Friday, October 20, 2017

Rehabilitating Mao

I did tell you they went all-in for controversial opinions at, but Mao Reconsidered: One Hundred Percent Good is a load, even by their standards. Just so you know, Roberts got an EdD at Umass-Amherst in 1973, and the rest of his internet presence is about how to make money after you've retired to Thailand on Social Security check. Health care?  Not to worry, because he thinks anything is better than the most corrupt healthcare system in the world in the US.

In the late 70's and early 80's there was a Marxist professor in the Masters In Human Services program at New Hampshire College (now SNHU) who must have taught a lot of this, as so many of his students, who worked at my hospital quoted "Marcel" as saying similar things. The iron control and horrible punishments were necessary with a country like China because they started out so backward and there were so many of them that there just wasn't any other way.  About two years later the "so backward" part was left out in favor of China's obvious superior traditional wisdom. It's hard to keep up sometimes.

There are over three hundred comments, and some of them get the main criticisms - like all those dead people and the famine - explained clearly and succinctly.  What surprised me was the number of commenters who agreed with the article.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Give Me Jesus

One of my favorites.  The simplicity is mesmerising.

Imagined Conversations

I dislike the genre that purports to be a conversation between people who are long dead and modern figures. The author can always dictate the result of the debate and make the loser look bad.  I recently saw one at Aleteia between GK Chesterton and white nationalists.  Guess who won? I don't doubt that GKC would have held his own quite nicely against any number of such figures, but the exchange was frankly not-credible.  Chesterton would say this, you see, and the the white nationalists would say that, which GKC would counter with this. They would attempt to catch him up along the lines of A, which he would have to  agree with, being deeply respectful of national cultures, but he would see them coming and make a distinction B that they hadn't anticipated and finally rout them entirely by pointing out C.

I didn't actually read the article.  I'm betting I came close.

Things are a bit better with imagined conversations between contemporaries, but that's not going to be ultimately fair either. I have loved Peter Kreeft's Between Heaven and Hell, A Dialogue Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, CS Lewis, and Aldous Huxley (who died within hours of each other in 1963). Kreeft tries very hard to be fair, but he clearly favors Lewis, and CSL does seem to carry the day at the end, though Kreeft doesn't rub it in or get triumphalist. Huxley finishes second, I think. I still recommend the book, even if you are one who would prefer someone other than Lewis win, because Kreeft really works at being fair, as I said. But don't consider the final implied victory a done deal.  Plus, the book's short and cheap.  That's nice.

His second work, about Socrates discussing abortion, is less successful, I think because it has that ancient-modern mix that is more inherently unfair.

I know these imagined conversations don't turn out to be true because I have been having them in my head for sixty years, forever arguing with hundreds of other people.  He'll say this and I'll agree that it's partially true but point out that, to which he will respond with this claim and this one, this one, and that one, but hahahaha! I will then say Fourscore and Seven Years Ago, and To Thine Own Self Be True, and They-sewed-fig-leaves-together-and-made-themselves-aprons! He will be dumbfounded.  Overwhelmed.  He will gape, and gasp! 

Then I will actually have the argument and the other person says nothing like that at all. They will pursue a line I had not expected.

Precocious Canadian

I am fairly familiar with cognitively and verbally advanced five year olds.

The comments attributed by Tama Ward to her daughter are complete fabrications. "How Can I Raise An Enlightened Child?" is an embarrassment, and if you run across anything by this author again, you should disbelieve it on sight.(HT: Steve Sailer)

Richard B. Spencer, et al.

I have read plenty of essays and comments over the past 6-12 months that extremist groups, left, right, and whatever, would not have so much power if people just ignored them. Richard B. Spencer is speaking somewhere and they expect not only protests, but protests that turn violent. I don't know much about him, BTW. Sometimes such figures make relatively mild comments that get over-interpreted and made into monsters.  But as I haven't read anyone coming to his defense, except a defense of his right to speak, I have to assume that whatever he says it must be legitimately offensive. Correct me if I'm wrong on that.

I have written in favor of the "just ignore them" strategy for years, though I haven't had to do it much... because folks were actually mostly ignoring them. But the cry has gone up from many corners this year. Stop paying them any attention. Their numbers are small. I keep telling myself, well, they just can't ignore them.  They can't let it go for some reason. They have to show up to say "shut up." Some people are just convinced that there's whole lots of dangerous folks out there.

They don't want them to go away. They believe there are thousands or millions more in hiding, waiting to come out and wreak violence on the republic. I have a brother who essentially believes that.  Because he is convinced that there are plenty of quiet racists spread about like dry tinder among the population, people who could be ignited at any moment and cause a lot of destruction, he is also convinced that antifa and black groups organising to be ready for violence just in case is understandable, and maybe even justified, though he is not a violent person himself.

I don't know what we say instead, but "just ignore them" is no longer likely to work, if it ever was.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Mark Twain, Huckster

How Not To Get Rich: The Financial Misadventures of Mark Twain, by Alan Pell, Crawford.

Haven't read the book.  Fun review.

Tomorrow's News

Let me write tomorrow’s news for you:

President Donald Trump will send off some really offensive tweet or comment, which is demeaning to the office of the presidency and is an embarrassment to America.

Meanwhile, things of actual historical importance will happen, many of which would torque off the people upset at Trump’s tweets, if they had only been paying attention.

I don’t know if Trump planned this as a strategy. But I’ll bet he’s noticed that it sorta works.

I rejoice whenever I see liberals distracted by Trump's continuing, unchanging, publicity flaws, because I know they are wasting their energy drumming up outrage.  Many of them likely do it because their media jobs or fund-raising efforts depend on constant outrage, but it's a long-term loser.

