Monday, January 21, 2019

Doesn't Add Up - Arithmetic Only

There is a rumor Nathan Phillips, who claimed to be a Marine and a Vietnam vet, could not be both.  I looked him up and he was 64 at the time of the recent incident, so the very oldest he could be is just turned 65 this week, and thus born January of 1954.  There is one report of him celebrating his birthday Feb 22.  I remembered that the USMC left Vietnam just before I graduated high school in 1971, but memory is fickle, so I looked it up and yes, they left in May 1971. The oldest Nathan Phillips could be was 17 years and 4 months.  17-3 or less is more likely. You could join the USMC at 17 with parental consent, but then you would have Basic Training to go through.  That is currently thirteen weeks. I don't know what it was then.

If it was seven weeks, then he would have to have gone to Basic on his birthday, and gone to VN immediately in mid-April, then brought back a month later.  This seems...unlikely.  Does anyone think the Marines would be sending new units over that they would be bringing back in five weeks? Sometimes just plain arithmetic can tell you things.

He might have lied about his age. That could change the picture. But even with that, initial deployment would be in 1970, and is an unlikely scenario. I believe Force Recon still had a presence in Vietnam after 1971, but I don't think he's made that claim.  One would not be in Force Recon and then later describe oneself as an infantryman.

In some places he claims to have been a Vietnam vet, in others he says he was an infantryman in the Vietnam era.  I suspect the latter is more likely true, as the "era" runs to 1975 for the nation, though not the USMC. Is that a common exaggeration, to falsely claim to have been deployed to a war zone, or more mildly, to say "Vietnam-era veteran" and not make the correction when people conclude you were in VN?

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Bad Call

Or rather, non-call.  Fans always say That was the worst call I have ever seen, but i think that missed pass-interference call in the Saints-Rams game was the worst I have ever seen. It's amazing enough, in a championship game with theoretically the best referees, that even non football fans might want to take a look. I don't care one way or the other about the Saints, but I like Drew Brees and he got robbed.

Always Purple

We think of some places as entirely blue because they are largely blue, and conservatives never win there. Massachusetts and NYC come to mind*. We regard other places as bright red - Utah and Wyoming, for example.  But each have those who disagree within, and enough that they get heard. We think of the New York Times, but the NY Post makes a living as well.  Someone reads its content.  The Boston Globe is the bigger name, but the Boston Herald gets read.  Howie Carr is popular on the radio around Boston. I'm not on the ground in Utah, but have to figure there are some liberals writing there.

*The sometimes elect Republicans to govern themselves, you'll notice. They just want to make sure they only send liberals to govern the rest of us.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

High-Carb Diet

When I played in a band in college, my roommate was talking with an earnest young man while I was doing my solo part of the set. He explained to me later that the gentleman was suggesting what we really needed to complete our band was a harmonica player.  "Hey, that's really interesting.  You don't happen to play the harmonica, do you?"

Yeah, it was more than a lucky guess.

Well, at least the BBC mentioned genes in this story of Okinawan longevity.

Let us consider the high-carb diet theory unproven. And not really all that intriguing, no. These studies all have an air of "gee, I don't really understand how all this gene stuff works and I don't have the training to get funded for a study like that.  So it must be something else that's the cause, something other than genetics."


(Inspired by a comment of Texan99 over at Grim's. My definitions of feminism are strongly influenced by the many things it meant when it first became a topic for me in the early 70s.  Internal clues tell me that she is my generation, probably two years younger, so her definitions may intersect with mine, and even more with my wife's.)

From CS Lewis, in Mere Christianity:
People ask: "Who are you, to lay down who is, and who is not a Christian?": or "May not many a man who cannot believe these doctrines be far more truly a Christian, far closer to the spirit of Christ, than some who do?" Now this objection is in one sense very right, very charitable, very spiritual, very sensitive. It has every available quality except that of being useful. We simply cannot, without disaster, use language as these objectors want us to use it. I will try to make this clear by the history of another, and very much less important, word.

The word gentleman originally meant something recognisable; one who had a coat of arms and some landed property. When you called someone "a gentleman" you were not paying him a compliment, but merely stating a fact. If you said he was not "a gentleman" you were not insulting him, but giving information. There was no contradiction in saying that John was a liar and a gentleman; any more than there now is in saying that James is a fool and an M.A. But then there came people who said - so rightly, charitably, spiritually, sensitively, so anything but usefully - "Ah but surely the important thing about a gentleman is not the coat of arms and the land, but the behaviour? Surely he is the true gentleman who behaves as a gentleman should? Surely in that sense Edward is far more truly a gentleman than John?" They meant well. To be honourable and courteous and brave is of course a far better thing than to have a coat of arms. But it is not the same thing. Worse still, it is not a thing everyone will agree about. To call a man "a gentleman" in this new, refined sense, becomes, in fact, not a way of giving information about him, but a way of praising him: to deny that he is "a gentleman" becomes simply a way of insulting him. When a word ceases to be a term of description and becomes merely a term of praise, it no longer tells you facts about the object: it only tells you about the speaker's attitude to that object. (A 'nice' meal only means a meal the speaker likes.) A gentleman, once it has been spiritualised and refined out of its old coarse, objective sense, means hardly more than a man whom the speaker likes. As a result, gentleman is now a useless word. We had lots of terms of approval already, so it was not needed for that use; on the other hand if anyone (say, in a historical work) wants to use it in its old sense, he cannot do so without explanations. It has been spoiled for that purpose.

