Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Jen's Other Choice - O Holy Night

She specified Christmas Eve, and there were a couple of versions that captured that beautifully and I almost went with them. Yet I have always preferred versions of carols by something closer to regular people.  That's not quite what's happening here.  These aren't people who happened by the pub on their way home and bellowed out what the pianist was offering. Many if not most of them are well-trained.  But you just look at them and know you would just like so many, and want to go out with them to the pub after. 

Merry Christmas, Jen.  It was a joy to have you here that still causes me to get misty.

Missed Opportunity

New Hampshire has started offering at-home covid tests at state liquor stores. For those of you out-of-state, our lower-priced wines and liquors are a major NH revenue source. When you read these odd statistics about how people in NH drink more than anyone else in the region, it is based on this. Our neighboring states drive across to load up their trunks with cheap(er) liquor, and even tourists from farther away, like Quebec, Nova Scotia, New York, or whatever fill up their suitcases as well.  As with driving too far out of your way to get cheap gas, many of these people are losing money because of the travel costs of $10 to save $6 or whatever, but it works out great for us. Come on by.

Yet as soon as I heard about the covid tests it occurred to me that our pro-vaccine governor, Chris Sununu (like all the Sununus, he has an actual advanced degree from MIT  in a hard science and can do arithmetic) missed a trick here.  Maybe not a year ago, when vaccines were first out and we had to work in volume, but shortly after that, we should have had a program of making vaccines available at some of the major state liquor stores. Opponents would have shuddered, clenched their teeth, cursed under their breath, but who would have openly opposed it? Maybe those who only cared about political power and not actually about vaccines, which are just a convenient cause?  I say we risk it.  Liberals who actually want to see lots of people vaccinated (and who go to the liquor store just as often as the conservative themselves, I'm sure.  May more, because way fewer Baptists and Mormons), would grudgingly nod.  And while people are there, especially at the highway toll plaza stores, which also have Common Man restaurants, rest rooms, gas/electrical charging, wearable merch and souvenirs, ATMS, tourist info, and spacious, well laid-out liquor stores - unlike the nostalgic but crowded and confusing Massachusetts "packies*" - they buy expensive scotches and French wines at considerable discount.  Win-win.

My wife is trying to text Sununu as we speak with the idea.

Call-ins and Write-ins

I was listening to an older episode of Lexicon Valley, pre-John McWhorter, in which a guest linguist was talking about research into current language changes.  He suggested that the mail that had been receiving over the previous few years was a treasure trove, with better data than researchers were going to be able to get with their tape recorders and listening to popular media. The audience would be a group of people interested in language usage with some amateur training in it, just from listening to the show. They are spread into thousands of places with listening ears, including some obscurer corners and unusual backgrounds by chance, such as people who had moved here from other countries (including English-speaking ones) which would be logistically difficult for a researcher to find in any quantity by intent.

They are not a perfect filter, certainly, as they will tend to be drawn from the ranks of the more educated and wealthier, and they might hear things wrong or listen for the wrong things.  But a linguist could easily work around that. It's crowdsourced information, and even if imperfect, very useful.

We Are The World


Let me count the ways. There is apparently a pop music critics debate about whether this song, which was a bigger deal at the time, or "Do They Know It's Christmas?" the earlier English attempt at charity schlock rock which has a stronger melody and has weathered well, was better. Ooh! Ooh! Ooh! I know the answer, teacher! Call on me! Call on me! My arm is soooo tired from holding it up waiting for you to call on me! The answer is "Don't call this a question of any importance whatsoever!"

I bring prejudices to this performance. We had long since gotten rid of the TV and I did not listen to popular music stations on the radio. I may have heard it before it showed up in Gethsemane Lutheran Church one Sunday in 1985, with charming 14 y/o girls signing it for the deaf along with a cassette tape as the special music that week. We had no deaf people, of course, nor were we embarking on a deaf ministry, much as that was needed at the time. At least it wasn't liturgical dance. 

Lots of the money raised went to teaching about birth control and food production, and much of that which went for food went to officials who promised to make sure the food got to the right people.  I think some did get through to actual hungry people. You could make good arguments that such education was more needed and would do more good in the long run but...that wasn't what they said they were doing. 10% was kept in America for domestic poor food programs. It had very little effect.

I also noted right up front a certain vacuity, which PJ O'Rourke summarised better than I could in his excellent book Give War A Chance.

We are the world [solipsism], we are the children [average age forty]. We are the ones to make a brighter day [unproven], so let’s start giving [logical inference supplied without argument]. There’s a choice we’re making, so let’s start giving [true as far as it goes]. We’re saving our own lives [absurd]. It’s true we’ll make a better day [see line 2 above], Just you and me [statistically unlikely]. That’s three palpable untruths, two dubious assertions, and nine uses of a first person pronoun, not a single reference to trouble and anybody in it and no facts. The verse contains, literally, neither rhyme nor reason. And these musical riots of philanthropy address themselves to the wrong problems. Death is the result of bad politics.

Thanks PJ.

Yet I know that what irritates me most powerfully is how it still strikes a chord in the rock-music liberals of my own generation.  I have one quite close to me who has made numerous references to it over the years, both what an important moment it was in the history of America waking up to its responsibilities in the world and noticing that we were not the only people on the planet, but also, what a pivotal, transitional time it was for rock music in general, of the older, established musicians handing the baton to a younger generation, who were going to carry the dream of the 60s forward and make it a better world.  They way those younger singers asserted themselves, even in the presence of these august elders...

No really.  He talks like this, as recently as last year. He's 65. And he is not the only one, if you check in on people who write about the history of rock music. They choke up about this. Bob Dylan wasn't going to even come, until he heard that Ray Charles was coming.  Ray Charles! He saw that the real Civil Rights crowd, not just the young ones, were getting involved! (seeing that this was the third multi-star charity concert Dylan had come to, I find this hard to credit.) It was the first time that so many big name celebrities had devoted themselves to a cause (Uhh, WWII?  USO?)

