Saturday, June 30, 2012

Nervous Dog

We have had eccentric dogs, which it part of why I like the James Thurber story about them. The current one, acquired from my father-in-law when he went into assisted living, is a nervous sort, barks at everything. At thirteen, that's unlikely to change. No, I mean everything. Not just other dogs going by, not just the smoke detector going off for toast, not just thunder, or fireworks. This dog freaks when I turn on the sprinkler.


I got an email from someone named Prunella Scholl, telling me that I just got winked at a site called True Dâtíng.

This seems unlikely. 

Friday, June 29, 2012

Randy Matthews

Same era.

I just think this is superior to the smoothed-out CCM

Thursday, June 28, 2012


I increasingly find that things which take more effort are better - but not better enough to justify the effort.

Chesterton on Mental Illness

I'm sure I have quote this before, but I still like it. The reference to Joanna Southcote is an early 19th-C self-proclaimed prophetess. An interesting story in itself. She was flipping nuts.

The Maniac

Thoroughly worldly people never understand even the world; they rely altogether on a few cynical maxims which are not true. Once I remember walking with a prosperous publisher, who made a remark which I had often heard before; it is, indeed, almost a motto of the modern world.  Yet I had heard it once too often, and I saw suddenly that there was nothing in it.  The publisher said of somebody, “That man will get on; he believes in himself.” And I remember that as I lifted my head to listen, my eye caught an omnibus on which was written “Hanwell.”  I said to him, “Shall I tell you where the men are who believe most in themselves? For I can tell you.  I know of men who believe in themselves more colossally than Napoleon or Caesar.  I know where flames the fixed star of certainty and success.  I can guide you to the thrones of the Super-men. The men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums.”  He said mildly that there were a good many men after all who believed in themselves and who were not in lunatic asylums. “Yes, there are,” I retorted, “and you of all men ought to know them. That drunken poet from whom you would not take a dreary tragedy, he believed in himself.  That elderly minister with an epic from whom you were hiding in a back room, he believed in himself. If you consulted your business experience instead of your ugly individualistic philosophy, you would know that believing in himself is one of the commonest signs of a rotter.  Actors who can’t act believe in themselves; and debtors who won’t pay.  It would be much truer to say that a man will certainly fail, because he believes in himself.  Complete self-confidence is not merely a sin; complete self-confidence is a weakness.  Believing utterly in one’s self is a hysterical and superstitious belief like believing in Joanna Southcote:  the man who has it has `Hanwell’ written on his face as plain as it is written on that omnibus.”  And to all this my friend the publisher made this very deep and effective reply, “Well, if a man is not to believe in himself, in what is he to believe?” After a long pause I replied, “I will go home and write a book in answer to that question.”

Goertzel On Conspiracy Theories

I was poking around reading about conspiracy theories and their meaning today. I came across an essay by Rutgers prof Ted Goertzel that I found quite sensible.
A survey of 348 residents of southwestern New Jersey showed that most believed that several of a list of ten conspiracy theories were at least probably true. People who believed in one conspiracy were more likely to also believe in others. Belief in conspiracies was correlated with anomia, lack of interpersonal trust, and insecurity about employment. Black and hispanic respondents were more likely to believe in conspiracy theories than were white respondents. Young people were slightly more likely to believe in conspiracy theories, but there were few significant correlations with gender, educational level, or occupational category.
Whole thing here.Yes, he does touch on how much conspiracism among blacks may be due to being an outgroup and historical victim and how much seems independent of that (at first cut.)

Interesting for us here, where we have previously noted that belief in conspiracies does not seem to be related to education or class, and further observed that previous measure of this belief seem to have been unintentionally designed to score conservative conspiracism and miss liberal versions.

Background for those who haven't been around for years: I have lots of direct experience with paranoia in mental illness and the anosognosic lack of insight, and have tried to tease out how it may be related. I also have had, for similar reasons, contact with specific conspirazoid groups of the tax protestor, New World Order, and fringe Christian varieties. We've also slammed the vaccine and GM food issues pretty hard.

In fact, nearly everything I read at his site seemed eminently sensible, so I pass him along to you for enjoyment. He kicks both Linus Pauling and Noam Chomsky, but narrowly and appropriately. His personal stories of his uneasy relationship with Marxism are deft and engaging. He differentiates cleanly between conspiracy and herd mentality in discussing climate change.

Bethany over at Bad Data, Bad!, whose post on conspiracy theories (with xkcd cartoon) started me roaming around researching again, is also likely to enjoy scrolling down to the essay about Myths of Murder and Multiple Regression. Gringo will be interested in his heavy South American emphasis, including a new book about Lula. To those AI freaks who think the name is familiar, but can't fit it in, you're thinking about his son, Benjamin, a mathematician who writes on AI, especially Artifical Global Intelligence.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

You Can't Eat Just One

Dedicated To Janis Joplin

Larry Norman wrote this about Janis Joplin, who was playing in the same lineup in a San Francisco show.

In my 1977 Jesus Freak culture, the story was legendary. Larry had prophetically predicted her death, and tried to help her, man! But she just couldn't hear it. It just goes to show...

Oh, wait.  Do you even recognise the name Larry Norman?  I don't think I can explain.

Christian Rock is respectable now - in fact, soft-rock, Southern-rock may be the dominant style these days, enough that my anonymous commenter under Music Genres sounds like he felt some pressure from those who thought CCM was almost required for spiritual improvement.

It was the opposite then.  Christian bookstores were blossoming, but many would not carry anything that smacked of rock & roll.  The Baptist one in Derry that my little commune frequented wouldn't even carry some of Pat Boone's recent stuff.  Christian rock was entirely associated with the rock subculture, not the Christian subculture.  Swaggert, Falwell, MacArthur - all condemned it, and even Billy Graham rather temporised around the issue.  The criticism was often as strenuous as one could imagine, accusing folks of doing the devil's work and leading innocent young Christians to Hell.

