Sunday, December 08, 2019

Luciadag Exposed

We had our Luciafest yesterday, with appropriately cute tomten and tinselly circlets on the angels. The Wyman granddaughters figured prominently.  Neither are old enough to be among the white-robed maidens who surround the Lussibruden, the Lucia Bride, but they are awaiting their chance eagerly.  All the high-school girls who are in the Lucia Court every year have been eyeing their chance since they could walk. You get to look good, marching in slowly with candles in your white robe. We went for the flame risk with the crown of candles this year, as we usually do.

We make a big deal of explaining the home ceremony every year, though I don't know if anyone actually does it. The eldest daughter in the household rises before dawn and puts on a white robe with a red sash...

This always sounded rather hard on the eldest daughter, getting up in the cold dark on what was then the Solstice to make saffron buns and coffee.  Poor girl. It reminded me of how hard life would be out on the farms in the old days. I suppose it's only once a year, and you do get to be the star.

An older Swedish lady pointed out to me quietly last night that sunrise in Stockholm is at 8:45am.

Saturday, December 07, 2019

Mental Arithmetic

I used to love it and love the challenge, but when my son from Norway looked at gas at $2.29/gallon and asked "What would that be in crowns per liter?" I immediately started scrambling to see if I could find a shortcut or a trick rather than trying to do it in my head by brute force while driving.  In the the end, he pulled out his device and started doing the calculations that way.  We finished at about the same time.  I actually did get an answer of 6.7 NOK/L just before he did, but that seemed odd and I wondered if I had misplaced a decimal and it was really 67 NOK/L. I said "6.7," but I wasn't at all confident.

He said they spend about 16 NOK/L in Tromso, which would be about $5.50/gallon.

And I'm still not sure I got that right, but that sounds about right. But if it was really supposed to be 5.8 NOK/L and I got a denominator and numerator switched so that it was actually almost seven bucks a gallon I would believe that too. I don't much play with numbers anymore, and the knowledge slowly seeps away.

Comparative Freedom, Comparative Advantage

The podcast I was listening to about 15th C England did not mention the Hajnal Line, but the concept was behind a great deal of what was being discussed. Women in 15th C England (and Holland) had more rights than women in other places. It does not look coincidental that these were the two places that most quickly prospered and went on to found wealthy colonies as well.

First, here is the Hajnal Line
West of the red line (but inside the blue lines added by researchers after Hajnal) women married later and occasionally not at all.  Widows did not always remarry. They could inherit property. Any modern American woman transported back to that time would find the restrictions on her life intolerable.  Women could not join most guilds, and had almost no political power, even at the local level.  Their husbands could take over the management of their inherited property or any money they had. However, compared to women in other countries these women had a lot of freedom.

HBDChick's post from a few years ago will give you plenty to chew on in terms of where this all came from and what advantages it created. Just for openers, it seems to have been worth a few points of IQ and a reduction in internal violence in modern Western, especially Northwestern Europe, with exceptions. She leans heavily on the system of manorialism favoring the development of nuclear versus extended families. Authority came from the lord, not the clan leader. Her additional theory is that the Roman Catholic Church forbidding cousin marriage was for unclear reasons only obeyed in NW Europe beginning about 1200 or so, even though it was supposedly in play everywhere, and this had cumulative effects. Cousin marriage solidifies extended family holdings rather than nuclear. Men had to prove some worth to the family in order to be allowed to marry, and thus tended to be older.  Women were married off younger because there were no further resources they were going to acquire before marriage, so they might as well start off having the necessary children for agricultural purposes right away.

Women who marry later and have skills and resources of their own, that they have earned as servants or in home crafts such as spinning or brewing, create a familial foundation for small businesses and thus a merchant society. A 30-year old man has a different attitude toward  a 26-year old wife than a 16 year-old one, even in what we would experience as a deeply patriarchal society. The older bride, who had helped her mother manage her father's business and might be in line to inherit it, would see herself differently and have expectations as well.  She would have fewer children, but a greater percentage of them would live to adulthood. There would then be increased trade, as men could feel more confident leaving a business in the hands of their wife while they went to London or the Continent to see about importing and exporting, or learning new industrial or agricultural techniques.

