Thursday, June 30, 2022

Dealing With The Public

People can name their children whatever they want.  It's a free country, as we used to say.  But today's plaintive communication reminds us that our actions have consequences.  "...the hubris of Caleys, Caitlyns, Madelines, and Adelines assuming we know how to spell their names at the library desk when everyone knows there are approximately 54 different spellings..." If you give your child a name that people do not automatically how to spell, then the child will encounter the misunderstanding and slowing down of interaction with others. That is going to happen. "If you didn't want to go to Chicago, why did you get on the train?" as Garrison Keillor said in another context.

I recall a sendup from a decade ago of a supposed White Girl Magazine,  which had on its cover a teaser headline "14 New Spellings For Caitlyn!" It has always been with us, of course.  I went to elementary school with a girl whose name was pronounced Jo-Ann, but spelled Joan. Some of the teachers insisted on pronouncing it as "Joan," all year long. (Yes, remember what these teachers were like in the Good Olde Days, who were always right even when they were numb as a hake?) I don't know if her mother ever regretted it, but the poor woman has had a lifetime of people mispronouncing her name.  She resorted to Jo'an for a while in an attempt to signal to people which was correct - because all of us at school didn't have a clue from one year to the next.

It does affect other people.  It affects the children who have standard spellings, as they now have to spell their names anyway. There no longer is a standard spelling, regardless of history. You can do what you want, but the more friction you create, the more friction you're going to get.

Oh, Miss Mary

I still sing this in my mind at times.  There isn't much to it, actually, but the simplicity of it may be what attracts. Such things are part of why singing harmony just seems to be an automatic part of a song to me. Take any simple melody and lyrics - one must sing harmony.

There must be a Mary back there who gave the music some strong emotional association for me, but I have long since forgotten who.  I knew quite a few Mary's, as it was one of the common female names of my generation that are now less popular, like Debbie, Linda, Joanne, Susan, Barbara, Patricia, Kathy, Christine - and in my area that was heavily French-Canadian, Denise, Michelle, Renee, and Louise as well. But I can't think of any Mary's I was waiting to have come home.  Maybe I just like the alliteration of it.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Away From Shotgun Marriages

I will not comment much at the moment on this essay from the Brookings Institute New Mothers, Not Married: Technology shock, the demise of shotgun marriage, and the increase in out of wedlock births. Brookings has some notably liberal assumptions in its commentary here, especially at the policy stage, but they do seem to be trying to play straight with the data, which is good enough for me.  I can work with it, even if I disagree or think I see some missing pieces.

The basic premise is that the technology shock of increased availability to both abortion (a 12x increase) and contraception in the late 60s into the 70s was large enough that it changed the expectations of both women and men about premarital sex, pregnancy, and expectation of marriage.  The authors believe this is not the entire explanation, but covers a major chunk of it. The more usual explanations they regard as possible, but showing much less explanatory power when compared to the actual numbers.

Since 1969, however, the tradition of shotgun marriage has seriously eroded (see table 1 for the trend from 1965 through 1984). For whites, in particular, the shotgun marriage rate began its decline at almost the same time as the reproductive technology shock. And the decline in shotgun marriages has contributed heavily to the rise in the out-of-wedlock birth rate for both white and Black women. In fact, about 75 percent of the increase in the white out-of-wedlock first-birth rate, and about 60 percent of the Black increase, between 1965 and 1990 is directly attributable to the decline in shotgun marriages. If the shotgun marriage rate had remained steady from 1965 to 1990, white out-of-wedlock births would have risen only 25 percent as much as they have. Black out-of-wedlock births would have increased only 40 percent as much.

For reference, I think the expectation of marriage after unexpected pregnancy remained stronger in evangelical and conservative Catholic circles longer, though the trend away from it was there also - just slower and/or weaker. I do find talking with people of my own generation now that they have forgotten how most people, including they themselves, thought about what men and women (or boys and girls) were supposed to do if an unmarried woman became pregnant. They retrofit later ideas onto that society, believing that couples could have behaved then much as they did even twenty years later. There's that photogenic memory James was talking about again.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Pop Epistemology

Stuart Ritchie of the "Science Fictions" substack and author of a book by the same name, Science Fictions, How Fraud, Bias, Negligence, and Hype Undermine the Search for Truth, which concerns it self with the replication crisis, bad science reporting, perverse incentives for scientists publishing, etc, has decided his next book is going to be about how to choose among authorities when there is contention in the popular culture. Attorneys who have seen dueling experts in the courtroom will likely appreciate the difficulty - though my experience is maybe they won't, as they are as likely as anyone else to choose a side beforehand and then follow whatever expert tells them what they want to hear. He chose the phrase "Pop epistemology," but doesn't like it.  He thinks it won't bring in the people who need to see it.

Ritchie thought there was a great deal of bad science during Covid, much of it motivated by wanting a particular answer or rushing to publish. He thinks using the credibility he has previously established to do something about that would be useful.  Looking forward to it.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Hair Dryer Obsession

Scott Alexander Siskind, the psychiatrist who writes Astral Codex Ten relates the story of an agency he worked for splitting over the appropriate treatment for one of his patients. She had an obsession whenever she left the house that she had left the hair dryer on and worried the apartment was going to burn up. He suggested she simply bring the hair dryer with her whenever she left.  Problem solved. Some of his staff thought this was a great solution.  Others thought it inadequate because "he had not solved her underlying problem." If you have worked in the field you can picture the arguments easily, and even zip people you have known into one group or the other.

I am very much in the first group.  If there are underlying problems that need to be addressed, they are remarkably difficult to discern and define. The hydraulic pressure theory of anxiety and stress, which claims stopping up one leak will only cause another to burst out in another place just seems intuitively right to many people, but I just figure if that happens after a couple of leak-stoppages, we can look for the source of the pressure then - and we will have more diagnostic information to work with. I suspect that in many cases stopping the leak equals Problem Solved.

I say this a one who had OCD (still residual, but I hardly think about it now) and believes I would have had some obsession just from biology.  But odd factors in my environment likely influenced the content of the obsessions and compulsions. So I believe the second group is on to something. I just don't think they are right often enough.  Also, if you can make one of those hair dryer solutions you should just try it first, watching what happens.

I think this applies to social problems as well. Maybe there are always root causes somewhere, but I doubt it.  I think most of us have seen life problems resolve in almost humorously easy fashion with some adjustment when then smack our foreheads over, saying "I should have done this years ago!" Also, even when there are root causes I think we are overfond of assuming what they must be, based on what we think we can fix, rather than well-evidenced drivers of outcomes. Just because an associated condition is chronic does not mean it is a cause. It might also be an effect itself. Poverty, lack of school success, and unemployment come to mind as problems that are as likely to be carts as horses. Downstream effects of problems we dare not notice and name. There are few phrases as worrisome as "Well it just stands to reason..."

Illusion of Reason

"We give reason full credit for a decision that is the collective outcome of separate votes cast by cold personal self-interest, passion and social conformity, individual intuitions and hunches, and even our biological heritage." Razib Khan "Thanksgiving Squabbles are a Feature, Not a Bug"

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Post 8500: Hypocrisy. Yes, But...

Heather MacDonald over at City Journal makes much of Joe Biden suspending the federal gas tax for the moment to keep fill-ups from infuriating too many voters.  She tells us this is evidence that the carbon-reduction, climate-change, use-less-petrol sermonising over the years is not as important to Democrats as they claim, and a prime example of hypocrisy.  That is not untrue, but it is very typical of politicians in general.  They convince themselves that being elected is good for the country - so good, in fact, that temporary losses on this goal or that are unimportant.  They will find a way to fix it later. They are quite sure that they and their party (or even their wing of the party) will get back so much more if they can only remain in power, or take it. If the Other Guys win, it will clearly be a plague o'er the earth.  And so a tactical loss now will be worth it in the long run.

I believe them that this all started as legitimate intentions to do good, and honest commitment to some ideals. But that was years ago, or even decades. If they came into the party when it had already made many compromises and has not had any sharp reform, the intentions may have been poisoned even as they came on board stuffing envelopes and their own corruption now may even be the descendant of the corruption of others over a century ago. 

They slowly conflate what is good for their party, and even what is good for themselves personally with what is good for the whole country. The concepts become so associated in their minds that they can no longer separate them. 

They still might be the better party or better candidate.  Just because our guy has become dangerously narcissistic does not mean the opponent is more humble, or is wise in any way at all.  But when we see it in our own we have to find ways to cut ourselves free of the narcissists as soon as possible.  It cannot end well if it is allowed to continue. 


With what I have written about bureaucratic decay recently, and then inability of the electorate and the parties to intervene and restrain their own, let me propose a thought experiment: we accept it as a given that presidents can be too old, and express worry that last time was bad enough with Joe, Bernie, and Donald, but this next time might be four years worse. There is an election PR reason we want our candidates to look sharp and energetic, but is there an actual advantage to a healthy, physically inspiring president?  Is it still necessary? In some professions people go one quite well into advanced ages - writers, philosophers, popes and other ecclesiastical authorities. We are no longer asking them to get on a horse and lead us into battle. 

