Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Flying Sheep

 "Notice they do not so much fly as ploomit."

Election 2024

Ann Althouse thinks it will be Biden-Trump, and she's having nothing to do with it at this point. It does seem like good evidence of a tired democracy, unable to rouse itself enough to accomplish even the simplest things. Sure, why not; let's have those guys again.  It's too much trouble to do anything else. Even the radical nature of Trump turned out to be not very radical.  He didn't drain the swamp, he merely annoyed it.

By this time in NH the primary season is usually in full swing, with candidates speaking before Rotary clubs and giving dinners. I'm sure there's something going on somewhere, but I'm not hearing much. Does anyone know if they are seeing anything in Iowa or South Carolina?

Monday, February 27, 2023


Razib had Virginia Postrel, former editor of Reason magazine on to talk about "synthetic" meat. It is hard to keep in mind that synthetic meat is real meat, just not made on an animal.  It is not a collection of plants juggled and doctored to imitate meat. She had recently eaten sushi-grade salmon and was unable to tell the difference with the real thing, except that the shape was a little odd. My son in Nome might be able to taste-test a difference, but maybe not many. There was discussion about what types of meat and fish were going to be focused on earlier, and price point will be a deciding factor.  There's not going to be much point in fabricating chicken from chicken cells because chicken is already cheap.  The salmon is an entry point because there is a surge in demand for the sushi grades, and supplies are hard to keep up. So even though in making salmon they have to replicate the environment down to changing the temperature and salinity at various stages, just like an anadromous salmon would experience, it's likely to be worth it.  It's not that complicated (or so they said).

You would think that a good ribeye would be next up for production, but that's even more complicated. You can't just grow the stuff in a dish or even on a rack. You have to mimic the frequent movement and exercise of a cow in order to build the muscle and have the right proportion of fat. The tissue has to grow on a gyrating, exercising rack.  At that point you might just as well just use a cow, right?

The line reminded me of a discussion at pub night years ago when my son had just bought his automatic Husqvarna mower and was describing what it did. You don't program it, it wanders around the property up to the underground electric fence boundaries, cutting as it goes, doubling back over the yard many times before it is finished.  My young farmer friend, who you just met in the discussion of making maple syrup chuckled and said "What you are basically describing is a cow." 

So more power to cows, whose actions are more complex than they look. And don't worry to much about people trying to talk you into eating this manufactured meat. It's beef without methane, which should keep them off our backs for at least another generation. Sure, there are people who are pushing this in the hopes of sneaking in rules that we have to eat only plants or even reconstituted bugs or whatever, but this takes one of their main complaints away - now that they've figured out that automobile engines aren't the only cause of greenhouse gas. (There also jets, too, but that's another story.) Not that they'll be fully rational about this - a lot of it is about feelz - but that's no cause for us to go and be irrational ourselves.


The controversy about the pitch clock expiration ending the spring-training game is about as clear as one can get. One-run game, bases loaded, two outs, full count, and the batter does not get into the batter's box in time and is called out on a third strike. 

I no longer follow baseball, and even when I did it was mostly following statistics and history. When the Red Sox have a shot at the World Series I have started following it later in the year, and in the years that the Sox were often good, I followed it even a bit more than that. But I can't be counted as a fan.

Baseball is trying to speed up the games in order to attract more fans, as its base is old and dwindling. The joke on this is that "baseball purists" will object to the pitch clock - which may be true but misses the point. Going to a baseball game used to be a big deal a hundred and twenty years ago because there wasn't much other entertainment. And for that extra dash of fun, you could score the game with paper and pencil, knowing what all those little symbols meant. But when you have to try and sell that idea on The Art of Manliness these days, that tells you that it's over. Then the livelier ball came in, and with it home runs, and the fans remained. Then radio came in, and MLB kept up its fan base with that.  They could make money without you even showing up by selling advertising. Then games were televised, another heightening of interest that generated money and kept sports fans involved.  But by this time college and professional football were competing, then basketball came and muscled in on baseball's hegemony.  Remember when it used to be called "America's Pastime?" Humorous now.

The best players increasingly come from other countries, which should make it more interesting, but doesn't.

Baseball is running out of things to do, because the experience of going to a game is increasingly irrelevant. Fans go once a year to enjoy the experience, but watching the game is difficult - because the fan remembers "Oh, yeah, you can't actually see the game that well from most seats. And there's no replay or camera angles or guys telling stories that I've gotten used to." Those are increasingly necessary to keep the fan involved.  Baseball has been rescued by changes many times, but eventually the string is going to run out, because it's just not that interesting. Starting a runner from second base in extra innings - sure, good luck with that. I hope it helps. 

If we didn't already have so much territory already given over to baseball in towns all over America, I wonder if we would even bother to build it again. Even this song is forty years old now, and it is about his own childhood, so push that back even further. Plus grandfathers are figuring prominently in it, which would be less likely in a kids' football or basketball video. And as the video reminds us at the end, it's not even really about baseball. Fun though.  So if you are still a fan, hang on as best you can.

Right on Schedule

I just mentioned waiting for Mondo and the world record. I'm not especially prophetic.  This is Duplantis.  Get used to it.

It was apparently happening at just about the time I was posting. This is a pattern.  He is going to take it 1cm higher each time, because he gets a contractual bonus each time he sets it. If you look at his clearance, he can definitely go higher.

Cor Blok

Those of you who follow the yearly Tolkien Calendars may remember this illustrator from the 2011 and 2012 calendars, but I have not paid attention to such things since the mid 70s.  In those days it was ether Tolkien's own artwork or the Brothers Hildebrandt (who seem to have added pinup art and even soft porn to their later work), who also illustrated the LOTR knockoff series Sword of Shannara

But this is the Dutch illustrator Cor Blok

More paintings, and bits of an interview with him for the Tolkien 100th in 1992. 

Tolkien liked these enough to have purchased two (and was gifted a third) and hung them in his house. If it seems strange that he liked this style, it would pay to return to his own artwork for LOTR and The Hobbit, which I wrote about a couple of years ago, which has, in turn, links to further examples. They are both using flat, minimalist, block color style and abstract representations, so he likely got Blok more readily than the rest of the faux-medievalists who were in the early Tolkien craze. I am already beginning to get the point. They don't look like hobbits, but they aren't meant to. They are meant to suggest things about characters and scenes that aid the imagination in reading.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Paper Bag Book Covers

Do students still need to make paper book covers for their books at school?* It was always a September ritual. The rich kids got to have those ones that were glossy on one side, with designs on them. The rest of us - nearly everyone at my elementary school for grades 1-6 - had to make them out of paper bags. When my mother remarried we became rich enough to afford the glossy ones! Which was good, because now I was at a rich school - just east and slightly north of the border streets for our district - where everyone had glossy covers with designs. And probably, would notice if you didn't and comment on it.


I had poor fine-motor coordination (a sometimes Asperger's trait, I have learned), so something as simple as book covers still didn't come out right and looked terrible. This extended to the bad decorations as well and it was predictable that the girls had much more attractive covers and the (always female) teachers would praise them for how nice they looked. It was one more subtle message that you were starting one down again this year because you were male. Penmanship and coloring in Argentina and its export products would show up in the daily work schedule as well. I likely felt it too strongly, as they very probably did value reading and arithmetic more, and I was fine at those. 

I was not conscious of it as a general prejudice, but only see it in retrospect. At the time, book covers were just one more thing the teacher thought I did poorly - and she was right - and signaled that she felt was important (like penmanship and coloring Argentina). I'm not sure it was entirely a bad thing that I developed an attitude of always having to catch up and find something to excel at as compensation. Perhaps children who are given credit for less-important skills that come easy to them don't have quite the edge that the rest of us, the poor kids trying to make good, the clumsy, the children of divorce or bad parents who were seen as unlikely to amount to much, the shy or unfashionable, had to develop. Maybe it is better to learn young that there is more than one way to skin a cat. 

* I am told they do not.

Consensus Vs Evidence

The British Medical Journal, writing about transgender care for distressed youth, makes a distinction between evidence-based medicine and consensus-based medicine. The latter might be well-intentioned, well-informed, and tentatively agreed upon, and may be the best that can be managed when new problems are presenting, but that is not the same thing as scientific evidence. This strikes me as a distinction that is overdue. 

