Saturday, September 30, 2023


We get given a mixed picture of carnies in the arts. 

Wait a minute, my information is 40 years old.  I have no idea how carnies are portrayed now.

There was one thread, that they were the decent folks, no worse than the normies and perhaps even better, because they had a clannish, supportive network. It was we normies who were the sick ones for rejecting them.

The other thread was that they were cheats with contempt for outsiders, with low-rent morals in every way.

Going to the Deerfield Fair the other day, I suddenly remembered that I had a patient around 1980 who was a carnie, about 35 years old with at least one child.  She was depressed and suicidal, and there was a difficulty because the whole family was moving on to the next fair, but she still wasn't safe to leave. Her story was that she had grown up in a carnie family, eventually marrying a boy she had played with throughout her childhood. This was not unusual. She shrugged at the incest and violence toward women.  It was normal. The drinking and dishonesty, same. She said those who only came on for a season or so, were both better and worse. 

There was a code, as many criminal groups have, that talking to the police or the outside authorities being absolutely forbidden. You grew up being told that the outside world hated you and would never accept you, so you were better off putting up with whatever is handed you by your family and associates. 

The documentary descriptions suggest that it's not anywhere near so bad now.  The law has penetrated and much of the abuse has been eliminated. It used to be that the police took a hands-off approach, figuring they were going away, and were going to be nothing but trouble if you arrested them and held them over for trial. It was asking for violence from the others. The same happened with gypsies in Europe. Just let 'em move on.  People should know the risks dealing with them.  Social workers?  They would need to find a place to keep the women and children while they waited for the dangerous others to get far enough away. Not gonna happen.

I think movement is part of the unenforced law.  The local gendarmes are concerned with the safety of the local citoyens. Their job is to keep the peace in Cheshire County. It is enough to keep a lid on it for five days, tolerating a fair bit, because there is a reason the fair is there - the people want it, and pay money for it. Whatever the hell happens to those girls that we don't see is not our problem. The police were more violent, also. Sometimes "solving" the problem through rough justice. That, of course, only strengthens the insistence that the boundary between carnie and outsider be maintained by internal violence.  The strong in the clan had the primitive justice that such people, usually men, had.

We were talking last night about the old Rochester Fair, and some of the scams the midway would play on customers, fending off any objections to getting cheated with hefty bouncers who suddenly appeared as the realisation that the cash wasn't being given back sunk in.

There were cultures throughout the country years ago that operated like this, with more violence, more isolation, more covering up for each other. Was it worse than in the general population? Almost definitely.  A lot worse? Well, that's a tougher question. There were plenty of people who had been in town for generations who did terrible things, or people that moved into the nicest apartments in the city that beat their wives and cheated people. Those people usually cheated at a much more expensive level, too, and had a longer reach for wives trying to run away.

Yet I don't think you would hear my patient's story of closed violent societies so much anymore.  We were shocked at it then, considering it to be something from an earlier era, surprised it still existed. The frontier functioned in this way to a fair extent. We romanticise it, but my great-grandmother didn't much romanticise her husband heading west and changing his name, leaving her with three children. It wasn't all just restless eccentrics who were misunderstood by the folks in Medina, Ohio.

We disapprove of the surveillance state, but being able to check paternity with DNA and track down deadbeats has been a good thing for women and especially children.


 When someone asks you what your pronouns are.

Friday, September 29, 2023

Primitive Prayer

We think God should give it to us because it is so small and unimportant, such a little thing.  C'mon God, it's not going to disrupt your plan for the world much, if at all. Why not give us this little thing, which would make us disproportionately happier for little effort on your part. We are almost asking in annoyance.  Not almost.  I have asked in annoyance before.

Yet we also think he should answer it because it is so large and import. Jesus, this is my wife I'm asking for. I would trade everything I own for this. 

I think God is pleased when we come to him in prayer of any sort, because it shows we are slowly understanding reality. But beyond that, I don't know his opinion of our different prayers.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Speaking of ACX

His book review winners for the year are up.

The Dawn of Everything - Again

 When Graber and Wenfrow's The Dawn of Everything came out about a year and a half ago I described it in some detail, with no real criticism of it. I had heard Patrick Wyman interview one of them with enthusiasm, and I generally like his stuff. The idea that prehistorical societies were in fact more varied and experimental was one that appealed to me. Commenters who had read it were less enthused. I came back to it about a year ago because it was reviewed in detail at ACX, and people there really didn't like it.  Rob Henderson now reviews it, with much the same disapproval - essentially that the examples and data don't fit their conclusions nearly so well as their preconceived notions fit their conclusions - including the scathing takedown from Freddie deBoer that I also quote in link #2.

I wouldn't bother with something that had so little new information for you except that Henderson tells an anecdote from academia I found interesting.

Some years ago, I watched an interactive course taught by Yale political science professor Ian Shapiro. Shapiro posed a simple question to his two students, a young American man and a young woman from a developing country: “If there were no government, no state at all, what do you think life would be like?”

The woman replied, “Well, from my experience, I come from the world of the failed state. And this much I know: It’s not pretty and it’s gruesome violence. . . . It’s just humiliating, I would say, for human beings to live in a state without structure, without real authority.”²

The man then said, “I think for the most part humans are generally good, they’re good natured and I think it’ll be all right. . . . I have a rosy picture of the human condition, I think.”

The woman stifled a laugh, turned to the professor, and said, “I say that he is American. He’s American. This is why he thinks that.”

Tuesday, September 26, 2023


 This took me a minute

Goethe's Three Questions

My post from 2006 on the subject has over 12,000 hits and is the second-most visited on the site.  It is not my wisdom about the subject, but that others are looking to learn about the topic.  I thought of it during the Ann Althouse discussion of Leonard Cohen berating critics who didn't like Bob Dylan because of his singing voice. He trashed people who liked sweet singing, basically.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe directed that Three Questions be asked about any work of art. They must be answered in order.

1. What was the artist trying to do?

2. How well did he do it?

3. Was it worth the doing?

The point is, until one answers the first two questions, one should not be attempting to answer the third. It is a check on over-hasty judgement, and provides a structure to see things with new eyes.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Dead, Dead, The Child I Lov'd So Well

 Charles Wesley. 

1. Dead, dead the child I loved so well 

Transported to the the world above

I need no more my heart concel

I never dared indulge my love

But may I not indulge my grief

And seek in tears a sad relief?

2. Mine earthly happiness is fled

His mother's joy, his father's hope

Oh had I died in Isaac's stead

He should have lived my age's prop

He should have closed his father's eyes

And followed me to paradise

3. Those waving hands no more shall move

Those laughing eyes shall smile no more

He cannot now engage our love

With sweet insinuating power

Our weakened unguarded hearts ensnare

And rival his creator there

4. From us, and we from him secure

Caught to his heavenly father's breast

He waits, till we the bliss insure

From all these stormy sorrows rest

And see him with our Angel stand

To waft, and welcome us to land

Saturday, September 23, 2023


 Show all Dunkins near me. (Works better clicked)

Friday, September 22, 2023

The Trouble With "X"

CS Lewis talks about George MacDonald "baptising his imagination," making it open to the person of Jesus.  For me that was Tolkien, but I get the concept. Lewis was much more the teacher and even disciplinarian for me. I read God In The Dock early in my walk and learned a great deal about how to live in the world as a Christian. Many writers will teach you theology, and life lessons can come downstream of that. It is good to be able to confirm that the source of the stream is clean - that it has Scriptural backing and that better Christians than I have wrestled with it and found it solid. 

This essay showed up at a time when I had a particular X who was troubling me.  I no longer recall who. There have been many X's over the years, people who would be just fine but for a few infuriating characteristics that spoil it all.  One keeps thinking "If I could just get him to see how much this upsets the rest of the congregation, I am sure he would quickly mend his ways, as he is generally a decent chap who doesn't want to be a difficulty." And so one starts on the long process of getting them to see until months or even years later, one gives it up. They will never see it. Somehow, they can't.  When we find the perfect analogy and the light dawns, somehow they shapeshift by morning and are back at square one.

