I think the symbolism of this war statue commemorating our victory at the Battle of Midway is fairly clear.
Wednesday, August 31, 2022
On our return flight last night, the attendant told us she had never been to NH before and asked us what the deal was with lobsters. She had some conversation with those up front, but on my way out I likely undercut their message. "Lobster is overrated. In colonial times it was considered slaves' food." "I understand butter is involved," she smiled. "A fair point. But they are still bottom feeders."
They are bottom feeders. When we had to take Kyle to the ER years ago after his mouth got tingly and face was flushed eating lobster (and crab), the doctor offered the opinion that he might not be allergic, but some other ingredient that had gotten down to lobsterland - sewage, medical waste, other attractive things - was what he was reacting against. He regarded this as not uncommon, and speculated that many people who believe they are sensitive or even allergic to shellfish actually are not. Once bad experience can make any of us wary. As Kyle was young, he was of course not wary, and had another go at lobster quickly.* (Of course his first lobster rechallenge was when he was camping with friends, far from civilisation.) Out to sea this is less of an issue, and is better the farther one gets from population density, but it is quite real. Kyle eats lobster just fine now.
I'm not that enamored of the stuff, though I nod to the importance of any food that is a vehicle for butter. Lobster is fine, but it takes work, sometimes the eggs are a nuisance. Some people regard those as a delicacy, but not all. They change color and look interesting. I think the effort may be part of the charm for some people.
I likely shouldn't talk them down. People come from out of state and plunk down big money for them, and the life of a lobsterman is difficult.
More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems. My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups, and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress. But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them. Henri Nouwen, Gracias!:A Latin American Journal.This was quoted at the church we visited in Franklin, TN by a pastor and wife noted for their hospitality as they were saying farewell to the congregation.
Thursday, August 25, 2022
Years ago, I noted that in political ads, Republicans would say they were going to work for you, while Democrats said they would fight for you, and I far preferred the former, for the good of the country and the national discourse. Now Republicans are advertising themselves in "fight" mode almost as much, and I still don't like it. If you are working for me it is likely to involve some confrontation and resolve, but I trust you to get more accomplished in the long run working, whatever short run victories you achieve fighting.
One of the candidates for a local primary has decided to go negative in a big way against another Republican, and I will not only not vote for her in said primary, but she has shot to the top of the list as my contest to boycott and vote for no one in the general election. It is an exercise that likely benefits only me, but I think it valuable nonetheless. PJ O'Rourke wrote Don't Vote, It Just Encourages The Bastards (lovely blurb) semi-seriously, while Daniel Schwindt's Don't Vote, It Only Encourages Them treated it as a serious proposition, reasoning that voting gives us an illusion of power that puts us back to sleep. I do still vote, I will in all likelihood continue, as habits die hard. But each time around I consider desisting from this except in local races, in hopes that it might force me to do something stronger. While it is always possible that my vote will matter this year or in some future election, in nearly fifty years there is not one race where it was close enough that my personal vote mattered. It is worth reflecting on that. Voting is a statement to myself plus a few around me.
The NH presidential primary is 18 months away, and a few candidates have shown up quietly to speak to a group here and there. It used to be in full swing for only the 11 months prior, but I expect it will ratchet up significantly right after the November elections this time. It has been getting earlier every cycle anyway, and this one is going to be interesting on both sides. It may finally be the weakening of the primary system this time, as campaigns are so entirely national and media-driven now that the advantage of a smaller, microcosmic race is ebbing. We used to scope these guys and gals out for the rest of you in our walled garden up here, but that's not so much the case anymore.
Wednesday, August 24, 2022
Tuesday, August 23, 2022
I recall evangelicals loving everything James Dobson taught in the 1980s and 90s. I liked him well enough, read a couple of his books, listened to the show occasionally. He had a few things I disagreed with, but mostly I started to find him a bit tiresome as he became more political.
But a particular lesson stuck with and was applied almost ferociously when the boys arrived from Romania, and later when Kyle came to us at age twelve after some significant abandonment. Children do not fall apart because bad things happen to them. They fail to thrive because not enough good things happen to them. Loving your parents is not an even matchup with "turning out alright," but there's a lot of overlap there. We see it in adults describing their own parents - in the black community more often Mom - as someone they love and "always had my back" even though the hard evidence indicates they didn't really. Parents who made many bad decisions that affected the children, decisions that make you wonder what the definition of "love" actually is in that person's head. Yet somehow they put enough good things in that the bad things were less important.
It is a side of the trauma question, of fortifying a child (or an adult) beforehand and also bringing them out later WRT trauma. Bad things will happen to your child whatever you hope for them, and some of the bad things may even spring from you. There may be some difference between a Good Parent, who does little wrong, and a Great Parent who puts many good things into you. Best to be both, certainly. Yet if you want to focus on one, it would be on being a Great Parent.
There is a redemptive quality to it, that no matter what harm we have done another, our next act can be one of healing. It does not change or excuse what we have done, but we can at least contribute one next good thing to their happiness and development.
This is important in all loves, and it may even be what God expects in our love for Him.
Monday, August 22, 2022
The American Academy of Pediatrics has reversed its position on transgender youth, and is now not recommending surgery and hormones for most children. You will notice they are making it sound like there is no change and they have been "affirming" in this much more limited way all along. Notice also the WaPo choice of headline. It is like Russians in WWII noticing that the glorious victories reported in Pravda were drawing ever-closer to key cities.
As for the UK and support for medicalisation waning, there is the giant class-action lawsuit against Tavistock. That might mean something.
It costs about fifty cents a mile to drive somewhere. So if you go five miles to the store to pick up milk, that milk costs you $5 more. If you drive even a mile out of your way to save a few cents on gas, you are losing money. The arithmetic is there, but we don't believe it.
This is likely because of all the sunk costs of the vehicle - purchase, insurance, upkeep - that we don't notice once we have already spent them. I think we also do live by arithmetic that much, and so think that large-sounding sums of money for an individual are actual large amounts when distributed over a country or an industry. We deplore the money in politics, but it is invisible compared to the amount spent on cosmetics, for example.