Not many musicians made a living that way.  They toured by sleeping on couches and passing the hat, occasionally having their electricity shut off by some deacon who felt the need to protect the youth group.  The mainstream denominations responded differently, in much the same way that they do now - by calling early 60's folk music "rock" in the late 60's and embracing it.  Lame, but well-meant, I suppose.

The Jesus People were mostly nuts, believed lots of non-biblical things, scared a lot of folks away - and founded the only churches that are still growing, now pillars of cultural conservatism.  It's not just inversion - the culture that they are preserving has elements of classical liberalism, Western Civ, both the nutcase Jesus People and their nutcase opponents, pietism, Southern culture, mid-century Christian intellectuals, and church camp.  Buffet conservatism, and it seems to work.

Cosmic, Man.

I chuckled today over remembering that the Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth," which became a serious protest anthem for decades, was actually about the closing of a nightclub.  I had discarded the idea of posting about it, because I didn't want to kick the memory of one of the folk-rock legends, even if said criticism was entirely just.  I was thinking about it in terms of Richie Furay.

This very day, Steve Sailer references the same obscure event, talking about the origin of hippies.  Weird, man.  Maybe it's like that Celery Consciousness* that Arlo used to talk about.

For the record, my route to the subject was thinking about whether Poco or Loggins and Messina had done "Love Song."  When we did it, the harmonies were full blast, equal volume with the melody.  Loved that song.  Can still hear Paul Van Hook singing it.

From there, I did a Wikipedia wander through the Calvary Chapel churches - I hadn't known they were a denomination, I thought a lost of fundies just liked the name - Larry Norman, and the Talbot Brothers.

Post on that right away.

*Lame joke about "Cellular Consciousness," but done well as a concert bit on his album "Precious Friends."

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Geneva Bible

                                                   The Argument
After that the Thessalonians had been well instructed in the faith, persecution, which perpetually followeth the preaching of the Gospel, arose, against the which although they did constantly stand, yet Paul (as most careful for them) sent Timothy to strengthen them, who sown after admonishing him of their estate, gave occasion to the Apostle to confirm them by divers arguments to be constant in faith, and to suffer whatsoever God calleth them unto for the testimony of the Gospel, exhorting them to declare by their godly living the purity of their religion. And as the Church can never be so purged, that some cockle remain not among the wheat, so there were among them wicked men, which by moving vain and curious questions to overthrow their faith, taught falsely, as touching the point of the resurrection from the dead; whereof he briefly instructeth them what to think, earnestly forbidding them to seek curiously to know the times, willing them rather to watch lest the sudden coming of Christ come upon them at unawares; and so after certain exhortations, and his commendations to the brethren, he endeth.

This is the introduction to Paul's First Letter to the Thessalonians in the Geneva Bible. It came up as I was commenting about changes in language.  I noted that Shakespeare and the King James Bible remained somewhat understandable mostly because the phrases in them had dominated English afterward.  Contemporary writing which did not bequeath so many phrases to us is less understandable.  The Geneva Bible is a good example.  Though it came into being fifty years earlier, it used more modern phrasing of the time - even then, the KJV gravitated toward the slightly archaic in order to be poetic.

Nonetheless, even with more modern language, the unfamiliar passage from the Geneva is harder to understand, and we see why it begins to creep beyond being merely a different dialect of English, on into being considered a separate language.  We know most of the words, but some are unfamiliar or seem to have different meanings or frequency than we are used to.  The word-order is significantly different, as is the phrasing. 

We get the sense of it, especially if we are familiar with the New Testament in any translation, so that the concepts are more easily grasped.  But stand in the shoes of a highschooler with no Christian training - this is nearly a foreign language.

Need And Suffering And Just Dessert

I have been thinking much lately of people screwing themselves and expecting someone else to fix it.  It’s a lot of my job, of course, and my caseload is especially heavy with that at the moment.

But they are ill.  It is an open question how much they can fix it themselves now.

In most cases, they were able to do better than they did do.  They didn’t report income so social security is withholding the overpayment; they didn’t keep appointments; they expect the VA to pay for care at another agency; they don’t like how the meds make them feel so they stop them and lose customers, break leases, etc.  In all four cases, their families – uh, excuse me, their moms – expect someone to pick up the pieces on this and fix it.  Probably because if no one does, they will feel they are on the hook.

There is a powerful underlying attitude of “well I/he can’t, so someone somewhere has to.”  Conservatives are fond of claiming that this attitude is part of our national deterioration and is exactly what needs to be changed.  I don’t know this to be true.  No, really, I don’t know one way or the other, I can see arguments either way, and am pretty damn sure no one has any hard numbers on the matter, just impressions. We each have a narrative, and confirmation bias is powerful.  We know people who are not obviously ill we believe should be made to stand up and take responsibility; we know people we believe have been burdened more than they can bear and deserve greater help.

First, it is true that people sometimes do not rally until their backs are against the wall and there’s no one else, at which point they rise up and do heroic things. We know this to be true, not only because of what we have seen in other people, but in ourselves.  We know of places where we endured or accomplished what we thought we could not, because we had to.  And it has been part of making us who we are, and we should not take that away from people.

On the other hand, some people seem unable to rally even when necessity requires it, and this was true in the Good Old Days as well.  People slipped to less and less care by family, by church, by town – often at least partly by their own choosing as they wandered in search of…something.  A job, a home, a meal.  And they died, same as now. 

Also, those around us might disagree that conquering these obstacles “made” us.  They might point to those same events as having destroyed us, we just don’t see it that way.  I am hard pressed to decide whether life’s hard events have been a net good or not. 

Some folks try really hard, yet for some reason things just don’t work, and it’s not only a bad economy that makes that happen.  Tragedies and disabilities and plain bad luck are real things – they may not be society’s fault or the taxpayer’s fault, but they may not be the person’s fault either. And how much weight the structure will bear is not easy to discern.

