Thursday, June 21, 2018

Summer Ales

Every brewery in America is certain that I want lemon in my summer ale. They call them "citrusy notes" or other evasions but it's lemon.  They all seem to think this is an original thought on their part as well.

Just stop.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018


Soviet writer Varlam Shalamov wrote Forty-Five Things I Learned In The Gulag, recently revived in The Paris Review.  It's pretty grim, but valuable.
1. The extreme fragility of human culture, civilization. A man becomes a beast in three weeks, given heavy labor, cold, hunger, and beatings.
2. The main means for depraving the soul is the cold. Presumably in Central Asian camps people held out longer, for it was warmer there....

Tuesday, June 19, 2018


Popular culture in China.

That Was Quick

Five days later, I have decided that forecasting is not interesting enough, and the discussion reads like a bad comments section. I doubt I will update my predictions, so my final score is likely to simply reflect how good my first uninformed guesses are.

Cause of the Week

The Cause of the Week is never reported accurately.  It is chosen for emotional elements which suspend rational thought.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Count of States

Bethany counted up the states she has been in, and it got me wondering.  What's a legitimate claim to having been in a state?  I drove from Houston to Pensacola once, Routes 90, 10 & 12. I'm not sure I ever got off the Interstate, though I probably did get gas, use a restroom, or grab a quick meal somewhere. Do I get to count Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama? What about changing planes in Atlanta or Minneapolis? If I slept on the train while riding through New Mexico, do I get to call that an overnight?

States lived in: New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut age 5, Virginia for college.
States stayed overnight in: New York, Maine, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, DC, Ohio, Michigan, South Carolina, California, Alaska, Colorado, Arizona, Texas. Missouri. Kentucky. Tennessee. Nevada. Florida. Missouri. North Carolina. Arkansas at a campground on the Mississippi. Washington sorta - the airline put me up in a motel outside of Sea-Tac. I must have stayed in either Indiana or Illinois when taking Ben college shopping at Wheaton. I stood overnight hitchhiking near Silver Spring in 1973 - I'm not counting that.  Canadian provinces New Brunswick and Quebec.
States driven through and stopped at at least something: Rhode Island,  Vermont. Indiana. Illinois.
States driven or ridden through, probably at least a highway meal: New Mexico, Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia.  Louisiana and/or Mississippi and/or Alabama, see above. Canadian provinces Ottawa and Nova Scotia.
States touched:  Georgia, Minnesota. If you are in Kansas City or St Louis you can rack up a few in an an afternoon, but I never did.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Peopling of the Americas

I get it that few or none of you are all that interested in this, but I ran across this interesting historical linguistic theory from 20 years ago by Johanna Nichols and thought I would put it forward. Nichols suggests connections among languages in the Old World and the New World on the basis of deep structure.  She examines families of languages for how they mark possessives, their typical word-order (SVO, VSO, etc), and the initial consonants for pronouns. She sees a Pacific Rim Necklace of language relationships, which is quite different than what most linguists see. The standard explanation is that there is no demonstrable connection between the two sides of the Pacific, other than Eskimo-Aleuts, the last arrivals. I understand that there is some minority acceptance for a connection between Ket in Siberia and Na-Dene (Navajo, Hopi) languages in the Americas.

Nichols also believes there has not been enough time for a single language to differentiate enough to create all the remaining New World languages, and believes that humans must have arrived much earlier than Clovis*, or that there were multiple waves of settlement of peoples already speaking different languages.  The possibilities keep narrowing because of the periods of glaciation. There are eras when movement is much less possible.

Both of these are intriguing because of the genetic connections we can now trace. There is an "impossible" genetic pattern deep in the Amazon. There is only an overlap of a few percent, but some Amazonian groups have a connection to genetic patterns in the Andaman Islands, which are between India and Burma, to save you looking it up. Tribes moving from island to island is not unknown, especially if the next island is actually visible at times. Yet in the case of moving east from South Asia, you can only get as far as the Solomon Islands that way, even allowing for the ocean being 300 feet lower.  If you know the islands are there out as far at Pitcairn, skilled navigators, such as those who peopled the Pacific thousands of years later, can make it.  That still leaves over a thousand miles of open ocean before you land on what is now Chile. (At least South America is hard to miss at that point.) Plus, it's not good enough to just wash up on shore after a freak storm.  To start a colony you need at least a dozen people, and fifty is a better low estimate.  So that's not really possible.  OTOH, leaving no trace in North America on your way to the Amazon by curling up along the Aleutian glacial coasts doesn't work either. Not to mention why a seafaring people would take it into their heads to cross the Andes.  No sensible explanation is available, and yet there it is.

I do have a possible explanation for that linguistic clock in the New World, however.  Nichols's estimate is based on language differentiation in populated areas.  In Eurasia and Africa, if you were moving, you kept bumping up against other people. That would keep groups of similar language together longer.  Yes, things can get pretty diverse over time in mountainous areas such as the Caucasus, where everyone settles in a different upper valley. Yet the connections can still be discovered by linguists. But in the New World, people could spread out quickly and lose contact with each other.  Isolated languages change more rapidly.  I think Nichols's clock runs too slowly for that reason.

*I think there is growing support for pre-Clovis, though not at the depth she describes. Monte Verde seems to have earned support from even hardcore Clovis believers, but that is only a couple of thousand years earlier. There is even a hint that discovered human fires and tools date back 32,000 years ago.  A lot can go wrong in that sort of isolated find, but at least it's out there.

