Saturday, July 31, 2021

Louisiana Purchase

 It's got to be tough when they say "Write us a song about the Louisiana Purchase."  But Irving Berlin...

Thanks to John McWhorter for the tip.

Friday, July 30, 2021

The Violence of Henry VIII

The contradictions of Henry VIII character have attracted much attention.  He had a reputation for wisdom and patience early in his reign, and though adventurous was not known to be especially violent, and certainly not cruel. He became an unquestionable tyrant later.  Historians during the 18th and 19thC tended to see these changes as a function of the temptations of power, and losing his grip on his better self because of not getting his way.  That fit their beliefs.  In literature since the Greeks and Romans, humans were prone to such temptations, and rulers were especially susceptible to deteriorations of character once they were unchecked. It is a common theme in Shakespeare and all subsequent European literature. Nothing wrong with that, it's often true.  But they didn't really know how baps on the head might affect you once you had regained consciousness, so they never went to that explanation.

One traditional approach, favoured by (David) Starkey and others, is to divide Henry's reign into two halves, the first Henry being dominated by positive qualities (politically inclusive, pious, athletic but also intellectual) who presided over a period of stability and calm, and the latter a "hulking tyrant" who presided over a period of dramatic, sometimes whimsical, change.
More recently, there have been suggestions that he died young due to the obesity caused by brain trauma, or that his personality was influenced by the draining effects of many medical conditions resulting from his several blows to the head and periods of unconsciousness, and finally a direct suggestion that his violence and impulsivity were clearly derived from his TBI's. They didn't think that way then, we think that way now. Taking more factors into account is usually better than fewer. (As we just discussed under Critical Race theory.)

Even in my generation, unless permanent results were very obvious, people did not ascribe behavior to brain trauma. Parents might be aware of it - "After that he was never quite the same agin, always losing his temper and getting into trouble." Yet parents are both the best and worst of observers of such things.  They see that something is wrong even when everyone else looks away or attributes behavior to simple disobedience or other bad character.  But parents also have too much information and their own needs, and so fit behavioral changes into any of a dozen categories: parental divorce, the emotional rather than physical effects of abuse, rejection by a girl, a bad teacher/pastor/school bully, competition with siblings. I have heard all these explanations offered by parents when taking a social history. We all fall into this naturally, as the brain will not endure having an unexplained phenomenon, and we jump to conclusions. Much of what I believe about how my children became who they are is likely only partly true. Many of their own explanations are probably similarly slanted, as are mine about why I am who I am.

Baps on the head are one of those things that fade from memory fast. We expect boys to be reckless, they take falls, they hit their head on rocks. Because ice is a factor in New Hampshire, my worst blows to the head were usually to the back. These injuries usually take place out of sight of parents or other adults.  They were considered just a normal part of growing up. Getting assaulted by older boys, or sneak assaulted from behind by weaker boys, even with sticks or bats was also just considered part of childhood, unless something obvious and severe occurred.* Men and women in prison have an unusually high incidence of head injury, which we often write off as the environmental effect of "being exposed to violence," or "coming from a bad neighborhood."  Yet while those things matter a bit, when we try to factor out all such factors they don't matter much. Measurable neurological changes matter a lot more, and have larger consequences. Like maybe a nation's split from the Roman Church and a division of Europe that has enormous consequences even in our own time. 

It would be great if my bad qualities were the result of one or more of those incidents as a boy, so that I have "diminished responsibility," as they say.  Yet that would immediately extend to everyone else, and it may be that the evils done to us were the result of actions by people who had diminished responsibility themselves. What societies have to consequate for their own survival may not be the most accurate measure of judgement.

There is a gene-environment interaction that goes even deeper. In families that have a lot of children showing risky behavior, so that we figure they can't all have been bapped on the head in exactly the same way and there must be some genetic risk-taking involved, those kids are going to just naturally have more head injuries, including repeated small, undetected ones. When they become teenagers and adults we are going to blame the parenting, and the courts are going to treat crimes as personal decisions. We might be wrong.

*This may also affect whether we perceive something as traumatic in an emotional sense. I don't like to go too far down the road of what is called "blaming the victim," but I experienced events at school for which I might have sued my children's school district had they happened to them, a generation later and in a gentler place. There was a comment-section argument a few years ago among women about sexual assault in which one woman who still lived in a rough part of town quoted a young woman from a suburb who was describing some aggressive behavior by a date and noted "At my high school forty years ago, we just called that dating." The younger woman may have been correct that it should be considered assault - I would have expected a call from the police myself had it been me - but clearly the older woman did not experience it as traumatic.  Expectations matter, because they affect feelings of uncertainty and control. What children experience they immediately compare to the experiences of those around them.  If Jeffrey next door got beaten up much worse than you, you didn't feel so bad about yourself.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Buyer's Remorse

Play with this thought with me. What if our elections were (more) temporary and had to be ratified a year later? There would be no sense in doing that with governors or the House of Representatives, which are already only two years.  But Senators and presidents, we get to do a redo a year in. First terms only.

Looking at presidential approval ratings as a proxy, it looks like  Truman, Carter and Reagan would be marginal but survive, Clinton 50-50, and both Obama and Trump would be out.  That's not necessarily reality, however, as each of them would have to run against someone, and as we saw in 2016, that matters a lot. The serious third-party impact of Ross Perot also makes 1992 even more unpredictable.

I will concede it a net negative to have an even longer campaign season. I have also not thought through the elite media and general PR implications of "how long can you lie and keep up the appearance" for such events as framing Donald Trump about Russia without serious media scrutiny. It would also change the territory for protests.  Maybe those would be worse, maybe better. 

No fair speculating why this is occurring to me just now.

Stray Thoughts On Genetics

One downside of listening to podcasts while walking is that it is hard to take notes.  I have used both a notepad system and a "dictate into notes" system, but the latter is hampered by poor reception in some areas, and the battery going down very quickly, not to mention toggling back and forth between apps. The cumbersome nature of the former should be easily imagined by all of you.  First world problem, I know.

But when I think of things they collect up and I forget them if I don't write them down.

In the discussion of measuring intelligence, people often give an example of being placed in a hunter-gatherer's environment and not being as smart as they are. Yet there is more to that story. Hunter-gatherers don't survive alone in those environments either. If you were plunked down in Amazonia alone you would die, yes. Someone who grew up there would last longer than you, and might by some chance make it on their own, but most likely, they are also dead. But if you flopped into an Amazonian group and tried to survive, there would be a few abilities you would need. You would not only need the intelligence to know that you had darn well better be humble and inoffensive and willing to be subservient, but the ability to actually effect such things. Learning physical skills would be as important as learning cultural skills, and both of those involve cognition. Copying others is a useful human skill and it is usually wisest to do what everyone around you is doing.  However much we might praise the nonconformist, that is a tendency best expressed against a background of 90% conformity, and in the Amazon, you had better aim for 99%.

This is true for the Amazonian native moving to America as well. She could not survive alone, but we are pretty used to integrating people in, if she were willing to adapt. And she would do better at this if she has better cognitive skills. Thus the example chosen to undermine the standard definition of intelligence ends up supporting it instead.

This adjusting to new groups is what we do throughout our lives to survive, though in less dramatic forms. We are parachuted into kindergarten, into a new job, into a new family of in-laws, into a new town...and we have to make that work.  We do need a variety of skills - again, humility might be one, ability to get along with others also.  But cognitive skills are going to help at every turn.


JBS Haldane said "I would lay down my life for two brothers or eight cousins," being clever and cute about the math of natural selection at the gene level. Yet it is not the laying down of one's life that is the issue but the enduring risks for the sake of others.  As in the line from General Patton's introductory speech in the movie "No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country.  He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country." This overlooks the fact that the other guy doesn't die unless someone takes the risk of dying himself. (Patton certainly knew this but was sidestepping it for persuasive purpose.) It's better for your brothers and cousins if you also survive. Once we see that it is risk, not sacrifice that is the key the equations change. There are varieties of risk, physical, financial, social, and they are often not simple in how much one is putting others at risk as well. Generosity is risk, because circumstances might change and we need that money or object someday.  Helping others physically is risk for similar reasons. Tolerance and forgiveness are both social risks, as a difficult or offending person might cost us something in the future. 


Social disapproval used to signify danger more than it does now. When resources are scarcer, a girl's friends and family communicated that having a baby without being able to claim resources from the father might mean starvation, and for the man, offending against that family or the society might mean punishment or banishment as well. Even in survival, resources would be diminished for all concerned. However cruel it seems to us to shame or even banish offenders, it would serve to discourage others - because young people do not weigh consequences well and take too many risks that also affect others (as above). A harsh calculation, but the survival of the customs suggest the math works out for the group. 

