Sunday, June 30, 2024


The newsletter from Stuart Ritchie of The Studies Show (sidebar), Science Fictions, is checking out what is up with the field of Misinformation, which he does not hesitate to call a bullshit field.

So maybe it is not a shock that a Misinformation expert from Harvard (now BU) is spreading misinformation.  The Distortions of Joan Donovan. She says that Meta pressured Harvard to get rid of her.  But according to the Chronicle of Higher Education

Donovan presented no firsthand evidence that Meta was behind her ouster. And when I tried to get to the bottom of what actually happened at Harvard, a different narrative emerged from interviews, documents, recordings, texts, and emails.

Eleven Technology and Social Change Project ex-members and Shorenstein staffers told me they had seen no evidence that Meta exerted pressure on Donovan’s team or that its influence is what ended it. Several of Donovan’s other claims about her time there are misleading, untrue, or contradicted by people directly involved. Some former colleagues say they no longer trust the scholar they once admired.

This is on the heels of a Nature article Misunderstanding the harms of Online Misinformation.  In Journal-speak, the Nature article is telling us that the terms are undefined, it is unclear what if anything is being measured, and the researchers have little idea what all the people making claims about how damaging misinformation is are talking about.  

So far, there's no there, there, just people talking about how bad it all must be.

Worship Music Meltdown

We had a worship music meltdown in the narthex this morning, a person complaining about "praise songs" (they aren't praise songs - that was 40 years ago) and only one hymn when the use of the Doxology was pointed out she angrily yelled "That doesn't count!" The accusation was that "No one is listening!"

That accusation usually means "People aren't doing what I think they should," or even "People aren't doing what I tell them to." I intervened to keep her from yelling at the worship pastor in the narthex during the sermon.

What I should have said was "If you've ever been in a church plant that was slowly dying over six years, you would find that this doesn't matter much."  I am 71, and have never had a church that had the music that I would choose for myself. That is not entirely fair of me.  I don't love any of the major worship styles (though I like individual pieces of all of them), but I like all of them 50-70%.  I can get by with most styles.  More importantly, I have learned that it is possible to worship even with music you don't like.  I would have communion every week at the kneeler if I could.

But it's never going to happen.  I am never going to have the service or the music that I want.  Never. One adjusts.

A story, related to the dying church plant one above.  At our first church together starting in 1976 there was a woman with a six-year old daughter. Susan had been raised a good Lutheran, and when Jennifer was an infant a week came that was a tough week, and Susan was eager, even desperate to take the sacrament that week.  Gethsemane Lutheran was on monthly communion at that point, so it was going to be a bit of a wait if she missed it. 

She had grown up under the watch of strict church ladies who could freeze the blood of a child who misbehaved during church with a single glance. I learned as an adult that Florence Anderson was a lovely person, but when I was nine, I feared Florence and all of her ilk, so that even as an adult I worried what they might think. But Jennifer's tough week continued into Sunday morning, and she was screaming and inconsolable. Young mothers are sensitive to criticism for keeping a disruptive baby in service even now, but it was worse then, much worse.

Yet the sacrament was there and was going away, and Susan decided to tough it out, going up to the rail and kneeling, screamer and all.  I wasn't there.  Perhaps Jennifer was only that bad in her mother's memory. But mother and daughter made it through. After the service all the nice Swedish ladies gathered round, deeply moved.  "It's been so long since we heard a baby cry in this church."  And it was true.

It matters.

Saturday, June 29, 2024

The Different Generations

We went to see Karen at the Music Hall in Portsmouth tonight, at the Music Hall.  A variation on this section was part of the routine.

A newer comedian we had not heard of before opened for her, who we also liked, Kathy Gilmour.

Friday, June 28, 2024


I have discussed the dangers of eroding supports, isolation, and loneliness as we age a few times over the last two years. Following the links for Gossip II, I saw reference to another book by Robin Dunbar, about friends. It mentions that having a non-depressed friend makes you less likely to be depressed yourself, but a depressed friend is six times more like to make you unhappy than a happy friend is to make you happy. 

That would look like an encouragement to avoid depressed people, wouldn't it?

So sure, cut your depressed friends ruthlessly from your life then. That's the sort of living your best life we want to promote around here. I wonder how many people just quietly do that, not from any malice, but like an amoeba avoiding an unpleasant stimulus. 

And of course, when I see such things I wonder about two verses of Scripture. Matthew 26:22 - "Lord, Is it I?" and Galatians 6:2 - Bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Gossip II

Much of the anthropological discussion focuses on Robin Dunbar's theories (he of Dunbar Number fame - the maximum number of people you can keep track of socially, usually put at something between 100-150, flexible), which we have discussed before, also in the context of gossip. It educates everyone about the family/village values, it mediates the everyday changes in status and acceptance, it creates bonds across distance because it is story-based rather than shared experience. That link leads in turn to our brief discussion of The Dawn of Everything, which discusses a great deal about gossip as "our first government." 

I know I promised more discussion in this second section, because I knew I had read more on this topic elsewhere in the last couple of years. Following my own links, I discovered that the main place I had read about it was...(sheepishly) here. There are further links to David Foster and ACX within the links above.  You can treat this as a refresher, then.

Thursday, June 27, 2024


In the Lingthusiasm podcast about Theory of Mind which I linked not long ago there was some discussion about the importance of gossip socially. Their take was that gossip may have even been one of the first functions of language, as we needed to have lasting ideas about whether someone was trustworthy or not, and ways of communicating values - especially what people should not do. Interestingly, gossip in all societies studied does not consist much on speculating on the states of mind or motives of others, but has a strong tendency to focus on what actions people have actually done. "She ate my cake," as one of the podcasts hosts said. 

That has stuck with me and I have finally gone and taken a look at the topic. The first thing that occurred to me is that in writing, people focus on motives all the time.  They make up what the person they are talking about must be thinking, usually as a criticism. Political discourse is often entirely about imagined motives. I have had people question my motives (sometimes explicitly, but more often revealing it with subtler clues) in writing, but I can't recall an incident of this in conversation.  It is more confrontive, likely more socially dangerous to call people out like that live. This further suggested...