Okay, I thought America noticing what was wrong in the world and thinking we had important responsibilities about that was what had the CIA involved in overthrows and got us into Vietnam, which were considered bad things by this group. Every schoolchild in the 50s and 60s heard their parents say "Eat your dinner.  There are children starving in India/China/Africa." I think we did actually know.  Maybe it was mostly rich pop stars who had forgotten and needed documentaries on TV to remind them.

As for passing the baton, well there were some Jackson brothers younger than Michael...and Sheila E was 27...but I think people mostly mean the thoroughly-irritating Cindy Lauper, who was nearly 32 at the time, because she had that weird hair and seemed like a kid, and it was such a surprise when she asserted herself when it was her turn, as if she had talent. Like right in front of Paul Simon and Dionne Warwick and everything. Maybe Huey Lewis & the News, who were born around 1950 but had only recently become stars? That younger generation? Have we noticed that any particular baton was passed to them? Or Lauper? Or the Jacksons, excepting Michael? If so, they seem to have dropped it and left the track. 

But it was a twofer. You could pretend you were helping African hunger and show you were still keeping up with what's hip. It's both a candy and a breath mint, Darlene! 1985 is not looking so accidental...

It was not in any way the first virtue-signalling.  That has likely been around since about two days after the world's oldest profession got started. Nor was this novel with American liberals. Once they figured out that the 60s protests in Selma and the like were going to be filmed and on the news, and there was going to be police protection that didn't want a riot, you suddenly couldn't keep those earnest white people away. I suppose there was something to Live Aid being famous black people who got to virtue-signal right along with famous white ones - that hadn't happened much before, and it was a mark of cultural unity and progress. Conservatives had their own virtue-signalling of course, because it's very equal-opportunity, but this was going to be an MTV, modern-media event, which meant repeated airplay. Turkish Delight, really.

There was a Mother Earth News article in the 1970s that was a shortened version of Four Arguments For the Elimination of Television. One of its points was that politics was going to become increasingly performative, like the Munich Olympics, and less based on real events. Terrorists as well as politicians were going to play for the camera. Whoa, did that ever turn out to be true, and this video is front-and-center. The commodification of caring.

Let me suggest that the unrecognised but probably dominant reasons that made this necessary were that Vietnam was too long ago to get people excited, and Reagan was just starting his second term, despite everyone knowing that he was going to bring in fascism - any day now! But they didn't care. So the good people of the world had to show that they not only cared, but they Cared, and they CARED. We are the world, not you bastards. 

The Simpsons get the last, best word.

Get Off My Lawn

I was listening to an interview with Chris Arnade, author of Dignity from a few years ago, about front-row America and back-row America, which he considers the real divide, not race or even income, though the latter especially correlates. I have the book on wish list, but will be borrowing it from my son instead, hopefully soon.

I was quite impressed with Arnade. He started as a PhD in particle physics, then became one of the original quants on Wall Street, even though he was (is?) a socialist. He now walks across various American cities, including small cities like Altoona or Holyoke or (I think) Albany, GA, taking photographs, mostly of people, and stopping in to McDonalds, bars, or storefront churches and just talking to people.  He calls them the normies, as contrasted with himself and the people he has generally known in his life. He sees this as partly statistical: the vast bulk of humans across time were not trying to get ahead, they were just trying to make a living, nor did they much worry about that. For most of humanity, becoming slightly more prosperous was possible through luck or cleverness or effort or risk or connections, but little more than that. Nor was great tragedy surprising. Life is, and you try to get by.

He mentioned that many of them mostly just want to be left alone by the big people in life.  Their experience with them is not good: those look down on you, take advantage of you, call the police on you, have laws which make you do things you don't understand or don't let you do things that seem okay to you. The farthest down don't vote, because why bother?  It's all the same either way.  If you register to vote you might get called for jury duty. Just have nothing to do with those people.

It reminded me of a line by an Important Conservative Columnist who wrote "Saying 'get off my lawn' is not a political philosophy," to which one commenter replied "Actually, it is. It is both childish and profound. More the latter, thanks." That sounds like a guy who wants people to get off his lawn. I found that arresting.  Clearly, the commenter was going for drama in both directions and exaggerated, but the point is a good one. Let me take it apart, just a bit.

"Get." The small man has authority to tell even the greater what he can and cannot do. In this case it is related to laws of property, and we have long included rights to the molestation of one's own person as well. Though property itself is sometimes despised as a right these days, it was the leverage point for many other rights. "I know he's a damned Quaker, Ezekiel, but he owns the property." Similarly for property or goods or even businesses that women or blacks inherited. People may not have wanted them to, or even passed laws against it, but ownership was a claim strong enough to fight off competing intentions. The societies which preceded ours and birthed it did not want to give that one up - and so let the others go. The principle has expanded, so that now citizenship even without owning property, or even residency or simple existence have rights that must be respected. This seems obvious to us but is in no way even common, let alone universal elsewhere. Powerful people can do whatever they want in most places.

"Off" He has not gone looking to tell other people what to do, he is noticing a person who has infringed on him and inserted himself where not entitled without permission. "Get out" would carry a similar meaning while saying "get on" or "get in" is a bit different. They are more aggressive than protective.

"My" There are whole volumes written about the concept of property, and how much the society around us has provided us the opportunity. and therefore deserves some credit and has some implied ownership. Even kings and emperors were thought and are thought to have some limitation on their rights of ownership, however much they keep trying to exceed those. We are at minimum deeply indebted to the people who came before who created the circumstances under which we own things. But they're dead, and what do we owe to other people now, even in our own society? 

