Thursday, May 28, 2015

Aid To Dependent Children

Harry Harpending proposes that government support go through the father rather than the mother, and gives reasons based in biology and incentives. I admit to being dumbfounded and very suspicious.  However, it would never have occurred to me and I thus have not thought about it in the least, so I reserve judgement. Part II to follow, and I will certainly wait for that.

Charitable groups in poor countries tend to give aid to women, or directly to programs such as schools or cooperative agriculture, because the men are more likely to spend the money on alcohol or gambling than the women are. In western cultures, women have long been the default parent, the one who is stuck with, or gifted with, the children. Upending that seems risky.  One can easily imagine terrible scenarios where the children's needs are completely neglected in favor of the father's choices for the money.

On the other hand, that occurs now with some women already.  My Romanian children were neglected by both parents, perhaps more by the mother than the father.  Would it happen more with men?  We think so, but I doubt there is data that is not thoroughly contaminated by the laws and customs of any place.  If the number of horror stories is similar, and there is some other cultural gain that would be a long-term advantage, perhaps it should be considered. Go over and join the conversation.

Or here.  Here is good.

Good News, Bad News, It's Not News

When writers and researchers break out the demographics, it’s hard not to root for your “team.” We like to think that our generation is the most generous, our state the smartest, our profession the most honest, or our ethnic group the best-looking.  Even when we don’t say it out loud (because our people are also humble), we notice.

I detect that tone when people write about their religious groups as well. I’ve done it myself, especially in reference to charitable giving, where we find that the religiously affiliated give more and volunteer more, even to secular causes. There is a normal but unfortunate tendency for folks to want to prove their “method” works better than other peoples’ way of living in the world. There is a type of preacher that takes pains to illustrate this in reverse as well, ruefully noting that Christians, including evangelicals, have premarital sex, divorce, and substance abuse about as much as other populations. 

If only those latter were true.  There are reasons why those numbers don’t measure what they say they do (which I leave as an exercise for the student). If you like to root for the evangelical “team” in that way, you still have moderate reason for rejoicing.   Yet that is not a reason to rejoice.  Mark 2:17 Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” The church is supposed to be attracting those who need her, those who are in crisis, those who are broken. We should hope that the life histories of our people include more divorces, more arrests, more homelessness. We don’t hope that, because we remain very human. 

We’re not complete washouts in this, because we do feel comfortable with bad news if it’s far enough in the past, so that it becomes a testimony or rescue and redemption. Churches work at closing that gap of how far in the past something has to be before we’re comfortable with you.  It’s not easy.
It’s easier to see the problem if we imagine it extended.  When the day comes that the unchurched world has all the unwed mothers, prisoners, and unemployed people, while churches are populated only with the prosperous and those with Buffy’s keen fashion sense, we will have finally been defeated.

Monday, May 25, 2015

One-Sided News

It's a good thing to follow news from a one-sided source.  The old saw that bank tellers are taught to detect counterfeit bills by handling genuine ones would be a great thing to be able to apply to news as well.

The problem is, I can't think of an unbiased news source to use as our standard, to train us in the genuine. There is no large pool of genuine $50 bills to handle when it comes to news.  What most of us do is to try and fine the source(s) that come closest to being accurate and evenhanded. I propose that sources with identifiable points of view might be better, so long as one recognises what the POV is.  CS Lewis suggested starting with books from earlier eras, because we cannot read the books of the future, but must have something to set against our own age.  An older book - even a little older such as 50 or 100 years - has enormous biases that were unseen at the time but leap off the page to us now.  We get into the habit of correcting mentally.

Reading a biased news source now can also be instructive.  It demonstrates how one can lie with the truth, by reporting some things and leaving others out. This in turn can awaken suspicions about the sources we usually rely on.  Now that we know how the card trick is done, we might detect it more readily.


Many uses of the word obvious are in fact not obvious. I don't think this a mere rhetorical device to shame the listener into agreement, though I believe that is also present. Something subtler about cognition is happening here. Perhaps I should write to Steven Pinker, or John McWhorter, or Jonathan Haidt about this.

The expected meaning, that the speaker intends, is that something is so clear that it requires no further comment or evidence. He was wearing an obviously-fake disguise. That is, if you saw it, you would instantly agree that it is not a convincing disguise. I came to the obvious conclusion that Stella had not come home that evening. The information I have presented, that there were no footprints in the snow or tire-tracks in the driveway is enough evidence by itself. It was obvious my arrival was unexpected. There was no place set for me, and everyone looked surprised as I came in. In all cases a painstaking case might be made, but the instantaneous apprehension of the truth is a central piece.

But consider some recent usages about public figures:

Roger Goodell obviously doesn't wan't this to go to court.
Obviously, Hillary Clinton doesn't want us to see what's in those emails.
It's obvious we should never have invaded Iraq in 2003 (or obvious we should never have left in 2011, depending).

People make pronouncements like this all the time.  They may even be the majority of our everyday uses.

Any of these statements might be true, but what they emphatically are not is obvious. People disagree with them. Different people see different things. This is not, or not always, a mere ruse, either. In both the legitimate and illegitimate cases the speaker "just sees," all in a moment. The experience of understanding immediately is what seems to prompt the use of the word "obviously," not its unassailability in logic. Something fits our narrative or expectations so neatly that nothing more need be said.