But they have so much to do!  They have a grueling schedule! Yet a lot of that schedule is useless stuff and photo ops anyway. But what if they die in office?  Or worse, become infirm and incompetent? Compared to...? Won't that become a crisis for the republic? Well, yes, it might. But the last 30 years are now running on family members: wives, senators' sons, presidents' sons; and political lifers, so that an internationally and nationally politically well-connected real estate developer looks like a refreshing outsider, running against guys who have been in Washington since the Garfield administration. As we deteriorate, we seem unable to cut ourselves free. Such a crisis might be our only way to make a change that is even 30% of what we need.  It would be a terrible thing if we have reached that point where only physical nature rescues us from our lack of resolve, but even worse if we are at that pass and cannot embrace it even now. Just a thought.

Hangover Description

Dixon was alive again. Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way; not for him the slow, gracious wandering from the halls of sleep, but a summary, forcible ejection. He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider-crab on the tarry shingle of morning. The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move his eyeballs again. A dusty thudding in his head made the scene before him beat like a pulse. His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he'd somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police. He felt bad. (Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim 1954

Amis apparently had enough personal experience to refine the description.

Tolkien and the Eagles

 I had wondered this myself, but I didn't expect this answer.

Friday, June 24, 2022

Yokes - Ordered Liberty

Listening to the Great Books podcast about Schiller's "William Tell,*" I thought the interesting part I was going to bring here was his development of what is permissible to do to oppose tyranny and what is not. It is interesting as it is a central theme of Schiller's, exploring many possibilities from both practical and theoretical frameworks. Those of you interested in those questions will likely find it profitable to read up on Schiller or listen to the 30 minute podcast from National Review over the next two months, after which it will disappear from the front page. 

Yet another bit caught me up, when the discussion turned to the concept of freedom that Tell is striving to live under - or more precisely, have his people return to.  It is not the freedom to do whatever you want any time you want. The concept of Duty vs Inclination figures strongly, that is, what we should do, not just what we want to do. Johann was very big on duty as a guide to moral behavior.

Here's a fun discussion of it from The Atlantic - but don't get nervous, it's from 1905.

It reminded me of the Puritan ideal of ordered liberty, which contrasted with the other versions in colonial America, as outlined in Fischer's Albion's Seed. It surprised me, as Schiller was German, Kantian, and more than a century later. The Swiss may have been Calvinist, but it doesn't seem that Schiller is attempting this as an exercise in historical accuracy.  This idea of Ordered Liberty is clearly among the most important to his aesthetic thought quite on its own. So it is not merely a Calvinist ideal then, but was in the air in those centuries.

In the descent of that Puritan ordered liberty culture down to the present day many writers are connecting that Puritan ideal to modern busybodies from New England telling everyone else what to do, usually in contrast to the real freedom-loving Scots-Irish. Yet notice - the Scots Presbyters were also calvinist. What is happening then, among two stocks supposedly descending from the same philosophical base to very different practical notions?

First up, such simple formulations are usually self-servinbg rather than accurate.  They are often based on a real something, but don't carry the day.  Second, the various ideas of freedom kept much of the same vocabulary and did keep some central features, but they changed markedly over time.  In earlier Scotland one actually did have to come under the yoke of authority - but it was the authority of the clan, which you had at least some hope of influencing.  But after enclosure the power of the clan authority weakened, and after the move to Ireland and then on to America, where one had to carve out a space rather individually, clan authority weakened further.  It retained considerable usefulness for skirmishing and outright war. To the medieval mind, they would have looked more like "masterless men," not a good thing.

Well part of the American experiment is that maybe masterless men will do alright anyway, but it is an authority vacuum, starting not in Virginia but Gretna Green. 

In New England it was town authority, which if anything became stronger upon arrival in the Bay Colony. It looks mixed oppressive and liberated to us now, as the larger governmental authorities were distant and of little influence, but the town was a community which exerted authority over all who remained. The town could decide that an old widower must move in with a young family, as that would be better for his spiritual improvement. The town moved as a body to build schools, meeting houses, churches, improve ports and roads. The only escape was to move. So that was also a yoke that one must bear - but it changed in the colonies.  By the time NH, VT, and ME were settled there was more of people living out on the fringes, less answerable to the whole. This is still somewhat common in the rural and northern parts. The town used to be everything, but that is less true. Unfortunately, it has slowly had to give way to larger entities.

Both ideas descend from Calvinism, and from a generalised northern European idea of order, even a highly traditional order in contrast to the French Revolutionaries' method of starting everything from scratch. Yet both are still yokes, yokes that modified greatly in America but are still present in some form.

You may remember that it is my cynical view that if you believe you have no yoke or have cast it off, you likely just don't see and acknowledge the new one that replaced it. 

*Oh yeah, hanging asterisk. I read Schiller in German in college. Let not such things impress you, because I don't even remember what it was, never mind any lesson from it. It was required fourth-semester German and I passed the course.

The Ballad of the Shape of Things


Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Making Yourself More Stupid

I am researching a topic as part of a discussion with an old friend. At bsking's suggestion I have been reading from old Slate Star Codex discussions by Dr. Scott Alexander, who I greatly admire. I have found that I am wrong about at least one thing. 

In the midst of this he puts a marvelous quote, expressing an idea I have attempted to get across, but more fully and elegantly than I have

One who wishes to believe says, “Does the evidence permit me to believe?” One who wishes to disbelieve asks, “Does the evidence force me to believe?” Beware lest you place huge burdens of proof only on propositions you dislike, and then defend yourself by saying: “But it is good to be skeptical.” If you attend only to favorable evidence, picking and choosing from your gathered data, then the more data you gather, the less you know. If you are selective about which arguments you inspect for flaws, or how hard you inspect for flaws, then every flaw you learn how to detect makes you that much stupider.

It is from a longer essay by Eliezer Yudkowsky, who I had not head of writing for Rationality. It is good to remember that while sometimes we are just wrong, little harm comes of it, and life goes on - but at other times if we persist in what we call research while favoring an outcome whether it is true or not, we make ourselves more stupid the more information we obtain. Much of learning is unlearning, which is no fun. The language of the essay is a little woo, but I don't think it is inappropriately so, given the state of mind he is hoping we will attain.

Robin Williams and Elmo - Outtake


Unwanted Children

I think there is a binary being applied here that is not accurate. When the phrase "unwanted children" comes up, usually in the context of abortion but not exclusively there, the image is conjured of a child deeply unwanted, neglected or even abandoned, unloved and sad. That child is going to have a terrible life. That child is more likely to become a criminal, or unemployed...or something.  

It's just plain not true. Most people have hardships, sometimes quite bad, most kids turn out okay. We know stories in retrospect and apply our narratives with our usual confirmation bias. "Well, she was unwanted right from the start, it's no surprise that she got pregnant at fifteen so she could have someone to love."  Well yeah, or that kind of impulsivity and lack of planning could be genetic, seeing as that was loaded in at conception.  But if you have already made up your mind that it was "being unwanted," teh that's going to sound like crazy talk to you.

Are surprise babies less loved?  Do they have worse outcomes?  Maybe. There is a plausibility to it.  But it's not my observation. "Every Child a Wanted Child..." but would we say "Every Immigrant a Wanted Immigrant?" Aren't there some similarities in the arguments here? I have read viciously racist pro-choice arguments about how much better off we are with fewer black children. I don't conclude generalised racism from that, but it is toeing into the shallow end of "maybe it would be better if some children just weren't born." At a minimum people need to police themselves to be backpedaling away from that. And to notice how that is already happening with certain types of genetic information. The Netherlands has eliminated Down's Syndrome births.  It's worth wondering what's next. The "Unwanted" argument nearly always focuses on environmental factors, sure. It's what people are thinking, usually.  But the genetic part is showing up in practical outcomes.

Unless there is something else going on that is mucking up the issue.  I'll be coming back to that.

Look, I actually happen to know a great deal about unwanted children, because taking social histories or reading those of otherrs was a good part of my career.  I have seen some very grim ones, which cause you to jump to the conclusion that this is what ruined this child's life. Yet I also know plenty of people who later had terrible lives who were welcomed, adored, and well-parented their whole lives.  If you want to tell me that Unwanted=Worse Outcomes statistically, even when considering genetics, I might count that as plausible.  But statistically, most of them turn out okay anyway. Unwanted does not in any way equal Definitely Bad Outcomes. 

But perrhaps more to the point, starting with my family. My children from Romania were abandoned by their parents, dropped off at Casa de Copii* in Oradea. Son #5 came to us after his parents both refused to keep him.  Maybe they were all wanted at birth.  The last one very likely was. Yet down the line they became unwanted.

My brother and I were almost certainly wanted at birth. We were uh, less-wanted at 13 and 9. (I eventually learned I was not really a wanted in-law, either, not until I made a specific effort to step in with emotional support of a nephew. Well, that happens to lots of us. Not really germane here.) Many children start out unwanted or become unwanted in some real sense. It is hard. It likely does diminish outcomes for some. But most of us turn out okay anyway, even the ones from hellish backgrounds.

I had already started this post a week ago when a friend sent this tweet about twins who might have been aborted if Texas hadn't changed it's laws. It links to a Washington Post article about the mother and the babies - and the father, grandparents, local organisations, and a bunch else. It is a fascinating read and the WaPo clearly believes this is tragic, simply tragic, because the young woman's life is so hard (it is hard), and to their mind, the births so unnecessary. But Ian Haworth is right**. It's not tragic.  Death is tragic. Permanent injury is tragic. Starvation and neglect are tragic. If you look at it from the babies' POV, things seem to be going fine. They were unwanted, and you could define them as unwanted, but in reality, they look pretty wanted to me. Mom seems to be doing very well in a difficult situation. And we do still have the floor of "being born into a situation that is better than 99% of humanity has ever had and better than 90%+ of people even today."

