Sunday, July 31, 2022

11 in 13

Plus two straight NCAA and an Olympic gold, so, maybe 14 out of 16 possible championships is the real number.

There is a sequence showing repeated blocks against Wilt.  One can hardly believe it is possible.

A Persistent Anthropological Myth

The idea that early hunter-gatherers were egalitarian and shared all or most of their resources with each other is remarkably persistent, despite the enormous counter-evidence.  Razib interviewed the anthropologist Manvir Singh, and even though only subscribers can get the transcript of that, links to two Aeon articles by him were included.: 

Primitive communism: Marx’s idea that societies were naturally egalitarian and communal before farming is widely influential and quite wrong


Beyond the !Kung: A grand research project created our origin myth that early human societies were all egalitarian, mobile and small-scale.

A sample of Singh: 

Today, many writers and academics still treat primitive communism as a historical fact. To take an influential example, the economists Samuel Bowles and Jung-Kyoo Choi have argued for 20 years that property rights coevolved with farming. For them, the question is less whether private property predated farming, but rather why it appeared at that time. In 2017, an article in The Atlantic covering their work asserted plainly: ‘For most of human history, there was no such thing as private property.’ A leading anthropology textbook captures the supposed consensus when it states: ‘The concept of private property is far from universal and tends to occur only in complex societies with social inequality.’

Historical narratives matter. In his bestseller Humankind (2019), Rutger Bregman took the fact that ‘our ancestors had scarcely any notion of private property’ as evidence of fundamental human goodness. In Civilized to Death (2019), Christopher Ryan wrote that pre-agricultural societies were defined by ‘obligatory sharing of minimal property, open access to the necessities of life, and a sense of gratitude toward an environment that provided what was needed.’ As a result, he concluded: ‘The future I imagine (on a good day) looks a lot like the world inhabited by our ancestors…’

But it's just not true.  You can see that these are not outdated texts with ideas already on their way out, being kicked as they exit ashamedly by the back door. These are still believed, and even insisted upon.  They are similar to the myth of the peaceful savage, which Lawrence Keeley exploded 25 years in War Before Civilization, yet still persists.  Because people want it to be true, not because it is. It fits their picture of the nature of mankind, of what civilization has done, what colonization has done, not least, their political stances of what we should do now.

CS Lewis pointed out decades ago that there is no cause to believe current hunter-gatherers are a stand-in for previous millennia of them.  The agriculturalists and the industrial societies have taken over niches of their own, consigning the hunter-gatherers to the leftover space.  What they are doing now is an adaptation to their environment, not necessarily their preferred mode. This is not mere theory and corrective, the tendency to recognise private property is far more common than the primitive communism that sends moderns into such rhapsodies. Worse, the extreme egalitarianism sometimes has its own very dark side in infanticide and other killings of tribe members who are going to be a permanent burden. 

The Aché had among the highest infanticide and child homicide rates ever reported. Of children born in the forest, 14 per cent of boys and 23 per cent of girls were killed before the age of 10, nearly all of them orphans. An infant who lost their mother during the first year of life was always killed.

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Bill Burr

I have gotten into watching his videos since one went up over at Grim's Hall. I had heard of him but never watched him until this week. I picked this one for no particular reason.

Local-ish boy, comes from Canton and all of you know someone from there. Some of my Puritan ancestors, including most of my American Revolution ones, come from the towns around there.

Friday, July 29, 2022

Victims of Violence

Rafael Manguel over at City Journal is not telling us anything not already well-known here, he's just does it in a clear, well-supported fashion. On Criminal (In)Justice. He hits the key point very quickly.  Whenever you read the numbers about who is stopped, arrested, or incarcerated, make the immediate correction: Who are the victims of violent crime? You will read many times over the statistics about how many young black (and to a lesser extent, Hispanic) men are arrested before you see the ones about who the victims of violence are. They are also black (and to a lesser extent Hispanic). Do we care about them or don't we?  It seems like a simple question.  Apparently not.

Prominent athletes - not coincidentally young and male - make much of the unfairness of who is bothered by the police. They seldom mention who the victims are. One would think that was an automatic other side of the coin, as they have mothers, aunties, friends, and siblings who have heightened risk of being victims. Yet it is not commonly noted. Why it's almost as if it is them and their friends who really matter...

Group Prayer


Neuroscience Advice

I remain suspicious of #1 Habit!!, self-help, SCIENCE-has-discovered personal advice - skeptical, if you will. Even the best ones seem to sell themselves with one-weird-trick style advertising, which puts me off. But I have liked Huberman and am thinking of putting up a couple of his. The PTSD one, if it holds up, would be along the lines of where my own thinking had taken me over the years, though with more clarity and definitely more supporting evidence. 

He's the real deal for credentials.  So I thought I'd start with this one, which seems innocent enough even if it's wrong, and tells me I've been doing things right all along, which always pleases me.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Undecided Whale

Ethan Strauss, sports journalist turned cultural disrupter over at his Substack* site House of Strauss, coined the phrase Undecided Whale to describe the marketing change from appealing to your core customers to a larger group that seems to be hovering nearby, just waiting for you to sell it things. The NBA, we are all noticing the last few years, cares more about China than the US even though the bulk of its revenue comes from American TV rights.  Nike built its brand on alpha masculinity and still has two-thirds of its sales from men, but sees that women's market, just sitting there nearby, larger than the male clothing market by a considerable margin. 

He doesn't think it will be good for culture or Nike. 

*Of course.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022


 James just put up a post about The Line, with comments of his own which are preliminary but sharp.

This fits my idea of being skeptical.  Not only am I not opposed to people discovering new ways to organise their lives, I am positively in favor of it. Multiple tries. Lots of people should take a shot at it. I'm not going to laugh at any of them or criticise them. Like those floating cities that belong to no country or those islands attempting to be self-sufficient, I love this stuff.  Go for it. Send me reports weekly.  Write if you get work and all that.

But the better the sci-fi graphics and the denser the cliches, the more worried I am that these people are not among those who have done the simple everyday human things known for thousands of years, like raising children, being stuck in a sucky job, organising a two-car funeral, or wandering into another tribe's territory.

But go for it, guys. Best of luck. We may learn a great deal even if it's a failure.

Please comment there, not here. CWCID.

Calendrical Stonehenge

Tim Darvill, OBE, who we have met here before, has a new paper about the possible calendrical intents of Stonehenge. We have long known about the solstice identifying stones, but he has a good deal more detail offered. This one is not just a 365-day calendar, but a 365.25-day one, with additional counters counting off the four years for the additional day. Indigenous, or copped from the Eastern Mediterranean? 

Calendrical speculation is easy whenever there are stones standing up and you can count them. There is a lunar cycle of 18.6 years, so anytime you find 9 stones in a pattern, or 19, you can say "Voila! It must be representing the lunar cycle! They counted off the years." Anything around 28 days you can say is the other lunar cycle. Four stones and it's solstices and equinoxes somehow. 13 stones is moons in a year. It gets to be like p-hacking, so that whatever number of stones you have, you can make them into some sort of calendar, especially if you start breaking them into groups. 

Another problem arises when it turns out the various stones at a site were put up in different eras, as is the case at Stonehenge. It makes the explanations harder to square. As the several eras of original builders of the site were all uh, replaced by other tribes moving in, we also lost some continuity of what things might mean to them.  Remember making grandfather into a flute, still one of my favorite stories.