Sunday, August 21, 2022
She is coming along. Refreshing to see. Her younger sister has been the one with the vaudevillian face, but that one is not interested in theater. This one has the bug. She will be doing Alice in Wonderland, likely a chorus member, before school starts up again.
Saturday, August 20, 2022
Grim posted about a bear who came to an unfortunate and unfair bad end. I don't know how many societies in history would consider it unfair though. Topic for another day.
Do animals in the wild live Good Lives? It should immediately go to definitions, but I ask that you consider the question in an informal sense first. Is it better than a pet's life? Obviously in some ways much better, yet we consider it a value to return animals to the wild when we can. Our history of movies and books ( Born Free, Free Willy) glorify living in the wild, with more than a hint of the anthropomorpication of beasts who yearn to breathe free. We read into their escape behavior of wanting to impulsively chase food or random smells a philosophy of life. It ain't so.
But is this really their experience? And as they experience things primarily in the moment with no overarching summation of what their life is like, does it make sense for us to apply that standard for them, of the turkey's great life as of November 20th actually being a bad deal? The value of a pet's life is deeply bound up in its value to the owner. Or do the questions of Good and Value not overlap enough to inform each other?
I'm not trying to trap anyone with this one. I can see points all over the place here.
From a (currently anonymous) book review over at ACX
Probably the biggest thing I learned is that human history is little more than 5000 years of gang war.
Whatever the dates some particular tribal pissing match took place, whomever its participants were, it probably deserves to be little noted nor long remembered. It's only through story-telling that the actions of mortals become anything more than trivial data about primate behavior. And yet - once spun into a narrative, accounts of all-too-stereotypical gangs and their generic homicides can be transmuted into archetypes and national myths, inspiring poetry and heroism. History only becomes meaningful in the telling.
I'm quite sure I don't fully agree. But my own view is fairly close to that.
Race results determine draft order for Fantasy Football this year. Done with phone cameras up in the White Mountains and then edited by the world's best league manager.
Unfortunate result for me in 11th place. Fortunately it's a snake draft, meaning I will also be drafting at #14 after the turn. I shouldn't have to tell you it's not really ESPN+, but I just want to be sure about these things.
Friday, August 19, 2022
Thinking of Lewis's last days made me think of Peter Kreeft's book about JFK, Aldous Huxley, and CS Lewis, Between Heaven and Hell. It's a fascinating premise:
The three died within a few hours of each other on the same day in 1963, and Kreeft imagines a conversation between them in some unidentified place. Folks will oftens say it is Purgatory, but this is mostly because they can't think of any other place that is neither Heaven nor Hell after death. It always struck me as simply a waiting room of some sort, an artistic device of Professor Kreeft's.
The work is short, and rather superficial, but perhaps the more valuable for that. It quickly summarises the animating ideas of Kennedy, a Christian in name and Christian-influenced, but more concerned with this world and the things that men can do - God as onlooker more than involved; the brilliant Huxley, much more philosophically trained but very much caught in the intellectual fashion of the day of Eastern mysticism supplanting Christianity; and Lewis, an orthodox Christian with a long history of defending the historical precepts of the faith. Kennedy comes off the worst, but this is not the fault of Kreeft so much as the incoherence of this modern Christianity which is no Christianity at all. Admittedly, this is not a skillful literary work and is intended to convey ideas, not character. Yet that is valid - if you want to capture JFK's charisma in a more complete way, write your own dialogue - this was never Peter Kreeft's intent.
We note this because we do not get much of a sense of Huxley's and Lewis's personalities either. We get their thoughts. Huxley thus comes off a good deal better even though Kreeft clearly sides with Lewis and wants him to emerge triumphant in the end. Huxley and Lewis engage each other's ideas in the book.
CS Lewis wrote an essay published in the Saturday Evening Post late in his life entitled "We Have No 'Right to Happiness'." It made a profound impression on me in the 1970's when I first read it in God In The Dock. It was one of the great examples of the time of watching Lewis cut through all the puffery and fine-sounding words of what people that they were saying, down to the reality of what they must actually mean.
Clare, in fact, is doing what the whole western world seems to me to have been doing for the last 40-odd years. When I was a youngster, all the progressive people were saying, “Why all this prudery? Let us treat sex just as we treat all our other impulses.” I was simple-minded enough to believe they meant what they said. I have since discovered that they meant exactly the opposite. They meant that sex was to be treated as no other impulse in our nature has ever been treated by civilized people. All the others, we admit, have to be bridled. Absolute obedience to your instinct for self-preservation is what we call cowardice; to your acquisitive impulse, avarice. Even sleep must be resisted if you’re a sentry. But every unkindness and breach of faith seems to be condoned provided that the object aimed at is “four bare legs in a bed.”
It is like having a morality in which stealing fruit is considered wrong—unless you steal nectarines.
Thanks to commenter G. Poulin for prompting this memory with his onbservations under my recent post "Love Wins."
We found that, even for severe cases of childhood maltreatment identified through court records, risk of psychopathology linked to objective measures was minimal in the absence of subjective reports.
Lyman Stone's final tweet in his discussion: "If the trauma-->psychopathology linkage operates primarily through self-appraisal then what happens if society suddenly encourages more scrupulous excavation of personal history, more intense reflection on past trauma, and lower tolerance for abuse?" This leaves us with a lot of but...but...we surely don't want people to get away with these things. Weren't we to understand that the culture of silence about abuse is a huge part of the problem? I would ask "OK, if true, where does this subjective impression of having an abusive childhood come from, if it's not clearly from abuse?"
I worked with many, many adults who had been abused as children or had traumatic events when younger, and was sometimes puzzled by the lack of linearity between severity of trauma, age the event occurred, duration of trauma...just everything. But not always puzzled. One mostly notices such things at the extremes, when a person who experienced horrific events seems unaffected against all odds, or when the identified traumatic event(s) seem bad, but not horrifying. Those bring out the spontaneous observations from the staff. But I usually just considered those outlier events. I figured that there would be a statistical linearity associating pathology with something about the severity or the event.
