Friday, February 29, 2008

Post 1200 - Weak Eastern Division Update

Have I got this wrong? The Celtic's magic number to make the playoffs is 6. Any combination of Atlanta losses and Boston wins totaling 6 and they're in.

I think I'll go out on a limb here...

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


To add to my entire Cultural Tribes section the estimable John O'Sullivan made the following observations in the NY Sun recently, apropos of 9-11 and the GWOT.

We heard more and more from the "counter-tribalists" — those Americans who consider themselves more sophisticated and intellectually detached than simple-minded patriots but who take the side against America as reflexively as a hard hat worker or suburban soccer mom salutes the flag. They are an anthropological curiosity — moved by the same instinctive tribal loyalties as a primitive people with the exception that they are loyal to other tribes. And not just any other tribe but the one that happens to be opposed to the United States.

Counter-tribalism explains many oddities such as those feminists who can't bring themselves to welcome the ousting of the women-hating Taliban in Afghanistan because it was accomplished by George W. Bush. It is the ideology of a large lumpen intelligentsia in schools, the courts, universities, the "netroots" Democratic Party, the establishment media, Hollywood, etc., etc. Its slogan runs: "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism." And Barbara Kingsolver expressed it perfectly when she wrote: "In other words, the American flag stands for intimidation, censorship, violence, bigotry, sexism, homophobia and shoving the Constitution through a paper-shredder."

In a free country like the United States, Kingsolver is entitled to say such things. Shouldn't the rest of us be free to say that this is vicious and unpatriotic drivel and that counter-tribalism is not dissent but hatred of America? And don't we owe the dead that honesty at least?

(HT: Moonbattery)

Michelle Obama

Speaking to the Boston Globe about her husband's upbringing by her mother-in-law
...sometimes dreams don't pay the rent.
Exactly my point, Mrs. Obama. Exactly my point.

Monday, February 25, 2008

"Palming" Is An Anachronism, I Guess.

Beyond The Fringe*

Megan McArdle, guest-blogging over at Instapundit, makes a wise observation about near-fringe candidates, in the context of Nader's announcement that he is running again.
I know, I know--you want to move the party in the direction of Truth, Justice, and the American Way. But this is wishful thinking. The reason that those of us on the fringe--libertarians, Greens, socialist workers, or what have you--do not have more representation in government is not because there is some structural problem with the American political system, like a lack of IRV or minority party candidates. The reason we don't have more representation is that most people just don't agree with us. Oh, I know you can find a poll that says that voters want national health care, a guaranteed income, a carbon tax, or lower government spending. But voters like lots of things in the abstract. When you get down to the specifics of raising their taxes and restricting their choices, they tend to get balky. The Democrats cannot move significantly closer to Nader, nor the Republicans to Ron Paul, without losing more voters in the center than they gain on the fringe. (emphasis mine)

* What's that from?

Ensemble. Assemble. Simple!

Driving down to the wake I saw the word ensemble on a sign in Norwell. Huh - it must be related to assemble...semblance...resemble. What's that "semb" root mean? Together? Meaning? Seem...similar? Hey, those might be from the same root. So might same. Huh. Dissemble...semiotic...simultaneous... Maybe "sem" and "semb" are actually different roots.

And then my usual quote: I'll have to check my OED when I get home. Ah, how I love being able to say that! There is a security in certain reference books that quiets my heart.

But of course once started, I went to my Watkins, my dictionary of Indo-European roots and found that this particular root is completely out of control. It's everywhere. The root is *sem, = "one, together." Thus Greek roots hem, he, homo, homeo. Hamadryad. Homily. Hekaton. Homeopathic. Also half, haploid, hemi, meaning "one of two." Latin roots sin, simul, sem leading to single, singular, assembly, semper fi. Russian sam meaning "self," leading to samovar, samizdata. Plus Sanskrit and Iranian words I didn't recognize.

Seem. Seemly. The suffix -some. Some. Assimilate.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

There Is A God

There Is A God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind by Antony Flew.

If this were a real review, I wouldn't be starting with Appendix B, written by someone other than the author. This is just random commentary.

I thought the "The Self-Revelation of God in Human History: A Dialogue on Jesus with N. T. Wright" was only a few pages long, and I marveled at how Wright had condensed so much into so little space. It is actually nearly 30 pages long, but is so readable that you don't notice. Wright's evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is simply the best essay I have ever read on that subject. I sensed the ghost of C.S. Lewis behind much of what was written, and he quotes Lewis at one point, but Wright's essay is simply better. That is high praise from me.

In brief, the Bishop of Durham confronts the idea that the resurrection is the sort of story people might have made up later to strengthen their claim. He makes the strong case that this particular people would never have made up this story. Palestinian Jews and later, Mediterranean pagans, might not be any more honest than the rest of us and might be tempted to fudge the facts to puff things up. But this is nothing like what they would have done. The behavior of Jesus is both in complete accord with the Old Testament predictions, but different from the 1st C interpretations of same, that it could not have been invented by that group. He did things they never imagined, so they gulped hard and reported it as seen.

