Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Guns, Germs, and Steel

For those of you who have been influenced, whether opponents or fans, be aware that Greg Cochran is dicing it up at West Hunter (sidebar).  He is, at least, thoroughly destroying a particular claim of Jared Diamond's in that book.

What Terrorists Want

WRT the stabbings in Turku, Finland. Interior Minister Paula Risikko said on Twitter on 19 August: "Terrorists want to pit people against each other. We will not let this happen. Finnish society will not be defeated by fear or hatred."  Terrorists want to pit people against each other? Really? All the evidence suggests that terrorists just want to get their way. And lest anyone think I just mean Muslims, no, that would be what we are currently naming "domestic terrorists" as well. They don’t want the chaos of groups opposing each other, except as a tactic to get what they really want, which is victory

When I read government officials making statements like this, I wonder if they really believe this nonsense, or if these are calculated statements in the hopes of reducing conflict.  Did someone really convince George Bush that Islam means “peace,” or did he and his advisors decide that they could stretch the truth that far in the interests of cooling tempers? There is a Scandinavian sentiment that does really believe that "we got here by sticking together, so not sticking together is always the great danger for us." That reflexive attitude may be in play here.  One can see how that attitude could turn into fascism in the wrong hands, yet it is also quite leftist, quite communist/socialist.*

The Scandinavians are caught between the us-ness of blood and soil, opposed to the us-ness of "we're all in this together" once you have moved here and are called Danes or Finns. They are trying to come down on the side of welcome and absorption.  The problem is, the arrivees don't want to assimilate, be absorbed, and just contribute a few dishes to the national cuisine.  They want to first be able to do things their own way now, and later, for everyone else to do things their way too.  In the meantime, they want stuff.

Pretty clearly, they have no interest in pitting people against each other.  Scandinavians, and many Europeans, and even many Americans seem to want to defeat an ideology that does not actually exist.

*WRT that Liberal Fascism idea of Jonah Goldberg's, it is relatively difficult for Europeans to see, because since the 1930's they have seen the fascists and communists as warring with each other, openly or quietly, so the disconnect is too large, regardless of the ideologies behind them.  In North America, it is similarly difficult to see, mainly because the symbols and culture of the right and left have become separated around that issue of universalism versus nationalism.  But if you are a North American looking at Europe in the 20th C, it is actually quite easy to see how fascism, socialism, and communism are very much the same thing. 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Take A Chance

It's overdone.  Oh, I'm sorry, is that a problem for you?  Too bad.

Maybe I'll repost some Luv' next.  That'll fix ya.

Friday, August 18, 2017


Though people got the general idea very well, I'm not sure they picked up that the "mittens" post was about gun control.

Have You Forgotten?

An email correspondent - and a bright up-to-the-minute one - mentioned in response to a comment of mine that he "had forgotten about Scalise." (Which bothered him. Don't misread that.)

I'm sure he's not the only one.  This is where the enormous, ocean-liner inertia of the MSM media bias is at its best. They can undermention something when it is fresh, leave out important details, interpret it in a non-threatening way, and seldom mention it again. The alternative press may put out great energy to keep a story alive, but they can only keep a limited number of plates spinning. Most of the time, liberals don't even have to roll their eyes and say "move on." The event has gone down the memory hole. The Washington Post and NYT reported briefly in April 2017 on NSA surveillance of private citizens, without fanfare and without mentioning that this had occurred on Obama's watch. The ACLU called it "unprecedented and unlawful." They seem to have stopped mentioning that, BTW. One article since then. Oh, take a guess what they have been writing about since April 28. The NYT did run an article 2 weeks later indicating that under Trump, this had been halted. Good for them. Nothing since.  What is a much easier story to find is that Fox News, acting on an article in Circa, reported that major media was boycotting the issue in order to protect Obama. Whoa, baby, did Fox ever have to retract and apologise for that, eh?

Have you heard anything about this since? So the Fox story, following the Circa story, was not fully accurate, but turned out to be spot on.

Perhaps I should devote a serious amount of blog space to this, because I am rather cut out for it.  I remember things by association, especially if they contain annoyance. I see articles all the time that may me think "wait, when the shoe was on the other foot..." It is a cousin to James's idea about a news organisation which dedicated itself to the rest of the story, days or weeks later after the dust has settled and more information has trickled in.

Consider the case of Sir Timothy Hunt, an eminent (friggin' Nobel Prize!) British scientist who was accused of sexist remarks at a science conference in Korea. To put the Wikipedia article in perspective, you need to know that his accuser, Connie St Louis, seems to be nearly 100% fraud.  They don't mention this - one of the small ways that Wikipedia puts its thumb on the scale over and over.  She is described as an award-winning science journalist. Not only do I not see the awards, I don't see the science journalism.  Here is her website - not very up-to-date, I guess; here is her twitter account, which seems to consist of occasional tweets of black grievance. Not much science before, or after the controversy. She doesn't seem to do much of anything. She is an instructor of some sort at City College in London, for which she presumably receives some money.  She received a fellowship of £50,000 ($65,000) to write a book, which she never wrote.

Hunt claimed his remarks were taken out of context, and subsequent investigation revealed this to be entirely so.  People who criticised him had not heard his entire speech - they had in fact were not aware of more than 37 words of his speech. This includes female colleagues who went out of their way to say that they liked him and owed a great deal to him.  They still threw him under the bus. Those who had heard the speech or read the whole of it later waved off the remarks as misunderstood.