And perhaps that is the foundation of the industrial revolution and western civilisation, more than other things we usually credit.  We usually see rights for women as being a result of those societal changes.  Maybe they were the cause.

#7 - Real ABBA

From 2008. This is not the ABBA post with the most hits, but looking at all of them in order to choose only one, I liked this best.

Costuming in that mixed Superhero/Ren Faire/Porn Star look that was never duplicated.

Many of the pictures and videos are expired in my two-dozen or so ABBA traffic-drivers. The following should be okay for the moment and may be of interest. Or maybe not.
ABBA History.
ABBA and Sex Education
Gimme, Gimme, Gimme
Tived's Hambo

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Classroom Disruption

I had read the Quillette article and wondered whether to comment.  Then it was featured over at Maggie's and I thought I'd better have a go. My comment over at MF:

"I don't know about specific implementation in schools, but "getting the potential audience out of the way" is a good strategy on a psych ward, particularly with teenagers. People calm down quicker when there's no one to show off for. That's not just theory. Once you get used to implementing it, it works quickly.

It's less-effective but still better than other interventions with the kids who are out-of-control for neurological reasons, who don't have an effective 'off'' switch of their own. More people looking at them puts more energy into their system."

I honestly don't know what is best in schools.  It's not my field.  I do know that the older forms of discipline work better on kids who are already well-behaved.  Of course, pretty much anything works on them. Because most people who are reading about educational practices online and commented on blog sites about them were better behaved and better students than average, their memories of what worked do not generalise as well as they suppose. Also, the special needs children were largely not in public school in my day, and particularly in high school, they dropped out or got expelled pretty early. That removes them from both the discipline samples then, and our memory samples now.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

#8 - Road Rally - The Puzzles

I wrote a whole series in January 2011 about Road Rallies, a puzzle-hunt for teams of four per car that I used to design for group events. Ten puzzles scattered throughout a city, which would take 2-4 hours to complete.  I have no idea why this one had many more hits than the others. The rest of the series is Road Rally II, Scoring and Details, and a fun addition, Anti-Gravity.


Road Rally anecdotes will mostly be in the last post. As even a basic description is detailed, I figured full directions on how to do this wouldn’t be much more.

These are sample puzzles (click to enlarge). Easy one first. Other types are limited only by your imagination of what can fit in an envelope, I suppose. We once opened an envelope to find a sheet of green construction paper with 43,560 written on it - which wouldn’t make any sense if you aren’t from the Manchester area, but was decoded as Green Acres, an elementary school. I once took a photograph from the base of an identifiable building and asked what was 75 yards west.

If this sort of thing doesn’t grab you, the rest of these posts aren’t likely to enchant. Not that every puzzle has to be congenial to your particular skills – that’s why you have teams – but you can likely get the drift.

The puzzle designs would have to be modified these days, in an era of hand-held electronics. We’ll discuss this in a subsequent post. For now, think old school, armed with the reference books of an earlier era: dictionary, thesaurus, atlas, phone book.

Speed is essential. It is not necessary to fill in every blank or correct spelling, only to figure out where the puzzle is sending you. I recalled that my wife was once able to leap to “Livingston Park” from very few letters embedded in a set of directions. We solved the further directions on the way there.

The destination for the first puzzle is OAK HILL ROAD You will notice the question at the bottom “What year is...?“. You would drive to Oak Hill Road, bash around until you found the sign and identified the year, and use that answer to open the next envelope. That ingenious scoring method will be the subject of the next post.

