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    Systems Thinking

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 26th July 2020 (All posts by )

    Update Below

    I have not forgotten that I am going to write on systems-thinking and its problems in Christian theology.  I am thinking about it a lot, actually.  But in the interim, I have noticed something about how people think of good things versus bad things in their respective cultures.  PenGun  mentioned either here or at Assistant Village Idiot about a serious medical condition he had, and how grateful he was to the Canadian Health System that everything went well.  I have noticed the same thing from the Brits*, that when they recover from something it is because of the NHS. Scandinavians say such things about almost everything, actually. They perceive their system of everything to be better: policing, military, diplomacy, education, healthcare, traffic. When I went to Romania to pick up my boys for adoption, I went to the schools they had been attending to discuss how they were and what material was being covered to help integrate them to the private Christian school they would be attending in America.  None of the teachers were able to discuss what they were covering this year, and none knew anything about my two children individually.  They all wanted to talk about how the Romanian system was so superior to what we were doing in America. 

    You might think that just by law of averages alone that the Americans could have gotten something right, seeing as by objective measures…

    My cousin-in-law from Belgium would speak in similar fashion, that the system of schooling she was used to from childhood was so far superior to the schools she was sending her children to now (Concord, NH, very good.  Their boys went on to do well at MIT and UChicago).  Relatives of my sons who moved to Norway for better jobs took their girls out of Tromso abruptly and moved back to Transylvania, with part of the reason being that they felt the school system was much better. Similarly, when I speak to people from Quebec (and thus maybe all of Canada, or maybe not) it’s the same thing.  They believe that Quebecois everything is better in general. Stores, food, politeness – oh let me guarantee you that this is not so.  They have old-world gestures and customs but are solidly insulting – This attitude is so strong among Swedes that even other Scandinavians notice it, and resent it.  It is considered arrogant to put yourself forward as better at anything in any way, but there is this universal idea that their systems, their way of doing foreign policy, or religion, or serving food, or crossing the street is simply better. It is fascinating that all of these cultures consider Americans arrogant because individuals are boastful, or because we notice that we clearly have aspects of our culture that show considerable success – such as a longer life expectancy than any other country  after receiving a cancer diagnosis, regardless of what your income level is – and say so.  To most other places, you can brag about your culture in extreme fashion, but you should not give the merest hint of excelling in yourself. It’s an interesting value.  Once adopted, people outside of that will seem unconscionably rude, sure. We offend them in this way, and that we do not change even after they have pointed this out repeatedly just infuriates them more.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 39 Comments »

    Medical Genomics

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

    This is an area where white privilege is real. We are increasingly able to determine risk scores for conditions that might develop later in life, and the large majority of the research subjects have been of North European ancestry. The studies have been done by Americans, Scandinavians, Dutch, etc, and a very large UK Biobank, but consider the motivations of all. Pharmaceutical and other companies have some interest in pure or general research, but mostly they want to be able to develop products for people who might buy them. Where do university labs get their subjects? Governments want to help their own people. 80% of sampling worldwide is Northern European.

    To understand why this matters, we usually take height as an example of a polygenic trait. There have been many SNP’s (smallest units) found to be “associated with” height. Even though they only have enough to account for 15% of the variance at this point, it was enough to predict that Shawn Bradley would be well above-average in height from his DNA alone. (Former NBA. 7’6″) But all of these discoveries are from Northern European samples. When you run the same tests on people of African descent, they show very few of those SNPs associated with height. They have so few, in fact that the test will predict that they are very short indeed, less than five feet, even if they are seven feet tall. Africans have different genes making them taller. A word on the side about these many genes that contribute to height. They are not so much of the form “make the shinbone a little longer,” as more general health items such as digestion and energy conversion, or when hormones activate and when they stop. A fair number may be primarily prenatal influence. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 5 Comments »

    Pre-Columbian Polynesian-Native American Contact

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

    Very exciting stuff, which I barely got started with over at my own site on Wednesday.

    I link again to the paper in Nature by Alex Ioannidis et al about Native American-Polynesian contact before the Columbian period. One commenter alertly picked up that this is the Thor Heyerdahl Kon-Tiki hypothesis from decades ago. The paper references this in the first paragraph. The Norwegian sailed a hand-made reed boat from South America to French Polynesia in the 1940’s in order to prove it could be done.  He believed that the initial settlement of Oceania came from Peru and Chile, and that these people were later in contact with and eventually displaced by people in double-hulled canoes around 1100 AD.  That the Polynesians have the sweet potato, a New World food, has always provided some support for this theory, though plants can also wash ashore from distant places as well.

