Friday, October 27, 2017

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Current Events

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks mentioned, as a lead-in to a punchline "Hegel said that modern man has taken to reading the daily newspaper in place of morning prayer."

Sad to say there is a great deal of truth in that for me personally. Giving up reading the news is not easy for me - I sneak back constantly. And current events is a god, keeping us focused on the immediate past and the immediate future, rather than on eternity or obedience in this moment.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017


Books unable to re-read. What books did you devour the first time but find yourself unable to read a second? If you've tried more than once, even better. This is harder, because we tend to pass such things on to library yard sales. Up to five.

1. From Dawn to Decadence, Jacques Barzun.
2. Smiley's People
3. Hitchhiker's series by Douglas Adams
4. Dune.

The last two may be because I read the series through to the end, and got tired of the schtick in some way.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Future of Jobs

A small point, perhaps, but one I had not thought of.  This seems right.
Skilled people can customize things. This may compete with canned customization schemes using programmable machine tools, but retrofitting stuff you already bought is always likely to be manual. (Italics mine)
(James, over at I Don't Know, But...)

Monday, October 23, 2017


The Captain Class

This book won me, lost me, won me back, lost me again, won me at the end.

Short version: Sam Walker's The Captain Class: The Hidden Force That Creates The World's Greatest Teams is onto something about leadership in general, though for most of the book he expresses it entirely in terms of sports. He goes awry when trying to nail it to the floor by relating captain behavior to social science research. Sometimes it's plausible, sometimes its a stretch, and sometimes the research he is leaning on isn't that good. I suppose he needed to include it, as he ties it all in at the end to a theory of leadership in many circumstances, and the research references provide a bridge. When he discussed at the end how this type of leadership is disappearing, because people think it is obsolete, messy, over-rated, he was most convincing. None of the dynasties he spent the book describing, nor the near-dynasties that just missed the cut, exhibited the newer-fashion leadership.


The secret to winning is not what you think it is.
It’s not the coach. It’s not the star.
It’s not money. It’s not a strategy.
It’s something else entirely.

He makes a very good case that a particular type of captaincy, that sacrifices its own glory for the good of the team - private, extremely dogged, doing the little, humble things, taking risks against management and popularity for the sake of teammates, using emotion and edge-of-the-rules behavior in calculated fashion, underlies every single one of the dynastic teams he examines. All of those teams had good players, at least decent coaches, and fortunate circumstances in order to play at highest levels of competition - but plenty of other teams had those things as well.  Those latter teams won some championships. Some of them were good for short periods.  But the sixteen dynasties he evaluates had only one thing in common - a captain of the sort Christians would call a servant leader. 

I disagreed at the margins with his criteria for inclusion in the greatest dynasties of all time.  I would have dropped a few, included several he didn't, but as he doubled back at the end to discuss many of the near misses, identifying that most of them had similar captains as well, it didn't end up hurting his overall premise. Sometimes the captains were the best players on those teams: Bill Russell, Tim Duncan; just as often their names are seldom remembered: Carla Overbeck (US, women's soccer),  Ferenc Puskas (Hungary, men's soccer). Pele was not the captain who brought the championships; Michael Jordan's teams did not win unless one of those types of captain was in place.

Walker relates this exceptional captainship back to other professional sports teams, who didn't even make his second-tier category, and then to other types of leadership in business, military, research. I wish he had spent more on this, that such an approach not only makes great teams elite, but makes bad teams mediocre, and mediocre ones good. You can plug it in anywhere and improve things.

I am not a leader, I often say, and I was about to let it go at that as I finished the book, when I remembered there was a time I had led in very much this way. I was transferred out of one dysfunctional team into another, but I needed very, very badly for this new team to do well, in order to illustrate that I had not been the cause of the previous dysfunction. I was lowest or second-lowest in official rank, replacing a person who had been fired for stealing from patent accounts. The psychologist and social worker disliked each other openly; the psychiatrist was new, and gentle; nursing was in rotation and in personality conflict of its own; rehab staff was just out of school; line staff was demoralised. And yet it was easy.  Pouring myself into it, we became very good, very quickly.  I would say humorously "We're the best in the country.  Really, we are.  Oh, there's a psych admission team in Iowa that wins the award every year, but they're just running on reputation.  We'll get 'em next year." It was fun.

Remembering that caused me to see a few other instances over my lifetime - never for any length of time, because the time and emotional commitment went to my family instead. Then I thought: family. It's partly true there as well.  I am talkative, even noisy, and noticeable in social situations, so one would never link me with any sort of self-effacement. Yet I think I can claim some anyway, surprising even myself. I put time into the small notoriety of this site, but that is since the first four children graduated highschool. Until just now I had said I was the coach, setting my wife and children up to go out into the world to do things and be noticed. I don't lead things - I pushed them into that. I exaggerate.  I have been on church committees, taken some active worship or teaching roles, but most often as a fill-in, someone to hold the fort until a real preacher or teacher can make it to the scene. My jack-of-all-eldering abilities have been useful in that role. My hobbies are at-home hobbies, only rarely something all my own, until very recently.

Most traditionally, people can look back and see that their mother filled that role in the family: the one who made everyone else a player, keeping in communication with all, praising and correcting, always on duty. That's the stereotype, though husbands with star wives, and fathers with star children were always in the mix even when American society was supposedly more rigid and stratified than that. I knew many families like that, looking back.

