Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Student Athletes

FEE takes the predictable pro-market view of the SCOTUS decision that student athletes can be paid for autographs, use of their likeness, etc. I think it is the right decision, despite the potential for abuse by boosters funneling money to recruits this way. However, I don't think the athletes are going to make much cash out of the deal.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Delta Variant

So, good news, bad news, and just news, according to Megan Ranney. The bad news is the Delta variant is significantly more contagious. The good news is that the Pfizer and AZ vaccines work against it, and Moderna probably does. The "just news" is that vaccination rates by state seem to matter, so your behavior might be different in different places.

Also, her quick summary about the myths around vaccines.

The Smith and the Devil

I read something about the ancientness of folktales and thought it worth reporting, thinking it was an update on  things I had read before.  I should have been suspicious when I saw the publication date of 2016 that this was probably something that had already found its way to me before.  The study itself seemed like new information to me, heavily dependent on Bayesian mathematics, about which I basically know the principle and the vocabulary and little more.  Make that nothing more. But as a paragraph halfway through the study rang a bell, I wondered if I had seen articles about this before, even if I hadn't seen the study itself.  Or perhaps, forgotten the study in confusion.

It turns out that I had told you about this study when it came out in 2016 and linked to a BBC article, I also made some general observations, and apparently had read the study then as well. I then linked to another article about the study in 2019, making fewer remarks.  There's no evidence I read the study a second time. This suggests I will be posting on this again in early 2014. 

Update:  Readers have pointed out that should be 2024.

There's a slight update from one of the researchers, and a parallel development with Vietnamese folktales. As far as I can tell no one is interested anymore.

The Lord Bless You and Keep You

 I sang with the choir this week for this wonderful piece by Lutkin.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Bruiser LaRue


This seems apropos.

Who Would You Listen To? Positive Example

I was listening to Patrick Wyman interview David Anthony (author of The Horse, The Wheel, and Language, which we have discussed here a few times). Because I have seen Anthony treat the data in his own field of archaeology with an "on the one hand, on the other hand" attitude, I was prepared to trust him when he moved into broader territory, talking about the cultural forces that caused biases in his field in the 20th C, and why some information was received and some was not.  He did not disappoint.  Those who can be trusted in one field are more likely to be trustworthy in another - not only in honesty, but in the intellectual honesty of pursuing knowledge fairly. 

In his research for his upcoming book The Dogs of War, he believes that the archaeological site accidentally found on the Steppe which had 30-40% identically-slaughtered and likely gnawed on dog and wolf bones (as compared to a more usual 1% - they did not usually eat dogs) were tied to an initiation ritual of boys becoming men by preparing for war, becoming dogs or wolves and eating them. He notes that the association of warriors as dogs or wolves shows up in many cultures descended from the Indo-European, even into nicknames in many widely-separated armed services to this day. That to us it "just seems natural" he considers part of the evidence.  It is less common in non-Indo-European cultures, except for the Uralic cultures (Finns, Estonians, Hungarians, Samoyeds) which were known to have contact in that time period. He claims that the Roman Lupercalia, a holiday of obscure but known to be ancient origin even to them, had become a purification festival (giving us our word February) but had previously been both a wolf/war festival and goat/fertility festival, with rituals and superstitions down unto late Roman times, including the sacrifice of a dog and a goat. It was on February 15, and he believes (he is not the first) that St Valentine's Day on Feb 14, which commemorating a martyr from the 3rd C is deeply related to the fertility side of the festival.  

It does seem a bit of a long kite string, from 3500BC to now, but it hangs together and he promises to include more supporting evidence in the book. Because of his track record, I am tending to believe this deep relationship.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Brain Imaging Before and After Covid

Brain Imaging Before and After Covid in UK Biobank. I am familiar with privacy and abuse issues with the government holding a great store of medical information about its residents. Worth discussing another day.   But this is the upside.  Brain imaging had been done on many, many people in the UK before Covid was even heard of. After Covid has circulated and a lot of folks have had it, you can track down those who have previously had imaging and scan 'em again to look for changes. It eliminates a possible complication: Unlike in post hoc disease studies, the availability of pre-infection imaging data helps avoid the danger of pre-existing risk factors or clinical conditions being mis-interpreted as disease effects.  

I have mentioned my concern about the long-term neurological effects of Covid.  When people lose their sense of smell or sense of taste it strongly suggests neurological involvement.  When a person arrived at my hospital with olfactory hallucinations, ordering a neuro consult was routine. Therefore I was interested in the following part of their conclusions.

Our findings thus consistently relate to loss of grey matter in limbic cortical areas directly linked to the primary olfactory and gustatory system.

We might hope that these diminish or even disappear over time.  But it is something to be aware of. 

Thanks to regular reader Thos. for passing this along.

Who Would You Listen To?

John McWhorter explains a bit about the new religion Electism to me.  I had not heard of it by name, but I had run across some of the concepts. They seem an inevitable extension of some black theology over the last couple of decades.

Yet what jumped out at me was not the theology so much as the reasoning.  There was a small sample to work from, but the two theologians he quotes - one from Chicago Theological Seminary and the other from Princeton, Tubingen, and Yale - were operating on an extremely long kite string from grounded reality. It occurred to me that I was not interested in what they had to say on any other subject. I had not quite known this about myself, but I understood that I make my judgements on this basis often.

If I overheard them talking about the brakes of a car or important facets of making wine I would ease away. Yes there is some chance one of them worked for a few year at a winery and might know something, but even at that, I would wonder if they had absorbed too much speculative knowledge or great ideas they had come up with on their own without running past anyone else.

I would not ask them if such-and-such was a good boss to work for or a good employee to hire.  If I learned that they had spent time in Des Moines I would not ask them what is happening with the culture or economy there. I don't trust their ability to make simple observations and draw simple conclusions.Such preachers used to be comic figures, whether they were urban or rural, white or black, trying to impress us by using big words. I think it's a reliable indicator, not only in theology, but in any complex subject.  Do I even want to hear them talk about a simple subject? 

Incidentally, I have an answer to the puzzle John came up against about the leap of faith aspect of religion as applied to Electism.  There is something different from the more familiar religions, and he comes right to the edge of it.  All religions do ask for some leap of faith, and he doesn't feel the need to make one for any of them. I might like to pursue that with him, but I get that reasoning. (I think the same might be said of many philosophies that would deny being religions but function as one.  I am one who believes that everyone has a religion in there somewhere, they just may not have defined it that way.) 

But first, other religions aren't constructed of things known to be false.  You might not believe that Mohammed was a prophet, and don't want to take the leap that he was, but you haven't got a way of proving that he wasn't.  You might think the idea of Jesus rising from the dead absurdly unlikely, but you haven't got an active disproof. But we know the information about Michael Brown is false, based on a theory of innocence that does not accord with the facts. Secondly, this particular new religion asks us to make a leap of faith at every point. It is not merely some difficult doctrines which require getting over, it is every item on the menu.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Different Vibe

Poetic and Understandable - Mostly


House Painting

I put in a couple of hours a day painting the house, taking my time.  Tomorrow will be a day that I neither have to climb a ladder nor crawl around on the ground, on a section that is pretty much taped, so I should cover a fair bit of surface area tomorrow, a visual reward for the more irritating sections that go more slowly.

I hate all manner of working on the house, but I rest assured in the knowledge that anything that makes me miserable is probably good for me.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Obama's Missed Opportunity

Loury identifies the same divisive incidents that I did years ago.  I'm glad he remembered how damaging it is for a president to publicly intervene in a criminal matter.

Festival Worship

Connected to my recent discussion of worship styles

Reprinted from 2010, and again on Christmas 2017

We have many cycles rising and falling in our year. Ancient peoples had but one, combining them all. Granting considerable overlap of holidays and seasons, we nonetheless have many calendars operating independently of each other. There is the school year, with its special punctuation – Christmas vacation, winter vacation, spring vacation, summer vacation, exams and report cards, fairs and competitions, end-of-the-year ceremonies, dances and proms, and graduation, which comes with its own traditional music, costume, cliches, and ceremony.

There is the sports calendar. Life begins on Opening Day of baseball, according to Tom Boswell, and so ends with March Madness, I suppose. In between there are not only the seasons of three major sports – including playoffs, drafts, off-season moves – but minor sports as well, each with their own devotees. These sports have identifiable associated costumes, foods, music, ceremonies, shrines, histories, and authorities. And that’s just the professional, spectator sports. Add in more calendar dates for kid’s sports and participatory sports. Fishing season. Ski season.

