Saturday, September 27, 2014

Devolution And Smaller Government

...because of smaller nations.

Via Maggie's Farm, Dismantling Empires Through Devolution over at The Atlantic. I think is is more often a force for good than for evil, a sentiment I would not have expressed twenty years ago, I don't think.

The last sentence is "If the world wants to see global solidarity of nations, the tribes may need to win first." I think that is true whether people want it to be or not.  We have already seen that massive European cooperation in the form of the EU was only possible once ethnic groups moved back closer together and redrew boundaries for greater homogeneity.  Germans moving back to Germany, in particular. I wrote about Jerry Z Muller's essay in Foreign Policy a few months ago.

Side note:  The irony that Europeans then went into a frenzy of anti-nationalism against the US, wrists-to-foreheads in horror that we flew flags and thought our country best, has been irritating. Didn't we see how nationalism had caused all the trouble? Well no, frankly, we thought it had rather solved it.

Is such devolution even considerable in America?  We have a strong cultural presumption against it. Much is made of Red and Blue America and drawing it up on a map, but it doesn't divide as nicely as one would like.  Regionalism is only part of the equation. Urban centers are blue, scattered across the country. I have also liked Joel Garreaus' Nine Nations map, even though it is 30 years old. David Hackett Fischer's four British folkways still holds, and Colin Woodard's division owes something to both of them. (I'm not recommending that last book remember.)

Devolution would not have to be complete, nor according to any grand scheme.  In fact, a comprehensive plan, such as is favored in DC, would almost certainly be a screwy, gerrymandered division so that current power-holders can keep on. Secessions would almost certainly have to be along state boundaries, and states are often divided in their sympathies.  There is a clear New England culture, and northern New England could likely make its peace with those knuckleheads further south - until one got to about Hartford, after which the people themselves would identify more strongly with being part of The City. Those are no longer New Englanders.  Some do vacation here. Yet still don't get it.

Alaska or Hawaii have enough history of separateness that each could join in with some general withdrawal and devolution, but I don't see them influencing the rest of us much if they did so.

If the Atlantic article is accurate in its speculation that trading centers would be diverse and defend their own trade routes, that would be interesting in America, where military bases are largely rural, created in a time when land warfare was the norm.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Food Allergies

There are a few theories why there has been a spike in food allergies over the past few decades. Many sound plausible.  I don't know how to evaluate this one -  that overuse of antibiotics reduces gut bacteria and weakens the immune system. It does have at least some evidence to support it.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Mother's Lament

British Rockers had better senses of humor - uh, humour - than their American and Canadian counterparts, at least until BNL came along. This was an old English Music Hall song.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

You Too Can Read Bokmål

Here's a sample entry. 

Sure you can.  Drift back and forth between how a word looks and how it might be pronounced.  Tie together obvious words like Fylogeni and familien with what you think might be in sentences with those terms.  Look around on the page to guess what fire art means.   If you know some German, Dutch, or Old English, then svært and med might jump out at you, and words ending –n or –r might be plural, so substitute “s.”  V is like W, F like V, etc.  Instead of utdødd linjer, in English we might reverse it to “dødd-ut lines,” which we see from context are different from "eksister lines." 

I will tell you that traerne is easier if you just cut it to trae

Plus you have a pretty good guess what must be in there, so you shop around for it. See?  You can sorta kinda read Norwegian.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Kingdom Oneness?

In a comment section today, a woman made the statement that Jesus had us taught how to live in "kingdom oneness." This was in reference to a modern idea that has only slight echoes in the NT.  It is an idea that I mostly agree with, and I think it derives, at some distance, from Christian teaching. But it simply isn't anything that Jesus talked about, nor is it much related to anything he did, except by imposing modern categories on ancient ones.

This greatly worries me about Christian teaching in the years to come.  CS Lewis reminded us that our job is to put eternal ideas in modern terms, not disguise essentially modern ideas in ancient terms.  The thought that "this is good...Jesus likes good things...therefore Jesus must have taught this somehow, somewhere" allows virtually any modern heresy to be justified.  In fact it has.  German Christianity was justified in much this way, and government socialism is often extolled as practical Christianity in similar fashion.  This idea wasn't so terrible as those - yet it was justified by the same method.

