Sunday, February 28, 2021


I came back to the Girl Scout Cookie table an hour later, because the Trefoils were calling out to me the whole time.  I know they are not the best shortbread by any measure. Walker's are readily available and superior. But I seldom buy cookies at all, and somehow it is their version that activates me.

Temporary Power and Status

 According to David Wengrow, an anthropologist I have mentioned before, status and power were not always conferred permanently in prehistoric civilisations, and this is true in many places.  Related to my recent posts about transhumance and other forms of mobility, people could have varying status in the group throughout the course of the year.  In times when rituals were observed, there might be priestly classes who enjoyed high status at those times - a few weeks or few months - but then returned to another status when the event was over. These rituals often took place in cities, which may or may not have been occupied full-time. Or also, among mobile foragers as they made their yearly cycle throughout the territory, an individual might be a leader in one activity but just one of the worker bees in another.  He is also picking up signs that the status of women might vary throughout the year and is pursuing that in research.  There are signs of this in many places, from Peruvian to Kurdistani sites. It occurred to me that an explanation of the variable status for women might occur whenever brides are exchanged. There would not be an infinite number of other tribes where relations were good enough to engage in that kind of reciprocity, there would be only a few.  Therefore, when the tribe returned back to an area year after year those women might have more knowledge of the terrain and resources.  They might also have some ability to complain to the tribe they came from, resulting in difficulty and bad feeling. Or such things taken together might coalesce, even unconsciously, into a sense that they were more powerful as they came back to "their own area" and be in a better position to intervene with gods or spirits.

It is all part of the recent trend in anthropology to reject simple and linear explanations for tribal behaviors.  Groups do not go in a neat line from hunter-gatherer to forager and then agriculturalist. Not only are the lines fairly arbitrary between those categories, but groups about-face and return to foraging after a try at agriculture.  Or an agricultural group might fail altogether because of raiding or disease or famine and be replaced by foragers.  Or a quarter of them might head out and join some foragers before the collapse. Or those who had done more foraging-style acquisition in the division of labor of the agriculturalists might be more likely to survive. The archaeological records are showing back-and-forth adaptations much more often than the neat progressions we have been putting in textbooks for a century.

I read anotherr article by Wengrow expressing irritation that another anthropologist had made a discovery as far back as 2004 that seems very interesting but seems to be ignored: the ancient mounds from Peru to the Mississippi were built according to a common standard of measurement and proportion

Professor Wengrow seems to be making a habit of upending things.

Remembered in Story

From Razib Khan's interview with Anders Bergstrom about the five lineages of canines I learned that the dingoes arrived in Australia much more recently than humans, closer to 5,000 years ago than to 50,000. In that time period the nearest land to NW Australia was over 60 miles, too far for any dog to swim. They were thus brought by boat.  The Aboriginal tribes of NW Australia have a few origin stories of the dingo, which they consider to be supernaturally powerful and important.  One of those origin stories includes dingoes running around in a boat before reaching Australia. Sometimes truths can persist in story for thousands of years with no aid from writing.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

You probably don't know about Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a Swedish soccer player of Croat-Bosniak descent.  If you are up on these things over the last forty years, the place name Malmö might occur to you and you would be right. He is one of the all-time greats.  He came into the news this week after telling LeBron James to just shut up about politics, which LeBron answered in typical self-righteous fashion. The American press, especially ESPN which is the LeBron network, gave him very sympathetic coverage. Who cares about European soccer players 'Bron? You're...The King.

People who have had actual suffering in their lives, and especially from the Slavic groups who can list the dead relatives from the previous generation off the top of their head, don't have a lot of sympathy for American athletes. Ask Enes Kanter what he thinks about the level of danger you faced in Akron, LeBron. Do you think he's intimidated just because you are a better basketball player? No, that would be Americans. Ibrahimovic cannot be cancelled by the Washington Post or even Fox Sports, and so is free to speak. No one even asks LBJ about China anymore.  Amazing what freedom of speech can elicit. Zlatan is not a gentle man, perhaps not even a very nice one.

I have been reluctant to admit that James is the greatest basketball player of all time, but he is.  I think Wilt was better than Jordan, but LeBron is better than either.  Yet he is just a bully - a player of great physical discipline but not much moral character. I don't discourage you from seeking out his video interviews about the issue.  I encourage you to go watch a few.

Keywords: Lead Changes

Apparently I cannot start this video in the middle without making you open it in another tab. The part I am talking about starts at 9:25, just before the final heat.

Won't You Stay Just A Little Bit Longer

Once someone has seen that an older song can be covered in a different style, others can go on and improve on that.  But the person who saw it first, as in Vanilla Fudge "You Just Keep Me Hangin' On," James Taylor's "Up on the Roof," or Alison Krause's "Baby, Now That I've Found You" (or whoever they got it from who we can't see) deserves enormous credit.  Eric Clapton did it with his own song "Layla," which is extremely unusual.

Virtual Reality, Again

Related to the Charles Murray interview, but it's not that crucial why.

My wife and I were thinking of visiting Anchorage and Houston immediately after Easter, as our vaccinations would be under full effect, and we are anxious to meet the granddaughter born in January 2020 and the prospective daughter-in-law in Texas.  Both sons discouraged this.  They are coming up this summer anyway, and both said there really was not much to do where they are in April these days.

Yet I was worked up at the idea of travel and thought Well, why not go to Europe, then, late in the summer?  It should still be inexpensive, and we can see those sights that the granddaughters, and even the sons might not be that fascinated by.  The Orkneys, the Alps, the Netherlands, the Danube. (There is a longer list.) We hate long flights, but maybe even Australia and NZ. But I read that many European countries are very worried about variant Covid strains coming in, and even vaccinated people with a recent negative test will not be allowed in.

I predicted a few years ago that Virtual Reality that can be purchased at what we would think now is a high price could be popular, simply because it is much cheaper in comparison to actually going there.  It is also more versatile.  You could go to Paris 1927 or 1972; London 1910 or 1965. Perhaps a little more chillingly but more marketably, we could go to Vienna 1880 as we imagine it was, with accurate details even though it isn't quite honest. We have enough photos to mock up the buildings.  We have enough info to know what the food and the music would be like. Delivered food to support particular VR's would spring up in larger cities and eventually be available everywhere. 

I have been told repeatedly that this is not as brilliant an idea as I think.  People will want to really go to Prague, even though it is inconvenient.  But when a VR weekend in Prague is one-tenth the price of an actual week there, and no one is letting you into Prague for the next six months anyway, won't there be additional advantage to the fake?  Not to mention that if you go on an arranged tour and go to tourist spots it's already rather fake anyway. If you think they can't program in serendipitous finds of charming little bistros or local artists, you haven't looked at online gaming in the last two decades. Piece o' cake. 

Also, traveling with other people is annoying, even the ones we love, because they want to shop while you want to seek out scenery, and they have a tendency to feel sick or hold yesterday against you, or even not go to that restaurant that you think might be one of the key events of the entire trip. VR fixable.  Is that bad for our overall character, our ability to endure inconvenience in the service of a broadening experience, our understanding of actual people from other cultures rather than curated examples that governments will eventually weasel their way in to influence*? Sure, but when has that ever stopped us before? We grew up on Westerns, for Pete's sake. We think Moses looked like Charlton Heston. We think "Saturday Night Live" is talking about current events and colleges teach history. 

We will take only the occasional VR trip at first, then it will be 50% of our travel, and eventually we will make a once-in-a-lifetime Hajj to a real place. I'm telling you, it's coming.

*If the official French tourism board is going to "help out with" an expensive VR of Marseilles in the 1890's, won't they have design influence over what you see and what people you meet? And won't that be even more intense for Marseilles 2021?

Charles Murray

Update:  I found transcripts of a few interviews with Murray, but nothing that overlapped more than 30% with this.  Khan is in some ways a clumsy interviewer because of his verbal sloppiness, his ums and ahs and y'knows that professional interviewers are at pains to eliminate. However, he asks better questions, and hits some odd angles, which more than makes up for it. 

I will therefore double back to some of Murray's comments in separate posts.


I have been listening to a wonderful interview with Charles Murray while I do errands in the car.  My link is more appropriate for desktop use.  If you want to download it to your device for walking or driving you will have to download "Unsupervised Learning" there.  The interviewer is Razib Khan, who I have mentioned before.   When there were no new updates on the Insitome podcast with Spencer Wells* since November I figured Razib must have gone elsewhere.  His regular site has access to all his content.  