If only...

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Katelyn Tuohy (and more)

I have tried to hold off clicking on any of these videos on YouTube, because they are women's track, and I know as soon as I hit one of them I'm going to get way more, because I already binge watch men's track and field once a month, so they try to sneak women's events in on me already. I don't really care about women's track and field.

Though if I cared about anything in that category, it would be distance runners, and what Katelyn Tuohy has been doing is remarkable. If you pick up at about the 5.00 mark you will see the DMR leg before hers and get some idea how deep a hole she is starting from. When she gets the baton she is not even in the camera width of the leaders, but by the 8.30 mark you can just see how she is making up space.

For the world record in the DMR, the anchor leg was about 4.28. Tuohy is running other events in this meet (won the 3000), which tends to depress times as training for different events can vary and runners try to conserve energy for other races. (This has been an issue with Matt Boling of Georgia, who is a Swiss-Army knife of a runner for UGa, picking up points in a lot of events but not developing a specialty which might win him an Olympic medal. There is considerable debate what his coach should be prioritising.)

And Tuohy is a freshman. Middle-distance runners tend to peak at 8-10 years older than her.

Ah, the heck with it.  In for a penny, in for a pound.  Here's Ryan Crouser, who blew apart* the previous WR last year, now breaking his own record in the shotput this week.

Still waiting for Mondo when the international meets start in a few weeks.

*When the incentives for an event become great enough that many athletes can devote their lives to it, performance accelerates rapidly. The record for putting the shot went up over 12 feet in the 50s and 60s (Parry O'Brien, Dallas Long, Bill Nieder, Randy Matson), but it has only crept up slowly since.  Crouser added an amazing 9" to it last year. Similarly, if you look at old sports footage you can see how performance has improved since football players didn't have to go sell cars during the offseason and parents saw that their kid might make a living that way. In the NBA in the 60s, guys would smoke on the bench.

More "Village You Didn't Build"

The Great Books podcast discusses The Quest For Community by Robert Nesbit.  Written in 1953, Nesbit accurately predicts the decline of the family, the church, and other institutions between the individual and the state in size, the "little platoons*" of society that have actually been the society for most of its existence. 

Nesbit's take is that these in-between loyalties, of something larger than ourselves but not the state, are crucial to community, but the state has treated them as competitors and sided with the individual in its jurisprudence at the expense of the groups. Our idea of liberty and rights has over time has indeed focused on the individual. I'm not sure how it could have gone any other way. Even while agreeing that the disempowering of the family, the church, or the private group has had a gradual negative effect, I'm not sure what we would give back at this point. I don't want my family of origin or my extended family to have had any more authority over me than it did, thanks. My time-travel reveries usually start with me getting out of there and going to college earlier.  When you have children, the idea of going back to arranged marriages suddenly looks very sensible; but I can guess who my family would have fixed me up with. Not that this is one of the rights Nesbit or anyone was thinking of restoring to families or churches, but just as an example of the sort of "little platoon" encouragement that we weren't thinking about when we praised it so much.

And yet there is something to the fact that the growth of government has often been built off protecting individuals from the abuses of groups. The village of DC has sided with you in trying to break free of Springfield or First Church or you paranoid Dad thinking that torture is authorised by God in order to get you to obey. First they came for the nutcases, and maybe they should. But now that the federal government has eliminated most of its competition - even states have a hard time asserting rights against it, never mind zoning boards - the worry is that there is nothing that stands between you and them anymore. They rescued you from the frying pan.

*Okay, maybe I shouldn't have used that phrase

Don Camillo

I loved the Don Camillo books after a friend handed them to me in the 70s.  It was at the same time as I was working at Pine Haven Boys Center for boys with uh,  problems. In those days it was for boys who some social worker, judge, or parent hoped they could keep out of reform school (YDC/SIS/Sununu Center) by getting him into this program run by the Somascan order of Italian priests. It was my second job out of college, by the way, and I learned a great deal, most of it uncomfortable. For example, I learned that I lost my temper easily and was not such a nice person after all.

The fathers and brothers all loved Don Camillo, but most of them knew him from the movies, not the books. One of them in particular, Brother John, understood the part that somehow I had learned about Don Camillo, but never could grasp that this American boy had not seen any of the movies. "David, it is like when Don Camillo was in mountains, do you remember, and he says to a woman from village..." Ach, they were good for me. I had Protestant prejudices from my upbringing, and many of the Jesus People I hung with were resentful ex-Catholics (NH has a significant French-Canadian population) and influenced by the anti-Catholic bias of old-line fundamentalists from other parts of the country. I should have stayed and learned more.  It was only a raise from $3.20 to $3.40/hr at my new job.

Don Camillo did me some good from his Alpine Italian village, talking to the Christ on the crucifix - and getting answers in return.

From the Wiki:

Don Camillo is constantly at odds with the Communist mayor, Giuseppe Bottazzi, better known as Peppone (meaning, roughly, 'Big Joe') and is also on very close terms with the crucifix in his town church. Through the crucifix he hears the voice of Christ. The Christ in the crucifix often has far greater understanding than Don Camillo of the troubles of the people, and has to constantly but gently reprimand the priest for his impatience. 

Quite often, the priest with a temper would complain to that Jesus that he was trying to fight the good fight for Him, but was not getting much support in return, only to find that Jesus was not bothered by quite the same things, and was remarkably tolerant of these frustrating others.

One of the repeated humorous bits is that both Don Camillo and Peppone have enormous physical strength and courage (both proved in WWII) and compete with each other in subtle ways, both knowing that this is childish and ineffective but unable to stop doing it anyway. There is a memorable scene where he bursts into a communist meeting late at night just before an election of threatened violence, pulls out the portable altar he would bring to secret meetings of the partisans during the war, says Mass, and leaves without a word. Several of them slink away, and there is no violence the next day - but Peppone wins anyway. Don Camillo complains to the Jesus on the crucifix about the unfairness of this. Jesus shrugs.

Friday, February 24, 2023


I often say I am not good at being meditative. Christian literature encourages it, the Psalms speak about about meditating (though "on the law"), it is found in other religious traditions. A very big deal is made of the ability to be silent before God and listen for his voice. 

I've been at it for decades, and I still don't know what they're talking about.  The mind just keeps going, going, relentlessly. At its worst (I have had the greater part of a year taken up with this several times) I yearn for just thirty minutes of everything coming to a halt. I did used to kid that when I had to work evenings when few were around and no one to call or meet with, that going down to the gym in my street clothes and shooting foul shots was the American form of Zen. I have read that there was an early form of Buddhist meditation that involved watching fish swim around in a pond. I could do that. That might be as close as I could get.

Yet as I was looking through music to break up the posting today it occurred to me that the Pachelbel Canon has long seemed to me to be an excellent image of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in its three parts. (I know it is written for four, but it is often performed as three.) I listen to this and with that image, perhaps do meditate in some way.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Sex and Statistics

After my series about Tinder enabling polygamies and intrasexual competition as an evolutionary concern this past fall, plus reading Rob Henderson, who reports on dating markets a lot, I have been either seeing more or noticing more articles on the issues. But mostly, articles about sex and statistics are catnip for me, so I thought I would pass on to you the site from the Institute for Family Studies.


When it is 21 degrees and raining, I get nervous what the roads are going to be like.  I am quite certain I have never seen this before.


At pub night with engineerlight tonight, I said something along the lines of "One of the things I have learned from blogging over the last fifteen years is that 'You would think that would be obvious to all reasonable people' (which he had just said, chuckling) is not a statement that has any meaning."  I may have said it slightly better in St. Anselm's pub in the back where the brothers drop in to have a drink and talk to students, but that's the basic idea.

The context was the high schools in Northern Virginia that did not notify students that they had qualified as National Merit scholars and had discontinued AP courses. Such things are an unstable situation that cannot continue. Except somehow, unstable situations sometimes continue for decades. 

Update: I should mention, James, that you come up often when engineerlite and I are together at pub night.

