Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Songs My Parents Taught Me

It does leave out my favorite couplet.
The things they did that night, it put my heart to fear.
They took the ice right off the corpse, and put it on the beer (bier)

He was a Sigma Chi at UNH. My mother, for her part, taught me a take-off on "Jealousy"

called Leprosy. Only the first part of the melody is used for the parody. Her's was just a touch different:
There goes my left ear
Right into my stale beer.
She was a bit more reticent and embarrassed to be singing college drinking songs to her son. She was an Alpha Chi Omega.

I get the impression my parents were quite the lively partiers in college. When I was about sixteen I checked, of course, to see if I was, ahem, "born prematurely," but apparently not.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Six O'Clock

NH Mental Health Lawsuit

I suspect that professionally, as I work for the mental health system of the State of NH, I am not allowed to have a public opinion on certain aspects of the the Department of Justice bringing suit against us.  Which is fine, as I have mixed opinions anyway, and don’t have enough real information to comment on most of it.  The standard hopefulness is that this might be a good thing from the POV of funding, as it took lawsuits to close Laconia State School (for the developmentlly disabled) and improve prison conditions, both decades ago.  That’s just how the system works, that reasoning goes.  It could be.  I don’t know if there are important differences or not. I am also, and always, suspicious of any group that claims to have only the best interest of patients at heart.  Whatever side of the argument, I’m not buying that, and I find it offensive for people to even say that out loud.

But you know me and reasoning – it bothers me when someone makes a bad argument, even if it’s for a good cause.  So I will just highlight, in intentionally imprecise manner, a line of argument that keeps making the papers but I think obscures some important information. Numbers are being put forward that readmission to the state hospital is higher in NH than in other states, and this is considered evidence that the community mental health centers aren’t doing their jobs.

Well of course it’s higher.  We have a condidtional discharge law that no other state in the union has, which allows us to readmit some patients (who have been through a special probate court proceeding) before they have decompensated.  They might be brought back if they have stopped medication or stop going to appointments, for example.  The idea is to prevent a longer hospitalization by nipping it in the bud.  I don’t know if that difference in the law fully explains the difference between NH admission rates and national averages or not.  I could probably get the data and work it out, but I doubt I could release it publicly.  That’s for the state’s lawyers to do anyway.  I also don’t know if the statute actually does what it is designed to do, avoiding long-term stays by having a low bar for shorter ones.  Again, I could probably find that out but not tell you.

Just be alert for apples-to-oranges comparisons on this.  This is also an area where I wonder if the adversarial system at law is the best, with one side’s attorneys making things look as good as possible, obscuring the need for improvement, while the other side makes things look as bad as possible, obscuring important explanations.  And playing it out in the newspapers, the political game being seen as important as the legal one.

Note on Wayfinding

I left the autumn discussion on Wayfinding unresolved as to whether full overhead mapping was at all hardwired or merely a recent variant of sense of direction (as opposed to landmark navigation.) I had felt strongly there must be something of a heritable spatial ability, but the evidence for it was elusive. Dead reckoning seemed to have more experimental evidence behind it. Jennings makes several references in Maphead to navigating as if from above eye level, but not looking down at a flat 90 degrees as on a map.

Something between 10 and 30 degrees seems to come automatically to some folks when picturing medium-distance navigation, rather like an actual bird’s-eye view, elevated but looking forward, rather than what we usually call a bird’s-eye view. I don’t know of any research on it, but it seems likely. It would be the view one would have from a mountain or rise of land, or even from climbing a tree. Extrapolating that to picturing an area in one’s head, even things which could not actually be seen from any earthly point, seems entirely plausible. A slight angle of elevation would be more closely related to dead reckoning and compass orientation, but once the concept of getting off the ground was in place, once that seal was broken, exagerrating it to full 90 degree overhead doesn’t seem so odd.

Fondness For Maps

The Muensterberger theory got me thinking. I don’t know if the association he notes would hold up under scrutiny, but it at least makes some intuitive sense and becomes worthy of subjective comment.

I learned something new about maps and myself when I first went to Romania – how much I valued, and indeed depended on, knowing where I am in space. We would go out every morning to one village or another for medical clinic and return late, and I would try to keep intuitive sense of how far we had traveled and in what direction. The only map I had was rather pathetic, small-scale, showing few towns or roads. I sought better maps on market day, but encountered an even larger problem. This was 1998, and most maps were still based on communist-era data and unreliable. Roads, even paved roads, would be marked where no roads existed, because they were proposed, and should be there. Towns would be unrecorded because they were scheduled to be emptied to relocate people (gypsies, usually). Text size was only whimsically related to population because a) population was often secret and/or highly approximate, and b) importance is an elastic concept under communism. All this in addition to unfamiliar spelling and pronunciation, so that “We are going to shtay” actually meant ┼×tei, a small city to the SE. We would go somewhere and come back, and I would be unable to discover where we had been, even though it was in a 50-kilometer* radius and I had name, direction, travel time, and landmarks. It was powerfully uncomfortable for me. I might go somewhere and not be able to navigate myself out. Relatedly, I was conscious that I could in no way drive to my family, no matter how much time and effort I put in. I would have to go up in a plane (and thus at someone else’s mercy and under their control) at some point. I had been aware of this can’t-drive-home feeling on previous trips abroad, but I was in each instance with my family, solving the major dislocation and fear. Even after returning to the states I kept looking for reliable maps of Transilvania, hoping to find a town just off the E60, maybe near Tileagd that I could point to and say there!

A second map fasination is wondering where the roads used to be. Was this always the route from Brown’s Corner or was there another, now disused? Did that barred lane used to be important, or just a short jaunt for the farmer to a back field? This in turn is part of further history – was this area field or forest? Did the Pennacooks use this spot much? Rather like Schliemann and the seven levels of Troy. Included in that is the streamlining of routes, cutting off windings and corners. I once did a road rally puzzle based on an obsolete map of Bedford, with locations glaringly marked, but on roads that had moved a bit or were no longer approached in the same way. I wonder these things with historical maps as well. My boys came from around Marghita, which would be about there on this map of 15th C Transilvania. Does the blood of that invading tribe run in their veins, then? Karrde mentioned something similar in the previous comments.

*At the end of two weeks I naturally thought of Romanian distances in km rather than converting them to miles. For Bihor County, I still do, but everything else I have to switch back and forth.

Same-Sex Marriage

There is a conflict of values for Americans on this issue. On the one hand, we want things to be fair and equal for everyone, at least at law. We have bound ourselves to a constitution under which we may not agree with what someone does, but “people have a right to do what they have a right to do,” a tautology that actually does have meaning in an American context, because in most places it isn’t true.

OTOH, every culture gets to define marriage – that’s Social Anthropology 101 – and Americans tend to believe that our culture has been part of our success, and don’t like to mess with it unnecessarily. At the loudest places of argument, in fact, we could break the conflict into those two groups, those who believe we have a great culture, dammit, and you’re trying to screw it up versus those who believe we have a deeply flawed culture which we’re determined to fix.

That said; let’s look at two basic facts about the conduct of the discussion. Gay marriage was not even on the radar 20 years ago. Ten years ago, it was still considered a radical idea even among most liberals, and five years ago, was considered too hot to touch publicly even by liberal Democratic politicians. Because, you may note, their black, ethnic Catholic, and trade union constituents were still (and largely are still) opposed to it. For those already formulating their argument against my little rant here, you must at least cast your mind back to 1992 and the candidacy of Bill Clinton. Thousands were dying of AIDS, and research funding took up most of the energy of gay advocacy. Civil unions were not a topic of discussion, let alone gay marriage. Not so very long ago.

