Sunday, April 06, 2014

Trace Bundy

I am wondering if the mountain locales are NH or VT.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Political Discussion

Another day on my FB feed in which the political argument consists of no positive arguments, only statements about how evil and hypocritical the opposition is. Usually it's got a (theoretically) witty poster, with lots of people who I mercifully am not acquainted with hitting the like button.  YEAH!  Preach it!

So. Three more people off my feed and into the background.  I mostly just follow my children.  Someone new requests to be my friend I nearly always accept, but everyone pretty quickly gets sent to the far reaches of the galaxy.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Bette Davis Eyes

Maybe it's just my dirty mind.  But since my second hearing of the song, with the slapping sound so prominent, Bette Davis's initials, and virtually every lyric of the song, how is this song not about BDSM?  The video seems to seal the deal.

And yet search engines suggest nothing of the sort.  If that was indeed the intent - of either DeShannon or Carnes - you'd think it would have leaked out by now. So I'm guessing it just isn't.

We Built This Village on a Trad. Arr. Tune

I hadn’t realised what I was getting in for when I came upon Half Man Half Biscuit  I previously embedded one of their singles.  They are something of a punk version of Bare Naked Ladies, but I am afraid it is just too user-unfriendly for we who are not from England.  Apparently even the Irish and Australians have trouble hearing, let alone getting the many cultural references in their lyrics, because of the accent. However, some I enjoyed having explained as I looked them up.  There is a reference to the Mamas and the Papas in the song above which is actually the Mummers and the Poppers (to rhyme with The Coppers, an English folksong family, much as the Carters would be in the US.)  Which is typical punning sense for them. The song is track 14 on their album “Achtung Bono.”

They have much more imagination than I do.  I could never have come up with the title above

The Half Man Half Biscuit Lyrics Project has the subtitle “179 pop tunes picked over by pedants.”  Well, who could ask for more, really?

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Mechanism For Extremism

Jonathan Haidt, and others, have shown experimentally that information which challenges our belief does not weaken our original theory, but fairly rapidly results in our holding the previous belief ever more tightly.  Village cells in communist China used to have an exercise in which the group attacked the Maoist premises of one of the members, forcing him or her to defend it.  I don't know if this was at all widespread, but I read about it in the early 70's. It supposedly made acceptance of doctrine even more complete among party members. 

We would hope that reasonable people would pause and reflect if counter-evidence is provided.  Apparently this is not so. The default human tendency is to double down on the old belief.

We hear this, we find it plausible, we see it in others and worry with some disquiet whether it is true of us as well. Yet really, how would such a thing work?  We can imagine evolutionary strategies where persistence of belief is advantageous, and I discussed earlier this week the advantage to the group that some be extremist.  There is advantage to the individual to be that sort of person as well, though it is perhaps a little harder to see it. If one thinks in terms of small hunter-gatherer and then villager groups it becomes easier to see.

But.  We also have a bias toward truth, toward reality.  Knowing what is really a danger, what is really a food, or really a friend has obvious advantages. We may delude ourselves quite a bit about whether our chief is really a good leader, and functioning as a loyal group works out for us even when the leader is pretty bad.  But there has to be a limit to that.

What is it that we tell ourselves in rationalisation, to allow ourselves to hold the challenged belief.  When we are presented with strong evidence that Bill Clinton is lying, how do we continue to support him?  What story to we tell ourselves to justify this?

I have some insight into this, not from a deep understanding of human nature, but from observing what takes place in my own mind.  I doubt my experience is universal, but I'm darn sure it's not unique, either, as I see it all around me. When challenged, we focus on the faults of the attacker. Well, yes, under ordinary circumstances we should lessen our support for a president who lies.  But these are parlous times, and the evil of his critics is so great that they must be stopped in their tracks at all costs.  Politics is a dirty business.  There are no perfect people after all.  We have no choice, really. Twenty-four hours of telling yourself that and you can go back to liking the guy again.

