Friday, April 28, 2017

Dale Kuehne On Trump

An interesting take by my friend Dale.  I'm really tired of everyone's new interpretation of Trump, but I read on because I felt obligated.  I was pleasantly surprised.  It is not complimentary to the president, but neither is it scathing and merely insulting.  Even for those who don't like him, I think it points a way for Trump to be endured without losing your mind.  And for those who do like him, I think it provides a cautionary note on how you might get a lot of what you hope for in Trump, but you're not going to get it all. Well into the article, emphasis mine:
What we have seen in the first 100 days of the Trump Presidency is a President who is governing consistent with his background. Psychologically he may be the least complicated President in American History. He is extraordinarily transparent, to a fault. He created diplomatic waves the day after his election by taking a phone call from the political leader of Taiwan, thus violating decades of diplomatic protocol in dealing with China and Taiwan. Immediately, political analysts began asking questions about the calculation surrounding his decision to receive this call. They spoke of as if Trump had diplomatic instincts he has never exhibited. There is little doubt Trump had his reasons for taking the call, but it may not be more complicated than the fact he wanted to receive congratulations from a world leader.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Cool Million

Assistant Village Idiot has received over a million visitors.  I have noted before that this is rather a sham, as it counts all the spam from India and offers for El Diablo gold over the years, but it's still a nice number to see. For those of you who have blogspot sites, it can be amusing to see which search terms brought up your site.

Marine Le Pen

I have run across a few articles challenging the idea that LePen is a far-right, or even a center-right candidate.  Jonah Goldberg has as good a one as the others. The label seems to come primarily from the focus on immigration and nationalism. That's not unreasonable, as those are more right than left both here and abroad, but they aren't pure anywhere.  Those have always been more useful as tendencies than as defining issues.  Goldberg points out that the French Communists have been anti-immigration.  I note that in America, some Republican employers have been pro-immigration while the African-American and trade unionists among the Democrats have been anti.

Also, it's not the only issue on the table.  The essay points out that left-right definitions are even more clumsy in France than here.

So.  Is Le Pen right-wing enough to deserve the label, or should it be gently countered?

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Quora Answer

To the very usual question "Is an IQ of 162 good? a person named Arnau Rodriguez very properly answered "On the internet it is average, in real life it is rare."

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Retracted Research

Cancer research retracted because of fake peer reviews.  Bethany over at Graph Paper Diaries is going to get that Jack Sparrow look in her eyes, because it not just science in general, but her specialty they are messing with here.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Bottle Dancer

I was a bottle-dancer in "Fiddler" when I was 20. Not a very good one.

John Wesley Donaldson

While looking up some other bit of information about a Negro Leagues player, I saw a passing mention of John Donaldson, who a SABR researcher thought should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.  I had never heard of Donaldson, which was a blow to my ego. I'm not an expert on black baseball, but I have read more than most, know the broad outlines, and should have at least heard of someone of that caliber.

The Pittsburgh Courier had a poll of players in 1952 of who were the greatest black players* of all time. I put a lot of stock in such things. Players can be biased in favor of guys they liked, and regional biases can push good players into greater prominence or obscurity than they deserve. At an individual level, players and fans can both be swayed by a few key moments in memory, when Oscar Charleston beat your hometown team three times in one season, or mighty Casey struck out. However, such things even out over large samples. Observation tells us one thing, statistics tell us another. By observation, players regarded him as a first-team starting pitcher.  All the others are in the Hall of Fame: Smokey Joe Williams, Satchel Paige, Bullet Rogan, Bill Foster.  Better-known pitchers Cannonball Dick Redding, Don Newcombe, Leon Day, and Luis Tiant Sr are on 2nd-5th teams.  OTOH, Hilton Smith, who is in the Hall of Fame, isn't mentioned, so maybe the players don't always get it right.

Donaldson has statistics. 400 wins, 5,000 strikeouts, including an 18-inning, 31 strikeout game. Multiple no-hitters and one-hitters.  While much of this was against inferior opposition as he was barnstorming in the Midwest, those are still very big numbers. He was almost a generation older than Satchel Paige and played in an era when major and minor leagues were more mixed. It isn't the same as baseball since 1940, when the best players moved automatically to MLB.  The Pacific Coast League in the 1930's may have been the equal of the American and National Leagues - several PCL teams undoubtedly were. When Donaldson came into organised baseball in 1908, even the better-paid white players didn't make a lot, nor enjoy national reputations. The major leagues were known to have most but not all of the best teams.  Good players were even more widely scattered. Professional baseball didn't pay so well that you'd want to drop everything and do that, leaving family and friends behind, so even some of the best players stayed home and played semi-pro.

John Donaldson toured with Satchel Paige's All-Stars in 1939 when he was 48.  I'm thinking that in itself suggests how good he was. There is brief vimeo footage of him pitching.

*The Negro Leagues were only part of the story.  There were about a half-dozen of those leagues beginning around 1920, most of them short-lived.  Donaldson would have already been 29 by then.  Black players mostly played on barnstorming teams that were part of no league until the 1930's, and by 1952 when the survey was taken a few had already made it to the majors.

