Thursday, January 31, 2019

Have Catholics Become Expendable to Democrats?

There is a rule of headlines which says that for any which asks a question, the answer is "no."  That's fair, and I don't mind running against that. I write this more to note that the question would have been impossible to even ask until quite recently, and to wonder if this is a trend.

The amazingly ignorant statements by Kamala Harris and others, suggesting that the Knights of Columbus is an alt-right organisation, or the easy attacks on Catholic high school students, and the very calculated attacks on Roman Catholic as judges - from lapsed Catholics like Pelosi, in order to paint the others as fanatics - causes me to wonder what is up.  It struck me a suicidal at first, because I am so aware of the importance of Irish Catholics to the Democrats in New England, especially Massachusetts.  I have known people who let me know angrily and bitterly that they would never vote for a Republican because of what Protestants had done to their families in the 50's - or the 20's. The Kennedys were not unusual for Massachusetts, but utterly representative. I understand it is the same in Chicago, and would therefore bet that Irish Catholics were strongly Democratic in other cities as well.

There has been some puzzling over the years why Irish and other ethnic Catholics have remained loyal to the Democrats all these decades when they have been so clearly the more abortion-friendly party, and the usual explanation is how successful the Democrats have been at framing it as something that I Myself Find Clearly Wrong, but not something to be required of others in a diverse society.  This has been a successful strategy among African-Americans as well.  My own take is that this is evidence that identifying with a culture as a whole is more important than any part of it, even its religion. Yet whatever the reason, the thing is a fact, at least in my neck of the woods. Even The Dropkick Murphys and the rough youth of Quincy, who you might think would at least consider the anti-elitist appeal of Donald Trump, remain aggressively Democrat.  Because that's who they are.

It was a thing, at least.  Maybe that is not so true now.  My examples are of people my age or older, and I am no longer young. The old Irish Democrats are not going to change no matter what you do to them now, and the younger ones no longer attend Mass all that often. Perhaps they are easily persuaded that Catholicism is a separable piece, and old-fashioned (the horror!). I don't have my finger on the pulse of that at all.

One would think this is ripe for ridicule.  Is Notre Dame an alt-right school?  Is Boston College, where John Kerry got his law degree, now a dangerous place?  The colleges may get a pass, of course, because Catholic colleges are not always very Catholic anymore.  Georgetown comes to mind. They seem to have been co-opted into the religion of liberalism.

Further Tolkien Branching

Reprinted from 2009. Tolkien is always more complicated than one notices at first glance. Commenter Earl Wajenberg has pointed out to me what happens to Tolkien's humans when they try to use magic; not is the effect uniform on the other races. Something similar happens in Lewis's books.

Reflecting on the liberal vision as reflected in fantasy literature, I discovered that Tolkien records many types of vision in LOTR. There are dreams, vague but accurate for Frodo, specific and revelatory to Boromir. The pool of Galadriel shows possible things, the Palantir only true ones, though it can mislead. There is the searching eye of Sauron, which many can sense and occasionally see; plus creatures from other realms, such as Nazgul - the ability to perceive these is heightened by the ring, but Glorfindel seems to do so unaided. There is the waking memory of the elves; Sam's vision of himself as gardener of the world when he takes the ring; Faramir's apprehension of Boromir, a true sight which seems like a vision to him; sights and sounds in the barrow, candles in the Dead Marshes, and the intuitions of many. Quite a thorough list for one book.

This in turn reminded me of an earlier post of mine, including the widely different experiences of extended life in Tolkien: elves, wizards, Gollum, ents, Bombadil, dwarves, and various monsters all have long lifespans, but their experiences are quite distinct. Another thorough list by Tolkien.

Ilya Somin at Volokh Conspiracy has a post of how LOTR is really about property law, and the various means of acquisition.

I. Acquisition By Creation
II. Acquisition By Conquest
III.Acquisition By Find
IV. Acquisition By Adverse Possession
V. Acquisition By Agreement
VI. Acquisition By Gift
VII.Temporary Acquisition By Necessity
VIIIAttempted Re-acquisition By Self-Help

Somin links to a similar article by Canadian Jacob Kaufman.

