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    Ronald Reagan Was An Unreconstructed Liberal

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

    Reagan, speaking to the UN in 1987:

    “In our obsession with antagonisms of the moment, we often forget how much unites all the members of humanity. Perhaps we need some outside, universal threat to make us recognize this common bond. I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world. And yet, I ask you, is not an alien force already among us? What could be more alien to the universal aspirations of our peoples than war and the threat of war?”

    No, that wouldn’t happen. That is optimistic to a Pollyannish level. Perhaps if there were massed invading ships so that there was no question that it was a hostile invading force, this would be so. Yet we have seen this throughout history, and human beings actually don’t act that way.

    The Romans hired outside tribes along the frontier to fight other invaders, and sometimes brought them to the center of Empire to fight their own internal struggles for power.  Goths, Huns, Allemani, Franks, Vandals…and these are the very tribes that lead to their undoing.  The leftover Romano-Britons brought in Saxons, Angles, and other tribes to help them in their fights against each other. Now the whole place is named Angle-land, England. Various Muslim tribes were happy to ally with the Crusaders against Seljuks or Sassanids they thought were more worrisome, and the Crusaders with Muslims.  The Native tribes of New England tried to use their connections with the English settlers to push each other around, though some preferred to ally with the Dutch or French, and thus, eventually, the French & Indian War was inevitable. Later natives in the Central Plains and westward were happy to use the expanding Americans against the dreaded Comanches. Now all those tribes identify together and wish they had made a unified stand early on.  The Romans eventually came to that conclusion as well.

    Arriving aliens might arrive for trade, or exploration, or as some raiding party. Wherever they landed first would form a relationship with them and be perfectly happy to use them to their advantage against Terrestrial enemies. Bilbo thought an invasion of dragons might do the Shire good, and that could be accurate. But that’s a single people, not one among many.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 11 Comments »

    Compound of Three Cubes

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 18th July 2019 (All posts by )

    There was a problem asked on the first version of the Mega Test, something like “What is the maximum number of discrete spaces one can create from three interpenetrating cubes.” I tried to visualise this one for a month, and even had a go at trying to make one out of toothpicks, but gave up and guessed.  I am 99% sure I got it wrong, but I don’t remember what I answered.

    UC08-3 cubes.png
    By The original uploader was Tomruen at English Wikipedia. – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

    I learned  about a year ago that the figure has been used in some discussion by a mathematician named John Skilling.  I keep looking at it and thinking I get it, then it slips away.  Unsurprisingly, MC Escher used it in a drawing, because of course he did. It is the most notoriously difficult problem on the Mega Test, which used to be used by the ultra-high IQ societies to sort amongst the highest scorers.  I used to correspond with test designer Ron Hoeflin, who describes himself as a Schizoid Personality Disorder, and I believe it. Even among the highest scorers on the Mega, those who got over 45 out of 48 or better, less than a third got this one right. As I had already taken the test years ago and am not allowed a retake, I didn’t think it would be cheating to scour the web to see if I could suss out the answer. The most common answer is 72 discrete spaces, which seems logical: 24 corners each intercepted by two planes, 24 x 3 = 72.  Apparently that is wrong.  The answer is greater than 68, however, because some determined SOB built one of these suckers out of rods and colored cellophane and then counted and got to 68 definite and answered that. He wondered if he might have missed at least one.  Apparently even when you’ve got a hard model it’s had to keep track. He concluded he got it wrong from his returned grade and the subsequent discussion by email among people who had qualified  for the highest society. He now thinks the answer must be 69. Ron’s not telling.  One of the very few people who have gotten a 47 or the person who got a 48 must also know.

    The parallel question on the other side of the test is 5 interpenetrating spheres. On both problems I fooled around with the idea of solids of differing sizes, but concluded there was no advantage in creating discrete spaces that way.

    This was part of my eventually learning that I am not exceptional in my spatial intelligence, though it took me a long time to learn and admit that.  You can have a go at the answer, but I can’t confirm if you got it right or not. For myself, I would like an explanation why 72 is not right, because that makes the most sense to me.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 8 Comments »

    Why I Didn’t Like The Beach Boys

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 17th July 2019 (All posts by )

    I’m cross-posting this here because it generated a lot of dislike at my site and another, and I wanted you to share in the fun here.

    I have listened to Part I and half of Part II of the Political Beats podcast about the Beach Boys, on the recommendation of my eldest son. They are episodes 60 and 61, hosted by various writers from Reason and National Review. No politics are discussed, and I don’t think I’d heard of these particular writers.  They are big, big fans of the Beach Boys, and phrases like “preternatural genius” fall from their lips every few minutes. Still, they make good points and they tell a good story.

