Terrible Twos Who Stay Terrible

Thursday, December 26th, 2013

Dangerous criminals don’t turn violent. They just stay that way:

With adolescents, physically aggressive acts can be counted in incidents per month; with toddlers, he said, “you count the number per hour.”

In most children, though, this is as bad as it gets. The rate of violence peaks at 24 months, declines steadily through adolescence and plunges in early adulthood. But as Dr. Tremblay and Daniel S. Nagin, a criminologist at Carnegie Mellon University, found in a pivotal 1999 study, a troublesome few do not follow this pattern.

The study tracked behavior in 1,037 mostly disadvantaged Quebec schoolboys from kindergarten through age 18. The boys fell into four distinct trajectories of physical aggression.

The most peaceable 20 percent, a “no problem” group, showed little physical aggression at any age; two larger groups showed moderate and high rates of aggression as preschoolers. In these three groups violence fell through childhood and adolescence, and dropped to almost nothing when the boys reached their 20s.

A fourth group, about 5 percent, peaked higher during toddlerhood and declined far more slowly. Their curve was more plateau than hill.

As they moved into late adolescence and young adulthood, their aggression grew ever more dangerous, and it tailed off late. At age 17 they were four times as physically aggressive as the moderate group and committed 14 times as many criminal infractions. It’s these chronically violent individuals, Dr. Tremblay says, who are responsible for most violent crime.

(These numbers are all for boys and young men; girls’ physical aggression declines in arcs similar to those of boys, but at sharply lower levels.) The results were surprising. At first glance, they seemed at odds with one of criminology’s oldest tenets — the age-crime curve, first graphed in 1831 by the Belgian statistician Adolphe Quetelet.

Mining French crime records, Quetelet found that arrest rates soared in the midteens before falling in the 20s. His famous curve was later replicated in studies of criminal records going back to the 16th century. By contrast, the Tremblay-Nagin findings suggested that violent behavior peaked much earlier than the teen years.

But as Janette B. Benson and Marshall M. Haith noted in a 2010 child development textbook, the two sets of curves are not contradictory: Quetelet’s curve reflects not violence, but the rate at which we “start arresting and convicting individuals who have been physically aggressive toward others at least since kindergarten.”

In 2006, Dr. Tremblay and Dr. Nagin published a larger study tracking 10 groups of about 1,000 Canadians between ages 2 and 11 for periods of six years. The research echoed the 1999 study. A third of the children were peaceable throughout; about half used physical aggression often as toddlers, but rarely as preadolescents; and about a sixth remained physically aggressive as 11-year-olds. This last group matched groups in other studies that ran in the 5 percent to 15 percent range.

This parts reads as self-parody:

Programs that provide comprehensive support, including parent training, do seem to help, though they are difficult to deliver to the deeply troubled families that need them most.

Child development experts increasingly say such services are crucial — starting “as close as possible to conception,” as Dr. Tremblay put it in one recent paper, and continuing through early childhood.

Similarly, his research is going further back in the life span. He and some colleagues are planning to capture data in mothers and newborns, and then to follow them for two decades, to determine whether environment shapes the chemical wrappings of the children’s genes, and thus perhaps their activities, in ways that correlate to behavior.

As close as possible to conception…

They don’t want the future

Thursday, December 26th, 2013

When people came to Frank Herbert and asked him about the future, they didn’t want the future:

What most people want when they talk about futurism — all the companies that hire me to play futurist for them — they don’t want the future, they want now locked in.  FDR, he did it.  In 1933 he appointed a committee called the Brain Trust.  They were given the primary job of “determining” what the course of technological development and innovation would be for the next 25 years and what influence this would have on our lives.  What had they not come up with?  That’s the fascinating thing.  Faster-than-sound travel, transistors, antibiotics, atomic power, World War II, are just a few small items that these Brain Trusters missed.  What does this say to us?  It says that if you look at history carefully the surprises are the things that turn us upside down as a society.  Asimov in his Foundation Trilogy has the Second Foundation, which can predict the course of the future, and he has his character the Mule in there, his wild card, but again totally within scientifically predictable norms.  Horseshit!


