Wednesday, May 5, 2021


Here's an interesting quote from a historian and activist named Heather Cox Richardson. (I don't have a link; she's on substack somewhere.)

In any normal era, the big story right now would be the country’s dramatic economic recovery from the recession sparked by the coronavirus. In the first three months of 2021, the economy grew by 1.6% as economic stimulus measures kicked in and people started to buy things again. Amazon posted profits of $8.1 billion for the first three months of the year; the same months last year brought the company $2.5 billion. Supply chains are still frayed, pushing prices upward, but those problems are expected to ease as the chains heal.

And here is another from Jennifer Weiner (a person I've never heard of before).

Last year was not normal. There was stress snacking and procrasti-baking. There was no shedding for the wedding... in a year when most weddings were postponed or drastically downsized; no pre-high-school-reunion crash diet or worrying if Grandma would body-shame you at Thanksgiving.... But research from a company that makes internet-connected scales... found that people actually lost weight in 2020, or were more likely than in other years to hit their weight-loss goals, if they had them.... In any case, the weight-loss industry isn’t going to let a lack of data dull its zeal to convince Americans that yes, we got fat, and that now we need to get up off our couches and get back into shape.... I have one word for you: resist.

Cox Richardson was virulently anti Trump. Weiner probably was too but her thing is more the coming end of the lockdown. Both are writing about the return to "normality". Neither is enthusiastic about it and that's kinda weird. You fight really hard against something and now it's over or about to be over and you're not happy. This is the point where someone with a reasonable amount of self-awareness might begin to question themselves.

In any normal era I suspect that Cox Richardson would be suspicious of the term normal, carrying as it does the root "norm". "Normal" in this context means the way Cox Richardson thinks things should be.  That said, I'll cut hers some slack because I feel for her;  her side "won" but it didn't work out the way she was hoping. I suspect it's going to get worse for her. A lot worse.

I have to say I'm a little shocked at how poorly Cox Richardson's arguments are. She writes in long strings of non sequiturs. Weiner is no better. The evidence of weight loss, for example, is dodgy at best. Some people who had goals and worked towards them met them. In addition, these scales were connected to the internet. There was a sense of someone else holding them accountable. That is hardly a representative sample. Weiner resists "normal" but her perspective is the same as Cox Richardson: the world is failing to meet her expectations. 

I don't think that is psychologically healthy. I know being overweight is neither psychologically nor physically healthy.

Thursday, March 25, 2021


 I have two sets of headphones. One is a closed back set of Bose headphones that has Bluetooth and noise cancelling technology. They are very convenient. The others set are open-back Grado headphones that do not have noise cancelling because such a thing is impossible with open back headphones. They also do not have Bluetooth. They are not terribly convenient. Indeed, they lack qualities that most people seek in headphones, most notably privacy; you cannot black out the sounds others make and they can hear what you are listening to.

And yet the Grado headphones are clearly superior when it comes to sound quality. And it's not a subtle thing. They have better sound than the Bose headphones the way a really good espresso tastes better than instant. That's not a good analogy though because the Bose headphones are not cheap. Instant coffee is cheap so it's less of a problem that it tastes cheap. They're convenient but not cheap. The Grado headphones are less than half the price of the Bose headphones. 

For a lot of purposes—phone calls, Zoom meetings—the convenience of the Bose headphones is perfect. That is also the case for a lot of music listening. A lot of pop music, especially 1960s and 1980s pop music, was recorded deliberately low fidelity and audiophile quality is beside the point. And there is no point in audiophile quality if we are treating music as background. But sit down and listen to a really good recording of Rigoletto and the experience is much better with the Grado headphones.

And that has had me thinking lately. How much do we lose to convenience? How much do we diminish our lives by not paying close attention to the stuff we enjoy? The people we enjoy? Do we settle for low fidelity from our friends and lovers because that is more convenient than living well?

Tuesday, March 9, 2021


Tracey Rowland has a piece up in the latest issue of Columbia entitled, "The Chivalry of St. Joseph". In a sense it is the most logical case of chivalry going—St. Joseph is the original courtly lover of Our Lady. All well and good.

Rowland quotes Stratford Caldecott to shore up her case:

In St. Joseph, justice is combined with tenderness, strength and decisiveness with flexibility and openness to the will of God. He is an adventurer, too, like the questing knights of later legend.