A Closer Look

53% of Americans believe that religion can solve all of life's problems

46% believe that religion is very important in their lives, which is the same % that say they are members of a church or synagogue.

So 7% think that religion could help, but just can't be bothered. (Ben Dreyfuss.)

Carl Schmitt

Today was the first I had heard of Carl Schmitt, an early (1933) Nazi convert who was almost immediately under suspicion by the Nazi Party in Germany, who is being rediscovered and read recently.  From what I can tell, political theorists like Derrida, Habermas, Hayek, and Strauss have been familiar with his work and influenced by him in one direction or the other.

N.S. Lyons, who seems to be some sort of conservative writer but not fully mainstream there, has a substack The Upheaval, which includes The Temptations of Carl Schmitt. Because Schmitt had lived through insurrection, riots, and civil war in Bavaria post WWI, he was deeply concerned with order and the norms of civilisation being in place.

Either way, to Schmitt a dictatorship can be democratically legitimate if it fulfills the state’s obligation to protect, even if it acts beyond the law in making necessary decisions, given that, as he would later explain elsewhere: “The endeavor of a normal state consists above all in assuring total peace within the state and its territory. To create tranquility, security, and order and thereby establish the normal situation is the prerequisite for legal norms to be valid. Every norm presupposes a normal situation, and no norm can be valid in an entirely abnormal situation.” In theory, the dictator reestablishes the normal situation, and therefore legal norms.

What Schmitt was most interested in at this time, however, was the broader concept of sovereignty. Who is truly sovereign? Who is the one who actually has the power to decide to act?

It's easy to see what can go wrong with that, but we see it from a position of great privilege, of having always lived at peace, with even our long-past civil war having taken place largely in border states, with great swaths of the country not witnessing any direct violence. 

Anyway, I put Lyons's essay forward because it was new to me and might be new to you. It's long, and I am already seeing gaps you could drive a truck through, but I thought this should be out there.


From Rob Henderson

In August of 2021, 90 percent of U.S. adults who worked from home because of the pandemic guessed that at least 40 percent of other Americans did the same. In reality, only 13 percent of people worked from home (source). The laptop class has no clue how other people live. There was never a lockdown. There was just upper-middle-class people hiding while working-class people delivered things to them.
I recall just after college recognising that when people older than me used the phrase "the real world" they meant different things, and almost always meant "the kind of life I live."  If you were a student, that wasn't the real world; if you were in the military people were telling you what to do and that wasn't the real world; if you worked for a government, that wasn't the real world...

People would say it about a woman home with children.  EB White wrote about a man in a NYC office moving thousands of sheep around on paper without seeing any actual sheep. Being in the clergy wasn't quite the same as being in the real world somehow. Spending your day reading books, or being in entertainment industries wasn't considered the real world. I used to wonder "Well what is, then?" Whatever you were doing, someone was going to tell you it wasn't the real world, but what they were doing was. It's all very flexible in its definition, apparently.

So while the study referenced in The Atlantic above is revealing about current political attitudes, it's just part of a larger blindness that humans have. Wealthy people think  that most people make more than $100K (one definition of middle-class worker is $42-126K) in the country. Tall people think six feet is an average height for a man (5'9"). Our life is real life. There are lots of us. Therefore we should be winning all the elections, and stores should arrange themselves in "ways that work for most people," manufacturers should design more cars that suit average people. Like us. 

Even when we think we are eccentric and exceptional, that is usually along narrow areas. We say we had typical childhoods in many ways, and even when pointing out a difference "well, other than that it was a typical childhood." I have watched my Romanian children adjust in a very few months to an American idea of what is normal. We all live in normal aquariums.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Dominic Again

I am liking Dominic Cummings's substack

The NYT, Guardian et al had no interest in the facts — particularly given the NYT’s coverage of Hillary’s emails was orders of magnitude more important than ‘Twitter-bots’. An interesting aspect of how the post-graduate classes themselves were conned en masse by misinformation about misinformation on Putin/Trump/Brexit is visible all around us today. Part of why the Left, in the form of AOC and Bernie Sanders, argue as they do on Ukraine is because they see the war against Putin as part of the war against Trump. It’s tragi-comic that such a large fraction of our post-graduate elite Idiocracy that tells itself over dinner parties that ‘we have a big problem with non-college whites falling for misinformation’ are themselves the biggest suckers for misinformation! But as I’ve remarked many times, this has usually been the case historically. It wasn’t the deplorables who fell for Stalin’s propaganda over the Ukraine famine and the Great Terror in the 1930s, it was the NYT and graduate-elites. Thucydides wrote about the same thing in the context of civil wars in Greece, in one of his most striking and immortal passages (Bk 3).  

The above is similar to what I have noted, even recently, that it was the intellectuals, not the thugs and stupid bigots, who drove the National Socialist movement.  He has noted elsewhere and repeats it in this essay that the primary difficulty in the UK during Covid was the failure to update understandings as new data became available. Anyone can misunderstand a situation that takes them by surprise. It's what you do after that that matters. Little matters more than being willing to scoff at the ideas you had last week about a subject.

I'm betting his political predictions are going to be as good on the next round as on this round. He keeps insisting that it has nothing to do with Game Theory or Cambridge Analytics or AI, but just the very simple ideas of polling and looking honestly at what is in front of you and adjusting accordingly. Seems plausible.  But we are like those politicians we abhor, not caring about the good of the party and certainly not of the country, but of our own status in our own village.  It applies to us as well. I care far more what all of you think than what my supposed demographic allies think.  That works out because you are smart and at least attempt objectivity.  But we're the best there is, statistically, and we do the same village-thing as the folks we deplore. 

Ilya Somin will tell you that voting with your village is entirely rational for your own happiness and try to give you a pass, but he doesn't take his own advice and he does care what the right answer is.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Post 9000

Post 1000 (2007) The internal link doesn't work anymore but doesn't matter.  Ben is not a filmmaker anymore, he hires filmmakers now. You can look at some of his films on Youtube, all the way back to his Demo reel just out of school. I recommend the music videos, which he got very good at.

Post 2000 (2009) Unlearning

Post 3000 Anniversary. (2011) I still have that vest with the furry collar, it is still often grease stained, and I still have umbrella drinks when I can.

Post 4000 Not So Much Bias As... (2013) It includes a link to Sponge-Headed Scienceman's post on Hillary's retirement - remember that? - and explores an alternative explanation for media bias, which I mildly credit.

Post 5000 ABBA Reunion (2016)

Post 6000 Competing With Masculinity (2019) Pithy.  I still like it.

Post 7000 Human Doing (2020) Advocacy in general and individuals

Post 8000 Shame Culture Vs Guilt Culture (2021) Good comment exchange if you want to go deeper

I will use post 8999, It Takes A Village You Didn't Build because even if it is not brilliant, it is representative of things I have been saying for years. 

I feel like I am winding down and will not make it to 10,000, but I think have felt that at the last three or four milestones as well.

It Takes a Village You Didn't Build

I mentioned just a few posts ago the conceit that DC is a "town," to its residents. Many cities do this, as it is humorous and ironic for large and important places to pretend to modesty in that way. "If you want to get anything done in this town..." sounds like the advice of a wiser, older hand at whatever game is being played. Yet I noted that this is in many ways true about their attitude, that they do not much notice what happens elsewhere. All the important stuff is happening where they are.

It was thus interesting to hear Dominic Cummings (Brexit and Leave advisor to the Tories and Boris Johnson, who just barely took his advice) describe that Members of Parliament were not actually much motivated by power.  I have heard much the same about DC politicians, that the need for attention and notoriety is stronger. But Cummings went one surprising step further: MPs aren't motivated by getting re-elected either, which is the usual fallback description. Many districts are safe and those members can hold them as long as they like, and the remainder, once they have been established in London in this way can get important and prestigious jobs even if they get tossed by their voters.

The real motivation are the alliances and competitions within each party, jockeying for status and position there. They don't particularly care what solves a problem for the country, they care what faction of their party is going to be going up or down. That is, it's a village, with all the small-town pettiness that implies.

