Friday, May 31, 2013

Immigration III

In 2001 we brought two immigrants to America: orphaned Romanian teenagers.  My framing of that event now is only slightly different from my moral thinking then.  I reasoned that my own family, and to a lesser extent our circle of friends, were absorbing nearly all the inconvenience and cost.  The question of assimilation became unimportant, because adoptees are among the most enculturated to mainstream society.  As far as I could tell from the information given, I was not asking my local school district, nor America in general, to absorb expensive special-needs services that might have gone to some current resident.  In fact, we actively avoided public school services they were eligible for, and sent them to a private Christian school. No ESL for them.

(In other places, BTW, Christian schools developed a reputation as white-flight academies, and perhaps that is/was justified.  But up in NH, Christian schools had more diversity, not less, making significant efforts to bring in exchange students and treating disabled students well.  There is a level of disability they cannot deal with, so the comparison may not be fair.  But if you had a kid with some physical disability in that era, or a strange or eccentric child, you would find that kids in public school would torment him, kids in Christian schools encourage him. That's not theory, that's kids we knew. And in the case of our own, we wanted the greater emotional support they would receive.)

Yet we knew of situations from the same orphanage where children were brought to America who did turn out to require expensive special services.  It was legal to bring them, and it was certainly kindly meant by the parents, but I am less certain of its pure generosity now.  It is being generous with other people's money.  I suppose the fact that it had been duly enacted in legislation and policy is proof that at some level, our society has signed on to that risk, but it is less obviously good than I once thought.

In our case it seems to have worked out as a plus for the country.  One boy is a hospital accountant in Nome, which turns out in practical experience to be "a job Americans won't do."  They have a hard time finding people to hire there, and a harder time finding ones who will actually show up and try hard.  And yet...he went to a college down south for a year and a half, and at some level, took an admissions spot that might have gone...or maybe not.  Hard to say.  The second boy went into the USMC, which we traditionally regard as giving something important to the country.  We may overrate that, as America did spend a million dollars training him which it did not recoup in combat or even supportive roles.  He was ready, but never sent.  Also, one can imagine that there is some native-born American whose enlistment slot he took, but really, it was only a delay of 30 days for a determined volunteer, and if the next person in line wasn't that determined, I don't feel too bad for him.  That son now works in Norway, so the computation gets muddled.

Neither of them looks to turn out to be an axe murderer or a grasshopper refusing to work and sponging off others.  But I suppose it could have happened, and I know I thought only a little at the time of what an unfair thing that would have been to do to my society, to unleash some monster on it.  However well-meant I might be, it was still being generous with a little bit of other people's stuff.  I didn't see it at all as potentially taking a job from some poor American.  Had the economy been worse when we started the process in 2000, I might have.  Since then I have come to question whether there will be meaningful paid employment for 50% of the population in 30 years.  I had put my energy into making sure my descendants were in that 50%, or even, ultimately the 10% who actually do things rather than the 90% tricked into thinking they are important. Potentially, the boys I brought in might not have been taking jobs from my sector in America, but from poor Americans.  I might have been being generous with things that were not mine, asking fellow-citizens to pay a cost I was evading.

And that's with a fully legal situation where someone has stepped up to pay most of the initial cost, and assimilation is largely guaranteed.

At an even more  worrisome level, sponsoring agencies bring in immigrants, all quite legally, and agree to look after them and launch them and provide services for them for 6 months, or 18 months, or two years.  They set that limit in order to push people out of the nest to make it on their own - mostly a good thing - but also to be able to devote their energy to others coming in.

Some of those pushed out of the nest don't fly.  I get to see some of those, and I have some resentment at the agencies, some of them church-based, who take this approach.  That they are sticking others with the later costs is more visible to me than to others.  They see themselves as generous Christians, expressing the love of Christ to the unfortunate - and that's not necessarily untrue.  But they are being generous with other people's stuff as well as their own. And even if that were not the case, that's not quite what Jesus (and Paul) said anyway. There's a standard modern sheep vs. goats misreading buried in there as well.

I mention this because these are the legal situations - the one the society has at some level agreed to be generous, or at least risk being generous about.  With the unsponsored the risk becomes greater, and with illegals even more.  I say this primarily for Christians who have fallen unthinkingly into the idea that this is all generosity, something we should righteously encourage our government to do more of, and encourage lawbreaking when it doesn't.  Even the very best situations involve some giving away of other people's stuff. A job, some school funding, a place at a university.  It's not really generosity.  Someone is being generous, of course, but mostly it's not us.  It's the poor, the less skilled, the (gulp) disabled, the unattractive, the uncharming, and above all, minorities who are paying that price.