So. Withholding assistance – giving the person the dignity of real adulthood and real risk - sometimes fixes things, but sometimes it doesn’t, and they die, or dig themselves in deeper, or go to jail. I don’t know what we do about this. 

Actually, I do.  We make the best guess we can, as we have always done, and pray a lot.  We try not to deceive ourselves according to our current political and social beliefs – that our predecessors were uncaring and unjust oppressors or that they were noble achievers whose shoes were are not fit to tie.  They were us.  They seem to have been more likely to inflict physical pain and endure physical pain.  I’m not sure there’s much else we can assert with confidence.

Bruce Kessler over at Maggie's has something on this.

Monday, June 25, 2012


Terrible day today.  It does get wearing spending your weekly forty trying to answer questions for people who cannot understand the answers and are loudly insulting to you about it, as if it is your fault that they are dangerous arsonists with no insight.

Yes, yes, it's not their fault either and compassion, there-but-for-the-grace-of-God and all that, but you try it for awhile, trying to explain something in a way they might absorb at least enough to get by, while being called vile names at high volume.

I'm hardly the only one, of course - line staff has it far worse than I. It can't be good for you to be called names and challenged on utterly pointless grounds all day. And Michael gets to hear it all from people who are (usually) not psychotic, but just as determined that you understand that you shouldn't suspend their license because they have some ridiculous excuse, and don't you understand they don't want you to do that.

But one can always resort to comedy to get by.  I was searching for the section that starts at 3:00 in particular, but it's all fun.  Language alert.  It is Eddie Izzard, after all.

Spatial Memory

When one has a reliable memory, it is always surprising to find that others remember things that you have not only forgotten, but seemed to have never stored in the first place. That I cannot always recall some of the odder state capitals I once knew doesn’t seem alarming. People visualising areas I have also been but cannot picture – that furrows my brow and causes me to wonder what I have done wrong.

In my recent post on hiking, my nephew Doug automatically recalled the trail he had hiked on the other side when he had summitted. He’s done this before, including hikes that we went on together, recalling much more about the space than I do. I sometimes recall what is written about trails in the guide. I don’t recall trails much at all. Only those few trails which I have hiked repeatedly do I recall more than fragments of. I recall views and summits only a bit better. Landmarks I recall in some detail. My list says I climbed Whiteface and Wildcat with Doug, among other peaks. I can picture the parking area of the former and the summit – the ski-lifts, actually – of the other. Nothing more.

This may simply be a result of looking at my foot-placemnt the whole time, but I think it is more than that. My oldest son also stores spatial memories far better than I. In fact, it is almost inaccurate to say that he stores them “better,” as I seem to store them “not at all.” I don’t know what the other sons’ abilities are in the matter. It hasn’t really come up for me until the past year, most especially when I posted the series on Wayfinding.

Memory and Depression

This is an intriguing article from a generally reliable source, Psychiatry Weekly.  The fact that it is plausible because it ties in with other things, is from a good source, and would be really cool if it proves out makes it a good example of why we exercise caution with studies, even if they are moderately robust and tell us what we want to hear. 

Even NEJM and JAMA studies can turn out to lead nowhere.

When effects show up in one part of a study but not others, it might mean that some interesting subtlety has been identified.  More likely, it means the entire effect is weak or nonexistent.

Even if true, and destined to lead us to new understandings of a subject, statistically significant effects may not be the most important effects we should be putting our effort into.

Follow the footnotes to see their weaknesses.  In this case, #2 also has an effect that shows up in part of the study but disappears under other conditions.

In this case, overgeneralised memory, which they define rather uh, overgenerally in the study, may be related, even mildly predictive of adolescent depression.  It makes some sense.  Moderate depression* interferes with recall and storage - abuse and trauma do also - that the brain would make some memories less retrievable seems possible. 

*Interestingly, mild depression does not, and may even slightly improve memory. Grouchy people really do see the world more clearly.  However, euthymia or even hypomania, even when not realistic, seems to be adaptive anyway.  The gains from the successes of being unrealistically positive seem to outweigh the gains one gets from conserving effort on lost causes.  But that's more sociobiology than psychology.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Runs Scored, Runs Against

I was going to wait until June 30, or the halfway point of the season, but a radio fragment caused me to jump in earlier.

The sportscaster was complaining something something about communication in the clubhouse, yadda yadda an example of a much larger problem...yawn.  You know the drill.  For June, The Red Sox are among the leaders in Runs Scored, middle-of-the-pack for Runs Allowed, so we would expect them to be doing a bit better than the last two months.  And they have. This is gradually showing in the season totals.

We are far enough into the season that we can look at teams whose won-lost records do not match their RS-RA and make predictions.  The following teams will drop off: Cleveland, Baltimore, the Mets, Pittsburgh, SF.  Maybe Miami and Tampa Bay.  The following teams will do better from here on in than their current record: Saint Louis, then probably Boston, then Arizona and Oakland. Averages say 8 of those 11 will prove out - and I lave little idea who plays for any of them.

This holds whether they have clubhouse communication, a loser's attitude, etc.  Those things can screw up a team somewhat, and make them somewhat worse than they should be.  In other sports, where berserker determination can give at least some advantage, you can bring something out of a team that wasn't there.  That is much less true in baseball.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

4340' and 4156'

And 8.4 miles.  I don't think I like this as much as I hoped.  I like the part looking at those cool fold-out maps in the AMC guide and cross-referencing them with the trail descriptions and thinking "I could totally do that.  Because it's got less elevation gain per 1000 feet than Uncanoonuc, and I hiked just a little less than that last time...Cool."

Except that last time, and this time, the entire descent is painful, mind-numbing endurance.  Because I'm still fat, and it's tough on toes, ankles, knees, and hips.  (My back and neck are doing fine - I should count that blessing.)  Which I'm sure is wonderful for building character and all that, but at 59 I was kinda thinking I would rather draw from the well of character developed with previous endurance, rather than try to add to it at this point.