Update:  Better analogy. It is as if a few pieces of broken bottle were unearthed far up the Amazon, and were found to be not only of a type of bottle from the Andaman Islands, but a matched fit for shards of a bottle that was broken there. People would not only wonder at the impossibility, they would wonder where the other pieces of the bottle might be found.


This came up today. It applies to more things than the word "fascism."

Authorisation: "We"

I hope I had the sense to think this thought before the year 2000, but my second trip to Romania is the earliest example I can bring to mind.  Even then, I didn't fully put the pieces together until I came home. We had been on a food-delivering run to the village of Cucuceni, and on the way back swung by the train station in Rieni and picked up this guy. How the driver knew he would be there I have no clue. Planned things never happen in Romania, unplanned ones go off without a hitch somehow.

Someone said he was the pastor of a house church in one of the villages.  For Baptists, almost all the churches were house churches, meeting in secret or at least unobtrusively even in the 1990's.  They were still nervous that the Securitate would go back to its old ways and start carting them off or even shooting them. I was later told that he wasn't a "real pastor," just a guy who tried to run things. His English was passable, and as we passed an orthodox church he started in telling me how terrible the orthodox priests were.  They were all drunks, he said. One was so drunk that he fell in front of a train. They never went and visited the poor.  They hated The Christians and turned them in to the secret police. We had not even exchanged pleasantries before he launched into this.  I expected the Romanians in the car to slow him down a bit, but none did.

It seemed strange because one of the points stressed by the ministry during my two weeks there is how much they were working to cooperate with the Orthodox who used to persecute them, and the government that used to persecute them, and the powerful neighbors who used to persecute them, and to reach out to the gypsies who everyone hated and persecuted. This guy hadn't gotten the message, apparently.  I certainly wasn't going to contradict him.  He was in his 50's and had likely experienced some bad things, so rich Americans who had always lived in peace shouldn't be preaching to him. Still, he wouldn't stop. Then he started to drift into what "we" Christians were going to do about it now that "we" were more free.  Nothing violent, just put them out of business, close their monasteries, he was going to see to that...We dropped him off in Beius near where we were staying. "He has had a hard time," the driver said.  Nothing more.

Only long after did I wonder why he thought he was authorised to speak for The Christians. Did he mean those within a ten-mile radius?  All of Transylvania? Romania? There were other lines of thought, but that one escaped me until months later. It leads to unanswerables. Is he dangerous?  Are there others like him so that collectively they do speak for some undefined group of Christians? Are tyrants simply effective versions of this angry man who seems to have no followers? And yet, the people I was working with also used the word "we" when discussing the activities of Baptists in the area.  They have clear authorisation to speak for their ministry, which was a major part of the local activity.  But I knew there were plenty of people not formally affiliated involved in all this.  How far did the authorisation of my friends to say "we" extend?

I now think of this fairly automatically when I read about people who speak for others. Who authorised you? They even speak for the dead - that's convenient - of those who were in one of their groups generations ago. We crossed the prairie and founded this town. We were brought here as slaves. We won the state championship in 1985. We have always been generous to the poor. We have been oppressed by men for a millennium, one of the professors at a local university recently said. "We? You got a mouse in your pocket?" used to be the teasing correction to that. You crossed the prairie?  You've been a slave?

It's a tactic.  It is a declaration of authority, so that one looks important.  If you can get away with it, at some level it's true. No one stops the school principal from saying "we" about that championship even though she was living 472 miles away at the time.  She does have some authority to say "we," as the institutional representative. Politicians do this in an effort to look like people who are authorised to speak for us - or for some percentage of us. It is not always a lie. We sometimes do have authority to speak for others.  If we are good speakers or leaders or negotiators, the people we claim to be speaking for won't stop us when we make the claim. They might heartily endorse it, or might just uncomfortably go along for the moment, but they do allow people to slip into that slot of representation.

Be suspicious of who you allow to slip into that slot, and don't be afraid to challenge, openly or quietly, those who make the claim without earning it.

Friday, June 15, 2018


Words change in meaning. Divisive used to mean dividing people unnecessarily, or creating dissension.  Admittedly, that would always have to be subjective.  Even when applying that precise a value, one would have to acknowledge that the person or group being divisive doesn't see themselves that way. They see themselves as being right - as reformers, or remnant believers, or fighters for principle. Each could see the others as the truly divisive ones.

Still, we seem to have drifted to a meaning of "won't do as we tell them." Submitting evidence of the other being the primary initiator or primary offender is not even given a covering statement. It is a word now used to conjure rather than describe or explain.

Perhaps it was ever thus, and I was less observant.

Thursday, June 14, 2018


After reading Superforecasting, I decided to register and try my hand at it.  We'll see.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Genetic Attribution and Intolerance

Contrary to the popular arguments, people who attribute human characteristics to genetic causes are more likely to be liberal than conservative, are more tolerant, and do not have what the study calls "unseemly racial attitudes." I am surprised but not shocked about the first of these.  In my limited experience it is mostly conservative sites that will even acknowledge the possibility, and mostly liberals who come over to report that Hitler had racial superiority theories and this is exactly the same thing.  On the other hand, conservatives are often in the forefront of attributing human characteristics to culture and also don't like being told that there are strong genetic factors. Scott Alexander suggests that these attitudes are simply related to having more education, which could be so. Alexander also links to an article in Quillette about in-groups and out-groups. Comments are closed, so no fun for me. I think the refutation to Ezra Klein's context-driven truth is straightforward, so I suppose I don't actually need to write that paragraph, though I would like to.