I am already ahead of myself.  The Wikipedia article on Gossip is quite interesting.  Go there first and play around with that.

In fact, let's not discuss it further here until you've seen that and chewed on it a bit.  I should have time tomorrow or Saturday to come back to this. Interesting that I was so little interested in the meaning of workplace gossip now.

Catholic Worship Music

Listening to the music at Mass these days, even in Ireland, I was struck by how frozen in time the style is to mid-60s folk music. Even things written later have that feel. So when Vatican II came in the music must have changed, along with the other elements of the worship. For Boomers growing up in that, plus the Irish folksingers who came up and performed in Kingston Trio/Limeliters era coffee houses in the decade plus before that, there was an immediate comfort in the style.

And so it became the new holy music and stayed forever. Weston Priory. John Michael Talbot (of the old folk duo the Talbot Brothers), Even Taize music owes as much to that era as to the chant it patterns itself after.

It's comfortable for me, but that Peter, Paul, and Mary style, those Joan Baez voices was a lot of what I grew up on. It's easy to harmonise to and I fit right in.  Musically, I fit in better that the other hundred people there who are actually Catholic.

I wondered what the music was like just before Vatican II and went looking. I will not be exhaustive, just giving you a couple of things. Hymns before Vatican II included more chanting.  Not shocking. They were also much more used in the Divine Office and the Low Mass, not High Mass, which relied on external rather than participatory music more.

But the best commentary I ran across in my brief research was from a Reddit thread.  Not where I am used to going, but this was fine.

Italian, Spanish, and Mexican parishes have long had boisterous vernacular hymns, but these "ethnic" Catholic cultures were never really mainstream. Standard Catholicism was Irish American Catholicism, which hated high church innovation and had a very weak, very new repertoire.

In.. the '40s? '50s? A liturgical revival started, which enthusiastic lliturgists started assembling little boys choirs and scholas. They started trying to reintroduce chant and polyphony into masses. This was cut short in the '60s by Vatican 2.

After V2, a new liturgical movement started which based its stance on the idea that the mass was a "community celebration", and that the Church is "the people". This music was much more about affirming the community ("One Bread, One Body"; "Who Shall I Send"). It also tried, as many Catholics have for centuries, to bring in the sounds of popular music. This is what created folk masses. Hymnals drew from the same handful of contemporary Catholic composers or borrowed wholesale from Protestants. The issue here, though, is that you can't just import an entire culture. Protestants have had strong musical traditions for centuries, but Irish American Catholics had a culture with a stunted, infantile musical limb AND a sense of stoic "we don't need musical frills to worship, unlike those protestants".

Fun stuff.

Cultural Identification

Jews have regarded their Jewishness as a cultural identity more than a religious one for decades now.  This was somewhat elective, somewhat forced on them by Christians over time. Christian did take on the meaning of not-Jewish in Europe centuries ago, though this was often in the context of people who did have Christian observance as well. This bled over into North America as well, though not as strongly. 

This happened with American Catholics as well, or at least, with the Irish Catholics around here.  Catholic was an identity even when it was no longer a held faith. Come to think of it, that happened even more strongly in Ireland itself - I was just there but it didn't come to mind immediately.

There is something of this among smaller and culturally distinct groups like Mormons or Mennonites.  Perhaps it is as strongly felt among them, just not so widespread as to be noticed much by the rest of us.  Garrison Keillor joked about the Midwestern cultural tendency of Lutherans to see themselves in this way. "When you become an atheist in Minnesota, it is a Lutheran God that you don't believe in." (He himself grew up Brethren, and was thus something of an observer to the larger Lutheran & Catholic religious environment.)

Now it has happened to Evangelicals, which shows the shifting nature of these things. 40% now go to church yearly or less. Yet this is a category that changed in meaning to come into prominence in my adulthood, or at least in my lifetime.  Earlier in the 20th C, Lutherans and Presbyterians called themselves Evangelical, meaning "proclaiming" churches. It still showed up in names of churches and titles of their organisations. But it became more associated with evangelis-ing churches and movements, born-again Christians.

They started flexing their muscles culturally leading up to Jimmy Carter running and wearing his faith prominently, but still stressed strict observance of things like church attendance. Ronald Reagan did not fit that evangelical model nearly as well, but he either naturally or tactically stressed the simple faith model, and the evangelicals grew more comfortable with moving into the politically conservative camp. Church attendance as a whole did not drop off that much, but shifted away from the mainstream denominations to "Christian Culture" ones.  They built schools, starting with kindergartens but eventually moving on to K-12. There was some church-like-the-old-days aspects that were cultural or political as much as doctrinal, but they held to doctrine that the mainstreamers were easing away from as well. We were Lutherans until 1986, and Sunday School included people who had very odd ideas about the Trinity, and Other Gods began to be added in as interesting. The Native American spirituality at church camp was something of a final straw for us and we moved to the Evangelical Covenant Church.  

The larger Christian Culture was never much mine, even though most of my best friends were in it and my children went to school in it.  But the mainstream and secular cultures were also not mine, and you have to sleep somewhere.

Looking at the graph again, it does have that feeling of every level of participation slowly changing, not people switching positions.  Maybe I'm wrong on that.  Maybe there is a serious contingent of people who used to attend weekly in 2008 but don't go at all now.  There has always been some of that - when you pay as much attention to who is worshiping with you as my wife does you become aware of people who no longer come. I remember that as far back as the 80s in this congregation, and it was painfully obvious in the small startup church we were part of 1996-2010. But maybe there has been a sharp increase in hard switches.  But the more likely explanation is that there is a tendency toward less participation among everyone.

It seems to coincide with even evangelicals having fewer children. The children in the Christian culture grew up and moved out, and their parents now longer have the youth group, choir, and Sunday School attendance drivers in their own lives and so stay home a bit more. There may be some connection, though disentangling that is beyond me.

