Wednesday, May 31, 2023

It Is Time


The Rules, and the Real Rules

I doubt that it is actually better in other societies, neither historical nor primitive; not Eastern or African or Native. When I point out that there is a grave discrepancy in American society between the rules that we teach children will be what they need as adults and what the rules turn out to be, I am not going to spring on you some nonsense how that wasn't what happened in the old days, or in China, or in the golden age of Greece, nor among the Arapaho. We teach children what we want to believe are the real rules, or wish were the real rules.

We do this at schools a lot, insisting that the behaviors which bring awards and honors there will also work in the adult world. They do somewhat, but there is another entire set of work rules, concerned with skill at selling things or making things that gets left out of the mix.  I have mentioned before that the Second Wave feminist fury derives in part from succeeding at school, just as told, then finding that this is not a fully reliable predictor of success as an adult. I followed the directions.  You lied. They didn't much mean to lie, especially as schools are and were run by women for girls. Those are the skills that work for school jobs and are not unrelated to other fields. Their horizons were limited.

Churches insist that certain moral behaviors will "work" in solving your problems, not fully understanding that they are not necessarily intended to work in that way. They are meant to work in terms of building a particular type of person, fitted for heaven. That is supposed to be our goal, and the Church's, yet it often isn't, not quite.

It's one of the lessons that sports actually does teach, because what the rules are in the book is not always what the officials will call. The baseball strike zone gradually got completely out of whack for a while. What is a foul in basketball, what the rulebook says or what the refs will call? And yet it also pays to know the book rules cold, because sometimes, sometimes you can steal a march on everyone else for a whole season until they change the rules in the offseason. 

Who gets promoted?  In some systems the formal rules are followed strictly, in others you can spend your career trying to figure out what the real rules are. What are the real rules of marriage?

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Why the Stork Brings Babies

I figure I can't be the first person bringing some of these connections, but the last one, about the souls at sea, I am not finding anywhere else, so I am giving myself some kind of credit for it.

The word sea and the word soul are connected, back to the proto-Germanic word *saiwaz or *saiwalo (OE sawol) meaning sheet of water, lake, sea, pool. The belief was that souls went after death to a contained area at the bottom of a lake, and some lakes were considered more likely than others. There is ambiguity around the word sea, because some tribes had no contact with the ocean and thus used *saiwaz for any body of water, while others knew about both salt water and fresh and had different words for the two.  But it seems that the idea of the dead going to a chilly, damp resting place under lakes after death was the main one, and extending this to places under the ocean came later. 

Ship burials occured because the Germanic peoples were among the many who believed that you might need certain objects after death, and a ship to get to the place of the dead was necessary for the important people like kings and queens. The stork comes in because this Hel, this cell under some Baltic lakes also became known as the place where souls waited before they were born into this world. Storks are lake-birds, picking up souls and bringing them to the land of the living.

If you look up where this belief about storks comes from, you get stories about how this comes from the Greek goddess Hera, only it is cranes, not storks. However, the belief in storks bringing the babies seems to be purely Germanic and already in place when first contact occurred. As Greek is also an Indo-European language it is possible that they also had some previous belief about large birds bringing babies. Hera had one of her rivals, a beautiful mortal, into a crane and banished her, but the woman would not leave without her child and so carried it off herself. Fine.  Except the Greeks didn't go from there to believing cranes or any other bird brought babies in general.  The Egyptians believed a heron delivered the world. Okay...but there's no record of them believing herons brought babies. Large birds can carry large things, yes. The mind does revolt against the idea of warblers bringing infants. But that still doesn't get us to belief in storks bringing babies, which was Germanic and Norwegian.

Most likely, the people guessing at the explanations didn't know the history of where souls went or came from in northern Europe.


The person receiving said souls under the sea was Hel, goddess of the dead, and when Christianity moved into the Germanic areas she seemed to be the obvious answer for a place name for the dead, and the name was well-enough established by the time the KJV came along that it was used to translate the Greek place-name Hades. Her name comes from *kel in Proto Indo-European, meaning "to cover, enclose, conceal," from which we also get our words for cell, cellar, helm, helmet.

The phrase "How many souls were lost?" and the reference to people on board as "souls" likely stems from a similar ignorance. The reference to souls lost is confined to nautical and later aviation uses. It goes back to at least 1300 and again, is first found in the north of Europe. Those lost to disease, or battle, or famine are not called souls. I propose that all the explanations that "souls" was used because they didn't need to differentiate between the important and the poorer folk, nor between nationalities, nor even clearing up the ambiguity between passengers and crew or whether they were alive or not makes the least bit of sense once you have a better explanation.  It's the sort of thing one cooks up when a fact is in place without explanation and people throw darts.  I propose here - and I swear I can't find it anywhere else, amazingly - that the association with souls and the sea, first in some Baltic lakes where Hel received them into some sort of cellar  - was still present in the minds of those living around the North Sea, where ship burial was still practiced until at least 1000AD.  Admittedly, such burials might only be custom at that point, without belief that the queen would need a ship to get to the bottom of some lake. But souls were lost at sea because that's where souls went.

The Purpose of Public Education

I recall reading years ago some left-wing educational writer complaining because he believed our entire public education system was originally designed by mill owners and those sympathetic to them to create a population that would be good for working in mills and being obedient employees. I now think he was only half wrong. I thought of this again when Grim had an education piece up

I am fond of pointing out how little effect school has on academic results, which has been demonstrated repeatedly, despite the researchers often wanting to find something else.  Teachers, didactics, and curriculum may matter more to worse students, but even then it is often just the occasional rescue of one on the brink.  Certainly, there is an advantage to going to a school where you aren't constantly worried if violence is going to break out right next to you. Though I went to a mill-city highschool that had fights a fair bit.  Now that I think of it, though, about half of that were "I'll meet you after school" fights (and they did, with a crowd), which is already putting some boundaries on shock and what will occur. So there needs to be safety and some structure for the students on the brink. Beyond that...

So schools fall back on teaching values, which is what they have always done.  Not so much as they hope, and often not quite the values they intended.There is also conflict when the professional educators teach the values they think are important, regardless of surrounding culture. That's why you got taught so much pointless grammar, because it was supposed to be important for schools to turn out kids who sounded middle-class. Ditto Latin, which is a class signifier more than an education.  The energy would have been far better spent on a living language. Conservatives look back fondly on what was taught for values then, but I'm less impressed. We were taught a lot of patriotism, but that turned out to be a lot of "respect for the flag" and some songs.  Nothing particularly wrong with teaching such ceremonial aspects of living in a place, and it is hard to teach the young abstract ideas, so one sees how it happens.  Focus on the concrete acts, it's probably about all you're going to get anyway. My son went to a Baptist school where he had a workbook page about one boy saying something bad about the flag and the hero punching him in the eye. The usual mouth agape, the bruise already formed just a moment after the punch, and large exclamation marks next to his head. I don't know how often first graders hear another child say something bad about the flag, and I'm not sure that's the patriotism I want taught. But it lingered on even to 1990 in such circles.

Yet in teaching patriotism it often turned to citizenship. I don't mean Civics and the three branches of government or right to a speedy trial, but a fair bit of focus on how a good citizen behaves. I think there was a lot of emphasis, though not expressly stated, on obedience. I know, I know, when you've got thirty hoodlums thrashing about your fourth grade, anything that promotes obedience is going to be looked at fondly, and as above, you have to teach concrete actions they can understand. Doing what the policeman says was not an automatic in a lot of our neighborhood, and I'm talking about the parents, not the teenagers. It was mostly applied as a civilising influence at the time - no trash in the streets, no destruction of property, no stealing - all good things. 

Not all of it. We were also taught not to jaywalk, to register our bikes, not to be too noisy, not to be tardy or (horrors) skip school, to do our homework. To stay within the lines, do what authorities told us. That was citizenship, and thus indirectly, patriotism. Now citizenship is more focused on environmentalism, being extra-careful to being respectful of other groups (rather than of older people and government people), but still staying within the lines.  It's the patriotism that Obama talks about, and I don't think it's an act.  He thinks that is what is supposed to be good about America and he wants to see more of it.  Respect for the flag?  Well, fine, but really, not so important.

I guess all this to say that public education - and private education even more so, perhaps - has always had the goal of teaching children to stay within the lines. (See Tom Sawyer, Becky Thatcher, and Huck Finn.)  Just different lines in every generation. It's very much what education does in all cultures. Next up, I think I'll have to say something about the conflict between the stated rules, the real rules, and the unintentional rules does to us.

Monday, May 29, 2023


Son #3 is discouraged by the weather in Nome today, especially as he just injured himself in indoor soccer.



