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    Previous Links on Genetics and Related

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 27th March 2020 (All posts by )

    We have not talked much about genetics recently.  These are people who know a great deal, but may not fully share your values.

    The brilliant Steve Hsu over at Information Processing talks about an article in The Economist concerning embryo selection. November 2019.

     Here is that article from The Economist Modern Genetics will improve health and usher in designer children. November 2019

    Legal studies paper by Gail Herriot on school discipline policies. June 2019 

    Only some genetics in this last one. Scott Alexander over at Slate Star Codex, who Steve Sailer called the greatest public intellectual to emerge in the 2010s, talks about what intellectual progress he made during the decade. He started way ahead of me and I think has lapped me a couple of times since. A stunning variety of topics. January 2020.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 8 Comments »

    Scrooge McDuck In Reverse

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 22nd March 2020 (All posts by )

    Perhaps this is the time to teach, or at least keep as an example, how an economy works, to those who believe that rich people got there by taking money that could have gone to a poor person in a fairer system. We are in a situation where money is being lost, and it isn’t going to anyone. Some people are not much affected, if whatever their income is based on is not interrupted. I am considered “essential personnel” and have work. I’m not sure I actually am essential, but they have to draw the line somewhere, and danger increases if the hospital as a whole does not do what it does. There may be a very few businesses that do better – online entertainments, delivery services. I can’t think of much else.

    There will be some pent-up demand that comes upon businesses as restrictions are eased, as folks want to buy cars or go out to restaurants. But some of the non-buying today occurs because people now do not have jobs that are paying them, and they don’t have money to spend. The restaurants and car dealerships are not going to make that up later. The money is just gone. You can frame that as being lost or as being never created, but either way it’s just not there. It is relatively easy to destroy value.

    I hope the lesson can be turned to show that it is difficult to create value.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 8 Comments »

    Enactment

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 21st March 2020 (All posts by )

    We say in our cynical moments “All politics is theater.” This is true, but there is a positive side to that, if we define our terms well. Many things are theater, in a loose sense. For example, I was part of an online discussion years ago after George Bush had gotten off a plane looking crisply pressed after what should have been a multi-wrinkle flight. One commenter noted a brand of $3000 suits that were capable of doing just this, advising us that in high-level international business people were aware of this and noticed the cost of your suit, your shoes, shirt, tie, and all the rest. He claimed that merely having the right clothes on was enough to make a sale. I was one of the ones who objected to this, saying this would be a terrible method of making such decisions. Not at all, he countered. Shelling out that much money and paying close attention to detail signals that you will play by the rules. Not necessarily the laws of any jurisdiction, but the unwritten rules of high-level commerce. I complained that this placed talented newcomers at a disadvantage, but again, the man I was arguing with disagreed. He and his associates had all learned early to divert not only money but observational skills and advice from others into appearance. “You don’t put yourself in hock like that unless you plan to stick around. You aren’t going to break other rules and throw your insider status away. It provides very accurate signaling.” He told a few anecdotes about this and concluded “Business is theater.”

    We might call it theater, but I think a closer word would be enactment. Enactment requires a greater level of commitment than just putting on a show. If we want to test the sincerity of someone’s commitment to a set of values, we often require enactment. Basic training in the military includes a lot of enactment of military values, including drill, following orders and cooperation, simulation of real situations. Church worship and festivals are not supposed to just be spectator activities, but the participant is supposed to enact the Lord’s Table. It is part of why the fellowship of the saints and attendance at worship are not incidental parts of worship. (Believe me, God is aware how difficult and annoying the people at your church are. That may be the point, that we enact here in this life what will be a reality in the next.)

    Much of education is enactment. Job training (both official and unofficial) includes much enactment. Courtship is enactment. The ceremonial aspects of town meeting – or scout meetings, Rotary, country club membership, sorority rush, or just about anything you can join will involve enactment. When you go to court, the bailiff says “All Rise,” and the Judge must be addressed in specific ways. Those who are accused who arrive well-dressed and well-groomed are signaling that they understand the rules and are willing to play by them henceforth. They are enacting good citizenship. Are some of them lying and attempting to manipulate? Of course. Yet what are we to say of those who will not even nod to the values of society as expressed in court rules, who wear their beer t-shirts to DUI hearings? I have heard them when I have accompanied patients to court. “I don’t care how big he thinks he is. I’m not going to change who I am for anyone!” Well, you said it then, didn’t you Sam?