The calculation changes as resources improve. Unmarried women getting pregnant now do not face death, and the men face diminished consequences. Therefore, social disapproval seems unnecessarily unkind we have taken to disapproving of the disapprovers instead. Yet unmarried pregnancy does still result in diminished resources for several people, and young people are still not fully understanding of risks. It is a less dire calculation than the one our ancestors faced, but social disapproval - even the milder shaming or punishment of the one for the sake of the group - did work up until the day we stopped using it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Simone Biles

I don't follow gymnastics, but she is certainly talented, and seems a decent enough person. I think her decision to remove herself was probably wise.  Her routine includes moves that others can't do and are considered at the edge of what is safe to perform. If she lacks complete confidence so that anxiety is not merely a bad feeling but an active interference in completion of vaults, she may be endangering herself. Some events are like that, such as various skiing events or the pole vault.  You could damage your head badly. I have nothing against her for assessing the situation and believing her danger was too great, even for a gold medal.

The response to her decision interests me. She is being called brave for doing this. It is socially brave, as she will endure criticism and contempt for it. We are social creatures, and that does mean something. Yet unless complete ostracism or banishment were on the line, most of us would find such criticism endurable. There would be a cost, but I have been criticised before. It is likely significant that as an athlete, her job is to be an entertainer, though we don't often characterise it that way. Therefore, she would be more sensitive to social losses and take them harder. She lives in the fishbowl. That has been true for athletes for years.

Though that cost has been increasing over the years, I think it has skyrocketed recently, and the young in particular might rate social courage higher than those who are older, who might rate physical, financial, or even spiritual danger much higher.  I'm not saying she's not brave. It's just that I frame this more as a wisdom decision.  The social cost is there, but I think my generation would not be so alarmed by it.

Disney Princess

This is the genre and singing style that the last umpty-'leven Disney animations have worked from.  Part of Your World, Let It Go, A Whole New World.

O Sacred Head Now Wounded

 Notice the tune

I had a longer post about my ambivalence about Simon and his equating New York with America, all other places being exotic, culture changes, and The Graduate, but even I couldn't sustain interest in it.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021


I have not bought saltines in years - they are just flour and salt, after all - but I bought some today.  I swear they are smaller.

Monday, July 26, 2021

The Fundamental Things Apply


Vintage Ray Guns


 ...and many more. Thanks to David Thompson.


I just talked to a frantic-looking amazon guy.  Their GPS still sends him to the wrong number, off by a hundred, rather than the last half-dozen houses on our street.  But he's okay with that.  He can follow the numbers, as we all used to do when looking for a house for the first time.  What gets him wild-eyed is 200 stops a day.

Critical Race Theory is Not Complicted, But Responses Are

I almost passed up The Glenn Show episode of Loury and McWhorter talking about CRT, because I knew I would agree with 90% of what they would say and it seemed a poor use of my time to be told what I already wanted to hear. But some podcasts have that feature of pushing themselves to the front of the line when another podcast ends and just start playing.  When you are driving, it is often best to just let that happen until you stop and switch over.  So I started hearing it anyway, and happily went through to the end.

I have nominated them as public intellectuals, and they do generally fulfill that.  But in the French model, that would be thinkers who put forward edgier, more difficult ideas, put in a form that the brighter persons in the general public can understand.  I consider  that valuable, and I believe there are American and British thinkers who do that and are worth hearing out, even when they are infuriating. A public intellectual must be a person who can transpose the ideas coming from the deepest thinkers to a discussion that we middlebrows can absorb and reflect on. Think William F Buckley Jr and "Firing Line," for example.  (We were already far downhill of that when Dick Cavett took the stage.  He was a decently-bright but thoroughly indoctrinated individual who was skilled in engineering interviews so that the general public was told what their betters deemed it good for them to hear, with the carrot that they thought they were listening in on True Intellectual Thought. It was a form of deep propaganda, very Gramscian. See also Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, John Oliver.)

Loury and McWhorter are even better at a separate function, as educators.  As they both do that for a living I shouldn't be surprised. What I heard on the podcast wast not merely things I agree with, but things put concisely and clearly, so that I said "Yes.  Exactly this.  Thank you, sir." It may be a more important function, though it is less glamorous. Notice, by the way, that both of them are almost as solid in construction of the language and ideas when they are speaking of the cuff as the rest of us are when we have a chance to write things down and edit ourselves. McWhorter:

Do you want your children taught that battling power differentials is the center of intellectual, moral, and artistic endeavor? Do you want that taught? I think all of us would say a concern with power differentials might be one of maybe ten things, that an education is concerned about, maybe even six. But do you want that to be the central focus of all endeavor at the school?

Because that is the issue. There is continual dishonest representation that people who don't want CRT don't want slavery or racism to be mentioned at all. Motte-and-bailey argument.  Or straw man.  Or intellectual dishonesty.  Your choice. But CRT is exclusive by design.  It asserts it is the only method by which political understanding should be viewed. It is a derivative of Marxian, Nietzschean power theologies. Children are set into "affinity groups" of their own kind*. So we are pitting one POV that says "Let's teach a variety of approaches to understanding all of history, literature, and culture," while the other says "Those are false.  Only one voice shall be heard." This is why the legislatures trying to ban CRT altogether are wrong, but they aren't crazy.  As one view among many it would be fine. It destroys all discussion.

There was an interesting approach when my children were in Christian schools to teach World Religions, but it was something of a put-up job. They explained what Islam teaches - not entirely accurately, but better than "religion of peace" bromides - and why that was wrong.  They described Buddhism - again, not fully correct but based on a true story - and why that was wrong. Adults looking back on this method of instruction express a lot of irritation about it.

Let me stress that CRT is far worse.  Those other viewpoints don't even make it to the table to be criticised.  They are simply dismissed.  The excuse is that those other, racist ideologies are so firmly embedded in the national culture and already have such a head start that CRT is only pushing back against a massive tide, feeding on scraps, and cannot afford to offer quarter. That was not quite true in 1950, though it was at least a decent argument then. It is now simply ludicrous, seizing upon anecdotes for confirmation bias. Look, we found a racist! That proves everything! It is the argument I have heard hundreds of personality disorders make that what looks like cheating and manipulation are merely their desperate attempts from deep in the hole to get some fairness back in the world.  It does look that way to them.  I have little doubt that personality disorders in the public discussion also feel this just as strongly about racism.

It doesn't make it true. It's just Motte-and-bailey that "this isn't what Derrick Bell and Kimberle Crenshaw said" (and you ignorant fools can't reach our lofty peak), when it is they who have watered down Bell and Crenshaw into programs that dim people can effect, because their skills are not abstract thinking and they can be convinced "...two legs better!" Like that's my fault.

And now Loury, summarising McWhorter and commenting further: 

I want to reiterate something that you said earlier, because I think it was profound. People are always demanding "What's your definition of Critical Race Theory" and you offered one. It was a two-part definition - I want you to correct me if I get this wrong - one part had to do with separating children by race, and encouraging whites to think of themselves as privileged, presumptively in virtue of their race and oppressors. And encouraging blacks to  think of themselves presumptively in virtue of their race as victims. That was one part.  The other part of it was making this idea of countering disparities of  power or influence into the central mission in life.  You are here to get an education so that you can be a warrior on the battlefield of equity, on the battlefield of social justice. You think the marriage of those to those two things, basically, defines critical race theory (McWhorter: "As. Practiced. Today. In schools") and as opposed by the people who are up in arms about it. That's what they're against.They are not fighting a phantom.  They're not just, as Ibrahim X. Kendi would have it, having an argument with themselves about something that is in their imaginations but that doesn't exist in reality that no one has ever said. There is a real thing they that they are concerned about, and it has to do with identitarian and with the kind of co-opting of our kids into a crusade on behalf of political objectives which are not universally shared.
(To which McWhorter chuckled and said "Yes! That was better put than I could...")

In short, if CRT actually did what they said they intended to do and no more, I would have no objection. I would say they were wrong but refutable, and may the best man woman** win, as conservatives generally do about Marxism or immigration.