I have liked listening to Khan, but have avoided going deep into his site in the past, not because I feared I wouldn't like it or would be bored, but quite the opposite.  I feared I would find it so fascinating that I would lose myself in it.  As I looked for the transcript of the Murray interview for those of you who don't listen to podcasts, I saw more and more articles that prompted the thought "Ooh, I'll have to come back and read that."  Thus, my fear has come true.  I am going to drop everything and read Razib - except for the leads that Charles Murray gave me on his writing - and don't know what will come of that.  Will I stop posting, or post more often linking to various topics of Khan's?  Will I mostly just point you in the direction of the information, or will I offer my own thoughts about it.

I hesitate to offer my own thoughts on the interview.  You should just listen to Murray.  I keep thinking "Well, I'll just quote this part...I'll just summarise that section...I'll just bring this up to get people thinking..." Another rabbit hole, or more like a rabbit warren. Murray is just a data geek who became controversial because people didn't like his data.  He expected as data became more available that he would be vindicated and his ideas become commonplace.He has now moved to the spot where is just being ignored or marginalised in the discussion.  His last books have not even been reviewed in the major publications, he is no longer being invited for interviews in the usual venues.  Razib made mention (he has also been cancelled by major publications which are now trying to simply exclude him from the discussion, with no refutation even attempted) of seeing something similar. 

They are both Gray Tribe rather than red or blue, agnostic/atheist with thoughts that disquiet them about society's, and perhaps the individual's need for transcendence, rationalist community with a passion for data.  They are both watching in horror as they discover the data no longer matters. Khan mentioned that in the discussions of police targeting blacks over the summer, there was no longer the excuse of people saying untrue things and making unfair accusations, because the data is now easily available to all, sometimes down to the behavior of individual police officers. Yet the data is clearly not even being looked at. 

That's my comment on just the first few minutes of the interview.  You can see why I don't want to get into a pattern of listening for an hour, then writing for three hours about things which are better said by Murray or Khan in the first place.  So we'll see what happens. 

I will list what Razib's topics have been in another post soon.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Another World Record

An amazing time, beating an almost 30 y/o record. It's about 5 meters faster than when I watched Charles Dobson of William and Mary win the IC4A's in 1974.

For fun, in the slo-mo head on, watch how good his technique is in how little space there is between his legs and the hurdles as he clears them. All of them do it, really, but Holloway's is a little special. He is still improving.  BTW, you should know that when track results are delayed it is a good sign, because it means there is some sort of record and they want to make sure before announcing it, because it's embarrassing when you get something like that wrong. So after the first fifteen seconds Grant likely suspected something was up.

Records do belong somewhat to eras.  Now that everyone knows to scour obscure school track meets and get kids signed up quick there aren't many who escape, and those usually don't compete because they are in other sports.  The odds are LeBron James could have set the triple-jump record with only a year's training, for example, his only competition being other basketball players, a few of whom might have had more of a knack for it than him.  Mike Conley's father was a world-class triple-jumper, and the 70s Denver Nuggets star David Thompson was as well.

Better shoes, better tracks, better techniques based on video and biomechanics, better training and medical care is a lot of it.  I don't know if Jesse Owens would be a gold medalist if he competed in our era, but he wouldn't be embarrassing.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Untrue Things II

Very thoughtful comments under the initial post.  I was thinking somewhat along those lines, but people put things quite well.  As a dialogue I will put forward a difficulty that had originally occurred to me.  To say something encouraging that is not a known truth, or not yet, is something for another person's good. This seems very sensible as a way of helping to win a war pr win a championship or endure a hardship, because we are social creatures who do not stand alone but respond to encouragement from our fellow humans. That someone else "believes" we can make it through can help us believe it as well, and make it true. That seems quite legitimate, and would not qualify as a lie, in my book.  I suppose if it is something that is an oversell, so that we are encouraging someone to attempt something that can only end in failure it might not be so permitted.  I am thinking of the ridiculous and I think damaging encouragement children are given these days to "Follow Their Dream," as if the only thing preventing them frombecoming Queen of the May is a lack of confidence.  You gotta believe.  

But is it not necessary in war to discourage an opponent? On the lesser level of athletic competition I have never approved of those psych-out moves meant to intimidate, but those are entirely accepted in current culture. That is not a positive use, but a negative one.  Yet that also cannot be the correct dividing line, because "giving aid and comfort to the enemy" is recognised as treasonous, as is discouraging one's own troops - though it happens these days quite readily when the war in question is seen as belonging to the other political party. I used to find it infuriating to hear not only journalists and opinion-makers, but elected officials wonder "how long will America put up with this?" only a few weeks after we had started in Afghanistan and Iraq.  So whether one is trying to encourage or discourage others is not the key.  Are we down to it simply being whether we are telling a sort of lie for a good cause or a bad one?  And if so, what sort?

Meditation, Psychedelics, and Somatic Therapies

In the discussions about trauma, anxiety, and depression (The Precision of Sensory Evidence and Coherence Therapy) there was reference to using meditation, psychedelics, and somatic therapies - other alternative therapies were mentioned in Astral Codex Ten links as well - for their ability to smooth out the mountains between different parts of brain function, which don't always talk to each other well.  These are often accompanied by feelings of general benevolence, a sense of being one with the universe, a belief that one has achieved a more distant perspective that is a truer reality than the everyday anxieties one is living under.  One knows oneself to be small in the great scheme of things, yet is satisfied with that.

It would be easy to mock this, and many have.  If you can get this same deep philosophical insight from a microdose of LSD or any of a half-dozen types of massage as you can from meditation, doesn't that make it all rather hollow and false, then? I think that is a strong point but I should be cautious about drawing that much conclusion from it.  Our bodies and emotions have a very limited suite of responses that is greatly moderated and interpreted by the brain.  Some pains and pleasures seem inseparable, there are workshops which teach you to reinterpret anxiety as excitement.  A philosophical insight would be as unlikely to discover an entirely new sensation as a tour of an art museum reveal to the world a new color previously unknown.  Our highest selves are assembled from bits of the lower.

Nonetheless, humility might be in order for those who claim insights. If it is no shame that such feelings and impressions accompany the experience, neither can they be regarded as evidence of truth. Such claims will have to derive from elsewhere.  The overwhelming feeling will tell you that it is its own proof, and those who don't see this lack your understanding (and are thus unenlightened).

The same sort of complaint is sometimes leveled at Christian experiences, of people saying So all that happened is you sang a lot with other people and felt really peaceful, but you are calling it God.  Many Christians do fall into that same somewhat arrogant claim of superior understanding on the basis of experiences that can be created in other ways that have nothing to do with the faith.  The claims of truth have to be founded on that foot that is still placed in this world, not some other. I believe the Church makes those claims for good reason despite the large elements of woo - at least to appearance - that can occur in worship and are even encouraged in the Scriptures. The most important part of prayer might ultimately be our facing God, but we are firmly instructed not to cease praying for our daily bread, for the sick, and for strength in trials. Those functions are kept more separate in Hinduism, where the pagan celebration and the ascetic mystic are both part of the religion, but not together.

It is for this reason that I view the alternative treatments as quite legitimate to fix something, to open some drain that has been clogged or reconcile some communication between parts that has been scrambled.  The feeling of oneness may derive not from being accurately connected to the universe, but from the various parts of the brain that have become sundered becoming one, or at least finally in contact with each other.  I am more suspicious of them for everyday use.  We might need to be fixed many times or tuned up repeatedly, but it also may be that once the treatment is completed we are now simply seeking the feeling.


I am so old I remember when people watched the Muppets for the gratuitous violence, which everyone was worried about in the 1970s. Easily the most violent show on the air at the time, with the possible exception of reruns of Warner Brothers cartoons.

I remember when the young black Muppet Roosevelt Franklin  was introduced on Sesame Street around 1969. It was considered very cool, a signal that black kids from the city were not going to be left out anymore, and that the Henson characters were going to be authentic, not just white characters someone had dyed brown. I don't know if you could introduce Roosevelt  these days. He might be grandfathered in, but I think I would be relying on people from my generation standing up and shouting that he was emphatically unracist, a counter to racism at the time. Would that matter anymore?  I can see him being watched in horror as some terrible stereotype by a woke high-school student or academic deeply concerned with popular culture (but I repeat myself).