I know that evangelicals are supposed to hold Wright at arm's length a bit, especially if you are from a Reformed tradition or are especially worried about the doctrines of the Emerging Church, but I don't care. This is simply the clearest and best exposition out there.

The book by Flew that it attaches to is also quite excellent, though not what I expected. I don't know what, exactly, I did expect, but this wasn't it. Flew is an academic philosopher, and their works always leave me with mixed impressions. I will be reading along blithely, understanding and agreeing with a proposed argument and wondering why it takes a professional philosopher to point out such straightforward things, and then am suddenly at sea. I reread paragraphs or whole sections, wondering if I have accidentally skipped a page in turning. I think: I am not quite sure what is being talked about here. After a few tries I move on, now sailing along nicely until I am again fog-bound, staring into an opacity of words that I know but cannot decipher.

This is not merely a function of whether I agree or not. I found Chapter Nine, "Finding Space For God" invigorating and clear. Then on the last two pages Flew triumphantly nails down his key points, and I am lost. So I don't have the chops to tell you if Flew is the real deal, but I can at least tell you that he nicely refutes several arguments by atheist philosophers, including a few he put forth with energy through much of his career.

Flew is converted to theism, not Christianity, though he makes some acknowledgment that the Christian view looks more likely than other options. This is often the case with those who come at questions of God from philosophic or scientific perspectives. Theism can be apprehended without special revelation, and many who might be generally sympathetic to the idea of a god reject some specific claims of Christians, finding them unnecessary or unsupported. Christians have given these people a lot of grief in the past few centuries; we have become so used to living in a predominantly Christian and Jewish culture, where theism (or deism) was a way station on the way out of the faith, falling somewhere between apathy and agnosticism, that we have forgotten that it is also a way station on the way into the faith. Flew attempts to be rigorously honest to following the argument wherever it goes, and that should not be despised.

In what to me is a humorous irony, the Big Bang Theory and evolution, which evangelicals spend so much pointless energy attacking, are the entry points for Flew to believing that some sort of Superior Mind may be the best explanation for the universe as it is. As Christians, we are often tempted to fall into the practice of defending the Bible (or worse, our interpretation of it) rather than being witnesses for the faith. Luther considered a believer who defends the Bible analogous to a soldier who defends his sword. Testify to what you know and let the Bible be its own defense.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

From The Greatest Show In The History Of Television

If you liked that, perhaps some fromage

Check Your Freezer

Following the death of her mother, my wife has intended to make dinners for her father using the food from the freezer on their porch. Tracy's mother went through very lean times when young, and always had great quantities of food stored around the house once she could afford it.

But chicken thighs marked "Sell by 7-18-96" are a bit much.

Note to Doug, who reads this blog: Your grandfather is not going to read the date on anything. Ever. Tracy will be down Monday and throw stuff out, but you might want to examine everything there closely before eating it.

Friday, February 22, 2008

YouTube Diagnostics

A first for me. I often look up patients new to the MH system on the web to see what I can learn about them. The paranoid, angry, psychotic young woman we admitted this morning posted several videos of herself on YouTube two weeks ago. I don't know when the videos were actually made, however. She was friendly and laughing then, except the last two have an eerie edge.

Things like this are going to become more common, and more helpful to us. I hope they are helpful to her as well.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

In Every Generation...

Who does this video make you think of, eh? I had not heard of this band, but I like them. Their outfits are very 90's - not surprising, as that was when they were recording - but I like it; I like it.

My Uncle Again

I checked the email after the funeral, and had another interesting note from my Uncle Dave. Wonderful guy. I am very like him, but we disagree on 75% of everything. The link is to an Australian editorial suggesting that democracy might be a problem if people won't do what they should about environmental issues.

A recent survey found that only 22% of Floridians felt that evolution was a proven principle of science. These quotes are from a liberal Florida newspapers editorial:

I came across this tidbit casually I have no idea whether it is true.
and don't really care But assuming for a moment that it is true, it brought meback to this site which you sent a few days ago
Should people like those described be voting or commenting on global warming
or other scientific matters?

My reply: It's a fascinating topic. I don't know the origin of the statistic, but let's pretend it's true. It doesn't tell us what, exactly, they do think. Those that think that evolution is likely true but unprovable because it is unfalsifiable and unrepeatable might be right. Those who believe in a 10,000 year-old earth are wrong, but I am not sure how much that actually affects things. I don't know enough in any of the sciences - neither data nor theory - to make a case on my own for much of anything. I believe in an ancient earth and in evolution because people who do know things from so many fields - geology, biology, archaeology, linguistics - come to approximately the same conclusions, each in their own fields, and when they explain things to me it seems to make sense. I doubt there is one person in a thousand who can make any of those scientific cases that is anything more than repeating what they read in National Geographic or similar items.

Also, people believe contradictory things because they don't really have much sense of time or numbers. A lot of that 78% are likely proud that their kids know so much about dinosaurs or astronomy, and believe in cavemen. It depends on who's asking and how.

