Saturday, December 31, 2005

Using Humor To Tell Your Friends You’re Conservative

I found Bookworm's story touching (HT: neo-neocon) and it brought back some uncomfortable memories. Telling friends was not near so difficult as having extended family and coworkers discover I had gone over to the enemy. My mother’s side of the family included many Esperanto-learning One-Worlders, and liberalism was the creed for intelligent people, while conservatism was for people who, er, don’t see things the way that we do, dear. Some of them are very nice people but…. A fair number of their intellectual descendents in the family landed in Northern California. My father and father-in-law are (were) Roosevelt Democrats, certain that the Republicans were always out to screw the little guy.

My coming out was gradual, partly because my conversion was as well. I voted for Al Gore in the 1988 NH Primary, because he was at the time, a conservative Democrat (And people think I’ve changed?). But my families did not know me as a conservative until well into the mid-90’s. In families, political changes raise questions as to whether you are changing internal alliances as well. If you become a Republican, does that mean you no longer think conservative Aunt Edna was emotionally abusive? Her ultra-liberal children want to know.

Ah, but you didn’t come here to read that, did you? I was just establishing my street cred, like a speaker at an AA meeting.

Standard caveats: Everyone has their own style, I make no guarantees, yes, it is different for men and women, yadda yadda ya.

With humor, blame it on the children. This has a basis in reality, as parents do become more conservative as their children grow. “I used to be a liberal until Trevor turned 13. Now I think Genghis Kahn had some valid points.” “When I go clothes shopping with Maddy, I discover how conservative I’ve become.” A variation is to rant about the schools. “I want my children to learn real history instead of this touchy-feely nonsense.” This doesn’t so much stake out territory for yourself but it gives permission and an opening for any conservative ideas that someone else in the group has. You may find unexpected, if only partial allies saying “Yeah, I’m sick of hearing that the Pilgrims gave thanks to the Indians, or having my kids celebrating Solstice,” or “what bothers me is they’re not holding Heather accountable. She passed in a terrible book report and got a B because no one is supposed to feel bad.” Creating an opening for someone else is useful.

Liberal diehards will immediately counter by warning against conservative extremes, perfectly willing to fall out one side of the boat to avoid being on the other. Calming humor also gives permission in the group to dissent, however slightly. “True, but I don’t go to bed at night worrying that Jerry Falwell is going to be speaking at North Bunthorpe Middle School’s graduation next June. I’m more worried they’ll bring in Patricia Ireland and I’ll have to spend the summer explaining to my nine-year-old that Daddy isn’t really a rapist.

That strategy of exaggeration can also be used when some people know, and some don’t about your conservatism. When someone challenges you with anger or sneer, you go up over the top. “Oh, it’s even worse than you think! Since 9-11 I’ve been a right-wing nutcase about the WOT!” This also focuses the discussion on a single topic, rather than the generic, part-of-the-code, socially acceptable antipathy against Bush or Republicans. You can list your liberal credibility that way as well. “I’m still pro-choice, pro affirmative action, pro-whatever, but when it comes to the long-term danger the terrorists represent, I think the Democrats just don’t get it!” The single issue is usually easier for folks to swallow than the whole Dark Side.

You can pick out an eccentric middle ground. As an ex-liberal, this is probably fairly true anyway. This is especially effective if you have some trump card to play. For me, it was taking my vacations working in Romanian orphanages and villages, and having new Eastern European friends. It allowed me to make declarations like “Communism was worse than we ever dreamed. Everywhere. My Hungarian friends can’t believe there are still Americans who think socialism will work.” I have also heard people use their experience working for probation offices or with the homeless as eye-opening. “It’s not like you read in the papers. I was a bleeding heart when I went in, but after a couple of years of that you start understanding that it’s not the minimum wage that’s keeping some of these folks poor.”

If a surprising thread of non-liberal thought emerges in a discussion, and you fear backlash, the exaggerating humor is again calming. “Well, I don’t think any of us will be working on Pat Buchanan’s next presidential campaign, but I’m glad we had this little talk.”

Friday, December 30, 2005

Multicultural Tips For Human Services

Men from many foreign cultures, including Hispanic and many African groups, have strong cultural prohibitions against homosexuality and are insulted at being asked their sexual preference.

Wealthy people, including children, consider it shameful to be told what to do by people of lesser wealth.

Rural Muslims living under Sharia maintain family honor by killing their sexually-active daughters, and feel demeaned when they sense our disapproval.

Homosexual activists are offended by just about everything. Most other homosexuals are not offended by much of anything.

Many rich people have an especial dislike of poor people of their own race and will insult and actively disassociate themselves from them.

Transgendered people are insulted when providers lump them together with transsexuals.

People from many parts of the world consider it an important part of their culture to hate their national neighbors and try to kill them.

Northern Europeans, and Americans of that descent, are embarrassed by their sons’ interest in toy guns and army men and will try to conceal these activities from others, especially psychologists and social workers.

Attorneys cover their anxiety about lawyer jokes with laughter. And planning to sue your ass tomorrow.

Unattractive people may mistrust attractive providers.

Attractive people may mistrust unattractive providers.

Pedophiles consider Sears catalogues to be part of their cultural heritage.

Medicare Part D

Medicare Part D is going to be a nightmare. Liberals will blame George Bush, conservatives will blame the idiot Washington bureaucracy. I lean toward the latter, but don't exonerate the former. This program, designed to get prescription drug coverage for seniors and the disabled, is a neither fish-nor-fowl public-private partnership. For the next two months, people will be unable to get their correct medications because they filled out the forms wrong. And no wonder, as the forms are not clear.

Odd edges keep sticking out of this program. If you are a biggish small person, you qualify for benefit X but not Y. If you are a smallish big person, you get both X and Y, but you have to pay extra. Unless of course your smallish bigness is small, in which case the cost is paid by the government, except Part Y, which is only for biggish small people.

Yes, this is classic federal bureaucracy run amok, with lots of unknown people getting the program tilted their way so they can make money while senior citizens tremble that they won't get their blood pressure meds. But George Bush has this idiocy over his signature, and clearly wasn't making simplification a high priority here. Maybe this bells-and-whistles junk got traded for votes on things I also think is important, but right now I'm not impressed.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Plus Four Makes Ten

Full Disclosure: I broke my own rule. I read lots of other folks’ lists and culled some nominations from them. From those nine I am choosing the four last, with discussion included.

I hesitated to choose from the 30 years of my own adulthood, figuring that the long term effects might not be yet visible. Both Jimmy Carter and John Walker are relatively recent, but I think we do have some sense of what their effects have been. In a single four-year term, Carter was able to increase both unemployment and inflation to levels seldom seen in the American economy, a double-whammy made worse when you consider that a President isn’t responsible for the economy the day after he is elected, but only gradually becomes the dominant influence after being inaugurated. My usual delay estimate is that a president can not be fully blamed nor credited for the economy for 18-24 months after his election. Counting that in, the Carter Economy runs from late 1978-late 1982, and looks even worse. Additionally, he gave a tremendous boost to both Islamofascism and Communism with his Talk Loudly And Carry A Small Stick foreign policy. After forcible retirement, he devoted occasional time to providing cover for dictators with a fondness for torture, giving them time to eliminate their opposition. Carter undermined the few promising foreign policy initiatives of Bill Clinton, especially in North Korea. For a president who was supposed to be among the smartest ever, he also wrote books of amazing vacuity, and has been the most vicious and one-sided critic of subsequent presidents in the history of the nation. On the plus side, some people think he meant well, and he built houses.

Within the narrow area of protecting American secrets, John Walker’s effect was simply devastating, worst among a bad lot of American traitors.

I had forgotten about Sir Jeffrey Amherst and the smallpox blankets given to Indians. As the act occurred before 1776, I am not sure it technically qualifies as “American,” and that single act didn’t kill many people. But as the precedent was followed in some subsequent dealing with Native Americans, and Amherst was acting cruelly in an official, rather than personal capacity, it’s hard to ignore.

Joe Kennedy, Sr and Aaron Burr both get high marks for narcissism and complete disregard for the interests of others, but both fail to make the final cut because they only came close to irreparably damaging the republic. They would have if they could have, but they didn’t.

Nathan Bedford Forrest certainly deserves close consideration. Like Al Capone, others may have been worse individuals, but Forrest brought considerable skill to his evil, turning the little KKK into both a political force and a shadow army. Southerners try to retain a fondness for him because he was a helluva general for the Confederacy. The rest of us hardly consider that a positive.

