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    Gradual Cultural Change Because of Marriage Practices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 27 Comments »

    Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 21 Comments »

    Little Folkies

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

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

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

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 13 Comments »

    Hobbits In Kentucky

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

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

    ****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 3 Comments »

    The Strong Horse

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 15th October 2019 (All posts by )

    Osama bin Laden said that people will follow the strong horse.  He wasn’t wrong. That phrase came to my mind today reading the RealClearInvestigations piece Why China’s Brightest Abroad Show Team Spirit For Beijing’s Hardball. The American fantasy is that people in oppressed nations want more than anything to be free, or at least be freer. Though this is partly true, it ebbs and flows and is sometimes much less true than we expect.  It is true that in measuring public sentiment under dictators all data is suspect. People are afraid to be the first to stop clapping for Stalin.* In the current case of China, those that have received approval to study abroad are from the class of people benefiting most under the current regime, and are additionally vetted to boot. They are among the most likely to support the regime to begin with; then additional carrots and sticks are applied.

    Nonetheless, I think that Richard Bernstein is reading the available data correctly, and that China is not populated entirely by huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Beginning about a third of the way down, he illustrates that many of the students are proud of China’s power and growth, that it is expanding. There is no mention of them being proud of its government’s actions, but the sense is that they just don’t think about that much.

    “The conviction in China is that we’re on the right track,” Wang added. “The vibe is that the system we have is better than the West’s.”

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 53 Comments »

    Puritans – A Reminder

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 15th October 2019 (All posts by )

    Just to review, the Puritans were not obsessed with sex.  It is closer to the mark to say that moderns are obsessed with sex and therefore disapproving of anyone who has got any rules about it. The Puritans were in fact among (A commenter points out that Aquinas was on the scene for that earlier) the leaders in Western Christian thought that sex was not only for having children – which virtually every culture in the world has stressed. (Except for rich and powerful people, especially men. They get to regard sex as entertainment and expression of power.) Puritans believed it was also “to knit the heart of a husband to wife,” a charming thought. One of the supposedly oppressive rules of the Puritans was that men should not get away with taking advantage of women. They were strict.  They did not believe that a man and woman who were not husband and wife should be alone together, because they thought the temptation was likely to be too much for one or both of them. We threw that rule out, and guess what?  It turns out it has a good deal of truth to it.  Just because adultery does not occur in 100%  of such situations, or even 30% does not mean it doesn’t happen more than is good for both individuals and society as a whole.

    Hawthorne had his own hatreds – we needn’t share them.

    Puritans were obsessed with death, with the final moment when whether they belonged to the elect or not would be revealed.  They were both horrified and fascinated by death. They were obsessed with time, with “improving the time” and not wasting it. They were not Docetists, falling into the oft-recurring heresy that material things were evil and spiritual ones were pure. Many Christian groups have leaned this way over the centuries, and the Puritans had some of that, but they did not foreswear the flesh, they merely believed it should be held under short rein.  They drank beer and enjoyed it.  They had folk dances, but not dances with pairs of men and women. They had sports and recreations, though they believed these should be limited.

    (Screwtape:) In modern Christian writings, though I see much (indeed more than I like) about Mammon, I see few of the old warnings about Worldly Vanities, the Choice of Friends, and the Value of Time. All that, your patient would probably classify as ‘Puritanism’—and may I remark in passing that the value we have given to that word is one of the really solid triumphs of the last hundred years? By it we rescue annually thousands of humans from temperance, chastity, and sobriety of life. CS Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (#10)

    Stop blaming the Puritans.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 4 Comments »

    The Meritocracy Trap

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

    John Staddon, professor emeritus at Duke, reviews The Meritocracy Trap over at Quillette. It’s a good review, and if you want to get into a discussion about the book or the topic I recommend you read it, so you don’t talk yourself out on a limb.  But if you just want to know the gist of it, I can simplify: First, David Markovitz, author of The Meritocracy Trap, mostly means academic credentialing when he uses the term meritocracy. Most of us mean something else by the term.  Insofar as academic credentialing is a poor substitute for meritocracy, Markovitz is correct – it does screw the middle-class in order to give advantages to an elite class attempting to be hereditary.  We agree.  We just think you don’t know what a real meritocracy is, perhaps from being at Yale all these years. 