*I think of our local schools.  Here in suburban, rural, or small-town NH, if you did such a thing there would be one lone black, Hispanic, or Asian child set into a corner by herself.  However much you tried to sell the idea "No, you are the good one, darling! It's those others who are oppressors who we are trying to humiliate," that poor child would feel separated from the only friends she had and made to feel distant from them. These educational exercises are almost universally cruel to actual children in order to feed the fantasies of what some narcissistic adult imagines he would have liked as a child, or will save the world. All of our memories are inaccurate, and what we think we would have liked is partly delusion. But narcissists are far worse on this.  They reconstruct their pasts far more thoroughly than the rest of us are even capable of - because we don't work at it 168 hours/week.

**CRT is the fad.  But women, environmentalists, socialists, and a half-dozen other groups are constantly clamoring for primacy, hoping for that one big tragedy that will vault them to the top for a few months.  Being a leftist is highly competitive.

Horses, Zebras, and Unicorns

I got a lab result back today on a test that I had no idea what it was about.  As near as I can tell, my APRN was making sure I didn't have some strange condition, so the blood had to be sent to Salt Lake City and took a while to get back.  Whatever it was, I don't have it. It seems a waste of money. How many people, even wealthy ones, would get that test if they were paying for it themselves?

Doctors used to love to say that thing about horses and zebras. Do they still?  I had too many guys who said "When I was at Harvard Medical School, we were taught that if we heard hoofbeats, we should look for horses, not zebras."  Oh, like they didn't know that trick at Tufts, doctor? I liked the simpler "common things being common" better.  You are more likely to have a strange presentation of something common than have a strange condition. A friend had longstanding puzzling and very frustrating symptoms. One of the causes was migraines, but because her presentation was odd, neither she nor the previous treating physicians had thought of that.

So yes, horses before zebras.  I always thought it would improve the saying to go one step further and say "And never look for unicorns."  There are conditions that people believe in, but do not exist. Some alt-medicine is recommending useless treatments, but a lot of it is treating nonexistent conditions.  This is usually of the "When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail" type.

Melungeons, and Others

I first heard about them in the early 70s, when I hung out with people who could score status points among other folksingers by sidling up to obscure groups who were really, really authentic. If you had a song that was taught to you by a Melungeon, or a Redbone, everyone would marvel at what a great song it was, with very serious faces. Most things that came to the coffee houses in that way completely sucked, BTW, and I can now see from YouTube and Wikipedia that precisely none were authentic anyway.

The story becomes interesting because of what it reveals about the larger culture. These were people who hotly denied being in any way Negro or African.  They were Portuguese, or Indian, or Absolutely Anything But That, and for good reason, because the legal and cultural consequences of being black in even the smallest percentage were large. 

Baseball historians will recognise this as what happened with light-skinned blacks in the South in the first half of the 20th C. It was an era in which players went to leagues in Mexico or the Caribbean in the winter, and it was okay to be Cuban when you came back to Florida in the summer.  Teams were called Cubans pretty regularly.  As Cuba was baseball-obsessed - even Fidel Castro played, and if he had been better we might not have endured him as a revolutionary - the "New York Cubans" could barnstorm in Birmingham.  It was often partly true.  Luis Tiant's father was actually Cuban, played for teams called the Cubans, and pitched in Negro League All-Star Games in the 1940's. But mostly it was a way of providing cover for African-Americans to play in the wealthier US. While it bears witness to racial prejudice, it also illustrates that the prejudice was waning and unraveling. Reality has a way of slowly grinding down beliefs that are merely convenient.

But now DNA comes into the picture, and we can know more. Melungeons are both African and European in descent, with little mixture of Native, and likely none of Middle Eastern or Romani. The article declares that they were descended from sub-Saharan African males and European females, but that can't be entirely so. The Estes study itself identifies a predominance of R1b1b2 male haplotype, and a few more that are R1a, and those are Western and Central European lineages. (Skip to page 28.) The rest are more commonly African, yes. Also, some of the mtDNA (female line) is more likely African than European. The reporting was sloppy there. There was also a ridiculous statement, typical of science reporting, that all of us are multiracial. 

G. Reginald Daniel, a sociologist at the University of California-Santa Barbara who’s spent more than 30 years examining multiracial people in the U.S. and wasn’t part of this research, said the study is more evidence that race-mixing in the U.S. isn’t a new phenomenon.

“All of us are multiracial,” he said. “It is recapturing a more authentic U.S. history.”

Why is this person even mentioned in the story?  He wasn't part of the study, he is a sociologist with no known expertise in DNA, and he is flat wrong about all people being mixed race. Does he think the 4% of the US that is "Asian" are anything other than 100% from their country of origin for a thousand years, be it India, China, or Thailand? Most individual DNA results are of Americans of European descent, and the vast majority of them are entirely European, though they may be mixed versions from that continent. Ah well.  The myths must be declared.

Melungeon has become something of a generic term in the late 20th and 21st C's - or that is the claim, anyway.  I have not heard the term used myself very often over the decades, and that was always in the Virginia-Tennessee context I was used to.

Later generations came to believe some of the tales their ancestors wove out of necessity.


In recent years, it has become a catchall term for people of mixed-race ancestry and has been applied to about 200 communities in the eastern U.S. — from New York to Louisiana.

Among them were the Montauks, the Mantinecocks, Van Guilders, the Clappers, the Shinnecocks and others in New York. Pennsylvania had the Pools; North Carolina the Lumbees, Waccamaws and Haliwas and South Carolina the Redbones, Buckheads, Yellowhammers, Creels and others. In Louisiana, which somewhat resembled a Latin American nation with its racial mixing, there were Creoles of the Cane River region and the Redbones of western Louisiana, among others. 

There were ethnicities that were acceptable, even if not welcomed. 

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Deconstructing Puff

The rumor was always that PP&M's "Puff the Magic Dragon" was a drug song.  They had a performance piece specifically dedicated to describing how We didn't even know what marijuana was in 1962, which was convincing only if you wanted to be. Yet they had a point.  What else, other than the title, would suggest that?

So, you have this guy you meet, by the name of "Papers." Huh. Yeah. What's that about? What do you mean when you say 'Sealing Wax?' 

Jackie Paper.  He's my friend. My only friend. I don't really like to talk about it.  He was a little boy, about six years old, I think. Sealing wax is this weird substance he brought to me as a present. You heat it up and then you stamp your initials on it.

Heat it up?  Like on a spoon or something?  Then what do you do with it?  Inhale it? Eat it?

Eh.  It's a stretch, even at that.

But skeptically looking at the lyrics, some dark stuff emerged. A dragon lives forever. Okay, but very soon after it is followed by without his life-long friend. So...this immortal dragon has a little boy who is a LIFE-LONG friend. Therefore, a very, very young dragon, who is now going to go forward for centuries with some sort of human-induced trauma. Where are this dragon's parents?  This sounds like a normal developmental process for a young, well-meaning dragon, but he has to navigate this by himself, with no older dragon to reassure him.  Is this normal dragon behavior?  No wonder they are such destructive, narcissistic creatures. Your parents and all older members of your species abandon you when you are a child. You make friends with a young human, who in a very short time decides he doesn't need you and ghosts you. No text, no email, he just stops coming around. No one to say "Son, it was ever thus.  This is the burden that all dragons bear. Go eat a sheep or two and get a few gold bracelets.  You'll get through this."

It reminds me of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, where the "monster" originally starts out as a pretty good guy, looking in on a human family with sad envy, cutting wood for them in hopes of starting some normal relationship. When that is cruelly dashed he becomes an enemy of humankind.

Does Dragon culture have any sort of child welfare system? I am thinking that we could have saved ourselves a lot of trouble centuries ago if we had only understood what the poor bastards have gone through. When they are already 400 years old it's way too late. 

If anyone runs into this Jackie Paper character, who must be at least 70 by now, let me know.  Someone needs to have an intervention with that jerk.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Kibbutz Memory

Edward Grossman describes a time in Israel I had known only fragments of, over at Quillette. The story doesn't go anywhere, yet still told me a lot.

Not Real Congee - Oh My!

When people put out a variety of dishes and call it a Smorgasbord I don't get my knickers in a twist. Thanks to Grim for the heads up on this.

Thursday, July 22, 2021


Some things are obvious once they have been pointed out.  I heard an interview with the insightful Devin Brown, Asbury professor and CS Lewis scholar, who pointed out that Jill Pole's scene with Aslan at the beginning of The Silver Chair mirrors Jesus speaking with the Samaritan Woman at the well. The confession, the water-symbolism, the theology both welcoming and exclusionary, all are there.

He also notes that Aslan functions more as Jesus in some of the books and more like the Holy Spirit and occasionally like God the Father in others, yet appropriately, moves back and forth among them seamlessly.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Synthetic Racism

 I looked on my sidebar and misread the title of the Quillette article.