The Soviet Union received no better cover from respectable sources in the West than it received from Walter Duranty, though vice-president Henry A. Wallace approached it briefly. Wallace eventually had the stones to recant and apologize for his support of Stalin. Duranty never did. Duranty lied, millions (millions!) of Ukranians died.

Few could hope to approach Margaret Sanger for meanness of spirit and contempt for those she found inferior. She is Exhibit A of the historical reminders that even though eugenics is not an automatic consequence of abortion, it sure show up often at its cocktail parties. We are fortunate that most of what she wished for the world has not come to pass, and for all that she gets a pass under my system of measuring results rather than intent. She founded Planned Parenthood, an organization staffed mostly by people who mean well and try to help. But that counts for nothing, remember? If you were to identify one person responsible for elevating the prestige of abortion beyond the level of tragic necessity and into the realm of admirable, liberating act, it would be Sanger. But I am not sure that her advocacy was what changed our attitudes.

The previous six are here

The final list, in no particular order:

Eli Whitney
Pete Seeger
Al Capone
Alger Hiss
Boss Tweed
Lee Harvey Oswald
Jimmy Carter
John Walker
Nathan Bedford Forrest
Walter Duranty

Global Wetting

New Hampshire in 2005 has broken its record for annual precipitaiton, according to the Union Leader.

I blame George Bush for this.

Something New In The Abortion Debate

An evenhanded discussion of the logical aspects of the abortion issue can be found at Asymetrical Information. Scroll down to November 9.

With all the ink that has been spilled over the abortion issue, you wouldn’t think there’d be much new to say.

I have something new to say.

Pro-choice advocates frequently use the language of invasion, even though this makes no rational sense. The clearest expression of this was Cameron Diaz’s TV appearance in the runup to the 2004 election, explicitly equating the pro-life position with rape. Very similar language makes its appearance in prochoice advocacy and fund-raising material. Somehow this resonates with some women. For society to forbid an abortion is perceived as a sexual assault. When something is this irrational but this strongly felt by intelligent women, my initial supposition is that the feelings are not about nothing, but that the attribution (or blame) is misplaced.

The more rational issues of the abortion debate I leave aside here, not because they are unimportant, but because they are covered in many other places, by people far wiser than I. We are unable to get to these rational issues because something irrational, but not necessarily ridiculous or contemptible, is in the way.

Abortions don’t take place in people’s bedrooms. That’s fairly obvious, but the objection persists that the “government has no business in people’s bedrooms.” Initial guess: If I am visibly pregnant, then everyone will know I’m having sex. No one has the right to know if I’m having sex. Therefore, I should be able to have an abortion to prevent this information from becoming public knowledge. That’s not a rational approach to whether someone should be allowed to have an abortion, but it’s not bizarre, either. It’s an understandable sentiment, and may be a more driving consideration among younger or unmarried women.

Note: I am making no attempt here to understand or comment on all the feelings a woman might have when considering abortion. My focus is on this single anamoly or set of related anamolies on this issue of women believing they are being “forced,” in some way, and how this colors the discussion.

Governments do not force pregnancies to proceed. Biology does that. Not-allowing-people-to-stop something is similar, but not quite the same. The phrase “making someone be pregnant” has several possible meanings, but that doesn’t make those meanings logically equivalent. It doesn’t take much sophistication of thought to see that forcible impregnation is simply a different act from staying the hand of someone who wishes to abort. But that connection is powerful for some women, and I don’t believe it is a mere rhetorical device to cheat the argument. Additional guess: Having to continue a pregnancy is reminiscent of the Bad Old Days, when women were culturally “forced” to have children. In the Bad Old Days women were denied status and resources if they didn’t have children, and if a woman were raped there wasn’t much she could do about it. It’s a package deal of old values, and if we can’t have abortions it will be like having to endure rape again. The connection with rape is not logical, but it’s not absurd, either. There is a perceived association of one value with another based on "In the old days, both were more common. Therefore a person holding one of these older views likely holds both of them."

There is also the sense of being invaded by another human being. This accords with the language of rape, even though the baby is clearly not raping the mother. But this presence, this invasion at an intimate level has some analogy to sex. Third guess: I don’t want another person intimately in me without my permission. Being in me without permission is rape. If the government does not allow me to abort, then the government is not allowing me to defend myself against intrusion. Related to this would be the idea that It is intolerable to me to have another person inside me. Therefore, it's not a person.

Less obviously sexual, but carrying some of the same suggestion, is “I get to do what I want with my body.” We don’t mean that about our bodies in actuality, but we do generally mean it about sexual behavior. We don’t believe that doctors should be made to help teenagers pierce their tongues because they’re going to do it anyway and we want them to be safe. We don’t allow people to demand that doctors amputate limbs for no reason. But when it comes to sexual behavior, we are pretty solidly in the camp of "No one should make you do or not do anything. It's entirely up to you."

I have been using the phrases "not logical" or "not rational" throughout. I think I will back off from that here. These associations are not logical in the sense of 2+2=4, but they do fit another kind of reasonableness. On a color wheel, yellow is not red, but the entire path between them is orange. Yellow is close to red in that sense; closer than if you went through green, blue, and purple. I see the connection but less than half understand it.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Assistant Village Idiot Appears on a Sweet Potato

That's me on the left, there. Sadly, it really does look like me.

The Ten Worst Americans -- Okay, Six So Far

The actual Worst Americans are people few of us will ever know, serial killers and torturers who seem barely recognizable as human beings. But their evils are nearly always limited by their own lack of power and influence. I choose my list from those whose actions had the worst effects, regardless of intent. Comparing baseness of motive is a fruitless task. Comparing results is relatively straightforward. Identifying the cruelest slaveowner might be interesting, but that person did not produce as much catastrophic effect as

Eli Whitney – the man who perpetuated slavery. Slavery was disintegrating as an institution because it was not economically viable when Whitney’s cotton gin gave it new life. Contrast the well-meaning Eli with the irascible Henry Ford, a miserable SOB who couldn’t give a rat’s posterior about black people, but made the elevation of the lower classes possible with his process improvements. In this era of Ray Kurzweil’s insisting that advances in technology will liberate us all, it pays to remember that even clever things can have dire consequences.

Al Capone – there have been many worse criminals in American history, but Capone’s organizational skills and ruthlessness established a model that others could, and did imitate. Would another Capone have arisen to carve out a place for organised crime in America? Probably, but likely with less effect. Ethnic gangs had been long known in American cities, but the wholesale import of Old-World corruption turned out to be a weed we still can’t eradicate.

Pete Seeger -- Seeger did not much influence popular culture directly, but he was an enormous influence on Leftiedom from WWII on. He was always willing to lie for The Cause, because the true stories weren’t such good illustrations. (See, for example Waist Deep In The Big Muddy, Walkin’ Down Death Row, and I Mind My Own Business.) Seeger’s self-righteousness and genial sneers trained an entire generation of lefties in what was proper to think and what a fascist or moronic rube you were if you disagreed.

Alger Hiss – with nods to Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and Henry Wallace. With all the spite one can still generate bringing up McCarthy, Nixon, HUAC, etc, it pays to remember that there actually were traitors in our government. That they saw themselves as gentle One-Worlders does not remove the fact that they lent active support and credibility to the social system which killed 200,000,000 in the 20th C. None of them had illusions about how communists were operating worldwide, but they ignored that for the sake of a dream they wished to impose on the rest of us.

Lee Harvey Oswald – Political assassination had gone out of the American repertoire for decades until Oswald returned us to the age of anarchists with the assassination of Kennedy. This set off a string of further shootings and attempted shootings of political figures, including another Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.

William March Tweed – Tammany Hall controlled the Democratic Party in New York City, and was the 800-lb gorilla of American politics for 70 years. Attempts have been made to minimize how damging this was and to paint it as a moderating influence on what could have been a more unstable situation. This is ridiculous. Corruption may be a common way station between servitude and freedom, but it is not the only way station nor a particularly good one. Boss Tweed was the sand in the gears of economic growth for decades, keeping immigrants in enslaving poverty.

The Greatest American? I’m giving the early lead to George Washington Carver. The man invented peanut butter. What tops that?

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Requisite Apology

Family Christmas yesterday, and a wonderful time with my two brothers and almost all the attachments. Went to my oldest son's tonight to watch the second son's movies from his film study semester in LA. Surprisingly good. I expected his acting to be good, but it was good to brilliant. He had composed his own scores, showing more talent there than we had expected. The excellent camera work was not a surprise, but his willingness to take risks and pull it off was good. The lad still has trouble making the plot clear -- often a product of not telegraphing who is who in the dim lighting. But pieces of the boxing movie were stunning, and his facial expressions in comedy were wonderful. There is a difference between holding down a part and creating a role, and he rose above the journeyman competence of acting at least 50% of the time.

