Sunday, January 30, 2011

South Sudan

Pray that it goes well in Sudan from here. 99% turnout, 99% in favor of secession. (Christian Science Monitor photo)

Running Up The Score

Check out the peacock at Jan's Cascade Exposures site. (Jan, can I have permission to upload it here?) The theory is that peacocks developed these useless and resource draining displays to signal to potential mates "I have got energy to burn, baby. Great genes. Great access to resources. Better get on this bus now!" Anyone who has watched humans from about age 11 to, well, it does slow down gradually, so lets be generous to each other and say 25, can see that we do it too. Males and females, and we'll touch on the differences a bit. It sometimes seems that they can barely help it. Signaling erupts spontaneously even from those who aren't especially interested in dating.

Less-often mentioned is that societies do this as well. Athleticism is a big one. It is not merely the obvious display of "our men are strong and trained in marksmanship. Be afraid." (And why would you want to notify neighboring tribes how attractive your women are anyway?) The additional signal is "We are prosperous enough that we can squander the energy of our young men into display. We are prosperous enough that we can hold our young women out from grinding labor and preserve their beauty." Subsistence economies can't afford to forgo those resources. At increasing levels of prosperity, this becomes more and more intentional and organised. As I cast my mind around previous civilizations, competitions show up more frequently in the record as nations gain resources and assume ascendancy. Beowulf is challenged with the rumor that someone named Breca beat him in a swimming race. Which the hero answered with one of the great athletic trump cards, "Yes, but I was fighting off sea monsters at the time. And did I mention that it was a five-day race in full armor?" The competition between Wu and Yue brought forth Kung Fu. Odysseus came back to win an archery contest, and the Greeks eventually put this whole collection of competitions into an Olympics.

There was an idea of teaching virtue through sport in all of these, becoming more explicit as civilization advanced. Courage, certainly, and determination. Loyalty starts to creep in. And by medieval times, ideas of fairness, proportion, and proper conduct are becoming part of the sport package. Not much of Christian virtue, except as those overlap the secular virtues. Loyalty and courage can be in the service of evil as easily as good.

Yet you will notice that these are still individual sports and competitions. The Mayans had a group melee with much death which ended when someone could score a goal - at which point the losing team got slaughtered. Medieval tournaments had jousting for the elites, but a general bloody scrum was often the highlight. But true team sports, other than the near-combats, don't come along until much later. Town vs. town games might be held yearly at most, and often were no more complicated than capturing the other town's goose and ripping its head off. Mob football was largely chaos. Highland games were still largely individual.

Wellington's comment "The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton" always struck me as a rather silly line, an overidealisation of the importance of sport in developing character and hardening of the young men of a narrow English elite. But as I think of it in this context, there's something to it. Only at very high levels of organisation, when a culture is quite prosperous and increasingly dependent on interlocking parts of economy and governance, do team sports appear. The idea of coordinated effort becomes an important virtue to impart. Engineering and architecture, trade and transportation, become central to continued growth and prosperity - and university elites take on team sports at exactly this time in history. Pickup games of baseball and rounders - team games but still largely individual - show up in America in the 19th C. But team sports as we now know them are mostly confined to the university until very recently. Even in England, who really led in this idea of team sports, rugby and association football are early 19th C, and school sports; cricket no more of a true team sport than baseball; racing sports might go so far as to include relays.

The church varied in its opinion of sports from weary tolerance to outright disapproval. It was not accidental that Shrovetide football occurred in the revelry just before Lent. The Puritans were highly suspicious of games as a waste of precious time, though they allowed that the physical activity - and notably the camaraderie among participants - could have salutary effects on vigorous young men.

But the approval and warm embrace of sports by Christian churches is very recent, and tied in strongly with the overlap of new societal virtues with specifically Christian training.

As a sports fan, I don't like where this is going...

Saturday, January 29, 2011

How To Lie With Statistics

Another easy post. The United States Of Shame lists has a map showing every state leading the nation in some shameful category. The links where the data was drawn from are listed. Just browsing through two dozen, I found that half of those I checked were an unfair characterization. Maine gets rated as dumbest based on lowest SAT scores, but the link shows that it had one of the highest percentages of students taking the SAT. (I know, they prefer the ACT in the Midwest, so that's not a fair comparison either.) If 53% of the students in one state are taking the SAT, how much would you bet that those tend to be the better students? And thus, not a fair comparison for Maine's 86%? Many of the others are based on some advocacy group rating states by their assessment of how good the laws are, not the actual events.

If your state got unfairly described, be comforted by the knowledge that some of us get it.

Grail, Collected

All five songs, to make later linking easier.

Gummy Brain

I am not well able to think as clearly as I would like today, distracted by my annoyance at a relative, and not having an obviously right thing to do about it. This gumminess in thinking is merely the bottom of the trough (Gad, I hope it's the bottom) that has been the last two weeks: I haven't been visiting my usual sites - yes, all of you, I mean - and when I do I drop by it doesn't seem to stick in the mind well.

Even the next "Running Up The Score" post, which was turning into a grand theory of everything, doesn't hold my attention. I usually prefer the radio station I'm playing in my head to whatever else is out there, but not today.

Fortunately, Retriever has been overactive in her posts, and you can get humor, discussions on mental health research and public policy, further links, and photographs that remind us that yes, snow really is a beautiful thing. If you're from around here, you will reflexively tap your brakes lightly, just to check, when you see photo #4.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Backlash And Tourette's

It has been noted (my me, at least, but I'll bet others also) that the mere mention of Sarah Palin sets off reflexive responses, pro and con. They just burble out. In sports, the mention of Michael Vick has the same effect.

This now occurs in a new context of instant news and analysis. Though analysis may be a kind way to put it. As communication has gotten quicker and quicker over my lifetime, we hear moaning at every turn about how fast lies can spread, while the truth lags. That's always been the case, BTW. (Mark Twain: "A lie can go around the world while truth is putting its boots on.") It just seems shocking to us as all new speed is shocking. By the lag-time for truth has probably always been the same when calculated as a ratio.

But recently something new is emerging. People being so quick to judge has produced instant backlash. The Tucson shootings were played politically, but ended up at a net loss for the spinners. NFL players jumped all over Jay Cutler largely on appearances, and many are now backpedaling so they don't look like jerks. All very quick, and the quickness of the original tweets may be what set off the backlash tweets.

Perhaps it's not new. Perhaps backlash has always occurred as often and at proportionally the same speed but it just feels faster.

Post 2800 - Running Up The Score - Outline

Racing against the clock here - may get back to this tonight.

The discussion of running up the score has led to broader issues, as these things often do. As my scratched notes in meetings suggest that this could go on at chapter length, I wanted to get some thoughts in early, just to prime your thinking along certain lines. What cultures have had sports, historically, and what function have they served? Breca, Wu and Yue, the Greek Olympics, and Roman Circuses will come in here. When do team competitions come into the picture? Peacocks, Waterloo, Mayans, and Medieval tournaments will come in here?

What is it that sports are supposed to teach, and how has the church looked at this over the centuries? How is the American experience different? Puritans and De Tocqueville come into that. And we do get back to the question of running up the score, but hopefully in a larger framework.

You'd really like to sit next to me at meetings, BTW. They go faster.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Running Up The Score - Respecting the Game

After Chip Hilton, the greatest inspiration of all time...

Carlton Fisk once chased Deion Sanders, an opposing player, down the first base line for not running out a ground ball. He was incensed that someone would treat the game of baseball with that disrespect. That’s not the way it’s done. That’s not how the game is played.

I absolutely understand that value, but from some angles I’m not sure it makes sense. I grew up on that, so Chip Hilton, so Frank Merriwell. It is tied in at deep levels to self-respect, respect for one’s opponent, and a whole array of concepts of goodness: Manliness as opposed to mere masculinity, fair play, adherence to the spirit of the law rather than the mere letter. One is to play as hard as one can, never give up, no matter how far behind you are. Which implies, though it was not said, no matter how far ahead you are.

