Tuesday, September 29, 2020


Mispronouncing a word only means that you read it before you heard it. People who assign a lot of meaning to this are admitting they tend to be the opposite. If they only knew how foolish it makes them look to those who understand the realities of vocabulary, they would be humiliated.

During our early courtship I, a Theatre & Speech, literature, chattering classes sort of person, would sometimes correct my wife's (massive vocabulary, then a librarian) pronunciation.  After a pause of a few seconds I would ask "what's it mean?"

Sometimes it is meaningful though.  When Obama said "corpseman," it meant that he had read the word but not heard it.  That might not be a bad thing in a constitutional law professor.  It's a bad thing for a commander-in-chief, though.

Solitude and Silence

We talked about these at Men's Night.  I should get some of both, but they are elusive.

Avinu Malkeinu (Our Father, Our King)

Great North Woods

Update:  Correction in the comments.  I am leaving my post unchanged, but it contains an error, acknowledged.

We are off to the Great North Woods for a couple of days.  We will take time out for covered bridges and historical markers we have not seen, both of which will be plentiful.  We will be staying in the Republic of Indian Stream, which may be an idea whose time has again come.

I have heard grumbling for years about larger conservative sections of states seceding from the biggest city's control of their state - which sounds more like expelling, but you take the point.  I have never taken it seriously. Unless they get to keep the name and kick the other guys out there is just to much emotional weight to tradition for conservatives.  Which is fine, and as it should be.  It should take a lot to overcome a tradition that has generally worked, and most states think their identity has worked. I can't quite say I value being a Newhampshireman over being an American, as some of my ancestors around 1800 might have said, but I think I at least have some understanding of the idea.

Now there are grumblings from liberals about states seceding from the Union, and I don't take that seriously either.  These are merely statements of "Yeah, we've got all the good and important stuff, which you rubes take for granted! You couldn't live without us." They aren't going anywhere, they are just being insulting in order to compliment themselves. They should follow the Tolkien rule of secondary creation though if they are going to fantacise about such stuff. The rules of an alternative world can't be arbitrary, they have to make internal sense.  If the blue states put together a package to leave, their own states are really purple.  They might attract some liberals from Utah or South Dakota to move and join them, but those folks aren't going to bring much in the way of territory.  If everyone is already splitting things up along state lines, a lot of those states will separate from the huge Democratic-majority cities and put the rest into the stay-American pile. The NYC metro area might greatly desire to join California, DC, and Massachusetts.  But they might not even keep much of their own states of NY, NJ, CT, and PA. They might also find that - funny thing - when push comes to shove they retain a certain affection for being American and 90% of them vote against leaving. Even the 20th C immigrants.

They'd get VT and Hawaii. They would get Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, and other blue cities. Not those states, though, I don't think. They would carry a 25-mile strip from Boston to DC or even Richmond (well, maybe only Fredricksburg. Dale City, anyway), throwing all those states into disarray if secession was in the air. Well, no matter about the details.  My predictive powers are demonstrably poor, and as I said, it ain't happening anyway. I just got carried away with the game. Returning to my real point, once secession is considered a real alternative, other dominoes fall. You have to play out such scenarios a week or two down the road, don't you? Heck, let's be radical.  You have to think about what people will actually do in response if you even start down this path.  And more meaningfully, once you have even pretended that secession is possible, just putting it out there as a rhetorical device, you are fueling hatred.

It's a funny thing.  Zachriel got the idea that I was saying songs didn't have any effect on things.  Oh, they do, they do, but not always the effects intended.  The songs of the Folk Song Army contributed greatly to increasing hatred in their day, and they may have set in motion some of the violence we see now. Admittedly, things have many causes at that distance and no one gets much blame or credit 50 years later. Most of the earnest people advocating all that good peace 'n love were mostly sincere and decent folk, though rather easily swayed by fashion to follow demagogues.

Others though, knew exactly what they were doing, sneering and deceiving intentionally. Seeger had to hurry back from his tour of Russia, where he asked no questions about the GULAG even though Solzhenitsyn's work was published, in order to sing "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy" on the Smothers Brothers show. Here's his take on being an American.

John Sebastian Has Late-Career Gig

My younger brother sent this along, as a modern nostalgia.  Mona Lisa Twins plays both covers of 60s-70s stuff and originals.

Sebastian would be 76 now. The boomer heroes were not boomers themselves, of course, as they were already adults and allowed to stay up late when they became famous. They were all wartime babies. I have wondered how that influenced the popular culture. I suppose it likely means that individual similarities are stronger than generational ones.

This looks like a better gig for him than doing Strawberry Shortcake and Care Bears in the 80s.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Amy Coney Barrett's Opponents

It's about Roe v Wade.  Nothing else. That in turn is not about actual women having actual abortions, but a proxy for a "one of us" tribal membership. Once you apprehend that, all their statements point back to it. I don't like the words always and never in disputes, but I have yet to see an example where this was not framed in the extremist language of overthrowing abortion rights in their entirety, as if any modification of notifying parents, restricting late-term or even partial birth abortion, imposing waiting periods, the giving of information about the procedure or notifying of alternatives, or returning some or all of the decisions to the various states, are all just the same thing as sending women to back-alley abortions forever. That is the sign that the surface issue is not the actual issue, but a proxy.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Raiders and Conquerors

Update:  I was wondering whether there was any insight into looting when I wrote this post.  Probably only minor similarities.

The Anglo-Saxons raided on the English coasts for years before they started staying over the winters and eventually conquering territory and setting up farms of their own.  They got their foot in being hired by the leftover nobility to protect those coasts against other raiders.  It is a common story, which the Romans used often enough that by the fall of the Western Empire, most of the Roman army was made up largely of those tribes which had been doing the invading, such as the Goths.  In England, Ireland, and Scotland, the pickings were pretty easy, as there was no unified response and the invaders had much greater mobility.  Over a period of two centuries, the invaders gradually became neighbors and trading partners, more in some places than others, but still consistently.

A couple of centuries later the Vikings - both Danish and Norwegian and thus not always allies of each other - did the same thing, starting off by raiding.  Easy pickings again, as they were able to smash and grab, making off with gold and silver, only later trying to permanently take territory and settle in as farmers.  Pillaging was a precursor to conquest, and the original pillagers did not tend to think of themselves as an advance guard for conquest.  They just had this job, pillaging with low risk, and set about to do that. They had somewhat less impact on settlement overall, though they established strong y-chromosome dominance in substantial areas, indicating that they displaced the original males.

Well, raiding is easier than governing, if one is willing to take risks. This was all before the long process of reducing intragroup violence that began in NW Europe and eastern England around 1100 with a) feudalism or b) avoiding cousin marriage, so enormous cruelty and violence were still the reality. The English also used the strategy of buying off the invaders with ever-increasing sums of money, with the hopes that they would go home, or at least go Somewhere Else. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not.  Usually the latter.  They found they had to fight eventually, except now thy had tens of thousands of pounds less money with which to raise an army.

