Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Coventry Carol

 


This one is tough to teach to children sitting in the back seat of the car, even with many repetitions over many years, and even if they have some ability. 

Trust me on this.  You may eventually consider it worth the effort, but...

We are now trying to at least expose the daughters of the eldest to this sort of thing, just so that they get some vague sense that not all Christmas songs are happy and cute.  In their later years, they will need to know that "Jingle Bells" is not especially sustaining when your spouse is undergoing tests for a possible worrisome diagnosis.  I hate winter/Santa songs masquerading as carols. To be fair, my wife finds them great fun, and requests them with sly grins when we choose in rotation. She bats her eyelashes just to spite me.

More Quillette

I remember her book 20 years ago and it was very influential for me!  Sally Satel on political destruction of good medicine.

Transgender Athletes

We have been here before. Quillette has what looked like a promising article, especially as it attached the street cred of Martina Navratilova to the essay.  Yet the very title of IOC Framework on Fairness, Inclusion, and Non-Discrimination Blah, Blah, BLAH! DAMMIT! tells you the conclusion it will reach. It's sort of like "The PRC discussion of whether the Tienanmen Square Protests were legitimate," if indeed any such topic could even make it to print. Please stop wasting my time. We know where the conclusion will land. Or also "The Instapundit Independent Forum on Whether Vaccine Mandates are Soviet Tyranny, Fascist Excess, or merely Unamerican Leftist Overreach." Yawn.

I would love to regard this competition document as a legitimate discussion of competing rights, which one side of this discussion keeps trying to do.  Yet the other side of this does not.  There are some rare but legitimate exceptions to the usual binaries about who can be called what, sexually. That has nothing to do with the bulk of the discussion, which is carried on by people who would like to be fair and reasonable versus people who have clear High-Functioning Autism or some form of OCD or Borderline Personality Disorder and a need to externalise all conflict to what horrible oppressors YOU are rather than face those demons about their sexual identity in their own souls. That is the Borderline dynamic, to externalise and get you to argue about things and fight, so that they can get some distance and root for a side rather than suffer the reality of their (very painful) disorder.  I feel terrible for them that they have these disorders and think I would be even more of a societal disaster than they are if I had to face it myself.  I am smart and would make you pay emotionally, just because I can, and I wouldn't want to face truth. But that's what's happening.  There is no legitimate intellectual discussion here.

Turner's Syndrome and Klinefelter Syndrome people keep being included to pad the numbers, but those kids believe they are (respectively) female and male from earliest ages.  They have no doubt. They are being used against their will in the discussion, and lots of them are pissed about it.  The political dodge is to try and steer them to the idea that "No, no, no! You aren't angry at us for using you! You are angry at those other terrible people who don't accept you as 100% right! You're on our side, really.  Now shut up and sit in the back row."

But there it is.  One side of this issue wants to discuss it, and the other wants to punish people until they get their way. It is rather like the last seventy years of Palestinian- Israeli discussion. One side believes there are two sides to the issue.  The other wants to just kill them.

Monday, November 29, 2021

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

 


Bethlehem

As Christmas approaches, I come again up against the tradition in Western Christianity that Jesus was born to poor parents, and rejected by the world around him. After reading Kenneth Bailey's Jesus Through Middle-Eastern Eyes four years ago I came to view the Christmas story quite differently. These things are not in the text, and their popularity can be traced quite solidly to other Christian texts of the early centuries that were eventually rejected as Scripture.  Yet they persist.

I have found since that time that people have a deep attachment to the idea that Jesus was poor and rejected.  It has always been the Western fashion, accelerating over the last few centuries (I think not coincidentally with the rise of some economic theories), and especially over the last few decades, in which it is increasingly asserted that Jesus was a refugee - a category that is modern and related to nation-states and the idea of "asylum," rather than merely "going into exile to get away from danger." Yet it is not only those who have a suspicious political agenda who show their attachment.  It just seems to be part of the furniture in our culture that there was no room in the inn (there was no inn) and Jesus was poor, rejected, and abandoned.  

I don't particularly object to it.  I did just post Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band singing something with that sentiment.  We have read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever aloud every December for four decades. I certainly don't find any evidence that Joseph was prosperous. He was a "workman" in a region where there were a lot of building projects, so he likely had regular employment. No more than that. People take umbrage because they believe the episode is a necessary piece of the Theology of the Cross, or an understanding of who Jesus was and who he came to save. If it's not in the text, it can't be necessary.  I think the Theology of the Cross can stand just fine on its own without any extra-textual support.

But more importantly, everything else about his arrival points to God giving reminders of his welcome into this world.  First Mary, then Joseph, then John the Baptist in the womb, then Angels, then Shepherds, then Simeon, then Anna, then the Magi. The world is secretly welcoming this supposedly unremarkable child at every turn. The rejection all comes later, not until well into his ministry. It is certainly prophesied before that.  But there isn't evidence of it yet.

Kaplan on Central Asia

Robert D Kaplan has long been brilliant on geopolitics.  I have read some of his books and should probably read more.  Here he reflects on what the US abandonment of Afghanistan means for the region, and ultimately for the world powers.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Space Exploration

Subtitle: We don't have a reason, we just wanna.

I was listening to entirely secular but very agreeable people discuss Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, NASA and the advantages of manned versus unmanned space exploration and had the overwhelming feeling that nothing has changed since I first started thinking seriously about this after reading CS Lewis's Out of the Silent Planet in the 1980s. There are important philosophical issues that should be undergirding any such discussion which are simply absent. It is not as if I am finding they are disagreeing with my premises so much as they are simply oblivious to any of it.

They discuss one possible motivation for much-more expensive manned travel and eventual settlement that humankind might somehow "need" this, because of environmental or geopolitical problems.  We might need to have a place to settle ourselves because we have rendered this world...what? Too dirty even though 8B of us are surviving here so that we have to find a way to get a few hundred of us off the earth to "rescue" the species? Whew. We got a few of us onto Mars or Europa just in time, eh? Mankind is saved! Or because the first moon landing was all about America showing its primacy, maybe a Mars trip could be a joint affair with America, Russia, Europe, China and India!  This would be about cooperation instead of competition and geopolitical warfare this time. And that would clearly be so much better for the 8B of us because...why, exactly? 

One of the participants actually did say "It's an interesting question whether we think spreading across the galaxy really is mankind's destiny."  What is this destiny you speak of?  Mankind has a destiny?  Who says?  Who gave us this destiny? If you think this isn't our destiny, on what basis do you think we have any destiny at all? These are frankly, the smartest and most tech-savvy and connected people in the world, and these questions don't even seem to occur to them. The discussion quickly reverts to the technical difficulties.  But even more worrisome, they seem to have some dim awareness that people might not consider this valuable, and always, always move immediately to "It's like the settling of the New World, or of Australia.  There were risks and not everyone made it, but it generally worked out." The question switches again from "is this morally justified" to "Will this eventually pay itself back?" or "But isn't this just a great adventure?" With the question of "why?" being quickly shuttled off to "You must just be objecting to the risk or the cost, and we just covered that."

The questions do not even occur to them.  For decades many of us have stroked our chins and said "All these teleological assumptions and moral justifications will have to be addressed sometime," but the reality is No they won't. It's not that these people aren't going to come to answers to these questions we find suspect.  It's that they aren't going to answer them at all.  They are going to Mars because they wanna. Any challenge gets diverted into irrelevant questions.

One interesting bit of this is to reflect this back to the exploration of the New World.  Those people and the settlers who came after are accused of many bad motives, such as seeking money or slaves.  There is some truth in that, probably.  There are also the justifications of Europeans trying to spread Christianity or Civilisation, which is now regarded as an especial colonialism and evil.  But I think we are overlooking what we see in front of us now in a similar situation. Some wanted adventure or to get rich, but most of the sailors and settlers just wanted a job. Shucking clams might have taken them instead if circumstances had been slightly different. Glory? Maybe a few. But mostly, people had no real reason at all. They just wanted to. Just like now.

Folks like us read CS Lewis and still debate what mankind's proper action should be,of the few hundred out of 8B of us.  I don't think it matters.  We can say until we are blue in the face that it is necessary to answer these values questions. I guess not.  All of these discussions are just spilling over with unquestioned values and...so? Does it change anything? They are going to do it anyway,and there will be some vague default answer for the underlying justification.  But mainly it's going to be "But we wanna."

Prediction

Here I am, ignoring the lesson I just wrote about in Worst of Sinners and giving you the prediction that a thousand other people could give, because I think it Should Be Heard More, while ignoring what might be the quieter, more specific lesson that I have actually been commissioned to.  But here it goes, and I will think about whether there is something I can bring that is not readily found elsewhere.

