Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Gothenburg and Copenhagen

We will be away for a week, visiting the #1 and #3 best Christmas markets in Europe. 

You can see why Swedish churches had a tradition of Christmas fairs (still do). 

Liseberg in Gothenburg, Sweden. If you open it in Chrome there is an auto-translate function if you click the icon at the far right of the address bar.

Monday, November 28, 2022

The Yearning

 I will be singing this with the choir this Christmas Eve. I had not heard it before.

Elite Institutions

Hollis Robbins, a Newhampshirewoman* who is an academic of a type I ordinarily regard with some suspicion, nonetheless made some remarkably good points in her interview with Tyler Cowan. In particular, she notes that the criticisms of colleges from places like Inside Higher Ed and Minding the Campus focus on the problems in the elite institutions like Yale or Stanford or Antioch. It seems reasonable at first, as these are the colleges of the rich, the powerful, and influential, and their impact in the future will be disproportionate. Yet she feels this is overstated, and noted that because of their prestige, they have a greater need to virtue signal. She has taught at several places and is currently at Sonoma State.

Unrelatedly, she insists to others studying and teaching African-American literature that they cannot understand the early African American writers if they do not understand the texts the older writers grew up on and were writing in response to - and that this is largely the Western Canon. In the 1840s the educated black man who was attempting to write down his ideas and arguments had grown up on Shakespeare and the Authorised Version of the Bible, and avidly read newer writers such as Dickens. They cannot be understood without knowing those works as well.

*From what I can figure out, it looks like Madison, NH, near where we camped when the boys were young.

Tally Sticks

It's hard to carry around significant amounts of coinage.  In large quantities, such as a king rewarding/bribing a duke for assembling an army to fight for him, it might require wagonloads of coins.  Worse, before the early 1300s in England, gold coinage was forbidden and everything had to be counted out in silver pennies. 

Tally sticks made of willow provided a solution.  It relied on one of those systems of splitting something into two pieces that matched only each other, so a promissory note in any amount could be created - one half to the debtor, one to the creditor. No need to lug coins to the exchequer. People quickly figured out that the tally sticks themselves could be exchanged. 

If you had a tally stock showing that Bishop Basset owed you £5, then unless you worried that he wasn't good for the money, the tally stock itself was worth close to £5 in its own right. If you wanted to buy something, you might well find that the seller would be pleased to accept the tally stock as a safe and convenient form of payment.

It ended rather badly, and with great irony in 1834. Parliament got rid of the system of tally sticks in the 1820s in order to make everyone record their transactions by ledger.  Which was fine, except that they decided to burn the old tally sticks to celebrate the change to modernity, and burned them underneath the Houses of Parliament. You may have heard of the Great Fire of 1834 which destroyed those buildings.

To celebrate, it was decided to burn the sticks - six centuries of irreplaceable monetary records - in a coal-fired stove in the House of Lords, rather than letting parliamentary staff take them home for firewood. Burning a cartload or two of tally sticks in a coal-fired stove is a wonderful way to start a raging chimney fire. So it was that the House of Lords, then the House of Commons, and almost the entire Palace of Westminster - a building as old as the tally stick system itself - was burned to the ground.

The online history of the Houses of Parliament records this in less embarrassing fashion

Dropkick Murphy's

Ah, Quincy.  My wife's Catholic private school was about ten miles south of there on the top of the Irish Riviera in Hingham.  Let me assure you it's a long ten miles culturally.

Sunday, November 27, 2022


It is not fatigue simply as such that produces the anger, but unexpected demands on a man already tired. Whatever men expect they soon come to think they have a right to: the sense of disappointment can, with very little skill on our part, be turned into a sense of injury. The Screwtape Letters, CS Lewis

China and Covid

For those of you who were always convinced, or became convinced, that China's response to covid was good (and by extension that America's was bad) there is this.  

Pradheep Shanker:  I was talking to international public health experts overseas. Their estimates on Chinese dead from COVID? 5 million and counting. He said because of their huge amount of normal deaths, it's easy to hide these deaths.

If his estimate of the dead, five million, which he thinks could be a lowball figure is accurate, then that is worse than the American total. 

And this is a concrete example from yesterday in Beijing

Beijing today reported 4,307 cases, my guess is that the shequ社区 officials are being told of positive cases, but CDC is so jammed up with the caseload that official paperwork needed to enforce Covid measures are not forthcoming - leaving these officials in a bind. 9/N

There is interesting commentary by Naomi Wu about the cultural underpinnings to the possible problems with ZeroCovid policies. Like "supply chain breaking down far worse than last time." Read down through her tweets only and then get out.  Nearly everyone after that is just reciting what they already thought before reading her information. If you agree with them you will applaud or you will dismiss them as fools if you disagree.  But either way, it will bring you back to the default opinions you had before reading her.  Better to follow her Wikipedia link about Chinese bereavement and just think about what that means rather than look for allies in current political battles. She doesn't fit our categories neatly.

Not to mention that the Chinese gave it to us to begin with because of lax safety standards in their labs. 

Yet always, we seem to prefer to blame our political enemies at home for any difficulties. As with the Native Americans and the European settlers, the Britons and the various Anglo-Saxons, and most of human history, peoples will not band together to make common cause against enemies as much as we would expect.  It actually takes high levels of cooperation to manage that, and most tribes won't do it. "The dwarves are for the dwarves!" Ronald Reagan once said that if the Earth was invaded by Mars, he believed the Americans and the Russians would join together. A lovely sentiment, but I now believe he was wrong.

Scrooge and Wealth

We saw an excellent production of A Christmas Carol last night, and a penny dropped for me.  When people do Bible studies or preach sermons about wealth, it is common to mention that there are many kinds of wealth: education, status, health, good training or genes, special abilities in athletics, art or music, beauty, charisma, people who love us, stability. I have reflected on these and myself in that NT sense over the years. 

But never about Scrooge. In that work it is all about business, money, miserliness. "Business?" Marley wails "Mankind was my business!" Dickens had daddy issues with his businessman father and was making a personal as well as social statement, but I think this work, whether novel, play, or movie, always focuses on the money. Other idols that we might worship vanish like spirits in the story.  There is no real harm in that from an artistic point of view. Refining an expression in a single, clean form is to be praised. Yet it is not the deepest spiritual lesson, but only something that points to deeper lessons. We have to do the other steps ourselves.