I puzzled over what other black, Hispanic, Middle-eastern, or Asian characters had shown up on The Muppet Show. There must have been some, because they did that old vaudeville shtick of riding hard on stereotypes, where the joke had already been made in the culture outside the theater before the audience even sat down.  But when I looked at who was spoofed, it was most famously the Swedish Chef. Swedes loved him, I assure you.  But patriots and conservatives were sent up with Sam the Eagle; southern revivalists in the "Cigareets and Whiskey" number; vikings singing "In the Navy;" If there was some act with Mexicans in sombreros I don't remember it, though I suppose that might have been the sort of thing they would do. Indians?  I'm not thinking of any.  It could be. If anyone has cause to kick it would be anyone they thought they were tweaking with Sam's dour observations. I think I will offended on behalf of patriotic Americans because of Sam. I'll bet he'd be a Trump fan if you asked him, right?

Maybe...the guests? It's not coming to me.  I'm drawing a blank.

The Muppets were intuitively woke long before our current fad.  Blacks were not made fun of, no religion - except a caricature of fundamentalists, Peter Sellers - was put out on the chopping block, the undermining of female stereotypes was much more common than using them for comedy. I haven't looked it up, but I suppose someone went over episodes with a fine-tooth comb looking to be offended on behalf of other people who were not necessarily offended themselves.

Trigger warning:  Deeply offensive stereotype  coming.

Individuals and the Collective

From an interview with Jordan Peterson by Dennis Prager. (Updated:  I forgot to include th link the first time.  Thanking engineerlite for picking that up.) This quote comes in after the 35 minute mark, when Prager has asked him whether the colleges are now doing more harm than good, and whther we would be better off if, exclusive of STEM, law, and some other specific trainings, all the high school graduates in North America decided to not attend college. Peterson does one of his characteristic pauses, a self- taught discipline he uses to make sure what he is about to say next is true, and exactly what he wishes to say.  In the course of answering that he interrupts himself at the 36 minute mark, to dive deeper into a specific philosophical and ideological point that needs to be explained before he can proceed further.

You hear that there are debates about free speech on campus.  About who should talk and who shouldn't. And people think that's what the debate is about. About who should talk and who shouldn't, but that's not what the debate is about. You're not even scraping the surface of the debate if that's what you think it's about. The debate on campus is about whether a human being has the capacity to communicate intelligibly as an individual or not, and the answer for the postmodernist collective types is that there is no such thing as an individual, and therefore the very notion of free speech is absurd.

I was told about this on a walk with one of the occasional commenters here who sent me the link. I am always intrigued by assertions "What you think is the problem is not the real problem.  It's something deeper and disguised." While these sometimes turn out to be nothing more than a monomaniac trying to steer every discussion to their favorite universal explanation ("It's the Jews." "It's because there's no free market there."), it is more often immediately apparent that there is something to this.  As here. 

Examples came to mind immediately, of the Duke lacrosse scandal in which the Group of 88 lamented that the opportunity for "an important discussion" about race was being denied them as the evidence of any crime evaporated. This had always bothered me as being illogical.  None has ever apologised for this terrible treatment of their student, and I had heretofore chalked that up as mere cowardice and dishonesty - perhaps condescension. If there was no crime, there was no basis for it opening into a larger discussion, though (heh) it might open up in the opposite direction logically, of why this was overblown. In the recent Smith College scandal over an accusation of racism, as a follow-on to a witch hunt based on an earlier accusation of racism which proved unfounded.  Again, the underlying facts turned out not to matter. There was an incident and everyone was to act their role from that point forward. There was a ritual that had to be performed, and it seemed psychologically important to the participants that the ritual not be interrupted or altered. The college's president, Kathleen McCartney did call one actual victim, whose lupus had been activated by the stress of community threats and hatred, and apologise, but this was not made public. To her mild credit, the president had enough humanity to care a bit about a flesh-and-blood individual's actual suffering - but the show must go on.  That was more important. 

There were facts about Jared Loughner shooting Gabrielle Giffords, but those turned out to matter far less than the opportunity to re-enact a ritual of the dangerousness of conservatives. There were facts about the death of the Capitol Police officer on Jan 6, but the opportunity to re-enact was more important. Before I went off FB, I was unfriended by relatives for pointing out that a posted story was made up, had never happened.  I was told that it was still important because it expressed what many black people go through every day. (It was about a black doctor, and I actually know black doctors, all of whom thought the story ludicrous.) It seems almost daily that some report is brought up of the facts not mattering because the narrative was too important.

In only a month, look how often Jen Psaki has answered a question about an individual in the administration by referring to her group membership as a woman or an Hispanic. The Babylon Bee handled this well. We have treated that as merely evasive. Without disallowing evasiveness as a partial explanation, what if Peterson is correct and that really is they way they view this. Many have said that making accusations of racism are merely changing the subject when they don't have a better argument. Yet what if, still only in early stages but growing yearly, they really think it is us changing the subject. This may be the natural result of all prejudice, as in an individual black man in 19th C America who had done nothing wrong, but "the Negro needs to be reminded that he must not look at a white woman," so the lynch mob did what they were pretty sure the courts wouldn't. As Peterson says, we are regarded merely as an avatar of our group, not as someone made in the image of God with value of his own.

Conservatives have tended to look at such things through the lens of fairness to an individual. They rail against favoritism and unequal treatment because some individual has suffered and that person's rights should be protected.  They are not immune to treating something as a morality play about groups, either. While no one says right out loud "look what they did to this white person," as might happen quite openly in a speech about a minority who is mistreated, they do come close to that at times, or some do. On the free speech issue, it is very much focused on "Jordan Peterson should not be censored.  Dennis Prager should not have his channel cancelled," and other individuals getting fired, deplatformed, treated differently by businesses ostensibly open to the public.

As further evidence, look what happens to African-Americans who try to speak out against this and weigh events on a case-by-case basis, the Glenn Lourys and John McWhorters in the academy, and thousand others in business and industry. They are not regarded as truly black. Thus, they as individuals are not to be heard, only the abstract black may be heard. The idea of blackness, the definition of black opinion is what must be preserved.  What happens to individuals is of no importance unless they can provide a new opportunity for one of the group rituals to be enacted. The Smith student who made the false accusation of racism - who by description seems to have engaged in entitled behavior traditionally (but perhaps not fairly) associated  with Seven Sisters college women of any race - does what happened later to her matter in the least? My search engine says "not so much."

First - we should notice when we are doing the same thing in our own over-identified responses.  If we want it to be about individuals, then we should hold ourselves strictly accountable on that. Holding others accountable is a very complicated question, but that should always at least be on the table. This should keep us alert to not rejoicing when some liberal is cancelled, as I have seen a lot of conservatives do this year.  If it is the ability of the individual to assert opinions for themselves alone that is the issue, we should guard that. No nonsense about just deserts over the surface issue when the deeper issue is at play.  We do it too.

Second, we should recognise this as an essentially philosophical and spiritual issue, playing out on the fields of law and fair play, not simple issues of fairness. If the stakes are higher - and I now think they are - we should treat them as more important.  More 3-D chess, please. Less reflexive irritation (I remind mostly myself.)

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

$15 Minimum Wage

Scott Lincicome writes about the $15 Minimum Wage at The Dispatch.  He starts out by quoting Thomas Sowell, so he's already on my good side. (No Lewis or Chesterton quotes, though.) It's long, but recommended, but here is a quick summary:

Overall: If the goal is to help the poor and struggling, it will help some of those, but nowhere near as many as claimed.  It will hurt others, and this is being ignored by the bill's proponents.  

