Wednesday, March 22, 2017


The little Adsense blurb on my Blogger page has increased its estimate of what I could make a month from $12 to $13/month.  This changes everything.

Educate Yourself

This is a simple enough phrase, but not one that everyone who is anti-vaccine could have arrived it independently.  It must be a phrase that is used frequently on alternative or anti-vax websites, then adopted by all.

It's an odd phrase, because in one sense we all are self-taught, acquiring knowledge only when we are putting in some effort.  It is not only geniuses who are autodidacts. Yet there is a real sense in which none of us has done much to "educate ourselves."  We stand on the shoulders of giants, and could not reconstruct even 1% of current knowledge starting from scratch.

This comes up because my youngest cousin asked on facebook whether she should have her 12 y/o daughter get the HPV vaccination and got an earful. She quickly deleted the entire thread (for which I congratulated her.) Several commenters used variations of "you have to educate yourself."

It must have powerful juju to be so meaningful to so many who have heretofore researched nothing, but now devote hours finding examples of what I they want to hear. If this seems an unfair generalisation, it might be.  I can see rejecting any number of individual pieces of modern, Western medicine.  But I have no one in my experience who researched other things before coming up against the vaccination question and then rejected them.  My anti-vaxxers, at least, are all people who may be smart enough in some ways, but never showed any interest in looking things up before. 

"Educate yourself," then, appears to mean "listen to only one side of things." Powerful.

Saturday, March 18, 2017


A friend pointed out that I give an impression that the people I work with are not only consistently liberal, but have an extremist streak.  He knows from experience that this is not so.  He is right, and I should correct that impression. I will include an anecdote, to keep it memorable.

Social workers are largely liberal, and a few are pretty extremist, but there are two interesting points.  Some have a pretty strong sense that "your decisions have contributed to this, and I don't feel obligated to rescue you from everything."  A significant minority also came into the field from religious, helping-mankind, or personal addiction 12-Step perspectives and have something of an accountability streak.

This is not so for psychologists and OT/RT sorts.  They are almost thoroughly liberal.  Psych nurses are mixed, and I don't have a neat categorisation of how that is.  Married/unmarried/divorced, young/middle/old - I don't see patterns. Mental health lawyers are very liberal, hospital administrators are as well (except for the accounting and budget guys.  No surprise there.)

Psychiatrists are quite interesting.  Most are pretty liberal, especially politically - but that accountability question comes up a lot and they back off from the extremes.  In my experience, the female psychiatrists are more conservative than the male. The anecdote: a female psychiatrist with a young daughter was talking about some Disney Princess experience they had been sharing recently. Because my granddaughters are deeply involved in several, I was chiming in a bit talking about art, myth, values communicated.  I see good and bad in the princesses.  Another woman present expressed the reflexive disdain that educated feminist women are supposed to have for princesses - and threw in Barbie as well.  The psychiatrist smiled slightly, not commenting.  After the other left she sighed, then twinkled.  "I loved Barbie and dress up my whole childhood.  I decided after I got my master's in organic chemistry and got accepted to med school that I didn't have to answer to Women's Studies majors anymore."

Understanding Shakespeare

Following McWhorter's comment about the changing meaning of words in a particular speech in "Hamlet," I went to the scene in question to see what I could see. I have noted before that Will isn't as understandable as people claim.  In fact, I noted it the last time I listened to McWhorter on the subject a decade ago. My other mentions of Shakespeare are at the link - some fun stuff.

At best,  we get the general meaning from context, though with difficulty.  At worst, a recognisable word has changed enough in meaning that we think we understand what we actually do not. As in "censure," below. Entirely different now.

Polonius's speech to Laertes. Note that we have some advantages here.  It is Shakespeare's most famous play, and often considered his best.  The speech itself is known even outside the context of performance and study.  We don't get all the rules for thou and thee when creating speech, but we get the idea reading, because of the King James. There are common sayings that have entered the language, even cliches, near the end of the famous speech. But I submit it is a tough go.

Yet here, Laertes? Aboard, aboard, for shame!  (Does he mean here in place, or time? mostly time?)
The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail (Metaphor for Laetertes' destiny, or just the physical sail?)
And you are stayed for. There, my blessing with thee. (Waited for.  I think.)
And these few precepts in thy memory ( he being quizzed on this, Polonius?  Ah!  You mean you are going to give him some precepts!  Got it.)
Look thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,  (No clue.  Character is a good thing?  I should have good character?  I should look for it in others?  Then, keep silent?  Don't let anyone know what I'm thinking?)
Nor any unproportioned thought his act.   (I'm betting an unproportioned thought is...extreme? Not thought out?)
Be thou familiar but by no means vulgar.  (Be chummy, informal, but not curse or tell dirty jokes?  Or does this mean to be friendly, but not with lower classes.)
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, (Adoption. Waiting period on real friendship? Then you take themm for good? )
Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel,  (Grapple...hoops.  Cling to them even if they don't like it?  Or just be loyal.)
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment (Is this a masturbation joke?  Or about spending money, like greasing a palm.)
Of each new-hatched, unfledged comrade. Beware (Okay new.  Poetic. But is it the youth of the person or the newness of the relationship?)
Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in, (A quarrel with an individual?  Between other individuals?  Political or religious quarrels?)
Bear ’t that th' opposèd may beware of thee. (Don't fight unless you think you can win, or at least wound.  Got it.)
Give every man thy ear but few thy voice. (So, act like a spy among your peers.  Or maybe you think I should just shut up, Polonius?)
Take each man’s censure but reserve thy judgment. (So everyone can criticise and insult me without reply.  Don't come to any conclusions about others, really.)
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,  (Buy only the best wine, tobacco, restaurants. Seems like bad advice.)
But not expressed in fancy—rich, not gaudy,  (Gaudy wine? You've lost me here.)
For the apparel oft proclaims the man,  (Ah, clothes, clothes!  Now I get it.  Wear the best you can afford, so that people will think you drive a Mercedes or Volvo.)
And they in France of the best rank and station  (Like the French, who are really big on this style and wealth thing.)
Are of a most select and generous chief in that. (Generous're losing me again. Are they forgiving, or disapproving?)
Neither a borrower nor a lender be,  (Yeah I've heard that.  Seems good)
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,  (Actually, I've had that happen to me.  You're right.)
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry. (I'm not in 4-H and not raising animals, so I'm thinking that "husbandry" is a more general term for working.  And that Tom Lehrer joke occurs to me.)
This above all: to thine own self be true,  (Do what I feel?  Don't kid myself? Is this like my best self, a kind of Virtue Ethics?)
And it must follow, as the night the day,  (Universal law.  Not sure it is, though)
Thou canst not then be false to any man.  (Sure I can.  Watch me.)
Farewell. My blessing season this in thee. (Because you say this nicely, it is more likely to sink in.)