Now if once we allow people to start spiritualising and refining, or as they might say 'deepening', the sense of the word Christian, it too will speedily become a useless word. In the first place, Christians themselves will never be able to apply it to anyone. It is not for us to say who, in the deepest sense, is or is not close to the spirit of Christ. We do not see into men's hearts. We cannot judge, and are indeed forbidden to judge. It would be wicked arrogance for us to say that any man is, or is not, a Christian in this refined sense. And obviously a word which we can never apply is not going to he a very useful word. As for the unbelievers, they will no doubt cheerfully use the word in the refined sense. It will become in their mouths simply a term of praise. In calling anyone a Christian they will mean that they think him a good man. But that way of using the word will be no enrichment of the language, for we already have the word good. Meanwhile, the word Christian will have been spoiled for any really useful purpose it might have served.

The word feminist has always had a variety of meanings.  When writers, historians, and social scientists try to make distinctions such as First Wave, Second Wave, and so forth, they are trying to tease apart the many meanings and impose some structure on them so that we may meaningfully discuss concepts.  They (sometimes) know such distinctions are arbitrary and inexact, yet accept this in order that we may use the terms at all. Yet by describing the differences as a chronology - or even a development - I think they miss widely. It has been a loaded, and therefore imprecise word from the start. Many of the arguments about feminists and feminism have come down to these different understandings. "Oh, if that's all you mean by feminism, then I don't disagree. I was thinking of the type of woman..."

And ah, there we have it. Both men and women use the word to reference a picture of a woman they hold in their head, in addition to whatever strictly denotative meaning they hold.  A type of woman.  This may be positive, negative, or mixed, but we are never entirely free of that more emotional and social meaning. (Remember here my prejudice that liberal reasoning is largely social, conservatives less so.  Both conservatives and liberals reason emotionally.) This is not merely a meaning imposed on others. Way back in the early 70s, a woman who described herself as a feminist, or not a feminist, or kind of a feminist, was not only talking about a set of abstract ideas, she was saying that she was smart/ambitious/modern/strong or calm/agreeable/traditional/ or any of a hundred combinations.  A lot of time was spent explaining, which could sometimes make things worse.

It was a discussion about what women should be like and how they should be treated, and as a derivative, what men should be like and how they should be treated. Of course everyone took it personally, and still does. There were dozens of drivers that could swing a person one way or the other. The idea that women have been treated unfairly and this should stop was foundational for man.  The observation that the most visible activists rather obviously had personal issues and some hated men affected others strongly. (Activists for anything are more likely to have "issues" and to hate someone.  That is true of me when I act as an activist, so I can hardly blame others.) "Well, I think women should have equal pay for equal work but I don't hate men or anything" was close to a cliche. And not a bad one, really, as cliches go. It was a way of quieting the discussion so that people could move on to more productive conversation.

The strident antifeminists, especially the male ones, often clearly had personal issues leaking out of their comments as well. That is still true, and it makes even women who don't necessarily define themselves as strongly feminist crazy. So, still angry that your wife divorced you, eh, Chuck?

Women wanted to be like their mother.  Or they very much did not want to be like their mother. Or they wanted to please/displease their father or that prince of a brother who kept getting all the glory. They wanted to make sure it was advertised that they wanted to get married, and further, that they wanted to have children.  Or not have children.  Or have them later, after their careers were established. Some liked the specialness of how women were treated in some situations, some hated it, most had mixed feelings. Men advertised how they weren't one of those terrible MCP's while simultaneously advertising that they were just fine with being good providers, and protective and brave and all that. Traditionalist parents found they were pleased with their daughter's achievements and incensed at her obstacles; some women were shocked to find that their whole outlook changed after having children, and later even more shocked to see how schools treated their sons, when they had been taught to expect that it was their daughters who were at risk.

How one felt about abortion, and laws about abortion, sliced through ideas of identity with a double-edged sword, and that was in turn influenced by unspoken but obvious attitudes as to whether having children was even valuable. In contrast to the idea that having children is the most important thing one can do.

We try.  Most of us try to have some clear meaning for the word. Except for me.  I have little idea what the word means and haven't used it for decades.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Trump and Evangelicals

An interesting article at The American Conservative, Why Ex-Churchgoers Flocked To Trump. I am not well able to verify this from my own experience, as most conservatives/Republicans/Trump supporters I know are church-connected.  I do know some at work, and I think there is some tendency for the Trump supporters to be people who used to go to church, but my sample size is too small to tell us much.  At least, it does not contradict this data. The idea that people got discouraged about church and decided that didn't work for rescuing their lives or the country, and thus gravitated to Trump is intriguing.

