Thursday, November 21, 2019

Scanning the Face

I know what occurred to me first.

Bright Colors

This was proposed - semi-seriously, I assume - as a new city jersey for the Boston Celtics.  All sports teams are getting into multiple jerseys, hats, etc, because they sell very well.  The NBA is in this with all four feet, and City Jerseys are a big seller now.

The design is immediately clear to anyone who has spent much time going through Boston, but likely puzzling to everyone else.  It is drawn from a local iconic public symbol going out of Boston on I93 S.
It is an art piece from the 1970's by a woman who came to be known simply as "Corita."  She had previously been a liberal-activist nun, Sister Mary Corita Kent, at a liberal-activist convent in California (this is where my previous knowledge ends and I had to start looking things up) who had become well-known in the art community for integrating everyday objects as high art.  She taught art at Immaculate Heart college and was a memeber of the Immaculate Heart of Mary community.  She returned to secularr life in 1968, as her Roman Catholic hierarchy did not like her political-over-religious activism, and her cardinal went so far as to call the order communist.

The most common bit of controversy is the profile of Ho Chi Minh  embedded in the design.  You can see him in profile on the left side of the blue swath. Corita stated this was not so, and because there is sufficient ambiguity in any design of this sort, her defenders always sneered that it was not proven and it was only ridiculous people (not-liberal people) who were paranoid and condemning and overreading such a thing.  She had plausible deniability.  Even now, people will treat you as some sort of kook for even suggesting such a thing. She was non-violent.  She was in favor of peace and love and justice, which were all over her art work.  you, you evil person, are equating being antiwar with being communist.

Granting that in such swaths of artistic stroke it is always possible that accidental resemblances creep in - Fred Flintstone is supposedly in the yellow somewhere - I think it is in fact obvious that it's Ho Chi Minh.  Look at the question not from the you-have-to-spike-the-proof-to-the-center-of-the-earth position, but from the other side.  All of her work was cultural and political commentary.  She was not the artist who said "I just thought it would be pretty to have some bright colors out there for the public to see." There is nothing in her history that fits that.  Therefore, there is commentary in there somewhere, because that is what she did always, every time.  If it's not Ho Chi Minh, what is the bit of popular culture she is integrating into her work?  Keep looking. Yeah, that's what I thought.

Secondly, artists tend to to look at their work pretty closely, and make adjustments if something is undermining their message.

Third it's 1970's Massachusetts, which had plenty of people who just loved the chuckle of "MMpf.  She smuggled in a picture of Ho that all those conservative bastards will have to look at every day when they drive. Priceless."

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Government Grant

Originally published January 2011, almost 9 years ago.  Read the last comment, which just came in today.

This does not inspire confidence


We got word today of our bureau getting a $220,000 grant from the federal government. Exclamation points!!! Cheeriness!!! Yay, us!!!

Being postliberal, I was less excited. Reading the full announcement, I was less excited still. This was my reply to the email, quoting the last paragraph of the official announcement.

I'm glad we got the money and all, but what the hell does this mean?

The grant will be used to implement mental health outcome measures for anyone receiving or requesting services from the designated community health programs around the State. Two public domain tools will be utilized to collect and report on the data: the Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths (CANS) and the Adults Needs and Strengths Assessment (ANSA). These tools have been demonstrated to be highly effective in supporting a person centered treatment planning process, improving communication and collaboration with an individual’s supports and services in the community, empowering individuals and families in the service planning process, and promoting a more effective management of service resources and supports over time.

They're all mad; mad, I tell you. Mad as hatters. We're the only ones left.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Successful Aging Might Be A Failure

No Country For Old Age by Joseph E Davis from the Hedgehog Review, articulates clearly something that has been bothering me for some time.  We are awash in people telling us that age is just a number...the Bible never mentions retirement...seventy is the new fifty...we should increase our body-worship attention to fitness after age sixty...we should get new hobbies, new lives, and gosh-darnit, we shouldn't give in to aging.  And science might be curing it, too! The implication being that if you don't do as they recommend, you are failing at being old.

Unless, of course, preparing for death is one of our primary tasks in life.  If you aren't going to do that when you are old, when, exactly, were you going to get around to it? Is God going to say "Well, at least you kept playing tennis until you were eighty.  I'm proud of you for that."