His career was destroyed. He retreated into hiding and despair.  It looks like she's still working and no one is challenging her anymore. Down the memory hole.

You do remember where the memory hole image comes from?


I have wondered about how much of the commentary from the responsible right about neo-nazis was boilerplate, a stating of the obvious in a rather weary manner of "Do I really even have to say this?  Oh well then, if I'm to be routinely accused of being a secret supporter if I don't mention my abhorrence every time I put pen to paper, then here it goes again: their ideology is vile."

But I have detected in the Althouses and Powerlines and PJ Media and NRO's, and perhaps even more strongly in some of the wilder sites, an undertone of "This time we can really do it!  We can discredit this movement forever now that it has dared raise its head! One last push against all this nonsense and it will topple!"

Am I catching this undertone of right writers correctly? 

It doesn't work that way. Trump rose to power with very few wholehearted supporters, but a whole lot of people who thought his opposition (specific and general) must be stopped, who became even more certain they would vote for him every time he was attacked unfairly. Antifa, Black Lives Matter, and their related groups have grown out of the previously moribund romanticism of the old revolutionaries of Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn, and farther back to the noble old lefties who were (wink, wink) really commies in the 30's-50's. They draw power from the growth of the nazis, which is why they seek them out.  They need to show that the alt-right is very big and very dangerous, which is what makes them necessary.  Admittedly, stunts like Obama having his picture taken in front of a Che memorial in Havana haven't helped that.*

Wait.  Have those groups grown up in that soil, or nursery? I just realised that is an assumption of mine for which I have only a narrative, not data.  Maybe they have sprung from somewhere and something else.

*Forgotten that one, hadn't you? How is that not much worse, much more inflammatory than anything Trump is doing?

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Cortisol And Punishment

Every time I read Dalrymple, I kick myself for not remembering to read him more. 


I had occasion to use an old line of mine in an email today: "Statistics don't lie after you force them up against the wall and make them tell you who their friends are."

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

SJW's and Some Math

The math giveaway: if A is really likely to be true (say, 90%) and B is very likely to follow from that (say, 80% likely), we feel very confident that B is true.  Thus, when we learn that C is a very probable outcome of B (say, 70% likely to follow), we feel pretty secure in stating that C is very likely to be true.  Wrong.  It's only 50-50 at that point.

bsking's younger brother, Tim ("okay, I'm not that liberal") King brought an interesting observation to beer night tonight: liberals and conservatives mean different things when using the same terms.  Yes, that may not seem surprising, but bear with me. Or with him.  Conservatives tend to use political terms in a more narrow, specific way; liberals understand a term to include its downstream and related effects. Example: Conservatives understand racist to mean a somewhat measurable refusal to grant a person of another race their obvious rights and due.  That is, to deny a person a job, or apartment, or award, or opportunity based on their race.  This is also why conservatives believe that reverse racism can and does exist. Conservatives hear the word "racist"and hear only a single note.

Liberals hear the term racist to include the way we designed our schools, and elections, and rules of commerce, and cultural norms, and a hundred other structures a century ago and more.  Not all liberals go very far down those roads - in fact, the JFK's and Hubert Humphreys and Jimmy Carters and even Bill Clintons didn't go very far down those roads at all.  But they went farther than conservatives did then.  About as far as conservatives go now, in fact.  Ignore for the moment that Carter and Clinton, being deep partisans, have gone further down those roads since first being elected president.  Conservatives like to notice, and even sneer, that Kennedy would be closer to the conservative platforms now. The flip side of that is that Kennedy or Johnson or Humphrey would be candidates conservatives would vote for now. (But not McGovern.  Let's not get crazy here.)

Those liberals, when a note like "racist" was played, would hear a harmony note, or even a chord. There was considerable acknowledgement among them that merely looking at what had happened to Kaitlyn versus Keisha was inadequate. Notes have harmonics; notes strongly played fit into only a few chords, so those chords are likely; chords occur in sequences, so the elements of some song are bubbling up. The story of why Kaitlyn got the job but Keisha didn't was not written just this afternoon.  That story started before they were born, and the first sentences need adjusting even now.

The people we call Social Justice Warriors go very, very far down those roads. They hear an entire song, and some hear a symphony. I was going to post a few weeks ago on the expansion of the phrase "white supremacist," but I figured that was rather a niche item and a passing fashion.  Tim specifically brought that phrase up tonight as one that is being greatly expanded by liberals but remains very narrow and specific to conservatives.  So much for my ability to read the culture and predict its fashions.

Let me state at the outset that I have a lot of sympathy for the early stages of this argument.  When I hear a note, the accompanying thirds are not far out of my hearing, even though no one suggests them to me.  Yet no song occurs to me from a single note, and certainly not any symphony.

I think it is ridiculous when conservatives try to maintain that nothing flows from individual racism.  I get it that they are using this as a tactic, trying to get liberals to prove  each step along the way, because accusation is easy but proof is hard. Yet still, I think the racism of my ancestors (I'm thinking of my grandmother here) likely did have an effect on how our systems were designed, and those favor folks like me. Probably true.

Yet not definitely true. There's some doubt here. Some cultural choices might be obviously Swedish or Scots-Irish, yet not actually favor those groups more than a percent or so. They might actually very fair and neutral standards.  That is one of the claims of the defenders of Western Civilisation, actually, that we chose those standards but they are actually pretty neutral and fair.  If your group thinks they aren't maybe you're just projecting what you'd do in our shoes.  One of our cultural things is bend-over-backward neutrality, in fact. We don't fully succeed at it, but we come darn close.

