Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Poll About Polls...

NHPR's "The Exchange" has a pollster on, discussing polling difficulties and methods.  Which is fine.  The show host(ess), however, is conducting "an unscientific poll about polls and pollsters (giggle)," to get people to call in.

Of what earthly use is people's opinion about polls?  How does this advance human knowledge?  Polls are clearly an inconvenience with some potential use.  How we each value the inconvenience and the use varies.  What else can be said?  It is rather like people's estimates of whether hurricanes or earthquakes are increasing or decreasing.  The estimates tell us nothing (unless, perhaps, you are doing research about perceptions.  But disasters are not prompted or prevented by public opinion.)

I am reminded of a recent heated controversy about what is discussed on sports media. Some middle-management programming-deciding guy was being interviewed.  An irate caller came on to complain that he was sick and tired of hearing about Tim Tebow, and then went on to explain - quite emphatically, I should note - how Tebow wasn't very good and isn't a legitimate NFL quarterback and we should just stop talking about him.  The programming guy laughed.  "That's what we get, all the time.  People complaining that we're talking too much about Tebow, but then going on to give their opinion.  It's like they can't stop themselves.  If we put on a show Two Guys Arguing About Tebow, everyone complains, but no one changes the channel.  People say they are tired of hearing about Tim Tebow, but they're really just tired of hearing the opposing opinion about him."

It does seem that way.  People want to make a pronouncement, have that be the final word, and then have everyone else shut up.  Well wouldn't we all?  But I couldn't even get that out of my kids after about thirteen years old.  Even though they tend to agree with me.

I have said in the past that conservatives like to make pronouncements, almost daring you to argue, and liberals like to condescend, almost daring you to risk being thought a yahoo.  As the election approaches, both groups do both.  It doesn't seem designed to provoke an actual exchange of thought, does it?

I'm sure you all agree.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Patna, India

Ben is back from India.  Photos; thoughtful essays.  His favorite and mine:  Day Six:  The Gods Are Dead.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Junk Science

I don't mention it often, but the Junkscience site can be informative. Currently in discussion are the EPA doing testing on humans, Michael Mann falsely claiming to have won a Nobel Prize, some alarm about Mitt Romney's rumored choice for the head of the EPA, and the lackluster green jobs program of Obama.

Early D&D Was Rubbish

Retriever sent me his video about drawing swords - they don't really make a "schwing!" sound - but I watched a half-dozen and liked this one.

The Hollywood myth about throwing knives is dealt with pretty cleanly as well. Have fun.

I loved First Edition D&D BTW.  I spent hours designing.  But in retrospect, there were enormous holes in the game.  Why would wizards go to the trouble of creating rooms full of pools of random spells?  Shelved and labeled storage seems more sensible.  And what did the orcs survive on when we wernt around?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Poll Excitement

Just to inject the proper note of caution to all those excited Republicans outs there.  Rasmussen had the best results of the pollsters in 2002, 2004, and 2006.  But they were only average in 2008, and in 2010, below average. In all those years, Rasmussen tended, though this was not true of every poll, to overestimate Republican strength.  The numbers that have conservatives so giddy might be a few points high.

As in all elections, however - and this seldom comes up in all the criticism of which polls are better than others - turnout is hard to predict.  The polling experts like to talk about cell phones and windows and sampling - because they all have to lower their voices when it comes to turnout.

Running The Numbers

Bird Dog at Maggie's, in his Friday morning links, had an article about the racial divide in our presidential voting.  I won't tip my hand just yet, but I smell a slant in the numbers the way this is presented.  Read the article, and without doing any calculations, estimate what percentage of Hispanics vote for the Republican candidate.  Jot it down.

Because of the number 80% nonwhite, in the text and in the graph, I did think 80% for an instant, but then remembered oh, it's got to be less, because the black vote pulls that up to 80.  So in the 70's.  No, the low 70's.  Wait, if there's the same number of Hispanics and blacks, then it would be 65%.  Is it the same number?  And what about Asian-Americans and Native Americans?  I'd better look this up and scratch down numbers.

Until I went into the long correction cycle, the article smuggled in the idea that almost 80% of Hispanics were for Obama.  That feeds the general idea that Republicans, particularly rich Wall Street types like Romney, don't care about Hispanics, who are offended and don't vote for them.  Which is what I suspect the writers and most readers of the Washington Post think.  That's my stereotype, anyway.  Could be wrong.

But let's run the numbers...95% of African Americans, who were 12.1% of the voters in 2008...Asian Americans, hard to find, but 2.4% of the voters and they break 3-1 for Dems (76-23)...Native Americans, even smaller and harder to figure, but seem to be 1.1% and go 9-1 for that works out to - golly, that means Hispanics vote for Obama at the rate of 59-40.  Heck, one of the repeated points of the article was that the white vote, though 60-37 for Romney, wasn't that dramatic in a lot of places and groups, such as among women or in certain states.

My, my, my, here's the Hispanic vote being the closest to evenly divided of all the racial/ethnic groups.  You would never have thought that from reading the article, would you?

The Lineup For Yesterday

A baseball poem, by Ogden Nash in 1949.  If any of the references are obscure to you, the explanation is is here.