Anyway, tomorrow there will be controversy.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Answers to Harder List Holiday Songs

26. Chestnuts
27. It's Beginning
28. Bethlehem
29. Sleigh Bells
30. Rocking
31. Home
32. We Wish
33. I Heard
34. Frosty
35. Jolly
36. Wenceslas
37. Rooftop
38. Gentlemen
39. Blue
40. Goose
41. I Don't Want
42. Here We Come
43. Most Wonderful
44. Sidewalks
45. Hark
46. Weather
47. Manger
48. Angels
49. Bleak
50. O Come
51. Night Wind
52. Three Ships
53. Angels From

Answers To First Batch of Holiday Songs, 2016.

At our party, groups of 6-8 working intermittently over 90 minutes got most of them.  One group got all.  Group interaction seems to spark off new ideas better than working alone.

1.  Have Yourself
2.  First Noel
3.  Yarmulke (two versions - disputed)
4.  Midnight
5.  Deck
6.  Silent
7.  Jingle Bell Rock
8.  On the First
9.  O Christmas Tree
10. You Better
11. Joy
12. What Child
13. Rudolph *
14. Hallelujah (this one was harder than I'd thought)
15. Mommy
16. Grandma
17. Dreidel
18. O Holy
19. Feliz
20. Holly
21. All I Want
22. Dashing
23. Come, They Told
24. We Three
25. Dreaming

The first version I saw of this puzzle had "You Know Dasher and Dancer..." After discussion, we decided that as this was not strictly necessary, it isn't the first line, but a separate introduction.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

A Christmas Story (With No Christmas)

I wandered aimlessly west and south until I was quite near Oxford Station in London, and caught the sound of piano music on the breeze. Not just any piano music, Binky, but solid, rhythmic tunes, heartily played. None of this George Winston stuff, or piano lounge faux jazz. Songs, Trevor my lad, actual songs with verses, written more than forty years ago. People gathered around the piano and sang along with whatever the accompanist played. There was a WWII medley, including one I had not heard but found easy to learn, about Hitler having only one ball. There were a smattering of old show tunes, quite a bit from ragtime and flapper eras, a Tom Lehrer tune… all quite jolly. The people knew each other but were quite welcoming to me.

The pianist was a small man in a battered blue blazer, smoking tiny hand-rolled cigarettes -- they were legit, I checked. He comes in most Thursday and Friday nights and plays as long as he feels like. There were a very few people in their 20’s, more in their 30’s, but most of us were 45+. The bar was full and most other customers paid no heed to the 20 of us singing. This struck me as odd at first. Why come to a pub where people sing old songs if you aren’t going to give at least half an ear? In time the mystery explained itself, as individuals from across the room were invited by name and with scattered applause as certain songs were begun. When finished, they usually requested another song be played, sang it, and sat down.

Pale ruined choirs. None of us had excellent voices any longer, though some were still good. I thought I remembered this population from theater parties after musicals or Gilbert and Sullivan productions, oldsters trying to reimpress for one more night. “I used to play for Garland when she came through DC,” they would mention casually on the way to some other story. But they looked at you hungrily, hoping you would ask about it. Vain people, horribly trapped in their own lost talent.

There was something calmer about this group, just happy to sing with each other. The musical ear remains good long after the throat is shattered, and these talented people must have heard what years of whiskey and tobacco and talking over pub crowds had done to their voices.

Yet there were no apologies for not being as good as they once were. It would have seemed out of place, somewhat naïve, drawing us back to the old world, when such things still mattered. To apologize for a strain in range among a people who have long since ceased to measure their range would be embarrassing. It would be akin to chuckling “I was always such a trouble to them in the Westminster Abbey youth choir” -- a false humility, worse than arrogance. For a long minute I misunderstood this atmosphere, worrying that the vocal deterioration was the one awful secret that should not be mentioned. Too much exposure to psychology; I pathologize all I see. Reading Pinter produces the same effect.

This group had it right. Of course we’re all washed up, mate. What of it? If you stop to bother about that you’ll miss the next song. They all may have once sung with someone Known, been one of the many thousands who brush the edge of importance in the music world. I hope these aren’t the only few who escaped through the flames. I fear the others are still dropping names and places, hoping for a moment of admiration. These simply sang, and then sang more.

It may have been a glimpse of heaven and hell. Certainly the hellish picture is much like C.S.Lewis’s portrayal of hell in The Great Divorce, with the unrelenting preoccupation with one’s place and importance.

We will all sing in heaven -- I always thought we would have magnificent voices, but perhaps not. Perhaps that would be beside the point.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Intelligence isn't everything

Years (and years) ago, I was president of the Prometheus Society, one of those tiny up-above-Mensa IQ groups with a supposed cutoff of 164 IQ. (No, I don’t think my IQ actually is that high. I think I’m closer to 150 and fluked in). We wrote articles on everything in the monthly newsletter Gift of Fire and argued the points – sort of a slow-moving, proto-blogosphere in the late 80’s. All you folks who think that the world would be better if the smart people were in charge – drop that idea. I have never interacted with a group that had screwier ideas, listened less, or postured more. Everyone arrived with the idea at long last, people I can reason with, but the discussions were as petty and unreasonable as everywhere else. Higher vocabulary and more formulas, same arguments.

There were a few genuinely wise and reasonable people there, but the overriding tendency was to take a principle and apply it so rigorously as to remove it from realistic context. I likened it at the time to getting a screw cross-threaded, but forcing it in anyway. These people had the raw brain power, the g-factor, the density of glial cells to force a bad idea to its conclusion, and the result wasn’t pretty. There was an Asperger-y quality to every discussion, a sense that it mattered greatly whether something was called blue-green vs. teal. You don’t want your new masters to have Asperger’s. Trust me here, people. I’ve had a very charming, witty boss with Asperger’s before. It’s hellish.

I liken intelligence in the limited sense to height in basketball. Height helps. Everyone would like a little more. But the greatest players are not always the tallest, because other factors become ascendent after a certain minimum. How determined are you? How well do you mesh with others? How fast are you, how coordinated, how intuitive, how well-coached?

Things seem to run better when the folks with SAT’s 1200-1400 are running things.

40 mpg

The suggestion was to decrease our dependence on foreign oil by mandating that all new cars sold after January 1, 2007 get at least 40mpg.

All those people who don’t like the new models, or don’t like not being able to buy a minivan or a pickup, or the 2007 versions are too expensive – they keep their old vehicle longer and don’t but a new one. That’s several million unsold cars right there. Would you explain to all those auto workers why they were laid off, please? And all the people who make things that go in cars?

Those used pickups and bigger cars, built before the new regs went in – the price of those goes way up, dragging up the price of all used cars. Would you explain to all those poor people why they can’t afford a car anymore?

Then wander over and explain to the guys at the sports car accessory place why they’re going out of busines. And drop by Home Depot and Loews and Walmart and anywhere else whose business depends on people picking up large items and bringing them home, and explain to them why sales are way down and why they have to lay folks off.

The camping and boat people take a big hit as well -- and the small businesses that need small trucks for deliveries or to bring equipment to paint or landscape. Now after we’ve lost all those jobs directly related to vehicles, after those first few million Americans are out of work, only then do we start on the ripple effect on the whole economy, as everyone has less money to spend and buys fewer clothes and dishwashers and magazines.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Post-Christian United States

Stuff that has been hovering in the background for decades has become a Big Deal this year. All of a sudden folks are really torqued about "Happy Holidays" versus "Merry Christmas," and Intelligent Design in the public school classroom has emerged as a major news item this year.

This is a post-Christian nation. I raised my children, now grown or nearly grown, to be aware that they were Christians in a culture where that is unpopular. I don't think riding past waves of religiosity is good for individuals -- though I think it is good for the culture at large.

I don't expect public school teachers to teach my children about Intelligent Design. I expect them to be secular smartypants who think they are wiser than that. I think public school teachers who secretly wish to rescue children from this blinkered, conservative society are the norm. The "new ideas" they wish to expose my children to is the same old crap, but that's okay.

I also don't like it when they undermine my beliefs, and I complain about it. These crusaders do need to be reined in and reminded. I also complain when they push their beliefs in dishonest fashion -- like teaching the speech of Chief Seattle, which is a hoax from 30 years ago, and using it to examine American political values. But they are under no obligation to teach my beliefs.

I expect that merchants will teach their cashiers to say whatever will get everyone in the least trouble. I am not going to pick on a poor shopgirl for saying "Happy Holidays."

