Friday, November 29, 2019


You don't have to watch it all. The comments are pretty good over at YouTube if you want to bother.

I Just Don't Like Him

Medieval politics was personal and individual.  I understand "Game of Thrones" captured that well. We think of that as petty and selfish - a king is supposed to act for the good of his people, not only for his and his family's own advantage. That a duke slighted you is not now considered sufficient reason for war. It was then.  In fact, it has been the norm for most of human history, and the medieval era could fairly be considered one that moved us in the direction of rulers having more concern for the ruled. Henry IV was a pretty good king, but didn't get much credit for it in his day.  People didn't like him much.

We owe a great deal to George Washington's example of being a president of all the people, and being above party.  The presidents who succeeded him had been generally vicious partisans on their way up to the office, but the first few, who had seen the value of Washington's political neutrality, tried hard to match it.  They considered it "befitting to the office," and it set the tone for those after. Today we consider it automatic that presidents don't take us to war over personal issues.  It was one of the things some worried about with Donald Trump, that his vindictive responses to internal political conflicts would be echoed in international affairs, and he would take us to war with a country whose leader had crossed him.  That has not proved to be the case.  In fact, one could make a fairer case against Obama and Bush 43 letting personal opinions of other rulers or nations cloud their judgement. I haven't thought it through beyond that.  DJT might score above many others on that scale.  Even if he's dead wrong in his decisions, I don't think it can be said that they reflect personal scores to settle, or being blinded by guys he just likes.

I don't think we are very far above the medievals in this attitude.  We are mostly just pretending we have reasons why we like political candidates.  We look in irritation at the consultants who try to sell their candidates on the basis of image rather than ideas, but they likely know better than we do that the ones who disapprove most are equally susceptible to being manipulated. I have a friend of good, longstanding conservative credentials who keeps telling me how upset he is with Trump. He's not a good family man.  Can you imagine what it must be like to be in that family? He didn't vote for Obama either time, but he admires what a good family man he was. (I only partially grant that, BTW.  Yet I at least take his point.) I tell him I would much prefer Trump be a better husband and family man, but it ultimately doesn't affect my vote.  My friend reluctantly agrees, but then two weeks later he tells me how Trump's bragging bothers him. It bothers me, too, but it is well down the list of what I'm going to vote on. My friend just doesn't like him, and the issues take a back seat.  He's not the only one I know.

It is the same on the other side of the divide.  I briefly shared an office with someone who is radical enough left that he hasn't much liked most liberals until Bernie, and now this crop of farther-left Democrats.  He does agree with radical conservatives at least partly on some issues.  In our conversation I said "One of the things I was worried about with Trump was that he was going to impulsively and vindictively get us into war.  If anything, the opposite has been true." He paused, caught my point, and acknowledged that he could at least see why I thought that was a reason to support him. Yet he quickly went into other criticisms that were not entirely issue-based, and one of the women at the table shivered about what a horrible man he is and women have every right to be worried about what might happen to them. I pointed out that John Edwards and Bill Clinton were worse, and nothing bad seems to have happened to women under Trump, but the reply was a shaking of the head and another shiver. They just don't like him. The issues don't matter.

It is similar on the other, other side, of those who support him.  I comment on a half-dozen conservative sites, and at each there are regulars who will not only defend Trump no matter what he does, but call you names quickly if you disagree with him about anything. Tariffs are a bad idea. Maybe Trump can wrest a short-term tactical victory from the use of them, but they are still a long-term loser. Because much of what is lost is opportunity cost and creative destruction we don't see the price tag, but it's still there.  Even if the trade war with China hurts them more than us, it still hurts us, and some sectors more than others. It's a real cost that some neighbors are paying, even if it works out for our long-term benefit. But if anyone says that, they are dismissed as elites or neverTrumpers, who just don't see that he's playing 3D chess and outwitting them all.  They just like him. They repeatedly praise him because he fights, as if that were somehow the key.  He kicks the people they want to see kicked, and they just like him.  They insist that the constant insult and combativeness are an essential part of the strategy.

