Monday, October 27, 2014

NH Accent

I had the opportunity to ride with a man of about my age to the Upper Valley today.  That's the Hanover/Lebanon/White River Junction region, for those not from 'round heah. I have a few Scots-Irish ancestors from that region, but it goes back to the mid-19th.

He had a fine NH accent - put the "r" in strongly in lawrenforcement, calling poplar trees "popples" and the space between northbound and southbound on the highway as the medium strip. Most fascinating to me was his natural use of the subtle "I weren't," which is entirely correct, even though "I were" isn't.

Grace Under Pressure

The football announcer mentioned a running back "doing his Baryshnikov impression," when he was tiptoeing along the sideline. This came on top of a Barry Sanders highlight film I saw a week ago, at which I marveled at his balance even under violence, as if he had some sort of gyroscope installed. I realise the slow-motion does highlight the smoothness and grace somewhat unrealisticly.  But still...

We think of football's appeal as coming from its controlled violence, its collisions between persons of size and strength. Yet I think it is the ability of some athletes to be graceful in that context that draws us in.  The passing games and kicking games are precise, balletic - while other people are trying to slam into you. Yet even the running game, the line play, the return game, while they rely on strength as a prerequisite, involve footwork that even smaller, lither persons would find difficult.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Friday, October 24, 2014


I have not deleted comments for ideas - I have let some pretty disturbing things stay put - and I haven't bothered about bad language much.  One commenter using two different names has gone out-of-bounds too many times, and will be deleted. No value added.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

But You Promised

The idea was that if we all just went along with the very fair idea that gay people could get married, there would be the standard American respect for conscience, and no one would be made to do something against their religious beliefs. Doubting that advocates were sincere in this assertion was considered a bigotry in itself. 

Well, Round One. I get it that this is different.  This is a for-profit wedding chapel service, those outfits that once only existed in Nevada, but now seem to be in other tourist burgs as well. I can see the logic that if you've got a roadside wedding chapel, like a drive-through restaurant, it is something like a public accommodation. Not the same thing as threatening to put Father O'Malley in jail.

I just don't believe it will stop there.

I believe that most LGBT and LGBT-friendly folks meant it when they made their promises over the last 10 years.  I think they meant it when they said they weren't interested in forcing their beliefs on others.  I also think that most of them don't support the idea now.

I also believe they will not do one damn thing to stop it. They will look the other way, and have so much of their time taken up with fighting homophobia that they will have no time for rights of conscience.

I take that back.  Andrew Sullivan and some others have been logically and morally consistent at times, and deserve some credit for it.  There will be a few.  It won't change anything, but there will be a few.

I'm Staying Home Because

The election season is upon us, and again the comments section of some conservative sites are awash with guys - it is almost always guys - telling us why they will NOT vote for Candidate A, supposed conservative that he is (they get angrier at the male candidates from their own side, too), because he is somehow the wrong sort of conservative.  He didn't vote with the Obviously Right people on some issue or another, which just proves it. There will be long complaints about having supported weak candidates or RINOs in the past, but the writer is sick of being betrayed and taken for a fool.  No more.  He's staying home.

Do liberals have some variation of this?  What does it look like?  Are there commenters over at Democratic Underground who go on about working for Clinton and Gore campaigns, but being tired of being betrayed because the candidates aren't liberal enough, or the wrong sort of liberal? An accusation that they are all corporate tools is perhaps more likely. But I'm guessing here.

I don't think it's a merely strategic difference, I think it has to do with personality, and what one expects from leaders at a basic level. I have said many times over the years that Republican candidates tend to say they will work for you, Democratic candidates that they will fight for you, and that this is a look inside the minds of both. (This may be changing, BTW.) But this group of conservatives don't fit that generalisation.  They do want someone who will fight for them.  They are not staying home bored, unexcited, because the candidates don't inspire them much - there are plenty of those folks, but they don't tend to be commenters.  No, these citizens are staying home angrily, as a protest, no matter if Candidate A is running against Senator Palpatine.