And in fact, games do have unwritten rules that make clear that a certain amount of backing off is appropriate with a big lead. You don’t steal a base in late innings when you have a big lead. When the clock ticks down to appropriate levels, the QB takes a knee to run out the clock. Basketball teams with large leads don’t take that last three-pointer at the buzzer, they dribble out the clock. And even before that, coaches are expected to put in their second string, to not run trick plays, to not use the full-court press. Small things, which don’t make much difference in the final score, but they declare that the value is there.

This, significantly, is the norm in the professional game and DI college sports (but I repeat myself). Even at that level, where a take-no-prisoners approach is taken for granted, there are clear signs that too much is too much. “Respect for the game” includes respecting something else more than the game.

That, I think, is getting closer to the center, and will be my next post.

Running Up The Score - Part I

Joe Carter over at First Things posted a spirited defense of running up the score . The debate hardened rapidly into Joe and several others defending the premise against those who stated it was never acceptable for Christians to run up the score. There were attempts at some subtleties, larger issues, exceptions, and trying to set general principles, but these mostly got lost in the simpler Good/Not Good dichotomy.

I’d like to get some of those issues into the discussion, but sketching this out, I’m finding there are so many that it can’t be done neatly. There are wheels within wheels here.

To set my own framing, I believe there are competitions where it is entirely reasonable to run up the score – even Christians. My first limitation on this would be age. What is acceptable for high school varsity may be less so for eight-year-olds. I would place a second limitation based on the attitude displayed by players and coach – though this is already getting tricky. Most teams have a jerk or two on them, so it is often a dodge to claim that there was no intent to humiliate the opponent.

Age*: There was a comment that “Life isn’t T-Ball.” No, but T-Ball is T-Ball. For a reason. A person playing highschool varsity, even for a poor team in a lower division, already has a certain amount of success at a sport. S/he also has a growing perspective on how this sport and this day fit into a larger picture. In that context, there is a great deal that can be learned from even a horrendous pounding. You might learn that this sport is not for you, and you are playing mostly as a fun way to keep in shape for another sport you like better. You may be able to look around you and say “Our team is young. They have lots of starters graduating. If we can learn x or y – get in better shape, not make mistakes, work together, whatever – we can do much better against them next year.” I can recall as early as 7th grade looking at the kids from Ash St School, many of whom had stayed back (one even drove to the game) and thinking “They haven’t got much going for them in the rest of life.” (My teammates were generally not willing to grant this and simply resented them for being big kids picking on little kids.) I use this illustration because at best, one or two out of fourteen 7th graders were able to see this – and even that may be giving myself too much credit. I may be importing later understanding into my 7th grade memory.

Kids don’t have this perspective. They just don’t. The anecdotes about using defeat to try harder are selective, and likely convenient. We impose later understanding on earlier years. 19 is different from 16 is different from 13 is different from 10. And frankly, the people writing in to First Things who are remembering the lessons the learned from late high school may be an unrepresentative sample – more intelligent, more psychologically solid, more reflective – than even the others playing that day. Retrospective anecdotes deceive.

Fortunately, kids also carry these embarrassments more lightly. The parents are still steaming, the kid has moved on. When presented with a similar situation again, such as playing that team again, kids remember and can freeze up or get angry. But it’s not constant. They live much more in the moment, for good or ill. Extending that is part of what we are trying to teach.

Attitude: Not so easy to measure as you might think. People have a thousand ways to rub it in, and if you are stinging in defeat, you can see a thousand more that aren’t there. Kids at Christian schools often do much better at eliminating the most obvious types of poor sportsmanship, because that’s how they’ve been trained. Some of them strive to be good-hearted and internalise the entire idea of putting yourself in another’s shoes – which goes a long way in and of itself. (There are plenty of kids in public schools who do the same, but the First Things discussion centered around running up the score when your school is purporting above all to be representing Christ. Players in other situations who wish to represent Christ, or even merely be good sports in an entirely secular sense, can easily make the necessary mental adjustment from the examples I choose for clarity.)

But you are going to have jerks on your team, year after year, and that has to figure into your coaching. To maintain that it is theoretically possible for players to win by large scores with no intent of humiliation, so it’s all good just doesn’t pass the test. It’s never going to actually happen. It might happen for half a season, or with most of your kids so much that the opponents shrug off your jerks, but poor sportsmanship will happen. And a blowout victory is one of the most likely spots – it is something of an invitation for sin, presenting an occasion for sin.

I think I’m talking myself into a changed POV here.

*Other imbalances between opponents are not all analogous to age and will be treated separately.


A libertarian friend told me about an incident in Monopoly the night before. He had drawn one of those cards that told him to pay some fee for every house – water main construction or something. The other players all assumed this meant he had to pay an assessment, not only on all his buildings, but on every house on the board. He was dumbfounded, as am I.

Has a socialist mentality penetrated that far into our culture even in Monopoly, of all places?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Different Years

Obama spent ages 6-10 in Indonesia. Had he spent ages 16-20, or 26-30, he would have been a different president.

I'm thinking a better president, but admitting it's a roll of the dice.

Mornington Crescent III

Looks like I couldn't get anyone to nibble on Mornington Cresent. It's a false game, where the winner is the first one to say "Mornington Crescent." The rest is all just padding and fluff, people pretending to be displaying deep strategy from arcane sources.

Now that you know that, the video might be funnier.

Heaven And Hell

In Heaven...
All the comedians are English,
All the mechanics are German,
All the cooks are French,
All the service is Swiss,
And all the lovers are Italian.

In Hell...
All the cooks are English,
All the comedians are German,
All the service is French,
All the lovers are Swiss,
And all the mechanics are Italian.

I have reason to disagree a bit with a couple of those, but I still like it.

Dutch Courage

New commenter Kitten describes how to get up the nerve to attack a knitting project that looks daunting. You'll notice it isn't flawless, but does get you started.

BTW Kitten, my wife recommends Debbie Macomber novels, which apparently have knitting in them. She's a librarian and well-practiced in the art of advising, so take it seriously.

For the record, that bird was almost grumpy enough for me to link to.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Meerkat Traffic

Just testing.

Great photo. Hope she won the contest.

Mission Trips

We required that every son go on a mission trip before graduating high school. It is a cliche to say that those who go get more out of it than those who are theoretically being ministered to.

Here's an overlooked example that will appeal to parents.

Suburban children often grow up more fussy about their food. Children often have difficulty with the concept of foods mixing together, as in a sauce, or even touching each other. Further, items such as onions, mushrooms, and all manner of vegetables may be meticulously picked out of dinners. That is, when the dinner is not rejected entirely. All children do this, suburban children are worse.

Foreign missions in high school have a salutary effect on this. When Concord Christian visited a Jamaican orphanage, made heroic efforts to eat everything put in front of them, and still saw the orphans leap for the inedible parts tossed in the garbage, it made an impression.

The two Romanian sons, who spent much of their early childhood eating lard spread on bread augmented by whatever fruit they could steal, needed no curative in this regard. When they came to America they developed preferences and even things they would rather not eat, but when the chips were down, could deal with anything. Ultimately, they could say "Dude, it's food. Eat it." Chris even went off on his lunch table in high school always complaining about the food at one point. A sternish lecture on what food reality really was. When Chris sent MRE's from the Marines to his brother, in fact, John-Adrian never figured out the part about how the heating pack was included. Ate the meal anyway, though he confessed he didn't like it much.

Ben, by far our pickiest eater, found Jamaica and a summer working in Romania quite curative. Which worked out well, since he moved to Texas. Kyle...well, let's not pick on Kyle yet. His background was fast food or frozen prepared foods heated up, so he's still adjusting to the idea of food that people actually cook.