Further, I don't expect to be given Christmas off. It's a religious holiday, and people should have to work it. If I want it off for religious reasons, I should take it out of my own time -- or take it unpaid.

America has been a Christian nation, but much of that has been a mile wide and an inch deep. That has had benefits for society that unbelievers refuse to admit, but I think it has been a disadvantage to the Church.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Wyman Family Christmas Letter -- 2005

I don't know how much my little corner (very little corner) of the blogosphere is interested, but with a week to go before Christmas, I thought I would append this.

The whole batch of us, including Jonathan and Heidi, went to Romania this summer.

Nota, billet, plata

Romanian language tapes teach you to ask for the nota at the end of the meal. At the El Greco café after some confusion, we were instructed that the word we wanted was billet. At the Princepesa, one block away, billet was not the right word, no, no. What could you mean? What could these (stupid) Americans want? You must mean plata. And then of course not plata, but nota two blocks over at Little Italy, after many gestures and consultations. I tried checque once in frustration, which they immediately recognized – and then corrected me. We never once guessed right, but we did short-circuit this game they play with Americans by using nota de plata. Take that, Daria.

“But he’s my father!”

Ben worked at the orphanage in Beius for eight weeks. The children do not see adult males that much, and are often skittish at first. Several little girls took to him quickly however, clamoring for shoulder rides and carryings. When Pamela was chastened by the Romanian women for riding so long when she could be walking, she countered “But he’s my father!” Ouch. Ben would gladly have taken any one of a half-dozen home if he could, and saying goodbye was difficult.

“The house should be right here. Huh.”

Chris and John-Adrian went back to the village of Derna for the first time in 12 years. They walked in the fields where they had been young shepherds and visited the house they had lived in. As the next house over had been torn down and the distant cousins had changed their old house, it was difficult for them to recognize it. They were pleased that several elderly babushkas remembered who they were, and the whole neighborhood gathered around to see them. Derna is fairly remote, with not a lot happening, so the visit by the boys will be a topic there for months, with those who saw them being envied by those who did not. We later learned that Chris was also a grape stomper there.

"Thongs on Parade"

More important, J-A and Chris got to spend a few days with their older brother and younger sister still in Romania, and connect them to their two American brothers. The six of them plus a fiancée, a wife, and several additional friends traveled in a pack through Oradea, including the local pool, where the swimwear is extreme for all ages. Ben blogged wryly that toplessness was less enchanting than he had expected. The troupe even allowed Tracy and I to join them, particularly when we paid for dinner. Chris expects to be back next summer working either at the orphanage or for Habitat, and will time his trip to overlap with Catalin’s projected wedding.

The year of five addresses.

From May 2005 to May 2006, Ben will have lived in Kentucky for one college semester, in Romania for the summer, in NH during vacations, in Los Angeles for a film studies semester, and in the Italian Alps for the Winter Olympics. In between, there have been short stays in Ireland, Budapest, and the Florida panhandle. This level of excitement and dislocation seems more attractive at 22 than it does at 52.

Bat Cave Baptist Church

John-Adrian has started college in marketing at North Greenville University in SC. His dorm room wasn’t ready for the first month, the school server doesn’t block viruses very well, and the campus is at the intersection of two roads going nowhere. Small signs point to unusually named Baptist churches in all directions. But he thinks NGU a good choice, all in all. I think he talks with Chris more now than he did while he was home.

“I just put him down and made him apologize. We’re friends now.”

Chris has transferred to Goffstown High, where he is now learning to be an auto technician. He toys with the idea of entering the military in 2007, then thinks no, he will train to fix BMW’s. His other grades have also gone up, and he might have his first shot at making the honor roll. That is not where he has traditionally pictured himself, but he likes it. Ben and J-A don’t share with us who they’re dating, but Chris, like Jonathan, is more open. We have worried for four years what would happen if Chris got into a fight, praying it would not be like his fights at the state orphanage. When it happened, it was pretty anticlimactic (above).

I can build you something that looks like a porch from forty feet.

1) Tracy has always wanted a screened porch. 2) Our old porch was rotting in places. 3) Having someone do the work for me would run about $10,000. Thus, I attempted it myself. Most of my previous construction experience was building theatrical sets thirty years ago, and this type of help is what my brother, who earns his daily bread teaching technical theater at Smith College, offered – as stated above. I had no designs, just ripping off pieces and adding on others. I spent a lot of time staring at the porch, considering options, and obsessing about it from June to November. I finally completed a screened porch twice the size of the previous one, including a metal roof. No major injuries. Chris helped with the labor, and if he occasionally invented his own ways of doing things when I wasn’t there, that is a small price to pay for having a son help. As it was all seat of the pants, his ideas were usually about as good as mine anyway.

I had hoped to split the difference between theatrical construction and real construction, building something that held weight and looked like a porch from 20 feet. I actually did a little better. Come see my porch, and stand about 15 feet away. “Distance adds beauty,” my brother reminds me

Saturday, December 17, 2005

BDS On Broadway

Bush Derangement Syndrome is skewered in Mark Steyn's review over at the New Criterion. A sample:

Even so, if Brantley’s “wondering disgust” has metastasized into “blazing anger in search of an outlet,” why doesn’t he demand some real politics in his theater instead of trying to impose it on a novelty pseudo-opera that can’t support it? You see this all over the place these days. You’re reading the gardening-hints column in Belgium or the recipe tips in New Zealand, and the author suddenly starts in on Paul Wolfowitz. Last year, I glanced at the architecture column in The Toronto Star. In his review of the design for the new customs plaza at the Canadian end of the bridge between Buffalo, New York and Fort Erie, Ontario, Christopher Hume, the architecture correspondent, began as follows: “As the United States descends into fascism …”

Nations as Personality Disorders

France is a glamorous borderline personality disorder, resulting from repeated incestuous victimization by Germany. It explains everything since the French Revolution. England has been the rescuer of the French from themselves and others, and was thus hated more than the abuser. DeGaulle hated the English more than the Germans as late as 1943. The American rescuer has supplanted the English one, allowing France to have better relations with the Brits.

With respect to the more belligerent Arab nations, I lean toward a diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, while drsanity leans toward the more fully psychotic diagnoses -- she sees narcissism more in play with the terror apologists on the left and in the MSM;
neo-neocon (now just "Neo," for you Matrix fans) sees them in terms of shame; and an orgonomist, Dr. Harman has an interesting, but idiosyncratic view.

Russia has behaved like a Paranoid Personality Disorder for years -- not frankly psychotic, but married to misinterpretations bordering on delusion.

Keep playing.

Underground DSM-IV: Axis II

If one staff member moves to rescue an Axis II patient, someone else will lean toward punishment to an equal degree. In large groups the mathematics of balance is more complicated but the principle is the same: the group will balance its transference. Moving to the extremes just increases splitting: shift wars, team vs. line staff, community vs. hospital.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry

Just a bit of fun.

It’s hardly news, is it, to report that English food is unappetizing? The civilized world abounds with places where bland, uninteresting food is normative. But one does not expect this active badness, these midsentence pauses from each of one’s fellow diners as the food arrives, accompanied by the International Sign[1] for what-the-hell-is-this.

In Scandinavia they serve herring. Fine, then. I can look at the plate and think “That is a herring, and I don’t want it.” There is also a recent increase in unfamiliar but brightly colored vegetables on salads. This also can be easily dealt with. I may decide to nibble on the edge of this unknown vegetable, or not. The English black-and-white pudding, however, is thoroughly intimidating. It’s a dark oversized tootsie roll next to a miniature beige hockey puck. But it’s a pudding, I think, and therefore might be tasty. Fortunately, my lightning-quick mind remembers that British terms for things are notoriously unreliable, and abandon that line of reasoning. If I like it I will have one more choice when looking at an English menu. This is not an inconsiderable upside. And how much worse could it be than the sausages, which have enough fat in them to make a crow vomit?

And yet, I hesitate. I look at my Romanian sons, hoping they will identify the items and reassure me. They are busying themselves with other parts of the meal. Danger, Will Robinson, Danger! This could mean that the item is quite far down on the food pyramid. Down below ground level to the foundation, the places which read “Let animals eat these foods, and then you eat them.

Tracy thinks the dark one may be a blood sausage, a possibility that makes three of us draw back with disdainful eye, and even John-Adrian show mild distaste. This should settle the matter then. There is no food which complements a blood sausage; it is preposterous to even consider it further. And yet the very mystery of it intrigues me.
What could it possibly be? I know it’s not good, but dear Lord, what food actually would traditionally accompany a blood sausage?
The beige color now strongly suggests lard with flavoring, and I begin to be haunted by this item. I move on to the rest of the standard English breakfast, which includes a half-tomato cooked to rejection, a mushroom – which I eat part of – plus the usual egg, bacon, and sausage (Spam, spam spam, spam…). I busy myself with the dry toast and jam for twenty minutes, but cannot get the white pudding out of my mind.