Friday, April 21, 2017

"Yeah we did that. That was totally us."

Ion Mihai Pacepa claimed that the KGB was behind Oswald's assassination of JFK. 
Pacepa said that "among the leaders of Moscow's satellite intelligence services there was unanimous agreement that the KGB had been involved in the assassination of President Kennedy", and that KGB fingerprints are all over Lee Harvey Oswald and his killer Jack Ruby.
In 2007, Ivan R. Dee published Pacepa's book Programmed to Kill: Lee Harvey Oswald, the Soviet KGB, and the Kennedy Assassination in which he asserts that Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev ordered the assassination of Kennedy, then changed his mind but was unable to stop Oswald. The work was said to rely heavily on the work of the Warren Commission, the House Select Committee on Assassinations, and Edward Jay Epstein.
Those of us who have grown tired of grassy knolls and conspiracy theories tend to reject this sort of thinking with a wince and a shaking of the head. Something in us just says Look, Oswald acted alone and he was going to do this anyway.  Whatever contact he had with the KGB was not the deciding factor.  They are just claiming this after the fact, puffing out their chests that they caused it.  Easy to say now. Yet really, how do we know?  Our tiredness is not relevant data.  Might they have been slightly responsible?  The idea was to take the pressure of Castro in Cuba, and that seems to have happened.  If they encouraged him at akey time, a vulnerable moment, might their intervention have been decisive?  We can't replay history.  We can't know. We lean against because it just seems ridiculous, not right.

In the taking of Jerusalem during the First Crusade, both sides seem to have subsequently overestimated the number of defenders killed by a factor of two, or even three.  Why? Well, the Christians invading wanted to intimidate with what powerful, unstoppable dudes they were.  The defenders wanted to portray them as heartless slaughterers of innocents.  So both exaggerated.  Yeah, we did that. This has an echo in more modern times of the CIA claiming to have installed the Shah in Iran in 1953.  Yeah, we did that.  That was totally us. Puffing out of chest, warning shot across the bow to other nations who might want to think twice before messin' with US. The opponents of the Shah agreed, and resented it, harboring that anger for decades and holding it against America to this day.

Yet when you look at the actual events, they weren't much.  Paid for some cartoons in newspapers already sympathetic to the Shah.  Funded some rent-a-mob action in protests. So...both sides agree that this was enough to topple a government?  That it might not work 99 times out of 100, but in the hands of skilled subversives like the CIA, putting pressure in at just the right time and place worked?

I think if you allow for the possibility of the CIA cleverly playing its cards in 1953 you have to at least allow for the possibility that the KGB accomplished a much smaller act of persuasion in 1963. We might decide that one is true and the other false on other grounds, but the foundational idea, on which 99% of Americans base their opinion, should be the same flowing each way. However, 99% of Americans would agree with one and reject the other. Yet when you burrow down, that seems to be largely feeling, impression. We have piles of new information since the original opinions were formed, but that hasn't moved the dial an inch.

You know how I feel about that.

I use this to set the table for an interesting essay about Gramscian Damage.  I would have read it as recently as ten years ago with nothing but contempt.  Don't be ridiculous.  Those things were going to happen anyway.  Powerful intellectual currents had been moving for decades, based not only on prejudices but on real information. If KGB disinformation had never occurred we would have ended up in the same place. Academics came to those ideas because they are essentially right, essentially more solid than the jingoist fantasies of grade-school textbooks. Well, I still have an initial reaction in that direction, because my intellectual training taught me to scoff at this ages ago.  CPUSA and other groups affected nothing, they were just hapless dreamers - and half of them were FBI informants anyway. Yet let's take this out one circle farther.  Shall we say that communists in general, marxists of any stripe had no effect on mid-20th C Western thought, descending down to the present day?  Well no, it would be hard to claim that with a straight face.  Even academics who don't consider themselves at all marxist subscribe to a great many ideas Raymond lists.

So if disinformation agents did exist, and some recognisable names in the academy trace to them, was there some effect?  I would have thought the encouraging on non-representational art in public spaces in order to undermine patriotism* to be one of those wild ridiculous theories of cranks, suitable for those Russian guys who wore bad suits and stupid hats in the Cold War, thinking they were Big Kahunas in the intellectual world when they were just cranks.  It's a crank theory.  It just feels that way.

Inconveniently, however, that is how things turned out.

So, see if you can get to normal in evaluating Eric Raymond's essay.  Is there anything to it?  Did the KGB exert some influence on Western thought in these ways?  5%, 25%?  Would everything have been just the same without them, and the communist thinkers in the West that they funded and encouraged?

Here's what I've learned in the past decade that leads me to give more credence to this unlikely-looking idea than I would have: we know a lot more about how irrational we all are in how we reach opinions for social reasons, and defend them for psychological ones.  I have repeatedly claimed that liberals are far more suspect on the former (I think liberals and conservatives are about even-up on the latter.  Hell, that's really a human-nature downfall, says I).  Academics have never been unanimous in their opinions, but they have in the main been greater slaves of fashion than the readers of Vogue. The rest of us aren't much better, so we needn't give ourselves much credit.  Evangelical Christians have certainly had their fashions and been swift to punish those who didn't get the message that hats are in this year. Trumpism has elements of being the fashion that is out-of-fashion, so stick it, I think for myself!