Look at the article.  It has some familiar themes, about how hard life is for the young woman, and also but less emphasised, on the young man. She had plans, hopes, dreams, these are now delayed, possibly diminished, and maybe even destroyed. Her mother has rejected her. Real estate school and work have not precisely rejected her, but they became untenable.  She worries the boyfriend might reject her. It's hard for a journalist to write a human interest story focusing on the babies unless they are visibly hungry or huddled in a corner, so these stories focus on the mothers for storytelling reasons.

But is a lot of this actually about unwanted mothers, not unwanted children? I agree that unwanted mothers is a problem worthy of attention.  But it's not the same problem.  It may not be a full bait-and-switch from just talking about babies to just talking about mothers, but I think that the latter is getting added on to the scale. The stories may overlap and be related, but they aren't the same. The sympathy in the stories is with the mother during pregnancy. But I don't think "and those children are likely to have terrible lives because they are unwanted" is known to be true. 

There is an additional bit. I think the "unwanted children" narrative gained force when I was much younger because we also believed at that time that there were too many people and population was getting out of control. Also, we believed - even I believed - that environment was everything in child development. Couples from ethnic groups where people started expecting to see babies nine months and fifteen minutes after the wedding were saying "we want to wait until we are more settled/can afford it," and this began to be applauded. There was also increased freedom for women (and men) to say "Y'know, I just don't personally want children at all," which had been more allowed in Hajnal Line societies than elsewhere but was still considered suspect. It was therefore considered something good for Society to have fewer children, more carefully planned children, children that already had yards to play in and rooms of their own.  Less pathology. More emotional support. And have you seen how expensive college is these days? There was also a sense that it would be good if Society understood that not everyone wants children and that's okay. Well, that's a freedom issue, and a legitimate one, but it shouldn't be added as weight to measuring the outcomes for the children. How much do the many gradations of "being wanted" matter for actual development.  That's supposed to be the measure if we are talking about wanting. The other is about outcomes for the adults.

We see the world differently now.  Population replacement is the problem, not population explosion, whatever Bill McKibben thinks. We have a safety net built on people who aren't there, which is a big reason we encourage immigration, even illegal immigration. I am not at all convinced that long-delayed children have markedly better upbringings. Wealthier, sure.  One of the things that you learn from actual parenting is that  the main thing you need is simply energy. A friend at 25th (maybe 30th) highschool reunion chuckled that she had had three children, at 19, 21, and 22, and she and her husband had already started traveling, now that the youngest had moved out. Son #5, who was then a nephew, was just being born then. A few months ago I helped him move some furniture off one second floor and onto another.  So who's the smart one here? 

I tell young couples to have more children and worry about them less. They'll be fine.

As I also believe that genetic factors weigh much more heavily than the things we used to think important, I am less convinced that "unwanted" tells us as much about outcomes as we used to think.  It tells us more about mom's and dad's life. Certainly, I don't think that unwanted and less-wanted are binaries. No one does, really.  But some people talk as if they do when doing cultural and political advocacy.

*Romanian for "Mouth of Hell."

**I don't know who he is.  If he says or does terrible things, that doesn't change what he says here.  I'm not interested.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Privacy and Censorship

The circle of secrecy never grows smaller, except by death. The confidentially of private mail, or of diplomatic communiques is supposed to be absolute, but of course such things sometimes do get out. With the secrets that archaeology and DNA can reveal, things that have been secret for thousands of years can now be known. 

So we don't ask for the miraculous when it comes to privacy, but we do have expectations and some things are better than others. Memories of personal conversations can be challenged, giving a final possible escape if we are exposed. We have regarded phone conversations as potentially private (depending on what our agreements are with the other party), because they are - usually - not recorded. The phone message has changed that, as it can be recorded, kept, and used against you. Our habits with the phone in our hand betrays us into relying on a privacy that no longer exists. 

On the internet, things we thought were private tend to move in the direction of being exposed. Twitter and Quora were never intended to be private, but some of the photo-based messages were intended to vanish immediately after one use. Except some of them are still around. Emails get leaked, and group emails should be regarded as especially vulnerable, increasingly so as the number of recipients grows. Listserves might stay private, but some have been leaked.

Group chat functions on text are currently uncensored by outsiders and generally quite private.  They are becoming the vehicle of controversial discussion, as a small group which has built up trust can say things they might not readily share in other venues.  If the group chat grows too large its vulnerability to someone exposing all increases. But most stay quite small - a family, a fantasy football league, a dozen like-minded friends discussing politics or religion. The San Francisco recall election was reportedly strongly influenced by the network of overlapping group chats, not entirely invisible but difficult to spot in the wild. Those of you who want to increase local political influence might consider it as a way to go - for now, and with caution. Private and uncensored.  I don't imagine they will directly influence national or world affairs that much, but in aggregate they likely have some efffect.

Ethan Strauss - NBA Myth

Strauss: It's not just getting political, it's getting dumber...It's just how stupid the politics are.

Woodhouse: Well with the NBA I think it's part of their brand.  I don't even buy it.

The interview with Ethan Strauss, of the substack House of Strauss, had actual content worth listening to, and I will give you one bit of it.  Strauss was a sportswriter, having worked for both The Athletic, covering the Golden State Warriors, and for ESPN, which he now says "cheapens everything it touches." He is also the author of The Victory Machine, about Golden State. (Haven't read it.)

WRT the NBA, the players learn that with certain beliefs they are bulletproof, and it changes them, not in their politics, but that "voicing that stuff is not bad for your career." It accelerates their becoming vocal, especially with social media rather than changes their beliefs, because many of the players legitimately do hold the racial cultural ideas they voice. It is unsurprising that healthy and wealthy young men whose careers revolve around making other people respect them - even very nice people like Curry and Thompson engage in public flexing, challenges, and showing off - are convinced that off the court they and their friends are not treated respectfully enough by the police, and turn that into evidence that the police racially profile blacks in general and that "there are two Americas." Yet how would they know, personally?  People have been sucking up to them and treating them as very special since they are 12, and they live in a world where people feed off impressions of disrespect.  The Warriors - and I very much like the Warriors - just won the championship and have spent the next few days reciting all the comments on Twitter and on sports media that criticised them this season and expressed any doubt.  It is now standard for teams to motivate themselves by saying "no one believed in us."  But many experts picked Golden State to win it all at the beginning of the season, and as people returned from injury and players developed, the drumbeat started that despite a difficult start - as in losing actual basketball games - they were going to win again.  It grows tiring. It is even more tiring when it bleeds over into politics, about which they know nothing. I like Jason Tatum and Jaylen Brown of the Celtics, but when they open their mouths about politics and policing, they are just idiots.  How, after all, would they know, in their protected spheres?

Still, with players it is understandable, even predictable.

What has puzzled me though, is why the coaches feel the need to make public statements as well. I concluded that if you make your living coaching young black players, you had best not have beliefs which offend them or you won't have work, so the job selects for particular beliefs. If what you really love doing is coaching basketball at the highest level and have a demonstrated aptitude for that, there are gates you must pass through.

But it literally never occurred to me that they would be making these forceful statements if they didn't believe them.  That they may have slowly talked themselves into them, sure.  That they had a biased sample set because they had seen young men's lives get interrupted or careers destroyed by crime, violence and subsequent contact with the police and legal system I took as an unfortunate reality, but we all have some of those confirmation biases. Statistics be damn'd, I seen it wit' me own eyes! Yet catch what Strauss says about it, having known them and talked to them for years. (The quote is from a verbal interview, and I have edited it just a bit to remove a few phrasings that sound fine when one hears them but look a little clumsy when viewed.  Imagine it spoken.)

"There was definitely a moment where NBA coaches, white NBA coaches specifically, felt like they had to project a certain racial sensitivity, but then you would talk to them in private - maybe, if you're me you had been talking to such coaches in private for years  and you go like 'Bro, you sound like just a shade more tolerant than Bull Connor when we speak, I don't understand where this is coming from, this isn't you.' It seems like an overcompensation. I'm being ridiculous invoking Bull Connor, but I'm just saying that these coaches are just filled with resentments they are choking down that most people don't have to in their jobs.  They often are middle-aged white men who are trying to boss around young black millionaires who can get them fired at the drop of a hat, trying to get those guys to do whatever they want and to execute the plan and the entire time they are up against this wall of passive-aggression, and getting needled by these guys, and yet they've got to maintain their position somehow. They are often just pulsating with resentment and they are often frustrated about things they would never air publicly. I've heard multiple NBA coaches bemoan how the players they have who grew up without a father are hard to coach.  That's something you will hear commonly from NBA coaches  Holy shit would you not hear that said in public. They know that. So I do think a lot of them are leading a double life.  (Discussion of the 2004 Malice at the Palace pretwitter, suppressed discourse that the players were both spoiled young trust fund brats and ghetto street thugs bubbled over, even back then) 

"I think there is an incorrect assumption of the NBA's demographics, they're still locked into this thought of 'The NBA is the place where young black men from the inner city find these millions and try to make it,' and I think that it in many ways was, and in many ways was back then, but the NY Times has done studies of the NBA's demography and the background of these guys. So many of them are the sons of NBA players and other kinds of professional basketball players. The NBA is about as black as it was back in the 90s and the early 2000s, but the players come from far wealthier backgrounds than before.  I think maybe even the average NBA player comes from a middle to upper-middle class background, blessed with the advantages of having fathers who know the game and imparted it to the kids   You have guys like LeBron James who came out of desperate poverty, same with Kevin Durant, but the median NBA player doesn't come from that background, even though I think most of the public is operating under the assumption that they do."