This would be Cambridge, England, not Massachusetts

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Mild Massachusetts Accent

When we make fun of an accent, or even just want to signal it, we choose the strongest version, and for the New England Coastal accent the usual example is "Pahk the cah in Hahvahd Yahd." Which is fine, and you will find the occasional person whose speech is that dramatically accented.  But more often, one detects a trace of accents, so that in going to the South Shore, Cape, and Islands I would often hear cah-ur, or cah'r, where the "r" is much more prominent and the extended a with the h more muted. I did not hear any "-er's" instead of a's (Cuber, tuber, Florider) except in the word "idea," which is going to be the last place it disappears from.

Here's the American dialect map again, for those who forgot how much you liked it. 

And Casey Affleck with a beauty of that accent, for those who forgot how much they liked that.

Two Other Museums

We went to visit the Martha's Vineyard Camp Meeting Association in Oak Bluffs, a charming collection of tightly-packed, brightly colored houses with abundant gingerbread built over 150 years ago around a Methodist Camp Meeting Tabernacle. It is clearly a more secular place now, but our church camp experiences (plus sending two sons to Asbury, a Wesleyan college) allowed us to discuss for an hour as we walked around what it must have been like for families to go there year after year, from the time when it was camp meeting through the "generally religious" years on into the "community involved" focus now.

One can only live in these houses a few months a year. Because of their age, I estimated that craftsmen of all types could make a good living on Martha's Vineyard keeping up with the repairs. The museum was not yet open and the Tabernacle is being refurbished.  As it is open, one can get some sense of it. Interesting to see and think about once, I think.  I feel no call to go back to get the full experience when everything is open and everyone is there, but I'm not sorry I went the once.

We also went to the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History. Tracy got two new birds for her life list, because environments where one thing meets another, such as salt and fresh water, are prime locations for diversity. We found that I prefer to walk right along and look off into the landscape to see an environment, while she keeps becoming fascinated by smaller-scale items like wildflowers. Fifty years later, we still haven't quite worked this out. But this mostly-outdoor museum in Brewster has both, so we were able to make it work. Even I can get interested in the birds when they are out on the shore and in open salt marshes, and even she can put up with walks with bad footing in order to get to a beach where she can look down and see new shells.

Marriage of True Minds

James Thomson, a psychologist who has shown up and commented on HBD sites for years, now has a substack Psychological Comments. Rob Henderson linked to an article from last year about different divorce rates among different races. Thomson wonders if intelligence scores, which follow the same pattern, might be a partial expectation.  I make a suggestion of my own at the article The Marriage of True Minds. I wish him well.

Irish, First Responder, Union, Democrat

We went to an Irish restaurant on the Cape, Keltic Kitchen (with Keltic Kottage gift shop adjoining), which was fun. It was one of those places that had patches from fire and ploice departments decorating the walls, mostly local but with some from farther afield. There were a few military and ambulance as well.  These are typically acquired from customers who bring them in for display. It is a statement of who their clientele is, and who they respect in this world.

These are occupations which were and still are highly unionised, especially in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. There would be lots of emotional conflict when other unions would go on strike, especially if they were civilly disobedient, as in blocking traffic. This is waning as the violence has increased. Police and fire don't like to get stuck with what happens when people tip over cars and torch them. Still, it remains strong, and is part of why Massachusetts remains heavily Democratic.  It's not just Cambridge and Amherst. The Irish still have resentment in some places for past ills - not at Belfast levels, certainly, but still a secondary or perhaps tertiary motivator.  They resent rich WASPs, and in tourist areas this split has its own love/hate dynamic.

The Cape and Islands were also places where African-Americans could be treated nearly as well as whites, even a hundred years ago. Martha's Vineyard in particular attracted rich A-A's from away as well, and these both integrated somewhat into both the working and rich tourist societies there, but also formed their own elite culture. We went to a souvenir store that not only had sweatshirts and other clothing (Including the baby T-shirts that said "I'm a Delta baby!") for a sorority I did not recognise at first, but the oval bumper stickers that show a location you have been that not only said MV, but others that said INK. I was only figuring it out as I exited the story that the sorority was Delta Sigma Theta, the prestige black sorority for decades, and Inkwell was for Inkwell Beach. Oh right, now that I think of it a lot of the little fisherman statues and beach-reclining watercolors that one finds in souvenir shops were black.  Duh.  

So these groups are overdetermined to be Democrats, which usually means it is a long time before they abandon altogether.


LeBron James's son is going to USC for a year, after which he will be drafted into the NBA. Current estimates are that he will be drafted in the middle of the first round, or even as high as tenth.  The thought that he will go higher because his father wants to play with him and so that team will likely be able to get some discount on Dad's services for a year or even two is becoming less and less likely. First, it's likely to only be the one year, and teams don't want to waste a #10 pick on a #20 player just to get a year of LBJ, however much that would help their merchandising. Secondly, Bronny seems to be a different type of player than his father, who does the little things, keeps teammates involved and on the same page, plays a speed-and-finesse game instead of the bullyball LeBron does. Those are stereotypes and exaggerations, of course.  LBJ does a lot of little things and shows finesse.

But the third piece is what I find most interesting. Because LeBron commands all he sees and can basically make teams, coaches, teammates, and business partners do what he wants, everyone has operated on the assumption that what he wants in terms of what Bronny's basketball life will be, he will get.  He is The King, after all. Yet it is he himself who is starting to say that a lot will depend on what Bronny wants.  This is a new song.

I am not a fan, but this is what a father should do, and without knowing the wheels within wheels, I admire both of them for this.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

The Wrath of Becky

There was some discussion of The Wrath of Becky over at Althouse.  Ann covers a wide variety of topics and things that I might miss, especially when it is coming out of popular culture.I don't think she is at all puzzled about what is up here.  She posted it because what is happening in this movie is obvious, and she wonders why everyone doesn't see it. But just in case, let me tell you what the message is in this movie, coming out at this cultural moment.

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.

The game is to substitute their reality in for the actual one.  They do it well. It works with far too many people.

Just A Closer Walk With Thee

We had this at the church we visited in Brewster.  I sang it years ago with men's chorus and have loved it.  Very fun to sing, including when you are actually walking out in the woods privately. Yet I was hoping to find a harmonised one.

I'm not the only one.  Country musicians play it, jazz musicians play it, and I was looking for a version I thought stood out among the many. I saw at a glance that what I wanted was someone who I could reasonably think believed the words. A lot of the videos in the search dropped right out. Others were...well, maybe... 

I kept coming back to this one.

Allowing People To Hurt You

The was a fashion twenty years ago in psychology - I associate it strongly with the UNH nursing instructors and the Antioch College psych department - that what other people did does not make you feel a certain way, you choose to feel it, or allow yourself to feel that way. I take the point, that you as the receiver retain ultimate control. It is also good to learn that your retain agency, and it is good to teach yong people that they retain agency and to not have to respond in a certain way. 

But to suggest, as these instructors did, that the person acting on you is responsible for zero percent of the "making" is just silly.  It is very similar to what CS Lewis was pushing back against in Abolition of Man. When we see a great waterfall, it is not something entirely arbitrary to think it sublime. To see it as sublime is entirely proper.  To fail to see it, in fact, suggests that there is something missing in you as a human.  When someone pops you in the snoot, or says something nice about you in public, or takes something from a small child, makes you at least initially feel a particular way. (In context, if the the punch is from a toddler, if the compliment is from a weasel, etc.) To not feel something for the child is to be missing some bit of humanity. To be indifferent to someone's compliment is to not quite get the rules of social interaction...

Or to have dismissed the person to such an extent that their opinion means nothing to you, and this is where the subtler rules of humankind start to emerge. 

When someone can hurt us, it is because we have allowed this vulnerability, yes. But that is a great deal of what it means to love and to be human at all. If we are beyond (we will call it above) being hurt, we have in some way left the building. It is an odd imbalance when we are not able to hurt someone who retains a power to hurt us, but it is actually very common. One of us is likely wrong, A for moping around B who no longer cares, or B for denying a bit of their humanity but cutting off A from consideration of affection. Some of us may make ourselves vulnerable to too many people, others to too few. But at the extremes there is a problem.


 Hard to find, I may have to order a carton. Sweeter and lighter than the similar Deep River product.

All the Kids in the Anime Club

Simone Collins made an offhand remark, intended to be humorous, in her mention of dating and autism, something like "all the kids in the Anime Club" have dated each other by the end of the year.  I think she implied "but not necessarily successfully." I had not heard of an Anime-fan/Aspie* connection, but immediately saw how it could be so. I thought of a charming, eccentric girl from church immediately, now a senior in highschool. She draws her own anime and has a stable of her own charcters. And something on the spectrum fits for her. Plus, in Goffstown the anime club meets at the library. Plus, they are a little different from generic comics kids. Plus, I have younger sources (actually**, just Bethany) who believes she has seen this and it seems likely.  How much more proof do you need?  