Wednesday, December 25th, 2013

Nathan Lewis discusses American affluenza:

Minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, or about $14,500 per year for a full time 40-hour-per-week load (could be multiple jobs). Often, localities have a higher minimum wage than the Federal minimum. It is not a lot. But, it should also be enough. It should be more than enough. We still live in one of the most materially abundant societies the world has ever seen. You can get a lot for $15,000.

Most of the best things in our civilization are actually free, or nearly so. Public libraries, public parks, beaches, museums, the Internet, and so forth provide most of the best our civilization has to offer. Even a genuinely poor person can afford a $75-per-year membership to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which is a really fine museum. I’ve always found it interesting that you never see anyone there who is plainly of a lower income, although they are abundant on the subway you ride to get to the museum. (Indeed, there are some low-income neighborhoods that are an easy walk from the museum.)

Even on minimum wage, you can afford things that even kings didn’t have a few centuries ago. Electric lights. Refrigerators. Hot and cold running water, and modern sewage systems. Indoor flush toilets. Hot showers. Weekly trash removal.

Orange juice. And pepper!

Even a cellphone, if perhaps a prepaid one. They used to call cellphones “carphones,” because they were so big you needed a car to carry it around. That was only 20 years ago.

You can get a decent notebook computer for $450, brand new. If it lasts for a typical four years, that is only $112 per year.


Many other material things you can get for free, or nearly so. I often contribute to a church charity nearby called Magic Closet. A few hours per week, you can bring anything you like there, and donate it to charity. You can also take whatever is there, for free. No limit. Flat out free. It is like Goodwill or Salvation Army with no money in between. Just give it away for free and get it for free. I think it’s a great way to interact with your neighbors, and also to clear unused stuff from your house and get it in the hands of someone who can make use of it.

You can get clothing and housewares of all sorts there, certainly enough for the basics of modern living. It is even pretty good quality. I know because I drop off a lot of stuff there myself (it seems to build up continuously), and the stuff I’m dropping off isn’t junk.

You can even get big-ticket items like furniture, for free or nearly so, if you ask around. Pretty much everyone has a thirty-year-old sofa in the garage, which is still in good usable condition. If you ask nicely, they will probably give it to you.

I once gave away a piano. It ended up with some Chinese people from Brooklyn.

You would think it is the best possible time to be poor, particularly since the advent of things like Craigslist or eBay, where you can get things for much cheaper than new, or sometimes for free.

On top of this, we have various government services, like Medicaid, available to the lowest incomes. For free.

Twelve years of public schooling — for free!

So, what’s the problem?

There are a number of problems, but one problem is the same problem we have throughout American society today. Affluenza. It is really not so much a question of needless luxuries, but rather that the “basic American lifestyle” is too expensive.

There are plenty of people in the U.S., making very little money, but who are quite prosperous in their way. Mostly these are immigrants. They haven’t been raised in American society, and don’t have American expectations or American ways of doing things.

They don’t own automobiles, because, where they are from, nobody owns an automobile. They probably don’t even know how to drive. (My wife, whose father owned a Honda dealership, did not drive on a public road until after age 30.) They ride bikes. When they need to travel farther, or carry loads, they share vehicles or hire one from another person much like themselves.

They will often pile into a typical suburban house, with a family (or four working men) in each bedroom. There might be twenty people in a house. On a per-person basis, it is pretty cheap, because they can split the electric or heating bill twenty ways.

Heck, I did that in college. It was actually pretty fun.

They cook for themselves, with simple nutritious food based on rice, beans, basic vegetables and so forth. It costs almost nothing. It takes labor, but one woman can easily cook for many, which is what people do and what they have always done, where they come from, and indeed in all places throughout history. If they are going outside the house, they bring some food with them. (Often, in food service jobs, you can get food for free anyway.)