But let's grant that downstream effect arguendo. What next?

Well, we think that C pretty obviously follows from B.  And D is pretty darn likely once we get to C. 

And let me guess:  L is really, really likely to be true if K is true.

Well, yeah.

This is why I think the earlier liberals - the Humphreys and O'Neil's and early Bill Clinton - were sometimes wrong but not always crazy. The chords were actually possible, though not definite, from the notes given. I do think that conservatives, and especially libertarians are wrong when they calim that nothing flows from any note but the note itself.  But not everything that has a C# in it is Mahler's Symphony in C# Minor. It might not even be "Mary Had A Little Lamb."  It might just be an F# chord.  It might just be that one note.  I can go down that road a little, but not much. 70% times 70% is less than 50%.

I really think this is a problem of the Arts and Humanities, especially Journalism, stereotype.  They don't do math.  They only dimly understand such things.  They are comfortable moving from island B to C and D and on to H and I, each looking likely, not seeing that they are now hopelessly off course.

Monday, August 14, 2017

A Story

The stories I tell myself change over time.  My Christian conversion story (the word "journey" has become a cliche) has been a bit different depending on what year I told it.  It's not wildly different, but my understanding of myself and what has happened to me over the years has changed.  So too with my narrative of how I left liberalism. In this year, in fact, I read some old material of my own and saw that I had not gradually dropped liberalism from 1967-1991, but had become apolitical for much of that time, making most of those changes fairly rapidly in a few years when I signed on again.

I have regarded this story as one of the pivotal ones, and I still think that today. But I no longer describe what was going through my mind over those years, because the effect may have more sudden, due to an accumulation of incidents, rather than a gradual awakening.

I have worked at the state involuntary psychiatric hospital since the Carter administration.  Every such hospital in the country must have its collection of people who have threatened to kill a political figure, especially the president.  NH may get a greater concentration of these because of the presidential primary.  We do get people coming from other places about this.

I don't recall having any patient who had threatened to kill Jimmy Carter, but I did have one early on who had been fired from the Bobby Kennedy campaign and vowed to kill Ted Kennedy. There were a lot of worried tones nationally about all the nutcases who wanted to make a name for themselves by killing the last Kennedy brother, but because of this patient I heard it a lot from our staff. They took him very seriously, and he was under our care for years. When John Hinkley almost killed Reagan I heard psychiatrists laugh cynically that it would have been a good idea, and both psychologists and administrators say it very seriously and angrily. I heard that repeated for years, actually, that we would have been better off if Hinckley had succeeded. Why do they think he is crazy just because he wants to kill Reagan?

Well, you know.  Dark humor.  Cynicism. Plus, as a liberal myself (non-practicing) I just thought of it as a hyperbolic response to the very real possibility that Reagan might be really, really bad for the country and get us into many wars (while persecuting gays and blacks, too). Over-the-top, and a little worrisome, but not to be credited, because these were not violent people speaking.  They didn't own guns, they didn't get drunk and get into fights, their threats were all subtle and non-physical. So, just popping off,  And again, dark humor.  Psych hospital staff are known for that. So I'm not even sure I was getting more uncomfortable as patients came and went who wanted to kill Reagan and no one seemed to much mind.  Including some high-up administrative staff.

The guy who wanted to kill Tsongas was politcially unclassifiable, as were both the man and the woman who had threatened to kill Bush 41. Though one of the latter was big into fuming about the Trilateral Commission, so probably conservative/libertarian something.  We had some special meetings about the Tsongas guy.  If people were worried about those threatening Bush they hid it pretty well.  But I confess I might be misjudging that one, as I had little to do with either of them.

I had two patients and heard of two others who had threatened to kill Clinton. It was all dark looks and hushed tones for that.  I was more politically alert again, so I was actively keeping track of whether there was any of our famous psych-hospital black humor going to happen.

None that I saw.  It's not really funny when someone wants to kill the president, you know.

It changed dramatically when Bush 43 came in.  I was really paying attention at this point, so the examples stick out strongly. One woman wanted to skin him alive.  The medical director laughed that he'd thought of doing that himself. I have to disguise the next one, but something like accidentally doing something that put Bush in danger.  I counted six professionals over the next two weeks who laughed and wished my patient had been serious, and succeeded. I knew of a few others, though not well. One had a whole list of political figures he wanted to kill, mainly focused on local ones.  Bush was probably just a throw-in.  I don't know whether anyone laughed or spouted angrily that they wished the others had pulled it off. I cannot say whether we had become more divided as a people by 2001 so violent rhetoric was increasing, or I was just more alert.

Again, these are people who put up their hands in horror at the thought of hunting. They aren't likely to go and commit violence themselves. Yet by now I was tying these comments in to other statements, excusing violence on the left - environmental vandalism (plus Ted Kaczynski), union violence, black protest violence, anti-globalist violence.  Well yeah, that's bad and people shouldn't do that, but they're legitimately upset and they don't believe the process is working for them.

We must have had people who threatened to kill Obama, just by law of averages, but I don't recall any.  Maybe just luck of the draw than none of them came to my caseload.  I did hear a couple of people assure me that there were lots of people out there who wanted to kill him.  That could be true.  The Secret Service and FBI would likely know the real numbers on that.

