Monday, July 31, 2023

Train Songs

David Foster put up links to Coal Mining songs and Rodeo songs over at Chicago Boyz, so I thought I would have a go at something more central to the Wyman household, train songs. We would sing them in the car frequently, forcing the boys to join in. 

There are just too many in American folklore to give you anything comprehensive, but I thought I'd give you a few to sample.

Waiting For a Train by Jimmie Rodgers

Freight Train by Elizabeth Cotten. This version is here not for its "authenticity," but for the two-finger picking style.

This Train  by Sister Rosetta Tharpe

500 Miles  by Roseanne Cash.  I had never heard this version until tonight.

Morning Train by Peter, Paul, and Mary. Different version of the gospel song. Good harmonies, good build.

Folsom Prison Blues by Johnny Cash.  My son used to object when I would sing this to my infant granddaughters.  I can't imagine why.

Midnight Train To Georgia by Gladys Knight and the Pips 

Hobo's Lullaby  Arlo Guthrie

City of New Orleans, by Steve Goodman, who wrote it.  Died of leukemia at 36. 

Y'know, this might be the best of them all, the farewell to all the other train songs over the years. Had it been written 30 years earlier, it might not be remembered.


I am a slow eater, always the last to leave the table. I would stay for the evening eating, talking, and drinking if I could find others willing to do so. My wife eats quickly and leaves because her mind is already on the next thing. She does eat dessert over half the time, which I seldom do, and this brings her back with her tea and cookies for a bit longer to stay with me.

Much of this is talking, which I do a great deal of at meals. Socialising is what meals are for, after all. I also learned somewhere along the line to chew thoroughly, much more than others seem to. I noticed a connection to that tonight that I had not before.  I have long been aware that I simply love flavor. Any bad eating habits come from nibbling frequently rather than having large portions. My wife is interested in only  a few flavors. The extended chewing may come from the savoring.  I do not mix foods. Tonight was beef, corn, and salad, and at no time did I have salad and beef in my mouth at the same time. Each is enjoyed for its own self.

The rest of you puzzle me, frankly. Even a poor man can have the luxury of some flavor if he attends to it.

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Counting 'Em Up

It got so difficult looking for a particular quote of mine from 10 years ago that I counted up all the posts that include the word nostalgia. * It's a little more than 1%.  I'm a little worried what other subjects show up that often. 

I have long said "Eventually, people say who they are whether they mean to or not."  I was usually thinking of work, and also of church when I spoke those words so many times. So I am caught in my own net here.

*I found it, and even though it was closely related to it, the word nostalgia was not in the post.

Governor Doug Burgum

Ann Althouse links to a George Will piece on Gov. Burgum, who is running for the Republican nomination for president.  I'm not sure I regard George Will as a source of wisdom anymore, but I admit I do like what I am reading here.

Discussing governance with Burgum is like conversing with a Gatling gun. It involves a rapid-fire fusillade of his achievements (e.g., cutting $1.7 billion from his state’s $6 billion general fund) and aspirations (e.g., ending irrational immigration policies that enable Canada to poach high-skilled immigrants whose U.S. visas have expired).

The 2024 presidential election will, he thinks, be decided in 20 counties in seven swing states. Rural areas are red, metropolitan areas are blue, and the decisive demographic will be college-educated suburban women.

Dare I like anyone? I am weary.

Friday, July 28, 2023

Clamavi de Profundis

Recommended to me by a friend at pub night. They do a lot of original music to JRR Tolkien poetry as well, as in "Lament For Boromir."

Interesting to see Ashley Hutchings name in the credits. He was part of Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, and The Albion Band.  I imagine he was in a lot of others as well, but those are the ones I know.

Privilege Laundering

Scott Alexander at ACX, talking about acceptance into Harvard and why they don't just let themselves be bribed for all admissions.

People ask why Harvard admissions can still be bribed or influenced by the rich or well-connected. This is the wrong question: the right question is why they ever give spots based on merit at all. The answer is: otherwise the scheme wouldn’t work. The point of a money-laundering operation is to take in both fairly-earned and dirty money, then mix them together so thoroughly that nobody can tell which is which. Likewise, the point of a privilege-laundering operation is to take in both fairly-earned and dirty privilege, then stamp both with a Harvard degree. “Fairly-earned privilege” means all the brilliant talented ambitious youngsters admitted on the basis of their SAT scores and grades and impressive accomplishments; “dirty privilege” means the kids of various old-money aristocrats, foreign potentates, and ordinary super-rich people. Colleges mix them together, with advantages for both groups.

Hybrid Theory of the Origins of the Indo-European Languages passes along a study by the Max Planck Institute on the origins of Proto-Indo-European. This controversy has been a big deal at least as long as I have studied historical linguistics since the early70s, and from what I read, far longer than that. The competing theories have been the Steppe, that is Northern Caucasus origin, and the Anatolian or Southern Caucasus origin.  I have favored the Steppe hypothesis myself, but even though this result calls itself a hybrid between the two, it looks a good deal closer to the Anatolian to me.

The results of this study do not align entirely with either the Steppe or farming hypotheses. Recent ancient DNA data suggests that the Anatolian branch of Indo-European did not emerge from the Steppe, but rather from an area near the northern arc of the Fertile Crescent. This challenges traditional assumptions and suggests that other early branches of Indo-European may have also spread directly from this region, rather than through the Steppe.

Building on the insights derived from both genetics and linguistics, the authors propose a new hybrid hypothesis for the origin of the Indo-European languages. This hypothesis posits an ultimate homeland south of the Caucasus with subsequent migration northwards onto the Steppe. It suggests that some branches of Indo-European entered Europe through later expansions associated with the Yamnaya and Corded Ware cultures. The combination of ancient DNA and language phylogenetics indicates that the resolution to the Indo-European language enigma lies in this hybrid of the farming and Steppe hypotheses.

 The paper is here.