I haven’t even really gotten started with calendars. We have a national calendar, with civic and patriotic dates, each associated with special foods, colors…you get the idea. Plus a cultural calendar, with Hallowe’en, Valentine’s Day…work calendars, different in every industry, but powerful for those living in fiscal years or seasonal busy-ness…whatever is left of the religious calendar, which especially has identifiable foods, music, themes, and history…seasons of weather and of agriculture…Old Home Days and county fairs…family calendars of birthdays, anniversaries, and usual vacations…election cycles, Olympic years. The themes of anticipation, production, celebration, with a tear in the eye, nostalgic music, and comfort foods fill them all.

And within these are the cycles of weekday and weekend 52 times, beginnings and ends of months, often important.

What if all these cycles coincided and reinforced each other? What if everyone in the culture shared most of them and celebrated them together? I doubt we can even imagine very well, nor feel with similar intensity, what it would be like if all of this energy were put into one shared package, so that harvest festival was also religious festival was also family festival was also national festival. Yet this was the life that all our ancestors lived until a very few centuries ago.

With that picture in mind, let’s add hunger (some chronic, some from fasting), pilgrimage, infrequent communication with relatives…let’s step into that frame.

You are walking or riding to Jerusalem for one of the major yearly festivals, so you are tired, hungry, and dusty before you even get there. On the plus side, you are looking forward to seeing relatives, and tucking in to some of Aunt Martha’s seasoned lamb. Uncle Jacob is known to have a pretty free hand with the wine as well, and folks will talk and laugh far into the night. If you were a married female, moved to be with your husband’s family, this would have even more meaning, seeing sisters, parents, grown children who live away. Adolescents would have the mixed excitement/apprehension of potential betrothals – a key use of festival times. Along the road, travelers will occasionally sing the appropriate songs and psalms – the local variations from your village.

However much you may fear that God might be displeased with something you are or have done, you have complete assurance you are right in this. You are going where He wants, at the time He chose. You are going to the place He visits, or even partly dwells, and following in the steps of a thousand ancestors. Psalm 42:4 These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng. There is the long ascent to the Temple, the psalms being sung with increasing agreement as the many families and villages come in, adjusting to each other’s order and variations. By the time you are halfway up, everyone in front of you is pretty much in concert, the whole mountainside singing the same words and moving forward.

You see the Temple, you sing the psalms, so this is a religious experience, focused on God. But the anticipation of seasoned lamb and seeing your little sister flit through your mind as well. There are foods brought for sacrifice alongside, and you are hungry, but soon you will eat. You reach the crest with the tired exhilaration that comes from an arduous physical task accomplished, and the camaraderie that comes from doing it with others. The sound of the musicians becomes clear, 288 trained, fulltime musicians, lifetime appointment, very skilled and heavy on the percussion, as you enter the courtyard, singing together. Don't think slow, peaceful Gregorian Chant - think marching band or military drums, Middle-Eastern style.

The priest or choir chants, the people roar response. Inside the Temple is cooler, incense-filled, wildly decorated. Every word is rarely used but completely memorised. You see Uncle Jacob across the way, arms raised, ecstatic, but eyes open. He notices you and winks.

Now that’s worship. And that’s a lot closer to heaven than cartoons of bored angels standing on clouds and holding harps.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

But Is It Better?

I ended my last post on traditional worship with the question of whether it is better. My younger brother had as a frequent humorous reminder "What do you mean better?" The bit worked because he would bring it out when it was obvious what better was in some circumstance as well as times when it was a perceptive question. I will use that here.

I will reiterate my overall intent here. I am not trying to ruin worship for anyone.  I am fortunate in that a lot of things "work" for me in terms of style. We tend to take the type of music and worship we had when we first knew or best knew Jesus to our heart. But my experience has been all over the place: Congregationalist, Lutheran, Covenant, Catholic, camp, teaching Sunday School worship, place-holding worship leader, choir, solo, prayer meeting, spirituals, and singing along to a half dozen styles while driving (back when I listened to music).  So my heart music is all of them, or none. I take what I am given, very grateful that others have done the work, because I am barely adequate at it myself, and try to enter into it as best I can. But where I think the danger is now is with traditional music - the group that believes it is in the least danger from worship style. I have criticised other styles, especially the "Jesus is my boyfriend" lyrics of some praise songs.  I may do some of that at the end here.  But driticism of them is not a defensive of the traditional.

Music and styles have their place. Camp music has to be simple enough to teach to children in a week, so that they can sing lustily by the end and bring it back for next year. Music for a prayer meeting tends to "space-clearing," plus straightforward praise. The prayers tend to the spontaneous and heartfelt. Old camp meeting songs, still used by some groups such as Baptists, would take one subject, usually salvation, and hit it hard, to the exclusion of other aspects of the faith. Choirs sing what is musically complex, but is often lyrically very simple and repetitive. Sevenfold Amens, Jubilate Deo, "Hear Our Prayer, O Lord" and other responses - heck even the Hallelujah Chorus is lyrically repetitive. Also, you have to mispronounce everything so that it sounds prettier, impeding understanding. Faulting praise songs, which are also sung by the new believers and untrained, for being repetitive has always struck me as snobbery.

Snobbery.  Yes this is my people, the Arts & Humanities Tribe, causing a lot of the trouble here. The four-verse hymn is showy and rather full of itself as a genre.  It came in among the first Christians with widespread literacy and cheap printing, among groups that were together week in, week out, with elaborate organs, or at minimum a piano, neither of which is portable. You have to speak Christianese and understand archaic vocabulary to understand them, and too many of the lyricists were trying very hard to be poetic.  Some succeeded. "The Church's One Foundation" is good (except for "endued"), "A Mighty Fortress" seems both poetic and mostly understandable. But we had "Immortal, Invisible" this week : Unresting, unhasting,and silent as light; Nor wanting, nor wasting, thou rulest in might. Not to mention Ancient of Days thrown into the verse before.  Or how about "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing?" Here I raise my Ebenezer...Hey, how did Scrooge get into this song?  What am I missing here? 

And speaking of "A Mighty Fortress," I heard a pastor of fifty years offhandedly preach "As the old hymn says 'On earth is not his equal,'" to refer to Jesus.  It's not the only time I've heard folks quote a familiar hymn with the meaning wrong.  So I'm not convinced that people are completely getting these lyrics.  They have known the tune since childhood and get the sense of a lot of it, treasuring some lines here and there, occasionally knowing one in depth after contemplation. But if you didn't grow up with the tunes, you aren't likely to fall in love with them as an adult. 

One of the great things about the traditional service is also a weakness.  It takes more people, more training, more resources to pull it off.  That means cooperation, folks working together, united in a goal at choir or practicing their instruments, or practicing reading scripture aloud, and other smaller things - getting candles and robes and bulletins. Ceremony takes work, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.  It's part of the exaltation when everything is going right, when the people know the hymns and the order of worship, when the organ is full and the choir is rehearsed. Robes, candles, processions.  I call it "festival worship" and is a preference for me. It is what people remember fondly from their days in college choir, or from grand convocations with a thousand people, or the Christmas or Easter services. It is wonderful. Contemporary worship styles generally can't match it, though sometimes sheer numbers or occasion will do the trick.

But I spent years as one of the worship leaders in a small congregation that did not sing out.  Though some were trained and talented, there was a tendency to look down and sing quietly into the hymnal.  The pianist was a concert professional who did not have the knack for being an accompanist. One of my sons said the eventual archetypal service for Concord Covenant was going to be everyone reading the verses silently to themselves while Kathy played. We tried, week after week, year after year. It's just draining.  If you have traditional worship, people have to be carried by the organ, or the choir driving the hymns, or a long familiarity by the congregation. If you don't believe me, try it with an entirely appropriate but less-known selection from the hymnal, without the organ and with a pianist just filling and the choir on a week off in some week. Or tell me how it goes when you don't have enough people for a choir anymore and someone is scrambling for "special music" every week. And this was an older congregation who had all grown up on generic Protestant hymns, knew the Creeds and the Gloria Patri and much scripture without looking.

We went down in defeat, clinging to our hymns. Because...we had standards. I wish I had stood up to them more. We might have chased some away if we had gone to lighter, more culturally accessible music.  But we might have kept more of our visitors, because after the first few years, we didn't keep many. You need resources, you need critical mass. And given that this is form that not everyone likes, and a much smaller percentage has grown up on, I don't see how it's an advantage.

