Archive for August, 2013

Liberals and Conservatives, Left and Right

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

There are two understandings of this; The Zachriels’, and everybody else’s. Such terms are used to convey ideas among people who come together from different backgrounds and with different values and biases, so before anybody can communicate about such things, there’s going to have to be an effort brought to a successful completion getting the entire world to use these terms the way The Zachriel do.

Thought I’d help them out.

My understanding of it is, there is this cartilaginous binding between conservative/liberal, and left/right; the two disagreements correlate somewhat, but are not synonymous. Their words:

“Conservatives” tend to believe that traditional values and institutions are the bulwark of society, that too fast of change can result in unintended consequences or even anarchy. Rational conservatives believe in change and reform, of course, but believe the change must be gradual and moderated. Conservatives tend to look to the past for inspiration, cultural stratifications being a consequence of natural order.

“Liberals” tend to believe that traditional values and institutions can impede progress, that too slow of change can result in cultural stagnation or even disintegration. Rational liberals believe in the preservation of traditional values and institutions, of course, but believe they must be pushed to adapt to modern times. Liberals tend to look to the future for inspiration, the progress of history being seen as a march towards a more egalitarian society.

Right-wing “reactionaries”, such as fascists, believe in absolute inequality, and want to overthrow corrupt modern institutions and return to a mythological and heroic past.

Left-wing “radicals”, such as communists, believe in absolute equality, and want to overthrow corrupt ancient institutions and bring forth a mythological and glorious future.

Among the reasons this doesn’t work:

Newt Gingrich’s “revolution” of 1994, according to this, would be “left wing radical,” and so would the American Revolution.

The definitions seem to have been internationalized, which really doesn’t work well in America. I would even venture to say this “cartilaginous” binding between those two disagreements is entirely unnecessary, and it’s safe to go ahead and fuse the bones together: Conservatives are right and liberals are left. I realize this creates problems when we look at other cultures in other countries. That is alright.

I have raised the point about the feminist movement, and the women who support it only insofar as the push for equal pay. Like my Mother, they jump off the bandwagon when it veers into man-bashing “men are the problem” territory. These definitions would make such women moderate lefties. I’ve never met one who self-identifies that way; they consider themselves to be, and seem to be, staunchly right-wing. So here, as well, the definitions don’t work.

The left-wing in America, for a very long time now, has actually championed disparate levels of privilege for different classes. The preservation of President Obama’s entrenched perks retains deep symbolic value for passionate and pie-eyed lefties. The definitions above would define that preservation to be “conservative.”

ProgressivesAdolf Hitler, according to the definitions above, would be a “left-wing” (on the “glorious future” part) “conservative.”

Liberals, in this day & age in America, hate. That is what they do. There’s always some bad guy, either a bad individual or a bad class, that has to be pruned down to size. The desire to make everyone equal, is incompatible with this mandatory hate.

Concerns about solvency, which would be necessary for a “glorious future,” are entirely ignored by the “left.” They only pretend to pay attention to it when a tax cut comes along that they don’t happen to like, and then they pretend it’s going to “cost” the treasury something. That’s the only time they show any concern. If any one of them shows some concern about something that really does cost something, that person ceases on the spot to be a proper leftist. Unless he’s talking about a military budget item.

In order for an egalitarian society to thrive, rights and responsibilities would have to be fastened together. Lefties in America are opposed to this; they want one set of people to have rights, and a different set of people to have responsibilities. In order to do that, you have to create classes that are different from one another. In this sense, and in others, I get the impression that I disagree with The Zachriel because they’re evaluating “the left” according to the left’s promises, and I’m evaluating that same thing according to deliveries made. I like my way better.

What might work better:
• In liberalism, nature has made something unfair and it is the job of people to make it fair
• In liberalism, there is always an oppressor and there is always a victim
• In liberalism, there is a “Dear Leader” who never makes mistakes because if he does, it stops being a mistake
• In liberalism, the people furthest away from the work make rules followed by people closest to the work
• In conservatism, a new rule has to be tried out in a “sandbox” and possibly revised
• In conservatism, it is desirable to provide for the possibility that a rule might turn out to be stupid
• Conservatives fear the eventuality that a dumb rule might lead to dumb decisions; liberals seem to count on this
• In conservatism, the elected should truly be servants, who serve for a limited time
• Liberalism is strongly associated, throughout history, with over-privileged dictators-for-life
• Conservatives tend to be motivated by profits, which they envision as the result of fulfilling someone’s demand
• Liberals tend to be motivated by the next revolution; therefore, by some kind of resentment or offense
• Conservatives favor a “legacy economy” in which people acquire by providing products or services to other people
• Liberals favor an “Occupy economy” in which people acquire by frustrating, annoying, or impeding the work of, others
• Liberalism favors change when it is not yet in power; once it is in power, it favors stasis
• Conservatism tries to preserve a linkage between rights and responsibilities
• Liberalism tries to push a new order in which some have rights, and others have responsibilities
• Conservatism advocates rewards, usually natural, for delayed gratification
• Liberalism advocates rewards, usually artifiical, for immediate gratification
• Liberalism pushes for more freedom in things that have something to do with sex, less freedom in everything else
• Conservatism pushes for more freedom in everything else
• Liberals are fatalists about net worth, standard of living, debt, and many other things within human control
• Conservatives are fatalists where fatalism makes the most sense, like salvation vs. damnation, and global climate
• Conservatism favors a strong national defense and limited government
• Liberalism favors internationalism, anemic defense, and a sprawling, out-of-control government
• Conservatism sees terrorism as an act of war
• Liberalism sees terrorism as a legal issue and, in John Kerry’s words, a “nuisance”
• Conservatism thinks charity should be a voluntary act
• Liberalism thinks charity should be a requirement, therefore stop being charity
• Conservatism favors thinking as an individual; an idea doesn’t make sense if it wouldn’t make sense to an individual
• Liberalism favors group-think; if a group can’t see a flaw that an individual could see, the flaw isn’t really there
• To a conservative, individual effort counts; the group merely coordinates, which can be useful for funding
• To a liberal, the group effort is everything and the individual effort is nothing (unless it’s Dear Leader’s effort)
• Conservatism sees a “right” as something that belongs to the individual
• Liberalism confers “rights” on classes of people
• Conservatism recognizes a “right” as something people have by virtue of their existence
• Conservatives, therefore, see the list of rights as something that changes very slowly or not at all
• Liberalism sees a “right” as something granted by the government
• Liberals, therefore, see the list of rights as something that changes all the time, shrinking and growing
• Conservatives believe in the right to private property
• Liberals believe everybody’s rights end wherever their feelings begin, and they feel someone has too much
• Conservatives learn from history
• Liberals are often caught trying out failed policies, behaving as if history only began this morning
• Conservatives understand people get tired of seeing the same things, and absence makes the heart grow fonder
• Liberals think people learn to like things they see often, and to loathe things that are restricted in supply
• Conservatives see commerce as a succession of transactions that tend to benefit both sides, so everyone wins
• Liberals see commerce as nothing more than a flurry of activity
• Conservatives predict the effect of new policies around realistic expectations of human incentive
• Liberals are consistently surprised when human incentive doesn’t go the way they wanted it to go
• Conservatives are concerned with outcome
• Liberals are concerned with process
• Conservatives value opportunity over security
• Liberals value security over opportunity
• Conservatives have more respect for occupations that create assets, and defend the realm
• Liberals somehow reserve their respect for occupations that do not do this
• To a conservative, a true contradiction is impossible; so an apparent contradiction is an opportunity for learning
• To a liberal, an apparent contradiction is just a problem, solved by discarding the least-desirable evidence that’s part of it
Evil Deserves a Fair Chance• If a conservative hears something on the radio he doesn’t like, he changes the station
• If a liberal hears something on the radio he doesn’t like, he wants it banned
• If a conservative’s most cherished theory is challenged by reality, he discards or reforms the theory
• If a liberal’s most cherished theory is challenged by reality, reality must yield and the theory must prevail
• Conservatives tend to be Architects, concerned primarily about matters of cause-and-effect
• Liberals tend to be Medicators, concerned primarily about their own momentary emotional state