I will add in the bit that since colonial times Appalachia has carried on the Scots, and then Scots-Irish tradition of outdoor religious festivals lasting a few days or even a week. Camp meetings and revivals were not a new thing, they were an American adaptation of an older thing. This did create some de-emphasis on church and more on intermittent intensity. Scotland wasn't the only place, of course.  Saints days and festivals are known in many places.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Post 6000 - Competing With Masculinity

The American Psychological Association is critical of traditional masculinity, defined as "marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression." The APA isn't being particularly stoic in this, but they are being competitive, seeking dominance, and doing so in an aggressive manner.

They don't really dislike those qualities.  They like them just fine when they have the whip hand.

Family Treasure II

My Aunt Jennie was editor of The Horn Book, which is still being published but I think was more prestigious back in the 1950s because it was the only magazine of its type, reporting on children's literature. She was a children's author herself, and her first book, The Golden Name Day, was one of the Newbery Medal nominees when it came out. As editor of the Horn Book she was automatically on the decision committee, but took herself off because of the rather obvious conflict of interest. It was runner up to Carry On, Mr. Bowditch. The illustrations to Jennie's books were by Garth Williams, so they have a similarity of appearance to the "Little House on the Prairie" series.

Her first issue as editor was Jan-Feb 1951, and included her reviews of new books. Included in the batch was The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, which was published in October of 1950. I conclude that she was the first American to review the book, as she was likely also the first to review The Voyage of the Dawn Treader near.y two years later. We have that first issue, which she sent to her cousin Selma, my beloved Aunt Sal. I discovered it while going through all the family artifacts to display to the children and grandchildren before we weed through it all.  It will now go to Houston to live with one of my sons.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Family Treasure

On lined 5x7 paper, folded into a small triangle and addressed to "Alfy N. 45 Rubberneck St Manchester." Written in pencil in a child's neat cursive hand, age ten or so.

           Manchester, NH
                   Oct 4, 1900

Dear Alfy,
                 Come down
to morrow and we
will have a fight a
good one to. I will be
ready. I don't care
for mamma they can't
stop us. If they worry we
will only laugh.

Baby It's Cold Outside

For no reason I can think of, it occurred to me that the guy in that song brings no game at all.  I always thought he was kind of a jerk, not really listening to what she was saying but just repeating that it's cold/snowy and she's beautiful. Low level, dude. Offer to make breakfast and get her home right after the plows come. Restate how serious you are about this relationship. Step it up, man.

When I came back from my walk (It was really cold outside, maybe that's why it came to me), I looked up the lyrics, and confirmed. He did not talk her into anything.  That whole conversation is going on in her head. He's just a Ken doll in this fantasy. He doesn't deserve for her to stay, but she seems determined to.

Monday, January 14, 2019


I have just about all the oppressor categories nailed. White, male, Christian, straight, cis, big fan of Western Civ.  Old, I forgot old, which doesn't get mentioned as often but I think is secretly one of the big ones, as the oppressed seem very worried about keeping up with fashion, and old guys are notoriously bad at that.

I was never in the military, but two of my sons are/were, so I don't think I get a clean escape there.  I work for a state government, but it's NH, so I'll bet there's some deduction on that one. Recently I learned that mowing my lawn and keeping up my house are problematic, and I have finally learned to do that after all these years.  I suppose I could plead that I don't do it very well, but I doubt the judges will be kind. There's way too much Anglo-Saxon in me, and even the exceptions are Scots-Irish, plus an Irishman and a Welshman. I think I do confuse the issue with 25% Scandinavian DNA.  It's really, really, white, but on the other hand, the oppressed seem to think that Scandinavia is the Promised Land.

I used to play the guitar, but that doesn't help as much as it once did. Being a CS Lewis fan has long been a black mark in some circles, and now even Tolkien is coming under suspicion.  It won't be long.  GK Chesterton would cause the Twitter judges to throw up their hands in horror, if they knew who he was. All the fun retro activities that were tolerated were moved to neutral, and now wrongthink.

I'm not a capitalist by career, but my retirement money is in stocks and bonds, so I'm poisoned. I haven't divested from anything so long as it made money.  I suppose there are some things I wouldn't buy.

I'm also grouchy and critical and don't suffer fools gladly (though who does, really, as Eddie Izzard notes). So when you hear about oppressors, I think the name David Wyman should be the picture that comes to mind.  I have to admit, I thought being an oppressor would be more remunerative. I must not be all that smart.

Colin Kaepernick

The usual divide is
1. Colin Kaepernick was a good quarterback who was blacklisted because owners are old white guys who disagreed with his politics vs
2. Colin Kaepernick sucks and was just trying to please his idiot girlfriend and get back in the news.

