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    Ring Around The Rosie

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 13th November 2018 (All posts by )

    Related to the previous post, and mondegreens in general. I first wrote about this years ago.

    One of my favorite stories, up in smoke. The idea that “Ring Around The Rosie” is actually about the plague – “all fall down” meaning falling over dead? It’s completely untrue. The first written versions of Ring Around Roses show up in the late 1800’s, some with posies and falling down, some not. But the Great Plague was in 1346, and later plagues didn’t have the sneezing part. It is not credible that a little poem would be passed down orally, unchanged for 500 years, then suddenly break into half-a-dozen versions that all get written down for the first time. Things can fragment quickly, as the research about flashbulb memories and 9/11 illustrate. It’s the staying the same that’s the problem. Ancient stories do come down to us in symbolic or coded form, but even then, you have to accept a lot of stretching.

    Darn. There are stories we wish were true. But anything that is too good to be true is usually…too good to be true. See also, all those stories of what our naughty words are acronyms for (acronyms are new – like from WWII), or those phrases “from Elizabethan times” about sleeping tight, wet your whistle, rule of thumb, and so forth. Ain’t so.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 3 Comments »

    And Now, Something Completely Different

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 12th November 2018 (All posts by )

    I brought this forward from 2008 for reasons that are not clear, even to me. I just liked it. There is some actual cognitive science based on misheard lyrics, which I had fun with in 2008 as well. An additional bit. Texan99 over at Grim’s Hall has listened to the new release of the studio tapes of the Beathle’s White Album and assures me there is much of the same. People fooling with lyrics in order to get the rhymes and sound right, with actual meaning being secondary.

    There are websites devoted to misheard lyrics, for those of you who are interested. Some I suspect are hoaxes, intentional parodies of lyrics for comic effect: O Canada, we stand on cars and freeze…” Others seem like legitimate mishearings, especially by children: The ants are my friend and Blowin In The Wind.

    There is an unusual concentration of misheard lyrics in rock music. Some might think it is the volume, or the sloppiness of pronunciation, or the drugs, but I believe the main factor was that there were plenty of lyrics that didn’t mean anything. The words were there to scan and rhyme, and that’s it. We choked the dead in those days to find meaning in those lyrics. Any crazy thing that someone might write could possibly have been correct. Why couldn’t Jim Morrison be singing “spiders on the floor (Riders On The Storm)?” Heck, he’d already written “Peace Frog,” and sung “our love become a funeral pyre.” How can you exclude the spiders for sure?

    The bands were named Electric Prunes,


    or Blues Magoos (I loved this album)

    Or for ? and the Mysterians, we gotta have the full effect. No one but the bassman can play. The keyboard work was tossed out from the John Thomson EZ-Piano series Level One as not challenging enough. This site doesn’t seem to take on video embeds, but the link to 96 Tears is here.

    Note from Wikipedia: The band’s frontman and primary songwriter was Question Mark. Though the singer has never confirmed it, Library of Congress copyright registrations indicate that his birth name is Rudy Martinez. His eccentric behavior helped to briefly establish the group in the national consciousness. He claimed (and still claims) to be a Martian who lived with dinosaurs in a past life, and he never appears in public without sunglasses. He has also claimed that voices told him he would still be performing “96 Tears” in the year 10,000.

    Against that background, no wonder there are sites devoted to figuring out what Neil Young meant in all his songs For fun, the Buffalo Springfield.

    Mr. Soul by Neil Young

    Oh, hello Mr. Soul, I dropped by to pick up a reason
    For the thought that I caught that my head is the event of the season
    Why in crowds just a trace of my face could seem so pleasin’
    I’ll cop out to the change, but a stranger is putting the tease on.

    I was down on a frown when the messenger brought me a letter
    I was raised by the praise of a fan who said I upset her
    Any girl in the world could have easily known me better
    She said, You’re strange, but don’t change, and I let her.

    In a while will the smile on my face turn to plaster?
    Stick around while the clown who is sick does the trick of disaster
    For the race of my head and my face is moving much faster
    Is it strange I should change? I don’t know, why don’t you ask her?

    It doesn’t mean anything. Young said specifically that he just liked the sounds and collage of images in his lyrics. He would write dozens of verses, then picked the ones that sounded best.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 10 Comments »

    Culture Series

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 12th November 2018 (All posts by )

    I have done recent posts on culture.  Collected here for convenience. Comment either here or there.

    Culture Inspired by a link in the comments at Chicago Boyz, plus the discussion of birthright citizenship, I wondered what is being kept, what is discarded.  And who gets to decide?
    Culture II – The reveal of where the video comes from.
    Culture – Tipping Points.  There is worry about ecological tipping points.  what about economic and cultural ones? Includes internal links to my previous adult Sunday School class about the changes in hymnody lyrics over the centuries.
    Culture and Preservation  Are we talking about keeping our ancient traditons, or only those of our grandparents?
    Cultural Continuity – Close Examples.   Light discussion of which folkways are kept and which discarded among, food, location, religion.
    States Turning When red states have a good economy, the new people who move in are more blue.
    Cultural Irony How is it that those who have cut themselves off from tradition are the most adamant about identifying with the unfairness done to “their people?”

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    Posted in Miscellaneous | 1 Comment »

    Pleasurable Driving

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 27th October 2018 (All posts by )

    You might find it fun to consider your driving history and future
    Pleasurable Driving (and comments)
    then take the next step and think about why.
    Answer to Pleasurable Driving
    Comment here or comment there. I check both frequently.

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    Posted in Miscellaneous | 14 Comments »

    Encyclopedia

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 24th October 2018 (All posts by )

    My wife was/is a children’s librarian, so we always had two sets of encyclopedias in the house.  We eventually got her down to one, and only recently, none. School libraries would rotate them out when replacing them, so we would tend to have a set that was five years old and another that was ten years old, or some such. When my 39 y/o son was about 9 he had to do a report about nutrition and started with the encyclopedia.* He chuckled at the line “Butter is highly nutritious,” as even he knew in 1988 that wasn’t right, because of what he had absorbed from his mother’s dietary dictates. It became a family joke for years.

