Monday, July 29, 2019

Do The Mouse

Some humor does not age well

Saturday, July 27, 2019

The 71st-75th Most Popular Posts

I reviewed Charles C. Mann's 1493, a follow-on to his 1491. Both changed the way I looked at whole swaths of history, and I have reread them since.  Sometimes I repent of my excitement for a book or article because I get swept away in its argument, which I later decide has holes.  I still recommend these. Because of how quickly new archaeological information comes out, both already have claims that have been superseded.  Those are still minor. May 2014

The Future of Us All. A discussion of changes in jobs and changes in the economy - what will it mean going forward.  Good links. Good comments.  I still like my own points fairly well. January 2012

Lumosity. Well, it might be true.  I discuss why we should be suspicious.  I suspect the traffic for this post is driven by people search for opinions about Lumosity.  I hope mine helped. August 2012.

The (Not-Very) Good Old Days of Education - Part 1.  I submitted the entire series over at Chicago Boyz recently, where it was not well received.  The complaint was that I had not made the case all that well that prior education was all that bad, and even less had made the point that current education is just about as good. Perhaps so, I went on at length without making my point at times.  Yet I am still chalking it up to simple resistance to an idea that conservatives love. School used to be abusive, both physically and in humiliating children.  Much of what was taught was useless. Anecdotes to the contrary are more likely to mislead than to inform.  WRT today, whatever crap they are teaching and bad attitudes they are encouraging - and they are - America still leads the world, all the way through school.  This is disguised by the apples-and-oranges research that always shows us 27th in the world, behind Namibia or whatever, that media sources love to report on every year.  It's not true. June 2012.  The rest of the series Part II. What's Wrong With The Schools? Not part of the series, but humorous and related. English Public (private) Schools. Part III.

Father's Day Sermon Just me grousing. Some fun comments from those at liturgical/lectionary churches. June 2011.

Denouement, Continued

Hmm.  Perhaps I overestimated how much deep thought was going to result from Arthur C Brooks' essay. I am having many thoughts, but they don't seem to be leading very far. Certainly not to any coherent whole.

I see an advantage to the career I fell into that I had not noticed before. The amount of fluid intelligence needed for the job is above average, but not enormous.  I always made my way through by finding side specialties to learn about, or took on special projects, or mostly, just finished my work as soon as possible so that I could chat up the very intelligent people who I found around there. I recommend neurologists as a go-to resource for that, with psychiatrists second. Psychologists who do testing or research I would rank pretty high as well.  But mostly, my fluid intelligence always went to things outside of work, and those are still largely available to me.

Thus, coming in to cover for other people's vacation requires an adaptability and willingness to endure unfamiliarity and chaos that most people don't like, but I'll have enough fluid intelligence for this gig even after anticipated decline. This part of the adjustment is not bad at all, and I can see myself doing it indefinitely.

His opening story about the elderly famous person who was feeling useless did sting a bit. I had thought that the problem in those years might be regrets at not having accomplished more, yet here was someone who accomplished a great deal. Current usefulness is the issue for some. I had a glimpse of this in 2000, shortly after my mother died.  I took my stepfather out to lunch and he mentioned that he was not useful anymore. I nodded that I had seen the first of that the year before, as my second son came to the end of his highschool years. We had not fully decided to bring the two Romanians into the family at that point, and I still considered that raising the first two sons had been the Great Work of Tracy's and my life. What would I do after? Work was a job, not a career. Perhaps getting the new church off the ground would be the key.

My stepfather cut me off dismissively, that I didn't understand at all - very typical of him, but I at least see his point.  He had been successful in his career, president of a mutual fund and made millions.  He had just gone through the arduous two years of losing a second wife to cancer. My comment must have seemed shallow to him. No one needed him anymore, not for anything.  I still had children at home and a wife.  I had a job to go to. That earlier success actually makes the transition harder had not quite occurred to me, thought it makes sense. We get used to a certain level of status and accomplishment as normal and perceive sharply any diminution.  My semi-retirement two-and-a-half years ago was an opposite for me.  I was greatly relieved at not having so many things depend on me every day. To walk away from permanent anxiety was blessed release. Maybe that will look different in four years.

I was a little irritated at Brooks going the Hindu mystic route - I have never had much patience with Americans trying to get the hang or Eastern religions. The advice he received and passed on was more practical than mystical, however. I had read something like this before.  It does seem wise to change goals to what is more appropriate for those who have seen much.  To see things and understand them and pass them on may be among our more useful tasks, not a consolation prize. Dragging in David Brooks and his new book did make me wonder whether Arthur understood this as deeply as I thought.  To focus on eulogy virtues instead of resume virtues is a nice phrasing, but is this really so profound?  I've been thinking about death since I was a child, and have had a life of sermons, books, conversation, and Bible studies that taught the vanity of earthly accomplishment and the preeminence of building a self for the next world.  Isn't it simply...well, I suppose it still needs to be taught, new every morning.

Smoke On The Water

Sponge-headed Scienceman informed me that Pat Boone had done a heavy metal album in the 1990s.  Even better, he has a copy of it, which he lent to me. It's called "In A Metal Mood" and has Pat in leathers, riding a motorcycle.It includes "No More Mr. Nice Guy."

It all starts out with reasonable promise, but then 20 seconds in, you realise that this is less of Deep Purple and heavy metal, and more of hot jazz from an earlier era.  I expected to see Sammy Davis Jr. peek out and give a thumbs up.  Good guitar solo just before the 2:30 mark, though.