Where does it end? Tolkien's characters experience not only a wide range of temptations - power, honor, escape from duty, simpler life, beauty, wealth - but many methods of temptation. There are varieties of government and varieties of evil, all in fairly thorough detail

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

American Regions

I have heartily disliked Colin Woodard's division of America into eleven regions, still preferring Joel Garreau's Nine Nations of North America, for three reasons:  First, Woodard relied on the word of academics in the regions to explain to him where the boundaries were and who the people were.  I don't know if he still does that, but it used to be so, and it led him to accept explanations that people would like to be true, but remain unproven; second, he just loves the historical New Netherlands and its values, ignoring the values and treatment of the natives of the er, other places the Dutch settled; third, he's a condescending prick whenever he is describing groups he doesn't like.  I have long preferred the Garreau's divisions.  And tone.

However, Woodard's analysis of the 2016 election by region seems very strong, and his model may indeed supersede Garreau's 1980's version, much as I wish it were not so.

From Bleeding Heart to Mailed Fist

This was sent to me - a catalogue of the possible explanations for why it is so consistently true that the bleeding heart turns into the mailed fist.  I think all of the explanations have some traction, but have at it.  Which do you like and why? 

A reminder that we don't grade on a curve here.  You have to bring a good game.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Subjective Evidence

I find subjective feelings used as evidence to be beyond annoying, and they were in full display in the Covington incident.  Nathan Phillips claims he was approaching the groups because he thought those boys were going to lynch those black men. I can't believe that a decent interviewer did not immediately ask for clarification there. So you thought those highschool boys were going to go over to those black men, drag them to some structure with a protrusion, and hang them?  Just checking. Continue. But how does Phillips even get such an idea?  White-on-black violent crime is minuscule. The actions of the boys we see on video don't look menacing in any way.  It's all in Philips's head.

People were claiming that a MAGA hat triggers them as much as a KKK hood, the implication being that the MAGA's must be just as bad.  I submit that they are probably more triggered by the hats than the hoods.  Everyone knows that the KKK is some moribund, cockamamie organisation with no power;  but Trump voters are many, and strike at the heart of cultural power. People are more triggered by that.  But "triggered" is not quite the concept here. The "trigger" that the hats pull is on a weapon which the receiver has loaded and pointed at himself. The actual danger is in his head, or self-inflicted.

And then there's that "smirk."

While this flows primarily left-to-right, I don't think that's unanimous.  The belief that Obama must not have been born in America came from people's subjective feeling that he didn't seem entirely American.  He seemed Indonesian, Kenyan, and he's hung out with some anti-American people.

It's very dangerous territory, when objective evidence is not a defense.

Unrelatedly, but also from the followup to the incident.  People have been apologising, but many of the apologies are inadequate. One newswoman who advocated calling the college one boy was going to and telling them to rescind its acceptance apologised profusely for jumping to conclusions - because she had misidentified the boy and done damage to an innocent bystander.  That it would be terrible even if she had gotten the right target didn't occur to her. I have always thought that the non-apology of "I'm sorry if anyone was hurt by what I said," rather than acknowledging "I said something wrong" was just evasion, a moral weakness.  Yet I have to wonder if some of this is just muddled thinking.  Maybe people don't know what an apology is.  Maybe they really do think this is enough, because culturally, that's what they see everyone else doing.  It fits the speech pattern of the society.  Same with "I take full responsibility."  I think it's just one of the lyrics in the song, that no one really looks at anymore.  When people are apologising it's just a sort of vague sorriness, without any looking squarely at what, precisely, was done wrong; by whom and to whom? Not everyone gets solid training in confession. I may be imposing evangelical norms on people who mean well enough but just didn't think very hard, a less desperate problem.

Then I remembered the apology by the Bishop of the Diocese of Covington. Not entirely adequate.  There are some missed notes.  Yet I think bishops are fairly well trained in confession.

Butterfingers Always Win

When I was a boy in Manchester, NH in the 1960’s there  was an annoying tactic used when two boys would “buck up” to decide an order of game play.  One boy would call odd or even and then say “Once, Twice, Three, Shoot!” and on the Shoot! both boys would put out some fingers, the combined fingers then counted to see if it were odd or even. One or two fingers was usual, as zero fingers or 3-5 provided no added variation.  There was sometimes one clown who would hold out all five fingers and wiggle them, laughing and saying “Butterfingers always win!” as if he has discovered some superior strategy that he had surprised us with. This was never from your neighborhood nor your own school class, because boys simply shun jerks who do stuff like that.