But Jonathan's mission trip was to a drug rehab in Chicago. It worked out well, as he met someone he admired from Asbury, where he, his wife, and Ben eventually went. But Chicago food doesn't stretch the suburban palate much. His toddler daughter was over for dinner tonight, identifying the spinach as "grass," and turning up her nose at Swedish meatballs. And he, foul parent, is not providing a good example.

We should have sent him on two trips.

This is the good stuff from Romania, BTW. Really.

Vinete, an eggplant salad (Vee-neyteh)

Mitetei, a tiny sausage. (Mee-tets)

Sarmale and mamaliga

Mamaliga, egg, sour cream, God-knows-what.

Theology of Calvin & Hobbes

Prof. Richard Beck of Abilene Christian University has a great online series on the theology of Calvin & Hobbes. From Chapter 1, "Virtue Needs Some Cheaper Thrills."
And yet, we can't seem to shake the feeling that something is wrong with us. That we are not as good as we ought to be. We ask: It is obvious to all that goodness and virtue are best. But if this is so, why is being good so hard? Why is vice so easy? Why is being bad so much fun?
If Calvin and Hobbes has a central theological core it centers on these questions. Many Calvin and Hobbes strips directly pose the question: Are we good or bad?
Update: Okay, it was a great idea. But reading the actual stuff - it's pretty superficial.

Monday, January 24, 2011

I Flip My Latkes In The Air Sometimes

Their mothers are sending this link to everyone they know.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Unity In The Church

I asked a friend who is a jenu-wine NT scholar about a comment of Tony Campolo's comment about the church being pacifist in its first three centuries. He asked in return "If someone asked you what the church believes in the 20th C, what would you say?" And after a pause, he smiled ans said "It was about the same then." I was reminded of this in the context of our NT study, which is describing the beliefs of Palestinian Jews in the 1st C. Christians tend to say things like "Well, the Jews in Jesus day believed..." However you fill in that blank, you're in trouble.

We extend that type of mythical thinking to the early church, because it makes it easier to talk about and remember. But it isn't so. The church was unified from about the time of Thomas's acknowledgment of the risen Christ until a bit after Pentecost. About Acts 5, actually. Or maybe only sundown on Pentecost. Not even halfway through that book there is a description of a dispute about Gentiles and the Law, and with some effort, they came back into accord.

The picture may come from the early Protestants, who in their contention with the Roman Catholic Church, painted that varied communion as more unified than it ever was. Or perhaps it was the Catholics of that time in their contention with the Protestants, extending the idea of universality, wholeness, and agreed core doctrines into a less-accurate monolithic picture of themselves. (This wasn't the only juncture where such ideas might firm up, but it's the one we are most familiar with.)

New Church

We are attending the church we used to go to years ago. They burned the mortgage today, and there was much discussion of what transpired 20 years ago. The children's story was about a boy of six who had drawn a picture of what the new church should look like, with Mrs. Tibbetts stressing to the little ones how their contributions were important and how they were a part of the church.

The artist turned out to be our son Ben, now 27. We had entirely forgotten this story. Tracy had passed on the drawing to the building committee, the head of which kept it, bringing it forth this week. We were certain that the story could not be quite as advertised, but on examining the documents, it was clearly Ben's work.

The church looks just like this, BTW - though we went with a truer shade than the burnt orange on the upper left. An expressionist sort of building, very avant garde. So you see, children, adults do listen to you and take you seriously.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


We attended a wedding and reception, which always make me weepy and irritated, alternating.

Before I get started, I will note the high point of the reception. I had remembered that the bride and her sister were competitive Irish step dancers, but didn't connect that to the table of eight young women who just didn't look like Grove City, somehow. I'm not implying anything disapproving by that. They looked perfectly nice young women. About 45 minutes into the regular dancing, the floor was suddenly cleared, the music changed, and they exploded into a choreographed routine. Which looks rather different when it comes on you by surprise and the girls are either in gowns or look-at-me dresses. Much cheering and rhythmic clapping, everyone leaving their tables to circle the dance floor for this.

Hold that image, it connects to the serious part.

When I attend a wedding ceremony, I am always struck by the idea that this is grand re-enactment of all weddings, as if the weight of a thousand, a million, a billion village weddings is all focused again on this point. The bridegroom is all grooms, watching his almost-wife being ushered down to him. Those are two village mothers who have known each other since their own girlhood embracing as they give their most precious possession to each other. The groomsmen seem always the same mix - half of them nervous, half with just a few more years on them and calm, solid. All fade in contrast to the colorful maidens opposite.

This is every older sister, herself recently married, toasting the bride; this is every father dancing with his daughter. And we, we are the village. Odd to think so now, in an era when well over half the group traveled great distances to be here, but it is so nonetheless. For today, at least, we are a village. We participate in the great secular mystery of union which Our Lord took up and transformed into some impossible expression of sacred love and what our arriving to be with Him forever will be like. For the descriptions in the Revelation seem like nothing so much as a wedding reception. Dancing is not described (Baptists will be surprised, but they'll adjust pretty quickly. We'll all be surprised at something and adjust pretty quickly), but twenty-four elders with their own song, other groups singing songs of special appropriateness to them, unison casting down of crowns - it has a folk-dance appearance, if you can see it. Food and drink, and all described repeatedly as a wedding feast.

I didn't have any of this sense of universality when Jonathan and Heidi married, and am certain I had none of these thoughts when I married myself. That would be foolish and contradictory, that those at the point where the myth concentrates should back off from their duty, so to speak, and dilute themselves into the universal. As further sons marry, I doubt I will...well, I don't know, so I shouldn't say. Who knows what I will think. I'll get teary, but also laugh a lot. More than that I can't predict.

I must owe much of this to having been in Fiddler On The Roof. It's all Tzeitel's wedding. But that is in itself the explanation. We look at a Jewish wedding a hundred years ago and half a world away but we recognise everything about it. The customs are different, the clothes are different, the music is different, but none of that matters. Those are the accidents around the substance, in Aristotle's terms. "Sunrise, Sunset" used to be played frequently at receptions, though I haven't heard it for awhile. Yet a think another song from that show would be better. Except you can't dance to it, so it will never catch on.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Fifth And Last

There were many more songs in the Grail Opera, but this is the last to share here. Not the best of the lot, but I love the interweaving of the two parts for the last third of the song. I should have switched Bill Whitman's voice and mine for the two parts. 35 years too late for that now.

Find more artists like Dave Wyman at Myspace Music

Rolfing In The Rain Forest

We received an invitation for training at my hospital. Here is the bio of one of the presenters (name redacted).
(She) is an Advanced level Instructor of Somatic Experiencing® for the S.E. Trauma Institute and a founding member of the A.B.T (Brazilian Trauma Association). She has been a Rolfer since 1984 and teaches Rolfing® and Rolf Movement® for the Rolf Institute and is also a founding member of the Brazilian Rolfing Association. Lael holds a 5th degree black belt in Ki-Aikido and is a teacher of both Ki-Aikido and Shin Shin Toitsu Do—Mind and Body Coordination, certified by the Ki Society International in Tokyo Japan. (She) teaches in the US, Brazil, Japan and Europe . She is currently studying Anthroposophic Art Therapy and together with (he) operates an integrative healing center in the Brazilian rainforest.
Quite a collection of cliches there, innit? rainforest, anthroposophic art, integrative healing, Oriental martial/philosophic arts, rolfing. Welcome to the edges of my field.

Easy to mock. Fish. Barrel. But before you sneer, two things: not this specifically, but something like this, is actually a very promising area of trauma studies. This, EMDR, and a dozen less well-known therapies have their rituals and gimmicks to set them apart from each other, and they are fairly unanimous that dreaded western medicine misses the point. But this idea of treating trauma by changing how the brain stores it, and changing what associations the brain has with traumatic events through physical, mechanical processes rather than talk therapies, may actually prove out. I am no judge as to which of these ideas is the most likely path to tread. Perhaps none. But however strange it seems, it's not turning out to be crazy. How the brain stores trauma and the emotional associations that cripple may indeed be key.

