Friday, August 31, 2018

Angels Unaware

I am angry at one of my eye surgeon, and I have been rehearsing how to get my complaint across without getting tuned out.  It hasn't been going well, and I keep getting worked up, remembering to exhale, getting worked up, remembering to exhale, etc.

I went out to do an errand and ran into one of my patients from years ago.  He is on the short list of most frightening and dangerous when sick, but gentle and sweet when well.  He was very happy to see me, and wanted to tell me about his job nearby and how well things are going for him. While it is true that he has caused enormous difficulty for both family and bystanders, it is also true that he has had a very, very hard life.

God sent him.  My life is not that hard.

The Power of Star Players

It is a big deal that Tom Brady is now traveling with a private trainer. This would not be a big deal for any of the top dozen stars in the NBA. It would have been a big deal 20 years ago, but basketball is leading the culture change. The NBA also has players organizing teams and where they will play behind the scenes, while coaches and general managers are often forbidden by league rules from saying anything. While that is especially true since the Celtics assembled Allen and Garnett to go with Pierce, followed soon after by Lebron arranging to get Bosh to join him in Miami, it has been somewhat true of basketball for decades. Wilt was able to get himself traded, and O’Neal had more than ordinary control.

Why is player-under-control a big deal in the NFL but much less so in the NBA? Number of players on the floor/field. In basketball, you can only play five guys at a time, and realistically, only seven or eight are important. Therefore, a singular talent at one of those few slots is enormously valuable. In baseball and hockey, about 15 players are important. In football, almost 30 players of a 53-man roster are important, including special teams. The importance of even a star player is diluted.

Brady is an exception because he is a quarterback, now far and away the most important position in the NFL. He may be aided by the fact that the other singular talent on the team, Rob Gronkowski, uses the same private trainer. The few examples of player power are usually quarterbacks as well: Eli Manning refusing to be drafted by San Diego; Carson Palmer sitting out rather than playing for Cincinnati. Other QB’s may start to have more influence as well. The day may well be coming when Odell Beckham Jr can do as he pleases on some matters, moving the fences for other non-quarterbacks. But look at superior talents Donald Allen and Khalil Mack.  They don't have quite the juice they think they do.  They are still only one of 30 rather than one of five.

Coaches have more power when even the stars add less value per position in the sport. Football coaches get rid of players. Basketball players get rid of coaches. Baseball and hockey are more like football, but somewhere in between.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

McCain Funeral

I've decided I don't want John McCain at my funeral.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Tim Tebow Effect and Trump

I have been trying to avoid current events, and especially Trump events in my reading lately, focusing on more 30,000-ft and long-term analysis.  Really, it's what we all should be doing most of the time.  While there are actions with long-term consequences happening in real time before our eyes - SCOTUS nominees and decisions come to mind - most of what we are getting exercised about now will recede.  Trends in technology, demography, and philosophy will have greater importance, while we were chasing squirrels.

I find I cannot easily get away. I keep coming back to the Tim Tebow Effect, but let me tie it directly to Trump.  We have a large number of Trump haters, The Resistance*, who believe that no one is listening to them when they tell us how terrible Trump is and how can we not see it; we have another large number of Trump supporters who believe that no one is listening to them, because things are going great yet he is still criticised. There are conservatives who disapprove of Trump who believe they are not being listened to.  There are liberals who believe they can work with anyone and strike bargains who believe they are not being listened to.  My own group is "there's plenty to dislike about Trump without having to make stuff up, but the more you make stuff up the more I am determined to discredit everything you say."  I feel like no one is listening to that POV.

Except that's pretty much the view of National Review Online, which is still a major player among conservatives.  Plenty of folks at other sites I frequent would say the same.  So I really don't need to pound the table insisting that everyone just listen to my few simple sentences about Trump.

*Every time I see someone referring to themselves that way it irritates me. Wearing the clothing of the actually brave, with no courage of their own, like children dressing up.

Letters From Another Time - I

In searching for the "funeral" link under the McCain post, I found these, which broke my heart again.  They were originally posted six years ago.

I will break this into three parts, and will print them in reverse blog-order.  That is, in the order that we always read everything until ten years ago.

The first letter is from my grandmother's younger sister, Elin, to my grandmother, Louise, giving her details about the hard news she had received previously by telegram: that their youngest sister, Evelyn, had died of scarlet fever at 19.  Indulge me a bit on the length - I wanted to have them printed in full to provide certain effects.  Notice how different the experience of death was, even less than a hundred years ago in 1926.  I will not put that into words for you; I think that is beyond my skill, but more importantly, I want you to have a try at it yourself.  The tone is just different; they lived in a different world.

My second intent is something of an "Our Town" prism in viewing the past.  Reading primary sources is a different experience than reading historians - which is why the training of historians includes an insistence on primary sources.  In tracing family history this sometimes hits with great force.  We read the courtship letters of a marriage that was unhappy.  Whether we see the first seeds of discord or hear only joy and affection is irrelevant - we experience pain. Tucked away in a box, we find letters from a son in the service in the Pacific Theater who never came home.  The writers of these letters do not know what happens after.

So, spoiler alerts.  I will introduce you to the other characters, which will color your reading.  The writer of the first letter herself dies prematurely, of mitral valve disease three years later. A friend in NYC replies to inquiries from one of Elin's sisters whether she left any debts which should be paid.

Louise, my grandmother and the recipient of the first letter, had had a hard life, but things were looking up somewhat.  Second of seven-plus children (stillbirths), her father died when she was fourteen (1910), at which point she left school and went to work.  She married a man who had also had a hard childhood, his father abandoning the family when he was small.  But he had some drive, and became the first CPA in NH, bringing Louise into the comfortable middle class and better.  That was still to come, however.  At present, he had taken a job in Lockport NY, where they had moved and started a family.  She had lost her first child, but her son David had just been born.  She was far from family in Manchester, NH.

Evert, Al, Esther, and Selma (Sal) were the other siblings. In time, Louise, Esther and Sal formed rather an iron triangle as the true center of the family - the brothers having scattered out-of-state.  Brilliant, literate women who created a family culture which I still consciously pass on.  Word-people in the extreme, able to quote long sections of poetry or latter verses of obscure Christmas carols, and wallop you at bridge or Jeopardy.