There is a relationship there but there is also a huge difference. The knights of later legend fought actual battles with weapons and killed their opponents. At base, that was what a knight was. They were idealized killers. Over time, his role became more complicated as he was also expected to be a Christian and a courtly lover. It is the tension between those roles that makes the knight interesting. St. Joseph, not so much. At least, not in the story we have of him. The actual St. Joseph may have been a fascinating character, one of those people you'd love to have a beer with. we have a few lines about him in Matthew and then a whole lot of mythology added to that.

Which brings to this further comment wherein Caldecott quotes Charles Péguy:

There is only one adventurer in the world, as can be seen very clearly in the modern world—the father of a family. Even the most desperate adventurers are nothing compared to him.

Well, I know what Peguy was aiming at and what Caldecott was hoping to get quoting him but that sounds like something you'd find in a Hallmark card for father's day. Particularly when applied to St. Joseph because there is one very significant difference between your father and my father on the one hand and St. Joseph on the other. And that something doesn't go with desperate adventurer.

Friday, February 26, 2021

What we identify as

 The Gallup organization has put up one of those headlines that, while not a lie, gets it wrong: LGBT Identification Rises to 5.6% in Latest U.S. Estimate. You can see how this happened. The headline says there is a social trend. And it's not completely wrong.

Today, society largely approves of LGBT identification, so, not surprisingly, the number of people so identifying has risen. Ann Althouse notes that for our generation, who grew up with the belief that ten percent of the population was gay, it seems a low number. She adds, "And most of it — 3.1% — are identifying as bisexual. Only 1.4% are gay men, and only 0.7% are lesbian.

What interests me is the breakdown within groups. It's obvious from that one line that more men identify as gay than women identify as lesbian. But what of the 3.1 percent who identify as bisexual? How does that group slit up? As it turns out, exactly as I would have guessed. 

  • Women are more likely than men to identify as LGBT (6.4% vs. 4.9%, respectively).

  • Women are more likely to identify as bisexual -- 4.3% do, with 1.3% identifying as lesbian and 1.3% as something else. Among men, 2.5% identify as gay, 1.8% as bisexual and 0.6% as something else.

 The other completely unsurprising result is that people are more comfortable identifying as LGBT as they get younger:

Americans' Self-Identified Sexual Orientation, by Generation

Bisexual Gay Lesbian Transgender Other

% % % % %
Generation Z (born 1997-2002) 11.5 2.1 1.4 1.8 0.4
Millennials (born 1981-1996) 5.1 2.0 0.8 1.2 0.4
Generation X (born 1965-1980) 1.8 1.2 0.7 0.2 0.1
Baby boomers (born 1946-1964) 0.3 1.2 0.4 0.2 0.0
Traditionalists (born before 1946) 0.3 0.3 0.2 0.3 0.1
Figures represent the percentage of all adult members of each generation who have that sexual orientation
Gallup, 2020

The bisexual number goes from tiny, 0.3% to significant in very little time. The jump starts with Gen X who are born after 1965. That is to say, it's only after the major cultural shift of the 1970s that things start to shift. But even at that, look at how much more significant the shift in bisexual numbers is than any other category. If we take boomers as are benchmark, the percentage of people identifying as gay has increased 1.75 times in four generations. The jump is more dramatic with lesbians where the number of people so identifying has increased 3.5 times. Not surprisingly, the number of people identifying as transgender is really dramatic, increasing 9 times in four generations. But all three of those categories put together are dwarfed by the number identifying as bisexual which has increased 38 times!

My guess is that that 11.5% probably accurately represents the number of Generation Zers who have had sex with a member of the same sex at least once in their life. That is, in fact, the one-in-ten claim that Ann Althouse and I both grew up with. The source of this is Alfred Kinsey whom I suspect wanted as high a number as possible for gay men and therefore counted every male who reported having had sex with another man as gay. I would also guess that the slightly higher percentage in the latest Gallup survey is a function of women being more likely to have a same sex experience in their late teens and early twenties than men are.