The final song on the album, "Stairway to Heaven," was not so jarring, as it had always been one of those contrast, slowed-down songs that every heavy metal band had a couple of.

Improved Signage

James is letting his imagination run a bit.

Friday, July 26, 2019


 A reader sends along this excellent article by Arthur C Brooks about retirement, decline, and new purpose. I have written about Brooks, who just retired as the head of the American Enterprise Institute, years ago. I have referred to the information in his most famous book, Who Really Cares? many times.

There are so many places I could go with this that I have not even begun to narrow them down. Read the essay, but do not yet comment.  I will be thinking about this on tomorrow's walk at least, and hopefully longer.  At the moment, despite the sobering thoughts Brooks brings forward, I have a new something to be grateful for. But also, a sharper look at a future fear.

Be thinking about what you might say.

Conflict of Interest

From the Boston Herald:
Mueller himself bragged about his disinterest concerning such matters at the hearing Wednesday. “We strove to hire those individuals that could do the job,” he declared. “I’ve been in this business for almost twenty-five years and in those twenty-five years I have not had occasion once to ask somebody about their political affiliation. It is not done. What I care about is the capability of the individual to do the job and do the job quickly and seriously and with integrity.”

So his claim is that if we don't ask people about their possible biases or conflicts-of-interest,  that makes them go away.  Who knew it was so simple? It's similar to the nonsense that journalists put forward, that because journalists are supposed to be evenhanded, therefore they are evenhanded, because they are journalists. No, that's not quite right.  It's not similar. It's exactly the same thing. In the most politicised city in the country, while working for an agency where the top staff are political appointees, Mueller thinks possible political motives are not likely enough to even ask about.

I contrast this to the elaborate dances people have to do in research and speaking before audiences in the medical field, where you have to specifically announce to all audiences what your possible conflicts-of-interest are. It's just normal.  It's a given.

Update:  The first comment, with classical reference, is exactly what I was driving at, but put more dramatically.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Alexa, Siri, and Whoever

You may recall that a couple of months ago the theory was advanced that using a female voice for these electronic assistants reinforced a sexist idea of women as servants, mere handmaidens of the needs of others. I wish I had advanced my theory of a few months before, that some men might not take well to these female know-it-alls telling them what to do. One can even imagine a script of some jerk getting progressively angrier for reasons he does not even see, incrementally annoyed at some woman telling him "Turn left, one-quarter mile." Let's complain about women in subservience.  Let's complain about women in authority.  Let's use the same anecdotes.  Sure.  Why not? Everyone else seems to.

Point one: Like myths and fairy tales, there are a variety of interpretations for acres and acres of reality, and it doesn't pay to pick one superficial one to complain about or point to.

Point two: Neither theory has the least bit of objective evidence to support it. It's just hand-waving.

Four Saved Links

These were saved consecutively in September 2017 and all involve the same topic: IQ, including Richard Feynman's supposedly only above-average score. I just wrote about spatial intelligence, which is not formally tested as often or as well at school, and it may be that Feynman hit a ceiling on that but did not top out on other subtests, depressing his overall score a bit. That would also make my scores look better than they should. That makes sense to me, as I always felt they were a little higher than what my personal experience would suggest.  My numbers suggest I should almost never encounter people significantly smarter than myself, but I meet them all the time. I do look for them, but still.

You can get a deep dive on the subject of IQ here, especially if you follow the links.

Feynman, Schwinger, and Psychometrics. This is from Steve Hsu's Information Processing site, when he was still teaching physics at Oregon.  He is now at Michigan State as an administrator of (checks DuckDuckGo) of research and graduate studies.

Scott Alexander trying to get people to calm down. Slate Star Codex usually does first-class work. Quote: "So I want to clarify: IQ is very useful and powerful for research purposes. It’s not nearly as interesting for you personally." Amen and amen.

A Polymath Physicist on Richard Feynman's "Low" IQ and Finding Another Einstein. Steve Hsu again. Some of the same information, but mostly different.

Flynn Flips:  IQ Tests Do Matter. The "Flynn Effect" has been an uncomfortable array of data over the years for those who see genetics as the dominant driver of intelligence, as I do.  It does go against conclusions we might draw from other research, but it must be accounted for if we want to understand what is really happening.  Steve Sailer partly reconciled the two viewpoints over a decade ago. I probably should look around and see if there are any major changes over the last decade or so.  I do know that BGI (that's Steve Hsu again) has begun to uncover specific SNPs associated with increased IQ - about 50, last I heard - and as predicted, they each seem to have a tiny effect.  There is no collection of "you're really smart" genes out there.  Last I heard.

The Shape of the Hand

There are games that I have always thought I should be very good at that I have not turned out to be especially good at. As a word-person, I expected to be good a Scrabble.  I'm not bad, but there are people who are much better. As I am exceptionally good at word jumble and other games where one rearranges letters it has surprised me over the years. I read a few years ago that being good at the structure of the board was as important as being good at reassembling words, and this makes sense to me.

