Thursday, March 31, 2016


In soccer, the US Women's National Team is suing because they aren't getting given as much money as the men.  In most times and places, this would lead to the standard arguments that they don't attract as many fans, no one's interested, stop whining, etc.  See, for example, the controversy in tennis, where the interest in men's matches remains higher in person and on TV no matter how much ESPN tries to pretend otherwise.

Yet in soccer the opposite is true.  The women's matches are generally more popular.  Not hugely, but enough that the complaint that they deserve to be paid better is darn legitimate.  Therein lies the conflict.  If you pay the women better on the strict free market consideration that people will pay more to watch them, you open the door to paying women in other sports less on the same basis.

My only conclusion is that life is never fair, we just try to eliminate terrible abuses as much as possible.  For everything else, we should all suck it up.  I was a great touch football player in that 5th-10th grade range that we played. So what?  No one pays to see that, chicks don't watch it or admire it, and no one has leagues or keeps statistics. Love of the game, desire for mastery, whatever.  I had terrible things happen in my upbringing but still feel I was enormously privileged.  Other poor bastards had far greater obstacles. No complaints.

My general rule is that greater outside forces should only be intervening when the disparities are large.

I know, I know.  Define "large."

Wednesday, March 30, 2016


For National Social Work Month we had a celebration at department meeting yesterday.  There was free food, so that was good. We had a speaker, a professor from the MSW program at UNH, who gave a solid 15-20 minutes on the history of Social Work degree programs in New England. This included a calling out of what schools were represented and how many years in service people had.* There was this year’s proclamation from the White House, extending through many whereases  telling us what good things they have noticed us doing (including “overcoming earthquakes” in the disaster relief section, which sounded a little inflated), up to a final therefore which thanks us. We played a mildly competitive game involving social work terms. There was a beribboned bag for each of us with a colorful “Social Workers Are Awesome” card on the outside and small presents inside. One of the interns was master of ceremonies, and all the interns had been dragooned into service for the preparation.

You will be shocked to know that I did not find this fascinating.  However, I have several outs when stuck in such situations, one of which is to sit back and examine the whole affair as an anthropologist or a man from Mars might, to see what might be understood about us.  All groups with repeat meetings have rituals, and the rituals are declarations of what is significant.  When we go to town meeting, the Cub Scouts march out flags which we salute; the high school chorus sings; the moderator introduces people who make short, clichéd speeches before we get down to business.  The choices of which clichés are brought out are often a clue as to what will follow.

To be candid, my first daydream was of which tables would be fun if you got a couple of drinks into everyone.  I had cynically predicted that the number would be low, but it turned out to be fully half:  three of the six tables were having bright conversation and laughter.  That’s off topic on the subject of rituals, but I wanted to have full disclosure.  At gatherings where I can bring a notepad one of my spacing-out timekillers is to make geographic lists, such as how many European rivers I can name. Good times.

Rituals. So these are the rituals of meaning for social workers: acknowledgement from government, or at least official bodies; food, encouraging clichés, and small presents, which I think is standard in all female-dominated professions even though not all females like them; reassurance that the expensive professional training and licensure are indeed the indicators of quality; reminiscing about agency histories and previous hard budget times, to validate that we have lived the true experience and are all sisters; the highlighting of in-group jargon to show that we are knowledgeable and set apart.  It’s always hard to find volunteers to run these things, so the committee assignment is a rotating duty, yet the rituals are similar each time. Once every few years a committee will take it into their heads to go all out with the decorations, food, ceremonies, and presents but go away hurt because the rest of us did not appreciate the effort. Or, there might be icebreaker-style games where we find out interesting things about each other in an attempt at esprit-de-corps. Yet those last two tend to be general group rituals, not very specific to social workers.

*I am a significant outlier on both counts.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Jonathan Haidt and Emory

I missed this summary of a sociology paper the first time around, but Haidt reprints it. Victimhood Culture Explains What's Happening At Emory. I have a nephew studying at Emory (on loan from Tufts) and I'm guessing this controversy is a topic of conversation among many, but isn't changing the day-to-day lives of folks much. 

The article places the events at Emory in context of an overall culture change from culture of honor to culture of dignity to culture of victimhood. Haidt clearly agrees with most or all of it and tries to extract the best of it for easier consumption.  It took me longer than seven minutes, though. I commented there, and will overlap with that only partially here.  A few thoughts:

77 colleges is more than I expected.