More important, that enlightened bunch who roll their eyes at the creationists are just as ignorant, they just believe a different myth. The National Geographic myth would tell us that human beings first showed up in Africa 2.3 million years ago. True enough as far as it goes, but they don't mention that these creatures they are so anxious to call human didn't have language until about 50,000 years ago, and didn't domesticate animals, plant crops, or build shelters until about 10,000 years ago. That's a helluva lot of that "human beings" time that consists of people we wouldn't think were much like us - far less so than current New Guinea tribesmen or isolated tribes in the Amazon Basin. If you told educated people who don't believe in creationism that human beings started 2.3 million years ago and asked them to guess when they started to talk, very few would guess below 100,000 years. In this way, the National Geographic myth is also complete crap - they leave out the parts that interfere with the picture they want you to have. That's for another issue. Because even their readership doesn't keep the difference between fifty thousand, fifty million, and five billion very clear in their heads. It's all just a long time ago.

The philosopher Anthony Flew, an atheist for most of his 86 years, now believes in a theistic god of Aristotle, which has "considerable overlap with the Judeo-Christian deity" on the basis of recent advances in genetic and cosmology. For him, evolution is more an evidence for god than against him.

There also isn't evidence that this 78% don't understand scientific arguments compared to the 22%. That is automatically assumed, but I doubt it's true. The elites fear people who won't believe what they are told, and this is what is happening in the AGW argument. The belief of the major AGW advocates is that human beings need to live differently, buying less stuff. They want to tell the masses how to live. The problem with this is that their belief long predates discussions of AGW. Bill McKibben set the global warming scare going in the late 80's. We read Mother Earth News in the late 70's and early 80's, and those folks were already pissing and moaning about how unecological everyone was, not so that they would clean up rivers and the air, but with clear advocacy that You Should Live Differently - Maybe You Should Be Made To.

I think AGW unravels more each year. Warming stopped in 1998. That was a warm year, and we haven't dropped off (until 2007) more than a fraction, so people can still rightly claim that the last x years are among the warmest on record. But looking at the record, we now find that some years in the 1930's were warmer. And it got colder this year. And we're going into an Ice Age in 200 years. We are already five years past McKibben's catastrophe and 35 years past Paul Erlich's. AGW is going to turn out like the lefty belief 1960-90 that the US was nearly as bad as the Soviets, and that people listening to their betters was what would solve the Cold War. It's all religion, but only one side admits that.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


I will be away for the next two days, staying down in Scituate (the Irish Riviera) for my mother-in-law's wake and funeral. For a diabetic and pack-a-day smoker, living to 86 is a pretty good innings, but it is still hard to see her go.

Youngest Son

This will only have meaning to a few of my readers, but those few will appreciate it.

My son Chris has Mike Zylak's judgment and Ben's luck. Y'all pray for that boy.

Basketball Update

ESPN has Detroit and Boston at the top of the rankings, followed by teams from the west in the next nine slots. Only eight of those nine will even go to the playoffs. It has got to be tough to be an 11th-best team and not make it into a 16-team playoff, while watching #19 get in.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Personality Development

Today you built part of the elderly personality you are going to be, when your digestion isn't so good, more joints ache, and other comforts are stripped away.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Lewis Quote Revisited

I have put forward this excellent Lewis quote before
“Why you fool, it’s the educated reader who can be gulled. All our difficulty comes with the others. When did you meet a workman who believes the papers? He takes it for granted that they’re propaganda and skips the leading articles. He buys his paper for the football results and the little paragraphs about girls falling out of windows and corpses found in Mayfair flats. He is our problem. We have to recondition him. But the educated public, the people who read the highbrow weeklies, don’t need reconditioning. They’re all right already. They’ll believe anything.” – fictional character Miss Hardcastle, from That Hideous Strength, by C.S.Lewis
I had thought it prescient, in much the same way his Abolition of Man is, detecting a trend and its full flower long before others had even noticed. Today's journalistic bias, noted by many and amply documented, I took as an unfortunate perversion of objectivity which had started about the time Lewis wrote the above (1942), continuing until the present day and hopefully ending soon as the new media replaced the dinosaurs.

But 66 years is a long haul for any aberration, and Lewis was of course commenting from his knowledge of elite journalism over the previous few decades. It occurred to me today that this bias might be present in every age. Not just a bias, but this particular style. I have long remarked that the European intellectual classes were almost infallibly wrong about political issues throughout the 20th C. Fascism, Socialism, and Communism were the fantasies of philosophers, artists, and dreamers, who could skillfully stir up the masses for brief periods - enough to obtain power.

As for journalisms, this J-School site's history of 20th C journalism is risible, almost a satire on itself. 50% straight reporting, 50% parody from The Onion. But that is a retrospective of current media elite values, not the perspective of those then alive and reading. I shall research this to see what biases earlier journalism, magazine and newspaper, showed.

