Monday, January 30, 2023


Everyone thinks that their specialty is key. In my mental health career I have worked with and listened to many outraged professionals who thought their training - art therapy (not a fan), aromatherapy (not a fan), Reiki (not a fan,) - were the key.  OTOH job coaches, housing specialists, and benefits case managers (to negotiate insurance, VA, and other bureaucracies) really were underappreciated. 

When I played in a band a guy would come up and say we could really use a harmonica player.  We played no blues, BTW. My roommate was very good at innocently asking "Gee, you wouldn't happen to play the harmonica, would you?" Rinse, repeat, for saxophonists, and I swear, a girl who had played the glockenspiel in her highschool band and was looking to integrate into something. She was so adorable and plaintive that we all actually did try and think of a way... But percussionists, bassists or cellists, fiddlers, yeah you could fit them in to a lot of popular folkie styles in 1973.

So with that in mind, here is a take on the AFC Championship Game that may not have occurred to you.  Likely, it occurred only to punters and special teams coaches. But it may have been worth more yards for KC at the end than that penalty that everyone is talking about today. And this guy's Youtube channel "Isaac Punts" has lots of stuff like this.


I wrote about the Minions as an ensemble character, more important than the main characters. It put me in mind of another ensemble, where the opposite is true. The marching lineup characters are all very individual, often endearing, and each is expendable.

Bugs and Daffy are central.

Jesus Through the Centuries

A (very) few of us had a nice conversation about Orthodoxy under my post In The Dark Night.  Jaroslav Pelikan came up, and I recommend (again) his book Jesus Through the Centuries

The e-notes give a good summary - and save me time.

Each age interpreted not only the Jesus of the Gospel sources but also the images of Jesus bequeathed by earlier ages, sometimes as a reaction against those images. For example, the Romantic era’s aesthetic response to Jesus was a reaction against the “common sense” Jesus of the eighteenth century Enlightenment. The Enlightenment itself had reacted against the medieval preoccupation with the supernatural in religion; a widespread eighteenth century view was that authentic miracles were not needed to validate a natural religion based on good sense.

Every century has drawn from Jesus and his sayings the answers it requires to its own unique questions about the nature of existence. Pelikan observes, “The way any particular age has pictured Jesus is often a key to the genius of that age.” However, implicit in Pelikan’s view, because the interpretation of Jesus at any point in the Christian era has been drawn from one single source—the portraits of him in the Gospels, drawn in turn from oral tradition passed down by those who had known him—Jesus is capacious enough to answer the deepest questions of all ages.

Armed with that, you can fill in the chronological eras of the Church from the list for your own entertainment. You will find some characterisations of Jesus endearing or important, while others will make you want to go back in time and slap a few intellectuals and artists around.
Table of Contents:
  • The good, the true, the beautiful
  • The rabbi
  • The turning point of history
  • The light of the gentiles
  • The king of kings
  • The cosmic Christ
  • The son of man
  • The true image
  • Christ crucified
  • The monk who rules the world
  • The bridegroom of the soul
  • The divine and human model
  • The universal man
  • The mirror of the eternal
  • The prince of peace
  • The teacher of common sense
  • The poet of the spirit
  • The liberator
  • The man who belongs to the world.

Tone, Emojis, Writing

- just think of the range of meanings that a simple "Yeah right" can have, depending on intonation. This is so central to our speaking that it's inevitable absence on the page is something we need to make up for. It's one of the reasons in writing why we need to choose our words carefully and unambiguously, and also why we use punctuation, italics and, these days, emoticons and emojis. (Other reasons why we need all this in writing include the absence of body language and the impossibility of checking whether the person addressed is understanding us.) Gaston Durren, BABEL

I have said - repeatedly these last few years - that I am not good at tone on the internet, always in response to someone I have have misunderstood or who has misunderstood me. There was a final straw moment that got me off Facebook.

I don't mean it, though. I think I am pretty good at capturing tone in internet writing, choosing words carefully and gradually becoming more adventurous in my punctuation. It's just difficult to have conversations online, and texting is worse. We don't get to be Montaigne anymore. It's the rest of you who are bad at this, I swear. 

A little goodwill goes a long way though, which may be why we are becoming more divided as we increasingly rely on social media. Blogging and having your own website is social media, after all, just more like the older methods of letter-writing, kitchen-table or pub conversation, letters-to-the-editor, and magazine reading.


 "For his time" is no longer considered a meaningful argument when discussing whether someone is racist (or -ist, -ist, -phobic, whatever). This is because it is not merely what the attitude is, but that it is not of the present. Presentism is as important as ideology, because my usual complaint about politics driven by social rather than intellectual premises still occurs. It is not just high school girls, disdaining you for not knowing what boot heights are fashionable this year, but many others, who focus on whether something is cultural appropriation or said using the exact right phrases. Those others skew urban, and formally educated, and socially obsessed, and thus settle in to left-leaning politics because that fits into their ecosystem better. So do not ask for context. There is no context since last Tuesday.

I mean, how different is this from Maureen Dowd, really?

Or (ahem) the cast of SNL?

CS Lewis: "All that is not eternal is eternally out of date."

Religious Tolerance

Nassim talks about religious differences actually being based on other cultural factors.  (Such as which way another tribe cracks its eggs, perhaps?) Very well summarised.  I have said the same about things we call religious wars, both when they occur or in retrospect.  A people decides they are going to go to war and then looks around to make sure they have top-flight excuses justifications, and religion is going to require at least some attention. Buddhists in the west are very superior about their superior nature in accepting difficulties and not wanting war, but in Sri Lanka it hasn't been the same. Not that that makes them worse, just not any better. And seven of the ten deadliest wars have been in Asia, they just don't talk about them that way.

At a trivial (but current!) level, it is similar to the guy who got the late penalty for the Bengals yesterday, which makes it look like he "lost" the game for them. It was a dumb penalty and the call was deserved. But it wasn't the worst mistake or the most important, just the one we see. Lutherans and Catholics were not actually going to war over their few doctrinal issues, like consubstantiation versus transubstantiation. Authority and money got made into doctrinal issues.

WRT the US, I have always wanted to get off whether a war is justified - other nations do lots of provocative stuff that could be legitimate justifications for war - but whether it is wise. That is harder to assess, but is usually more restrictive standard. 

BTW, NNT gets it wrong about IQ tests again, the same way he always does, easily refuted. What we call IQ is tested in many ways, whether ASVAB, Stanford-Binet, WAIS, Raven's Advance Matrices (that one's fun), WAIS, SAT/PSAT/GRE, or the GWAS vocabulary test. They have overlap, but they aren't the same, so talking about IQ as something that only measures "how well you take that test" is just nonsense. They measure g-factor. He isn't given to talking nonsense, and when you dig deeper in his writings about this you find he is giving the same imprecise criticisms that a lot of people do, even very smart ones: he knows foolish people with (probable) high IQs; other abilities get undervalued because they are less sexy and less noticed; and accepting the idea has uncomfortable personal and social consequences.

Saturday, January 28, 2023


Being with the youngest granddaughters so much, I got to see some children's movies and TV.  One afternoon it was Despicable Me II. I had seen the end of the first one a few years ago in a similar over-the-shoulder fashion. The minions are that great cartoon reality where they can get blown up, incinerated, electrocuted and have entire mountains fall on them and initially appear near-death, only to be fully recovered in the next scene.*

When this song played near the happy ending of the movie, I said out loud "that's a famous song - what is it?' because in the context of it being minions singing in their own language, plus my unfamiliarity with popular culture, I couldn't quite place it. The 11-year old didn't know but said "They're saying underwear." "I don't think so Aurora.  I think it just sounds like that." To a middle-schooler's humor, I thought to myself. Well she was right, suggesting that whoever does the minons' language also has a middle-schooler's humor.