Well, that's another day.  For the moment, I'm looking at the influence, by many paths, of intentional disinformation on our current thought.

*The Soviets didn't use non-representational art, BTW, and they seemed to stay aloof from revolution for decades, defying economic gravity.  Perhaps irrelevant.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Shrewd Manager

The Parable of the Shrewd Manager

Luke 16: Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’ 3 “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— 4 I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’ 5 “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 “‘Nine hundred gallons[a] of olive oil,’ he replied. “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’ 7 “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ “‘A thousand bushels[b] of wheat,’ he replied. “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’ 8 “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.

 The Clintons are well known for this after they left the White House.  Now it's the Obamas.

I suppose the Bushes already had money and rich friends and didn't need to.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Murray's Numbers

Charles Murray's views are back in the news because of an experiment run on professors showing that his views are actually rather centrist. We have seen this ebb and flow over the decades.  I am familiar with arguments criticising Murray because IQ is not what he thinks it is, or complaints about his methodology.  There are also the more suspect arguments that such things should not be studied because of their possible consequences, or that evil and racist people in the past have subscribed to versions of his idea.

Does anyone know of a criticism of Murray that stems from the claim "I have better numbers?"


The default view among Christians is that if unbelievers think better of Christians, they will be more likely to become believers themselves.  It certainly sounds more plausible than the opposite formulation, that how they view us is irrelevant to their eventual decisions about Jesus Christ.

And yet I have to wonder, as the result of this is that Christians naturally gravitate to getting people to like us, or our churches, or at least not hate us or think us entirely unreasonable - rather to think better of Christ. - whether this does not miss the mark fairly thoroughly. CS Lewis wrote in several places about First and Second Things - that if we aim for the lower goal we get neither, yet if we aim for the main thing we get all the secondary gains thrown in. But seek first God's Kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things will be given to you as well. 

One possible response would be doing nothing but good works and holding camp meeting revivals.  We scoff that this would of course be ridiculously ineffective.  Yet this used to be the model for the early Wesleyans, and later the Salvation Army. Did that work?

Saturday, April 15, 2017


I keep coming back to CS Lewis's essay "Membership" in The Weight of Glory. I have gotten far from the lessons it teaches and I want to hammer them back into myself, that I may repent and head in the right direction again. I have read it aloud to myself as well as rereading it a few times. We'll see if that trick works.

I send along this quote not because it fits my own problem - that would involve de-emphasising not only current events but even medium and long-term trends, all of which capture me too easily - but because it is simply interesting.  There is a way of looking at the individual, his value, and his rights that we get into the habit of accepting without question.  It ain't necessarily so.
I believe in political equality. But there are two opposite reasons for being a democrat. You may think all men so good that they deserve a share in the government of the commonwealth, and so wise that the commonwealth needs their advice. That is, in my opinion, the false, romantic doctrine of democracy. On the other hand, you may believe fallen men to be so wicked that not one of them can be trusted with any irresponsible power over his fellows. That I believe to be the true ground of democracy. I do not believe that God created an egalitarian world.

Polling For Skepticism

Or perhaps "Trolling For Skepticism."  Related to my post two weeks ago about people not really believing that anyone is going to declare martial law but not wanting to look like they are being taking in, I think that should be in the background not only for all polling, but for all entertainment-value commentary as well. A ridiculous number of Democrats appeared to believe that Bush, or Mossad, or the CIA, had something to do with causing 9-11.  Lots of Republicans were revealed to believe that it was at least possible that Obama was born in Kenya.  It's the "at least possible" part that makes for all the fun. People with good imaginations can imagine a lot of things.  Cynical people can easily believe that other human beings are at least capable of terrible deeds.  Sometimes these people aren't so good at evaluating whether they are likely.  They assign some small percentage, so as not to get caught unaware later.

However this can be played in reverse as well.  Because there is a non-zero chance for just about everything, ridiculous ideas can be floated along the lines of "Well, we can't rule out the possibility that..." As Lawrence O'Donnell recently explained to Rachel Maddow
It’s “impossible,” fellow anchor Lawrence O’Donnell told Maddow on April 7, to rule out that “Vladimir Putin orchestrated what happened in Syria this week – so that his friend in the White House could have a big night with missiles and all of the praise he’s picked up over the past 24 hours.” (Full story here.)
Well sure. It's impossible to rule out the possibility that Adele is channeling John Lennon, or that Barack Obama is actually a space alien, but that doesn't mean that any sensible person subscribes to the idea.

It's a dishonest formulation.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Quick Hitter on Sean Spicer

Holocaust Studies were a focus of mine some decades ago, even before I had even heard of this other David Wyman. I don't entirely know why, and I doubt the rambling comments I might make on that would be of interest.  My take on Sean Spicer bumbling and stepping on his own dick might be a little different than others, then.