I refrained from challenging her that "kingdom oneness" was a vague Christian cliche applied to a favorite political or social idea.  I have offended over half the people that I ever knew in such ways.  Over half of those deserved it.  But I don't see much good result of being the avenging angel, and I grow weary.

Update:  I followed back who she is.  Nice lady, likes integrative medicine, motivational videos, and vulnerability. Content, not so much.  I'm less worried, though such people have their influence  in groups of similarly vague and enthusiastic friends.  But I'm glad I didn't kick her.  Wish I had her in an adult Sunday School class, though.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Disquieting Vegetarians

I have many friends and acquaintances who are vegetarians, especially at work.  At a hospital, whole departments can tend that way.  I don't often talk with any of them about their reasons.  I imagine they vary among the various elements of health, identification with creatures with faces, and disgust at eating things with blood, fat, and muscle.  None of those moves me greatly, but those make sense to me.

Twice this week I have gotten into chats with vegetarians who were quite emphatic when discussing human beings in another context - overcrowding in her once-small childhood village for one, general coarseness and deterioration of culture for the other - how much they disliked people in general and considered animals more valuable.  They didn't tie it in to their vegetarianism, and I didn't think it was nice to do so myself. It was the first time I'd made this association.

The dual experience prompted me to think back over other conversations in my lifetime.  Obvious selection bias here.  I remembered other vegetarians who had large swaths of humanity they pretty openly disliked.  This just creeps me out.

BTW, the sound of gunfire in the distance at present.  Either hunters, or hunters practicing.  Couldn't do it myself, because I'd hate to succeed.  Wouldn't like to butcher an animal.

Friday, September 19, 2014


I'm going to say that it looks like a pretty good list, and I have to figure that Richard Smalley, who is smarter than I am and has apparently thought about this a lot, should be listened to. Here is his site discussing this. Here is Smalley's wiki bio.

A few things jump out at me:  Population is #10, yet that's the one highlighted with picture and stats. Environment, which includes a whole lot of things in addition to climate change, is still only #4.  I wonder where AGW would rank in Smalley's calculations if it had to stand alone.

Even those there's plenty of interconnection among these and sharp lines are difficult to draw, it is instructive that Water ranks so high.  I would have thought that once remembered, it would have been #1, in fact. Yet there's not anywhere near as much national and international news and discussion about water as - well, as anything else on this list, and a lot of things that didn't even make it to the list.

I am reminded of Bjorn Lomborg, his book How To Spend $75 Billion to Make The World A Better Place, and the Copenhagen Consensus, which includes entries like corruption and trade barriers in addition to the water and sanitation entries. There's a TED talk, for those who like that sort of thing.


I am told that if someone hurts you, the best way of getting even is to forget it.  I understand that, but don't have the character. There is one aspect that is a revenge, as in the lyrics to the Johnny Cash version of "Streets of Laredo."

"Then go write a letter to my grey-haired mother,
"An' tell her the cowboy that she loved has gone.
"But please not one word of the man who had killed me.
"Don't mention his name and his name will pass on."

Yet I think something deeper is meant

Gay Stereotype

When I was in college, it was pretty readily observed that the arts had an unusually high percentage of gay men.  We thought the same probably applied to lesbians, though folks were less sure about that. Theories about this varied.  Some thought arts encouraged unmasculine behavior, others that people who were unusual in one way might well be unusual in another.

I tended to the view that there wasn’t anything automatic about this, and in a different culture the numbers might not be so.  If one were gay and had equal ability in both chemistry and design (or in business vs. drama), one would lean toward study and employment in the latter, because the social acceptance was greater there.  Also, those who had strong abilities in a field that was not accepting would simply be more quiet and circumspect about it, making their number appear smaller. I thought the phenomenon was therefore temporary.