I know of two already who threatened to kill Trump, even though I'm only working part-time now. One no one is taking seriously.  Another, interesting, is taken quite seriously, perhaps because he is from a foreign country.

Oh. But. I have heard people laugh about both of them - that they understand that.

Small sample size, I know.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Summary Statements

I was thinking about relatives long-dead, and a strange loyalty in not doing things that would have upset them. As I was attempting to quickly explain this background to someone else, in order to make another point, I discovered that there are some people who can be summarised very easily, and others who can't. I wondered whether there was some trend to this:  male/female; good/evil; generational, cultural, or physical distance. There are tendencies, but none that created an either/or in and of themselves.

Whether we can easily summarise someone is going to be idiosyncratic.  You and I will look for different things. Also, single qualities may so overwhelm our judgment that other aspects may be obscured.

I don't think I'm going to be easy to sum up after I'm gone, nor will my wife. Though sometimes people can work a lot into a poetic statement.  My second son was asked in 6th grade to sum himself up in a sentence. "I'm a pessimist with bad eyesight." While there is much more to him than that, the very fact that he put things that way tells you a great deal about the type of boy he was. Maybe some clever descendant will hit upon some equally telling description for me.

However, even things we believe begin to capture our essence may vanish in smoke.  I have sometimes wondered - wincingly, as it bespeaks a lack of Christian virtue - whether the phrase "he didn't suffer fools gladly" would be a sort of epitaph.  Eddie Izzard showed pretty quickly that such a description doesn't narrow things down too much.

Teaching As A Trade

I wonder whether we all would have been better served if teaching the young - or anyone, actually - had been regarded as a trade rather than a profession? It would never have happened, so perhaps it's not that fruitful to think about, but I will have a bit of a go.

Teachers who were tradesmen or tradeswomen, who worked out of a trade union that was more like a guild than a pressure group would know more about the craft of teaching.  Those who were skilled at the craft would be viewed with respect.  As it stands now, the people in education who get the respect are precisely those who have driven the field into being regarded as a profession.  Too often, those are people of theory or administration who no longer have any craft duties to judge them on. No one actually knows whether they can wire a house or decide which type of joint is best for a drawer anymore - if they ever could.

People who go into teaching are usually those who were good at books, and so respected others who were good at books, and things that they knew.  Going into college they just naturally fell into the idea that these college instructors were the people who really knew something.  But the college instructors were often mostly good at writing long essays that pleased others of their kind.  As it goes up, it narrows into an entirely academic discipline.

Yet if there is any craft to be learned about cramming knowledge into young brains, it is much more likely to be found at the front-line level. Something similar happens in the clergy, where the care of souls is not likely to be improved by studying the influence of Czech esotericists on early Calvinism. The prestige in the profession is just about exactly where we don't want it to be.

Ah well.  It was never going to happen, so it may be best to consider in a sci-fi way what will occur in other worlds when we colonise them instead.


Note:  At least four interesting things, none quite what is usual in the popular media, have come in by email or FB about Charlottesville.  I will be turning these around a bit in my mind before posting. If at all.

I recommend, for your edification, The Ben Franklin Effect. I first ran across it in Tavris and Aronson's book Mistakes Were Made, though it did seem dimly familiar, and I may have run across it before.  In my cynical way, I have usually thought of it in the negative: the more you give someone, the less grateful they are.  This includes things they don't officially know you have given, but could easily deduce if they dared think about it. Not referring to painful or embarrassing events from the past, for example, is certainly a gift. Yet when we give that gift we find that it is not appreciated as it should be.  Hmm.

This comes up in a humorous way because I am reading PG Wodehouse,* where barons and financiers and vicars all have some past embarrassment they wish to keep secret, and are willing to give large sums of money to keep everything hush-hush.  They are always fawningly grateful to the young man or woman who they believe knows the story but whose lips are sealed. Because it is fiction, that's the way it works.  In reality, the favor is either forgotten or eventually resented.  Odd, that.

Parents know this, but also know it is the way of the world.  What we give to children occurs largely before they are able to process and categorise, or perhaps even understand it.  What we give them later, when they have minds of their own, is more ambiguous anyway. Spouses come to know it as well, for even in happy marriages we are likely to be grateful for easy and even untrue things, while quickly forgetting the great sacrifices the other has made for us.

I tread carefully here, because some of my children, plus others who know them, read this blog.  But I notice this among them as well.  The sons who have received favors from their brothers are the least grateful about it. They are more than a bit oblivious about how much others put up with. There's something like an emotional Dunning-Kruger Effect.

I wonder if it is true that ungrateful people receive more favors. That would be a kick in the teeth, wouldn't it? Those who love them keep giving, thinking, like Bullwinkle trying to pull another rabbit out of a hat "This time for sure!"

But it doesn't happen.  The recipients go on, being insulting and irritable, certain in their righteousness.

One step deeper, and we get into sermon territory here.  If this is true, then it is true of us before God as well. We are not even aware of what we should be ashamed of and confessing.  It is in fact one of the quick tricks of pastoral counseling that if a person is obsessed about Sin A and is unable to get off confessing it and worrying about it, it's because there is another sin beneath the surface that they wish to avoid thinking about.  It's easier to remain focused on Sin A and gin up great sorrow for it.