Yes, contemporary worship used to be camp songs, or songs borrowed from popular culture, especially 60s folk music (Commenter Michael reminded me that Catholics had Folk Mass, with lots of songs on guitar C-Am-F-G7). Then contemporary Christian music went heavily into performance pieces which were tough for congregations to sing. That has persisted, though there now seems to be more written specifically for congregational singing rather than listening. Rockers also get carried away with themselves and have high technical demands, also a drain on resources. So nothing really works - or everything works in some way. I take what I am given, very grateful not to be the worship leader pouring in energy every week, and like it as best I can.  This is not because I am spiritually advanced but because I think this is the polite minimum.

Monday, June 21, 2021

New World Record

 I pay less attention to the field events, but pushing the record out eight inches is enormous.

The throw is early in the video.  they don't make you wait through a lot of other stuff like they sometimes do.


And another one, almost as good in the hammer throw. 


Mind Your Decisions

These keep coming up on my YouTube sidebar, and are usually interesting.  I get a few, but mostly I am kicking myself and saying "I should have seen that."

Who Goes Nazi?

 Dorothy Thompson's 1941 essay is always worth revisiting. 

I referred to it a few more times, some with good comments.  I don't think much of it will make sense without having read the 6-page essay though. I think I did better with this one than I could do now, and so will add nothing.

Who Goes Nazi? Continued. 


Sunday, June 20, 2021

Traditional Worship

I am going to say some hard things about some of the folks who advocate for traditional worship, so I should stress that I generally prefer it myself. What I would prefer is far more traditional than what occurs at our early service that is called the traditional service. I like liturgical services, even the less-worthy choices.  I think it is better theology to begin with a corporate confession of sins.  My wife mentioned that she misses having a Call to Worship - something that would certainly work well in a contemporary, Pentecostal, or informal service - and I concur. I would prefer to take communion weekly, at a kneeler up by the altar. So when I am criticising people who want traditional worship, I am pretty clearly not saying it's all of them, so please bear that in mind.

But that is lesson #1. I am never going to get what I want, and that's okay. While worshiping might be the most important part of the Sabbath, the type of worship is not.  I take what I am given and I learn to like it as best I can. 

Here are two looks at the same facts: Traditional worship, which nearly always means denominational settings, is the worship of the faithful. Those that have stood with the denomination or even that particular church for many years, in good times and bad, putting money in the plate, volunteering for whatever came up, dutifully attending weekly, make up the bulk of those who find traditional worship meaningful. The exceptions are usually the classically trained musicians of any age. It is a very human response to be reluctant to give up what for them has worked for many years.

The other side of that is why should we keep the style, especially the music, that has been chasing people out of the church for the last fifty years? The traditionalists are surrounded by each other, often in the choir, and have stories they tell themselves about people who have sought this congregation out appreciative that we have a traditional service. They believe there is a lot of call for this, if it were just embraced more whole-heartedly. But there isn't. We had an influx of choir and traditionalists a few years ago when a nearby church ceased having choir and traditional service.  To the eyes of our people, it was "See?  There is a demand for this.  People come here because we have this."  But it's just consolidation.  The denominational churches have been shrinking.This is one of the reasons.

The in-house discussions in the Christian press often focus on the doctrinal issues, but the people I speak to in the flesh who are my age but go to newer churches and non-denoms nearly always reference the music, and for younger people, the four-verse hymn causes a shudder or an eye-roll. Some might like it as an occasional part of a service, either because they like the hymn or because they like the feeling of connection to earlier eras of the church.

A dear friend who recently died believed strongly that if the church just made an effort to explain to young people about these wonderful hymns they would like them. He was a kindly person, but he had smuggled in a very dangerous idea, that this music was very obviously spiritually superior, and good Christians could not help but recognise that if given the chance. I have heard other people say exactly this in less kind voices. They do not see their music choice as a mere preference on their part. It is often framed in the negative - they believe the other styles of music are cheap and inferior, leading to emotionalism and shallowness and lack of reverence. At our meeting, one woman expressed resentment that those in the traditional service always had to suffer incursions of new music they didn't like, but the contemporary service never allowed any traditional music.  That's only partly true, but even if it were entirely true it's a false equivalence. There isn't an equivalent demand for the two styles.  Traditional is more of a niche market.  I imagine it has more popularity in the south, yet I will bet it is waning there as well.

Before I get into the pluses and minuses of various styles, let me ask "If these hymns of yours are so superior in bringing one close to God, then how is it that you have such a lack of charity after all these years?" I think the charge of emotionalism, however fairly it might be applied to contemporary music, might fit the experience of traditional music and liturgical forms better. They might bring comfort, but comfort is not the entire point. 

I feel it.  I grew up with many of these hymns, I know the bass parts and can free-form other harmonies, I have contemplated the odd and difficult lyrics enough over the years to understand them clearly, and I love, love, love singing many (not all) of them. But I also recognise that I am an enormous exception in the population at large in this.  You know, the people who we are supposed to want to come join us in worship. Very few of them like this much at all.

There is a particular irony in this in the Evangelical Covenant. It was founded in Sweden by Lutherans who had started having home Bible studies and prayer meetings as a result of the Pietist movement in the 19th C.  The started arguing early on about whether to keep the Lutheran hymns they had grown up with (and so many must have had significant attachment to) or find other music. They kept some of the Lutheran hymns, but they went out and wrote a lot of new music themselves.  That music is now the foundation of the dusty old Brown Hymnal that only the oldest Swedes care about.  It is now the traditional music.  The Methodists have the same situation, pushed a century farther back.  Lots of "traditional" Baptist hymns are 19th C and/or camp meeting. Because this is America, the various denominations shared with each other and the hymns thought of as "traditional" in the congregations today might not have been sung by their own grandparents. There is a generally recognised core, maybe.

We did have someone say "If it doesn't have a number I don't want to sing it," and another who thought that children weren't being taught reverence because of the influence of that other music, and she could just see it when they went up with their families for communion. I'm getting irritated here, and so will not multiply examples.

But is it Better? 

Yet all of this would be extraneous if the style or the music really is a better vehicle for worship and for growth.  I have already stated my preference for liturgy and you might convince me on that score. The spiritual record of the liturgical churches looks rather mixed to me over the last century, but there are clear strengths. But I don't think we're getting there on the hymns. I think they have a significant overall weakness. We'll pick that up next time.

Inflicting Ideas

Narr/Cousin Eddie had a Mencken quote in the comment section under the CRT post that I thought good enough that I wanted to remember it for use later.  The best way to do that is to make it a post of its own. Thus I went looking for what I hope is the exact wording, though even quotation sites are not 100% reliable on that (as I have learned from the many false CS Lewis quotes that have circulated on the internet).

Any man who inflicts the human race with ideas must be prepared to see them misunderstood.

I admit I was a touch disappointed, because in Cousin Eddie's version it seemed the inflicter of ideas who is being taken to task, while the actual quote seems to favor that person over the mass of men who will misunderstand it.  The difference is not huge because I think both versions are dissatisfied with both parties, but I think it is present.  However, Mencken comes to the rescue in another place. While searching for the first quote I happened upon another one I thought appropriate to our age as well.

The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false-face for the urge to rule it.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

John McWhorter on CRT

I have started going over to McWhorter's substacks (he has two) instead of waiting to catch him linked in other print publications or his biweekly exchanges with Glenn Loury on "The Glenn Show." Loury is also now on substack. Some content is for paid subscribers only.  I haven't yet, but probably should.

John has a recent essay "You Are Not a Racist to Criticize Critical Race Theory." It is simple, commonsensical, and answering some of the charges the critics have thrown at them. I particularly like his attention to the slippery definitions of terms - which is what one hopes for from in a linguist - of the attempt of some, especially academics, to retreat into what the term Critical Race Theory originally meant, and is therefore supposed to mean. It is the flip side of the discussion we just had about the word racism, in which I cautioned conservatives against blaming the dictionary for printing definitions that reflect what some people mean by the term, even if others object to it as an illegitimate expansion of the meaning. The same thing is happening here, and it is fair to hold leftists to their own standard.  What CRT is "supposed" to mean in an academic legal setting is not the whole story.  It has in fact expanded in meaning on the lips of its users and those who approve of it, not just its critics trying to turn it into something it isn't. 

It will be interesting if dictionaries hold to their own standards and include this expanded version of CRT in the next few years.  If they don't then they are open to charges of playing favorites.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Lab Leak

 I defended the possibility that the lab leak theory was real in April after having heard an interview with Alina Chan.  She was very tentative then, so I followed suit.  I wish now that I had hit it harder.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

10,000 Meters - NCAA championship

Unless you really like watching people run around in circles, as only a few of us do, I recommend you pick this up around the 15:00 mark. The announcers have been hinting at it, but are now clear that a long-standing record is going down, by a lot, and multiple runners are still in it. An amazing ten runners broke the old record. Not often seen.