Other relatives mentioned have importance to me - Frieda, Bernadine - but likely not to the reader.  But if you are a female 45-85, or knowledgeable about children's books, one name may be of interest to you.  "Jennie" is Jennie Lindquist, who was editor of the Horn Book and author of a Newbery Medal runner-up in the 1950's, The Golden Name Day. Girl books. Swedish children in America. All far in the future for these letters, but I think it illustrates something about this network of women who are writing to each other, and gives some credibility to the idea that Elin's unpublished poetry may actually have been worthwhile. I've got it all here, including the posthumous pamphlet of five poems, but I'm no judge. I may post those sometime soon, just for posterity. Other pieces I will explain with footnotes as we go.

Letters From Another Time - II

Dear Louise:

         We have started to try to get back to normal again.

         The scarlet fever seemed to be a rather light case, as her temperature dropped steadily until Friday; then pneumonia set in, and she went down under it.  They sent for mother and the girls in the afternoon.  The girls had to stand in the doorway, but mother was right with her, holding her, and she died without pain.  They wired me at 9 o'clock and called up Evert to bring Al at once.  They drove up from Boston in two hours and a half,* arriving just a little too late for the end.  I got the telegram at quarter past eleven, and got an 11:45 train arriving in Manchester at half past nine in the morning.  Esther, Selma, and Evert met me with the news.

         They told us that, on account of danger of contagion, we must have her buried from the hospital, with only ourselves there; but when Mr. Goodwin** told us by using a copper inner shell in the casket, which could be hermetically sealed, the Board of Health would allow a funeral in his undertaking parlor, we decided on that.  The copper box is partly glassed in, so that we could see her about down to the waist.  She was dressed in her ruffly georgette graduation dress, with black velvet slippers and white stockings, some white silk bloomers that Selma gave Esther for Christmas, and a silk shirt that Esther had.  Selma bought the stockings and a white silk slip.

         The details of the funeral are in the clipping. Lillian sang beautifully, though it was very hard for her on account of having lost her mother so recently.  However, she said she wanted particularly to do it for us because, not long ago, at a Y(oung) P(eople's) S(ociety) meeting something had been said about having Estrid sing, and Evelyn said "I wish they'd have you sing instead; I'd lots rather hear you than Estrid."  We asked Annette to accompany her, and she was going to do so, but at the last moment learned that there was no instrument there. So Lillian sang unaccompanied, and somehow it sounded beculiarly beautiful and appropriate.

         Of course the service was in English***.  Pastor Evert was lovely, we all thought; he read from the Bible, and then talked about Evelyn, and prayed, making it short and heartfelt.

         Aunt Laura came up from Lowell, and all our Manchester people were there.  Jennie came home for the weekend, but on account of very stringent college rules, that all students must promise faithfully to keep away from any place that scarlet fever had been, she could not go to the funeral.  She came over here to the house and had coffee and crackers and things ready for us.

         Ever so many people offered us money, cars, food, and help of any sort.  When we found that we could have people there, Evert called Frieda and she came up, and they stayed until 10 o'clock this morning.  Al will have to go back tonight, but I think I shall stay until Tuesday night.

         We have missed you very much, of course, and are sorry that you could not be here, but of course we know you could not possibly have reached here for the funeral in any case, and you certainly could not leave the baby or bring him with you at this season.  It is much better to have you both come when weather conditions are better, and stay for a real visit.

         I came home last weekend, on account of the holiday, and shall always be glad that I did.  She met me at the station with her new coat and the little blue hat she just made, and we didn't recognise each other at first.

         There were so many flowers; we couldn't see how so many people could have heard about it and sent them in time.  There were daffodils from you, and another spray from Lockport friends.  We all appreciated that so much; itwas so thought ful of your neighbors to send them.  We brought home a basket of sweet peas, which came from Frieda, Lennie, and the children, and also some white roses.  Aunt Laura and the Nelsons in Lowell sent some flowers, which arrived too late for the funeral, so this morning we carried them up to the Isolation Hospital, for them to use as they wished.  The nurses were all perfectly lovely to Evelyn, and did everything that was humanly possible for her.  The nurse who came to the door this morning said that they all loved Evelyn, because she was so sweet, and they had all wanted to do all they could.

         You know Evelyn spent a week in Medford with Frieda and the children a short while ago. Evert says that the last time her saw her she was in bed with Bernadine, both giggling at the boys, and telling them they would not get up.  We are thinking of her as gay and sweet and loving on every occasion where we remember she was.

         Last Sunday she and Arthur (ed. Anderson) took some pictures of each other, and we are having some extra ones made of the one that is most like her.  Of course we will send you one as soon as they are done.  The expression and whole appearance are absolutely Evelyn.

         She knew mother was with her at the end, though she was kept under opiates to keep her free from pain.

         I haven't said anything of how we feel about losing our little kid, because you feel the same way and there is no need of dwelling on it.  Lottie stayed with Mother Friday night, and Lib also stayed at the house then - the time that I was riding up on the sleeper, not knowing if she was better or worse or what might have happened.

         We shall so love to have you come on with the baby when you can.  I'll surely plan to be at home some time when you are.  We all are sending our love to you.

         Mother wants to add that she will write in a day or two, just as soon as she can.  She is wonderful, as usual: there's nobody like her.
                                                      Much love,      Elin

*This would now take one hour.
** The fourth Mr. Goodwin is my age, and will likely bury me, as my ancestors before me.
*** Pastor Evert spoke good English, but so heavily accented that people still thought it was Swedish.  Or so I've heard.

Letters From Another Time - III

THE AMERICAN CITY       Editorial Offices                     THE MUNICIPAL INDEX
  Published Monthly          443 Fourth Avenue, NY             Published Annually
                                       Harold S. Buttenheim, Editor

                                                                                                May 8, 1929

Dear Selma:

I received your letter this morning, and am hastening to assure you that Elin owed us nothing.  Her rent was paid up until the end of the week and there were no other bills for which she was responsible.  She has a bill at the Queen Quality Shoe Shop here in New York, and on which I had recently bought a pair of shoes for $8.50.  I shall forward this bill to you with my check, and you can make payment direct to the Queen Quality people.  I believe that was all she owed.  Thank you for writing me about this.