Dominic Cummings 

So the naive view of politics is that the people in charge actually are sitting in government, then when you actually meet them, and you realize that's obviously not the case that almost all of them have no real interest in government at all. But then the slightly updated version of that is okay, Well, they're not interested in the government, but they are at least interested in winning elections. But that also is not correct. One of the most interesting things about politics, I think, is that they're not actually even serious about winning elections. And one of the ways you know, that is because if you're serious about winning elections, then you would take polling seriously. And you can just see as a matter of unarguable fact that almost all politicians just don't even take politics seriously. And what they're actually optimizing for almost always is very short term horizons, in terms of how the media operate, and in group signaling that affects their careers, you know, so what the internal shifts, or the internal shifting Coalition on their own side, what they're thinking of very short term calculations about how you send signals to this coalition, and therefore do or do not get opportunities to ascend these hierarchies. And the feedback on these things is very short term, and it pretty much swamps actually calculating rationally, how you would win an election, if you actually want to win an election, that huge amount of behavior will be radically different than what you actually see

Steve Hsu
Is this situation somewhat different in the UK because you have a parliamentary system because having the support of the other Tories in the long run might be more important than a particular election? Whereas in the US, like the guys who want to become president, they do really care. Now, they may not really understand polling, either, but they do really want to win that election.

Dominic Cummings
So, no, I don't think I don't think it is different. I'll give you a classic example. Look at the Hillary campaign. If you look at the Hillary campaign, something like a third of the adverts that Hillary's campaign ran, not only were not even just a waste of time, they actively helped Trump and the adverts which got which had most money behind them, and got most attention and retweeting and kind of signal boosting from inside the Democratic coalition were precisely the adverts which most helped Trump and most harmed Hillary. So if you look at the Hillary campaign, they were absolute. I mean, it was a classic example that we'll be talking about, that they will, effectively the internal culture of the campaign was pulled far more towards, what's Washington thinking? What's the New York Times thinking? What are insiders thinking? What are our activists and our donors thinking? Not What do non-college whites in Wisconsin think? And that's why they lost the election? Which elect remains that they should never have lost?

Cummings finds it humorous that they were accused of nefarious deeds using Cambridge Analytics and other high-tech mastermind tactics both to pass Brexit and to elect Boris. In fact, they did simple polling and told everyone what they were up to.  What happens in these situations is that people don't want the simple answers and advice and won't take it, and then are puzzled later. He says the Tories are nearly as bad, and kept rejecting very simple advice based on very simple polling. He does say that the xbox polling is more valuable than people give it credit for, because even though it is slanted to young males, it covers a massive number of them, and shifts in that population, say from 65% to 71% for or against something, might reflect a shift from 49% to 52% in the population at large. His explanation why people reject this is 1) isolation in London (or NYC/DC/CA), so that they only confirmation-bias accept poll results that comport with what they see around them and 2) projection, that by refusing to see the simple answers because they don't like them, they conclude that the real answer must be some hidden, complicated, nefarious plot - because that's what they are trying to do. (Unsuccessfully, Cummings adds. Even polling companies don't believe polling!)

In other Cummings news he notes that Boris's GF hated them from the start and as soon as the election was over - even the next day - she separated him from them. He would not bother to meet with Johnson at this point, whom he states believes what he senses from media response more than data. Good times.

So with all that in mind, I thought of Hillary's "It takes a village" and Obama's "You didn't build that," which are both true in one sense, but both contain the unquestioned assumption that "It was our village that built this, so you need to put us back in charge of things." Both conservatives and liberals don't quite get that this is what is being said.  Conservatives want to applaud the entrepreneur or hard working man or woman who claim they did too build what they've got, even though they also have a village behind them.  Just not a government village.  Not the DC village. They had the founding fathers and good genes and decent role models. That village. Liberals don't get that the government village, for all its positives, may at this point be a net negative.  It certainly has externalities they don't consider.

Monday, February 20, 2023

Types of Victory

 Do we say these days that Tommy Atkins had the victory, after all?

It's hard to know, isn't it? Churchill lost the election 1945 after he had literally just defeated Hitler.  There are many lessons we might draw from this, but one is that we don't actually believe as a nation what we swear on our grandmother's grave that we do.


I have notes for posts about Hillary/Obama, Village/Build That; Dominic Cummings; Nesbit, Putnam, and the "little platoons;" progressive revelation; Acadian French in New England and the Maritimes; and memories that I promised myself I would remember about memory research, evolutionary psychology, and...and...two other things I forget. After listening to Steve Hsu's manifold podcast about LLM and AI, I am not seeing the point of any human-generated knowledge anymore.  Everything is better and worse than we thought. Google put people like me out of business, but we recovered.  We may not make it back from this new shift.

So maybe.  I am directing traffic to keep people from walking under where the cranes are taking out trees in our neighborhood - old people are grouchy and stupid - and grabbing walks when I can. I don't seem to care about much else.

Bad Weather

Reading Chesterton commenting about the impression that some frightful weather made on him, and remembering C S Lewis 's remark that he loved the quiddity of weather, I was reminded again  when catching up with another British writer that their experience of extreme weather 

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow! You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout Till you have drench'd our steeples, drown'd the cocks! You sulphurous and thought-executing fires, Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts, Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder, Smite flat the thick rotundity o' the world! (King Lear)

...is a bit limited. So when you Christian readers are being instructed by writers drawing their inspiration 

from Europeans rhapsodising about God's Creation, suggesting that one can know Him better by gazing

off into the green distance, recall that the origins of this thinking are not from people who have your weather.


Farmers, fishermen, and herders do not rhapsodise about nature and the weather. (And notice James's 

comment at the first link about who does love nature.) Nature is overrated. When I hear the phrase "...the

beauty of God's creation" I immediately assume that church camp was important to your early spiritual 


Saturday, February 18, 2023

Genetic Distance

From Razib, a fact I knew the edges of, but hadn't realised was this extreme.

If you were to divide the human population into two groups in terms of genetic distance, the two groups would be the Khoisan and...everyone else. These are the click-language people, identified decades ago as bushmen or Hottentots. They are from deep ancestral y-Haplogroup L0, and everyone else is from Haplogroups L1-6. They split off about 150,000 y/a.  Or your could say we split off from them.

The multiple clicks in those languages are so unlikely to be added by a language from contact languages (you pretty much have to grow up with them or they are not accessible, and no one elsewhere seems to have added anything like them) that it is considered likely that they were part of the earliest language(s) in Africa and all the other languages in the world dropped them.

If you were to divide us into three groups, four groups, five groups, six groups, we would still not get out of Africa.  That continent really is that diverse, which is part of why we believe humans and human languages started there. 

I note in the Wikipedia article that Joseph Greenberg turned out to be right again. But historical linguists are a sticky bunch, and many like to have controversial things proven with all corners nailed down before they will sign off. I believe the most common attitude now to his theories about the tripartite division of the North American native languages and the detection of a proto-World language ancestral to all the others is that he might be right, but the signal is so faint at that time-distance that they have to regard them as still speculative.

Come Thou Fount


Friday, February 17, 2023


 All cultivated blueberries trace their lineage back to New Hampshire. In 1905, Frederick Coville, a US Dept of Agriculture botanist, bought a farm in Greenfield as a summer home.  He found pastures full of wild low-and high-bush blueberries, so he selected one of each type with superior berries and crossbred them.  The first hybrid blueberry, released to the public in 1920, was fittingly called Pioneer, and hundreds of other cultivars have followed. Some of Coville's early varietie - such as Earliblue, Bluecrop, and Blueray - are still grown today. 

Cultivated high-bush blueberries take the strong flavor, cold hardiness, and drought tolerance of the low-bush blueberries and marry these qualities with the larger fruit, higher yields, and height of the high-bush blueberries. New Hampshire Home 2021

My great-grandfather from Nova Scotia was a blueberry farmer (among other things) who in season  would put them on a barge at 4AM from Pubnico down to Boston to be available for the morning markets. One more example of how water trade has been easier than land for almost the entirety of human existence, and if you go to a major port, you can still see it today.  We don't know what our connection is with the Wyman's Blueberry people in Maine, but we are generally all related, descended from Francis and John Wyman who came from Bury St Edmund in England in 1635 and settled in Woburn/Billerica, MA.

