Wednesday, July 31, 2013


A coworker thinks it was appalling that George Zimmerman wasn't convicted, but also thinks that we are rushing to judgement about Aaron Hernandez.  In both cases, he nods knowingly that it's society's inherent, unsolved racism that is the cause of all this.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Socialization of Homeschoolers

Retriever sends along a marvelous little essay about the social deficits that homeschoolers experience.

While everything in the Wyman household was an educational experience from day one - read-aloud started in the hospital, every historical marker was stopped for and commented on, and competitive word games practiced as the height of entertainment* - we did very little formal homeschooling. When the two Romanians arrived in May of 2001 they got hefty daily academic training in preparation for September, but that was about it.  Oh, and science fairs and special projects. (And some other stuff...)

We had several friends that homeschooled for a few years.  In this region and that era, it was less common among evangelical families to keep them home all the way through, more common to focus on select years. It seems a net positive, though we were all aware of a darker side of a few more paranoid or obsessive parents who seemed to believe that keeping their children away from the worldly world was more important than educating them well.  Of course, requiring those children to be at Famous Name Elementary School wasn't likely to fix that much anyway.  When even the local Christian schools are too worldly for young Zachariah, it's a good sign something is awry.

Monday, July 29, 2013


You can say what you like about British Invasion and Haight-Ashbury, but these two were the quintessence of hippiness. Only in retrospect can we see how vacuous that really was.

I saw this movie when it came out, and the draw for me was that Sebastian was going to be in it. I must have brought a date, but cannot for the life of me remember who she was. Too busy being sensitive to notice anything as unimportant as other people, I guess.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

And Another One Bites The Dust

Bother, thought Pooh. Fish oil pills don't do any good and they might even cause cancer.  I suppose I shall have to eat fish, then. Only, I don't like fish.  Bother.

Saturday, July 27, 2013


Texan99 put up a National Review article that deserves my audience as well.  Kevin D. Williamson argues that it is risk-aversion, not dependence, that keeps single women and African-Americans voting for Democrats. He is not claiming that Democrats actually deliver on the promises - they do partly, but at the cost of wealth-creation - but that this is what they market, and the Republicans don't.

I don't know how one measures motives, but this seems intuitively sound to me.

I am playing in my head with whether this also carries through in foreign policy.  Is going to war or not going to war the higher risk strategy?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Measles Is Back

In Canada.  It had help, as the headline, says. We have always known one or two people on the edges of our Christian circles who did not vaccinate.  Usually they are chiropractors, or closely connected to them.  It's hard for me to bite my tongue. Dead children, and all that.

It is usually associated with the belief that natural things are better.  That doesn't have any overlap with Christianity, but it does have some similar appeal.  It seems old-fashioned, tested, safe - not like these new chemically things that have God-knows-what in them.  No real basis in reality to the naturalness belief, but you can always keep the anecdotes that support your view and ignore the others. Secondly, that "naturalness" view likes the idea that God made this a simple world which man has complicated and messed with, so getting back to those simple things is a way of reversing the Fall, or at least, becoming more as God intended.  Again, that's not what the Christian doctrine means, but it has the same narrative feel to it, so people who like a sort of traditional Christianity are drawn to it because it feels the same. 

Of course, Buddhists and New Agey and faux Native American religion adherents could say the same.  Natural.  It feels right.  It must be right. It's usually nice, gentle people too.

Still, there are those dead kids. Not a great tradeoff.


Because Lawrence Kohlberg's theories of moral development came up over at Staffan's discussion of Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind, I thought I would repost my comments from 2009. This essay was a middle one in a series about the reasonable ideas of primitive liberalism, and how I believed they had gone wrong.

Correction: This series on the key values of progressives was supposed to be an attempt to look at the origins of said values - the good thing each was originally based on before going awry. I didn't do that here, going negative right from the start. I'm not sure what I'm going to do about that now that I've noticed it. I don't like going back and editing a published post except for typos.

In the mind of an arts and humanities progressive, conservatism is a developmental stage on the way to becoming a liberal. While this is not intellectually very rigorous, it is nonetheless understandable. From the POV of an articulate young person moving out of the nest and into adulthood via AP classes and college, there is even something natural about the social progression. This is part of why I describe liberalism as a social rather than intellectual phenomenon. Socially alert children pick up on the cues in their environment. Their first forays into adult environments are often at colleges, where the surrounding adults are overwhelmingly liberal. It is thus easy to conclude that the old world with dumb people is conservative, the bright new one liberal. This is doubly true for those who went to Christian schools, then secular (or lite Christian) colleges.

This pattern was often described by people who grew up rurally or in small towns in my generation and just before it. They revelled in coming to a place where people liked discussing ideas instead of corn prices and altar guilds, where people read things, were sophisticated, and knew things about the world. Garrison Keillor does a great sendup of this with his Flambeau family (paragraph 9 if you're in a hurry). Keillor can poke fun at it because he understands it. So do I.

There was a long succession of authors in the 20thC who wrote about leaving their stultifying boyhoods in Ohio.

I actually want to write about Lawrence Kohlberg, but before I go away from the general observation above I want to highlight a large weakness in the partly-conscious reasoning of those who I described above. The adults at a college are not a representative sample, not of grownups in general, nor even of thoughtful, sophisticated adults. They are just the first ones we encounter. If you stay in certain fields, they will be most of the adults you ever encounter. And they are emphatically not representative of mature adults, averaging a little on the downside of the bell curve in that category.