I comment fewer places now.  Some sites use FB as the sign-on and I no longer have an account.  SSC always has far too many comments per post. Althouse has that problem to a smaller degree. I am not starting new accounts much these last two years.

Blood Donation

My Red Cross reminder email tells me that they have averaged a decline of 80,000 fewer donors per year for the last four years. That is a very big number. I went looking for the full story on this, which wasn't easily available, which irritates me. How many donors do they have? What do they think is driving the decline? I am also irritated because the Red Cross has some history of playing with its fundraising vs services numbers, so they are not entirely trustworthy. Not terrible, just not quite up to their image.

Still, the bottom line is this: blood is not something you can make artificially and just charge more somewhere.  People need this, and the only source is other people.  Even if the Red Cross were a thoroughly corrupt organisation, they are the only game in town, and there is no other way to do this work. Major media made a big deal for years that the big issue is that they won't accept donations from gay men, as if that 2% of the population were going to turn the tide even if they were approved for donation (as they are now, sorta.) Rejecting people who have had tattoos in the last six months, or people who have been abroad in  some situations may be bigger issues.

Arthur C. Brooks's Who Really Cares revealed in 2006 that conservatives, especially religious ones not only give more to charity*, but volunteer more in their communities and give more blood. He challenged at the time that if liberals gave blood at the same rate as conservatives, we would have no shortages. Challenge issued, challenged declined.  Clearly that hasn't happened, and it's not gonna happen.

I donate Double Red, which is now called Power Red, and is every 112 days instead of 56 days. It takes twice as long, but as it takes a half an hour to get over to the donation site and a half an hour back, I consider it a more efficient method. You should consider getting out and donating.  And bring your children, so they get the idea that this is part of a normal, responsible life.

*That is an oversimplified claim and there are levels to it. It is both technically and essentially true, but there are layers to it. Libertarians score worst, by the way.

Economy Influence: Update

I have long said that the actions of government are not the primary drivers of the economy.  But, insofar as government has influence, the congress has about twice the influence of the President. Also, the influence is not immediate, and certainly does not begin at the moment of election, except in an indirect way on the decisions people make based on their projection of what the new congress and president will do. If this seems obvious, remember that during campaigns advocates for one group or another (okay, only one group usually, but I'm trying to be open-minded here) will quote statistics based on "when Bush was elected in 2000 the NASDAC/unemployment rate/price of gas was..."  I have even seen that applied her in NH to the date the NH primary was won, which is a full year before a president even gets to start stealing the White House art and silver.

Remember in the summer of 2000 Bush and Cheney were castigated for "talking down the Clinton economy," which was indeed eroding and did crater, and the dire predictions some few made in 2006 when the Democrats won the mid-term elections, erasing any chance of regulating mortgage derivatives.  Neither of those were the whole story, but they are parts of the story that don't get told anymore, so I bring them up.

Thus, claims that the Trump economy started in January 2017 are not fully defensible, whether in praise or blame.  I have said that it takes about 18 months for the economy to fully turn over and be attributable to a new congress and president. Don't mistake this for the opposite extreme and think I am saying that this has been the Obama economy until today. But it takes time even to write executive orders, never mind pass legislation and put new policies into effect. There is never a 100% turnover, as actions in the past can have consequences for decades. There are still pieces one could pull out and say "this is the continuing effect of the Roosevelt economy." Yet we can't think twenty levels in every offhand conversation.  We have to make some simplifications in order to speak at all.

So the 115th Congress (majority Republican) with influence from Trump now deserves primary blame or credit going forward for the economy inherited from the 114th Congress (majority Republican) with influence from Obama. Ordinarily I set the 50-50 point about a year after the new Congress starts, accelerating after that.  Because Donald Trump was dramatic and the responses to him were dramatic, I would be inclined to assign him greater, and quicker influence than other presidents. Still, not so much as Congress. And neither so much as a dozen other influences: technology, the Fed, wars, trade agreements...and the random nature of so much of life.

Trump's supporters want to give him all credit for everything since January 2017.  I think he has done well, but I also think it's an exaggeration to give him - or any new president - that much credit or blame.


Greg Cochran, commenting off-the-cuff on why anthropologists are reluctant to believe that technology, DNA, and languages were spread by conquest and conflict, rather than contact and cooperation, despite the abundant evidence dating back decades. He quotes a prominent anthropologist saying "It's really hard for people to learn how to kill other people."
I'm thinking...what am I supposed to do? Demonstrate that that's false? There have been people who have tried to make such arguments. They really believe that. "It's really hard to get people to learn to chop an enemy down in the heat of battle." I don't really think so. I'm pretty sure that this was something people were always pretty good at doing, and if they weren't good they learned about as soon as there was a guy in front of them with a weapon. (Interviewer: You'd think if they did any hunting, that would...) We have cultural problems in understanding the past. Most people who are highly educated in this country - even more so, those who go into the social sciences - never hunted anything in their life, never hung out with anybody who did; it feels strange to them. Now, intellectually they probably know that a lot of people did do this - one hopes - but they don't sound like they really believe it. Real people couldn't have shot a deer, gutted it, drained its blood, cooked it and eaten it. That's just not possible...It's hard for people to believe that anyone wasn't exactly like them.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018


Characteristically for me, I have read someone whose work I like, and yet will focus on the place where I think they got it wrong.

Anne Curzan is a linguistics professor at UMichigan.  I first heard of her by listening to her work on The Great Courses. Recommended. From that, I decided to look her up and discovered that in addition to a TEDx talk (I no longer listen to those), and co-hosting an ongoing series of short takes on Michigan public radio, she blogs under the Lingua Franca section at The Chronicle of Higher Education. DuckDuckGo tells me she is also on YouTube, likely for the TEDx* talks.