Time Warp

 This was fun

Bad Attitudes

I recognised that I have a bad attitude about people who have bad attitudes.  There is the standing irony of people who are intolerant of those whom they perceive to be intolerant - not that they acknowledge that.  But I unfortunately may understand them better than I would like.  

The subject came up because of a church meeting in which where we are headed in terms of worship was being discussed, now that our worship pastor is leaving. Those of you who have been through such discussions know how difficult they can get. I have opinions what is behind some of the attitudes, which I will leave out. Suffice it to say that there are unattractive motives masquerading as spiritual ones. This is hardly surprising. People go looking to the church to justify any number of terrible things they badly want to do. 

Bad attitudes are accompanied by bad reasoning. I find both distressing even among friends and family - or especially among friends and family.

Supreme Court Decisions

Without commenting on any particular decision, I have always believed that if you could convince two SCOTUS justices of your idea it isn't completely without merit.  It might be ultimately wrong, but not crazy wrong.  One, not quite enough.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Coffee Beans

 Tweet by Grant Hatley

"But if the coffee beans are ground and artificially flavored, how can they be made delicious again? They are no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot." Matthew 5:13, a modern loose translation.

This Very Minute

As I scrolled down on my home page looking for something today I realised there is nothing in those posts which would irritate a liberal enough to curse me and never come back.,  So if you were ever going to encourage a liberas friend to try me out, this would be the time. Even the Cornel West post might be swallowable.

Even the second page has only a few...

Because we know it's not going to last.

US Vs European Health Care

A great short article by Kevin Williamson over at National Review, Thinking Honestly about Health Care, Welfare, and Taxes. He points out what we all know but keep forgetting, liberals and conservatives alike, because we would like European Health Care to fit into a tiny box that we can love or hate: European countries vary widely in their health care/insurance and tax structure. The UK and Norway come closest to the model Bernie Sanders (as well as the anti-Bernies) imagine, that you just show up at the doctor, get seen and get treated, and the government pays for it. But I can assure that's not even true in Norway, where my son was put on a waiting list of eighteen months for elective surgery, and encouraged to call around the country to see if another hospital could get him in sooner.  He eventually got an appointment five months later, for which he had to drive 8 hours, stay overnight in a hotel the night before and night after, then drive home.  That kind of "free." The Alaskan natives might have the closest thing to that imagining.  At least, that's what my son who works at the hospital in Nome describes.  He may be jaded and inaccurate, though.

But France, Switzerland, Sweden - everyone really - has mixed and hybrid systems, just like we do in America. It's not as simple as we all like to pretend for our own political needs here.


I am reading and listening about the plagues that changed history - the Plagues of Galen (Antonine) and of Cyprian, where Christianity went from a footnote of a religion to the dominant force of the Roman Empire quickly, largely on the strength of their care of each other, which had both practical and emotional effects; the Plague of Justinian, which prevented Rome from rising in the West again and its echoes over the next two centuries reduced the Eastern empire to Greece and Anatolia; I was told at school The Black Death in the mid-14th C, also echoing a few more times, killed a third of Europe; since then, the number keeps getting revised upwards, now at 60-70%, and I spoke with one person who winced and said "It might have been 80%).  I was similarly told at school that "some" Indians had died of Old World diseases during the first two centuries of colonisation, but soon read that some radicals thought it was "almost a third, though larger in some places."  The estimate for the percentage of New World Natives who died of disease now stands at 90-95%. That's how we really conquered the New World.

In some ways our barely-noticeable plague has had a greater economic impact because our economies are so complex and so wealthy that knocking off the top level of the wall (or house of cards) brings a lot down.  On the other hand, they went from everyone going hungry a few months every year to many of the survivors of disease starving to death.  That would be smaller in dollar terms, but pretty clearly a greater economic disruption. I don't think anyone starved here. No four-year-olds were suddenly left wandering the roads looking for food.

Not Really Lightening Up After Heavy

The first part is a lot of the usual dancing, with me sure I know many of them as they first come into view. We used to call that dancing, until we paid more attention to the black kids and got de-honkified. A lttle, anyway.  Not much you can do with Swedes. So I picked up at the 10:15 mark. (Update: Eh, it's doing that thing where it won't let me again. If you just want the Airplane, you'll have to go to 10:15 yourself.  Usually the system relents and lets me start where I want after a day or two.)

So lava lamp, a pagan nun look, psychedelic tie, weird stuff draped on people, one band member looking bored, and pretty good musicianship, really.  Jorma especially.

I didn't stay for the whole interview at the end, but left it in for you.

Cornel West

I started listening to Cornel West being interviews by Glenn Loury, and just found it rapidly unendurable. I should give the man credit, for frequently appearing onstage with conservatives to discuss free speech and civil dialogue.  It is likely my problem, not his, so I won't describe what put me off. My particular frustration was with one concept, however. Loury called himself a lapsed Christian, and went on to describe that he had fallen away from the church and was rethinking all his philosophical ideas in the context of writing his memoirs, which are expected to come out in about a year.

West, who was let go from Harvard a second time recently and now teaches at Union Theological, affiliated with Columbia University, told Glenn it wasn't a problem to fall away from the church, but he couldn't let himself "fall away from the love." I went back to make sure I had heard that right, because to say that he shouldn't let himself fall away from the Lord would be unremarkable.  But no, it was clearly love that he shouldn't be falling away from. He went on to say that Loury had to still use his "talents" to help "the least of these." Those are both clearly meant to have Jesus echoes, from Matthew 25. People use biblical illustrations without necessarily meaning to imply a moral or religious idea, as that literature is part of our common storehouse.  In literature, when you encounter a garden, a little light should go on in the back of your head, "metaphor alert!" Yet in this case I think he is making a definite this is the important part of the Gospel statement, which he reinforced immediately, claiming that this didn't have much to do with the church or even Christianity. Well, Union Theological. Not unexpected.

I was reminded of Unknown's comment under another recent post, The Fourth Person of the Trinity, that there is a modern deification of The Poor. I think that's almost what's happening here. I think it fits more closely with the CS Lewis teaching not to use biblical language to sell secular ideas. which I referenced recently under Scottish Independence. Jesus used talents in a solidly spiritual sense, and references to "the least of these" never referred to only the least of these nor even especially the least of these, though the latter might be more defensible.  He spoke in a context of people not regarding the poor as at all important.  They were viewed as under God's disfavor. He did speak of reversals, of the last being first, or how hard it was for the rich to enter heaven, but these are more spiritual warnings for the rich than directions. I admit it is not far different.  Because of the practical difficulties of loving the unlovable, you can go a long way subbing in the face of them for the face of Jesus, even if that also falls short in the end.  We all have to sub in something we actually know in that spot, though we will have to discard even that in the end before the face of God.

But I don't think Cornel West gets even that far. If I thought he meant the mentally ill and developmentally disabled, the disfigured, the lonely and rejected, the abused, and the defeated I wouldn't object enough to put up a blog post about it. But I don't think that's what he means.  I think he means black people, and secondarily, some scattered "victims of capitalism." In that context talents takes on a new meaning as well: political rather than spiritual talents. West has convinced himself that his political ideas are the actual gospel.

My first thought was that this is all too common in the black church. But I quickly wondered if this is more general, that it is a natural human response of oppressed people, whose political and spiritual lives have deep connection.  I thought of some of the Romanian Baptists I met who had been deeply oppressed under communism. Some had burrowed deep into removal from this world and focus on Christ, while others were actively aware of the mistreatment they received because of their faith and how that was being allowed to happen, being made to happen.  I thought of what I know of persecuted churches worldwide, and also of the actions of missionaries who go to poor countries. Doing the most good sometimes involves advocacy, even simple things like helping people write a letter or putting them in contact with the proper authorities, and sliding into making advocacy the most important piece must be difficult. We don't want to be one of those upbraided in the book of James, telling others to "be warmed and filled" without meeting their physical needs.

Basque Language and DNA

Key item: The Basques really are that distinct and separate. Even with modern genetic techniques and some adventurous linguists it is hard to connect them to anyone very solidly.  But at least there have been some new and interesting  developments.

The Basque language, Euskara, is believed to be an isolate. It is also isolated within itself, with five dialects, some mutually unintelligible. The Basque people have been isolates for centuries as well, retreating into the hills to avoid domination by Franks and Visigoths, then both the Roman and Muslim empires. DNA evidence shows two narrowings between the 11th and 16th C. The second most likely coincides with the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella. These only show in the genetic results of the "peri-Basque" area. There was some mixing there.  The central Basque regions have no mixing. For this reason, they are treated as a base population of what the genetics of Europe were like before the Celts and then Germanic tribes arrived. Yes, they seem to be that unmixed. No traces of those later Indo-Europeans. The Sardinians of the interior are treated similarly by geneticists. In both cases it is considered possible that a much earlier Indo-European population, possibly Illyrian-Albanian, was present in Europe as well. Maybe.  Not much evidence they were connected to the Basques, though.