    Raising children is about little else. We don’t want them to just hear our lessons about politeness, we want them to greet others with respect and say please and thank you. We have fewer gestures of politeness now and do not require them. Boys used to bow and girls curtsey, we would hold doors for others. The custom of holding chairs for women at dinner has nearly vanished. Fifty years ago at summer studies the boys were required to seat the girls at dinner, which was a combination of discomfort and humor even then, especially the first evening. If any girl was left standing, we all had to get up and start again. That rarely happened after the second day. I am sure the practice vanished soon after, but multiple values were being taught. Respect for women was the most obvious – and women were already pointing out that this was double-edged – but there was also respect for tradition, respect for formality, calmness and intentionality in eating, engaging in acts in unison as a community. Enactment requires more skin in the game than mere words. Sometimes the additional cost is small, sometimes the enactment comes close to the price of real demonstration. Nor is it entirely a positive. Groups can require that you enact their pathologies as well, right from the start, to show that you won’t turn the whole lot of them in, or betray the profession.

    Politicians eat ethnic food and shake hands as a way of enacting that they are Jes’ Folks, that they care what happens to you. They dress well partly to show they have respect for you (or dress down in calculated ways to show the same). We don’t want to just hear them say things, we want to see them do them. The events they attend, the gestures they make, the people they invite, all of these are small enactments.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 7 Comments »

    Two On Kipling

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 21st March 2020 (All posts by )

    I made brief comments of my own, but these two links are mostly about What C S Lewis thought of Kipling, and what George Orwell thought of Kipling. Both more than a little surprising.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 5 Comments »

    Scrooge McDuck

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 19th March 2020 (All posts by )

    Brought over from Assistant Village Idiot. I am bringing over about one out of five this week, more than my usual one out of ten.

    *******

    A young friend among my wife’s FB friends posted a  meme about blank supermarket shelves, comparing the empty shelves of socialism, which conservatives decry, and “late-stage-capitalism” empty shelves during the TP-and-disposable-wipes crisis of 2020.  He did not say that this proved equivalency, merely noting that he had seen the two posted near each other in some way online.  He is a polite young man, a middle-school teacher whose wife is homeschooling, and I think he doesn’t want to offend.  I have seen other posts that suggest he is very sympathetic to socialism.

    His first two commenters, both also young, were thorough opposites.  The first noted that under capitalism, the shelves would be restocked tomorrow. I thought that an efficient argument, and am grateful that there are young people who can manage such things on short notice.  The other made the comparison that “if you don’t like people hoarding toilet paper, then imagine how much damage it does when an extremely small fraction of the world’s population hoards so much of its wealth.” I am no longer on FB and don’t like to drag my wife into such discussions, so I wrote nothing.  I did begin to think about what, exactly, I might theoretically say, reasoning that I might have to answer this in some context sometime.  The first young man got in very quickly, while I was looking at the page:  “Hoarding.  lol”

    I thought that similarly efficient.  That is the key problem. I should research who that young man is and put his name forward as someone we should elect to something. Except politics would be a waste for him. Perhaps I should sneak over and just let him know I’m impressed. He may need encouragement.  There is a sizable group who thinks that the wealthy are in some sense hoarding, a good communist accusation that is thoroughly inaccurate. The mental picture is of Scrooge McDuck.

    (embedded gif of Scrooge McDuck diving into a pile of gold coins) Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 5 Comments »

    The Problem With Lewis

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 18th March 2020 (All posts by )

    Self-Isolation is only a touch different for me. I go to work at the hospital eight days a month, but now have sharply curtailed which units I will go to (I was covering on the phone, keyboard, doorknob, and desk surface of everyone in a department of 30) and do not circulate throughout the building at all. While at home, I pretty much sit at the computer, the reading desk, or stand at some appliance anyway, then go out for a five-mile walk every day. However, there is a slight restriction, and being an irritable sort the boredom annoys me. Thus I have gone looking for AVI posts which I might repost over here. You’ll just have to bear up under the strain. A few more to come.

    *******

    I found that They Asked For A Paper is in the public domain.  It contains a few essays of CS Lewis I had never read, so I was glad to find it.  In particular, I had wanted to read “The Literary Impact of the Authorised Version,” having seen a rare early copy under glass at the Lanier Theological Library outside Houston. I had never heard of it, and it is a subject I am interested in even with a lesser author.

    Yet I quickly find I dare not come up with an opinion in the least contradiction to him. He has read everything, and is clearly operating a level I cannot even imagine.