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Strandbeest Evolution 2021

 This was shared at Maggie's Farm today. Mesmerising, each one better than the last.

The Exhortation Before Marriage

The Exhortation Before Marriage.  While there is a lot of false nostalgia for Pre-Vatican II Catholicism (and I will cover some of that soon), there were also some simple but profound things that are now de-emphasised that deserve to be looked at more closely.  Tracy and I were married in 1976 and I do not believe this was said to us then.  My source for this exhortation claims that there are still priests who use this as their marriage homily.

My dear friends: You are about to enter upon a union which is most sacred and most serious. It is most sacred, because established by God himself. By it, he gave to man a share in the greatest work of creation, the work of the continuation of the human race. And in this way he sanctified human love and enabled man and woman to help each other live as children of God, by sharing a common life under his fatherly care. Because God himself is thus its author, marriage is of its very nature a holy institution, requiring of those who enter into it a complete and unreserved giving of self. [But Christ our Lord added to the holiness of marriage an even deeper meaning and a higher beauty. He referred to the love of marriage to describe his own love for his Church, that is, for the people of God whom he redeemed by his own blood. And so he gave to Christians a new vision of what married life ought to be, a life of self- sacrificing love like his own. It is for this reason that his apostle, St. Paul, clearly states that marriage is now and for all time to be considered a great mystery, intimately bound up with the supernatural union of Christ and the Church, which union is also to be its pattern.] 

This union, then, is most serious, because it will bind you together for life in a relationship so close and so intimate, that it will profoundly influence your whole future, That future, with its hopes and disappointments, its successes and its failures, its pleasures and its pains, its joys and its sorrows, is hidden from your eyes. You know that these elements are mingled in every life, and are to be expected in your own. And so not knowing what is before you, you take each other for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death. 

Truly, then, these words are most serious. It is a beautiful tribute to your undoubted faith in each other, that recognizing their full import, you are, nevertheless, so willing and ready to pronounce them. And because these words involve such solemn obligations, it is most fitting that you rest the security of your wedded life upon the great principle of self-sacrifice. And so you begin your married life by the voluntary and complete surrender of your individual lives in the interest of that deeper and wider life which you are to have in common. Henceforth you will belong entirely to each other; you will be one in mind, one in heart, and one in affections. And whatever sacrifices you may hereafter be required to make to preserve this mutual life, always make them generously. Sacrifice is usually difficult and irksome. Only love can make it easy, and perfect love can make it a joy. We are willing to give in proportion as we love. And when love is perfect, the sacrifice is complete. God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, and the Son so loved us that he gave himself for our salvation. ” Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

 No greater blessing can come to your married life than pure conjugal love, loyal and true to the end. May, then, this love with which you join your hands and hearts today never fail, but grow deeper and stronger as the years go on. And if true love and the unselfish spirit of perfect sacrifice guide your every action, you can expect the greatest measure of earthly happiness that may be allotted to man in this vale of tears. 

The rest is in the hands of God. Nor will God be wanting to your needs, he will pledge you the life-long support of his graces [in the Holy Sacrament which you are now going to receive].

Passage and Landscape

When we looked at the prehistoric monuments in Ireland, a couple of themes kept recurring that supply a correction to our usual picture of what their construction was all about. First, the monuments were not standalone or independent. They were part of the landscape, and oriented not only to the sun's solstices and equinoxes (which has been a new understanding in our lifetimes itself), but to each other and to the surrounding hills and rivers. They were often part of an entire network of monuments, sometimes visible to each other, but occasionally aligned to things out of sight.

We have learned this in the last few decades about Stonehenge, Avebury, and other sites in England, where we now know that the Cursus and Stonehenge Avenue were integral parts of the site because of its processions, and that disputably, Durrington Walls was a s well. Similar things are proving out in Ireland at Newgrange and Knowth, probably Dowth (though it is unexcavated and little known for certain), at Carrowmere and Knocknarea

You might have noticed that Passage Grave is a phrase often mentioned at the links in connection with these. The burial areas are not, or not only, placed under a great deal of earth or stone in order to build an impressive mound and discourage looters. The passages were used after the burials, and as many show signs of further burials of related individuals, it is likely that families revisited the bones of their ancestors many times after. The passages are difficult but not impossible to navigate and would usually be entirely darkened. The exceptions to this are interesting. Though the kurgan tradition was originally a closed tumulus right from the outset, by the time it reached Ireland and probably Jutland, there are examples where the passage was open to the sky at first and enclosed later. This certainly reinforces the idea that the passage itself, the journey from one place to another, was part of the monument's importance. These were likely liminal areas, between the living and the dead, the earth and the heavens.

Light also penetrated at significant anstronomical times, usually a solstice or an equinox. There is some evidence that megaliths especially also record lunar cycles of 19 years, but this is less certain.

Monday, June 24, 2024


Birddog over at Maggie's carries an article on brain scans and depression. As I no longer need precise information on the subject, I was only mildly annoyed that there is no link to the study itself, but there are enough internal clues that it should be possible to find for younger people and those that have loved (or hey, even unloved) ones with depression. These results may not hold up strictly, but this is what many clinicians have always suspected, and indeed treated on the basis of: what we call one thing is actually many things, and we are only now just sorting it out. Autism, ADHD, OCD and various Anxiety disorders also seem to overlap and differentiate in unexpected ways,  and as the science of "You have Depression 3 and Anxiety 2 and 4" starts to become an understandable concept, medical and non-medical treatments will return, at least for a while, to being an art. Medications have side effects, costs and time might matter, balancing one thing against another will involve guesswork and refinement.

So it might not be six types of depression, it might be four or nine, and as the kaleidoscope turns with life events treatments and interactions might change as well. 

Freud set us back 100 years, and we have only been crawling out of that hole since the 70s or 80s.