Those stories you may have seen in the last few years about the Irish Not Being Celts! are from this.  It's a fun headline, but it only means there were people there before the Celts, and they weren't completely erased by the invaders.

Various theories have popped up over the years speculating what languages Euskara might be related to, but none have been much convincing to linguists. It is clearly not related to the Indo-European and Semitic languages of the people they have lived near, and thus some version of it was in place when those peoples settled/invaded/colonised in the 2nd Millenium BCE. That would make the languages of the first spread of agriculture from the Fertile Crescent slowly outward the most likely. The people who built Stonehenge, for example, did not speak the languages of the Celts who later came in and took the place over. It is all pre-writing, so we don't know what they spoke in Europe. It is also possible that Basque predates even the spread of agriculture, as their area was one of the few refugia in europe during the last Ice Age. Thus those languages might have come from a few families, including ones that have no descendants. Other examples of these would be Etruscan and Proto-Sardinian. That Proto-Basque might be related to Proto-Sardinian is given some credibility even by fussier linguists.

One far-fetched sounding theory has been that it is part of the Dene-Caucasian family, which would connect it to languages in the North Caucasus, the Yeniseian languages of Siberia, and ultimately to some Native American languages from the second migration into North America, including Athabaskan, Tlingit, Hopi and Navaho. Far-fetched, yes, and not well accepted among linguists, but the pieces may be coming together on it bit by bit. Over a decade ago linguist Edward Vajda put forth evidence that the Na-Dene languages were related to Ket, a Yeneseian language. So that would be one step. There is more recent evidence that Basque shares structural similarities with Northeastern Caucasian languages, especially Chechen, so that would be a second link. There is enormous variety in the Caucasus. Whether there is genetic connection is not known.  And the Chechen to Ket connection has not been made, either. 

It's one of those theories I hope proves out, but it's a long way from solid at this point. Spain to Arizona the long way is quite a trek.

Sweden and Covid

Let me give my Sweden sermon again, because praise for it having been open has resurfaced again. I know my reach is not far, but I had hoped my observations would spread in my own little circle. But I swear the sentiment Open! Open! We should have stayed open! We should never have closed down! Sweden proves it! seems to have penetrated at least to the edge of my circle. It is apparently a powerful belief.

If you were to choose at the outset what countries would be the best comps for Sweden, everyone would have chosen Norway, Finland, and Denmark. There might have been some prediction that Denmark might even be under worse pressure, being physically connected to NW Europe. As of today, deaths per million

 Norway 144

Finland 174

Denmark 435

 Sweden 1431

They have done well recently, at least compared to the UK, France and other large western European countries. But the other Scandinavian countries have done better.  And they didn't have all those first-wave deaths. Also, because we cannot count Sweden as an open country in quite the same way as we would America, the data might actually point another way. The Swedes are a cooperative, even obedient people, and did a lot of voluntary masking and distancing, and lots of businesses and agencies closed down or modified on their own. Had this worked it would have been a great libertarian argument that you just let everyone make their own informed choices and all's good in the garden. But because it didn't work, see above, it might actually be evidence that partial measures don't actually help very much. Most of the studies from everywhere reporting - sometimes gleefully - masks don't work! have a common thread.  Go back and look for yourself.  They measure mask mandates, mask requirements, not actual mask usage. What the government mandates is only part of the story, and from what I read anecdotally from the comments section at Maggie's, a lot of people have been proudly breaking the rules all along. (Update: Compare the uselessness of much gun legislation.)

Now comes even worse news out of Sweden.  I very much hope this turns out to be exaggerated. 

David States, Chief Science/Medical Officer at Angstrom Bio in Austin tweeted: (The tweet is no longer available, but I don't know if that's suspicious. Did he withdraw it?  Was it censored? Anyway, the underlying tweet he got it from is here.  Both these people seem to be non-religious and liberal, as far as I can tell. Comments at that second link are alarming.)

Yngve Gustaffson, professor of geriatric medicine at Umea University, noted that the proportion of older people in respiratory care nationally was lower than at the same time a year ago, despite people over 70 being the worst affected by covid 19. He expressed concern about the increasing practice of doctors recommending over the telephone a "palliative cocktail" for sick older people in care homes.

"Older people are routinely being given morphine and midazolam, which are respiratory inhibiting," he told the Svenska Dagbladet* newspaper. "It's active euthanasia, to say the least."

*Sweden's leading newspaper, not a tabloid.

So if that's how one quietly keeps the hospitals from overflowing, that's just horrible.

Post 7900 - Excess Mortality

Good news and bad news from Lyman Stone again. His big advantage is that his models have proven very close once the data trickles in over the following weeks.  I don't know if his model makes long-term predictions. These are usually what is happening just as it breaks, when only the preliminary death reports are in, showing what the real excess mortality numbers are. A few weeks or a month later, he has been consistently right, though as he himself admits, there have been occasional weeks where results were odd.

The first tweet is the summary: Excess deaths remain significant - they are the same as June of last year - but there is no current indication we are going to have a fourth wave. We are telling ourselves that "this covid thing is over" largely because we are sick of it and we want to to be, not because it really is. Rates of illness among the unvaccinated are as high as they were from the whole population last year, so the rest of us getting vaccinated hasn't protected them any. 

I said early there would be both undercounts and overcounts, just because it was new and the decision-and-tracking methods were still in development and  there would be cross-incentives in reporting. For some reason panicked conservatives have been determined to see only over-reporting and on the basis of incidents here and there declare that the whole thing is unreliable and overcounted.  Liberals have not had a corresponding panic that covid is being radically undercounted, so I have to say this is on us along.  I suppose it is brought along as part of the package that insists that we have overreacted.  We may have overreacted, but it's always best to argue from facts, not feelings and anecdotes on such things. 

So state-by-state data gets interesting when Covid is compared to excess mortality.  I continue to use that metric because no one has convincingly shown me that anything except drug overdoses are up over the Covid period, and those do not come close to the full discrepancy. If you want to look at a place where there may be an overcount, it might be Massachusetts, where the official Covid deaths and excess mortality are very close. A friend from MA emails me these things, annoyed because other states seeming to be "getting away with" underreporting in order to look better. So the focus is on two states with similar populations, TN and AZ, which look on the official lists like they are doing much better than MA, but the deeper look contradicts that. Then there is a look at the three big states in the news about how they are or are not doing:  California, Texas, Florida. You know, the ones that conservatives were pointing to a year ago as the ones who had done things right because they didn't have many covid deaths at all. They were spared the first wave, but have done worse since then. My friend combed these from the CDC site directly, so there isn't a simple link that summarises the work. If it doesn't look right to you, the data is open, but you'd have to find any contradiction yourself.

If you just look at the Worldometers Coronavirus deaths per million, as I usually do, Massachusetts is one of the worst states, California well down the list.

3. Massachusetts 2603

6. Arizona 2441

National average 1858

22. Tennessee 1830

24. Texas 1799

26. Florida 1735

33. California 1599

But if you look at the Excess Mortality of all causes, things look different

Arizona 3011

Tennessee 2461

Texas 2367

California 2145

Florida 2082

Massachusetts 1633

How can that last number be true?  How can the number of Covid deaths exceed the excess mortality? Well, my friend cautions that different states have different ways of counting (Yeah, you got that right!). But if you were going to look for an overcounted covid place, you should probably start with Massachusetts.  Florida's totals look sort of okay, playing fair.  Add some drug overdoses to that covid number and you are right in the ballpark. But the other states have EM totals 25-30% higher than covid, with no convincing sector of deaths to explain that gap.  They are undercounting. Again, different agencies and states county differently, so I may have missed a trick here. But if you remember from the Twitter thread at the top that the more recent numbers are clustering around respiratory deaths, it looks even more suspicious.

Yes, all those hospitals that have been losing money on everything else for the last fifteen months have an incentive to over-report to get some of that federal money to make up some of it.  But governors and health departments have greater incentives to underreport so that their state and their personal competence looks better. They make many of the counting rules. That latter seems to be winning in most places.