I would see it in the mentally ill, certainly, as lack of insight is an infuriating symptom of many conditions. I wasted an enormous amount of time in argument, hoping that I would strike gold and bring all around right. Yet it is not only the obviously damaged who exhibit this. 

Spiritually, it is all of us.  

The essay is from 1948.

I suppose I may assume that seven out of ten of those who read these lines are in some kind of difficulty about some other human being. Either at work or at home, either the people who employ you or those whom you employ, either those who share your house or those whose house you share, either your in-laws or parents or children, your wife or your husband, are making life harder for you than it need be even in these days. It is to be hoped that we do not often mention these difficulties (especially the domestic ones) to outsiders. But sometimes we do. An outside friend asks us why we are looking so glum; and the truth comes out. 

On such occasions the outside friend usually says, ‘But why don’t you tell them? Why don’t you go to your wife (or husband, or father, or daughter, or boss, or landlady, or lodger) and have it all out? People are usually reasonable. All you’ve got to do is to make them see things in the right light. Explain it to them in a reasonable, quiet, friendly way’ And we, whatever we say outwardly, think sadly to ourselves, “He doesn’t know ‘X’.” We do. We know how utterly hopeless it is to make ‘X’ see reason. Either we’ve tried it over and over again – tried it till we are sick of trying it – or else we’ve never tried it because we saw from the beginning how useless it would be. We know that if we attempt to ‘have it all out with “X” ‘ there will either be a ‘scene’, or else ‘X’ will stare at us in blank amazement and say ‘I don’t know what on earth you’re talking about’; or else (which is perhaps worst of all) ‘X will quite agree with us and promise to turn over a new leaf and put everything on a new footing – and then, twenty-four hours later, will be exactly the same as ‘X’ has always been. 

You know, in fact, that any attempt to talk things over with ‘X’ will shipwreck on the old, fatal flaw in ‘X’s’ character. And you see, looking back, how all the plans you have ever made always have shipwrecked on that fatal flaw – on ‘X’s’ incurable jealousy, or laziness, or touchiness, or muddle-headedness, or bossiness, or ill temper, or changeableness. Up to a certain age you have perhaps had the illusion that some external stroke of good fortune – an improvement in health, a rise of salary, the end of the war – would solve your difficulty. But you know better now. The war is over, and you realize that even if the other things happened, ‘X’ would still be ‘X’, and you would still be up against the same old problem. Even if you became a millionaire, your husband would still be a bully, or your wife would still nag or your son would still drink, or you’d still have to have your mother-in-law to live with you. 

It is a great step forward to realize that this is so; to face the fact that even if all external things went right, real happiness would still depend on the character of the people you have to live with – and that you can’t alter their characters. And now comes the point. When you have seen this you have, for the first time, had a glimpse of what it must be like for God. For, of course, this is (in one way) just what God Himself is up against. He has provided a rich, beautiful world for people to live in. He has given them intelligence to show them how it can be used, and conscience to show them how it ought to be used. He has contrived that the things they need for their biological life (food, drink, rest, sleep, exercise) should be positively delightful to them. And, having done all this, He then sees all His plans spoiled – just as our little plans are spoiled – by the crookedness of the people themselves. All the things He has given them to be happy with they turn into occasions for quarrelling and jealousy, and excess and hoarding, and tomfoolery. 

You may say it is very different for God because He could, if He pleased, alter people’s characters, and we can’t. But this difference doesn’t go quite as deep as we may at first think. God has made it a rule for Himself that He won’t alter people’s character by force. He can and will alter them – but only if the people will let Him. In that way He has really and truly limited His power. Sometimes we wonder why He has done so, or even wish that He hadn’t. But apparently He thinks it worth doing. He would rather have a world of free beings, with all its risks, than a world of people who did right like machines because they couldn’t do anything else. The more we succeed in imagining what a world of perfect automatic beings would be like, the more, I think, we shall see His wisdom. 

I said that when we see how all our plans shipwreck on the characters of the people we have to deal with, we are ‘in one way’ seeing what it must be like for God. But only in one way. There are two respects in which God’s view must be very different from ours. In the first place, He sees (like you) how all the people in your home or your job are in various degrees awkward or difficult; but when He looks into that home or factory or office He sees one more person of the same kind – the one you never do see. I mean, of course, yourself. That is the next great step in wisdom – to realize that you also are just that sort of person. You also have a fatal flaw in your character. All the hopes and plans of others have again and again shipwrecked on your character just as your hopes and plans have shipwrecked on theirs. 

It is no good passing this over with some vague, general · admission such as ‘Of course, I know I have my faults.’ It is important to realize that there is some really fatal flaw in you: something which gives the others just that same feeling of despair which their flaws give you. And it is almost certainly something you don’t know about – like what the advertisements call ‘halitosis’, which everyone notices except the person who has it. But why, you ask, don’t the others tell me? Believe me, they have tried to tell you over and over again, and you just couldn’t ‘take it’. Perhaps a good deal of what you call their ‘nagging’ or ‘bad temper’ or ‘queerness’ are just their attempts to make you see the truth. And even the faults you do know you don’t know fully. You say, ‘I admit I lost my temper last night’; but the others know that you’re always doing it, that you are a bad-tempered person. You say, ‘I admit I drank too much last Saturday’; but everyone else knows that you are a habitual drunkard. 

That is one way in which God’s view must differ from mine. He sees all the characters: I see all except my own. But the second difference is this. He loves the people in spite of their faults. He goes on loving. He does not let go. Don’t say, ‘It’s all very well for Him; He hasn’t got to live with them.’ He has. He is inside them as well as outside them. He is with them far more intimately and closely and incessantly than we can ever be. Every vile thought within their minds (and ours), every moment of spite, envy, arrogance, greed and self-conceit comes right up against His patient and longing love, and grieves His spirit more than it grieves ours. 

The more we can imitate God in both these respects, the more progress we shall make. We must love ‘X’ more; and we must learn to see ourselves as a person of exactly the same kind. Some people say it is morbid to be always thinking of one’s own faults. That would be all very well if most of us could stop thinking of our own without soon beginning to think about those of other people. For unfortunately we enjoy thinking about other people’s faults: and in the proper sense of the word ‘morbid’, that is the most morbid pleasure in the world. 

We don’t like rationing which is imposed upon us, but I suggest one form of rationing which we ought to impose on ourselves. Abstain from all thinking about other people’s faults, unless your duties as a teacher or parent make it necessary to think about them. Whenever the thoughts come unnecessarily into one’s mind, why not simply shove them away? And think of one’s own faults instead? For there, with God’s help, one can do something. Of all the awkward people in your house or job there is only one whom you can improve very much. That is the practical end at which to begin. 

And really, we’d better. The job has to be tackled some day: and every day we put it off will make it harder to begin. What, after all, is the alternative? You see clearly enough that nothing, not even God with all His power, can make ‘X’ really happy as long as ‘X’ remains envious, self-centred, and spiteful. Be sure there is something inside you which, unless it is altered, will put it out of God’s power to prevent your being eternally miserable. While that something remains there can be no Heaven for you, just as there can be no sweet smells for a man with a cold in the nose, and no music for a man who is deaf. It’s not a question of God ‘sending’ us to Hell. In each of us there is something growing up which will of itself be Hell unless it is nipped in the bud. The matter is serious: let us put ourselves in His hands at once – this very day, this hour.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Fox on the Run

I have heard better instrumentalists, but this may be the smoothest vocals yet.

Not everyone likes "smooth" in their bluegrass vocals.  Some like a more strained and nasal sound, thinking it more authentic.  Well, it was in some parts of Appalachia, in that corner of western VA, next to KY, NC, and TN, where even Roanoke is 250 miles away. That bleeds into other areas, but there were plenty of Appalachian regions that liked the sweet sound.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Character Reveal

Always judge someone by how they treat people who can’t do anything for them. As rules for life go, it’s pretty much unbeatable. Ed West "The Wrong Side of History."