I have longstanding objections to the generally accepted narrative, the knee-jerk response which every person who "gets it" is supposed to recite when they hear the word Holocaust.  These include:

1. Failure to appreciate distinctions among work camps, death camps, forced-labor factories, and executions outside the concentration camp system.  It gets messy and complicated, which is why journalists, liberal-arts majors (I am one), and other superficial students of history* avoid thinking about it. Jews were killed in large numbers outside the death camps. People other than Jews were killed in large numbers. Roma. Slavs. Jehovah's Witnesses. Confessing Church.  Disabled. Homosexuals - not as many as is claimed today, but some, sure.

2. Stalin killed more Jews than Hitler. Maybe 30% more. It is in one sense not unfair to regard the Nazi extermination policy as something qualitatively different from Stalin's more general everyone-who-might-be-unreliable policy, and the manic intensity of execution by Nazis late in the war was dramatic deserving of special attention.  But in the end, numbers matter. Stalin executed Jews over many years, and each one of them had a family, and friends, and a profession, and a place in the world. The fact that we feel differently about it because of the greater theatrics around the Nazi Final Solution doesn't get around the grim, basic facts of more widows; more orphans; more trauma; more fear and despair.

People read point #2 and think "Oh yeah, I knew that, sure. Worth mentioning."  They don't realise how controversial this has been and how great has been the effort to keep this out of their consciousness.  Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.  Look over here instead.  Shiny! Shiny! Yale historian Timothy Snyder's book Bloodlands came under criticism because it dared treat all atrocity, execution, and trauma in the lands between Hitler and Stalin 1933-1945  as similar. How dare he!  Everyone knows that Hitler was the ultimate evil and the events under Stalin were just rather excessive and sort of unfortunate!  Snyder is not remotely conservative, BTW.  His critics were not Jews incensed by having specialness taken away from them except insofar as they are liberals who retain disguised sympathy for communism. (Note:  I overgeneralise here. But not a lot.)

So.  So. Spicer's comments were not inaccurate, but when he talks about "Holocaust Center," like it was some sort of museum he betrays instantly that he doesn't talk about the Holocaust in the same manner that the right people do. It made me shudder, worried that he was going to go to some Holocaust Denial place.  But he didn't.  He got the base fact of enormous execution of Jews by Nazis right, unprompted.  I still think he's a jerk, because reading the tone of the national conversation is uh, his job, right? But other than clumsiness, what is he getting wrong here?  You can say he doesn't get the seriousness of extermination by the gas Zyklon B, so his "didn't use chemical weapons" statement is hollow.  (It wasn't hollow when Chris Matthews said it, apparently). I don't reject the point, but don't believe it rises to the magnitude of the objections I raised above - which most of Spicer's critics screw up repeatedly.

I submit that as much as Spicer's comments were objectionable,the energy directed against him is back to our old friend in the liberal playbook - social rather than intellectual acceptability.

*This includes, unfortunately, some professional historians.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

E For Effort

There is a novella by T. L. Sherred by that name which is famous in sci-fi circles.  I remember liking the concept greatly - anyone using the machine could view anything in the past, but not affect it in any way.  Once could not become any part of the action and visible in the place chosen for viewing.  One could merely watch, as a movie.  There is no magical occurrence, no babelfish by which the visitor can translate what is being said. But you can see anything in the past.  One can also film it and make it into a movie, which is what drives the story, as the protagonists make several very controversial movies with the machine.

The story doesn't read so well now, as its cynicism about war and whether (at least some) national leaders are good and reasonable seems a tired theme.  But it wasn't a tired theme in 1947, it was quite unpopular and controversial.  Sherred was one of the first to break free from an over-militaristic, universe-conquering approach based on SCIENCE! If it seems trite now, it was because he was one of the originators then.  One can notice something similar in CS Lewis's space trilogy. One has to constantly keep in mind that familiar sci-fi elements have come down to us because they were successful when he first wrote them in the 1940's.  Lewis also had a considerable cynicism about humanity - though quite different from Sherred's.

The technical plot device of being able to observe but not affect viewed events in the past remains fresh, I think.  It's just fun to play with, and I have played with it many times. One can perhaps game the system a bit by witnessing a crime and then returning to the present and telling detectives where to look - things like that.  If your fantasy takes you there, that's fine. Where does your fantasy take you?  What would you like to see?  I eventually decided the Resurrection, even if one could film it, wouldn't work out as well as an evangelist might hope.  What would you actually see that could not be interpreted other ways? It might encourage the faithful, but it would hardly be likely to convert the unbeliever.  Still, one of you might have some ingenious solution. Sound/No Sound is an interesting option.  As you will.

I would certainly try to get some recording done in places north of the Black Sea around 4,500 BC to get some raw data about Proto-Indo-European.  I'd likely have to take a PIE specialist along, though, as we may have completely misread the data from here, and I might record hours of speech by four tribes whose languages were unrelated to ours and went extinct.  I might like to hover around Djibouti 50 - 70,000 years ago and see who crossed the strait and then record what that first out-of-Africa language was, as it is supposedly the ancestor of every non-African language since.  Closer to the present day, I would go back to my 19th C Scots-Irish ancestor Perley Wallace and scan back until I could figure out where he was born and who his parents were.  He appears out of nowhere.  I might try a fair bit of genealogy, actually, especially of the lines I have no hope of anyone ever tracing, such as the Neats.

