Monday, February 28, 2022

Walk In The Light

This is "The Fox Song" or "The George Fox Song," still popular among Quakers, at least up until a generation ago. It is an excellent example of my Yes, but attitude to the theology of the Society of Friends. That in itself is hard to pin down, as it has undergone changes in emphasis since its beginnings in the 1600s. The Puritans persecuted Quakers, yes, but those were also Quakers who sometimes broke into your Sunday worship and threw blood on the altar.

The belief in an inner light, accessible to all, has remained central, though that has moved from an original base that it was a product of the Holy Spirit, meant to accentuate the non-hierarchical priesthood of all believers, who could study the Bible for themselves and go about teaching others. That quickly became more of a belief that all humans were born with access to this light, something akin to the natural law understanding of Paul's Letter to the Romans. 

Quakerism was originally strongest in Wales and the West Midlands of England, farther from the centers of power, with an economy of herding that led to many isolated households in the hills. They were therefore suspicious of church hierarchies in London and used to thinking for themselves, conditions that would make an Inner Light doctrine congenial.  Of course, this is exactly what I am most suspicious of.  I just mentioned in a recent post the commonness of prosperity gospel in Houston, with its boom mentality and focus on getting ahead. People gravitate to the varieties of faith that support their political or cultural values, though best practice would be that this works in the opposite direction.  We usually pretend that it does. If I am not convinced that this is true for myself and those I love best I don't see why you should expect I would take your word for it.

A few of the phrases are technically true: steeples will indeed fall eventually and we will not be reading Bibles in heaven.  But while the Society of Friends long held to the idea that the light transcended the valuable Scriptures, it was inevitable that many would come to regard the book as somewhat, then mostly, and then entirely beside the point, as is true of some today, replaced by a belief much closer to the syncretism of the UU's. 

That is true in Northern New England, anyway.  Perhaps it is different in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.

Giving Up (_______) For Lent

I came up going to Confirmation classes in the mid-60s, when even Congregationalists still regarded Lent as standard practice. Or perhaps that was just the clergy, plus my mother who had grown up Lutheran and retained the fast. The idea that we should not look for something to give up, but seek some sort of giving or outreach practice during Lent was just coming into play. I kept this focus for years, of looking for something to add in rather than subtract during Lent. Daily attendance, or a specific cycle of prayers, or increased Scripture reading, or donation of my time to others. I think I got some benefit from these. But somewhere about twenty years ago I decided that Lent had ceased being the deep season it was supposed to be.  I taught an adult studies class on Lenten practices throughout history and across the geography of the church, and that my have heightened my awareness that a lot of other Christians seem to have been growing deeper while I was not. 

I thought it best to go back to basics, and gave something up for Lent, just like my mother and her Lutheran relatives did. I have liked the result, the increased focus on the life of Jesus and the presence (both the stern and the kindly) of God. Fasting from anything is denial of the flesh, not because flesh is evil but because it is very present and an obvious distraction.

Our Daily Data

Listening to my son's podcast, they were doing a send up of the prosperity gospel churches in Houston, which seems to be awash in them. "If you want the newest and best iPhone, you should pray for that." They started to riff on that immediately

"Give us this day, our daily data..."

"...thy browsing be done..."

"Lead us not into 5G..."

"Forgive us our tweets, as we forgive those who subtweet against us..."

Great fun. Only later did it occur to me that this is nonetheless a true application to modern day.  No, not the praying for the best phone, but recognising what it is we are depending on, where our real temptations to anger and meanness lie, and what evils people do actually get worried about these days, rather than the deeper evils that the Church has been warning against for 2000 years (and extending even back further into history).

What We Are Pretty Good At

I think most people automatically understand that we value the qualities that we ourselves have.  People good at math have some tendency to value others in terms of math ability.  Attractive people tend to think that attractiveness is important.  Kind people value kindness.  Athletic people value any or all of the attributes of athleticism: strength, speed, coordination, strategy. If we are putting focus into something ourselves, we think it must be important.  Wherever your treasure lies, there will you find your heart.

Here's an interesting twist, and a second. Among some of us who have a great deal of something this is completely out of control, and our valuation of artistic ability or attention to detail is not merely higher than average but swollen to pathological proportions, measuring all others primarily by the yardstick which favors us most. Yet there are a few who seem to go in the opposite direction, to humility about the arbitrariness of what they excel at and remarkable admiration for excellence in unrelated places. Sometimes this might be feigned, sometimes jealousy, but I think sometimes it is quite real, and people have hit that transcendent place analogous to Galadriel's gift to Gimli "Your hand shall flow with gold, but over you gold will have no dominion."

They also show no jealousy when someone excels them in their own endeavor, but simply rejoice. They greet such a one seamlessly as a traveling companion or a teacher. As best as I can piece together the memories over the years, these two qualities of admiring the abilities of others in both their realm and others go together, likely springing from a true humility. Humility, just to be clear, is not pretending that our skill is incompetence for show, but an accurate assessment. I don't think Larry Bird is especially humble, but he is on record saying of a few others "When he's in a game I'm watching I can't take my eyes off him. I just enjoy watching him work." No mention of where he ranks him in comparison to himself, simply admiration.

I have known only a few, and of course I do not know the inner workings of their minds and I may have been fooled. If they are only pretending to be humble and appreciative of others, we should at least be grateful that they understand that is the proper value and aspire to it. If they at least try to hold their excellence lightly, perhaps it will become true some day.

Here is the second twist: I have never seen that transcendence in those who were pretty good at something.  I have seen a healthy attitude to the abilities of others - in fact, I see it often. Most of us are comfortable with "I'm good at golf; Jerry's good at dancing." Yet somehow it is harder to drop the things we remain more aspirational in, the places where we are the B+ or A- students. We keep that yardstick near the top of the pile and reach for it quicker than others. We just can't quite drop it. We see others through that lens.

Well, my personal data is necessarily limited. We will know very few people of surpassing excellence because of Gaussian distribution alone. Further biasing that sample is that we will tend to know them in our own fields, so the general application will be less visible to us. Finally, I may have this entirely wrong.  I may be making it up and forcing the data into my theory just because I have known a few people with great gifts who seem to be magically humble as well.

Ukrainian Refugees

The orphanage in Romania where we found our third and fourth sons is trying to be helpful to the refugees in Ukraine, both by getting care packages to the border and becoming a shelter for the refugees coming into Transylvania. It is called REMM, Romanian Evangelistic Medical Mission, this is their latest update.


REMM family, thank you for keeping Ukraine in your prayers. We want to share updates from our brothers and sisters on the front lines.

The situation is dire. Over 120,000 people have fled Ukraine in less than 48 hours. Most who are fleeing the invasion are women and children as all men over the age of 18 and up to 60 years old are denied exit at the border. They are required to stay in Ukraine. Many families are stuck at the border as wives and children do not want to be separated. Many don't have basic necessities like food and water and where to sleep.

We're on a waiting list to host refugee families and are currently preparing rooms in our clinic + Casa Josef. In the meantime, we're working on sending food, water and hygiene products as well as mattresses, blankets, and pillows to Ukraine.

Please continue to keep Ukraine in your prayers. The future is very uncertain for our neighbors, but we are here to help however we can. Any donations (click here) would be much appreciated in sending care packages to Ukraine as well as hosting refugees here in Beius.

 -REMM Team 

 Copyright © 2022 Romanian Evangelistic Medical Mission, All rights reserved.

Our mailing address is:
PO Box 631
Lovettsville, VA 20180

Their Facebook Page


You have many choices for charities, I imagine, but I pass this along as these are people we know and trust.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Understanding Just a Bit Better

 A young woman named Helena writes about her transitioning and detransitioning - quite a full life already (or a rather empty one, YMMV) for one so young in By Any Other Name. It adds up to me, though I wasn't quite following at first.

Its understandable that any young person exposed to this kind of belief system would grow to deeply resent being white, “cis”, straight, or (biologically) male. The beauty of gender ideology is it provides a way to game this system, so that you can get some of those targets off your back and enjoy the camaraderie of like-minded youths. You can’t change your race, pretending to have a different sexuality would be very uncomfortable in practice, but you can absolutely change your gender, and it’s as easy as putting a “she/they” in your bio. Instantly you are transformed from an oppressing, entitled, evil, bigoted, selfish, disgusting cishet white scum into a valid trans person who deserves celebration and special coddling to make up for the marginalization and oppression you supposedly now face. Now not expected to do as much groveling and reaffirming to everyone how much you love checking your privilege, you can relax a little and talk about your life without wondering if you are distracting from the struggles of or speaking over marginalized groups, because you are marginalized too. With the new pronouns often comes a wave of positive affirmation from friends and followers, and the subconscious picks up quickly that there’s a way to make the deal of being on Tumblr even sweeter.