Weddings and Divorce

I have noticed for years that as the cost of weddings has gone up the amount of marital commitment in the culture has gone down.  Now there is interesting research that this is true even at the individual level: "A Diamond is Forever and Other Myths." As the cost of the ring and the wedding goes down, the divorce rate tracks it down as well. In fact, down to half. I admit I hadn't thought of the ring, only the wedding reception and the number of bridesmaids. There is a cultural pressure that insists on having all the trimmings for the wedding. There is evidence that it does not insist on all the trimmings for marriage itself. (CWCID Rob Henderson)

Good Vibrations

I didn't much like the Beach Boys early on - great music and harmonies, if a little happy-clappy, but the lyrics seemed shallow to a serious member of the Folk Song Army like me. But I heard Good Vibrations on the radio once and was hooked immediately. Pop harmony had very much grown up. The lyrics were now incidental. I have written on this topic half a dozen times, so you can look it up under "vibrations" in the search bar if you care that much.

But today I was thinking about it and thought I'd send it along.


My conversations on the Nostalgia Destruction Tour have included some interesting observations I have not made aloud. Some people are very quick to show how they have been a Success. Others want to demonstrate that they have not been a Failure. These should be identical conversations, but somehow they feel very different. I think I understand this, or at least, I have some a similar disconnect in my own thinking.

My mother always wanted me to be notable, in the sense of anything she could brag about: an author, a professor, an entertainer - or anything that would get me interviewed on Merv Griffin where her friends could see.  She was her mother's daughter in that way. But that was the shallowest of her attitudes and she knew it, and made herself treat more important things as well, more important.  A lot of mothers were like this, and a lot of us are like this, blaming it on our mothers when it is our own fault in the end. It would have been great for me if I had been on Merv Griffin, too.

Yeah, you have your own demons, I won't dwell on mine.

But there is also not having to be sheepish in the face of those who were peers but have now in some sense exceeded us.If I read that correctly, that seems to be worse for people.

We want it both ways, certainly, choosing what we know is more moral and valuable but also secretly wanting to get credit for more standard, banal definitions of success. One can track it at reunions over the years, and the photographers will tell you that a lot of guys will be saying "Have you got change for a hundred?" at the 25th. For my group that was more like the 20th, with everyone jockeying. For high school 50th there were only a very few like that. Most of us were just happy to see someone who could validate the reality we remembered. If someone had taken a different tack, we wanted to hear about it, not judge it.  I imagine there are limits, and people who would never dream of going and seeing the people who once thought they had great potential.  I can't tell you too much about them.

Oh, yes I can, actually.  I had a few as patients over the years. It flips along the way for them.  Those who have a serious mental illness or a spouse with one are relieved to be greeted with a smile and a kind word. The idea of success in the usual sense went away a long time ago. To be seen as human is enough.

I noted one large exception to this, and that is the different tracks taken by women. The marriage/no marriage, children/no children questions pressed them harder. They chose one or the other, or both, the latter having consequences of its own. Men mentioned children with some joy and pride, but might not mention them at all.  Women provided their status on that quickly, and felt the need to explain. They had not married, but they wanted you to know they were still socially successful, with very good friends and fulfilling activities. Or, they had had children, but they had not just had children - they had done creditable things in the world of work as well, they were quick to declare. Some were defensive, even angry and critical of the other sets of choices. Some seemed more comfortable with however things turned out.

Except if they kept talking, a few of them had that same resentment, defensiveness, and apology leak out. I did not keep track of the percentages - I was too busy talking. I'm sure someone's got numbers on the levels of regret either way. It is far less so among men.  The usual explanation is the expectations placed upon women in our society, but I have grown suspicious of this.  I think it is true enough, but inadequate to explain. I think the question of children occurs to women in all societies. Pregnancy is obvious. Even young and unmarried girls have the awareness "my body could do that, amiright?" For boys that is more distant. So females make their peace with that - or don't - one way or the other. It is just always going to be closer to the surface with them, talking with cousins, coworkers...and of course their mothers, who rather obviously in the group that had children. So if you decide not to, you are going to be in a ddifferent group from her, even if that is unsaid.* Whole books have been written about that in the last few generations. Even women who hate sex or hate men come up against the highly visible capabilities of their own bodies and have female friends to boot. I have nothing to add. I only note that this is a whole axis of success/failure that operates 24/7. Even women who are completely comfortable with their choices, so far as I can see, are touchy and defensive if they believe others will think they have made the wrong choices and are thus a failure. They get quick to point out how good they are at being aunts. There is no comparable defensiveness among men that they are really good uncles.  Perhaps there is no escape and little that men can do to help women in this matter, only harm.

You see it in men as well, but more distant, less pressing.  More to come on that a few paragraphs down. 

I think there is a large difference between women who never saw much advantage in marriage, or even more in having children as opposed to those where it is rather obvious that "no one ever asked." I know a few. Married men look at that group and see it as mixed. Man, someone should have asked that one. She is a way better deal than half the wives of friends of mine.  I wonder how it happened?  Was the timing just wrong the few times things looked promising? The correct husband showed up when she was 20, but she wasn't that interested until she was 30? Dunno. Anyway, it's a shame. Again, I won't offer much opinion here.  I get the impression that women go over this territory much more thoroughly with each other.

But there is a third group, which did not marry because it was all just excuses.  They didn't want to commit, didn't want to give, and they need something that sounds better. 

Women don't talk about career failure as much, at least in my generation. There may be some residual attitude that "Well, you at least had a career.  We won't inquire too closely beyond that. That was accomplishment enough." Men don't get that benefit - maybe they do now, in a different economy - and show that same defensiveness we saw in women in the preceding paragraphs.

I am seeing something new, though there may be selection bias. I am hearing men at retirement or near retirement ages talk more about wisdom and meaning and importance. They want to show that they have learned things about life, that they have understood things. They talk about what they want to teach to those younger, and where they have found ways to pass this on. I don't want you to think I was only about making money, or rising in my field. There's more to life than that. It is not as if I never heard such things when they were thirty, but there seems to be more of it at seventy. It fits the stereotypes, certainly.

Monday, September 18, 2023


Expanding on my comments about freedom under Rob Henderson's article about debating the Sexual Revolution.

Most of us aren't very good at freedom. The difficulty arises in who does the curtailing of others' freedom "for their own good." It is likely true that we are not fit to be our own masters. But others are even less fit than we are in authority over us. In our wisest moments we can see what limitations we should impose on ourselves, whether we call them fences, or disciplines, or structures. Marriage would be one, and parenthood another. Becoming a group member rather than a mere observer. Being a student (or teacher) instead of a receiver of entertainment.

I think it is parallel to Lewis's comment about democracy

I am a democrat because I believe in the Fall of Man. I think most people are democrats for the opposite reason. A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from the ideas of people like Rousseau, who believed in democracy because they thought mankind so wise and good that everyone deserved a share in the government. The danger of defending democracy on those grounds is that they’re not true. And whenever their weakness is exposed, the people who prefer tyranny make capital out of the exposure… The real reason for democracy is just the reverse. Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows. Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.

Zip in "the right to rule themselves" for "a share in government" and you will see what I mean.  We don't deserve any such thing.  We are quite certain to screw at least some of it up. It is only because the other choices are worse that we are stuck with being in charge of ourselves. 

Those who want to fix things for everyone else make very good points about the general fecklessness of humankind. We do make terrible decisions, and it does sometimes seem that a few reasonable people, not necessarily Solomonic, but pretty good, could make things go more smoothly.  In fact, sometimes they do. It's just that people we agreed to put in charge temporarily tend to have mission creep and want to stay longer; and people who are very good at being in charge of our chickens don't do as well with the pigs, somehow; and others start to think they are important and become insufferable, and even when they're right they are getting everyone's back up; and after not being in charge of parts of your life for too long, we all seem to forget the necessary vigilance and let things slide.

But quite simply, if you come back in two years, or twenty, or two hundred you find that all this great show-running is looking less impressive, with people leaving cigarette butts around and pinching the women when they think no one is looking. 

I think we weaken our argument when we insist to governments or other authorities that we should paddle our own canoes because we are clearly so good at it.  They will have a hundred entirely accurate examples why this is manifestly not so. Our best argument may be the childish one: "Who died and made you boss?"