A friend in Romania was describing to me in 2000 that the choice in the election was quite literally between a fascist and a communist, whatever sweet words they said. (There are smaller parties, such as a Hungarian one that is big in Transylvania.) How do you mark the ballot for either?  Only by telling yourself ever more forcefully how bad the other guys are.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Strike At Putney

The Strike At Putney by Lucy Maud Montgomery.  Male readers may have to think a bit to remember where they've read the author's name before. Tracy handed this to me before bringing the book back.  A common sentiment, but well-told and earlier than most.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Resiliency and Fragility

The HBD sites have had discussion recently about unimportance of environment in human development.  Some take the extreme form, that heritability accounts for so much of the variance, and factors that are clearly environmental factors so little, that we should for the time being not pay much attention to the latter.  While this sounds counterintuitive to us, they actually have some good numbers for it.

Disease seems to follow a different pattern: heritability is clearly important, but does not account for even half of the variance.  "Other factors," which are neither environment nor DNA, and are often a giant question mark, are the big ticket.

Cautionary note:  disease researchers say that genetics is only 5-10%, but they have usually narrowed their scope before saying that.  Cystic Fibrosis and Down Syndrome are clearly genetic ("Oh, that. But those are exceptions, and what we are talking about is...." Want a long long list of those exceptions, dude?"), while gunshot wounds and head injuries are pretty clearly environmental - unless one wants to take the (not unreasonable) view that these occur in definable genetic groups - males, sensation-seekers, risk-takers - more often. That is sorta kinda genetics, I suppose. What the researchers really mean is that genetics seems to provably account for only 5-10% of the variance in the diseases we are studying right now.

IQ scores and life outcomes, beloved by HBD-ers for their measurability* can convince one that environment matters little, at least over large populations. Today I ran into a great example of genius rising despite less-than-fortuitous circumstances, in the biography of Walter Pitts. (That link spends more time discussing the anthropologist Bateson.  You might like the Wikipedia spread better. Other sources here, here, and here, starting about p 139.). Mathematical prodicgy who ran away from home at 15 to hang around mathematicians and tell them where their arguments were weak. No education, no milk of human kindness as a teenager, impoverished with no prospects, but attracted the patronage of the super-brilliant by his own brilliance.  Resiliency.  You can't keep a good man down, eh?

Well yeah, you can, apparently.  He completely collapsed emotionally when Norbert Wiener cut off ties without explanation.  That is certainly hard to have one's mentor and patron drift away, but thousands of human beings bounce back from that every day.

I would say that it is easier to break things than make them.  There are lots of ways of becoming shorter, but none for becoming taller.  There are many ways to become less intelligent, but no ways to become more intelligent.

*which is why they also like East African and West African performance in track's distance and sprint events.

Northwestern Decision

Sports radio conversation is focusing on how the decision might affect college athletics – not just football - in general, but they are noting the downstream effects there pretty quickly.  It’s one thing to regard student-athletes as employees of the institution for the purpose of getting them ongoing medical care for injuries sustained while “working” for the university.  But if scholarships are indeed to be regarded as compensation, then won’t the recipients owe taxes on that?  Wouldn’t that necessarily extend to swimmers and tennis players who receive scholarships?  And wouldn’t everyone else on the team be equally an employee and entitled to…something?

Wouldn’t everyone who receives a scholarship start fitting under this umbrella?  Slowly, perhaps, because there would be a lot of reluctance to change things as people started seeing the implications.

The debate team…the college bowl team…the theatrical performances, concerts, and art shows…don’t all those also represent the institution in the same way that an athletic event does? If you get a scholarship for music…hell, if you get a general academic scholarship and decide to play in the orchestra…isn’t that the same?

If the athlete is getting paid via scholarship and owes taxes, doesn’t this cut poor kids out pretty quickly?  (Except, of course, that people will find all sorts of legal or legal-looking loopholes to continue the practice.)

Athletics became associated with schools mostly by accident.  Males of school age are also males of competitive sports age. (Females less so until recently.  They don’t pick up much of the blame for skewing the overall system 100-200 years ago, I don’t think. A little, perhaps.) The guys at North Central were playing games against each other for fun, and thinking they were pretty good, thought they’d put together a team to play against South Central. There were often town teams for baseball or football, and large employers such as factories would organise leagues as well.  Yet those faded while school teams remained, with increasing organisation, rules, and costs.