Generational Prejudice

I have noted before that for purely social interactions, age is a more powerful predictor of who I will choose to speak with than sex, race, perceived status, or other determinants.  I give the example of attending my sons' soccer games decades ago.  When I arrive, I am going to gravitate to the other dads, regardless of race or dress (though I may have wheels within wheels, certainly).  I would say hello to the boys and there are occasions on which we would speak, even have animated conversations.  The moms likely came next, and grandads, faculty if it was a school event, and female students would be progressively less likely. If I knew someone already they would cut the line. 

But socialising is not our only activity.  In particular, I am wondering whether there is a generational component to viewing the protests of the last year.  The violent protests of the left were largely by young people. The violence-enabling protestors were older. I recall  reading that a large portion of Antifa lived with their parents and were unemployed, but I don't know how reliable that is.  It could just be some conservative partisan asking some people to fill out forms and making a few phone calls, calling that research. As many are college students and some advertise their unemployment and freedom to be at extended protests, it is at least partly true.  Perhaps it is not fully relevant, except that many people on the right believe this to be true, that the protestors are young, don't work, have their needs attended to by others, and generally know little about life.  They know what they have been told, and some of the young people are very good at picking up what they should believe. The thinking on the right is they blame others because they just don't understand how hard all this is.  Putting up with bosses is difficult and infuriating at times.  Creating wealth is not automatic, it is elusive, unpredictable, and labor-intensive. When one has responsibility for others - for spouses, for children, for other relatives; for employees, for community needs, church needs, neighbor needs - one has less interest in humanity as an abstract. (And less confident you can do much about that anyway.)

The DC protestors were older, and while few seemed to be wealthy, they did seem to be employed, with skin in the game about the country in general that was not purely hypothetical. To the young left, these look like people who have benefited from the system, and have some nice things. What right have they to complain when most things are already going their way?  And now you want more? You are butthurt because your guy who is perpetuating all this unfairness you benefit from didn't get elected, and you want to throw your weight around to make sure the goodies keep coming your way. You just don't understand fairness, you don't understand justice.  (You have stuff and I don't.) The young find authorities who are not young who tell them this - not incidentally, people from the A&H Tribe who also feel that society does not reward the correct people.


Sheep's Clothing

In response to Grim's post about government infiltration of right-wing terrorist groups - enough that they constitute a lot of the membership.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Java Jive

We went to a concert in the park where this was sung. I hadn't heard it before but loved it. 


One can already read about polls and rumors of who will be the Republican candidate in 2024. Joe Biden will not be the Democratic candidate, so that slot will also be open.  There seems to be less media interest in that.  Do they think it would spark division among Democrats, or undermine Kamala Harris as heiress-apparent? I don't know that it would, but I can see thinking so.

I am just suspicious of any difference in media treatment, that it is not accidental.

Maybe there are polls that i just haven't seen.  Maybe it is a big topic in parts of the internet I don't go.

Monday, July 19, 2021


Activity for the family reunion in august is starting to ramp up.  Four of five sons and all five granddaughters will be arriving for Ben's wedding reception #1 and allied celebrations. (Chris would still have to go into two-week quarantine upon returning to Norway, so he isn't coming.  He hopes to make it to wedding reception #2 in Texas in October.) Other family and friends will come for at least a day. The town we are going to be camping in the second week, the one with all the covered bridges, has been flooded the last few days, but the area we will be seems okay. 

Preparations and organising used to fall mostly to us, and we still walk around tentatively wondering if there is something we should be doing that we have forgotten.  But the daughters-in-law seem to have matters well in hand and we have only limited duties. I might be taxiing granddaughters about southern NH, providing me with a captive audience to tell long, pointless stories to, as my father before me did. Unwelcome educational discussions are also a big item on those rides, including especially NH history.

The Samaritan Woman

The interpretation is making the rounds - trust me, it's making the rounds - that the encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well is a primarily racial lesson in the New Testament. If you have never heard this before, it's because it's new.  It was never asserted until recently.  Not before the 21st C, I don't think, though something may come up about that to prove me wrong. I recognise the type of argument.  To those who have signed on to this, it seems to not be a political statement, but an understanding-of-the-real-meaning-of-the-scriptures argument, which should inform our political understanding going forward. 

I think the opposite is much closer to the truth, that it is a modern transparently political understanding being applied retroactively to the Bible. That the Jews generally did not like the Samaritans is clear from John, Luke, and Matthew.  Secular sources confirm this, but also show that there were varieties of opinions about them. Even Jesus specifically excludes them from evangelism in his early ministry, telling his disciples to avoid the towns of both the Gentiles and Samaritans. Once his mission to the Jews is established, he seems to relent. Whether he regarded them as the next group for harvest, I don't think it is wise to speculate.  It looks that way, but mind-reading Jesus isn't a good way to proceed. 

They were regarded as half-Jewish, half-Gentile. Some considered them heretics, some a different tribe, and secular sources report that some Jews considered them an affiliated group that was in error. They were descended from the Jews who had not gone into the Babylonian captivity mixed with the Assyrians that Babylon sent to occupy the land. Because they stayed straight through, the Samaritans regarded themselves as the real chosen people, Assyrians or not. Even at worst case, the Jews considered them much closer than Greeks or Romans would be. Luke uses the word allogenhs, "another-family/tribe" to describe them. The Jews were familiar with people who were different in what we would call a race: Simon the Black, and the Ethiopian eunuch (maybe the same person) and several OT references. "Ethiopian" didn't mean a geographic area, it meant "black person." The early church didn't seem to have an issue with this.  

The first gentile came into the Church in Acts 10, but there were Samaritan believers mentioned in Acts 8. So the Jews didn't consider them actual gentiles, just annoying, suspect, heretical distant kin. That they had intermixed with the Assyrians does seem to have been an issue. It gets mentioned. It is an overread to claim it was the main issue, especially when most sources talk exclusively about their false worship on the wrong mountain or other strictly religious differences. 

We might think it is just human nature that the genetic difference was the (really) important one at the time, but that is imposing our framework on them. It's fun to be cynical, wink-wink like that, but there isn't evidence for it.

There is also the related belief that Jesus came to heal divisions like this in the world, that people of many tribes and nations would get along better. But the New Testament emphasises that we are all to come out of our tribes to join the new one, the Jesus tribe, the New Covenant. At a minimum, whatever other identifications we have from our previous lives are supposed to be unimportant enough to be not worth mentioning.  There is neither Jew nor Greek in the new kingdom.  But what the others from those tribes, those left behind are supposed to be doing isn't mentioned. Jesus makes no mention that he hopes Jews and Samaritans in general - or Pharisees and Essenes, or Greeks and Romans, or Medes and Parthians - would get along better, only that any were welcome to follow him (and then they had jolly well better get along). We can make up stories based on our picture of Jesus, and in our modern era, when folks think that "Peace of Earth" has something to do with the absence of war, that is what we will almost automatically think. Yet Jesus spoke of bringing division and a sword, and spoke of war among the nations as something that would always be happening. He also told us in some contexts to leave them behind quite heartlessly.

Friday, July 16, 2021

He's Ever Over Me

One of the songs by Covenanter Bob Stromberg that caught on and is still sung, I see. He does standup comedy now, but he played the circuit of churches and the big triennial CHIC festival for years. We used to sing this out of the (now disfavored) Silver Hymnal and it is one of my wife's favorites.  She has tagged it to be among the things sung at her funeral.  I have one of his listed for mine as well.

This version is tremendous. You can mostly only find solo artists, but this group does some very nice stuff with it. Only 40 views.  They deserve better.

Stromberg also always had a thing for shadow puppets. Now there's a lost art.


Conceptually, there is a difference between having a high tolerance for risk and enjoying taking risks. I understand the joy of taking risks ever more remotely as I age.  I used to climb up cliffs barefoot in my swimsuit, sometimes over the water - not such a big deal - sometimes over rock when I was 14-15. I climbed buildings for the adrenaline rush.  It now seems like another human being who did that. I get nervous on the roof of my shed now. Yet I do recall the feeling of great aliveness, of mastery over my environment, the physical pleasure of it.

I am reluctant to call those good feelings virtuous in any way. As there are uses for high risk behaviors that the tribe needs, in fighting fires, in going to war, in building things in dangerous environments it is good that a percentage of people actively enjoy these things, as you can find more volunteers to do them. Though my impression is that most dangerous professions quickly train people to reduce risk. "We've got plenty of danger to go around here, son. You don't need to go looking for extra." That certainly was the case in dealing with violent psychiatric patients, especially over time.  When I started we still had a few guys who liked going at it with people, who were over-ready to engage with taking others down. The profession changed and those guys either learned to tone it down or were moved along.