There is a new Covid variant.  Some people will be predicting that this is very, very terrible and we need to revert to strict cautions.  Others will insist that this is no danger whatsoever, but "they" want you to panic and control your life, so ignore them and go breathe on everyone. This will be the default belief of a subset of us/them/our noble lads/those evil bastards on the caution issue, and have no relation to any actual scientific data.  To the accusation "Well, they always say it's dangerous and scream we're all going to die" I would point out that there have been several previous variants - check the Greek alphabet - where there was no such prediction. So that accusation is false. OTOH, the desire to have one's worldview reinforced is very powerful, so horrible as it is, there may actually people who are secretly rooting for this variant killing people, just to show those others what poopyheads they are.

The most common type of virus mutation is more contagion, less virulence. So that's the way to bet, (All of you actually know something about this as I write, but I don't.  A neighbor tried to inform me but I waved her off.  I want my prediction to be clean.) And if so, then the calculations change going forward. It is never a good thing to get a disease.  Even mothers who take their children to "chicken pox parties" know it is a calculated risk, even if it is worth it. But more natural immunity versus very low death risk is different than Delta, maybe even something of a Delta reversal. But I will know more in a few minutes.  For now, your takeaway is to ignore all the screaming on both sides from people who made up their minds months ago about today's information.  You will be happier for it.  That is one of the bits of advice I actually am here for. 

Let's all take a Lamaze Cleansing Breath here, as a lovely social worker I used to share a team with used to say.

Support for Redistribution

Thanks to Richard Cocks over at The Orthosphere (JMSmith's site) for this paper out of the University of Edinburgh (lin and Bates 2021) about attitudes regarding economic redistribution, fairness, compassion, and envy.  Just for openers. 

Richard links to it as part of a larger discussion about associations of Leftism and Self-Interest.  He discusses AVI fave Jonathan Haidt along the way, though not much of it will be new to folks who have followed my discussions of him here over the years.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Maybe the Last Covid Update

I seem to be out of the woods.  My taste is still not right - things taste more sour than usual, but that is at least not life-threatening. I went to the market tonight on the tenth day. I do still have achiness and cold, and as happens when one is suspicious, I wonder whether every stiffness is some more dire symptom.  But I put in a short hike on the rail trail even though it is below freezing.

My wife is no better but no worse over the last two days. Tired. Hard to focus.  Hopefully on her tenth day on Wednesday she will be free enough to rejoin the rest of us Thursday AM.

Pictures of Matchstick Men

 I think of Lenny and Squiggy, unfortunately



Drawing Conclusions

In Bronze Age Weirdness I spoke about the ease with which we assign interpretations to the archaeological record. In the absence of written records, anyone digging up the Christian churches of Europe in the future would note that the entrance is usually in the west while the altar is in the east. It would be easy to conclude, and some early non-Christians did, that this has something to do with the sun and worship of the sun. There is likely something to this, but echoing the Jewish custom of facing toward the Temple in Jerusalem, and then just Jerusalem in general, is more clear from the record. Yet the unimportance is more important to notice. The orientation is there and common enough that it would seem automatic to conclude this must have been important to them. Yet there isn't much mention of east-ness or west-ness having much significance in Christianity in general in any era. It isn't in the creeds. No one seems to have split off from anyone else over the deal. It's almost entirely just leftover custom. Even though the Church grew up in many places where the orienting of buildings and customs to the sun was of enormous importance, so that we would expect that this would bleed over into our faith at every turn, it mostly doesn't.  A few places at the edges and that's it.

Many burials in groups in the Indo-European tree have both men and women lying on their sides, facing east. I read repeatedly that this means it was very important to them and likely had large religious significance. Well, maybe. Yet even if it had large original significance, there is no way of concluding definitely from that that a thousand years later they cared about any of the same things. In most cultures of the world, doing things "the correct way," such as getting married, getting buried, or celebrating Arbor Day is a collection of unrelated and misunderstood things. Brides in out culture did not originally wear white to signify virginity, but wealth. Daddy could afford to buy a fancy dress that couldn't be used again for anything else. (They often did, though, for christenings.) Who remembers that now? And why should they? It's recent, and maybe will change soon. First-time brides wear white, because that is the correct way to do things. Trying to dig too deeply into what this "means" for our whole society is ridiculous.

Worth remembering whenever they dig something up. Even very important rituals can have confusing, mixed meanings in our day, why not theirs?

Thursday, November 25, 2021

That Rule About Headline Questions

 Do you remember that rule?

The cover also puts me in mind of this post years ago.

Bronze Age Weirdness, Again

The interviewer was asking what new insight DNA had brought us about a particular find, in which a man's thighbone had been made into a flute. The archaeologist nodded "We could tell from the other burials that this man was the grandfather of the group, and further examination suggests that they had kept his disarticulated bones and carried them about. There seems to be another bit of him twenty miles away. They made the flute out of them nearly sixty years later."

"Fascinating! That really tells us quite a bit about the sort of society this was then, doesn't it!"

There was an uncomfortable pause before the archaeologist burst out into laughter. "It tells us that these people were nothing like us and we haven't the faintest idea what they were thinking."

"But we can imagine a way in which a people were attempting to show respect for an ancestor and carried his bones around...perhaps he had a special love for music and played the flute himself..."

"No, no, you're going at it all backward.  Once we have the data then we can start to make a story out of anything.  It's automatic for human beings to try and explain the world by making up some little story. You can make one, he can make one.  I can come up with a few immediately, because things like this happen all the time to us.  But it's all bosh. No one alive today out of the eight billion of us thinks of making grandfather into a flute. It's only in retrospect that we can create these tales. And if there's once thing we've learned in archaeology over the last two hundred years, it's that all those stories are going to be mostly wrong."

Poor Little Jesus

The Advent season does not really begin until Sunday, but many Christians informally consider that it is okay to start once Thanksgiving Day is over.

Worst of Sinners - Part II

I'm going a lot of unexpected places here.  I got too cute in introducing this in the previous post, throwing you off.  I didn't do that for humor and writing-reveal purposes, it was just clumsy.

There is a longstanding joke in medicine that you should prescribe a medication when it is new and still does magic, because after a few years it is less magical and becomes just one more treatment with an array of effects and side effects. What is being described is our impression about its value, of course.  The efficacy of the medicine has not changed.

When the vaccines came out a year ago I was excited, like most other people.  It looked to bring the end in sight more quickly.  It was a new layer of safety for people of my generation and created hope that relatives in nursing homes could soon be visited again. There was an initial flurry of people telling us they were horrible and unsafe, but as I pointed out at the time, most of these fell into two camps: antivaxxers and people selling alternative treatments, who needed for previous reasons for the vaccines to be discredited; and anti-Trump forces who wanted to cast doubt on anything he could take credit for. I was appalled to learn that the rollout and endorsements and been held back even by some for whom science is their profession, solely in order to prevent him from having credit. I focused on pointing these things out. I think I would have justified that by noting that these were the prominent arguments the society was now having, and were thus important for people weigh in on reasonably. Hold that thought.  The fact that I had something else to offer to the discussion did not occur to me.

It half occurred to me. When there were very quick objections that this seemed precipitous and there might be side effects I thought it important to note from my own experience that there are always side effects, and this is to be expected. Not necessarily a problem in itself. But there is a second half to this that I knew but was oblivious to. When there is an expectation of magic, there will be a snap-back, a counter-reaction when it dawns on people that the new treatment is not magic. In their disillusionment, people will not merely complain that the new treatment isn't as good as hoped, they will start trying to find ways to show that it is actually bad.  It is as if we overcompensate for believing too much by believing too little. 

I have seen this happen enough times, including a couple of major changes in psychiatric treatment that were large enough to be among the defining points of the careers of all of us, that it really should have been front-and-center in my thought.  The development of clozapine, for example, really was magic.  Patients who had been psychotic for decades came alert and said "I felt like I was living in this fog and had no way of getting out. Then I woke up could say things again."  Parents would say, weeping, "This is the child we have not seen for twenty years." Eventually we would find that patients who had done moderately well on other medications did extremely well on clozapine. Again, magically well. It is still the gold standard of antipsychotics, decades later. 

