Monday, September 30, 2013

More Guitars

There are impressive solos and one admires the virtuosity and different styles.  Then at about the 5:20 mark they find a meshing point and take it to a higher level, sustained until the end. Maybe you have to be a guitarist to appreciate it, but I am hoping not. Amazing.

Rose Room

It became a jazz standard, but Benny Goodman thought he would show up young Charlie Christian, the electric guitarist who had not done well in the tryout earlier that day, by calling for that song when Christian was inexplicably inserted onstage by friends that night in 1939.

Charlie obliged by doing 40 different improvisations as the verse came to him 40 times, bringing down the house.  Goodman - the pioneer in integrating his bands - was sold and signed him on.  I'm not knowledgeable about jazz, but notice the two verses improvised in the middle of this recorded piece: same music, very different.

Also notice. Charlie Christian's early style was guitar work attempting to sound like horns, only later putting the imprint on the instrument as a solo item. This sounds about halfway in-between here. Does anyone know?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Common Core

Does anyone remember Cornell Notes? I never learned the technique myself, but I had a highschool teacher who showed it to us in outline, advocating that we would do much better in college if we used it.  Maybe so.

They tried new math on Barbara Letendre, Judy Klein, and me in 6th grade, taught by the principal. 1965. I don't know if it helped any.  I learned math by just playing with numbers all the time, because I liked them.  Arduous trial-and-error calculation (√13=3.60555...), mental math, loved it all. Plus the answers for new math were in the right-hand column, covered by a folded piece of oak tag, so I always cheated.  Couldn't stop. Another brilliant new idea by textbook designers, eh?  What could go wrong?

There was SRA, and then everyone thought that Open Classrooms would fix everything. Then it was learning centers. The five-paragraph essay, reformed mathematics (I always wondered if utter depravity was in that somewhere), self-esteem, phonics, Values Clarification, writing process...they were going to bring us to the promised land. 

The list keeps growing, but many things fall away.  Multiple intelligences are big now, learning styles inventory not so much.  Sustained Silent Reading and Drop Everything And Read, Cultural Literacy, Bloom's Taxonomy, Brain-based learning, Authentic Assessment. Block scheduling remains fashionable, but Writing Across the Curriculum may have faded. Add more in the comments as they occur to you.

A decade ago No Child Left Behind became a required fad. That's not good. 

Please notice that all these things had some good in them.  It's better to have a plan than to have no plan. There are a lot of good frameworks for learning there.  They just don't change things, for good or for ill, anywhere near as much as their advocates and critics predicted. Educational fads never do half the good nor half the damage claimed.

It pays to remember this about Common Core. It is neither the Great Leap Forward nor the pact with the devil it is being made out to be.  It has some good aspects about emphasising clarity and trying to keep some semblance of a national culture in education. That's all fine.  

One of the main objections that conservatives have is that the feds are using a pretty heavy hand in making this happen.  That is indeed, a good thing to oppose on general principal.  Even good ideas should be viewed with suspicion if the government is trying to make you adopt them. This required aspect seems to be taking up most of conservative's energy. They keep insisting that no, no, it's the program itself that they don't like, but the evidence is against that.  It's not what sets their blood boiling and fingers linking. It's the conscription they don't like.  

That is an attitude I generally approve of. Secondly, opposing any new idea as it comes down the pike in education may sound closed-minded and reactionary, but given the extreme tendency of that field to fall for fads, reflexive opposition isn't a bad strategy at all. Teachers get that way after a few years on the job themselves: Oh goodness, what is it now? Just go away and let me teach, and stop coming up with new magic potions. My wife once went to a workshop about a new method where the presenter was explicit that she wanted her hearers to have a conversion experience similar to a religious one. These chowderheads really do think that way, and they should get some pushback.

But it's just not this malign, destructive force about to swallow our children.  It doesn't rise to that level.

Here's the test: If, when I say "It's not that important," what you hear is "He thinks my child's education is not that important," then I think you are overreacting.  And I say this as one who overreacted to educational things myself when my children were younger. What the school does to or for your child is not as big as all that.  When you get a teacher or a program that works for your child, ride that wave as far as it can go.  When you get some fool of an instructor, or a school that insists on driving a bad idea into the center of the earth no matter how often if fails, you have to correct for that. You, the parent, are the more important variable here.

And beyond that, your child's thinking, habits, abilities, and hard-wired character are more important still.

Looking for more I found rubrics, small schools, multiculturalism, inventive spelling, back to basics, metacognition, standards-based instruction...

Let Em Run

I keep forgetting to lend the CD of this Canadian band to Sponge-Headed Scienceman.  Had it out last night but left it.  Maybe Sunday.

They have an ability to switch styles pretty well, don't they?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Contradictory Name

Cairngorms National Park in Scotland is called  
Pairc Naiseanta a Mhonaidh Ruaidh in Gaelic. It's right there on the sign and everything.

The former means "Blue Hills National Park"
The latter means "Red Hills National Park."

