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  • Archive for the 'Miscellaneous' Category

    Regular and Irregular Channels

    Posted by David Foster on 18th November 2019 (All posts by )

    Some of the witnesses at the ongoing Congressional hearings seem quite disturbed at the use of “irregular channels” for decision-making and implementation, supplementing and bypassing the “regular” channels. (here, for example) Reminds me of a Churchill story…

    In February 1940, Churchill was not yet Prime Minister but rather was First Lord of the Admiralty. He received a letter from a father disappointed that his son had been turned down for a commission, despite his qualifications and his record. Churchill suspected class prejudice and wrote to the Second Sea Lord, saying that “Unless some better reasons are given to me, I shall have to ask my Naval Secretary to interview the boy on my behalf.”

    The Second Sea Lord, unhappy with the meddling from above, responded to the effect that it was inappropriate to question the decisions of “a board duly constituted.” To which Churchill replied:

    I do not at all mind “going behind the opinion of a board duly constituted” or even changing the board or its chairman if I think injustice has been done. How long is it since this board was re-modeled?… Who are the naval representatives on the board of selection? Naval officers should be well-represented. Action accordingly. Let me have a list of the whole board with the full record of each member and his date of appointment.

    General Louis Spears was present when Churchill, after taking the above hard-line, saw the candidates. After chatting with the boys, Churchill explained the matter to Spears:

    “They have been turned down for the very reason that should have gained them admission. They are mad keen on the Navy, they have it in their blood, they will make splendid officers. What could be better than that they should rise higher than their fathers did? It is in their fathers’ homes that they grew to love the Navy, yet they have been turned down because their fathers came from the lower deck,” and he pouted and glared with fury.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Britain, Current Events, History, Management, Miscellaneous, Organizational Analysis, Politics, Trump | 15 Comments »

    Suburban Sophistication

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 17th November 2019 (All posts by )

    (Another of my long-ago archive posts, from 2005 – the California that once was, and that I remember when I think of growing up there.)

    When JP and Pip and Sander and I were all growing up, the contiguous suburb of Sunland and Tujunga, untouched by the 210 Freeway was a terribly blue-collar, gloriously low-rent sort of rural suburb. It was if anything, an extension of the San Fernando Valley, and not the wealthier part of it either. It was particularly unscathed by any sort of higher cultural offerings, and the main drag of Foothill Boulevard was attended on either side by a straggle of small storefront businesses, a drive-in theater, a discouraged local grocery store, a used car lot, the usual fast food burger or pizza places, a place with an enormous concrete chicken in front which advertised something called “broast” chicken, Laundromats, and a great variety of very drab little bars. There were no bookstores, unless you counted the little Christian bookstore across from the library and fire station.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Culture, Deep Thoughts, Miscellaneous, Personal Narrative, Reruns | 7 Comments »

    Gradual Cultural Change Because of Marriage Practices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 27 Comments »

    Oranges and Honey

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 10th November 2019 (All posts by )

    (An archive post, from 11 years ago; a memoir of a California long-gone.)

    I have a shoebox full of vintage postcards, collected in the Thirties by the invalid young son of Grandpa Jim’s employer. Among my favorite cards are those of places I knew, like the Devil’s Gate Dam, on the nebulous border between La Crescenta and Pasadena, with a Model-A Ford on the roadway atop the dam, and Mt. Wilson topped with snow in the background, and a view of the Arroyo Vista hotel, still a landmark in the days when Mom was driving us to Pasadena to visit the grandparents, but half a century past its Roaring Twenties prime.
    My very favorite is a view again of Mt. Wilson and the San Bernardino range, edged with snow against a turquoise blue sky, and acres of orange groves covering the entire plain below, even up to the foothills. From the mountain peaks and ridges, an expert could deduce where that particular vista had been taken down for 3-penny posterity. The citrus groves were long gone from Pasadena when I was a child, nibbled away by suburbia, but pockets of hold-outs still held sway in back yards; Grannie Jessie and Grandpa Jim had an enormous lemon tree in their front yard, and a smaller orange tree along the driveway, shading the only place where JP and I were allowed to dig, and make mud pies amid the sweet scent of orange blossoms and the still-sweet moldy smell of the windfalls.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Miscellaneous, Personal Narrative | 5 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 »

    What, Exactly, Is CNN?

    Posted by David Foster on 16th October 2019 (All posts by )

    …and what are NBC and ABC?