Lawrence Kohlberg
's theory of moral development was taught in my college intro psych course. He was a student of Piaget's and his moral development ladder had a great deal of Dr. Jean's thinking, especially in the first few stages. The first stages were to avoid punishment, then receive rewards; the middle stages were to be thought of as a good person, then to obey the rule because it was the rule - this fourth stage was called, significantly at the time, the Law and Order stage; the fifth stage was more integrative, weighing various costs, principles, and abstract justice.

I still recall the illustration for the sixth stage: Jesus, Gandhi, and MLK Jr. floated up in clouds - Jesus being on top, presumably to avoid offending people in 1973 - the caption informed us that these were people who had transcended usual moral thinking, and developed new moral constructs. They were Stage Six in moral development, attained by But A Few.


Even in my nominally Christian state, it was clear that this was just fuzzy liberalism, trying to piggyback the pacifist Mahatma and the assassinated civil-rights leader on Jesus's reputation. Jesus didn't bring much to morality that was new. He highlighted some OT principles, and extended a few - then he lived them, which was fairly rare, and was crucified for them , rarer still. Gandhi was a fraud, and King was himself a Christian, unlikely to suggest that he had added anything new to Christ's teaching.

It was a really sappy Jesus, too, such as was common in 2nd grade Sunday School books. Pretty good picture of MLK, though.

Kohlberg kept going, eventually founding a "just community" in a Cambridge highschool, dedicated to teaching children how to be liberals, and he still has followers in psychology today. He also has critics, including feminist Carol Gilligan, who noted that his test groups were all young,relatively wealthy American males, who might not be representative of humanity. Kohlberg's cross-cultural studies had some merit, but his data was strongest for the first few stages, which correlate fairly well to Piaget's cognitive development. This creates a "Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor, king hereafter" prophecy. Macbeth is already Thane of Glamis. The witches who know that Macbeth has already been promoted to Cawdor by the king, prophesy this and add the prophecy that he will be king. When Macbeth learns he is now Thane of Cawdor, he thinks the prophecy is coming true - it must be right that he will be king!

Kohlberg's early stages parallel Piaget's, so that by the time we get to #4, we are thinking "the pattern is true! Look how well it works," which predisposes us to think that #5&6 are well-supported also. They aren't. There are just all kinds of problems. Articulate sociopaths turned out to score in Stage Five or even Six more frequently than nice people who worked, stayed married, and had no criminal records. Retesting people in later years revealed that some of the Stage Fives had inexplicably slipped back into Stage Four. Rather than conclude that they might know something he didn't, Kohlberg called these 4+. Gilligan's observation that women had been left out of the picture (she originated the theory that women have a different moral reasoning, based not on rules but relationships, which is woefully unsupported, but at least plausible) turns out to be a specific instance of a larger cultural bias.

You can see why the idea of growing out of a rules-based morality would appeal to college students, who are really good at rationalization and have many things they would like to do that are against the traditional rules. I observe, for example, that when kids discover heavy petting they suddenly wonder whether all these church rules might be wrong, rather than the reverse order. Ditto abusable substances and all manner of popular social practices.

Progressives often equate conservative principles with something they believed in childhood. They were supposedly taught that America was always right, but they learned to see through that; that the free market is a selfish, me-first attitude; and that people who are different than us are automatically bad, which they learned in college wasn't true. In my most recent discussion with my uncle, with a back-and-forth about Liz Cheney's criticism of Obama's international speeches, he scoffed that my belief that America was very much in the right during the Cold War would be something he would fail on an eighth-grade essay. I thought his choice of insult significant.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Sidd Finch

I still remember the story of Sidd Finch from time to time. I recalled the catcher's exaggerated grimace, but I already knew what was up by then. I also recall the first few words of the first subheading, "He's a pitcher, part yogi and part..." something or other. But nothing else of the entire article.

I didn't get suspicious at the Table of Contents (you can see the issue page-by-page here), which in retrospect, I should have. I remain proud that I got it from the first subheading, though.  There was something too long, too unusually worded about it.

I imagine publishing the best of the Letters to the Editor the following week was enjoyable. But I don't think I even finished the article.  It's a little creepy to read relaxed and kind words about Lenny Dykstra now. The picture on page 94 is a beauty, though.

Pimm's Cup No. 1

Pimm's just has a Wodehusian sound to it, and I had long thought I must give it a try sometime. Bird Dog over at Maggie's mentioned it two weeks ago, and that put me over the top on trying it at last.

It's a far-less-intense Moxie, really.  I didn't notice that so much when I mixed it with lemonade, but when I switched to ginger ale it was quickly apparent. Those of you who can't get Moxie where you are can have a Pimm's and ginger, and imagine that complex flavor distilled.  It's distant enough that Moxie-haters might still like Pimm's, and Moxie-lovers might think it wan stuff. It has gin in its flavor origins, and perhaps juniper, as opposed to Moxie's gentian root, is what I am tasting.

Wimbledon, cricket, and polo recipes include slices of cucumber, and perhaps mint.  Lemon slices or other fruit can go in, especially if the soda flavoring is light.

Lemon soda is apparently the traditional standard.  A shot of gin can be added - the word "fortified" is the most common.  As the Pimm's is 25% alcohol and is 1/2 or 1/3 to the mixer, the ETOH content is about that of a wine cooler. Hence the gin, I imagine. There are Pimm's 2-6 as well, based on other spirits. 