1. It favors bigger companies (Amazon) over smaller and reduces competition.  That's why Amazon is supporting this.  It is very much like regulation.  It affects them a little, but is devastating to any potential competitors.
2. It really matters where you live, either by state - are you shocked this will hurt jobs in red sates more? -  or by small town and rural businesses.  This is because of cost-of-living which is not the same everywhere.
3. 80% of studies say increasing the minimum wage does cost jobs, very disproportionately the jobs of the poor.  The proponents, like Paul Krugman, are leaning heavily on that 20% - and even some of those show mixed results.
4. There is a linked twitter thread on worker effects in Britain which showed me new things about less-visible ways workers are hurt - fewer benefits, harsher conditions.
5. It will shove poor workers into gray market jobs with fewer protections. 
6. It will have no effect on the poor outside the work force

7. Prepandemic - by the end of 2019 - we reached the lowest poverty rate ever without it. "Ever" is a big word.  Usually when we say lowest or highest, best or worst about some statistic we add the qualifier "since 1970," or "in the modern era."  We reached the lowest poverty rate in the history of the United States, even though the last minimum wage increase was in 2009.

8. If you want to help the struggling, cost of housing is likely one of the more efficient ways. That can be complicated, and even more prone to tradeoffs rather than fixes.

Untrue Things

Politicians say untrue things.  Shocking, I know. The more powerful they are, the greater the percentage of things they say are untrue, or at best, unproven. That may have been less obvious. This is also true in a good way.  That may have been least obvious of all.

The more powerful they are, the more they are usually speaking in hopes of moving the dial on some short to medium term issue. The are not speaking for posterity, but to achieve action now.  If the dial needs to be moved, the debate must be close. If the debate is close, then all force, with no reserve, must be exerted in the desired direction. Let others say "On the one hand...on the other hand..." They did not get their position by being that sort of person.

The occasion for this is a powerful American political figure made a pronouncement yesterday.  It was a mean statement. It relied on asserting an opinion as if it were a scientific fact. This politician has no expertise in that field. He stated a belief that is suspected by some experts to be true, or at least "have truth values," as the saying now goes. But it is in no way established. It is not even adequate to say that it is "unproven," as that would allow an escape for him to say or others to think "Well, it's probably close to be being proven, then."  This ain't that.  It was therefore a lie, a third cousin to the truth.

It occurred to me that the only time I hear from this guy is when he makes statements like this. Untrue, but he wishes they were true, because it would be good for his side if it were true. As I thought about it, other names occurred to me among the powerful, that everything they say is highly doubtful, but asserted with great confidence because they want it to be true. "Speaking truth to power" used to be a respectable inspiring statement that came out of the African-American political and cultural experience. As with all such really great statements, it increasingly got borrowed by others whose causes were less clear, more particular to themselves than universal, less true.  The statement now means "Telling your friends what they want to hear."

Then the surprising part occurred to me. In thinking about whether this was much of what Hitler's dramatic speechifying was about (it was), I thought of his great opposite, and realised that this is what Winston Churchill did as well. 

We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender...

He said that at a time when morale was low, when many even in England wondered if Britain would surrender. I love Winnie, but this was in no way something he knew to be true. Even "unproven" would be a stretch. We know in retrospect that Britain did show a great deal of courage in a very tight spot.  But we don't know what another year would have brought.  Like all war speeches, he said it because he hoped it was true, and hoped that by saying it he could help make it true. 

There is something different about such unproven statements that one hopes to make true by inspiring.  I don't think it is only Good Cause/Bad Cause that is what makes the distinction.  I have a little thought, but I would prefer to think about it, and also hear what you have to say before going the last bit.

Monday, February 22, 2021

National Brotherhood Week

 How long will we have this?  Better to memorise it in preparation for the day we have to sing it in secret.  Thanks to Richard Johnson for the suggestion.

Notice that we don't have this anymore. It was never official, but when did it slip beneath the waves?

The Cult of Smart II

The little bit of commentary I have which might be valuable in Siskind's review of The Cult of Smart.  He says DeBoer

...isn't this denying the equality of Man, declaring some people inherently superior to others? Only if you conflate intelligence with worth, which DeBoer argues our society does constantly. 

I have been mentioning this for years, but would offer the large correction that it is the Gentry/Elite/Clerisy class which does this constantly, not "society." I grew up with that crew, and judging people by their intelligence is a primary characteristic.  It is not that they don't care about beauty, or hard work, or character or other ways of assigning value, but they elevate intelligence far above these others, enough so that imitations and imitators abound in that class, as those aspiring to it sense that they must have this to get ahead.  If they do not, they must find the trappings or signals so that people will think that they do.  They also do not always see beyond the trappings very well, as in the continuing insistence that Barack Obama must be a very smart person, for circular reasons.  He is above-average.  No more than that. The Jewish parents or the Tiger Moms pushing their kids were only resented because they seemed so darn good at it. Swedish* families did the same. Lots of aspirational groups did the same.

There is a continual difficulty in reading Siskind, but a good difficulty if you like reading. He not only writes at length, but he links to other times he has written at length.  I had a difficulty in linking to and commenting on his post about newer treatments on trauma, anxiety, and depression, because I only get started with the essay and he is referencing another, and then that essay has a hyperlink to a third, all on related topics and each illuminating the other. And then, as I have noted and Texan99 just confirmed, there are his commenters, who also provide valuable illumination and commentary. 

One keeps going further down the rabbit-hole, and at the end, there isn't much for one such as I to say, because he really has looked at the issue from those other sides that I ordinarily move in to provide on an issue. People overlook important points.  I am good at finding those and quickly assembling additional perspective.  But he hasn't overlooked much.  It is gratifying to read a liberal who does not merely misunderstand conservatives and shoot down straw men. (That is one reason why I have liked Jonathan Haidt so much over the years.) DeBoer somewhat gets it - better than most writers at the Atlantic or the New Yorker - but T99 picked up where he fell into a common oversimplification that at least needed mentioning.  Siskind doesn't provide me much opportunity for that.  Example:

3. Closely related: Donald Trump appeals to a lot of people because despite his immense wealth he practically glows with signs of being Labor class. This isn’t surprising; his grandfather was a barber and his father clawed his way up to the top by getting his hands dirty. He himself went to a medium-tier college and is probably closer in spirit to the small-business owners of the upper Labor class than to the Stanford MBA-holding executives of the Elite. Trump loves and participates in professional wrestling and reality television; those definitely aren’t Gentry or Elites pastimes! When liberals shake their heads wondering why Joe Sixpack feels like Trump is a kindred soul even though Trump’s been a billionaire his whole life, they’re falling into the liberal habit of sorting people by wealth instead of by class. To Joe Sixpack, Trump is “local boy made good”.

Or also

 And my hypothesis, stated plainly, is that if you’re part of the Blue Tribe, then your outgroup isn’t al-Qaeda, or Muslims, or blacks, or gays, or transpeople, or Jews, or atheists – it’s the Red Tribe.

Correct.  And as you can see by the "3," that's only one point made in a long essay.  A NYT writer could get an entire op-ed out of that one fact, but it's just one of many for Siskind.  BTW Jews, hated by the underclass, are losing their ingroup status among the elites.  It won't happen this week, not this decade, but it grows.

So there is the review of the Cult of Smart, which I linked to a couple of days ago.  But that links to his wonderful Parable of the Talents, and also to his review of Staying Classy, which in turn links his essay I Can Tolerate Anything But the Outgroup,** as well as a discussion of Michael Church's description of classes/castes in the US (which he summarises, fortunately), The descriptions of castes at Unqualified Reservations (Mencius Moldbug, which he also mercifully summarises),as well as Joel Kotkin's book The New Class Conflict, Paul Fassel's Class: A Guide Through the American Status System, and Archdruid Report. Interesting stuff, top to bottom, and all of a sudden you have six tabs open. I was going to just pass on the "I Can Tolerate..." one, but it starts out with a discussion of one of GK Chesterton's Father Brown stories, warming my heart and drawing me in.

A fun quote from one of the essays

Every time I was held up as an example in English class, I wanted to crawl under a rock and die. I didn’t do it! I didn’t study at all, half the time I did the homework in the car on the way to school, those essays for the statewide competition were thrown together on a lark without a trace of real effort. To praise me for any of it seemed and still seems utterly unjust.

On the other hand, to this day I believe I deserve a fricking statue for getting a C- in Calculus I

Lovely stuff

Talking about trying harder can obfuscate the little differences, but once we’re talking about the homeless schizophrenic guy from Detroit who can’t tell me 100 minus 7 to save his life, you can’t just magic the problem away with a wave of your hand and say “I’m sure he can be the next Ramanujan if he keeps a positive attitude!” You either need to condemn him as worthless or else stop fricking tying worth to innate intellectual ability.