If you wonder how they could be so short-sighted, not seeing the danger to their country in this, it was because these were the rulers doing the paying off, and their more pressing need was usually someone else who wanted to be king, not the general welfare.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

P F Sloan

I had never heard of him, but if you know music of the 60's P F Sloan, a Jewish-Romanian kid from NYC is all over it, songwriter for Johnny Rivers, Jan & Dean, Mamas & Papas, Barry McGuire, Herman's Hermits.

He got out of music shortly after this, reemerging around 2000. Thanks to David Foster to putting me on to this not-very-usual protest song in the comments under "Blood on the Coal."

David also put us on to another one, by the Mitchell Trio, "The Sound of Protest (Has Begun to Pay.)" Anyone want to guess who that is on the left?  Granite Dad?

State Police

We have a very sick young man, who has been catatonic or near-catatonic for two months.  We lost our first attempt to get authorisation to treat him against his will, we succeeded on our second try.  He became animated (for him) speaking in complete sentences, though very slowly, tearfully pleading with the doctor not to give him medication*. When the psychiatrist explained what meds would be offered orally that evening, and which ones given by injection if he refused he collapsed to the floor.  An hour later he suddenly leaped up into a place with a dropped ceiling and hoisted himself up into it.  There is an entire second floor beyond the ceiling, but he thought he might find some way of escaping there.  It was very sudden.  The person sitting next to him on 1:1 did not lay a finger on him on his way into the ceiling.

It's dangerous up there, with plumbing, electrical wires, ductwork with sharp edges, and God-knows-what to breathe. He started rapidly crawling in the mostly dark, even running at a crouch along some ductwork.  When he came to the cement drywall he kicked it in with some effort and went into the next area, harder to reach from below (though with no possible exit from the building.) We call the fire department in a few similar situations of patients wedging themselves into an area or getting into an unusual part of the building. They in turn call the State Police who have some specific training in various building excavation.  It took hours, but they got him down with only minor injuries, to his feet where he kicked the wall, and some scrapes on his back.

I mention this because they spoke to him very calmly, were entirely patient, were concerned for his safety at all times.  They would not tase him because they felt the risk was he might fall out of the ceiling to the floor if not conscious. Once he was partly-pulled, partly persuaded to come down to the floor and immediately headed toward a locked door, roughly shoving others out of his way and butting them, they did tase him. No damage.

So what is all this training in dealing with the mentally ill that the police supposedly don't have? Their detractors speak as if they are somehow the first ones to think of the idea that maybe a social worker or two might be a good thing. (Facepalm: Mental health specialists!  Jim, why didn't we think of that?)  Frankly, the police call on social workers all the time, and social workers call on them. We have mental health courts and drug courts in NH, which are generally a very good thing.  So maybe we need more, that's fine.  Maybe other places don't have so many, and need to put them in place.  All a good thing, to my mind.

I have also seen the police acting badly and heard a good deal more secondhand, some of it credible. I'm not claiming otherwise. It's just this idea that nobody knows anything, with people arriving on the scene last Tuesday suddenly acting like experts.

Walk a mile in my shoes. Or police shoes.

*He is particularly extreme in his good response to medication.  When treated he holds down a part-time job, has hobbies, and takes art and photography courses at the local college.


Early in the worry about overreaction to covid there was a lot of talk about jobs, and I completely get that as a counterpoint negative to lockdown positives. It's still a good point, actually, even with lots of people back to work. But lately, I just see lots of people royally ticked off about masks and insulted that they were ever required anywhere and accusing government of overreach on those grounds.  I confess I don't get it.  Even if they are useless and we never should have bothered about them in the least, it's not a big deal, and I get suspicious of people who think it is.  Why? What am I missing?

Maybe I don't mind so much because I'm not that pretty to begin with and don't feel my appearance is suffering much. It might be the better-looking people who feel they are paying a higher price.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Blood On the Coal

Zachriel brought up the closing song to "A Mighty Wind" with its risque joke - exactly the sort of thing an earnest folksinger might have unintentionally missed at the time, or a smirking one done on purpose. On my only viewing of the film, I thought the dialogue and situations clever, with some holes. I was uncomfortable with the songs because I actually sort of liked them, and felt I was being made fun of myself. I mentioned this again years later. I wrote songs like this, and certainly sang many more. I like to think I had some perspective, even as a twenty-year old, and wouldn't be that far over the top, but...then I remember what I actually did sing, with my little cheat-sheet of the order of the set taped to the top of my 12-string. I didn't write any coal-mining songs, nor perform any I can recall. As a northerner playing in the south, I knew I didn't have the cred for that. OTOH, I sang lots of songs I didn't have the cred for.
Since seeing the movie I have gradually reversed field. The scenes and dialogue are a pretty good sendup, but ultimately, they are an oversell. But the songs. They got those right. I now think they got them just close enough for pain. Brilliant. Easy enough to imagine the Kingston Trio singing this.  Now imagine Pete Seeger singing a slightly different, "more authentic" version.

Who Does That?

I read an article a week or two ago about the non-silence of many Trump voters, with a bit of cultural disdain for people who write TRUMP in big letters on the hulls of their boats.  Who does that?  You never saw anyone do that with Obama, however much they admired him. Fair enough.  That does seem a bit much, though no harm done.

Who puts up lists of haranguing strawman criticisms in their yard, in rainbow colors?

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Cultural Liberalism and Conservatism

Glenn Greenwald's discussion with Shant Misrobian gets it right, and very much in the spirit of my many discussions of the Arts & Humanities Tribe (and Government & Unions Tribe) years ago.  I don't like Rogan much because of his liberal views, and am neutral about his emphatic regular guy shtick. A&H Liberals are very concerned with cultural feel and social acceptability, overwhelming even their actual political views, and I am not just being cute in calling them a tribe. These have largely been my people for all of my life, though I acknowledge having a foot in both worlds for much of it. They seldom see how predictable they are and how driven by popular opinion, because they choose to be dedicated nonfollowers of the most popular fashions of the masses (ugh), thereby proving they are discerning and above all that. I have provided many examples of that culture's heroes over the years, from Pete Seeger to late-night hosts, but Tom Lehrer's characterisation remains one of the best:

It's likely unfair to include Dylan so much, who displayed a fair bit of independence of thought after he stopped sleeping with Joan Baez.

It is fair to note that many strands of conservatism fall prey to the same overvaluing of the symbolic over the content-driven.  On that side there tends to be a sentimentalism rather than a social popularity that interferes with the strictly rational.

Monday, September 21, 2020

If Ye Love Me

Cousin Marriage

I recently mentioned the genetic advantages of discouraging cousin marriage, which the Roman Catholic Church tried to do everywhere but mostly only succeeded in northern Europe.  I focused then on the longer-term selection of developing traits for determining whether to trust strangers or not and developing attractiveness skills for business, mating, and safety. I had not known that James Thompson had reported in 2014 on research showing just how much impact cousin marriage has on IQ in the next generation.  He linked to it today in the West Hunter thread that just went up about inter-caste mating in India, Wedding Planners.