I consider myself adequately warned by Thornton Wilder's "Our Town." It would be perilous to go back and look at one's own life, whether best parts or worst.

Open Time-Travel thread from here.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Fellowship Of The Saints

It has never been easy or comfortable.  Peoples is peoples. It doesn't take much reading of the Gospels to find instances of the apostles arguing over dumb stuff - with Jesus right there, which you'd think would slow them down - and many of Paul's Epistles are his encouragement, admonition, and discipline of congregations which don't seem to have gotten this members of one body down pat.

I read the advice years ago, but after I was committed to a congregation and then a denomination, that it might be best for Christians to simply attend the church nearest them.  That is the Roman Catholic parish model.  It keeps us from standing in judgement of whether that congregation is doing things right.  It removes much of the expectation that we will be worshiping with people of like mind and attitude.

For us, that would mean St Lawrence Parish Community, where we have worshiped on occasion and like reasonably well. There are two other congregations almost equally close, and as we lived nearer the center of town years ago we might have ended up at either of those just as easily. Even if we had elected to apply that rule beginning in 1976, we would have been unlikely to switch churches over a hundred-yard difference in 1987. I try to imagine what life would have been like had we applied the closest-church rule right from the start.

We now go to a church in the next circle out.  It is one of less than a dozen in the range of 5-9 miles away. It is part of a denomination that we are now committed to, the Evangelical Covenant Church. I don't have any report for you whether it would have been better the other way.  It seems to have worked for many centuries, but then, people didn't move that often until recently.  Even the Roman Catholics seem to find the model fraying at the edges now.

I do however, have some evidence that the opposite extreme does not work.  In between joining the Bedford church in 1987 and being there today, almost half the intervening time was spent in an ECC church plant in Concord, 35 minutes away. Most of the central figures in the congregation were from equally far away, and seldom in the same direction. Only a very few were from Concord at the end, and even those were from the other side of the city. It emphatically did not work. It was extremely difficult, especially for families, to get together for prayer, study, or fellowship events, or to visit the sick or make meals for them. We didn't attend the games and performances of each other's children* or use their teenagers as babysitters.  We didn't get to meet visiting grandparents for more than a coffee hour after service. There were a thousand little community builders that never occurred.

It wasn't just us.  We rented from a Seventh-Day Adventist church, and that is a denomination whose members are very uncomfortable with worshiping with other denominations, and they will travel far to stay with their own.  That congregation was at least 50% people from over 30 minutes away, and some were an hour.  They also did not grow the entire time we knew them.  I think such distance is sometimes sustainable if there is both an ethnic/family and a doctrinal component - I have heard of such things. I'm betting there aren't many. Our current church has people from many surrounding towns,  especially bordering towns, but it has a solid core of people who live in Bedford. It matters.

*Well, some of us did, but only the fanatics. Not many.

Critical Studies and Cooperation

As a socialist radical in the early 70's I kept my fondness for football secret.  Football players were known to be not-very-smart, getting special treatment and easy courses, and possessed of primitive attitudes.  Ditto the girls who liked them. For the record, none of this was true at William and Mary, however true it may have been elsewhere. Still, I had national standards as a suburban hippie to uphold.

The quarterback from my high-school team went on to be the QB for Williams College, and we worked together briefly after graduation. I asked him why, with his clear hippie-freak leanings, he had continued to play ahem, football. "It was the only place on campus where everyone was working toward a common goal," he answered. "It was every-man-for-himself in classes and even in the dorms.  I really liked the experience of being a team that worked together."

Not until much later did I realise that this is one of the things that people like about being in theater (or choir or dance) as well.  The stereotype of actors as egotistical, rather full of themselves, is not a lie. I fit right in. Yet there is also that ensemble experience that is quite real.  People are working together.  Even through the traditional divide of the tech people versus the onstage people there is a sense of doing this together, and your success is my success as well. It's a nice experience to have.

When I read of the emphasis in Critical Studies on oppression and victimhood, and how that has infected even those academics who don't think of themselves as particularly in that camp, I wonder if we are undermining the ability of students to work together with people unlike themselves. When even those who roll their eyes a bit at Marxism and Critical Studies are still so focused on exploitation, commodification, and privilege, where does a student go to learn that cooperation is what has driven technological progress, trade routes, and the expansion of rights?

I don't want to paint this as binary. Oppressions and victimhoods have been part of teaching for all of my lifetime, and from what I read, for centuries before. Similarly, I may only be hearing the worst examples of what happens on campuses now. (Though there sure are a lot of them aren't there?  Fresh crop every week, it seems.) I am not claiming that students used to get so much encouragement to see the world in terms of cooperation and now get absolutely none. Yet I worry if any erosion, even gradually and at the margins, does not eventually unfit some of them to go and work in the world and get things done with others. I have seen this in the students who come through my hospital - not all, but too many. They come even to internships and rotations with the idea that one of their great responsibilities is to challenge "wrong" attitudes at the hospital.

Well, there are still sports teams, some of the performing arts, and ROTC, as well as whatever jobs students might get for themselves. Those may have been the only places those lessons were taught anyway.