The thought of it still comes to me at night when I am unprepared and undefended. I take it as a reminder from God not to neglect my prayers.

With this as background, consider my amazement at a newspaper article by an Englishman in France, complaining about the food. And making a very good case that French food is overrated. He was utterly convincing, and I can assure you without having been there that the typical French restaurant —not the Michelin Guide star restaurants but the bistro -- likes to offer an egg mayonnaise to start. Great. Now I have two dishes to trouble me in the middle of the night. Furthermore, their meat is past prime and its preparation abominable, the vin ordinaire now barely adequate, the vegetables soggy, and only the bread worth consuming. Ben read the article and also found it convincing. So there you have it. The mask is off.

[1] A smile may be the same in any language, as is so often claimed, but it is also true that this slight curl of lip, brief cessation of inhalation, and brow that moves rapidly from raised to furrowed is recognized even by Maori tribesmen.


Today's fun line was "I might be an underling, but I'm not your underling, and you shall not address me that way." I had thought of adding "And I can spot you at least 40 IQ points," but I find that this takes conversation into unproductive areas.

I could, though. Dammit.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Underground DSM-IV: The Professions

New social workers want to intervene in everything at once: couples counseling, substance rehab, going on disability, finding a self-help group, etc. This is the human services equivalent of invading not only Afghanistan and Iraq, but North Korea, China, France, Mexico, and the Maldive Islands, all at once,

If you suggest this to social workers, they won’t understand the analogy, noting irrelevantly that they were against going into Iraq.

If a social worker has arranged a placement with only a small window of availability, the patient automatically becomes clinically ready to go, and you’d damn well better agree. Otherwise, the SW will bite your head off the next time you ask about discharging someone.

When Psych Nurses say, “He needs to be discharged,” they mean “I want him discharged.”

When psychiatrists are finished with med changes, they conclude the patient is at baseline, independent of any data.

When anything changes, the psychologist will find a way to interpret it as progress.

The difficulty with being a Psychiatric Aide is the social and emotional battering they receive from both patients and ungrateful staff. Stress reduction classes make this worse. Encouragement might work, but no one’s ever tried it.

History becomes lost, but is found again by the Beatles

Black & White Photography Creates The Illusion Of Black & White Morality
The years 1880-1960 are the gray, colorless years, lost to history. Events happened, but they were all dark, still, and boring. You’d think two major wars would liven things up in the public imagination, but interesting things apparently happened to boring, colorless people. We know the world was forgettable and not quite real. Soldiers in 1916 marched jerkily and too quickly, and for whole decades people waved a lot but could not speak. If they were lucky, they got captions. We’ve got movies of this, we know how life was then. In 1900 it was even worse, as whole families of sepia shadow-people sat endlessly in parlors in their best clothes. Even beautiful women had an unhealthy grayness to their skin, and a complete lack of fashion sense running entirely to blacks and grays. Winston Churchill might have had some color to him if it hadn’t been for all the stress of the war, but even he succumbed to bloodless pallor.

Yes, I believe Boomers really think this way. We're dumb like that
Floridians riding the half-taxis through Madame Tussaud’s in London encounter history as they know it: A series of romantic kings had wars with cool costumes. Next, everyone was poor and disease-ridden (but colorful) until the Great Fire of London. Then all of present-day London was built, including the Underground, and loud machines started doing work. In the 1800’s England conquered the world while wearing more cool costumes. But as Queen Victoria aged she turned gray and wore black, and the whole world followed suit. Our own history jibes with this, we just add a frontier and a colorful revolution[2]. Americans actually had the first colorless war in 1860, but we don’t expect anyone but us to remember that. Colorful peasants all over Europe were transformed into black-and-white slum dwellers in American cities in the late 19th C; honest and hardworking but poor, finally able to open fruitstands and restaurants, a privilege denied them in Europe, apparently. Eventually the fruit turned gray, but they became prosperous anyhow.
Fortunately, in the 1960’s people regained their color. The lights came on and they became interesting and went to parties and had fun, which their parents and grandparents had been unable to do. Oh they had tried, of course, but they had boring fun. We know this. We have the pictures, and pictures don’t lie. Even the old people came around and agreed with this eventually, because when they looked at the photos they saw clearly how much more alive they were in 1970 than they had been in 1950. We Boomers still congratulate ourselves about this. Scholars now believe the Beatles should get credit for this, as they started out in black-and-white but learned to appear in color (colour, actually) and thus became rich and famous. Other popular musicians followed suit, and professional athletes followed. The Green Bay Packers were the first team to actually wear colors, rather than just say they had colors. Folks, we’ve got the pictures, don’t contradict me on this. The Colts played the Giants in black-and-white, and were black-and-white, in an era of moral (snigger) simplicity.

The Reduced Shakespeare Company – late boomers all – in the Condensed History of America admitted that they skipped history from 1880 until the war because it was boring. Two world wars got only passing notice. They invested their time in a 1950’s sendup done in stark lighting and black-and-white costuming. Lucille Ball was there, but her hair wasn’t red. How could it have been? The world didn't have that color then. McCarthyism was mentioned, of course, because we love to congratulate ourselves on our moral superiority. How quaint to think of communists as evil and Americans as good.
However much the significance is overlooked, my observation is not original. Bill Waterson references the change in Calvin and Hobbes, capturing exactly the myth of how we perceive earlier generations. When National Geographic photographed Lake Wobegon only black and white film was used. Garrison Keillor himself provides the corrective in his story “Hog Slaughter,” a work of quiet power and one of his finest. “We believe it was a simpler time because we were children then, and our needs were looked after by others.”
A whole generation of Boomers on both sides of the Atlantic based its picture of history, and thus its social and political beliefs on an unrelated development: the improvement of color printing and color photography. We remember Nixon in black-and-white, Kennedy just barely in color. (John, Paul, George, and Ringo were probably influenced by this.) But Milhous never shed this image even after becoming president. He seemed hand-tinted rather than living color, even in 1980. The movie Pleasantville should have given it away, especially to a generation whose shared cultural icon was watching black-and-white Kansas change to colorful Oz. But that heavy-handed symbolism went well with our mental furniture, and we simply fit it in unnoticed. I mean, that's how those benighted people in the 50's were, right? Not like us.
Not to be too deconstructionist about it, but the similar words in the phrases “black and white morality” and “black and white photography” signify a deeper conceptual relationship. Oh man, that’s heavy. It’s like on the cover of Sgt. Pepper…
A social worker I once worked with was fond of saying “Things aren’t black and white.” She often went on to add “It’s not like Ozzie and Harriet where everything is solved in half an hour.” I didn’t note the juxtaposition at the time, but now estimate I’ve been hearing similar things for decades, just under my radar.
Moral relativity was not taught to us intellectually by Kafka, but accidentally by Kodak. Because the moral simplicity of our own childhood is recorded in black and white, we assume all the others in the photos were equally simple. Isn’t it great to live in more advanced times?

[2] Several presidents nearly shared this fate by being put on money. James Madison was sort of greenish, but I believe Dolly had peachy skin and auburn hair.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Social Virtues of Capitalism

Capitalism forces people to get along with others different than themselves, and to value a variety of talents. Alternative means of bestowing status and goods are invariably much worse. The accusations of soulless money-making, sometimes true at the individual level, turn out to be exactly reversed at the societal level. It is the market economies which allow people to find importance in many ways. We trade money for all sorts of things, not only at the spending end, but at the making end. Imagine that as a young person you decided that your one goal was to make money. By taking a dangerous, insecure, or distant job, nearly anyone can make a lot of money. But we trade safety for money – we don’t want to work high-story construction. We trade morality – we don’t sell drugs or sell ourselves. We decide we would rather be near friends, we would rather have job security, we would rather not work nights, we would rather have a status job, or one with hope of advancement. We trade income for working conditions, for sense of purpose, or for time with family, for pleasant companions. Those choices have a monetary value to us, though we seldom think of them that way. And we can each decide the value for ourselves.

Some of these trade-offs are available in socialist economies, but to a far lesser extent. Mobility is restricted. Levelling of income just makes the other factors, e.g. status or location, of greater importance. The currency changes, that's all. When we make every job of equal worth, who would work longer hours? Who would choose the dangerous job when the safe one pays almost as much? If we don’t reward these things according to the choices that people actually make, no one will put up with unpleasantness unless made to.