Most humbly do I take my leave, my lord.  (Why humbly?  Is something up, or is this just the usual way they talked?)

The time invites you. Go. Your servants tend. (Are we back to that sail thing at the beginning again?  The time is ripe.  Time is gesturing to me impatiently?  The hired help is completely ready and getting itchy?  What the hell?)

Farewell, Ophelia, and remember well  (This is clear. Finally)
What I have said to you.  (Wink wink.)
Here's a fun comparison:  There is an English creole, Gullah, created by rice plantation slaves in Georgia and South Carolina.  Some written work has been drawn out of it, but it is largely an oral language.* There are sill a few speakers of it. In terms of reputation for elegance, it is at the opposite end of the continuum from OMG! THE BARD! But it is just about as understandable to us now. If you went and lived among them for a few months it would be easy, just as it would be similarly easy for a time traveler to converse in the London dialect of 1600 after just a few months. We are close enough that it is a fairly straightforward adjustment.
Brer Lion bin a hunt, an eh spy Brer Goat duh leddown topper er big rock duh wuk eh mout an der chaw. Eh creep up fuh ketch um. Wen eh git close ter um eh notus um good. Brer Goat keep on chaw. Brer Lion try fuh fine out wuh Brer Goat duh eat. Eh yent see nuttne nigh um ceptin de nekked rock wuh eh duh leddown on. Brer Lion stonish. Eh wait topper Brer Goat. Brer Goat keep on chaw, an chaw, an chaw. Brer Lion cant mek de ting out, an eh come close, an eh say: "Hay! Brer Goat, wuh you duh eat?" Brer Goat skade wen Brer Lion rise up befo um, but eh keep er bole harte, an eh mek ansur: "Me duh chaw dis rock, an ef you dont leff, wen me done long um me guine eat you". Dis big wud sabe Brer Goat. Bole man git outer diffikelty way coward man lose eh life.
*Though Shakespeare wrote his works, Elizabethan English, more properly called Early Modern English, was oral as well.  There were few manuscripts and actors were required to display much more power of memorisation than they do today, because they had less time, and less opportunity to refer back to manuscripts while learning lines. The audiences were not at all reliably literate.  It was still largely an oral language. Some modern actors would fare well.  In college, Glenn Close would attend first read-through with most of her lines already in place, and knew them all at first rehearsal. I heard others describe (with amused shock) when she had dropped a line and needed a prompt, but I never heard it myself. Not that I was there for even a quarter of her rehearsals. I have heard that Michael Caine was similarly stunning.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Fearless Girl

I am only at work about two days a week now.  Two people, a part-time psychiatrist about my age and a psychiatric nurse in her thirties, both mentioned Fearless Girl - one to comment on the obscene response by a young Wall Street Trader (and a short rant mind-reading why he did it) and another to be pleased that someone was finally making the general public aware of the discrimination against women.

This seems to be evidence against them, that they can be so easily moved by simplistic art in the old socialist style. I get it that art is powerful, and that's its job.  But must we put up NO defense against attempts to manipulate us?

George Bernard Shaw

I never much liked him while studying him in college.  Shaw was considered second only to Shakespeare, but he always bothered me.  I was gratified when I started reading CS Lewis to find that he also found Shaw irritating, but I could never put words to it until long after.  (I did like "Pygmalion," possibly because of My Fair Lady, and I didn't find "Major Barbara" so bad. ) I now get what bothered me: playwrights can create a false reality. (Yeah, duh, but bear with me.) They can make a priest be a hypocrite by the lines thy put in his mouth and the actions they make him perform.  They can make Chinese inscrutable, blacks shiftless, businessmen greedy, wives innocent, husbands oppressive, children wise, and politicians corrupt, however they choose.  This is all rather obvious, but if it is done skillfully the reader or audience is taken in, accepting the prejudice of the playwright as if it were a fact.

Shaw does this rather clumsily, but taking all in all, it's not entirely his fault.  He came out of the tradition of melodrama, and was one of the first to pull away from it. Pioneers don't have the advantages of knowing the tricks of those who come later.  They are the inventors of the tricks. If we compare GBS to those who came after he is certainly cartoonish. Yet compared to those who came before he shows a more realistic character. Still, it is worth noting that an artist who deserves credit from scholars may not be worthy of the effort of a production now.  It was a favorite theme among my theater friends in the 1970's that Sarte had stolen everything from Artaud, and it's sorta true.  Nonetheless, Sarte did it better and remains at least watchable/readable.  Artaud is not that interesting anymore.