Victimhood and Cancer

In a recent discussion about privilege and victimhood, a correspondent saw an analogy with cancer - how we treat it and what we think about those who have it.

Not all cancers are equally deadly.  It's never a good thing to have cancer, but we react so strongly to the word itself that we sometimes over-react in treatment - which can be dangerous in itself.  The last of the Rules of the House of God is to do as much nothing as possible, after all.  There are serious and deadly cancers just as there are serious and deadly injustices and oppressions, and these should be treated.  As my friend wrote
If you think of cancer as victimhood I think you see how common this entire debate is. Acknowledging victimhood and treating the root cause is absolutely the correct thing to do sometimes. However it is possible to go overboard and cause more problems than you solve or push people into being perpetually defined by their lowest moment. I think the problem with the current victim culture is the idea that victimhood should always be acknowledged and immediately addressed at the expense of everything else...Even people who survive very deadly cancers sometimes get really weary of being constantly defined in relationship to their bout with cancer. While it obviously help some people find meaning, for others it's just something they want to move on from. (Italics mine)
 ...perpetually defined by their lowest moment. The phrase stuck with me. People who have survived oppression, who have been victims but gone on to succeed in spite of it - don't they frequently reference this refusal to be limited or defined by the bad thing?  Or am I only remembering those because that is the narrative I like?

Obituaries often reference a person's "battle" with cancer or some other disease at the end and how heroic they were.  It's understandable, because it is fresh in people's minds, and when we insist on viewing our lives as a coherent narrative, the final act must be of enormous importance. However I die, I'm pretty sure I don't want that to be the center of the story, even if I am by some sudden improvement of character heroic and inspiring at the end.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Fellowship and Solitude

"No Christian and, indeed, no historian could accept the epigram which defines religion as “what a man does with his solitude.” It was one of the Wesleys, I think, who said that the New Testament knows nothing of solitary religion. We are forbidden to neglect the assembling of ourselves together. Christianity is already institutional in the earliest of its documents. The Church is the Bride of Christ. We are members of one another." CS Lewis "Membership" The Weight of Glory.

Lewis mmediately offers the parallel understanding that solitude is important, is neglected by Christians, and is even discouraged in our current age. Both are true and are difficult every age of mankind.  I write this knowing that some will object, believing they are let off from the fellowship requirement because other Christians have been irritating or destructive, or because some other arrangement seems more congenial.

Fellowship is necessary, even if done badly.
Solitude is necessary as well, even if done badly.

The God of Government

We can rapidly see how even a Christian person could make politics their god, taking up all their time and energy and reshaping how they view even minor incidents. Having government become god is discussed less often, but it happens, and it is more dangerous. There are Christians who celebrate Jesus as some remote figure, perhaps available during worship songs, but otherwise something like Narnia's Emperor-Over-The-Sea, rather than a present, active Aslan.

Conservatives can see immediately how liberal Christians do this, seamlessly and automatically equating Jesus's directions to heal the sick and care for the poor with advocacy for some or other government policy, even though the suggestion that Christians are supposed to advocate with government, even local religious government, is absent from the NT.  This god seems much like Mammon, a god of power through money. Jesus was fine with people giving money to others but had stinging words about Mammon as a god, you may remember.

On my walk today I thought of two, perhaps three ways that conservatives may have government, the free market, the rule of law - and again, I am trying to separate this from politics, though the two have clear relationship - as their real god with a remote Jesus acknowledged more in ceremony than in attentiveness.  I'm not asking anyone to guess and I'm not going to grade it as a quiz.  I just saw something that grows up in myself and some things that seem to grow up in others I read only.  It will be at least a week before I put up anything further about it, because it all suggested a couple of CS Lewis essays I want to review before following too many intellectual dead ends. 

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Marginalised Peoples

There is a modern theology that believes that Jesus focused on "marginalised" peoples, and recognising this is the key to understanding the NT.  I believe one of the main drivers at the margins of the Trump victory were The Deplorables, who believed they were marginalised, unlistened to.

Oh, not those marginalised people.  Some other marginalised people.

Presidential Spying

I'm not sure why people are surprised.  Bil Clinton had the FBI files of his political enemies sent over to the White House so he could look at them.  When challenged, he claimed it was for things like seating arrangements at dinner parties.  The dominant media at the time said "Oh, no problem, then" and dropped the issue. I don't know of a political-opponent spying story from the Bush WH, and I admit I would be disappointed.  I'm not sure I would be shocked - though I imagine it would have come out at this point, so maybe I would be shocked.

So, the scandal-free administration, which started off immediately by refusing to release the information of contact between Michelle Obama and the later-convicted Kevin Johnson from the 2008 campaign. (And thank you Chuck Grassley for the long, boring task of requesting information over and over again on a dozen scandals, rebuffed each time because of "presidential discretion.") Yes, I'm sure there were huge national security issues on the Michelle-KJ front.  Fate of the free world and all that.

My working estimate on every news story that comes down:  The Republicans mislead 50% of the time.  They are wrong, they lie, they are biased, it totals about half.  Trump may have that to 75%.  The Democrats mislead 90% of the time.  I believe nothing they say, though acknowledge they do get some things right - usually about Republican dishonesty.