Secondly, the history of every tribe and race until very recently is that marriage was between males and females. The main difference was whether multiple wives were allowed. Bending of historical and anthropological data in select times and places to suggest that some same-sex relationships that sometimes had cultural sanction could therefore be described as marriage is just stretching the truth beyond what it can bear. It ain’t so. Similarly, comparing the forbidding of same-sex marriage to the forbidding of inter-racial marriage is also not accurate. Many cultures discourage or even forbid marriage to members of other groups, and the penalties can be ostracism, exile, symbolic death, or even actual death. This includes the period in the American South when some localities, some of the time, had laws against what they called “miscegenation.” But in no instance I know, and certainly not in any American context, was it ever stated that such marriages were a fiction. They were possible but forbidden, like murder or theft, not impossible at their root, like flying or breathing water. Some, at least, of those opposed to SSM are so on the basis of its impossibility, not its distastefulness to them. They believe the thing does not occur, no matter what the laws of the nation say.

These are powerful facts, but they are not necessarily determining facts. That an idea is new may not mean it is wrong, and the fact that all of history is against it doesn’t mean that history is right. Most of history counted men as more valuable than women, or allowed for slavery in some form, and we’ve been pretty comfortable with discarding those. Americans, in fact, have something of a tradition of embracing rights that other cultures don’t. Yet both the newness and universality are important to keep in mind in the current rhetoric of debate. The wrist-to-forehead horror, the eye-rolling and condescension displayed by SSM advocates of how impossibly ignorant and bigoted those yahoos are, in this day and age, to be against gay marriage, is rather astonishing. Over at Tigerhawk, it immediately made one young person think of Matthew Shepard. Because that’s what this being opposed to gay marriage leads to, apparently, murdering gay men in bars. And you social conservatives should be ashamed of yourselves for contributing to murders in that way. Murders like Robert Eric Wone (which I only heard of because of the W&M connection) , lead to no social and political conclusions, whatsoever, apparently. (FRT, I believe neither has much to tell us about social legislation; but if anything, approximately equal.)

So, really? A right which you did not recognise yourself ten years ago and would have considered ridiculous twenty years ago you now consider obvious? And you think it is your opponents who haven’t really thought this through and are reacting tribally? That’s a red flag for me.

I still might be convinced to go along with allowing same-sex marriage, BTW. Civil unions, certainly. It’s not going to involve that many people - the percentage of people who are gay and lesbian is usually inflated, and many of them have no interest in marriage anyway. I think that in America, even if your judgement is absolutely correct that something will cause harm to others, you have to be able to demonstate it conclusively, not merely opine. (Yeah, I know, that’s the exact opposite of what we say about environmental and safety legislation, but that’s liberals for you.) Opponents of SSM are rather hampered in what they might prove, as they have little data to draw from on something so new, but it remains true that they have not submitted good evidence that gay marriage will be damaging, only a lot of co-occurrence and it-stands-to-reason stuff. In America, that’s usually not enough.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Around The Clock

The 4 and 5AM songs that were available didn't thrill me much.  I'm pretty sure I'm not going to be too strict about going precisely around the clock, because there are plenty of songs I don't like.

Even this one is sort of meh.

3:34 (or 3:35) AM

I was never a big Chicago fan, but band friends were thrilled that brass had made it big in Rock 'n Roll, and they were needed to perform these songs right. Few bands had brass players who could manage this, so they had a short run of being much in demand. "Blood, Sweat, and Tears" and "Earth, Wind, and Fire*" songs were also done by those bands.

For years I missed what the reference was to in the song title, and found it merely puzzling. "Waiting for the break of day" was apparently not enough of a clue for me. It was an age of overinterpreting songs to find drug, political, or religious meanings in them, while neglecting the obvious in mildly poetic language.

*What fun those two groups would have been in concert, eh? "Blood, Earth, Tears, Fire, Wind, and Sweat." Or something.


"Noticing things is the cause of all the trouble in the world."  Steve Sailer

Love of Maps

Werner Muensterberger, a psychiatrist who wrote about collecting and collectors, noticed that those fascinated by maps often came from broken homes or moved around a great deal as children.  It makes an intuitive sense, that such children would be attracted to the stable world that maps seem to present.  I love maps, I came from a broken home, and while we did not move around much, I did go to three separate first grades (three houses, three towns, three states) in the year of my parents' divorce.  For this purpose, it is important to note that the pleasure I get from maps feels very much like what is described.

I learned about this observation from Ken Jennings' (all-time Jeopardy! champ guy.  You've heard of him) book Maphead, which covers many things map-related, and covers them well: geography bees, geocaching, history of maps, wayfinding. Recommended.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Creating Space

An excuse to create space for Retriever, who has to avoid her own blog because it's being watched by family who don't want to see anything negative about themselves going public.  Creating space is a soccer concept - perhaps other flowing team sports as well.  I'm not sure that's the exact image I want.  Potempkin Post didn't seem quite right, though.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Tim Thomas

I thought he should have gone to the White House ceremony.  I likely share some political views with him, but I don't think it's a particularly effective protest.  Just irritating people and bad feeling all around. 

Sports radio hasn't been brilliant on the subject, with some thorough misunderstandings and some fairly bigoted generalisations.  But at least it's an appropriate topic for them.

Then, I thought Cam Neeley handled it badly after when interviewed live.  He clearly only half gets what protest, free speech, and individual versus corporate expression is.  Well, he's Canadian - they do free speech just a bit differently up there.

But most inappropriate of all was the Governor of Massachusetts weighing in.  Absolutely an intrusion.  None of his damn business.  His opinion should be irrelevant.  Massachusetts is heavily Democratic, the governor is a Democrat, and perhaps he felt he needed to make sure that everyone knew that dissing Obama - which is what everyone's impression is in Mass, because they are rather clueless - isn't cool with the people here.  As a political move for him, it probably works.  And because a lot of folks in Mass agree with his politics, they'll agree with him, not getting the underlying principle.

But Deval Patrick should in no way be making any pronouncements on this subject.

Elite Empathy For The Ruled

Ilya Somin at Volokh Conspiracy has some discussion about Charles Murray's quiz for elites, whether they understand and empathise with the middle and lower classes whose lives they rule in a general sense. Somin has several objections to the quiz and the concept.

I think Ilya has it right here. It is pretty clear what Murray is driving at. We do sense that it is better that the elites of a society understand the lives of the non-elites. Yet I agree that Murray has not captured it, nor is it an easily-defined quality. There are rulers who have great understanding of the lives of the great mass of their subjects – Ceausescu was a cobbler, I believe – yet are horrible; there are pure aristocrats with little identification with the proles who are nonetheless excellent rulers. Victoria, perhaps. Or Churchill. The common touch, valued everywhere but nowhere so much as in America, is an advantage but not strictly necessary. I don’t think the questions tell us much. Perhaps in aggregate they begin to point to something real.

Also, we are not quite clear what this quality is that we should hope for, but only a theory as to how it is acquired. If it is empathy we seek, should we not simply say so? Are we perhaps describing the impression that the lower and middle class have that an upper-class person does understand them? We would then want to measure something in their heads, not in the elites. Pollster questions sometimes ask: On a scale of 1-5, how much do you think the following candidates understand people like you? John Kerry was accused of being aloof and remote, raised in upper echelons and private schools and unable to identify with most Americans. Even his hunting – one of the things politicians do to show they are men of the people – was of the gentlemen’s club sort that has nearly vanished. But Kerry may have understood the perspective of the little guy just fine, I don’t know. He played hockey, which is in some areas a blue-collar endeavor and in others a rich kid’s sport. Impressions.

Is everyone who worked a few summers in a mill able to identify with the less well-off forty years later? Many of the New England well-off have experience sailing, climbing around in the White Mountains and living rather primitively for stretches, fishing in hard-to-get-to areas. Tragedies or medical conditions are great levelers.

In making such cultural divisions, we often find we aren't talking about anything very clearly.  Folk music is on one side and country music on the other, except for bluegrass.  And maybe classic country music, like Les Paul, and okay, Willie Nelson, and gee, what about Johnny Cash and Emmylou Harris, and, okay, I have no I idea what I'm talking about...