The minions collectively, more than Gru are the main character in the movie. We miss that because no one of them rises to the level of being a main character. They are similar to the early Sesame Street and Muppet Show muppets, before Kermit rose to become a central figure on his own and a few others followed, the 101 Dalmations, or any of the Collective Sidekicks that eventually made the human stars the sidekicks. Gru does drive the plot, but he's not that funny or even that endearing without them. And he is played very, very well in these movies, both the animation and the voicing.

For me it is additionally funny to watch with these three granddaughters, because their father actually does have Gru's accent, being from Transylvania, and they parallel the three little girls in age quite closely.

*As a humorous device it goes back quite a ways, as the same thing happens in Chaucer's "The Miller's Tale." (I think.  I may be confusing two stories into one, so I'll check.)

Thursday, January 19, 2023


We are heading for Houston tomorrow, which will only be about 20-30 degrees warmer than here for the week. The Alaska Wymans are very pleased anyway. It won't get above zero in Nome the whole time they are gone. The oldest granddaughter wants to learn to surf in Galveston, but they won't be giving lessons unless it gets to 70 degrees - which it won't.

This should be the end of traveling for a while.


Ann Althouse has an interesting post about childhood versus adult hair color, and how people want to be blond even when they aren't blond anymore.  There is a status definition to it.  Her examples track women's opinions, not men's. 

I had platinum blond hair until about age 22, though the beard grew in both blond and red and that gradually crept up the sides. I was progressively balding since even before that, which confused the matter further. As an adult, people would be more likely to say I had red hair despite my white eyebrows and top hair, what's left of that. But I always thought of myself as a blond and filled that in on any form that asked for it.  My mother and one of my sons had the same timeline of flax until the early 20s.  He shaves his head now and we don't know what the color would be.

The unusual part is that I only regarded it as a status color in those last few years I had it.  I didn't like it as a boy; I thought it was a girl-color and unmasculine. Only when it became a way of standing out and being eccentric - especially after Johnny Winter became a guitarists' favorite - did I start thinking this blondness was something I need to be proud of and encourage. People would ask if I were albino, and I thought that was awesome. One college summer when it did not become as blinding as the year before I put lemon on it a few times in September to keep that identity.  I must not have done it much, I don't recall how that came out. 

White hair is mixing in with the red with the beard and on the sides this last decade and I'm back to being clearly blond again. As I was always meant to be.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023


 At least at the moment the Marines figure out a way to escape AI detection in clever ways.

Not the Stereotype


From William Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, written in 1960. It was one of the first books of eyewitness history I remember reading. 

Two things: it is a reminder that it was the university students and the professors - and the artists and philosophers - who were the main drivers of Nazism in Germany, not the thugs and "ignorant blue-collar folk" that the European and American left tried to sell us as the perpetrators in the years after. The intelligentsia brought us both communism and fascism. Hitler was a failed artist, remember? The common folk can be blamed for being so easily bamboozled and stirred to hatred, yes.  That I will agree with. Dorothy Thompson's essay "Who Goes Nazi?" in Harpers is also instructive on the matter.

Secondly, I bought hook, line, and sinker Shirer's arguments about the German character and history leading to Nazism at the time.  Since then I have backed off considerably.  That is also a narrative that some people just like, and that informs their belief in it too much.  I do note that that I am disagreeing with GK Chesterton as I say it, which worries me. Have I offended against the simple and obvious in this?  Always a problem for me personally, and for anyone disagreeing with GKC.

Romanian Revolution 1989

You might not want to hang on for the slow development over the two videos, but it is instructive. It starts off as a very typical-sounding speech by a dictator. (BTW, I understood more than I expected.)

Notice how the posters of him and Elena that the crowd are waving are of them about 30 years younger. That tells you something. At about the 2:35 mark the crowd changes, and it is an eerie and beautiful moment. He has lost them, and he seems to know it and be uncertain.

He and Elena rally, and tell the crowd to be quiet for the next three minutes, and seem to get them back. The cheers for them return. You can skip through the speech on this Part 1 and then Part 2 in one-minute intervals if you like.  You can hear and see, if you look at the crowd, that there are fewer people clapping and cheering, less motion on the posters on standards as it goes on.  You might listen to the crowd and think "He won them back, dammit. They are intimidated back into silence again. The moment has passed." I can't tell what he thinks at the end. Perhaps it's easier to see how unenthusiastic they are when you know the ending, how dependent on the party members and paid mob by the end. 

He was overthrown the next day and executed on TV three days after that. 

If you read The Hole in the Flag you encounter the idea that the Securitate,the secret police, had long prepared for this moment and installed their own replacement under the guise of revolution. The judges remained communist for a generation after, the elections were between various kleptocrats, and the young and ambitious left for Western Europe. 

And yet. The economy has improved and still improves. Corruption is down, crime is down, some economic emigrants have come back now that they can buy some land with their cash, and things are clearly better. My sons will never move back, but some relatives of theirs have. Even crony capitalism, inefficient and corrupt capitalism, seems to be a big step up, doesn't it?


A quick Bing gives no convincing answer.  Does anyone know if La Griffe du Lion was ever identified?

Read him at your peril.  One can see why he would be anonymous.

In The Dark Night

I have a deep division in my soul, in that I think I would gravitate toward becoming Orthodox, but for the behavior of the various national churches - especially the Romanians - under the CCCP. Nor is this only a recent problem. In their drive toward embracing the mystical interaction of the simple events of a person's life with the farthest reaches of God's intentions, they seem to have ignored even the most basic understandings of justice and public morality.  I cannot resolve this, yet I remain deeply moved. Perhaps as a westerner, and especially an American, I have become deeply wrong about the whole point of existence?

Country and Western Music

It was still called that when I was a boy, but by the time I got to college I think everyone just said "country." Maybe that was because I was always near the East Coast, where there weren't many cowboys or Western Swing. We had the Circle 9 Ranch outside Concord that would bring in acts from all over, including folks like Loretta Lynn and Marty Robbins, but that was rare, and NH was clearly filler dates for them. What we called country included fiddlers from Quebec or contra and square dance music. Most of the people trying to make a living at it in this area crossed over into other genres a lot - not only gospel, folk, and various old-timey music, but show tunes or minstrel, and of course anything that had been in a cowboy movie. Not much blues, and bluegrass really didn't come in outside of a narrow part of Appalachia until the early 60s anyway, though there was something like it called hillbilly music.

It only dawned on people gradually that the above was country music, because it predated any clear categorisation. 

There was a fun book from couple of decades ago that was a cross between academic and popular, Creating Country Music: Fabricating Authenticity. IIRC, it felt both like he was being condescending but also enjoying the ride.  Looking him up, he was a not a C&W fan, but came to Vanderbilt (okay, heh) as a sociology prof and studied people in the industry in Nashville. I passed the book on to my brother, I recall, who started his career touring with rock bands and still loves rock, but had few illusions about the industry...