This put me in mind of Ron Suskind's NY Time article from a decade ago "Reaching My Autistic Son Through Disney," in which he describes using Disney movies, especially animations, to teach his son how to interpret social situations. 

Next, I thought of Korora's explanation over a year ago that the bronies, the adult fans of "My Little Pony," were often somewhat autistic and used the interactions among the ponies as personal instruction in how to navigate human socialising.  He even gave a good example of it in the comments just a few weeks ago. BTW, whether this autism/social teaching aspect is open conversation among bronies or whispered among the few who observe what is going on I don't know, so you might want to be careful how you use and present that information.

Are we seeing a pattern here?  Highly stylised characters being used not only for adventure and entertainment, but sought for their social teaching aspects. For people who sometimes take human interactions too literally, it's a godsend. Sometimes social, intellectual, and moral questions of complexity are addressed. Almost twenty years ago Cohen's autism research center developed a test studying how autists perceive and notice faux pas in described situations.

As we draw this circle just a little wider, we start seeing large additions to the human population: Star Trek, definitely aspie. Star Wars, less so but still yes. Fantasy literature, only sometimes aspie, but Tolkien and Lewis both wrote about the power of myth in literature to teach virtue as well as inspire. We used to take our two oldest sons to Renn Faires - in cosume, and the older one now takes his daughters to Comic-cons - in costume.  And he is the least aspie of the four of us. The literary genre of best that the older version of how to teach everyone, including aspies of previous centuries, how to act in the world?

Isn't all literature, drama, comedy, TV and movies, and art just less-stylised versions of the same thing?  This is how wise people/decent people/heroic people are supposed to act. Jesus taught in parables. God gave all of Genesis and parts of the rest of Jewish history to tell stories about who we are supposed to be.  The things we see as more for aspies is just a more-stylised version of Beowulf, or Aesop, or The Wind In The Willows, or even Exodus. When literature beyond stroytelling and decoration was less available to humans - that is, any time in the last 10,000 years - humans mostly learned about human interaction though contact with other actual humans. But there were still those stories...and ceremonies involving dressing up with wolves skulls...

*I still use the term "Aspie," short for Asperger's Syndrome, even though it has been discarded formally.  It very quickly became a garbage and catch-all category and became so imprecise as to be useless.  (As if Id, Ego, and Superego are models of precision? Borderline? Trauma? Oh well.  Separate battle.) But even though I agree it should no longer be used in a clinical discussion and would be more precise when talking about an actual patient under consideration, I think aspie is still a useful term. If autism is a spectrum, and I am convinced that it is, even with its variants mucking up the understanding, then there will be mild and partial cases, perhaps even more in danger of being confused with anxiety or OCD or sensory disorders, yes, but still there as a general concept that can be used by intelligent people in everyday conversation. As for autism variants, are we moving to a model of Autism Spectra Disorder, a way-station on the way to breaking it into ever-more useful pieces?

**"Actually" is a very autism spectrum term, and I notice I use it a lot.  A psychiatrist friend told me that when she writes her popular book for parents about dealing with an autistic child, she is going to name it Actually... If you notice that this is also identified as a mansplaining term, that will not seem so strange if you tie it to Simon Baron Cohen's theories of autism as the hypermale brain.

Friday, May 26, 2023

Long Covid

It's always going to be hard to define for some individuals. My blood pressure shot up when I got Covid and never went back down, requiring a medication change. It has continued to creep up slowly, but is that because I'm getting older and had previous poor health habits or because I had Covid? There's no way to tell in my case - I'll have to wait to find out from God. All we can do is look at a few million people and see if the ones who had Covid now have worse BPs than the ones who didn't.  There will be some in each group who got worse and we compare the rates.


The feel of the word, the connotative meaning which adds to the denotative meaning, varies in time and place. And it should. It should sound different in Texas versus Maine versus Alaska, because of their histories.  But even more emphatically, it should sound different in the 800s versus the 1800s, and in England versus the Continent versus America and Canada versus the high seas, where the ideas of authority get very smudgy indeed. Who's in charge here? becomes a question that everyone stops asking as it becomes less and less meaningful.  We are each thrown back on the training of our childhoods and our adopted creeds as much as the formal rules that supposedly - that is, forcibly but quite intermittently - rule us.

You may have heard of the Danelaw, an area of England that was governed by the Norse (all of whom were called Danes by the English) under a different set of legal rules from the late 800s to 1066. If one lived in the East of England, one lived under not only a different set of laws but a different system of administering them. The Danelaw had juries which developed the accusations; there was a separate intermediate category of sokemen whose rights were between a peasant's and an aristocrat's (they were free within a lord's jurisdiction but not free to leave it); division of land was measured differently; crimes were consequated differently. Laws were made differently, at things, or folkmoots.

In trading ports it was sometimes unclear what law one was under, as ship, market, and countryside were different polities.

One could be cast out from the law altogether, so that you had no rights and protections, neither English nor Norse. This was a usual fate of traitors. Curiously, there is at least one instance of being able to buy one's way back into the law, though how the person had gotten put out of it is not clear. To be made an outlaw, the term derived from various related Scandinavian words such as utlagr, was to be banished, expelled from society. People could do to you what they would if they found you, as you had no rights and protections. Such rights and protections tended to go with belonging to a lord among the Vikings, in contrast to being on a section of land among the English. Either way, you didn't want to be out. You might think it would be a fine thing to have that independence when others didn't but that would only work if you were some kind of Conan the Barbarian who could rely entirely on himself for defense. And even Conan had to sleep sometime. Outlaws might band together out of necessity, but those arrangements were not often reliable and were seldom permanent. 

To be an outlaw, then, usually meant that one had to do whatever it took to survive, and be ready to leave at a moments notice. They often had areas they could go to that were only technically under the control of the king, to hide out and have some safety, but these were rather obviously not going to be the best parcels of land with good resources. Something as simple as clean water might be hard to come by, and good shelters allowed the authorities to find you and wait for you. 

Folk music in England suggests there there was some romance attached to outlaw status, as they not only kidnapped women but sometimes persuaded them to run away with them.  How much that was fantasy, a fear of both men and women that someone would simply run away and leave them bereft, is not clear, but the reality of it was likely unpleasant. In later years the term gypsy was sometimes synonymous, which should give you the clue that the status had not improved much, if at all. Outlaws were hated, and not only by the authorities. We might think that the long popularity of Robin Hood tales would suggest that the common folk secretly rooted for the outlaws and their fine, free lives, but their actual treatment suggests that anyone who owned anything feared and hated them.

Out on the ocean, as we discussed in recent post about pirates, formal and harsh rules had to be in place on each ship, but the advantage for pirates were that these could be temporary, and one could sign the articles on a different ship when the voyage ended. Once one was out of the law, however, there was usually no choice of going back and signing on to some merchant's or nations ship. Your previous status put everyone at risk if your ship was stopped and searched. Everyone else would now be suspect. As with outlaws on land hiding in inaccessible places in the forest or in caves, pirates had locations they were usually out of reach.  Way up north in Newfoundland (even colder during the Little Ice Age) was one, which I had not previously known. We expect ports on Caribbean Islands to be prominent on the list, but Madagascar and the West coast of Ireland are more of a surprise. Such places had laws of agreement, but unless you were violent yourself you could much uphold any rights.

In an American setting it was not always clear what the law and authority was in a place, so as a practical matter what rights and protections one had might depend more on informal alliances. Some form of law did gradually make its way across the frontier, usually at the request of tradesmen and owners of property. Those who have been through a breakdown of law, as in war and persecution, don't hesitate to be strict and harsh when conditions improve and you can put up a blacksmith's shop or a tanner's.

And yet they hold some romance for us, at least in story and song. We hate those who flaunt the law in our own place unless we become convinced that the authorities are themselves more dangerous  and capricious. But for outlaws "out there somewhere," those of us who chafe under authority wonder what it might be like to just be able to put it all behind us. But mostly, we like the affectation of outlawry more than the reality. 

I have a biased sample for the few outlaws I have known or known about, from corners of New Hampshire that people don't like to go to because of a few families or gangs, because I mostly encountered them when one was sent to my hospital for doing something both crazy and dangerous. Still, they did run in clusters and the locals I would contact would assure me that the one I had wasn't that different from his brothers or his friends. The Troy Boys, a gang which was powerful at the State Prison, were simply thieves and murderers, and mostly stupid ones at that. There was nothing dashing or romantic about them. Pockets in Unity, or outside Colebrook, or in Center Ossipee look about the same. They steal from each other as well as anyone nearby who has got anything. Lone paranoids don't seem to be quite the same thing in my mind, though maybe that's a lot of who have been outlaws throughout history.