I usually dislike writers putting quite so many phrases in quotes, but Davis gets it just about right, because so many of the common phrases of our discourse about aging are suspect, and deserve to be belittled.  A few quotes pulled from the article:
(Margaret) Manning quotes the actor Jamie Lee Curtis, then 56: " If I can challenge old ideas about aging, I will feel more and more invigorated. I want to represent this new way. I want to be a new version of the 70-year-old woman. Vital, strong, very physical, very agile. I think that the older I get, the more yoga I’m going to do." Manning notes that Curtis “isn’t afraid of getting older. Instead of seeing life after 60 as a time to take it easy, she is looking forward to the opportunity to make the absolute most of her life.”
I dunno.  It sounds like like getting older is exactly what Curtis is afraid of. 
Aging well by such criteria requires continuous demonstrations of success through signs of initiative and energy. Appearance—looking healthy, fit, and “put together”—is also crucial: “To look old is to be old” ...Again, the measure is the body. Health, fitness, a youthful appearance, entrepreneurial energy: These are not “add-ons,” like fashion or cosmetics; they are something you are.
I think this is deeply related to the myths that attitude actually creates health and longer life. Cancer patients are given this ringamarole from first diagnosis, that you aren't supposed to let cancer "beat you," that you are supposed to fight back and beat cancer. Unfortunately, there isn't any evidence that this makes the slightest difference. Everyone who has cancer fights hard, because the fear is great and the treatments are difficult. In retrospect, the ones who survive we say "See? She didn't give in to cancer!" So too with aging. People believe if you do all these amazing things you will live longer, and if you don't do them you are "giving in" and are going to die sooner. Does anyone talk about "giving in" to a broken leg, or hypertension? Christians have their own versions of this, certainly, of positive confession or Naming and Claiming.
...antiaging and successful aging push toward a similar framing of old age as undesirable and, at least for a time, preventable. Both treat frailty and disability as indications of failure and emphasize individual choice and effort without regard to the hardships and inequalities many older people actually endure. Both promote an evasion of the inevitable confrontations with disability, disease, and death.
I don't generally much like Carl Jung, but he had it right with this: 
“a human being would certainly not grow to be seventy or eighty years old if this longevity had no meaning for the species. The afternoon of human life must also have a significance of its own and cannot be merely a pitiful appendage to life’s morning.” (Emphasis mine)
It would be easy to say that facing death and successful aging are not mutually exclusive.  However, in the traditional meaning of facing death and the current meaning of successful aging, they are at least at odds. I don't think you can focus on both at once.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Von Neumann

John Von Neumann is considered the most intelligent person who ever lived. This story in the popular press puts me in mind of The Atomic Bomb Considered as a Hungarian High School Science Fair Project. The "Martian" theory was partly from their intelligence, and partly because Hungarian is unrelated to other European languages, except distantly to Finnish and Estonian.

Autism, Heredity, Intelligence

Not all of you read Maggie's Farm, and I wanted to make sure you saw this from Slate Star Codex. My wife and I both have some Asperger-y traits, I along the OCD side of things and she along the social cue side, and this reflects in one of our sons. Whether my sleep movement disorders are related I don't know, but I have always thought so.  The odd sustained focus to the exclusion of other input while awake is very similar to the odd sustained focus of dreaming.

Of course, I may be just making up a story in explanation that has no basis in reality.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

The Revolt Against The Masses - #26

I missed this in my overall count. It should have been number 26. I wonder how many others I missed by not scanning carefully enough. Originally February 2018.

Good interview with the author, Fred Siegel. I had not known he was previously liberal.
Collins: Do you think the liberal elite today see themselves self-consciously as the ruling class of one nation, as Americans primarily, or do you think they see themselves as distinct from other Americans, maybe feeling they have more in common with the global elite? Are they almost embarrassed by their own society?

Siegel: Very much so. Something happens in the 1990s. The elites of Washington, New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles meld together. Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Washington and Wall Street all come together, and for the first time you have something like the British establishment. The British establishment could organise itself more easily because it was centred on London. For decades the American elite was divided among different coastal cities, plus the ‘third coast’ of Chicago, and it wasn’t until space collapses due to technology that you have the creation of this unified American elite. That unified elite is overwhelmingly liberal. Three hundred people who work for Google were part of the Obama administration at one time or another.

So this elite comes together, it looks across the Atlantic, it looks across the Pacific, but it doesn’t look at the heartland. The rest of the country recognises that.

The 38 States of America = #10 All-Time

I thought this might be a good idea at first, or at least fun, but my commenters convinced me otherwise. These are provinces instead of states. Originally January 2018.

I was given the book Strange Maps, which has been moderately fun. About halfway through, this one shows up. It is an excellent example of an idea that looks crazy at first, but becomes more sensible as you look at it. It's never going to happen, of course, and the geographer C Etzel Pearcy who thought this up knew that from the start. Too many practical difficulties with changing even small amounts of disputed territory, as the residents of New Hampshire and Maine know from the Portsmouth Shipyard controversy. (Commenter Granite Dad is still exercised about this.)

The emotional attachments would escalate from mast protests to shooting wars in a hundred places. Grand Rapids may be happy to shove Detroit off, but they get Chicago, which I think they might hate more. I don't know if the renaming would reduce arguments or increase them. I might be okay with being part of the State of Kennebec, but I wouldn't be getting that choice, because I'd be on the outer border of the Commonwealth of Plymouth, which I don't like.  Happy to see Massachusetts cut in half, though. Does Texas care all that much about the panhandle?

Still, Pearcy had good arguments for why he drew the lines where, and as near as I can tell from the places I know well, they make some cultural sense. Pearcy tried hard not to divide up metropolitan areas, drawing the lines through less-populated places. In New England, that means a line from Foxwoods to Laconia, then SSE to the ocean between Portland and Portsmouth. Connecticut and Western Mass become part of a state centered on NYC - which they pretty much are anyway. Maine, Vermont, and the rest of New Hampshire had more cultural unity in 1973 when this came out, but I think it could still be found. Adding in that bit of Upstate NY around Plattsburg makes sense.

I can't tell where Lexington KY and Williamsburg VA are ending up.  Again, less of an issue in 1973, more so now.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Lead-in to the Top Ten

I have actually left a few of the most visited posts out of the list, as I thought right from the beginning I would eventually do.  My post about Snake Den State Park in Rhode Island was three short, uninteresting sentences. That traffic must be entirely driven by search engines, not anything I wrote.  I suspect something similar for a post about weight loss.  It is a very popular topic that people are always scrambling around the internet for. I am not a noted expert, nor even a clever amateur on that topic.