    Brian Wilson, and “Pet Sounds” in particular, is supposed to be some pinnacle of rock creativity, consistently making Top 100 lists and having documentaries made. I have a few Beach Boys songs that I like very much.  But mostly I just kept a “best of ” album around for fun, when I wanted that sort of summer sound occasionally.  My son insists I played them a lot, which is why he likes them.  This is untrue. I likely did overpraise “Good Vibrations” every time it came on the radio and made everyone stop talking so I could listen. I will acknowledge that.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 3 Comments »

    The Idea of The University

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 16th May 2019 (All posts by )

    Quillette is its usual excellent self.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 7 Comments »

    Sweden Is Capitalist

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

    I try not to use the word “capitalist” anymore, as it seems to prevent thinking.  I prefer “free market.”  Despite the title, the writer of Sweden is Capitalist over at National Review agrees, and gives even better reasons.

    I have written before that Sweden is not so socialist as American imagination would expect.  It was mildly socialist 1930-1970;  hard socialist 1970-1990; and since then has backed off considerably.  They have large government spending per person, and the sort of social safety net that only works when everyone looks like second cousins.  You will notice that they are (ahem) having more difficulty with that lately, as are the other Scandinavians. Huh. Wonder what could have caused that. The author notes that the corruption is very low (as it is in all the Scandinavian nations), and they seem to actually get something for their money, so she doesn’t object as much as she might.  I remain unconvinced, but consider it a valid point.

    Ms. McCloskey gives the topic a better overview than I do. There is some of the same information I read in Debunking Utopia.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 3 Comments »

    The Last Gift Of Mary Magdalene

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

    When Mary of Magdala went to the tomb on Easter morning, hoping with the other women to give the body of Jesus a proper burial (Friday afternoon’s preparations had been hurried and the bare minimum), her situation was different than all of Jesus’s other followers. The men could go back to their previous jobs and families. At least I can go back to accounting/fishing/building again. They would be humiliated, of course, but that would pass. They grieved for their friend, but lots of people grieve. Some of the men had wished to go back to their previous lives, and wanted assurance from Jesus that what they had given up to follow him was worth it.

    Jesus had at least attempted to provide for his mother at the end. “Mother, behold your son; son, behold your mother” he had said to John. As far as we can tell, the other women had come from some sort of families, and after suitable punishment by their patriarchs, would be accepted back. Mary the mother of Jesus would have the greatest grief, of course, but no worse than a thousand other mothers in Jerusalem who had lost sons.

    Mary had nothing to go back to. There were always job openings for Beggar, of course, but the other beggars would have been schooled for a lifetime in eliciting pity by appearance and tones of voice. She might not be able to make even a subsistence living. She might give herself as a slave, if anyone would have her – the woman of the house in any rich family might have something to say about the master taking on one of the girls from the Pampered Palestinian Escort Service, no matter how temporarily reformed. Ms. Magdalene had seemingly stayed somewhere the last two nights. Perhaps she had stayed with one of the other women, or one of the disciples – if she could find one out of hiding. But it could have been that she had nowhere, nothing, starting in about two hours.

    We might hope that the followers of Jesus would remember at least something of what he taught, and that someone would take a poor woman in and provide for her. But if not, her own family was unlikely to take her back. She had shamed them already and was dead to them. Whatever friends she had formerly had among her customers wouldn’t want to be that close to her new holiness, unless they were utterly depraved and would enjoy even more trying to take advantage of her need. You thought you were something for awhile there, didn’t you – better than the rest of us, huh? Now look at you.

    And yet out of love and duty, which are not as incompatible as we make them appear in our era, she wants to give what last little she has in the pointless gesture of doing things up properly for someone who wasn’t even a relative. Just because it was the right thing to do. Just to show gratitude one more time, even if only she noticed.

    It was a gift of generosity unmatched by any of Jesus’s other followers, a pouring out of her own self, probably pointlessly, in imitation of his own pointless sacrifice. Just because it had to be done. We lose too quickly in the immediate discussion of the resurrection how great must have been Mary Magdalene’s despair at finding the tomb empty. Even this last ability to give a little gift had been taken from her, and she must have thought as well “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

    No wonder that Jesus’s words to her are “Touch me not.” What other impulse could she have had but to wrap her arms around his ankles, touch his face, burrow into his chest, weeping? How did even the Son of God move quickly enough to prevent her?

    There are no tears that will not someday be dried, no lonely depths that will not somehow be filled. We hunger; food exists. We thirst; water exists. What else then could hope be for, but for completion?