Not that the ascent is much better.  Osceola isn't steep, but it is rock-hopping and bad footing.  So when I reached the magnificent views of Tecumseh and the Tripyramids at the top, I wasn't much impressed.  Those are mountains.  They're over there.  They have names.  The people-watching or -hearing isn't so much either.  I stopped to let a guy pass, he talked nonstop for five minutes: "I'm 56 and I used to do this in an hour and ten minutes when I was younger but not now.  I used to have gut like yours just a year ago.  Well, I still pretty much do but I work out on the exercise machine a lot now.  I hate it but if I listen to AC/DC or some really hard rock I can be a wild man.  I had a drinking buddy die at 33 last year and I've been working out ever since.  I still party like an animal but I have tricks so I don't get hung over.  I drink water along with my drinks now and the woman who knows me best can't understand why.  I also like to make potatoes, probably because I'm Irish, I just make a big bowl of potatoes and have that and I can drink all night and not feel it in the morning.  I told her "Hey, you want a hangover in the morning?  then keep doing what you're doing."  But not me.  I hate working out but I have to do this.  The guy, it was probably a birth defect or something at 33, and people said it was drugs, but trust me, if there had been drugs involved I would have seen 'em. You have a good climb now."

So I moved on after about five minutes and slogged over to the next peak, which has no views and nothing of interest, except that it logs in at over 4K and this is the easiest way to get to it.  Nearly killed me with twisting falls.

I was telling Sponge-headed Scienceman that I am ambivalent about hiking even with people I like very much.  I want them there sometimes, but others not.  So Irish-guy was beyond the pale. (Har har.) I think the local hikes will have to hold me.

Friday, June 22, 2012

West Coast

A young man admitted yesterday described his last job for me.  He worked for an herb company, packing herbs into bags which were sold in local markets.  Everyone raised an eyebrow.  He grinned. "Yeah, those herbs we packed in the back room in other bags." 

Here's the kicker: in both markets, it's an important selling point to their customers - and to the owners - that they are fully organic.

I always say the Connecticut River is the West Coast of NH.

Right But Wrong

As a good example of my linguistic hypocrisy, I note the pronunciation of mischievous.  I have long stated that spelling and etymology are only guides to language, not rules, and whatever native speakers of a language, or if you are fussy - educated, intelligent speakers of a language - say is correct.  All other distinctions are markers of class, region, or at most, examples of usage in inappropriate context. That is, the situation required a more formal diction or expression which the speaker neglected.  But even that is social convention.

But I cringe whenever I hear the pronunciation mischeevee-ussly.  There's no "i" in that syllable, dammit.  Today I heard three intelligent, educated professionals use that pronunciation.

They're just wrong.


I’m thinking the name “Oscar” should be poised for a comeback.  It’s masculine, it’s Nordic, it’s far enough out of fashion to come back.  It doesn’t have the sound of a name the girls would steal – there are two markers for that, either a long “e” (Leslie, Kelly, Keenan) or previous use as an English-sounding surname (Taylor, Madison, Quincy) – so parents can feel more confident about using it.

It works for a little boy, boy, older boy, man.  What’s not to like?  Okay, unless you just don’t like the name Oscar.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Northern Scandinavia

Son #4, Chris, is driving from Tromso into Sweden and Finland starting tomorrow - Well, it's already tomorrow there, so starting in a few hours.  His company specialises in flowers for cold climates, and they have something or other in flower deliveries there, way up in the tippy-top.  He won't be getting anywhere far enough south to see the capitals.

Have an adventure, Nemo.

Yummy Mummies?

It is an appalling name, certainly.  British popular culture is no more elevated than ours, I'm afraid, and this particular section of the Telegraph is rather notorious.  Cherie Blair has decided to kick women who stay at home, and someone is calling them yummy mummies.

Both Bethany and Retriever have posted on related topics lately, and I think they are better qualified than I to comment.  But I will point out that in these discussions, a wide variety of women and arrangements seem to be stuffed into single categories in order that people - okay, women - can make political points.  In the above, there are quick slides between statistics about women who work part time vs. not outside the home vs. wish they could stay home...

I don't think that's wise.

Are all our sociopolitical arguments just fights between women over what is the right type of person to be?

Update: I should have mentioned that I got the link via Maggie's

How To Lie With Statistics

Sometime in the midafternoon tomorrow, I will reach 200,000 pageviews after only 6.6 years of blogging.

Except that at least 10%, and more likely 20% of those are me.  There's a way to shut off Blogger counting hits from your own ISP, but I just learned that last year.  And all the hits for ABBA photos, and the flamingoes and meerkats.

But still, it's a heckuva lot more audience than I had the 6.6 years before that.  And my two oldest children may listen to me more here, because they have some control and can hit the off button whenever they want.  So there's that.

Thank you all, really.  I think things through more, because I have to plan how I am going to put them, and this encourages me to think of possible objections and answer those.  I talk to myself more, but I don't mind that.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

What Are We Attempting To Prove?

I had a brief mildly contentious conversation with the medical director yesterday.  He is some small fraction Native American – much of his education including medical school was paid for on this basis – and commented that the Native Americans had given the Europeans maize and squash and had received blankets with smallpox in return.  I objected that this was not fully accurate, noting that the new narrative of Europeans as unrelenting oppressors was as inaccurate as the previous no-real-fault narrative.  He rather looked down his nose and informed me with some irritation that he is on the Dartmouth faculty in the Native Studies department, the thought being how absurd it was for me to challenge him. I replied that I did know the history.

He relented after about 60 seconds more of conversation that perhaps I did know something.

It bothers me when voices of authority make inaccurate declarations that fit a narrative rather than data.  I don’t back down from that well. People are frequently influenced by what they believe to be the socially acceptable attitude to take, and that has political and social consequences.