It's more complicated.  My summary statement would be that he was treated prejudicially, and someone should have picked him up.  Yet not very prejudicially, and a lot of other guys have been more deserving and not gotten a fair shake. And even had he been picked up, he might not have played much, and certainly would not have lit up the sky.

First, how valuable would he be to a team in a pure football sense? Now, not very much, as he has been away from the game and that matters.  But even in the first months of availability, he was a bottom-quintile starting quarterback at best, more likely a high-level backup. Next, he is a running QB, which many teams want nothing to do with, especially after seeing what happened to the more talented Robert Griffin III.  Third, he has a definite style and personality of a starting QB, so A)You can't just slip him in as a backup if your starter gets hurt or is so terrible that you have to try the next man up; and B) He has not been noted as a really supportive and easy guy for other QB's, holding the clipboard, offering suggestions in the film room. If he becomes your starter, you have to change your offense on the fly, unless he is backing up one of the very few other running quarterbacks with similar skills.  He could be slipped in for Cam Newton.  He could step in if Russell Wilson got hurt.  Yet even there, those teams would probably be finished for the season if those guys went down. Only in a situation where they just needed a guy to finish a game and maybe give them a chance of winning half of the next few games before the star came back, is Kaepernick useful. Andy Reid doesn't want a guy that can't run what they've designed for Mahomes. Mike Tomlinson wants a guy who can at least temporarily be a Roethlisberger stand-in, even if he might become something else.  Bill Belichick had Jimmy Garoppolo and then Brian Hojer - guys who are great in the quarterback room and play a similar style to Brady.

The other side of that argument is that there are teams who played worse quarterbacks at some point in 2017 and 2018.  Even if no one said it out loud, there were coaches and GMs who thought, going into a next game or a few games, y'know, Colin Kaepernick would have been a better choice than this guy. That's just true, and I think that's what Kaepernick and his supporters are focusing on. Yet on the other, other hand, at the beginning of a season, or mapping out a grand strategy for the next few years, teams don't think like that.  They want a backup who is just a backup because they are committed to their starter, or a backup who is going to take over and be more than a marginal starter. In reality, many of those teams are just bad and they aren't going anywhere even with a hot new quarterback - but they convince themselves otherwise, or have to pretend.  They want to roll the dice on Sam Darnold, not try and build a great team that a Colin Kaepernick might, just maybe, if the cards fall right for us, take us to the playoffs.

Summary:  Not a lot of teams are going to want him.  There are 32 teams, and 24 of those don't need him. Of the other 8, half the teams should want him but they don't. The other half are understandable, given the business issues that follow.

Next, how much do his politics affect owners and GMs? Answer: somewhat, but not a lot. Football coaches hate distractions - witness how ticked everyone has gotten over the years about touchdown celebrations, non-regulation shoes, and players publicly complaining. Do they hate distractions they disagree with more?  That ranges from "hell, yeah," to "no, not at all."  Belichick benched Julian-friggin'-Edelman for making fun of an opposing coach. Even though the Krafts are big liberals,  the only way Kaepernick goes to the Patriots is if they think they can get him for a huge bargain.  Like league minimum. 

That said, it is likely that a few owners and/or GM's just thought I'm not touching that SOB for any money.  Screw him. 

Yet I would say those who take it that personally are few.  You don't become a billionaire by insisting that the people you work with share your politics.  What they are more worried about is how they think the fans will take it. The players are mostly black, and largely at least somewhat sympathetic to Kaepernick - though there is wide variation there. In the NBA nearly all the players are black, and you will not find a coach who has public politics that would offend them, even though a lot of the ticket-buyers and followers are middle-aged white guys. In the NBA, the players hold the power, and their politics are what matter. This is less strong in the NFL, but that element is still in play.  There is no owner in the NFL who gives a rat's ass if any of his players votes for communists or terrorists, so long as they don't talk about it, or it never gets in the news.

The league as a whole would prefer that someone sign Kaepernick, to make the problem go away.  There is not an NFL-wide plot to keep him out. A lot of fans are black or liberal, and even more of the players are black or liberal. However, the team that signed him would draw the ire of some of its own fans, plus others around the league, and few teams would want to do that.  There are loudly obnoxious and bigoted fans who would make it painful for an owner, and some others who were already on the margin and just start gradually drifting away from team support.

I don't think he's treated worse because he's black, but it may be worse because he picked a "black issue." He's poking sensitive areas of the flag and the police.  Sitting would have been more disrespectful than kneeling, but I don't know that it would have made much practical difference. I have read some very unsympathetic people shrugging at the end saying "Well, he's standing up for his people," which they weirdly respect.  Most critics see him as being divisive of Americans for the sake of identity politics.


We see patterns that are not there, and when you have an incentive to find a pattern (even if it is only being pleased with yourself for being so observant), you will find one.  Though some patterns are real. Whenever we elect someone, they start doing dumb stuff.