    “With the first Protestant translators we get some signs of a changed approach. I would wish to take every precaution against exaggerating it. The history of the English Bible from Tyndale to the Authorised Version should never for long be separated from that European, and by no means exclusively Protestant, movement of which it made part. No one can write that history without skipping to and fro across national and religious boundaries at every moment. He will have to go from the Soncino Hebrew Bible (1488) to Reuchlin’s Hebrew Grammar (1506), then to Alcala for Cardinal Ximenes’ great Polyglot (1514) and north for Erasmus’ New Testament in the same year, and then to Luther for the German New Testament in 1522, and pick up Hebrew again with Munster’s Grammar in 1525, and see Luther worked over by Zwinglius and others for the Zurich Bible of 1529, and glance at the two French versions of ’34 and ’35, and by no means neglect the new Latin translations of Pagninus (’28) and Munster (’34-’35). That is the sort of background against which Tyndale, Coverdale, Geneva, and Rheims must be set. For when we come to compare the versions we shall find that only a very small percentage of variants are made for stylistic or even doctrinal reasons. When men depart from their predecessors it is usually because they claim to be better Hebraists or better Grecians. The international advance of philology carries them on, and those who are divided by the bitterest theological hatreds gladly learn from one another. Tyndale accepts corrections from More: Rheims learns from Geneva: phrases travel through Rheims on their way from Geneva to Authorised. Willy-nilly all Christendom collaborates. The English Bible is the English branch of a European tree.

    Yet in spite of this there is something new about Tyndale; for good or ill a great simplification of approach.”(Italics mine)

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 3 Comments »

    Paranoia Anecdotes

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 12th March 2020 (All posts by )

    I thought I would just include anecdotes about paranoia and comment on them as a way of getting information across.

    Update!  One of the other social workers told me today that she thinks C19 is all just a coverup for all the damage from 5G.

    Paranoid people also project.  What they think their persecutors or opponents are capable of doing is often a mirror of what they themselves would do.  The recent political example is theFBI and other agencies being so sure that Trump is dangerous enough to democracy that he would disregard the rules and protections for others that they dangerously disregarded the rules and protections for others themselves.

    My uncle tells me that my grandfather, when he heard that Joe McCarthy claimed there were 300 communists in the State Department said “Is that all?  I would have thought it was more than that.” I believe that was a common sentiment in NH at the time. McCarthy played his cards poorly, partly because of his personality, and partly because there was a supportive culture that didn’t mind if accusers of communists didn’t bother with the niceties of actually nailing the information down.  However, it turns out in retrospect that the right-wing crazies didn’t know the half of it. Communist penetration of federal agencies was worse than even they thought. Alger Hiss was in fact guilty. The Rosenbergs were guilty. Venona confirmed a great deal of speculation. I don’t know how things would have been different if a savvier player than McCarthy broke the news, but it can hardly have been worse. He played for drama. Maybe that would work today. It didn’t work then. (Compare also to the paragraph above.)  Paranoid leftists were able to accuse anticommunists of paranoia for years. In DC politics I think that some paranoia is always justified.  People are conspiring all the time. Exactly who, and for what reason, is the issue, and determines how reasonable one’s paranoia is.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 18 Comments »

    Recommended

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 8th March 2020 (All posts by )

    Sorry to be sucking up all the oxygen in the room at present, but my Paranoia post struck a nerve and I will be adding at least one more after this. Cross-posted at Assistant Village Idiot, so comment in either place, depending on which comments you feel more at home with.

    Deevs asked for recommendations of books about paranoia.  I thought this worked better as a separate post. I used to psychblog from 2005-2009, but I haven’t put in so much since then. As there as been interest in the first post on paranoia and some questions asked, I will have another go later – with anecdotes.

    The classic in the field is Surviving Schizophrenia, by E. Fuller Torrey. Checking up to see if it had come out in a fifth edition, I found that it is now in its seventh edition. Xavier Amador has written the very readable I’m Not Sick, I Don’t Need Help, and is an engaging speaker as well.  He has a series of talks on Youtube, of which this is the best introduction.  He was studying to become a psychologist when his brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia.  The battle over medications and having to confront that “lack of insight” is a frequent symptom was very painful for him.  He eventually became his brother’s guardian, agreed to forced long-acting injectable medication to keep his brother alive, and was relieved that his brother was consistently treated and nonpsychotic for decades. However, even at the end, he would ask his brother if he needed the medication.  “Nah.  I just take it to keep you happy,” said his brother, with mild affection. You can see what a bind that creates. People have rights, and the idea of the government giving permission for guardianship, allowing someone to force treatment on you that you don’t think you need has obvious problems. You can find complaints about this all the time on civil libertarian websites and in comment sections of both liberal and conservative sites. Horror stories are recounted, at which I nod my head and think “I’ll bet I know the other side of that story.”  Sometimes there are real horror stories, of people being railroaded who are not particularly ill. But in most places, psychotic folks are getting too little treatment, rather than merely annoying people getting forced treatment they don’t need.  I can imagine how some trends in mental health could create a situation, decades down the road, where inconvenient beliefs are medicated against the person’s will.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 5 Comments »