Slight digression: It may be argued with some force that none of us is very much independent and responsible for our own condition, and pretending that we can live off on our own without depending on or bothering others is an illusion. Even if you tramp off into the wilderness, the boots you wear and the axe you carry were made by others, and farther back the land was secured by the efforts of others, as far back as removing the major predators that would outcompete or even eat us centuries ago. "You didn't build that" has a great deal of truth in it. Yet those who came before, er, came before, and aren't giving us orders at present except in the indirect sense of bequeathed culture we wish to adhere to. Confusing that further is treating whatever rights your society or community has as equivalent to what the government's rights are. Even if the former does have claims, they may not always extend to the latter. As I said, volumes have been written about what "my" might mean.  But we can at least say in simple form that it has meant more in America than other places, and reducing it would be a change. As with "get," powerful people, either individually or in collective, can do what they want to you in other places, sometimes dramatically so.

"Lawn." A lawn is optional, not necessary for survival.  You put it there only because you wanted it. That turns out to be okay. A person on your lawn may not have done any damage to your ability to get food, stay warm, find a mate, or make a living.  It doesn't matter. You can still tell them to get off. This comes up in other large rights, sometimes unnoticed. Self-defense is invoked in the right to bear arms, and that is of course the strongest claim. But I think you should be able to go out and fire guns just because you like things that go boom, or want to see if you can hit a target just for fun. The obvious counterclaims that you can't do that just anywhere in a way that endangers others are valid, yes. But you get to do it just because you like it, like having an aquarium or playing an instrument or...caring for a lawn.

"Get off my lawn" turns out to contain a lot of rights in it. The motivations of why an individual says it are not the important part.  If they are childish, or irritable, or pigheaded, so be it.  There are others exercising the right who are none of those things.  And more importantly, it is the right to be able to say it that is important.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Venture Capital, Research, and Sturgeon's Law

I certainly remember Sturgeon's Law - that 90% of everything is crap - and its context.  Marc Andreessen, developer of Mosaic and founder of Netscape (remember? They were first) and now venture capitalist is applying it to various aspects of research and development and finds the rest of the world...a bit frustrating. This is a WSJ interview that I hope gets you behind the paywall.  Otherwise you will have to do that trick of putting the Duck(DuckGo) on the first sentence and finding it reprinted elsewhere.

Mr. Andreessen’s friend in the scientific research world told him about a historical study of heart and lung drugs that were approved but were not effective. Mr. Andreessen learned that “one of the things you do to counter a replication crisis is a ‘preregistration of hypothesis’—instead of pretending after the fact that you have a hypothesis, that you’re cherry-picking data to prove.” The result of this preregistration? There were fewer new drugs approved because researchers could no longer fudge the data. “Of course, what this implies is that most drugs that are already on the market today probably don’t work.” His friend agreed and said forget 50%, it’s 90% of research that is bad to begin with.

And also 

Universities created an implicit scoring system that was easy to game. University research is a “self-accredited cartel with no market pressure,” Mr. Andreessen notes. Hence the replication crisis.

Jen's Choice for Herself

I brought the new daughter-in-law in on this nostalgia tour.  I don't have any nostalgic music about her for myself, as we have only known her two years, but she couldn't choose between two for herself, so they will both make it in time. She gets two anyway.

As soon as Jen picked the Cranberries, I nodded.  I should have guessed she was a Cranberries gal when younger.

So now I've been humming Cranberries songs all day.

The longest-running DIL has passed entirely, and I don't have specific music that evokes her as a young person for me. Odd, as she was Jonathan's childhood sweetheart and we have known her since...1996?  You would think there was something. Numbering the sons is easy, because it is both their age and when they came to us that is reflected. With the daughters-in-law, I think there is no sensible way to numbering them, so I can't use that method. Oldest?  Same # as the son she is married to? When she joined the family? These don't match up. No numbers, then.

Ignoring Purple

We talk about red states and blue states, but all of them are purple. We think of Massachusetts and Vermont as very liberal Democratic states, but both elect some Republicans. A state that goes 60% for a Republican is considered not only red, but strongly red.  DC is an exception, I suppose. We ignore this in nearly all our discussions, not only about national issues, but even local. I consider Concord to be very liberal, and it is - but that means 65-35 for Biden in 2020, 60-35-4 for Hillary in 2016, with the 4% going to the libertarian candidate. 

This has a direct application to covid discussions.  I see strong assertions that "parents" want their kids back in full-time school now. And that "teachers" are opposing this, or sometimes "administrators" are doing that. Yet when parents are given choices about what they want to happen for their particular children, some choose keeping them home, some choose sending them back, and some choose hybrid. Even at that, the parents are sometimes going against what would be their preference in a perfect world because of transportation, day care, juggling work, etc. There are plenty of teachers who desire that we all just get back to normal with five-day school. I will note that in those discussions masks do not figure prominently. The number of parents who consider masks abusive to their children is small. Nor do the children much care.  They find it annoying, but find rules about having to keep quiet here or there, or rules about devices, or having to stay in their seats for long periods to be a bigger deal.

There are administrators who want things to return quickly to status quo ante as well, who have loud opinions from all sides directed at them, as do the admins who are more cautious and protective, also subjected to impassioned insistence - not all of it reasonable - from parents and community.

I think of these things when I read someone who is asserting what "parents" want, as if that is some unified whole. Their credibility goes down fast with me.  It means that they only know a few parents, or none, or hang out on FB only with the like-minded getting each other incensed. Or perhaps they know people but don't really listen to them. Polling reveals divides. (And be careful of who is doing the polling and how they worded hings as well.)

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Headline I Am Not Going To Click On

On ‘S.N.L.,’ Donald Trump Tries His Hand at Wordle 

Over at the NYTimes (I was reading John McWhorter language essays), the sidebar of articles they hope you might read is topped with the above at present. I don't know whether Saturday Night Live taking the opportunity to make fun of Donald Trump yet again - he is no longer president, remember - was a key part of the show and a continuing topic of theirs this season or a one-off nostalgic bit of humor. I am not particularly calling SNL out. Though I will remind folks that even I, who have not watched even clips of the show in years had heard that throughout Trump's presidency they could joke about little else. I suspect this is ongoing, though likely less than it was a year or three years ago. 