While the top ten in general are likely much beholden to random searches for my topics, I think I gave some value added on most of them.  These last ten are quite varied in topic.  And they aren't really the last ten reprints anyway.  I have a fun followup to all this.

Fun for me, that's who.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Influencing World Events

I have an audience here.  People may even be moved slightly by what I write, and thus I can lay claim to have some influence in the national conversation, beyond my neighborhood to little pockets in Texas and Ohio and North Carolina and Wisconsin and Massachusetts.

But really just by numbers alone, not even counting the infinite power of God, but treating my time as equal in both endeavors, am I more likely to have an impact as one of the 100,000,000 people who advocate about current events, or as one of the 1,000,000 people who pray about the fate of the country and the world?

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

11th Most-visted post - Lost Nation, NH

Originally published October 2011. I was hoping this one would make the cut when I started counting, and was surprised that it has nearly 5,000 hits. I suppose when people are putting a Bing or a Duck on "Lost Nation," they want to learn more than what's on the map. This attracted good comments over the years from people who were from there.***
 The name has intrigued me since the 1970's.  I fancied at first that it got it's name from being abandoned, some logging or mining small rail destination that got used up - a romantic, even gothic fancy, as might occur to a young poetic type mooning about the landscape.  But people don't name a place as they are going out, only when they are getting established.  Abandoned places only attract names like The Old Mine, or Where Trasker's Farm Used To Be.  You would find a cooler name only in Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys books.

But Lost Nation, I eventually decided, had to have acquired that name in its early days.  A small settlement might have gone for a decade without naming in the 18th or 19th C, but not much longer.  The town histories of Lancaster and Northumberland offer suggestions for the origin - the settlement straddles that border - but neither source seems quite certain.  Both explanations connect it to some vaguely religious idea, but frame it in the negative - that some visiting preacher or local wag called them that because of remoteness or poor church attendance.  I think that's close, but not in the money.  The time of settlement was very early 19th C, a time when British Israelism was a popular idea, especially in the more exotic sects that struck out to settle new areas.  The idea of the Lost Tribes of Israel was still much in the air not long after that when Joseph Smith received his revelations which assured him that there had been great cities and civilizations on the North American continent.  To be a member of a Lost Tribe was not a bad thing, but a good one.  People would take that idea about themselves as a connection to Bible times, and some hope that they might be favored or important.

I have no evidence from any document, yet find it the more persuasive idea that Lost Nation named itself with no irony or humor intended.  Yes, the place is out of the way, but so is everything else up there, frankly.  Even the big places are small and hard to get to. Things are different Above The Notch.

I went up to find it last Friday.  It didn't look too hard on the map, just a longer distance than one might ordinarily travel for such a small errand. I have been to the area a fair number of times over my lifetime, but not this specific place. I was always going somewhere for work or a high school game, and had no time.

It didn't look too hard on the map.  The name of the place is Lost Nation.  Isn't it fairly obvious what's going to happen next?  Sigh.  When will I learn?

The map said to take North Rd out of Lancaster, then take a left on Lost Nation Rd. Many things are left unmentioned in that description. It's not called North Road until it's well out of town. Before that it's called Middle St (or Mechanic St). These signs do not suggest anything to do with North or Middle anything, do they? (click for the amusing embiggen.)

 So after three passes to figure that out, I learned that Lost Nation Rd is called Grange Rd where it meets North Rd. And it's only marked from one direction. So that took three passes. But small problem, really. Just irritating. No question when you get there, though. There's a small church that says Lost Nation on it, only used occasionally now. The border between the towns is well-marked. One little interesting bit there. Town lines nationwide are now marked for drivers, going by quickly, and show the name of the place you are about to enter. But the old line markers reversed this: Lancaster was written on the Lancaster side, and Northumberland (or North'd) on its side. The trend is returning in fashionable places, with engraved initials on stone posts.  Goffstown and Bedford now have them.

 Why move so far up into the mountains to try and scratch out a living? Well, there's paranoia, of course, but I suspect the real reason is that it is so flat. Once you get above the notch, there actually are nice wide patches of farmland. From Ashland to Franconia, not so much. Here and there. If you are  worried about the cold, you really should start looking about 200 miles of here. 

Pretty place.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Ted Gibson of MIT

I was invited to an event at which Ted Gibson was speaking, 6:15-8:15. There were about 25 of us in the room, and he went over his research in linguistics and information processing.  At the end he cheerfully said "This was the most ________ audience I have ever spoken to."  Fill in the blank.  Hint: I mentally took credit for about half of that.

In Praise of Clear Pronunciation

Daniel Kahneman

There is a podcast on the limits of intuition that was referenced over at Maggie's. I just listened to it on my walk and there are twenty good ideas in it.  Pretty good for 60+ minutes. Kahneman is actually in favor of what he calls "delayed intuition," in which you refrain from deciding and even distract yourself from deciding by gathering more data, then at the end, closing your eyes and making an intuitive judgement.  Unsurprisingly, this type of intuition results in better decisions than the first pass.

He also made specific reference to the reminder I recently got from Bethany, that we do not change our minds or become persuaded by facts so much as trust in a person who is telling us something.  Of course, their general ability to use facts will be part of our trusting them, but that can take many forms.  They might explain something we already agree with in a particularly good way. They might provide an explanation to us for something we have observed but did not quite have a handle on.  They might tie a new idea in to something we already know.  They might point out a deal-breaker we had overlooked. They might move us from point C to point D by describing how the general consesus went from A to B to C to D. Any of these increase trust in their judgement.