Shouldn't more abuse trend toward more psychopathology? Wouldn't we expect that relationship to the abuser would matter, or severity or duration of abuse? But this study suggests that something less easy to define is a bigger issue, some subjective impression of whether one's overall experience was bad. It would be interesting to see whether something similar happens for combat veterans, that the overall experience counts for more than the incidents. More on that below.
I had read research over the last few decades of "protective factors," that helped in recovery from trauma, such as having a religious faith and especially a community, of having supportive friends and family, of not abusing substances (interesting in light of the later psychedelic-based treatments being touted now). And of course, what you were like before the trauma figures in ways that are sometimes measurable. But this is a whole different level.
I would like to be clear that no one should be jumping to the conclusion that people can therefore have control on whether they develop symptoms or not. People don't decide to have nightmares. Having startle reflex is...a reflex, not a choice. Responses to smells are involuntary. Whatever is bringing you to your subjective opinion of the whole experience in the broad sense, it is operating at some subterranean level.
I have wondered if expectations are a large factor. Most boys grow up with someone trying to pick a fight with them a few times, shoving them or sucker-punching them in ways we would regard as a clear assault as an adult. Yet men believe these are not traumatic events worth reporting as adults. We have trouble even remembering them. Only if they exceeded some level into the unexpected do we note them - if we were frequently outnumbered or bullied, if weapons were involved, if we got injured. We had a young woman at the hospital who was distraught because of an incident at a party in which a boy she knew tried to sexually assault her at least briefly before he believed her protests were...sincere?...loud and energetic enough? It had happened five months earlier and she still could not stop thinking about it and was afraid to go out. One of the nurses was not sympathetic. "At my high school, we just called that dating." Others jumped on her for that, pointing out that the girl was quite the innocent and had been sickly and protected as a child. But that someone could even say that shows there is something up with expectations. In war zones where whole families or villages of women are raped, isn't that like to be a different experience than being the only one? Less bad...more bad? At one level no one is blaming you, but all the people you would go to for support are also wounded.
An anecdote closer to home. My two Romanian sons were badly abused by both father and mother, though the neglect in the villages may have been worse. It was at a level nearly unknown in America. About a year after coming here, John-Adrian was at a church youth group event at which the educational game of how fortunate they are was being played. Take a step forward if you ever stay with one of your parents. Take another step forward if you ever stay with the other. Take a third step forward if you stay with both together. Take a step back if no family member made a meal for you today...Well into the game, JA found himself near the front, then perked up his head and said "Oh, you mean ever in my whole life! I belong way back there near the beginning," and walked back. Laughing. When Son#5 came to us about a decade later after having been abandoned by both bio parents, JA shook his head angrily. "I can't believe it. I can't imagine how this could happen. This should never happen to a kid." I looked at him dumbfounded. "John-Adrian. That happened to you!" He was caught up short and then covered a bit (John-Adrian never admitted he was wrong). "I meant it should never happen in America."
The next younger brother did not shake off his past so easily, though things have gotten better over the years. He is still locked in some contact with his Romanian siblings, including one who takes advantage of him, for example. His past haunts him more.
I will come back to the childhood abuse when discussing treatment, but for now let us go to the other major category of trauma, combat.
Sidetrack, but there's a reason: A history podcast guest was discussing the response of ancient combatants to trauma. Interesting but not earth-shaking. He did suggest that the story of Odysseus in the epic is supposed to represent the journey home that all soldiers make. A fun idea, but one I think can be defended only by forcing the episodes into some framework of what one believes returning soldiers go through. However, I think that in some solid way we can enjoy it. Any story that has lasted this long must speak powerfully to a variety of circumstances. An epic about a journey home from war that did not speak to centuries of men returning from war in some way would not survive, except perhaps as an accidental curiosity. For readers of Tolkien's essays, this is the difference between allegory, which is limited and often stilted, versus myth, which has broader (if less-definable) applicability. Certainly coming home and being recognised by the dog and finding that other men are trying to take off with your wife could be recognised as a country-music theme in our own era. The story has legs for a reason. If you are a Homer fan you might go back over the poem with that in mind to get more from it. But I wouldn't impose that structure on it as a necessity. It has power, but not for box-checking.
The guest went on to his real topic, of evidence of trauma in ancient sources of returning soldiers. The example of Epizelus, an Athenian soldier who was struck by what we would now call hysterical blindness at the Battle of Marathon is often referred to, but as with many things - as with allegory above - people try to shove the story into whatever theory they have going. I am not going to do that, I only bring him up to note that context and expectations seem to matter in this sort of trauma as well. Being so frightened by a phantom opponent that he went blind did not make him a figure of scorn in Athens upon his return. He had done his duty as a hoplite, a citizen-soldier whose main task was to go into battle without much training, wearing minimal armor that he could afford himself, and getting slaughtered in a phalanx creating space for the trained professionals to fight. That was enough and he was still held in regard. It was not unusual to be a hoplite, it was expected. You came back to a world where most men had seen whatever battle horrors you had or could be expected to in the future.
So it is worth looking at the two ancient examples to carry that over to the centuries-long story of soldiers and trauma, of return and expectations. It is different in every time and place. It is different to come home to American from a modern war, because so few have seen what you saw. Heck, a lot of the actual military has not seen combat but have jobs in support. It's the reverse of Epizelus's situation. So if we are to look at common factors for the understanding and perhaps treatment of trauma, it is going to have to cover a lot of ground.