As for Shaw, John Osborne thought him a complete fraud.  I don't know that this is true, but I am figuring that Osborne has some credibility here. More than, say, me.  Or you. Others disagree, and I suppose they have more credibility than me also.  It's fascinating to read the Wikipedia article and realise that the collective critics pretty much boil down to one critic who has successfully fought off the others.  In this case, whoever controls the Wikipedia legacy of Shaw has decided that Fred S Crawford's opinion is the bee's knees.  Crawford insists that everyone who criticises Shaw was nonetheless influenced by him, no matter how far he has to stretch to illustrate that. Everyone owes everything to Shaw, it st seems.  Coward, Ayckbourn, Stoppard, and all the absurdists. Even Osborne who disliked him. Crawford finds it not only significant, but definitive, that the cahttering classes talking about Shaw gave birth to the word shavian, which is still in use today.  Except it isn't.

Welcome to the petty world of artistic criticism.  What remains is that we can examine Shaw for his ideas and see how those have held up.  I'll give that summary to George Orwell, who makes a genrral observation that is also quite good, then narrows it to Shaw.

As it happens, George Orwell in his 1946 pamphlet James Burnham and the Managerial Revolution does shed light on the Glenn Beckish claim that Shaw’s dual embrace of communism and fascism was broadly typical of Fabians or other sorts of socialists:
English writers who consider Communism and Fascism to be the same thing invariably hold that both are monstrous evils which must be fought to the death; on the other hand, any Englishman who believes Communism and Fascism to be opposites will feel that he ought to side with one or the other. The only exception I am able to think of is Bernard Shaw, who, for some years at any rate, declared Communism and Fascism to be much the same thing, and was in favour of both of them.
 I have complained about  the teaching of Shakespeare as well.  He's next.  If you want to get a head start, read Polonius's speech to Laertes.

Pro Football Hall of Fame

Oh yeah, I went there on my road trip.  I should mention it just in case you plan to go.  It’s fine.  Like many museums, in its effort to get everything in and unwillingness to offend by calling one part more important than the others, it would probably be best to do this in two bites, or more. It is complete, as it should be.  It can get tedious in the third hour. But it has lots of video, nice displays from many eras, and an opportunity to see career summaries with videos of inductees.  There is a hall of busts of inductees which is designed to look impressive, but really, not that that gripping to look at.  The touch screens that allow you to see all the San Diego Chargers who are in the Hall, with statistics and videos is more interesting. There are old uniforms and equipment, and reports from the early years that are fascinating in their oddness, such as the Duluth Eskimos, or the Pottsville Maroons being disciplined for infringing on the territorial rights of the Rock Island Independents. It was a narrower football world in 1920.

I did learn things.  Because of a paperback about Great NFL Quarterbacks given to me when I was  quite young, I have always been interested in Slingin' Sammy Baugh and it was fun to read up on him.  He came out of Sweetwater Texas, adopted football fairly late, and excelled because he was among the first to really work at the forward pass.  The game was changing, he was an athlete, and no one quite knew how to defend it.  Something similar happened in his great defeat, the 73-0 loss to the Chicago Bears for the championship. They ran a man-in-motion, which was completely undefensible when sprung on a team by surprise.  Before there was film to study, you could still show up and run a scheme that no one had an answer for.  

Only two original teams remain.  The (Racine) Chicago Cardinals, now of Arizona, and the Decatur Staleys, now the Chicago Bears.

And yes, Tim Tebow is in the Hall and likely to hold his spot, for the quickest playoff overtime victory, in 2012 against the Steelers.  11 seconds. As the OT drives are started on the 20-yard line, that’s not likely to be beaten.

"An Excellent Opportunity"

Sports fans have likely heard the clip from ESPN’s Max Kellerman over the last few days, comparing the Ezekiel Elliot incident to an earlier Rob Gronkowski incident. Kellerman seems to be a smart-enough guy, but his little speech is notable for the number of times he says - the two incidents aren’t really comparable, the facts don’t “map” on each other (I think I know what that means), this isn’t a good example but I want to talk about it anyway. We’ve seen this before. Is it mainly on college campuses or are those just the incidents I have run across? I think we need to talk about x. This is a really good opportunity to talk about x, not because it’s actually a good example, but because it’s in the news, and more people will hear it.

 I grant that human beings have this tendency to try and bring the conversation around to what they want to talk about, and often have reflexive things to say on a topic that they bring out whenever others get within fifty meters of it. Yet doesn’t it seem that this usually comes up in the context of racism or sexism? Even among liberals there are other issues, such as LGTB rights, wealth transfer to the 1%, and gun control. Those are subject to the reflexiveness noted above, but somehow don’t attract the same “This should be an excellent opportunity to discuss (whatever) on campus and how that impacts our whole society.”

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

City Of Concrete

Paris architecture.  Incredibly ugly.   It's probably unfair that these photos are black and white, and don't show the context of these structures as they are placed.  OTOH, it looks like the structures are mostly gray and dark gray, so maybe it's the only fair way to show them.

Debunking Utopia

I almost put Dubunking Utopia: Exposing the myth of Nordic socialism by Nima Sanandaji (he has a more academic economist brother Tino Sanandaji) aside after reading the Introduction. Not telling me anything new here...cliched anti-Scandinavianism from the right...overlooking some key points... Then too it is published by World Net Daily, a source I don't outright reject but do hold at arm's length.

