Monday, November 28, 2016

A Trump Presidency

I tend more to commenting on the commenters than to giving my own political opinions on candidates, as opposed to issues.  This is because I have little confidence I have identified the main threads of a particular human being, because individuals are complicated. I have even less confidence that I can sense the events swirling around us and what will come of them.

I often have a fair degree of confidence that some aspect of the situation is being overlooked and deserves more attention, and a great deal of confidence when I pick up that Important Thinkers are writing things that are plain stupid.  I may not know True Truth, but I can often detect Arrant Nonsense, and it is the job of Village Idiots to point that out.  If I ever hope to be promoted, I have to be consistent with this.

So I will reserve full prediction of what will happen in a Trump presidency until the eve of his inauguration, but I know the general outline  Some of it I have already mentioned: I believe we are headed for a debt-based economic downturn, and there isn't much he can do to stop it.  He might make it worse with his response, but he won't be able to do much to make it better.  I believe the Middle East is also a disaster, and bad things will continue to happen there.  He might also make those worse but likely won't make them better.

In general, we all get blamed for things that aren't our fault and given credit for things we just happened to be standing in the right place for.  This is doubly true of leaders, and I think it will be trebly true of Trump.  He will get blamed for things that are not his doing, even more than most presidents.  However, things that he really does screw up are more likely to get shrugged off. This will also be true for what he gets credit for and what he doesn't. More than most public figures, Trump is known more for what he symbolises and fragments of facts about him than he is known for realities of what he has or hasn't done. Impressions cause folks to love or hate him, and long track records get ignored.

Yet I'm not sure we should all be reversing field and trying to understand him in terms of what he has consistently said for decades.  I'm not sure it matters.  He reinvents himself, and I don't think his supporters or his critics know what parts he is going to drop and which he will retain.  I will say that his critics are far more certain that they know exactly what he is about.

Hmm.  My eventual prediction might not run much longer than this.  You may have the greater sense of it here, 8 weeks in advance.

Beli-chick or Beli-check?

Linguistics and the NFL - that's the sort of unusual combo you come to AVI for.

Switching between the local stations and ESPN on the radio I have noticed that locals, both sports jockeys and callers tend to say "check," while the national commentators tend to say "chick."  It's hard to measure because it goes by quickly, there is something of a continuum between the i and e, and I do hear exceptions on both fronts.  I also think I am hearing an age difference, though I don't actually know the ages of the speakers, and I might be fitting the data back into my theory.

Still, here's my thought: John Havlicek. Not only was he a New England legend and likely to bleed over into anything similar, but we were much more used to Czech names and pronunciations than Croatian ones in this country until the 1990's. Dubcek, Hornacek. Even though younger New Englanders might not be familiar with Havlicek, the older sportscasters could have influenced them right out of the gate with that pronunciation. I keep saying "check" and have to work to say "chick," myself.

I don't know how the man himself pronounces his name, even after browsing youTube.  If he uses the "eh" sound himself, that would shoot my theory to the ground. Wikipedia does give an "ih" for Bill and an "eh" for John, though.  Presumably on the basis of something.

I'd be interested what other people hear out there.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Numbers Reminder: Still Half-and-Half

Despite all the rhetoric of Republicans "controlling" the government after the election, it pays to remember that the Senate is still very close, the Supreme Court is divided, and an awful lot of the 96% of people living in DC who are Democrats work in government.  You can call it narcissistic entitlement, or just clever politics, or a better grip on reality, but when Democrats have 55 Senate votes they consider it a narrow majority and don't begin to get comfortable until they get to 60 and can do as they wish so long as they have no defectors.  Republicans have not seen anything resembling the majority spikes the Democrats occasionally get. It's not "control."  It's not anything like control. It is still give-and-take and scrambling for the last few votes and debating about whether a filibuster is fair or not.

Not to mention that Trump is inexperienced.  In the campaign he seemed to adapt quickly and break new ground, but I don't know if that will continue when trying to govern.


The great Indian mystic Yogi Berra once said "In theory, there's no difference between theory and practice.  In practice, there is." There is also the story about the economist who saw something working in practice and ran hurriedly back to his study to see if it worked in theory.