Yet either way, the Times thought it a hoot to write it up and feature it. They know their audience, I imagine.  When I was in theater and doing comedy, the formula was that audiences would reliably laugh at food, sex, and money jokes, even if the show and the performance were weak. This may be the equivalent: "Tell this audience that Trump is stupid and boorish.  They'll eat that up."

They miss him, it seems.

I have read the defense of the media still focusing on him that if he didn't keep putting himself forward, if he would just go away, they would stop. For serious reporting, that may be so.  But for making fun of mean like they stopped making fun of Nixon and Reagan? Hmm. I have lived long enough to know better.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Cost-Benefit Analysis

We all think it's the best way to do business. I am certain I have invoked the phrase here a couple of dozen times, and likely a hundred times in real life. Tim Harford has an interesting review of a Bent Flyvbjerg and Dirk Bester journal article that dampens my enthusiasm considerably.  Not because it is a bad idea in theory, but because as a practical reality it allows us to hide important assumptions (guilty) and to underestimate costs and overestimate benefits in ways that fall in with the general ideas around us (also guilty). Which are likely not accurate. I liked the line "The problem is not that every project engineer in the world is incapable of delivering to a reasonable budget; it is that the budgets are never reasonable." That does add up, doesn't it?  We are very used to assuming, whenever we hear an estimate on a bridge or a building or a new program that it is actually going to cost much more. Shouldn't that tell us something about initial estimates in general?

Having argued that cost-benefit analysis is “broken”, Flyvbjerg and Bester propose fixing rather than replacing it — for example by improving the accuracy of cost estimates through better data, independent audits and performance incentives. I agree. The method is open to misuse but is too valuable to abandon.

We don't have anything better. But this is so bad that perhaps we should do something.  CS Lewis once asserted ("Why I am not a Pacifist") that wars never do half the good that the belligerents promise, which I have taken as a wise caution.  Yet I think it is worse than that. From recent history of western nations, we can say that whenever war is proposed, it will cost ten times what we initially think. On the plus side for the US, the loss of our human life is likely to be one-tenth what we fear.  This inverse relationship may not be accidental.  But to go the next step, the benefit we derive will not be as advertised.  It may not be only one-tents as much, which would be lovely poetry and arithmetic, yet it is certainly much less.  If we knew wars were going to deliver only a quarter as much but cost twelve times as much, would we still go forward?  Sometimes yes.  Sometimes there is no real other choice.  But America has had the luxury of choice for most of its history.

There are analyses that show similar worse results for the War on Poverty or the War on Drugs, or any number of other endeavors, while others, such as the early space program, seem to have paid off better because of the primary research needed. So CBA, yes. Except we don't really do that now, we do an imitation to save face.

Covid From, Covid With

On a one-year followup, people who had covid have a higher risk of a wide variety of cardiac conditions. Yeah, great. The added risk to those who were not hospitalised seems to be low, but still statistically significant. (And I don't like looking at any of those green bars, thanks.)  And of course those who had been in ICUs were at much higher risk. 

So when those folks die from those conditions, this year or in five years (but five years early) it won't be "with" covid, because they have supposedly recovered from covid. And their death certificates will not read that they died from it.  But you could say they died from it at some level, couldn't you? If covid causes an increase in heart attacks, then some of those people - we can't tell which ones, but some group of people in that pile - had a heart attack they wouldn't have otherwise had

But maybe we shouldn't count those as "real" heart attacks or strokes, because those people had a preexisting condition: covid. It's the same reasoning...

This is what happens when people make up artificial distinctions to try and evade reality. They back themselves into logical corners with reasoning that seemed good at the time.

I also know that not only the general anti-vaxxers, but some of the people who think they are confining their skepticism to this illness, who have this happen to relatives or even themselves, will blame something else. "He wouldn't have died if he hadn't gone to that damn hospital!" I am not making this up. I know of this excuse-making happening in people who were in my circle until recently, and have caught more of it second-hand from reliable sources.  It will be Anything But Covid, which is why the vaccine dangers are also being exaggerated.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Kyle's Choice For Himself - Borrowed Nostalgia of Son #5


I was not familiar with the song, but it fits for a Beatles fan branching out, doesn't it?

Repeats of Older Ideas

Because both of these came up today, and though alone I was cursing audibly.

Whatever advantage Celsius/Centigrade has for scientific and international purposes, it is inferior to Fahrenheit for everyday use. Anything below 0° is Too Damn Cold.  Anything above 100° is Too Damn Hot. The rest is commentary.

The right wing radicals are primarily defensive, not only threatening to hole up with lots of weapons, daring the ATF and Biden to come after them but actually doing it. You can hear them say some truly frightening things about the race war that they have been sure is coming for thirty years or more and how ready they are for that. They shrug at the idea that they might have to shoot some people. But of the ones I have met here in NH, none have said "I'm gonna go down to Concuhd oah Manchestah and look foah some o' them radicals and blow theah fuckin'  heads off." It just doesn't happen, and nationwide this seems to hold as well. They are serious.  But they are staying home protecting their stuff. The left wing radicals are absolutely willing to go downtown everywhere and be aggressive, lighting things on fire or taking over buildings or neighborhoods or looting. But there is (was) a reluctance to even talk about shooting people. Each feeds the paranoia of the other by the limitation they don't care much about.  The right wing looks at itself and knows it would not go out on offense unless they really felt the Republic was in danger today; the left wing believes that actually going after human beings is a bridge they will not cross. (There have always been exceptions to both, but...)

My fear is that both limitations are breaking down, both fences have been breached. The generation one down from me seems mostly okay on both sides, with worrisome features.  The next generation after that does not adhere to those norms, left and right.