But really, that may not be too crazy.

There originally was only one Cairn Gorm, "Blue Hill" in the area, but the entire range got given the name The Cairngorms for reasons not entirely clear. The older name of the range was An Monaidh Ruaidh, the Red Hills.

I was wondering if the Monaidh is cognate with English mountain and Welsh Mona, but the latter seems to mean "cow.*" Mynnedd is mountain in Welsh. Mountain is muin or mwn in the other Gaelics. Those come from "neck," something that sticks out.

Tangent: I also learned that Isle of Mona is an older name for Isle of Angelsey.  When we were on Angelsey in 2005 we might have taken a better look at the geography had we known that, as Mona is an important place in Lloyd Alexander's The Castle of Llyr.

*Once you know the lactose-digestion theory of the spread of the Indo-Europeans out of West Asia into Europe, you start noticing the historical importance of cows even more.  On down into the settling of the American frontier and the focus on cattle-rustling.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Borderline Personality And Splitting

Though the term "splitting" is misused often by line staff, it is indeed a symptom of Borderline Personality Disorder. In the confusion over the boundaries of what is BPD, what is PTSD, and whether someone has a full Personality Disorder or simply traits, lines are hard to draw. All this granted.  But splitting, the psychiatric symptom, does indeed lead to "splits" in the staff of how a patient should be handled at any given point.  Some are moved to rescue, some to punish.  Default opinions about What Should Be Done are frequently appealed to, with staff slowly being maneuvered into acting out the patient's split - their either-or thinking by engaging in unlistening, either-or behavior themselves.

But it is not the patient's actions which create the split amongst the staff.  Those maneuverings and attempts to externalise inner conflict into the actions of those around reveal staff conflict, not create it.

This diagnosis-specific knowledge has more general application to all "difficult" people, such as the ones you work with or live with.  You might examine whether they are creating the conflict in the office, the church, the neighborhood, the family, or are they simply revealing a split that is there anyway?

Monday, September 23, 2013

How To Win My Heart With A Baseball Statistic

I have thought that Wins Above Replacement is a useful idea, but I was suspicious about how it was calculated.  Do these knuckleheads know not to overvalue stolen bases?  Do the get it that CF's are much more valuable than 1B's?

The ESPN article that explains the statistic starts out very well, and I thought of linking to it even before it gave examples of how to compare across eras.  But when it compared Carl Yastrzemski's 1968 season - the beating heart of the hitter-punishing era - to a great season in hitter-friendly Colorado in the 90's, they had me.  They get it.

I thought their estimate of 50 wins for a team of replacement-level players a touch high - I would have guessed a little less.  But they've done their homework, so I'm willing to take their word for it.  On that score, poor Houston looks to be just about an entire time of AAA players.  But that's true.  They have a squad of young players pressed into service before their time who will likely improve over the next 2-3 years.  A few are above replacement value already, but at a few positions they need somebody from somewhere, fast.

Garrison Keillor

I stopped following him much somewhere in the 1990's, as he went into a bitter period.  His making fun of people no longer had affection underlying it, and the genuinely good lines that kept coming were not worth the irritation it took to get there.  It retroactively poisoned some of his earlier work for me, though there were things I could still enjoy. In the last few years either I have softened or he has, and I feel more well-disposed toward him.

This essay from over a decade ago in Virginia Quarterly softens my opinion even more.  It addresses his religious beliefs and approach directly, and brings in some things I did not know. A sample:
Sounds like a church service, doesn't it? Protestant, to be sure, and unless one wants to count Powdermilk Biscuits as the bread of communion, noneucharistic as well, but a kind of church service nonetheless. The people assemble weekly both in the hall and around their radios. Musicians on stage take the place of choir and organist, with the audience often invited to join in the singing. The messages and greetings that Keillor reads midway through the program are not unlike church announcements, letting people know how others in the gathered family are doing. All this culminates in good Protestant style with Keillor's sermon, er, monologue, which sounds like it is being born in the pulpit but actually is well prepared and even lasts the prescribed 20 minutes. "All comedy is preaching," Keillor has said, "but it can't show its hand." As for the particular brand of preaching and worship that A Prairie Home Companion represents, "Our show down deep in its heart is a gospel show."

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Your Job

Whatever you think your job is, it is actually this: the action you must repeat in order to get paid.

You can get a lot of entertainment out of this, reflecting on the shades of meaning in job, or paid or repeat, but the concept is straightforward. With children and some others, we guarantee them some minimum, but they still learn the "jobs" that will get them extra attention, or escape from harassment, or resources in the larger world.

This came to mind in the context of Bethany's report about the conference her brother attended. (Comments in "Slate" below.) I know the lad, and he's got a pretty high ability to put up with crap and nonsense if the end goal is justice.  So if he was feeling the pinch, the rest of us would have been wailing and gnashing our teeth.