We have a view of experts that they know a certain amount, and so if we need to make a guess into the unknown, they are staring out from a higher platform, and are thus better prepared to make that guess.  Nicholas Nassim Taleb states that his experience is the opposite:  experts who guess beyond what they know are actually worse estimators than talented amateurs who have an awareness that they are guessing.  His thought is that solid knowledge for any decision can be sparse, and "experts" who study a topic move quickly in to the area of guesswork and speculation. But because these guesses are in consensus and are part of a culture, the experts come to believe that this knowledge is just as solid as the basic data.  This spins quickly out of control into intellectual fashions that the experts are agreed on, but are shakier and shakier with each successive floor added to the building.

Taleb suggests a reverse rule. Every yard higher that an expert believes he knows beyond what he actually does know should be subtracted from his real knowledge, as it represents something that will need to be unlearned, which is difficult.  Something like "absolute value," if you remember that concept from high school algebra - guessing a furlong beyond one's actual knowledge is equivalent to being a furlong short in actual knowledge.  Thus, even a brilliant person with a lot of knowledge can throw it away and become useless by pretending to know what is actually unknown.  Thus the virtue of humility and/or the discipline of skepticism become as important as knowledge.

I did mention that "skepticism" has only recently come to be applied primarily to religious questions, didn't I?  Until the 20th C (maybe late 19th), it applied to being skeptical about other knowledge and how we arrived at it.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Jewish Safety

Nothing original here.  Just reflecting.  (Edits 11/26)

My Jewish friends were nearly all for Hillary.  They not only disliked Trump or disagreed with him, but found him ominous. They also disliked Bush, Dole, Romney, and McCain, but didn't have the same fear about it.  They may have worried that those fools might be unable to stem the tide of a sudden outburst of violent antisemitism, but they thought of them as unaware or uncaring about such things, not active encouragers. They see Trump as enabling such danger.

Yes, the left sees the entire right as dry tinder ready to ignite under the slightest provocation, and therefore the worst of the left becomes violent, so this paranoia is not strictly new.  Everyone is Hitler after all, and I recall similar hysteria as far back as Reagan and Nixon. Somehow, every week we narrowly escape open revolution only through the vigilance of lefties holding the dark at bay by pointing out how dangerous their opponents are. It would be comical if it weren't so insulting and divisive.  Some national conference of 200 alt-right or white supremacist or ultranationalists or whatevers had a conference in DC last week and about 20 of them gave a Nazi salute while yelling something incoherent about Trump.  Clearly, the Republic is in danger and we need more protests on the West Coast involving setting cars on fire and breaking windows and shoving passersby to fix it.

But conservatives have long wondered why on earth this particular paranoia...

I'm sorry, can I say "paranoia" again?  Lunatics.

...would keep bring Jews in year after year.  The history is fairly straightforward.  Europeans, including Christians of most denominations and pagans of all types persecuted Jews off-and-on for centuries.  As soon as there was a Europe, it welcomed in Jews and then turned on them.  They gave different excuses in every generation, and they generally started by persecuting someone else - usually each other - but then settled on Jews to steal from, expel, or kill. The bits about moneylending, and being smarter, and just being so different, all apply as excuses. Human beings don't like differences, and if they feel one-down to boot it gets ugly fast.

The conventional wisdom is that as nationalism developed this got worse, but I am not so sure.  It grew more national*, but it was pretty bad already when it was merely local, so I'm not sure I buy that. Just for the sake of argument, let's say persecution grew worse as nationalism grew. Countries got into this idea of being a Great People and having a Destiny, and needing everyone to work together or the other great people next door were going to come in and seduce our money and steal our women.  Jews, who clearly weren't us, even when they had secularised and intermarried for a couple of centuries, were first among suspects.

This nationalist trend efflorsced into the Holocaust, according to the narrative, proving that nationalism of all types is the most dangerous thing for Jews and they should condemn it at all times. As nationalism tends to be on the right and internationalism on the left, the extension Right = dangerous; Left = safe became the shorthand.  We always do politics in shorthand.  Thinking is a strain, and exceptions are so inconvenient.

Jews were attracted to the internationalism of other European creeds right from the start.  They already had a jump start on that, having networks of coreligionists in other countries and some fellow-feeling. Caution: not all Jews.  Jews may have been prominently and successfully involved in international trade and relied on Jewish networks to do so, but there weren't many of these.  Most Jews knew the Jews of their own village and that's it.

Still this seems to be one root cause.  The leftist approaches were internationalist, or at least pretended to be, and this struck the Jews as rather safer than the gatherings of peasants who were getting excited about all banding together to become a nation. No place for Cohens in that, maybe.  Worrisome. Not all Jews were leftist radicals, but Jews were over-represented among the Bolsheviks and anarchists. (I am not ruling out more altruistic motives for anyone here.  I believe those are real.  But I think we need to examine the tribal motives first, as these tend to be more foundational, less moveable.  Everyone denies those motives exist in themselves, though they pick them up pretty quickly in others.  Hence the popularity/unpopularity of assistant village idiots.)