As your brother may have told you, we read with the boys some of the poetry which Elin had written and evidently sent in to several magazines, and which had been returned to her.  I showed the one entitled "Mary in Martha" to Mr. H. S. Buttenheim, and we both felt it was very strange it was not accepted for publication.  I said to Mr. Buttenheim it was too bad none of her poems had ever been printed.  He spoke to Mr. E. J. about it, and Mr. H. S. wanted me to write to your mother, telling her that he and Mr. E. J. would like to print a little four-page pamphlet, quoting three or four, or perhaps five, depending on the length, which your mother considers the best of the ones which your brother brought home with him.  If you will have your mother look them over rather carefully and send me just the ones she would like published, it will be done.  Mr. Buttenheim said to let him know how many you would like to have.  He would probably be prepared to send you several hundred if you want them.  Of course a great many people here will want them too.  I think that is a lovely thought, don't you?  I am sure your mother will be glad to have them also.  Will you drop me a line about this, Selma, as soon as you can conveniently do so.

It may be that sometime during the coming summer I will be up around Manchester, although this is just a guess, but if I am, I shall certainly drop in on the Nordstroms, whom I feel I know already.  You may be assured that anything which Florence and I were able to do for Elin was gladly done, for we know she would have done as much or more for either of us.

I hope you are all feeling better, and that your mother is beginning to get back to normal again.

                                                                      Yours sincerely,
                                                                             Marion E. Lewis

Those Praising McCain

Conservative sites are at the moment full of examples of liberals and media figures who are praising McCain today after having said horrible things about him - not mere disagreements, but shameful things - in the past.

I can't see faulting the others for it. That seems like political point-scoring in itself.  It is not just a superstition that one should not speak ill of the dead. It is a civilising act, and when we face it in our private lives it is often good for us. We try to sum up, as best we can, what was good about people.  In so doing, we sometimes discover things we had forgotten or had not thought of - good things we had failed to praise. We should take care not to be so ready to praise that we make things up, as I wrote previously. We can't swap in a eulogy of an imaginary person. But we can make a good effort.

Forgetfulness will be part of this for all of us, as it always is of the dead.  Most either have or will forget they ever said the horrible things, or will forget they said nice things now and revert to form. Even among those who generally approved of him there will be some things they did not agree with, or were even furious about.  Yet there will be some who will have the cognitive dissonance of trying to resolve the two, and it will be good for them us.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Armand Duplantis

Last year he was a Louisiana highschooler. Four more inches and he breaks the world record for the pole vault. He is already tied for fourth-best ever. He could compete for either the US or Sweden, and has chosen Sweden.

The vaulter who leads off the video holds the current world record, set almost ten years ago.

Suspicion and the Corruption of the Liberal Mind

I had a cartoon on my office door in the 80's. An elderly man, sitting in a beach chair next to an elderly woman, looks out over the ocean with a frown.  "I've come full circle.  I think things are what they seem."

I begin to see why it has pleased me so much


I point you to yet another Quillette article, Suspicion and the Corruption of the Liberal Mind, by Stephen Harrod Buhner. I have grown fond of the site, and need to discipline myself to go over there more often. Buhner says he is a "liberal to the core," but has grown weary of the current approach of other liberals. He in turn refers us on to Rita Felski, a professor of English at UVA whose most recent book, The Limits of Critique, discusses the liberal approach to culture and art in terms of mood. (Her definition of this occurs early on in Buhner's essay.) She too is a liberal raising red flags.

I wanted to excerpt a quote from either Buhner or Felski to give you sense of their argument, but it took a while to settle on just one. This is Buhner:
Those who have absorbed the mindset now extend suspicious reading to everyone and everything anyone does: words, body language, dress, hair, music, art, even food. They actively reject the face value of communication, whether literary or social; hold nothing as innocent of power motivations, whether directly or through unconscious complicity in those power motivations.

To regard the majority of Western peoples as possessing malign motives; to base a life upon such a point of view; to approach all books, plays, art, and human interactions with this kind of suspicion is not, however, a sign of clear-eyed perception but rather, as one of my psychology professors once put it, a diseased mind. Like its more extreme cousin, paranoia, it becomes self-perpetuating: the more suspicious one is, the more vigilant one becomes; the more vigilant one is, the more evidence one finds in even the most innocent of behaviors; and the more evidence one finds, the more suspicious one becomes.
Comparing this type of suspiciousness to paranoia is what caught my eye, as the discussion now moves into my territory.  I have noted here before (quite often, it seems) that the attitude of paranoia usually occurs before it has an object. The brain has a sense that something is wrong, or has a sensation that it interprets as a noise, and quickly after, calls it a voice. This kicks off a search for an explanation. This often happens with depression or anxiety as well. Scrooge's explanation for what Marley's ghost really is may be entertaining, but it's not the way we actually think. We blame things on real and important events, not accidentals. These are not always untrue, certainly. Grief, illness, or mistreatment can cause misery. Yet if these are not present we still find similar explanations. Work has been really stressful lately. I'm worried because Jason has been arguing with his wife.

How then if this suspicious cast of mind also precedes the political and social outlook? Yes, yes, it may all be self-reinforcing as Buhner suggests.  Nothing would be more likely, as it would be rewarding to prove oneself right so often.  As evidence, I offer myself.  When I was a liberal years ago, this was very much my cast of mind.  I believed I saw what others did not, was sensitive to the hidden motives of others and meanings of seemingly innocuous cultural items. I have credited my rescue to CS Lewis, especially in The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce, which affected me powerfully. Lewis often cautioned that such interpretations of others' behavior must allow that such things are possible with ourselves as well.

While conservatives were often defensive and rationalising when their own searchlights were turned back on themselves, I found that liberals - and very especially public liberals - were unable to see it at all. The phenomenon would be acknowledged in the abstract, Of course it's human nature and applies to everyone, then instantly forgotten. Or they would cop to lesser versions of  the (stereotypical) faults of conservatives, acknowledging that they also were materialistic or liked the comfort of things remaining the same, yet failed to see that there was another entire set of faults more typical of liberals.

In recently recalling a conversation I had in highschool, long before I read Lewis, I now doubt he was the cause of any change.  He reinforced it and gave me words for it, but I have always had both moods present - suspiciousness of everything, including myself, counteracted by an amused awareness that most things actually are as they seem.