BTW, because of what is called the Endowment Factor, we are more likely to believe a speaker we have paid money to see or a book we have bought rather than been given us.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Please Re-Elect Gerald

I still love this.  And my audience knows he is absolutely right about the trains.

Double Rainbow Guy

Double Rainbow Guy talks about himself here.

Victims of Communism

On the 30th Anniversary of the Fall of Communism, some of the best writing was done during the 20th Anniversary, including the Victims of Communism articles I linked to a decade ago, including Paul Hollander and Ilya Somin.

We should spend less attention on current events and more on events on a slower turn of the wheel.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

How To Spot A Hoax

Twelfth-most visited post of all time. It is new this year and already reposted once, so I figure this one got linked more than once and people found it useful. Some of you already practice this, being suspicious of hate-crime events that are just too perfect, but I think it would be good if the principle were more generally known.

Update:  The earlier post is here.  It is nearly identical except that it has many comments, some quite excellent.  I should have just brought that forward but it's too late now. If you like this at all, you may like the comments there.

Well, one kind of hoax, anyway. I'm not a general hoax expert.

When the story is just too perfect, when it fits the stereotype that the hoax perpetrator wants to believe, that's a big clue. Lots of people wanted it to be true that high school boys wearing MAGA hats were saying racist things and even looking a little violent and out of control. So a Native American says "I thought they were going to lynch those black people." Really?  You thought those 16-year-olds were going to pull out some rope and wade into a group of black adults, and start dragging them out one-by-one, looking for a tree branch or a light pole?

But it would just be so cool if they were like that.  I'll bet they would be like that if they only had the chance.  It's not too far-fetched that they could conceivably do that... 

The racist note written to a black student having difficulties at Air Force Prep turn out to be written by - the victim. Yet that doesn't matter so much as the idea that it could have been written by someone else, and weneedtohaveamonologueCONVERSATIONaboutracism, because all those awful people keep denying that racism and sexism exist, so we will have to proceed as if those lacrosse players could have raped that black girl, or Emma Sulkowitz was really assaulted, that Haven Monahan really exists.  There's a new one, some actor, Smollet?  Justy Smollett?  The first I heard of the story, red flags.  Too perfect.  Most real anti-semitic events are just stupid vandalism, and don't have a poetic beauty about their violence and threats.

Real hate crimes are usually crude: some jerk shoves someone while insulting them. Those happen.  Those are real sexism, homophobia, racism, whatever. But they aren't really interesting enough to make the newspapers.  They are over in a minute.  They might involve a possibility of real violence, but they just don't have the sexiness that a real stereotype-fulfilling story does.  The public demands that a gay martyrdom be real, not just a drug deal gone bad with some other guys who worked for the same pimp.

There was a great one last year, about a black doctor who had struggled under difficult conditions working for the poor all day, then some white bigot called him a racial epithet and squealed his tires getting away in the parking garage, laughing.  My cousin posted it.  You know I am not tactful, but I worked really hard at gradually revealing that this was actually fiction.  I didn't use the words "fake news."  Not even at the end when my cousin insisted rather angrily (and another cousin unfriended me over the exchange) that even if it wasn't technically true it was true and important, because real black people go through things like this every day. Except, well, I actually do know a fair number of black doctors, and they all shook their heads and rolled their eyes when I relayed the story over the next two weeks. It should be true, dammit, therefore its falseness is irrelevant.

Yesterday I had a beauty: a woman who claimed that she had encountered a Trump protestor in a MAGA hat and a red, white, & blue top that barely covered her torso - oh, there's a nice touch. Not that no Trump supporter ever dressed that way, but it was very obliging of the woman to be something unsavory as well as stupid in just the right way, wan't it? - who said "But he's our ruler.  We have to do what he says."

Uh, Trump supporters have the opposite problem.  They might say a lot of silly or obnoxious things, but I think we can fairly rule out the docile followers idea.  I've been in many arguments with them online, including here at my own site, and let me assure you, that is not their problem. What you will find are people who say they will refuse to do X, whether the government or even their favorite president says so, and you have to pull them quietly aside and say "Uh, Phil?  You actually do have to do that.  It's the law.  Just sayin'." But hey, it would have been so cool if some trollop actually had said "He's our ruler. We have to do what he says." Those Trump people are so easily led and certainly capable of it, eh? So some woman somewhere - they think - likely said that.  And, probably a lot like that woman it the skimpy top who said something (completely unrelated that doesn't fit my current narrative), and was really annoying. So we can call it true-ish.  True, really.

Give me a break.  You're lying. No one said that.

I am going to guess at the motives or (ahem) reasoning, but I don't insist on these. We don't know others' motives all that well - we seldom even know all of even our own motives - and motives are mixed. Projection is likely. But I think there is this idea that A) they are right-wing, and therefore Justlikenazis not very far below the surface, and we know that real nazis acted like that in another country and completely different cultural context, know...don't you get it? Okay, sure, when you start insisting on things like evidence in 20thC Europe, it was actually the communists who blindly followed leaders, yes.  Franco's Spain and Mussolini's Italy were actually highly factionalised countries just barely held together, okay.  But it just feels  like German nazis are the best comparison here, doesn't it?  Because it would be so cool if Trump's supporters turned out to be just like that. It would vindicate us.

