Saturday, January 31, 2015

Scorekeeping In Afghanistan

We don't hear much coming out of Afghanistan these days, because there's not much market for the news here.  Some few continue to care and keep up with it.  Even rarer are overview pieces about what is going on now compared to what it was then, and was the whole enterprise worth it?  Rarer still are generally positive pieces that give evidence that we did well and deserve some credit.

Strategy Page has a short piece that offers a type of scorekeeping we are not as used to. When evaluating whether something is a good or bad idea, we should always ask "Compared to what?"

About That Reading List

The newly discovered and circulated junior high reading list from Minnesota in 1908 just hit the conservative websites.  A word of caution here.  Note that this was a recommended reading list.  There is no evidence that 7th-graders had them assigned, completed them, were tested on them for knowledge, or even looked into any of this.  These are lists made up by one or more people, lists that just sorta seemed like a good idea for kids to read.  As this was a published list, there is every reason to suspect that these were pitched as high as possible to makes one's own town look smart - a community with high standards and awareness of literary quality. Aspera ad astra, and all that.

When my God-daughter entered high school, I gave her a pile of books I recommended she read before she finished. Though she is an excellent student, I tried to remember at each turn that she is young, that this was a supplementary list for the next four years, that lists can be intimidating, and individual books often need an introduction*. It included How To Lie With Statistics, and Eat The Rich, which are likely not on anyone else's list.  I don't know if she's read a word of any of them, halfway through her junior year. 

In short, the existence of a list tells us nothing. The existence of the new list tells us nothing about whether those works are being read either.

However, the observations about the other qualities of the books chosen are worth noting. The older list not only contains books written over a wider time-span, they are set in a far greater range of places and times. This is straight out of CS Lewis and Reading Old Books. The modern list tells children that Now! is all-important; that today's political and cultural wrangles, and monitoring the feelings of today should dominate their contemplation and conversation. This is a great cultural shift from a century ago, when children were taught that they were bearers of a flame, of a long tradition of struggle and improvement, which they had a responsibility to pass on to succeeding generations.

One could make the argument that teaching children to focus on the world around them and make it good is a better goal.  I disagree, but I can see that.  I do note that it is a different goal, and is likely to lead to very different religious and social worlds.  This may be unconscious, but it is not accidental.  The educating adults have changed in attitude, and the lists illustrate that.

The third difference, that the more challenging reading level is good for children in and of itself, I no longer subscribe to very strongly.  We believe it will slowly make them smarter.  It won't.  It might teach them that working at reading, or at anything, is personally valuable. It will teach them a different, more archaic vocabulary, but not give them a larger one.

*So I wrote an introduction of a few sentences on a slip of paper tucked into each one.  Of course I did.

Thursday, January 29, 2015


There was a link over at Maggie's to a HuffPo article on addiction. Specifically, there was a long discussion of Johann Hari's book Chasing the Scream. (No link. Deal with it.)

Hari does shove some myths about addiction up against the wall very effectively, and that's a good thing.  But the general premise is that people emotionally bond with alcohol and drugs because they don't have available friendship and support bonds in their environment, and divert to that substitute. Not 100% false.

But consider: if that were the main cause of addiction, then when young people were vulnerable and away from home for the first time we could create organisations for them that would provide emotional support. It might be better if they were same-sex, to remove the added romantic and sexual complications and provide a type of support not available in the general milieu.  Academic encouragement.  Opportunities for leadership over minor activities of life. Networking and exposure to people of different talents and interests. They could even provide venues for opposite sex interactions.

We could call these organisations fraternities and sororities to emphasise the undergirding of classical learning, camaraderie, and unsexualised bonding.

I'll bet people would hardly drink there at all.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Autumn Leaves

Exaggerated.  Over-the-top. Chewing Scenery, even.

God, I love it.

The  color which the English called "Philly Mort," in the 16th C, an orange-brown hobbitish sort of color, comes from this French phrase.

