Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Not Davy

The most talented of the bunch 

Sports Fan

Since that pass fell to earth in the end zone, I have followed no sports at all, except by accident when other people mentioned it.  So that means Jeremy Lin, but more the phenomenon and cultural stuff than the player. (Like Ben & Jerry's giving out fortune cookies with their new flavor in honor of him.  And they thought George Bush was tone deaf? Sheesh.)

I'm not expe4riencing any withdrawal symptoms that I detect.

The parenting discussion will likely include something about creating a family culture, by which I mean the full complement of values and structures, not merely "Oh we're a family that likes to travel" or some such.  I have notes and anecdotes but it's not falling into place very well.  Likely because it is a large topic and I have been thinking about it for years, but not in any organised form.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


There is supposed to be a spot under Settings / Comments to turn off word verification/ CAPTCHA.  There isn't.  Anyone know how?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Parenting Experts

Our first foster child was an eight-year-old who came to us via a church bulletin ad when we had been married only a few months.  That was insane on our part, but what's the alternative?  Well-meaning people who don't have some Grand Theory they want to inflict upon children (to prove that they are right about the world) can do a lot of good, even when they don't know what they are doing. 90% of life is showing up, and though I felt completely inadequate to be Someone's Father at 24, you just go out an play catch, and remind children that napkins go in lapkins, and a lot of other stuff that just comes automatically.  You're going to get those parts right.  Yes, there is the cold fear that you might encourage one to run at just the wrong moment and they get killed by a tractor-trailer, or you are going to force one too many years of trumpet lessons and alienate your kid forever, but that never goes away, and you've got other parenting work to do in the meantime, so you do it.

We didn't get the psychological report from DCYF until he had been with us a few months, and were rather surprised that it recommended he have no contact with animals, seeing that feeding and walking the dogs were his chore, which he loved and did well.  We were also warned he was sociopathic - couldn't believe a word he said - and "preschizophrenic." Also odd, as we were trying to teach him not to be quite so candid and open with everyone, and he was not an especially skillful liar.  He did try, but would sometimes confess before he had finished lying.  And I still have no idea what "preschizophrenic" means.  We had him for six months until he was adopted.  We never heard any more - I think that was discouraged.  I have hoped many times that he is well.

The second foster child was supposed to be the wonderful other side of foster parenting, a blithe, charming girl whose mother dropped her off at the DCYF office unexpectedly one Friday.  That one actually did lie - quite a bit, actually. Cagey.  I do think that if we hadn't been told by the experts what a love she was - if we had the realistic expectation that this was a troubled child from a crazy situation - we would have done better by her.  We saw her a few times in later years.  She seems to have muddled through.

The testing on the two Romanian boys badly underestimated their IQ scores.  We have never told them those numbers.  We also kept them away from the types of special help that were offered through the public schools - ESL and nothing else.  We were more worried about emotional issues and thought we could do the language teaching on our own.  Nay, nay.  The school district didn't offer anything more than ESL until there was a proven need.  So Christian school was the better choice, where they got lots of emotional support from both teachers and students, and we force-fed English.  That worked fine, BTW.

The experts at Kyle's old school never got back to us about what was up with him.  Though he is Tracy's nephew, we barely knew him, and only had the reports of other relatives to go on.  Reports that turned out to be wrong, BTW.  There was a second foster daughter who I might reference at some point, and most of our parenting has of course been with the two boys we have had straight through from birth.  They'll come into the stories a lot.

So that's lesson one: beware experts.  They have their place and deserve to be listened to.  But you may know better - especially if you are humble enough to know you don't know enough.

Lesson two is related: surround yourself with friends who care deeply about parenting, and compare notes.  You don't have to agree.  Our Bible study, which eventually turned into a Christian parenting support group with guilty spasmodic efforts to study Christian topics, probably did eventually agree on much of parenting.  But it didn't always look like it at the time along the way, and our kids turned out quite different from each other - proof of CS Lewis's theory that evil, not goodness, was eventually boring sameness, while goodness was always creative and varied, contrary to popular belief.