Second thing: however much I kick liberals, here is where they are best. They want to help. They want to relieve suffering. They may be open to new ideas to the point of preferring them to old ones for no reason, but they will risk a great deal in order to help. They will endure ridicule gladly for that chance. There is an entire important discussion about what the possible abuses are if we discover how to manipulate minds at such a level. But even if these people are ushering in those abuses through fuzziness, or inattention, or trusting the wrong leaders to supervise the regulation of this, they mean you no harm, and should not be seen as such.

These are not the droids you are looking for.


Or perhaps it should be locabibber. Or locaquaff.

I am not a solid locavore. I don't approve of government subsidies to local industries to artificially preserve a "way of life" that likely has a short history anyway. But given a choice, I like to give the local guy the nod. If there are similar breads and one is from NH and one from PA, I'm buying NH. I buy potatoes from Maine, seldom from Idaho. It's the informal socialism of caring for one's own, even if it costs a little more or isn't as good.

This is especially true with beer, enough so that I think it needs its own word. I'm leaning toward Tracy's locabiber, but I'm going to wait and see how it sounds over time. It came up because she was the one at Sully's and I asked that she pick up beer. I asked for local. First choice, NH, second choice Maine, third choice, Vermont. I'm drinking this nice Smuttynose winter ale out of Portsmouth, and liking it very much.

Smuttynose has nothing to do with naked women, BTW, but the hint of it is marketing wisdom.


Texan99 is back, and has a beauty of a post up, Put Mr. Grumpypants In Charge.
An Australian psychology expert who has been studying emotions has found being grumpy makes us think more clearly.

In contrast to those annoying happy types, miserable people are better at decision-making and less gullible, his experiments showed.
I knew that. I don't have to read the fine print. I know it's a good study.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Traffic Weirdness

Whenever the comments are down, I check to see if traffic is down as well, wondering if I have been exceptionally uninteresting of late. And then post either flamingos or ABBA. Those don't seem to be producing as before, so perhaps I need different magnets.

Reading the referral links of how people get here reveals data for which I have few plausible explanations. The overwhelming bulk of referrals comes via "No Referrer," which I conclude means I am bookmarked by many of you. That's clear enough. There are also some predictable sites high on the list: Maggie's, Tigerhawk, Retriever, Opiningonline. These I recognise. Shrinkwrapped wasn't surprising, especially as MaxedOutMama linked in a comment there.

But Princessmommykitten, a needlework blog, was unexpected. I clicked over and find that my London Football post is on her sidebar. Perhaps that particular post only because it was on top (until now), and she has that feature of linking to the most recent post of selected sites. Retriever has something like that as well. Anyway, hello, PMK from Missouri. We have craftswomen in our circle, especially my daughter-in-law. Should I send her over? But it seems you don't post much.

But the very strange one comes from the physics department at UWisc-Madison. It's been my highest referrer forever, sending about a dozen hits every other day. I'm not seeing the connection, but I'll sure hesitate before making any smart remarks about muons, that's for sure. Well, we've had commenting jameses before...and we used to have a werebear named James in D&D, but that was 25 years ago...plenty of jameses to go around, really, so it could be anyone.

Maybe it was my lab partner from freshman physics at W&M. That guy knew everything.

Anyway, I suggested meerkats to retriever, but she prefers to avoid traffic. Not any of you of course. You're all good. So maybe the flamingos, real and plastic are gone. But first that prairie dog from the National Geographic cover. Nice pentecostal prairie dog, I think. Love that guy.

Monday, January 17, 2011

London Football

One of you will get use out of this sometime. Or I will, anyway, now able to enter into a conversation with a London Football fan and look like a Yank who actually knows something. Football Supporter Map Of London.

10-4 Lists

Ben hadn't posted for awhile, but now has his lists up.

Best Albums. At least I had heard of 4 of the 10 bands.* The reviews were originally tweeted, so are less than 140 characters each. The limitation does impose a certain discipline of getting a lot said quickly and vividly.

Likely Oscar Nominations. Ben's predictions are good by any normal-person standard every year, which doesn't stop him from kicking himself when the results are announced. That boy doesn't want to be merely good, but newsworthy in his predictions.

NBA All-Stars. He seeks comments, but who does he think is going to wade in and disagree with him? I'll find something.

*I don't listen to music much anymore, preferring silence, sports talk, or educational listening, in that order. I would probably be happier if I listened to more music and books on tape.

Not A Man At All

This one is a bit more bawdy, and has more of an 18th C than 1960's feel. That isn't within a millennium of the actual Arthur, and is still three centuries away from Le Morte d'Arthur, but it sounds a bit more properly old.

The singer is Mordred, bastard son of King Arthur who is conniving for his throne. I imagine this tavern-style, getting up on a table to make fun of Galahad and all those seeking the Grail. I'm not including the lyrics, as I think it will spoil the effect.

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Revisiting The Cost

As the mental health debate - by which I mean the "why are we letting obviously crazy people run loose so they can shoot people in Tucson" hand-wringing comments, with no credible solutions offered - heats up, I direct readers to my recent post The Cost.

Here's the bottom line of the discussion: If I had met and interviewed Jared Loughner the day before the shooting, he would not have made the top hundred, maybe not the top thousand, of most-dangerous-sounding-people I have met. So all these calls for "better" mental health services for all these troubled people running around leads immediately to the two central questions, How many of those people - those false positives who are walking the streets of NH and haven't hurt anyone - do you want locked up or forcibly treated, even though they haven't done anything dangerous, just sounded dangerous? And Are you willing to pay for that? The upper number for the first question could run to a million people. The cost would be at least ten times, and more likely a hundred times more than we are paying now.

That's the reality. People blathering about the issue who don't recognise the scope of the problem, how many people we are talking about and how different the rights of a society are when you do that, really shouldn't be talking.

We have chosen our level of safety. It's not an accident, it's a reflection of a hundred cultural values.

Oh, PJ

PJ O'Rourke, in his usual vivid way, talks about the sneaking, blaming, and divisive way that the NYT handled the Tucson shootings, right out of the gate.
In the article’s second paragraph we are told that the accused, Jared Loughner, had an Internet site that “contained antigovernment ramblings.” The same may be said​—​at least in respect to ramblings against the newly sworn-in House of Representatives​—​about Internet sites posting speeches by President Obama.
And, also quoted by Instapundit,
In the matter of self-serving, bitter, calculated cynicism, there wouldn’t seem to be much left to prove against the Times. Judging by what I’ve heard from my fellow conservatives, the issue is decided. The New York Times is a worthless, truthless, vicious institution. But I disagree. I think things are worse than that.
And he didn't even mention Paul Krugman.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Pregame Thoughts

In the game New England lost to the Jets early on, Tom Brady threw two picks and lost a fumble. He also threw 8 out of 10 incompletions in the direction of Randy Moss, and the Patriots could not get any running game going. The latter of those is impossible, and the former unlikely. So that's a plus.

OTOH, while the Jets' running game has gone steadily downhill, it remained reasonably good against the Patriots late in the year. I comfort myself with the idea that from very early on, the Jets had to come from behind, so the Patriots played against the pass and were likely to give up running yardage, because it wasn't as important.

OTOOH, turnovers and special teams play can change any game quickly.

There were discussions this week on local radio how much we would hate Tom Brady and Bill Belichek if they were with another team. I think that's true. It's not only the mere otherness of other teams, and the envy - both very considerable factors - but personal characteristics. Rooting for people just because they are on your side goes a ways to explaining the irrational elements of politics.

First play to Danny Woodhead. I should have seen that coming. Oh yeah.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Warming Worries

Bird Dog over at Maggie's passes on this important announcement. Not from The Onion. Really, it's not.
Even if humans stop producing excess carbon dioxide in 2100, the lingering effects of global warming could span the next millennia. The results? By the year 3000, global warming would be more than a hot topic - the West Antarctic ice sheet could collapse, and global sea levels would rise by about 13 feet (4 meters), according to a new study.
We owe something to posterity, but at the multi-century level, we have to consider people living now at least as valuable as people who may not ever exist. And who's to say we would approve of them in the slightest?