    The new paper identifies 2-3% genetic similarity in the Polynesians, especially around the Marquesas Islands, with Native American tribes in Ecuador and Colombia (Zenu) from a single* contact event around 1200 AD, before the settling of Easter Island (Rapa Nui).  Because the distances are ridiculous, all theories about how this occurred seem unlikely, but there it is.  It happened somehow.  Did these two groups have contact in the Marquesas, or did the Polynesians keep on sailing until they reached Ecuador? If you pull up your map of the Pacific Ocean, both look extremely unlikely.  The later Polynesians were extreme sailors and covered vast distances.  Such peoples must not only be able to navigate using subtle signs of sky, water, and birds, they must be adapted to living on the water for long periods. To us getting in a boat is a temporary act, but for them this was much less true. Whole groups took to the open sea together, bringing with them what they needed to found colonies whenever they did reach land. There are fishing peoples who spend most of their lives on the water in SE Asia, but these stay close to land. Still, it can be done. The Austronesians were great sailors, getting all the way to settling Madagascar off the east coast of Africa to Hawaii and Easter Island in the Pacific. Plus, if you keep sailing east, South America is hard to miss.  They had a culture where people struck out onto the sea looking for new places to live, likely for cultural reasons that are now lost to us.  Notice that these are in similar latitudes, so that the taro and banana and coconut plants would be likely to grow in a new location.  North-south movement and settlement is much more precarious on both land and sea. One of the things that Jared Diamond did get right. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 5 Comments »

    Citizens of London

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

    The book Citizens of London by Lynne Olson was published in 2010 – my wife came upon it recently and recommended it to me. If you are looking for further evidence that Franklin Roosevelt was a horse’s ass and that Joe Kennedy should have stood trial for treason, this will please you.  Do not read the Introduction, as Olson merely uses it to illustrate that she is a rather cliched citizen of Washington DC, with at least some of its bubble prejudices.  This is perhaps necessary if one writes approvingly about America’s history, even WWII, in order to fit in there, but it intrudes on the narrative for those outside the Acela Corridor.  Her politics do bleed through a bit, as she is quite clear what were good progressive domestic policies of the day and which were old regressive bad ones, but even I, who am very easily irritated by such things, liked her telling of the story of America’s entry into the war well enough to overlook them.

    Olson focuses on three Americans – CBS broadcaster Edward R Murrow, business heir Averill Harriman, and especially Gil Winant, American ambassador to the UK following the execrable Kennedy. She credits them with shepherding the relationship between Roosevelt and Churchill, the military staffs, and the American and British people in general enough that they could work together well enough to fight a war. We regard such cooperation as automatic now and are aware of a “Special Relationship,” however much Barack Obama did to undermine that during his presidency. Yet our nations’ positive feeling for each other now is largely a result of that successful cooperation.  There was considerable misunderstanding and animosity on both sides leading up to the war.

    John Gilbert Winant

    A friend who was a history and business professor and is also the designer of a detailed WWII wargame once commented to me how empty our historical what-ifs are, specifically in relation to the idea that the US could have saved many Jews by bringing them to America in the 1930s. While entirely agreeing that taking as many as we could squeeze in would have been of enormous benefit to American science, arts, and business, he waved the thing off as impossible. There was no way that we were going to take in additional people when there was 25% unemployment, and Jews were considered far too different for a nation that had excluded an entire continent from any immigration only a few years before. Americans, especially outside the Eastern cities, didn’t like Slavs and Irishmen and barely tolerated Scandinavians. Citizens of London will remind you that we didn’t even like the British all that much. We believed ridiculous things about them (and they about us). Our isolationism was widespread, and intense.  If Europe and Asia wanted to tear each other to pieces, let ’em, it was no affair of ours, and even England was not an exception. Once you came here you were expected to adopt much of the same attitude yourself in order to be regarded as American at all.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 21 Comments »

    Five New England States To Change Names

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

    The governors of five of the six New England states announced jointly today that each would be changing its name as of January 1st, 2021. Massachusetts and Connecticut both apologized for centuries of cultural appropriation by ripping off local toponyms from native peoples, using the names for areas occupied by white colonialist settlers, while Maine and Rhode Island confessed that their names had originated from white colonialist oppressors, replacing the perfectly good Native American names that should have been kept. Governor Chris Sununu of New Hampshire stated that the Executive Council had considered standing pat because “the name just means new home town shire,” but ultimately decided that “new” “home,” “town” and “shire” all had oppressive or citizenist connotations anyway and should be discarded. “We will probably go with Granite State – though even “state” is problematic,” he said. “White Mountain State is clearly right out.” There is already a petition circulating in Portsmouth to switch to “Statey McStateface.”

    Massachusetts is considering changing to “Airstrip One;” Maine may simply drop the final “e” because it’s easier to spell; and Rhode Island, already annoyed at having to change the coolest state name in the country, is contemplating secession.

