Monday, August 31, 2020

Doubling Down

Conservatives have noted that there has been a doubling and redoubling of claims about - well, about a lot of things, but presently about racism from the left. We saw it with climate claims.  When judicious cautions did not result in everyone immediately signing on to redesigning the economy, we started to hear stories about all the polar bears dying, then hurricanes, then cities going under water. All the while, the real problem of the gradual threat to fresh water was ignored. We are seeing now the claims that the police are targeting young black men, and even that all whites are racist. Yes, this is silly, but it is also dangerous because people are acting as if it is true, and getting themselves worked into a frenzy byt convincing themselves "You see? Even when the cops are targeting young black men, this racist country refuses to make any changes."

It is a common enough human response, to keep ratcheting up saying "Even if X, they don't care.  Even if YYYYY! they don't care!" First catch your rabbit.  Establish that X has occurred. The response is so humanly common that conservatives are now doing it around C19.  We have recently moved into claims that are simply silly. Only 9,000 actual deaths from CoVid?  Take a breath.  Look at the reasoning.  Consider whether this standard is applied to any other cause of death.  Ask yourself if those ICU's were filling up and the excesses deaths were mounting because of a mere 9,000 cases.

Conservatives have perfectly legitimate issues about business shutdowns, overreactions, and inaccurate information given from supposedly legitimate sources. There do seem to have been overcounts, though I have noted a couple of times that there are undercounts as well.  (There is a good description in an article suggesting there is more suicide [which I challenged] of how undercounts can easily occur.*) But when everyone didn't immediately agree with you and say "Okay, sure, we'll do it your way," the proper response is not to start saying "Those are exaggerated numbers.  They are counting everyone who has CoVid, no matter what they died from."  If people are admitted for CoVid symptoms and die, that's worth noting, even if there's no positive test for the disease. Quacks like a duck remains a good indicator. Even without a DNA test, it's a duck.

So (a subset of) conservatives grew even angrier and more strident that they weren't being listened to on this issue and exhibited the same pattern as liberals, of making larger and larger claims in hopes of inspiring or shaming or bullying the populace into doing what we told you to five months ago, dammit. This doesn't work, nor should it. Stick with what is known, and if you venture into the probable or speculative, mention that explicitly.  If an Independent is thinking of defecting from usually supporting Democrats because they have gone into complete denial of reality*8 on racial attitudes, but wanders over and hears Trump supporters claiming there are only nine thousand "real" deaths from coronavirus, we're not getting that vote.  Capisce?


* There has even been a growth of Bulverism among conservatism on this score, the practice of moving to explanations of why a person is wrong (Their hospitals get more money, so of course, you naive fool) before establishing that they are, in strict accourdance with fact, wrong.  I shudder.

**That 99% of BLM are not murderers, and 90% do not even make excuses for murder is not evidence that the movement is mostly peaceful.  All organisations have less than 1% murderers, even the Mafia. It's the reverse of the standard applied to right-wing groups, where three degrees of separation aren't enough to keep you from being branded a terrorist supporter. Even if Black Lives Matter started out as a very decent group of people, when a few nutcases in other states start popping off decent people should start looking at where else their energy should go, and when whole chapters elect advocates for murder and start lighting buildings on fire the decent people pack their bags and not add continue to add credibility by their mere presence.  Those aren't our protestors, those are the protestors on the other side of town has never been persuasive. That is a rule that Americans have (imperfectly, but usually) applied, not only on each other, but on themselves.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Passive Language

Sometimes in mental health listening we notice a use of passive or indirect language that is significant.  I don't say it always is, but that would be the general rule. "And then my mother was down," no word of how; "the boss was mad because people were late," no mention of who.  It's a bad sign. I knew a psychologist who thought if we just rounded everyone up who had the bumpersticker "Shit Happens" and put them away it would be a good thing.  Those who had merely said it should be given a warning, then locked up the next time. He had noticed this first empirically, then reasoned out what must be happening in the mind to make such an emphatic declaration.  Someone else at the table protested that it might actually be a good sign, because the person might be accepting of the reality...He cut them off.  Yes, of course it could.  But somehow it never is.