We might decide as a society that we want to bring in certain non-citizens because the citizens who don't work have ticked us off, or to pressure them, or improve our own economy, or to maintain our Welcoming status at the expense of some who live here.  We could decide that and even justify it.  What I am calling into question here is the idea that doing so is obviously moral and generous, and opposing such things automatically stingy and bigoted.

Underground II

I came across another London Tube parody, in a similar but unrelated search.  This one has anagrams of all the stations.  There was controversy when it came out because there was nervousness that people would be confused, which more likely means "the brand will be damaged."  As my audience is primarily American, I doubt the danger of readers getting lost from this misdirection is very high. 

The Northern Line is the absolute winner here.  It's hard to beat "Wifely Stench" and "Aleph & Tentacles," just for openers, but it is the consistency of the line that makes it the standout.

The real version is here.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Immigration II

Short version.  We want to be generous, and believe Christ commands it, but what if something is not ours to give?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

European Attitudes...Toward Each Other

Pew Research has frequently checks up on how (some) Europeans feel about each other.  The year it is entitled The New Sick Man of Europe: The European Union. It's always fascinating to not only follow the ups and downs of who is considered most trustworthy - everyone thinks that would be the Germans, except the Greeks, who consider themselves the most trustworthy - versus least trustworthy - the Greeks, French, Italians, and contradictorily The Germans, all figure prominently, but to ponder why some questions were asked at all.

The French have become depressed in the last year.  "Dyspeptic" and "disillusioned" are the words used. Just about all of Southern Europe is discouraged about economic prospects.  Spain's percentage of folks who think the economy is good has dropped from 65% to 4% since 2007.  I do wonder who the 1% of Greeks are who think economic conditions are good.

Human nature being what it is, each nation rated itself the Most Compassionate.  Given my fondness for seeing social and political events in tribal terms, I think they are all likely correct.  Greeks are going to find that other Greeks are going to be more compassionate toward them than say, Germans.

Tube Parody

The London Underground schematic is the greatest map of all time.  Wonderful to behold, clear, original...

And easily parodied, perhaps the surest indicator of great art.  Today's entry is from the British comedy site Poke, The Daily Mail Moral Underground.  The lines have names like Media Scum (including Madonna and Dr. Rowan Williams), Arch-Enemies (Scroungers and The French) and many that do double or triple duty on multiple lines, as London stations do in reality.  Energy-Saving Bulbs is a stop on the PC Gone Mad, Cancers, and Nuisances lines.

Big Fish, Little Ponds

There was a Bob Newhart routine in the 60's on his The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back album called "School For Bus Drivers." The monologue is a lecture by the course instructor, encouraging the students to become not mere good bus drivers, but "one of the great all-time bus drivers.  Drivers like the legendary Larry Strickland.  The greatest bus driver of our time, and perhaps of any era: Neil Norlag."

A little later when I was in college, a group of us from theater would ironically go roller-skating a few towns away. (Had fun, though.)  As I had also noticed in high school, each rink had its stars, its special couples, whether skaters or announcers.  Others would bask in their reflected glow, if they could demonstrate an easy familiarity and friendship with one of these.  "I'm usually the one who signals to Benelux when to Shoot The Duck," one odd gentleman confidently assured me.

Every little corner of the world has them, these giants in their respective arenas which seem unimportant - or at least arcane - to outsiders.  The Saturday morning men's Bible study had several members who became enamored of the men's movement and Iron John, speaking in admiring tones about Robert Bly. This all grew into retreats and weekends over the next few years, with Bly becoming an important enough figure that participants would become bitterly disappointed if his presence could not be arranged.

Come to think of it, everything that goes into the weekends and retreats mode likely has its figures which inspire at least a little awe.  Every hobby or area of study, every obscure sport or competition has names instantly recognised by the others, carrying with them an automatic prestige of association.  There are women who speak at Christian conferences, whether humorous or as authors of serious studies (or both) who have regional, topic, or national prominence.  Their names are not much recognised outside of evangelical circles, somewhat restricted in generation, and by males only vaguely or inaccurately.

I belong to a small but national denomination - we have our stars.  I have seen a dozen sets of heroes and heroines come and go in mental health.  Many of these figures deserve their minor fame, however unimportant or even ridiculous they may seem to outsiders.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Who Killed Marriage

Gavin McInnes suggests that gays didn't kill marriage, divorce did. It's not a new argument, but he makes it well.
They won me over, too, and it was because of wimps such as Glenn and Bill and Rush. My peers are the children of divorce and I’ve seen it permanently scar almost all of them. Both Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly have been divorced. Rush Limbaugh has done it three times. You can’t be sanctimonious about marriage when you’re on your fourth. You can’t keep quitting your job while lecturing us about how important jobs are.