If any authoritative reference material contradicts my bullet points above, I hold that such reference material is creating more confusion than it is curing; since, when people use the words, whether they be aware of it or not, the bullets above capture what they’re really trying to say. If The Zachriel want to reform or reverse that in some way, I wish them well.

What probably kicks the whole thing off:
• Conservatives seek to create and preserve things that create or preserve, and destroy things that destroy
• Liberals seek to create or preserve things that destroy, and destroy things that create or preserve

Another thing that might kick the whole thing off, as I believe I mentioned before, is the Conflict of Visions defined by Prof. Thomas Sowell in his book.

Cross-posted at Rotten Chestnuts.

Cutter vs. Cupp

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

How come it is that libs never seem to directly respond to the concerns raised by their opposition?

Stephanie Cutter, representing the establishment left, calls voter fraud “a problem that doesn’t exist”. S. E. Cupp, representing the citizens who are concerned about the supposed non-problem, acknowledges there may be a legitimate concern about what Cutter is pointing out, the attempts to suppress votes. Only one side is willing to discuss the other side’s concerns.

Leftists are punch-drunk on this ultimate non-argument non-rejoinder non-response non-rebuttal for non-problems, this business of “You’re outside of my intended audience if you maintain an interest in that thing over there.” It’s stripped their threads; I think a lot of ’em simply don’t know any other way to do it. They don’t live in the land of ideas, they live in the land of Oz. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!

It’s cute how Wolfie tries to moderate every now & then.

Bo Rode

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

The claim is: “The Obamas had their dog, Bo, flown on his own airplane to join them on vacation.” Snopes checks it out and determines the claim is FALSE.

But then when you read what they put together:

Although it is true (depending upon logistics and the type of air transport available) that Bo sometimes travels to family vacations on flights carrying other personnel and supplies rather than in the same aircraft with his owners (as he did in July 2010 and again in August 2013), he does not travel on flights arranged specifically to carry him and nothing else – he flies on aircraft that have already been scheduled to transport other people and baggage to the presidential vacation site.

Here we have to slice the definition of “his own airplane,” razor thin, to understand what Team Mikkelson is trying to tell us.

I guess it’s TRUE that Bo rides separately. But it could be subjected to some fair question, whether a separate plane had been scheduled specifically for Bo.

Meanwhile, I’m afraid I don’t see this as debunking. The most likely context in which the resource would be used, is some troublesome rodeo-clown Obama-hater guy makes the claim “While my family is skipping our vacation this year, the Obama’s get to go on theirs and not only that, but they put that stupid dog Bo on his own plane…” and then the vigilant Obama-defender, all read up on his Snopes propaganda, can self-righteously intone THAT IS NOT TRUE!! There would follow this idle speculation that the plane was flying to the Obama vacation spot anyway, carrying baggage, extra sunscreen, a couple iPods and so forth….someone said, oh dear, we forgot all about Bo, so how should we get him there? Aw heck, just stick him on this other plane.

Hurry up and get him there, before it takes off.

There is a fine line between “debunking” an urban myth, and manufacturing a brand new one.

Why does the Snopes web site put “FALSE” with a big red tell-tale dot next to the word, at the top of claims that are true in every single practical interpretation?

Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?

Monday, August 12th, 2013

Prof. Sowell, being excellent again.

The fundamental problem of the political Left seems to be that the real world does not fit their preconceptions. Therefore they see the real world as what is wrong, and what needs to be changed, since apparently their preconceptions cannot be wrong.

A never-ending source of grievances for the Left is the fact that some groups are “over-represented” in desirable occupations, institutions, and income brackets, while other groups are “under-represented.”

From all the indignation and outrage about this expressed on the left, you might think that it was impossible that different groups are simply better at different things.
Some of the most sweeping and spectacular rhetoric of the Left occurred in 18th-century France, where the very concept of the Left originated in the fact that people with certain views sat on the left side of the National Assembly.

The French Revolution was their chance to show what they could do when they got the power they sought. In contrast to what they promised — “liberty, equality, fraternity” — what they actually produced were food shortages, mob violence, and dictatorial powers that included arbitrary executions, extending even to their own leaders, such as Robespierre, who died under the guillotine.
If the preconceptions of the Left were correct, central planning by educated elites who had vast amounts of statistical data at their fingertips and expertise readily available, and were backed by the power of government, should have been more successful than market economies where millions of individuals pursued their own individual interests willy-nilly.