If this suggests to you that Wymans might have a special gift for growing blueberries, it isn't true. Not many crops grow up here, which is why fishing, syrup, apples, wool, dairy, (and rocks) were the main products up here until the mills came in. Blueberries are what grow. Pumpkins.  We also do giant pumpkins. UNH was a main source for developing cold-weather varieties of fruit and vegetables, but those were for local consumption, not agribiz. Now that freezing and transportation are good, those are less necessary.

Update From the Renaissance

 This was passed along to me this evening.


Women control 75% of retail spending, so I think an alternative title would be

Indulgences: Not just for Catholics anymore.  Buy my book. Also, look at the blurb at the top about shutting up and listening...from Chelsea Handler. Hey, I didn't make the publisher choose that. And they proabably know their audience.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Posted With Irritation

I am linking to Bronze Age Pervert's Dissertation on Leo Strauss precisely because it irritates me. It focuses on what we would now call the hidden and transgressive elements of Plato, Strauss, Allan Bloom (The Closing of the American Mind, which was big in the 80s). and now Costin Alamariu, "who is widely understood to have been the author of Bronze Age Mindset, a campy, fascistic “exhortation” written half in internet slang, has by now been reviewed by every would-be intellectual trying to demonstrate his daring proximity to the limits of acceptable opinion."

Alamariu deserves credit for divining, and insisting upon, this aspect of Strauss’ thought—that Strauss was only a friend to our liberal democracy in an ironic, unstraightforward way, and that his praise or blame of our regime and its enemies must be interpreted with great hermeneutic finesse. Alamariu is a careful, thoughtful exegete—when it suits him to be. For this reason the superficial crudeness, even stupidity, of Bronze Age Mindset and Alamariu’s persona on Twitter (@bronzeagemantis), appear as a strategic dumbing-down of certain of the points made in his dissertation, as a tactic for generating interest in his work, or as a means of acting, in a peculiar fashion, on another, non-philosophical audience. In fact, his dissertation outlines, quite openly, the rationale for such an approach, which shows Alamariu to be a rogue disciple of Bloom.

The whole project, from Strauss to Bloom to Alamariu seems to assume a level of elitism, of "only we few dare to be freethinkers exercising will to power while giving lip service to the gods of the city and a tepid patriotism." It reminds me of the various gnostic sects, the Rosicrucians and Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn devotees who pursued the sweet feeling of insiderness in the occult. 

Perhaps I am not understanding fully.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm

 I like a few versions, but this is the one I grew up with.

The substituted reference to Red Grange for the American audiences is not a choice anyone would make now.


There is a revival going on at Asbury University. Still going on. I think it is a solid week of continuous worship at this point. As has been the case before when this has happened at Asbury, it was not planned in advance but grew slowly, in this case of some people sticking around for prayer after regular chapel, some coming back to join roommates or partners, and then it's late but no one is leaving, some of them feeling impelled to remain.  The live feed is here. 

There have been several similar revivals at Asbury over the years, with the longest-lasting and most famous being in 1970. When they describe the chapel that is the center of the prayer and singing (though they are spilling over into nearby buildings) there's a story about that. There have been suggestions over the years that Asbury expand its enrollment beyond 1300+, but these have been consistently turned down because of the certainty that the community needs to worship together regularly, and that's all the chapel holds. 

Two of my sons and one of their wives attended Asbury.  A revival occurred during Ben's senior year, but it was while he was working the 2006 Torino Olympics (the Asbury communications department is one of the three schools have have contracts to provide interns for the Olympics, so every comm major gets to work on one) and he missed it. They have been in contact with lots of old friends about this.

It has spread to other colleges, and people from all over have come to be part of it. The NBC story above notes some sticklers who call this extended worship instead of revival because the latter should include many conversions. I see the point.  I don't think it matters much what you call it.

Star Wars, Star Trek, and Prester John

(Inspired by an episode of the "Gone Medieval" podcast.)

The legend of Prester John is an excellent example of the sort of story that captivated European Christians in Medieval times. (A longer account here.)He was a king far to the east of the "known" world, which would on land have been the Tigris River at the time. They had heard of the Indies or other things of similar name and speculated about them. Goods arrived along the Silk Road, but they often had no more than rumors of those. The Crusades brought them much farther east, and in contact with people who had been farther still.

Prester (or Presbyter) John was a wise and rich ruler. The wall surrounding his city was so wide even at the top that two chariots could ride abreast on it. There were monsters of various sorts would fight in his armies, even dragons from caves there at the edge of the world who had been tamed by dragonmasters. They believed he would march from the east someday to help take Jerusalem, and the Fifth Crusade may have been lost largely by dithering in Egypt, waiting for him to show up. Not that it mattered, as the Mongols were going to show up in a few years and destroy everyone in their path who would not surrender immediately, Muslim or Christian, and holding the Holy Land or not wouldn't have made much difference. The rumor of battles with Muslims out east likely even fed the rumors that it must be one of PJ's descendants.  Who else would be fighting Muslims, after all. 

The Mongols were on their own crusade, as one of their rulers had been told he (or they) had been destined to rule the world, so everyone who didn't acknowledge that was denying an important celestial truth and had no right to live. A much more deadly scourge than the paltry showing the Europeans put up every few decades for a couple of centuries.

We consider them a bit ridiculous now for believing such stories, but there were some records that some of the Mongol rulers had married Christians and become Christians themselves, and their children after them. (So too with Muslim wives and converts, though that was usually omitted.) The defeat of the Muslims by someone from the east, it was believed, must have been at the hands of King David, grandson of Prester John. We now think this was likely Genghis Khan. In the 1200s it was reported that a few decades before a letter from the east had been sent to both the Byzantine and Holy Roman emperors promising aid. That story changed into a letter to the Pope and the Patriarch in some countries.

The story kept coming up as long as Europe didn't actually know what was out east. After they learned more the legend moved PJ's kingdom to Africa for a while, then died out altogether.

So there wasn't much real evidence, but there was something, and wishful thinking plus imagining the fabulous and telling a good story provided the rest. The point of a story was to teach a lesson to someone (even a ruler or a bishop) and/or to entertain. It is clear that some fabulous tales were believed pretty deeply by some, but historical truth in our sense was not a distinction clearly made at the time. (CS Lewis writes about this a few times. The Discarded Image would be the place to start.) And we don't know how many only half-believed, or thought the historical angle unimportant. The lesson and the entertainment parts were the points.

When science fiction got under way it told similar tales, didn't it? Fabulous monsters on other planets (or on the surface floor of the ocean, or deep under the earth), and aliens, some of whom were dangerous and would have to be fought somehow, but others who were much wiser than humans.

But, you will insist, they didn't believe those stories. They were making suppositions about what might be true in order to... 

Yeah, to teach a lesson and to entertain. This is what will happen to mankind if we continue on our current path...These are the moral complications that will arise from intelligent robots...this is what the true nature of humans is, regardless of what environment you put them in. Yeah, I know. Fascinating stuff and I love it. In our current culture, those who grew up on Star Trek or Star Wars use events and characters from those films as illustrations and analogies all the time. There are plenty of people whose personal philosophies were influenced by the former. Roddenberry wasn't kidding about his intention to preach and teach. Star Wars has fewer True Believers in the Force, but that westernised version of eastern religion has certainly encouraged belief along those lines, which has indeed increased in the last forty years. Even without that, just as the stock characters of our culture, present since birth for many and still going strong, used for humor, serious teaching, inspiration, and reflection - you are telling me this is different from Prester John how, exactly? Aliens rescuing entire worlds; fabulous wealth and abilities; monsters that will fight on your side.

I do see some difference, I admit, but when you try and put it into words you start seeing what weak tea it is. The medievals were not so different from us. It is only chronological snobbery that keeps us sneering at them.


I don't know what brought this game from my childhood to mind. It is advertised as vintage on ebay but I recall the one I used looking older even then. Maybe they cleaned this one up.

