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    Triggered

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 25th February 2019 (All posts by )

    The overuse of the psychological term “triggered” is yet one more example of a legitimate term being ruined by people who are trying to overdramatize either their own discomfort, or the evil of persons they dislike.  The idea of a trigger for PTSD symptoms is quite real. People who have been near many explosions in a war zone may have exaggerated startle reflexes to explosions or even very loud sounds when they get to safe places, and this can persist for years. Others do not find their nervous systems responding that way at all, even after repeated exposures. Responses vary. People who were beaten or molested, especially as children, may overreact, either in fight or in flight, to people shoving them or threatening to them years later.  Yet while no one would find such memories pleasant, others are not so viscerally affected.  Smells can be triggering, and actually provoke flashbacks.  Come to think of it, “flashback” is another word that has been cheapened.  It originally referred to more than just being reminded of something and thinking about it. A flashback is an involuntary reliving of a situation in which it seems real. While this PTSD symptom can diminish in both frequency and intensity over time without treatment, it sometimes requires training and effort to minimize its effect.

    Music can quickly and effectively bring us back to a time or an event.  Usually the effect is mild and pleasurable – or pain-pleasurable about nostalgia* or a lost love – but sometimes it can be more intense and unpleasant.

    Triggered was a well-chosen term, conveying both the automaticity and the intensity of the effect. When I encounter the term in modern usage is seems to be no more than a synonym for “bothered,” or “reminds me of something I don’t like.” One cannot be “triggered” by a MAGA hat. A claim to being triggered by a KuKluxKlan hood would require exposure to an actual traumatic event, such as having a cross burned on your lawn when you were little. Not common. Mere exposure to something that one disagrees with is not a trauma, and it is a terrible disservice to those who have actual trauma still circulating in their brains.  Not only does it dilute compassion for those who deserve it more, it may actually make their lives worse by expanding the situations which provoke the response.  Imagine a young woman who has been seriously sexually assaulted in high school and has flashbacks of the event in limited situations, such as someone shoving her against a wall. To be surrounded in college by those who frequently refer to less intense, perhaps even very minor events as being rape-equivalent is to reduce her threshold for being reminded of her serious event. Young and vulnerable people will sometimes even seek out such pathological companions in the hope of finding those who will be sympathetic and understand.

    I actually do find an event that was ridiculed as a possible trigger to be at least possible.  Rapes are described in Greek mythology and literature, especially in Pindar. There was a college woman who claimed that reading about a rape in one of the “Odes (there are a few nominees) took her by surprise and triggered a flashback memory of her own assault.  I think when people are criticizing Pindar and heroic Greek culture in general on this score they are describing outrage, not triggering, and I resent that, for reasons described above.  It seems of a piece with the pattern of overdramatisation I deplore.  Yet I don’t rule out that a rape in literature, in poetry, in music, in art could be triggering in a clinical sense.  Art is powerful.  That’s one of its purposes. It is supposed to resonate with life events and not be separate from them.  Most people consider classical literature boring, yawn-worthy, not any possible grounds for serious identification.  I wouldn’t be so sure. In artistic expressions of “The Rape of the Sabine Women” those victims look horrified, and it is hard not to feel pity and horror oneself, even while remembering that this is only a painting or sculpture and is not an event that is currently happening to real people. The girls at my high school got pretty involved in the cinematic version of “Romeo and Juliet” when it came out.  There are parts of Genesis and Exodus that one winces to read. A person used to immersing herself in the story and poetry, taken unawares, might indeed be triggered by Pindar. I know little of the story and nothing of the young woman.  I onlynote that it’s possible.

    *The number of songs which bring tears to my eyes grows every year.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | No Comments »

    Spanking

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 25th February 2019 (All posts by )

    We spanked.  I think I would spank less if I had to do over. But I have never been persuaded by the assertions of sociologists (one prominent one at UNH) that it was highly damaging.  It is nice to see a researcher who does not start from his field’s usual bias coming up with a different conclusion.  It doesn’t make much difference either way. The usual difficulty with the data is that abusive parents are more often also spankers. That I can believe.  When you take them out of the mix, the behavioral outcomes between children who are spanked and those who are not disappears. I oversimplify, but that’s essentially it.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 2 Comments »

    Minstrel Show

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 2nd February 2019 (All posts by )

    Reprinted from 2013, because it is topical.

