Saturday, March 30, 2013

Cwm Rhondda

I am weak, but Thou art mighty.


Friday, March 29, 2013

China And Social Darwinism

Ron Unz's article in The American Conservative How Social Darwinism Made Modern China has been linked by a few sites I follow.  Fascinating reading, and I think you will see why people want to share it.  It's one of those big-picture ideas that can frame how one thinks about other issues.

Relatedly, Steven Hsu's explanation of the Genetic Architecture of Intelligence.  Long.  Skip to 5:30.  The audio isn't great, so pick a time and place without background distractions. This is a great summary. 

The fiction in the movie GATTACA becoming fact in not too many years.

Here are the slides that go with the talk.

Update: BGI is also doing 10K genomes of autistic people.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Picky Eaters

I was a picky eater as a child, and both my biological sons were.  I have changed as an adult, as has one of my two children.  The other, still picky son now has a daughter who is a picky eater.  Thus it comes as no surprise to me that being a picky eater may be have some genetic forces behind it. (H/T hbd*chick)

Naming it neophobia tied it in to another phenomenon I have thought about recently.  I actively seek new experiences in general, my wife prefers familiarity.  She was not a noted picky eater when young - she was a perfect child, and her mother largely backed her up on that.  Yet she largely avoids new foods now. Despite the child/adult changeover in our family, I think there is something general to the neophobia. The picky granddaughter is especially reluctant to try new anythings - though my wife has had more success by letting her approach them at her own speed.

A concept that was largely unknown in my parenting.

Celibacy

Retriever, who is vacationing in Iceland and sending photos, also sends a link from First Things about a WSJ column criticising the Catholic requirement of celibacy for its clergy.  It seems that the whole practice is unnatural enough that it much be the cause of the child-molestation scandals.  Never mind that Protestant ministers, Jewish rabbis, cultists, Boy Scout leaders, schoolteachers, and coaches all also molest children.  Details, details.

It's not a topic I think about often.  I don't agree that celibacy should be required.  But I also see the point of it, and don't like to see folks criticised stupidly.

This comes up especially around the election of popes, doesn't it? I recall my frustration in 1978 (both times) when all the news sources could talk about was whether the possible new popes would change the RCC teachings about abortion and the ordination of women.  (You will notice that gay marriage was not even on the radar at that point.) Those were the things they and their friends were most interested in, so of course that's what everyone was really concerned about.  Plus, if you keep selling that idea, that your issues are the only issues, it has a certain self-fulfilling quality, in that young, weak, or impressionable minds tend to believe you that all the cool kids care most about those issues.

Prayer?  Humility? Scholarship?  Piety?  What are those compared to real issues?

Secessions


One of my wife’s fourth-graders brought in a report on the State of Jefferson for his regional studies.  It turns out there have been a few proposed Jeffersons, but the Pacific Coast version which would include parts of Northern California and Southern Oregon, is the best known.  It makes for some interesting reading, which we’ll get to in a bit.

She countered by giving him information about Indian Stream Republic, a 19th C secessionist movement in the northern tip of NH (Indian Stream is one of the sources of the Connecticut River).  It seems that those residents objected to being claimed - and taxed - by both the US and Canada, especially as they didn’t seem to be getting anything back in terms of roads and bridges.  One sees their point, eh?


There has been quite a bit of secessionist rhetoric in American history, and a common theme has been taxation by those damfools down in Washington or Concord or Sacramento or Austin without getting much in return.  Remoter areas feel neglected and ignored.  This is nearly always true. 

On the list of secession movements, NH is represented pretty well for a small state, which fits our Live Free Or Die* stereotype.  Earlier American secession movements tended to be focused on regional concerns, which has changed subtly into a more cultural outlook in the 20th C.  Cascadia, for example.  I recall Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard toying with the idea of seceding from Mass and joining NH in the 70's, which fell apart when our excitable, tone-deaf governor wondered allowed if we could build the nuclear plants there after having so much controversy at Seabrook.

The list on the Jefferson State site leans to the conservative and libertarian - and a lot of local news and blogs - but there are a few left-leaning ones as well.  2ndVermont Republic (the Green Mountain State originally tried to make a go at being independent.) wants all meganations and megacorporations to break into smaller pieces to promote peace; the whitest state in the union wants to ally with the whitest nations in the world because of common values but is apparently oblivious to the whiteness part**.  Still, I like them in many ways, and even agree with some of it.  Side note:  one of its writers has politics starkly different from mine, but has come to much the same conclusions about Obama that I have.  Sometimes all it takes is standing outside a phenomenon from virtually any perspective to see clearly.