Update: There is also the belief that someone out there has money they are hiding from the rest of us, the goal being to make them give it up.  Quoting Jonah Goldberg:

"It is grounded in an ancient romantic notion that economics — the science of competing choices amidst finite resources — is a con. We can do all the good things simultaneously. Everyone can become an American, and every American is entitled to free housing, free school, guaranteed work, and every other good thing. It is the ideology of the child or the aristocrat — often the same thing — that holds we can of course have our cakes and eat them too. And as with the more evil forms of ideology, its advocates assume that those opposed are motivated by a desire to deprive the deserving of something they could easily give them."

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Perot and Trump

Ross Perot was a businessman who twice took a shot at the presidency in the 1990's, in campaigns that were strongly critical of both the Republicans and Democrats. He was a salesman/entrepreneur, while Trump is more of a developer, but their careers aren't that dissimilar. Both were populists who drew their votes from the disaffected, though Trump drew somewhat more from the right, Perot from the center. They were both America-firsters in trade and the economy, and during their campaigns favored increased taxes on the ultra-rich, though Trump has backed away from that. Perot was against the first Iraq war, Trump against the second. Both tended to favor action over words, preferring to speak in simple, even cliched generalities. They both did better live than in print.

Perot drew 19% of the vote in 1992.  Does this mean that there is always this populist vote lurking in the American electorate, which can sometimes be tapped into by a single politician, but is uncertain and fluid when applied to the traditional political parties? Or does this mean that there is an increase in such voters since 1992?

Basket of Resentment

 I was back at work last week, all in one place rather than bouncing around in coverage, and so got dragged in to the controversies that part-timers usually get to ignore. Two of these are among the most dreaded at psych hospitals: a pathological parent who is guardian over their adult child whose behavior carries legal implications.  This usually takes the form of refusing treatment on behalf of their child which the man desperately needs. I also had a male with borderline personality disorder, which is uncommon and generally more intense. Such cases can split staff into opposing camps, demonstrating the Tim Tebow Effect, in which everyone is certain that their point-of-view is not being heard.

I had been largely spared this for the last eighteen months, and largely for the last three years. It was not fun to re-enter the world of conflicting orders and meaningful irritated comments from coworkers. I had felt comfortable being the bearer of bad news in such situations for years, as I believed it bothered me less than it bothers others to be disliked. Suddenly re-experiencing that after being away from it was a surprise.

I am not as immune I had thought. Not only did I find myself thinking Wow, I had forgotten how uncomfortable this is, I also had anxieties and resentments that I had largely put in the past start occurring to me again.  These were unrelated to work.  How, then, were they popping back into my head again?

I had a  combination of frustration, resentment, and the front edges of helplessness in trying to resolve one contradiction without having to kick it back to administration pointing out the conflicting orders they were giving (because that runs a risk of escalating everything rather than fixing it). I found myself arguing in my head about a conflict at a church I left thirty years ago, and another with my late stepfather in the 1990's, my uncle in the 2000's, plus a couple of more recent online or email arguments. None of these bore any relation of content to my current controversies.  What they had in common was the feeling. I found myself counting my steps when on a walk, an OCD (which is an anxiety disorder) calming response that had become rare the last three years. There was a subplot of people trying to condescend and make me feel small.

There is emotional memory as well as content memory, at least in my head. I think this is true for depression and anxiety as well. Our emotions are rather generic, made subtly different by the more sophisticated parts of our brains but still essentially the same chemicals flowing about in our brains. From the neck down, we're mostly just rats, a psychiatrist friend used to say.  Big rats, but not all that different. When one gets depressed about something, the emotion tickles any number of memories, offering them up as possible explanations before.  Here is the basket of things that have made you feel this way in the past.  It's probably one of these now.

The bad result of this is fairly consistent for me. Now I get upset over those other things all over again. Old guy metaphor alert: It is like a skip in a vinyl record. The more times this happens the deeper the gouge becomes and more likely the needle will follow the skip instead of the track. Dragging the song out of it often involves playing it over at a different speed many times - there were other techniques - until the proper track was the dominant one again.  Or sometimes, just not playing that song at all.

This is not a brand-new idea to me.  I have mentioned it here before.  Yet it came home to me with particular force this week because it had become less-common. I assume this occurs with positive emotions as well, but I don't pay attention then, because I have no motivation to fix it.

Cross-posted at Chicago Boyz.

Thursday, August 23, 2018


I have noticed how quickly some people go to the idea of how spiritually instructive doing some types of volunteering is.  Also, how many charitable endeavors can change their focus to the conversion or spiritual improvement of those served.  Somewhere in my mind, I remember that these are probably more the point than the earthly benefit.  All this world does go away, and only that which is spirit remains.  What we accomplish may be less important than how we treat each other while doing it.

Yet I find I am just not wired that way.  I have started at a food charity, and a few weeks in, I focus on the aspects that are just a job.  Estimates of how many items from column A can be given to each ticket must be made and adjusted as we go; cheaters must be discouraged because it robs the honest and many volunteers are not equipped for enforcement tones of voice; work must be divided, priorities must be set, reminders to be polite and kind must be given, and so forth. I don't know that I am deriving any spiritual benefit, nor that those receiving are either. People arrive claiming they need food and we give it to them.

This reveals to me what my real values are, rather than my claimned theoretical and theological values.  I guess I don't really in my heart of hearts believe that it's all about spiritual development, though all of Christian history says it is.  It's just a job, and a few of us - I can see who the others are already - have our focus on getting the job done efficiently and well. Perhaps it is just that I am easily distracted by the concrete act over the harder spiritual work.  That could be so. Easier to count and bag small yogurts than listen for what God might be saying.

I worry about such things, but this also reveals to me that I don't have an enormous ability to reverse field on this.  The work must be done, so some of us go immediately to that.  We are Marthas by nature, not Marys.  Human Doings instead of Human Beings.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

New Study

New Study says that new studies are exaggerated.

Basketball and Mental Health

I listened to an Adrian Wojnarowski podcast, interviewing Jackie McMullan about her new series on basketball players and their mental health issues.  Not only was the panic, anxiety, and depression-inducing travel and sleep schedule not discussed, sleep was not even mentioned.  I am hoping things get better as the series goes on.  What they are doing to the players can directly cause those conditions.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Humanities Degrees.