Side note: Her bios do not include the years she completed her various degrees. I suspect she has to actively edit them out at places like Wikipedia, and I approve of this. People are not entitled to all your personal information.  If they are curious, they can work for it and discover it somewhere online, I am sure. But people draw quick impressions from age, especially of women, and she's not obligated to help them do that. She can present in her own way.  It is not something that matters in the least to me, but it does others.

Freshmen. In one of her posts she notes that she was slow to effect some gender-based language changes after she became an assistant dean and had actual power and authority at Michigan. She simply notes that it is easy not to notice these things and reminds people to be alert for them when they have some influence. She mentions two: the use of gender-neutral they and their for he, he/she, his, his-or-her, and the use of first-year to replace freshman. I agree with the former.  It was already present in speech and less-formal writing for decades and is not a difficult transition. I never thought using the masculine forms to represent both men and women was that big a deal, but then, I'm old, and male, and unlikely to. The other neutral choices like s/he or his-or-her are clunky and awkward. They still sounds a bit informal and sloppy to my ears, but not terrible. As for it being a plural used as a singular, that bothers me even less. All languages, including English, have idiosyncrasies, and speakers of a language that doesn't have a plural form of "you," except in our dialects are in no position to get stuffy about that part.

Freshmen, however seems like an unnecessary loss. The names for the four classes were always playful, with a subtext of reminding students that they are not quite adults. Even senior has hint of irony in it. Eliminating freshman will undermine the use of the other three, and over time may drive all of them out. They are fun language. I understand the drive to eliminate "men" from compounds that include both males and females. It is part of a general pushback in language against the exclusion of women from power.  Many of the alternatives don't hold up well; others do. Chairwoman is not terrible but limps a little, and "chair" works quite well.  Congresswoman seemed odd years ago but seems fine now.  When the plural is required, we have to go to the formal member of Congress or the jocular congresscritter, so we have lost an intermediate form, but that's not huge. "Freshwomen" sounds a little snarky and using humor to be dismissive, but "freshman" was already that. Does anyone think "sophomore" isn't humorously dismissive?

Once someone points out the problem with a word people start to respond to it differently. It says "men." That means women are excluded. This is part of the systematic erasing of women. 

First-year student is boring. It is also less accurate to use the number the years of attendance, as students increasingly do not finish in four years. There may also be an intentional reduction in taking that teasing attitude to students anymore. They are customers, and we have to pretend they are adults as a business strategy. I don't think this has worked well. Telling them that their opinions are valuable in their current form is silly.  They and their opinions are works in progress and should know that. Human nature already has too great a tendency to settle into what one perceived authority or another tells us and think no more about it. Social psychologists have disturbing evidence how much our reasoning is post hoc. We shouldn't be encouraging that in students, who are already among the worst offenders.

The intended meaning is likely "We want all students to know we take women seriously." There are additional meanings. Those meanings are intentional but unacknowledged. I don't think it will do to ask students what they think the meaning is. They want to identify with a tribe, and they will recite back the meaning they believe their desired tribe wants. That will usually be the tribe of the professors, as they want to look like educated, high-minded people who "get it." Even if they don't fully feel that way, that's what they're going to say.  They are trying to build places for themselves in the world, and are practicing to say - and even to believe - what they should, to the authorities and to their cohort. They will do this fairly automatically.  (Yes, some students delight in the opposite. There is a tribal status in that also.)

Two second meanings are "We consider the low, even merely theoretical possibility that anyone would have been offended before we pointed out the difficulty to be more important than four centuries of humorous academic tradition. And we are watching everything you say." The fact that many people in the authority structure do not strongly intend that meaning is irrelevant.  If there are any, with any power, then it must be attended to. For safety. If I were a student at that college I would think. "I consider myself duly warned. I am undecided what I will do about that."

*When did the "x" come in?  What's it for?

Monday, June 11, 2018

Wittenburg Door

I used to read The Wittenburg Door in the 1970's.  It was a the Babylon Bee or The Lark of its time - evangelical Christian humor and satire.  It went out of business in 2008, apparently. You might enjoy browsing around for a bit.

And yes, they knew they had the spelling wrong.

Sunday Funnies

The Sunday paper was on the table in the morning at the bed & breakfast. I suppose it's not that rare, but this is in the context of a house that has a dial phone and a light switch I have not seen for decades, one of those two-button deals. It felt like entering an earlier time - which was appropriate, as we were visiting the town my wife's family had moved from sixty years ago.

I recognised less than half of the comics, but at another level they are still the same.  Women work hard and are unappreciated.  Men are jerks, especially husbands and bosses.  Teenagers are lazy and irresponsible. Ha Ha Ha.

Monogamy According To Vox

An interesting essay b y William Buckner over at Quillette, breaking down the episode on Monogamy in the Netflix series "Explained." Monogamy, Explained is mostly just made up stuff some editor wishes were true, according to Buckner, and he makes the case. The only scientist interviewed, evolutionary biologist David Barash, gets almost no time, and his simple description of sexual selection theory is dismissed, without the audience quite knowing why.  Why doesn't matter, because the other experts, the advice columnist and the author, assure us it is just known not to be so. (The Netflix episode is at the link. Had I any temptation to watch any more of their "Explained" series, it has now certainly vanished.)

The film is merely silly, and the silliest bit is that sexual selection theory was just made up by scientists in the late 19th C to justify traditional gender roles. The author wonders how Barash got into the film at all, and suggests it might be because he wrote a book entitled The Myth of Monogamy, which they figured meant he must agree with him. Not really.  Maybe 30%.