The term privilege has become like that butterfingers rule. Discussing the various types of privilege is entirely legitimate. I define privilege as an unfair status advantage, not an ability disadvantage.  Being able to sing better is not being privileged, it is being more talented. Those who have beauty have privilege in some situations but not others.  Those who have wealth can sometimes tilt the rules in their favor. Whiteness and maleness can be an advantage in some situations, not in themselves, but in that being nonwhite or female might be a disadvantage. Age or in-group status, such as a coreligionist or student at the same school can be big.  Being a local girl can count for a lot, as can mere association with a powerful or famous character. There isn’t anything that’s always a disadvantage or always an advantage. However, some spread farther across the horizon than others. Race is the most common privilege or unprivilege that is discussed, so let’s let that stand in for all the others, just temporarily.  There are more white people than black ones in America, and a few of those white people are very prejudiced against black ones.  Wouldn’t hire them unless forced to, might try to undermine them or increase their anxiety.  There is a belief that a great many other white people are at least a bit prejudiced, further eroding the prospects of black people.  In the presence of not only affirmative action, but the unannounced affirmative action of some individuals overcompensating for possible prejudice, this gets more elusive, but I have no objection to granting there’s something to it. Let's buck up, count fingers, and see if it's odd or even.

Let’s hold there and run some other horses on this track.  Beauty is privileging across many contexts, and the young who are quickest to decry privilege do not see how much their youth buys them on that score alone. Though being black is some disadvantage in many situations, Barry Soetoro is not getting elected senator in Illinois. Whatever age you are, someone feels contempt for it. Teddy Roosevelt was very in favor of lifting up wonderful black people, but was vile in his prejudice against Native Americans and the Chinese.  Woodrow Wilson was the opposite.  Any connection of familiarity is also going to be powerful. I went to high school with your father…  Oh, you live in Green Bay?... Let me guarantee from personal experience that the smokers who have to go outside in the bad weather and cluster together, needing a light or just someone to chat with, will look kindly on each other for the rest of the conference. Privilege may be very real, but it is often easily overruled. Let's buck up and count fingers again.

There is a next step, which is more elusive, but theoretically reasonable as well. Advancing the idea that because most people are straight, the culture is heteronormative and people who fall outside that norm are at a disadvantage seems plausible.  Or, the institutions of our society were created by Europeans/men/the wealthy and therefore favor those people right to the root. It could be an interesting discussion.  Yet it never seems to be a discussion, it seems to immediately be a lecture.  We have moved into the territory where butterfingers always win. African-Americans do worse on tests – Is it the schools?  The gap persists even among those who have gone to the same schools for the last twelve years, in similar neighborhoods, with similar incomes. Well it must be the schools! Or something like that. Women don’t go into STEM, it must be because they don’t feel welcome.  But those countries with the least gender discrimination, in Europe, show a strong gender split in what women and men choose to do. Also, our schools very much encourage girls to go into STEM now, and schools encourage girls far more than boys. The suicide rate is higher among gays; it must be because society is still not accepting of them. Which states or regions would you call more accepting of gays?  What are the suicide rates there? 

I grant that people might feel worse being in a minority or feeling one-down. Yet I don't see feeling bad as a huge obstacle.  People feel bad about being blind, but it's not the feeling bad that's the obstacle, it's the blindness. We have some ability to control how we feel about things.  

The game of bucking up is entirely fair, and I have no objection to it.  But if you pull that “Butterfingers always win!” nonsense with me I just won’t play with you again.

Steven Pruitt

Meet the man who has edited a third of the Wikipedia articles in English and written more that 35,000 himself.  His mother was from the Soviet Union, and he cares about free information. Apparently he's getting comments that he's a nerd and crazy.  He shrugs it off.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Deciphering the Ancestors

I am slogging through David Anthony’s The Horse, The Wheel,and Language, about the origins of the Indo-Europeans. Great info that I really want to know, except that Anthony, being an archaeologist is obligated to describe all the changes in terms of pottery and artifacts. So that... the other archaeologists will know exactly why he is saying what he is saying. I get the impression that like historical linguists, there are longstanding arguments, and people are prepared to pounce on every word.  I’ve got page after page of outlines of urns with a few random shards filling in spots, plus descriptions of the materials and methods.  My favorite bit so far: Cucuteni-Tripolye has such an unwieldy name because the Romanians call it Cucuteni and have their listed phases, while the Ukrainians call it Tripolye and have their listed phases.  So by convention, they kept both names so that all archaeologists would get the picture, but everyone else is confused. Pre-CucuteniIII is the same as TripolyeA, so they just use them both at once, presumably so no one’s feelings get hurt. 