He goes on to say that rule changes also drove this, especially the 3-point shot. To become a long-distance shooter you have to spend a lot of time indoors in a gym. The driving game that gradually developed on the playgrounds, which created its own rule changes of relaxed enforcement of traveling and palming has been partially superseded by more and deeper jump shots. That means a more middle class upbringing - or higher.  So does better coaching. 

The rules and the equipment are the whole game.  Change the rules and/or the equipment and it's a different game.

Substack Liberals

This is apparently a new category. I listened to Leighton Woodhouse and Ethan Strauss laughing over it, as one had been accused of being one and the other thought he probably qualified as well. I think it is a legit description, of liberals who have just had it with some aspects of the left as currently constituted. I have said for years that leaving liberalism does not mean entering conservatism.  It might mean becoming apolitical or even anti-political; or mean moving to a single issue or cause; it might mean becoming libertarian - there are still a few left-libertarians out there; it might mean a refocus on religious issues instead, seeing them as more to the overall point; and yes, it might mean giving a new look at conservative ideas.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Wine For Breakfast Foods

I wondered "When one has breakfast food for dinner, what wine is supposed to go with it?" I thought I would start googling french toast as the most likely dish to have attracted an answer.  I was wrong. This question has of course been answered by many people who care about wine pairings. There is no unanimity, but there are some trends.  For Eggs Benedict - which I had not considered - champagne or prosecco is repeatedly preferred.  For the various griddle breads, pancakes, waffles, and french toast, a Riesling is recommended, especially if there is bacon or another breakfast meat along. However, if you have chicken and waffles, the sweet reds, especially sparkling are supposed to come to mind: lambruscos, shiraz. Or if it is blueberry pancakes, then Moscato D'Asti, a sweet white wine in a blue bottle is the thing. Omelettes take a rose, as do crepes. Those sound lovely, actually. Breakfast burritos a red, preferably a rough-and-tumble one.  Quiches take a chardonnay, chablis, or other uncomplicated white.

Exceptions: I had forgotten that avocado toast was a food that people eat at all, let alone a breakfast, but most lists were eager to give it a pairing.  I continue to harbor ill-will against it because of my difficulty in getting a simple waffle for breakfast while visiting West Asheville. (I later learned I would have done better in East Asheville, near the mall.) All the hipster restaurants had avocado toast but no waffle, and the only pancakes were a whole wheat ("oh, but you can't tell") so heavy that I thought they had brought the wrong order and I had gotten someones cake of sorts.  And I could tell, BTW, even upon inspection. Not a pancake. So I shall not tell you what is the proper wine to pair with it. I have not had a frittata and have no plans to. So I give you no help there either.

I read down the lists, wondering what people would do with oatmeal.  Dessert wines, such as port - yes of course, I should have seen that coming, and two even suggested putting two ounces in the oatmeal itself, much as one might do with fruit or jelly. 

One site mentioned breakfast cereal but refused to name a wine for it.  Fair.

Update: This should get put up, the way the comments have been going.

Congenital Evangelists for Everything

I was speaking with an acquaintance about going to medical appointments and needing to wear masks and predicting that because of the reduction of many contagious diseases because of them, we would likely always be wearing masks at the doctor's henceforth, shrugging "We probably should have started doing this twenty years ago." We brought our children to appointments and noticed even then that the waiting room, with its sick and snuffly kids, many running around touching everything, was the most infectious place we could bring them. The acquaintance laughed and said "Right! And now we call that covid!" This really irritated me, because it implies that we did not lose a million Americans to that disease and it was all just part of regular life as it always had been. (Bsking has an updated post on excess mortality by state, BTW.  I was surprised at how good NH is looking in the final numbers, frankly.)

But it irritated me more because she knows this is a national point of contention now yet feels obliged to put her oar in for no purpose in an everyday conversation. People who do this tend to do it on many subjects, often around a central theme - religious, health, political, organic farming.  Everything they believe they evangelise.

I tend to be more anti-opinionated...well, that's not quite the right word, I'm plenty opinionated. But I lead with things that might be pleasant, might be shared, instructive, or entertaining. I value conversation in and of itself.  Because of this, I will put up with a fair bit of introduced evangelism.  But eventually, I push back, especially if there are others present who I think might be vulnerable to social pressure.  Sometimes I will insert a small contradiction or alternative view solely to create space for others who might be present but hesitant. 

When I go to an opinion-based site, or write for one I expect there to be opinions, and people may hammer their favorites all they like there. Though I suppose even there there are limits, of people who have a fixed idea that bleeds over into every topic. Ultimately that has to be brought up short as well. Yet interesting that there are folks who have not just a few opinions they can't drop for a moment to talk about other things, but a lecturing style on every topic.

Bureaucratic Decay

The predictability of bureaucratic decay, which Samo Burja asserted and I mentioned in April (followup to this post) and having quoted Pournelle's Law of Bureaucracy more than once over the last month have set me down a path of rethinking some political assumptions. If the military bureaucracy, which expanded in WWII and did not revert to isolationist attitudes as America had done before, was just naturally going to expand and get less efficient, no matter who was in charge of it and their intent, it causes us to look differently at "the military-industrial complex," whether Democrats "support" the military, the difference between invasion and nation-building competence, the integration of military intelligence with the other intelligence agencies, logistics, hardware, perfumed princes, and all our other military arguments. What if even brilliant leadership only stems the tide in most places and improves things in few others?  What if complete knuckleheads do not, in the long run, make things that much worse than they were going to be on their own.

It would for openers, suggest that the complete dismantling of government agencies, even though the loss of function would be real and even temporarily dire, would be the only long-term solution. And we would have to admit that we aren't ever going to do that. Even psychotic libertarians would move what they considered essential CIA functions to other agencies, even as they took an axe to the tree and felled it. It might be that the US education system needs to be dismantled root and branch if we are to educate our young, and developing cultures starting fresh are going to surpass us, like the small mammals eating the dinosaur eggs.  But we can't even dismantle the Department of Education, a new agency that theoretically only assists the primarily local and state-run systems and provides oversight for policy at best, and in practice started asserting itself as the senior authority, the Supreme Court of American Education right from the start. We can't even dent that.  

If we all understood this I think we would still be angry and divided, but I think we would divide that up quite differently.  

Or maybe not.  We may have already divided into those people who believe the federal government is our best protector and those who believe it is a danger.  We just disguise this in a hundred ways, even from ourselves calling our divisions something else. In New England, for example, we used to be very much in favor of local control but both the local and the control parts were quite real.  Banned in Boston and all that. Not so much individual independence but individual ability to influence.  Because local, dammit.  Take that away and the independence starts to erode. Thus, low crime rates, lots of schools, public water and sewer, better paid police. Highways, ports, airports, but no big stadiums, no out-of-control college athletics. 

All eroding now. It's not coming back. Every branch of every bureaucracy grows and becomes less efficient, sometimes slower, sometimes faster.  It's not the Democrats' fault, or Washington's fault, or the elites' fault, or any of that. It's gravity.  We can only slow it or accelerate it.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Quick Summary

The Quillette article about gun ownership and gun deaths mixes together the suicide and homicide numbers. The former is sensitive to gun availability, the latter is not, or just barely. Additionally, there are more gun deaths in high-crime areas, and people buy guns defensively for that purpose, raising the total. One can argue that is a vicious cycle, but that can be attributed to feelings, as it could just as easily describe a virtuous cycle of prevention. One has to dig deeper to suss out which is happening - and in the end, the amount of gun ownership is not going to be a major factor in any case.

Emergency clinicians are increasingly trained to get all dangerous items, especially those the patient has used in the past, away from the person in crisis: guns, pills, car keys, etc. You can usually find an uncle willing to hold the guns for a few months, or however long the crisis lasts.

Saturday, June 18, 2022


Okay, who knows enough about Hungarian history to answer for me whether the theory that the European powers actually preferred the Ottomans and seriously assisted them in the 1500s for their own selfish reasons has some merit, is just crazy, or is too oversimplified to be asserted? I can read the standard explanations in Wikipedia and tend to accept them, as that outlet is usually okay when they don't have a dog in the fight. Yet even that far back, events have a way of being important in the present, especially in that area of the world, so I hesitate to accept that framing.


The US Open is being played at The Country Club. It is very Boston, and especially very Brookline, that it is called that. No further identification needed, sir.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Firebombing - Jane's Revenge

I had decided not to comment on the recent assassination attempt on Brett Kavanaugh, on the hope that it was a one-off ill person and not representative of any change in overall sentiment. I did remember, and wondered if anyone was pointing it out, that if the politics were reversed Chuck Schumer's comment "you will pay for this" would be a nonstop discussion by horrified liberals expressing how much they felt "real fear," and worry that the country was descending into dangerous places because Sarah Palin/Donald Trump/some obscure Missouri state legislator had been saying such inciting, dangerously violent things.