Title Rescinded: Word of God

Bill James described the outrage baseball stats fans would express when historical statistics were recomputed.  For example, a tight examination of the data credits Ty Cobb with fewer hits than was once thought.  How could you take hits away from Ty Cobb! Yet they weren't "taken away."  He hit what he hit and we try to count as accurately as possible.  If he didn't get those hits they shouldn't be in his totals.  Yet folks didn't see it that way.  They saw the Number of Hits as some previously-established truth that they knew, and these modern statisticians were trying to discredit Cobb, and maybe all of the great players of early baseball, by taking them away.

We see the same thinking in election recounts, that candidate A has had votes taken away (stolen!) while candidate B has been given more votes. Admittedly, in politics chicanery is possible, so votes might be given or stolen, but they aren't necessarily so just because the totals change.

The world map we learned in school is always secretly the Real Map, with countries created and lost after seen as somewhat artificial.  I suspect this drives our overall feeling that Arabs own everything east of Athens, and messing with that goes against nature.  Israel is barely noticeable in that regard, so why are they intruding there?  Except to the people who looked at the Bible maps while they were supposed to be listening to the sermon who see Israel as a real place, always has been, and don't find it being there all that strange.  Yes, there are also Persians and slight rejiggering of boundaries over the years, but essentially, kids who paid attention but not obsessive attention in school just look at that whole section and think "Arabs."  Africa makes no sense to us at all these days.  What the hell have they done with Rhodesia, anyway? Belarus, Uzbekistan - those are part of the USSR.  These current governments are rather experimental.  Which is why we don't get too shook when Russia tries to take them back.

CS Lewis noted that when Protestants tried to describe what they felt was the proper attitude toward Mary that Catholics would react resentfully, not trusting that the discussion was honest.  Instead, they would hear that Prots were trying to insult Mary in some way, take  from her an honor that she already had and deserved.  One was seen as not merely a critic, but something of a cad, taking something from a good woman in that way.

The Scripture reserves the title Word of God for Jesus. It does not describe itself with that phrase.  Yet pointing this out, evangelicals respond as if you are speaking ill of the Bible, diminishing it in some way, even dishonoring it.  They sometimes feel obliged to defend the use of Word = Bible as something of a loyalty.  With the scriptures under attack and disregarded so much in modern times, why would you want to encourage that?  Well, because I am concerned first with what the scriptures themselves say, not what men have decided to say about them in the last 200 or 500 years.  But that doesn't get heard.  What gets heard is that you are saying something bad about the Bible.

It came up in adult Sunday School yesterday.  The leader is an intelligent, informed man who desires to be an honest broker.  Not a close-minded or radical fundamentalist believer he.  But in contemplating the lack of explicit connection between Jesus = Word and Bible = Word, he concluded that the relationship was so intimate and profound that it didn't even need saying.  There was some agreement with him on this.  Certainly, the term "word," and its plain meaning in European languages leads us to think that way.  But that's not a language universal; and we have long experience with individual terms have both a common and a technical meaning anyway, so it shouldn't be such an obstacle.

I find that boggling. The Bible says very nice things about itself where it self-references at all, and encourages people to read, study, contemplate, understand, and practice what they find within.  It just doesn't name itself Word of God (not even in II Timothy).  That seems a stretch originating in the idea of the language of the Bible as Magic Words, an idea that parallels the invention of the printing press and the idea of spellcasting as a form of alchemy and science.  It is not accidental, then, that the group of Christians most convinced about lurking Satanism and the power of the occult are those who call the Bible "Word of God."

I don't think you can accuse Luther of not taking the Bible seriously.  Yet he said the scriptures are the manger which carry the Word of God, not The Word itself.  He was pretty emphatic about it.

I suspect if I had grown up with that formulation I might be more attached to it, and more suspicious of anyone like me who came in and tried to steal that title away from the scriptures.

Rolo Cupcake

Tracy and daughter-in-law and granddaughters went to a cupcake place this morning.  Emily had trouble with the concept of having cupcakes in the morning, before lunch, and elected to save hers until afternoon.  First child.  Cupcakes have become a female bonding thing.  I read a blogger - clearly male - two years ago, who suggested that if he had a site devoted to pictures of kittens licking cupcakes he could get half of all the traffic on the web.