Enter EMDR and Dr. Andrew Huberman, Stanford neurolscientist, who I linked to WRT gratitude being something that seems to be actually physically good for you. Huberman has become very popular, with a YouTube channel and lots of videos purporting to tell you how to stay awake, reduce your attention-deficit symptoms, calming or energizing your mind with various Hz frequencies (40 and 528, reportedly) and learn to become a force in the world and mostly happy. Anyone this popular this fast arouses my suspicions, and more than suspicions. At this point in my life I am primed for disbelief in such things, regarding them all as medicine-show stuff. "...and the diminution of the marital impulse" as Garrison Keillor once joked. And yet. The research looks good, sounds plausible. I comment only on one bit of it here.
When EMDR came out in the 90s I thought it was voodoo. Moving your memories to another part of your brain? Sliding your eyes back and forth while recalling your traumas and getting coached through that to store the memories differently? Preposterous. Over the years I did come to accept that there was something to this memory-storage bit, that some memories are stored in places that also hold a lot of emotional information while others are set down in a more boring file cabinet. That sounded good, to store high-emotion memories in a boring place. Some evidence came out that writing boring reports after a trauma actually helped create some distance. Recalling the event, but in its most stripped-down, bloodless fashion seemed to help. This is new and may not play out, but would make some sense in terms of putting horrible memories in a boring place, so that when the events occurred to you, you could use the boring version instead, eventually making it the main version. Not that the other version would ever go away, but you could take a different past it. You put the deep ruts in the road you want to use, not the one you are trying to avoid.
Huberman has this idea that the eye movements back and forth mimic traveling, especially walking. When we travel we scan from side-to-side automatically. We are literally telling our brain "I am walking" now. Whether that is walking onward to the next skirmish if you won, or walking away from a place you hope never to see again, it just might be much better than being physically stuck - such as in a siege, or if your village was raided and you are staying on surrounded by memories. The actual physical walking - or sailing, or riding - may have been part of the treatment, and being trapped and unable to get away may be a huge risk factor.
And maybe that works for those victims of incest and abuse as well. We use therapy to walk away from the past metaphorically, and even call such things a journey, or a leaving behind, and related metaphors. But maybe involving other parts of our brain, instead or in tandem, is much more important than we realised. Thousands of years of traumatic experience developed hard wiring that responds to literally walking away. I knew a few returning VN vets who took up backpacking or even hiking the AT upon return who thought it had helped. I had female patients who thought a "road trip" across the country as soon as they turned 18 had been beneficial in terms of independence from toxic families. (Though they often exposed themselves to trauma in that way as well.) We tell ourselves the story that such hikes and trips cause us to think about deep things and put events in perspective and that's what was good about them. Those of us who are talk-people instead of action people may be especially prone to that. But the very movement itself may have been key.
For a next speculative step, if any of this pans out, that the treating your brain - or tricking it - by just getting the hell out of Dodge in reality by walking or virtually with simple eye movements actually works in some way, it will be interesting if it becomes something we can self-administer. EMDR therapists don't take walks with you at the moment, you go to their offices. But what if it's technique, and the treatment for trauma becomes repeated walks, or drives, or cycling with a very specific agenda of remembering the trauma and automatically putting it in a different place. I don't recommend trying this at home until we know more about how it might work.
Like the soldier from the invading army who kept going to the next place and morale remained high, however horrible the last encounter.
Thursday, August 18, 2022
The primaries are coming up in about four weeks in NH. This will be of interest to NH residents only. A friend in Naval Intelligence (Brad Holt, for those who know him) tells us that he heard nothing but good things about Brig. Gen Don Bolduc when he was at SOCAFRICA himself, and if he were still in NH would be working directly on his campaign to unseat Democratic Senator Maggie Hassan in November.
Granite Dad, who follows the candidates more closely than I, tells me he is supporting Mowers to run against Chris Pappas in the House race.
Wednesday, August 17, 2022
Another book review at ACX, of The Internationalists:How a Radical Plan to Outlaw War Remade the World by Oona Hathaway and Scott Shapiro (2017)
As the reviewer confirms pretty quickly, most of us were taught to regard WWI and WWII as deeply related, even to the point of seeing the latter as a continuation of the former. GK Chesterton predicted that the war was not over and would have to be refought, and even noted a major reason why any response to Germany's rise would be delayed: the accusations of German atrocities in Belgium were later dismissed as mere propaganda, even though they were later verified. There was an attitude of not believing anyone, of being above all that and too wise to be taken in. It was a Lost Generation in several ways.
But Hathaway and Shapiro see a sharp break in 1928 with the Kellogg-Briand Peace Pact. Though this is today regarded as starry-eyed and entirely ineffective, they see it having driven a great change in international attitudes that continues to the present day. I won't comment whether that seems accurate to me or not, as I am not one who is fascinated by WWII history, though I have a few friends who are. The reviewer knows far more than I. Yet I will note that there was a great change in the understanding of internationalism in the 20th C, and it seems to track with this timing pretty well. Call it moving the Overton Window if you will, but how virtually everyone views war is different now. In the leadup to the Iraq War in 2003, a student at St Anselm's - a Catholic college, I will note - described to me how a professor was alerting the class that the Bush administration was trying to position its plans as fulfilling Just War criteria, which it obviously wasn't as they did not have the blessing and permission of the United Nations. I don't recall the permission of the UN being part of Medieval Catholic doctrine myself. Yet the view was widespread even among Catholics that this lack of blessing was itself evidence that Just War criteria were not met. An amazing thing, really, and not something anyone would have said about the League of Nations or even of the UN itself over its first decades.
Many now regarded it as a controlling authority, and were distressed when even Obama stated he was going to make his own decisions about American involvement anywhere, thank you very much. And Barack was right about that. Though perhaps he overstated what was going to be entirely his own call. Yet even that, maybe not, as each successive president has grabbed more executive authority in military matters. Obama may just have been a bit ahead of his time on that. No one expects Congress to declare war anymore. It is another Overton Window move of what is even acceptable to talk about. I cross-reference it to my recent Euthanasia post. I think people do not quite notice how their views have moved over the decades in response to changes in the Spirit of the Age.
I am becoming fond of the term "Substack Liberal." Disillusioned liberals still have the language and tone of liberalism when they criticise. Language alert.