So I wondered, watching Ebenezer writhe in pain like a butterfly on a pin, whether I am really that much better off, just because that particular idol of his is not mine. We know others who have neglected mankind for art or status or comfort or entertainment. Why not us?

I have touched on a related topic before in understanding Talmudic thinking. I was impressed with Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks essay about wealth, and the conclusion that these things are only understood in conversation with each other. For me, the lessons of the Ghost of Christmas Past were of course most powerful painful, because I saw other gods at every turn there. 

You will see the movie or a production or read the book this year.  You should let the Ghosts talk to you.

Second Favorite

I root for the USMNT at the World Cup, though I don't follow it much.  The ESPN highlights of about 3-4 minutes per match are just about perfect for my interest, even though all my sons player soccer and one had dreams of playing professionally. It's a lot of fun to watch live.

Who do you root for second?  I think in international play I tend to root for Canada next in most sports. Because of Swedish heritage I used to root for them at the Olympics when I was a boy, but not so much now.  I have a son in Norway, I root for them at times. If the Romanians are in the mix I root for them, less so the Hungarians. As an Anglophile I will root for England, less often Ireland/Wales/Scotland.

It's an odd collection after that.  I don't dislike many countries, after all, and still tend to be an underdog rooter. If a Caribbean country sneaks its way into something international I perk up over that. Countries that have seen hard times, like the former Yugoslav states or many African ones I will watch that.  South Sudan especially.

Who else do you like out there, in the World Cup or more broadly? 

BTW, NPR really missed a trick decades ago when it did not adopt World Cup coverage as an important part of its programming.  They could have had the rights for cheap; it fit their internationalist, junior-year-abroad, sophisticated, not noisily-patriotic appeal; they could have tied it to other things. They had the chance and they missed it.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

The Purpose of Education

 James has a quote from over a century ago that is appropriate, plus a link providing a bit of background.


I have learned again that you cannot control other people's memory of you.

Even when they have the basic facts wrong. 

On that score, remember that trauma plus the efforts to counteract it eats everything in its path, even the good things.

Friday, November 25, 2022

Ferry 'Cross the Mersey

It is one of the great things about YouTube, with a searchable archive of music, that one discovers things previously unremarked.  In 1989 I was still quite removed from popular culture.  I remember both English football fan tragedies but had not processed that it was Liverpool fans both times.  I had never heard that McCartney and Starr had been part of a charity recording with Gerry and the Pacemakers and others, but it does make sense.


My own high-school duo sang "Don't Let The Sun Catch You Cryin'," but would not likely have considered this.  It's a little strange to sing a nostalgia/loyalty song about a place you aren't from and haven't even seen.

Slavery, Socialism, and the 1619 Project

I am quite sure that this is the only time I have linked to the World Socialist Web Site since starting this blog in late 2005. They interview the historian James Oakes, who was one of many historians who were critical of the New York Times' 1619 Project. (We should not forget that it was the NYT that pushed this nonsense, not merely reported on it.)

Conservatives can get themselves all tied up in nonsense of their own, believing that all on the left are in cahoots with each other.  But actual socialists, rather than the milk-and-water version that claims centrality in North America (and even Europe) are not at all fond of narratives that trace all Western ills to slavery and pretend to see little difference between 1619 and 2019. They see the American Revolution and the Civil War as clear, important revolutions in the overthrow of monarchy, the protecting of rights of many previously dispossessed, and introducing new ideas of equality. They want more revolutions like that, not denying that the old ones counted for very much.  So interviewing Oakes makes sense for them, even though he is not a socialist.

There’s been a kind of standard bourgeois-liberal way of arguing that goes all the way back to the 18th century, that whenever you are talking about some form of oppression, or whenever you yourself are oppressed, you instinctively go to the analogy of slavery. At least since the 18th century in our society, in western liberal societies, slavery has been the gold standard of oppression. The colonists, in the imperial crisis, complained that they were the “slaves” of Great Britain. It was the same thing all the way through the 19th century. The leaders of the first women’s movement would sometimes liken the position of a woman in a northern household to that of a slave on a southern plantation. The first workers’ movement, coming out of the culture of republican independence, attacked wage labor as wage slavery. Civil War soldiers would complain that they were treated like slaves.

Oakes' first objection right out of the gate is that even the choice of "1619" suggests that there is some sort of American exceptionalism that should be central to the discussion of slavery, while the overwhelming scholarship in the past fifty years has focused on its original similarity to everyone else's slavery, and then its emergence from the pack of everyone else to embrace such ideas as Abolition. From such a question-begging beginning, he believes very little good will ever come, even when individual portions and arguments (he allows that there are some) are solid scholarship and interpretation.

One can find a throughline of ideas back into history to argue for whatever you might like. One can blame everything on Christians, or the Spanish, or capitalism, or property rights, and find examples to support your thesis somewhere in any given decade and country. One can do the same with opposite points of view.  Retrospective throughlines mislead as much as the inform, or more.

Battle of the Tollense Valley

There is a Tides of History by Patrick Wyman podcast up about the Battle of Tollense Valley, a remarkable 1996 find in northeastern Germany at a contested causeway on trade routes in an otherwise sparsely-populated area. The find was unexpected and is significant evidence against the idea that Bronze Age northern Europeans were largely peaceful and devoted to trading. Devoted to trading they may well have been.  But that tends to drive both conflict and cooperation, so one cannot assume either.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Covid Costs

The Quillette article about covid costs, The Months The earth Stood Still isn't bad.  I think it tries to be balanced and see things in perspective.

In recent years, the closest we have come to such a collective accord, or scare, on this Earth of ours may have been the COVID pandemic of 2020–22. As various governments and leaders have declared that the worst phase of the danger has now passed, we can begin to make a tentative appraisal of how the crisis will be seen by history. Of course, new evaluations of the Great Depression, the Black Death, and the Roman Empire are still emerging today, and any verdict on the pandemic may likewise defer to the inexorable passage of time. Nevertheless, a few early reflections can be offered now.

