through the Fellowship of the New Life and the Fabian Society looks at first much more direct in influencing the modern pacifist, simple-living, vegetarian culture and exaltation of Nature.  Third, there were American utopian back-to-the-landers who had nothing German about them – Shakers, Brook Farm, Oneida - I don’t know how we measure who is more influential than whom, but it’s at least there and deserves mention.

I also note some things which are definitely German but don’t seem to be especially influential in pagan roots.  I have said before that the Germans were only a partially converted country to begin with, and I still think that’s true, but that doesn’t imply that everything in their culture is suspect thereby.

So fourth - you can trace those German philosophers, especially Fichte, and their fascination with will as having provided a foundation for German nationalism and ultimately, Nazism, but not necessarily pagan revival and natural living.  That came later, when their descendants decided that, as their superiority could not rest on their Christian culture, shared by others in Europe, it must reside in some previous underlying advantage – genetic, cultural, or both. Strong and adventurous gods and heroes naturally suggested themselves as causes.  That everyone else in the world also had traditional gods and heroes who were strong and adventurous was somehow not noticed.  Perhaps because they felt very deeply – there’s the romanticism and sentimentality piece – that they were strong and quite special, that was enough.  Human beings are like that, not just Germans.

Fifth, German religious groups coming to America also provided more than their share of utopian back-to-the-landers – Amish, New Harmony, Mennonites, Moravians, Hutterites – who settled in the Midwest because that was the next “open” spot in European settlement.  Yet even if these groups carried the traces of paganism in their cultures that all Christians do, it would be hard to level much accusation against them for strong influence in that direction.  Genesis and much of the OT carries the theme that living in cities causes spiritual decline while the rural life improves character – from Cain to Daniel it shows up, and is echoed in the NT with John the Baptist. The idea that things in general are deteriorating and can only be fixed by getting out into the country is recurrent in western thought.  It’s one of our panaceas. Rousseau wasn’t the first.

Thus I don’t think it accidental that Seventh Day Adventists had a lot of that healthy eating idea right from the start and grew in midwestern soil.  It was in the air; Graham and Kellogg might not have been so prosperous in other regions.  In New England that energy went into the mind-body-spirit split of the Christian Scientists, not natural versus artificial. 

Was that enough qualifiers?  It's a terrible thing to see many sides of an issue.

All those qualifiers in place, here is that introduction to the Wandervogel movement. (Same link)
There’s simple living and harmony with nature; there’s nudism (then called naturism); natural foods and strong tendencies toward vegetarianism; natural medicines, with an emphasis on remarkable powers of the body to heal it self or be healed with fairly simple regimens such as clean water, exercise, or herbals found locally; hiking and camping and getting out of the unhealthy cities; conservation of wilderness and even some proto-Gaia Worship, though under other names; they read Hesse, and Nietzsche; they eschewed the commercial music scene and favored performers from The People – many of whom went on to become commercially successful, certainly.  There is, in fact, just about everything you need philosophically to leave “the rat race” in northeastern cities and start an herb farm in Vermont   or a commune in Tennessee.  There's a hippie museum there if you ever get the urge.  
 
When you click together the pieces that the Nature Boys were largely German, and in specific Gypsy Boots’ parents were Wandervogel,* there’s some founder effect in hippie culture, far more than from old Pietist Christian groups.Grace Slick, Brian Wilson, and Donovan headed for Southern California, not Pennsylvania Dutch country.

It may seem strange that such a movement would penetrate Christian circles at all, but there were important points of contact: the early movement was connected to scouting in both England and America and retained that even in dark eras. The adventurous visit other areas, and when they did, would share trails, shelters, and equipment.  More important, however, was that the older Christian groups tended to do the type of farming that the hippies were moving into: small farms and local crafts rather than agribiz. Mother Earth News found itself rubbing up against such folks from earliest days, even though it was initially quite hostile to religion.  The hippies settled on being against organised religion, which was just enough stretch to accommodate everyone.  Many of the Christian groups were bent on removing themselves from The World – varying degrees of paranoia here – which the freaks could identify with, though they had different reasons.  Both were ultimately defining themselves as counterculture.