You may tell me that there are many nice, earnest Democrats who mean only good for the poor and downtrodden, even if they are perhaps too willing to believe their politicians.  I would like to think so.  But I go along for a quite some time shrugging at these nice people, when some stunning bigotry and falsehood suddenly drops from their lips. It is then not entirely clear what all of the previous comments have meant.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017


Sgt Mom over at Chicago Boyz asks if discrete references to Kipling are a good set of codes for identifying people one can talk to these days.  Commenters somewhat agreed, but there were other suggestions.  I am risking a return to the woods tomorrow and will think about this.

Update:  Not Kipling.  While those who reference Kipling are indeed extremely likely to be people you'd want to talk to, using him as a sign-countersign eliminates too many others who would be fine to speak with as well, but are simply not that familiar with Kipling.

Just so you know how it goes around here, my wife said "I haven't read that much of Kipling.  Kim.  Captain's Courageous..." (The Jungle Book, I said) "...The Jungle Book.  That expensive one we bought last year.... (Puck of Pook's Hill, I said) "Puck of Pook's HillJust-So Stories.  I don't think I've read much of his poetry..." (That will be fine dear, you've humiliated me enough.)

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Clutch Play

Tournament play reminds me that the majority of athletes, coaches, and fans believe in "clutch performance" - an athlete who rises to the occasion as the games get more important and the end of the game approaches.  I tend not to.  I don't rule it out.  There may be players who can "take it to another level," or whatever other cliche you might like, but whenever someone tries to measure it, it seems elusive.

What I think is more common is "choking," playing less well under pressure.  I think anxiety can be shown to reduce performance in many areas.  Being a clutch player, then, might simply be holding to your usual level of ability when everyone around you is making mistakes. Which is certainly about the same thing, as a practical matter.  It just doesn't make such a great movie. You will not rise to the occasion.  You will revert to the level of your training.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

South Carolina Basketball

I don't follow it - hell, I don't even follow William and Mary until February - but I was pleased to see them make it to the Final Four.

My only connection with Gamecock basketball came in 1972.  I hitchhiked from Williamsburg down to Columbia over Thanksgiving to see my best friend from 7th-11th grade, John Malyerck. He had tried out for them as a walk-on and made the freshman team, which was quite an accomplishment, as he had never played high school ball.  I told his story in 2011, Big Mal. An interesting character who died early, around age 50. 

While visiting we went to some club downtown, and he did wave and point out friends he had made, enough of whom were very tall that I guessed they might be basketball players.  So they might have been Alex English or Mike Dunleavy, but I would not have recognised those names then, nor would anyone else. I doubt it anyway, as Mal had a phenomenal memory and would have mentioned it to me years later:  "You met him.  He was at the club when you came down to visit."  Kevin Joyce from the robbed 1972 Olympic Silver Medal team - that name I would have recognised, so he wasn't one of them, though Mal told me he was still banging heads with the team at practice that year, even after graduation.  I had thought Mal played the next few years as well, but his brother tells me he played only that one year, then was injured.

Anyway, he introduced me to a girl who giggled and said her name was "Coconut."  I took that at face value for years, because she looked like the sort of girl who might be named Coconut. Mal and I had rather different tastes in women. Coconut and I never did establish any rapport. I am now pretty that wasn't her name after all.  She also looked like the sort of girl who would find that funny.

His other claim to fame was leading the then-record 508-person South Carolina streak in 1974, which made the cover of Newsweek. He called to tell me about it, but I couldn't pick him out.  I imagine a naked 6-7 guy carrying some sort of torch made out of a broom was pretty noticeable live, though, even in a crowd. If you are wondering whether he is connected to any other Malyerck you've run across, the answer is yes.  There aren't many and they are closely related.

I like underdogs anyway, as many of us do, but this was just a bit more fun.

AVI speculating, whining

I mentioned WASPs voluntarily giving up power, either because they believe in the system as good for all of us and those are the rules, or for conscience sake in a more direct way. I don’t see where else this has happened.  The closest I can see is the practice of empires to extend some power to competent individuals in conquered states.  They were brought to the capital, or given authority in their home territories. It did seem to work pretty well.  Yet that’s not quite the same thing as extending power to a new group of people.  In empire, there is a vacuum that needs to be filled.  Someone is going to have to run the new place. No one back home is actually giving up anything.
The logic and the emotions of such things are far apart. Those receiving power very much believe they are entitled to it. They deserve it.  It is not some gift that is being bestowed on them, it is a right. Their point is pretty strong.  Women should be able to own property.  Black people should be able to vote. Once the real situation has been laid bare, it is a serious act of discrimination to refuse it. Even delaying justice can be seen as a type of oppression.

Those ceding power have something of a resentment that bubbles up that is more than just the usual wrench that comes from giving things up. Yes, I suppose it’s only fair.  But you know, we didn’t have to. We could have designed it so that we didn’t give up anything. That’s what everyone else does.  You wouldn’t have liked being born in other times and places.

“Oh no, don’t try and pull that on us. We don’t have power because you gave it to us.  We have it because it’s the right thing to do!”