After reading this, it may not be coach, but captain in that specific sense that has been my role. I am also a participant and not just an observer, after all. Had this book been out years ago I might have been better at it.

The Queen of Oversharing

Joyce Maynard was my year at another highschool in NH. I remembered everyone then, and knew kids from all over the state through camps, speech competitions, and St Paul's ASP program. I was vaguely surprised when her first book came out that I had never heard of her. I later learned that my friends from Oyster River very much knew her. (As a Phillip's Exeter student, Joyce would not have been eligible for ASP.) One rather hinted that she was not impressed.

A college girlfriend handed me Maynard's Looking Back when it came out in 1973. She must have mentioned pretty quickly that this girl was living with J D Salinger, as our relationship was just about at an end and we wouldn't have discussed it after. Where Anne had learned this extra bit of gossip I didn't know.  I decided that was an urban legend when Maynard resurfaced in the 80's - resurfaced in terms of NH, anyway - and nothing was ever mentioned about that.  It turned out to be true, as I only learned much later.

I loved, loved, loved the first few chapters of Looking Back, but never finished it. I don't remember why. When the Concord Monitor focus came to her as local-girl-does-good, she wrote about friends, girl issues, life, and I always had the same response.  Intrigued and admiring at first, never finishing, even a short essay.  I decided there was something infuriating about her, but didn't care enough to figure out why.

All the later adventures and scandals I never knew until today.

She's still at it, and I think the essay in the Atlantic, the Queen of Oversharing, captures it all pretty well.

Sunday, October 22, 2017


One of the pieces to a Mental Status Exam - that's a formal, standard version of what a psychiatric clinician does when she's trying to figure out what's up with you and put it in a form other clinicians can understand - is asking the subject to say what a proverb means to them.  It is introduced in something of an offhand way to reduce anxiety "They mean different things to different people. What do you think it means?" There are recommended favorites.

The grass is always greener on the other side of the street.

A rolling stone gathers no moss.

Then, a more complicated, abstract one is offered.

People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. I learned early that while most people get the meaning of that somewhat, it's hard to put into words quickly when one is in a pressured, timed situation. That's part of what's being examined, of course. How good is your abstract understanding?

The Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) - that's what they are going to give you to see if you are dementing* - includes a clock face drawing exercise.

These are standardised tests, but these elements are obsolete for young people now. I had Big Brother Bob Emery on Boston TV to teach me the meaning every day at noon
Oh, the grass is always greener in the other fellow's yard.
The little row we have to hoe - oh boy that's hard.
But if we all could wear green glasses now, then it wouldn't be so hard
To see how green the grass is in our own back yard.
But I'm not sure it's quite as familiar now. 18-year-olds have to stop and think to work out a clock face now, likely because their parents and grandparents sill like the looks of them as decor.

Most proverbs aren't about everyday objects anymore.  A stitch in time saves nine. Knowable, but more remote.

*Just in case you want to brush up on the questions now, when you're at full strength, to delay them putting you into a home later.

Proper Apology

File under: Oh that liberal bias.

I should be more gracious, accepting of someone having a change of heart and coming around to my point of view.  Former NPR CEO Ken Stern certainly ran a fair experiment, at significant personal inconvenience and risk of embarrassment when he resolved to spend a year among "the other side."  That other side sort of includes me, but non-liberals are a pretty varied bunch, and embedding with all types would take more than a year, so I suppose I should be happy he got anywhere near many of the constituent parts.

But the linked article just made me furious.  Oh, so now you think you should check the premises you've been operating on for half a career, contributing to the demonising and destruction of others. All those voices over the decades saying "Hey, you know you guys are sort biased...That story you ran there, it's not really fair...the people you work for, they seem to leave out some important stories and highlight less-important ones...How is that different from just calling people names?... Decent people have been damaged by what you're doing...there's considerable evidence that you aren't reporting this fairly..." And, having decided that you had missed a great deal and been unfair while in positions of power, you still have to point out that those people still have their demagogues, and their current representative is Demagogue-in-chief. I suspect there is something of a desire to show that he is still balanced, can still see both sides, in order to maintain credibility with people he would now hope to persuade. Probably so.  Probably wise in the long run. I am ungracious, as I said, and likely a bad strategist to boot.

Yet a proper apology goes like this. I did this wrong. I am sorry. I will try not to do it again. What can I do to make this better for you?

It is not an unusual situation when we have to apologise that we think the other person still has done a lot wrong as well and we would like to point that out to him yet again.  That is in fact nearly always the case. But that comes later.  First, you have to clear your own slate.

Perhaps he has.  He has a book coming out this Tuesday Republican Like Me: How I left the liberal bubble and learned to love the right. We'll see. I wish him well, I suppose.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Intelligence and Mental Illness

First off, I don't think I see the phrase "mental illness" as most people do. My mind immediately says schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, psychotic disorders, Bipolar 1, severe depression, and the intense forms of PTSD/borderline personality disorder. If one says "How about anxiety disorders, other personality disorders, adjustment disorders, ADHD, etc" I sort of shrug and acknowledge that those count under the official definitions, and certainly cause pain and have a large impact. Having had episodes of mild depression (and one that was probably moderate), plus obsessive-compulsive disorder I am aware that even these cause suffering. Yet when I see research about "mental illness," part of me says "those aren't the same."  This is likely because people soldier on through those somehow, lives impaired but not ruined.  A percentage of people manage to carve out lives with the more serious disorders too, but the numbers are worse and it's very difficult. If you know any, congratulate them often.