    Secondly, Markovitz thinks the standardised testing used to get children into colleges, especially elite colleges, can be gamed, and that rich people know how to do this. This is just not true. Instruction can improve scores, but remember the following number: Total SAT will go up 50-100 points from junior to senior year anyway, because of maturing brains being able to think more abstractly, see more analogies, and not get distracted by buzzwords and irrelevancies. Beyond that, instruction and supposedly gaming the system don’t add much. If you want I can go into that in more detail.

    Markovitz doesn’t believe in natural ability and thinks it’s all gaming the system.  He’s just wrong. Summary Over. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 20 Comments »

    Paying College Athletes

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 30th September 2019 (All posts by )

    UPDATE My son may have changed my mind about this. He has clearly thought about it a good deal. In the comments

    I don’t care so much about the issue – it affects me not in the least. But I care about logic, and there is plenty of faulty reasoning going on about the issue.

    The athletes for the two major sports, football and men’s basketball at big schools get given much of value.  Twenty-year-olds don’t always understand much about value, however. They are given excellent room and board.  The recent stories of basketball players complaining they didn’t have enough for meals in college reveals that they sold meal tickets because they wanted the cash.  They are offered plenty of food.  They receive excellent medical care.  Because their health is one of the main things the school is interested in, the school makes sure they get MRIs and other diagnostic tests, proper medication, diagnoses and treatment even for injuries and conditions they did not acquire on the playing fields. You have to be quite wealthy to get better medical care. I fully admit that their risks are higher. Nonetheless, it’s very good care.

    They have a built in social life, plus a significant leg up in status on campus.  Not that everyone loves athletes, but plenty do admire them and want to be with them. They also have a network to draw on for future jobs, if they choose to use it.  There are plenty of alums who like to know people on the team and are glad to invite them places. They have businesses and know others who do too. These aren’t a guarantee, but they are an advantage. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 27 Comments »

    Eurasiatic and Nostratic: No Real Updates

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 11th September 2019 (All posts by )

    I like to check up on these topics in historical linguistics every few months, just to see if anything new and sexy has come in. Eurasiatic and Nostratic are linguistic macrofamilies, not accepted by most historical linguists, which purport to be ancestral to the recognised language families today, such as Uralic, Kartvelian, Altaic, and of course, because it’s me, Indo-European (or I wouldn’t much care). Some historical linguists believe they can detect echoes of those much earlier (15,000* – 10,000 BP) languages in the reconstructed languages (6500 – 3500 BP) that are more generally accepted, and that some of this is detectable even to average eyes and ears today.

    I am very much rooting for this to be true, and even hold out hope that the Proto-World hypothesis that connects all languages back to a single family even earlier than that. As this is being studied at the Santa Fe Institute (founded by Los Alamos guys who wanted to go very general about studying complex systems), I keep thinking that one of these times I’m going to see that they made some intriguing breakthroughs.  I’ll keep trying. Nothing the last few times.

    Genetic research has backed up the claims of the more adventurous theorists with surprising strength, but that may tell us something else.  Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 23 Comments »

    Ehud Barak

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 11th September 2019 (All posts by )

    Via Powerline, an interview with Ehud Barak. I forget that political controversies and lines drawn in other countries are not quite the same as here, and it is good to be reminded. Barak’s opinion of President Obama is only a minor topic in the discussion, but it touches on things I have said elsewhere.  The former prime minister of Israel clearly has some admiration for our ex-president. His goal is to describe how Obama is different rather than to praise or criticise, but one can tell.  He describes Obama as seeking greatness rather than simple competence, to be one of the top half-dozen of American presidents, and studying greatness to that end. Ehud also approves of his more international understandings, being raised in Indonesia, having a Kenyan father and anthropologist mother, going to school outside the original 48 even when in America.  He describes Obama’s core understanding as more “subtle” than other Americans.