    I have said I must be among the last people to have acted in blackface in a minstrel show.  I must have been about 6 or 7 years old, so make it 1959 or 1960. Looking into the matter, small communities in the northeast seem to have had minstrel shows for a few years after that; the latest I can find is 1965. I confess I have not looked into it deeply, so there may be many later ones I simply missed. But I think they lasted longest in places where there were vanishingly few black people, and that is not accidental.

    I don’t think these were the bigoted travesties of racial prejudice second only to lynch mobs that they are now perceived to be. The minstrel show was but one variant of a style of entertainment that made fun of types. Just like we do today.  We just design our feelings of superiority along political and personality lines now.  We are no kinder. That particular variant brought into focus why all the other ethnic humors were wrong.  So we dumped that and turned our meanness elsewhere almost immediately.  “All In The Family” for example.
    More meanness, but different targets.

    My father was a community theater actor, usually but not always in comic roles.  I remember the show being performed at Chelmsford High School, but this is almost surely wrong.  I must be confusing it with “The Steadfast Tin Soldier,” which he played there another time. Yet I am certain it was a raised stage, with theatrical lighting enough to darken the audience to the players but not render them invisible.  It was something of a big deal.  I was in a silent skit, of a street bum or hobo trying to eat a sandwich on a park bench, but continually interrupted.  I, a sad boy looking hungrily at the sandwich, was one of the interruptions, the others being a thief, a policeman, and an attractive, parading woman. Decades later I learned that this latter was a stock minstrel character called the Yaller Gal. Very broad comedy, with double-takes and exaggerated expressions and gestures.  The Wyman wheelhouse, I now know.

    I remember only that bit, and that the entire program was something of a variety show. It was all very similar to the other community variety shows I saw as a boy:  “Hicks In The Sticks” in 1966, in which I was the MC with stage whiskers and overalls, “Kiwanis Kapers” in 1969, which included that routine with guys’ stomachs painted like a face whistling while “Colonel Bogey’s March” was played – a laff riot, as always; skit nights at camp 1960-69; “Irish Eyes,” on the Central High stage in 1963 or 64, replete with early teens pretending to be sloshing ale and staggering about. People used bad accents and rank stereotypes a lot – German, Irish, Hillbilly, Texan, English, Southern, Italian, Mexican, French (but not French-Canadian, those were told privately), New Yorker, Chinese. It was just a traditional community performance which played up its old-fashionedness quite intentionally. It takes a while before people finally go “Y’know, we really shouldn’t be making fun of Negroes this way.  Even if there aren’t any within twenty miles and none of them will ever see it, it’s just kinda low and mean.”  And the next year, it would just be a variety show, with some stray German doctors or bowing Chinese for awhile, and then those would fall out too.

    Not all of it was unkind, even when stereotyped.  More importantly, not all of it was stereotyped, even when unkind.  It was necessary only that somebody be the butt of a joke because they were stupid, for any reason.  That was what eventually pushed that penguin off the ice, I think. The scripts had gotten less racist over time, making fun of a generic stupid person on stage with the same lines that had been used since early burlesque (at least), but there was no getting around it.  Once you put on blackface (or a sombrero and serape) you were pretty much including the whole group in the accusation, even if there was nothing specifically Negro about the type of stupidity.

    You can see both at work here: the blackface and accents are pretty rank. But the jokes themselves could be just anyone.

    Notice that when people kept the format after 1967 or so, they could find only one group to be made fun of safely – Scandinavians.  Think Laugh-In’s Arte Johnson, the Muppet Show, Prairie Home Companion.  Other ethnic groups were mocked only in the gentlest manner, and most not at all.*  Relatedly, Foster Brooks – and Frank Fontaine as Crazy Guggenheim – dropped like a stone. Though Craze was something of a subtler type, showing innocent wisdom in his damaged thinking. You couldn’t do those routines now.

    The petty meanness has not fled, only changed its costume.  We do think we are morally superior now, but it isn’t so. We just like congratulating ourselves on how we’re not racist – which we prove by finding racism in others. It’s a great disguise to keep us from looking at our own new and improved bigotries.

    *There was a major exception, in being able to make fun of Hillbillies, but they often participated in same (Hee Haw, Minnie Pearl at the Grand
    Old Opry).  That could turn mean, though, from other whites wanting to kick someone. Still does.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 14 Comments »

    Temples

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 27th January 2019 (All posts by )

    The Epistle lesson this morning was 1Corinthians 6:19-20, about the body being a temple of the Holy Spirit.  The children’s sermon was about eating apples, taking care of your body by getting exercise, brushing your teeth, getting good sleep.  I got annoyed, thinking “That is not what the verse is about.  I am so tired of evangelicals (and others) extending the interpretation to that.”  Then I remembered that what the verse is really about is not sleeping with temple prostitutes.  A tough children’s sermon to preach.