Then there is chess, which smart people are supposed to be good at but I never shone at. The trick is supposedly to be able to think multiple moves ahead, but that doesn't daunt me. The problem is I can't predict what my opponent's possible moves are going to be with any accuracy. There was a time in college when a good player was showing me and explaining things to me, but it still just didn't click. I could see a few things the opponent might do, but miss most of them.  It was almost as if the board was brand-new after every move.  Not quite that bad, but like that. I like reading about chess and enjoyed a book of Bobby Fischer's greatest moves.  I could follow what was happening without difficulty.  I can usually manage the chess puzzle in the newspaper, because it is not open-ended. White to mate in two moves. It takes me a long time, however. Chess players cannot remember where the pieces are on the board much better than you or I when they are placed randomly.  But if they are shown a board from an actual game, they can remember the placements.  They perceive the relations, not just the positions. Chess strategy makes reference to controlling the center of the board and positions of strength.  These mean nothing to me. I have concluded that I can do the chess puzzle because I am taking the long way around and doing it arithmetically rather than spatially. I make a tree diagram of possible moves and following moves in my head. I don't know how to prune the tree, however, getting rid of unpromising lines. I exaggerate.  I can do it a bit.  When I discover a move that completes the puzzle it is not a complete surprise.

Practice would certainly help, if I played either Scrabble or chess frequently.  There's no doubt I would get better, and might have even developed into a very good player. Yet it was always clear that there were people in the world who had some ability I just did not have.  I might be able to work around it well enough, but it always looked more efficient to put my effort elsewhere.

And now, contract bridge.  I was taught to play the game and picked up bidding quickly. I still like reading online bridge columns, and when they have a bidding quiz, it is usually straightforward for me. The basic play of the game, and playing percentages of one finesse over another is also straightforward. When I play online games, I usually bid correctly and make a standard contract. But more advanced plays elude me rather often.  Even when they are being explained to me and I go back over them card by card it takes repetition.  Again, practice would likely make a difference, but there is something that eludes me here. My mother was a championship player, and always claimed that her mother was even better. I keep figuring I must have this in me somewhere.

One of the bridge columns used the phrase "the shape of the hand," and that has stuck with me. I think it is not entirely metaphorical. I think it has a meaning that a bridge hand bears some relationship to spatial relationships.  Keeping track of how many cards of each suit must be in an opponent's hand can be worked out arithmetically, but players seem to work that out much more quickly.

In my wayfinding series, and even more when I discussed walking and mapping in the woods, I expressed surprise that I actually don't have a good sense of direction, which I always thought I did.  I had a hidden workaround because I love maps, love them enough that I can stamp things in by repetition.  I can very nearly draw a map of NH placing every town from memory.  The various grants and tracts up in the White Mountains still stump me, because those are reinforced only on a town-boundary map.  They don't appear on road maps. As they are deeply tied to the notches and mountains, being able to switch from 2D to 3D helps place them. I have trouble with that.

I have trouble packing up leftovers, often getting the volume wrong and choosing a container that is too small or overlarge.  You'd think that looking at the two volumes side by side would be enough. Only sometimes. I get good at packing a car and trunk by trial and error, remembering what fit nicely on previous packings.  When we get a new car, it takes me a while.  My stepfather was magnificent at it. A quick glance was enough. I stand in the aisle of a hardware store, turning objects over in my head to see if what they've got is going to fit what I need. I get it wrong frequently and have to come back.

I likely exaggerate and it's not so bad, simply annoyed because I expect to be good at things, especially math things, and am not good at spatial relationships. My brother is a lighting designer, which is very spatial. My wife is good at these things, and fortunately the children seem to have inherited that.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Reading Aloud

I think I will talk about parenting, at least a bit, at Donna's suggestion.

On our first day of class in Children's Literature in 1975, we were assured that children who were read to were better readers.  I have seen that claim repeatedly over the years, but this is a classic example of correlation versus causation.  People who read out loud to their children a lot are different from those who read to their children a little are different from those who don't read to their children at all.  Even though it intuitively seems right that reading to children will help them learn to read earlier, faster, better, there isn't actually any evidence for this.  It would be hard to test in a way that removed the genetic element. Adoptees, perhaps.  I don't think that work has been done.

Then why do it, if there's no guarantee it's going to make your child a better reader?

Because it's fun. It's one of those things that builds a family culture, something that people do together. Singing in the car may not make your child a musician, cycling together may not make her an athlete.  We hope that all of our actions contribute to our child's development, education, character, because part of the fun of parenting is watching little things grow. But being a family is an end in itself. Reading aloud is an end in itself.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

For Eddy

I called my college roommate the other night.  We had not spoken in 23 years. We caught up on each other and a few people. He's a private investigator near Scranton.  He and his wife are big in the homeschooling network for Pennsylvania and provide resources to a lot of people. We didn't talk music much, just a bit at the end.

I would give a great deal to be able to sing this obscure song with him again, but life doesn't work that way.

Successful Parenting

I have raised five competent adults, maybe I should write about this more.  It's just that I have come to believe that so much is genetic that I view advice askance.  Also, I got some things terribly wrong about parenting and don't think I should set myself up as an expert.  My humorous advice while the children were growing up was that the key was "Have children who make you look good.  Don't let them forget that's their job."  But that is actually not so far from the truth.

I now tell young couples "Have more children and worry about them less.  They'll be fine. And they're fun when they are adults." No one listens, not that I know of, but it's still worth saying.

I clicked over to this article Parents of the Most Successful Children Do These Ten Things expecting to hate it, shaking my head at most of the blather and leaving a snippy comment "correlation is not causation" at the end. That caution does still apply, but this wasn't terrible.

Immigration Article

David French has a good article at National Review. I know that will surprise some of you, but it's true. His observation about Europeans, and the numbers he cites, agree with what I have observed, though that is a bit of a limited sample. I'm heavy on Eastern Europeans.