Memory in General - What Have We Learned? Part I

What does it mean to have a good memory? It can mean that we have a capacious recollection of events, spontaneously recalling incidents and details that others who were there do not, or remember only if they are cued by reminders. It can mean that we are seldom absent-minded, never forgetting appointments or where we left our glasses. Some people who say they have a good memory have acres of learned material so that they know a topic intimately, even if they do not recall the instances when they picked up the material. Some are good at names and faces. We might mean that we can pull events from our deep past better than others. Andrew Jackson could remember read text verbatim, which was useful when discussing a piece of proposed legislation where some previous written versions had been lost in the course of debate. CS Lewis used to impress his new students early by asking them to pull a book frm his library while his back was turned and read a line from it without saying what it was. He would then say where the book was, its title, and where in the text the quote occurred. Impressive enough. But he would then continue the quote as long as amused him, to the end of the book word for word if necessary. Some pitchers can remember every inning and every pitch of their career*, and some fans show a similar recall. "It was a 2-2 count, one out. Javier had already gone 1 for 3 that day with a loud out to centerfield..."

These memory abilities have some association, but little more than all cognitive abilities do with g-factor in general. People can have enormous learning but be absent-minded. Others might keep little record of even their own past experiences and don't necessarily enjoy getting together with cousins or classmates to compare notes, but have prodigious memories for telephone numbers or lists of parts from the catalogs of the companies they order from. 

Memory can even be too good, when we can't get rid of an intrusive thought - the last song we heard (especially if we did not hear it to the end, BTW), a trauma from years ago, an unresolved argument that is now unimportant. 

One of my sons recalled the Thanksgiving that I had made multiple plum pies. I rejected this outright. Peeling plums and putting them in a pie is an event so unusual that I would certainly remember it. I knew I had never done that thing. Yet other family members chimed in, also recalling the year I had made not one, but two plum pies. Ridiculous. That never happened. Not until someone googled plum pies and saw that this nearly always referred to including a layer of plum jam, not plums themselves did it all fit together. "That does sound familiar, actually. One of them included a layer of chocolate..."  

We forget things all the time, and a good thing, too. Very few of us need to remember last Wednesday's weather.  It is good to remember where we usually put the car keys, and the special exception today of putting them somewhere else, but once we have the keys and are moving to the car the information is no longer valuable. Letting it go is efficient. It really is true that one thing pushes out another, as Sherlock Holmes believed - though he took it to an unnecessary extreme, as usual. Absent-mindedness, it turns out, is partly a matter of intentionality, but also an overall drive to simplification in our lives. When we live alone this are misplaced less often, because only one person is touching them. People with four children have more to juggle than those with one. I could keep all the relevant information in my head for a caseload of fifteen people at my peak - their diagnosis, family phone numbers, dates of birth and admission, addresses, community contact, etc. When I hit sixteen I had to start writing them down - and not just the additional ones. The whole list needed to be put in written form now, which took a great deal more time, and everything was less efficient. My maximum decreased in the last few years, partly because more information was needed on each, but I could tell I was also less able. 11-12 was my max at the end. 

Yet some of this "forgotten" material can be retrieved by cue. "I hadn't thought of that dock at Aunt Cynthia's camp in years, but you're right. It was flippin' dangerous! Why did they ever let children go out and play on that thing?" Last Wednesday's weather is probably irrelevant forever, but there is a chance you might need to recall it, to help recall another event. "That was the day the truck broke down. Do you remember which towing company we called first?"

Yet beyond that are things that are truly forgotten, lost beneath the waves forever. A roomful of people supplying helpful reminders availeth naught. That Psych 101 film of the neurosurgeon touching the guy's brain, causing him to "remember" and event and start talking about it, was inaccurate. Researchers at the time made the assumption of videographic memory without realising it. They concluded it was an actual memory, unlocked by the stimulation. "There was a guy coming through the fence..." In reality, it was more likely created on the spot because of the more random associations with that tiny brain-spot. Memory is more like a computer, reassembling the data each time, with danger of slight changes. Even worse, we are not remembering the original event repeatedly. Unless corrected for (with a photograph or a letter, perhaps), we are recalling the last recollection. You don't have everything that ever happened to you stored in your brain in some vast cinematic catalogue. What you have is a remarkable ability to reassemble memories from very few cues.

Trauma and emotion affect recall. Emotional associations, both positive and negative, increase the chances that an event will be recalled at all. This is why it is surprising, even alarming, when people forget things that seem like they should be central. It raises the possibility that they needed to forget it for some reason. It seems a move away from wholeness. Yet I have my own third son as example against this. He suffered terrible neglect and abuse, and recently exclaimed to his brother "We had an aunt?" Even the rest of the family met her on our one joint trip to Romania, and remembered her. And he is mind-bogglingly well-adjusted.

 *In contrast to someone like Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd, who would shrug and say "I just go out and throw."

No memory.


Thursday, July 27, 2023

Memory In General - The Seven Sins of Memory (Part II)

The Seven Sins of Memory 

I cannot fully recommend the book to the regular reader.  I learned a good deal from Schacter's book - some of that is in the paragraphs above and previous posts - but it is something more like a textbook than a summary of ideas for the general intelligent reader. It's not like it will be above their heads, but that it gets tedious. An example:

The book opens with a poignant story by Yasunari Kawabata, "Yumiura,"about an author who meets with a woman from years ago. She remembers much about their meeting when he visited her part of Japan, how they fell in love and he proposed marriage. He remembers none of this and is rather frantic listening to this calm woman pleasantly tell the story in some detail.  He is deeply troubled as he leaves and when he gets home looks over his notes, diaries, and correspondence from the time to try and find some clue that will unlock the memory for him. He discovers that there are none.  He has never been to this part of Japan (as he originally thought) and can see documentation that he was in other cities at the times in question. She has imagined the entire set of incidents.

I was intrigued because I had had several patients, all female with what we called erotomania, the belief that one is married or engaged to a famous (even if only locally) person.  I imagine they have changed the name at this point, as it sounds a bit insulting and is not fully accurate. The male equivalent presents differently, for the record. I pushed forward, looking for what research had been done, both before the original publication twenty years ago and since then, up until the updated edition last year. Nothing. Just the charming story. Checking back, I noticed what I had missed the first time, that it was fiction.