First, the parts I got wrong:  When I said that the new narrative is as inaccurate as the old one, that does not have much meaning.  There is no way to measure that.  Also, I should not have given the ground that the old narrative held the Europeans blameless.  I don’t think that was ever taught by anyone – threadbare excuses have been common, shrugging unconcern has been common, but not denial. Inasmuch as we can compare the different interpretations at all, the current politically correct one is likely healthier for us to have.  But there is an added consideration in such matters:  the popular ideas of the day may require more opposition, even at the risk of imbalance.  That is a worrisome approach, I admit, for people may disagree about what is the popular, conventional wisdom in any given time and place.  Atheists believe that Christianity is favored in this society, Christians would find that ridiculous. There is evidence for both propositions.

What are we attempting to prove?  If we wish to demonstrate that Europeans were essentially oppressing thieves, we can summon piles of evidence – enough to convince the unwary – but it just isn’t true.  If we wish to demonstrate that Native Americans were essentially innocent victims, we can find some evidence for that as well, but that is even less true.  Turn those around.  If we wished to maintain that Europeans were innocent traders and settlers seeking only to carve out a shared space, we could assemble a great deal of evidence for that.  But again, it just isn’t true.  None of these one-idea formulations (however many sentences we use to elaborate on the single idea) is true.  The key is in the question. We shouldn’t be attempting to prove anything, we should be seeking to understand.

Of the simple narratives of European exploration, very few are going to hold consistently. The natives died in horrifying numbers from contact with our diseases, most of them before they had met or even heard of white people. As much as 90% of the population, wiped out by disease, unintentionally. (The vicious Lord Amherst  incident was 150 years in, and directed as a punishment for Indians siding with the French) What do we conclude about that?  What else is there that holds so consistently that we can state it as a reliable guide to understanding the times? Whatever the direct participation in injustice, there was little white opposition to it – I suppose we could say that was true enough, though even that has enormous exceptions. But who would we be comparing that to?  Injustices of Europeans to each other or Natives to each other, of Arabs to Africans at the same time, of Chinese to Koreans, of anyone to anyone? If it’s evil, does it matter if it’s just normal evil or not?  Life ranges from difficult to horrifying most times and places we read about.  Is that any justification or not?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Orphans and Tribalism

I had always found it odd that Dr. Peter Lucaciu, who founded a Romanian clinic after the Revolution as well as the orphanage where we met our boys, was always so pleased to be able to show our boys off when they came back to visit, with the emphasis See, orphans are not worthless!  They can be someone.  They have importance. He explained to me that this prejudice against orphans was strong in Romanian culture, and I understood it intellectually, but it never seemed quite real to me.  Why should whether you had a bad start in life matter once you have proved yourself a good student, or employee, or husband?

It became more clear to me over the past few years of reading evolutionary biology, and really clicked this week reading van den Berghe's The Ethnic Phenomenon, an early sociobiology book from a Marxist perspective.  (How I came to be reading a marxist sociology textbook from the 1980's is an uninteresting story which I will not trouble you with.)  In most societies, including much of even western Europe, the extended family network is the source of jobs, favors, loans, protection, and in the hardest of times, food and shelter.  You don't want orphans as friends because they can't help you.  They aren't getting ahead in the world, and you certainly don't want them marrying your daughter.  While such unconnected people are not absolutely destined to merely scrape by in those societies, that's the way to bet.  It is even more intense outside of Europe, where tribalism, not nation, rules.

I don't want to imply that nepotism is unknown in America, but it is certainly much weaker here (and the rest of the former British colonies).

This is changing, certainly, as Romanians move into the rest of Europe to get jobs.  In such situations, they may continue to have familial networks for support, but these become attenuated. 

Not As Much Fun As I Imagined

Roy came to Nashua, NH from the Negro Leagues as one of the first players to integrate baseball.

I have long thought about a Field-of-Dreams style all-time baseball league, and how much fun it would be to pick a team to play in it, drawn from across the leagues and decades. I have a fair bit of confidence in my ability to draft such a team.  The Bill James and other sabermetricians of the world might do better, but even they disagree with one another, so my own choices have at least some chance of being as good as theirs.  I have toyed with this for years – there are a half-dozen saved lists on my computer covering one aspect or another.

I set up my own parameters – hey, it’s my fantasy, Jack – but I think them defensible.  I didn’t want a single season; ten seemed to be about right.  You would get a player’s ten best consecutive years, say from age 24-33. 

Here’s the most-fun feature: Each season would be a different era, style of play, and appropriate equipment: a season of the dead-ball era with those hopeless gloves, followed by a barnstorming season of 200+ games with miserable travel and sleeping conditions, followed by 1980’s ugly uniforms, 1960’s raised-mound…you could get a lot of variety in ten seasons.  Ten team league, ten seasons. 

I was going to draft heavily from the Negro Leagues and from players throughout the modern era (officially defined as since 1903), but if someone wanted to pick Japanese players, or before the modern era, or high minor leagues under the old system, that would be fine.  Having Old Hoss Radbourne face Saduharu Oh would be fun for everyone, even if I found both too risky.

I hypothesised nine other managers drafting teams, and gave each of them a personality and set of biases.  Because it is true that most fans don’t know as much as I do about history, I thought it fair to reflect that – though current fans would know current players far better than I, so they at least get that back.  There were three managers who were ignorant and opinionated, three who knew some things, and three who had a good knowledge of baseball.  That’s probably tougher competition than reality – real life has more ignorant and opinionated fans, and even sportswriters don’t consistently get above that second group.  One guy was a clear Yankees fan, another gravitated to small ball, a third knew almost no one before 1997 or so.

I drafted last.  The first six rounds were mildly interesting.  My own strategy was not to spring immediately for Negro League players, because the moment I said “Josh Gibson” the next manager, even a knucklehead, would say “Satchel Paige.”  Someone would think of Buck Leonard and Cool Papa Bell fairly soon, and I didn’t want to give the smarter managers too much time to think. So I picked Mike Schmidt first, because someone took Rodriguez and somebody’s gonna have to play third.  There was an early run on third basemen.  Drafts are funny.  Next I took Lefty Grove.