The feelings she describes at fifteen, of alienation, feeling different and misunderstood, not fitting in - these have been typical for that age, at least since the assuming of adult roles at 16, 18, or 21 stopped being the norm. Before that, we don't know.  We are just making it up a lot of the time, and the retrospective analysis by older people is too likely to be colored by later events. People had much harder lives, but they had a place. Cue Michael W Smith "A Place In This World." As we delay the entry into adulthood longer and longer - more years of education, older age at marriage and birth of first child, longer time living with parents, partly because of the legislation we have around housing - it may be that this was expected, and even inevitable. There is no end in sight to the bad feelings if you are fifteen.  You look for exits from the system, and wilder explanations seem possible.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Modern Anthropology

I was checking out whether the ice along the roads of a large local cemetery where I take walks were walkable without crampons.  I had my granddaughter with me, as I cut in a back way (known to but a few) and drove toward the farthest entrance on the other side. She mentioned as we passed one of the monuments that it was "spooky," or "creepy." We were too far past for me to discern which one she meant. But I had walked past all of the sites several times, and had not thought of any of them as particularly odd or alarming.

Also, she has been in cemeteries with sculpture and large monuments before, and as most mortuary symbolism is basic Christian, all of which she is familiar with, I was puzzled as to what had troubled her. I made a point of walking that route the next day. What jumped out at me is how many of them would seem uncomfortable to a modern ten-year-old girl. It is a French-Canadian Catholic cemetery, and that particular section is older, so many of the stones were placed 60-100 years ago. Most families tend toward the traditional when burying spouse or parent, so the artistic style is likely to be decades before that. Our religious art tends toward the gentle, welcoming, comforting expressions on Jesus or the various saints these days, but that was not the case then.  The faces were often pained, as if sharing the mourner's sadness rather than seeking to alleviate it. Some were stylised and otherworldly, with shrouded faces. Saints are often identifiable by the objects they are holding, but I am not Catholic and know very few of these. Even though I grew up in French-Canadian Manchester, I don't know what saints are preferred, though I imagine I would start with the names of the various churches, eliminating those which are clearly Polish or Irish. Yet even at that, Catholic biographies sometimes have odd turns, of an appeal to a particular saint in time of need with a story of deliverance or comfort, so there are often idiosyncratic choices of who one might feel closest to or devoted to.

As I had walked in this cemetery before without being surprised by any of the representations, none could have been that removed from what is familiar to me. The somber or shrouded saints were part of my background since the 1950s, I just had not noted them.  They were normal then, likely in Protestant cemeteries as well. But Sarah was born after 2010, so there are some layers of strangeness and unfamiliarity for her. 

We find Puritan deaths-heads on gravestones very strange now, but they are only a few hundred years ago.  The meaning of symbols disappears quickly from the popular imagination and requires study to interpret.  How much more when we dig up something from 6,000 years ago and try to piece together what it meant to them. However strange they are to us, they were understood at a glance at one time. We are guessing.  I listened to an archaeologist give an example. "If we saw from our own time or not too long before a carved figure of a girl in a hooded cape carrying a basket talking to a wolf we would know immediately what story it referred to. But a thousand years from now people might concoct any number of theories what it meant - all of them wrong."

I look at the cemetery differently now.  It is in many ways quite strange. I do not feel confident I know what these people were thinking, and only partly what they believed, even though I share a religion and a close location with them, and there is some overlap of the years of our lives.


This is also consonant with Tolkien's and Lewis's view of art as something the artist can perceive that others have missed and expressing that, rather than displaying something with no internal plausibility only because it is inventive and original.


One reason I have been suspicious of the idea that letting covid just ride and the population acclimating to a general immunity being the only real solution in the long run, is that I think people have not really thought through what "long run" means. It is true that our species coevolving with the virus species is the most reliable long-term immunity.  After all, the New World populations were devastated by Old world diseases because they were novel to them, while many of the Europeans survived each bout of hantavirus or smallpox that spread. Here's the problem: many of the Europeans survived.  Not all, even after thousands of years of (general) exposure to these diseases. 

I posted Tom Wessells recently talking about forests and trees, mostly. In this one he is talking about coevolution.  He has zero intent to say anything about covid - how could, he, as the video is from 2019? Yet in the context of talking about invasive species, including fungi and Eurasian bittersweet (which he correctly calls "the northern equivalent of kudzu") he mentions this very principle a few times, that even with a very destructive start, species eventually move to an equilibrium and become mutually tolerable, and then even mutually beneficial.  Great! Bring it on!

Except it takes a thousand years, minimum, and often even that is not enough (and he doesn't like the "short term" consequences of multiple centuries all that much, even when it is just plants). As in malaria. Or smallpox, eventually defeated by vaccination, not adaptation.

Humans aren't chestnuts or ants, no. But the principle is the same. It seems very tempting to say "Look, we just have to bite the bullet and get to the other side of this disease and we'll be fine. Ugly, but the only way."  It would be fine, if it was fairly brief and very few of us died getting there. Yet that is surpassingly unlikely.  It's an attractive myth. Boris toyed with it in Britain but was talked out of it.  The Swedes had an early go at it and then abandoned it.  It's not a crazy idea, because the principle underlying it is real.  It's just a wrong idea when you look at the details.

Well, the video is a good college level biology lesson anyway, even without application to human diseases.

Friday, February 25, 2022


 Those are the little Russian dolls, nested into each other.

Reading people's comments about the truckers, I am wondering how much one issue depends on others that are not fully stated.  That's actually not a good analogy with the dolls, but it is what I think of.  (Update:  I liked it better the longer I went.) I am fond of noting that if two events that are 70% likely are stacked on each other, the resulting probability is less than 50%.  If the events are 80% likely, it takes three of them to get to 50-50, and if one event looks like if follows from another about 90%, then another very likely event then another, you get more slowly to a probability of 50%, but you get there, even with very likely chances. It's just one of the things that makes future prediction or current analysis difficult.

I was thinking of this in terms of explaining what is up with the Canadian trucker, but remembering the principle reminded me of my analysis of the probable IQs of Barack Obama, both Bushes, John Kerry, Donald Trump, etc. In all cases with people of any accomplishment there can be distraction, because even getting into an Ivy League school or writing a book or making a lot of money likely depended on significant other factors. IQ is something, but it ain't everything, not by a long shot. In all cases I tried to clear away low-information events and get to a very few key points. (Sometimes that point might take a long explanation, but it should be clearly conceived and identified.) This is because I know that even high-percentage likelihoods, if they are stacked on top of each other, rapidly become less likely. Because of this bit of biographical data it is 90% likely that Obama is at least this but not that.

It also comes up in alt-history alt-future evaluations, and in wargaming, or in looking at the effects a policy will have on the economy.  Every step of the analysis might be quite good, so stringing it together as an argument, an attempt to prove an hypothesis, seems very plausible, even probable.  But there might be too many rolls of the die in there. If you consider the Matryoshka dolls, even if each one contains a doll that is 80% its own size, it doesn't take long to get to much smaller dolls. And if you look closely at all dolls, as with all reasons that drive similarity, each level in is not really identical to its shell. Once you are many shells in there is a simplified version, which could if reversed give rise to many variants by the time it reached the outermost shell.

That said, I think you can parallel the two sets of dolls WRT the truckers. 

People do not like protests blocking traffic when it is a cause they disagree with or are neutral about. A younger friend mentioned that she, a libertarian, and her husband, a Democrat, were trapped in a car for hours with a screaming three-year-old because of a BLM highway closing. Neither has forgotten it, and the group lost support that could have been considerable in places like Massachusetts. 

Update: One of my original main points got left out.  This attitude certainly affected my disapproval of the George Floyd/BLM/Trayvon/Ferguson/National Anthem etc protests.  I tried to regard each as objectively as I could, but the substrate was always "Except what you are insisting should be fixed is actually not much broken. The police are not really targeting young black men. It is widely believed but poorly evidenced. Therefore you are advocating for changes that cannot actually happen, but only addressed with false symbolism."

Even with a cause they agree with, it matters whether they personally encounter it or not. And continued support is likely to be more grudging. I think this is true of disruptive protests of all kinds, not just traffic. College students, from other states or other parts of the state, become notoriously unpopular for disruptive protests which they can avoid the effects of by return to their nice campuses.  The truckers, who work on the roads and therefore think of the roads as their territory in a sense, are nonetheless not from the locations of the disruptions.  They are from all over. We tend to miss this aspect when looking at another country, or a distant part of their own. To us, they are all equally just Bolivians, or Russians, or Canadians. We think of them as outsiders to us, but intuit that they should regard each other as "all in this together." They don't, and we don't when it is us.