Except – just humor me for a moment here. Those values don’t have any meaning outside of certain contexts.  

“Contexts be damned.  These are universal rights.”

The rest of the universe doesn’t seem to think so. Only in certain countries, starting with America, is the obvious even a possibility.

“Look, you’re the guys who keep saying these rights are from God, and not dependent on anything that men say.  You can’t switch off now just because it’s convenient and say it’s all arbitrary.”

Well, that’s pretty much why we’re going along with this, even at our own cost. Everyone else might require everyone to put in a certain amount of labor for us.  We think you should make your own decisions about labor.

“This is crazy talk.  You didn’t invent these ideas.  They’ve been around for centuries.  You didn’t build that.”

Actually, we did. The materials have been lying around for centuries, but no one made them into a house.

“You built it?  You built it with our labor – slaves, miners, foresters, soldiers”

Those were our people too.  Yet even if they weren’t, maybe you‘d have been happier building pyramids.  Or galley ships. Those look nice when they’re done.

“I can’t believe I’m hearing this.”

The part that’s hard to believe is that someone’s letting you say it. Throw darts at a map and a timeline, see what you get.  

“So you think you’re going to somehow just take your marbles and go home, some Ayn Rand thing where all you supposedly better people can just keep what you want?

No, not at all.  We kinda like how this has turned out, even though it isn’t quite what we thought it would be. It’s been good to have you.  You’ve improved the place – well, mostly – and we’re grateful for that. But there’s another right we’re only going to share, not give up.

“Which is?”

The right to think you’re being ungrateful assholes. You can think that about us, too, if you like.  We won’t stop you.

Scandinavian Reframe

A longtime reader who does not comment mentioned it would be useful, as the number of workers supporting the number of non-workers gradually diminishes, for the non-workers to meet with a representative number of workers from time-to-time.  Heck, even assign them:  You three are supporting this one.  Meet weekly. Pretty cumbersome, but one takes the point.

Reading Debunking Utopia by Nima Sanandaji, which I mentioned before, it occurred to me that the Scandinavian countries have had something like this, internally installed, and this makes an enormous difference.  I suspect it only works if it is internal.

College is free, but it is considered to shameful to use that if you don't study, and people will mention it.  Plus, not everyone can get in.

Unemployment is generous, but it is considered shameful not to get work as soon as you can. It's not the least shameful to accept unemployment. It's just expected that everyone pulls together and gets back into making the society go.  Health care is free, but people are almost too reluctant to use up the medical professionals' time when there are others who might need it more. Again, people will verbally reinforce these values when talking about themselves and sometimes pointedly when talking to you.  It's the culture. In important ways, they have higher character than we do.

I think I have read that Americans actually spend more on these things than Scandinavians, but I'm not finding anything like that in my files. Still, I'll bet it's true, or close.  We spend more on health care, just not efficiently. We talk a lot about spending more efficiently on our social safety net, but it's hard to do that without the cooperation of the recipients being honest and efficient themselves. But it's hard to make people be honest and efficient, and work-arounds to "help them make better decisions" are likely to be clumsy and only partly effective.  Pretty obvious when you think about it. It's also worth noting that this takes the discussion even farther away from it being "the poor" who receive things from the government, which is often how the American debate these trends, inaccurately.  "Efficiency" may not be the right way to look at this.

I have said before that this is far easier in a homogeneous society where everyone looks like second-cousins. It's national honor, tribal honor, family honor, personal honor to do these things. Oh, it's also a matter of national honor to say that everything is going great, and this is the best country in the world, and how happy you are.  (So please pay no attention to our alcoholism and suicide rates.) I contend that if Americans had an equally high-trust high-responsibility society, what our government provides would look a lot more like what they do.

And vice versa, as we shall see.

Next, Samandaji's working composite timeline for Scandinavian economies is
1870-1940 - pretty much capitalist
1940-1970 - mild socialism
1970-1990 - full-bore socialism
1990-2010 - "oops, maybe not" returning irregularly to freer markets
2010 - present - Immigration straining even the reduced socialism

A couple of other things he mentions of interest.  The governments disguise important statistics - just as we do here.  Unemployment is higher than they think (estimated 14% since the 1990's), taxes are hidden by being indirect (they believe they pay about 40% - it's actually 60%*).  Women don't actually do all that well in those economies compared to American and Canadian women. They refuse to break down crime rates and school testing according to immigration status - you can be prosecuted for even mentioning those things in unapproved way.

It is unraveling.  Scandinavia is still a really good place to live, and will be for some time. But each generation is using more sick time, more unemployment benefit, and more health care than the one before, and those attitudes are measurable. That has been true even before immigration ramped up. But it is immigration that is exposing the weaknesses.  American conservatives focus on the Middle-eastern groups, and those have certainly greatly increased the violence in these ridiculously non-violent countries. But in the countries themselves there is great concern about "Eastern European beggars" - we would say "gypsies;" and "Criminal Elements" - we would say "Eastern European mafias."  This latter group now has a presence in the Ukranian, Romanian, and Slovak neighborhoods of the major cities.

*I no longer have any idea what this was supposed to be for.