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Two For 3AM


It's hard not to admire purists, if they are on your side, and sometimes even if they aren't.  They appeal to first principles, they try to imagine long trajectories of human behavior, to choose wisely the precise word today that will bear fruit many tomorrows from now.

Today I read someone who really hoped we could get back to being a republic, and phrases like "principles of limited government" or "derived directly from the Constitution" have been popping up in conservative circles the last few decades.  The liberals have their own purist rhetoric - I'll pick on them some other day.

I can't object to these ideas.  I agree that we need to stick to them as closely as we can, teach them to our children when we rise up and when we lie down and all that.  But there's an important hip-check of reality we need to keep in mind.  It's not ever going to happen, not very much.  At most, we can yank the needle backward or forward a few ticks.  Great forces, not especially under government control, and under control of one group or another only temporarily, are going to move the barge, not Ron Paul or Dennis Kucinich with a paddle, even if they are intent, and pure, and radical.  I mention Kucinich as a reminder to conservatives not to despair.  The other side has the same problem.  I think Obama is a milk-and-water socialist by the standards of Europe's last generation, which is still way too much for me.  But even if he were a flat out Trotskyite and could get a bunch of similar guys elected with him, he's not going to change things much.  He can't, no matter how badly he wants to.  It's 300,000,000 people, with a thousand major industries and a million small ones, interacting in a world economy of 6 billion - a number which is essentially meaningless to all of us.

I'm not just being cynical here.  It is the nature of governance and power.  How did our Founding Fathers create such a remarkable document designing a government according to first principles, far-seeing, wise?  Because for the most part, they weren't governing at the time.  They were given a space for wisdom and abstract principle and justice-in-theory, unrelated to immediate boundary disputes, or need to regulate shipyard repair costs, or tariffs on dried fish.  That will not occur again.  The closest we came to ever again rethinking great principles about how we govern ourselves was the Civil War, then more mildly and gradually in the World Wars and Great Depression.

It's not going to happen.  Now that we know that, now that we accept the point that changes from here on in will be gradual, unless some catastrophic events allow a brief radicalism - - - what do we do with this?  Once we abandon the fantasies of what they really, really should do down in Washington, what do we do?

The Future Of Us All

There has been a fair bit of discussion on Adam Davidson‘s Atlantic article on manufacturing employment, and on David Brook’s related comments. There are a few problems with both: Brooks still reads some things wrongly, and the examples don’t quite fit what Adam wants them to say. *

Nonetheless, let’s say for the moment that they are essentially on point. We will continue to have manufacturing jobs, some of them good ones, but they will continue to decrease in number. Of those that remain, there will be downward pressure on wages. Where will jobs for people – American Dream type jobs – come from?

Megan McArdle’s and Charles Murray’s recent essays bear on this topic as well. (In fact, McArdle touches on a lot of interesting apects of this – teen jobs, where folks will live, what services we can afford, and Murray’s got a new book covering the waterfront on this ) It has become commonplace for sociologists and economists to note that two-parent families have become less necessary over the last few decades. They describe different reasons for this: increased safety net, women in the workplace, less stigma. As it becomes increasingly clear that the success-track has a higher concentration of two parent families, should we start reverting to our old claim that two parents are necessary? What do we do with those folks who didn’t get the memo? If delaying gratification becomes the A-1 necessary virtue for a decent life in America, how do we teach that?

If you are a conservative, what the hell do you do about this?
If you are a liberal, what the hell do you do about this?
Repeat for Christian, libertarian, carpenter, humanist, parent, atheist, school superintendent…welcome to a new age of conflicting roles.

Add these pieces together and project them forward: What if there are only decent full-time jobs for 50% of the people who want to work a generation from now, with the rest having part-time or intermittent employment – or none at all – a generation from now? What if only 50% of the population is qualified to fill the jobs? Remember that there is still a lot of talent in that 50%. They can drive cars, make jokes, play an instrument, read a report, build a shed, care for a child, bake bread, play cards, or grow flowers. They just can’t do so at an exceptional enough level to get paid for it. So far, we have been able to switch over to value-added goods and services over the last 100 years. Specialty foods, decoration, entertainment, enhancement, all manner of spas and self-improvers and craftspersons. How far can that be stretched?

Perhaps it can go on forever. Perhaps a hundred years from now when a permanent cheap energy source fuels the food, clothing, and shelter machines without much attention we can all just entertain each other all day, with the very few at any given moment raking in the dough because their specialty is popular this year, but many having a shot at their day in the sun at some point in their lives. How the human spirit deals with such a social order I don’t know. Science fiction writers sometimes take a stab at imagining that. The Moon Moth, and The Marching Morons provide contrasting visions. Douglas Adams has a go at it as well, but with more humorous results.

Yet why should it go on forever? What if it doesn’t work? Let’s look at some complicating problems.
They can all still vote.

All groups will have special needs kids, or will contract unusual diseases, or get hit by drunk drivers – but the bottom 50% are going to have many more, and they will expect equal treatment. This happens with school districts now. We’ve been arguing about that in NH for two decades.

The meritocracy aspect is going to be uneven, perhaps even highly uneven. Of the 50% who have the good jobs, what if a good chunk of those don’t deserve them, but got them via affirmative action, good old-fashioned nepotism and connection, corruption, or dishonest charm? The capable among the other 50% are going to be significantly resentful.

If the economy does adapt in a value-added direction, Non-Asian Minorities may do just fine. If personal energy, charm, creativity, adaptability, and service all do come to count for more and more relative to g-factor, that’s one less ground for social unrest. There might not be much racial difference in those qualities. But if current trends continue, NAM’s are going to be significantly overrepresented.

*The seeming unfairness of Maddie’s plight is highlighted by her claim, seemingly supported by the data and the opinion of those around her, “I am smaaart.” She graduated with honors, but it is later revealed that she not only doesn’t have calculus, she doesn’t have trigonometry. Those aren’t absolutely necessary for “smart,” but they are usual, and their absence calls for some substitute subject of excellence – a facility with languages, a flair for writing, something. Among the actual smart kids who weren’t especially good at math, they found a way to crawl through Algebra II acceptably even if they were relieved that this was the end of their math careers. Next, she made all sorts of good decisions as a high-schooler, but she did get pregnant early in her senior year by someone who turned out not to be an acceptable husband and father. Now, she feels unable to go to school because of mothering responsibilities, and the article seems to support her idea of the hopelessness of this because she can’t go out in the evening. Well, these days there are online courses, and you can take them one at a time. These types of life decisions are a whole ‘nother kind of smart, but she doesn’t seem to have more than average abilities here, either. She doesn’t seem to be stupid. She seems hardworking, and the description of her is that she is small and cute and charming. Those are excellent qualities, and it would be a shame if we became a country where such folks didn’t have an employable place. But let’s not overdraw unfairness here. There were girls who were a little less pretty, a little less hardworking, a little less socially graceful, who didn’t get pregnant and are now passing her in life, at least for the moment. That’s not a federal problem, a societal problem, to fix. If they all can’t find good jobs, maybe.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Around The Clock - Twelve Thirty

Around The Clock - Walking After Midnight

I noticed that lots of songs center on times of day or night. Let's see if I can go around the clock. I suspect late morning is going to get tough. And some of the songs I have already found suck, so I won't put them in just to fill a space.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Future And Its Enemies, by Virginia Postrel

I thought I had already read this (it came out in ’98), but it must have been merely a thorough review. No idea where, at this point. Her essential point: any system of importance is too dynamic to control – the drive for stasis is futile, and possibly damaging. The words dynamism and stasis occur throughout, as she multiplies examples from a dozen realms to illustrate that organizations and governments that acknowledge dynamic reality survive, while those which seek stasis founder.

She is quite persuasive. I had trouble fighting my way through it, but I think this is because its idea is only partially congenial to me, not because it is poorly-written. (I don’t think it’s brilliantly-written, but it is engaging enough. Fun examples. Perhaps it is a bit repetitive.)

