Saturday, July 04, 2015

What Am I Missing Here?

Conservatives rail that Social Justice Warriors are perpetually unsatisfied and unhappy, no matter what victories they win, because the act of kicking powerful others in the balls is what they are actually after. I doubt that.

Yet we are about to see, aren't we?  Will they be happier or more angry on your FB feed?  The next items up on the SJW list all cost somebody some money, involve kicking little people, or are merely symbolic. Beyond that, it's just coming up with creative insults for people they oppose. So we'll see what they are really made of now.  My prediction is that a few will shine bright as day, most will be revealed as poseurs. The SCOTUS decision on gay marriage didn't change the facts on the ground all that much, but its symbolic value was enormous.  Ditto the Confederate flag. What of substance is left?  A move to $15/hr minimum wage hastens the arrival of robots - but maybe that truth can be obscured a while still. Corruption and the effects of foreign policy decisions might be stalled beyond the elections - but might not.

So now what? We all have predictions but none of us knows.  Let us see what the data shows over the next 16 months.

Tangent, and I know this might draw the most attention:  Without dwelling on the easy examples of Obama and Hillary in specific, it is simply a matter of record that the Democratic elite shifted its ground enormously in less than a decade, so that the responsible, measured position on gay marriage in 2006 became the evil bigoted position by 2015, without any new arguments being introduced or any evidence that they had actually thought deeply about the issue emerging. (I can back that up if necessary.) I can't read minds, so I don't know if they were simply avoiding the attacks and following the votes, or became convinced that they had always pretty much, generally, bravely, progressively, in-their-heart-of-hearts supported the idea, believing that we have always been at war with Eastasia.  Are they cynical or do they believe their own lies?

I submit that the former idea is politically more tolerable to me - cynical manipulators are probably pretty good governors - but the latter is more spiritually innocent.  If you are stupid enough to believe your own deceptions you are merely pitiable in terms of fitness for heaven and much can be done with you.

However, that is exactly the sort of broad spiritual question on which reasonable women might differ.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Facebook Record

I have a new record for length of time between FB friend acceptance and unfollowing  them: about 30 minutes, which is way quicker than the previous record of a little over a week.  And that one was quicker than third place, which was about a month.  This one is a conservative who posted 6 knuckleheaded things in less than 30 minutes, four of them I knew to be inaccurate.

Thank you for playing.

It's pretty much my sons, a very few other relatives, and less than half-a dozen from churches (some are same family and they comment here, so there's the giveaway) and our longstanding Bible study (an already circumscribed number of families) that are still followed. Plus 3 from work who I have limited by discouraging parts of their stuff. Less than 20 in the regular feed, but I pretend I'm tolerant because I give you "a chance" before cutting you off and putting you in the background. My wife has five times that amount she still follows.

There may be a larger lesson here, because my informal estimate says that of the ten I have cut off quickest, eight are liberal - but the two conservatives hold down the top spots by a mile.

Is This Racism Crazier?

I can't remember how Ben phrased the question, but he had read Dylann Roof's writings, which struck him as pretty much the same scattered paranoia as all these other mass shooters. He wondered if mental illness pretty much had to be part of such a person these days.  I had not thought about it in quite that way, but it only took a little while to decide that that yes, it must. Context matters.

In 1915 Dylann Roof could have found at least a few other people willing to shoot up a black church.  Even then, it would have taken some context of recent incidents that were getting the local populace worked up - but you likely could get some people worked up pretty quickly over small or untrue things. Going further, in a time of open black-white conflict, as happened several times in Caribbean nations, he could likely have found a lot of people to shoot up a church.  It would be less crazy to do that.  It might be just as evil; some of the participants might be ill; but insanity would not be required. There would be an element of some cultural support in the 1915 case, and a fair bit in the Caribbean case.

These days you pretty much have to be ill to be a mass shooter in America.  You can't be a mere "hothead" or "loner."

One doesn't have to get lost in a relativity maze where no idea can be considered crazy outside its context, as an excuse to indict "society," for its refusal to recognise creativity or genius. That rubber band can be stretched too far. (Science fiction writers used to have a lot of fun with this.) But context does matter, because being that far off from your surroundings suggests that other things are broken. We are social beings, and take our explanatory and moral cues largely from our surroundings.  Perhaps too largely. If you are going to believe something different from your peer group, you seek a new peer group.  If you can't find one, that should tell you something. If it doesn't tell you something, your problems are deeper. It is possible to go back over the turf and legitimately decide "no, they are all mostly wrong, and I've got it right," but the sane person who reaches that conclusion knows she has a hard road ahead and will have to provide significant evidence to convince others.