(I don't know why images and videos keep disappearing without a trace when I post them)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Use of Music

The Dropkick Murphy's are incensed that Scott Walker is using their "Shipping Up To Boston" as an entrance song.  They hate him because, well, they're from Quincy, and they're Irish, and being a pro-union Democrat is simply in their blood.

I have written many songs, none memorable, and have a few other creative endeavors over the years, and I absolutely get how unfair it would feel for any of that were used in support of a cause I disagreed with.  Unfortunately for them, unions are just about the one group in the country that would be hypocrites to object to that.  It was a specific strategy in the 20th C for union organisers, taught to them by the CPUSA, to repurpose hymns, popular songs, and folk songs with new lyrics. You will find a couple on just about every Pete Seeger album.

I don't want to therefore call it a communist strategy - I think the CPUSA got it from 19th C nationalist and revolutionary groups, which in turn may have gotten it from Protestant revival groups going back to Luther, at least.  It is used because it is effective.

Small Things

My eldest son’s Facebook jab at me on Sunday was along the lines of “It seems my Dad’s day has been spent on FB arguing with people he doesn’t know, defending someone he doesn’t like, as a matter of principle.  This is a small sample of what my childhood was like.”  I got one vote of support, but it was from someone who also does the same thing. 

The impression that people have is that this is a lot of energy to expend on small, unimportant things. It does look that way, and I certainly sympathise with people trapped in situations where others have lost all sense of proportion, as that’s what I experience at work a lot.  Yet to me, that is not the problem.  The problem is that by personality and style I am not at all persuasive in those situations.  Likely, people dig in even harder after.

They may in fact be small issues.  I may be merely engaging in an extended act of self-justification here – not the first time. But I don’t think these particular small things were trivial – I think they are disguised as small things so that people can be mean and not get called on it. There has been a lot of recent research to the effect that we make up our minds about things quickly, even sub-rationally, then go in search of intellectual justifications a moment later. The latter is also very swift, but in service to the first, which is the ruler.  Jonathan Haidt’s work is prominent here.  I have only read a few excerpts and summaries of Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, but it seems he reviews much of the recent literature there.

Thus, when we are discussing political ideas and candidates, we think we are evaluating tax policies, reviewing foreign policy experience, and other activities of reason, but actually are not.  Even the brightest and most rational of us are actually acting out some knee-jerk “four-legs good, two legs bad” evaluation in the first moment, then inviting the rest of the brain to come over and bail us out by constructing a logical support. We resist this idea, wanting to believe we have control of our own thoughts and decisions.  I did an extended series on it a few years ago.  (Check it out if you want, but even I didn’t go look at it again.)

Let us say that at minimum, a whole lot of people do this, and make up their minds about what their politics are going to be on the basis of what their friends or the people they admire seem to believe, or what the smart people, or the empathetic people, or the hardworking people, or the born-again people, or the black people, or the educated people believe. They may say otherwise, but the evidence is against them.  When challenged, all they can do is be insulting, resort to further clichés, or otherwise dodge. Seldom does anyone take it back, saying “it’s a small thing, I was just trying to be cute, it really was kind of unfair.”  They double down. How dare you, you petty unfair person, call me out for making a petty unfair remark.

A quick recap of the data.  A young friend had linked to a post about Palin running in 2016, with his own brief comment that he didn’t like the idea. Entirely reasonable. A young woman commented that no one from Wasilla could see Russia from their house.  I jumped in to say that Palin had not said this, Tina Fey had said it while pretending to be her. The woman replied I was being too serious and sent a video of a mentally-ill person saying foolish things, encouraging me to laugh and have a beer. Okay, she had no way of knowing how deeply offensive that is to me, because she doesn’t know who I am and what I do for a living.  But it’s offensive anyway, even if I’m not present. So it does confirm to me that this is a person who just says stuff to be funny, doesn’t care if it’s true or fair, and thinks she’s entitled to do this with no pushback.  The deeper point is that this is exactly the sort of thing that rules her politics, and how she will make her decisions. Her vote springs from this place, and she is happy to influence others of like mind in a public forum. 

She, rather obviously, doesn’t think it’s small at all. 