Whether this is worship of the earth itself, or worship of a mere continuance of the human race, however they decide to act, it's a pretty silly religion. Immortality of a sort, or at least some desire to have made a lasting mark at no personal cost.

How Did They Know?

I have to remember to read The Onion more often.

Political Pundits Surprisingly Good At Getting Inside Mentally Unbalanced Shooter's Head

January 14, 2011 | ISSUE 47•02

NEW YORK—According to media analysts, the nation's TV commentators and political pundits have proved uncannily accurate when describing the deeply disturbed inner thoughts of accused Arizona gunman Jared Loughner. "It's strange, but when it comes to getting inside the mind of this human being who seems to possess no empathy, sense of morality, or hold on reality, and who is motivated only by personal animus and self-glorification, the nation's major political pundits have been amazingly adept," said Horizon Media analyst Bob Cullen, who has studied extensive tape of commentators on all major TV news programs and found their remarks on "what the killer is thinking" to be consistently thorough and detailed across the board. "It's almost as though they have some way of knowing, firsthand, exactly what this demented and highly dangerous individual with the eyes of millions upon him is going through." Researchers at Horizon Media also reported that a number of prominent TV pundits appeared to be mimicking the exact same chilling gleam in Loughner's eye for what they could only speculate was "dramatic effect."

Chesterton On Hard Thinking

Students of popular science... are always insisting that Christianity and Buddhism are very much alike, especially Buddhism.
The full context is in Chapter VIII of Orthodoxy. One of his central contentions is that the truisms of our age - he wrote a century ago, but the philosophical climate of the intellectuals then is similar to the popular climate now - are in fact untrue. That are not inaccurate because they are oversimplified cliches, but because they are backward, the reverse of the truth. We hide our thoughts behind ill-defined words, so that we can pretend what we say is kind, brave, and open-minded, when we are really mean of spirit and make excuses for tyrants.

Also, he kicks Shaw, which always makes me happy.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Course On Lewis

I have borrowed one of those college courses on CD about CS Lewis. I did not like the first lecture at all, nor the second one all that much. The professor is entirely too breathless, as if every sentence has an exclamation point after it. I find his praise of Lewis over-the-top. And if I, whose thought is formed by Lewis and am one of his great admirers, find you over the top, then the matter is quite settled.

I am liking the third lecture better, and will continue, hoping to pick up a few things here or there that I did not know, or a new angle I had not considered. It is an introduction to Lewis, so perhaps I should not have expected to learn a great deal. Additionally, there are few points where he gets minor facts wrong. Not a big deal, but a bit irritating.

I found myself thinking, quite early on "I could do better than this. Actually, I have done better than this, teaching Sunday School." Then "I could do much better than this." And soon "A lot of people could do better than this." Which led, of course to my thinking exactly how I would do this if I have another chance at it.

Here's the odd thing. I found that the overall organization that this professor works from, and the examples he chooses, are better than what I did, and better than any of the ideas I was coming up with. To oversimplify, his presentation is irritating, both his intonation and his phrasing, but his content is excellent. One can tell he is used to addressing evangelical audiences, and includes some assumptions not shared universally among Christians. He falls back on some cliches in criticising modern thinkers. But basically, he gets it right, and he gets the important parts up front and in a good order.

I might not have noticed his strengths had I not pursued exactly what I thought his weaknesses were. Which is a very Lewisian conclusion to draw.

Boys In School

I know, I know, TED is so SWPL, but I do like it.

Bethany, who used to comment here as bsking and is personally known to some of you, sent this on today. This is particularly sporting of her, as she was a math/science girl who was on the receiving end of some gender stereotyping in school.

So, another feminist mother of boys, I'm guessing. Though to be fair, these ideas are starting to get out into wider educational culture, and are there for anyone who just looks at the numbers. But it is worth noting, there are still large sectors of the academy where these are very unpopular ideas, and a lot of energy put into declaring that A) it just isn't so, B) okay it is, but it's the boys' own fault, or C) if we pay any attention to this, we'll stop helping girls. The speaker may seem only a bit emphatic to you, but my reading of the subtler cues tells me she has toned it down greatly for her audience. I'll bet if you got a coupla drinks into her you'd get an earful. Good on her.

My observations:

1. What I've been saying for years

2. It has been this way for decades - read Tom Sawyer and Little House On The Prairie if you don't think so - though it may indeed be worse now, for reasons she touches on.

3. Her demurrers that yes, girls are still discriminated against fall into the pattern I described often in the past (one example): examples of how the wider culture discriminates against women, not how classrooms do that. (Larger school culture - student elections, popularity, awards - are closer to the norms of the wider culture. But not classrooms.)

4. And deriving from that, my noting that this is thus unfair to women later on, as they move from a culture where the rules are stacked in their favor to one where they aren't. The rug is pulled. Of course, we've already screwed over a lot of boys by that time, so it's not like this is something that evens out.

5. Those video education games can be done. My brother does something like that for Sky-Skan, which designs and installs those planetarium shows. But schools think of things like that as extras, that you might bring in a few times a year for fun. The idea of having screens and controllers as the foundation of your system is not quite conceivable to them.

6. Somebody's going to run a school like this - likely online - and change the world. If a guy has to give orders to his character in French to level up, he'll learn French. Videogame French, not Montaigne, but French. He won't like fake games where you have to label the parts of a cell to open a door, but he'll soak up what keeps cells nourished and alive if his character needs that knowledge to eat, or grow specialised poisons.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Dear Guenivere

This is Tracy's favorite. Lancelot, after returning from the quest, realises he must sever his relationship with Queen Guenivere. I really thought rhyming assiduity with promiscuity was the coolest thing imaginable at the time. In a show tune, maybe. Not in a folk song.

Kind of a Chad and Jeremy sound to it.

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It's over, dear Guenivere
Please don't carry on.
Sir Gant and Sir Bedivere
Would think your love wrong.
For your love's assiduity
Denotes promiscuity
To the men of Sir Mordred
And we cannot afford
To be be seen without Arthur, your Lord.

It's for this same reason that
I come here today.
I left in a season that
Turns all things it's way.
But I feel a bit older now,
The wind's blowing colder now,
And I'm trying to earn back
My everlasting life,
And cannot love my own best friend's wife.

We know it's a danger to
Be seen in this way.
I must be a stranger to
Your love from this day.
So our love is in idleness
As long as my title is
The Right Hand of Arthur.
We can't corrupt the throne
While this lad wants the crown for his own.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Best of July 2007

I recently bemoaned to my sons that I had not saved every satirical article that my uncle had sent to me over the years, thinking it was real. Here’s one.

A linguistics post, in which you learn the relationship between school and ecole in the post, and paste and pate in the comments.

The beautiful and ingenious color photos of Sergei Prokudin-Gorky, 1909-1915.

Was the CIA actively working to undermine the Bush Administration? And hey, what are they doing now?

I hadn’t realized that one of the functions of my "Best of” series is to trace the development of terri’s thought. Almost four years later, terri, where do you stand on these two related posts now?

No One Is Smart When They Don't Think

I think this was my first takedown of Bill McKibben, who is even more prominent now.

A link to Ben having an amazing conversation with a woman who watches the History Channel. Or so she says. Worrisome.

Early ABBA history, with information you can't get elsewhere.

Road Rally: Scoring and Details

Scoring: Accuracy counts before speed. A team that has 10 correct answers arriving after 3 hours and 20 minutes finishes ahead of a team with 9 correct answers getting back in two hours. This reduces the tendency of people to drive like maniacs. Getting the answer right is most important. Choosing your route to the locations is second-most. Driving fast only saves a few seconds here and there. Very occasionally a few seconds will make a difference in the final standings, but more often, when two teams are racing to plop down the envelopes on my table at the finish line, one of them will have more questions correct than the other anyway.