I'm glad I pushed on. It tells me some new things, but functions better as a reference book.  Sanandaji is actually in favor of a lot of social-welfare interventions by governments, and thinks we do have some things to learn from the Scandinavian countries.  But he is also very alert to differences in culture between those countries and the rest of the world and supplies good evidence that their successes are not all the result of safety-net changes since 1960. Much that I have read over the years or learned in discussion but can no longer put a source to is nicely footnoted here.

He does not believe that Nordic socialism can be installed in America with entire success.  He suggests that America, along with the rest of the Anglosphere and some European countries, went down the same social-welfare roads as Scandinavia after the Great Depression, but these were abandoned or modified in America because they didn't work as well here.  They didn't work that well in Italy or Greece, either, but they pressed on, with disastrous results.  In contrast, Switzerland, Korea, Singapore, and Japan did little of it and turned out fine.

Sanandaji looks at a different timeline. Many countries have higher life-expectancies and better infant mortality rates than does America. But the gaps were even greater before 1960. Scandinavian countries are small, homogeneous, high-trust, work-ethic, social capital countries. They are among the wealthiest countries in the world now, but this was even more true in 1960, when they started this social-welfare overdrive.  Secondly, they have moved away from that model consistently since around 1990. They are increasingly market driven (including such areas as school choice), especially when dealing with outsiders. Bernie Sanders likely wouldn't get elected in Sweden, contra Marco Rubio. Those are center-right governments now.

In fact, Scandinavia-Americans have prospered more here than back in Scandinavia, which is especially impressive given that it was mostly the poorest who traveled here. Which I also keep in mind when people praise their economies.  Prosperity is a little easier when your poor people move out, and deciding that socialism is great a little later makes that easier still.  And there is that dey word homogeneous that keeps popping up everywhere.  Hmmm.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Hillbilly Elegy

I liked it a great deal.  I have enough bad things in my past to identify a little, and enough Scots-Irish in me to wonder about the genetics. He gives us a lot of what it's like to grow up among violent, clannish hillbillies, even when they have transplanted. His description of being a country mouse at formal dinners at Yale Law School are amusing, as is the suspicions-confirmed description of how networks mean all among the rich and powerful.

One of his main points is that even in terrible situations growing up, having just a few people care about you might be enough.  This might be true.  We certainly want it to be true. Vance looks at his own trajectory and concludes it was a near thing, and the absence of any of a short-list of relatives who were good to him might have been enough that he would have sunk beneath the waves. He wonders about the genetics of it all at the edges of his musings - why his mother collapsed under the weight of her parents' violence while her brother and sister muddled through and had decent lives; whether he may have inherited some worrisome weaknesses of hers - but in the end comes to mostly "nurture" conclusions about what happened in his own life.

As do we all.  We can only see the environmental experience of our own lives, we can't see the genes. In a humorous irony, we are genetically programmed as a species to create a narrative from the materials around us.  What we see becomes the basis for our story, even when it isn't really so.  I don't mean to dismiss environmental aspects entirely.  It can't be good to get beaten up, and it can't be good to be always worried about getting beat up. Expectations may have some effect simply because we all respond to incentives and disincentives. But these aren't clean measures.  The person who beats you may have also given you their violence genes; the person who has high-expectations for you may also have given you their high-expectations/striving genes. In a larger culture this may be magnified as it is spread across anyone else your mother might marry or might be part of your peer group. 

Cultures that are merely violent may not thrive all that well; certainly not in situations where they have to interact with other groups for trade.  There has to be some ability for the group to put violence under discipline, or in a context, so that everyone doesn't just kill each other. Jim Webb's Born Fighting captures how this group of Scots-Irish have won America's wars. But Appalachian violence may not be entirely cultural and accidental.  It might also distill as the less-violent move out,  marry out, or find disciplines of sports or military. Vance makes reference late to intervening earlier with kids "raised by wolves."  Government offering them college money looks good for elections, but by that time it is way to late for many. The trouble is that earlier and earlier interventions also don't seem to bear much fruit either. Maybe at the extremes.

He mentions that even though he wasn't often studying, the stability of living with his grandmother allows him to "ace his SAT's." Vance also notes that his mother was salutatorian of her high-school class, though she threw it all away with drug addiction and terrible men later.  Those rather say "genetics" in bold letters. At the margins, being too drug-addled to show up for the test keeps you from acing anything, and fearing getting beaten might decrease your focus enough to miss some questions. Yet mostly, no.

Monday, March 13, 2017


One of the ways a religion survives is by separating itself and costing something to be part of it. The Hebrews did this with dietary laws, for example. It is somewhat paradoxical, but it seems to hold up.  Of course, if people don't like the cost they leave. Whatever rules you set up are going to lose you some people, but in the long run, having a core of people who have paid some cost and continue to pay it is what works.  Religions that don't cost have friends but few adherents.

I suppose this applies for any type of group, not just a religion. Military groups, political groups...

An additional strategy is to make it even more expensive to leave. You are going to hell if you leave. You are dead to us if you marry outside the group. In the case of Islamic apostasy, that can be literally true. Not everyone does this - the Amish don't.  However the separation from the old group is usually quite real.