Well tell that to Bill Belichick. (Who I think would be a really fun president to have, BTW.) You don't actually have to say "Screw you, I'm doing it my way," you just have to be unaffected by what stupid or untrustworthy people say.  That's the part Trump gets right, being unaffected and doing it his way anyway. The combativeness is part of the package with him, and perhaps was necessary to get elected in the current climate, but it's not necessary to governance.  Plenty of great leaders have done without it. Washington dealt with armed rebellion and threats of secession. Lincoln had a full-fledged civil war. Yet kicking is the part some Trump fans like. They believe that combativeness, rather than confident independence, is what has been missing in the past.  They say that he and his abrasiveness are what is doing it all, with no help from the Republican establishment. You tell me how successful he would be if the Senate was 70-30 in favor of Democrats. No Federalist Society recommended judges appointed at multiple levels then.

DJT has been successful at the tipping point for the Republicans and that is valuable.  Not everyone can do it. Yet the scales have to be closely balanced for the tipping to even be a possibility.

Obama infuriatingly said "You didn't build that," when the people he was speaking about absolutely had built that.  Government can provide value-added or value destruction, and that can indeed be crucial.  There are plenty of places with ruined economies because their governments didn't do its job well.  But the government didn't build that, the people operating in a free market did.  So too with Trump - and to be fair to him, for all his braggadocio, he is not the one claiming he's doing it all, it's his die-hard fans - he didn't build that. The hated Republican establishment built that, but proved repeatedly they could close the deal. He has provided value-added, and it has been crucial WRT judges. He has been helpful in terms of the economy, but he'd be the first to tell you that it is millions of people working at their jobs that is building that. At the moment, his foreign-policy choices look okay among the usual list of terrible choices leaders have in this fallen world. In all these things, it's not a fair world.  Some presidents can get away with numerous bad decisions, so long as they don't get them all wrong, because the times are not critical.  Others need to get 80% of their decisions right or they fail, because the times are dire.

But sometimes people just like him, and they are going to support him even when he goes against their previous ideas.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019


One of our patients who has been paranoid for many years at a low level even when well, and severely so when his medications go out of whack picked up a copy of 1984 at the library, having heard that reasonably-educated people should read it and be familiar with it. He is an intelligent but rather isolated person. We asked him what he thought after.

"It was a sad story.  The guy had a girlfriend, but he lost her."

They entire paranoid point of the story seems to have been mere unimportant background to him, which I suppose makes some sense.

Frozen II

All twelve of us went to see it. Everyone liked it, but the two eight-year-old girls liked it best.

The music had a very mid-70s to mid-90s feel, and Kristoff's song in particular sounded as if it could have been done by Todd Rundgren. There were echoes of Billy Joel and Elton John, and Weezer covers one of the songs in the closing credits.

It is darker than the first one, heavily dependent in its narrative on powerful nature spirits who are not necessarily evil, but are dangerous.  There is an unfortunate symbolic PC moment of how terrible Western Civ has been to innocent and misunderstood indigenous peoples, but it passes.  Once moviemakerrs have refused to be even a little bit Christian anymore but want to portray power, and good and evil, they've rather boxed themselves in what they can draw on. FrozenII has too much of the foundation of believing in yourself and your own power, but they at least do a good job of showing how that can go wrong, and teach a morality of simple decency that is unobjectionable.  Artwork and animation amazing.  Ben was commenting how hard it is to do things with water in animation, and they did stunning work. The Disney cuteness of subsidiary characters is present, but greatly reduced compared to most Disney Princess movies.

Some very heartwarming moments about Anna and Elsa, which was expected, but also a great deal about their parents' deep and tender love for them, which impacts the plot. There is a plot twist that will be a joy to younger sisters everywhere.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Bolton's Testimony

I am paying little attention to either side during impeachment, but this is in a different channel and some of you may be interested in David Post over at Reason.

Frozen II

I was going to skip the family trip to see Frozen II tomorrow with granddaughters 12, 8, 8, and 3, but perhaps I will go after all. It will be memorable and a culturally central experience for them, not only seeing it with their cousins, but their favorite uncle as well. I mentioned this to co-workers today, both social workers and thus Second Wave feminists (though the younger, 40 y/o does have some Third Wave elements), and one laughingly said "What?  You aren't interested in a story of a young woman whose voice has been suppressed because she fears her own power?" She wasn't being entirely facetious with that. She likes those sorts of stories, and has daughters 17 and 19. Still, it was cute, witty.

