Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Electoral College

I'm sure the points of discussion are deep and interesting, but I am currently considering them an introduced distraction, with no basis in principle, as the desire for change is prompted entirely by the Democrats believing they can win another way.  My evidence is that many of them said the opposite before the 2000 election, then changed after it.
Those are my principles, and if you don't like them...well, I have others. Groucho Marx.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Opposite Game

I don't know anything about the internal culture in NYC education. Also, the New York Post does carve out its niche by being an alternative to the NYTimes, seeking to show with great drama how the NYT-supporting crowd is corrupt and wrong. So it may be that the administrators that were shoved aside deserved it, and those who were put in their spots are better qualified. Yet I have some confidence that the article captures something true. There is not only the general cast of the political and cultural alignment of school administrators in general, and the general cast of NYC political and cultural alignment in general, but the fact that lawsuits are being filed in an environment where those will have to swin very hard upstream. Lastly, there is the choice of language of the factions in the article.  If you let people talk long enough, they eventually say what they mean, though they may not realise that.

One of my red-flag warnings is agencies, projects, or organisations naming themselves in high-falutin' ways.  If an organisation has "truth" in the title, I translate that as "bias that I can't defend intellectually." That's not an absolute, as no group want to brand itself with a terrible name, but pitching it too high is a bad sign. Legislation that is named the Peace and Justice Act of 2015 is likely to include lots of stuff that some people think is justice or peace, but upon further review mostly means rewards for the right people, combined with injustice and chaos for others. Because the others deserve it, y'know. They don't want you to raise uncomfortable questions, so they structure it so that you have to appear to be against peace and justice.

"Racial reconciliation" usually means "racial division," as one group of white people tries to assert that those other white people are still racist and bad - there is just so much racism still out there in society, in the comments sections by trolls - and you black people should join with us in kicking them, because we are on your side. No, really, we are.  We're the goodwhites.

So in this article, there are terms that are better understood as their opposites.  "Dominant culture" doesn't mean the dominant culture in the education bureaucracy, where they work.  It means what we fantacise the culture outside these doors is, constructed from talking amongst ourselves. To "expect assimilation to the dominant culture" is considered a bad thing in this opposite-speak. Yet the dominant culture in NYC education is exactly what you had better assimilate to, Jack. The shutting down of critical voices by white people is supposed to be evidence of them being "fragile," and "defensive."  It's not only that this is a mere technique to not allow others to speak - though that would in itself be contemptible and cowardly - it's just flat crazy.  Yes, people are defensive when they are attacked, no surprise there.  I see no evidence that white people are more defensive.  I'm not sure how one would measure that or study it. It comes from impressions, which are notoriously unreliable in controversial matters. And "fragile?" White people may be guilty of a lot of things in argument, but I think "fragility" has got to be near the bottom. It's just making stuff up to see if you can intimidate others into silence.  It's projection.  I don't think black people in general are all that fragile, but black educators sure respond to criticism as if they are.  Check that.  I mean black educational administrators and advocates.  I have to keep reminding myself that that only has partial overlap with black teachers. I'm guessing front-line African-American teachers are among the least fragile of our citizens. Maybe that's true of most administrators as well.  But the ones who put themselves in the news sure seem fragile to me.

Speaking of cowardly, there is also the idea of "courageous" conversations.  Speaking truth to power has an honored history in African-American culture, but it has turned into its own opposite.  It now means telling your friends what they want to hear. "Uncomfortable dialogue" means "dialogue that is comfortable for me, you're on your own."

Y'know, I think we're all bozos on this bus. 


Lessons From a Psychologist

I have learned much from a few of the psychologists I have known.  don't ask me about the others. I will call this one John and tell you three things I learned from him.

Three Shall Be The Number 
When setting up a behavior plan, one can only target three behaviors at a time.  This is not because the patient cannot learn more than three things at a time, but because the staff can't focus on more than three things at a time.  We may set up that we do not want the patient to hit anyone, and reward not hitting anyone with a point every three hours. We might next want the patient to learn the value of keeping busy and being cooperative, and so earn a point for every group or activity he attends. Thirdly, we might think it important that the patient not make sexual remarks to the female staff, and will grant points for refraining from that.  So far, so good, and everyone nods what a great plan this is.  Then, having earned ten points, the patient may be eligible to have one-half hour off the unit unsupervised.  But fifteen minutes before, this patient gets angry and insults a staff member coarsely.  The staff now does not want to give the patient that half-hour privilege, and becomes incensed that anyone thinks the patient has earned it.  Too bad. Behavior plans are to train the staff, not the patient.

This generalises to marital therapy, or getting your children to behave, or independently trying to influence your spouse to change.  Three shall be the number. If you can think of seven things that you believe your spouse or child should have figured out on their own five years ago but didn't, that does not authorise you to clamp down on all seven now.  It's yhour own fault you didn't pick three then, so that you could be working on the others now.  Pick three, or you will just be losing your temper needlessly.

Once they are addicted to tokens, you can train them to do anything.
This is strictly behaviorist, but behaviorism works quite well in a targeted way.  Because it doesn't generalise all that well it can't be used for everything, but token economies are great in their limited way.  The beginning of the program is to get them addicted to the reward.  This is easier if it is an activity they have already demonstrated they care about, whether that is M&Ms* or your attention. It not only works for children, but for many adults.  My wife insists that giving her gold stars on the calendar for something that I am happy about is a great idea, because she laughingly says she loves gold stars.  I can't bring myself to do it, because it seeems demeaning and I am not that sort of husband.  Yet I am wrong.  If she prefers that, I should accommodate myself to it.  But I can't.  At some level I believe I am demeaned by this and so refuse. Clearly, I am considering some abstract ideal more important than the happiness of my own wife, which is wrong.