The answer to the problem of what terms one should use if woke, identity politics, and political correctness are now disfavored is that it is the concept underneath that people are criticising. No matter how many times people say the phrase they like is entirely innocent but demonised by the opposition, it falls flat when the evidence keeps leaking out that they actually do mean what they are accused of meaning. Woke was intended to mean "alert to nuances of race, gender, etc in all interactions" and many people still think it was never anything worse. But it got worse quickly, on its own terms, not its critics, and the opposition is not obligated to use words the way you are pretending you mean them, when you clearly don't. The term is poisoned, not because someone injected poison into it, but because its poison was revealed. "Reform school" was originally a hopeful-sounding name, and many people did want to strive for that meaning. But "kid's jail, plus some unfortunates whose parents should be locked up instead" is what it was, and there was no disguising it with language.
Tuesday, August 16, 2022
I have not been convinced that evidence of a Proto-World language is recoverable, but I have been sympathetic to the idea that it is possible, and extremely critical of the way more traditional linguists have gone about criticising Merritt Ruhlen and Joseph Greenberg. When you have to go all Mean Girls* right off the bat, as my linguistics podcast did today, I am immediately suspicious. When I was in school we were assured that it was impossible to detect relationships between languages at a depth of more than 5000 years, and now it's grudgingly up to 10,000. There are also small bits of evidence for demonstrable relationships up to 20,000, such as the purported connection between Ket in the Yenisien Valley of Eastern Russia and some Native American languages, and some odd things that go even deeper. Also the evidence from other fields, such as genetics, has been supporting said "impossible" connections in biological fact, making linguistic connections at least more possible.
The Aspie quality that makes some historical linguists good at their job is not without its downside. If you can't make them believe it incontrovertibly, they smugly believe it must therefore not be true at all. Sigh.
It is a signal-to-noise problem, in that one side says they believe they can hear someone broadcasting on the wireless, while others say they are imagining things. Yet as equipment and technology get better, we might hope to accurately discern signal better. Also, there are a bunch of Russian linguists working with disparate families we have been unfamiliar with who have been claiming associations at deep time-depths for years, and I don't have any reason to believe they were less competent than our linguists.
Yet in defense of the critics, we have to ask that even if we can detect the signal, based on focusing on Swadesh words and particular sounds (see my first back-link for some of that), what have we got, really? In the Americas, Greenberg and those who follow him believe that there is one big Amerind family that includes most of the continent and all the Proto-Algonkian, Proto-Iroquoian, and Proto-Everything, plus some minority Na-Dene languages (Navajo, Hopi, and many Canadian) and the Inuit languages. Most linguists would break that into many more families. They say there's not enough signal to make solid assertions. And at this point we have to ask even if Greenberg, et. al are right, what's it mean? These are similarities so faint as to be unnoticeable. If there are connections between tribes and movements to be traced, perhaps we had better leave that to the archaeologists and geneticists at this point.
Fun fact: many Germanic and Slavic languages have a word for hoarding things that is based on the word "hamster." Yet it is not so in English, which is a Germanic language. Why not? Well, hamsters are not native to the British Isles, and only go as far as the Continent. Which is why instead of hamstering things, we squirrel them away.
*I saw a clip from "Mean Girls" for the first time in the review of The Dawn of Everything at ACX that I posted on a couple of weeks ago. While the characters were exaggerated for art's sake, I was impressed that they seemed like a great many of the girls I went to high school (and college) with - and more of the boys, once I thought about it. We are all Mean Girls. In the case above though, the podcasters were both female, adult academics, so maybe I just haven't the faintest idea what the real percentages are.
I thought of this song last week, I assumed out of the blue. More likely, her picture or name in a story announcing her death was in a sidebar that I saw without noticing. I associate her with a particular memory, of Monroe* dorm at W&M, watching her sing this in the summer of 1974. I suspect it was this performance on the Andy Williams Show. The young men were, frankly, whimpering while looking at her, spontaneously volunteering out loud to be the one Olivia loved, promising to leave whoever our other girl was. "I don't often wish I was white," my friend Gerard chuckled. "I think we're all about equally badly placed to be on her date list," another friend laughed.
Looking at it now, I am struck by how much the line "There you are with yours, and here I am with mine" strikes me much more negatively now. She remains lovely and gives the song great emotion, but my brain now goes "Therefore, you're not supposed to..." It looks different when you are married, I think. At the time I suspect I thought she showed great restraint and honorableness. Now I think then you shouldn't even be mentioning it. That's not quite fair, I know. Songs can express what we think we might say, what we wish we could say, and not be true representations of what we actually would say.
And my goodness she is adorable and plaintive and one hates to say anything against her, so I can scramble for excuses.
It was decades ago that the women in our Bible study noticed that they responded very differently to "Dr. Zhivago" than when they were schoolgirls. Then, they were in love and it was sooo romantic, and she was beautiful and he was handsome." Later the thought came to them while watching: But wait. She's...married. It matters. Yet as above, in art it is permissible to express what we might not in the hard light of day.
*Of course we had a Monroe dorm. Come on.
Monday, August 15, 2022
The percentage of people who believe in heaven and hell hasn't changed much from 2014 to 2021, according to Pew Research. I checked other pollsters like Lifeway and Gallup who had similar numbers. It is the group breakdown which is interesting - Mainline churches and Catholics showing lower numbers and evangelical and historically black churches higher. Tim King, who you just heard from about the opiates and addictions, lives downtown and has friends among the poorer and homeless (as he has for years). He also has lots of educated, liberal friends. He finds it striking that among the latter group the belief in hell is often regarded as risible, impossible, but among his minority friends it is more accepted.
He wonders if having clear examples of oppressors moving in the world, such as being more aware of slave traders and bigots causes one to be more reluctant to give everyone a pass on eternal justice, while having easier lives makes us more...tolerant? merciful? lax? ...about evil in the world. One can see doctrinal reflections in the numbers, certainly, but I have to wonder if he is on to something.