Well, links within links and you may grow weary, but I have weighed in with observations on Frozen before that you won't see many other places.  I'm still proud of getting this right. I know my myths and stories, even though the movie genre is still not one I get entirely beyond my own dating era of 1967-75.  I'm betting my friend is right that this sort of message was never far from the minds of the Disney people in the original Frozen.  They are good at giving their audience what they want, and that includes the mothers as well as the daughters, however much adults are required to moan and deplore all things princess, for all the wrong reasons.

Yet as I have mentioned at least a dozen times before here, myths have a way of getting away from you.  When you try to impose a message like that on a myth, it works superficially at first, but the longer it hangs around, in book, song, play, or movie, it takes on a life of its own, and you find out down the road that the children have absorbed an entirely different message. Among many other things, the original Frozen caught on because it had two princesses*, and even though the younger one was inferior in power, she was cuter and funner, so that younger sisters playing this game did not have to feel they were being cut out entirely.  Which is what usually happens with princesses, especially in Disney.  However much she may screw up and make bad choices at first, one princess gets to rule them all and tell everyone else where to get off. Princes are brought in entirely for decoration, however much they swoon over him. Aladdin is memorable, but even the Beast is memorable only before the change, and I don't count Tinkerbell as a princess, whatever the lists say. Can you remember much about any of those princes?  I thought not.  They are intentionally vague, being merely the proper wages for being a good princess.

Frozen II will change the mythology of Frozen retroactively, though we have yet to see how.  I have a guess where we will learn it, though.  Those of you who have older daughters, who were on the older edge of liking Frozen - check out what it is that they just don't like about the new version.  They will likely not be able to put their finger on it at first (and maybe not ever - we don't like recognising our animating myths that much), but it will leak out over the next year, especially in conversation with each other.  What they see as missing from this version will be what was invisibly important to them before. I'm betting there will be a half-dozen themes that will emerge in the comparison, few of them quite what was supposed to be so uplifting.

*The usual numbers for princesses are one, three, or twelve, though occasionally you might get a bunch of seven or nine, each more beautiful than the last.

Monday, November 25, 2019

More Visitors

And now the son from Houston has arrived as well.  He was in on it from the start.

Sunday, November 24, 2019


Pretty amazing day.  We went to Jonathan, Son #1's house for a group Facetime with the Alaska Wymans - John-Adrian, Son #3 and his wife and two daughters.  We scheduled for 3:00 pm but were a little delayed. We were just about to call when the Alaska Wymans arrived at the door. And with them was Chris, Son #4. From Norway. To top it off, the two daughters will soon become three, as Jocie is pregnant with Bella, who will arrive in early January.

They have known they were coming for months, and have successfully kept both their visit and Jocie's pregnancy secret from all of us successfully.

Saturday, November 23, 2019


This is last year's meet (NAU finished 2nd to BYU this year), but if you have ever loved cross-country, this video captures the feeling.

Interview With Spengler

The Asia Times has an interview about China with David Goldman, previously the anonymous "Spengler." He is very much a proponent of the long view for understanding a culture, focusing on its centuries rather than its last few weeks. He is not especially complimentary to the Chinese in this discussion, though he also rather shrugs it off, noting that they don't have the same values we do, and they are who they are.  Different.

He voted for Trump and says he will again, but disagrees with him strongly on a couple of points.  The commenters over at Maggie's were instantly on him for that, but did not make especially strong arguments for the defense, in my view.  Spengler may be very wrong about Chinese character and Trump's economic policies, and he is certainly pessimistic about many things.  But he is clear and gives evidence for his opinions, which is not always the case in discussion these days.

It is sobering.

# 9 - Sexism in Narnia

From May 2007.  I might write it differently now, but I still like it, and very much like where the comments went across three essays.  The link in the comments to the essay and discussion at my son's site still works, even though he does not keep that site up anymore.  Those two discussions also led to another post here, Female Characters In Heroic Fantasy, which is part of the whole deal.