As time went on, I thought I still had a high tolerance for risk, even as I moved increasingly away from risky activities. Part of this is aging, having seen things go awry quickly a hundred times when unnecessary risks are taken.  Aging also makes you less able to conquer your environment.  No more jumping fences or hopping from rack to rock in the stream. Eyesight is worse, reflexes are slower, and even if your reaction time is still good, you are moving much more weight around than you were when you were fifteen.

There is a personality - I encountered one today and thought immediately of a half-dozen others - that revels in the idea of risk, and considers those who don't embrace it with them to be timid, uncourageous, unmasculine. Well, maybe.  But I think the fact that this feels good to them undercuts the idea that there is much virtue in it. They take physical pleasure in the adrenaline of working without a net. I have strong suspicions that this one man, no longer young, enjoys thinking of himself as a person who has a high tolerance for risk.  But he doesn't, necessarily.  Enjoying the chemicals isn't the same thing. 

I think it is easy to fool ourselves on this one. In both directions, perhaps. We also tell ourselves that we are wiser in taking fewer risks because we take less pleasure in the adrenaline rush and sense of mastery that once drove us. Separating out what is biology and what is character isn't easy. 

The occasion, BTW, was being asked to drive a multiply unsafe vehicle with no seat belt, and the risk-taker was an Eastern European who is tasked with keeping the vehicle in repair. He is a bit of a braggart about what risks he routinely endures and thinks others should, too.  About driving, about covid, about refusing safety equipment.

Two Old Links From Reason

I don't know what prompts me to save some links, or how they get buried in odd categories.  But there is this reminder from Reason magazine in 2014 of what the pattern was for scandals in the supposedly scandal-free Obama administration. It chills me that this is still offered as a supposed positive about the Obama years.  Everyone has scandals.  It's DC, and there are rent-seekers, grifters, and ambitious people everywhere.  All of these politicians came up in political environments of punishment and reward - even the nice guys.  So to say "there were no scandals" is to breeze right by the obvious.  There were scandals. What happened to them? How can supposedly alert, even cynical and skeptical people not see red flags there?  Anyway...

Third, Obama tells America he's angry. He did it when the IRS scandal couldn't be ignored in the media anymore, telling the press he was angry about it. Obama was angry about the botched Obamacare website rollout, too. This past weekend, the president relayed his anger over the V.A. scandal via an aide. And when he's not angry, he's concerned or frustrated, as he said he was in the wake of whistleblower Edward Snowden's NSA revelations. The president insisted he was preparing to tackle the issues surrounding the secret surveillance programs even before Snowden forced the issue into the public sphere. He said, in fact, that he welcomed the debate, even as his government moved to prosecute Snowden, the whistleblower who made that debate possible. The important thing for the president is to signal to the public that he cares—even in circumstances where he claims he only found out about the issue by reading about it in the paper.

Then from 1997 there was Dances With Myths, about the ridiculous falsehoods that grew up and are still widely believed about Native Americans.  Do they still teach that Chief Seattle quote in high schools these days?  I protested it when sons three and four were in school.  I figured it was particularly bad for schools to tell lies to children who had been born behind the Iron curtain.

Similarly, where game was plentiful, Indians used only the choicest cuts and left the rest. When the buffalo hunting tribes on the Great Plains herded hundreds of animals over cliffs in the 18th and early 19th centuries, tons of meat were left to rot or to be eaten by scavengers–hardly a result consistent with the environmental ethic attributed to Indians. Samuel Hearne, a fur trader near Hudson's Bay, recorded in his journal in the 1770s that the Chipewayan Indians would slaughter large numbers of caribou and musk ox, eat only a few tongues, and leave the rest to rot.

Yet at our little program about coyotes that the library put on in our town the other night, we were reminded again that it was the white man who left thousands of buffalo to rot on the plains after killing them for sport.  I am certain that did also happen. But one story is told and the other is not.  Unless you live near Buffalo Jump, I suppose. 

The Lost History of Western Civilization

Stanley Kurtz's The Lost History of Western Civilization came out just before the Pandemic, and thus did not receive the attention it deserved. It is the length of a small book, available for free at the National Association of Scholars website. I bring it out here so you can have it for quick reference. The introduction is simple and forceful.  A sample

The Western tradition is the source of America’s founding principles and constitutional system. That is the most important reason for civic-minded citizens to study it. And while America has been shaped by the particularities of Western civilization, the liberal principles nurtured by this tradition represent our best hope for national reconciliation across boundaries of race, ethnicity, and religion. This report can be read as an argument against those on either the right or the left who associate Western civilization with “white identity politics.” The distinctive idea that emerged in the West—to be taken up into what we used to call the American Creed—is that a polity based on the principles of liberty and equality belongs to all citizens, as individuals, regardless of race, faith, ethnicity, or national origin. This is the way out of the trap we have fallen into. How we lost our way is the subject of this report.

But the text of the document tracing the history of the West is thorough, avoiding cliches and hackneyed phrases.

Nonetheless, the transition from “Christendom” to “Europe” was significant. And if anyone could be said to have “invented” not Europe itself, but the emerging modern conception of European civilization, it was Charles Louis de Secondat, baron de la Brede et de Montesquieu, who did it 170 years before the First World War.

Montesquieu is famed as the Enlightenment thinker whose 1748 work, The Spirit of the Laws, bequeathed to America’s Founders the principle of the separation of powers. Yet The Spirit of the Laws was also the first systematic comparative study of world civilizations.25 By articulating a disciplined contrast with Asia, Montesquieu became the first modern thinker to set out a systematic vision of Europe as a cultural and political entity with a history of its own.26

With China, Japan, India, the Near East, Turkey and Russia ruled by ‘despotic’ regimes, Montesquieu saw that political liberty was confined to Western Europe. To explain that liberty, he referenced the character of Christianity, the social effects of commerce, the relative separation of religion and state, and the rule of law. In short, Montesquieu developed the core themes of a typical 20th century Western Civilization course in 1748.

He was also preoccupied by England’s differences from Europe as a whole: its passion for liberty, its religious freedom and the proliferation of sects this gave rise to, as well as the cultural impact of its remarkably advanced commerce. England for Montesquieu played the “exceptional” role that America (or the Anglo-American tradition) took on in later narratives of Western Civilization.

One stop shopping, really.


Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Priceless Steinway


Solar and Wind

In 2016 I considered putting up an array of solar panels on my south roof. It was going to be an ideal situation - okay, I'm in New Hampshire, so there are not yet any ideal situations, but other than that - no trees blocking the roof; I was going to be replacing the roof and putting in new electric anyway, and so could deduct that amount from the estimate of whether it was worth it; there were subsidies, one state and one federal. There was some other factor, I think.  I recall there being four.  Ah well.  I apparently did not blog about it at the time.

Even with all the advantages in play, the payback period was going to be twelve years minimum, on equipment that had a twenty-year warranty. As we were quite certain we were going to move before twelve years, and didn't know how much it would increase the value of the home, we decided against it. Even if we had stayed, we would not have gone for it, I don't think. (We made the right choice.  The price of oil went down soon after, pushing the payback period out to sixteen years.)

I had a metal roof put on, and spoke with the installer about my computations. He thought my numbers were similar to what he was figuring for Vermont, where he usually did business. I shrugged that solar looked like it was more than one breakthrough away.  He agreed, but thought those might not be too long in coming. His understanding was that battery technology was going to improve enough to be one breakthrough.  Where the second one would come from he didn't know, but there were nominations. He mentioned at the end that he was talking about subsidy-free numbers.

It's five years later, and battery storage is much better, so maybe that's one breakthrough.  I thought of him this weekend, listening to two men in their thirties who worked for commercial solar installation companies on opposite coasts, New Hampshire and Washington. So, not prime sunshine. One was a child of suburban privilege, the other a blue-collar guy.  They had just been introduced and were comparing notes. Both had some irritation at Tesla for sucking up all the battery technology and air in the room, but both also thought it was doing good-enough exciting stuff, moving things forward. One detailed a particular program that had two subsidies offered for certain businesses, totaling about 56% of the cost.  The other marveled.  "You could do it easily with only one of those.  You might be able to get it done with no subsidies, if everything broke your way." While they both are likely to be optimistic about their field, both also make their daily bread this way and seemed to be crunching numbers pretty sternly.