A few generations ago, there was no concept of “self.” You went to work and busted your ass so your kids (the baby boomers) could have the education you never had.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Flagrant Foul

Dwyane Wade may be the NBA's dirtiest player, but he is also smart, and keeps it out of sight.  Watch him he is going to the floor himself.  He always brings someone with him.

Of course, it is fair to say that no Celtics fan should be critical.  We've provided our share.

Immigration I

The immediacy of the problem of too many illegals, taking jobs which might have been filled by current citizens or legal residents (including those from their own countries) is great enough that it tends to overwhelm more general, abstract discussions of what values might apply in a variety of situations.  This part of why I hate - hate - "comprehensive" government solutions. Under the guise of looking at the big picture and solving many problems at once, "comprehensive" reform is merely a strategy for "everyone gets to give unfair and expensive advantages to their supporters, in exchange for putting up with other people getting some too."  Comprehensive education, tax, finance, justice...beware those reforms, even in the hands of people you agree with and trust.  When you hear the word "comprehensive," zip in the phrase "cocaine-based" instead.

This why I support minor solutions that turn down the heat on problems instead.  Build a fence.  Make it more risky for employers to hire illegals.  Wait. Observe. The problems are not solved, but they are now closer to an absorbable level.  We can then afford to take a breath and have some nuance, as Democrats used to say until the evasion became clear.

There are interesting issues here, that do not follow the absolutist rhetoric of our current political discussion.  I'm going to have a go at some of those, but in the meantime, remember that my simpler point is that in crisis, absolutist arguments are not unreasonable.  Something that claims to solve 100% of the problem but only solves 50%, and incurs other hidden costs or sins, might still be a good temporary solution.

I brought two immigrants to America, teenaged sons from Romania.  Did they take jobs from citizens?  Are they a net cost to the country?  Perhaps.  That will be part of my discussion.  The difference between European assimilation and American assimilation will also figure in.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Riots In Stockholm

Riots in Stockholm.  Many of the news sources don’t want to tell you who is rioting, but then they sort of have to hint because of the groups accusing that Swedish racism and inequality are the root cause. And they can’t not quote those groups, but the names of their spokespersons are so, err…obvious, dammit.  What’s a good liberal newspaper to do?  (Apparently they have a political phrase for “root cause” in Swedish as well as English.) Or sometimes, the subject slides over into wondering whether this “changes theimmigration debate.   It is apparently hard for immigrants to assimilate, so they just have to riot. You can find out what countries the rioters are from if you choose to work that hard. 

We all remember the Swedes rioting when they came to America, right?

I have mixed emotions about how this plays out.  I am of Swedish descent on one side and grew up feeling very proud of them.  Meeting actual Swedes has almost always been pleasant, and Americans who go there usually have nice things to say about it. Yet the writings and quotes coming out of Sweden since I became aware of them as an adult have gradually soured me.  We Americans just need to be nice tolerant people, like they are, and we wouldn’t have all these problems…

So I admire them for trying really hard to live up to their declared values, even when it’s difficult.  But I also have some schadenfreude that it does, in fact, turn out to be difficult to have a peaceful country when the population is less homogeneous than your typical Luciafest.

Now that I think of it, Luciafest here in America has become pretty diverse, so that’s not so good an example as I thought.  I’m trying to think of anything in America that actually is as homogeneous as Sweden 1990. White supremacist groups in America are genetically more varied than Uppsala and Lund.

I will declare again.  America's only competition in the world for handling actual diversity and getting along, even forging some friendships and alliances, comes from the other Anglospheric nations.  Everyone else just talks as if they would be really, really, tolerant, not like those racist Americans, if they, uh, had anyone other than their own tribe to practice it on.

See also: nice tolerant people moving to whiter nations or whiter states or even suburbs in order to get away from the racist attitudes that they disapprove of in Denmark, or Georgia, or Texas, or Germany.  When you get there, you can vote for nice progressive parties.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Sidebar Changes

I finally got around to removing sites that haven't put anything up in awhile.  If anyone feels chided by same, you can note that commenter Dubbahdee's site, Necat Draco is back on the list after laying fallow for a year while he put his energy into more directly practical tasks.  Texan99 should like the current first post there.  For those who have forgotten his writings, he tends more to the theological than social or political, wrestling with life applications of law and gospel.  He recommends the site Mockingbird, with reflections on similar subjects.