I think of this in terms of evangelical children of the last generation, the only one I really know about.  Separation was supposed to include certain rock bands that should not be listened to, and popular entertainments in general were highly suspect. It was probably not the best place to make a stand, and the way that it was applied - allowing country music with other bad messages, not listening carefully to what was actually being condemned, focusing on beats and bass guitars and volume - could get ridiculous.  Still, art is a powerful persuader, and recognising that wasn't crazy. It has also turned out to have some truth in it: those who identify the ridiculousness of not being allowed to watch what they want and listen to what they want seem to have been greatly influenced by the values of that art.

Which is cart and which is horse I don't know. Those who left because they didn't like paying that cost might have left whatever cost was being asked.  They just didn't want to stay, laughing at rules against Black Sabbath was a reason that was handy. Parents, teachers, or other kids being jerks are also identified as reasons to leave.  A Christian school had a different winter vacation week one year and offered as its reason "Be ye not conformed to the world." There is usually something to that jerkness accusation - except that it is also true of everybody else. If they want to go, they'll find something.

If we grant that to bring up children in the faith it must cost them something, what is the right thing to select? Whatever we choose, some children will find the cost too high - or too ridiculous - and will leave. We want to set it up that we don't give children unnecessary extra reasons to leave.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Story of Language

I listened to this course by John McWhorter from The Teaching Company for the second time while on my trip to Ohio and back.  It goes 18 hours, but he is an excellent speaker, so I found I could go hour after hour with him.  Many libraries carry the course, if you want to pick it up.

He spends a lot of time explaining what language is, how it changes, how many there are and what types before he gets into the controversial stuff.  I think that is wise, because there is a lot that needs to be understood about languages, dialects, and creoles around the world before getting into the controversies of Black English.

Which is why I'm going to ignore that and just tell you stuff.

None of us speaks standard written formal English at home or with friends.  I come much closer than almost anyone, because I took that on as an affectation quite early in life and much of it has stuck.  Yet even I am not all that close.  I also make my writing more colloquial than most formal writers would, to bring it more in line with how I speak. Punctuation, in particular is more impressionistic than formally accurate in my writing, creating pauses, changes of tone, and changes of voice as if I were reading aloud. Still, recordings of my conversation are not very close to my written expression. McWhorter gives examples of words that are almost never used in speech but are common in writing, such as "refreshing."  I might say the word "refreshing" with an ironic tone - say, after vomiting. I might say "When will you arrive?" in a semi-ironic tone or to quickly escape from a double-entendre that some of my knuckleheaded friends might jump on.* But  Arrival is a written, not a spoken word.

It is mostly a social advantage to come from a home-dialect that is closer to written standard English.  People think you are smarter, more conscientious, better educated when you are speaking naturally. However, there are also social situations where you will seem pretentious and artificial if your speech is too close to written standard. You could get beat up, actually, which most of us consider a serious disadvantage.  Everyone in America - everyone in any language, actually - has command of a continuum of speech from home-dialect to formal.

Black English is not the only dialect looked down upon.  Most Southern dialects are looked at askance (looked askance at?), though the accent can be used to good effect formally.  Entertainers and politicians (but I repeat myself) use dialects with skill by adjusting the blackness, southernness, Brooklynness, Jewishness, academe, or hispanicness of speech to win others over. It is usually more natural than calculated.

Having command of only the home-dialect, as many urban African-Americans have a command of Black English without much extension into written standard, is a significant disadvantage. This is true not only in America, but everywhere in the world.  There is a prestige dialect which gor to call the shots about what the written standard would be, in Paris, in Asuncion, in Jakarta. In some countries, such as Germany, various regions each have enough juice that they don't always regard other dialects as inferior, just different, but that isn't common.

So McWhorter is not at all in favor of not pounding as much written standard English (and the general American English spoken dialects) into urban black children, same as rural white children or suburban Asian children.  He thinks it is necessary for anyone who has aspirations for life outside one's own community. But he is very clear, as linguists generally are, that Black English is no worse a dialect than any other.  It is not degraded English.  The verb tenses - She be walking - are taken from Celtic forms, mostly Irish and Cornish.  Think Pirate Talk. Arrggh. They have their own nuances and distinctions.  It's not a creole, unless you want to say it's a hemisemidemi creole.

All mother-dialects are nonstandard compared to written standard, but not sub-standard, because  they are oral language, and none is inherently better than any other, though we feel differently about them because of how they fall on our ear. BTW, oral language is real language to most linguists. There are about 6000 languages and only 200 are written, and that is all very recent.  The written inscriptions and even the texts from the earliest days of writing are very artificial by design.  They use language - real language, which is oral - to set something down in record. When the OT records spoken word it is usually stylised court-language or legal language, or storytelling, as in Job or Genesis. The NT is closer to our own idea, but still not very close.  Jesus reports a conversation with Satan in a few sentences that covers 40 days of spiritual warfare.  I'm betting that getting the quotes right wasn't as important as hammering the key points into us. Real spoken sentences leak out, often amusingly, but weren't the norm.  The HT writers were often making declarations, not recording dialogue.

That African-American Vernacular English (to use its other name) sounds less educated and less-standard is a result of history, and the past isn't going away. But we don't have to perpetuate it, and we certainly don't have to make it worse by treating it as substandard.

*"Know your audience,"the first rule of public speaking.

Saturday, March 11, 2017


I used to put out links once a week, but that was years ago.  But i have a collection and it seemed appropriate.

Baliocene Apocrypha  Seems to be a young man with a proper mix of independence and humility. Also writing a fantasy novel, he says.  Today he writes about the incentives and strategies for SJW's on campus. I read a few of the featured articles by others, also good.