A is for Alex
The great Alexander;
More Goose eggs he pitched
Than a popular gander.
B is for Bresnahan
Back of the plate;
The Cubs were his love,
and McGraw his hate.
C is for Cobb,
Who grew spikes and not corn,
And made all the basemen
Wish they weren't born.
D is for Dean,
The grammatical Diz,
When they asked, Who's the tops?
Said correctly, I is.
E is for Evers,
His jaw in advance;
Never afraid
To Tinker with Chance.
F is for Fordham
And Frankie and Frisch;
I wish he were back
With the Giants, I wish.
G is for Gehrig,
The Pride of the Stadium;
His record pure gold,
His courage, pure radium.
H is for Hornsby;
When pitching to Rog,
The pitcher would pitch,
Then the pitcher would dodge.
I is for Me,
Not a hard-hitting man,
But an outstanding all-time
Incurable fan.
J is for Johnson
The Big Train in his prime
Was so fast he could throw
Three strikes at a time.
K is for Keeler,
As fresh as green paint,
The fastest and mostest
To hit where they ain't.
L is for Lajoie
Whom Clevelanders love,
Napoleon himself,
With glue in his glove.
M is for Matty,
Who carried a charm
In the form of an extra
brain in his arm.
N is for Newsom,
Bobo's favorite kin.
You ask how he's here,
He talked himself in.
O is for Ott
Of the restless right foot.
When he leaned on the pellet,
The pellet stayed put.
P is for Plank,
The arm of the A's;
When he tangled with Matty
Games lasted for days.
Q is for Don Quixote
Cornelius Mack;
Neither Yankees nor years
Can halt his attack.
R is for Ruth.
To tell you the truth,
There's just no more to be said,
Just R is for Ruth.
S is for Speaker,
Swift center-field tender,
When the ball saw him coming,
It yelled, "I surrender."
T is for Terry
The Giant from Memphis
Whose .400 average
You can't overemphis.
U would be 'Ubell
if Carl were a cockney;
We say Hubbell and Baseball
Like Football and Rockne.
V is for Vance
The Dodger's very own Dazzy;
None of his rivals
Could throw as fast as he.
W is for Wagner,
The bowlegged beauty;
Short was closed to all traffic
With Honus on duty.
X is the first
of two x's in Foxx
Who was right behind Ruth
with his powerful soxx.
Y is for Young
The magnificent Cy;
People battled against him,
But I never knew why.
Z is for Zenith
The summit of fame.
These men are up there.
These men are the game.

 This is as good - or as bad - a place as any to inform you that a nickname is from an eke-name, an also-name. Anglo-Saxon.  Sometimes the n moved in the other direction. as in a nadder, which became "an adder", a snake; or a napron (cf. napkin, nape, map) , which became "an apron."

Jacques Barzun

Died yesterday at 104. A formidable intellect. I recommend the obituary to give you a sense of the man.

I read From Dawn To Decadence: 1500 to the present when it first came out in 2000. I intended to reread it immediately, this time marking its themes (which he places in SMALLCAPS to help you follow them) and taking notes.  I never got farther than writing them in the inside cover.  That one has a yellow highlight mark next to it suggests I was going to color-code them. His overarching themes are


Perhaps I should reread now.  If not now, when?

Decadence, BTW, he uses in something between a popular and a technical sense.
All that is meant by Decadence is “falling off.” It implies in those who live in such a time no loss of energy or talent or moral sense. On the contrary, it is a very active time, full of deep concerns, but peculiarly restless, for it sees no clear lines of advance. The loss it faces is that of Possibility. The forms of art as of life seem exhausted, the stages of development have been run through. Institutions function painfully. Repetition and frustration are the intolerable result. Boredom and fatigue are great historical forces.
His characterisation of the late 20th C as decadent was not merely complaint.  He used the term to highlight that something was coming to an end.  He was not optimiist about what would emerge next, but neither was he without hope.  He was 92 at the time, and I could not help but wonder if his own coming to an end severely influenced him to perceive that the same is happening to his culture.  CS Lewis had voiced similar sentiments sixty years earlier in De Descriptione Temporum , his inaugural lecture at Cambridge, in which he describes the Great Divide between the longstanding earlier culture and the emerging one.
I have said that the vast change which separates you from Old Western has been gradual and is not even now complete. Wide as the chasm is, those who are native to different sides of it can still meet; are meeting in this room. This is quite normal at times of great change. The correspondence of Henry More and Descartes is an amusing example; one would think the two men were writing in different centuries. And here comes the rub. I myself belong far more to that Old Western order than to yours.
Of course, Barzun was born only twelve years after Lewis, so they are perhaps more contemporaries than not. If the change was not then complete, perhaps Barzun describes its last shiverings. Still, I wonder if the people who have read simply everything sense in their maturity that the whole enterprise is winding down, whatever era they live in.

To read Barzun is be deeply aware how little one has actually read, however many of the references one recognises. I recall that I fairly rejoiced whenever I encountered something I was actually knowledgeable about. 90% of the time, I was playing catch-up. That is not entirely a function of his far greater knowledge, however.  Though he lived in America and taught for many years at Columbia, his orientation toward continental Europe is much stronger than would be typical for a British or American scholar.  French, Italian, and German writers and artists loom much larger for him than we are used to in our reading.

Whether because I am stupid or merely prejudiced, I still call that a weakness.

Stereotype Accuracy

Lee Jussim, PhD, a blogger over at Psychology Today, has a piece on the accuracy of our stereotypes. In fact, they are often more accurate than hypotheses for research in social psychology.  Not that every stereotype is accurate, or even that the most accurate ones are infallible.  Just that they are often a good first approximation.

Check his sidebar.  There's lots of fun there.

Norski ER - Anecdote

Chris was feeling sick for a few days, so he went to the ER.  His understanding now is that it was something to do with eating too much concentrated sugar (four popsicle-like snacks), so they gave him an antibiotic and told him to drink fluids. He doesn't know what the explanation was. He was pretty vague on the medicine as well.

Chris has a history of only half paying attention to medical information and leaping to wrong conclusions, which is not the fault of Norwegians.  He is, however, not stupid and usually gets things at least half right, and does better at this since being in the Marines.

Yet notice:  no translator, only partly because he speaks some Bokmal, and all Norwegians think they speak great English.  But there's no requirement anyway (or not one that is observed.) What, are you crazy?  Only English-speaking countries worry about whether you have a right to a translator.  You come to our country, it's your problem, says most of the world.  I have some agreement with that, actually, but want to point out that this is usually an area of criticism of uncaring Americans.  It's a very big deal at our hospitals now, and you can get in trouble for screwing that up.

Other countries whose health care we are supposed to be imitating - not so much. But even Chris really likes not having to pay for it, and I think this is important in understanding our healthcare debates.  We would rather they get it mostly right most of the time so long as its free. We really would.  We say the opposite, but we don't know our own minds.  When they get it wrong and we come near death, we don't repent, but double down, because now the treatment is really expensive and we're going to die if we don't get it.