BTW, I dug down into the more recent numbers to try and see trends.  Even though deaths are down for everyone, they are not equally down, and Texas, Florida, and California have not been dropping much over the last couple of months, but holding steady.  Texas and Florida are still showing excess deaths as recently as May22.  With the time lag for reporting, they may still be up.  Look for those three states to start passing others in deaths per million. New Hampshire continues to do well in 44th place. Not as well as best-comps Maine and Vermont, but we have much more interaction with Greater Boston area.

Possible grim news from Sweden is up next.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Confirmation Bias

I can be accused of getting everything wrong.

I can be accused of stupidity.

I don't mind all those things. 

But the one thing I hate being accused of is confirmation bias.

J.P. Mallory

Friday, June 11, 2021

Coming Up

I am post-anesthesia, post colonoscopy today, while working on two posts.  Unfortunately, both of these require some thought, so I am being cautious.  When they say don't operate complicated machinery, I assume that means my brain, too.  I feel like I am smart as a whip right now, but I will bet a lot of people say that and are wrong.

To give you a preview, one is on Basque DNA and new support for an old idea that the language (and therefore the ethnicity), while it is considered an isolate and is certainly not closely related to any known language, may be distantly related to Sardinian, and there is even a whisper that it might be connected to the Dene-Caucasian family, a group most linguists deny is real, or at least not well-evidenced. The Russian linguists, who had better access to many small and puzzling languages in East Asia, tended in Soviet times to believe in deeper relationships between families than those in the West did. (There have not been many linguists from anywhere else until recently.) Sergei Starotsin developed this particular idea, though he did not include Basque. They did not receive a warm welcome in the west, but some took to their ideas.

The other post will be about Excess Mortality and more recent analysis. I have mentioned my belief from the start that there would be both undercounts and overcounts of Covid deaths and I will give evidence of both. My experience is that people badly want one or the other to be true and resist hearing otherwise.  These usually focus on the supposed motivations of those with different opinions in order to discredit the data.  It reminds me of the many years arguing with my namesake uncle about media bias.  He kept insisting that whatever data I was putting forward could be at best only marginally meaningful.  The large media outlets could not possibly be liberally-biased, because they were owned by Large Corporations, and it is of course well-known that those are hyper-capitalist and thus biased toward conservatism. Nothing could budge this idea. That large corporations become increasingly rent-seeking and thus more functionally socialist, because they can afford the initial costs of lobbying for the longer payout, did not penetrate in the least for him.  They were Big Business = Republican, a formulation that was decades out of date, if it were ever more than half-true. 

I see the same reasoning on both sides during Covid: those other guys must be presenting biased data because they have x incentive.  First catch your rabbit and show that the data is wrong.  Then we can discuss why it might be wrong.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

IQ/EQ Further Update

The discussion is good under the previous update and I recommend it. As with many other topics here, I receive private emails from folks who do not want to become embroiled in contention, but want to mention something to me. In this case, a friend notes that the discussion seems to go too quickly to looking only at excellence, at genius and high accomplishment. But the advantage of desirable skills is that they also raise the floor, so that a person who has a lot of one necessary ability for a particular task is not a complete washout even if s/he has not quite enough for the others.  To continue the basketball analogy, Tacko Fall is the tallest person in the NBA at 7-5.  He is below-average but not terrible in coordination.  He did not start playing basketball in Senegal until quite late. He works hard and is extremely likable.  As an illustration, when he came to the Boston Celtics he was invited to be guest conductor for the Boston Pops for one piece, and was not quite keeping the rhythm accurately. Almost. But the crowd loved him, he tried hard, and he wasn't embarrassingly bad, so long as you weren't expecting an actual conductor. 

He will never be a starter, let alone a star.  He is improving, and at his peak may become a "rotation player," someone who plays 15-25 legitimate minutes of a 48-minute game, and even some minutes in the playoffs. If he was a jerk he'd be gone.  If he didn't work hard he'd be gone. But mostly, if he was average height he would never have even been under consideration, because his coordination and early training are not excellent. I should mention as a humorous aside that he is also very smart, 1440 on his SAT's despite English being a second language and Senegalese schools being...unremarkable.  I don't have the breakdown, but his math ability is apparently very good, so likely approaching a perfect 800 there.

This is the same for any other ability. There are jobs that require that you endure a moderate amount of danger and remain clear-headed, such as a diver.  Or jobs that require you keep your temper under provocation, such as...well, anyone who works with the public, frankly. I have already mentioned beauty, or resilience, or diligence, or charm, or trustworthiness, or tact, ...or IQ.  If you have a lot of anything, you can at least make your way in the world and carve out some niche, even if you don't set the world on fire. That is very valuable, not only for you, but for the society around you. 

I plead guilty, that I was one of the people falling into that error, and further admit that I often fall into that error. Even when mentioning that I was not focusing on individuals but on group success, I failed to take the next logical step and remember that success does not only mean "some people who do really well at this," but also "lots of competent people," and "very few people who we just can't find a niche for."

To return to a frequent theme, yes, it is irritating when one of those people who has a high IQ talks like they are some sort of success when they are actually just being endured because they provide some value while falling short in other areas, but that is true of all abilities.  Attractive people think the initial approval they receive is their deserved level.  People who have degrees or other credentials can show inordinate entitlement. Even the salt-of-the-earth, hardworking folks with diligence, resilience, attention to detail, and the like can display those resentments of "I've got so much of this, why doesn't anyone appreciate me?  I'm better than them." It is true of all abilities, it's just that certain ones just get us torqued off more.

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

Knight In Rusty Armour


This, and "Lady Godiva" were considered very risque for junior high in 1966. We were not allowed to play them at dances.

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

IQ/EQ Update

I must not have been as clear as I hoped, so I will have another try at it. When discussing Intelligence as measured by IQ I am not much talking about individuals. As I have mentioned before, the success of any one individual is dependent on many things, and I have listed many: resilience, emotional self-control, charm, and diligence, for example. IQ is better at making group predictions.  If you send 100 people with an IQ of 120 to med school, compared to another hundred with IQ 130, and another 100 with IQ 140, there will be a difference in success. There may be some washouts in the 140 group or remarkable successes in the 120 group, but the general trend will be that success, both at school and in careers, will be greater as the IQ goes up.  This will be at least partly true for all fields as well. Waiting tables does not require as much intelligence as electrical engineering, but it requires some, and more is better. Memory and focus are both components of measured intelligence. 

This is similar to my analogy to basketball prowess and height. Take a hundred players who are 6-1, another hundred who are 6-5, and a hundred who are 6-9, how far they go in the game will show a trend favoring height. I could have picked speed, and that would also show a trend, but less dramatically, just as I could have picked foreign language grades in high school as a predictor of college success and seen some trend as well.  Just not as strong as IQ, which is the strongest single predictor.

Yet somehow the conversation always goes to individuals we have known or have read about who have high IQ's but did not do as well as some other people we have known or read about who have some advantage in social skills. I don't know why we can't shake that, but it is largely irrelevant to the overall discussion of IQ and intelligence. Individual lives have too much variance.  Opportunity differs, wisdom differs, health differs. Yet these average out over large numbers, and we can measure what qualities are good to have.

There is also a continuing assertion that what IQ measures is not really intelligence, though there might be some association. This is not so, not unless we switch what we mean by "intelligence." The informal category of smart is usually more encompassing and includes some social skills, and wisdom is immediately recognised as a better thing to have and includes judgement, self-control, and perspective. I have no problem with that.  Yet if you put all of us in a fourth-grade class for a week and asked at the end who the most intelligent six kids were we would have very similar lists. And...they would be the kids with the best test scores. We would all see who was picking up new math concepts, new vocabulary, and science information more quickly and putting it to some use. We would notice the other attributes - which were charming, or musical, or diligent. I include a caveat to this. It would just kill some people not to "reward" one of those children with other attributes with a higher ranking, because they just liked the more charming or hard-working ones better. But if you held their feet to the flames and insisted they stick to intelligence, there would be agreement.

This would happen again at every level: later in school, training someone to be an EMT or fireman, bringing in new software that has to be used for the job. We would all generally agree who were the most intelligent of the last hundred trainees we had, and that list would correlate with IQ.  We might miss a few in either direction because their enthusiasm was so great or so terrible that it disguised ability. And again, it would just kill some people not to rate someone who was a favorite higher than deserved or another who was an arrogant jerk lower, but you can usually find objective measures of some sort. 