Other comments went in directions I didn’t pay attention to.  A couple of guys seemed to be accusing the original poster of being a damn liberal and Hillary supporter (both untrue) and getting into some rants about Obama.  He was holding his own and they weren’t listening, so I didn’t jump in there.  Only by accident did I encounter another commenter in that part of the discussion, stating he is 71 and had seen many elections, and he had never seen anyone get attacked as Obama has been.  In the old days, people got upset during elections but once a president was elected we all got behind him.
That’s just insanely inaccurate.  If he had left it that Obama was being attacked unfairly and people sure do get angry quickly I would have shrugged – evidence for that claim was right above him in the thread, after all. But now, he has to add some mythology to it as well and I contradicted him.  Hard. With evidence.  Not because I thought I had any chance of persuading him, but for any others who might be reading.  This is where his vote springs from.  Obama’s critics are some new, divisive force in America’s politics. He didn’t think it was small either, and doubled down. A person who thought it was small would back off a bit, saying that yes, other presidents had received a lot of hateful criticism, he just thought it was worse with Obama. Which I might disagree with, but is at least a reasonable POV. 

Glenn Reynolds linked back to advice he had given a few years ago about how to influence popular culture.  I suppose he’s right, but even if I were one of those big donors I’m not sure I could do it.  It seems shoddy and unfair, with no respect for one’s audience.  Knowing that people with other politics are doing this and influencing elections should perhaps convince me, but it doesn’t move the dial.

Evangelical Class On Marriage

I would like to thank my wife for talking me back from the edge every week in our Sunday School class on marriage.  I’m getting better.  This week I calmed myself down about halfway after my initial fuming.  The tone of the lessons seems to address newly-Christian or young couples who are experiencing their first disillusionment, or some reminder of this on a second or third disappointment.  We’ve been married almost forty years, and have a few hundred disillusionments each, so bright clichés aren’t all the helpful.  Y’hear? These are also much the same clichés we encountered in the 1970’s, with heavy emphasis on Adam and Eve, and the differing (but equally important!  Did we mention they were equally important?!) roles for husbands and wives. One homework assignment was to discuss what our expectations of marriage had been.  I dunno.  I’ve forgotten.  I’m sure it was important at the time.

To give credit where credit is due: it has a particularly good description of servant, sacrificial leadership that is not merely superficial enjoinders to lead family devotions and being a good example.  I was able to appreciate that when A) I had calmed down and B) my wife pointed it out.  This is why I’m staying with the class, because even a flawed tool can be useful.  A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out… Matthew 12:20, from Isaiah 42:3.  (See, I can still do this evangelical stuff just fine.)  Cliches have their value – that’s how they got to be clichés – and it’s good to be reminded that marriage is about God, not about us.

We didn’t know much about marriage when we first learned these things, so creating some structure, some cuphooks on which to hang the cups is likely one of the best things a teacher can do.  It probably contributed more to our understanding and adapting to differences than we give it credit for.  I say that resignedly, with bad grace.  Because now we do know something about marriage – we have friends and coworkers whose marriages have failed while others endured even through hardship;  we now understand our parents better, we have other couples who we have discussed marriage with, and have seen another generation grow up and start families.  I can now say with some confidence that what keeps marriages together and takes them apart is ultimately not whether they got Ephesians 5 right but whether they got the equal-opportunity Ten Commandments right.  At best, putting so much energy into the roles of husbands and wives is majoring in minors.  At worst, it is an excuse for bullying men or dependent women to engage in bad behavior; or a purely cultural attempt to refight the battle between the Pretend 1950’s and Pretend 1960’s yet again, misunderstanding both.

Related, tangential. A lot of politics seems to be rooted in How Women Should Act, with many different points of view trying to capture territory of whose women are smarter, stronger, more realistic, engaged in more valuable activity.  And the women seem to be doing most of that arguing, with men trying to pick up cues and say the things that the women from their group approve of. Thought:  men who do that well are loved by one of the few main sides and hated by at least one of the other sides; men who do that poorly are disliked by all sides. End tangent.