Obligatory skepticism: I think the enthusiasts have overlooked intermittency and vulnerability. They didn't take into consideration that emergency vehicles and construction vehicles have different needs than Priuses. I think they have been over-optimistic about when technologies will come on line.  I think both federal and state governments have no business subsidising anything more than experimental or proof-of-concept enterprises. I am not surprised that we are not solar-dominant at this point. If you caught me last week before I had thought about it a little harder, I would have done my usual scoffing.  "Call me when it's here."

Yet I also believe that ideas are the infinite resource, and technology does improve over time. I posted two years ago an article suggesting the time has arrived in the Southwest, with a few other places marginal. People do keep working on this. Just because some wide-eyed innocents make me crazy with their optimism, and their ability to convince governments to spend money, it doesn't mean that real improvements aren't happening. Batteries do have other uses, and other folks interested in improving them.  Their price is 10% what it was ten years ago.

New Hampshire will be just about last to come on board, but I would bet that solar is becoming viable, non-subsidy viable, moving up from the southland. Wind is the natural pairing for solar, because it is windier at night and windier in the winter, but I don't know a thing about that. The bladeless wind farm looks intriguing, but I am not positioned to be either optimistic or pessimistic about its chances. Single events like the Texas storm don't move the dial much for me. The computations have to focus on long-term use, with protections against one-off events.  the one-offs themselves too easily dominate our thinking.


One more area in which I am an outlier is social discussions about improving houses. Most of my friends like to discuss countertops, landscaping, porches, paint colors, workmen, and additions.  I don't dislike them.  I don't go seeking the exits when such things come up.  I even find things to contribute here and there.  Yet it is always a surprise to me, because I have not been thinking about such things myself since the last time I saw them. They have little hold on me.

The exception is when I am persecuted by a current project, such as now, painting the house and trying not to rehearse tomorrow's work all night tonight.  Some guys will say they aren't happy unless they have some project or other around the house to occupy them.  Myself, I'm not happy unless my projects are all caught up.

What does actively bore me is old guys talking about old cars, with few exceptions. If I am in the presence of a guy my age or thereabouts and there is a 1966 Buick or some such within view, the odds are unfortunately high that he will want to go on at length about some Buick that he owned fifty years ago, including details of no importance to me. I have some interest in the various VWs, as I owned a few, but even for that I can keep a conversation going for maybe ten minutes before I am eyeing the exits. This is a topic of fascination to many men, the cars they used to own and the details about them. Anecdotes about adventures with these cars are often exchanged: when they wouldn't start, what they were like on bad roads, how long they lasted beyond their expected lifespans.

Chuck Jones' Rules

There were 9 (or more) rules the animator Jones set himself for the coyote and Road Runner cartoon. As these were sometimes broken, especially in the earlier episodes, it is likely that these were described only in retrospect, as he learned about his characters and what made them funny. One notable exception is that Wile E. Coyote does get hit by trucks or trains a fair bit.

Monday, July 12, 2021


We have had some confusion over the years, including recently, what it means for something to be "genetic."  While reading a Scott Suskind at Slate Star Codex article from 2017 about weight loss I came across a quote that captures a lot of what I think is missing. 

Right now, within this culture, variation in BMI is mostly genetic. This isn’t to say that non-genetic factors aren’t involved – the difference between 1800s America and 2017 America is non-genetic, and so is the difference between the perfectly-healthy Kitavans on Kitava and the one Kitavan guy who moved to New Guinea. But once everyone alike is exposed to the 2017-American food environment, differences between the people in that environment seem to be really hereditary and not-at-all-related to learned behavior.

It is from Part v, just after the graph, in his review of The Hungry Brain. by Stephan Guyenet.  There is more detail about this particular example immediately after. An environment may influence behavior, such as BMI or violence or anxiety, yet it does not affect everyone equally.  And the not equally is often genetic. Because there is variety of response, the people who do "best" by some measure are likely to get smug, believing that they worked harder or were more righteous or have a better attitude, but they may just have been wired better right from the start. It is not good to give yourself credit for your heredity. 

As usual, Suskind goes on too long, trying to be thorough.  Still, it is very good, weighing one side against another and looking for weaknesses in his own argument. Overall, it is discouraging about long-term (meaning five years, not a few months) serious weight loss (meaning normal weight, not "a reduction of 10% of weight.")

Also, I loved his first sentence of Part vi.

Lest I end on too positive a note, let me reiterate the part where happiness is inherently bad and a sort of neo-Puritan asceticism is the only way to avoid an early grave.

As BMI was brought up, creating a rabbit-trail we all want to go down, I should include a link to another article about the mysteries of obesity, which includes a disclaimer about using BMI. 

Still More Artificial World

James has a post Illusions, and I commented there about the possibility that some of these odd new identities might be a way to be left alone rather than gain attention, a method for parking on a side street.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Quibbles About Archaeological Journalism

When one sees a report about a British megalith in a BBC or other media article, the words "our ancestors" occur frequently.  "What were our ancestors doing here?" or "It's important to understand what  these stones/chambers/axes meant to our ancestors." Technically, you could say that a small percentage were ancestors of current Brits, or taking it the other way, that a small percentage of the ancestors of current Brits were them.  But mostly, the people who built the megaliths were wiped out by the Bell Beaker tribes, the Celts, the Yamnaya. The mtDNA suggests that some few females were spared and taken as wives, or slaves, or concubines. A very few. The Celts used Stonehenge, and likely some other stone circles, cursuses, or megalithic sites, but they didn't build them. 

As we increasingly take disease into account in understanding history, we are applying that to prehistory as well. In northern continental Europe there is evidence of plague preceding the arrival of steppe tribes that mostly replaced the descendants of the Eastern European farmers who had moved there a millenium or two before. It is likely that the steppe invaders had some partial immunity to plague, which went before them, weakening the occupants. This was so complete in Britain that it is believed to be a 90% population replacement.

Secondly, the first speculation - often by the archaeologists, not just the reporters - of any new site is "It could have been a temple." Yes, it could.  But it could have had another main purpose such as stadium or playing field for blood sport.  Some contain remains of pigs that were killed with a bow and arrow, after all.  Also, they might have served multiple purposes.  If it was a solemn religious place, it might also have been where many tribes met to discuss alliances or strategy, as a reminder to keep promises made before the gods.

More on Artificial World

Bsking includes a link in the comments under "Artificial World," describing (and sympathetic to) fraysexuality. Jesse Singal points out that this is actually quite similar to a developmental stage at around 12 or 13. With the many new types of sexual attraction being claimed, I am increasingly convinced that these represent something missing developmentally, rather than something wrong in the usual sense.  They are not so much a choosing a new type of sexual identity as displaying an inability to choose a fully developed identity.

I keep thinking of Jonathan Haidt and The Coddling of the American Mind, that graduating class of 2014, therefore college graduating class of 2018 (or so), the first generation to have personal devices from middle school on. I think these alternate sexual identities can only exist in a primarily online world.  They are not sustainable interactions in the physical world.  Grim emphasised physicality, even pheromones.  I would add to that the thousands of subtle signals of eyebrow, tone, pause, distance to we use in normal development to "read" what the people around us are communicating.  The old cliche that we communicate only 10% of our meaning with words and the other 90% non-verbally is not measurable and is imprecise, but it captures an important truth nonetheless.  Children are growing up with less experience of this and it impairs their perception, like the fictional children raised by wolves.  Additionally, the online signals of text and video are new territory, with new meanings and subtleties.  Many of us learned to be very careful what we communicated in email at work (and likely in personal life as well) because it is much easier to be misunderstood. The context of spoken interaction is just different in a hundred ways. I have responded by writing in a style that uses much more punctuation, italics, and other tricks.  Younger people use emoticons and additional abbreviations (LOL, AITA?) to enhance context.  Video expressions are developing their own nuances and cues, but these are still minimal, inadequate.

So what happens to identities that are not sustainable outside the internet?  In a private email, bsking noted there are real-world supports that are ultimately necessary for us all, a network. Someone to give you a ride to the doctor, or watch your children for a few hours in an emergency, or even come through with larger support in longer crises, such as words of encouragement distributed over months, or a gift or a loan of an expensive item. Or just friendship - a kind word, feedback for an idea, commiseration at injustice, suggestions on a dozen topics. Families used to provide this, or neighbors, coworkers, or longstanding friends in an era when people moved less often.  But in the era of moving more often and having smaller families Americans have less of this, and observers of the cultural scene have been concerned for decades that such support is eroding. Putnam's Bowling Alone was alarming 20 years ago. We have become even more fragmented since, and now have a generation on our hand which has a large percentage of the cohort missing important developmental pieces - with no understanding what the lack even is. 