Sorry, got distracted there.

My uncle sent along an op-ed from the opposite extreme of this.  Keller at the NYT was all irritated by the efflorescence of states’ rights, in that South and North Dakota might have different abortion laws, or Colorado and Wyoming different marijuana laws.  Gone wild, indeed.  I confess I have very little sympathy with that POV.  He would never state it this way, for then the game would be up, but it’s entirely clear: there is a correct opinion on these issues, and deviation more than a cosmetic amount should not be allowed.  There is a national consensus among the Best People, and the others are just wrong.  It’s rather chilling, actually.  It is more common among liberal elites at present, but conservative elites pull this as well, and in the past have been worse.  It is politics by current fashion rather than reason. I don't see any secessionists I hold with, and dislike the idea in general, but I'm closer to them than to Keller.

*Reminder: the full quote is Live free or die.  Death is not the worst of evils.  Which puts a whole different spin on things, doesn’t it?

**Heck, their chosen group doesn’t even include Slavs or Romance peoples, let alone people of other colors.  Sheesh.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Last Kiss



Summer camp brings a different perspective. I was in Ranger village at Camp Mi-te-na in 1964, deeply unaware and unconcerned about popular music. But my junior counselor thrashed badly on a guitar much of the time, and kept the radio tuned to the popular music station. I have no idea what station had the range to reach Alton, NH at that point.

And thus, I heard this song many times and was deeply moved.  It was horrifying, overwhelming, an offense against all that was just and good.  How can such evil things happen in the world?  I comforted myself with the idea that it probably wasn't true - that nothing like this had ever happened - and was written as a warning to the young to drive safely, and be good to Your Girl.  Frightening us for good cause seemed a responsible thing for popular singers to do, and I was still of an age where I believed that adults would not allow a song to be popular and on the radio if it was really bad for us.


A decade later a college friend, Steve Nobles, wrote a parody of the genre called "One Last Cola," and two decades after that, for my 40th birthday party, Joe Brancato, a psychologist friend pulled out a similar teen tragedy song he had written in the same era.  It was based on a carnival ride from a summer job he had held, ending with the girl dead but unreachable by the boyfriend as the "Turtle of Death" spun through its pattern, just missing each other many times as she slowly succumbed to the centripal force and he watched helplessly.

What is with those faux angelic background voices, anyway?  Creepy.  They sound more like minor demons.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Hearing

I have discussed before the surety that psychotic people feel in their delusions.  I may not have mentioned how intense it can be, that they cannot allow you to get even two words into a sentence where you are disagreeing - as if they cannot even endure that an opposing view exists.  It is a little puzzling.  People who disagree even violently about political or religious points can usually make themselves at least listen until another person completes a sentence.  Guys getting into bar fights about nothing usually at least get complete idiotic sentences out, which are responded to with at least some minimal comprehension.  People with OCD can at least hear you ask "What is the bad thing that will happen if you don't count the squares again?"

My only theory is that because the place in their brain which makes and compares alternative narratives is so thoroughly broken that any bumping up against it is psychically painful, like bright light in the eyes of a person coming from complete darkness, it is perceived as a denial of reality at impossibly levels.  It is not a questioning of whether the sky is blue, but of whether there has ever been a sky.

Bracket

My West Region is a nightmare and won't get better, as I had Gonzaga in the Final Four.  Everything else is good.  My South Region is perfect except for Florida Gulf Coast, which I don't imagine anyone got.  44 out of 64 points so far.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Multiculturalism...

...is something that only white people do well.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Coffee

A bit of history concerning the buying of cups of coffee while traveling, short local travel.

Dunkin Donuts is now ubiquitous in New England.  Every numbered route has a Dunkin's about every mile or so in populated areas, it seems.  They are sometimes nearly across the street from each other.  It's decent coffee, but people who care deeply about comparing one coffee to another assure us it's nothing special.  How, then, did it take over an entire region and begin to expand nationwide?

I've told you the main secret already.  It's decent coffee.  We forget how abysmal roadsidc and corner store and even restaurant take-out coffee was - always was - not so very long ago. Come to think of it, that was true of coffee at home as well.  People made a pot of coffee, poured a cup, then put it on a burner all day.  We are now sensitive enough to the taste that we know that after 30 minutes or so it starts to taste unattractive. But we used to stop for coffee and find that the last two cups in the pot were the rough chemical equivalent of ammonia, having sat there baking for hours.