Well, we have more data now. While music, dance, and sculpture are probably still more accepting of gays than other professions, the gap is much less dramatic. Yet had my theory been correct, we would have seen much more of a distribution at this point. There is some leveling, yet gays continue to be more prominent in the arts, and more comfortable making their livings there. Ability…lifestyle…association…byproduct of POV? Make your own guess.  It might be residual and on its way out, but I doubt it.  I can create theories why this might be – I imagine you can as well – but since I was wrong in 1974, I won’t venture a guess in 2014.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Suddenly Apropos

I tried one episode, and was a touch disquieted what issue came up.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Ooh, Mainstream Media

First time I have linked from ESPN.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Zero Tolerance

"Zero Tolerance" is a way of saying "I care so much more about this than others." If politicians really meant it, they would apply that standard to Hollywood, to journalists, to entertainers, and to other politicians. But those groups can cause trouble for politicians, make fun of them, embarrass them, slyly hit back. NFL Players don't have that power - they are easy targets. Charlie Sheen, Nicholas Cage, Sean Penn, Alan Grayson - no tolerance? Athletes are famous, but their power over others is nonexistent.

One group is also whiter than the other, which may also figure into it. Attacking people who can't fight back is a lot of how politicians make their living.

Thursday, September 11, 2014


I was looking up a counselor's phone number and noticed that the agency is dedicated to serving the LGBTQA community.  I wondered "Is it a community?" Up in this neck of the woods, gays and lesbians have set events they interact in, but don't generally hang out much.  I don't know about the other subgroups. Maybe at colleges it's a thing.

Racial, ethnic, and religious communities have varying degrees of solidarity, depending on location, and the term clearly has meaning in some places.  There is an adoption community, I suppose, though most who are eligible don't belong. Various illnesses and conditions describe having communities, but I get the impression those are also not so cohesive. Hobbyists have a certain camaraderie that might qualify them for the Civil War re-enactment community, or extreme skiing community.

I think it is sometimes used in exaggeration, to pad the numbers or influence, or to reassure members that they are not alone, but part of a caring group. That seems sensible enough, but anything that is not strictly accurate can have its downsides.

Monday, September 08, 2014

NFL Suspensions

The league seems to be embracing contradictions. Infractions that affect the outcomes of games, or how people are able to go about their business are one set of problems that sports leagues consequate: gambling, PED's, impugning the integrity (as opposed to the intelligence and accuracy) of the refereeing.

Then there are things players do that make the league look bad: use recreational drugs, abuse women, make embarrassing political or social statements.  These also have their penalties. 

But both of these have changed culturally over time.  This is more noticeable in the second category currently, where making comments that seem denigrating to groups is regarded as just as bad as actually committing crimes. Also, some crimes are apparently worse than others, and appearances matter greatly.

I absolutely get it that the leagues are selling a product, and anything that interferes with selling product is up for review.  They can insist players wear pink - okay, they already do that - or sing only funkadelic music, or sponsor hamster homelessness relief or whatever they damn well please.  They are selling a mythology (winning games is subsidiary to this), and you either fit or you don't. But then they can't turn and say "But we are disapproving of this behavior because we think it's really, really, wrong," according to some objective standard.  Because a lot of things are really wrong, but we care about different ones in different decades.

Sorry, lost my head there.  Of course they can turn and say that, because they are also subject to the rules of the mythology, and must also sell product.  They can't do it honestly or honorably, but what is that?

Saturday, September 06, 2014

California Rocket Fuel

I had a post in 2008 about the all-or-nothing antidepressant combo nicknamed California Rocket Fuel.  It has been in my top ten posts most months ever since, though it has only attracted a few comments. A new one came in tonight, quite excellent, which prompted me to reprint it.

Depression is miserably hard, lying to you and telling you it is the normal state of affairs and will go on forever, when in fact is more usually has a beginning, a middle, and an end.  One of the extra discouragements is that people use the term "depression" in everyday conversation for far less painful conditions, such as grieving, feeling sad, or having low energy.  Depression does not even always include sadness, though it frequently does.  A few times a year my mood drops enough that I qualify for a diagnosis of Mild Depression, and a few times in my life that has become Moderate Depression.  Even Mild Depression, according to clinical standards, is hellish.  When I float back up out of it, I am enormously grateful that I don't have depression at the level I see at work.  Severe Depression can mean having such low energy that you soil yourself in bed because you cannot muster the energy to get up and cross the hall to the bathroom, and don't really care that much that other people are horrified to be with you.