Yet if these people are representing others at the table - if it is their job to obtain resources, including "voice," for their group, then their actions make sense.  The stated purpose of the conference is to solve some problem, and on paper, that's the job. But that's not their job. The action that they have to repeat is to obtain voice, dollars, publicity, sympathy for a group of people.  If they don't they won't get hired again.  Or their group will have insufficient resources to keep them on.

It sounds very grim and cynical when I put it that way, but I hope it isn't.  It is very hard for human beings to sustain charitable feelings.  If you are in a group that has genuine need that it is dependent on others to receive - and justice would be one of those things that the powerless deserve but may not be able to obtain by their own efforts - then appeals to sympathy or conscience are one of the legitimate tools. 

It is a more legitimate tool, and much harder, than stirring up resentment against other groups. Resentment doesn't need a lot of encouragement to sustain itself.  Once established, occasional reminders are enough to stir the fire. The reader will note that this easier tactic is the more common. The appeal to compassion can be the bait, the enjoyment of hatred the hook.

What her brother witnessed may indeed be an example of progressive stack. In theory, I don't see why this would be a controversial technique within the Occupy movement.  It's just affirmative action applied to discussion-space, after all. There's good biblical precedent for it, too.  (The Seven all have Greek names.)

Yet I don't think the controversy comes from hypocrisy, of the other listeners only objecting because now it is their ox that is gored.  There would be some of that, certainly, there always is.  But I think the others sense that the technique of appeal to resentment rather than appeal to conscience is being used, and they don't like it.  In victimisation competition, you can't easily call people out on it. So the attendees get to jockey for space, which is a never-ending battle, and the purported job goes undone.

Jubilate Deo

Or maybe five-part harmony.


I've already done the post, years ago, about the history of the song and its various versions.  Tonight I'm thinking I just like listening to three-part harmony.

Crime Novels

I was looking for this list by the UK Crime Writers Association of the 100 best crime novels of all-time, and stumbled upon related lists, such as the American version the Top 100 Mystery Novels of All Time,  mystery writer HRF Keating's 100 Best Crime And Mystery Books, and a List of 22 Lists of mysteries.

All the lists include the standards - Sherlock Holmes, a fair bit of Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, but there is some variety. Keating's list is weighted heavily to earlier authors - Poe, Dickens, Wilkie Collins and many I had never heard of; the American list leads with Sherlock Holmes and The Maltese Falcon, but includes a good bit of Raymond Chandler and John LeCarre. The UK list is topped by Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time; all include some authors we don't automatically associate with mysteries, such as Ian Fleming, Dostoevsky, and Umberto Eco.

One reviewer did notice that the American list includes an even more unusual entry, however.
Here it appears some selectors did not read the "books" they chose. As the book's compiler notes concerning selection nineteen, Agatha Christie's, "A Witness for the Prosecution", "... it should not have been ranked as one of the top 100 mystery books because, well, there is no such book". Perhaps some voters choose this selection based on the movie, which in turn was based on an Agatha Christie short story - although the endings differ.
Ah, claiming to have read the book by seeing the movie again, eh? It worked in high school.

I don't think of myself as a reader of mysteries anymore. That was years ago. I also haven't had much motivation to read some of these titles even though I have been hearing about them for years, such as The Anatomy of a Murder or The Thin Man. Yet I have to admit, the titles I have read are among my all-time favorites, so perhaps I should read more.

Here's the new plan, then.  Abandon all other topics and just read these.

Alien Life

New Alien Life Claim Far From Convincing  read the headline in the sidebar.  Okay, I'll bite. My initial take is to be grateful that someone is at least skeptical. The entire affair is based on a paper in the Journal of Cosmology, volume 22, so you know they've been going a good long bit.

They found a diatom in the stratosphere, and know of no mechanism whereby a diatom could be blown so high. Well, okay, there's volcanoes, but there haven't been any in the last three years so that's right out. Therefore it comes from outer space, possibly from a comet, and we can feel reasonably confident this is happening all the time and life originated elsewhere. Yes, that does seem to be the only other possibility.  Can't imagine any other way it got there.

The story becomes clearer only at the end of the article.
"It isn't a real science journal at all, but is the ginned-up website of a small group of crank academics obsessed with the idea of [Fred] Hoyle and [Chandra] Wickramasinghe that life originated in outer space and simply rained down on Earth," P.Z. Myers, a biologist at the University of Minnesota, Morris, wrote on his popular science blog Pharyngula.

Wickramasinghe is a co-author of the new stratospheric diatom paper, a fact that could color its reception in the wider scientific community.