Those  who believe that vaccine mandates are a reasonable response to an epidemic are less likely to be sympathetic to a protest against vaccination by outsiders. Those who believe vaccine mandates are an unwarranted intrusion on freedom are more likely to give approval.

Next Matryoskh: Those who believe that the vaccines don't work as well as advertised - and certainly those who think they are useless or dangerous - are more likely to think of them an unwarranted intrusion. Those who believe they are an effective tool for reducing many effects of an epidemic are more likely to approve of mandates.

Next: Those who have more trust in the general expertise of the standard-definition experts are more likely to think vaccines effective, as their impression is that those are strongly supportive of their safety and effectiveness. Those who believe that standard-definition experts are generally overrated anyway are more likely to not only be suspicious of their advocacy, but sometimes even reflexively rejecting of them. 

A side mention here is that those who believe the standard experts are overrated are very likely to accuse those who believe them as trusting the government. While there are likely some who just trustingly go along with what people in authority tell them is right, I think this accusation is mostly just convenient bullshit. I see the accusation frequently, and always from people who can't be reasoned with. This is one of the points that moved me from initial skepticism about a lot of the scientific explanations - without prejudice, as this was new territory for all of us, and many modified their recommendations as new information emerged - to more acceptance of the idea they were slowly getting it generally right, not getting farther off the mark. Their critics got crazier and crazier, doubling down when proven wrong. I don't know anyone who believes the vaccines are good because the government told them so, or even that the CDC and FDA told them so. People go to the CDC for numbers and for understanding what regulations they personally are going to have to implement or work around. They have all gone looking for various other authorities they trust, ranging from stuff they themselves find persuasive reasoning to recommendations from people whose opinions they trust. 

We are quite a few dolls in on both sides here. Are there an unlimited number, so that if we could see that far in we could find a single off-on switch in each of our personalities that slowly drives the design of each doll as we move outward? I had a lengthy series over a decade ago of May We Believe Our Thoughts (MWBOT), and there has been further neurological discovery since then. I will give a quick caveat to be careful, as some things that were cutting-edge research in the 2000s, prompting a fair bit of theorising and rejecting of previous research, are now themselves rejected because they did not replicate.  In particular, the neurology of choice keeps upending.

Next dolls in: Which experts we trust has a lot to do with how well we understand the credentials they are bringing to their statements. It is not that we have those credentials ourselves, not even junior versions of them, but how we we understand what goes into them. I expect a person with training in NT studies to have a fair knowledge of documents and early controversies. A person who is a successful consultant on church growth might or might not. I would have to know more. And vice versa.  A plumber may have worked with many electricians during installations and know a great deal.  Or the plumber may think he knows, but 25% of his knowledge of electricity is common myth. In medicine, a surgical nurse will likely know a great deal about contagion at close range, but whether she knows much about epidemiology is uncertain.  She will at minimum have some foundational medical knowledge, more than the average bear.  But that may be it.

We have zero expectation or requirement that the school superintendent or school board know much medicine.  Therefore it matters how much we trust their ability to get good advice.

This can get tricky. In current human genetics debates, training in a number of fields might be helpful, including a statistician who does not know much cell biology. Such a person may know many things that people with PhD's in microbiology don't. Science editor Nicholas Wade's book was widely condemned by people with excellent credentials.  But the primary few experts in the field pointedly refused to sign on to the condemnation. (Quick. Guess the politics!) The baseball statistician Bill James repeatedly made the claim that even though lifelong scouts and coaches might understand many things he did not about how a swing developed in a player or how to motivate angry or tired athletes, many of them did not know some ordinary percentage moves that players of table games did. And he in particular knew a lot of things they did not.  He turned out to be spot on. 

In medicine, I listen attentively to what a neurologist might say about psychiatry. An endocrinologist, sometimes. A surgeon likely knows much less than I do, even with the medical degree and training. Because Covid does actually touch on many fields and knowledge of it is interdisciplinary, we end up with online conversations where second-level information actually does become important. "Her nutritional theories were rejected twenty years ago, but are gaining wider acceptance now." Are they? Or does her website just collect a few approving comments a year by a person of some vaguely related credential? "None of the people in that study were epidemiologists." Is this particular question actually an epidemiological one?

With less-formal or less-recognised credentials, this gets even harder. As a person who made my living with less-formal credentials, who also thinks that some of the formal credentials are actually a hindrance to understanding, I have a ready sympathy for the possibility that such ground-up rather than top-down learning might be a lot better. (Or that the ground-up person might also have top-down learning that they did on their own.) Yet I also know people who came up exactly as I did who are prize fools, and you can't tell them anything. The formally credentialed people were generally better, and in some aspects, incomparably better. Just is.

Thus understanding the credential behind the assertion matters, and matters in the next doll down. None of us likes being told what to do, and the source of authority of the orderer matters to us.  When traffic grinds to a halt, we trust the woman who is is making knowledgeable-looking hand gestures redirecting us off onto another road.  We believe she has knowledge we do not, and if she is additionally a policewoman or fireperson or has a construction vest and hard hat, we figure she has some official authority as well.  That's usually fine for us.  It is frustrating when you want to say "But officer if you just let me duck up to that little turn there on the left a bit, I can be out of everyone's hair completely." But we live with it. Or most of us do. There are some of us who always think they know better and want to prove it. Other orders we filter through a highly-varied set of evaluative tools - and it is at this point that all sorts of other stuff finally emerges.  It turns out that a lot of vaccine-avoiders just don't like needles. When asked if they'd like the shot while they are in for an unrelated surgery, a lot apparently say yes. So cutely calling the vaccine a "jab" or a "stab," and displaying a big needle prominently on the posters meant to encourage them to show that we consider it a routine procedure we aren't afraid of turn out to be very stupid strateies for talking people into it. Whether the listener likes us or likes our manner, with all the demographic and cultural baggage that includes turns out to matter as well. Accusations of all sorts of bad motives in those Other People begin to come out. "They always want to tell us what to do." "Of course they think that because that's where their money comes from." "They just don't like Trump." "They just hate Biden." These draw power from the fact that in some cases, they're true. For some people, not the federal government is a deep-down doll of its own which builds every shell around it over and over again in an utterly predictable way.  Sometimes, we knew right from the start what Al was going to decide, whatever he was saying out loud.

We get one doll down and find that some people are always thinking "I just want to be left alone and bothered as little as possible, so I got the shot," while others just don't like being told what to do ever, about anything. Reasoning with them just makes them get their backs up.

At the stage of the argument where it has gone on long enough lots of people settle in to assuming that everyone who disagrees with them must be operating from a single or very few deeply interior dolls. After all, this doll looks an awful lot like the ones outside it, all the way to the final exterior.

Where I started is where I will end. All the 70, 80, 90% chances were reasonable in the chain. Each doll does look like the one above it and the one below it. Yet taken together, they are not a convincing explanation for the behavior of a large group of people.  Even if they are a convincing explanation for the behavior of some people, they don't cover enough variation.  I started uncovering a set of dolls about who supports the truckers and who doesn't, and it looks good at first.  I certainly thought so, which is why I pursued it. Yet I wasn't too many dolls in before I thought "This doll doesn't look entirely like the outside one, does it?"

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Analysis of the Trump Case in SDNY Being Dropped

Having done the work himself in that very district, Andrew McCarthy at National Review has his usual very interesting analysis into what just happened and what might happen from here.

Second Autopsies

Colin Kaepernick is going to sponsor second autopsies for everyone who has a "police-related" death. I suppose there is a chance this could turn out well, because I think what the data will show is that the first autopsies and death certificates were mostly correct.  And hey, I have nothing against exposing those that weren't. That is healthy for us all in the long run. But you know, there is plenty of data already on these subjects.  It is just denied and ignored.

I suspect we are not going to get a fair reporting of the data, as with the investigation of the Ferguson, MO police, which both Obama and Eric Holder misrepresented. There was good info there, and some of it was even used for legitimate reforms.  But it was mostly an excuse to show that the police were racist, and when it showed the opposite attention had to be diverted.  I fear the same thing here.  The few cases where there has been malfeasance will be trumpeted as if they are normative.  And when the deaths were people of color, key details will be obscured.