    Only Vermont is retaining its traditional name, though Governor Phil Scott admitted this is provisional. “We think ‘Mountain’ is inoffensive, and ‘Green’ has the advantage of also being the name of one of the few acceptable political parties this year. Still, you never know. Someone might come up to the State House tomorrow and declare themselves offended, and we’d have to honor that.” In the meantime, the state has decided to change the names of most its towns, beginning with White River Junction and St Alban’s, owing to their unbearable whiteness and the unfortunate religious origins of the latter. “Because almost everything is either cultural appropriation or cultural hegemony, we thought we would just move to identifying every place name by its current initial letter,” Governor Scott explained. “Unfortunately, in Vermont everything of any importance begins with a B, so it won’t be much help on your GPS” he added, throwing up his hands. The residents of Montpelier immediately took to the streets with hastily-lettered signs in protest upon hearing that explanation.

    Government officials from every other named place in the world declined to comment.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 16 Comments »

    CoVid19-Projections

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

    A statistician friend (Dana Farber Institute testing) tells me CoVid19-Projections has been much more accurate than IMHE, and yesterday they put up their state-by-state projections from May to illustrate their accuracy.  It holds with what we have seen pretty well, and I like people who are openly willing to be graded in order to get things right.

    I will be vacationing at a lakeside cottage until Friday, and so will not be commenting on all of your intelligent musings.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 15 Comments »

    Mostly Peaceful Protests

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 9th July 2020 (All posts by )

    For the record, Nazi Germany was mostly peaceful, as was the Soviet Union. Even when our Civil War was raging, and 600,000 of us died, most of the country was peaceful. Even those who were in service and/or near the fronts had long periods where there were no cannons firing at the moment. Lots of nervous waiting. Combat deployment itself can be mostly peaceful – though admittedly in the sense of “no active shooting” rather than any sense of restfulness. Much of medieval warfare was sieges, or moving from one place to another, or setting up camp. Mostly peaceful. Yet the small amounts of “not peaceful” mattered greatly then, and matter greatly now.

    The excuse of “mostly peaceful protests” is rather empty. If decent people should have refused to show up at Charlottesville because they knew there was a fair chance someone would turn violent, and to attend would give them cover and legitimacy, then how do we justify showing up in Seattle? Maybe we can.  But then we have to extend that in both directions.  We feel very, very different about protests we agree with, don’t we? It just feels different, and we just know it’s right.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 6 Comments »

    Online Abuse

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 9th July 2020 (All posts by )

    Grim linked to an article over at Reason about the pathologies of online virtue signalers, specifically that they exhibit “Dark Triad” traits of narcissism, psychopathy, and manipulativeness.  I don’t think much in terms of dark triad professionally.  It sometimes contributes to psychiatric emergencies because the patient has alienated support systems, or overreacted to difficulties that might have been managed, but those are generally add-ons.  Those traits don’t constitute emergencies.  We might note them in passing and how they complicate treatment, but we quickly agree “This is not our problem to fix.” I have noted that social media enables people with personality disorders to have much more power than they do in contact with human beings in real time and space.

    I poked around to see if there is literature on connections between Dark Triad and Personality Disorders to see if that could add something to the understanding of these people who claim victimhood but are themselves more likely the abusers online.  There’s a fair bit of soft evidence of this, but it doesn’t seem well-studied.  As I mentioned in the comment section over at Grim’s, this is third-rail stuff for researchers in the social sciences, as they are studying the very people who are most likely to destroy your career if you say the wrong thing about them.

    I always have to make an adjustment when reading the word “trolls,” because I think the meaning has become more general than my own take.  I still think of them as trolling,  as in fishing by dragging bait in the water and seeing what goes after it.  For trolls in that sense, it is irrelevant whether they actually believe the ideas they are dragging behind them, they just want to use whatever bait gets people most upset.  Because the noun form has become the more often used, I think the other meaning of troll, of a difficult humanoid who may or may not live under a bridge but is dangerous trouble, has supplanted the original meaning.  I think it is now applied to anyone being abusive online. To my eyes many of them are sincere, just difficult or infuriating.  Trolls were usually anonymous. Now they want more twitter followers.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 15 Comments »

    Responsibility and The System

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

    In the full embodiment of the idea of collective and historical responsibility, you bear some responsibility for slavery and oppression even if you and your ancestors had no direct connection to the purchase and ownership of any slave, because you are part of the system and have benefited from that system.

    By that reasoning, if you peacefully protest against racial injustice, but other protestors on the other side of the crowd – or even on the other side of the country – engage in looting and violence, aren’t you guilty as well, as part of the system? That second idea would sound strange and impossible to people, but I am not seeing a distinction.