So now we have Date Night, one of those patent medicines that is good for both epilepsy and apoplexy.  We have had fun, so I am grousing to no purpose.  Perhaps I am just reacting badly to Date Night Suggestions, which seem to fall below even the level of those board games that are designed to be helpful rather than entertaining. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Words That Deserve Wider Use

This site seems to have a pretty good list.

For example, Execrable) Atrocious, wretched, deplorable, extremely inferior.We were appalled to discover that even though he had a master's degree, his spelling was execrable.

Or, Mawkish - Excessively sentimental, sappy, hopelessly trite.To her surprise, Alice found Brian's vows of love embarrassingly mawkish and cloying. Words he probably thought of as lyrical just made her feel sticky, as though she were being painted with molasses.  Not ridiculously obscure one-off words, such as is found in the notorious Mrs. Byrne's Dictionary, which I of course own, but even I don't use. eglomerate, v.t. to unwind jyotishi n. a superior fortuneteller and all-around oracle. There are some recognisable words in it, and others that look like specialised terms that might still be used by someone. But most are quite a stretch, even around here.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Meldrim Thomson, Jr - Wandering Ruminations.

If one goes to look up Meldrim Thomson, governor of NH in the 1970's, by checking Bing Images, one gets a curious result. There are pictures of Mel, but also of David Souter, Louis Wyman, and my pal Chuck Douglas. If you click through, they are not just in there because they are associated with the Governor, which frequently happens on image searches.  It is actually Souter's photo in the sidebar at Bing. There are web sites with pictures of the others, identifying them in the captions as Thomson. Bizarre.

David Souter was Attorney General under Thomson, which was part of why John Sununu recommended him to President George H W Bush as a reliably conservative SCOTUS nominee.  Or, if you believe the scuttlebutt of Concord lawyers, it was how Senator Warren Rudman convinced Sununu, even though Rudman knew otherwise.  But Souter looks nothing like Thomson.

Louis C. Wyman, governor of and Senator from NH at least looks a bit like him, and was a Republican of the same era.  Louis is no close relation of mine, BTW, though our family joked that when I was a boy.  I learned a few years ago that my mother once dated his campaign manager. Yes, NH is a small state, and was smaller then. But you'd think that would make it easier to keep people straight, not harder.

Chuck Douglas, once Congressman from NH, and a member of the very small church in Concord we went to until it closed, looks even less like any of them - and is later in the political picture of NH. How someone thought he was Mel Thomson is just strange.

If anyone were to be confused with Thomson, I would have predicted William Loeb, publisher of the very conservative Manchester Union Leader.  He was a big Thomson supporter, and they were often on the dais together.

Thomson came up because Grim over at Grim's Hall was commenting about a politician in Georgia being away without explanation.  It reminded me of Mel, who had strong ties to some very right-wing groups, and was much involved with national and international issues.  He would therefore go places like Panama or South Africa while he was supposed to be working in NH.  Conservatives did love him, but in NH you had bettah attend to business heah, mistah, and not go gallivantin' all ovah creation.  It's not like there were import international trade issues that needed on-the-spot addressing. I think it was all the attention-seeking that eventually did him in up here.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Meldrim Thomson, Jr.

I had thought this was going to be quick and easy, but my rough draft already needs condensing.

Mel "Ax the Tax" Thomson, from tiny Orford, NH, was governor of NH in the 1970's.  Older locals can look back and contemplate, others can look him up, or you can wait for me to surprise you.  But the topic rapidly got out-of-hand, and I will need some time to think.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

It Has Been Awhile - Abba

This song would be more problematic these days, I suspect.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

2024 Olympics

I wonder if Massachusetts support for having the Olympics breaks down along political lines in any way.  We often reflexively treat whole states as uncomplicated and uniform in belief, so that folks will say "Oh, they're all liberals up there."  Yet all states are purple.

DC, not so much.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Noticing Things

 What is the difference between this FB quote and Luke 18:11?