So it's a lot, and I know it's a lot, but I also think if you push through this you will get a few college courses worth of real information about IQ, class and caste, American political tribes, and a bit on six other important topics as well. Muchg better than real college courses, even at conservative colleges, and well better than at elite colleges because they would give you so much you needed to unlearn.  You will have a boatload of useful knowledge to integrate with your own experiences and become one of the relative few who understand what they are looking at in cultural questions.  Not that it will do you any good, of course.  It will likely just make you more frustrated. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed found halfway up the mountain, stabbed in the back on his way out.

*The political liberalisation of the Lutheran and Covenant churches I have been in may owe much to the Scandinavians and Germans moving from the Labor to Gentry classes and adopting the politics of the aspirational group. Though the Swedes had a strong socialist element from early on.

**If you want evidence and links to further evidence that implicit bias and systemic racism are small factors but prejudice against people with different beliefs, especially liberals against conservative, go to section VI of that essay.


One Shirt and a $10 Bill

 James shares a wonderful story about a convention of physicists

I believe the reference to the roulette wheel was from the early chaos theorists when they were young and ridiculous students, which I read about in James Gleik's book Chaos. The method of beating the wheel involved timing exactly when a point on the wheel passed a marker, feeding that information into a computer by way of moving one's toes in a shoe, and placing a bet on the basis of the result.  There are 38 slots, and the timing allows a skilled practitioner to eliminate about 30% of the wheel where he knows it will not land. This is sufficient to beat the house over time.  The odds of roulette are terrible, but not that terrible.

As for poker, one plays against others with the house taking its cut, so the odds are different.  I have a son who consistently wins in poker in Las Vegas. He is an accountant and has a good sense for the odds, but the strength of his strategy is different.  He is mindful of the admonition "If you can't figure out who the pigeon is after a few hands, you're the pigeon." He knows there are tables where the others can read him better than he them and wants to avoid those.  He scouts out the various tables in the afternoon, trying to get a sense of which ones are at his level.  He does not touch a drop of alcohol.  He goes back to his room and takes a nap late in the afternoon, getting up to take a light supper.  When he settles on a table, he only needs to stay about even at first.  He still doesn't drink. After about two hours, a couple of others have started losing money and have had too much to drink.  They start betting foolishly and playing foolishly in an effort to make their money back. Eventually, he takes their money.

It is not infallible.  He figures that he loses his stake (it used to be $500 but that may be just what he tells his father, who finds risking that amount of money risky and intolerable. I would bet it's $1000 now) about one out of five trips. More often, he wins $1500-2000 over the weekend, enough to pay for his trip plus some extra.  Very occasionally he will win well into the thousands. 

Sunday, February 21, 2021


GK Chesterton, writing about George Bernard Shaw:

After belabouring a great many people for a great many years for being unprogressive, Mr. Shaw has discovered, with characteristic sense, that it is very doubtful whether any existing human being with two legs can be progressive at all. Having come to doubt whether humanity can be combined with progress,most people, easily pleased, would have elected to abandon progress and remain with humanity. Mr. Shaw, not being easily pleased, decides to throw over humanity with all its limitations and go in for progress for its own sake. If man, as we know him, is incapable of the philosophy of progress, Mr. Shaw asks, not for a new kind of philosophy, but for a new kind of man. It is rather as if a nurse had tried a rather bitter food for some years on a baby, and on discovering that it was not suitable, should not throw away the food and ask for a new food, but throw the baby out of window, and ask for a new baby. (Heretics, 1905)


The Cult of Smart

I haven't read it myself, though it looks like I should.  It raises the same issues I have been for years and comes to some of the same conclusions I have while being wildly divergent in others.  But the Book Review of The Cult of Smart that was up on the first page when I just went over to Astral Codex Ten to get the link is quite interesting. I can't much improve on it, but I may put in comments of my own.  After my walk, which is long overdue today.  The sacrifices I make for you people...


One of the most gratifying things to read over the last few weeks was Texan99 starting a post at Grim's noting that she had expected to find X but found Y instead when she went looking at the power outage explanations. More usually, people just blame whatever or whoever they thought was the source of every other problem before. "It's like I always say, Marge, you just can't trust the Democrats on anything." 

The common characterisation used to be that Liberals would say "These are bad/good people" while conservatives would focus on "these are bad/good ideas." That may have been self-serving and relied on cherry-picked data, but I can at least say that this was part of my moving from liberal to conservative in the 80s.  The constant focus on what bad people the conservatives were combined with the self-congratulation of what good people we are grated on me increasingly.  I was told that the religious right was awash in that sentiment, but I only saw some. I did see some, and very annoying, but I saw more of all of us aren't quite good, but we're trying.

Has that changed in the last decade, that generalisation of mine?  I can't tell.  The type of interaction I have with the world has changed since I started moving about the building rather than developing team relationships at work beginning around 2014 and semi-retirement at the beginning of 2017 accentuated that.  Having the last of the children grow up changed things.  I wonder if the election of Obama years ago pushed all sides into bad people/good people mode increasingly, and Trump embraced it rather than rejecting that framing.  It's not a good thing.

Blaming the Usual Bad Ideas isn't quite so damaging, though it can be a closed-mindednesss of its own. Blaming overregulation or deregulation is frequent, as is blaming capitalism or safety net. Everyone is sure they are the scientific ones, wrapping themselves in some things while ignoring others. I even see some of that in the discussions I have been reading about the Rationalist, Gray-Tribe community in all the news about Dr. Scott Siskind and Slate Star Codex (now Astral Codex Ten). Many have science they don't like to see either, or obvious conclusions from the science they want to avoid.  Fortunately, they seem to be getting called out from within their own community - no need for me to ggo over and help, as they are better at it.

What are the other idea categories we like to instantly default to whenever anything goes wrong or goes right?  There used to be a religious/secular knee-jerk split that it had all gone bad since we kicked prayer out of schools versus Puritans always ruining everything by telling others what to do.  That's still there, but I don't think I hear it as often. Judeo-Christian/Western Civ versus multicultural/the Glorious East has been shouting from the balcony in every debate I can remember since college. 

This was prompted by listening to Texans in their crisis, but it's not about Texans.  Whether they are better or worse on these things I don't know.  My prejudices would tell me you can count on California to have more irrational complainers and New Hampshire far fewer, but everyone else I just file under Likely Some of Both.

Online Church

It was strange at first to sing out loud, just the two of us, at home during online worship - odd even for us, who sang aloud in the car a lot while the boys were growing up, forcing them to do the same. I noticed this morning that because of repetition it now feels entirely natural.  I still very much want to be back and singing with the congregation, but we all adjust to things.

Sins Of Omission

In my times of confession, I will sometimes use a composed prayer or a checklist to remind myself of what does usually go wrong in the human condition.  I figure I'm not likely to be exempt from much in the general humanity. When I was growing up, the church I was going to took it into its head to stress "sins of omission" for a couple of years. New England Congregationalists were pretty respectable in those days, and one of the pastoral staff was very much on the social action side of things, so it was a bit of a natural. It's not unfair. In my case, omission may now be much more an issue than commission.We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, but what we have done, and by what we have left undone goes back a long way and seems to have answered a need in every generation of penitents.

So I started putting that up against the Seven Deadly Sins and checking what was up.  My usual pattern is to try and get rid of the nonproblems or minor problems first and focus on larger issues of sin.  I cam to that backwards, because I used to do the opposite: I used to go straight for what I knew to be the big issues of the last few days or weeks to confess those and see what actions God might be pushing me to.  Yet I found that when I did that, I got stuck on those first few, whether for long-term or short-term intervention, and could go weeks or maybe even months neglecting the "smaller" problems.  One of my rereadings of Screwtape suggested to me that this might just be one more subtle evasion.  And as with the debt strategy of paying off the smaller credit cards first, maybe there is something to clearing out the hyenas before attacking the lions.

So first up was greed, which is usually just a shrug for me.  I want for little.  Sometimes I do worry that I should want for even less. I never did pursue money that much, whether because of humility or the sour grapes of just not being very good at it anyway. But "sins of omission," or any other kind of reversal applied to greed would mean not only getting new things,  but also holding on to what you've got too tightly. I was not imagining things.  A quick lookup on Aquinas and greed revealed that Hoarding is one of the first things mentioned. A quick introspection suggests that is a long-neglected area of spiritual focus for me.