The two adults had Rolo cupcakes.  I didn't know Rolos still existed.  I went looking for a particular animated commercial from the 60's of a little man walking quickly along saying "gotta getta rolo, gotta getta rolo," but all I could find was this.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Award: Terri

I was looking at the category of my posts that had received the most comments, toying with the idea of a top-ten all-time most-responded-to posts.  I am halfway through the 3400 or so.  I doubt I will follow through with that, as many of those involve copithorne, or some similar pointless argument where there is not a real discussion, only a failure to understand by one or more parties.  Maybe I will bend the category and choose best discussions according to some vague criteria which includes number of responses but is not limited to that.

Along the way, I read a number of older posts and discussions.

Terri is my all-time best commenter.  Gringo and karrde are in the mix, but well behind in quantity.  Not that quantity is terri's only virtue, but that one jumps out at me upon review. I quote my son Jonathan from 2009 "Well, AVI, that's what we have terri for- to make your points, only more winsomely and succinctly :)"

So, thanks.  I'm looking around the room to see if there is something that can be made into an award of some sort.  Foot creme, reflective vest, used books... not a promising array.


The Way of All Flesh was brought to mind because it was mentioned in a play I am reading in.  (It will be reader's theater, local playwright - I am the mild early dementia 65 y/o dad who was a rake in youth and blurts out somewhat sexually inappropriate comments now.  He is also a bit aphasic.  Rather a natural for me, and I have the playwright's permission to make the comic bits broad and the pathos fairly obvious. Set in 1992.

To suggest his character, a visitor is browsing his bookcase and lists titles he sees - a common theatrical device - reminiscing how important it was that such liberating works were available to him when he visited as a teenager:  Coming of Age in Samoa, The Kinsey Report, The Way of All Flesh... I had chuckled at first, thinking that my friend the playwright (my age) was trying to communicate the hollowness and vaguely fraudulent nature of my affable character.  On reflection I doubt that interpretation.  Those three books may be the All-Star list of influential works that turned out to be somewhat fraudulent, yet I think most boomer intellectuals still think of them as true, and culturally important. 

The controversy over the Margaret Mead book. Notice how Wikipedia skirts the issue of whether her story is true in favor of "larger" truth issues, plus calling her critic's motives into question.  Not her motives, though.

Ditto Kinsey. Where do we think data about how quickly prepubescent children are brought to orgasm might come from?

Looking for someone besides myself who had problems with Butler, Theodore Dalrymple (Anthony Daniels), who I greatly admire, has a review that says much of what I did, only more and much better.

Disclaimer:  I am not saying that Mead, Kinsey, and Butler have no truth in them or nothing of importance to say.  Other cultures do have different sexual development patterns and mores than ours; American sexual practice is/was more varied than was politely admitted at the time; many respectable Victorian clergymen might well have been bastards to their family and the whole enterprise deserving to be taken down a few pegs. But there seems to be a great deal of telling people what they want to hear, then congratulating yourself for your courage in saying it.

Which brings up a further cultural point.  Did these writers lead the culture, or did the culture call forth their message?  If Kinsey had not told people that more Americans were doing things only mentioned in hushed tones, would some other work - fictional, scientific, political - have been drawn to the fore to take its place?  If not Mead, would we have found another to indirectly tell ourselves that American sexual values for young people were entirely optional?  I suspect so, as people drew many conclusions from Mead that she did not put forward, as an earlier generation had found things in Freud he was very careful not to have said.

Hmm.  So by my own reasoning, I am being too harsh on them.

Moon Mnemonic: Waxing-Waning

D = Doubling

C = Collapsing

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Literary Traditions And Daddy Issues

Our own issues jump out at us in literature.  They seem so painfully obvious to us that we wonder at others, who do not seem to see them, who see other things instead.  I noticed early that Charles Dickens refused to blame his father, choosing instead to blame systems, and courts, and businessmen.  I thought it admirable when I was young.  It carried a note of support Dad in his battle against the world, the noble son, bloodied but unbowed, doing his filial duty.  I did think he was hard on adult women in general in his books, and thought that a disloyalty to his mother.  It was the girls and young sweethearts who got the good press in Dickens.

Somewhere in my own adulthood it came home to me that refusing to blame his father necessitated his blaming someone else, and I grew more queasy about Dickens after that, even in A Christmas Carol. I have also felt a bit guilty over the years at enjoying a Christmas book so bereft of Jesus, but its lifting up of generosity, a thoroughly Christian virtue, seems to overcome that.  Or perhaps I just like all the trappings of Anglospheric Christmas so much that I can overlook the weaknesses.