"I don't have ANY expertise in this area," Rosie Redfield, a microbiologist at the University of British Columbia, told via email. Redfield was among the outspoken critics of the Journal of Cosmology's 2011 meteorite announcement. "But neither the Journal of Cosmology nor Dr. Wickramasinghe have any scientific credibility, and one fragment of a diatom frustule is hardly significant evidence."
Well, send a jug of the best claret round to P.Z. Myers and Ms. Redfield, then.  The former is a prominent atheist blogger, according to my scanty research, but he deserves the jug nonetheless.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Slate Sorority Slam

Update: It occurred to me later "Which one of these women actually knows something about living in a culture where there are hundreds of lesbians who play a large part?" The writer from Slate knows much more about what progressive people are supposed to believe and supposed to say about the interaction of lesbian and straight culture - no contest there - but the student has actual knowledge.  Slate doesn't say where Kate is from, but let's guess recent Arts & Humanities grad from a coeducational school.  Maybe an Ivy wannabee. That doesn't make the latter right nor the former wrong, but it is a significant credibility marker.  (Also, some editing below, as I rethought in the paragraph beginning Fifth, the photo what was really being said.)

Kate Waldman over at Slate has provided considerable evidence that the woman she is criticising made a good point. The young woman at Smith may indeed be annoying or wrong, but the irony is how Waldman's criticism proceeds.

Via the Steve Sailer post about the Smith student's proposed sorority coming under heavy attack is the odd, almost deranged girlish stereotypy.  First, an internal discussion among the women at Smith must, simply must, rise to the level of being corrected in national publications.  No, sorry. First was EWW, your taste in clothes, Lily Pulitzer? OMG I can't believe I'm even talking to you! So, second - is the reasoning and argument part. No wait, maybe further down...that's funny...she doesn't seem to get to the reasoning part at all...Third, because the Smith girl is talking about sororities, then everything else that I hate about sororities - because those girls are just ARRGGH! - is fair game for Ms. Waldman to add in.

Well yeah, that's logical.

Fourth, because straight women may outnumber lesbians at Smith, then there can't possibly be an validity to her impression of being treated as an unheard minority, can there?  Unless you are Mitt Romney or the 1% or Hollywood directors, or South Africa, or whatever.  Then it's just obvious that the minority unfairly oppresses the minority.  It's just impossible for a minority to exert cultural dominance over a majority, and any complaining must be - well, let me put on my x-ray glasses and read out the Motiv-o-Meter and discern that this is just disguised hate speech.  Against the wrong kind of women by the wrong kind of woman.  Is it ultimately true that our political and social discussions come down to arguments among women about how women should acts?

My very liberal brother used to be a lecturer at Smith and joked that marxism was the center-right position there.

Fifth, the photo and the rhetoric solidify the impression that those who don't buy into the authoresses's definition of proper female behavior must be ultrafeminine parodies. They can't possibly be real people with ideas, intelligence, and opinions, so we will just talk down to them as if they are little girls instead of reasoning with them.  Who knew that Mean Girls had such broad application?

Okay, I'm not the first to notice that broad application.

I've written dialogue at times, and I write dialogue for characters like this in my head from time to time as well, thinking how perfect it would be if they actually were such obvious stereotypes and fools and put such words in their mouths.  But after about fifteen minutes, I chastise myself for being so unfair.  Real people don't really think like this.

Then the Kate Waldman's of the world come along, writing for a publication with some following and prestige and thus, representative of some solid slice of humanity and I have to admit, shaking my head, "Yeah, some of them really are that bad."

Cow Accents

If you heard NPR this weekend repeating the urban legend that cows have accents - that they sound different in different regions - you need to follow up with the very frustrated people over at Language Log, who have been smacking this down since 2006. (Embedded link to the 2006 refutation there.)

There is additional fun discussing how often BBC Science gets things wrong by sensationalising the stories.  This wouldn't make them any worse than a thousand other news sources, except that they look down on so many others for sensationalised pseudo-science.  Rather like the NYT. Though their formal science section usually seems good - it's the bad science in the other sections, all delivered with that raised nose and sniff.

Two Thoughts On The Improvements In Education

I have ranted before that conservatives simply have poor memories and/or do not recognise that the things they remember about education are unrepresentative samples.  It's a lot easier to be clearheaded when you had more than a few bad teachers, or were a difficult student in some way.  The cartoonist who draws xkcd has compiled an interesting collection of quotes from the Good Old Days, many of which overlap educational topics.  See also bethany's comment under "Are We Freer Now..."

I would add to this the great advantage of online communication between teacher and parent these days, which allows you to look up and see exactly what the assignments are and when they are (or were) due, and what your kid has done to date.  This allows parents to hold their children accountable, and teachers to provide visible evidence that they did too announce when the quizzes were coming and how much they counted.  I used to joke that my children had the amazing misfortune to have somehow gotten an unusually high percentage of the teachers in NH who routinely forgot to announce tests and assignments. And those were my high-responsibility, honor-roll sons.

There is simply no comparison between having that and not having it.  In fact, it is so powerful that it might unfairly penalise those students who were conscientious anyway, taking away an advantage that they worked hard to obtain.

I call all these programs Powerschool even though there are other versions, as that was the first one that we were exposed to.  It's as good a memory tag as any.  When someone starts to tell you how much better education was in the Good Old Days, think Powerschool.  It's just better.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


An interesting essay from Quora, written last year, about the myths surrounding Galileo, heliocentricism, and the Catholic Church. I think the myths he describes have a bit of straw in them - they are the far edge of what is popularly believed about the events, but more moderate versions are also encountered.  Yet perhaps not so.  Some of the comments seem to be criticising from pure prejudice rather than challenging on an intellectual basis.