So I consider it alarming that when a Trump supporter was murdered in public - not the first - that an antifa comment was not only I don't care, which is a bad enough opening, but that a f-ing fascist died. Similarly the statement that Kenosha is burning, without any particular cause, as if, you know, things just burn sometimes. It is an evasion of reality to the point of denial.

I am not the first to point this out.  I first ran across it in print in 1979 in Richard Mitchell's Less Than Words Can Say, but as I recognised it instantly, I must have encountered the phenomenon before that. But that's what I'm hear for, to recall things that might be important and say them again for the good of the league, or occasionally to see something new, some combination of these odd bits in a new way. What I am not especially good at is knowing what happens next.  Many people claim to know if the church does x, then it will see result y. I think the American church is going to change greatly.  Difficult times are not always bad times for The Church, after all. As Bilbo said, "I have felt that an earthquake or an invasion of dragons might be good for them."

Yet we should not wish such things.  We pray for our Lord's return not because of the excitement of the final events we are assured must accompany that, but simply because it would be good to see Him. There is enough misery in the world that we should not invite any extra.  Trouble will find us soon enough, we needn't look for it.

Technology changing our interactions was already happening before the pressure of C19 accelerated it. Demographic collapse began decades ago. A sexual permissiveness that would not have been tolerated in most ages of the church is normal for us now (and of course we are sure we are right and they were wrong). Politicisation of the church has been usual everywhere, but we did hope to rise above that in America and perhaps briefly did. I may be only glorifying the recent past with that. It may never have happened.

The Church is caught up in yet another fad, as we always will be when we live by the news. Remember when illegal immigrants were the most important thing, and refugees before that, and health care for all before that, and pacifism before that, and saving the earth before that?  I'm sure I have left something out.  But underneath all these are the changes the Church really is making, and I cannot well see what those are.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Kelly Loeffler

There is an irony to a sports league where no one knows any of their names protesting an owner by refusing to say her name.

The NBA is banking - literally - on the growth of the international market, especially China.   The NFL is counting on Fantasy Football and gambling to keep them afloat.  The international market is not so likely to be kind to them.  MLB was huge and has an enormous network, so there is likely a lot of ruin in them before the end, but they have been hemorrhaging fans for years, and this isn't going to help. No other leagues have international audiences, do they?

College football will be interesting.  It will rebound in the South and in the Power Five conferences. As colleges are going to be hurting anyway going forward, many smaller schools will have to drop sport after sport, and football is more expensive than all others. Basketball is still mostly indoors, last I checked.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Scottish Trad Music

The concertina caught my eye for its beauty.  It is pre-1900 and reportedly worth over $8000. The two on the outside are good, but the concertinist is amazing.  He also plays with another Glasgow folk band, Imar.

Second Demographic Transition

Lyman Stone at AEI cites a followup on the Second Demographic Transition, that is, the theory put forth by Dutch researchers in 1986, that births to unmarried couples will increase, and that low birth rates will continue with no rebound, neither from women who merely delayed childbearing, nor from a resurgence of birthrates as women achieved more equality.
But this month, one of the original researchers, Ron Lesthaeghe, has published a paper reckoning with how this theory has held up over the last 35 years. And the verdict is: proponents of the Second Demographic Transition theory were basically correct in their predictions: the model has been useful for understanding social changes since 1986, and alternative theories have not held up. In other words, virtually every society in the world is likely to move towards very low birth rates eventually, unless there is some unforeseen change in deeper social processes.
I was told by my girlfriend in 1970, who had been assigned Paul Erlich's The Population Bomb for a high-school class, and by many of the best and brightest thereafter, that the world was in danger of catastrophic overpopulation, which we had better fix now, now, now with birth control.

Guess not.  Demographic collapse, first in the wealthiest countries, looks like a serious problem. Europe keeps good numbers, so we can see what's up.  Europe is ageing. Rather quickly, despite immigration.
Italy and Germany have median ages around 47.  Japan's is 49, and there are 50 countries with median ages over 40. (The US is at 38.5) For contrast, the median age in Europe in 1970 was about 32, and about 29 in the US. With birthrates at around 1 per female in Japan and Italy over the last 20 years, reflect on the decrease in the use of the words aunt, uncle, and cousin among schoolchildren in those countries.