We tend to think of these internet narcissists and ravaging hyenas as broken, but they might not even be rising to the level of brokenness. 

So what happens?  Do they gradually acquire the missing pieces in later years? Do they double down on defending their inadequacies as the fault of others not understanding and respecting them? Do they develop alternative ways of relating? And heck, maybe they find things that work. Yet I don't know how one replaces thousands of years of evolution and cultural cues overnight.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Russia, China, and Iran and Covid

A fairly short article at National Review.  The intent is to try and suss out some sort of estimate, even if it is a year later, through the fog of obviously-dishonest numbers. The main strategy seems to be "Just call it something other that Covid.  Anything."

It is worth noting before going in that the reports circulating about Covid in other places earlier than the winter of 2019-2020 in China are consistent with the lab-leak theory, and especially with multiple leaks.  If they had been doing gain-of-function research, then there would have been more versions of the coronavirus, perhaps even many versions, depending on how far back the research goes.  These would have been less deadly, but similar enough to the current disease to show up as positive tests when testing the sewage in aggregate or other retrospective, geographic tests.

Andrew Sullivan

I haven't linked to him much.  But this essay is quite good, and I will bet it makes the rounds in conservative circles for the next couple of weeks.

Update:  It was over at Althouse as well, and the comments were not kind.


You know what would be helpful?  To have a journalist's SATM score in his or her - or their - byline, or if on camera, scrawling below, whenever they are reporting on something that involves numbers.

Friday, July 09, 2021

You're The Top

Cole Porter came up recently, and he had been on my mind anyway after a concert in the park by the Manchester Choral Society. The song is from "Anything Goes," and Wodehouse fans should know that he wrote the original book, and modified the lyrics to this and other musical numbers for the first British production.

Completely different lyrics here, and I know some that aren't in either of those versions. 

Porter admitted it was just showing off and thought he had badly overdone it, but audiences loved it.  I was stage manager (one of those thankless jobs you had to take your turn at if you were a theater major) and had to listen to it many nights in a row and never tired of it. Finding rhymes for proper names can be challenging, especially when attempting double and triple rhymes. (Gallery/salary).

My friend and later roommate Mark Martino had the romantic lead here, as he often did. A handsome man and an excellent dancer.  He has continued to make his living in theater all these years, directing up and down the East Coast in Off-Broadway productions. Odd to watch and listen to him on the video almost fifty years later.

Artificial World

This story cannot be that common statistically, but the theme of "Wokeness turned out to be as bad as my fundamentalist church" has popped up over the years, especially recently. The article is long, and I apologise.  But it is not the author's intended theme that jumped out at me, but the whole concept of the artificial social media world that some young people are living in. Perhaps it is more common in those subcultures such as the sexual self-definition ones, where identity might require a separation from shared reality to sustain itself.  It is right in line with Haidt and Lukianoff's Coddling of the American Mind, which shows evidence that the break from reality kept increasing until the HS Class of 2014, the first cohort to have had devices since middle school, and thus throughout their years of social development outside the family.  Suicide, depression, and anxiety disorders exploded in this group and have remained high since.

This came up over at Grim's a few weeks ago, and while it is not a brand new idea to us, it is troubling me more.  I keep thinking that such artificial worlds cannot remain aloft indefinitely, that they must plummet back to earth eventually. Yet perhaps they can.  The emotional cost may be high, even devastating, but apparently it can be maintained, at least among some.  Dale Kuehne, a friend from years ago who is a professor at St Anselm, wrote a book late in 2009 that has turned out to be prescient, Sex and the iWorld, about the change in relationships in the digital age. He pointed out then that it is a new thing for people, including especially the young, to define themselves without reference to input from others. You can lay claim to a gender even if your family and every friend you ever had tells you you are mistaken.

The conversations Appel describes over at Quillette seem to come from a sci-fi dystopian world, or something out of Tolkien or Lewis where a character has lost his identity, submerged in the will of another. They seem to be reciting or enacting roles rather than inhabiting flesh. Frankly, it sounds like some descriptions of possession.  But it is not fiction.  It may be filtered through an unsympathetic recorder, but the curious thing is that this recorder has OCD, so the content is especially likely to be accurate, even if the interpretation may be skewed.

We are somewhat used to the already-alarming idea that even normal children may be having their social development harmed, their identities weakened by living in two worlds, one of flesh and one in the ether. That some may even too equally inhabit those worlds we have heard, and worried. Yet I don't think I had fully grasped that there might be some whose lives were not merely dominated by their social media life and identity, but that it might even consume the original host, the human being born into the world as a baby two decades before. It is like encountering the Tragedian and Dwarf in The Great Divorce, or Weston in Perelandra, or the Mouth of Sauron or Grima Wormtongue in LOTR. Chilling.

Breathing Therapy

My niece, going through a difficult patch with relatives at the moment told us "I've got a therapist, but all she does is tell me to breathe."  I had to laugh aloud, because while this is (likely) an exaggeration, it may not be much of one.

I'm pro-breathing.  I am even pro- breathing exercises, pro- controlled breathing, squared breathing, intentional breathing, remembering to fully exhale, the lot of it.  These do help.  It is good to have your body on your side working for you in a tight spot rather than working against you.  But it is not very instructive about what ails you, and is not very emotionally satisfying.

Ballad of the Shape of Things

Context matters. There are other good versions of the song, and many of them by The Trio in its various incarnations. I wanted to choose one of them, just for variety. But it was different when it came out.  Just a touch risque (especially for a pre-teen), by a hip, popular group, with lyrics that demanded you pay attention or you would lose the meaning entirely. It was something on the rise, coming into society.

Later versions are nostalgic instead. It becomes a different song. This is true of popular music in general, of course. "Let's Spend the Night Together" and "Born to Be Wild" are now comfortable granny-fare, not shocking or challenging. Yet it seems more true of the folkies.  Perhaps that is only because it was my childhood, not another's.

Thursday, July 08, 2021

Climate Change in History and Prehistory

Popular science news will sometimes highlight catastrophes that may have happened because of climate change, and this has penetrated into academic research as well.  PhD dissertations and research topics have to be approved, and these days they have to have some modern popular hook, so environmental concerns get shoved in there.

If you look just a bit beneath the surface, you will see that warming was seldom the issue.  Warmer periods were often a good thing, in fact.  No, the catastrophes were most prominently from cooling, and next after that, from drought. Thus it is technically true, but functionally deceptive, to keep referring to these events as "climate change" as a general category.

Tertiary Sins

I don't know about your church, but I can't see how racism is a top-tier sin in mine, neither the congregation, nor the denomination.  Nonetheless we got all worked up over it last year, and this persists. Denominational headquarters follows the cause-of-the-month, as in getting all worked up over the great danger that Asian-Americans are supposedly in from mouth-breathing racists, because of an incident of a guy with sexual problems shooting up a massage parlor. That will calm down, to be replaced with something or other.  Racism (cue the word "journey") and the environment will continue in the newsletters, I imagine, with a different spin each time.

It seems straight out of Screwtape to get people worrying about secondary and tertiary sins, so that they never notice the simple ones.

Online Conversations Vs. Real Life

I don't talk about racial issues face-to-face. Even when I discuss them with people I know in real life, it is nearly always via email. When I first began to notice things about IQ in the 1980s, I did speak quietly to two testing psychologists about how much was genetic (it was not popular to suggest any number above 10% at that point, but they both wincingly copped to about 60%), and whether the racial disparity was real. One hemmed and hawed but eventually said yes, there was something to that, though he didn't think think the full standard deviation gap was going to hold up, while the other (older and from New York City, if that's pertinent) told me it was entirely true, but not to get caught ever saying it out loud. Other than that, I don't think I ever discussed race and IQ at work, at church, at Bible Study, and certainly not with people I barely knew.  It did come up in correspondence and the newsletter of the Prometheus Society, but even there, seldom.  

"Noticing things" about the racial disparity in violence did not occur until decades later. Up until about 2000 or even later I was aware of a cultural difference, in that the New England states had had lower homicide rates since colonial times, but did not even ask myself if it were racial. I don't bring it up in live conversation anywhere. It comes into a couple of my email groups, but even there it is entirely responsive - only when someone brings up the suggestion that it might be gun ownership or some other possibility for which we have good counterevidence do I go into my standard rant about it.  For the record, even though it looks to me as if genetic explanations have the inside track on that one, I very much hope it turns out to be culture, or some epigenetic phenomenon of being exposed to violence or living in an adrenalised, cortisol-activated environment activating a suite of behaviors that might somehow be avoided if we only knew how. My rant is mostly about people not acknowledging how enormous the difference is, and offering solutions without thinking that through. I'm not fussing about causes.