Of course, that seems to happen when we elect their opponent, too.  There must be a subtler pattern underneath all this that I am missing.

Sloan Sports Analytics Conference

I was thinking of finally going to the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference this year, now that I am semi-retired and have more time. Daryl Morey of the Houston Rockets was one of the founders, and it is the center of the universe for sports people seeking competitive advantage, sports journalists who rely heavily on complicated stats, and math nerds who follow sports.  Bill Simmons christened it "Dorkapalooza." It is referenced often in the type of podcast I listen to, and is right up my alley.

Tickets are almost $900 for a two-day conference.  That is not right up my alley. Sigh.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

I'll Never Find Another You

Or this

Mr Dieingly Sad

Songs like this are how I learned to sing harmony.  There was lots of this going around.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Back In My Day

Lots of fun stuff in the "more pizza" discussion.  There was (possibly) some uproar over the concept that one 18" pizza is bigger than two 12" pizzas. I say "possibly" because we don't know what percentage of readers did not comprehend this.  We only know that the Daily Mail found some stupid comments among the twitter replies.  We don't know whether those represent 1% or 90% of readers. I also note that some of those "stupid" comments looked suspiciously tongue-in-cheek, and others raised the somewhat fair questions of "it depends on what you want." If you can't get your pizzeria to divide your pie into the number of choices you would like, then two 12s might indeed be a better choice, and if what you really like is crust, then two 12s would be clearly superior. 

The person putting this out was trying to make a math point, using pizza as an illustration, so those objections would seem irritating and beside the point to math people.  Yet he did actually use pizza as his example, so he has invited the vampire across the threshold on that one. He also missed a trick in that is just barely works for 17" pizzas as well, because 17 squared is 289, one more than 12 squared times 2: 144 * 2 = 288). Maybe no one makes 17" pizzas, so the issue never comes up.

I read the story at Powerline, who blames this on liberals.  That is a partly unfair generalisation - I know plenty of liberals who can do math, and am told that theoretical math depts at colleges are largely liberal. However, I think it not entirely unfair. Practical math people, including engineers, are much more likely to be conservative, and the liberals I know at work are mostly innumerate. Sometimes jaw-droppingly so, even among those with graduate degrees.

But the deplorers have their own problems here.  At the conservative sites carrying this story, there is a lot of moaning about how everyone knew pi-r-squared when they were in school, and liberals have ruined our educational system and created a handbasket shortage because of excess supply of passengers.

The students in your highschool did not all know this.  No, no they didn't.  That is a false memory on your part. First, there were the children who went to special schools, in our case Laconia State School was the biggie.  They were only a few percent, but those children are regular classes now and create the impression that things are much worse.  I note in passing that while many of these children had genetic or prenatal problems, some were those who had bicycle accidents while not wearing helmets and you never saw them again.  In my high school in NH 1967-71 - remember that NH is one of those states that has the best testing scores in the country year after year - there was about a 25% dropout rate.  It was a crossover period from the early 60's and 30% to the late 70's and 20% in NH.  Either way, they never dealt with pi-r-squared.

Nor did the kids in vocational or business math, by and large.  There were vocational, business, and college tracks at the time. (This was a better idea, which we have lost because of false aspirational goals.) The first category only got taught concepts like areas of circles to give them an idea of such things, and to perhaps identify those mechanical students who could be given further instruction.  Similarly, the business students got such things in hopes that they would at least get the idea that numbers could prove things, and there were ways of using them that were helpful.  Some of that group understood concepts like squares and areas just fine, but were happy to drop it and get on to accounting and budgets.

People commenting about educational topics in a historical context on the internet are simply not a representative group of society at large. They remember what they and their friends learned, forgetting that this was not everyone.

The Great Molasses Flood of 1919

Twenty-odd people were killed in Boston's North End. We have discussed before, under the story of the Edmund Fitzgerald, why some tragedies enter the popular imagination while others are quickly forgotten.  I think in this case, the specificity of the molasses is key.  The news likely was reported at least a bit in other parts of the country, and in New England it would have been big news all week.

The interpretation now is that it was forgotten because it was a poor immigrant neighborhood and Who Cares About Them? It is believed that we buried news about greedy capitalist bastards and their victims back in the day. Yet I doubt that is the case.  It would likely have had a comic side even then, which might have given the story legs, but at root, people in Birmingham or Davenport or San Diego would have thought we don't have any molasses tanks here, and none of my relatives lives near a molasses tank.  Nothing to worry about.

Friday, January 11, 2019

People, Nations, Governments

I have detected over the years a belief among Christians, and those raised Christian whether they are now practicing or not, to regard the instructions of Jesus to his followers to apply automatically to nations.  Going one step further, there is the idea that what The Nation should do is synonymous with what The Government should do.

This manifests as requiring that nations turn the other cheek (and even that verse is misunderstood when referring to individuals), and that nations remember the poor, or suffer the little children, or give to the least of these. Not that the individuals in the nation rise up and develop the character to accomplish acts of generosity and mercy, but that we lobby the government to do this.  Same thing, see?