I should have been consistent and heartless and also removed the non-posting the ten-four films blog and These Things Happen, but it's my son and my best friend, so I'm allowing myself some soft-heartedness here.

Proxy Effort

James has linked to an excellent Christianity Today article by Rachel Jones, and provided commentary of his own. Key quote from her:
"A significant challenge for nonprofits and ministries remains recruiting people who will commit to serve long-term outside the United States." "I know there are a plethora of good reasons that concerned American Christians can't just uproot and leave the States, from family to health to finances. I know I simplify. But I have a theory about what is partly contributing to the dearth of young Americans willing to spend their lives on behalf of others." "They think they already are."
Key addition by him:
Minor financial adjustments such as buying fair trade coffee, and writing letters about safe working conditions at supplier factories are considered "being part of the fight": Words, and relatively painless giving will do the job.

More Language Change

Should of will replace should've, because that's how we pronounce it.  Those who read text, especially more formal text or older works will see the should. have. connection earlier in their careers, and the knowledge of its origin will mean more to them.  But children aren't likely to encounter should've until 4th grade (reading level) at the earliest.  Should of will be what they have heard all their lives up until that point and always retain some power.

In fifty years, bright children will encounter should've = should have, not should of, and have one of those lovely moments of epiphany "Oh, that makes much more sense.  I see where that comes from now!" But it will be a curiosity, not a form that one changes to.  The rest of the world speaking English will only accelerate that change.

Think not?  Will he, n'ill he, ne cest pas?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Changes In Our Alleged Language

We received a letter from the high school principal today, letting us know about "alleged threats directed toward the school, by alleged individuals."

I'm pretty sure the accused are not composites or clones, and are thus actual individuals, not alleged ones.  Similarly, the betting man would put his money down on the idea that the statements were not laundry lists nor love letters, and thus real, rather than alleged threats.  Speaking in an older style of sentence analysis, one my audience would be familiar with, the writer would have done better to use alleged to modify the verb in the sentence, rather than the noun. "Threats allegedly made by individuals against the school" perhaps. 

I am no longer sure we can say that this usage is wrong, however.  I have lived through this change and I think I can understand some of it.  People are petrified of falsely accusing someone, believing they can be sued later for asserting guilt.  It used to be confined to newspapers and evening news, wanting to get the news out there fast, but mindful of possible modification or retraction later.  Sometimes there are hoaxes, sometimes events are misunderstood, sometimes the wrong people are identified as culprits.  "Alleged" was put in as a protective, cautionary modifier. 

In only a few decades, it has gotten quite out of hand.  Multiple "allegeds" are not uncommon in news sentences and statements by institutions.  Even the head of the English Department at the school, while wincing at the imprecision of where the word is placed and cognizant of its traditional and preferred usage, might say "Can't you work a few more of those into the text?  We don't want to get in trouble later."

"Alleged" has become something of an incantation, an anti-lawsuit rune, attached to controversial sentences.  This will not be diminishing any time soon, and will likely increase.  People might find it irritating or amusing - some of both for me - but the imprecision will count less than the need for spell-casting.  Folks will just feel better having enough of them there in the sentence, and the language will change.

I would still consider it wrong usage at this point - but I am a dinosaur and my ear is not the same as the majority culture.  I would prefer that schools err on the side of being dinosaurs as well, as it seems one way of upholding standards.  But my preference there is culturally loaded, isn't it?

(Yes, I also note that it is a bit ambiguous whether "school" refers to the building or the institution, but it doesn't much matter.)


The recent political scandals seem to be gaining steam.  I still haven't paid enough attention to know whether any or all of them are worthy of the attention.  They would each be a big deal if mostly true, but I don't know that to be the case.

i do have an observation about how scandals play with the public, however.  The early Clinton scandals were mostly confined to the political class.  The general public would pause over things like Travelgate, Filegate, Whitewatergate (perhaps we are finally done with -gates now) and move on, unexcited.  True or not true, none of those were going to take over the popular conversation.  With help from the media, some scandals can be buried, some inflated; but there is a limit to that.

Vince Foster's suicide came into the national consciousness because there were additional suspicions that it wasn't a suicide. That seemed unlikely right from the start, and ended up having only leftover bits of odd items to support it, so it went away.  That obscured the real scandal of Webb Hubbel and Hillary Clinton denying the FBI access to his office until they had cleansed it.  Ridiculously wrong, but even had there been no homicide conspiracy sucking up all the oxygen, it might not have become the scandal on everyone's lips that the Republicans felt was deserved. The political class cares about the jockeying that goes on around that sort of scandal, because there are alliances to observe and impressions to manage.  And sometimes, they even care about the justice of the thing.