To take this out of the realm of the personal into the political, this is exactly what has happened with college degrees.  Our society is addicted to the credential as a means of selecting for jobs, mates, status. We therefore jump through any hoop the providers of this token put in front of us, not because we think it is a good idea, but because we know our society requires this drug, like spicers in Dune. They provide less and less value at greater and greater cost every year. The original value of the token sucked us in.  Some of that value remains, however much conservatives rail against it* Yet it hardly matters at some schools.  Because the workplace is addicted to the degree (and, is that the colleges' fault?), the strength of the drug matters less.

Whoever controls a precious resource will become a complete prick about it.
Certain stepdown, supervised, or rehab beds are hard to come by in my field.  Housing in general is a tough issue for the mentally ill anyway. (There is a lot of on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand discussion about this I will not insert here.) But specialised housing - sober housing, staffed housing, subsidised housing - is even more precious. Over time, the people who hand out those beds become pricks.  I would be worse. Don't get me wrong here, that I think they are horrible people.  But they can afford to be choosy, so they are. 

This is playing out culturally in powerful ways at this point.  People are addicted to social media and so will put up with anything.  Those who control those bulletin boards have very rapidly become arbitrary about who shall be admitted in the door. "Who's your rabbi?" (Old Tammany Hall phrase.)

*College students can and often do learn valuable stuff.  The problem is the things they must subsequently unlearn.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Unrelated Questions

I notice in art galleries that painters, and perhaps photographers, like to show city intersections at an angle.  So do you think this is to show twice as many shops, from an interesting perspective, or in order to clearly show which intersection it is and identify the neighborhood?

Why does Western North Carolina have so few Indian names? I am not used to this, being familiar with NH, MA, and Eastern VA places.  Come to think of it, VT also has fewer Native names, so it may relate to when in colonial history the places were settled.

When did erecting trees as a "permanent" memorial become fashionable?  I saw a few in New York, now old enough that they are in danger of dying and being removed.  I have a sense that in NH it didn't really get started until later in my childhood. It reminds me of the weekend of the Kennedy funeral while we were watching the procession to Arlington National Cemetery.  My mother was crying, but she couldn't help but start giggling when the announcer told us that the Eternal Flame we were seeing was only a temporary eternal flame, until the permanent one was installed.

Is the kudzu situation improving or deteriorating?  I recalled long roadside sections around Greenville, SC covered with the stuff a dozen years ago.  There was a lot around Asheville, but it didn't look quite that bad.

More Children

Someone in a comment section claimed that one of older people's greatest regrets is not having had more children.  She didn't give a source.  This sounded suspicious to me, so I went looking for some hard data.  There isn't much, but I found this from Pew Research that mildly supports that idea. It asked women at the end of their childbearing years whether they had reached what they called an ideal family size.  They were on average about half a kid short. That's not quite the same question, however.  People might well think the idea is four but have a disabled second child and stop there, because the amount of energy required is too great.  When they are older they might in some sense  regret not having more, but not a pining, greatest regrets sense. There are a dozen similar personal explanations why people might have fewer children than they thought ideal, without it cresting over into top five all-time-regrets-of-my-life.

What was interesting was the search.  The articles were mostly focused on two things: women who wished they'd had fewer children. Highlighting the "great taboo" of even saying such a thing makes for good copy, and there is a man-bites-dog aspect to sell magazines. None of these articles cited data, they just quoted a few women who said something like this, then further quoted some counselor who talked about shame, secrets, women's roles, etc.  The other focus was entirely financial regrets, interviewing retirees who wished they had saved more.  Those articles often did have data, but only on the money matters.

I tell young couples to have more children and pay less attention to them. I also now think couples should have children younger, not older, after waiting until they are more settled or more ready.  The sheer physical energy required is better managed by younger people, and that is much more important than separate bedrooms and dance lessons.No one listens.  It is interesting that these days we all think we couldn't manage more than two, while much poorer ages, with much less free time, space, and food regularly managed many more.  Our expectations must be different now.

We have five sons.  We thought we were stopping at two - the younger one was in his junior year of highschool - when we adopted two from Romania, who were entering 7th grade and 9th grade. Ten years ago a nephew came to live with us just as he turned thirteen and we parented the rest of his adolescence.  He still lives nearby, as does the oldest, who has two of his own.  The middle three live very far away now, Houston, Nome, Tromso.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Adversity Score on the SAT

Upon Further Review: It's ridiculous, of course, absent any scientific evidence that adversity affects raw scores. But at least they are keeping the categories separate.  (They are, aren't they?  I'm not misreading this?) It would be worse if they changed the questions, measuring whether groups did equally well rather than predictive value of the test.  They did that years ago, I dimly recall, culling math questions in the 70s on which males and females scored differently. I have heard that they changed back to previous objective standards, and I have heard they did no such thing.  I read it years ago - I don't know the truth of it, but I can't find a thing about it now.

At the time it was considered automatic proof that if boys and girls had different rates of getting a problem right, then it was obviously a bad question.  I thought so too.  At the time, I only thought "Huh.  Isn't that interesting.  Males and females, though they are obviously the same in all things, still have mildly different styles. Cool."

Adversity scores are fine, so long as they don't bleed over.  If a college wanted to specialise in accepting kids with high adversity scores I can see a defense for that.  I don't think they will get the results they want, but at least it's intellectually consistent.