Related: This is why I wail in despair whenever government wants to create a Comprehensive Solution. Such things do not exist.  These are not more efficient, they are the opposite of efficiency, solving 50% of the current problem while giving us two new ones. We will have some homelessness.  Even the Scandinavians have some, and they have a crazy strong work ethic there.

Covid-19 and Neanderthal Genes

I admit I did not remotely see this coming. Genetic Predisposition: Neanderthal Genes Linked to Severe COVID-19

As the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe, it became increasingly clear that the severity of the disease varied widely among individuals. While factors like age were recognized as risk factors, scientists also suspected that genetic predisposition played a role, as family members often exhibited similar disease severity. Now, research1 from Italy's Bergamo, one of the early epicenters of the pandemic, has unveiled a compelling link between Neanderthal genes and the development of life-threatening forms of COVID-19.

Is this going to hold up, or is this going to be some chance co-occuring factor?  From the looks of it at the moment, it looks real. East Asian peoples have way more Denisovan and way less Neanderthal genes. Perhaps all our blathering (mine, too) about cultural contact and willingness to wear masks and be told what to do, etc was just crap.

Still, effect size matters.

Anglo-Saxon England Podcast - and Cricket

I can only recommend Anglo-Saxon England with reservation. It very much depends on what you are looking for. I thought modern historians had moved away from focus on battles and kings, so I am surprised that this is mostly what you get here. Tom Kearns clearly knows his stuff.  He makes constant reference to the sources and their disagreements and limitations. He is aware of the marriages for alliance, or reading between the lines to discern whether a ruler is a puppet of a more powerful neighbor or an assertion of local power in defiance of one. He gives a fair bit of attention to archbishops and their replacements as well, to give some sense of the competition and sharing of power.

But in the end it's lists of kings and successions. As these are all Anglo-Saxon names, all Pendas and Coenwulfs, Egfriths and Aethelberts.  Not a Henry or a Richard among them to sooth the modern mind with familiar names. There is passing mention of coinage, or legal codes, or trade from Kent to the Continent, but only in service to discussing kings, and next kings, and relatives of kings.  To be fair, he does have bonus episodes about distinctives of piety and poetic themes, but these are background, not fully integrated in to the discussions.  What did they eat?  How did they marry? What did they sell? What were their houses and carts like?

There is another podcast of similar name Anglo Saxon England (no hyphen) by David Crowther, which I listend to a few years ago.  I should listen to a couple of episodes again before reviewing that. Stay tuned.  I think I liked it better.

Small podcasts can be fun because of who is taking a flyer on putting an add there.  I keep getting plugs for a weekly podcast on Indian Cricket.  I might give it a try, just for the novelty of it.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Jumping Worms

My wife is quite distressed at this invasive species, which has shown up in one of her gardens. As you can see from the UMass extension info, there is not much you can do about them just yet.

A lot of problems that people rather reflexively ascribe to climate change or loss of habitat are actually problems from invasive species that have no natural predators. And we have sort of learned that bringing predators in can oft gang agley. We keep hoping, and trying, and sometimes it even works.

The Emerald Ash Borer is taking out nearly 100% of the ash trees here. Residual, or "lingering" survivors are studied, but do not be that encouraged.  Yes, they will rebalance the forests with ashes, but that will take 5-12 centuries. Dutch Elm Disease did not wipe out all North American elms, but it's close. Eurasian Watermilfoil is wreaking havoc on New England lakes despite intensive efforts to prevent transmission from one lake to the next. 

International trade is mostly a very good thing for everyone involved.  But not always. Sometimes plants and animals arrive in the packing crates.

Freedom and Happiness

In the larger discussion of Rob Henderson's reporting on the debate "Has The Sexual Revolution Failed?" that took place recently in Los Angeles, he notes with approval the philosopher Isaiah Berlin's teaching that it is not at all self-evident that all goods must be compatible. 

We can’t have everything good all at once. We can have some good things, but we can’t have all good things at the same time.

Equally desirable ends often collide. Equally valued aims regularly contradict each other.

Many smart people believe that all good things can be made to conspire towards a final harmonious resolution. Freedom is good. Happiness is good. Naturally, we think (or hope) that these and all other values naturally go together. But they don’t.

The British philosopher Isaiah Berlin repeatedly stressed this point:

“The optimistic view…that all good things must be compatible, and that therefore freedom, order, knowledge, happiness…must be at least compatible, and perhaps even entail one another in a systematic fashion…is not self-evidently true…Indeed, it is perhaps one of the least plausible beliefs ever entertained by profound and influential thinkers.”

Life is full of tradeoffs. Equally good and desirable things cannot be harmonized.

The debate was reportedly excellent and fairly conducted. Henderson "notices" the obvious: there is a legitimate debate whether the sexual revolution worked for adults. There is no question it has failed children.

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Another Man

The lyric "another man would have been something...but another man never would have bidder boom" kept running through my head until it popped in a few seconds let her go...oh yeah another man would have been angry... Memory is like that, as you well know.

I recall someone telling me there was a long version that had been cut to make the popular AM version, with the requisite tone of voice that told you the longer version was of course much better.  I mean, did you even have to ask? We all fell for that in those days. But in this case the long version wasn't better. Cooler, maybe. Trippier. But the crispness in the message is better in the edit.

Friday, September 15, 2023

Is It ChatGPT?

I am using porcini mushrooms for the first time, in a recipe for the gravy in Jagerschnitzel. We found the dried variety at Whole Foods*, and I will only be pounding a few of them into submission to add to the regular mushrooms in the brown gravy.  Reportedly, they have an intense umami flavor (yay!) that will be great. But I will only be using about a third of the bag, so I had the obvious question: Once the bag is opened, how do I preserve the rest?  Do I seal them tight in a second bag and freeze them/refrigerate them? Do I cut/pound them all up fine and get them into some sauce or gravy that I can store? Can I just close the bag with a shrug and put them back on the shelf for 2 or 20 or 200 days?

Update: Answer: Put bag in bag. Cool dark place. Freezing or refrigerating meh.

Give me clever answers if you know them, but the part I want to bring to the AVI League is what I found when I tried to DuckDG the answer. I was getting irritated at the tone, repetitiveness, and banality of the answer and thinking "Why do people think that ChatGPT is worse than this? If this is the competition for many questions, give me the machine, because it's more efficient!" 

Which led immediately to Wait a minute.  What if this is ChatGPT?  It has that feel. What do you think? Is this a lazy but required-to-be-obsessive human being trying to fulfill a contract writing an article about culinary interventions, or is this ChatGPT?

*We wander over to Big Joe's Foods (Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, and the Biggest local Hannaford's are close to each other in Bedford, NH, so we nicknamed the group that) occasionally, mostly because of trying to find unusual gluten-free things like pie crusts or canned soups. But Whole Foods is organised in a way that is so unfamiliar to us that we can't find things. If we did all our shopping there, as some of the Bedford, etc, folks do, we would just learn it intuitively (like hitting a slider). But we don't, so we don't. It has taken an unfortunate number of wandering around experiences to learn that our best strategy is to ask someone the moment we get in the door, e.g. "Where are the porcini mushrooms?"

Come To Me, Bend To Me


I was in the show in college, and remember a similar plaintiveness and emotion from the person who sang this. I had not realised it was cut from the movie. Beautiful song.  Perhaps the best in the show.

Let me ruin it all for you. (You're welcome.)

I was surprised upon hearing a decade or two ago that "Brigadoon" is not considered a well-written show, neither songs nor dialogue.  Yet after thinking about it, that is correct. Its Scottish dialect is pretty well butchered - just a bunch of standard stereotypical words like heather and dearie and lassie thrown in for effect. The lyrics are downright terrible in places:

Angus: Lads, say a prayer, I'm afraid Harry Beaton is dead! 

Tommy: Looks like he fell on a rock and it crushed in his head.