My grandmother had it, and as the older of the two children who lived near her, I had time to practice getting the deft little twists just right.  I eventually got good at it, yet I noticed when my cousins would visit for holidays they would pick it up after a few tries every year despite not having one of their own. Tracing the route with my eyes I remember the drill: getting past those first four holes was tricky, but then you could drop down a row and pause. I think the hardest section was near the end, from 47 on.

It has elements of an early video game, I suppose, requiring both dexterity with controls and some ability to strategise. I wasn't good at early video games either. For some reason I became obsessed with Commander Keen when my boys were young, even stumbling upon one of the hidden levels, then hearing this was common in such games and looking for more.  I didn't find those and eventually cheated by looking them up online. "You're only cheating yourself," they used to say.  Fine. Then it's none of your business then, is it? I feel the same about solitaire(s). I find winning by cheating is only slightly less pleasurable than winning fairly, and losing is annoying. No-brainer.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

It Can't Last

The Boston Celtics have all five starters out tonight due to injury or illness. I'm sure someone will come up with the statistic of the last time that happened in the NBA, but it can't be often. Yet they are beating the second-best* team, the Milwaukee Bucks, somehow anyway.  If only they could keep focus and not throw away games they should win. Yet they seem to be the best even without it. First-year coach Joe Mazzulla, who got thrown in just before the season started after the Ime Udoka scandal seems to be doing pretty well.

I figure Milwaukee will eventually reassert itself tonight and the Celts will lose, but I'm tickled just to see them leading at all in such a situation.

My following of all sports is now intermittent, basically waiting until about the halfway point to check in on the local lads, but I actually have payed attention to the Celtics straight through since my son talked me into it last year, accurately predicting that that .500 team was about to blossom.  And it did. Heck, I even know some things about other teams in the league now, listening to (W&M guy) Zach Lowe's podcast.

*If you favor Denver (or now Phoenix) for that honor I won't quibble. Some other teams are worth a mention.

UPDATE: It almost lasted.  Went to overtime.

Mind Plays Tricks

One of my favorite psychiatrists, the late Peter Stevens, would ask a question when interviewing a patient that initially floored me. "Does your mind play tricks on you sometimes?" As I am familiar with the lack of insight that is often a main symptom of psychotic illnesses, especially schizophrenia, I inwardly scoffed at the idea that anyone would agree to that. I had preferred formulations such as whether the patient found that others disagreed with his interpretations as a way of gently introducing the idea that their thinking might not be right.

My way seldom worked, his worked a surprising amount of the time.  For some reason the question is less threatening and reduces defensiveness. (Not infallibly. Nothing works all that well.)

Nonpsychotic people certainly resist the idea that their mind plays tricks on them.  You maybe, but not I. Yet we believe in the general idea, that we have these evolutionary adaptations to situations in hominid history that are less useful in a modern interconnected society. The theory that our minds are geared to social groupings of a max of 150, usually broken into subgroups with frequent interaction, and perhaps also part of a larger group, say 3000 or so, which meets annually or less for festivals, leading to trade, marriages, and exchange of news and craft knowledge is an idea that just makes sense to us. It has become very popular, though I don't know if it is as solidly evidenced as advertised.

Yet if not that, then something like that is in play. We have programs that play in our choosing a mate - women (as a group, not you personally) still greatly prefer taller men; men still prefer fertile-looking women. We have patterns of reciprocity that are nearly universal, leadership and followership responses that seem designed for hunting or war bands more than cities of millions. Yes, yes, our mind plays tricks on us, we allow.  Especially you. And very especially our opponents or competitors, who are obviously fools and stupid people being led around by the nose.

When we sense that someone is a competitor for resources, our desire is to eliminate or at least undermine him at low cost to ourselves. We have a sense of how many people it would take to all get angry and gang up on someone and kill them or kick them out. There is probably some cultural variation on this, but I'll bet it's not overwhelming. We know how much mob we need to run someone out of town on a rail, and it is far less than the number needed to storm the castle with pitchforks. When we sense we have that many people with us, we are far more likely to pounce. 

In a city, fifty people who hate the mayor or some celebrity is nothing. You might get a critical mass in one village neighborhood and be able to do some local damage, but set against all of Chicago the fifty angry souls know they have no chance.

On the internet, people are in a group far larger than any city, but they still respond as if they are in a village. If they get fifty people together all  wanting Francine to be fired and maybe even threatened, it feels powerful.  It feels like enough. Francine, even knowing that fifty is a small number in comparison to the whole net, may still feel intimidated by fifty angry people calling for her head.  Intellectually, she knows that they come from 21 states and 6 foreign countries and aren't going to band together, but somewhere in her evolutionary programming she feels threatened. The mob's individual minds are playing tricks on them, and Francine's mind is playing tricks on her. 

There is a chance some of them even know that this is an unreasonable, disproportionate response, yet they keep responding to it anyway. What we used to call "mass media" has steadily increased this trickery, as far back as the printing press and certainly including the TV culture that subtly tells us what is normal and who should be excised. We have not even adjusted to that - hell, we may not have adjusted to the false inflation of the printing press yet - but enter the internet, both huger and more intimate than all previous. 

Ann Althouse put up a video of Nikki Haley For President, and the comments were instructive. She's got an intelligent bunch, so some of the writers gave reasons for or against her candidacy. Yet others had a different tone, clearly trying to police conservatives to make sure they knew what was acceptable and what wasn't. That group was largely critical, which is unsurprising. It had all the feeling of a few people putting in effort to stir up a mob. Snowball sabotaged the windmill. For me it created backlash.  I was mildly negative, mostly neutral about her, but now I'm just a bit on her side. And I will note that I feel this in spite of myself, knowing that this is not based on policies, or evidence of competence and leadership, but on suspicion of the mob.


 The Nature and Nurture podcast interviewed evolutionary psychologist Dr. Aaron Sell about anger, aggression, and hatred

Rob Henderson discusses some of the points.  I commented there, of course.

Sell defines anger as a neurocomputational device, an adaptation of the mind that functioned in the human evolutionary past to bargain for better treatment from other people. The word anger, like love, can be used in many different ways. People can get angry at objects, for example. But that’s not why anger actually evolved. Its original purpose was to recalibrate other people to get them to treat you better...

Violent anger is provoked when someone indicates, “I know you need this resource, I just don’t care.” Sell gives the example of agreeing with someone’s arguments when they are mad at you. Imagine you’re supposed to pick your friend up, and you’re late. He’s been standing outside in the rain for hours. Finally, you pick him up, and he says, “You left me out in the rain for hours.” If you reply, “Yeah. I know. So what?” This implies that you do not care about him, and he will respond with extreme hostility...

One reason narcissists provoke anger is that they demand better treatment than others think they deserve. Moreover, narcissists tend to treat others with worse treatment than those people believe they deserve.

There's an extra layer in this for Christians because of such directives as "Be angry, but do not let the sun go down on your anger," plus admonishment to allow oneself to be offended, even defrauded, for the sake of personal and group comity and to practice living in a world where your own rights and entitlement matter less and less. What about protecting the rights of others, or enforcing norms for the common good? How do those fit in? Even if you letting go of your rights shames decent people into better behavior in the long run, doesn't it make sociopaths worse, and teach them they can treat the world this way?  Fun stuff to go over.

And then there's Jesus beating the moneylenders out of the Temple, and the numerous references to God's anger. What to make of all this?  I have been in many discussions about it over the years.

Monday, February 13, 2023

Have Fun


Maple Syrup

Dan King, whose relatives you are familiar with, tells me he has started tapping even though it is a bit early, because the forecast was that the nighttime temps would go below freezing and the daytime temps above, which is what you need for flow.  It can be risky if you are on the margin either way, and just a little below the freezing mark is apparently a hard line, so 45 day/33 night, or 30 day/15 night will produce some flow, but be meager. As a practical matter, that means that conditions might be perfect at one latitude in the state but unworkable fifty miles north or south.

His estimate was correct (unsurprising: high school science teacher, the job he uses to support being a farmer) and he has had the highest three days ever to start the season, and already has 20% of expected sap. For those curious, he estimated a few years ago how much he is paying himself for this work.  He figures it's between $.03 and .04/hour. He still thinks it's worth it for his boys to grow up on a farm.