Update:  I was wrong.  The adversity score is going to be invisible and not easily separable from the final count.  I suspect that this will make it worse for students with obviously Hispanic, black, or Asian names, as admissions offices will mentally correct for what they guess the adversity score is, to the detriment of some.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

More Old Links

 Burning Down the House. Love the Poor, They Can Make You Rich. I originally saved this George Will opinion piece where it was published at the Washington Post, but this link gets behind the paywall. July 2011

Public Sector Union Perks. At "No Oil For Pacifists." I was a union member when it was the State Employees Association, strictly a New Hampshire affair. I left when they affiliated nationally "In order to have a stronger voice." September 2011

Also from Carl at NOFP, an example of government officials - this time at the Department of Justice - leaking information to the Washington Post, with the specific intent of harming conservatives. The Post is the house organ, not of the federal government, but of the disparate federal agencies independently. December 2011

Libertarian Ilya Somin of "The Volokh Conspiracy," and the Cato Institute, writing here in the Daily Caller, outlines Obama's Top 10 Constitutional Violations. December 2011

Christopher Booker of the Telegraph reminds us of Barack Obama's role in creating the sub-prime mortgage crisis he later claimed to rescue us from. January 2012

At "Watts Up With That," Dr. David M W Evans lays out what the climate skeptic's case was at that time, beyond merely questioning the prevailing wisdom. Key point - the skeptics believe that the amplification model generally in use is deeply wrong. February 2012

Related to the above - in fact, linked from it - is Richard Lindzen of MIT explaining why we should resist climate hysteria. July 2009

Two from "The Volokh Conspiracy," which at that time was in the Washington Post. (It is now at Reason, for those of you who lost track of them.) The Inconsistency Between the Constitutional Arguments for the Mandate and Medicaid in the ACA. The title is almost as long as the article. The Problem of Science Mismatch provides evidence for the theory that affirmative action is actually reducing the number of science graduates among minorities. Gail Heriot writes about this over at Instapundit these days. March 2012.

Ron Bailey at Reason refutes the Union of Concerned Scientists about corporate influence on funding climate science. June 2012.


Likely spurred by reading the Tolkien criticism, then hearing a few people who are quite sure they are (collectively) very nice saying some hateful things, it occurred to me that we tend to become what we hate.

No, I didn't say that quite right.  I don't mean it in St Paul's sense of doing what we hate, nor that we become opposites, reacting against our earlier selves, though both of those are related. When we hate something or someone, we ascribe particular bad qualities to them.  Those may or not be true about the other person or group, yet we come to believe them strongly.  Believing this, we consider ourselves guiltlesss in opposing such evil folk.  We are in fact righteous for doing so.

There is a psychological defense mechanism called projection, in which we attribute feelings to others that are actually our own. You aren't listening to me! says the one who isn't listening. We usually use this term about negative feelings such as anger or jealousy, but we can project good feelings onto others as well, imagining them to be better than they are, or to be as fond of us as we are of them. Barack Obama noted explicitly that people saw in him what they wanted to see, and played to that.  It is likely one of the functions celebrities, including leaders, provide for us.

Putting the two ideas together, I am convinced that the projection may start immediately at some full level, but it deepens as it goes forward. The hatred of the other comes back to us, in much the same form we sent it out. It is easy enough to see this in politics, of those who believe themselves peacemakers and agents of reconciliation actually being the dividers and creators of faction. Yet if we are not to fall into precisely the same trap, we should notice what it is we ourselves hate in individuals and groups.  "Lord, is it I?" What and who do I hate? Therein lies my greatest danger, and the one I am most blind to.

It would be too strong to say that Tolkien uses the One Ring to symbolise this, but he does use it to describe and illustrate it. Frodo is unable to give up the ring even at the very beginning of the quest, though he has no aspirations to power at the time. The power of the ring to render him invisible to escape inconvenience or danger is his only temptation. Yet at the end, he has become tempted to its power and cannot throw it away. He does not put it on to escape, but to rule, like Sauron.  He has become what he has hated.

Swedish Walking Tune/St. Basil's Hymn

I saw these titles on a CD in an Appalachian folk museum and resolved to looked them up when I got home.  There are several versions of the first on Youtube, all quite different.
The second has a George Winston sound and I thought it was from his "December" album, but I can't find any connection to it and we no longer have the CD.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Research Based On Bad Assumptions

What was I just saying about smart people with bad assumptions?

Dr. Joy Bliss over at Maggie's passed along Scott Alexander's essay over at Slate Star Codex about twenty years of building a house of cards around a possible connection between 5-HTTLPR and mood disorders. I don't usually pay much attention to doctors talking about genes, epigenetics, or what receptors are being targeted unless I have a specific reason, but even I have heard of this lots over the years.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Passion and Motive

Those who are passionate about causes have an especially hard time even considering the possibility they might have bad motives. Notice that the early Christians do not say they are passionate about the cause.  They simply do things that need to be done, which sometimes has terrible consequences.

Back From North Carolina

I have emailed Bird Dog about the problem on Maggie's Farm.  I had the same thing this morning.  MF shows up briefly, then switches to a site that says "this domain may be for sale."

A tree fell on our rental while we were driving on  the Blue Ridge Parkway up to Craggy Pinnacle. It brushed the front bumper and we ran over it. Exciting.  Had it been a split second later - about 0.06 seconds, actually - it would have been on the windshield, with potentially disastrous results.