It's grim.

Switched Sides

I saw many quotes today from Democrats saying the exact opposite about SCOTUS nominees of what they said four years ago.  Hillary Clinton!  Nancy Pelosi! Joe Biden!  RBG herself!  I don't even need to look.  There are comments just as opposite from Republicans that are being quoted elsewhere on the web, aren't there?  I mentioned yesterday that it's all just the usual jostling.  Don't get me going on who started it, but since about 1994, it's just the same reversal every time.  Andrew McCarthy over at National Review has a nice summary of how that is.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Excess Deaths Are C19 Deaths

I wrote early on that there would be errors in both directions in the Covid count of deaths, that some might be called C19 that could be better attributable to another condition, and some ascribed to flu or pneumonia that were really coronavirus. A couple of months ago, when the drumbeat started that there were all sorts of deaths being called Covid that really should be called something else, I repeated that claim of errors in both directions, but noted that our numbers were more likely an undercount than an overcount, largely because some places require a confirmed diagnosis of C19 before it can be put down as a cause of death. This was unpopular in some corners. As reports of more suicides crept into the news, more attributable to lockdowns than to other explanations (isolation, loss of employment, anxiety) I likewise cautioned again: wait  for the data.  Do not speculate on why something has happened until you know that it has actually happened.

Please note, this is true for other countries as well.  Everyone seems to have excess deaths, and it is difficult to measure how many at present. There are different problems in counting in rural vs urban areas.

I think it is now fair to say that the C19 deaths officially reported are a severe underestimate, not an exaggeration. The numbers from this Lyman Stone thread are pretty devastating in that regard. The excess deaths from all causes are in tandem with Covid spikes and recedings, not lockdowns. That is, where there are more C19 deaths, there are more excess deaths as well. This doesn't leave a lot of room that they could be anything other than unrecorded Covid. The exception is "external causes," which would include homicides, suicides, drug OD.  Those are down, not up, though there may be some change in those numbers as more complete reporting becomes available. But there would have to be lot to move that red line above the covid line.

Some of the excess deaths are likely attributable to care for other conditions that was not given, either because the medical providers discouraged it or the patient thought they should not go in. Yet again, these graph lines track Covid deaths, not the shutdowns that would have created the other conditions. Many areas changed their rules for hospital and clinic admissions long before they have very many cases.  I don't see that in those colored lines above. If there were a lot of that, it would show at least a little. Similarly with the next graph:

That's a very tight pattern. To quote Stone from the link, who is pretty emphatic "Excess deaths spike when covid deaths spike, they spike where covid deaths spike, and the residual of excess minus official covid deaths is ALSO correlated with covid deaths. In other words, excess deaths are covid deaths."

I have read a fair bit of speculation why the coronavirus numbers must be inflated, that hospitals get more money for that, that they are under political pressure to make C19 look bad, or that they are calling everyone with covid who dies a covid death, etc.  Except that all falls apart if the numbers aren't actually inflated.  It is a bit of reasoning I learned from CS Lewis decades ago: there should be no speculating and explaining of why something happened until we have established that the thing has actually happened. (I will note a parallel in the discussion of systemic racism.  First demonstrate that this occurs before engaging in lengthy speculation why it occurs and why people don't want to hear it.)  As the old joke about the hasenpfeffer recipe goes, First, catch a rabbit.

For now, deaths from external causes are not up, they are down.  But deaths from everything else are up, with no ready explanation other than they are actually unrecorded coronavirus deaths.
If it's any comfort it seems that other countries numbers are even less accurate than ours. How high?  If you follow Stone's thread, it might be as much as double, though that is the high estimate.

Saturday, September 19, 2020


Chimineas, especially the ceramic varieties, look very charming.  However, my experience with outdoor fire is that the heat diminishes quickly as one moves away from the source.  What are people's actual experiences with them in fully open areas, especially in cold climates?

Supreme Court Nomination

I think it would be better for national comity for there to be no nomination until next year.  However, as Obama and Biden are already previously on record of saying election year - even late election year - nominations are just fine, I'm not that bothered by the prospect either. It isn't hardball or power politics.  It is jostling over what the rules should be, including going forward.  Married couples, business associates, neighbors, churches, and all levels of government do this all the time.  It's not a terrible thing.

The Voice of Saruman III

I wrote about Joe Biden in 2006, when I heard him on "Imus In The Morning." For context, we have not had a TV since 1979, and even to this day the only video I have seen of most political and other popular figures has been linked from other sites.  Even those I tend not to click, because I believe strongly in the ability of those who seek to be leaders to hack into our sentiments and tell us what we want to hear. When I blogged years ago about Watshisname who talks about "game" and how to hack into female responses so guys can have sex with them I recall thinking "that isn't the half of it. That is doubly true of entertainers and talking heads and triply of politicians, especially among the supposed elites." I assume their ability to fool is at least as good as my ability to see through them, so I try to rely solely on the written word.

At the time, I was impressed with how sharp and persuasive Biden was, and that I believed him while listening to him.  I thought he was deceptive and dishonest and criticised him on those grounds but acknowledged his persuasiveness.  Two years later I wrote about him again, also entitling it "The Voice of Saruman." At that time also I noted that he lied like a rug (as fisked by honest liberal Mickey Kaus), but mentioned that in the context of this guy sounds really sincere and intelligent, but beware, it is not so.

There is debate even among Biden's detractors that he has always been this way, making inaccurate statements and ridiculous gaffes.  Others say there is something new here, he was not ever thus. Defenders and semi-defenders claim that these statements are okay if you are generous about looking at his intent and getting it correct based on something that is true at two removes.  Before exiting from that discussion, I will note that this is exactly what I have been saying about Trump for five years.  Most of what people are "just sure" they know to be true about what Trump has said doesn't seem so bad if one applies that Biden standard that we have been applying for at least 32 years years to Joe (second link).  That bar is so low, and I felt it was inadequate enough for a president that I did not vote for Trump in 2016, instead squandering it on Egg McMuffin, who has turned out to be a crazy person.  Yet I have to say, that if your objection to Trump is that you have to squint and throw up your hands and make excuses because what he says is only cousin to the truth, that Biden's statements are second-cousin-to-the-truth, at best.  Denethor (or perhaps from the emotional side, Theoden?) is ultimately not Saruman, however infuriating you may find him to be.