In either event, what is popularly believed is much closer to the myth than to the evidence he presents here.  Had a Christian, especially Catholic historian presented this it would be held suspect and one-sided.  That an atheist is persuaded of a more complicated view does give it more weight.

The first comment, which takes an opposing view, is quite good, BTW.  Yet I think it neglects how argument was transacted in all countries until quite recently.  When one had the power, one insisted on not mere acquiescence, but on boot-stomping, blood-drinking victory. We consider such over-the-top triumphalism a mark of less persuasiveness in our day and culture, but that was not the case then.  If you think about it, there are many places in the world even in our own lifetimes where that has not been the practice.  If one assents to a few central beliefs the tyrants might let you believe and even quietly teach any number of things.  Yet if you raise your voice up too loudly, you will not be allowed to speak again until you have renounced all heterodoxy according to the strictest interpretation - even if your torturer himself is not so orthodox.

So too in Galileo's time.  Others blithely went on teaching what he had to refrain from attaching any credence to.

Trivia Study Versus Memory

A friend retired at work, and because he had started in 1969 there was a trivia contest about that year. I wasn't at the party, so I didn't participate. It is unknown whether I would have won, because reading the questions later is not the same as answering them on the spot. I would have been close. The winner was, not coincidentally, about my age and a pal of mine.

There is one the winner got wrong, which I would have gotten wrong also, and I suspect for similar reasons: What Beatles' album came out in 1969? Two younger trivia buffs got it immediately. Abbey Road.  They weren't there, but the progression of Beatle music is apparently something you have just got to know if you are going to compete in various pub trivia events.

But I did it from memory.  The summer of 1969, the White Album was very big.  I can remember it on the radio around specific events in May and June, and know who was working on the guitar riffs over the summer to be ready for the coffeehouse and concert circuit in the fall. My memories of Abbey Road start in February of 1970. Remember that, as I recently mentioned, music and fashions tended to hit NH a few months later than NYC or LA.  The White Album came out in November of 1968, Abbey Road in September of 1969.* So yes, Abbey Road is technically the correct answer.  But in the actual year 1969, start to finish, the White Album was of enormous importance and influence, Abbey Road rather a late entry.

This particular example is a detail, but is interesting in terms of general knowledge contests and quizzes.  I can list the countries of Europe and their capitals (except I can never remember Montenegro's capital.  Begins with a P and has "r's" and "o's" in it.) Half of them I picked up along the way just reading history and news.  I didn't know Brussels was the capital of Belgium, but I would have guessed it. I would have wildly guessed Minsk for Belarus and been right, wildly guessed Zurich for Switzerland and been wrong.

But once I started to play, I looked 'em up. Yerevan/Armenia.  Nicosia/Cyprus.  Vallarta/Malta.  I would not have even included those countries, let alone known the capitals. It just seems that I shouldn't get as much credit for ones that I went back and intentionally learned versus those that I got as part of the corpus of my general knowledge.

This comes up because a young friend at church is the captain of his Granite State Challenge team, and they rehearse, research, review, and refresh all year in order to compete. His school picks the team by direct competition, unlike, ahem, some other schools I have known, and he is as deserving a participant as you have known.  (Go on.  Take a guess at his ethnicity.) Yet it still seems not quite sporting, somehow.  Not quite the straight bat, Chauncey.  I feel like the English gentleman complaining in "Chariots of Fire" that Harold Abrahams had hired a coach.  It just isn't done.

*Yellow Submarine came out in January of 1969.  I don't know what to do with that in the context of the trivia contest.  Had it been the answer, it would have seemed a trick. It ran on a parallel track to the Top 40 music, but was undeniably important.


Rick Reilly continues to be a parody of himself, writing about subjects in sports with a high ( read: banal) cultural or moral tone that no one is remotely interested in.  The titles tell you everything you need to know, and they tell you stay away. Today's entry:
Steelers nose tackle Steve McLendon uses ballet to stay on his toes

Monday, September 16, 2013


I don't usually refer back to comments of earlier posts, but there's an interesting one under "Detectives" that covers ground I had not thought of.

Autumn Is Icumen In

Sept 1 is the first day of Autumn in NH, Dec 1 the first day of Winter. The first leaves have started to fall, though these are only from the weakened trees, and there is no foliage color yet.  Oh, I imagine there are swamp maples up in the Lakes Region that are turning, but very little change of color here.

We are going into the 30's tonight, but nothing like John-Adrian's travails in Nome, where it has gone below freezing several nights already.  I guess in Nome August 15 is the first day of fall and the equinox is the beginning of winter.