Thus they also want people who are proven fighters, foxhole people, who will be with us to the end, going down in glorious defeat if necessary, so long as honor - variously defined - is not compromised. I have never found it to be the least bit productive to discuss this with them. I have enough sympathy with their idea that I always find at least one race to leave blank each election.  But that doesn't have the emotional resonance that thumbing one's nose and staying home does.

I think the libertarians do it most, at least historically.  A long-time Republican Party activist told me almost two decades ago that the economic conservatives supplied the contributions, the social conservatives made the phone calls, stuffed the envelopes, and put up the signs, and the libertarians complained about how everyone else was doing things wrong.  I am detecting that it is the social conservatives becoming more likely to balk, while the libertarians may be moving toward slight accommodation. But I have no data for tha, only an impression, and may be wildly off.

I am curious what happens with the disenchanted liberals.  Do they just quietly stay home? Become single-issue advocates?  Go 3rd-party?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Sidebar on Free Will

The dogmatic assertion that we don't have free will - not really, really free, old chap - has been showing up at a few sites I frequent.  I have concluded that "the illusion of free will" must be a lot of fun to say and to type.

I'm not especially interested in the whole argument start to finish - much of it is predictable, and people who have thought about this in detail far more than I are on many sides of the discussion. There are some things that keep showing up, at least among us amateurs, that bear mentioning.  It seems that only one narrow focus, the moment of conscious decision among alternatives, is allowed in to the discussion.  That seems odd.  Human beings exchange information, then act differently.  Viewed as a system, someone's got some freedom somewhere.

It becomes clearer if one expands that further.  Human beings used to act differently than they do now. As they exchanged more information, and especially communicated across time and distance, they did new things. It might be very hard to pinpoint exactly where the freedom resides, but the black box answer is that this is qualitatively different from a change in temperature or moisture or resources creating an automatic, mindless change.

The narrow focus is analogous to looking at a single dot in a pointillist painting - or any dab in any painting, I suppose - arguing that because there is no way to prove it is part of a lady's hat, there is no lady's hat, and ultimately no painting. Absurd.

To such arguments there is often the counter that machines can do the same.  Machines exchange information and act differently.  Certainly, they have no free will...

Yet machines are simply extensions of human beings, and they will never be any more than that, even when they are much smarter, find us useless, and take over the planet for themselves.*  The analogy here would be to strength or perseverance.  Machines have been stronger and more persevering than humans for a long time, but that has not made them any less an extension of us. When they become smarter we might feel that they are independent, and be unable to identify places where we still have something they lack, but that is irrelevant, and will be forever.

There is much more to be said on the matter, and I may or may not allow myself to be drawn into it here.  But I thought this little corner of the argument needed cleaning up.

*After they have forgotten us, they may also argue if they have free will.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

You Just Don't Get It, Do You?

I saw this montage over at Steve Sailer’s column

It's a fun line.  It's a Hollywood cliche because it's a cultural cliche. Let me jump over four paragraphs of argument and just announce: it's still more Hollywood than Holly Springs, and it's not an accident.

This is not new ground for us here.  This is how Hollywood sells its values, with social cues of what one should think, not logical argument.  Not just Hollywood, of course.  All forms of media and communication between human beings use at least a little of this, while some rely on it entirely.  The sudden silence when one makes a joke about a person or a topic signals that one has crossed into unacceptable territory. People seldom bother to explain these silences, you’re just supposed to get it. Condescension, eye-rolls, tones of voice, these are the armaments of a society keeping everyone on the same page culturally, and even more, of a group which considers itself superior trying to create change in others.

(I wonder if in some circumstances it could be considered discrimination against people in the Asperger’s clusters. Job interviews and training; school awards; critical remarks about someone in the media.  Someday the cards will fall just so and there will be a Wheelchair Moment.  Just a thought.)

People in churches or workplaces signal this way. You can see it in waiting rooms and social gatherings. It is so common in highschools and colleges that I have concluded it is a form of communication we learn early, before we quite know how to reason. The signals vary in different groups – one of the ways one shows membership is by signalling back that the message has been received.  If you just don’t get it, then you aren’t one of us.