"I really, really love my church. In our time, we see the negative side of religion so often (and yes, a lot of it is really awful) that it might be easy to miss the positive side. I have absolutely no doubt that, FOR ME, practicing my faith with my church family (who both support and challenge me) makes me a better citizen of the world, and helps me turn my faith into action--action which is (I hope) not just for the benefit of me and my family, but for everyone."

What kind of churches seem to prompt this response?

In which churches would this be an unusual response?

Saturday, January 17, 2015

2024 Olympics

I am much opposed to Boston having them - though it's not my money, so I suppose I shouldn't care if they waste it.

I am interested in opposing arguments.  The ones I'm hearing aren't very good, but I've been hanging around bad neighborhoods, so those shouldn't count.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Myths About Scandinavia

The NY Post had an amusing article about the myth of Scandinavian happiness. There are serious problems with the essay, as it collects together a mishmash of semi-related items, some backed up by evidence, some just blowing, uh, smoke out its nostrils.  There is an air of college BS term paper, where you have some general knowledge and a few anecdotes, trying to rope all that together into proving some point or another. I recognise this because of nostalgia.

Nonetheless, even applying a 50% discount on the facts here, I think there is something to it.  And it's fun.

Taking Sides

There is a lot of encouragement for everyone to be taking sides on a variety of issues at present.  Human beings seem to have a variation on fight-or-flight that prompts them, when encountering a crisis, to either hide or take sides. In simple just-so stories of hunter-gatherer survival, it makes a sort of sense.  I don't know if it actually is a superior go-forth-and-multiply strategy, but I can at least see how it could be so. In a sudden eruption of violence - or even a quieter struggle for power - the last thing one wants to do is be a close bystander looking unprotected and nervous. That's what hostages and examples are made from.

There are a few remote tribes whose members seem reflexively violent.  Deep in the Amazon, on one of the Andaman Islands, in Papua New Guinea, in Dagestan, one finds such groups.  But in general, most people in every group are not hairtrigger violent. Unless one is in a very small group surrounded by enemies, it's a bad survival strategy for everyone to be cutting throats at every approach.  It makes trade difficult, for example.

At the moment, there is a back-and-forth between people who want to highlight the dangers of jihadists versus those who want to insist that most Muslims, especially in America, are decent folk.  Both are true.  Most of everyone are decent folk. Though Muslims, even in America but especially in Europe, have a higher percentage of violent people than, say Congregationalists.  Or Jews. Or Buddhists. Not much way around the core belief of either POV, really. Just is.  The difficulty comes when people want to claim further territory.  Ooh, we're worried about backlash.  Backlash is the real problem. Well, no it isn't.  There is revenge vandalism of mosques in France and that's bad, but no one is, er, dead. Or from the other side, there are those who want to portray Islam as violent, root and branch, and would prefer that none of its adherents remain within our borders unless they specifically abjure violence.  Many (though not all) of the other major immigrant groups to America couldn't have met that standard either.

Taking sides causes us to forget what we knew even two hours ago.  When there was a mass shooting in Norway, one of my sons who lives there went on an anti-Muslim rant on Facebook, immediately accusing them.  Another relative of mine was horrified, disapproving of such bigotry, and very quickly self-righteous about it.  The latter had forgotten what he knew two hours earlier: a Muslim group had initially taken credit for the shootings.  That was my son's context.  OTOH, even in that context it was apparently pretty rank - he took it down and I only learned of it secondhand. A few hours later he was on to other aspects of Anders Breivik. Taking sides makes us stupid.

BTW, almost no one remembers that claim by the obscure Norwegian Muslim group now.  I think I read it consisted of about seven people, who were hoping to become big wheels, and the followup is they didn't exist a year later.

People were quick to take sides about the shooting of Michael Brown. "You don't understand what black people..." Whoa. Whoa. This was a specific incident, with specific players and specific events contained in it.  Same on the other side.  "We support the police!  They go out every day, risking their lives..." Well sure.  But some policemen, and occasionally whole departments, are pricks.  The fact that most aren't doesn't change the fact that some guys (and gals) are attracted to that job for bad reasons. I've met them.  Hell, you've met them. Most black people, even in very bad neighborhoods, are decent folk who don't want any trouble.  But they do have an unusually high percentage of violent, dangerous people.  Just is. (Leave aside for the moment why that is.  Many people pretend to know why, but have only a congenial narrative and no facts.)