Let me throw in a parenting reassurance for free, because there is a parallel.  When the school calls and says your kid is getting detention and is in trouble for X, you usually know immediately if this is off-the-wall.  All five of my sons were capable of earning a detention, but a few times, there would be this accusation and you would go - hmmm. Not my kid. There is something missing from this story. The school doesn't want to hear your protest, because they deal with parents who are clueless about their kid's misbehavior all the time.  Your protest that "This is not my kid's style of misbehavior" will fall on deaf ears.  But for good parents, you know.  "My could could easily do A, or C, or G. But you are telling me he did E, and there's something wrong here.  Hold on."

Wait, this example is much fairer in reverse.  My children could have been told a story that "Your dad got in trouble for saying X to a ref." For some values of X, that would be quite possible.  Yet for others, my children would shake their head.  Nope.  Not my dad.  Not that one.  Someone is making that up.

Once you know to look for poetic perfection as a disproof, the news becomes easier. Bush splitting from the Air National Guard?  Too perfect.  John Kerry getting hat from a CIA guys?  Too perfect.

Bonus extra credit.  Some autobiographies fit the mold. Don't make me spell that out for you.

Saturday, November 09, 2019

R.I.P Maria Parego

Gradual Cultural Change Because of Marriage Practices

Mapping the end of incest and the dawn of individualism. (Do not read the comments.  Useless.) Glenn Reynolds commented "Hmm," an ambiguous response, but one that at minimum suggests he doesn't think much about this issue.  It is well-known to those who dare to click over to those dangerous HBD sites.  It's not his thing. The article very cautiously and wisely merely hints at reasons and results.  I have mentioned the Hajnal Line here several times before, and contemplating these issues can be very informative about the last 1500 years of European history.  It provides a surprising framework with some explanatory power.

Let me fill in some background which is not nailed down and could be modified when academics dare to study such things again, but for the moment might give you an "aha!" experience.  The ban on cousin and other relatedness marriages by the Roman Catholic Church was not fully obeyed anywhere.  The ban amounted to relative degrees of discouragement of such practice. Northern Europe embraced this more than any other region the Western, later RC, Church penetrated.  I believe there is evidence that this was acceptable to those tribes because they already discouraged cousin, and certainly half- or step-sibling marriage prior to conversion.  Women had higher status than elsewhere.

There is speculation that the Church pushed this solely to undermine the power-centers of intermarrying families preserving their lands and influence. It is also possible that monks, the carriers of observed and importantly written wisdom about stockbreeding, had noticed an increase in genetic problems from close interbreeding. The study authors make an additional suggestion.  All quite fascinating and worth finding out.  Yet the key fact is that it happened, and the loosened family ties created societies which were gradually more willing to think of themselves as parts of larger groups, not just their own tight cousinages. Ironically, this led to more voluntarily allegiances within tribes, and a slow increase in people viewing themselves as individuals. This expands in both directions, until you get Americans, a people who very much regard themselves as individuals, but also deeply identified as members of a nation of a third of a billion people. (India does not have that, and China has that in only an attenuated form.)

A thousand years later you get nations, and in that mix women, of all people, increasingly have rights to own property, inherit titles, enter guilds and professions, sue for divorce or take men to court. Next thing you know, they'll want to vote. Ridiculous, but it follows from the loosening of purely familial ties, so what are you going to do?

It didn't happen in other places.


From Mother Nature Network
"Meerkats can make at least 10 different sounds."  Stefbennett/Shutterstock


Ion Mihai Pacepa, the highest-ranking defector from the Soviet Union to the West wrote Disinformation with Ronald Rychlak, law professor at University of Mississippi. It is a history of the GRU/KGB tactic under Stalin and beyond.  You can scope out the book via the Wiki.

Pacepa recounts reading Soviet instruction manuals while working as an intelligence officer, that characterized disinformation as a strategy utilized by the Russian government that had early origins in Russian history. Pacepa recalls that the Soviet manuals said origins of disinformation stemmed from phony towns constructed by Grigory Potyomkin in Crimea to impress Catherine the Great during her 1783 journey to the region—subsequently referred to as Potemkin villages.

The authors describe disinformation and posit that it played a role in the criticism of Christianity in the Western world. They discuss the role of disinformation with regards to fomenting Islamic terrorism against Jewish and American targets, exploiting the historic anti-Semitic sentiments in the Islamic world. Pacepa and Rychlak place burgeoning support for Marxism within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries and the United States as related to disinformation campaigns

Friday, November 08, 2019

Positive Psychology

I was biased against it from the start because it seemed to be making large claims that didn't have any evidence of working with my people, the ones with serious mental illness and in crisis.  I didn't know anything about positivity ratios, nor would I have been much interested.  If you want to study such things, there is no need to be more complicated than the simple 3-1 ratio.  Test that.

It turns out the problem stems from trying to make the data look ultra scientific, when it in fact seems to have little underneath it.

New Atheists

I recommend the recent article at Slate Star Codex New Atheism: The Godlessness That Failed.  (The title is meant to echo The God That Failed , a post WWII book in which six communist writers describe their disillusionment with and abandonment of that faith.) Scott Alexander is an atheist, and has been deeply involved with the online discussions between atheists/humanists and Christians/theists for  over two decades. He has noticed a dropoff in the discussions, a lack of traffic and interest at the atheist sites, and a split in the group in the last few years. Bethany over at Graph Paper Diaries offers the suggestion  that people became part of the New Atheist movement and online discussions from two broad categories, those who believed that religion was unscientific and unreasonable, and those who believed it was pernicious and dangerous.  I believe it was likely the latter group who converted to a Social Justice liberalism and gradually just left.  If liberalism is a religion, SJW's are the fundies. Alexander is usually very fair-minded.  He read a good deal of C S Lewis and found him “almost convincing,” and could see how someone might embrace a Christian faith in that way.