We were told about the rare but deadly side effects right from the beginning and exercised extreme caution, unprecedented caution, in initiating the drug in a patient. And yet even that was not enough. It was even a little more dangerous than we thought. We lost patients to the direct effects of the drug.  Few, very few, but there they were, dead. They had at least been alive a few weeks earlier. We almost lost one of my favorite patients of all time, one of the few I considered an actual friend even when he was horribly crazy.* The drug worked with him, magically. Then he developed the one truly deadly side effect and nearly went cold.  We could no longer use it, and he went largely back under the waves of mental illness again, lovely and kind but inaccessible. 

The counter-reaction began. Clozapine isn't magic. Fine. It actually SUCKS. Oh please. It kills people and is the most dangerous psychiatric drug we've ever seen. That is, frankly, a high bar to get over. You have to stop doing this. No. We have to go back to the Goode Olde Dayes when psychiatry was based on lengthy psychoanalysis and gradually working out the id-ego-superego conflicts to get free.  Or maybe to change our whole conception of mental illness...

Okay, I'm getting worked up all over to fight a battle that was won thirty years ago. The counter-reaction was fueled by the clamoring Freud/Jung/Perls/Szasz/Laing/Satir/Jackson tribes clutching at their last straws to preserve their idiot theories. Declaration I want those who come after to remember because it is going to be lost: It was not accidental that the Recovered Memory and Satanic Ritual Abuse psychoses of the providers arose at that time. Because clozapine treated not only the positive symptoms (hallucinations) but negative symptoms (initiation), it destroyed the last shreds of their explanatory power. They were firmly consigned to the Worried Well forever, and they hated it. The long knives were out and the counterrevolution had begun, not in spite of the magic of the medication, but precisely because of it.  Because in the rest of us, we did feel bad that we had said "This is magic," and then it was only really good.

That is the big example, but others have happened and more are coming in. Ketamine is going to be magic, but it is complicated and also damaging and doesn't work on some people it was supposed to.  Ditto deep-brain stimulation, vagus nerve stimulation, low-dose psychedelics, EMDR.  All magic, all destined to go through periods of sudden condemnation and unpopularity.

In the humanities there is such an overarching control of Theory that despite the near-continuous attempts to create counterrevolutions, I don't think any have taken hold. It keeps looking inevitable, but like the arising of Brazil as a world power, is forever threatened but never-happening. 

Thus, while I am not unique in knowing this about the vaccines beforehand, I was unusually well-placed to point out to y'all "This is just about to happen.  The vaccines aren't magic, because they never are, but they are fine. They will underperform according to expectations in some areas, and that will piss people off enough that they will go to the Dark Side and say they are dangerous. They will have downsides, but that is no big deal when one looks at the actual numbers underneath instead of the stories -  many of which are from people who have other agendas if you take a moment to examine.  However, because there was such an incredibly high expectation and positive spin about them, it was inevitable that there would not only be a mild snap-back, but that a positively rabid rejection very soon." But I was paying attention to other things that a million other people could see just fine and express better, and the chance passed. 

So here is my real point, larger than Covid: This happens to all of us all the time, because we too get blown about by the winds of every teaching. We get distracted away from what our unique gift is into things any number of people could do. It's what I complain all the time about the Church doing. My son's church does podcasts, and after spending 18 months discussing gay marriage every other week they have gone on to discussing racism in the church every other week, and then the pandemic, and now who knows what will be next?  What will be the Cause O' The Month? My own denomination, if you go to the central website, does the same thing. It's all what's fashionable now. There's nothing wrong in general about the Church noticing, trying to understand, and addressing such things. The drive to "speak to" the issues of the day from a Christian perspective is fine.

But after complaining about the Church doing that so often, I am a little sheepish to note how easy it is to fall into that myself. Among several good missions of the church there are also some key missions.  Not getting around to those because we are wondering what our vaccination rate is is rather missing the point. Lion's Club can do that. The League of Women Voters can do that. The PTA and Food Bank and Red Cross can do that. Sometimes the great sins look like small sins at first, and their subtlety is their danger.

There will be a new fashion for the church to get distracted into coming along soon.  I don't know what it will be. Conservatives will get their heads jerked around responding to some other fashion. The schools do it every year or two and liberals essentially live for these...and I am likely to fall into another new one myself, if only I knew what it was. As in Matthew 24: But know this, that if the householder had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready; Well, yeah.  If I had known...

The same as me addressing the hypocrisy of scientists or hammering home recent updates about bad reasoning about covid. That's not a sin in itself.  Yet there is something I could have brought that was more valuable. We have both general and specific callings.

*We are not supposed to use that word anymore, and I get it. It is still used behind closed doors but it has a subtler meaning for us. My dear friend has a mental illness. I do not define him as a "crazy" person, that is not his identity. That there is a Person who is separate from the Illness is very clear.  In fact, painfully clear. But when everything is off and medications are absent or inadequate he is sometimes so disorganised, so psychotic, so different from regular humanity that describing him as something separate is not the dehumanising word one would think. It is in fact the opposite, the acknowledgement that the real person is temporarily obscured. Consider it similar to a person with dementia, who inhabits the body of a person you loved and uses his voice and mannerisms, but is not the same.

College Community

Colleges have an underlying incentive that they don't tell you about in promoting "community." They want you to keep sending them money after you or your children leave the place. Therefore they promote the idea that you belong to the special ones even before you quite get there, in the acceptance material.

This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

It is very pronounced at the Ivies and Seven Sisters, of course, but they also try very hard at Ivy Wannabees like Duke and Bucknell, and state schools use it to promote a sort of loyalty to your region, to the whole interconnected local world even when you move away.  They don't make that much money from shirts and hats. Texas A&M promotes itself as a very tight-knit ongoing group, we have learned now that Ben has been in Texas so many years. Religious colleges do it - I think with more justification.

This is much of what is behind colleges doing all sorts of ridiculous permittings and forbiddings and creating the illusion of campus-wide statements against racism. We know from the occasional polls which filter out that most students don't care much one way or the other about the individual events, which they often support the general idea of but find the specific expressions a bit crazy, and certainly intrusive. The news stories generate outrage from parents and local groups and place the schools in some legal jeopardy. Conservatives usually complete the picture by figuring that what they must be getting back is status from their academic and liberal institutional friends, and work to undermine that. Some. That's some of it.  But when you remember that convincing everyone that they are part of a community, one that can be tapped for resources for years to come, is the value embedded so deeply in their thinking that they don't even notice it most of the time themselves, a lot of these antics are understood. That an individual protest might be patently foolish and indefensible is not the point.  The idea of the college as community must be preserved and expressed at all costs.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Worst of Sinners

 1 Timothy 1:12-20 

I had a realisation while sitting in a parking lot with my trunk open, waiting for someone to put what I had requested into it. It followed the pattern of "I wish I had written...I said it, but should have said it more clearly...But other people were worse...and more annoying...and more unfair and stupid and lockedmoreintothemomentthantolargerperspectiveEVENTHOUGHTHEY... and but I knew...I knew...why was I not clear?..." and through further chains to the quiet thought "I was well-placed, by personality, training, and those around me to bring this lesson forward a year ago.  And I did not for many reasons, none of them particularly admirable."  I did better-than-average and thought that good, and did not do the job I was commissioned for. You Had One Job, as the internet humor often has it. It will take a bit to absorb this.  But I had things I could have told you a year ago but did not because I thought other things more important.  It wouldn't have saved the world, but it would have improved your lives, the only small circle that I have. 

I'll patch things together the best I can. 

Damn.

Note: My intent is not to beat myself up in public, but to provide a record of how such things occur, so that others can follow the trail.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Update

Symptoms worse, which was a surprise, as I thought I was in a recovery trend the last two days. Not a good sign, but not terrible, and I am getting the  monoclonal antibody infusion on Friday. I hadn't realised that it would be hard to arrange, as the availability is unpredictable.

As is often the case with illness, it is will that is sapped more than ability.  I feel I could mentally focus if I had to, but see no point in that. We can respond well at such times when we have to, when there is an external pressure that drives us.  But trying to find that internally is elusive, as if there were no solid ground to stand on.  I suppose I could read something or listen to a podcast, but I keep putting off getting started. This too shall pass.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Multimember Districts

I have not looked at much serious discussion about how to avoid gerrymandering other than "We should stop those other bastards from cheating."  I am sure that this is but one of many out there, but this is the one that hit the ground in NH today and I thought folks might like it. 

How To Make Voting Districts Fair To Voters, Not Parties 

It will be tougher to fix than people think, as people move out of areas where they believe they are not being heard, but want to be, and have been doing this for a while.

Preliminary Information - Persecution

I started this six days ago.  Life changes. 

It is unsurprising that the subject of persecution comes up in a discussion of Jewish genetics.