But there's still that piece that nags at me, that counting the cost includes everything that happened, but the attribution for it is focused almost entirely on government actions. Much of this is fair.  School closings were in the hands of the local governments, often acting in concert with other levels of government. But given what people were deciding on their own, even if the schools had remained open there would have many children kept out by their parents, switched voluntarily to home schooling, and a great deal of switching-over energy would have been spent. The same is true of restaurants and bars. They would have had many fewer customers in any event, and more than the usual amount would have gone under. Without a government mandate some churches would have stayed open. But many which were not under mandate did close or switch to online anyway. The cruise industry closed before anyone mandated anything, even though they are set up to fly under a variety of flags and regulations as needed, but didn't want the deaths they saw from a few voyages to be associated with their brands. The restrictions in various ports mattered, but were not determinative.

One could add in the influence of government information with some fairness. A few people took it at face value, many people regarded it as essentially the best information, and even the skeptics noticed it and took some consideration of it. But even as governments were relying on that information to make their decisions - because wrongful-death lawsuits -  people were challenging it, evading it, ignoring it. It was big, but not all-encompassing.

The supply-chain problems were hugely international, and would have occurred here even if all levels of American government had gone anarchic and restricted nothing.  Businesses that went down because of supply chain issues would have largely gone down anyway. 

It's just one of those shorthand ways of thinking that bothers me, and it has happened consistently right from the start. It seems similar to our blaming the federal government for everything, when it is often the local government that can make things really unhappy for you with zoning, selective enforcement, unresponsiveness, and poor services. Real life is complicated, but we want to put our complaints in a tight package for portability. Our president is in! Life is good! The Supreme Court leans to our side more often! We are winning, comrade, we are winning! If only.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)?

I had never heard this longer version until tonight. It is much more powerful than the radio version from the 60s.


Result, Not Cause

Salena Zito reminds us - and it needs to be said repeatedly - that Donald Trump was not the cause of the populist surge, which had already begun in 2014.  Nor did he ever fit it perfectly, he was just the only national player willing to be noisy about this particular disenfranchised group. In fact some would say he never fit them all that well at first, they molded him into something more to their liking. Others would go further and say he still didn't fit that group even at the end but held the field by default, and because the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Their coalition formed long before Trump descended that escalator in 2015. He was never the cause — they were already there, just waiting for the right person to speak up for them. He was the result.

They showed up and voted in the midterm elections in 2006 against the Republican establishment. Some of them voted for Barack Obama in 2008 because of his aspirational message, then voted Republican two years later because he did not live up to the ideals he had run on.

Post 8,800 - Polarisation

When my father-in-law was still alive and at assisted living, there was a night when he went missing. He turned up the next morning, having driven around all night trying to deliver "something." (He had never worked delivering anything.) My wife's brother and niece were frantic, driving around looking for him at places he might gravitate toward, and calling his old friends to be on the lookout. The police had been called. There seemed nothing else to do but wait and hope for the best. My brother-in-law was angry at my wife because she was not down there with the rest of them "helping." It is a common human reaction, but not an accurate one. She was two hours away and there was no point to her driving down to join everyone else in useless panic.

When we are upset, we get angry at those who are not equally upset. They must not understand how important this is! We see this in politics a lot these days, as modern forms of communication have accelerated immediacy and compete for the "immediately" slots in our attention. We are directed to not only care, but CARE! Or we are bad people. Socially, we have not yet developed good defenses against the constant implorings of others. 

I get by secondhand report that Jordan Peterson has an interesting take on where at least some of our modern political polarisation comes from.

I don't think I have commented on Peterson before, and there is probably a certain amount of explaining whether you like him or don't like him, agree with him or don't agree with him that is required now, but I want nothing to do with it. I read a few chapters of one of his books and liked some parts very much about taking responsibility but generally dislike Jungian interpretations. From what I can see, the people who are angry at him have terrible reasons. And that's about what I know.

Anyway, I am told that Peterson believes that much of our current polarisation is fueled by industries that are being seriously disrupted.  Their lives are chaotic, so they are in panic, and they need to make sure that we panic too. This is rather like my frequent mention that when politicians tell you this is the most important election in your lifetime, it is because it is the most important election in their lifetime. So television is replaced by video, print media is replaced by online reading and watching, and radio is replaced by podcasting. So people who make their living in media are seriously disrupted, they feel anxiety, and they want to make sure that we feel anxiety too. That they have a lopsidedly leftward set of political beliefs is probably not accidental - many went into those fields in order to change the world - but their panicked focus on them might derive in part from the (trial-and-error?) knowledge that no one is going to panic much over their field's disruption. If they want to get us to panic, they are going to have to find other things. 

Education is seeing similar disruption, though it is masked by vast subsidies (both from government and convincing people that their product is entirely education, not increasingly credentialism), and this may explain why it is a center of polarisation panic. 

Some of us dream of a return to the days of 10-15% of students going to college. They still have that in much of Europe. Do we actually want that? An English colleague was happy that he came to America, because he would not have qualified to study to to be a social worker back home but could get in and do so here.  He liked the American system of giving everyone a chance.  He rightly pointed out that one didn't really need a lot of MSW education to do the job, so keeping people out was elitist. Well...yes...but...it was the social work organisatons that kept trying to pull the ladder up behind them by insisting on increasing credentials of dubious relevance. A lot of it is political training. It's not like the American House of Lords insisted on it or anything.

We keep hearing reports from everyday America that they are not as polarised as the rest of us, and shrug about political differences more often.  They get along. If we look at the things we are expected to get angry about one way or the other, it will likely pay to also ask ourselves "Does this fit with anyone's need for us to just all be angry, because they are angry and want us to uselessly panic as well, so they can pretend their cause is larger than their job disappearing?" It is often noticed that the people panicking about the environment don't otherwise much behave like they care.  They seem more upset that other people don't care than they are upset about temperature, or fresh water, or PCBs. As the other environmental things they get exercised about are appearances and feelings, it only supports that interpretation. A lot of conservatives who get exercised about the loss of traditional values don't seem to be doing much to support them or ahem, uphold them, they just get furious that some people are saying bad things about those values. 