In politics, she faults both liberals and conservatives, each embracing an impossible static vision and attempting to enforce this on others. That is standard libertarian fare, but she chooses examples well: Nixon’s proposed plan to ration gasoline to a rather precise 33 gallons/month for urban dwellers, 37 for urbanites, which we can now see is an insane attempt at two-size fits all that has no relationship to reality; NYC bureaucrats deciding how much security banks should put around ATM’s (as if the banks can’t figure out better what will keep their customers feeling safe and happy). Politicians dislike messiness, and going back to the age of Teddy Roosevelt, believe it is their job to figure out the One Best Way that the nation should live by. I have long said, when politicians want to solve something, they always want to have comprehensive immigration reform, or health care reform, or jobs programs, and that, more than anything else, is what makes them dangerous.
Every new idea seems to spark a campaign to ban or control it: breast implants and mobile phones, aseptic juice boxes and surrogate mothers, Japanese cars, and bovine growth hormone, video games and genetic engineering, quality circles and no-haggle car pricing, telecommuting and MRI’s, data encryption and book superstores – the list goes on forever.

Most political arguments thus take place between competing technocratic schemes. Should there be a mandatory “family viewing” hour on TV, or ratings and a V-chip? Should the tax code favor families with children, or people attending college? Should a national health insurance program enroll everyone in managed care, or should we regulate health maintenance organizations so they act more like fee-for-service doctors? The issue isn’t whether the future should be molded to fit one static ideal. It’s what that static ideal should be. There must be a single blueprint for everyone.
Environmentalists, with visions of village or even primitive economies, draw her especial ire. Well, I’m always on board with people kicking Bill McKibben,* Al Gore, and Jeremy Rifkin. But she notes that technocratic (both GOP and Dem versions) visions are equally worrisome, if applied across the board. But I kept coming up against emotional difficulties, because there are other stasisist visions that appeal to me. I’m a cultural continuity kind of guy, and some cultural values – definitions of marriage, core curriculum, for example, I might want to at least encourage, if not require. Postrel will have none of it. We can have such agreements by contract between individuals but not by fiat. I kept objecting, throughout the book “is no American, or even local community to be protected in the slightest against the vagaries of current fashion? It is no good to say certainly, groups may agree to abide by such principles voluntarily if they wish, but the reality is that a new person can move in if she wants, and the prior agreements cannot be easily enforced. “ See, for example, how much of the debate on same-sex marriage revolves around others being required to recognize it. Special carve-outs for religions are promised, but such things are unstable. OTOH, perhaps Postrel is not pointing out her desired end, but the inevitable one under the American Constitution, or western values of individual freedom generally. My desire for visible enactment of what has gone before – giving the ancestors a vote, as it were – may be illusory. I can force it on my children until age 18, influence others and organizations via persuasion and whatever claim I may have on them, and am otherwise not in control. Nor are any of us, except temporarily or by chance. Having children is the most dynamic intervention one can put upon the world, yet it makes one desire stasis. I suspect my sons are more comfortable with dynamic visions than I am, the youngest three intuitively (such ideas in the abstract have no hold over their minds), the older two because I think we have trained them in both visions, whereas we were only trained in one. The older son, with two young daughters, can expect to have suspicions of dynamism and sympathy for stasis, at least in part. The second son- well, I don’t know what moving to dynamic Houston but being employed by semi-stasisist Methodists in The Woodlands does to one, but I think he has more of a natural comfort with dynamism than the rest of us. (OTOH, Watership Down? Redwall? He defies easy categorization, I think.) More Postrel: I really liked parts of this book.
…if, like Allen and Werbach, you want to stifle agribusiness and shut down Wal-Mart; if, like Schumacher and Sale, you want to make people less footloose and and limit the size of cities; if, like Rifkin you want to ban genetic engineering (or McKibben – enjoy, CF and schizophrenia sufferers! (AVI note)) or, like Buchanan, you want to keep out foreign people and foreign goods; if, like Frank and Bennett, you want to rein in advertising and control popular culture, you can find powerful allies – and a friendly political system. If exhortation and polemics aren’t enough to rally the public to voluntarily adopt your favored form of stasis, government help is available…technocrats know how to stop things.
*recently, and predictably, trying to sell the idea over at Sojourners, that vetoing the Keystone pipeline is a Christian idea, because otherwise we’d be destroying the earth and rewarding corporations, both of which were big items on Jesus’s list of sins, doncha know. I oversimplify, but not by much.  That neither the destruction, reward, nor sin is entirely true is apparently completely irrelevant. It’s how it feels to McKibben. And presumably, one or more people at Sojo.


WBX just carried a report about a study showing that students who drink three or more sugary sodas a week have a higher incidence of violence by several measures. Who the hell approves the money for studies, and who are the supposed scientists who do not understand that co-occurrence is not cause? How does someone even show their face at conferences with this kind of crap? The people who have trouble delaying gratification in life are going to be more violent, drink more sugary sodas, have more ill-considered sex, tailgate the driver in front of them, study less, and have poorer general life outcomes. I'll tell you that for free, and so will anyone who sits and thinks about this for longer than it takes to drink a Tazo China Green Tips.

Saturday, January 21, 2012


If someone fills out his All-Star Ballot with 8 Dominican players year after year, it is fair to conclude that said origins explains all the variance in his selection.  We also need look no further for explanations.  Whatever he says about fielding percentages, clubhouse leadership, or whatever is mere pretense.  He votes for Dominicans.  In seeking to explain a behavior (or any phenomenon, actually) we look for what explains the variance.

Caution #1: sometimes there are threshold criteria which are not immediately visible.  In the example above, the voter is choosing among players who have already made it into the major leagues, a pretty select group.  He's not voting for just any Dominican he might meet on the street.

Caution #2: there are a lot of really good Dominican ballplayers.  It could happen that some year they did have a legitimate contender for best at every position.  That's why I added in the "year after year" part. I suppose if one wants to be technical, we should be alert for such possibilities in all our other explanations of variance as well.  Though that seems tiring.

Excluding such hidden factors and statistical rarities, we are wise to simply disregard anything a person says by way of explanation.  It might trick us into believing he is actually thinking.  Some folks are quite persuasive, and we might come away saying "I don't buy everything that he says, but he made some really good points about the Keystone Pipeline."  He made no good points about the pipeline that you couldn't get in much better form from some more thoughtful source. (Note that I have not expressed an opinion on that.  I did it on purpose, to illustrate the point.  The person made no good points about the pipeline. He may have repeated something worth knowing, but you have no way of telling.)

My wife keeps up with local politics much more than I do, contacting representatives and asking them what they think.  One person who has been elected from here for a million years, when confronted with an issue he clearly hadn't thought much about, answered that he supported whatever the Republican Party was saying.  No, he didn't say it so baldly, but that was the essence.  General Republican sentiment explains much of the variance in his opinions.  He may have some opinions where he goes against that grain, but his default is to generic GOP.  Not a person you should ask why such-and-such is a good policy. He would give a good answer only by accident.

At the other extreme, what about the voter that checked off no Dominicans?  We would have a suspicion of anti-DR prejudice, and go looking for explanations of that. Does he resent them and favor Venezuelans instead? Or whites-only?  (Good luck with that team.) For our purposes here, it doesn't matter.  This is another unreliable person.  Don't ask them why they think something.  You already know why.

But if our All-Star voter checked off five Dominicans, we might think that was a little extreme, that he might be a little bit biased, but he is probably worth listening to.  Five's about right. We might be tempted to automatically think he is a reasonable person.  No, we have to check which Dominicans he voted for and why.  He has not yet earned a place at the table, but only at the door.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


Just heard her interviewed on NPR, thinking "what a self-indulgent young woman, thinking that the ambiguities of her shallow life are important."  Then I thought "Well, enough people listen to the ambiguities of your shallow life, and I guess it is important in some way."

A different song was featured in the interview.  Ultimately the same song, though.