    Except, as you know, things gradually changed and margarine was exposed as more of a problem than butter, and now, decades later, butter is considered superior again. That son now thinks he might like to have a complete 1911 Britannica, but otherwise, no encyclopedias.

    * Tracy insists that starting with the encyclopedia is fine for elementary school, it just cannot be your main source. She would know.

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    Memory

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 9th October 2018 (All posts by )

    This attracted quite a bit of controversy over at my own site. I’d like to start fresh here. In another spot the point was raised that Christine Blasey Ford should know about the research in cognitive science about the unreliability of memory and been more cautious. I was not surprised in the least, because it is psychologists who are the leaders in believing that memories can be “organised,” “associated,” and even “recovered” in therapy. It is a field in which the left hand usually does not know what the right hand, or the ears, or the chin, or the shinbone is doing.

    There is some discussion of the notion of credibility in the comment section at AVI, if you are interested in that subcategory.

    ******

    The reliability of memory came up a lot recently, and it is worth noting that we do not remember past events anywhere near as well as we think we do. Even flashbulb memories, which we feel very certain about, deteriorate and even change over time.  If this puts you in mind of Dr. Ford’s testimony, remember that forgetting could apply equally to Justice Kavanaugh. I am noted for exceptional memory of past events, and am in my element at reunions, where people are gratified that I remember that they took a third on balance beam in 1969, or played the flute in 1963.  Yet I have found many places where I was certainly wrong, because some photograph or document shows up that contradicts my memory.  People of long memory are more likely to go to reunions, I would guess, and I also think I was likely to befriend those who had some similarity of mind. I thus have a store of memories rendered uncertain, because in comparing notes with these people, we don’t entirely agree.  Sometimes I will realize in a flash that Ted Kontos’s or Gary Hicks’s memory of our first night at Manville dormitory includes an important detail I had entirely forgotten, and theirs is the better account.  Other times I remain convinced the other person has it wrong, and is conflating two events.

    There will be a terrible irony about all this going forward in the Kavanaugh confirmation controversy. This will be an event which people will claim to remember and will hold those memories as important parts of their political story in the future. Yet we are already getting it wrong, each of us laying down the memory according to our previously held beliefs, and this will get worse. Things that we read as theories about Ford’s motivations we will regard as something that someone somewhere proved. Ambiguous statements which Kavanaugh explained will come to be regarded as things he avoided answering. People who thought Ford’s delivery was calculated will believe it was all an act.  People who thought Kavanaugh’s verbal defense of himself was partisan will remember it as louder and angrier than it was, and will ascribe to him statements he didn’t make.

    It has already happened to me.  I had associated Senator Murkowski’s statement with Senator Collins’ statement on the basis of a few sentences of each and was disparaging of the latter.  A friend corrected me that I had misjudged Collins badly, and when I went back to look at it, that was abundantly so.  I had associated them in mind before.  I therefore assumed they would have similar takes.  I had already started remembering that they had similar takes, even though this is not so.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 5 Comments »

    Revisionist History

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 9th October 2018 (All posts by )

    I have neglected you over here, part of that being because of eye surgery. I had a macular hole, and after having it stitched up had to be face down for a week. I won’t be able to see out of that eye for 3-5 more weeks, but I plug along.

    This is the main post about Gladwell’s series, but I had related posts Malcolm Gladwell Gets It Right and Gladwell Addition

    Mr. Gladwell has a series of 30+ podcasts entitled “Revisionist History.” I’ve listened to about half of them and they are fun and somewhat informative, a welcome distraction for someone who has to be face-down listening to podcasts for most of a week. He brings to light some interesting research.

    Unfortunately, he overclaims beyond what his research can support, and he does this repeatedly. One comes away believing explanations for historical events not much better than the conventional wisdom.

    Imagine a plain typewritten document – a company report, a term paper, text-rich. Now in your mind pick up a red marker and draw a line with an arrow at the end from lower-left to upper right. Write NO!! over it and circle a single word at the end of the arrow point. This is Gladwell’s style. He then goes into detail about that word, showing how it is the key to understanding the entire topic, but we, popular culture, have neglected or buried this information and don’t know the Real Story. Read the rest of this entry »

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    Truman Show World

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 18th September 2018 (All posts by )

    Or maybe “The Matrix” would be more accurate.  I’m not that conversant.

    Part of me feels some obligation to weigh in on the accusations against Brett Kavanaugh. Because of both profession and interest, I do know something about the reliability of memory, and of trauma memories in specific. I do know something about trauma and the range of behaviors people show afterward. I know less, though still more than average, about people lying and being evasive. Being the Assistant Village Idiot, I am also at least better than average at noticing simple things (though still not good enough); in particular, things that do not fit together. Why did various actors do X and not Y? Readers might expect me to weigh in on such matters, in hopes of sorting things out for themselves. Or at least that’s what we tell ourselves. In reality, most of you have already formed an opinion of what is most likely true, what is inconclusive, and what is false. Inconclusive often does not last long in the human mind. We have to make an effort to stand back and hold pieces aloft and separate, or we just automatically move to one story or another. We must fit everything into a story. We can decide to say that something is simply unknown and unlikely to ever be known, and thus put irresolution to bed, but this takes more effort.

    I refrain now because my knowledge is general, and we have moved beyond that. Had I been paying attention the first 24 hours I might have provided value-added by posting on the general questions, which would help others move toward More Likely/Less Likely. Even at that, I would not have been able to provide anyone with answers. General knowledge on such topics involves on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand discussions. Women who have been in similar circumstances usually do X; but not all women do. Some women do Y or Z. Memories are usually reliable in this circumstance, but unreliable in that circumstance. We are beyond that because this is now a specific accuser, who we can discover information about. What “women usually do” is much less of an issue. It is a mere indicator, not real evidence for this day and time.