Thanks to Sarah Hoyt for linking this over at Instapundit.

It Was Easy To Lose Track Of People

My son found souvenir postcards from NH down in Houston, dated from the 1930's. They are exactly one year apart, August 30, 1938 and 39, from the same sender on the seacoast to the same receiver on the Connecticut River. The texts are similar as well, polite nothings about having a nice time and the weather. What is different is the address.  Both are R.F.D. but the first is to Bellows Falls, VT and the second to Walpole, NH, just across the river. Also, one is to Mrs. Frank H. Moore and the other to Mrs. F.H. Moore. One signature is from "Annie E" and the other from "A.E.G." Same handwriting.

It would all be terribly uninteresting now, except to those who have tried to do genealogical research, or perhaps private detective work of some kind. This is exactly the sort of infuriating similarity of meanings that makes one darn sure that these people are one and the same but unable to prove it. Even the identical opening "We are having a nice..." is not quite enough.  The "same handwriting" proves it to you, but not for a genealogical record for others. Relatedly, this is exactly how people seem to disappear when you are researching them. We have a Franklin Moore in the 1930 census for Bellows Falls, and it says he has a wife but we can't make out the name.  Sarah? Sally? And then that's it. No further record. There's a Selma Moore in NH in the 1940 census in Walpole and she's close in age but not exact, only eight years older.  Selma was Jimmy's grandmother, she died in 1948. Her husband died years before, Jimmy thinks he might have been Frank, but he never met him, and everyone just called him Grampa Moore. We think they're the same person but we can't be sure. 

This is all changing.  These days you are informed you have a 3rd-5th cousin who tells you she is from Brattleboro and knows there is a Franklin Moore from Bellows Falls who was an older brother of someone in her line. DNA shows you are related to her, and she is related to Franklin.  Therefore, so are you, and Selma/Sarah/Sally are the same person.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Prehistory of Europe

Greg Cochran summarises what we know to date.  It's almost three hours, made longer by the fact that the interviewer does not know the subject that well and makes some bad guesses. It ends up working because it gives Cochran a chance to go back over the simpler information.

There is a reference to a humorous comment I had made on his site, though I am not named, early in the second hour. It is fun to hear things like that go by. "Hey, that was me who said that.  Cool."

How Many Levels? Superforecasting.

There was a program at work which encouraged people to recognise co-workers for good deeds done: acts of kindness or grace under pressure, projects completed. After about two years of this someone had the idea "Let's Recognise the Recognisers!" because it is of course a prosocial behavior to be encouraged to look for good deeds in others and mention it.

And yet...I wondered if this were not just a bit too much, so I appended a typed "Let's Recognise People Who Recognise The Recognisers!" We do have actual work we are supposed to be focusing on, after all. It is like the new Christian praying in The Screwtape Letters who has been praying for humility and discovers that by Jove, he actually has shown some - which he is immediately proud of.  And then, sadly, concludes that this requires its own prayer. It could go on endlessly,*  unless the man were able to step back and laugh at himself a bit.

I thought of this in reading Tetlock and Gardner's Superforecasting. He lays out very quickly that one of the first necessary skills is to question assumptions. I think about 10% (or 40%, or 23.9%) of the population does that - not always with skill, but well enough to get the idea.  These are the people who keep telling us to "think outside the box." My own view is that we have plenty of people who think outside the box, and they cause a good deal of trouble, believing themselves smarter than the others.  I am not merely claiming that the wisdom of crowds suggests that the conventional wisdom  is likely to be right after all.  I am noting that those who pride themselves on questioning the conventional wisdom seem to immediately eliminate the possibility that the CW is one of the possibilities.  They need to reject the conventional wisdom and find something else to be true. It shows how smart they are, how unconventional, how much better than all the rubes. In the early 2000's there were politicians who bragged that they were capable of nuance, not like those other troglodytes. I have found this attitude common among those who reject the faith when young.

That 10% of questioners gravitate to each other and create a new conventional wisdom. They reinforce these ideas to each other, to show that they have learned the language of the smart set. In all my writing and thinking, I may have provided very little of value beyond my ability to question the questioners.  Let's look at all these brilliant new ideas the 10% has been coming up with and apply the same questioning to that.  Let us regard the New Conventional Wisdom as the dreaded box that we must think outside of.

I was challenged by Tetlock's experiments to wonder if "Whoa, what if being part of the 1% that questions the 10% is not enough? What if there is a wiser 0.1% who question the questioners of questions? How far down the rabbit hole is it good to go?" And "What if I have the same blind spot, in needing the New Conventional Wisdom to be un-true? It makes a fellow think, Jeeves." My previous experience with CS Lewis, and the handbook, and the recognisers allowed me to anticipate the answer: treat all answers as provisional and keep updating. Protect none of them. Even the best of them might be only 90% correct.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure I do that despite understanding the principle.  Learning to go down one level, questioning the smartasses and remembering that sometimes the hoi polloi got it right is pretty simple, and automatic for me at this point. I may also have some ability to notice assumptions that others breeze by. Added note on the book: in describing the attitude toward fate that many of the best forecasters show - that things did not have to turn out the way they did and were not bound to happen - Tetlock and Gardner don't really get the doctrines of free will versus predetermination quite right. As Christians don't get them all that right either, perhaps that's understandable.  The description I read this week is that determinism and free will are still tied in the fourth quarter. Which is humorous, but captures things well.