The odd thing is that I am pointing out the almost stupidly obvious here, things that everyone knows, but we want to move off that ground to taking sides.  We want to show our solidarity with oppressed black people or beleaguered police, or noble satirists, or offended Muslims.  Jimmy Carter is sure it's all about the Palestinian conflict.  Not that he's stuck in 1978 or anything.  When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Which brings me to who we really should be worried about.  With all the running around and taking sides, there is a surface conflict.  That is absolutely normal human behavior, and not even very interesting, unless one happens to be near the violence.  Watch instead for the powerful people quickly trying to turn this to their own advantage.  The Front National in France is historically, deeply, anti-Jewish.  They are now using the Charlie Hebdo situation to paint themselves as the Jews' best protector against these violent Islamists.  I suppose it is possible that they have softened, deciding that Jews are the least of France's problem and better as an ally.  But I doubt it.  On the other side, Barack Obama is trying to turn the conversation to "violent extremism" in general, convening a conference in February to include educators, mental health professionals, religious leaders, and academics to discuss the problem. Let me predict five weeks in advance that the "violent extremists" are going to include people who aren't especially violent, but talk tough, and are on the opposite side of the political divide from Obama. It will be carefully titrated to use the fear of Muslim extremists in a different direction. Where the Republicans, especially the presidential hopefuls, go with this remains to be seen. That's likely to be convenient as well.

In both cases, Le Pen and Obama, I don't think it is a cynical manipulation.  I think they believe it. Same for their opponents, in France and America. Having actual fear can be an excellent substitute for being a Machiavel.

Bring Change 2 Mind

Jessie Close, sister of Glenn, has a blog about her mental illness:  Bring Change 2 Mind. My ambivalence is enormous, but I thought I should at minimum identify the site.  I may comment there sometime.  Right now I just can't.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Capgras Delusion

If you made it a movie, people would put it in the sci-fi, magical realism, or conspiracy categories. I have a patient with Capgras Delusion who has an identical twin. Yes, you will have to look it up. It's fairly obscure. I see about one a year, maybe less.

Note: It probably does have interesting movie possibilities.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Books For Christmas

Two of them know how to get on my good side right away.  From GM Trevelyan's History of England.
 As one of the last Whigs, and long after his academic career, the 1926 date of publication is misleading. The thinking is more than a century old, reflecting both the conscious biases he was proud of, and the unconscious biases of his place and time.
The English of England have always been singular for caring little about their cousins and ignoring their distant relatives: the very different practice of the Scot is partly due to the fact that he carries more Celtic blood in his veins.
HBDchick's theory is that the Catholic Church forbidding cousin marriage - and NW Europeans going along with it more than other peoples - became the basis for some genetic selection for those who could venture out from clannishness. Trevelyan would push this characteristic even farther back than she does. He points to the preference Anglo-Saxons and other nearby tribes had for swearing loyalty to a leader, even if from an other tribe, e.g. Beowulf the Geat.

And from The Revenge of Geography, by Robert D. Kaplan.
...elite molders of public opinion dash across oceans and continents in hours, something which allows them to talk glibly about what the distinguished New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman has labeled a flat world. Instead, I will introduce readers to a group of decidedly unfashionable thinkers, who push up hard against the idea that geography no longer matters.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Life Extension - Dementia Chapter

Some people who are smarter than I am are strongly in favor of seeking technology for life extension.  The argument in favor seems to be some sort of double-reverse: No, the people against it are imagining life extension as if you are a 90-year-old living on in a miserable existence for another 30 years.  We're not talking about that at all.  We're talking about active years, good years, where 50 is 30 and 100 is 60.

So, because you think some people are making a bad argument against you, therefore you're right? That's kind of where most pointless theological discussions keep going, isn't it?