War Before Civilization

War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage by Lawrence H Keeley came out in 1996.  As publishing goes, that means the book was conceived and written a couple of years before, and was based on the author's knowledge of what was then recent scholarship - the previous decade or two.  There would be time over thirty years or so for the general thrust of the book to permeate the thinking of anthropologists in general, and a sea-change occur.  When one such as I comes along, who is merely a dabbler in anthropology, we don't know whether the bitter arguments the author had encountered are long since over.  Is Keeley's view now the dominant one? Have his previous foes now been relegated to presiding over Flat Earth Society meetings?

I had read about Keeley's book in several places, but not read it myself. Was I going to be touting the anthropological equivalent of Metallica if I dared post?

Apparently not.

James threw me a link from the BBC just a few posts ago which puts forth the same argument Keeley railed against in the 1990's: earlier peoples didn't have real war, just personal raids 'n stuff. Therefore, we can all rejoice because War Is Not Innate(!) and only came around with civilization. That's the myth descended from Rousseau, the counter-myth to the one descended from Hobbes, that primitive man was all savagery and his life nasty, brutish, and short.  That doesn't seem to fit the archaeological record very well either. These twin myths have vied for control of the intellectual space for two centuries, the latter in the 19th C, the former in the 20th. Both are wrong.

If the claim is that groups of 200 individuals did not have "large-scale battles" in the current sense, well duh, yeah. If there are only 50-60 males suited for combat, and somebody has to stay home to guard the current goods, territory, crops, and kinsmen, how did anyone think otherwise?  However, lots of people died from these personal raids, many more than die in war today.  Continual low-intensity warfare means that everyone spends most of their time doing something other than war.  Yet over time, a death here and a death there adds up.  In some societies, it turns out that 20, 30, even 60% of adult male skeletons show weapons-violence as cause of death. 0.5%/year can add up.  They didn't take male captives either, and often not females either. If you were caught you were killed.When you add in the once-in-a-generation massacres that were also frequent, in which 10-50% of the population could be wiped out at one go, the odds of dying from violence were pretty high. Much higher than today, or at any time in the modern period, even when there were horrendous body counts.  As a percentage of population,we moderns are pikers.

We may not think it looks like "real" war, but people really die from it.  Lots. Whether it's looking down on those tribes as not being advanced enough to have real war, or looking up to them as spiritually advanced gentle people who aren't interested in the horrors we moderns engage in, it still casts them as different, other than ourselves.  But they were and are just about like ourselves, not much worse nor better.  Civilised societies try to make rules about war to limit the damage. They don't approve of sneak attacks, killing civilians, executing prisoners, burning crops or destroying means of production.  It's supposed to be just soldiers versus soldiers - in which case the richer, larger state has the best chance of winning.

Smaller powers have to use those "unfair, guerrilla" tactics, or they will lose and be destroyed. And those tactics are effective.  Notice that whoever uses them keeps winning against larger powers until the larger powers decide they have had enough and adopt those strategies too.

Trying to describe these conflicts as based on "personal" rather than something larger is also just an evasion.  In clan living and tribal organisation, that's what's important. That other tribe did not pay the full bride price after the initial installment.  They are monopolising the fish weirs.  They not only shot Harry, but they took his body and dishonoured it.  If we let that go, they'll do it again. Well, duh again. Modern states do the same thing, however they deck them out in rationalizations.  We need that port from Country B or Country C's navy will have an advantage. 

Keeley notes that trade does not prevent war - in fact, one's trading partners are the ones most likely to give or receive offense.  Nor is population growth much of a driver of war.  It seems to be an effect rather than a cause.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Offense - Defense

I asked my sons if the explosion of chowderheaded tweets after the Zimmerman verdict came out were equally stupid and/or disquieting in both directions, as I expected would be the case.  Jonathan simply noted that yes, there seemed to be equal-opportunity malignity here.  Ben, however, saw a pattern in his.  The first wave were angry, misinformed, even violence-threatening tweets upset that GZ was not found guilty.  This was followed by a wave of replies that were similarly ill-informed taking the opposite stance.

This fits a pattern I have noted many times before, of the political left going on offense, making accusations and targeting individuals while the right is essentially defensive, responding to what it perceives is dangerousness and unfairness coming as an intrusion.  Exceptions abound, but I will treat it as if it is essentially true for the sake of this discussion.  If someone has a theory that cuts the apple at a different angle, I am all ears. 

I give the nod to the right as having the more responsible position in that, but not by much.  Here's why it's not a clean victory for the nonaggressors in this case: First, some accusations are true.  Some wrongs need to be righted, and someone has to attempt to kick the door in. I think the things that liberals legitimately give themselves credit for fall into this category. Accusations of injustice were made, conservatives denied them and spent time poking holes in the arguments, but the overriding truth was the general accuracy of the complaint.* Second, some people are claiming to play defense, but are on a hair-trigger.  We've all run across guys who say "I'm not looking for a fight.  But if someone messes with me, I'm going to defend myself."  Yeah, that's a guy who's looking for a fight.

This is related to my observation that Democratic politicians say they will fight for you, while Republicans say they will work for you. (Yes, I know. Wouldn't either one actually doing that be creditable?  Well, some do, both sides.  I don't mean to be merely cynical.)