The arts we already know about.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Better In Memory

Like Monty Python and The Princess Bride, some things are funnier when you talk about them after than when you actually watched them. I think this Super Bowl ad will have the same course.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Dirty Politics

John Weidner writes the article I wish I had over at his blog Random Jottings. Earl Ofari Hutchinson, writing at alternet, predicts that as Hillary goes down, the Republicans will turn their dirty tricks on Obama.

Hutchinson goes into detail here. He predicts that Obama's previous votes on issues will be attacked. The nerve of the Right Wing Attack Machine!
That's just the start. His votes and views during his days in the Illinois Senate on taxes, abortion, civil liberties, civil rights, law enforcement and capital punishment have so far drawn little public attention, because of the media and a big chunk of the public's obsession with nailing Hillary. But in a head to head match up with the likely GOP presidential nominee John McCain, Republicans and conservative interest groups will surgically dissect his state Senate votes and they will find much there to pound him on.
But wait, there's more! Hutchinson predicts that Obama will be attacked personally by - well, we'll let Earl explain it himself:
Then there's the personal dirty stuff. They'll hammer him for his dealings with an indicted Chicago financier, for possible conflicts of interest in other financial dealings and legislative votes, and for his fuzzy, oftentimes contradictory, statements and actions on the Iraq War and terrorism.
Weidner tears Hutchinson apart, phrase by phrase. Wish I'd said that.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Progressives Aren't Liberal on Economics

For those who like research papers, Alfred E. Kahn's discussion of recent economic objectives of Democrats might suit.
The assumption of Democratic control of Congress last year and the probability that its majority will be increased by this year's elections portends a growing, deeply troubling ideological split within its ranks, already visible, on matters of economic policy generally and regulatory policy specifically - between the more radical (and at the same time reactionary) populists, who label themselves Progressives, and the 20th century liberals, who have dominated in the formulation of their party's economic programs for the last three-quarters century.

Bethany's Thought

Bumped from a week ago, with an update: Philo of Alexandria discuss some evidence that Republicans are actually happier.

Commenter bs king over at her own blog, Fair Trade Certified, made an interesting observation last month, which has blown around in my head since. To oversimplify, when she is feeling upbeat and hopeful about the country, she leans Republican. When she feels less sanguine about the US of A, she leans Democrat. She opened this out to discussion, and her readers, at any rate, confirmed the observation.

I wanted you to know that I not only read these things but think about them, Bethany. I think your observation is true in an even deeper way than stated. It is not merely how people assess the republic’s chances at any given moment that leans them Republican or Democrat (or more precisely, conservative and progressive) but their overall cast of mind. My wager would be that even if things went brilliantly well over the next ten years, the same people who assessed things as worrisome now would assess them as worrisome in 2018 again. They would find other things to deplore or be anxious about, and would come to the same conclusion again.

I see an exception to this, hearkening back to my viewing everyone’s behavior as strongly influenced by their cultural tribe. If people feel their guys are in charge and running things, they will feel more optimistic about the future, choosing their objective evidence for their belief selectively. The poll question about whether folks believe the country is “on the right track” should come to mind here.

Even granting that motives are always varied and individual, what subterranean general motives would drive progressives to see the country as doing more poorly than conservatives see it, seeing that both are viewing the same landscape?

I've got my answer. What's yours? (For regular readers, what's mine?)

James Lileks has related comments today. An amusing and graceful writer.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A Friend's Church

One of my oldest friends was grousing about not being able to find a church. We have had this discussion before without illumination on either side, because we seek different things. He seeks good worship and good Biblical teaching. I believe those things can only occur as byproducts of community.

I don't mean to kick him - his life is harder than mine and he's bearing up well. Also, he was church chair during a recent large controversy and split, so he has been rather immersed in the negative aspects of community these last few years.

What jumped out at me was this repeated phrase "I just want..." For those who remember their Screwtape Letters, the danger of that is clear. The variations on the theme are no better: I only want...all I want is...all I ask... That thinking is a guarantee of disappointment and unhappiness. Think about it in yourself. Whenever you get that thought running through your head that you have nobly limited your requirements, and expect the world to produce that minimum, you are going to be miserable indefinitely.

In a related item. In searching for a church, if you find a really great one, run away screaming. There was a book title years ago that is supposedly based on a Buddhist teaching If You Meet The Buddha On The Road, Kill Him. I didn't like the title at first - those were my pacifist days, and the idea of advocating killing anyone, especially a well meaning but misguided exemplar of another religion, seemed abhorrent. A fan of the book explained that if you meet any Buddha or enlightened one you are deluding yourself - it is not the real Buddha, and so must be some dangerous imitation. Kill it. So too with churches. Churches are made up of annoying, sinful people like you and me. If you find one that seems different, you are likely missing something or are deluding yourself. Cult alert.

Perhaps we would learn more lessons in real Christianity if we went to the church physically closest to our dwelling, rather than shopping and selecting. We say we want biblical teaching, but neglect the one great method of learning, by learning to love and work with those who are at hand. I write this as a great offender of this principle. I travel over half an hour to church and pass by many that are closer on the way.