I have paid attention slightly over the years to the research into whether winning the lottery makes one any happier or not. When I used to listen to WFAN in New York in the late 90s there was even an add for the NY lottery (they had many clever ones) in which a black voice assured the listener with a chuckle that while winning the lottery might not fix everything, it sure did fix everything that had to do with money, as it had for him. I had long said that winning made no difference, but then read things about a decade ago assuring me that people who won the lottery did report somewhat levels of happiness. In particular, older people, interviewed five years later, reported greater happiness, while a greater percentage of younger people ruined their lives.  But this age advantage leveled off at about age fifty.  It makes some sense.  Winning millions of dollars would be a burden now, as I would feel bound to give it away with some wisdom and intentionality, which would be work.

But I think the NY advertising angle has held up.  An infusion of money does solve money problems.  But it doesn't solve any other problems, and it doesn't even solve the money problems for more that a few decades. Greg Cochran wrote almost a decade ago about the Georgia land lottery of 1832 and the Swedish study of lottery winners.

But those ideas have stuck with me in looking at other "lottery of life" evaluations, on many fronts. I have experienced some great unfairness, and I do catch myself dwelling on those at times.  But I mostly have won the lottery of life, having been given much I did nothing to earn. I try to be careful not to pretend that I have made it farther up the mountain because I am a better climber. I was born in America in the mid-1900s with some abilities that conferred status and advantage in the society I lived in. Unfairness that occurs after that can still keep you at a high elevation. One can become as abjectly miserable as a human can be here, all through no fault of your own, but that is rare.  What we call miserable would have been considered a wonder of wealth, safety, and approval by most of the rest of humanity. 

I think there is a strong sense of punishing the people who supposedly benefited from slavery over the centuries (they didn't) as much as rewarding the people who were left out. The actions and words in the discussion betray that the former goal is the more important one to at least some people. Wanting to take down the toffs, the snobs, the elites seems to be a common motive across humanity.  We know that whatever car our neighbor drives should have no effect on our happiness, but somehow it does. Or some sneaky thing distantly like it, if not the car. Someone has something.

To desire that the last shall be first seems quite proper and honorable, but hoping for the first to be last is more worrisome. Yes, Jesus said it and it's right there, but it's still worrisome to me. But not the point for now.

My concern is only secondarily that it's not fair and threatens to reward and punish unfairly. More to the point, I don't think reparations will do much good helping people's lives long term, and maybe even harm them.  Because after reparations, if those don't work, what next?

Review of Museums: Plimoth Patuxet

I have fourteen posts in the queue*. This may take a while

Formerly Plimoth Plantation, now including the history and interaction with the Wampanoag community in that area. Plimoth was settled by Europeans because it had been cleared and had a fresh water supply.  the previous inhabitants and clearly been gone at least a few years. We now know this was because of the European diseases that ravaged the areas prior to the arrival of the English colonists, who had been aiming for the Hudson Valley. Trading in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and Maine had started as far back as 1500. Even the gradual introduction of disease over a century did not provide much buffer. Throughout trip we would encounter references to large earlier populations that shrank during contact with the Europeans. 3000 Wampanoags down to 700 in Nantucket over a century. 100,000 in the 69 villages down to 15,000 in 22 villages. 

But for the colonists this was barely known. And when the mass die-offs were known to have occurred, they were not interpreted in the light of germ theory, which was two centuries in the future. Both the natives and the English thought that God or the gods had engineered this directly, to reward or punish one group or the other. Both would still interpret smaller local events that way as well, of sickness or survival of individual puritans or Abenaki stemming from spiritual causes.  This is not absent from the Patuxet portion of the largely outdoor museum. They are serious about getting the history right and represent what people thought, as near as we can tell from here.

There are people assuming the roles of known colonists, and they are very good at not breaking character, and looking puzzled about incidents that took place after 1627. I jokingly told one who represented my ancestor John Howland that I predicted a long life and many descendants for him (which I now regret - I should have gone along with the museum's intent) and he quite seriously told me that such things were in the hands of God, and then with a hint of a smirk, and of his wife Elizabeth (Tilley). I am going to doubt that the enactors were especially religious people, but they played the intense and sincere puritans wonderfully.  One young woman would not give her maiden name or talk about her family in England, because this was a new world and a new life and she intended to live by that. She was proud of having been accepted into membership in the church and being a new person. I wish I had had the presence of mind to use the joke, common a few decades later and likely understandable to her character even if she had never heard it, that she had dropped her name in the ocean on the way over, but alas, I wasn't quick enough. They had not heard of New Hampshire or Strawbery Banke (which puzzled me, as settlers came here in 1623, but they were right. New Hampshire was not named until 1629 and Strawbery Banke settled in 1630.) They might have recognised Odiorne Point and one woman did suggest "Isle of Shoals?"

There are historians on premises who talk in modern context as well, very knowledgeable. They discussed the technical changes that have been made since the place opened in 1947, such as the addition of wattle and daub to the buildings. This rang true to my wife, who had visited in 1975 when the spaces between the slats admitted a fair bit of breeze. We were told that there had been the suspicion at that time that something had filled the chinks, but until they knew it for a high probability, they had not reconstructed the houses that way. They make them without modern improvements, so that every twenty or thirty years they have to be replaced, in as authentic a manner as possible. They know a bit more with each building they replace. They learn more about costumes, and what the blacksmith who arrived in 1623 actually did for repairs, because there was no mining or ability to fabricate items. A surprising amount is known about what medicinals they grew, as a few people kept clear records.

We went over to the Mayflower II as well. Also very knowledgeable over there, and walking into the spaces gives me a clearer picture, at least.  I had not visualised it well on my own.

Very highly recommended.  It will take you an afternoon, including the films and exhibits indoors, but they package it very well so that is not an overwhelming amount of similar information to take in.  They know how to break it up.

*The joke is that queue is a perfect illustration of itself. One letter followed by four silently in a line after it..

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Review of Museums: Whydah

Whydah Pirate Museum: (pronounced "Widdah" after a West African town that the Portuguese rendered as "Ouidah." Which should tell you that the vessel spent some time as a slaver.) I had expected that this was going to be a generic museum about pirates, striving to be the New England version of the story. But it is focused on a specific ship, the Whydah, and its captain Samuel "Black Sam" Bellamy, notorious and fabulously wealthy for a few years in the early 1700s. The Whydah was only definitively located off the arm of Cape Cod in 1984, and has apparently been the focus of documentaries and books about the discovery and excavation, all of which I missed. It was known where it had gone down, but the shifting sands made the pieces of the ship and all its cargo spread over a four mile area, and 10-50ft below the floor at that. Lots of gold and silver, and you can even touch some of it. 

It's a new museum, less than a decade old, just off the main drag. We loved it. It focuses first on a few known characters and restricts itself to what is actually known and the artifacts known to have been theirs. As you circle through the museum there is also a lot of discussion of that particular ship and its contents. Yet additional topics are put in rather artfully along the way, such as 10-step directions for how to fire a cannon, displayed prominently next to one of the recovered cannons. There was discussion of the various freedoms and obligations that came from signing the articles on a ship and becoming part of its crew. I think I will have to have a separate discussion of that, of the origins of the word and concept "outlaw" from the Norse and the division of being "within the law" and having certain rights even if a criminal versus being outside of it and having none even if innocent. The old language of "masterless men," and the importance of having a flag to sail under or a protector over you will be part of that.  To be continued. For our purposes here, it is important to note that becoming a pirate placed one in a position of almost certain execution if caught. The exception was Africans and ex-slaves, who would be sold back into slavery. For blacks and New World natives, on board pirate ships were a place of near-equality with whites, and in many instances entire equality. There was democratic election to the various roles on the ship, and this likely had influence on the countries on Atlantic coasts, especially in the New World. It can be overstated - they did force captives to join them, especially if they had a needed skill, and that's hardly freedom-loving. They also made their livings by taking what was not theirs and doing so with extreme violence. 

On the other hand, the legitimate governments of Europe impressed sailors and regularly took each other's stuff on the sea via violence. So not a lot of difference. Piracy was a more extreme version of what everyone else was doing, perhaps. 

The Whydah went aground and sank in a Nor'easter, and a captive forced to be one of the navigators was a major cause. He was given control of all associated ships because he was the only one who knew those waters off Cape Cod. So he brought his ship, which had less draft, over a sand bar the Whydah couldn't clear, making his escape. He was arrested and imprisoned, but ultimately not executed.

The last sections of the museum focus on how the artifacts pulled out form under the ocean floor are recovered. The objects are called concretions, more commonly a geological term, referring to items that have changed because of substances coming in contact with each other. We can ex-ray the object and take a guess what the precise nature is, but we can't just break it open and look, as it has likely changed in substance and might disintegrate rapidly after being exposed to dry air.  So they bathe the object in a continuing stream, for weeks or even years, and then subject it to electrolysis to allow them to pull the outer parts off and see what is within. They had a number of objects on display that were actual finds, now being recovered slowly by this process. Very cool to look at it happening in real time.