    So I guess apples weren’t such a bad idea after all.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 2 Comments »

    Feminist

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 20th January 2019 (All posts by )

    (Inspired by a comment of Texan99 over at Grim’s. My definitions of feminism are strongly influenced by the many things it meant when it first became a topic for me in the early 70s.  Internal clues tell me that she is my generation, probably two years younger, so her definitions may intersect with mine, and even more with my wife’s.)

    From CS Lewis, in Mere Christianity:

    People ask: “Who are you, to lay down who is, and who is not a Christian?”: or “May not many a man who cannot believe these doctrines be far more truly a Christian, far closer to the spirit of Christ, than some who do?” Now this objection is in one sense very right, very charitable, very spiritual, very sensitive. It has every available quality except that of being useful. We simply cannot, without disaster, use language as these objectors want us to use it. I will try to make this clear by the history of another, and very much less important, word.

    The word gentleman originally meant something recognisable; one who had a coat of arms and some landed property. When you called someone “a gentleman” you were not paying him a compliment, but merely stating a fact. If you said he was not “a gentleman” you were not insulting him, but giving information. There was no contradiction in saying that John was a liar and a gentleman; any more than there now is in saying that James is a fool and an M.A. But then there came people who said – so rightly, charitably, spiritually, sensitively, so anything but usefully – “Ah but surely the important thing about a gentleman is not the coat of arms and the land, but the behaviour? Surely he is the true gentleman who behaves as a gentleman should? Surely in that sense Edward is far more truly a gentleman than John?” They meant well. To be honourable and courteous and brave is of course a far better thing than to have a coat of arms. But it is not the same thing. Worse still, it is not a thing everyone will agree about. To call a man “a gentleman” in this new, refined sense, becomes, in fact, not a way of giving information about him, but a way of praising him: to deny that he is “a gentleman” becomes simply a way of insulting him. When a word ceases to be a term of description and becomes merely a term of praise, it no longer tells you facts about the object: it only tells you about the speaker’s attitude to that object. (A ‘nice’ meal only means a meal the speaker likes.) A gentleman, once it has been spiritualised and refined out of its old coarse, objective sense, means hardly more than a man whom the speaker likes. As a result, gentleman is now a useless word. We had lots of terms of approval already, so it was not needed for that use; on the other hand if anyone (say, in a historical work) wants to use it in its old sense, he cannot do so without explanations. It has been spoiled for that purpose.

    Now if once we allow people to start spiritualising and refining, or as they might say ‘deepening’, the sense of the word Christian, it too will speedily become a useless word. In the first place, Christians themselves will never be able to apply it to anyone. It is not for us to say who, in the deepest sense, is or is not close to the spirit of Christ. We do not see into men’s hearts. We cannot judge, and are indeed forbidden to judge. It would be wicked arrogance for us to say that any man is, or is not, a Christian in this refined sense. And obviously a word which we can never apply is not going to he a very useful word. As for the unbelievers, they will no doubt cheerfully use the word in the refined sense. It will become in their mouths simply a term of praise. In calling anyone a Christian they will mean that they think him a good man. But that way of using the word will be no enrichment of the language, for we already have the word good. Meanwhile, the word Christian will have been spoiled for any really useful purpose it might have served.

    The word feminist has always had a variety of meanings.  When writers, historians, and social scientists try to make distinctions such as First Wave, Second Wave, and so forth, they are trying to tease apart the many meanings and impose some structure on them so that we may meaningfully discuss concepts.  They (sometimes) know such distinctions are arbitrary and inexact, yet accept this in order that we may use the terms at all. Yet by describing the differences as a chronology – or even a development – I think they miss widely. It has been a loaded, and therefore imprecise word from the start. Many of the arguments about feminists and feminism have come down to these different understandings. “Oh, if that’s all you mean by feminism, then I don’t disagree. I was thinking of the type of woman…”
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 31 Comments »

    Wyrd and Providence

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 5th January 2019 (All posts by )

    Reposted from Assistant Village Idiot July 2010. I had a lot of fun with this eight years ago.
    Part I

    I am reconsidering an idea I rejected years ago.
    New England was a peculiarly fertile ground for a peculiar and intense version of Calvinism, because predetermination is a Christianised version of Norse fatalism. 
    I don’t subscribe to that fully, but I don’t reject it out of hand anymore.