It’s just one centuries-long soap opera, in which mortal men grasp for Archimedes’ lever that can move the world, attempting to fill out the occupation of little gods.

When reality shows this isn’t a hot idea, the theory must win and reality must lose: That last attempt didn’t quite succeed because the right people weren’t in charge. And the loyal lefties are immune from the most obvious thought that might follow, “perhaps there is no such thing as ‘the right people’.”

The Doctrine of Liberal Privilege

Sunday, August 11th, 2013

An important part of liberalism, as we know it today, is the continuing support of failed plans & predictions. If a liberal heads out early in the morning to catch fish for dinner — oh, just go with it, okay? — and has to quickly vanish into a grocery store that night for a take-and-bake pizza because there wasn’t any catch, there will be no lessons learned. Not a single one. A real fisherman will come up with some ideas about the bait, the time of year, time of day, the fishing hole, all those jackasses who discovered the hole and cleaned it out…something to be changed so the results will be better next time.

Only a true-believing liberal can see his precious theories bump up against and enter into a conflict with reality, and declare reality to be the loser.

The Washington Post died for Liberal Privilege.

The Doctrine of Liberal Privilege.

Let’s define that Liberal Privilege.

In four words?

“We make the rules.”
How ingrained was Liberal Privilege at the Post? Listen to famed Post reporter Bob Woodward on the sale to [Jeff] Bezos:

This isn’t Rupert Murdoch buying the Wall Street Journal, this is somebody who believes in the values that the Post has been prominent in practicing, and so I don’t see any downside.

This is amazing.


Rupert Murdoch, like the Graham family that is selling the Post, comes from a newspaper family and has been running newspapers all his life. Unlike the Grahams he wasn’t handed a major league journalistic inheritance in the Post, one of the most famous newspapers in America when the latest batch of Grahams took over the paper. No, Murdoch inherited the tiny Adelaide News out off the beaten path in Australia in a day when Australia itself was off the beaten path for most Westerners. Today, the Grahams are losing the Post. And the Murdoch News Corporation, named after that lowly Adelaide paper literally bestrides the globe with newspapers, a movie studio, Fox News, and more. And what is the condition of the Wall Street Journal, purchased a while back from another American journalist family that was struggling to keep their inheritance going? Here’s this release from a couple month’s back that captures the point in a headline:



And the Post? Said a saddened Donald Graham, the Post’s publisher:

Our revenues had declined seven years in a row.

So somehow, the despicable — read: conservative — Rupert Murdoch is running the Number One newspaper in America and the Journal’s circulation is on the rise. But the Post has had revenues decline for seven years in a row. And Bob Woodward thinks Rupert Murdoch is the problem with journalism? Why — shocking! How could that possibly be?

It can be because, as Woodward says correctly, the Post has been “prominently practicing” certain “values.” Or, as the Post’s Erik Wemple headlined his blog:

Don Graham sells, but doesn’t sell out

What Woodward and Wemple are talking about is the language of Liberal Privilege. What are those mysterious “values” at the Post that Woodward mentions? What is Wemple so pleased at that has him writing that Don Graham didn’t sell out?

That would be…Liberal Privilege.
Once Liberal Privilege is understood, decades of news stories make sense.

The treatment of Clarence Thomas, Dan Quayle, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney among others are all examples of Liberal Privilege at work. Each and every person on that list was presented by the Washington Post to the American public — specifically to their readers — through the eyes of Liberal Privilege. Everybody who counted at the paper had the code on how to write about these people.

In short hand? In the Code of Liberal Privilege?

Thomas was a black sexual harasser, Quayle, Palin, Bachmann, Reagan and Bush were stupid, Cain a black sex maniac, and Nixon, Gingrich, and Cheney varying incarnations of evil.

I don’t think bias gets to the heart of the issue. I think it’s a question of what exactly is being sold. “Rush Limbaugh sells conservative propaganda and the Washington Post sold liberal propaganda” doesn’t quite flesh out all the meaningful detail.

One may wish to pay attention to how the conclusions are reached. I’ve noticed before that one of the things that make liberal articles — blogs too, not just newspapers — hard to read is that it takes so long to get to the nuts & bolts of the story. It seems you always have to drill through twenty paragraphs about how disgusting something is and what all you’re supposed to think about it, before you get to the facts.

I guess if you’re a true zealot, that’s all forgivable. Most Americans aren’t, though. I think when people pay good money to get information, so that they can become informed, they really want it to happen. Say what you want about Rush Limbaugh, but when he says “Obama said such-and-such yesterday” he’ll lead with the sound bite. After that…whatever your own reaction to it…you’ll get Rush Limbaugh’s take on why he finds it ridiculous. Which, most of the time, might include more sound bites. This stands in stark contrast to lefty media reportage about Sarah Palin or Dan Quayle being a big dummy. When it’s written up by someone who’s never personally met Palin or Quayle, even if you agree with what’s concluded, it’s hard to mull that over and, at the end of it, consider yourself to have been truly informed.

So generally, when liberal “news” resources like this fail, it might be getting closer to the truth to suppose they fail because they just aren’t delivering the product on which the customer relies.

In Real Life, That’s Probably What They’d Do…

Friday, August 9th, 2013

Ireland Baldwin

Friday, August 9th, 2013

Yup, that would be the one Alec called a “rude, thoughtless pig.”

From the New York Post, which has more.


Friday, August 9th, 2013

Looks like a book with many sensible points to make, so I put it in my Amazon cart. “Wrong: Why experts keep failing us–and how to know when not to trust them.” The title actually has a footnote by the word “experts,” which is expanded out to “Scientists, finance wizards, doctors, relationship gurus, celebrity CEOs…consultants, health officials and more.”

From all I’ve managed to read about it, no, the book doesn’t say to ignore experts.

There were quite a few points made by the author in the interview, back in 2010 when he wrote the book, that I thought hit the nail on the head.