Sometimes we're wrong.

In the first years of this blog one of my most common themes was to reflexively question what everyone "just knows," because those are almost by definition the areas that no one is actually thinking about very much.

Added:  Gay marriage is a particularly good example of people saying "obviously," and sometimes quite unable to see any other side.  One group presumably says it's obviously okay because they know some nice gay people, and it seems similar to prejudice against blacks.  The other (I guess, but with some evidence) believes it's obviously wrong because it is historically almost unheard-of, and has no possibility of resulting in reproduction, which is the natural function of all creatures. When these sort of standoffs occur, I have deep suspicions of anyone who still says "Well, obviously..."

36 Righteous Men

There is a Jewish legend - I believe it is Hasidic rather that medieval or ancient - that the world is held in existence by 36 righteous men.  In some tellings, they have awareness of this, but usually, they are unaware, with the implication that it could be you. Everything depends on you.

I would not be quick to say there is nothing biblical about this. Were it so it would likely be a repeated theme, certainly. But absence is a risky proposition for interpretation. Abraham seems to think there is some reasonableness to sparing Sodom and Gomorrah if a few righteous persons can be found, and God seems to go along, at least for purpose of discussion.

Some days this just scares me to even think about. That it might be me is an obvious worry, but statistically, we might all breathe a partial sigh of relief over that. I worry that it is a principle that might be true in lesser things, even if not the greatest matters of existence. Many things may hang by a thread, and others unseen may depend on us nonetheless - or we on them.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Ion Mihai Pacepa

My reasons for paying attention to the man are many.  He defected to the West in 1979, the highest ranking defector from the Soviet Bloc ever.  Interesting memories this man has...The Secret Roots of Liberation Theology.

HT: Maggie's Farm

Monday, May 18, 2015

Hooray For Hazel

The all-sweetness review. I went looking through the Tommy Roe oeuvre to see if all of his songs had lyrics as poor as "Hooray For Hazel" and "Sweet Pea." (They do rhyme.) It is far worse than that. Sweetness and sweet foods dominate: Jam Up and Jelly Tight, Sugar, Sugar, Heather Honey, and I think Yummy, Yummy, Yummy has to count. Then the first word of "Sheila" is sweet and "Cinnamon" was a minor hit. It gives new weight to the descriptor "bubblegum," dunnit? "Hooray For Hazel" looks positively experimental in comparison. There is no food mentioned in the whole song.

Kids these days with their meaningless lyrics.

Radio Shows

The Story Lady:  My previous pastor put me on to this incredible repository of old radio shows and shorts, which can be downloaded as podcasts, if you want to listen to the Detroit Tigers play the NY Yankees in 1934, for example, while you power walk.

The Story Lady is  1 minute shorts, similar to the Fractured Fairy Tales of the Bullwinkle era. I recommend "Rumplestilskin."  And then "The Frog and the Grilled Cheese Sandwich."

Plenty else:  Grantland Rice, PG Wodehouse, A Canticle For Liebowitz, the Aunt Jemima Show, the Goon Show.  You could get lost here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


Harry Harpending has a eugenics update over at West Hunter.  It's here, we haven't thought it through, and it's too late now.  It will be patch-as-you-go in terms of ethics from here on out. 
Genetic improvement is becoming a market phenomenon—a situation discernible as long ago as the 1980s when Daniel Kevles, the leading historian of eugenics in the USA, quoted a biotechnology expert thus: “‘Human improvement’ is a fact of life, not because of the state … but because of consumer demand.”
Remember Future Shock, where we were warned that not only change, but the rate of change, would exceed our capacity to keep up? I think of Toffler a lot these days.

For example, privacy in the usual sense no longer exists and will not come back.  In twenty years people will not only wonder why we were so obsessed with it, they will wonder why they themselves were obsessed with it.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Different Spin

Campus sexual assault, rape culture, false accusation and the like have been big topics the last few years, especially 2015 itself.

Because I believe good statistics are more important that good advocacy, and that the rights of real individuals are more important than group impressions of where the culture is and where it's going, it should be clear where my views are going to land.  But there's another side to this that I think is getting missed.

Older and wiser heads have looked at college party/hookup culture for years and said this is a very bad situation for everyone, but most especially for women. This is not sustainable.  While there is overlap between how women and men react to sex - both sexes are from the same species, and youth is programmed to enormous amounts of display and sexual energy, after all - there are general differences.  there are simply a lot of things in life where women have a range of 20-50 while men have a range of 40-70. All still normal, but the difference bears noticing.

College feminists are noticing Hey, this whole campus alcohol/recreational sex situation is not working for women - it seems to be enabling predators, and they also tend to have the courage to speak up about it. I think their prisms distort reality and some of their proposed solutions are dangerous on more than one level. The temptation to say "Well, yeah, we told you so" may seem justified, but is largely unfair.  People told me so about a dozen things in college that I just couldn't hear.

Say that they've got it 10% right, 25% right, or 50% right, I don't care.  I can't imagine that they will ever acknowledge that folks like me had any prescience about this anyway.  But we can acknowledge the part they've got correct, even if it's not reciprocated.