Grim links to female Kurdish soldiers in honor of International Women's Day. Nice. I first encountered IWD as Ladies' Day in 1998, in Romania.  The point was to make sure that every female got flowers from someone. Reminiscent of Dave Burge's description of leftism in general: 1.  Identify a respected institution. 2. Kill it.  3. Gut it.  4. Wear its carcass as a skin suit while demanding respect.

Graph Paper Diaries reports on taking a course in Bullshit.

West Hunter has initiated an interesting discussion comparing the technological/cultural attainments of East vs West, c. 1700. Many commenters are pushing that back to 1500 or even 1300.

My apologies for breaking my own rule about sites or organisations with the word "truth" in their title - always suspect.  As expected, the slant is troublesome, but the basic information seems to be correct: some Democrats advocating for lowering the voting age to 17. No. Raise it to 21. Maybe 25.  The argument "they are our future" is absurd.  Four-year-olds are even more our future, that's not the point. The description of the most educated of our 20-year-olds as sophomores is not merely amusing.  It is true.  It was certainly true of me, even back in the Good Olde Days when schools were supposedly high-quality. 21.  Spread the word.  One way to Make America Great Again.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Little Dribbling - Post 5200

A pal lent me the audio version of Bryson's new (2016) book The Road To Little Dribbling. It is a followup to his Notes From A Small Island of twenty years ago.  I had liked the former book reasonably well, though it had a few things that infuriated me. I immediately liked this less well.  I don't think that is entirely Bryson's fault - I think it was the reader. There were elements that I disliked that are certainly Bryson's, and I had to keep turning it off.  Eventually I gave it up.  I feel certain that there are adventures and anecdotes I would have liked, but I can't get past some things.

And they are the same things. Bryson is a great deplorer of others, and is condescending about them.  He takes care to distance himself from those others. It isn't mere grouchiness or cynicism, or at least not always. Example: he relates two incidents from going into McDonalds.  In the first, he is ordering for a group, including grandchildren who interrupt him to change their order, causing him to start over repeatedly.  The counter server does not regard the list as corrections, but as an accumulation, resulting in 32 Big Macs, etc.  I am entirely with Bryson on this one.  He is being reasonable and can't get anyone to understand this.  But in the other incident, he places an order and objects when he is asked "Do you want fries with that?" He goes on at length, won't let it go.  The young man keeps protesting "We're just told to say that." Bryson will have none of it and goes on insulting him.

This is just Bryson being a prick. Not the only time.

This condescension was present in the earlier book.  It's worse now. It's not in all his books, but it popped up immediately here.

In Notes, Bryson was quite taken with the extent of the British bus system, and quite upset that lines were being cancelled because they were no longer paying their way.  In Little Dribbling, he is similarly pleased with the English rural countryside, going on to warn that it won't last forever if people don't protect it.  He is irritated that people are making decisions about the countryside for economic reasons, protesting that there are other values in the world which might guide our actions.

He is in both cases partly correct.  A government might decide to subsidise bus lines or vistas because they thought them socially useful, or beautiful, or kindly, or historic, or sacred or any of a hundred other values.  Societies find ways of agreeing what they are going to spend their money on. What we spend money on is perhaps the best indicator of what we actually value, rather than claim to value.

Yet the key here is that this is a subsidy, this is an agreement to spend money, there is a cost here. The money part, the "merely economic considerations" don't go away. Someone has to give up some of the fruits of their labor for this.  Someone works an extra hour or two every week to pay their share of it.

Makes me crazy.  It is coming up again today with a highschool classmate posting on FB about raising the minimum wage. Money isn't magic.  If you took all the money from CEO's and the 1% and spread it around it wouldn't raise wages.  I also find it infuriating that people can make lots of money for socially useless or even bad reasons. But infuriating is irrelevant.

Blithering Idiot

I was out at Beer Night of our little church group in Manchester last night at one of those places which has a beer menu that runs into the dozens.  I ordered Blithering Idiot because well, I felt obligated.  It's an English barleywine, which I am not familiar with.  It is found in the upper-left area of this chart of beer types, so you'll know who its relatives are. Sweet and dark, not what I usually have.  I don't think I will be gravitating to this style, but I wouldn't mind it occasionally.  It is fun to read the reviews of beers.  Perhaps they know what they are tasting, perhaps they are posers - I don't know, but it seems a rather harmless hobby.

It did put me in mind of Dave Barry's discussion of a California wine tour of about a decade ago, which included the wine-reviewing phrase "nuances of toast" that entered our family's stock of in-jokes.

On my road trip, I learned that Columbus Ohio has gone all-in on local craft breweries, enough that it would take one quite a while to take them all in.  Columbus has recently passed Cincinnati and Cleveland as the largest city in the state and is growing/spreading, not shrinking like the others.  I was surprised at the number of small airports until it occurred to me how much easier they would be to build in Ohio, in contrast to, say, Goffstown, NH.

Thursday, March 09, 2017


I am back from Columbus, OH.  Sick of driving interstates at present.  Have some things to write up, but we are taking Kyle out for his 21st birthday, and then it's beer night with guys from the church.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

About Them Bees

I have been uncertain who to believe over the last decade about the bees, because I trust neither side. I think environmentalists are fully capable of getting all worked up over normal processes because they like blaming corporations, especially if there is anything as evil as chemicals involved.

On the other hand, corporations, including those who make chemicals, are not blameless and many companies have suppressed or discredited evidence that hurt them.

With that in mind, the discussion of the NYTimes and bias is interesting.