But back to the main point, which is whether Biden is as sharp as he used to be. I am not a student of the man, and it may be that he has always made gaffes.  But with plagiarims so strong in his history, I suggest that bullshit is more the issue with Joe, and I am supplying pretty emphatic data points from 1988, 2006, and 2008 to support my claim. He used to be a persuasive, well-spoken liar. He can't even do that anymore. Ann Althouse notes that he is as good as ever at being evasive. As confabulation can persist well into dementia, I am not impressed.  Which is not to say that Biden has dementia.  I have not watched him nor listened to him nor followed the links trying to show how much he has lost it. I am agnostic on the subject.  I note that professionals in geriatric medicine are not weighing in at the moment, which is proper.  But I have caught the back-and-forth arguments defending him against the charge, and those do not pass muster. His defenders may be correct about him, but their arguments are bad.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Notes On PTSD

You can get decent introductions to the current understanding of PTSD in a hundred places.  This one looked good enough when I read it. I started out as a psychblogger, which I had actually forgotten until I did my 100(+) most-visited posts to close out 2019. The first few years I connected often to Dr. Sanity (Pat Santy), Gagdad Bob, and other names long gone from this site.  Neoneocon was trained in some sort of counseling, I recall, and Gringo, who still shows up as a commenter on a few sites I frequent, was in mental health as well, though I think he is coming up to retirement in more generic Human Services at this point.  At the time, I thought there were a number of myths about psychology and psychiatry that were still prevalent in conservative and Christian circles, ans i wanted to bring some clarity. I discovered by trial-and-error that the number of conservatives willing to give up their myths was small, and most of those were Christians, usually of unusual sort.

Liberals, even Christians, who could give up their myths approached zero.  I had a cheerful cynicism when I started, thinking that a generous amount of bonhommy (scroll down a bit) and solid information would bring many around. Hah, I say now.  Hah.

When I come back and do this at all, it is with that mythbusters attitude, though I hope to also bring some value-added. So here. I attended a recent Grand Rounds given by one of the top few experts in the field, now nearly retired and thus fearless. A good sign. I am usually prepared to mutter in irritation at the cliched or revanchist attitudes or such, or even worse, a seemingly complete capitulation to political correctness and faddism.  I learned a few things from his presentation, but mostly, I recalled that I have known some things for years that I should have shared here. The speaker's examples were good ones, and I shall borrow from them.

In the popular mind the trauma of PTSD must be severe, or it doesn't count.  One should only use the word trauma for something very, very bad. This thought is clung to because the idea is that if we allow smaller things to be called trauma, then everyone is going to be claiming trauma about everything, when they should be just putting on their big girl panties (as our nurses say) and getting on with life. I think this comes from thee derivative word traumatic, which we reserve for serious events. It is not quite that the opposite of this idea is true, but it is something very near.  Trauma in a physical, medical sense, has long been regarded as a category, not an amount.  One can have mild trauma. such as hitting your thumb with a hammer. It does hurt.  It does have observable consequences.  It may limit your activities for a time or cause you to adjust your actions.  It doesn't mean you are permanently disabled or deserving of more than a bit of sympathy, but it is not imaginary.

Let me give away a bit of where I am going by noting that if you already have a thumb injury, or a medical condition that causes such a mild injury to be worse for you than for others, or you hit your thumb many times (even if it is your own damn fault), then this trauma may turn out to be more significant.

A comparison with pain is useful, as it brings in the idea of variability.  We note first that some people have a high pain threshold and others not, but even this is not so clear.  Some people do very well with acute pain but not chronic.  Some can endure great amounts of headache but not frostbite or other pain in the extremities. Still others adjust to the loss of a leg but are undone by back pain. Finally, other symptoms like loss of sleep, compromised breathing, or sensory impairments such as reduced vision or hearing may be harder to bear than pain, for some.  It is all highly variable. Trauma of any sort is a real thing.

Recognising that actually frees up comparisons with other difficulties. Watching a loved one die of a lingering illness may be horribly sad and painful.  There is no need to make it borrow the name of "trauma" to validate it.  Trauma is not the only bad thing. There are mild traumas, and terrible things which are not traumas.

We usually think of PTSD in terms of two very different types of events.  Military service - or less often, domestic emergency services - and sexual abuse, especially of children. Both of these have mild but real examples. When minor sexual assaults are described, women will sometimes scoff and say "that was just called 'dating' at my high school." Perhaps so, but return to the example of hitting the thumb with the hammer.  It matters whether the female has been sexually violated before.  It matters if it is repeated and escape does not look easy.  It matters if there are power issues involved. It matters how much support one has.  If you have sisters or friends who discuss these things, even humorously, you receive warnings which are preparations. You are given examples of responses that might work. You receive validation for your courage or sympathy for your fear. These add to resilience.  There were girls who were shy or friendless or sheltered who had none of this.  It matters.

The presenter gave an example of servicemen stuck in traffic in Basra when a local comes up and starts beating on their hood, laughing.  He does not leave when ordered off.  They eventually draw their weapons, then soon drive free, and when they get back to temporary base find there were no explosives attached.  No one was hurt.  Was this trauma?  The audience was about 50-50. This is expected in a war zone. No one was hurt. The presenter declared "Of course this was trauma. People had recently been killed in these situations.  If it was a daily occurrence it could take you apart. If you had had a friend die this way it would be worse. The fact that there are worse traumas doesn't matter."  Yes, being prepared for what might happen in a war zone helps. That's why the services have training. Yes, having friends and coworkers to validate this danger helps.

Once this concept of phenomenon vs intensity is understood, a lot of other things open out. You can see that a real trauma might have only temporary effects, but reactivate (we use the word "triggered," which has been stolen for political purposes for other things that are not trauma) in the presence or retrauma.  A good analogy is frostbite.  Once a finger, toe, or nosetip has been frostbitten, it is forever more susceptible to pain. It just is.  You can take actions to avoid it or protect from it, but that greater susceptibility is just always going to be there.

Additional piece to contemplate:  people enter the armed services when they are young, and are not always all that aware of their own personalities.  Many join in order to "fight back" against a hard life, or think they are building on their previous survivorship status. They have a dream of being a soldier or marine as a statement of having conquered previous demons.  This does happen. In fact, it is what usually happens.  But it is also a situation in which traumatised kids are putting themselves in retraumatising situations, with terrible consequences. A lot of this would be preventable if enlistees were honest going in, but they aren't.  And to be fair, a lot of them who slide by the requirements of disclosing how many drugs they've used, or how much police contact they've had, or what their mental health history is, succeed in the end.  The solutions aren't that simple.

There are other types of trauma, less recognised.  Maybe I'll get back to that.

New World Record

Thanks to Galen for alerting me to this.

Notice how even in slow motion that snap back of the upper body over the bar is quick.

A few other near-world records at that meet, including many quite young.  Track and field has been amazing this year. BTW, you have to search hard for ESPN to even mention it.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Pleasure Island

We believe the things that were always there in our childhood were somehow there long before.  There was an amusement park in Wakefield, MA, Pleasure Island that I went to with day camp every year.  I don't think I ever went with family, because that would have meant going with my cousins who lived the next town over and I don't recall that.  There is still Canobie Lake Park in NH, once more like this but upgrading steadily over the years.