Death While on Hajj

 Ann Althouse reports on the many deaths on hajj this year (as every year) as carried in the NYT. 

Two of the dead were Americans, a couple from Maryland, who spent $23,000 on the trip but did not have the permits. The article ends with a quote from their daughter, the classic statement: "They died doing exactly what they wanted to do."

This always reminds me of one from my son Ben. "At least he died doing what he loved.  Surprising tigers."

100 Meters

I am happy for Noah Lyles.  Potential relay team looks awesome as well, as usual.

Dream a Little Dream of Me

 Nice version

For Bethany

Bsking, who is still surrounded by all the Karen Read-has-been-framed, Dr Turtleboy nonsense, now mercifully coming to an end (we hope) as the trial concludes, has been discouraged at how many people have opinions with only the most superficial knowledge. She has several Psalms which have occurred to her over this.

Today I was listening to Jonathan Keeperman, known online as "Lomez," (Verbal quote, not written)

In my real life - family, friends, former colleagues in particular - they are not online by and large, and they do not understand the context.  In a couple of cases I have tried to explain "Hey this guy at the Guardian, he's an Antifa activist," and they go "What's Antifa?" I sort of skip over that and I go "Well he's trying to doxx me," and they go "What is doxxing?" And then I realise it would take hours to construct the proper contextual clues so that they could make sense of what happened and what the motivations of this guy are and why I am a target.      

And so they are not inured to these smear tactics, they see that the Guardian  and they just assume that this is a credible outlet, and if they are publishing this piece it must have some public-interest rationale.   I must actually be whatever he called me this "Leader of this proto-fascist movement" and they don't know what that means I try to prod a little bit to see where these people are coming from and I say "What does that mean to you, that I'm a proto-fascist," and they don't really have an answer. (Italics mine.)

Yup, it's one of the versions of what I used to call whack-a-mole politics, that not only are there too many things to hit, but that they don't stay down.  You answer one and a few seconds later it pops back up again. You are arguing against aura and feelings, not facts.

Saturday, June 22, 2024

Opposite of Prosecutor's Fallacy

One way of getting the wrong end of the stick is  The Prosecutor's Fallacy. I had heard of that and even tried to keep it in mind when numbers started getting thrown around in criminal cases. It's the idea that when there are conditional probabilities we sometimes apply them in the wrong place. This may be genuine ignorance, or it may be an attempt to deceive. We see it when referencing tests that have what looks like a low false positive rate, like 1%. A crime has been committed and according to some scanning of test data, for example DNA, the police find a suspect that is a match. A million people were scanned, and the prosecutor might quote some statistic that the test had eliminated 990,000 people, and wasn't it extremely odd that the suspect matched?

But there were 10,000 false positives in the data. Each of them would also match that extremely odd occurrence.  It would be like accusing someone of cheating on a lottery because the likelihood of their winning was very small.

Or to bring it to civil suits, it is applying in retrospect how rare it is that so many people should have died in that hospital that week on one particular nurse's shift, or that so many people got cancer while living near a particular landfill. But on each of these, we would need to know about the base rate, just for openers. Perhaps that hospital is world-renowned and gets all the toughest cases for a particularly risky procedure. Perhaps the area in question is very sparsely populated, so that a few extra cases of unknown attribution make the canal look more dangerous.  What happened at other places on the canal?

But I had not thought the whole thing through, not quite, that the whole fallacy can be reversed and is indeed the Defense Attorney's fallacy.  It is linked in the Prosecutor's Fallacy above. It was just discussed on the studies show with especial reference to the OJ Simpson trial.  The defense wanted to show that even if he had beaten his wife, it was extremely unusual for a wife who has been beaten to be murdered in any given year, on the order of 1-in-2500. 

But that's not really the number we are looking for, because we already know that she had, in fact, been murdered. What we are looking for is the likelihood that the husband who had beaten her had done it.  There is a base rate of 5 out 100,000 women murdered across the population. If we assume that 1 in 2,500 of the beaten women murdered is correct, then of 100,000 women with abusive husbands, about 99,955 will not be murdered.  But of the remaining 45 who are murdered, five will just be murdered as sort of the background rate of American women being murdered. Murders that happened for some other reason.

So that means 40 will have been murdered by their husbands. So the correct probability that the husband did it should be nearly 90%. 

Well that's different kettle of fish, isn't it? The key is not looking at what the prior likelihood of a woman being murdered is, but at if she is murdered, who did it? 

We see something similar in seemingly random digits that suddenly show some amazing pattern, like 30 sixes in a batch of 100.  What are the odds, eh?  Something fishy must be up. But the real question is "once the hundred digits are up, what are the odds that we can find some interesting pattern, like lots of 6's or hardly any 4's or three separate runs of the sequence 2468?" If you find lots of patterns interesting, then the odds of you finding one is close to 100%

Gong Show


Performative Politics

Performative political stances are also get-along stances and thus maybe not quite so contemptible as I often suppose. I originally thought display was 50% of our politics and cultural beliefs, but slowly ratcheted up to 75, 80, 90% of the motive.  I wonder if there's any rational thought behind them at all by now, or if it is just like following the local sports team (rooting for laundry) as a signal that we identify with the place or a cultural tribe or those around us. I am one of you.

Yet putting it in that perspective drew its fangs a bit as well. None of us has much effect on the national election outcomes or the culture. Putting our beliefs to use as a type of worshiping the gods of the city in order to live at peace with our neighbors might be a better use for them.  I'm not ever going to fully know, of course.  I'm not wired that way. It seems shameful to trim my beliefs to mere popularity, and I am determined to believe that I came by my views by rational thought and reflective experience - and will irrationally cling to that self-deception.

Robert Frost/Old Stagecoach Byway

Kyle, driving on the Robert Frost/Old Stagecoach Byway (NH Rte 28) today: "It looks pretty traveled to me."