The early Jesus people were more a hippie movement than a church movement as well – They had not merely a preference but an actual disdain for the mainstream and institutional churches – which had like opinions about them.  It is ironic that mainstream denominational hierarchies have lots of folks tending toward these ideas now.  Ironic, that is, until one recognises that these were semi-hippies who were never able to make the break.  They like the overlapping fashionableness that the Church should withdraw from the world and stand against the corporate, consumerist culture of America.  It preserved their counterculture bonfides in both directions.  Two birds with one stone. Wankers.

That the Jesus Movement led more directly to independent churches that are now more conservative seems another irony, but it's not.  It’s not just that homeschooling and back-to-the-land, overlaps with that 70’s secular culture.  It’s that this particular Romantic Vision is flexible and can be called into service for various causes.  The plaid shirt, voluntary poverty, wood-chopping, vegetable growing guy fits into a lot of small slots in this culture.  Hard to peg those guys - and their lovely granola wives.

Finally, some people that Dubbahdee referred to who come much earlier in this whole Vitalism, life force, Natural Cure Movement.  Germans Benedict Lust and John Scheel (naturopathy), their predecessor Sebastian Kneipp and their follower, exercise guru Bernarr McFaddenAn excellent history of 19th C natural cures here.

*The movement spread quickly among Central European Jews, and the purification and germanisation of the movement was a rationale for the Hitler Youth.  It does give evidence that whatever the later connection, Wandervogel was not inevitably an expression of Aryan superiority.  How Jews got by that “Teutonic roots” part I don’t know, but I imagine that as with all broad movements, there were different emphases in different areas, and we all usually ignore a problem or two for the sake of larger agreements.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Voice Vote

Lot's of discussion over at Grim's about the three tries at a voice vote at the DNC.  It sounded even to me all three times.  However, as there were two items voted on at once, we don't know what the breakout would be.

There is much speculation how this will play among the electorate, that the Democrats "voted against God." Which they sorta did, but not really.  There are lots of possible explanations behind both the aye and nay votes, but they didn't get to say those, just the single syllable.  However, if it's an unfair question, I certainly didn't ask them to answer it.  They did that to themselves.

I am more curious how it will play to loyal Democrats, who watched non-democracy play out in front of them when the chair called it a two-thirds vote and motion carried when it clearly wasn't.  Certainly the losers must have had at least a momentary twinge, wondering if they were in some sort of corrupt organisation where their opinion didn't count and their betters made choices for them. But I would hope even the winners would pause and realise that they won unfairly, by cheating.  In both cases, I hope for the scales to fall from some eyes: "these people aren't...aren't honest, honey.  We have to get out of here."

I wonder who in the national media will press the issue of a clear 50-50 split among the delegates and the dishonest response to that.

Nah. Lost my head there for a moment.

City Of New Orleans

Goodman wrote it, BTW.


Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Core Europe

The new post at Bad Data, Bad! reminded me of the site "Strange Maps," which eventually got subsumed under bigthink.com.  The earlier posts tend to be more fun, I have found.  #22, Core Europe, has always been a favorite of mine.  It's certainly what many Americans think is really Europe, rather than a hanger-on; apparently many Europeans think so too.

Yet I wonder...did they really mean to include so many Italians?  I mean, there's the Renaissance and everything, but are we still giving them credit for that?

As infuriating as this map may be to many people, the CIA World Factbook, Eurovision contests, and most modern lists put the number of European countries around 50, including Azerbaijan, for pete's sake. When I write or say the word "Europe," there is no one who immediately has a picture of Cyprus come to mind.  They're not Asian, I suppose.  Have to put 'em somewhere.