Update:  Now this song is available, but no versions of the one I embedded are.  I imagine they are being pulled because it is being released.  We'll see.

Childhood Obesity

Commentary on TV while I was in the waiting room:  A guy jokingly said he would be in favor of tasing kids as they put a Dorito to their mouths, because he supported anything that reduced childhood obesity.

I get that it's better not to be obese.  Why is this now the most important value to teach in the country, excusing all manner of interference?  Especially as the strongest correlate is fatherlessness, which the government doesn't want to interfere in at all?

My Uncle, and the Religious Left

My sons tell me they no longer read what he writes to me, and only skim what I write back, but my ongoing political debate with my uncle via email continues. He had mentioned that he never heard of the Religious Left except from me, implication that he doubted it was much of a factor. I refrained from mentioning Jeremiah Wright, focusing instead on his recognising the categories of Episcopalian and Unitarian. I later expanded that to include UCC, Reform Jews, and the hierarchies of most "mainstream" religious groups - the colleges, seminaries, and mission boards of the Methodists, Lutherans, and Presbyterians, for example. (The rank and file, not so much.) I gave some issue examples. Uncle Dave's reply:
All seem to be sub-sets of economics If perceived that way they are easier to classify as Left or Right,
My response - not quite so clean and organised as for a post, but good enough, I suppose. I am leaving out much that could be said, but it's already long, and we have time later.
I think that's generally true, which is why they don't perceive themselves as particularly left-wing and are puzzled, if not offended, when the accusation is made.

They have a set of economic assumptions that come off the left, but they think of them as merely "how things are." They see the goods in a society as belonging to the society in some way - the wealth of America is often described in some aggregate form, as if it is a mostly fixed sum that just exists here somehow, and hasn't been distributed fairly. When pressed, they acknowledge that people make money by providing goods or services, and that growth can be real and not merely reshuffling the deck. Then they revert back to the static assumptions the next day, that America "has" all this wealth, and that the rich "have" it and are hoarding it from the rest of us.

It's easy at that point to perceive justice as involving the removing of wealth from hoarders and getting it to equally deserving people who are just unlucky. I would agree that this is 20% of what happens in our economy and we should strive to reduce the percentage. They would see this outline as 80% of the economy, putting all participants under general condemnation and allowing for rather drastic measures to correct it. Hence the focus on "the wealthiest Americans" and trying to gin up support for their ideas by telling us how much power they have and how evil they are. Also a leftist picture of society, to see the few as possessing most of the power, and themselves as the defenders of the masses.

This is a point at which the religious left becomes more distinguishable from the general left. They are milder in tone because they are milder in belief. They are less embedded in the narrative that says the regular folks only have whatever scraps of power they have managed to wrest from the powerful. They believe that somewhat, but not entirely.

I have called this Marxist with only partial accuracy. This framing of the powerful few versus the many just trying to get their due has been used by many political persuasions. It is central to Marxism and important to milder programs of the left, but it has been used by far- right groups as well, and is a form of populism. And note, in some countries it is a pretty accurate picture of society. I think it's insane in terms of ours or any Western society, where power is very diffuse, but it's true in Africa, partly true in the Middle-East. Your Truman example was as good a description as I've read. If I'm the most powerful man in the world why do I have to spend so much time kissing other people's asses? See also, Bush 41 not wanting to eat broccoli but having to recant the statement.

Back to the religious left: They know rich people who are generous, and maybe even intuit the idea that they are more generous. If they have been in congregational ministry at all, they know there are professional mooches who must be contained or they will destroy the group.

Last point: There is also an automatic assumption that if poor people need things, it doesn't much matter how it gets to them. Making the government "be just," inspiring to personal charity, it's not so very different. That's not entirely untrue, but there is an almost complete failure to consider the tradeoffs. People hungry, get them food - I might have preferences how that happens, because of the cultural, psychological, and spiritual tradeoffs, but I don't much mind however it happens, really. Secondly, if there are identifiable injustices in the system that can be fixed, I think it's a good thing for Christians to work on that, so that there is less need to redistribute at all.

The problem comes as you move off the floor level. The farther up the hierarchy of needs one goes in providing for others, the more the tradeoffs become important. Everyone in America who ever worked believes they are entitled to Social Security. It's the law. I can claim it. I can make the government give it to me with a very simple set of proofs and if that goes wrong, I can get a lawyer to make it happen. Yet it's just a charity program, same as standing in line at a soup kitchen. We don't like to think of it that way. I like to think of myself as having earned everything and beholden to none. But I also take that mortgage interest deduction, got my education at the public library (the schools, not so much), and depend on the courts, jails, and the police department to keep me safe every day. I consider that I am pretty much entitled to all those things, and would feel robbed if they were taken away - especially if some people got them and I didn't.

I use those middle-class examples to illustrate why giving government entitlements to the poor is dramatically different than giving them private charity. In some ways the government way is better - it's less humiliating for people, for example. But giving people stuff via statute is just entirely different than giving via acknowledged charity (whether they know the identity of the donor or not.) By statute, it's mine, dammit, it's not really charity, it's what the world owes me. Thoroughgoing socialists, especially of the European varieties, think this entirely proper. It is yours. You're a person, you were born here, you're entitled to the goods of the society.

It doesn't always start that way - people usually have an awareness when it is something new that they are receiving at the hands of others and make a mental bow in that direction. It seldom lasts. Not because people who have needs, temporary or permanent, are of such poor moral character, but because we all have that moral character. What we come to expect, we believe we deserve. Horrible, but true.

Receiving charity gives one a very different picture of what is happening. One's own place in the social contract is much different. You recognise (or at least, people have a better chance of recognising) that you should try to be moderate in your requests; you should give back what you can in whatever currency you still have; if you prosper down the line, you are under special obligation to give to others; you should say thank you and not be difficult. We internalise these social contract obligations to such a degree that it sometimes interferes with people accepting charity freely given. I well understand the arrogance of not wanting to be humiliated by receiving (I suspect the humiliation would be far more in my own head than in the minds of others). It puts you under emotional obligation to others, and those others may not be nice people. They may rub it in in subtle ways. Receiving charity can be expensive.

There's nothing humiliating about taking Social Security though, is there? Unemployment compensation...not such a clear case, but many people seem to feel they "deserve" that as well. I know someone who was quite proud of himself for using unemployment "the right way," by not jumping at the first job offered, but staying on it until he could secure a proper job in his field. I rather shook my head at that.

Well, you can expand that thought out on your own, I imagine - the keeping the public peace, bread-and-circuses aspect of government entitlement versus the social contract (good and bad) of private charity. I'm sure you have examples of folks you knew and know. I will add that I don't think one of the automatic assumptions of our day - that government at least does it more efficiently and gets it done, where private charity failed - is necessarily true. I think it is only partly true, and the question would be whether it is more than half true or less.

Monday, January 16, 2012


Sponge-headed Scienceman reminded me of the Wayback machine on Archive.org. I have seen this used in arguments to show that someone has changed something on their site and not mentioned it. Wow. Now that I think of it, I could make all sorts or predictions that came true, so long as it didn't happen to be on the Wayback list. Did you know that I predicted the Red Sox collapse this year - in late August, just before it happened. Yeah, I saw that coming, but never did get around to betting thousands of dollars and making a fortune on that. As a narcissist, I of course entered my own site and looked at what the Wayback Machine had captured for July 3, 2007. Pretty interesting. As I mentioned recently in another context, I think I wrote better stuff then. You can't always get to the links, and never to the comments this way, but if you are interested, you could go back through the sidebar.

Sunday, January 15, 2012


Part of my solo set, back in the day. I still thought the idea of figuring out the chords yourself was only for exceptional and well-trained musicians, so I kept hounding them down at Ted Hebert's Music Mart to get a Lovin' Spoonful Songbook in.  I don't know when it occurred to me, actually, that one could listen to a song and hear what the chords were, then fool around with it until you got it right.