This shows even in the extremity of unbalanced people and their politics.  Conservatives tend to glower and say they'll hole up with weapons, hin ting darkly that decent people just aren't going to take it any more.  Come and take it, Make my day, cold dead fingers and all that.  Liberals tend more to intrusive violence, shooting up prayer groups, strapping bombs on themselves, setting stuff on fire, assassinating people.  I'm not sure how much you can count the actions of the mentally ill against either group.  Those are by definition folks who are not operating along the lines of the mainstream thought even of their allies.

I see this in myself. I have well over 4000 posts here, and one could make the case that I have made accusations and gone on offense many times.  But I think that is not so.  Many of the persistent themes have run along lines of "The liberals claim that conservatives are x, but this is not so.  Conservatives are not x, but y, and liberals are x." I can legitimately maintain that I have not gone gunning for people on the left, but have just sat here minding my own business until some affronting comment is made, at which point I rouse into action. Except, maybe I'm one of those hair-trigger guys who only claims to not be looking for a fight.

*Civil rights and state's right are an excellent example of this.  The idea that individual states should be able to govern themselves is very sound, and we have lost some important federalist ground by having the federal government overrule states in racial matters. It opened the door to other federal interventions we aren't very happy about. But ultimately, the whole issue was trumped by the unmistakeable truth that state's rights didn't work in racial matters, even after a century. You had your chance, Alabama, and you couldn't make it good.  Theory is gone, you couldn't deliver.

Bias In Anthropology

I have just finished War Before Civilization by Lawrence Keeley (there will be a post on that later today), who accuses any number of anthropologists of misreading the data in accordance with their philosophical biases.  I mention again, this level of scathe occurs more frequently than I expected among anthropologists.

(I mentioned this to my brother who assured me that the average faculty meeting does not even rise to that level of discussing academic topics, even poorly and viciously. That would be a relief.)

Yet I should expect it. In the physical sciences, in math or in much of engineering, the implications for how we should live are usually remote.  People might have something personal tied up in whether the ideas they have been announcing have turned out to be true or their career has been largely wasted, but that it is largely pride. The answers don't greatly impact how one should vote, or whether to have children, or how much responsibility we have to others.  At most, they have some philosophical or theological implications, which in turn might influence whether one believes in a god, and what kind.  But even this is usually oversold, raising no new questions but merely asking the old ones in more complicated ways.

Perhaps physicists and the occasional mathematician gets overexcited by this and just have to write a book on the topic because they feel left out.  All the biologists and sociologists get to play with the fun questions, why not us?

Climate and nutrition become political topics because they involve themselves with the questions of how people are supposed to live.  It quickly becomes apparent that the disputants are not merely arguing data, they are contending for one side or the other in the grand questions of what Society is supposed to do, or what Humankind is all about.

We used to have a lot more of that in mental health.  The long reign of the Freudians and their cousins was coming to an end, replaced by what was then sneeringly called the Medical Model, which was armed with medications which actually did relieve the symptoms of some people. It now appears that an entire century's trend in psychology grew up mostly because intellectuals in Europe, then America, wanted desperately to believe that it was all about secret sexual desires. Which is much more fun to talk about than receptors, eh?

That wasn't the work of a few psychiatrists, BTW.  That idea became dominant because people wanted it to. The culture wanted something like that, and so it was given to them.  This involved ignoring what was already known, and setting human understanding back by decades, but what is that, compared to being a Kinsey, hailed as a scientist while sponsoring the molestation of children, and giving your own sexual practices cultural justification?


President Obama noted that "Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago."

George Zimmerman, not so much, apparently. There is no mention of Obama identifying with his situation in any way. Which tells you why he assumed the guilt of one and the victimhood of the other immediately as the story broke, continuing on to the present hour.  Years of legal training and practice did not embed the idea that criminal matters rest on Reasonable Doubt.  Advocates for revenge on George Zimmerman have tried to apply the preponderance of the evidence standard of civil cases from the beginning. (At best.  Many have reversed the field entirely and tried to sell the idea that if there was any reasonable doubt about Trayvon's guilt, then Zimmerman should be convicted. Chilling.) Gee, do we think it was likely that an hispanic neighborhood watch guy was a racist?  Which invites the other side to ask Do we think it probable that a young black man was trying to rob someone/case the neighborhood?  Those are not the questions, have never been the questions, and no one in a position of responsibility should have been encouraging either side to think that way. 

The idea that there was even a 1% chance that Mr. Zimmerman might have reasonably perceived his neighborhood, and then his person, to be in danger has seemingly not occurred to Barack even now.  Skin color - not "minority status" - was ultimately the only important factor. The DOJ helped organize protests on one side of this issue, and moved within hours to recharge Zimmerman under hate crime laws.  How do you think the relatively powerless George Zimmerman feels, knowing that the POTUS is after him?

Welcome to supposedly post-racial America.  It is a fine thing for a president to identify with the individual situations of the people he leads. But it must then be all of them, or it incites factionalism.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

PED's & Politics

I sent along an article about the Oakland A's and their history of PED involvement to my sports-informed son, including the "miraculous" resurgence of Bartolo Colon.  He noted that after Canseco, a lot of teams were essentially in the same boat in terms of any destruction of baseball. This is true, but seemed a little blase, a little not-as-outraged as he might be. I continue to be more angry about the imbalance and disruption in fairness that PED's cause than he does, and I wonder if this is generational.  Not that the next generation disapproves of steroids more mildly - they may, but I don't know that - but because that train had already left the station by the time they came on the scene. I recall a time when performance-enhancing drugs were not on the radar in sports, except perhaps during the Olympics, when we became aware of funny things happening behind the Iron Curtain. (In my day we took performance-destroying drugs.)