I'm pretty sure that's not what I'm imagining.  I don't have anything against anyone pursuing all the life extension they want.  But I am completely unconvinced it is an unquestionable good.  I can imagine it as a fun ride - but so what? I think the extension advocates are discounting possible negatives with a wave of the hand, of things that can be worked out with just a little more effort.

My strongest argument is that we will not learn to extend all life-systems at equal rates.  If we can keep hearts and knees going but digestions and hearing lag, is that a net plus?  Most important of all is cognition.  I do not want my body persevering when my brain is gone.

My complaint is not entirely theoretical.  It is in fact already happening.  And it's going to get worse. There is currently no treatment for dementia, and there is nothing on the immediate horizon that looks encouraging. We might be on the verge of early detection. That does not impress me. Consider one of the statistics in the article.  Of the people over 70 who came into their clinic, 90% had some cognitive deficit. That is not the same as 90% of 70-year-olds, no.  But it's still a very big number. We have already extended the life of the body without extending the life of the brain.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Frozen Re-Explained

Half a year ago, I had a major complaint about the script of Frozen, centered on the complete lack of buildup to Hans suddenly turning on Anna.  Not a hint throughout the film, and in fact, he makes a rather selfless gesture not long before.  It's just bad myth-making, bad narrative.  One might not see a turn to evil the first time, but on repeated viewings there should be hints along the way.

Apparently there were hints, and more, but they never made it to the script because of other plot considerations.  There's a fascinating explanation of those changes in this Weekly Standard article by Jonathan V. Last. Short version;  Hans was not originally evil in the script, but when the plot changed, someone had to set the last rescue scene on the ice in motion, and nothing else was ready to hand. So Prince Hans, contrary to his good nature so carefully built up in the first 90% of the movie, had to be called into service as the villain, because there was no one else there.

Told ya it didn't make sense.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Vaillant Study

Dr. Joy Bliss over at Maggie's linked to this article over at The Art of Manliness about George Vaillant's longitudinal study of Harvard men, their success and happiness. I had heard about this study years ago, and caught references to it once in awhile ever since. Vaillant was top of his field in psychiatry, especially writing about personality development and personality disorders.

An excellent article, which you will find heartwarming and validating in many ways.  It does have one "small" problem, however. Its results are as likely to be correlations, not causations, of success and happiness.  In light of the last two decades of genetic research, it is actually much more than likely to be about result than cause. It is repeatedly stressed in the mythmaking that the participants in the study all had Harvard educations, as if that were some sort of factor that held many variables constant.

Warm, loving people pass on warm, loving genes to their children, and they live together in more harmony than those who don't start with that. People are close to one sibling because they were that sort of person from the start, not because their parents encouraged that. We want the other story to be true.  I certainly hope that environment is at least partly the cause of children's happiness.  We just don't seem to have the abundance of evidence for that we hoped for.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

The Arts

I don't think I have come across as anti-arts here, but I have been accused of it elsewhere, and I would like to defend myself by making some distinctions.  I have two brothers and a son making their livings in the arts, after all, and I was a Theatre and Speech major, coffee-house musician, and author of a long meandering novel in an earlier incarnation.

Years ago a psychologist friend wore a button to work saying "Fear no art," at the time of the Mapplethorpe photography exhibit.  I challenged it, and he immediately understood.  "No, art is one of the things most to be feared."

Art is powerful.  As every comic-book reader knows, powers can be used for good or evil.  There is an attitude within the arts (by some, but not all) that there is an inherent nobility, even spirituality of being an artist, and worthy of praise for that alone.  I won't bore you with how 19th C this view is, and yet it persists because it meets an emotional need.  If you are a brilliant novelist but teach people untruths, that is evil.  You don't get style points because other people in your profession admire your technique.

Those within a given arts profession are most likely to fall victim to such foolishness, because they understand the skill and effort required.  It is still wrong, but few of us rise far above that.  We admire those who do well what we do as a profession, even if their aims are not ours.  Because we can learn something from them, we tend by halo effect to regard them as good.