But I don't think the New York Times and the Washington Post will be rehashing Schumer's comment, because they don't perceive that his comments might send some crazy person that last step over the edge. We have discussed this many times here. It is not just because they are playing the political game of burying news that makes the political side they favor look bad.  It is also because at the most primitive level, they are not in danger personally, so their warning bells do not go off.  They are not the ones who will be hurt. There is a tendency for all of us to do this.  We get activated when it might be our family, our tribe that is under threat. Then IT'S SERIOUS. When it is our political opponents who are in danger, we make excuses about how minimal the danger is.

I had a friend who expressed real concern about the "violence" of pro-life protestors of a speaker at the college he taught at, because they intentionally slow-moved the exit roads of the speakers trying to drive out, never blocking them, just being sort of intimidating, clogging up the road, and saying uncomplimentary things. As was a daily occurrence at OWS, for example, now forgotten. It seemed worse to him because he might theoretically be a target for inviting them.  Nothing like that ever happened, but the threat seemed closer to home. I do not follow it closely anymore, but I don't think I ever heard one word of fear expressed about campus violence in any other direction.  We are all like that.  But we try to be better.

But Schumer did say "Brett Kavanaugh, you will pay for this," which is an odd statement, because Kavanaugh is not in an elected position and the price that he pays will not be political except in the sense of...what? Not getting invited to Georgetown parties? What other "price" was he thinking of?  Schumer isn't stupid.  He reportedly had SATs of 1600, old scoring (though I think there is some shading on that, some information left out). And now someone has tried to assassinate Kavanaugh. 

And this is not a one-off after all, as I naively hoped.  A pro-life clinic has already been firebombed last week by a group called "Jane's Revenge." They threaten more violence. After decades of working with liberals who see themselves as peaceful people, I know what the response will be.  This will not register. It will disappear from memory, not stick to the wall, because the framework, the schema, is that it is the pro-life people who are violent - based on real but long-past incidents - not their people. It is a subset of the offense/defense, liberal/conservative split I have mentioned a hundred times.  It is liberals who are the violent ones, getting in people's faces, setting cars on fire, throwing stones through the storefronts of conservative groups, strapping bombs to themselves and entering buildings.  The difference has been that they have refrained from human targets, and thus it somehow "doesn't count." That is eroding fast - Counterdemonstrations where armed violence against tiny groups of supposed neo-nazis or other baddies is initiated; Bernie staffers shooting Republican congressmen; attacks on police that are specifically political. And of course the assassination attempts back to Oswald have been much more often from the left - when they aren't just from people who are just ill. 

If it's not you in danger, it gets forgotten, as in Cowslip's Warren.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

More Finnish Weirdness


Granite Dad, your daughters might be interested.

National Anthem

I follow some sports, but it is not a topic of general interest here and I don't bring it here that often.  When I mention them at all, it is usually because there is some larger issue involved. In this case, it is the infuriating comment by the NCAA about why they have cancelled a national anthem singer, a Texas A&M grad, for making the "horns down" sign at the end of the performance, to show rivalry against University of Texas. 

The performance of the national anthem during NCAA championship events is a solemn moment for reflection and mutual respect for all championship participants and fans in attendance,

No, it's the friggin' national anthem of the United States of America, sung at many public events in this country as a moment of reflection and showing respect for the country. When large national organisations make statements on politically charged topics, one assumes that they ran it by a few people before going public.  And no one, apparently, picks up on the obvious anymore. If they had cancelled him for injecting sports rivalry into that solemn moment I'd approve.  But another major institution, controlling lots of money, lots of lives of young people, and lots of attention, has succumbed to this misunderstanding of the whole point. We complain about institutions "going woke," but that happens because it is downstream of this sort of cluelessness.

One's politics might make one uncomfortable at the injection of nationalist sentiment into events such as sports, which may not be deeply related.  Fine.  But if you are going to go and have the national anthem, have a clue why that is.


As for sports commentary, I have not commented on Lia Thomas because I don't especially care about those competitions or awards.  I have some interest in the general idea of who is being excluded from what, especially as tax dollars from the feds and in every state go to funding it.  But I'm just not that excited, even by the very public symbolism.


What does excite me is the prediction that the NBA has an interest in making playoff series run longer because $, and therefore they slotted Tony Brothers in to referee against the Celtics last night.  Boston is the best team in basketball, but they are only 3-14 in the playoffs when he is officiating.  He doesn't like it that they complain a lot. He's right, they do complain a lot, and it is obnoxious.  Other fans hate them for it and I completely get that. But when you are the referee, that's not your job, and you are paid to do another one. The NBA allows this to go on, and you can see the pattern in your own jobs. Brothers is likely not going rogue, expressing a refereeing philosophy that is not shared by the other officials and the league.  He is just willing to be the lightning rod and take the damage.  The others are happy to cede him that role. They think something similar but get to look above the fray. In national cultural politics we see the same thing.  The people we hate on the other side are likely just those with the thickest skin and greater courage. They couldn't speak if the sentiment were not widely shared.

When a group is acting both independently and together, it works a treat for someone to be the bad guy, protecting the others. It just sucks when the goal should be overall balance, not one person creating a course correction for everyone else.  The Celtics did lose, their coach, the Nigerian Ime Udoka who is very calm and continually counsels his team not to complain to the refs, nearly got tossed after he was the one complaining to Brothers, just after the Celtics had come back and taken the lead, then slowly had it disappear as fouls got called. If the NBA wants to punish complaining and whining - and I think I would want to do that myself, because we do have a couple of whiners - then they should do that, not engage in this dishonesty. They don't want to admit that they are pissed and insulted, so they try to pretend it's someone else's fault. Typical powerul bureaucrat protecting an image behavior.

Yes You've Got Trouble

There is a lot to see in this article from the Intercept by a long-time progressive activist who is troubled by what he currently sees in progressive organisations. He sees a great deal, and sees it accurately. But what struck me the most were the assumptions he makes that are still unquestioned, even now, that prevent him from understanding. He worries about adopting the framing of criticism from the right, he worries about appearing to give credence to that criticism, he worries about progressives looking like the stereotype of leftist infighting like the Judean People's Front. (Or the Guerrilla Shrews in Redwall.) He is unable to consider that just perhaps, there was something to that to begin with. Do they really think the Audubon Society has a culture of retaliation, fear, and antagonism to women and people of color?

For years, recruiting young people into the movement felt like a win-win, he said: new energy for the movement and the chance to give a person a lease on a newly liberated life, dedicated to the pursuit of justice. But that’s no longer the case. “I got to a point like three years ago where I had a crisis of faith, like, I don’t even know, most of these spaces on the left are just not — they’re not healthy. Like all these people are just not — they’re not doing well,” he said. “The dynamic, the toxic dynamic of whatever you want to call it — callout culture, cancel culture, whatever — is creating this really intense thing, and no one is able to acknowledge it, no one’s able to talk about it, no one’s able to say how bad it is.”

Or, he is unable to consider that there does not seem to be progress on some of these goals now that Democrats have the trifecta because they are not, in fact, all that popular, the offered solutions not all that likely to work, and the injustices both the internal and external conflicts focus on not quite as real as assumed. 

Another leader said the strife has become so destructive that it feels like an op. “I’m not saying it’s a right-wing plot, because we are incredibly good at doing ourselves in, but — if you tried — you couldn’t conceive of a better right-wing plot to paralyze progressive leaders by catalyzing the existing culture where internal turmoil and microcampaigns are mistaken for strategic advancement of social impact for the millions of people depending on these organizations to stave off the crushing injustices coming our way,”

Some of what he is seeing is the coming-of-age of those born after the mid 90s that Haidt and Lukianoff identify, and their highly personalised or even narcissistic approach to their causes - which he sees and wrestles with.  But some of it is the natural decay of bureaucracies into uselessness, which he seems to only partially grasp. Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy again. No wonder the radicals want to burn it down. 

The reliance of so many organizations on foundation funding rather than member donations is central to the upheavals the groups have seen in recent years, one group leader said, because the groups aren’t accountable to the public for failing to accomplish anything, as long as the foundation flows continue. “Unlike labor unions, church groups, membership organizations, or even business lobbies, large foundations and grant-funded nonprofits aren’t accountable to the people whose interests they claim to represent and have no concrete incentive to win elections or secure policy gains,” they said. “The fundamental disconnect of organizations to the communities they purport to serve has led to endless ‘strategic refreshes’ and ‘organizational resets’ that have even further disconnected movements from the actual goals.”

It's Trump's fault, of course.  I should have mentioned that at the outset. Everyone was just so upset.

I just put this up for the title.  I don't think there is any further connection to the topic.  If you see one, let me know.  I might edit this and take credit for it. 

There were a dozen roads I could go down in commenting here, but I want you to choose your own.

Attention Versus Power

The City Journal article by Blake Smith, Attention Counteracting Ambition, hit some interesting buttons for me. Our elites desire admiration more than power.  That seems plausible.