But when there was sex in the picture in the late 90's the game changed.  The general public suddenly cared, a lot.  The Republicans were thrilled, and as usual, misread the social signals.  The general public didn't care about the parts that Clinton's opponents thought were most important.  (I'm not sure his allies got it right at first, either.) Lying to the camera was fascinating for a couple of days.  Possible lies to other parts of the government had some juice, but only about a C+.  Sex held the attention.  Blood, actual courtrooms, violence, and money are also pretty reliable if you are trying to get the public's attention.

How does this apply today?  Scandals have one level of interest in the partisan press, whether accusing or denying.  It takes another level of interest to force the legacy media to cover scandals - which seems to have been reached.  To get to the next level of national interest there must be other factors that catch the imagination.  Government spying might qualify.  Dead Americans from the State Department is a more likely hook, though if it were tourists or military it would go even higher.  People aren't all that aware of State from day-to-day and have only vague notions what embassies are for.  The IRS is something people are familiar with and will pay a bit of attention to.  The Republicans (and likely some Democratic presidential aspirants) want these to go to the next level.  They should remember that if they do, the narrative changes.  The general public is not going to be interested in the things they are "supposed" to.

It's rather like taking a child to the zoo and trying to get him to look at one of the few Asian vultures in captivity, and failing to get that point across because one of the rhinos is pooping just now.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Ray Manzarek Dies

I don't have much to add to what everyone else will say, except to note a radio interview I heard with him years ago.  That long organ riff in the middle of "Light My Fire," where he plays 4 against 3 so powerfully, he credited to John Coltrane.  I never heard that until he said it, but once you know it, you listen to the track and say "How did I ever miss it?"

A lot of life is that way, isn't it? Completely opaque, and then embarrassingly obvious.

Our first few minutes in heaven will be like that, I suspect; eyes darting sideways a little sheepishly and saying "Yeah, I shoulda seen that."

Fear of Heights

Maggie's linked to a buzzfeed page of people at great height in dangerous positions. My reaction is mixed.

There are layers of fear here.  The people who are secured in some way, on anything that looks like it would hold them after a slip, do not send me into panic.  Were I in that situation live, my imagination would run to what this would feel like if the securing device failed, and I would be in utter panic, but just looking at the picture doesn't bother me much.  Walking across a gorge, or hanging from a cliff at any height, doesn't grip me.  The people leaning outward in Toronto would be an exception.  The possible failure of the securing lines is forcibly brought home in that one.

The cliff diver doesn't bother me - I've done 2/3 that height myself (though nowhere near as pretty) into water.  The skiers and driver bother me only a bit, though they are perhaps in the most danger.

But all the unsecured people I can barely stand to even look at. Phobia is a funny thing.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Nice Guys

hbd* chick had an interesting link about whether nice guys finish last. The site Barking Up The Wrong Tree asks the right question: what does the research say? (I have quibbles about some of this research, but think that the overall article expresses the ambiguity well.)

Be Thou My Vision

The song should not be in the slow, pounding 4/4 we always sing it in. Or most recently, the faux Gaelic character of dreamy pensiveness.  It's Irish, centuries old, and the rhythm should be freer.  Before you listen, imagine the hymn you know.  Now imagine it quick and light - add an Irish accent - and sung as an air.

This isn't quite it.  He takes his time getting to the song and you might skip to 2.54, for openers. Chelsea Moon's version is also good, though too slow and pensive. But this may help break the spell of how we've pulled the song out from its roots.  It's one of my favorites anyway. If anyone can do this right, they can sing it at my funeral.  (Yes, I hope to tell everyone how they got something not quite right one more time.)

The Nth Degree

I know that political posturing leads to hyperbole.

I know also that words and phrases, especially idioms, do not always accurately reflect their "original" or technical meanings. This is especially true when math terms are involved.

Some Obama opponent quoted on the news - Paul Ryan, I think - talked about the public's mistrust increasing "to the nth degree," over the IRS scandal (or perhaps the AP scandal.  either way). 

I suppose that can never be proven false, because there would always be some n for which the statement is true.  Still, the intent is clear that Ryan, who should know better, is suggesting some exponential increase in mistrust.  I rather doubt that's true.