I despair whenever I see non-Trumpster conservatives get distracted by these things. I get it that they believe they have to demonstrate their a) we-have-standards-dammit cred (as if repetition will ever convince those who aren't listening) or b) this-isn't-real-conservatism cred. You're right, it isn't, but it's got some overlap, it's what you've got, and you are wasting an opportunity by posing.  Many Trump supporters are indeed being unreasonable and insulting, basically acting like the worst of liberals in their brittleness, humorlessness, and intellectual laziness. I read the same comments sections you do. Yes, they refuse to read NRO because some of those writers dare to criticise Trump, and some of them don't even like him and say so! Quelle horreur! They are like that. And no, I don't think they can be rationally dissuaded from that position, no more than SJW's.

So what.

How are we going to get from Point A to Point B?  Ask yourself that every time your fingers touch a keyboard.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

NFL Protests

Bethany has her usual "How To See More Clearly" post on current events, in this case, how people feel about the NFL protests and the fallout.  Key phrase
As is often seen with contentious issues, there is a 10 point swing when changing the wording.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Sudden Thought

"The Handmaid's Tale," book and movie, and all the political penetration they had this year, look completely different after this week's revelations, don't they? How many will notice how eerily powerful they have become when the tribal disguises are switched?


CS Lewis thought one sign of quality in a book was in how it weathered rereadings. What did you reread in the past year? Up to five.

1. Albion's Seed
2. Ficciones
3. The Weight of Glory
4. The Most of PG Wodehouse
5. The Story of Language

Explaining As A Mark Of Intelligence

Shortly after Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity was published, a journalist was interviewing Niels Bohr – or so the story goes. “I am told that only three people in the world understand this theory.” Bohr paused and thought about it for a minute. “I’m trying to think who the third one would be.” Now, of course, many people understand it. Albert was able to put the information forward clearly enough that others could follow, even if it was a brand-new idea.

I recall also the Boston public television coverage of the Fischer-Spassky World Championship chess matches in 1972. A chess expert had a chessboard projected on a screen behind him and he was moving the pieces after each new move was announced. He then filled the time until the next move, explaining to the public what the move meant, its strengths and weaknesses, and what general responses might be. I turned it on from time to time, though I didn’t find it that interesting. Yes, children, that was what low-tech educational television was like in those days. There was a move by Fischer late in one game which set the expert back a step. He went quiet, staring at the board, and the silence seemed to go on forever. He went to the side of the little stage and whispered to someone off-camera. Finally he said “That’s…not a mistake…” and after another silence “That’s an amazing move.” He went on to explain it, and I mostly got what he was talking about. When I got back to college I asked a chess-playing friend, one who was already collecting points for international ranking, about the incident. He thought he knew which game and which move I was talking about, agreeing that sometimes a move is so brilliant and startling that it is not immediately obvious. But, he shrugged, this doesn’t last long. People who are experts can piece it out, even if it takes a little bit.

As part of our testing of a patient here at our hospital, we were in communication with a lab up at Dartmouth Mary-Hitchcock/Geisel School of Medicine. Their little introductory blurb came back on page 2 of their fax. “The Pathology Shared Resource facilitates project planning, clinical validation, and implementation of novel translational technology and research in the fields of molecular diagnostics, molecular therapeutics, pharmacogenomics, quantitative morphologic image analysis and immunohistochemistry (IHC) in a CLIA-certified, CAP-accredited laboratory…” At first glance I don’t understand a word of it. However, I can assemble some pieces quickly (enough to see that there is a little bit of high-falutin’ language that could be put more simply), look up another, and shout across the hall for a few more. I could vaguely tell you what is happening, though if you ask me again next week I might have to start all over again. I could get this, if I needed to. Not coincidentally, the two people I would ask to set this out are two of the smartest people I know – even though this is only tangentially related to their field. The ability to explain complicated things is a mark of intelligence.

CS Lewis (of course) had noticed this and commented on it.

“An essential part of the ordination exam ought to be a passage from some recognized theological work set for translation into vulgar English–just like doing Latin prose. Failure on this paper should mean failure on the whole exam. It is absolutely disgraceful that we expect missionaries to the Bantus to learn Bantu but never ask whether our missionaries to the Americans or English can speak American or English. Any fool can write learned language. The vernacular is the real test. If you can’t turn your faith into it, then either you don’t understand it or you don’t believe it.” CS Lewis “Version Vernacular” God In The Dock

There are important qualifiers. There may be legitimately brilliant people who are temperamentally unsuited to simplifying things for others. It may be possible for them to simplify things accurately, but not quickly, and thus they may find it boring. I would be very suspicious of such an explanation, however. If people have taken the trouble to learn or develop complicated ideas, they usually want to share this experience with others, that those might also enjoy. Also, it may not be possible to explain it to everyone, or even most of humanity, even given time, intelligence, and patience. There are even levels of abstraction that few can reach, enormously narrowing the field of people one might explain it to. Yet still, there do remain some who can receive it. If you cannot find anyone who you can explain it to, then I will say the problem is yours.

I’ve had a few hundred psychiatric patients over the years explode in fury and frustration at those who don’t believe their crank theories are not true. Sometimes I can tell at a glance that they have misunderstood some basic concept of physics or theology. The better ones try to redefine terms or invent new combinations.

It’s like Algebra I: Show your work.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Leah Libresco

This is the woman who worked for 538 who changed her mind about gun control after examining the data in a detailed manner.  I did not know about her, and I certainly did not know she had also changed her mind about Christianity.  A remarkable testimony from an intellectually honest person. Thanks to Neoneocon for the heads up.