"I can make you a fresh pot.  It will only take a few minutes." they would sometimes say, but we seldom felt we could wait that long.  We were going from here to there, in a hurry, and took what was already prepared.  Some of us were also shy about putting the shopkeeper to that much trouble, having to waste a few cups of coffee by throwing them out.  That's certainly an oversensitivity, as it is their job, after all.

Horrible, thick cups of coffee, sometimes lightened only with powdered creamer. Some places seemed to intentionally make it weak to start, so that it wouldn't get so "strong" so fast.  Everyone had their limit of how bad it had to get before we wouldn't drink it, and my standards were lower than most.

Dunkin Donuts relied on advertising about how fresh the donuts were.  Sing along, oldsters: "Fresh ev'ry four hours.  Fresh ev'ry four hours!" and donuts are of course a wonderful thing.  But I can still eat "stale" donuts that are five hours old easily (Hell, five days old isn't a problem), while I could never drink that gas station coffee again.  The reliability of the coffee won us over.  That is how all the fast food and chain restaurants win us over, BTW: reliability and a high minimum standard.  If they do not exceed their own minimum standard often, at least they don't fall below it, either. (I have mentioned before that the international complaint and disdain for McDonalds is pure bunk and hypocrisy.  They moved into places where the other restaurants didn't have clean restrooms or staff trained in hygienic food preparation. They served fried potatoes and inexpensive beef sandwiches quickly. You never found a little gem of a McDonalds hidden away in Sussex that you could brag about to your friends, but you knew what the hell you were getting.  Locals, and in-country travelers, not Americans, keep them afloat, thank you very much.)

Back to the coffee - and now everyone, even the gas stations, has nice flavored coffees kept in thermal dispensers - and DD's.  They got in first.  They figured it out and established themselves as a tradition before other places even had the idea new.  I think something similar happened with Tim Horton's in Canada.  Canadians coming to America used to wail and moan that we didn't have Tim Horton's here.  Oh, it's so much better than Dunkins.  You just don't know.  Well, I liked it alright when we traveled up to Moncton.  Nice pastry selection, and usually conveniently located.  A decent cup of coffee.  But I also found that New Brunswick 2005 looked a lot like New Hampshire 1980 (Moncton, maybe 1965), with roadside coffee to match.  If you weren't at a Tim Hortons, you were often looking at a very bad cup of coffee. That Canadian chain caught the same wave that DD's did in New England.  If you go anywhere else, you're taking a big chance on that coffee. Better keep driving.

Plus, they would go heavy on the sugar - an extra trick to convince you how much more wonderful it was. They've gotten pretty clever with the pastry and food choices as well, adjusting to the market rapidly.  Steak and egg sandwich now, plus a fascinating collection of summer beverages, coffee or sweet fruit iced drinks.  It's a tradition.  You feel like a real New Englander every time you go.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Perfect People and Weird People

On nearly-successive days, I read a complaint about churches because the people there expected everyone to be perfect/conformist/respectable followed by a verbal comment that there were too many weird people at most churches, by which I think the speaker meant socially-clumsy, overbearing, or unfashionable somehow.

Though this is a contradiction, there is truth in both complaints, and I don't know the solution.  I could lump them both under the category of "they're not cool," or "not up-to-date," but that's only part of it.  We are too tolerant and not tolerant enough; our expectations are too high and too low.  There is a balance that we miss, objecting to the wrong things, reinforcing the wrong things.

I suppose the simplest answer is that we all come from those categories, believing we should be perfect but being too weird to get that quite right.

Opinion, Fact

The featured article of the day over at Wikipedia is about Anne Hutchinson and the Antinomian Crisis in early puritan Massachusetts. I remembered a fair bit about it, relearned some material, and learned new things as well. There you go then, Wikipedia. That’s what you’re for, isn’t it?