    When referencing these networks…for example, when talking about CNN’s increasingly-extreme political bias, ABC’s running of a video supposedly from Syria which was actually from Kentucky, or the reports about widespread abuse of women at  NBC, people tend to simply refer to them as “CNN”, “ABC”, or “NBC”, as if they were independent entities.  But they’re not.

    CNN is owned by AT&T.  NBC is owned by Comcast, and ABC is owned by Disney.

    The history is that CNN was part of Turner Broadcasting, which merged with Time-Warner in 1996.  Following a whole host of acquisition and divestiture transactions (which included a very expensive experience with AOL), Warner Media was acquired by AT&T in 2018.  NBC was acquired by GE in 1986 as part of its reacquisition of RCA; the networks was put into a joint venture with Comcast in 2009, and the GE share of the venture was bought out by Comcast in 2013. Disney acquired ABC in 1996 as part of its acquisition of Capital Cities/ABC Inc.

    Given how these entities have been shuffled around, it may be understandable that people refer to them simply by the names of the networks; still, I think the proper way to refer to CNN would be “CNN, a subsidiary of telecommunications giant AT&T” and similarly for the others.

    Posted in Business, Media, Miscellaneous, Tech | 15 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 »

    Trump and the Ukrainian Translator

    Posted by David Foster on 2nd October 2019 (All posts by )

    Margaret Ball suggests that the real issue identified by the Trump-Ukraine transcript is the pain that was imposed on the translator who had to translate Trump’s words…which at least appear to be pretty much stream-of-consciousness…into Ukrainian!  Plentiful vodka, she says, was surely required to recover from the experience.

    It strikes me that a profession is kind of like a language, as is a social milieu.  Many of those who find President Trump offensive, I suspect, find it jarring and inappropriate that he doesn’t speak in the forms that they would normally expect from one in his position, and they find that translating his speech to their accustomed verbal frames of reference to be as difficult and disorienting as the Ukrainian translator likely found Trump’s communication in English to be.

    Not only is Trump’s style of speech off-putting to many, so is his mode of thought.  Most national journalists, academics,  and “public intellectuals” are deductive thinkers, who need to put everything into a framework that they have adopted.  Trump, on the other hand, is largely an inductive, intuitive, and pattern-recognizing thinker.  Years ago, I found The Art of the Deal to be a somewhat frustrating read, despite my strong professional interest in the topic.  I am a more deductive thinker and communicator than Trump…but I have enough of the inductive/intuitive/pattern-recognizing mode to be able to understand and appreciate what Trump is doing.  Most of the journalists, academics, and “public intellectuals” do not.

    Some types of people also find it disconcerting when people attain their positions in any manner other than the conventionally-approved course.  Here’s Andy Kessler, writing in the WSJ a few days ago about his time at Morgan Stanley:

    ““What year were you?” a colleague asked me years ago. “Huh? Year?” I replied. “What year at HBS?” H-B-what? “What year did you graduate from Harvard Business School?” Oh, I get it now. “I didn’t go to HBS,” I told him. “Actually, I don’t have an M.B.A.” After a long pause and scrunched-up face, he asked, “Well, then how the hell did you get a job here?” As I walked away, I murmured under my breath, “Maybe I earned it.””

    This also…the negative feeling about somebody who didn’t get there in the way one is supposed to get there…also plays a role in hostile attitudes toward Trump.

     

    Posted in Academia, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Media, Miscellaneous, Trump, USA | 17 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 »

    A Boon to Sick People

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 10th September 2019 (All posts by )

    Home delivery – the latest trend to hit retail and grocery outlets – is a boon to sick people. I say this as someone who caught the current flu last Thursday. Here I was, innocently going about my usual routine, although I did note than on Thursday morning during the ritual Walking of The Doggles, that I was sniffing and sneezing; as if something had gotten caught in my sinuses. Innocently, it all seemed to pass; at mid-day my daughter and I went up to Bergheim in the Hill Country to meet with a small book club who had done me the honor of choosing the first of the Adelsverein Trilogy as their book selection of the month. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Dogs, Entrepreneurship, Miscellaneous, Personal Narrative | 3 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 »

    Tearing off the Fig Leaf

    Posted by TM Lutas on 27th August 2019 (All posts by )

    In 2019, New York finally did it. They gave up pretending that they can ever run the state under the state constitution and the normal rules of American governance. After pretending since WW II that the state’s housing situation was in a temporary state of emergency started by that war and periodically renewing the state of emergency this year, the rent control and stabilization kept the emergency but got rid of the time limit. The state of emergency is now permanent.