    Of the many things that bother me, the failure to recognize this distinction may be at the top. A letter from 65 women who knew Brett Kavanaugh when he was young, asserting that he was an unfailing gentleman, is minor evidence that his character is inconsistent with this action. A similar letter from the opposite POV, asserting that Brett was a known problem when he had a few drinks in him would likewise be minor evidence that such things were possible. Neither would be proof, but they have some value. The letter signed by 200 women who went to this woman’s school, spanning years both before and after the alleged incident in question and noting that it feels like their experience, is not in the same category. It is worse than useless, because it stirs up people into thinking that this is germane. The question before the Senate, and thus before the country, is not a referendum on whether men in general are likely to do these things or women in general are likely to misrepresent them. The same would be true of a counter-letter signed by 200 males from Kavanaugh’s school asserting that Holton girls have been making false accusations for years and they’re sick of it. In both cases it’s irrelevant, even if true. Even if all 200 women had bad experiences, even if all 200 men had been falsely accused, it tells us nothing about this case. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 21 Comments »

    25%

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 10th September 2018 (All posts by )

    BSKing over at Graph Paper Diaries referenced an interesting study in her What I’m Reading September 2018 post, concerning tipping points in social conventions.  I could link to the study directly, but I want you to see her discussion, plus her answer to my question in the comments.  You can get distracted and read her other stuff there if you want.  I’ll wait.

    Her caveats are important.  It was an artificial situation, and the 25% may not hold on something people cared about more deeply. The intensity of either the minority or the majority about something like gay marriage, going to war, or toppling statues might move the number up or down considerably.  Also, the tested subjects were WEIRD – Western Educated Industrialized Rich and Democratic – as social-science test subjects usually are.  (They are usually college students, and so young, non-military, and single with no children as well.)

    Yet let us pretend, just for the moment that something like this is true. A determined minority of only 25% can flip the group opinion. Consider something like the TEA Party.  It seems to have approached that number and had influence but didn’t quite flip the GOP everywhere.  It did flip it in some places (and Trump may have been more beholden to that than we have credited). The Tea Party rose up to the tipping point and then receded slightly.  They might have been doomed to just fade out, election by election. Until…Donald Trump’s supporters may have been very much this 25% phenomenon.  A lot of people who eventually voted for The Donald didn’t like him much at first. They were okay with a Jeb or a Rubio, though not excited.  They may have relished the thought of watching Carly Fiorina debate Hillary Clinton, or wanted to go to a more-conservative, don’t-care-if-he’s-annoying Ted Cruz.  But almost no one was sold out for any of those.  Trump’s supporters, though few, were sold out.  It simmered for a while, with Trump getting something in the neighborhood of that 25% in various primaries, enough to win, though a majority still opposed him.  Eventually the 25% moved the other 75%.  Bernie almost did the same thing with the Democrats.  He would have, actually, if they weren’t so corrupt and had their thumb on the scale for Clinton. The sold-out-for-Bernie crew was over 25% of the Dems, I think.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 5 Comments »

    Political Personality Difference

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 7th September 2018 (All posts by )

    I listened to Grant Hill being interviewed about being chosen for the basketball Hall of Fame this year. I always admired and liked him – the honor is much deserved. The interviewer turned to discussing what Hill is doing now, and what he might do in the future. He mentioned he might like to go into politics, and I groaned inwardly. I knew where the interview was going next. Most of that was all very standard and uninteresting. I tried to notice his skill, and charm, and willingness to at least try to understand different points of view rather than focus on…well, I already hinted that I’m not going to say. Hill talked with a concerned tone about people who had hard times in their lives, and were worried about jobs and their future, and how they were easily misled in such circumstances. He said it without anger.  I have heard such things before, of conservatives being fearful of change, of clinging to their guns and religion – oops, sorry, that just slipped out – and so forth. It’s condescending without necessarily being sneering, or angry, or in-your-face accusing. It is clear that the speaker thinks of himself as trying to be understanding, empathetic, trying to see the other fellow’s point of view.

    I thought conservatives don’t talk like this. I couldn’t think of an equivalent flowing in the other direction. A conservative might sound like this when talking about their child or some person they were fond of but disappointed in. Well, she went away to college, and she wanted to fit in, and she’s always been a compassionate person so she got involved in some causes… But more usually, a conservative will be more clearly angry and condemning about people’s reasons for being a liberal or voting Democrat, whether it is because they are single women, or government employees, or black/hispanic/native – or work in a field surrounded by mostly leftists.  There isn’t a regretful sigh that it’s unfortunate but understandable. I did just think of another exception.  Conservatives will sometimes talk like that about Hispanics having been frightened by the Democrats, convinced that Trump is going to send them all back to Mexico without warning or right of appeal. The anger is not directed at the voter so much as the political operatives and journalists.

    It’s an open question which is worse. While anger can be necessary, anger can also be unnecessarily offensive, and in an angry time, people should at least be cautious. Being openly antagonistic isn’t going to win votes, though it may win applause from your friends. On the other hand, I think concern-trolling provides an inoculation against seeing oneself. In my imagination, you could tell an angry person “you are being unkind here” and you might get heard. Yet I don’t think the Grant Hill’s of the world will hear it if you tell them they are being unkind. At least, they don’t seem to have yet. (And not to pick on Hill especially.) They believe they are being kind.  Didn’t you hear them?

    I used to say “Conservatives make pronouncements. Liberals sneer.”  I would like to back down from that a bit, but I do think it remains largely true. First, sneer is too strong a word.  Condescend would be better, because it is along a continuum, and sometimes it is quite mild.  My father-in-law, a kind and gracious Roosevelt Democrat, would sometimes echo the condescension he got from reading the Boston Globe and the materials the Democrats would forever be mailing to him.  Yet he never came close to sneering.  (The liberals on my side of the family are another matter – though with exceptions.) Secondly, I think this is blurring over the last thirty years. Liberals become the status quo in the culture and start making pronouncements, conservatives take on sneering more and more.