I lived through the unexpected but probably inevitable union of country and rock music, and so am probably too close to it to see it without stepping back and doing some boring research. Bob Dylan, John Sebastian, Credence Clearwater, Allman Brothers, Flying Burrito Brothers leaning in to country; all the electronic equipment-heavy instrumentalists and performers - Les Paul, Chet Atkins, Glen Campbell, Roy Clark - leaning back. It looked like a great marriage, but then you look and see that all the bridesmaids and groomsmen - gospel, blues, folk, rockabilly - are drunk and sitting at tables alone with no one asking them to dance anymore.

And then the children of country rock look awesome at first and are outselling their parents at every stop. But then the grandchildren...kind of weak tea, most of them.  Chasing $.


So here's a fun thing about the Music of the People.  In Europe, the classical composers took up the folk music of the countryside and made it national: Dvorak, Bartok, Sibelius, Grieg, Wagner. Composers tried to do this in America, but were swimming against the current.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

BERlin, CONkerd, and PisCAtahQua, thanks

 NH in 1947.  It looks like a series, so your state may also be there.

Shoes and textiles out; high tech, more skiing and tourism in. The Old Man is gone since the early 2000s, but the Cog is still there. Fewer cows and chickens, likely. Syrup still holding strong. Fishing looks different but still there. They don't mention the considerable pollution of the rivers, but that shows up in the comments straight off. No mention of the prep schools and summer camps, which surprises me.

When they showed the high school girls I looked for my mother, MHSC* '47, but it was the wrong school anyway. Didn't see my Dad at UNH - I think he was still in Hokkaido until July. I expected them to identify Chocorua and Winnipesaukee directly and mention Franklin Pierce. I wonder what they would mention now?  Robert Frost, maybe. And cut those smokers out of the frame, Jasper.

*Now MCHS, because renaming feels important to school boards.

Dancing Queen

I haven't run any ABBA for a while.  They were originally an ironic staple here but I got more and more fond of them.  Wonderful reinterpretation of the song

Monday, January 16, 2023

Changes in Meaning

On his podcast "Lexicon Valley," John McWhorter illustrates language change by using Henry James' The Ambassadors, written in 1903. He kept finding about one word every page that didn't ring true, though it was usually understandable from context.  Yet occasionally a whole flock of words would occur together, causing him to double back to parse it out. It was not always easy, as some meanings come into a language for a few decades and then fade out.

"I'm true, but I'm incredible; I'm fantastic and ridiculous; I don't explain myself even to myself."

Perhaps if I give a translation it will be easier "I am truthful, but I am not to be believed; I am given to fantasy and somewhat silly.*" 

What it all came to had been that  fiction and fable were inevitably in the air and not as a simple term of comparison but as a result of things said.  Also, that they were blinking it all round and yet they needn't so much as that have blinked it. Indeed if they hadn't Strather didn't see what else they might have done.  It's clear that some meaning of blink is going to be key here, and if we can just get that the rest might come into focus, though still with some odd word order, particularly at the beginning. From later contexts, McWhorter concludes that it means "pretend not to see." I note again that this is just a little over a century ago. I knew many people alive when it was written, yet it eludes us. Even with a probable meaning for blink it's tough.

Why then are some things in Middle English, six times as old, understandable with only a little help? (Not the poetry so much. The earlier versions of English seem more distant to us than they should, because poetic forms are more difficult even when written in our own era. Things meant to be simple instructions or letters to a relative go down more easily.) It is likely because even such a formal writer as James is giving us conversation, which is much more vulnerable to change. If we did not have writing, in fact, our language would change much more rapidly, as the idioms would be untethered from some standard meanings. It is still the case that villages a few kilometers distance apart even in Europe have trouble understanding each other, and this was even more the case when few were literate. It is not just slang that changes - the line between slang and idiom is fairly smudgy anyway.

Once we have learned a meaning we retain it and may even use it when it has gone out of fashion. Thus we understand movies from the 70s easily. We use the older meanings unconsciously, or as puns, even after they have passed on. Yet if we were to go back to that time and speak people would think we had had some kind of stroke or were affecting to speak a new language. I recall around 1980 amusing my coworkers with a telephone conversation I had had with a private therapist who used the phrase "I'm getting crunched for time and will have to dialogue with you in another space." We thought that was hysterical.  California out of control. It seems much less strange now.

*"Silly" itself has gone through ridiculous (current sense) changes. I noted that a dozen years ago when writing about the duo "Silly Sisters," a Steeleye Span spinoff.

Silly: Cognate with German selig, meaning happy, and goes back to Proto-Indo-European, of course, or I wouldn't mention it. Related to hilarious in that way.
O.E. gesælig "happy" (related to sæl "happiness"), from W.Gmc. *sæligas (cf. O.N. sæll "happy," Goth. sels "good, kindhearted," O.S. salig, M.Du. salich, O.H.G. salig, Ger. selig "blessed, happy, blissful"), from PIE base *sel- "happy" (cf. Gk. hilaros "gay, cheerful," L. solari "to comfort," salvus "whole, safe"). The word's considerable sense development moved from "blessed" to "pious," to "innocent" (c.1200), to "harmless," to "pitiable" (late 13c.), to "weak" (c.1300), to "feeble in mind, lacking in reason, foolish" (1570s).
Shakespeare's sense in "Two Gentleman of Verona" is somewhere between the the innocent and foolish meanings, I think. Do no outrages On silly women or poor passengers.

With Trepidation

I am not particularly good with poetry in general. We try to extract single lines or couplets as metaphorical summaries of an idea, but that is not what the form is trying to accomplish. The entirety matters with a poem.  Or so I have been told.  I wouldn't know myself. So I am cautious about being dismissive of a poet.  I might be only revealing my ignorance.

I also have a deep suspicion of men my age actively trying to look like Tom Bombadil, even if they are English. I need not elaborate.

Thirdly, I think the concept of "bruised evangelicals" is about 50-50. I have known people legitimately mistreated by evangelical churches or evangelical attitudes, and fundamentalists even more so.  And yet... sometimes a very few minutes in I find myself thinking "you would have also thought yourself mistreated by Episcopalians, or Catholics, or United Brethren, or Two-Seed-In-The-Spirit Baptists."

So with all that said, this guy's poetry does come recommended by a sensible person. So have an adventure, Nemo. James gives this link to his stuff.


I will pretty quickly be talking about myself, of course. 

An encounter at the (deli) counter. The customer was wrong about the turkey, and something about her crisp, condescending tone irritated me.  I tend to side with the working girl, who really is trying to serve you and endures a good deal for your sake, against the prosperous and precise-toned woman on my side of the counter. Not always, certainly.  I have certainly seen rude employees and long-suffering customers in my time. But that's my initial prejudice. This particular incident reminded of a description I heard years ago that "What some people call politeness is really just extra rudeness in a pleasant tone of voice." That's better than an unpleasant tone of voice, I suppose.

It illustrates to me that my own willingness to be challenging is closely tied to what I think others can deal with.  If I have been harsh with someone, it implies that I think they are falling short of their best and should know better.  I am remarkably patient with those I think are struggling to do the best they can - trainees, less-verbal or less-savvy folk, those less likely to have been exposed to good information about social graces, Christianity, American customs - or slices of turkey.

The weaknesses of that system are immediately apparent.  I have little actual knowledge about what you are capable of and what should be expected of you - I am guessing, even wildly.  Also, it may be a very bad day for you for reasons invisible to me, and the less-fortunate person I am expecting you to suck it up for might be getting into snippy conversations about ham, cheese, and chicken salad pretty regularly. 

At least, if I have been harsh with you it may because you have shown signs of being able expected to deal with it. We expect things of some of our children, or coworkers, or neighbors more than the others.