I had to dig back through multiple news articles to get to this study reported in Science Direct about a correlation between intelligence and mental illness.  Interestingly, the news articles all focused on the greater incidence of anxiety disorders (20% vs 10.9% in the general population) rather than on mood disorders, which had stronger numbers  (26.8% 9.5%). Bethany will be pleased to see that the confidence intervals are displayed prominently. 

There were also elevated rates of environmental allergies, food allergies, and asthma. The article gives a nice summary of some recent related research and a description of the hyper brain/hyper body theory they offer as an explanation. Also of interest: the incidence of professionally-diagnosed autism spectrum disorders was only slightly higher than the general population, but the self-diagnosis rate was high. FTR, I think relationships are going to show among autism, anxiety, OCD, and probably a few other things, but those aren't nailed down yet and I keep autism separate in most discussions.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Rehabilitating Mao

I did tell you they went all-in for controversial opinions at, but Mao Reconsidered: One Hundred Percent Good is a load, even by their standards. Just so you know, Roberts got an EdD at Umass-Amherst in 1973, and the rest of his internet presence is about how to make money after you've retired to Thailand on Social Security check. Health care?  Not to worry, because he thinks anything is better than the most corrupt healthcare system in the world in the US.

In the late 70's and early 80's there was a Marxist professor in the Masters In Human Services program at New Hampshire College (now SNHU) who must have taught a lot of this, as so many of his students, who worked at my hospital quoted "Marcel" as saying similar things. The iron control and horrible punishments were necessary with a country like China because they started out so backward and there were so many of them that there just wasn't any other way.  About two years later the "so backward" part was left out in favor of China's obvious superior traditional wisdom. It's hard to keep up sometimes.

There are over three hundred comments, and some of them get the main criticisms - like all those dead people and the famine - explained clearly and succinctly.  What surprised me was the number of commenters who agreed with the article.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Give Me Jesus

One of my favorites.  The simplicity is mesmerising.

Imagined Conversations

I dislike the genre that purports to be a conversation between people who are long dead and modern figures. The author can always dictate the result of the debate and make the loser look bad.  I recently saw one at Aleteia between GK Chesterton and white nationalists.  Guess who won? I don't doubt that GKC would have held his own quite nicely against any number of such figures, but the exchange was frankly not-credible.  Chesterton would say this, you see, and the the white nationalists would say that, which GKC would counter with this. They would attempt to catch him up along the lines of A, which he would have to  agree with, being deeply respectful of national cultures, but he would see them coming and make a distinction B that they hadn't anticipated and finally rout them entirely by pointing out C.

I didn't actually read the article.  I'm betting I came close.

Things are a bit better with imagined conversations between contemporaries, but that's not going to be ultimately fair either. I have loved Peter Kreeft's Between Heaven and Hell, A Dialogue Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, CS Lewis, and Aldous Huxley (who died within hours of each other in 1963). Kreeft tries very hard to be fair, but he clearly favors Lewis, and CSL does seem to carry the day at the end, though Kreeft doesn't rub it in or get triumphalist. Huxley finishes second, I think. I still recommend the book, even if you are one who would prefer someone other than Lewis win, because Kreeft really works at being fair, as I said. But don't consider the final implied victory a done deal.  Plus, the book's short and cheap.  That's nice.

His second work, about Socrates discussing abortion, is less successful, I think because it has that ancient-modern mix that is more inherently unfair.

I know these imagined conversations don't turn out to be true because I have been having them in my head for sixty years, forever arguing with hundreds of other people.  He'll say this and I'll agree that it's partially true but point out that, to which he will respond with this claim and this one, this one, and that one, but hahahaha! I will then say Fourscore and Seven Years Ago, and To Thine Own Self Be True, and They-sewed-fig-leaves-together-and-made-themselves-aprons! He will be dumbfounded.  Overwhelmed.  He will gape, and gasp! 

Then I will actually have the argument and the other person says nothing like that at all. They will pursue a line I had not expected.

Precocious Canadian

I am fairly familiar with cognitively and verbally advanced five year olds.

The comments attributed by Tama Ward to her daughter are complete fabrications. "How Can I Raise An Enlightened Child?" is an embarrassment, and if you run across anything by this author again, you should disbelieve it on sight.(HT: Steve Sailer)

Richard B. Spencer, et al.

I have read plenty of essays and comments over the past 6-12 months that extremist groups, left, right, and whatever, would not have so much power if people just ignored them. Richard B. Spencer is speaking somewhere and they expect not only protests, but protests that turn violent. I don't know much about him, BTW. Sometimes such figures make relatively mild comments that get over-interpreted and made into monsters.  But as I haven't read anyone coming to his defense, except a defense of his right to speak, I have to assume that whatever he says it must be legitimately offensive. Correct me if I'm wrong on that.

I have written in favor of the "just ignore them" strategy for years, though I haven't had to do it much... because folks were actually mostly ignoring them. But the cry has gone up from many corners this year. Stop paying them any attention. Their numbers are small. I keep telling myself, well, they just can't ignore them.  They can't let it go for some reason. They have to show up to say "shut up." Some people are just convinced that there's whole lots of dangerous folks out there.

They don't want them to go away. They believe there are thousands or millions more in hiding, waiting to come out and wreak violence on the republic. I have a brother who essentially believes that.  Because he is convinced that there are plenty of quiet racists spread about like dry tinder among the population, people who could be ignited at any moment and cause a lot of destruction, he is also convinced that antifa and black groups organising to be ready for violence just in case is understandable, and maybe even justified, though he is not a violent person himself.