Two caveats:  Categorising subgroups is always inexact and might even be useless. I reprinted Michael Novak’s types of atheist from No One Sees God a decade ago, and it included seven versions. (The links are all shot now.  So much for the eternity of the internet versus the deterioration of books, eh?)  My own atheist and agnostic readers here looked over the list and didn’t find themselves described very exactly by any of the types. This should be cautionary for all of us drawing conclusions about motivations – and that includes the atheist arguers themselves, who seem to use the word “we,” more than is justified.  Alexander’s discussion is specifically about the online New Atheist intense discussion types, not about the larger population of nonbelievers in general. I suspect those are very different groups, start to finish.

Secondly. I may have been drifting into using the term “Social Justice Warrior” unfairly.  I have been using a definition that is convenient for criticism of them.  If, for example someone actually does act in a racist or sexist way I just think of that as criminal or immoral.  I don’t think of people who call that out as extremists worthy of being mocked. I reserve that for the people I feel are being ridiculous, of over-interpreting the terms and straining at gnats while swallowing camels. Rather circular on my part, and I will try and be more precise going forward. Social justice in the abstract is a very good thing. Excess is not normative, and abuse is not use.

Alexander’s discussion is already too long and doesn’t need me to expand upon it, but I did notice in the graphs on polarization that the engaged Republicans 1994 and 2014 look very similar (the 2004 Republicans had moved a bit to the middle), while the Democrats moved steadily left from 1994-2014.  That isn’t any evidence for who is correct, only of who is moving, but I thought it interesting. It accords with what many observers have written over the last few years, that the left are becoming more so.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Ivan Denisovich

I chose the 1963 version rather than the 1970 version, even though I think it is less true to the book. You can shortcut by reading about Solzhenitsyn's book, if you don't want to watch the movie. I was ten-and-a-half but allowed to stay up for the movie when it was televised late in 1963. My mother thought it was important. Her boyfriend, who was later the campaign manager for Congressman Louis Wyman, sat with us and enforced the seriousness of the event. I was not to talk during the movie, and I don't think either of them more than murmured either.

I don't remember much of it, other than that the prisoners were keeping themselves going by trying to lay more brick than had been done before.  It was cold, and the guards oppressive, and there was nothing beyond survival in the statements of the prisoners. The film quality is poor and the special effects not very convincing to our eyes now.  They don't look very cold.  Their clothing doesn't look that ragged. My eyes and imagination must have changed, because I nonetheless remembered the haunting atmosphere of isolation and endless cold for years after.

They succeeded in breaking the record, and the head of the guards asked "Who had the honor of laying the last brick?" He berated the man who answered, reminding him that he was still a prisoner in a GULAG camp. That stuck with me as well, the need to kick a man when he was down, an extra punishment to kill the spirit.

#13 - The Big Bad Three

Updated and edited slightly, 2019

Reprinted Feb 2015, unedited, from over nine years ago. (1/12/06)  One of my first posts, and apropos in light of the president's (Obama) venturing into historical discussion with the approximate sophistication of a freshman at a late-night bull session.

When editorialists and online commenters want to illustrate for you how bad Christianity is, and how much it has contributed to the misery of man, there are three examples that are trotted out: the Salem Witch Trials, the Inquisition, and the Crusades. Keep in mind...

Witch trials were more common -- ten thousand times more common -- in Europe, and increasingly common the farther east you went, until it stopped hard at Belarus/Ukraine/Russia - Orthodox lands. My thought is that the milder superstitions of curse and the evil eye in Orthodox thinking was more deeply embedded and thus somewhat moderated. As the colonies were still part of Europe, being the most western (that is, least witch-burning) portion fits the pattern nicely. Not only was there no correlation to strongly religious areas in European witch trials, there was a negative correlation. Execution of witches was most common in areas that still had strong pagan and folk superstitions. Salem was not even known as a particularly religious city in the New England Colonies. Seaports seldom are. Following Hawthorne's self-hatred and Miller's anti-McCarthyite agenda, the idea that Christian extremism leads to witch-burning is firmly implanted in our mythology, but is false. There is some connection to the rise of heresy crackdowns, but a stronger one to the plague and to social unrest.

The small-i inquisitions, insane as they were, were usually saner than the civil courts around them. A higher percentage of "heretics" tried in civil courts were executed. It may be sad, or even infuriating, that things were so bad that the Inquisitions were a step up, but they were.The Spanish Inquisition was the great exception, because it was under the direction of Ferdinand and Isabella, not the Dominicans and Franciscans who had developed very clear rules for what was a fair way to "inquire" and what was not.  The crown made money from the forfeited lands as well.  This was not the primary motive, but it sweetened the deal. The treatment of the conversos and the expulsion of the Jews comes into this, though not always with clear lines.

Western Europe played defense against Islamic expansion for almost 95% of the 7th-17th Centuries. In our current imagination, this is remembered as a series of aggressive Crusades by the West. The Romanians, who got slaughtered and had their heads put on pikes for our sake, remember the events a little differently.  There were a hundred tribes in the mix, and it almost never was broken down as entirely Christian vs Muslim in battle and competition. The Christians took small amounts of territory, not empires. Eventually, they had some very valuable ports, and that became a good portion of the value.  Also, there were Crusades to the Baltic counties, to Spain, to everywhere.  Crusading became part of the culture.

