Thursday, March 31, 2022

Cognitive Biases

 Hat Tip to The Barrister over at Maggie's Farm

List of Common Cognitive Biases. We have covered many, perhaps all of these here over the years. It's so easy when it is someone else. I have included examples as we went along, and commenters have supplied even more, usually better than mine. As with playing cards in Vegas and "If you don't know who the pigeon is in fifteen minutes, you're the pigeon," if you don't think that it's you being described,  it's you.

#1. The confirmation bias is the tendency to listen more often to information that confirms our existing beliefs. Through this bias, people tend to favor information that reinforces the things they already think or believe.


"There were no significant effects of ivermectin use on secondary outcomes or adverse events."

I'm sorry, this study from NEJM can't possibly be true.  It agrees with what the "so-called-experts" have been saying for over a year, and we know they can't be right.

I think we got it right here a few months ago.  Ivermectin treats the things it was always known to treat quite well.  Those were all diseases that would make getting covid an even bigger problem, sometimes killing you. Therefore, when you threw out the fraudulent studies and corrected as well as possible for the wildly different treatment parameters in the meta-analysis and still had a little ivermectin effect, there was a simple explanation.  That was, of course, rejected. Ivermectin was a good medicine to use in countries that high rates of those parasites, diseases, and conditions that ivermectin works on, because fixing those things made it easier for your body to fight off covid. 

In countries with those things under control, it helped not at all.

Will Smith Update from the Babylon Bee


Get Out and Get Under

Joke Telling

Grim's comment under "Talking Dog" put me in a nostalgic place* and reminded me of my father's advice that to remember a joke it was important to tell it again immediately. He was the best joke teller that I knew, and I used to go down to his grave site on Father's Day every year and tell him a few. I worried it might look alarming to those living near the cemetery and someone might come and inquire or even call the police. My youngest brother assured me that they were friends of his and once they (or the police) knew the story Al Wyman's son, telling him jokes?  Yeah, you're good.  What were the jokes? 

I mentioned this also to my next-younger brother, along with my shame that I wasn't telling them well, neither the ones I told back to him that he told me nor the new material I brought.  He grinned at me "Telling jokes requires working off an audience." 

I nodded. "Yeah, Al wasn't giving me a lot back."

*This is not true. I am rather permanently in a nostalgic place now. You'd think I had an actual good childhood or something.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Cross-Cultural Anti-Gay Sentiment

There was North American data suggesting that there was a correlation between anti-gay attitudes and germophobia and disgust, but now there is new information from a broader range.  The person tweeting out the news, Lyman Stone, does acknowledge that the polled sample is still university students, even if it is cross-cultural.  So that is a possible weakness.

I have quoted Stone before about covid issues.  He identifies in this discussion that it is not germ phobia, but pro-fecundity that seems to be the driving force underneath, with the disgust being a correlate from the same source, not a cause in itself.  He is a statistician completing his PhD studying fecundity. The discussion is not that long, but there are a few places you might have to double back to make sure you understand what is being claimed.

Speaking of English...

The standard explanation, which you will pick up from any textbook on the subject, is that English came to the British Isles in the 5th C, based mostly on the language of the Angles, but including the very similar languages of the Saxons, Jutes, and Frisii, all of whom were invading - or migrating, being invited as mercenaries, trading from temporary quarters; the usual mix at the time - starting in the 400's, responding to the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the north and subsequent power vacuum.  As a side note, you will find all sorts of dates for the collapse of the empire. Closer to Rome it looked more like a transfer of power to a new tribes with only slow effect.  But in the north, especially Britain, the deterioration of order and the collapse of the economies was visible within a single lifetime in the 5th C.

There are now those who claim that some version of Proto-English, or at least some West Germanic relative, was spoken in England before that. The Belgae, who were prominent in England when Caesar arrived in 55 BC, claimed to have Germanic ancestry. That may have also been a "we're really warlike" claim. So...maybe spoke a Germanic language? Though there is no positive evidence for that language part.

It would not be surprising, as tribes moved back and forth across the channel for thousands of years before that.  Moving by water was still easier than by land beyond a few miles. We can now see a lot of genetic sharing in the area, enough that the commercial DNA companies cannot well differentiate between East Anglian and Low Countries ancestry. My wife's DNA shows nothing from the Netherlands, though her mother was conceived there, of two Dutch parents whole lines we can trace further back. My DNA profile shows only a little East Anglian, assigning my SNPs to many nearby places in England.  Yet I can trace plenty of my Mayflower side back into East Anglia and then a few centuries further, just there. It isn't ridiculous. There just isn't that much difference among them more than 1000 years back. Who moved in and who moved out, who got overrun and who did the overrunning, who have traits gradually fall out of the pool - the similarity is greater than the difference. 

Yet possibility that a thing could happen is not evidence that it did. There is little written evidence, and that from outsiders.  This is before even the runic alphabet. Place-names have often been looked to to offer some evidence. The controversial Theo Venneman builds his theory of finding hints of a pre-Brittonic language he calls Vasconic from European toponyms. I am told that this practice is applied more generally for more conventional reasons by other historical linguists. Toponyms are often very old words in a place, and even when they have the appearance of the prevailing modern language, can be shown to be based on an earlier word that got repurposed from the old language to the new. That "avon" means "river" is an illustration of that.  Not to mention Danube.

Here's a fun clip from the BBC about a decade ago. 

We would need other evidence, or a good deal more of this. The DNA split in the eastern vs western halves of England is well-known, and as the idea grows more solid that the 5th C and onward "Anglo-Saxon" invasion was more a replacement of elites than a wholesale population replacement, it would provide a plausible explanation for the existence of something like English before that time. Still, it's not actual evidence, only an undermining of some of the previous theories.

The books mentioned near the end, Stephen Oppenheimer's The Origins of the British  and M J Harper's The History of Britain Revealed: The Shocking Truth About the English Language are still quite available.   Harper's is reportedly funny but insulting to the stodgy academics who refuse to accept his findings. Oppenheimer is more respectable and probably more reliable.  We all like the idea of the maverick who puts the other experts to shame and eventually wins the day, and from what I can see, Harper is right, at least about the generations of linguists before this one, that the experts are a pissy, vindictive bunch.  The name Noam Chomsky comes to mind, for example. But pointing out that they probably would reject someone with a new theory even if it were correct doesn't provide any evidence that you and your theory in particular are correct.  It is an obvious truth when one states it that way, yet it is frequently overlooked in popular culture.  No, I lied.  It is always overlooked in popular culture, and the guy or gal with the new explanation, shouted down by the toffs and bucking the odds, is automatically believed by an unfortunate percentage of the populace. 

When the Romans arrived in 55 BC Tacitus doesn't describe the language as more like the Germanic peoples than the others Celtic ones about, as Oppenheimer claims. (Though I have heard that claim elsewhere and don't know the Tacitus passage in question, so be wary of my claim there.) 

Anyway, fun stuff, and interesting where it goes from here. As it is more than a decade beyond the information I give here, there may be news that hasn't reached me out here in the colonies.

English As She Is Spoke

The book is remarkably recent, 19th C, when plenty of printed material would have been available and plenty of people who spoke Portuguese who had actually been to England (or America or Canada). Yet someone thought Pedro Carolino's book English As She Is Spoke valuable enough to print it or buy it. He clearly does not speak English, yet confidently assures his readers that such constructions are not only accurate, but better than what they would find elsewhere, as they capture current idiomatic speech. 