    Part II

     Swedish Luciafest, and dressing children in the cute costumes of grim Norse pagan beliefs.  Disney was hardly the first, eh?

    Part III

    From Danes to East Anglia to Puritans.  How the grim creatures disappeared in the ocean, but some of the ideas were carried to New England.

    Part IV

    My theory unravels some.

    Part IV-A

    Part V

    Accusation by nature; trial by ordeal; some magics believed in, and some condemned, in Puritan New England.

    Whoop

    An actual historian lends support to my theory.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | Comments Off on Wyrd and Providence

    Four Great-Grandmothers

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 3rd January 2019 (All posts by )

    I hope this is fun.

    I started one of the books I got for Christmas, about the Indo-Europeans, which challenged in the first chapter that we all have four great-grandmothers, but we seldom know their maiden names or even their first names at times, nor anything about them.  His point is how quickly we will all be forgotten, and suggested that nothing may be known of us sooner than we think. As things stand on the latter, my children will all have many stories of my wife and I, should their own grandchildren ever ask. Yet it is a rare grandchild who does that,  More often, there are forty-year-olds who say “I wish I had asked Nana more about her parents, and Aunt Bessie doesn’t focus that well anymore.” I knew one grandmother well, yet she never talked about her own parents or early life much. She talked about her children and other grandchildren, and to a lesser extent her siblings and their descendants. What little I know about her mother is from other sources, and it is sparse. She died when my mother was six, and I don’t recall she was ever mentioned.  We will get to her in her turn. I have four granddaughters. One is two and would never remember me on the basis of current contact. She would only hear rumors from her father, who came into our family when he was sixteen and doesn’t pay much attention to things that don’t concern him this week. He is not a nostalgic person (for good reason). Her older sister, now seven, might retain some memory of me when she is old, if she is that sort of person. At the moment, I think the full extent of my identity would be “We took walks when he came up to Nome. He taught me to play Sleeping Queens. He used to send me postcards.” The other two granddaughters know me better, and they might conceivably have many things to say to their own children.  If they ever have children. If the subject of great-grandparents ever comes up. If they don’t get worn out talking about the other three grandparents first. Other grandchildren may still appear.

    So, point taken.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 7 Comments »

    Wisdom

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 2nd January 2019 (All posts by )

    Because I have answered many questions on the Intelligence and IQ categories on Quora, I attempt many of the questions about being smart, improving one’s intelligence, and all those “Is there One Weird Trick to being a genius?”  I don’t answer about genius at all, as I don’t have a clear enough idea in my own mind what it means, so I shouldn’t be spreading my ignorance to others.  When I use the word at all, I tend to use it about an idea or single framework ability, not as a description of a person, as in “she had a peculiar genius for bestowing the perfect compliment for encouragement.” I answer the “intelligence” questions very specifically about IQ, or about general ability.  For specific abilities, such as music or spatial visualisation, I tend to use the word talent.

    But most of all, I redirect the questioner to the idea that Wisdom is more important than Intelligence.  Because it is. Every religious tradition within Christianity and Judaism are adamant on the point, and as well as I know other traditions, they universally agree.  No group of thinkers that has thought long and hard about the good life, the meaning of existence, or the definition of virtue has even mentioned raw candlepower, so far as I can see.  If anything, the closest equivalent “cleverness” seems to be associated more with evil or chaos, as in Milton’s Satan, or Norse Loki. Intelligence is a wonderful attribute, like beauty, artistry, strength, or gracefulness. Yet it can be used for evil and manipulation, the same as those others. It is morally neutral.

    There are many approaches to wisdom, but I prefer to highlight the Western Civ tradition that comes down to us from the Greeks through the Medieval Church: Three Theological Virtues, Faith, Hope, and Charity; and Four Cardinal Virtues, Justice, Fortitude, Prudence, Temperance.  If you have been practicing those for a few decades, you’re pretty smart, regardless of what your IQ is.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 15 Comments »

    Solzhenitsyn Revisited

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 22nd December 2018 (All posts by )

    Cathy Young, writing in Quillette, has caused me to rethink Aleksandr. Solzhenitsyn: The Fall of a Prophet. I have long been an admirer, and even when his nationalism seemed a misplaced traditionalism based on a romanticised view of Russian history, I thought of that as quaint more than dangerous.  She was already making a powerful case that we should be grateful for his actions up until the Gulag Archipelago and his subsequent exile, but after that, no so much.  In addition to his anti-semitism (weakly defended by Sharansky and Wiesel), this caught me up short:

    But to many of Solzhenitsyn’s former admirers, his wholehearted embrace of Vladimir Putin and Putin’s neo-authoritarianism in the 2000s was even more dismaying than his views of ethnic conflicts.