Canadian Truckers

There is at least one poll suggesting the majority of Canadians approved of the general severe crackdown on the truckers. I didn't see where it asked "Do you approve of freezing the accounts of people who donated $40 to them?" as such wordings depend heavily on who is sponsoring the poll and what the pollsters think they want. Most Canadians are likely not aware of such details. Sometimes researchers don't have to fudge the data, they just have to ask the questions in the right way

Grim, with proper caveats about "Is this really a reliable measure?" is concerned that the average Canadian is signing on to this level of intrusion and negation of rights. I am concerned as well, though I suspect that passive signing on in ignorance, though also a problem, is the more likely culprit.  Yet let's pretend it's all true, just for the moment. 

We are familiar with the deep resentment against the ultra-rich, especially if they come from another tribal group, everywhere.  Putin punished the oligarchs and became popular with the people.  Xi is punishing some oligarchs now and the others are retreating into quiet. This has been popular in China. OWS, Bernie Sanders, and a long history of Americans resenting the 1% show we are not much different, and resentment against elites is now popular on the right - just a different elite than before.  Donald Trump started his campaign on the basis that the ultra-rich should pay much more in taxes, though that receded. (In late 2015 he and Bernie were nearly identical in key issues, but each dropped one or more along the way and they became sundered.) This much we have long known, that resentment of people who seem to have too much for no good reason, which may even be instinctive from hunter-gatherer millennia when it was a clear sign of chicanery in a tribesman, is very typical of humans.

Yet how to explain such resentment against truckers, who might be prosperous but not wealthy? This is supposed to be the workingman who was lionised and defended by the communists and other leftists. I used to wonder the same thing about the resentment against guys making money in petroleum and automotive industries.  It was not merely the people at the top, who we might associate with the price-gougers and oppressors, but anyone who seemed to be making a great deal at those endeavors.

I concluded that this was about the Wrong People making money, and "this cannot be allowed to stand. It is an insult to struggling journalists and starving artists, people who are from the right tribe and doing really important work." It is my Arts & Humanities Tribe reemerging. I think the truckers have fallen into this category.  Even though anyone who stops to think about it for fifteen seconds knows that truck drivers rather epitomise blue-collar, highly-inconvenienced, sometimes-on-the-edge workers, yet at an unacknowledged level, they are from the group of Wrong People.  None of them read Urdu poetry or even have a clear idea what country that would be from. 

The Wrong People cannot be allowed to prosper. They must be quietly headed off, to make the world safe for social workers and junior editors at publishing companies.

Maturity At 25

Scott Alexander at Astral Star Codex, as usual, is the public intellectual who decides to look at whether this rather universally-held idea that the brain does not fully mature until age 25 is in fact true. As Alexander often does when developing his case, he tries rather obviously to force himself not to draw premature conclusions.  But you can tell quickly it has occurred to him that this idea is a myth and he wonders whether he will be proved out. I appreciate the effort he makes, telling himself not so fast. 

I believe we like the idea because it accords with what we see, or think we do.  A boy will run up and leap over a fence if his brain gives the assessment "I can make it nine times out of ten.  It'll be cool." After a few falls and failures that slides back to "I can make it 99 times out of 100" and eventually 999 times out of 1000, which we call better judgement. Eventually one gets to the point of "Wait.  Why am I jumping over fences at all, unless there is some need (or perhaps for training, or to test oneself for an upcoming trek across terrain.  Better to learn that here where the ground is softer and I'm closer to the car.)?"

But the data Alexander references shows that the brain parts of development are complete at about age 15 and then steadily decline throughout the lifespan, with no identifiable peaks or breaks at 25. As we don't think of 15-year-olds as showing the best judgement among us, that seems odd. We take fewer risks from that point on at a steady pace, as with jumping over fences. We do not hit some optimum of survival-based judgement at age 25 and then hold that until senility. At least, our brains don't.

Let me propose that our perceptions are guided by something else: the optimal level of risk-taking in our current culture occurs a few more years after the end of puberty than it did fifty or a hundred years ago, and as complicated and technological civilization has developed, the number has been slowly rising for a long time.  For the bulk of human existence, the amount of risk-taking we show at 15 has been about the right amount for perpetuating ourselves. If that's the case, then getting them "safely" married off by that time is a good strategy, fully acknowledging their sexual impulsivity while also insisting on an awareness that they must "use their Wise Minds," as the DBT phrase goes, rather than just do whatever comes into their...uh, heads.

It's a fun article to contemplate, as mythbuster articles by objective people usually are.

Hopeful Again

Deaths from covid, which are a lagging indicator, bounced back up after the long weekend of incomplete reporting, as they usually do.  A few states still seem not to have reported.  Yet even with that, the numbers have not gone up as high as recently.  An encouraging sign.

More encouraging still is that there is no new variant looming. 

I had hoped the decline would be apparent at the end of January, as some reliable sources thought at least possible.  While that has not quite happened, something like it has just occurred only a little later. I have found myself being less cautious in the last two months, likely more from fatigue than from intellectual conviction.  As with Americans tiring of war win or lose after three years, there may be similar response to restriction, that we (perhaps all peoples) cannot sustain a practice on the basis of intellectual convincing alone if there is no visible reinforcement from the environment congratulating you on your wisdom, as there is with car accidents or substance abuse. I have been irritated at people whose reasoning seems to be "Well I'm not seeing death from my yard, so it must not be real," but we all may be like that, with some getting there more quickly - even immediately, in some cases - while others hang on longer.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022


Donna B's comment reminded me of a TV comedian I saw many years ago, describing his efforts to be suave and charming with women.  He had seen some leading man in a movie light two cigarettes at once with some flair in a restaurant, and after both were started, presenting one to his date. The comedian was deeply impressed, and practiced this in a mirror many times, trying to get the look and the attitude just right. After getting this routine correct enough for public display, he brought it out on a date.

"I could tell I had it just right.  The meaningful but entirely calm and confident expression. The deft handling of all objects. Inhaling just deeply enough but not too much, then breathing out the first drags of double smoke slowly and offhandedly...

Two minutes later, I noticed I had forgotten to give her one."

The Troggs

They played at my high school, I think in 1969.  We were a bigger school and could afford to bring in a name band for our spirit week every year.  The Ultimate Spinach, Jamie Brockett.

The video is pretty classic for the era.  That's not a good thing.

Monday, February 21, 2022

The Spirit of the Season

I heard the phrase from a person who is not a Christian, speaking about Christmas. I wondered what he could mean other than some version of the Christian holiday, though he would not likely credit that.  He would be more likely to say that it was all of the holidays of that time. Yet Hannukah is one of those classic Jewish holidays of "the bastards tried to destroy us but we're still here." A fine sentiment, and bringing in the custom of generosity to children is nice. But it is about tribal solidarity. The winter solstice does not commemorate any tradition of good will, forbearance, or generosity.  I had an office-mate for fifteen months who was a Wiccan (and turned out to be a distant cousin), a lovely warm person, who would likely say in a correcting tone to all those Christians, that Wiccans teach those things all year, not just in December. Yet that is evasive of the point. It is also not true, but I suppose it theoretically could be true, so I let that part pass. You might stretch a point that the Ujamaa value of Kwanzaa, cooperative economics, has something about community-building in it, but it's not the same thing as a more universal brotherhood and generous spirit.

So the spirit of the season derives entirely from the Christian holiday, even if those values are present in other beliefs. However, this gets complicated, as that kindliness, generosity, forbearance aspect is a mostly western presentation of Christmas, and not central to the specifically religious observance.  Again, I am not saying that Eastern Christians don't have those virtues, it's just that they are not tied so closely to Christmas. So Spirit of the Season is more a culturally religious or even secular value derived from the Christian holiday. 

If the idea is rather a muddle in that gentleman's head I suppose I can't fault that, as the idea is rather a muddle.  Just not the muddle our culture would currently credit.  A different muddle.

Not, Not, Not Recommended

A moderately useless post here because even in this community, few (that is none) of you were going to be checking out this podcast anyway. I wanted more British/European archaeology after listening to all the Prehistory Guys (previously Standing with Stones) podcasts. Those are recommended, with only occasional complaints from me. But now it is updated only intermittently.  They have a YouTube channel.  I haven't seen it, because walking even on rail trails while watching videos is dangerous, but I will bet it is fine. When I go for my advance week of looking at archaeological sites that no one in the family is interested in, I will watch all of the ones pertinent to my choices beforehand. When the others come we would then go to Newgrange, Waterford Crystal, and Giant's Causeway, if Ireland.  England would be taken up with places Harry Potter was filmed, I imagine if we go there. I keep murmuring "Orkney, Orkney" and "Durrington Walls" in hopes of getting others interested.  We'll see. The new daughter-in-law has been on one walking tour in the north of England already, and the girlfriend of Son #5 was born near Leeds and goes back often.  So there is hope they will have influence where I cannot.