It still amazes me that no one seems to notice this in Dickens, or at least, writes about it.  We get caught up in his views of social conditions, or women in general, or crime, and miss an obvious thread that runs through all of it.  Well, people who are interested in social conditions will see that, and those concerned with the place of women in society will see that, and so on.  Yet we do see Daddy Issues in other writers, so I suspect there is some willful avoidance here.  We want to see an indictment of that society for our own reasons today, so we deftly sidestep anything which might muddy this.

But after almost two centuries, shouldn’t it have shown up somewhere?  If Dickens knew his father deserved blame but refrained from mentioning it, that would be significant.  Or, if it never occurred to him that his father deserved at least some blame that would be significant.  That he has powerful ambivalence about many other family relations, about wealth, about respectability – these have all been amply noted.  I conclude that no one wants to blame Dad, because they also want to blame systems, and courts, and businessmen.  A somewhat willful blindness, I think.

At the other end of the spectrum is Samuel Butler, who spent all day blaming Dad.  In The Way of All Flesh he goes at Dad directly, but piles on by kicking him indirectly as well, kicking clergy in general, dads in general, and respected people in general. 
The book must have been in some friend’s or relative’s home when I was young, because I can picture an old edition of the book, but am sure I never read any of it until my 20’s.  It looked old and uninteresting, though the word “flesh” did indeed suggest scandal.  I had read in a 60’s magazine article that Butler had not wanted it published until after his death, because it was critical of his family and too shocking.  I intuitively knew, even as a teenager, that this wasn’t true.  If that were the case, you would have it published after their deaths, not yours.  Without a word read, I knew that it was his reluctance to face them if it came to light.  I didn’t know whether that was justified because they were vindictive, or cowardly because he was sneaky – I don’t think that distinction was even present in my mind.  But I knew the stated reason was not the real one.  Perhaps I had had fantasies of writing terrible things myself and had dimly imagined the consequences.

I still haven’t read it, but I started it and then skimmed it at one point, and the story was pretty obvious:  Butler was a prick who thought any difficulties were other people’s fault.  The evil of characters was so overdrawn as to be near-comic.  I actually wondered at one point if it were all some wild send-up of the adolescent family exposé genre, whose humor everyone had heretofore missed – then remembered that he had reportedly started the trend, so could hardly be satirizing it before it existed.  I figured that everyone else could see that as well, and concluded that the mild sexual themes were titillating enough that people overlooked it.  I did know there was a continuing market for accusatory novels by young men indicting all of their society, beginning with Mom and Dad, with prissy sisters and bootlicking brothers thrown in just for variety, but I hadn’t read them much.  They irritated me.

I doubt that the thought was ever conscious, but I now think part of my response was Yeah, you should try going through it with no father at all.  Then maybe you wouldn’t be so quick to criticise.  Do young men write such novels now, or were they solely a product of an era when fathers generally were present and their virtues taken for granted, setting their failings in high relief?  I suppose the tendencies of film and TV might bear on the cultural understanding of this as well.

I looked up the Wikipedia entries on the book and on Butler, and read other commentary about The Way of All Flesh.  Every person writing about him takes at face value Butler’s story about why he didn’t publish it when written in 1885, but two decades later.  They also take as given that Butler’s father was indeed a horror and a hypocrite, a failure who resented his own father.  So they can have the whole concept of “Daddy Issues” occur to them, but only about Thomas, not about Samuel.  No one seems to have asked the least question whether Butler might be wrong, might be in any way unfair. Hell, it occurred to me immediately, before I had even opened the book.  I again conclude, as with Dickens, that the literary world wanted certain things to be true, and refused to question whether those were, in fact, actually clothes that the Emperor had on.

Update: Terrence McNally's play "Bringing It All Back Home" (1969) has Daddy Issues as part of its larger family issues, culture issues.  Is it quite the same thing when gayness is the foundation for the cartoonish evil, or is it the same thing?

Guest Post (For Daddy)


small letters look like this

Which do you want, capital letters or small letters?

Capital letters.