    I hadn’t known that. It gives one pause.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 20 Comments »

    Group Identification

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 20th December 2018 (All posts by )

    Cross-posted from Assistant Village Idiot.

    I was listening to a podcast that included female pastors talking about Methodism, both noting with approval that John Wesley encouraged women as preachers, but both getting immediately sidetracked, one into Wesley not giving his wife any credit for their joint research, the other for two thousand years of men running things in the church and not including women. There was laughing, but it was not really good-natured. I thought again, as I have many times, This happened to other women.  It didn’t happen to you.  You are now complaining in anger at men who didn’t do this. Taking it a bit further this time, I thought Your experience has been closer to the opposite.  You are young and well-educated, and thus have spent most of your life at schools, which favor females strongly. It is in fact so foreign to you that you can’t even read about it happening in other times and other places without getting quite angry. 

    That I don’t understand it, not about sex, not about race or ethnicity, not about type of grouping may come from always regarding myself entirely as an individual, which may in turn come from not being part of a disfavored group.  I had difficulties of poverty, of being stigmatised because of divorce, of being personally rejected by those who should have had more concern for me, but none of those was because of any group membership.  They were all my own burden, my own battle. Whatever prejudice the groups I belonged to experienced was not recent, other than the general prejudice against the poor. All immigrants experienced prejudice and some disdain, but Swedes and Nova Scotians had far less of that than others.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 22 Comments »

    They Shall Not Grow Old

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

    I went to see Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old, built from actual footage and recordings from The Great War. Jacksons’s attention to detail, to get the colorisation, movement, and sound right make it a different experience than what we usually see in archival film, where people are moving jerkily and too quickly. This is smoothed and shaded, and the sound recordings made by the BBC in the 50s and 60s of actual veterans of the war have been cleaned up as well, so that much of it seems as if it had been filmed recently. A good deal of it is grim, of death and decay, rats, lice, mud, and noise. The audience is not spared those realities.

    The lighter and matter-of-fact attitudes of the soldiers are also captured with film and recording. We had a job to do and we did it… A lot of the lads were volunteering and I went down at lunch and signed up direct.  My boss said he couldn’t promise me a job when I got back.

    There is a fascinating half-hour at the end in which Jackson describes the techniques they used to recover the footage and make it come alive, which is also fascinating stuff. For example, he describes how the original filming speed was not uniform, as it was cranked by the cameraman at 11-18 frames per second, usually about 15. Getting the speed right was not linear, but involved guesswork, which he says the eventually got good at.  Jackson describes seeing very clearly when the speed is right, and when he shows the film movement, you see exactly what he means.  When the speed is exactly right, the movement looks natural and human, it jumps out at you.  A touch slower or faster and it just isn’t right.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 14 Comments »

    Communist Influence

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

    I have neglected my cross-posting. I( will make it up slowly over the next few days.

    One of my Romanian sons sent this.  Please push through it a bit, even when it is not fascinating at the moment.  People should remember.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bp3sZbGmR2c&t=001s

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 1 Comment »

    Social Media As Small Town

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

    A lot of 20th C American fiction was about a small-town boy leaving his oppressive upbringing. It is one of those themes that combines truth and untruth. Small homogeneous communities have pluses and minuses. David Foster recently posted about how the internet in general mimics those small-group interactions, and social media accentuates those negatives.

    Gavin Longmuir gave examples of peer-pressure groups that believe in Political Correctness, in contrast to the rest of of the society, which is less in sympathy with it. Academia, the media, the politically active, the bureaucracy.  I would add in students, which while part of academia, are not who we usually think of when we use that term.  Those groups have a strong tie-in with each other that might not be immediately apparent, and that is the social competitiveness of youth. Bear with me for a moment on that. That high school students care deeply about what is fashionable and who is cool is well-known. There is something about this that is developmentally normal, as each age cohort must learn to get on together to take on responsibility in the future. This used to be more limited, as children coming of age did not spend so much time exclusively with each other.  They were in larger families, and those families were together more (not always a good thing, but generally so). They had more contact with extended family, multigenerationally. They worked at jobs earlier, went to churches, and had more contact with physical neighbors, all putting them in contact with people of different ages more than is common now. As the years of education increased, children spent increasing time with each other. Since, say, the 1950’s, high school and college students increasingly have their own world.