 Degrees of kindred.
The gossip
The quater-grandfather
The gossip mistress
The quater-grandmother
The nurse
A guardian
An guardian
A relation
An relation
A widower
An widow

Familiar Phrases
Go to send for.
Have you say that?
Have you understand that he says?
At what purpose have say so?
Put your confidence in my.
At what o'clock dine him?
Apply you at the study during that you are young.
Dress your hairs.
Sing an area.
These apricots and these peaches make me and to come water in the mouth.
How do you can it to deny?
Wax my shoes.
This is that I have think.
That are the dishes whose you must be and to abstain.
This meat ist not too over do.
This ink is white.
This room is filled of bugs.
This girl have a beauty edge.

 The walk.
Will you and take a walk with me?
Wait for that the warm be out.
Go through that meadow. Who the country is beautiful! who the trees are thick!
Take the bloom's perfume.
It seems me that the corn does push alredy.
You hear the bird's gurgling?
Which pleasure! Which charm!
The field has by me a thousand charms.
Are you hunter? will you go to the hunting in one day this week?
Willingly; I have not a most pleasure in the world. There is some game on they cantons?
We have done a great walk.

Yes we have indeed done  a great walk to get here, haven't we? A PDF of the whole work here.

Mark Twain wrote a later introduction to it, marveling at the perfectness of its nonsense. "...nobody can imitate it successfully, nobody can hope to produce its fellow; it is perfect, it must and will stand alone: its immortality is secure." And -

Many persons have believed that this book's miraculous stupidities were studied and disingenuous; but no one can read the volume carefully through and keep that opinion. It was written in serious good faith and deep earnestness, by an honest and upright idiot who believed he knew something of the English language, and could impart his knowledge to others. The amplest proof of this crops out somewhere or other upon each and every page. There are sentences in the book which could have been manufactured by a man in his right mind, and with an intelligent and deliberate purposes to seem innocently ignorant; but there are other sentences, and paragraphs,which no mere pretended ignorance could ever achieve—nor yet even the most genuine and comprehensive ignorance, when unbacked by inspiration.

I am inordinately proud of the fact that I immediately thought of both The Bald Soprano (Ionesco's  play based on learning a language from Assimil conversation texts, including such after-dinner conversation as "But still, the soup was perhaps a little too salt. It was saltier than you. Ha, ha, ha. It also had too may leeks and not enough onions. I regret I didn’t advise Mary to add some aniseed stars. The next time I’ll know better") and Monty Python's The Dirty Hungarian Phrasebook ("my hovercraft is full of eels"), both of which were mentioned in the Wiki.  So we are all on the same page here.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Talking Dogs

 If Pluto is a dog, then what is Goofy? Can cartoon dogs talk or not? What would it be like if Goofy was the owner of Pluto and tried...never mind.

It reminds me of the joke about the talking dog, of course. A man is walking past a bar, and sees a dog sitting quietly out front with a sign that says "Talking Dog $10." He stops and asks "Are you really a talking dog?

The dog sighs "Yeah, I've been a talking dog all my life. It's led to some interesting times.  I taught myself to understand several languages, and got hired by the CIA. They'd bring me along for high-level discussions all over the world.  And no one suspects the dog, right?  I'd listen in to what they were saying when they thought no one understood and report back.

"But I got tired of the travel and the pressure, so I came here and took a job at the airport listening in for terrorists and smuggling.  It was a good life, really, but the hours were terrible.  So I got a severance package and settled down with a wife and some puppies here in the city."

The man goes in and says to the bartender "I saw the sign for the talking dog."  The bartender, looking annoyed, says "Yeah, you want him?"  The man says "I don't know, but is he really only $10?"

"Yep, he is."

"But this is amazing! Why so cheap?"

"Because he's a liar.  He's never done any of that shit."

Will Smith Opinion

The story and video came to me on a fantasy football text thread.  I developed an immediate opinion.  I got more information and reversed my opinion. Then I got even more information yesterday afternoon and went back to something like my first opinion.

At no time has it mattered what my opinion is.  We just have them.

I have wondered whether women have found this gallant, frightening, or ridiculous. Women are not identical, so presumably there are many opinions, some mixed. I don't know what we would do with such information or whether it matters.

Monday, March 28, 2022

Testing Controversial Ideas Objectively

The recent Quillette article on the subject of Stephen Kershmar positing a discussion whether any adult-child sexual relationships might be permissible, as a philosophical exercise to examine what our ethics are actually based on, is interesting to me in a narrow way.  I am not much interested in the philosophical discussion. I'm comfortable with a peremptory "After a few minutes thought I can't come up with any realistic ones and I don't see bothering myself with the subject further. Speculations on 'But what if you were on a space colonisation mission' or whatever don't interest me." I can see why people who wrestle with ideas like "what are the foundations of our values about agency and choice" might be interested, but I'm not.

What I do have to add is that I am not surprised at the depth of anger at the response to the issue even coming up. I worked with sex offenders throughout my career, and during some years they were a constant part of my caseload.  I have watched trained professionals become unwired and unable to keep some fairly simple principles in mind that they have no trouble attending to in other areas. It was common to treat with some contempt a patient's legal efforts to show that it was not proven that any crime had even occurred or that he had been the one to commit it.  While it is true that railroading someone is uncommon, however much it is a favorite of movies and advocacy groups, sex offenses and the gruesome forms of violence are more likely to attract this. Prosecutors and even judges can get caught up the idea that "Well someone has to be punished, because this was a really terrible crime. We can't have it just sit empty with no justice for the family." I can only remember one where I came to seriously question whether any crime had actually taken place, and maybe one or two others where I thought there was a good chance our patient was actually innocent, but I remember counting up half a dozen at one point where I felt that ordinary standards of proof had not been met.

In a smaller way, inaccurate beliefs about what occurred and false details about the crime becoming widely believed was actually common. I was at times unpopular for being the spoilsport who kept pointing out that no, we don't know there were other victims that night that just weren't reported, or no, he didn't make his daughter watch, or no, he hadn't stalked his victim for years and tried to set him on fire when they were in high school. At times I wondered if it were almost automatic that false beliefs would attach to those cases. People would regularly assert knowledge of motive without there being evidence for it. Rumors that "he had said to a therapist once..." would spring up with the sex offense and gruesome violence cases more often than others. It seems part of our storymaking automaticity, that we can't leave some spaces blank, saying "We don't know."

Just as an addition:  Cancellation seems to be very much part of the current academic and journalism environments. Many forms of entertainment as well. It was less an issue but still prominent at my hospital.  Are there fields where it is quite a bit less common?

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Simple Geometry

 The men's retreat I was at this weekend is on a small lake -

Let me note in passing that the last men's retreat I went to was in the early 1990s and I will not be going again -

- a runner asked how far around it was.  I was about to answer "2.7 miles" when the director answered from across the room: "It is 2.58 miles on the inside of the road and 2.74 miles on the outside." That seemed an unusual level of precision until I remembered that they have short triathlons for the youth campers every summer, swimming something around 0.3 mile, then circling the lake running once and bicycling it twice. For that, one does need some precision.  I had reached my total by pacing it of in OCD fashion in a previous year, walking counterclockwise and thus on the outside of the road.  So it seemed about right.

Because we are usually looking at a 440 yd/400m track for measured events most of the time, and moving to the outside lane is usually brief, the difference is usually disregarded except for the sprints or the first lap at most. We know that passing on the curve means running a little farther, but it is negligible.  But it adds up quickly, doesn't it?  0.16 mile is a big deal in a timed event.

State Covid Deaths Vs Excess Mortality

Because she posts so infrequently, her contributions every month or two slip down on the sidebar quickly.  But statistician Bsking at Graph Paper Diaries has an update on the topic. She takes local information and shows how it applies in a larger context.