Finally, there is the continuing matter of EQ.  I thought I had been clear and even repetitive that individual people skills, or social skills, or emotional skills were valuable, often more valuable than raw intelligence. Yet somehow there is some impression that I am devaluing these things because I don't think EQ is real. Let me try again. There are many social skills, all of which have some importance and in some instances critical importance. Yet these do not measure well. There might be rating systems based on responses from hundreds of independent evaluations that could somewhat identify wisdom, or charm, or evenhandedness, or tact, or kindness, and each of these might leave a trail of some type of success in any profession that we could try to evaluate, but with each of these, levels of evaluation, whether letter grades or numbers, are going to be uneven and difficult. We would have to say by the objectivve measure of being elected president that both Donald Trump and Barack Obama must have a great deal of charisma.  Yet there are those who are repelled by either (or both) of them. So what's the charisma score going to be?*

If the objection comes that we aren't really talking about a score of any kind, just an informal acknowledgement of some ability, then I will ask why you are bringing in Quotients, or why you feel the need to call the virtue you prefer by that name. Does the implication of prestige or power attached to the mathi-ness of the term seem too much of a gift to one ability at the expense of others you like better?  I confess I don't quite get it. 

Next, these various people skills are not strongly associated.  There is some association between leadership and followership in that people who understand those roles can apply different skills at different times, but one can see that those two skills will just as often be offsetting. Is being easygoing a good social skill? Well, very often it is. An easygoing surgeon may not be setting a good example for his team, though. Charisma and tact may conflict. Self-confidence and humility are imaginable in the same person, but we can see how they might not coincide. Friendliness and kindness would seem to be general goods, but sometimes they distract from getting work done, or from justice in the workplace. All these attributes of emotional wisdom don't cluster into some general category. They don't measure well individually, so they certainly aren't going to measure any better by lumping them together and trying to extract a number from that. There's no quotient or any other mathematical term that's going to fit in the least for a general category of people skills. 

So there's no such thing as EQ. If all you mean is "people skills are important," then I have never objected. But I think what folks are saying is closer to "IQ tests don't measure social skills, and I admire social skills, so we should stop paying attention to IQ scores." Eh. The tests never pretended to measure anything other than candlepower. But they are very good at measuring that. Yardsticks don't measure speed, but they measure height very well.

* 3d6 plus bonuses

Monday, June 07, 2021

Psychological Scenery

William and Mary had Backdrop Club, a student-run musical that closed every year without assistance from the faculty and staff. By tradition, they performed an original script by an older student every other year.  It now occurs to me that if I had had any discipline it should have been my play senior year. Hmm, one more thing to feel guilty about.  That's another story.

I was in the 1972 production, "Magic." You have never heard of it. It was very modern, a blocky set with platforms and ramps, intense colored lighting, an unclear plot, and many of us running around in glitter and leotards striking dramatic poses. Some of us had no lines, yet the director was very concerned with spending a lot of rehearsal time with us, making sure we got it right, because we were "psychological scenery," and our contribution was crucial to the play. There was no other scenery, so I guess we were left holding the bag. We did get to sing and dance as the chorus as well. At the time, I thought he was just being polite to keep us from quitting in boredom, but I came to understand he really meant it. These weird gestures were supposed to drive the action. My angry and angular pose on the high platform stage right was supposed to "frame and explain" Lindell's limp, collapsed heap on the floor stage left. It was an era when we believed such subtle things that audiences would never notice in a hundred viewings were somehow working on them subconsciously, heightening the effect of the banal songs and dialogue. Which I still remember.

However, I was both broad-shouldered and slender then and looked great in a leotard, so it wasn't a complete loss. 

I thought I was going to be free of the whole concept forever, but watched my granddaughter performing in "Dear Edwina" at the middle school this week, and there it was again.  There was no painted scenery, there were students across the back as the scenes shifted, striking poses. It's like one of those fires that looks like it's out, but a series of tree roots is smoldering underneath and it all comes up in conflagration two weeks later.

The Nun's Priest's Tale

One of the episodes of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. I propose an alternative reading. The story is usually interpreted as a mock-heroic beast fable, slyly showing the ridiculousness of man in the disguise of beasts. Its moral seems a bit muddled or unclear, other than "don't be arrogant." Modern interpreters have taken to explaining that the muddle is intentional, and Chaucer means for us to draw our own moral, as he will not state one.  That seems a very 20th C idea for a 14th C poet.

In the epilogue, the host is effusive in his praise of the lusty, energetic story; so effusive, in fact that we should be suspicious. Chaucer is certainly making fun of humankind, with more than a wink at the bawdry of one of the clergy in attendance on the journey. But he is making fun of one thing more. The storyteller is a blowhard, unable to keep much focus and bringing us down rabbit-trails repeatedly. He is not only a comic character but an overbroad one. There is no moral because the poor sap can't keep his thoughts straight enough. He's be a fun role to play onstage, now lecturing from history with self-importance, now loudly describing poor digestion and laxatives, now attempting to state general rules of male-female relations based on clumsy analogies with chickens. He's a drunk uncle at Thanksgiving.

Negotiated Truth and ALL CAPS

I have the old-fashioned value that truth is hard at the center, however soft it might be at the edges because of our fallen nature and general foolishness. However, it is for this very reason that I am deeply suspicious of those who try to present to me that their truth is hard at the edges and non-negotiable. I am as suspicious as any fuzzy-minded postmodernist on this score, forever noting "But on the other hand..." or "Yet have you considered...?" Not for nothing does one of my main contributors have a site called I Don't Know, but...  The lesson has come at cost.  I know things that others don't, and I grow frustrated at having reasonably intelligent people get sucked into the Conventional Wisdom* and cliches**. Yet even on those things I know, that I am adamant about, someone in the room will see an angle I have missed, setting me back. So I know it takes multiple angles, and the edges are soft.

I get frustrated at people communicating in ALL CAPS. The online convention, dating all the way back to usegroups in the 90s, is that this is shouting.  I know many online commenters don't get this and take umbrage when I point out that they aren't coming across how they think they are. "No, I'm just using this for EMPHASIS." Theoretically that could be so, or more accurately, could have been so. There's no canon law about all-caps, no federal or local statutes.  It's just convention.  Still, if you keep going with them, you see that they are more than emphatic.  They are rigid, and they are shouting, and are clearly signalling YOU CAN'T REASON WITH ME SO DON'T BOTHER. I AM UNMOVED BY FACTS AND REASON. I have seen exceptions.  I have not seen many. Are conservatives more likely to use this tactic?  I don't read enough liberal sites to know how common it is there. 

But the left has a different expression of hard-edged reality. Currently it is showing up in Blak Lives Matter, or Ta-Nehisi Coates, or Robin DiAngelo, or Ibram X Kendi.  It's not always racial, that's just this year's fashion.  But that idea of the single prism, that all events must be interpreted through race, is that same hard-edged, no-other-view, all-caps reasoning. When Christian groups used to do that back in the day they were called fundamentalists and hooted out of serious conversations. You can see it in gay activism and especially trans activism.  Gay men and lesbians actually seem rather retro at this point. Of course there are reasonable environmentalists, but when so much latitude is granted to nutcases I think it's just all-caps again. We certainly saw the intensification of this over the last few years, the dismissive tactics used against Reagan and both Bushes now unleashed against Trump and his supporters. It was just smoother, all-caps wearing cufflinks and an understated tie. At root it was BUT YOU DON'T SEE THAT HE'S RACIST AND TERRIBLE AND YOU ARE JUST STUPID.

It is not new in America.  My reading of history suggests that this is not only common, but normative in all times and places.  Yet it is also clearly dangerous, something to be transcended. We should not tolerate it, even from allies - and you will notice that people politely poke each other or smack them awake here quite often.

The counter to this is Orwell and other persuasive writers insisting that we should be forceful and uncompromising in our expression.  Let your opponents come back at you with with their argument, as in a debate or court of law, and truth can be subsequently negotiated. I don't think that is quite the same thing, but I take the point.  It is no fun to read someone who is shilly-shallying, spending so much time telling you the other point of view that you aren't sure of hers. 

But in contrast there are the essays of Lewis. He has already negotiated the various claims to truth before he publishes, and you can see his work in every paragraph. (I am reading essays of Tolkien and it is much the same.  He is forceful and even a bit insulting to the carriers of bad ideas, yet he has clearly understood their viewpoints and is not misrepresenting them.) He could debate, and do it well, but he is not putting forth a single point of view with an eye to negotiating in a thesis-antithesis-synthesis form..  He has already done that negotiation in his own head before writing.

That is mere intellectual honesty, to my mind.  As forceful as Orwell is, one detects his grappling with the other possibilities before daring to bring it forth. I expect the people I am discussing things with to have done something similar.  You may believe the Pontic-Caspian Steppe theory is far superior, but I want to hear you say that you have at least encountered the Anatolian theory and know what it is. After that, be as forceful as you wish.