Greek Names

Using Greek words, especially for journals or websites or organizations is a PR move that "we been around since Plato mate" and are absolutely steeped in ancient wisdom. Christian journals and websites will do this as well. But frankly, I am not able to translate Greek, I have read various Greeks more in sections or in summary than whole works start to finish, with a couple of exceptions. I hang around as well and pick up words here and there, and if I were naming Journal or a website that purported to be intellectual, I might pull out one of those words and go, yeah this will make me sound Knowledgeable. Like Kerygma, or Pneuma, or Agape.  I'm not saying don't do it if you are naming a church or a band, I'm just saying don't fall for it if you are a customer. Yes there are distinctions in Greek that aren't in English, or not easily in English. Those can be illuminating. But there are distinctions in English that don't come naturally in Greek as well.

This is downstream of the Renaissance attitude that Greeks were much smarter than us and using their language meant you were being more precise yourself.  Because all languages have difficulties with exact translations between each other, it was fertile ground for making it look like they were making distinctions that were superior, rather than merely different. "You have to understand that the Egyptians did not understand the afterlife in quite the same way that we did, so when they said..." You could, and likely still can, make a career out of explaining to Englsih-speakers that they just don;t understand this properly. It led to all our medical terminology being unnecessarily Greek and therefore less-understandable. Hyperkalemia means "lots of potassium." Arteriosclerosis just means "artery hardening." We could have dispensed with the edumacated sounding language altogether.

OTOH, when we didn't have dead languages to aspire to we named our diseases croup, thrush, and grippe, so maybe snobbery was a real upgrade.

My Buddy

Yesterday I listen to an older guy who grew up in Charlestown talk about Boston Harbor while looking at old photos at the New England Seafarer's Mission. An overhead from 1968, commenting on Schrafts or Domino plants that were there, and what was there now. 1994 and the beginning of the Ted Williams Tunnel. But some things would suddenly puzzle him, a picture of a building that fell between years that he knew what it was used for. "Well, that couldn't have been part of the Navy Yard then, that closed in '74." He would wonder who was still alive who might know the answer. He would tag a lot of lines "I'll have to ask my buddy about that."

I thought he was talking about the same guy who was extra-knowledgeable about the subject, but I gradually came to understand that he was talking about a series of buddies. I wondered when I had last heard it used conversationally like this, while recognising that it had been very common in my youth.  I very much doubt I ever used it myself, nor any of my friends. It was something from my father's generation, though it could have extended to a point halfway between us. I think "My buddies" might have hung on longer. My friends, my pals, my guys - these things change gradually, much more slowly than slang words for things that especially good or especially bad.

Buddy is a word that changes greatly in tone depending on usage now.  One might say it very kindly and encouragingly to a young boy, even a baby. It is used similarly with a dog or other animal, though there is an element of calming the beast or testing whether it is safe. You can shout it across a parking lot to kindly draw someone's attention to a thing about to happen, like a door he left open.  Or it can be directly challenging to another man (women use it this way to set limits with men as well) to smarten up. Hey buddy! You can't go cutting in line like that.  

But used as the guy at the mission used it yesterday, it's an old guy word.  That it hung on directly around Boston doesn't surprise me.  I would bet that it was used in Quincy and Waltham longer than Scituate and Sudbury.

Single Sex Cultures

Facebook may give a false impression of the gender balance of friends, I grant.  It may make all people look like they primarily have older women and young mothers as friends. Yet you can find FB networks that seem more male if your poke around.  I went down a rabbit hole on a few people last week and sometimes also knew the people deeper in the network and what type of people they were.  One network had almost no men in it, only single (or now-single) women of my generation, plus a minority with husbands, and a further minority of those with once child. Lots of pictures of them going places with each other, though widely separated in time. There were some disquieting moments, and I will say no more than that.  

As soon as I start to draw conclusions about a group like that, I fairly automatically consider whether the same applies to men of my generation, or women of a younger generation, etc. I think it prevents jumping to conclusions, but each also provides insight into the others. 

Tangential thought: Women unfriend on FB more often than men, and I wonder if there is a further distinction generationally.  The current stereotype is that it is all these woke young people, especially females, unfriending people over nothing.  I'm not so sure. Anyone who is siloed is likely to put up with less and less from anyone outside the silo.

I pair this with what keeps showing up in my YouTube feed (probably because I click an occasional one) of short clip relationship advice, men advising other men about women, men advising women about men, women advising women about men, women advising men about women, and also from fairly definite, even extreme points of view.  There is a common pattern of showing a clip of a person who they think just gets it wrong, wrong, wrong, pointing out their stupidity or bad character in fairly stern language. "Ladies, this woman is complaining about where all the good men are, but notice that she never says anything about..." or "This man is toxic, and girls, if you run into one like this you need to get away as quickly as you can." Many of these seem to make valid points, but only on one side of the balance scale. Women heavily critical of other women, women critical of men - these seem to dominate.

I recall that the YouTube algorithm will funnel you into more and more extreme political and cultural content, and I wonder if the same thing is happening here, as young men and young women are herded into inflexible Positions.

Cultures that are single-sex, or single generation, or one educational class, one marital class, and certainly especially those in combination will push you toward attitudes of "you don't have to put up with that." It is most noticeable in the courtship and relationship discussions "Guys, you don't have to put up with this from women. If you are over sixty, there are plenty of other choices out there." But it expands to being about not having to put up with whatever from your own sex, or from contractors, or from bosses, or from neighbors. The more you are only with your own people, the more poisonous it gets.  And in such situations there doesn't have to be any anger or displayed rancor.  Who could sustain anger that continually? It is just part of the culture.  Nice people, being nice, reassuring each other how nice they are, teaching each other to be a just a little less tolerant. 

There may be something of positional competition in that as well, of gaining status within your cohort by advocating that less and less be tolerated from another cohort. You shouldn't put up with this from your children/parents/coworkers/wives.  Big Kahuna.