Don't Criticise Your Parents Until Your Children Are Grown

I always said the key to parenting was to have wonderful children who make you look good.  Then remind them that their function is to be wonderful children and make you look good.

That was truer than I knew.  In the time we were having children, nurture was perhaps at its highest ascendancy over nature in the common belief.  I believed far more in nature than most people, but that wasn’t very much.  I believed there were a few traits, even important traits, which were genetic but people were reluctant to admit it – and I knew enough to be careful where I said that out loud. I was already suspicious that boy-behavior and girl-behavior might be more hardwired than Montessori directresses acknowledged.  Yet I believed that around the genetic core there was still a great deal of molding and shaping that could, and should be done.  It was not only my education, but my new evangelical friends that reinforced this.  Though the authors of my psychology textbooks and James Dobson might disagree as to what the final product should look like, both agreed that the child’s environment and parenting were the overwhelming influence in how they turned out.

There are more stepfamilies, er, blended families now, and that may have in itself undermined the belief that environment is all.  I was in one of those, a dog in a cat family, as they say, so you would think I might have noticed more.  But when you are the son of a man whose wife divorced him because he molested little girls, you likely have a more extreme interest in denying that the nature side of the equation is powerful.  So it was a very gradual process for me, learning how much of a child’s development is only partly influenced by what his parents intend.

There was first the observation of my two very similar sons, who nonetheless showed divergences in personality right from the start, and the similar experiences reported by our Bible study group.  Professionally, the heritability of some psychiatric disorders was being established, and the powerful presumption that pathological parents, especially mothers, were the primary drivers was ebbing.  Sociobiology, now better-named evolutionary psychology, came into the public discussion just after I left college and became hot in the early 80’s.  Reading in that field pushed me to the “nature” side as well.  Perhaps most powerfully, learning how hard it was to change my own behavior called into question the ease with which others’ behavior might be changed.

I still believe nurture is a powerful and necessary influence.  Why else would we adopt children if we didn’t believe that?  But I now think that much of the power is in rescue – in preventing catastrophic things from happening and providing some good things for the child’s personality to feed on and grow.  I believe you can make placid children nervous with abuse, or intelligent children dull through understimulation, but in both cases I think the pathology has to be sizeable to make those things happen.  In the reverse, making a nervous child placid or a dull child intelligent, I think the environment can only move the dial a bit.  

I think that is true for schools and Bold New Initiatives as well.  Schools that are physically dangerous, or where teachers undermine character and learning, can damage children.  But exceptionally good schools don’t improve kids that much.  I think we should hope to rescue a few from the flames, and inspire a few to learn on their own.  For the rest, they are being given what is proper for their development, and someone has to do it.  You might think this downplays the importance of teachers – or even parents, but I think the opposite.  What they do is a necessary part of a child’s development, like meals, or clothing, or affection.  Or oxygen. It is valuable in and of itself, even if done only adequately.  The absence of parents or teachers is so huge that you don’t have to be Queen of the May to be valuable.  If 90% of life is showing up, huge credit to those who do that.  I believe that last 10% is also important.  (It may be that one has to believe that the last few percent are really 90% to put in the amount of effort needed to excel. In which case I am screwing up the system by reassuring parents and teachers and taking the edge off their fanaticism. But tiger moms are working on their own descendants – their own intelligent, healthy, talented, driven descendants.  It matters.)

A regular reader has asked me to comment more about family and society, and I think I will.  Yet it is ironic perhaps that now I am much less certain, much less prone to pronouncements, than I was, oh, a decade ago.


Half of the harm that is done in the world is due to people who want to feel important.  They don't mean to do harm - but the harm does not interest them.  Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves. "The Cocktail Party" TS Eliot (1949)

It is hard not to think of political figures when I read that.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Turing Test

Or whatever-it's-called, the double entry we now have on Blogger to prove we aren't robots when we comment.  I think the letters are often ambiguous, and are in any event irritating.  I will poke around and see if I can eliminate word verification altogether, but I'll bet not.

I note that I have actually been getting more spam the past few weeks, rather than less.


People don’t go to cemeteries much anymore.  We have moved away from the home town, or are able to do our genealogy online or from reference books.  In modern times, the remains of relatives are scattered about, buried in different places as different parts of the cemetery filled up and others were opened.  In smaller, more contained populations, burials would cluster more.