The game can be modified to be done on foot, especially for young people. Downtowns have plenty of landmarks withing a short radius. Keeping teams together becomes a problem then and a source of contention.

The game can never be completely fair, so expect complaints that will have to be adjudicated on the spot, and some irritated people. Most teams will arrive adrenalised and absolutely giddy, however, requiring a half hour to calm down.

I design events to last no more than 4 hours, and tell people to just come in after that time. The better teams complete the series in about two hours. To make sure your puzzles are neither too hard nor too easy (or have mistakes), have a team test them before the competition date. Starting an hour before sundown seems to maximise the enjoyment. Four seems to be the best number per team. When I’ve done this as a fund-raiser for school or church groups, teams have had extra children or other relatives along, which doesn’t seem to do any harm. Young children are likely to get pretty bored with this, no matter how easy you make the puzzles.

Answers that have to be searched for once you get there are particular fun. Cemeteries are good for this, as are small parks and sports fields. Ambiguity is likely to lead to unfairness, however. People should know for certain when they have acquired the correct answer – that the sundial was dedicated in 1904, for example, because the plaque says Ded. 1904.

I usually design a mix of straight-ahead brute force puzzle-solving

Don’t send everyone along the same route, or people will just start following the better teams. Depending on the number of teams, I usually design 3 or 4 routes. It’s pretty easy to keep the mileage approximately the same with a minimum of attention by creating smaller loops and sending teams into them at different points. It is great fun, however, to make the first puzzle a longish one and send everyone to the same first destination. Then you can go there in advance after starting them off and watch them as they come in at least once. This was the only part my oldest son ever enjoyed that much, so he gladly volunteered to assist rather than compete.

The Presence of the Gun

For some people, the mere fact that someone has a gun means they must be conservative.

That’s an alarming statement on my part, so let me take some time to try and support it. First, I am not claiming that all liberals, or only liberals think this. There is an American culture that did not grow up with guns, and perhaps it was even communicated that guns were distasteful (something Other People Had, with the undercurrent that this was unfortunate). Or, whatever their upbringing was, they are now identifying with a culture that does not consider firearms proper dinner conversation.

I know at least one from that category. Myself. I make a good illustration, actually, because my second point is that this belief exists along a continuum. If I see a pro-gun bumpersticker or hear someone talking about guns, I automatically think there are at least some conservative tendencies in there. Yet for some, I think the association gun implies conservative is so strong that is not only the default position, but a nearly unmovable one.

Most people can be walked back from that generalisation, or walk themselves back from it. Ivy-covered gentlemen from earlier eras, even down to John Kerry, had private shooting clubs – partridge and quail, mostly, or skeet. A few of my friends have antique guns handed down. Then there’re those guys in the biathlon – Scandinavian, cross-country skiing, how conservative could they be? And the Swiss. They’re all right. Or Vermonters. Howard Dean said even liberals own guns up there. Minnesotans, maybe. At that point they begin to hesitate. And er, in some parts of the country it’s just part of the culture…and people grew up with it…farmers and other rural people…and those trade union guys…and…black people. Which means Not our tribe, not us, but we don’t dare say so.

Other exceptions occur to them: a Classics professor who likes target shooting; gays in the military must mean…; gentleman farmers; a practically-socialist nephew who does lots of outdoorsy and adventurous things and smokes a ton of dope; and heck, the mayor’s a Democrat, and he… Reasonable people can get off the default setting, but it pays to remember, it’s still their default setting. The association remains nearly automatic. Perhaps in this context, semi-automatic would be more appropriate. (But if you just file down one little part of that idea, it can become fully automatic, doncha know.)

Statistically, it’s probably not a bad bet. Not that all gun owners vote for Republicans, but that the 20% of Americans Pew identifies as true liberals are almost entirely not gun owners. I think there is probably another 20% of Americans from a wide range of groups who just don’t belong to a gun culture and find it worrisome. Confirmation bias being what it is, the presence of any other conservative clue pretty much seals the deal in a non-gunowner’s mind. Even mine. These ingrained associations just emerge unless you actively break them up. Left to themselves, every time you encounter an irritating or weird guy who owns a gun and says something vaguely conservative, your beliefs will be reinforced, but every weird leftist who uses vivid and threatening imagery will get stored in some other set of beliefs. Or disappear altogether from consideration. Let me drive that nail down, to the center of the earth if necessary: if you come from a non-gun culture and are not actively fighting against that stereotype in your evaluations, that prejudice owns you.

Maybe this is a good spot to just have everyone go read about confirmation bias from someone besides me. Someone nonpolitical. Either here or here.

Thus the recent political reaction. The idea is already preloaded (heh) that gun owners are more dangerous, and more often conservative, so it only stands to reason that if someone gets shot and it looks political in any way A) The shooter is probably conservative, and B) conservatives, what with their guns and dangerous atmosphere and all, are partly to blame. As no amount of data is able to dislodge this, from the time of Lee Harvey Oswald to Jared Loughner, I have to suspect that something more primitive, less rational is in play. If there is a gun, and any other scrap of info might confirm the bias, then the shooter was somehow influenced by conservatives. Especially as our journalist class is drawn almost entirely from the non-owning culture. All the tribal cues, blatant or subtle, become part of the landscape. Oswald had been a Marine, so you know…Jack Ruby had one of those Texas hats and came from Dallas… Columbine was on April 20th, so… All the Squeakys and Hinkleys and Carneals and Bishops and DC Snipers wash out of the memory as unimportant. In most cases, we are simply talking about brains that are broken, and no further explanation need be sought. Even when some political idea is present, so that if we were to squint we might sorta kinda put a partisan motive to it, it is usually a single fixation, not part of a whole political package – and as often leftist as rightist. Perhaps more often, though I haven’t seen a breakdown.

As to assumption B) that a violent culture (read guns, equals conservative) inspires such people to act, or at a minimum pushes vulnerable people that last bit over the edge, the evidence just isn’t there. These things happen in Finland and Sweden - and the UK and Canada - in states with low crime rates and high, strict gun control and permissive. In the age of increasingly graphic movies and games, the violent crime rate has gone down. We expect it to be otherwise. We intuitively expect that the availability of violent porn and first-person shooter games would tweak the vulnerable into sprees of raping and killing. We point to the retrospectives, that the perpetrators did avail themselves of these things as proof of our belief. But retrospectives aren’t evidence. Nor are they when conservatives deplore the godless, hypersexualised culture brought about by liberals. Sexual crime is also down. In both cases, if there’s an effect, it’s not general and it’s not powerful. An opposite conclusion has more to support it at present.

As to political rhetoric, the idea is absurd, and it takes very little effort to see this. Military and firearm rhetoric was more common in all earlier American political eras. The interconnectivity of the news culture and the instant fame and impact are far more likely culprits, as the perpetrators themselves often highlight notoriety as a motive.

The right blogosphere has made much of the hypocrisy and cynical manipulation by the left - that some conservatives (Palin, talk radio) have contributed to an assassination culture by their anger and imagery - by pointing out worse and more numerous examples from the left. Yet I am not sure that hypocrisy and manipulation are quite the right concepts. I think they really believe it in some vague and primitive way, these Olbermans and Krugmans and Milbanks, and are responding in genuine fear, not cynicism. We don’t have guns. We think guns are bad. Those People have guns. So when there’s a shooting, it must be Those People. Somehow. We have to keep warning Americans about how dangerous Those People are. They use terms like anti-government in tortured definitions that can’t hold up in an eighth-grade class, yet I think they really mean it. I believe they really haven’t examined for a minute what they actually mean by that, but are responding to something visceral and emotive. They aren't being cynical, I think they believe owning a gun makes you more violent. They believe that mere reference to firearms has an inciting effect on weaker minds. I conclude they really believe they are beleaguered innocents. (Note: Actual beleaguered innocents do feel this way. So do bullies and paranoids. The subjective impression, however decorated and rationalised with select data, gives us no clue whatsoever. Bullies and paranoids have select data too.) Damn, I hope they’re not projecting. Is there a fear of self nestled deeply in all this? Cynicism and hypocrisy would be less of a problem, frankly.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Road Rally II

Behold the envelope. John Czeciuk was using this ingenious system at the first road rally I participated in. I don't know if he invented it or ran across it in another context, but I loved it. John designed the puzzles and ran the show for the early Queen City Rotary road rallies. The event still takes place annually, but we haven't gone for years. Later puzzles just weren't as good - ambiguous and trick questions. John will show up in a later post about road rally anecdotes as well. He moved to Ohio and I haven't of him in years - hope he runs across this and reads my continuing appreciation.