There is a distinction between "things that are your fault because they happened on your watch," and "things that are your fault because you caused them to be done."  Both are real, but the latter is much worse than the former.  It is fair that some of this sticks to a president, even if the opposite bias were occurring.  If that seems not comprehensible to conservatives, it's because you are too used to the bias of permanent federal officials going the other way.  Imagine if singling out Conservative/Tea Party/Patriot/Constitutionalist groups had happened under Bush.  Even though it was to his disadvantage, and he didn't know about it, he would deserve some blame, because it's a federal agency doing something wrong on his watch.

But not so very much blame.  I think the same holds here.  I feel Obama has dodged some deserved accusations by stonewalling the records, but that's not a reason to accuse unfairly in other instances, such as this one. 

I know, I know, it's never that clean, and you don't have to teach a cat to catch mice - just appoint cats to the right jobs and they will catch mice for you without being told.  But the distinction between Your Watch and Your Actions is an important one, and we should make it as carefully as we can.

And even if not, we should use our math terms more accurately.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

AVI's Wife and Vocabulary

One used to be able to take the Miller Analogies Test instead of the GRE to go to grad school, at least if you were in a verbal-only field.  My wife got her graduate degree in Library Science - I guess that's about as verbal as it gets.

I haven't bragged on my wife around here much, have I?  Bad husband.

At the time she took the test in 1974, my wife's scores were so far off the charts that the MAT sent along that we assumed she was the recordholder with her 98 out of 100.  I guess that's not true, as Prometheus Society accepts that as a score for qualification, implying that people occasionally make that grade.  That's a pity, as I have been saying she's the previous recordholder for almost four decades now.  Ah well.  She is merely at the 99.997 percentile of verbal abilities instead.

I discovered early that there are games you just can't play with her.  The Dictionary Game, for example, in which you take a word that no one knows and make up definitions to fool the other players, with the real definition thrown in to the guessing pile.  It's just tedious to keep going through lists to find a word she doesn't know, and even when she thinks she doesn't, has been known to "make up" a definition that is identical to the real one, revealing that she did indeed know it after all, somehow, somewhere.  Wherry is one I recall from that category.

We do have a copy of Mrs. Byrne's Dictionary.  That usually worked. Except the rest of our friends had already decided by that time that it just wasn't any fun. 

Interestingly, neither of us is much good at Scrabble.  We're not bad, but nothing exciting.  One of our sons is good at speed scrabble when he can find a taker, and perhaps Tracy would excel at that given the chance.  Another oddity:  she does not produce vocabulary automatically or for fun, as many word-people do.  It's mostly recognition vocab.

Verbal Violence Porn

A commenter Ymar Sakar, who shows up on conservative sites from time-to-time (he has his own as well) used the phrase "verbal violence porn" to describe the disquieting, threatening statements one finds on conservative sites.  He used the term disparagingly, almost challengingly, declaring that it is not going to be this kind of woofing that wins culture wars.  He certainly didn't seem to be advocating they take it to a new level, but neither is he violence-averse.  He writes some about martial arts and the history of warfare.

Without trying to mindread what he is trying to accomplish, it is worth noting that he has described the phenomenon vividly, and I think accurately.  You can find people in comments sections everywhere who mutter darkly about revolution and what people won't put up with much longer.  I can add that my mental-health crisis data over 35 years is similar: threats of violence with political overtones comes from the right more often.  Much more.

And yet the violence does not seem to follow. In both the national experience and my mental-health observation, the actual violence comes more from those who vote with the Democrats.  The whole broad picture deserves some attention.  It is true that the most violent districts across the nation, especially black and hispanic areas, are enormously Democratic.  Additional violence with a political or social spin - union, anti-globalist, campaign-office bombing, or church-targeting - also tends strongly to come off the left side of the debate.  Note also that in any group the number of people who actually move to violence is small, so even in these violent, bright-blue districts, the great majority of people are not violent criminals.

And yet.  The rhetoric from the dark corners of the right is much more violent.  I don't think it's close.  It comes in different flavors, some racist, some nominally libertarian, some paranoid, but it's not subtle.

What gives?  Do the violent people on the left just not advertise it that much, leaving the comments sections to the extremely nonviolent white urban liberals?  Or is the verbal violence porn from the right a sort of woofing - barking to warn off threats, with actual aggressive violence requiring a much higher threshold?  Bullying might be a fair question to explore, but I don't think cowardice is.  A lot of these guys - they do seem to be almost entirely male - have military and even combat experience, so I don't think they are Caspar Milquetoast types showing off.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


As per the previous post, I have been giving the matter some thought over the past few months. At Steve Sailer's, hbd chick's, West Hunter, Jayman's and other sites I spend time at, the information about the relationship between IQ and life outcomes is well-known.  It is a major factor in predicting college success, for example, but still less than half the picture. Self-discipline, perseverance, and conscientiousness also weigh heavily.  This holds true going forward as well, in some human endeavors more than others. Raw intelligence seems to always help some, and sometimes helps a lot.