Football players had already begun using anabolin as far back as Lyle Alzado in 1969, and maybe earlier than that, but as each sport gradually revealed its involvement - track and field, baseball, and then everything - we observers felt something had been taken from us. Relatedly, many Celtics fans seem to be angrier at Ray Allen for leaving than Doc Rivers.  Allen's contract was up, he was treated worse by the media and team.  But when he left, he went to a direct rival, and the change in balance pretty much guaranteed we weren't going to the finals after that.  When Doc left that dream was already dead.  So we blamed Ray, even though he really didn't screw us like Doc did. (Note: Doc didn't screw us any worse than is normal in the NBA, and he seems a nice guy, but still. Contract.)

We react emotionally to the proximate causes, likely, rather than deeper causes.  Johnson started the White House recordings, Kennedy's cheap tactics are now pretty well-known, but Nixon is the one who pushed us over the edge.  Some of that was a change in media protection of presidents, some of that was change in journalists' politics, but Dick Nixon kept being revealed in this paranoid, petty, unscrupulous crap more than a few times, and we could no longer pretend.  He robbed us.

We now live in scandal upon scandal out of Washington, and no one, or not enough people, seem to get worked up anymore.  The partisans do, but it doesn't seem to filter out into the general consciousness; or, when it does, it's for some smaller but sexier scandal that catches the imagination.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Social Truth III

"To see what is in front of one's nose requires a constant struggle." George Orwell, Collected Essays, 1946
"At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas of which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is "not done" to say it... Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the high-brow periodicals" George Orwell, original introduction to Animal Farm.
Why you fool, it's the educated reader who can be gulled. All our difficulty comes with the others. When did you meet a workman who believes the papers? He takes it for granted that they're all propaganda and skips the leading articles....He's our problem. We have to recondition him. But the educated public, the people who read the high-brow weeklies, don't need reconditioning. They're all right already. They'll believe anything. That Hideous Strength, C S Lewis
I get very superior sometimes about claiming to see the obvious, the simple but elusive truths that others fail to see. The site is called Assistant Village Idiot mostly because calling it That-Kid-Who-Said-The-Emperor-Has-No-Clothes-Blog is unwieldy. A lot of the sites I read fall prey to this same temptation, congratulating themselves on their plain, no-nonsense, just-the-facts-ma'am intelligence.

When people cannot see the obvious, there's a reason for that. It's worth considering what that might be.

(Hey, that's like obvious, right, and I just pointed it out, scoring major Orwell/Lewis/your-ad-could-be-here points so...okay, I'll stop now.)

The excuses why people cannot see the obvious are many, and stupidity or cowardice are not the only reasons. There are personal costs, fear that the opposite half-truth will gain dominance, embarrassment, and a host of others.  As few of us can change the world we live in that much, it may be wisest to just believe what everyone else does and go about one's business.  The Epicureans believed that worshiping the local gods was a reasonable way to limit discomfort and happily participate in one's community (not the only Greeks going that route), and something similar is part of Confucianism.

We wiseguys may be the stupid ones, convinced we should persevere in order to make a difference.

Worst Christian Site Ever

I am nominating Jesus-Is-Savior.

You may define worst in whatever way you wish: most offensive, most heretical, most unbiblical, most stupid, worst designed...

This one scores points in all categories, but I'd love to see your entries.  Please tell your friends and have them join the fun.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Social Truth II

Social Truths are usually at least half-true.  It's hard to sustain a culture on absolute falsehoods.  While one is living within them, they seem much more than that. In 19th C America, a core social truth was that one should strive to be the best that one could at a chosen career. This could take different forms, with one subculture highlighting a praise of hard work while another expressed it as pursuit of excellence and a third intent on building something that would last, but it was a common thought. We think of American drive and growth as tied into pursuit of dollars, and turn up our noses at it a bit. But that was never most of the story and for some it was no part at all.  Artists of the era would not spend their days talking about art - that was for dilettantes. Many would spend 16 hours a day improving their craft.

Tangential anecdote: when Mark Twain was touring Europe, visiting with writers and artists of an evening and discussing many things, he would ask "What is art?" to signal that the evening had come to an end and all should retire to bed. Contrast this with the modern fashions of artists who create works specifically to "start a conversation" about what art is, and how people react to it...oh, I'm sorry.  I just threw up in my mouth a little bit,

That idea that one was expected to use one's God-given abilities to the utmost may have been stronger in Yankeedom - I certainly heard the parable of the talents preached more than other teachings of Jesus I hear more of now. Yet even if it was stronger here, it was well-known throughout the land.

Another 19th C value, more common among poets and writers but spreading into the general consciousness, was the primacy of Beauty. Keats' Beauty is truth, truth beauty. That is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know  is not something we have no understanding of today, but few of us would take such an extreme stance.  But it hung on for quite some time, until the 20th C painters decided it was all an illusion that had best be dispelled as soon as possible. Beauty was a Thing, hard as steel.
“The war made me poignantly aware of the beauty of the world I remember,” Tolkien said in 1968. “I remember miles and miles of seething, tortured earth, perhaps best described in the chapters about the approaches to Mordor. It was a searing experience.”
led eventually to
"There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach."
Other cultures have stressed loyalty above all other things. Piety has figured prominently as an American value in all our founding cultures, but intensely in a few.  Many other cultures over the centuries have prized chastity, especially among women.  Not putting oneself forward or not thinking too highly of oneself are rather Scandinavian values, but other tribes would rather you assert yourself and display self-confidence, even if unfelt. Or undeserved. Simplicity for Quakers and Shakers, understatement for WASPs.  Military men and academics have these understandings that all their friends just know. Political factions have their forbidden territories as well.  These are social truths, and they all have good things attached to them. But any virtue swollen out of proportion is dangerous, because it pushes out others.