I am not doing well in my search for new podcasts. I thought piggybacking on Time Team, a very popular British series that ran for twenty years, about archaeologists who have to do a whole dig in three days - usually because something significant was discovered when a building was going up. I'll keep trying. First up was the cutely named Chronology Crew, a commentary on every episode in some of the later seasons. I may fight my way through a second trial episode just for the information. I doubt it.  The male host seems to be a professional archaeologist who is also a comedian, having performed at the Edinburgh Fringe. He was unexciting, but seemed to know a little something.  The female host I cannot find a certain description of.  She may be the Sarah Jones who is a performer doing historical recreations of multiple characters for TED talks and similar. To give you an idea on that, she does six Elizabethan characters, including a sex worker - and does sex workers in other eras as well. I imagine it sells well.

But...perhaps not her.  The podcast Sarah Jones has a PhD in something, though I couldn't figure out what. Dear God, I hope it's not in history or anything like it, because she asked "what is a mercenary?" I thought at first it might be a modern philosophical discussion around the idea that all soldiers are mercenaries anyway, which would be tedious but not infuriating. But no, she did not know what the term meant. Strike one. Then at minute 15 she is asking the other host "A barrow? What is a barrow?" She is hosting a British archaeology podcast. Strike two. And at minute thirty she hears about Crecy, and wants to know how it's spelled - is it the same as that donut company in Wales, she wonders? Otherwise had no knowledge of Crecy. Strike...

They did like telling us they were hung over this week at the beginning, and liked to make jokes that the earlier Britons were sort of UKIP-y because they didn't want the Saxons coming in. Sarah thought it was completely inappropriate that one of the Time Team members didn't have respect for the dead, as he referred to the 6th C skeletons that they had found and needed to figure out as "stiffs." Seemed mildly funny and not offensive to me, thanks.  Exactly the sort of thing a person who had seen lots of them might say. It's not as if it's your Granny, Sarah. They also had a debate as to whether the developer that owned the property was a prat or not.

I thought the other podcast, Time Team: Unearthing the Past would be better, but so far only intermittently. I care about archaeology, not archaeologists. I put myself in their shoes and I get it. "You are having a podcast, the 2-3 of you with guests, on the following subject.  So develop what you like, other people will probably like that. Plus, you have to develop an audience that likes you."  And many probably will. What I dislike about these podcasts may be what most people enjoy, the group-belonging feeling. It is reminiscent of the recipe sites, where you are scrolling through the photos and stories about this woman's ethnic grandmother, and her early years of marriage with small children and no money or time, or her food allergies, and ads for ordering this at Whole Foods, trying to get to the damn recipe. They are trying to build a loyal audience.  If they can get 1% of the readers to want to follow what they say they can get paid more from their advertisers.  They are trying to make a living, I get it.  Yet I am also aware of the woman who wryly noted "If I ever commit a murder I am going to confess it in the text of a recipe I am putting up on the internet, because no one will ever read it there." The same is true with podcasts

But dear God I hate it.  "I loved working with Robin, who is a fine old fellow - a throwback, really, who likes his cigars and wine and tells wonderful stories at the pub in the evening while we are out on a dig." I don't care. Please, please stop.  

This happened to me with the "Pints With Jack" podcast about CS Lewis as well. It was five minutes, then ten, and now fifteen minutes every episode of chit-chat of how much fun it is to be CS Lewis fans and get to talk to all the others. Walter Hooper was so gracious to us when he had us over for tea.  His cat is named Blessed Lucy of Narnia..." As I said above, they have been given permission to talk about what interests them, and thus their recent engagements, their travels, their work schedules, the teas they like, their name-dropping...all of this is what comes to their mind, so they believe you will care as well. Except I tuned in to learn things about CS Lewis or hear discussions of his work.  I like a bit of personal interest here and there, but it can't be the focus. It smacks of "The Inner Ring," actually.  William O'Flaherty's All About Jack is better.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Sovereign Citizen

Update below.

I associate this movement with a sort of extreme libertariansim. and therefore suspect we have more than our share here in NH. The Free State movement eventually chose to come here. They elect some officials and have a festival every year in Lancaster.  I've never been to it, but I've been to the area a few times, even though it is up at the top of the state. 

I have heard lots of folks down in Concord grumble about the Free Staters, called Porcupines, but I haven't seen much actual problem with them. It's pretty obvious that a group of people committed to moving and settling on the basis of politics alone are going to include a higher percentage of cranks, but I haven't actually heard of much in the last 20 years. The news outlets are usually eager to make the connection if anyone doing something foolish or irritating is associated with the Free Staters in any way, but that's not the same thing.

I didn't know any among my patients or the staff in almost two decades, if that means anything.

But sovereign citizens are a different matter. They are making a quite distinct philosophical argument from actual libertarians. They are hangers-on. Free staters do not deny that they are citizens of an area and that the government has authority.  They argue instead that governments arrogate to themselves too much authority and should be curtailed.  They are seldom anarchists, though anarchists sometimes try and wrap themselves in a libertarian mantle for legitimacy. Sovereign citizens insist that the place that they were born and the place that they live are unimportant accidents, and not binding in any way upon their behavior. They are "citizens" of themself only. 

The opinion draws strength from its superficial reasonableness.  So you were born in Vermont.  So what? That is mere happenstance and does not give the State of Vermont, or the City of Montpelier, or the United States of America any necessary hold on you. One can easily step back from our usual assumptions and think Hey yeah, I never thought of it that way. Mere existence does not obligate us to anyone. Just because a government says they have authority over me doesn't make it so. I'd just as soon be independent of that, and why not? 

A trapping game in which every possible reason for the state to have authority is easily shot down, often by mere denial. Nope, nope, and nope.

Yet the refutation of this comes from the other direction, bottom up not top down.  Our relationship to the rest of human society, somehow, somewhere, is so deep and profound that it is difficult to express (at first) because it is so automatic.  You would not exist without the human society of at least two people, likely many more as auxiliary help. You hear, understand, and speak. Those are utterly dependent on your having grown up among humans somewhere. It is not a question of learning values and loyalties - it is a question of learning anything at all. Your personality and the very abilities by which you argue that you belong to no one derive from all those no ones you deny.

If a person has no known history and appears in town unaccompanied and without reference to any known person, they might insist that they have no date of birth, because they don't know that date and the town can produce no evidence for February 19, or June 21, or October 31 as a date which you must be assigned to. Yet even if it is entirely unknown to any living soul, the individual does have a date of birth. In the absence of exact knowledge, it is reasonable to arbitrarily assign on of the 366 possibilities and call it a day. 

You did not clear the land of dangerous fauna and inconvenient flora.  You did not discover what can be eaten and what not. If it is arbitrary which place you belong to, fine. Wherever you choose to be has some claim on you.  We might argue about the extent and details, but entering into a society binds you to it.  If you live alone in the wilderness then your ties may be attenuated and not noticeable in the ordinary course of the day. But that does not make them nothing, try as you may. Paradoxically, if you enter into such an arrangement, even if unwritten and unspoken, then you have adopted some of its rules. Notably, you also cannot ask very much of others either. You cannot ask that they defend you from criminals, or invaders, or poisons, or diseases. This initially seems like no big deal.  But that distant network of obligations creeps in in so many ways.

You will find when dealing with such folks - and I did have patients drawn from that pile - that they try to evade the obvious by redefinitions of terms in bizarre fashion. They will insist that invented and artificial distinctions have great meaning, in the same way the tax protestors insist that your name typed in all caps is somehow different from what we think of as the name that identifies you. It is the typical reasoning of conspiracy theorists, such as the insistence that the 13th amendment is not valid because the notification was not quite the way they think proper over a century ago.  That everyone involved accepted it as a mere slip and unimportant they regard as being of no account. They have found the technicality, the secret combination that undoes it all!  Look on me and despair! As Chesterton said, the madman is not one who has lost his reason, as we commonly say, but one who has lost everything else.

Recently, there is this animation

A few years ago, there was this hearing.  The hearing officer is known to you, as he is a sometime commenter here, and his daughter an even more frequent commenter. They are both known to me for many years.