A note on the phases, p. 164. 
There is a Borges-like dreaminess to the Cucuteni pottery sequence: one phase (Cucuteni C) is not a phase at all, but rather a type of pottery probably made outside the Cucuteni-Tripolye culture; another phase (CucuteniA1) was defined before it was found, and never found; still another (CucuteniA5) was created in 1963 as a challenge for future scholars, and is now largely forgotten; and the whole sequence was first defined on the assumption, later proved wrong, that the Cucuteni A phase was the oldest, so later archaeologists had to invent the Pre-Cucuteni phases I, II, and III, one of which (Pre-Cucuteni I) may not exist. 
Borges indeed.  They are just playing with me here.
It’s a little better with the bronze tools and weapons: analysis of the copper reveals its place of origin and thus, what peoples they traded with. Fewer variables there. I get the overview of the burial customs as well, illustrating cultural changes of increased social hierarchy and suggestions of religious beliefs. Ochre and positioning of the body are significant, as are the status good in the grave. Yet overview is the word I would be looking for here, not a cataloguing of every burial spot.  I suspect the book is designed to be an assigned textbook, well above introductory level. I suppose I could have just read the Wikipedia article on the Yamnaya three times, following some links, and saved myself some pain.
The second problem is Russian names. The Pontic-Caspian area in question extends from Ukraine to Kazakhstan, including that section of Russia north of Georgia. Therefore not only are all the place name Russian, but the people supervising the digs and publishing the papers are as well.  They all start with Kh- and have l’s and v’s scattered throughout them. Sredni Stog, which is both a place and a culture, is one of the easy ones. The worst I’ve hit (so far) is Maikop-Novosvobodnaya, which I have trouble differentiating from Novotitoravskaya.  I am not holding these different places in mind very well.  They all run together. Studying for a quiz on this material would be intimidating. For those who deal with the places all the time I’m sure it is straightforward, but it’s hard to drop into the middle of that conversation. At some dim level I do realise it probably isn’t easy to summarise just the concepts, as how cultures influence each other is not straightforward. Arrows go out in all directions from each name, in a web that is unbuilt in my understanding.  It means more to others, I’m sure.
Quick idea summary: Domesticating horses in order to ride them and control larger herds of horses and other meat on the hoof allowed smaller groups to control more wealth so long as they could find pasturage.  The axled wheel allowed carts and the transporting of tools, water, and temporary shelter.  Together, these open up the vast – like thousands of miles vast – Eurasian Steppe as an environment humans could live in and prosper. Prior to this they had to cluster around the rivers: Danube, Dneister, Dnieper, Don, Bug, Volga, Ural. With the horses and wheels, they could go for entire seasons deep into this uninhabited pasturage, and soon, learn to live there year round, moving at need across large distances.  A cultural change from this is the rise in raiding cattle and defending against raids, which increased the importance of brothers.  Settled land passes from parents to children, whether via mother or father, but herds require the mobility of a small group of the loyal. Cousins yes, allies maybe, but brothers were the ones to trust. The group that learned about wheeled carts from the south and took them north also mastered horses with rope or leather bits - and spoke an Indo-European language, which spread east and west along the steppes all the way to the Altai Mountains. Ultimately then into Europe, Iran, and India, like sparks being thrown from a spinning wheel, over a period of thousand years or so.  It's the importance of cattle and raiding and the culture that goes with those, all the way into Ireland and Scotland, and the American Southwest beyond.


The sites I visit, whether they are stressing conservatism or genetics, keep coming back to the idea of low birthrate among smart people spelling doom for us all.  The women are usually blamed more than the men for this. We measure birthrate on the female side, so that is going to suggest the role of women automatically at every turn, but I think we would focus on them anyway. Women entering the workforce, more years of education and the delaying of marriage, and many strains of feminism devaluing and discouraging the raising of children are all mentioned rather declaratively, which tells me it’s not just being cued by how the statistic is reported. We’re all going to hell in a handbasket, and it’s your fault, lady.   