Distinctions need to be made. Bias against a group can go on at low level for years - maybe centuries - and no one much remarks on it, because everyone just accepts that's the way things are. Some people have this status in society, some have that one, but it's just normal life. All but the smallest societies are stratified, often much more than ours in some ways.  When we think of the archaeology of burials, for example, think how our own will look. The stone markers will be different, but the clothing and burial objects of the rich and all but the very poorest are going to look similar in the US.

Persecution gets noticed when it is intermittent. The tone of outrage is often hugely "We thought we were accepted here.  We thought you were our friends!" Modern girls look on the lives of women in the past and think "I would never put up with that."  Sure you would.  It was normal life. You would have the same focus and concerns as the women around you.* We put up with a lot because we don't really think of it s putting up with anything. 

Permissions also change with class or group.  In many places the elites have to hold to the official religion and keep up observances, but the peasants and poor in general have more minimal requirements.  No one much cares what they do out in the provinces. Show up Christmas and Easter.  Don't harm the sacred groves. Don't do anything obviously undermining the status quo. 

If a population keeps growing in a region, how much are they being persecuted on an ongoing basis? There may indeed be status differences between groups, and they may be entirely unfair. Ingroups tend to set up some privileges for themselves everywhere. If you belong to this religion you can't marry into the nobility. Well, but how many people were marrying into the nobility anyway?  Has there been a run on this? The Jews increased greatly in number once they entered the Rhineland. But we don't know this from historical records all that much.  There is a gap of about a thousand years 500-1500 in historical information about Jews in Europe.  They kept up a lot of writing about religious matters and then held tight to it, so we still have that aspect.  And we are now figuring out from genetics and archaeology a lot of the missing pieces.  So how do we know there were so many in the Rhineland?  Because there were lists of the martyrs from the First Crusade.  They show up in the historical record as persecuted badly. But that is likely because it was an exception, one more example of "But we have lived among you for years! We thought we had a place here!" Does that mean they were fully accepted members of that society?  Not in the least.  But whatever prejudices they had visited on them didn't rise to the level of being mentioned, and their population increased.

* The world where you go back there and refuse to put up with it and set a good example is more fantastical than the time travel itself. Yes, modern fantasy novelists like to set up stories like that, of girls trying to break out(!) of old ways and become a wizard, or a warrior, or a bard or some other previously forbidden role. (Tolkien and Lewis were early examples and did it well.) But that is largely a modern value.

Condescension and Arrogance

These bother other people more than they bother me. They used to affect me so intensely that they shaped my opinions. (Quick! Guess my politics as a 20-year old from that!) We are social creatures and it isn't unusual. There are both Classical Greek and Confucian encouragements that we should worship the local gods and customs in order to live at peace and be part of a good society. I see the point. 

But I also felt pinned to the wall as a young Christian reading Screwtape for the first time and seeing right in the first paragraph 

He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily ‘true’ or ‘false’, but as ‘academic’ or ‘practical’, ‘outworn’ or ‘contemporary’, ‘conventional’ or ‘ruthless’. Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don’t waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong or stark or courageous—that it is the philosophy of the future. That’s the sort of thing he cares about.

Because it WAS the sort of thing I did care about deeply, and saw at a glance how indefensible that was. Condescension worked on me. So I have been on something of a crusade about that ever since, knowing that it was a forest I had gotten lost in and could warn others away from. I now have some immunity.

I also spent my career as the least-credentialed person at every table, which increased my immunity to condescension and arrogance. Part of that may be largeness of character and resting in my status as a Child of God, but not all. Some of that has also been learning to adapt to how one establishes credibility for one's ideas. One learns to be both firm and disarming. It's an interesting enough story in its own way (to me, that's who) but it is not my story today. My two oldest sons learned it, and if someone is in that situation contact me and I will share what worked for me, at least. It's not so bad a life.  And one does develop that immunity. I know arrogant condescending jerks that I was quite good friends with - because they were right a lot of the time. I know winsome, humble, well-meaning people who actively listen, or whatever they call it now, who are wrong about lots of stuff. Sometimes they are...tiresome. I have worked on teams where others in my department have refused to work with that doctor, and worked with supervisors that social workers wouldn't. Only one could I myself not work with, and I hung on for eight years. Because most of that just doesn't matter.

It always comes up in politics, so perhaps it hasn't really come to a head in the last two years. The influence of news sources on what we believe is certainly something I have long been referencing, including in the Great War with the uncle I was named for, and discussions that preceded and largely formed the early years of this blog. Yet news sources are only the visible portion. I have also been concerned with the effects of artists, writers and others connected more subtly to influencing the culture.  I think they are more powerful in the long run and I have described - sometimes at tedious length - the social and emotional biases that masquerade as intellectual ones. The politics of the Arts & Humanities Tribe that I spring from was a primary focus of the site for a few years. The biases bother me. The reliance on cliches of tribe bothers me. 

It really bothers a lot of conservatives that the government and CDC have "squandered trust" the past two years. I kind of get that intellectually, because when you are leading you have a responsibility to make it worth it to people to follow. When you make decisions that affect people you do have heightened responsibility to get it right.  I have said that while the "experts" have indeed gotten things wrong about covid, their challengers and skeptics have been ten times worse. I admit those are not equivalent roles. The people calling the shots should be wrong less often - a lot less often.  But for me, I'm just looking for sources of information.I want to know who is reliable for making my own decisions. The CDC is still way better than the skeptics.  To not credit any of their information because you are angry at them for having been wrong sometimes, and having the nerve to be arrogant and imperious about it makes no sense to me.

Similarly, I have a friend who is currently ripped about Alex Berenson's dishonesty, and secondarily, Tucker Carlson for encouraging this. The specific is the claim that twice as many vaccinated adults as unvaccinated are dying in England now. When you dig down into the data, it turns out that "adults" turn out to be 10-59 year olds.  A lot of the youngest part of that is not allowed to be vaccinated. A lot of the older part of that group are those who know they have compromising conditions and get vaccinated. Because of the age differences, the numbers can't be compared. Okay, so maybe that takes a little skill with statistics to see, and maybe Berenson isn't as good as he should be, but...But wait, it gets worse.  The study itself says, right on the page, that the vaccinated and unvaccinated in that study can't be compared for that very reason. The vaccinated are much older and initially more compromised. So Berenson had to see it and decided not to mention that. To me, that's a permanent write-off.  Do that once in a public forum and I never trust anything you say again. I don't care if you are charming, or have the "courage" to "stand up to" the experts.  You lie.  You are done. It bothers my friend also that he makes lots of money at this, especially as the sales job for this side of the argument is how much Big Pharma and the Medical Establishment are making off you.* So some guy who wants you to get vaccinated is coming off as condescending and arrogant?  So what? Right, he shouldn't do that, but how does that influence your decision.

Eh, that doesn't bother me so much.  People making money for bad reasons is something I made my peace with years ago. I'm more upset about the reasoning. I hammer that point here. Yes, many people will be affected by the personalities of the speakers, but that should not be so among us. We don't have to. I am also not much convinced that any single person is much influencing anyone these days. Do we think that the landscape would be dramatically different now if Dr. Fauci had retired in 2019, or if Alex Berenson got hit by a bus in 2020? I don't. People do not believe things because they follow the mainstream media as much as the go to certain media because they already believe those things. There is much hand-wringing on the left about Fox News, but Fox did not create that audience.  It found that audience. Individuals likely have some effect, and audience/media reciprocal influence is likely real. But I think it flows more from the larger forces to the media than the other way around.

*That is a reliable career path to wealth, telling people that someone else is making so much money off them.  We lap that up.

Mr. Dieingly Sad

One of the YouTube versions was actually a touch racy.  Or maybe just creepy. You'll have to look for that yourself.



Contagious Diseases

Anyone who thinks God would be pro-medical freedom and not in favor of health restrictions hasn't read Leviticus. The safety of the community was considered so overwhelmingly important that individual rights were barely referenced. A quick vaccination is pretty minimal in comparison.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Statistical Truth Vs Real Truth

I have covid, which already seems to be receding. My immediate temptation is to attribute this to having been vaccinated in Feb-March. Of course I have a mild case. That's what happens when you are vaccinated.  Ain't I smart? 