So what good is it, then? It is a poignant introduction to the topic that has no scientific value. What the chapter did contain was brief descriptions of the unbearably tedious and incremental types of research they do on memory.  They gave lists of ten words to college students, or seniors, or people who had had strokes. They asked them to memorise them, but sometimes they interfered with them and sometimes they didn't. They in four minutes, or four days, to list them.  Or they showed them fifteen words that included some previously listed and some new and asked which ones had been on the list. The designed the lists to be associated words or unrelated. A score of variations on "we gave them a list of words and then did this or that." There are other standard memory test designs, equally mind-numbing to follow.

I completely get it that these are the building blocks for memory research. One immerses oneself in such patterns and studies take on richer meaning and give ideas for further studies. Now we can do fMRIs while they are visualising or memorising or recovering from strokes. I don't fault in the least that this is the way a lot of the work simply has to be done, ins small increments.

I just have no interest in fighting through this stuff myself. My interest does not lie in understanding what is lacking in those who have damaged amygdalas. Give me the big picture about the varieties of people withing normal limits here. People who have experienced trauma and their memory oddities, sure.  Tell me what's happening there. I see those people, I know some. There are lots of those, and there are levels of trauma. But hippocampus damage? Please no.

Sometimes he does. But here I get even more nervous. Sometimes he hits on topics I already know something about, and while I never found him to be wrong, precisely, I did sometimes think "Not so fast. That's not the whole story about recovered memory, or implicit bias, or the various head-injured/stroke/dementia categories. Even here there is a fair bit of good information, it's just that...things are missing. Uncovering such things when an author hits something that I know makes be retroactively suspicious of the other things he has been telling me, about subjects I knew far less about. His last chapter may be a matter of taste. He speculates on larger issues of memory on the basis or recent research.  If you like your science very hard, you will find this frustrating, as a lot of this isn't nailed down. If you like exploring possibilities you may like it better.

Memory In General - Part III

 Odds and Ends

Trauma makes memory more unreliable. This can get painful, because people feel like you aren't believing them, or are dismissive of their suffering if you don't accept their story as told. Time is frequently disrupted in trauma, especially chronology. Bias is a great disrupter, whether to a narrative, they were all against me but I succeeded anyway, or to categories of expectation, women are more likely to start arguments in public. Our memory for attitudes is more malleable, subject to hindsight bias, than actual events. "We had great camaraderie at that job."  "Our relationship was already in trouble by then." Sometimes these contradict actual documents from that time or test information. Also, people who have suffered trauma have a reduced ability to actively suppress all unpleasant memories, not just the traumatic ones.

It does happen that people invent events and believe them, often because they have been convinced by others that "he probably was unsupportive around you having a sick child all spring and even criticised you in front of others." But reinterpretation of actual events past recognition is more common.

How do we know whose version of a story is correct, absent hard evidence? We don't, and should be cautious. However, there are clues. Some people have a record of accuracy. Me, for example. Others have shown a willingness to swallow hard and accept hard things about themselves rather than always reporting how right they always are. Be alert to noticing who routinely destroys information quickly, such as emails or text threads. We would certainly notice in confidentiality situations people who were always trying to control the flow of information. "You aren't allowed to talk to my sister." Some people like clean files or a clen desk and routinely move things on, and this is fine.  But those who go the next step and quickly delete them permanently may not be covering up anything today, but just be in the habit of removing hard evidence. There have been attempts to show that people who talk too much or too little, who give too many details or too few, are more likely to be deceiving. Mostly, these simply reflect the initial bias of the writer (or even the researcher!) They don't like people who talk too much and suspect them of fabricating. But the evidence for such things tends to be very narrow.

Related to Grim's comment under my last Nostalgia Destruction Tour post* : When people, especially those known to be intelligent, are quiet ones, we expect them to be introspective. Isn't that how it is in the movies and books? I learned from recontact with people, and also with contemplating many of the others, that this is emphatically not true. Many intelligent people, even quiet ones, are not at all introspective. I confess this is frankly amazing to me, but "it's nae use sayin' pigs conner fly when ye see 'em sproutin' wings." (Welsh, I believe) This is not to say that they aren't thoughtful - just not introspective, and thus not very aware of their own motivations and with a reduced ability to assess those of others.

There are many strategies for attempting to forget the unpleasant. Some are not only ineffective but can create a rebound effect. I have tried to make the visual outlines of something progressively fuzzier with less distinct colors, and this has some effect. But it doesn't touch the rest of the memory - its description, its impact, its sounds. Exposure therapies, which bring back the memory and then in some way undermine its reconsolidation, has some good effect. Telling others about an unpleasant event is a mixed bag.  The worst plan is to tell no one about it. The second worst plan is to tell everyone. Telling a small connected group such as a family, or even telling only a single individual tends to be optimal.

*I may have to make that a series

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Nostalgia That Still Works

My grandmother had this 78rpm record, one of the few left that could be played on her wind-up phonograph.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Tonight You Belong To Me

 Bernadette Peters might be the prettiest girl ever in the movies.

Monday, July 24, 2023

Nostalgia Destruction Tour - Memory

A self-indulgent post about dealing with old friends who were not as remembered. And yet at another level they very much were, insisting that they had changed while I saw surprising continuities. I understand how that can be just a bit better now.

You may find some useful information about memory in all this anyway. Comments on Daniel Schacter's book, The Seven Sins of Memory, are still to come.

I met with my college friend Sam after the reunion and mentioned two stories about him I had told to my children.  He slightly corrected both of them. "That was probably John Mahler, not Don, because I didn't room with Don until sophomore year." And similarly "That was probably sophomore year, because Don had a car that year.  None of us did freshman year." I instantly saw that he simply must be right in both instances.  Much of getting together with old friends years later is like this. I am usually the one who has the telling detail that others nod at, but have many times been the one who needed to adjust. Sometimes a dispute remains, both of us believing that the other has it wrong. Even this is often amusing, with ongoing mutual teasing about it over a decade. 