Now, I am not saying that sharing a bedroom with three other men in a boarding house is as nice as having a 2500sf suburban house of your own. Did I say that? I didn’t say that. But, if you have a low income, it is not a bad solution, and indeed is perhaps not a bad way to live in any case. It depends mostly on the other people. Not everyone is badly behaved. Military people live in more materially austere conditions than this, but they are generally well-behaved, and it goes well enough. Immigrants usually know how to live with each other and behave themselves. Many American poor do not.

Do you remember the TV series M*A*S*H? It was about a team of battle surgeons in the Korean war. They lived in dirt-floor tents, a few miles from the front lines. On cots. Shared. It was OK. After the war was over, they probably remembered it as one of the most interesting times of their lives.

Of course, one of the problems is that people are badly behaved. This is a problem, but it is not really a problem of income. It is a problem that we attempt to solve with income — moving to a neighborhood with better-behaved people, which costs more money.

Fixing One Thing

Wednesday, December 25th, 2013

In 1984, around the time that the Dune movie was coming out, Frank Herbert gave an interview to Jean Marie Stine of the Los Angeles Reader:

JMS: In Dune, written in the early ’60s, you were one of the first to question the danger of modifying the ecology of a particular environment to try to “improve” human conditions.

Herbert:  Let me give you a little example on that one.  About 20 years ago the U.S. and West Germany pooled their resources — well, we put in most of the bucks and the people — and went into North Africa, and all across most of the southern veldt of the Sahara.  We dug a lot of tube wells — we drilled them, put pumps on them and brought water up.  We did a good thing and then we walked away from it, more or less.  Technologically we sure as hell walked away from it.

What happened was that they had more water and more grazing areas.  More arable land was opened up, more cattle were put on the land, and the population grew to equal the new food supply.  Then about five years ago, the rainfall, cyclic rainfall, decidedly decreased.  Three years ago it went, practically dry.  Of course the water table went down much faster because they were pumping.  Right now as we sit here talking, 2,000 people a day are dying in that area.  You can’t go in and fix one thing to make everything all right in a complex situation. It’s like an internal combustion engine.  If there is only one thing wrong you may happen on the one thing that fixes it.  But chances are much larger that by just doing one thing you create other problems you’re going to have to adjust.  And you have to keep adjusting until you create a balance.

For instance, one of the side effects of what we did in some of those North African villages was that we broke down the social system.  Women previously went to the well for water, which they carried back on their heads, and the well was where they solved all their community problems.  By piping water into the houses we cut off that link in their society and all hell broke loose.  There were family feuds, murders, all kinds of things that had never occurred in these places, in that particular way, ever before.  The Green Revolution was another, similar con game.  We went in with a technologically based system into primitive countries, and where before they had depended on manure and animals to pull their plows and that sort of thing, we made them dependent on special soil additives and special seed stock which was, by the way, very vulnerable to disease.

I’m reminded of The Logic of Failure.

Letting Children Watch TV

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

Michael J. Petrilli sends his kids to a Waldorf school, but he refuses to feel bad about letting them watch TV — because TV shows “lay a sturdy foundation that will make their engagement and enjoyment of the classics that much more likely.”


As one commenter pointed out, “He’s going to stand out in his hipster peer group, pioneering double-bluff hipsterdom.”

I love the accompanying photo of almost-blond half-Asian kids watching TV.

Anyway, I think it’s a mistake to consider “screen time” one homogeneous thing.

Intense World Syndrome

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

Autism may be intense world syndrom:

They agreed that the one most like human autism involved rats prenatally exposed to an epilepsy drug called valproic acid (VPA; brand name, Depakote). Like other “autistic” rats, VPA rats show aberrant social behavior and increased repetitive behaviors like excessive self-grooming.

But more significant is that when pregnant women take high doses of VPA, which is sometimes necessary for seizure control, studies have found that the risk of autism in their children increases sevenfold. One 2005 study found that close to 9 percent of these children have autism.