I can see why motorcyclists like the parkway, and likely parkways in general. Not only is the weaving back and forth more fun for them than for operators of autos, but the lack of businesses and side streets means many fewer hazards from people darting out in front of you from the side, not treating you as a full vehicle.

The Biltmore was ridiculously expensive and we didn't go in.  We rethought that, and my wife and son almost went two days later, but did not.  We saw the introductory video at the information center, which summarised nicely George Vanderbilt inherited a lot of money.  This is how he spent it, building a very big house. He entertained his friends and his family always loved the place. He collected art and books and encouraged scientific farming, sort of. We want you to come spend money here enjoying the place with your family, too.  As you may guess from my tone, I found this irritating. It is impressive looking, however.

The wedding was interesting.  The couple chose the text Ezekiel 47:1-12, which the officiating minister - the bride's father - admitted threw him a bit at first. He did well with it, being caught on the hop like that. There was a roast/toast/talent presentation at the rehearsal dinner, and the people from the bride's side tending strongly to talent and toast. the people from the groom's side tended more to roast - including our family.

I have dictated myself some notes and hope to write them up over the next two weeks.  There is much to catch up with around here.  I find I like traveling less and less. I don't like traveling alone for very long, and don't like traveling with people much better.  I haven't traveled with a group, which always sounded ghastly to me, but perhaps I should try. But i kept worrying about things back home.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

North Carolina

We are headed for Asheville via Charlotte in the morning, returning in the wee hours of Monday. It's the wedding of Tim King, who I recently mentioned as the author of Addiction Nation. We get to see Son #2, up from Houston.  I drove through Asheville a dozen years ago, driving back from North Greeenville College and wanting to drive over the Blue Ridge Mountains. Didn't see much.  We plan to eat southern food - I understand that Western Carolina BBQ has more tomato in it.  that's fine with me. Tupelo Honey is recommended.

My time is getting sucked up by Quora answers - which is my own fault.  The more you answer, the more the questions posed to you multiplies. There are very few good questions, and the other answers are often amazingly stupid. Still, I take the bait.  It's one more person asking what they can do to raise their IQ, or treating emotional intelligence or MBTI results as real things, or begging questions about why Trump is doing such an awful and clearly wrong thing.

Part of it is my character flaw of not wanting to let wrong things remain in the air.  They should be shot down, I think. They might hurt someone if they are allowed to roam free. My other better motive is to remember that these are people, too, just like my intelligent audience here, and golly, don't they deserve decent answers, too?

When traveling, I think of things and take notes, which provide beginnings of posts for a a week or more out after I return.  I hope that is the case this time as well.

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Changes in the Spirit of the Age

James reminded me in the comments under The Behavior Of People in Past Eras (a few posts below) that he had gone to Little Rock Central High School in the early 70s.  You may remember that Little Rock was the place where Eisenhower sent in the 101st Airborne in 1957 to integrate the schools. Only fifteen years later, the culture had changed.
I spent my junior year bused to Little Rock Central High School. An experimental class on film-making called Project Tiger wrote and produced a movie on the famous integration of LRCHS in '57. I applied and got in on the script-writing team. We went through the archives, and were duly horrified at the racist calling cards and speeches; but we also watched some footage of protestors and I had a little epiphany of sorts. The folks I was watching were no better, and no worse, than the folks I saw on the streets outside. The only real difference was what sorts of evils were fashionable and accepted. Overt racism of that '57 sort (from whites anyway) was almost unthinkable in '72. But in '57 it was almost unremarkable in that town.
 Fifteen years is not long.  It might seem encouraging that we can fix culture so quickly and make people behave.  Yet James notes this also implies that the current could be reversed on this, and a culture deteriorate and accept horrible prejudice just as quickly.  We are largely wired to go along with our prevailing culture.  It is how we get fed, find mates, have friends, protect our children.

I asked James to repost a bit about that, and he unexpectedly tied it in with an older post of mine about a Harper's article in 1941 "Who Goes Nazi." I had forgotten that, but it applies. We look back at sheriffs who gave up prisoners to the mobs in the past and say "I would never do such a thing."  Yet businesses and colleges cut people loose when the outrage machine is turned on. Losing your job over a Political Correctness  blasphemy scandal is no joke in some fields. If they can go after Sir Timothy Hunt they can go after you, also.

Update:  Plus, there is this from the UK very recently as well.

Saturday, May 04, 2019

Folktales and Princesses

Those of us who read literature, including myth and folktale, have been irritated with Disney for changing the stories, draining out some of the meaning. Though Disney has kept in some of the frightening and uncomfortable portions, there are other places they just won't go.  While we all understand this, it does prompt the question "Well then why do it at all?" I have made my peace with much of this over the years. Folktales changed slightly in every generation - likely with every retelling - and would even be different from valley to valley.  There is no real version, and Disney gets to be one more story teller.

The more frequent objection is that it sends the wrong message to the Modern Girl, that she should be waiting for some man to come and rescue her and make her life complete. My objection has been something of the reverse of that, that the main thing taught to the Modern Girl is that she should be a spunky gal, as if that one virtue outweighed the others.  It is unfair of me.  Other virtues are taught, and I am not the target audience anyway. I will note that those who observe actual girls playing at being princess will see that the primary attraction to the role is not that she get some boyfriend (booooring), but that she gets to tell everyone else what to do.