    I relate this to another observation I have made about liberal and conservative protest and violence.  Conservatives are defensive. When getting extreme they “hole up with their guns and dare Obama and the gun-grabbers to come after them.” Liberal extremists are more attacking, burning cars, pushing over statues, breaking windows, occupying somebody else’s space (as far back as the college dean’s office in the 60’s), defacing property. They are – or were – less likely to talk about doing damage to human beings. They confined themselves to objects, or to shouting in people’s faces.  I fear that both self-limitations are breaking down. Those inclined to violence on the right are increasingly going out into public, those on the left inclined to violence are increasingly attacking humans.

    The gross oversimplification is conservatives saying “This is how things are, and how they will stay,” while liberals say “No, we’re taking that down.” It is not only a difference in tactics, it is a difference in personality. Though it may be blurring, as I noted. I don’t have the feel for such things that I used to.

    There has been some research on whether one’s personality drives politics, but as sweet as that siren song is, I have been suspicious from the start. Liberals are supposedly more open to new experiences, which fits the “conservatives fearful of change” stereotype. Yet when you look at what they measure, it’s mostly surveys that are begging the questions.  Joining the military is a much more different experience than checking out the new Thai-Cuban fusion restaurant downtown.  Becoming a missionary in a poor country is to experience more diversity than going to Reed or Oberlin. Thus, while I am offering some personality differences that I think hold for liberals and conservatives, I am also aware it could all be malarkey.

    Cross-posted at Assistant Village Idiot.

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    Suspicion and the Corruption of the Liberal Mind.

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 27th August 2018 (All posts by )

    I had a cartoon on my office door in the 80’s. An elderly man, sitting in a beach chair next to an elderly woman, looks out over the ocean with a frown.  “I’ve come full circle.  I think things are what they seem.”

    I begin to see why it has pleased me so much

    *******

    I point you to yet another Quillette article, Suspicion and the Corruption of the Liberal Mind, by Stephen Harrod Buhner. I have grown fond of the site, and need to discipline myself to go over there more often. Buhner says he is a “liberal to the core,” but has grown weary of the current approach of other liberals. He in turn refers us on to Rita Felski, a professor of English at UVA whose most recent book, The Limits of Critique, discusses the liberal approach to culture and art in terms of mood. (Her definition of this occurs early on in Buhner’s essay.) She too is a liberal raising red flags.

    I wanted to excerpt a quote from either Buhner or Felski to give you sense of their argument, but it took a while to settle on just one. This is Buhner:

    Those who have absorbed the mindset now extend suspicious reading to everyone and everything anyone does: words, body language, dress, hair, music, art, even food. They actively reject the face value of communication, whether literary or social; hold nothing as innocent of power motivations, whether directly or through unconscious complicity in those power motivations.

    To regard the majority of Western peoples as possessing malign motives; to base a life upon such a point of view; to approach all books, plays, art, and human interactions with this kind of suspicion is not, however, a sign of clear-eyed perception but rather, as one of my psychology professors once put it, a diseased mind. Like its more extreme cousin, paranoia, it becomes self-perpetuating: the more suspicious one is, the more vigilant one becomes; the more vigilant one is, the more evidence one finds in even the most innocent of behaviors; and the more evidence one finds, the more suspicious one becomes.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 8 Comments »

    Two Short Recents @ AVI

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 26th August 2018 (All posts by )

    Humanities Degrees: Emailed from a familiar source, there is this new data and opinion on humanities degrees.  The writer is able to say ” I made a wrong prediction, the data didn’t bear me out,” which is always the way to my heart. And it’s got lots of graphs, which is my second language.

    The comments mostly restate the same arguments I have been hearing since the 1970’s. Some state them well, others not so much. Trust me, you will do better arguing the points in your own head.

    Women At War:The premise of this study looked intuitively unlikely to me. However, I really like intuitively unlikely premises that turn out to be true, so this was right up my alley. 

    It turns out it’s not unlikely.  It’s just lunatic. Notice the words “can,” “might,” and “could” in the description.  They have mathematical models that show that if women had started out being the warmakers somewhere, this would have been reinforcing over time, and their sex would be the warmaking one now.  It hasn’t actually happened anywhere, so perhaps it wasn’t quite a coin flip.  One would have to go back farther and farther into our evolutionary history – past the first primate, perhaps – to get to coulda-been-this-coulda-been-that situation.  It gives an excellent expression to the old saw “If my aunt had balls she would be my uncle.”

    You will continue to hear a lot about the spotted hyena, where the females are more aggressive, because it provides an exception.  It will be held aloft, not as evidence that one-off situations under special circumstances are always possible, but that we are mostly quite malleable and can be changed to other behaviors (if we just pass the right legislation, maybe). It is similar to finding the language in the Caucasus in which “Dada” is used for mother, showing that “mama” cannot be a shared word from the first language; or the few primitive societies that are matriarchal proving that humans were equally likely to develop that way but for the merest chance, and we can change it back whenever we like.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 7 Comments »

    Basket of Resentment

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 26th August 2018 (All posts by )

     I was back at work last week (I am semi-retired), all in one place rather than bouncing around in coverage, and so got dragged in to the controversies that part-timers usually get to ignore. Two of these are among the most dreaded at psych hospitals: a pathological parent who is guardian over their adult child whose behavior carries legal implications.  This usually takes the form of refusing treatment on behalf of their child which the man desperately needs. I also had a male with borderline personality disorder, which is uncommon and generally more intense. Such cases can split staff into opposing camps, demonstrating the Tim Tebow Effect, in which everyone is certain that their point-of-view is not being heard.