A Judge's Reasoning

I have been in courts where I thought the judge was behaving automatically, not really listening to the evidence, and making decisions more on the basis of preconceived notions than of the facts at hand. I was in court yesterday listening to a judge blather on about old stories, bemoaning the unfairness of The System, and seemingly having a good time that such a crowd was obligated to hang on his every word. I don't think he came to a bad decision in the case, but there was something unseemly in his manner.

Yet most judges whose courts I have been in have been thoughtful and attentive. They seemed to try hard to get it right, not only in appearance and on technicalities, but on overall matters of justice. That is a difficult, perhaps impossible, balance to achieve. Judge McHugh added comments to his denial of William Flynn's petition for suspension of sentence. The Flynn case remains interesting around here. He was the shooter in Pamela Smart's arranging to have her husband killed - a high school boy besotted by love, or lust, for a young assistant teacher at his school. The case attracted national attention, and for a decade afterward there were groups of odd women who continued to protest on Pame's behalf, believing she was being unfairly treated and more a victim than a criminal. I never understood that. Pame was cute but displayed no other redeeming qualities. She acted entitled both during her trial and in prison afterwards, expecting special treatment because she was a celebrity. She was eventually moved to another prison outside of NH for her own safety from other prisoners.

Back to Mr. Flynn. The judge's comments here are quite thoughtful, addressing both the general matters of justice and the specifics of this case. I don't know if he reached the correct decision, but I appreciate the care and thought he put into it. He covers a lot of ground in a short space.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Another McCain Thought

In moaning about American elections, I remembered the Romanian election of 2000 and blessed the ground we walk on here. That election was between the ultranationalist bigot Corneliu Vadim Tudor and the communist Ion Iliescu. I should point out that these guys deserve those descriptions, unlike the American politicians we accuse of such extremity.

That in turn led me to browse around the political parties of the world. Portions of the libertarian Right are deeply suspicious of John McCain's candidacy - which is fine, and they should speak up all they want. But they also put forth the argument that it is not only reasonable to just stay home, but the only moral choice for a principled conservative. So I ask them: in what country is there a party for which you would you rather be voting, where you would have less compromise and still have some chance of winning?

I'll go further: you can move out of the present for your selection if you like.

A Festival Generation

This generation worships in festivals. It goes to yearly Icthus or Soulfest for music and teaching; short-term missions are festivals of service; denominations and church camps have weekend or week-long gatherings. They like festivals. In the current culture, you can get people to commit to 3-6 days twice a year more easily than to every Wednesday evening for something.

It is hardly surprising. This is the generation that went to Disneyworld and Universal Studios, had 100 channels on the TV, went to the Mall - including the food court.

It is an ancient model, and not to be despised. The boomer generation may have given it a shove forward, from Woodstock to the hundreds of national conventions, but most cultures have their round of festivals every year. The Israelites had feasts and fasts to teach meaning, the liturgical churches had the church calendar, with each country dressing it up with its own saints days, the Methodists had camp meeting, the Baptists had periodic revivals.

For people like me there is the weekly schedule of Sabbath worship - frequent, familiar, the plain bread and wine of Christian nourishment. I am not a festival kind of guy. Crowds give me a headache. The Church has always had both modes running at once, meeting the needs of different sorts of people, I suppose.

You would think that some Emerging Church or other group looking for new models of worship would take this and run with it. The previously religious holidays that have gone secular - St. Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, All Saints Day - could perhaps be recaptured and respun. Retreats could be reworked and used as before as counterpoint to noisier celebrations. It would be a great way for churches to work separately but cooperatively, inviting each other over for events.

I'm on worship committee, so the expectation would be that I would become a mover in this area. No way. Do I have to do everything for you guys? Here I've given you a church model that should work for several decades and you want more?

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Another Archetypal Election

Neco Draconis has a fascinating post about an overview of the presidential candidates, Doppelgangers and Bizarro World Candidates. Each candidate has a mirror or inverse in the other party. Each party puts forth its Technocrat, Populist, etc as part of its menu.

I would add that there are shadows in each set of primaries, Bush and Cheney, Clinton and Gore, and icons, Reagan and JFK. These also affect the movements of the players on the stage.

Comic book and fairy tale characters seem to tap into the same well of images, hence the title.

Friday, February 08, 2008


What do pentecostals do during Lent, especially Holy Week?

I know, the flip side is what does Missouri Synod do on Pentecost? We Covenanters are into forced jollity. Because we should.

Vice Presidential Thoughts

Now that McCain is going to be the nominee, people are putting forward their ideas for a running mate. Thompson and Huckabee have been mentioned, of course, as have Duncan Hunter and Michael Steele. The idea of bringing in a bright young protege certainly has some appeal.

How about Bobby Jindal?

Scientology Complaint

A career first for me. The Scientologists have registered a complaint on behalf of one of my patients via one of their front organizations. Their opposition to mental health treatment is longstanding, as they believe they have a better explanation for why people act ill. It is, predictably, a science-fictiony explanation involving cool words like thetans and engrams. The theory is supported by anecdotal evidence from Scientologists – and nothing else. They make their case by hanging around the edges of mental health news, searching for things that they can make sound horrible. Accuracy is of no importance to them.