    Paranoia

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 7th March 2020 (All posts by )

    For most of you, people with paranoid disorders are encountered more frequently online than in regular life. Not for me, of course, but my situation is unusual. I would like to explain them to you a bit. Parts of their thinking that seem strange are quite reasonable once you understand what they are starting from. They may end up in a crazy set of ideas, but the reasoning to get there often makes an internal sense. This is part of why you can’t argue them out of these ideas.  It’s not that their reasoning is broken, it’s that something else is broken. Chesterton’s first chapter of Orthodoxy goes into the idea quite well from the perspective of a nonprofessional writing over a century ago. And fun.

    First, they retain most of the knowledge and abilities they had before, not necessarily impaired in any way.  If she knew horses well, she still knows about horses; if she played the cello well, she can still play well.  She may have developed suspicions about people in the horse barn or the orchestra.  These may grow until she can no longer manage to stay involved with either. She may or may not be attracted to new theories that explain things to her and decide that horses or music are far more important in the cosmic scheme of things than others have noticed.

    There is a sense that some things are important that others have overlooked.  In the same way that theme music plays in a movie, telling us that the villain has arrived, (cue Darth Vader music) the person with paranoia has a sense (quieter, though no less sure) that something ominous is occurring when they hear the news or even just go to the supermarket.  The number 7 is occurring too frequently, there are people who have Russian names, or look Russian, the cashier exchanges a look with the bagger that tells the person she knows something. They wonder for a time what it all must mean, but settle quickly on an explanation.  The brain will not allow events to stand unexplained.  They must be fit in somehow. The insignificant data that is regarded as significant continues to accumulate.  This is supplemented by real data , sought or unsought. The ATM has twice not been available when you needed it most.  A guy who you met just last week and told about these growing plots has a car accident.  There must be a Russian (or more frequently, a Jew) behind this.  Those forces are signalling to you to back off.  They know you are onto them and will punish you.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 14 Comments »

    Gratitude

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 6th March 2020 (All posts by )

    I just want to mention my gratitude to Trent for tracking down good information and getting it to us in quantity. I have not commented because I have no particular expertise, neither on the medical nor the political side. As I work in a psychiatric hospital I may end up over time knowing things that most people don’t, but at the moment I am dependent on those who know more and those who do their homework. Thank you.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 12 Comments »

    Protecting Feelings II

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 4th March 2020 (All posts by )

    Update:   There is likely something in this of why black males are defecting to Trump much more than black females, but I can’t quite see what that is.  Offer suggestions you think might fit.

    As I developed this, I think I came upon an explanation of the Sanders/Biden split in the Democratic primaries as well. I almost made that into a separate post because I am striving for shorter essays these days, but the one topic just flowed into the other. Bear with me, and be charitable.

    James the Lesser uses the word “perverse” to describe the elevation of feelings over actual sickness and safety in the comments under Protecting Feelings, just a few days ago. It is also revealing of the motivations of those folks.  No one who has been sick near death would say having their feelings hurt was worse, nor would we say that if we had had the experience of watching another go through a terrible illness. It is rather like those people who tell us that various verbal oppressions are just as bad as physical abuse, or that sexual harassment is just as bad as rape.  Those who have been abused or raped might give a different answer, don’t you think? These must either be people who do not believe that the danger is real, or are vulnerable enough that the social death of hurt feelings is the worst they can imagine.

    This latter came up in reference to Jonathan Haidt’s The Coddling of the American Mind, which I discussed about ten weeks ago. He identifies the highschool classes of 2013 and 2014 as a sharp break point, with anxiety, depression, and suicide rising in that group and remaining high.  He attributes this to this being the first cohort which had personal devices starting in middle school. They really do live in a world where social death is more frightening, because it can strike in an instant and there is no effective fighting back.  Those whose personalities were formed outside of internet life have resilience against this.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 12 Comments »

    Disease and Cold Drive History

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 29th February 2020 (All posts by )

    Update: For example, drought.

    This was not prompted by Coronavirus discussions in any way. My reading and podcast listening the past month have both led to considerations of disease affecting historical events. I have several times thought it would be fun to talk with Trent and Mike K about the subject over a beer or three.

    The effect of disease on historical events has usually only been mentioned in extreme cases, when it is obvious that at least some influence must have occurred.  The effect of smallpox on the Aztecs, or the Black Death on the economics of Europe receive some mention, but even in those cases summary histories can leave them out. Amazing, but true. There has been some increase over the last twenty years of historians addressing the issue of disease directly, and the last five years has seen an explosive growth in that approach because of what we can learn from archaeology rather than written records.  What has then happened is that the text historians have doubled back and acknowledged “yes, this was there all along, but because we could not clearly understand symptoms nor measure extent we could not make definitive statements.” So they mostly said nothing.