Make The Automatic Substitution

It is ever-green.  If you switch the party label/political leaning, does the story change? I might talk to people who don't do that, but I can never take them seriously.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Long Chain On

I am back, and will review some museums of Cape Cod and the Islands.  For some reason this song kept coming to me all week.

Monday, May 15, 2023

Cape Cod

We will be going to Cape Cod and the Islands this week.  I have barely ever been, despite living only a few hours away, nor have I been to Plimoth Plantation* despite having ancestors from there and parts around it. (I am bringing my Mayflower list in hopes of finding an interpreter who can tell me something new.) Tracy went a few times in childhood, being from Scituate. We still have a niece in the area, who we will drop in on.

So, migrating birds - I bookmarked some pages and left that to the birdwatcher; many small museums**, which describes everywhere in New England anyway; ferries - I like ferries; beaches and lighthouses - meh, but it's nice to see a few once in a while; odd historical sites - now you're talking.  Martha's Vineyard has the Camp Meeting Association and the Carousel, Sandwich has old Quaker buildings. We'll be fine.

I probably should have read The Dozen on Nantucket in preparation. I can look up the linguistics quickly, though.

*Now Plimoth Plantation and Patuxent, one of those Native American reminders that is more than legitimate, not just inserted for virtue signalling.

**Hyannis has the pirate museum and the Kennedy museum - and they're separate!

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Accordion From Multiple Angles

How in the world did accordion players - lots of them - suddenly show up in my YouTube feed? The danger of algorithms may turn out to be inexplicable randomness that we all mindlessly follow, reasoning that it must mean something eventually. 

If you follow the various artistic angles that the cameraman uses, in imitation of MTV acoustic or something, you will see a lot of expressionless men looking somewhat intently at this girl. It would be an excellent creepy opening for a horror film, actually. Maybe it's different in Germany, but in America you could not get middle-aged men to be videotaped staring at a young woman for any reason. We are taking a walk, having a smoke, checking our text messages, thanks.

Apology and Forgiveness - Quick Version (Not Really)

I have two longer posts, Apology and Forgiveness - Reversing the Polarity and Apology and Forgiveness - Part Two and Expanded

They contain a lot of good information, especially including the comments.  But the writing is clunky and choppy, probably because the thinking was clunky and choppy. Has I have referred back to them a few times, and had them be puzzled at quite what was being said, I decided to have another go at it. Korora had a particularly good comment, which I will post with attribution under this post.  I hope this helps.  If you want more explanation or detail, give those two posts a try. I seldom suggests this, but if any of my assertions about apology and forgiveness seem not quite right, you might try bringing it up as a conversation among good friends. New angles may occur to you all (and I would love to hear about them.)

It is increasingly recognised that when we have trouble forgiving someone we should keep at it, not as some present to them, but as a way of liberating ourselves from the situation. This frees us to remember to we do not forgive because they deserve it, or because they have said they are sorry, but because we need that to happen.  Christians are reminded that "Uh, you were forgiven for (whisper, whisper)..." "Oh yeah, right.  I guess it's time, then."

Apollgising is the same, even though we don't quite think of it that way either.  We are still in playground mode, apologising so that Charlie won't be mad at us.  It's a little sacrifice to place on his altar. But that's  not it at all.  We apologise to show that we understand what the problem was.  To show ourselves, to show God, to show Charlie. We do open ourselves up to the other person. Part of acknowledging what was wrong is inviting them to complain back to us about that.  And they might not be fair, but at least to some initial extent, we put up with it. We say what we will do to prevent it happening again.

It can get tricky at this point, because Charlie might decide there's something else you should do instead. If it sounds like a fair substitute, then we do it. Yet sometimes it isn't a fair substitute, it is extracting a piece of flesh, and we worry that having opened this can of worms is going to continue to be unpleasant.  It might be, but that is a separate problem.  Setting limits on Charlie's price extracted can be handled later.  For now, you have your bit to do.

The ultimate object of apology and forgiveness is reconciliation. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that the consummation of apology and forgiveness is reconciliation. However, this is often not possible. The other person might be dead. Reconciliation is pretty much imaginary at that point. Or it may be impractical or unwise to contact them. The apology or forgiveness might be prepared and written but never sent. That's really where I have been headed with this all along, though it hasn't looked like it. The second post, above, expands on this considerably. If you are still with me and interested in this "reconcilation" part, with the politicians and the horrible crimes and all the complicated stuff kicking in you might like it.

To tell someone how to apologise properly, then, seems to be telling them how to appease another, and there is an aspect of it where we are indeed putting ourself into the power of another. This is what I did wrong. I am prepared to be more specific if you like, but I won't otherwise burden you with the details. Here is what I will do to prevent it happening again. I am sorry. With such statements you open yourself up to the other person lashing back at you. They might not be fair about it. You may have opened the door to greater acrimony (which is why wisdom is also important, as the people in the 12-Step groups who have worked long and hard on Step 9 know. Reinserting yourself years later into the life of a person who would prefer to forget you and have nothing to do with you may not help matters), or even cause them to sin. If this seems like something you'd like to know more of, that would be in the Reversing the Polarity post, above.

Journalism Review

I was reflecting, not for the first time, that what we call the "news" sites, descendants of newspapers, are actually sites that tell us right-up-to-the-minute what to think about the news. The more national and important they are (WaPo, NYT) the more this is true. This is clearly an important service to many people. The WaPo report on the new CEO of Twitter could have been written a few months ago with only minor modifications such as putting a person's name in the slot. It is not framed as a directive of what you should think but as a reassurance: yes, what you already thought about this was just about right.  We very smart people at the Top Outlets might have a few fun twists and additions, but you believe the right things, yes.  You know who to hate. Sometimes we will let you know early on who is going out of fashion, so that you don't say something foolish in public about them.  Come back tomorrow and we will top you up again.

Growing up in New Hampshire with William Loeb's Union Leader I thought this was just normal for sections of a newspaper to do this. Loeb was vindictive and more anti-liberal than he was conservative, though he published a number of conservative columnists. Every other paper in the state, especially the Concord Monitor (my cousin became editor) was almost reflexively opposite in politics, also telling you what to think about what was happening in Washington and Boston. Yet in the main, all of them mostly did just report news about crime, and garden clubs, and school awards, and sports. Something of the journalistic ideal seemed to show through, and I imagine it was the same in your towns as well.

It does seem that no topic is allowed to just be news anymore, and someone feels the need to inject their national or overall cultural spin into whatever is put forward. The sports and crime stories are now suffused with opinions outside the actual news.  I haven't seen the garden club news take a dive yet, but there was a scandal a couple of years ago about a knitting club that deteriorated into acrimony and accusations about not being anti-racist enough. There is Jonathan Haidt's evidence that the deterioration in mental health in teenagers, peaking in 2014 and not relenting since has to do with the amount of social media time they invest. My own guess is that it is the relentlessness of the cultural policing, interpenetrating the everyday social development, that creates the anxiety.  There is no escape for these children. If someone insults me on social media I can shrug, because I have a whole world to shrug in where that doesn't matter.  They have no such world. (Which is why it is important for them to be shoved into encouraged to participate in actual face-to-face socialising groups, in sports, or at church, or anime club or whatever. They need a world with fresh air.)

Tangential but related: When I see the words "in the Age of Trump" I stop reading. The person has nothing to say.

I wondered where the break point was between the news of my childhood and the current news aquarium. We talk a lot about how things have changed and whole books have been written about how and why.  Well, maybe.  But it put me in mind of something earlier.

 “Why you fool, it’s the educated reader who can be gulled. All our difficulty comes with the others. When did you meet a workman who believes the papers? He takes it for granted that they’re propaganda and skips the leading articles. He buys his paper for the football results and the little paragraphs about girls falling out of windows and corpses found in Mayfair flats. He is our problem. We have to recondition him. But the educated public, the people who read the highbrow weeklies, don’t need reconditioning. They’re all right already. They’ll believe anything.” – fictional character Miss Hardcastle, from That Hideous Strength, by C.S.Lewis, 1942

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Apology and Forgiveness - Part Two, and Expanded

Update Below

The ultimate object of apology and forgiveness is reconciliation. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that the consummation of apology and forgiveness is reconciliation. However, this is often not possible. The other person might be dead. Reconciliation is pretty much imaginary at that point. Or it may be impractical or unwise to contact them. The apology or forgiveness might be prepared and written but never sent. 