She, new Christian, teaches me things here.

Other Victims

Another of AVI’s truths for living, learned from decades in a bureaucracy: Anyone who controls a precious resource is likely to become a son-of-a-bitch. In my field, these are often placement beds for treatment or rehab. Where they are few, those who control them ask for more testing and evaluations, a slowly graduated series of interviews and visits, and they find small difficulties to be “troubling,” and “something we’re going to have to discuss as a team... next Tuesday.”  The incentive to take easier and less complicated patients is always there.  While we are shepherding a patient through this process we are aware how unfair and uncomfortable this can seem to them.  “She wants me to kiss her ass,” they complain. And they are often right. Note: this is for patients who are currently occupying the most expensive mental health beds in the state at over $2K/day, for which there are the longest waiting lists, of poor souls sitting in hospital ER beds with little treatment and less freedom. But they don't need to hurry.  They control a precious resource, and they can do as they please.

But the greater victim is somewhat invisible – the person who would also benefit from that placement who is instantly rejected or not even referred because we know they do not meet some criteria set up by the receiving agency.

I think of this with the Hollywood scandals.  The invisible victims are the talented actors and actresses who don’t sleep with casting directors, producers, or whoever to get a role. Perhaps they get by working crowd scenes or bit roles.  Or if they are magically talented or lucky they can get good roles even without sexual favors. But most of the rest give up and go home, I think. Those who would have slept with someone to get a part but were never given the chance are harder to categorise.  Yes, they have been treated unfairly in some way.  Yet it is hard to define them as oppressed or victims.
The situation is reversed with the college basketball scandal. It is the player who holds the cards, and can demand favors in the form of money, and perhaps sex as well. The victim in that case is the college that recruits by the rules, and which gets less talented players thereby.

Acting and coaching basketball have become dirty professions, but they don’t have to be, and they aren’t dirty for everyone. It is a shame that those with principles have the harder road – or no road at all.

Or perhaps not.  I am reminded of an interview years ago with Michael Caine, on people who told him they wanted to be an actor. He assured them that they could be – there are plenty of opportunities to act, all over England. But what they meant of course was that they wanted to be famous, or rich. I think something similar applies with coaching basketball. There are plenty of ways to do that. But if what you really want is to be a famous basketball coach, that may not be quite so respectable a profession. CS Lewis noted that there is nothing wrong with the ambition to be a general in the army, if your goal is to do your people some good and you really believe you are the best person for it. But in that case, you would be just as happy if someone were preferred over you because they actually were better at the job.

I enjoy writing out my ideas to the great unknown, and I do wish, at least a little bit, that more people red me!me!me! and gave me the credit I deserve. But if I don't need it that badly. In places where I think the good information is getting out I don't feel the need to jump in.  Thirty years ago I should have written several books about CS Lewis, but I thought one needed either an academic credential or a fantasy/sci-fi one to get published (probably true) so I didn't.  I had much to say then than no one else was saying, and I should have pressed on.  Even ten years ago the general knowledge had gaps, and I tried to fill those in the early days here.  Today, not so much. I do put in my oar from time to time when I think important points are being overlooked.  But mostly, no.  Other people have that covered.

I just try to put something into one balance pan or the other when I think things are going unfairly badly for my side, now.  More exactly, I try to remove counterfeit coins from the other side's balance pan.

Common Sense

The term "common sense" has an honored tradition in America, dating back to it's founding.  It must date to before the founding, actually, as Paine would not have appealed to it were it not already a long-accepted term.  I could look it up, I suppose.

Yet I think its meaning has changed, subtly but clearly, in my lifetime.  Driving to work today I saw a sign on a large tree in Dunbarton which read simply "Common Sense." My first thought was "I'll bet not."  I don't know these people, nor have any prejudice against this neighboring town to cause me to immediately suspect their intelligence or goodwill. (I do have prejudice against Weare, and somewhat against Bedford.) Yet I just know somehow that what is going to follow from this will be something I consider not automatic. Probably liberal, but could be libertarian or conservative, given Dunbarton's politics. Whichever, it won't be something so obvious (eye roll) that any person who has not taken many doses of the red pill or the blue one can see it instantly.

Don't say res ipsa loquitur unless the thing does, I say, or you look a fool.

Common Sense has now come to mean "something that looks obvious to me and my friends, so I don't think I should have to give any evidence for it.  What are you, stupid?"

Proceed accordingly.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Narnian

I am reading Alan Jacobs's The Narnian, a biography of the imaginative side of CS Lewis.  Interesting idea. I am liking if for the new angles it shows me, even though little of the information is new.

Most interestingly, now halfway through, is how sympathetic I feel toward his father Albert for the first time.  The elder Lewis alienated both his sons fairly quickly after his wife Flora died, and seems to have spent the rest of his life not really listening but believing he understood. Both Warren and Jack were generally kindly and well-liked, but could not work up much affection for their father, though they felt guilty about this and believed they should. Long after the elder Lewis had died, Jack Lewis considered the way he had treated Albert was his greatest regret.  Yet he had felt this while Albert was alive as well, but the man seemed to frustrate all attempts at reconciliation.

So it had always seemed to me from the other biographies, and while there was much to blame the sons for, I seem to have decided that the poor father had largely brought this on himself, however helplessly and unwittingly. Now I am not so sure.  If I step back from blaming altogether, and simply try to step into Albert's shoes, armed with the knowledge that his sons came eventually to the idea that they were uncomfortable with him because they were like him, I feel very sad for his long empty years once the boys began going away to boarding school. He was a dutiful father - almost.