The definition of culture of honor that Campbell and Manning use is different than what I usually think, but I take their point.  My own definition of a culture of honor would be something closer to a mix between their honor and dignity cultures.  My first contrast with Honor Culture is to Shame Culture, which is older and I believe, more primitive. The sociologists don't seem to treat to that at all, or see it as some relative of Honor Culture.  So be it.  I don't prefer their terms, but I think the ideas are sound.

The cause of victimhood culture that they mention strikes me as plausible: an increase in college officials whose jobs are predicated on delivering social justice is going to create an increase in victims appealing to them.  Makes sense. But I don't take that as definitive - there are other nominations, as I and others note in the comments.

I think this is not just college, this is the future.

Thursday, March 24, 2016


I reflected during "O Sacred Head Now Wounded" tonight that there are not many of us left who remember old hymns - and I am among the younger ones. A young dinosaur.

Ah well.  The church got along fine for a thousand years before Bernard of Clairvaux, and when he is forgotten in the next hundred years or so, will get along for a thousand years after that. Looking up the link, I learned that Bernard is no longer considered the poet behind the hymn.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

I Have No Numbers, But...

It's just an impression that occurred to me while walking around the block tonight.

The analysis of the Trump voters includes the general outrage many of them feel toward the GOP elite for not being real conservative warriors, not standing up to the Democrats, not defending real Americans.  This is rather like the abused children who carry more resentment toward the parent who did not defend them, even over and above the abuser. The cry goes out that they supported Romney, who wasn't a real conservative, they supported McCain, who wasn't a real conservative, they supported Bush, Dole, Bush 41 - and what have they got to show for it?  They have been betrayed.  Even conservative analysts, maybe even especially conservative analysts, are singing this tune.

I recalled tonight arguing with these people online 4 and 8 years ago. (And even 2000 and 2004, to a lesser extent.) I recall lots of them who were proudly stating they were sitting out because of their disapproval then.  In the post-election discussions, I think there was a lot of hand-wringing that those candidates had lost because they didn't excite that part of the Republican base, who didn't turn out for them.

Also, many Trump voters are young.

Also, there are reports that many Trump voters are crossover Democrats.

Or are infrequent voters.

I don't doubt there is something to this disillusionment explanation.  But I wonder how much of it is really true. Were they really go-along, hopeful, good-soldier Republicans then who are now fed up?  Or is "fed-up" a default position for some of them since fifth grade, now inspired by Trump?

Sunday, March 20, 2016


I am highlighting Ben's bracket based on which team nickname would defeat the other.  I would mention that I laughed out loud, but i always laugh out loud, so that's not unusual. The ground is littered with  Bulldogs by the end.

My own bracket was taken from Georgia Tech's math department's yearly ranking based on Logistic Regression, both a Bayesian and a Classic version. It usually end up in the 75-80th percentile.  Most years I take a flyer on a couple of upsets that look possible, but they tend to even out.  This year I just swallowed it whole.

My wife tried to create a bracket that is as bad as possible, and is succeeding, being in the 0.1 percentile at the moment.



Or Hitlertrump.  Whatever. This criticism applies to my own generation.  Those younger may not have been around this carousel enough times.

I'm getting tired of everyone being Hitler, and then, miraculously, no one gets sent to death camps, or even labor camps. And no group is forbidden to own businesses and has their shopwindows broken - except a few of the Christians who were purportedly part of this Hitlerism, so that's not playing out. I believed in Nixonhitler, and I believed in Reaganhitler, at least in 1976.  Maybe in 1980, as well, though doubt was setting in.

Each time, when the multiplicity of Hitlers is challenged as improbable, the assurance comes back "Well, yeah, but this time it's really true."  I am reminded of Bullwinkle trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat. "This time for sure!"  The idea that he is Hitler c. 1931, not yet dangerous but any day now, as soon as he gets some power, watch out, is ludicrous. He is crude and petty.  He shoots from the hip rather than thinking about things. I think he is adopting whatever positions will bring him cheers, but even if he is sincere, he is nativist and populist, not racist and fascist. He thinks he'll be able to just give orders, but a good fascist would actually have worked out how the system can be gamed so that he can do things quasi-legally. When thwarted, Trump just picks up a new stick and swings that.

I have seen comparisons drawn to William Jennings Bryan and to Arnold Schwarzenegger, and I find those more apt.