It is probably good for us to pause when we find ourselves being divided away. I say this as one of the people who doesn't pause enough, not one who is looking down on the rest of you from far above.

Unclear on General Concept

I am watching and listening to a long string of "British Invasion" music on YouTube. It includes many songs that were virtually unnoticed in America, but were big in Britain. Perhaps it should have been called "British Invasion:The Home Front" or something. A lot of the list is from 1967, which I would define as well past the invasion period. Those bands were more like colonists at that point. Many of those later bands had been influenced by American groups, especially the psychedelic and blues ones at that point. What do you call counter-counter-invasion?

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Play With Fire


Do we call this typical of them, or unusual? It's an early piece, written very quickly, and notable for its repetitiveness with an unusual sound quality. It only has two of the Stones, Jagger and Richards, plus session musicians. I just looked those up, and they were impressive themselves, Phil Spector and Jack Nitzsche, Spector's "Wall of Sound" producer.

Saturday, November 19, 2022


They still get called that, even though Autism Spectrum Disorder or High-Functioning Autism are now more official terms. What is people's experience with their willingness to acknowledge the diagnosis? I have known some who wear it as a badge of honor - it does suggest one is a science geek. I have known some who are deeply insulted that anyone could suggest such a thing - and I have limited evidence that these might be the more sever cases. I am a bit unusual in my presentation, but show some clear Aspie symptoms and I think I have to cop to more than "a touch." Yet I think the general trend is for those with the condition to reject the label.

What are the rest of you seeing out there? 

Update:  I can now reveal that this is based on a couple of personal experiences of friends who are clear Aspies and have made those systematizing, attentive focus, and precision aspects work for them, and are quite certain that there is nothing unusual about their social presentations. The evidence they give is that they have done well in their fields and have some friends - which seems to be true, but is only a floor in terms of social competence. That there might be other measures for social competence seems...not to have occurred to them? They don't seem unhappy, though there is some brittleness. I do worry about their declining years - and my own. But maybe not.  Maybe they'll be fine, even as their supports dwindle.

I Feel Sorry For You

"Y'know, I actually feel sorry for you/them" never means that.  It's just a way of showing contempt and condescension while getting to look like a really good person yourself.

I can't remember when, and I don't think it was recent, but I have a sense I have used the phrase myself.  Hopefully long, long ago when it still might have meant what it literally does. But stop using it out there.  The jig is up.

Encabulator 2

 I had seen the Encabulator video several times, and may heve even posted it, but this one was news to me.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Registering To Vote

A friend from high school worked at the polls and had very encouraging things to say about the experience.

My job was to register people to vote. After completing a thorough training, both online and in person, my first assignment was in the September primary, where we registered over 100 people to vote, and I had the chance to learn the process in real time. I was acutely aware of how important it was for me to get this right, and to do well by each potential voter. When preparing to work this same job in the general election on Nov. 8, I had been cautioned that the volume would be much higher, and that there may be disruptions at the polls. Though we did have observers and challengers, for the most part they followed the rules set forth for these roles, and it was mostly just busy. All. Day. Long.

Y'all need to move to NH.  I'm just sayin'. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Dave Chapelle

 The man is just very clever.

Cowen on Conquest's Second Law

Also from 2021 (Thank you Rob Henderson) is Tyler Cowen examining whether the world is really as woke as it appears.

Left-wing views, at least on some issues, might have more of a “least common denominator” element than do many right-wing views. On average, the intellectual right is more likely to insist on biological differences between men and women, whereas the intellectual left is more likely to insist on equality of capabilities. No matter your view, the left approach is easier to incorporate into mission statements, company slogans, and corporate human-resource policies. Egalitarian slogans require less explanation, are less likely to get an institution into trouble with the law, and are more compatible with a desire to attract a broad range of workers and customers.

He also starts his conclusions with "It follows that, if Conquest’s Second Law is true, societies are more right-wing than they appear." Short read.  Worth it.

Dalrymple on Depression

Almost two years old now, but just now seen by me, a review of Jonathan Sadowsky's Empire of Depression, plus some good general discussion of the complexities, by the always-valuable theodore Dalrymple. He generally approves of Sadowsky's thinking, but finds there are omissions.

The author does not (in my opinion) sufficiently consider the cultural significance of the replacement of the word unhappiness by depression in common parlance. The practical effect is considerable. An unhappy person must either put up with his unhappiness, or analyse the reasons for it and try to change either himself or his circumstances. The depressed person is declaring himself ill and placing the responsibility on someone else to cure him. In present medical circumstances, in which doctors have very little time for each patient (and much of that taken up with entering data, or pseudo-data, on a computer), a prescription is the most likely outcome.

Monday, November 14, 2022


Yeah, I feel his pain. And he's spot on about the racism.


Quillette has another sample of the boy-did-we-make-a-mistake in the 60s and 70s with deinstitutionalisation article. This one plays up the "Cuckoos Nest" slant, which occurs about a third of the time, I think. These articles are accurate insofar as they note that there are lots of people with mental illness on the street now, causing problems.

The hospital I used to work at has about involuntary 100 patients at present. At its peak it had about 3000.

How much do you think 30 more hospitals would cost? The current one goes at about $100M/year, operating costs. Of course, you'd have to have more buildings, just for openers.

Mending Wall

I have mentioned before that Robert Frost taught my grandfather 9th-grade English at Pinkerton Academy 1910-11. Gramps wasn't impressed, accurately assessing that Frost didn't much like teaching 9th-grade boys. One sees his point. His teacher left for England soon after, where he fell in with nature poets there who were called the Dymock poets. He had been writing poetry before this, and might well have been working on "Mending Wall" while teaching young Master Smith at PA. The analysis I linked to is simply the first one I half-liked while browsing them. I am not going to analyze it here, just use it as a jumping off spot for talking about libertarianism. 