    I think there is a good deal of truth in this, but I think there is one great limiting factor.  Barack Obama is only above-average in intelligence, not some genius; and if one prefers training in wisdom rather than mere academic achievement, it is hard to see where that would have come from.  Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 11 Comments »

    10,000 Hours Did Not Quite Replicate

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

    I listened to a podcast interviewing David Epstein, author of Range, that came out earlier this year. He mentioned that the original 1993 study of violinists and pianists excelling on the basis of 10,000 hours of deliberate practice before age 20 has recently failed to replicate. Both the NYTimes and The Guardian overstate his conclusion in their headlines, but listening to him myself, Epstein did state pretty strongly that the 10,000 hours research is not established and should not be considered to be demonstrated. He leans more to genetic causes, which is unsurprising from the author of the bestselling The Sports Gene, and to including “practice variability,” such as playing different sports (or with a different ball or on a different size court), or in other fields, reading outside your area of expertise, or interacting with people who aren’t like you. I saw a similarity to Nicholas Nassim Taleb’s concept of antifragility, especially hormesis.

     
    I decided decades ago that it was not necessary to be a massive generalist to have your brain work properly, but that it is an advantage to have at least one endeavor that is quite different from your career or main focus. A mathematician who also has a fascination with Civil War studies is not diluting his mathematical abilities, but enhancing them.  I didn’t have the reasoning behind that quite right, I now think, though the principle does hold.  I thought in terms of activating and developing various parts of one’s brain, which is why I was so intrigued with the Graduation 2010 project in Daviess County, KY.  That may still turn out to be so, but has not been demonstrated.  What does seem to be happening is that the individual has a greater library of analogies and strategies to draw from when a problem grows difficult. I suspect there is a limit to this.  In fact, as a massive generalist myself, I can assure that there is a limit. Yet a full library of analogies can be quite useful.

     

    And notice, the violinists who practiced less still practiced a whole lot.  That’s worth remembering.  One of the best had practiced “only” 4,000 hours before age 20, but that’s still equivalent to working full-time at it for two years. Malcolm Gladwell and others may be wrong that there is something magical about 10,000 hours, and certainly wrong that anyone who practices 10,000 hours would become an expert, but those who excel do seem to have a heckuva lot of deliberate practice.
     
    Unsurprisingly, the people who did the original study do not feel this undermines their work in the least. Intriguingly, one of them believes in a variant of the stress model, that the intensity of practice is a physiological stressor that calls forth the expression of dormant DNA, while the other thought that practice was the most important, but not only factor.  I don’t know how strongly they stated things in 1993, and if Gladwell overstated their conclusions then.

    Posted in Book Notes, Miscellaneous | 11 Comments »

    Talent Vs. Practice

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

    Contrary to the very American attitude that hard work is more important than talent, I come from the school that says hard work only begins to matter if you have talent to start with.  As some endeavors take only a minimum of talent to accomplish, hard work is more of a determinant than talent there. But for many desirable accomplishments, no amount of hard work means anything unless there is significant talent to begin with.

    But first, stories.  I read many years ago about a man checking into his hotel room, noticing a man with a cello checking into the room next to him. He recognized the man as a famous concert performer.  It wasn’t Yo-Yo Ma, but it was a figure like that.  (We should be immediately alert to the notion that the story is probably not true.  As with spotting hoaxes, things that look too good to be true usually are too good to be true.) The man was pleased, wondering if he would get to hear the great musician practice, and get a free concert.  Music did indeed begin to be heard on the other side of the wall in about a half-hour. The cellist was playing scales. He played nothing but scales for an hour, took a fifteen-minute break, and then played scales for another hour. He heard the door open and close, and heading downstairs himself, saw the man taking an early dinner in the hotel restaurant. The musician left without his cello after dinner, played a scheduled concert, and when he returned – played scales for another hour.

    Bill Whitman, a college bandmate who now plays blues piano on Beale St in Memphis for a living gets frustrated with people who come up and marvel at his natural talent. No matter how much he tells them that no, he practices very hard and has for years, they seem determined to believe that it must be talent and knack, not hard work, that has brought him to this level of skill. It irks him.

    Athletes run into the same attitude. LeBron James works very, very hard at his craft. Tiger Woods put in hours of directed practice even as a child, coached by his father. And Joe DiMaggio, who Zachriel linked to and used as an example, did indeed spend hours practicing his batting. My stepfamily had many athletes – DII All-Americans and such like – and they not only played sports year-round and constantly, but would hit years where they wanted to take their game to another level and would put in the hours lifting weights or attending expensive clinics. They worked hard, and sometimes I got to see it. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 9 Comments »

    Loneliness

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

    I always feel sorry whenever I hear about anyone who is lonely.  We have all experienced it, sometimes for extended periods. Reading that an entire generation or two might be more likely to feel lonely is discouraging.