Tracy did a college anthropology project on an old cemetery in Scituate, and kept getting caught up in the stories the stones told – not part of the project, but a natural response for a reader of fiction.  She outlived her husband by forty years and her only child by twenty-seven.  I wonder what that was like.  You can read a churchyard and watch an epidemic go through.  His oldest daughter died February 3, his wife two days later, two other children the day after that. The other children died years later.  Family of seven, reduced to widower and two small children in less than a week.  She told me about that one in particular, and showed it to me when we visited it in later years. There were several other deaths about the same time recorded on nearby stones. Epidemic.  Fact of life.

Genetically, they were the same as we are.  Their natural immune systems built up protections against a host of diseases.  Because they were hardy folk, we pretend that they had these hardy, USMC-style immune systems as well, much tougher than our pansy modern versions.  If we just lived the type of strenuous life that they did, and ate natural foods, why, our bodies would just naturally toughen up and fight off diseases…

Except they wouldn’t, and lots of us would die.  They had medicine then.  Natural treatments, organic lifestyles, plenty of fresh air and exercise. No vaccines, though.

It was a different world then.  More accurately, it is a different world now – that 17th C world was more like the history of mankind than our present world is.  It is we who live a life that would not be recognisable to any of our ancestors.

I have written about vaccines before, here and here, speculating on what causes the anti-vaccine sentiment. (I wondered if evangelicals were especially prone to this.) Y'all made some pretty wise comments then, if you want to go back and see how smart you were.

Concerning the idea of spreading them out as a sort of compromise solution, to reduce the risk - don't bother.  There's nothing remotely like an overload under the current scheduling.  These vaccines are small potatoes to your immune system.  Diseases, now, those are a problem.

The immune system does in fact quite naturally fight off potentially bad bacteria every day, many more than the number of diseases we vaccinate against.  Once exposed to a bacterium or virus, your body figures out over the next few days or weeks how to knock out that particular organism. Then it puts the formula for that personalised, natural medicine on file for rapid reproduction in case that particular critter shows up again.  But a particular few diseases can make you very sick very quickly, before your body has a chance to mount an adequate defense. Plus, they are so contagious that a lot of children can be infected before anyone has time to respond and keep the sick away from the well.  

In terms of exposure, your kid could get dozens more vaccinations a day and it would still be barely noticeable to your immune system.  (How you would trick your kid into getting into the car after about the third day of this would be a whole ‘nother problem.) To our eyes and ears looking at the whole system, it seems like a lot – there’s the trip in the car, the unnatural look of the needle, the crying kid, this weird idea of intentionally exposing a child to a disease – and above all, the memory from our own childhood of what it was like to go to the doctor’s and get A SHOT! OMG, THAT MAN WANTS TO STAB ME WITH THAT HUGE NEEDLE AND MY PARENTS ARE SMILING AND AREN’T EVEN PROTECTING ME! So there’s that.  But to your immune system, it’s not even noticeable.  It’s just one more thing that showed up in a tiny amount that needs a natural medicine made for possible use later.  The system does this all day, just one more donut to make, one more haircut to do.

Your immune system won’t even think these diseases are particularly bad ones that are hard to fight off.  It’s just that when they show up as a disease in your kid, they arrive in big numbers, multiply fast, and can be passed on to his sister before he shows symptoms.  So we give the immune system a head start on a limited number of diseases that can kill your kid. Nor are the dangers from the shot itself that big a deal, even one right after another.  It’s just that they are OMG SHOTS!  Petting the cat or the ride in the car are about as dangerous.

I suspect that the idea that vaccines are dangerous persists for two reasons, one positive and one negative.  We don’t see epidemics anymore, don’t experience the sudden onset and spread and death, so we don’t see that mass illness is as “natural” as health.  We think a predictable healthy childhood with just a few bumps and bruises is what is normal, and how life has always been. This rosy picture of the past infects our ideas of education, product safety, human relations, nutrition, and disease. Specific to health, we have this odd idea that Nature has worked all of this out before, that our interfering with Nature creates as many problems as it solves. 