In the present instance, for example, my paranoid schizophrenic patient was given risperidone. Threatening to kill the police and claiming to have a chip implanted in your head will sometimes cause your psychiatrist to consider that option. A possible side effect of this medication is akathesia, or restlessness. Therefore, all subsequent symptoms the patient displayed after receiving this medicine can be called “restlessness,” and attributed to the medication rather than the disease. The scientology front group is not claiming that he actually did have this side-effect, by the way, just that he possibly could have.

Side note: Akathesia and other side effects of many psychiatric medications genuinely suck. No argument there. However, 1). not everyone has the side-effects, and 2) the side-effects of not taking your medicine – going to jail or a hospital, losing your job or spouse, spending all your money - suck worse.

We encounter this type of bad reasoning all the time. “I never had any problems at all until I came to this hospital,” which is rather like “Casts cause broken bones.” After all, the boy was running happily in fields just hours before he came to your emergency room, doctor. Just take off that cast and he’ll be fine. And overfull state hospitals are of course going out and actively seeking merely eccentric people to refuse treatment and storm around threatening us. I mean, who wouldn’t?

It is curious that psychotic illogic has a similarity to nonpsychotic illogic. You would think that the argumentive reasoning of a mentally ill person would be qualitatively different than the reasoning of a non-ill person who is just wrong, such as a tax protester or a Scientologist. There are substantial differences, but there are uncomfortable similarities as well. The most prominent similarity fits well with what we discuss here: a preconceived narrative impedes looking at the facts and adjusting to them.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Rehabilitation of Sex Offenders

Comment on this has come in by request from a regular reader.

My father molested little girls. I don’t know the details, as that was why my mother divorced him in 1959, and I got my later information secondhand from my brother. As far as I know, he never molested children again after that date. He was certainly never convicted again. Some evidence, nonetheless, suggests that he remained attracted to little girls even late in life.

I also know professionally any number of sexual offenders. I don’t like to offer much opinion on their recidivism, because I don’t have complete followup information on any of them. Some I know for certain to have reoffended. A very few – two in particular – I am quite sure have not reoffended, up to twenty years later. A few others I consider probable nonoffenders. Of those few who seem to be doing well, about half are no longer seriously attracted to their previous victim population, the other half remain attracted but have strategies to minimize both attraction and opportunity.

Statistically, sexual offenders who don’t reoffend don’t exist. It’s an odd feeling to know people who don’t exist.

It is the overwhelming recidivism rate which drives our legal and emotional conflicts about where to settle sex offenders in the community once their sentences are finished. We don’t like to punish people beyond their sentences in America, and have taken great care to structure our laws so that we don’t keep piling on just because we are angry or appalled. On the other hand, we take very seriously our responsibilty to protect the vulnerable, especially children. These two values are in direct conflict when a sex offender’s sentence is up.

The intensity is driven in part by our extreme disgust at adults who take sexual advantage of children. I only partly understand this. Physical harm of children or neglect of them would seem equally bad to me. While we certainly disapprove of those as well and try to consequate and discourage those behaviors, there is not quite the animus around this unless it is extreme. Perhaps this anger is in counter-reaction to the minimizing of the damage that perpetrators try to sell us. Perhaps it is driven by instinctive taboos. But the energy is great.

If sexual offenders reoffended little more than the general population, it is likely that our American value of not punishing forever would win out legally. The enormous controversies about where previous offenders could live would recede. We don’t have bank-robber registries or check-forger registries. None of us wishes to live near dangerous drivers violent drunks, but we bring less institutional power to bear in keeping them away from us.

We are exceedingly cautious around previous offenders for good reason: they have enormous rates of reoffending over time. While claims that none of them will ever be safe are inaccurate, the idea is not based on nothing. Convicted sexual abusers of boys may average over two hundred victims each. Abusers of girls have fewer victims, but are more numerous. In the face of such numbers it is common for people to picture offenders as psychologically all the same. I have not found this to be true, and many researchers find important differences in the population. In particular, the intellectually limited seem to have personality differences compared to those offenders who are average in intelligence and above. This makes an intuitive sense. A developmentally disabled 23 year-old man who wants 10 year old boys as friends and starts to become sexual in the friendship is different from a 30 year old middle-school teacher attempting to seduce. The behavior as experienced by the victim may be equally traumatic over time, but the perpetrators are constructed differently.

As an anecdotal example, I had a 19-year-old developmentally disabled boy who had had sex with a 13 year old boy. The younger boy was of above-normal intelligence and had a considerable juvenile criminal record already, including the sexual victimization of children younger than himself. So which is the victim? Yet the behavior of the older boy cannot be ignored and swept away. He must, simply must learn that sexual interaction with boys younger than say, sixteen, is bad and can get him in serious trouble.

I wish I had solutions. I have only conflicting values to put before you.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

McCain Derangement Syndrome Simplified

Some conservatives have decided that it is time to punish Republicans for abandoning their roots. McCain happens to be at hand. (Gratitude to Classical Values for this.)