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 3 Comments »

    Tolkien Exhibit

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 18th April 2019 (All posts by )

    I still haven’t figured out how to insert artwork, which in this instance is important to the topic. Therefore, I direct you to my impressions of the Tolkien exhibit at the JP Morgan Library in NYC, and now appreciating his artwork, which I did not before.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 1 Comment »

    Gimme That Old-Time Education

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 9th April 2019 (All posts by )

    The strength of American education is that for 400 years we have allowed and encouraged people to self-educate. That doesn’t mean the schools are the cause. However, neither did they fully ruin that, and bad as they were and are, they seem to be better than everyone else’s right up to the present day. Most places in the world, even now, discourage or even forbid many children from rising above their station with either formal or informal education. Just having a good attitude about that has probably helped America a lot.

    Let me talk out of both sides of my mouth again.

    Black education today is terrible in some places. I’m not sure many African-Americans would maintain that it was better 50 or 100 years ago.

    Anyone with an educational difficulty of any kind might also have complaints about current school offerings, but compared to 1932 or 1952? Please. My younger brother had a special program in elementary school – they put his desk in the hall. In the tracked classes he was put in the bottom track of 17. He wasn’t badly ADD, but it was compounded by being only three weeks short of the age cutoff for his class, and his poor fine-motor skills. He went on to teach college, after a long and winding road. Schools missed a lot of kids then. They missed bad hearing and bad eyesight. They missed identifying any spatial skills until well into high school. The escape route was often that people, especially boys, figured out that there were other ways to get ahead, before “To get a good job, get a good education” became a perpetual, and misleading, public service announcement. Also people were more used to careers being built outside of school and so accepted it more. In contrast, a young friend who teaches English at a suburban high school brought in a speaker to encourage consideration of trades. She was told by her principal to never do that again.

    Still, I don’t know that’s the fault of the schools precisely, though they contributed to it.

    Then there’s the corporal punishment – some of it relatively mild and merely uncomfortable and perhaps not very damaging, some of it assault and abuse.

    Plus! Public shaming as a primary tool for encouraging children to work harder and do better. Because mild embarrassment motivates some of the better students, significant humiliation must work on the others. Now that makes sense. That was one of the brilliant pedagogical techniques of earlier eras. It is largely the people who were not abused and shamed who remember education so fondly now. Myself, I remember that they didn’t like boys very much.

    I mentioned in the previous posts the lack of educative bang for the buck we got from many of the extras in the old days, such as penmanship, and coloring as the default geography activity.

    That’s a lot for Old-Timey Education to overcome if it wants to be considered superior to the current model.

    ***
    As long as I can remember, we have been subjected to news stories every year of how American students only rank 20th in the world, or 13th out of 15 wealthy countries in math, reading, and science. We then have a collective moaning about how far we are falling behind the world, with every interest group insisting they know how to fix it: by hiring more of their interest group, be they aromatherapists or small-business owners to fix the classroom. Alternatively, people tout their various theories. The Finns and Estonians do so well because they are so laid-back and permissive. But The South Koreans and Chinese do so well because they drill their kids so hard. It seems we are hard to please. The breathless media accounts are usually based on the Programme for International Student Assessment, given to 15 y/o’s every year. It’s a good test, but if you don’t break it down by race it greatly deceives. If you scroll to the bottom of that Wikipedia article, you will see that American results are broken out by race. Do not be amazed that this is allowed. It’s a big deal in educational circles, trying to “close the testing gap.” They have to advertise this to get more money. Everyone else wants to cover it up to have less argument. I think the tension between highlighting and covering up is worsening, BTW.

    It’s just a little dated, but Steve Sailer put the list in more simplified form a few years ago, so you don’t have to keep scrolling back and forth between charts. It appears that Americans do very well indeed. Asian-Americans outscore Asians, except for magnet cities. European-Americans outscore Europeans, with few exceptions. The lower numbers for Hispanic-Americans would be discouraging, except that one sees they far outscore all Latin-American countries. We have almost no data for Africa and the Caribbean, but what we have shows all of them far, far behind African-Americans. The theory that environment in general, and schools in specific, matter more at the tail end of ability than at the top seems to bear out.