It’s amazing to think that in the top states one out of every 200 people who was alive at the beginning of the pandemic is now an excess death. As always, that’s in addition to those expected to die anyway.

West Virginia and South Carolina were not doing well, but suddenly did much worse recently. The numbers creep down nationwide, with a few pockets looking worse, some other s still a problem, but most places in the US better. 

I really wanted to believe Dr. John Campbell (UK) when he said a month ago that the pandemic would "end" 2/24/22. I knew he meant it was the point at which everything finally went down for good, not the spot where all death stopped, but I still hoped to see a bright line in the data.  Guess not.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Expansionist, Genocide

 Glenn Loury had a guest, a liberal academic that he treated as a fair opponent of good will based on previous disputes, to discuss American involvement in Ukraine. He thought it was a good time to re-evaluate America as the superpower, enforcing its will on the world. That sounded worth listening to, if perhaps a little overused. After all, if you keep bringing something up but it doesn't happen, you have some justification bringing it up again.* So I was willing to go a long way, I thought, partly on the basis of Loury's vote of confidence and partly because I have some agreement with the premise - though I doubted it was going to be entire.

In his opening statement he claimed that America has always been expansionist, and my mind immediately contradicted him.  I have heard this before. Do you remember how Lexington, KY got its name?  Yes, it was in honor of the battle of Lexington, MA. The few guys in what later became Kentucky had just gotten there.  You couldn't call it settled. So that is 400 miles inland in 160 years, still wilderness. It took a long time for the original colonies to expand even naturally and organically that much. And no one, absolutely no one, was saying "Let's see how much of this land we can conquer and make everyone in it obey us." If an algae covers a lake we don't say that it is expansionist in that sense, even though it has expanded. We just call it successful in its environment. Words have actual meanings, not just things you can try to slip by the unwary. Europeans did take land. In our current framing we think of it as taking it "from" natives who were generally in the area. Some of the European actions were very much "taking it from" in that way. A lot of it wasn't. A lot of it was unused, or ceded cooperatively, or purchased. I mention that only to defend against the expected false dichotomy of "Oh, so you approve of stealing all that land?" I shouldn't have to, but it's going to be out there. There wan't much thought about expansion per se. As population grew, people went out to the edges looking for where they might settle.  That is expanding, yes. Like an algae patch. More in a moment.

The speaker just two sentences later used the phrase genocide of native people, which is even a worse abuse of language. Genocide has an actual meaning. In all of American history you won't find people advocating that we simply kill all the natives. At worst, you hear a few think it might be a good idea if it happened, and that only much later. Contempt, oppression, advantage-taking - all those are up for discussion, and the Europeans will have much they can be blamed for. But genocide is simply a deeply inaccurate term. 90% of the New World population that died did so from the European diseases. Many of the next cut were killed by other natives, sometimes because they had harnessed new introductions from Europe (the horse likely more important than the gun), sometimes because they perceived a neighboring tribe as weak or weakened, sometimes to punish fellow tribesmen or neighbors for adopting European ways. That's horrible, tragic, and would not have happened without the arrival of Europeans.  But it's not genocide. 

Some things down the road do turn expansionist. But Manifest Destiny was what, 250 years after settlement, and not even universally supported? America wanted control of trade, especially in our own hemisphere, but was still isolationist up until late in WWI and immediately reverted to that after. We pushed people around in order to get good trading deals.  You can hate that, but it's not really expansionist. So too with the deaths of natives. It is only late in the day that you start hearing "the only good Indian is a dead Indian." (That phrase does not mean quite what it sounds like, but it's close enough, and that's a story for another day.) Even then, aggression against natives is piecemeal, related to local advantages. It's not genocide, even at its worst.

This misuse of terms right out of the gate is important because it is a tactic, and an intellectually unfair one.  the speaker is attempting to set the opponent in a defensive position by bringing in false dichotomies to make him respond to, or have to pass over and tacitly accept. It's dishonest. It means that right off the bat you are dealing with a dishonest opponent.

And you turn off the podcast there, less than two minutes in, even though you know he likely has some valuable things to say.  Because you know you can't trust him.

*You also have some obligation to look and see if you have missed something important, either in your analysis or your persuasion. Yet that is separate.

Thursday, March 24, 2022


That has been a lot of text to get here this week, eh?  Of course, you are seeing it in blog order so you aren't tired of all that text and looking for a break like I am.  You will get sick of that text later, and right now are wondering why I am leading with some comedian.

I've never heard of her.  She might be famous.  She's been in a movie and there are lots of videos of her, so I'm figuring it's just me being clueless about popular culture. But I like her. Female comedians now seem to gravitate to the humor of "Nice Girl Saying Outrageous Things About Sex." As I have seen the early work of a few who didn't start that way, I have to think that the audiences push them that way over time. Women are not allowed the full range of topics that men are, maybe?  On the other hand, they are free agents choosing what it is they do.  I can't watch most of them anymore. I'm going through a comedians binge this month, something new for me, and I recommend Dry Bar for clean comedy, male and female.

Maybe it isn't new. Maybe this is a cultural tendency of many years.  Joan Rivers would joke about being risque and sexy and misbehaving, but the context was always telling you about how those other women were tramps. If you take those jokes away from her, is what is left funny? Maybe it's mostly standup where this is an issue.  The physical comedy of Lucille Ball or Penny Marshall wasn't sexual. When I tire of the modern crew I'll have to go looking for female standup from 30+ years ago.

Europe: Was It Ever Really Christian?

Europe: Was It Ever Really Christian?  by Anton Wessels. Something must be missing about this book stylistically, because I really had to fight my way through most of it, even though the subject matter interests me. Wessels is a Dutch professor, and I can't quite suss him out theologically. I thought throughout that he is heterodox in some way, but could not put my finger on it.  I decided not to research who the gent is until the end, so that I could let the book stand or fall on its own, without prejudicing my view of him.

I will not go on at great length. The book has value, but I don't think enough value to take up that much of my time, or yours. He notes that Europe has fallen off in its Christian practice and become in need of (re)-evangelism. Perhaps, he speculates, we should look at how it was evangelised the first time to see if there are any useful lessons. An interesting idea, yes. He starts from the ideas of Mircea Eliade the 20th C Romanian religious phenomenologist, who believed that Christianity had succeeded the first time, not by suppressing the pagan religions as they encountered them, but by by adopting their images and myths and elevating them, transforming them into something Christian. I have some attraction to the idea, as it fits with the CS Lewis idea that the other religions of the world are not 100% wrong, but find their completion in Christ - a similar though not identical idea.

Briefly, Wessels divides the book into three parts and catalogues how in the encounter with Graeco-Roman thought and mythology, the Church sometimes forbade and suppressed where it could, sometimes reinterpreted what was on the ground, and found itself influenced by both the high philosophy and the primitive superstitions of that world. I detected that Anton seemed to take some pleasure in pointing out that items we might suppose were fully Christian in our day were actually pagan in origin. Well, it is fun, and if Eliade is correct it is only what we would expect.  But may antennae went up.