And yet when you have 30 stones, and they have these gaps that arrange them into 1-10, 11-20, and 21-30, you get nicely into the 12 months of 30 days territory, with 36 ten-day weeks.  Need five more days? The Egyptians had a major festival every year of five days, celebrating five gods, a little before this. And at Stonehenge...we have the five sarsen trilithons arranged in a horseshoe shape in the interior.  Nice big ones, appropriate to represent gods...Was there communication at such a distance between those cultures at times that might possibly provide explanation.  Opinions have differed sharply over the years, as the article explains.

Well a problem remains, in that there doesn't seem to be anything counting those 12 months.  That is not dispositive, as they could have been far outside the circle and still functional, but it does remain that we haven't got 'em, or not yet.

Although archaeological accounts often rehearse the notion that early farmers needed time-reckoning systems to know when to plant and when to harvest, no self-respecting farmer needs to be told these things—their skill and experience dictates how they work the land. Where farmers do need guidance, however, is in knowing when to celebrate the harvest festival for best effect, or when to please the gods with their presence at key ceremonies. Hutton (Reference Hutton1996: 427) reviewed 40 festivals recorded in Britain over recent centuries, and while many were modern inventions, he found a vigorous seasonal, festive culture surviving from ancient times. These are not so much calendar festivals as festivals whose timing has been calendarised: important events that serve as landmarks in time (Nilsson Reference Nilsson1920: 83)...time-reckoning systems bring communities closer to their gods by ensuring that events occur at propitious moments.


Stonehenge Tunnel

There is a controversy about the preservation of the Stonehenge site that seems so obvious to me that I must not quite understand one side (of at least three) of it. 

"Since 1991, 51 proposals have been considered for improving the A303 in the area and to remove it from the Stonehenge site." So, as I recently just wrote, there's your first problem right there. Everyone agrees it needs to be fixed, no one agrees on what the fit should look like. 

There is the opinion of the archaeologists looking long term.  There is the opinion of the people who live in the area, for whom these roads are "the route that I take to work," or to shopping, or to check in on Gramps every day. I think I get both of these.  The former says "there is not just one site, there is an array of sites in the area, and they are irreplaceable.  Take the course, no matter how expensive and inconvenient, that maximises flexibility for learning about the people who lived in these places over thousands of years. The latter group takes the position that history and prehistory are just fine, but we live here right now. Why should the lives of the living matter less than the lives of the dead? As an excellent example of this, many decisions were made during WWII about where to place military bases or how to move troops or materiel across the landscape.  That seems distant, unimportant and unnecessary now.  Yet at the time it was very legitimate arguement "We aren't going to even have a nation, and our conquerors are going to destroy everything of our history.  So don't tell me how important this pile of stones or pots or bones is.  They are only important in the context of everyone living in peace and sending the daughters of rich parents to Oxbridge to study this. Other Englishmen, though less important in your eyes, don't much care about the details.  They want their England to survive for another generation for their children. Stonehenge nice, but England better. And why is this costing two billion pounds when the original estimate was one-tenth that? This group seldom articulates its position well, and therefore gets made fun of as boors who don't care about science or history or Quality Things in general. 

They therefore get thrown in with what we might call the shallow conservationists, whose position is not much defensible at all, but often have strong feelings, an ability to conjure, and some influence. They want things to look like Merrie Olde England, dammit, and be able to march right up and see Stonehenge whenever they damn well please without interference from government or uni people with their (possibly anti-England and anti-traditional) ideas. They want thatched roofs and canal boats and you can't even get a pint of Watney's Red Barrel anymore. We actually do know this sort in every country in the world. In America one version is the people who want the old traditional hymns that are actually 100-200 years old, no more, no less, because that just seems holy to them. (Look, I like a lot of those hymns and sing them with gusto, but you have to know what you're saying before spouting off.)  Traditional means grandparent. There are versions in every town. This gets humorous only when you are something of an outsider, noticing that traditional foods for Passover means Egypt only for the purely ceremonial parts, but mostly means Delancey Street. If you are actually inside on one side of the controversy it's not so funny.

Satire and sendups are funnier when they are meant affectionately (see my posts on earlier Keillor vs later Keillor. The first two tell you much, no need to scrape the barrel in my other posts.), and I don't think Pete's intentions are kindly here. Yet I think Arlo's are, so we will give the song a pass.

Anyway, Stonehenge is ground zero for that sort of argument in England, with more archaeologists per capita than elsewhere, more non-archaeolgoists opinionated about the topic, and more protected sites, leading to more people living and driving in and amongst them. And being Stonehenge, there is a full contingent of people getting exercised about fanciful history or what should be true, but isn't, in science and archaeology. So there is debate about the proposed Tunnel under Stonehenge. There. Are. Protests

If you put the visitor center bang up against the stone circle then lots of people can bus out there, go to the gift shop, and see the stones easily.  But then when you stand back to contemplate the ancient's got a visitor center in it.  Same for nice roadways going by. As for the tunnel, people are worried that it will destroy future archaeology. Well, but the immediate site has been worked over quite a bit and we aren't likely to find gripping new things. The new things, like the discovery of Durrington Walls, came about because a road was being built. Archaeologists are much more interested in the less-explored areas in the wider area, especially to the west of Stonehenge. 

Taking the entirety of the ritually-used landscape, suspicion is growing that Avebury may turn out to be the bigger deal and tell us more going forward. (We are very pro-Avebury around here.) The shallow conservationist position is based on the idea that there are very few important things out there and they are deeply endangered, so we have to basically Not Touch Anything. Yet if we have learned anything in the last hundred years it is that there are lots of new things being discovered all the time that we have barely studied at all. Most of the discoveries arise because of construction - of roads, golf courses, shopping districts, apartments. The Amesbury Archer was discovered because they were building a school.

The Semi-Rich

Via the excellent Rob Henderson, who just finished a session teaching "Forbidden Courses" at University of Austin, is this Vox article about the semi-rich. It does indeed identify an important group culturally and economically, and even dimly senses what they are all about. Yet it is mostly an excellent exercise for those looking for "unproven assertions and unwarranted assumptions which lead to the conclusions that were clearly hoped for by the author." Take your blood pressure medication first.


We have moved into using the word "skeptical" in an unfortunate way, when we actually mean "disbelieving."  I am skeptical of political claims by Republicans, but I am disbelieving of those by Democrats. I don't approach the latter with an attitude of "Well, this could be true, but I will reserve judgement until I know more." I begin by rejecting the claim. It takes a lot for me to admit "Huh. Well that turned out to be true after all." With Republican claims, I could go either way.

I think the distinction is important because skeptical feels like an intellectually superior position to take about many things. We are thoughtful, we have high standards for being convinced, we are a skeptic, not easily taken in, doncha know. Not gullible like the hoi polloi. But reflexively disbelieving any religious claim does not make one a religious skeptic who regards claims of miracles with suspicion, but an unbeliever who simply rejects them. There are people who are skeptical of the efficacy of one vaccine or another, but most people who proudly bear the title of skeptic are just anti-vaxxers.

We are seldom skeptical about a topic for long. It takes intellectual effort, and we all prefer efficiency. We like to come down on one side or the other, having a ready belief about what is probably happening.

It came up today with someone noting a link about long covid and saying they are skeptical.  No, they aren't skeptical at all. Skeptics think about a subject. This particular person is not regarding such claims warily, he is simply rejecting them because he is now certain that all such claims are bunk. He might be convinced, I suppose, by sustained and mounting evidence reported, but I am not even sure of that.  He might simply be a disbeliever forever, congratulating himself on how wise he is. You can't take us in.  the Dwarves are for the dwarves.  

I don't think it is unreasonable to be a disbeliever about many things. Many ideas circulate for years even though they are ridiculous. But be careful not to give yourself credit for a wise attitude when one is not in evidence.