I will mention what he does not, that American liberals who keep comparing us to Western European nations as countries that we should emulate do not like having it pointed out that these are the whitest nations on earth. One can say that they love nations that just happen, almost accidentally and certainly irrelevantly, to be white.  Except when it happens over and over again it's not accidental and it's not irrelevant. I grant that the secular nature of Western Europe may be part of the attraction, as French notes.  As for the socialism, it doesn't exist as much as they think.  What those countries have is a strong safety net.  They are largely free-market, albeit with considerable top-down controls, especially in their dealings with other countries. And, as I have noted before, that social safety net is much easier to sell when everyone looks like second cousins and has a strong work ethic culture. As both of those slowly recede, tensions are rising.

I haven't read that 160-page report from "More in Common," but intend to.  If you read it first and think I shouldn't bother, tell me.

Update:  I quickly realised I had seen something by this group before, perhaps even this same report. Attitude questions are difficult, because sometimes when presented with two choices, I like both or don't like either, or approve of one POV only with certain caveats.  I could have many observations, but the most salient is that there were lots of 99-1 responses among the progressive activists. I find that unhealthy right out of the chute.  I am undoubtedly influenced by not agreeing with those premises at all - and in some cases consider it amazing and appalling that people even think them - but still...99-1 means people are not even being exposed to another side.  I wasn't thrilled with a lot of devoted conservative positions going into the 90's either, but 8% of a group believing something is a hell of a lot more balanced than 1%.

Monday, July 22, 2019

The Running Conversation In Your Head

An interesting interview in the Atlantic with Charles Fernyhough. My wife and I occupy the extremes of this, she with much less inner conversation going on than most people, I with a great deal. I have explained to others "I like the radio station playing in my head."  My wife does not like silence.  The signal on her radio station is not as strong.  She listens to the radio, and "Tracy from Goffstown" is well known on a few local call-in shows.  She also listens to audible books. She listened to the early-evening NPR shows for a long time, but decided she got too angry at them, and listens to mysteries read aloud now.
But it does maintain many of the characteristics of dialogue. We may imagine an exchange with someone else, or we may just talk to ourselves. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a conversation. Our minds contain many different perspectives, and they can argue or confer or talk over each other.

I can confirm the claim that people talk to themselves more when others are present.  There have been a few occasions when I am home but my wife does not know it, and I am in the basement or in the yard, and note that she does not talk to herself, not a word.  Yet when I call out and identify myself, within a few minutes I hear her start in, usually in the ways mentioned in the article - to criticise her own actions or to recite things that she needs to remind herself of. I don't know if I speak more when others are nearby, or when I am listening to the radio or a podcast.  I suspect so. But I know that I can speak when there is no one else present.  I bring them with me quite well.  When I used to smoke, and would go outside by the driveway to have a cigarette, my sons would observe "There's Dad out arguing with liberals again." When I take extended walks I will sometimes turn off a podcast in order to imagine a further conversation branching off from something that I said, and that frequently results in me talking to someone. When they were young, my children would ask when observing me in the car, "Who are you talking to?"  Unfortunately for them, I would answer.  "I am accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature," or "I'm arguing with your mother.  This time I'm winning."  They learned quickly not to ask.

At the hospital, sometimes when nurses are giving report they will say "Jason was observed talking to unseen others throughout the shift."  I have to clear my throat and remind everyone that this is not necessarily as bad a sign as they are implying. "Some of us speak to unseen others quite a bit." People smile and acknowledge. Yet it is true that it is an especial sign of those hearing voices, and at least worth noticing.

That we can discuss things within our heads would seem a powerful argument in favor of the existence of free will. Fernyhough discusses the inner conversation specifically in terms of moral decisions, and while he notes that most decisions are instantaneous, gut-feeling results, others are more of a process. Even if those various fragments are mostly an elaborate ruse we engage in, with our decisions largely predetermined, the very nature of interaction brings in an element of competition between voices that can create differing outcomes.

First IT Pro

Old, but fun.

Perception Gap

Republicans and Democrats have inaccuracies about what each other believes, and the more extreme they are themselves, the more inaccurate they are about the other.  Instapundit linked to an article about it in The Guardian. The info is based on data generated from the site More In Common. I did moderately well - in fact my biggest outliers were issues where Democrats were more extreme than I expected. As I was coming in from links talking about how badly both sides did, however, my result should be taken with a heaping of salt.  I likely modified my answers in the direction of painting Democrats as less extreme than I thought, in response to the articles.

The most dramatic item reported by both Instapundit and The Guardian was technically accurate, but I thought misleading. Democrtats got less and less accurate the more education they had, so that those without a high school diploma were three times more accurate about Republicans than those with graduate degrees.  This was true, but was against a background of Republicans doing generally worse, only nudging ahead at the graduate level.  The less-educated Democrats were by far the most accurate of all respondents about what the other side thinks.

Soon and Very soon

One thing leads to another.  One of my very favorite hymns.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Iron Horse

Grim posted an interesting banjo & vocals piece by a woman I had never heard of, but the title made me think of this instead.  Unfortunately.  I'm just an awful person and I ruin everything.
The movie "A Mighty Wind" makes fun of my era of music quite well. It is Ian and Sylvia, the New Christie Minstrels, and the Kingston Trio they are sending up. To a lesser extent, Peter, Paul and Mary, The Limeliters, The Smothers Brothers, and a dozen other folkies. I had their albums and tried to write songs like theirs.