Natural Vs. Artificial

I speculated a few weeks back that the idea of natural things being better because they were made directly by God, while artificial things were inferior because they were touched by sinful man, owed more to German paganism than to Christian thought, however common it has become in Christian circles.  Refresher:  I am referring to foods, medicines, tourist spots, and the like. There seems to be a subset of Christians who believe that natural is closer to what God wants. They sometimes add in that corporate entities are more from the culture of materialism (and hence less holy), while natural things bring us closer to the simpler lifestyle God points us to.

My hunch was based on these strands of knowledge:

The Nature Boys of the 40's - 60's, who built many of the first California health food stores and were influential in counterculture, alternative medicine, and especially H-A hippie culture, were themselves descended from the early 20th C German youth movements.  While these movements were characterised by hiking, camping, healthy living, and self-reliance, this was closely tied to ideas of German superiority and return to Teutonic ideals.  They read Hesse and Nietzsche, listened to Wagner, and stressed personal will.  Many were quite specific in their return to German pagan roots. (The relation of this to later Nazi developments are not inevitable, but pretty clear.)

The American versions of this all-natural approach came from the Midwest, especially upper Midwest, which were largely German, Dutch, and Scandinavian settled.

The earliest naturopathic, homeopathic, and related alt-medicine practices came a century before that from other Germanic sources, from a philosophical ferment which focused on life-force, and gods from nature.  Though of course, that last is hardly unusual, as most cultures drew their gods and goddesses from what we would today generally call "nature."

I also had a vague idea that the Puritan strain of reading from the Book of Nature as well as the Bible, and the relation of that both to earlier Germanic outlook and later Unitarian beliefs, seemed to suggest a continuity from those Teutonic thoughts to modern nature-emphasisers and Gaian thinking.  Even then I thought it was tenuous, but something might be made of it.

My hunch prover to be more correct than not, but I got some things wrong.  For example, I thought I would get to ruin the song "The Happy Wanderer" for you, as it seemed clearly tied to the late 19th C Wandervogel movement of strong young Germans hiking, breathing fresh air, eating vegetables, and enduring hardships. And where that led.  German evangelicals* were especially big on this, which was one of their reasons for supporting Hitler in his first few years.  We have always fallen for movements that get the teenagers to be polite and get focused, I'm afraid. They got off than bandwagon, but a lot of the damage had already been done.

But the song has only the most distant connections to such things, having been written in 1954.  I'm not going to hold hiking in general against the Germans.  The craze had always been British and American as well, and now everyone is getting into the act.

In my research on the song, however, I came across this, which illustrates that the Germans are still not quite like us.  They were not known as stern and emotionless until the mid-20th C.  They were regarded as hopeless oversentimental romantics (see Literature, German, 18th-19th C) who might burst into tears at old songs or go off and believe anything.  Perhaps that gives us a better understanding of why they went insane.
Details to follow.

*Evangelical had somewhat different meaning in that culture, as it primarily meant Lutherans and Calvinist groups.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Twin Studies

Reading the Ron Unz essay from July (via Steve Sailer) was interesting enough in itself, pointing out the rural/urban split in IQ scores worldwide that seems to disappear quickly when the country mouse becomes a city mouse.* But it included, almost in passing, a weakness in twin studies I had never noticed.  And I should have.

Much is made of the fact that identical twins reared apart have IQ's much more similar to each other than to the others in the family they grew up in.  This has been solid evidence for the "hard-genetic" folks for decades, and I have relied on it myself at times.  Yet it neglects the evidence that the separated environments are still quite similar in most cases. We can note that one family has many books, the other few; one family is composed of garrulous researchers while the other of silent, morose, neglectful unemployed - but the children were the same age and grew up in the same country.  Their media exposure and general stimulation might have been similar, the same popular songs, popular TV shows, even same school curriculum.  Ideas would have been introduced at the same age.  From within our own culture, the homes might appear divergent.  But imagine running into an an age-mate from rural Laos and trying to find a point of connection in childhood reminiscence.