I never even got to the other six Deadlies.

Mom's Are Here, Feds Stay Clear


(I only listened to the first half. There were several choices, so if something went surprising in the second half, let me know.)

So, there is no wall of moms in bike helmets from the DC suburbs coming in to tell the National Guard to go home. Is it the cold, do you think? Are they more fearful of the current protestors - both of them - than of the ones who burned stuff in Portland?

It's just a puzzle, you know?  I can't figure it out.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

One Monkey Don't Stop No Show

 I saw the intriguing title and knew I would have to post it.  All that would matter was what version. 

The Precision of Sensory Evidence

A general post on many newer therapies from Scott Siskind at Astral Codex Ten: The Precision of Sensory Evidence.

One of the first things that occurred to me about the sensory input in depression and trauma was manics wearing sunglasses indoors. Many an argument I had with psychodynamic therapists early in my career trying to convince me that this was because of their narcissism and/or desire to feel protected from being seen by others.  It is one advantage of having worked on the units at the beginning of my career, where you could see these guys wince when they had to come out into brighter areas or they had to take the glasses off for some reason.  I was pretty sure it was a largely physical, not psychological response. So now there is evidence that depressed people actually do see things less brightly.  They are grayer.

1.  It looks at first like it could veer into blaming the victim - "Are you sure you didn't just make most of this up and are a touch overdramatic, honey?" Yet I think if you follow it out it actually bypasses it. What actually happened turns out not to matter as much as the schema that was installed. We seldom have contemporary records, video, credible witnesses anyway.  We are never going to know exactly what happened. We only know what we have now.  And really, we don't need to know.  The victim can sometimes get obsessed with knowing, and with proving to the important others that yes they were too abused, and too much of the older intervention focused on this too, as if everyone had to know all the details before anyone could go forward. It might feel that way, but that feeling might itself be a symptom.  Therapy should focus on resolving the now.  Once that is completed the patient may or may not wish to go back and explore.  Yet almost always not. They decide it doesn't much matter.
1A.  So it's not quite the Body that keeps the score, it's the Schema that keeps the score. The body is an imperfect report card.
2. This also nicely gets around all the discussions of whether emotional abuse is worse than physical or sexual worse than all.  The question might matter someday to the patient, but it doesn't have to matter now, and in fact shouldn't matter now.  This is because it gets into all the side questions of what other people think of them, of how much they should trust their own thoughts and feelings, and how they are going to describe all this to others.  Yet we know from the get-go that these are things that are likely impaired in the patient - that's why they have pain and make bad decisions (or are unable to make decisions).  That's what they came into the office to find a solution for. All of those unanswerable side questions should be the student, not the teacher in this classroom.
This is similar to some other treatments.  I had many an addict who wanted to put a lot of time into understanding why they drank. But You won't have any idea why you drink until after you have been sober a while.  You will think you know and will have guesses, but you will be wrong.  And it is a waste of your time, probably an evasion of the pain of facing you.  You won't know why you feel depressed, or anxious, or insecure or whatever until those are largely gone.  And then you might say "Y'know?  I think it was mostly just genetic/food-based/that one incident/my mother's chronic pain/those first school years at the commune." 
My further points are still to come (Points 3 & 4) about the connection to Christian understandings and whether the value of these practices as treatments implies anything about every day use. 


Coherence Therapy

I had not heard of Coherence Therapy, an internal link in the post on The Precision of Sensory Evidence.  The post talks about other therapies as well, including psychedelics, ketamine, meditation, and somatic therapies such as massage and yoga.  Of the two visual analogies he tried on, I better liked the one he didn't choose, the minima-flattening and desynchronisation model.  To me that captures what is happening in the brain in these therapies of trying to get over boundaries between parts of the brain in general development, development of pathology, meditation, low-dose psychedelics, and the therapies he outlines.  But he went with the separate valleys, narrow passes, and ruling city on the plain analogy, and I could follow that well enough. 

It's another long slog, but it's all good information for what is current in the field.  I will be drawing on his discussion of this for my own observations on meditation, psychedelics, etc as both treatment (Good.) and everyday practice (Meh.)

Friday, February 19, 2021

Another Masterful Track Performance

The 2021 Olympics in Track and Field is likely to be amazing.

Second best indoor time ever.


Just so many runners, so good. 

"Quicker than his outdoor best!" Yeah, that's not supposed to happen.

Classic Rush Quiz - 1980s

New Updates:  A longtime reader who remembers something of those days reminded me that the theme song for Ted Kennedy was The Philanderer,  a made-for-Rush parody that was not just mildly "leaving it there" but went after Ted full force.  And absolutely deserved.  A darling of the left, even called the "Lion of the Senate" in his later years, he was a Kennedy who was a vicious attacker of conservatives. That he had killed a girl and lied about it? Didn't matter. Rush had said that "abortion was the wine and wafer of the left, and Kennedy was the proof of that."  There was also "My Boy Lollipop" for Barney Frank, but I had remembered the send-up "Banking Queen" for him instead. These were not the originals, these were Paul Shanklin cleverly reworking popular songs such as "Try to Remember" for Hillary Clinton or "The Candy Man" for Barack Obama. The shaft went home, and they hated it.

Beginning of Original Post: Tell me what these were update themes to. (Hmm.  Apparently I'm the only one here who listened to Rush in the 80s.) The rest of you are going to enjoy these when I reveal the answers in a day or so.

Update:  I thought this would be easy and fun for Rush lovers of a certain age, but I mostly only showed how different things were then.  Limbaugh was much more serious whenever I tuned in and listened to him in later years. He was much more of an entertainer, and a clever one, in his earliest shows.

1. Up, Up, and Away was the Condom Update.  In the late 80s the country was condom-mad.  Colleges had condom days, school children were shown how to put a condom over a banana, and Rush would even put a condom on the Golden EIB microphone if he was going to say something extra controversial, so that we would be protected.  This was one of the first things I heard on his show and thought "This guy is going to be awesome," long before I had heard much of his politics.  This was Firesign Theater, Doonesbury, and Credibility Gap, but poking fun at liberal pieties instead of conservative ones. (That was part of why Trudeau was so infuriated by Limbaugh - he was doing the same sort of thing back at him.  And worse, Rush was more 3D in all ways while Gary was forever 2D in style and spirit.) Now play the first 30 seconds of the song while awaiting what condom ridiculousness in the news he was going to report.

Would you like to ride in my beautiful balloon?

Would you like to glide in my beautiful balloon?...

Up, up and away, in my beautiful, my beautiful BALLOON.

2.  You Don't Own Me was the Gay Culture update.  More than once a gay man would call in, infuriated that he had tuned into a show that understood about gay culture so well to be playing this song - on AM radio! - and knowing how funny it was, only to find out as he listened longer that this was not being played to mock straight culture at all, but to turn the joke back on him, because it implied that this song was not brave and transgressive, but merely ridiculous. I don't think Rush ever said a word about the song other than to identify who was covering it.  He just played it and let it sit there. So, first 30 seconds again...

You don't own me
I'm not just one of your many toys
You don't own me
Don't say I can't go with other boys

And don't tell me what to do
Don't tell me what to say
And please, when I go out with you
Don't put me on display 'cause


3. I tricked you a bit with this one to make it hard, but it looks like the whole thing was so difficult that I needn't have bothered.  Born Free was the Animal Rights Update theme, but in a slightly different version.  Andy Williams is still singing, but hoofbeats, gunfire, and finally screams of animals are dubbed in over.  I am replacing the video below with the Rush version. 


4. I Put a Spell On You was the Mario Cuomo Update theme.

5. The Peace Update featured Una Paloma Blanca in honor of the Peace Doves that were incinerated when the Olympic Torch was lit in Seoul in 1988. This time, I think you want to listen to the whole thing.