That narrative could in fact be true. It is the most likely true narrative. Yet it is also the narrative that I want to be true, the self-serving one. That doesn't really prove the case though, does it? If I had not been vaccinated, I might have gotten covid at a different time, maybe more severe, maybe less severe. Or the diminution of symptoms from getting vaccinated then might be so minimal as to be worth no more than a shrug. Or I might have done the hokey-pokey in a different order this month and gotten no virus at all. I blame Jane Russell.  Frankly, if one changes any tiny thing, there is no telling what happens.  Asimov wrote "The Ends of Eternity" in the 50s, but Ray Bradbury and others have also had a go at it. 

Even knowing this, it is hard to fight against it.  "But mine is the most likely scenario," I whine. Maybe so, but that's not enough.  It only matters over a thousand repetitions, and even then, it might be only an emerging outline.

Grim mentioned that there are times when a single counter-example can be meaningful against an absolute claim.  I would go even a step further, and note that for highly declarative claims, even a few counter-examples can raise a red flag. "Marines who enlist after age 20 are almost always..." or "Episcopalians secretly don't like black people, whatever they say..." or  "Southerners refuse to answer the question of..." It is not impossible that the person making the claim might have really solid numbers backing that up.  Yet if I know four people in that category, and none of them fit that description, then I don't mind raising an objection.  I might turn out to be wrong, but against a nearly-absolutist claim, I'll take the risk.

Yet we know, from my N=1 post and just having to listen to jibroneys who somehow get paid to assert stupid stuff that people want to hear, that people will keep saying this anyway. You say that fourth-graders don't care much about masks, but my Dylan hates them, or My son-in-law eats nothing but vegan and you never saw anyone in better shape. 

 I have no solution. Just let us not do it, even when a possible PR victory is within our grasp.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Rittenhouse

He was accused of a crime, and I have focused on the crime and whether there was evidence to convict. Whether he showed good judgement or whether he is an exemplar of important virtues is a valuable discussion, perhaps.  But it does not have much to do with whether he committed crimes.  The prosecution did go for something that is first cousin to that, whether he was a provocateur. If they could have shown evidence for that I could be convinced of its legitimacy. The principle that you can't provoke and then claim self-defense certainly seems sound and worth keeping in law. But in the end they had evidence not even that convincing to people who wanted it to be true, and keeping evidence from the defense ticked off a lot of people who would have loved to have found a way to convict him. 

Those who still have this idea about deciding whether he was a good person, or whether the rules of justice should change in response to this Tuesday's political fads, or what would have happened if he had played Scrabble instead * have a very strange view of justice, where we debate who is worthy of life and who is worthy of death, as opposed to looking at specific acts.  Rather chilling. If you imagine the sc-fi short story that would be built off that, you can see it's a world you wouldn't much want to live in.

I don't even think that would be much slope to slip on. You'd already be pretty near the bottom.

*and if everyone had played Scrabble that night instead?

Prediction

You heard it here first:  In ten years, not only will masks be regarded as an intermittent and not even very interesting public health intervention; vaccinations will be regarded as an intermittent and not even very interesting public intervention.  This will not be because our standards of freedom have deteriorated.  It will be because all but the few insane people, similar to the previous anti-vaxxers, subluxation, chelation, Reiki, and vegan Gaian believers will have accepted, whether slowly or only moderately slowly, that all the objections were mostly crap.  There will be a few side effects of the vaccines, even some serious but rare, that will bear out, as is always the case. 

Many folks will deny that they ever had doubts, only "concerns," about timing, or the wisdom of mandates, or whatever.  But I and others will know. 

Once you realise that the mask skeptics were fevered, pretending that "they" had tried to demand masking as anything but an auxiliary, partial strategy, you have stepped back far enough to be able to ask the next question "What if people's objections to vaccines were only the same thing, a nervous, cowardly, slightly paranoid response that they just didn't like because they wished we could go back to 2019, not a reasoned, measure response based on real information?" You have studies showing that masks may not have helped much.  Why in the world would you think that has the least importance?

When you take just one step back, the others become easier. Vaccinations are boring, and you will be seeing more of them.

Update: If this seems harsh, remember that I partially subscribed to it myself not so long ago.

Poor Tom's A-cold

I have been sick the last two days.  Probably not covid, but I got tested anyway. Whatever it is, it's something, so I wear a mask.

Update: Well, it is covid.  My course so far has been cold, sleepy, and achy beginning Wednesday night and lessening every day.  Coughing started last night, but not bad. I am hopeful.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Footnotes

"The explanatory footnote is an excuse to let the law review writer be obscure and befuddled in the body of his article and then say the same thing at the bottom of the page the way he should have said it in the first place... The footnote foible breeds nothing but sloppy thinking, clumsy writing, and bad eyes." Yale Law School professor Frank Rodell "Goodbye to Law Reviews" Virginia Law Review 1936.
It's hard not to admire the man. However, it is worth observing that no one seems to have paid the least attention to him here.

Generational Test

 


Monday, November 15, 2021

Preliminary Information- New Genetic Tools

I promised a post on Jewish Genealogy a couple of weeks ago, but things keep going wrong in getting it written.  Most humorously, voice-to-joke while I was driving in an area where there was poor reception gave me results like "Moroccan who are working for narrow call to flag it, are closer to Connecticut than Ashkenazy," and "they have a band and Mediterranean cruise throughout," which even an hour later when I tried to use it for outline I could not fathom what I had said to produce this.  The power of the word that one sees can easily overwhelm what it must have sounded like. One more bit of evidence that writing is not language.  Speech is language, and writing is only an approximate representation. Yet readers tend to regard the written word, with its stability, as "real" language, and speech as sloppy.  In its extreme, we get foolishness like regarding a particular era of Latin and Greek as better versions of language that English (or French or German) should emulate in order to be proper - creating horrible artificial rules of grammar.

Much of the recent "Cambrian explosion" in knowledge of Jewish (and all) genetics comes from two sources.  The development of techniques of Identity By Descent, and the commercial ancestry groups providing millions of samples to be studied. The wiki link has a nice colored graphic of IBD that you might favor over my explanation, but I am going to give it a try.

Until very recently, when I thought of inheriting genes from your two parents, I though of it as a coin flip proposition at each point. At marker 347 you got Mom's gene, at 348 you got Dad's, then you got two in a row of Mom's at 349 and 350, then one more at Dad's, etc. It's not like that. In recombination, you get whole long strings of Mom's or Dad's genes. They come in big batches. Overall, it works out to fifty-fifty. Actually, it's between 40-60% of each parent, which follows naturally from the genes coming in big chunks like that.  If it were a coin flip at each point, the number would hover very close to 50-50 at the end.  But with long unbroken sequences, one gets more variation.

It helps identify how closely you are related to someone.  There are only a few breaks in the chromosome sequence - where you switch from Mom's genes to Dad's - every generation. So if you you have lots of long sequences that you share identically with someone, it means it has only been a few generations since you shared an ancestor. In a small breeding population of a few hundred two people might share a lot of ancestry.  But looking at the strings you can discern if they are first cousins. You are more closely related to some siblings than others (though still 40-60%).

This gets very interesting when two populations mix.  Take, for example, my son from Romania and his wife from the Philippines. They do not share an ancestor for thousands of years. In their daughters' DNA you will see long strings of Transylvania followed by long strings of Luzon, and if you compared the daughters, there would be enough long sequences of identical material that you would know they are siblings. But when those girls marry and their DNA recombines with some man of other ancestry, the switches will almost certainly not occur at the same places.  Their DNA chain will switch at places that also have long strings, but one string might be 30% Filipino followed by 70% Romaneste, while the next is 80-20 in the other direction. When recombining, their DNA doesn't know where the switches were last time.

You can use this to see how long ago two populations mixed. The y-DNA tells you where the men came from and the mtDNA where the women were from, and the length of the sequences tells you how many times the DNA has recombined. As this occurs at a regular rate, you can set a range.  Thus, in American Blacks, where there is European ancestry it occurs in fairly long sequences, as it came in 15 generations ago, max. There is R1a and R1b yDNA in the Ashkenazi, and with IBD, we can see that it came in early, likely in the Western Mediterranean Jews while Rome was still an empire, not from Germans a thousand years later.

When genetic histories identify that the Ashkenazi formed between 750-1000AD, but that there were male lineages that became part of it that coalesced earlier, say 3rd C, while the female lineages firmed up later, say 600AD, and some slight Slavic admixture came in around 1600 in NE Europe, this is how they can tell.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

N=1

The tendency is strong that we consider our own personal experience to be representative of what has happened to everyone else. When we hear an explanation for events, we immediately fit it against our own lives, or children, or jobs. If twenty people hear that teenage converts to Christianity tend to be Evangelical at first and then move to mainline churches, nineteen of them will immediately confirm or deny the truth of the statistic on the basis of what happened to them, or their children, or whoever the nearest teenage convert is. I used to think this was more common among women, but I am now convinced this is not so.  I even begin to suspect the opposite is true.