Sometimes it is darker, with a person remembering, still with accusing resentment, an incident that the other states did not happen that way, or even denies outright. The artificial smoothing over that "maybe they are both right" will not hold. They both may be wrong. They both may be only partly right. But the paired remembering is contradictory. Often it is easy to see why a person might want a particular claim to be erroneous. It may contain accusations of mean of even criminal behavior. It might make them appear stupid. Other times it is merely baffling. Neither has a clear interest in whether the event took place after work in winter or spring, yet both are fighting for their version. Something else is at play, outsiders cannot tell what.

It is much more likely for a person to forget an incident that happened or consolidate two or more incidents that were similar. This seems obvious, because the drive of the brain toward efficiency is at play. Do we need this? No. Can we mash these together? Yes. Yet I have seen some extreme versions of this over the past few years, and it gives one pause. People forget things that seem impossible. She was your roommate freshman year. You missed the whole season because of grades. Or even, they shot at us.  

Then it is possible that the narrative is so foundational, so required, that it destroys all in its path. It feels unnerving to be in the presence of that.


I found that I remember the good things about people, the witty things they said, their accomplishments, sometimes even things I admired but were generally unnoticed at the time. I have said I have a mind like an attic, full of charming and poignant things of uncertain usefulness. Nostalgia for me is opening trunks and saying "Oh, it's Aunty Em! And there's Toto!" Having actual contact with people - or with their websites and google-stalk info - reminds me of negative aspects I had not forgotten, but had not recalled in years.  

I had forgotten that his sarcasm was not only humorous, but actively mean. I don't think I'd like him much now. 

Her competing with her sister even now reminds me that this girlfriend actually didn't treat me all that well. She was rescued and accommodated then and it seems she has done that all her life and still expects it. 

He just walked away from responsibility in high school too.  I passed it off to immaturity. Guess not.  

These are actively painful for me when I reencounter them now, as if part of my childhood has been stolen.

Yet I revert to my rose-colored prism soon enough. I go to the incidents I loved, and find that I am better than most at enjoying them without regard to what went before or what came after. Like Legolas and the elves perhaps, where memory is evergreen.

I have stressed the continuity of people and this does seem to be something of a contradiction.  Perhaps the difference is not that I could have predicted who they would be now (though that is what it feels like to me) but that I have a greater pool to draw from of what things were in them then that I can use for comparison. 

Your genial, fourth generation salt-water wealth, visible even at 17 and now in its silver haired edition could have gone to putting others at ease like Queen Elizabeth did, but you can't seem to stop talking about your career success, still competing even as you retire. 

You were nerdy and hyperfocused and worried that you might not be smartest and most competent. You could have become intolerable, berating coworkers and having to die on every hill in order to have your way, but you became eccentric in a few side-hobbies instead, mixing with all strata of society with ease. 

You had an aspect of your childhood that was painfully hard, which you could have developed into generosity and tolerance for others who faced hardship, but instead you have redefined seemingly everyone you knew then into an opponent who had to be overcome in order that all-conquering you could emerge. 

All of you claimed to have changed since I knew you, but it is more that you could have gone only a limited number of ways. I can trace you back easily because the tracks into the past are familiar to me. Yet it is possible that my predictions in 1973 would have no better than anyone else's.

It might all have been worth it for the few I found.

More about Walking

Walking not only produces a certain type of thinking, but perhaps even a greater amount.  I certainly generate more posts than from sitting and thinking. So the current inability to get out and walk has been a real burden

The Inner Ring

I read this long before I had any realistic temptation to be part of any Inner Ring where I worked. Yet I had already seen this behavior in others at school, at church, in music and theater performance, and in what I could discern in arts and literature in society.

And I saw how powerful this temptation was for me already, and how much I would need to guard against it all my life.

Bible Study Introspection

Bible studies are designed to make people perform a minimal level of self-examination. "Did anything like this happen to you this week?" "Can you think of anyone in your life who was a particularly good example of this?" And the exercises are things like "Look for three instances this week where you see God at work in your relationships with other people." This does give me some explanation of why I find them mostly infuriating. For those of us who already do this naturally (or even obsessively), this is not useful.  I don't find when I push for more of this at study that people recognise all that quickly what I am saying - even very smart people. Some people have that introspective, self-examining style, some don't. It is a type of person, not a measure of a person. And yet once we have done some of the questions and move to the discussion phase I find the things that they say often very helpful. And I'm glad that I came.  It's just takes a while to get there.

I would think that maybe somebody shgould design Bible studies that operated more at my level (obsessive) and then I think "For what?" A lot of these people are a good deal nicer than I am, and might be thought of as better Christian examples to others. What advantage do we think that increased self-observation provides, really? Our motives and those of others. The people writing these studies may know more than I have been giving them credit for. It's just that it's impossible for me to sit through the first 40 minutes waiting for the last 20.

The amount that I do is likely excessive, providing no added value after some initial level and increasing tendencies to morbidity. Yet at least some seems to be necessary for the Christian walk. Perhaps this is why the Roman Catholics have clung to the sacrament of confession, which is much-neglected among Protestants.

Quiet Collapse of Republican State Parties

Jim Geraghty at National Review describes the Quiet Collapse of Four Key State Republican Parties: Arizona, Colorado, Minnesota, and Michigan.

I do not see Trump as a cause, but a symptom of deterioration, as I think this has been happening since 2008, if not 2000. But Donald has emphatically not been a solution, whatever his supporters insist must be true simply because they want it to be.

Please don't tell me that the Democrats are even crazier and more extremist. For these purposes that is absolutely irrelevant. It used to be that whatever else the Republicans had, they had people who would man the phones, lick the envelopes, and get at least some people out for even the small rallies. They would elect people who promised to work for you instead of fight for you, and some would even do it. They would find competent people to run for the nonglamorous offices.Now we are overrun with people who want to be in front of a camera.