Speaking Gay, and Code-Switching

One gets used to anticipating the right questions in a subject from broad (not necessarily deep) experience with it. For me, it's fun to be listening to a podcast or reading an article and immediately asking the right questions, which is nearly always answered with a quick check "Yes someone saw the same thing i did, and there is subsequent research on it." There is some satisfaction in feeling smart about it, but more in knowing the question I am asking has some kind of answer.  

Today's example: Reading about whether there is an identifiably gay voice. Short version: there is, but it doesn't much match the stereotype and its usage is complicated. The article started off with some history about the stereotypical lisp, and that it might have derived from the old Freudian idea of male homosexuality of arrested psychosexual development, as children are more likely to lisp. They included links to movies and TV comics in the 50s where that was the primary feature of the supposed gay man's speech, followed by some mention that previously that homosexuality wasn't referred to in popular entertainment at all, and perhaps even being mocked was a step up of recognition from invisibility and "the sin that dare not speak its name." That this took place in Hollywood, where some entertainers were known to be gay - and no big deal - but the information was kept from the public for PR purposes was considered evidence for that idea.  Then a small study in Minnesota was discussed in which people could somewhat reliably tell which voices were gay and which straight while reading identical texts (more on this later).  

All the while I am thinking code-switching. The answer is code switching. Gay men will exhibit more identifiably gay speech when they are in situations where it is accepted or even encouraged, but less of it when it is irrelevant to their task or even a hindrance, such as at work. Hasn't anyone studied this?  Heck, even I know that's what you should be doing.  

Enter Rob Podevsa of Stanford who did speech as an ethnography, following people around with tape recorders in a variety of situations and evaluating the results for his dissertation in 2006.  I will note that this is rather late in the day for someone to figure that out, but at least it happened, and things were as I predicted. Gay men had more distinctive speech when they were together in informal situations than when they were explaining things to people at work, to take one example. This is hardly surprising, because this is what we all do all the time. Our regional accents become more pronounced when we are with the people we grew up with. We are more careful in pronunciation when we are in more formal settings, or when we are expected to be more authoritative. Every child knows that the situation has changed when Mom or Dad suddenly starts saying consonants more crisply. Yipes. Podevsa was not measuring just gay speech but many people after having learned their characteristics at the outset and deciding who to follow. Some people are very susceptible to this and their speech varies considerably over situations, while others are more constant. African Americans and Hispanics engage in enormous amounts of code-switching, and can usually size up exactly how much ethnicity to show before they have even heard anyone speak.

I was very aware of this as far back as college, before I knew what code-switching was. I had zero awareness of anyone being gay while I was in high school, but entering a college theater department, and briefly even a stint as a dancer, I learned the territory quickly. Then sophomore year I ended up by luck of the draw an a floor that was about 40% gay, and thus got to see these peers in a variety of environments: at home, at work, and at play, as it were. My roommate pointed it out with great merriment about another econ major he had classes with the year before and also that semester, noting that he never picked up he was gay before, by then saw him going out with platform shoes and purple eyeshadow on a Friday night and said "He even talks differently!  You know, flame on!" And it put words to what I had only dimly noticed but now could see everywhere. I even kidded a couple of friends about it when they asked "How did you know Marty was gay?  He's pretty discreet about it?" I chuckled at them, saying "Because you two started speaking gay to him the moment he came into the room." College age would be particularly fertile ground for all this, as young people in general are sexually advertising more than others, yet also have to start finding their places in a sober adult world.

Interesting features of gay male speech as recorded (others have now done more extended versions of that ethnographic study). It is not a lisp, but overprecise "s's" that are characteristic. In fact, more precise pronunciation is another characterisation of gay male speech that holds up empirically. People both gay and straight find it harder to distinguish female sexual preference from vocal characteristics alone, but one clue with both is the adoption of more coastal, urban speech patterns, dropping regional ones.  That was first picked up in that Minnesota study, where it was noted they displayed less of the distinctive Minnesota vowel sounds and used hipper, more modern slang. This was confirmed with Southern accents later.  It's not that those disappear, but they become more subdued. It makes an intuitive sense that there would be a perhaps unconscious declaration "these are more my people than those." There is more variation in tone and pitch, a greater expressiveness that is also associated more with females.  Yet as far as I could find there is not a corresponding move to the middle or more masculine speech by lesbians that was picked up, and one study expressly contradicted that. Real life is different than stereotypes, but stereotypes usually capture something vaguely accurate.


I went out for a walk.  It's too cold to walk. It' fine when you are in the sun and the breeze is at your back, but when you turn the corner and go into shade...

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Borrowed Nostalgia - Chris's Choice For Himself

I'm not sure Son #4, the one who was in the USMC, now lives in Norway, and goes back to Romania more than his brother quite knew what I meant by nostalgia. He nominated this Romanian video, but it was recorded ten years after he got to the US.  Though, he has programmed his car to listen to Romanian radio, so I suppose that is nostalgia in itself, so anything representative of that is legit.

He was quick to tell my wife that it doesn't have the amount of nudity and suggestiveness that most Romanian popular music videos do.

Personal note: For those who know Chris and are interested, his girlfriend Maria has three grown sons, one of whom, Lucas is currently in ICU in Tromso, Norway. He is Type I diabetic and had a stomach ailment of some sort in which he was unable to keep anything down for over two days straight, and his blood sugars went wildly off. It reached the level of danger just short of coma and organ failure and is only somewhat better now. Chris and Maria aren't getting much sleep at the moment. So you might pray for them as well as the boy, Lucas. My habit has become to pray immediately for something when it is requested - so at least it happens once, even if it goes out of your mind after that, but I also find I am more likely to continue if I have prayed even once.

Motte-and-Bailey Arguments

Once you know the principle behind it, you start to see the M&B fallacy everywhere. "Oh, so you're saying there's no racism in America anywhere and the schools should say nothing about it." I am trying to cast my mind back over the history I remember (reading history carries much more danger of receiving curated impressions) to see who used to use this in my formative years and how effective it was. I can't tell, but I think people use it more when they perceive themselves as in a position of power and are trying to discredit the attackers. Yet I can't be at all sure I am right about this.  The modern equivalents would be "So you think we should do everything the government says, no matter what? No? Well then, you have to see that this is tyranny" versus "I can't believe you are saying that the government is lying about everything and we don't have to do anything about covid at all!" Sigh.