Obama’s speeches and Trump’s tweets gave their supporters the pleasure of imagining that their team now occupied the driver’s seat of history, leaving “bitter clingers” or “losers” in the dust. Both political elites and their audiences seem content to let politics become a kind of dramaturgy, in which roles are performed to cheers and boos. Obama flew to Cairo to give what was then hailed in the global press as an epochal speech. Trump flew to North Korea for an equally blustery, equally inconsequential meeting with Kim Jong Un. Both enjoyed fame in its postmodern sense of media attention, not its eighteenth-century meaning of lasting glory.
I see the complaint on conservative sites - more in the comments than the posts - that various liberals crave power and control over us, and they apply that interpretation to everything that they do. I don't reject that entirely, but it has never quite rung true for me. It seems an overinterpretation of motives, and when that happens, one has to wonder if it is projection, and the critic is desiring power himself.

Beto O'Rourke does not seem to be pursuing power.  He wants to be seen as a cool dude with massive righteousness, admired by all. Hillary might be best understood on the power axis, but AOC seems more like Beto.

 Nearly half a century ago, Jean Baudrillard advanced a blistering critique of Michel Foucault’s theory about the ubiquity of power, arguing that political elites today seek only the illusion of power.

I was in the Order of DeMolay, a Masonic-affiliated order for young men when I was in high school. My participation was indifferent, having been dragged in by a friend whose mother was very involved with Eastern Star. But I do recall that there were phrases that kept showing up in the secret ritual, and one was "worthy of the commendation of all good men." That seems like that older version of fame that Smith is referring to.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Difference in Rewards

I mentioned recently that the rising generation may not be that different from those which have gone before, under "Stray Thoughts." I focused there on rebellion and authority, but the idea may generalise. I have long thought that the differences between one generation - of Boomers, or Millennials, or whatever - and the ones before and after are largely journalism and pop-social science games. Even though the generation born in the mid-90s and after looks very different and shows some measurable distinctives, I think even they are much like previous groups.

What is different is that as society changes, different behaviors get rewarded, so who gets famous, who gets rich, who gets noticed, who wields social power - all these change slightly or greatly in response.  If you change the pay scale or the strike zone or the rules on traveling, different athletes will succeed.  Yet the number of athletic people who have the drive to excel will likely be about the same, decade after decade. We likely have the same number of busybodies, but our cultural and especially legal punishments of those they want to interfere with have made them more powerful. HR doesn't want the company to come under increase regulatory scrutiny or worse, get sanctioned, and focuses on that rather than on getting quality hires and keeping quality personnel. This reinforces itself.

Whether we have more criminals is affected by drug use, and the rewards for crime versus the risks for engaging in it. Head injury and other trauma likely has some effect.  But the percentage of people at risk to be dangerous likely doesn't change much.  What their rewards and incentives are is what changes.

There may be secular changes over time related to culture and teaching, but I don't think these change quickly. Stuff makes the news and lots of people try to make a living commenting on how the world is changing, so we are likely given a false picture of what is changing and what is not. I will stick with my view that we underestimate genetic influences, and underestimate rewards and punishments for behavior, and overestimate the effect of fashions in education and both the popular and classical arts. 

Young people marry less often and have fewer children now. (James just had a post that touches on family formation.) There are a hundred theories as to what cultural changes are driving this, and if you talk to the individuals involved they can describe at length what they think their reasons are. And young people in other regions, classes, or countries will give different reasons. But marriage is no longer an economic necessity, and children are more and more expensive, especially when taking the measurement of insuring that they have a life that looks about as prosperous as yours, or better. That is true in an increasing number of countries. Looking for cultural explanations may be a form of evasion, of not admitting that what we have done in terms of zoning and housing and educational costs is most of the explanation.


It's hard to keep track of this 1990s concert of a Finnish satirical band and the Russian military band the Alexandrov Ensemble. Is everyone involved making fun of each other?  Themselves?  The audience?  Life in general?  Or just trying to make a buck and have a good time?

The Finns can be pretty crazy.

Luxury Beliefs

Rob Henderson's Newsletter discusses luxury beliefs, such as the prominence of "Defund the Police" among the well-off, who live in safer places and can afford private security. He is rather stern about the topic.

We have discussed the general topic frequently over the years, including a heavily-linked discussion a year ago about class, or caste in America. 

I had not understood until today that Henderson grew up in foster homes, ran away and joined the military as soon as he could, then went to Yale on the GI Bill - and now UCambridge and UAustin. I appreciate such perspectives.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

The Lord Bless You and Keep You

 I posted this once before.  It is one of the few pieces I will sing with the choir because I do enjoy hearing it and singing it and know it well enough that I can pop in with minimal rehearsal.  The choir will be singing it tomorrow for Remembrance Sunday - I'm not quite sure what that it, but I'll bet it has to do with those who lost friends and relatives over the last year - and I will be joining them.

I clumsily banged my head* on an overhanging beam a couple of hours ago after getting back from volunteering at New England Seafarer's Mission and hurrying around carelessly, so I will attract too much attention for my minor contribution, and for the wrong reasons. A ball cap would only attract more attention, I think. 

*This is not unusual.  I am quite clumsy.


When I got a paid subscription to Razib Khan's Substack, I was immediately offered others.  I accepted the free trial of them, which generated some more offered free trials of other writers, which I declined. I get the business advantage of having the popular point us in the direction of the lesser-known, and i don't object to people trying to make a living that way, so long as it is minimally intrusive.

I have since unsubscribed to Leighton Woodhouse and "Social Studies," though I still have some podcasts on my device and may listen to those. Yet I think I may pull the plug quickly. I will also be deleting Colin Wright's "Reality's Last Stand," right after this post because it deals mostly with gender outrage issues. But you can check it out if you like

I haven't read enough of Rob Henderson to make a decision.  There was a fourth one I can't find.  Ah, now I remember, Michael DC Bowen of "Stoic Observations."  I liked him okay but it's an advice column, and I unsubscribed.

Thursday, June 09, 2022

Stray Thoughts

Weeding through the buried notes from listening to podcasts while out on a walk. A few of these go back to 2019.

Primogeniture is not a common inheritance strategy in nomadic societies.  Herds can be divided easily.  Orchards and barns not so much.

It seems odd to me that we have a rising generation that shows its "rebellion" by being rule-followers and insisting others do as well.  So quick to appeal to authority, rather than admiring those who are trying to evade authority, as their parents and grandparents did. Of course, this may not be so.  We may have the same percentage of rebels and rule-followers in all generations, but have structured things to reward one group more than usual, so that they have more power than they did in previous eras. Some young people are empowered to be the shock troops for the authoritarian elders. 

I have to check myself not to withhold deserved sympathy just because I think some other group has it worse and is even more overlooked. Irritation rises up in me when I hear about how hard life is for teenage girls, even though their suicide rate and assault victimisation rates are lower, their school success much higher, their problems more closely studied...well, you have seen me go through the list on that before. What about the boys? But I have internally overcorrected on this.  Of course it is hard for teenage girls.  It is hard to come of age at all, without a solid personality to fend off anxieties. Girls have vulnerabilities boys do not and inhabit a world that is often more socially complicated and precarious.  Or at least it seems precarious, until one reaches levels of assurance about identity and "why should I care what she thinks anyway?" 

"You become, of course, paranoid when you have been working on spies for about five years. So there is actually a danger that you see plots everywhere." Nadine Akkerman, author of Invisible Agents: Women and Espionage in 17th Century Britain.

You don't say...

Wednesday, June 08, 2022

Josh Barro on WaPo Fights

There is always the Henry Kissinger line about Iraq and Iran in the 1980s "Can't we hope for them both to lose?" But Barro has an important point about the deterioration of journalism culture and social media culture, which is the public culture of the newest adult generation and likely to have some influence for fifty years. 

Airing internal workplace disputes in public like this is not okay, even when you are right on the merits. My statement isn’t just obvious, it’s how almost all organizations work. If you think your coworker sucks, you don’t tweet about it. That’s unprofessional. If you disagree with management’s personnel decisions, you don’t decry them to the public. That’s insubordinate. Organizations full of people who are publicly at each other’s throats can’t be effective. Your workplace is not Fleetwood Mac.

I reflect on my hospital career.  One could say many bad things about the hospital to one's family, or one's Bible study, or the fathers you were talking to at Cub Scouts or soccer games or whatever.  But you didn't put it in print in any way.  I got in trouble for an anonymous parody of hospital decisions in the 1990s, which I put up on a pillar in the lobby, but got picked up by the Concord Monitor.  Front page, gulp. It was really funny, though.  I just had to let you know that part. If you wrote a Letter to the Editor about the hospital, you worded it carefully, and even then worried about blowback.  Or at least, so I'm told.  Never went their myself.  Even now I only refer to management decisions, especially personnel and discipline, very obliquely. I don't know everything behind those decisions.  I don't like to find out that I said something stupid a month later.


We make categories in order to break them, and I think this should have been introduced to me much earlier in my education.  The Paleolithic, the Mesolithic, and Is the Chalcolithic a Thing? The High Middle Ages and the Renaissance - is there any real difference? The dividing line between a language and a dialect is mutual intelligibility, except "do you mean after a couple of friendly drinks?" Or, "what if neither are Russians but have both been in the Russian Navy?" "What if it's considered insulting on this island to call this a creole but the next island calls their almost-identical language Creole?" Separate species cannot interbreed and produce fertile young - except that's a complete mess now. I'll know it when I see it, uh, most dog breeds are genetically very close. The neat delineation of parts of speech that you learned in school turn out to be ideal types that apply to 70-90% of our words and phrases but leave...