Even people who have to buy their own insurance, even employers who have to pay for insurance, only partly get the connection.  It's just too distant from the illness.  

Thursday, October 25, 2012


Chris called and said they've been having a blizzard and he had trouble getting home.  He thinks Tromso already has one meter, maybe two, on the ground, so I looked it up.  They've had over 50 inches of snow so far this autumn.

Dear Red States

I don't think you should bother to read this.  I'm just ranting and wanted to get it on the page.

This old thing was sent to me by my uncle.  I wanted to articulate why I thought it was not merely lacking in humor, but the sort of discourse that is bigoted and damaging to the country. The rant under discussion is intentionally linked farther down, after I have made much of my point.

There is a continuum of group criticsm and the offense that it gives.  At one end are the friendly rivalries in which people who have actual affection tease one another. The Americans and the British criticising each other’s food, language, and forms of government usually fits into this category, as do many of the regional stereotypes Americans send back and forth among siblings and friends in other areas.  You are crazy to live in that weather, you people talk funny, etc.  Dear Vermonters, you still have too many cows and your skiing is overpriced.  All you can make successfully are ice cream, designer beer labels, and cheddar cheese. There might be some actual aggression buried in those, giving the needle under the guise of humor, but generally, it’s good fun.

At the other end of this spectrum is Dear Niggers:  We produced Benjamin Franklin, you produced Al Sharpton.  You suck. Which is clearly offensive and not exchanged in emails among decent people.  (I admit there are probably comedians who could get away with that somehow, but I sure wouldn’t try.)

There are keys which tell us which is in play, Dear Vermonter or Dear Niggers. Is there actual affection underneath it all?  Garrison Keillor makes fun of both Minnesotans and New Yorkers, but there are things he clearly likes about both.  He seems to genuinely dislike Southerners, however, except perhaps certain ones. Are the barbs delivered the sort of thing people might say about themselves with a wry smile?  This one aspect may cover all.

That in turn may be detected by what is being criticised.  If culturally important qualities such as intelligence, honesty, and attractiveness are coming under the microscope, you can pretty much count on others to take offense.  If one has great skill, one can make even those work, but it’s dicey.  PJ O’Rourke can say “I don’t know why anyone would want to see an Irish girl in a bikini,” because he’s Irish, and everyone knows that there actually are plenty of Irish girls who look fine in them.  He’s just ragging on the general type of attractiveness that is favored – likely the freckles, pasty-whiteness, or something. 

Humor can come from exaggeration, and you don’t expect it to be even-handed, or it’s not funny. But when you get it wrong, then you really are hanging out in the breeze.  Ben Franklin may have been wiser than Al Sharpton, but he’s also wiser than the majority of white people, so he’s an unfair example.  OTOH, the majority of black people are not as irritating as Shaprton -not near, so he’s also a bad example.  Someone is taking unfair credit or assigning unfair blame by implying they are typical. It's the stuff you read in the fever swamps of racialism.

All of this is why, on the continuum of making fun, Dear RedStates is a lot closer to Dear Niggers than it is to Dear Vermonters. There's no affection, no chance those criticised would say this about themselves.  It’s high-school insult stuff.  Calling it humor, and pretending it is more like the gentle regional or difference-between-men-and-women stuff (though that can be pretty bigoted as well) is deceitful.  Nothing of the kind is intended here.  It is all “we are smart, you are stoooopid; we get it, you don’t; blue states rule, red states drool” stuff.  When you play to those stereotypes you enter the world of being refuted by facts – if anyone wants to bother.

I will bother only briefly.
All states are purple.  Perhaps DC qualifies as fully blue. Liberals are far more likely to make a big cultural deal about this Red State/Blue State stuff, because they like to disguise that they aren’t really 50% of the country – they are about 16% of the country, leaders of a coalition of government union, African-American, and single-parent voters.  Also, it is evidence that they are culturally rather than intellectually moved, just as I have long claimed.

There are lots of fine schools in the supposedly Red States: Rice, Duke, (yeah, William & Mary), Vanderbilt, Davidson, UVA, Chapel Hill – and plenty of joke colleges in the “Blue” ones.  In fact, I note that the country’s worst highschools, highest crime areas, etc are in the supposedly favored areas. Strange this wasn’t mentioned.

Just because the world’s finest universities are near you doesn’t mean you aren’t numb as a hake yourself.  Taking credit for other people’s accomplishments by trying to show how much you are like them because they live near you and you identify with their culture is just lame.

The remaining statistics, which you find so telling, are similarly flawed.  I occasionally get forwarded stuff like this with a rightist perspective.  I don't forward it and I usually send back a comment to the sender explaining why.  But somehow, it is considered within the bounds of decent conversation to receive it from the left.

Blaming Others

Retriever sent along an interesting link about blaming people for what goes wrong, including blaming yourself.  It’s a good article that links to real research, so you may find it worth your while.  Barker is clearly not a professional in either psychology or research, but he does seem to be a reasonably clever guy who is very popular these days talking about self-help.  At least, I conclude he is not a professional because I cannot find any credentials discussed anywhere on the web.  He tells you who he writes for and what he does, which is perhaps appropriate for a positive-thinking self-help guy, as if saying  Those things don’t matter.  What matters is if I can produce good material or not.

There are some things you should be cautious about in reading such material however – things that you know but I am reminding you about. 

  1. He has no obligation to report research that points in another direction or clouds his preferred narrative in any way.
  2. Just because people who do X have preferred outcome Y, it does not mean that you are going to be able to do X yourself, nor that even if you succeed at doing X, Y will happen to you as well.
 Let me expand on that last just a bit.  In this case, Eric Barker claims that people who blame less are more productive, implying that if you reduce blaming, you will become more productive as well.  This is not necessarily so.  You may have a set-point of how much you are going to blame, that can be changed only slightly, or with enormous effort.  Barker may think you can turn it on and of, but you may be wired for the amount of blame you engage in, and your inability to change that be just one more thing to kick yourself about. 