I am skeptical of your claim to be a skeptic - and with some people I am disbelieving of that claim, right out of the chute.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022


The Sixties-ness seems a bit contrived, forced.  But I always liked the song all those years when I had no idea of any video that might be put to it. just the Spoonful


I have short Stonehenge post that has gotten completely out of control.  I am in some manicky tangential phase intellectually. As Snoopy said, years ago

“It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, a shot rang out! A door slammed. The maid screamed. Suddenly, a pirate ship appeared on the horizon! While millions of people were starving, the king lived in luxury. Meanwhile, on a small farm in Kansas, a boy was growing up.” Then Snoopy types the words “Part 2” and tells us, “In Part 2 I’ll tie all of this together.”

There's Your First Problem Right There

 Grim has linked to a UC Davis study about political violence. The Introduction

Recent events in the United States (US)mass shootings, Supreme Court decisions, hearings of the House committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol, and othershave reminded Americans of the daily presence of violence in their nation’s public life. This study is motivated by 5 recent trends that, in their apparent convergence, create the potential for even greater violence that could put at risk the future of the US as a free and democratic society.

So we know - or at least I know, and Grim picked up on immediately - that they have a biased view of the topic, right out of the gate. This is important, because if they are designing questions, they will just naturally be drawn to phrasings that give away the game; they will unconsciously select the data around them that confirms their bias and will interpret that information in ways that accentuate that. (Grim drew his conclusion from their funding sources, noting that this does not disprove or even undermine their conclusions, but should be a red flag about where it might go wrong.)

And in fact, this is exactly what happens, beginning with the next paragraph, which outlines the limitations of previous attempts to define and measure support for violence and the difficulty of discerning exactly what is being said - and then immediately ignores that, going straight to naive interpretations of data and selective statistics about violence. One might almost think it was a "spot the bias" exercise specifically designed to instruct journalists and researchers, but alas, I have every reason to believe this is intended for straight. Worse, I have every reason to believe that if the researchers were informed there were a couple of minor blogs which detected bias in their work, they would be unable to pick out what that is, even when cued.

So I will point it out, futilely for them and likely unnecessarily for my audience and thus likely only for my own enjoyment. Except I'm not enjoying it, so "exercise" might be a better word.

Mass shootings...are not up over time, and thus are not to be counted as recent events in the sense of a trend, as said events have occurred both remotely and recently. Yet the intent is clear that we are to think so, to get activated to our danger immediately, as it they are the first thing mentioned.

Supreme Court decisions...define your terms, please. Do you mean that previous SCOTUS decisions have not tended to remind Americans of "the daily presence of violence" but recent ones have?  Which decisions, exactly, and in what way do they remind us of violence? I will stretch a bit and offer there is a feeling, not quite clear in their own minds, that there is increased danger of violence as evidenced by the fact that "our side is losing." If they mean something else, I would like to know what that is, for after it was stripped of the initial explanation of "trust in institutions" and "feelings of powerlessness" what we will have is some actual violence from the left, against buildings, against people, and yes, the sense that "our side is losing." 

Hearings investigating...but those are events from 18 months ago, so however concerning they might be, they aren't a reminder of a daily presence of violence, they are more a daily reminder of previous violence. Tricksy. Or not. The frightening thing is that they are not trying to intentionally reword things to trick us and make us think of violence. They likely just think this way on their own, are getting nervous, and are expressing why, knowing that their audience largely shares their bias and thus are among friends.

...and others.  What others? Please, do tell.  Otherwise we will have to give you no credit for anything except puffery.

Others might include increased riots  over the last two years, but those go strangely unmentioned. And others might include digging into the later statistics about the alarming increase in homicides - they are careful to tie that to GUNS! GUNS! Do you hear me, they've got GUNS! - but not so careful to tell us exactly where these increases are occurring, whether it relates to changes in policing, and who is doing it. Why, you would think it was just this troubling increase in people* being willing to be violent because of their attitudes. Or maybe the Supreme Court is making us do this.

All of this not to say that there is nothing useful in their study.  It is just that it is tedious having to apply a discount to every statistic. They make much of an answer endorsed by 32% of Americans about "a group of people in this country [is] trying to replace native-born Americans with immigrants." Well, replace isn't the word I would choose, as it carries an air of getting rid of those people, and that is an extremity of view held by few (I hope.) But there are unquestionably people, and they have NGO's who are tickled to tell you the projections that whites are decreasing in percentage of Americans ("and you'd better get used to it, bucko") and advocating we bring in more immigrants. And can I just say that "native-born" is a very accurate description of black people more than white in America, as they have generally been native for two centuries or more, while a lot of Swedes, Jews, and Irish came later. Yet I think the term was chosen to suggest whiteness without actually saying so.  That may be a reach on my part, At any rate, there is a group in this country who want to "replace" native-born by immigration (plus fertitlity, I suppose), and they will say it right out loud.  I might use phrasings about increasing the number of immigrants as less loaded.  But we don't get to choose the wording of poll questions.  We don't get to say "Yes, but..." to them.  We have to take what is offered and choose agree versus disagree.  When I am presented with a question like that I get annoyed, because I both know what is a correct answer and also what false conclusion they are going to draw.  As here. 

And here's the kicker on that last one: the original poll question, out of the University of Chicago, closed with the phrase "for electoral purposes."  Well, that's a different kettle of fish, isn't it? That actually does take us into the realm of flat dishonesty, of leaving out a key bit of information to make one thing look like another.  Also, from the line just before that reporting "...two-thirds of Americans feel the country’s diverse population makes the US stronger – less than 10% say diversity weakens the country." How are we to square that with the dire language of 32% of Americans believing in dark conspiracies to replace them?

This grows tiresome, as a favorite psychiatrist of mine used to say at team meetings. You can try to gather information from the study if you want.  There are valuable things there. But the signal to noise ratio is poor.

*And by this point you have a clear idea how those people are voting.

Monday, July 25, 2022

CS Lewis on Courage

All sorts of things will make a man brave for the time being: alcohol, ignorance of the danger, anger, self-respect, human loyalty, and love of God. But they are not equally good sources. ("The Anvil" a radio broadcast on the BBC with CS Lewis in 1943)

Mondo Again

 The record vault is just before the 3 minute mark.  He looks like he has more to go, as well.

He is from Louisiana, but vaults for Sweden.

I would rather watch the mile relay (now the 4X400 meters) at a track meet than anything else.  I would watch fifth-graders run that event.  The two US teams did incredibly well this time around, if you like following that stuff.

Internet Intermittent

Comcast encouraged us to upgrade our router for free, and we have had difficulties ever since. I love it when they improve my life by ruining it like that. I did all the restarts and diagnostics I knew they were going to run anyway, but they still wanted to do them themselves.  Sigh.  So would I, I guess, if I were on the other end of the line.  It really throws them that we don't have TV at all. I finally got through to a person, got cut off, got through to another person who eventually gave up and said they will send a technician Wednesday.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Faster Carmelised Onions

A YouTube cooking video mentioned using baking soda to carmelise onions more quickly, so I thought i would check it out.  The claims are that the cooking can be done in ten minutes, which sounded impossible to me.  It was about a decade ago I came across an article that gave me great comfort, reassuring me that those recipes calling for carmelised onions quickly were a lot of hooey.  In fifteen minutes, the best one could hope for was to burn them.  Carmelising took 45 minutes or more. As I love these little things dearly, whether in long thin crispy strips or mushy piles of tiny snakes, I resolved to start making them more often, now that I knew how, and knew that I was in for a longish time preparing.