It was actually fun to put myself into the heads of other people and wonder “What would they know?  What would their strategy be?  How would they adjust?”

It got tedious quickly after the sixth round.  This was where it was supposed to be fun, when others started realizing they were going to need a third baseman and could only think of Graig Nettles (not a bad choice, but closer to 20th best that top ten), while I was grabbing Roberto Clemente* and John Wettland just to take them away from the others, saving Bullet Joe Rogan and Mordecai Brown for the late rounds.  Except that’s not much fun, wondering repeatedly from ten different points of view if Dwight Gooden or Mickey Lolich should go this early (or if the younger guys would pick Barry Zito instead).  All my imaginary managers are now drafting by position, even the stupid ones having figured out that catchers are important and the best ones are gone.  Putting myself in their heads now isn’t fun at all.  It hurts.  I’m just enduring.

After the 15th round (of a potential 20), I’m looking at my list and seeing it stacked with earlier players and Negro League players and I realize that I am banking everything on the idea that they really are better – that Pop Lloyd and Mule Suttles really are slightly better than Derek Jeter and Frank Thomas.  Sprinters, swimmers, jumpers, and basketball players are all far better now, but I’m counting on baseball being eternal, just like in the movies.  That even though no one threw the sinker/slider in the teens, that Honus Wagner would adjust to it in Field of Dreams.  Also, by the very nature of all-star teams, even the bad teams look very good indeed.  The managers who know about only the modern players are still able to put Roger Clemens and Junior Griffey out there, which aint bad. (Steroids and injuries are two parameters I remain undecided about.) Yes, I’m overestimating their ability to remember Scott Rolen under pressure, but everyone still has quality players. 

So I just stopped.  Saved.  Who cares?  Nothing ruins a good fantasy like getting too close to reality.

*Another advantage of the best ten years stricture is that guys who had several great years but not great lifetime totals – Roy Campanella, Duke Snider – are just as valuable here.

Sunday, June 17, 2012


Erin mentioned in the Music Genres thread that Contemporary Christian Music isn't actually very contemporary.  True, but it is hardly the only thing we might say that about.  New Road in Goffstown is an old road now, and throughout New England there are New Boston, New Hampshire, New Hampton, Newton - none of which are remotely new now, just newer than the originals. 

New Thought is a century old. New anything is about a century old, as we went to the synonyms "modern" and then "contemporary," which are now themselves rather dated.

Contemporary Christian Music got its name 25-30 years ago.  Names change only slowly, so that's the name of a certain style of light rock that is used more for both listening and worship, requires instrumentation, in contrast to praise songs - which can be sung at camp - that features understandability in lyrics and a lead singer who is highly interpretive with melody and shading. Not much harmonising, except what the audience/congregation supplies itself.

The style persists, though it is no longer the only "contemporary" style.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Stock We Come From

Our impression of what stock we come from is likely strongly influenced by what genealogical lines we know something about, rather than the actual numbers.  I know parts of my two grandfathers' lines back 1) beyond the Mayflower into the 16th C and 2) beyond the Anne back into the 13th C. This tricks me into thinking I am deeply Puritan/East Anglian/Saxon in heritage. But those lines are only a fraction of even the section they are in.  One grandfather - so, 25% of my DNA - does indeed seem to come from a network of early Puritan lines - Wymans, Doanes, Richardsons, Spinneys, Crowells, Hopkins, Snows.  But the other is mostly Scots-Irish with a thread or two of Puritan Ponds, Smiths, Balls, and Hawes way, way back.  Gramps's line is about 75% seige-of-Derry stuff.

One grandmother was Swedish on both sides, so 25% of my DNA contributors 200 years ago were all eking out a precarious living near Lake Vannern in Gotaland.

The remaining 25% - a big chunk, really, as big as the lines I focus on - come from a grandmother born Ruth Irene Neat, who died before I was born.  Her lines all seem to be Welsh and North Midlands.  That was a whole separate migration, to different parts of Massachusetts.  And most of the lines seem to have fizzled out.  I and mine may be among the last representatives of a few lines on their last legs.

I don't think of myself as Welsh. We keep no Welsh customs, identify no immigrant ancestors, study no Welsh history.  But it may be as strong as the others.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Turing Test

In response to the improving-quality spam I've been getting in the comments.

Artificial Intelligence Designer:  We still haven't got it quite right.  You robots are so close to imitating humans, but something elusive is missing.

Robot:  I challenge that.  We're indistinguishable from humans now.

AID:  Not in humor.

Robot:  Ridiculous.  I write screenplays and comedy routines.

AID:  But it's all broad, obvious humor: slapstick, puns - simple stuff.  There's nothing new or subtle.

Robot:  So, two guys walk into a bar.

AID: Yeah?

Robot:  I forget the rest.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The (Not Very) Good Old Days of Education - Part III

Black education today is terrible in some places.  I'm not sure many African-Americans would maintain that it was better 50 or 100 years ago.

Anyone with a special needs kid of any kind might also have complaints about current school offerings, but compared to 1932 or 1952?  Please.  My younger brother had a special program in elementary school - they put his desk in the hall.  In the tracked classes he was put in the bottom track of 17.  He wasn't badly ADD, but it was compounded by being only three weeks short of the age cutoff for his class, and his poor fine-motor skills.  He went on to teach college, after a long and winding road.

Then there's the corporal punishment - some of it relatively mild and merely uncomfortable, some of it assault and abuse.

And public shaming as a primary tool for encouraging children to work harder and do better.  Because mild embarrassment motivates some of the better students, significant humiliation must work on the others.  It all makes sense.  That was one of the brilliant pedagogical techniques of earlier eras.