Nonetheless, there are problems, not with the facts per se, but in treating what is clearly opinion as if it is fact. The events are interpreted through a prism of gender issues, or more acurrately, The Gender Issue, because there is only one: sometimes women are treated unfairly. The claims are not offered as opinions of knowledgeable persons, they are stated as facts. They may be the best opinions. They may be shared by the people who have studied and contemplated the relevant documents most. But they are opinions. Examples:
Taking further Cotton's doctrine of the Holy Ghost dwelling within a "justified person", Hutchinson "saw herself as a mystic participant in the transcendent power of the Almighty." This theology was empowering to women in a society where the status of a woman was determined by her husband or father; in Hutchinson's case, it gave her a voice. While prophesying was actually part of the culture of Elizabethan England, for a woman to do this was an open display of defiance toward the authority that men derived from their gender.
Thus, we are to believe that Anne Hutchinson’s teachings were rejected as heterodox because they were, well heterodox, but because they came from a woman. Her prophetic voice was not rejected because most puritans tended to be extremely suspicious of such things, but because it opened an avenue for “voice” for women, and they couldn’t have that. Such an understanding might indeed be the most illuminating. But it is not deserving of the status of declaration. (It should be noted that some of her teachings are more similar to current evangelical thought than standard 17th C puritan doctrine would be. Others were outside most Christian traditions altogether.)

We can see this better if we reverse the game. If we take another historical movement, Women’s Suffrage, and try to explain it in terms in terms other than women’s rights, we see how quickly the whole understanding goes awry. Me, I'm going to take the naive view that the movement was about votes for women. 

We can note that a few prominent advocates for women’s suffrage thought it was necessary to dilute the votes of black men, and evidence that from their own speeches and writing. But we can’t make a declarative statement that this was the motive of the movement. We can likewise point out that temperance advocates saw women’s suffrage as a means to banning alcohol, and draw out a host of examples to illustrate this. But that still does not get us to the declaration that Suffragettes were predominantly motivated by this*. We can discover that the movement thrived most among women of NW European heritage, and conclude from that that the whole thing was born of a cultural tradition of greater sexual equality, or heck, maybe a desire for fish, or more snow, or the goddess image of the Ice Queen. Critics declared the women were mere publicity seekers. Each of those might turn out to be the best opinion, the one that unlocks the understanding of the roots of women’s rights.

But really, we have to start from the obvious understanding: women wanted the vote because they thought it was fair, and wanted the influence that came from it. Why not start by taking them at their word on that, before seeking other explanations? Making it more complicated doesn’t illuminate. So too, maybe puritans objected to Hutchinson’s teachings because they were regarded as outside of the puritan, or even Christian, mainstream?

No fun for historians, though, is it? Much more fun to think that what those people in other ages really cared about were the issues we care about now. And, you get to nod knowingly to boot. Chronocentrism, or chronological snobbery.  Or Bulverism.

*My brother tells me – and he describes this with approval – that Ken Burns’s documentary about prohibition attributed much of the motivation for same to anti-Irish and anti-Slav bigotry, relating this to the implicit racism of drug laws today. Just maybe, says I, some of the temperance motivation may have come from people who wanted to see children, especially their own children, fed and not beaten. Or a desire to rescue loved ones who had become addicts and ruined their lives. Or from the real but mistaken Christian belief that God disapproves of alcohol. Call me crazy, but these seem to be possible explanations.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Republicans and Teachers

Steve Sailer quotes extensively from a correspondent who chides conservatives/Republicans/libertarians for their ridiculous rhetoric about teachers. He then riffs on the topic with basic common sense himself:
If schoolteachers, firemen, cops, or civil servant bureaucrats move into your neighborhood, is that good for your property values or bad? For all but the top 10% or 20% richest neighborhoods, government employees are fairly desirable neighbors: law-abiding, had to pass some kind of test to get their jobs, stably employed, usually there for the long term, don't work too many hours so they can coach kid teams at the park, and so forth. (This is basic Chicago real estate logic.)
In other words, government employees tend to be one core element of the "small c" conservative American middle class.
I couldn't agree more. I have railed more than once,
more than once,
more than once,
more than once,
about the (Not Very) Good Old Days of Education and will not repeat myself here. Conservatives have this wrong, not just because it is political suicide, but because they are just wrong, period. Their beliefs are too dependent on false nostalgia, narratives of government control of thought and liberal bias, and misreading of educational data.

This topic may be the central evidence for the premise that conservatives do not actually want to govern, they just want to complain. And kick their friends.

Meandering: HBD


Not any strong point here, just a collection of small ones on the subject of HBD advocacy and counter-advocacy.

Greg Cochran over at West Hunter vents a little about folkswho do not accept the broad outlines of Human Biological Diversity.