The second puzzle was good for variety. Some players took to it with ease, others just couldn't do it, even when they got the idea. The destination was BEHIND KIMBALL SCHOOL. There was a memorial there, with six steps leading up to it. (The concept, and some of the sayings, were from Games magazine. I am terrible at this kind of puzzle.)

Puzzles built off the map of Europe are my most-repeated. The numbers may be hard to read, but the destination is WRIGHT MUSEUM, a WWII museum in Wolfeboro.

Monday, December 02, 2019

Ron Bailey and Jonathan Adler on Climate Change

Reason magazine has been among the mild climate skeptics for decades, but Ron Bailey is now more convinced there could be a serious problem. He has been trending that way for a while. Jonathan Adler's article sounds even more dire, but his tone in the headline and at the beginning is a bit of an oversell.  Adler's conclusion is more measured than that.  My own position has long been that I am convinced there has been slight warming, and I think the scientific consensus for that opinion is considerable.  Serious researchers, though they are generally more concerned than I am, are less willing to commit to statements that human-created changes are most of or even a large part of the problem.  They are even less willing to commit to the idea of imminent catastrophe.

I am not any kind of expert, and in such matters rely on something I am more skilled at: who is fighting fair, who is overselling what their own data says, who is acknowledging appropriate doubt and caution. I don't listen to people who reflexively say it's all a scam, and I don't listen to people who insist that imminent catastrophe is beyond question.  In the current milieu, anyone who isn't disavowing Greta Thunberg loses credibility points with me quickly.  We all like to have everyone we can on our side and don't like to kick even allies, but some things are beyond the pale. She is a frightened, sick girl who does not understand that her feelings of dread are not evidence of anything but her own state of mind - and perhaps the state of mind of those around her.

Adler doesn't come near that.  He spends a lot of time explaining the controversies among the researchers and why some are more concerned than others. A major problem in the past is that the models predicting catastrophic change in the past have not had a good record when they fed the data from 1990 or 2000 into their models and compared it to what actually did happen later.  Those hindsight models are slowly getting better. A few of the researchers leak out a WE HAVE TO ACT NOW AND EVERYONE KNOWS IT YOU FOOL panic in spite of themselves, but there is very little of that in a longish article. Nothing like we see in the corporate press. I don't know if it is actually a fair summary, as it's not my field, but it looks like what a reasonable argument should look like. No name calling or secret sneers, respectful language for all sides.

He now believes there is a small but greater chance of catastrophe than he did before, catastrophe being defined as longer droughts, more hurricanes, more extreme weather in general.

It  moved the dial for me slightly.

Values in Frozen II

Remember as "Star Wars" was getting increasingly popular in the 80s, that there were Christian writers who were very angry that The Force was not the same thing as God, and it was dangerous for Christians to allow their children to be exposed to this?  Forty years later there are plenty of young Christians from that era who are also Star Wars geeks, and very few if any who seem to believe in The Force for their everyday theology, so I'm thinking there wasn't a strong faith-destroying aspect after all.

OTOH, there are fewer Christians in that generation than in the ones preceding, and defections come from somewhere.  The overall culture draws them away, and major cultural touchstones must certainly be part of that. While even the most major of these, though they suffuse the culture of a generation, do not drive all values before them like captives, they must have some effect. Call it 1%.  We did not teach our children about Santa Claus when they were young, even though this created social difficulty, largely because I had heard too many nonbelievers make the specific connection I stopped believing in God, just a little bit after I stopped believing in Santa. They themselves made the connection.  I took them at their word, but never thought it was more than a 1% influence.

Still, when it is your kid, a 1% influence can be a big deal. So I am going to give a mixed review of the values portrayed in Frozen II, but I don't want to paint it as a great destroyer of youth.  Disney does not create values and advocacy, it reflects what it believes parents and kids will like. It is not so much a teacher as a mirror. That is true of the Disney films, live and animation, from earlier eras as well.

The conscious and open values stressed are both good ones: Do the next right thing, and the praise of self-sacrifice, even unto death, for those you love.  Hard to argue with those.