No problem, really.  White wine goes well with  carmelising onions. In the cook, I mean. And that is the way it has been for a decade. I occasionally make a double batch and give some to my daughter-in-law, because the others in her family don't like onions.

I thought the experiment run by National Onion Association could be relied on for objectivity. They were skeptical but agreed that the carmelising was much quicker, from 45+ minutes to about 13.  Mine went almost 20 when I usually go an hour, so I thought it a success.  Flavor excellent. Texture a little mushy.  Sometimes that doesn't matter, sometimes it does.  It depends on what you are using them for. Site bookmarked. Key point: Very little baking soda, 1/8 tsp per pound.

The home page has lots of video display of onions being harvested, sorted, and moving along conveyor belts to be packaged in order to make their way to me. It warms the heart to see them.

Depression and "Chemical Imbalance"

An umbrella review of the evidence dismisses the idea that inadequate serotonin levels or a "chemical imbalance" are what causes depression.  Most simply, there is no level of serotonin that we are supposed to be getting to, and it has never been clear what "chemicals" are supposedly "imbalanced" in the brain. Not that serotonin is never involved, or that creating some chemical changes in the blood which affect the brain aren't part of effective treatment of depression, they often are. It's just that the description does not universally apply and the terms are so vague as to be meaningless. 

There is some discussion of the history of the controversy and the meaning of the review in a Psychology Today column that is helpful, and includes these quotes from the lead author 

We do not understand what antidepressants are doing to the brain exactly, and giving people this sort of misinformation and prevents them from making an informed decision about whether to take antidepressants or not.


It is high time to inform the public that this belief is not grounded in science.

I was informed of all this from a tweet by Pradheep J Shanker @ Neoavatara that includes considerable discussion itself.

I was frankly surprised by the controversy, as I had never used the chemical imbalance explanation in my career nor heard another clinician use it.  When the phrase came up, it was from a patient or a family member who had latched onto it as a description that satisfied them. We would usually not contradict this explanation so much as redirect it to the idea that depressions are different and the mechanism in the brain is unclear. However, the medications do help a fair number of people (relatively) quickly and a lot, and a further percentage are helped partially. The medications are designed to target particular receptors, and when that is done effectively people's moods often improve.

So usually, worth a try. Sometimes they do magic. But depressions are indeed different.  Medical conditions can cause depression.  Grief can cause it. We increasingly regard anxiety and depression as related or co-occuring. I have always thought there is a hard-wired baseline of mood, with some just naturally more sanguine and others more melancholic, to use historical terms. I used the analogy of a sponge, either absorbing water and riding lower in it versus not absorbing it and riding above it.  Buoyant, if you will. But I liked it because it was quite clearly a metaphor, not an explanation.  No one was going to confuse depression with actual water absorption. (I hope.)

Because of the speed of effect - anywhere from immediately to a few weeks out and increasing over the next months, versus weeks of therapy - and my personal experience I have long been pro-medicine. We always had very limited bed space and wanted to move people along as quickly as possible, contrary to the belief of many patients and some of the public that we like to hold people indefinitely for little reason. People went off their meds, became symptomatic, came to the hospital.  We would restart meds, they would quickly get better and go home.  I was a big part of what a psych hospital does, though not everything. I also had psychotherapy for OCD for 2.5 years and learned a lot about myself and felt very grateful to be able to share deep confessional information.  But my symptoms weren't any better.  But in a couple of weeks on Prozac (it became the gold standard for OCD but this was when it was only approved for depression - I had gotten myself into a study) my symptoms were greatly reduced. And, I noticed a lightening of mood that made me wonder whether I had been mildly depressed all along. We all weight our own experience, or that of our family, higher than is quite justified for a scientific understanding.  But hey, that's the head we live in, so it looms larger.

I always thought it was just something people used as a shorthand. "Well, they are chemicals. And they change the chemicals in the brain. So they must be raising some level or correcting some imbalance, right?" And yes, being balanced sounds like a good way to think of being mentally healthy, sure. But apparently the complaint is with the pharmaceutical companies, who embraced this pop-psych explanation as a marketing assist, and with doctors who don't spend the time on a better explanation. That makes sense.  Looking at the percentages of people who understand depression in terms of chemical balance or imbalance, I can see why people get exercised about the poor understanding to the point of calling it misinformation. Odd that I was not particularly aware of the controversy at all, except that not having a TV I was not exposed to sly pharma ads capitalising on the convenient misunderstandings.

Moving To Canada

Update include, of something I missed yesterday.  Sorry.

A liberal friend thought she might like moving to Canada. I had already hit her with the unwelcome* news about the racial breakdown of violent crime** - and thus gun ownership and gun laws and gun culture are not the drivers of American violence vis-a-vis Europe and Canada - so I didn't want to close by overloading her.  But when I hear that people want to move to Canada, or Western Europe, I immediately think so you want to move to whiter places.  Why? That's not how they have framed this in their own minds, and they would deny that race has anything to do with.  Directly, and consciously, this is likely true. Nonetheless, the places they choose are always very white.

If conservatives were as racist as is claimed, it is they who would be ignoring minor differences and lining up to go to Denmark and Austria.

Canada has an increasing Asian population - you know, the ones that are criticised on American college campuses as being too white-aligned - and since reforming immigration laws in the mid 60s has started allowing black immigrants from the Caribbean, especially Commonwealth countries, those numbers have increased as well, though they are still small at about 3%. (Only that recently?  Yes, quite recent.) No Hispanics, really, and First Nations peoples are about the same percentage as in America. Yet somehow rednecks don't want to go there.

Canada also has a nice semi-European feel with a big chunk of people speaking French and closer ties to the UK, so that's a draw for liberals as well. And Canadians are defensive about not being Americans, so that's also fun. I like the place myself, and the UK as well. I can see moving to Canada - my grandfather was from Nova Scotia - or some places in Europe,  but knowing what I do now about the demographics I would feel a bit guilty about it, wondering if I had some (previously unconscious) racist motives for it. 

*She was shocked, stating that she had never heard this before.  I could not tell if she meant "This must not be quite true, because I have followed such things moderately closely for decades," (Yes, but on NPR and in elite media) or "Why has no one told me this before?" This is of course a main problem of discussing things with liberals, because they believe an array of intertwined untrue things, and you no sooner start to give the evidence, often quite obvious, for one point when it bashes up against another false belief that will also need to be undone before they will consider your claims about the first one. Hence red-pill, blue-pill metaphors. Hence my statement from years ago that the journey out of liberalism is not so much an intellectual one - that part is easy and straightforward - but a personal journey of uncomfortable self-discovery.  Which is why it often becomes deeply related to religious questions as well.

**I don't like bringing it up at all, but it becomes necessary when gun regulation folks start making claims about restricting firearms being the solution. 

Saturday, July 23, 2022


I may have shared what is usually called a meme, a photo with a smart-aleck statement on it,  over the years.  I have a near relative who does this often on Facebook, which is a primary reason why I first unfollowed him and then got off FB.  He is capable of solid argument, but even in email correspondence no longer does so. One more bit of evidence that we do not become wiser as we age and should be very suspicious of life-extension strategies. 

My number of memes may be small, but I can still reduce them. The number is now zero.  Call me out if I transgress on this.  The new article at Quillette is quite persuasive. It includes a bit of meme history as well.

The subset of memes that focus on politics are generally designed to boil complex issues down to a digestible combination of emotive image and sloganeering text that flatters those who agree with its message and provokes those who do not. 