Readers here will know that I am generally sympathetic to the HBD arguments for three reasons: they make good arguments based on data; they answer the counterarguments effectively; and the theory accords with things I know from other areas of experience* or study.  But I offer a significant cautionary note here.  I am not trained in biology at a level which allows me to apprehend all the arguments on both sides fully.  I don’t always have the foundational knowledge of genetics, especially, to ever be more than a talented amateur. Some new pile of information my come before me in the next few years which I can neither answer on my own not find credible explanation for from HBD advocates, and my assent would ebb accordingly.

You may say that this caveat should also apply to virtually all the anthropologists, sociologists, and journalists who do comment publicly on such matters, and I won’t disagree.  But I have to be concerned more with what comes out of my mouth or off my keyboard. 

I have said before, we none of us can run the experiments from scratch to prove much of anything.  The reason people believed the sun went around the earth is because it sure as hell looks like it does, day after day.  In our era we grow up with pictures of the solar system to counteract that and give some understanding how the heliocentric explanation might be true. Yet even armed with this, most of us would find it hard to prove even that relatively basic point of astronomy.  We are all almost utterly dependent on the work of others and the information they feed us. This is even more true for experts.


The near-reflexive argument against HBD is that related theories have been used to oppress others in nearly-modern times.  There are ready answers to this, but I find that folks don’t hang around for those long.  There seems to be an attitude similar to Elrond’s about Saruman. “It is perilous to study too deeply the arts of the enemy, for good or ill.”  Some knowledge is too dangerous, and in the wrong hands can be destructive. We will speak of this no more. 

This is not very different from the “you are bad people” argument, however it is put.  HBD advocates understandably resent that – wouldn’t you? Replies take the form of “Since you brought it up, this believing stuff for bad reasons, you’ve opened the door to some pretty obvious reasons why it applies back at ya.  If I believe A for convenient reasons, mightn’t you also believe not-A for equally convenient reasons?  Do you really want to go there?”

The observer from Mars might see the justice of this, yet find himself no better off in discerning the truth.  It is true that most HBD advocates are male, and either Caucasian or NE Asian.  Exceptions abound, but that’s still the case.  It is at least possible that I/we are deriving some psychic gain from all this.  I don’t find that in myself, I find the opposite, or at least the echo of the haunting “If you’re so smart why ain’t you rich” cliché that dogs the bright but unambitious.  Still, I see the possibility.

And yet, why would such racists be so willing to include and even salute the Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese, not to mention the Jews?  It seems odd.

The anti-HBD convenience of belief remains unexplained – not even attempted, so far as I know.  I am always suspicious of POV’s that never have to justify what’s in it for them.  There is certainly a government, non-profit, and academic industry that is built around the idea that culture explains ‘most everything, and that prejudice is especially what keeps people down.  If that’s not true, there’s lots of folks out of work at some very nice jobs.

But more than that, we all invest a great deal emotionally in our overall worldview.  It is expensive to abandon such things., and we should hardly wonder at the resistance. Nonetheless, I don’t attribute all such resistance to people papering over their worst emotions.  Not wanting to give even indirect encouragement to oppression and prejudice is a decent enough motive, and it is likely at least partly true, even among CEO’s of non-profits with six-figure incomes.  It might be a bit cowardly, or at least incurious intellectually, but we are most of us like that on most issues.

*Quite a varied list, actually. Mental health and heritability of certain conditions; Adoption (personal) and the hazards quietly known in the adoption community; IQ societies and psychometrics; Linguistics and human migrations; Jewish history, plus Mesoamerican and general near-Eastern; Genealogy and remote ancestry; it adds up.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Bracket 2013

The fun part, of course, is all the marvelous advice people give you.  For example, all the sportswriters in the know tell you not to pick Louisville to win it all if you hope to win your office pool, because everyone is picking them, so even if they win, you'll still be competing in a large pool, and will have to beat your coworkers on more of the other games.  Much better, they say, to pick an off-brand like New Mexico or Marquette, because if they win, you'll be the only one to have said that, and you'll be sitting pretty.  By that reasoning, I should pick Harvard to play Pacific in the finals, because absolutely no one will have seen that coming.

I know, I know, it's balancing act, where you pick a team with an outside, but still reasonable chance of winning, and hope to amaze your friends and win the pot if you're right.  But the problem is still as above: your team actually has to win for this to happen, and odds are, Louisville has a better shot. However, there is a temptation here for AVI 2013, because the math-heavy prediction sites have Florida ranked very high, and I was going to put them in the finals against Louisville. (Or maybe losing in the semis.) Following sportswriter logic, this would be a perfect time to pick FL for just that one last upset.