I would not encourage that you watch the whole two hours, even though poor Mike had to sit through it. However, sampling here and there should give you a flavor of what happens when a small group of people who are absolutely sure they have the goods on everyone else because they know overlooked technicalities, haha! increasingly unravel as their supports are patiently removed, one by one.  They were fortunate to have someone like Mike, who has an obsessive quality and need to get it right sufficient to be interested in looking up such things as what the "wheat and tares constitution" is, to see if it might indeed have some bearing on the issue.  Few would bother. 

I have noted before that religious cults often work by redefining common religious terms in order to confuse.  Sovereign citizen reasoning is much the same.

Update from correspondence: There is flexibility at the edges, as with most things.  If one is a visitor one has the obligations of a guest, which can vary, while retaining the practices and values of where one is "really" from.  If you are in exile, you likely assign some authority to both places, and those can be in tension. The place you are "really" from may no longer exist, yet you continue as well as you can. One might even be in rebellion against a place and not follow its authority.  Yet even to do that, you must have an idea of what is legitimate authority you are working from - a place you are from, however theoretical. One can pretend to be from nowhere - one of my sons has spent a third of his life in three different countries - but belonging to a place is then merely mixed and confusing, not nonexistent.


Beer Oversell

There was a marvelous column by Dave Barry in the 90s that discussed the ridiculous phrases used to describe wines in reviews, which included the line "...classical Burgundian aromas of earth, bark and mushrooms; dried leaves, cherries; subtle hints of spice and French oak''; and, of course, the flavor of "blackberry, allspice, cloves, vanilla with nuances of plums and toast." Nuances of toast has been a feature of my vocabulary since.

This has moved over to beer, and as much as I would like to promote local brands, and did actually like the Northwoods Brown Owl ESB, this is just not a New Hampshire approach to...well, to anything, not just craft beer. From the side of the can:

This beer diverges from a traditional Extra Special Bitters with the use of an isolated Kveik yeast strain that provides a unique maple character and is single hopped with an Australian varietal. Reminiscent of a fine cup of dark cherry tea sweetened with caramel and served with a slice of toasted brown bread*. Named after a fly that was first tied in Errol, NH, Brown Owl is a unique experiment in merging the old with the new.

*Brown bread is common and beloved by people older than fifty up here, usually canned, with a strong molasses flavoring.  As "strong molasses flavoring" is the kiss of death for anyone younger than 50 now, the bread is disappearing, no longer even on diner menus as an accompaniment to beans.

Friday, February 18, 2022

Steer Clear


This is like one of those Defensive Driving exercises, where one is asked to point out the possible dangers in the photo. This driver has just swung right on a split in the highway, yet as you can see, his left blinker is still on.  It has been on for at least four miles. His pickup truck is painted pink, which might be delightfully eccentric and fun, but might also denote a person of uncertain judgement. For this reason, the securing of his cargo is suddenly called into question.

I usually assume a basic competence in pickup drivers, who are at least partly My Sort Of People . But these two red flags cause me to wonder about other things, and while the securing of this cargo may be fine, it is not inspiring.  It could be slapdash, hard to tell from here.

I am reminded of an incident in Hungary in 2001, when I was in a rented Opel (multiple stories there) and behind a box truck open at the back. It was going a bit slow, and I was following the usual American distance in such circumstances, looking for a chance to accelerate out and pass on the two-lane highway.  The items in the truck looked a bit precarious, but I likely just figured "No big deal.  This is a professional company, and there are regulations about securing goods." Then it hit me: "This is Hungary, they don't have those regulations here, or at least, no one pays any attention to them."  I held way back, even though it would take a longer space to be able to pass this thing.

When I was teaching my five sons to drive, I would use these situations as teaching opportunities. It is a judgement call whether you want a knucklehead in front of you, right where you can see him, or want to get well past him as fast as possible.  For a-holes running up the back of you until they have a spot to pass, always noisily, I would tell the boy "Don't take the bait and don't get angry.  You want that guy where you can see him, not in your mirrors God knows where."  Teenage boys pay no attention to such things at the time, but at least three of my five did eventually see the wisdom of this.  And the other two are at least better than they were.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Bobby Short

It was a style of cabaret singing of which he was one of the extremes, with vibrato on any note held for more than a beat, notes held for much longer than a beat, and an especially delayed syncopation.  It is easy to parody, but many people liked it, as evidenced by his 35 years playing at the prestigious Carlyle Hotel in New York. The Carlyle is a Depression-era Art Deco place, famous for its celebrities, such as Mick Jagger keeping a room there permanently for when he comes to New York, and JFK's sexual escapades, during which he learned the network of tunnels underneath the place.

No one seems to much like the style now, but like pronunciations of words or the width of ties and belts, it doesn't make it inferior. Sometimes unpopularity is a product of too much success, so that people get tired of your ubiquity, or decide they want to stand apart from the crowd by not liking what everyone else does. Ask the Bee Gees (well, there's only one left now) about how absolute domination of the market can suddenly work against you in a year, leaving you scrambling to stay afloat in music by working more behind the scenes, writing all the songs on the albums of Barbra Streisand or Kenny Rogers or quietly producing songs for a dozen others while waiting for your voices to become less radioactive. 

How Should I Pronounce?

In 1885, William Henry P. Phyfe wrote How Should I Pronounce? or, The Principles of the Art of Correct Pronunciation, A Manual for Schools, Colleges, and Private Use.  He was also the author of such volumes as 7,000 Words Often Mispronounced, so you know he put a lot of effort into this. There are joys on every page, as we shake our heads wondering is this really how these words were pronounced then, or is this just some crank who decided he had just HAD IT with everyone getting these wrong? The answer is "both."

Ab-DO-men, AfghaniSTAN


Man-da-REN, MAR-it-imm

Ro-ZE-o-la, SAC-ri-fize

There were a lot of language cranks around in those days.  In fact, it seemed that every person who had a little education had strong opinions on the subject and weren't shy about letting others know. In this case, Phyfe acknowledges that something else is the more common pronunciation, or even that it is in Webster's, yet still insists his is the correct one

Immigrants were beginning to come in, and those people wanted to know how to sound right and fit it. The people whose families had moved to the frontier in the previous two generations were insecure about being rubes, and they wanted to make sure they pronounced things correctly. There was regional competition and defensiveness about all manner of usage. The rising middle classes, especially where those immigrants were coming in wanted to make damn sure they knew how to say things correctly, and the growing elite classes wanted volumes like this in order to have the edge in condescending to all the others. African-Americans and women were both finding opportunities previously closed to them, and wanted to make sure they didn't ruin their chances by looking stupid or uneducated. People rising in class tend to care about these things, and want their children to care even more. So there was quite a market for usage, grammar, and pronunciation books. 

The people who wrote them were not entirely self-appointed experts. They had the credentials of their day, teaching at schools or colleges and belonging to societies for this or that. Newspaper and magazine editors did not yet have quite that cachet, except perhaps a few from New York, Boston, or Philadelphia. They often had plenty of supporters for their views and were regarded as champions of sides in their controversies.

I gave the examples above as humor, and yet not. They are examples of how language changes, and is always changing. Elevating Latin and Classical Greek to status supremacy tries to deny this and convince us that there are very clear rights and wrongs about usage.  I certainly grew up with that, at home, at school, and simply everywhere in surrounding culture.  My early teachers would have gone to Normal Schools in the 20s & 30s, and the usage that would have been drilled into their heads and insisted on would have come from books of Phyfe's era, written by people like him. Webster's early dictionaries would have still been considered authoritative. I was closest to my mother's family, who were Swedish and Scots-Irish trying to be upward bound from very poor childhoods and certain that being good at knowing these things better than others and bringing up your children in those patterns was not merely status but rightness, nearly a moral rightness. People still think that today, though the sentiment is eroding.  Heck, I loved the usage book The Transitive Vampire when it came out in the 1980s and gave it as a gift occasionally.  I would not now.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

PJ O'Rourke

I am very sorry to hear of his passing. I liked much of his material, especially including Parliament of Whores, Give War a Chance, Eat The Rich, and Don't Vote! It Just Encourages the Bastards.  (Eat The Rich should be a required high-school textbook.) I have quoted him many times over the years and written about him from time to time. He was entirely willing to support military intervention by the US, but his libertarianism made him very suspicious of nation-building.  I think he proved out there.  The Colin Powell "If you break it, you own it" doctrine is a cute line, but turned out to be a terrible foundation for policy. O'Rourke pointed out many times that what we said we were going to do at the outset of a war seldom turned out to be what we actually did.

Good quotes of his in general.  Favorites of mine I have quoted in the past: 

I usually vote with the Republicans because they have fewer ideas. But not few enough.

The purpose of voting is not to elect great men, but to vote the bastards out.