    And they have money, or parents who will spend money on them for things like, oh, college. Suddenly there are lots of people who care what the opinions of 16-26 year olds are. High-turnover entertainment targets that group: music, movies, video games, youtube, sports. Political activists are disproportionately young. Unless they can get jobs doing activist work, they stop having time once they get jobs, spouses, or (gulp) children.  Even for Trump rallies, lots of people who might go just can’t, because
    Tyler has a doubleheader that day, or work is really busy just now.  I wish I could find the article I read years ago by an ex-environmental activist who believed that environmentalists got extra exercised about peers having children, not just because of the ZPG extra drain on the earth’s resources, but because experience had taught them that they would now stop having enough time to volunteer for The Cause.  Politicians in campaign mode need to hire lots of people at temporary, low-paying jobs, and that means a steady supply of young people.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 19 Comments »

    Least-Racist Nation

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 30th November 2018 (All posts by )

    As with many topics, I don’t go looking to beat the drum how many people are wrong, but I do rather lie in wait around the accusation that America is a particularly racist, or even most-racist nation in the world. People are stunned, angered, shocked to have the idea even challenged.  Their claim is ludicrous, among the least-reflective things a person might say, yet I do have clear understanding how people might get to that idea.  The key is in that word reflective. If one simply follows the prevailing news and conversation, I don’t see how one could come to any other conclusion. America leads the world in news stories about racism. We are probably well up there in incidents of racism as well, partly because there are 330M of us. The Chinese may rack up bigger numbers, which we seldom hear about, of racist incidents against the Uighurs, but in most of their territory there aren’t any incidents of clear racism at all. Because there’s only one race there.  Stay tuned.

    But why so many stories of racism? Real stories, not made up.

    It is a relatively simple exercise to stand back and say “compared to whom?” but it is difficult because it is not natural to most of us. Just because something is simple does not mean it is easy. Prayer for one’s personal enemies, for example. Dieting and exercising would be another. Once one can get to the second half of that sentence and say “America is a racist country…compared to whom?” the ground suddenly changes.  In one simple sense, America is a racist country.  We have racist comments, racist incidents, and racist attitudes all over the place, all the time. Yet there is a simple reason for that, and it’s not just because we have horrible white people here.

    If we are going to measure countries in terms of how racist they are, I propose we start by asking “Do they actually have different races there?” Okay, that just changed the whole discussion completely, didn’t it? Before looking at my examples, consider your own.  Take your time. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 18 Comments »

    Reiteration

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 22nd November 2018 (All posts by )

    Whenever a tragedy with a mental health angle occurs, there are predictable responses. These vary in awareness of the realities. As I have made my living working with psychiatric emergencies for forty years, I know enough to be at least moderately helpful, and from time to time I reiterate some points that get consistently missed.

    After the fact, and working from scraps of information, many people conclude that it was patently obvious that the bomber or shooter or pact suicide was dangerous and ill. Therefore, they believe that the emergency room, or clinic, or hospital messed up by not picking up on the obvious and moving to treat that person. Well, we could always do better, as in everything else, and sometimes it’s true, but that conclusion is often spectacularly wrong. No, that’s just making excuses. The guy told them he was thinking about killing people and was also suicidal. We admit over 2,000 people a year to our 150-bed involuntary facility, and every single one of them reaches some threshold of dangerousness, enough that it has to hold up at minimum, at a probable cause hearing. The suicide and homicide rates of our discharges is not that much higher than the general population. (The self-harming rate is much higher.)

    Yet they have said and done dangerous things, which is how they got to our hospital. When I read the news stories of what the killer said when he was brought in for evaluation two months or two years before, I am seldom impressed with how alarmingly dangerous the statements are. I have known thousands of people who have said or done similar things. Sometimes the quotes or actions do sound more alarming to me, but not reliably. Most usually, the person is acting more rationally after a little treatment and is no longer actively suicidal or homicidal. We have to decide what is the safe amount of time after to hold them to reduce the risk. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 2 Comments »

    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 | 9 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 | 19 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?”

    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.

    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.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 13 Comments »

    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 »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 17 Comments »

    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.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 32 Comments »