I picked Louisville in December on the basis of a stray comment, and rather resent all you Johnny-come-latelies.  And if I pick a Louisville - Florida final and that's what happens, I'm already pretty happy, and likely beat everyone I know, whoever wins.

Next there are the guys who believe it is more honest, more manly, more straight bat, to pick each game one at a time rather than work backwards from your winners, or your Elite Eight, or whatever.  Why in the world would that be?  Who are these people who make up these rules for everyone based on their own idiosyncrasies?

Well, I can play at that as well:  the only way that decent chaps fill out a bracket is to do their 8-9 seeds first,their 7-10's second, and so on.  I like Missouri, UNC, NCSU, and Pittsburgh.  Then, Creighton, SDSU, Iowa, St, Colorado (that last one was tough.)

Gad, that's boring.  Who cares about those teams?  They aren't going to win it.

You know that secret trick that everyone knows, that 12's beat 5's about half the time?  I was one of the first people on that, years ago.  This year I'm picking all the 5's.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention:  as before, I have not watched one minute, not even highlights, of any game this year.

English Music Hall

James and Texan99 suggested the book Three Men In A Boat (Not To Mention The Dog), a humorous book from the 1880's which seems to be a precursor to Wodehouse in style.

Yes they did, really, you just didn't notice.

That volume describes one of the three attempting to teach himself the banjo in the rain, playing "Two Lovely Black Eyes."  In the circumstances, the other two find this English Musical Hall number quite moving.  I had not heard of it.



It was written as a parody of an American tune, My Nellie's Blue Eyes, which the songwriter found appallingly sweet, sentimental, and trivial.  We can therefore suspect that the original would hang around here for decades after.

It did.  (The Sons of the Pioneers also did it).



The Brits would never stoop to such a thing, of course.



Well, at least when rock 'n roll came in we dropped all that nonsense.



Actually, I like that one.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Denver?

I mean, Denver. It is impossible to be a New England Patriots fan and not acknowledge that Bill Belichick's abilities are considerable and his success great.  But there have been hints all along that he takes it too far and doesn't know when to stop, as fanatics often don't.

This is evidence.  This didn't have to happen.  This is personalities, and I fault the Bill side 80% and the Wes side 20% here.  This was an affordable contract.  This is just inability to rise above pettiness.  New England may do well this season anyway.  Stuff like this does not mean that they have lost all skill and perspective.  But it's still just a childishness,  I wish Mr. Welker well, even if it is against us.

1%, Quintiles, GDP

Most of us have jobs in the static economy. If I lose or leave my job, someone else gets it, at about the same salary. My loss, their gain, net effect zero.

For all the conservative arguing about job growth, dynamic economies, making-the-pie-larger, entrepreneurship - frustrated at all those folks out there who just cannot get it, I think this is the major obstacle.  We can preach continually that the economy is dependent on private sources creating jobs, but most people just don't live in that world. They don't see it.  It's not real to them.  Their life, and lives of those around them, aren't like that.  They - we - live in a world where a job exists; one person gets it, another doesn't, and that's the end of it.

Business owners, or those connected intimately to the whole idea of expanding markets and creating business, understand this at least somewhat, which is why they tend to be supportive of free-market policies even if their own fortunes are tanking.  They know that this is how growth happens, even if it's not happening to them - and they know that statist, liberal, Democrat, European...whatever label you want to give them...people just don't get it.

Side note.  Those folks can end up voting for liberals anyway, because of advantages to their particular industry, a particular cause, or in self-defense because the economy has tanked and they need health care for their kids regardless of who caused the mess.  Voting and politics are complicated, and we make tradeoffs.  But it is not accidental that business owners, small, medium, and large, vote for free-market policies.  They know that is what works long term, however much disregulation, chaos, and misery happens in the short run.

So absorb that fact.  80% of us live in the world of static economy, witnessing that the pie might okay, well, grow a little bit because of entrepreneurship, but basically not.  My gain is your loss.  Hunker down.  Protect your turf.  All this talk about creative destruction is alarming.  It's not because we are stupid.  It's because what we see is what we call real.