I hope I wouldn't have gotten this bad, but I did write songs about cattle drives, King Arthur, and obscure Welsh battles, none of which I had the faintest real idea about. So a coal mining accident? Sure.  I might have tried it.

Acting White

I love John McWhorter as a linguist, and I greatly admire his willingness to say what he believes he has evidence for and solid reasoning for, not what he is supposed to say as an educated black man. This article in the Atlantic about acting white is a good example.  He examines the claims and counterclaims quite reasonably. I think he still misses an important point, and it ends up hurting African-Americans.

I don't want to defend the black students who criticise others as acting white.  Yet I don't have the same level of condemnation that others do.  Is it my empathy or my racism that causes me to ask "What else have they got?" While there are black students who can compete at any academic level, the 1SD difference in testing means that many African-Americans are not going to do well at school.  Are they supposed to live vicariously through the better students? Are they supposed to take one for the team and assent to a status designation that leaves them behind?  I put myself in the head of a black teenager IQ 85 trying to find a place in this world. Well shoot, even though I'm good at some other things, let's have status be based on abstract reasoning and academic achievement. I will gladly sacrifice my self-worth, community status, and employment/friendship/mating prospects for the sake of those other black people like Obama. Screw my life, I lay it down for them.

This is what happens when we make education a god, when we make IQ a god, when we demean crafts and trades, when we count piety, honesty, determination, or resilience as of little value - and when we pretend that it must just be environment, or good schools, or the presence of dads, or turning off that damn rap music or whatever. We condemn many African-Americans to low status and call the very people who try to help them racist.

I don't think the military has it down perfectly, but they've got a good start on it.  The ASVAB and other recruitment requirements eliminates everyone regardless of race below a certain IQ, a certain level of fitness, a certain level of determination, a certain level of avoiding criminality and drug abuse.  That way, everyone knows that everyone else has met those minimums.  This then frees everyone to perform WRT other qualities which matter just as much, or more, and excel according to those standards. It doesn't do jack for those who don't make it in, but that's not what the military is designed to do anyway, and it works for them attaining their own excellence.

Most Popular Posts, 76-80

We are starting to creep into the area where every post highlights what I consider an important part of my thinking, rather than some ephemeral reaction to a current event.  Some of this top 100 were important, but turned out to be wrong, as you shall see. Yet in creating a summation, I have come to the edges of my main themes. It continues to be a little disquieting to sum up my life's thoughts.  Fortunately, we aren't quite there yet.

Title Rescinded: Word of God.  Even though I followed the thinking of Luther in this, I got some pushback from evangelicals.  February 2012

Unfairness. Our view of what is fair and what a safety net should be is very, very recent. May 2016

Getting Hitler Right: I discussed the equation of Hitler with "everyone I don't like," and specifically related it to Trump hatred. The comments here were excellent.  I like very much what I said, and even more what you said. Well, almost. For the record:  Trump hasn't gotten us involved in international messes, quite the opposite, but he has received exactly no praise from the left (and precious little from the right) on that score, and he has not been as authoritarian as he might be.  He probably should have just executive ordered his way into building The Wall at this point, but is still trying to work it through the system. Not a very good tyrant, really. May 2016

Just The Facts Ma'am. This one was responding to a current event I no longer even remember.  Yet unsurprisingly, the main players in my discussion - Rush Limbaugh, Media Matters, Jon Stewart - behave exactly as my stereotype of them would predict.  Huh.  Maybe I actually do discern with some accuracy. September 2007

Virtue Signalling. I packed a lot in here and I think it is worth reflecting on.  But I didn't always say it clearly and you might have to double back over some sentences to discern my meaning. It is longer than my usual.

Diagnosis: A Repentance

Maggie's Farm had two links about psychiatric diagnoses - Stuart Schneirman's is the better one. I get my back up about these, because so much of my job is involved with people who insist they have no illness at all, and decades of people quoting Szasz or RD Laing insisting that what we call illnesses are indictments of society rather than anything wrong with the patient. You can still find people in social work who will claim that poverty and the inability to navigate systems of power are the cause of mental illness. I tend to be dismissive with such thinking.  If you deal with people who are in acute crisis who have schizophrenia, BPAD manic phase, or schizoaffective disorder, you come away very impressed with the rEality of these disorders. If you work with people with severe depression, who were award winning real estate agents a year ago but will now soil themselves in bed because they cannot get up you get tired of listening to people blather about attitude or nutrition. People whose kids have autism know that this is some processing disorder that has to be worked around, and it wasn't their cold parenting that caused it. To me, people who are dismissive about diagnosis are complaining about events at the margin. The various DSM's have made very useful distinctions among illnesses.

Texan99's comment at Maggie's that it's not usually schizophrenia these critics are talking about was refreshing, because I think it is now true. My complaint is outdated, perhaps by decades, because that battle has been largely won, though mop-up operations will continue, similar to what is happening with vaccinations. What I considered "the margins" is actually the part of the mental health system that most people encounter.  Perhaps as much as 90%? I don't know, I have no numbers on this.  My patients are in the 1-2% of the population for illness, and also the least-functional or most dangerous of those.

For those other conditions, or the milder versions of them, I think the critics have some good points. We have looked at Borderline Personality Disorder differently over the decades, separating a number of patients out into PTSD or anxiety disorders.  We now more automatically look at a person with depression as someone who might be better understood as having an anxiety disorder, and vice versa. OCD is now fully classifed as an anxiety disorder, which seems sensible to me.