When the sun shines on the mountain
And the night is on the run
It's a new day
It's a new way
And I fly up to the sun

I can feel the morning sunlight
I can smell the new-mown hay
I can hear God's voice is calling
For my golden sky light way

Una paloma blanca
I'm just a bird in the sky
Una paloma blanca
Over the mountains I fly
No one can take my freedom away


6. Born A Woman was the first of the Feminism Update themes.  I heard he later switched to another one. These updates were a powerful introduction to me about misreporting. I heard him use the term Feminazi a number of times, and I noticed he was always careful not to use this to refer to all women, nor even to all feminists.  He was describing both a certain type of feminist, but also that intense intolerance we now associate with wokeness. Yet I frequently heard women say that "he calls all feminists, or even all women, feminazis. I would push back on this, to no avail. It was clear that the pattern was now going to be "if you criticise any aspect of feminism, you will be regarded as hating women." The sentiment of the lyrics was not a speech by him, nor was there every any indication he felt women should be "cheated on and treated like dirt." He said the opposite. But it had been a popular song not long before.  He didn't go scouring obscuring corners of record archives - this had sold a million copies twenty years earlier, and sung by a woman.

He knew it would infuriate, but could only be criticised by misreporting what he was doing.  He baited them into lying, then corrected the misreporting. All he had done was play the song.

If you're born a woman

You're born to be hurt*

You're born to be stepped on, lied to, cheated on and treated like dirt

I was born a woman, I didn't have no say

Yes, I was born a woman, and I'm glad it happened that way

7.  I'm a Loser was the Michael Dukakis Update theme for as long as he was making the news, which gradually lessened over the early years of the show.  

I'm a LOSER, and I'm not what I appear to be. (1988)

*When looking this up, any number of guys thought it was really funny to point out it says "hurt," not "heard." Too easy.  Dumb humor. Rush would not have approached it that way.  He would play a song and not comment on the lyrics at all. Something like a Rorschach, where the response had to come from you.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Criticism of Government

The divide among populists, liberals, libertarians and conservatives is getting murkier. Websites that one would associate with the right side of the political divide are railing about vaccine rollout.  They focus on the hypocrisies of the well-connected, and tie this to the fact that people are DEEPLY UPSET that they can't get "their" vaccination.  Massachusetts is doing very well, one of the best in the country, in percentage of people getting vaccinated.  But today one million people became newly eligible, and the registration site was overwhelmed and crashed.  The citizens of MA are outraged.  It is fun to for conservatives elsewhere to say "Well, heh-heh, that's because all those liberals want the government to fix everything for them, that's why they are acting like that." But they do have a vaccine rollout that is likely better than your state's.

Okay, now do Texas.  T99 put herself into the line of fire in her county after the hurricane to try to keep accountability and feet to the fire on relief.  After all the posturing about Texas Strong and we'll-show-the-country-how-it's-done (and to be fair, there has been a lot of that in Texas), she encountered a lot of folks with the same fix-it-for-me attitude as in other places and worse, fix-it-for-me-NOW.  And then there is the freezing and power outages now, and the public response. 

It's not that there are all these incompetent government officials who can organise a two-car funeral. It's that difficult things are difficult, but people would rather complain. Who is responsible for all this?  We are.  Our governments are doing exactly what we told them to do, but now we don't like it. Every year I have at least one incident where I escape by the skin of my teeth even though I did not prepare well enough. We forget grace the next morning and look down on those whose teeth has less skin.

In Dostoevsky's The Grand Inquisitor, the inquisitor accuses Christ, who does not respond, of creating all this evil because He has allowed freedom instead of rescue for the bulk of humanity that suffers.  He imputes a rather libertarian attitude to Jesus, that all this suffering occurs because he want to preserve freedom. Dostoevsky is not drawing a two-dimensional easy distinction here. Though he paints the Inquisitor as something of a devil, an antichrist, in the full corpus of his writings it is clear that he has enormous sympathy for those who would rescue mankind, which is usually foolish, to provide bread, and shelter, and safety.  Many students read that section of The Brothers Karamazov and conclude that Ivan is not fully answered - not in the moment and not in the rest of the novel - and the devil seems the kinder, more compassionate one. 

There is a long tradition in Jewish mysticism and Hasidic lore that Satan separated from God because he thought he was the compassionate one who loved humans more and wanted to rescue them from suffering. In such imaginings, the devil wins every battle and every argument with God until the end, where God reveals in what can only be seen as a rather 51-49 victory for mankind in this life that this slight advantage for free choice is ultimately the only way to true happiness. It is Satan's refusal to trust God that this narrow benefit is eventually all that is his downfall. He offers the third temptation of all power to relieve the suffering of the world to Christ not to trick Him, but to convince him that the devil's idea is really the better one. (Once you have thought this, applying it retroactively to the previous two temptations is fascinating in it's thoughts about suffering.)

The populist says that we should let the people have power over their own lives because they are going to get it right nearly all the time, while the government is going to screw it up.  There are libertarians who think the same, and that is the fun rhetoric to play with in arguments, listing all the stupidities of bureaucrats and career civil servants and pretentious people who think they know better.  But that's a cartoon. In reality, a lot of people, not just a few, will screw up their lives and it is easy to see why it might look more compassionate to just fix it for them. The more realistic libertarian sees that and at least understands why the liberal would want to intervene and reduce suffering. The populists are flat wrong.  It is not merely the few who won't get it right, who can be shrugged off as the necessary cost for the rest of us to have good lives.  It is is the many who will get things wrong.  Including you, Jasper.

Related, but an aside, there has been entirely too much this year of complaining that all those Other People just want power, and telling us what to do, and getting off about how important they are.  Yes, political argument is so easy when you can read the motives of your opponents with your magical Motive-o-Meter and expose them as rotten to the core. Yes, life is convenient when your opponents are always evil, as I have been complaining to liberals for years. All of us have mixed motives, and once you open the door to that conversation, be prepared to have it returned.

Freedom is morally superior only by a whisper.  That whisper, repeated for eternity is eventually The Great Divorce, the final and full separation of good and evil.  Yet we live in the world where that is barely visible.

Trans Athletes

Trans athletes competing against women.

I don't think you can get there without assuming what you are trying to prove.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021


I have a friend who grew up Roman Catholic but now more often attends a Protestant church.  He does attend Catholic mass moderately often. He deeply resents that he is considered ineligible for the Lord's Table there, and mostly just ignores that, just going forward and receiving when he attends. He knows that it is extremely unlikely anyone there knows his history, including the priests, so... Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

He knows that I disagree with this stance.  We have discussed it a few times. But let me first try to get into his head to understand his point of view rather than condemn it out-of hand.  I think I can.  His picture is that God Does Something* to the elements on the altar, and the priests determine who gets it. He thinks they are unreasonably interposing their judgement, however informed it is by Catholic history, and should not be denying the sacrament to those who want it.  He thinks Jesus would never do that, but would offer it freely. That part is not a guess on my part.  He has said that clearly.  His picture of Jesus is of one open to all, but man-made rules, via the Roman Catholic hierarchy and the rules of various Protestant churches he also doesn't agree with, block those streams of living water, and are wrong to do so.  He has often mentioned going to Weston Priory, in a you-can't-get-theah-from-heah part of Vermont in the 1980s, and they distributing to all who came to worship with them on a Sunday morning without question. (They also have a labyrinth you can walk.  I'm just sayin'.) He thinks that is as it should be. I don't know what the official RCC position on this is and how Weston Priory does this, but I'm betting they are pretty strict about people joining their order being sussed out pretty thoroughly as Catholic and would not be flexible on the point.

I am familiar with churches that have rules of closed communion and some of their thoughts on that, and our own denomination has the communion open to all who confess Christ and intend to serve Him. The Puritans had very closed communion, wanting to have the church visible be as close to the true church as could be managed - and they were not expansive about how many they thought were getting in. Mine is not a detailed understanding of the nuances of any.

Given that picture, my friend's views make entire sense.  He would add that he has never formally disavowed the Catholic Church in any way, and that he remains a good Catholic in doctrine.  I would dispute that on the basis of this issue alone, but I take his point.  It is true in the main. 

Yet I think there is one point that changes it all.  God Does Something to the elements on the altar, but he does this only in the context of a community of believers. Consider, for example, whatever it is the Mormons or the Jehovah's Witnesses do at the Table. They have many sincere seekers and decent people wanting to receive the Lord in a proper way.  But I think I cannot call that a valid sacrament, however well-intended. That community cannot reliably deliver that. (Whether God does something for individuals in a given week or season I can't say.  But those communities don't get enough right.  I would never partake if I happened to be visiting.) The Roman Church, many Protestant, and the Eastern Orthodox and Syriac churches do not consider the sacrament valid outside their boundaries. They would draw the circle even closer.  Without getting into a discussion of where exactly that circle should be drawn, I think they are applying a standard something like mine.  It is not a matter of the priest or an entire hierarchy deciding who gets the goodies for good reasons or bad, but a belief that God only acts in the context of His community, for reasons we only partly understand.