…it’s not that we want to discard expertise — that would be reckless and dangerous. The key becomes, how do we learn to distinguish between expertise that’s more likely to be right and expertise that’s less likely to be right?
Bad advice tends to be simplistic. It tends to be definite, universal and certain. But, of course, that’s the advice we love to hear. The best advice tends to be less certain — those researchers who say, ‘I think maybe this is true in certain situations for some people.’ We should avoid the kind of advice that tends to resonate the most — it’s exciting, it’s a breakthrough, it’s going to solve your problems — and instead look at the advice that embraces complexity and uncertainty.
Some experts project tremendous confidence. They have marvelous credentials. They can be very charismatic — sometimes their voice just projects it. Some experts get very, very good at this stuff. And what do you know? It really sort of lulls us into accepting what they say. It can take a while to actually think about it and realize their advice makes no sense at all.

Interviewer points out that picking the good advice out from the bad, can seem “like finding a needle in a haystack.” In responding, Author Freedman sensibly blames not the advisors, but the advised:

It is a needle in a haystack. Part of the problem is, we’re kind of lazy about it. We would like to believe that experts have the answer for us. And what we pay the most attention to are the most recent, most exciting findings. Newspapers, magazines, TV and the Internet oblige us by constantly reporting the stuff. We face this sea of advice all the time. So where is that needle in the haystack? I think the best thing to do is to discount as much as possible the more recent findings and pay more attention to the findings that have been floating around for some years. With a little bit of work, I think most of us can figure out how to answer some of these basic questions about whether advice seems to be pointing in the right direction or whether it seems to be falling apart.

On the troubling subject of experts who discard data that doesn’t fit the conclusion they wanted, Freedman’s words are alarming:

That is a huge understatement [“some cases”] — it is almost routine. Now, let me point out that it’s not always nefarious. Scientists and experts have to do a certain amount of data sorting. Some data turns out to be garbage, some just isn’t useful, or it just doesn’t help you answer the question, so scientists always have to edit their data, and that’s O.K. The problem is, how can we make sure that when they’re editing the data, they’re not simply manipulating the data in the way that helps them end up with the data they want? Unfortunately, there really aren’t any safeguards in place against that. Scientists and other experts are human beings, they want to advance their careers, they have families to support, and what do you know, they tend to get the answers they chase. [emphasis mine]

Suppose we had a way to sound an alarm as the data were being chiseled down, from what was collected, to what would ultimately be used in the survey, experiment or test. How would that work? Obviously, “I’m throwing this out because it doesn’t support the finding I want” would close the circuit on the buzzer, but “We decided at the outset we’re going to begin by discarding the extremes and proceed with the balance” would probably not. What other, finer points of the definition of invalid data selection could we program? There’s really no way to formulate it in advance — the human judgment calls would have to win out.

We could set up some kind of peer review on the selection process, so that no one individual practitioner has the final say on what’s thrown out, and why. But that would merely replace individual biases with institutional ones, and I’m not convinced the bulk of the problem with bias exists at the individual level.

So with all the problems remaining after the installation of a system like that — or, with such a system not installed — we are left to evaluate it by outcome. The experts can evaluate it by outcome prior to publication, or the public can evaluate it by outcome afterward, examining the content of what’s said, the controversies associated and the overall history.

And there, tragedy strikes: The “lazy” tend to win out, rather consistently I notice, in superficial debates (and it is the superficial ones that really count) against the not-so-lazy. “I win, because I’m listening to the experts,” they say; and they say this because it works. But it would be more accurate for them to say “I win because I’m lazy. I do what I’m told, I don’t look for contradictions and ponder what they mean, I don’t ask questions.”

Related: An essay from Freedman. Also, a year later, another author’s take on Why Experts Get It Wrong.

Update: From following the links, I see a point being made that is important. Having it to do over again, I would have worked it in to the above…better late than never…

According to the investigative journalist Dan Gardner in his 2010 book Future Babble (McClelland and Stewart) and the University of Pennsylvania psychologist Philip E. Tetlock in his 2005 scholarly masterpiece Expert Political Judgment (Princeton University Press, 2005), such cognitive biases are pervasive for both liberals and conservatives, optimists and pessimists, well educated or not, and well informed or not. After testing 284 experts in political science, economics, history, and journalism in a staggering 27,450 predictions about the future, Tetlock concluded that they did little better than “a dart-throwing chimpanzee.” There was one significant difference, however, and that was cognitive style: “fox” versus “hedgehog.”

Foxes know many things while hedgehogs know one big thing. Being deeply knowledgeable on one subject narrows one’s focus and increases confidence, but it also blurs dissenting views until they are no longer visible, thereby transforming data collection into bias confirmation and morphing self-deception into self-assurance. The world is a messy, complex, and contingent place with countless intervening variables and confounding factors, which foxes are comfortable with but hedgehogs are not. Low scorers in Tetlock’s study were “thinkers who ‘know one big thing,’ aggressively extend the explanatory reach of that one big thing into new domains, display bristly impatience with those who ‘do not get it,’ and express considerable confidence that they are already pretty proficient forecasters.” By contrast, says Tetlock, high scorers were “thinkers who know many small things (tricks of their trade), are skeptical of grand schemes, see explanation and prediction not as deductive exercises but rather as exercises in flexible ‘ad hocery’ that require sticking together diverse sources of information, and are rather diffident about their own forecasting prowess.”

This touches on something I’ve been writing, lately. The blog archives touch on this contrast here & there, and for the moment my time demands do not permit me to go a-searchin’. But I do have an off-line treatise of sorts that already represents some time investment putting these points all together…

In the same way it is much easier to destroy than to create, it is also much easier to control a maturing shape and definition by eliminating whatever doesn’t comport with it, than by adding in whatever does. It’s much like sharpening a pencil by removing the wood, or carving a block of marble into a statue of a horse by removing whatever doesn’t look like a horse. That is the efficient way for humans to achieve definitions in things, by way of removal rather than by augmentation. And so when very bright people make mistakes that non-bright people would not have made, you will very often see this: Information starts to be viewed, and treated, as a contaminant. People start to behave as if they know more, by avoiding learning things. One conclusion is to be preferred, and if any evidence arrives that creates a problem for it, the advocates for that conclusion will start to attack the evidence. This is the exact opposite of the way science is supposed to work, of course.


Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

Fascinating research by Andrew Thomas and crew over at American Thinker.