The highly-politicised aspects of the DSM I don't tend to think about, because it doesn't affect us much.  That we are clearly "not allowed" to conclude that someone has autogynephilia can usually be worked around, because in crisis, longterm philosophical issues are usually a distraction. For the same reason, gender differences in rates of diagnosis only concern us a bit. Are Antisocial Personality Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder the same genetic or prenatal condition subjected to different hormones and/or cultural expectations?  Perhaps, but not that interesting to me.  We are trying to manage assault, self-harm, suicide here.

There is considerable overlap between diagnoses, especially among children. A psychiatrist friend once said "from the neck down, we're mostly just frogs.  Big frogs, but frogs." Our bodies have only a limited number of responses, and it's the interpretive aspect from very complicated brains that make much of the difference. Yet just because it is difficult to state exactly where the RockIes begin does not mean that mountains do not exist. Even bodies of water, which are much more sharply defined, have littoral areas. Nonetheless, oceans exist.

Saturday, July 20, 2019


I certainly know what people are talking about, and though no one has accused me of it in my hearing, I imagine the word has been breathed behind my back. I am overdominant in conversation, taking almost every other comment no matter how many are present. (I have compensating virtues of listening, reflecting back, affirming, and remembering that surprise people, but I doubt those fully balance the scales.) My sons and my brother can give me a run. Someone needs to say the most important thing next, and in the moment, that is often me.  There are rare occasions where I will sit quite comfortably listening to some other person speak, even at length, and even if they aren't very entertaining (though I do tend to nod, murmur, and insert single words or phrases that I think are clarifying if they don't express well). I want the best comment to go next.  They clearly have it and I don't. The true examples of mansplaining, of explaining something to a woman when she knows the subject better than I do, happens, but not often.  It doesn't happen often when I am talking with men, either.  It's not so much mansplaining as Wymansplaining.

I can think of only two examples of women using the word mansplaining at my place of employment, both times with a polite apologetic nod to me as they said it about another man.  In both cases, they did not know more than the offending male.  In one instance she knew far less, in another, he simply had a different opinion which she didn't like.  That is not a sample size that counts for anything, so I wouldn't put much stock in those results as an estimate.  However, it is evidence that both those purported alternative explanations do sometimes occur. I have observed resentments and hurt feelings from episodes where the word was not used but some comment about maleness being part of the problem did come out when the person left the room.

For sheer numbers, the interesting bit of information where I work is that 90% of the employees have a female direct supervisor, and the supervisors above that are also 90% female, all the way to the CEO. The medical director, who actually works for Dartmouth-Hitchcock, is male, with half the medical staff of two dozen female. Nursing, social work, psychology, rehab, legal, medical records, and housekeeping all have nothing but female supervisors, all the way up, all the way down. The complaints that I hear with specific reference to maleness are all at upper levels of power, among more aspirational, ambitious women - who are often also pretty smart and competent. At lower levels of power people simply say that someone is a prick or a bitch, both of which have "gendered meanings," but I think are rough equivalents.

I don't have a theory or conclusion about this, just noting what I observe in my fairly unusual setting. I think my experience undermines the current narrative, but not in any particular direction.

1960s Mercedes Vs Rolls

I love these guys

Summer In The City

Hot today in New Hampshire. Not compared to Houston, but hot.

Professional Writers - and Thinkers

A recent post of mine was contentious.  Here is a better writer - and better thinker - expressing my views better than I could.  Andrew McCarthy, certainly no Trump fan but a consistently evenhanded umpire, comments on the issue here. Wish I'd said that.

Dueling Picture-Thinking

I keep criticising mind-reading, but I am going to do a little here.  I will justify it on the basis that I am working outward from things people have actually written, and repeatedly over the years.

The comparison is made between people coming to American borders attempting entry without permission, or asserting asylum claims in a hope of making it through under another category, or, once having penetrated the border and settled here illegally, and Jesus being a refugee in Egypt, or other NT passages about remembering the poor, or giving unto the least of these. The picture thinking is of a hungry or ragged child coming to your door.  How can you turn her away? Wouldn't Jesus himself tell you to invite her in, give her your cloak? These people are coming to our border, which is like coming to our door.  As Christians, our duty is plain, and those who refuse it are turning Jesus away. I don't think that's completely wrong.  I don't think it's insane, at least. One large thing it neglects is that the poor that the Bible are referring to are people who have a history, or at least a category.  They are the beggars or unfortunates the whole town knows about.  They are known to be widows and orphans or disabled because people know them.  Or they are strangers, who are also accorded specific rights and privileges even if their history is not known. Notice that there are rights strangers are not given, BTW.

Yet I have a different picture in my head, which I think is closer to the truth. (I will turn to the further questions of Christians influencing society and imposing their will on non-Christians some other time.  There's a lot there, but today is not that day.) I think of the crisis at the border - which was not a crisis three years ago, five years ago, seven years ago, nine years ago - as more like a soup kitchen or food pantry. People have a history.  They decide to come to your place of distribution.  Your resources are finite, and it matters where they are in the line. At the food distribution charity I sometimes help, you take a number. Some weeks you go in first when the selection is greatest.  Some weeks you are at the end when a lot of the good stuff is gone (though there is also a table clearing of being encouraged to take more than the allotted amount of English Muffins or squashes at the end). We try not to be obsessive about it, but we do have to enforce against people who cut in line, or come back a second - or fourth - time. If some take extra, someone else, who also has children or a hard life, will have less.