He then describes what happened in the encounter with the Celtic, especially Irish pagans. He stresses how those customs were deeply tied to nature worship, especially regarding the sun and fertility.  Also, there was a tradition of traveling about the world to grow spiritually, to become detached from nation and family and become holy through trials and self-denial. In this world the resurrected Christ was understood more easily than the suffering Christ - the circle on the solar cross that is the Celtic cross derives from the sun. Again, we have that refrain of "you didn't know that, did you, that these Christians things were originally pagan?" I still thought it was mostly humorous, because much of it was information I had encountered before. If he was having sport with me, I chuckled in return that he had some overlap with those fundamentalists and odd sects that thunder about the pagan origins of all our holidays in order to forbid them.  But still, he's not wrong, and I did pick up a fair bit of new stuff. As with the Greek and Roman philosophers, if you like that sort of digging in to see where paganism rubbed up against the faith and was both transformed by it but was also transformed and elevated itself, there is plenty of information here. As before, the Church did a fiar bit of forbidding and suppressing of anything pagan, though not very successfully. The technique of destroying a temple or sacred grove and declaring that no harm would come to the destroyer because he had the more powerful god was a common tactic.  It was quite effective.

I should note here that I found him flat wrong about prehistory in a few places, but he seemed to at least be accurate about written sources.  He spends a fair bit of time on Arthur and his tie-ins to Celtic paganism, most of which was not new to me.  But I may not be a fair audience for that, having read a fair bit about him over the decades.  Also, the book was originally written in Dutch and seems to be aimed at Europeans in general, so much of it might be new to that audience.

By the time he gets to the Germanic pagans he is running parallel and at the same speed as those old fundies I recall reading.  Even the name Yule is pagan and it's still being used!  Odin had an eight-legged horse and flew through the sky for the solstice!  Get it?  Eight legs, eight reindeer? Chimney, presents, holy trees?  Much of the third section is taken up with this, and by that time I was no longer charmed.  Again, if you like digging out the amusing - or infuriating and embarrassing - pagan origins of Christmas in particular, Wessels has collected a lot of it here. The Scandinavians were the last to convert and held on to their paganism the longest. Swedes celebrating Luciafest is not a revival of charming old ethnic customs, it is quite continuous and was taken quite seriously until fairly recently, when Scandinavians stopped believing in Christianity and paganism both. 

He also spends a lot of time on the sagas, and how the type of Christ that was preached and most successful in the Germanic lands was the tribal leader of warriors who will conquer in the end, making him sort of the same as Balder and the gods, but also better, because this guy wins! The idea of obedience to said leader is also described as especially German.  I am less convinced of that, but ...maybe.  It is aset of explanations I have heard before, and they're not wrong.  But it is more than a bit oversimple.

In the last section he asks what could go wrong about trying to again embrace the pagan myths and transforming them in Europe and spends a great deal of time illustrating how the Nazis burrowed in deeply to German paganism and even succeeded in corrupting the Christian church thereby. Lots of examples of where and how this happened.  So he warns us away from this - and then not.  He doubles back and then asks again if we are quite careful, could we not embrace Celtic pagan nature-emphasis again, and allow ourselves to be re-influenced, and thus have the Church become leaders in care of the earth? What about all those nice things said about peace that have their echo in some of the Greeks?  Couldn't we go back to that again and become really peace-y?

You see where this is going, and was in fact going all along in the book, though I didn't see it coming. It is not that there is nothing to be said for these ideas, it's just that they are fairly trite by now and needn't be brought out breathlessly. There are already debates about this, with some refuting that these should be Christian emphases while others insisting that this is where the Church should be going. I decided that the book has a lot of very good information about the interaction of Christianity and the paganism in place in the areas of Europe.  It makes a good case for Eliade's idea that adopting and transforming the symbols encountered is the way to go in evangelism. Beyond that, the thinking is shallow.

D&D for Arithmetic Nerds

I was going to say "math nerds," but that would imply too much complexity.

It occurred to me, not quite out of nowhere last night, that there were a few serious limitations in Dungeons & Dragons that were easily fixable. It's a bit late forty years later, but I thought those who had once played the game might be interested. I never involved myself in the discussion of combat limitations. People who had experienced actual combat would shudder at the game's ridiculousness, even allowing for the great difference in weapons.  So also those who had studied Medieval or Ancient combat and tried to fit those realities into a fantasy game.  It always struck me as unsolvable. If a fantasy game gets too far away from reality it becomes simply silly and unbelievable. Yet if it attempts to imitate real life too closely it becomes a boring game - though I suppose an interesting reality. This would occur in Society For Creative Anachronism events as well - the fencing master of Cambridge would routinely be elimiated almost immediately no matter what style of combat was adopted - and modern fencing is not that close to even the highly symbolic medieval combats anyway. Such combat has to be both real and not-real.

But the difficulties that occurred to me were primarily game difficulties, not reality problems. In the basic game, characters choose one of four types of role: fighter, thief, magic-user cleric. Characters are created according to dice rolls, which are conducted in full view.  If the thought is that the entire party should have a clear idea what resources are available right from the outset that makes a sort of sense.  Yet it makes for a rather impossible set of backstories, of people announcing to strangers in a pub that they've got a magical ability or an ability to pick locks, or that they have been given a magical map or whatever.  Campaigns usually compensated by beginning shortly after the real beginning, of players who already knew each other a bit for reasons of varying plausibility.

Yet if one wants to be a thief or especially an assassin, one might not want to tell everyone about it right out of the gate. At early levels, what one is aspiring to be might not be obvious, and we wouldn't actually know the dexterity or intelligence of the others until we had seen them in action a bit. Why not start the story with less information. Let it be puzzling who the thief is when small items go missing.  Let the magic user pretend to figure things out by spinning some tale rather than revealing he has some power of divination. That seems more realistic - which I have already mentioned is probably a false ideal anyway - but it just seems more fun. 

The disguise can be more easily kept up with a little arithmetic. The volumes beyond the introductory models discuss being a mixed character, half thief, half fighter, or categories such as bard or paladin that have mixed requirements by nature.  Why should that be spelled out at the top of your character sheet where all can see? It would be tedious for the manuals to put up charts for all the possible combinations. But for DMs who are comfortable playing with numbers, it is not a big deal to do some extra calculations at the outset for your elf who wants to be 20% thief/20% fighter/60% magic user. You have to make some judgement calls about dice rolls for each, but splitting the difference at the outset and making a private chart known only to player and DM isn't going to be that hard.

Why should the rest of the party know that your dagger is +3? They are going to watch you score a bit more often and/or a bit more damage than expected on a dice roll, but figuring that out would be what would have to happen in a story as well. Hmm. That guy either has a lot more strength or dexterity than he looks, or there's something special about that particular dagger. It's a fun part of the story.  A party flying blind about each other at the outset creates a nightmare to describe in a manual, but no real math beyond arithmetic is needed, and plenty of DMs are also people who like arithmetic. I got given a new introductory set for Christmas - the game has been an addiction for me in the past and I had boxes of notes with designed adventures that were never played, including dozens of characters. A whole city, in one case. Multiple countries with regions and governments.  All gone now.  (I did learn that it is best not to put too much into any of them unless they start getting involved in the adventure somehow, such as a particular innkeeper, blacksmith, or hermit. Just have some loose characteristics lying about in your head or scribbled on paper and attach them to the new NPC as you see fit in the moment.) I looked questioningly at the son who gave me the box, as he was a later player and knows how long the material sat unused. He grinned and tilted his head in the direction of his daughters, 14 and almost 11.

I still haven't opened the box. Maybe soon. I do wonder if they are allowed to keep it secret from each other if all players elect to be a thief.  Could be fun.  The first item will be to hold firm with the cat-obsessed granddaughter that she cannot be even 1% feline in any way.

...And She Retired To a Monastery...

It's not what we would think about that today, and as I just ran across the line and remembered that we misinterpret that in our age, I figured it was a good time to do a moment of instruction.