This is all very understandable, and debatably may have been the safest road for communities trying to survive in their day. One problem: over the long haul, the internationalists killed more Jews. Tell me all you want about gradual versus shocking and catastrophic persecution, but Jews are demonstrably smart and that shouldn't be so much of an obstacle. More death = more death.  However one wants to interpret keeping Jews out of country clubs and having quotas to keep them out of the best schools and being prejudiced against them in a hundred other ways large and small, this is even more clear in our own day.  Internationally, and increasingly in America, it is the left that is the danger to Jews.  This is disguised by focusing on being pro-Palestinian and against specific Israeli policies.  I don't mean to dismiss those plausibly good motives as being a charade. Motives are usually mixed, and I believe that some of the opposition is motivated by compassion and desire for fair play. (I think they are wrong, but that's not the same thing as being prejudiced or evil.)

Yet you only have to dig into the matter a bit before you collide with some unexplainable contradictions.  You don't even have to go to right-wing or alternative news, you just have to back away slightly from the conventional leftist reports to go "Wait a minute.  Some of this is just nuts!" This is what happened to those Evangelicals who are so pro-Israel.  They are descended from (evolved, if you will) from precisely those fundamentalists who were antisemitic, like Southern Baptist Jimmy Carter, who believed what he was taught in youth group: that Jews should defend themselves only with righteousness, as the OT said, and if they didn't, deserved whatever happened to them.  But along the way the Evangelicals got involved with all the endtimes people who were "into prophecy" and got caught up with Israel being part of that, and on the good team in the final days, and so clambered into that tent.  Once inside, those fundamentalists picked up immediately that Israel was acting better-than-average, up against enemies who were terrible liars. Fundies are big into justice, often at the expense of mercy.  Also, those particular Americans didn't have any objection to Israeli nationalism, and came to rather admire how good they were getting at it:  Jews from everywhere, uniting under ideas - sounded pretty American to those guys.  Some turned into Evangelicals and signed on. (Some stayed antisemitic.  You can still find them, and they are probably owned by the right more than the left. Still, there aren't very many, and they don't occupy positions of power. I recommend ignoring them.)

Fast-forward 40-50 years. There is no danger to Jews in America from the right. If you think there is, I challenge you to find examples of actual violence.  It wasn't the alt-right that wanted to assassinate Pam Geller.  Probably no direct danger from the left either, though Jews are beginning to be shoved aside at colleges and increasingly in urban, especially black, settings.  Internationally, the right has grumbled and decided that Jews are way better than Muslims, while the left has decided to abandon them to whatever fate happens.  The left now roots for their enemies.

Internationalism has been more dangerous, but Jews still fear nationalism more.


Worst Ever?

There is some consensus that this is the worst rock video ever - and Tommy Seebach's "Apache" would be one of the competitors.

Just don't blame it on decadent American culture.  Seebach's Danish.  I have no idea what that accent is supposed to be.  Something inaccurately Slavic, I think.

Now you see why American pop culture dominates.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Another 1960's AVI Sighting

That guy on the left with the glasses.  He really looks like I did about 5 years later.  Hair, glasses, turtleneck with sports jacket, straight nose, mouth, movement.  A lot of us looked like that then, I suppose. Still, it's creepy.

And I thought I was half of Peter and Gordon (and they did use the same guitar, a Gibson B-25-12) in those days.

Underground DSM

Bethany thinks it should be a whole book.  But really, I don't think I've got much more material.  However I have things to add today, and maybe I should just keep adding that into the larger post.

When someone says anything about honesty -
Can I be honest?
Not gonna lie
I'm just being honest
I truly think
I'm not sh---- you here
I really, really want
 - they usually mean something else.  Sometimes they mean candor, or bluntness.  Sometimes it's a feeling that they have no supporting evidence for. Sometimes they are saying true things, but leaving out other information that is important.  Sometimes it's just lying.  People who are speaking the truth generally don't reference "hey, did I mention that this is the truth?" They certainly don't make repeated references to how truthful and honest they are being.  In a side note, any political or religious organisation that uses the word "truth" in its name should be watched with the closest scrutiny.