*It's pronounced "Woodhouse," BTW.  I got that wrong for decades.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Selection Bias

Psychiatrist Scott Alexander over at Slate Star Codex, in plugging Frederick DeBoer's essay on the subject, makes the following important observation:
If an educational program shows amazing results, and there’s any possible way it’s selection bias – then it’s selection bias.
I recommend both articles. 

Google Fires Kaepernick

Google and the NFL are both big private companies that are trying to establish a brand and make a buck.  They are not federal agencies or public utilities, though we treat them as some sort of common property. They fire people who are bad for business, even if they're right. They can do that. There are limitations on why they can fire people, but "doing distracting stuff that makes us look bad" is actually a fairly well-established reason, so long as you can show it's not just an excuse.

There are differences.  Kaepernick repeated his action even when told it was bad for business; the politics are reversed; Kaepernick had a contract, which means both sides had given up some freedom to operate in exchange for some guarantees; the Google memo is not a whistle-blower case, but it has some elements of that, and some lawyer may try to pry that open; Kaepernick was complaining about something outside his industry.

Yet there is a core similarity.  Don't be bad for business, or you will be on the defensive.

Saturday, August 05, 2017


People who live in cold places are more likely to wear mittens.  This does not mean that mittens cause winter.

Friday, August 04, 2017


Lots of folks who voted for Trump weren't looking for him to build things so much as tear them down.  They believe the times call for a Samson.

Interestingly, I hear liberals where I work express similar sentiments because of Trump. This comes in especially with believing that the ordinary rules of journalism, checks and balances, and government employees staying within traditional ethical bounds must now be relaxed - or even ignored.  A couple of more radical ones mutter that they fear a revolution is coming, because "people won't stand for it."  I sometimes ask with a wry smile what "it" is. I know the answer beneath the answer, I think.  In both cases it is the idea that "my tribe does not have the power it deserves."

In an email discussion someone we know has seen something similar about both Trumpsters and anti-Trumpsters.  Not all of them, nor I think a majority of either.  Yet more than I recall hearing in previous years. 

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Ask A Manager

This is a good site, and we discussed this particular letter last night at beer night. It is from a manager so mistaken, so non-insightful, that the hostess at first suspected it was a hoax.  As did I.
My team found her quietness and her ability to develop sales presentations and connect with each client was very show-off-like. When she asked for help, we didn’t take it seriously because we thought she acted like she knew everything and she was making us look bad by always going above and beyond for no reason. My team and I had worked together for 5-6 years so I knew them, their work and their personalities better than anyone else so I took what they said with more seriousness. I also thought that her years of experience were irrelevant; she didn’t have anything beyond a bachelor’s degree (most of us were smart and dedicated enough to get a masters) and her experience was in a different subset of insurance.
His defense of the actions that led to her quitting, and trashing him and his team of pals in her exit interview, goes on in similar fashion for a long while, including a Q&A with the site hostess trying to clarify that she really is hearing what she is hearing.


Wednesday, August 02, 2017


Reprinted from April 2012

My friend Milan at work, a Serb, was correcting one of the other people in his lunch group. I believe it was Jelena, an Albanian, but it was one of the many folks from the Balkans we have working in environmental services at the hospital. She had talked a bit wistfully about how her village was close when she was young, and there were always people to go talk to and be with, but now she does not have friends close, and her family farther away than she would like. Milan's brow darkened.
We are close together because was for safety. You go out of village alone, maybe someone kill you, rape you. We are together, always together like animals to hunt. You come here you see this one French,* that one from somewhere Africa, friend for you but not close. But not kill you.

An important point, that. But memory does soften the edges of even terrible events. And even more in Jelena's defense, friendship and support soften the edge of terrible events too. She would likely choose again to come here. But the loss is real.

*Milan lives in Suncook, I think, so French-Canadian is likely

Monday, July 31, 2017

Sticks and Stones

The Australian article about the attitudes of those in poverty is different enough that I could choose a half-dozen topics from it to riff on.  Feel welcome to comment on any of those, even though I don't here.  I think I got it from Instapundit, but maybe it was at Maggie's.

The essay doesn't go where I expected it to from the first few paragraphs.  He rather goes J D Vance one step further.  The part that jumped out was his discussion of actual violence versus spoken violence. While it has been popular recently for SJW's to declare words as a near equivalent to violence - and conservatives to get apoplectic in response - that sentiment has actually been around for a long time. I have read many times that angry words to children can hurt just as much as blows, with anecdotes of emotional wounds that persisted into adulthood from thoughtless or pathological adults. Movies seem to imply this often, likely because screenwriters are word-people and were usually not beaten-people as children.

It was gratifying to read someone who insists No they don't. Getting beat up really is much worse. He considers it something of an affectation from middle-class upbringings to claim otherwise. As one who has endured real violence in his family and his neighborhood, he is very clear on the distinction that only being insulted or threatened, and not getting beat up, was a real relief. He is spot on. I can remember my cheeks reddening from being challenged and insulted by older children, and it does feel very bad to be publicly humiliated. But I was still glad to have gotten away to the next block with no further damage than to my feelings. I lived in a bad neighborhood, but merely bad, not harrowing.  Still it was enough to understand what he was driving at.

Our nervous systems are in some ways simple, and when something hurts us, the dial goes to 10 and can't go higher. Physical pain, emotional pain, the in-the-head part is the same. That much is so. But with actual violence, new dials start to get twisted, dials of fear, dials of pain, dials of hopelessness, and these are perpetuated by the wincing re-enactments of past injury.* You are deprived of the very tools you would use to cope. For someone to deprive you further by calling your suffering "the same as" something much milder seems an added cruelty.