When I started in this biz years ago, there was a psychologist who kept a number of paper bags in his office.  He used them to illustrate his favorite lesson, that guilt was unnecessary.  He would tell people to put their guilt in a bag by blowing it up, then have them pop it.  Observers noted that this never seemed to have the least positive effect on his patients, but he had been doing it for 40 years and wasn’t going to change now. Pop psych strategies often have this weakness.  If they don’t work, it is somehow your fault for not activating the technique properly.

Not that you shouldn’t try them.  Sometimes you can make the adjustment and they do create an upward spiral. At a minimum, they can remind you that the opposite isn’t likely to help – that blaming others or feeling more guilty doesn’t have a track record of improving outcomes either, allowing you to distract yourself for a bit.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Conspiracy Theory

Posted today over at Instapundit, a new book claims the KGB was in on the Kennedy assassination, by steering Oswald.  As conspiracy theories go, this one was always a bit better than most, because as Reynolds points out, the KGB actually did do this sort of thing.  I would add that this particular conspiracy only requires a few people to be in the know, which is where most of the others become entirely implausible.  ("You think that hundreds of people involved in the building of the World Trade Center years ago...")

It still remains implausible, but it did put me in mind of something else on the topic.  Ion Mihai Pacepa, former head of the Romanian secret police and highest-ranking defector of the Cold War, has long claimed that the KGB claimed the deed was theirs.  Just because they claimed it doesn't make it so - groups looking for status and intimidation might very well claim credit without it being remotely true.  ("Kennedy assassination? Yeah, that was totally us.  We did that.")  Pacepa found the claim credible, in much the same way as described here: that it was a side operation that sort of fell into their laps when this crazy American showed up and looked willing.  This wasn't a master plan, but opportunism.  In that context, I suppose it could be so.

Here's an important takeaway that keeps getting left out of the popular record though, but is quite clear here.  Lee Harvey Oswald was not some odd, politically unclassifiable aberration.  He was a man of the left.  The obfuscation of this comes from emotive, rather than logical places - but gee, he was a Marine, and...he had guns...and it was in Texas... those are all conservative things and therefore a mixed picture.  Breaking those down one by one, they're pretty weak.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Rock, Paper, Scissors

Volunteers were requested at work to give 30 minutes of instruction to student nurses about what our department does.  It came down to two of us, and the other person, a male about my age, challenged me to Paper, Rock Scissors, best two of three, loser has to teach.  It caught me by surprise and I accepted.

He beat me in two moves.  I wondered if I had been snookered, so I looked it up.  I played exactly as novice males often do, and he had the correct answer both times, so I suspect he preys upon hapless, naive RPS players often, and knows the simple strategy.

Neophyte males tend to play "rock" on their first move, neophyte females tend to play "scissors."  Next, inexperienced players tend to play against the strategy that just beat them.  I played "rock," he beat that with "paper."  I played "paper," he beat that with scissors.  I am going to bet he wins with that paper-scissors strategy a fair bit, challenging people who are unsuspecting.

I don't know why I chose what I chose.  The explanations seemed implausible to me.  But there it is.  So now you know:  catch people by surprise and beat them at RPS.

Vague Comparison

I heard there was some controversy about Romney and a 47% comment - his opponents claimed he called 47% of the population useless eaters and his supporters claimed he had said something quite different.  I didn't follow it, don't know the exact quote and context, and so won't weigh in, neither on what he said, nor what I think he actually meant.

I thought of that comment today, however, as the union people who are around a lot where I work were handing out election fliers as I walked in. (Nice people.  I resent that NH SEA affiliated with national, read corrupt, unions, but the people here are regular folk.) The phrase that they use for union members is "Working Families."  When they outline what Obama and Romney will do for (or to) Working Families, it is always limited to what their positions are on union legislation.

This irritates me, for it is a claim that union members are the people who work and the people who have families.  It's a deniable claim if people call them on it, but it's pretty blatant. I imagine the people who thought Romney said that 47% of the people were sucking off the rest of us had a similar feeling.  Rightly or wrongly, once you've taken in that thought, any explanation sounds like an excuse.

I dislike that political strategy, however effective it might be.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Biological Diversity

Not much seems to have come from the blog for last spring's Human Biological Diversity Day, but there is an interesting essay, HBD and Policy: Which Questions To Ask?

I have often wondered when reading the Steve Sailer, Steven Hsu, Taki's Magazine, or in more guarded forms, Nicholas Wade or  Harry Harpending essays But what will we do if/when everyone finally acknowledges the science?  What should we do?  How will the culture respond?  A lot of energy in HBD study goes into fighting off the political attacks and bizarre academic attacks from the social sciences. Races exist, and they have differences.  Repeating "There are no bears on Hemlock Mountain.  No bears, no bears, no bears at all" has not turned out to be a workable scientific strategy.

The essay reminds us what we did last time, and reminds me of my usual fear when I consider humankind.  The progressives of a century ago did believe in human biological diversity, and their solutions were frightening.  There is a certain cast of mind which sees a problem and says "The government should try and fix this."  It's not only liberals.  Plenty of conservatives sign up for knuckleheaded interventions as well.

My own thought is that we start by at least not rewarding bad outcomes.  Actively discouraging them or even forbidding them in some way leads immediately to worrisome interventions, but we can at least stop doing what we do now, which is rewarding pathology.  But I don't think we can as a culture stop there, and I fear what we will do.  I have to wonder if pretending that the lies are true is actually a better solution.


Greg Cochrane, co-author of The 10,000 Year Explosion:
History looks more and more like a science fiction novel in which mutants repeatedly arose and displaced normal humans - sometimes quietly, by surviving starvation and disease better, sometimes as a conquering horde. And we are those mutants."

Sunday, October 21, 2012


I have maintained for years that I have always had no accent, but come close to the generic American standard.  My mother had a bit of a NH accent, and my grandfather on the other side had a strong Canadian southern Maritimes accent (Yarmouth County, NS) that is very similar to a Maine/Mass north shore accent.  But I have none.