People’s objections to capitalism usually boil down to the fact that the Wrong People make money, doing things that are less valuable than what my values say should be so in a just society. I find the ensuing statements of who should be rewarded to be humorously self-serving. Tangent. We think cancer researchers should be better rewarded than baseball players -- but we hate pharmaceutical companies.

The poverty of some is held up as the basis for complaint, but a greater percentage of Swedes are below America’s poverty line than are Americans. Virtually no Swedes are below Sweden’s poverty line, but that’s not the same thing. There is a poverty of hopelessness and fear which is greater in America than in other developed countries, but that is caused by the very things we have done to fix it.

We have made neighborhoods dangerous with urban architecture, for example. Each building in The Projects becomes an island, difficult for society’s controls to penetrate.

Montessori trickery

Montessori schools are built off trickery, and a good thing, too. Every day, they structure your child’s time relentlessly, breaking periodically to tell her she can choose whatever work she want. Of course, everything there is educational, and you have to use it according to an elaborate set of rules, but you can do anything you want, Ashleigh. Children love this faux freedom, and develop their own rituals freely doing familiar things. Wish I’d thought of that.

It's a great model for parenting, by the way. Guile and trickery should start young ("Do you want to walk to the car or do you want to be carried?"), and you should still be breaking even with them up until age 6.

But decades later, I have not forgiven Montessori schools their cookie trickery. Those were not cookies, they were a form of cookie-shaped biscuit which reflected the staff's flour and sugar biases.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Dr. Sanity likes the impending snow. The woman is mad.

Toxins as replacement for the Sin Concept

As the concept of sin has receded in American culture, the belief in body-poisons has grown. We are sure there is some pesticide, some hormone, some Frankenfood which is endangering us a little at a time, cumulatively eating away at our health. So many faddist health measures assure us that they flush various things from our bodies. We are walking bags of poisons inflicted on us by heartless corporations who only want to make money and don’t care what terrible things they do to us. Some conservation of belief in impurity seems in play here.

Also, it shows that we now value our body over our character.

Update: There is great similarity between extreme environmentlists and the early Puritans. Just a different target.

I Need Therapy

“I need (undefined) therapy.” Means I feel bad and think I will feel better if other people listen to me endlessly. Our other offerings, including group therapy, won’t be considered real therapy. One on one contact that involves something other than just listening -- assigning homework or examining assumptions, for example -- will be grudgingly acknowledged as therapy, but not good therapy. There will be something wrong with the therapist. Other variations include “I haven’t gotten any therapy here.”

Rescuing women often accept the reasoning from the violent men in their lives that the men just need to “get their anger out somehow.” Actually, these guys get their anger out just fine. It’s keeping it in we want them to work on. This seems terribly unhealthy to both the violent male and his rescuing female, who are puzzled that mental health professionals do not understand this very obvious psychological need. This particular bit of faulty reasoning is often paired with needing “therapy,” as above.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Howard Dean Knows Less Than Charwomen

When I read someone like Howard Dean maintaining we won't win the war in Iraq and maintaining we have already lost it, I am reminded of the charwomen discussing the First World War so knowledgeably in this little section of Sir James Barrie's The Old Lady Shows Her Medals.

Barrie, better known for Peter Pan, is a master of poignancy, and captures female characters remarkably well for a man who got along rather distantly with them in real life.

Dean, better known for vocal theatrics in Iowa, is a master of buffoonery, and captures reflexive fuzzy liberalism well for a man who kept rather distant from it when he was Governor of Vermont.

Humor Writers and Political Affiliation

There are four writers of somewhat similar style from my generation who came from Middle America and were liberals in the 1970’s. Two still are, the other two have become libertarian/conservative. The two who are still liberal came from deeper into the Midwest: Bill Bryson and Garrison Keillor (Iowa and rural Minnesota). The other two, PJ O’Rourke and Dave Barry, came from Ohio and western New York. I wonder if there is a deeper fear of being associated with rubes and yahoos that comes from it hitting closer to home. Bryson and Keillor have both lived in Europe and take more pains to show they can move with sophisticates, even when they laugh at themselves about it. O’Rouke and Barry have been more willing to embrace their yahooness. I prefer the latter two, by the way, while retaining some affection for the former.

There is a long literary tradition in America of young men writing about how benighted their childhood towns were in Middle America. We are formed by what we run from, perhaps. In our church, people come from a variety of church backgrounds. This is common in the Evangelical Covenant, a denomination somewhere between the mainstream and the evangelical, purposefully inclusive of both. In adult Sunday School classes, you can sense people still running from their Catholic, or fundamentalist, or social gospel pasts as often as you can sense them embracing those pasts.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

European Women

... do, in fact, dress more stylishly than American women. They have to. They are less attractive.

Giving and Receiving

The more you give people, the less grateful they are. This is not something peculiar to evil people, children, welfare recipients, other nations, or antisocials. This is human nature. What we expect, we feel we deserve, though we have done nothing for it. The child with fifty stuffed animals treasures none of them but is deeply wounded if one is taken. A nation that borders a strong ally is not grateful for its safety, but attributes it to its own policies. Drunks resent the lack of rehab beds when they decide to have a try at sobriety, as if they have been robbed, somehow.

I'm not suggesting, especially at Christmas, not to give anything to others. But be generous wisely.

National Humanitarianism

This came up in discussing intervention in Iraq, where we have something to gain, versus Darfur, where the humanitarian need is if anything, greater, but we have no national interest.

It sounds very kindly, doesn't it? Marshalling the resources of the country to intervene in some country where people are being oppressed, making the bad guys go away? Doesn't that just seem better than only intervening when we have something to gain from the endeavor? It seems generous, noble.

It is in fact immoral and irresponsible. We should put our people at risk only when it is necessary.

The confused thinking comes from imagining the nation as an individual. The individual morality of putting oneself at risk with no promise or even hope of benefit is quite high. But that premise does not extend to sending other people into danger.

As an analogy, imagine that you are an 8th-grade teacher in a city. Farther downtown, there is a dangerous neighborhood, where gangs or ethnic groups engage in violence. You get the brilliant idea that going down there and trying to spread hope, pass out food, or trying to get group leaders to talk together would help. If you go yourself, risking your own neck, I would say that you have done a brave, kindly, and perhaps even helpful thing. But if you take your class down there, you should be fired and the parents allowed to put you in the stocks or something.

There might arise a situation under which the entire city is in such danger, and immediate danger, that bringing your class down to sandbag the levee would be moral. Even if they were in danger and you had to arm those who had firearm training, or shoot looters and muggers yourself to keep them away from your charges, you might be justified. But when you are responsible for people, you have no right to put them at risk unless it is necessary.

The tendency to confuse the concepts of "government" and "society" is more common on the left than on the right, though it is certainly not absolute. This is in turn a more natural development in people who are less likely to be married, and even less likely to have more than one child. Married people, especially women, tend to vote more conservatively. Even more so, married people with two or more children tend to vote conservatively. There are of course single paleoconservatives, and near-marxists with 7 children, but as a trend, married with two or more children equals a reliable dominance of rightward voters. I have a private opinion based merely on observation that having raised multiple children past the age of eight creates yet one more winnowing of liberals from the pool, and this persists until all children have been grown for a decade, at which point the conservative dominance begins to weaken.

Whether this is cause or effect is difficult to discern. People who are already conservative might tend to want more children, for instance. It is not necessarily marrying and having children that influences one in a conservative direction. But I think in this issue of necessity versus humanitarianism, having to be responsible for the lives of others gives one a deeper understanding of what a government should do. There are other roles in society in which one is responsible for the lives of others in ways great and small. The greater the responsibility, the more likely that role is occupied by conservative-leaning people. Applied scientists tend to be more conservative than theoretical.

Saturday, December 03, 2005


I haven't ranted about this for at least two years, but the post over at Dr. helen's got me up and rolling.

Schools discriminate against boys, and that’s mostly a good thing. Boys learn that life isn’t fair, that you have to make your own way, and they learn to look for alternative routes to success.

Some boys, who do not learn these lessons, are just screwed. There are many ways to fail here. Some girls, who do not fit the girl stereotype of being able to sit still, ask politely, and follow the directions as stated, are also at risk for discovering no routes to success.

People don’t believe you when you tell them that schools heavily favor girls, and evidence does not seem to budge these folks. The template that society in general disfavors women is expected to penetrate every system and institution, and nothing as major as the educational system could possibly be exempt. If this describes you, call me back after you’ve had a couple of sons go through school. I have four. You get used to watching your boy do his 7th grade science fair project on fractals and finishing behind a girl who does a vinegar and baking soda volcano because hers was neatly painted and had nice diagrams. You get used to reading the honor roll and seeing it has twice as many girls as boys on it. High honor roll? Three times as many.