    I had been largely spared this for the last eighteen months, and largely for the last three years. It was not fun to re-enter the world of conflicting orders and meaningful irritated comments from coworkers. I had felt comfortable being the bearer of bad news in such situations for years, as I believed it bothered me less than it bothers others to be disliked. Suddenly re-experiencing that after being away from it was a surprise.

    I am not as immune I had thought. Not only did I find myself thinking Wow, I had forgotten how uncomfortable this is, I also had anxieties and resentments that I had largely put in the past start occurring to me again.  These were unrelated to work.  How, then, were they popping back into my head again?

    I had a  combination of frustration, resentment, and the front edges of helplessness in trying to resolve one contradiction without having to kick it back to administration pointing out the conflicting orders they were giving (because that runs a risk of escalating everything rather than fixing it). I found myself arguing in my head about a conflict at a church I left thirty years ago, and another with my late stepfather in the 1990’s, my uncle in the 2000’s, plus a couple of more recent online or email arguments. None of these bore any relation of content to my current controversies.  What they had in common was the feeling. I found myself counting my steps when on a walk, an OCD (which is an anxiety disorder) calming response that had become rare the last three years. There was a subplot of people trying to condescend and make me feel small.

    There is emotional memory as well as content memory, at least in my head. I think this is true for depression and anxiety as well. Our emotions are rather generic, made subtly different by the more sophisticated parts of our brains but still essentially the same chemicals flowing about in our brains. From the neck down, we’re mostly just rats, a psychiatrist friend used to say.  Big rats, but not all that different. When one gets depressed about something, the emotion tickles any number of memories, offering them up as possible explanations before.  Here is the basket of things that have made you feel this way in the past.  It’s probably one of these now.

    The bad result of this is fairly consistent for me. Now I get upset over those other things all over again. Old guy metaphor alert: It is like a skip in a vinyl record. The more times this happens the deeper the gouge becomes and more likely the needle will follow the skip instead of the track. Dragging the song out of it often involves playing it over at a different speed many times – there were other techniques – until the proper track was the dominant one again.  Or sometimes, just not playing that song at all.

    This is not a brand-new idea to me.  I have mentioned it here before.  Yet it came home to me with particular force this week because it had become less-common. I assume this occurs with positive emotions as well, but I don’t pay attention then, because I have no motivation to fix it.

    Cross-posted at Assistant Village Idiot

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 1 Comment »

    For Sgt Mom – Culture

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 13th August 2018 (All posts by )

    Just after reading your comment about the culture we might pass on to the next generation – and some of us try – I was directed to this essay by VS Naipul, from almost 30 years ago. Long, but quietly powerful about what the Universal Culture, which we have grown up in, consists of. An interesting question, 75% of the way through:

    Why, he asked, are certain societies or groups content to enjoy the fruits of progress, while affecting to despise the conditions that promote that progress?

    I think this applies not only to other cultures, but subcultures within our own.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 18 Comments »

    Media Bias

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 10th August 2018 (All posts by )

    I have received a suggestion from a more-experienced – or smarter, anyway – blogger that readers do not tend to click on links to an entire series. This will be a problem for me, and I am not sure how I will handle it. An ongoing series has articles separated by a few days, and is manageable. A list of 4 or 8 links seems a bit much to most readers at one go. I get it. It seems a bit much to me as well. If I publish them all here it will take over the site, which seems neither interesting nor polite.

    For the moment, I will put up the entire post of one that was recently only linked. It in turn has multiple links at the bottom, but I hasten to say they are undemanding. They’re just pictures, 10 to a link. Humor me on this. You will be rewarded.

    *******

    I made a claim of longstanding media bias, as many conservatives do. It occurred to me that I could give quick evidence of it. I will let the Time and Newsweek covers speak for me.

    But, you say, we didn’t take those magazines at our house. Or, those were a long time ago, they didn’t affect me. Then they affected your teachers and parents, and the people around you who found it very important to keep up with current events. Did you never have dental care, visit a friend, go to the doctor?  Were there no pharmacies, newsstands, grocery checkouts in your town?

    Or perhaps you think that even though those were around you, they didn’t affect you.  You were objective, you saw through those things.  Well yes.  I would say you either consciously saw through them and were offended by them, or you were affected whether you admit it or not.  For myself, I mostly didn’t notice until the late 80’s and was affected. After that I did notice and was offended. These weekly covers were ubiquitous, and I contend you were affected.  This was the air that you breathed.

    If you still think not, then how is it that you arrived at the same opinion of these figures as the editors wished you to?

    I started at Ford, as the Nixon covers would be too dominated by Watergate discussions and not a clean sample.  I strongly favored solo pictures of a president, taken during his years of office.  I stuck with Time and Newsweek. When there was a shortage of these, I chose covers from the campaign, as close to the date of election as possible.  I avoided retrospectives after the president had left office, as those are often mellowing.  I didn’t have that many choices for Gerald Ford, however. I took them in the order that Duckduckgo, or sometimes Bing images presented them to me.  I did not pick and choose for effect. With Clinton, I did limit myself to three covers related to Lewinsky. I back-published all in last month’s archives rather than clutter up my two front pages with pictures of presidents. Notice also what words are on the covers, the expressions captured, the black-and-white.

    Res ipsa loquitur

    Magazine Covers – Gerald Ford
    Magazine Covers – Jimmy Carter
    Magazine Covers – Ronald Reagan 
    Magazine Covers – George H W Bush
    Magazine Covers – Bill Clinton
    Magazine Covers – George W Bush
    Magazine Covers – Barack Obama

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    Motte and Bailey Fallacy

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 9th August 2018 (All posts by )

    Bsking over at Graph Paper Diaries sent me an interesting description of the Motte-and-Bailey Fallacy. We Christians have an unfortunate tendency to use it on each other too often, though we are hardly the only offenders. To me this suggests that it is not always a deception, but a sign of an emotional or experiential belief rather than a logical one.