Most academics who study memes agree that they are poisonous to healthy public discourse (“toxic” is a word that crops up a lot, even in the scholarly literature). One scholar bluntly called them “one of the main vehicles for misinformation,” and they tend to distort reality in several ways. By their very nature, they leave no room for nuance or complexity, and so they are frequently misleading; they tend to lean heavily on scornful condescension and moral sanctimony (usually, the intended takeaway is that anyone who agrees with the point of view being—inaccurately—mocked is an imbecile); they make copious use of ad hominem attacks, straw man fallacies, and motte-and-bailey arguments; they intentionally catastrophize, generalize, personalize, and encourage dichotomous thinking; and they are aggressive and sometimes dehumanizing. They are, in other words, methods of Internet communication that display all the symptoms of a borderline personality type of mental disorder.*

...But since memes add almost nothing to public discourse that would offset the risks, it’s probably worth hesitating before sharing them.

Of note, frequent commenter David Foster has written about the topic at Chicago Boyz, with reference to a previous Quillette essay on the topic.

*Italics mine, and no, not all the symptoms, but a a goodly percentage, yes, even by strict clinical standards.

Sidney McLaughlin

I don't care much about women's track-and-field, and I resent YouTube and other outlets trying to force feed it to me as something as I should be concerned with just as much as men's T&F. Frankly, the YouTube videos seem to have a lot of pretending to care about athleticism but somehow always focusing on the women's butts in their almost thonglike shorts. Similar to beach volleyball that way. It's irritating. 

But when you follow the men, you can't help but getting the headlines, the "earlier today" commentary on the videos, and the sidebar of the women's events. Plus I have always liked the middle distances and the off-events, those non-sexy (in the popularity sense) events, like the hurdles, steeplechase and  the "-athlons." So I have to mention Sidney McLaughlin and her stunning records at this point. For reference, the woman in lane 6 is running at a pace that used to be world-best for any year until about 2015, while the women in lanes 1 and 3 would have been Olympic champions since forever. This world record used to go down about 0.03 or 0.07 every few years.  That's it. The second-place finisher would have been lionised as revolutionising the event until two years ago.

Sidney McLaughlin is flat-out amazing.

If you want to watch the other world championship events, you will notice that many small Caribbean nations like Grenada or T&T do very well.  And of course there's Jamaica. 

But don't you dare believe in genetics.


 Today I learned what a fnord is .  Fascinating initial concept and usage.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

The Man From the Future

 From the review by Scott Siskind at ACX of the biography of John von Neumann 

Still, he had the presence of mind to make a last request: after a lifetime of culturally-Jewish atheism, he wished to be baptized. His daughter attributed her father’s “change of heart” to Pascal’s Wager: the idea that even a very small probability of gaining a better afterlife is worth the relatively trivial cost of a deathbed conversion. Even as his powers deserted him, John von Neumann remained a game theorist to the end.

Pascal's Wager has been dismissed as an idea that looks intelligent at first, but upon examination is revealed as impossible, as there are so many religions, so many gods one would have to please.  I have always thought that as a practical matter, that is not so.  We are presented with a few at most in our lifetimes.  Who considers becoming a Zoroastrian now, for example?  Or any of the thousand flavors of animist? Still, that is not a proof of the wisdom of the the Wager.

Unless the smartest person who ever lived thought otherwise, I suppose...

I recommend this review as well.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Bleg - And Archaeology Cartoon

I was sent a cartoon that relates to some of my archaeology posts.  What are the laws about permission to post it on my site?

Well, let's try it.  This does fit with my comments about mis- or overinterpreting archaeologiscal evidence.

If I have used this improperly I will gladly take it down. It is from Science Cartoons Plus, the site of Sidney Harris. Some of the gallery cartoons look familiar from years ago, and the bio tells me he has been drawing science cartoons since 1955.

In for a penny, in for a pound: this cartoon seems prophetic, as humorists often are.


Causing Me To Reconsider Haidt

Astral Codex Ten is having a fun contest with solicited book reviews. The reviewers are kept anonymous to keep their identities (presumably quite recognisable to the group) from biasing the voting. They are long, and this may take a while.  But ACX has very good commenters in addition to Dr. Siskind, and I think it will be worth it.  

The first one I am reading is a review of Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind, and while the reviewer finds many good things in the book, he is generally negative, finding it inadequate and weak rather than wrong.  I am a fan of Haidt, and have written about him with approval a couple of dozen times over the years, including that book in specific.  Yet as I read along I found myself agreeing with the criticisms and wondering how much to reevaluate. 

In particular, I agreed with how inadequate Haidt's understanding of the psychology of conservatives is. The reviewer grew up in a Fundamentalist/Pentecostal culture and now seems to be a liberal with New Atheist sympathies. He claims he could give a much better description of what the motivations are than Haidt does in this book - and I think he succeeds. Perhaps I have been grateful that a liberal (now centrist) social psychologist had any reasonable words for conservatives and religious people at all when I first encountered him.

Update:  For example

As a result, he engages with neither rank-and-file God’n’guns religious conservatism nor the intellectual conservative tradition of “what is good for the masses to believe is not identical to what’s fundamentally true, please consult my 60,000 word essay on decision theory, game theory, computational load, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire for details, therefore Catholicism”. He doesn’t really seem to realise that either of these positions exists, and “steel-mans” conservatism into some sort of superposition across “group selection informs us as to normative ethics” and “group selection is teleological towards utilitarian human flourishing”, both of which are utterly insane positions that I think almost nobody actually holds.

It's a good take, and good writing.

Democrats Bankrolling Fringe Republicans

Republicans that they consider fringe, anyway.  Easier to beat in the general election. Claire McAskill has used it before, which I missed when it happened. NPR and WaPo are both reporting on the phenomenon.

It seems dishonest and anti-democratic in the extreme. I don't like the idea of pretending to be undeclared in order to vote in the other primary either, though I hear it has been done. Tactical voting makes me uncomfortable in general.  Parties should nominate who they want without interference. I don't want the Democrats to nominate a crazy-bad candidate, but one that I think would be least damaging. One of these days it's going to go badly wrong, such as if a candidate dies before the election or has some major scandal knock them out.

Also, imagine the extension of this if it is successful even just a bit, of both parties putting money into opponents they think they can paint as dangerous - sometimes with good reason. Heck, you could hire stealth members of your own party who are actors and give them lots of money to run.  In a primary with several candidates you start to get some real wild-card outcomes. 

I can't see any way to forbid it that isn't even more anti-democratic.


 Did I post this already a few months ago?  I've been singing it since winter.

Lest We Forget

Posted in April 2006. It was on the car of a coworker, a socially graceful MSW who now lives down in Asheville. Sorry, Grim. We haven't always sent our best, I'm afraid. Imagine it with Hillary or Obama instead, what the outcry would be.

Robot Birthday

On August 5th, 100,000 robotic lawn mowers can sing Happy Birthday to the loneliest robot in the universe.


Husqvarna is offering an add-on so the lawn mowers can sing Happy Birthday to Curiosity on Mars.  My son has one of these (Hank may be my favorite grandchild) and is planning to sign on.

Etiology and Treatment of Childhood

I posted this years ago, and send it to friends from time-to-time. The Etiology and Treatment of Childhood.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Popular Governors

 It is worth noting the left-hand side of the graph, where a few governors are not greatly disliked, even if they are not particularly liked.

AI Error

I mentioned my daughter-in-law's TikTok account Pinay Sa Alaska (Filipina in Alaska) which has become very popular in the Philippines. The account was suddenly blocked, and they couldn't figure out why.  She appealed, and some sites suggested that it might be weeks or even months  before a determination was made.  She was reinstated in four days, and the report included the offending footage, which was determined to not violate community guidelines after all.