I am going inside. (preposition)

I am going home.

I am going back to my childhood. Okay, 

I hated Akron, where I was abused by several relatives. I am going back to the town I grew up in. I am going back to my childhood.  I am going home...I am going inside.

You can have fun diagramming the sentence to pretend that they fit parts of speech neatly, but they don't.  It's a game.  It's an imposing of categories because we like categories. Reality does not fit categories, but that doesn't mean that reality isn't real. That's the opposite game being played.

Schizophrenia or BPAD with mood-congruent psychotic features? Darn, nothing fits.  Maybe Schizoaffective Disorder? I give up. Psychotic Disorder, NOS. Oh, c'mon, no one is completely objective in journalism or even science. Yet each of those categories above - Chalcolithic, Creole, Schizoaffective has a real meaning. Just because the boundaries are in tatters does not imply there is no meaning in the central concept. People trying to screw with you about that, pretending that there is no central reality are imposing their advantage of exploiting chaos on you by declaring all your precisions are false. 

Romania Changed Everything.

I think it was Romania that did it. Even before the boys came in 2001, I came home to a different world in 1998 after two weeks in Beius. Before that I straightened pictures in waiting rooms.  I still might on occasion, just because I like the looks of it, but it used to be a necessity. I can reluctantly single-space after a period now (though I still go back to get the punctuation around the ends of parentheses or quotation marks right, even though the punctuation style I have adopted over fifteen years of blogging would make not only my grandmother, but even my 1980 self shudder.)  Yet in that pivotal period between the very clearly defined Wyman culture of 1997 and the very clearly defined but entirely different family culture (and church and work and marriage and even what I wore and how I worshiped) inverted a great deal. One Romanian spells very well, the other is embarrassing - and it doesn't matter. He's fussy about other things, because he's an accountant. My mother died, my father died, and all my old categories were transcended.  Exactly as should be. All the same yet all different.

Insisting on little things that you know and others don't can be OCD*, or Aspie, or any of six arrogant Elitisms. Sometimes precision matters, even to life-or-death or billions of dollars.  Bible studies are supposed to look this way, and not that way. Mostly, it's just showing off, or a hard-wired nervousness impervious to correction. "It's not green, it's teal. If we abandon such distinctions, we may as well call black and white the same thing!" I still haven't decided which of the explanations fits best for me, mostly because I don't want to embrace any of those categories.

The flip side is you can and should teach categories. Thought without structure is just feelings and fashions. People who try and break categories before instruction are only hoping to impose their feelings and fashions on the defenseless young. But embrace with joy that we teach categories in order to understand something, but the rest of your life will be spent shrugging that the edges are soft/

*or CDO, because that's in alphabetical order.

Berserkers, and The Dogs of War

The berserkir were not what we think they were, according to Viking and Old Norse scholar Roderick Dale.  Snorri Sturluson's translation "bare-shirt/armor," suggesting a nakedness and recklessness is now not favored.  It is more likely to be "bear shirt/armor."  They were unlikely to be the out-of-control warriors of fantasy, and  more likely became the protectors of order, the bodyguard of the king, and then the protector of the helpless.  The champions, in the old sense. There was a ceremonial aspect in preparing for combat that may have functioned rather like Maori Haka.  Even when knowing it's a performance, the disquieting thought "some of those dudes look actually crazy" does creep in.

There is reference to Christian berserkers, something of a precursor to the idea of the Christian Knight, turning his prowess to the service of women, children, and the poor. The references to this being an out-of-control group, as dangerous  tend to be later.

Yet wolves were mentioned far more frequently. The relation of wolf-ness to warriors is actually much stronger, and bears were subsidiary. There is an idea that there must have been wild-boar warriors as well - we like such things in triplet - but the evidence for this is meager.

Wolves, then. That is fascinating in terms of David Anthony's book in progress The Dogs of War  which I keep hearing excitement about but is only a single paper at the moment.  Still the archaeological incident the paper is about is quite something, of dogs - likely old pet dogs - cut into pieces and then eaten by boys in a coming-of-age ceremony, and it is David Anthony, author of The Horse, The Wheel, and Language. I have heard Anthony discussing the overall idea of the centrality of dogs and wolves to warfare in the many Indo-European and even specifically Yamnayan cultures. The association of dogs, wolves, and war is still strong in many of the descended cultures.

Razib's series on wolves and humans on the Eurasian Steppe The Wolf at History's Door and Casting Out the Wolf in our Midst are recommended. I don't know how much non-subscribers have access to, but his usual practice is to give you at least a few paragraphs.

Those behind the Hajnal Line may have gradually become less violent within their own societies* and their descendants less murderous now, but this is on top of a part of one of the most violent groups in history.  We can tell by the genetics that ten women reproduced for every man through those times, meaning that ten was the average number of women impregnated by the successful males, who likely enslaved or simply killed the male opponents they encountered. Whether that was abduction or rape and abandonment is unclear. If you are looking for ancestors to hate, it might be best to skip the colonialists and move straight to the coming-of-age cohorts of the Yamnaya who subdued and overran Europe and half of Asia in the Bronze Age. Their societies tolerated and even encouraged it because the violence was directed ever-outwards, and thus more land and treasure for us all! Later descendants channeling that violence in milder form still carried the ceremonies.

*However, because of their related ability for broader cooperation than other societies, they have been quite good at violence directed at enemies.

Shang China

"I was a student - studying Chinese Literature and I started studying the early poetry.  I was reading all this secondary literature that suggested that early Chinese civilization differed from that of the West... the West has epics and China was a civilization of peace and harmony of the Drum and the Bell and then I was reading these early dynastic hymns about  'The king raised the battle-ax...offer the left ear of your  enemies to the ancestors' and I thought What is going on here? So I'll look into the archaeology. So I picked up K.C. Chang's Shang Civilization. I was blown away. Like...human sacrifice? What? What is going on here? None of this made any sense to me, based on what I had previously understood about early Chinese civilization from a kind of Confucian lens. It immediately fascinated me. The Shang was unexpected yet somehow had to be related to the rest of Chinese history." Interview with Dr. Rod Campbell,  of  NYU's Institute for the Study of the Ancient World and author of Violence, Kinship, and the Early Chinese State: The Shang and Their World  

Someone I can trust a bit, then. The western fascination with the ancient East - They invented everything! All our philosophical ideas really come from them! They are just wise and peaceful and better at everything! - long predates my going to college ("The Mikado" was intended as a spoof on the Victorian fad), but it was in full flower by the time I was an undergrad. Already there seemed no place for partial admiration of the east. I eventually wrote about it as a blogger, most prominently in reference to GK Chesterton's line in Orthodoxy "Students of popular science, like Mr. Blatchford, are always insisting that Christianity and Buddhism are very much alike, especially Buddhism." Seven of the ten deadliest wars have taken place in Asia, after all. I'm fine with giving the Chinese credit for many things, just not all wisdom. So if Dr. Campbell asserts his overall conclusions about the place as net B-minus positive for the progress of the world in general I can sign on. It's just the starry-eyed nonsense I can't abide. It even spills out to the idea that the Maoists must have been basically okay despite some excesses, because "you just don't understand Chinese civilization." Well, I don't understand killing 25,000,000 of your own residents, not by accident of disease or pollution or pointless warfare or frightening working conditions or even the harshness of slavery, but by intentional extermination for political reasons, no. I'd rather credit Chinese civilization as being at least a bit better, thanks.

Over The Transom

Relate to both feelings of safety, and motives for gun control, I had an article from FEE showing that Nobel Economist Ronald Coase predicted in 1974 that intellectuals would eventually begin to favor censorship and regulation of the marketplace of ideas. His reasoning was that they controlled that marketplace at the time and had no need for censorship, as if there was any regulating to do, they would be the ones tasked with it. Yet if that control eroded, he thought, they would favor taking control back via regulation. Changes in communication since that time - cheaper phone service, cable TV services and deregulation of radio, computer improvements that allow self-publishing, and most dramatically world-wide internet publishing of content has democratised the marketplace of ideas. Social media has even more become the town square for many people, and the intellectual class has no control over Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.  They have to compete with the hoi polloi, and they don't like it. Claims that unregulated social media (and more!) will allow bullies to silence shyer or less-privileged voices with their harsh statements are the inverse of what has already happened. They were the bullies who could silence other voices, and now they can't. That's why they suddenly want to regulate things after decades of championing absolute free speech.

It is reminiscent of Burja's prediction that when the Chinese start supporting international patent recognition, which he thinks will happen in a decade or so, it will not be because we have convinced them of the rightness and fairness of this, but because they now feel they have more stake in protecting patents than in infringing the patents of others.

Immediately beneath that FEE article is the reminder that we have already had an assault weapons ban in the US, 1994-2004, and the federal governments own evaluation of it showed no effect. (But this time it will!  For sure! Everyone knows that!) Note that Kamala Harris shows that certainty-without-evidence that I found so dangerous to discourse in my own recent post. “We know what works on this. It includes, let’s have an assault weapons ban,” Also linked is an article about the CDC study - yes, all you hating the CDC out there, calm down - showing that guns prevent crime, to the tune of 3M/year. You can criticise FEE's summary of the study - they do leave out some parts and that is a fair cop - and you can find all the fault with the study itself that you like. I simply note that the mere existence of these studies done in good faith illustrates that the idea of need for gun control is at least Not Obvious. Thus government authorities and purportedly objective news outlets claiming that it Is Obvious is unnecessarily divisive.