A moment to remind you of Bethany's  observation over at Graph Paper Diaries on the subject of fertility. Also, having children is an expression of optimism about the future. A dozen years ago, I saw a correlation between being an oppressor nation and a diminished birthrate.
There’s more than one thing wrong with this. That men also have some say in “Hey, I just don’t think we’re ready to have kids right now,” or “I think we have enough children” is pretty obvious. Yes, it is complicated in every relationship, and for that reason difficult to sort out on a cultural level which sex is driving down the number of children. I don’t think there is a clear general answer to that other than “It’s not just the women.” The availability of birth control is certainly a much larger cause.  The fact of a pregnancy changes everyone’s theorizing about what they think is optimal. The purpose of birth control is not really family planning, or choosing when to have children. It’s a tool one uses to not have children at a particular time, and thus inevitably, to reduce the number of children.  It may in individual cases result in the same number of children, but the overall trend is going to be down.

There are deeper questions. What is it we are trying to preserve?  A society?  For Christians, it is this world that is temporary and the individual that is immortal. It is a value of Western Civilisation to improve institutions “so that those who live after may have clean earth to till.” Christianity encourages this, but regards the matter as secondary.  It is a type of good work, which a person might engage in for the benefit of his fellows, but it is not required. It does not remotely show up in the Ten Commandments, The Creeds, the Lord’s Prayer. It is derivative. 
What is it we are trying to preserve? Well, what do we think is going to go wrong? In this future world where we have ever-fewer of the “right” babies, tempting us to adopt the European solution of taking in immigrants whose qualification is that they are younger and likely to have more children than our own culture does, will we be poorer? Given technological advancements, probably not.  Will we have more crime?  Perhaps, but I think technology will help us out there, at least some. Will we be in more danger from other nations? We may, in terms of the necessary technologies of war, or cold war.  Yet immigrants may be more willing, not less, to resort to violent defense if needed, judging from their home cultures. The mostly-European settlement of America was a context of people who were both sick of war, but also very clear that sometimes battle is necessary. That is likely going to be true of any immigrants going forward.  It is the populations which have been at peace in America for generations that people the antiwar protests.

An immigrant population may be less willing to fight strategic wars. That might matter. Yet there is not universal agreement that strategic wars have worked out that well for America. Or anyone else, really.

I think there is a real worry that if America, or the Anglosphere in general is less in command of its own culture as currently understood that some valuable things will be lost.  Not money, not hot dogs and condiments, nor merely drive, entrepreneurship, and that can-do spirit, but human rights. Individual rights are being forced backwards*, as group memberships are again being considered evidence of guilt or innocence; rules of evidence still persist in court, but those may be eroding as well, as judges try to include what people would like to be true; the role of evidence in academic debate is greatly weakened in many fields, and if mathematics is not immune, we have to fear that things could get very bad indeed. There is of course an irony, that the stress on individual rights is what has protected women and minorities up until now, and increased their freedom of action. If we are to increasingly restrict rights of people to be heard, and even to speak at all except in approved manner, the unintended effects may not be pleasant for the very people they were intended to help.  Feminists who are being shushed about what they cannot say about transgenders are appalled. Being shushed is a very big deal for them.  Trust me on this.

Back on task.  I recently wrote about what culture we are preserving, exactly. We are talking about culture being swamped, and not just the eel pies. However, how much of that is going to be a result of the birth rate?  Even if we went to the All-American fantasy of half the people going to college suddenly saying Screw that.  We can get better paying jobs doing something else now, let’s get married, get a small house, and have a bunch of kids, with half of the remainder doing college from home with similar plans, and stunningly, the fashion turns to having a collection of free-range kids - the coolest thing for the next two generations and the birthrate jumps to 3.3 - how much would even that change things? Some. But I don’t think even magical changes are going to reverse other cultural trends.  Worldwide, the trend is that everyone’s birthrate is falling.

*Again. The rights of the collective against the individual have always been strong, even in America. Just not as strong as other places. We may have hit a high-water mark in our lifetimes, which we are now receding from.  The behavior of the ACLU may be one measure of that.