"My friend's cousin got the vaccine, and two weeks later he got bitten by a moose.  Do the research, people." 

I don't quite know what to say to such folks. If you don't already know that the incident that happened near your granddaughter's soccer game is not necessarily representative of what happens in general, I don't think I have a ready explanation to convince you. I readily see why people start there.  Sometimes one can actually develop a refutation by noticing that one incident, at least, sharply contradicts that.  Whatever else is true about the hairdressers in America, you might be able to assure the assembled crowd "Not always. My hairdresser doesn't own any small dogs at all."

I think we apply this unscientific experiment with N=1 more often when we do not understand the underlying mechanism or have little grasp of the data. It is the opposite of the Bayesian approach, where we first ask how many highschool students there are, then what percentage of highschoool students are basketball players, and what percentage of students in general are taking chemistry this year to begin with before we try and figure out how many basketball players are taking chemistry this year. Looking at whether your kid is a small forward in chem lab is useless. Even estimating from a few years' teams and school enrollments would be more useful.

Chris Arnade on The Unvaccinated

I have not read his book, Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back-Row America.  I read positive reviews including excerpts when it came out, and I know the local library has a copy.  I just haven't gotten around to that one.

He has observations on his blog about what he is seeing among the unvaccinated. It is similar to what I see myself, but not identical. I know unvaccinateds who do have college degrees. These tend to be from chiropractic/natural sectors or from culturally evangelical, even fringe evangelical types. They tend to talk about those issues more than religious ones, but...small sample size.  I also have contact with people who were military and still strongly identify that way, but of a particular personality type that regards life and its risks as some kind of competition. If they are exposed to disease (not only covid) but don't get it they regard that as a feather in their cap, as if they have demonstrated some superiority over the common stock.  In at least two instances, even tragedies involving close family have not dented that. It is somehow part of their identity to be invulnerable.

Come to think of it, that's not only some of the military guys (and one gal) - that belief in invulnerability, that sense of competition with others to defeat the forces of the universe. Their immune system is stronger than yours, dammit. Some of the natural/alternative medicine/specialty exercise people have that as well.  Not all of them, certainly - I don't think a majority of either of those groups in my circle fit that very strongly.  Maybe I just notice the noisier ones.

Looking back to the people I worked with who were anti-flu shot, and very much alternative medicine folks there were also the general back-to-the-landers, the Wiccans, plus one other group I hadn't thought about much:  people who had a chronic and unusual condition, or a child with one, that wasn't helped much by standard medical measures. This, especially if there was chronic pain. Pain can change everything, and I am not minded to criticise someone too strenuously who is enduring things I am not.  I think that's a whole different feeling. They often were on odd diets or took megadoses of supplements, None of this is breaking down cleanly. Some individuals are fitting a couple of categories here, or have family members who fit one category while they fit another, but both ending up anti-vax.

I think Arnade hits something important that is only at the edge of my thinking until recently.  Discussion of vaccination has focused - both sides - on the specific actions of people in the last 20 months. Usually, of coursse, people focus on the terrible things those other guys did, because that is what humans do.  But Arnade relates this to a much longer pattern of people who feel like they are being ordered around pointlessly - and often have good reason to think that. I was just answering someone over at Maggie's who went off on a tirade about whether I believed what "the government" is telling me about climate change, and the elections in various states, and whether CRT is being taught in the schools.I felt obliged to point out that the CDC has nothing to do with elections or schools, and there were dozens of agencies and levels of government involved here.

Yet he has a point in the broad sense even if his individual accusations are confused. There is a class of people who tell other people what to do a lot. They aren't necessarily cooperating with each other or interconnected, but they do tend to be drawn from the same class and have this attitude. So people develop an attitude of their own in response. I try to push people to make stricter distinctions and keep to one topic at a time, but that does cause me to discount the perspective entirely when I should only be objecting to the vagueness.  The thinking is vague, but that doesn't necessarily make it inaccurate. I am not so much missing the forest for the trees as objecting to a painting of the landscape as unreliable. It might be unreliable as a map.  But it might be valuable as an impression.

Update:  It occurs to me that I am trying to be thorough and make a full case, while Arnade is primarily a writer, attempting to capture a single idea and get it across.  I may have been too hard on him.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Just a Closer Walk With Thee

 


A Tell Within a Tell

I was listening to a podcaster I like interviewing a guest I didn't quite so much.  Not terrible, but just falling into the same, tired, easy cliches. He was talking about the racism of Donald Trump, and that it was not merely disguised, but overt, as if seeking to overturn the basic principles of political discussion in our democracy. 

Well, take a breath, first up. Maybe use your inhaler if you need to.

The examples given were all quite subtle things. Mind you, they weren't necessarily wrong. Trump refers to African-Americans as the blacks, or the African-Americans more often than he uses the definite article with other American groups. He does it about as often as he does when referring to foreign groups, such as the Arabs, or the Chinese. The complaint was that this is a "distancing" technique, a "tell" that he doesn't view them as quite American. Fair enough, but there are qualifiers here.  Donald also used the definite article for groups that he clearly likes, both foreign and domestic. He has not caught on to the idea that politicians, or others who want to be part of the national media conversation aren't supposed to do that. Dividing people into groups can be done in discussion, particularly in terms of figuring out who they are going to vote for. But it must be handled delicately, and using "the" is even more suspect. It may indeed mean that he is "distancing" and does not regard all groups as equally American.

However, there are some qualifiers here.  This is still "Donnie from Queens," and this is how he learned to talk. One can make the argument that most people who learned to talk like that as children are more racist than the faculty at Brown University, yes. But that's pretty indirect. If it's a "tell," you have to make a better case than that. Trump doesn't care about making adjustments that people who aren't going to like him anyway think are polite to make.  You can find that obnoxious, but it's not the same thing. 

The other examples were similar.  They were all "Yep, that could indicate racism.  In fact, I think that's the most likely explanation myself.  But it's mild, and it's not a slam dunk, and hyperventilating about the basic principles of democracy is completely unwarranted." I've got an anecdote, about a Haitian black who used to work construction in NYC and met Trump briefly several times.  Donald liked to come down to the sites and mingle with those guys, usually showing off a young woman on each arm and winking about it. My acquaintance thought he showed off for the black guys more.  So that's the stereotype, then, the bad boys, the ones interested in sex. If you call that racist, I don't have a good counter.  But it is also not what people are implying when they call him racist.  They usually mean "secret white supremacist."

For me the question is "This is Donnie from Queens, who by the standards of his own day is well on the non-racist side of things. He doesn't change his manner just because you interpret it negatively, because frankly, he doesn't care what you think.  How much of your being pissed off at that is behind your accusation?"

You want tells?  I've got one.

Here is a tell I have noticed that goes in the other direction.  Interpreting the actions of Trump and his supporters is always framed in terms of his following Obama. (Two of the guests on that show did exactly that, and one had to go back to tie it to Nixon's Southern Strategy, one of the most enduring myths of our era.) But we were all there at the time, and no one said anything about that then.  The election was framed in terms of running against his Republican opponents and the "GOP elites," and the general election was framed entirely in terms of running against Hillary Clinton. You can make the argument "But it was really the racist electorate being angry at having a black president," but to make the case to me you have to clearly separate what the anti-Hillary, anti-elite part of that was.  And then you need to explain those Rust Belt voters who went for Barack in 2012 and Donald in 2016. I don't think you can put up good numbers.

Nationalism

For most of history, water transport has been more efficient than land transport. We are so used to good roads and before that, trains, that we think of that type of movement as the default human strategy. Water transport can certainly facilitate empire, but nationalism, the uniting of closely-related groups that are within a physical area, seems to have grown up just after slightly better roads, and then trains.  I suppose canals should be included, as they are water transport, but internal, and bear a lot of similarity to land transport. 

When you are trading by water you have city-states. When others are accessible by land we start to feel more connected to them.  I'm sure historians have been noticing this and writing about it for years and I am just now picking up on it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Executive Functioning

Even I, who sees everything as genetic (granting some space for incentives and for changes in brain chemistry) absolutely did not see this coming

99% is a very big number, and executive functioning is a very big deal. The internal link "Executive functioning may predict success better than IQ" had a few things I raise a cautionary eyebrow about, but is basically sound. It's harder to measure, but I can well believe it is a better predictor.

North Korean

 This was fun.  Could we have this played once a year in all the schools?