Emailed from a familiar source, there is this new data and opinion on humanities degrees.  The writer is able to say " I made a wrong prediction, the data didn't bear me out," which is always the way to my heart. And it's got lots of graphs, which is my second language.

The comments mostly restate the same arguments I have been hearing since the 1970's. Some state them well, others not so much. Trust me, you will do better arguing the points in your own head.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Women At War

The premise of this study looked intuitively unlikely to me. However, I really like intuitively unlikely premises that turn out to be true, so this was right up my alley. 

It turns out it's not unlikely.  It's just lunatic. Notice the words "can," "might," and "could" in the description.  They have mathematical models that show that if women had started out being the warmakers somewhere, this would have been reinforcing over time, and their sex would be the warmaking one now.  It hasn't actually happened anywhere, so perhaps it wasn't quite a coin flip.  One would have to go back farther and farther into our evolutionary history - past the first primate, perhaps - to get to coulda-been-this-coulda-been-that situation.  It gives an excellent expression to the old saw "If my aunt had balls she would be my uncle."

You will continue to hear a lot about the spotted hyena, where the females are more aggressive, because it provides an exception.  It will be held aloft, not as evidence that one-off situations under special circumstances are always possible, but that we are mostly quite malleable and can be changed to other behaviors (if we just pass the right legislation, maybe). It is similar to finding the language in the Caucasus in which "Dada" is used for mother, showing that "mama" cannot be a shared word from the first language; or the few primitive societies that are matriarchal proving that humans were equally likely to develop that way but for the merest chance, and we can change it back whenever we like.

Drunken Knight In Sweden

No American jury would convict.  Do they have juries in Sweden?

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Sports Podcasts

Well, they're better than sports radio guys.  But today, yet another one complains about listeners who tell them to stick to sports, and not mention politics or the cultural issues of the day.  These things are important and deserve to be talked about. 

Yes, they are important.  Important enough that I don't go to sportswriters to become informed about them. Besides, we already know what their opinion is on anything: they are very good at picking up what is coolest in the culture of those who make their living in sports and media. It is automatic, reflexive, and unthinking. They are masters of the "Well, all the intelligent people believe this, and that of course includes you and me, Jocko. No need to actually give a reason."

No, it's not just ESPN.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Jewish Life In Germany

I am reading excerpts from collected Jewish diaries in Germany in the 18th-20th Centuries.  I was struck forcibly with who it was who had the longstanding prejudices, versus who accepted them into German society as integral parts, or even equals. The university students and professors were the worst and most consistent excluders, decade after decade.  The peasants were usually prejudiced, though there were towns and regions where the peoples got along reasonably well for a century or more. Merchants, craftsmen, suppliers, builders, and especially the factory workers were the most accepting.  Prejudice ebbed and flowed, and increased fairly steadily after the economic volatility of the 1870's through 90's, and then thereafter.

The Nazis, remember, were drawn from the artists, philosophers, and university populations. They stirred up the others, and there was a longstanding simmer of antisemitism to draw on.  Eventually, it was nearly everyone, as we know. But the idea that the Holocaust happened because of some acute madness of the crowd, driven by the stupid and uneducated, is false.

Statistics As They Float By

Because I have been in doctors' offices recently, I have read many more magazines than I usually do. Wouldn't you think, BTW, that eye centers would have a few large-print magazines in their waiting rooms? Mine don't - not in three different offices.

I was reading the Sports Illustrated article about the college pitcher who was just coming to the end of his successful five-year probation for sexual abuse of his niece when he was in highschool, when the whole story came to light and now major league teams don't want to draft him because of the bad PR, and risk of worse problems down the road.

The case is interesting, because he pled guilty and likely is guilty, but also claims he only pled because he was assured it was the best way to keep everything quite and make it go away as quickly as possible. That last is true, and people do that all the time, so it raises questions.  I haven't got enough data to comment further on that, and that's not the point of the post anyway.

There was an outraged college administrator who was appalled that the university had let his arrival and playing for one of their teams happen.  In her quoted statement, she said that 75% of female drug and alcohol addicts had been sexually abused, and that 75% of women having gastric bypass surgery had been sexually abused. I have a little more than average experience with women who have had gastric bypass surgery than the average person, because they are overrepresented among psychiatric patients, but I don't know an enormous amount about it.  I know that obesity is much more common among sexually abused females* (and probably males). Yet I knew even as I was reading the sentence I knew that 75% was very likely to be too high. I was immediately irritated because if she is going to be paid a handsome salary to advocate on these sorts of matters, she has a responsibility to get these things right.  It's her job.

To me the interesting piece is how I instantly knew it was bogus.  First I will give a retrospective, but I warn you that I will go on to undermine my own reasoning, so don't get swept away.

There were two 75%'s back-to-back. Red flag. Just too convenient. Son #5 uses the phrase "Shit just comes out of her mouth." Next, the first statistic isn't really about the topic at hand.  Adult substance abusers are indeed victimised at a very high rate. That's not the same thing, but she talks as if it its. It doesn't say that 75% of women who were sexually abused as children will become substance abusers as adults, nor that 75% of adult substance abusers were sexually abused as children. Those would be relevant.  Her statistic is is shouting distance of the subject at hand, but no closer. I saw that because I did an immediate reread, because some of this is my profession and I reflexively double-check. Third, 75% of any two small, seemingly unrelated groups is a lot of people.  If someone says "75% of Mennonites..." (or mixed-race Canadians, or county employees, or members of the garden club) " a wind instrument" alarm bells should go off.  It's just too weird. BTW, the real number is 25-30% - a big number, but not crazy big.

So far, most people would agree with my reasoning, and noticing their own sizing up of situations on the fly, don't find this all that surprising.  Somehow we all have these amazing shortcuts, part of  Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow.

Except sometimes these shortcuts are wrong, yet we are just as sure about them. This is where the post got away from me. Researching this, I came quickly back to Kahneman, and this short interview. But that of course (well, to me, anyway) led to CS Lewis's Meditation In a Toolshed. (PDF) It is excerpted and commented on here. I went back to browse in my own 2011 series May We Believe Our Thoughts, but I don't like reading that much of my own stuff. Hopefully I wrote smart things.  If any of you do browse, let me know.