Steve Sailer has a piece about training students in Emotional Intelligence based on a recent NYT piece.  He relates it to IQ envy. More interestingly to me, he comments
As far as I can tell, education, from Aesop on down, has always been concerned with instilling character, self control, and wisdom, only now these ancient goals have been rebranded as "emotional intelligence:"
These are what I believe schools actually can teach, and should.  These, and a culture which is both shared and inclusive, and represents what is most central and laudable in a field.  Despite arguments about what that means, and abuses in imposing majority culture rather than Western Civ, of course a culture can be taught.  It's just that the truth steps on people's toes, so they pressure it out. (Left and right both have blind spots, but the current trend of those in education hierarchy is to make so absolutely sure that the bad old right wing blind spots aren't taught that the new left-wing ones are swallowed whole.)

The actual comments of one of the researchers, Marc Brackett aren't quite like that, however.  Leaning on the research that one does worse on tests while anxious, or hungry, or being secretly beaten - gee, that's shocking, eh? - he switches over to the idea that some other things called Emotional Intelligence, such as being able to empathise or intuit, are really the bee's knees in educating the next generation.

I suspect it's all one in their minds, allowing them to gradually drop all the character issues of self-control, conscientiousness, hard work, and self-denial in favor of vague notions of identifying with the unfortunate or how to report bullies. That is what the offered article suggests, at any rate. It is rather like offering a traffic-safety course and spending only 10% time on chemical impairment and speeding and 90% on lobbying government for safer cars.

If any of you know differently, that Emotional Intelligence instruction is actually a clever way to smuggle in the old virtues we can no longer stress quite so strongly, I'd be glad to hear it.

Are We More Free Now Than In 1975?

Poster Lexington Green over at Chicago Boyz asked that over a week ago.  There was some variety of opinion, but the trend in the comments was that we are far less free now than then.  Some were so adamant that I felt obliged to take up the contrary position.

Much was made of things individuals could do then that they could do now.  Buying cough medicine, where you could smoke, whether you got searched boarding a plane, what you could burn in your backyard - these loomed large.  Drug forfeiture laws and raids, which are uncommon but a clear unfreedom, were also mentioned.

I thought it was largely perspective. There was a focus on what had been lost, rather than gained.  Many drugs are now OTC rather than prescription.  You can't burn leaves, but you can buy fireworks more easily.  If you value choice = freedom, we are much freer now, as there are more than three networks, for example.  But if you value privacy, 1975 was better.

Blood Tests

A son passes along this WSJ article on improvements in blood tests. Yeah.

Sunday, September 15, 2013


"People who complain are just jolly, human Christian nuisances; I don't mind them.  But people who complain that they never complain are the devil.  They are really the devil; isn't that swagger of stoicism the whole point of the Byronic cult of Satan?" GK Chesterton

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Lousy Predictions

I suggested in April that the Red Sox would win 81 games this year, maybe 85 if things broke right for them. They already have 91 wins with 12 games to go. For those of you who don't follow MLB, let me tell you that this is a very big difference, and my prediction was lousy.

 I did say that Lester and Buchholz might each go "16-10 or something," which turned out to be pretty accurate. 10-0 and being gone for half the season is about equal to 16-10 in value to a team, and Lester is 14-8 at present. I said the rest of the rotation would be improved, but not good, merely not disastrous; similarly, the bullpen couldn't be worse than last year and must be a bit better. Both were in fact much better. Very much better.

I thought the hitting would be slightly improved, but that also is significantly improved. In particular, Napoli, Carp, Nava, Victorino, and Drew have exceeded expectations. The only unreasonable good fortune is that there have been few injuries. It hasn't seemed that way because of the ongoing focus on Buchholz, and then the sinking feeling about Ellsbury, but one has only to look at the new season starting for the Patriots and their woes to realise that the Red Sox haven't had such bad luck.


Let Her Go Down

This version is smoother than the one they recorded, I think.

The Hollies also did the song, as a b-side released only in New Zealand. I hadn't known that.

Football Programs

I had the impression that a somewhat different collection of colleges were football powerhouses in the 1950's but that things had been pretty stable since 1965 or so, when I first started paying attention.  This turned out to be nearly true.  The changeover occurs pretty early in the 1950's. A few now-unfamiliar programs hang on a bit longer, and after 1960 the same names recur year after year.

It was in the 1940's that Duquesne, Fordham, and St Mary's all had a run at not only the top 20 but the top 5, and various wartime training bases fielded teams that were highly ranked.   Notre Dame, Michigan, and Oklahoma were already making yearly appearances high in the rankings, but there were still Ivy League schools, especially Princeton, in the mix in the 1940's. (The last Ivy to make it to the top 20 was Dartmouth in 1970. I should remember something about that, as I was a football fan and attending the high school that was nicknamed the Little Green in deference to Dartmouth's Big Green. But it was a complete surprise to me.  College football ceased being that big a deal in the northeast long ago*.  We are mildly happy about Boston College playing with the big boys and sending people to the NFL.) Army and Navy hung on through the 50's, gradually fading. Syracuse and Maryland still get themselves a top team once in a while, but not like the old days.