Hat tip to Kate at Small Dead Animals.

The Children Are Missing

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

Paging Baron Bomburst of Vulgaria…the kids are nowhere to be seen

You can drive through residential neighborhoods and never see a single child out playing. We should worry about what this means for the future.

There are still kids in those neighborhoods to be sure; you can see them at the schools getting dropped off by their moms. Few kids seem to walk to school anymore. My old elementary school got rid of the bike racks and turned the enclosure into a garden.

Maybe it’s the phenomena of helicopter parenting. It’s not the cool helicoptering of Wagner and “Ride of the Valkyries” but the lame kind of Barney and songs about feelings.

These kids do nothing without their parents hovering over them – in fact, you hear of college kids referring to their parents as “their best friends.” Gag me.

I went back to my hometown on the San Francisco Peninsula over the Fourth of July. When I grew up there in the Seventies, before Silicon Valley, it was solidly middle class. We weren’t poor, but we weren’t rich. It was a big deal when my parents got a second car; everyone had a station wagon, invariably American made.

Kids were everywhere. We played games on the street – baseball, tag, army. We left in the morning and came home for dinner. There was a big woods behind our house and we’d disappear into it all day, returning with cuts, scrapes and the occasional gopher snake.

But today, nothing. The neighborhood has changed – the Fords and Dodges are now BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes, and minivans replaced the wagons. I know there are kids there, but you never see them. Where are they? Lurking inside the million dollar houses? Doing what?

I went walking in those woods again. There was no sign anyone else does. A wonderland is just outside these kids’ backdoors and they never visit.

My own kids come to me and talk about “playdates,” as if childhood is supposed to be a set of pre-planned enrichment experiences instead of improvised entertainment. Can’t they just go over to their friend’s house and see if Kayden or Ashleigh or whoever can come out and play?

No, I’m told, it’s too dangerous in our affluent neighborhood. And if you look at the Meghan’s Law site for any neighborhood you’ll believe it. All these little flags pop up, each some form of registered sex offender. So, instead of driving these degenerates away, we conform and constrict our lives to accommodate their presence.

I asked a cop friend I served with in the Army if this was just paranoia. He said he wouldn’t let his kids play on the front yard unless he was out there with his Remington 870. That answered that.

My son and I were talking about this kind of thing, indirectly, last week while he was still here for the summer. The context was the tragedy of the girl who died from her peanut allergies. It would be nice to hear from some brilliant scientific minds about the long-term effects of bringing up generations of kids this way…perhaps it’s a bit, er, nutty of me to envision a connection between the whup-whup-whup of the helicopter parenting, and the skyrocketing statistics of the 4A: Autism, ADD/ADHD, Asthma and Allergies. Seems to me the last two among those are verifiable as physiological ailments — it’s highly doubtful a thirteen-year-old girl could actually perish from hypochondria. Could “evolution” possibly work this quickly, in reverse? I entirely fail to see how. And yet the body has lots of ways of adapting to challenges, as well as to lack of challenges. So I can certainly envision that keeping the environment too clean, at the age where kids are supposed to be figuring out how to physically cope with natural pollutants, might cause atrophy at all sorts of levels.

To me, the surest link between our recent spate of cleaner-cleaner-cleaner safer-safer-safer helicopter parenting, and this explosion of 4A stuff, would be the ADHD — whose “father” ‘fessed up, just before shucking his mortal coil, is merely an invention. “Every child who’s not doing well in school is sent to see a pediatrician, and the pediatrician says: ‘It’s ADHD; here’s Ritalin.’ In fact, 90 percent of these 5.4 million kids don’t have an abnormal dopamine metabolism. The problem is, if a drug is available to doctors, they’ll make the corresponding diagnosis.” His words, not mine.

Well, whether my theory is likely or not, it’s certainly a possibility. And I’m much more concerned about how parents neglect the possibility that is there — not only that, but I think it’s on everybody’s minds, in some form or another — than I am about its plausibility, its content, its probability. It’s a possibility that we are harming our kids even in the moments in which we’re “sure” we’re doing what’s best for them. And, it seems to me, whenever we ignore the possibility, as a direct consequence we are confronted with yet more evidence that there’s something to be taken seriously about it. More quiet neighborhoods, more kids vegging out in front of the teevee and the smartphone and other electronic things…fewer sunburns and scraped knees, sure, but much, much more Ritalin. And peanut allergies widespread, today, whereas in generations past they were only an occasional occurrence.

Yeah, I do see a connection. I don’t pretend to be able to explain it fully. But I’ll bet in a parallel universe where the balls are bouncing on the sidewalks again, and the jump ropes are twirling, there are lot of problems encumbering us here that aren’t happening there. Less Wellbutrin during the school year, more Campho-Phenique during the summer.

“The Mind Does Not Digest Them”

Monday, August 5th, 2013

On the subject of something called “the illusion of skill”:

Kahneman begins by talking about evaluations that he, as a young man with an undergraduate degree in psychology, was asked to conduct regarding the leadership abilities of soldiers in the armed forces.

This involved watching how a group of eight collectively solved a problem that involved lifting a log over a wall. By observing the contributions made by each person, and how they interacted with one another, Kahneman attempted to predict the future. Which of these soldiers possessed qualities that would lead them to excel at officer training school?

Later, these predictions were checked against real world results. Kahneman explains:

Because our impressions of how well each soldier performed were generally coherent and clear, our formal predictions were just as definite. We rarely experienced doubt…We were quite willing to declare: “This one will never make it,”…or “He will be a star.”

…as it turned out, despite our certainty…our forecasts were largely useless…

Now here’s where it gets especially interesting:

But this was the army. Useful or not, there was a routine to be followed, and there were orders to be obeyed…The dismal truth about the quality of our predictions had…very little effect on the confidence we had in our judgments…

Even in a situation where people knew that their predictions were invalid, no course correction occurred. Not only did the evaluations continue to take place, Kahneman and his colleagues continued to feel a sense of confidence about what they were doing.