*The two simplest theories are that the abuse creates a need to be unattractive, or that the emotional pain creates a need to self-soothe with food. I think those are true but more complicated things are true as well. Perpetrators have an ability to identify those who are less-capable of standing up to them and turning them in. In many cases both mother and daughter (there is the genetic-environment conundrum again) are willingly blind or too fearful to speak.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Our Universal Civilization

The recently-deceased VS Naipul was Indo-Carribean, whose grandparents had moved from India to Trinidad. He attended Oxford and became a great writer in English, but more interestingly for me, an observer of many cultures of the world, including the Anglosphere. He was from the margins of Anglospheric society, but not an outsider.  He could see both in and outside his culture, likely better than those of us who grow up in a place, who are like fish who do not know they are wet. In his essay Our Universal Civilization,  he gives one answer to what this culture is.
But I always recognized, in England in the 1950s, that as someone with a writing vocation, there was nowhere else for me to go. And if I have to describe the universal civilization, I would say that it is the civilization that both gave the prompting and the idea of the literary vocation; and also gave the means to fulfill that prompting; the civilization that enables me to make that journey from the periphery to the center; the civilization that links me not only to this audience but also that now not-so-young man in Java whose background was as ritualized as my own, and on whom—as on me—the outer world had worked, and given the ambition to write.
It is likely that City Journal reprinted this in response to the multicultural imperative taught in our schools, assumed among the majority of our journalists, and extolled by the entertainment industry (but I repeat myself). Naipul focuses in particular on his journeys in Muslim countries. He does not reject other cultures as valueless, with nothing to teach us, but neither does he think they are equal.

There is also a short essay on him by Theodore Dalrymple in this issue of City Journal.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Benedict Option

I will be co-teaching an adult Sunday School class on Rod Dreher's The Benedict Option this fall. As my co-leader is a philosophy professor at St Anselm College, I would very much like not to make a complete fool of myself.  If any of you know anything, or have thoughts, please share them.

Update:  In response to one comment I attempted to add Dreher to my sidebar. It seems it is impossible to link to only to Dreher's stuff, you have to go to the main page of The American Conservative. This has happened to me before on other sites, and it is frustrating.  I dislike the premises of a few of their writers and don't want to send them traffic. But AVI, you say, you don't agree with everything written by any of the group efforts on your sidebar.  Why single this one out? Perhaps it is only that I disagree with those far less often.

We will see how it works out.  I may pull the link.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Just Sayin'

With all the discussion about the woman in Holland who committed professionally-assisted suicide, I would like to note that it is not always depression which motivates suicide. Anger, and desire to punish others can sometimes be the dominant motive. Sometimes it works. One such suicide did indeed succeed in punishing our hospital very badly, including some very competent and compassionate practitioners who were embroiled in the lawsuit brought by the deeply pathological family. I can give no more information, for obvious reasons.

I do not support assisted suicide in any way.  I have seen people so desperate, living painful lives that were forced upon them, that I did not fault their desire to end it all.  However, most of them do cause pain to someone when they go, and do not weigh that heavily enough.  One of our safety plan questions upon discharge is "What is your main reason to go on living?" We are currently unable to support the theory with data, but our sense is that getting people to answer this out loud makes it stronger. We may be fooling ourselves with that one. The most common answer is that people in calmer moments recognise how much this would hurt their parents, their children, their siblings, their friends.

Yet for some, hurting those people was their motive in the first place. The sad part is that the ones you wished to punish will blame you one more time and brush it off, while the ones you wished to spare will blame themselves forever.

I have not looked into the case in the Netherlands much, other than to notice that a predictable diagnosis was attached to the woman, one that explains everything to me but perhaps not to the popular culture.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Lewis and Literary Genres in Narnia

I have just started reading The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe to my older granddaughters, so I am alert to finding deeper understandings that I missed the first dozen times. One find things reading aloud that are less visible when reading silently.

I came by a short chain of links to a medievalist's site A Clerk of Oxford. She has an excellent essay from a few years ago, C.S. Lewis the Medievalist: Baldr, Brunanburh, Athelstan, and Edmund the Just. 
This is true on another level too, because - rather like the Canterbury Tales - the Narnia books are a compendium of literary genres, a joyous introduction to all the different kinds of things literature can do. The Magician's Nephew plays in the world of E. Nesbit's children's stories, The Horse and His Boy in the world of the Arabian Nights; Prince Caspian offers the dynastic conflicts of Shakespeare's history plays, its hero a fine Tudor prince properly educated in the quadrivium (!); The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is all Mandevillian 'Travels in the East', complete with sea-serpents and monopods; The Silver Chair starts with Middle English romance (Sir Orfeo and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight) and gets progressively more Norse as the story goes north, until we end up in the Prose Edda; and The Last Battle takes us to apocalypse by way of Brave New World
I had not thought of the series in quite that way, yet it makes some sense.  I expect to explore the entire site.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Motte and Bailey

BsKing has put me on to a description of the Motte and Bailey Fallacy.  I have seen this many times, and it is infuriating to deal with.  We Christians use it on each other altogether too often. This suggest to me that it is not always a deception, but rather a sign of an emotional or experiential belief rather than a logical one.

Eyes surgery a success thus far.  Blurry, no discomfort.

Still Light Posting

I am back from a short vacation in time to get eye surgery today - a cataract removal in preparation for a macular hole repair four weeks from now.  So it will probably be another day or two before I post and comment again.  And in September I have to be face down for three days after surgery, so that will be an interruption as well.  I am otherwise well and in good spirits. Hmm.  As good as usual, anyway.

Friday, August 03, 2018

Media Bias

I made a claim of longstanding media bias, as many conservatives do. It occurred to me that I could give quick evidence of it. I will let the Time and Newsweek covers speak for me.

But, you say, we didn't take those magazines at our house. Or, those were a long time ago, they didn't affect me. Then they affected your teachers and parents, and the people around you who found it very important to keep up with current events. Did you never have dental care, visit a friend, go to the doctor?  Were there no pharmacies, newsstands, grocery checkouts in your town?

Or perhaps you think that even though those were around you, they didn't affect you.  You were objective, you saw through those things.  Well yes.  I would say you either consciously saw through them and were offended by them, or you were affected whether you admit it or not.  For myself, I mostly didn't notice until the late 80's and was affected. After that I did notice and was offended. These weekly covers were ubiquitous, and I contend you were affected.  This was the air that you breathed.