Book recommended.  I may have a go at trying this.  I have a suspicion I might be only moderately good at it, but perhaps with experience...

*Like the cover of the Boy Scout Handbook, with the scout carrying a handbook which in turn has a picture of a scout carrying a handbook.  This bothered rather than amused me as a boy, because it was going to be impossible to draw and print that on a visible level and so would have to be approximated which just seemed wrong. Children can be OCD at times.  This child, anyway.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Nature Boys and Hippies

PJMedia has an article about German nudism. (Does sex sell magazines?) We have discussed here the German pagan influence on American nature boys and their influence in turn on hippies. Second time this has come up in the last couple of weeks.  Odd.

Woodstock Vermont

Forgot to mention. Woodstock Vermont is a frothy overflowing mug of picturesque Christmas cocoa, an exaggerated Vermont - what people from New York City think a charming Vermont town should be. In fact, that's what it is. New Yorkers moved into Vermont starting in the 70's, and Woodstock is one of the places they made their own. Hence the synagogue built in 1988.

New Hampshire had people move up from Massachusetts, and we've got a few cutesy places as well, especially in the Lake Region.

Terrain and Land Use.

I notice subtler difference in the regional terrain than someone from another place might.  That is true everywhere.  Sheep look alike, except to shepherds.

Driving west, the terrain starts becoming more open in the last few miles before leaving New Hampshire.  Vermont is greener, or with lighter green of pasture land rather than forest. There is more slate. As it is still largely forest and hills/mountains, I doubt many would notice the difference.  Railroads running north and south start right on the other side of the Connecticut River, and there are more of them through Vermont and on into the Lake George area. I don't think there are any trains in New Hampshire now.

That Green Mountain terrain prevails up to the waterways of New York, that historically-important stretch of near-continuous navigable water from NYC to Montreal. As soon as I got west of Saratoga Springs, though, things flattened out and were even more open.  Agricultural land now, showing the first hints of Ohio. Coming from Ohio it would likely seem the opposite, with the impression around Rochester that they were seeing the first hints of New England.

Values Change

Going to museums and reading older material is a reminder that each era has its own things to be strict about.  In our time, we are very condemning of things that harm the body, whether it is done to us by others, or we do it to ourselves.  In most eras preceding ours, it was consider far graver to do something that was harmful to the family. Likely, we believe that only the body is real now. Families and institutions are increasingly regarded as arbitrary constructions, perpetrators of hidden power relationships, and inherently temporary, to be disposed of so that others may have power instead.

Roller Derby

I took the oldest granddaughter to see roller derby tonight.  We saw a preliminary game, didn't stay for the NH team.  The predominant colors in the stands are black and rainbow, and the gay men beat the lesbian women 426-50. I exaggerate. The preponderance of LGBT clothing, stickers, and merchandise may be a result of feeling in a comfortable place and letting the PFLAG fly. Actually, I was surprised to see a mostly male team at all.

Flat track, and no flying elbows, but otherwise very similar to the Roller Derby of my youth, just not as fast and rough. That was then,

and this is now.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Arts and Humanities Tribe

Defining people in terms of their group(s) rather than as individuals, must inevitably lead to violence. We are who we are; secondarily, we are part of the groups we choose; the group memberships we had no control over are tertiary.

The above came to me while contemplating the second half of the post Neoneocon had up today, about the recent essay by Columbia philosophy student Coleman Hughes, which in turn reminded her of the philosopher Stephen Hicks. Hughes's essay is good, and recommended. A calm, rather precise bombshell. I had not heard of Hicks, and will have to ask my philosophy professor friend about him. I liked what I read and thought his arguments sound. His best-known book is Explaining Postmodernism, which is free on Kindle if you are interested.

Searching about for other things he has written, I came across Why Art Became Ugly. I have read a several discussions of this over the decades. I may like this one best, though I will have to see how well it wears. That it is intentional is clear, and the idea that artists denied the reality of beauty because this is at root an ugly world is not new to me. But Hicks enlarges that to show it is part of a larger pattern, a sort of apophatic approach to art: If I remove dimensionality, is it still art?  If I remove color, is it still art?  If I remove meaning, is it still art? It gave me a clearer picture of all those "conversations" about "What is art?" Hicks is ultimately not very sympathetic to those conversations, but he grants that it was all a reasonable experiment in Modernism. He believes that is now long over.  Postmodernism is not a rebellion against Modernism, but a narrowing and emphasis on a few attributes of it, and now it has reached the end of the trail. He explains one driver of all this skepticism and denial is the disillusionment artists felt as socialism and communism failed, while the free market and technology, those hated and soul-destroying philosophies, succeeded.
Artists and the art world should be at the edge. The art world is now marginalized, in-bred, and conservative. It is being left behind, and for any self-respecting artist there should be nothing more demeaning than being left behind.
He does a remarkably good job of providing examples from the art he is discussing. I learned quite a bit. For those who recall the extended conversations we had about the Arts & Humanities Tribe and how their social beliefs drive their politics, there is much of interest here.

Monday, June 04, 2018

I Miss You

I get on binges where I watch YouTubes of "Britain's Got Talent" that are suggested in my sidebar. I know I'm only making it worse by clicking some. I smile. I cry. I do like the reality of it. Someone like a Paul Potts wouldn't actually have an opera career because he doesn't look right, and there are many people with proper training who actually are better than him.  He's imitative. But he was quite real, as are all the nervous moms and rejected kids and hard-luck comeback performers.

I doubt I would like the shows as they unfold.  I don't want to wade through all those decent but uninteresting voices, those magicians and ventriloquists and comedians who are having their try but ultimately not cutting the mustard.  I like seeing only those surprising best ones that get millions of hits, the inspiring ones.