We had a discussion about the car decal "Love Wins." I thought, given that it was a Subaru Outback, that it was an LGBT statement, though because it was at an evangelical camp it might still be a holdover from Rob Bell's book that was popular a decade ago.
I have written about Bell a few times, mostly in 2011. Checking up on him, he seems to have gone further down the celebrity spiritual critic path even more, and is now on the Oprah network. He maintains he is not saying anything heretical, just raising questions. Could be. He is in to being spiritual, which causes me to look out over the top of my glasses. I am not interested in the type of questions he wants to raise. By the end of my attention at that time, I felt he was telegraphing that it was important to see how much liberalism and Jesus overlapped, and to kick people who weren't abandoning ideas he thought they should. That has some use, I suppose, but it wears thin quickly.
Google (or DDG in my case) splits the top thirty hits or so between the ideas, but I notice the book references tend to be older. The sticker is likely about gay marriage, then. Drawing attention to itself this way, I noticed for the first time that it has a different tone from a Pride flag. People put Pride flags everywhere, sometimes trying to infuse them with all-the-minorities representation, and I mostly don't notice them. Sometimes they seem to be a bit much, as when all the churches we saw around Boston Common displayed them prominently. You really think you need to shout it out there, in a place where everyone already agrees with you? Well fine. Maybe people would get suspicious if you took it down at this point.
But it's mostly just there in the background, sometimes being injected inappropriately, as anything that's a statement might be, but mostly just sort of vaguely positive and cheery: Shout out to gay people! We really like you! Be encouraged.
"Love Wins" strikes me as more aggressive. There are always gradations in political statements, and everyone wants to get the effect of maximum challenge while retreating to the blamelessness of minimal interpretation. It is straight out of Screwtape, where it is used to describe conversation between a man and his mother "I simply ask what time dinner would be and she flies into a temper," and we suspect he did not simply ask that but freighted the comment with more meanings, while she, for her part overreacted. "Black Lives Matter." My niece and goddaughter (University of Denver) went on FB to explain to us that "All it means is..." in response to people displaying "All Lives Matter" or "Blue Lives Matter," who were being falsely offended and, and, and...and the latter are also trying to extract maximum pushback with butter-not-melting innocence as well. She is Earnest, and is going to work for an NGO in DC. I worry.
You can find plenty of BLM people - real ones, not cartoons of the Right who will say "no that's exactly what we mean; deal with it." We all want it both ways. No, no, no! It's mostly older people who just want someone to listen to...
Using the word "Love" is especially irritating to me now that I have looked at it carefully, as the expression rolls several of the meanings and shadings of that word into one as if they were identical. Well, they certainly aren't the first to do that. As far back as Chaucer (Amor Vincit Omnia) people saw that there were multiple shadings of the word that could be played off each other deceptively. Love is becoming a red-flag word for me, one that is brought out only for camouflage when the real meaning is opposite. Like putting "truth" in your book title, organisation name, or website. Uh-oh.
I am sure someone will think that I have overread this and ALL the phrase means is...
I heard on a linguistics podcast that it is now considered an affectation to call the Persian language Farsi, unless one was in fact Persian. Rather like not saying "Paree," or "Moskva" if one is not intimately familiar with it, or pronouncing calamari without the "i" unless one is from Italy, or at least, the North End. It surprised me. I suspect that this may eventually become the case in everyday speech, but for the time being people will use Farsi for two reasons. First, and most important, it makes you sound educated and knowledgeable, and people don't give that up lightly. Secondly, any Iranians you meet in America are likely to use the term amongst themselves and have picked up that's what the official sources are using.
Not all Iranians are Persians, only about 60%, but I think about 90% of the ones who come here are Persians, the rest being Azeris. Kurds, another significant minority, not so much. So pretty much everyone you meet here is happy to call themselves Persian, as they have reasons to distance themselves from the current government. Yet worldwide, and certainly within Iran itself, people are much more likely to call themselves Iranian. Whether people come under suspicion in Iran for calling themselves Persian I don't know, as I have twice heard one thing and once the other. I suspect it is seldom a problem unless someone seems to be making a big deal about "no, not Iranian," because being heir to all of Persian history seems a common attitude. Maybe there are Islamists who take offense there.
Sunday, August 14, 2022
There is a difference between looking for a type of thing, such as blueberries or gaps in the trees that provide a view, and a specific thing, such as car keys. The specific thing can only be in one place, and the likelihood of any given place might turn out to be entirely irrelevant. The searching is frustrating.
I swear there was an alternative-world scenario by Borges in which your keys would actually be 20% in one place, 15% in another, so that you could eventually get up to a good enough percentage to make them usable. I can't find it. Perhaps I made up the idea myself and only thought that Borges would be the correct person to write it up.
Not Surprising that Central Europe is suspicious of Russian aims, seeing that they have been overrun with millions killed within living memory. Russia is large, but always believes that the next country over is "really" part of it, and needs to be protected from itself. You will note that these countries have no record of invading Russia. Still, Moscow remains convinced that any day now, it will happen.
You will notice that these countries do not have news blackouts. They don't fear the information getting out, or other ideas coming in to their own people.
Many versions of Alice. There are apparently even porn versions of Alice - the mind boggles - but these will have to do.
1903 - Whole movie
1931 - Just a bit of it
1933 - Gary Cooper, WC Fields...
You are probably familiar with the later versions, though the two TV specials
1955 - A lot of puppetry here
and 1966 - Were new to me. This one had a laugh track... (There was also a dark slo-mo Alice from '66.)
I do recall Sammy Davis Jr singing this song in the Hanna Barbera version, though.
...but it had no pictures or conversations in it, "and what is the use of a book," thought Alice "without pictures or conversations?"
I have included no music videos, nothing humorous, and few pictures recently, and the posts still awaiting completion have none either. Post 8600 is next, and I have to remedy that. Perhaps something from Alice itself would be best. I played the Mad Hatter in college.