By the way, I do not encounter much objection to IQ as a factor because of the racial implications, as is more commonly reported in the press.  Most people I know are not even aware of that controversy.  Their objections are more along the lines of defensively dismissing IQ as a major factor at all.  If one even brings up the topic, folks seem so sure you are going to overvalue it and arrogantly think it is the only factor that they go out of their way to disparage it with anecdotes, or generalisations about smart people not having common sense, and the like.  The psychologists and psychiatrists at my hospital, who have some real working knowledge of IQ, seldom fall into this.  But psych nurses, rehab specialists, OT's, and psych techs get quite declarative in their repeating of something-or-other they read once; and social workers of course bubble over with resentment. (Yeah, go figure.)

What of the other factors in success, also studied and often reported in the popular press.  We all intuitively know that attractiveness is an advantage in a lot of situations, at least in terms of getting your foot in the door. (Some extremes or perhaps types of attractiveness can start to work against one, however. Perhaps credibility is lost.)  It's hard to quantify, so it gets tougher to measure.  Using American college students as one's test subjects - the new acronym WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, Democratic) - can lead one astray, as they tend to be an attractive group overall, and it's hard to know what's being measured.

I don't mean the 50 Most Beautiful magazine articles, either. Those are just excuses to run their pictures, nicely run up by Harvard Lampoon decades ago:

Yet we know that attractiveness is an advantage at school, in offices, in entertainment, in sales, and even (gulp) in churches.  We see it, even if we can't quite nail it down.

Connections - the derisive cliche that it's not what you know but who you know - is also one key to success, and one they don't mention as a habit of highly successful people. Nonetheless, it's one of the reasons parents send their children to expensive schools, when they might learn about as much at Geographic Marker Community College, or the library.  It doesn't explain everything, and works better in some fields than others.  But it's there.

There is charm, or social skill, or the irritatingly-phrased Emotional Intelligence.  These work.  They help one get ahead, however one defines "ahead." Creativity, generosity, cooperativeness, risk-taking, spunk, and the negative virtues of ruthlessness, paranoia, and deceit - all are advantages that have little or no relation to candlepower. 

Finally, there are the striving virtues I mentioned above, that whole cluster of hard-work, dedication, attention to detail, and Frank Merriwell At Yale qualities we used to teach.  They aren't infallible either, but they still get you something.

I don't think managing other people, which is what the word "promotion" often means at work, is that deeply related to intelligence.  There is a minimum IQ necessary at each job, and some advantage in having another 15 points or so above that to be a manager, but beyond that, other factors listed above are much more important.

Peter Principle

I never learned whether that particular organizational fad stood up to enquiry and observation over time, but I always found it plausible (as well as the Dilbert extension where "we just find incompetent people and sent them straight to management").  When people in in over their heads, they act increasingly irrationally.

One of the common things is to identify some less-important competency and begin to insist that it is the most important part of the job. It's a marker, actually.  When someone is insisting on unimportant stuff, it's a sign they are dimly aware they are in over their head.

Yeah, we're living that right now.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Post 4100 - The Old College Try

I am trying to read another of my birthday books, American Nations by Colin Woodard.  Four tries, I have yet to make it out of the introduction.

It should be a natural.  It is clearly based on both Joel Garreau's Nine Nations of North America and David Hackett Fischer's Albion's Seed, two of my insist-you-read books. (Though admittedly, I don't think any of my sons have read either, whether that is in spite of or because of my encouragement.) Woodard is trying to refine and expand on those ideas.  He comes from Maine, and the reviews suggested he favors the Yankeeland culture in his description of the history of the continent.  Right up my alley, one would think.

I kept stumbling over his biases from the first paragraphs, rehearsing how I might get people past them and on to the better analysis of the book's core. In particular, I was thinking how I might inveigle my southern friends to keep reading, as his credit to the Appalachian culture started off as grudging, and his criticism of the Deep South seemed a bit one-sided.

A few pages later, as he went into greater detail about those regions, the grudging quality turned into condescension, and the one-sidedness into open contempt. He's not even trying to see, as any historian or anthropologist might, what forces and choices were in play in those cultures.  Whether he eventually gets to that is irrelevant.  His view is that of the gosh-darn-it-missed-the-60's liberal, uncritical in accepting that sacred world-view. It's hard to believe that there is a region whose inhabitants have no redeeming features whatsoever.