I don't bring these up live because these would unnecessarily hurt people's feelings. Though I have noted several times I don't think it is less hurtful to say "Sure you have the ability, it's just that the culture of your people sucks," or "You start on the same plane of abstract reasoning as everyone else, so you just must have poor character and don't work hard or pay attention."  I would think that would be worse, myself.  But I note empirically that African-Americans prefer those latter explanations, perhaps because they believe they are not universal and are more fixable - and usually, that they themselves are exempt.  But you can see why the explanation "No, it has to be racism, somewhere, somehow" looks attractive. In online discussions, I am now at the point of challenging by saying "Be specific.  What are the racist things that are still happening?" Ross Douhat, who I often like, just had one of those "Well it just must be something structurally racist" a day or two ago.  The evidence that he cited is that slavery existed for a long time, and then oppression, so it's just overwhelmingly likely there's still some structural racism going on.  Could be.  But where is it?  What is it?  I agree it sounds likely.  But said the pieman to Simple Simon, "First show me your money."

So there is this huge discrepancy between my online and my live conversations, with email threads running somewhere in between, but closer to online. I can't be the only one.  This strikes me as a very large cultural difference from the world I grew up in. The alternative to public conversations were private ones, sometimes whispered and secret ones. Yet even in my private conversations I don't discuss race.  If it were the old world I grew up in would my live conversations both public and private be different? If I had read things or learned things about testing and violence would I just have to find someone to talk about those things with?

An additional note: I believe these conversations could be had face-to-face, but they require a lot of context and explanation.  Those take time, and they take a willingness to hear and understand careful distinctions.  The one time the racial gap in school testing came up at work I agreed that it was real and that "a lot of" the environmental explanations had come up empty.  But I also quickly put in the point that the discussion was complicated, and everyone seemed to want to see only what they wanted.  

This does remind me that I did discuss male-female school issues with moderate openness at work, largely because it was a mostly-female environment that kept insisting that schools were biased against girls, which I felt I needed to smack down whenever it came up.  I would often take the frustration that some mother was feeling about how her son was being treated at school as my entry point. "Yes, the women of my generation were always told how prejudiced schools were against them. Then they had sons and learned the opposite. Schools had some poor attitudes toward girls, and probably still do.  But they are designed by women for girls, and boys get crushed."  Often, the penny dropped, because it was their boy.  Arguments ensued, but I didn't much mind in that instance. (The opening data, for those who doubt this:  Girls average nearly a letter grade higher.  They make the honor roll twice as often, and high honors three times as often. Unless you think they actually are much smarter than boys - show your work - then it must be that other qualities are being measured.  And they are, beginning with conscientiousness, which is a nice thing to have, but not the only thing we expect from a school. Even now, schools as designed are harder for those with attentional problems, which seem to be predominantly boys.)

Out of Africa

Just an up-to-date summary of our ancestry, one which highlights what I mentioned just a few posts ago: that Out-of-Africa is still over 95% (in most of our cases 99%) of the picture, despite all the breathless excitement about the new complexity because of those few percent.  Razib is one of the general offenders there, but this time he contains himself and sticks with the numbers.

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

Doing Harm

For Tommy, on that hot and empty afternoon, was in that state of mind in which grown up people go away and write books about their view of the whole world, and stories about what it is like to be married, and plays about the important problems of modern times. Tommy, being only ten years old, was not able to do harm on this large and handsome scale. (GK Chesterton, "The Coloured Lands.")

One page into the story and I feel I have already been accused and found wanting.

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

The Gold Coin

James Dobson, the Christian psychologist I used to listen to on the radio in the 80s, once noted with disapproval that in our society "intelligence is the gold coin of human worth" for our children, and that beauty is "the silver coin of human worth." He noted that this had previously been reversed for girls but was becoming more equal.  His guest asked didn't he think that was a good thing that it was becoming more equal, but Dobson demurred. The Scriptures say very little about either of them, focusing on issues of righteousness and character, he reminded his audience.

I was surprised, as Dobson was a noted political conservative (less obviously early on), very much pro-market, pro- making your way in the world, pro- using your abilities, approving of instilling that independent spirit in children and making progress in the American way. I agreed with him, but didn't expect to hear it from that source. I don't recall where the conversation went from there, and now wish I did. The phrase and the concept have stuck with me.

One reason why we might value these even more highly among children is that adults know that these are among the most advantageous things for children to have starting out, to make their way in the worldly world. They set a floor, allowing parents and others alongside to breathe a little sigh of relief.  There are no guarantees, and many things can go wrong, but it gives an indication that they might get some sort of a job, some sort of a role, a niche in life where they can be productive, not having to be supported and rescued by parents all their days. Also, they are things that show early. Resilience, adaptability, ability to get along with others, and ability to work hard are harder to discern in the young.  They show these qualities one day but not the next.

Issues of character are even harder to suss out. They may also be much less genetic, much more a result of training and attention.  Honesty, kindness, selflessness - these are not much in evidence in toddlers and are inconsistent even among teenagers who go on to become great exemplars of these qualities, and deeper issues of piety and wisdom are not even available to the young.  They require time, trial and error, and specific encouragement. Because courage is a collection of qualities rather than one, it is also uneven in expression for many years.

Intelligence and beauty are useful, at least somewhat in all societies, but very especially in the West and in America. Thus even as we put the other qualities into play in evaluating adolescents and adults, we overvalue those two. 

There is a strong tendency to deny the genetic aspect of intelligence because it is so useful in our culture, and it seems so unfair.  We acknowledge the importance of natural ability in athletics, music, and art partly because it is so obvious in those cases (while still crediting that to reach the highest levels, even the talented must work hard), but also because all of those are uncommon roads to finding a successful niche as an adult.  You can be successful without the least ability in any of those categories. Beauty is a bit trickier, because the attractive remain so at least within their peer group for life, and it is a general advantage in many walks of life, even if it is seldom a standalone. Yet mostly, we accept that it is partly genetic because it is obviously so.

But it just seems too deeply unfair that God would pass out the "most important" quality unequally. Somehow we accept that people can be born disfigured enough or otherwise unbeautiful as to have a very hard road their whole lives, or to be born in a place where 99% of the people are impoverished, or into abusive families, but unfairness in the distribution of intelligence seems abhorrent. This is especially so when it is whole groups, and I myself wondered "God, how could you...?" for several decades.  That African-Americans score a full standard deviation lower seems impossible to accept. I completely get that feeling, though it is irrational. For anything important and necessary to salvation, and even for general human happiness or friendship, all groups have equal access. The inequalities we are upset about reveal our own poor values, not God's unfairness.

It is based on the problem Dobson noted in the 80s: it bothers us because we share the false value that it is the most important thing for young people to have, and still darn important through adulthood.  The scriptures say much about wisdom, nothing about intelligence, but we cannot let it go. We can accept if Peruvians have little athletic or musical tradition, but not that they might not be so good at math as Ecuadorians.  

Also, in our everyday lives we don't put that much emphasis on raw smarts. Who we like to work with or marry or invite over for dinner is more closely related to a lot of other things ahead of that.  But we get upset about the group issues, we still have that focus on the children having some big-ticket item to get by as they go into the world, and we do still get resentful at some who are able to cash in on one genetic advantage or another, including that one.

I know, easy for me to say, for this really is a place of privilege and I should not underestimate the pain it causes others in this life. Yet it is true even if it is a truth I can only partially grasp. I am measuring weight with a yardstick and complaining about the numbers I see. 

Update:  One of my main points, and I forgot to work it in: at the end of our days, neither intelligence nor beauty is likely to figure that prominently in our summary.  There will be a few whose intellectual contributions were so notable and gifts so great that they are still seen primarily in that way. That will be rare. As for beauty, we will still notice with a few - the men with silver hair, the women who still have an appearance or a style even in later years - but even those will need the supporting characteristics of charm or grace or demeanor for their beauty to still be what we notice first.  Mere good looks will be of marginal value. And this is as it should be.  What parents worry about for their children, and we worry about for ourselves in our younger years in order to make our way will not be what we are known for in the end, and the gold coin and silver coin in youth will be the farthest to fall.