Smear Followup

Before I went off the news I saved a few things that I thought were going to be illustrations of The Smear.  I had forgotten all about them in the ensuing weeks.  This article about the Dirty Little Secret reminded me.  But first, it amazed me because it is such an odd twist. I will mention again that while we are sometimes talking about fake news, untruths, and even illegal acts, often this is just deceitful, expertly-managed news, performed by intelligent people who make this their career and are probably better at fooling us than we are at seeing through it. Notice, for example, the clever little dig that gets worked into the last paragraph by this pro. He's good.

Observe the spinning and massaging of the news going on in the background of all of these. Then, stop and think about your half-dozen fave sites.  Could someone be paying, or "helping?" them.  Sending links to sites that they might want to publish - which is something I occasionally do - is a bit like doing research and doing their job for them.  What if we had a whole quiet little nonprofit that did that research all day, shipping out stories? The receiving sites might not even be aware.  Or could one or more of the opposition commenters at a site be a true believer who also gets a little cash sent his way? It doesn't reach down to the AVI level.  No one would pay for that. But someone is getting paid to do pushback comments at all the major sites, so how far down does that go?

Was it a hack or a leak?

Joel Osteen gets a bad rap.

 Note it's a group pushing this, and there's not any clear accusation of wrongdoing.  Just wrongishness, ohsobad.

You're racist, because.

These are conservatives doing the same thing.  Notice the weaselly "...made its way into the hands of..." People who should be bullied by a few, like this teacher, are now bullied by 100,000.

New York Times, doxxing dangerously.

An old story about Google at Arstechnica

I don't know about neontaster, maybe he's paid, too.  But the story is what it is.

Southern Poverty Law Center started as a direct-mail fund-raising site.  It's just a high-tech version of that now. Except they also like to hurt people.

I hadn't even thought of foreign sources.  This all just got three times as bad

Monday, October 09, 2017

Have You Forgotten?

These went out of the news fast because of Las Vegas.

But not, I'm thinking not just because of Las Vegas.

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, October 1 

Nashville, TN Sept 24 

I will say again: this happens all the time, and it is not accidental.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

A Tale of Two Jacobs

There is difference in how one does genealogical research now versus thirty years ago. Tracy and I were trying in the 1980's to connect one of my ancestors, Jacob Whittemore, to a Jacob Whittemore in a published genealogy. They were both in about the right place, at the right time. Yet it wasn't certain.  There were other Jacob Whittemores in the region, and it took us months before we were finally able to find the cemetery in Litchfield and determine "Yes! This is our Jacob." Great rejoicing. My painstakingly-assembled research through grandfather and great-great grandfather now connected to a published record that went back to the immigrant ancestor.

Fast forward. Tracy has long tried to find out more about John Charles Henken, her grandfather who died (or perhaps ran off) in the 1920's. Because of her DNA sample, she communicated with a person who is descended from a Jacob Henken, slightly older than John, born in Holland but emigrated to America when young, also to NYC/NJ. I wondered, still thinking old style "Oh! I wonder if those Henkens are connected to ours?" 

Duh. We would not have learned of them if they weren't connected, and very closely. He could only be the older brother of John Charles. It's not like the old days.I think people don't always get this, which is why another contact, in another line, wrote back "No, sorry I can't help you. All our relatives were on the West coast at that time, so they couldn't have any connection to a baby born in Massachusetts."

Well, no one wants to find out that their aunt (or grandmother) had a baby out of wedlock in the 1960's, so I didn't want to press the issue.  We sign up for the full package for a few months once in a while, and we'll just look at that family tree and figure it out.

Guns Again

It's not my topic, but because numbers and logic do tend to be my topics, gun control comes up again.

When John Lott came out with More Guns, Less Crime, he claimed exactly that. More citizens having access to guns would reduce crime, not increase it.  I never read it myself, but I recall from a review that even if true, the result was not large. Even before Volokh Conspiracy produced a great study for me to bookmark, I had been saying that the difference is cultural, not legislative. Northern New England has had the lowest homicide rates since colonial times. (See David Hackett Fischer) The Canadian Maritimes have the lowest rate in Canada. Those are somewhat but not greatly higher than the northern European countries with their very strict gun-access laws which America keeps getting compared to.

Also, the violent crime rate went down in those countries and they passed the gun laws later. That is a not uncommon pattern for many things that societies limit.  They only go to strictness when there is a very strong consensus.

I might add in genetic at this point - these days I believe just about everything is genetic - but leave that off for the time being. Violent crime varies enormously by neighborhood, by city, by state, and by country.

Statistically, there is so little mass killing that we can't measure it and draw conclusions from it all that well.  Too volatile.  Single incidents skew the data very quickly. Because even sports call-in shows gravitate to news items as big as the Las Vegas shootings, I heard a caller again bring up the idea that mass killing is a white male problem. So we have forgotten Nashville and Edmonton already.  That was quick.  The narrative dominates even the news of a day or two ago.

Conservatives get very quick to accuse that liberals hold this gun-control idea right at hand, ready to pounce whenever there is a new incident. The desire for power, for cultural control, is believed to be the dark motive underneath. I'm sure there are some for whom this is true, and they likely go into government and journalism, so we see more of them.  But I know people personally for whom the opposite is true.  They side culturally with the gun owners - usually this is family - but believe this law or that one would really help, and think fewer guns overall would also just help, somehow.

I think something else is in play that explains more. I think liberals are looking at what would persuade them, and then using that to persuade conservatives.  A very strong currency among liberals is that you should care. This is straight out of all that Jonathan Haidt Moral Matrix stuff. In their own behavior, the have identified - I think correctly - that they are sometimes convinced of the rightness of an action but do nothing about it because they just don't care enough. Then something happens to activate them, and they care more, and they start doing something.