They Also Serve

This sonnet by Milton came up at church last week because of the last line. The whole sonnet is moving, certainly, and teaches the important lesson that our talents are not something that God needs to complete His work, as he has many who he could call upon. They are gifts to us, allowing us to share in the work.

The last line can fit many other circumstances where one is just standing around, waiting, such as for a spouse to finish a conversation or workmen to complete a task, giving such dead time an air of higher purpose. Asimov has Henry the waiter for the Black Widower Society use the line at the close of one of those short stories.

On His Blindness

When I con­sid­er how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one tal­ent which is death to hide
Lodged with me use­less, though my soul more bent
To serve there­with my Mak­er, and present
My true account, lest he return­ing chide,
Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fond­ly ask. But Patience, to pre­vent
That mur­mur, soon replies: God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is king­ly; thou­sands at his bid­ding speed
And post o’er land and ocean with­out rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

Sunday, February 12, 2023

The World's Oldest Language

Or most divine. Or most logical. Or something.

I recently read the Dutch linguist Gaston Dorren's books Lingo and Babel. Both are overviews, the former of the languages of Europe and the latter of the largest world languages. He has the same format in both books, using the language as a jumping off point to explain something about linguistics in general, such as alphabets, or word order, or forced change.  He writes engagingly, I liked both.

So here is a fun Aeon article by Dorren about the history of linguistics crackpots.

This claim was perhaps most famously defended by the 18th-century writer Antoine de Rivarol on grounds that were both illogical and plain wrong. He argued that the French word order (subject first, followed by verb and then object) is both unique and more logical than any other. But not only is it extremely common among the world’s languages, it’s also an order that French itself very often does not respect – and these are only some of the more obvious objections.

As silly as it is, the notion of ‘French as the pinnacle of logic’ became an idée reçue. The cover of my first French dictionary, published in the 1950s (and not even in France!) claimed that the language was ‘an unsurpassed creation as a vehicle for the mind’. The Arabs, Chinese and Greeks would beg to differ.

Genetic Enhancement

The companies that are beginning to market this are focused on removing diseases that spring from a single gene, then reducing the likelihood of some other clearly bad diseases. They won't get so much opposition there (seeing that Iceland and Denmark have both eliminated Down's Syndrome via abortion, we can project that less-invasive and violent procedures will be readily accepted). There will be the added benefit that the latter fairly often not only does not have tradeoffs, but sometimes confers additional health benefits in other areas. It is improved general genetic health. We will begin learning about some tradeoffs, but will do that learning in the context of clearly improved health, so we won't feel so bad. Except for the occasional disaster, of course. 

We are very close to being able to do these things already.

Next up will be cognitive enhancement and attractiveness. No one is marketing this yet, and this one currently scares people, so it waits in the wings. But it is looking possible already, and as with the improvement of specific health outcomes quietly increasing general health, so too will attractiveness and cognition go hand-in-hand, as greater symmetry and general health will matter more than riskier strategies like larger breasts or thicker hair. I believe those dominoes will fall. Those children, even if they are not many, will outcompete the others, and we will sort of notice that this means more males and females will fall out the bottom of the attractiveness market, so the enhancements to some will be something of a violence to some, but not all of the others. I suppose they also harm the chances of success of even the people just behind them in status positions. But we will have swallowed this.

It is exactly what evolution has already been doing for years, of course, just much faster and more intentionally. Mate selection and survival fitness. Evolution creates losers far more than capitalism or Western Civ or whatever. 

But then after that will be the personality characteristics.  We don't know which ones will become available first. We look to genetics to remove the worst excesses first, of course, like psychopaths and high aggression...

...except that CEOs and other leaders score higher than average on both of those, and most of it is spectrum rather than individual genes. It sounds terrible that the family down the street could select for all eight children having higher-than-average aggressiveness. But if we overselect for nice, nonviolent, trusting, warm fuzzy people, that sounds like a very nice society to live in - and pretty easy for unscrupulous people to control, not just at the governmental or corridors of power level, but just easy pickings for neighborhood bullies, including emotional bullies, cognitive bullies, and social bullies. No fists required.

It is hard not to occasionally think of the Butlerian Jihad.

Dry Bar Comedy


The ads keep popping up - hey, they have to make a living - but you can click past them fairly quickly.

Failure To Revise

 One of the main lessons of the Tetlock and Gardner book on Forecasting, and their "Good Judgement" evaluation and training since then was that Superforecasters have an ability to make themselves evaluate coldly and revise accordingly. If you read much military history, you will find the same theme repeated, that the successful generals were those who could revise strategy depending on what they saw in front of them and evaluate coldly whether they had the resources to attempt a change. When I was in emergency psych, I joked that the value of projective testing is that it measured the psychologist's ability to consider different diagnoses. Joke, but also quite true. in a case puzzling everyone that is not a small thing. If you read the crime and justice literature from any perspective, you keep coming up against the idea that an innocent (at least of that crime) person got railroaded or a case went cold because the detectives were so convinced of one theory of what happened that they were unable to look at evidence right in front of them.* It's the whole point of the Bill James books about true crime, Popular Crime and The Man From The Train,that detectives, newspapers, and the general public believing false narratives interfered with true narratives being considered. Such as the crazy idea that Jon Benet Ramsey's parents were guilty of the murder despite the complete lack of evidence. (The evidence was basically that people found it creepy that the little girl was in pageants and therefore her parents must be creepy, and therefore could have murdered their daughter. Which says something creepy about us.) Those of us who followed James as a baseball statistician could have seen that coming. He hammered home the point repeatedly throughout the 80s and 90s that we would overvalue both individual players and types of players on the basis of bad evidence, but be unable to reevaluate them objectively.

It is the principle behind Bayesian reasoning, to treat every new bit of information as an opportunity to run the numbers again. 

So it really isn't surprising that Philippe Lemoine thought our main failure during Covid was our inability to revise. No need to appeal to explanations of bad motives or paranoia, or need to control - other than to note that there will be mild but constant pressure in a single direction for all those things - the natural arrogance of liking the answer you got the first time explains a lot, all by itself.

*It's a common device in murder mysteries, letting the reader know that one of the suspects is guilty of something else that they are lying about, such as covering up an affair or cheating others out of an inheritance, causing us to regard him as a guiltyish sort of person in general, and therefore the likely murderer. It may be this human tendency that causes us to be too ready to speak to the police right away without legal advice, intuitively wanting to be seen as not a guiltyish person.  It has probably been a solid strategy for most of human existence.

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Free Will

I love the imagery of verse 16.  While one can read this as a mere superficial correction, I think there is a lot in here.

Sirach 15

11 Do not say: “It was God’s doing that I fell away,” for what he hates he does not do.

12 Do not say: “He himself has led me astray,” for he has no need of the wicked.c

13 Abominable wickedness the LORD hates and he does not let it happen to those who fear him.

14 God in the beginning created human beings and made them subject to their own free choice.d

15 If you choose, you can keep the commandments; loyalty is doing the will of God.

16 Set before you are fire and water; to whatever you choose, stretch out your hand.

17 Before everyone are life and death, whichever they choose will be given them.e

18 Immense is the wisdom of the LORD; mighty in power, he sees all things.

19 The eyes of God behold his works, and he understands every human deed.f

20 He never commands anyone to sin, nor shows leniency toward deceivers.*

Arctic Squirrels Are Helping Astronauts!

There is the frequent complaint about science reporting going for the sensational, while the actual scientists are being more...measured.

I don't think these squirrels are providing much immediate value for the astronauts.


The local alternative newspaper, The Hippo, has a nice repeating feature On The Job, interviewing "real people in real jobs (that you have seldom heard of)." This sort of feature is the norm now, I think, along with pieces and ads about arts festivals or various wellness practices; movie, book, and music reviews; and local seasonal specialties.  My wife loves this thing and reads every page. I think she just no longer notices the full-page ad for the gentleman's club in the next town, or the (trans-friendly!*) dentists in the area. 

As opposed to previous alternative newspapers that would have ads for escort services, meetings of obscure socialist groups, and articles about how various locals were being railroaded in court hearings, double points for disadvantaged groups, and frankly, in NH blacks were so rare that you got 10x points for that. Think Village Voice, Boston Phoenix c. 1975, but smaller towns and angrier people.