I see a parallel in the overuse of the word "Holocaust."  Some events deserve the comparison, but not many - the Holodomor, the GULAG, the Killing Fields, the Great Leap Forward, The Rape of Nanking.

*This wincing is something of a mild PTSD symptom. If you would understand how people who have serious versions of that might feel, you can tie it back to that symptom, of those stubs, burns, breaks, falls, and other injuries we briefly recall in a physical way when we even think about them. That's one symptom. Consider what it would be like if that happened more intensely, or ten times as often, or in your dreams.

Job Posting

Talking with my patient who believes he is a prophet, which is why he doesn't need to take medication, I was reminded of my observation from decades ago that real prophets are usually eying the exits and looking for a way out of the job, if possible.  Volunteering for it is a strong suggestion of inauthenticity.

Deep State

A liberal coworker (but I repeat myself) was irritated and angry that nothing was coming up on the Trump-Russia-collusion thing, and complained that because she hadn't been hearing anything about it, someone must be covering it up.  I asked who she thought that might be.  She thinks that there are "powerful conservatives out there that don't want this information to get out."

Wait, so you think there is suddenly a Deep State that is trying to protect Trump? That was quick.

Turning The Telescope The Other Way

We bought ancestry DNA tests for our three younger sons.  Two are adopted from Romania and we suspect they might have different fathers, the third is a nephew we brought in when he was 13.  His own mother was adopted and raised by a Jewish family. We hoped to find out more, and that is happening. Good times, lots of conversation, analysis, questioning, wincing.

They send you a list of relatives in their database, with a narrow estimate how close they are.  If all you are doing is trying to get a bead on ancestral information then everyone is happy.  Pretty much.  If you go for a DNA test, you are already at least vaguely prepared for unpleasant surprises and where they might come from. We went into this hoping to get some clarity on previous generations. That's what most people are looking for.

But when it's a 21 year-old taking the test, and the identified "2-3rd cousin" is a 70 year old with an Italian last name, suddenly you are looking at messaging them "Hey, did you have a brother or cousin who got a Jewish girl pregnant 50 years ago?" That's likely not what he signed on for. And seeing that, and turning the telescope around, I have two brothers.  I have cousins who I know a fair bit about and am fond of, but do I absolutely know whether they have children out there that I am not aware of? And do I want to know that if they do?  My father was in the army of occupation in Hokkaido, and revealed significant sexual impulsivity later. So, maybe a half-sibling in Japan for me?  I wouldn't mind that - I don't know how the Japanese look at that these days.  At my age, and seeing the dark underside of life as a social worker for decades, I'm not going to be bothered or heavy in judgment, but gee whillikers, Skippy, if they wanted to keep this secret they may not like being helpless in the face of other relatives being able to figure this out.  Bad enough that people who are looking at the record could compare wedding dates and first child's DOB*, but this takes it to a new level. I like my siblings and cousins. If they have secrets they want kept secret I want to honor that, even now, when we all would just sigh, and tell the stories and no one be angry or disdainful.

Tracy and I have straightforward genealogies (we think) on 3 of 4 grandparents each. I can tell that great-grandfather Charlie Wyman is my ancestor because we've got pictures, and he looks like me, and more like my brothers. We would be checking the DNA results largely to probe more deeply into those missing 25%'s. But doing that opens us up to other, one or two generations younger, seekers who might tell us things by asking things. Do we actually want that? The test is cheap.  The results are approximate, but at the near distance of close relatives are often inescapable.

*"The first one always comes early," was the midwife's joke.  In my mother's generation, an item of shame.  In my generation, it was a bit embarrassing but "he made an honest woman of her."  In my children's generation, there's a sort of quaint, old-fashioned honor about it. A giggle and "how sweet."

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Cart and Horse

I recall claims that interpersonal violence went down in western Europe prior to the restriction of firearms there, and similarly that many labor laws trailed general practice rather than led them.  That is, child labor was already on its way out when laws against it came in; workweeks were already greatly reduced in many areas, and legislation served to scoop up those areas where there was no competition for labor and employers could abuse their workers, to bring them in line with the general beliefs of the society.

It sounds plausible, certainly, but is it true? My quick search on labor laws seem to come from sources biased one way or another.  It would likely apply in many areas: zoning, treatment of women, product safety, drinking, slavery. It would make sense that societies would not put forth a lot of energy in moralities that were not generally shared.

Sense, yes.  But humans do not always act sensibly, especially when it comes to telling everyone else what to do. What do you think?  Do we know anything of hard evidence for or against this theory? Does law tend to be enacted only when there is considerable agreement already in the larger culture?  Is this no longer the case in the last few years or few decades, when decisions are made at high levels about fairness and virtue, which are then imposed on the rest of us?  Or was it worse 2-7 centuries ago?

Floating Baths

I found floating baths referenced in Olmstead's Walks and Talks of an American Farmer in England (in the online version recommended by Texan99 - thank you), and could guess what these might mean, but did not know.  Apparently they were a big deal in 19th C England, and also in New York. There is a bit about them in the delightfully-named Cat's Meat Shop blog.

Disguising Yourself

I don't put much effort into it.  I might try and leave less of an online trail if I were younger. But a week ago I wondered what a chamfer bit was (champfer? chandler?) and looked it up, intentionally avoiding Wikipedia.  I have been getting ads from tool companies ever since.