I am afraid it was Walker Hamilton who got that line. He was better known for tackling an attempted rapist running away in the dark a month or so after, only realising during the chase that the criminal might be armed, but pressing on anyway. When the bell rang, Walker answered, I guess, both in heroism and in humiliating singing. 

Back to the show. We got to wear kilts! And learned all the kilt jokes!  What is worn under the kilt? There's nothin' worn, lass, it's all in fine workin' order! And everyone had a try at bad Scottish accents, which the director eventually disallowed, because we were all terrible at it and he didn't want it to become comic. Added bonus, bad Broadway songs are easier to parody: "Jeanie's shacking up, Jeanie's putting out..." 

Yet really, listen to how inappropriate the music is behind Edward Villella in the deathly serious moment of the Sword dance. Starts off great, then gets silly.

Ridiculous. There were some great moments in the music, such as the last modulation of  "Almost Like Being In Love." But the rhyming in "Vendor's Calls" and "I'll Go Home With Bonnie Jean" are terrible, and the whole standing joke about the guy from Georgia in this with a different accent as comic relief - really? And death by inadvertent tripping as a plot solution?

Nonetheless, I've been singing them in my head all week, and even fifty years later all the terrible songs and limited staging comes back to me a few times each year. So much still brings tears to my eyes.  Though more and more music brings tears to my eyes these days.  Don't stand near me in church at Christmas.

Real Baseball. Real Sports Data

 Update:  I should have linked to the pod.  Transcript available there. The phrase "talent stack" was used for Boddy in the comments.  I think that's the right idea.

In hitting a baseball, there are three aspects: bat speed, smash factor (a concept from golf, of squaring up the ball properly and hitting it at the correct angle), and pitch selection. If you ask coaches and players, down to the Little League level, they will tell you that pitch selection is most important.  Don't swing at bad pitches. 

But they are wrong.  Bat speed is the most important. AA and AAA is full of guys who have great pitch selection. Giancarlo Stanton, on the other hand, has poor pitch selection. He does draw some walks, but he has never hit .300, seldom even .280, in any year. But he hit 59 homers one season and has over 400 for his career.  He is now a .200 hitter being paid $30M/year to play baseball. He has bat speed.

The reason kids get taught to concentrate on pitch selection is because of the psychology of it. It feels terrible to swing and miss, worse to strike out. "Striking out" is one of the baseball metaphors that has fully penetrated the culture. It is one of the things adults remember about playing as a child, wincing at the thought. The action in baseball is not continuous, we wait a long time between pitches, and everyone is focused on the batter, even when he is eight years old. Pitches are so far out of the zone so often at that level that a decent pitch that a kid can swing at occurs infrequently. Frankly, even in highschool that is mostly true: a long time between pitches, at lot of badly-thrown pitches. The disappointed feeling that not only the player, but the coaches and parents feel is magnified. 

Everyone is afraid the kid is going to give up the game in frustration if they keep failing that embarrassingly that often, so they focus on seeing if they can get the kid a little something, that feeling of at least chipping the ball, or even poking it out into fair territory. But the reward of those is only psychological, including a lot of relief and the sense that one got a bit lucky.

Swinging really hard and getting great contact, however, is also physically rewarding.  It feels great to be able to hit a ball squarely and hard -so great that a player will put up with a lot of really boring baseball in order to experience it. If you play baseball, it's what you really want to do, not hit five times as many little chippy things and foul tips. So we coach kids badly, and we keep doing it even up to the major league level.

Kyle Boddy works with a lot of teams and a lot of players, especially younger ones, and stresses bat speed, then smash factor, then pitch selection, and it works. The players get better and go up to the next level. He predicts we will be seeing much more of this over the next 5-10 years, not only more home runs, but more long doubles to the wall, more ground balls through the gaps because they are just plain hit hard. More Elly De La Cruz types coming. He says nothing about keeping your eye on the ball, because the best players don't.  They are looking all over the place on the pitch: at the pitcher's chest, over his head. It is usually somewhere up, so that the head is up, rather than at the ground, but really it could be anywhere.  Now that we have the camera equipment to track exactly where the eyes are going, we find that the players don't even know where they are looking.  They give wrong answers.  Because they have to swing long before the ball gets to them, and it is largely intuitive, built up over years of swinging at faster and faster pitches. Only those with excellent hand-eye coordination survived beyond Little League, and only those with superior native skills get past high school. But then practice increasingly becomes important to get to further levels.

Boddy has turned the same cameras on the pitchers, and it's the same story. Velocity is everything.  Years of baseball lore will tell you that it is pitching on the black, showing tremendous control, but if you slow down enough to have that kind of control, the best hitters hit it anyway. Pitchers throwing at their top speed cannot reliably put the ball in an eight-inch window more than 70% of the time. The window is actually about ten inches, five on each side of where he was aiming for. They believe they can.  Boddy starts working with a player and tells him to put five pitches straight down the middle. They sneer that this is too easy. They don't go to the middle, though, but in that ten-inch window. Working with overweight and underweight plyo balls can improve their speed 2-4 mph - and that is what they should do. If you can throw 98, you should get a good catcher and just throw down the middle - or what you think would be down the middle. Your other pitches should just be variations of that.

I love baseball history, and don't even much follow the sport now. I check on the first of each month if the Red Sox are in it. I have sons who follow it more, and young friends in my fantasy football leagues that follow the Orioles and Mariners closely, so I keep up with those a bit. I loved the exercise of picking an all-time team starting with Josh Gibson, and even made a pilgrimage to the Negro Leagues Museum almost a decade ago. But the new players are just better.  Your all-star team is likely mostly playing right now, or only recently retired. Very few pitched this fast in the Goode Olde Days and very few swung this hard, so the former could take a lot of pitches off, or even parts of the order off then.  Those few batters with that kind of bat speed could likewise feast on everyone.  Ted Williams said even forty years ago that no one was ever going to hit .400 again, "because of that damned slider." Arraez, the player who was flirting with it earlier in the season is down to about .350 now. 

Boddy takes his lessons from the improvements in chess strategy, and now go strategy because of computers and AI, even after hundreds of years of experts working at it obsessively.   He is an exceptional chess player himself (and card player). He started as a computer security expert but loved baseball, particularly developing young players.  He considers it "un-American" that baseball organisations* do not spend equal amounts of time in developing the players who were undrafted and cheaper to get once they get in the door. They are too wedded to the sunk cost of what they have already paid. He has provided significant consulting help to the Astros and Reds as well as individual players down to the high school level.

He has started moving into basketball next.  We'll see.

*He compares them to European aristocracies and a widening gap between those organisations and those which evaluate their players and improve them more precisely.

Why Should You Care?

Grim links to, quotes from, and comments on a powerful essay from First Things, "We Are Repaganizing" by Louise Perry, author of The Case Against The Sexual Revolution. I have not read the book, only heard about it and the controversy it causes.  As my own view on the what has been worth keeping and what discarding in the cultural changes of the last hundred years is pretty much set I hadn't thought it worth it to read someone who agrees with me that much.  But Perry's writing is vivid, and her thinking more so. She writes about abortion, and even though she herself puts it on a continuum with infanticide, she cannot bring herself to declare entire opposition to it. Her self-honesty drives the essay, even as it frustrates the reader who wishes she would only follow what she now knows. (Which would be me, and also Grim.)

If you want to know what I think about her essay, I commented at length at Grim's. I will add that her understanding of paganism diverges from Chesterton's in about the same way that CS Lewis's does. Ordinarily we would reach the easy conclusion that CSL got it from GKC, but in this case I think it would be fairer to identify Tolkien as his source. The divergence does not much harm her reasoning, though.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023


I must have been over at Aporia magazine a couple of times in the last year, because my auto-complete for URL's brought up two articles. But the article by Matthew Archer An Open Catacomb: Four Days with the Nietzschean Right, was the one I clicked on once I got over there.  There are more I am going to try, I think. They seem to be a hereditarian group of social scientists, a somewhat beleaguered group these days.

Archer speaks to someone - a "man of science" he describes as the most intelligent and most accomplished person he has ever met, but does not identify because he has no permission and believes it might hurt the man's career, about his faith, which is unusual in this group. He speaks about himself first by way of introduction.