It came in relation to the life of Cynethryth, wife of King Offa of Mercia. History has either regarded her as quite wonderful or quite terrible, with a large dose of "are we talking about the same person?" thrown in for good measure.  Late 8th C. She eventually retired to become abbess of the monastery at Cookham after the death of Offa.

It sounds like some combination of a quiet contemplative life, a method of getting out of the way of any poisoning or swordplay around the succession, and a way to become beloved in memory. It was, in fact, the opposite. Monasteries were more like the center of the action. It was, after the court of the monarch itself, where the art, music, literature, science, and general learning were. Because they were hospitals/guesthouses visitors from abroad would often end up there. Religious orders had networks throughout Europe and exchanged information, including practical information like animal husbandry, crop varieties and farming methods, knowledge of fruit trees, vineyards, beekeeping - everything.  Many monasteries specialised in elite goods, such as fine woolens, embroidery and lacemaking.  Think tapestries, as an example.

Taking herself to a nunnery took her out of consideration of someone trying to move in and marry her in hopes of improving his position for some land.  But moving in with a group of people who had education and power of their own was a sign that she would have advisors and allies. She would therefore not be easy to take advantage of.  She would still be a force in terms of marrying off her children, siblings, and extending out to other relatives and nobility depending on her skill and authority.  She could move freely and be used for negotiations. Think Bene Gesserit in Dune.  

I don't mean to imply that this was purely secular and did not involve genuine piety.  This of course varied, but much of it was genuine. To "retire" in such a way was to move out of the day-to-day of the running of the country, but thinking about the eternal and thinking about what is long-term is easily confused even in our own day. People want to leave legacies for their church, or their denomination, or a type of charity, or a religious college, just as they might for their town, their nation, or an art gallery. Dividing neatly in those religious legacies between what is eternal and what is for posterity is easy to do in theory, but not quite so in practice.  We all have trouble thinking much beyond our grandchildren. (Unless you don't have descendants, in which case "causes" affecting people a thousand years from now seem about the same as those affecting them in only a century.)  

Some clearly did set their sites on things eternal. Some had a version of "long-term" that did not extend much beyond the power of their family into the next generation.  Most were in between, as would be now.

The Dawn of Everything

Anthropologist David Graeber and archaeologist David Wenfrow have written The Dawn of Everything, one of those recent books that upends a lot of what we thought we knew about prehistory. They seem to have the sorts of personalities that want to rethink and upend, but much of this is driven by the expanding archaeological discoveries that don't fit the old models of hunter-gatherers, foragers, villagers, agriculture, etc. Things that are supposed to be there according to our theory are conspicuously absent. There are long academic tussles about such things at all times, often not any better or any more polite than our discussions about vaccine data. I have heard that the topical sides of these debates have grown more congenial, even as the political angles deteriorate in condemnations.  It does make one wonder whether there is some sort of conservation-of-discord in all individuals and societies, in that when one argument goes away we automatically just slip into another.  

We make assumptions going in, and they give an explanation of where those assumptions grew up and why we should discard them now. You can read about what is upended in general at the Amazon link above, but following Patrick Wyman, I would like to spend just a bit of time looking at our assumptions about the development of the state and how we might rethink the whole affair. I will be sprinkling in thoughts of my own as we go. It will be filtered by how well I understood the material, if nothing else. 

Because there are levels of organisation in the societies we have long studied in the Mediterranean and adjacent areas, there was a list - or more appropriately a variety of lists which included features such as fixed location, hierarchy, accumulation of surplus, development of writing.  I think V Gordon Childe's list for "civilisation" got up to ten characteristics. But over time we come across sophisticated groups that move seasonally (if this seems strange, think of the term "winter palace."  We have had remnants up to our own time). The Indus Valley Civilisation does not seem to have been hierarchical. Some rearguard action occurs among academics who claim that we have not ruled it out and it may simply have been in a form that we don't recognise. Perhaps not everyone has more lavish burials for elites after all. That is true, but you would think something would have shown up by now. Not all advanced groups have had writing. This one has long been a bother, but it also very much bothers some anthropologists. Some will not grant the designation of "state" if writing is not present.

Chinese societies have long been studied, though we have not known of much of it. But archaeology is new, and China has the additional difficulty of insisting on various events as true which are...not true. It makes it hard for their researchers, and it makes it hard for those outside to evaluate what texts and evidence mean. Apparently this is improving. They have a variation on the same problem as ours, plus that added difficulty.  They have theories of what a state, or dynasty, or civilisation is based on the ones they know, which are usually those downstream, large, and well-documented.  They have since found other civilisations farther inland that seemed to have some dominance and exercised power that don't er, fit their previous definitions. 

Then there are all those new Somethings we keep finding in Mexico and South America, and the redefining of what has been happening in Central Asia the last 4,000 years...

We now live in a world in which a state has some sort of authority over every bit of it. For this reason we do not well imagine what it is like to be free of it.  Even our outliers trying to be free of the state, such as the Amish or the survivalists don't give us a clear picture of what most of history was. We have a picture of hunter-gatherers or foragers learning about agriculture and settling down, gradually developing some ways of achieving surplus with some taking charge of others, leading to larger buildings and increasing hierarchy, then warfare, writing, long-distance trade and all the other marks of civilisation.  Voila! The state. Graeber and Wenfrow believe that only happened some of the time, perhaps not even the majority of the time. We think changes in technology or climate or rulership are what drive changes in economies. They believe there was much more choice in the matter, more agency in these peoples than we commonly credit. If the powerful groups in your area are confiscating to many of your crops, and moving fifty miles on just means new rulers you can change your lifestyle and move up into the hills. You can switch to herding, or foraged crops, or root crops that can be left for a period and returned to. It's not an easy switch most of the time, but it's better than having your children periodically dragged off into slavery, or temporary slavery to fight wars or build buildings. 

We also fail to note how fluid some of these lifestyles were over time. We are discovering that many groups moved about seasonally, or that the flow between hunting, herding, and growing went back and forth over centuries, or even within single lifetimes.  They had people in the group who knew how to do different things, at least in a general way, and they could also observe other tribes harvesting shellfish or growing small plots of medicinal/veterinary/sacred herbs that didn't require constant attention. Plus there's always chickens.

Nor is the movement always away from the nearby state unless you are unfortunate enough to be conquered or captured by it.  Others willingly join the state, sometimes as individuals, sometimes as whole tribes. Those who lived in the cities perennially believed that that is the only way to live the elevated life. Well sure.  That's where the slaves are, which allows you to do other things.  If you want any of that elevated slave action, you need to become part of the state. Even if your gig is to control large areas of crops and have slaves for that, you are going to need to be deeply involved with some state somewhere, and likely keep a place in the city (if there is a city - no longer a given). If you want to trade in anything other than raw materials, especially at a distance, you have to be part of the state, even if you set up at the periphery. If you want cash money, there's no one getting that for you up in the hills or in the shallows of the bay where the clams are.

Whole tribes ally themselves with a state in order to fight for them and get land or loot. It was all more flexible and fluid than we have credited heretofore. You could live parts of your life in the state and parts out of it.  You could switch states.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Non-Current Events

Three posts not related to this year's headlines are in the pipeline. I hope to whip them into acceptable shape before going on a men's retreat this weekend.  I have avoided men's retreats since the 1980's.  I have gone to some family and couples retreats. I would probably like solo retreats best of all and should make the effort to find one.  For this one - I have unexpected reasons.