This may be connected to the Biblical admonition of "Let your yea be yea and your nay be nay." (James)

Perhaps relatedly, many statements in mental health bureaucracies don't mean what their content would suggest, and I suspect there are parallels in your industry as well.  "I just want what's best for the patient," or "Look, we all want what's best for the patient here" usually means "Let's do what's best for my agency," or even, horribly, "we don't want to put in much effort to fix this and you're stuck with him, so we don't much mind if the patient is not being served."

Oh, oh, that reminds me.  When the hospital is discharging a patient over the objections of the family*- and this is often a risky proposition that we are wincing at and crossing our fingers over - I breathe a sigh of relief when someone shouts into my phone "If you discharge him today, I guarantee you he will be dead before midnight."  Whew.  So this is just a family that postures in overdramatic fashion, and the patient is cut from the same cloth, so their cat-and-mouse about suicide is mere drama. Good to know. The few actual suicides usually take us more by surprise.

And speaking of suicide, remember that there is a suicide rate for people leaving banks, people leaving schools, people leaving work, and people leaving hotels. The suicide rate for people leaving psychiatric hospitals over the next 30 days is only marginally higher.  It's just that ours make the newspapers and people think we should have done...something.

*this happens all the time and often really does suck for the family, who are up against it and have legitimate gripes, and a hospital is at least a safe and treatment-oriented environment for their brother, daughter, whatever. It's brutal to have a mental illness, and sometimes it's brutal to even be close to it.

Conservation of Fear

I have mentioned before that something like a conservation of mood seems to be embedded in the human personality.  If we are anxious people, when a problem is resolved we just switch to something else to be anxious about. If we are effervescent, we retain that through hard times and if gloomy, sustain even when events go our way.  “When the big ones are gone, the big ones remain,” a friend of mine says.

I will note as an aside that it is irritating when people claim that their naturally upbeat disposition is actually some spiritually leveraged position. They usually attribute this to some trick or cliché, implying that the same trick or cliché would work for you, too.  But then, I’m an irritable person, and if it wasn’t them I’d just go find someone else to be irritated with.

I don’t mean to push this too far and call it an absolute.  I once believed the story that lottery winners and those who had been physically disabled both reverted to their approximate baseline mood within two years, but it turns out to be only somewhat true.  Circumstances are not irrelevant.  Extra dollars above a comfortable minimum are reported to be unrelated to happiness, but they do matter below that level, and sudden losses mean most of all. No longer being beaten likely results in improved outlook, as does better health, more friends, better sleep, and other treasures.

Still, I think there is something to this idea of conservation.  Older literature, including the Bible, refers to people in such ways, that they are timid or brave or anxious or loyal by nature. Some are light and bob up above the waves no matter how high, others seem to be waterlogged from birth and gasping for breath throughout life. Buoyancy and sinking are in fact the metaphorical words we use for moods. So – mood, anxiety, energy, anger  – how about fear?  Might some of us be naturally fearful and when one threat is removed, find another to be worried about?  This occurs to me in the context of the election, and the number of people who stress that they are fearful of what Trump will do. I’m seeing a whole lot that might prove irritating or infuriating about a Trump presidency (there’s my irritability again), but the fear claims just don’t seem to have much behind them.  There was a quote here, an insensitivity there.  Someone over the mountain knew a guy who heard about a speech that Trump had made…

Can’t you understand the fear that POC feel about this? How am I going to explain this to my children?  What do I say to my gay friends? Well, you could start by telling them that there’s no evidence that they are in any danger.  Would that be a start?

Even his treating (his own) rude or even criminal acts lightly doesn’t explain people’s sense that this means that somehow all restrictions are going to be off, gropers and mean-speakers running wild.  Society doesn't really act that way. If it did it would have started long ago, under the cultural influence of uh, other people.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Sleep Revolution

I browsed Arianna Huffington's The Sleep Revolution for about five minutes, covering the first 40 pages.  We need to get more sleep.  There, saved you the trouble.  My wife says there is a more scientific part farther on, referencing studies.  My feeling is, if you can't get to the good part in forty pages, there is no good part.

Immigration in China

John Derbyshire reminds us what another country thinks about immigration. It's not just the resistance to bringing in new people - it's the belief that they are the owners of everyone of that race.  Russia used to have - maybe still does - a similar view of itself as ruler and protector of all Slavs.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Hidden Knowledge

I recommend to your attention a link on James's site which has rapidly fallen off my sidebar, Knowledge. More than a bit sobering.