Having brought up the racial aspect again I mention as an aside that a racialised understanding is ultimately unsustainable for a free society even if it is valuable to individuals in the short term. Unfree societies can be stable with any amount of oppression, it seems. They can even be successful in some sense if the elites are capable of acquiring resources well enough that the whole enterprise does not collapse. (The English notoriously looked down on everyone else - after Calais, it's all wogs and all that - even the other tribes of the UK were viewed with suspicion - yet were able to provide some benefit to all, however unequally distributed, and it lasted forever. China has no regard for non-Chinese.) I know the reasoning of the critical race theorists.  They will claim that this society is already racialised and they are simply pointing out who is on the losing side. But that is calling a Pekinese a Dire Wolf, simply ludicrous. The are attempting to re-racialise America because it will benefit them personally, and screw everyone else, black or white - not to mention Hispanics, Asians, Natives, Jews, Pacific Islanders, or LGBTQ's. It is unsustainable. It perpetuates anger and hatred.

*In the case of this group, when you go wrong, it is seldom because you have been caught up in the Majority Conventional Wisdom that the Kardashian-followers, sociology majors, and elite media tribe are prey to, but one of the two or three Contrarian Conventional Wisdoms that are also available on the market with significant niche followings.  Those are my most frequent false trails as well.  I understand.  But because of that I don't hesitate to smack you a bit when I suddenly see the ruse myself, because I know that a) you get the principle of conventional wisdom and its dangers and so should be ready to smarten up, and b) you are adults - okay, most of you - and don't look for the fainting couch.

**My wife and I will be sharing a headstone so I can't use it, but if I had an epitaph to myself it would be He really, really hated cliches. Hezekiah 4:8

The Die Is Cast

I don't know which occurred to me first, but i have always thought there were two possible origins of the phrase: a metal form, as in Tool & Die Co, or throwing dice.  I have come over time to consider the latter more likely, but never looked it up.  My wife looked it up at my request as we were driving over to see the Black-Bellied Whistling Duck, which has caused excitement among birders up here in NH because it is seldom seen north of Texas and Florida.

It is indeed about casting dice. Suetonius attributed the first use to Julius Caesar, but later writers have picked up the reference in the Greek poet Menander, who was reportedly a favorite of the general. Caesar used iacta alea est, "let the die be cast" as he was crossing the Rubicon River on his way toward Rome with his own army, certain to provoke civil war.  It is ironic that our other metaphor for the idea "it's too late now!" is Crossing the Rubicon, from the same incident.


The Cucuteni culture had periodic destruction of its buildings by fire every 60-80 years, with the new construction being built directly on top of the old structures, seemingly in exact replica. Very odd, certainly. There are several possible explanations, none ascendant. The idea that this was intentional for spiritual reasons has been growing in popularity, as part of some circle of life expression of destruction and creation. Everyone started from scratch every seventy years, and this went on for millennia. One site, Poduri has evidence of thirteen consecutive episodes of this destruction, and thus perhaps nine centuries in one location alone.

Restarting at zero can only occur in a community that is deeply committed to remaining together.  I thought of the Biblical Jubilee year, recurring every fifty years, in which debts were cancelled and slaves were set free. Apparently it was not often observed. This again can only be the custom of people who regard their tribe, their people, as all that they need. Once people start having a foot in two worlds they will find reasons to leave the one where they have to give up their stuff. Most of us would look at this practice as ripe for division in society, but it may have been commanded as a long-term force for unifying a people. It would never be a complete leveling, as trade networks, craft knowledge, and farming techniques would carry over across the Jubilee year. Resentments were likely high the last years before and the first few after.

Still it would have been good for us if our ancestors had done this. Slavery would have ended without a war. Envy would be mitigated with less burning hatred against inherited wealth. The unlucky would get a second chance, and merit would have fertile ground for proving out. Massive generosity is always great when it's the other guy who has to do it. However, there might also be some attraction because it is limited. You do this once in a lifetime, and painful as it might be, you also are free of further obligation.

The Crow Whisperer

I saw the first few paragraphs as a teaser of an article in Harper's, The Crow Whisperer by Lauren Markham. It concerned this couple that felt under siege by crows, with their dog being an especial target. The poor hound was being mobbed whenever he went outside.  A neighbor reported that she thought she had seen the dog with a fledgling in its mouth a few days before - perhaps that was it. The couple asked around and was given the discouraging advice that their only choice was to move.  They were given the name of a woman who claimed to be able to communicate with and influence animals. That is where the narrative broke off, and you had to buy the magazine or a subscription to read more. 

So far very intriguing.  I have a thing about crows, having always understood why mankind has often been suspicious of them, but this year feeling a bit mobbed myself.  Whereas there might be three or four crows at a time at our old house, at the new one we are much closer to the island in the river where they stay every night, and also right along the power lines. We have had 200 crows at a time here.Apparently it is has been discovered that they recognise individuals, perhaps even by face, and can communicate warning or dislike to other crows.  They also recognise the warning calls of other birds and respond to those. They have some differentiation of small numbers and are regarded as very intelligent birds. I remain suspicious of their motives at all times.

I was hoping that the article, when I finally read it, would go into some new detail, some new research about crow communication. I got it out of the library - it was disappointing. The full article is now at the link above. It quickly deteriorates into woo and speculation. Could it be that the crows were trying to tell me...? Were they accepting my gift as a sort of apology or...? As a bit of fun, it's all right.

What's Up With UFO's?

We've all been hearing about this for years with varying degrees of belief.  I read an article some time mid-May that said the US govt is required to disclose all its information by June 1st, so I expected it to be open season after that date.  I figured whatever came out would suck up all the oxygen in the room for a month. I must have misunderstood, because no such release of documents is being breathlessly discussed.

Michael Shermer of Skeptic magazine has a Quillette article Understanding the Unidentified that was interesting. I have never been convinced that Extraterrestrial Intelligence has been detected in any way.  I am neutral on whether it has ever existed anywhere, but strongly negative that it has manifested on earth. Shermer makes the interesting point that increasing numbers of unexplained incidents without anything definite actually decreases the probability that these are aliens. Also

In a 2017 article in the journal Motivation and Emotion entitled “We Are Not Alone,” the psychologist Clay Routledge and his colleagues found an inverse relationship between religiosity and ETI beliefs—that is, those who report low levels of religious belief but high desire for meaning show greater belief in ETIs. In Study 1, subjects who read an essay “arguing that human life is ultimately meaningless and cosmically insignificant” were statistically significantly more likely to believe in ETIs than those who read an essay on the “limitations of computers.” In Study 2, subjects who self-identified as either atheist or agnostic were statistically significantly more likely to report believing in ETIs than those who reported being religious (primarily Christian). In Studies 3 and 4, subjects completed a religiosity scale, a meaning in life scale, a well-being scale, an ETI belief scale, and a religious supernatural belief scale. “Lower presence of meaning and higher search for meaning were associated with greater belief in ETI,” the researchers reported, but ETI beliefs showed no correlation with supernatural beliefs or well-being beliefs.

Sunday, June 06, 2021


This came up at both Althouse and Maggie's today, so I am reposting from four years ago. The curious can check out my comments there, but only at Althouse is there anything additional, and then, not very much.


I keep getting asked to comment on EQ on Quora, because I do comment on IQ, and the former only seems to come up in comparison to the latter. That may be revealing.

EQ is not really a thing.  It seems to include the ideas of charm, getting along with people, managing others skillfully, being empathic.  We have plenty of words for those things already, which allow us to speak much more precisely about them than a vague unmeasurable catch-all. On the surface, it would seem to be a simple exploration of differing abilities and different types of people, which seems a worthy enough endeavor.  But because it only comes up in relation to IQ, I have come to suspect something more defensive is in play.  I can't tell if people are drawn to it as some sort of consolation prize, or to insist that people-skills are clearly more important anyway, or to put others in their place.

In my IQ answers, I have taken to stressing each time that wisdom is more important anyway. Sometimes I will list the Four Cardinal Virtues of Temperance, Justice, Prudence, and Fortitude, figuring that any of those will keep a serious student occupied for some time if they choose to pursue it.  Wisdom can be learned and improved, which is another important distinction.

Friday, June 04, 2021

Not This Olympics, But...

Knighton breaks the U18 record previously held by...Usain Bolt. Notice that the announcers are not even aware of the 17 y/o until the last few seconds. In 2024, he will still be only 20 years old.  

Well, injuries happen.  Bad training happens. Bad decisions and bad luck happen, and sometimes early promise does not materialise.  But it does more often in track than other sports, because of the outsize influence of natural ability.