I can understand this somewhat. Reliable conservative NH Senator Judd Gregg has been softening in a Washington direction slightly, and I have thought it would be good to "send him a message." But there are difficulties with this type of gamesmanship politics, and conservatives should be properly cautious before embracing it.

Caution #1. There might be some general agreement on what is the conservative position on most issues, but there is not a general consensus as to what ranking order those issues come in. When one starts to insist what a Real Conservative is, it nearly always involves insisting not only on your position, but your ranking of which issues are most important. You can easily find other conservatives who will rank the issues differently, and all your exhaling violently about ignoring the Constitution or creeping socialism doesn't change that. You and your best buddies do not get to define True Conservatism.

Caution #2. The purpose of elections is not for you to feel represented by someone you approve of, but for the country to be governed. Wanting to feel heard is what led the antiwar crowd to circulate Not In Our Name petitions. It is Democrats who vote on the basis of "cares about people like me." Your positions may be as conservative as Coolidge, but you're thinking like a fuzzy liberal when you do this.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Focus On A Single Enemy

A human being can only remain in love 12-18 months. If you're still together after that, it is because you have built something more permanent along the way. It's a good thing, too. Imagine how tiring it would be to have twenty years of "I wonder if she is thinking of me right now, right this minute...if I don't see her as we pass at lunch it will ruin my whole afternoon..." There is apparently a brain fatigue which sets in. The level of excitement which being in love generates is unsustainable. The mind adapts, as it does to anything else, to a new normal. A fever pitch of excitement cannot be maintained indefinitely.

I wonder if some similar mechanism is in play concerning distant wars. I have noted before that the American people seem to tire of all wars after about three years, and just want them to go away. Even after having won - perhaps especially after having won - everyone just wants it all to go away. We nearly abandoned the Civil War in 1864, believing it interminable and making no progress. After ramping up in early 1942 for WWII, by 1945 there was no interest in going further to liberate Europe or invade Japan - hence Yalta; hence Hiroshima.

I recently read an article about the dangers of Iran. The author believed that we must be prepared to go to war there, or at least signal our intent and ability to do so. Something in my brain just groaned. It can't be necessary to go to war with Iran, it just can't. When I sought to understand this groaning, I found it was very hard to even think past groaning. It can't be true. There's no need. There seems something unfit about the idea. There's already been two wars. That will just have to do. It would just prove that we like, always want to go to war.

It's quite irrational on my part, this avoidance. How I feel about it - how the nation feels about it - is unlikely to be relevant to the question of necessity. Do we think there is some rule that God only puts a certain amount of difficulty in our lives, and anything beyond that we can ignore?

This flows in the opposite direction as well. If a war is over in a year we automatically assume that it must have been brilliantly executed. Perhaps not. Brilliant execution might have had the thing over in three months; sustained stupidity or miscalculation may have dragged it out to four times its length. But we won't mind so much. We back home won't feel drained, particularly.

It's quite different for those who have a war right in their laps, of course. I would hazard a guess that in some ways one would weary of war much more quickly - in other ways, the population could be rallied yet again five years out, ten years out. The danger is visible. When the danger is distant it is hard to keep our focus. This is true not only of war, but of any distant event. Praying for orphans in Romania is easy when one has just seen them in the last few months. Their need is the same years later, but they have faded from heart. Continuing in prayer is an act of will, not of heart at that point. We can't rely on cuteness or immediacy to provide the spur for us. Our brains will go to something else, some closer crisis that seems to demand our attention more.

I think one can keep a great cause in mind for years, but the likelihood of everyone keeping the same cause in mind is small. I can choose on my own to read up on my cause, attend events with the like-minded, give my money and time to it, and thus continually renew my interest. Ginning that up in others, however, requires expenditure of energy, jump-starting them every week or month. Shortly after 9-11, George Bush stated repeatedly that the war on terror was going to take a long time, that it would be this generation's great work. That may have been an accurate thing to say, but I wonder if it is just plain ineffective in keeping up interest and spirits. "You never said it was going to take this long." "Yeah, I did." "No you didn't, and it's too long." It may also be that being honest is not sufficient to keep a cause going for a whole population. A self-selected group might embrace evangelism, or hunger, or literacy, but the general population can't be kept on task just by telling them they have to. Even if they do have to, just saying may not be enough.

The paleocons, the old conservatives, have been generally resentful of the neocons, considering them unnecessary adventurers. Old Cold Warriors like Pat Buchanan, Charlie Reese, and Jeffrey Hart found our invasion of Iraq impossibly wrong. They may be entirely correct in that, but I wonder if focus on a single enemy makes it difficult to perceive other enemies, even at need. Communism fell, the anti-communists could put down their swords and hope to be left alone. The great struggle of the age was finished, and Americans could go back to whatever normal life is, while the paleocons could sit by the fire and make merry in their old age, like Gandalf and Bilbo. For others to come along and claim there is some new task was simply not to be borne. The accusation has been leveled that Americans in general and conservatives in specific need some enemy, some Other for their Manichean, dualist world. Not these conservatives, anyway.