I don't know what we say instead, but "just ignore them" is no longer likely to work, if it ever was.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Mark Twain, Huckster

How Not To Get Rich: The Financial Misadventures of Mark Twain, by Alan Pell, Crawford.

Haven't read the book.  Fun review.

Tomorrow's News

Let me write tomorrow’s news for you:

President Donald Trump will send off some really offensive tweet or comment, which is demeaning to the office of the presidency and is an embarrassment to America.

Meanwhile, things of actual historical importance will happen, many of which would torque off the people upset at Trump’s tweets, if they had only been paying attention.

I don’t know if Trump planned this as a strategy. But I’ll bet he’s noticed that it sorta works.

I rejoice whenever I see liberals distracted by Trump's continuing, unchanging, publicity flaws, because I know they are wasting their energy drumming up outrage.  Many of them likely do it because their media jobs or fund-raising efforts depend on constant outrage, but it's a long-term loser.

I despair whenever I see non-Trumpster conservatives get distracted by these things. I get it that they believe they have to demonstrate their a) we-have-standards-dammit cred (as if repetition will ever convince those who aren't listening) or b) this-isn't-real-conservatism cred. You're right, it isn't, but it's got some overlap, it's what you've got, and you are wasting an opportunity by posing.  Many Trump supporters are indeed being unreasonable and insulting, basically acting like the worst of liberals in their brittleness, humorlessness, and intellectual laziness. I read the same comments sections you do. Yes, they refuse to read NRO because some of those writers dare to criticise Trump, and some of them don't even like him and say so! Quelle horreur! They are like that. And no, I don't think they can be rationally dissuaded from that position, no more than SJW's.

So what.

How are we going to get from Point A to Point B?  Ask yourself that every time your fingers touch a keyboard.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

NFL Protests

Bethany has her usual "How To See More Clearly" post on current events, in this case, how people feel about the NFL protests and the fallout.  Key phrase
As is often seen with contentious issues, there is a 10 point swing when changing the wording.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Sudden Thought

"The Handmaid's Tale," book and movie, and all the political penetration they had this year, look completely different after this week's revelations, don't they? How many will notice how eerily powerful they have become when the tribal disguises are switched?


CS Lewis thought one sign of quality in a book was in how it weathered rereadings. What did you reread in the past year? Up to five.

1. Albion's Seed
2. Ficciones
3. The Weight of Glory
4. The Most of PG Wodehouse
5. The Story of Language

Explaining As A Mark Of Intelligence

Shortly after Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity was published, a journalist was interviewing Niels Bohr – or so the story goes. “I am told that only three people in the world understand this theory.” Bohr paused and thought about it for a minute. “I’m trying to think who the third one would be.” Now, of course, many people understand it. Albert was able to put the information forward clearly enough that others could follow, even if it was a brand-new idea.

I recall also the Boston public television coverage of the Fischer-Spassky World Championship chess matches in 1972. A chess expert had a chessboard projected on a screen behind him and he was moving the pieces after each new move was announced. He then filled the time until the next move, explaining to the public what the move meant, its strengths and weaknesses, and what general responses might be. I turned it on from time to time, though I didn’t find it that interesting. Yes, children, that was what low-tech educational television was like in those days. There was a move by Fischer late in one game which set the expert back a step. He went quiet, staring at the board, and the silence seemed to go on forever. He went to the side of the little stage and whispered to someone off-camera. Finally he said “That’s…not a mistake…” and after another silence “That’s an amazing move.” He went on to explain it, and I mostly got what he was talking about. When I got back to college I asked a chess-playing friend, one who was already collecting points for international ranking, about the incident. He thought he knew which game and which move I was talking about, agreeing that sometimes a move is so brilliant and startling that it is not immediately obvious. But, he shrugged, this doesn’t last long. People who are experts can piece it out, even if it takes a little bit.

As part of our testing of a patient here at our hospital, we were in communication with a lab up at Dartmouth Mary-Hitchcock/Geisel School of Medicine. Their little introductory blurb came back on page 2 of their fax. “The Pathology Shared Resource facilitates project planning, clinical validation, and implementation of novel translational technology and research in the fields of molecular diagnostics, molecular therapeutics, pharmacogenomics, quantitative morphologic image analysis and immunohistochemistry (IHC) in a CLIA-certified, CAP-accredited laboratory…” At first glance I don’t understand a word of it. However, I can assemble some pieces quickly (enough to see that there is a little bit of high-falutin’ language that could be put more simply), look up another, and shout across the hall for a few more. I could vaguely tell you what is happening, though if you ask me again next week I might have to start all over again. I could get this, if I needed to. Not coincidentally, the two people I would ask to set this out are two of the smartest people I know – even though this is only tangentially related to their field. The ability to explain complicated things is a mark of intelligence.

CS Lewis (of course) had noticed this and commented on it.