And hey, could it be played once a year in other countries' schools as well?

Teaching Reading

I listened to an interview with Mark Seidenberg, a reading researcher and author of Language at the Speed of Sight. I commented in the context of Valuing the Wrong Abilities  on Freddie deBoer's observation that ed schools do not merely dislike information that genetics play a role (as I had previously thought), but that they resist quantitative research in general. Seidenberg confirms this and relates it to their history.

There was considerable debate a century ago and more about what teacher training should be and where it should take place. Many of its advocates believed that teaching was a skill or set of skills quite different from knowledge of a subject, and the training did not belong in the academy at all. Many in the academy agreed, seeing the field as more of a technical skill. Hence the development of Normal Schools and other teacher's academies, entirely separate from the other academic disciplines. In New Hampshire it was Keene and Plymouth Normal Schools, succeeded by Keene and Plymouth State Teachers Colleges, which then became State Colleges, then Universities. I think that is a typical pattern. Within those colleges, until quite recently, it was understood that the ed schools dominated, with other fields to be studied so that you could teach biology or theater or history in high school.

In most states a teaching certificate, based on college education courses, is required to teach in most districts and favored even at many private schools. To be certified is to be a "real" teacher. To my knowledge there is no research showing this improves student outcomes, though that may mostly be because no one in education would ever want to quantify the answer to that.  They don't think that way. We notice this in other disciplines, and the hard sciences look at this with some disdain, but apparently this is even more pronounced in education than it is in sociology or psychology. Those, at least, have some researchers and sectors where quantifying, measuring, and comparing still have meaning. In education, there seems to be little at all.

Our culture has long had ambivalent feelings about the arrangement.  At the level of popular prejudice, the ideas "those what cain't do, teach," and "he's very knowledgeable but he just doesn't know how to teach" exist side-by-side. We believe both. 

Seidenberg researches what methods of teaching reading actually work, not only for the general students, but for those with problems. He finds when actually speaking with teachers that they do not even know this research exists. What they were taught in ed school is that all discussion of phonics versus whole-word and other methods is at best a distraction from their real work of teaching literacy, and at worst a disguise for conservative parents trying to dictate to the experts how things should be done in terms of values. They don't believe that teaching reading is actually their job. Literacy - looking at structures and values and culture and developing a love for learning - are the real point. 

First up, once teachers get into schools and classrooms they begin to unlearn this.  They aren't crazy, or stupid. They pick up pretty quickly that merely teaching a love for science, or not killing their natural curiosity with old-fashioned methods doesn't produce the results they were told they would, and they teach some reading, and they teach some science facts, and they have children rehearse their math facts. They are usually quite generally interested in children learning and doing well in life, and will do whatever is necessary to get there.  Even some sounding out letters, to get them over the first, difficult part. 

But their training, their continuing education, and the apparent focus of education agencies and non-profits, teachers are continually pushed back into the belief of teaching them appreciation rather than skills.  We should be grateful that many of them have enough contact with reality that they move away from this over time. It is easy to caricature the approach that they are trying to teach children to love science, or love reading rather than teaching skills, but when one considers how confirmation bias works, and how powerful an impression correlation creates it is easy to see why the myth persists. Children who are better at music tend to like it more. Children who are better at math, or reading, or athletics or anything at all tend to enjoy the activity more. Those who are not good at them are more likely to put in less effort, or even dig in their heels against any work in the topic.  All the rescue attempts at that point can be perceived as "drill," and the fact that it becomes a wrestling match confirms the impression that it is drill which has created the problem. 

This is why there is a new educational fad every few years, like pointlessly testing everyone to death for No Child Left Behind, or making up plausible but unreliable theories like Myers-Briggs, or Learning Styles, or...this grid of 20. (There are others.)  It's because none of it works, and they sense at some level that it's not working, so they keep trying new things.  Here's a hint: admit that genetics are the first big deal, and incentives are the second big deal, and be alert for the children falling behind and get them medical testing (vision, hearing, dyslexia, speech) and then into boring old-fashioned drill education ASAP. If you do that, you can even keep hating Trump and half the parents. My elementary school teachers certainly thought that half the parents of my classmates were incompetent and teaching them to say "ain't" and split infinitives.

And given that teachers are simply not exposed to actual research showing that initial instruction in sounding out words - the dreaded phonics - works best, especially for those who are not catching on quickly, they will persist in the beliefs of their original and ongoing training.  The best readers absorb the idea of phonics so quickly and move to reading whole words that one could think that was their method.  But whole word would actually involve more drill in the long run, learning to recognise thousands of words on sight. "Whole word" is actually a misnomer, as it comes to mean "everything we do here that's not drill" rather than a particular technique.  That technique is at least something, and better readers will pick it up regardless of teaching method.  It's the others where the technique matters. 

"Everything we do here" are things that do have some importance. Classroom management, work habits, give-and-take, learning to be active at some times and quiet at others - these are valuable. We have also made teachers the front lines in noticing things that are going wrong, such as a child having autism, or vision problems, or behavior control issues, or girls suddenly menstruating and having no clue what that was, or bullying, or a dozen other things.  It is not a large step from there to teaching values.  Schools have always taught values. Complaining at teachers for teaching social justice is the wrong focus. They have always taught social justice, it's just that we define that quite differently now.  We used to call it civics, or citizenship, or deportment, and the focus was on honesty, or politeness, or patriotism, or respect, or other "old" values. But this is not mission creep on their part.  It's what they have always done, and what we told them to do.

Seidenberg's solution is to tear down the Ed Schools, because they take decent, well-meaning people who would like to help bring young people into the world of responsible adulthood, and they ruin them. Yet he knows that is not going to happen, as the institutional power of organisations that produce one-third of all our doctoral degrees by nursing at the government breast is immovable.  He hopes to at least infiltrate them with the idea that "research" is a good thing and has a meaning they are not yet aware of.  (I feel the same about schools of social work, which ruin nice young women who want to do good and teach them to do evil instead.)

He suspects it won't matter what the research says.  Ed schools don't care.


Sunday, November 07, 2021

Conservative-Populist Coalition

I have liked Salena Zito in the past, even though I am mostly unskilled and uninterested in the horse-race aspect of politics. Ann Althouse highlighted the second half of this essay in the Examiner, and it adds up for me. The first part, about the hypocrisy of powerful Democrats, does seem to resonate with others more than it does with me. I expect hypocrisy and entitlement from the powerful, including Republicans. 

Instead of listening to the voters, Obama spent his second term going all-in with executive action. Democrats shed their blue-collar and rural voters that had been part of their coalition and went full elite progressive. The 2014 election was the result, an even worse bloodbath for Democrats than 2010.

Two things were missed in the coverage of 2016. First, Trump was never the cause of that election — he was the result of a coalition that had been building for a decade, made up of suburban-educated voters, blue-collar and rural voters, and a growing number of middle-class Hispanic voters.

Hillary Clinton was not going to be a third term of Bill.  I grant that she would have been more similar in governance to him than anyone else the Democrats were going to nominate, but she was not the same. She had always pulled him in one direction, but when he kept pointing out to her staff in 2016 that he was the only person in the room who had actually won a national election, they blundered on. The might both have gone to Yale Law and become deep Washington, but in the end his instincts were University of Arkansas and hers were Wellesley, and voters knew that, however distant it had become.  Bill could sell the idea "I am the only liberal conservative enough to save you from those really dangerous conservatives," while Hillary was trying to sell "I am the only one moderate enough to save you from those crazy liberals (in the primaries) and those evil conservatives (in the general)." And she could not close the deal. 

Obama was, in the end more Chicago and corrupt than he was radical, which is why liberal journalists trying to look oh-so-smart can claim he was center-left or even moderate.  He wasn't, but he was about power and enforcing some version of what he liked more than about being True Left. Chicago. Hope and Change. Laughable from the start. Obamacare was a gift to many special interests more than it was to socialists, sure.

I will venture the political analysis that Republicans are in danger of believing that they are winning voters rather than that they are not offending as badly the people that the Democrats are disdaining and throwing away. Republicans are now neither any version of conservative, populist, libertarian, nor Washington-elite-at-a-discount.  They are winning by not being crazy. The danger is that each of those groups believes that it is the powerful core that is delivering the victories, and can thus afford to tell the others to kiss off.  Well, maybe not the libertarians, who know they are always a minority in the party.

Thursday, November 04, 2021

Political Donations

 Yup. As expected.

Humorous or Profound?