My wife loved the song and would ask for it, long after I had given up performing. I don't know why I found it embarrassing to sing to her alone.

Better Than The Beatles

This was the band that won the Decca audition over the Beatles, New Year's Day, 1962

Friday, January 13, 2012

Witherspoon Institute

I thought this was going to turn out to be another of those groups that purported to be thoughtful and moderate but in the end offered up more sharing-via-government solutions with earnest looks that being a liberal - though a nice polite one - is really the only way.

But I was pleasantly surprised by "Great Recession: What Will You Tell Your Grandchild?" an essay from the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, NJ, and the other things I found clicking around on the site.  Not sure my agreement is entire, but they have my respect.

Poetic Essence

Canadian Blogger Kathy "Five Feet Of Fury" Shaidle comments over at Taki's about the suicide of former SNL writer Joe Bodolai.  You might click her name to read her other articles as well.

She notes the insanity of his politics, which figured in his suicide note.  A 9/11 Truther, anti-Semitic, FEMA camp type.
Few individuals have the power to raise my blood pressure like “truthers.” If you really believe 9/11 was an inside job, then you’re obliged to either assassinate those responsible or kill yourself in abject despair. And if, like Bodolai, you sincerely think that “Fascism will be America. It already is,” then either you leave the country on the next flight and burn your passport upon arrival, or you’re only a pretentious poseur and a barroom bore.
I have thought that myself, and have read similar others.  My brother believes that the onboard Flight 93 story was made up by the government to gin us up in hatred to go to war.  If you really thought that...

There are similar fevered beliefs on the right, certainly, and they make no more sense.  What are usually called the paranoid beliefs of the right, such as birthers or Obama-is-a-socialist types aren't the same thing.  Believing a politician might lie about his birth may be unfounded in this case, but it doesn't match trutherism.  (Believing Obama is a secret Muslim who wants to install sharia law - okay, that counts.)

An amazing percentage of Americans believe something like one of these.  How can that be? When reasonably intelligent people believe insane things, it pays to ask why.  I had not gotten any farther than recognising that being in the know is quite delicious, and to be more-cynical-than-thou sometimes requires an extreme attitude.  Yet that isn't really enough to get you to ideas that are so wildly improbable that they cannot be seriously credited without large amounts of weed.

I suggest that these beliefs are adopted in a general, almost symbolic way, which is part of why they are impervious to counterevidence.  The details of the conspiracy, or the hidden masters, or the imminent fascism do not especially matter.  Yes, perhaps that particular idea about the Twin Towers may not hold up, but then something else equally bad will turn out to be true. "They" are capable of doing this, but people don't see. 

Considered this way, you may notice that you encounter such beliefs all the time - reasonably sensible people who say "I'm really concerned where this country is headed," who mean something more than that we are spending too much or aren't educating the young.  They sense at some level that a great horror is just over the horizon.  They know this without knowing why. Feeling precedes facts.

The artists and comedians and writers who articulate this for them, no matter how wrong they are- how insanely wrong, in the case of the Oliver Stones or other political filmmakers - are believed because their audience thinks they have seen through to some essence.  The details don't matter - of what import are minor misstatements and slightly misdirected anger when we are talking about visionaries?  If their exact stories aren't true, then something very much like it is true, folks think.  Don't quibble, man.  That dude gets it. We're headed for fascism.  He tells it like it is.

Reflections On Tim Tebow

He's a professional football player.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Ballad of Irving

I owned this 45.  Could I possibly have purchased it?  It seems unlikely, but at 13 (1966) I had odd ideas about what was fashionable - or funny.  I laughed out loud at the Swop column in Yankee magazine every month, and that wasn't even supposed to be funny.

I decided at one point that this was a great example of an early, clumsy use of a laugh track.  Listening again, I'm no longer sure.  Maybe it's real.  Sobering thought.

Note that Bob McFadden appears on the credits, the Bob McFadden who did the parody album "Songs Our Mummy Taught Us" with Rod McKuen, who used the pseudonym "Dor."  Not that it matters much who Rod McKuen was anymore.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Grand Rounds at my hospital

Public speaker and activist, Mason Dunn, has been educating about gender
diversity and sexual orientation since 2005...

An  introduction  to  various identities within the gay, lesbian, bisexual,
trans, intersexed and questioning (LGBTIQ) community. The presentation will
cover terms, definitions, and ways to better serve this community...

etc, etc.

LGBTIQ.  Hard to pronounce.

Good To Know


"In 2009 Rolling Stone Indonesia selected Harry Roesli's song "Malaria", from his first solo album "Philosophy Gang", as the 44th best Indonesian song of all time."

(Wikipedia entry)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Bad Sign

I mentioned years ago that Republicans promised to work for you, and Democrats to fight for you, and I drew conclusions about what this meant.  Not hard to figure out which side of that divide I come down on.

I have heard Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and tonight Mitt Romney promise to fight for you during this primary season.  I get it that the opposition party is in the White House.  I get it that people feel that their country is being taken away and they want to take it back.

I still don't like it.


Ironies abound.  The Bee Gees were an Australian band, who had been nowhere near Massachusetts when they wrote the song. Nor had most of the people in my band in college when we sang the song. But the wonderful feel of the harmonies as they hit on the word "out," was enough for us to go forward. Plus, we got all the Bee Gees fans on our side - this was in their pre-disco days - and the people who actually came from Massachusetts, once I dropped into the intro that I lived there. Playing cheap bars and college pubs in Virginia, you used everything you could get your hands on to keep your audience from moving on. (Really cheap bars, you didn't mention being from anywhere north of Richmond.  Even Fredericksburg was suspect.)  Sha-Na-Na did 50's revival, we did 60's revival before anyone: Walk Away Renee, Can't Find The Time, Ruby Tuesday. That retro thing people started doing about 15 years ago of humming TV theme songs and making the audience guess? We were doing it in 1973. We were truly cutting edge in marginally cool performance tricks.

Nor had they been anywhere near New York when they wrote The New York Mining Disaster of 1941, a much better song. (Embedding disabled, but a great video.) So why did we sing the song that was less good?  Audiences didn't respond to it.  Poignancy and human drama don't matter that much to young drunks on a Friday night, unless its their own personal dramas and poignancies.

Japanese Ad Campaign

There is interesting commentary at Language Log

I added a comment well into the thread. 

Monday, January 09, 2012

Nobel For Literature

CS Lewis nominated JRR Tolkien for the 1961 Nobel Prize for Literature.  The records are unsealed after fifty years.
...the result has not in any way measured up to storytelling of the highest quality,
according to one judge. Others nominated and passed over that year included Graham Greene, Robert Frost, and EM Forster.

It's easy for us to criticise their short-sightedness at this point, for literature's worth sometimes only reveals itself over time.  When I first read Tolkien I knew it was a whacking good story and fired the imagination, but it was only over years that it revealed its deep understanding of human nature in crisis, both individually and collectively, and its examination of the worth of a life and ambivalences of longevity.  So I would understand if they were cautious about giving the prize to a merely well-told tale.

Yet the irony is, it is the storytelling they found lacking.  I have to suspect, as many readers of Tolkien (and Lewis) have come to over the years, that much criticism of the works comes from A) not liking heroic fantasy or B) not liking the implicit morality.

Here's my best shot:  Swedes usually like fantasy literature. It's pretty easy to see why heroic fantasy would carry unendurable heat in 1961, and even flawed, human good guys would be too bright to behold.


Retriever is considering going to Guatemala.  Ben went to Guatemala years ago, and we used to support missionaries there (who are now elsewhere).

As to the missed tourism that the relatives are complaining about, I saw more interesting things in Romania as a short-term missionary than I did as a tourist.  CS Lewis's doctrine of First and Second Things, perhaps.  Some things are never achievable by direct action, but only come as byproducts

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Urbanisation, and a Japanese Curiosity

I come from the hippie era that disdained cities and glorified carrots and goats.  Not that I've raised carrots or goats myself, but I've kept a residual sense of contempt for high-rises, parking meters, and all the noise. 