Since 1960, Michigan and Nebraska have been in the final Top 20 forty times each, Ohio State and Alabama 38 times, or more than 70% of the time.  I was surprised Texas and Notre Dame weren't next, but not shocked to see Penn State in at 36.

6. Oklahoma 33
7. USC 33
8. Texas 32, and then a mild drop-off to 28 times for Florida State, ND, and Georgia.
11. Florida at 27 and then we're already down below 50%.

After that there's some ebb and flow, but the only interest for me was seeing schools clearly making a conscious decision to start spending lots more money and compete, and see them climb up over the years: First Miami, then Va Tech and BYU, most recently Boise State.

The schools are nearly all those that are named after states and then farther down, parts of states (USC) or cities (Auburn, Syracuse, Houston.)  Lots of colleges in America are named after individuals, but those don't tend to be football colleges.  The notable exceptions would be Notre Dame, BYU, Stanford. William & Mary, not so much.  Being named after two people - see also Washington & Lee, Franklin & Marshall - doesn't seem to inspire schools to athletic greatness.

*Announcer Dan Dierdorf repeatedly explained to the fans after a young receiver was declared out-of-bounds that you needed to get two feet down in the NFL, not like in college, where one is enough.  "It's a two-foot-down league!  Both feet have to be in bounds!" As this was the New England-Buffalo game, these were the precise people in the country for whom this information was least necessary.  It is more likely that we will be surprised that it is different in college.  But I see that Dan went to Michigan, so that explains it.


I am reading some of Chesterton's Father Brown stories again, with general enjoyment. "Again" may be an inaccurate claim.  None of The Incredulity of Father Brown seems familiar, so I doubt I had read it before. I noticed a strand of intellectual flaw in the Sherlock Holmes mysteries that I find showing up in milder form in GKC. We marvel at the cleverness of the detective in discovering the one solution - overlooked, counterintuitive - that the others cannot see. It's great fun, and Chesterton uses it to make the repeated point that our standing assumptions, the cultural ruts which guide our thinking, are often flawed and misleading.

Doyle has a similar intent, though he tends more to draw our attention to physical details we have missed rather than cultural assumptions.

Yet when one sits back and looks at such things, they suddenly look less reliable.  Holmes wants some information about the origins of a goose and can't get it by direct questioning. But the man has a sporting newspaper and a particular cut of beard, so Sherlock knows what to do. "When you see a man with whiskers of that cut and the Pink 'Un protruding out of his pocket, you can always draw him by a bet."

Always.  Really?

Father Brown does not express such certainty in the several conclusions he makes along the way to solving the theft or the murder, but the difference seems mostly stylistic.  Brown is a humbler, less-forceful person than Holmes.  But he makes observations about the character and tendencies of millionaires, or those who dabble in Eastern religions, or bolsheviks, or those who express particular heresies that he asserts are pretty generally true.  Once you know it's there, you see it pop up in half the stories. 

This hasn't ruined either set of stories for me, and I hope not for you.

I am undecided whether this occurs because the genre was new and some of the rough spots hadn't been sanded down yet, or because this idea of piercing the veil and seeing hidden things clearly was especially popular in English culture of the era.

Computer Workers

Retriever sends along a BBC article about Greek government workers losing a benefit they used to get. In 1989, the government wanted to encourage computer use.  I imagine there was some thought of making sure it was a tech-savvy place that could keep up in the world economy.  They also paid a bonus for showing up for work. As if the people who lied for you to get your original salary were going to balk somehow at lying to get you your bonus.

They awarded six extra holidays to those who spent more than five hours a day on a computer.  Presumably, if this wasn't a complete waste right from the beginning, it became one within a decade as people discovered that the internet could be used for exchanging pictures of cats.

A small but excellent example of how government tinkering with stuff, if it does any good at all, does so at a high, unintended, cost.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Who Is Actually Offended?

We have a new admission - a young man who has been hypomanic for some months. His counselor seems to think that he is gay "or at least bisexual," and has been working with him on this. Translation: she has been pressuring him to admit this and so come out and be freed.

His mother maintains that there is never any discussion of his sexuality except in the context of mania.  When stable he defines himself as straight.  When manic he becomes rather indiscriminate sexually, making inappropriate and suggestive statements to people of both sexes, of many ages, strangers or friends.  I call this omnisexual, and regard it as a symptom of mania, and not any indicator of...well, of anything.  Yet in my politically correct field, where people are very concerned lest they not be seen as entirely supportive to sexual preference, and worried about the emotional difficulties of closeting, this expanded sexuality is regarded as the reality, even in the presence of illness.  He must "really" be gay or bi, but it only spills out when he is disinhibited. Or something.