New England, especially Northern New England, has long been known for libertarianism - and yet also for much more public cooperation than other parts of the country, all the way back to colonial times. We built more churches, schools, roads, harbors, bridges, lighthouses, mills, meeting houses - and were willing to tax and demand labor from each other about this. I have usually described this as a devotion to the town (or very early, to the congregation), rather than any larger grouping such as even a county, but also not a valorisation of the individual. They were small-government, but not no-government people. It is ebbing away, but persisted for centuries, up until my own adulthood.  You can still find it, but mostly only in comparison to the rest of the country at this point. I worked for the State of NH, and by the end of my career I had seen that bureaucracy grow in pointlessness and inefficiency.

Yet the Free Staters who came to NH have not always found the sympathy they expected here. Their choice of the porcupine as a symbol is revealing. It says "leave me alone," and I think that is what libertarianism means in most of the country. But here we think more along the lines of self-reliance, that is, your responsibility to take care of yourself and your own rather than the responsibility that others have to leave you alone.  That's here too, and sometimes the "respect for privacy" can border on neglect of neighbors having trouble such as wives being beaten, or negative externalities from slaughterhouses being ignored. But it's not like we don't understand the premise of minding one's own business. It's just in second place rather than first more often up here than other libertarian places. The Upper South and the Empty Quarter would be the other main American examples.

What's different is the (ahem) unnoticed misplaced optimism of the rest of you, who seem to think that if we are just left alone, things will work out fine. They won't work out fine, no matter how many small-ball counterexamples you can find. When you build a City on a Hill it starts falling apart the next day, and requires effort, cooperative effort to keep up. This used to be admired, as in the early years of the American Republic other states actively looked to Massachusetts for how to self-govern, as their smaller places had never done this before. (My quick reading of what happened after is that slavery poisoned everything, even independence. It forced governance up to the county and then state level to protect propertied interests. We think of States Rights as small government and federalism now, but Goffstown didn't much hold with what Concord told them to do either, never mind Washington.)

Frost always said he was a bad farmer, but the evidence is otherwise.  He was shrewd and hardworking and the financial records of his years at that task look pretty good. In "Mending Wall" we see the cooperative self-reliance at work.  One doesn't need a lot of interaction and cooperation, but one does need some, and we can demand it of the other. Because... once the wall is built it's not going to stay built. It will need maintenance every year. It is interesting that Frost himself questions whether the job still needs to be done, now that no cows will invade the other property, but in the end he goes along, agreeing that somehow it does still need to be done, even if we can't quite see why. 

Update: Yes, Massachusetts has largely gotten untracked on this after an excellent start of building an independent American economy and intellectual society so that we no longer had to look to London and Europe. The rich of all the regions sent their children to study in Europe, but Boston broke away before the Coastal South and even New York. It was a great idea, but perhaps they just got too full of themselves.  SW Connecticut is not really part of New England anyway.

Metabolic Pathways

 This is what we know so far.

Autism and Schizophrenia

Scott Alexander mentions this in the context of Failures Vs Tradeoffs in understanding mental illness. To short version is that nearly everything that is different in the brain is a failure of some system or part of a system.  Tradeoffs that work are unusual. However, they do exist, largely because a specific disability is an advantage in a narrow range of contexts, but those contexts exist and are important in a culture.

And yet there are clear signs that other autism risk genes are associated with intelligence, and some of these are even positively selected. My guess is that these involve a tradeoff. I don't know exactly what this tradeoff is, but I tend to go with Lawson, Rees, and Friston’s speculation that autistic brains think with higher precision. This lets them think more precisely when that would be useful, but it also means they're constantly getting false negatives (ie not recognizing a person's face if the shadows on it are slightly different), constantly having their attention hijacked by minor stimuli that the rest of us would ignore (sensitivities to stimuli very slightly different from expected stimuli, like the dripping of water or the feeling of the tag on their shirt), and constantly getting confused by minimal deviations from routine. And although it's less obvious, some people have speculated that this makes it harder to do the sort of intuitive categorization work that lets you draw conclusions from social situations.

My guess is that somebody who's chosen the far end of this tradeoff naturally ends up as the stereotypical "aspie engineer", who's very smart, a bit off, but not so far gone he can't hold down his job at Google.

I have been thinking about my own clear Aspergery self lately, and noting how I have always gravitated toward others with some version of ASD. The Wikipedia article is quite good, and mentioned things I had never quite picked up before in my contemplation, such as poor coordination (I always said I had to work twice as hard to be half as good as a guitarist, and my handwriting has always been terrible in ways that look childish), preference for nonfiction, and the common poor understanding of reciprocity by many Aspies - though I have reciprocity over-installed myself. Theory of Mind can be odd. It is usually simply overlooked by those with Autism Spectrum Disorder, especially with full autism.  It never occurs to them that they were supposed to be trying to figure out what the other person in the equation might be thinking. But with someone like me, who has a rather finicky rule that we should always be considering such things, does not necessarily actually do it well when the time comes. But friends, favorite co-workers, even girlfriends, I now recognise in retrospect show a ridiculous incidence of High-Functioning Autism. 

And I worked with schizophrenics, who are supposedly the reverse in some ways. 

If, as Badcock and Crespi claim, schizophrenia is the reverse of autism, it might involve being too imprecise - too willing to declare the identity of unlike data - too quick to pattern-match. If autistics are too quick to mistake signal for noise, schizophrenics are quick to mistake noise for signal. In a well-functioning brain, this makes them creative and socially adept; in a poorly-functioning brain that is constantly getting things wrong, they connect everything to everything else and it's a mess.

The Wikipedia article covers the controversy between whether we should consider Asperger's a disability or mere neurodiversity. I lean toward the disability characterisation. The Elon Musks of the world are few. In the West, especially America, we have gradually created a culture in which over-systemetising (to use Simon Baron-Cohen's framing) is an advantage in a few situations, because it provides benefit to all of us in this highly interdependent economy. We provide places, even high-status places for those who can exploit that advantage via that difference. However, many of them still suffer, and those around them suffer as well. In the main, those who have these conditions suffer greatly. 