This leads me to a surprising place. The one fact that was considered obvious about the Charleston shooting was that it was racist.  His writings and statements could hardly be more clear that he believed his motives were racial. Yet on reflection I think that is much less true. This was not some standard racist person who was a little stranger than most, this was a mentally ill person whose illness expressed itself in racism. The difference is significant because it switches which is the dominant characteristic. (Yes, this is entirely quixotic of me, because the national narrative is in place now and unlikely to move much.)

I mean, Rhodesia? We all thought that was weird, but it should have hit us even harder than that.  This was not a rubber band stretched too far, but an elastic that had snapped long ago. Remember, he was frustrated that he couldn't find people nearby who understood the problem and were willing to do something about it.  He could only find them on obscure internet sites.

I don't want to flip this entirely.  Dylann Roof did not conclude that emanations from Io or poisons in the asparagus were creating the problems of the world. He picked a set of ideas that actually is present in some small percentage of society around him, to run with and become his Universal Explanation for Why My Life Is Bad. Yet I don't think racism is the right emphasis.

So, good riddance to the Confederate Battle Flag, though it had come to symbolise yahooness more than oppression. Yet I wish it had come down for better reasons, rather than as an innocent bystander seized and blamed for being present and unpopular near a tragedy. The focus on the flag allowed us to miss the point.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015


Someone at work asked if Quora is a reliable source of information.  I gave an incomplete answer off-the-cuff, and am writing one out here.  Perhaps I will email her the link.

It's a simple, democratic concept, relying on collective knowledge and crowd wisdom.  People propose questions, however many others as want to answer them, and the rest vote on what is the best answer.  You can dig down to see what the 2nd or 10th-place answers are, if you wish. It does not rely on argument or discussion. For what it is, it's great. Best in class.

But it illustrates beautifully how all forms of communication have strengths and weaknesses. The quora community is not a random sample of humanity, or even of online humanity.  It is self-selected, and bias effects tend to increase rather than decrease over time in such communities. I suppose it could be partially hijacked, with selected topics being put forward by some nefarious group which acted in concert to vote certain answers up. It would take effort, and the effect would likely narrow.

Here is what I see as biases from my own observation.  I welcome other data.

It is a tech-heavy group, with lots of questions and up-votes about computer culture and operation, current science questions about desalinisation or black holes or medicine.  Therefore, one can predict the type of answer that will be voted best when the question is some relative of "Is technology really good for us, or is it going to kill us?" The top answer will note that there are risks and unintended effects of all new technology, but holy-moly, look where we've come, technology is gonna save us! It will be a really good answer of that type, thoughtful and well-written, but its overall conclusion is foregone.

It won't necessarily be the best answer, but it will be a good one, and the one this group thinks is best.

It is largely white North American, white northern European, and Northeast Asian in its audience. You will find a lot of Americans asking about China, voting up answers by 1st-generation Chinese-Americans. You won't see many questions or answers by African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, North Africans, or Central Asians. Also, please note, you will not find the Chinese asking many questions about Japan, or Koreans about India. The curiosity doesn't extend there.

There are a lot of young people, with a lot of focus on "How do I get a great job in Silicon Valley?" "What's the best way to make a lot of money fast?" "What is the meaning of life, really?" This group also has the usual outsize fascination with rogues, eccentrics, and Guinness Record-type info: "Who was the smartest person ever?" It's geek trivia night there.

It is generally liberal, especially socially liberal, so if a general question comes up that seems to ask "Is America a good thing in general or are we all screwed up?" the answer which receives the most votes will be of the form "Insofar as we have done and will do liberal stuff, we've been great.  But there's too much exploitation, self-congratulation, and other countries do some things better than us." It won't contain any lies, though it may omit some key facts, such as winning the Cold War.  It will be the best mid-liberal answer, which is a good thing to read.

OTOH, there is a fair bit of fascination with military topics, and not just cyberwar. There aren't many parenting questions, but there are quite a few about education and training.


There are articles circulating in supposedly objective news sources about the large number of recent fires - 6 - at black churches since the shooting in Charleston.  The articles I have encountered have been full of references to the shooting, and to the history of black churches being burned in earlier years.  Being suspicious, I traced them back, and it seems that only 3 are arson, and two are not suspected of being hate crimes and are not being investigated as such.

So that means there is one not-ruled-out (it didn't say "suspected") hate crime against black churches in that time period. I don't know how strong the evidence for that one is.  But doesn't that make the stories, and especially the headlines, er, dishonest?  It's almost as if those news sources are hoping that there will be some hate crime. Which means they would be glad to report on it, encouraging any number of mushy-headed or paranoid individuals to seek their fifteen minutes of fame.