    Or, as I suspect, they preferred other explanations, as we all have, due to the training in how to look at history we have all grown up with. I may be partly guilty myself.  I have heard doctors offer up possible medical explanations they have run across in their reading, only to be greeted with blank looks and polite smiles.  No, silly.  It’s kings and battles and trade routes and technological advances. Diseases are just there all the time and have only a marginal effect. I have been only slightly more sympathetic until the last decade,
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in COVID-19, Miscellaneous | 8 Comments »

    Andrew Yang and Automation

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 23rd February 2020 (All posts by )

    Rome fell in 476 AD, according to the high school and World History 101 shorthand we are used to. You can prefer a date in the 370’s instead, or 410, or the Vandals taking Carthage in 439 AD, which broke the tax spine of the Western Empire for good.  Going in the other direction, you can choose the collapse of the reconquest by Justinian in the late 6th C, or even later.  If one wants to be really technical, Constantinople, the Eastern capital of the Roman Empire for a thousand years after Rome itself fell to Ostrogoths, did not fall until 1453. Few would pick that date, but you could, and make an argument with at least some facts to buttress it.

    But let’s focus on 476 and let that hover in the background as we look at the collapse.  In 440AD all looked bleak for the empire, though those in the central cities did not perceive it.  Britain and Northern Gaul had fallen out of the empire. Northern Africa was a trading partner, not part of the empire. The influence over Persia, Syria, and the easternmost sections of empire was waning. Yet by 450, trading was bustling again.  Some researchers would claim that this was actually the height of trade throughout the Mediterranean, unmatched for more than a thousand years. There was recovery! Despite all the dark portents, Rome reached its height.  Arguably.  Some would pick 150, 350, or other dates. Still, a case could be made.

    If you were living at the time, those naysayers who pointed to the loss of tax revenue from across the Mediterranean, or the growing power of the Goths, who had an internal kingdom in Gaul, or the slow loss of border provinces and increase in cross-border raiding would be laughed off.  However plausible their arguments might sound that the empire was in decline, the objective evidence was that things were fine.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 25 Comments »

    Conspiracies

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 14th February 2020 (All posts by )

    Like many types of paranoid thinking, conspiracy theorists fasten on unimportant details and regard them as key. The tax protestors get caught up in your name being in all-caps for Social Security, which means that it’s not you but some artificial entity. Their proof that the income tax is illegal hinges on a delivery of a document to the State of Ohio that did not happen in the right way, even though everyone in Ohio knew about it. There is the nod and the knowing look that they can’t be fooled. The real truth isn’t known to all those other people, who are blithely going about their business thinking everything is just fine, and completely on the up-and-up.

    The belief that the real answer is hidden, being kept from the masses by nefarious actors precedes the actual explanations. They don’t come to believe that doctors are hiding cures because they are presented with plausible evidence of same, but because they don’t trust doctors, or perhaps anyone in authority, and someone tacks a specific example onto that. All-caps often figure prominently in their explanations, trying to impress upon you the importance of this particular set of details that they are now pointing out to you. So that you’ll KNOW. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 17 Comments »

    Different Perspective

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 11th February 2020 (All posts by )

    Update: There may already be a challenge to some of this at my own site. So feel free.

    Modern historians like looking at things from different angles.  Though this has been increasingly enforced along woke lines in the past generation, it is still a useful way to study.  Previous histories were about who ruled and who won battles. While these things have enormous top-down effects on everyone else at the time, and often have long-term effects, sometimes they turn out to be incidental, while other perspectives tell us more.  Religious and economic historians have long identified far-reaching effects that were more durable than whether a Henry or an Edward was on the throne in a particular decade.  The study of rulers lends itself to the making of lists, which are nice memorisable items for students. Subregional studies of dukes and barons are the same thing on a smaller scale.

    Military historians fell partly into the same ditches, though they were more likely to introduce changes in technology in weaponry and defense, which also informed our understanding of civilian technological changes. But it is only recently that historians have looked at social history in general. This has been driven by mostly female historians asking “What was life like for the women in this time and place?” and “What changes and continuities do we see over longer time-scales in that?” Studying marriage patterns, and whether women could own property, and whether they earned cash money are not things that changed overnight, as conquest or rebellion changed societies, but following those records tells us what we might otherwise miss, and provides explanations for puzzles. It also gives us a fuller picture of what life was like for everyone. When they ate, when they starved, whether mothers had any say in children’s marriages, who provided music – we know much more about such things now. I think it is all to the good, and male historians have been largely won over to the new perspective.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 5 Comments »

    Fatherlessness

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 5th February 2020 (All posts by )

    There are very clear numbers associating fatherlessness with increased crime and other pathologies, such as dropping out of school or early sexual experience.