Because VPA has a link to human autism, it seemed plausible that its cellular effects in animals would be similar. A neuroscientist who has studied VPA rats once told me, “I see it not as a model, but as a recapitulation of the disease in other species.”

Barkat got to work. Earlier research showed that the timing and dose of exposure was critical: Different timing could produce opposite symptoms, and large doses sometimes caused physical deformities. The “best” time to cause autistic symptoms in rats is embryonic day 12, so that’s when Barkat dosed them.

At first, the work was exasperating. [...] Markram was ready to give up, but Barkat demurred, saying she would like to shift her focus from inhibitory to excitatory VPA cell networks. It was there that she struck gold.

“There was a difference in the excitability of the whole network,” she says, reliving her enthusiasm. The networked VPA cells responded nearly twice as strongly as normal—and they were hyper-connected. If a normal cell had connections to ten other cells, a VPA cell connected with twenty. Nor were they under-responsive. Instead, they were hyperactive, which isn’t necessarily a defect: A more responsive, better-connected network learns faster.

But what did this mean for autistic people? While Rinaldi was investigating the cortex, Kamila Markram had been observing the rats’ behavior, noting high levels of anxiety as compared to normal rats. “It was pretty much a gold mine then,” Markram says. The difference was striking. “You could basically see it with the eye. The VPAs were different and they behaved differently,” Markram says. They were quicker to get frightened, and faster at learning what to fear, but slower to discover that a once-threatening situation was now safe.

While ordinary rats get scared of an electrified grid where they are shocked when a particular tone sounds, VPA rats come to fear not just that tone, but the whole grid and everything connected with it—like colors, smells, and other clearly distinguishable beeps.

“The fear conditioning was really hugely amplified,” Markram says. “We then looked at the cell response in the amygdala and again they were hyper-reactive, so it made a beautiful story.”

Paved with Liberal Intentions

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

Selwyn Duke attempts to place apartheid in perspective:

Most people would never guess it, but the arrival of whites in SA dates back further than that of the ancestors of many of the nation’s blacks. The first Dutch settlers (who became known as “Boers” or “Afrikaners”) landed on Africa’s shores in 1652, while many blacks in SA arrived later. After all, since life in “racist” SA was vastly preferable to that in surrounding nations, it had long been attractive to black migrants. In fact, due to this factor and blacks’ higher birthrates, SA’s black demographic has increased 920 percent since 1913; this is the main reason the nation’s population increased from 6 million a century ago to 52 million today, as the white demographic increased only 3.3 million during that period.

The relevant point, however, is that the Dutch settlers found in southern Africa a vast and beautiful land with great wide-open spaces. They then did what Erik the Red did in Greenland, what countless groups have done throughout history: they set up shop — their own shop. Of course, there were Xhosa and Zulus about, but they did their own thing as the Europeans did theirs for the same reason why the Sioux and Cheyenne stayed separate in North America, the Lombards and Alans remained separate in barbarian Europe, or the Smith and Jones households live separately on their block: the default for different groups, with different values and cultures or even just different blood ties, is to live apart. They naturally, instinctively, reflexively maintain “apartness.”

This worked well and was unquestioned for a very long time. But then something happened.

Southern Africa started moving into modernity.

As the Afrikaners and British developed the region, a country known as “South Africa” emerged. And as the blacks were integrated into this European creation — being hired by whites, receiving at least some Western education and learning European languages — they, too, developed a sense of belonging to this “South Africa.”

This created an interesting situation. If the whites had maintained complete separation — if they would have and could have avoided all contact with the African tribes — there would have been no Nelson Mandelas (for the same reason why Amazonian natives who know of nothing beyond their forest canopy don’t lobby for voting rights). If, as occurred with the Japanese and their islands’ indigenous people, the Ainus, the SA whites came to outnumber and largely subsume the tribes, there would have been no one of note around to lobby for anything. But since SA is not an island and African migrants could easily cross the border in large numbers, this was a non-starter.