The big-ticket apology and forgiveness items that make the news can be instructive and inspiring, or they can be irritating because we sense an insincerity about them. But those aren't really the things which give us trouble. Real-life apology and forgiveness is interactive and complicated. You are sincerely and abjectly apologising for A, but almost pointedly by omission not taking responsibility for B. I was childish and vindictive in how I left you. Unspoken but usually noticeable is I do not apologise for the basic fact of leaving you. Forgiveness can be a complicated mess of overlooking, excusing, understanding, combined with the truer forgiveness of taking no revenge, or as Korora described it, showing no cruelty. It is no longer simple, as the newsy examples are. Apologies are exchanged; forgiveness attempted; new resentments are discovered as some apologies are left out: Are they being oblivious to how they offended or are they asserting that they did only limited wrong? How your own apology is received can sometimes remind you of mistreatments you had forgotten, and one suddenly recognises they have spent years blaming themselves for something that was not their fault after all. Or we are brought up short like Orual in Till We Have Faces, nakedly aware that we have invited or even caused the sins against us and should actually be preparing an apology rather than awaiting one.

Reconciliation is more complicated. We love people that we hate and find that others have put up with us more than we care to admit.

I think that's the point., and why apology and forgiveness are so central to emotional life, and certainly to Christian life. It is not just working ourselves into a fever pitch for a few moments of massive sainthood. We see things and unsee them. 

Update: When we receive an apology, we often quickly find that we did not want the apology so much.  What we wanted was for the other person to change. Here we are, back in the realm of interaction and reconciliation again. It is much the same when we extend forgiveness, though we seldom admit it to ourselves at first. We want the forgiveness to either be a reassurance that there really are no hard feelings - or to be a stepping stone for the other person to change.

I believe in change a lot less than I did even a few years ago.  I don't say that it never happens, but I think it is not common and not easy. One of the lessons of the Nostalgia Destruction Tour has been noticing the continuities of people over decades, continuities they are clearly not much aware of. I conclude that the others look at me in much the same way, and despair. We cannot expect others to change, we can only expect that they make changes. We cannot expect ourselves to change either, we can only make changes. Great revelations and forced insight seldom does very much. Only in the movies "Luke, I am your father," and a long, staring, pivotal moment. I am a parent of five and a spouse of one and don't think I have ever seen a long, staring pivotal moment. And when I look like I'm doing that myself, it's an illusion.  I'm actually suddenly trying to remember whether it is Wednesday of Thursday.

There is a strip joint almost two towns over, on a road where I have occasional errands, and used to drive some of my sons frequently to indoor soccer and lacrosse. I used to laugh at it, pointing out to them that business must be bad if they have to highlight the prime rib on the sign instead of the women. I was proud, even a bit conceited in my confidence that the place did not beckon to me. Until the afternoon a decade ago when I drove past and it said "Thursday: 40's Pin-up Night." The blood sort of drained out of me a bit and I thought that's going to be a problem. Who knew? I wasn't even alive in the 40's. But even since the 70s, no deep change.  So I made changes instead and drove a different route to get to those errands for a few years. No need to even think about it. No change, just making changes. 

We apply the requirements of apology and forgiveness on ourselves and others with equal severity*, which is why the Scriptures tie our forgiveness in with our forgiving so often. We learn the one by doing the other. We should therefore ask the same - not for ourselves or others to change, but only to make changes. 

*Well, most of us do. When there is a disconnect we recognise it as a character flaw in others. We think at first we let ourselves off more easily, but poking around in the caverns we find similar monsters there.

Tuesday, May 09, 2023

Apology and Forgiveness - Reversing the Polarity

Because we are so naturally interactive, we picture an apology as being something given or presented by the person who did wrong to the person who as been trespassed against; we picture forgiveness as being extended from the person who has been wronged to the one who offended, as grace given. The opposite is closer to the truth. We apologise for our own good, whether the apology is accepted or understood or not. We forgive for our own good, whether the offender has apologised and understood or not. That latter counterintuitive thought is becoming more well-known, but is still not much a part of popular culture, neither Christian nor secular. Christians may claim to have known that for years, and there is some validity to that, but we can't claim deep penetrance into the cultures we have supposedly influenced the most. The most common view of apology is to make things right with someone we have hurt. We say something that makes them (more) whole.

To tell someone how to apologise properly, then, seems to be telling them how to appease another, and there is an aspect of it where we are indeed putting ourself into the power of another. This is what I did wrong. I am prepared to be more specific if you like, but I won't otherwise burden you with the details. Here is what I will do to prevent it happening again. I am sorry. With such statements you open yourself up to the other person lashing back at you.  They might not be fair about it. You may have opened the door to greater acrimony (which is why wisdom is also important, as the people in the 12-Step groups who have worked long and hard on Step 9 know. Reinserting yourself years later into the life of a person who would prefer to forget you and have nothing to do with you may not help matters), or even cause them to sin.

Yet if this seems only obvious, consider how often people think they have traveled far on the road to reconciliation with you by saying "I'm sorry I treated you like I did." Sometimes that is not a real apology, only an attempt to make bad feelings go away when they dimly sense they have done wrong. It is a child's apology, not an adult's. 

So forgiveness is slowly coming into focus as something that is a painful liberation for ourselves, whatever it does for others. This is counterintuitive, but gaining recognition. I now add in the mirror image that apologies are not for the other person, we contemplate them and craft them for ourselves. I think this is even farther from our usual thinking since childhood, yet I think it is so.

Our usual encounters with what we consider the really difficult apologies and forgivings come from the news. The congregation in South Carolina that had people at Bible study shot forgives Dylann Roof almost immediately, and we wonder how such a thing can be. Politicians and celebrities apologise and we observe very closely exactly what they are and are not saying, even while we recognise that most of the public is saying "Well she apologised.  What else do you want?"

Yet most of what we encounter in real life is much more complicated and interactive than that. When we take proper care and apologise in an adult fashion we are often quietly asserting what we are not apologising for, even when we quite sincerely throw ourselves on the mercy of the other to say what they will against us in response. And in so doing we are performing a service of teaching understanding of themselves after all. We apologise for this but not for that. And as they seldom hear or understand the distinction, achieving reconciliation is now much farther away rather than closer, and we will have to start calculating according to kindness and obsession when it is better to simply cut our losses and when it is better to press on.

Yes, yes, we have hit another of those topics where I found myself in deeper waters than expected and now have to rename this post "Part One." Does that scare you away? Likely not ye few who remain.


Just seemed like something I wanted to hear today.  The cajon drum is authentic to this style of music (I think) and where we get it from, now that it is seemingly everywhere.

Monday, May 08, 2023

Memory Cues

What do you use to remind yourself?  Some things I put on the paper calendar in the kitchen.  Some things I dictate a sentence or two about into the notes on my phone.  I lived by a legal pad filled with 2-3 letter abbreviations from 1985-2020 at work.

Mentally, I occasionally use mnemonics, especially initial letters in a list that I quasi-pronounce to recall. Sometimes I will use a killer humorous or clever line to expand on, knowing that I am going to use it to either begin or close a paragraph. I will keep reshaping it until it can hold a paragraph together on its own. That is less reliable, though, because sometimes it goes to recall-only memory and has to be triggered by something else. Otherwise I'm walking around the block thinking "Gee, I had a killer line about memory and something, but I can't pull it forward."

Assigning Expertise

I was talking with Greg Cochran on the phone (not an interesting story, really, so I'm not telling it) and noticed that he quickly related topics to the people who are doing research on them, often someone he knows. For example, the footprints at White Sands, or the distribution of the lactase-digesting gene in Yamnayan skeletal remains. It creates another level of memory and likely adds to expertise in a field because you just remember more of it that way.  I can read about stuff - and Greg seems good at that avenue as well - but having an immediate visual and personality attached to whatever shows up for a pre-Clovis or Population Y bit of data has to provide one reinforcement for memory. Even if they're a jerk. I followed the research out of Dartmouth and Geisel Medical, and Harvard and McLean because I sort of knew a few people in those places (many more my last ten years, oddly) but my friends would often say things like "Alan Green thinks that alcohol dependence..." Because they know him. I have to think it is a large part, whether subtly or quite consciously, of who they think are the Real Experts and the real deal.  Sometimes it might even be a negative, if they know someone personally and know him to be a jerk and shallow.

Yet it also is the most likely avenue for everyone believing the same wrong thing, undermining the written knowledge right in front of you, if you could but separate it from whether the person you associate with it is more generally a fool or an expert. It's why talented amateurs or people from unrelated fields can sometimes see more clearly and... are sometimes completely misled. They are less influenced by who The Experts are supposed to be, which is mostly a negative but is also a very powerful inoculation against the worst of the academic diseases. Greg was bemused that so many anthropologists could have believed so much crap for so many years (approx 1960-2010) when there was such a solid foundation from the anthropologists before that. Hard to argue with him on that score. How do the Dark Years in any field even come to be? His training in physics before showing up in anthropology likely helped, not because there would be something magical about physics, but because it would have a different set of experts and assumptions. It is similar to CS Lewis's suggestion that we read books from the past to offset the prejudices of the present, not because there is something magical about the past, but because we cannot read the books of the future and have to have something to set against our own day.  Anthropologists stopped listening to the missionaries, businessmen, and military personnel in an area. It looks like they listened to the journalists, who would be the single profession most trapped in the present. 