It was a video closeup of my son cleaning a salmon.  Big knife.  Blood. She had been shut down while she was still talking in the background, so the thinking is that the AI cannot distinguish between human and fish being cut by a big knife, with blood, and just shut her down automatically.

Fall of the Roman Empire

Just a few notes based on what I have been picking up from reading and podcasts.  The information isn't new, but it had not fully penetrated my thinking until recently.  There is debate about how much the empire actually fell, as opposed to merely changing, and different times are assigned to different "falls." 476 AD is fine, it just relies on a number of assumptions, and people could and have picked earlier and later times. 

Because I am more interested in what occurred in northern Europe, particularly Romano-Britain, I find it clearest to look at the whole enterprise regionally. While we can legitimately claim that Rome itself kept its institutions and mostly just got a new set of rulers, in Britain there was an unquestionable collapse of empire. On the far frontier such as Hadrian's Wall, there was loss of money, then population in the market towns supporting the wall forts as the pay for the garrison soldiers became more irregular, and then in a very few years around the year 400 the forts themselves were abandoned, and no fresh money comes to the frontier at all. There might be over 1000 living in the fort, all requiring food, drink, clothing, animals and repairs - a solid market for the locals, and in a decade, nothing. One after another the garrisons were abandoned, beginning with the Antonine Wall long before in 150AD, the last expansion to the north and unwise from the start. 

Just a bit further east in the borders with the various Germans the collapse was similar, but much of this was because of the local tribes, which had invariably been described as fractious and undisciplined before this, learned to bad together at least temporarily and throw the Romans out. It highlights the difficulty of separating what is an internal cause and which is external.  The unity of the tribes against them looks like an entirely external force.  Yet they only grew up and grew together because so many of the tribes had members who had worked in the Roman military for part of their lives.  Individuals, clans, or whole tribes would hire themselves out to the Romans, who always needed a steady supply. While it is true that Rome still hoped to send new recruits to other regions to specifically avoid the conflict of interest and temptations of corruption and desertion, this became increasingly impractical. Some might still be sent to Palmyra or Spain, but others were temporary and never left the frontier.  They absorbed Roman discipline and practice and could therefore meld more easily with other tribes with similar experience. 

A second bit recently learned is that the earliest archaeology in England was often less concerned with learning what earlier peoples had been like than with simply exposing the ruins to view as much as possible.  This was a teaching tool so that everyone would have some idea what things looked like, and also something of a mood piece or decoration, an illustration of the past. Locales were proud of having their very own ruin to display. Because sites that were in agricultural settings had often been plowed over numerous times, there wouldn't be much to find, or even identify what had been there.  This gave primacy to more remote places where the agriculture was pastoral, disturbing the ruins less. Such remoteness also discouraged raiding the structures for usable stone over the centuries. The archaeology of Newcastle, just as an example, is under lots of other archaeology of Newcastle. Romantic hilltop views suitable for postcards are thus overrepresented, both in the landscape and in our imaginations.

Cognitive Distortions

James points out the new Quillette article about IQ research.  I hadn't realised the deception had risen to that level of power, but this is the common pattern, yes. Lump unconnected people together to create an association, then refute only a few of them, pretending that the work of the others is no better. Refuse to address the science and data and just say that it's scientific racism and shouldn't be listened to. Once that is in place then you don't even have to report on any "controversy," you can just decline to acknowledge the topic altogether. 

I wonder if Quillette will have any effect.

Sunday, July 17, 2022


 My email spam has switched to power tools, cryptocurrency, IMF disbursements, and YETI coolers. Interesting how these things turn over, like a kaleidoscope.

I Stopped Reading

There is an essay over at Quillette about the ACT. The author has been a university professor in both biology and psychology for decades, and has worked at an ACT prep center as a tutor, usually with individual students, often nonstandard.  He has taken the ACT himself numerous times.  It sounds ideal. Yet what it shows most clearly is how thoroughly assumptions and preconceptions affect the evidence before out eyes. 

Students who take the ACT are asked to racially self-identify (not all do). These are the average composite scores for the five largest racial categories, followed (in parentheses) by the composite scores for those students who took four or more years of English and three or more years each of math, social studies, and natural sciences: Black = 16.3 (17.9), Hispanic/Latino = 18.3 (20.3), White = 21.7 (23.3), Asian = 24.9 (26.7), Two or More Races = 20.6 (22.5), and No Response = 19.2 (23.7). Clearly, taking a more rigorous high school curriculum helps everyone. (Italics mine. I stopped reading after that.)

No, you fool, how often do we have to go over this?  The people who took the more rigorous high school curriculum were already smarter.  They were already going to do better on the ACT. How much better?  We don't know from this data.  This data tells us precisely nothing about it. We do know from other sources how much prep classes help (Answer, it depends on what you are measuring, but it is mixed.  Basically, if you are getting your first shot at a kid who has not figured out until recently that these tests are important, you can get some increase, teaching them the things that the competitive [whether against other children or against the test] children figured out years ago, usually gradually. Everyone else, they will show a natural improvement by being a year older.)

If that seems odd, remember that actual abstract reasoning does not start until around age 13, even in the brightest students.  Children can follow logical reasoning and give some of it back before then, but don't start doing it on their own until then, and often unevenly.  The brightest students may actually have the dumbest ideas, as they spread their wings earlier. So taking standardised tests at 16, 17, 18 is more different than one might think, Memorised vocabulary and what math or science has been taken can be force-fed, but doing analogies or figuring out what type of math is going to bring you to a solution involves real thinking. SAT/ACT prep courses make their basic living on the natural increase in scores for students that have three years of abstract thinking versus two under their belt.  The classes take credit for that and convince the parents that the children did better mostly because of the expensive course they signed up for.

And as I said the good student who treated testing as a sideline her whole career who now sees that her PSAT projections aren't going to get her into the schools she wants is suddenly motivated to understand what is this test and how do I get more points.  They can crash course and grab a goodly gain.


Which is also great word-of-mouth for the prep course.  If they do good work with learning-disabled or decently intelligent but basically clueless students, I am glad to hear it. But be careful before shelling out big money for these.  They work great in limited circumstances.

Yet here we are, with a clear expert making assertions that fail the basic logic tests that actually are part of some of the standard testing questions.  And BTW, how is this person not getting perfects scores on these tests at this point?  Are you kidding me? Only the occasional slip-up should be keeping them off the top scores now. 

This person knows much more about the tests than I do at this point, much, much more. Yet he does not know some deeply important overall information about the tests.  I think this is an example for a dozen other varieties of expert.  The Russia team of the CIA in the 1980s knew incomparably more than I did about the USSR. If I had challenged one at a gathering (my parents did know one well who had retired to Wolfeboro, but no, I did not challenge him) I would have been quickly humiliated.  Yet they had it badly wrong, not because they were stupid, or didn't work hard, or had bad training or even that they didn't think hard about the deep puzzles.  They were wrong because of their assumptions, a hundred unquestioned assumptions they mostly shared. 

I'm not sure it works that much better when experts disagree.  I got to see mental health up close, and there was some tendency for the various schools of thought to double and triple down on pet ideas. I'm not sure experts changed their minds much. "Well, I was always taught that the first thing you ask a borderline is..." which carried the loaded implication that this is elementary, basic knowledge you fool, you fool. For years I said that the people who had experience and those who had education made equal, but different errors, and did not listen to each other well.  But I just made that up from sitting at tables of people jockeying for position and watching what decisions got made. I guess it is still a good first approximation, but I like that summary less than I did in 1992.