So if they say "you have to be part of this community, because it is the community that provides the context, not so much what the minister says," that's quite different.  I grew up Congregationalist, BTW, a group that I now think gets it all almost entirely wrong.

I wonder just in this moment if the Catholics have created some of this problem as an unfortunate tradeoff they have to make to preserve the doctrine of Real Presence.  If you grew up Catholic, you were taught that, stripped of details no kid was paying attention to, God did magic up there when the priest said and did certain things, and then that was Actual Jesus, which you got to receive. That's not quite what what you were supposed to think, and it neglected all those parts about this happening only because the priest was operating from within the structure of The Church, but even as a Protestant kid growing up in a significantly Catholic city I think that's about what my friends thought, even the smart ones.

Have fun with this.  It is serious stuff, but I don't have confidence I have anything more than a better-than-average understanding of it.

*The details of that are important, but not, I don't think, for this discussion.


Glenn Greenwald is now being linked to and referred to by conservative sites who almost entirely disagree with his liberal views, mostly because he tries hard to get the facts right and pushes back against the liberal sources that want none of it. Is there a pattern that conservatives that move in the liberal direction are largely those who moved into liberal environments and gradually go native (Chuck Todd, David Brooks, Jennifer Rubin, Mitt Romney) while liberals who become more conservative (sometimes not very conservative) have first been elbowed out onto their own resources, no longer protected by the tribe, and resolve to shoot as squarely as they could, whether anyone gave them a job or not? (Alan Dershowitz, Sharyn Atkisson, Matt Taibbi, Greenwald, David Horowitz - and me).  BTW the standard online explanation of liberals going conservative is that they don't exist, and it is essentially Russian disinformation. I really hope that is not a general view among liberals but only some loud online voices, because that is a frightening level of paranoia and denial of reality.

Anyway, Greenwald writing about the White House riot. He doesn't at all like the protestors, but his harshest words are for those writing about them.

Kindness, Unity, Healing

Joe Biden could do a lot in support of the Valentine's Hearts his wife put up on the White House Lawn if he just says a few nice, bland things about the death of Rush Limbaugh. Just be polite, y'know? Bill Clinton might have a go at saying a few actually nice things in a jovial way, as he has (accurately) mentioned in the past that Limbaugh had nice things to say about him as governor of Arkansas and putting together a group of like-minded centrist Democrats to pull things away from the Dukakis liberal cliff. Limbaugh mentioned it in later years also.  It was a great idea, but turned out to be mostly for show. Though I did notice that Clinton's campaigning was always along the lines of saying insulting things about those frightening conservatives and then insisting "I'm the only one who can save you from them."  His governance was less liberal - he made his living as an anti-conservative, not a pro-liberal, except in trading off boomer/Woodstock imagery. Very effective. If Bill does say a few nice things, it will allow him to get in some additional digs along the way.

The Bushes will say nice things, perhaps a little more understated and hands-off than they should for someone who carried water for them in hard times. Romney will be even more distant. Obama might make an attempt at the brief bland acknowledgement, but is likely to come off as merely aloof and condescending. If he tries to go for anything more, it will be something that his supporters see as wise, judicious, and fair, but will in fact be divisive and insulting not very far below the surface.  Obama is not actually a kindly person, so he can't manage those things. We'll see.  He might do better. I have no confidence Biden will handle this at all well. 

It is a significant opportunity for people to be generous of spirit.

Reminder:  Not only news organisations, but public figures plan out long in advance what they are going to say when someone dies.  There might be miscalculations, but there are no accidents there. I never thought about what I would say at Rush's death until today.  The Boston Globe has been thinking about it for years, discussed at the highest levels.

Trauma, Depression, Anxiety - New Treatments

There will be a few posts because there's a lot of info, but i don't think I will be making this a regular topic here.

I hesitate to bring them along, because I was never an expert, and in the last few years have begun slipping even below the level of talented amateur. I was only pressed into doing therapy a few times, when odd circumstances made it necessary, and it had to be kept quiet, as I was not technically allowed. I gave no signs of being any good at it. But when I was going in full-time I had professionals on my team who thought about these things a lot and read up on developments.  A few were fools, and perhaps even dangerous; many were competent and able to discuss the merits of various approaches; a precious few were brilliant and flexibly minded and their observations on the patient, what the outpatient therapist was doing, the new research in the literature and the various Grand Rounds, and the underlying theories was pure gold. We had little time to discuss each acute emergency every morning, with a deeper dive on one or two a day. The psychiatrists, neurologists, and residents (usually 2nd or 4th-year) would also discuss brain structure, what receptors are being targeted and so forth, which I had no need to know but paid attention, just in case. There was a lot of knowledge in the rooms. Let he who has ears listen, and I knew a bit in those days.

Much of this was new late in my career, or really got untracked for approved use only after I was semi-retired. I therefore only know what I read, but have some ability to detect unfounded claims or outright woo. A lot of what is happening in treatment now looks like woo, but some of it seems to be holding up in clinical practice. For example, I was sure that EMDR was going to turn out to be voodoo, then I thought that maybe there was something to the general idea of storing memories in a different form but rejected the eye-movement part as just decoration.  I now think the eye-movement part is likely to be at least one technique that does aid in storing of memories. 

Not all of the new stuff works, though.  Some of it is revealing itself to be indeed nothing more than cool-sounding alternative medicine stuff that does no lasting good or even harms. From the essay I am about to link

"This is a very pre-replication-crisis book. In these more cynical days, we know that the first few studies on any technique – usually done in an atmosphere of frothy excitement, by the technique’s most fervent early adapters – are always highly positive. And later studies – done in an atmosphere of boredom, by large multi-center consortia – are almost always disappointing."

Scott Alexander of Slate Star Codex, recently revealed (and he has embraced this now) as Dr. Scott Siskind of Astral Codex Ten  has built up a lot of credibility with me over the years on many subjects, and psychiatry is his specialty. Thus I am quite confident in passing along his review of the famous/notorious book The Body Keeps the Score, by the Dutch psychiatrist Bessel Van der Kolk. You won't need to read the book after reading the review. Van der Kolk is important in getting PTSD recognised as a legit diagnosis at all, both the military and child abuse forms. The VA wouldn't even listen to him in 1980, claiming that studying trauma had never shown any benefit to veterans.  The idea was still that you should just tough it out, it would go away in time, it was the weak pre-existing personality of the vet, etc.  But when your nightmares - over which you have no control - are depriving you of hours of sleep for years on end, that has powerful long-term effects.  Just one example.  Many symptoms can be managed by keeping yourself out of certain situations, but that does mean you have to limit your life in some way, and some costs are very high.

So Van der Kolk deserves credit for that, but Siskind doesn't think his work over the last 20 years shines as brightly. Sisking has always needed a friendly editor, but he is thorough and the information is good. 

I posted James Thompson's review of some research about trauma last weekend, with the thought that one's subjective impression of what trauma occurred is a stronger effect than both the extent of the actual trauma and the pre-existing personality of the victim, which have been the two primary foci of research until now. Thompson says "subjective impression" and Siskind says "schema," but I think there is a lot of shared meaning there. So as a first observation, we could say that The Schema Keeps the Score.

By the way I usually apologise for linking to Unz.  It has some very good people, like Thompson and Steve Sailer.  But it also is just chockablock full of antisemites, some of whom are very good at sounding measured and fact-based, but always come to the same conclusion about the Zionists regardless of the data. I would think they would find more welcome on left-wing sites at this point, but they clearly respond to much of the symbolism of the right, and they aren't noted for being flexible in their thinking.  So it likely won't happen, no matter how much they hate the conservatives that just don't see the obvious about the Jews. There are also a lot of Russian apologists, some good , some just crazy. So.  Sorry.

So I will just start with those two for now, before giving my own thoughts.  I will be covering coherence therapy and touch on the somatic therapies in upcoming posts, adding in some things that occurred to me while reading all these.  Plenty to keep you busy for a day or too, and much to think about on your long walks.  Oh, I'm sorry.  that's me, not you.  Lost my head.