Suppose you had sex with another girl or another boy at camp back when you were 17. That was the one and only time you ever did but you still remember that encounter fondly and you sometimes fantasize about it and when you do you get aroused. Is that enough to cause you to identify as bisexual? The answer to that would probably depend on circumstance. To be confronted with someone who hopes you might be interested in a same-sex experience with them requires far more of a commitment than answering a question on an anonymous survey. And it becomes easier and easier to answer the survey question as the attitudes in the culture around you shift. 

The whole point of such a survey is to ask you questions such that you are only answerable to yourself. If you tell the nice person from Gallup that you identify as a particular category, they aren't going to challenge you to prove it. I would think that if you had a same-sex experience as a teenager but never again and are now 23, it's a lot easier to say you identify as bisexual than it will be if you are currently 33, 43, or 53 and have not had a same sex experience since 17. The question, after all, is not about what you have or have not done, but what you identify as. The longer the gap, the more it might begin to feel more accurate to say, "Yes I did that but that wasn't really me." And it seems to me that you should be the ultimate authority as to what you identify as.

Ultimately, I think Ann Althouse reads this correctly—the most significant thing about these numbers is how low they are. I'd conclude that we've seen a huge shift in attitudes towards LGBT people but our society remains overwhelmingly heterosexual and that isn't going to change. Society is not going to change that much. For some people this will be a bitter disappointment.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Is a hero you are not allowed to emulate really a hero?

In the last few decades young adult or YA literature has become increasingly politicized. In a sense this is nothing new. Harriet Stratemeyer started altering the texts of Nancy Drew mysteries to make Nancy more feminine and less rebellious in the 1930s. In the 1950s, the entire Stratemeyer syndicate's output, which includes Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys and Tom Swift, was rewritten to remove racial and ethnic stereotypes. This is inevitable and probably somewhat of a good thing. What has happened lately though is that young adults themselves have been entirely excluded from the process. Lists of recommended YA books are compiled by small groups librarians and teachers. These lists are then circulated and become the basis of what other librarians and teachers select for inclusion in libraries and on class reading lists. Past YA literature, whatever else one might think of it, was heavily market driven. At one point, actual young adults decided what they wanted to read; now they are told what to read and the pool of options they pick from has all been pre-approved.

Now, young people have lots of other options ranging from TV and movies to pop songs. And even those who, like me at that age, love books can always resort to the classics which are still widely available and cheap, although the busybodies are hoping to fix that. Still, I think there have been real consequences of this creeping puritanism of librarians and teachers.

One of the big reasons to read fiction is to exercise your moral imagination. What would it be like to be in a character's situation. This move is expressly forbidden with approved YA books. You read about the hero of a YA novel because she is a victim who triumphs in the face of an adversity that you could never know except by dutifully reading about her. In fact, she is your moral superior in every way and don’t you dare even contemplate playing at being her. If the hero is, for example, transgender and a victim of bullying, it would be acceptable to emulate her only if you yourself were transgender. Otherwise you can admire her as better than you. Emulate her if you’re not transgender and the very same teacher who made you read the novel will destroy your life.
As a consequence, teacher-approved YA fiction no longer plays the role it used to in the lives of kids who love to read—those kids who are, in Caitlyn Flanagan’s phrase, deep-sea divers of books. One of the glorious things about reading Treasure Island was that you could imagine yourself in the role of Jim Hawkins, who actually kills a man at one point. 
These books allowed kids to do two seemingly contradictory things at the same time. They could imagine what it was going to be like to be an independent adult—it’s no accident that one of the mainstays of traditional YA was that the hero or heroine was without one or both their parents because that allowed readers to imagine going out on their own. At the same time, they allowed readers to savour their rapidly disappearing innocence—it’s also no accident that so many of the girls in those stories were tomboys as that provided girls reading them away to delay become fully sexual beings, a very tempting option between the ages of 11 and 16.
I don’t think it is an accident that the last generation of books that actually allowed and encouraged fantasy emulation of their heroes sold incredibly well. Think of the Twilight series or Harry Potter. You actually can emulate those heroes. Critics lambaste these books because they are “so white” but those same critics would cancel any kid who dared try to role play based on a character who wasn’t so white. (By the way, someone or, more likely, a group of someones keeps editing Wikipedia’s “Vampire literature” page to remove any references to the Twilight series.) The irony of this is that reading Harry Potter, seemingly the least subversive character in the history of literature, has become an incredibly subversive act.