Is that an excuse, designed to give you some small comfort and myself some great comfort? Probably.

Geoffrey Miller on Manifold, Breaking Academic Myths

Over at Steve Hsu's Manifold there is an interesting interview with Geoffrey Miller of UNewMexico - transcript available at the link, if a 100-minute podcast is not to your liking - They hit on a number of topics that have been big here, such as the mere lip-service that is given to genetics in behavioral sciences, 

However, if you look at the actual numbers of psychology faculty, there's probably less than 500 evolutionary psychologists worldwide actively doing research, versus there's probably 20,000. Social psychologists and something like 40 to 50,000, neuroscientists in psych departments. So, evo psych is a tiny, tiny, tiny field with kind of outsized impact, especially in terms of public thinking. But as with behavior genetics, which is another fairly small psych field, its influence has been successfully quiet, limited by, by the left, basically in, in the behavioral sciences.

(Steven Jay Gould is still taught as if he were an authority, after all. And everyone says 'Oh yeah, genetics of course. It's a big part of this.  They lie.) 

However, there are not a whole lot of super talented grad students coming into the field because they can, they can read the writing on the wall.They know if they study psych it'll be extremely hard to get a tenure track job or to succeed in American academia. And that's sad, but that's kind of where we're at. You know, hopefully the pendulum swings back in a few years and people, maybe the left having a strangle hold on. What ideas you're allowed to research is kind of a bad idea....

...And the extraordinary thing is, you know, if you'd asked me back in the late eighties in grad school, will people still be doing kind of social and developmental studies that are not genetically informed, where they don't bother gathering DNA and they don't bother, sampling from, you know, families with twins or adopted studies? I think no way, it couldn't possibly be the case that in 30 years people are still doing genetically uninformed studies and saying, oh look, this thing happens to this kid at time A and then there's this adult outcome at time B. Therefore A causes B. Right? And any behavior geneticists will know. No, there might have been underlying genetic predispositions that both, you know, caused A and B. It's not necessarily environmental, but, but it's still the case. And most, behavioral sciences. that people think, oh, if we do a longitudinal study across time, that we can infer causality and we can ignore genes, which I think is scientifically unconscionable. And yet, it's really quite difficult, still to get grant money to do serious genetically informative studies.

It's gratifying to hear an expert who knows far more than me agreeing with what I've been saying for years. 

They discuss the lack of measurable use of a college education in many fields.

Geoffrey Miller: Yeah, I think the, the crucial thing is both in the US and you know, the UK and Europe and China, you have very strong vested interests like the educational establishment, that wants to convince everybody that, going to school and doing homework is the royal road to, intelligence and knowledge and learning.

And that, if you emphasize too much the kind of innateness of some of these traits that it would, it will challenge their funding and their power and their influence in society. And I think this is also, you know, a lot of the opposition in America by the teachers’ unions against standardized testing is, they rightly perceive it as, a threat to their influence, but also a threat to, how much people are willing to pay for educational credentials, right?

Because look, if you had companies like Google just using intelligence tests to select employees instead of, how prestigious is your undergraduate degree, then the pressure to get a prestigious undergraduate degree would drop, and that would hurt enrollment and that would hurt people's ability, you know, people's interest in taking out colossal student loans.

So, higher education in general is extremely strongly opposed to IQ testing, not just for ideological reasons, but there, their economic interests are very threatened by this.

Steve Hsu: Yeah, no, that's exactly right. I don't know if you're, Have you ever heard of something called the C L A Collegiate Learning Assessment? (which correlates with the SAT at about 0.90) (Miller had not, but caught on to the concept and what was going to happen immediately)

Miller also talks about Intrasexual competition and polyamory, as I discussed at tedious length in the fall. (Though with music and illustrations!) 

I discussed pick-up artists in 2011, generating one of the longest comment threads ever here, and a very good one. Miller has actually studied some of this formally and wrote a book with one of the more famous popular theorisers, Tucker Max. His current take is that the phenomenon describes the change from meeting women at work, school, church, organised groups to meeting in bars and applies mostly to that.  That world is already outmoded, replaced by the dating apps, which have their own rules and strategies.

They also discuss not only how much better GPT-3 is than Google, but also AI alignment, and the naivete of the AI advocates who think that will be simple and work itself out on its own.  Any day now. Miller thinks we should pause for a couple of centuries before proceeding, but knows that won't happen.

I should mention that there are a couple of places where I disagree with Miller quite a bit - he has something of that OCD/Aspie quality of taking a theoretical idea and pushing it beyond practical observable results, much more related to his feelings on the matter than he recognis es, rather than data he can point to.


The Education of Smart Kids

I was smart, but I was not the smartest kid in my class. My best friend was actually the valedictorian and probably at least five or 10 IQ points smarter than me. Likewise at Columbia University. I think it's really important for smart kids to go to highly competitive schools so that they get the humility to know, yeah, I'm not the smartest kid in the room. Geoffrey Miller (who we are about to hear more from)

I think that's about right. I knew people at my mill-city highschool who I thought about as smart, and often more competent, than me. But it was going to St Paul's Advanced Studies one summer, followed up about fifteen months later by taking honors physics that I really learned in an unarguable way that there is always a faster gun. It is a necessary lesson.

Should Shop Assistants Marry?

 In GK Chesterton's essay In Topsy-Turvy Land he writes of encountering a poster which asks "Should Shop Assistants Marry?" He wonders whether in some ascetic period this would have meant are they too saintly, or in pagan places whether they are too vile, but is puzzled at it in Edwardian London. At first.

We must face, I fear, the full insanity of what it does mean. It does really mean that a section of the human race is asking whether the primary relations of the two human sexes are particularly good for modern shops. The human race is asking whether Adam and Eve are entirely suitable for Marshall and Snelgrove.

He goes on to ask other similar questions "Should Hats Have Heads in Them?" or "Should We Take Brides With Our Wedding Rings?"

In short, instead of asking whether our modern arrangements, our streets, trades, bargains, laws, and concrete institutions are suited to the primal and permanent idea of a healthy human life... they only ask whether that healthy human life is suited to our streets and trades...This is the most enormous and at the same time the most secret of the modern tyrannies of materialism. In theory the thing ought to be simple enough. A really human human being would always put the spiritual things first.


Ann Althouse reports on the Rolling Stone article about Far-Right superstars.

There is no Right, there is only the Far-Right, and it starts just past Joe Biden on the continuum. These terms are used instrumentally, not for meaning, in the same way that sociopaths use violence to get what they want, not because they hate you.

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Nobody Is a Prisoner of Their IQ

 Rob Henderson writes about this, quite well and I only had a few objections.  I just became a subscriber, so perhaps the whole essay is not available to you.  I will give you what pieces I can if you cannot get it all.

I commented, of course, and long-time readers will predict my response. This will tie in to an upcoming post about Steve Hsu's interview with Geoffrey Miller about Evopsych in general, which touches on a full half-dozen of common topics here, including the sexy ones.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Migration Is Usually Multidirectional

Some Native Americans must have gone back to Northeast Asia across Beringia. This doesn't fit the mental picture that we have of migration, of a big arrow on a map going from Old Place to New Place, but it is very much the way immigration usually works. Consider the many immigrant groups to the US: some puritans went back, some Cavaliers went back, many Germans went back, and I remember from as recently as 20 years ago that Greeks would come here, work for relatives and go back, and children would go back to live with grandparents for a year or so more than once in their childhood. Filipinos go to work everywhere: the US and Canada, Japan, China, Australia, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, sending money home. Sometimes they stay in the new place permanently, sometimes they go back and forth for two decades and then settle back in their home village again. The Angles and Saxons came to raid, then to be hired as troops to protect against other raiders, then to be petty warlords on the coast, then as permanent settlers, either bringing wives or finding them here. In between, then sent for nephews and sent daughters back to northern Europe and bounced back and forth for a couple of centuries.