And this one just killed me.  I can't even think of it without tearing up.


When we visited the historical museum in Saratoga Springs - one of those serendipitous finds that remind us not to schedule our days too fully when we travel - there was a lot of reference to the wives and daughters of the wealthy as suffragettes, advocates for votes for women. I wondered why it was the wealthy rather than the more truly downtrodden who were attracted to this.  After I had developed my little theory and shared it with my wife, she pointed out that they were the only ones who had time for such things.

Well, yes.  The downtrodden didn't get enough sleep and barely had time to feed the children and do even a modicum of cleaning of their own. Six days a week, usually, with the seventh for attending to the needs of one's own family. Not much time for banners and marches. So, fair point, darling.

Still, it remains to ask why the wealthy and educated women chose to get involved in that cause instead of some other. It's easy enough to see the self-interest why they might, but not why that won out over a hundred other worthy causes, educational, religious, charitable, or historical. Those often had narrow self-interest that was even greater, and more obvious kindly results. An individual vote doesn't actually count for much after all, and even the votes of all your friends and associates don't change things. Setting up a school for young women, because you have daughters, nieces, and associated friends might have a clearer payoff. Helping women get food might be more practical than getting them voting rights.

The first answer to that is easy.  Women did do those other things, and lots of them. Serious Suffragettes were a minority even among the wealthy, though I imagine there was a lot of foundational sympathy and support that was not loudly expressed. (I wonder if large abstract causes are more favored by those who don't have children, women and men. Environmental groups notice that volunteers are no longer available once they marry and have children.) Opera companies, drawing schools, literacy drives, and instructional uplift were created more by women than men of the time.

Yet I drew my theory from putting myself in their shoes. It might have been classist and snobby, but it was also quite true that they were literate and most men they encountered were not, or only barely so. The gardeners and porters and rail conductors and drivers they ordered about were usually uneducated, and often stupid. Those could vote, you could not. You had organised dinners and banquets, and great events which included important people, where the events of the larger world - politics, art, religion - were discussed, men and women. You played music, wrote poetry, understood architecture, knew geography and history. But 90% of the men you encountered in a year knew none of these things. It was unbalanced, and appalling, and obvious. It was not only galling in theory.  One had fresh examples of it every day.

Still my wife's theory of why the wealthy women were drawn to this is probably the better one. they were the only ones with time.

Income Inequality

Compare the Gini coefficients for the various states. (Remember that lower is more equal.) There are individual oddities that one could fairly point out that make a state look better or worse than it might deserve. But there is a solid and easily-observable tendency that blue states are more unequal in income, red states more equal. Notice also that the increments are small until the last three: Connecticut, New York, Washington DC. As the high school social studies texts might ask, "What do you think is happening in those states?"

Alert readers might pick up another trend, but even noticing it will not answer fully the questions: "Why do poor people do so badly in blue states? Do they start off worse?  Do they get poorer when they are there?"

Purity Law of 1516

Reminder: the Reinheitsgebot, or Purity Law for brewing beer promulgated by two German Dukes in 1516, was long before the germ theory was dreamed of. That kind of purity was the all-natural kind, of no chemicals or modern experiments, beloved even today and derived from Germanic paganism. The Germans have a bit more fascination with purity than average, leading to the development of heroin by getting all the harmful impurities out of morphine, and er, tribal favoritism leading to The Holocaust.

Maybe those are better beers, but I wouldn't expect magic, y'know? Purity has several meanings.

Sunday, June 03, 2018


I saw an old book from Yankee Magazine publishers at one of the bed-and-breakfasts we stayed at.  It listed the best restaurants in New England.  I quite naturally turned to the section on New Hampshire to see who they had favored in our fair state. It divided New Hampshire into two sections: Southern, and White Mountains. The boundary between them ran a little above Keene, Concord, Portsmouth.

Last year I claimed that the North Country began just about Concord at Exit 16.  I took a fair bit of heat for that. Yankee Magazine was even more extreme than I was.

"No One Is Listening To Us"

Bethany just brought up the Tim Tebow Effect over at her site, which refreshed my memory and relates to a few subjects I have had floating around since vacation. There was a man with a clerical collar next to city hall in Saratoga Springs with a sign that read "Palestinians are God's Children, Too." Well, of course thy are, but out of a thousand good causes in the world, picking that one seems...hmmm, I was going to say dishonest, but in a big world I suppose God has called someone to care about it.  It's just that the other 99% have called themselves to this ministry. It is nearly always less-than-honest. It trikes me that it fits the Tim Tebow effect.  No one cares about the poor Palestinians.  Dunno.  Sure seems like a lot to me.

Similarly, the was a yard sign in Skaneateles that read "Hate Has No Home Here." My first reaction was Sure it does. A person might well think that thought quite innocently, and even admirably. And if someone had put that out 25 years ago, or 50, or 75, it might have had some edge to it, but most likely was put there by some nice person who was perhaps a little lecturing, but basically a good influence on us all. Yet in our current climate, pounding a sign into your lawn out by the road is rather pointed. It is accusing, and we're all pretty sure which way that accusation runs, aren't we?

Might it possibly be close to innocent, some kindly person who thinks fuzzily but means well, worried that it really is the other side which is descending into hate? Certainly. But we get into a continuum there of how much humility, self-criticism, and open-mindedness can be removed before we have to say "Y'know Gladys, this is evil." Nonviolent people who smile and speak in soft tones and are genuinely polite can still be evil.  It's all very Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce. When you put up the sign, or even if you are starting to bring it up early in every conversation, you are moving into different territory.