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    William James Sidis

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 9th August 2018 (All posts by )

    I did a series on Billy Sidis 6-7 years ago which might please this group. I am posting the first essay, and linking to the others, partly because the comments under some of them were also interesting. In particular the argument with the person who insisted that my takedown of the “1867 Harvard Entrance Exam,” that circulates on the internet from time to time, was invalid brought in some rousing discussion. Please comment on any of those here rather than there, as only I will see your ideas otherwise.

    I think the story of Billy Sidis, the purported prodigy with the highest IQ (250-300) ever known, is mostly fraudulent.

    I first read about William James Sidis in the pages of Gift of Fire in the late 80’s. GoF was the journal of the Prometheus Society, a discussion group for those with measured IQ over 164. Amy Wallace’s book on Sidis, The Prodigy, had just come out, and Grady Towers took the opportunity to bring us up to speed on the early 20th C brilliant but eccentric child. That essay, “The Outsiders,” is perhaps the best known of the articles to come out of the High-IQ societies. Its primary topic is the increasing difficulty of adjustment individuals experience the further from norm they are. Terman’s studies in the 40’s of gifted individuals showed that those above 140 IQ were better adapted than average. Grady looked harder at the data and decided that those from 140-150 were better adjusted than average, but beyond that things steadily worsened. The greater frequency of those from 140-150 masked the data of the few from say, 170-180.

    It was perhaps inevitable that Grady would gravitate to the subject of Sidis. Grady qualified for the next society up, the Mega Society, for those with one-in-a-million IQ, cutoff 176. He had been a prodigy himself, almost completing a PhD in Anthropology at age 20, but by the time I knew him (via journal and correspondence), he was usually homeless, working odd jobs across the Southwest, writing on borrowed typewriters and sending mathematical proofs – usually number theory – to whoever would have them. He was murdered horribly in 2000 while working as a security guard. I liked corresponding with him.
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    Posted in Biography, Book Notes, Human Behavior | 15 Comments »

    Nationalism Revisited

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 4th August 2018 (All posts by )

    I have previously expressed the opinion that it was not nationalism that created WWII, but it was nationalism that won it.  The German attitude was more properly described as a tribalism or racialism, though they called it nationalism.  Jews, Slavs, or Roma who lived within the German nation were not considered part of Das Volk, but ethnic Germans who lived over the borders were considered part of the larger family.  Some nations, of Scandinavian, Frankish, or Anglo-Saxon descent were considered people to be ruled if they would not cooperate, but not exterminated. Hungarian and Romanian “nationalist” figures such as Antonescu were likewise protectors only of ethnic Romanians, not all within the borders. (This is unsurprising in Europe up until that time, because borders moved frequently, but language and ethnic heritage remained primary. It’s just wrong to call it nationalism.)

    In contrast, while the Allies had a lot of international cooperation, they ran largely on nationalist sentiment. Not only the Americans, who, as a mixed people had no choice except nationalism, but as the war progressed, the Soviet Union hunkered down into its constituent parts and Stalin made his appeals on behalf of Mother Russia, not the New Soviet Man. My thought has been that while nationalism has dangers and can be a false god, internationalism is a worse one. It might in theory be a better thing, and if we ever do become better humans I will change my vote. At the moment, however, I consider it an overreach. When we pretend to be better than we are we are in enormous danger, and those who are loyal to international enterprises smuggle in some much more primitive prejudices. They do not transcend nationalism, as they imagine, but replace it with something that aims higher but strikes lower.

    That is an observation of the group mentality, not the individual.  I am fully prepared to accept that there are many people who do transcend nationalism on an individual basis. As Steve Sailer has pointed out, however, in the traditional concentric circles of loyalty humankind tends to use, they more often skip over ring rather than include.  There is more virtue to be signaled in loving those far away rather than neighbors. How much more noble to love illegal aliens at the expense of poor citizens!

    I will have to revise my WWII picture however.  It still applies to Germans.  Yet my reading of Japanese history recently convinces me that nationalism was indeed their motive.  They did not find Koreans, Taiwanese, or Chinese racially inferior, but culturally so. Their attitude toward those in Vietnam, the Philippines, and the Pacific Islands was more tinged with a racialism.

    I’m not sure how I incorporate this into the overall picture, but I have to start by wounding my old model. Any of you who have knowledge about Japanese and other Asian cultural and racial attitudes, please weigh in.
    Cross-posted at Assistant Village Idiot

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 18 Comments »

    More On The Context…

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 4th August 2018 (All posts by )

    …of media bias leading up to Trump.

    More Context: Media Bias
    Media Bias – Magazine Covers

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    Context: Trump and William Loeb

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 1st August 2018 (All posts by )

    Cross-posted at Assistant Village Idiot

    I spoke with a somewhat younger friend who has some familiarity with my opinions about controversial topics, but wanted to know more exactly what I thought.  It is a great compliment, and I started answering him over the phone. I was pressed for time and cut it off, but even more than the temporary crunch, I decided I wanted to give answers of some precision.

    As soon as one goes down that road, one comes up against “Well, in order for you to understand this, I really have to explain that.” Almost immediately, another that comes along requiring another this. It gets out of control quickly.  But there’s nothing for it. I step back once, I step back further, I step back into the next county. He was asking for some summary, or at least ideas, concerning my evaluation of Trump. That is not possible without context, and I eventually found I had to go back to the 1960’s. I am not fond of Mr. Trump in many ways, but I think there is something necessary about him. If he had not come along now, some equally radical* figure would have had to come instead.  Not the same, but equally disruptive.

    My usual style has been an exhaustive, point-by-point argument. While I have sometimes broken such things up into posts I, II, and III, I have more often tried to cram the whole thing into one sustained essay, like a sermon that has gone on too long. I would try to make it more visually comfortable with ********* breaks, photos, headings, and short paragraphs. Let me break this into smaller chunks, and we’ll see what develops. As I head for vacation Saturday afternoon, I may have to leave you hanging.