Bear that in mind when you are tempted to describe your blue funk as "depression." You could be kicking someone one more time while they are down.  BTW, let me put in a plug for ECT's here.  They don't work on personality disorder/PTSD-style depression all that often, and only slightly more frequently on Schizoaffective Disorders.  But they can be absolutely magic for some patients. And for pregnant women who don't want medications on board while they are carrying a child, electrical treatments can be a godsend.


I will hit half-a-million hits in the next day or so - which isn't true.  If you come to my site, hit a comments link, post a comment, and return to the main page, that counts as four hits. Even removing my own hits, which only seemed fair, the real total of visitors to the site is likely 20% of the stated number.  Still, that is more people than generally listen to me in any other context, so it's all good.  My two oldest sons have likely learned as much about me here as live over the last fifteen years.  The other three boys, not at all.  I could insult them here daily and they would never hear of it.

Thank you, one and all.  Whenever I search for a previous post I am amazed at my early brilliance and tempted to link to old stuff.  I used to, doing a "Best of December 2006" type of post in December 2007 and all that.  Yet there is something about this medium, that it is essentially a conversation, that gets lost in reprises.

Just to humor me, though, pick an month from an earlier year and just go see what I wrote then. Some of you will find that your own comments at the time were pretty sharp as well.

Beat Up By Sponge Bob

I'm betting fake. Still, I like it.

Thursday, September 04, 2014


I missed it by a few days, but ten years ago this week the Dropkick Murphys started to nail down the World Series for us.

Thanks, guys.

BTW, my grandfather's farm wasn't far from the original Dropkick Murphy's Sanitorium on Rte 27 in Acton.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Hot-button Symbolism

This comes from 2011, in this article in the Atlantic. One can argue whether it is 90-100% accurate or something more around 50%, but I don't think there would be much argument that the thing has considerable truth in it.

Why then has no major party embraced it nor new party come up that steers in this direction?

Readers here know the answer: because the tribalism and symbolism do not overlap, and those drive politics more than actual positions.  I am not being merely cynical here. It is not simply the case that some people cannot understand such distinctions - the number of people who could not grasp the point of this is small.  People have discussions every day with folks they work with, or are in their families, churches, or neighborhoods who they wish to establish some common ground with. We don't wish to be divided when we are face-to-face, and will make verbal compromises in excess of what we would actually vote for on a secret ballot. 

But it doesn't stir the blood.

OWS people want their tribe to prevail, and do not trust the folks who have 2nd-Amendment bumperstickers.  Even if they agree, as they might on some similar sentiment to that above, they fear it would all be a ploy, and they would be betrayed at the first opportunity if they allowed those people any power.  Better to support people who have the right instincts.* Similarly,Tea Partiers don't have drum circles and new fluttery-finger communication, aren't ever going to have those things, and when they get into the booth, will not vote for those guys, whatever they had worked out in conference beforehand. 

If people do not respond to the same symbols you do, they are always one step down in trustworthiness. Not for everyone all the time - if we are none of us completely rational, neither are we ever completely irrational either - but for enough of us that we will make no headway.

Sometime soon I should do a post on exceptions; that many liberals have a secret admiration for very limited types of gun use and hunting (how else would LL Bean and now Woolrich have grown without them?), while conservatives retain respect for some types of entirely useless classical learning, even while deploring the general category publicly. Guys who insist they would never drive anything but a Harley (say "Indian Motorcyles" and watch the excitement rise), yoga instructors who covet sports cars at dangerous speeds - we abound in exceptions and contradictions.

*The knock against Roosevelt for a generation was that he had been a traitor to his class. See also, the Doonesbury fury with the Bushes.

Beat Club

The same yet different. I have linked to Shindig, Hootenanny, Where The Action Is, and American Bandstand. Here's how the Germans did it in the same era. The Who, Cream, Small Faces, The Kinks, The Bee Gees.