Irish families, when you can get good records, had people move from the countryside to Dublin, or Manchester, or London, then to New York or Boston, then on to Chicago or the South, or the far West to work the railroads or the gold fields. They also went back to those previous places.  Jews would move everywhere once they got here, but seldom went back to Eastern Europe.  People who have moved once find it easier to move again. It was the same in prehistory.

It is important to remember that the people moving are not doing so with a map with a giant arrow in their heads, thinking "Over the next few centuries, we should be making it to the Pacific Northwest." They are making a decision for this lifetime, this year, this season, and things might look different quickly.

Update:  In response to JMSmith's comment

I Talk To the Trees

"Paint Your Wagon" is long forgotten, and so many of the elements would be considered uh, problematic now that it will not likely be revived in any serious production. It would be fun to see someone try.  There was apparently a movie with Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood in it in the era when I was dating and last going to movies, and I will not bore you with the story of why that particular girlfriend could not go to movies...yes, well, I don't recall it, and unlike today, if you missed a movie when it came out in the theaters for 2-8 weeks, you never saw it again. 

But the play kept showing up in summer stock from the 50s to the early 80s, likely because the lust in it bubbles constantly just below the surface - including one character's teenage daughter, the only woman in a mining town, who he sends Back East for her protection - and a Mormon with two wives who the miners covet. It was an era in which you could suggest lust at roaring levels throughout a play but had to be careful how you said it. A folksinger friend who worked summer theater expressed surprise that "They Call the Wind Maria" came from the show. He had thought it was an older folk song.  Maria is the song I was originally looking for for this post, but I came across this when I went down that rabbit hole of 16,821 folksingers who covered it back in the day.

I always liked this one. It holds (ahem) special meaning for me as the person who walks in the woods and does talk among the trees and the breeze, though not to them. An important distinction as Tommy illustrates.

In their live show, Tommy later came back to this with a quick reference highly reminiscent of his little rant here, variously with such comments like "So whaddya think about that, tree?" or "Well at least I never talked to any trees."

Thursday, January 12, 2023

The Economics of Thinness

That poor people are more likely to be obese has been often noted. So also that people pay an economic penalty in lower income as their weight rises. What is not often noted is that in western countries, this effect is almost entirely due to women having an economic advantage by being thin.  The income of thin men and obese men is about the same in America, but the income of thin women is significantly higher than that of overweight women. The effect seems to be cumulative, unsurprisingly, as overweight women start off at lower salaries, then get fewer promotions and raises. Even if the effect halted at age 50 (though it does not appear to), they would already be well behind. 

That should give pause to anyone who thinks that poverty can explain why people are overweight or obese, or that being rich helps people to maintain a lower weight. You must then explain why those dynamics seem only to affect women. Perhaps the relationship would look the same for both sexes, but the occupations they do that require or might result in slimness differ...

Except, the author goes on to explain, there isn't good evidence for this. I did dislike a couple of things about the article, including the assumption that Implicit Bias means anything or has real-world correlates.

Rob Henderson (sidebar) suggests that what is missing from the data is socioeconomic status and education, which are much more tied to income for women than for men.  He notes that many wealthy men own car dealerships or are beverage distributors, jobs less likely to rely on an educational credential, while women's incomes track much more closely to their education. Weight might track education among men more closely. 

BTW, I sense that the article was written by a woman even though it does not have attribution. This suggests that there are stronger cues in it than is usual for a typical article.  I haven't analysed what those cues are, except for one as it went past. I might.

Not Wagging The Dog

The tail of the dog, unlike other animals, is not used for movement and balance after all. It is solely for communication.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023


The opinions about AI or AGI have sounded very similar over the years.

1. It's never going to be quite as good in humans in some ways, so don't worry about it. (I don't think people believe the danger is that it will exceed us in every single way so much as that it may exceed us in some way that we can't control.)

2. I worked to develop some of these technologies and only let my children use their device 1 hour a week under supervision.

3. I worked to help develop some of these technologies and now am hiding out on an organic farm in Idaho Kuala Lampur and don't let my children have digital watches. (Well that's helpful)

4. It's going to be fine, because all the objections  are from people who haven't seen the great stories of hybrid robot creatures in Japanese manga, or believe in fragments of stupid religions, or like, must just hate technology or something. Look how great spreadsheets and email worked out! (I am not detecting that you answered the objections in that answer.)

5. Well, what is reality, anyway?  What is humanity? Isn't your real objection just that people will feel nervous and worried about their jobs, which we could fix by adopting more progressive policies, like the Europeans do?

6. I understand lots of technical stuff but not AI so much, and frankly, I'm quite nervous.

7. (And finally, something I hope is close to true.)  There will be major changes, but I think most of us will adjust and only some things will be terrible, and frankly, it's too late to worry about it because GPT-4 is just about ready and GPT-7 already envisioned, and we're stuck with it either way. We who actually understand most of this know that a lot of it is uncertain, and still think it's going to be net positive.

Farm Girls and Zoning

So there was a petition in Bedford, NH, a wealthy suburb with most farms now sold and turned into point houses* -  to forbid roosters and geese. One sees their point, in a suburb. For reference, Dean Kamen is a neighbor and he helicopters over the family I will mention to come home at times. But the charm of the suburb has always been that there is real farming going on at the margins. The highschool even manages a working farm out by the town line. (And yes, we know the science teacher who manages that quite well.) But the few farmers who are left are a remarkable crew, and the petitioner did not reckon with these children.  This is Autumn, age 12, speaking before the Board of Selectmen. Her sister Willow (10) testified as well about the importance of being farmers in their personal development.

The original petitioner quickly laughed and asked to withdraw his petition after listening to them. New Hampshire is still New Hampshire - just barely, maybe. That a person annoyed by the noise of domestic fowl could throw up his hands under the reminder of their subtler value is very much the NH progressive/libertarian/conservative/communitarian mix. These are the four oldest below: Owen, Willow, Piper, Autumn. Really...could you turn them down for anything? We cannot, and the Wymans remain deeply interpenetrated with this family (and the grandparents and siblings.)

Their parents are "young" friends of ours, young meaning almost forty, but the wife known to us since before she was born. Our first two sons introduced her to her husband. He is a brilliant pianist who gradually moved instead to managing and is now the owner of Events United, which is a national production company. (I have mentioned him before, reinventing himself and his business during covid, including one of the first online concerts of 2020 by the Dropkick Murphys). And he's the normal one of the two. His darling wife has always had dreams of many children and a big farm - loving husband indulges reluctantly, loving the barn and equipment though does not love farming - now has five homeschooled** children and a ridiculous number of chickens, ducks, goats, horses, sheep - I think the alpacas are gone, only a few of the animals come in the house - and of course dogs and cats. She has a couple of side businesses.  The children now have side businesses of selling cut flowers, making soap, selling eggs, God knows what else. I swear Autumn could skip highschool and just take over her father's company in 2032.  He needs the rest after all this pressure.

* One point seven million dollars, three point one million dollars. Point houses.

**OF COURSE THEY ARE HOMESCHOOLED.  This is multidetermined. Parents are evangelical, lean toward natural living, are musical and entrepreneurial outliers, and unconvinced that the average school district will understand their children. Plus mother just thinks she should, so she does.