There are 8-10 of these per contest, each numbered and containing two copies of a puzzle (one for the players in the back seat, one for the front). Note that each edge has an answer written along it. These are possible answers to the question posed at the bottom of the puzzle in envelope #1. Rather like a multiple choice test. Ignoring the complications around the first and last envelopes for the moment, make sure you get what is happening here before going on. The puzzle in envelope 1 finishes with a question. Four possible answers are on the outside of envelope 2. You rip open envelope 2 along the edge with the correct answer, pulling out the next puzzle. This team has discovered (or guessed) that the correct answer is 1914. Save the envelope. It now functions as a scoring sheet at the end. I can tell how many correct answers you got simply by looking at your envelopes – I don’t need to even look at what you did on the puzzles.

It does also give you a one-in-four chance if a puzzle completely baffles you. For group comity, I recommend that the team has unanimity before resorting to this.

There is an art to creating wrong answers that seem possible. I used to take care that the possible answers not give away the destination somehow, but found it was unnecessary. In the heat of competitive puzzle-solving, nearly all teams neglect this possible extra clue, not even looking at the possible answers until they have solved the puzzle. If a team has the presence of mind to look up from its solving, notes that the possible answers on the next envelope are four buildings close together, and starts driving in that direction, so much the better for them.

First and last envelopes: The last envelope contains only a slip stating “Congratulations! Return to start.” You still have to open it along the correct edge to get credit for it. The proper edge for opening the first envelope is announced at the start. It is in fact the Go signal, insuring that people don’t cheat by opening it early and starting on the first puzzle before the others.

For each team, I pack a set of 8-10 envelopes in order into a manila envelope with the team name on the outside. With different routes for various teams, this is rather labor-intensive. Have a QA person check them for you before the night of the event. Three out four members of each team go wait in the car. I hand the manila envelope to the remaining representative of each team. To start the event, I announce which edge envelope #1 should be opened along, and they race back to their car, tearing madly at the manila envelope, then envelope #1, distributing it as they reach the car.

Next up: Scoring.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Violent Rhetoric

Incitement to violence can indeed cause violence. I don't think you have to look too far into history to find abundant examples of that. But I'm not sure that rhetoric which uses military terminology as metaphor has the same record, even among the fragile "unbalanced" that we are supposed to be so worried about. It's one of those things that people seem to accept as plausible, even without evidence, forgetting that people have access to books, movies, and music that are quite explicit in calls to violence.

That Obama and other Democrats have used more violent-sounding rhetoric is being amply demonstrated elsewhere, and I'm not going there. For the record, I have no objection to those comments as I browsed through them. If such martial or combative statements have any effect on inciting actual violence, it is lost in the sea of what people read or hear from other sources that they intentionally seek out, not that pop onto their TV screen when they were just minding their own business. People who are headed toward violence seek out fringe groups that are far more explicit in calling for it.

Where I can offer some expertise on the matter is the nature of those "unbalanced" people supposedly pushed over the edge by that rhetoric. Scanning my memory, I can identify: two of my patients who made national news for what appeared to be politically motivated attacks; two others who were peripherally involved with characters who made national news related to threatened political violence (one was on the outskirts of the Ed Brown tax-protesting saga in 2007, for example); and four patients who came to the attention of the Secret Service because of threats they made against political figures.

Seven of those eight were merely psychotic, with nothing political adding to the mix. The political angle was entirely accidental in two cases - being psychotic near a political figure. In the other five, the patient was attracted to the fame of the public figure as a way of getting their own paranoid message out to the world . The eighth was a personality disorder who had been a staffer on Bobby Kennedy's campaign and wanted to get back at some supervisor for entirely personal reasons.


For reasons unknown, Blogger shuts off comments on random posts at times - or perhaps I'm doing it somehow. If you want to comment on a post and it won't let you in, let me know in another thread and I'll turn 'em back on, which is simple.

I have never intentionally had comments off, so that's never it.

Sudanese Elections

Sponge-Headed Scienceman, cofounder of Life For Sudan, has some thoughts about a Sudanese friend, now back in that country for the elections.


I encountered this intriguing monument while driving around searching for road rally destinations a decade or so ago.

Have I told you about road rallies? They figure prominently in AVI history. Teams of four per car solve puzzles leading to destinations, at which there is a bit of information that allows you to answer a question before moving on to the next puzzle. Most answers right in the shortest amount of time wins the game. I think I shall have to cover all that in some detail in another post. Some of you might find this to be right up your alley.

Back to New Boston. One's first thought is that this is some complete crank, squirreled away in a rural NH town, which the town fathers might not want to memorialize. Imagine this guy at town meeting every March. Or offering to guest lecture at the science classes at the high school. But in fact, Babson was a brilliant and respectable character. He was the founder of Babson College in Massachusetts, and two other colleges as well. The curriculum sounds like a precursor to Northeastern's cooperative education program.
Believing experience to be the best teacher, Roger Babson favored a curriculum that was a combination of both class work and business training: businessmen made up the majority of the faculty instead of academics, and the institute's curriculum focused more on practical experience and less on lectures.

Students worked on group projects and class presentations, observed manufacturing processes during field trips to area factories and businesses, met with managers and executives, and viewed industrial films on Saturday mornings
Babson had gone to MIT, wrote books, founded businesses, and believed that economic cycles followed highly predictable rules because they were subject to laws as physical as Newton's laws. This is now regarded as a rather crankish theory, but Babson did predict the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression.
His pseudoscientific notion, that the laws of physics account for every rise and ebb in the economy, had no more validity than [astrology or alchemy]. But just as astrology gave birth to astronomy and alchemy to chemistry, so, too, did Babson's efforts to explain the economic cycle... lead to the economic breakthrough that revolutionized the business of economic forecasting.

He moved to New Boston for his antigravity research because he felt it was far enough away from cities to be safe from nuclear attacks. (When the USAF turned a local bombing practice field into a satellite tracking station in 1959, it likely undermined that supposed nuclear-target safety.) Babson came to focus on gravity shields or insulators pretty quickly, believing that true antigravity was a concept too far out of reach.

The Gravity Research Foundation never did a lot of research, existing mostly to sponsor conferences where papers were delivered and concepts discussed. Some heavy hitters in the world of theoretical physics came up for these conferences. There was not only Babson's respectability in other fields, but a sense at that time that particle physics and the understanding of gravity and the other forces was so odd that even strange-sounding ideas might prove out - or at least lead to something that could be used. The foundation still gives yearly prizes for papers on gravity, and Stephen Hawking won a few of those early in his career, as did 2006 Nobel Prize winner George Smoot. As Hawking is now claiming that the existence of gravity provides sufficient explanation for universes to come into being, requiring no additional gods or forces, it may be that gravity is the one thing that you can't anti- or shield in this universe. But what's out there for theories at present - strings, a 2D universe, teleportation, and time-reversal - antigravity no longer seems any crazier.