I have switched to soft-to-medium-genetic pretty quickly.  Certain minima of stimulation and ideas introduced at critical periods must be present before we are comparing apples to apples.  I still believe that some of the apples will tend to be bigger because of their DNA, year after year, and differences will remain no matter how equally all are tended and fed.  But the comparisons can only be made within certain parameters.

BTW, Unz kicks Stephen Jay Gould pretty hard, which is always fun.

*It's more complicated than that, as it doesn't seem to always work and especially not always work fully; and expanding media culture available to rural areas seems to have dampened the effect -  yes, yes.  But the effect is still dramatic in comparing say Greece 1961 to Greece 1979, a span that should certainly not show any genetic effect.

The Power of Habit

The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg.

Halfway through this book, I was still going to give it four stars.  There is some good science in the first section, explained in a way you can make use of.  I dropped to three stars, and maybe to two, by the end.

Perhaps it was when he listed, on page 59, health habits we needed to acquire.
We should watch our salt and drink more water.  We should eat more vegetables and fewer fats. We should take more vitamins and apply sunscreen.  The facts could not be more clear...

Except, of course, that all six are questionable. Even the strongest of them, the vegetables, is a statistical average, not a given for everyone.

Or it may have been when he lauded Rhode Island Hospital for showing its commitment to safety by sending everyone to a day-long workshop on teamwork.  I felt sorry for the poor bastards - I've been to that sort of thing for thirty years, but have never seen one  stray number to suggest that the method works.  A psychiatrist friend who got a special fellowship to study and teach teamwork was among the worst at actually listening to team members I have ever seen.  Perhaps he wrote the curriculum for Rhode Island Hospital, eh?

But by the time he was quoting Rahm Emanuel's comment about never letting a crisis go to waste, noting approvingly all that Obama had been able to accomplish, I realised that Duhigg just believes the conventional wisdom of what people in his circle tell him, without stepping back in any way.  That might not invalidate his understanding of how the power of habit was important at Alcoa, or Montgomery Alabama, or the London Underground, but it certainly calls all these examples into question.

He likes a nice, tight narrative where the example he chooses illustrates his point about habit without loose ends.  He occasionally mentions that it's more complicated than that, but... And the "but" is always that his little anecdote about the power of habit is the overwhelming factor.  Regarding Montgomery and the boycott, no less an authority than Thurgood Marshall said it was unnecessary, but Charles Duhigg dismisses that. 

Experimental evidence - now including fMRI's! - suggests that you have a better chance of losing a bad habit if you replace it with something else.  Sometimes it's hard to find what you are really craving and what a good replacement would be, but think about it hard and try some different things.  Next, It helps if you have a plan what you will do when the hard times come, as they inevitably will.  There.  That's the book. The rest is cheerleading for people who like anecdotes aimed at a somewhat higher educational level than an Amway speaker. There's no hint of firing you up, here, just patient explanation.

Get it from the library, as we did, and read the first 150 pages.  It will inspire you to try a few things, and give you good tools for getting started.  Maybe that is worth four stars.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Another Train Song

It may take me a while to get this out of my system


Saturday, September 01, 2012

Train Song


You Didn't Build That

(Not Quite Top Shelf)

I would like to start where I ended my GDP post, with Justice Hand, because I think something in here is the dividing line between liberal and conservative views of individuals and government.