They don't care you you are.  They just want your money.

Trolls and Others

Do trolls and the disingenuous question-posers serve a useful social purpose in spite of themselves?

And the Accents...

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Advice from Lewis Carroll

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, "and what is the use of a book," thought Alice, "without pictures or conversations?''

She's right, too.  Scrolling down, I notice that I haven't posted pictures or conversations much.  It has been a failing of this blog right from the start, which I have tried to remedy with ABBA, meerkats, Romania, and 60's pop music. Yet never enough.  I will try to be more entertaining.  Start with this, which I got from Neoneocon today.

I continue to be amazed at what untrained vocalists can do just by hearing something and making their voices do that.

Native Americans, Puritans, and Bias

After reading a few books on an historical topic, one can pick up some of its slants pretty quickly. Over vacation I read books on New England Indians in the 17th C, and it was clear in one that it had a main goal of getting the reader to understand that the Abenakis and Pennacooks and Narragansetts were more sophisticated and technologically advanced than popular imagination would have them.  Nothing wrong with that, it’s quite true.  In another the author was trying to rehabilitate the image of both the natives and the Puritans in their early interactions.* That is also true. We can call such things a bias on the part of the historian, yet they are easily adjusted for. If the next book one takes to hand is somewhat dismissive of native culture, or a fourth book dwells heavily on the mistreatment of Indians by settlers we don’t consider that any of these books have fully invalidated the others.

Pendula swing over the decades, and historians like to provide correction and perspective when they can. One can tell the reasonable works from the unreasonable by what they do with the data contrary to their goal. It is one thing to try and explain it away; it is quite another to ignore it altogether.
There was an American history series by Peter Marshall beginning in the 1970’s with The Light and the Glory. I disliked it from the start, but was also aware that I was a new Christian and had just acquired a liberal-arts degree from exactly the sort of professors Marshall was telling me to be suspicious of.  Perhaps I was deeply, terribly wrong in my understanding of history, having been brainwashed by secular humanists who found no place for God. I tried to step back and take the work for what it was. Yet there are signs of unreason that are reliable in all fields, and leaving out the inconvenient bits is one. Marshall stressed those moments in Columbus’s life and in his writing when he displayed piety and a desire to serve God. Those are real – the words at least are real, we can’t know the explorer’s sincerity from a distance – but his truly horrible deeds were simply not mentioned, or were glossed over with so much polish as to render the wood beneath invisible.** The pattern persists throughout the work. It is a polemic, dedicated to proving a particular narrative of American history. I found an interesting discussion of it by an historian here. 

Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States does much the same. Zinn ignores what he doesn’t like.  When events are so large that they cannot be simply hidden behind the curtain, he highlights only those elements which support his narrative. He is similarly polemic. Notice that in both cases the author believes he is only righting a wrong, restoring a balance that has gotten so far out of hand that drastic measures are justified.

Not justified. An author must ultimately consider that the reader might encounter no other work but his, and consider his obligation to truth simply.  The wars of bias do not suspend the rules of honesty. 

Political correctness comes in many flavors, some of them traditional or conservative.  Additionally, I am also not persuaded that the controversies are as one-sided as the polemicists claims. Marshall’s narrative was one believed by a great many Americans who felt it was being taken from them by a new generation of untrustworthy historians. Zinn did not secure a publisher because his work was original but because a great many people already believed his narrative.  His was not a declaration of independence but a battle in a war long under way. Thus their eliding the inconvenient is even less justified.

Reasonable authors may slip, and native religion has been receiving one-sided treatment at least as far back as the 1960’s. They were animists, or totemists, to use a less-familiar but more precise word. This is very common among peoples with no system of writing.  If one stops to think about it, of course it’s going to be difficult to develop an overall theory of nature, existence, and spiritual underpinnings without being able to write it down and share it from village to village or generation to generation. If at least some people in the area are literate one can move into philosophy, theology. Prior to that, even polytheism is going to be a stretch. In reading up on the Wild Hunt in northern European mythology I found the huntsmen could be elves, the dead, fairies, or even vaguer creatures.  Their leader might be Woden, Gwyn ap Nudd, or the Devil and their purposes, though always dangerous to humans, varied from tribe to tribe.  Each valley had its own mythology, related but not identical. Gods and demons lived in the rituals surrounding them, not texts.

This is not to be disdained – Christians would do well to better understand that God exists as much in the rituals of worship as in what we think about him. We become so abstract that we have no blood. But it is not the same thing as a unified theology, of which the Native Americans had little. Yet the historians writing about them were at great pains to project a theory of the cosmos back onto their beliefs. It seems a little patronising, actually, that they had to imbue this rather standard preliterate culture with a nice, dry, philosophical underpinning. Interesting. It wasn't that long ago that most of my ancestors believed in tomten, or sacred groves.  I don’t know what the current habit of historians is on the matter.

*I have mentioned this before. Between 1620 and King Philip’s War, the Europeans the Puritans left behind were quite frequently at war, and the native tribes just outside the coastal range were at war, but eastern New England was largely at peace, even with all the differences and misunderstandings

**it struck me while writing that “gloss over” could come from “disguise by polishing,” or from “deceptive words of explanation,” the former being related to glow, the latter to glossary. Looking it up, it seems the two concepts come from different roots but have influenced each other in English for centuries. So there.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

God's Order For The Family

Most evangelicals have encountered sermons, books, or marriage classes that start from this concept. Over the decades, my own views on its accuracy have varied between 30-70%. I came from an education that insisted that men and women were exactly alike except for how we raised them. (I should have been more quickly suspicious as they kept moving the ages younger and younger as to how and when we were irrevocably influencing the infants to assume narrow gender expectations.) Well, that was a little crazy, and as we raised sons and compared them to their female age-mates we became increasingly convinced that the sexes are wired differently. More the same than different in most ways, but decidedly trending differently, right out of the gate.