    I am always suspicious of statistics about entire age-groups.  Not only are the boundary lines fuzzy, but they always involve trends and percentages, not either-ors. If Boomers check some box 40% of the time and it steadily lessens until Gen Z only checks it 25% of the time, that may be significant and worth looking at,  but it means you shouldn’t be drawing a conclusion about any individual you are meeting fresh, nor even about the generation as a whole.  Some key word in the question might have a different meaning. The difference may reflect their current age more than their generation.  That is, those same Gen Z’ers might also check that box 40% of the time forty years from now. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 12 Comments »

    Denouement

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

    (This was a follow-up to a brif post at AVI) Hmm.  Perhaps I overestimated how much deep thought was going to result from Arthur C Brooks’ essay. I am having many thoughts, but they don’t seem to be leading very far. Certainly not to any coherent whole.

    I see an advantage to the career I fell into that I had not noticed before. (Note: I am a semi-retired psychiatric social worker who has worked with the acutely and dangerously ill at the NH state hospital for over 40 years.) The amount of fluid intelligence needed for the job is above average, but not enormous.  I always made my way through by finding side specialties to learn about, or took on special projects, or mostly, just finished my work as soon as possible so that I could chat up the very intelligent people who I found around there. I recommend neurologists as a go-to resource for that, with psychiatrists second. Psychologists who do testing or research I would rank pretty high as well. Of course, those three categories also inclued some of the worst people to spend your time with, but some risk is always present in conversation.   But mostly, my fluid intelligence always went to things outside of work, and those are still largely available to me.

    Thus, coming in to cover for other people’s vacations requires an adaptability and willingness to endure unfamiliarity and chaos that most people don’t like, but I’ll have enough fluid intelligence for this gig even after anticipated decline. This part of the life adjustment is not bad at all, and I can see myself doing it indefinitely.

    His opening story about the elderly famous person who was feeling useless did sting a bit. I had thought that the problem in those years might be regrets at not having accomplished more, yet here was someone who accomplished a great deal. Current usefulness is the issue for some. I had a glimpse of this in 2000, shortly after my mother died.  I took my stepfather out to lunch and he mentioned that he was not useful anymore. I nodded that I had seen the first of that the year before for myself, as my second son came to the end of his highschool years. We had not fully decided to bring the two Romanians into the family at that point, and I still considered that raising the first two sons had been the Great Work of Tracy’s and my life. What would I do after? Work was a job, not a career. Perhaps getting the new church off the ground would be the key.

    My stepfather cut me off dismissively, that I didn’t understand at all – very typical of him, but I at least see his point.  He had been successful in his career, president of a mutual fund and made millions.  He had just gone through the arduous two years of losing a second wife to cancer. My comment must have seemed shallow to him. No one needed him anymore, not for anything.  I still had children at home and a wife.  I had a job to go to. That earlier success actually makes the transition harder had not quite occurred to me, thought it makes sense. We get used to a certain level of status and accomplishment as normal and perceive sharply any diminution.  My semi-retirement two-and-a-half years ago was an opposite for me.  I was greatly relieved at not having so many things depend on me every day. To walk away from permanent anxiety was blessed release. Maybe that will look different in four years.

    I was a little irritated at Brooks going the Hindu mystic route – I have never had much patience with Americans trying to get the hang of Eastern religions. The advice he received and passed on was more practical than mystical, however. I had read something like this before.  It does seem wise to change goals to what is more appropriate for those who have seen much.  To see things and understand them and pass them on may be among our more useful tasks, not a consolation prize. Dragging in David Brooks and his new book did make me wonder whether Arthur understood this as deeply as I thought.  To focus on eulogy virtues instead of resume virtues is a nice phrasing, but is this really so profound?  I’ve been thinking about death since I was a child, and have had a life of sermons, books, conversation, and Bible studies that taught the vanity of earthly accomplishment and the preeminence of building a self for the next world.  Isn’t it simply…well, I suppose it still needs to be taught, new every morning.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 11 Comments »

    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 | 16 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.

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    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.
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    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.

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    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 »