The Star-Spangled Banner tune "To Anacreon in Heaven" was written to be difficult, so that a vocal club could show off its skill. It's tough for a lot of us to sing. Maybe we should have chosen something else, but we didn't, and I wouldn't change it any more than I would the flag.

But man, you can really tell the difference when excellent singers really put their minds to it, can't you? This is how it should be.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Genomics For Fun

Diabetes and increased BMI are positively correlated with major depression in Western societies, but negatively so in Eastern societies (Taiwan). Breast cancer (Japan) and schizophrenia (China) are correlated almost identically with Western norms from GWAS studies. This may be because depression is more  multidetermined, so cultural factors such as nutrition, smoking, ideas of attractiveness, and alcohol matter more in depression, while factors that go back tens or even hundreds of thousands of years matter more in the cancer and schizophrenia.  In all three cases, this is because of hundreds or thousands of genes increasing or decreasing risk 0.1% or 1.1%. 

This is a wonderful opportunity to make up your own story about the positive and negative correlations in depression, though. Because at the moment, you can't be wrong. The major researchers also have narrative speculations, but admit they are just guessing. Just be prepared to find out that your brilliant idea turns out to not be right.

Also fun. The Netherlands is a small country, about the size of NH and VT put together, but its genetic heritage turns out to be sharply (by European standards) divided between north and south. The Rhine was the frontier for the Roman Empire, and when the Spanish controlled the Netherlands most of the movement into that area was confined to the lower part. In fact, there is lots of southern European blood in southern Netherlands, not so much in northern. More people with brown rather than blue eyes, for example, even today. However, it seems that this natural division existed back well before the Spanish and even the Romans. The Dutch have divided north and south, at least in terms of who married whom, even before that, perhaps even twice as far back. (Hence the eye color.) This does get messy, because people in coastal areas often have wider connections, and in Holland, pretty much everyone is in a coastal area. My wife's mother was from Bergen op Zoom, for example, which would suggest that she was more closely tied to not only Belgium and France, a stone's throw away, but to Italian, Southern French, and Iberian heritage. Except the DNA breakdown is much more strongly Scandinavian and Northern European. The fact that the next generations back were largely from Rotterdam and surrounding, just above the Rhine, turns out to be a big deal. She was northern Dutch, which is a real thing for centuries.

Potato Chex

I have been playing with potato diet things for the past few months, not with any intensity. In all the natural experiments about what I can digest (almost nothing, it seems), potatoes have been a godsend in calming things down. I like them and it seems almost no one is sensitive to them.  As a bonus, they are filling and even seem to contribute to weight loss. I haven't gone at this with the intensity of Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller fame (he lost 100 lbs on the all-potato diet), but I have lost weight and I still like potatoes. Win-win. Bsking has been doing something with adding potato starch to her daily meals - maybe that's better, I have no idea. 

It occurred to me today that there are no potato cereals.  How is there no Potato Chex?

Monday, January 09, 2023

Elite Male Signalling

Sometimes once you notice something, it gets funnier every time you watch other people not notice it. In reading about prehistoric groups and violence, the point keeps arising that some of the materials of war that clear elites are buried with (or depicted with, as the Mesoamericans) look to be unused.  They show no signs of wear, neither for battle nor cutting trees or clubbing animals or whatever. From this the conclusion is they were clearly ornamental, you fools, you fools. If they were so warlike, how did their elites get through life without any blood on their blades? many generations does it take for elites to move from "leading the tribe into battle" to "I present you, my important ally, with this incredibly cool jade axe-head, made especially for you." Elite males like to display the tokens of hypermasculinity, which their grandfathers may have earned, or at least used.  Does this seem strange? What were the activities of the young elite males of the 20th C, to show that they were both rich and masculine?  WASPS liked sailing, and shooting grouse, and fencing. Generalissimos still wear swords and carry pistols. In Britain, there is fox hunting (horses for ornament run into money), polo (ditto), more shooting sports, and in earlier decades rugby.

I told my son in Norway how much I admired the difficulty of the biathlon.  To cross-country ski in 10 below zero a few kilometers, hold your aim steady to shoot, then resume...repeat, repeat, in any weather. Can't be easy.  He shrugged. Yeah, but it's just rich people who bother with that.

Lacrosse, hockey, and even baseball are expensive if you want to move beyond the rudiments, and I am not the first to notice that such sports, with $300 bats or $2K weekend tournaments for yen-year-olds, keep the riffraff out. 

Recreational sports were originally adopted because the ability to do them at all signified belonging to a leisure class.  But in those sports where equipment mattered less and less and even uggh! middle-class or even Jews and worse could get involved, and actual merit eventually won out, like track and field, golf and tennis, cricket, archery...It's getting that we can't keep them out anymore, Sumner.

Is anthro still an elite major and career choice?  It was in my day, but my day is long past.

I don't know what will come next.  But I predict, based on a few thousand years of history, that the elite males will find ways of decorating themselves that are redolent with the masculinity of their great-grandfathers.  Which is why we should not be the least bit shocked to see such things in grave goods and be so foolish as to conclude that there was no real warfare, only the symbolic stuff.

There is probably some female equivalent, but I am not putting my brain to the task at this point.

Sunday, January 08, 2023

A New Take on Cyrano

 An uncomfortable take on C de B. I have greatly approved (but James came to a similar conclusion at the end of the comments. CWCID.) Maybe I just like men martyring themselves too much.

and then—as roxane herself asks—why tell her after all these years? “because he’s dying, of course.” because now that he’s dying, by telling her he can deprive her of himself too. he can deprive her of the meaning of the years she spent mourning. he even, in his honor, deprives her of any comfort from the idea that the one she really loved was there for her all along. he keeps bringing up christian. he can’t let her forget for a second that the thing she loved was him & christian, which is to say, no one.

I came upon the substack Sympathetic Opposition from a Rob Henderson link about why autistic and other "strange" girls should be ladylike. She is quite frank.

Saturday, January 07, 2023

A Summer Song


Post 8900 - Not Outraged

I see over at Instapundit that the Joker is now pregnant. I was directed to be outraged at this invasion of trans acceptance into the comic book world, but I'm not. 

First, they weren't ever seeing me as a customer again anyway, so they have zero motive to play to my sensibilities. They can say whatever offensive or complimentary thing over there that they want, I don't care. I suppose that people who were deeply into the Batman/Superman genres of comics in their earlier lives might still consider themselves stakeholders in some way, and I concede there's something to that.  But I'm not sure much is owed to long-past customers who are no longer paying the freight. Cosmopolitan was a literary magazine until the 60s, and I'm sure some people harumphed at the changeover then (did that happen quickly or slowly, does anyone remember?), but they had mostly stopped buying it beforehand anyway. So too here. DC Comics trying to sell product, and if people aren't buying they try new things.

Secondly, I see when I follow the link, he is turned female and made pregnant by an enchantress, and hijinks ensue, so that seems somewhat in the spirit of previous adventure comics anyway, especially as it is happening to a villain.

Friday, January 06, 2023

Moving Product

When we have to get rid of something around the house I have taken to referring to it as needing to move product. Books, craft supplies, clothes, any number of things might need to be pushed out the door. At the moment we are trying to move stuff along from the refrigerator: a scrap of turkey, the few last pieces of pie, four gluten-free cookies, cranberry juice, refried beans - I don't dare look whether there are still tiny containers in the back with corn pudding or cheese dip.  It seems to never end because we keep adding to the pile. 