Sunday, July 23, 2023

CS Lewis and Women - Again

Listening yet again to another podcast or written discussion between female academics fond of CS Lewis about his sexism, I was struck by what I felt were a few points that invariably got missed. I resolved to pick up the topic again. I was about a thousand words in with several thousand more, stretching out to the cracks of doom in front of me, and I already had six back-links to previous posts of mine, and twice that many to arguments made - often well-made - by others and I wondered what was the point. 

The points have been made, search-page after search-page's worth of them. Quite repetitive. I saw myself adding nothing to this. The same blind spots recur. Noting that Lewis was the product of his era and his peculiar placement in life, while the author ignores that they are equally beholden to their own era and responding almost viscerally to certain wordings as they refer others. Chronocentrism brought forward from the 1900s to the 2000s. That people might have a general view about women (or Frenchmen, or cabbies) yet make frequent exceptions for it - often neglected. I have to expect that people want to hear some things and don't want to hear others.

So I looked for leftovers, eying a possible escape. Had I mentioned Edith Stein, the woman born a Jew in Germany who became a Catholic saint in the 1900s? I had not, and now I have. Among many other things she wrote about overlooked aspects of God's possible intentions for female spirituality contributing to the overall in a powerful way. Had I mentioned Chesterton's contention that the success of women in the male-dominated world was in fact their final defeat? (A very GKC reversal of the expected.) I had not, and now I have. Had I mentioned Dorothy Sayers's dislike of Lewis's complementarianism, which I believe is strongly biased by her own conviction that her personal calling overruled more general expectations of Christian women? She may have been absolutely right in this, but it does undermine her claim to speak for women in general, at least a bit.  I had not, and now I have.

And I can't think of anything else you can't easily find a hundred other places.

Bucket Lists

I have long been against Bucket Lists partly for theological reasons. "Oh, what a shame that he never made it to Paris like he wanted to.  It only shows that we should do these things while we can, because we might not get the chance later." Yeah right.  I'm sure that guy who is in heaven now experiencing the Beatific Vision is kicking himself that he never saw Paris. The lists are a solid declaration that you believe you only have one life. I don't encourage them.

But I realise this going to Nantucket was part of something like a bucket list, The Cape and Islands were something that, once they came up, I realised I had never done and rather regretted that. Heh. I am absolutely against bucket lists now that Nantucket gifted me with (eventually) two months of tick-borne illness.

It made me also notice that my plan of seeing lots of stone circles and other prehistoric sites from Devon north through England and Scotland to Orkney looks a lot like a bucket list item also, as does the trip to Ireland. Norway again because of a wedding would be a different matter.

How to be Happy

 Happiness studies are very badly designed, and basically we don't know.  (WSJ)

But even these studies failed to confirm that three of the five activities the researchers analyzed reliably made people happy. Studies attempting to establish that spending time in nature, meditating and exercising had either weak or inconclusive results.“The evidence just melts away when you actually look at it closely,” Dunn said.

Of the two things shown to have some evidence they actually cause happiness, either could work in the other direction. It may be that people who are already happy express gratitude or talk to strangers.

I admit I do tend to believe both of those, however.  And it makes me happy that the Scandinavians do not speak much to strangers (though they spoke to me just fine) and are routinely declared the happiest nations - which I have railed for years is a complete crock given their suicide and alcoholism rates.  Those are not world-worst by any means, but neither are they great.  They reason that they score so high is that Scandis are very defensive, even arrogant about doing things better than other nations, and they feel very resppnsible to make their countries look good. 

They are smart people and can see where these questions are going.

Friday, July 21, 2023

Ode To Billy Joe

"There was a virus goin' round, Papa caught it and he died last spring"

The lyric was rattling around in my head early in the week, grimly, and nothing I did seemed to get rid of it. Maybe this will do it.

The very simple bluesy guitar is nonetheless just right in keeping itself restrained. The lyrics are tight throughout, hovering between frankness and suggestion. Why is the new young preacher innocently showing up just now, for example? 

Great song.


 If we should ever grow brave, what on earth would become of us?
Joy Davidman, in the introduction to Smoke on the Mountain: An Interpretation of the Ten Commandments in Terms of Today.


The unexamined life may not be worth living, but the examined life is no picnic either: My friend Chris Riley. 

This concept is going to come up for deeper discussion in the memory posts, but it's pretty good as a standalone.

Out of Hospital

Back from the hospital this afternoon. Malaria-like symptoms from Babesiosis.  It is a cousin of Lyme Disease, which I will not link, as that is more well-known. My second son complained "Why can't you just get Lyme, like normal people in New England?" And then it turned out that I had that too. As these ticks usually carry parasites, I likely have others as well, but most of this don't rise to the level of noticeable symptoms.

Originally confined to Nantucket, it has spread to nearby islands, and eventually to the Cape and all New England. However, it remains much more common on the Cape and Islands. I got a whopping does of one anti-parasitic, then continuing treatment with another anti-parasitic and some antibiotics.

When you are admitted to an ER they ask you if you have traveled to specific places. Texas and Florida are mentioned because of malaria. Well, I was in Texas in January, so that didn't sound likely. An older ER doctor suggested on the first night that it looked like Babesiosis and explained to me what it was. I had only ever heard of it at the Red Cross, as it is a rule-out for donating blood. "It used to be that it only occurred in Nantucket..." I interrupted. "I was in Nantucket two months ago." He thought that was a little long for symptoms to emerge until I pointed out I had been admitted for dehydration a month earlier.  He then thought that babesiosis was the way to bet. 

Yet somehow Texas stayed stuck in people's mind (as malaria is now up here with rising incidence, they may all be on hair-trigger to look for it) and I had to keep inserting Nantucket into some conversations. "How recently were you in Texas?" "January! I'm beginning to wish I'd never brought it up!" Eventually everyone settled into the theory Dr. King had proposed right off the bat. 

So people live their whole lives on the Cape and Islands and never get it, but I take the ferry out for six hours and get New England's own personal regional variety of malaria. A few people were intent on correcting me that this was not malaria, because that was mosquito-borne and this was tick-borne. To me that's like saying "You got this in Indiana, so it must be cluckitis.  If you had gotten in in Illinois it would be chickenosis."