I mentioned in the previous posts the lack of educative bang for the buck we got from many of the extras in the old days, such as penmanship, and coloring as the default geography activity.

Those are good for openers.  That's a lot for Old-Timey Education to overcome if it wants to be considered superior to the current model.

Music Genres

I ran across the musical genre crunk in my reading. Apparently there are subcategories of it, such as crunkcore, aquacrunk. I ran across all these ridiculously narrow genres in an article talking about more recent styles of metal music.
Death metal
Black metal
Blackened Death metal
It’s completely out-of-hand.
There’s Electro
Southern hip-hop
Miami bass
Hardcore punk
Dozens, just dozens of tiny genres. Who keeps track of these things?

See, it wasn’t like that in my day. Thinks were simpler then. It was basically just Rock music or Folk music.
Hard rock, soft rock, light rock. Folk-rock, psychedelic rock, Heavy Metal.

Well, and there was Motown, of course, and Pop.

Come to think of it there was Rhythm & Blues, Doo-wop, Surf rock, Blues rock. Blues. Garage bands, which spawned garage rock. Soul. Gospel.

Country music - except that was a whole different thing, until it wasn’t; and there was bluegrass and rockabilly.

So maybe you have to go back before that to get simpler categories, where it was just Big Band, and show tunes. More types of religious music were popular – do those count?

And Jazz. Hot jazz and cool jazz, really. Light jazz. And early country was really Country & Western, so Western Swing. Swing. Vegas Lounge. Dixieland, Scat, Honky-Tonk…

Kids today

Lucky Imaging

Well that's ingenious. Some solutions suggest themselves depending on what equipment you have.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Joe Pass

The greatest jazz guitarist of all time.

Monday, June 11, 2012


Musical theater gone bad.  It has depended on ridiculous premises since Gilbert & Sullivan, but this has to set some kind of record.
The Kunkels (the poor family that lives behind Mount St. Helen's School) have won the lottery. Although they had given their lottery ticket to the Sisters in exchange for some gifts, when it was discovered that the ticket was a winner, the sisters returned it to the Kunkels. In appreciation the Kunkels have given the Sisters an all-expense-paid trip on the "Faiths of All Nations" Cruise. After a week at sea the ship runs into a storm and several people become ill, including all the entertainers: the cast of Fiddler On The Roof. All except the actor playing Tevye, that is. The captain of the ship, knowing of the Sisters' show biz savvy, requests that the Sisters and Tevye put on a revue.
I like Tevye. And I thought that however ridiculous "Sister Act" was, it had some funny moments.  I get it that once "Nunsense" made money, more would follow, and I recognise that the ethnic edge of Jewish humor and Catholic humor are American standards. (Black humor tends to play off WASPs or fly solo.) But this extension of "Well we can still put on a show, darn it!" is just insane.  Stop the madness.  You will drive people back to thinking that Eugene O'Neill and Tennessee Williams are Significant - and then where will we be?

"I Have a Very Stressful Job"

Actually, according to the research, if you think so you are more likely to be a carrier.  Retriever riffs on this topic of who actually has poorer health outcomes from stress, with links. Added topic:  experimental medicines in the military.

The (Not Very) Good Old Days of Education – Part II

There are good reasons why we might imagine that education was better in earlier generations. I’d like to note these before proceeding to my premise that it was, in fact, worse.

1. Women were discouraged from going into many professions, or even training for them.  A smart and competent woman, unless she and/or her parents had ambition or privilege well above the norm, became a nurse, secretary, teacher, or librarian. Those professions, then, soaked up a lot of talent that goes elsewhere today, and had a slew of the overqualified.

2. Many more children dropped out of school in earlier years.  While many of those were children of ability who could not continue because of family poverty or attitudes, it did certainly eliminate many less-able students from the class, which suggests that more material could be covered with those remaining. Children with special needs were whisked away to institutions and not seen in classrooms as often.

3. Attention spans were probably longer, and competing entertainments less available.  How extensive and important these are is open to debate, as is the assumption that they are unmitigated goods.  But they might well bespeak advantages.  Relatedly, children and their parents may have been more respectful of the school’s authority, which made a teacher’s job easier.

4. Additionally, it is claimed that many useless extras taught today were not required then, allowing instruction to focus on reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic.  I don’t think that is true – I think we have traded once set of less-useful tasks for another – but there is at least something worth noting here.

Here are the weaknesses of those purported advantages:

Better teachers:  Just because women in general had unacknowledged talents and some of them went into teaching does not mean those particular women were good teachers.  Let’s go back just a bit further in history, to the late 19th and early 20th C and pick up the flow of who was heading up classrooms.  My great-great-grandmother taught at a one-room school in Londonderry before she was married.  She was 17. Alert readers will suddenly remember Anne of Green Gables and other books of the era, and how young teachers might be.  Moving forward in time, schools began to require that teachers had a highschool diploma, later a certificate from a Normal School (two-year teaching academy, later increased to four-year), then a Teacher’s Collge, and only quite far along, a Bachelor’s Degrees.  Those with the earlier credentials were grandfathered – er, grandmothered – in.  I had at least two teachers with a Normal School certificate only, even in my day.  So whatever natural abilities they may have had, the majority of teachers did not have so much training – and there was not a lot of continuing ed in those days or supervision after.

Further, generic ability is not necessarily teaching ability.  In that same district, my grandfather had Robert Frost at Pinkerton Academy – certainly a surplus of talent for an English teacher, you’d think.  But Gramps wasn’t impressed.  He was obvious about not wanting to be there and was apparently not very good.  (Frost’s biographical info agrees that he took the job only because he had to.)  So too with other teachers of the day.  They didn’t want to be there.  They didn’t like kids, especially boys.  Lots of them were talented, competent, teachers.  But there wasn’t a lot of floor in the profession.  You could go pretty far down and no one would do a thing about it, just letting you plod along oddly for decades.