The Methodists are going to split over gay marriage. Maybe next year. Those who believe in traditional marriage are now starting to push for it, seeing the writing on the wall, perhaps. It will be that or be forced to put up with practices they find unscriptural. For more congregational polities, this might be less of a problem, but Methodists historically try to keep doctrinally unified, everyone in the same boat. There is a natural "conservatism" that says don't change things, don't rock the boat, we can put up with things as they are, stick with the devil we know. This is now in tension with the "conservatism" of orthodox Christian teaching.

Both sides believe that one is listening to them. I could take a side on that, but I think I would be an intruder.

The Libertarian Vote

Because it came up indirectly over at Grim's I looked at the Libertarian vote in the 2016 election.  My reasoning is that some, maybe even many Gary Johnson votes would now happily go for Trump instead. If only a few had switched then, NH and Maine would have gone for Trump.  If most of the Libertarian votes had gone to Trump he would have carried New Mexico, Colorado, Minnesota, and Nevada. I don't think that high a percentage would be anything like guaranteed, but if a non-race suddenly gets close, different people turn out on election day. Even Virginia would be in play, though Johnson's votes would not have been enough to turn the state. Adding Evan McMullin's votes wouldn't be enough, but the Old Dominion suddenly looks darn close.

I don't know if everyone who voted for Trump still would, nor how many others would now show up/not show up.  Conservatives can be irascible and hold grudges, vowing never to vote for a candidate, not because s/he had serious disagreement, but because s/he let them down by not going to the mat over an issue or two that the rest of us would just accept as the unfortunate reality of politics.  Libertarians are that, squared.  I wish they wouldn't do that - but then they wouldn't be who they are. That tendency to dig in over small things may have been one of the best slowers of cultural change over the years.  I think not.  But I have no crystal ball, and they are who they are. An unknown percentage of them would vote Trump today.  I suspect there are almost no defections going the other way at present. No Trump voters who now wish they had cast their vote for Gary Johnson.

The ex-Democrats and stay-at-homes from the Rust Belt states who voted for Trump are another matter. Republicans keep treating them as solid because the job reports are good, but that's just theory. Some may regret their vote now.  He may have picked off all the low-hanging fruit and there aren't many more Michigan votes to be had. If the jobs start trickling away the votes probably will, too.  Still, I would bet that right this minute he would have more converts than defections.


There is another factor: People voting like their neighbors. We see elections in terms of states, but when you look at each state by county, it is impressive how strong the populous city versus less-dense countryside holds up blue-red state by state. The (populous) deep blue and (often empty) deep red counties of New York aren't going to change. Yet look at those pink counties, who now realise that their neighbors didn't vote overwhelmingly for Clinton after all. Even the light blue areas.  Don't we imagine that people in those places had the impression that they were in 65-35 deep blue pockets?  Wasn't that one of those things that everyone just knows? Except it wasn't true. Are those voters encouraged, more willing to speak up now? Will there be more bumper stickers and signs next time?   Oregon, too. There could be some cascade preference.

This is not just speculation, it is based on some real numbers.  However, it is very preliminary, and a hundred things could change it: market crashes, wars, disasters. Still it is worth thinking in this state-by state way.  Nate Silver didn't name his site 538 for nothing.


One more thing:  the youth vote is always deeply influenced by what they think the trend is. The usually show a heavy bandwagon effect. Of those who were 14-17 during the last election, do you think they will be more Democratic than the last batch?  They might, but for what reason?  They might be a Bernie-loving bunch who will follow whatever Pied Piper rises to the top.  Hillary did not capture the youth vote as Obama did, and whoever the Democrats put up next time might do better than she did. But their coming-of-age politically is less poisoned by the idea that "Everyone hates Trump." I forecast that they will be less Democratic than the last cohort.

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Artificial Intelligence

I keep meaning to get to my notes of things that occurred to me while daydreaming and observing on my trip, but other things intervene.  Though I am retired and work only 8 days a month, I am covering a two-week vacation that overlaps May and June, and my ability to efficiently take care of the lawn, laundry, shopping, and cooking has clearly deteriorated since official retirement.

Many thoughtful, and sometimes frightening pieces have been written about The Singularity, when artificial intelligence surpasses the human brain. Some see it as a liberation, when people can have machines be their servants, doing all the unpleasant tasks, which won't bother them.  Others worry that it is impossible to install the layered nuances of generations of morality and common sense in a machine, and where they will take us is unpredictable.  Let me put down two anecdotes.  I needed the fax number for the ER at St Josheph's Hospital and was Ducking that online.  There are many St Joseph Hospitals, so I added "Nashua" to the search.  The duck offered me autocompletes immediately, and the first was St Joseph's fax Nashua Cynthia. The machine doesn't know that whatever few searches justified this suggestion, it's still crazy, and a little creepy.  Today when text with my son in Houston, the only possibility it wanted to give me for attempted "Gandalf," was Gandolf. I have since learned it is a surname used in America - yet it can't come close to outnumbering Gandalfs - and that is considered a medieval variant of Gandalf, though it seems to have only been used in obscure sources.  I can forgive autocorrect for butchering Gesta Danorum. But this is what superintelligent machines will continue to do. Will they be smarter than us?  In many ways they are already far smarter than us.

I don't worry that AI will develop some competitive machine-tribe savvy that will trick us into jumping off buildings to save the planet so that they can have all the zinc to themselves.  I worry that they will continue to be both brilliant and stupid.