Granite State Matters

The group Granite State Matters sent out a postcard to voters.  It was dishonest and deeply offensive. I am not a particular fan of the Free Staters, or porcupines, but I do know that they are not, for example, generally in favor of seceding from the union. The claim that 150 legislators (out of 424 - yeah that's that NH  huge legislature thing) vote with the Free Staters is ludicrous. They are not anarchists, they are not Sovereign Citizens, they are only one species of libertarian.

As expected, when I went to their website, there was no way to express an opinion to them, only be subjected to their viewpoints or just leave. While one might imagine a centrist group that got all het up about Free Staters and resolved to take them down without particular reference to Republicans or conservatives or libertarians in general, or supporting some but not all liberal causes, this group's positions are uniformly liberal, and framed in the inflammatory language that I have found so unhelpful from the right these days.

So I do what I can.  I am telling those of you from NH what I think about this group.

The Tim Tebow Effect Again

You can look at earlier discussions of the phenomenon here, or here, or frankly, there are so many in the last ten years that you could just put "Tebow" in my search bar if you are that interested.  Which I can't imagine you being. Essentially it is the situation in which both sides of a discussion are certain that no one is listening to them, and so get louder and angrier. It comes from a Chuck Klosterman quote that "both groups perceive themselves as the oppressed minority who are fighting against dominant public opinion."

We are told that the whole country is increasingly this way, and even that the church is becoming that way, with everyone sure that they have the important things that the church should be focusing on, but Everyone Else in the church isn't getting it. Sometimes I stand back and wonder if this is true at all. Could it not be that 80% of the church is not that concerned about the divisive arguments of the day - and even for good reasons? They might have opinions about these matters, but not consider them the focus of their day?

Here's an interesting twist:  Is it different among the people with and without children, or even perhaps married vs unmarried?

Summary In the Midst of Delta

The interview just put up by Mark Halloran over at Quillette is almost six months old now, and I almost just shrugged and ignored it. On Darkhorse, Ivermectin, and Vaccine Hesitancy. As i thought we did not have much new information about the Ivermectin since then, however, and I wanted to understand what the difficulty was between a meta-analysis that showed effectiveness but a quick consensus shortly after that declared it of inconclusive effect, unlikely to be much help. When things don't go together like that and everyone is shouting about them, I like to get an idea what's going wrong.  They are clearly working from different information sets.

I'm glad I went forward with it, as it provides a very good explanation for that and other points of contention. It was in the middle of Delta, and Eric Topol provides a good explanation for why Israel looked great in contain covid, then looked terrible, and then brought it under control again. That isn't his main point, just one of those things he touches on along the way. The interview is longish, but let me find an interesting paragraph. Or six.

ET: Now, we knew that the vaccines weren’t going to stay effective for years, we knew there would be a third shot needed, likely maybe at one year, or two years, at some point. We didn't know it’d be six months. That was the big Israeli realization, when they first came out with that and said: “Oh my gosh, protection has dropped from 95 percent to 40 percent against symptomatic infections.” At first there was denial among the medical community. Nobody wanted to see that. So, the double whammy was both that they had gotten off to a very fast start, they had a lot of people then who were at the six-month waned immunity period, and they also had Delta. If we never had Delta, if they just had Alpha, these breakthrough infections would have probably still been much lower. It’s this combination of a very contagious form of the virus with the waning of immunity that was expected. It really basically was like a perfect storm.

And you add into that, that in Israel they gave Pfizer, at three weeks spacing, which led to a not optimal response of the Beta; the B and T cell immune response. So that now has been largely squashed by the boosters. They used boosters of the Pfizer—the same dose, the same original vaccine in millions of people. And they’re well on their way to getting back to that one case per million people, which is the ultimate—we can’t do much better than that. And I think what we’ve learned already, people over 60 need to get a third shot, that probably applies to all vaccines, or with Johnson & Johnson, that would be the second dose. But an additional dose is going to be needed around six months for people over 60. If we want to suppress symptomatic infections, instead of just hospitalizations and deaths, then we have to go down to much lower ages, possibly as low as age 20 or 18. That’s the big question: how aggressive do you want to suppress symptomatic infections because they’re going to crop up with more exposure to Delta, if we don’t give a third shot.

MH: It seems that that’s a balance then because even though there’s a decrease in approximately 39 percent for the ability to stop infection, there’s still an 89 to 93 percent protection against hospitalization and death.

ET: It’s really a little lower than that. But if you zoom in on the people over age 65, then it drops down, and for the people in their 70s it dropped from 95 to 85, which is substantial. So, the point I am getting at is that most of the hospitalizations and deaths occur in people over age 60. So that's where you see the big bang of the booster.

MH: Because the immune response is just not going to be as good with older people, even with a good vaccine, they’re just not going to be able to produce antibodies the same way.

ET: Exactly. So then with the younger age group it’s two things going on. One, they make better antibody and cellular responses; B and T cells, and they don’t have as much of a risk to wind up in hospital or die...

He discusses the balance points in booster vaccines in various ages and the underlying reasons, both in the immune systems of the individuals and in the general immunity of a community, and thus notes why it might be important for American children to get vaccinated but not such a big deal in Spain.  He talks about hybrid immunity, and why getting covid then getting a vaccine does is "unbeatable" - not that he recommends getting covid. The two discuss the rocketing amount of Parkinson's in the infected.  Ugh. The information about any pandemic, including long covid, and neurological symptoms is pretty distressing

The interview is published as part of a larger academic work by Halloran Iconoclast: Ideas That Have Shaped The Culture Wars that came out in February 2022. So by publishing standards this actually came out pretty quickly. 

Topol is quite understanding of how people get things wrong and why they might go down wrong paths following conflicting data from varying sources.  A lot of the discussion is about the culture war part and how that has impacted treatment and vaccination. Yet when he thinks someone is not merely wrong, but a professional acting in bad faith he doesn't mince words.

MH: I wanted to address some of the claims that were made in Bret Weinstein’s DarkHorse podcast with Dr. Robert Malone and Steve Kirsch. So, the first one is that the spike protein that’s produced by the mRNA vaccine is cytotoxic. And then, the claim is that the transmembrane domain that is supposed to anchor the spike protein to a localized spot fails, or can fail to some extent, and that the spike protein then cleaves, and then Steve Kirsch talks about a Japanese study that shows the distribution of the spike protein throughout the body, bloodstream, the ovaries and in bone marrow. Tell me what do we make of this? What evidence is there for this?

ET: It’s all false. It’s all unacceptable lying; making things up. For example, Bret Weinstein on one of his podcasts said that the reason people get headaches post vaccination is because the mRNA from the vaccine crosses the blood brain barrier, and that’s what’s causing it. That’s ridiculous...

I found it interesting that even though the prediction that Delta would be tough to supersede did not hold up, one can get a good sense from the reasoning why that is the case with an Omicron variant that is even more contagious, though less deadly. 

I have never pretended to be someone who can explain the medical data to you, though I do have some experience from the psych side of the limitations of small sample sizes and the craze for meta-analyses that involve divergent protocols, different doses, and evaluations of efficacy that don't match up at all. The only value-added I provide is looking at the arguers themselves and what they seem to be doing: who is fighting fair and who isn't. I not only have a mind that seeks immediately for this information (since teen years and maybe before) I also have a great deal of experience with people who want a particular answer to be true and the type of responses they engage in when the evidence seems to go against them, versus the responses of the straight shooters when the evidence seems to go against them. Note in the interview comment by Topol the line "At first there was denial among the medical community. Nobody wanted to see that." But what did they do next?  That's what's key. They went looking for the real answer.