Justice Learned Hand in 1934 when he was on the 2nd Circuit

Anyone may arrange his affairs so that his taxes shall be as low as possible; he is not bound to choose that pattern which best pays the treasury. There is not even a patriotic duty to increase one's taxes. Over and over again the Courts have said that there is nothing sinister in so arranging affairs as to keep taxes as low as possible. Everyone does it, rich and poor alike and all do right, for nobody owes any public duty to pay more than the law demands.
 The courts ruled “over and over again” because over and over again, government reaches, believing that the money actually belongs to “society” and thus to it.  It treats tax avoidance as equivalent to tax evasion, as if money is being stolen from The People.  Liberals are absolutely on board with this idea, believing that there is indeed something sinister, something unpatriotic, about sending your money away from the tax bite, to Switzerland or the Caymans.  They simply don’t get that theirs is the unamerican idea.  The People is not Society is not The Government.  These are not interchangeable concepts, however blurry the lines between them are.  Red is not blue is not yellow just because green and orange exist.

***

But more foundationally, there are only a few roads that can lead one to a place where one thinks that it is sinister and unpatriotic.  You either have to believe that the money ultimately belongs to the government and/or you have to believe that the money was acquired by luck, help by others, or exploitation.  Those seem like extreme claims, I acknowledge.  But there aren’t any other paths there.  All other arguments eventually resolve themselves into one of those positions. If you disagree, try it.  Look for the excape hatches, most of which will start with a claim that these things are partially true but needn’t be carried to their end, and see if they don’t all have no stopping point which prevents this.

Obama says “You Didn’t Build That,” and he is expressing quite forcefully the idea that everyone who makes money had help, and therefore does not have an absolute claim.  Well of course.  As I said before, someone can always say that you couldn’t have grown the crop if they hadn’t sold you the seed, or scored 47 on the Lakers if they hadn’t turned on the arena lights.  Every action is most certainly in a context. But Obama’s comment is slyer.  He is saying “without laws, and markets, and enforcement – that is, without government – you couldn’t have made this money.  So we deserve some, and we’re taking it.”  But that is true in any country, under any government.  Afghanistan’s got a framework.  Denmark’s got a framework.  Somebody built the roads for delivery, somebody printed the currency, somebody posts a set of rules for buying and selling. Again, of course.

But such systems have a practical claim on us only insofar as they are themselves practical, and have a moral claim on us only insofar as they are themselves moral.  The questions are “How practical is this system you’re charging us for, Barack? And how moral is it?  And come to think of it, how did it get that way?” Ah but the mask is off then, isn’t it?  If we’re being charged rent for using the system because it’s a really good one for making money, what are its good features and who built them?  If there’s a fee charged for having justice, who’s responsible for that?  And what did Barack Obama have to do with it?  It is fair to turn and say “Barack, You Didn’t Build That.”

I’m quite grateful that I live under a system where it’s possible for me to make a living and have confidence that most people are treated decently.  But I am more grateful to those who came before me and built this place, plus my fellow-citizens who go about doing their jobs, than I am to Barack Obama, or even to government in the sense of everything it wants to do.  I am grateful for some parts of the government, not so grateful for others, and expect we will not all agree on those parts. Putting up with paying for government stuff I think is useless or even pernicious is an expected cost.  I don’t mind paying it.  But I don’t define that a good. It’s an unavoidable friction, to be minimised, not praised.

My uncle sent me a Paul Krugman essay about why we should tax the 1% more.  The claim was that we could get X trillions in revenue, as opposed to the woefully inadequate Y trillions in cuts proposed by Paul Ryan.  I’m not even fussing about his numbers at this point – it’s his assumptions that I’m taking issue with.  It was clear throughout the essay that Krugman has default positions based on sliding definitions:


Krugman assumption that society owns it.  That they can charge money for the
privilege of living here that is unrelated to the ability to make money. A society can physically do that - hell societies can require you to go to a particular church or wear certain clothes if they want.  They have the power to do that.  That doesn't make it moral. If you can make 10x in society A and 3x in society B, and A will charge you 70%, while B will charge you 20%, you still might go with A, just because your net is greater.  Even if A does stupid or immoral things you might go there.  It's power.  They make the rules.

But when A declares that the stupid things are actually morally superior,
and you are cheating the populace by trying to minimise the take, there is
no foundation for that.