But it may flow in both directions.  The sub-sub-culture may also be teaching each other what they should be more tolerant of. I may be only focusing on the negatives here. It seems to be making us all worse people.  When we speak about the negatives of social media, this may be the driver.  We depend on peers to reinforce our values, and we tend to adjust our beliefs as a herd. When we are only among ourselves it might get poisonous. I think of this in long-term cultural, even evolutionary psych terms - have we ever been so siloed? Have older women ever been so isolated from younger ones?

As fewer young people marry and have children, fewer people attend a church, fewer people have an actual workplace they attend or a club they belong to this can only increase. What will drive you into contact with a variety of generations if you don't have these things.  Bowling Alone, indeed. I have to suspect this is getting worse. 

When women invaded the all-male institutions one of the great contributions was a subtle one - it caused men to notice some things about themselves and how business was done.  Not all men took to the lessons, but most did, almost unconsciously incorporating their understanding of female POVs. (And the subtleties of this increased as well, as they noticed that some differences were not gender or class-based, but generational.) Now there are all-female subcultures who could probably benefit from an invasion of males, especially of another generation. Reality checks are good things.

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Steak Frites

Kyle noticed that the waitress used a different pronunciation of frites that he had and asked if hers was correct.  I nodded that it was.  "It's Belgian." He nodded solemnly in return.  "What war did they win?" 

I thought that was a fair point.

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

A Tramp Shining

I listened to this every night in the summer after 9th grade.  I liked the image of the scruffy romantic returning to an old lover. All songs on the album by Jimmy Webb.

Not that I had any old lovers myself, nor even a new one, unless we are counting* church camp or Doug Manter's birthday party in his basement. But if I got a girlfriend, and I lost her, but I still loved her, and she signaled she wanted me to return, I would try and be just like Richard Harris.


* A friend asked what I meant when I referred to a girl we had both known as a "semi-girlfirend" and I explained about that particular party as my evidence.  "Well if that's gonna be the standard, I've got a lot more ex-boyfriends than I thought I did."

Fair.  That's fair.

Monday, June 17, 2024

Father Absence and the Welfare of Children

Father Absence and the Welfare of Children  Sara McLanahan  (1999)  Aporia likes to bring back older articles that they believe have been neglected. 

Dividing the children of the NSFH into four groups - those with no family disruption, those who lost a parent to death, those whose parents divorced, and those born to never-married mothers - we find significant differences in educational outcomes. Those whose mothers divorced or never married clearly suffer the most negative effects. Adjusting for the factors that predate father absence and are known to influence school failure, we find that children in these two categories are several times more likely to drop out of school than their peers with intact families. The dropout risk is 37 percent for those with never-married mothers and 31 percent for those with divorced parents, in contrast with the 13 percent risk of those from families with no disruption. Significantly, the risk for children who lost a parent to death is 15 percent, virtually the same as that for children from intact homes. Clearly, children of a widowed mother enjoy economic and other advantages over their peers from households headed by divorced or never-married parents.

Or? Or? What could be another possibility why the children of widowed mothers might do as well as the children of intact homes? Seeing that it is not likely that widowed mothers enjoy that much economic advantage (life insurance, I suppose) and the other advantages are...what, exactly, compared to the divorced and never married?

Maybe it's not what I suspect.  But shouldn't the possibility of (forbidden answer) be considered rather than assumed to not be in operation?

Update: Donna B thinks I'm being too cute by not mentioning my guess and she is probably right.  Genetic differences between the fathers who died and the fathers who were still alive but not present (and the women they married) were not mentioned as even a possibility for the different outcomes. Study after study, what is measured is the environment, even when genetics are a distinct possibility.

Taking Small Talk a Bit Literally

Those of us who are Aspies will sometimes take your words over-literally.  If you are just making small talk I can usually tell that you aren't really bringing a topic up for conversation, but sometimes...sometimes I think 'Well you brought it up." Phatic expressions I usually identify correctly. Though when someone asks "How are you?" I usually give a short answer that gives real information: "Tired," or "Pretty good, really." The closer a comment is to being unusual, or rising above mere small talk, the more likely I am to go with it.  If you take it 10% out of range of small talk, I might experimentally take it 30% out with my next comment. Last year in Rhode Island a guy told me "Great shirt!" but after I had explained about getting it from my Filipina DIL he said a little ruefully "I just said it was a great shirt.  I didn't ask for its history."  Ouch.

I usually read the room well enough to tell if I have badly missed pretty quickly and draw it to a close, thinking Okay, you didn't really want to talk about your sister, then. Email, and especially texting either doesn't yet have good enough signals for sorting out the tough ones, or I just don't know them well enough.  I have had people say they hadn't really asked for my opinion on something, but I think back and wonder "Well, why did you give me yours, then?" A lot of people expect to just be able to make pronouncements and never have to answer for them. Well, perhaps they are right.  It may be one of the conversational subtleties that my autistic brain just doesn't get right.

It's seldom a big deal.  I've watched people do far worse, and had people do far worse to me.  But I am clearly on the side of "If you didn't want to talk about it, why did you bring it up?"

Sunday, June 16, 2024

One Potato, Two Potato



1 Corinthians 4:5  The moral of this is that we should make no hasty or premature judgments. When the Lord comes he will bring into the light of day all that at present is hidden in darkness, and he will expose the secret motives of men’s hearts. Then shall God himself give each man his share of praise. J. B. Phillips New Testament.   

We think we know, but we do not. It is certainly true that sometimes we must judge, at least enough to decide. Yet the Scripture teaches so often that we should wait, reserve judgement, slow down that I have to think we are far more likely to err in that direction.

Laundry, Dishes, Art, Writing

I saw a FB meme today to the effect that "I don't want AI to do my art and writing for me so that I can do laundry and dishes;  I want AI to do my laundry and dishes so that I have more time to do art and writing."  I am not forwarding the actual meme for a couple of reasons, but mostly because they will certainly believe that I agree with the sentiment, and I don't want to encourage that.