But neither of these things happened. Rather, SA blacks moved into modernity and became part of South Africa, a democracy — and outnumbered the whites 10 to 1. What were the whites to do? Granting the blacks full citizenship rights would usher in the whites’ political, and perhaps physical, destruction. Given this, is it surprising that what always ensured cultural preservation and group safety, that naturally ordained “apartness,” was replaced with the government-ordained policy of “apartheid?”

The point here isn’t to make any moral statement about segregation in general or SA’s version in particular. It is, rather, this: regardless of the extent to which white South Africans were inhuman — as all peoples can sometimes be — they did nothing unhuman. Their social policies were exactly what could be expected from any group of humans in their situation.

Tailoring Is the Secret of the Well-Dressed

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

Spending $40 to tailor $79 pants feels wasteful:

The result: American closets are brimming with ill-fitting clothes.

Tailoring is the Secret of the Well-Dressed

Why Should We Study War?

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

Why should we study war?

Contrary to our modern therapeutic utopianism, the history of war shows us the unchanging, tragic reality of human nature and its irrational passions and interests that will spark state aggression and violence.

The modern world, in contrast, rejects the notion that human nature comprises destructive passions and selfish interests that will start wars only force can stop. On the contrary, to the modern optimist, humans are universally rational and peace loving, if only the external, warping constraints on these qualities — ignorance, poverty, parochial ethnic and nationalist loyalties, the oppression of priestly and aristocratic elites — can be removed. Then people will progress to the realization that their true interests like peace, freedom, and prosperity will be achieved not by force but by international trade, economic development, democracy, and non-lethal transnational institutions that can adjudicate conflict and eliminate the scourge of war.

This influential belief was famously expressed by Immanuel Kant in his 1795 essay “Perpetual Peace.” In it Kant imagined a “federation of free states” that would create a “pacific alliance… different from a treaty of peace… inasmuch as it would forever terminate all wars, whereas the latter only finishes one.” In his conclusion, Kant expressed the optimism that would become an article of faith in subsequent centuries: “If it is a duty, if the hope can even be conceived, of realizing, though by an endless progress, the reign of public right — perpetual peace, which will succeed to the suspension of hostilities, hitherto named treaties of peace, is not then a chimera, but a problem, of which time, probably abridged by the uniformity of the progress of the human mind, promises us the solution.”

Throughout the nineteenth century international institutions were created to realize this dream and lessen, if not eliminate, the savagery and suffering of war. The First Geneva Convention in 1864 and the Second in 1906 sought to establish laws for the humane treatment of the sick and wounded in war. The first Hague Convention in 1899 established an international Court of Arbitration and codified restrictions on aerial bombardment, poison gas, and exploding bullets. The preamble to the first Hague Convention explicitly acknowledged its Kantian aims: “the maintenance of the general peace” and the “friendly settlement of international disputes” that both reflected the “solidarity which unites the members of the society of civilized nations” and their shared desire for “extending the empire of law, and of strengthening the appreciation of international justice.” One wonders how such optimism made sense of the Franco-Prussian War three decades earlier, when two of the world’s most “civilized nations” suffered nearly a million casualties, including 170,000 dead.

Even after the industrialized carnage of World War I showed international solidarity and universal progress to be a fantasy, the Versailles treaty established the League of Nations, the transnational institution intended to realize Kant’s dream of a “federation of free states” that would keep the peace and promote global progress. But within a few years the League had been exposed as ineffective, since the same sovereign nations that had fought each other so brutally in the war continued to pursue their zero-sum interests, frequently with force. No more effective has been the United Nations, a “cockpit in the Tower of Babel,” as Churchill feared it might become, that also has failed at its foundational goal of maintaining peace, becoming instead an instrument of the member-states’ nationalist interests, one that frequently supplements and abets, rather than controls or limits state violence.