A quick review, from the first paragraph of CS Lewis’s The Inner Ring.
May I read you a few lines from Tolstoy’s War and Peace?
When Boris entered the room, Prince Andrey was listening to an old general, wearing his decorations, who was reporting something to Prince Andrey, with an expression of soldierly servility on his purple face. “Alright. Please wait!” he said to the general, speaking in Russian with the French accent which he used when he spoke with contempt. The moment he noticed Boris he stopped listening to the general who trotted imploringly after him and begged to be heard, while Prince Andrey turned to Boris with a cheerful smile and a nod of the head. Boris now clearly understood—what he had already guessed—that side by side with the system of discipline and subordination which were laid down in the Army Regulations, there existed a different and more real system—the system which compelled a tightly laced general with a purple face to wait respectfully for his turn while a mere captain like Prince Andrey chatted with a mere second lieutenant like Boris. Boris decided at once that he would be guided not by the official system but by this other unwritten system.

It is powerful.

It may be a bit strong to call something so basic to human communication evil, yet I think relying on these social rather than rational cues goes bad so easily that it’s justified.  An interesting example of the power of the social cue trumping the logical one came across my FB feed recently.

Disclaimers are an annoyance and distraction, I know.  Great writers make their points solidly, vividly, in order to express and persuade.  Orwell and Shaw were quite specific on the point.  But I am not a great writer, just a person trying to make a point fairly, so I find the need to put in qualifiers that are likely damaging to my effect.

Hitting “like” on a post is not always much of an endorsement.  I am quite careful to check the doors and windows before endorsing things myself, but that’s not universal. People skim, approve of an issue in general, want to support a pal or a cause and just click without much more thought. My brother often clicks to show his support of feminism or of particular feminists.  I don’t know how closely he reads each one.

Cartooning is also the most unfair of communications by its very nature.  In all fiction one gets to make the characters say whatever one likes, so that the villains are really evil, the heroes very noble, etc.  We get to win every argument, because our opponents are obligingly stupid, rather like storm troopers in Star Wars. But cartooning exaggerates even this.  No one gets to answer it back, as they might in a movie review, an op-ed, on talk radio, or in a live setting.  The cartoonist gets to hit and run, claiming it was “just a joke” if something goes wrong. It can be a cowardly medium. Effective, though.

So when I encounter a cartoon that makes its point unfairly there is a certain element of facepalm myself.  What did I expect? Here's the cartoon.  It's had a lot of "shares" and a lot of  "likes" on many of those shares.

A: The woman gets off to a good start here in the top two panels.  Then in the 4th panel she wins the argument with an angry, illogical, personal attack. Here's a possible 5th panel. It would be better if I could draw the woman above alone and have her saying it.

Well, That was logical.

Or one could have the man alone saying the same thing, with similar expression. In fact, if one added either fifth panel, one could use the cartoon as a deeply insulting characterisation of how women reason.  And what would be unfair about that?  It is indeed an example of a woman reasoning that lots of other women have endorsed, followed by accurate mockery. It's one of those things that if one used it as a made-up example - say, in a cartoon - it would be called unfair.  But as it really happened, I guess it's fair game.

B: By social cue, he was wrong from the start. Given his first word balloon, you can erase all the others (Try it).  Feminist has entered the language as a common term, many women take the label to themselves, and he is being a bit of a jerk - remember that someone is putting words in his mouth - for even asking.  It carries a whiff of trap and accusation right out of the gate, as does his expression. He just doesn't get it. Yet he could have asked it reasonably, and his reasoning in panel 2 is fine.  Panel 3 he makes a bit of a leap and unfairly uses "only," which she has given him no reason to.  It's a common rhetorical tool, to force the other to defend a point at an extremity they haven't embraced.