“An essential part of the ordination exam ought to be a passage from some recognized theological work set for translation into vulgar English–just like doing Latin prose. Failure on this paper should mean failure on the whole exam. It is absolutely disgraceful that we expect missionaries to the Bantus to learn Bantu but never ask whether our missionaries to the Americans or English can speak American or English. Any fool can write learned language. The vernacular is the real test. If you can’t turn your faith into it, then either you don’t understand it or you don’t believe it.” CS Lewis “Version Vernacular” God In The Dock

There are important qualifiers. There may be legitimately brilliant people who are temperamentally unsuited to simplifying things for others. It may be possible for them to simplify things accurately, but not quickly, and thus they may find it boring. I would be very suspicious of such an explanation, however. If people have taken the trouble to learn or develop complicated ideas, they usually want to share this experience with others, that those might also enjoy. Also, it may not be possible to explain it to everyone, or even most of humanity, even given time, intelligence, and patience. There are even levels of abstraction that few can reach, enormously narrowing the field of people one might explain it to. Yet still, there do remain some who can receive it. If you cannot find anyone who you can explain it to, then I will say the problem is yours.

I’ve had a few hundred psychiatric patients over the years explode in fury and frustration at those who don’t believe their crank theories are not true. Sometimes I can tell at a glance that they have misunderstood some basic concept of physics or theology. The better ones try to redefine terms or invent new combinations.

It’s like Algebra I: Show your work.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Leah Libresco

This is the woman who worked for 538 who changed her mind about gun control after examining the data in a detailed manner.  I did not know about her, and I certainly did not know she had also changed her mind about Christianity.  A remarkable testimony from an intellectually honest person. Thanks to Neoneocon for the heads up.

She, new Christian, teaches me things here.

Other Victims

Another of AVI’s truths for living, learned from decades in a bureaucracy: Anyone who controls a precious resource is likely to become a son-of-a-bitch. In my field, these are often placement beds for treatment or rehab. Where they are few, those who control them ask for more testing and evaluations, a slowly graduated series of interviews and visits, and they find small difficulties to be “troubling,” and “something we’re going to have to discuss as a team... next Tuesday.”  The incentive to take easier and less complicated patients is always there.  While we are shepherding a patient through this process we are aware how unfair and uncomfortable this can seem to them.  “She wants me to kiss her ass,” they complain. And they are often right. Note: this is for patients who are currently occupying the most expensive mental health beds in the state at over $2K/day, for which there are the longest waiting lists, of poor souls sitting in hospital ER beds with little treatment and less freedom. But they don't need to hurry.  They control a precious resource, and they can do as they please.

But the greater victim is somewhat invisible – the person who would also benefit from that placement who is instantly rejected or not even referred because we know they do not meet some criteria set up by the receiving agency.

I think of this with the Hollywood scandals.  The invisible victims are the talented actors and actresses who don’t sleep with casting directors, producers, or whoever to get a role. Perhaps they get by working crowd scenes or bit roles.  Or if they are magically talented or lucky they can get good roles even without sexual favors. But most of the rest give up and go home, I think. Those who would have slept with someone to get a part but were never given the chance are harder to categorise.  Yes, they have been treated unfairly in some way.  Yet it is hard to define them as oppressed or victims.
The situation is reversed with the college basketball scandal. It is the player who holds the cards, and can demand favors in the form of money, and perhaps sex as well. The victim in that case is the college that recruits by the rules, and which gets less talented players thereby.

Acting and coaching basketball have become dirty professions, but they don’t have to be, and they aren’t dirty for everyone. It is a shame that those with principles have the harder road – or no road at all.

Or perhaps not.  I am reminded of an interview years ago with Michael Caine, on people who told him they wanted to be an actor. He assured them that they could be – there are plenty of opportunities to act, all over England. But what they meant of course was that they wanted to be famous, or rich. I think something similar applies with coaching basketball. There are plenty of ways to do that. But if what you really want is to be a famous basketball coach, that may not be quite so respectable a profession. CS Lewis noted that there is nothing wrong with the ambition to be a general in the army, if your goal is to do your people some good and you really believe you are the best person for it. But in that case, you would be just as happy if someone were preferred over you because they actually were better at the job.

I enjoy writing out my ideas to the great unknown, and I do wish, at least a little bit, that more people red me!me!me! and gave me the credit I deserve. But if I don't need it that badly. In places where I think the good information is getting out I don't feel the need to jump in.  Thirty years ago I should have written several books about CS Lewis, but I thought one needed either an academic credential or a fantasy/sci-fi one to get published (probably true) so I didn't.  I had much to say then than no one else was saying, and I should have pressed on.  Even ten years ago the general knowledge had gaps, and I tried to fill those in the early days here.  Today, not so much. I do put in my oar from time to time when I think important points are being overlooked.  But mostly, no.  Other people have that covered.

I just try to put something into one balance pan or the other when I think things are going unfairly badly for my side, now.  More exactly, I try to remove counterfeit coins from the other side's balance pan.

Common Sense

The term "common sense" has an honored tradition in America, dating back to it's founding.  It must date to before the founding, actually, as Paine would not have appealed to it were it not already a long-accepted term.  I could look it up, I suppose.

Yet I think its meaning has changed, subtly but clearly, in my lifetime.  Driving to work today I saw a sign on a large tree in Dunbarton which read simply "Common Sense." My first thought was "I'll bet not."  I don't know these people, nor have any prejudice against this neighboring town to cause me to immediately suspect their intelligence or goodwill. (I do have prejudice against Weare, and somewhat against Bedford.) Yet I just know somehow that what is going to follow from this will be something I consider not automatic. Probably liberal, but could be libertarian or conservative, given Dunbarton's politics. Whichever, it won't be something so obvious (eye roll) that any person who has not taken many doses of the red pill or the blue one can see it instantly.