A word on the folktale in general, not so much the Disney versions.  The movies are about the pricesses more than the suitors. In many cultures of the world, the stories are told only about the young men.  In Europe the female characters get some ink as well.  In the story about the unlikely young man having to prove himself to the king in order to win the princess and get half the kingdom, there is some important information overlooked. He doesn't win the most beautiful woman in the kingdom.  He doesn't get given a pile of money. The ending is not the mere handing out of prizes to clever youngsters. That the woman is a princess matters.  We no longer live in ages where powerless people worried greatly about wars of succession, and the quality of those that ruled them. Americans are such individualists - we think the whole story is about identifying with individuals.  Not so.

When the princess weds the hero who has not merely fallen into this role but has earned it (often by being kind to peasants and unlikely people), this means there will be an heir - or at least they might now hope.  Half of this faraway kingdom will now be ruled by someone who has at least some excellent qualities, under the tutelage of another king. That would be a deeply satisfying end to the story which we no longer think about, being Americans.

It often pays to ask what does not happen in the story.

More Old Links

In light of the divisive gestures of Obama as he took office in 2009, Villainous Company posted a news report about Bush from early 2001.

Taxprof, Dean of Pepperdine, shows where our tax dollars went in 2009.  I doubt it is very different now.

The Martin Center has an essay about the groupthink of acadmics in 2009.  I don't think that's much different now either.

America's Generosity is Unmatched. Real Clear Politics 2008.

Megan McArdle made predictions what would - and wouldn't - happen when Obama's ACA was passed in 2010. I knew immediately it should be saved and looked at later. 2019 is later.

Powerline in 2010 examines some background on Elena Kagan I had completely forgotten about, concerning military recruiters on campus.  She's on the Supreme Court, remember.

Electronic Technologies are not ruining our thinking. Steven Pinker explodes some myths about the brain and learning, 2010.  I am very glad I saved this one.

One of Hans Rosling's great videos about how the lives of people around the world really are getting much, much better. Wonderful data presentation. His are among the most-watched TED talks of all time.  Which is good, when you see some of the idiocy in the other TED talks in the sidebar.

List of violence against Republicans.  As it is only up to 2010, I don't know how valuable it is now.  Much of the stuff is small potatoes - except that when similar events have happened to Democrats they are big news, and you have never heard of most of these.

No Oil For Pacifists stopped posting shortly after this one about the intensity of hurricanes because of global warming. Carl came back in a few years later, and it looks like he still tweets. As to the hurricanes, the "global" part turned out to be important.  The scientific paper (linked there) was somber and warning about how this was all going to get worse, and indeed had gotten worse since the 1940s.  Problem was, it studied the North Atlantic, and this was the only place the data held up. Worldwide, frequency and intensity were slightly down.

Friday, May 03, 2019

The Tides of History

I have liked Patrick Wyman's (no relation) history podcasts, The Tides of History but kept avoiding listening to the one about inquisitions and witch-hunts, as I thought  that a topic a secular historian would be most likely to say something that would torque me off.  I needn't have worried.  I had one largish quibble about his neglecting to even mention the growth of science paralleling the intensifying belief in witches, but it was otherwise very fair.  I learned a few brand-new things, and greatly filled out my knowledge of some aspects I had only partially known.

I have liked every episode I have listened to. Wyman was a PhD candidate at USC when he decided that being a history populariser sounded like a lot more fun than being a specialist whose work would be read by only a very few.  He also has an MMA site, surely unique in the academic history biz. Though Andy Warhol liked Big Time Wrestling, and bsking and her husband follow WWE, so you never know.

The Behavior of People in Past Eras

The argument that we cannot apply the standards of the present to people in the past does not seem to be resonating with those who believe that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and hundred others should be painted over, tumbled to earth, or excised from history books. They seem to think that it is perfectly okay to apply their current standards, which anybody who is anybody knows and agrees with.

I therefore burrow one step deeper. Most of us, including the protestors, would have done exactly the same in their shoes. It is rare for anyone to stand apart from his culture and question its basic assumptions.  It occurs mostly in the Anglosphere, and especially America. I suppose the young people adopting this new standard would not want to agree that it is an especially American thing to try and call one's countrymen to account, but it is. The Scandinavians like everyone to march together, quietly smiling.  Mediterraneans will push back against their nation, but only on behalf of their clan or region. Farther east, the matter does not even come up.

So they too would have likely been slavers, or oppressors of women, or violent bigots, or at least done business with those who were.  Because there wasn't any other way to make a living. Modern girls may fantacise that they would have imported their current personalities and attitudes and been just their same precious selves had they lived in Bruges as it was declining in power and people were scrambling to get power and influence and the future looked insecure, but no, they would have been obsessed with finding a husband, just like their friends.  A husband who looked like he might be on his way up, or at least had something stable.  The modern boy might think he too would stand nobly aloof from a degraded age as Columbus set out from Palos, refusing to participate in the expulsion of Jews, or going along with the Spanish version of the Inquisition, or watching slaves be sold in the market.  But he would.  Nearly all of us would, or would put up with it.

Lots of very fashionable clothes and equipment are made in foreign countries under very exploitative conditions now.  When we hear of it or think of it, we wish it were not so.  We wish there were some simple solution that would not make life for those poor people even worse.  But we buy the clothes and equipment. I am betting those protestors buy lots more clothes than I do.  They have a lot of turnover, and the high turnover items are the ones most affected.  Athletic shoes. Yoga pants. Outerwear.

Therefore, they would have gladly done business with slavers, or been slavers themselves had they lived in those days. It's not pretty, but it's a very human thing to do.

Sebastian Coe

I always liked him as a runner. That was the era when I followed track closely.

I like him even better as an IAAF president.