It happened in psychology as well and I saw the end of it.  Well, part of it. A solid core of real knowledge was developing, most from neurology, when Freud came along and told Vienna what it wanted to hear, giving it an excuse to discuss sex endlessly as if odd fantasies were the key to understanding Life, The Universe, and Everything. Freudianism died a long painful death in the field, as the joy of appearing smart just by talking about penises took many forms and hung on forever. It has been powerful enough that Kinsey has withstood it in reputation, even though his reports on child sexuality can only come from actually molesting children and then writing it down in scientific language. Even wokesters can't give up the idea that we desperately need this insanely false information about how many people follow every fetish, so Kinsey still gets a pass. 

I got distracted from my original topic about memory again, didn't I?

Academic Default

I spoke with an academic friend at a cookout, discussing American blue jeans and their popularity around the world for many years. He immediately went to the assumption that Americans must have taken the idea from someone else and then made money off it.  He is younger than I am, and may not remember or even heard of the value of brand-name American jeans behind the Iron Curtain and in developing countries decades ago. Governments banned them. His is a stunning default to go to.  It is certainly true that Americans have "appropriated" ideas - and in fact have appropriated so many and made them worldwide popular that one has to wonder how international the whole world might even be without us. It depends strongly on what you consider taking an idea from another country.  "Dungaree" cloth was from India, and indigo dye was as well. It meant solid workman's clothes.  Denim was "from Nimes," France and jeans were from Genoa, also meaning strong workers cloth.In England, miners and other workers used strong cloth, especially for trousers. So if you want to stretch a point and say that the Americans stole foreign ideas when they decided they needed durable work cloth for their own miners in the mid 1800s, you could call it that.

Except that's pretty crazy. Solid work clothes from Bulgaria were not banned in Romania in the 1980s.  It's really just looking to pick a fight with Americans at that point, and he's an American. We have more patents and more new ideas than pretty much the whole rest of the world, all by ourselves.  Our only competitors are the rest of the Anglosphere.  NE Asia is making its bid on the basis of sheer numbers, devotion to technologic education, and incremental improvements, but still not there. This should be basic information, not only about current Americans, but certainly about America in the 1800s and 1900s. We invent stuff. We make stuff that takes over the world. We're happy to take European ideas especially and rework them, but its more than just putting a different colored bow on it.

He's a history professor. Helluva default.

Changing Memories

The two memory corrections of the past few years that stand out should have been right in my wheelhouse: humorous anecdotes of college friends. The same person corrected me both times, but not because he recalled the incidents himself.  He noticed an inaccurate fact going by and pointed it out.  In one case, it was a story about grits at Frank's Truck Stop our freshman year. Sam suggested it was probably sophomore year, because none of us had a car freshman year, but Don had one sophomore year, and my roommate loved to go. The roommate had not been with our crowd freshman year. I saw at once that he was probably right. Similarly, I recalled Sam saying something humorous to Don at freshman orientation. Sam again corrected. "It was probably John Mahler, not Don. Freshman year he wasn't my roommate." You see what has happened. I thought that Don was the roommate, and so put him in as the straight man for the story. I couldn't actually have a true memory of that because it didn't happen.  I created it - including visuals - from what I thought was the data. The data, not recall, had made the memory.

I will roll through my own information, likely of little interest to you, because of the types of memory filing they illustrate.

I remember things according to school year growing up, which is why I am sometimes fuzzy on which summer something happened, even with the additional clue of camp. Those run together. Activities outside of school, such as music or church may or may not be strongly associated with a school year, and thus better remembered. To a lesser extent, I remember things, especially social events or people, by what grade my sons were in, though much of work and church fell outside that.  My wife seems to remember people differently, sometimes by where they live ("They are friends of the O'Brien's.  They live on the same street.") or by other family members ("They have a daughter in third grade and a boy in preschool." Which, incidentally, helps me not at all, but she still says it earnestly, as if that will make things finally click for me.) When she describes people from church she thinks I should know she often recites an impressive amount of information that helps me not at all.  Not my filing system. Though sometimes a town name will be a clue if it's not one of the main ones. Come to think of it, that was my filing system for kids from camp - "He was from Framingham," or at St Paul's Summer studies "He played soccer for White Mountain Regional."

With family, it is how they are connected to me. Pretty normal, I think, though I can imagine a person who has moved away and clumps various younger uncles, cousins, and second cousins together because they still live in that county. Events pretty much go with people, with only the largest independent news events standing on their own. Even travel events are as likely to key off the companions as the environment. (Actually, I am less certain about that upon reflection.) Any correction or revision of such information has to come along the same lines.

A: It had to be at Thanksgiving, not Christmas.  Don't you remember I had that job where I could never get Christmas off?

B: Oh, right. But wait, you were back for Christmas the year that Gram died on the 23rd.

A: Right! You're right! The whole office was mad at me, like I'd engineered my grandmother's death in order to get Christmas off! So maybe it was that year you are remembering me at Christmas dinner.

B: But you were right when you said you'd never had to carry bags of presents up those stairs, because you had mailed them already. And you flew in instead of driving.

We had a foster daughter with us for 3-4 months in 1978-79. We were in touch a few times over the years, and only 6-7 years ago she expressed shock that she had only lived with us that short a time. "I thought I lived with you like three years.  I remember so many nights of sitting in your lap and you reading to me." Talk about breaking our hearts that we didn't find a way to have her longer or have her back.

My second son was notoriously oblivious to what was happening in the house, yet is a one-man team on Trivia Nights. Information storage is independent of people for me as well. Entering into the world of equations, or Indo-European burials, or short stories by Borges is a separate world, subject to completely different filing systems.This, unfortunately, suggests an entirely separate discussion about expertise.  I was hoping to be done with this topic this morning and moving on to one I like better.  Sigh. I'll scratch in a note for the new one, as a placeholder.  Which come to think of it, is another memory topic. Sighx2. Coming Attractions.

A friend who gets called in at work to put oil on the troubled waters of squabbles tells me that a lot seems to be solved right out of the gate by reminding everyone of the early facts, including the chronology, of what seems to have caused the dispute. I don't think this is a mere tactic to shut up the difficult and stupid people - though I imagine it is useful for that - but it fits how memory works for all of us.  It is a gentle corrective to ways that our memory was already going wrong. Okay, you hadn't received official word that the project was being discontinued, no.  But you knew it was being considered.  You knew some people had been transferred already. Because that is exactly the sort of thing resentful people cling to later, and come to exaggerate: "Completely out of the blue.  None of us saw it coming." But as the discussion is being set up it is good to remind people of what they already know, without any attempt to correct anyone. It at least keeps us from ratcheting up, and maybe even sets us on our heels a bit. (Whoa.  Glad I didn't bring up that thing about the Poughkeepsie office. It's likely important in things like a military report as well, when there is fog of war and plenty of rumor and emotionalised memory everywhere. "Just the facts, ma'am." 

We will follow the narrative, not the facts, unless forced to.

We will follow the narrative, not the facts, unless forced to.

AI Alignment

I wonder if attempts to create AI Alignment might in the end be the greater danger than AI itself. In so many areas of life we see there is some sort of problem that needs fixing, so we rush in to cut off some looming difficulty at the pass. But such attempts are often ill-informed, ill-conceived, ill-executed themselves. It's the dangerousness of well-meaning people all over again. 

In the complaints about political bias we are already seeing this.  AI is already overcorrecting for the risk of people hearing something vaguely positive about fascism - because it has been told that this is a great danger facing humanity. I think we should have at least a few of every kind of knucklehead around myself, and the overcorrection is likely to become the bigger problem.

Saturday, May 06, 2023

Should Be Fun

Steve Hsu had Simone Collins on to talk about IVF, dating as an autistic female, and her pronatalism site. The fun part is that bsking has had it up to here with Collins, with more than one criticism. 

So have fun and don't fear the comments.

Gordon Lightfoot

Canadians get strange about their inferiority complex compared to the US.  The y insist so strongly that they are better in every way - because they feel like the younger brother who never got to go on the cool camping trips with older brother and his friends. It's ridiculous, of course, as we all are.  They have this great country that actually is better than ours in some ways, we just don't notice them as much as we should. Barenaked Ladies recorded an album "Gordon," slyly making fun of the Canadian tendency to name too many boys Gordon and the ridiculous preponderance of famous Canadians with that name.  Compared with anyone except perhaps Scots, that is.