Schools are designed by women for girls. This softens gradually through the higher grades, but never hits level ground. I can still get irked about this, but I have to acknowledge it has been for the best (though just barely with my fourth son). Overcoming obstacles is good for children. Too many obstacles can break them, but a few are an advantage. Schools demand a certain type of behavior – cooperative and responsible, for openers – and these are good things to encourage. It really is better if you learn to listen to the directions and try to treat other people decently. The problem is, these are not the only rules, but they are the ones that elementary school teachers tend to like best.

My wife is an elementary school librarian and my prized daughter-in-law is an elementary school teacher. It is possible to do those jobs evenhandedly. In fact, it is teachers who have sons who are most tuned in to the disparity. But generally, boys get to figuring that school is sort of a girl thing, and find other ways to define themselves. When you read Tom Sawyer or The Little House on the Prairie you can see that this design flaw in the schools goes back over a century. Most males who are tech-wizards of some sort – programmers, inventors, engineers, or developers – are autodidacts. It’s no accident.

Related topic for another post: Feminist anger stems from women discovering that they were only taught half the rules, and their utter dominance in that half does not translate into adult success. Some other rules were sneaking up on the outside, which their teachers and scout leaders didn’t especially make them aware of.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Psychiatric Bigotry

Dr. Martin Kafka spoke at New Hampshire Hospital Grand Rounds today about sexual offenders and pharmacological treatments. After a somewhat dry and technical lecture, he closed with a rather vulgar small-penises joke about George Bush and his administration, including (ha ha) Condi Rice.

I have been going to conferences and picking up these continuing education credits in the psychological sciences for almost 20 years. I have heard, I estimate, over 300 different speakers. They have told many anti-conservative jokes, almost never anti-liberal. The lone exceptions were two Bill Clinton sex references in the late 90’s. Both seemed more congratulatory than critical, but they were at least ambiguous.

Dr. Kafka is a heavy hitter in the field of paraphilias, sexual addiction, and psychopharmacology of sex offenders. The lecture was appropriately professional, with reference to dopamine receptors, functional MRI’s, the hypothalamus, and comorbidity studies. The overall point, that dysthymic disorders, anxiety disorders, and ADHD are comorbid with paraphilia-related disorders and sexual offenders, and that these can provide a clue which direction to take in prescribing, was excellent. Notably, he took special care not to offend any hard-school feminists by stressing that he was not writing off cultural influences to male sexual aggression but simply noting the biological substrate.

Social judgment is a subtle thing to describe, but easy to detect when someone attempts a joke and it falls flat. The audience – my coworkers – laughed appreciatively. My own social judgment is good enough to know what would have been the response if he had attempted that small-penises joke about the previous administration. People would have been annoyed and mumbling. If Hillary Clinton had been included, several women would have walked out (and they would have been right to, by the way).

You can poke around on the internet and find people making vulgar jokes about Democrats, perhaps even especially the Clintons. But you will not find that level of bigotry in polite and professional conversation. Not directed leftward, at any rate. These urbane, sophisticated people, nearly all with advanced degrees, enjoyed this intense bigotry. This key to social acceptance is not lost on those coming up in the field. Everyone in human services knows what the cool kids’ politics are.

Pathological Names

In every generation there seem to be given names of children associated with a much higher proportion of pathology. No recent DCYF worker will be naming her own daughter Crystal, for example. The mechanism for this is opaque to me. Most Justins and Jasons are just regular people, but somehow an enormous number of pathological mothers decided that those were the best names for their sons. This annoys the hell out of the regular Crystals, Justins, and Jasons, who usually sense that they share their name with a lot of delinquents pretty early. The delinquents themselves never pick up on it – it’s always a surprise. “Krystl, that is like so amazing! My boyfriend last summer was like Justin, too, and he had to go to rehab!” Amber, Brandon, and Sean were problem names earlier. Cheyenne may be on the rise.

Update: In England, I learn, Fiona is a problem name. Now that's a pity. Perhaps this is a regional phenomenon and these names only have such a problem association in New England, my region. That might suggest that other regions have different problem names. I don't recall any pathological names from my youth except perhaps Renee, now a rather innocuous name. Maybe you have to be an adult to see it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Underground DSM-IV -- Oppositional Treatment Design

Oppositional treatment design is remarkably accurate in an acute psychiatric setting. If you want to sleep, we want you to get up. If you want to be up, we want you to sleep. If you want meds, you probably shouldn’t have them, but if you don’t want them they are likely to be exactly what you need. If you want to leave, we make you stay. If you want to stay, we make you leave. If you’re blaming yourself, you should stop that. If you’re blaming others, you should start blaming yourself. It’s not as stupid or mean as it sounds. People usually come to the hospital because of a particular point of contention with the usual flow of life. That inability or refusal to change is usually the central difficulty getting along in the world.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Monday, November 28, 2005

Orphanges and Terrorists

I have four sons, two domestic, two imported. The two imported sons spent time in Romanian orphanges -- a fairly small private Christian orphange, but prior to that a large state orphange. The latter can be fairly compared to the Mouth Of Hell.

Neither of my older two boys were fighters. Both were backed into it a very few times growing up, but simply avoided most situations that might lead to fighting. That is not 100% possible, as all parents learn. I was much more worried when my third and fourth sons came over four years ago. Both had had to fight often in Casa de Copii in Oradea, especially the younger one. From what we had heard but never seen, both were very capable of hurting people badly if they chose to. We worked a great deal on teaching emotional control and avoiding conflict.

This year the younger boy, now 18, is at a new school. He is short, quiet, and has an accent. A boy in one class began insulting him, and the others were picking it up. Before he decided to do anything about it, he brought it up to us. We discussed it over several days. Chris made one set of comments that has stuck with me. I will oversimplify, but he described that in a fight, one has to decide what kind of fight you are in. Do you want to win the fight, or just hurt someone? I had not thought of the distinction before.

In an equal fight, with someone your size, experience, or whatever, the goal is to win. But in a fight with someone bigger and stronger, to fight to win and fail leaves you in a worse position than before. Your goal must be to hurt the other person, win or lose. Then he will at least not want to fight you again. This is asymetrical warfare writ small. This principle underlies the actions of terrorists. Ultimately, they do not have to win in the usual sense. They win if the opponent goes away. This is what happened to Saddam in the first Gulf War. No matter how badly he had been beaten, he would gradually acquire victory once we left.

I supported the liberation of Iraq, and still do. But that added dynamic of losing gradually after winning I had not fully considered. It certainly binds us to finishing what we have now. But I understand Colin Powell's caution better.

Discerning Reasonableness -- Part 2

Language began 70,000 or more years ago. We can reconstruct languages with moderate assurance only about one-tenth that far, and most languages much less than that. To the mainstream linguist, Ruhlen’s claim of showing that current languages are all related back through that first one requires that he speculate about 90% of the possible data, nearly all of which is irrecoverable.

To take a geographic analogy, Ruhlen is claiming
All roads lead to Rome, or something like Rome.

The other linguists counter
We can only with great effort trace these roads into the next town, and very occasionally, the next country. Roads do tricky things. Sometimes a freeway dwindles down to a cowpath. Sometimes the cowpaths disappear altogether. Roads take unexpected turns and switchbacks. It is fantasy to assert that all roads lead to Rome.

There is not much way around the fact that the mainstream linguists have a very powerful argument here. A lot of intelligence and effort has gone into tracing languages even short distances in time. Ruhlen’s counterclaim that he is using different techniques, that he is flying over the area in a balloon rather than examining the ground, is somewhat effectively countered with the rejoinder “there’s a lot you can only see from the ground.”

Nonetheless, I think Ruhlen’s theory will eventually prove out. The nature of the arguments used by his opponents fall short of objective scientific inquiry in many cases. There are a few good arguments, two of which are noted above. But the bulk of the arguments actually used are not so rational. When smart people resort often to poor arguments, something is up.

Ruhlen’s mentor, Greenberg, proposed a larger grouping of African languages which was similarly rejected when it first came out. That ridiculed theory is now generally accepted. Greenberg proposed a larger grouping of Native American languages that was rejected when it first came out. There is now some grudging acceptance of it as at least possible. The strongest parts of that argument, the recurrent na, ma, for I, you, and tina, tuna, tana for son, daughter, child, have not been adequately refuted. The argument that such coincidences could be accidental, given so many hundreds of languages, is struck down by the inconvenient fact that it has in fact, not happened elsewhere. Third, Greenberg’s grouping of Eurasiatic, tying together Indo-European, Uralic, Semitic, and other families, is frequently countered by a patently stupid argument. Because the Nostraticists clump several families together as a European-Asian group and Greenberg proposes a slightly different grouping, the theory is dismissed because these linguists with highly similar theories cannot exactly agree what the categories should be though the overlap is great. Next, Greenberg and the Nostraticists made mistakes -- precisely the mistakes that a generalist, overview type of scholar would make.