    Our church has taken up a study on racial justice, using a new book which I shall not name, but will mention that I loathe. There are plenty of difficulties right off the bat with trying to integrate Critical Race Theory, or any of the philosophical frameworks of the last two centuries which focus on group identities and  viewing human activities as systems with Christianity.

    If systems were that important, we might expect that Jesus would have mentioned them more. The Roman Empire was an interlocking system that had good things and bad about it.  Neither Jesus, nor Paul, nor James, John, Peter, or Luke pay it much mind as a system per se. There is no advocacy that Christians should spend a moment of their time trying to change the system. We might ask ourselves why this is so. Just out of curiosity.

    That systems were changed as a result of Christian belief is not at all the same thing as regarding attempts to “change the system” as Christian goals.  To bring things closer to the present day, William Wilberforce did not attempt to “change the system.” His goal was to eliminate slavery in the British Commonwealth, which he saw as a great evil. That “the system” would change as a result was not something he wasted any ink or a single speech on. The downstream effects of our actions are always unknown, and often include unforeseen problems.  We are to estimate those as best we can and take them into consideration, certainly.

    There is something about focus on the system to removes our focus from our own actions.  This happens on the credit as well as the debt side of the ledger as well.  When we take credit and think ourselves special and virtuous because of things our ancestors, countrymen, or coreligionists have done that is equally missing the point.  I have a couple of ancestors who fought for the Union to free slaves.  I don’t believe I am owed any thanks for that.

    If you are participating in an act, even in only a supportive or indirect role, I think that act does attach to you. At the end of Durrenmatt’s The Visit it is clear that the entire town has participated in the killing and the actions of a single individual do not stand out. Writing in Switzerland after WWII, it is clear that his intent was to tell Germans they all bore responsibility.  I would agree.  But were all Germans equally guilty?  Does a telephone operator or a bartender carry the same weight of guilt as a guard who executed Jews and pried gold fillings from their teeth?  Did a Jew or Gypsy who beat his wife become innocent on the day Hitler came to power?

    People who focus on changing, disrupting, or overthrowing one system lose the ability to see the faults of their own system. The system is a snare for the Christian. Well, I suppose for anyone.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 40 Comments »

    Denunciation

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 30th June 2020 (All posts by )

    I had seen sections of Taibbi’s excellent takedown of White Fragility, but only read the whole essay today. Robin DiAngelo’s only solution offered to white people is that they become less white.  I think she, and others, are pointing to a different consensus as to what must be done. You must denounce other white people, individually and collectively, in order to be saved. Notice that this doesn’t cost you a cent. Redemption without sacrifice.

    ***

    Reading my previous posts that touch on the subject, I once made the point that “fragility” is not the potential sin I would associate with white people, but it’s opposite.  What seems to be happening is the formulation “See?  You are defending yourself, therefore you must feel defensive.  People feel defensive when they are actually weak, not strong.  Therefore you prove my accusation that you are fragile.  UH! UH! See?  There you are, doing it again!”

    Rather convenient.

    However, I think there is a place where this is subtly true.  They are attempting to motivate some white people to join in by using this tactic.  For those people, it might be true.  For the others, I don’t see how they can have it both ways.

    For myself, I long ago decided that black spokespeople have little or nothing to do with the black people I actually encounter in my life.  The people I encounter are human beings, and some are darker, some are lighter.  I am now told this is an impossible formulation that denies the reality of oppression.  However, I am told this by precisely those people who have an interest in maintaining division, because their jobs, their self-esteem, or their excuses why they ain’t rich depend upon it. The black people I actually know are worried about their golf handicap, whether they have enough money to retire, whether their children are going to get a good education, whether they are going to keep this new job, whether their church will weather this CoVid storm, whether the young Christians they are teaching will actually learn the life lessons they need, whether their daughter’s teacher will be willing to be strict with her…very much the same things my white and Asian acquaintances have.  They’re just darker people saying these things.

    The world has gone mad, and I’m just trying not to get dragged in its trail.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 13 Comments »

    Khazar Hypothesis

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 26th June 2020 (All posts by )

    I’ll get you the long version tomorrow, but it occurred to me driving home from work today that I could make it all very simple.

    If the Khazar Hypothesis is true, we should see Central Asian genetic material in Ashkenazi Jews on the order of 25-50%; and among their Aaronic priestly class, we should see the Cohen Modal Haplotype at no higher than the base rate of 5-15% for the broad region of the Mediterranean, Arabian, and Caucasus regions.

    If the Rhineland Hypothesis is true, we should see very little Central Asian genetic material in Ashkenazi Jews and there should be at least some elevation in the frequency of the Cohen Modal Haplotype, maybe even a lot.