This week, hot off the presses**, is a "Halotherapy provider and Wellness Entrepreneur." Take a guess at halotherapy.  I have hints coming. 

It's not about halos and angels or saints.

The Greek "hals" is the Latin "sal."

Salt therapy.

"I'm the owner of the [name redacted] which is a wellness sanctuary featuring an authentic, traditional style Himalayan salt cave***, which is used for halotherapy, also known as dry salt therapy****. Halotherapy is the process of grinding up pharmaceutical-grade salt***** with a machine called a halogenerator. (You thought I was going for a snarky six-asterisk remark, didn't you? Nope.) The micronized particles of salt are then blown into the cave in a fine dust. (Thank God it's not a coarse dust.) When breathed in, these particles of salt can be therapeutic to your respiratory system, sinus, and skin. The business also has a small shop..."

*I mean...really...how does that matter about your teeth?

** Why presses and not press? I am not finding an immediate satisfactory answer and may pursue this. 

***Because of course it does

****There's a wet salt therapy?  Or a damp salt therapy?

*****Someone deserves a raise for coming up with that


I have written slightingly about EQ in the past, not because I think emotional skills are unimportant, but because I see  no evidence that leadership, followership, sympathy, empathy, being firm but fair, listening, kindness, knowing when listening should be over, seeing when kindness is cruelty and all the other emotional skills correlate with each other, and thus an aggregate concept like Emotional Quotient is not a real thing. IQ as a concept was developed because the researchers found that people who did well on Skills A, B, and C also did well on L, M, and N, so there was some underlying factor that was more present or less that was common to them, and it would be interesting to know what that was. Emotional skills are individual, and real.  EQ is not.  It is the sort of placating  concept ("Hey, what you do is just as valuable to this company...") that people with some of those emotional skills like to use to keep people going, keep them motivated, keep folks happy. I have some objection when they are using it to encourage other people, because vague and unrealistic compliments are ultimately not that much real help to people.  They get seen through.  they expire. They do not sustain. Still, I think it is well meant and has some value.

But I think it is dangerous when people are using it to comfort themselves, because it ultimately means they will not see the real value, whether cognitive, social, or emotional, of other people's abilities.  They will prefer a lie.

For the rest of what I think, the more I looked at the posts at the link the better I liked them and decided I could not easily improve upon them.  So go there. And as a bonus, my commenters really outdid themselves on a couple of those posts. Doubleplusbonus, there was an extended discussion of dice of various numbers of faces, and how some strange possibilities might be accomplished.  James won the thread.

Maybe You Can Sort It Out

I like the site Anthropology.net, though I have not subscribed. I get the newsy updates on research.  This morning was a recent paper on the Bering Strait Land Bridge only being open for two brief periods.  It puzzled me a bit.  I had thought that the trend of research was pointing increasingly to a Beringian Refugium, a steppe area where mammoths lived - plenty of good eatin' on those bones. Because of that steppe, it was better to think of the "migration" to North America as a back-and-forth spreading that eventually included the New World and then sort of gradually trapped those inhabitants because the area their ancestors had come from was increasingly difficult to navigate back, rather than a direct movement captured by an arrow on a map.  

This research quite explicitly points to (ice-)shoreline and living on marine resources instead.  Looking over what little I can go back and reference online from my reading and listening over the last few years, these are certainly not completely incompatible, referencing the same geological dates and an approximation of the same movement of people. One has to squint a little, but it could be all the same thing, and the only conflict is that I am moving from one oversimplified picture to another, while the reality not only looks muddled to us because of incomplete data, but actually was muddled between land and sea resources.  And the word "brief" does include thousands of years, which is plenty of time for people to move great distances if the food is there.

Friday, February 10, 2023

Mind Your Decisions


I love these, and will go on a run of watching 3-4 a day for a week, then leaving off for months. This one is fun, because there is some sense to what the students do to solve it.  After all, every other problem in their math book, or that the teacher gives, is solved by manipulating the given numbers.  "There is not enough information to solve the problem" is one of those things that they never see until testing week , when it shows up on a multiple choice.  This is also true of those "Both a and c are true" or "check all answers that are true."  In real life, those are possible answers, but in teaching math or anything else, there is a strong tendency to ask for a single answer, as in Jeopardy. It simplifies things.  It's cleaner.  It's neater. When teaching, you are trying to isolate a particular operation and make sure the student knows how to get it right.  The more complicated "some of this and some of that" answers can come later.

But sometimes later never comes. Oops.

It likely is a measure of intelligence that some students encounter this new twist and adjust to it quickly enough to get the answers right - and store the information for next year.

Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia

Because we had so many suicidal and parasuicidal people over the years at my hospital, these discussions came up a lot. The changes in the Netherlands and Canada came after I semi-retired. I have seen honest and dishonest advocates for assisted suicide, and certainly have listened to many people use the tactic of making a pronouncement that they dare you to contradict (particularly if they are a powerful person) and then saying "But I don't want to talk about it.*" Some were motivated by being unable to even imagine how terrible certain situations must be, and grateful that there seemed to be some painless way out of it. Tender-hearted people. Other were pretty callous, that they wouldn't want that life and so figured no one else would either. (People feel differently when they get there, when they actually are 80 years old or in a wheelchair or living alone with no relatives nearby. Humans adjust.) 

I think just looking at the graph for a minute is important, just so we are all dealing with the reality of what is occurring. Today.

In Canada you're more likely to die from a nurse than from suicide, and within a few years Canadian nurses will be more lethal than Canadian highways.


Other suicides barely decreased, so this is not medically assisting people who were going to commit suicide, this is almost entirely a new crop. 

Farther down in the thread Stone says

The whole point of all the stuff we did to try to contain Covid WAS TO PROTECT VULNERABLE PEOPLE WITH FEW YEARS LEFT. That was the entire point. COVID was never an existential threat to fit young healthy people. The people COVID threatened were, as a class, highly MAID eligible! 


Note that although in 2021 MAID represented just 3.2% of deaths, MAID cases represented over 8% of all cancer cases and almost 7% of all neurological cases, including memory disorders. I'm curious what the consent standards for euthanizing somebody with a memory disorder is.

Let me assure you that is doctor-dependent and agency dependent. And some of those will decide you don;t have a very good lif - hell, they wouldn't want it, so you must not either.

 Michel Houellebecq also had a recent essay in Harpers on assisted suicide. I believe there is a single acknowledged argument for suicide - every argument for allowing assisted suicide is ultimately an argument for allowing suicide per se - "if your life sucks you should have the freedom to end it." I believe I see the force of that argument, that suffering is bad, and it's nobody else's damned business what people do. However, I think that few people actually support this argument out to its end, and the political support comes from deception that these are people in great pain (uh, morphine and its derivatives), or great psychological pain (that is nearly always temporary), or are hopeless (the number of years of expected life for those who elect this increases every year. Also, people who believe for themselves it is no big deal are very aggressive and dismissive that you should feel the same way, you fools, you fools. 

There is also the tendency or people in every country to defend it to others, so Canadians and Dutch will insist that things are just wonderful where they are and only jealous haters disagree. (I think Scandinavians are particularly susceptible to this.)

And of course, just as was predicted and is always denied, it is being applied to disabled children and to old people who are sucking up monetary resources from the rest of the family ("Jared wants to go to college, Gram" is never said, but always known). I heard people making this argument as far back as 1986. From that thread

I do expect everybody reasonable to look at the scale and slope of that line and demand some actual accountability for the personnel involved here, a real accounting, and ideally stricter standards more similar to what other jurisdictions use.

Exactly. Show that you aren't evading the issue and you have a better intellectual case - though you know as well as I do that you have just sacrificed the political persuasion you were hoping for if you admit this. Your choice.

Richard Hanania apparently doesn't evade the issue.  He does believe that - let me try and state this neutrally - some lives are more worth living than others, and our laws and policy funding should recognise this.  Lyman Stone grudgingly respects the lack of hypocrisy, anyway.

*My usual cartoon for this attitude, again.