    Yet crime and dropping out have decreased in the society at large, even as fatherlessness in society has risen dramatically. Having a father who leaves or was never there seems to clearly be a bad indicator for an individual child. (Note: this is an association and could be genetic or environmental.) Yet the overall trend, even in fairly dramatic form, has not been able to override long-term improvement on those measures.  I wonder what is happening? I should look at the timetables for all of these and see if anything jumps out at me.  But first, I wondered whether any of you had already seen something on the matter.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 15 Comments »

    Unemployment

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 3rd February 2020 (All posts by )

    Some NH towns are below 2% for unemployment now. As a consequence, you will be seeing more people working who have bad attitudes and/or have no idea what they are doing.

    Don’t get me wrong.  It’s a good thing that no one, neither their families nor the government, has to work to support them. Even partial survival in the workforce is a benefit for everyone concerned. It’s just that I want you to remember to be of good cheer when you are being served by knuckleheads, grifters, and punks. It’s all for the best. It is making it harder on charities that rely on volunteers, though.  They increasingly have to turn to retired people, who have bad backs and bad digestions, to get their jobs done. It doesn’t make low unemployment a bad thing.  It’s just a downside.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 4 Comments »

    State Capacity Libertarianism – an Update

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 17th January 2020 (All posts by )

    I posted on this new topic of Tyler Cowan’s almost two week’s ago.  I have seen other commentary since then.  Law and Liberty had this mostly-negative take on the idea.

    But my largest disagreement is that Tyler misses what is most problematic about modern libertarianism. In my view, modern libertarianism has too narrow a view of social harm and too limited a role for government in encouraging mediating institutions that help ameliorate such harms. Tyler underscores a certain obtuseness on this point by professing not to be able to understand the difference between classical liberalism and libertarianism, except that classical liberalism was a 19th-century philosophy suited to solving the problems of its times, but not ours.

    It’s a thoughtful response. 

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 2 Comments »

    State Capacity Libertarianism

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 6th January 2020 (All posts by )

    Tyler Cowen over at Marginal Revolution has a new approach to government, which he calls State Capacity Libertarianism. You should read his 11 points which define the phrase for yourself, but here are the first two:

    1. Markets and capitalism are very powerful, give them their due.

    2. Earlier in history, a strong state was necessary to back the formation of capitalism and also to protect individual rights (do read Koyama and Johnson on state capacity). Strong states remain necessary to maintain and extend capitalism and markets. This includes keeping China at bay abroad and keeping elections free from foreign interference, as well as developing effective laws and regulations for intangible capital, intellectual property, and the new world of the internet. (If you’ve read my other works, you will know this is not a call for massive regulation of Big Tech.)

    Do not, under any circumstances, read the comments.  I’m sure there are some intelligent criticisms and defenses in there somewhere, but they are thin on the ground.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 5 Comments »

    Seeing The Christmas Story Differently

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 1st January 2020 (All posts by )

    Reposted from April 2018 over at my own site. I thought it might be of interest here as well

    Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes by Kenneth Bailey

    We make much of the outcast, rejected nature of Jesus at his birth in our Western understanding.  No room at the inn. Shuffled off into the barn, with only a feed trough for a bed. The Eastern tradition emphasises the aloneness of Mary, and nearly always claims Jesus was born in a cave.  Bailey thinks these are both wrong. He notes that neither of these are in Scripture, they are interpreted from Scripture plus traditions. 

    As a general principle, he notes that the Christmas story was written in other versions that were not accepted as scripture, and we can learn something about them – and thus about the authentic scriptures – by noting what they get wrong. The other versions often get local knowledge wrong: local geography, local customs, local architecture. When we find such things in the text we know this person has never been to Jerusalem or seen the countryside around it.  He has a false picture. This also makes it likely that the writer was not a Jew. Most Christians outside Jerusalem were not Jews. Nearly all Christians were from outside Israel from an early date.

    Therefore strong Jewish or local elements in a text argue for a very early date of the original.  Later texts would not understand the information, and thus omit it, try to reconcile it with other beliefs, or just flat change it.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 7 Comments »

    Paranoia

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 4th December 2019 (All posts by )

    One of our patients who has been paranoid for many years at a low level even when well, and severely so when his medications go out of whack picked up a copy of 1984 at the library, having heard that reasonably-educated people should read it and be familiar with it. He is an intelligent but rather isolated person. We asked him what he thought after.