    What we actually see, now that we can measure it, is that the amount of Central Asian genetic material among Ashkenazis approaches zero, and the Aaronic priestly class is 50-70% Cohen Modal Haplotype.

    The Khazar Hypothesis is therefore not true, and it’s not close.

    The Rhineland Hypothesis might still fall to some other explanation, but Khazar ain’t it.

    I have now written up the entire argument, for those who are interested. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 2 Comments »

    National Holiday

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

    There is a movement afoot to make Juneteenth a National Holiday. People likely think this is free, and is just a nice way to show African-Americans that we care about them.  Who could be against that?  You wouldn’t want to be against that, would you?  That would be unkind, impolite, and racist.

    Articulate what Martin Luther King Day is for.  The first meanings of that verb are “utterance,” “putting into clear words,” and that’s what I mean.  If you want Juneteenth, you should first have to put into words what MLK/Civil Rights Day is for, not just think about them vaguely and have a feeling. Only then can you go on to describe how Juneteenth is different and brings something new to the table.

    I’ll just wait here while you scratch some things on the page and imagine delivering those words before an audience.  They have contests for that, don’t they, asking schoolchildren to write speeches about what MLK Day is about?  What do they say, do you think? 

    When you have finished that, scratch down some percentages of what a new federal holiday will cost businesses and governments which would then have to pay people to stay home, or at minimum pay them a higher wage. Describe to me where that money will come from. As a starting point, people work 5 days/week for 52 weeks, minus ten days vacation minus fifteen holidays minus sick days – about two weeks. Call it 225 days a year. Back of the envelope is fine.

    Now remember that this will feel good to do but have only psychological effects on people who really dig this stuff.  There will be no improvement in policing, or schools, or job prospects, or city infrastructure, or, well anything. Hispanics might rightfully wonder why they got left out.  At least “Civil Rights” applies to everyone, at least in theory.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 11 Comments »

    Pollution, Food, and C19

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

    I read a wise essay in Mother Earth News in the 1970s, which pointed out that the number of people who can live in an area without seriously polluting it is dependent on technology. With that audience, the tendency was to think much more in terms of absolute numbers. The earth has too many people! We can’t support them all! Pollution is out of control! The author noted that a solitary person living in the wild, defecating on the ground without even a trench, pollutes a sizable area. Without any food preservation or storage techniques he might need a wide area as well. Yet with technology we can build Manhattan, treating our sewage and carting it off. Transportation allows food to travel, so some can specialize in making lots of it and sending it off.

    Something similar came up in the C19 discussions that I think got missed. We should be glad that it got missed, because it would only be front-and-center in our thinking if things had gone wrong. Some rural places did have the possibility that their local health systems would be overwhelmed. As there weren’t that many of them, however, they could spread the medical response to nearby hospitals and clinics. In number of cases per thousand people, Dougherty County GA (pop 90K) got hit hard – 140 deaths, as did a couple of neighboring counties. The two counties next to it with about 8,000 people each have a death rate of over twice Dougherty’s 1500/mil. Per capita, Georgia’s rural counties are doing substantially worse than Atlanta. Over 2,000 deaths per million in that SW area. I think that’s worse than NYC.

    Rural counties do fine until they don’t, which I think informed a lot of the thinking early on. Once they stop doing fine, it was impossible to get help there when test kits and everything else was so lacking. An outbreak of 20 people in a rural county can quickly become less manageable than an outbreak of 200 in Boston if there’s no hospital nearby. Considering how to handle these counties will definitely have to be part of a response plan going forward. 25 deaths in a county of 8,000 may not make the news, but when you consider 3-4 times as many may have been seriously ill, that’s a lot for one group to handle.

    Franklin, NH has about 8,000 people but a disproportionate number of deaths because of one nursing home, with many positives among both staff and residents, who had and have contact with the rest of the community. (There may be more to the story if I were on the ground there. I only know what I read in the papers.) The city has a regional hospital which was nearly overwhelmed, but there are three other hospitals thirty minutes away, two of which were not treating many cases at the time. I didn’t even hear about it an hour away, but the news for that region was full of anxiety and apprehension for a few weeks. Nationally, a few local systems were briefly overwhelmed. How you view that largely depends on whether the word “few,” “briefly,” or “overwhelmed” jumped out at you. Such are the things which create confirmation bias, where we reinforce some ideas without much thinking about them.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 5 Comments »

    Types of Liberty

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

    I just published a flock of posts at my own site and have sought advice what to publish here. Interestingly, one of my earliest posts was suggested. I had reviewed it in December 2019, doing the countdown of my posts at Assistant Village Idiot that had received the most traffic. This was #6 all-time, but had little commentary. I think some of the themes are a propos.