Nah.  Even more than the Scots.

But when they've got one, they love him, and they support him through thick and thin. Females, too, such as Celine Dion, who remains a big deal largely because of fanatic Canadian loyalty. Good on them. I can't tell you how much I admire this even while I make fun of it.  It's the way a country is supposed to be.

Yet apparently it got so out of hand with Lightfoot - who I loved - that SCTV had to do a sendup of his Canadian popularity.

The Oaf Panel

There is a group of (probably) unrelated English accents, from Southeast England, North Country, and African-American Vernacular, that pronounces f for the unvoiced th, especially initially (frew the woods instead of through the woods), and v for the voiced th, especially later in a word (muvver for mother). We associate it most strongly with Cockney here.

You can keep up from context when talking about the Bayeux Tapestry and the Frone of England or "his wife Ediff," but throughout the whole discussion I never did stop smirking every time they discussed the Oath Panel.


Nicholas Nassim Taleb's  first book was Fooled By Randomness, describing how we often assign meaning to events that are simply random. If you put up a random number generator of a baseball hitter who bats .280 for the season, you will find some games when he goes 5 for 5, and some when he goes 0 for 4 three games in a row. The player, and the coaches and fans will attribute the hitting streak or drought to some meaningful baseball idea.  "I've just been seeing the ball really well." "He's always been a streaky hitter." These are not necessarily untrue. They could be baseball explained. But it is usually more accurate when the hitter notes "I'm hitting the ball well, it just happens to be right at people." A lot of the difference between one struck ball and the next is so tiny that it could not possibly be under the hitter's control.  A certain skill level, which includes both muscle ability and focus and is stable over time, will yield a predictable number of hits.  They will not arrive in predictable patterns, however.

A man suffering from mania approached me in a bar about five years ago (I made the mistake of making eye contact and nodding) and had printouts of the numbers he was receiving from satellite readings which proved aliens were trying to communicate with the world through him. He was particularly taken with digits occurring three times in a row, which he assured me was too unlikely to happen by chance.  If there were three fives in a row, it meant something. He had studied math, he said, and knew that the odds against three fives showing up in a row were quite small.  He did not accept my explanation that such occurrences were in fact the most natural thing in the world, and exactly what we should expect out of long chains of digits. I gave it up quickly.  He was not able to hear.

It's not just numbers. You wait on three customers in a row whose surname begins with "M."  What are the odds, eh? Three green cars parked near each other! Joe Biden appears on TV at the exact moment you were reading about him!

There's one going on in Austin at the moment. There is not a statistical increase in murders of young men greater than in other cities in America, yet many people are convinced there is a serial killer taking them out. The coincidences are not even fully there. Some of the murders are not taking place where the theory says they should, yet they are being counted against the total anyway. What is counted as evidence starts getting stranger and stranger.  As I have said before about paranoia (rather similar) or depression/anxiety, the condition appears first, then the target is identified. People decide that someone must be stealing our bodily fluids, and it doesn't matter that there is not any actual diminution of fluid, we just know it is true. Knowing this, we identify who it must be. If people disagree, we might even begin to suspect them of covering up the crime.

But for strangeness, you should check out what is going on in Canton, MA at the moment. If you don't want to sign in, I was given a summary I like pretty well. John, O'Keefe, a Boston police officer who lives in Canton (a southern suburb) was found dead in the snow in Canton. The prosecution says that he and his girlfriend Karen Read had been drinking and arguing throughout the weekend. She dropped him off at home and hit him with her car on the way out while doing a three-point turn. He was found dead in the snow. The defense is trying to suggest there is a reasonable chance that he went inside, was beaten to death by one or more of his friends for unknown reasons and thrown out of the house, where he died in the snow. 

Well, I don't fault them for that.  The defense has got to say something. If that's the best they've got, they have to go with it.  She has hired Kevin Spacey's attorney, which is likely a lot of money, and they've got to find something so there is at least enough doubt that a jury won't think she definitely did it.

But into the mix come the conspiracists, who are running with this idea and expanding on it. I thought this site by Aidan Kearney, DrTurtleboy, was so bizarre that it must be a parody, but no, it's for real. He calls himself an investigative journalist, and is from a few towns over in Worcester. He is now one of the main spokespeople for the idea that the people in the house who beat him to death immediately coordinated with the Canton PD to protect the main killer, and the police went along with it because he is a local boy and his family is prominent.  Grew up there. But as things have gone along the list of people who are in on the coverup has grown.  It's basically everyone in town, it seems. All the connections are just normal things you would find in any town.  One of the many people in the house that night is from a family that owns a longstanding pizza place.  The pizza place sponsors a little league team. One of the kids of the officer played on that team, and he runs a picture of the kid as if he is part of the coverup, wittingly or unwittingly, because he is suggesting legitimacy that this family is respectable, because he is wearing its name on his shirt. 

Kearney has gone back to the 1994 Canton High School Yearbook to show that even then, the Alberts had people they wanted to get rid of, but all the girls liked them anyway. Basically, any stray fact that passes by him that mentions any of the people in the story is reinterpreted as showing either a secret connection, a longstanding friendship (evidence that they too would cover this up for a pal) or direct evidence of lying. Local police forces looking into the matter are furious with this guy, because he is trying to pass off everyday police procedure as some sort of sinister special treatment, either for the Alberts and McCabes or against Karen Read. One officer misspelled one of the names, which proves he is lying.

DrTurtleboy seems to gravitate to some right-wing types, but he doesn't seem to have any true political issues, and there are plenty of people on the right he doesn't like much.  If you read his site, you will see that he spends most of his energy showing how persecuted he is, because he is bravely exposing all this corruption in the Canton PD and throughout the town, in addition to other issues in Massachusetts towns. Why any, never mind all, of these people in the house would have wanted O'Keefe dead is not explored. You'd think someone would be curious about that angle.

From my nostalgia tour, let me assure you that the people you grew up with and went to school with seldom even answer your emails, never mind covering up a murder for you. 

This is going to tie in with the issue of memory and chronology, and how misunderstanding and misinterpreting situations often involves getting the chronology wrong. I find that chronology is key for my remembering people and events, but my wife does not use that as her memory framework. I can recall who I went to third grade with, because I have them clearly tied to third grade.  Someone we met at church may have a name that sounds familiar, but because I don't even have a year to put them in, I do not recall them well at all unless other cues are built in.

Thursday, May 04, 2023

The Times They Are A-Changin


I thought this should have been a theme song for the TEA Party back fifteen years ago.  the lyrics fit, the sentiment fits, the irony of who it is that requires throwing out now fits. I suggested it often, but no one but me seemed to like the idea.

I credit this lack of creative thinking with the eventual fall of the Party.


Good news if this new medicine for Alzheimer's works at all, even if only for some.

Balls of Dirt

In the Galloway Hoard there are balls of dirt. The hoard itself dates from around 900AD, and is notable on several fronts for having items from much further east, all the way to Central Asia. It's something of a clue. The shaped dirt is in the base of the lidded silver vessel, which contains the most precious items. Fissures in the surfaces of the balls allow some ability to see beneath the surface, but it seems to be just...dirt. Yet the surface is different, with traces of bone and gold. It would all be puzzling if there weren't also some balls of dirt in the Vatican collections, dating from 700-900AD. These are ambiguously labeled, but seem to be dirt from a place of pilgrimage. Yet pilgrimages were not quite so much directed at places, but at relics. It was one reason that the Eastern Church was puzzled at the Western fascination with going to the Holy Land, and caring who controlled the place. Constantinople and other places in Asia Minor had all the important relics you could want, including pieces of the True Cross and bones of many saints.  What was the point in walking around on dirt that had not necessarily come in contact with our Lord? But bones of saints, now, that was something you had some guarantee about. 

There is strong speculation that the dirt was rolled around in the relics, providing a light covering, as they were in the similar Vatican articles, the only other place something like this exists. As many people brought gifts on pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulchre or other key places, gold and bones were likely to be in the mix. Local dirt, rubbed in the area around the relics would become in itself a precious relic now, to be greatly protected and treasured back home. That's the guess what the shaped dirt in Scotland is all about.

If this seems odd to you, remember how many people waited hours to get close to the piano that John Lennon used to compose "Imagine" when it went on display. I also note how often historians assign some mystical connection to people in the past if they encounter a shared object. They picture the artist who made the brooch or illuminated the manuscript and feel that they know and understand them somehow. In fact, such experiences often figure prominently in their desire to take up history at all as an area of study, as well as directing them to a particular era or specialty. 

I tend not to be so magical about objects, but I'll bet there has been something in my life that has been an exception, though I have now forgotten it.