The difficulty is that unlearning is much more difficult than learning. I don't know how we would teach children unlearning in any way that was not merely comical and artificial, having no bearing on future understanding.


 US Sprinters doing well this year.

Hot Beverages

Stuart Ritchie reminds us that hot beverages don't actually cool us down.  The short version is there was one study in Canada of semi-nude participants sweating more during exercise because of the higher internal temperature.  Just a little bit. In highly limited circumstances.

Nine “semi-nude” men cycled non-strenuously on a stationary bike for 75 minutes in a warm-ish room (24°C), and had their temperatures measured in their oesophagus (via a probe in their nose) and rectally. They were linked up to a calorimeter, which calculated their heat production from the amount of oxygen they were using and the carbon dioxide they were breathing out. They were also weighed with a very sensitive scale to measure sweat loss.

Just before, and then a few times during, the exercise they were given a controlled amount of water, adding up to just under a litre across the whole experiment, at various temperatures: 1.5°C, 10°C, 37°C, and 50°C. Each participant did four sessions, one at each of the water temperatures.

To note a few things already: n = 9; only males; doing exercise for quite a long time; in a not-particularly-hot room; rapidly drinking water, not sipping a cup of tea. They also had a big fan pointed at them to help their sweat to evaporate away. These are just a few of the differences between this experiment and perhaps the average person’s situation in a heatwave - and I haven’t even mentioned the fact they were doing all this while they had a thermometer “inserted to a minimum of 12 cm past [their] anal sphincter”.

That's it.  It was in Smithsonian, so it got wide play, but that's the extent of the research.

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Lost, Not Stolen

I am no expert on election law, but I trust Volokh Conspiracy over at Reason, who put out the report on the election "Lost, Not Stolen," written by a qualified and a believable cast of characters. I would add that identifying a vulnerability, though clearly a cause for great concern and rapid remedy, is not the same as identifying fraudulent votes.

There'll Always Be an England

We went to see the "The Mousetrap" tonight, and in the lead-up they played British from that era.  I had done the same thing myself on the way up, irritating the oldest granddaughter with "We'll Meet Again." Which they also played while we were waiting for the curtain to go up, which I pointed out triumphantly.

I had never heard this song, only only heard of it.  Once they played it I knew I had to share it with all of you.

James linked to Mark Steyn writing about it, including Julie Andrews singing it.  That might have been more fun.

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Opioids Part Four

 Tim sends along some final thoughts - though I will bet you could keep him engaged if you wanted to.

Longer thoughts on scalability and political feasibility. Probably more than you bargained for but these were thoughts I had on my list of things to start writing out anyways. I know this will be too long for comments but let me know if I should break it up and add them. 

On political feasibility. In New Hampshire, it was a libertarian-leaning Republican member of the House who was also a physician that led the charge on legalizing syringe exchange programs. Governor Sununu has been a proponent of harm reduction and Manchester-based Democrats the biggest opposition while declaring that they support it in theory. So, I think your political read is spot on. The idea of a brave Republican president doing something on principle might be our best shot. The other possibility would be a convicted Democrat serving their last term. But, I'm not holding my breath on that option. 

The one thing that might make it easier is if it didn't need to happen legislatively. Doing anything with heroin is a huge task BUT, expanding what is considered a legitimate medical reason to prescribe substances like morphine and hydromorphone might be possible. Hydromorphone is closest in user experience to heroin and far easier to dose than fentanyl. The FDA and the DEA could allow for a change in prescribing standards and create a pathway to regulated access.  This doesn't answer all the questions of administration but, as Jonathan pointed out, it would allow different states to create models to test the effectiveness of different models and create systems of control. 

In Canada, they are piloting a system that sounds terrible at first but makes sense on further examination... hydromorphone vending machines. At an overdose prevention center, a registered user can receive a pre-selected dose available only through a biometric scan. By removing the human element of administration, you decrease the potential for conflict and increase controls. But the "drug vending machine" attack ads write themselves. 

Unfortunately, I don't see the political winds shifting quickly enough to implement these kinds of solutions before the overdose crisis begins to decline on its own through losing another 700,000 lives over the next 5 to 7 years. But, it's also something I am hoping to dedicate the next few decades of my life to working on. And, my hope is that the changing nature of the illicit drug market brings more costs and benefits into stark relief.

It was easier to pretend like our "supply" side strategies were working in the past. In part, because they worked sometimes. Heroin production and distribution are complex tasks that require significant financial and human capital. Break up the distribution network in a small town in NH and the supply might dry up. Work your way up to some big fish, seize assets and lock up the big bosses and you might be able to disrupt large regional distribution systems. 

And, it did "work" in Australia. An internationally coordinated effort led to a simultaneous dismantling of the three major criminal organizations bringing heroin into Australia. The price of heroin skyrocketed and the percentage of the population using heroin dropped. BUT, for the next few years overdoses, violent crime and property theft all went up. And, meth usage skyrocketed. In terms of decreased crime and overdoses, it was about 10 years of dramatically reduced heroin supply before it was determined there was a net benefit. 

We have no reason to believe something like that could be accomplished and sustained in the United States today. A 22-year-old can set up their own drug trafficking ring and start making big money with a little knowledge of the dark web and a few thousand in starting capital. And, it isn't just illicit fentanyl. If you were motivated, in about 30 minutes of internet searches and a credit card, you can find "research chemicals" that are close cousins to any major illicit substance online. When one substance gets scheduled, a few modifications and a new version is back on the market. And, this new one we know even less about. 

Big drug trafficking groups used to need to train people on how to process these drugs and pass along that knowledge from person to person. Now, you can legally order all the chemicals you need to make meth and learn how to do it in the microwave over the course of an afternoon. The difference between a home chemist and a cartel-trained one is that the cartel guy is less likely to poison you with their product or blow themselves up. 

There also used to be more of a divide between urban and suburban and rural. Creating regulated access to opioids might have benefits in an urban area where you are unlikely to get supply under control and population density makes profitability easy. But, in the past, there would have been downsides in areas where access was more difficult and supply reduction more feasible. For urban areas the switch would be from easily accessible dangerous drugs to accessible safer drugs. For rural areas it might be very limited access to dangerous drugs to expanded access to less dangerous drugs. The positive benefit is clear for urban areas but not clear at all for a rural area. 

Now, that distinction doesn't exist in the same way. So, my hope is that in the coming years, we will have more previously competing interests find some alignment and a clearer sense of the futility of our current system. 

The final shift (that I hope to be a part of) is articulating these ideas in a way that resonates with a broader swath of the public. In continuing with the theme of Haidt's Moral Foundations Theory, arguments concerning "freedom" will fail to beat arguments that appeal to "purity." A counter-culture or libertarian style ethic just won't pass the smell test for most people. 

On to scalability. Again, we don't know the best model but various versions have been tried in the UK, Germany, Canada and the Netherlands. But, the American context is still unique and we are just dealing with a whole lot more people. But a helpful thought experiment is to think through what it would look like for this model to go "wrong" and determine whether or not that is likely to be better or worse than our current reality. 

We know, for example, that drugs would get diverted out of this system and end up being used by people we would otherwise hope to protect. But, we know when that happens likelihood of overdose will be less likely. And, do we have reason to believe there more of these drugs will be available in a diverted "gray market" than in the current black market?

A few areas of concern for me and how I would respond...