The Wreck of the Hesperus plunked you in one of those four-seater carts on a track and dragged you through a dark ride, one of those things that was supposed to scare you and had sound effects of a ship in a gale, with the ghost of some old salt cackling about something as you were all about to go under. There were thunky sharp turns, and you could hear the rest of the ride in the background wherever you went, including the ghost, repeating his cackle and sentence every ten seconds or so. There was a Chisholm Trail ride, I think entirely outdoors, and the usual carousels, go-karts, and many places to buy overpriced junk food over souvenirs. Did everyone have them or were they mostly a New England thing? This particular one had some Disney connections, which I did not know at the time.

I thought it had been there for decades, or at least since right after the war.  It only existed between 1959-1969, just about my conscious childhood.  There are those who still remember, the Friends of Pleasure Island, with lots of pictures and descriptions of all the attractions. I had forgotten about Friends Baked Beans, one of the major local brands at the time. In Massachusetts back in the day, beans could be part of an amusement park.

I had not realised that the Saloon had been rescued by Clark's Trading Post, a northern NH tourist attraction. Clark's has the Wolfman, who shoots at you as your train goes by.  What is a felony offense in Massachusetts is a tourist attraction in NH.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Henry III, A Dumbass King

Just a fun history lesson.  13th Century.  Henry ruled for a long time, and had plenty of time to make mistakes and make up for them.  Heck, even Alfred the Great screwed some things up, though he learned from his mistakes.  But this Henry had a remarkable knack for taking a bad situation and making it worse. The son of King John of Magna Carta fame, he tried the same gambit himself repeatedly, agreeing to many concessions on paper and then flouting them before the ink was dry. He kept thinking this time it will work. His father lost many lands in France.  He lost more.  His father offended the barons.  He offended them more.  Whenever cornered, he would double down on his previous bad plan. He was reputed to be pious, but not all his contemporaries agreed.  That reputation seems to have come from paid chroniclers.  Maybe it was true anyway.

He was grandson of Eleanor of Aquitaine.  I guess one could go in any direction after that. She supported various sons against husbands, ex's, and other sons for thrones and other titles.  She was pretty good at getting her way, but it's a dangerous game and tends to be bad for the territories involved.

The Black Knights

Tuesday, September 15, 2020


Bill Clinton is four years younger than Joe Biden

Monday, September 14, 2020

Hate Has No Home Here

Phrasing matters. There are a lot of these signs around these days, blue with flag motifs.  I go through a whole street of them in Concord on one of my routes to work. I don't know these people.  They may be nice folks.  But they don't quite say "We Don't Hate Anyone," do they? That's less poetic, of course, and doesn't have quite the same seriousness of tone.  Hate Has No Home Here is nicely alliterative, and it has just a touch of old-fashionedness in its phrasing. Very serious. There's more than a whiff of We're disappointed in the rest of you. We'll discuss this after dinner. Go to your room and think about what happened today.  The implication is that hate does have a home in other people's houses, and we should all be alert for that and not let them succeed, those haters.  It's a statement that hatred is on the rise. The many signs that say Be Kind are something of a cliche but I think those people mean something much closer to "We Don't Hate Anyone."  I think they mean to be kind. 

Hate Has No Home Here is a rather hateful sign when you think about it, isn't it? I'm guessing that many people who have it don't interrogate themselves what they really mean.

Assigned Beliefs

Scott Adams made the claim that we do not choose our beliefs, they are assigned to us.  One of the difficulties of adulthood is that peer pressure increases, not diminishes, as we choose our peers more, and hence they influence us. He notes that on Google, if you want to ask the question "Does Joe Biden have dementia?" you have to type in the whole thing, whereas on Bing and DuckDuckGo it pops up after typing "Does J..." As there is not plausible explanation how Google's algorithm could naturally be so different, it is an obvious manipulation - and thus election interference, especially as there are likely a hundred similar examples if there is this one.

But even the conservative press won't pick it up and assign it to us, so even conservatives will let this slide.  My guess is that it is too hard to tell the story quite quickly and dramatically enough to make it a sound-bite, so they move on to things they think they can sell better.  Even though this is bigger. Reporting by omission, while presenting yourself as an at least somewhat neutral information source, is very dangerous, yes.

Thomas Sowell

Activism is a way for useless people to feel important, even if the consequences of their activism are counterproductive for those they claim to be helping and damaging to the fabric of society as a whole.
I want to be Thomas Sowell when I grow up.  It's probably too late, isn't it?

Leadership By Elites

The trend of the conversation over at Chicago Boyz about IQ reminded me: despising the rulership of elites does not mean that the rulership of non-elites is all that good either. People who want to be in charge of you and tell you what to do should be regarded with suspicion.

It is a very natural error. We look at the collection of people who have been able to work themselves into positions of power and influence and notice that some off them are actually pretty clever, but many others of them know how to imitate cleverness and speak the language, propping up the former. Collectively, they have gotten a lot of stuff wrong, expensive and pernicious stuff.  We naturally contrast that with ourselves, people who don't want to interfere with everyone else's life, who have deep suspicions of grand plans, and who think we are decently smart, but not so smart that we can't learn a few things. We're pretty sure that with a little work, we could do a better job of governing than the current crop.

Likely, we could.

But we're not the one's running. The people running under the guise of being for the Common Man, raging against unaccountable elites, are largely people who also want to tell us what to do.  The history of American small-town or flyover politics includes hundreds and hundreds of dumbasses also.  Just because they are fools does not mean you are wise. 

I don't want to go in for blanket statements about any of it.  You don't get much more intellectually elite than Bibi Netanyahu or Boris Johnson or *Ted Cruz, and all have a fair bit of elitism even as they are going at other elites. I think those elites are good to have around.  More elites like that. There are people serving at the local levels on school boards or planning boards who are very decent folk, just trying to be a steady hand for their neighbors. We depend on their quiet service a great deal.  Most of them are above-average intelligence and above-average successful.  Good on them.

And then there are flocks of people who think they know better than the rest of us, and they come in many flavors.  There are special dangers in the different kinds.

*Ted may have 50 IQ points on Beto O'Rourke.  You  can not like him because of arrogance, or his policies, or whether you think he cares about you 'n me, or his facial expressions, or whatever.  Entirely separate debates.  But don't try to sell me the idea that you are the party of smart people when you are running Beto over Ted.  It's almost a category error.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Saturday, September 12, 2020


I drafted this guy in my dynasty league as a backup, even though he may not last three weeks.  I'm going to miss this guy.

Most fans know he has not spent a dime of his salary, living entirely off his endorsements thus far.  Most people don't know he is a lightning calculator - can give you the product of two 3-digit numbers inside of four seconds - and needs only one physical repetition on a new play to lock it in.  His Dumb Guy act is a ruse.  However, in judging intelligence versus wisdom, I don't know that coming back for another season after all his injuries was a good idea.  I wish him well.