    On pages three and four of the bill, six separate edits make it clear that New York has adopted a permanent state of emergency. There’s no more renewals, no more expirations, no more re-examination, no return to normalcy.

    Most importantly, there is no state Constitutional amendment. The guarantee for just compensation for a taking of property remains. The prohibition of using the government to provide private benefit remains. In a time-limited emergency, such guarantees can be temporarily suspended, but not permanently. The state of New York has been claiming Hitler as their justification for suspending the New York Constitution for decades. No longer.

    Now New York claims the right to suspend their Constitution permanently and to widen the suspension from a few limited districts to the entire state. This is a horrifically bad idea. It’s also probably unconstitutional. But will anyone notice?

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 5 Comments »

    A US sanctions bleg

    Posted by TM Lutas on 7th August 2019 (All posts by )

    The US maintains a list of individuals and organizations it sanctions under various programs here. Does anyone out there independently keep track of these individuals/groups and why they’ve been placed on the list?

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 3 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 »

    We Shall Fight Them in the Kitchens

    Posted by Grurray on 25th July 2019 (All posts by )

    Yesterday was the 60th anniversary of the famous Kitchen Debate between Nixon and Khrushchev.

    The setting was the American National Exhibition. It was our part of a cultural exchange program with the Soviets that year. Our exhibit displayed a cross section of American products, from cars to household gadgets to Pepsi Cola. It was meant to showcase good old Yankee ingenuity, along with a healthy helping of truth, justice, and the American Way. The Soviet exhibit in America earlier that year was less well known, but presumably connected many endeavoring spies with many eager useful idiots.

    Khrushchev, unhappy with recent events regarding East Germany and the status of Berlin, showed up in a downright cranky mood and fired the first shots in the impromptu debate. Sounding especially neo-reactionary that day, he questioned the utility of superficial gadgets when his Soviet products, such as rockets and prison camps, were so much more impressive in the grand scheme of dialectical progress.

    Despite the jaded revisionism over the years since the Cold War ended, Nixon more than held his own responding to Khrushchev’s sallies. Free markets and competition drive innovation that benefits our lives. A wide variety of consumer choices does lead to a broader distribution of wealth, and it is the best way known to man that, while certainly not eliminating social classes, allows for greater circulation between classes.

    The communist solution, in contrast, is a sclerosis of social mobility. Everyone is a slave to the state and will remain that way.

    “After all, you don’t know everything,” Nixon said to the inflated Khrushchev. Of course, none of us can, but even more importantly, what we do know will always be more than we can tell,. What we know will always be more than we can perceive to know. True knowledge about human values and the human condition must be disentangled and teased out, abducted from available information that is only seen through a glass darkly, and then put back together over and over in an endless cycle of return and departure. The best products that emerge from the scuffle are the ones that unite us, and, when we look at them, they reflect back the best about ourselves and our way of life.

    Khrushchev, the son of a humble miner, may have known this once, but he was perhaps cleansed of this notion in the Soviet revolutionary fervor for the charade of a new socialist consciousness. Nixon, the son of a Quaker grocer, born and raised in the house his father built, did not forget.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 14 Comments »

    A short reminder about New York City municipal takeovers

    Posted by TM Lutas on 24th July 2019 (All posts by )

    The New York City Subways were largely built by private enterprise and had private owners. Rides were $0.05. The private owners of the various systems couldn’t keep offering service for that low a price and were discussing raising the fares.

    The city took over the multiple private systems in 1940. The stated reason was in order to save the nickel fare. They did, for seven whole years. They then doubled it to $0.10. The current fare is $2.75 a ride, an inflation of 5,500% from the takeover date of 1940. Annualized over the 79 years that’s 5.2%. Average inflation has been 3.72% over that period of time.

    Mayor Bill DeBlasio just proposed looking into taking over the regional electric company, ConEd which serves the city and Westchester County. His stated reason is to reduce the number of service failures.

    Note: as I wrote in the comments, I asked for someone to check my math. The numbers were recalculated and the verbiage edited. I’ve never thought it was important but I’m not an economist. I’m also not an alumnus of the University of Chicago. I was invited on this blog many years ago as someone “at heart” and have been contributing ever since. The University of Chicago is not responsible for me and I’m not responsible for it.

    Posted in Miscellaneous | 17 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 »