    “It was a sad story.  The guy had a girlfriend, but he lost her.”

    The entire paranoid point of the story seems to have been mere unimportant background to him, which I suppose makes some sense.

    Posted in Human Behavior | 5 Comments »

    Gradual Cultural Change Because of Marriage Practices

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 10th November 2019 (All posts by )

    Cross-posted from Assistant Village Idiot. If you have not run across the Hajnal Line reference before I would consider it more important that you familiarise yourself with that over attending to what I have written here.

    Mapping the end of incest and the dawn of individualism. (Do not read the comments.  Useless.) Glenn Reynolds commented “Hmm,” an ambiguous response, but one that at minimum suggests he doesn’t think much about this issue.  It is well-known to those who dare to click over to those dangerous HBD sites.  But it’s not his thing. The article very cautiously and wisely merely hints at reasons and results.  I have mentioned the Hajnal Line here several times before, and contemplating these issues can be very informative about the last 1500 years of European history and the role of women.  It provides a surprising framework with some explanatory power. Reducing cousin marriage reduced the authority of individual patriarchs and clan leaders. I have seen it argued that this also undermined support for slavery, though that is open to more debate. That may be co-occuring rather than causal.

    Let me fill in some background which is not nailed down and could be modified when academics dare to study such things again, but for the moment might give you an “aha!” experience.  The ban on cousin and other relatedness marriages by the Roman Catholic Church was not fully obeyed anywhere.  The ban amounted to relative degrees of discouragement of such practice. Northern Europe embraced this more than any other region the Western, later RC, Church penetrated.  I believe there is evidence that this was acceptable to those tribes because they already discouraged cousin, and certainly half- or step-sibling marriage prior to conversion.  Women had higher status than elsewhere.

    There is speculation that the Church pushed this solely to undermine the power-centers of intermarrying families preserving their lands and influence. It is also possible that monks, the carriers of observed and importantly written wisdom about stockbreeding, had noticed an increase in genetic problems from close interbreeding. The study authors make an additional suggestion.  All quite fascinating and worth finding out.  Yet the key fact is that it happened, and the loosened family ties created societies which were gradually more willing to think of themselves as parts of larger groups, not just their own tight cousinages. Ironically, this led to more voluntarily allegiances within tribes, and a slow increase in people viewing themselves as individuals. This expands in both directions, until you get Americans, a people who very much regard themselves as individuals, but also deeply identified as members of a nation of a third of a billion people. (India does not have that, and China has that in only an attenuated form.)

    A thousand years later you get nations, and in that mix women, of all people, increasingly have rights to own property, inherit titles, enter guilds and professions, sue for divorce or take men to court. Next thing you know, they’ll want to vote. Ridiculous, but it follows from the loosening of purely familial ties, so what are you going to do?

    It didn’t happen in other places. In many African and Muslim cultures it still hasn’t happened.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 28 Comments »

    Revolution

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 1st November 2019 (All posts by )

    This article from Law & Liberty reminded me of the 1989 Revolutions, the largest political and cultural events of our lifetimes.  I felt pricked that I had also forgotten and de-emphasised those events in my thinking, I who have two sons born behind the Iron Curtain. Shameful, really. John-Adrian’s first memory is of angry crowds milling outside his apartment building in Oradea, shouting “Iliescu SOS!, Ceausescu JOS!” in 1989 when he was four.

    One can make a case that rights for women or for black people were bigger issues over the last century, but those loom larger in North American and perhaps Western European consciousness than the rest of the world.  Also, it is difficult to separate out the life-improvements for those groups from the massive improvements in opportunities and standard of living for everyone in those societies.  Yes, there are infuriating stories of blacks or women of ability who could not go to college or enter certain professions in 1920, but that was true for a lot of white men as well. In Russia, people were routinely executed, starved, or sent off to the GULAG, and then decades later they just weren’t anymore, because those entire governments had collapsed.

    We get caught up in anger at the issues of our day, but some are never going to amount to much.  We are fighting over whether people who claim to be a different gender from their birth sex are going to be able to game the system and make us all have to go along with it. Americans are very big on individual rights even at great inconvenience to the group, and Europeans are very big on looking modern and free of tradition (especially when they can compare themselves favorably to Americans), so transgender people in either direction may succeed in having the rest of us be made to shut up and go along.  As I said, it’s gaming the system, but it could work. And that will irritate many of us and have bad unforeseen consequences.

    But it won’t be execution, or labor camps, or inability to choose our profession or where we live.