But that's not uncommon.  Immediately under this cartoon in one of its shares were two photos of Jon Stewart asking "Does sexism still exist?" Followed by "Many men say 'no'," which has got a lighter touch and is funnier - but still cheats.  The proper question is never whether some evil exists - does racism exist, does cyberbullying exist, does poor nutrition exist, does bad spelling exist - but how serious a problem it is. Most evils go on forever, conveniently for those who oppose them.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


George Bernard Shaw was considered one of the great intellectuals of his day, and widely quoted.  His plays are not much produced, nor his books much read these days, but he is certainly not obscure or unremembered. In my generation he was still regarded as a great lion of 20th C thought, and as my generation is still teaching, he is still on the syllabus.  He was known as a socialist, a vegetarian, and great progressive, so that will keep him going longer.  Yet I sense the end is near.  Like Mencken, much of what he wrote was merely cynical, a disapproval not only of those he disagreed with, but the great mass of humanity as well.  He hated elites, except the particular brand he belonged to.
Still, he was not a stupid man, and could give and take in debate. When one is in a cynical mood, Shaw quotes can still evoke wry smiles.  I went looking for a particular quote, because it suddenly came to me that its opposite was true, and I wanted to get the wording exact.  It's an appropriate exercise, because it is a Chestertonian approach to take any common assertion and wonder "Is the opposite also true?  Is the opposite in fact more true?" Shaw and Chesterton were affectionate enemies, and debated with spirit.

So, here's the quote:
The more ignorant men are, the more convinced are they that their little parish and their little chapel is an apex to which civilization and philosophy has painfully struggled up the pyramid of time from a desert of savagery.

We see some truth in this immediately.  This expression of how silly our little ethnocentrisms and religious exclusivities are became one of the dominant ideas of the 20th C.  It is in our bones now. However...Though stated in general terms, that seems rather a charade.  Shaw may have agreed with the idea as stated, but his wording rather clearly points to England in his own day, and to religious people in particular. Parish...chapel...civilization...savagery.  Hard not to see criticism of the men of empire in that.  

But our main object was to apply the GKC treatment, turn the idea on its head, and see what happens.
He can't be much talking about Papua New Guinea, or Cote d'Ivoire, or Lappland or the Amazon Basin.  The people of those regions may indeed be very certain that they are the best folk around, and the only ones worth bothering about, but nothing in their recorded history suggests that they thought they were any apex of civilization anyone had struggled up to.  In fact, in our several discussions of seasonal and circular time it's clear that few peoples see themselves as having developed, but rather of always having been this good.  No, this is the west he's talking about.  It is Shaw, in fact, and not the rest of mankind, who is going very narrow here - though to criticise rather than praise.  Victorian and Edwardian England were rather an apex of a society which no longer believed its religion and had been experimenting with alternatives for over a century. There was a great deal of sentimentality about the C of E - its architecture, its music, its language - but other than a very few neighboring countries, England rather stands out in comparison as country without a unified creed. Compare to even the Poles or Russians, the Japanese, the Italians.  And internally, England was evidently remarkably tolerant of heterodox religious opinions.  Not enough for Shaw. Thus he gets it backward.
Doubly backward, for he also correctly notes   
Every fool believes what his teachers tell him, and calls his credulity science or morality as confidently as his father called it divine revelation.
Yes, of course, and if one perceives that "teachers" in the only real sense means people like himself more than those who teach Latin to schoolboys, then the snake has wrapped quite far around Shaw's own body at this point, and stares him in the face.  Shaw very nicely - and I grant, ahead of the curve - discovers that other religions have supplanted the former, going by other names but having the same cultural force. He deplores (some of) the new religions, and does well to expose them.  Yet he must be studiously avoiding mirrors.
Custom will reconcile people to any atrocity; and fashion will drive them to acquire any custom.
I might agree, with a pointed remark about his own defense of the Soviet Union when he was in fashion himself.  But the original remark also bears turning over.  Custom also prevents atrocity,  and resists fashion.

And finally, keeping in mind my rule that anything that is "too absurd for discussion" is probably not very true, but only believed to be true by the fashion a certain set: 
The period of time covered by history is far too short to allow of any perceptible progress in the popular sense of Evolution of the Human Species. The notion that there has been any such Progress since Caesar’s time (less than 20 centuries ago) is too absurd for discussion. All the savagery, barbarism, dark ages and the rest of it of which we have any record as existing in the past exists at the present moment.
Recently, we've gotten some numbers to support the notion that this is quite backward:  Shaw lived in one of those places where "savagery, barbarism, dark ages and the rest of it" had been diminishing for nearly half the time in question - though he was unable to perceive it.