To suggest that paleocons would be unable to rouse even if it were necessary implies that their view is mistaken and their criticisms not worth attending to, but that doesn't logically follow. As with my resistance to the idea of dealing militarily with Iran, the feeling is likely irrelevant. If they were roused, it might be good evidence for the opposite premise, that the new war must be necessary, but their irritation tells us nothing either way. It is worth mentioning in this light that there is another bit of evidence that weariness is too heavy a factor in their calculations. Their isolationism takes other forms as well - economic protectionism, antiglobalism, greater suspicion of immigration. There is a great emotional wash of "Just leave us alone, dammit."

Well, that's a good conservative sentiment. But there is no cosmic law which states "one enemy per lifetime."

One step deeper. Conservatives have complained over the last six-plus years that progressives seem more concerned with their enemy George Bush than with the enemies of America. Some of that flows in the other direction - conservatives who say they support the War on Terror but seem to save their juice for getting upset at liberals. Yet there is ample evidence that some on the left, at least, seem unable to grasp that there are people in the world who want to kill us, who will not go away if we leave them alone. The belief that the Islamists would gladly leave us alone if we would just leave them alone is risible, but so attractive that it is believed anyway. It would be nice if it were true, so let's pretend it's true. Fascist corporate America is the real problem. Note that this is their old enemy, their Other since the 1960's.

Even among those who by force of will and attention can look at the dangers of the world and see what needs doing, it may simply be too easy to slip back into being angry at the old enemy. Their battle has been against conservatives since they were adolescents - it may not be that easy to switch. Even if the intellect tries to tell us that Enemy B is much worse - more evil, more dangerous, more present - our hearts may simply remain set on Enemy A forever. Under pressure, we revert to old formulae. When the former Yugoslavia broke into ethnic pieces, several new political parties based on older ones started railing against the Jews. Except there were no Jews there - hadn't been for fifty years.

Pity for those who bear responsibility for our protection, who cannot afford the luxury of relying on their feelings and habits of mind to identify the dangers which beset us.

Update: Year fixed. Thanks jbussey.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Missing Detail

NPR reported tonight on the bombing in Baghdad. They did not mention that the explosives were attached to unwitting mentally disabled women and were set off remotely. Even on a callous, man-bites-dog level, that information is the important part of the story. It is desperately shameful that NPR did not mention this.

One can speculate why they would leave this information out, and conservatives certainly will be speculating. I am not especially interested which deceptive reason turns out to be the real one. I simply note: put yourself in their situation, with this story coming over the wire from AP or Reuters or whatever. You know what has occurred in Baghdad. Now you are writing copy that announcers on "All Things Considered" are going to read out loud to millions of people. You leave the key fact out.

A newswriter who contemplates this omission in the dark hours of the night should become suicidal with guilt. After having done such a thing, a moral person should be unable to show up at work the next day.

People farther down the queue have some excuse. If they were not told this, how they pass it on will be colored with their previous biases, as would happen for any of us. We might fault them for not exercising due diligence in seeking out the truth before passing it along, but that evil is several orders of magnitude less condemnable. Someone, somewhere - and probably a series of someones across American newsrooms - knew this and left it out.

Hi, Neighbor!

My children are surely more than tired of my whining about those great old Narragansett animated commercials from the 60's. I would of course recite them, and occasionally even find a friend (Mike King, for example) who remembered them as well. Even better, a friend who remembered any would usually remember different ones, adding to my collection.

There are at least two left: Here (click last on menu - Gansett animated spot) and here (keep your focus on the horse). Neither were ones I had remembered, but both were familiar.

Yes, Gansett's back. The longtime sponsor of Red Sox baseball, which disappeared in the 70's because of the usual government interference - the feds were afraid that Falstaff was taking unfair monopolistic advantage over the other brewers when it bought Narragansett, and we remember how Falstaffian hegemony threatened the entire brewing industry in the 70's - is enjoying a resurgence and is available in limited locations throughout New England. In Manchester, you can get it at Somerville Street Market.

I don't remember if I like it. I don't remember if I ever drank any. No matter. It is part of my heritage, along with Carling Black Label, which was horrible, but my grandfather drank it.

The Narragansett animations had voices done by the comedy team of Nichols and May. I had remembered it was a nationally known pair, but forgotten their names. You can find an excellent example of Nichols and May in their own skins in a GE refrigerator commercial here. It's a Noel Coward sendup from the 50's. Commercials were longer then, running a minute or more.

While we're at it, this burst of nostalgia might send you on to a great collection of online clips from early TV. I got misty watching the fizzies commercial (I had forgotten they came in root beer flavor), and the Certs commercial I referenced just this week in my "Open Letter" post. There is even a full 30 minute episode of Ding-Dong School, which was still on when I was a child (though all the cool kindergardeners avoided it as old-fashioned). Plus, Clutch Cargo, Hector Heathcote, and Tom Terrific.