There is one huge new fact, and it is being ignored. True, it was first published in an obscurer journal – Ruhlen is not published in the better ones – but there is not even any curiosity about the claim. I have myself pointed it out to linguists who have dismissed it with no more than “Oh. Ruhlen. I wouldn’t recommend you pay much attention to that.” The new fact is that Kusunda, a Nepalese language previously categorized with the languages near it, is claimed to actually be an Indo-Pacific language. To those of us far away from the area and controversy, this would seem a small claim. But for Kusunda to be related to the languages on Papua New Guinea is not possible given our current understanding of the movements of people. To be related, those peoples would have had to have been in contact at least 50,000 years ago. That is more than 8 times the current greatest time-depth acknowledged for language connections. It is nearly all the way back to the beginning of languages.

Is Kusunda indeed related to the languages in New Guinea? I have not remotely the training in linguistics to tell. Either side could convince me in fifteen minutes. But I find it damning that there is now curiosity.

Next, I will speculate why Ruhlen attracts such hatred.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Komodo Dragons and Meat Hats

Yes, I said meat hats.

So much for the serenity of Eastern cultures.

Underground DSM-IV: (Not) Going to Drug Rehab

It is not a good sign for someone to use the words "whatever it takes," when describing their readiness to stop using. You would think that is precisely the attitude you would want a user to take, but somehow that particular phrase is a red flag. It will be replaced in 24-48 hours by some hedging about how this rehab thing is going to play out in practical reality.

There is the Goldilocks version of this growing avoidance: That rehab is too far. That rehab is too near. No rehab is just right.

For 80"s rockers, there is the Meatloaf version: "I would do anything for rehab," said with firmness and intensity on Monday morning. "But I won't do that," said Tuesday afternoon. It would be one thing if these were people who were suspicious whether rehab does much good, as I am. But this is from the rehab-immersed culture, with spouses, siblings, and friends all familiar with the various advantages and disadvantages of each program.

Believe it or not, wearing clothing with a beer logo on it to your rehab interview is often interpreted by others as an indication that you're not serious. Imagine that.

If someone claims to be clean but has a positive blood or urine sample, multiply the amount they eventually acknowledge using times six to get a more accurate picture.

Ask specifically about marijuana, as many users pretend that's not really a drug.

Heavy drinkers tend not to wear their seat belts when sober, but might wear them when drunk. I don't fully understand this, but there may be some balance of risk involved. Notice that other people's risk does not factor into the equation.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Discerning Reasonableness -- An introduction

A clever amateur looks at a controversy among professional linguists, and attempts to determine which side is more reasonable, not from knowledge of linguistics, but knowledge of reasoning.
The proto-World controversy in a nutshell: Merritt Ruhlen, following Joseph Greenberg and some Russian linguists called Nostraticists, believes that the extant languages of the world all derive from an original language, and that we can demonstrate enough connections to observe this. Most other linguists believe that the languages may have derived from an original language, but we are unable to know this because the time-depth is too great to observe reliable connections.
The amount of anger generated over this would be surprising unless one had observed such controversies in one’s own field. Ruhlen’s The Origin of Language is scathing and even rude in his complaints against the linguistic mainstream, which he contends will not give him a fair hearing. The linguistic mainstream, for its part, is seldom dispassionate and judicious in its criticism of Greenberg and especially Ruhlen, preferring to scoff dismissively and knock down straw men rather than answer the challenges.
I am completely unequipped to argue with either group on linguistic grounds. However, it is possible to come to tentative conclusions and take sides on the basis of something I do understand: the nature of reasoning and argument. As with discussions of global warming, alternative medicine, pre-war intelligence, and a dozen other subjects we might encounter, how people argue, what they choose for evidence, and how they respond to challenges to their reasoning reveals a great deal that an intelligent layman can use to decide whose theories are more likely to prove true.
Few of us are world-ranked experts in any subject, and none of us are expert in more than a very few. Plate tectonics was rejected and even sneered at early in the 20th C. Even though Wegener, the originator of the theory, has proved right, I could still not successfully argue with those who thought him wrong. I don’t know their subject in depth. But I can observe the type of argument they made, and estimate whether it was founded on reason and data, or on self-interest and closed-mindedness.

So google up some basic information on the topic, and see if you and I agree which side is making the better arguments.

Old Europe -- A visit to the nursing home

Several years ago, Donald Rumsfeld made a somewhat dismissive comment about "Old Europe." I wondered what a visit to the Old Europeans Home would be like...

France is most noticeable, because she greets you at the door. She has completely forgotten who you are, but always tells you in strictest confidence about the affairs she had with famous men in her day. You’ve been secretly keeping count. The number is quite high.

The Benelux siblings, two women and a man, seem initially to have a graciousness about them. Only after repeated visits do you realize that they are always complaining about the cook. They won’t admit it’s their digestions that have gone. They don’t like anyone, really, and are always correcting the others’ grammar and manners.

Switzerland and Austria both still dress for dinner, but the cut of Switzerland’s trousers isn’t as sharp over the Depends. People compliment Austria on her jewelry, and are polite enough not to mention that she breaks wind an awful lot.

The pension that Sweden’s husband left for her didn’t turn out to be as much as she thought, but she drinks coffee and gets by, uncomplaining. She doesn't like to mention that the staff at the home are darker than they used to be, and not terribly polite. It worries her.

Germany is the old guy who sits watching TV until you walk by his room. Then he collars you, assuming you must have come to see him, and gives you advice in an irritated tone of voice. He is always complaining that the world is going to hell, and has a variety of people he blames for this. Before you judge him too harshly, however, remember: he's the only one who makes it out during fire drills without a lot of help.

Italy and Spain sit by the window and talk of old times while playing cards. They lie by leaving out the unattractive bits of the stories. Finland quietly reads the paper, waiting for someone to ask his opinion.

Canada and America are 30ish cousins who visit regularly. America is more impatient about receiving advice and starts eying the exits when it starts. She works at some job that makes money, but they can’t figure out what it’s all about. Computers, maybe. Canada politely listens to the advice and then ignores it, agreeing how irritating America is and then doing just about what America does. But with less acrimony, and the old coots are proud of the influence over her they think they wield. She works in some profession the old folks think they recognize the name of, like journalism or chemistry, but they actually have no idea what the hell she does. At least recognizing the name gives them something to talk about. Denmark asks why they never bring the children to visit. Simple. Several of these old codgers scare the pants off children. The tykes get forced into ethnic costume and dragged in at Christmas.

Canada and America never visit at the same time, but they talk on the phone after. They speak in a sort of complex code that communicates criticism of the various residents without actually criticizing.

United Kingdom is semi-retired, and only comes as a visitor. He still makes an undisclosed bit consulting, and talks amiably with the others about old times. He actually has done the interesting things and been to the interesting places he talks about, but doesn’t correct the shameless lies of the others. He flirts gallantly with America and Canada when he meets them in the parking lot; he times his visits to theirs, actually. Even though he is too old for them, the North American cousins are quite fond of him, and find only a whisper of humor in his flirtation. What they wish is that there were men their own age like that.

Ireland is also a visitor, not a resident. She visits old friends out of duty, but manages a sunny disposition. She actually has a sunny disposition, because her ship has finally come in a bit, what with the grandchildren moving back to the neighborhood and fixing things up. But she thinks it would be unkind to rub the others' faces in her good fortune, so she has perfected looking like she's actually distressed but just putting on a good front. She needn't have bothered. The others don't believe the stories that the grandchildren came back anyway - because theirs never do. She avoids her ex-husband United Kingdom, but they run into each other anyway. There is usually some depressing problem they have to discuss about their son Northern Ireland, who because of their constant fighting and eventual divorce, became somewhat of a bitter, violent drunk.

In contrast to Greece, a cheerful, violent drunk older than everyone in the home but still only a visitor. No one knows how he stays healthy with that lifestyle of unhealthy food, too much liquor, and chain-smoking. He also flirts with Canada and America, which they find appalling. After they leave he calls them whores. France winks and thinks she knows how to handle him. Of course, she thought that about Germany and Great Britain, too.

Commenters may feel free to add their own bits to this