Okay, some of it is because we're stupid. But who can blame us when most of the world is that way.  Adventurous investors bought mines and mining equipment; they sent ships to sail and trade for spices; they built fiberoptic networks, new containers for shipping, new access to entertainment.  Many of them absolutely screwed over their competitors and the public, and we can read exposes about it in Mother Jones or the Nation now, tut-tutting about their evil, which should never have been allowed.

Except we're all richer.  The truth sucks, doesn't it?

Whenever someone starts talking about the 1%, you need to instantly remind yourself that they don't get this.  In that range, the economy does not work in terms of what we see every day, where your gain is my loss.  Among the 1% (and to a lesser extent among the risk-takers all along the income spectrum), if Harry doesn't make that money, then no one makes that money.  If Tiger Woods doesn't get a new endorsement contract, some other golfer gets a different contract, unrelated to Tiger's numbers. There are only so many dripping faucets for the local plumbers to fix, but if one guys hustles to get a few more people to upgrade their whole system, that is new money. Plumbers B & C don't just automatically get those dollars in some sort of award handed out by the economy if Plumber A doesn't hustle.

Some of the 1% are doctors.  Lots of them perform elective procedures.  That's new money, a change in culture, a difference in what the rich buy which will eventually become the culture of what we buy. If one hedge fund doesn't get the investments, it might not go into another hedge fund - it will likely go to a more cautious investment.

There is not a static amount of therapy that is needed out there.  Some signing up for counseling is constant, based on insurance networks or court orders, but sometimes, therapists convince people to come to them electively.  If they don't, that money does not automatically get distributed among the other therapists listed in the phone books.  Growing an industry, convincing people that they need dental appointments every six months or motivational speakers at the yearly convention, is what a market economy is all about.

This is not an enhanced understanding of an economy at the margins by knowing some cool tool to apply to discussions.  This is huge.  It is central.  It is the economic history of the West.  It's why Germany is not Guyana, or America is not Albania.

Thus, when someone applies GDP to any domestic discussion, they simply don't understand this.  There is not an amount of money or worth in a country that "just exists," waiting for the system to divvy it up fairly or unfairly.  80% of an economy looks like this, but those people don't change the wealth of the group.  GDP is an artificially-constructed statistic that is very useful for comparing one country to another, or one year to another in a single country.  But it has no value in looking at America from inside.

Analogy: Someone wants to compare American inventors, and so divides them up into those who invented things weighing less than five pounds, less than ten pounds, less, than fifteen pounds, or more than fifteen pounds.  You could do that.  Why would it have any meaning?  Or learning:  If we whacked the top 1% of chemists on the head to make them stupid, would that make the rest of us know more about chemistry?  If we destroyed the corn of the top 1% of growers, would more ears appear in my garden?  (If we took all their corn for redistribution, we would have more for a year. then they would move and we'd have less.) 

Liberals, or Democrats, or socialists, or progressives, or whatever-labels talk about the 1%, or quintiles, or GDP as if they have meaning because at root, they think it is a static economy.  Those people have because others don't, and there is thus something wrong with their having that much.  They believe it has to be changed. There just isn;'t any other way to that POV.  If you get worked up about the 1%, you must believe that their actions do not expand the economy for all of us, but take something from us instead.  It's an asumption you don't see.

Similarly, dividing us up into quintiles and comparing who has got what is flawed from the outset.  The people in the lowest quintile are immigrants, people starting out, people who have made bad decisions, and people who have hit some unfortunate circumstance not of their own doing.  None of that group is much affected by the highest quintile making zillions of dollars or being crooks (except if they were directly affected by being given a job or being ripped off by one.)  Bernie Madoff hurt individuals badly. He didn't hurt America much.  We punish such folk so that there aren't more of them.

The people in the highest quintile, if we stopped them from making money, would not create some disbursement to the rest of us.  Some of them are greedy, or crooks.  Duh.  Where would you expect greedy or crooked people to gravitate?  They are pretty good at defining for the rest of us where the honest money is to be made, frankly.  But they are not crooked per se, many of them are quite decent.  But if you take too much of their money or interfere with their ability to build something cool, they will go elsewhere, even if you call them bad names.  Especially if you call them bad names, actually.

Some things that look like data and statistics are so flawed by their initial assumptions as to be useless right out of the gate.

Rant over.

Nutjob Republican

Ronald Reagan was successful partly because he had the discipline not to speak ill of other Republicans.  I am more blunt, nay, tactless, than that.