Why, it's almost as if they are trying to silence less-privileged voices.

Tuesday, June 07, 2022

Feelings of Safety

This was an early start on the recent post Where Do We Draw The Line?  I think I will keep it unfinished for that reason.

You can have errors in both directions here.  You can feel safe when you really aren't.  That's the intro to most horror movies, I believe, and also the excuse most drunk drivers give themselves. But even without those extremes there are a few weaknesses to following your feelings of safety. Human beings are pretty good at evaluating an observable, immediate situation - though we are slow to react to unusual occurrences, which is where training and awareness comes in. Remote, new, or long-running risks which occasionally erupt we are less good at.

Be can also feel in danger when we actually aren't, or when the danger is so small compared to the everyday risks we readily accept (driving figures prominently here). This can cause us to act in less-rational ways. I don't think it is good to say irrational, if it is a situation where there is a real danger, just overestimated. Also, different people have to weigh risks differently. If you are going to encounter only six people today, all of them known to you, then surprises are at a minimum. But if you are going to serve 1000 customers today, or if you are a controversial politician who is going to to be appearing in front of a large crowd, then risks of having someone shooting you, or bringing a disease into your range, or a drunk accosting you is something you have to consider, even if each individual you encounter is low-risk.

What is the feeling worth? "Why did you take out hamster insurance?" I guess just for the peace of mind. So we are willing to pay money for the feeling.  We do it all the time, and no one considers it necessarily irrational. On the other hand we have the worries about safetyism, particularly among children, of increasing their anxiety (and thus almost automatically depression) by bringing up boogiemen that make them skittish. Most adults have stories of childhood fears conquered - "I was afraid of thunderstorms until I worked as..." "When I was little I thought that women in long dresses were witches in disguise..." But there is a real downside here. There are some diseases that are more likely to recur once they have been kindled, depression and anxiety are among them. You don't want to get those early, because even if you go on to laugh at whatever you used to be afraid of, you still have at least some susceptibility.  This was picked up first in the 1990s, of Holocaust survivors and people who had seen terrible things in WWII but gone on to have productive, even cheerful lives showing a higher incidence of depression when they were elderly. Sometimes out of nowhere. So even if you "get over it," there is some residual risk, and we don't want to burden our descendants with that. Scaring the pants off children without good reason is bad for them.  Heck, it might be bad for them to scare them even with good reason, just less bad than not exercising proper caution. 

I think there is a distinction between amount of caution and risk and type of caution and risk, that boils down to the idea "Can you learn anything from this?"

Understanding Motives

When people who have displayed rationality before seem unable to get over some basic points, I am fascinated why that might be.  In the case of mass shootings, I am especially curious because the belief that some sort of gun control was just obviously needed was one I once held.  In my slow migration out of liberalism and into the wilderness, it was one of the last beliefs to drop off. I have a sense what my thinking was - or more properly, what my motive for holding a belief without thinking was - but I don't trust retrospective analysis of even my own motives that much.  We are too easily self-serving.  Even when we have some accuracy, we decorate the tree with convenient ornaments we like now. 

I think I believed that the advanced and intelligent cultures had long since demonstrated that restricting gun access was necessary, and the objections to this were from people who held onto old ideas pig-headedly, clinging to their guns and religion, as Obama later said. I didn't have any numbers, except perhaps a vague idea that Western Europeans had less violent crime and also restricted gun access, plus a smug certainty that my sort of people didn't own any guns and didn't commit any violent acts, so therefore being like us was the ticket. I was sure there were numbers behind all that somewhere. 

Or so I tell myself now. And thus I project those beliefs onto people who think some sort of gun control will help now. 

It began to be undermined by odd things. Reading David Hackett Fischer's comprehensive and well-researched Albion's Seed I came across the stray fact that New England had had the lowest homicide rate since colonial times. He was tying that to culture, noting that East Anglia had had the lowest violent crime rates in England in that time as well. (As near as I can tell, it still does, or is close.) I wasn't thinking about guns at all, but the idea "We have lots of guns up here, but somehow we don't shoot people very much" stuck with me. Then in a discussion of Sherlock Holmes and firearms among the Victorians, of all things, I learned that Western Europe's violent crime rate had gone down before there was any change in the laws. Gun control was a follow-on, not a cause. Then came John Lott, and even though people who wanted to lecture me with fingers in my face kept treating his methodology dismissively, it at least established for me that what I had long believed was just obvious and every smart person knew it, was at minimum not a slam dunk after all. Perhaps most humorously (though in a grim situation) was a very liberal psychiatrist commenting about a patient who had just been driving 100mph while in a manic state in order to save his girlfriend who he was sure was being kidnapped in Maine. "Sometimes it's not the guns, is it? I think maybe we should have driver's license control instead." Unexpected. When your mind is halfway changed things start to cascade, as helpful bits keep attaching themselves to the new structure. The Hajnal Line, that interesting discovery showing a different culture related to feudalism, age at marriage, and reduction in clannishness resulted in increasing rights for women, less internal violence (though warfare remained high, perhaps even higher), and greater internal cooperation. And ultimately, I began looking suspiciously at the statistics of the gun controllers, learning that they were often deceptive - Look over here! Shiny! Shiny!

Well, we did that imitation of research of believing what our cultural outlets and the people in our crowd told you, without paying even minimal attention to manipulations of data and important items left out. We likely also nodded to descriptions if this guy had a harder time getting a gun...if he couldn't just go in and buy...if we ran a better screening on everyone purchasing...if we only allowed certain people to sell/buy/trade/make firearms...Yes, we make pictures in your heads, little stories really, like the "human interest" anecdotes used by news sources to sell you their POV. NPR is perhaps the worst ("Kukrit, who runs a bicycle repair shop in Bangkok, wonders what the new trade agreement will mean for him getting parts…"), but they are not the only. News outlets know we prefer stories to facts, and they would rather tell stories. 

Yet I confess I no longer know what the thoughts and motives are of people who believe that some new laws are going to have an effect.  It is too far away and long ago now.  I know that some conservative sites I have gone to are just sure that some want to disarm us so that they can rule us more easily.  They do have the examples of this happening in other countries to back them up.  But I haven't much encountered that myself. 


I do know some ways in which their reasoning is bad.  I suppose that will have to do at present.

There are people who are opposed to firearm restrictions largely from a rights-and-freedoms perspective who ask questions which gun restrictionists usually just ignore, about what the cultural costs for the safety you think we will get are. On what terms do you want to live your life? What is the value of mere survival versus thriving, or independence? I am not especially one of those myself. I will admit those questions farther down the line, once we have determined what level of safety you hope to trade off for. If you want to stereotype gun rights people as those who only care about "muh freedoms," you can go and argue with them about it. You might find, by the way, that their challenges to you are far stronger than you expected. 

But don't bother me about it, or not until far down the road, because I value the number of people who are upright at the end of the day very, very highly. I think it is where the discussion starts. I demonstrated this over the last couple of years in discussing covid.  I like to start from the numbers of two experimental groups and see how many are still standing a year later under method A and method B, and have the discussion proceed from the agreement of which side starts with the advantage. And here's the thing. The people who believe we must change our gun laws somehow are sure, just sure, that under their proposals, there will be more schoolchildren upright afterward.

And there is zero evidence that this is true. People have stories they tell themselves, pictures and scenarios they play out in their heads of if this guy had a harder time getting a gun...if he couldn't just go in and buy...if we ran a better screening on everyone purchasing...if we only allowed certain people to sell/buy/trade/make firearms...IT'S JUST OBVIOUS THESE THINGS WOULDN'T HAPPEN, or would at least happen less. Yet no.  None of those are true. 

It's the belief in the obviousness that is troublesome, i think.

This is usually followed by the idea that well, if we did things like this, we would be less of a gun-loving, gun-worshiping culture, and gradually but importantly become a better people and live in a safer place.  This is also absolutely untrue. New Englanders own lots of guns - Howard Dean used to joke to other Democrats that he came from Vermont, "where even liberals own 2-3 guns." And we have had the lowest rates of violent crime since colonial times. Culture is so much more important as to make the laws irrelevant. We have discussed this here dozens of times and I will only point you to the Hajnal Line or HBDChick's discussions of forbidding cousin marriage and the effects of feudalism in the Middle Ages how we went down this long road.  Enter them in my search bar if it's not quite clear to you.  I had no original thoughts, I just quoted and linked to good people. If this is new to you - I am thinking it might be to clever young Gaznir - you may be in for a treat of new concepts.

Aggie had a great comment under my "Expectations" post. It was in the context of the continuous-improvement work they needed to do in drilling, and in that industry it had gone well, because people wanted safety, not to find others to blame.  Yes. When there is a society-wide problem, the first thing that is required to improve matters is honesty and good faith in communication, usually the last things to become apparent - and even then, in deficit. The biggest task in creating a proactive safety culture is gaining acceptance that this is the priority at the outset. Once people buy in, the culture of continuous improvement takes wing. Ironically, to work safely one has to first feel safe in being able to communicate their observations and ideas without fear of criticism. Shame is a very powerful emotion.