(Emmanuel) Carrère exposed the most embarrassing part of my own militant atheism. Not only had significantly smarter people believed in God, but they had grappled with questions I had not even considered. And yet I concluded in the ignorance of youth and with the conviction of a convert that they were obviously wrong...

Then describes the mans long answer in front of many who are listening in rapt attention, though they are not believers themselves.

The main theme is the Bible as the story of human evolution. He weaves Milton and Nietzsche into advanced scientific observations. Listening to him is like watching Federer play tennis. It’s not as if he’s a little bit ahead of you, as if you’d be able to catch up with a spot of hard work. It’s immediately obvious that the chasm cannot be closed. And it’s liberating. You can often understand the individual moves a great mind makes, but you cannot replicate the whole. Genius is more than the sum of its parts, a Gestalt entity. 

They do weekly roundups or research, which I have found very interesting. 


So my daughter-in-law in Alaska now has over a million followers on TikTok, mostly in the Philippines. She likes her Facebook account better, though, because it pays more. It occurred to me for the first time only a few weeks ago that when we talk about someone being an influencer on social media, we are talking about Jocie as a major example. It definitely seems strange.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Oregon Towns

 I have never been to Oregon, but this just looks accurate. Via wtfPortland. That, in turn, I found while catching up on David Thompson after about a year.  He has a new site. 

I have linked to his humor in the past.  Here are the more recent ones 

We Are Different - Again

 The Ability to Remember Order. An anthropology paper at PLoS One contrasts the ability of humans and bonobos to remember yellow-blue-yellow vs blue-yellow-blue for more than a few seconds.  Not exactly that.  I am being a touch facetious* here. There has been a long run on how we aren't all that different than the great apes, which was already in evidence when I took Physical Anthropology 201 in 1971**. Bonobos are a particular fave of psychology majors who are eventually therapists, because they have sex with lots of other bonobos rather guiltlessly, and we should emulate them, unlike the retrogressive boyfriend of the the therapist, who felt cuckolded when she slept with someone at the agency. 

Yes, yes, I am generalising unfairly.  Can't I at least mention that I am thinking of two specific PhD psychologists here? There are fields where some people go into them in order to talk about sex without looking like that was their main intent. BTW, they overlook how much coercive sex takes place among bonobos, far more than not only criminal urban areas worldwide, but even war zones.  Those peaceful bonobos...

We're merely mammals, except when we aren't. 

It is a parlor game to try and show that everything we think is distinctive and Made In God's Image is illusory, much as the joy some derive proving that white people never originated anything - it was all stolen from elsewhere. But really, it is better to let the obvious be obvious, isn't it? Our brains are quite different from other creatures. 

*facetious (or facetiously if you are being technical) is one of the two words in English that has the vowels in alphabetical order, only once each.  What is the other one?  I won a radio contest and an LP album sometimes in the early 80s answering this one at 10PM once.

**I met my wife on the first day of this class freshman year, though we did not start dating until 2.5 years later. Just about 52 years ago.

Bob Newhart

I have said that humor does not hold up over time very well. Film festivals will be attended by those who smile slightly at Buster Keaton or Laurel and Hardy. Men from my generation enjoy quoting occasional Three Stooges lines, but watching the actual films is tedious. Charlie Chaplin holds up for some reason. Audiences will still laugh out loud, or be touched by his everyman pathos. 

If you watch Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies cartoons, you will find the Chuck Jones episodes are still funny - the others, less regularly so.

I think the following still works, better than other comedians of the 60s. Of course, I'm old, and maybe it doesn't much work for 20 year olds. Newhart's sitcom gigs may have been even funnier. He had a remarkable ability to look around a room as if he was the last normal person on earth, trying to make sense of those around him who had seemingly become deranged.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Vishy Anand and Chess Memory

I was listening to Vishy Anand being interviewed and discussing many of his chess matches. No matter what was brought up, he remembered the game, move for move, and why he made the moves he did, even decades ago. I heard Nate Silver do the same thing on his hands in the recent World Series of Poker.  I have heard baseball pitchers remember any at-bat in their career, and heard Bill Belichick answer a question about a game thirty years ago by describing every play in the drive in question, including how much time was on the clock throughout. CS Lewis could have a line read aloud to him from any book picked at random from his library and not only identify the book, but continue on from that point as long as one cared to listen.

There is no topic I can do this with.

Narrative Enstupids Us

"…as a general rule, we’re too inclined to tell the good vs. evil story. As a simple rule of thumb, just imagine every time you’re telling a good vs. evil story, you’re basically lowering your IQ by ten points or more. If you just adopt that as a kind of inner mental habit, it’s, in my view, one way to get a lot smarter pretty quickly. You don’t have to read any books. Just imagine yourself pressing a button every time you tell the good vs. evil story, and by pressing that button you’re lowering your IQ by ten points or more."  Tyler Cowen, economist.  TED talk, 2010.

I would have said that TED talks temporarily lower your IQ, but I have always been impressed by Cowen. 

Which reminds me...

Poisoning Words

When does a word become poisoned enough that we have to stop using it? In today's discussion, there was mention of reading online criticism of the Abeka curriculum on a number of fronts, one of which was that it did not encourage "critical thinking." I don't know much about it, but I browsed, and I could see that it did not seem to encourage what is commonly called "critical thinking" skills. It focused on the dreaded "rote learning." Drill and kill, they used to sneer, and possibly still do. But depending on the grade we are talking about, I'm all for it. Children cannot begin to do abstract reasoning until about 13, some adults never get very advanced in it, and the imitations of it that get passed off in schools are disguised forms of indoctrination. Bright children can follow abstract reasoning much younger, and then imitate it a few years later.  But doing this is much harder.  As evidence, I recalled diagramming basketball plays for the junior high boys' team, which included two math-wizards. They couldn't quite get it. Walking them through it on the court worked much better.  I hypothesised that having that group bring dolls, or action figures, or stuffed animals to move around on a tabletop would work better for boys and girls that age to learn how to position themselves.  Someone please try this for me.

My next go-to example has always been the fifteen year old arguing with his father about back-to-school clothes. "I don't tell you what to wear!  Why do you tell me what to wear?"  This is actual abstract reasoning.  It is bad reasoning, because it neglects an enormous amount of cultural information, but it is not something he learned from any adult.  He came up with it on his own (or a friend of the same age did, and he's not far behind). 

I approve of reasoning and logic. I think it should be taught to schoolchildren. It was one of the things I liked about algebraic and geometric proofs, that they were inarguable. Logic drove you, willingly or no, to the conclusion. I remembered Max Shulman's short story "Love is a Fallacy" for decades. (But note it is about college students, and most often read by high school, not fifth-grade students.) Yet red flags should be going up everywhere when we see discussions of Cognitive Macro-Abilities for middle-school students. They can follow such things, they can imitate them, but as they can't really do them, what you will be teaching is to answer another set of concrete questions about what the pieces are in Questioning Assumptions, Choosing a Strategy, and Consulting With Others. Those all sound lovely, but they aren't real.  I grant that teaching junior high kids what the process should look like someday and making them walk through the steps is valuable.  Yet we should not pretend that any critical thinking has occurred.

All this by way of introduction, as I often say.

When I looked at the online discussions of the Abeka curriculum and its critical thinking, I found there were (at least) two meanings for this.  One was the discussion of logic, evaluating facts, discerning opinions versus conclusions versus facts, stepping back and finding general strategies, and that sort of lovely "critical thinking" stuff. I have already signaled my suspicion that many educators are unconsciously calling things Critical Thinking when what they ultimately mean is Getting the Answer I Want Them To. But at least they are hanging on to the important scraps of meaning. Far more common was the use of lack of Critical Thinking to mean "they don't criticise American racism in their history lessons enough...they don't believe in climate change...they teach that Christianity is true." They have switched from the formal, technical meaning of critical that is related to critique, to the everyday one of "says that X is wrong."

They aren't the only ones. but we should expect them to be especially careful.  They aren't.