It's just tiring, and I swear it isn't getting any better.

BTW, in terms of "Karens" I have about an equal number of people I run into who have to tell me in the first 30 seconds that either "well, Omicron is basically just like getting a cold" or "most of those people are dying with covid, not from covid," versus people who immediately equate carelessness or resistance about masking with refusing to be vaccinated. We are clearly in a world where people are unable to believe there is a continuum of belief among those they disagree with, and perhaps even more worrisome, no continuum of belief among the people who basically agree with them.  It is becoming a Marxist, or one-drop, or my sect-within-a-sect approach to all of life.

Resist this where you can, and please, not so much with the people opposed to you, because there are professional arguers who are making big money doing that. Apply it more to the people you generally agree with.

Some Longer Health Care Discussion - By Others

I have only small items to add, as the knowledge (and almost certainly wisdom) of these writers exceeds mine. Read through before clicking any link, because you might decide to go in a different order.  They are long and you might decide one or more is not worth your time, so wearr yourself out on the one you consider most important first.

This link from Random Critical Analysis, Why Conventional Wisdom on Health Care is Wrong (A Primer) was billed as the contrarian view on health spending as income increases in the third link of this post, which is where I originally started yesterday.  I like it better than the last analysis, at least on that narrow section of the discussion. Maybe more than that, eventually.  I am still thinking. Math is involved, including dealing with log-log scales, which give a different visual than what we are used to that might give you the wrong impression (even though they were a superior choice here).  If you don't frequently use them (I used to. Very little now) I don't recommend you spend much time trying to get your head into the new space.  Just be cautious about what you think your eyes are telling you about degree of differences. Similarly, if you aren't used to correlation coefficients, just pay attention to the relative numbers from -1.0 to 1.0, that 0.7 is a stronger correlation than 0.2, and the like. Getting close to 1.0 is a big deal, 0 is (heheh) nothing. It will do. In passing: it notes that when changes in income occur, the complex system takes 3-4 years to fully respond. This is something that is true of large mixed market systems in general.  While some things respond rapidly, others take time.  In America we ignore the latter because Elections, but that is a serious error on our part. 

Let me add once more that medical care is more expensive because it can do more every year, and that does distribute broadly, even if somewhat unevenly, to the population. The lovely image of the town doctor pre-1940,  making house calls and dispensing sage advice - and holding a ridiculously high status in the community compared to benefit given - misleads us. Doctors seem to have killed more patients than they saved until about 1940 when penicillin came in, which is even grimmer when we consider that germ theory and x-rays came in before those. So health care was cheap? It was also mostly useless. Whackadoodle theories, especially in Germany, sprang up at precisely the time that we were discovering that A) Science seems to work sometimes, and B) Doctors aren't doing any of that. So now we can do magic and it's expensive. You wouldn't pay a dollar now for what was top-of-the-line care in 1950.

From the later part of that article:

Likewise, the least developed parts of the world have converged rapidly on the most developed countries despite little-to-no convergence in income levels, health spending, and the like.   Controlling for the change in health spending does not appreciably change these results.  The supposedly radically divergent slope observed for the United States in widely circulated plots popularized by “Our World In Data” can be readily explained by distance from the frontier and the change in spending.  America’s long-run rate of improvement in outcomes can be readily predicted based on patterns observed in other high-income countries — the US doesn’t even need to be included in the model to obtain such results.

 Link to that whole final section, which is excellent.

Also it makes early reference to how GDP is not the best foundation for some of these analyses, though it is a very common one.  It reminded me of this recent Quillette article The Mismeasure and Misuse of GDP. Even though it is more general, not specific to health care spending, there is some value. 

The third link is where I started, from Astral Codex Ten Book Review: Which Country Has The World's Best Health Care? Excellent.  My comments. The quick chart includes some things that have some neglected data beneath them. Life Expectancy at Birth may not be as clean a comparison as implied here. Western European and Anglospheric countries score very well. Some Northeast Asian countries (or regions) score just as well, others not. African countries have lower life expectancies, as do the Southeast Asian. The first two regions are richer, and this is usually considered the overwhelming reason for this. We don't like thinking there could be any racial substrate to this. Yet I think life expectancy is somewhat influenced by race. Infant mortality in the US is worse for those of African descent, but not worse for Hispanics, even when they are just as poor. In the world chart above, Latin American countries show better results than equally poor countries. Some wealthy Middle-Eastern countries still don't show out that well. I am not in any way suggesting that race is the primary driver. But looking at the numbers for China and Taiwan, which look very close to America' 78 years, it is worth remembering that Japan and South Korea have world-best expectancies, and America is the most racially mixed of the developed countries. So hold those numbers lightly.  

Next, I can confirm that wait times for elective medicine are long in Norway, as one of my son's has had occasion to have to travel far with a two-night stay at a hotel to get elective surgery in eight months instead of 13 months. I hope they are otherwise as good as rated, as at the moment his girlfriend's son is in ICU there. Tom Bridgeland just reminded us of Canadians seeking care in America. Also, top US hospitals have Canadians seeking a second opinion coming down, even though they are paying out-of-pocket for this.

I also think that satisfaction is a slippery measure of a system. Americans complain about everything and find fault with it, even when it's basically fine. When things are deeply politicised, as they are in America as nowhere else on health care, this is even more pronounced. Whether you consider that valuable - always seeking improvement, or irritating - never happy with anything, is debatable. Scandis will always tell you how wonderful their countries are and how happy everyone is - but check the suicide rates. 