We did almost go the full rural route early on, and it hovered in the conversation until the mid-80's, but we eventually settled into a largely small-town/suburban lifestyle.  We talk about whether moving back into the city would be reasonable for retirement, but there's a lot not to like about it.  It depends on where and how, I suppose.

Thus it is with some reluctance that I am convinced by the argument that urbanisation in a country is a good thing, and that absent artificial encouragements by government (such as mortgage deductions, agri subsidies, grants and programs that prop up marginal endeavors), the natural flow of youth and talent is to cities, and that's a good thing. Less ecological disruption, efficiencies of scale, etc.

Note that in these discussions, it is often unclear whether edge cities are considered as part of the discussion or not, and that single factor changes nearly everything. Researchers whose conclusions seem planets apart might actually be in essential agreement, and arguments that have escalated to threat level might be about details. 

Also left vague is what sort of countries urbanisation is good for: All of them? Third World? Free Market?

With that in mind, note that Japanese cities continue to prosper despite the birth dearth and the yearly predictions that the whole country is going to collapse.  There are places in the provinces that are collapsing - and the pictures are a touch disquieting - but the Japanese don't seem to mind all that much.

It raises very interesting questions about what a "good" economy is.  GDP is a measure of growth and fluidity, but may not capture the idea of stable wealth in a community, nor the technological improvements we all share but look like 0% growth.

Saturday, January 07, 2012


...there is nothing more inherently corrupting than government attempting to do something that is inherently impossible. Michael Oakeshott.

Political Theater

We went out for dinner in Manchester tonight - unusual for us, especially just the two of us, but Tracy had a coupon (she always wins coupons) - and caught Radio Row at the Radisson, Occupy NH Primary across the street, then drove home via the debate at St. A's in our town.  We've been downtown in the height of primary season in many other years, and I'd forgotten how odd it is to see so many people clearly from around here in the restaurants and talking earnestly on the streets - junior movers-and-shakers who wait on the campaign and media people with Important Haircuts.  Nothing objectionable about this crowd, I just can tell at a glance I don't want to talk with them.  These are people who sell ideas, rather than having ideas, and they know more about sales than thinking.  Not that they see themselves that way, of course.  They largely think they have entered a cultural backwater where people don't know What's What and Who's Who.

Which is true, I suppose, in one sense.

But the energy was a bit subdued downtown.  Most of radio row was empty - most folks heading over to St. A's, I imagine.  Across the street, Occupy was poorly attended - though they did have some drumming!  Wouldn't want NH to miss out on the full experience. But the prominent multi-stickered cars had Mass plates...Mass plates...NYYankees decal...Yeah, you folks really didn't do your research, did you?

I think "Occupy" has become a brand name, because it's generic, unofficial.  Every small group with a liberal bent had attached "Occupy" to their posters.  You couldn't do that with Tea Party two years ago, because major media would swoop on you and try to bait you into saying something stupid which they could play nationally, pretending that you represented everyone else.  So the Tea Party got pretty good at enforcing its boundaries.  With Occupy, only independent media tries that.  Though Fox did try a couple of times, quite successfully, I heard.

An Obama group was out at St. A's with trombones and saxophones, playing some bluesy thing - that deserves a little credit.

Just not as big a deal as previous years.  Our own lack of effort may be part of that.

Political writer Walter Shapiro, quoted by James Fallows at The Atlantic. 
As a political reporter, I am prepared to offer a spirited defense of New Hampshire's outsized role in presidential politics. Nowhere else in the nation do voters display such fidelity to old-fashioned civic obligations.... New Hampshire may be a living monument to participatory democracy, but what in God's name is the justification for making the Iowa caucuses the campaign equivalent of the book of Genesis?
Complain all you want, but without NH, the Jon Huntsman's of the world have no chance at all to even attempt to run for president.  Wealth, and/or coming from a big state, already are dominant factors.  You want to make that worse?  Maybe the first primary should just be a single county.


All you football purists who claim you really like to focus on line play - here's your chance.  Houston-Cincinnati.  The QB play may be uninspiring, too, giving you another reason to watch the interior.

See If You Can Bear Them

Grim over at Grim's Hall links to these essays by liberals at Washington Monthly, What If Obama Loses?  I found them unbearable because of their closed assumptions - utterly unaware that they even are assumptions - but you may do better.  The comments at Grim's take an interesting turn, with Texan99 trying to navigate a line of being gentle but forceful in her persuasion.

Life Expectancy

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Top Ten List

I finally discovered one.  Looking through my stats every month or two, I notice that "Wayfinding And Stonehenge" and "Goethe's Three Questions" are always among my most-viewed posts, even though neither is recent.  I imagine both of them are coming off google hits, as Stonehenge must be a biggie, and the 3 Questions part of Goethe is in that no-man's land between common and obscure that a lot of people have heard of it, and are looking for it, but not many people have written about it.  A guess.

Tonight on a whim I clicked through to see what my most-read posts of all time are.  It's an odd grouping.

1. By far - is Wayfinding And Stonehenge, from six months ago.
2. And way ahead of #3, Things You Shouldn't Tell Young Parents.  I think it got stumbled-upon, or digged, or something, because it was 800 hits in one day, not much otherwise.
3. O'Sullivan's Law Hits Habitat For Humanity, from six years ago.  Both O'Sullivan's Law and HFH likely have good search numbers.
4. Goethe's Three Questions.  Also from 2006. As above.
5. Not Their Tribe. Late 2006.  A mix.  A big burst when it first came out, but a few readers every month since then as well.  This would also go into my "most comments received" top ten as well.
6. Clyde Joy, Willie Mae, and Goodnight Homes.  I am stunned this is on the list.  Enough NH people must be searching for Clyde every month, and I must be on the first page somewhere.  The 1950's nudist camp photo has been deleted, presumably by its originator or owner.
7. Chagall Windows - Zurich. Common search, I suspect.  They are stunning.
8. Merritt Ruhlen's List.  (Of words that echo the original, unified language of mankind, 50,000 or so years ago.) 2006 again.  Perhaps I peaked as a blogger in my first year.
9. Flamingos, Real and Plastic.  Rather a disappointment, as the Don Featherstone's have been deleted. akafred, aka Sponge-headed Scienceman, has a recommendation for a museum in Leominster.  You heard me.  No sniggering there in the last row.
10. California Rocket Fuel.  Likely search-engine related.


A NYTimes food guy on NPR is talking about "Junk Food Pushers," and lobbyists, and bemoaning that no federal agency has the power to take on Big Food, and that's why we have this childhood obesity.

Obesity correlates most strongly with fatherlessness and food stamps.

But those are no fun to solve.  It's much more fun to pretend that it's lack of nutrition education in the schools, or evil corporations.


A theater* professor in Wisconsin is being censored for a "Firefly" quote. I missed this when it was new.  I don't know Firefly, except that even some heavy intellectual types seem to like the show.  Maybe this is the villain, or some other contemptible character. 

Yet it doesn't matter.  It is clearly not being censored for whatever it means in context of the TV series.  It is being considered inappropriate, worthy of being ripped down, because it refers to shooting and violence.  This is because to many non-gun people it all ties together: America's Love Affair With Guns, and all that.  The belief persists, for entirely cultural rather than intellectual reasons, that if we weren't so darn encouraging of all this gun talk that a New Soviet M... excuse me, I meant to write a better type of person would slowly emerge, and we wouldn't have so much violence, because everyone would learn war is not the answer and all that.  Not that all those Bambi-kil... I mean hunters aren't necessarily violent people, no, no, they're the salt-of-the-earth, usually, but they just don't see, not like John Lennon that it just encourages people to think that violence solves their problems...

Lots of 'em really think like that, as the story of an entire university that seems unable to understand simple ideas illustrates.  As if drugrunners were heavily influenced by cowboy movies, or some other bizarre American-culture-is-the-problem idiocy. 