He calls this the “illusion of skill” — and says it illustrates something important about how the human brain works. Similar behaviour has been observed on the part of private individuals who buy and sell investment stocks — as well as on the part of professional investors. In Kahneman’s words:

Mutual funds are run by highly experienced and hard-working professionals who buy and sell stocks to achieve the best possible results for their clients. Nevertheless, the evidence from more than 50 years of research is conclusive: for a large majority of fund managers, the selection of stocks is more like rolling dice…At least two out of every three mutual funds underperform the overall market in any given year…The funds that were successful in any given year year were mostly lucky; they had a good roll of the dice.

Kahneman relates an experience in which he was invited “to speak to a group of investment advisers in a firm that provided financial advice…to very wealthy clients.” Beforehand, the firm gave him access to anonymized data detailing the investment outcomes of 25 of its employees over an eight-year period.

These employees all “felt they were competent professionals performing a task that was difficult but not impossible, and their superiors agreed.” But after crunching the numbers (the same ones that were used to determine the size of year-end bonuses), Kahneman was surprised to discover that the results once again “resembled what you would expect from a dice-rolling contest.”

So what happened next?

What we told the directors of the firm was that…the firm was rewarding luck as if it were skill. This should have been shocking news to them…There was no sign that they disbelieved us…After all, we had analyzed their own results, and they were certainly sophisticated enough to appreciate their implications…I am quite sure that both our findings and their implications were quickly swept under the rug and that life in the firm went on just as before. The illusion of deeply ingrained in the culture of the industry. Facts that challenge such basic assumptions — and thereby threaten people’s livelihood and self-esteem — are simply not absorbed. The mind does not digest them.

Article goes on to provide a link to Kahneman’s essay.

I think the Nobel Prize winner has discovered Architects and Medicators, the latter of whom have a tendency to, reducing the whole thing down to its most simple and direct level of expression and understanding, go through life making an opiate out of every experience. One thing I’ve noticed about group deliberations is that some of the people in attendance see the meeting activity as not a necessary overhead, but as the thinking process itself. It is a distinction that becomes lost easily, even when the responsibilities are shared effectively. You have mastery over some of the vital subject matters, but others among them are outside of your ken, so of course you will need to share your knowledge with others before a decision can be made…by anyone…

…but then, when the concern turns to simpler things. The most base things. “I like this rock band and I do not like that one” — even things like that, they remain just as dependent on the group-sharing as they were in the business meeting that afternoon. We use words like “introvert” and “extrovert” to describe people who must ration their depleting energy, or enjoy the opportunity to recharge it again, respectively, in these group environments. It is noted that the extrovert, in solitude, is less comfortable and may even become frustrated. What is not much talked-about is the confusion some of them have. They’ve been conditioned to make decisions in groups. It isn’t like painting a picket fence or weeding a garden, you can’t just say “I was doing that activity in a group, now I’ll just do exactly the same thing now that I’m alone.” Making a decision by yourself is a whole different thing, requiring a whole different discipline. It is not raw intelligence, but the selection of disciplines, that sets the Medicators and the Architects apart from each other.

Telling a fact apart from an opinion, is the very first step. There are many more that come after that, but in recognizing the difference between fact and opinion, we’re already outside the skill set usually required in the group session. In fact, the meeting environment has an unfortunate tendency to fuse these two things together. This person over here, that person over there, they throw up these “trial balloons” which function as, and are thought-of as, “ideas”…what does it matter whether they’re factual or whether they involve speculation, reasoning, personal preferences, “shoulds”…they’re trial balloons. Some stay up, some sink to the ground. Decision made, action items assigned, meeting adjourned.

My point is, for someone who makes a living predicting things, it would take a powerful force for them to sit in judgment of hard data documenting that their predictive efforts have been, when measured, correct about as often as a shake of a Magic-8 ball; resolve to take this data and reform their processes, so they can acquire a better result; and then, emerge from the exercise with nothing changed. Especially when they’re convinced they did something to address the problem. This, too, would have to be chalked up to the group environment. People do their “thinking” by throwing up trial balloons and seeing what happens to them…alerted to the plain fact that this has generated a bad result, they do more of the same thinking to try to fix it, and end up making the same mistakes. You always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.

Kahneman finishes strong:

Do the professionals have an adequate opportunity to learn the cues and the regularities? The answer here depends on the professionals’ experience and on the quality and speed with which they discover their mistakes. Anesthesiologists have a better chance to develop intuitions than radiologists do. Many of the professionals we encounter easily pass both tests, and their off-the-cuff judgments deserve to be taken seriously. In general, however, you should not take assertive and confident people at their own evaluation unless you have independent reason to believe that they know what they are talking about. Unfortunately, this advice is difficult to follow: overconfident professionals sincerely believe they have expertise, act as experts and look like experts. You will have to struggle to remind yourself that they may be in the grip of an illusion.

Medieval Pet Names

Monday, August 5th, 2013

Huh. Interesting.

In England we find dogs that were named Sturdy, Whitefoot, Hardy, Jakke, Bo and Terri. Anne Boleyn, one of the wives of King Henry VIII, had a dog named Purkoy, who got its name from the French ‘pourquoi’ because it was very inquisitive.

Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Nun’s Priest Tale has a line where they name three dogs: Colle, Talbot and Gerland. Meanwhile, in the early fifteenth-century, Edward, Duke of York, wrote The Master of Game, which explains how dogs are to be used in hunting and taken care of. He also included a list of 1100 names that he thought would be appropriate for hunting dogs. They include Troy, Nosewise, Amiable, Nameles, Clenche, Bragge, Ringwood and Holdfast.


Saturday, August 3rd, 2013

That’s how I captioned this graphic over at the Hello Kitty of Blogging…exactly, caps included…except without the courtesy-asterisk.

“Creepy” hits the bulls-eye. That’s exactly what it is. Creepiest thing I think I’ve seen all year.

A bunch of Obama loyalists reviewed this with the idea in mind that they would send it out over the e-mail to Obama supporters…like me, heh heh…who had failed thus far to sign Our First Holy Emperor’s birthday card. I know they had the idea of doing this because that’s exactly what they ended up doing.

What’s creepy is that not one of the persons so assembled — not one! — saw fit to say something like “Em, er, maybe this isn’t such a hot idea.”