Fun quote from that last essay by Scott Alexander

I would have appreciated a book by a more economically-minded person explaining why things are like this. Or maybe not; maybe it’s like quantum physics, and the second someone looks at it too closely, the whole structure will collapse, every hospital in the world will go bankrupt, and we’ll have to get our medical problems treated by wolves.

He wonders why countries who do things very similarly to the US have better results - contrary to what is politically asserted, that the US does things differently (usually, oh we're much worse, though the opposite occurs as well)  from all other developed nations.  In my ignorance, I do not wonder. We have many more people who game the system here.  And that's not going away. Note also that AC10 has commenters from all over Europe and the Anglosphere who go into myths, advantages, and disadvantages of their own systems, which is valuable to those of us who are currently subjected to "Four legs good, two legs bad" in our debates here.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

John-Adrian's Nostalgia Choice For Himself

This surprised me - he was not born until more than another decade after this came out and didn't come to America for fifteen years after that - but I certainly like it. Finest thing Joel ever wrote. Some of the lyrics to his other songs bother me, but my brother toured with him for six months decades ago. He was a lighting roadie then, became a lighting designer eventually.  He said that Joel was one of the best he had seen about being good to all the stage help and other support people for his concerts.  It's the sort of thing that matters to me and I mention it when I can. 

Mental Lexicon

Update: In response to a matter than came into our family - the Iditarod musher from NH who was going to be staying with my family in Nome had her dog team hit by a pickup in Willow - I dictated "This is not our usual sort of tragedy" when I meant to say charity, and changed it before sending.  Similar sound, with syllables and stress pattern the same, but not similar in appearance. It is interesting that the meanings do appear to be connected, as if the one word were hovering somewhere near my target word. So malapropism by sound, meaning, or both?


How we choose the words we speak is fascinating.  There are imbalances in the storage which creates mistakes. You know how it is when you are searching for a word. You rummage around in your brain looking for clues.  If you are with someone who might know the answer you say things out loud. "It's like decrepit but it's not so old-fashioned.  It's a newer word." That would be searching according to meaning. Or "It begins with a 't' and it's three or four syllables. I think it's a foreign word." That is searching according to sound and impression. In the category of sound are also those things like whether it is foreign, what feel it has, and we nearly always know exactly what part of speech it is as well.

We have a bias toward choosing by sound, which is how malapropisms and related mistakes happen. The malapropisms found in literature are not quite the ones we create in real life. Those are created slyly, with an eye to humor, as the original Mrs. Malaprop in Sheridan's 18th play "The Rivals" was, saying "allegory" instead of "alligator." In literature, or these days in the gotcha moments of social media, emphasis is placed on misuse of a similar sounding word, with the usual implication that "this stupid uneducated person is trying to hard to show off his/her vocabulary, with hysterical results which show that our opponents are stupid and we, by extension, are the Smart People." It is equal opportunity, anyone can play. The first example given is Archie Bunker saying "We need a few laughs to break up the monogamy." But the belief seems to come from the memorability of humorous mistakes plus our experience of people misusing words in general.  There actually doesn't seem to be evidence that these are people reaching to look smarter than they are. They are just mistakes, and four sentences later the person may use the word correctly. An exception would be people speaking English as a second language. All peoples have some tendency to regard those who speak their language less well as less intelligent and make fun of inaccuracies, but we mostly know this is not really the case, just an impression that should be overridden.

We like studying how things go wrong, because the suggest possibilities of how the whole operation works. There are other errors related to malapropisms, which also tell us something. There are are anticipation or perseveration errors, like saying "splacing from one tape" instead of splicing because your brain sees the important long "a" sound coming*, or "pale skay" instead of sky because you are residually stuck on the long "a." There is also an inadvertent mixing, such as being caught between saying jumping and leaping becoming "lumping," or for humorous effect such as Lewis Carrol's "Jabberwocky," where slither and slimy become "slithy." We see those for what they are, just stumbles from hurrying or half-thinking of something else. Sometimes they are funny, especially when the error is also a word, but we seldom think the person stupid, just inattentive. There are also spoonerisms, clearly a sound processing error not a misunderstanding of meaning. 

Freudian slips are not common. At most they may reveal a word we have hanging around too near the surface that we should stuff down a little better, but symbolic meanings are so often explained by other types of sound errors that we cannot rely on the psychoanalytic explanation as telling us much.  I would love to believe that Ted Kennedy's statement that"the purpose of education is to encourage the breast and the brightest," means he can't think of education without wanting to undress schoolgirls, but it is more likely he just has "breast" too close to the surface.

A study by David Fay and Anne Cutler,  Malapropisms and the Structure of the Mental Lexicon, shows how indirect evidence from speaking errors can reveal something about the structure of human communication. I should note that the study dates from 1977 and I don't know if it has been challenged, overturned, or replicated.

They use the phrase "Speech production device" to mean the part of the brain that organises this.  They are not speculating on what this "device" is in the brain. They say they are not taking sides, and the way linguistics arguments were going at the time, they perhaps worried that readers would get distracted by their apparent support for one model or another.  They are sidestepping that issue saying "Well, whatever it is up there, it has to be doing this in some way."  Good move, I think, especially as they say that transformational grammar has at least one problem as a full explanation.  that itself would have boiled some blood in those days.  Maybe now, too.

The analogy they come up with is that our lexicon is like a dictionary in one sense, organised by sound, which is similar to spelling. Yet we have other methods of organising in order to find the word we want. But even if we are able to find words by meaning when we want to say something - how else would we talk? - it does not follow that we have primarily organised them that way. It seems to be secondary.    "...a pairing of sound and meaning must be used in both production and comprehension of speech." Yet the retrieval of the word has to be reversed for production and comprehension.  We are trying to find the words to say according to meaning.  But we first hear the sound when we are retrieving. So the dictionary must work for both. A duplicate dictionary with every entry accessed in both ways would be evolutionarily inefficient. I suppose we would then not have the linguistic errors noted above, but they aren't that frequent anyway. One would think that assembling the dictionary, the lexicon of our communication, would be about equally dependent on sound and meaning, yet it appears that sound is deeply favored in how we create the lists. That the speech errors above are all sound errors is evidence of that. Errors in meaning are often nuanced or subtle, such as "I think uninformed would be a better word than ignorant there." 