SJW's, Moral Outrage, and Altruism

The research about moral outrage that has been circulating – Maggie's, Neoneocon, with some discussion at Reason, and Scott Adams’s timely blogging about moral outrage and "dopamine puppets.". The paper itself is here. Spoiler alert: the more I thought about it, the less I liked it.

I tried to take an immediate step back on this, as I do with anything that tells me what I want to hear. Then I tried to look at it with a more critical eye. In the interim, Bethany reminded me that one of her rules is to be suspicious of any research in which the results are too good.

 It is odd that an academic paper in a social science would be targeting things that liberals get outraged about more than conservatives: climate change and labor exploitation. Bowdoin, at least, is a liberal school, and we keep hearing that psychology departments have almost no conservatives in them. So the stereotype of this sort of research would be that it would be finding evidence to throw conservatives under the bus, but this one calls into question the motivations of people who are outraged about liberal causes, rather the reverse of Jonathan Haidt’s initial research (now significantly improved). Perhaps it’s the packaging, but it sure looks like Social Justice Warriors are being called out more than others are.

It may not be meaningful, as the causes are things that are generally shared, not exclusive to liberals. Most people believe there is at least something to worry about with climate change, and plenty of conservatives are anti-globalists for the precise reason that corporations getting away with exploitation abroad is one reason why jobs are lost in America, where we have standards. The subjects were not divided by political sympathies in any way, and nothing about this was measured. Also, having a non-American outgroup to blame might be universal enough that it overwhelms internal political categories.

Still, it would be interesting if some causes that outraged conservatives had been included, or could be included in the future. Non-liberals of many types also get morally outraged - me, for example. Are feelings of personal guilt, and related avenues of being able to express disapproval also part of the equation for libertarians, paleocons, anarchists, and populists? My initial check of my internal states suggests that my “outrage” is usually directed at people using bad logic for self-serving reasons. (We’re getting into a potential infinite loop here, as that is what the research is about.) I experience that more as frustration and irritation – though perhaps that is only how I clean it up for myself. Is that moral outrage? Sometimes it is. What personal guilt would be driving that – assuming the research is true, and applies to that topic?

Which brings me to my next caution. The research describes temporary states of primed guilt and mild outrage. It doesn’t address chronic feelings of guilt or sustained outrage. It would make sense that some similar mechanism applies in the chronic as it does in the acute – but maybe not. If Scott Adams’s reference to dopamine and feeling good are the key, that might only be reliable in the short term, and different mechanisms might have to take over for those of us who are perpetually guilt-ridden and/or outraged.

 Next, I am suspicious of priming as a technique. I don’t reject it altogether, as sometimes casts of mind can be influenced and the results seem to hold up. But research that relies on some types of priming have not replicated. Those may just be the ones I recall reading about, and it may not be a suspect technique. Or more likely, it may be something that works in a general and mild way, but researchers have gone wild with the new toy and made claims for it that can’t be sustained.


But the largest difficulty is one that used to be a minor obsession of mine. Motivation is complicated. On our opponents we pretend that if we have discovered a bad motive of theirs, it is the only motive that matters. We dislike this when someone applies it to us, however. Yet everyone's motives for everything they do are mixed. So even if this research shows that Social Justice Warriors are influenced toward moral outrage because it helps them to feel good about some guilt of their own, that doesn't show that it is their only motivation, or even the better portion. They might have some very decent motives to go along with it. That is what is most common in humans, after all.

This relates to the claim sometimes advanced that altruism does not exist anyway, because even generous acts "feel good." This accusation becomes ridiculous when the generous act is throwing oneself at a wild animal so that others can get away, which doesn't "feel good" for very long. But I don't think we even have to go that far. It is likely true that no act of fallen humanity is 100% selfless. Yet we are aware in both ourselves and in others when actions have been more selfish. We may not know anyone who is purely altruistic, but we know ourselves, and we know when we have been worse and have not lived up to our best selves. Therefore, some altruism is rising and falling in us throughout the day and throughout our lifetimes. We can also observe what looks much the same in others, though we must be more tentative about judgments here.

Pacifism II

There are excellent comments under the previous post.  I am taking a slightly different direction and so am opening a new slot.

What Lewis did not say, but Jesus might, is that not answering physical violence with physical violence is only a special case of a more general rule of not returning evil for evil.  Another of his examples was of being made to carry a burden - of being oppressed. That more general command is repeated by both Peter and Paul.

We gravitate to this particular special case because it is dramatic, and comes up in situations of obvious crisis.  It is measurable and obvious. Yet there are many types of attack and many types of revenge.  Texan99 has trouble discerning how much of any pacifism might come from physical cowardice, but if we look at other types of evils put on us, such as impoverishment, injustice, humiliation, or insult, we might be better able to see how revenge-prone we are. A person who is "too Christian" to fight you but nonetheless slanders you out of your job over the next year has not in any way turned the other cheek.

In my experience, physical courage is not the same as moral courage, but they overlap.  While I have known moral cowards who like to get in fights, and physically timid people who nerve themselves up to endure for conscience sake, I find it more common to find the two in similar quantity. Additionally, the courage to face death and the courage to face pain are not quite the same.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Why I Am Not A Pacifist, by CS Lewis

This particular essay of Lewis's was almost lost.  It was an address delivered to a pacifist society in 1940 that was not intended for publication.  It is one of the essays in The Weight of Glory, which I am rereading.  I found many references and quoted sections, but not the entire text, save for a two-part video, with doodles. I dislike the format, so I am not embedding it.  It's there if you want it.