If you still think not, then how is it that you arrived at the same opinion of these figures as the editors wished you to?

I started at Ford, as the Nixon covers would be too dominated by Watergate discussions and not a clean sample.  I strongly favored solo pictures of a president, taken during his years of office.  I stuck with Time and Newsweek. When there was a shortage of these, I chose covers from the campaign, as close to the date of election as possible.  I avoided retrospectives after the president had left office, as those are often mellowing.  I didn't have that many choices for Gerald Ford, however. I took them in the order that Duckduckgo, or sometimes Bing images presented them to me.  I did not pick and choose for effect. With Clinton, I did limit myself to three covers related to Lewinsky. I back-published all in last month's archives rather than clutter up my two front pages with pictures of presidents. Notice also what words are on the covers, the expressions captured, the black-and-white.

Res ipsa loquitur

Magazine Covers - Gerald Ford
Magazine Covers - Jimmy Carter
Magazine Covers - Ronald Reagan 
Magazine Covers - George H W Bush
Magazine Covers - Bill Clinton
Magazine Covers - George W Bush
Magazine Covers - Barack Obama


Eugenics has a nasty, Nazi-sounding feel to it. This is partly because we automatically associate it with forced eugenics, or sterilising people, usually women, against their will. Relatedly the other part is the public or group nature of it.  Some larger group, from the tribe to the whole society, is weighing in on whether you should have children or not. Some European countries have virtually eliminated Down Syndrome by creating social pressure to abort those children. Sounds like eugenics to me, but I don't hear many Americans complaining about it. Eugenics in America has come to mean not only a belief in racial differences, but that noticing said difference proves one believes in superiority and inferiority and wants the bad ones to have fewer children. The evidence for this is emotional, not logical, but that is often the case with political words.

 Update: Donna's comment reminded me of a section to go here. In addition to whoever the bad groups are that eugenicists want to have fewer children* - in the case of the Nazis it was Jews, Slavs, Gypsies, and let's-ignore-for-now-that-the-Japanese-are-quite-Asian - there was the Teutonic ideal of building Ubermenschen actively promoted as well. It gets creepy, and as Donna hints, can be rife with contradictions. It is also often bad science when it gets that far, as people pretend that they know for sure what would be good to have more of and what to have less of, and what the side-effects of that are. If you like science and general cleverness, for example, the Jews are a poor choice of folks to have less of.

Yet in small private ways, eugenics is what we all do at some point in our lives. We decide to have children or not, and we choose a mate. Even if we think we are choosing that mate on the basis of environmental factors, evolutionary biologists claim, with evidence, there is a lot of guessing at the genetics in our decision. Symmetry is considered more attractive, and is also a sign that there are fewer deleterious mutations. Other aspects of beauty can be tied pretty quickly to child-bearing, rearing, and protecting abilities. We usually notice what our mate's family is like, and older generations are likely to stress, from experience, the importance of Good Family. Whenever there is hand-wringing that educated women aren't having enough children - the men are less-often blamed - that's essentially an argument for  eugenics.  Social pressure isn't the same as holding a gun to someone's head, but it has an effect.  

It used to be considered selling out for a woman to go to college in hopes of finding a husband.  Dunno about that. I hoped at college to find an intelligent wife who was interested in having children. Seemed a perfectly good motive to me. (We succeeded in that.)

I have a parallel experience.  "Shock treatments" had an equally nazi-ish ring to it, which I carried in my head when I started working at the state hospital.  We no longer performed ECT's then, nor the deep-insulin shock treatments that had also been practiced a generation earlier. I gradually learned from older psychiatrists however, that the treatments often did work, and not everyone had the terrible memory side effects of reputation.  Later still, I learned that much less electricity was now used, that treatments did not have to be bilateral, and that there were ways of identifying problems and ceasing treatment much earlier.  ECT's are very good treatment for a lot of people, and the only treatment that works for some with depression.  It is used on pregnant and nursing women so that no chemicals enter the bloodstream.

I've been through this once.  People having worries about nazis doesn't mean that any actual nazis are involved.

No one's going to change their meaning of the word just because I think their usage is imprecise, but it pays to notice that "eugenics" means a lot of things, not all of them evil.

*Also, homosexuals and disabled people of many stripes.  Useless eaters, they were called.

Why Do We Love This Idea?

The Hidden Brain is a series of podcasts from NPR, apparently based on a book by Shankar Vedantam. I heard it mentioned on another podcast and thought this really sounds like my kind of thing. The unconscious or hidden influences on our thought, the neurology behind our behavior, what's not to like? The most recent in the series is something about bilingualism and multilingualism, so I am even more likely to find this interesting! Three minutes in, he is dead wrong about an entire topic. He is charmingly trying to explain that the language we speak shapes the way we think. Except it doesn't. Fake news. It's one of those undead ideas that keeps coming back no matter how many times it is killed. We must want to believe this. There is some experimental evidence that in some very fringe-y areas of color perception there might be a slightly measurable difference. That's it. I am going to bet that I could learn many useful things from Shankar Vedantam. He might be the most useful and interesting person for me to read or listen to at this point in my learning. Yet now that I know that he is unreliable in this one area, I cannot trust anything he says in thinking about the world and working out my own theories. I can't use him in conversation. I think I have asked before what the attraction of this idea is, that we keeping coming back, as to a relationship we know is harmful or a food that upsets our stomach. I don't get it.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

More Context: Media Bias

Compared to my hometown newspaper in the 1960’s, the major networks, newsweeklies, and big newspapers were straight-up-the-middle neutral journalists. My radical self even considered them conservative, as they reported on business or the military without immediately condemning them. I can look back now and see how they shaded (or worse) against conservatives, while publishing mostly liberal columnists and commentators. Yet that knowledge did not come to me for years, and only in a roundabout way. In the moment, Newsweek, NBC, and the NYT were simply “news” to me. 

In the late 70’s I was  a dissenting member of the new evangelical culture. I defended the more mainstream denominations, I thought the danger to the church was from adopting the ideas of the secular culture, both liberal and conservative, both capitalist and socialist. I fully understood CS Lewis’s lesson that only individuals are eternal – nations and empires are temporary, ephemeral. I didn’t follow politics much. I was aware of culture war however. While your local paper and radio station would report kindly on the retirement of one rabbi and the installation of a new one, or a groundbreaking for a new Methodist church, this was just a variation of reporting on Girl Scout or Rotary activities.  People belonged to lots of groups (see Bowling Alone) and the inner sections of the paper were like community bulletin boards.