It would seem intuitive that we would favor hearing and speaking equally, so the result is surprising. However, the sounds we hear are more likely to be interfered with, and we often need to sort between sounds, even competing conversations, as opposed to sorting between thoughts in our own head.  When that happens, we can make executive decisions to suppress one train of thought for a moment while we attend to another, even switching rapidly among a few conversations going on at the same time.  But we cannot enforce that on the sounds of the rest of the world. Sound is the more efficient storage.

We are storing by sound, so when we have a meaning we want to convey, we have to go to our lexicon, our dictionary, and pull something out we make a series of deeply-inspired guesses based on our history of word-choice since childhood. But if you are opening the dictionary and moving on you might choose an adjoining word. Malapropisms nearly always start with the same letters.  Interestingly, they are nearly always the same part of speech, have the same number of syllables, and even have the same stress pattern as the target word. So our storage by sound includes those other elements of structure. From the study:

we might expect that near neighbors in the dictionary might be very similar in sound;
we might expect that if the production device, homing in on a particular word in the
lexicon, were to err just a little and pick, instead of its target word, that word's ''next-
door neighbor", or a near neighbor, then the word it chose by mistake might sound
very similar to the target word, but would be unlikely to bear any relation to it in
meaning. We might expect, in other words, to find errors having exactly the
characteristics of malapropisms.

Further evidence would be that retain our comprehension of a language we once spoke (not a language we had to produce some phrases for because of school or travel) well after we can no longer speak it.  "I don't speak French anymore, but I still understand it when my mother gets together with her mother and her aunts." In learning to hear a language one of the primary things we do is divide the sounds correctly into words, even when we don't know all the words. Humans speak quickly and spoken language takes shortcuts all the time, so teasing out the pieces from the run-together sounds is difficult at first.

Even though we would not confuse Counting Crows with Casting Crowns by music, we might confuse them by sound. Notice, however, that they are similar in appearance and structure, which are not quite the same as sound,though related.

My primary mistakes are spoonerisms, which at times in my life I have generated automatically dozens of times a day. I keep them to myself unless they are humorous. Yet I find that I consider them funnier than others do, so I seldom mention them at all now. I thought it was hysterical to tell my sons to eat their keys and parrots.  They disagreed. My granddaughters are not any more impressed with that or other such things. Interestingly, the tendency disappeared decades ago when I was on an SSRI for OCD (I eventually decided the subtle side effects weren't worth it), but I didn't notice the lack.  I only noticed when I discontinued the medication and the spoonerisms returned.  "Huh. I haven't thought of those for years."  My wife makes semantic errors that are rather the reverse of a malapropism:- she will say "left" when she means "right," or "I will make hamburg with meat sauce for dinner," meaning spaghetti with hamburg in the sauce. She does not self-correct after hearing, because she does not hear herself.  If she says a sentence I didn't quite catch and I say "What was the first part of that again?" She will always give me a different set of words with the same or very similar meaning. Or again, if I ask "What is the high temperature supposed to be tomorrow?" She will say "I think it is supposed to rain." It would be a great comic character on a sitcom. We have commented over the years that her word-retrieval is different from other people's, but after enough tip-of-the-tongue plus the errors, we can see the pattern. Most of us have an automatic retrieval of the exact words we have just spoken which fades over time. There is a short-term memory mechanism that may be as much related to hearing our own voice as it does to memory of the words we chose for our meaning. She does not have this. I was quite amazed when I learned this, as I thought everyone had it.

My wife, without that reliance on sound (because part of the device is broken) compensates by storing primarily by meaning.  We previously described that with the analogy of "folders" in a file cabinet, as she often will pick something from the correct category, even if it is wrong, even an opposite. Which likely accounts for her astronomical scores on verbal analogies and inspired puzzle guessing by a letter or two of the word (because the sound does not distract her. She has stored by reading knowledge, not what she has heard). I think I have mentioned that we believe she was the record-holder on the Miller Analogies Test for many years. One more example of how compensating for a "disability" can result in a formidable strength. 

She does have other storage that is not sound but is related because it is the word's structure. She might say "cupboard" instead of "classroom" because they are both two words put together. She will store by number of syllables, but not, I don't think, by stress pattern. But even among the studies that show storage by number of syllables, there are enough exceptions to suggest that some of that may be storing by length - which would also show up in reading a word and storing it that way.

I have mentioned before that there is usually no shame in mispronouncing a word in a way that telegraphs that you have read a word but not heard it in conversation. It could even be something to be mildly proud of.  I seldom mispronounce anything, and our early courtship was marked by Tracy using a word, me gently correct the pronunciation, and then, a few beats later asking "what's it mean?" She still has things she never did learn the right pronunciation of, and I still have words I never have quite gotten the hang of, so it's not foolproof.  But it has been a benefit to both of us. However those mispronunciations can sometimes be revealing, as they demonstrate that you don't move in circles where the word is used, even if you have some idea what it means. There is no shame in a constitutional law professor saying corpse-man for corpsman, though others might roll their eyes as to what that signifies about social circles.  But a commander-in-chief should start hanging out with people who use the word regularly.  Though admittedly, the Joint Chiefs might not use it that much because it belongs to distant ranks and their distant past.

*This is an established principle in linguistics when it comes to pronunciation, that a sound will change because of its adjoining sounds, or even in anticipation of a sound a syllable away. The unvoiced "t" in later is surrounded by voiced sounds and becomes lay-der. But lasted holds its "t" better because the s is adjoining.  (In both cases you will note that this is not entire, and we often pronounce the word a bit more crisply as written when we are in more formal settings.)