Well, I have none now.  But I just watched a video of myself on 12/14/69, when I was a junior in highschool, and can hear a slight NH accent on the broadened "a's." I must not have lost that until I went to college out of New England.

The things we know we don't always know.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Train Song

Freight Train, Freight Train,  Run so fast
Freight Train, Freight Train, Run so fast
Please don't tell them what train I'm on,
So they won't know which route I have gone

When I die just bury me deep
Down at the foot of old Chestnut Street
So I can hear old Number 9
As she goes rollin' by

Freight Train, freight train goin' so fast
Freight train, freight train gone at last
One of these days turn that train around
Go back to my hometown.

When I'm dead and in my grave
No more freight train will I crave
Put stones at my head and feet
Tell my friends I've gone to sleep

Freight Train, freight train run so fast
Freight train, freight train run so fast
Please don't tell them what train I'm on
So they won't know which route I have gone


Ben heads to India for 10 days starting today, as part of his church's seeing its ministries first hand.  He'll be making the video when he gets back.

May he travel safely.

Update:  Arrived safely India by 1pm.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


In all my Tribes Collection a few years ago, I don't think I ever spoke to one of the most obvious sources of evidence: sports teams.

We root for a team or set of teams, usually on a geographic basis.  There is usually nothing inherently superior about those teams that is not easily explained by some factor that has no relation to us and our interests: a superior coach or player for a decade, an owner willing to spend more money. Yet we have an attachment that causes us to take our team's side in all disputes.  It was a terrible call. There was no bounty on opposing players. Our opponents play dirty.  The refs are homers.  We are certain that our John Smith is more deserving of going into the Hall of Fame than all the other John Smith's with similar careers*.  We believe UK just deserves our support for some reason, and are sure that its players are more solid citizens than those thugs over at Duke.  If we went to a school we root for it decades later, for no reason whatsoever.

(That this attitude can be combined with the belief that the management and coaching of our favorite team is unusually stupid and evil is not a contradiction.  It comes under the category of I can insult my brother, but you can't insult my brother.)

And some of us are not merely fans, by psycho fans, defaulting immediately to the belief Joe Pa got a raw deal, or screaming abuse at opposing players. (I've done that.  It's insane.)  There may be some excuse if we've got a friend or relative on the team, but in a world that seeks justice, we should accept the idea that our kid's team may have jerks and dirty players on it, and not take their side against some opposing kid who is playing cleanly.  There's a code in competitive sports that says you defend a teammate.  Well, loyalty is a virtue, and it's a good thing to teach.  But it's not the only virtue, and it can go bad quickly.  I think it was Seinfeld that used to reference "Rooting for laundry."  Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Most reasonable people can indeed step back and say "Y'know, if I had been born twenty miles north I would be rooting for a different Carolina today.  Funny." We can even laugh wryly at ourselves about such things.  We get a little worried about people who actually can't be this objective, even after the season is over.  Such folks bring us the deaths at European soccer stadiums.

So, when I talk about our political tribalism, our rooting for our guy even when he's wrong, our gamesmanship that seems to have left the core ideas - as opposed to slogans and stereotypes - behind years ago, while our furious support goes on endlessly, remember that we are indeed capable of this.  I think I have acknowledged that conservatives do this a lot, only partially seeing it.  I think I have focused my criticism on liberals around the fact that they don't see it at all, and believe they are the one group above this.  But maybe that's just fandom.  Were I to face the truth fearlessly I might see it differently.

Take a moment to recognise that you are capable of this favoritism for illogical, accidental reasons, and that sports is your example.  (You non sports fans, try harder.  There's something.)

*I was going to use Dwight Evans and Darrell Evans for this, but looking at the numbers, Dewey really was better, so it weakens my point.  I say this with no pro-Red Sox bias whatsoever.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


I have added hbd chick to my sidebar, which I should have done months ago.  If you want someone to keep you up-to-date in research on human biodiversity, social capital, human evolution, the effects of consanguinous marriage and the like, she's your go-to girl, er, chick.

Deer Crossing

I can almost understand this.  School crossing.  Pedestrian crossing.  Why wouldn't one's initial response be that "Deer Crossing" is much the same? And we all have a coupla dozen things tucked away in our knowledge base that we believe, but if we looked at suspiciously for a minute or two would toss out.  My eldest, who is a smart man, recently posted on Facebook that it had just occurred to him what UCLA stood for.  Sometimes we just don't look closely.

And yet...this seems a bridge too far.  If you are seeing these signs all the time, giving them your attention, and getting worked up enough to start writing letters to the newspaper and calling radio stations, shouldn't it be a basic point...

Aw, screw it. She's just stupid.  What do you think when you see the sign "Falling Rocks," or "High Winds?"  The state did that on purpose?  Too much precedent for her not to know.

Horse Race

I don't think I am especially good at the strategy aspects of politics, and I don't have a lot of interest.  The advancement of ideas is more my concern, and in that, a single presidential election may not loom so large.

Yet it occurs to me that Biden's rudeness may have an explanation.  The usual Republican explanation, that he is a rude and arrogant person by nature, may be true, of course.  But there may have been some calculation.  That it did not play well with independents is a distraction.  Observers may think that the last few weeks of an election are all about persuading those last few, but I think the politically experienced say it is all about turning out the base at this point.  Biden's rudeness was well-received among the partisans.  The message may have been "We're going to kick 'em in the balls.  We won't work with those bastards for one minute or entertain any of their evil ideas."  Chuck Schumer's recent tax comments support this interpretation.  The attack dogs are being sent out to let the rubes know who it is they can count on in a fight.