Notice that's not quite the same thing as husbands being the deciders and the wives being the influencers and supporters, but the two were usually tied together in the marriage handbooks. In our case, a strong evangelical foundation may have been the only thing that got me into the conversation of making any decisions in our house at all. I'm a deferring sort of person (yes, really) and my wife is decisive, so it may have been good for me to branch out from that.  A guy at men's Bible study in the 80's suggested that Paul had only written what he did in order to give men a fighting chance. I don't mean to make too much light of this, because there are deeply pathological situations of controlling, abusive husbands who use this thread of Christian teaching as justification for their sin.  OTOH, there are wives who twist Scripture to their own ends as well.

But I had some objections right from the start to all this God's Order For The Family teaching.  It's not in the Ten Commandments and it doesn't figure prominently in most of Scripture. Moses doesn't throw down the tablets because the Israelites were allowing the wives to rule over their husbands, and Amos does not prophecy against Israel because husbands weren't providing servant leadership. The whole matter doesn't seem to be taken up in the New Jerusalem on any level. Even Paul doesn't mention it that much. Nor does Genesis.  (Those are the two biggies, for those of you who haven't been through the courses.) It seems odd to leap in and teach new Christians this part so early on, doesn't it? As if it were a central piece? Wild At Heart may teach some things worth knowing, but I'm not recalling where Jesus says much about the topic.

I noticed pretty quickly that it was entirely too categorical as well. There is a lot of variation in the human personality.  Men may tend to be some ways and even be hard wired to it, and women may tend others, but I don't think we can go much farther in asserting difference. I have to wonder if this rigidity has contributed to all the gender-confusion it promised to resolve.  If men are supposed to be Blue and women Pink, dammit, and get those kids into line, it opens up questions in the mind of a young person who says "I'm pretty sure I'm red, or light blue." Does that mean I'm not a real girl/boy to you?  I guess I'll have to reject you entirely, then."

Perhaps not.  Sex-roles were more rigid in previous generations without creating the wide variety of expressions people object to so today. 

Why Intellectuals Look Down On Commerce

Maggie's Farm put up a video of Nick Gillespie of Reason magazine interviewing John Mackey of Whole Foods about the response of intellectuals to those in commerce. Good stuff, good historical summary in a few sentences.  I have described it as resentment that the Wrong People prosper and get status.

His defense of capitalism as being more than merely maximising shareholder value is also good, but not as strong. He touches on the broader values of treating others well and helping them to prosper or be happy, yet I think he leaves out something enormous about the free market.

Money is not the only reason for taking a job, hiring a person, or doing business with someone. Americans are accused of sacrificing everything for the almighty dollar, but it just isn't so.  People will take a job because it is in a region they like, or nearer their current house.  They will choose work that is more interesting or meaningful to them, or offers hope for advancement.  They want to be indoors, or want to be outdoors, want to work on a team or want to work alone.  Americans forego the best-paying job for the one with more security, better hours, opportunity to learn a skill, or because they like the environment all the time. Employers don't always take the lowest bidder who will work more cheaply.  They consider who might be stable or loyal, who brings a needed skill, who seems easy to work with.  And customers shop at a place because it is nearby, or familiar, or has better selection or service or quality of goods, not just because it has the best prices.

It is usually only the poor who have to take the job that gives them another dollar an hour or most overtime, and they are ever on the lookout for something that is at least close to that number but has more stability or opportunity or less risk of injury. Americans are wealthy enough that they can afford to consider things other than money, which is tougher to do in Indonesia or Ecuador.


Lelia posted an interesting article , translating a common interaction for the benefit of those on the autism spectrum. Briefly, when neurotypicals (NT’s, Muggles) ask what you are doing – what are you reading, what game are you playing – what they mean is somewhat at odds with the literal meaning of the question.  As those on the spectrum tend to be more literal and are likely to answer the question literally, they may seem unwelcoming.

Communication has large amounts of context, tone, and habit in it.  An NT asking “what game are you playing?” has already communicated a great deal before the words are fully out. I am approaching you at a certain distance, with a certain tone, that expresses that I am interested in you. I may or may not actually be interested in the game you are playing.  It’s just a conversation starter. Are you interested in a conversation? You can start with telling me something about the game, as it clearly has some importance to you. But I could move to another topic if you prefer.  If the NT had called out the question from another room the meaning would likely be different, closer to the literal content. What’s the name of that game you’re on?  Yet you can see why a person on the spectrum would find this a bit unfair.  You asked me a question.  I answered the question that you actually did ask.  I have a good deal of sympathy with that attitude.  I also put great stress on literal content, and the more frustrated or irritated I get, the more pronounced this is.  Autistic traits are often just exaggerated versions of more common traits. Or, to describe that another way, they are common traits, but some filtering or balancing mechanism is missing. There are enough of us in the family that show mild versions of some spectrum traits that I am surprised that we have not had an autistic person show up among us.  Not even an Aspie, really, though we always got on with them more readily than most.