I will note, in a diversion from my main point, that this does not seem to include The Government selling its goods and giving them to the poor.  They are going to keep what they've got, thank you very much.  Nor does the government seem to be very big on being poor in spirit and the like.

The transitive property in mathematics teaches that if a=b and b=c, then a=c. But in conversation, especially in shifty arguments, we have to be careful that people don't try to slip one past us, treating a as sorta equal or mostly equal to b, and b is sorta equal to c, therefore a is pretty much the same thing as c. Individuals make up nations, and they do have some similar properties.  A nation is related to its government deeply, and it is sometimes sensible to speak of them as if they were interchangeable terms. Yet we can see most clearly how this does not at all suggest that they are fully synonymous, and have the same relationship to individuals if we imagine a very bad, oppressive government which is fragmenting a very good and decent people so that they do not dare speak freely to each other, and is holding that nation down. The individuals are only hopefully or potentially a nation then, and the nation is not the same thing as its government, it is a victim, acted upon by government.

The scriptures use the concepts in both ways.  Sometimes the individuals are the pieces of the nation, and have responsibilities to act well for the nation. Sometimes individuals are separated from the nation, and are rather on their own to respond to God.  The government, especially the king or the priest, sometimes represents the entire nation, for good or ill. Yet in other places the scriptures speak of kings oppressing a people.

It is also possible to see the government as the opposite of the people.  It is not something that we all do together, but that entity which makes individuals do things. It is not even a metaphorical individual.  Not everyone holds to that philosophy of government, of Government being the necessary evil that must be held on a tight leash, but most if not all of the framers of the Constitution thought so.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

New Computer

Almost there, transferring, downloading, reconfiguring, and redoing stuff.. Back in line soon. From the album "Back In Line."

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Porch Pirates

The City Journal article about porch pirates was interesting, but I think it misses an important piece of why it bothers us so much.

We want to live in a certain type of place.  We want to live in a place where we don't have to lock our doors, where we hope people will keep half an eye on our place while we are away. People who violate that are taking more than a delivery of a cute coffee mug or a few shirts on sale. While they are not breaking and entering, are not actually invading our homes, they are invading our property, our space.  They are not just taking something from our bank accounts, but from our lives.  Thieves stealing our stuff from the warehouse on its way here would be an irritation, not an infuriation.

We regard it as a crime against our community, and we would also be upset if a neighbor's items were stolen, more than we would if the neighbor's goods were stolen from his car while he was shopping at the mall.

Street Preaching

When I go to the food charity in the city, just before they let the first people in line past the barrier at 10am they have a preacher on the back of the truck starting at around 9:45. It is usually heartfelt but unfocused, full of cliches and personal anecdotes that are sometimes strange. I can deal with that, just barely, though I do cringe a bit. I do wonder if it doesn't put more people off than it attracts. Especially people waiting for food, sometimes in bad weather.

What bothers me is the entire focus is usually a "saved or lost" soul-winning appeal, fifteen minute, out of context with anything. That isn't how Jesus preached, nor Paul, not Peter, as far as I can tell.  Jesus covered a lot of topics, but his focus was on describing what God the Father is like, what living with a heaven-centered attitude is like, and hammering home to Jews that He was the authority they had heard about, had been waiting for, and should be listening to. There was nothing about inviting people into hearts.  I am all for moments of choice and need for repentance, but the Jesus sermons seem to work those in in entirely different ways.

I've always thought of soul-winning as asking "Okay, what's the bare minimum someone has to do to get into heaven? Let's focus all our energy on that."  I'm thinking if you asked Jesus what the bare minimum you had to do to be saved was, you might get a stern reply.


Some Democrats are talking about much higher tax rates for the very wealthy. One would think that this could generate some ill-will among people who make big money in sports and entertainment industries, and that such ill-will would be bad press for them. Athletes, actors, and singers suddenly realising that 70-80% of their money is going to go to the government may not be such strong Democratic constituencies. When tax rates were last that high, before Reagan, athletes didn't make anywhere near as much money.

Don't be silly. That's not how shakedowns work.  You set the tax rates high, but create carveouts for your friends.  That way they are not only relieved and happy with you, but even more dependent on you remaining in power. That's what happened to a lot of people with the Affordable Care Act. Remember when the Beatles were conservatives?

Saturday, January 05, 2019

Wyrd And Providence Series

Reposted from July 2010. I had a lot of fun with this eight years ago.
Part I

I am reconsidering an idea I rejected years ago.
New England was a peculiarly fertile ground for a peculiar and intense version of Calvinism, because predetermination is a Christianised version of Norse fatalism.  I don’t subscribe to that fully, but I don’t reject it out of hand anymore.

Part II
 Swedish Luciafest, and dressing children in the cute costumes of grim Norse pagan beliefs.  Disney was hardly the first, eh?