Cultural Evolution:Trial and Error

The Hajnal Line is back!

Update:  Henrich's book mentioned below was also reviewed at Quillette.

Since theories of physical evolution came on the scene we have attributed a teleology, a direction or destination to them, namely us.  As we are the smartest things around, have adapted to live in an enormous variety of places, and there's whole lots of us, we treat ourselves as something of a finished product, that everything else has been pointing to since our emergence.  The Hebrew Bible also declares something similar, that mankind was the last and best thing in creation, and gets to rule over all the other creatures, beginning with the naming.  It is just hard to conceive of ourselves as merely different, having adapted to first one niche and then a series of others in blind fashion.  It's a lovely sentiment that every butterfly or flower is just as much a result of millions of years of trial-and-error as we are, suitable for inspirational posters, but we tend to find this unbelievable as a practical matter.

Nonetheless, when one pushes hard against the premises, it becomes apparent that physical evolution cannot have any internal direction of its own.  It cannot be trying to go somewhere of its own accord. Whether there is an outside force that has ideas where it should go is another entire series of questions.

One consequence of understanding this is a sort of Chesterton's Fence about our own bodies and responses.  We got here by trial and error, which may not be very exalted in thinking about ourselves, but does have the large advantage of having been proven to work. We can eat many things, but not everything; we can accomplish many feats of the body, but not everything we attempt; we can pass through many dangers but not all dangers.  There are no "shoulds" about the body's limitations.  They are or they aren't.  Humans can change their bodies somewhat - vaccination, exercise - and can change their environments considerably so that the body can accommodate to many previous impossibilities.  We can fly in the air, we can live under the seas.

We believe in direction and intention even more in cultural evolution.  We think we have chosen monogamy because it is a good idea some ancestors reasoned out from first principles.  We think that honoring the rights of individuals, eliminating slavery, and establishing consistent law and the consent of the governed are evidence of the brilliance and morality of Western Civ.  And they might be.  Very bright and very moral people did certainly talk about these things a great deal as the changes were taking place, and it certainly seemed to folks at the time that they were being persuaded. That these changes might be merely downstream effects of previous experiments made over hundreds of years is an uncomfortable thought. That we stumbled up out of the muck rather than climbed resolutely doesn't say as much for our character as we'd like to have.

It seems uncomfortably destructive of some conservative ideas.

On the other hand, it is absolutely devastating to some popular liberal ideas.

Old-line conservatives will recognise that there is a good deal of Edmund Burke in this, that a wealth of collective wisdom is contained in our customs and institutions, even if we cannot articulate these clearly or indeed even perceive this.  He was opposed to all sudden change on this basis, that we might easily destroy what we did not understand and not be able to get it back.

There is a new book out, The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous. I have not read it, but I just listened to an extended interview with the author, the social science researcher Joseph Henrich.  Henrich is the chair of the department of Evolutionary Biology at Harvard, so he remains all very correctly culturally neutral and non-judgemental about other cultures, simply recording what he observes.  Nonetheless, it's pretty obvious that we all think things like less crime, more prosperity, and more rights area good thing.  Hard to get around that, really.

The title comes from the problems in social science research around WEIRD subjects.  Over a decade ago, researchers confronted the fact that the subjects of their experiments, drawn largely from freshman at research universities in North America and Europe, were White Educated Industrialised Rich Democratic folks in origin. (Henrich was one of of the leaders of this.) They worried that this group might not be representative of humanity as a whole, neither in culture nor in developmental stage. The move was on to find more diverse subjects from around the world and from different spots even in Western cultures. They are finding that the problem is even worse than they thought.  Not only is that group not fully representative, so that we need to fill out our picture by getting more Peruvians and Pakistanis, the WEIRD group is actually an outlier on many measures, not so representative of humanity at all.

 All this in addition to the replication crisis.

Here is the Hajnal Line, which I used to mention often. 
West of the original red line, John Hajnal noted in 1965 that there were distinctions in nuptuality (marriage customs). Husbands and wives married later and were closer in age, 23 and 26. Not so many arranged marriages between uncles and nieces, you see. A greater percentage never married at all or did not remarry after widowhood. That's lowered overall fertility right there. The blue lines have been added since to even further identify this outlier group. He noted follow-on cultural effects.  Since his time, others have noted a lot of follow-on effects: Greater rights for individuals, especially women. Increased trade and prosperity. Increased literacy, lower crime (especially violent crime), more voluntary associations. More movement of individuals and small families rather than tribal migrations. Henrich is not reductionist, attributing all this to a single factor, but he does note some strong correlations. While there are cultures that promote monogamy and discourage incest, none have insisted on these so powerfully as the Western side of Christianity which became the Roman Catholic, and then Protestant churches. Henrich has a point that forbidding marriage to fifth cousins is extreme, even fanatic, but fairly notes that the upshot was that trust in strangers necessarily had to increase, which selected for traits allowing one to do business with strangers: tolerance, a sense of responsibility to abstract ideals, verbal negotiation and compromise, understanding of simple marking and symbols in order to keep track of what is bought and sold.

In retrospect, these would gradually and perhaps even inevitably lead to trade, prosperity, individual rights, higher value for women, voluntary associations and all the rest.  The Roman Catholic Church did not have all these outcomes in mind when they set their strict sexual rules, but that's what we got. (I think one can read some of these projected outcomes in the writings of Christians and from the Bible directly, but leave that be for the moment.  It is true that the whole suite of cultural behaviors was not predicted by the Church.)

Polygamy results in a much larger pool of males with poor mating prospects. In a monogamous system, males can keep their head down and work hard, and learn to make themselves acceptable to either a woman or her family with a fair hope of success. But in a polygynous system males have to seriously jump the line.  A 10% improvement in one's acceptability isn't enough - you need 40%.  This creates a culture of high-risk behavior in low-status males, which leads to more crime.  Henrich notes that such societies do in fact have more crime.

This is familiar to those who read up on Human Biological Diversity, here and elsewhere, a decade ago.  HBDChick, whose blog is defunct but I think still tweets, was the first to alert me to the idea that the RCC discouragement of cousin marriage, which for some reason was obeyed more faithfully in Western Europe than anywhere else, had enormous impact on culture and likely even genetic traits. She also credits manorialism, BTW. She also would add a green oval from Kent and East Anglia over to NW Germany, including the Low Countries and northern France as a hyper-Hajnal area.

Suggesting recent trait selection always leads to charges of racism, but the numbers are what they are, and the DNA is what it is.  Steven Pinker, David Reich, Robert Plomin and many others are uncovering the evidence of genetic influence on all behavior, gently and artfully pointing out that something WEIRD seems to have happened in Western Europe. (Even the New York Times has reviewed the new book and said good things about it.  They will likely have to apologise later.)  Henrich shows that is also a two-way street. As that Hajnal line also lines up with y-chromosomal R1b-majority areas, long preceding anyone obeying anything Roman Catholic, one has to wonder if there was some predisposition to monagamy and avoidance of incest there. We can read greater individuality, voluntary association, and rights for women back into those cultures, but there is danger of convenient interpretation, seeing what we want with such things.