There are still some people using the phrase "critical thinking skills" in a manner I would approve of, and agree that such things should be taught.  Something close to "logical thinking skills," or "perspective skills." I hate to cut the ladder out from under them on this one. But I have to, because even amongst the people who should be using it with precision - educational researchers, educators, psychologists - too many have lazily followed political rather than scientific thinking and use the phrase "critical thinking" to mean "saying important, properly negative things about stuff I and all decent people don't like."

Critical Thinking Skills should now be retired.  I shall use it no more.

Not that I have used it for twenty years anyway, because I have sensed this coming.  But now I want you to eschew it too.

Not Reading Books

 Rob Henderson passes along this Schopenhauer quote:

Music to my ears.

It is a companion thought to CS Lewis's "On the Reading of Old Books."

Four Strong Winds

I didn't sing this one in highschool with Chris - I didn't know it then. I wish I had. It would have been very typical of what I gravitated toward. The background stories of the song are interesting if you like that sort of thing.

Saturday, September 09, 2023

Precious Resource

I learned, working with interacting agencies, that everyone who controls a precious resource eventually becomes a prick about it. Probably not everyone.  Likely, it just seems that way. It does make me wonder what precious resources I did control, and what ones I might even now - even things like my time and attention, if anyone still considers those valuable - and how I am doing with that.  I'm a little afraid to look, frankly.

Friday, September 08, 2023

Undermining the Hybrid Hypothesis

It was only about six weeks ago that I linked to the paper on the new hybrid theory of the origins of Indo-European Languages. (Link to the paper there.) I mentioned there that I had previously favored the steppe hypothesis, but this paper provided strong evidence for the Anatolian being at least part of the story. 

(If you don't want to read all the internal links in this essay, just go to the next one only. Unless it isn't available to you and is subscriber only, in which case, well, I don't know. Cut-and-paste of a section of a PDF file can result in a run-together text where there is no spacing between words, let along sentences and paragraphs.  We'll see.)

Not so fast.  David Anthony, author of The Horse, The Wheel, and Language (which is now the standard text on the Indo-Europeans and Yamnaya), which I have also referenced a few times, is not convinced, and he lists others who are not convinced as well. (Re: The transcript of the interview with Razib Khan, at about the 22 minute mark.) The main problem seems to be that the new paper is using a method which has worked for biological trees of descent, but gives odd numbers when applied to languages.  This is because it intentionally discards any linguistic paleontology. That would be the interpretation of reconstructed and protolanguages to discern where they were and what their culture was.  If you have taken any historical linguistics you have seen this done for Indo-European. There are words that occur in widely scattered daughter languages that are very similar and have similar meanings, such as types of trees and animals that have ranges (such as honeybees, birches), words for farming but not metallurgy, lakes but not oceans, patrilineal (vs "all other") descent of property. Sanskrit and Icelandic have some words with obviously similar roots. 

This becomes key in the Indo-European splits, because the whole idea of wheeled vehicles pulled by oxen and spreading across the Steppe north of the Caucasus is foundational to the idea of Yamnaya and Corded Ware spread. Kyklos - words, such as circle, cycle in English are in all the daughter languages after a particular split.  But there are archaeologists who reject all such evidence, stating you can only get a vague idea of "thing that turns" from the PIE word, not the specific idea of an axle. The linguists counter that the derivative words do in fact mean "axle" in the daughter languages as soon as we can pick them up in writing. It is ridiculous to suppose that they all independently settled on that vague "turn" root to describe an axle. That it would happen a few times seems possible.  Every time, no. Language is never so orderly even on much shorter time scales. British and American English, starting from a common origin, did not make identical decisions over the centuries.  Heck, Canadian and American English didn't make the same decisions. 

I find David Anthony's arguments about how the splits cannot have occurred before 4500 BC as they claim, are simply devastating. Even an amateur like me can pull out a fair bit of "But wait, there was no evidence of Balto-Slavic split in the archaeological record for another thousand years, right?  Have I got that wrong?"

The skeptics insist we can't know, not for certain, even if many guesses turn out to be correct. And they like their own tools, such as Bayesian reconstructions, much better than the subjective interpretations of whether equus and yakwe (thousands of miles apart) both not only accidentally mean "horse," but mean "horse" because of descent from a common PIE word.  The argument is nicely summarised by someone who thinks both of the groups are being a bit extreme and difficult.  Even with that split-the-difference offering, however, I am back to siding with Steppe Hypothesis.  When I passed along the hybrid theory a few weeks ago I did not realise that they had simply discarded all linguistic paleontology from their Bayesian method.  As with chaos theory, there is a sensitive dependence not only on initial conditions, but all conditions under all outside influences when you elect to live or die by Bayesian methods. Electing to discard a common practice in a related (competing?) field just because you don't think they have proven their method quite enough is just being difficult.

Applying Bayesian methods to Bayesian decision-making itself would grant that the method you don't like so much nonetheless has some likelihood of being correct, and thus deserves some weight.

Wednesday, September 06, 2023

Secularisation II

G Poulin's comment under Secularisation set me thinking. Of those children who grew up in the faith and left, there has long been a steady flow of returns when their children reach Sunday School/CCD age and they decide that the kids have to have some religious training, and the sacrifice of going to church themselves - already familiar territory - is not seen as onerous to accomplish that. Some, though not all of those actually become active upon return. 

But now young people are delaying children or foregoing them altogether. Even if they have them now, they have adjusted to being away from the church much longer. I wonder how much that reduces church attendance on a generational basis. It is not just the direct count of more years away from the church, but the cultural change in cohorts, so that fewer and fewer Little League, dance class, and school volunteer parents are also church parents. All part of the unchurched downward spiral, maybe.

Even without clear answers it is good to look at the question, just so that everyone is reminded that the prevailing myth - that smarties are looking at the claims of the faith with adult eyes and rejecting them for intellectual reasons - is just about the least likely theory to be true, according to the data. Various superstitions and mystical rather than logical beliefs are not seeing a similar decline.  People still believe in astrology, crystals, ley lines, and a dozen mind-over-matter theories that are bad imitations of Eastern religions. If it were really the great intellects of the smarties driving the church down, those beliefs would be gone as well, and a lot sooner.

No, the siren song of social fashion is the great competitor for the faith, not intellect.  That's just an excuse.

Tuesday, September 05, 2023


I'm getting all misty over here, as the new season starts. Gronk. Sigh. By his statement, he thought that "greatest plays" videos were a crock, because more than half of his real greatest plays were blocks against All-Pro linemen at key moments. The catches were just the fun part. This is similar to Randy Moss asking Tom Brady on a live telephone interview if he had watched the video of Moss's ten greatest catches. "Randy, no. Because half of those are going to be my worst throws." Moss understood immediately and laughed. The best, the very best, have the humility of reality.

Three straight videos were removed for usage agreements with the NFL. Small problem.  Just click through.

Footbridge Mystery

 The Mystery of the Bloomfield Bridge is Tyler Vigen's story of how a particular footbridge in Minnesota came to be built. He became obsessed with why it was built, as it seemed to serve no purpose.

It is not  consequential story, but it is an interesting one. The final reveal is not shocking, but will elicit a wry smile. Shoulda-seen-it-coming. It is not only interesting in observing why a person can get obsessed with such a thing and what lengths they will go to to get an answer, but also windows into an earlier time, the odd twists of local history, how decisions get made, and what records are kept and why.

It's rather an extreme example of that second part of Chesterton's Fence, of finding out why something was built in the first place.  Sometimes that ain't easy.

Monday, September 04, 2023

Almost Science

I am noticing in comment sections some people who kinda sorta get what scientific evidence is, but not really. They have read something or more likely heard it - and I won't betray the leaning by saying where - that cites a paper somewhere. It seems to be a legit paper about a current issue, but the paper is from 2011. Following it up, it seems to stand in relative isolation. It is cited by other papers but not many. It is an idea I had not previously run across, though it is in a field adjacent to mine.