Don't say res ipsa loquitur unless the thing does, I say, or you look a fool.

Common Sense has now come to mean "something that looks obvious to me and my friends, so I don't think I should have to give any evidence for it.  What are you, stupid?"

Proceed accordingly.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Narnian

I am reading Alan Jacobs's The Narnian, a biography of the imaginative side of CS Lewis.  Interesting idea. I am liking if for the new angles it shows me, even though little of the information is new.

Most interestingly, now halfway through, is how sympathetic I feel toward his father Albert for the first time.  The elder Lewis alienated both his sons fairly quickly after his wife Flora died, and seems to have spent the rest of his life not really listening but believing he understood. Both Warren and Jack were generally kindly and well-liked, but could not work up much affection for their father, though they felt guilty about this and believed they should. Long after the elder Lewis had died, Jack Lewis considered the way he had treated Albert was his greatest regret.  Yet he had felt this while Albert was alive as well, but the man seemed to frustrate all attempts at reconciliation.

So it had always seemed to me from the other biographies, and while there was much to blame the sons for, I seem to have decided that the poor father had largely brought this on himself, however helplessly and unwittingly. Now I am not so sure.  If I step back from blaming altogether, and simply try to step into Albert's shoes, armed with the knowledge that his sons came eventually to the idea that they were uncomfortable with him because they were like him, I feel very sad for his long empty years once the boys began going away to boarding school. He was a dutiful father - almost.

Smear Followup

Before I went off the news I saved a few things that I thought were going to be illustrations of The Smear.  I had forgotten all about them in the ensuing weeks.  This article about the Dirty Little Secret reminded me.  But first, it amazed me because it is such an odd twist. I will mention again that while we are sometimes talking about fake news, untruths, and even illegal acts, often this is just deceitful, expertly-managed news, performed by intelligent people who make this their career and are probably better at fooling us than we are at seeing through it. Notice, for example, the clever little dig that gets worked into the last paragraph by this pro. He's good.

Observe the spinning and massaging of the news going on in the background of all of these. Then, stop and think about your half-dozen fave sites.  Could someone be paying, or "helping?" them.  Sending links to sites that they might want to publish - which is something I occasionally do - is a bit like doing research and doing their job for them.  What if we had a whole quiet little nonprofit that did that research all day, shipping out stories? The receiving sites might not even be aware.  Or could one or more of the opposition commenters at a site be a true believer who also gets a little cash sent his way? It doesn't reach down to the AVI level.  No one would pay for that. But someone is getting paid to do pushback comments at all the major sites, so how far down does that go?

Was it a hack or a leak?

Joel Osteen gets a bad rap.

 Note it's a group pushing this, and there's not any clear accusation of wrongdoing.  Just wrongishness, ohsobad.

You're racist, because.

These are conservatives doing the same thing.  Notice the weaselly "...made its way into the hands of..." People who should be bullied by a few, like this teacher, are now bullied by 100,000.

New York Times, doxxing dangerously.

An old story about Google at Arstechnica

I don't know about neontaster, maybe he's paid, too.  But the story is what it is.

Southern Poverty Law Center started as a direct-mail fund-raising site.  It's just a high-tech version of that now. Except they also like to hurt people.

I hadn't even thought of foreign sources.  This all just got three times as bad

Monday, October 09, 2017

Have You Forgotten?

These went out of the news fast because of Las Vegas.

But not, I'm thinking not just because of Las Vegas.

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, October 1 

Nashville, TN Sept 24 

I will say again: this happens all the time, and it is not accidental.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

A Tale of Two Jacobs

There is difference in how one does genealogical research now versus thirty years ago. Tracy and I were trying in the 1980's to connect one of my ancestors, Jacob Whittemore, to a Jacob Whittemore in a published genealogy. They were both in about the right place, at the right time. Yet it wasn't certain.  There were other Jacob Whittemores in the region, and it took us months before we were finally able to find the cemetery in Litchfield and determine "Yes! This is our Jacob." Great rejoicing. My painstakingly-assembled research through grandfather and great-great grandfather now connected to a published record that went back to the immigrant ancestor.

Fast forward. Tracy has long tried to find out more about John Charles Henken, her grandfather who died (or perhaps ran off) in the 1920's. Because of her DNA sample, she communicated with a person who is descended from a Jacob Henken, slightly older than John, born in Holland but emigrated to America when young, also to NYC/NJ. I wondered, still thinking old style "Oh! I wonder if those Henkens are connected to ours?" 

Duh. We would not have learned of them if they weren't connected, and very closely. He could only be the older brother of John Charles. It's not like the old days.I think people don't always get this, which is why another contact, in another line, wrote back "No, sorry I can't help you. All our relatives were on the West coast at that time, so they couldn't have any connection to a baby born in Massachusetts."

Well, no one wants to find out that their aunt (or grandmother) had a baby out of wedlock in the 1960's, so I didn't want to press the issue.  We sign up for the full package for a few months once in a while, and we'll just look at that family tree and figure it out.

Guns Again

It's not my topic, but because numbers and logic do tend to be my topics, gun control comes up again.

When John Lott came out with More Guns, Less Crime, he claimed exactly that. More citizens having access to guns would reduce crime, not increase it.  I never read it myself, but I recall from a review that even if true, the result was not large. Even before Volokh Conspiracy produced a great study for me to bookmark, I had been saying that the difference is cultural, not legislative. Northern New England has had the lowest homicide rates since colonial times. (See David Hackett Fischer) The Canadian Maritimes have the lowest rate in Canada. Those are somewhat but not greatly higher than the northern European countries with their very strict gun-access laws which America keeps getting compared to.