Friday, November 18, 2016

You Are Still Crying Wolf

Half my sidebar is posting this essay from Scott Alexander of Star Slate Codex, and I can't take the peer pressure, so I'm posting it too.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Antifragile: Limitations

I reiterate my admiration for Nicholas Nassim Taleb’s Antifragile. The general concepts are strong, and engagingly put.  The GreenLumber Fallacy, along with a similar example about a trader in Swiss Francs, is memorable. He names names in his closing criticisms of insiders taking advantage of more fragile others:  The Alan Blinder Problem, the Joseph Stiglitz Problem, the Robert Rubin Problem.  I loved his advocacy of relying on observation rather than narratives to make decisions – one of those things I’ve learned over the years. He writes often about taking small risks while exposing oneself to large or even unlimited gains – which sounds obvious, but human beings tend to do the opposite.  In investments and many personal decisions, we ignore risks while seeking small but predictable gains.

Note to Grim:  You have written about honor and honor societies; throughout the book, but especially at the end, Taleb writes approvingly about the sense of honor in what he calls traditional societies, and how it is sometimes superior to ethics that are based on more abstract ideas. He quotes a lot of ancient Mediterranean philosophers on many topics, which I know will also be to your liking.

Note to Retriever:  Though Taleb is a trader and investor himself, you will much like what he says about investors and advisors as a class. He believes they hide personal risk at the expense of others, and their advice neglects real understanding of risk, both of which unfairly burdens the taxpayer and the little guys who cannot manipulate the regulations (and the regulators).

Yet I don’t want to come across as thinking his approaches unassailable.  I think he oversells some points. Here’s one. The American legal system has a bias toward putting the burden of proof on those who would forbid something as harmful. He thinks this should be reversed in our personal decisions, and advocates it in law as well – though I don’t know how far he wants to push that.  There is sense in that, that things should prove they are safe before being admitted to a society, rather than getting a free ride until someone proves they are dangerous. He believes a pollutant should prove its safety, not be permitted until it proves dangerous.  We have moved to that in FDA approval, for example. Taleb drinks no beverage that has not been around a thousand years – water, wine, coffee. (Beer and tea would presumably qualify as well.) He eschews not only sugary carbonated drinks, but fruit juice as well, because the form is recent and the fruits themselves overbred for sweetness fairly recently.

Well sure, but the Columbian Exchange is regarded as high-benefit as well as high-side-effect I believe. Eyeglasses have been uncommon until recently and hearing aids even more so.  Should we hold those out until we are quite sure there is no unintentional effect? Coal and oil have had very bad aftereffects, but does he regard them as a net loss for humanity?  I am not being difficult and mildly humorous here, as he raises exactly this issue with warming the planet. The general principle of applying some inexpensive fixes in order to guard against a catastrophe, even an unlikely catastrophe, seems sound.  Anyone who has low-cost, low-risk strategies out there should be attended to.  Taleb seems to think there is something we should be doing, but he doesn’t say what it is.  He also dismisses entirely the comments of those who benefit from petroleum sales.  I can certainly sign on to immediate suspicion of anyone who stands to personally benefit from a decision going one way or another.  Yet I can’t see the sense of automatically rejecting such comments. Everyone involved in political decisions – in fact, any decisions – usually stands to benefit in some way.  As the claims of the academics (a class Taleb generally mistrusts) are founded on narratives and self-interest as much as the corporations, who is left to listen to? Their grants, livelihoods, and career advancement depend on fitting into their own culture and enhancing its power. They also advocate that we should take their word on interventions that stand to be expensive at least and possibly harmful as well.  Taleb’s principle is sound, perhaps even more so in personal decisions not to add in medicines or new devices or new influences.  I’m not sure how far we can take that, however.

I recall similar arguments being made about gay marriage. Its advocates insist there is no proof of damage to society.  Taleb’s stated approach would put the burden of proof on the advocates instead – prove to us that in this new thing you are introducing there will be no damage.  (He does not say whether he applies this Precautionary Principle to gay marriage, recreational marijuana, or other public social decisions.  It is I raising those examples.) Should immigrants have to prove they are a benefit in order to get in or should current citizens have to prove they would cause harm in order to keep them out?