So it could be so. But it's not convincing to me. The rest of the argument suggests that the person rejects the standard theories, with some anger. Also possible.  I have rejected some standard theories in my day myself. I can't quite put my finger on why this person is not only wrong about this thread, but likely wrong about the whole topic, and maybe many topics. Is it the failure to understand that once there is a standard theory, it takes a serious amount of evidence to topple it? Is it the sense that this person would not have ever encountered this study from Japan if he had not been fed it by someone with a political motive? I don't know that, but the person doesn't seem to know the field in general, just this short list.

No, no it's the childish insults. Sort of a giveaway. And one lame joke in particular, which I noted a dozen years ago, still holds true in 2023.


Lyman Stone at the Institute for Family Studies points out a great flaw in the general narratives about why people don't go to church anymore: they all focus on what adults say are their reasons. Atheists and the other nonreligious focus on how unlikely it all seems, or the lack of toleration/social action/sincerity they see from the church, or personal narratives about what they were thinking about and looking for as young adults. Those who might be sympathetic to believers but church non-attenders cite things wrong with the church or with worship: politics, music, relevance.

But the decisions were made long before that. Almost all the secularization has occurred before age 22, sometimes long before. Parents who integrated their faith into the family activities - as had been done with them (mediated by a culture which did not bowl alone but encouraged everyone in voluntary groups) - have a much higher rate of children still in the faith.  It is not more education that causes all the smarties to rethink their faith, it is a culture that taught you young that you were going to center your life on school for a long time, quietly relegating faith to third, fourth, ninth place in your life.

I have an elaborate story of my early 20s, of influence of Tolkien, then Lewis, then writing a collection of songs about the Grail quest and wrestling personally with the same questions the characters faced; of planning to go to seminary but ceasing to go to church, and floundering in many ways, haunted by both my church upbringing and my abandonment of it. Very deep, very intellectual, very neat and coherent. But I could also say with truth "I was terribly sad.  I went back to church because nice ladies had given me cookies there when I was small, and told me I was wonderful, and cared about how I was doing. But no one thought I was wonderful , or cared about how I as doing, or gave me cookies now." 

Which was the truer narrative?  Wouldn't we all like it to be the ennobling careful consideration one rather than the rather pathetic one? But I could see in the nonreligious smarties even then that they were motivated by fashion, and tribal aspiration to seem wise and belong to the Inner Ring, however much they quoted philosophers. None of us comes to the faith by works, but by grace.

So all you nice ladies making cookies (or these days, approved healthy snacks), thenteaching the 13 y/o's how to teach songs with silly hand motions to 8 y/o's, all ye who have no training in hermeneutics and epistemology and theology - it might be thou who has more correctly interpreted, more deeply and accurately known, and more coherently organised the faith as received and delivered it onward. Go forth and bake.

Alternative Capcha

 Sent by a commenter

“Prove you are not a robot by harming a human being or, through inaction, allowing a human being to come to harm.”

An Abundance of Generations

When I was a teenager, there was a Younger Generation and an Older Generation. The line shifted, but the stark division between two and only two camps was clear in 1970.  It was okay to get along with your parents, but you were supposed to identify with those near you in age on just about every matter or you had somehow betrayed your tribe. Other loyalties were allowed, to schools or states or denominations, but that one rose up to dominate the others. 

There was recognition that our grandparents' attitudes were not quite the same as our parents', but they were close, and this was not mere clumping of children not understanding distinctions of those older than them.  Those generations gradually separated. Though much of that may have been the oldest beginning to die off.

The term baby boomer in its current sense first showed up in the Washington post in 1970, and as those boomers were just starting to have children of their own, they couldn't really call them the same generation anymore, could they?

The number of generations has certainly multiplied, hasn't it? The Greatest Generation is gone, but the Silent Generation of 80+ are recognisable as not quite the same. (I know, I live among them in some ways here at the 55+ community.  "55+" means 70+.) But the children of boomers are not one generation. They are Gen X, Y (Millenials), and Z (Zoomers). I am told that Alphas are the new crowd, born after 2010. 

Assigning attributes to any of them is all just percentages. Similar numbers of people are going to be risk-takers, or pessimists, or lazy, or self-driven, but circumstances will reward one set of behaviors over another and everyone will shade a bit, and some abilities will be called forward. I doubt strongly the difference is anything stronger than that.

But the increase in categories is certainly there. We are splitters rather than clumpers now.


Related to Secondary Reality, I have my third fantasy football draft in a row in about an hour. They aren't as much fun as when I started, when there was more confusion, and thus more banter. Last night we finished in 30 minutes.

Today will be slower.  It is a very old league - I think this is year 43 - that used to be played by postcard and telephone. It is a dynasty league in which you keep 10-12 players every year, so the draft is rookies plus semi-castoffs. Scoring is odd. It's old guys who have known each other for years - I came in five years ago or more and am the new kid.

So I know that because of injuries Marvin Mims is a sneaky good pickup - but maybe not for me, because I am in pretty good shape for WRs. I have had Travis Kelce lo these many years and will be looking for a young replacement, this year and possibly next. But even Kelce, who has been famous and is nearing the end of his career, I wouldn't recognise.  In person I might figure out he was a tight end at 6'6" and 250 lbs and fast. But I don't even know his number, so watching a game I would have to conclude which one was Travis from where he lined up and what he was doing.

I know a lot but I don't know anything.

Friday, September 01, 2023

Secondary Reality

I never see any NFL games, and only an occasional highlight clip, yet I can easily talk knowledgeably at just about any level about what is going on.  I have little idea what the players look like - it's just the world of words. I play three leagues of fantasy football and listen to podcasts about drafting them for two weeks this time of year. And I know enough to jump in all season.

Nicholas Nassim Taleb wrote about the "green lumber fallacy," and a person who made a fortune trading in green lumber without ever realising that this meant freshly cut, not dyed or painted green. EB White wrote in the 1950s about a Manhattan executive who traded in sheep and ovine* products without ever having seen one in the flesh.  White was relating this to the trouble he was having with a particular sheep that week. 

Yet that problem flows in both directions. You can be a local historian who knows a great deal about its regiment who went to the Civil War but be badly misinformed about the conflict in general. Hell, you could have been in the war and know a lot about it at a ground level without knowing the big picture. You can coach peewee football and know things about the game I don't but be a fool in discussing professional football.

I mentioned this to my brother who does not follow statistics or news stories much at all.  He likes watching women's pro soccer and women's college basketball, but doesn't read much about them. 

Hey, that connects to the article I just read about learning by reading vs learning by listening. I throw that in as an extra here.

Real Life Vs Online

Jonathan Haidt, whom I have great respect for, argues that parents are too protective of children in the real world and not protective enough online.  He and Greg Lukianoff are the researchers/authors of The Coddling of the American Mind, (2018) which attributes the increase in anxiety and depression in teenagers to their increasing dependence on online/social media interactions, which are inherently less stable and have fewer checks and balances than the real-life encounters we have been refining for a million years.

In my forthcoming book I argue that parents have been overprotective about experience in the real world and not protective enough online.
He goes on to give examples of children exposed to online porn, which is an enormous percentage of them these days. His next book is The Anxious Generation. We have discussed this here, and the topic is big on the sites on my sidebar as well.

It came up because my daughter in law, a children's librarian like my wife, related this to libraries allowing adults to access porn on library computers, which increases access for the underaged. But this isn't what draws parental complaints.  For that you have to go with what books can be taken out of the library and the sexual themes young adult books have now. Local parents form committees in protest and want to have meetings attended by the press. Those problems can nearly always be solved by just moving the book to a different spot - from children's to young adult, from middle school to high school.

It is classic straining at a gnat but swallowing a camel*. The books in the school or public library, or on the possibles of the summer reading list at the highschool are 1% of the problem or less. Online access is where the action is.  But with a library or a school you can get a real human being to yell at. You can't yell at publishers, or the owners of porn sites. You get to say "our tax dollars" a lot, too. As opposed to your personal dollars that you spend on internet plans that your children use.

*I used this image in an online discussion a few years ago and a person complimented me on it, telling me I had a gift for expression. I knew from earlier context that this was an educated person.  Biblical knowledge is increasingly less general.