Remember also that reference to the evil of the Inquisition and Crusades were first used as criticisms against Catholics rather than Christians in general. When the individuals who had the temerity to name themselves The Enlightenment spun their version of European history into popularity, they were building on the considerable anti-Catholic spin that already prevailed from their upbringing. To steal an image from a recent post of mine below, the background music you hear when you read the words Salem, Inquisition, or Crusades promises more evil than the actual events deliver. Da-DUHH! Real events are more complicated.  The numbers actually killed, versus huger numbers of the dead in other battles and invasions we no longer even mention, are small, but the infamy remains great.  Historical events are often remembered more for their symbolic value in modern culture wars than for their actual effect.

The Jews get a pass and are allowed to complain about any of it, because they really were screwed over at least once a century just about everywhere. No argument from me there.  The interesting thing is that these were always the brutal, explosive exception.  Jews would live in a place long enough to prosper, be tolerated and even somewhat accepted, and then the Christians would just descend into a decade of violence again.

There have been no religious wars in Christendom since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. What people call religious wars in Europe are tribal and national wars that people tried to dress in religious clothing. Wolves don't hide in wolf's clothing.

Update: We treat not burning witches anymore as a moral improvement. It is actually only a scientific improvement. We no longer believe witches can accomplish those horrible things, so we don't persecute them anymore. People who we believe can do bad things to us from a distance -- disease, radiation, toxins -- we still want to do bad things to. Because we consider their damage partial or minor we only sue them and fine them and put them in jail. If we thought they could kill our children we might get meaner. Part of the sneering against us is drawn from secularists treating the scientific advance as a moral one. Yet notice the recovered memory of satanic cults hysteria from 10-20 years ago -- both religious and secular people went completely nuts with that, and sent some innocent people to jail over it -- not to mention destroyed families and reputations.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

The Kurds

Many conservatives were very upset with Trump about his recent decisions in Syria, Turkey, and nascent Kurdistan. Leaving allies in the lurch goes strongly against the grain for many.  His Democratic opponents, many of whom have long advocated we do less militarily throughout the Mideast, nonetheless found many reasons they disagreed with him on this.  Much of the conservative media is now telling us how well things ended up going in Syria after all, both for us and for everyone nice.  The alphabet media seem to be not mentioning it much these days.  So I can find someone to tell me whatever I want if I choose carefully.

I am much more interested in what all of you here think.  I accept that everything in the ME is unstable, but how unstable is this compared to other possible solutions?  Who is getting hurt at present, what villains have gained a protective space to grow in power? Suggesting good reads will be fine.

Monday, November 04, 2019

Hungary 1956

For those of you who missed this elsewhere today, I link to this Hungarian site (in English) about the end of the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. This site is in general nowhere near as harsh about the Soviets as it could be, but about 1956, at least, it sticks to the general Hungarian opinion.

The Hungarians dealt with leftover Soviet art in an interesting manner, loading it all up into a single park out of town, Szoborpark. I wrote about it briefly years ago.  Click on the second picture to enlarge and get the full effect. Make an effort to get there if you are in Budapest, even though that might be a tight squeeze of time if you are there on one of the Danube Rive cruises.

Persecution and Toleration

I listened to a podcast interviewing Mark Koyama, economics professor at George Mason. He has a new book out, The Long Road to Religious Freedom. He sounded interesting and balanced, I would have hopes for the book.  He draws a distinction between toleration and freedom, especially religious.  Under toleration you are allowed to live, practice, and worship, but you have imposed limitations - offices or professions that are not open to you, extra fees or taxes you must pay. In freedom all people are treated equally.

The host asked why the idea of toleration, and then freedom, which turns out to confer a considerable economic advantage, took so long to take hold in society. Koyama gave two good answers.  First, it is not obvious in the short run that it provides an economic advantage, and people prefer to give preference to "their own" in all senses of the word. Secondly, monarchs and leaders in general prefer to have as much unity in their subjects as possible, because a fragmented people is more vulnerable to attack from without. This is why secessionist movements are generally opposed, even when people don't like each other much.  They hate the possibly invading Elbonians even more. The accusation is that rulers like to have power over as many people as possible, and while that is true it is not the whole truth.  The people themselves like to feel they  have many allies they can count on.

Related to this latter, a nation fears that those among them who are different might become a fifth column, or exert influence on foreign policy.  Koyama gave as an example that Catholics in France and in America in the 17th-18th C's were very much interested in what happened to Catholics in Spain and Italy. Rather than brush this fear aside, as I fear many of the highly miseducated and even historians and social scientists would these days, he acknowledges that it is quite reasonable.  History shows that this is quite true.

Americans are less likely to see it because the effect is weaker here. 1) We have people from many places, often specifically escaping the conflicts elsewhere and wanting nothing to do with them. The counter, that some still do care what is happening back in the old country, as in Ireland throughout the 20th C, Sudan, Latin America, the Middle East, is certainly true, but few of them care anywhere near as much as those still in place.  2) The various national, religious, and ethnic groups are somewhat offsetting, 3) there remains a powerful assimilative factor, however much it is under attack, that America is founded on ideas, not blood-and-soil. Because of that, most of any group that arrives here adopts America as its primary loyalty. Some do not, and that does raise questions as to how much of that "some" can be tolerated.  In this sense, I don't mean "tolerated" in the sense of being nice people and believing that others will be nice as well, but in the sense of how much can be present before it puts all of us in danger, even if the rest of us are trying very hard.