Fantasy and myth are often vague and even contradictory in their morality at first.  The point is to tell a whopping good story, and the good guys are good, the bad guys bad.  Let's not complicate things.  But as the story, or especially a series goes on, more is required simply to tell a continuing good story.  The author then comes up against the question (sometimes unwitting) What do I think real goodness and real evil are? If the hero or heroine have to come up against temptation, ambiguity, or sacrifice what, exactly, are the issues here? I have written about this more than once over the years. Many other works are discussed at least in passing in the following.
Star Wars Villains
Game of Thrones

Frozen II follows the pattern.  In order to have a story at all, the writers need a conflict and a danger that flows from the earlier, simpler story. They mostly make a hash of it. In the first story, Elsa goes off in order to learn about her really identity and power, in true modern fashion.  At least the first time she left primarily because she was dangerous to everyone and wanted to protect them, achieving her girlish coming-of-age as a by-product.  Developing identity may have been the point of the movie and the story, but within the story it isn't noticed.  Her ability to freeze her friends accidentally is the problem.

But this time Arendelle is at peace and the only thing driving Elsa to go off on an adventure is a little song she keeps hearing.  The audience quickly senses that there is an important question to be answered, and of course is sympathetic to the girl going off and find out what it is.  That's what adventures are for, right?  Except...not when you're queen.  You go on adventures like that in your early career to prove yourself worthy of being queen, but once you are ruler of a people, their needs are more important than yours. It is the same as being a dad or a mom, a husband or a wife: you are no longer entirely your own.  Medieval kings or lesser nobility may have had secret desires to show their prowess when they went crusading, but the original point was that the Crusades were going to provide benefit for all the people, especially the Church.

Worse, we find out that this is what her mother and father did before her.  They lied and told everyone they were going to the South Seas, but they really went north in order to find out what Elsa's magic was really about. They died doing it, leaving their country in the hands of two young daughters who didn't have much in the way of advisors and experience. All this in service of the very modern idea off "finding out who you are really meant to be."  There is a Christian version of it, of finding your calling being of central importance to your spiritual growth and productivity, such as is found in Blackaby's books. I don't like it much. It imposes 20th C ideas on the Scriptures. The number of people God commanded to "Go to Nineveh" or whatever is very small. 

Elsa is special of course, as was Luke Skywalker (plus someone else in fantasy I am not remembering at present), and in our present era we sometimes teach that such are above the rules or responsibility.  In previous fantasy this was not so, even up to the 1970s (Taran Wanderer, Will Stanton, all the versions of Arthur and all of Tolkien's and Lewis's heroes), and characters who thought their magic and power put them above rules were the villains. We have progressed so that we are now not only not allowed to get between a man and and his destiny, but a woman as well.

I don't think gay rights and trans right could have thriven without such a strong  cultural belief in achieving a set destiny.

Next there are the nature spirits, supposedly super-powerful but actually not really running the show.  Some power or powers are behind them that put the forest in a mist of hiding. Something is sending a little song to Elsa, beckoning her to head north. In real mythologies, all of these have names and personalities, as Neptune does in "The Little Mermaid." There is a sense that they are like Norse Norns, though these are not given a name.  There are no Frey and Freya, Thor or Odin here, though this is clearly the sort of world you might expect them to show up in.  I don't think the lack of naming is because of an artistic consideration or desire to avoid controversy with Christians.  It is because the writers are as vague about this in their own minds as comes across in the script. If there are future episodes and they have to go deeper they are going to find contradictions and have to double back. The Northuldra are clearly the Sami people, with Norse ideas imposed on them.  If writers insist on keeping things vague with no Loki but not going into ancestor worship or animism, they are going to have a hard time find a point of good or evil to hook onto. A great adventure and short quest story kept the questions at bay this time.  I don't know what they'll do next time, trying to find a hook for good or evil.