    It is unlikely to be primarily schools creating the advantage. The American belief in self-education, in-school or out, is likely the driver. Yet the schools are at least not destroying that advantage. I worry about attention spans – yet that is not the fault of the schools. I worry about much of the content being taught – until I remember that students seldom buy what the adults are selling anyway. I worry about the butchery of boys, especially now that the non-school escape routes have less status. That is on the schools more, but generally they are only echoing the values we insist on, overvaluing conscientiousness, over-reliance on credentialing, over-emphasis on sports and entertainment.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 6 Comments »

    Education Part IV

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 6th April 2019 (All posts by )

    There have been some interesting places to bring the discussion that came up in the comments, and I am impatient to get to them. But I think I will stay with my original plan for now. After this there are a few additional quick-hitters to spur thought, but no more extended essay.

    Here are the weaknesses of those purported advantages:

    Better teachers: Just because women in general had unacknowledged talents and some of them went into teaching does not mean those particular women were good teachers. Let’s go back just a bit further in history, to the late 19th and early 20th C and pick up the flow of who was heading up classrooms. My great-grandmother taught at a one-room school in Londonderry. She started at 17. Alert readers will suddenly remember Anne of Green Gables, the “Little House” books, and others of the era, and how young teachers might be. Moving forward in time, schools began to require that teachers had a highschool diploma, later a certificate from a Normal School (two-year teaching academy, later increased to four-year), then a Teacher’s Collge, and only quite far along, a Bachelor’s Degrees. Those with the earlier credentials were grandfathered – er, grandmothered – in. I had at least two teachers with a Normal School certificate only, even in my day. So whatever natural abilities they may have had, the majority of teachers did not have so much training – and there was not a lot of continuing ed in those days or supervision after.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Education | 18 Comments »

    Education in the (Not Very) Good Old Days – Part III

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

    I closed with this in 2012. I open with it now.

    Back to basics: they didn’t have all useless modern feelings stuff, or politically correct nonsense then, nor all these administrative distractions about disaster drills and recycling, and sex education and drug education, so they could read classics instead of trash. No, we had hours of penmanship drills – not very useful even then. If you weren’t good at it you had to stay in at recess and do more.   We copied things a lot, and not always as punishment. We wrote out inspiring quotes, or the Gettysburg Address. It was supposed to imprint grand ideas into our heads. Or something. A “beautiful hand” was much admired, and usually harder to read than the ugly writing, as anyone who has tried to read archival records can attest.  And we learned recitations – often the same one for everyone, and had to get up in front of the class and say it, one after another.  That’s useful.  And maps to color after labeling, and children in ethnic costumes to color, and lots of natural science to color.  Shop Class and Home Ec.  We scrubbed our desks.  We lined up and waited a lot, and sometimes marched to music.  We diagrammed sentences – kinda fun, sometimes, but not as helpful in composition as one might think.  We learned grammar, much of which turned out to be wrong, and most of which was not focused on improving our writing, but in shaming us out of using slang.  Spelling drills. Somewhat useful – not huge. Spelling bees – I was always one of the last ones standing, one boy against six girls getting every other word, but what use was that for everyone else for the last half hour, watch me and Barbara and Debbie and Judy and Hannah? A lot of standing around for us, sitting around for others. And patriotic songs. Bad ones. Maybe we should blame the 60s counterculture on terrible patriotic songs learned in fifth grade.

    I was, in retrospect, in good schools, though I didn’t know it at the time. I am not citing the mistakes of poor ignorant districts. New Hampshire finishes at or near the top in testing every year. (I’m not discussing why – the whole discussion would move there if I did.) I was in the middle spot of the 60s and 70s as the major educational changes came on. I saw both. They both wasted lots of time but did okay, and really, it doesn’t matter. When we competed against other schools our city schools usually won. When I compared experiences with all those top-ranked Northern Virginia schools in college, they weren’t any better. I have since compared notes with students from bad schools, expensive schools, prestigious schools, religious schools. Mine were among the best.

    But filled with useless stuff.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 14 Comments »

    Education in the (Not Very) Good Old Days

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

    (Inspired by recent email conversations with Straw School, Manchester, NH classmates, including two who are now teachers.)

    Getting lost in Wikipedia, as I often do, I read up on the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930’s.  I was surprised at how narrowly tailored it was, and how few people it employed at any one time.  But more surprising was this paragraph about the pool it drew from (italics mine):

    Approximately 55% of enrollees were from rural communities, a majority of which were non-farm; 45% came from urban. Level of education for the enrollee averaged 3% illiterate, 38% less than eight years of school, 48% did not complete high school, 11% were high school graduates. At the time of entry, 70% of enrollees were malnourished and poorly clothed. Few had work experience beyond occasional odd jobs.