    My hometown newspaper growing up was the Manchester Union Leader, published by the notorious William Loeb. It is hard to describe to someone under the age of 60 what that meant, but for those in NH older than that, Loeb was simply a continuous presence, influencing everyone in the state either to agree or oppose.  He was well-known around the country as well to those who followed politics. All of us who traveled or went to college outside New England had the experience of identifying where we were from and having some guy in the group turn and say William Loeb! as a reflexive response to hearing “Manchester, NH.” His audience grew enormously every first-in-the-nation-primary. (Yes, “melting snowflakes.” “McCarthy is a Skunks’s Skunk.” That guy.)
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    Lavinia Woodward

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 26th July 2018 (All posts by )

    Theodore Dalrymple, generally excellent, has a logical takedown of the judge’s reasoning in the sentencing of Lavinia Woodward. I assume most readers here have some knowledge of him, but will note in passing that he is a retired British psychiatrist who comments astutely on modern culture. As his practice was in prisons and a Birmingham city hospital, he is familiar with the dark underside of life.  As illustration, one of his books is Life at the Bottom (recommended).

    I think I can offer some insight into a possible motive behind the judge’s seemingly backward reasoning. But by way of introduction, it is related to an idea of Tom Wolfe’s, expressed in The Bonfire of the Vanities, and discussed by Steve Sailer a few years ago. All set with that? There is a dull sameness about the criminal justice system year upon year, and those stuck working in it try to find exceptions.

    Judges fall prey to the same temptations. They spend their days sending poor and stupid people, sometimes of color, to prison. The judge wants someone to be merciful to, the DA wants someone to nail to the wall, but these opposite desires spring from the same soil.
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    Violence

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 23rd July 2018 (All posts by )

    The Babylon Bee has nice parody of the change of meaning of the word “violence.” They are more accurate than they know. Dictionaries are primarily descriptive rather than prescriptive in the last sixty years*.  They no longer tell you what the best people think a word means or should mean, as many of us were used to in grammar school many years ago.** Words change in meaning, especially in the directions of heightening or diminishing of effect, or generalisation versus specification.  The word molest meant only to bother or annoy, or perhaps interfere with a person, until quite recently.  The first reference using it in a sexual way was 1950. Awful and terrible have changed. For a very great change, you can follow the word silly over a thousand years. (Good music at the link.)


    There are also longstanding examples of milder uses of violence, of doing violence to an idea, or a violent storm.
    The World Health Organization’s definition, though it starts with the conventional idea of physical force or injury, is already moving in the direction the Babylon Bee parodies:

    “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation,” (although the group acknowledges that the inclusion of “the use of power” in its definition expands on the conventional understanding of the word.) Wikipedia.

    Whenever important words change they cause disruption, as people are no longer talking about quite the same thing.  Cults redefine words so that they can claim to be following traditional (or biblical) values while introducing new ideas. 
    It is fine to stick to the usual definitions of a word in one’s own use.  I encourage it, because it aids in understanding what other ages what other ages meant, rather than being a prisoner of last Tuesday’s culture.  But the language will change whether we will or know, and sometimes it helps to understand that other people are using a different meaning.  They themselves may not be the instigators. Young people are quick to pick up how a word is used in their current context and adapt.  They use racist, or violence, in they way they are taught in some of their classes and by the more excitable of their friends. Even those who basically hold to the stricter ideas of those terms that I would use are likely to have at least slightly expanded meanings of the term, by my lights. It may be better to ask “what do you mean when you say “violence?” than to simply declare it wrong. (Even though it is wrong, dammit.)

    *The Story of Ain’t by David Skinner is a solid and entertaining look at the change in dictionaries.

    **Note also the word “grammar” school, grades 1-8, where we would say elementary and middle, or elementary and junior high these days. One of the primary aims was that children would learn to write and say things correctly. We say “of course,” but they did not care so much about science or more than basic geography and history a hundred years ago.  Lots of penmanship, lots of multiplication tables.

    Cross-posted at Assistant Village Idiot

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 6 Comments »

    Involuntary Psychiatric Treatment

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 21st July 2018 (All posts by )

    I had a thought of rummaging through all my posts on psychiatric topics over the years and linking to the best of them, but there are over a hundred, and I don’t like reading my own work all that much sometimes. I narrowed it to a single topic and picked three recent posts that are connected. The psychiatrist Scott Alexander over at Slate Star Codex reviewed the book My Brother Ron, and I discussed and rediscussed on it at my own site. I got good comments as well.

    My Brother Ron
    Update on My Brother Ron
    Update II

    A fourth post is on the closely-related topic of guardianship over psychiatric patients. Guardianship and the Behavior of Nations.

    I may also post on my Underground DSM, Wyman’s Oppositional Treatment, and other fun things in the future.

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    Anti-Gravity

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 15th July 2018 (All posts by )

    I encountered this intriguing monument while driving around searching for road rally destinations a decade or so ago.

    Have I told you about road rallies? They figure prominently in AVI history. Teams of four per car solve puzzles leading to destinations, at which there is a bit of information that allows you to answer a question before moving on to the next puzzle. Most answers right in the shortest amount of time wins the game. I think I shall have to cover all that in some detail in another post. Some of you might find this to be right up your alley.

    Back to New Boston. One’s first thought is that this is some complete crank, squirreled away in a rural NH town, which the town fathers might not want to memorialize. Imagine this guy at town meeting every March. Or offering to guest lecture at the science classes at the high school. But in fact, Babson was a brilliant and respectable character. He was the founder of Babson College in Massachusetts, and two other colleges as well. The curriculum sounds like a precursor to Northeastern’s cooperative education program.

    Believing experience to be the best teacher, Roger Babson favored a curriculum that was a combination of both class work and business training: businessmen made up the majority of the faculty instead of academics, and the institute’s curriculum focused more on practical experience and less on lectures.