It was significant in my own development because at the time I read it, I was still largely pacifist.  That pacifism had been weakening under the force of affection for heroic fantasy, including the somewhat-historical Arthur.  I was able to keep the two separate with a juggling act between clear justice of fighting orcs or Mordred versus the morally ambiguous wars of modern history. A highly permeable wall, but that's what I had.

Lewis's reasoning was not unassailable - few mortals have ever constructed a bulletproof argument on any subject - but it included approaches I had not considered and distinctions I had not made.  He resorts to false dichotomies in at least two places, but even so, these only weaken his conclusions - they do not overthrow them.

But that's not what I came to talk about.  For those of you who have the text, I uncovered something else about it:  the distinctions about good and evil, and the command of Jesus to turn the other cheek in the context of the rest of Scripture (including some of his own statements) and the writing of Christians from that time to this, apply to other moral topics.  I first saw parallels with immigration arguments, but once the possibility of reapplying the reasoning came to me, charity, loyalty, and obedience to authority all came into play as well.

I'm not sure this one is the best example of the argument, but it is a great quote, and reasonably related.
It may be asked whether, faint as the hope is of abolishing war by Pacifism, there is any other hope. But the question belongs to a mode of thought which I find quite alien to me. It consists in assuming that the great permanent miseries in human life might be curable if only we can find the right cure; and it then proceeds by elimination and concludes that whatever is left, however unlikely to prove a cure, must nevertheless do so. Hence the fanaticism of Marxists, Freudians, Eugenists, Spiritualists, Douglasites, Federal Unionists, Vegetarians, and all the rest. But I have received no assurance that anything we can do will eradicate suffering. I think the best results are obtained by people who work quietly away at limited objectives, such as the abolition of the slave trade, or prison reform, or factory acts, or tuberculosis, not by those who think they can achieve universal justice, or health, or peace. I think the art of life consists of tackling each immediate evil as well as we can. To avert or postpone one particular war by wise policy, or to render one particular campaign shorter by strength and skill or less terrible by mercy to the conquered and the civilians is more useful than all the proposals for universal peace that have ever been made
 I think that applies to "comprehensive solutions" beloved by politicians, activists, and dreamers of many types.

Another Lewis quote, from "Learning In War-Time."
We are now in a position to answer the view that human culture is an inexcusable frivolity on the part of creatures loaded with such awful responsibilities as we. I reject at once an idea which lingers in the mind of some modern people that cultural activities are in their own right spiritual and meritorious — as though scholars and poets were intrinsically more pleasing to God than scavengers and bootblacks. I think it was Matthew Arnold who first used the English word spiritual in the sense of the German geistlich, and so inaugurated this most dangerous and most anti- Christian error. Let us clear it forever from our minds.The work of a Beethoven, and the work of a charwoman, become spiritual on precisely the same condition, that of being offered to God, of being done humbly “as to the Lord”.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

McArdle on Authentic Food

Megan McArdle has an article about the precariousness of any declaration of  authenticity in the foods we eat.  The least-appetizing parts of the animal (and plants) were all that the poor had to work with, and they prepared them with whatever herbs and spices would grow locally, whether native or imported.  Post Columbian Exchange, local diets changed worldwide.

When my sons arrived from Romania, they very much missed the bread that could be obtained in the market twice a week.  I had considerable agreement.  Artisanal breads were just coming in in the regular supermarkets here - one had to shop around and pay premium prices, or bake bread oneself to get that kind of quality here.  I had been much impressed with the everyday table bread on both my first and second trips to Romania.  Only slowly did I put the pieces together about Romanian bread, and how the loaves they remembered were something of an exception.  An American incident set it off.  Shortly after the boys' arrival we visited young friends  out in the western part of the sate (which I refer to as "the West Coast of NH") who were trying to make a go of living off the land, not purchasing anything they could make themselves. He builds yurts for much of his living, thought they have always had a dozen side hustles.  She baked bread in an outdoor brick oven and sold it through local general stores and businesses - Ken Burns and his studio was a regular customer.  My boys nodded the oven during our tour of the farm, the older noting that they had things like this to bake bread in all the villages of Romania.  The radiant young woman beamed.  "And it's much better, right?" John-Adrian looked a little uncomfortable but was astute enough to be polite and agree.  Yet I could read instantly that his look said "No, you crazy American woman.  These are the sorts of things you leave behind the moment you can afford something better.  No one in Romania would use this unless they had to.  Indoor electric ovens are way better."  I confirmed this with him later, complimenting his social skill.

So what about this marvelous Romanian bread?  Chris and JA had started on the urban stale leftover breads of the impoverished, then moved to the outdoor small individual ovens of the peasant villages when they were 6 and 4.  Only much later did they finally move to a private Christian orphanage in a small city, Beius. Poor as that was by American standards, they did buy their loaves in the market.  White flour. Consistent results. Clean butter.  Yet even that was recent, dating to just before the boys had arrived there.  In 1998 on my first trip, market days had just increased to two a week the year before. They had been only Thursdays for years before that, and within living memory had only been once a month. The more easily-spoiled modern loafs which I had considered traditional - and JA considered the new normal - were actually the festival breads, the special-occasion breads of just a few years earlier.

Just to make sure I am making myself clear, though, you absolutely do buy these breads if you visit Transylvania. Authentic or not, they are very good.

Side note: People adopt vegetarian and vegan diets because they can, living in rich countries.  Such artificial limitations generally don't make sense to the starving. Even Daniel in Babylon takes his vegetarian diet in the context of palace resources. I don't assert this as an absolute, but worldwide the tendency is strong.  While most cultures have some taboo foods, it is otherwise true that if it can be eaten, it will be.