BTW, Biden threw Hillary under the bus, and her recent statements that "I confess, I am a rabbit" are startling.  She and Bill play to the main chance.  She could have destroyed Obama's campaign in 48 hours, but apparently decided it would destroy her own career as well and is taking one for the team.*

Don't get me wrong.  There are conservatives who think that way too.  I've listened to years of people complaining that if Bush/Dole/Bush/McCain/Romney would just be a real conservative and tell it like it is they would win in a landslide.  The meaning seems to be "I and my friends would then be genuinely excited about voting for 'em, not just reluctantly going along, and I'm sure that excitement would be shared by Americans in general, because they're just regular folk like us."  They want red meat.  Reading the Huffington Post, it seems pretty apparent there are liberals of similar mind.  They aren't so excited by Obama anymore.  They still reliably hate Republicans, but they aren't in love anymore and are convinced Obama's pretty much the same old, same old.  A percentage won't show up.  A little red meat might encourage them.  And undecided voters are weird and unpredictable anyway.  There're more votes in turning out the base.

I have no way of measuring this, so I'm just blathering, really.  If Obama takes the same prepare-to-be-boarded attitude tonight it gives a little support to my theory, but if he stresses that he's the one who plays well with others (hinting that it's those other guys who won't) it neither supports nor undermines my theory. Going on the attack could be evidence infavor, but so could triangulating and sending the VP out as pit bull.

For Democrats, this was 2008:

In 2012?  Meh.

(Tangent: I was never much of a Joni Mitchell fan, but this is simply great poetry, and the best version of the song.  I knew the oversweet Judi Collins and Clannad versions, but go to Youtube and see. They're all oversweet versions.  I don't generally like her style, I don't like that tuning, I really don't like her politics, which are "One Side Forever," but dammit, Joni absolutely gets it right, far more right than even brilliant artists here.)

*She must believe she will not be airbrushed from next spring's May Day photographs.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Wodehouse Prize

The Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize is awarded every year in the UK for comic literature.  This sounded like a treasure chest for my Amazon wish-list, but clicking through the descriptions, black comedy and tragicomedy - not even "quirky," which would be the lite versions of those - seem to dominate.  A Fraction of The Whole looks like it might be just plain funny, but apparently we don't do that so much anymore. 

I don't doubt I would like many of these at least somewhat.  Terry Pratchett has always seemed to me to be a cross between Xanth and Hitchhiker's Guide and not so appealing years later, but I have liked bits that I have had described to me.  The others listed - except maybe that Ukrainian Tractors thing - seem too drenched in irony, or nuance, or something.  Yet, seeing that even I don't like the humorous styles I used to love, it may be the age.  Some other generation may have to reclaim simple humor.

Does anyone know anything about the others?

Or you could just comment about book-humor in general.

Nobel Prize

The European Union wins the Nobel Peace Prize.

Strange. Though the institutions are separate (so far as I know), they are both so thoroughly part of the mental furniture of the European liberal that the award seems self-congratulatory.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Derek Jeter and 4,000 hits

Pete Rose does some arithmetic, and he's right, but I still want to take any opportunity to kick him. Yes, Jeter will not pass him for hits - won't even make it to 4,000 - but how did this question come up?  Is Pete Rose the bride at every wedding or something?  Jeter's response is the correct one.

Second, that particular record and the overall value of Pete Rose are overrated.  Not valueless - it's a significant accomplishment.  It's just not top shelf.

Plus he's just always been a jerk.

Cato's Rating of Governors

The Cato Institute has a white paper, rating the governors on fiscal responsibility.  Summary here

There are some interesting entries.  It is not surprising, given that it's Cato, that Republicans score better than Democrats on this.  But don't jump to conclusions, because Cato has never been hesitant to go where the numbers lead. This highest-ranking Democrat is NH's John Lynch, tied for fifth with Bobby Jindal. That's ahead of Rick Perry in Texas, for those of you scoring at home.  Not only that, but Deval Patrick of Massachusetts is also well ahead of Perry, garnering one of the few "B's" the Dems earned.  I am surprised, but I tip my hat.

The five "F's" all go to Democrats, but 3 Republicans plus (ahem) Independent Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island got a "D." The scores range from 16 to 69, with Republicans averaging 57 and Democrats 43.

We Are Doomed

I liked a great deal of John Derbyshire's book. He hails from a branch of conservatism that has had to sit in the corridor much of the last decade, more paleocon than neocon. Derb himself might say metrocon, a word he coined that never caught on, as he relates in this book.

He is quite serious in his belief that We Are Doomed,  in the sense that we are past the point of no return in more than one area in America, and the West in general.  Though pessimistic, he is not despairing, and has tips on how we are to buck ourselves up in the partial, though inevitable collapse he sees coming - a collapse that is as much cultural as financial.

But this isn't a review, but an occasion to spin off and discuss a part of the book I not only disagree with, but think that Derb has lost the objectivity he insists on in others.  He was once a Christian believer of some mild C of E sort, but has no definitively decided he is not.  I am certainly likely to look at such reasoning with heightened suspiciousness, though even I have acknowledged some folk who have taken that path remain somewhat reasonable.  I tend toward the Thomist idea that perfect reason must lead to God, however - my bias that causes me to be extra hard on that line of thought.

The first red flag went up when he asserted that all religions have creation and world-ending myths, that they are rather easily knocked down by science, and thus the Christian story should be held in similar regard.  This is simply not factually true.  Some religions - notably some of the Native American tribal beliefs - have creation myths that are important to the whole picture.  But even a moment's thought will reveal that the mythologies we know most about - Roman, Greek, Norse - make scant mention of such things.  Extra points if you remembered Yggdrasil, but even that has only occasional mention and is not the ultimate beginning - just beginningish.  The Eastern religions are quite cyclic and repeating, as most religions are.  Beginning, middle, and end are more western ideas.  They are not entirely absent in the East, but it is mostly westerners who are fascinated by them.

In fact, many of the supposed creation stories only seem to have come into prominence once Christians started asking "How do you chaps think the world got started, then?  And where's it all going?"  I don't want to oversell this.  There are religions with solid creation ideas, and most of the major ones have at least something we can point to, especially around the Mediterranean.  But they don't figure in the literature much beyond their first few mentions - Hesiod, for example. 

Small point, Mr. Derbyshire, but one with large implications.  As I posted recently, any two things can look similar if you squint hard enough.  Selection bias and confirmation bias are powerful. Beginning, middle, end is not exclusively western, but it is dominantly so.