Unselfishness rose to one of the top spots in the 20th C, at least in the Anglosphere, as did expressing compassion, but tolerance has caught and passed them in the latter half.  Tolerance of a sort: it has morphed into a sort of underdog-rooting that begins to obscure other realities. That's the mark of a social truth, actually - even coming close to criticising the virtue or wandering within a stone's throw of committing it is electric, bringing disproportionate condemnation.  Marble nudes used to bring condemnation, but modesty invites jeers now.

Here's an interesting twist.  When a social truth becomes too brittle, you drive even the mildest offenders into the camps of the outlaws, those who revel in the flouting of the rules. That principle was an argument against using marijuana in the old days: it puts you in with criminals and users of worse things - and an argument for legalisation now: why drive harmless dopers to consort with criminals? It's actually true both times.

Relatedly, social truths can reverse intentionally to sort people out.  In the 19th C and well into the 20th most Americans believed that Indians were subhuman.  This has been replaced by the idea that Native Americans, and indeed primitive peoples everywhere, are gentle souls or great wisdom, to be emulated by ignorant civilised westerners.  If one makes even the mildest negative comment about indigenous peoples, it is often assumed that you must therefore believe the opposite social truth and regard them as stupid and brutal savages who deserved what they got.  At least, you can get accused of believing that.

A commenter over at Steve Sailer's asserted that racism is the only unforgivable sin now.  I don't think that's true, but there's truth in it. Celebrities recover from profligacy, arrests, betrayal, violence, fraud, or cruelty, and some vices are of course career-enhancers now. To a lesser extent, this becomes true for the general public. Sexism is more problematic - you can be sexist, just don't say anything forbidden. Prominent political figures come to mind here. Don't go too near the edge talking about gays and lesbians, either.  That stain won't wash out. As with other social truths, the identifier is that you can't even go near it without incurring condemnation. Refusing to be warned away is itself grounds for suspicion.

We deplore things according to social truths extra-loudly, because we want to show that we really, truly, do hate those things and do so totally get it, and are one with the spirit of the age.

I told you all that in order to tell you a short story.

A young man of my acquaintance related that he had an attempted theft of his smartphone while at a bar. He mentioned straight off that it was "a black guy." Well, we know the rule.  It's impolite to point that out, and contributes to a further social problem of prejudice.  I know this social truth because it is how I grew up, and how I continue to speak now.  99% of everyone are not people who will steal your phone, so you shouldn't encourage negative stereotypes that way.  The man's race should be regarded as an irrelevant detail.

Another person present brought this up later.  In fact, he brought it up a couple of times as evidence of his concern about the young man's prejudicial nature.* His return to the topic was what got me thinking. Yes, it is prejudicial to speak that way.  But isn't stealing someone's phone worse?  If we're going to get worked up, the victimisation of a young friend should rank higher, shouldn't it?  And while we're at it, there is at least some value to reminding others of the safety concern of a higher crime rate A) in many minority groups and B) encountering any group that is not your own. (Such as being a tourist in London and getting ripped off repeatedly by vendors making change.)

But in social truth, those must take a back seat.

I continue to see more advantage to the world in my politely refusing to mention even an obvious physical fact that might be misinterpreted as a blanket criticism or stereotyping. But treating it as reflexive and obvious is on the road to disregarding whether the social true is in fact, true enough to be retained.

*There were other parts to that conversation, but they would only lengthen the discussion while bringing us back to the same place.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Wichita Lineman

Vanderleun recently put this up over at American Digest (which I may put in my sidebar), along with commentary.

I was not a Glen Campbell fan in 1968 - I was too cool for country and that fresh-faced look, y'see - but the songs he put out then have stuck with me better than most others.* Many of them were by Jimmy Webb, as this one is, and those have had legs.

Vanderleun's take highlighted for me how the arrangement supports the lyrics: the bass solo is exaggeratedly electric and machine-like; the violins are super-high on treble to capture the whine referred to in the first chorus. The tune itself goes into the high ranges at that point for the same reason.

*Okay, not "Where's The Playground, Susie," or "Dreams of the Everyday Housewife." Those really were execrable.

Geoguessr Update

I have experimented with 10, 15, and 20-minute speed geoguessr, and am leaning toward 10 at this point.  There gets to be some strategy involved - if you think you can get one answer 6000-point close, it is worth shorting all four of the others to get it.

I still get burned on Australia vs. South Africa, and sometimes American Southwest, because the distance away is so great.  In contrast, I have guessed a Taiwan, a South Korea, and a coastal China that all turned out to be in Southern Japan, but still got decent points.

The North Central states really do look like Scandinavia.  I miss those sometimes as well. Mexico vs Brazil is also a problem - likely because I cannot quickly differentiate between Portuguese and Spanish.  But Brazil is a problem anyway.  It's bigger than I realised, and there are often three locations with the same name.

So that's what I've learned, I guess. 

...Our Menu Options Have Changed

Telephone keypad menus are an advantage to the provider, not the consumer. I understand that, but there is something insulting about it.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

What's Wrong With The Schools?