Also, the violent crime rate went down in those countries and they passed the gun laws later. That is a not uncommon pattern for many things that societies limit.  They only go to strictness when there is a very strong consensus.

I might add in genetic at this point - these days I believe just about everything is genetic - but leave that off for the time being. Violent crime varies enormously by neighborhood, by city, by state, and by country.

Statistically, there is so little mass killing that we can't measure it and draw conclusions from it all that well.  Too volatile.  Single incidents skew the data very quickly. Because even sports call-in shows gravitate to news items as big as the Las Vegas shootings, I heard a caller again bring up the idea that mass killing is a white male problem. So we have forgotten Nashville and Edmonton already.  That was quick.  The narrative dominates even the news of a day or two ago.

Conservatives get very quick to accuse that liberals hold this gun-control idea right at hand, ready to pounce whenever there is a new incident. The desire for power, for cultural control, is believed to be the dark motive underneath. I'm sure there are some for whom this is true, and they likely go into government and journalism, so we see more of them.  But I know people personally for whom the opposite is true.  They side culturally with the gun owners - usually this is family - but believe this law or that one would really help, and think fewer guns overall would also just help, somehow.

I think something else is in play that explains more. I think liberals are looking at what would persuade them, and then using that to persuade conservatives.  A very strong currency among liberals is that you should care. This is straight out of all that Jonathan Haidt Moral Matrix stuff. In their own behavior, the have identified - I think correctly - that they are sometimes convinced of the rightness of an action but do nothing about it because they just don't care enough. Then something happens to activate them, and they care more, and they start doing something.

This is also true for conservatives, but I think less so.  Much less.

Trying to get other people to care can take many forms. The liberals who get on the news and irritate conservatives so much are largely those who take the hectoring approach. It can be a really punitive superego approach about what bad people you must be, because you don't care, not like us good people. You didn't take the subtle social hints that this is the opinion and the behavior that the good people have, so we have to turn up the heat. It becomes a classic example of that repeating-the-same-action-but-expecting-a-different-result we saw throughout the last presidential election.  you just don't get it, a powerful phrase with much meaning.

Yet I don't think they all - in fact I know they don't all, because I can starting listing counterexamples and go on for quite a while - find that approach necessary.  By disposition, they would rather appeal to you to care more. They tell heartwarming stories, they show pictures of sad people.  Yes, these can be used manipulatively, but I think more often they are simply reading their own hearts and trying it on yours.  This poor homeless man did/said something wonderful, so we shouldn't be so quick to reject them and look down on them. That woman you are judging comes from a life of misery you don't know. That is all innocent enough, but things can go wrong very quickly.

First, the stories aren't always true, and this really frosts me. Parables are fine when it's know to be a parable, but when it's presented as something that happened it's like illegal voting. Fiction is fine, but there is an agreement between author and reader that this is what I believe is how human beings do act in these situations. Without that, it turns into those miserably didactic Sunday School stories where the good little girl gave all of her toys to the poor and her friends were all so impressed that they came to church with her next Sunday and learned to love Jesus.

I know, I know, people mean well.  They want you to be nice to waitresses, or remember to listen to old people, or whatever. But I don't know if they actually do mean well. These are often politically charged, and carry a secret accusation against all the people who don't believe this is happening every day! When this happens, there is this stream of FB congratulation to the person for being such a good and kind person who really cares.  Just for posting. It's almost as if...nah.

Second, even if true, they are chosen anecdotes, and they may pretend to represent a larger percentage of the populace than they really do.  NPR does this all the time. When they want to talk about the economy of Thailand, they recite a few numbers and then go straight to the guy who own a bicycle repair shop on a streetcorner.  Maybe he's representative, maybe not.  Who can tell? He represents what NPR thinks is true, anyway. (I don't think they do this consciously.  It is as natural as breathing for them.  Which I think is more worrisome.) The same what a good person you are for posting this comes into play here as well.  It's like junior high or something.

Eh.  I'm tired and my brain is broken.  I'm going to do something more enjoyable.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

The Smear

The Smear: How Shady Political Operatives and Fake News Control What You See, What You Think, and How You Vote by Sharyl Attkisson

(Update edit:  I should mention right off the bat that Attkisson was an Emmy-award winning CBS reporter for many years.  I don't know if she still is. I think not.)

I have cynically said for years that Republicans lie 50% of the time and Democrats 90%. I may be upping those numbers to 70 and 95 after reading this book.

There are two related books happening at once here. The second title, How Shady Political Operatives and Fake News Control What You See, What You Think, and How You Vote  is about the manipulation of information in general. How the media gets co-opted by politicians and groups who offer to do their work for them and restrict access to those who agree to write favorably or do softball interviews.  While this has been going on as long as I have been following the news, Attkisson provides solid evidence that it has become much worse, especially over the last decade. She repeatedly uses the image of The Truman Show, where an entire false reality is inserted. She means it. She doesn't believe that much of anybody actually gets the news these days.