Of all the people in human history who have enjoyed consistent wins across time, their sense of judgment is most deplorable. Of all the persons with deplorable judgment, they have enjoyed the longest winning streak. Their decisions are going to continue to be stupid and idiotic, as long as this winning streak persists…in fact…it is the nature of things that, should the winning streak continue too far into the future, or too vast a stretch of time rolls by while nature offers them no suggestion that they’re screwing up and need to clean up their act…their decisions are going to become DUMBER. They will ratchet in that direction, with each call being dumber than the one that came before, always and all the time, never smarter, downward and downward until the moment of reckoning comes, like a bowling ball descending thousands of feet through the ocean. Until the impact which is inevitable, no stoppage, no slowing, no change, just more and more downward dumb-ward motion. They will keep on keepin’-on until the day comes that they lose at something.

I hope they blow it for their party and for their agenda, more than for the country.

But this picture shows we are very, very far gone. I’d like to know what these people do, exactly. I wouldn’t trust them to run a leaf-blower over a sidewalk, if I hated the sidewalk.

And yeah, if I had some friends or relatives who supported Obama and were somehow still on speaking terms with me, I’d expect them to go along with that.

Thing I Know #408. You can’t aspire toward success if you won’t spot the fails.

“Are These People Idiots, or Just Criminals?”

Saturday, August 3rd, 2013

I’m drawn to sorting out contradictions; I find it to be educational. It seems to get me in a lot of trouble with people though, and I think the reason why has something to do with the vitals. You have to 1) find the meaning behind whatever is put in front of you, 2) recall something earlier that creates the contradiction and 3) notice it. I guess I should learn to do these things silently, and not point it out.

The social pressure in this day and age, though, is against step #2, the recollection. Stop being difficult, stop remembering things, just think about what’s happening now. Your favorite color today is purple and your favorite number is six…

Anyway, I was intrigued when Steven Goddard found this

Global warming is happening is “10 times faster than at any time in the Earth’s history”, climate experts claim

American scientists claim the planet is undergoing one of the largest changes in climate in the past 65 million years.

Climatologists at Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment have warned the likely rate of change over the next century will be at least 10 times quicker than any climate shift since the dinosaurs became extinct.

If the trend continues at its current rapid pace, it will place significant stress on terrestrial ecosystems around the world, and many species will need to make behavioral, evolutionary or geographic adaptations to survive, they said.

Climatologists at Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment have warned the likely rate of change over the next century will be at least 10 times quicker than any climate shift since the dinosaurs became extinct and this could have a negative impact on some animals, such as polar bears

The findings come from a review of climate research by Earth system science expert Noah Diffenbaugh and Chris Field, a professor of environmental Earth system science and the director of the Department of Global Ecology at the Institution. The work is part of a special report on climate change in the current issue of Science.

The next paragraph, we start to get to the heart of the matter as the current “pause” in the rise of the mean temperature is finally mentioned. From that point to the end of the article, you see what’s happening: All of the alarmist rhetoric concerns projections. So the headline-writer strayed a little bit away from what the experts were really saying. Actually, more than a little.

Alrighty then. Give me a jingle when you have some alarming measurements…meantime…go back to expecting things. Fun times.

The Lurking Variable

Saturday, August 3rd, 2013

Me, writing about a private matter:

As a general rule, at least within my experience, when conflict persists across a great stretch of time among the same people, and about a very limited number of things, it will often emerge that the epicenter of disagreement is some distance away from what’s actually being discussed; it’s off somewhere else, concerning other things that aren’t finding expression. There are ways to assess this. When individuals build up coalitions, and those coalitions align and remain inseparable as new topics make their way to the forefront — that is one tip-off. Example: Find me a hundred people who think human activity is causing climate change, and that drastic action must be taken and soon if an ecological crisis is to be averted; I can probably find, within them, at least eighty people who are not very religious. Probably a good deal more than eighty, in fact. Find me another hundred who disagree, who think the whole thing is a huge scam, I can show you a sizable majority among them who subscribe to some religious system of belief. The significance of this observation is that it is contrary to rational expectations: To the extent that the climate change issue is connected to matters of faith, one would logically expect an opposite correlation to emerge. Those who say all things existing in the universe are just consequences of accidents, should take a fatalistic view of our planet’s climate as well, and those who say we should try to exert control over that climate for sake of a good outcome, should be the ones believing a deity put us here for that purpose. Our experience with people is reversed from what we should logically expect; so on one side of this disagreement or the other, perhaps both, someone is putting group membership considerations above reason and common sense. That, or these positions on the issues are linked by some spurious relationship. And so the neutral observer who desires to find out how others think, then has to look harder for the lurking variable.

Having approached the brink of inserting some roiling manifesto about left-wing and right-wing politics into what was supposed to be a study into other things, I lurched back from that brink and got on-topic again, without revealing my own opinions about the climate-change scam, or religion. Or, exploring any further what the “lurking variable” might be. That’s something more fitting for here, I think.

What I’m talking about in the above — I think, anyway — is guilt. Guilt has an amazing power to make mortals unwise. Not quite so much “stupid,” I hasten to add; many among the guilty insist they are much more intelligent than the average bear, and there is some truth to what they say. But wisdom eludes them. It isn’t too long before all the decisions they make, are made the same way. Unpredictability is a trait of wisdom, I think deep down everyone already knows that, so we should all be concerned when these hyper-intelligent geniuses all decide everything the same way…

IncompatibilityJustice becomes a matter of mob rule. Immigration policy becomes one of “please invade us and make it quick.” Defense, for the nation as well as for the family and the individual, is abhorred. Charity doesn’t count unless it’s the government doing it, government should cover everything from crib to crypt, from lung and brain transplants to hangnails. And who gives a rip if it runs out of money? Just raise taxes on the hated rich. Profits are to be punished. Working is to be discouraged. Oh, they might say a few generally flattering things about people who work…provided those people remain in the middle class, or among the poor, where they belong…but always, more restrictions are to be put in place that make it more of a miracle, less and less frequently occurring, when someone manages to get hold of a job that pays money. Labor unions everywhere. Rules, rules and more rules. The calendar should be busy with holidays and more holidays, retirement has to be guaranteed, and early. And then, should the gravy train still be running, here comes the unaffordable pension.