At each approach to the fridge I narrow my eyes and think "We must move more product."

The Queen and Guns

Queen Elizabeth II's mother, Elizabeth Lyons-Bowles, the Queen Mum, took revolver training at the beginning of WWII. The reasoning was that both Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle were considered not only bombing targets, but likely focal points in the case of any invasion, and that the royal family in particular would be targets. Her daughters both record that she maintained a practice schedule and took it seriously, and several times referred to the necessity of protecting her daughters.  One article described her as being handy with a gun, but the later queen thought otherwise.  She was proud that her mother did this as well as she could, but didn't believe she developed any particular skill. Yet remember what Chesterton said, that anything worth doing is worth doing badly, and this looks like it fits that advice. In a dire need, a thing has to be done and everyone does her best.

I thought this sounded a marvelous example, and quite unlike anything we would see today. I thought the royal family should be encouraged...

...and then I remembered Meghan, and thought perhaps I should just pipe down about all this.

It's a fun exercise for any of you who know enough about the personalities of this crew, to offer a guess as to how useful any of them might be if encouraged to shoot, or even carry. I don't know enough about them to offer an opinion.  Would Camilla be formidable or worse than useless?

Blackface Billerica

I wrote about being in blackface in a minstrel show around 1960. My father was often emcee of whatever variety show the town or the church was doing, and that included some minstrel shows. My younger brother tells me he was in blackface at a party in highschool, he and his friends pretending to be the Pointer Sisters, but he was on the end and got cropped out of the photo.  He was irritated for a long time, but now thinks maybe that was the better end of the deal.

My dad did blackface in other venues for a few years as well, and not with a lot of social awareness, it seems.  It is something of a Wyman characteristic to play for the laugh first and think about whether that was a good idea later. In the last instance that we know of, he did a show in blackface at Billerica prison - and the people helping him set up the stage beforehand were all black.

Thursday, January 05, 2023

Gimme One Reason To Stay Here

The song "Gimme One Reason To Stay Here" was running through my head, as it does for an hour or two every few months, and I finally got frustrated by the fact that I know the first line, and about a third of the lyrics randomly for the rest of the song.  Because I really like it.  So I looked it up under Bonnie Raitt, who I thought had sung it in the 80s. Tracy Chapman kept showing up, but I associate her with the 2000s, and I knew it was way before that. Maybe even the 1970s?  Maybe it was some classic blues number that they covered.

No, it's Tracy Chapman, who wrote it in the 90s, which surprised me. It sounds like Raitt.

Which gets one immediately thinking, it that fan fantasy way "I'll bet Bonnie liked that song when she heard it." Then right on the heels of that, "I'll bet Chapman liked Raitt." No guarantee of that, of course.  Musicians are temperamental people, jealous about their sound, and the two of them may seethe with resentment about each other for all I know. Still, it's worth checking out. 

I apologise that for whatever this was, President and First Lady Obama and a lot of pretentious white people were at the event. I'd love to kick Barack and Michelle about this, but really, when you are president you have to go for lots of stuff for appearance's sake and it's not fair to hold it against them. Bluesy numbers are essentially SWPL* music "black music that black people no longer listen to, like gospel, blues, and classic hip-hop." Nothing against Chapman or Raitt.  I'll bet Robert Johnson would have loved listening to both of them.

 *Follow that link. It is still spot on.

Evidence For Warfare

One of the books I got for Christmas reviews the evidence whether there was warfare in Europe before the arrival of my (our) cursed ancestors the Yamnaya branch of the Indo-Europeans. In the early 20th C it was believed to be "Yes, of course, because they were barbarians, and we all know barbarians engage in near-constant warfare. This opinion was supplanted by anthropological fashions that said "No, of course not.  They were farmers, and everyone knows farmers try to avoid war. Besides, primitive man was pacific anyway, and violence only came in as a result of civilisation and hierarchy." That view gained steam during the second half of the 20th C as the European academics took the view that "You Americans don't know how terrible war is, and you are gun-loving violent people anyway. So lets just talk about nice things like trade and cooperation."

By the late 80s the Bohemian archaeologist Slavomil Vencl took his field to task (apparently - I don't read Czech) in "War and Warfare," showing that people had taken this idea that all those conflicts before 5000 years ago were mostly just for show with only occasional deaths did not accord with the actual record of broken bones and smashed skulls being found. No one listened, but by the end of the century Lawrence Keeley had come out with War Before Civilization (discussed repeatedly) that demonstrated that "No, actually, those were real conflicts and lots of people died." And of course there was Napoleon Chagnon chuckling all along that the Amazonian tribe he was observing decade after decade was quite violent, and quite organised about it.

I have been a big fan of that particular myth being exploded, because it was very much in ascendance when I took a minor in Anthro in 1975 and even then, my uber-liberal self detected that maybe there was some wishful thinking in the idea that these early peoples were pretty gentle, and only hierarchy, especially capitalism or Christianity (or, shudder, both together) had caused them to abandon their cooperation with nature to fend off the evil ones. 

Yet I forgot in my eagerness to have my particular views vindicated that discussions of whether there had been warfare in any particular place (and the book includes a lot of North American examples as well), there were going to be lots of descriptions of skull smashed in and arm wounds and whether the stone axes were for agricultural or military use. Page after page of it, actually. 

Indeed, scientific analysis of the skeletons from Talheim has identified two possible brothers, and a father and his two children, providing us with a sad reminder that the mutilated bones found at this site once belonged to people who probably had to witness their loved ones dying a horrific death.

Yes, exactly the sort of thing one would not wish to think about repeatedly for a week. Can their descendants be tracked down and comforted, somehow, and the perpetrators identified and secretly poisoned, to make an example of them so that this doesn't occur again? 

Well, I got what I asked for.  As a wise psychiatrist once said in my presence: "You ordered it.  You eat it."

Marco Dane

I always just had this little anecdote running through my head about Marco Dane from some soap opera in the 80s. A private investigator is asked if he has any suspects in Marco's murder. He tosses a phone book across the desk "Anyone who knew Marco Dane for more than five minutes had a motive for killing him."  I thought it was a great line. The name was familiar to me at the time from a similar circumstance. Working on a state hospital unit, the TV was just running nonstop in those days, and the afternoons were usually taken up with soap operas. There was even a rehab specialist who ran a group of watching one and talking about it, reasoning that this was an actually useful skill for these women who had been locked away from society from a week to ten years in reintegrating to talking with other women when they got out.  Makes sense, but I never heard any reports back about it. It is possible she just wanted an excuse to watch some herself. I will note she never had trouble recruiting a unit staff member, a nurse or a mental health worker to be the second staff at the group.

So I must have heard his name in the preceding years and remembered that he was a villain. Yet it had been years since I had been on a shift and unit where it could have been on.  I noted that characters must last a long time on these shows, and time proceed slowly. Years after that I mentioned the slow passage of time and brought up the story of Marco and the phone book. "Oh, he's back!" a woman in the group laughed. "He had an identical twin brother!"

So on a whim I just looked him up to see if I could find out what the story was, and my goodness what a mess. His Wikipedia entry tells me that he was on "One Life To Live," from the late 70s to the mid 80s, then had two reprises in the late 80s and early 90s. Con man, blackmailer, you name it. The following is only a section of the description of his doings.