Conservatives get used to being defensive about such things, openly wondering whether the Huffington Post's reports about Stella Tremblay (R-Auburn) should be taken seriously at all, or suspiciously asking whether important facts have been left out of this story.  You may continue to be suspicious of HuffPo, and I can state from personal knowledge that important facts have indeed been left out of this story.  Nonetheless, it is essentially true.  I have encountered this woman personally as she tries to intervene on behalf of a deeply paranoid man who has been at our hospital.  She has had the appropriate statutes about involuntary treatment and the clinical information about mental illness explained to her repeatedly.  She doesn't get it, or doesn't want to.

She doesn't seem to be mentally ill herself.  She seems ot-nay oo-tay ight-bray.  As in the article above, she is unable to differentiate between ambiguous historical information that requires some explanation and proof of nefarious doings.  If she had simply said that Woodrow Wilson was a racist, to a degree that we would brand white supremacist now, she would be fine.  People who want to plump up the liberal version of the 20th C may not want to hear it, but it's a quite defensible position.  Leaping from there to "agreed with Hitler" is exactly the sort of fevered reasoning common to paranoid folk, both cultural and psychotic.

I have been encountering an unusual number of conservative nutjobs lately.  Such things tempt one to modify his political identification - until I go over to HuffPo and the ad at the top asks if I am a person rather than a corporation, encouraging me to support Al Franken's bid to overturn Citizens United.

Whatever view you have of Citizens United,* if you can't get that the word "person" in the discussion is not being used in the ordinary sense, but in some evolved legal sense, I don't see how discussion can proceed. I also don't get how Franken, clearly intelligent enough to understand the distinction if he wanted to, gets to be called anything but dishonest.

But as for Tremblay, I hope Auburn comes to its senses and gives her the heave-ho.

*I take as automatic that if more than one SCOTUS justice casts his/her vote for a position, it is by definition not insane legally, however wrong it may be. Biased, convenient, cowardly - sure, sure.  But it has to have something going for it.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Microaggressions

A new term to me. It has shown up on a couple of sites I frequent. I am struck by the recursive feature: not acknowledging that X is a microaggression is itself a microaggression. Even when the facts are not as they were presented, or no counter-microaggressions (or even actual aggressions) are noted, that is still not an accepted excuse.

No, really. Check out the comments sections. If you argue against the idea in general or reject any specific instance, that in itself is identified as active insult.

I get the basic concept. Boy, do I get it. My ears are finely tuned to those shadings and I hear those microaggressions all the time, directed at me or at others. They are real. However, I work in an almost entirely white environment, interacting with departments that are predominantly female. The microaggressions I hear are professional, with secondary nodes of classism and misandry. I have a long history of setting limits by pointing out the most egregious of the offenses – which are nearly always denied. It is rather irritating to hear people’s meanings which they themselves are unaware of.

But I have a hard time separating this concept from another one called Real Life.

It is parallel to the belief that teenagers feel rejected and insecure because they are black, smart, latino, gay, jocks, artistic, emo, female, Christian, whatever.  Teenagers feel rejected and insecure.  Whatever they think is more prominent about themselves gets attached to that.

If You Would Only Give It An Honest Try


People who like worshiping in a certain style, tend to believe that others would like it just as much as they do, if they would just give it an honest try. This applies to other Christian practices as well – retreats, prayer meetings, meditation, Bible study.  I always think people would like adult Sunday School if they would just give it a try.  My self-centeredness.

People who like exercising are likewise convinced that all those non-exercising people, if they could just get over that hump and give it an honest try, would begin to gain a similar pleasure to their own.  (In view of the diet and exercise research that some people may congenitally be uncomfortable if they don’t exercise, this is interesting.)
Styles of music…or travel style…or subjects of study.  Most of us probably have a few of these kicking around, believing that the pleasure we take in an activity is the essentially normal one, or worse the proper and elevated one, which others don’t share because of some lack of effort and character.

It is true enough to persist despite its essential falseness.  We all have a hundred activities we have never given an honest try because our lives are full of other things which we have given said H.T. Some of those we would indeed enjoy, even surprising ourselves.  We have all belatedly taken a whack at some endeavor and warmed to it quickly, wishing we hard started in on it earlier in life.  This gives us no right to smuggle in the idea of our own elevated taste in those matters we just like doing.

We see this readily enough with hobbies and foods, but if you go back up to the top of the essay you will notice that people offend in these areas pretty often.  Y’all need to cut that out.