    We are now into territory of posts that have 5,000 hits or more, which is darn good for me.  This is from February 2006, one of my first two hundred posts.  I think a few of you will like the topic. I don’t know who has been reading it over the years, as there haven’t been commenters.

    ************

    A post from last week over at the excellent Albion’s Seedlings reminded me of a topic I had intended to post on weeks ago: the varieties of meaning of the word “liberty” in the American Colonies from the time of founding to independence.

    We think we mean the same thing when we use a word, but this is not often so, especially with large abstracts like kindness, or community. While the concepts of liberty converged somewhat leading up to the Revolution, they sprang from at least four different concepts, associated with the four distinct areas of settlement.

    These founding folkways, and much else besides, led to quite distinct, and often diametrically opposed, ideas about liberty. David Hackett Fischer calls the New England idea “ordered liberty” (freedom to determine the course of one’s own society), at worst exemplified in the stifling, moralistic conformism that we still associate with the word “Puritan”, at best in the strong town-based democracies (and suspicion of anything but local power) still evident in parts of northern New England.

    The Virginia idea was that of “hegemonic liberty” (freedom to rule and not be ruled), at worst exemplified in the hierarchical “Slaveocracy” that valued freedom for those at the top but not for poor white trash or black slaves, at best in the aristocratic excellence of men such as George Washington.

    The Quaker idea was that of “reciprocal liberty” (freedom for me and for thou), at worst exemplified in the pacifistic pursuit of commerce without regard for nation or principle, at best in a quite modern-sounding respect for all human beings to pursue their own fulfillment.

    The frontier idea was that of “natural liberty” (a freedom without restraints of law or custom), at worst exemplified in the violent and often-emotionalistic chaos of life beyond the reach of civilized norms, at best in eternal vigilance with regard to the sovereignty of the individual.

    Frontier in the above means the Appalachian areas settled by the Scots-Irish and English Borderers throughout the middle of the 18th C. Quaker refers not only to the settling of Pennsylvania in the late 17th C, but the other mid-Atlantic states as well. The overall concept is taken from Fischer’s marvellous Albion’s Seed, which traces the founding of the American regions back to distinctive regions of Great Britain.

    New England — ordered liberty — freedom to determine the course of one’s own society. I touched on this two weeks ago. It is close to the idea of Christian Community and consensus living. A modern equivalent would be an environmentalist community which would agree to bind itself to certain principles of organic farming. The individual would not have liberty to do as he pleases in pesticides and fertilizer, but would adhere to group norms, so that all other members could have food free of taint. The European aspirations come closest to this model.

    Virginia — hegemonic liberty — freedom to rule and not be ruled. The right of the few to achieve enormous freedom — by birth, merit, or assignment — is preserved, even at the expense of the many. Americans rebel against such an equality being granted by birth into nobility — but many conservatives are fine with it occurring by merit. Whether justified or no, this is the stereotype of conservatives that liberals rail against.

    Mid-Atlantic — reciprocal liberty — freedom for me and for thee. This is some midpoint between the two above. “I will consent to give up some freedoms, but no one shall force me to give up others.”

    Appalachia — natural liberty — freedom without restraints of law or custom. This would be closer to a libertarian (or hyper-libertarian) framing. The freedom of the individual trumps even local control. Think Alaska.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 5 Comments »

    Rhinoceros

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

    One difficulty is that everyone thinks that it is everyone else who are the rhinoceroses. I might think it’s you.

    And of course, you might think it’s me.

    Posted in Miscellaneous, Video | 15 Comments »

    The Disappearance Of Iwntge Henken

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

    Iwntge* Henken was a three-and-a-half year old boy who crossed the Atlantic in 1920. He departed Antwerp on the Northern Pacific on October 18, landing in Hoboken on October 28. He was never heard from again.

    He had been scheduled to board the Pocahontas a few weeks before, along with his mother Adrianna, but this was cancelled for unknown reasons. They were traveling as the dependents of John Henken, an American soldier who had been born in Holland but moved to New York as a child. It is likely he served in the Netherlands during and after WWI because of his fluency in Dutch. He was fluent enough to have courted Adrianna successfully, it seems, and he brought her back to the states a year after the war was over. Adrianna was pregnant with a child who would be born in America and come to be named Johanna. One might take a moment to reflect on how miserable it must be to be pregnant on a troop ship crossing the North Atlantic in autumn. Adrianna was remarkably determined to come to America, however, come hell or high water. This is where the complications set in.