This is also true for conservatives, but I think less so.  Much less.

Trying to get other people to care can take many forms. The liberals who get on the news and irritate conservatives so much are largely those who take the hectoring approach. It can be a really punitive superego approach about what bad people you must be, because you don't care, not like us good people. You didn't take the subtle social hints that this is the opinion and the behavior that the good people have, so we have to turn up the heat. It becomes a classic example of that repeating-the-same-action-but-expecting-a-different-result we saw throughout the last presidential election.  you just don't get it, a powerful phrase with much meaning.

Yet I don't think they all - in fact I know they don't all, because I can starting listing counterexamples and go on for quite a while - find that approach necessary.  By disposition, they would rather appeal to you to care more. They tell heartwarming stories, they show pictures of sad people.  Yes, these can be used manipulatively, but I think more often they are simply reading their own hearts and trying it on yours.  This poor homeless man did/said something wonderful, so we shouldn't be so quick to reject them and look down on them. That woman you are judging comes from a life of misery you don't know. That is all innocent enough, but things can go wrong very quickly.

First, the stories aren't always true, and this really frosts me. Parables are fine when it's know to be a parable, but when it's presented as something that happened it's like illegal voting. Fiction is fine, but there is an agreement between author and reader that this is what I believe is how human beings do act in these situations. Without that, it turns into those miserably didactic Sunday School stories where the good little girl gave all of her toys to the poor and her friends were all so impressed that they came to church with her next Sunday and learned to love Jesus.

I know, I know, people mean well.  They want you to be nice to waitresses, or remember to listen to old people, or whatever. But I don't know if they actually do mean well. These are often politically charged, and carry a secret accusation against all the people who don't believe this is happening every day! When this happens, there is this stream of FB congratulation to the person for being such a good and kind person who really cares.  Just for posting. It's almost as if...nah.

Second, even if true, they are chosen anecdotes, and they may pretend to represent a larger percentage of the populace than they really do.  NPR does this all the time. When they want to talk about the economy of Thailand, they recite a few numbers and then go straight to the guy who own a bicycle repair shop on a streetcorner.  Maybe he's representative, maybe not.  Who can tell? He represents what NPR thinks is true, anyway. (I don't think they do this consciously.  It is as natural as breathing for them.  Which I think is more worrisome.) The same what a good person you are for posting this comes into play here as well.  It's like junior high or something.

Eh.  I'm tired and my brain is broken.  I'm going to do something more enjoyable.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

The Smear

The Smear: How Shady Political Operatives and Fake News Control What You See, What You Think, and How You Vote by Sharyl Attkisson

(Update edit:  I should mention right off the bat that Attkisson was an Emmy-award winning CBS reporter for many years.  I don't know if she still is. I think not.)

I have cynically said for years that Republicans lie 50% of the time and Democrats 90%. I may be upping those numbers to 70 and 95 after reading this book.

There are two related books happening at once here. The second title, How Shady Political Operatives and Fake News Control What You See, What You Think, and How You Vote  is about the manipulation of information in general. How the media gets co-opted by politicians and groups who offer to do their work for them and restrict access to those who agree to write favorably or do softball interviews.  While this has been going on as long as I have been following the news, Attkisson provides solid evidence that it has become much worse, especially over the last decade. She repeatedly uses the image of The Truman Show, where an entire false reality is inserted. She means it. She doesn't believe that much of anybody actually gets the news these days.

She names names and gives examples.  A fair sampling of individuals are identified, but a lot of the list is groups who are doing all the behind-the-scenes work. Information-managing is a pretty formidable PR and oppo research business at this point, employing thousands of people, not only in DC and New York but for/against major industries and causes. I had not known how extensively the money and influence is spreading out to smaller players on the web, not only to helpfully run stories to create an impression of a groundswell of public opinion, but to comment and push back against a site’s general thrust.  Undermining the opposition’s information may be more important than providing your own. Notice the frequent-flier opponent commenters on the sites you frequent. They may be getting paid for that work. She describes "transactional" journalism throughout the book.

She describes how the fact-checking sites get manipulated, and the ways that even Wikipedia and Snopes can shade things to create - or allow - a narrative. (Yes, even Snopes, especially the last half-dozen years.)

The second book is The Smear, and this is a textbook about how its done, how to spot it, and who’s doing it. It is all as we suspected and worse. It has multiplied in the internet era, enough that people who speak up can be destroyed virtually overnight.  Most outrage you read about these days is manufactured. Examples are provided - ones you will recognize, such as the sudden destruction of Don Imus over the Rutgers basketball comment. He is a shock jock and had been making such comments for years, but coincidentally, it occurred when he had taken to calling Hillary "that buck-toothed witch, Satan." Media Matters (of course!) assigned Ryan Chiachierre to listen to every syllable Imus uttered until they had one they could astroturf, creating the impression that there was general outrage about his Rutgers comment.  There wasn't. At least until there was an engineered outrage against him, anyway.

It worked. These people know how to isolate you and force even people who like you to distance themselves from you and deny you.

It’s important to remember that much of the information being spread is at least partly true, and the criticism deserved, but the timing and placement are such that equivalent truths are obscured. Lying is only one tool in the box. (Though it is used frequently.) Secondly, the semitrue information is often the sort that is only uncovered by private detectives. Also, much of what is put forward is opinion disguised as fact.  Nor is this simply a matter of reasonably hiring better, though legal and above-board PR firms than your opponents. When journalists are corrupted, and entire networks and news organisations are willingly seduced into reporting scandals about one side but not the other, or undermining one set of critics but not the other, it may be legal, and the information true, but still deceitful.