The clothes, especially the stupid hats. The lifeless dancing. Very familiar.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Circular Time, Julian Jaynes, Greg Cochran

Back to Circular Time again.  Briefly, most peoples in the world even now, and all of us to some degree, organise ourselves in cylces of hours, days, weeks, months, seasons, years.  Christmas 1946 and Opening Day 1963 continue to have some connection to Opening Day and Christmas 2014, though nearly all the participants are different.  Primitive tribes have almost no experience of time going forward, except that people age. 
Those who work with Borderline Personality Disorders notice that they have some oddity in experiencing time. Part of this is the inability to delay gratification, so that everything is occurring either now or not-now, but there are other puzzles as well.  They are very aware of anniversaries, especially tragic ones, such as the death of a mother or a friend - or even a pet.  Holidays take on enormous negative value because of who is not there.  Most people do this, especially the first few years after a death, but the remembering of the exact date and the destabilising around an anniversary are characteristic of those with BPD. Additionally, they are bad at estimating time, often no better than children, as if that facility stopped developing very early. 
I wonder if there is something modern about experiencing time linearly that they don't have.  While it is possible to posit narratives of how they missed critical periods in their development because of their often-chaotic upbringings, some genetic factor ( or yes, sorry to be so fashionable, epigenetic factor about whether a particular bit gets turned on or not), seems a more compact answer.  There has been some evidence of heritability of the illness for decades, and other cognitive distortions also seem to be part of that problem. 

I have said (following I-forget-who, but the idea is not original to me) that the Jews and especially the Christians  were the first to add in a concept of time moving forward.  The world had a beginning, we are proceeding toward some end.  Folks blithely say that all cultures have their creation and origin myths, but I think that is suspect.  We cannot tell how important those were.  After Western Europeans, who considered the Genesis accounts important, arrived to speak with them they brought them out to be recorded.  The Europeans unconsciously assumed these would be of similar importance in other cultures.  I seriously doubt that.  Some go into considerable detail and tie the creation stories into current understandings and behavior, but not many.  Most just have a single folktale in several versions.  In their current cultures they stay mostly in seasonal, circular time. 
It may be that other Mediterranean cultures also developed an enhanced emphasis on the progression of time, and I in my nescience am simply not aware of it.  But Eastern religions from Zoroastrianism east to Shintoism have cyclic and seasonal time much more strongly than Greeks, Canaanites, or Romans, let alone Jews.  And that is, frankly, a lot, as all of those had a fair bit of agricultural focus.
I mentioned that I am rereading  Julian Jaynes The Origin of Consciousness In The Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.  It is going slowly, partly because I grow lazy and stupid as I age, but also because I want to give a fair chance to ideas I dismissed so rapidly before.  I noted with amusement apropros this topic that Greg Cochran mentioned Jaynes theory in his 2006 Edge answer to "What Is Your Dangerous Idea?"  His take at that time was that it still sounded crazy, but just maybe there is something to it, because we do seem to be different from ancient peoples cognitively, and Jaynes offers some interesting evidence of a change 2000-3000 years ago.   (Note:  Breakdown suggests that areas of the brain turned off from language functions to go do other things, rather than claiming that some new thing got added in to the brain creating consciousness.)

Even if the change started in the Mediterranean, it blossomed most fully in Northern Europe over the last 1000+ years which ordinarily would make a genetic explanation dicey.  Both waves into Europe, farmers in the south and herders in the north, came much earlier.  However there is one interesting escape hatch. The linguist Theo Venneman believes that the Germanic languages have a Semitic superstrate.  Not many linguists think his evidence is all that solid, but neither do they outright reject it.  It looks possible.  Phoenicians, likely via their Carthaginian colony, are known to have traded as far as Great Britain for tin and copper before the times Jaynes highlights, and trading even farther up into the North Sea is considered likely.  If you are wondering how much amber did they really need in the Mediterranean that they would keep wandering up to Jutland to get it, know that the area also has very good flint and worked stone.

I know, I know, it is politically correct to say that those battle-axes were status-objects, not implements of war.
Anyway, even really useful genes are going to be difficult to spread widely from just a few traders. Yet over a thousand years, much more possible.