Which brings me to my more basic point: we all tend to adopt the beliefs of those we hang out with.  As an evolutionary strategy, this is the safe choice.  The tribe may need the occasional person to think outside the box, and will carry the genes for that, but it tends to be a risky survival strategy. While acknowledging that some scientists remain (or become) Christians, he notes that these are far fewer than in the population at large.  The biologists and neuroscientists in particular have low percentages of believers, and he feels they should be the most reliable evaluators of human thought. 

Except that a strongly related group, medical doctors, including the neurologists, hold confessional beliefs at rates similar to the general population.  Derb doesn't hang out with this group, so he believes what the academic biologists hint to him is the norm: unbelief.  I don't mean to be harsh on him as any worse than the rest of us, all huddling together with the like-minded and believing what is socially comfortable, but neither is it any better.  Not in the least.  Therefore, one shouldn't make a big deal out of claiming your group is somehow different when writing a book.

In a pure argument, I think Mr. Derbyshire would take the point and agree with it at least partly.  But that would be a purely theoretical agreement.  From his tone in writing, it is clear that for all his doubt about consciousness and solidity and untrustworthiness of thought, he thinks this (un)belief is really true.  They really are the experts, and I'm with them.

I've made the point often and don't need to hammer it.  Beliefs have their fashions, and these are often more powerful movers of opinion that logic.  The song from South Pacific is dead wrong about racial prejudice:  you don't have to be carefully taught.  It's the prejudice that is natural, attested in all literatures as far back as we can trace.  Racial prejudice went away in our society largely because it became unfashionable, not because there were lengthy logical debates and persuasions about it.  The James Micheners of the world had a belief and sold it. There's a cart-and-horse question here, because they received the idea from parts of their culture as well, but you take my point. A single artist is seldom powerful, but in the aggregate, artists change the culture.  In this case, they made racial prejudice unfashionable.  Hard to argue with that, but it still isn't reasoning.

It may be the best we poor humans can do, however.

In my own lifetime the same thing has happened with acceptance of homosexuality.  Movies and theater, more than books and music, has had a great deal to do with this.  But those media have not engaged us in debate or intellectual consideration of the topic (though they sometimes pretend to portray this), they have simply convinced us that it is unfashionable to disapprove of homosexuality and immoral to forbid it in any context.  Credit or blame whoever you want on this, but the culture as a whole went along. 

One important addition: we all belong to several groups, and it will often happen that we feel conflicted about who we will ultimately side with.  It is an interesting general problem, but I am much more interested in how it plays out when one of the belief-sets is Christianity, or what the individual believes is the Christian norm. People get converted to conservatism or liberalism - or conspiracy theories or parenting styles or socialism - along with their Christianity, and many don't separate these out very well.  Again, it is a hard thing to go against the group one looks to for mates and jobs and companionship. 

Sometimes the choices can be revealing.  Sometimes you can sense that a person has not rejected the faith as taught, but has, without realising it, put their church membership second to some other group.  I have been most aware of this when watching how wealthier parents choose to have their children raised. Depending on the prevailing culture, that may be aspirational parents sending their children to religious schools though they are only somewhat religious, or might be previously religious parents who start thinking that getting children into the "best" schools is their real allegiance.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Empty Suit

Sponge-Headed Scienceman (or perhaps his wife) sent this along.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

It's A Dog's Life

My son sent this link to the one episode of this 1979 sitcom (get it?  Sit - com?  I slay me.) Screenwriter/announcer Ken Levine gives a little background at the link.  This is so awful, the comments were focused on how long you could last before you couldn't take anymore.

I went five minutes and could easily have gone more if I weren't in a hurry.  I grew up on stupid TV sitcoms.  I can watch them all day - and did.  It's really hard to get below my threshold.

Rich People

Let me tell you about the very rich.  They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves.  Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different.  "Rich Boy" F. Scott Fitzgerald
I have a little experience with the very rich.  Most of us do have some chance associations based on where we have lived or worked or gone to school, the families we come from, or the hobbies we have.  I don't know that mine is much more extensive than any of yours.  We rub shoulders with the wealthy.  More rarely, with the uberrich - I can't say I know much about them.

Similarly, most of us have occasional contact with the moderately wealthy - people who don't necessarily see themselves as all that rich - because they are in contact with people much richer - but by all objective measures are among the most prosperous folks in the country and certainly, the world.  We talk about the 1%, but in world terms, we are all among the 5%, and historically, the 1%.  Few people think of themselves as rich.

I am uncertain how much I agree with the quote above.  Putting aside Fitzgerald's personal reasons for a love-hate relationship with the rich, treating the quote as a generic observation by some anonymous writer, it seems partly true at first glance.  I have certainly known folks who have that air of entitlement, of deserving the choicest portions because they can pay for them, even if they never disparage others or make claims of superiority.  We go to church in a wealthy community, where rather expensive cars, homes, or vacations are considered everyday by some.  It is troubling at times to be brought up short, noticing that this person has a rather skewed idea of what is normal, I think, and not a lot of obvious gratitude that they should be so lucky as to have their abilities match their time and place so well.

Yet they aren't all like that, and I wonder if we do not simply notice such things more among the wealthy. A (female) coworker of indisputable kindness remarked years ago how tragic the death of a young woman was: "She was so pretty and personable."  I remember thinking it would be equally tragic if she weren't pretty.  We hear similar words about intelligent people being struck down by some illness or misfortune, as if this somehow makes it worse.  Perhaps we mean it that way, though we know we shouldn't, but I think a more likely explanation is that we notice it.  Thus with even mildly irritating characteristics among the rich.

OTOH, it is certainly true that exposing people to more temptations means a percentage of them with succumb.  The rich with an inflated sense of desert may not do any worse than we would in their shoes, but the point is they aren't in our shoes.  They have that temptation and we don't.  It would thus be surprising if the wealthy - collectively, not individually - weren't slightly worse than average on this measure, because they have been exposed to temptations the average person hasn't.