The birth rate is low. Because, dang right, humans are breaking the climate. The unwise-guilty people insist that sexual preference is an unalterable aspect of one’s birth, but they’re the ones who never act like it. Morning noon and night they campaign, or protest, or push, or advocate in some way more, more, and more gayness. Bend those genders. Every time you see a man acting like a real man, or a woman dressing and behaving with real femininity, you’re seeing something the unwise-guilty people want to destroy, and if they can’t destroy it they want to bury it. You might say wherever their kind is in charge, the only strong gender roles that remain are the ones they haven’t gotten around to getting rid of yet. Men should act more like women, women should act more like men, and the children — well, they should just be expensive. Child support, like gasoline, has to be made more expensive. Oh yeah, and on your way out, your burial should be green. It all has to do with making people into financial liabilities, ensuring they’re never assets again. If some among us think themselves unworthy, then we all have to be. Breeding therefore becomes littering, and is to be prevented, and punished, accordingly.

It’s as if the whole point to life is nothing more than an apology. Sorry we were ever here.

Whenever these unwise-guilty people manage to get something big pushed through…some of their “landmark legislation”…it is a constant that a few mortals become masters of many others, whom they will never meet. Commissioners and czars. Panels. Committees. Boards. Secretaries of Health and Human Services. Another constant: These demigods making such grandiose decisions about the intimate aspects of some stranger’s life, are to be regarded as uniquely qualified to occupy their posts and to hand down these rulings. But nobody, anywhere, can say exactly why that is. A lot of the time, nobody can name any actual accomplishments achieved by the demigods. But the guilty act as if they can indeed name some, in fact, that were they to jot down a list, it would go on for pages and pages…that must be why they’ve never gotten around to getting it done. Why was Janet Napolitano a wonderful mega-awesome superstar Homeland Security Secretary? What qualifies Sheila Jackson Lee to succeed her? Why is John Kerry uniquely qualified to be our Secretary of State? What did Hillary Clinton achieve in that role? Why was Timothy Geithner qualified to be our Secretary of the Treasury? Don’t ask why the demigod is so amazing and wonderful, s/he just is.

Now here is a paradox: These generalities are a constant — you’ll see that they hold true for Europe, as well. Defense is thought to be a sin, taxes are high, government sucks the life out of business, the birth rate is low, all social ills are funded, mediocre embarrassments are thought to be demigods, and the whole mess is unsustainable over the longer term of time. Those who resist this are a bit harder to predict. Wisdom, as I said, brings unpredictability; it is exactly the unpredictability one must expect to see, any time one looks at another person directly struggling with something. But down in the details, where the simpler decisions are made that drive the more complex ones, it is the unwise-guilty people who are unpredictable, and those who resist who will be making the same calls every time. What is the sum of two and two? The guilty have a fear of “horse sense”; they can’t say “four.” There must be some titillating and weird alternate answer, visible only to the few, the empowered, the anointed elites within the unwise-guilty. Four is something an ordinary person would say. Four is what the rubes say. The unwise-guilty people have the vision to see something “better.” There is a most elaborate treatise providing undeniable support for the fact that three is the real-right answer, or maybe it’s five…I’d explain it if I had the time, but you wouldn’t be able to understand it.

How do you achieve success in your more complicated decisions, when as you make the simpler ones, you painstakingly avoid any recognition that two and two make four? Answer: You don’t. When your plans turn to crap, you just blame the other guys. Here is another paradox: Guilty people are good at blaming others. It all seems, to me, so inefficient. If you want to wallow in guilt and you’re on the lookout for reasons to feel guilty about things, and you’re wrong about something, why not just admit it? Kill two birds with one stone. Why go through all that effort to blame others? It’s like a masochist spending his last few nickels for ammunition, then after the shooting spree complaining that he himself is not among the wounded. Dude. You were pointing it the wrong way.

They have so much hatred and anger for those who don’t follow suit. Unwise-guilty people want everybody else to be guilty and unwise. When they run into someone who doesn’t dance the same steps, they call us things like “arrogant.” Conflict arises when questions of two and two emerge, and we have the audacity to say: Four. How dare we! How arrogant! And of course, the conflict is…our fault…why of course it is, how could it be otherwise?

And why are there people who resist, anyway? Most of us are religious. Christianity does wonders to keep one from becoming guilty-and-unwise. It must be said that Christianity has little to nothing to do with not-feeling-guilty; quite to the contrary, it insists that all sons and daughters of Adam and Eve are stained, flawed, and unworthy. That’s the whole point, or a big part of it at least. Old Testament: Adam makes a problem. New Testament: Christ provides a solution. Man breaketh, God fixeth. So, arrogant? No, the opposite. And Christianity is only one possible answer. Among those who resist the whole low-birth-rate, justice-by-mob-rule, high-tax, bankrupt-government thing, our numbers are rounded out by some other secular types who just make it a point to…well, how do I put this…not do stupid dumb things. You might say, asked what is the sum of two and two, they come up with an answer of four because, duh. They figure it out. Perhaps they, too, actually do have guilt over things they’ve done — but they do something to keep it from clouding their decisions.

For me, it’s Christianity. No, it doesn’t make you arrogant. It doesn’t “erase” sin, at least not in the way I reflect upon it. It doesn’t anesthetize you against your own guilt, or make-believe that the guilt is not there. You might say Christianity is a great way to acknowledge you’ve been a pain-in-the-ass, without said acknowledgment making you into an even bigger pain-in-the-ass.

I’ve had a lot of names for America’s guilty-unwise demigod at the tippy top. Emperor Barack The First, He Who Argues With The Dictionaries, Mister Wonderful, President Soetoro…some are my own creation, some are stolen. One of my favorites has been “Replacement Jesus” for that is exactly what He is. Many among His followers have turned their backs on Christ. No Christ for them, but the need for a savior remains. There’s a big hole there. And so, they go out and “buy” this prosthetic Messiah. But it is not a functional prosthesis. It doesn’t actually conquer guilt like the Real Thing does. Therefore, in the same way a false eye doesn’t see, it fails to achieve this “admit you’ve been a P.I.T.A. without becoming a bigger P.I.T.A.” thing.

In Anno Domini Twenty Thirteen, there is no bigger ass-pain than the Obama movement. But here, I have looped back around to belaboring the obvious, and so now I shall stop.

Cross-posted at Rotten Chestnuts.