This is the new reality.  Unless there is some unforeseen cultural change, this is not going away.

ABBA

It's getting hard to find an ABBA song I haven't posted yet.  This one will do.

Opposite Game

Celebrities and athletes in general, but LeBron James in particular, are reliably accurate in their observations about culture, so long as you play the Opposite Game.  So when LBJ says "We are feeling afraid out there," he doesn't know it, but he means "We are feeling empowered and bold now." If you were to get an analog computer balancing the many aspects of American culture - what colors we like, what cliches we nod our heads to, what heroes we smile at, what music we listen to, what foods we eat, who has the ear of those in power, LeBron James is much closer to the center of that, the consensus of that, than I am, and closer than all of my audience is.  He is not just a great basketball player, he is a marketable commodity, and has a much better intuitive understanding of current culture than I do.  He doesn't have to think about it.  He breathes it. His are the statements of someone whose culture is ascendant, not quite in a mop-up operation, but trying to establish full dominance in recently conquered territory. They are resentful not because they have no power, but because their power is incomplete.

It is not a black thing, though white people may notice the contradiction more because of phrasing and presentation. Black culture is not a minority culture anymore.  It is one aspect of the new majority culture.  I mentioned the same thing in the post about Pink Floyd's "Another Brick In the Wall." This is the anthem of a conqueror, not a protestor. They had already won by the time it came out, but they were pretending there was still this great revolution to be fought, brave warriors were still needed.  The opposite was true.

Before that, we saw this in Jewish ascendancy.  I am a Judeophile and don't like to kick them, but in America, by the time I came of age, Jewish comedians and other entertainers, Jewish academics and public intellectuals, Jewish business leaders were all not only individually accepted, but had their culture accepted as well.  It didn't feel that way to them, because there were still a fair number of people who didn't like Jews. Still some.  And of course, the Holocaust was more recent to them, even if it was across an ocean. When one is fighting one's way up from prejudice or even oppression, every person against you could be a spark toward annihilation.  One gets into the mentality that fires must be completely extinguished because they could suddenly flare up. There is a good deal of truth in that.  When the regions of Yugoslavia devolved into regions and then countries on their own, there were political parties that reemerged after decades which had antisemitism and making sure the Jews did not impose their will that came back.  Except there hadn't been any Jews in the country for decades.

If racial prejudice can disappear from culture quickly - I am reminded of James's story about Little Rock fifteen years later - then it probably can come back that quickly as well. But no one is against the Irish anymore, nor the Japanese, nor the Germans. Sometimes the prejudice actually does go away.  Even when it doesn't, if it shuts up enough that your group actually becomes mainstream, as Jews and uppity women and Asians and *gay men and hippies and academics and Southerners and even Belgians, dammit, maybe you aren't looking at this correctly anymore.  Maybe you actually have won but are just resentful that a few holdouts dare to dislike you.

Group PTSD is not a recognised category in psychology or sociology.  It would be hard to define and hard to measure.  Yet I think it is a useful concept anyway. It certainly felt while I was in Romania in 1998 that the whole place was suspicious and silent, with either a subterranean anger or gushing (worrisome) acceptance always present.  I thought there was less in 2000, and less still in 2001 and 2005. There is a group attitude of intense alertness that I have observed firsthand, which is mutually reinforcing.  In fact, there is some resentment against those who no longer share the sensitivity and resentment, because of age, or distance from the danger, or lightness of personality. Like a returning combat veteran who is still checking his perimeter in his American neighborhood three months later, it is not a crazy response, but it should be receding by now.  It is eventually a response that interferes with functioning that is better to drop that retain.  Hyperalertness shoots squirrels as well as wolves.

Worse, it keeps shooting even when most of the squirrels are gone.  You've won, dude.  Your fear of squirrels is endangering the whole neighborhood now.