I sense, I feel, I smell, that the rich are different in their attitudes, and not in a good way.  But selective bias and confirmation bias are likely to be so strong in me that I mistrust it.  Perhaps I am projecting my own weaknesses on others, but I have to suspect that much of the current class envy, class-warfare rhetoric of our era plays on the same biases.  People think they know what the rich are like and how they think..But they may not.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Train Song

The Pips.  does Gary Trudeau think he could do even a bad imitation of this?

Homophonic Influence

Boston opened its NBA preseason losing to a Turkish team.  They have been surprisingly popular in that country for years, even before they had Semih Erden.  You can come up with a dozen theories, but I have always leaned to the linguistic one.  The team name sounds a lot like Seljuks

There's a comic bit in there, I suppose.

The Vision of the Anointed*

The key to liberalism is the belief that if we would just improve services, all the children would be above average.

Keillor's use of this idea has an added meaning that makes it richer, I think, and not an example of the above.  It is not only that everyone favors their own children just a bit and sees even the average child as something better.  The opposite value is in play as well: don't be too full of yourself, don't put on airs.  You're not some genius, you're just above average.  When both ideas exist in tension, I don't think it's such a bad thing.

*Title stolen from Thomas Sowell.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Old Lefty

I work with a social worker about my age who comes from the old school.  A lot of those things we believed in the 70's have not fully dislodged, just been given an updated spin.  Thursday it was the idea that the military operates on the same principle as gangs, fostering camaraderie and group rules, substitute family... and he delights in making it be "gangs" every time he announces this, not accepting my hints that all groups, clans, tribes, and associations also work from the same basic principles.  Plus, he always goes on to mention that the military "targets the most vulnerable members of our society" for membership.  He doesn't say it meanly, just patiently explaining it to all of us who might not have grasped the deep truths he is explaining to us.

Today, when I mentioned that in 1990's Romania people were kept in hospital for long periods of time, mostly because not much real medical help could be given and families needed a break from care, so the hospital waited a polite amount of time before sending them home.  It also gave the patient some attention and a feeling of being treated well.  My colleague thought this was an excellent example of how our Western intrusion had not been entirely positive: Oh, I know it's been economically better but they've lost something that was valuable. His thinking was that families took care of each other more under the old regime, and we disrupted their adaptive patterns.

That this is exactly backward - that the hospitals were not adopting some modern Western idea but were perpetuating an older socialist one - did not occur to him.  That I wasn't speaking about elders in the least went unnoticed.  That in all societies, care for elder relatives declines as life expectancy increases - went missing.  That no Romanian would endorse his opinion as being anything other than insane he is unaware of.  Only his previous narrative remains - that there were good things in the old Soviet system that we blindly ignore now because of our simplistic, uninformed narrative.


Any two things can be made to look similar if you squint hard enough.

By The Numbers

The season is over, the numbers are now final, and I like to poke around at them.  I did not watch an entire at-bat of a Sox game this season.  I do listen to sports radio, but they were continually convinced that communication problems were the core of Red Sox troubles, so I switched stations among the three available a lot.  The Red Sox had getting people out problems, full stop.

I did hear things along the way.  I heard that Daniel Bard wanted to be a starter (they make 3-4 times as much, I understand) and it didn't work.  It is always easy to say in retrospect that we should have gone north when it is clear that south didn't work, but I claim to have seen a problem with their method from the start.  He was essentially a rookie as a starter, and the place for rookies is in spot starts and long relief.  But the Red Sox thought they were contenders, and they needed Bard to be a middle of the rotation player, so they shoved him in there.  If you knew you weren't a contender and were developing players and seeing who could pitch for a year, Bard's 5.68 ERA is not that terrible and worth fighting through.  Now they've apparently ruined his head and he can't get guys out in AAA.

Similarly, they needed Buchholz or Lester (and now Lackey) to be top-of-the-rotation guys and that looks bleak. Adding in Doubront, Boston now has four fully capable 3rd - 5th starters, and could have had five.  They are fine if you just see them for what they are.  ERA 4.50 - 5.00, 200 innings for a .500 ball club.  Sort that out for one more year and contend again in 2014.  What's your problem?  You need a #1 and a #2 starter, at least one of whom can eat innings, and you actually have the flexibility to trade 2 of those current guys, because you have another spot-starter long relief guy available (see below).  Heck, with Barnes, Webster, and De La Rosa looking almost ready, you have lots of halfway-decent pitchers you can trade.  All depth, no top.

For relief pitchers, Tazawa is 26, had an ERA of 1.43 in 44 IP.  How is he not your closer, or at least your set-up guy?  Problem solved.   Atchison if he's healthy and Hill both deserve the same number of innings or more. ERA's under 2.  Ride that wave.  Breslow has 63 IP - a good number - at 2.70 ERA. 

Then there are four players right about the same age who have limited strengths, but would be fine in designated roles.  Miller is 6-7 and gets the first batter out all the time. He is still good on the second batter and maybe the third. Mortensen is not only a very good pitcher on 2 or more days' rest, he can go more than two innings if need be. Long relief.  Melancon and Carpenter both did well late.  They round out your bullpen.

GM's like to play around, bringing in this, that, getting a guy for cheap, etc.  I hope no one on the Red Sox puts any energy into thinking about that.  Top starters.  Eat innings.  Pay money.  Do that.  The rest is in place, with a decent number of developing players on the way.

Thursday, October 04, 2012


The All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Final was recently completed.  This gives me a chance to reprise a 2006 post on attending a hurling match in Dublin, Games Mad.  It does seem I am the only one who likes it so much.

The language of sporting events in other English-speaking countries is always a bit unnerving, but always entertaining.  I am guessing that describing Walter Walsh as a debutant has a different meaning in Ireland than America.  A rookie, we would say.  And "Galway's Cyril Donnellan was shown the red card and sent off after swinging his hurley at opponent J. J. Delaney and hitting him upon the head" does suggest why the sport remains popular, doesn't it?

The crowds of 80,000 are only for the major matches, apparently.  The one we attended had less than ten, including the four of us.  Very odd.