They found an escape in modern popular villains this time, with the betrayal by the white, western, advanced colonialists of the innocent nature-loving indigenous peoples working out just fine for a current audience. But next time either Arendelle or Northuldra or both, or the whole world, is going to be in danger from something, and Elsa is going to have to stop just sitting around being the fifth spirit in pleasant circumstances and unite the peoples, the spirits, and likely the reindeer and the fish of the sea as well to push that enemy back. To do that, some mythology is going to have to get fleshed out, as it was in Star Wars with its midichlorians and shuffling back and forth between the dark and light sides of The Force, and it's likely to be just as ridiculous.  Not that anyone will care, so long as the adventures are good.

Disney may just go forward with various shorts, however.  The wedding of Anna and Kristoff has got to occur fairly soon in their time, and Sven has got to be Best Man, which gives ample enough opportunity for humor that the question of what to do for a ceremony may be papered over.  Arendelle is between 1400-1800 northern Europe in spirit.  While they don't have to, and probably shouldn't try to be historically accurate to anywhere in that time, they aren't going to have much success stepping out of that to a nature-worship gathering either.  I may be wrong on that.  The Disney Princess audience might now be just fine with having nothing that looks like a traditional wedding of the last 10 centuries of western culture. 

Overall, the values taught in Frozen II rest on a foundation that is vaguer and dumber than the first one, with mixed results.

Sunday, December 01, 2019

Bacon Science

This is what science is for.


A new discovery in the staging of Hamlet. Fun site.

False Positives

Grim also referenced this study. Those of you who have followed here for a while, or have caught some of Bethany's posts over at Graph Paper Diaries know what the problem is here. Whatever method you use to identify those who are a potential threat will include many false positives, and what do the advocates for these plans plan to do about that?

Friday, November 29, 2019


You don't have to watch it all. The comments are pretty good over at YouTube if you want to bother.

I Just Don't Like Him

Medieval politics was personal and individual.  I understand "Game of Thrones" captured that well. We think of that as petty and selfish - a king is supposed to act for the good of his people, not only for his and his family's own advantage. That a duke slighted you is not now considered sufficient reason for war. It was then.  In fact, it has been the norm for most of human history, and the medieval era could fairly be considered one that moved us in the direction of rulers having more concern for the ruled. Henry IV was a pretty good king, but didn't get much credit for it in his day.  People didn't like him much.

We owe a great deal to George Washington's example of being a president of all the people, and being above party.  The presidents who succeeded him had been generally vicious partisans on their way up to the office, but the first few, who had seen the value of Washington's political neutrality, tried hard to match it.  They considered it "befitting to the office," and it set the tone for those after. Today we consider it automatic that presidents don't take us to war over personal issues.  It was one of the things some worried about with Donald Trump, that his vindictive responses to internal political conflicts would be echoed in international affairs, and he would take us to war with a country whose leader had crossed him.  That has not proved to be the case.  In fact, one could make a fairer case against Obama and Bush 43 letting personal opinions of other rulers or nations cloud their judgement. I haven't thought it through beyond that.  DJT might score above many others on that scale.  Even if he's dead wrong in his decisions, I don't think it can be said that they reflect personal scores to settle, or being blinded by guys he just likes.

I don't think we are very far above the medievals in this attitude.  We are mostly just pretending we have reasons why we like political candidates.  We look in irritation at the consultants who try to sell their candidates on the basis of image rather than ideas, but they likely know better than we do that the ones who disapprove most are equally susceptible to being manipulated. I have a friend of good, longstanding conservative credentials who keeps telling me how upset he is with Trump. He's not a good family man.  Can you imagine what it must be like to be in that family? He didn't vote for Obama either time, but he admires what a good family man he was. (I only partially grant that, BTW.  Yet I at least take his point.) I tell him I would much prefer Trump be a better husband and family man, but it ultimately doesn't affect my vote.  My friend reluctantly agrees, but then two weeks later he tells me how Trump's bragging bothers him. It bothers me, too, but it is well down the list of what I'm going to vote on. My friend just doesn't like him, and the issues take a back seat.  He's not the only one I know.