Evangelical culture was very big on noticing how unfairly Christians were portrayed in “the media.” At news outlets, it would have to be slightly so, as only bad news tends to become news there. If Time magazine had anything about a religious group, it was going to be because of some controversy, crisis, or scandal. There would be occasional positive human-interest stories, but “Presbyterians 2% Growth – Again!” isn’t national news. Still, there did seem to be some quiet delight in bringing bad news about religious groups, and painting them as crazy and dangerous. Even if unintentional, the overall effect was negative. I no longer believe it was unintentional, by the way.  Not a conspiracy or attack, just a continuous prejudice toward their own views, which were less religious.

Movies, novels, and TV were another matter. There was criticism of churches and religion dating way back. Elmer Gantry might have some sympathetic religious characters, but the whole aim was pretty clearly meant to make fun of them and condemn them as hypocrites. As in “Little Big Man,” religious characters were similarly ridiculous or insincere.  It was not universal, and religiously-sympathetic movies were still made, but the tide had turned. Yet how could one easily show another side in a sitcom, really, without offending someone. “Happy Days” takes place in an era when everyone was associated with a church, but no churches figure in the plots. If you brought in anything, the audience would be puzzled, nervous, wondering what was going to happen next. They weren't trying to kick churches, but for their purposes, churches were unnecessary, and over time, convinced you that churches were never necessary anyway.  See also "Downton Abbey."

Still, it was clearly there, and increased through the 1980’s, even if evangelicals exaggerated it. You can see a lot just by looking, as Yogi Berra said. TV and cartoon Dads went from being wise to being risible (I eventually banned The Berenstain Bears from the house), authorities of all sorts were mocked, and a particular cultural narrative locked in.  There was something foolish or sinister about people who owned guns, or went to church, or worked at dirty jobs. I started with similar views myself, even about the Christians, because I knew foolish ones and could well believe the dangerous ones were right over the horizon.

Through the 80’s I learned that those folks weren’t like that at all.  I worked with them, lived near them, and went to church with them.  The people I had come to expect were cartoons.

When I became interested in politics in the late 80’s again, I saw the anticonservative bias as soon as I was willing to look for it. I was primed for it by my experience of other biases, but the fault was my own.  I had refused to look, and had hung on to some shreds of liberalism.  I could certainly see faults on the conservative side and good-faith efforts on the liberal side. But the thing was manifest. 

Most of my audience will believe me, as they have seen similar things themselves.  Yet I kinow there are some who will think I paint this too vividly, and that prejudices run the other way, and just as influentially. I will have a go at a little reference piece before I leave on vacation.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Context: Trump and William Loeb

Cross-posted at Chicago Boyz

I spoke with a somewhat younger friend who has some familiarity with my opinions about controversial topics, but wanted to know more exactly what I thought.  It is a great compliment, and I started answering him over the phone. I was pressed for time and cut it off, but even more than the temporary crunch, I decided I wanted to give answers of some precision.

As soon as one goes down that road, one comes up against "Well, in order for you to understand this, I really have to explain that." Almost immediately, another that comes along requiring another this. It gets out of control quickly.  But there's nothing for it. I step back once, I step back further, I step back into the next county. He was asking for some summary, or at least ideas, concerning my evaluation of Trump. That is not possible without context, and I eventually found I had to go back to the 1960's. I am not fond of Mr. Trump in many ways, but I think there is something necessary about him. If he had not come along now, some equally radical* figure would have had to come instead.  Not the same, but equally disruptive.

My usual style has been an exhaustive, point-by-point argument. While I have sometimes broken such things up into posts I, II, and III, I have more often tried to cram the whole thing into one sustained essay, like a sermon that has gone on too long. I would try to make it more visually comfortable with ********* breaks, photos, headings, and short paragraphs. Let me break this into smaller chunks, and we'll see what develops. As I head for vacation Saturday afternoon, I may have to leave you hanging.

My hometown newspaper growing up was the Manchester Union Leader, published by the notorious William Loeb. It is hard to describe to someone under the age of 60 what that meant, but for those in NH older than that, Loeb was simply a continuous presence, influencing everyone in the state either to agree or oppose.  He was well-known around the country as well to those who followed politics. All of us who traveled or went to college outside New England had the experience of identifying where we were from and having some guy in the group turn and say William Loeb! as a reflexive response to hearing "Manchester, NH." His audience grew enormously every first-in-the-nation-primary. (Yes, "melting snowflakes." "McCarthy is a Skunks's Skunk." That guy.)

He was mean and dishonest. He claimed he was hated because he was conservative, but he had screwed over even his own family enough to merit hatred entirely independent of his views. Politically, he thought Eisenhower was soft on communism and expressed some support for the John Birch Society. He might have been equally hated had he been a decent fellow who was conservative, but we are never going to know the answer to that.

On the other hand...

He published far more Letters to the Editor than other papers. People who hated him and disagreed, saying vile things about him got their letters published as well, three or four full pages every day, so long as they kept it clean and didn't advocate violence. A very New Hampshire free-speech value.  The Union Leader also carried excellent conservative columnists who were not so seamy.  That is where I first read Thomas Sowell - who was a thirtysomething with a slight Afro at that point - and William F Buckley's On The Right. As I quickly became very liberal around 1966, definitely socialist and pacifist, even dipping into SDS radicalism, I tried to avoid them.  Yet I read everything that passed in front of me in those days, cereal boxes, matchbooks, liner notes, and caught some of it.

So when your Pop Warner team won the championship or your church had an ethnic festival, the Union Leader was where the photo and story went. Crazy-ass and mean conservatism was part of the furniture. This is barely remembered now, even around here.  My senior year, my physics teacher informed us that the Concord Monitor, the second-most important paper in the state, was just as slanted to the left. I neither believed nor disbelieved, only stored it away. It became interesting in 1978 when I went to work in Concord and my cousin became editor of that paper, just as I was retreating from most political thinking, in favor of specifically Christian writers, especially CS Lewis.

That's a start.

*First off, I don't think Trump is that radical. I think that's mostly a reaction to his style.