 


Possible Essays:

CS Lewis

HG Wells

Douglas Adams

Isaac Asimov

The Revelation to John

David Hume


Wednesday, November 03, 2021

Reality, Just for Fun

Not my field, by any means, and this guy may be full of it.  But I liked the line "...reality has a way of interfering with futuristic pie-in-the-sky calculations like this." It's rather a basic assumption in my life. Let's see what he has to say after that...

We pretty obviously have an enormous amount of solar energy hitting the earth that might be useful. We also pretty obviously have not yet been able to make this work despite having some very bright and determined people working on it, often with significant government and NPO funding behind them.

Tuesday, November 02, 2021

Prehistoric Burials

It is an excellent human quality that we try to imagine how other people might be like us when we hear about them. It leads to brotherhood, fellow-feeling, and bonhommy (as Eeyore would say). It can provide real insights and understandings. We read about tragedies happening to Korean or Ecuadorean children and feel sorrow for them and a stab of empathy for their parents. 20th C American literature has an ongoing theme of experiencing the trials of one immigrant group or another secondhand, often humorously, to show how they are "just like us, really," while we are also learning what their differences mean in their context. 

But this belief, as important as it is to developing as a nation of disparate groups, can lead us badly astray even with groups still extant in distant parts.  And for prehistoric groups it can be entirely misleading. "The farther back you go, the weirder they get," says archaeologist Timothy Darvill. To illustrate this he refers to an entire era in Dorset where the bones were moved about two or three times, and in most cases the hands had been removed and were buried underneath the rest of the body. He laughed that we hear about such things and immediately begin imagining possible reasons for it, but it's best not to.  It will only cause us to settle on a theory and then have trouble moving off it when new evidence comes in.  Best to simply note that they are doing this terribly strange thing for unknown reasons.

As with reading Shakespeare, where the meanings of some words have changed under our feet, there are practices we believe we understand a bit but likely do not.  When we think of a tomb or burial site, we think of something removed from the settlement, visited on special occasions, rather solemn. This is reinforced by Egyptian pyramids, with its protected and inaccessible burials, and our images of going by torchlight through silent, dusty tunnels with sarcophagi or shelves of skulls on top of piles of bones or such like. Thus when we see kurgans and barrows, we think those similar.  Remote, unvisited places. Even when realising that the people who built them revered and even worshiped ancestors and seemed to have ceremonies nearby, we hold that picture. They must have visited them once a year.  The children were told to hush. We see similarities to our own visiting the family cemetery every year, or looking out over landscapes that our ancestors settled. Our people have always been wed to the sea, granddaughter. We have lived here and died here for generations. (Which not only in America but even places in Europe might really mean only a few generations, but it seems like Time Immemorial. Even archaeology of recent settlement can reveal that the people here didn't fish much, and not out on the open water at all.  The trapped shore birds and gathered shellfish. It is a less romantic story, but they weren't thinking about Romance, they were thinking about Not Starving.)

As we dig and evaluate more precisely, we are finding that this may be quite backward. As usual. As i noted before about the stone circles, we think of them as remote because they are on the land that no one needed to plow to survive, the marginal land. Barrows, kurgans, and tombs may be the same. The DNA evidence of sites not that far apart suggest that many of these were boundary markers. We can prove it's our land because it is our ancestors who are buried here, right in the center of the action.  Not yours. So go away. The ceremonies drove where to put the burials, not the other way around.  They wanted the ancestors to continue to participate in the ongoing festivals, because they perceived themselves as continuing to be present in a way we do not. We get a little closer with family recipes or Christmas ornaments that have been passed down, and the circular time of holidays being tied to previous holidays, but even that doesn't touch it.  The Eucharist is more like it, in those denominations where the "great cloud of witnesses" is believed to be more present. Yet still unlike.

They put the bodies on their backs and covered them with ochre...or on their sides, the men facing east and the women facing west...or they burned them all and surrounded them with pieces from a single smashed pot...or killed a bunch of close relatives to go along with them.  And we only have made-up stories why. They were weird.  We haven't got a clue why they were doing these things.  We murmur things about sacred ceremonies and veneration of the dead. Then we find out that a stone circle was only used a few times in a decade, then the ditch around it just filled in gradually, no one cleaning it out, then at least two centuries later there is a flurry of activity and a village goes up and they are burying people a different way, and - this group does not seem much related to the previous group.  And then again intermittently maybe for more than a century, now with different animals being slaughtered. We make up a story of simplicity and call it "continuous use."  If we can find evidence of neolithic, bronze age, Roman, and medieval use in the same spot we fall into that same reverie as Gramps looking out over the sea. Our people have always worshiped here, and come here to bury their dead. Except they weren't related to each other, and probably not to you, and sometimes they seem to have carted the bodies up the hill and dumped them down a shaft for a century or so.

One thing we can be sure of, though.  The Druids had nothing to do with Stone Henge, and probably not with any monoliths. Even after all the others had gone. They were more into sacred groves.




Come Raise Your Cup


I

I did the show my freshman year of college and was one of the tradesmen. My accent was terrible, in retrospect. It was a fun song, though. The musical is based on "The Importance of Being Earnest." I don't think it is regarded as an improvement by most people, but I still hum a few of the songs. 

Lady Bracknell: Oh a handbag, a handbag is not a proper mother 

Not a proper mother 

Not a proper mother 

Jack Worthing: Would it help if I told you I have a younger brother 

LB: I fear younger brothers rarely are a boon. 

JW: Lady Bracknell, aren't you being rather frigid?

LB: Frigid? Not I, sir!

JW: But it's me your daughter wants to marry.

LB: Where my daughter is concerned I must be RIGID!

I am a mother, First and Last!

Monday, November 01, 2021

Gifts and Help

People, especially women, ask what they can do to help and offer to bring food over.  I assure them that meals are the least of our problems while my wife is recovering.  I have done half the cooking throughout our marriage, increasing to two-thirds and perhaps even three-fourths.  I like it, even when it is a burden and I am strapped for time. (There are limits, though.)  So going to 100% temporarily is not a big deal, especially as we have still not quite adjusted to making 2-3 portions. Most meals I make are good for at least two dinners for both of us and a lunch for one after. Storage is more of a problem. 

Yet they bring a little something anyway, or even more, even when I specifically say don't.  I am tired of arguing with them, so they just bring things now.  We will eat much of it eventually. It hurts them not to have brought something.  Because it is not this way with men (who ask far less often whether they can do anything anyway) I reflected on how much of this is a male-female, and training vs instinct phenomenon. I propose the following: Women give gifts to show affection.  Men give gifts to solve a problem.  Once I articulated that, I saw it is similar to other men-women differences, such as communication. These are hardly mutually exclusive, and I can think of exceptions, especially of men during courtship.

Update: CS Lewis, as usual, has some answers.  i should have remembered.  Donna's comment brought these to mind.

 “A woman means by Unselfishness chiefly taking trouble for others; a man means not giving trouble to others...thus, while the woman thinks of doing good offices and the man of respecting other people’s rights, each sex, without any obvious unreason, can and does regard the other as radically selfish.” The Screwtape Letters.

He also hypothesised Purgatory as a kitchen where things were forever going wrong. The women needed to learn to ignore them and attend to higher things (as with Mary and Martha), while the men needed to learn to get up and attend to those domestic things for others.

Apologies

I have not forgotten you, but I have demands on my time.  My wife had bunion/hammertoe surgery and has to be non-weightbearing on one foot for 5-8 weeks. I have had to reduce my walking mileage in order to stay nearby, and there are lots of little things.  I can still get exercise right here with raking. I am having my second cataract surgery next week, which I hope will improve my book-reading, but for a while it will hamper all reading. I forget how long that will last, as memory of the first one gets rolled into the very lengthy recovery for the surgery on the macular hole, which was much worse. Lastly, my adult studies class on forgiveness begins this week after two delays, and I have to assemble all the material into a coherent set of lessons. Every time I go back to it I assemble it differently.

So "Prehistoric Burials," which I have some observations on - mostly of my usual variety of noting how we make assumptions which are not warranted and there are better ways to look at some practices.  I also just got some interesting updates on Ashkenazi Jewish genetic heritage, which also brings in some corrections to the way we usually look at Christian history in the places where they intersect. For example, it has been known for years that the lineage seems strongest for Levantine men and Northern Italian women intermarrying in the 7th-8th C and moving from Italy to the Rhineland by 900 AD. But Italy was very Roman Catholic then - the papacy well-established.  What are all these Italian Catholic women doing marrying Jews? Why is no one forbidding this, punishing them?  Fun speculations have been coming up as we learn more nuance about the DNA.