My current worry is the idea that beginning in the sixth decade, these symptoms may worsen in a significant minority Aspies. I don't think there is much research on it, but I was in discussions with clinicians about this before I retired. They were picking up that things were worsening.  It may only be that the support systems were worsening as parents, then spouses, siblings and friends died, and retirement and reduced mobility made others less accessible. If you are an Aspie you might find it harder to replace them, as you may not be bringing the advantages to the worktable that you used to, and your verbal idiosyncrasies may be less charming as you get ever-farther from the dominant culture. You were a refreshing eccentric and your offbeat phrasings were considered witty when you were young and pretty - now you are more likely weird or even annoying. It worries me, both for myself and for my friends. Will it be harder for males or females?

We have never watched a generation of Aspies age before, because we weren't keeping track of them according to that category. It is also going to be hard to decide what to measure. Most likely, some things worsen, others stay the same, and the environment will require extra navigation.


Sunday, November 13, 2022

The Final Moment

Because we think in stories, the final moments of a life have outsize importance. If a woman has 99 years of misery and privation but is vindicated and honored in the hundredth year, we think of that as a good life. Yet if a man has joy and honor for 99 years but dies alone and neglected we find this terribly sad. Daniel Kahneman wisely notes that because memories are the part we can take with us, we overvalue the end of the story. "If you want good memories, all you need are happy endings."

I see that this is quite crazy, of course.  The 99 years have 99 times the value of the one.  Yet as a person who lives in memory I absolutely get it. Memory is the part we get to keep. We have a drive to tie up the lose ends, to tuck a story into bed so that we can let it rest forever. Stories that are still up and walking around make us nervous.

Relatedly (Kahneman again), because we strive to maximise satisfaction with ourselves rather than happiness, we push consistently pleasurable activities like spending time with friends to the back of the line.

The Past Is Very Old

The Iliad looks to ancient battles, the Beowulf poet finds the roots of Grendel back in Cain. Even the distant past had a past, and it shapes the thinking of the poets.

Science, Truth, Christian

If it has science in the title, it's probably not science.

If it has truth in the title, it's probably not true.

If it has Christian in the title, it's probably not Christian.

I am increasingly suspecting American, patriotic, religious...and of course authentic, original...

"Let your yea be yea and your nay be nay. Anything beyond that cometh from evil." Matthew 5:37

Friday, November 11, 2022

Leo Kottke

 King of the 12-string slide guitarists.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

The Gossip Trap

I posted before on Erik Hoel reviewing The Dawn of Everything at ACX*, but having just heard him on Razib's podcast I went back and read that review again. I was again taken by his discussion of Twitter:

Which means that, with the advent of social media, and the resultant triumph of the spread of gossip over Dunbar’s number, we might have just inadvertently performed the equivalent of summoning an Elder God. The ability to organize society through raw social power given back to a species that had to climb out of the trap of raw social power by inventing civilization. The Gossip Trap is our first Eldritch Mother, the Garrulous Gorgon With a Thousand Heads, The Beast Made Only of Sound.

And if the Gossip Trap was humanity’s first form of government, and via technology it’s been resurrected once more into the world, how long until it swallows up the entire globe?

If the medium is the message, then Elon Musk may not be able to change much. We can also look at the Twitter cancelations and deplatforming under previous management as some recognition that a powerful spirit has been untethered and attempting to contain that by surgically removing the parts of the beast they like least. There's no evidence yet whether that works or not, it's too soon. But it is already apparent that this has new costs of its own as well.

*Though Hoel was still anonymous at the time. Hoel thinks the book has virtues, but overclaims due to modern political slants.  Freddie DeBoer doesn't even grant that much.

Wednesday, November 09, 2022


People will bring their priors to the election analysis. Trump was vindicated. Trump has ruined us. It was the turnout.  It was the media.  The results looks suspicious in places. (Note:  the results always look suspicious in places.) This is great news for 2024.  This is terrible news for 2024.  Michael Kennedy over at Chicago Boyz likes the Powerline analysis, and I agree it's not bad.  But I'm not ready to accept that yet.

I am not good at this stuff to begin with, so this is easy for me to say, but I think it is good advice anyway: If your current conclusions are exactly like what you thought would happen going in, then you haven't learned anything.  It's best to wait and see what emerges.  I love numbers, but they are not yet ready to behave, so be careful around them.

Monday, November 07, 2022


Now that I am retired, I take care to vote at the times that the people in a hurry don't need, such as very early before work.  I used to get up early and be among the first, but no longer. I recall that my stepfather used to decline to play golf on the weekends for the same reason. "That's for the working people."

It still feels odd, though. 

Update:  I left one blank, and my wife found a good Democrat to vote for, so I'm feeling like my part was a success.

Guys and Gear

I went to the ski-and-skate sale, hoping to pick up X-country skis and boots on the cheap.  There wasn't much there, but I couldn't get away because an older guy glommed onto me and started talking about gear, certifications, and how he switched to telemark skiing six years ago and never looked back. I am unfortunately polite and conversational, which kept him engaged even though I was eying the exits. He pointed out various differences in skis, especially the binding, explaining to me that he was an NTN skier, who call themselves "pinheads" because of the three pins in the toe of the binding...

Pinheads is exactly the sort of thing guys dream up for situations like that. He was describing the types of turns and the stress distribution on your knees and quads and I said, nodding seriously, that it sounded like the old stem christie turn I had learned as a boy.  He beamed and said that was exactly it, so I went a step further and said I had always thought (translation: it just occurred to me this second) that the telemark and the stem christie turns were just the Norwegian and Swedish versions of the same thing. He nodded excitedly and asked if I had ever been an instructor. It might be my weathered look. I looked it up later and that actually isn't quite true, but it's close enough to sneak past even an old gearhead. An example of the gear-focus I am talking about. Bill Bryson describes running into similar characters when preparing for his Appalachian Trail hike and frankly, guys everywhere recognise this from model train enthusiasts, firearms instructors, fishermen, craft brewers, and a thousand other pursuits.


 I sent this to my oldest granddaughter who plays flute in the school band.

Remarkable, but I always felt a little went a long way. Anderson must sense this because of the way he mixes in familiar music in a few places

Saturday, November 05, 2022

Grieg Doodle

 This piece is legendary in the family because it was the background to the end of the Squirrel Video in 1992.