In the Ivermectin discussion it rapidly became apparent to me that there was a group that decided they wanted it to work long before there was any helpful data, only a couple of stories. Some of that makes sense. It's cheap, fairly available, and we have a good safety profile on it at some dosing rates. What's not to like? But as the evidence mounted that it was only going to be a little help at best, all of a sudden people started doubling down, tripling down, quadrupling down. No, it really works, it's not being given a chance.  No, they're covering up the good results because they want to make money. No, they are just lying because they don't want to admit they are wrong. (You will note, BTW, that all three of those arguments could apply to the skeptics.) It became clear to me, not from the medical data, but from the discussions themselves, that a lot of people really wanted Ivermectin to prove out for another reason: they wanted to stick it in the eye of "the so-called experts." 

Think about that for a moment. The people who have the best chance of saving your life, but you get obsessed with the idea of proving them wrong.  You want them to be wrong. No amount of evidence convinces you otherwise. You don't rejoice that we find some things that work at least somewhat and taken together reduce death, and that some things aren't worth the time. Because the Wrong People came up with those answers. That those wrong people had to go through hoops of regulators who would love to trip them up - there is competition and resentment in that ecosystem as in any other - and the amount of dishonesty required for a coverup basically extends to the entire medical system. Who would willingly choose to believe that doctors and coroners everywhere are intentionally fudging data about vaccine side effects?  I have worked with enough doctors to know that a lot of those guys would love to make Merck look bad, or Pfizer.  It would be the crowning moment of their career. Oh, but hospitals get paid $3000 for every covid patient. (Look at the overall budgets and what insurance companies pay for each inpatient stay) A lot of them are under pressure from their administrations to gloss over vaccine problems. (I am imagining the MSO meeting at my hospital where that discussion comes up.) Please.  Get real.

Being a moderate skeptic myself - I am certainly aware of treatments advocated by mental health professionals I thought were crap and have been pleased to watch fall out of favor - I have tried to be more sympathetic to the moderate covid skeptics of all stripes. A lot of the contrary arguments that get floated do look very plausible at first look - and sometimes at the second. But there comes a point where you recognise that even those are pulling out studies, data, and claims from less and less reliable sources. I have websites I used to like that I simply don't go to anymore, because they have too often published crap.  I think I can get by generally good sources that just get a bee in their bonnet about an issue or two. That seems like normal stuff, even if they really go off a deep end on those few topics. It's why I stuck with Ron Unz for awhile, until it became clear that he is now psychotic. (I had someone who knew describe his deteriorated self-care and personal behavior a few years ago, but it gives me no insight into what exactly is going on there.) John Derbyshire gets a few things badly wrong but I generally still like him.  Theodore Dalrymple has been so reliable that when I disagree I immediately question myself instead of him - but even he misses the mark at times.  That's fine. I'm worse. But may abandonment of some disputants goes deeper.  I eventually get enough data that I conclude "Okay, it's clear what answer you want to be true, and nothing budges you.  I'm done.  I haven't got the time."

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Mondo Again

 New World Record


That's a hair over 20' 4".

Justice Creep

Scott Alexander at Astral Codex Ten has an essay on Justice Creep that bears some similarity to my recent thoughts in Is Solving This Problem Wise? 

Helping the poor becomes economic justice. If they’re minorities, then it’s racial justice, itself a subspecies of social justice. Saving the environment becomes environmental justice, except when it’s about climate change in which case it’s climate justice. Caring about young people is actually about fighting for intergenerational justice. The very laws of space and time are subject to spatial justice and temporal justice.

He doesn't like the downstream implications of this semantic change - nor do I. 

There’s one last disadvantage I’m having trouble putting into words, but which I think is the most important. A narrative of helpers and saviors allows saints. It allows people who are genuinely good, above and beyond expectations, who rightly serve as ideals and role models for others. A narrative of justice allows, at best, non-criminals - people who haven’t broken any of the rules yet, who don’t suck quite as much as everyone else. You either stand condemned, or you’re okay so far.

I thought that captured an idea very well that I was on the edges of but had eluded me.

 It was also interesting to learn about Ada Palmer's Terra Ignota dystopian Sci-Fi novels.  Not that I'm likely to pick up any new fiction these days, but just to see an interesting idea out there. If anyone has read it, give us your impressions.

Monday, March 21, 2022

Someday Soon

A high school friend and I met for coffee Friday.  She had moved back to Manchester from Asheville last year. We had sung together in a folk duo called "Lavender," from 1969-70 and I mentioned a few songs I still associated strongly with her voice.  I included this one and she gave a start: "I always think of that as more Kitty's song," and mentioned that she had been sent a recording of her from a person she did not remember. Kitty and Chris Riley were Irish twins, both born in 1953, with a third sister born in 1954. Kitty, the oldest, died a few years ago as did Karen, the youngest. So Chris has lost her bookends before she is 70. Her voice was much like Kitty's is here. 

Nostalgia is supposed to be warm and fuzzy. This is quite sad for me.

More Cemetery Symbolism

Of course the updating of symbolism is continual, and when we think of it, that may have been the case as far back as Gobekli Tepe. (Click to enlarge and clarify)

Toys, decorations that spin in the wind, stuffed animals, solar lights, all under a statue whose accompanying symbols really are quite strange when one steps back from them and asks "What would a Martian make of this?"  Or a ten-year old. Wreaths? Solar Cross? Wings?

Pinay Sa Alaska

I knew that my daughter-in-law was becoming famous on TikTok, with her channel about being a Filipina in Alaska, just homey everyday videos.  But now she has had several go viral to the tune of 13M viewings, and has 250K followers, mostly in the Philippines. She just got interviewed on their largest TV channel.

I am not on TikTok, so I don't know what I can get up on my site. There must be a way, but my embeddings don't seem to be working. Someone will explain it eventually.

I think this one is asking does the ocean really freeze in Alaska, so Jocie goes out on the Bering Strait to show them. You can see why that would be of interest to them.  

Note how she switches back and forth between Tagalog and English, sometimes for a single word, sometimes for a few sentences together. The name for that is code-switching. We hear it most commonly with Spanglish and Chinglish, for obvious reasons. Those words are going out of favor for a couple of reasons, but the one that is important to me is that it is not a very accurate description. All languages in contact influence each other, and immigrants and ex-pats naturally find that local words for places and objects are the best choice when one's own language does not have the word, or only an uncommonly used one. Americans living in a place can think they are speaking English to each other, but a newcomer will immediately detect the presence of local words. "Well of course. That's its name."

This one is about bringing the two younger daughters to ice sculpting. Also something they probably don't have a lot of in Manila. In the description of why they didn't stay I think I picked out the word "tantrums" amidst all the Tagalog.  Then you do get to see some of the very few Romanian-Filipino children in the world. My son John-Adrian, called JA by his brothers and John by everyone else, shows up at about the 2:00 mark, after Jocie demonstrates putting on her multiple layers of clothing and masks to go snowmobiling out to the crab pots. You probably don't see a lot of digging through the ice to pick up your crab pots where you are in most of America either. In his day job he is an accountant at the hospital.

Then she takes you shopping for groceries with those alarming frontier prices, and is her adorable self eating the crab they just caught.

Clarence Thomas

A headline on a news site tells me he has been admitted to a hospital.  The conservative press is probably already reporting on liberals who cannot contain their desire for him to die, however they try to clean it up.

Where should I go first? No, where should the only site I go to this morning about this be? Not that the others would be necessarily bad at the story, but that I only want to go through this once. Hmm, no one on my sidebar has it up yet...

I'm down to two, both with lawyers at least in the mix. No, I won't tell you where, because in a couple of hours it won't matter because I won't be able to escape it. I just wanted y'all to listen in on my thought processes here.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Buying Lasers

 Few of you are.  But for those who do, James has a small warning that could be a big warning, depending.