We don't like this, as I noted earlier.  We like to think that we turned to agriculture because we reasoned it out and decided to put some of those seeds to grow  in a good place for next year, and noticed little advantages generation after generation, choosing the biggest seeds or the ones that wouldn't come off until you shook them, improving the stock over a few generation or maybe a few centuries.  The archaeological record now shows that the improvement in cereals took thousands of years, meaning that a) it started earlier than we thought, and b) was trial-and-error and seldom intentional, if ever.  The ones who had better grains survived a bit better but likely not even noticeably compared to tribes over in the next valley.  Thoughts of survival focused more on drought, warfare, and natural disasters.  This is not surprising. None of us notices if the people in the next county have 1% greater fertility or longevity.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Big Trees

I have some interest in the Big Tree program for NH, run out of UNH, as I discovered one of the state champions, put them on to a second, and identified a few county champions as well.  I just nominated another one, an American (White) Basswood on Clinton St in Concord, across the driveway from the courthouse. 

Therefore, the idea that they are changing how girths are measured is interesting.  Because of multiple trunks on many trees and the difficulty sorting out whether it is more than one, the old-fashioned method of just running a tape measure around the trunk is no longer favored.  The change is a good thing.  I like precision and clarity.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Electoral College

Chesterton's Fence.

A retired engineer who goes to beer night reported that this attitude was common at BAE, though he hadn't known the origin.  As additional evidence that this was not simply a conservative dodge to keep Bernard Shaw from installing socialism, note at the link that Wikipedia has this as a suggested policy as well.

You can find criticisms of the concept.  In my experience, they tend strongly to be from people who want to change something - usually a specific something - but have only half-baked reasons that feel good.  They think it would be better, fairer, if everything started from neutral, like a court case, high-school debate, or scientific inquiry. I will note that law, debate, and science are actually quite extreme in their reliance on precedent.  They apply artificial neutrality only in the context of an enormous amount of shared agreement before proceeding.

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Science-Nerd Joke at XKCD

Who does them best, after all. (Though Scott Adams was also excellent.)

Campus Covid, over at James's I Don't Know, But...


We saw these at Hampton Beach today. Fun to watch running. We thought it might be a type of plover, but it is a sandpiper.


I reviewed a book in 2013 about The Saint Benedict Center, a Feenyite (renegade Catholic with old-fashioned trappings) group in rural NH.  I link back to it now because they very much believe that they are victims, and victimhood is in the air more than ever at present.  I believed as I wrote it that much of what I said then had general applicability, and rereading it today, I still think that.
Longtime readers might recognise that this last point is of particular importance to me. The more deeply pathological people are, the more they are certain that absolutely none of the fault is against their score. Ultimately, it is the perpetual victimhood of criminals and narcissists, that cannot allow there is even a 1% chance they are 1% wrong. Stalin, as an example, believed he was the victim of the starving Ukrainian peasants, who wanted so desperately to discredit him that they would even starve themselves to death rather than admit his enforcement of collectivisation was a better idea. Hitler did not see himself as a an aggressor, but as a lone defender against the worldwide Jewish conspiracy. SBC is orders of magnitude less pathological, certainly, but the tone is the same. That they did not live up to their permit agreements, that they repeatedly moved beyond what was allowed even as they promised not to, that they made insulting comments about their neighbors, these things are never mentioned. It’s all those others against them.
It is related to paranoia, and the genesis is similar. The feeling of victimhood comes first, like the paranoid interpretation, and then goes looking for an explanation that validates it. They are first driven by the whine, not the divine. Victimhood is a pose of weakness that is actually a cover for inordinate retribution. Being thin-skinned and attuned to small sleights and being “disrespected” is a prelude for revenge. We have all heard guys who say, “I’m not looking for a fight, but if anyone messes with me…” Yeah, dude, you’re looking for a fight.
As this was a several years ago and I had paid them no further mind I did wonder if they had mellowed, as I don't like to kick folks unfairly. I looked them up again. I suppose they might have mellowed, but it isn't showing in their online presence.  They are still out of communion with the Roman Catholic Church and claiming they are right and the others are all wrong.  Seldom a good sign.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

John Barleycorn Must Die

Different than the Steeleye Span version. I like it.

NH Colleges

If you look at this map and remember which towns didn't have any cases as recently as a week ago, you can tell which colleges have brought students to campus and which ones are entirely online.  I got Hanover wrong, though. Half their students arrived today. So we'll see. Of course it might be hard to tell with Plymouth unless they receive a lot of infected kids, as thw hole area is underpopulated and has few cases.

I think everyone's guess is that college students aren't in much personal danger even if they get C19, but also aren't going to be great at social distancing. In general, of course.  Some will be of ultra-cautious disposition, whatever their age.

I think NH would be under 200 cases total otherwise.  If you really want to have some map fun, knowing your counties, you can see which county nursing homes and houses of correction, often in the same town and near each other, have problems with cases, so that small towns are showing a surprising number of cases.

Monday, September 07, 2020

Another World Record

This time Mo Farah, in an unusual, seldom-run event. You will find the technology, both for the viewer and for the athlete, quite interesting. I don't know it they are going to have the pacing lights at the Olympics next year or not. Suspect not.

The various Ingebrigtsens from Norway, especially Jakob, continue to do well. Next year's 5000 meters is going to be awesome. Because of scheduling, multiple heats, and crowded fields, Olympic results are seldom world records.  Maybe this time.

Sunday, September 06, 2020

Science Fictions

The podcast with Stuart Ritchie isn't up at Insitome yet, but it is downloadable at the usual places. He talks about his new book Science Fictions: How Fraud, Bias, Negligence, and Hype Undermine the Search for Truth. His first book Intelligence: All That Matters was controversial and hated in some places. He now wishes he had made the title a bit milder, but stands by it all. From the book's blurb:

There is a strange disconnect between the scientific consensus and the public mind on intelligence testing. Just mention IQ testing in polite company, and you'll sternly be informed that IQ tests don't measure anything "real", and only reflect how good you are at doing IQ tests; that they ignore important traits like "emotional intelligence" and "multiple intelligences"; and that those who are interested in IQ testing must be elitists, or maybe something more sinister. Yet the scientific evidence is clear: IQ tests are extraordinarily useful...
He does not take the usual out in his second book of blaming all the scientific misunderstanding on the media hyping results and overclaiming, but puts more blame on the scientists themselves, including the hard sciences (though less there).  Publication and funding structure research, not to the advantage of the search for truth.  Fun stuff

Update: There is a mostly-positive review over at Quillette

Saturday, September 05, 2020

Ann Althouse Game

She is reading Washington Post articles and seeing how many comments it takes before someone makes it about Trump.