She names names and gives examples.  A fair sampling of individuals are identified, but a lot of the list is groups who are doing all the behind-the-scenes work. Information-managing is a pretty formidable PR and oppo research business at this point, employing thousands of people, not only in DC and New York but for/against major industries and causes. I had not known how extensively the money and influence is spreading out to smaller players on the web, not only to helpfully run stories to create an impression of a groundswell of public opinion, but to comment and push back against a site’s general thrust.  Undermining the opposition’s information may be more important than providing your own. Notice the frequent-flier opponent commenters on the sites you frequent. They may be getting paid for that work. She describes "transactional" journalism throughout the book.

She describes how the fact-checking sites get manipulated, and the ways that even Wikipedia and Snopes can shade things to create - or allow - a narrative. (Yes, even Snopes, especially the last half-dozen years.)

The second book is The Smear, and this is a textbook about how its done, how to spot it, and who’s doing it. It is all as we suspected and worse. It has multiplied in the internet era, enough that people who speak up can be destroyed virtually overnight.  Most outrage you read about these days is manufactured. Examples are provided - ones you will recognize, such as the sudden destruction of Don Imus over the Rutgers basketball comment. He is a shock jock and had been making such comments for years, but coincidentally, it occurred when he had taken to calling Hillary "that buck-toothed witch, Satan." Media Matters (of course!) assigned Ryan Chiachierre to listen to every syllable Imus uttered until they had one they could astroturf, creating the impression that there was general outrage about his Rutgers comment.  There wasn't. At least until there was an engineered outrage against him, anyway.

It worked. These people know how to isolate you and force even people who like you to distance themselves from you and deny you.

It’s important to remember that much of the information being spread is at least partly true, and the criticism deserved, but the timing and placement are such that equivalent truths are obscured. Lying is only one tool in the box. (Though it is used frequently.) Secondly, the semitrue information is often the sort that is only uncovered by private detectives. Also, much of what is put forward is opinion disguised as fact.  Nor is this simply a matter of reasonably hiring better, though legal and above-board PR firms than your opponents. When journalists are corrupted, and entire networks and news organisations are willingly seduced into reporting scandals about one side but not the other, or undermining one set of critics but not the other, it may be legal, and the information true, but still deceitful.

I had to keep reminding myself of this in certain sections.  I would think to myself, Okay, this is a little low and cheap, but what they are doing is completely legal.  Let’s not oversell this. Then I would remember: the title of the book is The Smear. Even if the information is true, it may have been organized and packaged by professionals, who are suppressing counter-information.  Its main focus is not to force investigations, but to instruct the reader how to see through this.

Or one main focus, anyway.  Ms. Attkisson clearly wants to make sure that some important people get exposed and publicly kicked. For example (in keeping with Assistant Village Idiot’s renewed awareness of stories that have gone down the memory hole), she reminds us that during the investigation of Bill Clinton in the late 90’s, Kathleen Willey had her children threatened during the period she was testifying about him.  This came up as an addition to the description of the smear tactics used against her. Border and Customs and ATF whistleblowers, including Fast and Furious.

So who’s worse, you all want to know, and I have intentionally dragged my feet in revealing.  She repeatedly says it’s many groups: industries and corporations trying to highlight some information while burying other, both political parties, supposedly neutral media sources, and hosts of advocacy groups or lobbyists, and gives examples.  More than once I saw a name heave into view and thought Oh no, not them.  I thought they were among the good guys. Most prominently, she comes back to three villains:  Sidney Blumenthal, David Brock, Hillary Clinton. She multiplies example upon example. Even subtracting out that trio she seems to have more examples of liberals and Democrats, but those three dwarf all other players in her estimation.  I was surprised she referenced Barack Obama as little as she did.  Perhaps she thought she had already covered that in her previous book Stonewalled. For conservatives and libertarians who sense this very easily about others, it pays to remember that there are lots of people who try to get their word out by getting their story into Rush Limbaugh's hands, or Jonah Goldberg's or Glenn Reynolds. Those people can't read everything and rely on people to send them stories, news, and immediate counterarguments.  They develop a network of people and organisations they trust. There doesn't have to be anything the least illegal or even unethical about this.  It might just be like-minded people cooperating and sharing resources.

Yet it can also bring pressure to bear far more quickly than you or I could do, and one can see how it could easily go bad. They have no obligation to tell you the other side.  They are trying to convince you of an entire array of ideas.  Let the other guy tell the other side.

The textbook part, Smears 101, is very helpful.  It confirms much of what I suspected, and added things I kicked myself for not having seen on my own. The simple steps of the smear are described, so that ye may be ready. Here’s one reminiscent of CS Lewis, who suggested when one sees the word debunked or discredited, it is worth asking “When? How? By Whom?” Attkisson suggests something very similar, that the use of these words is often a sign that no one actually has debunked or discredited the idea – they are used much more often when untrue than when true.

Predictably, if you Bing, Google, or DuckDuckGo for her first book, the second entry is from Media Matters discrediting the book in a sneering, insulting manner, relying heavily on irrelevant but emotion-laden details. Also, if you browse through the Amazon reviews, you can spot which ones are professionally done. Attkisson raises your awareness and you skill level in these matters and hopefully, encourages you to use them against your own side as well.


Almost the last half of the book is about the 2016 campaign, as she is fascinated by the Trump phenomenon that takes smears full-bore and seems to benefit from them, even when they are true. Though Donald Trump is perceived as an attacking and smearing politician, this is because he does it all on his own, right out in front of others.  Obama and Hillary do this more artfully, and have network that creates and then supports their attacks. He doesn't have any network of information-placers, attack dogs, or softball interviewers. Or at least, he didn't used to.