To repeat: the statements and actions of current radical protestors are not because of black oppression, but because the incidents are so rare that even marginal, ambiguous, or untrue incidents must be brought into play.  That white radicals have to take over such protests is evidence that their prospects are even worse.  They have so little of actual class oppression to ride on that they have to hop over and steal oppression from blacks, like a new queen bee sawing off the head of the old queen in order to take over the hive.These are not the voices of the oppressed, these are the installed tyrants seeking out the few stragglers who didn't clap loudly enough for Comrade Stalin at the cinema.

Okay, it's only that intense in a very few hothouses of wokeness, such as journalism or college campuses.  But even in the everyday world, these riots could not proceed with the impunity they have if they were not largely justified by the surrounding culture, whether from fear of approbation.

*a key item to watch going forward is that gays and lesbians talk about mostly about rights for the group.  Trans people seem almost unaware of the group, focusing on their personal struggles in the world instead.  That is not a successful strategy in America.  People sense when you are hiding behind group rights when your complaint is thoroughly personal. A certain amount is tolerated at the beginning, but eventually you have to demonstrate it's not just yourself you are fighting for.



Thursday, August 27, 2020

Wool


The economic history of England from 1100-1600 was wool. From 1600-almost 1800 it was wool and cod. You think of history being about kings and battles and religious arguments, but in any discussion of British history in those times, if you think in the back of your head “How does wool fit into all of this?” you will see things that others don’t.  There was trade in sugar, slaves, and tea, but those were not the big-ticket items. At the end of the 18th C mills became big, and over the next century or so lots of other ways of making a bundle in trade came in: cotton, railway equipment and other machinery, coal, clever banking. Wool, however remained something of a big deal, especially in the Celtic areas, though much of the industry had gone into the colonies – America, Australia, and New Zealand.

Wool is a good-news/bad-news item in history.  Britain exported raw wool to the Low Countries who did all the finishing and sending it on around the world. But when there was persecution or attempts to gouge money out of cloth-producers on the Continent, English kings encouraged Flemish or Huguenot weavers and other craftsmen to come over and set up shop, keeping even more of the money right on the island.  Continental loss was England’s gain.  Of course, the colonies did the same thing right back to Britain centuries later.  GB now has mostly a specialty trade in wool: tweeds, heavy sweaters, worsted. 

I have a couple of episodes in wool history that are not generally known that may be of interest. The Black Death devastated the European population in the mid-14th C.  When I was back in school the estimate was 30-40% of the entire population, but that has risen over the years.  This summer I heard the phrase “maybe 80%” for the first time. After all these deaths, there was no one to watch over the sheep and keep them out of the cleared areas where people were trying to grow things.  They wandered all over the countryside damaging the crops of an already starving people – but they also prevented areas from reforesting, and were edible themselves.  As domesticated sheep, they weren’t that good at looking after themselves with their birthing and clumsiness and general stupidity, but they weren’t that far from the wild either, and they survived better than the unattended grains, vegetables, and cows. (Pigs and chickens also hung on pretty well.) Thus, they were still there a couple of decades later, only needing to be pushed behind hedges to be shorn while someone repaired the gates and someone was found who remembered how to milk them.

So in the short term after the Plague they were a devastating problem to a devastated people. But soon after, they were a sort of roving bank account that could be drawn on by whoever could pretend to have a claim and had a place to put them.

Good news/bad news in America.  The story continues to circulate that the Midwest and West were settled by Union soldiers from New England who saw what great land there was in Ohio and packed everyone up in a wagon the minute they got back to Vermont.  I used to say that myself years ago.  It’s a great story. Unfortunately, Ohio was already the third-largest state by the Civil War, and even Indiana already had a million people.  Not much room for a boy from Bellow’s Falls at that point.  There was some settlement out of New England, all across the top of the US to Portland and Seattle.  Just not places that any Swamp Yankees had seen during the Late Unpleasantness. No, NH and VT had their exodus much earlier. This was masked by other people moving in because of the mills in NH (also in VT, but less so), but seems to have been well under weigh by 1820 in NH, delayed just a few years in VT.  Because of sheep. Half of America had gone starkers after 1810 because of Spanish Merinos but nowhere worse than VT, with NH running second.  These had been forested states, but no longer.  The trees were cleared out and the rocks dug up to contain these most excellent sheep in pastures. It was a lot of work by hand, but at the prices wool was fetching it seemed a better prospect than trying to grow barley amidst the rocks. The movement west may already have begun in a trickle before 1810, farmers already having recognized that the ground was poor and figuring they might try their luck on the rumors of better. Many had already had a go at raising lesser sheep with low profits and weren’t going to be putting their money into sheep again, no matter how fluffy.