Here is an irony: if we regard talent as a sort of wealth (and it is), then it is not very different from rich people contributing to causes, is it?

Saturday, January 03, 2015


I checked my stats today, which I should do more often, as something interesting always shows up. The Influence of Doonesbury, which I posted in June of 2006, was my most-read post of the last week.  Someone must have linked to it.  Also, I had an unusual number of people come to my site directly from Ann Althouse, so someone must have mentioned this site there.  Perhaps the two phenomena are one.

Back To Help Request

No one has popped up with a link to the research requested below, so I'm going to go at it tentatively.

The article was a summary of a study, so there is already a filter through the author of the piece.  Next, you are reading this from me, so we have your biases and mine added in.  Initially, there were whatever biases the researcher had in designing, interpreting, and publishing the results.  We don't know how much actual light is making it through, here.

Topping it all off, the purpose of this post will be to look at what some of the weaknesses in the conclusion there might be, even if everything is exactly as advertised and remembered.  If you are wondering why I am bothering at all with so many caveats, well, I wonder that myself. Practice in being suspicious of results that tell me (mostly) what I want to hear, perhaps.

The claim was that everyone but social conservatives was influenced in their moral beliefs by what they thought others believed as well. What was measured was whether people approved of gay marriage or not, depending on what they had been told by the researchers before the opinions were sought. Something was read or given beforehand to some participants but not to others which influenced them in favor of gay marriage.  Whatever it was worked on everyone but social conservatives.

Before reading this, my claim has long been that everyone is influenced by such social cues, but liberals more deeply than others, and in some cases almost entirely by such considerations. So the research would give some support to the idea that I was on to something in my observation.

Here are the problems. I write these while still believing that the study captures something valuable, but just isn't as tight as one would like.

I wish they had chosen something other than attitudes toward gay marriage to measure. In Jonathan Haidt's model of moral decision-making, conservatives use five axes of measurement, liberals only two, and one of the ones C's use but L's don't is purity vs disgust. I think Haidt's research, particularly his initial research, gets this at least partly wrong because he chose items likely to disgust conservatives, leaving out ones which would disgust liberals. I discussed this in more detail about two years ago. This is of particular importance in discussing homosexuality.  There is a strain of opposition that does seem altogether too interested in telling us about the disgusting acts homosexuals engage in.  I don't know how common it is among those who disapprove of same-sex relationships, because I don't hear it from anyone I meet.  Of course, we all tend to meet people in common areas like workplace lunchrooms, church lobbies, and soccer sidelines, which are places where one wouldn't tend to be too graphic about describing anal intercourse.  From my online reading I have come to acknowledge that there is a group out there for whom this is indeed a big part of why they disapprove. I just don't know how big it is, and how that affects the data.  That group might be especially impervious to social pressure, skewing the numbers for conservatives.

Similarly, something may be happening on the other side of the question.  It may be that not everyone is socially influenced, but that there is a subgroup - perhaps a personality type - that is strongly influenced by what is socially popular.  Those may be distributed among the population at first, but gradually move in the direction of what is most generally popular. This is the group that can be moved from "Four legs bad, two legs good," to "Four legs bad, two legs better" pretty quickly, if they see the right movies and news commentators. Do they move from liberal to conservative in other cultures?  I don't see that. But if so, then getting them rolling is indeed the key to revolutionary success. Worrisome.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Time Warp

I have noted that women with Borderline Personality Disorder are strangely locked in the circular time of the yearly calendar, especially with regards to those who they have poor boundaries with - the anniversary of their mother's or sister's death or birthday, especially.  As they are often very pet and animal focused (a common volunteer job we can generate excitement for is work at an animal shelter), even the anniversary of a pet's death can set them off.

I have speculatively attributed this to some odd time-sense or faulty time perception.  But in commenting on Staffan's new post today, it occurred to me that the cause might be more general.  They are very easily triggered into emotion chaos by events associated with past trauma.  The overlap of BPD and PTSD is significant. The events of the calendar may simply be triggers of past trauma, no more significant than a smell or an associated song.