Sørina Higgins and the Holy Graal

When I went to the Inklings Conference at the Presbyterian Heritage Center in Montreat NC in September, they promised to make the videos of the lectures available. When I finally got notice two months later that they are up, they mentioned that three of them have been up for a month already. This is the one that Grim asked after specifically, by Dr. Sørina Higgins

There are other videos, including Dr. Don King on Warren Lewis, Soldier, Writer, Inkling.

Hypothesis Dashed

In discussing intelligence and other abilities, and how they relate to performance and success, I have often taken the analogy of basketball because the attributes height, speed, and gross-motor coordination are all extremely important, but not equally so - and other attributes contribute as well. To succeed at the highest levels more than one of these is going to be needed, even if you have one in abundance.  Consider Tacko Fall, who is 7'6", but even he has needed some hard work and engineering-level intelligence to overcome his lack of speed and general coordination. One could also use music as an analogy for similar reasons. 

I have consequently believed that in the same way that height is the #1 requirement for basketball but is a threshold phenomenon, and after a certain point other characteristics take on increasing and eventually equal importance, that intelligence is the same in it's operation across a huge number of activities.  Yes, one needs an IQ of 90 to get into the USMC, and probably 110 to be an officer, but beyond that other characteristics such as self-discipline begin to gradually take over as predictors of success. Certain hard sciences may have very high floors, up into the 130 range or even more, but even there the ability to work with others, the capacity for hard work, etc become of increasing importance.

That is at one level true, because IQ alone won't get you much.  But the effect of the other characteristics such as the modern favorites "grit" (the Angela Duckworth book), growth mindset, EQ, 10,000 hours (with or without focused practice), or privilege - or the old favorites hard work, charisma, luck, training, or connections turn out to matter only a little each according to Michigan State researcher Zach Hambrick. Even at high levels of expertise, intelligence remains the best predictor of the ability to next level up. Not EQ.  Not growth mindset. There does seem to be some sort of generalisable sales ability, but it has proven very tough to measure.  which doesn't stop these guys from selling you theories about what it is and what works.  Selling sales is big business.

I had expected a different result.  But his methods seem good and the samples are large, including the ASVAB data in some cases.  Hambrick is on the committee to improve the ASVAB and AFQT, and he is at pains to say that he thinks they are already quite good but could be better, not that the test should be discarded after 100,000,000 tries.

His explanation is not universally accepted, but this is always true in IQ research.  People's priors are that something else, maybe anything else, should be true and there is motivated reasoning. Even I hoped that the hypothesis above would prove out and the starkness that g-factor is the single largest predictor in field after field would be relieved at least a little.  

People do have trouble understanding even a two-factor model when it goes against their priors, and they immediately accuse one of claiming that those other things don't matter at all. No, it's just that they vary from task to task whether they are important, with little generalisation among them, and even at highest levels do not match intelligence. Speed in basketball is big, but not as big as height. Beauty is big in Hollywood, but sustained excellence over decades is better predicted by intelligence, as in Phi Beta Kappa Glenn Close.

Ancient South American DNA

 This was sort of expected in the last few years (after being thought impossible before that) but not yet demonstrated. Ancient South Americans Have Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA.

The existence of DNA from extinct human species such as Neanderthals and Denisovans has been found by researchers studying the genomes of ancient South Americans. The report was published this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B1. The study, which examined ancient genomes from skeletal remains from Brazil, Panama, and Uruguay, also revealed the early South Americans' transcontinental travel habits. Neanderthal or Denisovan ancestry has never before been linked to ancient South Americans, which is what makes this study remarkable.

I was surprised at the "transcontinental travel," but I shouldn't have been. It's a subscription site, but this looks like the underlying study.  It bears mentioning that the individuals whose DNA is being studied might have no descendants in modern times.  We have always found this around the world, of ancient humans who are not our ancestors, but this is increasingly the case with finds in new areas like this one.

Thursday, November 03, 2022


 Our wrongness doesn't come from where we are told it does. 

 Despite all these attractions, the misinformation panic is largely misguided. Contrary to widespread beliefs, the share of misinformation in most people’s information diet is minimal, conspiracy theorising does not seem to have increased in recent years, and those who consume high rates of misinformation are largely hyper-partisans or dogmatists anyway. Moreover, even when people’s misinformed beliefs are corrected, this often seems to have little effect on their behaviour.

Sorry to burst your bubble, WaPo, universities, etc. Deplatforming and taking away people's means of supporting themselves will not have much effect.  I know it's fun to punish people from other tribes, but it's just meanness on your part. 

Wednesday, November 02, 2022

More House of Strauss

Ethan Strauss, talking about why polling is so bad, with an example from working at Yelp over a decade ago. 

So often we witness these arguments between conflict theory types, who believe a bad outcome to be the intentional result of a battle between groups, and mistake theory types, who believe a bad outcome to result from a well-intentioned error. Yelp taught me that there’s a middle answer, one where an almost accidental conspiracy takes place. It’s an outcome in which the conspirators might not even know they’re conspiring. They’re just trudging away from difficulty, sleepwalking towards their incentives, all the while believing themselves objective arbiters.

Everyone talks about this in terms of political journalism, trying to suss out what is intentional slanting of even the inquiry into news, what is echo-chamber obliviousness, and what is unconscious bias because of protecting tribal interests.  I have tried to look at this in terms of other subjects, of historians and psychologists and artists of all types especially if they are employed in the academy responding to tribal and even personal incentives that they do not see and deny even exist. It is the whole "you don't have to teach cats to catch mice" theory. (Yes, I learned here that older cats do have to teach younger cats to catch mice, at least in part, but you take the point.)  I have railed about my Arts & Humanities Tribe and their complete obliviousness to what is obvious to everyone else in what they will "interrogate" about a topic and which "subaltern voices" they will listen to and which they won't.

I very much hold to the idea that even when they are recognising that they might be slanting things or are finding workarounds to the slants they are being pressured into in their jobs, these intellectuals (and i am not using the term facetiously) are mostly responding to the incentives that will result in their tribe having more status, so that their children/nieces, their post docs, their culture-in-general gets more status and thus more jobs, friends, and mates. It's all about more food and more wives, in the end.