Then came the Year Without a Summer in 1816, the result of volcanic eruptions in the Philippines in 1814 and the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) in 1815  New England was particularly hard hit and harvests were terrible that year and next.  It was the final straw for some who had been contemplating the move, and about 10,000 left NH by 1817, and 15,000 left VT. (Maine not so much.  The fish did okay.) Unless, of course, if you had sheep.  Cold was tough on meadow grasses for sheep, but they were able to fare much better than oats or corn. They get through these cold snaps without much noticing, it seems. Had it not been for the sheep, the exodus would have been greater. When the sheep price bubble burst a few years later the exodus resumed, though more slowly, because now…woolen mills!  Cash money and then the trains started to run, keeping wool prices solid if no longer exciting. Sheep raising hung on a long time, with a couple of resurgences as well. Eventually Vermonters decided that cows were even better, and New Hampshire went into cotton instead of woolen cloth and the sheepses went into the background.

I am not advising any of you to acquire sheep, however.  My two Romanian sons who were forced to be shepherds for two years, delaying entering school, assure me that goats are a much better deal.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Conservatives, Theology, and Racism


I ran across an outraged comment online.  Not directed at me, and so why don’t I just ignore it?  Why am I bothering all of you with it? Well, just because it was an interesting train of thought.  The writer claimed that the conservative wing of Christianity always claims to be resisting changes for theological, biblical reasons, but those are just covers for being racist and not wanting to have black people in their churches. He’d “had enough graduate credits at seminary” to know that.  That’s a common belief, and I can’t say it’s entirely untrue.  In some denominational splits, like the Presbyterians, there does seem to be something to that. The PCA acknowledged that there was racial animus during the Civil Rights era, as had been accused. Ironically, though no Presbyterian denomination had or has many African-Americans, then or now, the PCA has a greater percentage than the PCUSA. I dislike reductionist claims which rely on mind reading the motives of one’s opponents, but I allow some reading back from actions to possible motives.  Not much.  In the case of the PCA, doctrinal issues have pretty clearly been important, front to back, so leaning too heavily on the race issue seems unwarranted. 

I used to follow the Lutheran differences years ago, and have no sense that the Missouri Synod remaining aloof from unification had anything to do with race.  These are Northern European denominations with few black people to begin with, so I can’t see how we could even talk about this in those terms.  The Congregationalist churches that didn’t go UCC were in New England – not a lot of race in the mix there. The Methodists had a lot of arguing and splitting before the Civil War, but even then, congregational governance and the Wesleyan and Holiness movements figured prominently, and Fundamentalist-Modernist splits were the big deal in the 20th C. 
 
So I cast my mind on what else he could mean.  Pentecostals have been very welcoming of blacks and Hispanics right from the beginning, as have Seventh Day Adventists.  Are those the conservative wings he means?  Does he mean Mennonites?  Is there some objection to their racial policies that I missed?  Brethren churches?  This is starting to add up in terms of the percentage of Christians he could possibly be talking about.  What does he mean?  Are Catholics considered “the conservative wing?”  The Eastern Orthodox?  They have conserved their theology for quite some time.  Or is this some sort of cultural impression of American conservatism that includes more politics than theology?  I think he mostly means Baptists, but that’s less fun to say because you don’t get the broad political accusation you’re looking for with that.

Sadly, he may be right that he has enough graduate credits at seminary to say this. His statement contains true elements but is essentially false.