Bet the under.

Barney Google

My grandmother had this record, and an old wind-up phonograph with a primitive needle to play it on.  I used it as a child.  It was not brought out as an antique, but as something old that was suitable only for a child to play with in the 1960's. It was a curiosity then, as was the phonograph.  I don't know if either would be greatly valuable now, but had it survived to our era, we would be working to preserve it.

This version sounds familiar, so the one I listened to may have dated from 1923. If so, the years that I listened to it were closer to that year than to this, which seems impossible to me.  Even those who pay great attention to history still tend to view the years before their own birth as deeply remote, while decades after that date seem not so far.

Not Available, but Grateful

Two fantasy football drafts with very different strategies and some roofing on the schedule for this weekend. Not available until Tuesday, I don't think.

I did notice last night that I was reading yet another excellent and provoking comment from a reader. I have wonderful readers, and I don't thank you enough. I mention many of them, but sometimes I take them for granted and just regard them as normal here.  I go to enough sites to know that this is not typical.

Friday, September 04, 2020


Bestowing mercy on one usually involves stealing justice from another, almost always without their consent.

It's a thing to keep in mind when people invent a modern Sweet Jesus who is ever merciful, ignoring those who have been deprived of justice.  Mercy that is not built on a foundation of justice is mere capitulation to inequity.  It is cowardice, not courage. Mercy can of course exist and is the highest good.  But the bar is high that prevents it from being a sham, a disguised cruelty that rewards one's friends at the expense of the deserving.

Follow The Science

Teddy Roosevelt’s 1910 speech has been frequently quoted
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
I think of this with regards to all the complaints on a variety of topics about “following the science.” Folks are throwing that phrase around pretty blithely lately, both seriously and as a sneer.  I like Glenn Reynolds and his site is one of the ones I go to first every day, but his credentials, formal and informal, do not include anything about making judgements about scientific matters that affect others. He is complaining about the experts, always in quotes, and how they have failed us recently, and he is not the only one.  It has become a popular sport this year.  I'm calling it out. It's a cheap way to make points. People who have to read scientific research and try to get some sense out of it that they can pass it on safely to other people tend much more to “On the one hand, on the other hand.”  People trying to score political points tend to make broader statements.

So, should you take 81mg of salicylic acid, a baby aspirin, every day? Aspirin’s been around for a long time, a lot of people take it, we know its effects in significant detail, so it should be trivially easy to figure that out, right? Years ago folks started taking a regular aspirin 325mg figuring that the blood thinning would have a good effect if they were likely to have blood clots or blockages.  Lots of doctors signed on to the reasoning.  Then the word went out that the 81mg were just as good with less risk, so everyone went to that. Unless you had some sort of a scary incident that made you look higher risk, at which point they put you back up to 325mg, even though there was no real data supporting it and even if your event didn’t have much to do with a need for thinning the blood.
A couple of years ago a large study came out suggesting that 162mg was better, followed by an even larger study that said none of it does any good unless you are on your way to the ER, and even small amounts increase risk of “events.” Got all that? That is how science works. There was one study about statins that was full of holes, but we went for years wondering if we should go off them, because they have side effects of their own, like increasing diabetes risk, which could be a net negative, right? Doctors disagree about whether surgeries are needed, what medicines are the best fit and even whether they are needed at all case-to-case.  I suspect that mental health research, with political and cultural eyes over everyone’s shoulders are among the most difficult to make sense out of, but maybe I just say that because that is my task and it’s really irritating. Science is hard. That there are knuckleheads on the other side of your political divide who are even worse than you at figuring that out doesn't get you off the hook.  Not here.

We don’t do research about the things we already know.  No one is researching what the next planet out after Uranus is.  No one is applying for grant money to figure out what angle billiard balls go when they hit each other, or whether dogs can be taught to shake hands, or whether vitamins are good for you, or if investing in public sanitation reduces disease, or whether seat belts reduce auto deaths. We research things because we don’t know them, and even as the results are coming in they can look different every month.  The researcher Svante Paabo of the Max Planck Institute was preparing his speech for a conference in May 2010 to make the solid declaration that the research was finally confirming what had long been suspected, that even if Neandertals might have interbred with modern humans in Europe 40,000 years ago, they provided no genetic material that has come down to us.  That’s what the preliminary results showed after the full sequencing in 2009.  But he had to change the speech while it was in draft, as it became clear that 1-4% of non sub-Saharan human ancestry actually is Neandertal.

I don’t think that early on in the CoVid crisis we should have been told “Wear masks….no, no, I mean don’t wear masks…wait, did I say don’t?  I meant you absolutely have to wear masks.” But the worry at the time was that nervous people in South Dakota who never got out much anyway were going to hoard 50-100 N95 masks at a clip when we were worried about a shortage for city nurses who had people coughing in their faces. Also, masks are a mixed bag in terms of value.  The good medical ones do a lot, the others vary in terms of their quality and how accurately people use them.

 And even then it’s variable.  They don’t protect you much walking around, and the protecting others is mostly cumulative percentage increases.  Except of course, if the guy next to you sneezes without a mask, or starts coughing behind you in line.  Or that table of jolly folks at the restaurant are singing along and laughing, and talking loudly and making lots of trips to the small restrooms. Which happens in New Hampshire and everywhere else. At those moments, masks matter a lot, and you suddenly get it. When you are out in the parking lot getting in your car to go home, not so much. And we know that drunks are going to understand the distinctions perfectly. So if you are making brave pronouncements about masks and rules, I remind you that you are not in the arena.

Some in the southern and sun belt states dismissed the idea that they were going to have a problem.  It was all just those dumbasses in New York, we don’t need this level of shutdown.  Some places, I guess you could say that was true.  But Atlanta, Houston, Phoenix and lots of other sunbelt places did have problems.  Nowhere near as bad, partly because the medical care was better, as people learned in the hard school hospitals of Detroit and Newark what worked best. Other people paid that cost for you. It might be nice if you at least said thank you.

OTOH, it has been ugly to hear people in this northern state actually gloating over deaths in those states, though, purely out of defensiveness and spite. They don't think that's what they are doing, but taking a breath and looking at simple content of sentences reveals that truth.

Lots of Americans broke the quarantine and distancing rules, egged on by people who said “Americans will never put up with that and will rebel.”  Yeah, gee, thanks.  So the others have to stay locked down even longer because you made excuses for the scofflaws.  How is that different, except in scale, from making excuses for looters? So wise, so cynical, so...anosagnosic and ultimately selfish.

For openers, stop with the blanket statements about how well “the experts,” and the politicians, the men in the arena did or didn’t do.  We had a lot of people talking, so you can prove whatever point you want with a little googling. That's good to keep in mind when you read things that prove your POV. Some did better than others, and for many the book is still out.  I made few predictions myself, whether from humility or timidity, but I did say that if we didn’t have that many deaths that some people would say “See, we never needed to worry.”