It is the same on the other side of the divide.  I briefly shared an office with someone who is radical enough left that he hasn't much liked most liberals until Bernie, and now this crop of farther-left Democrats.  He does agree with radical conservatives at least partly on some issues.  In our conversation I said "One of the things I was worried about with Trump was that he was going to impulsively and vindictively get us into war.  If anything, the opposite has been true." He paused, caught my point, and acknowledged that he could at least see why I thought that was a reason to support him. Yet he quickly went into other criticisms that were not entirely issue-based, and one of the women at the table shivered about what a horrible man he is and women have every right to be worried about what might happen to them. I pointed out that John Edwards and Bill Clinton were worse, and nothing bad seems to have happened to women under Trump, but the reply was a shaking of the head and another shiver. They just don't like him. The issues don't matter.

It is similar on the other, other side, of those who support him.  I comment on a half-dozen conservative sites, and at each there are regulars who will not only defend Trump no matter what he does, but call you names quickly if you disagree with him about anything. Tariffs are a bad idea. Maybe Trump can wrest a short-term tactical victory from the use of them, but they are still a long-term loser. Because much of what is lost is opportunity cost and creative destruction we don't see the price tag, but it's still there.  Even if the trade war with China hurts them more than us, it still hurts us, and some sectors more than others. It's a real cost that some neighbors are paying, even if it works out for our long-term benefit. But if anyone says that, they are dismissed as elites or neverTrumpers, who just don't see that he's playing 3D chess and outwitting them all.  They just like him. They repeatedly praise him because he fights, as if that were somehow the key.  He kicks the people they want to see kicked, and they just like him.  They insist that the constant insult and combativeness are an essential part of the strategy.

Well tell that to Bill Belichick. (Who I think would be a really fun president to have, BTW.) You don't actually have to say "Screw you, I'm doing it my way," you just have to be unaffected by what stupid or untrustworthy people say.  That's the part Trump gets right, being unaffected and doing it his way anyway. The combativeness is part of the package with him, and perhaps was necessary to get elected in the current climate, but it's not necessary to governance.  Plenty of great leaders have done without it. Washington dealt with armed rebellion and threats of secession. Lincoln had a full-fledged civil war. Yet kicking is the part some Trump fans like. They believe that combativeness, rather than confident independence, is what has been missing in the past.  They say that he and his abrasiveness are what is doing it all, with no help from the Republican establishment. You tell me how successful he would be if the Senate was 70-30 in favor of Democrats. No Federalist Society recommended judges appointed at multiple levels then.

DJT has been successful at the tipping point for the Republicans and that is valuable.  Not everyone can do it. Yet the scales have to be closely balanced for the tipping to even be a possibility.

Obama infuriatingly said "You didn't build that," when the people he was speaking about absolutely had built that.  Government can provide value-added or value destruction, and that can indeed be crucial.  There are plenty of places with ruined economies because their governments didn't do its job well.  But the government didn't build that, the people operating in a free market did.  So too with Trump - and to be fair to him, for all his braggadocio, he is not the one claiming he's doing it all, it's his die-hard fans - he didn't build that. The hated Republican establishment built that, but proved repeatedly they could close the deal. He has provided value-added, and it has been crucial WRT judges. He has been helpful in terms of the economy, but he'd be the first to tell you that it is millions of people working at their jobs that is building that. At the moment, his foreign-policy choices look okay among the usual list of terrible choices leaders have in this fallen world. In all these things, it's not a fair world.  Some presidents can get away with numerous bad decisions, so long as they don't get them all wrong, because the times are not critical.  Others need to get 80% of their decisions right or they fail, because the times are dire.

But sometimes people just like him, and they are going to support him even when he goes against their previous ideas.