Requiring Pop Culture

Soraya Roberts at Longreads has a frustrating article When Did Pop Culture Become Homework? She verges on understanding what she is talking about. She notices that E.D. Hirsch wrote about having a common cultural language in the 1980s, and declares him mostly wrong.  She then bemoans that Hirsch's ideas, his insistence we should all have common items to reference, have now descended to requiring popular culture in order to converse with our fellow-citizens, and thinks this is the same thing but just as wrong. 

It's not the same thing. It is what the protectors of Western Civ have always warned us about.  If you do not have good culture, you will have bad culture. When we abandon the culture that has nurtured us for generations, we do not get some wonderful open area where we are all free to choose among many exciting possibilities.We get the path of least resistance, whatever is lying around and popular at the time. When we declare that this previous era and that one had its own biases, we are like the boy in the story who is ensorcelled to fall in love with the first thing he sees upon awakening.  In this case, whatever is in the checkout line at the store, or whatever is on tonight's news.

I don't think popular culture is neutral, not in any era. It contains the Spirit of the Age in distilled form, and we too easily become drunk on it.

(Whoa.  That metaphor played out well.)

The Doom of Choice

Tolkien and the Critics, as I mentioned yesterday. It is an old paperback, but I was suspicious right from the Table of Contents.  There is an essay by CS Lewis, one by WH Auden, and… wait a minute, when did this come out? 1968, and all the essays are from 1959-1966.  As Lord of the Rings came out in 1954-55, these essays are quite early on. One clue is the first essay, which functions as an introduction by Neil D. Isaacs
It would be, then, one function of Tolien criticism to shift the emphasis from extraliterary aspects of the trilogy and its audience to a consideration of the work itself.
You couldn’t do that today. You would have to note Tolkien’s sex, race, era, country, religion, privilege and some other things I’m not remembering at present, and only discuss the work in relation to those things.* Clearly, we are reading criticism from another time. Counter-reactions always seem to be a direct 180 degrees to their revolutionaries, yet in retrospect Romanticism, Formalism, New Criticism were never opposites and often have the similarities of their eras that were invisible to them then.

Tolkien is still new to them, and to their readers. Several of them take time to explain parts of the story that are second-nature to all Tolkien readers now, such as noting that hobbits are short creatures but very much like humans, while ents are an ancient people with the appearance of trees. There is a tone of breathlessness at the sheer freshness of it all.  What kind of work is it?  Is Burton Raffell right when he says it’s not even really literature? Is the fad over, except for the cultish few? It brought me back to my own breathlessness reading Lin Carter’s Tolkien: A look behind the Lord of the Rings in the 1970s. Look! There are the names of his dwarves, right there in the Elder Edda!  Fili, Kili;  Oin and Gloin. Tolkien doesn’t just give this a Norse flavor, he uses the real stuff! He was friends with CS Lewis before either of them wrote fantasies? Far out! The Rohirrim speak Anglo-Saxon!  Those were exciting times.  Alan Garner’s and Lloyd Alexander’s books from the early 1960s were gradually becoming known, but the days when entire sections of bookstores would be devoted to Sword & Sorcery books were still far off.

There is added fun in happening upon the first example of anything that later became conventional, even hackneyed. There are several of these in the volume, where one nods and thinks “Ah, you were the first to see that, then.” Because of her horrible later behavior, I would love to tell you that Marion Zimmer Bradley’s essay “Men, Halflings, and Hero-Worship” was terrible, but it is one of the best. She has a sharp eye for character delineation and what it means, seeing interesting distinctions between Merry and Pippin, for example. She also wonders if Gollum’s plunge into death with the ring might have had some intentionality in his carelessness. He is not pushed. He cares for no danger at the literal brink of danger. He hated and loved the ring, but merely hated his life.  If he cares for anything besides the ring, it is Frodo, just a faint echo of love – and he saves Frodo.

Hugh Keenan has one about a Freudian interpretation of LOTR, contending that the works are not about good vs evil, but death vs. life.  I take the point and it is interesting, but the ideas hold up about as well as other Freudian ideas, which is to say culturally interesting, but wrong. Rose Zimbardo’s essay about Moral Vision remains strong, as does Patricia Meyer Spacks on Power and Meaning. It is from there that I would like to offer a few thoughts of my own.

Lord of the Rings is about moral choices, even more than about good and evil. Good and evil are often mixed in this world, and this makes choices more difficult. There have been times that I wished Tolkien were just a bit more explicit in his Christianity, not beating the drum quite so hard about Fate and Doom. Though those fit well with the Northernness of the whole enterprise, I have thought they undermined the clearly Christian foundations of the adventure. The mix is similar to that of the Beowulf poet, reinterpreting older pagan wyrd into a somewhat-converted newer era. I immediately thought Tolkien got the mood or tone right, but had undersold the content.  After reading the essays, I am rethinking that. Setting moral choices in a more Anglo-Saxon world may highlight their importance and even desperateness.

All the choices have a moral side, even those which seem purely practical. The retreat from Caradhras is a practical matter, because of snow, but Aragorn senses an evil will pushing them to Moria and is willing to endure risk to push back against that, until the thing becomes impossible. As far back as The Hobbit, Bilbo has to navigate a very tricky morality in the standoff between the dwarves and the lake-men, of ownership, fairness, loyalty, alliance, gratitude, greed, and deserved reward. Even in the simpler tale moral choice drives Tolkien’s narratives.