The fear does arise that DALL-E is going to put real artists out of business, and Chat-GPT bids fair to do the same for writers.  I have some sympathy, as Google put me out of business overnight decades ago. There is a theory that we are not so much self-interested but tribally-interested in our political and cultural sympathies. We want presidents who look like they are going to help Our People get more and better jobs. When I wrote much over a decade ago about the Arts & Humanities and other American tribes I took note of this.  We frame things in terms that we regard as clearly practical and better-for-the-country or even moral and better-for-the-whole-culture, but often it is really just jobs for the children of our friends, were we to be stern with ourselves.  The other American tribes do the same thing, BTW.  It just didn't come up here.

So the statement, though many of us here will feel some sympathy for it, is almost completely backwards.  First, we already live in that world where a technology now does our dishes and laundry for us.

What we did in response to this is develop a culture in which we had more that two sets of clothes and had kitchensful of new appliances and varieties of dishes and tableware that used to be the province of only the rich. More rooms.  Foods, and new ones, year-round. Landscaping, entertainment tech, communications of all sorts.  When it got easier we just increased our desire for it and rapidly took it for granted. When technology graduated into doing more housework, we just went 10x on the amount of housework needed.

We are already in the world where you get to do lots of art and writing, Jasper (and I know that the poster is retired or near-retired, BTW.  Tell your great-grandfather about retirement.)

Next, I think dishes and laundry are nearly always necessary and thus a bit noble.  Noble activities have the potential for being ennobling. Maybe not always fun. Much as I like writing and music, I don't have complete confidence those have been ennobling for me.  In fact, they may be a net loss in terms of my character. If so for me, likely for all the people who checked like or love on the post also. 

It sounds a bit snobbish, actually, because if you take this idea of what you want AI to do seriously, you will automatically, without noticing it, regard your hobby scribbling as more elevated than the actual livelihoods of millions of people in the world. "We didn't want to become obsolete ourselves. But we are okay with other people becoming obsolete, so long as they are working at low-status jobs already." 

The more I look at this, the uglier it gets.  I'm done now.

Saturday, June 15, 2024




Every time I have heard his extreme claim that he has heard only Christians admit to pride I think this must not be so. (Notice he does not come anywhere near claiming that all or even most Christians admit to pride.) I set myself the task of thinking through those I know, yet never come up with one.  WRT most other sins, I know non-Christians who are as aware and even penitent as any Christian, but Lewis may be correct.  I never seem to come up with examples of those who perceive that pride is their downfall. I have heard some men cop to the extreme of it, such as admitting they can be cocky at times.  I have heard that the concept was common in the Hasidic communities.

His words here are to me like a searchlight after one's eyes have adjusted to the dark: not merely embarrassing, but painful. As often happens with Lewis, there are sentences I could swear were not there the last time I read the book that God has sneakily inserted this very week in response to my failings.

I am in discussion with engineerlite whether I will be teaching this in the fall. I originally declined, but now wonder whether the Hound of Heaven is pursuing me. Nice doggie.

Mixed Motives

Nothing more fun than discovering a new bad motive in oneself in a fairly important issue.  As is usual with me, it is a variant of pride.

Every David should have his Nathan, but if I had one, I would probably have killed him.

Spiral Staircases

As I was ascending, and later descending, a spiral staircase in a castle I reflected first on how steep and narrow they often were. Only on the outer side is there much room for a foot. The railings are not always that helpful, the treads sometimes slant downward, the natural light is bad.  It would be tough to navigate these at speed in an emergency. Especially, I thought, they would be tough on a 70-year-old man. What with battle wounds and poor medical care, gaits and stabilising would be impaired, and this would not improve with age.  Why, ...

Oh. Right. They didn't have many 70-year old men. Nothing in a castle was designed with them in mind.

Neanderthal DNA and Autism

Those with autism in three racial groups, black non-hispanic, white non-hispanic, and white hispanic all showed more rare Neanderthal genetic variants.  

"Our results are a little more nuanced than ‘autistic people are just more Neanderthal.’ We’ve found that autistic people, on average, have more rare Neanderthal variants, not that they have more Neanderthal DNA in general."

Interesting stuff.  When a species or subgroup is completely outcompeted by another with which it has interbred, it is often the case that the few genes they leave behind in the population confer some advantage, such as Tibetan high-altitude genes. Though not always.  Susceptibility to various diseases can also occur in this way. 

Friday, June 14, 2024


Sometimes I have despair at the government even when some branch or agency does the right thing. The Supreme Court wants Congress to be the ones who make gun law, not less-accountable and less-constitutional agencies. Well, great. We've been hearing for years that it should be congress and not any of the last 14* presidents, more than my lifetime, to (sorta, kinda, I-didn't-really but now we're here and we have to pay 10x more than we promised for it) declare war. 

Congress would rather not do that job. Someone will surely be upset at any decision and who knows if that will ruin A) Your chances of being a playah in your party or worse B) hurt your chances for re-election. So they do other jobs instead, that make people upset enough to grumble but not riot - or not riot too hard, anyway.

Sometimes the agency in question is nefarious, power-seeking, conscienceless. Sometimes they just have a job to do and in the absence of congress doing its job, they make up rules and say "All you guys have to wear green, and the girls will wear yellow. And we'll decide where the boundary is, dammit."

Who to blame?  All of us, as usual.  It's too much trouble for the citizenry so we just go about our business and hope that all those people In Charge of Stuff get it right more than 50% of the time.

*Maybe Ford should be excluded.

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

What I Wouldn't Give...

 Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Trace Bundy.

I sometimes impress younger people with how old I am by offhandedly mentioning that they didn't play "Stairway To Heaven" at my Senior Prom because it hadn't been recorded yet. Similarly, though this piece is centuries old it was almost unknown until I was just getting out of college.