Friday, March 18, 2022


I don't know whether the reviewer or Jonathan Gottschall is correct about Gottschall's recent book The Story Paradox. The premise sounds intriguing, though perhaps he handled the material badly.

But I can tell you one thing from the article at Quillette that JG wrote defending himself. That guy knows how to write and how to construct a logical argument. It's fun to read, and I am ready to grant him the advantage right out of the gate.

His premise is that we are story-making creatures - which I have said here, said many times in conversation, and is not a controversial idea - but that it has a dark side, in that it prevents us from abandoning bad ideas once we have a story to surround them.  This sounds spot on, and explains to me why the same knuckleheads keep asserting the same terrible ideas even after good challenges have been raised.  It sounds like the milder, less psychotic version of the paranoia- readiness I have described to you many times over the years here. The solidity of the false story may be very strong in the non-psychoitc as well.

If anyone has read the book, let me know what you think.


I don't know how similar this is to your region, but when I see a mother or a family with a third child when I am out walking or at a store I want to ask "Catholic or Evangelical?" I never do, but as I am likely to strike up a conversation at any time, I sometimes find my answer pretty quickly.

I am told that "drug addict" is another possibility, but I don't see them walking the Rail Trail all that much.

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Hunter Biden's Laptop

 New York Times Suddenly Discovers Hunter Biden Laptop and Corruption Investigation Are Real

Even better, if you wade 23 paragraphs into the story, you will learn that prosecutors are examining emails between Biden and his business associates that come from “a cache of files that appears to have come from a laptop abandoned by Mr. [Hunter] Biden in a Delaware repair shop.”

You don’t say.

Interesting question:  If this story isn't covered up for months in 2020, does Biden win at all?

Is Solving This Problem Wise?

It seems a silly question at first, especially for an American.  If there is a problem, of course we're going to try and solve it. But look at what happens just a little ways downstream, once you embrace the idea that "we have to try and solve this."  If our best idea doesn't work, we're going to go with our second-best idea.  If that doesn't work, we are still figuring that we've got plenty of good ideas, we just haven't quite understood the problem and hit the right one. Eventually, we have tried many things that have not worked, and we are getting to some pretty strange solutions.

Now, that is the pure situation, and reality is going to be different.  All of those previous solutions are going to do something, and some of them are going to do good things. That will sucker us into doing that thing twice as hard, then three times as hard, then Lord knows how many times harder. Yet somehow we don't get to actual solutions for these large things.

Concrete examples might help. I first came across the weakness of the idea in CS Lewis's "Why I Am Not A Pacifist," which he delivered to a pacifist group. 

It may be asked whether, faint as the hope is of abolishing war by Pacifism, there is any other hope. But the question belongs to a mode of thought which I find quite alien to me. It consists in assuming that the great permanent miseries in human life might be curable if only we can find the right cure; and it then proceeds by elimination and concludes that whatever is left, however unlikely to prove a cure, must nevertheless do so. Hence the fanaticism of Marxists, Freudians, Eugenists, Spiritualists, Douglasites, Federal Unionists, Vegetarians, and all the rest. But I have received no assurance that anything we can do will eradicate suffering. I think the best results are obtained by people who work quietly away at limited objectives, such as the abolition of the slave trade, or prison reform, or factory acts, or tuberculosis, not by those who think they can achieve universal justice, or health, or peace. I think the art of life consists of tackling each immediate evil as well as we can. To avert or postpone one particular war by wise policy, or to render one particular campaign shorter by strength and skill or less terrible by mercy to the conquered and the civilians is more useful than all the proposals for universal peace that have ever been made.

Yes, precisely.  Once we have embraced the idea that we must solve World Hunger rather than this hunger, or achieve Universal Peace instead of fixing today's situation, or Systemic Racism versus identifiable injustices means we have ceased solving anything at all.  We are now merely reciting platitudes. The problem is not (no escape here) that we have diluted our efforts and spread ourselves too thin, though we have indeed done that. It is that we have changed our aim without noticing. Jesus doesn't say anything about Universal Peace or World Hunger or Systemic Racism, even though he addresses some examples of all those problems.  I don't think it is good for us to run ahead of Him and say "Oh, I see the pattern here!  I can generalise this into a much bigger goal! Got it!" I think he could have summarised in that way if He chose.  He summarised the forty days of temptation in the desert down to three main categories of a couple of sentences each pretty darn well, after all.

Norman Borlaug did a great deal to solve World Hunger.  He wasn't trying to solve world hunger, but to improve some plants.

Larger problems are a snare which prevent us from fixing anything at all.  The devil laughs.

Something Irish

Well, it had to be something authentic.

Quincy is not the most Irish town in America.  That would be Scituate, on the Irish Riviera south of Boston, where the Irish tried to get to from Southie or Quincy if they had made a little money. When I was first in Shannon Airport almost 20 years ago I marveled at how much the people looked like the folks where my wife grew up.  It took me a moment to figure that out. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Tactical Nuke

I am in no position to evaluate whether this is a correct analysis.  I am just putting this out there as a grim possibility. A Hard Look at the Risk of a Putin-Ordered Tactical Nuke. Short version: still unlikely, but no longer impossible. 

As hyperbolic as that claim may seem, the circumstances that would spur the Russians to use a tactical nuclear weapon are starting to fall into place. As laid out yesterday, the war is going badly for the Russians. Advances are moving slowly, when they’re moving at all, and casualties are mounting. The Russian economy is collapsing. Something’s going to break; it’s just a question of what breaks first.

This newsletter has repeatedly discussed the official Russian military doctrine, “escalate to deescalate” — that is, “If Russia were subjected to a major non-nuclear assault that exceeded its capacity for conventional defense, it would ‘de-escalate’ the conflict by launching a limited — or tactical — nuclear strike.” In other words, Russia’s official strategy when losing a war is to escalate it by using tactical battlefield nukes in order to “deescalate” it on favorable terms.

Covid Overcount

I have mentioned before that Massachusetts was one of the few places that looked like they were overcounting their Covid cases, while most of the rest of the country was undercounting. They have reduced their number from 22.9K to 19.2K this week, dropping them from 11th place to 31st in deaths per million. That is more in line with the rest of New England. I don't know enough to comment whether this is the right thing or not. It's interesting.

This last surge, which we have been hoping and believing is the last of Covid - and still might be, though it is going down slowly - has been more likely to have child deaths. 10% of those since the beginning has been very recent, and that number is likely to rise, as children's deaths are way more likely to get autopsies and it takes a while to get the full data reported. That's still a very low number, but it bears watching. Whether this is because more kids got this variant or because it is more deadly for children is not known at present. If this variant is more deadly for children, than all further variants from that line are likely to be so as well, so we should hope it's just sheer numbers.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

The Rod Stewart-Baby Shark Connection

I was just thinking of Stewart yesterday when this news story popped up, of that decent old chap doing temp road repair near his estate because it seems no one else will.

I was thinking of him because you can sing "Baby Shark" to this tune.  There, I've ruined your whole day now.

The lyrics can be easily understood as religious, and the tune is also very similar to the 70s praise chorus "Alleluia." There, I just gave you the song back again.

Elderly Vaccination

 Hong Kong has a sudden surge in Covid cases after two years of little. Discussion at the thread

It suggests that vaccination of the elderly is very important. Note the difference in what the rates for the blue and red portions are.  It was probably a fair choice in order to compare it to New Zealand, but taken out of that context it would give a false impression.