Some of them were great.  Don’t forget that.  And current education departments may destroy more teachers than they build (I don’t know that to be true, I just know that some people think so), but by age alone, a 24-year-old is going to be better than a 19-year-old. Bad training is going to be at least better than no training most of the time.

More dropouts: Not in first grade.  Not in sixth grade.  By highschool perhaps the system had weeded out a lot of kids who had less intelligence, or drive, or cooperativeness, and the remaining students could really sail.  But that is ultimately less than a third of the system.  The exception would be head-injured or developmentally delayed children, who were largely absent from the schools.  If that did indeed create a better classroom environment – I doubt it would have much effect, but let’s pretend – do we want to pay that cost again?

Attention span and authority: We sat still for hours. I recall something in Reader’s Digest only a few years later noting that speeches in the Senate were kept under an hour, but fifth-graders hat to sit still for an hour at a time every day.  One hour?  How about 8-10 in the morning until 15 minutes of recess, then 12:30-2 every afternoon until that recess, with another 75 minutes after each?  Getting up and doing things was rare.  I have no idea what everyone else did, but I read in secret or daydreamed my way through it.  It must have been hell for active kids.  But if we were able to accomplish that better then, before TV and video games and computers destroyed our ability for sustained concentration, it still sounds more doltish and docile than “focused” to me. Sixth grade, two hours straight, most mornings of the week – I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

Back to basics: they didn’t have all useless modern feelings stuff, or politically correct nonsense then, nor all these administrative distractions about disaster drills and recycling, and sex education and drug education, so they could read classics instead of trash. No, we had hours of penmanship drills – not very useful even then.  We copied things a lot, and not always as punishment. A “beautiful hand” was much admired, and usually harder to read than the ugly writing, as anyone who has tried to read archival records can attest.  And we learned recitations – often the same one for everyone, and had to get up in front of the class and say it, one after another.  That’s useful.  And maps to color after labeling, and children in ethnic costumes to color, and lots of natural science to color.  Shop Class and Home Ec.  We scrubbed our desks.  We lined up and waited a lot, and sometimes marched to music.  We diagrammed sentences – kinda fun, sometimes, but not as helpful in composition as one might think.  We learned grammar, much of which turned out to be wrong, and most of which was not focused on improving our writing, but in shaming us out of using slang.  Spelling drills. Somewhat useful – not huge.

Part III for why we do better now.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The (Not Very) Good Old Days of Education - Part I

(Inspired by recent email conversations with Straw School classmates, including two who are teachers.)

Getting lost in Wikipedia, as I often do, I read up on the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930's.  I was surprised at how narrowly tailored it was, and how few people it employed at any one time.  But more surprising was this paragraph about the pool it drew from (italics mine):
Approximately 55% of enrollees were from rural communities, a majority of which were non-farm; 45% came from urban. Level of education for the enrollee averaged 3% illiterate, 38% less than eight years of school, 48% did not complete high school, 11% were high school graduates. At the time of entry, 70% of enrollees were malnourished and poorly clothed. Few had work experience beyond occasional odd jobs.
The crash came in 1929, the CCC was four years later and more, its target group was quite young, so you can do the arithmetic to see how far these lads were from the Roaring Twenties with its high employment. Yet it was the schooling that caught my eye.  This was not the previous generation's immigrants, who had few years of formal education, as with two of my grandparents.  These were native born Americans, and these were the white boys - blacks and Indians had separate groups, and I imagine their education levels were even less. 38% of these 17-23 y/o's had less than eight years of school.

Conservatives like to go on endlessly about the good old days of education, and how their grandfathers had gone to one-room schools but rose to become physicians or chemical engineers or whatever, because the education was superior then despite the lack of resources. I lean pretty conservative, but this is just nuts.  Education was terrible until quite recently.

Bloggers and blog-commenters who think about the history of education, changes in pedagogy, and can relate this to their own experience and that of their forebears, who can construct a coherent paragraph about the topic are not a representative sample of the country.

Are not a representative sample.

Are not a representative sample.  You are the 1%, in that metric.  The 5%, actually.

Your anecdotal experience is of nearly no value whatsoever in discussing the situation.

Let me bring in related statistics about years of education in the population as a whole in the decades before and after this, in order to make a distinction. From the National Center For Education Statistics:
Progressively fewer adults have limited their education to completion of the 8th grade which was typical in the early part of the century. In 1940, more than half of the U.S. population had completed no more than an eighth grade education. Only 6 percent of males and 4 percent of females had completed 4 years of college. The median years of school attained by the adult population, 25 years old and over, had registered only a scant rise from 8.1 to 8.6 years over a 30 year period from 1910 to 1940.
During the 1940s and 1950s, the more highly educated younger cohorts began to make their mark on the average for the entire adult population. More than half of the young adults of the 1940s and 1950s completed high school and the median educational attainment of 25- to 29-years-olds rose to 12 years. By 1960, 42 percent of males, 25 years old and over, still had completed no more than the eighth grade, but 40 percent had completed high school and 10 percent had completed 4 years of college. The corresponding proportion for women completing high school was about the same, but the proportion completing college was somewhat lower.

I was born in 1953.  When I reached my 17th birthday I had more education than half the males in the country. The ones I was ahead of was weighted to the older guys, but not entirely so.  We forget.  I was at a mill city high school, and it was not unusual for kids to drop out when they turned 16 (about 20%), or before graduating (another 20%). And NH as a whole has traditionally had one of lowest dropout rates in the country.

But, you will correctly say, these numbers don't measure the quality of education. These measure how many people went to school. Not the same thing.  Perhaps if you got to go to school the instruction was quite wonderful. Especially in higher grades, eliminating those who were less interested in education (plus however many others who might be talented but too poor) might have made for an excellent classroom experience, don't you think, AVI?

I think not.  But I will leave all this with you to ponder before I comment further.  For now, I wanted only to remind you that things were not as our current imagination tells us.  Post WWII America is insanely different from the rest of human existence.