I think I was quietly resentful of something like a gay lobbying presence in the halls of the social services until a few years ago.  I thought they were driving this.  And perhaps they are, and I just don't have enough experience to see that clearly.  Yet when I thought of the actual people I knew who got suddenly quiet when I mentioned my omnisexuality hypothesis, as if I had just left soiled underwear on their grandmother's grave or something, none of them were gay.  Following this theory, I determined that the actual gay people I knew working in the field had never expressed the least dismay at my comments, and two had even beat me to the punch, rolling their eyes at the thought that young Amber or Corey was "really" gay, but just could not come out, somehow.  The people who had taken offense were all straight, but very politically correct, social work, OT, and psychology types.

There was one powerful exception to this, a transsexual psychiatrist who seemed to take offense at virtually anything anyone said in disagreement with her. I long ago concluded that his difficulties in adjusting to life had very little to do with the sexual organs he was born with but had removed, and everything to do with his/her narcissism.* But that's another story.

It reminds me of the recent story of some company's diversity coordinator telling everyone they should refrain from using the phrase "brown bag lunch," because it could offend black people who had had bad experiences with those African-American elite clubs which restricted membership to those lighter than a paper bag in complexion.  I thought at the time "$100 says no black person was ever offended by the phrase brown bag lunch.  This is a white person showing off that he knows that particular bit of A-A cultural history and trying to play a trump card of being 'more-sensitive-than-thou.'  Profoundly irritating."

So. Gay people, I am sorry I was quick to accuse.  That does suggest some stereotyping on my part or at least, some silliness.  Unless I have gotten this whole thing wrong and it is gay people driving this oversensitivity, in which case - you're just wrong.  Wavering...wavering...hmmm.  Ah yes.  Activists of all causes tend to be different people than the rank-and-file, who shrug off more stuff and see more nuance.  Perhaps that is most of the story.

BTW, if my omnisexuality in mania theory is correct, isn't such therapy rather...abusive?

*In her defense, I have seldom seen anyone in the field deal as well with deeply paranoid people. Real people are complicated and don't conveniently display the uninterrupted goodness nor consistent pathology we wish they would to make our narratives cleaner.  So too with him/her.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tack, not Tact

Another language change that has already begun and may be inevitable is the use of “tact” instead of “tack,” in the phrase try another tack. When young people favor a particular usage, the older form is in danger.  But sometimes the older form hangs on and outlives the fashion, if it is preserved among the educated.  Yet if even the educated young people use the new form, unaware that an older form with understandable meaning even exists, I consider the game lost.  I am hearing the new usage from medical students and residents.  This is how language has changed since it was first created, a new form supplanting the old, for good reasons or bad. It doesn’t much matter if it’s wrong. 

“Tact” has an additional advantage in that it makes a sort of sense.  Trying a different approach with a person is one strategy of being tactful, so there is nothing in taking a different tact to make the mind rebel.  Not that the mind does rebel in such matters very often, even when what comes out of our mouths is odd, would we but look at it. Idioms are so common in every language that we just swallow them whole, for the most part. (For example, look at the very phrase I just used, for the most part.  It is an archaic usage preserved in that phrase and few other places. Or, my use of the word “very” in that sense two sentences ago – an oddity, more related to the creedal phrase “Very God of Very God” than to the modern common usage as an intensifier.)

In this case, the older form may yet win the day if more young people take up sailing.

For those to whom this claim that “tack” should still be regarded as more correct is new, the word comes from sailing.  You tack into the wind when the place you are trying to get to is upwind.  If your destination is north, and the wind is coming from the north, you can’t sail directly into it – you would be pushed back.  But you can sail NW for a bit, then “come about,” switching the sail to the other side of the boat, and sail NE. Zigzagging forward in this way, you can go north.  At the NW point where you feel you have gotten about as much benefit as you can from that tack, and are now losing more to the destination than you are gaining, you take a different tack and cross back to the NE. “Tact” has nothing to do with it.

Nor are the words related at their roots.  “Tact” is from Latin tactus, to touch or feel, used in a metaphorical sense in English of a person who can sense what is needed. “Tack” is probably related to the various uses of small or temporary attachment: carpet tack, sticky tacki-ness. One such temporary fix was a rope tied to the corner of a sail to hold it in place.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Fount of Wisdom

"Albert Einstein never made those wise observations on a hundred subjects, as was later claimed. I did." Niels Bohr, 1913.

Early Animation

I've always thought Betty Boop's sexuality had an interesting but creepy quality to it. If you poke around in early animation, you will notice a lot of dark, violent themes we would consider unsuitable for young people today. As with folk music compared to rap, silents compared to modern action flicks, or earlier painting compared to moderns, we falsely believe that current entertainment is much grimmer than more wholesome previous eras. Not so. Shakespeare had to compete with bear-baiting, after all, which is why there is a fair amount of onstage blood in his works. (Warning. It's the Gloucester scene from "King Lear.")

There's lots of fun to be had browsing around in early animation, however. Rubber hose or Ub Iwerks. The video above has an interesting bit of Cab Calloway singing "St. James Infirmary," a song distantly related to "Laredo." Very strange.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

A Short Guide To The Middle East

I don't know which British newspaper this comes from.

There is also a visual representation, if you prefer.