We can absorb, in round numbers, a certain number of immigrants, from all over the world.  Our representatives get together and figure out how many from various places can come in. If we take in a million we hadn't given permission to, that's a million we don't approve for other countries.

Back at the soup kitchen, people are cutting in line. They are forcing other people back down the line, to the extent that they cannot get soup tonight. People who showed up on time, made sure their children were polite, stood in the cold.  Most of the line-cutters are very nice people, just sad, rather desperate. Not so desperate as to accept asylum in Mexico, the soup hasn't got as much meat in it there, but really, despite my criticism, somewhat desperate. What would you do?  Your kid is hungry, so you aren't so fussy about rules. (Others are not so nice.  In fact, given the predominance of young men in the crowd, some violent, it looks suspiciously as if many of them are economic migrants.) Frightening lives in Honduras.  Danger for your children in Guatemala. But. But. Sorry, Josselyn from Manila, you can't come in this year, that quota is full.  Sorry Ionut and Cristian from Romania, we have cut back on the number of foreign adoptees from your country because seats are limited. Last year it was unlimited, but this year it's different.  Sorry Anna, sorry Olga; sorry Becky, sorry Katie; sorry Theung, sorry Bangone; sorry Sudan, sorry Syria, sorry Indonesia, sorry Congo, sorry India and Pakistan.

Yes, those people from Nigeria and Nepal also have children.  Sad-looking children with sad eyes and sad lives. But they can't come.  Because nice people, tender-hearted people, good Christian people are looking into the sad eyes of the children that guys from Central America have dragged along, whether related to them or not, and pushed you out of line. We decided to feel sorry for them instead, because we saw pictures of them from biased news sources who want to discredit the people of one political party. Which is of course the more important truth.

That's my picture, not of Oliver Twist saying "More, sir?" but of people edging - or even shoving - little kids out of the way at the soup kitchen.  You might like your picture-thinking better, think it captures more of the truth.  Have at the argument, that's fair. I think my analogy is more exact.  State your case.

And yes, I really do resent it, and I do get angry and intemperate when you call me racist, or even imply it.


A late emperor of the roman empire.   Upon his death, the empire was divided between his sons Arcadius and Honorius.  They are invariably described as feckless.  I'll bet they were feckless.

Personal Pronouns

Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men. Aragorn, in Lord of the Rings.

The topic of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis - the idea that the language we speak influences or even controls what we think, and more properly called Linguistic Relativity - came up in the comments section over at Chicago Boyz.  It shows up from time to time in comments sections at Maggie's Farm as well. There is a strong version, that echoes Orwell's 1984, that modes of thought can be prevented (or created) by eliminating (or requiring) certain words or phrases. This is about as thoroughly discredited as it gets in cognitive science.  There is no evidence that people who don't have Gem├╝tlichkeit in their language can't get the concept.  It just takes a while to get it across.  Vocabulary is efficiency.

The weak version, that one's language influences, on a percentage basis, how one thinks hasn't fared much better.  There is some soft evidence that there are slight differences in perception of color according to one's original language, but this is undermined by the fact that those learning a new language can rapidly switch to the new way of looking at things.  Similarly, languages have many different ways of describing where something is, and there is often an initial difficulty in describing what one means in a new language.  How much this is the language and culture and how much is cognitive remains controversial, but no solid evidence that there are enduring differences has been found. Some of you may remember the idea of NLP, neurolinguistic programming as a method of changing how one thinks about things in order to communicate with others.  The theory is that there is a fundamental difference in saying "I see what you mean" versus "I hear what you are saying" or "I get what you are driving at" or "I understand you." A charming idea, but again, one that has eluded any measurable difference.

People really, really like this idea. It was part of the 19th C nationalisms. Groups have always tied their identities to their language, but this took on an intensified form of "we even think differently than other groups." Because all languages have words and phrases that do not translate linearly, people take this as evidence of a difference in thinking. Because there are cultural differences, people come to believe that language drives these rather than reflects them. In the 20s and 30s the idea became very popular among anthropologists, and it spread to other fields - and to writers like Orwell - over the next decades. I loved the idea as an undergraduate, and held on to it for decades, without really thinking about whether it was true or not.  It seemed self-evident, once one had broken through and been introduced to it. How could your mother-tongue not influence your thinking, for Pete's sake? I wonder now if some of its intuitive proof nature comes from the experience of intelligent people (or at least those with high vocabulary, which is very similar) speaking with those who lack both the words and concepts for things.

This idea of linguistic relativity is strongly present in our attempts to remake language for political purposes. It became a goal early on for feminists to remake the masculine-assumed nature of English, as in chairman, mankind, congressman. The use of Ms had two objectives, one which fits this conversation and one which doesn't.  It is true that the new abbreviation sought to remove the greater emphasis placed on a woman's marital status than a man's, especially after the similar but age-reflecting distinction  Master-Mister dropped out of use for male.  That fits this discussion.  Yet I think the privacy concern, though related, is a little different. It's none of their damn business whether I'm married or not. I have some sympathy with that.

The belief was that changing the language would change people's attitudes, or at least help that along. I think that would be hard to measure either way, but given that language doesn't seem to drive attitude change as much as reflect it, and sometimes forced change creates backlash, I am unsympathetic to further enforced changes.  I think the idea of driving change is behind the insistence on trans people insisting on different personal pronouns.  They think that putting the language in line will help put attitudes in line over time.  I think this is misguided, and as I just suggested, the backlash may actually make things worse. Having to focus on pronouns takes my focus off whatever else a person is saying, and therefore, hearing them less well.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Three Old Links

Indonesian Muslim Scholar says Orthodox Islam and Violence are linked. Americans and Western Europeans are often concerned with what they wish were true, not what is true. September 2017

The Toxoplasma of Rage at Slate Star Codex. I have referred to this and linked to it repeatedly.  I consider it one of the great essays of the 21st C. December 2014

Academic Antifa: An academic journal removes a piece because of threats of violence. October 2017

Peer Pressure

“One of the good things about being 95?  Very little peer pressure.” George Burns.