For those who read my FB entry, this is the entry I despaired of.

My stepfather was an intelligent man - came out of North Have, CT to graduate from Duke in 1939 with a degree in business, and held a series of increasingly-responsible jobs throughout his career, culminating in being CEO of a successful mutual fund. He didn't think of himself as particularly intelligent, maybe a little above average.  He knew people much smarter than himself, including a college roommate, and believed he had gotten where he had by perseverance, judgement, and planning for the long term.

That is certainly not untrue.  He planned, judged, and persevered better than anyone I have known. Yet it wasn't quite true, either. He had quite a bit of candlepower.  If I were to put a number on it, I would estimate an IQ from 125-130. 95th-97th percentile.

This strongly influenced his beliefs.  He thought that with prudence and hard work, most people could have gotten to where he did. He didn't think all could, recognising that some folks just didn't seem to have jacks or better to open.  He also had respect for people who had made different career choices because it was what they loved, or allowed them to live in a certain area, or keep up a family tradition or whatever, even if they didn't make much money. If money was his measuring stick at all, it certainly wasn't his only one. And he gave some credit to just plain luck, having diseases or reverses come out of the blue or good things land in your lap undeserved. He thought it was a rarer, lesser category, but he acknowledged it.

To take a grades analogy, he thought he was a C+ student who got A's because he worked hard.  He was actually an A- student who got A's because he worked hard. (I am ignoring whatever the actual grading practices were at Duke in the 30's. Strenuous, most likely.  It was UVA that reportedly invented the "Gentleman's C.")

So you tell a lot of boys who are 5-4 that they could dunk if they just tried harder.  This is supposed to encourage them somehow. That's one of the conservative myths of education. So now the kid is forced to the conclusion "I'm not only short, I'm morally inferior to boot.  Screw you."

Let's look at another group of people, those who believe that what kids are missing is that they don't dream big enough. Frequently, these folks come from one of two groups: smart kids who aspired to more than what was common in their town or neighborhood, or kids from families which had already done that and taught that aspiration was the key ( parents or grandparents).  Like my stepfather, what they believe about themselves is not untrue.  They did dream bigger, they did "believe in themselves," they did raise their eyes to the horizon.  But their self-perception is also inaccurate. There were plenty of other kids who dreamed of being famous singers, or athletes, or inventors.  It wasn't because they didn't dream big enough that they never got out of Middletown.

In fact, the ground is littered with the damage this causes. I recall reading years ago about a high school principal who had some blazing athletic prospect come out of his school a few years before. The journalist wanted him to say nice things about encouraging talent, and good examples for hard work and all those cliches to be gotten in a row.  The principal was having none of it. "I have a kid who doesn't pass his classes because he thinks he's going to be a major league catcher.  He works hard at baseball. He was second-team all-county catcher last year, and this year he might be first team, maybe not. And that is as far as he is going to go.  He might get a year or two in the minors, but even that is doubtful.  There are 3000 counties in America, after all.  I've got a hundred kids who won't do what they could, because they've got dreams of doing things they have no chance of doing."

That's one of the main liberal myths of education, though it comes in many disguised forms - that if some single barrier like racism or bullying or stereotyping were eliminated, the power of these individuals would be unleashed, for example.

We live out our days between these two destructive arguments in education, and I see no hope of anyone giving up their narrative.  I just went into a rant at Maggie's on the topic and the subsequent comments (from a mostly conservative POV) were untouched: it's the teachers' unions, it's core curriculum, it's discipline, it's school choice...

I do not know know what the solution is. That African-American scores are one full standard deviation lower, and Hispanic/Native scores 0.7SD, regardless of all intervention, seems insurmountable, impossible to solve.  It will be the destruction of us, because we can't acknowledge it and adapt our education, but we can't fix it either.

(None of this to imply that teaching is useless.  It has a use different from what is usually assigned to it.)

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Jesus and Personal Freedom

I can’t fully explain the intellectual connection between this post and an upcoming one expanding on the discussion of social truth, but I somehow just know this has to get in there first.

This teaching from Donald Sensing, How Jesus Invented Individual Liberty gave me one of those “Of course! How could I miss it?” moments.  There is the interesting question whether his overall premise is true – that Jesus of Nazareth was the first up with this type of independence from tribe. While there are earlier examples of elites who were expected to transfer their loyalty to a class, I don’t think that’s quite the same thing.  Pursue that as you will, but there is another part that struck me forcibly.
When Jesus talks about mother, father, brothers, and separating from them to become part of a new group, he is talking about clans; about tribes. Israel was a tribal society – “…of the Tribe of Isaachar…” – as most societies have been throughout history. As the nation grew, there were further subdivisions, down into clan loyalties.  It persists in Arab cultures in that area to this day.
When North Americans, the Anglosphere, and to a lesser extent Western Europeans hear Jesus’s words “who are my mother and my brothers?” or the command to let the dead bury the dead, we cannot help but think of nuclear families.  We have a dim awareness that cousinages were closer, aunts and uncles more connected, than in our present day, but the full force of belonging to a clan just isn’t in us.  Too many of us live apart from those we were raised with, having struck out on our own years ago, and the descendants of long lines of people who struck out on their own.  Clans have kind of a humorous aspect to us, getting to wear tartans or go to family reunions.
It’s not the same.  One counted on the clan for getting a job, or a son-in-law, or help in need, and were expected to provide it in return.  Look at Mary going to visit Elizabeth – her cousin, please note. People took you in.  If you screwed up, they were also shamed, so they had an interest in your actions.  There was not much survival outside the clan. Jesus isn’t just talking about Mom and Dad.  He is using them as the hyperbole, as he often does.  Shall you leave the clan if it comes to that?  I come to set brother against brother. Yes, even to that extreme shall you go.
It doesn’t go away at once.  Paul refers to providing for one’s family, for example.  But this is the same mind-opening concept I got from the Ockenga Institute  NT study two years ago: Jesus is not instructing us to become world citizens in our modern sense, but to become part of a new tribe which anyone in the world is eligible for. (I recommend Ockenga couses, BTW, though my wife liked the OT instructor far better than the NT instructor)