    Adrianna Anthonisse may have had some sort of ceremony performed, but she could not have actually been married to John Henken, because she was still married to Willem Heijboer in Holland, who would have been the father of the three-and-a-half year old child. It is not known how long John Henken cared for the two, soon three dependents, but it can’t have been long, as the children show up on an orphanage roll soon after with the notation that their father had abandoned them. It may be that he abandoned them the moment his feet touched American soil again, for all we can tell, and it may even be that Adrianna knew this and agreed to it beforehand, so determined was she to come to America. It may be more accurate to say it is John Henken who was never heard from again, as all our attempts to trace him after come up empty.** Johanna was my wife’s mother. She had been told as a child that her father had died, but suspected as an adult that he had in fact abandoned the family instead. There was no longer anyone to tell her, as Adrianna died in 1929.

    Iwntge was never “heard from” again in the sense that he vanished from all records after embarking from Holland/Belgium.We do know what happened to him, however. He went back to being a girl named Helena, who after a very difficult childhood married a man who loved her dearly and she him all their days, in Florida. She would stay in touch with her half-sister Johanna in Massachusetts throughout and see her every few years. “Iwntge Henken” was a disguise to throw anyone off who was looking for Helena Anthonisse, or Helena Heijboer. Willem Heijboer was indeed looking for her and eventually located her and established contact by correspondence when she was an adult. Very sad for him, really, to have his wife leave with his daughter with no word or explanation. He may not have even known Henken’s name, complicating his search for Helena.

    * The name is likely a mis-writing by the American military official of some other Dutch name, done by sound rather than from been seen written. The last two letters are much more likely to be -je than -ge, for example. I am only guessing after that, but Antje is a girl’s name, and “Wintje” is a Dutch surname, so perhaps one of those is it.

    **We now know from the DNA tracing that he was the brother of Jacob Henken, and one of Jacob’s descendants does remember there was a brother that was occasionally referred to, but never met.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 1 Comment »

    God Knows Where I Am

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 15th May 2020 (All posts by )

    I have been asleep at the switch on the story of Linda Bishop, who was a patient at my hospital in the 2000’s, refusing treatment and eventually being discharged, after which she moved into an abandoned farmhouse and eventually starved to death. It was written up well in the New Yorker in 2011 and I recalled reading that. Since that time it was made into an award-winning documentary in 2016, “God Knows Where I Am,” which I had not known about. I’m not sure how I missed that. Asleep at the switch, apparently. I knew nothing about the case at the time, but her entire treatment team were all people known to me. I worked that unit at other times. I think they are all gone from the hospital by now. The discussions they had are ones I have had repeatedly through the years as well. A person is psychotic, but displays no measurable dangerousness. In the protected environment of the hospital they are able to eat, stay clean, and clothe themselves. They go to a cooking group, make food, and answer a nutritionist’s questions intelligently. Whatever we suspect, we are hard pressed to offer much evidence they won’t be able to care for themselves. We might apply for a guardianship, but the standard for proving that a person is unable to make decisions on their own behalf is high. It is not enough to demonstrate they make bad decisions. Half the state of NH makes bad decisions but we don’t lock them up and get them a guardian. The bar is high because we want it to be high.

    Her story is poignant, and provoking, but all the commentary in all such stories seems to say the same ridiculous things over and over. She fell through the cracks of the mental health system. No she didn’t. The story/film calls into question a system where a person who doesn’t believe they are sick can make decisions for themselves. No it doesn’t, not really, neither the legal nor the mental health system. The hospital refused to notify the family because of HIPAA laws. What’s this word “refused” in there? Do we say that the sheriff “refused” to tear down a building because of zoning laws? As in my post three years ago about the word “systemic,” we use that word system as an evasion. Systemic racism means we can’t actually define what we’re talking about, but we want bad things to stop happening so we start kicking the machine in random places. Someone will pay, dammit! Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 30 Comments »

    Poetry

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

    Y’all need a break from C19 and Flynn at the moment. I know I do. Cross-posted at Assistant Village Idiot, as usual.

    We think of poetry as a decorative art, important for beauty and the expression of elusive ideas in a strong or vivid manner. This is true of some early poetry, but many cultures used poetry more functionally. The point was to tell a story, an important story to preserve history. What strike us as decorative items now, such as rhyme or meter, were put there as aids to memory. The poet could not write things down, and did not want to falter or get lost over many passages. Structure locks these in. We still see this even in our literate culture. Children learn the states of the union as a song “There’s AL-abama, AL-aska…Rhode Island, Tennessee!” I have heard at least three songs teaching the books of the Bible: “I’ll tell you the truth about the book of Ruth…There’s Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther and Job – I want to go to heaven in a righteous robe…” (and that was just from overhearing my sons). It is not unusual for adults in Bible study to laughingly mention that much of their memorized Scripture is from music. (Note: Handel’s Messiah is excellent for this.)