Email Response Time

In Tyler Cowan's new book Talent he makes the point that quick response time for email is a good indicator of top-tier talent. 

Ethan Strauss:...the idea that replying to emails very quickly is quite predictive of success. Were you surprised by how much people are talking about this one finding from the book? Because I'm seeing it mentioned in a lot of places, and it's just one of those...findings that I think is fairly intuitive, it kind of resonates. Most people in life send emails.  That's one of the takeaways I've seen bandied around the internet in the aftermath

Tyler: I think that this is very true for many sectors. If a person responds to your query rapidly, it means they're on top of their information flow, it means they consider you, potentially at least, a match for them which should make you more interested.  It means they don't let things sit fallow. They respond to situations quickly. You think there are some professions where rapid email response would be  a bad thing.  If you're looking for a brain surgeon to do eight-hour brain surgery on you, and he responds to an every email quickly, that could be a sign of trouble. But in the worlds of venture capital, public intellectuals, media journalism, many other areas, most areas, I think it's a very strong positive. Venture capitalists see this the same way. 

Ethan: You'll hear this from people where there'll be some fan "I emailed Mark Cuban and he emailed me back!" or "I emailed Steve Kerr and he emailed me back!" So I think it again, it might speak to energy as well (a reference to their earlier conversation about the best NBA defensive players being difficult people), there's a surplus of energy, there's a surplus of communicative power, and it is an indicator of  success...

Tyler: In most of Europe, Western Europe, it's considered entirely acceptable to let an email sit for two or three days. They do have less of a work culture than we do.  I mean, Europe's a wonderful place, but at the same time, that reflects something...

At work I always got back to emails (and voicemails) ASAP. I thought of it as both a politeness and efficiency issue, and I still do that even when retired. I don't think I fully considered it an on-top-of-information issue, but that was in there. For difficult situations, I have to force myself to take the opposite approach and wait in order to keep my irritation low and my words measured. But usually I am getting back quickly to you and noticing your response time as an indicator of how important you think this topic is.

They also spoke about this surplus of energy in terms of generating ideas - fairly obvious - but also of asking peers rather than superiors about someone's work, as they are more likely to see how they put their time into team-building, encouraging others, findig ways to make things flow.  I appreciated that, because while my cataracts of conversation and ideas, and sucking others dry of their knowledge are my most noticable traits, not always well-regarded, I always thought my best work was actually in the nuances of team-building and encouragement, seldom even noticed from above but highly necessary for the hospital's efficiency. No one gives you much credit for it, but you either want the work to get done or you don't in my book.

No Milk Today

When I went down the rabbit hole with Herman's Hermits for the polygamy post, I skipped right past this one, which I had never much liked. Only a week later did it occur to me that the meaning of this is now distant for anyone more than a few years younger than me. We did not have milk delivered at our house - we were too modern - but my grandmother did, and my older brother spent a summer as a milkman in 1967.  You could get homogenized or pasteurized, the latter of which was preferred for those who wanted cream for their coffee.


Parable #9 — Luke 12:42-48 — Faithful and Wise Servant 

And the Lord replied, “A faithful, sensible servant is one to whom the master can give the responsibility of managing his other household servants and feeding them. If the master returns and finds that the servant has done a good job, there will be a reward. I tell you the truth, the master will put that servant in charge of all he owns. But what if the servant thinks, ‘My master won’t be back for a while,’ and he begins beating the other servants, partying, and getting drunk? The master will return unannounced and unexpected, and he will cut the servant in pieces and banish him with the unfaithful. 

“And a servant who knows what the master wants, but isn’t prepared and doesn’t carry out those instructions, will be severely punished. But someone who does not know, and then does something wrong, will be punished only lightly. When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required."

Parable #10 — Luke 13:6-9 — Unfruitful Fig Tree 

Then Jesus told this story: “A man planted a fig tree in his garden and came again and again to see if there was any fruit on it, but he was always disappointed. Finally, he said to his gardener, ‘I’ve waited three years, and there hasn’t been a single fig! Cut it down. It’s just taking up space in the garden.’ 

“The gardener answered, ‘Sir, give it one more chance. Leave it another year, and I’ll give it special attention and plenty of fertilizer. If we get figs next year, fine. If not, then you can cut it down."

Tuesday, November 01, 2022

Children's Handprints

 Prehistoric rock-painting included art by children.

After taking this variation into account, the researchers discovered that up to 25% of the hand prints were too small to be those of adults or teenagers. They estimated that they were made by children between the ages of three and ten, with children between the ages of three and ten likely making the majority of them.

Covid Death in Police, Fire, Ambulance

This is heartbreaking but not unexpected. People know when they go into certain occupations that they are taking on higher risk, and this is in fact what sometimes draws them.  I know I am taking this risk because I can and many others cannot. My 4th son was seeking some adventure and adrenaline rush when he enlisted in the USMC.  There was probably some prove-my-masculinity motive in there as well.  But I absolutely take him at face value when he said he  was thinking of the very few people who stepped in to protect him from his drunken abusive parents in Romania, and tied that directly to the idea "I want to fight for people who can't fight for themselves." I am old and tearing up at everything now, but I still get misty  at this.  He is my most knuckleheaded, poor-judgement son - by far - but still has these shining moments that shame me.

Researchers found that those working protective service occupations had the highest COVID-19 death rate of any occupation, at 60.3 deaths per 100,000 workers. That was more than twice as high as overall workers’ COVID-19 death rate in 2020, which was 28.6 per 100,000

We (by which I mean conservatives, here) maybe got too focused on what effect the government actions had on things, rather than on what effect the disease itself had.  The government did come down heavily in ways that hurt some sectors unnecessarily and unfairly.  Yet sometimes it was the disease, not the government.  People went to bars and restaurants less - and they still are - of their own caution, not because of the government.  The government did not close those bars, Covid itself did. International travel is still way down, even though it is now allowed.   And frankly, The Chinese Communist Party should still be at the back of your thoughts in all these discussions more than Biden or Fauci.  We focus on them because they are nearer and we are more likely to be able to do something about them.