In Christian belief there is sometimes an idea of destiny, stated more mildly as calling. Our freedom within that is thought to be great. Only rarely do we see Biblical personages caught up in assigned roles, and even in those instances, such as Daniel, the person has freedom of movement. Jesus is the great exception, yet even He hopes near the end that some other way might be found. As a consequence, Christians know our actions have effects downstream.  We may be called or even cornered, but Fate is not some steamroller that goes on regardless of whether we stood in front of it or not. What we choose changes the choice of others who come after.
This is far less true in Middle-Earth, where everyone seems aware of being doomed to the era and the role they are in, asking only to perform their assigned role well.  "I am not made for perilous quests," Frodo protests. ""You have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have." There is a distant God behind it all, referred to only as The One. "The Valar laid down their guardianship and called upon The One, and the world was changed."  Elrond gives the idea of a Person interested in them, not merely an impersonal Fate.
That is the purpose for which you are called hither. Called, I say, though I have not called you to me, strangers from distant lands. You have come and are here met, in this very nick of time, by chance as it may seem. Yet it is not so. Believe rather that it is so ordered that we, who sit here, and none others, must now find counsel for the peril of the world.
Yet some moral choices have resonated on into later events. Bilbo starts his ownership of the ring with mercy toward Gollum, and gives up the ring willingly, though with a wrench (Sam also gives it up freely), and Gandalf specifically notes that this may have changed fate. Frodo later echoes this with his own mercy toward Gollum, and even Sam, though angrily and threateningly, merely sends Gollum off at the end rather than killing him, even though he is a threat to Frodo, who Sam has given nearly all he has to protect. In the end we find this to be true, and the repeated mercies have each been necessary to avoid ultimate catastrophe.
In Middle-Earth people are less used to their actions having more than local and transitory effects. Even for heroes, what can a man do but die on his dying day?  The “Battle of Maldon,” both poem and actual event, depict the height of heroism against the most terrible odds – yet the Danegeld was paid shortly after anyway. In Christianity, Jesus comes back in the end and sets things right. In Norse legend, the gods are going to ultimately be defeated by the giants, yet we fight on anyway, simply because it is the right thing to do.  No reward is promised.  The moral choices thus have an added layer of temptation.  It doesn’t matter in the long run anyway.  Give up. Frodo, Sam, Gandalf, Aragorn, and Theoden all speak of having little or no hope at some point, and Eowyn declares it defiantly. Yet we, on the outside, never quite believe that.  We sense that this is a world where there is hope and not mere striving. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death...They walk through many valleys of shadows of death.

Tolkien's Middle Earth does have hope at the end of it, almost as if it is a place where Fate and Doom have been redeemed, remaining themselves, yet changed.  Aragorn speaks in the language or wyrd, yet his content is quietly Christian under it all.   The Riders of Rohan ask him what doom he brings out of the north. "The doom of choice" is what he offers. CS Lewis fancied that Nature herself was a creature, destined to be transformed in the new creation, and illustrated that in The Great Divorce and The Last Battle.  Tolkien takes this one step deeper to the cornerstones of being that seem nearly self-existent, deeper than universes. There are many cultures and world-views, and we may not see them destroyed so much as transformed in the end. We have an inkling of that here.

So there is the choice of kindness, and the choice of courage. There is also the choice of humility, and because of it Sam and Gandalf change fate by not taking the ring to use it, Galadriel and Faramir step down from power and change the lives of entire peoples.

*This too shall pass.  A small group of critics in the future - pray it may be soon - will look over the landscape of Intersectional reading and say "We're sick of this.  We're having none of it."

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Sweden Is Capitalist

I try not to use the word "capitalist" anymore, as it seems to prevent thinking.  I prefer "free market."  Despite the title, the writer of Sweden is Capitalist over at National Review agrees, and gives even better reasons.

I have written before that Sweden is not so socialist as American imagination would expect.  It was mildly socialist 1930-1970;  hard socialist 1970-1990; and since then has backed off considerably.  They have large government spending per person, and the sort of social safety net that only works when everyone looks like second cousins.  The author notes that the corruption is very low (as it is in all the Scandinavian nations), and they seem to actually get something for their money, so she doesn't object as much as she might.  I remain unconvinced, but consider it a valid point.

Ms. McCloskey gives the topic a better overview than I do. There is some of the same information I read in Debunking Utopia.


I have a long post on Moral Choice in Tolkien, based on reading an early collection of essays, Tolkien and the Critics. I ran across the following quote that tells you something about the man.  It is from his grandson, Simon:
I vividly remember going to church with him in Bournemouth. He was a devout Roman Catholic and it was soon after the Church had changed the liturgy from Latin to English. My grandfather obviously didn't agree with this and made all the responses very loudly in Latin while the rest of the congregation answered in English. I found the whole experience quite excruciating, but my grandfather was oblivious. He simply had to do what he believed to be right.
As one who does a milder version of that, retaining the old language sometimes when hymns are sung - and especially Christmas Carols - I understand entirely.  There is one modernisation of a carol I endorse, however, because of Tolkien.  "Born to raise the sons of earth" makes me think of dwarves, and I happily go along with the more modern "Born to raise each child of earth."

Too True

Tuesday, April 30, 2019


I am so old that they didn't play "Stairway To Heaven" at my senior prom.

Friday, April 26, 2019


In the continuing debate about Intelligence, IQ, Wisdom, Smarts, and Education, I would like to add in a neglected bit.  The assumptions one starts from may be more important than one's formal intelligence.  Consider: the Soviet Union had many scientists who were smarter than I am, some in general, and many many more in specific training. Yet they exiled or even killed those who would not start from the correct Stalinist assumptions, so all the remaining ones were a restricted pool. So they got many things deeply wrong.