J.K. Rowling has mentioned in an interview that she dislikes how Susan Pevensie is treated in the last of the Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Battle. Her reading of the final sections, in which it is revealed that Susan “is no longer a Friend of Narnia,” along with Lucy’s comment that she is “interested in nothing now-a-days except lipstick and nylons and invitations” discovers an unattractive sexism in Lewis’s dismissal of the girl.
“There comes a point where Susan, who was the older girl, is lost to Narnia because she becomes interested in lipstick. She’s become irreligious basically because she found sex. I have a big problem with that.”
When I first read of Susan’s exclusion from Narnia and the wilder lands further up and further in, I thought it harsh myself. I didn’t connect it to any ideas of budding sexuality and embracing of the pubertal experience, though. I attributed her separation to her silliness. Yes, it is certainly the type of silliness common to (some) girls becoming women, and such silliness is tied up in the social and hormonal changes which suffuse the atmosphere in those years. Yet it is clear from the immediate context that sex and womanhood are not her problem.

Lewis considers silliness a serious problem. Playfulness, humor, joy, and celebration he is much in favor of; silliness, in this sense of disparaging the important and embracing the frivolous, goes near the heart of what Lewis sees as mankind’s separation from God. Not until I read the further works of Lewis (especially God In The Dock, and The Great Divorce) did this come clear to me.

This has been part of a more general claim of sexism in the C of N. But for some reason this section about Susan gets mentioned most often. It seems to rankle. We'll see why in a bit.

This accusation of sexism is more than a little odd. Had these books been written in the last few years, a wise editor would have taken care to make the boys and girls equal in so many ways, and not breathe a whisper that a girl could be less able than a boy in anything. By those lights, there are a few – a very few – sections in the Chronicles which raise the eyebrow today: a male character’s claim that girls aren’t good with maps, for example. It is also true that girls are kept out of combat – as we still do today.

Lewis’s female characters stand out dramatically against the girls of previous children’s literature. There were books for girls and books for boys in that era, and the girls in the boy books didn’t have much in the way of adventures. We all remember how the courageous Becky Thatcher set off down the Mississippi on a raft… oh no wait, that was Huck. The King Arthur stories had Guenivere who slew, er, nothing actually; and Robin Hood had Maid Marian, who conquered…who conquered…

The Wind In The Willows, The Prince and The Pauper, and all those Kipling and EM Forster books were just chockablock full of…of boys having adventures. If you wanted to read about girls having adventures, you had to read girl books: Heidi, Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, Nancy Drew, The Secret Garden. And who could forget the many quests, exotic travels, physical dangers, and battles from those books?

Lewis’s females have few parallels in books meant to be read by both sexes. Notably, Lewis does this in a time when it was not considered necessary to make the boys and girls equal in all books. He just does it. Because he believes it. One of the grander adventures for a girl in a story before that time was Wendy's in Peter Pan. She spends her time being the mother and getting captured.

But Lucy, Susan, Jill, Polly, and Aravis all have real dangers which they have to get themselves out of. Their actions are central, not secondary, to plot development. They hunt, ride, sail, and endure hardship. Even Rowling’s series has only Hermione as representative of young girls having adventures – unless you count being a chaser at Quidditch. The others are involved in going to school and having crushes.

And here we come to the subtext of Rowling’s complaint. Female authors have scattered girl-coming-of-age books across the landscape for several decades. These are regarded as sacred, by the authors at least, and presumably some of their audience. Not only has Lewis not written that type of young-womanhood narrative, he has insulted it. He has profaned sacred ground with his muddy masculine boots. When his girls come of age they become competent adults. Joanne Rowling can read as well as I can, and note that it was not Susan’s lipstick but her betrayal that casts her into the outer darkness. Susan denies Narnia exists, denies what she knows to be true. Worse, she sneers at the others as if she is the older and wiser one. It is not lipstick, but her nothing but lipstick, and nylons, and invitations that do her in.

I think J.K. Rowling is telling us more than she wants about what she thinks is important in a young girl’s life. She has fastened on the issue of sex to celebrate it, and Lewis’s mostly ignoring the issue (in Narnia – sex shows up in his adult books) she regards as an active rejection of her value. I think most of the actual girls reading The Last Battle recognised exactly what Lewis meant about Susan, and several classmates came to mind.

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 secular 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.