I'm at 180 degrees on this Hitler thing now.  If someone makes the Hitler accusation, I conclude they are covering up for Hitlers of their own.  I suspect their group more than the group accused.  If you're the first one to go full Godwin in the discussion, I start looking for projection. If you think you need to go ALL CAPS so that people out there will wake up and see how serious this is, I'm betting you haven't considered the possibility that your opponents have actually heard this before. I don't think I'm the only one who has that automatic counter-reaction at this point. For persuasive reasons, if for no others, if you think someone is really very much like Hitler you are probably better off describing that some other way.

Violence Theory

My theory about violence in the culturally liberal and conservative camps seems to be holding up.  You will notice that Trump supporters are not going over to Sanders and Clinton rallies to get in people's faces.  They are hunkering down, waiting for the protestors to come to them and then planning to hit back.  This is much like my earlier description of conservatives settling in with food and supplies and daring Obama, or the feds, or FEMA or whatever to come to them.  Liberals, or at least the activist kind, are much more prone to be aggressive, even when they adopt a superficial pacifism and try to goad others into violence.  Those guys in Oregon occupied government property, after it was closed for the season.  OWS occupied government property in city parks, disruption thousands of people as much as possible.

It's liberals and conservatives in terms of the type of symbolism they respond to, of course.  There's not a lot of classic conservative or liberal theory behind it.  It's tribal.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Glass Half Full

There has been a lot written lately about the lack of replicability of many studies, of things we thought we knew but now have to hold at arm’s length. The social sciences have long been notorious for this, but medical claims are also looking fragile.  It is hardly surprising that entities with something to gain or lose, such as pharmaceutical companies, might bury results that showed nonsignificant or even contradictory outcomes. Not honest, but not surprising – and pharma is not necessarily exceptional.  Researchers vying only for honor, or perhaps publication to keep their jobs, do it as well.

We can always blame the journalists for oversimplifying and raising our expectations unrealistically.  That’s fair. We can also blame researchers for not having enough courage, objectivity, humility, sense of honor – pick a missing virtue, really – and that’s fair too.  Yes it’s difficult and I might be worse at it, but it IS their job, no? Yes, it is problematic that those classic experiments in every freshman psychology book are not all proving out, undermining theories and further research that was based on those truthies.  But the point is to get them right.  Right?

Yet I do share some of the concerns of the overdefensive researchers.  In the presence of doubt, it is true that much of the general public will conclude that we know nothing, and therefore taking Vitamin C for cancer is just as good as all those fancy-schmancy chemicals the medical establishment is pushing. Lord knows knocking down the idea that there is something magical about things that are “natural” is often on my mind. Similarly, in my own field, sometimes diagnosis is inaccurate and/or treatment does little good. Yet some things can be shown to work often, and that has value.  More important, we have things that we know don’t work, and can at least not waste our time on them.

40% replicability means that 40% did turn out to be true.  We thought it was 90-100% and it isn’t, but we still do know some things we didn’t a century ago.  Real life doesn’t tie up as neatly as it looks at the science fair. Periodic overthrow of 30% of what we were sure was true might be the normal course of events.  All this upheaval, chicanery, and accusation might be the only way forward among human beings. Particularly in the social sciences, where all theories rather obviously have societal implications, we come up against a difficulty. Because the possible invisible confounding variables are so many, all experiments must of necessity show only narrow, tentative results. Ooh, except everyone who goes into that field wants things that are much grander.  They want large theories of everything, explaining why boys do what they do, or whether criminals played particular video games.

Thursday, March 17, 2016


The young man who grew up across the street moved back in a few years ago.  Those kids grew up without a lot of supervision or discipline, but I don’t know that they got into much trouble.  Their teeth were bad, their clothes not well-repaired.  One of the four went to college, though I don’t know if she finished.  This youngest one, now 39, is fixing the place up some, but it’s still rather an eyesore. He has a wife,  one of them has children that visit on weekends.  He leaves early for work as his father always did, gets back late. I like him, but we never had much in common with any of them, so even now we only chat a bit in the street when our schedules cross.

A woman I work with does a fair bit of overtime at one of our worse-paying jobs.  Her husband works, but he has some sort of hip problem – he limps in with a cane sometimes – and is in some pain so doesn’t work overtime himself.  They look to be in their early 50’s. She is cheerful, and likes to post humorous things about coffee, weight loss, and nostalgic “Do You Remember?” things on Facebook. She posts occasional humorous conservative things as well, sometimes a bit mean in their insultingness about liberals, but always humor, never rageful declarations. She is very kind with the patients.