In other places they have decided that not very much "some" can be tolerated, though Europe is having another go at it.  They finally achieved peace after WWII as nations divided more along linguistic and ethnic lines than ever before.* Now they will bring in people even less like them than Poles are to Germans or Dutch to Frisians and see how that works. Americans have been doing this for four centuries, and if we aren't really all that good at it, we are at least ahead of everyone else.

*Europeans believe that they became a superior moral force because of what they had learned from devastating wars.  Hmm, maybe. Ethnic populations moving back, and drawing the boundaries more cleanly around tribes strikes me as a simpler and cleaner explanation than a great change in human nature.

Violent Language

I covered last week for a young man who is quite liberal, and sat at his desk.  His coffee mug reads Support SEA

"SEA" being the government union.

Fighting.  Always with the violent rhetoric, justified poorly. He would likely say that it doesn't mean actual violence, but a type of contending against others. He believes that, but it isn't so, at least not in general. The encouragement to violence has been continuous throughout my adult life, and is having its effect. The word "fight" certainly can mean that.  St Paul says I have fought the good fight, for example. Yet if we are to deplore violent rhetoric on one side...

I have written many times that Democrats promise to fight for you, Republicans promise to work for you.  This has changed over the last decade, especially under Trump, whose core supporters are glad that he fights.  Relatedly, the left goes on offense, usually against objects or places, while the right is primarily defensive in its violent speech, though sometimes loudly so, almost daring people to come fight them.  I have worried that both limitations are breaking down, with the left increasingly attacking people, while the right may be going on offense more. 

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Nostalgia Dancing

Right in my era.  Everyone looks momentarily like someone I knew, every shirt and skit looks like something I can remember from church dances. I had forgotten about the ribbons.

Church youth group dances.  It's a strange thing.  Out youth group was Christus Victor so there were Christus Victor Dances.  Or you could go to OLPH* dances, that the Catholic youth groups would sponsor from Our Lady of Perpetual Help school. The Greek Orthodox kids had St George's Coffee houses, while the Methodists had St Paul's Coffee Houses. Holy Trinity or Sacred Heart Basketball.  We don't notice the strangeness because we are used to high school and college teams, or even professional teams from  Western "Saint" or "San" cities.

*The periods were still retained in initials in that era, so a flier would read O.L.P.H. Basketball or whatever

#14 -O'Sullivan's Law Hits Habitat For Humanity

From  2006.  Since then I have learned that it is very similar to the second of Robert Conquest's Three Laws of Politics.


John O'Sullivan, columnist and former editor of National Review offers this proposed O'Sullivan's First Law: "All organizations that are not actually right wing will over time become left wing." As examples, he offers the ACLU, The Ford Foundation, and The Episcopal Church.

John Leo, whose article here explains O'Sullivan's Law, offers "Leo's amendment to O'Sullivan's First Law: Any organization with 'women' or 'girls' in its title will tend to become part of the cultural left in general and the abortion lobby in particular." He offers as additions to O'Sullivan's Law The Anti-Defamation League, The Girl Scouts, and UNICEF.

Other organizations have been added to the list over time, including Man In The Middle’s annoyance at Consumer Reports magazine, AARP, and the League of Women Voters. (He also adds in the Heifer Project, based on an incident I hadn’t heard of. A shame.) All three essays above include some discussion as to why all this happens.

Habitat For Humanity has long been a favored charity for lefties, but at its outset, tried to be nonpartisan and evenhanded. It seemed for awhile to be an excellent place for conservatives and liberals to get together and do some good. It shows generosity to the poor, while not enabling poverty. I still think the sweat-equity, community participation, interest-free loan method to be excellent on many levels. I’ve even been able to overlook Jimmy Carter’s dishonest political claims because HFH is such a good idea.

And we have excellent connections to Habitat Romania. It is based in Beius, where sons #3 & 4 were once in Iosef’s Orphanage, and where all of us (especially son #2) worked this summer. The person who runs Habitat there is in fact a relative of the people who run the orphanage my sons come from. Chris, my youngest son, was in a Habitat World group photo in Beius before we adopted him, and I have suggested that he work for Habitat instead of the orphanage this summer for his mission trip. We dropped by last summer’s Habitat project, and ran into that work group in both Romania and in Budapest.

Yet I have grown weary of HFH’s increasingly leftward tilt. The latest issue of Habitat World (also available online) cannot get off the first page without launching into the badly slanted statistics about poverty in America, the minimum wage, and CEO salaries. Hellooo, Habitat! CEO salaries are completely irrelevant to your mission. Attention! Even if your data about wages were not deceptive, it would still be not your calling to be putting your efforts there. People donate money to you because they want you to build houses.

HFH is now proudly joining the ONE Campaign, a coalition of “humanitarian” groups which hopes to Make Poverty History. Habitat has “increasing interest in advocacy and outreach.” Its new partners are “veteran activists.” Like those are good things?

To keep up with its new friends, Habitat For Humanity latest issue has to make sure it works in the cost of the Iraq war, Hurricane Katrina exposing the lack of transportation for the poor, and that “inequality is greater than it’s been since 1929.” Really? 1929? Do you have any editors able to think for 15 seconds before sending something like that to press?

They still do good work. They still build houses and they’ll still get our money for awhile. But as the advocacy people and the coalition people increasingly take over the board, the magazine, and the organization, the building people will become less important. And long after the final scene of Animal Farm replays in the HFH boardroom, people will still be sending money in the false belief that they’re building houses.

Keep your eyes open, so that you notice your personal point of departure when it occurs.