Secular readers might note that this would be something to be grateful for, even if you don't think Jesus is God.

Another from Sensing, commenting on the Pew Research thatRepublicans are smarter than Democrats – on a range of political-knowledge questions. My take has long been that the subgroup True Liberals might have a slightly higher verbal IQ than the population as a whole, but fall behind conservatives on math.  Further, hard knowledge questions similar to those in this survey are also a conservative strength: a higher count in the Bill of Rights, cleaner distinctions between branches and forms of government, etc. That’s the same as “smarter” only in one sense. Still, it’s the reverse of the conventional wisdom, so it’s worth mentioning.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

How Doctors Die

An article linked by a missionary doctor friend.  How Doctors Die.

Social Truth Vs Objective Truth

The local oldies/easy listening station gets its news feed from CNN.  It is remarkable to me how easily a news slant can be put into a 10-30 second report on a topic.  Rapid-fire, you'd never know what hit you if you weren't paying attention.

A report on an Obama speech mentioning climate change last week has stuck in my mind.  "The debate is over," he said.

Scientists generally dislike saying out loud that any debate is over, even if they are deeply supportive of one side of it.  They retain the value that debate and questioning are generally good things, and know of instances where improvements came from unlikely places. So when someone like Obama, with little science training, formal or informal, beyond high school, and an SATM of about 500 makes that claim, it's a red flag.  The fact that we now are talking about climate change instead of global warming is testament to the fact that the debate is not over.

As for data, you can stress either side with some legitimacy.  Global temperatures rose until 1998 and remain very high.  We now think there may have been some years in the 1930's that were just as high, but the last 15 years are certainly among the highest for many years.  OTOH, the increase stopped, and there has even been a slight decrease since then, even with rising CO2 and Asians buying lots of internal combustion engines. That was absolutely not what we were assured would happen.  Given all that, I can understand people who know more than I do believing quite strongly that something worrisome is going on and it might be wise to modify our behavior.  I can't understand the statement "the debate is over," however.

Well, actually I can.  It is a social truth, not an objective truth.  Obama is declaring "People in my tribe have to believe this.  It's one of our requirements for membership. And furthermore, insofar as we have power, we will enforce this tribal value on others."  In that sense, his statement is entirely true.  It is a social truth.  There is no debate about this, he has divined accurately what his people believe, and what they require.

This comes up because of some other social truths that are not quite the same as objective truths that came up over the last few days.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

A Divided Country

Bob Cohn over at The Atlantic has an article describing how we are divided as a country, perhaps more divided than ever.  It's got graphs and everything.

Well, not quite everything.  The article doesn't actually provide much evidence that we are divided, or what we're divided about, or whether it was really worse in 1980 or 1880 or 1780.  It mostly just asks whether people think so.  For example, most knuckleheads - uh, I mean respondents - believe that gun control is the most divisive issue in the country.  I suggest this is because the issue has been in the news more recently, so at a surface level it is one of the first things that comes to mind.  It is also, I would contend not coincidentally, not an economic issue, such as unemployment, debt, spending - and therefore a topic that many media sources would prefer to focus on.

Well, disagree with that part if you wish, it's not central to my argument.  It's the seeking of opinions rather than facts that gets dangerous.  Ask yourself: would a majority opinion on whether global warming has reversed, and whether it is more related to sunspots than CO2, change the actual temperature even 0.1 degree? (Celsius or Fahrenheit, your choice.)  So too with asking a consensus on whether we are politically divided or not. It's only mildly related to the reality.

The reality, however, requires thought, effort, objectivity, and research.  Apparently that's a little daunting for Cohn.

HT: hdb*chick

Schizophrenia Research

PNAS, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is well-regarded source. That doesn't make everything it publishes true, but it does provide an entry-level filter in evaluating content.

The neurotransmitter acetylcholine, or rather, its reduction in the prefrontal cortexes of those with schizophrenia, may provide an explanation for the disruption of working memory.
In a new study, researchers at Yale University School of Medicine pinpoint key molecular actions of proteins that allow the creation of mental representations necessary for higher cognition that are genetically altered in schizophrenia.
The creation of mental representations... We have previously discussed this in relation to anosognosia, and the inability to hold a competing narrative in place long enough for it to influence an embedded narrative.

Added bonus: the researchers mention what is increasingly forbidden in mental health: that the prevalence of smoking among schizophrenics is not just weak will and desire for stimulation, but deeply related to the ability to interact with a complicated world in the light of diminished functioning of specific brain areas. As we learn how to mimic the effects of nicotine in the brain, reducing or removing the need for smoking, that knowledge may be allowed to return. But for the moment, the effect on physical health and social ickiness continues to be regarded as the only True Concerns wrt tobacco.