Another woman on the job learned a decade ago that I am a Christian, and so has pulled me aside to tell me about her church, and teaching videos she watches, and how sad it is where this country is going.  She keeps it secret, fearing criticism from the largely-liberal, largely nonreligious workforce here.  I tend to think she overrates the danger, but a stray comment by a friend suggests she is easily hurt by criticism, so she turtles down. She loved Sarah Palin, BTW.  She also works hard at a low-paying job, and is notably kind to patients on the geriatric unit.

I know a young woman who formerly used drugs, but has been sober for about seven years now.  She has a little boy – no help from the father, who is long gone. She works two part-time jobs, which is sometimes a schedule juggle. Her felony record (one, drug offense) renders her ineligible for Section 8 and makes it harder to get jobs, I expect, though her appearance is against her there as well.  She does not speak well – instantly obvious lower-class upbringing. Her mother helps out watching the boy some of the time.

None of these four are stupid, but I estimate they would score a little below average on cognitive tests. We used to call them working-class, salt-of-the-earth. They plug away at life, doing their bit.  They don’t have much influence, no one much listens to them outside their own homes, I suspect. Their lives are not terrible, but when we talk about The Marginalised, I think they fit. 

There is a set of Christians who like to talk about the marginalized, that Jesus cared about the marginalized, and we should care about them too.  The implication being, of course, that they care about them just fine, but I should pay more attention to them. This gets trotted out at Christmas, and as commentary on many of the currently fashionable crises.  Some folks -  not all - seem quite willing to excuse a lot of bad behavior in the marginalized.  It’s pretty easy to recognize the type of earnest Christian who keeps pointing us back to the M’s. You can tell from the headline, or even the little photo in the box.  They often learned to see the world this way at school, especially denominational colleges and seminaries.  I know exactly which people on my FB feed are going to go there, and the folks they link to are much like them. They seem to be talking about a different marginalized group, but if one tries to describe the difference it quickly gets messy.

That set of Christians isn’t talking about the marginalized at present. I haven’t seen The M’s mentioned since December 25th, actually. They are writing, posting, and linking to stories about Trump.  Not even so much Trump, but Trump supporters, and how worried they are that there are so many of these dangerous people around. And yes, some of these nice Christians aren’t afraid to make the Hitler comparison.

My four examples above are the Trump supporters I know personally*. I haven’t asked any of them why they support Trump. The Rand survey reveals that the biggest indicator of Trump support is “people like me don’t have any say.” I can believe that.  I also think I understand their defensive posture as well. “Every bad thing you say about us is true of other groups as well, but you don’t mention that.”  Which is entirely true.
*I know one other who is young and not much like this group. Then a whole separate subgroup I may mention if needed.

Unexpected Vice

Erasmus was reportedly the last man in western civilization who knew everything that was known, at least with rough understanding.  He knew sciences, geography, history, theology, classical and contemporaneous literature. The claim is untrue even beyond its trivial sense of not knowing where Aunt Eva dined last Tuesday. Still, it provides an interesting marker around 1500, after which knowledge multiplied so quickly that even trained, brilliant minds could not take it all in. The knowledge base available to the masses exploded with printing, and again in the 20th C with schooling and  libraries leapfrogging each other in improving the mental life of any farmgirl or butcher’s son who had an aptitude for learning.

We have come to regard this as an unalloyed good. It certainly has been the foundation for the ease and length of life we now possess. Yet perhaps it is all not true, as Luis Pinto de Sa over at First Things cautions in A Monastic Vice For The Internet Age.  I have all of these sins in some measure, and live among people who share them.  We are not in the habit of looking at much of this as sinful at all, but virtue. “Well at least she’s reading,” we say of a young woman reading trash, and we mean it, however much we might try to influence her to read something better. 

For myself, I gave myself credit for virtue in the accumulation of stray knowledge.  Later, I concluded that it is automatic enough that it hardly deserves credit, and when I am most honest with myself I see this uncomfortable truth. I still find it gratifying to my conceit when people say “You should go on Jeopardy,” or “I always learn something amazing from you.”  I cannot naturally regard any of this as temptation.

Yet it is.  Such is spiritual blindness.  Knowledge is for a purpose. Entertainment is no automatic sin, but it can easily become one. Like wealth, beauty, or any other riches, knowledge has the power to become a god if it is not held in obedience to Christ.