Viki proceeded to share and publish the story of Marco's business dealings with the help of her husband and editor-in-chief, Joe Riley (Lee Patterson). Before the story could be published, Marco finds the murdered corpse of his brother, Dr. Mario Corelli (Anthony). Marco soon devises a plan to assume the identity of his dead brother in an effort to frame Viki for his apparent murder.Known for her recurrent bouts with multiple personalities (most notably, "Niki Smith"), Viki's apparent motive of revenge for the damaged reputations of her dear Tina and close friend Karen leads Llanview Police Lieutenant Ed Hall (Al Freeman, Jr.) to arrest the town heroine. Viki is later indicted and charged with the murder of Marco, unbeknownst to anyone Marco had an identical twin brother. When Viki is put on trial for the murder of Marco, Llanview District Attorney Herb Callison (Anthony Call) brings surprise witness "Dr. Mario Corelli" (Marco masquerading as his dead brother) to the witness stand. "Mario" then presents forged letters of threats from Viki to Marco as evidence. Karen convinces her friend and fellow prostitute Katrina Karr (Nancy Snyder) as to the true identity of Marco's murderer, and Katrina directs Karen to a post office box with a letter about the killer. Upon arrival to the post office to retrieve the letter uncovering Marco's murderer, the letter is mysteriously lost and Katrina subsequently hit by a car, resulting in Katrina going into a coma. After a month of trial, Katrina recovers and testifies that Karen's extramarital lover, Talbot Huddleston (Byron Sanders), was Marco's murderer, exonerating Viki at the eleventh hour.[4]

Got that? Me neither.  But if it's all unfolding over years I suppose it's easier to incorporate the twists and turns into the plot. So after this I am still mostly no wiser, though I have ornaments festooning the Marco Dane tree, I suppose. And I do still have that great line with the phone book.

Thoughts and Prayers

Gee, whenever it's got guns in the mix any number of people explode that "thoughts and prayers are inadequate...the American People demand more..." But now that it's a football player who went down unexplainably and by surprise it is okay for the president and even ESPN to have prayer. Those who object are at least not grousing about it publicly.

I don't pretend to be Jesus, but I completely get why hypocrisy outraged him more than any other sin.  It is assuming the place of God over your fellow men, as if your moral judgement is not really informed by your prejudices, the culture you aspire to be part of, and how you are still trying to prove your parents wrong 60 years later - it's only those other ignorant people who do that.

Magic, The Gathering

Twice I have heard entrepreneurs on podcasts credit the game with teaching them how to evaluate risk, seek alternative strategies depending on one's resources, and most importantly, unsentimentally evaluate what resources you do have. This doesn't tell us about the Magic players who went on to screw up their lives, of course. It's not clean data, but anecdote.

But I wonder if the real problem with the story isn't that it has the arrow of causation reversed. My son used to describe that many of the high schoolers at math meets would play the game at every spare moment around the year 2000. They were already good at objective thinking and therefore liked a game that rewarded it. Or, it may have taught the skills the entrepreneurs claimed, but a dozen other available games or activities might have taught it just as well.  Their minds were going to seek out some such exercise.

On the other, other hand, these two men were ridiculously successful at dealing with risk and tradeoffs, and perhaps they know something about the subject that I don't and I should listen to them.

Wednesday, January 04, 2023

Breast Cancer and Genomics

We have known for years about BRCA mutations in breast cancer, fairly rare genes (1 in 1000) that carry a high risk for a woman developing breast cancer, and developing it early.  (I have one in my family.) Once a woman is known to have one of these her physician puts her in a different protocol, with more frequent mammograms, more education and training. But in the last few years full genome studies of tens and hundreds of thousands of people have revealed another category, ten times as large as the BRCA group that also has highly elevated risk.  This is because with that many samples and machine learning, identifying and adding together many SNP's of much smaller risk alone, but now in aggregate. Your doctor is likely not yet aware of this because it is still not long after the laboratory result, and it can take as much as a decade to integrate into regular practice.  But it's there and it's coming. More early detection is coming.

You may want to pass this along to anyone interested in breast cancer info.

Steve Hsu of Manifold (sidebar) had a Q&A about genomic prediction of disease about a year ago. It can be found as a podcast here, or on Youtube here. The key part about prediction begins after the 15 min mark on both and goes for about ten minutes more. They ran a standard medical cost benefit of what it would cost and save to take a full genome of every woman at this point, and found that it is already a bit beyond the break-even point.  And of course, you would now have the full genomes already in hand to apply to preventive medical procedures for any other heritable diseases. There isn't a good way to implement this in America that has a hodgepodge system, but it is likely that Britain's NHS or something similar will be moving to do this soon. 

Additionally, it is now starting to be used for improved embryo selection in in-vitro fertilization as well, and has an implantation rate of 73%, which is enough of an improvement over the current method to result in about 100,000 more births a year. (People give up because of money or discouragement after a few failures of implantation.) So you might want to pass along this podcast to anyone interested in IVF as well. Not a topic I have kept up with much, but I know some people care a great deal.

People get spooked about full genomes of everyone for worries about who will have the information, but the cat is long out of the bag on that.  You wont be made to by the government, but insurers may start to require it, and you can increasingly be identified via your relatives, even those distant enough that you don't know them. We ate that banana years ago, as Wally said in "Dilbert." People also get very nervous about embryo selection, because of the designer baby problem more than the disease-prevention problem. (And the embryos that don't make the cut are regarded as humans by some.) No company is doing selection for cognitive features at present, but an improvement of even five points in a generation will create a separate population pretty quickly when it's in effect for three generations. As I believe that not only IQ but such things as conscientiousness, determination, regularity of looks, and even charm might be heritable, it could be a big change.

But even if you don't opt in, someone will. China, probably.



Moral Views

Astral Codex Ten is doing its yearly survey of who its readers are.  One of the questions is a multiple choice of what type of moral approach we favored. I have never seen such a question on a reader survey and was impressed for that alone. The choices were



Virtue Ethics 

Natural Law


I like them all myself, just being happy these days if anyone has anything going, and seeing some advantage in each approach.  I was surprised that utilitarianism was not on the list, but I think it might be out of intellectual favor these days. I like to keep it in the mix even though I think it has serious problems, largely because I think it is what most of us use as a shortcut 90% of the time for everyday use if a question doesn't catch our attention as difficult, even if we say we subscribe to one of the others.

The People Who Help You

It's uncomfortable for me to note how little it takes to throw me off on some subjects. I was at Trader Joe's and buying some of their cheap wine when one of the store helpers came up and gushed a bit about one that I had in my hand and started describing its virtues. I noted that my concern these days is finding wines I can digest, as about 70% of wines are a problem for me these days. She suggested that the organic wines might be better for this.  I paused and shook my head, with some comment about it being the type of grape and not growing methods that were the issue.  She countered that organic wines have fewer sulfites*. I nodded and said I didn't think sulfites were considered a digestive issue either. 

I was irritated the whole way home. I shouldn't be, really.  People who mean well but are merely wrong are not such a terrible thing in the world.

*My wife exclaimed "I knew she was going to say that!" when I told the story.

Tuesday, January 03, 2023

AI Political Beliefs

 Over at ACX, he asks "How do AI's political opinions change as they get smarter and better trained?

His puckish subheading is "Future Matrioshka brains will be pro-immigration Buddhist gun nuts." I have joyfully ambivalent feelings about this.

Sunday, January 01, 2023


I post this every few years, just to revel in its awfulness.  It seems like exactly the sort of abomination one should blame American culture for, doesn't it?  Nope.  Tommy and the band are Danish.


This may be worse, though.