A note on Hawking's new theory, BTW. I don't see how it changes the philosophical consideration of the existence of gods, or first causes, or other prior forces in the slightest. The question is between something existing and nothing existing. If gravity exists, how? The positing of a self-existent deity may be no less of a puzzle, but it certainly isn't any more. Hawking has pushed the time and physical principle lines farther back, so there is no reason (if he is correct) to demand that some outside force entered Right There to create the universe. But the same question remains. It doesn't imply much of anything about a deity with personality, and nowhere near a Christian God, but to say "your self-existent creative force doesn't have to exist because we've found some other self-existent creative force" is rather silly. Rather like the old joke that Shakespeare never wrote all those plays - it was someone else named Shakespeare.

Saturday, January 08, 2011


I don't think I've ever seen snow drift down so slowly as this morning at 7. Not only that there were few flakes, but that they fell impossibly slowly.

Maps Of War

I have seen at least two of these linked over the last year, video time-span maps of world events. Don't we wish we had had Maps of War to learn World History in 9th Grade?

As I am listening to one of those college courses on CD on the culture of the crusades at present, I found this one more fully understandable than before.


"Muslims turned up in droves for the Coptic Christmas mass Thursday night, offering their bodies, and lives, as “shields” to Egypt’s threatened Christian community."

I am deeply gratified to read this.

Via First Things

Thursday, January 06, 2011

ABBA - Traffic Enhancement Project.

You have to click through to get this one full screen.

Cold Winter's Knight

I don't dare delete the Myspace ad, not knowing what else it will take with it. The part about other artists like David Wyman amuses me.

I learned from Ben not to ask lade my request to listen with apologies, so I restrain myself.

The song is one of few saved from the wreckage of my senior project in 1974-75, a folk opera on the Arthurian legend. The recording dates from that time - in fact I never listened to it again after the night it was completed until about two years ago. I have played and sung a few of the pieces on occasion over the years. The song is Lancelot's, after others have achieved the Grail and been translated to heaven, but he has been left behind, unworthy. You can see that theologically, Lance still doesn't get it, quite.

There will be four further songs posted.

Find more artists like Dave Wyman at Myspace Music

Hear, I have failed my task.
Please, is it too much to ask?
Well I am looking for a placement here
Do you have and extra dragon here?
Do you have a place where I can stay?

Ch: If I could just save a lady fair
Turn on the dream and leave it there.
Pretend we're alone and the fire is bright
On a cold winter's knight.

Sir, I had seen the Grail
So tell me how could I fail?
Well I could could get some wood and nail away,
Build myself a boat and sail away.
Travel to a land where I could stay.

I thought I could rise again;
Lean on the grace of friends.
But I can see how quickly you forgot
I was the best knight but now I'm not,
Now I'm just an empty coat of mail.

I thought I could return
Bask in the grace I earned
But now I know that's not what God has planned.
One thing of His will I understand...

Ch: If I could just save a lady fair
Turn on the dream and leave it there.
Pretend we're alone and the fire is bright
I'm a Cold Winter's Knight.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Hall of Fame

I caught some of the complaining about the voting, the system, the chuckleheads who won't vote for top players in their first year of eligibility...

Just so you know, baseball's hall of fame has always been insane in its selections, except the first year. In 1936 they put in Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson, and Honus Wagner. You might argue around the edges if these were indeed the top five to that point, or just five of the top ten, but they were all clearly top-shelf qualified.

The very next year, they went with 3 players, 2 great and one legitimate. They elected two managers, McGraw and Mack, which seems reasonable. And three executives, two of which you never heard of. Then more executives, plus a move to include players from the early years. Which they got approximately sorta right. Then they stopped electing anyone at all through most of WWII. After the war they elected more guys from old baseball, plus Tinker, Evers, and Chance, who weren't that great, but were in that poem and all.

The 20's and 30's were the big hitter's eras of baseball. The National League averaged .300 in 1930. The whole league. Consequently, just after the pitcher's era in the 1960's, people voting for the hall of fame saw all those gaudy numbers from a generation earlier and voted in a lot of guys who were pretty good but not great who played in the 20's and 30's. Joe Medwick. Earle Combs. Chick Hafey.

Softest roads to the HOF?
1. Outfielder or 1B in the 30's
2. Braggart before 1910 who played a long time
3. Play for the Yankees in dynasty years.


Johnson was a newspaper cartoonist - Concord Monitor, UNH student newspaper, Nashua Telegraph. Lives in Lebanon. The local Lebanon, that is. Upper Valley. Dartmouth. Right next to Vermont.

Ben browsed through it and noted that no one would understand these cartoons now. A few people at this blog would, but point taken. References to the Clamshell Alliance, Nantucket seceding to NH, CWIP - long past their sell-by date. Nothing shameful about that, it's the nature of political cartooning.

The stereotypes of conservatives are unchanged in 3 decades, though.

Caught My Eye

From David Corn:
“On Thursday, Capitol Hill Republicans, a day after taking control of the House, intend to read the U.S. Constitution on the floor of the House of Representatives. This is, of course, a stunt designed to position the GOPers as the party that really, really, really cares about constitutional government. But the exercise is the showy equivalent of wearing a flag pin..."
They really hate them those flag pins. They just can't drop it. Just keeps leaking out.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Miami Heat Update

I have to admit it. They are looking very good.

I wonder if it was Dickie V's advice to LeBron? The change occurred right at that time.

Needs To Be Said

Sometimes you will catch me railing against patients who aren't all that ill, and just need to get a grip. The older male social workers in my department have what we call our "Buck up, little soldier" speech.

But the danger on the right side of the blogosphere is much more toward denying that mental health issues are all that serious - that everyone should be getting the "Buck up little soldier" speech. I've seen that at Maggie's more than a few times (in the comments, not the posts). This is infuriatingly stupid.

There are conditions, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and autism, that are so patently physical that people who even remotely suggest otherwise I lose respect for immediately. But even the more controversial items, such as depression or PTSD, are seldom conditions that one can just ignore or resolve to have a better attitude about to overcome. Some people, sure. I've seen plenty. Get a grip. Enroll in a local Get A Life program. Snap out of it. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. All the cliches. But it simply isn't all of them. Major Depression is real and serious. PTSD can create havoc with people for their entire lives. It is not only ignorant, but cruel to suggest otherwise.

Any of y'all who are still holding to that idea - if you ever have a kid with schizophrenia, you will be humiliated to the point of suicidality to remember the cruelty you have inflicted on genuinely suffering people who you dismissed.

Update: The comment thread suggests the recent post of mine, The Cost.

Underground DSM Addition

My entries from my Underground DSM are based on a specific setting which I have been in for decades: a patient coming in to meet with the entire treatment team (4-7 people) for a diagnostic or treatment planning meeting in an involuntary state hospital setting. I've done a few thousand of these (though some patients are repeats), so while the methodology isn't rigorous, the N is large. The diagnostic tricks may not generalise outside that setting. Except, I'll bet they do.

Psychiatrist: Can you tell me something about what brought you to the hospital?

Patient: I wrote it down last night and want to read it to you. It's three pages long.

Diagnosis: Borderline Personality Disorder. (Though Narcissistic might be a go.)

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Best of June 2007

Childrearing advice I had since forgotten. Excellent comments from Ben and Erin, who now work with teenagers.

Is more time off a form of wealth?

I puzzle over why people believe negative urban legends about Republicans more than Democrats. The commenters answer.

Rethinking the Great Depression. Not that I did this marvelous rethinking. I just comment and then link.

When schools favor girls so much, for so many years, are they really doing them a favor?

We segregate by age socially.

The post where I discover that pictures of ABBA or flamingos drive up traffic. I may switch to meerkats or prairie dogs. Instead of the flamingos, that is. There's no replacement for ABBA.

Is extreme anti-catholicism still out there?

I put some energy into challenging two common myths: Money-grubbing Americans, and Christians fighting wars of religion.

Not linked, but also in June 2007: Takedowns of Bill McKibben, crummy hymns, and updates on 60's and 70's pop musicians.