    No, the rise and fall of communism has been the largest event of our days, but even those of us who should know that get distracted.  Popular culture has distracted us away from that main point to hand-wringing about smaller items. We are letting down the succeeding generations who are not hearing about these great events as much as they should. I listen to history podcasts, but seldom hear any historians make reference to those events in Eastern Europe and Asia.  The things they talk about are true, and valuable. Yet in talking about the planets, even the largest planets, they neglect to mention the sun. We need to mention the sun.

    So I resolve to put in some effort in November to remind us of the rise of communism in 1917 and 1949, the executions and oppressions in mind-boggling numbers, the fall of the USSR thirty years ago and the economic reforms in China a few years after that.  That latter is certainly not a fall of communism, but it was perhaps a 25% fall, and it remains to be seen if it will also prove to be unsustainable.

    The Romanians have a very good national anthem, “Awake, Romanians.” We can only make ours into a rock version by doing it ironically.  There is nothing ironic about this version, and you can feel their enthusiasm to your toes. It looks fun to sing. I still haven’t figured out how to embed a video, but it will be enjoyable for you to click the link. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tqicikxFVys

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 21 Comments »

    Little Folkies

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 26th October 2019 (All posts by )

    I usually repost the entire piece from my own site to this one, but the comments section from 2007 is more than half the fun, so I will only post the link. I can think of a half-dozen of you who will be interested. If you are not familiar with the old folk song “Little Boxes,” you should check that out first, or my post will not have meaning for you. I got a surprising amount of pushback from a reader who thought I was being unfair to old communists like Reynolds and Seeger, and I was more irritated than I should have been in response. I should have answered in good humor.

    But judge for yourself. From my countdown of my hundred most visited posts.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 13 Comments »

    Hobbits In Kentucky

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 19th October 2019 (All posts by )

    I am reprising my top 100 most-visited posts over at Assistant Village Idiot, and this was number #22.
    From the early days of the blog, December 2007, and reprinted twice here, just because I love it.

    ****

    Not a joke or a misprint. Bumbling around doing research for a Beowulf post, I happened across an essay by Guy Davenport, literature prof in KY who studied under Tolkien at Merton College, Oxford. Back in the US, he became friends with Alan Barnett, who he later learned had been an earlier student at Oxford with Tolkien. Barnett related how fascinated JRRT had been to hear about the country folk of Kentucky, growing tobacco and having such English country names as Burrowes, Barefoot, Proudfoot, and Baggins. Two versions of the same story, each with information the other lacks, are here (scroll down) and here. Barnett, BTW, had not heard that his friend Tolkien had later become a novelist and knew nothing of The Lord Of The Rings, which is rather humorous.

    Davenport wrote a NYT piece on it in 1979, but the Times archive only goes back to 1981. (2019 Update: A reader has unearthed the Davenport article.)

    Commentary. The rural West Midlands area that Tolkien patterned the Shire after had become more urban by the time of Tolkien’s writing, and the idea of something even remotely like it being preserved in America might well have charmed him. To a European classicist, rural America had much the same remoteness that Professor T was trying to capture about the Shire. Americans would immediately associate Kentucky with Appalachia, which was settled by rambunctious Scots-Irish and English Borderers, and discount the idea of any connection. But Tolkien may not have had that association, and in this case it is not accurate anyway. That section of KY between Frankfort and Louisville was actually settled by a higher percentage of West Midlanders, more like Ohio was.

    I looked up all those Hobbit-names, comparing that part of KY with the rest of KY, and with other places across the US. There weren’t any Bagginses,* Gamgees, or Bracegirdles, but there were Tookes, Grubbs, Barefoots and Proudfoots, Burrowes, and Pippins. There were no Butterburs, but there were Butterbaughs. BOOderbaw my second son pronounced immediately after I’d told him. “We had a Butterbaugh in my class” (at Asbury College in Kentucky, 2005). There was indeed a greater concentration of all these names around Shelbyville and Louisville. These names occurred elsewhere in the country, but were much less common – only a few in huge California, New York, and Texas, for example.

    The attempts to show a similar speech pattern I find less convincing. Rural archaic constructions all sound very similar at first go until you take them apart. That archaic constructions persisted at all, however, would have been known to Tolkien but still likely to intrigue him.

    One commenter on a Tolkien site suggested that examining the census records for 1910 – 1930 for that area might be more revealing than a current phone listing. Likely true, but I’m not likely to do it myself.

    Update 2009: There is a Cooter Baggins who graduated from a HS in Indiana, right across the river from that part of KY. Hmm.

    *There is a Bilbo Baggins in Louisville, but I assumed that was a taken name, not a christened name.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 3 Comments »