As with so much else recently, it is best to wait.

Monday, June 29, 2015


Identifying this song has been an irritation in the back of my mind for a decade or more. I knew that I could do the labor-intensive work of finding a website that listed week-by-week Top Forty in the late 60's and just work my way through a month or so at a time, but I also knew that I might need Top 100 lists, as the song never got very big.  I also knew I could just call Mike King or Bill Whitman and see if they could pull it out of 1966-69 memory.

But I wanted to see if I could pull that sucker out of the rubbish myself.  Trivia mavens will understand.  The first problem is that the title is "Live," pronounced with a short "i," so you can't google that. I recalled it was a two-hit band, both minor, but couldn't remember the other hit. (It was "You're A Very Lovely Woman" for those of you scrambling for a hint to guess this before the reveal.) You know the type of memory-jogging one tries...

The band was two words, maybe three

There were "m's" in it.  Mojo Men...Pictures of Matchstick Men...Manfred Mann...Muh, mah, mighty, magic...dammit.

Every Mother's Son...The Music Explosion (these turned out to be the exact time frame)

Why do I keep thinking about "Sunshine Girl" by The Parade?

Live... was there more to it?  Live For Today? (The Grassroots actually turned out to have a connection.) Live is, live like...

Hyphens...I'm thinking at work...mick, mack, mortimer, mostly...

I remember talking about it with Doug Manter, so it must be late '66 at the earliest, early '69 at the latest, I'm thinking more likely '67 than '68, I only liked it because of one guitar riff that had a country flavor for one measure and I remembered that when Nashville Cats and Creedence Clearwater came in and everyone said they were the first, but I remembered that riff but no one cared about that (I always deeply remember being right and not having it be noticed) and I don't remember the B-side which is strange because I always remember the B-side..

Yes, those of you that search your memories know this drill.

So I broke down and looked for Top 40 lists from the 1960's and scoured the back ends of them. May 1967, there it was at #95.

Gee, I'd forgotten about the Easybeats...and Jon & Robin...The Electric Prunes...and there they are, The Parade, which is sorta like Merry-Go-Round, and in the same month.

Anyway, the song isn't that great, but the Bangles did it later, and Fairport Convention did the B-side for years, and finally, finally, I have this song identified.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Examining Prejudices

Without examining, at least at present, the fairness of my prejudice, I will simply note it: when I encounter less-educated people, I expect their political and social opinions to be unsavory, derived directly from The View, or bad Sunday School, or HuffPo, or laundromat rumors.  They are powerless, they don't understand what is happening, they might vote but otherwise have no understanding how to influence their culture, and they can't even get their own self-interest straight. I don't worry about them, I don't think them dangerous even if they have money and businesses, and I think whatever evil they bring to the culture can be dealt with gradually and kindly. They either irritate me or bore me.

But when I encounter people who have some education and status, who have some idea how systems work, how power is distributed, and have the verbal cleverness to put their opponents down and put in a good word for their friends, I consider them very dangerous, possibly evil, and self-righteous enough that they cannot be reasoned with, and must be simply opposed.

Note that this is the opposite of the conventional wisdom, which regards the former as dangerous barbarians who should be disempowered in every way, and the latter as reasonable folks whom one can work with.
“I live in the Managerial Age, in a world of "Admin." The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid "dens of crime" that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices. Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the office of a thoroughly nasty business concern. CS Lewis, Preface to The Screwtape Letters.
I admit it. I want you to hate them too.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Increased Temptation?

I don't usually overlap my FB and AVI posts, but I thought this was too long for wone and too short for the other, so I did both.

"As many of my FB friends are Christian I thought I might risk a short sermon. The rest of you can listen in and see if there is anything valuable for you.

Screwtape is never far from my mind. When we congratulate ourselves on our own symbolic morality, as the nation is now doing instead of mourning, we might not be trading up and becoming better. Our goblins may only be retreating deeper into the mine, chuckling. Division and tribalism are not exceptions to human behavior,... they are the default position. I don't exclude by race - but I have several other exclusions, equally ugly but Less Unpopular.

This is not just theoretical. I see this not only in myself, but in many others, online and in person, who are entirely oblivious to their exclusions and condescensions. I am not seeing victory but fearing temptation this week. Jesus never called anyone out for racism or our other popular sins. He did call people out for self-righteousness. A lot. It scares me deep in the night sometimes."

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Don Featherstone

I haven't posted on flamingoes for a long time, having switched to the occasional meerkat instead.  But a giant of American culture has died.  Remember, flamingoes are pink from eating pink shrimp not because they absorb the color, but because eating shrimp makes them healthy, which keeps them pink.