    Telling a story in poetry happens less often these last two centuries. Rudyard Kipling would do it, Tennyson. When story is attempted now, however, the intent is often comic. We don’t allow songs to go on at story length very much these days. But we do see the memory advantage of this, don’t we? “Bumpty, bumpty, bumpty bright, BUMPity, bumpty, bump tonight!” And if you get lost, having to slur a few syllables, you can get right back on the horse next line. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 5 Comments »

    Real Quarantine

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

    This article by Lyman Stone at The Dispatch is certainly interesting, and I think has strong persuasive elements.  One has to get to paragraph 32 (I think.  It begins “But while I think decadence is a possible explanation…”) to get to what I think is the strongest point, but the whole thing seems solid. 

    We have chosen the wrong extreme measures, he thinks.  Because we are a wealthy nation, which can afford medical research and expects first-rate medical care, we have tried to dodge the proven solution to epidemics in hopes that something else, which doesn’t involve making people leave their homes, will work instead.

    There is good discussion of masks and other related topics, all done in an efficient few paragraphs each. There is history going back to Leviticus and leprosy, and not just for decoration. There’s a lot of bang for your buck in this article.

    Read that article first.  My own thoughts are next and are less valuable.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 40 Comments »

    Arms and White Samite

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 28th April 2020 (All posts by )

    Frequent commenter at my site, Grimbeorn of Grim’s Hall, has had his novel come out, Arms and White Samite. We have both the Kindle and paperback versions in our cart, debating which we shall order. He is an interesting cat, for those who like variety: Army Ranger in both Iraq Wars who used his GI benefits to get a degree in philosophy. Long-bearded motorcyclist and Catholic convert. Georgia Democrat who eventually had to resign as they left him (echoing Reagan), between the last hurrahs of Zell Miller, then Jim Webb. Arthurian stories seem to be his first love.

    Posted in Book Notes | 2 Comments »

    New Services

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 26th April 2020 (All posts by )

    Cross-posted at Assistant Village Idiot

    Delivered groceries were just coming in. Our local chains quickly became overwhelmed, and began only taking orders to be scheduled a week out.  As many people, of any vulnerability category whatsoever, are going to prefer to order things online more and more, there will be more of these services and they will employ more people.  I am not saying that your local supermarket is going to be obsolete, but hybrid forms are going to be more common.

    This will also be true of restaurants.  There will be more specialising in takeout, and even fabulous room-based chefs are going to star figuring out how to make meals that can move across town. We are not quite ready for the virtual reality of pairing meals with rented environments of “London 1898,”  “Paris 1927,” and “NYC 1960,” but it’s not that far off, either.

    No, of course it won’t be the same as actually being there, but as we can’t go there even in its modern form at the moment, and even when it comes back it will be very expensive, there will be a market.  Here’s the fun part:  there will be a market for Faux London, Faux Paris, Faux New York. In the same way that pizza and Italian food are not all that authentic, nor is Chinese food in America* very much what they eat in …Hunan, the VR market will cater to what people think is authentic. Chef Louis isn’t stupid.  Anyone can quick-google what the rich actually did eat in London in 1898, but he will prepare what you think was authentic and will spend money on. Enterprising young souls will also figure out what the children will eat that you can advertise to them as Florence 1568 or Jerusalem AD 63, so you can make it a repeatable history lesson.

    Our church is already planning to keep the online services going even after we can get together.  This is not only because many of us will not want to go to the high risk of weekly contact in an enclosed area with 300 other people, some of them quite close, but because even after all that risk is reduced to as low as it’s going to get*, some folks will decide that staying home and clicking on the church’s Sunday menu is what they actually want. Compare, watching the NFL on TV versus going to the stadium.  People increasingly view going to the stadium as an occasional adventure, while preferring to stay at home. Whoa.  Maybe churches that provide replay, commentary, and analysis are going to start finding a niche!

    What else is going to become delivery vs in-person going forward?

    * I have read that the American version of Chinese food is now available in Chinese cities

    **I think that means, even after a vaccine, two annual diseases that kill lots of people.  Doesn’t that clearly imply a third and a fourth?  We will live different from here on in.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 29 Comments »

    Mutations

    Posted by Assistant Village Idiot on 24th April 2020 (All posts by )

    Note that Greg Cochran over at West Hunter remains pessimistic about life becoming safer. Mutations are of course already occurring in C19, just from the numbers.  Most of those will be deleterious to the virus itself, or neutral.  But sheer volume produces mutations that are also diseases, some lesser, some greater.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 29 Comments »

    Previous Links on Genetics and Related

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 8 Comments »

    Scrooge McDuck In Reverse

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

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

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

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

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 8 Comments »

    Enactment

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 7 Comments »