Part III

From Danes to East Anglia to Puritans.  How the grim creatures disappeared in the ocean, but some of the ideas were carried to New England.

Part IV

My theory unravels some.

Part IV-A

Part V

Accusation by nature; trial by ordeal; some magics believed in, and some condemned, in Puritan New England.


An actual historian lends support to my theory.

A New Rule

What they are supporting is usually wrong.

In 1914 a number of German scientists, scholars, and artists signed The Manifesto of the Ninety-Three, agreeing with Germany's entry into WWI and defending it against accusations that it was they who had started it all. In our own era, we have the Union of Concerned Scientists and their environmental and anti-nuclear slants, and various physician groups who want to weigh in on gun control.  In a discussion (argument) about race and the conclusions of Nicholas Wade's Before the Dawn, a young friend linked for me a letter to the NYTimes by geneticists condemning him and his claims.

A letter to the NYT is not how science is done. It's how politics is done. We see something similar in criminal cases and in legislation - attorneys who are attempting to try the case in the press rather than in court, or those who are trying to carry on debate in controlled soundbites rather than in accordance with the job they were elected to do, are often doing so cleverly, shrewdly.  They suspect they can't win if they have to go through the usual channels, but they have a good shot in public opinion.

So too with the scientists and intellectuals - they are telling us they don't think they can win a fair fight, so they try and change the terms.  Shiny! Shiny! When challenged, they usually claim some variation of those other guys are winning unfairly by hoodwinking the public and they are only trying to right the ship. That is theoretically so, but examples for this are not coming to mind. 

I think physicians associated with the American Cancer Society should weigh in about cancer, an even political matters touching on cancer; the same for heart, diabetes, mental health, teeth, etc. It is often nice to know the backstory whether they represent majorities in their fields, but that is secondary. Biologists should be able to talk about GMO foods, chemists about contamination, that sort of thing.

But when scientists are trying to trade on white coats to take political stands, not as individuals but as supposed representatives of their craft, I have a new rule: they are taking the end-around because they can't win the fair fight.  What they are supporting is usually wrong.

A Modern Idea

The current thinking is that there is no way to understand history, or literature, or theology, or sociology without first noting the biases.  It's all about power relationships and preserving status and perpetuating...stuff. I agree with that considerably, and my best evidence is the behavior of current academics. Few eras and classes have exemplified that as clearly as our current crop.

When people tell you the terrible motives of those they disagree with, it is wise to pay attention.  They are describing, or predicting what they would do and what their motives would be if they had the power, the money, or the status. I have seen this come true in my lifetime.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

More on IQ

Discussing the topic of wisdom over at Chicago Boyz, I hit upon the idea that IQ tests are rather like the decathlon.  We declare the winner to be the world's greatest athlete, then forget about him the next week.  We pay, and pay attention to almost every other athlete more. We apparently don't really think the decathlete is the best; or perhaps we value athletic display only in context of accomplishing some goal, such as hitting a large or small ball somewhere, so that a more limited number of combined abilities is admired. The decathlon certainly does test athletic abilities, and while we might add or subtract others (think pentathlon), those abilities would likely greatly transfer to any sport we might devise.

It is both true and false that the decathlete is the world's best athlete, and I think it fits the IQ/Other Smarts debate pretty well.

Update: Comments over at West Hunter - ouch

Tuesday, January 01, 2019


I just saw a reference to that school and couldn't think what it was.  All I could think of was Owal Woberts University.  I'm betting that's wrong.

Taleb And IQ

Nicholas Nassim Taleb gets a lot right in this string of tweets discounting the importance of IQ.  The strength of his argument seems to be that he knows lots of high-IQ people who are pretty useless, or don’t get the right answers to complicated questions, while also knowing people with average IQ’s who do get the right answers, making them useful.  As a person with a high IQ who is pretty useless, I see what he means. There is a good deal that is valuable in this short analysis. I think he is giving evidence for three related and slightly different points, but I don’t think they combine into the single idea he puts forward.

He is making the case that IQ is not a standalone ability for much of anything.  It’s hard to argue with that.  I can’t think off the top of my head of any standalone ability. Though that is obvious, that doesn’t make Taleb’s point ridiculous, as there are people who seem to think it is a standalone ability that can take you places. They can be pretty annoying, also, especially when things go wrong and it is everybody else’s fault.

Next, he thinks there is a type of intelligence not measured by IQ that works much better in uncertainty.

Third, he thinks the two types of intelligence are not merely different, but antagonistic to each other.  He thinks the standard, IQ-type intelligence that allows one to succeed in school pushes out the other, uncertainty-based intelligence.

School and standardized tests do ask questions in which the answer is known, and a lot of reality does not fit that. Sometimes we don’t know if an answer is even knowable, as there are variables acting so quickly on each other that no one even could know the answer. I do recall from standardised tests that there was sometimes the possibility "One cannot tell from the given information," but I think those were entirely in math.