Taleb makes a powerful antiwar argument, and mentions Iraq in particular in several places. As war is likely the best example of introducing chaos into the world, with all the unexpected downstream events, usually negative, I don’t have a cold answer. Nor does he make the claim that it should always be forbidden and avoided.  As with medical intervention, Taleb believes that sometimes the likely downside is so great that much risk must be endured. But he is right to note that advocates for war seriously overestimate the predictability of what will result.  Wars usually turn out to be more deadly than expected; they always turn out to be much more expensive; they especially turn out to have unintended aftereffects, sometimes catastrophic ones. I will have a longer go at this discussion, but only wanted to note here that one of his primary ethical arguments intersects with the practical ones: that we are unleashing the unexpected on many people, and that itself is a bad thing.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A Walk In The Woods

No, not the book or the movie.

When I talk about “my woods” I mean this Bog Rd, Wilson HillRd, Rte 13 triangle.(hope that works)

There are trails on the other side of Bog Rd which I use as well, but those are less dear to me.  It’s a little less than a square mile, all of it wooded, so that you can’t see more twenty yards in any direction, sometimes less than five.  There are a few elevated places where you can look out in one direction, and patches that have been logged in the last few years where you can see fifty yards or so, but the brush comes up quickly.  You can pack a lot of trails into a place like that, and sometimes I can sense that I must be running parallel to another path 50-100 yards away, unseen.  I have learned, however, that my sensing is pretty inaccurate when the leave are on the trees.  The sunlight coming through seems to help my sense of direction.

There were ATV tracks in the spring, but I can’t detect any of them now.  Someone has covered a lot of this on a fat-tire bike in the last month, but only once.  No footprints since the leaves fell, and possibly none for quite some time before that, though they wouldn’t show most places.  I do see the place where 2 bowhunters came through, coming off Rte 13.  The slopes are gentle; I don’t think there’s more than a 400’ rise from the lowest to highest points.  As is usual with USGS, the part you want to see straddles two maps, but you can see it at the bottom of Concord and the top of Milford maps.
Some trails are nearly invisible, and I can still find an old one I hadn’t noticed even now.  One trail along the center of this gets a lot of use and some misuse by ATV’s.  Snow machines go through as well. They keep me from getting lost in winter.  There are still small orange diamonds directing them around the place, but the words washed off a couple of years ago, so now there are only arrows pointing out the obvious: this is a trail, and so is that path to the right.  They both go somewhere.  The center one was called Tall Pine Trail, ending in Tall Pine Loop, but its pines aren’t any taller. A half-dozen fire circles dot the place, but only one gets any use, in winter. Someone put up flat bridges for snow machines over the dips – mere platforms or pallets, really, 3-6 feet long – I know who but I’m not saying, because the Forest Society doesn’t like it, and they own a good chunk of the middle.  I admit those create a way for the forbidden ATV’s as well, but I’m just as glad they come through and clear the trails a little.  If there were more of them some year I might upend a bridge or two and hide them off to the side. New sign:  Bridge out. Only fair to give them warning when you change expectations.

I can tell you about the trees if you like, but I only care once in a while.  Same with the wildlife.  I like guessing at the tracks in winter. I’ll see or hear something and notice that. I recognize some birdsong. I want to be fascinated by natural history, but my brain doesn’t hold that knowledge like some others seem to hold it.  I’ll tell you about the bear and the coywolves if you like. 

I have no idea why I wrote this.

Monday, November 14, 2016

One Fact

Learning one fact can cause you to observe differently.  Tracy and I went to see a local lecture by Kevin Gardner on New England stone walls, where I asked how it is that those older walls were supposedly at least 4 feet high (if sheep can see the next field, they want to go there), but few seemed much more than two feet high now.  Though there were clearly places where stones had been taken to be used for something else, these were near roads and structures.  Deeper in the forest this seemed unlikely.

Mr. Gardner explained that I should look at both the tops and the bottoms of the wall.  Most people do notice that stones have fallen to the ground from the top, though unevenly, but fail to notice the buildup of soil at the base of stone walls.  Just as a snow fence causes snow to drift, any wall does this with soil, though much more slowly.  Leaves especially get forced up against the granite, becoming soil in their time. This obscures or even buries some stones that have fallen, but even with intact structures can disguise where the real base of the wall originally was.

Sure enough, I see fallen stones that I missed before, and notice that the soil slopes up a bit on both sides of these walls, obscuring at least six inches and more commonly a foot of wall or more.  I mentally scratch that away from the base and place the layabout stones back on top.  They didn’t all fall to the same side, I remind myself (duh), so I add again the equivalent number of stones likely to be on the other side. (I do observe that far side at the end to check my work.) The effect is striking. The near view of whole landscapes can look different – and more like they did originally. The difference between 2-3 ft walls and 4-5 ft walls changes the whole perception of the space - for humans as well as sheep, apparently.