Familiarity with the history of war should disabuse people of these Kantian illusions. Studying the causes and nature of armed conflict reveals that technological progress, better education and nutrition, global trade, and increased prosperity has not eliminated or reduced wars, but often made them more brutal and destructive. Military history teaches us that war is not a distortion of a peace-loving human nature that not yet has sufficiently progressed beyond such savage barbarism, but rather is a reflection of a flawed human nature, and the necessary instrument for states to protect their security and pursue their interests, whether these are rational and good, or irrational and evil. The study of war, in short, can remind us of the tragic wisdom evident on every page of history: that humans are fallen creatures prone to destructive violence that only righteous violence can check.

80 seconds of wisdom

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013

Chris Hernandez offers up 80 seconds of wisdom:

Last week at the Arapahoe High School in Colorado a student named Karl Pierson walked into school and opened fire with a shotgun. He fired five rounds, badly wounding a beautiful young girl, before he saw a campus police officer advancing toward him. Pierson killed himself with his sixth round. The incident was captured on video, and lasted approximately 80 seconds from first shot to last.

80 seconds. And the mere presence of an armed “good guy” forced Pierson to stop targeting victims, and shoot himself instead.

Duck Dynasty

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013

The season premier of Duck Dynasty drew 11.77 million viewers:

By comparison, only 2.7 million people watched the finale of the latest season of Mad Men. Even the much-anticipated series finale of Breaking Bad only got 10.3 million.

Naturally, we’re all shocked — shocked! — that the patriarch of a rural Louisiana family would consider homosexuality sinful. (Hah! He said, sinful! What a rube!)

Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty in Canoe

Here’s what he said:

All you have to do is look at any society where there is no Jesus. I’ll give you four: Nazis, no Jesus. Look at their record. Uh, Shintos? They started this thing in Pearl Harbor. Any Jesus among them? None. Communists? None. Islamists? Zero. That’s eighty years of ideologies that have popped up where no Jesus was allowed among those four groups. Just look at the records as far as murder goes among those four groups.


Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men. … Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers — they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right … We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job. We just love ’em, give ’em the good news about Jesus — whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort ’em out later, you see what I’m saying?”


I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field. … They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’ — not a word! … Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.

His semi-apologetic statement:

I myself am a product of the 60s; I centered my life around sex, drugs and rock and roll until I hit rock bottom and accepted Jesus as my Savior. My mission today is to go forth and tell people about why I follow Christ and also what the Bible teaches, and part of that teaching is that women and men are meant to be together. However, I would never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different from me. We are all created by the Almighty and like Him, I love all of humanity. We would all be better off if we loved God and loved each other.

I didn’t know anything about the show, really, but I still felt surprised by this:

Robertson was a star quarterback at Louisiana Tech. Indeed, he was starting quarterback, leaving fellow player Terry Bradshaw — who would go on to lead the Pittsburgh Steelers to four Super Bowl victories and eight AFC championships — in second on the team’s depth chart. The two reunited for the first time since college recently, as shown in the above video. While the Washington Redskins expressed interest in Robertson, he ultimately chose duck hunting over football, which ended up working out fairly well for him, all things considered.

Science vs. Religion

Saturday, December 21st, 2013

On this Winter Solstice, let us turn our Yuletide thoughts to science versus religion — Norse religion:

Science vs. Norse Mythology

(Hat tip to Todd.)

Axial Tilt is the Reason for the Season

Saturday, December 21st, 2013

Axial tilt is the reason for the season:

Axial Tilt is the Reason for the Season

John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together

Saturday, December 21st, 2013

John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together aired in 1979 — and has never been released in any home video format. The Internet routes around such damage:

Project Moonbase

Friday, December 20th, 2013

Space 1999 was a bit before my time, and I didn’t know what to think of a spoof from the producers of Honey Boo Boo, but their Kickstarter video is low-brow fun:

For comparison, here’s the first episode of the original show:

A fan has edited the original show into a tighter version he calls Space 2099.