Ben decide this was too weird, and reminded him of James Thurber's fictional great-great uncle, who died of Dutch Elm disease in 1912.

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Still recuperating

 AVI is still not feeling great this week, so posting will likely be limited to non-existent. However, a potential diagnosis has been found so that is a good sign. Many more posts to come I am sure. 

Sunday, July 16, 2023

The Nostalgia Destruction Tour

I went to my last formal event yesterday, and uncovered one more person I might contact.

I think I have learned a few things about myself, about memory, about how others in general view the past. I have been impressed but amused at how much people insisted they have changed, but I see alarming continuities.  I have learned they don't like hearing that. I am constantly revising my opinion on genetics and what we can actually change versus what we can only work around. I think therapists should focus more on workarounds rather than trying to effect change. Of course, the move toward "coaching" by even some PhD psychoanalysts who just find it works better is part of that, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is sorta kinda like that.

This all took a long time to assemble - in some ways since age 14, so I'm not sure it will be easy to put into neat packets.  But I do have a couple of those to start with, so I guess I will just get started in the next few days, if I can muster the concentration. Grace, apology, forgiveness, and vindication have been much on my mind the last year.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023


I may have recovered from whatever it is that has been plaguing me since 6/30.  I missed book club and church two weeks in a row. 

Update: Or maybe not.  I just canceled pub night for tomorrow.

Update II: Maybe I was premature.  I feel good and haven't had a temperature for 24 hours. Well, the dies is cast.

UpdateIII: I still have temperature fluctuations, can't concentrate well, and am exhausted every afternoon after getting a few things accomplished in the morning.  I call the doctor again tomorrow.  I don't feel that terrible, don't feel unhappy other than a little discouraged.

Sunday, July 09, 2023

Ivory Man

It turns out the Copper Age Ruler in Valencia, Spain, wasn't Ivory man at all, but Ivory Lady.

This is the reverse of the story of the Red Lady of Paviland in Wales about 30,000 years earlier, who turns out to have been a gent.

Saturday, July 08, 2023

Gen-X Candy

 I still love Karen Morgan.  I will have to ask my brother is she is still working.

Friday, July 07, 2023


I passed a sign on the back road that read "My neighbor is a Karen." Umm, you are publicly shaming someone with a sign because you disapprove of their behavior?  Seems rather Karenish to me.

Affairmative Action

I have wondered what my Romanian sons' stories would have looked like to even a moderately selective college admission team. My mother abandoned the family when I was six. I didn't start school for two more years because my father made my brother and me go out and work watching the goats and sheep for some people in our village in Transylvania so that he could have money for cigars and palinka. He didn't give us food.  Sometimes his mother di, bread and lard, but mostly we had to steal our food. He dropped us off at the state orphanage when we were ten and eight. I got out by getting into a foster home in a Hungarian village where we did farm work most of the day.  But I did go to school and I liked it there because the boys in Cetariu would all play soccer after the work day until it was too dark to play. We got transferred to a Christian orphanage when I was thirteen. They mostly treated us well there. Then we got adopted to America when was going into highschool. I got to play soccer and was pretty good and had lots of friends. I did win some math awards, but mostly I didn't do much at school.  I was a C student, sometimes B.

So what do you think, have I overcome enough to go to your school? 

He went at first to a small rather fundamentalist school in South Carolina, where the admissions department was enraptured by his story (and he had a testimony!) But he would have gotten into that school anyway. He moved back to NH three semesters later - we think there were not enough girlfriends - and gradually pushed himself through the rest of college online. He never thinks about his traumatic past and doesn't think of himself as someone who has overcome great odds to succeed, except perhaps his current boss, who is definitely a strange person. He had a bad life and now he has a good one.  That's about the way he sees it. 

I even wonder if being an affirmative action acceptance might have been a burden or and irritation to him.


 Pencil erasers are apparently there only for nostalgic decoration at this point.

Thursday, July 06, 2023

Is There An Illusion of Moral Decline?

Scott Alexander at ACX reviews Mastroianni and Gilbert's The Illusion of Moral Decline, and finds it imprecise, shallow, and biased.  He seems to really try to find some good things to say about it, and does find a few. The largest single flaw is that the data is based over and over on polls asking whether morality is in decline, and despite sniggering at that as obviously just everyone being deplorers, still uses it as data for whether morality actually is.  "Is there any area near where you live -- that is, within a mile -- where you would be afraid to walk alone at night?” The numbers are very stable between the 1960s and today. But the rate of violent crimes is 2.5x greater.  I mean, they could have looked it up, right? In many polls, over many age groups it was asked whether they felt most people could be trusted. Except...that doesn't tell us anything about whether they actually can be trusted. 

BTW, it can be intimidating looking at the right side of the page at ACX after having read a fair bit and seeing that you seem to have read only 5%.  Not to worry.  The comments - in this case over 400 - are in that measurement. The articles are often (not always) more manageable.  Much more so that a half-dozen years ago.

In all the hundred-ish polls that MG used as objective morality indicators, I counted zero that involved sex, marriage, divorce, child-rearing, drugs, alcohol, loyalty, patriotism, respect for elders, hard work, laziness, religion, or anything about God.

Suppose you were born in 1940. You learned from your parents that morality was about going to church, staying chaste until marriage, loving your country, working hard, and staying away from drugs.

You notice that between 1940 and 2020:

  • Church membership declined from 75% → 50%

  • Premarital sex rate went from from 20% → 75%

  • Trust in government went from 75% → 20%

  • Prime-age-male-labor-force nonparticipation rate quadrupled from 3% → 12%

  • Marijuana use went from 4% → 49%

You describe this state of affairs as “I’m worried about a moral decline”. Then some psychologists pounce on you with one million graphs showing that actually we respect Hispanics as much as ever which means you’re just biased.


In the series there is a review of Njal's Saga, comparing it to Eumenides. Loads of fun.