There has been much hand-wringing in my lifetime about the unfortunate association of college and athletics: the sometimes fictitious “student” part of student-athlete and the tolerance of bad behavior are usually cited.  Envy and cultural competition are part of it as well, because schools get prestige from their athletic teams, and people get paid lots of money that does not, cannot, go to the athletes. I don’t hear many complaints like that at the highschool level, because the money and prestige are less, but you do hear some even there, especially when there are private school scholarships being handed out. (Apparently this is different in Texas and a few other places, but I’m not qualified to make observations on that.)

When I posted a few days ago on our secondary and post-secondary education model a few days ago, this was not at all in my mind.  But this is perhaps another force for change that will remake the landscape.  Online universities don’t have football teams, or students who live together for four years.


Ben found this years ago, but I haven't played it for awhile: Tommy Seebach from Denmark covering the Ventures' "Apache"

I'm betting that hardly any of the people in this video are really Apaches.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Education Model

The current college model was developed for a world which changed slowly. Young men were sent away to not only learn the principles of great thinkers and absorb a shared culture of events and symbols, but to meet each other and learn how to interact with the other future rulers. The age for this became ages 18-22 for rather accidental reasons - it used to be much younger.

In this system, one might not have wisdom upon moving into the world of banks, regiments, clergy, government, and managing local agriculture, but one was theoretically equipped to get started. The foundation of learning to read Marcus Aurelius and Homer in Latin and Greek, plus Shakespeare, the Bible, and a theologian or two were thought to equip a man to make the great decisions of life forever after.

Please note that making application of these thinkers to everyday events was not much taught. The mere exposure was supposed to build a man up so that he would naturally assume his place among his fellows and make sound decisions by a sort of osmosis. It's a ridiculous system that sort of worked.

No, that is concluding too much.  The educational system of monarchial Europe, developing into parliamentary Europe and its colonies, may have had good features that outweighed any ridiculousness I note here.  Unifying the elites into work-together packages, perhaps.  The playing fields of Eton and all that. Or, the educational system may have had little or nothing to do with the development of governance and leadership skills in those places. The most we should say is that this college model did not break the leadership system. That's something in itself, I suppose.

We think that extending this system to some of the middle class via the post-WWII GI bill and subsequent expectations of college-for-the-many in the 60's and beyond worked very well.  That it provided many benefits is rather undeniable.  But 60 years out, some of the negatives of this idea are starting to emerge. Was this all a net gain?

I wonder what we would design for post-HS education these days if we were starting from scratch? I am thinking that 4 years starting at age 18 should be one of the first things to go.  That model applies well to the especially academic 5%, a number that includes...what, about half?... of the intelligent folk.

Flawed Leadership

I mentioned previously Sponge-headed Scienceman’s report that Nigerian email scams are now intentionally bad.  They only want the most gullible responders, who would fall for anything.  A more persuasive letter with fewer errors would attract too many people who were ultimately, a waste of time.

I related this to the tendency of groups at the edges of the political spectrum to choose the worst possible hills to die on: victims who clearly asked for it, the falsely accused who have plenty of other crimes that they are guilty of, any number of fools and hypocrites. For the groups that want to harness a lot of noise and energy, the thousand people who are so sold out for the tribe that they will even defend Mayor Radu while he’s doing time in federal prison or crazy old Aunt Fezwa up in the attic are more valuable than the hundred thousand who have higher standards and are more measured.  Given enough time, the insane thousand will provoke the opposition into saying enough irritating stuff that even the sane members of the tribe start to get aroused.  The cause starts to move into the mainstream. Whether Matthew Shepard’s killing was actually more related to methamphetamine than homosexuality becomes unimportant and uninteresting, because the symbolism has taken over the story. We all become true believers and “just know” that homosexuality had nothing to do with it or everything to do with it – that even if the inconvenient details were different, the outcome would have of course be the same.

If my choice of Shepard irrituates you, you can zip in Fred Phelps, or Randy Weaver, or Leonard Peltier, or David Koresh, or Mumia Abu-Jamal.  Or whole organizations.  Whole countries even.

This isn’t new, but I seem to have trouble remembering it when I read the news.  Which leads to a disquieting thought: what if it’s not just the fringes?  What if we in the mainstream have milder versions of the same foolishness (or worse, equally unreasonable responses we just rationalise better)?  What if we prefer representatives and poster children that are good-uns at the first pass, but quickly become more motivated to support flawed candidates and causes?  Because we have gotten activated by the opposition?

What if we are essentially requiring our leaders to be flawed?