    Students worked on group projects and class presentations, observed manufacturing processes during field trips to area factories and businesses, met with managers and executives, and viewed industrial films on Saturday mornings

    Babson had gone to MIT, wrote books, founded businesses, and believed that economic cycles followed highly predictable rules because they were subject to laws as physical as Newton’s laws. This is now regarded as a rather crankish theory, but Babson did predict the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression.

    His pseudoscientific notion, that the laws of physics account for every rise and ebb in the economy, had no more validity than [astrology or alchemy]. But just as astrology gave birth to astronomy and alchemy to chemistry, so, too, did Babson’s efforts to explain the economic cycle… lead to the economic breakthrough that revolutionized the business of economic forecasting.

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    History Becomes Lost, But Is Found Again By The Beatles

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 13th July 2018 (All posts by )

    This was one of my first blog posts, over a dozen years ago. I am being humorous here, but quite serious as well. I think the change did actually influence our culture and politics. I don’t discount the many standard historical and cultural explanations – we each have our favorites. This is mine.

    Black & White Photography Creates The Illusion Of Black & White Morality

    The years 1880-1960 are the gray, colorless years, lost to history. Events happened, but they were all dark, still, and boring. You’d think two major wars would liven things up in the public imagination, but interesting things apparently happened to boring, colorless people. We know the world was forgettable and not quite real. Soldiers in 1916 marched jerkily and too quickly, and for whole decades people waved a lot but could not speak. If they were lucky, they got captions. We’ve got movies of this, we know how life was then. In 1900 it was even worse, as whole families of sepia shadow-people sat endlessly in parlors in their best clothes. Even beautiful women had an unhealthy grayness to their skin, and a complete lack of fashion sense running entirely to blacks and grays. Winston Churchill might have had some color to him if it hadn’t been for all the stress of the war, but even he succumbed to bloodless pallor.

    Yes, I believe Boomers really think this way. We’re dumb like that.

    Mancunians and Floridians riding the half-taxis through Madame Tussaud’s in London encounter history as they know it: A series of romantic kings had wars with cool costumes. Next, everyone was poor and disease-ridden (but colorful) until the Great Fire of London. Then all of present-day London was built, including the Underground, and loud machines started doing work. In the 1800’s England conquered the world while wearing more cool costumes. But as Queen Victoria aged she turned gray and wore black, and the whole world followed suit. Our own history jibes with this, we just add a frontier and a colorful revolution[2]. Americans actually had the first colorless war in 1860, but we don’t expect anyone but us to remember that. Colorful peasants all over Europe were transformed into black-and-white slum dwellers in American cities in the late 19th C; honest and hardworking but poor, finally able to open fruitstands and restaurants, a privilege denied them in Europe, apparently. Eventually the fruit turned gray, but they became prosperous anyhow.

    Fortunately, in the 1960’s people regained their color. The lights came on and they became interesting and went to parties and had fun, which their parents and grandparents had been unable to do. Oh they had tried, of course, but they had boring fun. We know this. We have the pictures, and pictures don’t lie. Even the old people came around and agreed with this eventually, because when they looked at the photos they saw clearly how much more alive they were in 1970 than they had been in 1950. We Boomers still congratulate ourselves about this. Scholars now believe the Beatles should get credit for this, as they started out in black-and-white but learned to appear in color (colour, actually) and thus became rich and famous. Other popular musicians followed suit, and professional athletes followed. The Green Bay Packers were the first team to actually wear colors, rather than just say they had colors. Folks, we’ve got the pictures, don’t contradict me on this. The Colts played the Giants in black-and-white, and were black-and-white, in an era of moral (snigger) simplicity.

    The Reduced Shakespeare Company – late boomers all – in the Condensed History of America admitted that they skipped history from 1880 until the war because it was boring. Two world wars got only passing notice. They invested their time in a 1950’s sendup done in stark lighting and black-and-white costuming. Lucille Ball was there, but her hair wasn’t red. How could it have been? The world didn’t have that color then. McCarthyism was mentioned, of course, because we love to congratulate ourselves on our moral superiority. How quaint to think of communists as evil and Americans as good.

    However much the significance is overlooked, my observation is not original. Bill Waterson references the change in Calvin and Hobbes, capturing exactly the myth of how we perceive earlier generations. When National Geographic photographed Lake Wobegon only black and white film was used. Garrison Keillor himself provides the corrective in his story “Hog Slaughter,” a work of quiet power and one of his finest. “We believe it was a simpler time because we were children then, and our needs were looked after by others.”

    A whole generation of Boomers on both sides of the Atlantic based its picture of history, and thus its social and political beliefs on an unrelated development: the improvement of color printing and color photography. We remember Nixon in black-and-white, Kennedy just barely in color. (John, Paul, George, and Ringo were probably influenced by this.) But Milhous never shed this image even after becoming president. He seemed hand-tinted rather than living color, even in 1980. The movie Pleasantville should have given it away, especially to a generation whose shared cultural icon was watching black-and-white Kansas change to colorful Oz. But that heavy-handed symbolism went well with our mental furniture, and we simply fit it in unnoticed. I mean, that’s how those benighted people in the 50’s were, right? Not like us.

    Not to be too deconstructionist about it, but the similar words in the phrases “black and white morality” and “black and white photography” signify a deeper conceptual relationship. Oh man, that’s heavy. It’s like on the cover of Sgt. Pepper…

    A social worker I once worked with was fond of saying “Things aren’t black and white.” She often went on to add “It’s not like Ozzie and Harriet where everything is solved in half an hour.” I didn’t note the juxtaposition at the time, but now estimate I’ve been hearing similar things for decades, just under my radar.

    Moral relativity was not taught to us intellectually by Kafka, but accidentally by Kodak. Because the moral simplicity of our own childhood is recorded in black and white, we assume all the others in the photos were equally simple. Isn’t it great to live in more advanced times?

    —-
    [2] Several presidents nearly shared this fate by being put on money. James Madison was sort of greenish, but I believe Dolly had peachy skin and auburn hair.

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