So the risk of vaccines seems overlarge, because we have this ridiculous underestimation of how dangerous the diseases are.  Rather like the joke "I plan to live forever.  So far, so good." Our impressions of what is dangerous are different from the reality.

Relatedly, we think it would be a better, more sensible world, so it must be the one that God created – or, if you prefer, that Nature designed over time.  Isn’t the whole idea of a vaccine creepy?  I mean, how can that be right?  How can that be what God wants us to do? Wouldn’t it be better if we only used natural treatments?  Well yeah, I suppose it would be cool if reality were more like that.

It isn’t.  Kind of a shame, though.

Added:  Good links about childhood vaccines.
Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia
Science-Based Medicine

Business Manners

Over at Volokh, a discussion of Effective Self-Promotion in Cover Letters. Business Manners aren't Social Manners. I don't think I ever really accepted that. Self-promotion But looking at it put that way, and understanding the idea of manners and context, I see that I have had it wrong all these years.

It explains poor job-hunting skills pretty quickly, doesn't it?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Beer and Diapers

Sponge-headed Scienceman sent this link about beers, because we had been talking about this at Bible study.  (Don't you wish you went to our Bible Study?  Yes, you do.  We have the most fabulously interesting Bible study in the world. We have been to heaven.  We have decided to stop seeing each other and then restarted.  Our children have a 2.0 version. We have almost never gone to the same churches. We have never unanimously agreed on anything, not even our own names and today's date.  You wish you were us.) The link at the bottom, about data-mining your shopping, was confirmation of exactly the stuff that worries me.  Target knows when you are pregnant, before you have told anyone.  But they pretend they don't because it freaks you out.  Yet they pretend so well you use their coupons anyway.

Climate, Climategate, and the Heartland Institute

I think it is likely that human actions are having some destabilising effect on the environment.  That is more likely to be a bad thing than a good thing.  From the little I know of the science, I have to wonder why methane isn't the big focus.  That it isn't is actually one of my grounds for suspicion that this is post hoc reasoning to kick Big Oil and Free Market, and elevate nice Arts & Humanities people to positions of moral importance.

I also know that none of us have much ability to prove scientific theories from scratch.  Even for accepted theories, such as a heliocentric solar system, plate tectonics, or germ theory, we are entirely dependent on the work of others for what we believe.  Even knowing it to be true, I am hard-pressed to think how I would to prove any of these to some skeptical society.  What we believe, like it or not, is almost entirely dependent on who we believe.

I believe most climate scientists, however defined, are decent Joes and Janes, wanting to get the right answers to questions, doing a bit of good for the world on the way. I also believe that they work in a social context with a history and implied acceptabilities, and this influences them. I also know that threats to one’s professional acceptance (or worse, even one’s livelihood) are perceived at great distance – sometimes even exaggerated.

Regarding that last, I have enough examples of my own being influenced by social context for at least some of what I believe – at work, at church, and about a hundred issues – that I don’t find it automatically reprehensible that other folks are influenced.  It is a failure of objectivity. The more one is influenced, the greater the sin, I suppose.  I give credit that people for whom objectivity is part of their job description are probably more ethical about this than I am.  My profession has different absolutes.

Heck, they’re likely better people than I am anyway.  Just not perfect. They are influenced. And – from my own experience where I am an expert – the failure to acknowldege even a 1% chance of being badly wrong, is itself evidence of bias that runs deep.

I have heard that “we’re the experts” tone of voice before, and react badly to it.  So I perhaps remember more the times when the bastards did not prove out – possible causes and treatment of schizophrenia, autism, depression, OCD, Borderline Personality Disorder – than when they did.  Once I go looking, I can also remember folks in other fields, with proper credentials, dead wrong but still condescending. Pastors whose seminary training is now revealed as rather obviously a product of its era, with a dozen approaches now lying in the ditch; literature professors sneering at understandings now considered mainstream.

Experts are more often right.  In particular, there are certain types of errors they are not prone to.  I trust climate scientists to get it mostly right.  Except that they* act like the people I have known who were dead wrong but still quite sure, and that seems to be getting worse instead of better.  At this point, I have to say my default position is that  they exaggerate.

* I admit - the ones who are quoted and in the news.  I do also try and follow some respectable climate sites, but people go all advocate on me very quickly, and I just turn it off.