As SAT's (essentially an IQ test) are fairly good predictors of college success, it is likely that if there is any split between these types of intelligence, what one learns in college, and how one learns in college, is going to be on the IQ/false predictability side of the scale. Operating on the cliche of "it's not what they don't know, it's what they think they know that ain't so," could indeed mean that college makes things worse.

You can likely sense that I am working toward my disagreement with NNT, but don't get impatient here.  There is, as I noted initially, much that is good.  I work in a field where the primary beliefs of the experts when I started are greatly overthrown at this point. Not merely that we have new data, such that old theories have to be reworked or sometimes discarded, but that the previous ideas were stark raving mad, so to speak, and yet asserted with certainty and a condescension. A lot of those ideas of how to treat psychological problems are still hanging around, though mercifully less powerful each year. The idea that schizophrenia, autism, bipolar disorder, OCD, etc could be medical disorders was sneered at by many (though the change was already occurring in 1979).  Christian counselors were especially and openly despised. Those were in retrospect less badly wrong. One third of the field seemed to go nuts in the 1980's about recovered memory and satanic ritual abuse, and there are still some who won't let those go. At all points, the views of the experts were asserted against the knowledge of outsiders as if it was ridiculous to even consider such a thing.

All that before the words "replication crisis" were even uttered.

A Master's in Social Work is much concerned with political training. A very narrow set of boundaries for one's politics is not-very-subtly announced in the NASW ethics statement.

Historical Linguistics continues to sneer at the Greenbergs and Ruhlens - not to mention all those Russian Nostraticists - of the field, forever focusing on relatively unimportant problems in the service of rejecting a whole new way of doing business.  Because it's just not the way things are done. Unfortunately, Greenberg has proven out in Africa, and the genetics of the North American tribes are showing in just about exactly the same way as his theories for the new world would suggest. Anthropologists can still insist that primitive man was largely peaceful, twenty years after Lawrence Keeley's War Before Civilization, but the cracked skulls (and sucked marrow) at archaeological sites will render that less and less likely going forward. I will grant that some archaeology seems to be taking the right attitude, that new information is coming in so fast that all theories must be held lightly, and even very odd ones are deserving of at least a look.  I may delude myslef on this, though.  I don't really know.

The college experts are worrisome, in field after field, and they are passing this knowledge on.  The method of attaining advanced degrees does favor people who have both tenacity and an ability to not point out the obvious (they tell themselves they will revert when they get out from under that control) - to know a great deal that is not so. Taleb goes after economists in particular.  I can't refute or support him there, because I know nothing, but he certainly seems plausible.

If the conservative press focuses too much on the extreme examples of academic experts believing and teaching amazingly stupid things, that is still in response to a public that largely believes "but she's a history/sociology/English professor" as an assurance of correctness. In mathematics, I think the universities can fairly claim they've got a corner on the experts.  I suspect it is much the same in some sciences.  But does anyone believe the best musicians, actors, writers, designers, dancers and other artists are to be found at the universities? Business, eh, no.  Programmers? Please. Jonathan? What's up with geographers? Is that one of the fields that experts really have no place to go but colleges, and thus academics still own the field? More to the point, the fields where the experts, academics or not, indisputably know the most are also fields completely overrun with fashions. History.  Literature. Cultural and Social Anthropology.

Here is an interesting group that I think would somewhat agree with NNT, though they would have some sharp correctives:  people in the high IQ societies.  I don't know about that vaguer category of "people with high IQ's," but for the joiners, there was remarkable clarity what the ability was and wasn't, it's limitations, its advantages, and its sometime parlor-game quality. A story I had long forgotten: during my brief tenure as president of the Prometheus Society, Paul Ehrlich qualified and joined. Some fawned over him immediately (pathetic, I thought) and others wanted to have a go at what a fool he was straight off. For my part, I thought the work he was known for foolish, but thought he might have interesting things to say about other subjects, and was conscious of my role, recognising that criticism from me might have a stamp of authority that would be unfair. I thought it might hurt the group and said nothing.

Ehrlich may be exactly the sort of person Taleb is talking about.

Here's where I think Taleb goes wrong. He generally does not know the IQ's of the people he is talking about, and is making assumptions. That people who did well on school testing and in academic environments have high measured IQ's is a fair assumption, and if they are often fools that is evidence that IQ isn't everything. Differentiating among who was high and who was very high is another matter. On the other end of the argument it is even worse.  He can think of Fat Tony and people like him as people who have only average IQ's, but he doesn't know that. For this alternate type of intelligence that operates better under uncertainty there may be a floor, and it may not be 100. That they are uninterested in the most obvious set of endeavors related to IQ, deriving from school success, does not mean they don't have high IQ. To my knowledge, no one has even approximated a measurement of this success under uncertainty, never mind what overlap it might have with school smarts.

To be fair, that may not be NNT's point. This series of tweets may simply be a more emphatic version of what he has long said, that those we consider experts get things horribly wrong, while some people we consider less intelligent actually have a good practical track record.