I had to keep reminding myself of this in certain sections.  I would think to myself, Okay, this is a little low and cheap, but what they are doing is completely legal.  Let’s not oversell this. Then I would remember: the title of the book is The Smear. Even if the information is true, it may have been organized and packaged by professionals, who are suppressing counter-information.  Its main focus is not to force investigations, but to instruct the reader how to see through this.

Or one main focus, anyway.  Ms. Attkisson clearly wants to make sure that some important people get exposed and publicly kicked. For example (in keeping with Assistant Village Idiot’s renewed awareness of stories that have gone down the memory hole), she reminds us that during the investigation of Bill Clinton in the late 90’s, Kathleen Willey had her children threatened during the period she was testifying about him.  This came up as an addition to the description of the smear tactics used against her. Border and Customs and ATF whistleblowers, including Fast and Furious.

So who’s worse, you all want to know, and I have intentionally dragged my feet in revealing.  She repeatedly says it’s many groups: industries and corporations trying to highlight some information while burying other, both political parties, supposedly neutral media sources, and hosts of advocacy groups or lobbyists, and gives examples.  More than once I saw a name heave into view and thought Oh no, not them.  I thought they were among the good guys. Most prominently, she comes back to three villains:  Sidney Blumenthal, David Brock, Hillary Clinton. She multiplies example upon example. Even subtracting out that trio she seems to have more examples of liberals and Democrats, but those three dwarf all other players in her estimation.  I was surprised she referenced Barack Obama as little as she did.  Perhaps she thought she had already covered that in her previous book Stonewalled. For conservatives and libertarians who sense this very easily about others, it pays to remember that there are lots of people who try to get their word out by getting their story into Rush Limbaugh's hands, or Jonah Goldberg's or Glenn Reynolds. Those people can't read everything and rely on people to send them stories, news, and immediate counterarguments.  They develop a network of people and organisations they trust. There doesn't have to be anything the least illegal or even unethical about this.  It might just be like-minded people cooperating and sharing resources.

Yet it can also bring pressure to bear far more quickly than you or I could do, and one can see how it could easily go bad. They have no obligation to tell you the other side.  They are trying to convince you of an entire array of ideas.  Let the other guy tell the other side.

The textbook part, Smears 101, is very helpful.  It confirms much of what I suspected, and added things I kicked myself for not having seen on my own. The simple steps of the smear are described, so that ye may be ready. Here’s one reminiscent of CS Lewis, who suggested when one sees the word debunked or discredited, it is worth asking “When? How? By Whom?” Attkisson suggests something very similar, that the use of these words is often a sign that no one actually has debunked or discredited the idea – they are used much more often when untrue than when true.

Predictably, if you Bing, Google, or DuckDuckGo for her first book, the second entry is from Media Matters discrediting the book in a sneering, insulting manner, relying heavily on irrelevant but emotion-laden details. Also, if you browse through the Amazon reviews, you can spot which ones are professionally done. Attkisson raises your awareness and you skill level in these matters and hopefully, encourages you to use them against your own side as well.


Almost the last half of the book is about the 2016 campaign, as she is fascinated by the Trump phenomenon that takes smears full-bore and seems to benefit from them, even when they are true. Though Donald Trump is perceived as an attacking and smearing politician, this is because he does it all on his own, right out in front of others.  Obama and Hillary do this more artfully, and have network that creates and then supports their attacks. He doesn't have any network of information-placers, attack dogs, or softball interviewers. Or at least, he didn't used to.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Pictures and Conversations

I keep forgetting.

Historical Perspective

CS Lewis advised that we should read three old books for every new one in his introduction to Athanasius' On The Incarnation. Different eras have different perspectives and make different assumptions. They have blind spots that we see immediately, and presumably, they could see ours as well, so reading them provides an indirect route to seeing past our own blind spots.

I am often surprised at how quickly this happens.  Lewis was speaking of reading books much older -  Plato, Milton, Boethius - though I imagine he would have allowed that Dickens and Austen were from an era different from his own.  (Though not so different as from Lewis's to ours, though the years are fewer.) I am reading a mixed popular/academic history of Mid-Victorian Britain written by an Englishman who had taught at Cambridge, Harvard, Oxford, and Sussex, written in 1971. I pickup it up for twenty-five cents, and a companion about Early Victorian Britain by the same author, for another twenty-five. Presumably he wrote a history of Late Victorian Britain as well, though I don't know as I shall read it.

The assumption that central planning, especially by government, solves a great deal is very strong. He may be correct in each individual instance, that Boards of Sanitation, Boards of Housing, and Boards of Health were an improvement over previous ad-hoc regulation, and that Whitehall setting and enforcing standards on each of those was better still.  His picture is of industries and recalcitrant Municipal Corporations resisting these improvements, until they were made to do better from above.  Curiously, he records many places that made improvements without this more intense governmental structure, but uses them only as proofs that the changes could be made, not as evidence that towns and cities might figure these things out on their own, given time.

He may be right, as I said. Some places may have gone on allowing dangerous housing or unsanitary water forever, and needed to be taken in hand. But the historian looks at what England did do to solve these problems, which is regulation from farther up the governmental ladder, assumes that this was the only way to get from Point A to Point B, and faults those places that came in later for not getting with the program. He does not set out to prove this in any way, because he does not see it as needing proof. It is clear that he believes that all knowledgeable people know this, and he is merely recording the timeline and incidents of how Englishmen of the previous century figured this out.