Josh Barro passing along some pretty disturbing news about Euthanasia in Canada.
Echoed and surpassed by Lyman Stone on the same topic.
I had thought that the Netherlands was the scary one for euthanasia, then Sweden during Covid giving elderly people with the virus morphine (in long-term care) instead of oxygen (in a hospital). I didn't know Canada was a great offender, but euthanasia is (apparently?) the sixth-leading cause of death now.
We talk about slippery slopes and Overton windows of what can be discussed. I remember doctors I worked with in the 80s advocating for euthanasia of the elderly and infanticide of the severely disabled in the first few weeks. They felt entirely competent to make those decisions. Almost everyone in earshot was horrified. I guess not so horrified anymore.
There are people writing about this blaming it on capitalism, I think because if something is viewed solely as a cost-saving measure then the advocates must, simply must, be capitalists.
Pretty good for Gawker: Failure to Cope "Under Capitalism."
Capitalism, in this rhetorical strain, is not so much the object of analysis or a concrete historical phenomenon as an all-purpose gesture. “Capitalism” is useful everywhere: as the punchline of self-deprecating jokes about the way we live now, as a perennial-but-distant bogeyman that explains chronic frustrations without ever causing enough pain to force serious disruption. Most importantly, its invocation immediately establishes a phenomenon in the realm of the political, without any further work required.CWCID: Granite Dad
To have one thing we sometimes have to give up another in archaeology. Colonial Williamsburg is dedicated to recreating uh, colonial architecture and settings. CNN of course has a different slant on the destruction of a church, as do activists against the erasure of black history. CW acquired a building and tore it down and used the land for other purposes. It was not a colonial building, so it didn't consider it part of its mission. Honoring local Williamsburg history, or black history, or both might be more worthy goals. But it wasn't their goal. When an old building is restored it is often a matter of some debate what era is going to be favored. The earliest? The largest? The most historically significant? the one with the most pirates or knights or princesses? Archaeologists in Europe two hundred years ago tried to create experiences, impressions of "what it would have looked like" 100 or 1000 or 10,000 years ago. In doing that they sometimes chewed up territory and artifacts in ways that modern archaeologists wish they hadn't. We can try to have an eye to what people will want to see or to study in the future, and now archaeologists take enormous care to destroy as little as possible, just in case. But when you dig something up, it's no longer where it was. It is exposed to light, or moisture, or wind now, and will deteriorate.
We make choices.
It's not crazy to think that CW should have made more of an effort to preserve something, because the congregation does date - just barely - from colonial times, and we do often have to bend the rules of strict accuracy in order to preserve something important that would otherwise be missing. It is true that in the 1950s the historians, let alone the locals, would be likely to undervalue the black history. But they likely would have undervalued any building from 1856.
As to the burials, they were not known to be there in 1956. It likely would have made some difference. It is sad when people feel sad, but it is not a trump card. I am really growing to dislike this journalistic method of using old people reminiscing about their childhood in the interests of shaming. The house I was brought home to is gone. A church we went to became a business. The grammar school I attended is apartments now. Unless it's offices - I forget. No one was trying to erase my history.
We do things differently now. A memorial to the enslaved is being constructed on Old Campus at William and Mary. For most of the college's history people would have objected to it far more because it is not colonial looking and impairs the symmetry of the building layout than because it memorialises black people. But the latter would also have greatly bothered many people as well. That's just historical fact. We care about different things in every century, even every generation. They still care about preserving that colonial look. My recently-retired friend was very proud of the ADA approved entrance to the Wren Building that I didn't even notice while I was attempting to prove myself right about the slight asymmetricity of the front and looking at the building closely. It was that subtle. But we consider it more important to belatedly notice black contribution to history now, and that's likely better.
When we highlight missing black history, we do so by obscuring something else. You really can't do history and archaeology any other way. Something gets put in front, other things are put behind it.
An interesting serendipitous find lends credence to the legend of the Chincoteague ponies, that they swam ashore from a Spanish ship that sank around 1500 and survived on the barrier island. That theory had competed with the idea that the English had brought them in the 1600s. A graduate student studying the domestication of cows found horse DNA mixed in with his finds, and its analysis revealed it is closer to the Chincoteague ponies than anything else. Fun for the children's literature fans, as the dramatic swimming pony was favored in Misty of Chincoteague, a Newbery Honor Book.
The DNA doesn't prove a thing about swimming and shipwrecks versus just being dropped off for later, but it does support the Iberian claim.
Chance favors the prepared mind.
Saturday, August 13, 2022
I remember loving the original Dune but disliking the Dune series more with each new entry as it came out, and God-Emperor most of all. If I think about them at all, it is only the first one.
But I'm a sucker for the intellectual adventurousness of the group over at Astral Codex Ten, so when someone reviewed the final episode I read it anyway. He rereads it in the light of being suspicious of AI and its human/subhuman/superhuman mixture, which was not something I had considered.
Along the way, he throws in this line, which is a great summation of two other late and fairly irritating books in the series.
For the record, Heretics of Dune and Chapterhouse Dune are about sexing uppity women into submission and discovering a literal secret clan of space Jews, respectively. They are not necessarily required Dune reading, but if you are specifically looking for late-career-author-weirdness, they are excellent.
Possible game changer. Lawsuits will do that. The person who sent this to me has mentioned a few times recently that we may be at peak transitioning, a high-water mark for people, including children, being able to sign up for transitioning without having to answer any hard questions, and being able to silence, shame, or even punish anyone who questions them or tries to interfere.
I mentioned recently that the threat of lawsuits has enabled a lot of the seemingly-incomprehensible responses in colleges and businesses. If that flows back in the other direction it might be just as powerful.
Friday, August 12, 2022
Wednesday, August 10, 2022
Tuesday, August 09, 2022
Saturday, August 06, 2022
Friday, August 05, 2022
I mentioned The Line just over a week ago, and there was good commentary on it only a few days later on ACX. Scott is not impressed by The Line, nor the other Saudi utopian projects.