In describing New Netherlands, that NYC and environs culture originally founded by the Dutch, he declares they nurtured two virtues considered subversive by the other nations: a PROFOUND tolerance of diversity, and an UNFLINCHING commitment to the freedom of inquiry.  All-caps mine, of course.  Woodard is, at least, a professional writer.

See, I'm betting they flinched once or twice about that inquiry thing, and when I think of Newark, New Haven, or Brooklyn, tolerance is not the first word that comes to mind.  Not that they are bad at that, especially compared to the rest of the country, but we can't just be cheerleading when we are supposed to be objectively evaluating.  That sort of language is the glittering generality of the politician trying to butter up the voters, telling them how noble their culture is.  Appalling.

When writing about El Norte, the mixed culture a hundred miles in each direction from the US-Mexico border, he quotes only Hispanics, and their view of what has happened, is happening, and will happen in the future.  Then he projects how things will be even More So in 2050.  Jeez, that's brilliant, eh?  That's the sort of analysis you can only get from the 90% of the population who are sentient. It is wrapped around an interesting idea that I had not known: that the northern parts of Mexico are seen as very American by the other parts of Mexico, and regarded with some suspicion thereby. Was it worth the crap paragraphs I had to wade through to learn that?  Maybe.

Here's the thing.  I'll bet he's right in a lot of this.  The New Netherlands and Tidewater additions seems sensible, as do his redrawings and reconnections of the other borders.  There is probably a lot to learn here.

I'll keep trying, but I think I'm going to just have to remain ignorant.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

London 1927

London in 1927 from Tim Sparke on Vimeo.

The music is "Parasol" by Jonquil, who I had not heard of.  I liked his stuff over at YouTube but I'm not sure it works here.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Absolute Truth

There is an op-ed in the Keene Sentinel about the constitutionality of gay marriage.  Next week there will be an opposing POV by Chuck Douglas, a pal of mine - a former US congressman and NH Supreme Court justice.  Remind me to catch that.

This week’s op-ed discusses gay marriage in terms of Loving v. Virginia, which ruled that the Commonwealth could not forbid interracial marriage. The writer asks if the Constitution likewise forbids banning marriage on grounds of sexual orientation.  Her paragraph-ending comment before discussion is “It absolutely does.”

Such phrasing puts me off.  I understand that this is something of a debate tactic, convincing others by one’s own certainty, as in my prior post about confidence versus correctness being the better evolutionary strategy.  Maybe it’s a lawyer thing, and works often enough to be the recommended mode of arguing.  Showing the least doubt might be fatal in front of a judge or jury.  But it has the opposite effect on me.  Jes’ sayin’.  It suggests that you are unable to understand an opposing POV, and thus have no justification for your assuredness.  Even harebrained ideas often have something going for them after all, even if they are not sufficient to carry the day.

I ran across a post on another site in which the author made good arguments, yet was so determined to strike down opposing views that he declared them to have zero truth values.  Zero is a very small number.  You might convince me that Samuel is very dangerous and Daniel is not very dangerous at all, but if you assert that Samuel will definitely become a murderer and Daniel will definitely not, then I know you are a fool.  In the instance of this particular essay, the zero truth value was not mere hyperbole or artistic license, it was the entire point of the post.  His assertion, quite cleverly put, was that there was no possibility whatsoever that there was any truth in his opponents claim. The claim had a Borges-like “Garden of Forking Paths” reality at best, but certainly no connection to this one.

It relates to my anosognosia and May We Believe Our Thoughts series from two years ago.  If one cannot allow even a 1% chance that one is 1% wrong, that is pathological. I am not that certain about even personal information, such as my name and date of birth, if it comes to that. (Yes, we can probably construct a situation under which I would allow 100% certainty for some bit of information.  But these don’t occur in nature.)

I have been toying with the idea that this is a personality trait in some cluster of very intelligent people, in which the authoritativeness is tied into some autistic, not-self-observant characteristic.  It is very easy (for me, anyway) to fall into confirmation bias on such imaginings, so I’m not pursuing it too hard.  One can construct both environmental (consistent experience of being the smartest person present, encouraged by parents who were similarly constructed) and brain-based (deficits in alternative-narrative abeyance located in the anterior cingulate gyrus or something) theories for it, but hell, that doesn’t make it more true, just more plausible.

Curious, though.