    The crash came in 1929, the CCC was four years later and more, its target group was quite young, so you can do the arithmetic to see how far these lads were from the Roaring Twenties with its high employment. Yet it was the schooling that caught my eye.  This was not the previous generation’s immigrants, who had few years of formal education, as with two of my grandparents.  These were native born Americans, and these were the white boys – blacks and Indians had separate groups, and I imagine their education levels were even less. 38% of these 17-23 y/o’s had less than eight years of school.

    Conservatives like to go on endlessly about the good old days of education, and how their grandfathers had gone to one-room schools but rose to become physicians or chemical engineers or whatever, because the education was superior then despite the lack of resources. I lean pretty conservative, but this is just nuts.  Education was terrible until quite recently.

    Bloggers and blog-commenters who think about the history of education, changes in pedagogy, and can relate this to their own experience and that of their forebears, who can construct a coherent paragraph about the topic are not a representative sample of the country.

    You are not a representative sample.

    Are not a representative sample.  You are the 1%, in that metric.  The 5%, actually.

    Your anecdotal experience is of nearly no value whatsoever in discussing the situation.

    Let me bring in related statistics about years of education in the population as a whole in the decades before and after this, in order to make a distinction. From the National Center For Education Statistics:

    Progressively fewer adults have limited their education to completion of the 8th grade which was typical in the early part of the century. In 1940, more than half of the U.S. population had completed no more than an eighth grade education. Only 6 percent of males and 4 percent of females had completed 4 years of college. The median years of school attained by the adult population, 25 years old and over, had registered only a scant rise from 8.1 to 8.6 years over a 30 year period from 1910 to 1940.

    During the 1940s and 1950s, the more highly educated younger cohorts began to make their mark on the average for the entire adult population. More than half of the young adults of the 1940s and 1950s completed high school and the median educational attainment of 25- to 29-years-olds rose to 12 years. By 1960, 42 percent of males, 25 years old and over, still had completed no more than the eighth grade, but 40 percent had completed high school and 10 percent had completed 4 years of college. The corresponding proportion for women completing high school was about the same, but the proportion completing college was somewhat lower.

    I was born in 1953.  When I reached my 17th birthday I had more education than half the males in the country. The ones I was ahead of was weighted to the older guys, but not entirely so.  We forget.  I was at a mill city high school, and it was not unusual for kids to drop out when they turned 16 (about 20%), or before graduating (another 20%). And NH as a whole has traditionally had one of lowest dropout rates in the country.

    But, you will correctly say, these numbers don’t measure the quality of education. These measure how many people went to school. Not the same thing.  Perhaps if you got to go to school the instruction was quite wonderful. Especially in higher grades, eliminating those who were less interested in education (plus however many others who might be talented but too poor) might have made for an excellent classroom experience, don’t you think, AVI?

    I think not.  But I will leave all this with you to ponder before I comment further.  For now, I wanted only to remind you that things were not as our current imagination tells us.  We will get topp that. Post WWII America is insanely different from the rest of human existence in terms of education – including the rest of American history..

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 14 Comments »

    Education In The Good Old (1869) Days

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

    I did a series on this in 2010-2011. This post was also part of my series on whether William Sidis was actually one the smartest people who ever lived. (He wasn’t. Very smart, but not quite top shelf.) There was originally an argument in the comments about what, exactly, a test like this proved about a student’s intelligence, which I link to here. You can indulge that curiosity or not. The argument got testy. You will recognise some of the players. It isn’t central to what comes after.

    I don’t think we argue quite enough around here. Perhaps there have been good arguments in the posts I don’t read the comments of, but it seems too much of “Yeah, and let me tell you another thing about that!” lately. So I will go after a conservative favorite, of how much better education was in the Good Old Days, which I think is bosh. I don’t defend much of what I read about education today, but neither do I think it was any better then. Since 2011, I have increasngly concluded that schools don’t matter quite as much anyway. The worst 20%, where it is dangerous to even go and hard to concentrate – that’s bad. The rest, it doesn’t make much difference. Never did. It’s all right to disagree with me about that, it won’t hurt me. I have seen lots of schools, old days and new; I know lots of teachers, old and new. I have read some of the real research, not the media-driven crap where they still can’t tell causation from correlation, and I have discussed this widely for decades. I know what the disagreements are (though I do get an occasional surprise). Have fun with it.

    I am leading with this as a teaser, for its entertainment value, and because it introduces some concepts I’ll be bringing in later. I have edited it only a little from 2011. With the recent elite school admission scandals, parts of this are wryly humorous now.

    THAT 1869 HARVARD ENTRANCE EXAM
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 17 Comments »

    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 | Comments Off on Triggered

    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.

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    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…”
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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.
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    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

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    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.
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    Posted in Miscellaneous | 19 Comments »