I am spending more and more time on that site, as it tackles interesting topics in very clear ways. An education study that shows that Ritalin works for paying attention, but school isn't worth paying attention to; nootropics, fusion energy, what caused the homicide spike. All good stuff, and he seems to have little agenda.
In discussing the Ivermectin controversy, he cautions himself:
Did you believe that?
I did, briefly. Then I remembered the Law Of Rationalist Irony: the smugger you feel about having caught a bias in someone else, the more likely you are falling victim to that bias right now, in whatever way would be most embarrassing.
I certainly see myself in that as well.
Thursday, August 04, 2022
I continue to read the anonymous book reviews over at ACX, and am enjoying the one on The Dawn of Everything. The reviewer likes some of the book and agrees with some premises but detects large holes in the reasoning, as "the Davids" impose their own progressive politics on the archaeological record.
I heard an interview with Wenfrowe and was impressed, reporting on it in March. David Foster inserted a word of caution about it in the comments and I encouraged him to get back to us about his reading group's conclusions. That may no longer be necessary if this review covers his material.
A comment by Freddie DeBoer, who I very much like, and have also mentioned.
Forgive me for commenting before reading, though I very much look forward to digesting this review - at the request of some subscribers I started blogging my way through this book but quit in disgust after a few chapters. (I did finish reading it however.) I'm someone with a fairly high tolerance for, let's say, ambitious nonfiction, but in terms of citation and responsible reference to evidence this is one of the most irresponsible books I've ever read. Just hundreds and hundreds of pages of inadequately sourced claims and a few instances of misreadings of the provided citations so egregious that it crosses the line into dishonesty.
Wednesday, August 03, 2022
Deshaun Watson got a 6-game suspension. This could change, as the NFL is an entertainment business and will act in a way which maximises their audience. Goodell might add something to it for appearances sake.
Yet they have constraints to work under, and this gets lost in most of the discussion. There are contractual agreements in place between the players union and the owner, and previous policies already in place. Ignore all discussions of "well Player A got a year's suspension for gambling/felony assault/deflating footballs" as if those are supposed to be somehow compared to the many civil suits for varying degrees of sexual assault and harassment. Apples and oranges. And yet...
Something similar happens with colleges and accusations, or workplace discipline. At least two separate things are happening. There is a prediscussed and prearranged ranking of how bad one thing is versus another with regards to the institution itself. The NFL clearly does not hate gambling. In fact, it clearly likes it, as it has rescued what was deteriorating loyalty and interest of fans. But players or coaches gambling hurts the product at a deep level, so even the appearance of tolerating that must be consequated heavily.
Hospitals don't have much opinion one way or the other about people having sex, outside of the medical effects. But they can't have their own employees engaging in sexual behavior with patients, both for good clinical reasons, but also for reasons of appearance. They have to refrain from behaviors that seem to reduce the safety and good functioning of society in general, and so questions about power differential or sliding scales of consent become quite real. In those instances, appealing to the actual facts of the case and damage done are seldom the point. For the 21 y/o man to protest "Yes, Your Honor, I did buy that bottle of wine for that 19 y/o girl with the express purpose of having sex with her. However, as she is my wife I think the state's interest in preventing this is considerably lessened" makes all the sense in the world. Yet sometimes such common sense is overruled in highly public or contested cases. Someone might want to make an issue about consensual sex and substances and be choosing this case expressly to challenge whether marriage makes any difference - that is, which value is going to trump the other in law?
I wrote Apples and oranges. And yet... and now you see what the "and yet" was about. There is a real damage to society in play. Then there is the appearance of damage to society that the institution is supposed to care about which is vague and unpredictable. It might be only a matter of appearances, with no actual damage to society not already addressed in the laws against speeding or stealing or defrauding others. They are certainly less real, and perhaps have little reality at all.
But those appearances have a reality for the institution, which has to appear to care about the right things.
Proposed: The more people you have in your life telling you you are wise, the more likely it is your are arguing for a side rather than for truth in general, whether overtly or subtly.
If true, you had better pray it's the right side, because then you at least salvage something from your declarations.
Tuesday, August 02, 2022
The conservative press seems consumed by the idea that white people are having their voices silenced, both unofficially and officially, while the liberal press (what liberals think of as simply "the press," like NBC or WaPo) continually reminds us that racists still abound everywhere, keeping black people from reaching their full potential.
There are real racists still out there, plenty of them. My experience is that most of them are powerless and ignorant people who don't affect much. From their existence, liberals conclude that there must also be many powerful racists as well, who merely hide their tracks better. This may be so. I don't see the least evidence for this among the powerful people I know, but A) I live in NH, which is less diverse than just about everywhere, measurably less violent, and I think less visibly rude than other places* and B) If they were racist I would be unlikely to be among the people they would reveal this to.
There is also the belief that many aspects of our society are simply racist regardless of the intent of the current citizens, many of whom benefit from the ancient racism continuing and therefore not motivated to change things much. That's a different topic, which I am not engaging here. For the record I believe that is true but overstated, brought out as an explanation when more uncomfortable ones are not allowed.
*This is likely related to a cultural approval of privacy and decorum ("don't make a scene" was perhaps the main value I absorbed from my mother's side of the family) rather than more societal kindness. We are always among the lowest in charitable giving, after all, along with the other states with low church attendance.
There is a Quillette article on the literary frauds of the 1970's Go Ask Beatrice. Sometimes the works were fictionalised accounts of real information, with the distinction not very clearly noted in order to at least contribute to an impression that the events had actually happened. Others were flat frauds.
I would add that Elie Wiesel's Night seems to be "based on a true story" rather than actual reporting, and remind folks of the Christian comedian Mike Warnke's original start among evangelicals was an entirely made-up account of himself as a satanist in college, The Satan Seller. I knew people who regarded his advice on how to exorcise demons possessing their friends and family as entirely authoritative and Biblical.