There are many people today who would believe this as well.  But in 2017 they would be aware that there had been some spectacular failures of central planning, even if they thought these were avoidable.  Also, historians today would know that there were voices that disagreed, which needed to be answered. (Or would they? Perhaps they still go on as before, and only in libertarian or conservative circles is there any debate.)

There is a second piece he simply misses about wealth and employment in the era.  He notes that the wealth of the nation doubled between 1851 and 1881 and tries to discover if the rich got richer and the poor got poorer.  He gives a tentative yes to this because he compares the wages in various types of employment and sees that their yearly income did not increase, and so concludes the money must have gone to the upper classes. Yet the chart on his very next page records that the number of agricultural workers, the very lowest-paid group, was halved over that period. Mining and manufacturing, poorly paid but better than hiring out yearly at farm labor, anyway, showed slight increase. Other better-paying employment grew even more  building, transport, shopkeeping, and professional grew by 25% - there were in fact huge increases in number of people making their living some fields: fourfold in clerking and banking; doubled in education, doubled in trade, doubled in art and amusement. The numbers making their living in literature and science was too small to show up in national percentages, but there was an increase from 2,000 to 9,000 so employed in that span.

It is true that the 10% who were still making their living in agriculture were not any better off thirty years later, and as this is a generation, those sons and daughters were no better off than their parents. But half the sons and daughters had gone on to do something else, something still miserable by our standards but something better in their own eyes.  It may be more than half of the English sons and daughters who moved on, because there was still an influx from Ireland and Scotland moving into some of those agricultural jobs, though they moved more toward manufacturing and dock-work.

We do still see this reasoning now occasionally, when numbers are published that the average wages of such-and-such workers have stagnated, or even gone down, from 1970-present, after allowing for inflation. Aside from ignoring that this includes (overall) expensive health care that can actually treat some things (and more vacation, safer conditions, better unemployment) it also ignores that a smaller percentage of people do those jobs now. Still, I think - it is merely my impression and I welcome yours - these claims are put forth by advocacy groups, not by more serious students of history and economics.  Relatedly, people who might make political use of such wage numbers also like to take credit for those less-visible improvements I listed above, and don't want them discounted as worth nothing.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

No Other Gods - Side Dish

This isn't part of my Ten Commandments series (not yet), but it is related. BTW, Boxty recommended Prager University's series on the Ten Commandments and it's quite good.  It is very basic, but I learned at least one new thing from each so far.  It is clear that Prager knows much more than he shares.


Nationalism, the flag, or now, the anthem, can be a false god, certainly.  We see that clearly when it's some other guy's nationalism.

Conservative Christians often hesitate to go there and warn about it for a few reasons. First, most warnings against this particular idolatry are insincere. They come from liberal Christians who have their own idol they would prefer us to worship, internationalism. I don't know how clearly they see that there is danger and possible idolatry in this belief, far more than in nationalism, but my observation is that they do not see this at all. Internationalism is about co-operation, and respecting other people, and being open-minded, and all those other nice things that Jesus clearly would rather have us do than dumb old nationalism, with its Nazis, and unfashionable flags. If they do get it, I never hear them mention it or warn each other about it. I have to conclude that in their hearts they really believe that internationalism is much closer to God's plan for mankind. They speak and act as if it is holier, more Christian, than patriotism of most sorts. I would assert that it is far more spiritually dangerous.* I think many conservative Christians would agree, and thus dig in against anything that would bring us closer to that heresy, to the point of tolerating a little idolatry of our own.

If it is not any more dangerous, it is at least no better. It is like those advisors who tell us it would be better for our health if we ate less beef. Perhaps so, but I see behind you a fishmonger's cart. Thus, I suspect you are telling me this for your own advantage, not mine.

Next, American nationalism (some other nations deserve mention here as well) considers itself something of an ally of the Christian church and has learned to regard Judaism as a co-ally as well.  Many folks tie these two together quite tightly.  This was even more true in earlier times, though the alliance was more specifically Protestant Christian.  This has broadened (mostly), and as a consequence become less automatic.  Still, it remains powerful.  Those who are the most loyal supporters of one are often the most loyal supporters of the other. Even Christians with a touch of fanaticism hesitate to kick their friends unless they think they really deserve it.

Relatedly, American freedoms are a protection for the church, and it would seem ungrateful to bite the hand that feeds us.  It is true that it is a great blessing to be able to worship without fear, and people fought and died that we might have that gift.  Yet it would be more accurate to say that American religious freedom is the current method by which God protects his people.  He has accomplished this in other ways at other times.  As the freedom may be rescinded without warning, we should not think God is unable to adapt to some changing political circumstance of ours.

Christian groups which have separated themselves most thoroughly from Americanism or other nationalisms - Armstrongites, Jehovah's Witnesses, even some of the peace churches - have been held to be somewhat outside the faith. (Though note, the pacifism of the Early Church was often of this kind, regarding no nation or government as worthy of that degree of loyalty, as contrasted with an opposition to the use of the sword in all circumstances.)

Lastly, I think that conservative Christians often do not see the conflict, just as liberal internationalists don't see any contradiction. We are not the only nation to have an explicit phrase "For God and Country" - it is even the title of the Scout award for studying your religion - but being more powerful and having religions that are shared in other countries, at least in name, it gets a lot of attention. I know people for whom both pieces, plus some cultural things from their region or ethnic group, is regarded as being traditional or conservative, without clear boundaries as to what is God's, what is Country's, and what is Culture's. They are more muddled than rebellious, yet it is ripe ground for idolatry.