Call Home


Sent along by Sponge-headed Scienceman, who says "Stop the car, I need to call home.  Can I borrow a dime?"  I don't know how old it is - tank top and Crocs cover a wide span of years, and the haircut is the sort of thing that goes in and out according to family and local cultures, especially in the Southwestern Bell area.  The company still exists.

It took a long time for me to get over my nervousness about the cost of long-distance calls, and my mother never did. In the late 90s when I would call she would say "Well, it's your nickel, so I had better get off now," after just a few minutes.

Reminiscent of another nickel, for Pepsi-Cola - though I believe many candy bars, doughnuts, and other small pleasure items sold at that price as well.  Those had all gone up to a dime by my childhood. I advocate doing away with all coins at this point. Quarters are still useful, but none of the rest and it's not worth keeping the system alive for just one. Just pointless.  Of course, pennies have been pointless since the 60s. nickels since the 80s, and dimes since the 90s and nothing has changed, so I'm figuring it's a loser as a political move and it will still be there.

Confused Goodwhites

I have written about Goodwhites several times before, suggesting that much of the nation's polarisation comes from the scramble of a fairly large group to position themselves as the defenders (and protectors) of black people, by painting the other people as badwhites.  A lot of PR energy goes in making sure that people know how many badwhites there are out there, right on the brink of power if we are not ever-vigilant. Bogey-stories abound.

Asian-Americans confuse this issue terribly, and the Goodwhites can think of no better strategy than to  keep distracting attention from them."No, no, look over here. Here there are lots of sad black people and the badwhites who mistreat them.  This is where your focus should be." When pressed, they maintain that all the smartest people in the country, the Asian-Americans, who know more about getting into good colleges than anyone else, are somehow being fooled and manipulated by racist whites, who will do anything to keep black people down. 

Oh, so you're saying there's no racism at all in America, huh? And the next round of whack-a-mole begins.

Wednesday, July 05, 2023

The Odds

My weather site likes to have fun little filler stories about the things they know will excite people: tornadoes, lightning strikes, floods, blizzards. Today it has "Powerball wins or lightning strike: Which has better odds?" No I am not going to link to it.

Let me 'splain this to you, Lucy. It depends very much on my brother's frequent caution: "What do you mean by better?" Powerball wins have odds of zero that it will kill you.  Lightning strikes have odds of zero that you win millions of dollars. Any of the statistical twists that start "The odds are greater that you will die from tripping over a cat than..." should be viewed with extreme suspicion. They aren't completely useless.  Sometimes the popular perception of something is so far off that it deserves being slapped around a little. But generally, it is just comparing two things that are never going to happen to you.

Tuesday, July 04, 2023

Britain Is Dead

Samuel McIlhagga had a Palladium article a couple months ago that I missed, but Razib picked up on, Britain is Dead.  It is worse than sobering, it is depressing. It describes a Britain that will continue to have some elite dominance because of how things are structured in favor of the few, but is already hollowed out and outside of London, dipping into the level of Eastern Europe in terms of standards of living.

Because of its status as an initially advantaged first mover, the UK now has a fortified elite content to live on the rents of bygone ages. Its social order is constituted by the cultural legacy of the old aristocracy, underwritten by London financial brokers, and serviced by a shrinking middle class. Its administrative and political classes developed a culture of amateurism, uninterested in either the business of classically informed generalism or that of deep technical specialism. The modern result is a system that incentivizes speculative, consultative, and financial service work over manufacturing, research, and production.

I have been suggesting for years that Americans visit Europe now,  while most of it is still recognisably Europe, and this goes double for the UK. It is becoming a succession of museums. We will be going to Ireland and Orkney next year to bookend our trip to Norway.  I don't know when we shall go again.

Sunday, July 02, 2023

Magnus Carlsen

I understood the moves and some vague outlines of the strategies, but I did not get one of the "what do you think he did next?" questions. It did emerge a bit as the pieces grew fewer and how the passed pawns were progressing and being protected became increasingly important. But even then, no correct predictions.

The update on the Hans Niemann cheating allegations from last year are basically inconclusive.  The judge dismissed his defamation lawsuit, but he is also continuing to play very well, even under more scrutiny.

Snippet on Affirmative Action

 I cannot easily link to Twitter since they changes the rules (they say temporarily). I could set up an account of my own, but that seems a worrisome temptation. There are rabbit-holes all over Twitter.

But I will point out that Richard Hanania did a quick count of the racial mentions in the NYT editorial board's opinion on SFFA vs Harvard  

White: 3 mentions

Hispanic: 6 mentions

Black: 10 mentions

Asian: 0 mentions (the plaintiffs in the case)

"You can tell how deeply uncomfortable Asians make liberals"

I would also note "Jews: Also not mentioned."

You Shall Make No Idols

Listening to another medieval podcaster who I shall leave anonymous, she was describing quite breathlessly the ornate vestments from Westminster Abbey, two in another collection and among the few that survive.  "My heart stops a beat just to look at them," she said. She also referenced the lovely paintings of lords and ladies that adorned the walls of the hallway leading to the exhibit, and the beauty of them brought a sort of rapture to her voice. Almost...worshipful.

She expressed regret at all that was destroyed in the Reformation, especially under the Puritans. Most people would agree with her, especially those who have no god to worship and so substitute in things like beauty for their transcendent experiences. Those certainly would see no point in regarding such things as an obstacle to god because to them it would not be an obstacle. Beauty is fine as a final destination for them. 

Most believers would approve of beautiful music, beautiful architecture, beautiful decoration in worship and places of worship as well. I tend to side with them on the matter. There was the joke about the Episcopal Church so exclusive that it had a wine list for communion, well-capturing the ridiculousness of the extremity we can bring to what is supposed to be simple worship. But if you are the local winemaker asked to supply for the Mass every week a thousand years ago, do you not bring your best? If you are a poor trumpeter but pressed into service for Easter, do you not practice to make it the best you can? 