In a recent overheard discussion about believers baptism among the young, the rather standard objection was raised that a person at 12 years of age is not really an independent thinker, but responding to the expectations of parents and the society around her. The laughing rejoinder was that sometimes decisions we make in our 30’s aren’t that well thought out either, but the conversation did not follow through with that.

I don’t want this to be only about baptism, so I will simply note in passing that how well one understands the conversion experience is only one piece of baptism, and not the most important. Many of us might have impressive or convincing reasons for our atheism, conversion, or confirmation, but none of us have unassailable reasons, and most of us have rather weak ones.  It is human nature. One of my reasons for coming back to church was that I was feeling defeated, and nice ladies had given me cookies and said nice things to me there when I was little, and I thought I could count on them to be similarly supportive to a young adult. It was true.  One will find few welcomes as warm as going back to a church one grew up in, at least when one is young.  If you are forty it might be more complicated. Or not.  I’m just guessing on that one.

Peer pressure does not get weaker as we become adults, it becomes stronger.  We have much more choice who our peers will be, in our jobs, in our neighborhoods, in our churches and activities. We enter a world in which we influence them, and they us.   Ilya Somin at Volokh Conspiracy wrote an essay years ago that it is in our interest to adopt the political and social views of those around us. Our vote and our political voice seldom matters that much, and even less when we are at odds with our culture.  We are much more likely to have our minds changed by a friend than an enemy, by a person who agrees with us 90% of the time than by one who agrees with us 10% of the time.

This is seldom a result of formal discussion about issues, but a product of reading similar books and newspapers, listening to the same sermons, podcasts, and music, having children at the same schools or activities, watching the same movies and TV shows – we need not share them very exactly, and all of us will have outlier interests from family and friends.  Yet when I sit with people at lunch there will be a solid grouping at a table of 8 social workers who will enter eagerly into a discussion about Game of Thrones or American Idol. When they make any social or political point, either NPR or a late-night comedian will be referenced. The local newspaper or TV station will occasionally be referenced.  By doing this they announce, reannounce, and confirm what are the expected sources of entertainment and information. One just knows that many topics are not going to be of general interest and should not be attempted.  Things taught at conferences or by invited speakers are not frequently referenced, but they carry great weight.  As many of those are highly politicized, however disguised, those are powerful signals as well.

My group of conservatives is not very representative, but all of them will refer to something they have read instead (including Great Courses and audible books). The chip-shot nature of social media bridges this.  We usually read words, but they are dramatic, simplistic, and short – and there are frequent links to visual media.

We culturally signal constantly, like birds chirping to announce our location and territory.  I have claimed that liberals do it more, and that peer pressure is much more important to them, but I certainly witness conservatives doing it as well, and my impression may be false.

If peer pressure on adults becomes strong enough, we usually change groups or change ideas. Most probably we do this gradually, not in complete reworking of networks.  We talk to this friend a bit less and that one a bit more, we beg off from regular golf games or garden club. Or we become less-intense in our support for gay marriage or drug legalisation. 

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Love Divine

It's always fun.  More than half this album is tunes we Americans know to other words, and words we know to other tunes.

Ilhan Omar

Apparently Donald Trump mentioned “offhandedly,” but likely with intent, that Ilhan Omar may have married her brother. This seemed to catch even many Republicans by surprise, which surprises me.  Scott Johnson at Powerline has been reporting this for over a year and I thought lots of people knew that.  Here is the most recent research, in case you missed it.  It is quite convincing that she married her brother in 2009 in an immigration manipulation, and that this is not only fraud, but bigamy.  This, in addition to the years of tax fraud she is accused of, though I don’t know anything about that. I admit I am predisposed to believe it. It brings up the very interesting story of how little news suppression is needed to be effective. There are suddenly some Democrats saying – I think sincerely, at least for some – that they had not heard of this before.

The Powerline accounts will of course be biased toward the POV “Hey, we’ve been saying this repeatedly for months but the major newspapers and networks won’t pick it up.” They have reported it being treated dismissively, of conservative conspiracy theorists manufacturing mountains out of molehills. With that signal, other news providers have shrugged and said “Oh, of course.  That’s what’s really happening here.  We’ll just move along, sir. It’s just more Birthers and whatnot.”

Therefore it has not even made it to page three status and has caught people by surprise. It takes very few liars for such things to succeed, though it takes a great many people of lesser dishonesty, just shrugging and not being intellectually rigorous. While the evidence is tedious to wade through – evidence often is – it is not difficult in any way. It includes such things as a single FB account with a name change from Leila Eimi to Leyla Cilmi, with the same (now rather recognizable) photo, immediately as the first reports of this came out. Yeah, it’s the same person. Same account, similar names, same photo. I don’t know how one would construct that as evidence in a court case to prove it, but it looks res ipsa loquitur to me. Your mileage may vary.  The evidence looks damning to me, but I lost my objectivity on this over a year ago, when I only knew of her as a mildly irritating new member of Congress. Someone else might see holes in that I missed.