There are a billion people in China.  And every man-jack of them wants a Buick.

I have heard him speak to small groups here in NH, where he eventually moved, down near the central border near where we vacation. He did not like Trump at all in 2016, believing he would get us into more unnecessary wars - which was pretty much my worry as well.  I don't think I heard PJ recant that, but I might have missed it.  He was less in the public eye after 2015, and I did not seek him out. Toward the end in early 2020 I heard him deploring the ridiculous spending that Donald was doing while still pretending to be a friend of conservatives, but I never heard what he thought after that or about that election. I felt the same way about the $, and still do.  I voted for the bastard, but the way conservatives could overlook the trillions he was forking over because they felt good about his "owning the libs" irritated me. Somehow the populists forgot that we are always voting for the lesser of two evils - and he was - and got excited about him instead.  Never a good sign.

Despite losing his perspective and endorsing Hillary in 2016, I think history will be kind to him.

Monday, February 14, 2022

Universal Language

The idea that we would all get along better, or perhaps progress scientifically if we all spoke the same language has a long steady minor popularity, never disappearing but never becoming much of a force either. I have never thought the getting-along part was particularly persuasive. Serbs and Croats speak the same language, America's bloodiest war was between sides which both spoke English, and worldwide, civil wars often include combatants who understand each other quite well, thank you - and that's the problem.  Is it worse when opponents also speak different languages? Perhaps. I might even say probably.  But mutual intelligibility is at best a percentage improvement, not a cure.

Does shared language improve scientific progress? It seems to have worked with Latin in Europe in the Middle Ages, and American science PhD's used to require facility in a language used in one's field, both for reading articles and interacting with peers in other countries. German and French were favored for this when I was in school, though Russian was popular in some fields.

Esperanto, that favorite of European idealists since the 19th C still has adherents. It looked like it was going to disappear after a century of mild success, but the internet has created a new community of speakers and writers. Still, the growth has not been explosive, as other communication changes related to the internet have been. While there are East Asians who learn it, it is going to attract few learners whose main language is not European and even Western European.  There are some Slavic elements, but it has largely Romance and Germanic foundations. If you originally speak Japanese, your effort is going into English, not Esperanto. It has a popularity among those who resent Americans and the domination of English on the international stage. But then, you have to take an artificial stand that you, Urdu-speaker, are going to side with the rest of Western Civilisation instead? Unlikely.

Interlingua, whatever its virtues, has very few users and is very heavily Western European.  There is no incentive for a speaker of Mandarin, Tamil, or any of the Arabics to learn it. Not gonna happen. There was also an invented language by a Swiss priest in the 19th C. Began with a "K," I think.* Never caught on anywhere.

So the constructed languages don't seemed to have achieved enough velocity for liftoff.

That leaves us with languages currently spoken, or simplified versions of them. French was the language of diplomacy and so known throughout the world and even favored in those places where English was hated. But French has faded. If the world were only the Western Hemisphere, some Spanish-Portuguese combo might win out over English and certainly French. But there is more to the world than that, much more. One might think that English-speakers would universally prefer that their own language remain the standard international language, but there is plenty of sentiment that it's just not fair, and symbolic of colonialism and capitalism and American hegemony and boy-we-hate-McDonalds-and-our-ugly-culture. Not that these folks are going out and learning Mandarin in any numbers, which would be the first credible alternative. They might know some nice European language to show their internationalist bona fides, but their advocacy for anything else is basically that schoolchildren should be made to learn whatever, because America is on it's way out, dammit, and we need to stick it to those Trumpsters and other jingoists. Anyway, it's the kids who will do that work, not them. Many (not all) who are anti-English because of cultural imperialism smuggle in Whorfian ideas, the belief that one's language influences or even dictates how one sees the world, also called The Language Hoax.

Because Mandarin, even though it starts with an enormous advantage of a billion speakers right out of the gate, is hard to learn.  It has tones, which are very difficult to even imitate, let alone master, if your ears did not start picking them up before age five. It is not like learning bad English or bad French, where your mispronunciations can be pieced together by natives. Mandarin is based on single syllables with varying tones, and getting the tone wrong does not mean you are saying "woman" badly, but another word entirely, multiple times in each sentence. Further, speakers of Indo-European languages in general, and very especially Americans, are used to non-native speakers butchering their language yet understanding them anyway.** 

More importantly, whether it's fair or not, English got in first, learning the languages of other people at least in part in order to trade, and teaching its own tongue at the same time. English is not just the language of airlines, but of travel in general, and most places like tourists even when they hate them. American culture has permeated the world. K-Pop, Bollywood, and other Asian popular expressions are on the rise, sure, but they are starting from so far back as to be nearly invisible. China will gain traction because of numbers alone.  They apparently already quietly influence Hollywood's choice in ways we seldom notice. 

There are simplified forms of English used internationally, such as ELF, Basic English, and Global English or Globish, which native speakers are not that familiar with. While supposedly aiming for a standard small-e english that can be understood by Magyars and Malagasys who have no other language in common, in practice each region develops its own versions. Not a terrible thing, I understand, as there is still a lot of intelligibility and it allows people to feel some control.

But doesn't English spelling ruin everything so much that it just has to fall into disfavor eventually? I recall as far back as elementary school reading SRA articles moaning about enough, cough, through, though, bough, thought. (Crazy spelling happened because literacy was becoming more widespread even before the printing press, and just as there were more people who could write things down in English, the Great Vowel Shift of the 15th-16th C occurred, rendering a lot of the spellings obsolete. Spellings change much more slowly than spoken language, and so are retained.) Yes, that's a problem. But it's not a problem of speech. In writing, we can suss out what someone means if they put it down phonetically.  Trust me on this.  My older Romanian son still doesn't spell well, but we can read his texts just fine. Spelling is a definite obstacle for an adult learner who wants to look like she knows what she's doing, but it is not an obstacle to understanding. Also, it is often overstated. Most words are phonetic, and even the ones which aren't are usually off on only one sound, with the rest being unimpaired.  The main disconnect is in stressed syllables, between how a word looks like it should be accented and how it actually is.

It's going to be English for a long time.

 *Volapuk. Close.

**The Soviet Union kicked this backwards a fair bit. As most movement was considered suspicious and internal travel generally discouraged - except for Russians needing to run stuff - the Slavic languages became more isolated, not less, despite the stated goals of unity.  And the Romanians and Moldovans, speaking the only Romance languages in the bunch were really screwed.

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Teaching Math

Quillette has an article It's Time to Start Treating High School Math Like Football, which has the premise that we should focus math resources on those who want to learn it, not require everyone to study it.  He makes the analogy to football, where we produce many excellent players year after year, even though we do not require everyone to play football in order to see how good they are at it. It's not a crazy idea, and has some good reasoning behind it.  But it is wrong.

Math is not taught because some huge percentage of us are going to use the knowledge side-angle-side can be used to prove that triangles are congruent, or that taking the derivative of an equation will reveal the changes in its slope. At levels beyond the simplest algebra and geometry, it is taught because it is abstract and each step depends on the one before it. We have the student build and demonstrate their ability to handle abstraction in a fairly narrow time span of a few years, to see how far they can rise before the material is beyond them and they struggle. It is useful as a measuring stick more than as an ability that will be required for adulthood.  Therefore, when a student has reached their limit in math and they cease taking it, we ask no further of them.  They are done, we have our answer.  The practical math of percentages, fractions, and statistics we continue to keep fresh because they will actually use those things. The remainder, no.

We don't have to use those specific types of math in the order that we have devised. We could design it differently, so long as the principle of increasing abstraction were maintained.  Heck, we would even have to use math if we used some other topic using similar amounts of abstract reasoning and facility. I am willing to be convinced there is something better than finding the area under a curve, already an arbitrary choice.  I just haven't seen anyone make a case for that.  When people advocate away from teaching abstract math, they invariably choose something of much lower abstraction, sometimes a skill that is entirely unrelated.  These are often very useful skills worth having and measuring, requiring perseverance or social skills, or popular but less-useful abilities such as the ability to parrot political cliches.

But not the same skill as math.  We are attempting to discover the ability to think abstractly and this is currently the best method we have.  Verbal analogies aren't bad, but not quite so efficient at this.

Reading the Forest Landscape

I read his book over 20 years ago and tried to put it to use, with some success, right away. I have a few stories from that, if anyone ever wanders the woods with me - though sometimes you can read the roadside landscape, even as you are driving past, once you know what to look for. 

I like the part about Jarvis smuggling 4000 Merino sheep out of Spain in the very early 19th C.  That doesn't sound easy.