With all that said, I believe the danger of patriotism or nationalism being an idol is real, and much more so for conservatives. As a young Christian I looked askance at the notion of "pledging allegiance" to anything but God, and still think the common understanding of that goes too far down the road to muddled loyalty. Pledge is a less strong word than vow, more strong than loyalty; it still carries a lot of weight. One rescinds a pledge only in extreme circumstances. Allegiance does not come from "ally" but from "liege." (They are related farther back.)  A word's origin does not dictate its meaning now, but it often explains a shading. Pledging allegiance is a declaration of loyalty and subordination, that we will put the country's need above our own. Such intermediate loyalties - to family, to tribe, to master - have always been allowed in the Christian church, but they have been long regarded as possible competitors. Jesus gives his mother and favorite disciple to each other as family, honoring that loyalty; Paul declares that people should support their families.  Yet Jesus also declares that when pushed to the end, one must leave the dead to bury the dead; the new tribe that is the Church are the real mothers and brothers. Other loyalties are allowed, but they are limited.

There may come a day when America is notAmerica, and the flag is used as a manipulation to bind those who have been raised to revere it to an entity that no longer deserves it. There are always those who say that time has already come. We may be assured that this will eventually come to pass, as all human things do eventually fall away.  Pray that those who live in those times have wisdom and courage.

*I should probably post on why that is rather than merely assert it. For the moment, the fact that it is harder for those believers to even see the distinctions is part of the answer.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

And LED Free!

Sent by a regular reader

I also like the part where right after is says "Kiss Proof, Smudge Proof"  it says "Not Tested On Animals."

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

As The Positions Harden

It's quickly become a Toxoplasma of Rage issue, hasn't it?  If you aren't for the protests, you're a racist who doesn't understand what it means to be black in America.  If you are for the protests then you aren't a real American and don't respect our military.  Now everyone is trying to capture the "unity" stronghold. Everyone agrees that unity is a good thing, but they disagree on exactly what they should be unified about.  Team?  Friends? Blackness?  Support of blackness? America? Right to protest? There doesn't seem to be much space for people to  have qualified support or mixed feelings.

I was irritated at the behavior of W&M guy Mike Tomlin.

Let me be the first to say that at the moment I don't think unity is a thing to be pursued, as everyone seems to have co-opted it into code for "agree with us or you are evil."

I Am The Lord Your God

That is how the first commandment is expressed in the Jewish tradition.  Just that. The part about other gods is put into commandment #2, along with the graven images. There is something very sensible about this. It puts the emphasis immediately on who God is and on his initiative, rather than starting the list of what his people should and shouldn't do.


I will be teaching a class on the Ten Commandments for adult studies at church this coming winter or spring.  I have been scratching down ideas, and thought it would be best to develop the series here. I confess that you may be the real audience that I am talking to in my head about this, and I need to get things down in clear black-and-white so I can edit that part out to bring it to my real class.

I have stopped taking news about two weeks ago, in order to get to a more separate place when reading the Scriptures and other readings. Though, as CS Lewis noted, the news tends to come find us, as people cannot refrain from telling it to you. It's simple enough to turn off the news feed at the bottom of Bing and change your FB trending to science or sports, though I felt like Bilbo being unable to give up the ring. I kept meaning to do those simple things, yet always kept putting it off somehow. When I announce the class at worship (if they let me) I am going to ask those who will be coming to do the same, and stay off the news throughout the class. The tyranny of the urgent interferes with seeing and hearing clearly, I think.

For the same reason, I am planning on going light on the commandments about killing, adultery, and stealing. People reflexively go to cultural hot points there, wanting to get in their ideas about gay marriage, or the 1%, or whether we should have gone to war in Iraq. Just for starters. I imagine people will find topics to bring up that will suck even more oxygen out of the room.  I will save those commandments for the end, when we have built up the habit of not spending our time making accusations about what other people do and gotten used to hearing the commandments as being addressed to us, as individuals, as families, and as a congregation. How the nation should be responding is largely a fruitless discussion. Now that I think of it, I am going to stress that part about the commandments being given to us as a community, not as a checklist for us individually.

My comfort zone is giving a twenty-minute lecture of things People Should Know, and then dominating a discussion afterward.  That is not a good education model, so I am forcing myself out of that as much as I can. Less than half the class will do homework, so I can't rely on that so much, either. Most worksheet Q & A's for Christian studies make me cringe. Nonetheless, people learn better by doing and discussing rather than listening to assistant village idiots, so I will have to come up with something. For the first week, I think the exercise will be to re-memorise the Ten Commandments, starting in class (quietly, please) and continuing through the week.  Most of the class would have learned to recite them as children, usually in simplified form.  We don't tend to keep them in the front of our consciousness much after that, just pushing them back against the wall so they aren't in the way when the kids want to get up and dance.

I don't have much idea what I am going to do for the following exercises.

There will be readings, but I don't want them to be at tedious length in the class, and as I noted, I can't put much out there for homework. Perhaps I will email the reading to everyone early in the week, to get around the tendency to put things off by putting it right out in front of them. I will certainly get Lewis's "The Dangers of National Repentance" in there early, to highlight that we should not be confessing other people's sins. I also want to tie this in with God making a covenant with us, and studying a bit about that, but I wonder if that's not biting off too much?

Division of the Ten Commandments by religion/denomination
Jewish (Talmudic)*
Anglican, Reformed, and other Christian
Orthodox Christian
Catholic, Lutheran**
I am the Lord your God
You shall have no other gods before me
You shall not make for yourself an idol
Do not take the name of the Lord in vain
Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy
Honor your father and mother
You shall not kill/murder†
You shall not commit adultery
You shall not steal††
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor
You shall not covet‡ your neighbor's wife
You shall not covet‡ anything that belongs to your neighbor