So the Puritans and other iconoclasts must be wrong, surely, in their destruction of the beautiful things that separate us from God? Yet the worship in her voice reminds me that they were very much onto something real. For some, at least, and likely more of us than admit it, beauty and nostalgia are idols.

Schoolyard Rhymes

I am impressed by the similarity to what the girls did at my school, even though these are British. Even the ones that are totally new to me have the same motions and sensibility. I am told that these were more common in cities, but my wife was in the suburbs and remembered similar things. "Spanish Lady" was the one she thought most representative. "Oh, Little Playmate" was big at Straw School in Manchester year after year.

I see that I did this same video and a very similar post about two years ago.  My memory is slipping.

Ben Blue

He hung on longer than most of the vaudevillians, mostly because the other comedians remembered how well he had done in that type of comedy and still found it funny.  They had him on. He didn't do the poor sap routine quite as well as they others.

It mostly doesn't translate, but you can see something of what was considered comedy for most of the movie public in those days. Movies were in theaters, far more common in cities, where they went through quicker rotation. And cities still had a large number of immigrants, mostly European, who came from similar comic styles but didn't speak the language that well.

He had a bit part in "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" for those who follow those things.

Why Informal Psychiatric Diagnosis Is Important

If you don't get it clear that these are behaviors that other people find difficult, you run the risk of evading the issues in one more clever way.

Diagnoses can be worked around. They aren't immutable, they aren't death sentences. Sometimes they not only aren't permanent, they aren't even long lived. People avoid them because they would rather just dismiss what is infuriating others as "just being high-energy," or "their own fault, really," or "I just don't take bullshit from people;" These combine neatly with the other most common form or rationalisation, hiding behind political or cultural groupings, e.g. "Someone needs to stand up for women* in these situations." Uhh, you are standing up for the irrational preference of one woman, you, against the other six people in the group, two of whom are women.

If someone accuses me of some sort of diagnostic category I don't feel the least obligation to accept it as true (unless it is someone I have reason to believe has exceptional insight). They are likely a fool and a show-off. But I am very curious about what they are seeing that makes them say that, because that may be quite useful to me for my own self-understanding.  They're calling me OCD.  I thought I was pretty sloppy on that job myself. What do they mean by OCD? What did they see or hear that gave them that idea?

I have a friend who works for the state Supreme Court, and one of his tasks is examining all the cases submitted for review - some of which are pretty nutcase, frankly - and determining whether there is a real case underneath all the detritus, an idea that the court might put out on the rquest wire that they think there's something for them to decide abou a particular RSA, asking the attorneys in the state to be on the lookout for a sane version of the challenge.

I think many people find such observations about themselves intrusive. I can see that. But frankly, there are people who find everything intrusive, and those are usually the most brittle and blaming. I also freely admit that I am far on the other end of that scale, finding very little intrusive. I could point to decades of working with psychiatric patients who would make very intrusive and insulting statements - or intrusive and what they thought were complimentary statements - and say that toughened my skin. You can hear some pretty alarming theories about why you are the way you are, mostly involving your imagined love of controlling others or perverse sexuality. The amount of projection that goes into these is usually obvious, so you shrug it off. But actually,** I think I was this way when I was a teenager. Ask away!  Any attention is good attention!  

It can be easy to see who doesn't want anyone asking too many questions sometimes. They might have to give up their precious explanation for why they are as wonderful as they are. I'm pretty rough on examining my own motives; it's possible that's why I don't mind forcing yours out into the sunlight.

Not that I'd tell you. Not unless I have any of twenty good reasons...

* or Christians, or nurses, or pick a category.

** There's that Asperger word in explanation again.

Saturday, July 01, 2023

Von Neumann

I recall a story from a mathematician or physicist who claimed to discern how intelligent someone was by observing how long it took them to figure out that they weren't as smart as John von Neumann.  It wasn't Feynman, but it was someone like that, also superbly intelligent with a humorous streak. Does anyone remember whose story that was?

What a great thing to have said about you, eh?

Prestigious Colleges

I grew up in New England, traditional home of the prestigious colleges (though Leland Stanford really put the cat among the pigeons, didn't he?) so I have always regarded myself as having an intuitive understanding of the question.

Yet my knowledge is now fifty years old.  My sons went to Christian colleges and few of their friends went to secular schools except NH state university system ones.

But lets have a go at it.  I will check college choice websites that identify selective colleges when I am near the end, to clean things up.  I'm not worried about personally getting a high score of naming the right ones, but comparing what has happened over the years.

First there are the Ivies: Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Brown, Columbia, UPenn, Princeton, and Cornell.

Then there are the Little Ivies: Williams, Amherst, Wesleyan, Bowdoin, Bates, and Colby in Maine, Middlebury.  I think Tufts and Trinity are usually included.  I think there are more, but I also think they are not always included.

The Seven Sisters: Wellesley, Radcliffe (now fully part of Harvard), Smith, Mount Holyoke, Bryn Mawr, Vassar (though it went co-ed just after my year) and...give me a moment...Barnard.

The science schools, MIT, Caltech...well, it gets complicated fast, because a lot of good schools have good departments in a lot of topics. The big midwestern Universities like Michigan and Wisconsin, for example. Stanford is likely better than the Ivies in the sciences, but it is not specifically a science school. Harvey Mudd is science-heavy, I recall, but lots of the California schools are elite in science: Cal poly, Berkeley, UCLA, I don't know if Renselaer still has its previous cache. Does Georgia Tech make the cut? I am getting mixed in what I am measuring: selectivity, prestige, quality of educatio....and it's about to get worse.

Then we get into Ivy Wannabees, like where I went. Bucknell, William and Mary. Oh wait, are Colgate and Hamilton actually little Ivies? Not sure. Johns Hopkins? Carleton? Still top shelf?  Have Duke and Vanderbilt held on, moved up? Chapel Hill...UVA select program...and still, plenty of large universities with top research and education - but those don't often carry the prestige names, because people can go to those schools with lower credentials and get out and be no great shakes. I suppose that's true anywhere, though. Rice...I don't really know, I just have this vague idea.