Teens: We want to limit access to alcohol and other drugs for teens in general. Behavioral risks are high and long-term issues for developing a substance use disorder are a concern as well. It is possible that this system would increase the availability of diverted opioids to this population. And, if they believe the substances are "safe" they are more likely to use them as kids are more likely to pop an oxy pill than just straight to IV drug use. So, even if we decrease teen overdoses in the short term by making sure the diverted supply is safer, are we creating a larger population who will have severe problems by the time they are 22? 

I couldn't say with confidence that this won't increase diverted drugs to teens. But, we have seen lessons with cannabis that teen use has dropped even as states have legalized it. The worst I have read is a study that argues that legalization has slowed the rate of declining cannabis use among teens. Overall, I think this shows that legality may be a factor but is not THE driving force for trends in teen drug use. The most successful anti-teen smoking campaign was the one that framed smoking as the thing the "establishment" wanted you to do. Then vaping became a fad and has already dropped down again dramatically.

I imagine two different kinds of teens at risk. The first is the risk taking teen highly motivated to purchase and use drugs. They are likely to live in unstable situations, probably around parents, guardians or siblings who are already using. They are the kind of teens that might know an actual drug dealer, buy from them, and sell at school or through social events. The second is the casual teen who goes to some parties and experiments with drinking and drug use.

It's possible that this system grows the pool of the second kind of teen as access to a regulated supply decreases risk to a level that more teens would be interested in trying. But, probably wouldn't have much of an effect on the first kind of teen as it doesn't take much motivation or know how to source under the current system. 

But, the potential benefit is removing the user/dealer population. Who is the kind of person that sells drugs knowingly to teenagers? Someone slightly older who really needs the money and is in a situation where they feel they have nothing to lose. Put that person into a system where they have regulated access to their own supply of opioids and suddenly they do have something to lose for diverting a portion of their supply. Or, the employees administering the program have the possibility of losing a good job, license or career. 

I think it is highly likely a regulated system reduces the population willing to sell to teenagers. 

Cultural Capital: Another risk is widespread cultural shifts in the role of a particular drug in building cultural capital. I'm thinking about smoking cigarettes in the 50's and 60's, cocaine in the 70's, heroin in the 90's or alcohol at pretty much anytime in the past 100 years. If using opioids had the same cultural cache as using alcohol, I think we'd have a huge issue. 

But, I don't see a lot of evidence that this is happening with opioids or stimulants. Feel free to correct me if you see evidence otherwise. The one area that I think could be problematic in the coming years is teenage experimentation with psychedelics. These are substances that are gaining cultural cache. While I'm personally very positive on potential therapeutic use of psychedelics, there are lots of ways that can go wrong for teens and adults. 

I think this will be trickier to address. Teen participants in the old DARE program were shown to be more likely to use drugs than their counterparts and use of psychedelics drove those shifts. This is a potential downside and trickier to address. But, ultimately, I don't think legality is what will really make an effect on this trend. There are currently multiple kinds of powerful psychedelics that are widely available like the San Pedro cactus, salvia divinorum, morning glory seeds and... nutmeg. Nutmeg, believe it or not, was big in the Jazz scene in the 40's and 50s. 

Recovery: Another concern would be people in some kind of recovery. Would people who had a long fight to find their own sobriety be more likely to begin using again if there was a means of regulated legal access to opioids? 

I don't think so. Right now one of the big issues are people coming out of rehab and immediately getting text messages from their old friends/dealers. They face incredible social pressures from existing peer networks so much so that I hear a lot of stories of people moving across country to remove those temptations. In a system of regulated access, people would need to jump through some hoops to get in. And, it would be possible to voluntarily place yourself on a restricted list that won't allow you to do that. 

Low-income neighborhoods: One possible concern is that services like overdose prevention centers tend to get located in service heavy and resource poor neighborhoods. This can attract the populations dependent on those resources and increase crime and add fuel to the fire of a cycle of poverty. 

This is another very real concern and one that I could see going wrong. This certainly happens in Manchester and is a big reason why Manchester Dems have been so resistant to harm reduction. Folks from across the state get sent to a recovery program in Manchester and end up on the streets afterwards. As someone who owns a home in downtown Manchester about 75 yards from the primary homeless shelter, I have "skin in the game" on this one. In all likelihood, a program like this would be located within half a mile of where I live, if not a few hundred yards. 

But, I know from experience, I stopped having to pick up syringes as regularly after the local syringe exchange program went it. But, I still see people injecting drugs directly around my house multiple times per week. And, the behavioral and mental health issues from bad methamphetamines keep getting worse. In my neighborhood, at least, I'd see it as a net benefit to set up regulated access and an overdose prevention center. 

There are other neighborhoods where people might legitimately feel differently than I do. Overall, it will be crucial for these solutions to be implemented with state or region wide plans in order to mitigate these sorts of concerns.

Are there any other major areas of concern you'd list?

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Mild Confirming Evidence

A man at Bible-Study last night made the observation that he had been briefly involved in the prophecy understandings of Scripture years ago, and even had some belief in the conspiracy theories of Illuminati or other groups controlling a great deal behind the scenes.  As he is an engineer (like most of my friends in retirement, it seems) I half-expected him to offer some numbers-based or probability-based reason why he thought these explanations unlikely now.  I should know better.

His actual reason was "Even if these things are true, God is still in control." I have only a slight problem with that. When someone says that to mean the large spiritual overview, that It Is Well With My Soul, or "this world is not my home" they are quite correct, and no matter how bad things get here we can trust God for the ultimate outcome.  I think another idea does creep in a bit, with many Christians, including my friend. Terrible things happen in many places, and we cannot count on it all coming right in the end in this world just because it will do so in the next.  When presented with that distinction I think most Christians excepting the committed Kenneth Copeland, Oral Roberts, Benny Hinn sorts would get the theologically solid answer.  Yet I think some of the Christian Victory teaching does color the emotional approach of many believers.  And they get it from the pulpit, more often than not. If we do live into the last days it is likely to be very unpleasant.

But what really struck me was that his personality would not sustain the paranoid interpretation. He considered these ideas, he had cultural support for believing them, they provided an explanation for some of the evil in the world, but in less than a year he no longer believed them.  It fits my frequent reminder here that paranoia (or depression, or anxiety) precedes our explanations and rationalisations of them.

Compost Into Fuel

 Something over at "I Don't Know But..." reminded me of this video, so I thought I'd put it up.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Woke Ain't Woke

Listening to Stanley McChrystal talking about the multiple definitions of woke, and the difference between being an extremist who is reflexively accusing, versus being a person who is alert to the racial, sexual, and ethnic aspects of issues, it occurred to me that the woke have become insensitive to these nuances.  I should say some of the woke, and perhaps the noisiest of them. If you have made up your mind what you are going to find regardless of the data, you cannot be said to be sensitive, alert, or awake to those issues. You have in fact gone to sleep. The usual irony.

The idea immediately resonated with me, because we see this in so many other places. Schools move gradually to noneducation and even anti-education (see JMSmith at The Orthosphere for that one), Christian churches empower Pharisees, social science research strives to report only what it thinks it already knows, militaries become increasingly able to win battles but lose wars. It is Conquest's Third Law of Politics in action. (Isegoria's whole essay on that is fun.) The movement is being taken over by those who want something other than the original goals.

The woke have had a considerable victory on their initial goal, then.  We have an America where people do consider these nuances pretty regularly. Not everyone and not always, yet it is clearly part of American life now. That they have doubled down on the anger after having won at least a partial victory is revealing, suggesting that they had some other motive for entering into advocacy - virtue signalling, personal guilt, desire to punish, lack of constructive skills, something. We know that these are present in the group, along with some nobler motives, but it is pure guesswork when it comes to individuals, so I advise you not to fall into that trap.