I think folks will find it interesting even if this is not your area.  The basic principles behind looking at the landscape will apply in other places, even if the species and industries weren't the same. The closer you are to this area, the more sense this will make.  I think it should apply to a good deal of the Appalachias in general, at least through what the AT descriptions have for about halfway through VA heading south. Not the sheep and the walls, but the conversion of land from one use to another and how to look for that is a lot of fun.  I can attest that it is very satisfying to think you have detected something from the landscape and then find yourself proved right when you check up on the county maps and documents in the local library.

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Dialect Survey

I have written a few times on the large dialect survey which gets used by journalists at times to ooh and ahh over the fact that some places say soda, some say pop, and some say coke. (I come from one of the tiny areas that still has some people who say tonic, and did so myself as a child.  It comes from being the development and bottling leaders of many of the original beverages sold as medicines, or "nerve tonics," like Moxie.) It's fun when they use maps.

I went looking for the survey and the maps today, and they are no longer at the Harvard site, nor at the U Wisconsin-Milwaukee site.  I found the full survey here. The maps about the sweetened carbonated beverage is here. There is a similar but different survey here (no soda question!), with nice maps. Update your bookmarks accordingly.

Friday, February 11, 2022


Cassandra was cursed by the gods that her prophecies would always be correct, but that no one would believe her. 

Here's what freedom can and cannot do.  If there had been a stock market at the time, Cassandra could have shorted Trojan enterprises and made a fortune. However, she might have been killed by Clytemnestra anyway, unable to enjoy her gains.

I have stories about the play which I have bored my two older sons with too often, so you shall be spared them.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Rap, Culture, and Politics

One downside of podcasts in the truck versus radio or CD is the difficulty of changing if I decide I don't care for something. On the hit music podcast, I'm not much interested in the episodes after about 1977, except for occasional periods where my sons were following what was current and I listened in. I am especially not interested in Rap and Hip-Hop.  I recognise the names of the artists, seldom the music. But there I am, stuck with it until I pull over, and it is interesting to learn some things about changes in the music industry itself. 

It was decades ago, during a music plagiarism controversy around something or another, that I said in my frustration to my brother "There's the melody and the lyrics.  That's what a song is." He gave me an amused look, replying "I'm not sure everyone would agree with you about that." It is true that those elements have defined what a song is for more than a couple of centuries now, though some exceptions have occurred to me since. Yet I grant that other musical expressions might rely on other elements. Rock songs were sometimes formed almost entirely around a bass line or a set of power chords, with the melody being quite flexible, even from performance to performance. And how different is that, really, from the Pachelbel Canon, where it is the bass line which is most recognisable, even when it is moved to another style.

(Though the piece dates from the 17th C, it went out of fashion until it was revived in the late 60s.  This was one of the two pieces sometimes credited with restarting its popularity, until it shortly became the Yuppie National Anthem.) 

And as for the song being the thing, what are we then to make of the classical composers who took simple songs from the villages and made complicated arrangements of them?  Is that still the same song? It was done frequently by Bach, Dvorak...and Bartok.

Rap and Hip-Hop are built around the rhythms, both the electronic background and the verbal complexity. Whereas what I call a song has a more definite rhythmic lyrical style that is not the same as conversation, those forms are something halfway between poetry and conversation. There is internal rhyme, uneven syllables per beat, and other attributes that require cleverness.  I'm still not fond of it, but I can at least grant that it is something different from my definition, not an inadequate attempt to do the standard song. Apparently the black R&B stations were among the last of popular music to accept the new forms, as so much of that music is melody and harmony.

The lyrics have been controversial from the outset, and I have heard the arguments at a distance. But listening to cuts from a couple dozen of them back-to-back I get it even more. There is a strong element, not only in Gangsta Rap, of adherence to the street value of asserting dominance and dangerousness. I am a bad m-f-.  I do what I want. I used to see it in my patients who lived on the streets, who resisted all attempts to get them to abandon or even modify that attitude. To them, hypersensitivity to people disrespecting you is mere survival, and communicating your constant willingness to defend yourself is ultimately a form of aggression. The intense sexism is part of that. I do what I want to women.  I'm important and everyone lets me. It's part of the shtick. The celebration of mere pleasure is also part of that, which is how you get women from that culture echoing the same values.  I also do what I want.

I's not hard to see how kids of any race who have no intention of living like that themselves find it exciting to hear about. It's why people used to watch Westerns and war movies.

So much I essentially knew, though I doubt I could provide examples. This discussion has been in the air for 30-40 years. What surprised me was a second theme of victimhood. It is not at all incompatible with the antisocial assertion of power, which is in fact usually a response to feelings of having to fight back against an unfair world. Antisocial and Borderline Personality Disorders express this all the time. This looks like aggression, cheating, and stealing to you, but I'm just trying to get some of my own back. The expression of hardship, unfairness, and abandonment is much more constant in Rap and Hip-Hop than I knew. It's really hard living out here, and you people just don't get how dangerous this is. I've seen friends get killed. There is assertion like this about the music itself, as if rapping were the weapon being used to fight back. They won't play my kind of music. They don't want to listen to people like me.  But I'm better than them and stronger and I'm gonna make them listen. Rock has always had a similar chip on its shoulder, and country as well. Different styles of music are better at expressing certain attitudes. You can express defiance with some types of classical music, especially a defiant paganism (Wagner, Stravinsky). But it's harder to express anger, and harder still to express resentment.  

We seem to have any number of modern forms that have resentment down pat, don't we? Folk protest does it as well. You can't do wistfulness with rap. When bluegrass does resentment, as in "Fox on the Run," it still doesn't sound resentful. Gee, maybe disco has more going for it than I thought.  Little resentment there, either.  

We have deplored the violence and sexism of rap and hip-hop lyrics, but maybe the resentment and victimhood have been the bigger problem all along. A lot of people, including especially African-Americans, look at this and say "Well, then move.  It's possible. You don't have to live like this." But reasons for staying even in bad places are hard to eliminate, and a whole generation - or two - has absorbed a narrative of victimhood and resentment that impedes movement and improvement. Why bother? You ain't gonna make it anyway. And you can be one of the authentic people here. Not like those others who don't get it.

Yeah, you could move.  But when drugs or making money from drugs are involved you want to stay where that is. And once you have the basic street skills, you aren't so sure you could get food and shelter, have friends or partners, or have any status somewhere else. This is what a lot of black churches are trying to provide, another way to have importance or meaning on the streets. We're back to Chris Anrade's Dignity again, aren't we?

Wednesday, February 09, 2022

Wordle and Dordle

Our fantasy football league text thread seems to have become a Wordle-sharing thread instead. I was not interested in playing at first but in discussing strategy: is it better to gather data with two opening words of common letters or just one? Is it better to get the vowels first, with ADIEU*, or get common consonants with LATER/SONAR or best to go in-between with ORATE? We went through the steps of listing the most common letters, then adjusting it for most common letters in 5-letter words, then adjusting again for the letters in the list of what has come out so far? We learned, for example, that while the words that are plural nouns ending in S or verb-forms ending in S (COMES) are usable as guesses, he doesn't use them as answers, pushing S down the most-common list. It is easier to get the vowels, because it is a limited list, but those are usually less helpful in getting the answer.  If you've got three consonants you are pretty much home. It's a tradeoff.

As I used to be a puzzle maker, I had a theory that he would mix it up, taking care not to repeat letters immediately. This turned out to be untrue.  In fact, he will go 3-4 days in a row using somewhat similar letters, then break entirely and go with complete turnovers for a few days. Recently, one of the best first guesses would have been the previous day's word, PLEAT, which would have given you three letters, two in exact spots, on your way to ALOFT. Heckuva start.

Then someone brought in Dordle which requires similar strategies but with important differences.  A few articles out there on strategy are just crap. I have different strategies for each, and sometimes go off script from my favorite starter words to another one, just for the difference. My overall strategy is to focus on one word until I get it, then finish with the second word, rather than trying to juggle both at once.

I don't know how long this will fascinate. It does get fun when odd things happen, as yesterday when one son got three in perfect spot to open, then had guesses 2-4 show no improvement, getting it on the 5th guess. I went one worse with the same opening (we have similar first guesses most days), and it took me 6 to get to the correct word, zipping in two wrong letters repeatedly. Others had similar frustration, but not as dramatically as we did.

*Notice that ADIEU also tests indirectly for O.  If you sense there must be another vowel needed, it is better than 50-50 likely O.  It could be Y or a repeat of a vowel you already have, so you keep that in the back of your mind.  But you can zip in an O in your mental comparisons with some success.