Follow The Numbers

I had a little too much today of people saying or writing things authoritatively about how things were in the old days in cultural or political matters. People didn't keep their guns in their nightstand at night when I grew up around here. Well, maybe so, but could you cite some sort of confirming evidence of that/  I like numbers myself, but I would take something like I remember it coming up in conversation more than once, sitting around in the camp after a day of hunting.  Why my uncle... That's still not stunning.  Maybe it was the same four uncles every time, and that is just one town and a limited number of years, but at least it's something. Everyone in this town went to church every week in those days...I remember seeing some "interesting" numbers from the early 60s when I did a church 100th anniversary history in the 80s. Church attendance was much higher, sure. But really? Only half of my neighborhoods went.  I'm only counting about eight houses each time, and maybe I just happened to have a depressing effect on church attendance, even as a child...

Give me some numbers. I can take it. Damned lies and statistics gets quoted frequently, but trust me, your accuracy is much worse when you have no statistics.  And statistics can be made to tell the truth.  You grab them by the collar, shove them against the wall, and make them tell you who their friends are.

Theory of Mind

Lingthusiasm 59, Are You Thinking What I'm Thinking, looks at Theory of Mind from a more basic perspective, of childhood development and how TOM reflects in language. (Transcript available.) It includes the fun exercise of thinking how one would create a forwardable email to someone who already knows all the info and will distribute it under their own name.  The juggling of which mind is talking to which, a task we complete fairly automatically, is interesting to contemplate.

Or not.  It might be just linguists and researchers who think so.

Anyway, this is long-awaited, and quite disjointed.  I eventually just gave up in order to move the blog forward.

Why is it automatic for some to ask the questions "How would I feel if someone said that to me?" or "Would this be different if it were a boss asking an employee/ a woman suggesting it to a man/ and old friend versus a new one?" while others can do it very well but need to be cued to ask the questions, and others seem unable to do it at all?  WRT that middle category, is initiation sometimes an Asperger's problem?  I don't think I have seen it mentioned, but I can think of some examples in people I know. As this is something that children do not tend to do but some adults do I tend to view its lack as a childishness, or a direct callousness to the needs of others.  But I wince as I say it, because I know very nice people who display exemplary adulthood who find this difficult .

If we divide things into the World of Ideas, the World of Things, the World of People, we usually assign the first two categories to autists, regarding them as weaker in the third, and I can certainly think of a half-dozen examples of those who are rather avoidant of people, just off the top of my head.  Yet I know some hypersocial aspies, and others that are not comfortable in the World of Ideas at all, much preferring the concrete.  Is it the middle category that is the key one, then, as the stereotype used to be?

I have also noticed that some on the spectrum seem unable to resist their tendency to constantly, quietly enforce their worldview on any conversation. I hesitate to generalise, because I know non-Aspies who do that as well.  Yet it is a prominent feature of a few, constantly working their political, religious, or cultural view into every conversation in a rather obsessive fashion.  And these Aspies seem not to notice it, and in my limited experience from a decade ago, deny that is happening and are resentful.  It's like a slow invasion by a series of hobbyhorses.

What should we be socially consequating?  At what point do we stop saying that we have to be understanding and overlook things?  I am asking this more from a Christian and moral POV than a practical one. Let me make up an example:  A high school boy who seems quite aspie asks a girl to a dance. Yet at the end of the night she is humiliated because he has not danced with her. When friends or family try to point out to him that he has gotten this wrong and he gets embarrassed and goes and apologises, everyone is fine with the outcome.  Unless the girl also has issues of some sort and was more than humiliated and an apology isn't enough to make her come around and feel all right about things.  It's easy to be forgiving when there is no harm, but what if there is?

And what if he takes the opposite stance, digging in his heels and saying "But I don't like to dance.  No one has the right to make me dance.  I don't have to if I don't want to."  Efforts to make the distinction that of course he doesn't have to dance, except in situations where he asks someone to a dance, fall on deaf ears. And we know that he doesn't have quite the ability to understand these things as others do, but he's also being unnecessarily difficult.  I am not looking for a set of rules on this, but a set of questions to ask oneself. 

(I originally stated this as Social responsibility, that is something that society can legitimately consequate because it is disruptive, versus moral responsibility. How should a Christian respond to something that looks like the former mostly, but does not quite qualify for the latter if we make allowances for limitations, extenuating circumstances, etc, if that helps explain.)

Related, though it doesn't look it, is the issue of Demand Avoidance. As I err on the side of candor ("Saying the Quiet Part Out Loud," above) I find it hard to fathom the idea of not explaining yourself, or at least explaining why you are not going to explain. There are hundreds of mollifying or polite statements we get used to giving  to each other. "Did you mean to come across as that condescending?...  Perhaps I did not express myself as well as I should have... I see your point Esmeralda, and would ordinarily agree with it, but in this instance..." Even "Sod off, it's none of your business" may sound rude, but it's way better than just not answering.  Politely ignoring something is when you do it for the other person's sake, not mentioning that they are currently unemployed, or have been divorced twice, or embarrassed themselves at this event last year. But when you ignore someone for your own sake it is not politely ignoring, it is merely contemptuous, dismissing them so fully that their voice should not even be heard.

Even at that there are times when it is necessary, when violence is threatened or there is some other safety issue. But in general, the silent treatment is intentionally aggressive, no matter how much it is denied.

Yet that response is common.  It has been made into comedy, by Shakespeare and Moliere, where the audience is aching to say "If she would just tell him that she is the actual princess and not the maid in disguise," or going the other way "if you would just make the accusation that he saw her kissing another man, she could explain that it was her brother..."

(Of course these days it would have to be explaining to her boyfriend that the man she was undressing in front of was her gay cousin who is a fashion designer, but same principle.)

So at first glance it looks as if it should be impossible that we think it wise to just leave so much unsaid - yet it happens so often. Many people just don't want the momentary discomfort of "a scene," and will put themselves - and more importantly put others - through unnecessary pain. Demand avoidance is just running to your room like a schoolgirl, really.

Or am I imposing my emotional preferences on others? I wonder if this activates with aspies more when it is mostly emotional material that they feel unconfident about but is absent when more concret information is being discussed.