I get it that there are lots of yahoos who own guns, and they leave them around in manners I would consider unsafe.  But the folks they kill through that carelessness are their own,  it is very few, and it's not what drives the violent crime rate.  It's not caring about safety that makes folks want to restrict them, it's caring about whose culture gets to be Big Penis in the USA.

A long rant, I know.  The takeaway: too many people think that discouraging certain Other People from speaking, and trying to drum up social sanction against them, will reduce violence.  It won't.  Violence is driven by entirely different factors.

(HT: Volokh)

*Or "Theatre," as we used to say at W&M.  If you were really good - and we were - you could discern the difference in pronunciation.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Sex Offender Registry

I had cause to be examining NH's sex-offender registry in detail today, looking at photos and someone who may be using an alias.  Not that my actions contribute in the slightest to the patient's treatment or the well-being of the citizens of NH, but because I'm going to look evil if someone slipped through, once someone wondered allowed whether X was an RSO.  She is and is quite open about it.  She had sex with a 13 y/o when she was 27 and bore his child.  She did two years and has been on parole ever since.  She didn't show up on the registry, because the registry is inaccurate, as it often is.  And apparently much more inaccurate in other states.

I have never mentioned it before, but I am deeply opposed to these registries.  I know a few of the people on New Hampshire's, maybe a dozen or so.

I know lots of folks more dangerous, including sexually dangerous, who are not on that list.  And I know for certain that there are folks on the list who are at most marginally more dangerous than the average person-on-the-street.  We put up these registries to express our anger, and how much we CARE ABOUT OUR CHILDREN rather than to increase our safety in any way.

There is no evidence that these measures have increased our community safety even 1%.

There is plenty of evidence that people on the registries have been harassed, lost jobs, and even been murdered. (A bunch in Maine.  The murderer, from Canada, had a list of NH offenders to go ofter next.)

Paragraph 4 and Paragraph 5:  That's not a fair trade.

No one has to tell me that there are perpetrators who reoffend hundreds of times, and bear constant scrutiny.  Yup, and I know three of 'em.  None of 'em is on NH's registry.  There is a subset of offenders, usually male, usually targeting 10-12 y/o boys (the age at which they themselves were molested) - though there are exceptions, who have literally hundreds of victims, and all interventions to date have been only partially effective - who are ongoing flat-out dangerous and should never be unsupervised.  But even the most experienced clinicians have a poor record of identifying who those will be, except after long and sad perpetration.  There is no one in the country who can identify which 20 year-old offenders will continue to reoffend and which won't.  On the whole, sex offenders have the second-lowest rate of recidivism, after murderers.

We pass these laws to beat our chests.  They are therefore worse than doing nothing at all.  Anytime we feed that beast in our own souls, the idea that we have slain seven with one blow when we have only killed flies, we endanger our children more, not less.

There are perpetrators who continue to lie to themselves and excuse their behavior - don't I know it.  But our rage at their lack of remorse is not the issue - public safety is the only issue.  I know penitents who are still dangerous, and impenitents who are not.  I see little correlation, if any.  Opportunity, substance abuse, accountability - those are the only issues.  Humiliation and punishment are irrelevant.

BTW, note on substance abuse:  I would give a convicted sex offender a lifetime subscription to his ten favorite fetish sites before I would give him a beer.


Now that he has become an issue in NH, if only because of his strong finish in Iowa, I will weigh in on Rick Santorum.

He is a Big Government Conservative, rather like Gingrich.  If socially conservative issues are your focus, Santorum is your guy, more than Perry, Gingrich, or Paul.  But for hands-off government, Santorum's statements and actions over the years suggest he likes "requiring all schoolchildren to have basic personal economics lessons in school," national service, pro-family teaching (whatever that is), and other nanny-state interventions.  It's just this time, the nanny is a Baptist instead of a Unitarian.

These types of programs are a drop in the bucket in terms of cost, and children don't tend to learn what we force on them anyway, so you may be comfortable with that.  Heck, a really shrewd liberal might be fine with that, reasoning that these showcase legislations are often more symbolic than effective, and it signals a guy they can do business with, trading support for, I don't know, paying schoolkids to learn Arabic* or Chinese* because we're going to need it, or setting up IRA's for five-year-olds, or funding a Motown museum or whatever. 

If Santorum finds a way to cut entitlements, reduce our medical-insurance promises, or wastefraudandabuse, then I suppose all this nanny-state clutter won't matter much.  And truth be told, a lot of it would still happen under Romney or even Ron Paul.  That Washington barge only turns by degrees.  Yet better to have less of this than more.

*And then complaining that it was mostly kids who already had these as family languages, who weren't any more likely to be doing this for patriotic interest as we thought when we envisioned Nebraskan Lutherans populating the State Department in 2025.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Moral Foundations of OWS

Jonathan Haidt has an article over at Reason about the Moral Foundations of OWS. (Bird Dog originally linked it.) He is an academic, doing this empirically by looking at the signs carried at Zucotti Park and totting up what aspect of moral thinking they appeal to in their attempt to persuade. He and other researchers have developed a six-aspect basis for morality - not as a philosophical foundation, but a simple observation of what people actually do make reference to when they discuss the morality of something.
...six clusters of moral concerns—care/harm, fairness/cheating, liberty/oppression, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation—upon which, we argue, all political cultures and movements base their moral appeals.

The foundations are like the taste receptors on the tongue: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and savory. Each culinary culture creates its own unique cuisine using some combination of these tastes, including elements that lack immediate appeal on their own, such as bitterness. Similarly, each political movement bases its claims on a particular configuration of moral foundations. It would be awfully hard to rally people to your cause without making any reference to care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority, or sanctity.
I love his stuff. It is very refreshing to read a liberal who more than partly gets it about what conservatives and libertarians actually think. I think his basic formulation of the components of morality is good, also. His further hypothesis is that liberals and conservatives use these differently - that liberals only use the first three of the six, while conservatives use all of them in discerning morality. I don't entirely disagree. Yet grant for a moment that it is entirely true, there is still a problem. If conservatives have a six-part morality and liberals a three-part, do Haidt and the other researchers immediately conclude "Whoe, there are some complex, nuanced aspects of morality we might have missed here! We'd better look into this!" No, they note that liberals simply find the other three extraneous.

Ah. I see. Rather neatly done, that.

But that is my smaller objection. More important, a little examination shows that liberals do indeed use those other three taste buds of morality. I acknowledge that they use authority/subversion far less generally. But it is very prominent in their climate debates, for example. Similarly, I think loyalty/betrayal shows up in other places in liberal culture, but the researchers don't notice them, and in particular lump them into fair/unfair discussions when they should more properly be broken out. Still, I grant that this measurement is more of a conservative than liberal yardstick.

But the sanctity/degradation, or sacred/disgust measurement he has entirely wrong, perhaps even backward. Liberals use these all the time. Vegetarianism is often driven by disgust at eating cute things. Health concerns, even quite rational ones, usually come later. The implied sacredness of the body - both the human and the animal - is not incidental. Initial environmentalist appeals are likewise much taken with the idea of "sacred" wilderness and preservation for reasons that are aesthetic rather than measurable. The possible negative consequences are often speculative and placed very far out in time or along risk-assessments. It is the idea of degrading the world that goes against the grain for people.

Plus, Haidt's initial data was drawn from tests which specified sanctity/degradation distinctions along lines that conservatives would respond to but not liberals. It was flags used for degraded purposes, not pictures of MLK, that were on the test. You could easily construct the questions to reflect liberal sensibilities.

I will say little at this point about comparisons between liberal and conservative use of the first three aspects of morality, except to note that Haidt makes the claim
My colleagues and I find that liberals score higher than conservatives and libertarians on all measures of compassion and empathy.
That would be all measures other than actual charity, then, as conservatives, on the strength of having more religious people, give more money, time, and blood than liberals. Haidt means paper-and-pencil measures.