Still, they were brilliant people.  In those fields where they could keep away from the inquisitors, such as historical linguistics, they exceeded the efforts of those in the West who were under the thumb of different assumptions here.

Similarly, the State Department, CIA, FBI, NSA, Military Intelligence and other agencies contain many, many people who know more than I do and some who are smarter than I am to begin with. Yet if they do not start from correct assumptions, they will reach bad conclusions, and doubly bad because 1) they have pre-emptively defended those positions against criticism already,  though starting from a point too far downstream makes this useless, and 2) they cannot listen to critics who do not know the details they do.

When I speak with family members who do not know much about mental health, or newish Christians or Seekers who do not know much theology, Bible, or church history, or newcomers in many fields I know something about, I don;t find it hard to be patient in my explanations and assiduous in trying to create clear analogies. Where I get irritated is with people who think they know something, yet who have started from wrong assumptions that they seem unable to question.

I'm not good with that.

Thursday, April 25, 2019


Johnny Havlicek steals the ball!  This is how weird aging is. He was always old to me, because I was a child, and he was already a professional basketball player.  He has just died at 79 years old, which no longer seems all that old. Half a generation.

Notice he is from that other genetic group good at basketball, the Slavs.  Also strange how that is. He retired after two terrible seasons for the Celtics, filled with knuckleheadds, just before Larry Bird came in.  He'd had enough.  He later said he hadn't believed the Bird hype but after seeing him, wished he had stuck around for three more years to play with him.  Had that happened, Hondo would be even farther up the all-time statistical lists, top-ten and top-twenty in a few categories. I think the example of how to ease out might have extended Birdie's career as well.

He played some pickup, but mostly just stayed active, and amazed everyone at the Celtics all-time reunion game in 1986, when other players kept shaking their heads and saying he could still play! in his mid-40s.

Old Links

I have a bookmark category called "proofs" which is lengthy.  They really aren't proofs, they are evidences, arguments, and explanations.  They sit there until I need them to provide evidence in an online discussion.  Usually, I forget they are there and don't bring them out when I should.

They probably shouldn't just sit there.  I saved them for reasons that seemed good to me at the time, and some especially seem to call for another look. Thus, I bring them forward, these items from the past.  I will do ten at a time and spread them out over a few months. Maggie's, Instapundit, and other sites do this better, and I should probably stick to my strengths.  Which I will, whenever I fully identify them.

Internet Surveillance Law: Oren Kerr. Late 2002.

The Patriot Act wasn't new.  Basically, we ate that banana ten years earlier.

The Last Word on the Iraq War: Norm Geras 2004.

Well, it cost lots more than projected, we gave victory away in 2010, and we didn't find the WMD all the best people assured us were there. They were trying, but hadn't the skill. Yet some of these points still stand.

The Bush "Guard Memos" are Forgeries. Joseph Newcomer, 2004

Remember those? September Surprise? Some people still believe they were real. The posting starts off in real time, during the first hours when Rather brought them out, and multiple challenges to the accusation of forgery were raised. All were refuted, yet people wave their hands vaguely and say they heard it was all proved. Numerous updates over the next few years.

CNN Election Results: Demographics, 2004
Mildly interesting now.

Profiles of Typology Groups. Pew Research 2005

Pew does this every few years, breaking our political groupings down into finer categories. Here is their most recent, for 2017.

Bowling With Our Own.  City Journal 2007

Robert Putnam, who wrote Bowling Alone, did not want to release his subsequent research, because of its implications and feared misuse.  Not to worry.  Since then, the uncomfortable information has been largely ignored, and those who still refer to it are called bigots.

Dissecting Media Bias: The case of Eric Alterman.  Oliver Kamm 2007.

Common theme.  Still interesting.

The NYTimes Editorial from July 2001, The Declining Terrorist Threat.

Oh my. Whatever could have happened to the page?

The Power of Because.  Tyler Cowen 2008.

Still interesting research.

Who Lied About Iraq? American Thinker, 2008.

It is fair to counter that many people believed that the Bush Administration was making the larger claims, and this influenced their opinion. But looking at the actual record, now that history has been successfully rewritten, is always interesting.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019


In Taleb's discussion of IQ, and the continuing repeated discussions of intelligence and testing it over at Quora, there is a constant undercurrent of "But intelligent people are often jerks. And they don't get important things right. Possibly, in their arrogance, they get even more things wrong that the average person, and create more damage when they do."  That is very much so.  The assumptions that anyone starts from may be more important than their actual intelligence.  Thus, the many brilliant people in the CIA, NSA, military intelligence, and the State Department can get things very badly wrong, even if they are much smarter and more knowledgeable than you or I. Their track record is not good - yet they clearly wildly outpace us in knowledge of the abilities of Croatian hackers, or the power of unions in Germany versus France, or the history of communist movements in Indonesian since 1970. We could not stand five minutes against them in debate.  And yet they have proved indisputably wrong, repeatedly.  I think it is their assumptions.  If you think you are in Chicago and headed for Denver, but you really started from New aren't making it to Denver, no matter how well you have memorised the route.

I say this because Daniel Mallory Ortberg is simply brilliant when she, now he, starts from the right assumptions. His/her understanding of literature is excellent, and the treatment of it uproarious, as with this short essay on Keats. I am convinced. On other issues, where feelings triumph over facts, because they are like feelings, I am unconvinced.  Yet that is another story.